Is Oddbins back?

Oddbins press tasting today. For those outside the UK, Oddbins were in the early 1990s a pioneering wine merchant who brought interesting wine to the masses.

Then, in the noughties, they lost their way. The interesting wines and enthusiastic staff were replaced with pap and the less enthusiastic staff (you couldn’t really be excited about the Oddbins range, after all).

Then, a couple of years ago, Oddbins gained new owners, sold off some stores, and embarked on a radical overhaul of the range. In truth, Oddbins has been well and truly back for a while. In the last year, my sporadic visits to local branches have always resulted in me finding interesting bottles.

The press tasting today was the first that I’d attended in the new era, so it was good to look at a broad sampling of the range. The good news? I found plenty of bottles that I’d love to drink. The mixed case price, at 20% off the list price, makes the pricing look very good. Single bottle price is a little on the expensive side.

The new world buying is spot on. Buying in France and Italy is patchier, with several quite poor wines, but this could reflect the difficulties in buying from these countries. Champagne is a strongpoint, as is Port and other fortifieds.

Of the many highlights, a few shout-outs. First, Chile’s best white: it’s the Anakena Confin Viognier 2009 (£9.99/£7.99), and it’s thrilling. Kuru Kuru Central Otago Pinot Noir is unfortunately named but superb (£18.99/£15.99). Tamaya Winemaker’s Selection Carmenere 2009 (£13.99/£11.19) is one of the best examples of this variety I’ve tried.

Champagne Dehu Tradition NV has 75% Pinot Meunier, and it’s brilliant (£23.99/£19.19).  And I also loved the I THINK Manzanilla en Rama from Equipo Navazas (£9.99/£7.99).

11 comments to Is Oddbins back?

  • Daniel

    Agree that the Oddbins range is much improved, but for the French wines. It’s good to see. However the business model still needs some work.

    The Oddbins network of shops is located on sites that favour people popping in for the odd bottle now and then. But unless you buy a half-case the single-bottle the prices are simply ridiculous.

    They don’t offer parking in convenient main-road locations like Majestic, so to price wines out of the market unless you buy half a case at a time is crazy.

    All too often I still walk in, look around, and then walk back out again. I’ve stopped feeling embarrassed about this because I think its Oddbins who should feel embarrassed asking for these mark-ups.

  • Mark Underwood

    Couldn’t agree more with Daniel on this one. I have gone into the London Bridge branch countless times only to emerge empty handed. Just one example: d’Arenberg ‘The Coppermine Road’ Cabernet Sauvignon single bottle price £35.99; case price £28.79. That’s ridiculous.

  • Alex Lake

    There must be a term for pumping up the base price simply to make an attractive “discount”. Whatever, I find it distasteful. Lots of wine companies do it, Threshers are the past masters, but Majestic fairly guilty too. I’ve also got to say (although it makes me feel uncomfortable) that your review is a little too positive to sound particularly credible.

  • Daniel and Mark – I have always been puzzled by this discount strategy – it means decent wines end up significantly overpriced if you pick them up in shop. And if the shop isn’t the point, then I don’t understand the business model.

    Alex, I value your comments, and for you to take the trouble to say something even to the point of feeling uncomfortable is especially valued – I always think there is a lot to be learned from critical comments.

    Am I getting a little to far away from the interests of readers? That’s a worry. I’m glad Oddbins have some good wines. I pointed out that they also have some shockers also. Maybe I should have made a fuss about their margins, especially when I have recently posted on the topic of variations in margins on wine.

  • Mark Underwood

    Alex, where Majestic will always win out over Oddbins for me is that you can get some reasonable discounts (20%) if you only purchase 2 bottles e.g. current offer on Kiwi, Chilean & Australian wines. This means you can a good deal on a half case in store, which is my preferred means of buying these days.

  • scott stevens

    I worked for Oddbins in the mid 90s – our prices were really all about the bottle – not a case discount. I work in the wine trade now, and as our case discount is only 5%, again the price to concentrate on is the single bottle price.
    It should be pointed out that to start up/buy up a wine shop or chain is an expensive business – I’m sure my boss had a £1m loan to do it – so hopefully when the payback period has elapsed on the management’s bank loans they can put prices back to a sensible level.

  • I think they are. I’ve just finished reviewing a mixed-12 from there with some superb results. The highlight of which was probably the Craggy Range Syrah 2008 (http://wineblogforthefrugal.blogspot.com/2010/10/oddbins-part-1.html).
    Out of the 12 bottles I chose, I would highly recommend 3, recommend 5 and the remaining 3 were pretty good (one was corked, but hey, 1 in 12 right?).

    I’d say that’s pretty good testament to their range!

    Thanks

  • Oh, and they have an offer on at the moment, Matetic’s Coralillo Syrah and Villa Maria’s Reserve Clifford Bay Sauv Blanc both on offer for £9.99 and both recent Gold Medal Decanter winners if I’m not mistaken!? Needless to say, I snapped those two up for that price. Markup or no markup, I beleive this is a good price for these wines.

    However, it does make you think about their pricing strategy if these are normally £16.99 and £14.99 respectively. I did touch upon the markup/discounting in my previous post’s link to my blog. I guess the answer is to keep an eye out for the heavy discounts on single-bottles, or indeed buy the mixed 6/12 to get 20% off and sensible prices.

    Thanks

    Gav

  • Andre

    Jamie – any advice on where I can source Kuru Kuru and Ribbonwood Pinot Noir? I’m tearing my hair out, and there’s not a lot of it to start with, in trying to source a UK outlet, since the demise of Oddbins. The same goes for their Italian Falerio and Bourgains Albarino. Any steer would be really appreciated!

    ps have regained some sanity in tracking down a Blind River seller (Hennings) in Petworth.

    What’s the word on Oddbins – will they be reverting back to any online sales?

    Many thanks,
    Andre

  • Andre,

    Hayden Johnston is the maker of Kuru Kuru wines and lives around the Putney area in London I believe.
    I filmed a video on him a while back which is on my website. It tasted amazing!

    http://nickmarshallmccormack.com/index.php/video-journalism/wines-of-the-world.html

    What a Pinot Noir! I can try and track down an email address for him if you’re still interested.

  • Andre

    Jamie – many thanks. I have managed to track Hayden down and he tells me the Oddbins phoenix has just ordered multiple cases of Kuru Kuru, which is good news. However, I await any meaningful indication from Oddbins on their online status, which is currently “coming soon”…..

    Have you tasted any of Hayden’s Terras range and if so, have you any blog posts on them by way of review?

    Many thanks,

    Andre

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