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    Before we get accused of cheap anti-Americanism, may we begin by saying that we are big fans of American imports. It goes without saying that we love American wine, and we obviously finished all series of The Sopranos/Mad Men and The Wire before they went mainstream at the water cooler, because we’re just totally cool and zeitgeisty like that.

    However, there is one US import that we have watched increasing in popularity in the UK with growing trepidation: Black Friday. This mega discount-fest (held on the Friday after Thanksgiving) has been running in America since before the Second World War, but has only really made its mark on the UK shopping calendar in the last few years. Since then, it has raged out of control to the extent that some industry experts expect internet sales to surpass £1bn on Black Friday this year, making it the biggest shopping day of the year.

    Now, we are a retailer. We sell things, and we are as fond of a spot of rampant consumerism as much as the next capitalist. But we can no longer sit back and ignore the fact that the increasing power of Black Friday is having a terrible impact on customers and retailers alike.


    To start with, it’s dangerous. In the US, there are countless examples of customers and employees being injured and even dying in pursuit of a so-called bargain. There’s even a website dedicated to detailing its cost on human life and wellbeing: One woman was arrested outside of a Toys 'R' Us store after pushing in the queue then threatening to shoot other shoppers who complained. Let’s imagine THAT moving scene on Christmas morning: “Mommy got you the VTech Toot Drivers Super RC Raceway you wanted, Chuck, but she had to threaten some other naughty shoppers with a handgun to get it. MER-RY CHRISTMAS!” Admittedly things are not as bad in the UK yet, but the mad scenes of violence across the country last year are a harbinger of disaster if retailers continue with this insane one-upmanship.

    Discount Poster

    The next problem comes with the ‘discounts’ offered. Yes, there are undoubtedly some genuine savings out there, but in such limited supply that they are impossible to find, and lead to the scenes of mayhem and aggro above. But so many retailers just go down the age-old, shonky route of inflating their prices to improve the perceived discount: that electric banana peeler was never £50 and it still isn’t worth the £10 they are trying to charge for it now. At Oddbins, we are always banging on about the subterfuge of high-low discounting and the importance of keeping prices stable and Black Friday has become a monstrous illustration of the art of artificial discounts.

    Black Friday PosterIt could be argued that Black Friday is good for economic growth, but that doesn’t add up. In the UK last year, a study showed that Black Friday failed to increase profits or sales over the entire Christmas shopping period. Instead, it has concentrated the eight-week Christmas shopping period into one day, while severely dampening spending before and after. This puts massive pressure on the retail infrastructure with websites crashing, warehouses thrown into disarray and shops filled with panicking hordes. This translates into a much, much poorer shopping experience for customers, unless you really enjoy being put in a headlock by a sweaty lunatic who wants the last electric banana peeler in stock.

    So, in the spirit of peace and goodwill to all, we challenge all other UK retailers to join us by refusing to engage with this nonsense: it is a race to the bottom which benefits no-one. So, let’s reject Black Friday, Cyber Monday, Sofa Sunday, Gray Thursday and avoid why-have-I-spent-a-month’s-wages-on-this-useless-crap-Wednesday, or, at least, summon our national pride and agree an amnesty until the traditional British day when retailers are permitted to ruin Christmas by promoting massive sales: Boxing Day.


    Being an adult is hard. We might have jobs and suitcases, and go into meetings with faces that say ‘you-can-do-business-with-me-and-no-I-absolutely-did-not-roll-in-at-3am-last-night’, but sometimes we can’t do it. Sometimes we just want to play with woolly foxes and stuff. Is that so wrong? We hope not, because we have just put 47 foxes in our shops…


    *Wipes Farley’s Rusks crumbs from face* in all seriousness, we have actually put a three foot fox in the window of each and every one our shops. Yes, it’s partly because we wuv the liddle foxy-woxy woos, but it’s also because we feel an affinity with foxes: we may not be the most powerful predator on the block, but our Buyers are cunning at digging out unexpected treasures and unearthing incredible bargains. Ana and Jenny have been foraging in Italy (not literally: they’re demure ladies as you can see, honestly), as they believe that the really exciting wines are the ones off the beaten track… Prosecco Ca’ Dei Noni, for example, is a ridiculously unusual still prosecco, made by Follador, with boundless pear drop-esque, floral charm.

    What The Fox

    It’s all well and good wanting to play with foxes and but we can tell, you, these foxes play hard. Really hard… You know when you go up to a cute-looking Chihuahua or other vertically-challenged dog and then it turns into a gnashing, yapping beast, scaring the living daylights out of you? Well, we had a similar experience with the foxes: it turns out they’re not as cute as we thought. In fact, seems they become insanely angry with people who fail to get into the festive spirit, as one customer learned to his eternal shock. We’ve got the footage here and it makes for some disturbing viewing but the fox redeems himself and, actually, turns out to be a bit of a Christmas hero.

    So, if you want to play – and are prepared to play hard – follow the foxes’ exploits in our shops and on Twitter using #WhatTheFox. Because we’re grown up like that…


    What can’t pumpkins do? They fend off evil spirits, you can make pumpkin pie, soup, bread, curry and… well, pretty much anything out of them! Country types even have festivals in their honour (evidence below for doubting city folk). Scoop out the pips and bake them and you’ve even got yourself a tasty snack (as sugar and Peperamis are apparently off the list). So, unless Jamie Oliver and the World Health Organisation discover that pumpkins have been conning us all this time about fending off evil and they are the ones that are evil, have a peep at these pimped up pumpkin pairings…

    Halloween DoliaInstead of carving a dastardly expression onto your pumpkin, why not make bread?! Warming and satisfying, there is nothing lovelier than the smell than freshly-baked pumpkin bread wafting through the house. Actually, maybe there is something lovelier: serving it with a doorstop of nutty comté and a glass of a sassily fruity, pert red such as Dolia Merlot. It may not be so effective as a Jack o’ Lantern at handling ghouls but at least you could try to pacify them with cheese.

    Pumpkin soup is classic autumnal fare but, combined with fresh ginger, pear nectar, chilli satay sauce, can create a surprisingly fresh, summery dish. However, when it comes to pairing drinks with soup, many people tend to freak out – “liquid with liquid? How’s that going to work? Isn’t there a law against that?” Well, *waggles finger in front of face* we’re here to tell you that there ain’t no po-po gonna stop y’all – if you want to put Asian-style pumpkin soup with wine, you go girlfriend. Indeed, the zingy, floral and even slighty spicy Pora Py'a Torrontes, from Argentina, is a match made in heaven...

    Halloween Amaretto Rum

    ... speaking of which, you can also make stella desserts like yours truly's above (we’re nothing if not talented… and modest). Whipped up with maple syrup, cream, cinnamon, ginger and nutmeg and baked in a buttery pastry, pumpkin transforms from, well, a pumpkin into a princess. But every princess needs a prince charming to dance with at the ball and we have two to choose from: Sette Vie Amaretto and Diplomatico Reserva Exclusiva Rum. Both are on tasting in all stores this weekend and both are suitable suitors. Sette Vie brings dashing almond nuttiness, while Diplomatico brings handsome orange peel and liquorice – and both have a very happy ending.

    Take that, demons.


    What do you think of when you think of Chilean wine? We would bet our bottom dollar that the first thing that springs to mind is fresh, easy-drinking good value Sauvignon Blanc. And there is absolutely nothing wrong with fresh, easy-drinking good value Sauvignon Blanc. Indeed, if you were to present us with a bowl of chili, ginger and garlic prawns with coconut rice and fresh coriander, we would demand nothing other than a fresh, easy-drinking good value Sauvignon Blanc, such as the laser-sharp zest fest that is Pora Py’a.

    However, like a latter-day John and Yoko, with a slightly different agenda, we are here to say ‘give other wines from Chile a chance’. For there is a small but fascinating group of producers who are moving away from full-throttle, pure varietal wines, to blended, nuanced wines made in the cooler fringes of this towering, strip of a country.

    Chile - Pic 1

    Via Wines, for example, have created Oveja Negra – a madcap blend of Sauvignon Blanc and… Carmenère? Bizarrely, it works. Really well. When made into a white wine (by not leaving it on the skins during fermentation), Carmenère’s spicy fruit and capsicum freshness complement the juicy, zingy pizazz of Sauvignon Blanc perfectly.

    Another small but important trend in Chilean wine is their almost supernatural way with Pinot Noir. This most fickle of grapes can end up flabby and boring in the wrong hands, but Chile seems to have become particularly green-fingered with Pinot. Viña Leyda Reserva Pinot Noir, for example, is as delicately fragrant as a midsummer breeze and is a tasty testament to the lighter side of Chile.

    Chile - Pic 2

    Here comes the science: cooler climes mean fresher wines and another trend for forward-thinking producers is, instead of focusing on the coolness found at more southerly latitudes, they are realising the importance of the cooling effect of the ocean. The windswept, maritime environment almost convinces the grapes they are in Europe and the resulting wines are very much European in style. Viña Leyda Canelo Syrah, for example, is more like a delicately spiced, violet-laced northern Rhône Syrah than many Chilean examples, which can be quite blockbuster-y in fruit, spice and structure. So, if you're looking for more art-house than blockbuster, take another look at Chile - its cinematic landscape and vinous auteurs means there's something for everyone...


    “How low can you go?” sang Chubby Checker all the way back in 1962, popularising the Limbo all around the globe.

    ‘Thanks, Chubby!’ you very might well say. ‘Now my little weekend away on a cruise ship has just turned into another kink to take to the chiro on Monday.’


    Big chains have been doing the limbo for years, though, trying to shamelessly cash in as much as Chubby did in ’63 with the forgettable Let’s Limbo Some More.

    The Limbo certainly looks like fun but – as the now-septuagenarian Checker can probably attest – not for everyone. And in the wine trade, it’s the winemakers whose backs break under the strains of ever plummeting costs.

    To demonstrate, it’s Maths time! (Sorry, Chubby, not Pony Time, we're afraid).

    If you take a £5 bottle of wine, for example, you’re left with roughly 47p for the winemaker after you deduct tax and all the other pesky costs like bottling and transportation. But a £10 bottle of wine, on the other hand? Roughly £2.87 (or six times more) for the winemaker. That means they can purchase higher quality grapes, hire more staff, update their machinery, and yada, yada, yada – it means they can stay in business and provide customers with an even better product.

    Some of the biggest wine producers might be able to swallow the deduction but the little guys? Not a chance. Slashing prices just makes the wine market monopolised and monochromatic when it should thrive from variety and ingenuity.

    Beyond that, however, it’s a simple matter of honesty and fairness. Unlike Chubby’s psychedelic flop Chequered, we won’t lead you astray like the retailers who hike their prices sky high just to pretend a discount’s bigger when they put it on ‘half price’. Instead, Oddbins’ pricing model is consistent so you can trust that you’re never being tricked, and never paying anything but the actual price.

    And unlike the controversial *ahem* ‘measuring’ app ‘Chubby Checker’– we don’t believe that size is all that matters; we relish working with smaller wine producers. Rather than tying up all our investments in volumes of standard promotional stock which all tastes the same, we hunt for new and exciting parcels from a vast array of companies so an even wider world of choice can be provided to our customers.

    Ultimately, we want you to love wine. We want you to taste and experiment and broaden your palate with the gems our buyers are constantly on the look out for. If you come into the store and are excited by our dynamic range – focused on the label, not the price tag – then we’ve done our job well.

    Apologies, Chubby, but at Oddbins we don’t like our customers to ever be in limbo; we set the bar high, not low.


    Q3b 2015 - Discover the World Ansel Adams

    We’re with Ansel Adams on this one: every experience is a form of exploration: every vista seen, every person met – and every wine tasted – is an exploration. Sometimes these experiences may be small; perhaps you’ve never tried garlic chilli sauce on cheese on toast, but then you try it and you realise it’s really, really good. Sometimes these experiences are grand; you discover that cheese on toast with garlic chilli sauce is amazing with Chianti.

    With that in mind, we would like to invite you to explore the world with us – on a shoestring ‘to boot’! We’re not saying we should hitchhike around Europe wearing a poncho and a ban the bomb badge – no, we’re saying we can explore the world on a budget, via the medium of wine! The point is, you don’t have to have a Learjet and a Coutts bank account to appreciate the vast expanse of human experience; you just need an open mind, man. Plus, unlike certain 'budget' airlines, there are no nasty surprises on if *shock horror* you want to take luggage with you...

    *Spreads out a map and plants three pins* we can think of no better place to start than with France, New Zealand and Argentina. All packed? Let’s go…

    Q3b 2015 - Discover the World Ansel France

    Rocking up in the garrigue-scented hills of Languedoc, southwest France, we arrive at L. Metairie; a unique cooperative with cutting-edge technology, an inventive winemaking team and an emphasis on wines that have a sense of place. Having spread out the picnic rug and bust out the brie, we will be wanting some of L. Metairie’s Dolia Grenache (£6.50). With its fresh red fruit and sprinkling of pepper, it is a cracking way to begin our adventures. Alors…

    If you have always wanted to go to New Zealand then now, by the Power of Wine, we can! New Zealand makes us think of cool streams, emerald mountains… and Hobbits. Whilst The Giesen Brothers’ Salmon Run Sauvignon Blanc (£8) doesn’t taste like Hobbits (we’re not completely sick), its dazzling aromas of elderflower, kaffir lime leaves and pink grapefruit does transport you to a verdant Kiwi brook. Now, if we could only catch some salmon, we’d be laughing all the way to…

    Q3b 2015 - Discover the World

    Argentina! More specifically, to the Tulum Valley at the foot of the Andes. This little-known corner of South America has an altitude of around 2,000 feet and a semi-desert climate. Maybe we’ll gather for an asado (a feck-off big barbecue), maybe we’ll gawp at some Alpacas, maybe we’ll try some Malbec. Like your trip, you want your wine to give you an authentic sense of place and, with its forward black fruit, mocha and spice, that is exactly what Incienso Malbec (£7) does.


    It’s a sad and slightly hilarious fact that Bruichladdich – the gentle giant of Islay distilleries – was once spied on by the US on suspicion of making chemical weapons. In 2003, having locked onto the distillery’s web cam, the Americans thought that they were making WMDs, until they were assured otherwise. It’s almost as sad and hilarious as the time that an outraged UK united behind the ‘Free the Weatherfield One’, after the fictional character Deirdre Barlow was wrongfully imprisoned in Coronation Street.

    It has been a rollercoaster ride for Bruichladdich, which closed down in 1994 after 114 years’ operation, before being rescued in 2001. The apparently sinister-looking equipment – including the unusually tall and narrow spirit stills – was restored to its Victorian glory and is now the pride of the Rhinns, on the westernmost shore of Islay.


    Under the governance of the not particularly dangerous Jim McEwan – formerly of Bowmore Distillery – they have resumed their place amongst the eight working distilleries on Islay. The team is passionate about provenance and use only Scottish barley, sometimes from the neighbouring fields, and water from Bruichladdich loch and the Octomore spring.

    They produce three styles of whisky – the unpeated Classic Bruichladdich, the heavily peated Port Charlotte and the ‘super heavily peated’ Octomore. Oddbins is proud to stock all three expressions and invites you most warmly to come and sample ‘The Classic Laddie’ at any store this weekend. Trickle distilled, then matured by the shores of Lochindaal in premium American oak, it encapsulates Bruichladdich’s soft, mossy style.


    With the exception, perhaps, of Tom Jones, who has covered up the chest rug and put the medallion away in favour of a rootsy, silver fox vibe that we defy man, woman or beast not to find attractive, comebacks are rubbish. When Blue resurfaced, despite their best efforts to look boyish and carefree, their concerns about mortgage repayments were written all over their faces. However, when it comes to wine, it’s never too late for a comeback and, like Muhammad Ali bouncing back off the rope in the Rumble in the Jungle, Romania, Hungary and Austria are about to wipe the floor with the competition..

    Vine in Flames

    Now, whatever your views about baggy gold trousers, you have to admit that MC Hammer really made his mark. Plus, anyone who comes up with lines like ‘This is it, for a winner / dance to this and you’re gonna get thinner’ has our profound respect. Like Hammer – real name Stanley Kirk Burrell – Romanian wine was massive in the 1980s and its soft, juicy Pinots are remembered fondly by many. Also like SKB, who filed for bankruptcy after getting hugely into debt, Romania suffered financial woes that all but crippled its wine industry (unlike SKB this was not down to its frivolous ways). But wineries like Budureasca are putting it firmly back on the map. Its exquisite, quince-powered Vine in Flames honours the 2,000-year-old myth that the area’s vineyards were burned to deter invaders… talk about Phoenixes and ashes. We’d elaborate, but we can’t Stop – (it’s) Hungary time.

    Titi and Dry by Tokaj

    Hungarian wine's reputation has always been dominated by two characters; Bull’s Blood and Tokaj. Bull’s Blood is a red wine that veers between brilliant and terrible and is steeped in bloody myth, while Tokaj is mesmeric and golden and owes its sweetness to the mould that grows on the grapes. “Variable quality? Messy history? Inset rot? That must make them the Fleetwood Mac of the wine world!” you cry… And how right you are. Like The Mac, who have sorted their act out and are currently skipping bare-foot through their comeback tour, we have some fresh takes on these two wines. Titi is an enchanting expression of Bull's Blood, all black cherries and star anise and Dry by Tokaj is a dry version of the famous dessert wine (no points for guessing that). When made traditionally, sans mould, the grapes can create joyful, orchard-fruited, orange blossom-scented stars like this. Anyway, we don’t want to break The Chain, so here’s our last comeback kid…


    Not to get sinister on y’all, but this is a shadowy, Third Man kind of comeback. A vinous scandal in the 1980s knocked Austria’s wine industry for six, but it has now resumed its place as the pint-sized powerhouse of wine. It is apt, then, that the Austrian-set film noir classic, The Third Man, has just been rereleased on DVD and Blu Ray, along with other vintage classics including Aces High and The Cruel Sea. If you want to recreate some of the mystique of The Third Man, you could wear a trilby, pulled down low, and hang around in a sewer. Alternatively, you could sip on Markus Huber’s Nussdorfer Riesling, from Traisental, Austria, which we are giving away here along with SW4 Gin to mark the release of these iconic British films. With its citrus overtones and cool charm, Nussdorfer is quite the Harry Lime – but the only crime here is not loving it, baby.

    ‘Til next time.

  • Join the Revolution

    A young man waits outside a Council depot at 6.00 a.m. on a Friday morning in January. He is selling copies of a newspaper to newly-paid Council staff. Politically, the young man is standing in the middle of an exciting moment. Personally, he is standing in the middle of the street. He is bloody freezing. Is there not a more elegant way to turn things upside down, he asks himself...

    Well, yes, he could come to Oddbins. We built our reputation by rising against the status quo of the wine trade and empowering the vinous sans culottes, the rarities, scarcities and curiosities. And we won! And now we're going to do it again, with a new range of remarkable wines from countries whose presence on the UK's shelves is unassuming, to say the least. We're giving them the opportunity to rise as one, to be counted and to shout "Freedom for Dealu Mare!"

    And Dealu Mare is where we go first, on the Southern foothills of the Carpathian curve in Romania. Budureasca's "Vine in Flames," a scrumptious white made from the Feteasca Regala grape, has a honeyed texture which very pleasingly threatens to turn sweet, but chooses instead to focus on delivering soft flavours of quince. The wine's name refers to a threat of invasion 2,000 years ago, when the region's vineyards were set ablaze to make the place look less appealing.


    1981. Two Liverpudlian teenagers have hitch-hiked to Leeds to march to a concert which will unseat the Government, and they are now listening to a cultish post-punk band playing drunkenly on the back of a wobbly flatbed truck. Anarchy! In less than a decade, the Prime Minister will have resigned.

    Even more exotic than Leeds, Greece's Gaia Estate winery sits on hills around Nemea in the Peloponnese, and for twenty years it has diligently spread the word about Greece's native grape varieties. Notios Red, a blend of Agiorgitiko and Syrah, tastes of red berries and velvet and would be an ideal partner to lamb kleftiko.

    1968. The Beatles' White Album contains an eight-minute sound collage called "Revolution Nine." Millions of people listen to the most widely-circulated example of avant garde extremism ever, while they perfect the skill of skipping tracks on a vinyl album.

    And last, but by no means least, we go to Hungary, the most underlying underdog of all, known mainly over here for the sweet wines of Tokaj. Titi Egri Bikaver is a bold red with cherry aromas and flavours of paprika and eastern spices, and a weighty palate luscious beyond imagination. "Egri Bikaver" translates as "Bull's Blood of Eger," which may bring readers of a certain age out in a rash, but rest assured that this is one classy bull!

    Take this, brother, may it serve you well...


    Steve Saunders

    Oddbins customers have been swirling, staring at, sniffing, slurping, spitting, swallowing and smiling at wines in the name of The Palate for four years, in a bid to be crowned the nation’s finest amateur wine taster. But who are the people who have made it all the way to the top – to wine tasting glory? Where do they come from and what makes them tick? Well, as we approach Round Two this weekend (July 25/26), we thought now would be a good time to look at these wine tasting demi gods and the wines they chose for Oddbins upon being crowned ‘The Palate’.

    Fran Evans

    The woman, nay, the legend, who first fought her way to Palate glory is Fran Evans. So, what do you need to know about Fran? Well, Fran is lovely to a fault, unassuming and – hitherto – highly doubtful of her ability to taste wine. The sustainability officer from north London had no wine education and thought, therefore, that she wouldn’t be much cop in The Palate. However, as judge Peter Richards, of Saturday Kitchen fame, said on Fran’s win, “It was important that it wasn't about having an encyclopaedic knowledge, but about raw talent. That's why Fran was such a worthy winner." Hear hear! A curious and marvellous twist in Fran’s tale is that, as part of the spoils of her win, she was asked to choose a wine (blind) for us to stock on our shelves. The wine that she chose was a La Closerie des Lys Chardonnay – a grape variety that Fran professed to not really liking before the competition – which is testament to the power of The Palate over preconceptions…

    Chloe Dickson

    Our next winner, Chloe Dickson, could not be more different to Fran. Where Fran is diffident, Chloe is assured. Where Fran is untrained, Chloe has attended courses. But Chloe’s win was by no means a fait accompli. She was up against stiff competition and it was the creativity that she brought to her descriptions that really set her apart from the other Finalists. In her food and wine matching presentation, Chloe’s said that the wine’s ‘acidic qualities really cut through the oiliness of the fish – it was just like they were holding hands walking down the street. My mouth was like ‘yeah, bring it on’.” Woop woop! Down with starched collars and orthodox wine blathering! Up with flavours holding hands and walking down the street! We like. The former music executive said The Palate has changed her life – and indeed she has gone on to become a retail sommelier. Go Chloe! The wine she chose was, to our eternal delight, Portuguese, and a belter at that. Discover Manz Platónico, an unctuous red from Cheleiros, here.

    Steve Saunders

    So far, so female. That was until 2014, when Bristolian Steve Saunders sauntered into the equation. Peter Richards was just beginning to get worried that a man would never win the title of The Palate, but Steve changed all that. If ever there was a more smiley man, we’ve yet to meet him. Steve loves wine and, like Chloe, had some experience but was looking to ‘go professional’ and make a living out of it. Given that the number of entrants rose from 5,000 in 2012 to a staggering 21,000 in 2014, Steve’s achievement is seriously impressive. For the judges – Peter and his wife Suzie, Sarah Ahmed and Oddbins Buyer Ana Sapungiu – their reason for choosing Steve was his clear as a bell communication. Steve is to wine speak what Brian Cox is to physics. He just makes it sound so easy! And Steve’s wine? As with Chloe’s Platónico, Steve’s choice comes from a country that we are increasingly excited about; Romania. Get to know Prince Stirbey Negru de Dragasani here.

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