Tuesday 16 August 2011

A little knowledge: Oddbins' Mâcon-Lugny Eugene Blanc

The English are among the few people who will actually mock someone’s learning. Too clever for his own good. A little knowledge is a dangerous thing. Know-it-all. Too clever by half.

By embracing a dismissal of all matters vinous beyond price and taste, CJ shrewdly avoids this mockery. I, despite my broad erudition, only plead guilty to a little knowledge of wine myself. How dangerous a thing can that little knowledge possibly be? Well…

You may recall (or, with the wonders of the internet, may now look back upon) my somewhat futile attempt to follow one wine writer’s advice and “befriend a local wine merchant”. My chosen local merchant was an Oddbins – shortly afterwards, the chain went into administration.

My attempts at striking up friendships have often been rebuffed – there are playgrounds, student bars and even people’s dining rooms to which I can never return – and many is the shop where assistants now disappear into the back room muttering “It’s that bloody man again…”. But closing an entire retail chain to avoid me is a little extreme.

However, my local Oddbins remained, to some shabby extent, open. A scrappy handwritten note appeared in the window, explaining that it was now being run by EFB/Whittalls. (In fact this is European Food Brokers, which operates Whittalls, which is trading as Oddbins. A search throws up locations like Halifax, Walsall and Dorking. Hmmm.)

But for weeks and weeks now, it has offered only rubbish wines. I mean real bottom shelf, corner grocer stuff, like Marques de Caceres, Yellowtail, even Blossom Hill – I ask you, Blossom Hill? What is this, a convenience store? Walsall? A Spar?

The shelves have been sparsely stocked, and the simple, bare wood interior of Oddbins, which once presented a charming, rustic simplicity, has had an air of downtown Mogadishu.

Then this week, they put a board outside proudly announcing, “The tide is turning” – and amongst the rubbish, I saw this Mâcon-Lugny in the window, and I thought yes, at last. There, my little learning told me, is a white Burgundy, a wine that could grace my dining table.

And £9 is a good price for a white Burgundy. Perhaps, I thought, this might be a signal to people like myself. Oddbins could be offering good wine again. Or, it’s a bin-end from the old Oddbins, a quality wine being shifted at a bargain price to ease their cashflow, and which passers-by may not notice.

But, given my little knowledge, was I being “too clever by half”?

The wines of the Mâconnais, says my old Sotheby’s guide to classic wines, are “broad, solid structured… with a harmonious balance between lemony fruit and sinewy virtuosity”, an astonishing turn of phrase from David Molyneux-Berry which is as hard to comprehend as it is to pronounce.

What does Oddbins say? I can do no better than show you the back label:

Now, why reduce something to its lowest common denominator? Yes, it is chardonnay; but if you’re selling a Rolls-Royce, you don’t describe it as a car.

As someone may have said, as 183 fighter planes appeared over the horizon of Pearl Harbor, this does not bode well.

If there’s one adjective everyone uses about good white Burgundy (and indeed Chardonnay) it’s “buttery”. Sadly, this wine is more like those low fat alternatives, which nobody tells you are also low flavour.

An initially fresh, grapefruity bouquet simply evaporates from the glass within minutes, disappearing like cars from a traffic warden. And similarly with the flavour; any richness you might detect in an initial sip (beware the in-store tasting!) is long gone before the second glass. No “sinewy virtuosity” here, and as far as fruit is concerned, there’s just a thin flavour of lemon fruitgums, with a clenching aftertaste. In fact, served with food, people might not even notice it; or, if you put a slice of lemon in the jug, they could confuse it with their water.

(Incidentally, whoever wrote that back label – it has neither a good depth of flavour, nor a concentration of fruit. It is, however, arguably, dry. Frankly, I’m beginning to wish I was.)

Now look. I’m really rather copped off about this. I’m sitting here with a £9 bottle of wine, which is about twice what CJ pays, and God knows he moans enough about the rubbish he has to put up with.

If somewhere is selling classic wines, it is going to start attracting people like me, rather than corner-shop customers who are simply trying to obliterate the preceding day for a fiver. I’ve been lured in, by a classic French appellation, and a little knowledge.

I don’t want a load of comments about how it’s hard to turn the business around, get new stock, etc etc. Because this place is open, and it’s selling stuff to customers, and if the owners don’t feel the stuff on their shelves is representative of their operation and their brand, then they should close until it is.

Or perhaps this is what they drink in Walsall…



  1. So, it's a non-ML Chardonnay? And you prefer full-on ML, like California Chardonnays?

  2. I am actually wondering why you bother writing this drivel. Good white burgundy does not cost 9 pounds, I wish it did but it is not the case. You want buttery look elsewhere as vinogirl says and find something that has undergone some ml or bite the bullet and buy some Mersault else quit moaning. Company's sell at this price to people who don't know better who think they can experience Burgundy on a budget.

    No one is making you go into Oddbins and buy anything if you don't want to. If a store doesn't have the selection you want, you don't expect them to shut the doors, you don't buy anything until they dlgetvwhat you like.

  3. I drink Macon-Lugny regularly from Oddbins or Waitrose and have to disagree with your ridiculous comments. Like the M-L, most Macon wines are unoaked and although this wine does display some buttery characteristics, it is not the type you would associate with an oaked wine. You should give up this crap blog as you clearly have no worthwhile knowledge about wine.

  4. I agree - most uninteresting blog I have come across yet.

  5. Perhaps those writing these comments shouldn't read the blog if they don't like it, hmmm?

    Very entertaining.

  6. @twentygauloises24 August 2011 at 01:10

    I'm with you on this up to a point. Most of the Macon-Villages/Macon-Lugny things produced, e.g. from Caves de Lugny, a local co-op who slap different labels on it and sell it in every Waitrose and Majestic in the land (as with this one), are desperately dull. They are light, appley/lemony and far too expensive. There are plenty of cheaper alternatives with more interest than co-op chardonnay at £9, and if you go to a proper independent merchant you can get excellent chardonnay in a Burgundian mould for less than a tenner. I know, because I am an independent merchant and we sell one that knocks the socks of this kind of stuff! If you're in London and want to come and taste/buy one, drop me a note on Twitter.

  7. According to Decanter, this Caves Villages wine has won their best Burgundy under 10 quid Regional award! Which you can buy from Majestic aroung 6.50£!!

  8. The authors of this site do seem to be very anti oddbins. I believe there are only around 39 stores left. Most people would like to have one near them not demand for their immediate closure. This wine is sold in waitrose,majestic and many other retailers should they also shut. I have tried this wine and thought it pretty decent, by no means the best but respectable. I am beginning to think the slightly pompous chaps who write this blog know nothing about wine and do not actually like wine.

  9. What an awful blog I agree. Imparts no worthwhile knowledge and the writer of the blog should be ashamed to display such an ignorance of wine. If you want to learn more about wine don't read this.

  10. Cave de Lugnys Macon is my house wine. Have been buying it from Waitrose for many years. Apart from the odd corked bottle(now screwcapped thank goodness)I have absolutely no complaints. Their wines are very respectable,with excellent well balanced fruit (and NO OAK). For a Burgundy, they are rediculously cheap. There is a far greater risk of disappointment when dabbling at the higher end of Burgundies costing the earth!!.

  11. This blogger is surprised to find his frequently price-cut Macon not particularly buttery, and yet insists on writing a wine blog. What a curious world indeed. And what an idiotic piece overall. If MAcon is what you wanted you could have bough it in your local corner shop. But I guess your little knowledge means you wouldn't be caught dead buying wine there. SO you effectively succeeded in defining yourself as the shallowest form of snob who was "lured in by a classic appellation" and has hopefully learnt that, when it comes to wine, classic does not necessarily mean good, which is why wine is not sold by car salesmen but people with actual wine knowledge, a fickle and ever flowing faculty available to those with a genuine interest rather than a desire to appear clever (albeit by halves). Luckily for you Oddbins has (miraculously) survived despite a public that cannot comprehend the idea of a wine specialist without private education and you will therefore still have the opportunity to learn something from them (should the staff ever dare to tread the shop floor with you on it). Oh and, yes, resurrecting the business from ashes takes time and effort and, no , closing is not an option even if their customers don't know how to choose their wines. Don't write any more. Do something else. Pretty please?

  12. Very good. Really conveys the snobbery that simmers below the surface on nearly every post by these jokers. They seem to show a nasty hatred almost of anyone who works in a wine shop. Seem like the sort of guys who wander into a wine store, know two facts about wine, try to demonstrate them to anyone that will listen and then tell everyone about their vacation in Provence.

  13. Then proceed to moan about the cost of wine, then pay the 7.99 by pulling a fifty off a doorstep size wedge of cash.

  14. What a suspicious set of aggressive comments from the Oddbins supporters club, or perhaps, PR agency. Give up and go and bully someone else Oddbins. Keep up the good work PK and CJ!

  15. I don't shop at oddbins so have no loyalty to them. I think the comments seem fair.

  16. I sometimes shop at Oddbins and have found them to be fine. However, the comments don't seem either fair or proportionate. Clear signs of PR placed comments. Shame really, as it's really starting to put me off ever going back to Oddbins.

  17. Seems a bit strange if it is PR placed comments as they mention Waitrose and Majestic. Hardly the best PR campaign, I think most comments are more critical of the initial post and its lack of understanding of the wine reviewed. If you are going to to review wine is it unreasonable that people are going to post comments? Especially when you are being critical of something be it oddbins or the macon. Also shop where you like I couldn't care less.

  18. I agree with those posters who say that Oddbins are useless. A pale imitation of their former selves. Should be encouraged to shut their doors for good.

  19. Yes and then we could all shop at Tesco for wine. With a lack of high street wine retailers this is just what we need.

  20. Holy Feck!

    According to Wikipedia

    On 2 July 2012, Oddbins was the first high street retailer in the UK to team up with a group of independent bloggers to promote their wines.

    So their obvious blog-consciousness lumbers on


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