Thursday 27 June 2019

Get yourself trolleyed

Either I’m too sensitive, or else I’m gettin’ soft” – but am I the only one to feel a note of personal criticism behind some of the reports that Majestic is up for sale?

Because there seems to be some suggestion that Majestic customers are now all doddery old fools, who don’t realise that the world has moved on. That people simply aren’t supposed nowadays to drive to nearby places which sell wine, choose from an impressively huge offering, taste a few before deciding, buy half a dozen bottles or more and take them conveniently back home.

No, there are people who want to condemn that rather attractive proposition to the past. Instead, customers ought to be online, “subscribing” £20 a month, like paying a direct debit for gas. This gives you access to wines you have never heard of before, which will be delivered to your door when you’re’re out – or, more likely given your suggested demographic, in the toilet.

Oh, and you will have chatty online exchanges with the makers of your wines, who you are “supporting”. If you can squeeze them in between your supportive relationships with your potato grower, your ketchup provider and your sausage maker.

Given this dire alternative, I thought I should dodder along to my local Majestic, and remind myself why I ever went there in the first place.

That first time I went to a Majestic, I felt that I had, in some way, grown up in my wine-buying. Those were the days when Majestic sold a minimum of 12 bottles. And it was as if I had suddenly joined the real wine aficionados. These weren’t people picking up a single bottle because they were taking a gift to a dinner party, or looking for something to go with that night’s takeaway. No, these were people buying full, proper cases of wine, people who consumed and presumably stored wine on a serious basis. People I wanted to join.

And this week, I felt surprisingly good strolling those aisles again.

For one thing, they have spruced up the interior of my local Majestic. The bottles are no longer standing on teetering piles of cardboard cartons – there’s proper shelving, with the cartons stashed away beneath. The staff weren’t wearing that strangely contradictory combination of fleeces and shorts. And there weren’t any pallets to make you feel you were wandering around a loading bay.  In fact, it didn’t feel like a warehouse; it felt like a large shop.

In some branches, I can see online that this remodelling has gone too far, and the result looks like an over-illuminated Pizza Express. There’s also an obsession with “tasting”, with “creating” and “exploring”, which sounds like an activity session for toddlers. But hey, we can all get carried away. Calm down, guys. Have some wine…

Of which there was an impressive selection. No, a vast selection. There were seven different Chablis, for goodness sake. And not only were there bottles too cheap and threatening for me to consider, but there were others too grand and expensive; celebrated wines like La Reserve de Leoville-Barton, Bella’s Garden Shiraz, Segla Margaux, and my favourite Pouilly Fumé, Ladoucette. And for me, that’s important.

Established names set the benchmarks. They show that a merchant has access to the best as well as the rest, that they understand how good wine can be. They set a pricepoint against which to measure their cheaper wines. And they enable you to compare their descriptions of the wines you’ve never heard of against those of which you have.

From wines too basic for my palate to wines too clever for my purse, with plenty in between; what’s not to like? To be honest, there used to be a lot.  And for a while there, things looked grim. But the warehouse notion, that you’re buying bargain wine just unloaded from the back of a lorry, seems to have been quietly laid to rest; and buying from Majestic feels like it could be an attractive proposition again.

Yes, this may be the old businesss in new clothes – but, surely, better clothed than naked.


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