Miranda Heggie
Photograph © Hannah Blake-Fathers. Reproduced by kind permission

Since lockdown it has been reported that retail sales were at a record low and that off licence sales had soared. Journalist Miranda Heggie points out that as pubs and the majority of shops were closed, this hardly counts as news. Like the rest of us Miranda is restricted to drinking at home. Unlike the rest of us she chose to research the myriad booze services out there. Have you fallen for those enticing introductory offers then found it difficult to break free? Do you run the risk of a box of wine you don’t want landing on your door step and £000s gone from your bank account? Miranda kindly offered to share her research with Tom Eats! This week she looks at wine offers.

(For those who are wondering why this is in the Tom Eats! column, let me as a sometime lawyer point out that food, as defined, includes beer, wines and spirits. It also includes ice, water and chewing gum. So there – Ed.)

Virgin WinesVirgin Wines: 

Your first case with Virgin Wines - a mixed case of 12, with 3 different reds and whites - is only £71.88, working out at £5.99 a bottle. The wines are OK, and certainly superior to what you’d pick up for £5.99 in a supermarket, but they’re not mind-blowing. The pinot grigio had a fuller flavour than you could expect from that grape at that price, even if it was a bit on the sharp side. The shiraz pinotage blend was silky but still with a bit of oomph; the best of an OK bunch.

What am tied into, and how do I get out of it?

You are now a proud member of the Virgin Wines bank. Virgin Wines will take a monthly payment of £25 from you, and kindly top up your ‘bank account’ themselves by five pounds - though if you do wish to opt out you can do so at any time by letting them know by email or phone, and you’ll receive a refund of whatever’s in your account (minus those free fivers obv.). As a customer, you can spend what’s in your account at your leisure, at their exclusive online store. Given its exclusivity, it goes without saying that Virgin Wines set the prices, so it doesn’t take a genius to see what’s going on with that extra £5 a month. Having said that, they also give you £15 off your first case purchased with your wine bank money, which makes it possible to order a second case by only spending £75 of your own cash. Just make sure to remember to cancel after that - it can be easier to miss a smaller amount of money each month, than the full price of a case every three.

Averys:

Averys MalbecFor first time customers, Averys will give you a mixed case, plus a free gift - in  my case two very nice stemless Dartington crystal wine tumblers - for only £59.88. Again, it’s a case of twelve, with two bottles each of three different whites and reds. The South African red had no mention on its label of what grapes it was made from, which, for me, usually rings warning bells. I was very pleasantly surprised. It was a rich, fruity blend of who knows what, which went down easily with some oven pizza. The whites have been going down all too easily with this nice weather, but it was the Portugese blend of Fernão Pires, Arnito, Sauvignon Blanc and Moscatel which was my favourite. The two bottles of Argentinian Malbec remain, remarkably, still unopened, and will be decanted to enjoy (I hope!) with steak for Sunday’s dinner.

What am tied into, and how do I get out of it?

You get loads of lovely wines out of it! And you’ll also be charged the full whack of £119.99 a case in the next three months if you are not careful. Averys say in their small print you can cancel any time by phoning or emailing. I put in a request to cancel via their online contact form a week ago, and, apart from an auto response to say my message had been received, have yet to hear anything. Obviously these companies are receiving a greater volume of online correspondence at the moment, so I won’t take their tardiness too personally. However, I will keep an eye on it and make sure that my subscription is put to an end.

Naked Wines:

At the time of writing this case is still in transit, but I sure hope their wines are as good as their marketing. Their introductory deal is only accessible if you have been recommended by a Naked Wines patron (or in their jargon “angel”), thus giving you, the first time customer, the impression that you are in some way special, as well as the assurance that someone you know and trust is willingly giving this company some money. Anyway, my angelic neighbour gave them my email address, and Lo! and Behold! A special link pops up in my inbox letting me purchase a mixed case of 12 for £47.88. Obviously this is a one time deal, but even at full price, Naked Wines’ crowdfunding style approach appears to still offer the customers some pretty good bang for their bucks.Angel

What am tied into, and how do I get out of it?

You are now an angel. Well, no, you’re not a celestial being, but you are a Naked Wines Angel, thus monikered because you are doing the miraculous work of investing your money in specially selected independent winemakers. The idea is that Naked Wines invest in them, allowing them to produce high quality, individual wines which will then be available for you to purchase exclusively at a decent price, cutting out the middle-men such as supermarkets and big off-licence chains. After your first purchase, Naked Wines will take a £20 monthly payment from you, which can be redeemed at any point from their online store. You can opt out at any time and be refunded any money you’ve amassed simply by letting them know.

Miranda HeggieMiranda Heggie is a writer and arts administrator who spends her time between Scotland and the Midlands. She is a Project Manager for Birmingham Contemporary Music Group, and writes classical music features and reviews for The Herald, The List and The Arts Desk. With a passion for food as well as music, whilst studying Miranda worked part time for I. J. Mellis Cheese and Harvey Nichols Foodmarket and Wine Shop. She also writes for The List's annual Eating and Drinking Guide.

5 Comments

  1. Trencherman on 6th June 2020 at 12:43 pm

    These are not wine “offers” in the conventional sense of offering a bargain on a particular wine. I have no experience of any of the suppliers mentioned in this article, but I have been deeply unimpressed by introductory cases offered by others.

    In any event, with a galaxy of possibilities for online exploration I have no idea why anyone would want to commit to a particular supplier for any length of time, even allowing for the cancellation option.

    On a more positive note, it is encouraging to note that this website has, at last, recognised the association of food and wine. It would be a further step in the right direction if some long overdue wine reviews were introduced.

    • Tom Johnston on 6th June 2020 at 1:55 pm

      Thanks for taking the time to comment. With regard to your last paragraph, it has been suggested to me in the past, in a less condescending tone, that my reviews should feature wine. I don’t see me ever reviewing wine alone. While I know a reasonable amount about the subject, it is just so huge these days that I don’t think it’s for me. As for the restaurant reviews, the title is Tom Eats! not Tom Dines! From most food menus you can sample a representative cross section. You can’t do that with a wine list. Including the price of drink can skew the bill enormously. Some people will want only the house wine, or the mythical second cheapest bottle, while others will look to splash out on a top end bottle when dining out. I can do either, depending on my mood. Sticking to the food ensures some consistency. I have been consistent since I started the column five years ago.

      • Trencherman on 6th June 2020 at 2:28 pm

        I am truly sorry that you found my tone to be condescending. It was certainly not my intention. Perhaps I detect a certain sensitivity to any suggestion as to innovation. Of course, in relation to your restaurant reviews, I entirely take your point. Sampling a representative cross section of wines with the food is plainly out of the question.

        Nevertheless, it seems to me that your readers would appreciate at least some indication of a restaurant wine list’s scope and pricing. For example, I would like to try a local restaurant that has attracted considerable praise for the food, but on no account would I visit a restaurant where the “entry level” wine is lawnmover fuel quality Pinot Grigio priced at £25, You will also know a greedy mark up when you see one.

        Then, there is the separate matter of your Tom Cooks! I don’t imagine that you approach the consumption of your own cooking with a bottle of Vimto and I reckon that your followers would welcome your wine “pairing” choice with a particular dish. (“Pairing” is a word I would rather avoid, but there you are.)

        I do trust that these further comments, intended to be constructive of course, are not interpreted as critical (in the commonly used sense of the word) or, indeed, condescending.

        • Tom Johnston on 6th June 2020 at 7:48 pm

          Hello, again. Been out in the (unexpected) sunshine, so I’ve just picked up your comment. On the picking up of the tone point, you’re right, it did irk me a little. But we’ve all sent things electronically which inadvertently grated. I fully accept that wasn’t your intention so let’s move on. But I can’t accept your point about a resistance to innovation. I don’t know how long you’ve been reading my scribblings. Tom Eats! started in 2015: Cooks! in 2016. I felt there was much more to write, so I completely renewed the website in February. Since then, the new On The Side column has featured chef profiles (hardly original, I concede), social history (did you read the piece on the railways and the changes to cooking?), book reviews, TV chefs, kitchen appliances and straight journalism (read this week’s OTS piece). And on 17th June it will preview an opera with food connections. Not, I think, something lacking in innovation.

          But we come back to your point about including wine as an integral part of a blog. Let’s start with the Cooks! column. You yourself pulled back from the “pairing”. The only thing I would achieve by doing that would be to push my own tastes. Given my age and preferences, I think you would be well on point in describing these as not innovative. I’m moderately set in my ways, even if they are quite wide ranging ways. I’m not a huge fan of wine flights in restaurants, but on occasion they have yielded some amazing combos of which I would never have dreamed. I couldn’t do that- I just don’t know enough.

          Coming back to restaurant reviews and wine, I think the fairest and best way would be to sample a glass each of the house white and red. I believe you can tell a ton about a place by the quality and price of its house offering, and also of its coffee. So why don’t I? Very simple. I do this for fun. No one pays my expenses. I’m out for a meal with family or friends. Believe me, trying to snarf a taste from each and every plate is hard enough, without ordering extra booze which they don’t really want. So I don’t think I’ll be changing that part. Where are you based? Do you have a name? If you’re anywhere in the vicinity of Edinburgh, perhaps we could go out on a Tom Eats! mission when this is all over. E mail me on tgj52a@outlook.com

  2. Trencherman on 9th June 2020 at 10:55 am

    I repent of the suggestion that you may be averse to innovation. As you point out, the expanded website does contain very interesting new elements.

    Returning to the subject of wine, I fear that I may not have properly articulated my view in the previous post. I accept, of course, that an extended sampling safari through a wine list is scarcely a practical proposition. So, perhaps I could frame my proposal with greater clarity.

    If I plan to eat out, I’ll attempt to discover the wine list is available online, In many cases, it will not be so. I’d rather avoid landing in a restaurant where the food meets or exceeds my expectations but the wine list does not for any number of reaons. For example, the exclusion of New World wines or eye-watering markups. So, perhaps it comes to this: short of a liver-trashing dégustation squandering your 14 unit allowance in one sitting, you might simply afford your readers an impression of the list’s scope and pricing.

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