Oddbins – even odder outpouring of grief


Everyone’s busy writing about the demise of Oddbins, and what struck me more than anything, reading all the obituaries, is the fact that all our wine writers appear to be from the same generation, the one with all the hazy, romantic memories of their local store. You can’t spit at a wine tasting without hitting someone who with very little prompting will happily tell you about that bottle of 1981 Grange they bought for a tenner, or how they once snaffled a case of Beaucastel for £2.95 and it came with a free limited-edition Gerald Scarfe lithograph, or how their first job in the wine trade was as shelf-duster in the Basildon branch, and now they’re chief winemaker at Chateau Lafite.

It is a decade since Oddbins was bought by Castel, the Nicolas-owning Frenchmen widely credited with performing a goodectomy, that is, a surgical removal of all things good, on the once-popular chain, notably removing all their decent wine, half-filling their shops with rubbish and just leaving the rest empty. It just so happens that my interest in and knowledge of wine has blossomed precisely as Oddbins has withered, and there are surely a great many twenty- and thirty-somethings who are reading this emotional outpouring, scratching their heads and wondering what all the fuss is about.

In my time Oddbins has offered little beyond its fairly pleasing unvarnished-floorboard-and-hand-scrawled-sign aesthetic. I did quite like the fine wine store in Farringdon, with its musty, damp, authentic aroma, but I very rarely bought anything there. More recently, and as widely pointed out elsewhere, the chain’s (over)pricing policy, trying to encourage six- or 12-bottle purchases despite town-centre locations often without convenient parking, defied logic. A year or so ago my local store got a partial makeover, by which I mean that they installed a little wine fridge that allowed them to keep open and theoretically unspoiled bottles with which to tempt visitors. I’m sure I was just unlucky, but on the small handfull of occasions when I’ve been into the shop since I tried a variety of deeply unimpressive tasters. Thinking back over the last five years or so I can count the number of wines I’ve bought from Oddbins and genuinely enjoyed on the fingers of three fingers (Craggy Range Block 14, Two Hands Gnarly Dudes, Domaine Mas Theo Coteaux du Tricastin).

Perhaps someone half-decent will buy the chain and relaunch it, and the same reviewers will rejoice at the rebirth, and the opportunity to vomit out the same tired old memories the next time it all goes tits up.

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2 responses to “Oddbins – even odder outpouring of grief

  1. You mightn’t have experienced the Oddbins of old, and therefore see all this nostalgia as being over the top, but you must realise the importance of Oddbins in shaping the wine trade in Britain. The nostalgia is not necessarily for the chain as it has been of late, but for the instrumental role they have played in bringing wine to Britain, and the charm and enthusiasm they did that with. No-one should criticize the nostalgia and romanticism; it’s well deserved. Maybe, with the right person at the helm, Oddbins can be resurrected, and truly get back to its roots.

    • But there was no need to wait until now to mourn the passing of that Oddbins, which everyone agrees died many years ago. In many ways then these obituaries are long overdue. In other ways, though, they are premature: Elizabeth Taylor’s beauty faded many years before her death, while over the same period she went from professional preeminence to virtual irrelevance, yet still the obituarists waited until her actual demise before springing into action. Oddbins is a faded institution, but it remains on life support – what will anyone write when the real death knell sounds?

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