Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Joanna Simon in The Sunday Times, July 20, 2008: Whatever happened to Oddbins?

Going, going, gone: 131 Oddbins shops have closed since the end of 2005 and a dozen more are due for the chop; 31 have opened, leaving a total of 142, down from a high of 278. Whatever happened to Britain’s famous wine merchant chain, the favourite of a generation of wine drinkers?

In a word, takeover. Put in a few more words, Oddbins, which had long been unprofitable, was sold in 2001 to Castel, France’s biggest wine company. Since then, in a bid to turn the business round, Castel has converted 61 shops into its other chain, Nicolas, sold 70 and is revamping the survivers. If you’ve lost your local Oddbins, or it has altered its style, you now know why.

Crucially, Castel has also changed the way Oddbins’ wines are sourced, shedding a buyer or two en route. All French wines are now bought by Nicolas in Paris. This may sound sensible, but the effect has been depressing. The French wines shown at a recent tasting were overpriced, mostly mediocre and sometimes worse. Fortunately, the non-French wines are better, especially the special parcels which start arriving tomorrow.

2007 Red Hill Estate Pinot Grigio, £9.99
Australian take on pinot grigio: lively, appley, nutty and mineral (Oddbins).

2007 De Grendel Winifred, £9.59
Distinctive and delicious oak-aged Cape blend of chardonnay, semillon and viognier (Oddbins).

2007 Concha Y Toro Winemakers’ Lot Malbec, £6.89
Big, dark, Chilean red with cassis, spice and oak flavours (Oddbins).

“Castel is one of the world’s four biggest wine companies”
Anorak Fact: Constellation is the biggest, then Gallo. Castel was third, but Pernod Ricard is thought to have overtaken it.