Wine has a reputation. Just as beer is associated with red-faced Bavarians, British football hooligans and the entire continent of Australia, so wine is usually twinned with the town of Pomposity, the upper-classes and culinary sophistication. Neither of these stereotypes is necessarily valid, though you don’t often see football hooligans sipping on a Chateau Batailley while setting alight to someone’s car.
Even the rituals that surround the drinking of wine suggest that one needs to be sophisticated to participate; the decanting, the temperature, even the way that one holds one’s glass. But it is clear there are differing levels of enthusiasm and knowledge among the wine drinking community.
At level one are the people who will purchase a bottle of £4.99 own-brand plonk from Sainsbury’s and will not think of themselves as philistines for doing so. At level two are the people who buy their wines from Odd Bins – or if they are feeling the spirit of entente cordiale – from Nicolas. They know what they like but they don’t want to spend a fortune acquiring it. Then you have the level threes; the wine snobs. They liaise with wine consultants and maintain temperature-controlled collections of prestige bottles for investment and special occasions. They imprison sommeliers in cellared dungeons, bound in chains and medieval padlocks, just to make sure they receive prompt oenological advice as and when they need it. They are the crème of the buyers’ market, respected by merchants and feared by sommeliers with equal regard.
But there is a fourth level of wine enthusiast ensnared between levels two and three, a grey area that we shall call level two-point-five. They do not have – or want – the same degree of geeky knowledge about wine as the level threes, nor do they abduct sommeliers or celebrate birthdays with a Chateau Petrus. But they are also not content buying their wines from Odd Bins on the recommendation of a twelve-year-old shop assistant whose closest approximation to sampling wine is a glass of Ribena. They are the in-betweens, and nobody was catering for these people, until now…
Red White or Pink is an independent boutique wine merchant with a personal touch. Launched earlier this year by Laura Lindsay and her business partner, their company caters for wine lovers who can tell the difference between a cheap table plonk and a velvety vintage, but who don’t necessarily want to know about the finer details of the wine’s terroir. In other words, great plonk with no pomp. This is wine for everyday drinking and those special occasions too, expertly sourced with a boutique approach but priced for the masses.
Laura has worked and trained with the best of them, from James Nicholson’s in her native Northern Ireland to the exclusive Edward Parker in Norfolk, not to mention a stint in Chile to experience the finer details of South American wine production. Having sampled the delights of a 1982 Château Lafite-Rothschild among other über -plonks, Laura prefers to source wine from independent producers who are passionate about their craft. “I’m not interested in buying the same wines that supermarkets stock. I want to give my customers access to the smaller, more individual producers who are creating some really fantastic wines.”
With the understanding of a good sommelier, buying from Laura really is like having your own wine consultant but without the high prices or the snobbery. “I enjoy dealing with customers and offering that personal service. People often phone or email me to discuss their tastes and requirements, and the feedback we get has always been positive.” This is a refreshing approach in an industry that is dominated by faceless chain stores, supermarkets and sneeringly upmarket independents.
On Laura’s easy-to-use website, her customers are treated to the novel idea of a tasting video. For each bottle that Laura sells you will find a video of Laura tasting the wine with accompanying notes about the producer, the flavours and perhaps a suggestion of a food to match it. “Roast ham and pinot noir is a winning combination,” she told me, and although she stocks a good selection of wines from around the world, “French is still my favourite,” she admitted. That old school training gets into your blood.
Red White or Pink also offers bespoke monthly cases, and anyone who’s subscribed to the likes of a wine club before will know that it is often a gamble in terms of quality; one bottle will be drinkable while the other five could be sold as vinegar. Thankfully, Laura takes a different approach. “I consult my customers individually to find out what they like, whether it’s full bodied, dry or fruity wines and so forth. We’ll then put together a case that caters for their tastes. Wine is very subjective and we want to ensure that our customers receive bottles well suited to their palates.”
Laura has no plans to compete with the large chains or even the highbrow merchants she hails from; she is content with a boutique company that retains customers and builds upon a loyal following, at prices competitive with the high street. This is good news for those of us marooned at level two-point-five. We can abandon our plans to kidnap the sommelier from Claridges, we can forget about asking Harry Potter for his latest Odd Bins recommendations. Somebody is taking care of our oenological needs and you don’t need a mortgage to pay for her advice either. The future for wine is bright. The future is Red White or Pink.
To find out more about Laura and Red White or Pink, please visit their website.