There’s an updated introduction to Irish online wine retailers below, while elsewhere on this blog is a suggested checklist for choosing an online shop, and I hope both are of some practical use to you. (There was one glaring omission in this list which I’ve rectified this morning. If you see any other amendments you think I ought to make please let me know at the usual email address).
While I was revising the list of shops, the thought struck me that, like the dog in the night-time, many wine business sites are interesting for what they don’t do. I’m thinking particularly of stores which don’t trade online at all.
While obviously not of direct relevance to someone who wants to shop online right now, the thought is germane to people interested in wine, which is why I’m starting with that footnote.
Many retailers, large and small, are missing a trick. I wish those trading only from physical shops would put their wines on the net in the same way as online shops do. Even though we customers obviously wouldn’t have the opportunity to click through to a till, I think the shops in question would benefit greatly from proffering that virtual shelf online. And we wine fans (and perhaps wine itself) would benefit setting such information free.
Certainly, an online placeholder might be of some use to a retailer – a rudimentary site with a store finder, opening hours, contact details etc. But by not showing the actual wines, such stores are passing up on the unique opportunity presented by the internet. Browsing a wine business’ site which doesn’t have a proper database of the wines it sells is like walking into a carefully planned shop designed by architects, laid out by professional display artists and illumined by lighting engineers – but which doesn’t show what’s on sale nor how much it costs.
I’m thinking in particular of big retailers such as Dunnes, and franchises such as SuperValu and Carry-Out.
Often the nearest you’ll get to wine range is a PDF of the current ‘special offer’ leaflet – usually headlined by big brands (led by spirits and slabs of lager) thereby sidelining the store’s own exclusive wines. At best you’ll see only a handful of wines, rarely kept up to date and often without key specific information such as vintage. I’ve encountered cracking wines from all and would love to be able to point to a link on their sites. And so would other shoppers. Look around at social media where people are sharing hints and tips: Even a shop’s biggest fan really couldn’t be arsed putting up a link directing their friends to a site which essentially says ‘buy from us, we’re great’. No, we want the specifics. What customers are saying online is “Got a great sauv blanc from WineCo – here’s a link with the details”.
And then there’s the search engines. Shops looking at search engine traffic will quickly discover that, in general, we aren’t searching for what the wine shop thinks of itself
award-winning red… delicious wine… small, family-owned winery… serving Ireland since 1922… you’ve tried the rest now buy the best… enjoy a drink in relaxing surroundings…
We’re far more likely to be looking for terms specific to us, such as
chenin blanc… cava… Bordeaux available in Mullingar… Chateau Wotsit 2011 half bottle…
We’re not landing on the vague sites. Or if we are, we’ll find little or nothing about what the store is selling right now.
For all the foregoing reasons, I hope wine shops, wholesalers and shoppers alike take a look at the first site here – even though it doesn’t actually sell wine.
Searsons has been in the wine trade for about 90 years, having bought into the Davy family’s grocery business which had been operating around Dublin for most of the 19th century. They remain one of Ireland’s best importers and wholesalers, equally adept at posh high-end wines for special occasions and good solid wines at relatively approachable entry-level prices.
Unlike the wine stores listed below, the site is not a click-and-buy, but rather a shop window linking to retailers that Searson’s supplies. The site used to be the least sophisticated wine site in the world ever – merely a series of PDFs and a phone number. But it’s now a proper site allowing you browse wines and view a map showing stockists nationwide. Crucially, it also has the full name, rank and serial number (well ok, full name, appellation and vintage) of every wine. As it doesn’t sell directly, the site can’t of course tell you what the retail price is: that contract is between you and the retailer. But it does helpfully give an rrp (recommended retail price) for each. It workd as an excellent support for the independent retailers the company supplies, and a wine-finder resource for us.
There’s no such restriction on big non-online retailers, which could easily offer all the specifics and, for instance, update special offer and multiple-buy info with a few keystrokes. (Indeed there’s no reason such publicly available info couldn’t be integrated with their stock control system).
And franchises could just as easily emulate the wholesaler Searsons. Some have gone part of the way. For instance, the Carry-Out site has an excellent, well-organised interactive map of all its 50-plus franchises with full contact details. Yes there’s a special offer leaflet as described above. But no indication of its basic range.
That’s a pity. There’s nothing preventing all the franchisees agreeing to stock say a dozen or twenty basics, each in an agreed, tight price band. Suddenly anyone – bloggers, columnists, Facebookers, tweeters, TV radio pundits – could feel confident in saying ‘cracking pinot blanc in Carry-Out for €x’ knowing that it actually means something to anyone, anywhere in the country.
Now on to the online wine retailers proper, starting with the top six that I would choose first if I were buying wine for delivery right now.
Irish online wine shops
Curious Wines is an exemplary, comprehensively searchable and informative website.
Between their participation in big tastings, and snapshot samplings of parts of their range (most recently a handful of discounted wines from Bordeaux and Spain) I’ve found the store offers many terrific, good value wines.
Stunning list operating out of James Nicholson’s award-winning shop in Crossgar, Co Down. You’ll also find some of these at Parsons’ Wine Warehouse, Carrigaline Co Cork as well as in selected restaurants such as Star Anise on Bridge Street in Cork. In brief, Nicholsons sell a disproportionately large number of my favourite wines on the Irish market. As far as I’m aware it has another distinction as the only site that allows you to buy and deliver anywhere in Ireland or the UK — I’ve found it a godsend for sending gifts to England. Finally, make sure you select the right jurisdiction in the “Delivery Location” tab on the opening page so you see the wines priced in the right currency.
The growing off-licence chain (with stores all over Leinster plus one-off outposts in Galway, Limerick and now also in Douglas, Cork) has a winning wine selection, and is also a great one-stop shop, as it also stocks a wide range of good beers and ciders too. Their most recent tasting confirmed again its expertise with an imaginative well-chosen range including some cracking good value.
Excellent site featuring hundreds of wines from everyday sippers to special interest bottles.
One of the first wine retailers online (now in its 20th year) Paddy Keogh’s site is excellent in terms of functionality and its wine-list. Check out Sticks Chardonnay, Viognier Yarra Valley 2006, €12.90 or rich ripe spicy Chateau Haut Rian Cuvée Prestige Premieres Cotes de Bordeaux 2005, €13.70.
Ian Dornan’s smashing list is very well worth returning to for its frequently top-class wines – backed up by a money-back guarantee.
Began exclusively with Champagne, hence the name, but now sells a wide range of classic wines. Also has a drive-in warehouse at Marina Commercial Park, Cork as well as its original store in the English Market in the city centre.
Award-winning wine list also sold from their store at Carrigaline, Co Cork. Smashing affordable wines from all over but I am particuarly fond of several of Joe’s wines from Italy, Germany and Portugal.
Extensive list also available at its store in Kilkenny.
Ireland’s longest-established importer of organic wines. I’m agnostic on the whole organic thing but believe that winegrowers and winemakers even aiming for organic certification by definition lavish TLC on their plants which is where it all begins. Mary makes no specific health or even quality claims for wines made from organically-grown grapes – but rightly emphasises that she’s looking for good, carefully-made wine and there are several winners in her list.
Excellent online presence of the shops in Blackrock and Foxrock.
One of Ireland’s most informative and interesting sites and a premium range of wines from the 200-year-old upmarket Dublin wine merchant.
Long list touching the most important bases with some brilliant minority interest specials.
Bordeaux, try rich ripe Chateau Rauzan-Despagne Bordeaux Reserve 2006, €15.50.
The newish Irish outpost of a British online store. Highlights include a cracking value expressive plump tropical chardonnay from Burgundy, Saint-Véran Merloix Bourgogne Blanc 2007, €12.45, and crisp white Rocca di Tufo Orvieto Classico 2007, €11.45.
Extensive range. Delivers only in the Dublin area.
Spin-off from the eponymous gourmet shop in Donnybrook, Dublin.
the wine store
The retail wing of importer Tyrrell & Co is a multiple award-winning site focusing on wines from France, Spain and Italy and, in particular, the Rhône valley.
Finally, it’d be pretty understandable if you skipped the long footnote that I opened with. But it is worth thinking about if you get a chance. Information belongs to all of us, rather than being in the gift of some presumed elite. As Tim Berners-Lee tweeted during the recent inspirational Olympics opening ceremony, ‘this is for everyone’. ♦