How to sample wine online

Thursday, 6. July 2017 - 14:00

Type “try before you buy” into Google and you’ll discover that TBYB has become a ‘thing’. Clothing retailers like Zara, Net-a-Porter and ASOS all make a point of allowing customers to send back fashion items they have bought online. Nowadays, it's hard to imagine any of their competitors refusing to take back unsuitable clothes.

Several bed and furniture businesses offer a similar service, while the $39bn turnover retailer Best Buy, has just announced a joint venture with Lumoid, a San Francisco startup, that will let people rent items such as an Apple Watch for a week while they decide whether it is the kind of thing they really want on their wrist. Those who are won over by the digital technology have the $50.00 rental fee taken off the price of the watch; those who aren’t can celebrate not having spent $350.00 on a digital toy they didn’t want.

Wine is a trickier candidate for TBYB. Bottles are heavy and fragile, and once they have been opened for tasting, they can’t be resold. A British start-up called the Decanting Club has come up with an ingenious solution to this problem. Subscribers to its service - for £10.00 to £40.00 ($13.00 to $42.00) per month – receive 150ml pouches of wine through the post. For each of these, there’s a video clip allowing the recipient to taste along with an expert. Naturally, the wines they enjoy, such as Te Awa Malbec from New Zealand and Dopff au Moulin Gewürztraminer, can then be bought by the case.

I’ll be interested to see how this business fares. The UK is both a good and bad place to launch it. High levels of excise duty can make a bottle of wine a much more expensive purchase than in many other countries. In theory, this supports the case for pre-purchase sampling, but on the other hand, those same taxes make the cost of the samples higher than some people might care to spend.

The concept also depends on a greater level of interest in wine than is shown by many middle class British wine drinkers. I was interested to see that the Decanting Club only managed to raise 7% of its £17,000.00 target on the indiegogo crowd funding site.

Despite that less than encouraging start, the business is now up and running and I wish it well. To be realistic, if it fails to achieve its ambitions in the UK, I can see this – or a similar concept – generating plenty of interest in a sophisticated wine market like Australia.
Robert Joseph