But there are good reasons for buying by mail even if you don't live in the Outer Hebrides, haven't slipped your disc, pawned your car or developed terminal sloth. You have access to the rarest, most delicious and most interesting wines from any merchant anywhere in the country; there are few that won't supply by mail.
One of the best specialists for Spanish wines (Laymont & Shaw) is in Truro, a top Rhone and Loire specialist in Mere in deepest Dorset (Yapp), and the only source of many of the wines from the American North-West - Oregon, Washington, Ohio - is Windrush Wines in Cirencester, should you be desperate for such things. What's more, some mail order merchants, especially Adnams of Southwold, will keep you so well supplied with wonderful reading matter that you will probably take to the armchair for good.
Even the supermarkets are getting into mail order. Marks & Spencer were first about five years ago, followed this year by Tesco Wine Select, Waitrose Direct and offers of premixed cases through the Sainsbury's magazine. Of the four, the most exciting is Waitrose, though the list still contains a number of dull wines inherited when John Lewis bought the ailing and uninspired Findlater Mackie Todd mail order company this spring - so pick with care.
It's certainly safer to buy a mixed case first and taste a bottle before you splash out on a whole case of one wine. I tasted a Christmassy selection picked for me by a number of the merchants especially renowned for selling by mail. I was put off Bordeaux Direct and the Wine Club by the silly prices, though the wines were decent. Les Amis du Vin have a brilliant list of Italian, Californian and Australian wines, but the whites they sent me were only adequate, the French wines disappointing. And Le Nez Rouge does have good wines, but those they sent fell down on value for money - compounded by far higher delivery charges than any of the merchants I dealt with. The following are my mail order favourites.
ADNAMS & CO
The Crown, High Street, Southwold, Suffolk IP18 6DP, tel: (0502) 722424. Delivery free for two or more cases in mainland UK, pounds 5 for one case. Regular offers, smart and informative wine list. Simon Loftus is a very good writer - so tuck into his wine lists as well as his wines. Adnams' is an extensive and characterful collection of fine and often unusual wines from everywhere. Prices are on the high side, but such individuality doesn't usually come cheap.
****1991 Cloudy Bay Chardonnay ( pounds 10.95).
****1991 Domaine de la Bongran, Cuvee Tradition,
Macon Clesse ( pounds 11.20) Very stylish Macon.
***1992 Dr Loosen Riesling Trocken ( pounds 6.20) Very crisp, aromatic, dry and complex German.
**1992 Domaines Virginie Marsanne, Vin de Pays d'Oc ( pounds 4.45). Unusual, herbs, lemon and greengage.
**1992 Chateau de Granoupiac, Coteaux du Languedoc ( pounds 4.85) Characterful and creamy.
REDS AND ROSE
*****1991 David Wynn Patriarch Shiraz ( pounds 9.25) Dark, smoky, concentrated Australian red.
***1992 Domaine de l'Hortus Rose, Vin de Pays de l'Herault ( pounds 5.10) Absolutely delicious dry rose.
***1989 Remelluri Crianza ( pounds 8.45) Full-bodied, smoky, plummy Rioja.
***1991 Domaine du Grand Cres, Corbieres ( pounds 5.79) Rich and oaky, reminiscent of fleshy plums, chocolate and thyme.
**1992 Figaro, Vin de Pays de l'Herault ( pounds 3.75) Gluggable, rich and soft.
**1992 Domaine du Fraisse, St Chinian ( pounds 4.40) Super-fruity, with a touch of tannin.
**1992 Domaine Piccinini, Minervois ( pounds 5.45) Gluggable in a Beaujolais style, soft and plummy.
THE WINE SOCIETY
Gunnels Wood Road, Stevenage, Hertfordshire SG1 2BG, tel: 0438 741177 enquiries or 0438 740222 orders. Members only - life membership in the form of a pounds 20 share. New members must join by 23 November for delivery pre-Christmas. Delivery free for one case or more to any UK address. This is the place to buy your wine if you live in the Highlands and Islands, or indeed any isolated part of the UK, since delivery of just one case is free anywhere. It's a non-profit-making consumers' co-operative. Many of the wines are sound to good. Many, including the following, are delicious.
WHITES AND CHAMPAGNE
*****1985 Alfred Gratien Champagne Brut ( pounds 19.50) Very stylish and elegant.
****1991 Rully Mont-Palais Premier Cru, Olivier Leflaive ( pounds 8.25) Soft and oaky, a 'new world' style of Chardonnay, with fruit and buttery, biscuity flavours.
****1986 Chateau Lafaurie-Peraguey, Sauternes ( pounds 9.95 per half bottle) Very sweet, honeyed, oaky, tangy and richly concentrated.
*1992 The Society's Vin d'Alsace, Hugel ( pounds 4.85) Floral, delicately limey and spicy.
REDS AND PORT
****1988 Churchills Traditional LBV Port, Bottled 1993 ( pounds 9.95) Sweet, gutsy and fruity.
***1992 Domaine du Moulin Rigaud, Minervois ( pounds 3.95) Interesting, complex flavours.
***1991 Freycinet Vineyard Pinot Noir, Tasmania ( pounds 11.65) Big, and bursting with raspberry fruit.
***1990 Domaine du Grand Tinel, Chateauneuf du Pape ( pounds 8.95) Robust but not over-tannic, and herby.
***1989 Chateau Carteau Cotes Daugay, St Emilion Grand Cru ( pounds 8.70) Big, rich and fruity, with raisin, savoury and chocolatey flavours.
**1989 Rioja Navajas Crianza ( pounds 4.95) Soft, wild strawberry and prune.
**1992 Domaine de Brezet, Cotes du Marmandais ( pounds 3.95) Lovely ripe raspberry and savoury flavours.
**1991 Angel Gully McLaren Vale Cabernet Sauvignon ( pounds 4.65) Soft, very fruity Australian.
Findlater Mackie Todd/Waitrose Direct Freepost, Deer Park Road, Merton Abbey, London SW19 3TU, tel: 081-543 0966. Delivery free for three or more cases anywhere on the UK mainland, pounds 3.95 per order of one or two cases. Monthly offers of pre-mixed cases, or (adding pounds 1.20 to the case price) you can pick your own from a list of selected wines.
(W indicates that the wine is also available in Waitrose stores, at the same price.)
*****Bourgogne Blanc Hautes Cotes de Beaune, Jayer-Gilles ( pounds 11.95) Soft and fruity, complex white Burgundy, buttery and savoury.
****1990 Kaseler Kehrnagel Riesling Auslese, Ruwer, Peter Scherf ( pounds 7.85) Concentrated, lean, pungent, grapefruity Moselle.
****1991 Chablis Permier Cru Beauroy, La Chablisienne ( pounds 8.95) Delicious, ripe, grassy and butterscotch-flavoured. W
***1992 Goldwater Chardonnay ( pounds 8.95) Savoury, tangy and exotic New Zealander.
***1993 Villa Maria Sauvignon Blanc ( pounds 5.49) Lovely super-fruity New Zealand white, ripe gooseberry and herbaceous-flavoured. W
**1993 Oxford Landing Sauvignon Blanc ( pounds 4.79) Gently tropical fruity, gooseberry and slightly smoky-flavoured Australian. W
**1992 Avontuur Chardonnay ( pounds 4.99) Crisp, honeyed, buttery, toasty South African white. W
***1990 Chorey-les-Beaune ( pounds 7.95) Lovely, soft red Burgundy, with raspberry flavours. W
**Cartlidge and Brown Zinfandel ( pounds 4.35) Easy-drinking, fullish, blackberry-fruity red. W
**1991 Montana Cabernet Sauvignon ( pounds 4.99) Very fruity, blackcurrant and grassy flavoured. W
*1992 Chateau de Nages, Costieres de Nimes ( pounds 3.15) Lovely, smoky Syrah. W
113 Regent's Park Road, London NW1 8UR, tel: 07l-722 5577. Free delivery within the M25 and from Nottinghamshire northward to the Scottish border from the York branch. There's a delivery charge of pounds 6.97 per case elsewhere in England, Wales and southern Scotland, five cases or more free. Regular newsletters and mailings and a brilliant list.
SPARKLING AND WHITES
***Lonsdale Ridge Brut Reserve ( pounds 4.25) Excellent value, toasty, fruity Australian fizz.
***1992 Yeringberg ( pounds 9.79) Unusual, crisp, intense Australian (not fizzy) made from the white Marsanne and Roussanne grapes of the Northern Rhone. Slightly herby, with greengage and apricot fruit.
***1990 Cahors, Domaine de Paillas ( pounds 5.09) Packed with lovely, smoky mulberry and strawberry fruit.
***1989 Remelluri Reserva ( pounds 7.19) Tannic Rioja. One to keep a few years in the cellar.
***1990 Elyse Napa Valley Zinfandel, Morisoli Vineyard ( pounds 8.08) Powerful, oaky, intensely blackberry-fruity American red.
***1991 Barbera d'Alba, Sara, Josetta Saffiro ( pounds 6.68) Serious, intense stuff (despite the gnome on the label). Dark, plummy and wild, with savoury concentration.
***Niepoort 1987 Late Bottled Vintage Port ( pounds 9.75) Powerful, chocolatey and cedary, closer to real vintage style than most LBVs.
STAR RATING: ***** superb; **** complex, exciting; *** excellent; ** very good; * good.Reuse content