The Joys of Modern Life: 51. WINE WAREHOUSES

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DO YOU remember what buying wine used to be like in this country? Of course you do - that's what it's still like, most of the time. In other words: a depressing search through three shelves of Paraquat which all seem to have come from non-wine-producing countries like Poland. The shop is called "Booze `n' Fags" and is by a smelly bus shelter in a high-insurance belt of town.

Sure, there are Threshers shops, irredeemably tainted by their (admittedly bogus) association with Norman Lamont; sure, there's Oddbins, but their matey tasting notes are strangely off-putting, and the wines are a bit more pricey than you feel they should be, and their staff are snotty.

But I've discovered the joys of the wine warehouse - particularly the one local to me, which I will not name directly, because I have not been paid to, but their name begins with "m" and is a near-synonym of regal.

So what do you get? You get a converted garage full of boxes of wine. Some cost pounds 50 a bottle; some pounds 2.49. You also get beer, not all of it that great, but you can, or could, get a case of Marston's Pedigree, the world's second-best beer, at a pound a half-litre. A modest yet plausible selection of good tortilla chips, ditto spirits.

It is hard not to be intimidated by the sheer quantity of wine, about which you want to know only two things: 1. Does it taste nice? 2. Will it bankrupt me? You will find a member of staff who might not know much about wine but knows what he/she likes (is their endearing inability to pronounce even the simplest French word, eg "le", a policy implemented to put customers at their ease?) who will steer you in the direction of a grape-based drink where the answers to those two questions are the desirable 1. Yes and 2. No. And it really is as simple as that. You choose, they deliver, you drink. Now if only we could get them to take the empties away, then we would know that Heaven was not only at hand but already in place.