It was recently said that "wine is the ultimate blind purchase; you can't even look at it properly until you've cracked open the bottle". Six years ago I would have agreed, but not any longer. In 2007, I first slotted a smart card into a brand new enomatic wine dispensing machine at The Sampler in Islington's Upper Street. Into my glass gurgled 25 centilitres of nectar, and then another, and another.
Last month, Fulham's Vagabond Wines, whose entire offering comes from enomatic machines on the try-before-you-buy principle, announced a second shop in Charlotte Street opening in October. MD Stephen Finch said that the new store will "press home its advantage of tastings, with cheese and charcuterie platters matched to the wines and an offer of wines from obscure wine regions around the world".
The Tokyo-inspired enomatic is a great device, quite simply because the best way to sell wine is on how it tastes. For independent wine merchants it's a godsend. The Sampler has since gone on to open bigger and better premises in South Kensington. "It's easy to buy a large selection of famous wines or well-known brands," said co-owner Jamie Hutchinson, "but it seems unlikely that they can provide value or even, frankly, much interest. We believe our success lies in letting the customer find what thrills them rather than pushing them in that direction."
Tom Jones, owner of the Whalley Wine Shop in Lancashire, said the by-the-glass system "allows us to taste and monitor our range more frequently, letting us link what regions we want to highlight with what is available to taste in store and on offer".
London is blessed with a good supply of wine merchants that dispense samples from the enomatic, among them the New Street Wine Shop, Vini Italiana, Hedonism Wines and Bottle Apostle, not forgetting Selfridges too. Even better news is that the enomatic revolution is spreading. Hangingditch has them in Manchester, as do Corks Out's Cheshire shops, Great Western Wine in Bath and Loki Wines in Birmingham.
Enomatic machines provide the basis for all Loki Wines' promotions with 24 wines always available for sampling. According to Loki's Phil Innes, "the enomatic often acts as the basis of informal tastings between friends, or to help me find out a client's wine preferences, to make wine accessible and sociable rather than focusing on stuffy traditional values". At Corks Out, 10 enomatics focus on regions, countries and grape varieties at different price levels.
In the battle for the hearts and palates of consumers, the enomatic is proving to be the indispensable dispenser.
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