Raise a glass to the information age

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Indy Lifestyle Online

I wouldn't say that I'm any more nerdy than your average anorak, but I was sorry to see the back of www.routeduvin.com, whose Mickey Butts spent his spare time fossicking around to provide a free digest of the best wine articles from around the world.

I wouldn't say that I'm any more nerdy than your average anorak, but I was sorry to see the back of www.routeduvin.com, whose Mickey Butts spent his spare time fossicking around to provide a free digest of the best wine articles from around the world.

You can buy wine on the net from a rapidly expanding number of websites, from trad merchants to TV channel Five's so-called interactive wine club with its bizarre "Richard & Judy Tasting Case". I buy more wine over the net than anywhere else. But before I buy, I take advantage of the free information available on a host of other sites to inform my buying decisions. Thanks to www.wine-searcher.com I found the best price for a case of Château de Beaucastel 2001, from Farr Vinters. To help work out how much to bid at wine auctions on a particular lot, I'll turn to www.vines.org. To keep abreast of what's new I read www.decanter.com, an honest and well-researched glimpse into the daily working of the wine world from juicy scandal to who's consorting, winewise, with whom. It's free.

Were I not so immersed in the stuff on a daily basis, I might be tempted to pay up front for one of the more authoritative names in the business, such as Robert Parker or Jancis Robinson MW, both of whose sites offer opinion, tasting notes and features. Being the cheeseparing sort that I am though, I find there's plenty of free reading matter. The main disadvantage is in having to sort the healthy bunch from the less-than-noble rot.

Most subscription sites will give you an amuse-bouche of what's in the store. Some are no more than teasers, like the site of the Wine Spectator, www.winespectator.com, while www.winebusiness.com, like the Decanter magazine site, has a plethora of useful information that's more market and trade-oriented. Tapping into a rich seam of market information, www.live-ex.co.uk offers a unique analysis of Robert Parker scores and wine prices to help when buying fine wine.

The net provides price transparency of a kind that never existed before - hence the claim of www.wine-searcher.com that it saves you money by comparing prices of fine wines. Free access is limited to wines from the 150-odd merchants who sponsor the site, although the subscription version provides full price comparisons. On the wine investment side, www.vines.org gives free and detailed access to the price of wines auctioned globally, while www.investdrinks.org is the painstakingly researched site of the drinks bloodhound Jim Budd, who works with the DTI, exposing dodgy dealers.

The trainspotter can become immersed in winespeak. If you saw Michel Rolland in Mondovino exhorting clients to "micro-oxygenate" and haven't a clue what that is, www.wineanorak.com is the place to look for techie stuff, and www.letstalkwine.co.uk has a wine information exchange forum where you can chat online.

Of the host of sites devoted to wine regions and countries, some sponsored, others requiring registration, one of the most useful is www.grape.org.za, with an independent and radical take on the South African wine scene from some of its best local journalists. For Australia, www.onwine.com.au is a reliable independent site by one of Oz's most professional writers, Jeremy Oliver. For general stuff on Italy, there's www.italianmade.com, and for a similar coverage of France, visit www.wines-france.com/uk. And if all else fails, there's always the all-seeing Google eye.

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