Specialists: Online Italian Wine in the UK
Readers often ask for recommendations for UK-based online Italian wine specialists. As we are currently in the tightening grip of the Covid-19 pandemic and the festive wine buying season is fast approaching, buying wine online is particularly appealing. With that background in mind, here are three online Italian specialists to try, each one with a different approach.
The value of Independence
Firstly, anyone that favours an independent wine merchant is to be commended, as the wine in your glass will almost certainly taste better.
It’s a major reason why the UK independent wine merchants continue to have thriving retail sales. Most of these have retail premises, and over the past few years have added an online offering. Those are usually generalists, stocking wines from around the world. Consequently, their Italian selections are frequently well-chosen (there are plenty of examples cited on this website as proof). However, a specialist can offer more diversity and exclusivity.
Online enables specialism
Online also means that having shop premises is no longer the business prerequisite it once was. All of us are now well-versed in buying online. It’s an everyday occurrence, being accelerated by the ongoing pandemic, where safety is as important as convenience.
Covid-19 has reduced retail footfall and trashed the hospitality sector, but online retail has grown. Indeed, Wine Intelligence estimates that 34% of regular wine buyers in the UK in 2020 now buy online (2017 – 30%). And even if online isn’t the sole wine venue, it’s now firmly established in the mix.
Specialists can delve deeper. They can offer obscure but excellent artisanal producers, sustainable wines, small production, rare grape varieties and a smattering of the individual weird and wonderful – all things that make Italian wine such a treasure.
Many specialists also have direct relationships with wine producers. This cuts out the middleman, and also enables small artisanal producers and their wines to be offered, sometimes exclusively. We all like to find things that aren’t otherwise available, and specialists have the talent to unearth these.
Sure, these specialists have particular appeal for wine enthusiasts, but isn’t that why you’re reading this?
What makes an excellent online wine specialist?
What criteria make an excellent online wine specialist? The primary one is that they stock only superb tasting wines. Without that, nothing else matters.
Next, the pricing has to offer value and be competitive, including delivery charges.
Retail always means detail. Hence there are other vital customer experience considerations as part of an online proposition. These might include:
An engaging website and social media presence, with content that’s easily navigable and valuable.
Slick ordering and secure payment systems;
The ability to mix and match;
Themed selections and regular offers;
Available stock and trackable delivery services;
Sustainability. Of the wines but also the delivery packaging.
With those criteria in mind, here are three online retail Italian specialists that are based in the UK. Their inclusion here is based upon personal experience. Each of the three is different, so for each one there’s a brief bio, then a description of how they operate and finally there are three wine examples. Those are chosen with the festive season in mind. There’s little overlap between them, so do check them out!
Ben and Emma Robson run Bat & Bottle in Oakham. The business recently celebrated its 26th birthday. That’s no mean feat! Starting in May 1994, they were initially generalists; with wines from around the world, together with cricket bats, a somewhat unique and unusual combination.
However, they became Italian wine specialists in 2003, and the bats are long gone. It also means they’ve had plenty of experience. Most sales are online, but email and telephone are also available.
How they work
Storage is both in Bond and at their warehouse. The warehouse sometimes opens as a shop, though less frequently since the pandemic. Since 2015 there’s also been a wine club. All the wines offered are sustainable; chosen and bought directly, mostly from small artisan producers.
Bat & Bottle cover 16 of Italy’s 20 regions and bottle prices range from under £10 to £100. To help in selection, there are web-based explanations and filters, plus they can make recommendations for various occasions and tastes, with a gifting service too. Also, there’s a newsletter, a blog and social media presence on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, and YouTube.
There’s no minimum purchase. Standard delivery is free within a 10-mile radius and free to mainland UK for orders over £150. Otherwise, standard delivery is £8.70 for 1-11 bottles and £5.40 for 12+ bottles. Click and collect is also offered. Their secure purchasing is one of the slickest around, and the packaging is also sustainable, using British cardboard, with delivery by Parcelforce.
Three wines to try:
Fondo Indizeno. “Monopolio Sanfilippo” Bianco. Friuli Colli Orientali DOC. 2017. 13%. A classic Friulian white blend of 55% Malvasia Istriana, 35% Pinot Bianco and 10% Ribolla Gialla. £16.20
Caves de Donnas. “Donnas” Valle d’Aosta DOC. 2016. 13%. Mountain Nebbiolo leavened with 10% Freisa and Neyret. £19.50
Ca’ La Bionda. “Ravazzòl” Amarone delle Valpolicella Classico DOCG. Veneto. 2012. 16%. An exceptional Amarone; Corvina 70%, Corvinone 20%, Rondinella & Molinara 10%. Biodynamic too. My review is here. £48.00
Italian Wine is brand new, set up in August this year by Matteo and Cecilia Pelucchi. They are based in Newhaven, near Brighton, offering wines from 25 Italian producers, with another four to be added soon. Ten of Italy’s regions are covered, including those that are less well known. The focus is on the discovery of the winery rather than individual bottles.
Having a winery focus offers advantages to the customer, the business and the producer. As Italian wineries tend to have a wide range, mix and match are still easy, with a bottle price range between £8.00 and £54.00. The website has a useful chatbot for questions and queries. There are independent ratings, and a sommelier tool on the website matches producers with personal preferences. There’s an optional newsletter, and they are on Instagram, while a blog will be added shortly.
How they work
When you buy the wine online here, you buy by the winery in multiples of six (so 6/12/18 etc.). Hence a minimum order would be six wines from one producer, with those six chosen from the producer’s range mixed up as you want. If you want to add another producer, choose another six wines from that producer. Deliveries are made directly from the winery. Delivery charges are free over £140. Under this amount, only a single charge of £9.90 is levied, regardless of how many producers you choose. Each producer ships separately, but you don’t pay multiple delivery charges.
This has the advantage of Italian Wine holding no stock directly, which would otherwise need storage premises and stock, and it avoids the cash-flow problems that are the bane of any start-up.
Delivery directly from Italy takes 4-5 days. Delivery uses UPS and sturdy Nakpack recyclable cardboard packaging.
Three wines to try:
Tenuta Santa Lucia. “Albarara Cru Artiginale”, Albana di Romagna DOCG, secco. Emilia-Romana. 2016. 14.5%. 100% white Albana grape variety, certified organic and farmed biodynamically. £13.50
Conte Vistarino. “Bertone” Pinot Nero. Provincia di Pavia IGP. Lombardia. 2018. 14%. One of the great Italian examples of Pinot Noir. My review is here. £35.90
Tenimenti Greco. “200 Metri,” Tintilia del Molise DOC. Molise. 2018. 13.5%. 100% Tintilia rare red grape variety, now enjoying a comeback with a dedicated DOC in its native home in the Molise region. £10.90
Elvira Dimitrieva and Oleg Dimetriev started trading as Independent Wine in 2019, so are about to celebrate their first anniversary. Based in Edinburgh, both are experienced entrepreneurs as well as wine lovers. While there are a few non-Italian wines in their portfolio, their primary focus is on being an online Italian specialist with direct relationships with wine producers. So far, they cover nine of Italy’s regions, with around 100 wines available. Retail bottle prices are between £9.00 and £95.00.
This is a purely online proposition, and they have their own warehouse in Edinburgh from which to fulfil orders. Also, they only import wine from Italy between October and April to avoid any incidence of heat damage in transit.
They see their website as more than just a shop. Rather, it’s an information portal with in-depth articles on Italian wines, including guides to the major appellations alongside maps, tasting notes and travel guides. The wines also show their awards and ratings received by third parties. They also share recipes for authentic Italian food to go with the wines. Additionally, they offer recommendations and have a gifting service. Social Media presence includes Twitter and LinkedIn. There’s also a blog on the website.
How they work
There’s no minimum order size, and you are free to mix and match bottles. There are also pre-selected mixed cases. Delivery is free over £99. Otherwise, it’s £6.70 to Mainland UK. Also, all deliveries are next day and use FedEx. Meanwhile, the delivery packaging is 100% recyclable paper and cardboard. The buying process has a Trustpilot 4.5/5 rating.
Three wines to try:
Cantina Peter Zemmer. “Giatl” Pinot Grigio Riserva. Alto Adige DOC. 2017. 14.5%. 100% Pinot Grigio made in the Pinot Gris style; my review is here. £24.45
Feudi di Guagnano. “La Camarde” Salento IGP. Apulia. 2016. 13.5%. A blend of 80% Negroamaro and 20% Primitivo from old bush vines in Puglia. £14.83
Francone. “I Patriarchi”. Barbera d’Alba Superiore DOC. Piemonte. 2017. 15%. 100% Barbera, reviewed here. £19.98
These three are, of course, not the only online Italian specialists. But I know them and use them myself. In short, I like the wines, the service and the business smarts. Online specialists are excellent venues to discover new places, wines and flavours, so why not take a look.
After all, now’s the ideal time of year!
Do let me know if you use online specialists and share your experiences!