Fine Living | The Reconnoisseur

A refreshingly eccentric approach to the business of buying wine

This wine catalogue is a cheeky little number

A refreshingly eccentric approach to the business of buying wine

March 16 2010
John Stimpfig

I do sometimes wonder whether we now take wine a little bit too seriously. Fifteen or 20 years ago, there seemed to be more humour and irreverence attached to it. Remember those old Oddbins lists with the Ralph Steadman illustrations? Those were the days.

Fortunately, not every merchant is entirely po-faced when it comes to selling wine. Take for instance, the mail-order firm of Vin du Van in Kent, run by former ad-man, Ian Brown. His catalogue of all-Australian wines is a riot of rib-tickling, eccentric prose, such as this description of a Coriole Langhorne Creek Nebbiolo rosé, from page 29 of the current brochure: “Dry as a dry stone waller’s pointing-up trowel.” Or this, on a Wild Duck Creek shiraz: “Pumped up from the earth’s very core.”

In other words, if you’re hoping for a sage and serious dissection of acidity, fruit and tannin, this is not the place to find it. However, if you happen to like great Australian wine and possess a slightly lop-sided sense of humour, Brown’s list is just the job. For me, there’s none better in the UK. All of which explains why he has won a hatful of industry gongs from the likes of Which? and The International Wine Challenge in the past 15 years.

So if you need to stock up on older vintages of Australia’s top drops, rarities such as Mount Mary Quintet, Clarendon Hills Astralis or Penfolds Grange, look no further. Equally good are more affordable wines from boutique providers such as Turkey Flat, Grosset, Cullen and Mitolo.

And lastly, don’t go looking online because there is no website or email address. Why? “Well, it’s a wee bit impersonal,” Brown tells me in his Scottish burr. “Instead, I prefer to talk to people on the phone so I can get to know the person I am selling to.” What a delightfully old-fashioned notion.

Price range: £7.95 to more than £1,000.

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Wines