So, as I observed to PK, I ordered this stuff from Virgin Wines on the back of a special offer that came with a broadband router gadget. Trying to get your router to work? Have a drink! It's the logical next step.
Naturally enough, this mail-order wine, dispatched to our house in the London suburbs, with good road and rail connections, didn't arrive, even though Virgin emailed me two days after the order to ask how I was enjoying it: 'I trust everything went well with your recent order,' wrote someone called Jay Wright, 'We'd love to hear from you.' So they heard from me that the drink hadn't come, at which point David Cole (Priority One Senior Advisor his job title, as if he might be in the US Air Force) got back pretty much instantly - 'Unfortunately it would appear your case has gone missing in transit.' I could have told him that from the outset, given that most of our wine goes missing in transit, but anyway.
No sweat, though, as they ordered up a fresh case of Mixed Essentials, followed by an email from Christopher Ward (Priority One Advisor), advising me to 'Rest assured either myself or a member of the delivery team will be tracking this new case for you to ensure that any issues that arise are swiftly dealt with.' What do you know, but the stuff turned up next day, present and correct, followed by a phone call from a guy announcing himself as Dave - David Cole? I hope so - to check that it was actually there. Now that's service, sort of.
Not only that, but the case contained a nice black envelope with the legend Go on, open me, you know you want to... printed on the front, a clear lift from the Sediment email heads-ups, and within, a voucher for a clothing and, yes, lifestyle, store, plus £25 off a food delivery company's first order. A surfeit of good things.
The wines themselves? To be honest, a bit of a blur. Eight different varieties, half-and-half mainstream white and red, Malbec, Merlot, Chardonnay, all sorts. I simply don't have the mental clarity to hold an opinion on them all. Even now, I have a bottle of Le Clos Gascon on the go - Merlot and Tannat, apparently, the latter a grape I had never heard of, big in Uruguay - and a Barossa Valley white. I opened this one up without looking to see what it was, took a mouthful, said to myself, Hmm, a sauvignon blanc? But not as sawtoothed as usual, only to discover that it was a Sémillon Sauvignon Blanc. Which I guess makes sense. And it's a perfectly approachable drink, as have they all been, especially at the discounted price of around £5 a bottle. If I'd paid the notional full price of around £7? Less convincing. But since we know that wine pricing in the UK is as transient and unpredictable as ironic laughter, then fair enough.
No, the thing that really sticks with me is the sense of being professionally worked over by the Virgin Wines customer care wranglers. Whoever does Virgin's wines (in Norwich, it seems) they give you that sense of being handled by someone really dedicated to customer handling, possibly, just possibly, in order to take your mind off the actual quality of the purchase you've just made.
Is this what the Virgin brand is about? The only dealings I can recall having, ever, with Virgin, were years ago when the whole family flew Virgin Atlantic to San Francisco. At one point it was about 3 a.m. London time on the plane, almost everyone had passed out - when the Virgin cabin crew, in their smart red uniforms, woke us all up to offer us a mint'n'choc ice cream. We were too fuddled and exhausted to say No or For Christ's sake. We humbly accepted our ices, ate them, and were, in some cretinous way, grateful for having been woken up in the dead of night and required to eat an entirely inapproprate snack. Well, we said. You don't get that on BA. A women in a red uniform woke me up with a mint'n'choc ice! Who cares about the rest of it? Who, indeed, can remember?
So thanks, Jay, Dave and Chris. It's been fun. It's been about the people. And, to some extent, it's been about the wine.