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I suppose I have had two careers – first as a barrister, then as a shopkeeper. In each case there is a stock question that is asked with monotonous frequency. As a lawyer the question was: how can you defend someone if you know they're guilty? The curious thing is that the questioner has no interest in the answer, and has already made up his or her mind – namely that it's both impossible and morally unacceptable. No amount of explanation, persuasiveness or reasoning will ever change their minds.


The stock question that is put to me as a shopkeeper is: why should I buy wine from you? The question always comes from non-customers, usually from people who have met me for the first time and know nothing about my business. In fact, recently one questioner put it even more bluntly; he asserted flatly that I shouldn't be in business, how could I compete with the supermarkets?


The average price of a bottle of wine sold in this country is still under £4. These are mass-produced wines made to a formula and sold in vast quantities. They are what is known as beverages, like Coca-Cola. They are in general (though not necessarily!) pleasant to drink, and the large multiples are very clever at selling this sort of wine, supported by deft promotion and public relations, with dozens of recommendations in the wine columns of the national press. If you are happy with this kind of wine, keep drinking it.


 On the other hand, if you like to take a risk, live dangerously now and again; if you adopt the attitude that you may come by something truly thrilling (instead of worrying that you may be disappointed), in other words, thinking of the glass half-full rather than the glass half-empty, you may be tempted to try your luck with a small independent wine merchant. Interestingly, in the last ten years or so, an increasing number of such merchants have sprung up, filling a gap between the mass retailers and the posh West End wine merchants such as Berry Bros. The fact is that the supermarkets have real difficulty in selling wines above around £5 a bottle. The employees in the stores usually know nothing about the wines that their bosses are selling – even if there are "wine advisers" in the store, they may only have the most basic wine qualifications, if any at all; they will probably have tasted very few of the wines on offer and they will have had absolutely no hand in the buying of the range.


To be continued next week