In 2009, Exel Wines officially began as a trader of fine wines, largely in Bordeaux First Growths. However, prior to this, having started off in the restaurant industry, wine was already an important part of our life. Nevertheless, the ambition to venture in to the retail world developed and our contacts, industry knowledge and restaurant experience brought together a desire to source and make available those wines often only found on restaurant wine lists so that our customers could now also enjoy them at home.
Over time, the restaurant became our first retail outlet, and we then took on warehousing premises from which to develop the online business. Since then, it has been a steady progression to get our business to where it is today as one of the UK’s foremost retailers of quality wines.
We still hold on to the same passion for great wine that started the company all those years ago, as well as our founding principle to offer clients the very best quality:value ratio. Whether is it an entry level wine, or a fine Grand/Premier Cru, we will always ensure that each pound goes as far as possible.
Here's our guide to what it is we do, and how we do it:
We list some 1,800 wines on-line (plus many other drinks, especially whisky), giving us one of the largest browsable selections in the UK. Much as we try, we clearly can’t stock and/or list everything, but we do our utmost to make sure we make available the world’s most admired wines and producers, and (see below) we particularly specialise in offering the most sought-after recent award winners and rated wines (particularly by Decanter magazine).
An Exel speciality is that we offer as mixed an order/case(s) as you would like to take from us: you don’t have to buy full cases from us, be that outright or to benefit from our best prices (see discounts below). If you want to order, say, 40+ different bottles (the current record is just over 70), go right ahead. Sure, the Orders team may curse a little, but we’re delighted to do it. We see this often from customers looking to find their favourite wine(s) among many, quite often with a view to come back for a more targeted order next time.
If there’s a wine on our site, it’s not just there for window dressing and to add a bit of gloss. It’s because we either have it in stock or are as certain as we can be that we can obtain it. A key part of how we spend our days is in making sure that we only list wines that are available. Sounds obvious, we know, but there are so many wines out there on the internet that are – and sometimes never were – available. See how we operate below.
What we’re not
Unlike many of our internet competitors, we’re far from just a virtual hub of wine showing only a price and a blurry photo (often pinched from another such outfit), but with no info on the wine. We pride ourselves on having the most detailed website of any major internet retailer (and we know that’s quite a claim). Reviews, blog/articles, features, tastings… you’ll find them all here.
We’re not just robots or sales people. We’re (fairly) likeable human beings who simply want you to find/buy the wines you want, at a great price, and as quickly as possible. We know well the producers and wines we sell and we’ve no shortage of WSET-educatees. If you need more information on our wines, or on our getting them to you - do please call us or mail us (details below). We’re all about being straight with our customers, even if, now and again, that’s not always what they want to hear (eg end of vintage, sold out, shipment delayed, price has gone up).
How we operate (quite important, this bit)
We take some 75% of what we sell from major UK importers; the rest, we import directly. Of those 1,800 wines we offer, we hold about one third of them (our most popular wines and a few oddities) in stock here in Perth. The rest, we bring in to order (‘just-in-time’, one calls it these days).
This is worth noting, as it affects how quickly we can get your order to you. In this Amazon-centric world, we know customers have become used to everything (from dog toys to water beds) being in stock on-line and ready for immediate despatch. Much as we’d love to do that, that would mean holding stock of 1,800 wines: that's not practical and not affordable, alas (it also rather explains why Amazon have never gone big on wine).
What we do, however, is make those ordered-in/just-in-time wines reach you as fast as possible.
How do you know which wines are immediately available and which ones entail a wait? At the bottom of each wine’s product page, in bold type, the page will tell you whether a wine is:
If we’ve a wine in stock (and enough of it to meet your needs) and you order by noon, it will leave us that day.If you need more of the wine than is showing in stock, that same section will tell you how long until that stock arrives (see also next para).
If a wine is not in stock, and it’s instead showing as Available in 5-10 or 10-15 working days, that’s what we mean. Those timeframes reflect our time to order and receive the wine and include getting it to your door (in the UK). We typically beat these timeframes by a few days, but we do sometimes need the whole period.
If there’s none of these three messages on the product page, it’s because that wine is a “special”, almost certainly on a longer run to us from overseas. These products will have an availability message (normally with ** and in capitals!) at the top of the page. There’s normally a little more uncertainty about the exact arrival of these, but we keep the pages as updated as we can.
Our shop at 47, South Street in Perth is a den of liquid interest. Many of our stocked wines are to be found there, as are all of our stocked whiskies. The team there know our product range extremely well, and we greatly recommend dropping in.
Not all of our wines listed as being in stock live at the shop, however. They can easily be sent there across Perth from our HQ, so we’d always advise calling either HQ (01738 493535) or shop (01738 629979) to check if you are seeking (a) certain bottle(s).
Similarly, all of our products can be ordered for collection from the shop (at/under the same stated timeframes) to avoid delivery charges. This option is to be found at the end of the shipping stage when you checkout.
NB: this same “Collect from Shop” option can also be used (as a cunning work-around) by customers seeking to add to an existing, yet-to-be-despatched web order for delivery, where that additional order would not alter carriage charges (normally, where the order already qualifies for free shipping); please mark on your additional order that this is an “extension” of the existing order.
Award winners, high demand and waits
We do our utmost to source top-scoring and award-winning wines; see here and here for our current crop. These are not always easily obtained, can take a while to arrive and often run out fast when they do.
That taking-a-while-to-arrive bit. Although importers and stockists get some warning of what features in the next Decanter (but not with awards), it’s often not enough time to shore up stocks to cope with the demand seen for many poll-toppers. Which means that there’s often not enough to go round, and further stocks (esp for New World wines) may take as long as 10-12 weeks to arrive. Where that happens, and where we can secure future supply, we’ll sell that wine before it arrives and keep buyers briefed as it reaches us. It’s not ideal, but it’s pretty commonplace unless that poll-topper happens to be already in (or near) the UK.
Sometimes, we can’t secure further supply. Decanter and some of the awards have an uncanny knack of highlighting wines right at the end of their vintage (and which may also already have seen demand from awards/ratings elsewhere). Infuriatingly, some producers even have a habit of submitting already-expired vintages for judging: we assume the chance to have the spotlight cast on their wines is, in that instance, more important than the ability to supply the noted vintage.
Sometimes, for those rather-limited award winners, and for a few other sought-after wines (eg top-end wines from Catena, Tolpuddle, Cullen, Trimbach etc), we choose to limit availability to each customer to a certain number of bottles. We do it to ensure some degree of fairness (ie an appreciable number of customers have a chance to source a wine from us).
Whilst allocating is not uncommon in wine retail, we’re still not fans of doing it, and we do so only a) rarely, b) where we can see that demand will hugely outstrip supply and/or c) where we ourselves are subject to tight allocations from producers and importers. It’s always hard to get the size of the allocation right: for those that do obtain the wine, that allocation is often too small; for those that miss out, our allocations were invariably too large!
Errors and delays
Occasionally, these do occur. We do a great deal to eliminate these; in particular, we work very closely and frequently with our suppliers to ensure we only list products and vintages they can supply. Indeed, we pride ourselves on doing this far better than most of our competitors: it’s absolutely crucial to our “just-in-time” approach to supplying many of our wines.
However, products do occasionally run out, become delisted and change vintage ‘beyond oor ken’. We’ll let you know as soon as possible and do what we can to offer you a fair replacement. We occasionally run into customers who feel they should be offered a Grand Cru Burgundy because their AC-level one is unavailable; we’ll listen to all pleas, but only deliver on reasonable ones!
Very occasionally, we mis-specify or mis-display an item. If you see any such examples, do let us know. We do reserve the right not to be bound by such errors!
So, here’s a thing. We don’t do discounts on the prices you see on the site. This comes as something of a surprise to English customers (in particular), used to seeing a reduction on buying a “mixed six” or a case of twelve bottles. There’s a number of reasons for this:
1) we’re an internet vendor, where price is key. We’ve already pared down our margins to be absolutely as competitive as we can.
2) we don’t believe it’s an honest, fair or transparent way to proceed. We’d rather you knew you were being charged the same as our other customers. We don’t do what many other merchants do and offer never-ending sales, offer discount codes or tell you you’re a special customer by offering you 5-20% off. Those can only be done by charging artificially high prices in the first place. To us, you are all special customers.
3) we are Scottish. Please withhold any sniggering and/or stereotypical humour. Scottish alcohol/licensing legislation explicitly outlaws the reduction of alcohol prices on the basis of bulk/buying more. Whilst (well) intended to eliminate boozy BOGOFs and thus reduce the over-consumption by (typically) younger drinkers of high-octane cider and potent brews from monasteries, it applies just as fully to mid-value Sauvignon Blanc and top Bordeaux. Specifically, it means our first and every bottle sold of a wine must be the same price. Realising the threat of bulk-discounting merchants south of Carlisle, we build our discount fully into the bottle price from the off, but it means there is no more to come.
We know that customers dislike shipping charges and that many will do all they can to avoid them. We dislike them too. The sad truth, however, is that wine is heavy and nobody will move it up and down the UK for nothing. In a world dominated by Amazon, many folk have become used to free shipping, but only because prices for the goods are raised to subsidise the postage in many cases. Free postage also sets up some very odd incentives for customers (eg asking for a dozen bottles to be sent individually rather than as a case!).
Our approach is that our pricing is reflective of the costs we pay. We price the bottles down as cheap as we can go (see above), leaving us very little margin to absorb shipping costs, at least until we reach higher order levels (£200 in Great Britain, £250 in Northern Ireland, Channel Islands, EU + a few others). And if you don’t need delivery (eg our local customers), you don’t pay for it. If you do have to pay for carriage, rest assured we’ve pared the costs down as low as we can, allowing for the fact that we use good packaging and a tried-and-tested carrier (Parcelforce). (We've used cheaper carriers and approaches, but we've also seen disappointed customers and a lot of breakages).
We’re aware that the cost of having a single bottle sent – at over £10 – is rather high. We do have the ability to send single bottles second class-post for just £4.00. Note that such deliveries take 2-3 days to arrive and are uninsured, but we’re happy to use this mechanism. If you wish to do this, please telephone us with your order.
One further carriage point: grouping of cases and awaiting items. It’s often the case that items will take a while to arrive, especially the Decanter poll-toppers. We price at such low margins that we can’t send out wines in dribs and drabs, and, in order to make up cases, we’ll mostly wait for orders to be fully arrive with us before we send them out. There are two exceptions when we would send out earlier:
Searching the site
Our website is fitted with a number of category filters which make it easier for you to refine your search. If you want to find Malbecs that are in half-bottles and also Decanter recommended, you can do that. If you need to look for particular terms, eg “Catena”, “Tokaji” or “magnum”, the searchbox will do that for you.
Please note that special characters, such as accents, cedillas, umlauts, apostrophes (esp as in d'Arenberg and Chateau d'Esclans) - and those Spanish 'n's with that wobbly line over them - are not recognised in the search box (so, please don't think we disrespect or are unaware of the use of the proper characters; it's just that their use prevents customers from finding the wines they seek!).
International and Brexit
Our shipping pages also shows our ability to send wines overseas. This is very standard for us. We send a good many cases to Ireland, France, Germany, Denmark and others every month. We find our prices stand up very well in most EU markets, even allowing for carriage costs, and that we offer a range of wines rare in most other markets.
A note on Brexit: a no-deal Brexit will create a major barrier to our being able to send cases overseas, at least in the initial post-Brexit phase. Such a Brexit, if it occurs, will see our international deliveries cease, at least for a few months. As legal demand and paperwork burdens become clearer (currently, they are not…), we would expect to be able to resume. An “arranged” or “deal” Brexit would see trade with the EU continue as normal under transition arrangements; our international deliveries would be unchanged.
Finally, a pointer. We are very often asked, “do you have vintage x/ wine y – you used to, it was amazing, can I get some more?”.
With very few exceptions, if it’s not on our website, we don’t have it. Great wines seldom hang around for long, and we’re not an outfit that hoards wines.
Which is a roundabout way of telling you our #1 tip: “when you find a wine you really like, buy as much of it as you can keep and afford”. After all, we have all our “one that got away” story…