I remember my first experience with Dan Murphy's. We were having dinner at my mother-in-law's home during my first visit to Australia and Stephen wanted to take some wine, so naturally we went visited the closest outlet. I was absolutely flabbergasted by what I saw.
The average Dan Murphy's is the size of a grocery store - and all they sell is alcohol. Imagine a "Kroger" or "Safeway" where aisle after aisle is strictly wine and beer (with stronger spirits along the back wall and sides). I'd never even dreamed of an alcoholic beverage shop of this magnitude. And they are EVERYWHERE! I know of 3 Dan Murphy's outlets within less than 30-minutes' drive from our house.
The selection is astounding - a little dizzying, really. In the movie "Moscow on the Hudson", Robin Williams plays a Russian immigrant who has a breakdown when he encounters the huge assortment of breakfast cereals in an American supermarket. I think about that scene when I wander the aisles of a Dan Murphy's - laughing internally at my own sense of disorientation when confronted with the huge range on display.
The stores are expertly arranged to provide a satisfying shopping experience for both wine snobs and the casual shopper.
The more "elite" wines (generally $30 and up) are arranged in hip-high timber cases, with the bottles lovingly placed at a slight tilt, with their labels turned upward for easy reading. Prices are printed on neat white cards positioned near each type, with the winery name, vintage year, and cost per bottle. This is the only place in the store where a given winery's offerings are together (elsewhere the wines are grouped by variety, not label). The elite section takes up roughly one fifth of the floor space. On the wall next to it are locked cabinets containing the most expensive bottles.
At the edge of the "elite" section and between the more standard wines are wooden half-barrels filled with "end of the bin" bottles at clearance-sale prices. Generally costing between $6.99 and $12.99, the displays lure you with the possibility of a good wine or two at bargain prices. I've sampled a couple different ones with mixed results. Occasionally there's a real gem, but you're just as likely to end up with undrinkable plonk and I've learned to steer away from labels I'm not familiar with.
The middle of the store has row after row of wines. No fancy wooden display racks here; it's very spartan, almost like a warehouse. Sparkling wine, red, rose and white wines each have their own section. Within the sections, each type is grouped together. All the merlots are together, all the shiraz are together and so on. There are no special displays set aside for specific wineries - the arrangement is purely by type. Bottles of fairly expensive chardonnay sit right next to the cheap stuff. The variety and price range is dizzying.
And then there are the "clean skin" wines - sold in cartons of 6 bottles. Cleanskin labels show only the grape variety, year, alcohol content, volume and so on. The labels don't show the name of the winemaker. What you're buying could be a good quality wine that's been re-labelled, or something that has been specifically made to be sold as a cleanskin. The quality can vary quite a bit, but the low price is always tempting. It's a bit of a gamble, but is usually worth it. I remember getting a truly "poor" cleanskin wine only once.
Hard liquor and "box wine" occupy the back wall, and refrigerated displays line the side wall, with chilled wine and beer ready for those who want something cold and ready to drink (for a slightly higher price).
About half the customers I've observed come in, select one or two bottles, and leave. The other half wander the aisles with grocery carts. You get the feeling that there's some heavy partying going on somewhere.
I've just checked our stash and realized we don't have any bubbly for NYE. Hm.. going to have to fix that! Dan Murphy's, here I come!
Come Saturday night we'll probably dine on the last of the Christmas turkey (which is presently in the freezer) and we'll lift our glasses to toast the outgoing year and welcome the new.
And a very Happy New Year to you!
- What I’m listening to: "Pub With No Beer" by Slim Dusty
- What’s for tea: Garlic Prawns with Fettucini (a break from all the turkey leftovers)
- What I’m reading: Year of Wonders - A Novel of the Plague by Geraldine Brooks
- Wine recommendation: a cleanskin white - probably chardonnay
- What's the season?: summer in Oz, winter in the U.S.