For dads who don't like mums, what about this new nationwide dial-a-bottle scheme? Officially launched today, Father's Day, 800/BE-THERE is to champagne, wine and spirits as FTD is to flowers. Anyway, that's the idea and, being a good one, deserved testing.
A friend, who lives in the District, called the 800 number. She ordered gift pack No. 405, two bottles of Macon Lugny Les Charmes, to be delivered to her father, who lives in Bethesda. Would delivery in Maryland be a problem? And how much would the gift cost? $35.
How much? The '81 Macon Lugny, imported by Chateau & Estates, sells in Washington for as little as $6 a bottle and no more than $7.50. Multiply that by two, add the cost of some fancy giftwrap and delivery charges and you still can't top $20. But not wanting to count the cost per bloom, so to speak, I waited for the delivery to be made before discussing the high price of giving with the 800 Spirits company.
Delivery was promised within 48 hours. That was Monday morning. On Wednesday morning, my friend's father had a phone call from a liquor store in Baltimore, advising him of his good fortune. By 9:30 that evening his gift was delivered, by somebody who, I hope, had more than one reason to travel all the way from Baltimore to Bethesda.
Teething troubles, said a spokesman for 800 Spirits, when I asked why the wine had come from Baltimore. The system is designed so that the nearest participating store, within the same state, handles the order. And there's no getting around the Maryland and Virginia regulations that prohibit District stores from delivering alcohol across the District line.
Anyway, the gift arrived on time. And was much appreciated. But why the overloaded price? Let's take a look at the scheme. 800 Spirits will be operating in 46 states. New York is awaiting state approval, and Arkansas, West Virginia and Kansas are not included. All listed gift items are nationally distributed brands like Moet & Chandon, Remy Martin, Georges Duboeuf, and Johnnie Walker. The retail stores, and there are already 1,500 ones involved, are reputable enough and large enough to carry at least 90 percent of the items.
Price-figuring starts with the national average retail price of an item. Thus states like Hawaii and Alaska and Alabama raise the average way above prices in discount markets like the District of Columbia and New York. Next, add the cost of the 800 phone call. It's not as free as it seems. An average call costs $2.75. Then the delivery fee that 800 Spirits pays the retailer: $3.50. Plus full sales tax, gift packaging--tissue paper, handsome box and card. Add it all up and that $35 doesn't seem quite as excessive as it did.
I suppose it's a breakthrough in itself that somebody has cut through the state and interstate legal tangles to implement a dial-a-bottle system. And if you're sending champagne or cognac to Nebraska or Oregon, you are getting good service for your money. That's why they've started 800/BE-THERE here. According to the spokesman, "Almost everybody in Washington has come from somewhere else."
Meredyth at Lavin's: Virginia's Meredyth bit into the Big Apple the other day, when Susan and Archie Smith III poured the '81 Seyval and '82 barrel-fermented Seyval at Lavin's. Patrons of the fine New York wine bar showed a slight preference for the fuller '82 seyval. It'll be here soon.