Archive for October, 2021

Will O’ The Whispering About the Budget

Friday, October 29th, 2021

Fellow Wine Lovers,

The good news this week is that all our windows are still intact, the less good news is that the insurance company have gone very quiet since we sent in our claim.  Elsewhere, it would seem that most of you have gone well, elsewhere for the half term week.  Parking on the grid has been a joy and the recently increased flow of customers fresh from the tube of an evening has diminished to a weak trickle, temporarily we hope.  Of course, you might not have all gone elsewhere, you might all have Covid and if this is the case I must apologise for my insensitivity, do please get well soon.

Certainly Kier Starmer didn’t time his positive lateral flow test very well, 10 minutes before PMQ’s and with the budget to follow.  However there are murmurs that Ed Milliband asked some tougher questions and Rachel Reeves certainly showed no fear of sticking her knife in – “at least the bankers on short-haul flights sipping champagne will be cheering this budget today!” 

So anyway, just to clarify, wine is not going to get cheaper.  Champagne and Cava could get a small price cut but I imagine any decrease in duty at this end will be more than made up for by ‘difficult vintages’ in France, particularly.  Oh, and before you ask, none of this will take place before February 2023…  

In simple terms, everything stays the same for the next 15 months, at which point Champagne etc fall into line with other sub-15% wines and attract the same duty, as they always should have done.  Everything else goes up except for spirits that seemingly are unchanged.  Oh, and beer and cider, when we go to the pub, might be a few pennies cheaper too, providing it comes from a Firkin or something larger.  Certainly the likes of Heineken and other behemoths will benefit but what size barrels do the craft brewers usually use we ask ourselves?

Still, at least with COP26 around the corner, Rishi addressed many environmental issues.  The most surprising to us was his proposed 50% tax cut on short-haul flights within the UK from April 2023.  Why?  Flying has to be the highest carbon form of transport but is sadly often cheaper than taking the train, which would be far greener.  Two weeks ago, Manchester United took a 10 minute flight to Leicester on a Friday for a Saturday match, because there were traffic issues on the M6.  This new 50% tax cut will in no way discourage this from happening again or encourage them to wait until the traffic dies down.  Just as a context – a domestic flight produces 133g of carbon dioxide per passenger per kilometre, a coach produces just 27g….

But it’s not all bad news as we discover that we are not at war with France.  Unsurprisingly, the fishing rights situation looks like it is nowhere near any sort of post-Brexit resolution but it was heartening to hear that French Maritime Minister, Annick Girardin, has confirmed that, “It’s not war, it’s a fight” – so no need to panic buy fish fingers just yet.

For those of you ‘blessed’ with children, this weekend is one that you face with both excitement and dread.  The exciting news is that, at 2am on Sunday morning, British Summertime finishes and the clocks go back an hour leading to perhaps an extra hour in bed, fingers crossed.  However, you might need that extra hour to cope with the onslaught of Halloween – I wish you luck.

We will not be celebrating All Hallows Eve, however to avoid having to wear the party pooper tiara for the third year running, Alex has come up with a couple of wines to taste this weekend that nod towards the ghoulish…

Von Buhl Bone Dry Riesling 2020, Pfalz, Germany – £16.99

Since Mathieu Kaufman joined Von Buhl from Bollinger in 2013 the estate has undergone some fairly seismic changes.  The vineyards have been managed biodynamically; the winery has been improved with the purchase of 2400 litre oval fermentation vessels and the winemaking too with more lees contact, and the use of wild yeasts giving us slower fermentation.  The result has been an improvement in wine quality year on year, with drier wines than in the past.  This is a wonder, the dryness you experience in Austrian or Clare Valley Rieslings but maintaining the texture that makes the more traditional styles so moreish.  There’s a lovely seam of minerality too.  An old, historic estate suddenly sailing back into the limelight, with bone dry, modern wines plus it has a skull on the label so is seasonally appropriate!

Finca Bacara ‘Time Waits For No One’ 2020, Jumilla, Spain – £13.99

We always enjoy a drop of Monastrell from this southern Spanish region where, in spite of its latitude, the wines are well managed largely due to the vineyards being at reasonable altitude.  A juicy and opulent red with attractive floral aromas, ripe fruit and balsamic notes in the background.  Balanced freshness on the palate lifts the vibrant fruit through to a smooth and persistent finish and then on to another glass.  Oh, and just like the Riesling, we have skulls on the label…

And with that we are gone, disappearing into the night like two wine weary will-o’-the-wisps….

We’ve Found A Brick

Friday, October 22nd, 2021

Fellow Wine Lovers,

How’s your week been? We’ll confess to having had better ones if we’re honest. We received an alarm signal at about the midpoint of that biblical storm on Wednesday night and Alex was dead chuffed to test the waterproof nature of his jacket with a stroll in the rain just before midnight.

Unfortunately, it wasn’t a false alarm, as some kind person had presented us with the gift of an old London house brick. It turns out that 24/7 glaziers are less 24/7 when the rain is falling and by the time someone had been and boarded up the damage the rain had actually stopped. A rather sleep deprived Alex set off for home pleased with his jacket’s performance but somehow a little disappointed with the performance of human kind.

Fortunately, little was stolen. When you’ve been in the game for 20 years you only ever put dummies in the window so that the other dummies can’t get away with much. So, leave nothing in your cars folks and if anyone is missing a brick…

If all of this wasn’t enough, I’ve just discovered that the history I understood to be true has been torn up. Imagine that, for decades I’ve been wrong, and not just me, possibly all of you too. Scientists writing in the journal ‘Nature’ have discovered that Christopher Columbus was not the first European to sail to America. Dating some wood at a Norse settlement in Newfoundland, it seems the Vikings arrived around 1021 AD, almost 500 years before that slacker Columbus!

Whilst we’re getting the bad news out of the way, some people will be devastated to hear the price of Marmite is on the rise. We’re surprised to discover it’s not covered by the energy price cap!

We’ve just had this year’s World Porridge Making Championship (yes really!). Normally, it takes place in Carrbridge, which is bona fide proper Highland Scotland but this year it was held virtually (Zoom Porridge?). Anyway, top spoils were taken by Dutch food blogger Miriam Groot for her oat arancini with mushrooms and white wine. I don’t know about you but I’m unconvinced that I would find the recipe in my book filed under porridge.   The top 10 included two Americans, two Australians, one cook from Germany, two from England and one from Scotland. They each won a hand-carved spurtle which is a 15th century Scottish wooden kitchen tool, used for stirring porridge. Looking at them, I’m not sure you could pick up arancini with them.

It’s got to that stage of the football season where managers decide to change their commute and Sam Allardyce updates his LinkedIn. Bruce is out at Newcastle United, Nigel Adkins is out at Charlton Athletic and Kevin Maher is in at Southend United. Mourinho could be under a spot of pressure too, it’s not often you see an Italian team taking such a drubbing; maybe they were unsettled being that far north?

Whilst writing this piece I have just discovered there is a computer game called Football Manager. Who on earth plays a game that fires you in October? Is Super Mario in charge at Naples? I have so many questions.

We’ve had a chat with HR and we’ve decided that we’re making Alex Employee of the Month for services to the late night economy of Arthur Road. With that done, should we taste some wine?

We thought we’d visit Portugal this week for some good everyday drinkers.

The white corner will be inhabited by Ai Galera Mistico 2018, Tejo – £9.49

Tejo, a region east of Lisbon, has been overlooked for too long but, as we’ve said before, Portugal is where the value is at and this blend of Fernão Pires and Verdelho is a fine demonstration.  Golden yellow in the glass, entirely unoaked and with a lovely soft, satisfying, juicy fruit character.  Wayne likes the thought of some grilled sardines; Alex thought some lemon sole, so we’re definitely looking seaward!

Whilst leaning on the bar in the red room will be Terra Boa 2018, Beiras – £9.49

This is from the granite based uplands by the Spanish border, grown between 500 and 700 metres altitude.  A blend of predominantly Touriga Nacional and Tinta Roriz, with a 10% splash of Cabernet Sauvignon, its bramble and plum aromas are very appealing. Generous and supple on the palate, with fresh red cherry and blackberry leaf characters, fine tannins and a touch of spice on the juicy finish.  Our food match – some slow cooked pork with a bit of spice rub and some couscous, wonderful!


Friday, October 15th, 2021

Fellow Wine Lovers,

Boris, Boris, Boris – even when he’s on holiday he still manages to make bad headlines and bugger things up for people.

Since the mid 80’s, Alex’s family have called Benahavís, in the south of Spain, their second home.  Many summers went by in the happy embrace of Minh’s bar, or before that Don’s Bar on the corner, where a Bloody Mary with a Fino sherry top was just the ticket.  The ‘teca, with its mirror ceiling-ed dancefloor was a great late night haunt, a good place to work off the enormous Solomillo Adobado dished up at Las Cañas in the village square and a perfect place to practice Spanish with the locals.  In August, the Feria to mark the Saint’s day was filled with bull-running, dodgems and supersized Vodka y Naranjas.  We knew that Sir Jimmy and Adnan had properties up in the hills and occasionally we would see family members in the village, or Kashoggi’s yacht in the port but this was fine because everything was very low key.  There was wall to wall sunshine, mountains to be biked, rapids to be ridden and golf to be played – a blissful oasis.

But now Boris has come a-visiting so there goes the neighbourhood – thanks mate.

But also, why was he on holiday and not here unloading containers at Felixstowe?  Oh, of course, conference season.  The season runs from 23rd September until 18th October and since the Tory Conference was from 3rd – 6th October that gives anyone with a well-documented tendency to roam the perfect opportunity to nip off for a bit of sunshine whilst the rest of us try and keep the economy going.  As a side note, when I mentioned to Wayne that Parliament is only open for about 158 working days this year, or roughly 13 working days a month, he immediately decided to run in the next election as part of his easing into retirement strategy!

Elsewhere in the news, what do we have?  Large dollops of doom and gloom but also a media that refuses to learn any lessons.  Fresh from sending half the country into an unnecessary spin over petrol shortages they are now putting the panics on the punters with scare stories about Christmas shortages and empty shelves.  Everyone brace yourselves, this rollercoaster ride is far from over.

Even sport hasn’t offered us the succour we often get and the violence at the football and a not terribly good result just about put the icing on the cake.

So let’s not dwell on such things, let’s think about drinking wine this weekend instead.  Having been to the classic regions of Bordeaux and the Loire last week we thought we’d hop over the border into Cataluña now and taste a brace of wines from the Mas Blanch I Jové winery in Costers del Segre which is just west of Priorat.

We liked these wines from the start, particularly their strapline ‘Wines that Inspire’.  They practice ecological mountain viticulture and produce wine with grapes all sourced from their 17 hectare property.  Most (99%) of the energy they use is solar, the vineyard has been certified as organic since 2015 and they have a great arrangement with artists and sculptors in the vineyard too – they have more than a dozen works of art scattered over the property which look awesome.  Having only tasted their wines when Sara was over in the UK, this is one winery that both of us are itching to visit!

Mas Blanch I Jove Troballa 2019/20 – £17.99 – a great wine, 100% Garnacha Blanca with wild fermentation, aged for four months in concrete eggs.  Rich and fruity with a lovely mouthfeel that would be splendid with a rare tuna steak.  The wine is suitable for vegans too, so perhaps a lightly spiced vegetable and coconut curry.

Mas Blanche I Jove Sao Abrivat 2017 – £17,99 – This red is a blend of 40% Tempranillo, 35% Grenache and 25% Cabernet Sauvignon matured in a mixture of French and American oak barrels for around 12 months.  The wine is soft with a lovely dark red fruit character and a melange of vanilla, cinnamon and black pepper spice notes before the long balanced finish.  A regular visitor to both our dining tables….

Another brief epistle this week but I’m sure when there is more happy news to report on they will get longer – in the meantime have a bon weekend and pop by to taste some wine with us if you get a chance!


All Part Of The Plan

Friday, October 8th, 2021

Fellow Wine Lovers,

So, this week we had the Tory Party Conference in Manchester. Along the way we were encouraged to Build Back Better, Build Back Butter and Build Back Batter but certainly not any talk of Build Back Barber…

The crowning glory of course was the leader’s speech which carried all the gravitas and detail that we’ve come to expect. The Independent appears to have found eight false claims ranging from being the number one country for investment to claiming to build 48 new hospitals.  You may recall that NHS bosses were ordered to call rebuild projects as “New Hospitals” back in August.  Sky News went as far as suggesting that the speech was “economically illiterate”, a comment that we find difficult to argue with. All these shortages were definitely the Government’s idea apparently but definitely businesses fault.

Anyway, we’re all set to become a high wage economy. The government is very keen for businesses to pay their staff more, clearly they haven’t spoken to anyone at the Bank of England, I’m fairly sure they were warning against that sort of thing just a week or two ago.

Over at Justice, Dominic Raab has shown he is completely on top of his brief declaring that “Misogyny is absolutely wrong, whether it’s a man against a woman, or a woman against a man”. Glad we cleared that up!  Between us, we think he’s only there to make the others look smarter. Anyway, that’s enough shooting fish in barrels.

Talking of shooting, it looks like Newcastle might be moving from the frying pan to the fire as finally that Saudi consortium buys out Mike Ashley. I’m sure he’ll spend his extra time looking at a pay rises and improved conditions for his employees at Sports Direct.

In other news, Facebook has a whistle-blower, Frances Haugen, who has been on Sixty Minutes, in front of a senate committee and coming soon to a parliament near you. The fact that Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp all had a six hour outage rather soon after Ms Haugen was on Sixty Minutes is a coincidence we’re sure. Mark Zuckerberg, as usual, said the claims were untrue. Somewhere there is a saying about smoke and fire, I believe.

Last week Alex teased you all about panic buying. This week, a headline in Bar Magazine stated: “WINE DRINKERS FACE EMPTY SHELVES AND HIGHER PRICES AS ‘PERFECT STORM’ HITS GLOBAL WINE SUPPLIES”. Now, we’re not entirely sure why they are shouting but with harvest yields down in Champagne (60%), New Zealand (20%), France (29% but suspect that includes champagne!) and Italy (9%) we’re starting to wonder if he may have had a point! Rest assured we won’t give ourselves inflation busting pay rises, despite what Worzel Gummidge may have said.

For those of you following the James Bond theme lately, Daniel Craig has a sparkly new star on the walk of fame and we’ve sold half of our Bond Bollinger 007!

Gary Barlow has launched an Organic Red and an Organic White, both from Spain. If you’d like to Take That then it only takes a minute to have a chat with Morrisons where our chum Clive has put them on the shelves.

On the tasting table this week we’re going to play fast and loose with the shortages in France. We’ll doff the white cravat with Domaine Lebrun Pouilly Fumé (£17.99), a crisp dry and rather classic Loire white that we’ve been selling since we wore those Oddbins polo shirts. Buttoning up the red waistcoat will be Château Saransot-Dupré 2016 (£23), a Listrac-Médoc that has been in the same family since 1875, was declared a Cru Bourgeois Supérieur in 1932 and in 2010 to be of “Classed Growth Quality” by Robert Parker no less. We’ll let you be the judge of that but frankly we think it’s a great value bottle of wine.

Enough piffle paffle from us, come and join us for a taster!

A £300 bottle of Claret on a school night?

Friday, October 1st, 2021

Fellow Wine Lovers,

We don’t want to worry you but, with Christmas less than 3 months away, we currently have less than 10,000 bottles of wine in the shop.  This, of course, should be more than sufficient stock and we have plenty more in the warehouse; as a consequence, the message we want to get across to you is that there is no need to get into a bit of a PANIC and come to the shop to BUY so much more WINE than you have storage space for right NOW.

Another chap who is telling us that there is absolutely no need to panic buy, whilst subtly implying that actually perhaps it might just be worth popping an extra bottle or two in your bag is quoted as saying: “Best advice to everyone in the supply chain – from producers to distributors to customers and to consumers – would be to plan ahead and, where possible, purchase early, as it is certainly far more likely than at any other time in memory that favourite brands and products will not be available in the run-up to Christmas.”  Oh and the man who said this?  Andrew Hawes – Mentzendorff (UK Agent for Bollinger)

Last week Wayne wrote: ‘A case brought by the owners of three separate estates in relation to the 2012 classification accuses Hubert de Boüard, owner of Château Angélus, and Philippe Castéja, owner of Château Trotte Vieille, of allegedly rigging entry to the classification system, and their rankings within it, in order to unfairly inflate the price of their wines.’  He also wrote a short piece about Bollinger and James Bond prior to the film release this week.  So, apparently there is a scene where Bond pops over to Q’s house for a spot of mid-week scran and grabs a large glass of red wine from the strategically placed centre screen bottle of Chateau Angélus – a very nice bit of extra promotional puff when times are tough for Hubert de Boüard!  More significantly for this writer, if a civil servant is drinking a £300 bottle of Claret on a school night, what does he drink at the weekend?  And who is paying for it?!

Sport took a tumble last week: both AFC Wimbledon and Tottenham lost to Arsenal and the Ryder Cup just proved that the European team wasn’t even close to the mob from the USA.  So we’ll move swiftly on from here.

On the home front, I have a bit of an unusual request.  Having children is great but there comes a point when, frankly, they need to leave home and do their own thing.  I have one of these in my house at the moment, studying for his A-levels, dreaming of going to University and breaking the parental shackles (although why any teenager would want to break the shackles of a parent who owns a wine shop beats me but, as the y say, horses for courses).

Anyway, this A-level student, let’s call him Joe, has to do some coursework for one of his subjects and part of this coursework involves a short survey to hopefully help him design a product.  The survey is quite simple and confidential – largely related to how you open your bottles of wine, how easy you find it and how you might improve your wine bottle opening experience.  If you can help with the survey and thus help with Joe’s A-level and then, as a direct consequence, help Joe escape the evil clutches of his parents, then the link is here:

The whole family thanks you!

Back in the shop, we are continuing to open bottles of wine on a Friday and Saturday and this seems to have been well received – a return to more normal times we feel.  This week we have decided to delve down under to New Zealand and Australia…

Mountford Liaison Riesling 2013, North Canterbury, New Zealand – £17.49 – the grapes were grown on the deep gravels of the Waipara Valley, hand selected and chilled over night before being whole bunch pressed.  That was ages ago though, this is a 2013 wine… we met the winemaker at Mountford a while back and he explained that they specialise in ageing wines in bottle before release, which is right up our street – we genuinely wish more would do that.  This has none of the petrol note you sometimes find with aged Riesling, there are just lovely fresh mango and apricot aromas mingled with dried fruit and honey.  To taste it’s off dry and soooo fresh with green apple fruit intensity, quince flavours and a citrus kick to balance, great length too – it’s almost mesmerising!

De Bortoli Heathcote Shiraz 2017, Victoria, Australia – £13.99 – we like the approach at De Bortoli, who always look for freshness and balance in their wines.  Heathcote is an up and coming region for Shiraz and the wines have an elegant, spicy quality, as opposed to the fruit soup you can sometimes end up with.  This has got spicy plum notes on the nose, whilst the palate is blackberry laden, with a touch of black pepper and spice and a nice dry finish.

So swing on by, taste some wine, perhaps do a survey to help the poor afflicted teenager and certainly admire the Bollinger 007 Limited Edition Millesime 2011 – we’ve all agreed it’s rather funky!

Until next time….