Archive for November, 2023

Good News/Bad News

Friday, November 24th, 2023

Fellow Wine Lovers,

Not good news, just not bad news.

Having been inflicted with a radical overhaul in duty rates at the end of July, we were very nervous about the rumours that Mr Hunt was going to announce a further hike in his Autumn Statement on Wednesday.  This would have been a real gut-punch and frankly one that we didn’t need in the lead up to Christmas but the rumours proved to be unsubstantiated and we all breathed a small sigh of relief – not good news but certainly not bad news.

Duty is now frozen until 1st August 2024 (not bad news?) and then, on 1st February 2025, the second stage of July’s radical overhaul comes into force – happy days.

Still, at least the Soft Drinks Industry Levy, introduced in April 2018, has yet again swerved any increase, which means it is still set at the same level it started at.  Considering it is one of the infamous ‘sin taxes’, the taxes put on products seen as harmful to consumers or costly to society, you’d have thought this might have been subject to review/increase at some point in the last 2,000+ days?  Particularly as it was key to the government plans to reduce childhood obesity by removing added sugar from soft drinks when first announced in 2016.  Without going into too much detail, obesity levels, either in children or adults, have continued to rise over the last 5 years…

Away from tax, Mr Hunt announced his intention to fund £4.5bn to attract investment to strategic manufacturing sectors, including green energy, aerospace, life sciences and zero-emission vehicles – nice idea certainly, two environmentally focused targets wrapped around the less-than-green aerospace climate change providers.

In happier/more exciting news, we were pleased to see that Northvolt has developed a sodium-ion battery that has no lithium, cobalt or nickel – clearly a long way to go but this certainly feels like a move in the right direction. 

Anyway, let’s move away from real world news and closer to wine chat.  When not reading Vice/Rolling Stone/Penny-Farthing Weekly we do occasionally cast a glimpse at the Financial Times – similar to how 30 years ago we read The Daily Telegraph for the sport, we now read the FT for the wine.  Jancis Robinson is of course the star here and last weekend she came up with an amazing suggestion that we just had to share.

In the article Jancis Robinson answers your festive wine questions (FT Magazine – Jancis Robinson – November 18 2023) she was asked for advice for people that find that their long awaited bottle of wine is actually corked on opening.  I cannot copy her response verbatim due to FT rules but, in short, she suggested that if you do end up with a corked bottle then scrunch up some cling-film, push this into the bottle, re-seal it (not with the offending cork of course) and then give it a good old swirl around so that the cling-film gets in contact with all the wine.  Not sure what the science is here, if any, but she states that whilst it’s not a perfect solution, it does seem to reduce the cork taint!  Normally I would raise an eyebrow at such a suggestion but this is Jancis talking, so advice worth taking, we thought!

Not much news for us to report on in the wine world this week – it’s the calm before the storm of Christmas and we know this because it’s Black Friday today and everyone seems to be trying to sell me a cheap iPhone and old model Garmin which is weird because I’ve never previously bought either but I digress.

Black Friday means that yesterday was Thanksgiving in the USA and so, with a nod to those folk across the pond, we thought we’d open two new listings from California this weekend.

Both wines come from DeLoach Vineyards located in the heart of Sonoma’s renowned Russian River Valley.  The winery has over 45 years of experience experimenting with the perfect combination of soil, rootstock, and clones, resulting in a history of producing high-quality, eco-friendly wines.  In 2003, the Boisset family, from Burgundy, brought their sustainable winemaking experience to Russian River Valley and haven’t looked back since!

Alex tried these wines in September whilst Wayne was too busy drinking Marsala in foreign climes to come to the tasting and liked them enough to push for shelf space for them!

Russian River Valley Chardonnay 2020 – £29.99

On the nose this wine reveals nectarine and ripe pear aromas. The palate is endowed with integrated oak structure, hints of vanilla cream, lemon zest, and baked apples. Building momentum across the mid-palate, this wine is formative with lingering flavors of spice and crème brûlée. The finish has refreshing and persistent acidity that is well-balanced.*

Russian River Valley Pinot Noir 2020 – £31.99

Aromas of raspberry coulis, red plum, strawberry, and baking spices on the nose. Dried cranberry, Alpine strawberries, and sweet/tart cherries on the palate of this 2020 Pinot Noir. This is a medium-bodied wine with an outstanding texture and a long finish.*

(*tasting notes from winery website since Alex’s notes ran more along the lines of ‘rich, buttery style will appeal to those who like this style’ for the white and ‘nice, medium body, good length, fresh finish, pleasing’ for the red, which aren’t so heavy on detail, thanks Alex….)

And now I think we’re done – we’ll just leave you with this headline which appeared on Reuters on November 21, 2023:

Wimbledon suffers expansion plan blow after council refuses permission

Quite good news, certainly not bad news….

Good week for some, not so good for others…

Friday, November 17th, 2023

Fellow Wine Lovers,

This has been a very good week for fountain pen manufacturers and their colleagues in the headed notepaper business.

Stubbing out her breakfast stogie, Thérèse was one of the first to put quill to parchment and then five junior ministers followed her lead.  Suella quickly wrote Rishi a letter but, as so often with Mrs Braverman, her timing was off.  Then, in a move quite typical of the way Labour likes to react to Tory activities, Kier managed to part company with eight shadow ministers and two parliamentary private secretaries.  I think, perhaps, there might be some trouble in paradise….

Still, the good news is that Call me Dave is back on board, thankfully not in the Treasury though, given his track record in financial services.  Oh, and he got an immediate Life Peerage which has no doubt got Nadine plotting her next move…

Meanwhile, Nigel F from Downe hasn’t resigned.  He has spread himself a bit thin though, travelling down under to earn about £1.5 million for eating termites whilst simultaneously going to court in London to sue NatWest for debanking and, cough, reputational damage – he clearly has no idea of the irony…

In our world of wine there was a bit of sad news.  No resignations, just redundancies. 

Both of us cut our retail teeth working for Oddbins – Wayne mainly running the famous Fine Wine department in the Battersea superstore, whilst Alex was more nomadic – Balham, Clapham South, Clapham, Dulwich, Blackheath, Bellevue Road, Kennington and even Battersea had their doors darkened by the bearded one.  Both of us persuaded the powers that be to pay for us to take our WSET Diploma in Wines & Spirits and amazingly we both passed.  We learnt a lot about retail, we learnt a lot about people and we learnt a lot about shoplifting.  We also helped train a number of now very influential wine buyers who, when we met them, were in charge of sweeping the floor and stocking the fridges.

But now, it seems those days are gone.  We have been informed that, having failed to find a buyer for the estate, Oddbins has closed all of its bricks and mortar operation and reverted to web sales – no floor sweeping or fridge stocking there – and considering they only had 2 Champagnes and 1 Cremant under the CHAMPAGNE & SPARKLING dropdown on their website, I would say the doctor’s diagnosis would be DNR.

RIP Oddies – if anyone needs a job, we’ve got a spare broom and plenty of fridges!

In happier news, The Sports Business Awards 2023 Ceremony took place last Friday at The Hurlingham Club.  The Awards aim to recognise and reward achievement by the teams behind the scenes that facilitate sporting excellence and endeavours, saluting and championing their resilience, adaptability and resourcefulness.  The award for Best Sports Community Scheme – Football was won by our very own local heroes – Dons Local Action Group.  For a charity that was founded in March 2020, this is a brilliant achievement and well deserved!

So, how about we raise a tasting glass to this achievement?

The white we have on tasting this weekend is Sameirás Blanco 2022 – £18.99 – which is made from 5 grapes that simply trip off the tongue – Treixadura, Albariño, Godello, Lado, Loureiro – all indigenous to the Northwest of the Iberian peninsula.  A really quite exotic pineapple and nectarine nose with touches of mandarin and similar orange fruits on the palate followed by a beautiful dry/savoury finish with hints of pithy acidity as it fades we haven’t shown this since May 2019, so it’s well worth a revisit!

The red is a bit of an old favourite and very much of the season – Le Seigneur du Raveil Vacqueyras 2019 – £19.99.  Originally formed by 7 passionate winegrowers in 1956, today the Cave de Gigondas has increased to 78 members across 128 hectares in Gigondas whilst also taking in vineyards in Vacqueyras and Beaumes de Venise to bring the total to 260 hectares.  We loved this wine from the first mouthful – blackcurrant, black cherry, blackberry all make an appearance leading to some plum character on the finish with a dollop of spice to tidy it up.  Classic Rhône quality and poise.

That’s it from us, what’ve you been up to?

The King’s Speech

Friday, November 10th, 2023

Fellow Wine Lovers,

We started the week with the King’s Speech, which Rishi Sunak described as “taking long-term decisions for a brighter future.” I don’t know if you saw it, but the enthusiasm with which the King detailed the measures rather suggested to this watcher that His Majesty remains on the fence in that regard.

There is not much new in it, a lot of words and a few North Sea oil and gas licences that’ll make no difference to the economy at all. Though quite how they’ll be “helping the country to transition to net zero by 2050 I’m not sure. Perhaps that’s why the King sounded rather bored, that and the fact that a third of the proposals are left over from the last parliament maybe. Still, on the plus side, there was nothing about a ban on tents, and there is talk of a Football Regulator, let’s just hope that they don’t involve the folks who run VAR! Probably the cigarette ban isn’t a bad idea either.

We’ve also been tuning in to the Covid enquiry, it’s been heavy going at points but we’ve stuck with it. We felt slightly obliged, given how much time we spent mocking some of the actions or decisions that were taken at points and having listened for a number of days we would say that it was even more mad and chaotic than any of us imagined. You can imagine our shock at the news that “Covid rules were broken virtually every day in No.10”.

On the culture front, Mad Nads’ book is now out. We haven’t read it, but understand from informed folk that it contains all the thrills and spills you’d expect from a fiction writer at the heart of government. A Tory cabal called the ‘Movement’ that really runs everything, a butchered rabbit and claims that Rishi Sunak is a ‘Manchurian candidate’ installed by Dominic Cummings. We’re not sure who has the white cat sat on their lap, but think it might need the cynical setting on your Kindle.

WeWork filed for bankruptcy protection this week as it turned out that it didn’t actually work. Valued at $47 billion dollars in January 2019, the company was worth just $50 million when it filed for protection this week. All those chasing any company involved in AI might just want to do a ‘Fairy Dust’ check before investing the entire pension fund eh?

On the wine front, the figures are in and it turns out that 2023 is the smallest grape harvest since 1961. It looks likely that we’ll experience an overall fall of around 7% and as it’s been Italy and Spain taking the climate hit, France has moved back up to top volume producer for this year. It looks like a good vintage in both quality and volume aspects for the English wine producers and in California, the wet winter and cool summer has done wonders for the producers of Napa and Sonoma.

The OECD released a study into binge drinking this week. The reported headlines were quite a thing:

Daily Express: “Global study names world’s booziest countries – and Britain is NOT number one.”

Daily Star: “World’s biggest boozers revealed – and UK only comes third.”

Daily Mail: “Why ARE British women the world’s biggest binge drinkers?”

You can draw your own conclusions from that, but we would also mention a joint study from researchers at Universities of Washington and California. They found that a glass of wine can help you sleep but only if you’ve already had a coffee. Now I don’t know about you, but I have always had a cup of coffee before I’ve had a glass of wine. Coffee with breakfast, wine later on, even on Christmas Day!

Tasting this Weekend

We thought we’d head to Italy this week, there’s a bit of a treat on the white front, Poggio Al Tesoro Solosole Vermentino 2022, Toscana (£27.99) this delicious white from Bolgheri is crisp and elegant with yellow plum fruit. But don’t take my word for it, come and taste for yourself. It’ll be a top treat with that fish you pick up at the Farmer’s Market on Saturday morning.

In the red corner, we’ll be bringing out one of our new purchases. Urban Park Appassimento 2019, Veneto (£14.99) is from our chums at Montresor and is made from grapes dried for around 30 days before being made into wine. A mini Amarone, if you will. We’re quite excited about it, so come and tell us what you think. We’ve got a mushroom stroganoff against this one, how about you?

It’s all about loyalty

Friday, November 3rd, 2023

Fellow Wine Lovers,

Well that’s Week 44 just about finished, just 8 more to go. 

Tuesday saw us put Halloween behind us, Sunday sees us put earmuffs on the dog as Guy Fawkes Night does its thing (although I don’t think the kids call it that anymore) and then it’s full steam ahead to Black Friday Eve on 23rd November.  Christmas adverts are already arriving, Caffè Nero emailed me on Thursday with a preview of their offering and  M&S have already courted controversy, albeit mistakenly.

This leads me to believe that it will soon be Easter.

In the world of wine, not much has changed since we last spoke.  A couple of happy headlines in the trade rag Harpers started the week off well:

Licenced premises down by a third since 2003 – 30/10/23 – A net figure of 44,000 outlets have closed in this period which is roughly six closures per day, every day…

Insolvencies peak driven by hospitality and retail – 01/11/23 – See above

Customer loyalty reins supreme in cost-of-living crisis – 31/10/23 (it’s their typo, not mine, neigh!)

Now this is the sort of business I want to be in.  Zonal Insights GO TECHNOLOGY Report 2023, titled The New Loyalty Landscape: How the cost-of-living crisis impacts hospitality,has been paid by someone to come up with amongst other things, the following insights into Loyalty turn-offs: Consumers’ top five reasons for reducing loyalty

1 If I had a few bad experiences (49%)

2 If they raise the prices (37%)

3= If I had one bad experience (24%)

3= If I don’t get value for money in the cost-of-living crisis (24%)

5 If they were involved in controversy (23%)

This also might be seen as:

51% of consumers don’t mind a few bad experiences

63% don’t find a raise in prices hugely important

76% wouldn’t be put off by one bad experience

76% don’t prioritise value for money

77% don’t really care if they were involved in controversy!

I appreciate it’s not quite so black and white but it does make you wonder what you can really learn from such studies – perhaps most importantly, right now, that there is more than one way of looking at things…

At a local level, I seem to have ordered too much seasonal Bordeaux.  I don’t have enough space on the shelves and need you all to help me resolve this problem.  Seeing things differently, Wayne doesn’t see this as a problem and has told me he knows a man who can help with this. 

I suspect it might be him.

In the rest of the world, this week I have been mainly listening to the Covid Inquiry and have taken little reassurance from the knowledge that everything that we thought was going on in 2020/21 behind the scenes actually was; that Dominic Cumming wasn’t the biggest villain; that Gavin Williamson got a knighthood and that Matt Hancock lied, all the time, to everyone.

Our peripatetic cycling correspondent, fresh from his post-paella siesta, sent me news of an important event in the world of two wheels.  Dutch headwind championships cancelled – due to high winds was the headline in Cycling Weekly, which went on: Usually organisers and competitors are hoping for strong enough winds – with force seven being the minimum acceptable requirement. But with Storm Ciaràn set to reach force 11, organisers decided that discretion was indeed the better part of valour.

Whoever suggested that cyclists are a breed apart might have a point… however, if you’re a cricket fan, cycling into a headwind might seem more palatable than watching the World Cup!

We don’t talk about rugby anymore and football is on the bench for now.  On 6th October, we wrote: …I’m not really sure where professional sport will be in 10 years’ time, given all the rising costs and demands on the hosts…. we read that The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia… has announced its intention to bid for the 2034 World Cup. 

On Tuesday, Australia withdrew their application which meant that Saudi Arabia became the sole bidder – I think it’s becoming more obvious where the future control of sport will sit.

But enough of all this, what shall we taste this weekend?

The white will be the Von Buhl Bone Dry Riesling 2022 – £18.99

Seemed appropriate in Halloween week that we taste a wine with a skull on the label!  This is a wonder, with the dryness you experience in Austrian or Clare Valley Rieslings whilst maintaining the texture that makes the more traditional styles so moreish.  There’s a lovely seam of minerality too – who said all Rieslings are all sweet?

The red will be an old favourite bought from our pal and wine guru Jack – Santa Duc Les Plans 2020 – £15.99.  Benjamin Gras is the 6th Generation of the family to run Domaine Santa Duc and he has definitely carried on the great work his father started.  This is from their Vaucluse property and is a slightly naughty blend of 50% Grenache, 20% Syrah, 15% Merlot, 10%, Cabernet and 5% others.  Jack put us onto this one about 4 years ago and he rarely gives us bum steer.  Lovely dark fruits, a touch of liquorice and a slightly savoury note into the finish – it’s unusual to see Cabernet & Merlot in these parts, but it seems to work!

And that’s me done; look forward to seeing all you loyal customers over the weekend, despite the numerous bad experiences we have offered!!