Tuesday, 17 January 2017

In the news today...

I know I said I would leave it alone but...

Today, Theresa May has finally come off the fence to start pulling the splinters out of her backside. Actually, her lukewarm support of the Remain campaign last spring, at a time when it looked like Remain would win the referendum, and subsequent slither into Number 10 and her move towards an ever harder Brexit since then suggests that she is not really a woman of principle; rather an opportunist who can’t really lose: Cameron messed up by allowing the referendum to happen so, whatever the outcome, May can claim she has done her best to clear up the mess. But she has opted to go with the views of 52% of voters in an advisory referendum (many of whom may have voted differently if it had not been advisory – and see my earlier post about the realities of the 52%) and then go with a smaller group which wanted an all out position. How many people really want what she is proposing today?

In its 2015 manifesto, the Conservative Party promised to safeguard British interests in the Single Market (their emphasis). It read ‘We benefit from the Single Market’ and ‘We want to preserve the integrity of the Single Market’.

It seems to me to be splitting hairs to say that we can best do this by sticking our fingers up at it! One thing seems certain: Mrs May’s party was elected in 2015 to stay in the Single Market. Most of her party’s MPs (mine included) were selected and elected as Remainers. Where, then, is the mandate for today’s proposal?

One other thing: the cynic in me wonders whether Mrs May hopes this will all be buried under this week's accession to Trumpton.

Of course, I am just snivelling because the pound is sitting at 1.13 against the euro again! Thanks guys!

On wine (briefly), a bottle of 2010 Givry 1er Cru 'Bois Chevaux' from Domaine Joblot was drinking magnificently last night. I am sure real experts would be able to find faults but for mere amateurs such as myself, this was quite simply a lovely wine, in the right place and the is certainly no reason to focus on anything other than the immense pleasure it affords. Sorry, all gone now but there are some very good follow-on vintages still available!

Monday, 12 December 2016

LUX Magazine award

I had not heard of this publication until I was told that I had been nominated for one of their 2016 Food & Drink Awards. Apparently, LUX is a 'monthly magazine giving you a glamorous glimpse into the world of all things luxurious'.

So, it is official, our wines are luxurious. 

I'm not sure that I am entirely comfortable with this moniker though. Cambridge Dictionary defines 'luxurious' as 'very comfortable and expensive' and 'giving great pleasure'. I'm on board with the second of these and, whilst 'comfortable' is not a word I would normally associate with wine, I can work with that too. However, I do take issue with the word 'expensive'. 

If someone can tell me where I could go (in the UK or anywhere with similar taxes) to find a wine of the quality of, say, Chateau Juvenal's extremely pleasurable and, possibly even very comfortable, 2015 Ventoux Blanc 'Ribes de Vallat' for under £12, please let me know and I will consider a career change. Actually, I defy anyone to find something as good as this under £15, maybe more.

I used to make a point of price comparisons although I have shied away from this in recent years, mainly because it is a fairly pointless exercise. Yes, Berry Brothers also import from Raymond Usseglio but, perhaps, the reason why people are willing to pay them £27.95 for a bottle of his 2012 compared with just £21.50 on our website is for the St James' address. 

I have a different approach to wine, I suppose. For me, what is inside the bottle is the only really important thing. Of course, we want to know that the liquid has been looked after properly and that is something you should be assured of when buying from a long-established business like BBR. But, of course, its doesn't mean you get a lesser wine from smaller companies like us who keep the wines in the same (or comparable) bonded warehouses until they are sold and delivered. Is it really worth an additional 30%? Of course, this was just a random example (it really was random - the first wine I checked out) so there may be others with much closer differentials (or even greater ones).

Anyway, as long as I can claim my luxuries to be good value ones then I gratefully - and gracefully - accept my award of (queue drumroll)...

Best Specialist Wine Importer 2016 - UK & Recognised Leader in Boutique Wines

Monday, 14 November 2016

Brexit III - I'll leave it alone after this (until the next time)

I learnt a new word today and, when I googled it to learn more, I found a rather good write up on Wikipedia (yes, I was surprised too):

'A recent example of Ochlocracy can be seen in the United Kingdom, 2016, following a small majority win advocating 'Brexit' - The process of the UK leaving the European Union. An advisory referendum concluded that a majority, winning by 3.8% based on a 72.2% electorate turn out, had voted to leave the European Union. Despite it's advisory nature and small win, the Prime Minister of the UK has decided to push 'Brexit' forwards, ignoring warnings from international partners, other government's and countless experts in order to appease the wishes of the referendum. This comes after the news that the campaign put in place to promote a Leave vote was dishonest and incorrect in their predictions and promises, and after the disenfranchisement of approximately 3 million EU nationals living and working currently in the UK.'

I wonder whether Theresa May seems to be welcoming ochlocracy and pushing for Brexit under any circumstances (we still have not heard what she intends to do if the only deals available are complete disasters for the UK) because she has no personal mandate and her party has such a slim majority. Additionally, since Trump's victory last week, it seems that Jeremy Corbyn may, at last, give her a run for her money in a snap election. What else can she do but yield to all that she and, especially, most of her saner colleagues campaigned against in the first half of this year? Just as both our referendum and the US election threw out surprise results, no-one without a lot of cash to spare is going to want to place any bets on the outcome of a UK general election.
Anyway, given the recent news from America, there seems little point in banging on about something that may or may not actually happen. One thing is for certain, we all live in Trumpton now!
Interestingly, there will have been five US Presidents (Trump included) who failed to win the popular vote all of whom have been Republican (John Quincey Adams was Democratic-Republican before the current parties existed but his election inspired Jackson and his supporters to create the Democratic Party). Perhaps the Democrats should try to get rid of the outdated Electoral College system. With a true mandate, there would have been no George W. Bush and no Trump. Need I say more?
Now, back to wine. Recent delights include the 2008 Expression from Chateau Lamartine in Cahors (finally come round), the Langhe Nebbiolo from Cascina Saria (never fails to impress how like a Barbaresco at twice the price it is) and the 2007 Raymond Usseglio Chateauneuf-du-Pape (still youthful but forward and an interesting contrast to the more mature 2004 which is drinking superbly now). 

One other question: should MPs vote on Article 50 reflect the majority of their constituents in the referendum? Some will say yes but they are misunderstanding our democracy in my view. My local MP was selected by his constituency party and elected at the last election as a passionate remained. Surely that is his mandate rather than the outcome of an advisory referendum?

Tuesday, 8 November 2016

En Primeur - is there still a market in the UK?

It's EP season, the time when merchants send out offers for wines which, in the main, have not yet been bottled. Prices are a little confusing to novices, priced without duty or VAT so the trick is to add £25 then divide by ten to reach the per bottle price (although an allowance should be made for onward delivery).

I had thought that Bordeaux had killed off much of the EP market. The outrageous opening prices demanded by some chateaux certainly slowed things down; I know The Big Red Wine Company is not a reliable gauge, given that I work with just one Claret producer, but in 2009, pre-shipment sales of Cahors estate Chateau du Cedre were more impressive than those of Chateau Teyssier.

So why should anyone buy EP? Traditionally, price and availability were the reasons. If you want a particular wine in a particular vintage at the best price, your best bet is to throw your hat in the ring at the earliest opportunity. Wine prices tend to go only in one direction and, as availability decreases (stocks decrease as people drink the stuff!), collectors and investors with stocks to spare rub their hands with glee, especially given that wine is classed as a wasting asset (assuming its life expectancy does not exceed 50 years) and, as such, does not attract capital gains tax when it is sold.

Now it is the 2015s that are being offered. Will anyone buy? Already, we have offered Mas de Daumas Gassac (Languedoc) and, in the last week, Chateau de Beaucastel (Rhone) and Domaine Joblot (Burgundy).  MDG sales were the best I can remember so the EP market is still very much alive and kicking, it seems. It's still early days for the other two but Beaucastel (and, especially its little brother, Coudoulet) tends to be popular and already a good number of cases have been snapped up.

Joblot is different, however. Chalonnaise wines are less sought after than their Cote d'Or neighbours, even those from families such as the Joblots who have been fairly described as 'Givry's best estate' (Clive Coates MW, The Wines of Burgundy, University of California Press) or 'a leader in Givry' (Jasper Morris MW, Inside Burgundy, BBR Press). Sadly, greater interest is in the top estates of the Cote d'Or where astronomically priced wines are snapped up by wealthy buyers afraid that they won't be able to get their hands on the stuff most of us can only dream of - or are they just buying to invest?

For me, I would - and do - buy wines which I can afford at this point in time and, if I can resist (not always possible), hold on to them for long enough to see them fully mature and enjoy them then without worrying about whether the wine now commands a price that I would otherwise balk at. A case in point: I did buy a (very) few bottles of Ruichebourg in 1999 to celebrate the birth of my oldest  child. It was expensive for me at that time (and now!) at around £80 per bottle but you only have a firstborn once, after all and I bought just three bottles. Now the same wine would cost me over £500 to replace (not that I would) but I can enjoy it knowing that I could just about afford it back in 2001. Joblot wines will never achieve such dizzying prices but they are worth putting aside for a decade or so, especially in vintages such as 2015.

Monday, 7 November 2016

More on Brexit

After the legal challenge, what now?

In 2015, the Conservative Party won the general election largely because of its promise to hold a referendum and to honour the outcome of that referendum. However, other than “Leave”, the electorate was not given the opportunity to state what outcome it desired. That said, when taken together with a further manifesto commitment, to “safeguard British interests in the single market”, it is clear that the British people want to remain in the single market. 

Also, as someone who imports wine from the European Union, I know my business would struggle if the UK leaves the Customs Union. As a net importer, I fail to see how leaving the Customs Union would benefit British people.

I welcome the High Court’s decision last week as I believe any proponent of parliamentary democracy should and, on that basis, I wonder why the government is appealing to the Supreme Court. If the appeal succeeds, do we still have a parliamentary democracy in the UK? Is there still a role for MPs? Indeed, one might argue that, in making this appeal to the Supreme Court, it is the government that is holding up our exit from the EU when it should be opening discussions with MPs.

Of course, I understand that the government says it does not want to have these discussions in public so that it can keep its negotiating cards close to its chest. I reject this argument: clearly everyone in the European political scene knows already what the UK hopes to achieve and it is simply a matter of deciding whether this scenario can be accommodated both practically and politically. No doubt there will be negotiations which will steal us away from our desired outcome, however.

This leads to the next concern. If the deal agreed by the rest of the EU is unacceptable to the UK government and parliament, can (and will) Article 50 be revoked? I gather Lord Kerr, who drafted Article 50, considers that revocation is possible. In that case, where do we go from there.

I am sure that, like me, you were appalled by the reaction in some parts of the media to the court’s decision. Actually, I was similarly appalled by the similar responses from several politicians who seem unable to understand the importance and necessity of an independent judiciary in our system. I am bemused by the fact that 52% of those who voted in June apparently voted to recover sovereignty but, as of last week, appear not to like the look of that sovereignty.

Monday, 26 September 2016

Confusion about Brexit - Part I

I despise the word almost as much as I detest the fact of the referendum and its outcome. This should be unsurprising to anyone reading this blog: I have long been a Europhile and will always regard myself as a European citizen, whatever happens (I remain optimistic that we will not actually leave the EU but, of course, this remains to be seen).

Anyway, like many others, I have had various thoughts about the referendum and want to air some of these, mainly to see if anyone reading this has any thoughts. No doubt I will post some more thoughts if anyone expresses any interest.

One for the statisticians out there:

I am quite incensed by the fact that my world has been turned upside down by a relatively small number of people (many of whom would probably vote the other way if a second referendum were held). The Leavers (or Splitters as my young, Python-fan, son calls them) are proud of their 52% but look a little closer at this. 52% of what? 52% of the 72% of registered voters = 37.4%. But not everyone was registered to vote. According to the ONS, I'm 2014, the total UK population was 64.6 million, an increase of half a million over the previous year so, let's assume it are further to June 2016 - a modest estimate would be that there are now (at least) 65 million. How many of these are of voting age? Unfortunately the ONS is not entirely helpful here but states that 18.8% were 0-15 years old. On that basis, let's allow for 21.15% to be under 18 (18.8/16 x 18) which means 78.85% of 65 million are eligible to vote - or 51,252,500 people. However, only 33,577,342 people actually voted (of which 0.8% were spoilt papers) and, of these, 17,410,742 voted 'Leave'. That's just under 34% - a third - of the adult population.

Should just one in three people be enough to trigger a major constitutional change?

Actually, in light of the 2014 Scottish referendum, it would be fair to ask why 16 and 17 year olds weren't given a say in this referendum. If we factor them in to these figures, we know that 81.2% of 65 million would have been eligible to vote - 52,780,000 - so the friendly souls who decided to kick the people and economies of all Europe in the teeth account for under 33% of the population aged 16 and over.

Number crunching aside, how about this from Article 50:

1. Any Member State may decide to withdraw from the Union in accordance with its own constitutional requirements.

Lots of observations have been made about this already: the general perception that the emphasis here  is on 'Any Member State', meaning that the UK can leave the EU only in accordance with its own constitutional requirements (whatever they may be - see below).

However, instead of 'Any Member State may decide to withdraw from the Union in accordance with its own constitutional requirements', try a different emphasis: 'Any Member State MAY decide to withdraw from the Union in accordance with its own constitutional requirements.'

This is rather like the journalist who reports that the alleged perpetrator may have been under the influence of narcotics - equally, he may not have been.

In terms of Article 50, then, it is equally true that 'Any Member State may decide to withdraw from the Union NOT in accordance with its own constitutional requirements' or, in other words, the requirement to follow constitutional requirements is a red herring and, in any case, what are the UK's 'constitutional requirements'? We don't have a written constitution and we have never left the EU or any similar organisation before so we don't have anything to go by in this situation.

Now, if this looks like I am letting the Brexit lot off the hook when it comes to the correct processes, trust me, I'm not. I can go on for hours going round and round in circles giving myself and everyone else in the room a splitting headache. So, for all our sakes, can we just quietly forget about the Referendum and get on with life? Sorry, David Davies; you'll have to find a new job.

Tuesday, 20 September 2016

Herts wine society tasting

An interesting brief: a selection of big red wines with a couple of whites thrown in for good measure. What does that mean? With a generous budget, I decided to interpret it as special occasion wines and took along a Champagne, a couple of whites (Rhone and Burgundy) and pairs of red wines (Rhone, Italy, South-West France) finishing off with a magnum of Mourvedre.

The Michel Rocourt Champagne got things off to a good start: quite mature and very soft. The Raymond Usseglio Cotes du Rhone Blanc (2014) was received with more mixed reviews, a couple of people admitting they simply do not 'get' white Rhones. The Joblot Givry En Veau (2010) was more popular: classic white Burgundy which was compared with Meursault except, inevitably, this one was better priced.

The first red pair saw a wave of enthusiasm for Chateau Juvenal Ventoux 'Ribes de Vallat' (2014) which showed that this vintage, tricky for some, was capable of producing some delicious and very drinkable wines. There was general agreement that it bears more than a passing resemblance to Burgundy in its velvety texture and soft fruit. The Domaine de Cristia Chateuneuf-du-Pape (2006) was a much more powerful beast loved by some, feared by others.

The Italians were not presented together as they were from different regions and different grapes but the Poggio al Gello Montecucco (2010) was one of the star wines of the night, drinking as beautifully as any Rosso di Montalcino, if not a Brunello. The Giulia Negri Barolo (2007) was well received too but I thought it still seemed very youthful for a 2007 (forward vintage).

Chateau Teyssier St-Emilion Grand Cru (2010) still has a hint of youthful austerity which is unusual for this wine. Bordeaux aficionados will love it but I prefer the gloriousness of the Chateau du Cedre Cahors 'Le Cedre' (2010) which is, perhaps, unsurprising given the price tag on each wine.

I decided that, with fewer than 100 days until Christmas, it would be fun to end with a magnum so took along a Domaine Treloar, Cotes de Roussillon 'Motus' (2009) which is 80% Mourvedre, the balance from Grenache and Syrah. Still youthful but getting into the swing of things now, a very good wine with a future.