You think this lion is going to eat the zebra but what happens next will blow your mind

I’ve been trying to get up-to-date, to learn a bit about the future rather than burying my head in the sand and hoping that it’ll go back to 2002. I’ve stopped saying SOE (Special Forces Executive) when I mean SEO (search engine optimisation – as if you didn’t know.) I’m going to start using words such as ‘platform’, ‘package’ and ‘content.’ It’s time to make myself employable. I mean even more employable (just in case potential employers are reading.)

Anway, this week’s post has nothing to do with lions, I’m just trying out new eye-catching headlines which will bring people to my site and then. . . . well I don’t know what. Anyway!

I’m really posting with the prosaic news that I’ve just tried a wine that is not only excellent but also cheap. It’s my wine of the week. It’s been about a year since the last wine of the week so that really makes it my wine of the year. It’s from a company called 31 Dover who sound like the sort of art gallery that caters to oligarchs and hedge fund types. Oddly for a company with such a name, their wines aren’t expensive.

It’s called Mas d’Amile Vieux Carignan 2010. It’s from a little village in the Languedoc called Montpeyroux. My wife was once sick very near here whilst pregnant and being driven on windy roads in a Jag by a man with strong body odour. Not me I hasten to add. Don’t let that put you off. This wine is quite tannic and spicy but with great freshness. Despite being quite old, it still has masses of fruit and hasn’t gone at all funky. When I tried it with some pork chops on holiday recently, I’d have guessed it was at least £14. I’d gladly pay £14 but it’s actually £8 or even less if you buy a case.

That’s enough content for now. Next time I might even produce a ‘vine’ of me drinking the stuff. A ‘vine’ is a very short video clip but of course you knew that. Oh and apologies to those who clicked on the link thinking they were going to see a picture of a lion being beaten up by a zebra or some such surprising footage. Those links are always disappointing though, aren’t they? Not like my wine of the week. You won’t be disappointed by that.




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Planet of the Grapes

Many people have this idea about wine merchants that they just sit around all day drinking wine and then occasionally selling a case or two . Having worked as one myself I know that isn’t true and yet whenever I walk past Planet of the Grapes on New Oxford Street, there they are, sitting around the table tasting wine and deciding what to have for lunch.

The shop has a somewhat old-fashioned air. There are no enomatics or polished tiles. In fact, with its wooden claret boxes doubling as shelves, haphazard stacks of wine cases and trolleys left around the shop, it has the air of an Oddbins from the 1990s. It’s not a surprise to learn therefore that one of the founders, Marc Wise, is ex-Oddbins (like so many of the British wine trade and press.) He then worked at Milroy’s of Soho where he met Matt Harris. They decided to start their own business when Milroy’s was bought out by Jeroboams. Planet of the Grapes specialise in upmarket wines from classic regions. They’re particularly strong on Burgundy, Italy and Australia, and they do a nice line in mature Bordeaux. The shop functions as a hub for two wine bars that they run in the City and the wines reflect the taste of their customers.  You’re not going to find funky Languedoc wines that smell of old socks.

It’s a shop well worth becoming a regular in because you will be invited to sit down at the table and try some wines but be warned you will be expected to have an opinion. They really know their stuff and you’re not allowed to say non-committal things like ‘I think it’s a bit closed.’ After each visit, I return to my publishing job around the corner a little tipsy and wishing that I’d stayed in the wine trade so I could spend all day tasting wine.

Planet of the Grapes, 9 New Oxford Street, London, Holborn WC1A 1BA 020 7405 4912


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What will Scottish independence mean for drinkers?

Every month or so the marketing bumf from Majestic Wine Warehouses comes through my door outlining their latest offers. It’s normally bargain rioja. If you read the small print carefully you’ll find that their glorious multibuy offers aren’t available in Scotland:

“The Alcohol Scotland Act 2010 disallows any alcohol promotion offering customers a discount for buying multiple products in Scottish stores.”

It seems peculiar that the adults of Scotland aren’t allowed offers that encourage them to buy wine in quantities of more than one. Isn’t that the whole point of visiting a wine warehouse? It’s like being forbidden from having seconds at an all you can eat buffet. Admittedly it’s probably healthier not to have seconds but shouldn’t that be up to the customer? The Scots do undoubtedly like to drink to excess, as do many British people, but it is unlikely that laws such as these are going to make people in the so-called Bucky Triangle drink less. If I lived there I am sure I’d need a bit of extra intoxication to help me through the day.

The devolved Scottish Parliament is an expert at such pointless legislation. The Offensive Behaviour at Football and Threatening Communications Act makes it a crime to sing certain songs at football matches. Or the Children and Young People (Scotland) Act where every child born in Scotland has a guardian appointed by the state whose job it is to check up on the child’s parents and intervene where necessary.

I suppose the big question is after independence – should it come – whether the new Scottish government will continue creating unenforceable new laws or whether they’ll be too busy with the serious business of running a new country. I’d put money on the former. It seems crazy that Scotland’s leaders trust their people with a vote to break up a 300 year old political union but not to buy six bottles of rioja.

At the moment the Marques de Riscal Reserva 09 at £9.99 when you buy two or more looks distinctly good value. But remember, if you do take advantage of this offer, stay within the government’s drinking guidelines and for God’s sake don’t neck the whole bottle and start singing: ‘Boys from the Old Brigade’ – at least not if you’re in Scotland. 

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Henry, we’re Jewish.

This is an article that appears in today’s Guardian. I thought it would be nice to illustrate it with some old family photos:

My grandfather’s funeral service took place on New Year’s Eve 2002 at the Anglican church in Chalfont St Giles. The vicar kept referring to my grandfather as Donald and had to be corrected (his name was Gordon but he was known as Don). What I remember most is something my grandmother, Dorothy Jeffreys, said before the service. She was distraught and, I think, on some sort of tranquilliser and kept insisting Don wouldn’t have wanted the send-off to be in a church, it should have been a synagogue. I asked her why and she said, “Because we’re Jewish.”

This was the first I’d heard of it. click here to read more.










Michael and Rose Levy on far left, my great grandparents, and on right Dot and Gordon Jeffreys, my grandparents.

dot and gordon on margate sands













My grandparents in Margate. Love those pleats.

The Jeffreys family at Henry's wedding










My own wedding. Left to right, me, my wife Misti, my brother Thomas and my parents. Notice father assuming traditional unsmiling photo pose.

George, Cousin Rupert, Nanny, Grandpa, Henry

Left to right, my brother George, cousin Rupert, grandparents and me. Probably taken at Moor Park Golf Club.

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The irresistible rise of Picpoul

If you’re anything like me, you probably can’t wait to read what the big names of the British wine world, yer McQuittys, yer Becketts, yer Moores, are drinking this summer. To a woman this year, they have picked a Picpoul de Pinet. Picpoul is now firmly established on the middle-class wine lovers shopping list. Most restaurants, gastropubs and bars stock a Picpoul.  I don’t think it’s ready to take New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc’s crown yet but it’s definitely a contender.

The best thing about Picpoul from a wine bore’s perspective is that it is unbranded. You don’t have all that garish advertising and vulgar discounting that you get with Ned or Oyster Bay. Instead you can pretend that you have discovered it yourself whilst staying with your auntie near Pomerols. And yet Picpoul, in its own quiet French way, has been a masterpiece of marketing. It was originally the answer to a problem of what to do with all the grapes grown for Noilly Prat vermouth when sales of vermouth declined.

Those tall embossed bottles, ribbed for her pleasure, mean that it stands out on the shelves. They’re the opposite of the squat Burgundy-style chardonnay bottle, it’s a bottle that promises  refreshment rather than oaky fatness. Similar sort of wines such as Muscadet and Vinho Verde also come in tall bottles but the Picpoul bottle is unique (it seems they’ve taken a leaf out of Chateauneuf’s book here by having a custom bottle). And then there’s the name. It literally means ‘sting lips’ in French (or maybe Occitan), a reference to the grape’s high acidity. It’s an easy word for Anglos to say. Not too easy, mind, we don’t want the Pinot Grigio brigade picking up on it but once you’ve learnt how to say it, you won’t forget. In fact it fufils a similar role on the wine list as Chablis or Sancerre, in that drinkers can flaunt their French pronounciation with a word that isn’t hard to pronounce.

But unlike these famous names to the North, Picpoul’s reputation has yet to be tarnished by lacklustre wines. Quality is high, it may never soar to the heights of a Grand Cru Chablis but I’ve never had one that tasted of vingerary water either. These are good simple wines. The only problem is that most of them are too expensive in Britain. My favorite Picpoul from Domaine La Grangette costs €5 from the cellar door but £11.29 over here.  If you want a budget PIcpoul, Aldi’s has one for £5.99 which isn’t half bad. Luckily for me my auntie brought me a case of the Grangette back from France this summer. 

34 wines in Altrincham have La Grangette for £8.95 a bottle which when you factor in British duty and VAT (£2 plus 20%) is really good value. It’s significantly better than supermarket Picpouls. Thanks to James Heron for pointing this out. 

Oh and in case you’re interested you can read an update on my book here.

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Mouton Rothschild – an affordable luxury

unnamedIn 2012 I won a bottle of Mouton Rothschild 1996 in a writing competition on Jancis Robinson’s site. When we moved house last year I didn’t trust the movers with it so I wrapped it up in layers of bubble wrap and carried it myself. Since then it has been sitting under the stairs looking for an excuse to be opened. Last month I learnt that my book will now be published so I invited my parents over for a celebration. It seemed as good a time as any especially as the cupboard under the stairs is too warm for long term wine storage. That was when the worrying started: I worried that it might be a bit young; Jancis Robinson recommended not opening it until 2015; I worried that I might drop it; I worried about what sort of food I should have with it – my wine books said lamb or beef but my wife is off the lamb and my mother doesn’t eat beef. I worried so much that I almost gave up on the whole thing. Eventually I pulled myself together, went to the butchers and bought a loin of pork.

While it was roasting, I gingerly opened the bottle, poured myself a tiny glass and had a sniff. It smelt extremely powerful and worryingly, very oaky. Had I opened it too early or perhaps I just wasn’t going to be to my taste? I decanted it, kept the sediment to make gravy and put the decanted wine in the fridge to cool slightly. Meanwhile I washed the delicate Riedel glasses that I never use as the last time I did I broke one.

How could a wine that I had approached with such reverence fail to be a disappointment? click here to read more at Tim Atkin’s site. 

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I love old record players

My three great loves after wine are vintage cars, old bicycles and obsolete hifi. Bicycles aside, they’re silly things to be interested in when you don’t have any money. Nevertheless I wrote this thing recently for the Financial Times on collecting turntables. It was probably the hardest thing I’ve ever written due to the paper’s insistence on facts, quotes and evidence – basically proper journalism rather than a series of stolen jokes.

In July 2012, an online auction was held by Peaker Pattinson of the contents of Bush House, home of the BBC World Service for 71 years. Among the microphones, photos of famous broadcasters and a Steinway grand piano was a giant German turntable, the EMT 950. Weighing in at nearly 80kg, it sold to a private collector for £3,800 (rather a bargain considering that, in the same year, John Shaw of Shaw Sounds, the British decks expert, sold one for £6,382). Such BBC spring cleans are a boon for audiophiles left cold by the digital era. Turntables, says Toby Rogers, a City lawyer from London, are “an escape from digital slavery. When you settle down with your vinyl, you actually listen to the music.”

Read more here.



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