Wine articles

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


Wine articles

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. 

Wine articles

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.