Monday, 12 December 2016

Brexit - have turkeys really voted for Christmas?

I've rarely, if ever, used this blog as a political platform. After all, it's supposed to be (mostly) about wine. But one of the reasons I have posted just one single article in the last 6 months or more is that I have spent an inordinate amount of time on Twitter and Facebook, ranting and seeking solace amongst like-minded (and occasionally opposite) people about the disaster of 23 June 2016.

The following is a quote from a BBC article on the issue of a so-called "Hard Brexit", by one of 60 or so Tory MP's who want to inflict irreparable damage on our nation and its economy; Suella Fernandes, MP for Fareham, who said: 

"As was made clear in the referendum campaign, remaining in the EU's internal market like Norway, or in a customs union like Turkey, is not compatible with either of these commitments and doing so would frustrate the will of the electorate." 

So, how exactly was it "made clear"? And who says it is "the will of the electorate"? I very much suspect that 95% or more of the electorate have little or no understanding of how things like the Single Market, EFTA or customs union actually work. And why should they? Most people have their own lives to manage, and prefer to leave the intricacies of trade agreements and inter-EU commerce to those much-maligned experts. Indeed, as someone who imports (wine) from the EU, even I don't have a particularly good grasp on these things - though I am only too aware that "Hard Brexit" would probably mean tariffs on wine and other goods (with obvious price implications) together with more, rather than less, bureaucracy and hoop-jumping. In other words, disastrous for small businesses like mine, and most probably for every other business (large or small) that imports goods from the EU. 

But according to Ms. Fernandes and her self-serving cohorts such as Rees-Mogg, Redwood, Gove, Duncan Smith, Fox etc (and, I suspect, a good few on the Labour side - this goes way beyond party politics), the prospect of economic suicide is "the will of the electorate". And yet, there is not one single commentator (including some of the more obvious "Leavers" at the BBC) that would deny the fact that - for better or worse - the one single issue that won the referendum for Leave was immigration. That in itself is a far more complex issue than most people (both racist and non-racist) could imagine, but the emotive aspect, as presented by the likes of the Mail, Express, Sun and (to an extent) the Telegraph, gave them an easy target. 

So let's be clear, the "will of the people" (or at least a shade over 1/4 of Britain's total population) is not withdrawal from the single market/EFTA/customs union or any other *real* economic issue - it is varying shades and combinations of "send 'em all back", "regain control of our borders" (which we already have control of), "freedom from un-elected Brussels bureaucrats", "sovereignty", "the whole world will be desperate to trade with us", etc. And if anybody wants to argue that they voted Leave because of issues other than those stated above (and it is entirely reasonable to suggest there will be some) I will say this - you are in a tiny minority. 

I've spent the last 6 months grieving and tearing my hair out over the utter madness of the 23 June referendum result. Let's be honest, in a year full of awful news, Trump was also a bit of a shock. But assuming he reaches the White House to begin with - and that is by no means yet a certainty - at least the US can vote him out in 4 years' time. 

But the prospect of Brexit (of any texture) and the divisions it has created in the UK presents the nation with the darkest, most profoundly disturbing issue it has faced in the last 70 years. Aside from the economic, political and social issues, it threatens the very existence of the greatest peace and cultural project the world has ever seen. And that is far too high a price to pay for "taking back control". 

As things stand - and in the spirit of the Season - the turkeys have indeed voted for Christmas. But if I were a betting man (which I am not) my prediction would be this: Once the lies have been fully exposed, once the offer is on the table, and once it dawns on "the electorate" that what they voted for is very different to what they are actually going to get, we will be offered a second referendum on the "terms". And pragmatism - or, if you like, a collective sense of self-preservation - will win the day.  OK, so my feeling is based as much on hope as it is on common sense, but as the saying goes, it's not over until the fat lady sings. Watch this space............

Friday, 25 November 2016

2016 and all that (plus a couple of bargain reds)

What follows was meant to form the basis of a newsletter to my customers, but I thought better of boring them with my thoughts (and occasional ranting), so it now manifests itself as my first blog post since January. 10 months without hearing from me? How have you coped?!

Anyway, a lot has happened in 2016 – and to be honest, not a lot of it good. A succession of national (and international) treasures dropping like flies, suffering the shock of Brexit whilst on holiday in the south of France, the ensuing fallout as a nation became deeply divided over the whole shambles…. and now President Trump(!) This really must be the weirdest (and for me personally) the most frustrating year in my 55 years on this planet. The last newsletter I sent out to my customers was way back in June, shortly after yet another bombshell, as we were forced (through no fault of our own) to move all of our wine stocks out of the bonded warehouse to another storage facility. The 5-figure sum that we had to shell out to pay the excise duty was a big cash-flow hit for a small company like ours, and recouping it was a slower process than we had hoped. Hence the relative paucity of new wines added to the Leon Stolarski Fine Wines portfolio this year.  

The imminent threat of Brexit (I underline it because I believe it is by no means a done deal) is of course a constant worry. Whatever the arguments for and against - and, as you may have gathered, I personally can see little in its favour - the potential impact on wine importers, especially small independents like us, would be at best difficult to overcome and at worst disastrous. The 15% fall in the value of Sterling against the Euro is one thing (although we have been there before), but the possibility of leaving the single market and customs union is potentially a much bigger threat. Personally, I believe that unless and until we actually jump off that cliff, nothing is certain, but I guess only time will tell. Meanwhile, we carry on and hope for a workable outcome.... 

To be honest, there have been times this year that I have seriously considered packing it all in and finding something (actually, lots of things) more useful to do with my life. None more so than a couple of weeks ago, when a customer emailed me to say he was unable to complete his order on the website. In the 12-plus years of its existence, I had never encountered such a problem. Following no less than 3 days (and nights) of frantic efforts to fix the problem, I finally got to the bottom of things and managed to carry out a complete refresh/update that got things working perfectly again. Thanks in no small part to a thread from 10 years ago on a software user forum – isn’t Google wonderful?! 

However, having dodged a bullet with that one, I finally realised that it was time to put 2016 behind me and get on with something I have been threatening to do for a couple of years. And so, we have invested in the latest all-singing-all-dancing e-commerce software and I will be busy over the next couple of months preparing for a brand new site to go live, hopefully very early in 2017. Wish me luck! Furthermore, with 2016 almost out of the way, and with everything back on an even keel, we will be back on the buying trail very early in 2017. So rest assured that Leon Stolarski Fine Wines is still here – and here to stay. 

As for blogging, clearly I need to rediscover my enthusiasm and motivation. I'm not the sort of writer that can bang out an article (or even tasting note or two) in double-quick time - it takes concentration, attention to detail and the desire to provide regular input. Something(s) that I tend to lack, these days. Then again, if I can write tasting notes and other wine-related material on Facebook/Twitter, it will do no harm to copy them across to this blog, for my wider readership (if it still exists) to see. It might also help if I can, as the Leavers say, "get over it" and stop Remoaning! Meanwhile, here's a tasting note I banged out recently.

Les Vignes de l'Arque Duché d'Uzes 2014
Almost a year on from my first taste of this wine, and it is really starting to sing. 50/50 Syrah and Grenache, it is full of bright, vibrant, chunky summer fruits, with a whiff of freshly-baked bread on the nose and just the right combination of ripe red/black fruit, rounded tannins and cherry kernel acidity on the palate, with a sprinkling of garrigue herbs and soft, peppery spice. Languedoc-does-Côtes-du-Rhône, to a very high standard indeed. A snip at £8.95 and the perfect pizza wine.

Mas Sibert Armélot 2014 Vin de France
Sometimes, you open a bottle that just sings from the very first sniff and sip - and this is one of them. A quirky blend of 40% Merlot, 40% Syrah and 20% Petit Verdot, which is very definitely more than the sum of its parts. Winemaker Simon Bertschinger was very selective in opting for very particular clones of Merlot and Petit Verdot, choosing the ones that offer ample acidity. Ripeness is a given, of course, as the grapes are grown on gently undulating slopes around Pézenas, but it is a testimony to the skill of this young (Swiss) winemaker that he can achieve such wonderful balance and vivacity - not to mention a wonderful sense of place - in his wines. And this is simply overflowing with luscious, tangy, sweet-sour raspberry, blackcurrant and red cherry fruit, with hints of garrigue herbs, soft citrus and beautifully ripe tannins. And oh, that acidity. It just grabs you, in the most gloriously mouth-watering, tongue-tingling way! At just £11.50, it is an absolute bargain - a simply wonderful, life-affirming wine!

By the way, if you want to follow me on Facebook and Twitter..........


Thursday, 7 January 2016

At last – A brand new book about the wines of Languedoc-Roussillon!

I can hardly believe that it is almost 6 years (April 2010) since I published this blog post, concerning my good friend Peter Gorley's quest to find funding for the second edition of his book, Gorley's Guide - The Wines Of Languedoc-Roussillon. Even at that time, a good many years had passed since any sort of comprehensive book had been published about this wonderful - and still rapidly evolving - wine region. Rosemary George's seminal book The Wines of the South of France: From Banyuls to Bellet was released in 2001, followed by the first edition of Gorley's Guide in 2002. But since then, nothing of any real substance has come along to assist those who are interested in searching out the region's sheer wealth of new and dynamic wine growers that have appeared in the intervening period. There can't be many world class regions that have suffered such a dearth of new or topical reading in that time, let alone one which many of its proponents (of which I am obviously one) consider to be currently the single most dynamic and varied wine region on the face of the planet.

During that time, things have changed in so many ways – almost all for the better – with huge advances in the quality of the wines produced, fuelled in no small way by an influx of young, dynamic, quality-minded winemakers, who in turn have raised the bar for the older growers and the farmers who have gone independent, following the demise of the previously dominant wine co-operatives. In short, lovers of Languedoc and Roussillon wines have never had it so good. As I have said above, I honestly believe that the region is now the most dynamic in the world of wine,  producing wines of just about every style and colour imaginable, at unprecedented levels of quality – and of course prices to suit every pocket.

I hardly need tell you that, since I first highlighted his work in 2010, Peter's journey towards (self-) publication of the second edition of his book has been long and arduous. I believe he did eventually manage to obtain a modicum of help - though seemingly more moral than financial - from one or two of the region's promotional organisations, but still not enough to finance a physical/hard copy book - yet.

However, I am so happy to announce that it has finally been published in iBook form. And having been given a sneak preview, I can confirm that Peter Gorley – The Wines And Winemakers Of Languedoc-Roussillon has been well worth the wait. 

And although the project originally had a working title of Gorleys Guide II (or GG2, as Peter called it) this is effectively a completely new book, bearing only a passing resemblance to the much smaller (and sadly out of print) "GG1".

At around 450 pages, with 15 chapters or “routes”, covering no less than 500 different growers, it is a comprehensive and beautifully illustrated guide, with useful maps and stunning photography, not to mention plenty of tips on what to see, where to eat and - bien sur - where to find the best wines.

Contact details and addresses (and website links, where available) are provided for every one of the 500 featured growers, with biographies and tasting notes ranging from a few lines to a couple of pages. The book is the result of a decade or so of hard graft on the visiting, tasting and writing trail, which has been translated beautifully and affectionately by Peter Gorley into a truly comprehensive guide. Indeed, a true Pièce de Résistance, and one which every lover of Languedoc-Roussillon, both aficionado and novice alike, should cherish.

Peter Gorley – The Wines And Winemakers Of Languedoc-Roussillon is now available in the iBooks Store, at a bon rapport qualite-prix of just $15.99 / £12.99. For those who have yet to succumb to the joys of Apple technology, a version of the book in pdf format is also available at the same price, via Peter's website.

I should point out that, although Peter and I have become good friends over the last few years, I myself have nothing to gain from the promotion of his book – apart from the warm glow of having received an honourable mention in the Acknowledgements section and a few name-checks in the various grower profiles(!)