Rathfinny Wine Estate

Prager Smargagd Achleiten Riesling

It happens rarely, but sometimes you try a new wine and you are completely and utterly bowled over by the complexity of flavours and taste. I remember this happening to me in the mid-90s, when we had a wine tasting at work and I was first introduced to Cuvée Frédéric Emile by Trimbach. I thought I was tasting an old Chardonnay or Burgundy, but it turned out to be a Riesling. The same thing happened a couple of weeks ago when we were out for dinner with an ex-colleague, and his lovely wife, at Maze in London.

We asked the sommelier to bring us something different. We gave him a budget and left him to it. He came back with a bottle of Prager Smargagd Achleiten Reisling 2006, from Wachau, Austria.

I am going to be a complete wine bore and tell you that words cannot do justice to the complexity of the flavours that bombard you when you taste this wine. It has a fantastic mineral base, lovely fruit from the Riesling grape, but it’s dry, with great length. Even Mrs Driver liked it and she doesn’t normally like Riesling, she prefers sparkling wine. It was a simply stunning wine.

I looked it up when I got home, as the sommelier was a little uncertain as to what the labeling meant. The Wachau region is the westernmost wine growing area in Austria, up towards the Czech border. It is also one of the smallest regions. Most of the vineyards are on the northern banks of the Danube and apparently the region experiences some of the widest fluctuations in temperature of any area in Austria, which might help with the development the flavour and aroma. Unlike the rest of Austria which tends to follow the German system of wine labeling, Kabinett, Spatlese etc, in the Wachau they have created their own quality rating system. We drank a Smaragd, which is the name of a emerald coloured lizard common in the area, and this rating indicates that the wine needs time to mature; they tend to be the most concentrated and alcoholic wines. Just for the record: Steinfeder, which apparently means grass on rocks, is the rating given to the lightest wines grown in the region. Federspiel, a devise to lure back a hawk in falconry, is the rating given to a wine requiring a year or two before consumption.

The owner and winemaker, Anton ‘Toni’ Bodenstein has a saying that ‘the wine must reflect the terrior”. Well all I can say is that he certainly achieved it.

As you may know we are planting out 7 acres of Riesling vines next year at Rathfinny. If I can produce a wine from our Riesling half as good as this I will be a proud and happy man.

Look out for Prager. It is truly stunning and I now see why we should be trying to make a Riesling similar in style to the Austrians at Rathfinny. If you are interested, I found it for sale at Berry Brothers at £34 a bottle (and no I’m not on commission!), not cheap but worth every penny.

Wachau Wine website http://www.vinea-wachau.at/home/en/home.php

Achlieten is the name of the vineyard were the grapes were harvested from.

achleiten.jpg

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Praying for rain…

Like everyone else in the UK I am enjoying this delightful warm spring weather and wonderful sunshine. It is warmer in southern England than most of Spain. However, we are desperate for some rain.

The weather station at Rathfinny has recorded just 8.5mm of rain since the beginning of March.

http://www.weatherlink.com/user/rathfinny/index.php?view=main&headers=1

We planted our cover crop of mustard seed two weeks ago and although it has come up in some areas, in others the field is still bare. We also have to water the trees in the windbreaks every few days to keep them alive.

However, the really big news this week is that Cameron Roucher, our Vineyard manager, and his wife Nikki and children have arrived at Rathfinny from New Zealand.  Liz is particularly pleased to see him as he can take over the watering of the trees!

So I’m enjoying this lovely unusual spring weather but praying for rain.

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Royal Wedding wine list…

I heard some disappointing news last week. I had not received an invite to the Royal Wedding much to Mrs Driver’s dismay! No, seriously, at the Royal Wedding of William and Catherine they won’t be toasting the happy couple with English Sparkling wine but with French Champagne. Quel horreur!

Given that Nyetimber’s classic cuvee 2003 won the best sparkling wine on the planet award last year, Ridgeview won the Decanter award 2010 for the best sparkling wine and Camel Valley won the best Rose sparkling wine in the world (including Champagne) award in the Bolcini Del Mondo international wine awards in Verona, I was a bit surprised to hear that the Royal couple have ditched the best in the world to toast the happy couple with Pol Roger instead of the best of English.

We have a right Royal opportunity to show the rest of the world what only the experts seem to know – that we are producing the best sparkling wine in the world, right here in England.

So I asked a friend of mine why this might be, perhaps they don’t have enough to supply such a big party? I doubt it, Nyetimber, Ridgeview or Camel Valley must surely have enough to supply a party of 350 people at Buckingham Palace. Is it too expensive? Surely our Royal family can afford the best and English sparkling wine is a bargain compared to French Champagne, I doubt that that is the reason. So why has Prince Charles, who is normally such supporter of English produce deserted our fine English wine in favour of the French? Perhaps it’s the new entente cordial, to appease our French cousins as their French Champagne slips into obscurity. Will they have Dijon not English mustard on the table? Perhaps they will drive to the church in a Peugeot not the customary Rolls Royce? Under William’s rule will fish and chips be served with French wine vinegar instead of English malt vinegar?

So I spoke to Kevin the vineyard manager at Plumpton college to ask him why such a decision could have been taken. Incidentally he also makes wine at Bluebell Vineyard, who have just got their sparkling rose onto the wine list at the Savoy group after winning a blind tasting. He couldn’t understand why, in this country, he’s from New Zealand, we seem to talk down the best of our English produce and talk up overseas produced goods. It would never happen in New Zealand or in France and definitely not in America. Can you imagine the American President holding a party and not serving American Champagne (by the way they get away with calling American produced sparkling wine Champagne, can’t remember why?).

So I hope that the person I was speaking to is misinformed and that Prince William and Catherine will be toasted in with the best sparkling wine in the world – which as we all know is now from England, not France.

Perhaps it’s not too late and we can change their minds?

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Budget Deficit and all that…

Forgive me, but with my ex-hedge fund manager’s hat on I can’t let the end of the tax year slip by without a comment on the recent budget and the march against cuts in London.

My son keeps asking me to try and explain “what’s going on in the world at the moment” because he’s at University and wants to be able to give the other side of the argument. He’s like that. He’s studying Philosophy and English, and he’ll make a good Barrister on day, as he’ll argue the other side on anything.

So here goes, and with a health warning, I’m not a politician. I studied economics and I hold no deep political views.

However, I am frankly shocked that Ed Balls can get away with saying that we can afford to stop or moderate the program of cuts announced by the coalition government last year. Step back and look at where we were in May last year. The dollar was hovering at $1.45 to the pound, having fallen from over $2 dollars to the pound in 2008 and the Euro, that battered currency, was heading towards €1 to the pound. We were on the brink of a currency crisis.

If the new government, whoever was chosen, had not instigated some radical cuts to expenditure then the international community, who buy our debt, could well have walked away from the UK, leaving the pound to collapse and the cost of our borrowing to rise.

So let’s talk about the deficit. Firstly, the deficit is not our government debt; it is the difference between our income (tax revenue) and expenditure. If you or I started spending 10% more than we earned, and we had already borrowed a substantial sum of money, the bank would probably come knocking on the door and asking when we would be rectifying this. It is the same with national governments. The banker is the global financial community who buy our government debt, gilts, treasury bonds, they are all names for the same thing. Our deficit is huge, it is forecast to rise to £163bn this year, and we are currently spending over 11% more than we earn in tax revenues.  Our deficit was over £10.8bn in the month of February alone, up £2bn on February 2010. That means we spent £10.8bn more that we generated in tax revenues in February.

So how do we compare to the basket cases of Europe? Ireland had a similar budget deficit of over 11% prior to its collapse; Portugal, whom the EU is bailing out this week had a budget deficit is nearer 8%. So what about our total debt?  How much do we owe? We currently owe £875bn. This is about 60% of our GDP and it is rising. Even with the cuts announced we would still have a budget deficit of £74bn next year.

When the global financial community lose confidence in your ability to pay back your debt then two things happen.  Government bond markets sell off, because less people are interested in buying them, that means that interest rates rise and the value of the currency will fall.

Without the cuts announced we could be facing a very difficult outlook. Interest rates in Portugal and Ireland are now around 8%, double those in the UK and the rest of Europe. Imagine what would happen to the UK economy if mortgage rates doubled. What would happen to house prices, and then the inevitable spiral of bad debts and a further collapse of the UK banks? We are a net importer of almost everything into this country, as the value of the pound falls all prices will rise causing a further squeeze on the economy.

This is why we have to cut government expenditure and reduce the deficit and start to reduce our national debt.

But surely we can raise taxes? Sadly, we have been doing that for the last ten years, but in rather stealthy ways, like congestion charges, stamp duty on housing and national insurance rates. We have to remember that even prior to the financial collapse in 2008, because government borrowing had almost doubled over the previous five years, we were still running a deficit at that time. Now our taxes are some of the highest in the world and we have already instigated emergency tax rises to try and stem the tide.

Unfortunately, raising tax rates often leads to lower tax revenues. A chap called Arthur Laffer proved that in the 1970s (the Laffer Curve) and that’s what led to the Reagan tax cuts in the 1980s. The problem is that we are part of the global economy where companies and increasingly individuals, are free to offer their services from any country in the world.  Often, companies and now individuals will move to base themselves in countries that offer lower tax rates, and it’s happening here.  I personally know of several companies and individuals who have done exactly that in recent years.

We need to encourage wealth creators to stay and work in the UK.  In fact you could, and we should, be arguing that we should be cutting taxes to encourage spending, rather than increasing taxes to fill a hole in the government deficit.

Now some might argue that the government should be spending more money to get us out of this hole. We should, but the government can’t.  They have no money.  They are already spending more than they earn and do we want them be spending more of our money?

However, the most important thing that our government can do is to maintain the support of the global financial community, because if they don’t then interest rates will rise significantly, the currency will fall and we will have one hell of a mess.

So there you have it. The British government is spending more than it earns and has one of the largest deficits in the world, government debt levels are still rising and we need to rein in expenditure, otherwise the global financial community will come knocking on the door and force us to do it, as they have in Greece, Portugal, Ireland and Spain.

It all argues for continued cuts in government expenditure as painful as they may be. However, where you cut is the political decision. Personally I am disappointed that so many young people will be put off going to university by fees of £9000 per annum and I think we need to offer more bursaries to help the poorest get to university.

I promise to write about wine later this week.

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