Tag Archives: retirement

Christmas Wine Taste Test Results

We sniffed, we looked, we held to the light, we checked for tears and legs, we sipped….and then we guzzled.

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Christmas Day in the Morris household (thanks, Paul & Carol) got off to a flying start, with a rather special wine tasting challenge.

I wrote before Christmas about how I was about to break open my first prized bottle of Sassicaia, from the renowned Tenuta San Guido estate, near the Tuscan coast. And how I didn’t think my oenophile brother would be able to tell the difference between a £120 bottle of wine, and a more modest £10 one.

I moved the goalposts a little, I must admit. The contenders were a decent Barolo (£20) and a more modest Cabernet-Merlot from the Barossa Valley in Oz (£10). Neither of which were direct Cabernet Sauvignon competitors for the mighty Sassicaia.

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So the test was all about price v taste.

How did we do?

It’s all a bit of a blur, to be honest. The only thing I can report with any confidence is that nephew Steve was the only guzzler to get all 3 wines in the right order. Take a bow, Steve. Move over, Bruv…the baton has been passed to the next generation.

What conclusions can we draw?

Absolutely none.

I probably didn’t let the wines breathe for long enough. They were all transported close to a lot of cheese. And some cranberry jelly. And we’d already drunk a glass or two of Sauvignon Blanc, with some smoked salmon and other nibbly stuff. And we swallowed, rather than spat. And perhaps we just know a lot less about wine than we thought….

But it was fun.

I think the next bottle of Sassicaia will be opened in splendid isolation. No fraternising with cheese during transportation. No confusion with other wines, however extravagant or humble. And decanted, aerating for much longer. And perhaps eaten alongside some rather buonissimo Italian food.

But in the end, I guess all that matters is enjoyment. Whatever the price. A metaphor for life.


Christmas Cabernet Taste Test

It’s just over 2 years since I hung up my abacus, and entered the Retirement Zone. As a leaving present, my thoughtful and generous ex-colleagues at Runpath and lovemoney gave me 6 bottles of wine.

But not just any old wine.

2011 Sassicaia, Bolgheri Sassicaia, Tenuta San Guido, Tuscany

This was 6 bottles of Sassicaia, from the renowned Tenuta San Guido estate, on the Tuscan coast just south of Livorno and not far west of the enchanting towers of San Gimignano, in our beloved Italy.

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Sassicaia is now recognised as one of the world’s best Cabernet Sauvignons. But it wasn’t always so. Read here about the interesting history of the estate, and about how the wine was only drunk privately from 1948 to 1967.

And this is what posh vintners Berry Brothers & Rudd say about it now:

Sassicaia is today one of the most sought-after fine wines in the world. This is largely because of the vision, energy and drive of proprietor Mario Incisa della Rocchetta.

The Sassicaia estate at Bolgheri came from Mario Incisa della Rocchetta’s wife’s family who had owned land there since 1800 – the name Sassicaia means,place of many stones, and the gravelly soil has been compared to those found in the Médoc. He planted Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot and engaged the services of Piero Antinori`s winemaker, Giacomo Tachis.

Sassicaia’s first vintage was released to universal acclaim in 1968. Sassicaia is now widely accepted as one of the world`s greatest Cabernet Sauvignon wines and made history recently, being the first single wine to be granted its own DOC. The wines of Sassicaia combine intense notes of cassis and cedary elegance, with extraordinary power and length.

My own humble 6 bottles of the 2011 vintage have been laid down in bonded storage at BBR since 2014. But no longer. They have finally been released into my sweaty hands, awaiting suitable occasions to enjoy. And with my 60th year fast approaching, I’m not expecting any will survive until this time next year.

My brother Paul fancies himself as a bit of a oenophile.

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(image courtesy of Jantoo Cartoons)

Well, let’s find out, shall we?

I shall be uncorking my first prized bottle on Christmas Day, at the festive gathering of the Morris Mob. But to make it interesting, I’m going to give a blind tasting of 3 separate red wines.

Will Paul – or any other Morris – be able to tell the difference between an everyday drinking £8 Cab Sav from the Sunday Times Wine Club, a very decent £20ish option from the posh section at a supermarket, and the mighty 2011 Bolgheri Sassicaia Tenuto San Guido vintage, yours for around £120 a bottle?

Stay tuned to find out.

I just hope the Sassicaia has travelled well…..

Investing strategy….where next?

An economic slow down in China. The Syrian crisis. Sabre rattling from Putin. Will the UK stay in the EU, or retrench to an independent – but uncertain – future?

These macro issues and many other concerns have driven down the FTSE 100 from a peak of 7,097 in April this year to the current 6,400 level, via a drop as far as 5,899 in August.

(chart courtesy of ADVFN)

Of course there will always be volatility in stock markets, but the scale and speed of current movements seems out of the ordinary. And frankly nail-biting and stomach-churning if your life savings are fully invested in shares and funds that move largely in direct correlation with the broader market indices.

I wrote a while ago – when Gill and I stopped full-time work – about our pension position. We’ve missed out on the golden generation of final salary/defined benefit schemes. Annuities are so low that the income you can derive from them is not a viable option for us. So our pension pots – saved from our own earnings, employer contributions  and tax relief – and our other savings & investments have been at the mercy of markets and factors way outside our control.

Up until recently, all our investable assets and pension pots were placed with Hargreaves Lansdown. I’m very comfortable with HL, but I thought we needed to protect against the risk of stock markets collapsing further and for longer. We don’t have an income at present, so we need to preserve our capital.

Thanks to a friend of my brother, I was introduced to Connection Capital.  They “help clients build a portfolio of self selected,  direct investments in private equity, commercial property and alternative asset funds, as part of an organised syndicate“.

I’ve taken some funds out of HL and made some small investments in 6 separate opportunities through Connection Capital, 4 in private equity deals and 2 in commercial property.

The property investments are in long leases on assets let to a Virgin Active gym, and to a Travelodge hotel. The private equity investments are businesses in very different sectors, but they are historically profitable and have raised growth capital through CC.

These are all high risk investments, particularly the private equity businesses. But CC have a good track record and I’ve made what I hope is a balanced decision. My aspiration is that – on average – we’ll get back 2x the original investment in a time scale of 4-5 years. But with no guarantees at all on the amount or timing of any return.

More risky again are the opportunities on crowd funding platform CrowdCube. These are invariably early-stage start-up businesses looking for seed capital. Some have been trading for short periods, some are even at the pre-revenue stage, still testing products or developing technology. Few are already profitable.

I’ve made a couple of very small investments in different businesses showcased on CrowdCube. Each will have gone through some due diligence hoops before going live on the crowd funding platform, but I’m under no illusion how risky most of these opportunities are. Conversely, if they’re ultimately successful, the returns should be proportionately greater.

And then there’s the fun investment in BrewDog, the craft beer business that is taking the world by storm. I bought my shares for £950, at an already frothy valuation. I’m not expecting to make much, but with a 20% shareholder discount I’ll be able to drink myself into oblivion when all our capital has disappeared and we’re looking for the next hot meal…..

So that’s where we are, as they say on Dragon’s Den. Flying by the seat of our semi-retired pants. A decent amount of capital saved over a lifetime of hard work. But needing a reasonable income – or capital growth – to finance a standard of living that we don’t want to be forced into diminishing.

Welcome to the brave new world of pension freedoms, investment opportunities and fluctuating global stock markets.

Fasten your seat belts, it could be a bumpy ride…..


Book review – A Spot of Bother by Mark Haddon

Mark Haddon is probably best known for his book The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time.  It won the Whitbread Best Novel Award in 2003, received a stack of other prestigious literary recognition, and has since become a hugely successful stage play.

I haven’t read Dog. Yet. It’s famously narrated by a 15 year-old boy with Asperger’s. Although Mark says it’s rather a novel about difference, about being an outsider, about seeing the world in a surprising and revealing way. The book is not specifically about any specific disorder.

A Spot of Bother, published in 2006, is about George. 57 years old and retired, he just wants to spend time in the studio in his garden. But he has a nasty lesion on his hip, which he is convinced is cancerous. Even though the doctor tells him it’s just eczema. And he’s worried that his daughter Katie is marrying again – the practical Ray – for the wrong reasons. And his son Jamie is gay. And, oh yes, his wife Jean is shagging David, an old colleague of George’s.

George is something of an outsider. He sees the world in a surprising and revealing way. He has a breakdown. He edges towards madness.

Spot is a damned fine read. The plot canters on. Short sentences. Over 100 short chapters. But it’s all driven by the way the author peels away layer after layer of each colourful character’s  human frailties.

Darkly comic, Spot is brilliantly observed. Very funny. And a bit disturbing. Especially if you’re 57 years old and have recently retired. Like me.

But I haven’t got a studio in the garden. And my wife’s name is Gill. Although come to think of it, I did once work with a David…..


April always conjures up images of the Masters golf tournament for me. The first major of the year, from anachronistic azalea-clad Augusta from the deep south in Georgia. A symbolic start to the summer.

Monday is back to work day. The start of a challenging week, psychologically hard enough at the best of times but exacerbated by a particularly fun weekend, or after a  routine-busting holiday.

By Sunday lunchtime that invisible, but weighty, cloak drapes itself around your shoulders. So uplifted on Saturday morning, they sag now as you chomp your way through Yorkshire puddings, thinking about that long to-do list facing you tomorrow, or wondering whether another sad jumper will delay the already painful commute to the office.

Monday is inextricably linked with hard graft. School, college, work. Inescapable for the first 60 years of your life. Joined at the metaphorical hip, like Crackerjack and 4:55 pm. Or the Queen’s Speech on Christmas Day, just as you wilt from the festive excess.

But not for me any longer. Friday was my last day at work – possibly ever – and I wrote this in bright early September sunshine, at 11 am Monday morning on a park bench by the bowling green, in the shadow of Guildford Castle. My Monday agenda was making sure a friend’s birthday present was safely en route to France; sorting out a few technical issues on my new phone; a walk around London’s Westminster & Whitehall areas; and seeing an intriguing new musical Dogfight at the Southwark Playhouse.

All a far cry from business meetings, financial forecasts, cash flow projections and tax compliance.

Mondays will hopefully forever be brighter from today. And Sunday’s roast will taste even better.  And my shoulders won’t droop.