Château Thames Embankment

Bus selling Somerset Cider
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Yes, I could have been a judge but I never had the Latin, never had the Latin for the judging, I just never had sufficient of it to get through the rigorous judging exams. They’re noted for their rigour. People come out saying, ‘My God, what a rigorous exam’- and so I became a miner instead. A coal miner. I managed to get through the mining exams – they’re not rigorous, they only ask one question, they say, ‘Who are you’, and I got 75 per cent on that.’ (Peter Cook in ‘Beyond the Fringe’)

I was lucky enough to become a judge without sitting exams, but the WSET Diploma fortified wine exam I took a few days ago was rigorous enough. Taking time out from a quiet bit of judging (an interesting case on how the net profit of a self-employed minicab driver was to be determined for housing benefit purposes), I dutifully trooped along to the exam, clutching my tasting glasses and spittoon. My fellow Judges of the Upper Tribunal selflessly offered to help with any future tasting practice in the event that I had to repeat the exam in November.

I wrote what I hoped was a decent answer on Madeira grapes, but failed to identify a ten year old tawny port. ‘Why am I doing this to myself?’ I wondered on the way back. The only answer seemed to be that I can’t help it – in the same way that, according to my brother, I can’t stop redrafting the small print on the back of bus tickets.

I’m not alone in this predilection, of course. Lawyers, like many other respectable professionals out there, are wont to enjoy a glass or two of wine after work. What’s fascinating, though, is how many of the world’s leading experts on wine also practise law.

Jesus Barquin, a professor of criminology at Seville University, is arguably the world’s leading sherry expert. The well known American wine authority Robert Parker was a lawyer in Baltimore for ten years before resigning to devote his full attention to wine writing. James Halliday, author of the yearly Australian Wine Companion and world authority on Australian wine, was a partner in Clayton Utz for 22 years. Even dry old Tulkinghorn enjoyed a good bottle of port ‘from which he pours a radiant nectar, two score and ten years old, that blushes in the glass to find itself so famous and fills the whole room with the fragrance of southern grapes.’

I could go on (and on), but I’ll leave you with this: any maker of cider or perry producing 70 hectolitres or less for sale in a 12 month period can apply to HMRC to be exempted from registration as a cider-maker. This removes any obligation to pay excise duty, saving 32 pence on a litre of cider of a strength between 1.2 and 7.5% ABV.

Perhaps, as a tax lawyer, I should pass up the port in favour of Cider with Rosie.

Tax lawyer specialising in business tax, SDLT and VAT

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