alternative christmas message, with some moments of the year
alternative Christmas message. 2005 was a good year for some, a bad
year for others. Some people were born, some people died. Probably
more were born than died. If you are reading this site then you are
almost certainly one of the lucky people on this earth in that you are
in the top socioeconomic stratum, living in a relatively free country,
and youíve rarely if ever gone to bed hungry. Be thankful and
remember that life is pretty short Ė most winemakers get to make
only about 40 vintages Ė so please make the most of 2006. Be nice
and play fair, and take some time to stop off the conveyorbelt and
reflect once in a while.
Itís the time of year when people look back on the
last 12 months, and then proceed to bore their readers rigid with
lists of Ďxí of the year. One honorable exception is Neal Martin
and his list on www.wine-journal.com.
As well as being perceptive enough to realize that my Wine
Science is a work of genius (Neal chooses it as his best wine book
of the year), his list is actually very funny. I can't hope to match
it. In fact thatís a good place to start my own rather eclectic roll
of honour for 2005. I nominate Neal for emerging wine writer 2005,
although one could question the right of me, very much a beginner at
this game, to be awarding awards like this at all. Nealís website
has been going a while, but itís this year that I think heís
turned the corner and established his own unique voice, and
(importantly) has begun to earn some money from his writing, which is
always the tricky part. The next Michael Broadbent, albeit in a
slightly irreverent incarnation?
Wine of the year lists tend to turn into
boasting sessions. The thing about wine is that what we are actually
assessing is our interaction with the wine, where the properties of
whatís in the bottle are only part of the equation. Some relatively
modest wines have really touched me this year; profound ones have
entertained me intellectually, but on occasion left my soul cold. But
lots of wines have made an impression on me this year. Which ones in
particular? I think Iíll pass on this question now and answer it
later, if you donít mind.
New winery of the year 2005 has to go to Malhadinha
Nova in Portugalís Alentejo. I visited in June, knowing
nothing about them at all. In fact, the reason I visited was simply
because when I asked Dirk Niepoort who was worth visiting, he texted
back a list including the name Peceguina (the name of their second
wine), which I forwarded to Jo„o Costa of Wines of Portugal.
Theyíre making fantastic wines and I predict theyíll be the ones
setting the standard for the Alentejo in years to come.
Wine dinner of the year is a hard one to choose,
because the wine trade is full of nice people and Iíve been lucky
enough to have dozens of great dinners in 2005. Let me mention just a
few. Iíve really enjoyed three dinners with Dirk
Niepoort, one at St John with several others, and two at
Tendido Cero just with him. Heís a dude. His wines are getting even
better. Theyíre complex; so is he. Iím really looking forward to
seeing what heís done in the 2004 vintage. Sticking with the theme
of Portugal, I really enjoyed the first Portuguese wine awards
dinner, even if my nomination as journalist didnít lead to an
award (Iím getting used to being on shortlists and not winning Ė
maybe 2006 will be different?).
Wine lunch of the year? Hmmm, some good ones to
choose from. Perhaps my favourite two were both at The Ledbury,
Londonís new top restaurant (by my reckoning), first in the company
of Remi Krug (showing
the 88, 89 and 90 vintages together) and then after the aborted
attempt to fly to Reims for the day on Roedererís private
jet. But then there was a fun one at Corney & Barrow with
Guardian political sketch writer Simon Hoggart and a semi-crazy
restarateur whose name Iíve forgotten. I hope he doesnít read this
Nicest wine celeb of the year award is split
three ways between Jancis Robinson, Brian Croser and Tim
Atkin. I was flattered when Jancis asked me to write some entries
for the new edition of the Oxford companion to wine, and a
little starstruck when she invited me over to her home to discuss this
with her and super-bright Julia Harding MW, who now works for Jancis
full time. Brian Croser gave up two days of his time when I recently
visited Australia, and then sent me a copy of John Gladstoneís
viticulture book with a lovely and moderately profound inscription in
it. Tim Atkin has been tremendously supportive and generously agreed
to write an endorsement for the back cover of my first book. None of
these people have anything much to gain from being nice to me, but
they were. And some more beyond.
Wine Trip of the year award has to go to my four
day trip to South Africa. I learnt loads, always a good measure
of success. I met some of the leading figures in the modern Cape wine
scene. Wines of South Africa pulled together a brilliant itinerary for
me, and I was well looked after by Thelma Harris who drove me around.
The weather was great, the food was good, and I came away with a sense
of optimism about the direction South African wines are taking at the
top end of the market.
Big break of the year came with landing the Sunday
Express column. Suddenly Iím an ĎAí list wine writer and the
PRs are all my friends. Of course, theyíll all disown me if I lose
the gig. Thatís the way it works, unfortunately. For the meantime
Iím enjoying the ride.
Book launch of the year? I didnít go to any.
Apparently, they donít work unless you are really famous and you can
guarantee some moderately famous people will be in attendance to give
the party a buzz. I only went to one last year, in the mistaken
impression that you get the chance to take away a free copy of the
book at the end. You donít. How disappointing is that? Once youíve
been a journo for even a short while you begin to develop a strong
resistance to paying for anything. Itís because book launches are
generally crap events that I decided not to inflict one on my
publishers and colleagues who would have felt obliged to attend, for Wine Science.
Some non-wine related stuff? I find long-haul flights a
good opportunity to catch up on crappy Hollywood films. Worst film
of the year by a country mile was the inept, directionless,
characterless War of the Worlds. Utter rubbish. Why did I even
think of watching it? Best childrenís film of the year was
The Chronicles of Narnia: the Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, which
is a worthy and entertaining version of the C. S. Lewis classic (one
of my books of the year was A. N. Wilsonís biography of Lewis: even
though it was published a decade or more ago I read it this October).
Worst kids flick? Herbie Fully Loaded. Limp. Predictable.
Desperately unimaginative. Hard to pick a film of the year, because I
canít remember seeing anything terribly memorable. Crash was
pretty good, in a gritty sort of way. Thatíll have to do. Non-wine
book of the year is probably Steve Mithenís The Prehistory of the
Mind. A thoughtful and perspective-altering read.
That's all for now. Happy Christmas and best wishes for the new year,
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