jamie goode's wine blog: January 2006

Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Just a reminder that the Cano Cosecha 2004 Toro, Spain that I mentioned a few posts down goes on sale at Tesco tomorrow [note added later: I've found out the promotion doesn't start until 8th February - see comments below], priced at £2.99 (or just £2.50 if you buy it from their website). Now I'm not normally a fan of chasing special offers - it's an addiction most wine buyers would do well to kick. But this is an exception. If you do try a bottle let me know what you think. I'm even considering getting a case - this would make a good house wine - even though I currently own far, far too much wine.

Two recent-ish films. First, Man on Fire, a gutsy film set in Mexico City, in which bodyguard Denzel Washington exacts gruesome revenge on the nasty people who kidnap the little girl in his care. The steering wheel/gaffa tape/fingers/sharp knife scene will have you squirming in your seat, but it's all OK because it's bad guys are getting what they deserve. Worth watching: it has a bit more going for it than the average action thriller. Second, Crash - a thoughtful, well written film that interleaves a day in the lives of several rather different (and in most cases, rather unhappy) characters in LA, with - you've guessed it - a 'collision' of sorts between them. A portrait of a rather dysfunctional city; the American dream in tatters.

Football was cancelled last night so I consoled myself with a glass of Touchstone Merlot 2004 from Vintage Roots. It's an organic Chilean Merlot made by Alvaro Espinoza of VOE, and it has a bit more spicy structure to it than many Chilean reds, alongside the trademark sweet, pure blackcurrant and plum fruit. Good value for £5.75. I have a question, though: why is it that Chilean wines taste so Chilean? Much more so than Australian wines taste Australian (although some Aussie wines are instantly recognizable when tasted blind as Australian, some aren't. Almost all Chilean red wines are instantly recognizable as Chilean). Does this make sense?


Sunday, January 29, 2006

For the first time since I was a child, I made bread yesterday. When I've travelled in Europe I've enjoyed good bread, but my impression is that it's actually hard to get it in the UK [ although I confess to not having searched beyond the supermarkets and high street bakers]. So I guess one solution is to make it yourself. My first effort wasn't overly ambitious, but it worked, and it tasted like real bread. It was satisfying to make, and satisfying to eat. Now if I could get hold of some really good flour, I guess I could make some really exciting stuff. I'm sure some readers have expertise here, so I'd be delighted to hear from you.

A couple of mediocre wines last night. The truth is, most wine is dull; in tasting through samples it's relatively rare to open a bottle that thrills. The Spier Inspire Cabernet Sauvignon 2004 would get you drunk, and it wouldn't make you gag, but I found the typically South African green streak under the sweet blackcurrant fruit really tiresome. A Portuguese sample I was sent, the 2004 Vale das Areias from Estremadura, had a sweet open berry fruit nose together with a sort of casky character that made it smell a bit like a tawny Port. The palate was all grippy, drying tannins and there was a bit of greenness along with the sweet fruit. I didn't fancy it at all. I suspect both wines had some underripeness in them, which wasn't masked by the sweetness that came from the fruit that genuinely was physiologically ripe.

Saturday, January 28, 2006

Swiss wines

I promised an update on Swiss wines, so here it is—a taster, before my full report is written up. In short, I was very impressed by most of the wines I tasted on my trip. The organization hosting the tastes and cellar visits was a consortium of the 25 leading producers, including members from the French, Italian and German influenced bits of Switzerland. Chasselas, a Swiss white grape, does pretty well and is a point-of-difference for the Swiss wine industry. It tends to fatness and low acidity, though – I think its lovely melony fruit is best off not going through full malolactic in most cases, to preserve as much acidity as possible. Top tips: Bovard and Domaine de la Colombe. Petite Arvine is another local grape that does pretty well and makes some interesting wines (it’s a component in the lovely white made by Lichten). Bovard’s Buxus Sauvignon Blanc is a brilliant wine, showing that it’s not just local varieties that can do well here; Cruchon’s Pinot Blanc is also excellent.

But Switzerland isn’t just about white wines: it also makes some stonking reds. Syrah was the big surprise: we tasted some fantastic examples, bursting with fresh, vibrant red fruits. Look out for Chamoson in particular, and also Coyas. Cornalin is a wonderful Swiss red variety that very nearly became extinct a few years back, but is now making some lovely, fresh, vivid wines – look out for the example from Château Lichten, but all the Cornalins I tried were good. Merlot is a strong performer: Domaine du Crochet 2003 from Hammel was probably the best red I tried over the two days. Some of the Ticino (region in Italian part) Merlots were impressive, also, although there was a tendency to use a touch too much oak. Hammels’ reds show that Bordeaux blends have a real future in Switzerland. Then there’s not forgetting Pinot Noir, which does particularly well in the German end of Switzerland. Kesselring makes three lovely examples. We also tasted some brilliant Pinots in barrel from Cruchon. This is just for starters. Lots more good wines to talk about. And some stunning vineyards (the picture shows some views of Dezaley, on Lac Leman).


Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Cano Cosecha 2004 Toro

As I've said before, the world needs good, honest cheap wine. With this thought in mind, I'm quite excited by a wine I've been sipping over the last two evenings. It's a blend of Tempranillo and Grenache from the Toro region of Spain. It shows good concentration and has a nose of pure fruit (raspberry jam dominates), which leads to a vividly fruited palate where the sweet fruit is more than adequately countered by a savoury tannic bite. Significantly, there's no confected oak getting in the way of this brilliantly vibrant fruit. I guess if you are being picky you could say that the preferment cold maceration has led to a touch too much extraction, but I feel that the grippy tannins this gives actually balance the fruit rather well. The really good news? This delicious red, normally £4.49 at Tesco (a good buy at this price) is going to be £2.99 from 1-18 February. If you need a really satisfying, vibrant house wine, you'd be well advised to stock up. On Tesco's website, this will be just £2.50 a bottle. It's certainly the best sub-£3 wine I've ever tasted. The details: Cano Cosecha 2004 Toro, Spain (UK importer Bibendum Wine).

The wine itself is from super-coop Vina Bajoz in Toro. With around 140 members and over 1100 hectares of vineyards to play with, this is a big producer. But with attention to detail in both the vineyards and winery, this co-op seems to be producing excellent results. If more European co-ops follow suit (and there are a few I can think of that are now making excellent, market-focused wines at good prices), then the new world producers might have a fight on their hands.

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Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Just booking my flights to Australia in March. I've decided to fly Singapore Airlines, which I've always found a relatively painless way to travel economy, the way I usually go. There's something quite comforting about settling down in your seat for the predictable routine of a long haul flight, especially with video on demand, which means you can catch up on all manner of rubbish hollywood movies that you wouldn't otherwise see. I usually sleep OK on planes, too. I booked on www.singaporeair.com, which allows you to choose your own seat, with assistance from the clever www.seatguru.com. Now I need to sort out my internal flights and my ETA. How did people travel before the web?

Monday, January 23, 2006

Meant to be playing football tonight, as I do almost every Monday. Can't, though - bit of a hamstring twinge. Last year I was limping for four months because I strained my left hamstring and then insisted on playing sport through the pain barrier, which made it worse. It's funny how on one level you get used to walking with a limp so that it seems normal, yet on another level how frustrating it is not to be able to run. A paradox. Mind you, I'm reluctant to discuss medical conditions with my readers, even sporting injuries, because that's the sort of thing old people do.

Talking of old people, I had a lovely day yesterday with my parents visiting. [This is a joke, the bit about old people: actually, they're remarkably youthful considering they are in their mid-60s.] We sampled a number of wines playing cards together in the evening, including a Graham Beck Coastal Shiraz 2002 from South Africa, which weighed in at 15% alcohol. For me, 15% seems remarkably high for a table wine. But to prove that high alcohol isn't a simple issue, this wine didn't seem too 'hot'. It was certainly sweetly fruited in a modern sort of style. But neither the stratospheric alcohol or American oak stuck out in the way that they sometimes do. Rising alcohol levels are a huge problem with many wine styles these days - it's not just the fact that they get you drunk quicker (which depending on your perspective may or may not be a good thing) but also that the alcohol changes the perception of other wine components. And some varieties carry alcohol better than other s (Grenache is the great example).

Now I'm sipping a nice Rose Champagne from Perrier Jouet. It's a copper sort of colour with lovely rounded, smooth, soft fruit. There's a savoury bite on the finish, but this is a big, delicious softie. Very tasty, and while I can think of several dozen better ways of spending £29.99 on liquid refreshment, this is quite enjoyable.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Some random wine-related thoughts I've been thinking over the last few days.
  • It's been interesting to spend time with producers who are already successful, but who are looking to improve what they are doing. This was the case in Switzerland. There's something life-giving about this desire to excel; to do better. And I was humbled that they should ask the opinion of two young English guys (although perhaps not that they should ask what Sam thinks - he has an MW and plenty of commercial experience).
  • I think I'm going to have to write a book on terroir at some stage. On the one hand it is the unifying theory of fine wine and of crucial importance; on the other, it's perhaps the single most misunderstood (and lied about?) subject in the world of wine.
  • Brett reared its head a couple of times in the Swiss red wines we tried, once to the extent that it was the sole discernable feature of one of them. Just how prevalent is brett? Can it ever be positive? Can winemakers work positively with it? How can it be controlled effectively?

Saturday, January 21, 2006

Helicopter ride in Switzerland

Just back from two great days in Switzerland, tasting wines from 25 of the country's leading producers. As well as the surprisingly (and uniformly) high quality of the wines, the highlight of the trip was a helicopter flight over some of the spectacular vineyards of the Chablais region, followed by a hair-raising but spectacularly beautiful buzz over the top of the alps. The picture here is me, taken by fellow passenger Sam Harrop. For one of the aerial views of the vineyard, see the photo of the week. I'll be blogging more about our Swiss experiences in the following days.

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Thursday, January 19, 2006

A relatively painless journey to Gatwick this morning, where I'm waiting for my Easyjet flight to Geneva, but it meant getting up at 4 am to get the 04.46 bus to Heathrow, and then the 05.15 National Express coach to Gatwick. The sacrifices I make...I'm expecting great things of the Swiss wines I'm going to taste over the next couple of days.

In light of my impending early start, I sloped off early from the Association of British Science Writers (ABSW)annual party. It was kind of Susanna Forbes to introduce me to a range of the membership, all of them interesting people - who knows what will come of the connections made there. I get the impression that the ABSW membership isn't as moribund as that of the Circle of Wine Writers (CWW) - walk into a CWW event (particularly one where there's free booze to be had) and you'd be forgiven for thinking you were in a Darby and Joan Club.

The Richards Walford tasting that occupied my afternoon was pretty good, if a little crowded at times. [And, for the record, I'd really like it if we could have Riedel Chianti classes at all tasting events - the restaurant range stems cost 2.97 plus VAT I beleive, so it's not a hideous expense, and they can be hired, although I have no idea how much this costs.] I had a chance to chat to Jean-Louis Chave (pictured) and Claire Villars, and would have had a nice chat with Gilles Barge if my French had been better (his English is, shall we say, 'emergent'). I enjoyed tasting the wines from Tulbagh Mountain Vineyards, a newcomer to the South African scene, as well as some real oddities from the Jura, two of which I thought were fantastic. Now I've been wine writing for a while, I'm getting to know quite a few people, so it's got to the stage where I have to budget half my time to chatting, half to tasting. It's kind of nice not to be a complete unknown.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Busy couple of days coming up. This afternoon it's the Richards Walford portfolio tasting - they have some cracking wines on show, including northern Rhones from Chave and Barge, south Africans Sadie, The Foundry and Tulbagh Mountain Vineyards, fantastic Austrians and too many more to mention. I'm quite excited by the prospect. Then this evening it's the Association of British Science Writers annual party (I've recently joined) where I'll be meeting with new Mitchell Beazley Commissioning Editor for Wine, Susanna Forbes. Then after catching the 05.06 train in the morning to Gatwick, I'm off to Switzerland for a couple of days to taste the top Swiss wines. I don't know much more about this; the reason I'm convinced it will be a good use of my time is because I'm going with Sam Harrop MW (pictured). Sam's a dude, as well as being a serious rising star of the wine scene, so if he thinks it's worth doing, then so do I. We'll have some fun, with any luck. I really don't like the sound of the 05.06 train, though...

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Lunch with Brent Marris

Had a nice lunch yesterday with Brent Marris and Ben Glover of New Zealand's Wither hills (which I'll write up in full shortly). The three of us met at The Crazy Bear, just off Goodge street. It's an impossibly trendy sort of place (I mean this in a nice way) with wonderful decor and a Thai/Japanese-inspired menu. The food matched the ambience brilliantly. I had a mixed tempura for starter and followed this up with delicious slow roasted pork belly. Highly recommended - you can get an idea of the feel of the place by going to http://www.crazybeargroup.co.uk/ and looking up the London restaurant (they have three in all). The trendiness extends to the 'innovation' that there is no sign on the door, or above it, or anywhere - except for a small name below your feet on the doorstep.

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Why a new format for the blog? I know some people aren't comfortable with change, and this isn't just change for the sake of it. My blog, so far, has not been a 'proper' one, in that hasn't been created using blogging software that allows comments, track backs and a feed. For most readers this is a non-issue, but with the increasing popularity of blogs as a medium of information exchange, I've been receiving quite a few requests for these features. So after weeks of research and a few days of playing around, I've decided to shift to blogger, which meets all my requirements (I toyed with the idea of using moveable type, but I had a few glitches with it that would have required some serious tecchie help to overcome, and blogger is just fine for my needs).

So here you go. A new format. One big advantage is that I'll be able to update the site and post more frequently. It's a lot simpler adding a blog entry (all I need is access to a browser) than it is changing the site (which requires ftp access; not difficult, just not always available).

Please feel free to use the comments section. Interactivity. What more could you ask for?

Sunday, January 15, 2006

Last night I made the mistake of trying to taste wine while typing notes directly into my laptop. Predictably a glass of wine got spilled onto it. I tipped it upside down, whipped the battery out and tried to get as much wine out as possible. An hour later I powered it up and was relieved to find it works. It smells of stale wine now. Don't try this at home, etc. One of the wines I tried was a Vin de Pays des Côtes de Gascogne white from 2000, sealed with an Integra (injection-moulded synthetic). Why is someone trying to sell this wine? It should have been drunk four years ago. Predictably, it was oxidised. The evening was much redeemed by watching The Island (a clever film, even if it is slightly spoiled by the highly improbably James Bond-like last 40 minutes) and then watching City beat United 3-1. Fantastic.

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