jamie goode's wine blog: February 2006

Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Roederer Cristal

Roederer Cristal. I drank two vintages today at BAFTA in London's Piccadilly (you can see the BAFTA 'mask' in the background of the picture) - the 1990 and 1996, from magnum. Both were utterly fantastic: fresh, complex and almost perfect, with the 1990 just having the edge on the 1996 at the moment. In time the 1996 may prove the better, but it's a hard call.

Cristal is famous as being the favoured tipple of hip-hop stars and gangsta rappers (see here and here, for example). It would be nice to say that it's overhyped, but it's not. This stuff is thrilling. Almost unbelievably good. I also tried the Roederer 1999 releases, my favourite being the Blanc de Blancs, which again is spectacularly fresh and vivid with lots of complexity. The regular vintage 1999 is also very impressive, with some more richness underneath the fresh fruit. Roederer rocks.


Monday, February 27, 2006

The working day started with a phone call from Michael Broadbent. He kindly answered some questions I'd sent over to him concerning three articles I'm writing at the moment (on the world's most expensive wines, recorking, and pre-phylloxera wines). How kind of him: I'm sure he has much better things to do with his time than help young journos with their quotes.

My Riedels have arrived. I decided a while back to get some more glasses: particularly useful if we are entertaining, because while I have several different Riedels (and a few other useful glasses, including some very nicely shaped, thin-rimmed cheapies from John Lewis), it looks a bit odd setting the table with glasses of wildly differing shapes and sizes. The big question, though, was which Riedel shapes should I go for? In the end, I chose to buy 12 each of two shapes, the Chianti and the Burgundy (pictured left, although the wide angle shot has distorted them a little in this image). The former is a great all-purpose glass which also works well for Champagne (this is what that other leading auctioneer Serena Sutcliffe told me she uses for fizz) and Port. The Burgundy stem is just a brilliant glass for a wide range of reds, not just Pinot Noir. A while back I did a taste test with a full set of vinums and this is the one glass that made the biggest impression on me. I'd also love to be flush enough to be able to drink really good red Burgundy from these glasses on at least an occasional basis. Wouldn't that be fun?

Sunday, February 26, 2006

The Goodes have been busy socializing this weekend. We had another wild dinner party last night (actually, I exaggerate Ė it wasnít wild at all Ė we donít do wild any more) when two couples who are good friends of ours going well back came round for some more mushroom risotto. It was a lovely evening. Again, quite a few wines were opened. 1996 Ridge Geyserville went down well (mature, drinking very well in quite a sweet, evolved, earthy style), as did a Carbonalia 2001 Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, a bottle of the legendary Cano Toro 2004 and the Royal Tokaji Blue Label 2000 Aszķ 5 Puttonyos. Opinions were divided about the Fernando de Castilla Pedro Ximenez I blogged on a few days ago: the non-wine geeks seem to find this quite a difficult wine to understand.

Itís also been quite a sporty weekend. This afternoon I took my boys (aged 8 and 9) for their first round of golf. After getting them hitting balls on the range I felt they were ready for the pitch and put course at Sandown Park. My motivation for encouraging them in golf (a sport that I know many readers will find lame and very uncool) is that if they enjoy it and get good at it, I will be able to play lots of golf without the guilt that comes from skipping domestic duties. They did OK, but it was freezing cold. Canít wait for it to get a bit warmer.

Yesterday afternoon our friend Ade kindly got me and the boys tickets to go and watch London Welsh at the Old Deer Park. It was the boysí first experience of live rugby, and I havenít seen a game in years. It was good fun, although some of those tackles must really, really hurt. Ade played international rugby for Wales and until last year managed London Welsh, and as this was a relegation battle you could tell he was quite anxious. It was quite cool going to a game with him: a bit like going to see City play as a guest of Kevin Keegan. Fortunately, London Welsh won, so he went home smiling.

Saturday, February 25, 2006

Wine dinner last night with sister Hester and brother-in-law William. Plenty of interesting wines, but the one I wanted to mention here is the Lynch-Bages 1973. It's a vintage I haven't tried many examples of, mainly because it's fairly duff, I suspect. Anyway, William has a thing for off-vintage clarets and buys quite a few, unearthing some nice surprises along the way. The Lynch-Bages was interesting (a word that can mean many things in the context of a wine description): it was still alive, but had an unusual roast, almost burnt aroma, together with a strong imprint of freshly-turned soil. There was quite a bit of fruit. It just didn't quite all pull together, if you know what I mean. I really should buy some more old wine, and if you avoid the classic vintages and are prepared to kiss a few frogs in the pursuit of the odd princess, then it needn't break the bank.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Tasks achieved today. (1) ETA (electronic travel authority, a sort of Visa) for visiting Australia. Inputted all my details and then was told I already had one from my visit last October. D'oh. (2) Ordered four books from amazon for reading on the trip. Can't be too heavy; I read heavy stuff all the time, and this reading will be my relaxation and time out. (3) Also from amazon, ordered two SD cards for my digital cameras. I currently have two 128 mb cards, which fit about 80-90 pictures on each. Having two more 256 mb cards will mean I have to get my laptop out less often while I'm on vineyard visits. I'm also paranoid about back-ups, so I'll not have to delete stuff from the SD cards until I can burn back-up CDs. Not a good idea to just have your precious images on the hard drive of a laptop that gets some heavy use and is often near wine. Also, what if it got nicked? (4) Made good progress on an article on re-corking for The World of Fine Wine. Have good quotes from David Ellswood, Serena Sutcliffe and John Kapon.

Tonight I'm dibbling and dabbling with a range of wines. The Cable Bay Pinot from last night is pleasant again tonight. A quick taste of a more commercial wine, the Casillero del Diablo Viognier 2005 Chile (Morrisons, about £5, I think), shows that this is a very appealing perfumed peachy white that manages to capture this grape really well. Attractive stuff, supplemented by 30% fermentation and ageing in French barrels. The main wine this evening has been a Pinotage, but this is a good Pinotage that I approve of and enjoy. It's the Meinert Pinotage 2003 Devon Valley, South Africa (pictured; £7.95 Great Western Wines). There's a hint of the Pinotage funk, described on the back label as 'clove spiciness', but it's at the level where it adds to the wine. The dominant feature is charming vivid red fruit with a subtle herbal edge and plenty of oomph. The big appeal here is that it's food friendly, bold, and fruity. It's moderately serious and good value for the price.

I'm finishing tonight with one of those rare wine moments: something that takes me by surprise and leaves me feeling kind of awestruck and grateful. I decided to sample a small pour of the Fernando de Castilla Antique Pedro Ximenez Jerez (£19.99 50 cl, Wine Rack). I'm familiar with PX - old engine oil colour and consistency, liquid Christmas cake flavours - but this is an exceptional one. It's supersweet, complex, viscous and well balanced. One of the best I've tried. A wine of contemplation, and perfect for a very cold winter's day.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Pinot Noir is a notoriously tricky grape. It's a bit like an unreliable friend. He or she will always be late, may not even turn up when they say they will, and if they do come there's a chance they'll be in a bad mood or will upset someone. But when they're on form, it's worth the risk and hassle. The good times seriously outweight the bad ones, even though there may be more of the latter.

I'm drinking another good one tonight. Two good Pinots in a row. You ought to let me pick your lottery numbers. It's the Cable Bay Pinot Noir 2004 Martinborough, New Zealand. Beautiful perfume of cherry and red fruits with a seamless savoury, spicy seriousness. The palate is well balanced and quite elegant with the tannin fitting in perfectly with the well balanced red fruits. Self assured and nicely judged, this Pinot doesn't have to come over all showy to make an impression.

Pinot Noir is a funny beast. Winemakers can focus lots of love and attention on it, both in the vineyard and the winery, and still end up with no more than a light, simple, fruity red wine. I spoke recently with a winemaker who took the bottom off grape bunches as they were ripening (so that the rest of the bunch would ripen more evenly) and then once picked he removed the central part of the bunch (the stem and the grapes nearest to it) - an unbelievably time-consuming effort. He took extra care in the winery with gentle extraction and hand plunging in open fermenters. The result? A simple fruity red. Nothing more.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Pinot Noir from Canada

After a spell of rubbish wine, it was nice to open something tonight that I actually wanted to drink. Last night's fare was dire, although I'm loath to mention this for risk of becoming saddled with a Meldrew-of-wine reputation. Tesco's Chianti Classico Riserva 2001 was earthy, spicy and caramelly, with a bitter plummy finish. And then the 2003 Altano Douro showed a bitter green herbal character that spoiled the spicy, plummy red fruits that were this wines only redeeming virtue. With its drying finish I really didn't feel inspired to take a second sip.

So tonight it was with some relief that I uncorked the Mission Hill Five Vineyards Pinot Noir 2003 VQA Okanagan Valley. A Pinot Noir from Canada; more precisely, British Columbia, just inland from Vancouver. Now this is just what I want from Pinot. It's not big or heavy or rich. It isn't trying to show off its muscles, like a beach poseur. Instead, it's at ease with itself, offering up perfumed cherry and berry fruit, with just enough spicy, undergrowthy complexity on the palate to keep the drinker's attention. This is satisfying. It's not profound; indeed, I'm lured into thinking it's a bit simple, but then it surprises me with another dimension. I guess the ultimate test is whether I want to fill my glass again, and for the first time in a few nights, I do. (£8.99 Sainsbury.)


Sunday, February 19, 2006

Been away for the weekend in Plymouth, visiting my younger brother and his family. It's always interesting getting away from London and spending a few days somewhere very different. Whenever I travel, I always wonder what it would be like to live there - a slightly weird trait - perhaps I have itchy feet. Plymouth itself is a city that's gone through some rather ugly development, particularly in the 1960s, but it seems its continuing to this day. Plymouth Hoe, for example, is a lovely natural setting, and then someone went and plonked a high rise concrete hotel on top of it. Nice one.

It was a really good weekend though. We took the kids to the aquarium when we arrived at Friday lunchtime. Saturday morning I managed to grab a set of tennis with my brother (he's called Arthur...sometimes when people are introduced to him they say, 'So what do you like to be called?'), then we went out walking on the coast. We returned back to London this evening in time to catch Manchester City vs. Aston Villa, which looked like ending in a depressing defeat for City, against the run of play, before 17 year old right back Micah Richards headed in the latest of equalizers. Fantastic.

I can't say the same for the wine I'm drinking this evening, though. It's always a challenge for wine writers to know just how to respond to unlikeable wines. If you only say nice things about wine, you end up sounding like an advertising copywriter - indeed, there are a couple of wine writers I can think of who have made a tidy living out of being effusively nice about every wine that passes their lips. But if you share all the critical thoughts that pass through your mind your writing would be poisoned by a Victor Meldrew-like negativity. Tonight I'm going to be appropriately critical, though, about the San Pedro Reserva Cabernet Sauvignon 2003 Lontue, Chile (Asda £5.98). It's rubbish. I can't stand the label, for a start. 'A masterpiece of taste, aroma and texture. An intense, exquisitely crafted wine of remarkable elegance', it boasts, in tarty italics, right on the front. Let me disagree with this rather grandiose self-assessment. On the plus side, there's a good concentration and some ripe, pure blackcurrant and plum fruit. But this is ruined by a bitter, green streak and spicy oak which doesn't sit at all comfortably, instead attempting to cover over the blemishes like badly applied make-up. It's a crude, ungainly wine of little charm and no elegance. I could drink it, but only if there wasn't anything else available and I'd had a really stressfull day, and I had some strongly flavoured food to mask that bitter finish. Yes, I said I wouldn't mention the g word again, but this is the core problem with this wine.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Two wines tonight. Both reatively cheap, and both pretty good. Much better than you'd expect for the money, anyway. Fancy a racy white wine with real personality, and more freshness than the alpine air? Try the Nepenthe Tryst 2004, a racy blend of Semillon, Sauvignon and Pinot Gris from the Adelaide Hills. It's big on grapefruit, but there's some lemon and a bit of savoury, slightly bitter pithy character. Get a load of that perfume, though. Yours for £6.99, Asda, Oddbins, Somerfield. Sealed with a tin-lined screwcap (for closure buffs); nice label. Slightly cheaper, and redder, is the Paul Mas Marselan 2004 Vin de Pays de l'Herault: I'm getting spicy dark fruits, I'm getting good concentration, I'm getting a subtle chalky, minerally edge. I'm also getting a soupcon of green herbal character in the background, but heck, this is a heck of a wine for £5, and this is the sort of greenness that works quite well. Best of all, it doesn't taste fake, or sweet, or manufactured. £4.99 from Waitrose, sealed with a nomocorc, rubbish label. In case you asked, Marselan is a grape variety that is a cross of Grenache and Cabernet Sauvignon. Both wines are recommended.

By the way, have you bought your Cano yet? More than 1 million Sunday Express readers will hear about this on Sunday, so beat the rush. My sub at the Express has even bought 18 bottles! And I've just spotted another fantastic deal there - the very respectable Collines de Paradise Minervois 2004 at half price.

Just come back from a meeting with James Gabbani (of Cube, a PR company) and Nick Dymoke Marr of Orbital wines, at the Union Club in Greek Street. Dymoke Marr is responsible for Stormhoek, a South African wine brand that should be familiar to those of you in the blogosphere. Decanter.com reports how the clever use of blogging helped double Stormhoek sales in less than a year. The story is told in more detail by Hugh MacLeod, the arch blogger who Dymoke Marr worked with to send out around 100 bottles of the wine to fellow bloggers. The goal was to initiate conversations with consumers, something which has continued through Stormhoeks own blog. It's an interesting story, and I think Nick's got the right idea by trying to initiate some sort of two-way communication, rather than just trying to get his message across, the way traditional marketing works.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Human bacteria hybrids

I thought I'd share a perspective from a meeting on sepsis that I'm attending (with my science hat on). One of the participants described people as human/bacteria hybrids: each of us carries in our bodies about 1 kg of bacteria.

Later today I attend the second annual installment of 'Portugal's 50 best wines'. Last year the choice seemed slightly 'political'. I wonder if it will be again this year?

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Vilafonte, the premium South African wine venture that's a collaboration between Mike Ratcliffe, Phil Freese and Zelma long, has a harvest blog, where I spotted this interesting recent post on evenness of ripening. Vilafonte take their viticulture seriously; I suspect we won't be seeing much gr*****ss in their wines (not the 'g' word again...!).

I've linked to the Vilafonte blog in the list on the right. It's good to see wineries taking advantage of the power of the blog to communicate in fresh ways with their customers and fans. They also have a podcast, which the Vilafonte team describe thus: "The Vilafontť harvest blog has now gone one step further with the introduction of the world's first ever harvest podcast show. This is a world first for a winery and will redefine the boundaries of communication between the winemaking and the consuming of fine wine. It is an exciting new frontier. This is a daily audio harvest report which is recorded by the Vilafontť team and which is available for listening online. What makes this different from a pure audio file is that people can subscribe to the podcast and automatically receive the file on their computer. Anyone with an iPod or similar playback device can then sync with our podcast and listen to our daily harvest show on their iPod on their way to work or at leisure."


Monday, February 13, 2006

It's been a day without internet today. Only now, at 21.30, am I able to pick up emails and update the blog. Of course, some days I don't do this through competing pressures on time; today I had the time but not the connection. It's a good discipline to occasionally abstain from connectivity of the wired kind.

So what am I busy with at the moment? A lot of my attention is focused on finishing my second book, but it's one I'm sort-of embarrassed about. It's an important book that needs to be written, but I'm worried people will mock me when they find out it is restricted to the topic of wine bottle closures.

But, to quote Peter Godden and Leigh Francis of the Australian Wine Research Institute (AWRI): ĎIt can be argued that closing the bottle remains one of the greatest technical issues facing the wine industry. The winemaker can control many aspects of wine production to create a wine suitable for the marketplace, and yet there can be an unpredictable incidence of problems once the wine is bottled, due in large part to the properties of the closures used.í (From the introduction to the AWRI closure report of 2001.)

The book is an unbiased, balanced account of the closures debate, and it's scheduled for publication this May. It will be a cracking read.

Saturday, February 11, 2006

A couple of Eastern Europeans last night. A decade or more ago Eastern European wines were supposed to be the next big thing Ė with the collapse of communism and the emergence of free market economies, the latent potential of wine industries such as those of Bulgaria, Hungary and Romania would surely be realized. For one reason and another, this hasnít really happened. But thereís no reason it shouldnít. On wineanorak last week I reported on some lovely, personality-filled wines from Georgia. Last nightís couple were from Romania and Hungary. Vale DunŠ Merlot Burgund Mare NV, Vile Oltului, Romania is a beautifully packaged wine (pictured), sealed with a screwcap (saranex-only liner, for those who know about these things). A pale red colour, itís bright and fruity with an undergrowthy, herby edge. It tastes like a light, expressive new world Pinot Noir. Very pleasant, well balanced and easy drinking. Monte Cappella Cabernet Kťfrankos 2004 Nagyrťde, Hungary is also nicely packaged and sealed with a screwcap (tinĖsaran liner). This is more overtly fruity, and perhaps a little simpler. Itís clean with sappy cherryish fruit, and a touch of pepperiness on the finish Ė enjoyable, like a good Beaujolais. Refreshingly, this is just 12% alcohol. Neither is spectacular, but they are good, honest, un-forced drinking wines. Available in the UK at Morrisons (sorry, donít have the price to hand, but it wonít be much).

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Apologies to all those who've subscribed to this site's feed, only to find it wasn't working properly. It is now fixed. And if you haven't subscribed to the feed yet, now's as good a time as any.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

More on greenness

Some helpful comments on the issue of greenness in South African wines by Gary Jordan (pictured right, with wife Cathy) of the eponymous Stellenbosch winery. It's nice of him to spare the time to contribute bearing in mind that this is vintage time in the Western Cape - a time when winemakers are lucky to get any sleep. You can follow the progress of the 2006 harvest at Jordan by clicking here. I get this nagging feeling that it would be helpful for me, as a wine writer, to do a few vintages. Maybe I'd assess wines a bit differently if I really knew what went into making them, and not just in theory.


Type wine into google.co.uk and you get the result pictured right, with wineanorak.com coming fourth. Wow. That's ahead of all the other wine information sites, but then this is with the search restricted to UK sites. Search the entire web, and this site comes out seventh, with just one wine information site above it - that of US publication The Wine Spectator. Google rocks!

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Cano alert, and this time I've got the right day.

Need an inexpensive house red that's good enough to serve at dinner parties, but cheaper than a pint of weak lager (London prices)? Try this, and I'll be mighty surprised if you don't really enjoy it. (see my original post on this wine).

Monday, February 06, 2006

Trevor O'Hoy speaks

I was alerted to an interview with Trevor O'Hoy, president of Foster's Group, by a post on the UK wine forum. Australian wine giant Southcorp have, since summer 2005, been part of Fosters Wine Estates, which includes the likes of Beringer, Lindemans, Wolf Blass, Penfolds, Rosemount, Matua Valley and Wynns Coonawarrra Estate.

The business of wine can be quite depressing for the real wine lover: when you look below the surface and see the nuts and bolts of the industry, it can take some of the romance away. At the same time, from a journalist's perspective it's good to try to understand the beast you are dealing with, something I tried to do in this piece a while back.

The O'Hoy interview only really scratches the surface, but he finishes with the final point. "The world is getting smaller. You will see fewer and fewer big players, but also more small niche brands. The mid-range will disappear. This is the perfect model for us because small players get people talking about their products. We commercialise that talk."

If we unpack this a bit, he seems to be suggesting that the big players "piggy back" on the smaller producers. In wine, small niche producers create the glamour, the interest, the stories, creating a market which the big brands then cash in on. Kind of like my comments on brands, parasitism and mimicry (here). Am I reading this correctly?


Sunday, February 05, 2006

Greenness, again

More on greenness. In the comments, one respondent asked for examples of South African wines that showed this greenness. I can think of three recent reds that illustrate my point. First, wine we had with lunch today, and one that I enjoyed a good deal Ė the Saxenburg Private Selection Shiraz 2001, Stellenbosch. Itís a big, rich, sweetly fruited red with good concentration and some meatiness, but underneath the fruit thereís a distinctive green herbal streak. Iíve noticed this in previous vintages of this wine (the 1998 springs to mind). It doesnít ruin it, but I suspect it would be better without it. The second is the Beyerskloof Synergy 2002: lots of bright berry fruit, good concentration, but a herbal streak, too. Then thereís the Platter five-star Glen Carlou Syrah 2004, which has lots of ripe fruit, some oak, but still detectable underneath all this is the greenness. Again, it doesnít ruin the wine, but I feel it holds it back. This is just off the top of my head; Iím not claiming that this is rock solid evidence to defend my case Ė Iím merely putting forward a theory.

Itís important to remind readers that Iím not putting the boot into South African wine. Greenness in reds is a problem elsewhere Ė look at cheap Bordeaux. Often, though greenness is a problem in cooler climates or where yields are too high. Itís rare to find greenness in high end wines from warmer climates. This is why the leaf roll virus/vine mealybug story seems to make sense here. You have a vineyard with a bit of virus infection. You harvest it at the same time, so you are picking some grapes that are fully ripe with high sugar levels, along with those that havenít reached physiological ripeness and show some green characters. Or, you have endemic virus infection, so you leave the grapes on the vine as long as possible, resulting in high sugar levels (perhaps in part by dessication as well as real ripeness) along with sub-optimal physiological ripeness, also resulting in green herbal characters in the wine. Once in the winery, you can try to mask greenness with new oak, microoxygenation, and sweet fruit and high alcohol from those grapes that are ripe, but it results in wines that are less than totally convincing.


Friday, February 03, 2006

Greenness in South African reds

Some thoughts on greenness in South African reds, prompted by comments on an earlier post. First, let me state that I'm a big fan of South African wines. I've been there twice in the last couple of years, most recently in December 2005, and I was excited by a lot of what I tasted. But at the same time, I have to say that a proportion of the red wines suffer from a green streak, which I assume is caused by a proportion of unripe grapes.

What's the cause of this? South Africa shouldn't have problems with ripeness; its premium wine regions are pretty warm. Many commentators lay the blame at the door of leaf roll virus infections, which are a huge problem in many areas of the Western Cape. You can read about this here (I'm linking to Google's cache of the article; the Wine Spectator now charges for access), and there's a wonderful, but more technical article on the problem here.

At one property I visited in December they replanted five years ago, and are now having to replant again, because the new planting material is already virus infected. The big problem is that, unlike phylloxera, leaf roll virus allows a crop to be produced and for it to ripen, but in many cases full physiological ripening never happens, resulting in green wines. I suspect the flavour profile of some South African reds, with sweet fruit and greenness at the same time, is caused by uneven ripening in vineyard blocks, with the virus affecting some vines more than others, or just infecting a few and others not at all. Pictured is an infected vineyard block in Vergelegen, which has been deliberately killed off with herbicides: the explanation I was given for this is that you can't just take the vines out and replant, because the soil-dwelling bugs that transmit the virus will still be there and reinfect the new vines. So you have to let the vines die, first. The vector in question is the vine mealybug (see article here), which is normally found on the aerial parts of the vine but which also has a subterranean part to its life cycle.

The mealy bug is fascinating - there's a good article, with a picture of its life cycle here. Ants are also involved in the story because they protect the mealy bugs, who give the ants a feed. Because it's difficult to eradicate plant viruses, current efforts in the war against leaf roll virus are concentrating on biological control (e.g. here) and genetic modification (which isn't allowed yet).

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Thursday, February 02, 2006

Wine Science reviewed

Wine Science (or The Science of Wine, as it is known on the other side of the Atlantic) has been reviewed again, this time by US publication Wine Enthusiast (pictured). It reads thus:

"In The Science of Wine, British writer Jamie Goode has done a fantastic job presenting balanced, approachable yet technical essays on many of the major issues in winemaking and appreciation. Ranging from the scientific basis for terroir to a discussion of the effects of micro-oxygenation (still poorly understood) and an examination of the medical evidence of wine's effects on health (both pros and cons), Goode's readable prose makes even the most technical subjects accessible. For anyone interested in more than just drinking wine, this is a must read." --Joe Czerwinski

It's so nice to have such positive feedback. But what about bad reviews? Do they sting? I hope I don't find out.

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Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Fiona and I went to see Cirque du Soleil's Alegria last night at the Albert Hall, as guests of one of the Champagne houses (the currently for sale Lanson). I wasn't expecting to enjoy it terribly much, but in the end I did. Michael Church's review from The Independent sums it up better that I could, although I disagree with him about the Mongolian contortionists. They were a bit freaky; against nature.

I often wonder what it must be like to be part of a circus act. You must spend a lot of time together - does this create some sort of family-like bond? Is everyone nice to each other? And do the clowns get on with the acrobats? Who is friends with the contortionists?

Each year Zippo's circus visits Twickenham Green; our children love it. One year the kids of the talented French clown were in the same class at school as one of ours for a couple of weeks, so we had them back to ours for tea. We were invited to see them in France, but never made it - a shame, it would have been an interesting connection.