jamie goode's wine blog: April 2006

Saturday, April 29, 2006

This year, the International Wine Challenge has undergone a degree of reinvention, and it's now better than it's ever been. New chair people Sam Harrop and Tim Atkin have been added, complementing the existing duo of Charles Metcalfe and Derek Smedley; Robert Joseph has stepped down.

I attended yesterday, acting for the first time as a senior judge, which means you get to run one of the tasting teams, and you also get ££££. It was a good day's tasting and I was impressed by the organization. Lunch was nice, too.

What are the changes? Well, the panel of 25-odd superjurors has gone. It's just the four chairs who get to have the final say, which introduces much more consistency into the competition.

There are two rounds of tasting. In the first week wines are tasted and the only decision is whether they are medal winners or not. The second week concentrates on looking more closely at just the medal-winning wines, to decide exactly which medal they get. In the past, all previous years' medal winning wines got a bye into the second week of tasting (albeit usually in the follow-in vintage); now, everything gets tasted in the first week, which is a big improvement.

The faults clinic is also much more rigorous this year, with Sam Harrop in charge: the data gathered are likely to be much more dependable, and I can't wait to see them.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Lord's, the home of the wonderful game of cricket (pictured is the Middx v. Kent game which I caught a couple of overs of), played host to Bibendum's fabulous Bordeaux 2005 en primeur tasting today. Never has a merchant in the UK undertaken such an extensive tasting of en primeurs before, such a short time after the official en primeurs in Bordeaux, giving customers a chance to try before they buy. As well as showing their 2005s, the Chateaux represented also showed a couple of other recent vintages, in most cases the 2004 plus one other.

I arrived early and managed to grab a 30 minute interview slot with Christian Seely before things got underway. In my short career of assessing young Bordeaux (which began with 2002), this is the best vintage yet. From the quality of the samples, this may have been the best Bordeaux vintage in our generation. Great purity and concentration of fruit allied with good structure, almost across the board.

Of the 2005 wines I tried, the following are my favourites:

Gruaud Larose 2005
Georges Pauli is very happy with this vintage, and especially because he’s made 250 000 bottles of what looks set to become a stunning effort. On the nose there’s no trace of oak: it’s all perfumed, violetty, pure fruit. The palate is structured with firm tannins and shows lovely forward fruit, too. It’s nicely proportioned despite its massive concentration. A brilliant wine. 94–97

Cantenac Brown 2005
Great value. A bold, dense, structured, almost earthy style. Concentrated and currently fiercely tannic. A lovely burly wine with great concentration of fruit. 93–95

Pichon Baron 2005
Lovely freshness to the fruit here: it’s rich, intense and vivid with more red fruit than black. Lots of concentration on the palate: a big style with masses of fruit and tannin. Quite classically styled despite the intensity. 93–95

Leoville Barton 2005
Lovely forward dark fruits nose: fresh, focused and perfumed. The palate shows a bit of roasted oak and a lovely weight of pure fruit, with great concentration and firm tannins. Spicy finish. Oak is a bit prominent at the moment. 92–95

Haut Bailly 2005
Great value. Veronique Sanders says that her grandfather thinks this is one of the best Haut Bailly ever made – and she thinks it’s like a wine ‘we never did’. It has amazing balance and purity. Quite elegant and perfumed. The palate is on the light side but shows lovely clean, pure fruit with nice structure (fine but firm tannins allied with good acid). A bright, pure style of good potential. 92–94

Langoa Barton 2005
Lovely vivid pure sweet red and black fruits nose. There’s some chocolatey richness, but it’s in balance. The palate is concentrated and pure with nice oaking and smooth, firm tannins. A really nice wine. 92–94

Smith Haut Lafitte 2005
Deep coloured. Lovely fresh perfumed red and black fruits nose, which has some sweetness. The palate is structured with lovely vivid bright fruit. Brilliantly proportioned: a lovely wine. 92–94

Brainaire Ducru 2005
Quite a distinctive, fresh style. Deep coloured. Really bright, focused fruit with high acidity and a really fresh character. With the combination of acidity, tannins and fresh pure fruit this should age brilliantly. 92–94

Pavie Macquin 2005
This striking wine is likely to be quite controversial, and while I suspect traditionalists will hate it, the quality is there. Seriously intense nose of raspberry jam—vivid, perfumed and quite sweet. Very intense palate with massive concentration of fruit, pure and bright, with good structure. Unusual but lovely, in its style. 92–94

Cantermerle 2005
Good value. Nicely proportioned wine with appealing sweet dark fruits nose, and a fresh spicy edge. The palate is concentrated and rich with pure fruits combined with firm tannins and good acidity. 92–94

Canon La Gaffalière 2005
Containing a high proportion of Cabernet Franc (45%). Pure, elegant sweet ripe fruit on the nose. The palate is structured and quite elegant with nice fruit and good savoury structure. A classically styled wine. 90–93

Sociando Mallet 2005
Very rich, sweet, dark roasted spicy nose. The palate shows a lovely concentration of sweet pure fruit with oaky warmth and firm, fine tannic structure. A lovely wine. 91–93

Aiguilhe 2005
Great value. 80% Merlot and 20% Cabernet Franc from limestone soils. Very deep colour. Wonderful purity of fruit on the nose, with a lovely minerally edge to the dark fruits. The palate is concentrated, rich and dense with lovely purity and nice spiciness. Brilliant stuff: modern, but lovely. 90–92

Does Pinotage make serious wine? In an attempt to answer that question I attended an offline dinner last night that was solely devoted to this variety. It was good fun, and as well as meeting some old offline friends (Nick Alabaster and Peter May were there), I put some faces to names I knew from online wine discussions, such as Keith Prothero (pictured), Neil Holland, Cassidy Dart and Russel Faulkner. What about the wines? I liked one of them. More later.

Monday, April 24, 2006

Spent this evening working on a piece for Harpers on lanuage and wine. It's got me thinking, in particular about two questions. What is the most appropriate way to describe our perception of wine? And does our language for wine shape our perceptions?

Think about these questions as you read the following tasting notes:

Dark fruits and oak spices can be discerned in the aromatics of the 1998 Clos de Vougeot Le Grand Maupertui. Medium- to full-bodied, dense, and concentrated it is a fat, fruit-dominated wine. Blackberries, cherries, and loads of spices cover up this wines structured character… Smoked bacon, juniper berries, candle wax, and cherries can be found in the nose of the medium to dark ruby-coloured 1999 Clos de Vougeot Le Grand Maupertui. This full-bodied, chewy-textured, highly-extracted wine is crammed with toast, blackberry syrup, Asian spices, and bacon. It is intense, plush and delineated and has outstanding depth.
Pierre Rovani, talking about the wines of Anne Gros in Parker’s Wine Buyer’s Guide, sixth edition

More reserved on the nose than most of the Ambroise wines, but also with exciting glimpses of what is hidden under the cloak. A slightly roasted, nutty scent, but not in the least dried out or too warm. On the palate there is even a coolness to the fruit, the elegance and freshness of which is even better preserved than in the Clos Vougeot. But there is at once more breadth, depth, richness and sustain. Harmonious all the way through the long finish. The sheer scale is slightly daunting, but the phenolic phalanx is marching in step, with its spears pointing in the right way, protecting rather than threatening the fruit. Regal wine, at the beginning of a long reign. Neil Beckett’s note on Bertrand Amboise Corton-Le Rognet Grand Cru 2003 in issue 5 of The World of Fine Wine

A total whore of a wine (I mean that in a good sense) is the 2002 Grenache Old Vine. Made from 69-year-old vines planted in sandy soils, aged in a combination of new and old French and American wood, and cropped at 1.5 tons of fruit per acre, the vintage’s cool drought conditions have resulted in a magnificent wine that represents the nectar of Grenache. Dense ruby/purple-colored with spectacular concentration in addition to sweet blackberry, kirsch, raspberry, pepper, and flower characteristics, this magnificently concentrated, full-bodied 2002 takes Barossa Grenache to new heights.
Robert Parker commenting on a wine from new Barossa superstar Troy Kalleske

Clear fresh cherry red. Nose tight but sweet and ripe. Lean and nutty, then more almond-like, growing in potency and finishing long.
Hugh Johnson on Domaine Amiot-Servelle’s 2000 Chambolle-Musigny Les Amoureuses, in The World of Fine Wine issue 3

A dark glowing colour followed by a thick, warm burr of blackberry fruits, like the embrace of a tropical night. The palate is dominated by plunging exotic blackberry richness, thick and almost pippy, its exuberance and sheer presence a testament to the solar wealth of 2003. This ample fruit is held impressively in balance as the palate unfolds, and nothing obtrudes or disconcerts; it all tapers away to a lively, breath-freshening finish. Magnificent, enduring wine.
Andrew Jefford describes Ligier-Belair’s 2003 La Romanée in The World of Fine Wine issue 5

I'll leave you to form your own opinions, merely noting that these notes reflect a range of different strategies in capturing sensory perception in words. To fuel me in my labour, I've been accompanied by Ricasoli's Brolio Chianti Classico 2003. It is a robust, structured, savoury sort of red wine with plenty of fruit, but the dominant feature is the muscular tannic structure. It's a bit like a middle aged guy who has worked out heavily in the gym and gone running four times a week - the muscles are well defined, but they are all sinewy and the veins are showing. This wine lacks the easy going, plumpish muscularity of youth - instead we have a rather tough, drying sort of structure, which allied to the high-ish acid makes this the sort of wine that's authentic and enjoyable, but only really with food. I'm quite enjoying it, albeit in a mouth puckering sort of way. Reasonably serious. (Sainsbury £10.99)

Sunday, April 23, 2006

The vines are finally budding. It's been quite an agricultural weekend for me. I dropped the boys off at cricket on Saturday morning and found myself with a couple of hours to spare. Time to visit the allotment, which I'd carried out a hurried last-minute pruning job on a fortnight previously.

I had some decisions to make. In an ideal world, I'd run my mini vineyard organically. But I'm short of time, and even with just 60 vines, I can't do all the jobs necessary on my limited time budget without resorting to some chemical help. Between rows I allow grass to grow, which I strim. But in the row itself, I've decided (rather guiltily) to spray with glyphosate (a biodegradable herbicide). And the young shoots get absolutely hammered by snails at this time of year, so I used some pellets to protect the youngest vines. Forgive me.

It's a nervous time of year, because the young buds are vulnerable to frost damage. I don't have any way of dealing with this (in some regions, they spend $$$$ on helicopters to invert the air, or use less grand and less effective counters such as lighting burners or spraying water on the shoots to form a protective ice layer), but I still watch the forecasts.

Of course, if I lose my shoots to frost it's a minor annoyance. I just grow vines for a bit of fun, and as an educational exercise. For many wine growers, it's their livelihoods on the line.

Saturday, April 22, 2006

Ever heard of reduction? It's a complex sort of subject, which can best be summed up as complex sulfur compound chemistry. (here's an article on it, if you are curious.) Anyway, I opened an organic Soave the other day that was a perfect example of reduction, with a slightly acrid, smoky, flinty, rubbery sort of stink to it. It's the sort of thing that once you've spotted it, you are better at identifying it on future occasions. It's not like cork taint, which means you really can't drink the wine; in many cases reduction is a little more subtle, and spoils the fruit quality a bit without making the wine foul.

So I tried an experiment. You can fine out some of the stinky sulfur compounds using copper. So I went to my old coin collection (it was a sort of hobby I had when I was a kid) and picked out an old copper penny (you won't find much copper in present-day pennies). It turned out to be from 1966, when England last won the world cup. I plopped it in a glass of the wine and swirled it around a bit. The transformation was remarkable. The fruit was back, the stink had gone. Interesting, eh?

Friday, April 21, 2006

Global warming is never far from the news. It seems trivial and shallow to worry about its conseq- uences for the world's great wine regions...I guess I'm trivial and shallow...

Anyway, chez Goode we feel we should do our bit. Fiona wants to move to an eco house, which I have to admit does rather appeal to me.

Short of moving house (the hassle! the cost!), we could install a solar hot water system, which is becoming popular. We could buy a more economical car, and drive it less (I already walk as much as I can, and use public transport daily). Or we could change our electricity supplier and sign up with Dale Vince's company ecotricity. Choosing green is no longer just for hippies, and I feel we need to do something. What are you doing?

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Today was Majestic's press tasting. Some nice wines on display, with a particularly strong showing of reds from the south of France and the Rhone. But Majestic weren't showing any of their Portuguese wines, though. It's Portugal I'm focusing on this evening, with two bottles open.

First up, a classic. Jose Maria da Fonseca's Periquita is one of the world's great wine brands. When we think of branded wine, we tend to think California and Australia. But it's really Portugal who set the scene. Lancers, Mateus Rose and Periquita. Periquita, which hails from Terras de Sado, near Lisbon (and where Jose Mourinho comes from, incidentally) is a vibrant, juicy red wine with a nice earthy streak and good acidity. There's nothing too flash or forced about this. It's just easy to drink and it ages well.

Second, a born again version of Tinto de Anfora. This is an Alentejo wine that used to be very Portuguese (in a traditional sense - all earthy and medicinal, with lots of Portuguese oak - a bit of an acquired taste). The reinvented Anfora is dense, modern, dark and burly, with vivid sweet dark fruit backed up by spicy oak. It's a bit of headbanger, but it works. Portugal meets the new world. I'm enjoying this wine. Both are available from Waitrose and don't cost all that much considering the pleasure they give. I'm getting a good vibe from Portugal at the moment.

Waitrose (for the benefit of non-Brits, an upmarket UK supermarket with a great range of wines) held their third spring 2006 press tasting yesterday. They hold the same tasting on three different days over a three week period, which is highly convenient for us busy hacks who therefore have no excuse not to attend. The format has remained the same for as long as I have been going (about four years, now?). There are three rooms. The first is reds, the second whites and roses, the third Champagne/fizz/posh stuff/Port/Sherry.

Why the red room first? Well, Waitrose's Julian Brind reckons it's best to start off tasting with reds, and then go to the whites. (Almost everyone else does it the other way round.) I tried it Julian's way for the first time yesterday, and I'm now converted. It works. After 120-odd wines, my mouth wasn't in nearly as bad a state as it is if I start with whites.

Good attendance yesterday. Tim Atkin, Jancis Robinson, Oz Clarke, Anthony Rose, Andrew Catchpole and Matthew Jukes were there. No Jane McQuitty, though. Has she gone into hiding after her piece on Bdx2005? This was a topic of discussion yesterday, and one on which we all agreed.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Time for some more rubbish film reviews (‘rubbish’ here refers to the quality of the review, not necessarily the film’s merits). As regular readers will know, a good portion of my film watching is done courtesy of various airlines, on a TFT screen measuring approximately 6 by 4 inches, with sound quality similar to the mid-1970s mono tape player I had when I was seven years old. Bear that in mind.

I’m always slightly put off a film when reviewers go on about great special effects. Hollywood blockbusters are often completely crap, but some people come away awed by the big explosions and simulated peril as if this were enough to justify making a film. Capote is an interesting film, but my worry is that you come away thinking ‘great acting’, rather than ‘great film’. If you can get past Capote’s hideously annoying accent, this is a thoughtful effort, worth a watch, if only to marvel at the guy's staggering narcissism. This was a man who truly loved... himself.

Good night, and good luck is another film that just about scrapes it into the ‘interesting’ category. It’s tidy, predictable and worthy, with what I suppose is an important message for our times. I guess they needed to keep it nice and simple to make it accessible to the legions of film goers whose minds are rotten and decayed by too much blockbuster viewing.

What can I say about the adaptation of Le Carre’s The Constant gardener? It’s got a great title, certainly. And visually it is spectacular. Lush, colourful, pacey. But it’s not really a film, is it? More like an extended trailer. When I was a kid my folks used to watch TV adaptations of Le Carre’s books, which were usually about spies and the eastern bloc. They were very complicated. They also occupied about 15 one-hour episodes. A 90-minute film doesn’t give you a lot of space to play with, and the complex plot of The constant gardner is shoe-horned into the format of a film like a size 10 into a dainty glass slipper. The result is that you never really connect with any of the characters; there’s just not enough time to let the plot develop; you feel rushed from scene to scene. Consequently, it’s unsatisfying. It should have been so much better.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

A quick post to point readers to a new blog. It's from UK merchant Bibendum and it's called The Juice. Well written and worth a read; let's hope they manage to keep it going past the 2005 en primeur campaign. Lots of blogs start off well, but then fall away. Sounds like the parable of the sower, doesn't it?

Monday, April 17, 2006

This is the view from where I'm sitting, late on a Monday evening here in west London. The price you pay for making progress as a young (that's what I like to think) wine writer is having to work when other people are playing. I guess the plus point is that for me, work is play. So it's possible to keep up a high output without sacrificing your family life, and without burning out, when you are doing something you enjoy.

Writing about wine isn't all fun, though. You have to drink (or, at least, taste) some pretty depressing wines if you are writing a national wine column that has to major on the wines that are widely available at supermarkets and high street wine outlets (not that these retailers don't have good wines - they do... as well as some bad ones). I find my wine tasting often results in runs of good or bad wines clustered together like buses. I'm on a bad run at the moment. Last night I opened a couple of rubbish wines, and tonight I opened three more before I found something half-decent to drink.

My vinous accompaniment this evening is Philip Shaw's No 11 Chardonnay, from a single, cool-climate vineyard at 900 metres elevation in Orange, New South Wales. It's an interesting wine: quite classy, bready, mealy and almost malty, with nice oak and a crisp cool-climate feel to it. I reckon this needs a year or two more to come into its own, when it might be quite special indeed. You wouldn't mistake it for white Burgundy, but it's not your usual Aussie fare. The back label is quite fun. Philip's enormous dog seems to be the centre of his family. (£16.99 Tesco.) Now I'm off to watch Match of the Day.

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Easter greetings to all my fellow wine nuts, and to my family and friends who use this blog as a means of keeping up with what I'm doing. You must get the impression that I spend all my life drinking - a very wine-tinted view of our family life.

Big easter lunch here at chez Goode, beginning with a magnum of Jacquart Brut Nominee, which was nicely evolved, fresh and quite savoury. I'm really enjoying my Champagne at the moment. It's funny how wines seem to go in phases. When I make my fortune I'll have a grand cru Burgundy phase. Alas, no Burgundy to hand to accompany the tender roast lamb, so we had a modest but delicious Yering Frog Pinot Noir 2003 (Majestic) from Yarra Valley superstar Yering Station. I was really impressed by the Staete Landt Sauvignon Blanc 2004 Marlborough: you can get quite bored with NZ Sauvignon, but this one was quite special (Lay & Wheeler).

It's been an action packed easter break so far. We're making a final drive to finish the house we purchased three years ago - like many projects, we made a lot of progress, then things stopped, and we're only now finishing off. I'm also trying to put the finishing touches to my closures book, and we have realtives visiting - Fiona's brother and his family, who've come over from Geneva.

On Friday morning we headed over for a Champagnge brunch with my brother in law, Beavington, and his family, together with my twin sister and her's. We drank a substantial quantity of Drappier Grande Sendree 1996 and 1998. Both were impressive wines: quite full flavoured with lots of Pinot Noir character. The 1996 just had the edge, and is currently drinking very nicely. Fizz is wonderful.

In the afternoon we headed into town to meet up with Fiona's brother and the family who'd just landed at City airport. We took a ducktour together, which was good fun, and then wandered along the southbank to London Bridge where we had dinner at Fish! at Borough Market. It's a beautifully situated restaurant in view of Southwark cathedral, with an interesting construction - little more than a big greenhouse, with an open kitchen, but the space works really well. The food was good enough - I had a very fresh piece of sea bass, simply grilled - but the wine list was rubbish and overpriced, which is a shame.

Then yesterday, we took all the kids to Chessington. If you've not had kids, you won't understand that it's verging on child abuse not to take your kids to theme parks, but at the same time theme parks represent some parallel reality with the occasional bit of good fun mixed in with large dollops of hell. I actually enjoyed my two rides on Vampire, which is great fun. It made the rest of the eight hours just about bearable.

We gathered once more as an extended family last night for casual supper. Accompanying our excellent wild mushroom rissotto we sampled several wines I had laying around. Two 2003 Chianti Classicos impressed: Badia a Coltibuono (£8.99 Tesco) was supple and fruity, and the Villa Caffagio (£9.49 M&S) was tighter and more structured, but again with good fruit. Billaud Simon Chablis 2004 was textbook, from one of my favourite Chablis producers. Abbe Rous Collioure Cuvee des Peintres 2003 really worked for me: primarily Grenache, this was sweet, elegant and perfumed. The surprise was the Floressac Cassiopeia 2003 Vin de Payes Cotes de Thau: it's a rich dry white wine that tastes like a mix of Condrieu and Sauternes. Very striking.

Amid all this fun, let it be noted that City suffered their sixth straight defeat on the trot. Thank goodness they've already banked 40 points.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

The emperor of wine
I’ve mentioned Elin McCoy’s The Emperor of Wine before on these pages. It’s the first biography of the world’s most influential wine critic, Robert Parker, and it’s published this month for the first time in the UK by Grub Street. I met Elin (pronounced ‘ee-lin’) for an interview on Tuesday, which I’ll be writing up in full at a future date. She was charming and smart, and we had an interesting broad-ranging discussion about the Parker effect in general. I’ve now finished reading the book, which I struggled a little with in its early pages. It gets better, though, and I found it pretty absorbing in the end—I reckon it’s an important work that all wine nuts should read.

There are huge difficulties facing anyone who wants to write a biography like this. If they know their subject well, they have the advantage of being close enough to give an accurate, detailed picture. But this closeness brings with it its own challenges. The huge danger is that the book then becomes a hagiography; to write honestly giving the bad along with the good risks alienation from the subject and would damage even the strongest friendship. Or if the author is already alienated from the subject, then the book can easily become a hatchet job. On the other hand, if the author doesn’t have much of a relationship with the subject, this is less of a risk, but the attendant danger is that the work could flirt with superficiality, or inaccuracy.

McCoy steers a fairly deft course between the twin perils of hagiography and hatchet job. You sense you are getting a work that doesn’t carry some hidden agenda; she wanted to write the best biography she could. It’s not perfect, but overall, it works. I’ll leave you with one of the closing paragraphs.

It will be hard, if not impossible, for Parker to pass on his mantle of power, for his reputation is rooted in the idea of his specialness and the myth of his unique, semi-divine tasting ability. There will be others to follow him. But he has changed the wine world, and the unique circumstances that coronated [or should that be ‘crowned’?] him will never be duplicated.

Total needless aside: Grub Street have obviously translated the spellings in the UK version of the book from American English to UK English by automatic means – this has led to the occasional amusing typo, such as the one at the bottom of p175, where ‘Colorado’ becomes ‘Colourado’.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

A private garden near to Regent’s Park in London was the setting for a rather bizarre barbecue and wine tasting yesterday. Convened by Susy Atkins for Which? (the magazine of the consumer’s association), the goal of this tasting was to select the best barbecue wines. It must have seemed like a smart idea at the time of planning to actually have a real-life barbecue, outdoors—after all, in mid April the weather can be quite benign. But not yesterday. It was positively wintry, with a bitter northeast wind and temperatures that seemed like single figures. To cap it all, I was only coming from round the corner so I turned up in a short-sleeved polo shirt. Man, it was cold. Susy had called in a star-studded line-up of Charles Metcalfe, Sarah-Jane Evans, Fiona Sims, Peter Richards, Natasha Hughes and myself, and we bravely battled the elements to try to imagine how the cold barbecue food (having rapidly lost its warmth) and too-chilled wines might complement each other on a warm sunny day. A memorable tasting.

In the picture: Natasha finds it amusing, Susy is discussing notes with the hidden Sarah-Jane, Charles hams it up and Fiona is not impressed.

Monday, April 10, 2006

There's a curious article in The Times newspaper today, occupying the whole of page 3, on Bordeaux 2005. There's a big picture of pickers at Haut Brion accompanying it. It's rare for wine to be given such prominent billing, so what's the story? Jane MacQuitty has decided that Bordeaux 2005 sucks, mostly. The message she brings is that it could have been a great vintage, but "some producers could not resist the temptation to meddle with their wines and, in doing so, they have caused another setback for Bordeaux and the French wine industry." I decribe it as a curious piece because every other report of the 2005 vintage has been glowing. She adds:

"Among the mistakes made by the meddlers are leaving juice in contact with grape skins for very long periods, resulting in over-extracted wines. In some cases skin and pips have been left in contact with the juice for more almost three weeks during the fermentation process. Producers have also tried to create a greater concentration of flavours by bleeding off juice, but in some places the result has become overbearing."

A perplexing piece indeed. What do you think?

Saturday, April 08, 2006

Continuing on a vinous theme, I’ve been sampling some more high-end Chilean wines. The question I’ve been trying to address is one I’m almost embarrassed to admit to. I should censor myself at this stage, but I can’t. It is thus: does Chile make any serious wines. Now there isn’t space here to define what I mean by serious, but I reckon most of you have a good idea. If you are invited to a wine geek gathering, could you take a Chilean wine along? Have any Chilean wines made it onto your list of ‘top ten wines drunk this year’? Look, I think Chile makes really smart commercial wine. If you are spending £4 on a bottle, then Chile’s a good place to shop. Or even £6 – it delivers plenty of flavour, especially with red wines. But does it do serious wine? I’m not ready to answer that question. I’m still in a data gathering phase.

So two more data points. Hacienda Araucano ‘Alka’ Carmenère 2003 Colchagua is an ambitious wine from J & F Lurton. It’s £30+, which puts it among the Chilean elite. I like it a lot, but I think it falls just short of serious. Lots of elegant, pure blackcurrant pastille fruit, with some silky tannic structure. It needs more complexity than just the sweet pure fruit (elegant as it may be) to be counted as serious. Close but no cigar.

Terrunyo Shiraz 2004 Cachapoal is a high-end wine from the Concha y Toro stable. It’s from a single vineyard, planted on a hill. Yours for £10.99 from Majestic. I wanted to like this wine, but it relies too heavily on spicy, roasted oak to mask those distinctively Chilean green herbal notes tagged on to the sweet, ripe black fruits. It’s tasty and accessible – I can imagine non-wine geeks really enjoying this – but it’s a bit forced, and in a very new world style.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Shameless self-promotion time.

After missing out on the Andre Simon award, I've had a spot of good news this week.

On Tuesday I found out that Wine Science has been shortlisted for the Roederer Award (announced May 16th at the LIWSF), and today I learned that it's also been shortlisted for the Glenfiddich award. That's announced a day earlier. Fantastic.

As if that wasn't enough, I'm also shortlisted for Roederer winewriter of the year - the official shortlist says it's for articles in the 'Sun, Express and World of Fine Wine'. Erm, I've never written for The Sun - makes me sound like the tabloid king - think it was meant to read the 'Sunday Express'. I'd love to win the Roederer. I think you get a case of Cristal. If I do, I'll get a bin, fill it with ice, put the bottles in, put on some bling, whack the gagsta rap on, and you're all invited round. Party on.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Tonight's wine is worth a mention. It's Coyam 2003 from Alvaro Espinoza, biodynamic winemaker with VOE in Chile's Colchagua. A blend of a range of varieties (including some Mourvedre), it's a dense, dark-coloured wine with a nose brooding sweet blackcurrant fruit. The palate is concentrated, tight and spicy with smooth blackcurrant fruit shrouded in earthy, tannic structure. It's still just about identifiable as Chilean, but there's a bit more seriousness to this wine than many of its peers. Probably the best Chilean wine I've yet tasted - primarily because I'm no fan of the more-is-better school of over-cooked high-end Chilean reds. Available from Vintage Roots and Virgin Wines in the UK, for less than a tenner. Try it. Let me know what you think.

As predicted, I didn't win last night, but at the Andre Simon awards everyone is a winner, in that all shortlisted authors come away with a cheque. Mine was for £200, which I was very pleased about.

It was a good event, held on the top floor of New Zealand house, with stunning views across the London skyline (pictured). I got a chance to meet Hugh (the winner) for the first time, who, as well as being a wine writing legend, is a thoroughly nice chap. I also met the new publisher at Mitchell Beazley (an important person for writers like me) and John Livingstone-Learmonth, king of the Rhone.

The wine awards were presented by Andrew Jefford (another of my heroes), who gave each shortlisted book a thorough and thoughtful review. He's pictured here describing Wine Science, which he said some very nice things about. As an awards ceremony, the Andre Simon rocks. I cam away feeling like a winner, which I was, sort of.

Monday, April 03, 2006

It's the Andre Simon Memorial Fund Annual Food and Drink Book Awards ceremony tonight. I shall be attending because, along with three other books, Wine science, has been shortlisted. Not that I expect to win. I've been shortlisted for The Glenfiddich, The Lanson and the Roederer before, and come away empty handed each time, and I expect tonight will be the same. The other wine books are John Livingstone-Learmonth's The wines of the northern Rhone, Konstantinos Lazarakis' The wines of Greece and what must be the favourite - Hugh Johnson's A life uncorked, which I really enjoyed. I heard from someone that even the shortlisted books get a cash prize, which, if true will be very welcome. So I'm going to attend expecting to be disappointed, and anything else - including a chance to meet Hugh, who is a winewriting legend, will be a bonus.

Sunday, April 02, 2006

Just back from a great weekend away, seeing my parents and then popping in on some old friends on the way home. For the last few years my semi-nomadic folks have lived on the Suffolk coast, in between Aldeburgh and Southwold (above). It's a lovely part of the coastline and these two charming towns have been well and truly discovered by wealthy Londoners, many of whom have second homes here.

Soon after arriving we headed down to the beach at Walberswick, and while the kids were happy roaming the sand dunes and catching crabs, my dad and I took a gentle walk to Southwold where we enjoyed a couple of pints of Adnams. An early evening trip to Aldeburgh was another excuse for a pint of Adnams, but this time Fiona came too. This morning was also spent on the beach, where younger son caught an unfeasibly large crab whose pincers looked large enough to take a child-sized finger. Liver is the key. Crabs love it. [We got some inside advice from seasoned local crabbers. ] It's a great antidote to London life.

Two wines worth mentioning, both reds from the south of France, and both from the 2004 vintage, which is the real link here. 2004 is the year of freshness in Europe. It's not a year for big, long-lived, burly reds, but rather fresher, drinkable, food-friendly styles with high acidity. First, Chateau de Surville 2004 Costieres de Nimes (Marks & Spencer), which I'm drinking now. It's vivid, bright and peppery, with lovely purity of fruit and high acidity. Second, Chateau Pech-Latt 2004 Corbieres (Waitrose), which is in a similar style, offering pure, bright, well defined red fruits with grippy tannins on the finish. Both wines really need food to show their best, but considering they are relatively inexpensive (around £6-7?), they offer lots of flavour and are quite delicious.