jamie goode's wine blog: May 2006

Monday, May 29, 2006

I'm going to try something a bit risky, but also necessary.

I'm taking a break from blogging and even updating my website, for a week. During that week I'm not going to be using any electronic forms of communication at all.

I've not turned hippy. I've just decided, that after a particularly frantic period, I'm going to have a family week. Having just signed the contract for my third book, and with fairly solid ideas for books four and five, and a wild idea for book six, I could do with the space. When something as much fun as wine is a way of earning a living, it takes some discipline to stop it invading every spot of mental space, and every scrap of time.

I hope regular readers will understand, and that you'll all be back next week for freshly invigorated comment, analysis and vague wonderings.

Wine tonight is Domaine Du Cros' 2002 Marcillac, which is my comfort wine. Delicious, meaty, fresh, sappy and bloody.

Sunday, May 28, 2006

The Wendouree tasting was fantastic, with the wines living up to my high expectations. Full write up will follow. About 30 people were gathered in the remarkably spacious Cellar Door shop, and the tasting and dinner went really well. As well as the Wendouree wines, we had a few from Greg Hobbs, of the Barossa Ranges, who was in town. It was nice to catch up with him.

On Saturday morning I had a chance to tend my vines at the allotment. They were in pretty good shape, considering the lousy May we have had (with rain every day for as long as I can remember). I sprayed them with sulphur (which will probably have washed off in the torrential rain last night) and chopped down the inter-row grass. The in-row glyphosate treatment has worked a treat, and there's now a mulch of dead grass along each row. The only negative point has been the extensive snail damage to some of the vines.

My foot is sore. Yesterday I stood on a nail. It was sticking out of a piece of wood, by about three-quarters of an inch, and it went fully into my heel (I was barefoot). The painful bit was tugging it out. It took several firm pulls.

Two wines to report on, continuing a Spanish mini-theme. First, Finca Sandoval 2002 Manchuela. This is the wine from Spanish journalist Victor de la Serna, who is sort of gamekeeper turned poacher (is this the right way?). It's dark and dense, in quite a modern mould, with concentrated fruit, firm structure, chocolatey richness and a savoury, earthy streak. On the first evening this was a little disjointed, with the structure and earthiness winning out over the fruit, but on the second night it was much better. Not a great wine, but promising, and one to watch in subsequent vintages. I wouldn't be surprised if this develops nicely over a decade or so.

Second, Torres Fransola 2004 Penedes is a fantastic white wine. It's a Sauvignon Blanc, half of which is aged in oak. There's a wonderful balance between the crisp, grassy, gooseberry Sauvignon characters and richer, more tropical fruit, and then the subtle oak that's hardly noticeable. The result is a rounded, polished wine (£12.49 Oddbins and some independents).

Friday, May 26, 2006

Tonight I'm off to the Cellar Door, a wine merchant in Overton, Hampshire, to host a tasting of the wines of Wendouree, cult producer in Australia's Clare Valley. I'm looking forward to this very much - it gives me an opportunity to taste a decent selection of these wines. They're quite unusual among Australian wines in that they are backward and tight in their youth, and are really best enjoyed after a lengthy soujourn in the cellar. Pictured is one of the fantastic old Wendouree vines.

Wine and health is in the news again. This time, it's a study published in the British Medical Journal showing that middle aged men who drink every day have a reduced incidence of heart disease compared with those who drink infrequently. However, it seems only to be middle-aged men - the group most at risk from heart disease - who get this benefit.

I like to think of myself as a young man. However, when I reach middle age, I shall bear this advice in mind. More significantly, though, I'll keep doing plenty of exercise (I went for a run this week! first in ages) and I'll try not to get fat.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Cork taint again, but not of wine.

I was interested to read a piece on cork taint and alternative closures for whisky, written by Olivier Humbrecht MW. As well as running perhaps Alsace's best-loved winery, the tall, biodynamically inclined Olivier is a 'malt maniac', contributing to the wonderfully geeky malt madness website.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Tonightís wine continues a Portuguese theme Iíve been on for a few days (Redoma 1991 and 1994 plus Quinta do Crastoís Maria Theresa 1998 have featured also). Itís Herdade de Malhadinha Novaís AragonÍs de Peceguina 2004 Alentejo. Along with Mouch„o, Malhadinha Nova is my favourite Alentejo producer. This recent release is a fabulous inky dark colour. Itís a modern wine in that thereís a real intensity of quite sweet fruit (both red and black), but this is tightwound with a minerally core and good firm tannic structure, coupled with good acidity. Overall, the impression is one of savouriness. Together with the intense fruit, I reckon the structure is such that this wine has a promising future ahead of it. Thoroughly recommended, and shows that modern can be good when itís done well. One of the things I love about this winery is that Rita and Jo„o get their kids to do pictures for the label.

Monday, May 22, 2006

Two fairly serious, rich white wines to report on.

First, Emmerich Knoll Loibner Schutt Gruner Veltliner Smaragd 2002 Wachau, Austria. [Don't you just love the label?] This is a textbook Gruner from one of my favourite Austrian producers, with a full melony nose displaying a delicious trademark white pepper edge. In the mouth it's smooth and rich with broad melony fruit. Youthful and fruity at the moment, but it will age nicely. I scored this at 92, for what it's worth. I bought this for £22 from Selfridges.

Second, tonight's tipple is a high-end Spanish white that retails for £18.50. You don't get many of these...Spain is normally thought of as red wine territory, what, with all that sun an' all. It's the Mas d'en Compte 2004 Porrera, Priorat, Spain. I have no knowledge of the varietal composition, but it tastes like a cross between Viognier, Chardonnay and Roussanne. It's a remarkable full-flavoured white of complexity and power, showing a nice balance between the fat, thick-textured tropical fruit and the spicy oak. There's great concentration here, but also a degree of freshness, and some minerality, too. Delicious and compelling, though I suspect early drinking might be in order. I gave this 93. Available from Jeroboams/Laytons, Weavers of Nottingham and Peake Wines.

My closures book is now out. Anyone who wants a copy (I suspect it won't be everyone's cup of tea) can order one from www.flavourpress.com. 20% discount for readers of this blog.

Nicolas Joly is an interesting person. For those unfamiliar with him, as well as being a wine grower making the Loire valley's most expensive white wines, he's also the (unnofficial) spokesperson for the biodynamic wine movement. His regular seminars on biodynamie are passionately delivered, and have the atmosphere of a religious convention.

Indeed, biodynamics does look very much like a religion. We don't know exactly why it works; there is a lot of talk about imprecisely defined life forces; and you usually convert to it with the help of a biodynamic consultant or more experienced grower.

But unlike religion (which is seen by our society as uncool, intolerant and generally a bad thing for enlightened liberal folk to get involved with), biodynamics has a hip image. It's of the age. Joly is certainly quite evangelistic - a high priest of biodynamie, with a real charisma about him. After a conversation, he dismisses you with a blessing, encouraging you to go well and keep the faith.

On the subject of religion, the dreaded Da Vinci Code is currently hard to avoid. I've no wish to alienate the 43 million people who bought this book, so I'm not going to criticise it here (besides, I've not read the book, nor seen the film, so I can't really comment). But I was surprised to read this piece on The Guardian's website. Written by the media secretary of the Muslim Council, the thesis behind this article is that, 'At the heart of Dan Brown's blockbuster lies a truth that could serve to bring together Christians and Muslims.' Whatever your views on religion are, can you take seriously the suggestion that Christians abandon their belief in the divinity of Jesus on the basis of The Da Vinci Code? The comments from readers below this piece make for interesting reading.

Saturday, May 20, 2006

I have a new car. In fact, it's the first time I've ever had a new car, although I'm kind of in two minds about cars generally because of their environmental impact. Still, they're jolly useful and we'd find it hard to get by without one in our family. And they are quite fun, too, although I wouldn't count myself as a petrol head.

After umming and arring a bit, and after plenty of research, I decided to go for the Mazda 6 Estate 2.0 d TS in 'carbon grey' (car colours have the most imaginative names). It's a fantastic vehicle. Solidly built, fun to drive (a little sporty), big enough for the family (but not too big) and nice to look at. Like a boy with a new toy I've been driving for the sake of it. And I reckon that with 167 g/km CO2 emissions and 45-ish mpg fuel consumption, it's not too environmentally unfriendly. I promise only to use it when I really need to. I feel very lucky.

Friday, May 19, 2006

I had a winemaker friend come to stay the other night, and this is what he brought with him. It was from a cold, damp cellar, and the condition of the cork was amazing (it was the original). Still elastic, even after 70 years. The wine was rather good. No, I lie. It was stunning. Sensational. Mind blowing. We finished the bottle together...

It was elder son's second ever game of proper cricket last night, for his under 10's side. The game was held at the Old Deer Park in Richmond, a lovely setting. He's pictured bowling: an unusual action that borrows from both Thommo and Murali, but it's remarkably effective. It was freezing cold, despite the evening sunlight that occasionally poked through the clouds, with a biting wind. His first ever game was on Monday night, which I missed because of the Glenfiddichs. And if two cricket games aren't enough for one week, today he was playing in a football tournament at Griffin Park. It's a nice life if you are nine years old.

I warmed up with the remainder of a sensational Jamet Cote Rotie 1999, opened on Wednesday evening. It's drinking well but has a long future ahead of it. One of the best CRs I've ever had.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

More thoughts on the London trade fair. The previous post was penned on Wednesday morning, after a long, difficult day on Tuesday, when I had the tough job of chairing the closures symposium. Wednesday was a much better day, largely because I restricted myself to the biodynamic producers exhibiting in the Waterfront rooms, with a break for lunch with a new Madiran initiative from Plaimont.

The biodynamic exhibition was incredible. More than 60 (mostly small) producers getting together to show their wines. Itís not that I think biodynamic producers are the only ones making interesting wine (a ludicrous idea), just that these producers want to make interesting, natural wine, and on the whole they succeed.

One other thing I want to mention from the trade fair is Stormhoekís winefairlive blogging (www.winefairlive.com). Itís a really imaginative idea: people were encouraged to blog away and immediately their entries were displayed on large screens around the show. Kind of gimmicky, but itís encouraging the take up of this powerful communication tool (even if almost all the posts are tosh). They had arch blogger Hugh Macleod (http://www.gapingvoid.com/) on their stand, and I had a quick chat with him (heís pictured in action above). Cartoonist Hugh is a big dude in the blogosphere, and his cartoons were used by Stormhoek in their award winning, blog-centred marketing campaign.

The London Trade Fair can be a little daunting to the uninitiated. Itís a big, sprawling show, largely populated by glitzy multi-tiered stands full of guys in suits. On the whole they are peddling uninteresting commercial dross. I guess the world needs commercial dross, but it doesnít really interest me. For those seeking interesting wines, perhaps the best rule of thumb is this: the grander the stand the duller the wine. Letís face it: exhibiting at the fair costs a *lot* of money. I heard one importer complain yesterday that for the price of a modest presence at the trade fair, they could afford to send each of their customers a case of wine every week for the next year. Itís not surprising therefore that the chief presence at the fair is large outfits selling very commercial wines. Bigger is not usually better in the wine world.

Perhaps your best bet of discovering something interesting is at one of the stands run by a national association. South Africa and Austria, for example, have dozens of producers each with their own mini-stand under the umbrella of the national wine body. This works quite well. Alternatively, some agents have the producers within their portfolios represented, so thereís always a chance that one or two interesting producers will be found here.

On the whole, though, for wine geeks the trade fair has just a few nuggets of gold well hidden in the midst of mediocrity. Iím sorry if this sounds overly negative. But thatís the way it is in the wine world. Wine is fabulously interesting and diverse, but the interesting stuff generally needs to be sought out. The shape of the modern marketplace tends to favour more Ďcommercialí wines. The really fascinating stuff is often made in small quantities (and thus is quite hard to get) or is in such demand that producers really donít need to go to huge trade fairs to promote it.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Cancel the Cristal party! After last night's success at the Glenfiddich, surely it was too much to expect to win one or both of the Roederer awards I was shortlisted for. And it was. The book prize went to Jon Livingstone-Learmonth for his book on the northern Rhone, while the winewriter prize went to Andrew Jefford, one of my writing heroes.

Earlier on today I chaired the closures symposium, which was a tough old task. It's a technical subject, and the problem was that all the panellists more or less agreed on the key issues I raised with my questions. So a worthy debate, but not an exciting one. Important stuff, though.

The London wine tradefair itself is a mammoth event, and after one day I've hardly begun to scratch the surface. Tomorrow looks set to feature a long day's tasting. I'm typing this up from the press office at the fair, and then I'm off to the 2006 Dirk Niepoort dinner. After the last couple of days, I'm whacked.

Can you beleive it? I could hardly, at the time. But I actually won the Glenfiddich award for Drink Book at last night's glitzy ceremony, held at Albannach Restaurant in Trafalgar Square. I was thrilled - and, rather handily, £1000 richer. Plus you get a nice glass trophy and a bottle of 21 year old Glenfiddich with your name on the label.

But the big danger with winning awards like these is that you begin to think you are special. A big shot. Or that you matter. Thinking these things has an alarming tendency to turn the person thinking them into an arrogant asshole. So I remember - don't take myself too seriously. And whatever happens at this afternoon's Roederer awards, I'm thrilled to have got this one.

Monday, May 15, 2006

I've gone and bought some more wine. I had been trying to cut down (and had been fairly successful), but in the last week I've succumbed. A tour of some central London merchants yielded a modest three-bottle purchase (an Emmerich Knoll 2002 GV from Selfridges, a Van Volxem Riesling from BBR and the 2003 Niepoort Vintage Port from Fortnum & Mason), but the biggest hit was a 16 bottle assortment from Grand Cru Wines. This is Liz and Mike Berry's Southern France-based operation specializing in high-end wines from Languedoc and Provence. I bought a couple of bottles of eight different wines from a sale email, including old Vouvray (ah, Chenin Blanc!), not so old Bandol and some smart Languedoc wines. Outside the classic Franch regions it's still possible to get world class wines without going bankrupt. Liz and Mike's old shop, La Vigneronne, on the old Brompton Road in South Kensington, still holds many good memories for its tastings, which were a major part of my wine life in the early days of wineanorak.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Weekends away in the country always make me yearn for a different way of life. While I love what London has to offer, the busyness and built-up-ness of the suburbs is in stark contrast to the space and stillness of more rural England. We visited Fiona's sister and her family in north Devon, and had a lovely weekend.

As well as two trips to the beach at Croyde, Fiona and I had a great night out - to celebrate Fiona's birthday, her sister had booked (and paid) for us to go to the Corner Bistro in Braunton, round the corner from where she lives. A night out away from the kids is treat enough, but it's a bonus to go somewhere nice, too. We had a really enjoyable evening. We had a bottle of the Cosme Vin de Pays Viognier 2004, which was a little light and neutral, for £19, plus a couple of glasses of a pleasant Puglian Primitivo.

Friday, May 12, 2006

Sainsbury's press tasting yesterday was in the airy, spacious Delfina gallery in Southwark. I caught up with Harpers editors past and present, Christian Davis and Tim Atkin.
The Sainsbury's range? It is consistently good, without too many high points. Tim and I were both impressed with St Hallett's Gamekeepers Reserve, a cracking, enjoyable wine that retails for £5.99.

It's the calm before the storm. Next week is a busy one for the UK wine trade, and for me personally. On Monday night it's the Glenfiddich food and drink awards ceremony, for which I've been shortlisted for my book. Then, Tuesday to Thursday is the London Wine Fair. My involvement has stepped up a little from previous years, and I'll be chairing the Closure debate on Tuesday afternoon. I was also one of the judges for the Top 100 wines tasting for the show. Then there's the Roederer awards ceremony on Tuesday afternoon, which I've been shortlisted twice for. If I win one of the categories, as well as cash I'll get a case of Cristal, so don't forget, you are all invited to a Cristal party...

Thursday, May 11, 2006

The new Douro 2004
Yesterdayís New Douro tasting at the Tate Modern (held on the seventh floor, with a fantastic view of St Pauls and the Hungerford footbridge) was a revelation. Lots of fuss was made of the 2003 vintage in the Douro, but 2004 was acknowledged by almost every winegrower I spoke to, to be even better. ĎItís the best vintage Iíve seení, say Jorge Moreira (of Poiera and Quinta de la Rosa, and who has been making wines in the Douro since 1996). The reason? Thereís ripeness and richness, but countering this in most of the wines is a lovely freshness.

The Douro table wine scene is still young, and producers are still finding their feet. As yet, there is no single defining Douro style, and perhaps this will never emerge. Stylistic differences among winegrowers are quite pronounced. Thereís a difference in philosophy between producers who aim at super-ripeness, and those who are trying to make wines with a bit more of an edge. Thus we have some wines that are very lush and sweetly fruited, and others which are more savoury and tight, with higher acidity.

Dirk Niepoort and Jorge Moreira reckon that the best table wines are going to come from vineyards that are different from those that make the best Ports. They look for north-facing vineyards, for example, which are cooler. In contrast, I spoke to Bruno Prats of Cos díEstournel, who makes Chryseia in partnership with the Symingtons. ĎThe best vineyards for Port are also the best for table winesí, claims Prats. ĎWe are taking grapes for Chryseia from blocks that make vintage Port: this limits the production we can achieve.í Paul Reynoldsí Macedos is another wine that comes from a top Port vineyard. Personally, while I admire Macedos and Chryseia, I prefer the more elegant, tight savoury style of Niepoort and Moreira. But thatís a taste thing.

Overall, I was excited by the quality of the wines I tasted. The Douro is beginning to come of age. I was also happy that some producers, who had been making wines in a new world-like oaky mould, seem to have changed direction a bit and concentrated more on fruit expression and restraint. After the difficulties of 2002, a run of good to great vintages (2003, 2004 and likely 2005, which seems promising) has sent the new Douro movement on a bit of a roll.

As an aside, I couldnít help but notice how smartly turned out everyone was. Dirk, who usually sports jeans, untucked shirt and jumper, was in an expensive looking suit and tailored pink shirt (co-ordinating with Dorliís pink shirt). Christian van Zeller looked like an English country gent (pictured). The two Jorges were dressed up like politicians (indeed, no man lacked a jacket, and most had ties). Sophia Berquist resembled the queen, c. 1960, and Olga Martins looked like she was off to a nightclub. Was this centrally coordinated?

Full notes of the wines will follow.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Dirk Niepoort was in town, with wifey - PR queen Dorli Muhr - in tow. At short notice I booked a table for us at Comptoir Gascon in Smithfields. It's a gem of a place - small, unpretentious and calmly assured, offering regional treats from France's southwest. Kudos to them for offering a short but perfectly formed wine list dedicated almost exclusively to southwest wines (there are also a couple from the Languedoc), will all available either by the glass or the bottle. We went the glass route and tried a Lapeyre Jurancon, a Montravel and a white Irouleguy, followed by a really good Cahors, Domaine du Cros Marcillac Vieilles Vignes and a red Irouleguy. With dessert we had a Banyuls, a sweet Jurancon and a pretty Muscat (from Clos du Gravillas). We also tried Dirk and Dorli's new Austrian red wine. More on this later. It's fantastic.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

The internet arvchive wayback machine is a fun place to waste some online time: here's wineanorak from when it was pretty new, some six years ago!

The design has been tweaked a bit since those early days, but is still recognizable. In terms of content, traffic and impact, the site has come a long, long way.


Monday, May 08, 2006

Something for all you technical heads. It's a powerpoint slide that Aussie wine scientist Richard Gibson sent me today (his website is http://www.scorpex.net/). This is the current hot topic of debate in the closures world. I've added below Richard's notes which explain this slide.

ēToo little oxygen ingress into the package creates a risk of the formation of reductive characters in susceptible wines
ēToo much oxygen ingress into the package will cause oxidation
ēThe optimum oxygen ingress rate for packaged wine is not yet known
ēThe optimum ingress rate may vary from wine to wine

Sunday, May 07, 2006

I'm stiff today. From cricket. Now most of you probably think that cricket is a soft sport played by old blokes with bellies, and with all the standing around in the field or sitting down waiting to bat, requires negligible physical activity. You're wrong. At least, my body says you are wrong, because it aches.

On Friday I played the annual early season fixture for the Wine Trade XI against the Gents of Essex at Coggeshall. It's a game I've been involved with for a few years now, and the trip up to Coggeshall has become a mini-tradition. The routine is that invariably we field first, get hit around a bit, and then have a nice long lunch (the match fee is two bottles of decent wine). Afterwards, we get hit around a bit more, and then they declare, leaving us about three hours (with tea, this works out at about 50 overs) to try to overhaul their total. We never do, but some years we survive for the draw. The standard of cricket is pretty good, especially considering that at age 38, I'm one of the youngest players in our side. I bowled two spells, totalling seven overs, and almost got three wickets (my figures 7-0-42-0). My second spell, after a pint of cold lager and three modest glasses of a spicy, fruity southern Italian red, was much the better.

Of course, it's not the game itself that matters as much as the process of actually hanging out with a nice bunch of guys, outdoors, on a pleasant early summer's day, and generally distancing onself from the clutter of modern living for several hours. I wish I could do it more often. Pictured are both teams plus umpires and scorer. I'm far left.

Saturday, May 06, 2006

There's a lot to be said for typicity: wines that taste of where they come from. Sometimes we want the best wines, but other times we just want something honest, reliable and with the flavours you'd expect of that type of wine. I was pleasantly surprised by a Tesco Premier Cru Chablis 2001 the other night: it's not a grand wine, made by a co-op, but it tastes like a good Chablis with a bit of evolution. It's minerally, quite full flavoured with just a hint of hay. Nicely balanced. And then last night another co-op wine, a supermarket Chateauneuf du Pape from 2004. It was a bit dull initially, but after a while began to show lovely peppery, slightly sweet Grenache character. It wasn't very concentrated or terribly flashy, but was an honest competent wine. I enjoyed it.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Iíve just finished writing my chapter for a forthcoming book on wine and philosophy, edited by Dr Barry Smith of Birkbeck College, University of London. Some of it is fresh; some is reworked from earlier pieces on the theme. Iíd like to quote from a paragraph that Iíve included which I wrote some time ago:

ďI think that we already have enough evidence here to warrant a paradigm shift with regard to rating wines. What critics are scoring is not some intrinsic property of the liquid in the bottle, but a perceptual representation that is to some degree specific to them.

Does this mean that we canít have a shared experience when we taste the same wine? While itís helpful to acknowledge the individual nature of these representations, we also need to bear in mind that one of the remarkable properties of the human mind is its ability to exploit shared space, thanks to language and the development of writing and other recording technologies.

The laptop I am writing this article on is effectively acting as an extension of my brain. It gives me the ability to take my thoughts, in word form, and then develop them over an extended period of time. Most importantly, I can then share these thoughts with others, and in turn access extensions of their mental landscape in a similar fashion.

With wine tasting, our sharing of experience through a common culture of wine enables a degree of calibration of perceptual representations to occur. In particular, we develop a language for sensory terms Ė a way to encode and share our representations. The language we use for describing wine is intrinsic to not only sharing those ideas, but also to forming them in the first place.

By possessing an extended vocabulary for taste, smell and flavour sensations, we are able to approach wine tasting in a structured fashion, and in a way that generates a detailed verbal description of the wine being analysed. It follows that the nature of this vocabulary will shape the description of the experience, and even the experience itself.Ē

Iíll let you know when the book is out (it will be a while, I reckon). It should be a good read.

I didn't drink any wine last night. It happens, occasionally. Nor the night before.

Don't worry, I'm not about to go on the wagon or sign up to a temperance movement. Nor does this temporary abstinence reflect a growing concern over my average consumption levels. I'm comfortable with those, even though I do drink a fair bit. It's just because I was doing other stuff.

I notice that when I don't drink, I sleep differently. It takes me longer to drift off to sleep. I dream much more. And I wake up thirsty (rather counterintuitively). Just thought I'd share that.

Must point you to an excellent blog post on information overload, which I was alerted to by my friend Richard. Definitely worth a read. Hits the spot.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Beer. Isn't it fantastic? Not quite as good as wine, but it is a fine drink. My assignment this evening was to procure and then taste some interesting beers, with a view to establishing a final list of five to make my Sunday Express column, to coincide with the recipes for world cup snacks. Why the hurry? Well, in the newspaper world everyone is in a hurry, and one thing editors like to do is change their minds at short notice, and cause even more hurrying. It's their right: they are the boss. They get to call the shots and that's fine by me, as long as I'm not sacked (as well as lots of hurrying, there's lots of sacking in the newspaper world).

My favourite beers are usually cask conditioned ales, and you can only get these in pubs, unless you are very thirsty, in which case it would be theoretically possible to have one's own cask at home. For most of us, though, beer at home means the sort that comes in bottles.

Some of my favourites from tonight's sampling:

Innis & Gunn Oak Aged Beer (Sainsbury, Waitrose)
Fantastic. After spending 30 days in oak and a further 47 in a 'marrying tun', this is mellow, toasty, sweetly fruited and rich, with some vanilla fudge notes. 6.6% alc.

Duvel, Belgium (Tesco, Oddbins)
This is a bottle conditioned, top-fermented golden ale, and it rocks. Savoury and rich; almost wine like. Yeasty tang on the finish and thick mouthfeel. Some lemony freshness. 8.2% alc.

Hoegaarden Grand Cru, Belgium (Sainsbury)
Complex nose of sweet spices, yeast and lemon. Rich yet fresh in the mouth, with a nice tangy edge to a sweet, fruity, yeasty core. 8.5% alc.

Schofferhofer Hefeweizen Premium Weissbier, Germany (Oddbins)
This is perfumed, sweet and fruity. It smells fantastic. The palate is fresh and not too heavy with a zippy, spicy, yeasty finish. Refreshing lemony notes. 5% alc.

Rebellion Red (Tesco)
A red brown colour, this has lovely rich, fruity aromas of strawberries and raspberries. It shows lovely balance on the palate with a fresh edge to the sweet fruity flavours. 4.5%

Monday, May 01, 2006

I often drink wines together in pairs. It's a good learning experience. Last night I tried two rather contrasting wines, one from Bordeaux and one from Portugal's Alentejo.

Haut-Medoc de Giscours 2002 (Waitrose) is a digestible Claret in a classic style. There's a subtle plummy bitterness to the black fruits, with a minerally earthy aspect that's quite nice. There was a bit of greenness, too, but in a good way: this is the sort of greenness that I predict will mellow and integrate well with age. Indeed, this is a wine with a nice future ahead of it: the concentration of flavour is such that this will probably age gracefully. A traditional sort of wine, in a good way.

Esporao's Touriga Nacional 2001 is a different beast. Again, there's a lot of wine here, but the feel is a little forced. A concentrated effort, but with the taste of added acid, added tannin and added American oak. I'm not sure that tannin and acid were added, but they could have been. It's a big, Aussie-style wine with lots of impact, but it's not my favourite style. I admire the weight of flavour, but this bottle isn't one I'm drawn back to.