jamie goode's wine blog: June 2006

Friday, June 30, 2006

This made me grin:
"Gary Rhodes' city-based restaurant, Rhodes Twenty Four, is set to be the first UK restaurant to introduce 'breathable' wine glasses and we'd like you to join us for a sneak preview. Located in Tower42 and launched in 2003, Rhodes Twenty Four leads the way in promoting the best of British cuisine; the UK launch of the breathable glasses is another fresh taste for the London dining scene. Created by Eisch, Germany, breathable glass allows the wine to - you've guessed it - breath. Increasing the oxygen releases the bouquet and full flavours of the wine within a few minutes - no need to let it stand for 2 hours after decanting. Come and join us at Rhodes Twenty Fourfor an exclusive tasting session with master sommelier Yves Desmaris."

The power of suggestion is strong: I'd love to do a blind, triangular taste test of these breathable glasses. I suspect the session with Yves will not be blind, and that many journalists will really see a difference.

Thursday, June 29, 2006

I know Stormhoek are getting lots of coverage here, and I apologize for this over-exposure. Anyway, they are putting out some interesting stuff at the moment. The latest is their guide to wine blogging, which is available as a pdf file. Worth a read.

Gregor Christie of ProCork was in town, so I managed to squeeze in a quick beer with him before last night's wine dinner. We talked closures, and more specifically about mercaptans in wine. Gregor is collecting pairs of wines sealed with screwcaps and natural cork to send off to ETS to analyse sulfides. This should show whether 'reduction' in wine sealed with tin-lined screwcaps is a real-world problem or not.

While we are on the subject of closures, two recent surveys have looked at the attitude of winemakers and trade figures to closures. I don't know whether the results are particularly important - the impression I give is that they are polling semi-ignorance in many cases. Frankly, when I speak to winemakers, I'm often amazed at how few questions they ask people trying to sell them closures.

Skalli and Rein global wine closure survey

Wine business monthly closure survey

Yesterday evening was fun. Long-time wine chum Nick Alabaster got together a group of wine nuts for a dinner at Canteen, a new-ish restaurant in Spitafields. The dinner was convened under the auspices of a celebration of the fact that my book Wine Science won an award, but it was actually a good chance to drink some fine wine in very good company. More on the wines later, but for now I thought I'd post some photos. Canteen is a brilliant restaurant - the combination of the food (modern British, high quality ingredients) and ambience (modern but classy and relaxing) is a winning one. It was one of the most enjoyable wine dinners I've attended.

Keith Prothero and Cassidy Dart (of Lay and Wheeler)

Neal Martin of www.wine-journal.com

Phil Wilkins and Russell Faulkner.

Not pictured: Nick Alabaster and Alex Lake (whose brother runs the restaurant).

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

A gratuitous picture of a flower snapped this lunchtime as I was testing my new camera. I've just upgraded to a digital SLR, because they are now unbeleivably cheap - in 12 months the price has halved. Shows it's not always best to be an early adopter.

How did I decide what to get? It came down to a choice between the Nikon D-50 (which gets the best reviews) and the Pentax *ist DL2, which were both about the same price. I ended up opting for the Pentax, simply because I already have a number of Pentax lenses which I can use with this camera. Quality so far has been stunning, and it's an easy camera to live with. Still like my old Pentax cameras, though, even if I won't use them again.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

After my earlier downbeat post, I didn't have to wait too long to get positive. The wine in question? Preta, the big brother of Sexy, reported on yesterday. It's an impressive high-end Alentejo wine, up there with the best - in fact, in style it reminded me a bit of Malhadinha Nova.

Preta 2004 Alentejo
A blend of 52% Touriga Nacional with 48% Cabernet Sauvignon from Bencatel and Fronteira, in the northern Alentejo. Crop thinning, hand picking and lots of selection. Spontaneous indigenous fermentation followed by post-ferment maceration of over 20 days. Aged in new French (85%) and Portuguese (15%) barrels for 12 months. 6000 bottles produced; Portuguese retail is 23 Euros. This wine has a fantastic, perfumed nose of sweet, ripe, pure raspeberry and blackberry fruit, with the richness countered nicely by a lively, fresh spiciness. The palate is sweetly fruited, but again there's a lovely counterbalancing spiciness, and despite the richness, concentration and alcohol (14.5%) the wine stays fresh and lively in the mouth. Hiding behind all this fruit is a delicious savoury, slightly medicinal sort of complexity, which makes it taste Portuguese rather than just simply fruity and new world in style. Finishes quite tannic. A really super effort. Vey good/excellent 93/100 (I think this will be available in the UK from Thameside Wines, who have simply the best selection of Portuguese wines - it's not on their website yet, though.)

No one likes a grumbler, and I don't like to be the one bearing bad news. It's kind of negative, and negativity sticks to you like mud on your boots or cat hairs on your suit. But it's a requirement of a good wine critic to criticize on occasion, or at least to report on the odd wine that didn't hit the spot.

Today it's the turn of two South Africans. I guess my expectations were high for both, which is why I was a little disappointed. It's not that they're rubbish wines.

First, Flagstone's The Last Word 2002, a Port-style fortified red made from a range of varieties including Mourvedre and a little bit of Sousao (a Portuguese teinturier variety, with red flesh as well as skins). It's spoiled by a green streak hiding among the sweet red and black fruits. Overall, the wine just lacks impact. I bought this for £7.49 in and Oddbins sale (normally £12.99), and it's disappointing. I met Bruce Jack in December at Flagstone, and I really liked what he was up to; I suppose everyone is allowed an off-day.

Second, the Engelbrecht Els 2003 Western Cape. From winemaker Louis Strydom (who used to make the Saxenberg wines, if I recall correctly), this is a blend of 55% Cabernet Sauvignon, 21% Shiraz, 4% Merlot, 9% Petit Verdot, 2% Cabernet Franc and 9% Malbec. It's a substantial, structured and rather split-personality sort of wine. On the one hand we have very ripe dark fruits (with a bit of sweetness); on the other we have a bit of greenness, along with firm, spicy tannins. It's as if the extreme ripeness is being countered by a bit of unripeness, and the result isn't totally convincing. Great concentration, though, but I'd expect more for the £20 this wine retails for.

There you go. I'll be back with more positive news soon, I hope.

Monday, June 26, 2006

Cartoonist and blogger Hugh MacLeod has posted on what he has learned from his involvement in the wine trade (he's been working with Nick Dymoke-Marr's stormhoek brand from South Africa). Some good points here. Hugh's site, www.gapingvoid.com, is provocative - worth browsing.

Sunday, June 25, 2006

The flowers on my vines (pictured last week) are now the smallest berries. It seems the settled spell of weather we have enjoyed has come at the right time. It's been a good vintage so far: no late frosts and good weather during flowering.

Tonight's wine is Portuguese. It's a sample sent to me by viticulturalist David Booth, who works in the Alentejo. The wine is simply labelled 'sexy'. Can a wine be sexy? If you describe a wine as sexy, what do you mean byt it? I sometimes describe wines as seductive, but that's a different thing: what I mean is that the wine has obvious appeal, which I wouldn't necessarily equate with 'sexy'. Is Sexy sexy? Not in my book, but it's a delicious wine with more than a hint of seriousness.

Sexy 2004 Vinho Regional Alentejo, Portugal
From Fita Preta (www.fitapreta.com) Sweet dark fruit (blackberry and blackcurrant) on the nose, with some warm spicy overtones. The palate is smooth, rich, ripe and spicy with soft, full black fruits. It's a ripe, fairly complex wine with some of that old fashioned Alentejo character combined well with a modern, fruity style. Lovely. Very good+ 88/100 (Crop thinning; hand-picked; sponteneous ferment; 20 days post-ferment maceration; 30% aged in new French and Portuguese barrels). Portuguese retail is 7 Euros - at this price, Sexy is very good value.

Saturday, June 24, 2006

One of life's great pleasures is grazing fruit off trees or bushes. I remember in the Douro (at Quinta do Vallado) finding a cherry tree laden with an abundance of ripe cherries. I spent an idyllic 10 minutes gorging myself. They were fantastic. In our garden we have a young cherry tree but the pigeons take all the cherries before they've had a chance to ripen. But I'm currently enjoying the raspberries and strawberries which are now in season. Of course, supermarkets bring us these fruits all the year round. But while they look good, they just don't taste right. Last year I planted 30 raspberry canes, of three different varieties. They've gone a bit wild this year, taking up more room than I anticipated. But it's an immense pleasure to go out, pick some, and eat them there and then (I've just come back from a garden grazing trip, where I took this picture).

Interestingly the flavour profile changes as they ripen, from tart and bright to overly sweet and 'fatter'. It's a bit like grapes, I suppose. I prefer red wines that aren't made from grapes picked too late: I think the modern tendency is to pick very late, when the grapes are saggy and the fruit is dead, and sugar levels have risen to the degree that the resulting wine is overly alcoholic.

Friday, June 23, 2006

Here's a picture of the world's highest vineyard, which the Colome wine tasted last night comes from. I'm drinking it again tonight: if anything, it has smoothed out a bit, with lovely bright, pure elegant fruit. Claes Lofgren, who took the picture (and kindly gave me permission to reproduce it here: see www.winepictures.com for more superb wine photography) informs me that it isn't just organic, but it's actually a biodynamic vineyard. A really interesting wine.

Tonight's other wine is quite different. It's a 1994 Central Otago Pinot Noir from the property of actor Sam Neill, called Two Paddocks. This New Zealand Pinot is brilliantly balanced, with dark cherry and red berry fruit complemented by lovely fine spicy notes, a bit of tannic structure and a sappy freshness. It's not a dark or big wine, but it's an authentic Pinot with plenty of personality (£15 Haynes, Hanson & Clark). This comes recommended, as do many other Central Otago Pinots, which I find have their own personality - they're not red Burgundy, but they seem, in an ethereal sort of way, to let Pinot Noir express something of the vineyard site (or am I just stuck in some sort of terroirist rut here?).

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Here's a wine that typifies (personifies?) the modern style of 'international' red wine. It's simply called Colome, and its claim to fame is that it is made from grapes from the world's highest-altitude vineyards.

The vineyards of Bodega Colome are planted with Malbec, Cabernet Sauvignon and Tannat, and are organically farmed. They are at an altitude of 2200 to 3015 metres (this latter figure is stunning - that's around 10 000 feet, and if you've ever walked around at this altitude it's striking how short of breath you become). The winery is part of the Hess group, which has interests around the world (including Glen Carlou in South Africa).

Modern, international-styled this may be, but it's done pretty well. The result is a seductive wine that reminds me in terms of personality of Clos de Los Siete. Here's my note.

Colome 2004 Valle Calchaqui, Salta, Argentina
This is a striking, modern styled wine that's quite forward and seductive, while at the same time retaining balance. A deep colour, it has a beguiling, sweet, pure nose of blackberry jam with some fresh raspberries in the mix, accompanied by a hint of vanilla oak. The palate shows quite elegant pure fruit, sweet yet not mushy and over-ripe. There's some spicy tannin, and the only negative is the high alcohol (14.5%), which makes its presence felt. Clearly new world in style, and fruit-driven, but pretty classy in this seductive mould. Wines like this will have Chile worried, I reckon. If you are in the mood for it, this is thoroughly delicious, but traditionalists beware! Very good/excellent 91 (£12.99 Oddbins)

Interesting comparative tasting of cork-sealed and screwcapped wines fron Australia's The Age newspaper. It seems that even where the author didn't have a preference, the same wine sealed with a tin-lined screwcap is noticeably different from that sealed with a cork. And many of the screwcap-sealed bottles showed what appear to be sulfide/mercaptan problems, judging by the tasting notes. When will the Australians and New Zealanders realize that tin-lined screwcaps are not the only alternative to corks?

French wine reform is in the news today, or at least it will be. I've been asked to appear as an 'expert' on BBC News 24 and also BBC radio, but because both involve going into a studio, wiping out a good portion of the day, I can't. Not at the moment. Would have been fun, though. [Aside: I bet they either don't pay, or pay very little. And who's watching BBC news 24 in the middle of the morning?]

Chez Goode now has wireless internet broadband. Total cost: £75 for wireless router, £50 for wireless USB adapters for the two desktop computers, £11.99 a month for an 8 Gb ASDL connection with madasafish. Installation time: should have been 10 minutes, but took c. 1 hour of frustrating troubleshooting - turned out I'd copied the router key down wrong. Oops.

UPDATE: wireless broadband is fantastic, but it brings with it a need for discipline. Leaving e-mail always on is a complete waste of time because you attend to each message as it arrives, breaking your concentration. Browsing wine bulletin boards and news sites is also a huge time-drain. As an aside, the next laptop I buy will be one with a screen bright enough that I can work outdoors. I would love to go off walking for a day, sitting down to write at regular intervals, and then walking some more, attending to nature and just letting my mind run free. My current laptop is great, but in direct light, the screen isn't visible.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Interesting piece in the Guardian on the issue of sponsorship of sporting tournaments, and how this extends to controlling what fans eat, drink and wear. Of course, if sponsoring companies are going to put tens of millions into a tournament, they don't want to see competitors who don't stump up cash getting a slice of the action. Getting people to remove their trousers seems a little extreme, though.

My take is that it's an ugly reality of modern retailing. We're entering a stage where only giants can survive. Our culture is becoming increasingly sanitized and made more uniform - all cities are beginning to look the same, with the same retail chains dominating the purpose-built malls. It's big companies only, and when it comes to products such as food and drink, mainstream means grim, manufactured, sanitized, branded uniformity. Is this the future for wine?

I watched an episode of the Simpson's with the kids yesterday - the one where Homer has a crayon removed from his brain and becomes smart (sort of) for a while. He suddenly finds Springfield a hideous place to live ('what is there for a man with an IQ of 105 to do in this place?'). Eventually, he decides to have the crayon reinserted, and he's back to his old self ('Extended warranty? How can I lose?').

Being smart or having a taste for something different may be incompatible with the standardized, uniform, dull, TV-driven brand-filled lives that the marketers would like us to live. They may not yet be confiscating our wrongly branded clothing and forcing us to eat and drink their mass produced crap, but it's getting close.

Monday, June 19, 2006

Four port recommendations, all from Quinta do Noval, and prompted by the delicious 10 year old Tawny which I am sipping as I write - nicely complex, spicy and quite elegant (£12.49 at Waitrose until the end of the month, then £14.49). Port needs to be split into two quite distinct styles: Tawny (or wood Ports) and Vintage. The former are underrated. Extended ageing in cask gives rise to pale coloured, complex wines. The best are fantastic. This Noval 10 year old has lovely fudgey, woody, spicy complexity, with a bit of citrus fruit freshness to give balance. Even better is the Noval 20 year old Tawny I had a few months back, which is utterly brilliant. It's like the 10 year old, but with the expression knob turned up higher (more complex, more elegant). It's also much pricier, but if you feel you deserve an expensive treat, the upgrade is worth it (about £35 a pop).

If instead you are in the mood for vintage style Port, then Noval is also a good destination. One of my house ports is the Noval Unfiltered LBV, available from Oddbins for £11.99. The current vintage, 1999, is very good. It's a big, tannic, fairly burly wine with lots of presence and class. Delicious. If you are feeling flush, Oddbins also have the sensation 2003 Vintage Port from Noval. It's a rather painful £55, but this is one of the wines of the vintage (I gave it 96 points FWIW): drinkable young if you are up for it, but a wine that will age well, too. Fortnum and Mason have it slightly cheaper, as will a lot of independents. Port is wonderful, and we should be drinking more of it. I reckon I'll be stocking up on whatever comes from the 2004 vintage, because this has made some fantastic table wines in the Douro: if it isn't widely declared as a Port vintage, then expect there to be some great value single quinta Ports produced. But don't forget about tawny styles. Different, but equally good.

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Viticulture is a bit of a battle. I've just found out that the Douro has suffered from severe hailstorms, which can have a devastating effect. It's hard to say just how serious the damage is, but it's likely that some vineyards will have been pretty much wiped out for the 2006 vintage. I've only seen the effects of hail close up once, in Dezaley in Switzerland, where a July storm decimated the 2005 vintage in some vineyards (pictured are the vines in January, with the canes showing the after-effects).

I visited my tiny allotment vineyard on Saturday (left). It is going well at the moment. It's flowering time and we've had ideal conditions. The big worries where I am are the two mildews, downy and powdery. I sprayed with wettable sulfur for the second time this season. I'm going to need to do some weed control: it's beginning to look like a biodynamic vineyard. Looks like I may have some crop this year. I've no idea what I'll do with it. Maybe it's a chance to put some theory into practice.

Friday, June 16, 2006

Does this mean there'll be more Cristal for the rest of us? Will I be able to hold a Cristal party after all?

I took a lunchtime wander through Regent's Park. It's a beautiful day and the roses in the central section, Queen Mary's Gardens, are looking stunning at the moment. It's a walk I do at least a couple of times each week, and part of the appeal is seeing the changing seasons in the park. When you've seen the dead of winter here, the height of summer is even more rewarding.

The weather looks set to be fine for the weekend. My flowering vines should appreciate this. I may get a chance to visit the allottment tomorrow; I'll need to give my second sulfur spraying soon to ward off any mildew. It's best to get in early with sulfur: once the mildew establishes itself, you're pretty much stuffed. Been there, done that...

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Sam Harrop came round for tea last night. The objective? To discuss our new joint book venture - a very exciting project - but we drunk some wine, too.

Sam brought round a new high-end Spanish wine called Cenit. It's a 100% Tempranillo from pre-phylloxera ungrafted vines located at Zamora on the bank of the Duero. Amy Hopkinson, a New Zealander who Sam knows, is the winemaker.

Cenit Tinto 2003 Vina de la Tierra Zamora, Spain
This is an ambitious new-wave Spanish wine made from old vine Tempranillo and matured in new oak. It has a forward nose displaying lots of ripe, sweet red berry and cherry fruit with noticeable alcoholic heat. The palate is sweetly fruited with a good concentration of pure, smoothly structured red fruits and well integrated but substantial new oak. It's seductive and quite elegant in that the fruit tends more to the red end of the spectrum than the black, and in this modern, rather international style it's an impressive wine. I reckon it would be better with just a touch less alcohol and oak, though. It might develop well with a few years in bottle, but it's not a long term ager. Good to see ambitious, high quality wines like these being made from lesser-known Spanish regions, though. Available in the USA through Jorge Ordonez selections. Very good/excellent 92/100

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

A pair of attractively packaged Gruner Veltliners last night - new wines from Lenz Moser. In the orange corner we have the 'Friendly' GV, named Sophie, and in the purple, the 'Charming' GV, named Laurenz V. [Not visible are the matching-coloured screwcaps.]

The wines are pretty good. Sophie is brighter, fresher and has that distinctive white pepper character common to GV. Laurenz, from the Kamptal, is broader and richer - a bit more serious. This is also more expensive (£13 as opposed to £9). Food friendly, certainly.

It's good to see more Austrian wines on the UK market, and this quirky but tasty pair look set to do well. availability in the UK: www.bibendum-wine.co.uk

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Another press release received today telling me all about a new low-calorie cider, Gaymer's Orchard Reserve. It contained the graphic above. Looks impressive? The Orchard Reserve appears to have hardly any calories at all. It's because they have shortened the data axis, starting at 80. The old ones are the best. I replotted the graph so the data axis starts at 0: less striking, but not as likely to mislead.

Played football last night for the first time in a while. It was hot and humid. I feel great now, though.

Some facts and figures that arrived in a release from the EU press office. Thought you might be interested.

  • The UK is the biggest wine importer in the world by value.

  • Wine represented 5.4% of agricultural output in the EU in 2004

  • Land holdings: 3.2 million hectares in 2005, with more than 1.5 million holdings. This represents 2% of land farmed in the EU

  • EU wine production 2000-2005: 166-196 million hl. (vinified production + production of grape musts and juices)

  • Wine consumption in the UK is going up, at the expense of beer, and red is now more popular than white. Per capita consumption went up by 40% over the past decade.

  • However, in the EU as a whole, consumption has been going down continuously. It fell by over 10% between 1983 and 2003, though the rate is now slowing.

  • EU consumption of quality wines now almost equals that of table wine.

  • Wine imports from non-EU countries have been growing, up to almost 11.8 million hl in 2005. Exports have been increasing, but at a much slower rate than imports, reaching about 13.2 million hl in 2005.

Monday, June 12, 2006

It's another scorcher today. For the benefit of those in the UK who may be overheating, I thought I'd share a wintry picture taken back in January during a helicopter fly-over of some leading Swiss vineyards. Apparently, cinemas report that when they show wintry films, they find the air conditioning needs to be turned down, but when they show films based in hot locations, it needs to be turned up - the implication being that the cold and warm images make people judge ambient temperatures differently. Let's hope this picture cools you down a bit, then.

Sunday, June 11, 2006

I’ve realized why it is that we Brits love to talk about the weather. It’s because when we have a weekend like the one we’ve just had here in London, it’s hard not to have a good time. Temperatures have been tipping 30 degrees (about 80 in the old currency, Fahrenheit), but more than the heat, we’ve enjoyed lovely sunshine, and the vivid technicolour that this bright, focused light brings.

So on Saturday morning I take one of my sons to cricket, the other to football training in Twickenham. I hang around with some of the other parents, watching, and then sneak off to check on the grapevines (on the allotment). The last week of warm weather has come just in time: the vines have really begun growing vigorously (although not too vigorously), and if things stay settled through the next week, flowering should take place in ideal conditions. Pictured is a latent flower cluster on one of the young Pinot Noir vines.

Then it was time for a barbie back home (remarkably, the first of the year – which shows how appalling the weather has been until now…), and the footie. The big match. England’s first world cup game. A big let down. I can’t remember seeing a game with so few clear-cut chances in several years.

Saturday night we were out at some good friends for another barbie (very nice Ch des Sours Rose from Majestic worked very well), and today we’ve been at Legoland with the kids. As I write, I’m sitting outside on a balmy late evening, sipping a burly, rather oaky but otherwise very pleasant New Zealand red, and a decent Chablis (notes below). It’s fantastic having evenings where it’s warm enough to sit out until dusk. They’re a gift and we shouldn’t waste them.

Blason de Bourgogne Chablis 2005 Burgundy
Quite fresh and aromatic on the nose with a minerally, almost salty tang to the apple and lemon fruit. Typicity here. The palate is savoury and quite broad with good acidity and a perky lemon and grapefruit freshness. There’s a delicious zippiness here that makes this a perfect seafood wine. Really good balance of concentration and freshness. Very good+ 89/100 (£8.99 Somerfield)

Peacock Ridge Reserve Merlot 2002 Waiheke Island, New Zealand
Dark coloured. Ripe sweet blackcurrant fruit dominates with a nice, spicy, tarry, subtly gravelly character. Good concentration here and a smooth yet firm structure, coming in part from the noticeable (but reasonably integrated) oak. A good wine: rich, in a new world style, but still showing some sort of balance. Very good/excellent 90/100 (Hellion Wines)

Saturday, June 10, 2006

Cheltenham is a charming town, chocked full of beautifully elegant Georgian town houses. I’d never visited before, so it was nice to spend half an hour wandering around before I reported to the Town Hall for my tasting/talk on the science of wine for the Science Festival.

The event was a sell-out, with the primary draw not being the speaker but the fact that there were six wines to drink. The wines themselves were well chosen by the local Majestic branch: a New Zealand Sauvignon, Marques de Murrieta’s Rioja Blanco, a McLaren Vale Viognier, Hochar 2001 (Musar’s second wine), Yering Station Shiraz Viognier and a Regnie (Beaujolais).

I was using a powerpoint presentation, and I started off with a brief introduction: wine science can be used to make commodity wines more cheaply and consistently, or it can be used to understand what makes fine wines interesting, with a view to putting this information to use to help winegrowers produce more interesting wines. Then I pulled up a slide of tasters busy at work, with the heading ‘tasting break’. That this should occur so early on elicited a spontaneous burst of applause from the thirsty crowd.

This pattern was repeated. A few slides, some wine science, and then another tasting break. After getting a glass of wine down their gullets, the audience warmed up fast. There were questions; even some heckling. It was all rather good fun, and I was quickly relaxed. Before we knew it the wine was all drunk, I was on the 89th (and final) slide, and it was time to go home, or at least to the Hotel Kandinsky, where I was staying. I hope I get invited back—next time I’d like to spend a bit more time at the festival, which looks very good fun. It’s also important in that it helps counter the strong ‘antiscience’ sentiment that exists in our society.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Some more thoughts on Cretan wine. There’s something appealing about wine that is drunk close to where it is made; that doesn’t see a bottle. The process of bottling wine, with its necessary addition of sulphur dioxide, rude exposure to mechanical forces, filtering (although this isn’t necessarily always a bad thing) and oxygen exposure, plus the whole issue of the transport/supply chain and closure choice implications, can take something away from the honesty and integrity of a wine, particularly an unambitious commercial wine designed for early drinking. You probably think I’m sounding a bit like a romantic hippy here, but it’s much easier to make a natural wine if it is to be consumed soon after purchase and doesn’t have to go through a bottling and finishing stage. Of course, if you are intending to cellar wine, or drink wine thousands of miles away from where it is made, this is a different issue. I remember at Mouchão in the Alentejo, there was a hosepipe connected to a tank: this is where the locals came to collect their wine, in five litre containers. What a lovely idea.

I read a bit on holiday, although not in a focused way. Two books were consumed. The first was Paolo Coelho’s The Zahir. I came away with rather ambiguous feelings about this. He’s a tremendously successful Brazilian novelist whose books have sold in the tens of millions around the world (perhaps a bad sign). Indeed, I picked this up in Tesco (they sell all the bestselling paperbacks for £3.73, and this was the only book in the bestselling list that wasn’t either [a] chick-lit or [b] by Dan Brown) on a whim, knowing nothing about it. I sort of enjoyed it: Coehlo writes in a simple, accessible style, weaving together colourful characters with some sharp insights into the human condition and a bit of ‘spirituality’. But he is up his own a*** a bit. It’s as if he’s proposing a new religion based on his own worldview, where the ultimate goal is the realization of one’s own happiness.

I agree that we should be authentic to who we are, and that this might necessitate some journey of self discovery, or at least a smidgeon of self awareness. But where I feel Coehlo gets it badly wrong is that he assumes that any demand another may make of us is illegitimate, and that we can disregard all responsibilities we have to those in close relationship to us. In Coehlo’s world, it seems that it is our spouses, partners, children and friends are left to pick up the tab for our journey of self realization.

The second book was Irish Murdoch’s The Philosopher’s Pupil, a curious, long, rambling black comedy with a cast of diverse and universally dysfunctional characters. It’s conveys a slightly nihilistic view of human relations; no one comes out very well at all in the end. Still, the characterization, prose and somewhat bizarre story line are sufficiently gripping to keep the reader’s attention to the end.

I've been hard at work preparing my first ever powerpoint presentation! It's for a tasting and talk at the Cheltenham Science Festival tonight, on the science of wine. The event is sold out - I hope I don't disappoint the gathered crowd. Back in the days when I was a scientists presenting papers at conferences, powerpoint didn't exist: we used real 35 mm slides. And since then, when I've been hosting tastings, I've never used any visual aids. Tonight, though, I'll fire up my laptop and hit them with 40 odd slides - mostly nice pictures of vineyards and wineries - as we taste through six rather diverse wines and take a look at how science can be harnessed to help us understand what it is that makes great wines great, and then to use this information to help make more interesting wines.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

While I was away there was a really nice review of Wine Science by Richard Ehrlich in The Independent. I quote:

"Two adjectives spring to mind for describing someone who keeps a book called Wine Science on his bedside table. One is dedicated. The other is sad. While others are reading a novel or watching late-night TV, this world-class nerd is reading about brettanomyces, sulphur dioxide, and micro-oxygenation. Is it sad, or dedicated, or perhaps a little bit of both? I have an urgent need to know, because the person in question is me."

You can read the rest of the review here.

I’m back to the world of laptops, e-mail, websites, deadlines and blogs, after seven days in Crete. In a way, I’m glad to be back: I enjoy what I do. But I’m feeling refreshed and sharper after an enforced lay-off, where I’ve been doing little more than swimming, eating, drinking, reading, walking and entertaining the children (when they weren’t entertaining themselves).

Crete is a beautiful island, but like much of the Mediterranean it has been blighted by unrestricted development pandering to lowest-common-denominator package tourism. By going somewhere fairly remote (the stony beach helped deter the big tour operators from encouraging the erection of a chain of council tower block-like hotels, although in decade this place will have been built up), we had a really relaxing time. My favourite bit? Swimming and snorkelling in the wonderfully clear sea (which I'm pictured doing below, although the photo was taken by one of my kids who hasn't mastered the art of zooming in on the subject).

Cretan wine? I tried a few, but made no effort to do any vineyard visits or even a serious sampling of what was on offer. There was an honesty about the wines we tried, almost all of which never saw a bottle. They were made and drunk within the vintage, stored in a variety of different ways and sold by the carafe (in half-litre or litre quantities). The house white wine at our accommodation was served from 1.5 litre water bottles, hastily decanted into carafes. And it was fantastic (with the exception of the odd bottle that had oxidised – you should choose the lightest-coloured one). Quite low in acid, with a fat, ripe melon fruit palate and wonderful purity. Clearly made from quite ripe grapes, but still fresh and fruity, and very smooth. The house red was a bit rougher, but equally honest, with a slightly faded, light red colour and a savoury spiciness, together with some oxidative notes (I think this had been in cask) and elevated volatile acidity. A bottled red was even more flawed, with some savoury spicy brettanomyces character joining the volatile acidity, but this worked very well. I’d have rather had this pale, spicy wine than a cooked up, industrial, flaw-free red. Honestly.