jamie goode's wine blog: October 2006

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Lunching well: The Square

Just off for lunch at The Square in Mayfair. One of the benefits of being a modestly well known wine writer is that you get to eat out well at other people's expense - today it is with Miguel Torres Jr. I don't think the intention of visiting winemakers is to influence or buy journalists (I agreed to meet up before I knew where we were going); rather, it's because visiting winemakers quite like eating in nice restaurants. I've not been to The Square before - but I really enjoyed sister restaurant The Ledbury on two visits last year (courtesy of Krug and Roederer). Here's the winelist, although I suspect we'll be drinking something Spanish today.


Monday, October 30, 2006

Missing out on 61 Palmer

Went to the Circle of Wine Writers (CWW) Chateau Palmer vertical tasting today. The CWW tastings are awesomely good, but sometimes active winewriters can miss out on places to less active older members, or wine correspondents for the Nuneaton Argus (I'm hoping such a publication doesn't exist) who attend these events for pure enjoyment rather than ever hoping to actually use the information for paid writing work.

I was under time constraints. I had to leave at 4.30 pm, which was the scheduled close time. But as we laboured our way through an initial flight of Alter Ego, and a seemingly endless barrage of rather inane or dull questions from the more vocal members of the audience, I just knew the tasting would over-run. We enjoyed a flight of 2004, 2003, 2002 and 2001, and then turned to some blind pairs. 2000 and 1999; 1990 and 1989; 1983 (1982 should have gone here but was corked); 1971 and 1970. Some thrilling wines. I knew the next flight was going to be good, but I just had to leave - all those daft questions meant I'd run out of time. My worst fears were confirmed later by an email from Neal Martin, who I was sitting next to at the tasting. I'd missed the 1961, which was served along with the 1962.

That's life, I guess. I think I'm likely never to taste the 1961 Palmer. It is destiny. It was opened for a tasting that Lay & Wheeler put on for some journalists a year ago, but the sole bottle they had was corked, so I didn't taste it then, either. So I'm not thinking about what I missed, but rather the excellent wines I was privileged to taste.

More on Pavie, that controversial wine

Pavie is a wine that divides people. I've written a little about the controversial 2003 in my write up of the recent blind Bordeaux 2003 tasting. Neal Martin has also covered the issue rather better than me here and here.

Well, US wine lover Jim Dove, who kindly welcomed me into his home some years back when I was passing through St Louis, has posted a thoughtful and provocative piece on his walk through the vineyard of Pavie close to harvest time. You can read it here.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Sunday lunch with Philip Shaw

Fiona, the kids and I had Sunday lunch with Aussie winemaker Philip Shaw, at the French House restaurant in Dean Street. On the menu was the most wonderful roast beef, cooked by Philip, and accompanied by his wines.

Philip became famous initially as winemaker with Rosemount, then as chief winemaker with Southcorp between 2001 and 2003. He left the world of big companies and is now heading up new mid-sized venture Cumulus Wines, which includes some high end wines from his own vineyard (the 52 hectare Koomooloo vineyard planted in 1989) in the Orange region of New South Wales, which go under his own name. They're pretty smart wines, with a distinctive cool-climate style. The other wines in the Cumulus range also come from Orange, and specifically a 600 hectare vineyard at a lower altitude than the Philip Shaw wines (600 metres as opposed to 900 metres). Proper write up to follow.

It was good to have a chance to meet another of the leading figures in Australian winemaking. Remarkably, the kids behaved themselves well. So did Fiona. Interesting fact: Shaw was in the same class at school as another famous Aussie winemaker. Can you guess who?

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Portugal and southwest France

Two rather good white wines tonight.

Quinta de Covela Branco 2004 Minho, Portugal
A blend of white varieties including Avesso and Chardonnay, from the Douro region of Portugal, except that this bit of the Douro doesn’t have the more usual schist-based soils, but instead the granite that’s more common to northern Portugal. The soils make a difference. This unoaked white is lean, very minerally and has appley, lemony fruit. It’s tart, fresh and delicious, with a grapefruity tang and a savoury sort of character. Very classy stuff that’s also beautifully packaged. Very good+ 89/100 (UK availability Corney & Barrow)

Vitage Vielh de Lapeyre Jurançon Sec 2003 Souhwest France
From a parcel of old vines (40 years) planted with Petit Manseng, Gros Manseng and Corbu fermented and aged in 600 litre barrels. As you’d expect from a top Jurançon, this is a striking wine, with notes of herb and dried straw accompanying fresh lemon fruit and vanilla. It’s complex, savoury and long with a spicy, almost tannic finish. Delicious, thought-provoking stuff. Very good/excellent 92/100 (UK availability Les Caves de Pyrene)

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Thursday, October 26, 2006

Holidaying in Croyde

Croyde, in north Devon, is quite a groovy place. It's got a bit of a buzz about it, a nice beach, and it's where we're staying this week for a family holiday.

The place is full of surf dudes. Normally, English seaside towns are full of retired old people who live in bungalows. Here, in north Devon, it's the surf dudes. Many of them also live in bungalows. Some of them are actually older than me; Peter Pan-like, they never grow up.

We've had some fun over the last few days. We've been on the beach, fishing in rockpools, cycling the Tarka Trail (below) and drinking Tribute from the St Austell brewery (it's a fresh, slightly citrussy, hoppy bitter - nice). Fiona's sister and their family live in neighbouring Braunton, and so we've had some fun with them, and they've looked after us really well; her brother and his family have also taken a cottage in Croyde so we've seen them as well, so it's been a lovely family time. All in all, it's been a great holiday. The English coast in late October - who'd have thought it.

Only one wine to report on. Clos Triguedena 2001 Cahors is everything we come to the southwest of France for: a bloody, intense, tannic, slightly earthy wine with lots of presence and personality. Not perfect, by any means, but its imperfections are part of its charm. Round off its edges and you've lost the soul of this wine (another from Les Caves de Pyrene).

Friday, October 20, 2006

My China trip is over. I'm currently logging in from Singapore airport, possibly the nicest in the world. I spend a lot of time here!

I've left China without feeling that I really got to scratch below the surface of this complex and fascinating society.

I'm off to Devon for a week with the family on my return to the UK this afternoon, which I'm looking forward too. The wine was packed in advance, because we're going straight from the airport. I'm looking forward to some nice wine, after a week without any. However, my interest in green tea has been awakened - I remember chatting to Dirk Niepoort about this a few years back: it's one of the many subjects he's an expert on. I had a really nice one with lunch yesterday.

Next update will depend on internet facilities where we are staying in north Devon.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Life without wine continues. Today I didn't even have a beer. Water was the order of the day as we visited the Great Wall of China. After three days sitting down in a conference and then getting up only to find a restaurant for another large meal, some physical exertion was welcome, but I never had any idea of how much physical exertion today would require - it's just a wall, after all. But they built it over the top of a mountain - at least the part we climbed (the correct term in this instance) - so it was really rather like mountaineering, but with big stone steps to help. The difficult thing was that the pitch of the steps varied from modest to enormous, so you had to keep your wits about you. After 3 or 4 short breaks, we reached the top. It was very beautiful. You don't get to visit the Great Wall of China all that often, so it was rather special. And sweaty, hence the need for water.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Had an interesting meal at a traditional Chinese restaurant last night. It was a beautiful setting with lantern-lit gardens. Very atmospheric. All the meals we have had so far have involved sitting round a circular table, in the middle of which is a large circular spinning glass plate (of the sort that used to be known in the UK as a ‘lazy Susan’). Initially four or five dishes are placed on this. You take a bit with your chopsticks, and then turn the plate to access the next dish. More dishes arrive in waves, until perhaps there are 20 or so on the table at one time. This succession slows, and when some fish, then rice arrives, you know you’ve almost reached the end, which is usually a plate of mixed fruit (melons, grapes, dates) plus some semi-sweet cakes. The only drawback to this sort of system is that it’s hard to know how much you’ve eaten.

On the way to the restaurant there was a bit of soap opera. The roads are pretty crazy here – everyone seems to change lane all the time, just in order to get the most minute competitive advantage. Add into the mix lots of bicycles with largely fearless, opportunistic riders, and the road resembles some tightly choreographed dance of vehicles and cycles constantly weaving in and out. In the midst of this dance another bus drive clipped our bus (very faintly). As soon as the traffic stopped in the rush hour melee, our driver leapt out, ran through the traffic 50 yards or so to the offending bus driver and hauled him out to show him the damage he’d done. The two stood there arguing for some minutes, blocking two lanes of the three-lane highway. In the end they came to a settlement (100 Yuan, paid in cash - about £8), and we were underway again.

Tonight we walked to a restaurant, so no drama en route. It was a restaurant specializing in duck, and as well as wonderful Peking duck (the highlight is the fat and skin), we had all manner of duck parts, including hearts, intestines and feet (these are all pictured above - the hearts are to the left of the arm, the intestine to their left again, with the feet in front). It was a lovely meal. Tomorrow time for some more sightseeing in the afternoon: we hit the great wall.

Monday, October 16, 2006

A window of opportunity for tourism this morning led us to the Forbidden City (now known as the The Palace Museum). It is spectacular, and the scale of the complex is staggering - it's a kilometre long and almost as wide. Because of this, pictures don't really do it justice. Although the cab journey was in rain, by the time we'd arrived it had cleared. But here, it seems a clear sky doesn't result in a sunny day. There was a smoggy haze filtering out the sunlight.

This afternoon I had to go shopping for some smart trousers, which I'd left behind. This is what happens when you do all your packing in 12 minutes on the morning of your flight. While Beijing is much more affluent and westernised than you'd imagine, I was surprised by just how expensive the shopping malls were. London prices. They are also very much more brand dominated. Clearly, there must be some well off people in Beijing. Taxis, however, are cheap, which is handy, because there's simply no other way of getting around for people like me - walking isn't an option; nor is public transport.

Tried some wine at a reception this evening. Great Wall Cabernet Sauvignon isn't very nice - a bit oxidized and it seems to have a faint whiff of taint. The white was made in an oxidised style and was a bit nasty. There was also a sparkling wine which a colleague tried. She had quite enjoyed it - but she mistakenly thought she'd been drinking cider.

Any comment needed?

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Just a quick post from the road. Finally arrived in Beijing about an hour ago - pretty painless so far - a very big, modern looking city. I'm staying on the outskirts of the centre and so far haven't done any exploring. Should be an interesting visit. The flight was a long but comfortable one with Singapore, spoiled only a little by having an aggressive recliner in front of me on the first leg. He was one of those who reclined his seat full back at the first opportunity, just a lunch was about to be served. He then refused point blank to put it up just a little for the meal service when I gently asked him, but I think he was shamed into making this small concession on the second time of asking. Watched six films in all and still managed to sleep a bit during the 18 hours we were airborne. Just about to shower and then head off in search of some food. Oh, yes, wine. We had some on the plane. It was French, red and drinkable.

Friday, October 13, 2006

I'm off to China first thing in the morning. Beijing is the destination. These days internet connections are pretty good wherever you go, so I should be able to keep you posted. I find that trips can act as punctuation marks or paragraph breaks in the midst of an activity-full life, and as such they are jolly useful. A change of scenery gives you a chance to catch your breath; to regain your perspective - and return refreshed with lots of new ideas. Flying with Singapore - usually a positive experience. I haven't been to China before so I'm looking forward to learning lots.

Busy day. Lunch at Bentley’s (Swallow Street, near Piccadilly Circus) with Wayne Gabb (pictured), the man behind new South African producer Lomond. Wayne is an interesting person: he turned to wine after many years experience growing apples in Elgin. Lomond is based at Cape Agulhas, the southernmost point of Africa, where the Atlantic and Indian oceans meet. It’s a cool climate wine growing region by South African standards, with maritime breezes allied to complex soil types.

The wines really impressed: two single vineyard Sauvignons of great poise; a nice Merlot with no greenness and a bit of spiciness to the fruit; and a wonderful Syrah showing soft, smooth structure and fresh, sweet fruit. These wines will be priced very competitively, with the reds at £7.99–£8.99 and the single vineyard Sauvignons at £11.99. Wayne also runs a company selling a variety of organic pest management solutions, plus nutrients that also act by protecting the vine against disease (he calls them dual purpose nutrients). More on this later.

The food at Bentley’s (a seafood specialist) was very impressive, if a little on the pricey side (starters were £8–15, mains £20+ and desserts were £7.50). It was nice to spend some time with Joe Fattorini (Glasgow Herald) who was the other journo present, who is a lively, entertaining character.

Unfortunately, lunch took a little longer than planned, so I missed the Berry Bros press tasting, which finished at 3 pm, but there was time to catch Waitrose’s (UK supermarket) press tasting. Joe came too. There was a merry crowd present in the red wine room – I tasted with Tim Atkin, Steven Spurrier and Oz Clarke. There was a lot of banter. We discussed brett a good deal, and thought about the idea of putting a brett tasting on for the Circle of Wine Writers. The banter quietened down when Jane MacQuitty entered, which meant that we could all hear the rather odd slurping sound she emits as she tastes. I ran out of time and didn’t get round to the whites and the fizz/fortifieds.

Waitrose’s range is brilliant. As well as the more affordable fare that makes up the bulk of my recommendations for the Sunday Express, there were some swanky wines on tasting. Nice to get to try two of the leading 2003 Bordeaux, which are nice wines, but not perhaps as good as you’d expect, although they will no doubt develop. But for drinking tonight I’d prefer Graillots 2004 Crozes, which is just beautiful now.

Château Cos d’Estournel 2003 Saint-Estèphe, Bordeaux
Rated as one of the wines of the vintage at the en primeur tasting. Sweet, complex nose with some tarry minerality. The palate is open with complex, spicy fruit and some firm grippy tannins. Great concentration and some tannic bite on the finish. Very good/excellent 93/100 (£115)

Château Mouton Rothschild 2003 1er Cru Classé Pauillac, Bordeaux, France
Sweet, open nose is quite soft and spicy. Oaky and rich, this has a spicy, tarry character and good concentration. A big, rich wine that tastes a little bit like a new wave Rioja. I wonder how this will turn out? Very good/excellent 92/100 (£180)

Alain Graillot Crozes-Hermitage 2004 Northern Rhône, France
Lovely perfumed nose that’s just so typical of young Northern Rhône reds. It’s meaty and olivey with lots of bright tangy raspberry fruit. Juicy, tangy, tannic palate with fresh bright fruit and a slightly funky meatiness completes a very satisfying wine. Very good/excellent 93/100 (£13.99)

He has the zeal of an evangelist. He's travelling the world in search of converts. His passion knows few bounds. It's Tyson Stelzer - he's not after your soul, but instead earnestly desires to convert you to the object of his zeal - the screwcap. The message has now reached South Africa, and a pdf file of his presentation at a screwcap rally is here. I quote:

I put this challenge to you: I would like to see every bottle of 2008 South African Chenin Blanc screw-capped. Every bottle. Young, fresh styles, oaked styles and sweet styles. Domestic markets, export markets – every export market, every bottle. Every single bottle of 2008 South African Chenin Blanc. Australia did it with Riesling in 2000, Marlborough did it with Sauvignon Blanc in 2001. Now it’s South Africa’s turn to take the baton. Treat this as a challenge for getting every producer on side. Every producer. And then springboard off it to tackle your top reds in 2009.

It is not reported whether the winemakers came forwards weeping to pledge their wines to screwcap, or sat there wondering, 'who is this patronising w****r?' Personally, I think Tyson has left the path of reason a little by aligning himself with a single alternative closure type, when several alternatives to natural cork are now on the market, many of which don't present the extreme technical challenges that working with a very low oxygen transmission closure such as a tin-lined screwcap does.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Wine-bibbing Labour MP Sion Simon, who I've drunk wine with on several occasions (including a memorable bottle of 88 Chave Hermitage, shared with Decanter editor Amy Wislocki and MPs Tom Watson and Bob Marshall Andrews) is in the news for his David Cameron send-up.

We've had some struggles in our family, so it was especially nice to enjoy a wonderful family night. Fiona had the inspired idea of cooking along with Jamie Oliver's live webcast for Home Cooking Day. If you'd met our 9 and 10 year old boys, you'd imagine that trying to get them to stay up later than normal to do some cooking would be an utterly barmy idea - but it worked. In fact, it was one of the best family evenings we've had.

However, it was almost disastrous: the live webcast was supposed to start at 7 pm. We had the ingredients ready, the work space cleared, utensils to hand, and the kids under control (you have no idea how difficult this invariably is). But 7 pm came and went - still no webcast. 7.10 - nothing. 7.15 - zilch. Disaster loomed. But then it started, and we were OK.

Here's what Fiona has to say:

Jamie Oliver, man, are you trying to make or break my family? Having two children with ADD (attention deficit disorder) caused a slightly difficult start when the live feed came in 10 minutes late. But mum remained cool with the help of a few glasses of Wither Hills Sauvignon Blanc. Once live, the children were gripped, as were we. Hilarious fun flying around the kitchen trying to find the right things (this is where the Wither Hills didn’t help), especially as (those who are yet to try this be warned) we hadn’t weighed out the ingredients in advance. The children thought the food was fab because they had created it. In summary, cooking together with a live webcast was like a team-building exercise for the family. Well done Jamie O – in addition to trying to improve the diets of the nation’s children, you are also doing some family therapy. I was so inspired I have intruded on your blog – I won’t do this too often. So next Thursday, 7pm, worldwide (would be a very early breakfast in Australia), do it. And enjoy.

She omitted to mention that one of our cats stole the proscuitto ham off the salad plates while we weren't looking, and the other cat nicked some tuna from the pasta. But that's family life for you. It's now 10 pm, and younger son is still awake, so maybe we won't repeat this excersize every week!

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

You're all probably a bit bored with my Chardonnay coverage by now. But I'll stick with it. Two more data points, and these are big, big wines. Chardonnay at the extreme; one from South Africa, one from Chile - but these are not wines without appeal if you are in the mood.

Boschendal Chardonnay 2005 Western Cape, South Africa
A powerful, ripe expression of Chardonnay with lots of sweet melony, figgy fuit and a hint of vanilla and toast. Well judged oak and a bit of alcoholic heat (14.5%) help create a ripe wine that retains a sense of balance - just. Great value for money, though. Very good+ 88/100 (£6.99 Waitrose, on offer at £5.69)

Carmen Winemaker's Reserve Chardonnay 2003 Casablanca, Chile
Almost overpowering nose of ripe tropical fruits, vanilla, toast, spice and herbs. The palate is bold, buttery, rich and thick textured with fat, spicy, melony fruit. Quite complex and bold - really intense stuff. This won't be to everyone's taste, but it's incredibly richly flavoured. Very good/excellent 90/100 (reminds me a bit of the Montes Chardonnay commented on here a few days back)

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Tonight's wine is as honest as they come (maybe I'm being a bit subjective here, equating flavours that I like and winemaking approaches I respect, with honesty), and unsurprisingly it's another Les Caves de Pyrene wine. It's also a a very good accompaniment to a Manchego cheese I'm eating tonight (which is a Spainsh sheep's milk cheese that's semi-hard with a nice creamy edge and a bit of 'tang').

Robert & Bernard Plageoles Braucol 2005 Gaillac, France
Fresh, bright, supple and a little sappy, with bright red fruits and a tantalizing minerally, gravelly twist that confers a rather savoury character. It's fresh but reasonably fruity, with a nice balance to it. I guess you could call this a little rustic, but not in a negative sense. It's very, very easy to drink. Very good+ 88/100 (but it seems kind of absurd to add a score to this sort of wine - it's a cultural thing)

Lunch with Lenz today. Lenz Moser is a name you'll probably be familiar with: his grandfather established a very successful winery under the name, which got into financial difficulties in the mid 1980s and was sold. Lenz (the fifth) ran this company for a while, and then became manager of European operations for the Mondavis. He left this job when he got wind of takeover talk, and decided to set out on his own a couple of years back. His new focus is purely on Gruner Veltliner, of which he makes a range of three.

If Lenz can't be a successful wine producer, with his knowledge of both winemaking and the modern marketplace, then I don't think anyone can. The wines are impeccably packaged and very well made. They have slightly different personalities, and are subtly targeted to female consumers because women actually purchase something like 70% of all wine.

Friendly Sophie is rounded, accessible, generous and quite fruity, but transparent and fresh at the same time. Charming Laurenz is a bit more serious, with a bit of minerality and pepper spice, and good acidity. Singing Sophie is somewhere in between - a fresher, more zingy version of the Friendly Sophie, but still with a nice fatness to it.

Three very food-compatible wines which went with the Japanese-inspired fare at Cocoon on Regent Street (a stylish pad indeed).

For those interested, Sophie is Lenz' daughter, who was 11 when he conceived the project (they had a walk interrupted by a thunderstorm, during which they decided they'd like to make wine together - Sophie reckoned she'd like to take over the family business when she was 25 - now she's 16).


Saturday, October 07, 2006

I'm enjoying a wine revival at the moment. In any job - even writing about wine - it's possible to become a little jaded, or get in a sort of rut, where disillusionment overcomes hope and passion. It's a pitfall. A trap. But a recent run of authentic, honest, diverse and even thrilling wines have reignited my fire, baby, and reminded me why I thought this rather bizarre practice of writing about a liquid made sense.

Tonight I'm enjoying another wine that would never 'garner' a 95 point rating, but which satisfies on many levels. It's from a young domaine that began as recently as 2001 in up-coming celebrity wine village Calce (home of Gauby et al) in the Roussillon. Domaine Olivier Pithon covers 21 hectares of schistous soils, with some old vines and some newer. It is run on a mixture of biodynamic and organic regimes, and the wine I am trying tonight is 'La Coulee'.

Domaine Olivier Pithon La Coulee 2005 Cotes du Roussillon, France
A blend of Grenache, Carignan and Syrah from younger vines, given a moderate extraction and brought up in cement tanks. Very bright red/purple colour. Smoky, minerally, savoury, slightly roasted nose. Palate is savoury and dark with grippy tannins and a delicious minerality behind the vivid fruit. Good acidity and a long finish. This is a very appealing, honest wine that hasn't been tarted around with, but just shows youthful, slightly aggressive fruit and tannin. Highly food compatible. Very good/excellent 90/100 (c. £10 from Les Caves de Pyrene and www.hgwines.co.uk)

Just back from a lovely family day out. A sunny October Saturday began with a walk at Box Hill in Surrey, followed by a pub lunch in Chilworth and a walk along the river Wey. Miraculously the kids enjoyed it too, and so everyone was happy.

Another couple of data points added to my Chardonnay trail last night. I quite like comparing extremes, so I matched Chilean heavyweight Montes Alpha with a fresh, rather frail-looking Chablis.

Montes Alpha Chardonnay 2004 Casablanca Valley, Chile
Powerful, almost pungent nose of rich, herbal, figgy, slightly cabbgey fruit. The palate is quite thick and concentrated with a poweful herbal tang to the fruit that reminds me a bit of papaya. It's all about the fruit here, with oak relegated to a bit part. There's some pear skin character, too. Striking stuff, and great if you are in the mood for it. Very good+ 89/100 (£9.99 Majestic, Morrisons)

Simmonet Febvre Chablis 2005 Burgundy, France
Quite a rich, ull flavoured Chablis with lots of fresh, savoury, minerally fruit and good acidity. There's a bit of phenolic character, too, but all in all this is good solid full flavoured Chablis with some typicity. Very good+ 88/100

Friday, October 06, 2006

So, is cheese and wine matching dead, as a recent paper research paper by Berenice Madrigal-Galan and Hildegarde Heymann of UC Davis suggested? [Aside: this wasn't the conclusion of the paper, but it was the theme picked up on by the extensive news coverage this article received, e.g. here.]

Last night I was delighted to be invited to a special wine and cheese pairing, held by chef and food writer Francis Percival and his partner Bronwen Bromberger of Neal's Yard Dairy. Francis and Bronwen wanted to investigate wine and cheese pairing in a semi-scientific way, and invited four tasters to participate - two with expertise in wine, and two in cheese.

The cheese dudes were Randolph Hodgson (who as the driving force behing Neal's Yard has almost single-handedly has been responsible for the revival of great British cheese) and affineur Bill Ogelthorpe. Wine was covered by the legendary Jancis Robinson and myself. I felt like a non-league footballer who'd just been asked to play in a midfield consisting of Zidane, Gerrard and Ronaldinho.

With a range of wines (doctored and undoctored), plus some very special cheeses (a few of which were doctored also) we had a very interesting time. I also learned a great deal about cheese. I'll write up the findings in full on the main site. In brief, cheese and wine can work well, but the traditional wisdom on ideal matches doesn't necessarily stand up to scrutiny.
(Pictured: Bronwen standing, Randolph at the head of the table, Bill looking away, Jancis nearest).

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Forty years ago (next week) Christie's held their first wine auction. To celebrate this anniversary, they held a lunch today at their King Street HQ, hosted by current department head David Elswood and attended by the legendary Michael Broadbent, who joined Christie's in July 1966 and was in charge of the first auction.

I had a nice chat with Michael - among other things we discussed the appalling thread that a post I made on the eBob board kicked off, when I quoted some of his remarks at a dinner (which I probably shouldn't have). The rudeness of some of the participants still grates with him.

Michael recalled how the first 10 lots he sold as an auctioneer were to a lunatic. It was a series of spirit and liqueur miniatures. 'To my amazement the chap bought all 10 lots', he recalls. 'I was so releived.' However, two weeks later someone wrote on behalf of their friend, the bidder from this auction, claiming that he thought they were picture miniatures. 'He asked me, "could I let them off?"' Broadbent adds, 'If I'd known that the first person I sold to was batty, I'd have lost my nerve.'

During lunch it was nice to catch up with Linden Wilkie, Andrew Jefford, Stephen Brook and Jim Budd among others. In the picture are Bill Baker (left), Michael Broadbent is centre, chatting to David Elswood, and Oz Clarke is in conversation with Ian Harris (CEO of the WSET).

I wandered back up to Piccadilly with Andrew Jefford, where by coincidence I bumped into my wine-loving brother in law, Beavington. A nice surprise. A small world.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Winemaking is almost over. Finished pressing the remainder of my reds tonight. These last two lots were mainly Dornfelder, so they were a little riper and less tannic than the other red grape, Regent. Pictured is the gunk left after pressing - skins and seeds, with a bit of grape pulp for good measure. My white has now been racked off its lees and is now all blended together in a 5.5 gallon (about 30 litre) container, filled to the brim. It hasn't been sulfured yet. I guess I'll have to sulfur it, but I want a bit of malolactic action first. The reds absolutely have to undergo malolactic, which I'm hoping happens sooner or later because the wine will be much safer when it's in bottle. I reckon it's quite hard making wine well in small quantities of a gallon here, a couple of gallons there. It would probably be easier dealing with quantities of a barrel or more at a time.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Just had a question from 'anonymous' in a comment to an earlier post:
"How can you describe a fluid as honest and thrilling?"

I'll throw this one back at my readers. Do you think it is appropriate to describe a wine as 'honest' or 'thrilling', or both? If so, why?

Another harvest diary to report - this time from someone who worked vintage at Alain Chabanon's property Font Caude in the Languedoc (his wines are carried by Grand Cru Wines and Leon Stolarski, and I've reviewed them in the past).

Monday, October 02, 2006

Tonight's wine is one that restores my vinous soul (to use a figure of speech). It's sweet, which makes it instantly unfashionable. And it's made from Chenin Blanc, a first-rate grape but one that's largely ignored and unappreciated. But this wine, an almost perfect expression of sweet Chenin Blanc, is everything you'd want it to be: balanced, affordable, complex, honest and thrilling.

Domaine Vincent Ogereau Coteaux du Layon Saint Lambert 2004 Loire, France
There's a lovely Chenin funk on the nose of this wine: the sweet, honeyed notes combine with some straw and late-summer meadow aromas together with a bit of cheesy tang. On the palate there's delightful balance between the thick-textured sweet fruit, the tangy acidity and a the subtly savoury bite. It's quite complex and very long. I guess blue cheese would be the ideal food match, but 'm enjoying this with some cave aged Gruyere and a hunk of rather rustic bread I made last night. Very good/excellent 92/100 (Les Caves de Pyrene, trade price is £7.95 which would work out at a retail price of around £13, I'm guessing)

Think about it. Modern branded wines are the vinous equivalent of battery chickens. We shouldn't really be drinking them, as long as alternatives exist that have more integrity to them. And they still do. It's worth inconveniencing ourselves and spending a little more to find honest, authentic wines.

Wine journalism has led me to experience new modes of transport. This year I've had my first helicopter ride (in Switzerland), my first balloon ride (in Australia) and now, not quite as glamorously, I've just been invited to take my first ride on a proper motorbike (my previous powered two wheel experiences have been on a Yahama 70 cc moped). Should I accept this offer or not?

Sunday, October 01, 2006

I quite like contrasts. Two wines at either end of the red wine spectrum have been my companions over the last few nights (well, not last night - we were out at a fun 40th party where we ended up playing Back in Black loudly...well, a few of us boys did - it's not really chick music).

These two wines are as different as they could be, but I like both. I can imagine some people hating either, though, because they are quite extreme in their own ways.

D&P Bellauard Mondeuse 2004 Vin de Savoie, France
Hmmm, yes - I like this mountain wine. It has a very bright red fruits nose with a juicy, fresh, peppery edge. The palate is fresh with high acid and light, refreshing, juicy red fruits backed up by peppery, grippy tannins. A very savoury but deliciously fresh red that reminds me a bit of northern Rhone Syrah, but a bit lighter and brighter. A brilliant antidote to the 'modern' style of rather sweet, confected commercial red wine: lots of soul here. Mondeuse rocks. Very good+ 89/100 (Les Caves de Pyrene)

Old Plains Power of One Shiraz 2005 Adelaide Plains, Australia
Oooh baby. Domenic Torzi has returned to his roots to make this wine: his family were from the rather discredited region of the Adelaide Plains, although Domenic has moved to the Eden Valley in the Barossa, where he makes his impressive Frost Dodger Shiraz and Riesling. The Adelaide Plains is a much warmer region, and from isolated remaining parcels of old vines he's fashioned this enormous red. It has a very sweet, bold, almost Port-like nose with complex, intense red and black fruits. The palate is massively concentrated with smooth, sweet, dense red and black fruits coupled with a spicy complexity and what almost seems like a salty edge (I think this is a combination of the alcohol and intense, pure fruit). There are some tannins here, but they are quite silky. This wine is not for the shy, but if you are in the mood for a bit of a blast, this is a lush intense mouthful that's great fun. It might also develop nicely. Sealed with a tin-lined screwcap: on opening it seems a bit disjointed with brassy, jammy fruit and oak not meshing terribly well. However, a couple of hours later it's settled down and is showing well. I'm not sure these screwcaps are the best closure for big reds like this. Very good/excellent 93/100 (Aus$30, which I think is very good value) See more at www.oldplains.com