jamie goode's wine blog: November 2006

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Wine on the telly: Oz and James part 2

Just half an hour of Oz and James tonight, and it worked better. The theme tonight was wine and food matching, which is a difficult topic because it reduces most wine commentators to either dogmatism or nonsense. The truth is, most wine and food combinations work sort of OK - while there are a few clashes, and a few real synergies, a lot of the time you should drink what you feel like with your food. After all, how often do you put wine and food in your mouth at the same time? I exaggerate: wine and food matching is quite interesting, it's just that so many people take it too seriously and end up looking silly. All IMHO.

The programme began with oysters, which are raised to a certain size, cemented to ropes in threes and then left in the water for a year before harvesting. James gets frustrated with Oz who is talking oysters with one of the growers rather than eating them. 'Talk about it, talk about it', he exclaims in frustration. 'After a while you think "why actually eat it?", why not just talk about it?' James continues, 'This is a wine programme? We're not turning into foodies are we? We'll end up with out of focus shots of oysters soon!'

James gets to choose a wine to match with oysters and comes up with a beautifully phrased analogy with baroque music. Oz is stunned: 'You make some sensationally intelligent comments sometimes'. James takes a step back in shock: 'I've turned into a ponce'.

The truth is, that when James is sincere, he's great. He's clearly a well educated, thoughtful sort of chap. But on the telly, sincerity is death. Telly demands insincere celebs saying silly things. Oz has been away from telly long enough still to have some sincerity about him, and he remarks that James has 'moments of lucidity in the midst of his bombast'.

The programme falters a bit with a Generation Game moment in a Michelin 2* restaurant when James gets to make a dessert. Then it's off to Pic St Loup (a region I have great affection for) where James gets to try his hand at food matching: the dish? Fried spam and beans.

As an aside, their guide in the Languedoc was Jean-Claude Mas, who once gave me an 'arrogant frog' beret and rugby shirt, which I still have.

It's great to see wine on TV again.

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Red heart wine

Sainsbury's (UK supermarket) today issued a press release describing a new wine, 'Red Heart':

"The antioxidant content of red wine is believed to play a role in the health benefits derived from drinking in moderation. Red Heart has an antioxidant level, which is 32% higher than the average level of other leading red wines.

We benefit from many different antioxidants naturally found in our food and drink, and they play an important role in protecting our body. Antioxidants help counteract the harmful effects of free radicals. Free radicals are compounds that cause cell damage, which in the long term can damage health. Exposure to UV rays, pollution and smoking produce free radicals.

This is why moderate consumption of red wine and a healthy diet abundant in fresh fruit and vegetables can improve our health and increase longevity."

B******s! If red wine has health benefits, it is almost certainly not because of its antioxidant properties. The latest evidence suggests that dietary antioxidants don't really work. I do wish people would speak to someone knowledgable on wine and health issues before issuing this sort of disinformation.


Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Californian Pinot Noir with a Spanish twist

Played football again for the first time in a while last night, and remarkably I'm not too stiff today. And this evening, quite by chance, I met one of my PhD supervisors for the first time in more than a decade. I suppose it's Tony's fault that I even did a PhD. As a rather immature 21 year old I'd just finished my degree, got one of the five firsts that were awarded in the life sciences that year (which surprised a lot of people, including myself), and sort of fancied the idea of becoming a scientist (I was desperately ignorant of any other career options, to be honest). Tony is one of those guys who is utterly likeable and easy to hang out with, and the thought of working for him, in a department I was already familiar with, was a very appealing one. It was great to catch up with him again - and almost bizarrely, it was because he was attending a lecture on the health benefits of moderate wine consumption. I quickly reassured him that most of what he was about to hear was bollocks because of confounding (a rather brutal summary, but one with more than a grain of truth to it) and the best reason for drinking red wine is because it tastes nice and is mildly intoxicating. Meeting Tony reminded me of how much I enjoyed my time as a PhD student - it would have been fun to work as an academic.

Tonight I'm drinking Californian Pinot Noir. One of my guilty secrets is that I've quite liked many of the Californian Pinots that I've tried. I guess Pinot Noir in California, despite the Sideways effect, hasn't been touched by quite the degree of pretension and price escalation that has bedeviled Californian 'Cabs'. The wine in question is from Marimar Torres' Sonoma estate. If you are approaching Pinot Noir from a Burgundian perspective, then this is pumped up on steroids with bulging biceps and pecs that look like rather taut breasts. But what I like about it is that it is savoury and quite complex, with a similar sort of flavour profile as an extremely cool climate mountain Syrah. It has the structure to age, and isn't tarted up with sweet fruit.

Marimar Estate Dona Margarita Vineyard Pinot Noir 2004 Sonoma Coast, California
From a 12 acre organic vineyard six miles from the Pacific, with 2340 vines per acre (high density) trained low. 62% Pommard clone and 38% Dijon 115 clone. Aged in a mix of half new and half one year old French oak barrels for 11 months before being bottled unfiltered. This wine has a deep colour, with a nose of sweet dark cherry and blackberry fruit, complemented with a bit of spicy oak. It needs a bit of time to open out. The palate shows lovely savoury dark fruits with a firm spicy structure. It's fresh, purely fruited and focused with some elegance, but it is currently quite primary and tannic, with a bit of high class oak evident. There's some nice earthy complexity, together with the faintest hint of rhubarb. There's some real potential for development here: quite a serious, full-on expression of Pinot Noir, albeit at quite a high alcohol level (14.5%). I'm impressed. Very god/excellent 92/100

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Resveratrol: a wonder drug in wine

There have been a couple of recent scientific reports on resveratrol that have attracted a lot of interest. It's a phytoalexin that is found in grape skins (and thus wine). If it is fed to mice at reasonably high doses, it protects them from the negative effects of eating too much. It's quite dramatic: these mice can eat a high fat diet that would normally kill them pretty sharpish, but when they are given a stiff resveratrol chaser with their rations, they don't get fat, don't develop diabetes, and consequently don't keel over prematurely. It seems that resveratrol hits a particular metabolic switch, giving you the benefits of dieting and excercise without actually doing either.

As you can understand, this has got people pretty excited. As long as you drink a few glasses of resveratrol-rich wine, then you can carry on gorging yourself on fine French cuisine, and forget about pounding the pavements in an attempt to stem a bulging waistline and incipient type 2 diabetes. But wait a minute: the story isn't that simple.

I asked Professor Roger Corder, who has researched wine and health, for his views.
‘The resveratrol story has become a bit of a publicity stunt for those lacking knowledge in the field’, maintains Corder. ‘At a dose of 22.4 mg/kg per day (used in the recent mouse study reported in Nature) and typical resveratrol levels of 1–2 mg/litre in wine, the dose in human terms for wine would have to be around 1568 mg/day or 780–1560 litres per day’.

Also problematic is the bioavailability story. Data in humans are currently rather limited, although they are beginning to emerge. And they threaten to rain on the resveratrol parade. Professor Thomas Walle at the Medical University of South Carolina published a rather damning paper on this in 2004, in which he concluded that in humans very little dietary resveratrol gets to where it is needed in the body. ‘Based on our studies as well as those of others the bioavailability of resveratrol, that is the amount intact resveratrol reaching the blood circulation, is virtually zero in humans’, reports Walle.

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Sunday, November 26, 2006

Chardonnay trail again

Another data point for the Chardonnay trail, an unofficial series of notes on examples of this variety that have been accumulating on my blog in recent weeks.

This time it's off to Australia - the Piccadilly Valley of South Australia, to be precise. This one's from a famous vineyard, but it's a new wine. It's the first release of the Tapanappa Chardonnay (2005), which comes from Brian Croser's Tiers vineyard (pictured), which until this year was used to make Petaluma Chardonnay (and in more recent years the single-vineyard Tiers bottling). I can't think of many (if any) better Chardonnays from Australia. It's boldly flavoured but not at all fat, with a lovely minerally complexity. The oak is well integrated and there is huge potential for development. It's a wine you can drink now, but rarely for Australian Chardonnay this will likely improve over the next 5-7 years, rather than just survive, and if I had a few bottles of this I'd not be tempted to crack them too early. As an aside, the label design is lovely, and the cork is physically perfect - it's one of the best looking corks I've ever seen. 450 cases made, around £40 retail (an educated guess).

Note added later: my £40 estimate was based on the retail price of the Petaluma Tiers Vineyard Chardonnayretail is £29.95, from Noel Young Wines, Avery’s, Fine & Rare, The Secret Cellar (Tunbridge Wells), Edencroft Wines (Nantwich), Harrods

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Friday, November 24, 2006

Another Chilean Cloudy Bay

What is it about Leyda? The maritime-influenced cool-climate Chilean wine region seems to be over-delivering massively at the moment. This evening we tried the Leyda Garuma Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc 2005 Leyda Valley, Chile, which has a massive grassy presence and superb concentration. It's a very full, fresh Sauvignon of real quality. This was from Great Western Wines in the UK. Must dash to catch the Ashes highlights. England are taking a bit of a beating, but it is compelling viewing. If I had sky sports I'd be nocturnal at the moment. Good thing that I don't.

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Thursday, November 23, 2006

Oz and James and their adventure

Last night saw the return of wine to prime time national televsion, in the form of Oz and James' Big Wine Adventure. James May, of Top Gear fame, is the newbie who knows nothing about wine. Oz Clarke, a gifted taster who achieved a degree of celebrity status as wine expert on the Food and Drink Programme, has the task of convincing May that French wines are interesting. He's cast as the 'wine ponce', and James begins by predicting, 'I think Oz will turn out to be quite an annoying man'.

Oz concentrates on getting James to recognize smells he might later encounter in wines. He even gets him to sniff cow pats. James retorts by introducing a whistle which he christens 'the Ozzilator', destined to be blown whenever he deems Oz to be entering wine bore territory.

The first wine stop is Bordeaux, and Pichon-Longueville Comtesse Lalande. Here the producers decide to tackle the drink-drive issue head on: James doesn't taste the wine at all. Sensible enough, but it does make it rather hard for the poor chap to learn anything.

Then we have the embarassing scene where Oz and James share a Jacuzzi of grape juice and are later hosed down wearing nothing but some rather odd-looking posing pouches. Next stop is Pichon Baron with a rather bemused Christian Seely and his wife, who serve three wines to our hosts. Here are James' comments:

2001 Suduiraut - model aircraft dope
1989 Pichon Baron - Trebor fruit salad (an old sweet)
1988 Pichon Baron - Bonfire. Bakes Sausage. Pork fat high note. Virginian tobacco.

After a stunt where Oz drives a 2CV across a field with a basket of eggs on the passenger seat (they don't break), it's off to the Roussillon to pick grapes and try making wine. Interstingly, the featured domaine is Matassa, which is run by Tom Lubbe and Sam Harrop (who I know well).

Next stop is Provence, with Oz' brother, and then Oz and James try their hand at making their own wine from some supermarket grapes. They then present this wine blind at a market, with two other wines - one expensive and one cheap. Almost everyone prefers the expensive wine, although one nutter opts for the bizarre homebrew.

Overall, not a bad programme. It's great to see wine on TV again, and given the constraints of making a wine show for newbies, this was pretty good. The pace was about right, and both Oz and James are good on telly. My only worry is that the contrast between the two (enthusiastic wine ponce versus Victor Meldrew-like curmudgeonly cynic) will be hammed up just a little too much.

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Birthday wine

Today is my birthday. The good news: I am still in my 30s. The bad news: not for much longer. How do I feel about this? I feel the same way I would if I was due in work early, had forgotten to set the alarm, and had woken at 11 am.

What have I done with my life so far? I feel just the same as I did a decade ago, or two decades ago. But the facts speak for themselves: I was born in the season when Man City last won the 1st Division title (now the 'Premiership', of course). That's a long, long time ago.

West Wing Series 1 DVD box set
Spooks Series 4 DVD box set
Tripod for camera
Trendy shirt
Modelling clay (from one of my boys)
Butter fudge (from the other boy)
£50 amazon voucher
Three sent but have not yet arrived

Tonight we celebrated my birthday, and also the fact that eldest son's school cricket team won the Middlesex county title at Lords.

Three wines. First, some fizz. Champagne Pommery Brut Royal is rather good. It's rich, rounded and fresh, with lovely toasty vanilla flavours and bracing lemony acid (£24.99 Oddbins) - I gave it 92/100. Tappanappa Whalebone Vineyard 2004 Wrattonbully, Australia is the second release of Brian Croser's new red wine, from a vineyard he first made wine from in the 1980s. It's superbly balanced, with rich, sweet fruit nicely countered by good structure. A wine that I feel will age well, and which has a real sense of class to it. I gave it 94/100. To finish with I'm committing infanticide with Quinta do Noval's Silval Vintage 2000 Port. Concentrated, structured and stylish, I'd expect this to become aromatically much brighter over the next decade. Satisfying and bold, and worth 93/100 in my book. I apologize for all these scores, but they merely represent a shorthand way of saying how much I liked the wines.

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Wednesday, November 22, 2006

A dark Portuguese

Tonight I sip something dark, Portuguese, a bit unusual, and totally enjoyable. It's from the wild country north of the Douro, where some dude built a big house and then decided to plant a vineyard. From these vines winemaker Rui Cunha has produced a cracking wine with bags of savoury personality (see www.vallepradinhos.pt).

Valle Pradinhos Tinto 2003 Tras-os-Montes, Portugal
Beautifully packaged in a Burgundy-shaped bottle and with an elegantly simple label, this is a lovely gutsy red that reminds me of the best wines of southwest France. It has a bright, savoury spicy nose with dark fruits and a hint of tar. There's a gravelly minerality to the palate, which has tight dark fruits with a spicy kick, and plenty of tannins. The result is very refreshing, drinkable and utterly food friendly. There's even a hint of elegance here - it isn't overly rustic. I like it a lot. Very good/excellent 90/100 (use wine-searcher.com to locate stockists)

Aside: did any of you catch Oz and James' Big Wine Adventure on BBC2 tonight? Wine is back on national television. And there was a cameo role for my chum Sam Harrop MW, who came across rather well. My thoughts on this programme follow tomorrow.


Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Barossa Grenache

Grenache - the Pinot Noir of the south - is an excellent and underrated variety. Unlike Syrah, which is a big, bold, reductive variety, Grenache is a bit of a hide-in-the-background grape. It makes wines that could be dismissed, on first impressions, as inconsequential and light. But look a little deeper and you'll see that in fact these wines are multifaceted and thought provoking. They just take a bit of getting to know.

I like Barossa Grenache a good deal, with my favourites including those from Troy Kalleske, Kym Teusner and Torbreck. Tonight I'm sipping one from Yalumba, described as a bush vine Grenache from 70 year old vines. Grenache, it seems, can never be just Grenache. It has to be 'old vine' or 'bush vine', or some other such laudatory descriptor, or people will probably just ignore it. Rather than blend it with Shiraz and Mourvedre, I think there should be more straight varietal Grenaches made.

This one has lovely pure, sweet red fruits with a silky texture and some earthy, grainy tannins. It's spicy and peppery - even a bit meaty. There's a hint of cinnamon on the nose. Matured in old French oak, it doesn't have any noticeable oak influence beyond just a hint of sweet vanilla right in the background. Not a wine to have an immediate impact, but a rewarding one if you persevere.

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Back on the Chardonnay trail

It's been a while since I reported from the Chardonnay trail. Here's another one - and I was quite impressed by it. It's from Amayna in Chile's Leyda Valley, and is the sister wine of the impressive Sauvignon I reported on a few days ago. It's big and bold with masses of concentrated fruit that's at the same time fat and fresh. Unmistakably new world, but complex and elegant with it. 14.5% alcohol and 92 points (in my book). Ambitiously priced for a Chilean Chardonnay at £16.49, but probably just about worth it.

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Sunday, November 19, 2006

Chile's Cloudy Bay

Heretical thought: until the Chilean wine industry can deal with the problem of greenness in red wines, I reckon its best hope is with its whites, which I'm increasingly growing fond of. What about this for a Sauvignon Blanc?

Amayna Sauvignon Blanc 2006 Leyda Valley, Chile
A hand-picked Sauvignon from a 70 hectare vineyard in sight of the sea, vinified in a new gravity-designed winery. Two clones are used: 242, which adds structure and minerality, and Davis Clone 1 which adds fresh minerality. The wine itself has a sweet tropical fruit nose offset by limey minerality. It's very expressive and quite striking. The palate is sweetly fruited, but it has a lovely steely, mineral core. A full flavoured, intense, epressive Sauvignon with a multifaceted personality. Expensive but worth it. Very good/excellent 91/100 (£13.99 Oddbins) UK agent: Paragon Vintners

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Spent a very pleasant day visiting some friends in Sudbury yesterday. It was one of those lovely late autumn days where the sunlight seems to make every colour super-saturated, and the cold makes the air feel fresher and denser at the same time. It's a nice Suffolk market town and we took a walk on the water meadows. On the drive home I finally tried out the cruise control function on the car, which we've now had for six months. It's cool. It feels like someone else is driving.



Just got a press release from Sainsbury's which described Christopher Burr's new venture, secret sommelier, as the UK's most popular fine wine blog. This surprises me: its Alexa ranking as I write is 4,388,364 (see www.alexa.com).


Friday, November 17, 2006

Some celebration wines with Neal

Went to The Arches for Neal Martin's dinner to celebrate his elevation to superstardom. It was my first visit to this hallowed venue (see a nice article by Andrew Jefford on the Arches, and Harry Gill, its proprietor -pictured). There were eight of us, and Neal provided most of the wine, the balance of which we bought from Harry's wonderful list, with Harry joining us and contributing a couple of surprise bottles of his own. Most of these wines were tasted blind. It was great fun, but I don't feel up to submitting a full report just now - one will follow, with some pictures. Until then, a list of the wines:

Lafon Meursault Perrieres 1995
Lafon Meursault Goutte d'Or 1995
Roumier Rouchottes Chambertin 1991
Dugat-Py Charmes Chambertin 2001
Le Pin 1988
Lafite 1976
Sandrone Cannubi Boschis 1996
Sandrone La Vigne 1996
Voerzio Barolo Sarmass di Barolo 1998
Ch Montelena 1991
Jasper Hill Emily's Paddock 2001
Ch Filhot 1935
Zind Humbrecht Herrenweg Turckheim Pinot Noir 1989
Valandraud 1994
Parker Coonawarra 1996
Hallgartner Jungfer Riesling Spatlese 1971 Rheingau (producer??)

A fantastic evening, but a dangerous place to visit!

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Thursday, November 16, 2006

Google for 'wine'

Google results depend on where you are looking from. As of today, typing wine into google.co.uk lists wineanorak as eighth (first among content sites, nearest competitors wineint.com and wine-pages.com), but fourth when you restrict the search to the UK (first among content sites; nearest competitors are wineint.com and thewinedoctor.com). I'm sure searching from other countries would give different results, and I don't know how these search rankings are calculated. But it's nice to be visible.


Wednesday, November 15, 2006

A nice review from South Africa

Really nice review of my book on leading South African wine site grape.co.za. It's by Chris Williams, winemaker of The Foundry Syrah, a wine I like a lot.

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Monday, November 13, 2006

Clark Smith and his Roman wine

Last night I met Clark and Susie Smith, thus fulfilling one of my long-held ambitions. Clark is the guy behind www.vinovation.com, a hi-tech wine consulting company in California, and I've wanted to meet him ever since I wrote one of my early Harpers technical pieces where I interviewed him by phone. But he isn't advocating using technology to spoofulate wines. Seeing technology as a useful tool, he then sets about using his tool kit, which includes microoxygenation and reverse osmosis, to make more interesting and tasty wines. Not convinced? Well, I'll do a lengthy article soon on this subject, which I hope will explain what I'm getting at.

We tasted a range of wines before dinner, including a 'sweet spot' tasting of an Amador County Syrah - the same wine at 15.4%, 14.2% and 13.75% alcohol. The differences were striking. We also tried Clark's own wines - which effectively act like business cards. WineSmith is his high end range; Cheapskate the everyday stuff. In fact, the Cheapskate wines are the best $8 wines you'll ever taste. At least that's what I reckon. After the tasting we headed over to Tendido Cero, one of my favourite eating places, where we ate and drank well (my choice - a bottle of the 2004 Finca Sandoval from Manchuela - dark, spicy and mineralic, with a bit of the new world and a bit of the old).

Tonight's tipple is the dregs of one of the wines tried last night. It's the WineSmith Roman Syrah 2003. The remarkable thing about this wine is that it is made without any addition of sulphur dioxide, the almost universally used wine preservative. Clark explains how he made this wine on his own Grapecrafter blog:
"To be safe, I began with a wine that could serve as its own preservative, one that would consume oxygen and oppose a microbial takeover on its own, and also a varietal type for which microbial complexity might be regarded as a plus.

I decided to work with a high altitude syrah which had a lot of reductive strength from two sources: tannin and minerality. Raw unpolymerized tannin has the ability to gobble tremendous quantities of oxygen when wine is young. A beneficial side effect of micro-oxygenation is the creation of a rich, light structure which integrates aromas. Oxygen is the wire wisk in creating a tannin soufflé. This is going to keep the wine from smelling spoiled later on when the microbes have their party.

Paradoxically, working properly with oxygen doesn't oxidize the wine -- rather it increases its ability to take up more oxygen. The chemistry of phenolic polymerization is well understood, and in this case, Vern Singleton's 1986 paper on the vicinyl diphenol cascade explains why polymerizing tannins become more reactive than their precursors. "

It's a really thought-provoking wine. There's some aromatic purity and elegance, with sweet dark fruits that have a brooding depth to them. The palate is very unusual and interesting. It's expressive and angular, with firm tannins and a meaty, spicy sort of rasp. These jostle with some funkier, herby, tobbacoey sort of elements. It finishes savoury and spicy. It's a wine that seems to show you one thing and then another. It's not a wine for everyone: some will find these bold, savoury flavours just a little too dangerous. But I like it a good deal.

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Weekend away

We've spent a lovely weekend visiting my parents in Suffolk. They recently moved to Lidgate, home of famed gastropub 'The Star' - where I had an enjoyable couple of pints (Green King IPA) and a game of darts with my father last night. We visited Ickworth House on Saturday and today we went to Clare Castle Country Park (pictured - the railway station, now disused). It's nice to get away, even just for a couple of days.

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Friday, November 10, 2006

River Cottage goes lame

You have to be careful when you’re preaching to others about what they should eat. I was uncomfortable with some of the content on Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s program The River Cottage Treatment last night—quite apart from the fact that it was contrived reality TV that didn’t work very well. The basic idea behind the program is a good one: take some regular punters whose diet mainly consists of ready meals and take-aways, and get them to cook ‘real’ food. So Hugh gets these people to camp in a field at the bottom of the garden, and does food-related things with them.

Last night in the segment I saw they gathered blackberries and went to see a couple of Hugh’s sheep being slaughtered (he thought this was important—or maybe his producer thought it was important because it would make good TV—and much weeping ensued at the admittedly rather gory demise of the lambs, although to the credit of the punters only one of them turned vegetarian as a result).

The bit I was uncomfortable with, though, was where Hugh took them to some food safety officer to show them just how bad the food was eating. It was an unbelievably lame segment. They took a burger and the food scientist chap prepared a row of bottles containing the ‘chemicals’ that had been added to it. The punters were shown this row of chemicals (all of them white powders) and Hugh then asked a burger-eating chap how he felt about it. The guy looked fairly clueless, but on pressing by Hugh he sort of agreed how horrifying and disgusting it was. Hugh had more luck when the food scientist read the ingredients list on a Tikka Masala ready meal, because he found it contained E120 (cochineal). Hugh turned to a girl (whose intellect resembled Alice off the Vicar of Dibley) and triumphantly announced, ‘That comes from beetles!’ The girl obliged, a look of horror crossing her face, ‘I’ve been eating beetles, ugh!’ The irony that this is in fact a natural food colouring was lost on all of them. Look, I agree that it’s best to eat food that’s been messed about with as little as possible, but to use this sort of manipulative, fear-based propaganda about ‘bad’ food isn’t the way to go. It makes bad television, too.

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Thursday, November 09, 2006

Passionate about Port

Normal tasting has resumed. I can smell again. Perhaps not perfectly, but then who smells perfectly all the time? Our physiological apparatus likely changes daily in subtle ways without us realising it. Tonight's tipple is a Single Quinta Vintage Port. It's Cockburn's Quinta dos Canais 1998, which is a good wine from a dodgy year. the Quinta is in the Douro Superior (it's pictured above, from my July visit to the Douro) and although Cockburn's purchased it relatively recently (1989), it forms the heart of their vintage Ports.

I like Port a good deal. It's quite hard to learn to taste Port well (in this respect, it's a bit like Champagne - you need to practice lots, which is no hard task). The key is not to be fooled by the fruit or the sweetness, but to look a little deeper, to the structure (at least when you are evaluating serious wines) .

This one shows good concentration, lots of fruit, and a lovely spicy tannic structure. There's nice definition and freshness to the fruit, with a fair bit of spicy complexity. It's rich and quite tarry, showing some evolution. It descends towards a fudgey, spicy, almost raisiny richness on the finish. I reckon this is a reasonably serious wine, but one that needs to be drunk sooner rather than later. It's quite perfumed, and for this reason I'd recommend it as a wine that will give lots of pleasure, but only if it's drunk relatively soon (in the next three years - my wild prediction is that beyond this it will descend into soft, spicy anonymity). I'd score it 92/100 for current drinking.

In comparison with the Noval Unfiltered LBV 2000, which has been open a few days, this shows more ooomph and richness (by a whisker), but the Noval has a lifted, floral aromatic character and fruit freshness that this wine lacks.

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Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Comfort drinking

Time to turn to something familiar - two wines that in previous vintages I've enjoyed a good deal.

Quinta do Noval's unfiltered LBV has been (for me) the best value Port for a few vintages now. For around £11 you get something that approximates a true Vintage Port (pretty closely). The 2000 is deeply impressive, but then the 1999 and 1998 were too: sealed with a driven cork it offers dense, reasonably complex, tannic, spicy fruit. Brilliant stuff. Around £12, in Oddbins in the UK. This is one to stock up on and my prediction is that it will improve with a year or two in bottle.

St Hallett's Gamekeeper's Reserve 2005 is a really interesting, affordable red. A blend of Shiraz, Grenache and Touriga from the Barossa, it reminds me of Marc Kent's Porcupine Ridge Syrah. It's slightly meaty and olivey, with perfumed pure dark sweet fruit. Perhaps even a little funky. No wine costing just £5.99 (Waitrose, Thresher, Sainsbury, Co-op) ever deserved to be this tasty. Buy, buy, buy.

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Monday, November 06, 2006

November sunshine

My regular lunchtime walk - perhaps two or three times a week - is a circular route through Regent's Park. It is soul-restoring, and with the changing seasons there is a richness to the repetition.

Today's wander coincided with some lovely late Autumn sunshine, and there were still some roses holding out in the face of winter, even though they looked a little bedraggled.

The cold (illness, not thermal) precludes proper tasting tonight. Interestingly, mulled wine (which I'm tasting for a forthcoming Sunday Express column) is a great cold remedy.



It seems a bit silly to develop affection for an unrewarding pet like a rabbit, but there was sadness in the Goode household last week when a fox took one of our rabbits and injured the other. It was around 10.30 pm at night, and I forgotten to put the rabbits back from their run into their hutch. It wasn't the first time... But this time a fox broke in, and by the time I got outside to see what was happening it was too late for one bunny. I managed to rescue the other, but the next day it was clear it had problems, and the vet confirmed this (broken tarsus). The vet seemed keen to treat the bunny, but with costs estimated at £350+ we thought this was ludicrous. So we had to say goodbye to this one as well. Apparently foxes are a huge problem for rabbit owners. We let the rabbits have run of the garden during the day, sometimes (it was tricky to catch them afterwards).

So farewell bunnies. For the last few months I've been the only one who can handle them (they were biting Fiona and the boys, but not me), and I developed a mild affection for them despite their unfriendly nature. We always think that we cherish the things we love, but it is also true that we love the things we cherish.


Ehrlich's best wine blogger

Richard Ehrlich recently reviewed the wine blogosphere in The Independent, and had some nice things to say about this blog:
"The best wine blogger, for my money, is the UK's own Jamie Goode, at www.wineanorak.com/blog. Goode combines technical expertise with vivid accounts of his travels and a nice bit of personal history besides - though he doesn't
overdo his own presence in his writing, as so many bloggers do."
Sadly, it was Richard's last column. I don't know whether he jumped or was pushed, or even whether he will be replaced.

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Sunday, November 05, 2006

Stunning sirens

UK-based South African wine brand Stormhoek certainly talk a good game. Do their wines match up to the largely self-generated hype?

I was sent through their two new 'Siren' wines. I was gobsmacked by their appearance. They look absolutely stunning. I showed them to Fiona, and she agreed. They bottles are made from clear glass, but rather than have a standard punt at the bottom they've got a lovely solid sort of chunky glass foot to them. It's hard to describe properly, but it looks impressive. Label design is spot on. Visually, these wines are incredibly appealing, and despite what we'd like to believe, appearance matters a fair bit.

The bottles are screwcapped, but Stormhoek have done their closures homework and the caps have the saranex-only liner. On the back label there is an innovative freshness indicator, telling punters when the wines will drink best.

Reassuringly, it's not just style without substance. The liquid in the bottle is impressive, as I hope my notes below indicate. At £7.99 these are very good value.

Stormhoek The Siren Pinotage 2005 Western Cape, South Africa
Beautifully packaged in clear glass, this Pinotage has a ripe, sweet, subtly meaty nose with bright red fruits and a subtle green herbal edge. The palate is juicy and vibrant with nice ripe juicy fruit and some meatiness. It's a very well mannered Pinotage and the trace of greenness works well in combination with the chocolatey richness. Quite delicious. Very good+ 87/100 £7.99

Stormhoek The Siren Sauvignon Blanc 2006 Western Cape, South Africa
Full, perfumed, fresh grassy nose with lots of fruit. The palate is zippy with nice balance between the ripe fruit and the grassy freshness. A stylish, full-flavoured Sauvignon with real appeal. Assured winemaking here. Very good+ 88/100 £7.99

Stockists lists: Sauvignon Blanc (Define Food and Wine, Cheshire; Imbibros, Godalming; Vineyards, Sherborne; BV Liquormart, London; The Vineking, Reigate; Worth Brothers, Lichfield; Vinology, Stratford-upon-Avon; Magnum Wine, Swindon; EWGA, Silverdale, Lancashire; Wines in Cornwall; Wines of the World, Earlsfield, London; Denby Dale Wines, Yorkshire; Harrogate Fine Wines.

Pinotage (Define Food and Wine, Cheshire; Imbibros, Godalming; Vineyards, Sherborne;
BV Liquormart, London; The Vineking, Reigate; Worth Brothers, Lichfield; Vinology, Stratford-upon-Avon; Magnum Wine, Swindon; EWGA, Silverdale, Lancashire; Wines in Cornwall;
Wines of the World, Earlsfield, London; Denby Dale Wines, Yorkshire; Harrogate Fine Wines)

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Friday, November 03, 2006

A winter Maury warmer

I feel a cold coming on. Colds are a pain for wine tasting. I find you have a couple of days where you can still taste well after the first signs of a cold, and then that's it for a few days. No point in tasting. And for me, there's no point in drinking wine if I can't 'get' the wine, unless of course I have a pressing need to get drunk (which, fortunately is rare).

This point about 'getting' a wine is an interesting one, philosophically. It suggests we all think that there is an objective side to wine tasting: that there is something of the wine that is there to be 'got'. Irrespective of differences in perception, education, and cultural leanings, the wine itself possesses something that we strive to capture in our tasting.

I digress. Tonight it's time for something warm. After an abnormally warm October, November has seen the onset of some reassurringly cold weather, and even a bit of frost in the morning. The wine this evening, to accompany some home-baked bread and a big slab of Comte, is a Maury. From the far south of France, these are fortified wines made in a similar style to Port.

Mas Amiel Vintage 2004 Maury, France
Beautifully packaged, this is a fortified Grenache made by the addition of spirit to part fermented wine. It's not as alcoholic as Port - weighing in at 16% this is only a little stronger than many modern table wines - and it is made in a Vintage Port style, with the wine ageing for just a short period in cask before being bottled. The result is a complex, vividly fruity wine with a nose of spicy, herby red and black fruits that leads to a palate with lovely vivid, spicily tannic red fruits that shows warmth and grip. Quite sweet, but this sweetness is well balanced by good acid and spicy tannins, so it is not at all cloying. A thought-provoking wine that's drinking very well now but which will probably also age nicely into a mellow softness. Very good/excellent 91/100 (£14.95 Lea & Sandeman)

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Thursday, November 02, 2006

Recognizing reduction?

Opened an Aussie pair tonight from Willunga 100 – the Grenache 2005 and Shiraz/Viognier 2005. Both were screwcapped (tin liner) and both started out with a distinctive roasted aroma, that initially seemed like it could be high toast oak, but then got more like popcorn and added a smoky, minerally element. Hmm, is this reduction? It’s hard to be sure, so I tried the copper penny trick (a 1966 penny, when they were still made of copper). This involves taking a clean copper penny and swirling it briefly in the wine.

Again, we’re dealing with perception here, but the treated wine seemed to become cleaner and more fruity. Much better. And if I pour an untreated glass from the bottle, the distinction is quite clear. Side-by-side, the treated and untreated wines are different. What I suspect here to be reduction is really getting in the way of the pure fruit that’s the calling card of these appealing wines. [Update: a day later both these wines showed clear fruit when poured from the bottle, which suggests that a bix of overnight oxidation is doing the same job as the copper treatment, with the smelly mercaptans disappearing. Of course, without proper chemical analysis it's hard to say for sure - the story is, though, a consistent one.]

Willunga 100 Shiraz–Viognier 2005 McLaren Vale, Australia
Pure sweet dark fruits nose with a nice floral lift and a bit of spice. Ripe and alluring. The palate has lovely sweet raspberry and blackberry fruit with a nice balancing lemony acidity adding definition to the plump ripe fruit. It’s a really attractive, juicy, rounded red wine of real appeal. (N.b. this note was taken after the wine had a copper penny dipped in it to get rid of a burnt popcorn/acrid smoky reductive edge.) Very good+ 89/100

Willunga 100 Grenache 2005 McLaren Vale, Australia
A ripe, sweetly fruited red wine with a perfumed, slightly alcoholic red fruits nose, leading to a smooth but firmly structured palate with spicy, almost peppery red berry fruit. There’s nice balance here, if perhaps just a little too much alcoholic sweetness and heat, but it’s approaching the elegant end of the Grenache spectrum. (N.b. this note was taken after the wine had a copper penny dipped in it to get rid of a burnt popcorn/acrid smoky reductive edge.) Very good+ 88/100

[note added later: I would heartily recommend these wines - they are avialable from Liberty Wines in the UK at around £8. But then there's the reduction issue: to be honest, I didn't really care for what I'm assuming is the reduced character, and while it didn't spoil the wine irredeemably, so I wouldn't equate it to a fault such as cork taint, it's a problem.]


Copyright? What copyright?

Do you like this picture? I took it in September 1998 in Chateauneuf du Pape. Clearly one of the UK's leading wine merchants (or their web design company) did also, because I had one of those 'I recognize that scene' moments when I entered their Rhone page this afternoon (see second picture). The fact that it's been modified (made to look like a watercolour) doesn't alter the copyright infringement.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Miguel Torres

Torres is one of the world’s great wine companies. They’re currently pumping out 2.5 million cases a year (up from around 650 000 back in 1993), and yet the quality is remarkably consistent across the range. I challenge you to find a better sub £5 white than their Vina Sol, which is fresh, bright, a little minerally and relatively low in alcohol. And their Sangre de Toro is a remarkably consistent Mediterranean red, with a bit of spicy structure underpinning ripe, plummy fruit. Then moving up in their range there’s the lovely Fransola Sauvignon Blanc, which has just a touch of oak in the background bringing roundness. At the top end of the range the Grans Muralles and Mas de Plana are very smart indeed. It’s hard to find a weak link in their broad line-up.

I had a tasting with Miguel Torres and then lunched with him at The Square. He’s a charming, understated sort of guy who, as you would expect, is as sharp as a button and knows his stuff. Back in 1982, when there were problems with the family succession (his father wouldn’t retire and let go of the company), Miguel took a sabbatical year out and went and studied at Montpellier, brushing up his winemaking and viticulture knowledge. When he returned to the company he brought this new knowledge back and applied it. Today Torres spend €3 million a year on their viticultural and winemaking research, tackling some of the hot topics in wine science. For example, they are working with precision viticulture (which aims at measuring natural variation across a vineyard with a view to using this information for differential management to improve quality), and are developing near infrared spectroscopy methods for non-destructive in-vineyard analysis of grape anthocyanins (which means that they can then pay growers according to quality much more accurately than, for example, measuring sugar and acid levels).

How does he see the global wine market, current and future? At the moment, he says, the market is difficult. Back in 2000 he was making double the profit per case than he is now. There’s an excess in supply globally. In the past, wine was largely a European thing and distillation and grubbing up vines could deal with this excess production. Now though the surplus is not just a European thing and so this is no solution. But there’s hope. The difference between excess and production and excess demand is just a glass of wine. He also reckons the future for Spain is much brighter than for France, because Spain has brands, which France largely lacks.

It was kind of weird to be lunching alone with Miguel Torres himself. It wasn’t so long ago I was just a novice wine geek buying Torres wines and reading the detailed tasting notes on the back label which were written by Miguel himself. Perhaps the best thing about being a modestly successful wine hack is the access you get to the top people in the wine trade. As I’ve said before, it’s like being a diehard football fan and getting to lunch with Stuart Pearce.

Just a note on the Square. I went with high expectations and wasn’t disappointed. The food was stunningly good—almost perfect, actually. The service impressed greatly. It was attentive, but not overbearing, pushy or self-conscious. It was also fast, which for lunch is great. Things appeared when we wanted them to. We were complicated customers because we were trying five different Torres wines, and this didn’t seem like a problem at all (corkage was charged at a reasonable £10 per bottle). It’s really hard to do service to this sort of standard. I’m reluctant to judge a restaurant on just one showing, but it seems that The Square is pretty near the top when it comes to London restaurants.

Full interview to follow on the main wineanorak site soon.


Congratulations, Neal!

I met Neal Martin on the way to a wine dinner in August and it was clear he had something on his mind. In the middle of a tube journey he blurted out, 'Can you keep a secret?' This news was big. He'd been approached by Robert Parker to become critic at large for the Wine Advocate, one of the new team - possibly the most attractive job in wine writing. I don't know how, but I managed to keep quiet about this, and now the news is official.

Congratulations, Neal. You deserve this gig! Wine-journal will continue, it seems, but with a new home - and with his new high profile and the precious resource of being able to devote his full time energies to the cause of wine writing, it's almost certain that Neal's influence in the world of wine will continue to grow apace. The official announcement is on the front page of www.wine-journal.com.