jamie goode's wine blog: December 2006

Sunday, December 31, 2006

New year

I feel a bit of a failure. No wild new year's eve parties here Chez Goode. We had our family tradition of a Chinese meal together, watched a film together (Jaws, the kids' choice, but a surprisingly good film - I haven't seen it for ages and ages), and now, approaching midnight, I'm the only one left awake.

The day kicked off at 5 am when youngest son and his sleepover chum decided it was time to get up. They woke the hound, who started howling, and that was that. It's been a fun day though: this afternoon we enjoyed a lengthy walk in Richmond Park with some good friends who also have a dog.

I won't go into detail about our 2006; it's enough to say that it was a great year, but also a difficult year, as most are. Life is mixed, and I suppose that's part of it's richness - although I could do with a little less of the difficulty in 2007.

One closing thought. The BBC news site has a piece discussing a claim by Hazel Blears, the Labour Party Chair, that Brits are not ready to drink less. It suggests that educational messages on the dangers of heavy drinking aren't working. But why don't politicians ask the following question: why is it that people want to drink to dangerous levels?

Isn't it because, to put it rather cornily, there is something missing from most people's lives? Could it be because there is a disconnect between the messages sent out by society, and the needs of human 'hearts' (to use a helpful metaphor)? All the time we are being told by society - one in which our participation is largely as consumers - that if we achieve a degree of prosperity, a significant other, and a job with a degree of status, then we will be satisfied. We play the game, jump through the hoops, and still there is something missing. Or the pressure to achieve all this is simply too much. Drink simply numbs this pain. Educational messages aren't the answer. Meeting people's real needs is likely to be a more fruitful strategy.

Happy 2007!


Saturday, December 30, 2006

A new variety

Ever heard of Gringet? It's a grape variety that's new to me. Considering the thousands of different varieties that are grown worldwide, it's such a shame that everyone seems to focus on the same dozen or so. Especially when the results are as good as this. Predictably, for such an interesting, somewhat offbeat wine, the source in the UK is Les Caves de Pyrene. Not sure of the price, but it will be relatively inexpensive.

Domaine Belluard Les Alpes Gringet 2004 Vin de Savoie, France
A really interesting mountain white made from the Gringet variety. The nose combines a savoury nuttiness with a bright, floral, subtly herbal character. The palate is lemony fresh but has a richer, deeper, tangy nutty quality. A thought-provoking savoury style that's quite light in its personality. Very good+ 89/100

Thursday, December 28, 2006

More Chardonnay

Had a great day. We met up with some good friends and their kids at Box Hill for a hearty walk, followed by lunch at the Abinger Hatch in Abinger Common. The London Pride was tasting good today.

No adverse effects from yesterday's modest indulgence, so it was back to wine tasting this evening with a vengence. Among the wines sampled, a really impressive unoaked Californian Chardonnay (I didn't know that California did unoaked Chardonnay, but clearly it exists).

Marimar Estate Don Miguel Vineyard Acero Chardonnay 2005 Russian River Valley, California
Aromatic and fruity, this well balanced Chardonnay shows quite rich tropical fruit/pineapple notes countered nicely by some lemony acidity. There's plenty of richness, but it's not at all overdone: balance is maintained. Unoaked, and probably better for it. The alcohol level, at 13.5%, is pretty sane for a Californian Chardonnay, too, which suggests that they got the balance right on the vine. I like this. Very good/excellent 90/100

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Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Back to the wine...

Feeling great today. After a remission of my vicious gastric disorder on Boxing day (thus no wine, hardly any food), I awoke feeling physically sound for the first time in ages. I actually felt like drinking wine!

It was a good job, because we were off for a family get-together at the Beavingtons (my wine-bibbing brother-in-law's pad), where food and wine were on the menu. It was the first time all four of the Goode children (myself, my twin sister Anne, younger sister Hester and younger brother Arthur) had gathered in the same location for ages and ages. We all brought our kids (12 in all) and a merry time was had. The wines included:

Smith Woodhouse Vintage Port 1966
This old Port wasn’t decanted, and so needs a little air to open up. It has a mellow, soft spicy nose that’s initially a little spirity, but becomes a quite fruity and fudgy. The palate is soft and complex with mellow red fruits, yet still has a bit of spicy bite. Rich, intense and drinking very well now. I reckon there’s no hurry to drink this up, although it’s probably not going to get any better. Very good/excellent 91/100

Château Suduiraut 2001 Sauternes
This is fantastic. Wonderfully intense, full nose with apricot, lemon, spice and vanilla notes. The palate is broad and super-concentrated, showing complex, viscous apricotty, marmaladey fruit bolstered by good acidity and with some honey notes. Even at such an early stage it’s already a first-rate example of Sauternes and is potentially immortal. Excellent 95/100

Francois Mikulski Meursault 2002 Burgundy
Good yellow colour. Rich nose showing some evolution, with nutty, toasty fruit. The palate is quite rich with toasty, spicy notes and some lemony freshness to the fruit. A delicious, modern-styled white Burgundy that’s drinking well now, but which I wouldn’t age too much longer. Very good/excellent 90/100

JP & JL Jamet Côte-Rôtie 1999 Northern Rhône
Another crack at this wine, which I’ve now had several times. At an en primeur tasting many years ago I described this 1999 as possibly the best young wine I’d ever tasted. It’s now approaching a rather savoury phase, now that the puppy fat is shed, and it shows itself as a classically styled Côte-Rôtie. Perfumed nose has spicy, animally, meaty characters alongside the fruit. The palate is savoury and intense with lots of fruit but also a distinctive meaty spiciness. I’ll not be opening my remaining few bottles for a while. Very good/excellent 93/100

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Monday, December 25, 2006

Merry Christmas

Christmas greetings, dear readers. After a few days' abstinence, I felt up to some wine today. Just a little, and nothing terribly excessive. We began with the two wines I bought on Thursday for research purposes. Domain Chandon ZD 2002 is a delightful Aussie fizz with good complexity and a very dry finish. Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc 2006 is a very good New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, but you are certainly paying a premium for the label: I could easily find seven or eight NZ Sauvignons that are its equal, and which are much cheaper. Finally, a Bandol: Lafran Veyrolles Longue Garde, which is now entering is earthy, evolved phase. Nice in a very savoury style.

The Goode family Christmas day has been a very successful one. This has not always been the case, I should add! Just the four of us, plus various animals. Lots of present unwrapping, a nice lunch, a walk, some telly, some family games, and for everyone else an early night. I have to stay up to see to the hound, but I'm hoping to find my bed soon. Merry Christmas.

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Saturday, December 23, 2006

walking the dog

Took young Rosie for her first proper long walk today. We went down to Windsor Great Park and spent an enjoyable few hours romping through the woodland. We even had a winter picnic of hot tomato soup and bread, sitting down in a woodland copse. We bought some food along for Rosie so she lunched with us.

No wine to report on last night, but I may have a glass tonight, state of my rather volatile stomach permitting.


Friday, December 22, 2006

Yeast rocks

Nice piece in New Scientist today about brewer's yeast:

Some time in the distant past Saccharomyces cerevisiae, to give it its full name, developed a chemical trick that would transform human societies. Some anthropologists have argued that the desire for alcohol was what persuaded our ancestors to become farmers and so led to the birth of civilisation. Whether that's true of not, alcohol has had a huge influence on our history and our
I'm not sure I agree with the last paragraph, where it implies that there's s selective advantage for Asian populations to carry mutant ALDH2, which reduces their ability to clear acetaldehyde, produced by the metabolism of alcohol. Acetaldehyde is a nasty molecule that acts as a carcinogen: there's a good incentive for clearing it as fast as possible. It's more likely that Asian populations, which have enjoyed teas as their traditional beverage rather than beer and wine, haven't had the same selective pressure on them to metabolize acetaldehyde as efficiently.

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I'm a wine guy, but I'm interested more broadly in flavour. And, as you'd expect, I occasionally get to review other alcoholic drinks. One forthcoming Sunday Express column is on whisky, so I did a mini-tasting last night with three from Oddbins.

Tasting whisky is sort of like tasting wine, except you usually add a little water to help release the aromas. Of the three I tried, the most striking was the Bowmore, which as a 12 year old Islay has amazingly complex bonfire aromas alongside a lemony freshness. Monkey Shoulder is a blend of three single Speyside malts that's rounded and refined. Also in the rounded and refined category is the Balvenie 12 Year Old Double Wood, which is aged in whisky barrels and then Sherry barrels. It has smooth, soft, casky notes with some tangy toffeed flavours. All three are delicious.
Feeling a bit lousy today, not from overindulgence. I woke up in the night with terrible stomach cramps, and have been...how do you put this discretely...rather fluid today. Might be ready for food this evening.


Thursday, December 21, 2006

buying wine and cheese

Just come back from Waitrose, where I did a pre-Christmas treat shop. On the cheese front I bought Keen's Cheddar, Colston Bassett Stilton and Comte. But I also bought two bottles of wine. I try very hard not to buy wine, because my kitchen is full of it, and I have to work hard to keep on top of the samples. I can't always stop myself, though - and it's also healthy to remember what it feels like to shell out your own cash on the stuff. It's easy to overlook the fact that a £20 Chianti Classico or red Burgundy is just plain dull when you didn't pay for it. When it's your own £20, you quite rightly have higher expectations, and you are more likely to be appropriately critical.
What did I buy? First, a bottle of the crowncap-sealed Domaine Chandon ZD 2002, which I recently wrote up (this was £13.99). I liked it in the Yarra; will I like it in my kitchen in London? Always helpful to calibrate my tasting notes with my drinking notes. Second, from the same LMVH empire, a bottle of Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc 2006 (£15.99). An odd choice? Well, my brother in law, Beavington, raves about this stuff. I've not tried it for a couple of vintages - I'd come to the conclusion that it's no better or worse than a dozen other leading Marlborough Sauvignon Blancs. But Beavington is insistent that it is magical. I'm slightly worried that he's a bit of a label drinker, but I'm giving him the benefit of the doubt by buying this wine to see whether it over-delivers in the way he says it does.

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Wednesday, December 20, 2006

winter warmer

Today had a real winter chill to it, which in the days of global warming is sort of reassuring for the UK in late December: it's supposed to be cold in mid-winter! Indeed, I'd just love some sub-zero temperatures, together with a dusting (or more) of snow, for the Christmas holidays.

I went for my usual lunchtime walk today, through Regent's Park. The morning mist had cleared, but the air was still heavy with moisture. It gave the sunlight a rather milky feel, and gave the cold air a penetrating quality that cut straight through my clothing, chilling my skin in an icy blast. In the rose garden the work of winter pruning was well under way, even though some blooms were still evident. Pruning is a strongly metaphorical process, reminding me that this is a convenient time of year to address areas in my own life that could do with cutting back, in order to encourage healthy future growth.

Watching the crowds in London, it seems that there's an unusual tiredness/weariness to people. It's something you expect with the season; this year it seems to be exceptional. I guess for many this year has been a difficult one. Next year will have its own peculiar challenges, which are likely to match or exceed what this year has brought. That's the impression I'm getting. Of course, this might be total nonsense. But I'm going to use the next week and a bit to do nothing much. Downtime. However, I'll still be updating the site and blog - for me, this is fun.

The 'winter warmer' of the title of this post is a vintage Port. From Barros, a producer best known for its Colheitas, the 2003 Vintage is showing really beautifully at the moment. I've been drinking a lot of young Vintage Port recently, and I'm enjoying it a good deal. You've got two choices with Vintage Port: catch it young and enjoy it in its first blush, or stick it away for a decade or more, with two or three decades recommended for the top examples.

Barros Vintage Port 2003 Douro, Portugal
Deep coloured, this Vintage Port has a wonderfully perfumed, open nose. There’s an almost floral, herb-tinged dark fruits character, which is supplemented by lifted spicy notes. It’s very seductive and expressive, with a nice sweetness. The palate has lovely sweet fruit with some assertive spiciness and a bit of tannic grip, but it’s not really built for the long haul. Instead, this is a beautifully poised, perfumed Vintage Port which will keep for a decade or two, but which will probably reach its peak earlier rather than later. It’s incredibly enjoyable now, though. Very good/excellent 93/100

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Tuesday, December 19, 2006

More wine?

Two more wines to report on. It's 11 pm, but I don't think I'll be going to bed soon. The puppy refuses to go down to sleep until after midnight. One of the joys of dog ownership. The cats are also a bit traumatized by Rosie (the puppy), and skulk around nervously, moving in exaggerated slow motion as if about to be ambushed by a crazy dog. Which I suppose they are...

Montana Reserve Sauvignon Blanc 2005 Marlborough, New Zealand
Sauvignon Blanc can be a bit samey, and most of them tend to be a bit one dimensional. But I was quite impressed by this affordable reserve offering from NZ giants Marlborough. It has that classic grassy, gooseberry, blackcurranty sort of character, but with the added dimension of richness, concentration and texture. Nothing too groundbreaking, but a well made, nicely balanced wine. Very good+ 89/100 (£7.99 Asda, Oddbins, Sainsbury, Thresher)

Producteurs Plaimont Le Faite 2003 Cotes de Saint-Mont, France
Another ambitious offering from Producteurs Plaimont, with a rather unusual packaging concept: the information isn't on a label, but rather on a wooden tag, attached to the bottle by some copper wire secured by a blob of wax (there's also a wax capsule). The wine itself is dark coloured, with smooth, sweet, liqueur-like fruit. Polished and suave - a little elegant, even. There's just the faintest hint of grippy southwestern structure on the finish, which falls a little short. Polished but a bit flat. Very good+ 86/100 (£14.99 Adnams, Grape Ideas, Bedales, Portland Wines)

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Juicing and detox

Ever been tempted to 'detox'? Read this refreshingly b******t-free article article in the Guardian on the phenomenon of 'juicing'. This is what it has to say about the emotionally appealing notion of 'detoxing':
The other main claim for juicing is that it will detox your body. Again, according to Professor Sir Colin Berry, professor emeritus of pathology at Queen Mary's Hospital, London, this notion is incorrect. "Detoxification in the popular sense of the word is completely meaningless," he says. Your body is 'detoxing' itself all the time: your gut and skin prevent bacteria and many toxins from entering the rest of your body, but when harmful chemicals do get through, the liver acts as a kind of chemical factory, combining them with its own chemicals to make water-soluble compounds that can be excreted by the kidneys [as urine]. "The human body works at a fixed rate for many of its detox processes, which can't be speeded up in any useful way," says Berry.

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Monday, December 18, 2006


Wine again. This remains predominantly a wine blog, despite recent evidence to the contrary. Two more data points from the Chardonnay trail, this time from France and Chile.

Blason de Bourgogne Chardonnay 2005 Saint-Veran, Burgundy, France
This medal-encrusted wine (it won three gongs at the 2006 International Wine Challenge) is interesting, in that it represents the new face of inexpensive white Burgundy: the word 'Chardonnay' appears on the label alongside the appellation. It's quite rich, broad and nutty on the nose, with a warm, almost Autumnal edge. The palate is quite savoury and full, with a spicy, nutty character. Full flavoured and for drinking now, before the slightly oxidative side to the fruit becomes dominant. Very good+ 86/100 (This is, I think, around £7.99 retail, but is frequently on price promotion for £5.99, at which point it becomes competitive.)

Leyda Single Vineyard 'Falaris Hill Vineyard' Chardonnay 2005 Leyda Valley, Chile
While my enthusiasm for Chile's reds remains largely nascent, I'm being won over by many Chilean whites. The Leyda wines, in particular, have really impressed. This single-vineyard Chardonnay is brilliant. It begins with a powerful, opulent nose of tropical fruit, spice, herbs, some toasty oak and a hint of fudge. The palate is full with rich apricotty fruit and spice, almost like a dry Sauternes. It's a complex, expressive, intense new world Chardonnay. Very good/excellent 91/100 (Great Western Wines are the UK importers).

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Hot cross

It seems that inavertently, the Goode family has become trendy. Our new dog is a labradoodle, and labradoodles belong to the category of dogs known as 'hot cross' dogs, beloved of celebrities. Other labradoodle owners include Jeremy Clarkson and Richard Hammond (both of hip BBC motors show Top Gear) and Graham Norton.

See here, here, here (a fun article by Clarkson) and here.


Sunday, December 17, 2006

Plenitude Madiran

What was going through the minds of Les Producteurs Plaimont when they came up for the idea of one of their top cuvees, named 'Plenitude'. Now the Plaimont Coop are normally on top of their game. They are making some really nice wines from various southwestern appellations. But with Plenitude, which translates as fullness or abundance, they've whacked the volume knobs up to 11, and the result is kitsch wine in kitsch packaging.

Weighing in at 14% alcohol, this offers lots of everything. Yes, there's a bit of tannic Madiran bite (which I love), but this has been masked a bit by the abundant new oak that has been lavished on this wine. It's as if they've said, 'Australian wines are popular, so how can we make this wine taste Australian?' They don't need to do this.

Madiran is great, and so is the Tannat grape. There aren't many wines that taste like Madiran, so by trying to make your wine taste unlike Madiran, you are in danger of losing your USP. Be proud of the wines of the southwest France: in a world where wines are tasting worryingly similar, here's a wine that's a bit different. Tell the world about it. Don't apologise.

And then there is the packaging. What possessed them to go for the neo-viking plate metal look, topped off with some wax? It's absurd. Look, don't get me wrong: this isn't a bad wine. I don't mind it, although I find it hard to get past the oak. Perhaps in 3-5 years the oak will have been absorbed and it will enter a stage of mellow maturity. It's just that I reckon it could have been better. £14.99 from Bedales, Adnams and Grape Ideas.

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A new addition to the family

We have a new member of the Goode household. After a lot of umming and arring, and after exhaustive research, we decided to get a dog.

What do you get when you cross a labrador with a poodle? A labradoodle, of course. Now don't laugh: this is the proper name for the breed. Fortunately, ours looks more like a labrador than a poodle. She's 12 weeks old, and we've called her Rosie. She's pictured just after her arrival: the boys were thrilled.

There are pros and cons to dog ownership. The pros? You get unconditional love and affection, and unswerving loyalty. You also have an excuse to go for lots of walks (which for some might be a negative, but I love going for walks). The family is enriched. The cons? Going on holiday becomes more complicated (although lots of friends have expressed an interest in borrowing a dog). The smell. And picking up turds (which all socially aware dog owners should do).

To celebrate Rosie's arrival we had a bottle of Roederer Brut NV, which is a very lovely full flavoured fizz with good acid and nice toasty richness. It's one of those fizzes that you really could serve throughout a meal; I also think it would develop with a year or two in bottle.

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Saturday, December 16, 2006

London murders

Had an enjoyable and rather different Friday night. Fiona and I went on a murder mystery walk through the legal district of London, which was hosted by a friend of ours, Steve Newman (he's pictured here in front of Samuel Johnson's house).

He's an actor and walks like these are his current business. We were trialling a new walk, and it was really well done. Each participant is assigned role to play, and you gradually get to know more information about your role through the course of the evening. By chatting to the other participants, mainly during the regular pub stops, you all try to identify the murderer.

An additional facet of the evening is that the walk takes you through some highly interesting, lesser known bits of town - Steve spins a wonderful story that combines the plot with the various landmarks - even the pubs we stopped at had historical significance. It was a jolly crowd and I think we all had a lot of fun, fuelled by pints of Timothy Taylor's Landlord, Fuller's London Pride, Youngs Winter Warmer and a Samuel Smiths. This sort of event would be great for teambuilding, for example, and I'd be happy to put any interested parties in touch with Steve.

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Friday, December 15, 2006

Helpline for fatties

As a regular consumer of good food and wine, I have to watch what I eat, especially as my fourth decade is looming in the headlights. It's a necessary discipline. The alternative is to become fat. I have nothing against fat people, but personally I would rather avoid the metabolic diseases and increased cancer risk that comes from having an expanding waistline, let alone the expense involved in renewing one's wardrobe.

Along these lines the BBC news site has a piece about how obesity 'could bankrupt the NHS' in which experts are recommending a helpline for fatties:
"They said action was needed by all of society and even recommended a helpline for people who bought larger clothes. The number should be promoted on the labels of all clothes sold with a waist of more than 40in (102cm) for men, 37in (94cm) for boys, 35in (88cm) for women, and 31in (80cm) for girls."

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Thursday, December 14, 2006

Another Chardonnay

Next stop in the Chardonnay trail is California. The more commercial Californian wines are often dire, but Brown Forman's Bonterra brand is one I've been quite impressed with, even though they've seemed to milk the organic thing rather too much. I really quite liked this latest release of their Chardonnay.

Bonterra Vineyards Chardonnay 2005 Mendocino, California
Lots of flavour here, but it's not overdone: I'm getting baked apples, pears and a hint of lemony freshness, together with some spicy, toasty oak which adds richness. Quite broad shouldered, but not as fat as I remember previous releases being. Very good+ 88/100 (Waitrose £8.99 although I think it is currently on promotion at a bit less)

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Monty gets a five-for

Amazing. Monty Panesar, ignored for the first two test matches (for those who haven't got a clue what I'm on about, I'm talking about the sport of Cricket, and England versus Australia, otherwise known as the Ashes), has taken what the Aussies call a five-for, as England skittled the Aussies out for 244. England finished 51-2 in reply. Whether or not England capitalize on this probably depends on how KP and Freddie feel - if they play well, we could walk away with this. If they fail, then we could end up looking at a first-innings deficit. It's wide open.

The blogging phenomenon has caught on to the extent that it's now part of the BBC coverage of the Ashes series. Most of the entries aren't that gripping, though. It goes to show that blogging well is an art - one that I'm trying my best to learn.

On the subject of blogging, there's a BBC news article looking at some predictions made by technology group Gartner on the future of blogging. They reckon that during the middle of 2007 the number of blogs will level out at about 100 million, and maintain that 200 million people have already stopped writing their blogs. One of their experts suggests:
"Everyone thinks they have something to say, until they're put on stage and asked to say it."

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Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Barton speaks sense

Non wine related: What is it about Manchester City that makes everyone associated with this football club speak sense? First we have the manager, Stuart Pearce, admitting on TV that the referee was right to send one of his players off for diving (see e.g. here), and now Joey Barton - perhaps soon to be an England Player - rants, quite rightly, about the profusion of autobiographies being published by footballers in their early 20s here. It's a breath of fresh air. I quote from the Guardian piece:
The midfielder recently aired his views about players with new autobiographies out. "England did nothing in the World Cup, so why were they bringing books out?" he asked, before paraphrasing the contents: "We got beat in the quarter-finals. I played like shit. Here's my book." People might pray for his call-up, if only to see how he mingled with authors such as Steven Gerrard, Wayne Rooney and Rio Ferdinand.

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Monday, December 11, 2006

Velazquez and the wine writers

Tonight was the Circle of Wine Writers Christmas party. Usually these events are hosted by the embassy of a wine-producing nation who then seizes the opportunity to ply the wine hacks and hangers on with booze from their country. This year we were due at the Spanish embassy, but because of refurbishment works we were relocated to the National Gallery (pictured), and a private showing of the Velazquez exhibition.
Diego Rodriguez de Silva y Velázquez, to give him his full name, lived from 1599-1660, and is widely regarded as one of the greats. I was particularly thrilled to see a picture that, as a child, I had a small print of - a remarkably intense, detailed portrayal of an old lady cooking eggs, which was painted when Velazquez was just 19 years old (see right).
The party itself was a sedate affair that represented a good opportunity to catch up with people and meet a few more for the first time. By these criteria, it was an evening well spent. However, there were loads of people I'd never seen before, and a relatively low head count of the leading wine writers. Also, the Spanish wine people had their chance and muffed it: we were greeted by a glass of oxidized Cava, and then the wines we were supposed to taste ran out fast (and the clean glasses ran out even faster), so by around 8.30 pm there was nothing left to drink. It felt odd to leave a wine writers' party horridly sober...

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Wine Library TV

Got an email from Gary Vaynerchuk alerting me to the fact that he'd included this blog in a segment on his latest Wine Library TV show here. I've only seen a couple of his videos, but I'm impressed. He's got a good approach to wine and makes the difficult job of talking to camera about wine tasting look relatively effortless. Overall: an effective use of the internet as a medium for publishing wine information. Maybe I should start including videos here? What would you like to see?

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Feed the goat

Non wine related: nice e-mail conversation with Manchester City legend Shaun Goater here. Goater was a remarkably effective striker with a brilliant attitude - I saw him play numerous times during my most active match-attending phase when City were yo-yoing various divisions in the late 1990s.


Sunday, December 10, 2006

Super Sauvignon, and some films

Just to prove I'm still enjoying wine, here's a super Sauvignon Blanc from Chile (which I'm having a lot of luck with for whites of late). It's the Cono Sur Reserva Sauvignon Blanc 2006 Casablanca Valley, which is powerful, intense an fruity with focused grapefruit and lemon fruit. Some weight and richness on the palate adds balance. Great value at £6.99 from Morrisons.

As I write it's the tail end of Sunday evening. Watched Nacho Libre with one of my kids this afternoon, which reminds me it's about time I did some amateur film reviewing. Nacho Libre is a silly film, redeemed (in part) by Jack Black, who's turning into a bit of a Robin Williams or Steve Martin, who were both comics who could carry rubbish scripts by virtue of being talented funny men. There are a few laugh-out-loud moments in this film; they serve to paper over the cracks of a very ropy script indeed.

Other films recently seen (many on planes...so some of the effect may have been lost):

Little Fish is a gutsy, caring, gritty sort of film where an ex-drug addict played by Cate Blanchett re-encouters the world she'd been trying to leave behind. Set in Sydney, this is a film that really draws you in, mainly through some really strong characterization. Aside: Sam Neill makes a good baddy - a role he's not often cast in.

Sometimes you know you aren't going to like a film because of the cast list. For example, I know that any film with Adam Sandler is going to be a pile of poop. As is any film with an ex-member of Friends (Jennifer Aniston and David Schwimmer come to mind). When I found out that the lead part in Find me Guilty is played by Vin Diesel, I was tempted to dismiss this film without watching it. But I was surprised: it's actually very good. Based on real life events, it tells the story of mobster Jack DiNorscio, who chose to defend himself in the longest mafia trial in US history.

Alpha Male is a British film that focuses on family relationships. It has all the hallmarks of a British film: it's perhaps a little slow paced, the script isn't that tight, but it's thoughtful and honest. I quite enjoyed it.

Finally, some entertaining Hollywood nonsense. The Devil Wears Prada leads us into the world of high fashion. Meryl Streep is the boss from hell; Anne Hathaway is the wide-eyed country girl who attracts Streep's derision but finally wins her respect. Streep is great: really evil. Hathaway is dreadful: she hams everything up as if she were acting in a Disney Film - someone should tell her that she's no longer in the Princess Diaries. Ultimately she has to choose between a successful career as Streep's number two, or going back to the struggling boyfriend in the 'real' world. Let's just say, the script has no surprises in store.

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Another 'hot' wine

A hot wine for the wrong reasons. This should have been better: Calvet Thunevin Cuvee Constance 2004 Vin de Pays des Cotes Catalanes has the backing of the famous Jean-Luc Thunevin of Valandraud, and it's a blend of Grenache and Carignan from the wonderful terroir of . But it's just not quite right. There's some smooth, liqueur-like, almost over-ripe red fruit character, stewing away in alcohol, which makes its presence felt both on the nose and the palate. I don't want to put my dear readers off this blog by a string of Meldrew-like negative notes (I just call things as I see them and include the negative alongside the positives); nor do I want you to think I'm on a bit of a crusade against high alcohol. It's just that this wine seems to have too much of it, and would probably be much better with less. If I haven't put you off completely, then you can buy it from Waitrose for £8.99. Says 15% alcohol on the label.

I was surprised to see this as one of Jancis' wines of the week here. Surprised, because she tends to dislike hot wines. Readers may be interested to know that Thunevin has his own blog (here in English).


Saturday, December 09, 2006


Had a couple of Mollydooker wines recently. These are the new wines from celebrated Aussie winemakers Sarah and Sparky Marquis (see www.mollydookerwines.com for more info), and they've been favourably reviewed by Robert Parker among others.

The two I tried were 'The Boxer' Shiraz 2004 and 'Two Left Feet' 2004, which are imported into the UK by Seckford Wine Agencies and retail for around £11. I didn't really get them: they were smooth, ripe, quite open, without being terribly concentrated, rich, or complex. Not bad; not all that good. I went back to them for three successive nights, and still they didn't do anything for me.

My chief problem with them was that they both have an advertised alcohol concentration of 16%. That's just absurd for a table wine. I'm not saying wines can't have high alcohol levels and still be brilliant; just that it's very few that can happily carry 16% alcohol, and to reach such a level suggests that the viticulture is flawed. Alcohol has a profound sensory impact, and if flavour can only be achieved at such high potential alcohol levels, perhaps the grapes have been picked too late, or the vines not managed properly, or the vineyards are planted where they shouldn't be.
It's not that I just don't get big, ripe, concentrated Aussie wines. I do. It's just that these wines manage to hit 16% alcohol without really being terribly 'hedonistic': they aren't all that concentrated or flavour-packed.
I have one more Mollydooker wine left to try. I'll give it a fair crack, and I hope my ambivalence will be shifted.

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Thursday, December 07, 2006

Ageing wine...fast!

Long-time readers will probably remember the interesting interchange I had with Dr Patrick Farrell MW, after I posted on his magnetic wine ageing device (see here and for more comments here, although take less notice of some of the anonymous comments which could have come from anywhere).

It seems that the demand for wine ageing gadgets that operate outside the known laws of science has not yet been sated.

Take a look at Le Clef du Vin. One second = one year. Read for yourself! However, unlike Farrell's device, it doesn't claim to actually replicate the ageing of the wine. Instead, it reveals the ageing potential of the wine. How does it work? I don't think it can. Wine ageing is complex and poorly understood, and sticking a device in a glass for a limited period is unlikely to reveal too much information about its future trajectory.

Looking at the pictures of this gadget, and reading between the lines of the promotional blurb, I reckon this is a piece of copper mounted in a stainless steel support. The copper will address any reduction present, shifting the wine's redox potential towards the oxidation end of the spectrum. Ageing of wine is not simply oxidation.

The Advertising Standards Agency have this to say about claims made on behalf of this device.

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Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Estremoz, Alentejo

Just returned from my trip. The route back through Portugal from the factory in Spain took us through the middle of the Alentejo wine region, so it seemed sensible to try to have a look around.

After yesterday's continual heavy rain we were greeted by bright blue skies as we set off. The Alentejo looks very different in December to the way it did when I last visited in July 2005.

We stopped off at Estremoz, where Joao Portugal Ramos is based. Within half an hour I had pictures of vineyards, cork groves, workers pruning the vines and also a mechanical pruner in action. There's a sort of bleak beauty to winter vineyards.

The town of Estremoz itself has a sort of rather worn, lived-in feel. The old centre, walled and perched on top of the hill is quite stunning, but in an untidy, unmanicured sort of way. Marble is used as an everyday building material here. Pictured is the tower of what is now the Pousada da Rainha Santa Isabel - remarkably, this is made of marble too. It would have been great to have stayed for a while, but we had a plane to catch. One day I'm going to spend a serious amount of time in Portugal. My fantasy is to buy an old Landrover and spend a few weeks exploring with the family.

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post from the road

Just a rapid post from the road, in a small town called Badajoz, which is just on the border between Spain and Portugal on the Spanish side. I'm with Cube's James Gabbani, who is as good a travelling companion as you could wish for.

Yesterday after a 3 am start we arrived in Lisbon early in the morning, picked up a hire car, and motored through the Alentejo (passing near Evora and Esrtremoz) at a rapid rate. We ended up in a small place about half an hour away from here where Oeneo's Diam facility is located.

Yes, it's a long way to come to see a closures factory, but what a factory. For those of you unfamiliar with Diam, it's a cork-based closure made by gluing together small fragments of cork with some polymer microspheres to make a uniform, inert 'cork'. Sounds a bit unremarkable, but the amazing thing about Diam is that it is completely taint free, because the cork granules are washed by supercritical carbon dioxide. When Carbon dioxide is subjected to a particular combination of temperatures and pressures it enters the supercritical state, where it has the cleaning power of a liquid and the penetration power of a gas. In short, Diam rocks as a wine bottle closure, and it's causing quite a stir in New Zealand, France, Germany, South America and even Australia...other countries are proving tougher to reach.

After the factory visit it was back to Badajoz for a big night out. Well, a night out. James and I devised a new format for a TV wine show, and were 'treated' to a shot of 160% proof black Absinthe by a barman. It was filthsome, evil stuff. James seemed visibly shaken by the experience. I think the fact that I was feeling pretty colded up insulated me from the full force of the experience.

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Monday, December 04, 2006


Just finishing off bits and pieces (an express column and an article on climate change) before my wickedly early start for Spain tomorrow. To accompany my writing, I'm eating a cheese that's new to me: Doux de Montagne, described as a mild cheese with a fruity flavour and a creamy texture. It's mid-way between a hard and soft cheese, and has nice mildly tangy flavour. One I think I'll buy again.

Had a gorgeous Comte last Friday evening at Teddington's L'Auberge. I love Comte, but this one was particularly good, with a lovely smokiness and loads of flavour. Other current favourites include Manchego and Cave Aged Gruyere.

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wine and the brain

Over at the World of Fine Wine website you can download a pdf of the first piece I did for them, back in 2004, on Wine and the brain. It's here. Clearly, I'm biased, because I write for them, but I think that this is a fantastic magazine and you should all subscribe to it.
Off to Spain at 3 am tomorrow (yes...am) with Cube's James Gabbani to visit the Diam factory. Last time I was invited there was the carrot of a Real Madrid vs. Barcelona match thrown in. I couldn't go. This time, they reckoned I was nuts enough to be persuaded without such a carrot, and the impediment of a lost night's sleep.

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bits and pieces

Just received my copy of The Wine Diet, a new book by Professor Roger Corder. Unlike most books on diet it's actually written by a proper scientist, which augurs well for the accuracy of its content. However, Corder has a stake in this debate because he has discovered one of the potential links between wine and health, and he may overplay this hand because of it. We'll see - I'll report back when I've done some reading.

Also received a sample bottle of the Red Heart wine referred to here a few days back. It's a full-throttle, ripe Aussie red with a distinctive blackcurrant flavour, and some nice chunky tannins. For a £5 wine it tastes pretty good. It reminded me strongly of a Chilean Cabernet or Carmenere, with a little bit of greenness behind the powerful sweet fruit.

Still on the subject of health I went to see a doctor over the weekend about my right elbow. It makes a funny crunching noise when I use it. Has done ever since I mashed it up in a fall a few years back. When I swim, play golf or play tennis, it gets quite sore. So I tell the doctor this (a charming young South African guy). He looks at my notes. 'You're almost 40', he says. 'You aren't as young as you used to be'. Is there anything he can do for me, or advise me to do? 'Use it less,' is the response. 'If you play golf every week, play it once a month'. Hmmm. Don't like the sound of this.

Got my first Christmas card today. It's a big (25 x 18 cm) card from Casa Lapostolle with a picture of their immaculate barrel cellar. Not signed by anyone. Posted from Chile.

Aside: Blogger (which I use to publish this blog) is a real pain at the moment. Its image upload feature only works about one attempt in three. It has problems publishing posts perhaps one attempt in 12. Not good enough.

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Sunday, December 03, 2006

Difficult questions

Forgive the non-wine related nature of this entry, but I thought I'd share two rather difficult questions that Fiona was asked as youngest son went to bed last night.
  1. Mum, does Father Christmas visit children in Africa?
  2. Will Father Christmas go to heaven when he dies?

Not tasting any wine tonight because I have another cold. The last one was mild and went quickly. Let's hope the same is true of this one.

Our good friends Karl and Kate are off to Australia for a month on Tuesday, with their three kids. I am jealous of them. A whole month off. Of course, for a freelance wine writer to take a month off would be professional suicide. But the thought of hanging around Aus for 4 weeks appeals immensely. The blighters have even got tickets for the MCG on boxing day!


A magnum of Las Cases

Friday night I was out for a wine dinner at L'Auberge in Teddington. It was c0nvened by Alex Murray, who until recently worked for Berry Bros & Rudd, along with two of his ex-colleagues from Berrys, Chris Maybin and Charlie Bennett. We drank and ate well: Bollinger Grande Annee 1997, Pol Roger Winston Churchill 1996, Colin Deleger Chassagne Montrachet Les Vergers 2003, Langoa Barton 1996, Armand Rousseau Chambertin Clos Des Ruchottes Grand Cru and Mission Hill Reserve Riesling Eiswein 2003 were all polished off with relish. But the highlight for me was the magnum of Leoville Las Cases 1985 that Alex brought along.
Decanted a couple of hours earlier, this was a magical wine, drinking perfectly. Perfumed, open and inviting, this combined sweetness of fruit with lovely earthy minerality. Quite dry and savoury, but very youthful tasting for a 21 year old wine. This is why Bordeaux is so sought after, and why people like to drink it at 20 or 30 years old. Also, magnums just seem to age so well: perhaps they offer the perfect level of oxygen transmission/volume of wine that allows the wine to reach just the right ageing destination. This was also an impeccably cellared bottle, which is so important with older wines. It was so nice to have a whole magnum between the four of us of such a lovely wine.
Got home by bus at about 1.30 am; fell asleep listening to the cricket.

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Saturday, December 02, 2006

Teaching children to drink well

Another BBC News article:

'French schools should teach children the virtues of drinking wine, a report by France's governing party says. The report says children who learn how wines are "cultivated and transformed to acquire their taste" are more likely to stay healthy and respect nature'.

Read the full article here. Sounds great.

This raises the issue of whether learning about wine enhances its enjoyment. I think it does. I also think that as you learn about wine, the nature of the perceptive event (your 'experience') of wine changes. Simplistically speaking, there are two levels of appreciating wine. There's the immediate appreciation of 'niceness' (hedonic valence is the posh term). This is where you say to youself, 'yum, that's delicious', or 'yuk, I don't like that'. But then there's the intellectual level of appreciation, where we call on our past experience and context, and also our intellectual understanding of the wine we are tasting. These thoughts might be more along the lines of 'this is well a balanced St Julien, showing good typicity, a bit of minerality and nice acidity as well as rich fruit; it's quite a young wine, with some development potential ahead of it'. In truth, our assessments usually take both forms, and they are richer for it.

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Friday, December 01, 2006

Health...sort of

All this talk about wine and health has got me thinking. The human body is an amazing piece of engineering. We tend to focus on how it is we get sick, but for me a better perspective is gained by reversing this question: how remarkable it is that we function so well, most of the time. Think about the heart, and how it beats so consistently for so long, when a few moments' malfunction could prove fatal. Think about our skin, and how it forms such an effective self-renewing barrier. Think of your lungs, which are a warm, moist environment that would seem to be a perfect environment for nasty bugs to grow in, yet they rarely do. Still, while we tend to last a long time, we don't last forever.

Wednesday, September 4, 2041 is a day I need to avoid, apparently. According to the rather morbid but funny Death clock, it will be my last on this earth. Perhaps I should hold a big 'drink the cellar dry' party on the evening of the 3rd.

Still on the subject of health, eldest son has developed conjunctivitis and a severe, violent phobia about eye drops at the same time. You have no idea how difficult this is making family life at the moment!

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Stormhoek's Threshers discount goes big

The BBC News site has picked up on the Threshers (UK off licence chain) 40% off deal - a piece of viral marketing originated by Web 2.0 dudes Stormhoek. The downloadable pdf coupon seems to have spread like crazy.

The beauty of this bit of marketing is that everyone benefits, and it isn't as mad an offer on Threshers part as it seems: they have a 3 bottles for 2 across almost their entire range, which works out as a 33% discount. Punters with the piece of paper effectively get another 7% off. So they won't be losing money on the deal. [The wines are priced such that they are good but not exceptional value at the 3 for 2 price.] Everyone seems to be selling wine cheap these days. The UK's two largest supermarkets are currently offering 25% discounts on multiple purchases.

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More on wine antioxidants

Just thought I should expand a bit on my post on the new Red Heart wine. The wine in question is a Petit Verdot/Cabernet Sauvignon from South Australia, bottled in Northants (UK) by Corby for Buckingham Vintners.

The label states that:
'Antioxidants can help inhibit free radicals that occur naturally in your body. Free radicals can damage your health, so a wine that's naturally high in antioxidants has got to be great news!'
This statement cleverly avoids making the claim that the antioxidants in this wine will protect you against free radical oxidative damage to the tissues of your body, but this is implied. Let me make the following points:
  • All the big epidemiological studies (where medics look at the health of populations) show that moderate drinkers live longer. Some studies show that wine drinkers are healthier than beer or spirit drinkers. Some of this could be confounding (for example, there might be some other shared characteristic of moderate drinkers or wine drinkers that makes them a more healthy group). But the effect looks pretty robust.

  • Many mechanisms have been proposed for how wine (or other alcoholic drinks) might have health-enhancing effects. One of these is that wine, and in particular red wine, contains a group of compounds known as polyphenols, which have anti-oxidant properties. Although we need oxygen, it’s actually quite a toxic molecule, and a group of chemicals known as reactive oxygen species cause damage to our body tissues (although they also have a role in fighting microbes). We have various antioxidant defences in our tissues which minimizes the impact of these bad dude chemicals. Damage still occurs, though. So the idea that red wine polyphenols could be enhancing antioxidant protection is a seductive one.

  • There’s a problem, though. Dietary antioxidants don’t seem to work as antioxidants in the body in the same way that they do in the test-tube. The emerging story is that it is increasingly unlikely that any of wine’s health benefits come from the antioxidant effects of polyphenols.

  • It looks like polyphenols may still have a protective effect, but not as antioxidants. One possible mechanism is through their effect in suppressing a molecule called endothelin 1, which would then have a positive effect on arteries and blood vessels. Quite a bit more work needs to be done before we can be sure of this.

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