jamie goode's wine blog: January 2007

Wednesday, January 31, 2007

What I did in Paris

On Monday I was speaking at Wine Evolution, but on Tuesday I had a choice: attend the conference sessions, or do some exploring. Tough one. Not. Much as I love the wine business, wine itself, and one of Europe's great capitals has a bigger pull on me. I was late getting up (we'd been out till 0215 the previous night), but this still gave me time to visit a few wine destinations. In particular, I was interested in Cavistes specializing in vins natural, which is a bit of a fad in France.

First stope was Caves Augť (116, Boulevard Hausmann), which is a fantastic old wine shop, crammed full of wines - the majority of which are 'natural' in one form or another. Customer service isn't perhaps their strong point, and the way the wines are arranged makes it hard to browse efficiently. But this can be forgiven for the wonderful stuff they sell. I purchased three bottles only (I could have purchased two cases) - Morgon Vieilles Vignes 2005 Jean-Paul Thevenet, Morgon 2004 Cuvee 3,14 Jean Foillard and Morgon Vieilles Vignes 2004 Guy Breton.

Next I visited La Cremerie/Caves Miard (9, rue des Quatre-Vents - pictured), a charming wine bar and shop located in a tiny old dairy. Here I bought Anjou 2004 Agnes et Remi Mosse, Cheville de Fer 2005 VdP du Loir et Cher O Lemasson and Les Marrons Villages Vin de Table Lot 04 05 Gilles et Catherine Verge.

Then it was off to lunch with philosopher Ophelia Deroy, who specializes in the philosophy of science and has contributed to the forthcoming wine and philosophy volume 'Questions of Taste', which is being edited by her partner Dr Barry Smith (I'm also contributing a paper to this book). We met at Caves Legrand, which is a wonderful caviste and small wine bar. I came away with a solitary bottle, Domaine Richaud Cairanne 2005, but this was only because I was already carrying six, and I was cutting it fine for catching the Eurostar.

There's a lot of fun to be had for wine nuts in Paris; I only scratched the surface. I will be back, I hope, fairly soon.

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Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Irouleguy

A tasting note on a Basque country wine that speaks for itself:

Arretxea Iroulťguy 2004 Southwest France
I love Iroulťguy, and this is a good one. A deep cherry red colour, it has a wonderful nose of bright red fruit with a delicious, minerally, gravelly, rain on a hot pavement quality. Deep and quite complex. The palate shows fresh fruit and more of that gravelly quality, together with a meaty depth. Itís fresh, focused and savoury: the sweet fruit makes it accessible but what I enjoy is the minerally savoury depth and the freshness. Very good/excellent 92/100 (Les Caves de Pyrene, http://www.lescaves.co.uk/)

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Paris

Iíve been in Paris for a couple of days at the Wine Evolution conference, where yesterday I spoke at both afternoon sessions, one of logistics, the other on closures. The real value of these events, however, is not information, but the people you meet. I guess thatís why business people still rack up the airmiles in this information age, when there are other much cheaper and simpler ways of corresponding: nothing beats a face to face meeting. Today Iím a free agent and itís a great opportunity to hunt down interesting wines in Paris, as well as just walking the streets and seeing some famous sights. Pictured is the view from my hotel window (33rd floor), the tones warmed by the early morning sunshine.

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Sunday, January 28, 2007

southwestern white

The southwest of France rocks. Big time. As well as meaty, bloody, rock-essence reds, it produces some interesting whites, from the likes of the two Mansengs and a range of other unusual white varieties. And because these wines are ignored by points chasers and 'collectors', you and I can afford them.

Latest wine in the tasting queue was Domaine Berthoumieu's 2005 Pacherenc du Vic Bilh Sec. It's a white wine from the Madiran region, made from old vines. It's a powerful concoction, with a bold nose of herbs, vanilla, nuts and hay. The palate is intense with ripe conference pear fruit and good acidity countering the intense, almost oily flavours. Full of personality, and probably a bit too much for palates that have been weaned on Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay. It tastes to me as if there has been a good bit of skin contact (not usual with modern white wines) as well as a bit of new oak.


UK availability: Les Caves de Pyrene (www.lescaves.co.uk)

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Friday, January 26, 2007

Paris, France

I'm off to Paris, France (as the Americans like to call it) on Sunday, for the [expensive] Wine Evolution conference. I was originally going to be moderating the closures session, but lo and behold they put me down for the logistics session as well, presumably on the back of a piece I did for the 2005 Harpers Logistics Supplement. Since I found this out I've been swotting up on logistics, which I will soon be a world expert on! I'm more confident about the closures presentation, because I had a run-through of essentially the same one at last week's Wine+ event.

Talking of logistics, I've been following with interest reports in the press about stricken container ship Napoli, which is currently lying a mile off the Devon coast. It has been amusing to see the press talk about wine being looted as people walk off carrying barrels...do they know how much a barrel of wine weighs? And that it has been a long time since wine is shipped in barrel. The barrels in question are actually new ones from Tonnellerie Boutes, destined for South Africa. Bit of a shame to turn £425 barrels into flower tubs. Maybe they could be used to spoof up some English wines.
While in Paris, I've got the best part of a day to explore. I plan to spend it visiting wine shops and wine bars, particularly those with an interest in 'natural wines', of which there are a few.

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Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Mitolo Reiver

On both occasions that Iíve tasted through the Mitolo wines Iíve come away impressed (see e.g. here). Made by new Aussie superstar Ben Glaetzer, theyíve seemed to combine ripeness and size with a good degree of that almost indefinable character shared by most fine wines: elegance.
I was quite looking forward to comparing the 2001 and 2004 vintages of the Reiver Barossa Shiraz in the relaxed setting of the Goode kitchen, where itís not just a question of a sniff, a slurp, a spit and a rapidly penned note. At home thereís time to revisit a wine; to drink it; to try to get to understand what it is saying.

I uncorked the 2001 (the 2004 is screwcapped), and took a sniff. Very sweet and forward, not much else. A few minutes later and I came back to it. It wasnít quite right. Under the sweet fruit was a faint earthy, slightly musty edge. This persisted for a couple of days. I can only assume itís fallen victim to some low level cork taint. Not enough for it to be obvious, but enough for the wine not to be working properly.

So on to the 2004. Initially this showed sweet jammy fruit, but after a while it developed a savoury nose of red and black fruits, with good purity and a minerally, tarry core. The concentrated palate showed lots of sweet fruit and some spicy tannin, with a hint of greenness. The second day it became complex, chocolatey, spicy and liquoricey, with good structure.

It wasnít utterly convincing, though (and when I checked back later, I saw that this was the least impressive of the premium wines when I'd tasted them before, although it was still pretty good). Then I looked more closely on the back label. This wine was labelled Ďlate harvestí, and the displayed alcohol level was 15%. Iím not saying that itís fundamentally wrong to have high alcohol levels: some wines can carry this. Grenache, in particular. But it does affect the wine when you reach levels of 15%, which I think is just too much for most table wines to bear. Would this wine have come across better at lower alcohol? You know, it might have done. It's hard to say, for sure, and Ben has to work with what nature gives him. But high alcohol is an issue that worries me.

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snow

We had snow this morning. The most weíve had for a good few years (which isn't a lot - about an inch). The boys made a snowman, and Rosie the labradoodle experienced cold white stuff for the first time, and went a bit crazy. Didnít last long, but we enjoyed it while it was here.

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Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Arrivals


Been some fresh arrivals chez Goode. First, a new printer. My old inkjet died, and I've replaced it with another inkjet. It wasn't expensive. Inkjet printers represent the ugly side of modern retailing. The hardware is cheap; they sting you for the ink cartridges. Ink, of course, is very cheap. But by putting it in special cartridges that look all technical, they ensure that you don't mind forking out substantial sums of money on these devices at regular intervals.

The modern retail environment takes advantage of human psychology. We stall when faced with a high upfront cost, but stomach regular, less painful cash outflows quite well. The great example of this is my boys and their sticker books, where if they realized up front how much a completed sticker book would cost, they'd be horrified, and would put their money to better use. Or would they? Because their other great passion, Playstation, works on the same principle - the console is cheap, but the games expensive.

Back to printers: apparently some printer manufacturers underfill the cartridges supplied with the printer. My printer manual advises me that the cartridges won't last as long as they should because of the ink required to 'prime' the printer heads. Sounds like an evil lie to me. And they didn't supply a USB lead to connect the printer with. So I pop into a nearby Dixons. The USB leads look very fancy, but are £19.99 each. How much? Are they crazy? After rooting around a bit I find one for £14.99, but this is still absurdly expensive, even though it is beautifully packaged. I ask one of the staff whether they have any reasonably priced USB leads and get a blank look in exchange. What sort of business model is this, where consumers are being charged over the odds for peripherals? Probably one that works to extract maximum cash for minimum pain on the part of the consumer, who is anxious to get their printer working as soon as possible. In the end I pick one up in Maplins the following day for £6.49, which is still a little steep.

The second noteworthy arrival is a Fed-Ex bag with 100 Diams in it. Of the taint-free, in-neck closures available - Diam, synthetic cork and ProCork - all would have done probably done a good job with my wine. It was just easiest to obtain the Diams, and I think they'll fit my purpose well. The big question now is whether I bottle my red wine lots separately (in five or six bottle runs), or combine everything and bottle just one red wine. [The white wine is already blended in a big container.] It's a difficult choice. I'm slightly concerned about the effect of any oxygen pick-up during blending prior to bottling. But a cuvee of just five bottles is hardly sensible, if I'm to be sending out bottles to friends and colleagues.

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Monday, January 22, 2007

Cheap Carignan cheer

A plug for a really enjoyable cheap red wine:

La Difference Carignan 2005 Vin de Pays des Cotes Catalanes, France
A brilliant cheapie, with lots of personality, from the oft-maligned Carignan grape - which these days is being treated a bit more seriously by some winemakers. It's quite robust and structured, yet at the same time is made in a modern fruity style. There's some dense, spicy fruit with a fresh peppery character and a bit of cured meat richness. It's finished off with fresh acidity. It's not a wine that demands to be taken seriously, but along with the joyful fruit, there's far more seriousness than the price tag would suggest. It's a cheap wine that would satisfy people who understand and like wine. Very good+ 85/100 (Sainsbury £3.99)

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Michel Laroche

Spent some time this evening tasting 2005 Grand Cru Chablis from Laroche and Fevre. It was also the first time I'd met Michel Laroche. As well as being a very good Chablis producer, Laroche is also famous for being an advocate of screwcaps. He's been a pioneer in a country that has been quite slow to adopt alternative closures.

'I started using screwcaps in the 2002 vintage', he explains. 'That year we sold 3% of our total production under screwcap; last year it was 32%; and this year we think it will be 60%'. Interestingly, in 2002 he used the saranex-only liner, which allows more oxygen transmission than the tin liner that has been so popular in New Zealand and Australia. Discussions with Jeffrey Grosset and Michael Brajkovic led him to switch to the tin liner for following vintages. The 2002 Les Clos, bottled with the saranex liner, was on tasting, and showed very well.

How has this shift affected sales? 'We've probably lost 5% of customers, but I think we've gained 15% or more', he estimates. 'I'm not going to change my mind!'

I asked Laroche whether he gets fed up about discussing closures; shouldn't the emphasis be on the wine? But he likes the issue; it's one he feels strongly about. I did ask him about the 2005 vintage. 'My first vintage was 1963', he says, 'when I carried the hod.' [Laroche was 17 then; doing the sums, I reckon he looks very youthful for 60.] 'My first proper vintage was 1967, and a vintage like 2005 is very rare'. He cites the 2005 ripeness levels combined with good natural acidity as being unique in his experience.

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Sunday, January 21, 2007

Musar 99

Love it or hate it, there's nothing like Chateau Musar, the iconic Lebanese red. I happen to like it a lot, while recognizing that a typical bottle of the stuff would make an ideal wine to pour at a wine faults clinic. But, amazingly, the melange of odd flavours in Musar usually work together, to produce a complex, ageworthy red wine in almost every vintage. That Musar ages well was testified to by the impressive array of bottles present at a wine geek 'offline' dinner a couple of years back, dubbed the Musarathon.

What about 1999? I'm happy to report that this is a fine vintage of Musar. An it's still well priced (in the USA this is much, much pricier).

Chateau Musar 1999 Bekaa Valley, Lebanon
Red with a bricking rim it has a slightly volatile nose showing lifted, earthy, spicy, rather baked fruit. The palate is warm, mouthfilling, spicy and dry with lots of sweet spicy elements and a slightly metallic tang on the finish. Nicely complex and rather funky. The tannins have softened such that they're almost non-existent in terms of providing structure. Very good/excellent 91/100 (£13.75 Waitrose)


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Saturday, January 20, 2007

Zontes Footstep

I hesitate to post this note, lest my loyal readers despise me as a lover of spoofy, fake wine. But I feel I need to come clean. I enjoyed the new release (2006) of the Zonte's Footstep Shiraz (94%) Viognier 6%) 2006 McLaren Vale. It's certainly a very ripe, full-on Aussie wine. But what I like is the purity of the fruit, and the fact that as well as sweetness it offers some spicy, peppery complexity. There's even a hint of ginger. It works really well - it's the sort of wine you want another glass of (although perhaps not a third glass).

Look, you don't always want to be reading Proust and Joyce - sometimes you are in the mood for John Grisham and Joanne Harris. It's a bit like that with wine. I enjoy the serious stuff, but I also enjoy the less weighty, perhaps more ephemeral wines that suit a mood or occasion. There are good spoofy wines and bad ones. This Zonte's, in its style, is a really well made wine. Perhaps the only thing I'd change about it is that I'd use reverse osmosis to dial the alcohol down a little - perhaps from its present 14.5% to around 13.9% - I reckon this would really help the wine. Heck, at 13% you'd have a world-beating Crozes-Hermitage.

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Friday, January 19, 2007

Recent coverage of screwcap faults

I mentioned earlier my disap- pointment about how the 'screwcaps fault' issue has been treated in the press. My response is now online.

The Wine+ closures talk I did yesterday was OK. Well enough attended, but I reckon I rushed through my material a bit. Always hard to know how you did when you are presenting technical stuff to a largely non-techie audience; I think I judged some bits well, some badly.
Caught up with Tony Jordan again and tasted the Cloudy Bay and Cape Mentelle ranges. Also tried Vickbar's excellent Greek range.

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Thursday, January 18, 2007

A wine that's good enough

Domaine Tempier Bandol 1999 (from half)
A wine that's good enough. Not great, but it tastes like Bandol and worked as a wonderful match to a wild mushroom risotto. It's earthy, with some red fruit, and savoury spiciness. There's also a gamey sort of quality to it. The dominant feature is the savoury earthiness. It's not great, but I enjoyed it. Makes it hard to rate, because on another occasion it might not work so well. I guess this reinforces the importance of context, and why it is a bit daft asking which the 'best' wine is without knowing how the wine is destined to be drunk.

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wine+

Giving a talk this afternoon at wine+ at Olympia. It's on the subject of closures, a topic that is currently of great media interest (see here, here and here). It's very disappointing to have such inaccurate coverage of this topic. I'll blog more on this later explaining why I think these articles haven't got it right.

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Tuesday, January 16, 2007

The Yarra

I'm currently in the process of writing up last year's Yarra trip. Absurdly late, I know, but it's because I'm still in a position where I'm learning so much, visiting, tasting and asking, and it's quite tough to be disciplined enough to write everything up, which I mean to do.

At the New Zealand tasting I met up with Tony and Michele Jordan, who kindly hosted me on my visit. It was really good to see them again. I'd heard that things hadn't been so good in the Yarra this vintage: phylloxera and frosts had been reported on in the press. Tony explained that while the frosts had been a real problem - with Chandon losing 80% of this year's production and Yering Station 100% - phylloxera wasn't as bad as people had made out. There had been an outbreak, but it was of the non-winged version. The worst-case scenario is of spread through the valley, but at such a slow speed that growers would have a decade to replant to resistant rootstock (currently almost all vines are on their own roots). For Chandon, the main problem is the restrictions that any nearby phylloxera outbreak brings, which can be a real hassle.

One of the visits that struck me the most on my trip was to Yeringberg. Guill de Pury (pictured above), as well as being a Swiss count, is one of the pioneers of the Yarra resurgence. In the 1920s winegrowng disappeared from the valley; in the 1970s he and a small band of other pioneers were responsible for the re-birth of viticulture here. Meeting him and his wife, and tasting their wines, was a connection with some important history (read more here). I think the portrait captured some of that.

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The bottles arrive!

Got home to find several large boxes in the living room. Turned out to be 100 bottles from the Quinn Group, for the inaugural vintage (here) of my English wine that I intend to bottle in the next few weeks. Arriving soon will be 100 Diams (the closure I've chosen - it's taint free - and I don't have a screwcap line here so that wasn't an option - other taint-free in-neck closure options would be to use ProCork [the membrane cork] or synthetics, both of which would have suited my needs fine). So far the wine hasn't seen any sulfur dioxide, but I'll probably add just a little at bottling.

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A nice tasting...and a new discovery

Todayís Richards Walford tasting at the Baltic was a bit of a treasure trove: lots of interesting stuff. This year we had Riedel glasses Ė a great improvement on the restaurant glasses we had last year, an improvement for which we were all suitably grateful. [See my post here. Karen from R-W reminded me of this today, and pointed out that the glasses cost 0.50 each to rent.] ]In fact, if thereís one consistent change in professional tastings that Iíve noted over the last three or four years is the increasing use of the Riedel Chianti glass as the standard tasting glass over less suitable tasting glasses (including the rather small but otherwise nicely shaped ISO).

I didnít taste as diligently as I could have done. I spent an afternoon, when there was plenty there to occupy me for the whole day. And I talked lots. It was nice to bump into Jorge Borges who was showing the Passadouro wines, and David Harvey, who is moving increasingly into the area of natural wines Ė a real interest of mine. It was also nice to chat to Alister Viner from Harrods, who I met in the Douro in July, and George Austin of Tulbagh Mountain Vineyards.

I met Olivier Jullien for the first time and tasted through a vertical of Mas Jullien from the Languedoc. These are impressive wines. But perhaps the Ďfindí of the tasting were the wonderful Ch‚teauneuf du Papes of Isabel Ferrando at Domaine St Prťfert. I donít think Iíve ever tasted such an exciting set of wines from the Southern RhŰne: these showed wonderful elegance and purity, alongside remarkable complexity. She was previously a banker with Credit Agricole, and only purchased her 15 hectares of vineyard in 2003, which was her first vintage. She gained experience with a number of winemakers, her biggest influence being Henri Bonneau. ĎPrefer my wines to be elegant and feminine, like those of Bonneauí, she reveals. ĎHe doesnít interfere much, but he understandsí.

Olivier Jullien (pictured) wins the prize for best jumper of the day. Congratulations Olivier!

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Monday, January 15, 2007

Michael Seresin

Was at the New Zealand annual tasting at Lord's this afternoon, where among other things I spent some time chatting with famous cinemato-
grapher and wine producer Michael Seresin.

Seresin first left New Zealand in the late 1960s for Italy, and it was a real culture shock. 'How people lived was opposite to how I'd lived in New Zealand', he recalls. After a spell in the UK, he moved back to Italy once more, and clearly was captured by the culture of food and wine he experienced there. 'I like what wine embraces', he says, and when he decided to turn his hand to making the stuff, his first thought was to do it in Italy, before settling on his home country as the destination. 'I didn't think I'd be smart enough to do business in Italy', says Seresin. 'Besides, you are free to do a lot more in the New World than the Old'.

As befits a filmmaker whose attention is frequently on the quality of the light, as much as what is in the shot, the Seresin wines have a transparency to them. There's almost a quality of lightness that brings a sharp focus on what is present in the wine (does this sort of synaesthetic description work, or does it just sound pseudy?).

Of the wines, for me the standouts are the focused, precise Sauvignon Blanc and the two wonderful, complex, balanced Pinot Noirs. Perhaps it's the influence of organics and biodynamics that Seresin practices, or the fact that everything is done by hand, but this is an impressive set of wines. And the cinematographer influence came out when I asked Michael if I could take his picture. 'Don't use the flash,' he advised. 'The natural light is good in here.'

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Sunday, January 14, 2007

walking the dog, drinking Chianti

It has been a weekend of walks. Mostly dog-driven activity. On Saturday morning a quick jaunt through local Hanworth Park, and then in the afternoon a lengthy romp through Windsor Great Park (including a winter picnic of hot soup and bread), where Rosie jumped into the water for the first time. Then today another early morning Hanworth Park visit, followed by a longer walk in Richmond Park in the afternoon. While winter has a beauty all of its own, I'm really looking forward to spring and summer, when all this outdoor activity will be much more inviting.

I said some slightly mean things about Chianti a week or two ago - and one reader disagreed enough to send me an upset e-mail. So in a spirit of fairness and reconciliation, I'm going to persevere and add data points by drinking more Chianti. A bottle I enjoyed a lot more than the previous few is the Fonterutoli Chianti Classico 2004. It's dense and spicy, with a very Italian cedary, almost medicinal streak under the concentrated red and black fruits. It isn't terribly refined, but there's some gutsy presence that I enjoy. I wouldn't go so far as to say it's rustic - but its intense savoury character makes it a useful food wine. It's not cheap at £17.99 (Swig, Noel Young, Harrods, The Wine Society), but it is an accomplished wine, and I'd give it 91/100 if you want a score. This is a wine that shows that my two categories classification of Chianti (dilute and sappy or spoofy and oaky) is actually wrong. This is recognizably Chianti, but it has plenty of richness and concentration. Could age very well, too.

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Saturday, January 13, 2007

Gewurztraminer

Fiona and I suffered West Wing withdrawal bravely for three days, before I snapped and purchased the box set of the second series (£29.99 from Borders - and on ebay these are selling for £25, so I think I'll recoup most of this outlay). So last night and tonight we saw four episodes in all.

Back to wine. Now Gewurztraminer isn't a grape I have a great deal of affection for, but I'm drinking two rather different but brilliant expressions of this variety at the moment. Both are from the Alsace region, and are available from UK supermarket Morrisons. The first is the Preiss-Zimmer Gewurztraminer 2004, which is sealed with a saranex-lined screwcap (this allows a little more ox-trans than the more commonly encountered tin-lined cap). It's full flavoured, perfumed and has lots of the typical Gewurz lychee fruit. Good acidity offsets the richness nicely, and it's sort of dry. A really useful food wine (£6.99).

The second is the Cave de Turckheim Grand Cru Brand Gewurztraminer 2002, and it's brilliant, with lots of apricot, peach and lychee fruit. It's fat, viscous and quite sweet, but with good spice and acid providing balance. Certainly a sweet wine, but not a dessert wine. Well worth the £13.99 price ticket.

How do you use these wines? The dogma is that Gewurz works with spicy food. I think these would also be OK with anything rich and fatty. The latter wine, being richer and sweeter, would also do the classic foie gras combination quite well.

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Friday, January 12, 2007

Yellow tail

I recently got sent some samples from a supermarket, which included the 2004 Yellow Tail Shiraz. For those of you who

http://www.casellawine.com.au/wine.asp?wID=1&bID=23

http://basicjuice.blogs.com/basicjuice/2005/08/yummy_yellow_ta.html


Apparently, this is the best-selling red wine in the USA. That's remarkable.

The 2002 got 85 Parker points

Noel Young describes it as 'one of our most popular wines'


Yes, it's off-dry and a bit confected if I'm going to be honestly critical; it's not a serious wine; but it has that quality of deliciousness. Much like vanilla ice cream, you want another mouthful. And in cheap wine, is that a bad thing? There's every possibility that for those for whom this is their first experience of wine, it will be a positive one. Who knows? They may even develop a taste for decent wine through such a tasty entry level product. Because the winemaker(s) have managed, by fair means or foul, to get the balance right with this wine.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Slovenian Sauvignon

Must say a little more about the Simcic Sauvignon Reserve 2004 from Slovenia. It's Sauvignon, but not as you know it. The grapes are harvested relatively late and then, rather than press the juice off straight away or after just a short skin contact, as is normal for whites, the skins are given an extended maceration of about a week. This results in a deep coloured wine with some of the characteristics of a red wine: a bit of tannin and bold, herb-tinged flavours. There's sweet, grapey, melony fruit here, together with a bit of grassy herbal character. It's distinctive, warm and intense. I wouldn't say it's profound - after all, this is Sauvignon, and it lacks true complexity or minerality. Also, I could understand some people writing this off as clumsy. But I like it because it is interesting and it makes me think about what I'm tasting. It's available in the UK from H&H Bancroft, who have just taken Simcic on, but isn't yet on their website.

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Wednesday, January 10, 2007

A new book project and cheese

Tripped off to Islington today to visit MQ Publications. I'm going to be doing a book with them, on wine, but not as you know it. The team there have come up with a brilliant idea for a wine book that isn't like other wine books, and is of general appeal. Yvonne Deutsch, who will edit the project, has some wonderful ideas and will be a hands on editor - it will be fun working with someone who wants to have some creative input in the project. Will share more details when it's the right time. One of the MQP people who has been advocating this project strongly is Simon Majumdar, who is a bit of a wine nut. He has an excellent foodie blog, which can be found at http://www.majbros.blogspot.com/.

This evening I supped on Comte cheese and a fantastic bread (ancienne) from Villandry, which at £2 is an expensive loaf. But consider that crap plastic bread costs £0.70 a pop, then this - one of the best breads I've had - is a total bargain.
Washed down with several wines, including three of the remarkable Simcic whites (from Slovenia), which see extended skin contact - this makes them a little tannic. They're weird by modern standards, but I like them a lot. I'd love to make a wine that's a blend of red and white grapes, treated like a red wine with maceration on skins, and with balance achieved not by blending but in the fermenter.

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Tuesday, January 09, 2007

when the points don't work...more Chardonnay

Scoring wines with points shouldn't be taken too seriously. It's quite a useful shorthand for saying how much you like a wine - and in this sense, people who choose not to use points neatly avoid putting their necks on the line, because you can read a written description any number of ways.

But despite their utility, points fail in some circumstances. They convey no information about style and character - or about the sort of context where a particular wine might perform very well or badly.

Two Chardonnays that have recently passed my lips are good examples of wines where points aren't up to much. One is a big, fat Californian; the other, a remarkably intense Slovenian. Both could be enjoyed or hated, depending on the occasion and personal preference - information not contained in a score.

Simcic Chardonnay Rťserve 2003 Goriöka, Brda, Slovenia
3133 bottles produced in March 2006; this spends 7Ė8 days in contact with the skins. A deep yellow/gold colour it has a really interesting nose. Itís quite tight with some herbal fruit married with bakery smells and vanilla oak, but thereís also a savoury, slightly oily complexity here. The palate is dense, a little tannic even, with a heavy toasty oak imprint and sweet, bready, herby fruit. Itís a full-on Chardonnay of great intensity and concentration Ė no doubt a bit too full on for some. I like it, though. Very good/excellent 90/100 (H&H Bancroft) 01/07

Hess Select Chardonnay 2004 California
A fat, buttery Californian Chardonnay thatís rich and broad with thick tropical and figgy fruit. Thereís also some sweet vanillin butteriness. Itís a seductive, immediate sort of wine whose obvious charms tire a little quickly, but if you like fat Chardonnays youíll love this. Very good+ 85/100 (£8.49 Wine Society. Oxford Wine, D Byrne, Handford)

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Monday, January 08, 2007

West Wing

One of my birthday presents in late November was a box set of series 1 of the West Wing. We finished watching the last episode (no 22) tonight. Of course, almost all television is horrible nonsense, but every now and then there's something that is compelling viewing. The West Wing is one of those programmes, and I can't believe that we missed it for seven years and seven series. The dialogue is wonderful; the writing is tight; the pace just right - and there's a feel good factor that no British treatment of politics would ever contemplate. Jed Bartlet is the political leader we'd all love but will never get.

Fiona and I have a habit of coming late to things. We managed to avoid The Lord of the Rings until last week, when we watched the first two of the three films. It took us four sessions to get through them, though.

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Sunday, January 07, 2007

beer... and more cheese

Big lunch here chez Goode today, with a number of friends, including our chums who've just returned from a month in Aus. They bought with them a bottle of De Bortoli's Gulf Station Pinot Noir 2005 (Oddbins) from the Yarra, and it was really nice. De Bortoli rock at the moment - there are some great wines coming from their Yarra operation. I'm in the process of writing up my report on a visit there.

Two beers and two cheeses tonight. The cheeses were English: a Colston Bassett Stilton and Keen's Farmhouse Cheddar. Both were really lovely, with the deliciously rich, creamy Keen's winning first place in my affections. While the Colston is impressive, I'm still struggling a tiny bit with blue cheeses.

On the beer front, Sierra Navada Pale Ale really works for me. An orange/brown colour this has a complex fruity, spicy aroma with tangy citrus notes, and in the mouth it's hoppy and spicy with lovely balance. Brilliant, and widely available (Tesco, Sainsbury, Waitrose, Morrisonís, Co-Op, Boothís). Another enjoyable beer in a similar style is the Proper Job IPA from the St Austell Brewery in Cornwall. This has a lovely citrus and honey nose with a warm malty note, and in the mouth the sweet, spicy fruit is backed up by nice hoppiness. It's a great food beer, and it's available from The Beer Club of Britain.

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Saturday, January 06, 2007

Petit Pinotage

It has been a wet old day over here in west London. It started early when Rosie woke up at 05.17. Then some good friends arrived back from 4 weeks in Australia seeing family, and had to rouse us at 06.38 to pick up a key for their house. They are coming to lunch tomorrow, and I'm eager to hear how they got on - it was their first visit to Aus, but I can see them emigrating there...

I took youngest son over to the Two Rivers retail complex in Staines to spend some of his Christmas money. Staines battles it out with various Medway towns for the title of the UK's Chav capital, and Two Rivers is where Chavs really love to hang out. Still, I managed to find myself some decent running shoes, and youngest son purchased a Playstation game and a hip-hop/rap CD (he isn't allowed CDs labelled 'parental guidance', which severely limits his choice in this musical genre).

Tonight's wine is a cheapie. It's Ken Forrester's Petit Pinotage 2005, which is £4.48 from Asda. I like it, as much as I can really like Pinotage. Perhaps that sounds a bit negative, but i'm just being honest. By not taking Pinotage too seriously - and interpreting it as a good-time, slightly off-the-wall variety - Ken has made an attractive, juicy berry fruited red with some green herbal and medicinal Pinotage funk, in a format where this funk helps add to the fun character of the wine. I'd serve this wine slightly chilled with honest, rustic fare. It has edges, and these are all too often lacking in inexpensive wines. The packaging is great, too.

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two more cheeses

A non-wine digression... Long-time readers will probably recall that I'm developing a bit of a nerdy interest in cheese, after never eating it at all until a couple of years ago. I'm no expert, though - although it's fun exploring the rather bewildering variety of cheeses out there.
Had two cheeses for the first time in recent days. First, Appenzeller, which is a rather spicy, tangy mountain cheese that's moderately hard. Quite nice. Then, a little more to my tastes, another cheese called Ossau Iraty. This is a semi-hard sheep's cheese from the French Pyrenees, and it tastes a bit like Manchego, although it's a little softer and creamier. It's really nice.
Cheese raises for me the issue of typicity. When you buy a particular cheese you want it to taste the way it should, because it is labelled by its 'appellation'. If a wine is labelled by an appellation, by labelling it thus the winemaker is entering into a sort of contract with the consumer that this wine should taste of where it comes from. The question is, who decides what a wine from a particular place should taste like?

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Friday, January 05, 2007

Ashes and Port

Just watched the last of the Ashes highlights. These have been staple viewing over the last couple of months - I think I've only missed two of them. And how depressing for England cricket fans like me to see such abject capitulation.

Still, let's put it in perspective. We have an averagely good England side up against an awesomely good, ruthlessly professional Australia side - who would hammer any other test side at the moment, the way they are playing. Credit is due to the likes of Warnie, Ponting and McGrath for being so good. And England didn't help themselves with their amateurish preparation for this series.

To console myself, I cracked open another 2003 Vintage Port. This time it was Cockburn's Quinta da Canais 2003. It's very enjoyable even at this early stage, with dense, spicy dark fruits. There's good structure here, but also a little bit of a green streak, which will no doubt mellow with age, but I reckon will cause this wine to be a solid mid-term drinker rather than a truly serious Vintage Port for the long haul. Score-wise, I reckon perhaps 90/100, which recognizes the admirable density and oomph, but also acknowledges the lack of real class and finesse that would take this wine into the premiership.

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Thursday, January 04, 2007

Three Chiantis

Three Chiantis last night. I dunno about you, but Iíve never really got into Chianti. Most of them tend to fall into one of two camps: either basic, honest, dark cherry fruited examples with a bit of plummy bitterness and a savoury streak, or souped-up, rather oaky Chiantis with the foot full down on the throttle. Iím not terribly keen on either.

These three were nice enough wines, but considering their price tags, disappointed a bit. I liked the fact that they were savoury, with good acidity, but I came away a little underwhelmed: there wasnít quite enough to grab the attention. Of course, itís too small a sample to draw any conclusions from, and it needs to be borne in mind that both 2002 and 2003 were problematic vintages here.

Poggio Torselli Chianti Classico 2003
Ripe, sweet cherry fruit nose with some spicy 'old cask' and mineral/tar notes. The palate is midweight with a tarry, tannic, subtly herbal edge to the cherry and red fruits. A drinkable food wine, but perhaps a little dilute to be really good. Sappy and savoury, I guess. Very good+ 87/100 (£10.95 Flying Corkscrew)

Casaloste Chianti Classico 2004
Sweet dark cherry fruit nose with a savoury twist and some tarry minerality. Slightly roasted. The palate is a little sappy with midweight fresh cherryish fruit. Nice acidity gives it a savoury, food friendly personality. Juicy but perhaps a little lacking in concentration considering the price tag. Very good+ 88/100 (£14.95 Jeroboams)

Cecchi Monteguelfo Chianti Classico Riserva 2002
Light colour. Evolved earthy nose leads to a soft, savoury palate with an earthy character and a drying finish. Drinkable and not without some charm, but disappointing. Very good 82/100 (£9.99 Thresher, Wine Rack)

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Wednesday, January 03, 2007

The realities of dog ownership

We have now had Rosie the labradoodle for three weeks (she's pictured right walking with one of our nieces in Burnham Beeches on Monday). Here are my observations on dog ownership thus far.
  1. Dogs need walking every day, so this is a strong incentive to get out more often. Although sometimes the idea of going for a walk might not appeal, itís one of those things that you almost always enjoy once you are doing it. So thatís a plus point.

  2. Rosie needs to be put into her cage at nightóthis is where she sleeps. Itís cosy enough, as cages go, but she doesnít sleep for as long as the average human. Thus we have a choice. Put her to bed about midnight and then sheíll stay there to about 5.30 am when she begins her dawn chorus of loud yelps and barks, or put her to bed earlier and risk being awakened by canine howls at 4 am. Either way, thereís some sleep deprivation involved.

  3. Dogs smell. Not too much, but they definitely smell doggy.

  4. Dogs need more attention than cats. They donít really like being left alone. Itís like having a furry four-legged toddler in the house.

  5. Normally, if you speak to strangers this immediately identifies you as a nutter. But if youíve got a dog, suddenly the whole world is your friend. Itís mostly, but not exclusively, other dog owners who will approach you and initiate conversation. Usually they begin by patting or stroking your dog. Then they speak to you. Itís friendly ní all, but at first it seems a little odd. However, in a bid to avoid repetition, Iím thinking of wearing a small sandwich board bearing the following information ĎName: Rosie Ė Age: 14 weeks Ė Breed: labradoodle (Labrador ◊ Poodle cross)í.

  6. Iíve learned not to go for a walk without one or two plastic bags. This is because it is hideously antisocial to leave a dog turd lying in a public place where someone might tread in it. [Bitter experience speaks: one of my kids is a turd magnet and rarely enters the house without one on a shoe of his. ] After a while you get used to picking them up, even though it is revolting.

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Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Organic white Minervois

An interesting white that I wanted to blog about. It was a sample sent some time back, and rather frustratingly I have no recollection of who it was sent by, although I'm pretty sure it wasn't a major UK retailer - perhaps direct from the domaine.

Le Moulin des Nonnes Cuvee Ines Blanc 2003 Minervois, Languedoc, France
A blend of 50% Roussanne, 40% Grenache Blanc and 10% Muscat a Petits Grains; organically grown grapes. A deep colour, this has a beguiling minerality to the ripe, melony fruit. It's from a hot year, but it combines ripeness with a lovely mineralic freshness, with the result that it's a fat wine walking the line of overripeness but just staying on the right side. You've got to be in the mood for this sort of white, which with its declared 14% alcohol packs a bit of a punch, but it does it very well - creditably, the oak is barely noticeable, which allows the fruit the spotlight. It's the beatifully perfumed nose that wins it for me. Very good/excellent 90/100

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