jamie goode's wine blog: February 2007

Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Comparing notes

How consistent is your palate from day to day? And how much bottle variation exists? If you use scores, what sort of error margin is built in to them? In the light of such questions, it's nice to be able to compare notes made on separate occasions. It's best when you don't remember having tasted a wine previously, because then there's no temptation to score the same the second time round.

I was planning to write up the last of the natural wines I purchased in Paris last month on this blog, but then leafing through past notes I realised that I'd reviewed this producers wines last May - the write-up went live this week (here). I'm adding here my notes from drinking the wine the other night, which are as written. You can compare them and see how close the perceptions were, even though they were separated by several months, and made in different environments. Always a healthy comparison to make.

Domaine Rosse Anjou 2004 France
Very deep colour. Dark, savoury, gravelly, minerally nose with some cured meat and black fruits notes. The palate is very savoury and tannic - verging on the austere - with vibrant black fruits, gravelly, earthy undertones and a hint of black olives. This is extreme and wonderful: a real delight for fans of wines with personality. Very good/excellent 91/100

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A dodgy Chardonnay, and a nice one

Two more Chardon-
nays, one bad, one good value.
Bridgewater Mill Chardonnay 2002 South Australia
Combining fruit from Petaluma’s vineyards in the Adelaide Hills, Coonawarra and Clare Valley, this is a Chardonnay that has seen better days. Beautiful quality cork, though. A full yellow colour, it has a rather off-putting nose that combines buttery richness with a tinned pea/herbal character. The palate is equally uninviting, with some disjointed alcohol, bitter herbs and the beginnings of an oxidative honeyed and appley character. It’s not undrinkable by any stretch of the imagination - I mean, it won't kill you, and it has some alcohol to numb the pain - but it doesn’t offer pleasure, and should have been drunk a few years ago. OK 74/100 (in the Bibendum sale, http://www.bibendum.co.uk/, but even at £4.28 this is a pass)

Marks & Spencer Hunter Valley Chardonnay 2006 Australia
I really like this Hunter Chardonnay, which is made by Twin Wells. It combines the usual toasty, spicy, buttery richness of Chardonnay with a delightful citrussy freshness and a subtle warm herbiness. The oak is well in the background, and there’s a pronounced mineralic twang. The only slight negative is a subtle bitter character to the fruit on the finish, but this doesn’t detract too much from what’s a delicious wine. 13% alcohol. Very good+ 89/100 (£7.99 on offer at £5.99 7 March–9 April 2007, Marks & Spencer)

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Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Big in Sweden

I don't speak Swedish, but I am reliably informed by a couple of readers that Wine Science has been favourably reviewed in one of the main Swedish daily newspapers, Svenska Dagbladet.

Kind of humbling to think that my little book has found its way around the world. Makes up for the fact that every copy sold brings me a pitifully small sum. Not a way to get rich.

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Sunday, February 25, 2007

Bits and pieces, and a Brampton

It's been a relaxing weekend. Some good friends had our kids to stay over on Saturday night - I suspect any parents reading this will know what a treat this is. We went out for the evening to another set of friends for a birthday bash, which ended in a Karaoke session. My sole contribution: even though I was sober (I was driving), I did a mean Ian Gillan impression with Smoke on the water. It rocked. We were woken this morning at 0930 by the kids returning. Luxury.

Went to my allotment vineyard this afternoon with the intention of doing some pruning, and planting some new vines. Had time to plant just four, and prune half a dozen before the heavens opened. This year I'm hoping for a good crop. Two issues while I'm away in Australia and Singapore will be snail control and frost, neither of which I'll be able to do anything about as the first shoots are nervously sent out by my 60-odd vines.

A wine recommendation follows.

Brampton Shiraz 2004 Coastal Region, South Africa
This may be Rustenberg's second label, but don't let this dissuade you from seeking this beauty out. It has a nose of sweet dark fruits supported by some pepper, spicy notes and a dark, savoury meatiness, together with a hint of olive. The palate is sweetly fruited but at the same time quite savoury, showing some tannin. This is deliciously balanced, and could just about pass muster as an old world wine (a sort of combination of Languedoc, Northern Rhone and Southern Rhone). I'm uneasy about the fact that it's 15% alcohol, but the wine carries it remarkably well. Very good/excellent 90/100 (on checking, I find this is the same score I gave the wine when I visited in December 2005, which is reassuring.) UK availability: Waitrose, Andrew Chapman, South African Wines Online, around £8.

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Friday, February 23, 2007

Big tastings

Big tastings. We all go to them. Have to. But we all hate them. Not for the fact that we get to meet lots of producers and colleagues: that's what these events are good for. But because it's really hard to do wines justice when you are tasting one after another in an often crowded, noisy environment where it is very hard to concentrate, and where your palate definitely undergoes some sort of transformation in response to the physical assault of repeated challenge by acidic, alcoholic and frequently tannic liquids.

It requires experience, discipline and perseverance to get good information from big tastings. Yesterday afternoon I was at the Austrian trade tasting, which was packed full of really good - often great - wines. But it's so frustrating to know that simply through the constraints of time and the fact that I have just one mouth/nose/palate/brain I couldn't taste all the wines I really wanted to. What I did taste, I liked very much.

One slightly annoying aspect of the tasting is that some leading producers were showing their 2006 Gruner Veltliners, which are simply too young to show well at this stage. Gruner is a funny beast: it starts out all bright, rather tanky fruit, and takes a year or so to begin to express its true character. It just seems really hard to assess it when it is very young, although I guess winemakers must be able to do this to a degree.

Pictured is Christine Saahs of Nikolaihof. I learned yesterday that this estate, which makes very pure, mineralic wines, was the first biodynamic wine producer in Europe (they are certified by Demeter). They converted back in 1971, under the guidance of Christine's Aunt Uta, who was an anthroposophical doctor. One of Christine's daughters is now an anthroposophical doctor, too.

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Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Foillard's Pi Morgon

Continuing on the theme of natural wine - I do hope I'm not boring you - I'm currently sipping a Morgon from Jean Foillard. It's not the Côte du Py 2004 which I raved about elsewhere, but another cuvee labelled intriguingly 3.14, with a futuristic label depicting the pi symbol. This is a low/no sulfur wine, but it doesn't suffer from the brett problems that bedeviled the last Morgon I blogged on.

Jean Foillard Morgon Cuvee 3,14 2004 Beaujolais, France
Slightly muted cherry fruits nose leads to a savoury palate with some spiciness and smooth, elegant cherryish fruit, together with a turned earth, dark savoury edge. On one level this is a fresh, refreshing easy drinking sort of wine, but on another it has a more serious, brooding side to its personality. The second night it is little changed. Enjoyable but not as alluring as the Cote du Py cuvee he also makes. Very good+ 89/100 (From Caves Auge in Paris)

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Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Bertrand Celce's blog

Just a plug for Bertrand Celce's blog 'wine terroirs', and an article on Paris wine shops that he's recently posted. I enjoy browsing through his entries - in fact, they make me a little jealous of Parisians who are so well supplied with fantastic artisanal French wines at remarkably affordable prices. It makes the world of Californian cult Cabs and mailing lists look all the more absurd in juxtaposition. What do you prefer? Wine as conspicuous consumption, or wine with a soul?

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Monday, February 19, 2007

Elian da Ros cheapie

If, like me, you are an irredeemable wine nut, you'll probably have a tendency to buy more wine than you can drink. This is something I've battled with for a while: it's a problem that's compounded if you are thinking in terms of building a cellar. You can always justify another purchase as one for the future. My problem is that I get tempted by offers and end up buying stuff for near to mid-term drinking that I just can't get through. Particularly when I have a pile of samples to wade through.

One such wine was Elian da Ros' Vignoble de Cocumont 1999 Vin de Pays de l'Agenais. I recently found an untouched case which I'd bought a few years back from La Vigneronne (now Grand Cru Wines) for about £3 a bottle, which, it must be said, was a remarkable price for this half decent wines. Elian's wines have plenty of gutsy stuffing, tasting like a half-way house between serious Claret and a beefy Madiran. This, his entry wine, has evolved nicely - now it's showing minerally, chalky blackcurrant fruit (quite Claret-like) with some serious spicy tannins and good acidity. It's turning a bit earthy with bottle age, and overall, I reckon this wine is now peaking in a rather chunky, rustic sort of way. I'm enjoying it a good deal, but then I don't mind robust, tannic reds. One thing that has surprised me with his 1998s and 1999s is the amount of wine travel on the corks, which I've illustrated in the picture. There's something odd about the corks he's used, and I don't know what it is.

The other wine I sampled this evening is the bretty Thevenet Morgon I blogged on a few days back. Aromatically, this is interesting, but the phenol-like metallic brett on the palate is too much. I'm convinced that brett really only works in sweeter, more southern wines where there's something to counter that distinctive bretty signature.

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Sunday, February 18, 2007

1997 Bordeaux

Just a tasting note tonight:

Château Pavie-Macquin 1997 Saint-Emilion, Bordeaux
So beautifully perfumed, it’s almost Burgundian, even though this is classic Bordeaux. There’s some gravelly minerality, a faint trace of tar, and tight red berry fruit, with an underlying earthiness. The palate shows savoury red fruits with some earthy tannic structure and good acidity. The wine has a lovely fresh feel to it, although the fact that the fruit seems to be beginning to recede a little makes me think this is one for drinking over the next couple of years. Tasting the wine again on day two confirms this. This is what we come to Bordeaux for, I reckon: complexity allied to balance allied to drinkability. Very good/excellent 90/100 (Will be featured in the forthcoming Bibendum sale, http://www.bibendum-wine.co.uk/)

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Saturday, February 17, 2007

Bretty Beaujolais

Time to crack another of my 'natural' wines, which I purchased on a recent Paris trip. Now, although I'm a wine technology sort of guy, I'm not a wine faults policeman. The initial response of those who have learned to spot what are known as wine faults is to then police wines they taste for the faintest whiff of brettanomyces, or volatile acidity, or reduction. I prefer to treat each wine on its own merits, and judge more holistically. I can forgive a 'fault' if it works in the context of the wine. This bottle has left me struggling a little: I don't think brettanomyces works terribly well in the context of a Cru Beaujolais. Of course, I don't have a lab test to prove the presence of brett, but this is about a bretty a wine (to my perception) that I have met. It's a shame: I wanted to love it.

Jean-Paul Thevenet Morgon Vieilles Vignes 2005 Beaujolais, France
Hmmm, bretty Beaujolais. Quite fresh, brightly fruited nose with a spicy, medicinal, smoky sort of character. The palate has a meaty, spicy, phenolic character imprinted on the otherwise pure red fruits. Quite enjoyable in a very savoury, spicy, funky sort of way, but it's verging on flawed for me, and I don't really mind brettanomyces too much in the right sort of context. Very good+ 85/100

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Friday, February 16, 2007

Aussie Zinfandel?

Had a rather disturbing experience on the way home this evening. I was perhaps a couple of minutes later than usual on my regular route along Regent's Street down to Oxford Circus Station, because I'd forgotten a file and had to go back for it. This couple of minutes could have proved significant. As I turned the corner round All Soul's Langham Place I saw a crowd of people gathered around one of the crossings I use. A car had mounted the pavement and ploughed into a group of pedestrians (news report here) - this was rush hour. There were bits of car strewn around, and bodies on the ground. I didn't look too carefully, but quickly moved on, not wishing to be part of the rubbernecking throng. But it's a chilling thought: one minute you are minding your own business, the next...

Back to wine. This evening I'm drinking an Australian Zinfandel from Mudgee, in New South Wales. It deserves a mention because it is so unusual.

Lowe Zinfandel 2004 Mudgee, Australia
Deep coloured. The nose is really striking, combining ginger and pepper with a taut sort of herbal dimension, along with a bit of leather and some dark fruits. The palate has more of the ginger spice character, together with some savoury, spicy tannic structure and more tobacco and herb notes, along with curranty berry fruit. It finishes quite dry and dusty. It's not your usual Aussie fruit bomb: there's more savoury depth here. I think it needs food to show its best, but it's good to see something with a bit of individuality to it. Very good+ 89/100 (in the UK this is available from www.strathardlefinewines.co.uk)

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Bad science

I encourage you to read Ben Oldacre's Bad science column in The Guardian today. It discusses the fact that TV diet guru Gillian McKeith has been forced to stop using the title 'Dr', which she obtained on the basis of a qualification gained by correspondence course from a non-accredited American college. 'Is it petty to take pleasure in this?' asks Oldacre. 'No. McKeith is a menace to the public understanding of science.' Diet is an area where good science is rare and bad science often goes unchallenged.

Talking of bad science, I've now taken delivery of my Bev Wizard Wine Enhancer! More on this later.

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Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Finding love with cheap South African wine

Have you heard about Stormhoek's new social experiment/marketing tactic? It involves taking a film director, a strategic communications operative (Catherine Monahan, ex-Cube, now working for Orbital) and Stormhoek's celebrity blogger Hugh MacLeod around a large number of Tesco stores to talk about love...and presumably Stormhoek's new rose wine, which is on the obligatory promotional offer at £4.99 down from £6.99.
Hugh's mission is to chat up girls in the supermarket and convince one of them to come on an expenses paid date in South Africa.
As he says on one of the videos, 'I think there's something totally kind of surreal about what we are doing, but if you don't do something slightly surreal, you are not going to sell any wine, you are not going to get a date in South Africa'. He concludes that, 'nothing worth doing is ordinary'.

The two weeks are up today, and Catherine has sent in the following report, and I don't quite know what to make of it:

"1. Hugh has decided that he loves a girl he met in Blackpool called Lois Quinnelle - but she's not miss right cos she's gay... so he's decided that never mind, he and Tesco will sponsor the gay love story of the year and whisk her down with her partner tonight, to a private London Eye Valentine's Cubic Capsule, filled with Champagne and Rose and Chocolates, followed by a champagne cruise, dinner at Bibendum and stayover at the Sydney Street Hotel, London.

2. Hugh has a secret "evil plan" as he calls it... He reveals all about his secret love plan and his love affair ... it's much bigger and more evil and exciting than we thought... but i don't know about it until tonight...AND you have to keep watching the movies from tomorrow to find out!So, if you fancy joining us in the celebrations,(if you're not otherwise engaged tonight!) come meet us tonight at 7:30pm at the London Eye where all the excitement begins and will continue with a twist in the tail....we're filming, signing cartoons, handing out Valentine's cards, prints, t-shirts, boxer shorts, g-strings, caps and we'd love you to join us!"

Sadly, I'm otherwise engaged tonight. So what happens? Does Hugh get together with Catherine?
You can see the videos and Hugh's commentary on the excercise at: http://www.gapingvoid.com/

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Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Cloof a spoof?

Now this is an interesting wine. The question: is it totally spoofy, or just an honest good-time bottle with plenty of oomph?

The Cloof Cellar Blend 2004 Darling, South Africa

Spicy, dark, intense, tannic, this is a bit of a beast of a wine. It's an undisclosed blend, 25% of which was matured in new French oak, and it weighs in at 14.5% alcohol. The nose shows sweet berries with a hint of chalky minerality, some jamminess and a touch of tar. The palate combines very sweet fruit with some grippy tannins and a bit of spice, and in the background there's just a tiny hint of greenness. It's one of those wines that has that characteristic of deliciousness: it's robust, concentrated and moreish. In fact, that's what worries me a little. Am I being conned by this almost over-the-top wine? I think it's really nice in an obvious, forward sort of way, but have I been duped by the winemaker? Is there a bit of residual sugar papering over the cracks? But I do like those grippy tannins: they are what saves this wine for me. It's the sort of wine that if you open it with friends, the bottle will very soon be drained. Very good+ 89/100 (RRP £9.99, more info from alison@ew-pr.co.uk)


Monday, February 12, 2007

Harvest films

Just been taking a peep at some of the harvest films at www.winefilms.co.za. Seems like lots of wineries are now taking the opportunity to use films on their blogs or websites to try to explain what goes on during this crucial period. It's a good idea, but most attempts so far have either been a bit boring or badly shot.

The two at winefilms that have caught my eye are the interviews with Bruce Jack of Flagstone, and a rather philosophical piece by Adi Badenhorst at Rustenberg (pictured). 'Wine is just a drink, and it's more hyped up than any other beverage in the world', begins Adi. But then he begins his own hype. 'You can put something creative into it; something of your own life experience. We have all been shaped by different life experiences: hardships, happiness, whatever.'


Sunday, February 11, 2007

Pinot Noir on a Sunday night

Sunday night. It's a bit of a funny night of the week. A bit like Friday, but more muted. Let me try to explain.

For me, Friday night is time for gathering in. You go home, full of anticipation for the weekend. You draw in your family and close friends. You eat; you drink. You celebrate the successes of the past week; you banish the disappointments. You cease working and begin playing.

Sunday has a similar sense of drawing in, for me. The weekend is almost over, and there is a sense of anticipation for the week to come. Preparation for the next few days ceases as evening draws in, and it's another time for gathering together, eating and drinking. It's like the final few days of summer: you try to appreciate them all the more because there aren't that many left to come. Sunday night is my pause for breath before the week ahead.

Tonight I drink another New Zealand Pinot Noir.

Lowburn Ferry Skeleton Creek Pinot Noir 2005 Central Otago
This wine is all about the fruit. It's bursting with vibrant red berry and dark cherry fruit; sweet, but not overly so. There's an appealing spiciness under the fruit on the palate, with good acidity and a subtle herby tang. Quite primary at the moment, with a juicy sort of character and some tannic structure. There's also a touch of bitter plum character which makes it very food friendly. Very good/excellent 90/100 (UK availability Hellion Wines)

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Saturday, February 10, 2007

cheese and natural wine

Sbrinz, a Swiss cheese, is new to me. Finding out that I was exploring the world of cheese, Bill Nanson (www.burgundy-report.com) kindly brought some over on his recent visit for the DRC tasting.

It's a hard cow's milk cheese that's similar to Grana Padano or Parmesan in texture. This one is 36 months old, and it probably has a bit of a fuitier, tangier flavour than its Italian counterparts, and is a little less salty. It's great on its own. I reckon it's quite wine friendly, too. It's also a cheese with its own official website.

Tonight's accompaniment is one of the natural wines I bought on my Paris trip.

Guy Breton Morgon Vieilles Vignes 2004 Beaujolais
With a front label that looks like a back label, this is an unusual, interesting, but less than fully convincing wine. There's some lovely, smooth, pure elegant red fruits, which are complemented by some spicy, minerality, a slightly out-of-place richer fudge and tar edge, and at the end of the palate a bit of earthy, herbal character. Overall, this is a delicious, fresh, easy drinking style of Beaujolais with a real transparency and honesty to it, but all the components don't quite sit together in harmony. I hope that doesn't sound too negative, because this is a very enjoyable wine. Very good+ 88/100 (Les Caves Auge, Paris)

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Friday, February 09, 2007

Another great NZ Pinot

Currently, I'm quite excited by New Zealand Pinot Noir. I'd grown up (in wine terms) thinking of non-Burgundian Pinot Noir as a distant second best to the real thing. As grape varieties go, Pinot Noir has proven to be one of the fussiest travellers, making weird or funky or clumsy wines in all but the most perfectly suited sites. Perhaps things are now changing: I'm increasingly coming across non-Burgundian Pinots that I really like, and at prices I can stomach. Here's another:

Pisa Range Black Poplar Block Pinot Noir 2005 Central Otago, New Zealand
Lovely perfumed nose of ripe, assertive berry fruit with a bit of meatiness and some spice. The palate is smooth, sweet and elegant with soft red/black fruits. Taut and spicy with a hint of herbiness and nice structure. It's a wine that successfully combines ripeness with freshness and elegance. Yes, it's new world Pinot, but it is so well balanced. Very good/excellent 93/100 (UK availability: Hellion Wines, www.hellionwines.com)

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Perth and Western Australia

I've always felt a bit guilty travelling to nice places and leaving my family behind. So I decided that on my next trip, Singapore and Western Australia in mid-April, we should all go.

Singapore I know well, but this will be my first visit to Western Australia. Has anyone got any tips on places to stay, things to see and experiences to enjoy? So far, our itinerary is completely blank, and while the likes of Lonely Planet are useful, they are not as good as personal recommendations.

Boys are aged 9 and 10. They like outdoors, nature and physical activity, but youngest son has vowed that he won't go in the water because he's terrified of sharks. We'll soon cure him of this!


Portugal rocks!

Last night's Portuguese wine awards dinner at the Portuguese embassy was a fun event. If followed the Top 50 Portuguese Wines tasting, which was extremely well attended. The big relief on my part was that my cold/flu symptoms had just eased off enough that I was able to taste again. It would have been a big disappointment to miss this one.

The wines, this year chosen by Charles Metcalfe, showed very well on the whole. I can't think of a country that has progressed so far in wine quality in such a short time (although we do tend to forget about France because of its established classics, whereas a lot of exciting progress is being made in less well known areas). Where's there's a market for good, interesting wine, and where there exist good conditions for making it, it's likely to emerge, and this is what has happened in Portugal's premium wine regions of late.

Of the 50 wines chosen, it's hard to single out just a few for praise. You'll have to wait for the write up. With dinner, two of the wines that impressed most were from the Dao region: Alvaro Castro's remarkable Quinta da Saes 2005, and Sogrape's Callabriga 2004. Both are affordable (under £9) and are utterly delicious with it.

Pictured are Rita and Joao Soares of Alentejo estate Malhadinha Nova. You can see the rest of my pictures from the event here.

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Thursday, February 08, 2007

Pinot Noir

DRC fascinates me. It’s Pinot Noir, and there’s nothing magical about the way it is made: just solid traditional winemaking. Yet these wines are astonishingly expensive, to the extent that the price bears little relation to the production costs.

Look, there’s some margin to be had here. I’m sure it’s not cheap to make DRC: the vineyards need to be tended carefully, and there needs to be rigorous selection of fruit after harvest. But it’s not as if the guys there have secret knowledge that no one else does, nor that they have skills that are unique (although they are evidently on top of their game). It’s something about the place that sets DRC apart. If other people could make wines as good as DRC, then they would, because whatever effort it took they would be able to recoup the cost many time over because their wines would be highly sought after.

OK, let’s add a bit of perspective. I concede that some people may be making wines as good as those in the DRC line-up. Domaine Leroy springs to mind. Perhaps a few others. [How do we define ‘as good as’? That’s an additional complication.] Also, even if a newcomer performed to the same level as DRC, would the market reward them the same? Probably not. There’s something special about the DRC brand; it has a magic of its own. It’s also likely that as we taste DRC the label does influence our perception in a positive way (I’ve only once tried a DRC wine blind; on all other occasions the label has been seen).

But having said this, wouldn’t it be wonderful to find other patches of land that yielded such magical Pinot Noirs at prices normal people could afford to drink? This would be a nice discussion topic.

So where makes really good affordable Pinot Noir? I’m not necessarily talking about sub-£10, which restricts the field a little too much, but more sub-£20. Currently, New Zealand would be my first choice, and particularly Central Otago and Wairapa (Martinborough), although Marlborough isn’t doing too badly. Here’s one that has recently impressed:

Waipara Springs Premo Pinot Noir 2005 Waipara, New Zealand
Destemmed, cold soak, minimal plunging, wild fermentation and extended skin contact: the result is a lovely Pinot Noir. It has a powerful, aromatic nose showing ripe, sweet and smooth berry fruit with a touch of coffee-ish roasted oak and some sweet spices. The palate is smooth and elegant with a lovely texture to the sweet fruit, which is backed up by some spice and silky tannin. I think this is a baby that will need a little time to show its best, but there's real quality here and the oak will be absorbed nicely. Very good/excellent 93/100 (Hellion Wines)

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Wednesday, February 07, 2007

pets and films

As well as continuing to suffer from some vile viral infection, to add insult to injury last night I incurred a mauled hand, courtesy of elder cat Oswald (previous owner Eric Clapton). It was my fault, I suppose. Rosie the labradoodle still regards our cats as fair game. We’ve tried to introduce them to achieve some feline–canine entente cordiale, but without success. So the cats have taken to living alternately upstairs and outside. They avoid Rosie’s patch, which is downstairs. But in order to bridge the gap between upstairs and outside, the cats need to pass through downstairs.

Most of the time they wait until the dog is asleep, and wander past in silent slow motion. Sometimes she spots them, in which case there is a bark, the sound of skidding paws, and the slamming shut of the cat flap – so far the cats have always been faster. At other times, though, the cats want to come in while Rosie is awake. Then they wait at the door; one of us holds the dog, muzzling her snout; the other carries the cat through. Last night I tried a variation on the theme where I carried the cat through without the dog being held. Result: dog sees cat in my arms, leaps up to get a mouthful, cat is transformed into a whirling ball of fur and claws, my hand gets shredded. Bad idea. Won’t try it again.

While I’m on a non-wine theme, time for some more movie notes. Little Miss Sunshine comes highly recommended. Plot: little girl from dysfunctional family enters a beauty contest, necessitating a long drive to California in a VW camper van without a clutch with entire said dysfunctional family on board. It achieves a difficult goal: it’s a genuinely funny black comedy as well as a road movie as well as a biting social commentary all at the same time. The climax—the performance at the pageant itself—will leave you weeping with laughter.

The Butterfly Effect is an altogether different genre—the DVD box said it was Drama/Horror (I think this is the only time my wife has ever rented a DVD from the Horror category)—but it is cleverly done, and manages to deal with that old chestnut of the knock on effects of even small events (from chaos theory) pretty well. There are some disturbing scenes and the film deals with some harrowing events along the way, but it’s not too gratuitous, and the writing is tight enough that it all hangs together well, keeping you guessing till the end.

Tight writing could have really helped the final film in my write-up, Pirates of the Caribbean Dead Man's Chest. Not even the wonderful Johnny Depp as the camp pirate Captain Jack Sparrow, nor the unrecognizable Bill Nighy as the squid-stubbled Davy Jones, can save this film from its contrived and over-complicated plot. It reminded me a bit of some episodes of Morse—you had to be careful not to drink too many glasses of wine or take too many loo breaks, or the program would finish and you’d be left clueless about what had just happened. Like so many films these days, as long as it has the special effects, the stars, the media exposure and the product tie-ins, it succeeds in spite of its intrinsic merit.

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Monday, February 05, 2007

More on global warming

I've been thinking more about global warming. Some thoughts:

The data do seem to suggest that there has been a rise in temperatures in wine regions over the last 50 years. That much is uncontroversial.

See here, here and here for examples.

There's also the survey by French researcher Isabelle Chiune and here colleagues that was published in Nature in 2004. They used historical records of the grape-harvest dates in Burgundy to reconstruct spring–summer temperatures from 1370 to 2003. They found two particularly warm decades, in the 1380s and 1420s, followed by a series of warm decades in the 1520s, 1630s and 1680s. After this a long cooling phase began, which commenced with a cold snap in the 1750s, lasting until the 1970s.

Winemakers I have polled on the topic share a common concern about the impact of climate change.

‘I think there is no question about global warming,’ says Michael Moosbrugger of Schloss Gobelsburg in Austria’s Langenlois. ‘We see it in our documentation about the flowering dates of the past decades. If we take the average, then we can recognize the warming effect. On the other hand, we still have cool (1996, 2001, 2004) medium (1998, 1999, 2002, 2005) and hot years (1997, 2000, 2003).’ Moosbrugger adds that, ‘The prospect is that in the future we will see more warm years then cool years. So how do we react on that? At the moment not at all. I guess one effect would be that in generall we would slowly become a red wine growing area, for which we would be prepared as we already are growing Pinot and St. Laurent. For vine managment we have to be flexible anyway, as we have to react on the situation of every vintage individually. For the future it also means that we will also look for vineyards that are cooler and higher located in the hills.’

'Climate change is strongly factored in all I am planning’, says Australian wine scientist and winemaker Brian Croser. ‘From Tapanappa’s view point I have a rule, which is not further than 30 km from the coast, not lower than 300 m and not less than 900 mm of annual rainfall.’

‘I’ve been concerned about climate change for more than 20 years,’ says Clare Valley vigneron Jeffrey Grosset, ‘and Gaia Vineyard stands as a somewhat meagre initiative to not only offset the impact temporarily, but was also established from a personal wish that it could, in some small way, raise people’s awareness of the sensitivity of grape quality to the most subtle changes in climate, as is the case with most living things.’ Grosset adds that. ‘The loss of species on earth is of course just making this all so much worse, and the description “self mutilation” best sums up the impact on us, and other living things.’

‘I am a true believer’, said New Zealand winemaker Steve Smith when I asked him about global warming. ‘It will have a significant effect on us and on winegrowing around the world, the only issue is when and by how much.’ Smith adds that, ‘Whether we are experiencing the effects of it now is debatable. However, in my view the weather patterns seem to be more dramatic. Ironically it seems that frost is playing a bigger part with the warmer early spring pushing earlier bud burst yet we are still exposed to the polar fronts that come through and dump late snow and therefore increase frost risk on buds that have burst quite early.’ For various reasons Smith feels that New Zealand will suffer less from the effects of global warming than many other regions, chiefly because it has plenty of room to move south to cooler areas, and because rises in temperature may well make viticulture easier in established regions.

As well as changing temperatures, though, we may have increased frequency of dramatic or unpredictable weather events. This would make viticulture much more risky.

It has taken a long time for winegrowers to work out which grapes grow best where - a prerequisite for fine wine production. It's not always easy to work this out theoretically.

If there is a human contribution to global warming, then we owe it to our children (perhaps even ourselves) to take the financial it that comes with dealing with it. In fact, the only justification for doing nothing is if we are sure that the well documented trends of warming are not a result of human activity, but merely reflect a natural cycle. If we don't act, there is at least a chance of catastrophe, and for any commentators to deliberately argue a political line against global warming not based on good evidence, either through unconscious confirmation bias or financial motivations is, in my book, a grave evil. Even if you are a sceptic, it must be better to err on the side of caution.


Global warming and wine

I'm feeling ill. Very ill. Currently confined to bed, and there will be no wine tonight. It's frustrating being ill because it affects how clearly I think, and even though I have some time on my hands, I don't feel like making the most of it because of a lack of energy.

Started a poll on erobertparker.com about global warming and wine. It was prompted by frustration that previous threads on the topic had been nuked for being 'political'. In the poll I asked participants whether they thought that the evidence that wine regions have got warmer, and will continue to do so, is a suitable topic for discussion, or whether they considered it to be political and out of bounds. We had a nice discussion going, in which most participants accepted that the data on temperature trends weren't controversial, just the notion that the cause is human activity. [Having said this, I think the evidence that human greenhouse gas emissions are a contributory factor is about as clear as it could be.] The poll was running at 90:6 in favour of discussion when the thread got blasted away. Fair enough, it is his board. Mark sent me a note:
'To answer your question, global warming is not a legitimate topic for discussion on a wine board that bans politics. No one knows how it affects wine. From week to week you hear that the vineyards will be (a) colder or (b) warmer. Be that as it may, it is a very political discussion in any number of contexts. If you do not agree with that, that is most certainly your right. But it is my right to run the board...'



Sunday, February 04, 2007

If you have to ask the price...

Friday was the Corney & Barrow DRC tasting, of the 2004 vintage. It's rather nice of them to let us try these wines each year, at an event which runs from 8.30-12.30 (most arrive before 10 to avoid the risk of the wines running out - I don't know whether they do). There's an atmosphere of hushed reverence; Aubert de Villiane is in attendance, hovering in the background - he's very approachable and welcomes questions, and I had a productive few minutes with him. We taste out of Riedel Burgundy glasses, with a carefully measured pour that is just sufficient to taste, but allows for no waste. The 2004s are pretty impressive. The Echezeaux stands out as being fantastically perfumed, while the RSV and La Tache are more structured. There's just the faintest hint of green in a couple of the wines, but none disappoint. The Romanee-Conti itself is the most complete wine, but all are sensationally good. As for the prices, projected final per bottle tab ranges from GBP121.96 for the Echezeaux to GBP979.71 for the Romanee-Conti. And they'll still all sell out in a flash.

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Friday, February 02, 2007


The shortlist for the IWSC communicator of the year has been released today (text taken from the press release):

Chris Scott
Reasons: Chris established Thirty Fifty in 2002 with the vision of educating and entertaining consumers in their own homes with an innovative approach to wine tasting. Since then Chris and the team have been face-to-face with approx 15,000 consumers. In 2006 Chris launched a weekly podcast called The UK Wine Show. Podcast features news and interviews with member of the wine trade providing listeners with a unique window on the world of wine and is the number 2 food podcast in the itunes charts. Each podcast is accompanied by information published on the website. Chris is making effective use of new media to speak to a new generation of wine enthusiasts as well as delivering a personal and professional service to consumers.

Tim Atkin MW
Reasons: For producing perhaps the most argumentative and appealing wine column in the national papers today. Tim is also always ready to champion the less known wine communities and is nominated particularly for promoting Spain in the press in 2006, maybe even being seen as voice of Spanish wine in the UK? Tim communicates wine to a wide audience, whether novice or wine expert, in a very fun enthusiastic and educational manner, appealing to all. He leads a great number of consumer tastings through ‘Taste-in’, The Wine Show and his own series of lectures.

Sarah Jane Evans MW
Reasons: Tirelessly bringing wines and wine knowledge to a wider audience than the majority of her peers in a friendly, open and interesting way. Sarah’s expertise is apparent through such indicators as her newly awarded ‘Master of Wine’ status but she is anything but aloof in her communications, which speak warmly and openly through the foodie magazines by BBC of ‘Olive’ and BBC Good Food’. Sarah also now has embraced the world of freelancing over the last twelve months, which has added to the breadth of her readership.

Jamie Goode
Reasons: For his energy and expertise in writing & speaking on the world of wine and the science behind it. He publishes wineanorak.com and as anyone who has tried to keep up with his blog will appreciate, the man is prolific, entertaining and incisive. He is also the drinks columnist for The Sunday Express, and writes miscellaneous articles in Decanter, The World of Fine Wine plus trade publications and leads numerous talks on wine. He can pitch at the most professional or simple level and that makes him a great communicator.
Last May, Jamie’s first book, Wine Science, won the Glenfiddich Award for Drinks Book of the Year. It was also short-listed for the Andre Simon Memorial award.

Matt Skinner
Reasons: Matt was close to winning in 2006 and he has carried on the good work in 2007, as he engages the public in a new and innovative style. The impact of his new annual guide ‘The Juice’ has seen a new, younger audience reaching out to embrace wine as an interesting drink, untainted by a wilderness of tradition and expected understanding. His TV appearances on Saturday Morning Kitchen, also showed a lively, enthusiastic ambassador for the world of wine, spirits & beer or as he would say, ‘juice’!

Natalie Maclean
Reasons: Award-winning wine writer and accredited sommelier Natalie MacLean's first book, Red, White and Drunk All Over has received stellar reviews from wine-world insiders, book reviewers, and wine drinkers. This tome was featured in the Top 100 books of 2006 by Canada's national newspaper, The Globe and Mail. It has also won a Gourmand World Cookbook Award for Best Wine Literature Book of 2006.
In addition to her evocative prose and sparkling humour Natalie has a special talent for seamlessly marrying complex, sometimes technically challenging information with vivid, engaging storytelling; all of which can be enjoyed on her dedicated website.


Thursday, February 01, 2007

Philosophy of wine: 'Questions of taste'

By coincidence, I have just been sent the cover for the forthcoming Questions of taste, which I mentioned in yesterday's blog entry. Here are the front and back covers (click for larger image), as well as the publicity blurb (below). The book will be out in March, apparently. I reckon it will be a really good read. The problem with contributing to academic books is that academics are used to writing for free, and so we don't get paid much at all. However, I'm just happy to be included alongside such illustrious names.

Interest in and consumption of wine have grown exponentially in recent years and there has been a corresponding increase in consumers’ knowledge of wine, which in turn has generated discussions about the meaning and value of wine in our lives and how renowned wine critics influence our subjective assessment of quality and shape public tastes. Wine first played a part in Western philosophy at the symposium of the early Greek philosophers where it enlivened and encouraged discussion. During the Enlightenment David Hume recommended drinking wine with friends as a cure for philosophical melancholy, while Immanuel Kant thought wine softened the harsher sides of men’s characters and made their company more convivial. In Questions of Taste, the first book in any language on the subject, philosophers such as Roger Scruton and wine professionals like Andrew Jefford, author of the award-winning book The New France, turn their attention to wine as an object of perception, assessment and appreciation. They and their fellow contributors examine the relationship between a wine’s qualities and our knowledge of them; the links between the scientifically describable properties of wine and the conscious experience of the wine taster; what we base our judgements of quality on and whether they are subjective or objective; the distinction between the cognitive and sensory aspects of taste; whether we can really share the pleasures of drinking. Questions of Taste will be of interest to all those fascinated by the production and consumption of wine and how it affects our minds in ways we might not hitherto have suspected.

To be published in the UK by www.signalbooks.co.uk; Oxford University Press is the publisher in the USA