jamie goode's wine blog: March 2007

Friday, March 30, 2007

A dog is for christmas

So, three months in, what's it like being first-time dog owners? Rosie The Labradoodle (RTL) is a bit of a handful. Example: on Sunday, some good friends came round for lunch. As I opened the door to them she went out. Nothing unusual about this, but then she bolted off down the road, round the corner, round another corner - I pegged it after her, terrified she'd be ploughed down by a car, and finally caught up with her. She'd remembered (this is my guess...) where there had been some ice cream spilled on the pavement from a walk a few hours previously, and was busy gobbling it up.

She wakes early every morning just before six and barks. One of us - and it is, I'm ashamed to admit, not usually me - goes down to her, lets her out and generally gives her the attention she demands until the rest of the house wake up.

She gets two good walks every day. On these walks she is mostly impeccably behaved, but sometimes knocks down young children and jumps up at fellow dog owners. She's now 18 kg, and six months old. Soon she'll be 'on heat' for the first time. Let's hope she doesn't mate with a pit bull or doberman - imagine that, a lethal, silly-looking dog. You laugh at it; it rips yer throat out. Nice.

During the evening she wants company, and is happiest sitting between us on the couch. She likes to lie my feet while we eat at the table. Just when we are settled for a few minutes she goes to the back door and barks once, which means she wants to go out. She barks when she wants to come back in again. She barks at the cats.

Oh, the cats - I forgot about them. RTL is still mind-blowingly obsessed by them, and clearly would like nothing better than to eat them - or at least, to try her best to eat them. She hasn't caught them yet, but it's not for want of trying. The youngest cat does suicide runs through the kitchen when he thinks RTL is half asleep. RTL stirs. Bark, Bark, Bark. Thudding of padded feet on kitchen floor. Cat flap slams sut. Skidding sound as dog tries to decelerate. Dull thud as dog hits kitchen units at speed. A couple of barks as if to say, 'don't come back'.

But I'm glad we got her. Sort of.


Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Champagne: tasting vins clairs

It's a day well spent when you learn something new. I tasted Vins Clairs for the first time today, some 14 of them. Vins Clairs are the base wines that result from the first fermentation of Champagne grapes, and the ones we were tasting were a selection of 2006s from Champagne Mumm, presented by cellar master Didier Mariotti. The base wines are picked at about 9-10% alcohol, with high acid, and are chaptalized up to about 11%. Much later in their life they'll undergo a secondary fermentation in the bottle - about 18 grams of sugar per litre will raise them up a degree of alcohol to 12%, and then they will have a final dose of sugar, usually about 9 grams/litre, to balance them out after the plug of dead yeast cells is removed.

Tasting base wines isn't supposed to be fun. These are not wines you'd enjoy drinking with your dinner. They all have their different characteristics, and are like colours on an artist's palate, which the cellar master can then blend to good effect. A good base wine will typically have high acidity, good flavour and nice midpalate structure, but they vary, depending on where they come from in the region and the variety used. Didier says that tasting the vins clairs is the most important part of his job.

Champagne is fascinating, and I'm enjoying learning about it. As an aside, kudos to Didier for fulfilling his commitment to this tasting despite nursing a freshly broken ankle (from handball - his crutches are visible beside him in the picture).


Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Champagne and Portugal

Today was a busy day of tasting. Two unmissable events, for me at least: the annual tastings for Champagne and Portugal. The day began with a prompt 10 am start at Banqueting house for the Champagne gig, which was preceded by a pleasant wander over the Thames from Waterloo station. It was a lovely early spring morning, but a hint of freshness in the air and diffused, milky sunshine.

I tasted a lot of very good Champagnes, more than a few excellent ones and just a handful that Iíd rate as just ordinary. Highlights rather predictably included the 1995 Krug, a monumental wine that wonít be approaching drinkability for another five years at least, and also a couple from Jacquesson: the 1996 vintage and the non-dosage Dizy 2000. Tarlant impressed, as did Larmandier-Bernier.

Then it was off to Lords, a beautiful venue for a tasting on a bright Spring day. Main focus here was the selection of 2005 cask samples from the Douro (very promising vintage; possibly a little better than 2004). The big surprise was the presence of Alvaro Castro (of Quintas da Pellada and de Saes in the D„o) Ė he doesnít usually come to the annual tasting. He had a wonderful roster of wines with him, including the marvellous Caroussel, Dado and Pape wines, as well as wines from his two Quintas. I was really impressed by these. Sad aside: Alvaro remembered that I'd put a picture of his dog on my website, roaming his vineyard. The dog is no longer, having been poisoned by hunters, he reveals.

Now Iím on the way home, with a stained, wine-residue mouth and reams of notes to type up. Tomorrow should be a little less strenuous: just the Majestic press tasting in the morning and then a tutored tasting of Vin Clairs in the afternoon.

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Monday, March 26, 2007

Closures debate, part 4348

If you thought the closures debate was dead, then take a look at the comments in response to a news story on Decanter.com. Some interesting reading: I'm particularly interested by the post by Eric Baugher. Not so convinced by Chris Exley's point: the wine simply doesn't come into contact with aluminium in a screwcap unless someone forgot to put the liner in.

I've been researching a piece on wine cabinets. It's made me look round the house trying to think of a place where I could store one - it would have to be a big space, as I'd like something with a 200 bottle capacity. I'm one of those people who worries about wine storage conditions almost obsessively.


Saturday, March 24, 2007

Rewind and natural wines

Rewind: it's nice to catch up with old friends, visiting old haunts - but there's something about going back that stirs up emotions a little. We had a lovely time today visiting some friends who we knew very well when we were first married and living in Wallington, Surrey, but who we've lost touch with a bit since. But despite the fact that it was a nice time, I came away with a little sadness from visiting the old haunts. I don't know why.

I'm drinking Yann Chave's Crozes Hermitage 2004 tonight (Laithwaites, Majestic £9.99). You really don't want to have the name Chave and be making wines in the northern Rhone, unless you are JL Chave, of course. It's a bit like having studied at Oxford Brookes University here in the UK (which I am sure is an excellent educational establishment; it just isn't simply Oxford University). A deep coloured wine, it has a lot of flavour, with lots of green herb and black olive character. It's intensely savoury and meaty, but that northern Rhone olive and herb character is taken to an extreme here at the expense of the fruit. It's turning out to be a rather extreme and funky bottle, and it's a bit much even for me - and I like this northern Rhone style of Syrah.

I'm in the process of writing up an interesting tasting last week of natural wines with no added sulfur dioxide. As you might expect, these were a mixed bag, but there were a few gems.

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Thursday, March 22, 2007

Alion vertical

It's a tough life being a winewriter, but there is the occasional perk. Like today's Alion vertical, followed by lunch, which was held at top London eatery The Square. Of course, wine nuts reading will already be aware that Alion is a separate estate in Spain's Ribera del Duero owned by Vega Sicilia, making wines in a more modern style (but this is relative: Vega Sicilia is very traditional). We tried all the vintages of Alion, ranging from the inaugural 1991 to current release 2003, plus the current releases of Vega Sicilia Unico, Vega Sicilia Reserva Especial, Pintia Toro, Valbuena, Mandolas and Oremus Tokaji, in the company of proprietor Pablo Alvarez and winemaker Javier Ausas. A rather special line up of wines, and the prospect of trying these coupled with lunch at the square brought out the great and good of the winewriting/drinking fraternity.

For the tasting I was flanked by David Peppercorn and Steven Spurrier, with Serena Suttcliffe sharing the same table. In front was Jancis, Sarah Jane Evans, Beverly Blanning, Hamish Anderson, Stuart Peskett (Harpers) and Linden Wilkie. Also spotted were the Irish contingent (Tomas Clancy, Joe Breen, Liam Campbell and Raymond Blake), Julian Jeffs QC (who was a charming companion at lunch) and Stephen Brook.

The food:
  • Roast isles of Orkney scallop with vanilla, endive, tangerine and sauternes (the only dish that didn't really work)
  • Tortellini of Devon crab with a capuccino of shellfish and basil (sensational, as were all the dishes from here onwards)
  • Roast fillet of john dory with oxtail, morels and red wine
  • Roast and smoked loin of fallow deer with celeriac, chanterelles, caramelised root vegetables and pink peppercorns
  • Comte and st nectaire
  • Brillat-Savarin cheesecake with rhubarb
Pictured: Vega Sicilia winemaker Javier AusŠs presenting his wines


Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Douro newcomer makes an impact

A week or two ago I was chatting to Christian Seely about his new venture in the Douro - Quinta da Romaneira - which he's involved with as one of a number of partners. They took a fairly run down Douro property of a couple of hundred hectares, of which some 75 were planted to vineyard, and revitalized it. The renovation included a luxury hotel, which is due to open this June, as well as the production of some serious wine. He promised to send me a bottle of the first release, the 2004.

Christian was true to his word. Came home this evening to find a bottle waiting, along with a handwritten note. Looks like we need to add another wine to the already impressive roster of top-flight Douro producers.

Quinta da Romaneira 2004 Douro, Portugal
A deep red/purple colour, this Douro red has a classy nose of sweet raspberry and blackberry fruit complemeted by some spicy, tarry complexity and sophisticated oak notes. It's pure, intense and quite exotic. The palate is firmly structured and spicy, but still shows more of this ripe, complex fruit character. The firm tannins suggest that there's some development to come, but it's already a modern, seductive wine with a hint of Douro wildness to it. Great concentration and focus, and reassuringly this isn't just another over-ripe late-picked international red (despite the hefty 14.5% alcohol). Very good/excellent 93/100


Max Allen on closures

Just found a nice to-camera piece on closures by Australian wine writer Max Allen, originally on a show called Better Homes and Gardens, and which is now on the Zork website - you can see it here. Until this, I'd never seen a Zork in action before. I met Max for lunch at St John a while back (my old blog tells me it was 15 September 2005); he's a nice chap.

I'm looking forward to an Alion vertical and lunch tomorrow, at The Square. Should be fun.



Non-wine related: some brief film reviews.

First the good. Children of men is a science fiction thriller with a difference, directed by Alfonso Cuaron, who directed the best of the Harry Potter films. Itís set in England, 2027, as society is close to collapse. A fertility crisis has meant that no children have been born for 18 years, and the government is clamping down on a tide of illegal immigrants. Cuaron has injected a wonderfully gritty realism which brings a credibility that films of this genre often lack. From the dramatic beginning to the ambiguous ending, Children of Men will probably hold your attention.

Next the average. The Queen is a film I was looking forward to seeing: would there be any substance behind the hype? Of course, the events portrayedóDianaís death, the response of the British public and the (eventual) reaction of the royal familyóare fascinating in themselves, and itís these that really carry the film. I thought the writing was effective, the pace just about right and the treatment of the main subjects, our Tony and Liz, reassuringly sympathetic without ducking the difficult bits. But with actors taking on the roles of such well known figures, it was a bit like watching Alaistair McGowan, Rory Bremner and Mike Yarwood (remember him?) rolled into one. Impressionists united. Overall verdict? Good without being terribly stimulating.

Now the poor. I mentioned a while back that you can filter out a good portion of rubbish films simply by learning the names of a few actors you must always avoid. If a film has among itís cast members the likes of Adam Sandler, Jennifer Aniston (or anyone else from Friends), Will Ferrell or Sarah Jessica Parker, then it should be shunned. Add to this list Owen Wilson. For some bizarre reason, Fiona hired out You, me and Dupre, an Owen Wilson vehicle. Utter rubbish. But she was on a losing streak, and later that week hired out Click, an Adam Sandler vehicle. It was a genuine mistake, she reassured meóshe picked up the wrong box. Still, we tried watching it, and lasted approximately six minutes before we had to press eject, fast.

Also in the poor category is Sixty six. Itís one of those British films where the plot sounds imaginative níall, but the writing and execution let it down badly. Itís 1966, and a football-hating Jewish boyís Bar Mitzvah is scheduled for the same day as the world cup final. Lots of potential there, but it turns out stale, formulaic and, in the end, utterly predictable. Actually, it reminded me a bit of East is East. I find this with a lot of British films: the writing lets the whole thing down.

And I almost forgot - Borat. Side-splittingly funny in places; appallingly crude and vulgar in others; pretty racist and negative throughout. We didnít finish this one either.


Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Vineyard picture

A nice vineyard picture. Where is it? Why do you think that? What month is it? Any other observations?


Monday, March 19, 2007

closures book in Australia

Just a brief note - my closures book is now available from WineTitles in Australia here.

As an aside, it's just turned really cold in London. Worryingly, my vines were gearing up for budbreak, a couple of weeks early. Some frost now could spell disaster.


Sunday, March 18, 2007

Ahh, Pinot Noir

Pinot Noir can be an addiction. Every now and again you taste one that fulfils all the promise that this fickle grape offers but seldom delivers on. And then you taste half a dozen that are, at best, simple and fruity, but which probably cost you a lot of money. It's a bit like watching English sports teams: one great performance followed by six wretched ones.

Pinot Noir has the potential to make the most sublime, elegant red wines. We all enjoy gutsy power from time to time, and concentration and richness have their place, but surely the holy grail of red wine making [am I mixing my metaphors here? Shouldn't the wine be in the grail?] has to be elegance and understated complexity.

Tonight's tipple is from New Zealand's Central Otago, which has fairly recently emerged as one of the top three destinations for Pinot Noir outside Burgundy. Don't ask me what the other two are, though - I just thought this sounded less hypey than saying 'the best'.

Lowburn Ferry Pinot Noir 2005 Central Otago, New Zealand
Lovely dark cherry, spice and herb nose with a bit of chocolatey richness. Deliciously pure fruit. The plate shows red berry and cherry fruit with warm spicy richness and a light texture, despite the fact that it is full flavoured. Supple, balanced and quite textured, with some grippy tannin on the finish suggesting that this has further to go in terms of its evolution. Very good/excellent 91/100 (available from Hellion Wines in the UK at £16.95)

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Friday, March 16, 2007

Spring and fizz

It's been a gorgeous day, here in our small part of the world. I took the day off and spent it with Fiona and RTL. After dropping the kids off at school we headed for Box Hill for a nice long walk. It was a special day: bright, clear blue skies, laser-sharp hues and a gently-warm sun. Lunch was consumed sitting outside at a pub in Chilworth, accompanied by a pint of Greene King IPA, followed by a short walk along the River Wey. These are the sorts of days that form enduring positive memories which you can feed on later.

Tonight I'm on the fizz again. Champagne Mumm Cordon Rouge 1998 is a more than respectable effort. It's bright, lemony and very fruity on the nose, but the palate is a good deal richer with notes of toast and vanilla, coupled with good acidity. It's quite fresh as well as being very full flavoured. I suspect there's a fair bit of both Pinots in here. It's fairly serious (I scored this as 91), and with its full flavour and body I reckon it's a good food Champagne. Fizz is expensive, though, compared with other wines. Majestic stock this on a 3 for 2 offer, which brings the price down to a very competitive £23, as opposed to the list price of £35.


Big in Hermanus

Peter May (of www.winelabels.org) kindly sent this picture of my closures book (www.flavourpress.com) in a bookshop in Hermanus, South Africa. Who'd have thought it?


Thursday, March 15, 2007

Tesco and Roast

Today was Tesco press tasting day. It was held at the Worx in Parson's Green - a venue that's a bit out of the way but which is absolutely ideal for wine tasting. It's a bright, white, airy space, with plenty of room. Some nice wines on show: I particularly enjoyed the Bollinger Grand Annee 1999, which I drunk several glasses of after last week's Bordeaux event, and the Taittinger Prelude NV. But it wasn't the expensive stuff that was the sole focus: for my purposes, it's great to find really good affordable wines with a wide distribution, and Tesco have quite a few of these. As the most important (in terms of volume) wine retailer in the UK, it's good to see they are putting some effort and thought into their range.

Last night I dined at Roast in Borough Market with Jo and Andre of Wines of South Africa. We did the obligatory Pinotage discussion, and I got into trouble by gently teasing them about the 'variety is in our nature' slogan, but otherwise it was a very productive evening. I'm a big fan of WOSA, who do a great job promoting South African wine. We drank a Raats Chenin Blanc and the 2003 Solitude Shiraz from Fairview (or was it the Beacon?). Both were excellent. Roast slightly disappointed. The food was OK, but not quite as good as I'd hoped. And the cheese selection was rather limited: just four were being offered. But the location, decor and service were spot on.

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Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Viacom vs. Google and the power of the web

Interesting news story on the fact that Viacom (MTV, Nickelodeon, etc.) plans to sue Google for a sum the size of the GDP of a mid-sized country.

It relates to the fact that much of the content on YouTube, which Google bought for a similarly huge sum last year, breaches copyright. In fact, it seems that part of the business model for YouTube relies on creating a platform that makes it very easy for users to infringe copyright.

I don't condone this, but then I can see that there's a potential huge upside for copyright owners in having their content on YouTube. It's about understanding the power of the web. You give away lots of stuff for free, and you get a huge platform and access to lots of consumers, assuming that your stuff is good enough. This then gives you opportunities for revenue generation that you wouldn't have had otherwise.

Rather than sue the balls off Google, making many lawyers rich, I reckon Viacom should be entering into a licensing arrangement with Google in the same way that the BBC have done.

see also:


Cloudy Bay, located

Was recently sent a bottle of the 2004 Cloudy Bay Chardonnay, along with information about a new service, cloudybaylocator.com. So I try both out, beginning with the website.

We start off with one of those annoying age verification screens, beloved of the legal departments of large drinks companies. How daft they are. If you are an underrage drinker, why would you want to find information about the nearest restaurant to you that sells Cloudy Bay? Would reading about wine suddenly whip you into a fervour such that you hang outside wine shops begging people to go in and buy you a £15 Sauvignon Blanc?

So I type in a DOB that makes me 14. I get greeted with the message, 'sorry you are not old enough to end this site'. 'End this site'? IT contractors aren't what they used to be. So I type in a DOB that makes me 560 years old. Straight in.

My closest restaurant serving Cloudy Bay? Incredibly, it's 11 miles away - Ransome's Dock - a fine restaurant, but I'm amazed there's not one closer. That means no restaurant in Richmond, Twickenham, Hampton, Chiswick, Kew or Putney stocks Cloudy Bay. Or perhaps it means that some do, but they are unable to offer an electronic booking service. If you click on the restaurant's name, then you can reserve your bottle of Cloudy Bay, be it the zippy Sauvignon, the bold Chardonnay, the focused Pinot Noir or the rather sexy Te Koko along with your table reservation. That's a smart idea.

Cloudy Bay Chardonnay 2004 Marlborough, New Zealand
This is the ultimate new world Chardonnay. There's lots of everything, and if you are in the mood for it, it's a compelling glassfull. The nose shows rich tropical fruit combining with some spice, a bit of smoke and some vanilla oak. Indeed, there's a hint of malt whisky on the nose. The palate is bold and full, with tangy, herby tropical fruit, a bit of citrussy zest, spicy complexity and some sweetness from the alcohol. It's concentrated and powerful, with the oak playing a supporting role rather than grabbing central stage. With boldly flavoured food, this is a winner. Very good/excellent 92/100

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Monday, March 12, 2007

Erasing memories, selectively

A news story in leading scientific journal Nature caught my eye today. Those clever people in white coats have managed to erase a specific memory in lab rats in a selective fashion. Of course, it's a long way from rat brains to the jelly-like substance sloshing around in our skulls, but it's an interesting finding nonetheless.

It reminds me of the wonderful recent film Eternal sunshine of the spotless mind, where Lacuna Inc. offered to remove all the memories relating to a particular person you wanted out of your life - a rather more challenging task.

One of the frustrating things about our memories of specific wines, is that they don't seem to be coded in a particularly accessible address in the brain. It would be wonderful if we could relive 1970 Latour in much the same way that we can hum our favourite tune, or recreate in our mind's eye that view from the top of a mountain we enjoyed on our last skiing trip.

It seems, though, that our memories for smell are only reawakened when we revisit a similar smell in the present, and then they tend to be tied to emotions - one sniff, and the memories all come flooding back. It's quite a powerful experience, but at least for me a relatively rare one.

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Sunday, March 11, 2007

Bottling it

Finally got round to bottling my wine today. Made from a vineyard in Surrey, I ended up with 40 bottles of white and 66 of red. It's the red I'm most excited about. Both were made quite naturally, with no sulphur dioxide added until after malolactic, and the red has withstood the rather oxidative winemaking style a bit better.

The red is a blend of Regent and Dornfelder, harvested ripe and in very good hygenic condition. There was a strict selection for the best grapes, carried out at the same time as the hand destemming. Fermentation was in five gallon buckets, with foot treading and hand plunging. It then went into 1 gallon demijohns after pressing, where it remained without racking on its lees. I've chosen to bottle early while it can still take the oxidative insult of the bottling process in its stride. No filtration or fining was required.

As you can see from the picture, it's quite a dark coloured wine, but it's elegant enough, with good acidity and grippy tannins. There'll be no hurry to drink it up, but it's a natural wine meant for drinking soon, rather than a vin de garde. Assuming malo really has finished, I think it will be the sort of wine that I enjoy drinking. 11 demijohns were bottled separately rather than being blended together, so there'll be a degree of bottle variation. I can live with that. I'm delighted with how it's turned out.


Saturday, March 10, 2007

Magnets and wine revisited

I've just had a couple of news pieces on the magnets and wine story published: a short one in Decanter and a longer one in Harpers (you'll need to be a subscriber to access this one).

I've also tried the BevWizard (pictured) at home, and I'm ashamed to say that my palate must be pretty bad because I couldn't spot any difference between the treated and untreated wines. David Bird MW and I have been discussing arranging a controlled, blind tasting of the device. I'll keep you posted. Some time next week I'll also be publishing a longer article on the subject on this site.

Some further reading: Ben Goldacre's take on another wine magnet device is here. There's a copy of the very funny Rubin et at study here.


Friday, March 09, 2007

Extreme cheese?

Popped down to Neal's Yard Dairy in Covent Garden today. They had a sign outside the shop commenting on the recent Press coverage of Montgomery's Cheddar, which the news reports have dubbed 'Vindaloo Cheddar', referring to its strong flavour, a result of the 24 month ageing process.

People passing by the shop were being given a sample of Montgomery's, which they were presumably relieved to find didn't taste of curry at all. It's not cheap, at £20 a kilo, but it's an unfortunate fact of life that all decent cheese costs this sort of money. And it's fantastic. I certainly wouldn't say it was 'extreme'.

See also: my recent report on wine and cheese matching here.


Thursday, March 08, 2007

Hugh's book, cheap

Just a plug for Hugh Johnson's A life uncorked, which is now available in paperback for just £5.99 in the UK through Amazon here. I reckon this is a must read.


Bordeaux 2005 revisited

Today's day trip to Bordeaux began early, at 04:30, when I got a car to the airport. The purpose of the visit was a tasting of a wide range of 2005 Bordeaux put on by Millesima, a wine merchant selling by mail order to France, UK, Germany and elsewhere in Europe - they are unusual in that they buy direct from the top Bordeaux properties rather than going through negociants (or, if you look at it the other way, I guess they are a negociant selling direct to consumers - equally unusual). Fellow travellers included Neil Beckett, Oz Clarke, Joanna Simon and Sally Easton from the UK, as well as a contingent from Ireland, including Joe Breen, who did a nice review of Wine Science in the Irish Times. Tim Atkin was on the same plane out, but he was off to Yquem and Cheval Blanc.

After a quick flight, we took a cab to Millesima's warehouses, where the tasting was held, split by appellation in several locations in the cellars. Tasting was quite tough: there was a strong smell of pine wood from all the wooden cases, plus a distinctive sawdust smell from the spitoons. It was cold; the wines were brutally tannic; the tank samples we were trying were a bit bottle-shocked. But it was thrilling to be able to try so many of the top wines at an interesting stage in their early development. Two favourites were Pichon Baron and Palmer, both of which were fantastic.

It was also nice to catch up with Michel Bettane, who has some strong views on the 2005s, and Luis Antunes, as well as a few others. On the flight back I had a nice chat with Anthony Hanson, who I've not met before. All in all, a very productive day. I was home by 19:08, which is pretty good going. Bit embarassed about my carbon footprint, though.
Now finishing off the remains of the 2003 Crasto, blogged on yesterday, which is drinking well.


Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Crasto 2003

Off to Bordeaux tomorrow for a day trip, tasting a nice array of 2005s. Problem is, I have to leave at 04:30 am. Ouch. Should be in bed now, but I need to take a bath this evening to avoid waking the family and RTL tomorrow morning on my way out.

Tonight I'm drinking Quinta do Crasto 2003 Douro (£6.99 Adnams). It's very drinkable, with ripe, sweet dark fruits providing the gratification, and subtly green, tarry tannic structure providing a nice counter. There's nothing terribly heavy or serious about this wine, and the bright plummy, slightly sappy fruit is really appealing. This is a wine for current drinking that has a hint of the new world to it, but also speaks (albeit rather softly) of its Douro origins. Great value, and recommended at this price. Very good+ 87/100

Crasto is pictured above, from my first visit to the Douro in 2002.

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Perth and WA update

What did people do before the internet? Planning holidays and trips is so much easier when you can do it online...but, then again, is it?

It means you can do all the planning yourself, and the transparency of prices presumably keeps flights and accommodation competitive. But it does take a lot of time up, and I've been messed around horridly in my arrangements by a UK-based car broker.

Our original plan was to spend five days in the southwest at Margaret River, then fly up to Exmouth for five days (for Ningaloo) and then drive back down to Perth with a one-way car rental, stopping off on the way. The car was booked, but the broker took five days to confirm and then told us they couldn't do it. There are no more cars left at vaguely sensible prices by this time, so we've changed plans, and are flying back to Perth and spending a couple of days longer in Exmouth.

I guess the old way of doing things was to find a trustworthy, competent travel agent to make all the arrangements for you. Just one phone call, rather than hours seaching the internet. Sounds appealing now. But, in the age of the internet, do good travel agents still exist?

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Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Noval's table wines...a teaser

Spent the morning with Christian Seely and a bunch of journalists tasting Quinta do Noval's new Douro wines, along with several other 2004s from the AXA portfolio. Full write up to come, hopefully later today, but first a rather nice picture of the tasting. Usual rules: 1 point for each taster you can name. The Noval table wines are rather good.


Champagne Gosset

I drink quite bit of fizz, most of it unremarkable but enjoyable. Every now and then, though, I come across one thatís quite special, and reminds me of what the fuss is about. On Friday night we cracked a good-un.

Champagne Gosset Brut Excellence NV
Lovely open stylish fruity nose: aromatic, fresh, herby, appley. The palate is elegant and very fruity with lovely balancing acidity. Itís complex, full flavoured, but not at all clumsy. So overall, an unusual combination: a Champagne that is very fruity, but at the same time complex and stylish. Very good/excellent 92/100 (Great Western Wine)


Monday, March 05, 2007

St Pauls to the Tate Modern

Last Friday I made a lunchtime visit to St Paul's cathedral, which I haven't been in for ages - in fact, not since a school visit, perhaps 25 years ago. Fortunately, a friend had a free pass, otherwise the entry ticket would have set me back a cool £10. Ouch.
What do you get for your money? A spectacular, almost mind blowingly perfectly constructed cathedral, but the ambience is a bit spoiled by people shifting tacky-looking chairs around and modern-styled poster displays in the wings...it just seems a bit noisy and functional.
The climb up to the whispering gallery and beyond is rewarding, but for some reason there's a ban on all photography inside the church. Now I understand the ban on flash photography, but even discrete flashless digital photography results in stewards shouting at you (...how do I know that?) Above is a picture of the Tate Modern viewed from St Pauls, and then one looking back from the Tate Modern (taken at last year's New Douro tasting).

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Sunday, March 04, 2007

Suffolk escape

Been visiting my parents in Suffolk for the weekend. It's the first time we've taken Rosie the Labradoodle (RTL) in the car for such an extended journey, and she coped with it well.

I enjoy visiting my parents, although with their penchant for changing properties this is only our second visit to their current pad, in Lidgate, near Newmarket (in the last decade they have lived in Hythe, Dover, Isleham, Leiston and Lidgate). There's no broadband internet connection, and no mobile phone signal, so you don't have much choice but to be thoroughly spoiled and take long walks in the country.

On Saturday we headed out to Ickworth House and its grounds. It's a National Trust property, and has its own small walled vineyard of 2.5 acres, mostly planted to Bacchus and Rondo. I've never tried the vines, but the sheltered south-facing site looks very promising. We walked for a few hours, thoroughly tiring RTL out.
Last night we played cards and drank some samples I came armed with. I ended up sleeping on the couch downstairs to keep RTL company: because my folks are looking after her over our Singapore and Western Australia jaunt next month, I didn't want them to be woken by RTL at 4 in the morning just because she felt the need for a little bit of social interaction. But when everyone else was up I went and found a proper bed, staying asleep until 0930, which is an almost unheard of luxury...

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Thursday, March 01, 2007

Les Tourelles 2003

Another wine from the current Bibendum sale, this is the second wine of Pichon Longueville Baron, from the hot 2003 vintage. I do wonder about the Bordeaux model of having the grand vin and then second and perhaps third wines, which by their very relationship to the top wine have their work cut out persuading consumers they are fine wines in their own right.

On one level, if I was a Bordeaux producer, I'd be curious enough to make several wines from my various patches of vineyard. But then, if the vineyard is a coherent, single terroir, I guess making just one top wine is logical. These days there's such a pressure to make an utterly perfect grand vin, not least because those who can get the points also get the financial rewards, I imagine a lot of very respectable wine is going into second labels. This is an example of that, I suspect.

Les Tourelles de Longueville 2003 Pauillac, Bordeaux
Quite deep coloured. Sweet but slightly muted nose showing ripe dark fruits and a hint of gravelly minerality. It's quite refined without being terribly vocal. The palate is smooth and ripe with a good weight of red and black fruits, together with some smooth structure. Quite modern in style and lacking real depth and intensity, but still nicely balanced and very polished. It's a BMW 3-series rather than a Porsche Carrera. I reckon this will provide satisfying rather than thrilling drinking over the next few years. I guess my note is beginning to sound a little ambiguous: this is a stylish, ripe Claret, but it just lacks a bit of excitement for me. Very good+ 89/100 (£17.99 in the Bibendum sale)