jamie goode's wine blog: May 2007

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Cider...without Rosie

Having a dog is great, but it's nice to get a break from her sometimes demanding presence. It also means the cats have the run of the house once again.
Tonight I'm trying a couple of ciders for a forthcoming Sunday Express article, both from Waitrose and made by Herefordshire cidery (is that the right term?) Dunkertons. They're pretty good.

The first, Dunkertons Premium Organic Cider, is a yellow gold colour and has a lovely sweet nose that's slightly funky, in a nice way. It has a medium-sweet, broad palate with a lovely fruity, spicy acidic bite. Bursting with complex flavours.

The second is drier: Dunkertons Black Fox cider. It has open appley aromas and the palate is quite savoury and just off-dry. There's a bit of bite: it's a grown-up cider that would be great with food. Both are around the £1.80 mark, if I recall correctly, which makes them great value.


Back from Devon

I've returned early from my Devon holiday, leaving my family and RTL and catching the train back up to London for an early flight to Portugal tomorrow. It's only been a brief break, but despite some dodgy weather, I'll remember it as one of the best family holidays we've had. It just worked. Pictured above is Putsborough beach, and below is a view of Braunton Burrows, looking towards Saunton Sands.

As well as outdoor excursiony sorts of things, I've slept a lot and read a book: The Little Friend by Donna Tartt. It's a book that took some getting into, but I persevered because her Secret History is one of the best books I've ever read. The first 200 pages are a little ponderous and self indulgent, and I kept getting lost with all the characters (various aunts and domestic staff kept getting muddled up), but then the book is carried by its plot to a striking ending sequence. Tartt is clearly a brilliant writer, whose prose engulfs, and I recommend this book for anyone with patience and time to spare. If you haven't read Secret History yet, then buy both and read them back to back.

The train journey from Barnstaple to London Paddington was a good one, involving just one short change at Exeter St Davids. I can get a lot of work done on a train; more so than when I fly.

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Monday, May 28, 2007

In Devon on a mac

I'm currently in Devon, with the family and RTL. We're staying in Georgeham, just down the road from Croyde where we stayed last October, and it's a fabulous place. Unfortunately, the weather is decidedly mixed, but there's still plenty of fun to be had walking on beaches and generally doing outdoorish things. Fiona's sister and their family live here, so it's good to be able to catch up with them. An added bonus is that RTL has found a soulmate: Fiona's sister's dog, Holly, who's a lot smaller (she's a terrier), but seems to love rough and tumble with the bigger clumsier RTL (both pictured above).

One complication is that RTL is on heat, and bleeding a bit, so we have a special pair of dog knickers that we need to apply when she's in the white-carpeted rental house. Because it's a bungalow, RTL has decided that she'd like to sleep with Fiona and I in our bed. Hmmm.
Wine? We've had some, most memorably a deliciously mature 1999 Montus Madiran. It's still got some distance to go, but it's drinking really well now.

This post has taken longer to write because I'm doing it on a very flash Mac - and this, unbelievably, is the first time I've used one of these!

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Friday, May 25, 2007

No added sulphur

Went shopping to Kingston with Fiona this morning, who was of the opinion that I needed an image makeover. I'm not terribly good at clothes shopping: I tend to find things I'm comfortable in, which I then wear until they disintegrate. Today we spent quite a bit of time and money, and I'm really happy with the new me. I guess I just need to lose about a stone in weight and 10 years of age.

Afterwards, on the way back through Bentalls I had a quick browse through their wine selection. It's an impoverished relic of their range of several years ago, when it had its own dedicated space - this is where I first discovered Portuguese wines. Now the Bentall's wine range is relagated to a few shelf units, with lots of the usual suspects. But I did find one wine that caught my eye: the Stellar Organics No Added Sulphur Merlot 2005 from South Africa.

I was recently involved in a tasting of wines made without sulphur dioxide, which I wrote up here. Among the selection, one of the stars of the show was the 2006 version of the Stellar Merlot, which I was very impressed by. The worry with these wines is that without the protection of sulphur dioxide, they won't live long, and sure enough the 2005 vintage is at the stage where it needs drinking up. It's interesting 'n complex 'n all, but it's taken on a prematurely evolved character.

This Merlot has a distinctive rich fruit nose with a freshly turned earth character. The palate has bold blackcurrant fruit with a nice spicy savouriness and more of that savoury earthiness. It's almost like an old Port, with earthy ripe fruit and high alcohol. Kudos for the Stellar crew for trying to make this 'natural' wine, but retailers buying this need to make sure it turns over quickly, and should keep it at low temperatures. UK availability of this wine, apart from Bentalls, is www.vintageroots.co.uk.

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Thursday, May 24, 2007

Trade fair day three

Just to show that I'm not hidebound by tradition, I rock up at the trade fair early, about 0945. I say 'about', because for the last three days my watch has stopped. Battery dead, and I haven't been able to replace it. I've been wearing my watch, which has read 1021 on the numerous occasions where I've looked at it, almost instinctively, but I've been relying on my mobile to tell me the time. Today I'd forgotten my mobile, so I had to rely on the odd occasion where I caught sight of the time to guide me. The last few days have made me think about issues about time - a 'romantic' part of me hankers after the age when we'd have relied on the church bells and the position of the sun in the sky to tell us what time it was.

I was early for the session I'd agreed to attend: Nomacorc's oxygen seminar. So I stopped by the Wines of South Africa stand and tasted through the Chenins (expertly guided by wine writer Sarah Ahmed) and the Rhone varieties. Really enjoyed the 2006 Sequillo white and the Tulbagh Mountain Vineyards Syrah Mouvedre 2004. The Black Rock 2005 was also lovely. Also had a quick chance to chat with WOSA's UK manager Jo Mason, and controlled myself by not saying 'variety is in our nature' in a silly voice, which is just as well because her boss was in earshot.

Then it was off for Nomacorc's seminar. It was overlong - they'd just tried to pack too much into it, and as well as four presentations by their own people there was a tasting and comments from a four person expert panel. Add questions into the mix, and it all felt a bit rushed. But there was some really good stuff here: in particular, Olav Agaard's closing pitch on the impact of oxygen transmission on wine characteristics was pretty hot, including some really nice theory on tannin perception and how oxygen transmission through the closure might affect this.

The tasting was also really useful, showing the same two wines bottled with a different closures with a variety of different oxygen transmission methods. The overall message resonated well with me: it backed up a lot of the conclusions I drew in my book on wine bottle closures. I'm quite excited by some of the research on the role of oxygen in post-bottling wine chemistry that they are undertaking. Pictured are head honcho Malcolm Thompson and manager of oenological research Stephane Vidal in pensive mood.
On the way home got my watch battery changed. Night in tonight. Watched Hustle. RTL is on heat and is leaving red drips around the house. What were we thinking of getting a dog?

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London wine fair, day two

Just a brief post tonight. Had a long journey home, and it's now past 2 am. Day two of the fair again saw me rock up after lunch, in time for the sold out Rustenberg seminar with Adi Badenhorst, looking at a vertical of John X Merriman (one of South Africa's most impressive and affordable Bordeaux blends), plus a preview of the 2004 Syrah. Met up with regular blog commentors Keith Prothero and Alex Lake (pictured here: you can see Keith's arm and Alex' head), plus a couple of guys I've met online but not physically.

Then it was time for a wander round. Did a bit of Madeira, some Portugal and then the remainder of the time doing a big tasting of Southwest France wines. These were great.

After the fair I took off for the Dorchester's China Tang restaurant, for the Dirk Niepoort dinner. Suffice to say the wines were very impressive, focusing mostly on 2005, a great Douro vintage, and finishing off with a 1917 white Port. Things went a bit crazy with the journey home, hence the late bedtime.

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Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Trade fair day one

So I rock up to the London wine fair at about 2 pm. I have a few moments spare, so I taste through the Symington portfolio of Douro table wines (Altano much improved in 2005, as is Chryseia and Post Scriptum) and Ports, before heading up to the seminar rooms where I was chairing the Closures debate.

This year the focus was on retailers and their involvement in closure development, with a star-studded panel made up of Andy Gale (Tesco), Howard Winn (Sainsbury), Jenny Bond (ex-retailer, now a consultant) and Ian Rogerson (consultant who works with Co-op). Before we get going, Sam Harrop pops in to let me know the preliminary findings from the faults clinic at the International Wine Challenge. More on those in a few days.

We kick off. Last Thursday I stayed up to watch Question time to get some tips on how to run a panel debate from the master himself, David Dimbleby. While closures is a hot topic, it's not nearly as contentious as the subject matter Dimbleby deals with, but I got some useful pointers: most significantly, don't let questions hang in the air - always direct them to someone. So I reckon I did a better job this year than last, and the panel were great.

Afterwards it was time for a quick beer with James Gabbani (of Cube, organizers of the debate), Andy Gale and the Oeneo guys, before a quick stop at the Cube party. James had to explain to the bouncers not to be too rough with any drunken guests (apparently last year a wayward reveller got their face a bit mangled when they were dropped onto the concrete floor outside from a height), and Scott Burton runs after Murray McHenry (of McHenry Hohnen) to tell him that, yes, he can come in even though he doesn't the required wristband, the lack of which has led to him being refused admission. Then we get some beer. Had a nice chat with Jack Hibberd, Stuart Peskett, Christian Davis and Graham Holter, but then it was time to head off.

Dinner was with Dirk Niepoort, Swiss journalist Chadra Kurt and Cloudy Bay viticulturalist Siobhan Harnett at RSJ restaurant near Waterloo. RSJ has an incredible wine list that is almost exclusively from the Loire. We chose a 2004 Savennieres Clos de Coulaine by Claude Papin and 2005 Saumur Champigny Domaine des Roches Neuves by Thierry Germain. Dirk bought some wines: 2005 Charme, 2006 Niepoort Pinot Noir and a 1978 Colheita, all of which were great. Siobhan brought the 2004 Te Koko and a late harvest Riesling. I'll be seeing Dirk again tonight for the official 2007 Dirk Niepoort annual dinner.
Pictured is the view from the balcony of one of the waterfront rooms at Excel. Canary Wharf is visible in the distance.

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Monday, May 21, 2007

Football, ice, Beaujolais and anticipating the trade fair

Some bits and pieces. Just got back from playing football for the first time in ages. Had a slight twinge in the hamstring before I played, but I didn't feel too bad on the pitch, although I knew I shouldn't really be risking it. Like a child, though, I just couldn't defer gratification. Last time I had a hamstring problem I was limping for two months.

Afterwards I copied the example of premiership footballers. And I'm not referring here to going out to a nightclub, drinking absurd quantities of booze, and then getting arrested for attacking someone. I used ice. Apparently, the tradition now is not to take big communal baths where everyone hunts for the bar of soap, but rather to fill a small bath with ice and then get in it. It's really good for muscles. So I sat for half an hour on one of those wine cooling things I found in the freezer. My hamstring felt much better for it.

Time for something to drink. I turned to Beaujolais, and a bottle I wasn't expecting a great deal from. For me, George Duboeuf represents the commercially successful face of Beaujolais winemaking, turning out correct, saleable wines that are agreeable but don't excite. In my experience they've always been well made, but lacking a real sense of place. This wine is a bit better than I was expecting, but if I'm going to be really honest, it's in that mould.

Georges Duboeuf Chiroubles 2006 Beaujolais
Slightly confected nose has sweet fruit and a bit of bubblegum character. The palate has a bright red berry fruit presence: it's accessible, juicy and quite fun, with good acidity and a bit of grippy tannin. There's nothing wrong with this at all, and it's better than the majority of Beaujolais I come across, but it lacks any excitement for me. It's the sort of wine I' be happy to drink if there weren't any more exciting options on a wine list, but it wouldn't be my first choice. Very good 84/100

It's the London International Wine and Spirit Fair tomorrow, and continuing on until Thursday. I'm chairing the closures seminar tomorrow, and then attending a seminar on Rustenberg on Wednesday, followed by a Nomacorc seminar on Thursday. I'll also be wandering around, probably in a bit of a daze, because this is a huge event.

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Death by oak

Finca Sobrena Crianza Toro 2004 has the makings of a really good, value for money wine. It's got plenty of well defined fruit, but for some reason the winemaker decided to smother it in the sweet coconut and vanilla perfumed imparted by American oak. The result is a bit sickly. This is a wine that's got some good listings, including Waitrose and Co-op. But I think it's nasty.

Instead I turned to Nepenthe's Tryst, a blend of three varieties - predominantly Cabernet Sauvignon but with a bit of Tempranillo and just a trickle of Zinfandel. It's nice, vibrant and fresh with cool-climate blackcurranty fruit and a bit of gravelly character. Unobscured by noticeable oak.

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Saturday, May 19, 2007

Enira...what's the point?

Bulgarian wines used to be very popular in the UK back in the early 1990s when the Australians weren't quite up to speed. They over-delivered on flavour, were nice and fruity, and didn' t cost much. Since then, for one reason or another, they've become much rarer on supermarket shelves, and have been confined to a bargain basement niche.

But here's an ambitious Bulgarian wine, priced at £8.99. I've tried the previous vintage a couple of times at Waitrose (UK retailer) press tastings, and no less an authority than Jancis Robinson made it her wine of the week. I even recommended it in the Express, although I did comment on the level of ripeness (veering towards jamminess), while commending it for its purity of fruit and concentration. I like Noel Young's take on this wine: he seems to have nailed it. Here's my first look at the 2005, and to be honest I'm going off this wine rapidly: the follow-on vintage seems to be in a similar over-ripe style, but has carried it off less successfully.

Enira 2005 Pazarjik, Bulgaria
14.5% alcohol. Baked, sweet jammy nose already showing some evolution. The palate is ripe, a bit jammy and alcoholic. Sweet and spicy with an earthy edge, but overall it lacks freshness and is a bit hot. I guess they are on the right lines here in that this is much better than anything Bulgarian I've tasted in a long time, but it seems that they've just picked a little too late, losing definition and freshness in the process. Very good 82/100 (£8.99 Waitrose)

Much nicer, and also from Waitrose is the wine I'm drinking now:

Frederic Mabileau Les Rouilleres 2005 St Nicolas de Bourgueil, Loire, France
This Cabernet Franc is deep coloured and has a lovely fresh, gravelly nose of dark fruits. It has that distinctive rain on dry pavement sort of 'rocky' aroma I often get in fresh Cabernet Franc, which gives a nice savouriness. On the palate it's brightly fruited and quite grippy, with earthy, spicy tannins and a pleasing herbal edge to the fruit. The dominant theme is bright summer pudding fruits, and it is lovely. Very good+ 89/100 (Waitrose)

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Friday, May 18, 2007

Hustle...fake wine on telly

I was a huge fan of BBC series Hustle when it first came out a few years ago: it was creative, fun, smart and stylish. Haven't seen too much of it in recent series, but fortuitously caught it last night for an episode centred around wine.

For those of you who haven't seen Hustle before, it focuses on a team of con merchants with a difference. Like modern-day Robin Hoods, they only con those who really deserve it. 'You can't con an honest man' is one of their mantras.

Last night they conned an unpleasant manager of a nursing home who herself cons old people out of their homes. They attack her through her weakspot: her love of expensive wine. The only problem is that she's already had someone selling her fake wine at auction, so although the hustle team have a specialist wine faker as one of their acquaintances (who offers them 1947 Petrus, among others), they need to think of a smarter plan. All I'll say is that this involves the purchase at auction of a genuine 1787 Yquem followed by opening of said bottle, a quick swig, and then pouring it all down the drain. Painful to watch.
The price paid by Danny for the Yquem is £47000, which is pretty close to what such a bottle might fetch. Recently one traded hands for US$90000 - the most expensive white wine ever sold. Nice to see wine on the telly again!

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Thursday, May 17, 2007

Cricket and Wolf Blass

Cricket. Went to the first day of the test series against West Indies today at Lords. Woke up to drizzle. Oh dear. Got to the ground at about 10 am: drizzle. Hmmm. Delayed start. Overcast and dark. England were put in to bat; the West Indies bowled only averagely; England reached lunch at 80 odd for nothing. Cook (below) was batting well; Strauss was scratching around a bit. Straight after lunch England lost a couple of quick wickets and Pietersen came in. After a few choice shots he lost his way a bit and then the batsmen took the light and went off for an early tea. After the break Pietersen got out, but Collingwood and Cook carried on resolutely, went off again, came back again and then Cook completed his century. England added a couple more to reach 200-3, then they came off again for good as it got a bit dusky. Great fun to be at the test; the cricket could have been a little livlier. Given the conditions, England have made a solid start, and if they can reach 380-ish, then they'll be well placed, although their bowling line-up looks a bit short - and if Harmison doesn't click, he's just about unbowlable, in which case we'll struggle to dismiss anyone.

Aside: Wolf Blass, who sponsor the test series, have an interesting sample stand (above and below), where punters can rock up and get free wine. The stand is manned (is there a better term?) by well informed girls who introduce each wine. I turned up as an average, relatively uninformed consumer and got some really good answers and guidance. It's probably hard to assess the effectiveness of this sort of marketing, but intuitively you'd think that getting people to actually taste your wine is a very good idea, and this is one of the few fora where you can do this. All the better if this tasting is guided by the person pouring, and these girls seemed to know their stuff.

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Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Torres and Tuscany

Had a tasting, lunch and lots of tecchie chat with Mireia Torres, daughter of Miguel and technical director for all Torres' wines. We began by tasting all the Torres Chilean wines, and then lunched at La Trompette in Chiswick, which performed very well, getting my two dishes just right. I'm quite a fan of the Torres wines: their strength is that they do commercial winemaking very, very well, and their higher end wines aren't bad either. As an example, with lunch we had Grans Muralles 1998, and it was singing: evolved but still very fresh, bright and focused. And their two top Chilean wines - the spicy Carignan-dominated Cordilleira 2005 and the lush Conde de Superunda 2000 with Tempranillo, Cabernet, Mourvedre and Carmenere - rank among the very best that Chile has to offer. I also like the Marimar Torres wines from California.

Switching from Torres to Tuscany, I'm drinking a wine I can't make my mind up about, but which I think I like.
Villa Cafaggio San Martino 2001 IGT Toscana
This is a wine I'm enjoying quite a bit, but which leaves me unsure about whether it's truly serious or not. It's a wine made from different clones of Sangiovese in Chianti (so why is it an IGT Toscana?), aged in new small oak barrels. Weighing in at 14% alcohol this is quite deep coloured. It has a fresh, bright nose that's more red fruit than black, with some lifted spice complementing the tight fruit. The palate is mouthfilling, tannic and quite extracted, dominating by bright red fruits with a vivid spicy, grippy character that leaves the mouth feeling quite dry. There's certainly a lot going on here: I really like the freshness of fruit, I appreciate the savouriness, but I struggle a bit with the rather agressive spiciness, some of which I suspect has its origin in the new oak. Is this wine overextracted and lacking in elegance? Will the dry tannins outlive the fruit? Or is it a serious wine caught early in its youth? I like the fact that it's not soupy and overripe, so I'm going to give it the benefit of the doubt. Very good/excellent 93/100 (c. £23 Waitrose, D Byrne, Sandhams, Upton on Severn Wines, Satchells, Wine Times, Wright Wine)

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Remarkable Loire Chenin

The last couple of evenings have seen me tussle with a profound but challenging Loire Chenin. It's Savennieres Roche Aux Moines 1994 from Domaine Aux Moines (website here), which I'm pretty sure comes from Caves de Pyrene. A deep gold colour it has a wonderful nose of tangerine, lemon, minerals and a faint hint of spice. The palate is tangy, deep and dry with good acidity, some apricot and a lovely cheesy, herby sort of Chenin complexity, together with citrussy freshness. It's dry, savoury and intense: quite a challenging cerebral sort of wine. A bit like a dry Sauternes in flavour profile. Very good/excellent 93/100

It goes pretty well with two cheeses I bought from Harvey Nicholls' food hall before the Craggy Range tasting: a beautifully tangy, nutty Reserve Comte, and a wondefully intense, tangy Montgomery Cheddar which hasn't yet reached the crystalline sort of stage that this cheese can evolve into.

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Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Craggy Range with Steve Smith

After the fun of last night, what better way to celebrate than a serious tasting and a good lunch. The focus was Craggy Range, a leading New Zealand producer, and it was hosted by MD Steve Smith (right), who is a specialist viticulturalist by training (he's worked with controversial viticultural guru Richard Smart before) and who is an MW.

We began by looking at a range of leading Sauvignons from New Zealand, first without food, and then with - the point being that those preferred by the group without food differed from those preferred with. Two of the wines were from Craggy Range, and generally these performed better with food. It's a textural thing, apparently.

Then we went to Craggy Range reds. First, three Bordeaux blends and three Syrahs from 2005. They were fantastic, particularly the Syrahs, which were mightily impressive, showing lovely freshness as well as intensity, with a distinctive peppery character and brilliant definition. Serious stuff.

Then Pinot Noir. Six different components from the Te Muna Vineyard in Martinborough, 2006 vintage, with different clones and oak usage. These were fantastic, with a couple striking me as dead ringers for utterly serious Grand Cru red Burgundy. Thrilling expression and structure: I've never encountered new world Pinot this good before. These components and others are blended together to make two wines, which we then tried: the Te Muna Vineyard Pinot Noir and the Aroha (a new supercuvee). Both were great.

Finally, with lunch four more wines, the pick of which was the Quarry 2001, a Bordeaux blend from the Gimblett Gravels, which is verging on first growth Bordeaux quality. A stunning wine that has wonderfully dense, expressive, earthy, minerally fruit of ripeness but also definition. It's just about drinking now but has the stuffing and structure to improve for many years to come.

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Glenfiddich Awards 2007

Time for a spot of shameless self promotion. Last night was the 2007 Glenfiddich awards, held at swanky Sketch and hosted very ably by Tim Atkin. I was shortlisted for winewriter of the year, and - amazingly - came away with the trophy. The Drinks book of the year award was won by Williamson and Moore's Wine Behind the Label.

To celebrate, Fiona and I sloped off to Gaucho Piccadilly. The decor is remarkable (right): lots of cowhide, on the seats, on the walls - but all done very tastefully in a striking modern style. As well as the buzzy ambience (this place was full on a Monday night), service was excellent and the food was superb. The steaks here are legendary, but everything else is done well, too. On the wine front, the expensive but extensive list of Argentinean wines is well chosen, and I picked the Amalaya 2004 from Colome high up in Salta, which was a really lovely vivid red blend. The only downsides were the long wait for our food (although there was an unsolicited apology) and the final bill (the food was worth it, but it was on the high side).

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Monday, May 14, 2007


Forgive the non-wine related indulgence of some footy talk.

This last premiership season has been rubbish. Last night on the final Match of the day of the year (always a sad event), Lineker and Hansen were commenting on what a great season it has been - one of the best. I disagree, but then I am a Manchester City fan. Bad feelings about City's dodgy season aside, I just feel that top-flight football has lost some of its glamour, its sense of excitement, and whatever magic it had left. It's turning a bit soulless and repetitive.

And now Stuart Pearce has been sacked. Yes, City's season has been a poor one. But Pearce is an honest guy who inherited a bit of dodgy squad and has had a limited budget to bring in new players, at a time where top talent has been scarce and expensive. Respect to the man. I don't see what sacking him will achieve, unless of course it is a late attempt by the board to lure big Sam before he takes the poison pill of signing on as Toon manager. Well, at least we weren't relegated.

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Talking terroir...

Riccardo Cotarella is one of the most famous figures in Italian wine. He's a consulting winemaker to a slew of different estates, many of whom have caught the eye of Robert Parker. But not everyone is a fan of him: like that other famous consultant Michel Rolland, he's been criticised for making wines that taste a bit similar. Wines that impress, but which have been divorced from their origins. He was in London last week presenting many of these wines at a seminar, where he defended himself thus:

'To say that a consulting winemaker will make the same wine using the same grape and vinification techniques in different countries or even different areas of the same country is a complete stupidity. The people making these claims wouldn’t know the difference between a grape vine and a fig tree! In my work with the students at Viterbo University where I am a professor of Oenology we have demonstrated that using the same varietal from the same vineyard with the same treatment in both the vineyard and the winery will produce two very different wines when you vinify the grapes that come from the top of the vineyard on the top of the hill vs. those from the bottom of the same vineyard...90% of the character of a wine comes from the terroir, not the grapes.'
This reads right. Yes, we beleive in terroir, and that it's the way to go for fine wine. But Cotarella fails to acknowldege here that terroir itself is actually quite fragile, and is easily lost - most commonly by picking too ripe and using interventionist winemaking. If you want to bring out terroir - the sense of place in a wine - you have to work hard at your viticulture and take care not to mess up in the winery. It's possible for consultant winemakers to introduce techniques such as extended cold macerations, long hang times, and invasive new oak usage that can obscure origins. And I have to disagree with the last statement. I think the grape variety is very important, otherwise there wouldn't be an insistence that Pinot Noir is the sole red variety in Burgundy, for example. This grape happens to be the best lens through which the Burgundy terroirs can be viewed, if you like. Or, we could say that 90% of the character of a wine can come from the terroir, but only if you let it.
I'm an open minded guy, so I reserve judgement about Cotarella-influenced wines until I've tried enough of them to form an opinion. But I did find this quote interesting, which is why I've commented on it.

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Sunday, May 13, 2007

Pinot Noir...yet again

Continuing the Pinot theme, tonight I revisit California. In my trusty Riedel Burgundy glass (or should I use the rather pseudy term 'stem'?) I have a bright, supple, ripe Pinot Noir that hasn't been tricked around with too much and tastes as Pinot should. It's a bit of a suit of a wine: it could do with just a smidgeon more personality - maybe even a bit of wildness - but it's a nice drink that ticks most of the right boxes.

La Crema Pinot Noir 2005 Sonoma Coast, California
Quite a dark colour, but fortunately not too intense or inky. The nose shows quite sweet cherries, with a bit of spice. The palate has a lovely smoothness to it, with bright but seamless red fruits and a bit of spicy warmth in the background. Texturally, it's smooth without being heavy. It's ripe but not over-sweet. There's a bit of tannin to give balance to the fruit, and the alcohol is a sane 13.5%. Enjoyable stuff, and quite food compatible. Very good+ 89/100

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Saturday, May 12, 2007

More Pinot Noir

My recent experiences with the Cono Sur Pinot Noirs from Chile have led me to pursue this grape. Two bottles opened last night: one, a rather better Chilean Pinot Noir; the second, an agreeable effort from California.

Secano Pinot Noir 2006 Leyda Valley, Chile
From Vina Leyda, this wine has usurped Cono Sur's cheapie as the world's best value Pinot Noir. It has a lovely sweet cherry and berry fruit nose which is perfumed, with a bit of spice and some subtle herbiness. Forward and quite elegant. The palate is smooth with elegant cherry fruit. It's simple and primary, but there's some spice and again a bit of herbiness. Just a hint of green sappiness, but it doesn't clamp down too much on the bright fruit. Delicious. Very good+ 89/100 (£6.99 Marks & Spencer)

Kendall Jackson Vintner's Reserve Pinot Noir 2005 California
From the North Coast, Monterey and Santa Barbara; aged in a mix of new and old French and American oak. This is quite a pale cherry red colour, which is reassuring, and it has a sweet nose of cherry and red berry fruit with a spicy, slightly roasted vanilla oak overlay. The palate is soft with sweet ripe fruit complemented by some spicy vanilla from the oak. It tastes like Pinot and has some elegance, but might be better with a touch less oak. Still, a nice wine. Very good+ 89/100 (UK retail c. £10)

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Thursday, May 10, 2007

More tastings

Two tastings this afternoon. First, Berry Bros & Rudd's press tasting in the Pickering Cellar of their historic 3 St James Street premises (pictured). Spent some time chatting to the likes of Tim Atkin (who is compering Monday night's Glenfiddich Awards: he finds out tomorrow who wins), Anthony Rose, Sarah Ahmed and the Berrys crew. My favourite wine was a Champagne: the 2000 Le Mesnil Grand Cru Blanc de Blancs (here), which is currently showing amazing racy finesse and balance.

Then it was off to Delfina near London Bridge for the Sainsbury's press tasting. I spent quite a bit of time tasting through the range, which was consistently good but without many stand-outs. I really liked another Champagne: Duval Leroy Organic Premier Cru 2001, a straight Chardonnay from Trepail, with amazingly vivid, complex herby flavours. Wonder what the dosage was? I reckon it was low.


Bargain books

Amazon is remaindering a number of books, including one that I thoroughly recommend: The Emperor of Scent, by Chandler Burr. It's the well told (true) story of a scientist who has an unusual theory of how the sense of smell works, which could either net him a Nobel Prize or shatter his professional reputation. James Halliday gave me his copy to read when I visited him in the Yarra last March - the importance of this topic for wine appreciation is clear. It's on sale at just £1!

Also selling for just a quid is the Winemaker's essential phrasebook, an innovative project headed up by young Barossa winemaker James March, under the watchful eye of Halliday. It has each phrase translated into each of the key wine languages - handy for when you want to tell your Portuguese cellar rat to microoxygenate tank number 3 after punching down the Pinot Noir in the open fermenter on the left.


Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Chile and Pinot Noir

On the main wineanorak site I've just posted an article on Cono Sur's Pinot Noirs. This Chilean producer has led the way with Pinot, making a very respectable and affordable entry-level wine that's widely available in the UK. But the question I am asking is this: can Chile make a world class Pinot Noir?

My answer (which can be disputed on a number of levels, not least, what constitutes 'world class', and who gets to decide?) is potentially, yes, but not yet. The problem I get at the moment is a sort of herby greenness, which is usally allied with sweet fruit. The combination of sweet ripe fruit with greenness is not a wonderful one. It's verging on Pinotage. The Cono Sur Pinots I tasted are nice wines that are good value for money, but they are not yet world class.

What does Chile need to do with Pinot Noir to take the next step forward? I think vineyard work is the answer. Somehow, winegrowers need to achieve homogeneous grape ripeness. The problem at the moment seems to be that as well as sweet, pure fruit with a degree of elegance, there is some green fruit getting into the same wine. I suspect winegrowers are leaving the grapes on the vine quite late in order to get ripeness, with some grapes getting very ripe and some barely ripe, resulting in the greenness plus relatively high alcohol levels.

How can this be achieved? I can only make suggestions that are guesses: I haven't seen the vineyards. The first is to look at yields. Chilean vineyards ripen late; perhaps lower-yielding vineyards would ripen earlier and more evenly. I'd look at how irrigation is used: if it's necessary, then I'd insitigate regulated-deficit irrigation where it is turned off at certain points to encourage proper ripening and higher quality fruit.

Then I'd look at getting the vines in balance. Perhaps they are too vigorous? Perhaps the day-night temperature differential is resulting in delayed physiological ripening and high sugar levels. Could work with the canopies be in order? Is there a need to address vine spacing? Could organic/integrated management/biodynamic principles help with vine vigour and balance? Who knows. I'm sure these are questions that Chilean winegrowers are already asking, if they are honest about where their wines are at the moment.

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Tuesday, May 08, 2007

More on terroir and minerality

Really good article on terroir by Harold McGee and Daniel Patterson in the New York Times.

'The idea that one can taste the earth in a wine is appealing, a welcome link to nature and place in a delocalized world; it has also become a rallying cry in an increasingly sharp debate over the direction of modern winemaking. The trouble is, it’s not true.'

They continue:

'Grape minerals and mineral flavors are also strongly influenced by the grower and winemaker. When a vineyard is planted, the vine type, spacing and orientation are just a few of many important decisions. Growers control the plant growth in myriad ways, such as pruning, canopy management or, most obviously, irrigating and replenishing the soil with manures or chemical fertilizers. The winemaker then makes hundreds of choices that affect wine flavor, beginning with the ripeness at which the grapes are harvested, and can change the mineral content by using metal equipment, concrete fermentation tanks or clarifying agents made from bentonite clay. Jamie Goode, a British plant biologist turned wine writer, describes in his superbly lucid book “Wine Science” how techniques that minimize the wine’s contact with oxygen can increase the levels of sulfur compounds that may be mistaken for “mineral” character from the soil.'

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How I killed Santa

Yesterday evening we were asked the question all parents dread. 'Is Santa real?' Youngest son has been struggling for a while with this issue, ever since one of his classmates suggested that Father Christmas is fictional.

Fiona had three hours of inquisition last week, and held out on delivering the killer blow, fending off the questions with, 'what do you think?'. Last night I couldn't hold back any longer. I killed Santa. After persistent questioning, I admitted that Santa is a big old fake with a stick-on beard and a cheap felt suit. I tried to do it more kindly than this, but it was horrible. Will he ever trust us again? I'd rather not have broken the news to him, but he's 9 years old and he already realized something was up.

This leads to the question: is the whole Father Christmas thing justifiable, or is it lying to our kids? Is it harmless fantasy, that children gradually learn to dissociate from reality when they reach a certain level of understanding, or is the crushing blow that some kids feel when they find out it's all made up actually damaging, both to them and also our relationship with them?

The evening was made worse by the fact that after this, I opened four wines and they were all rubbish. And then RTL woke me at 04:40 this morning.


Monday, May 07, 2007

Bank holiday boozing

My twin sister, Anne, her husband Dominic and their two nippers came to stay for the bank holiday weekend. We had a really good time, helped by the fact that our kids and theirs got on very well. Yesterday we headed up to London, spending a couple of hours at the Imperial War Museum and then heading over to Kensington Gardens for a picnic, lubricated with some Lindauer fizz. They live just round the corner from Trent Bridge in Nottingham, so we'll try to arrange a trip up there to correspond with a suitable game (we're talking cricket here). Dominic still hasn't quite forgiven me for taking him to see City play at Notts County (we're talking football now) several years ago when City were travelling the divisions. He's a rugger man, and so wasn't really prepared for the experience of being in the away end with the hardcore City boys. If I remember correctly we drew that one 1-1, with Goater getting one of his three yard specials to equalize and the city captain getting sent off quite early on.
Some nice wines over the weekend, of which my favourite was Henschke's Louis Semillon 2005 Eden Valley (£13 Waitrose). It's complex, tight and minerally with just a hint of struck match reduction and some richness as well as the lemony fruit. Stylish stuff.

We also had a bit of an impromptu beer and cider tasting, including a really weird Marzen Schlenkera Smokebeer from Bavaria that smelled like salami. I really enjoyed the Aspall Dry Premier Cru Suffolk Cyder, which is fresh, light and precise with zippy acidity. Almost Champagne like. Their website is www.aspall.co.uk, and you can get it in Asda and Sainsbury, I believe.

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Saturday, May 05, 2007

In the vineyard

While the boys were at cricket practice I took a chance to check on the vines on my allotment. They're motoring ahead. Looks like there's going to be a heavy crop set. As you can see, I haven't done any weed control yet. Perhaps I could call it biodynamic. If I had access to a horse, or a spare couple of mornings, I could till it manually.


Friday, May 04, 2007

Rioja and cricket

I really enjoyed my visit to Rioja Alavesa, despite the punishing start and the 22 hour day it necessitated. I was visiting Bodegas Palacio in the Rioja Alavesa, who are achieving great success with fruit-dominated Riojas aged in French oak, as opposed to the more common oakier, American oak-aged style that this region has become well known for.

We began by looking at a range of white Riojas. They are keen to produce a high-end white Rioja, and in order to have a clearer idea of where they should go in terms of style they opened some of the better-known examples and we had a discussion. Then we tasted through their current range. After this, it was time for a lunch and more discussion, with a bottle of 1964 Glorioso Rioja Gran Reserva to help us. Lunch was followed by a trip to visit some vineyards; primarily, two that have been earmarked for an icon red wine project. The first was old vine Tempranillo, the second some 80 year old Graciano (pictured). As is common in the older vineyards here, the vines are trained as bushes, with two or three main arms which are then pruned back to a couple of short spurs each. These vineyards just look fantastic.

We then returned to taste samples from these vineyards made in the 2005 vintage. In short, they were great. The Graciano was amazingly fresh and vibrant with great density, good tannin and high acidity. Unoaked. The Tempranillo had been oaked and showed fantastic richness of fruit, yet still retained freshness. Blended together the result was superb: intense but fresh and with great definition. Much better than many of the inky, soupy, oaky high-end newwave Riojas on the market at the moment.

Woke up this morning feeling fresher than I should have done, perhaps because it was my first game of cricket of the season, for the Wine Trade XI captained by Nick Oakley, versus the Gents of Essex, held at Coggeshall's fine ground. It's normally a batsman's track, so bowling can be quite hard work. Last year (reported here) I had figures of 7-0-42-0. This year, though, it clicked. I opened the bowling, and with the fourth ball cleaned out Coggeshall's overseas professional with a ball that swung in and then straightened out. The next over I got another wicket. And one more two overs later. My figures of 8-2-31-3 would have been a lot better but for the final over where I conceded one more run than the previous seven overs together. Chasing 231, we went on to win the game with 7 down and a few overs to spare.

Tonight I'm drinking a very nice affordable white Burgundy: Albert Bichot Bourgogne Domaine du Pavillion 2005 (Oddbins £8.49). It's fresh and bright with a really nice reductive edge, which, in the context of this wine, works really well.

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Thursday, May 03, 2007

More films

With all this long haul travel I've been doing, I've managed to catch quite a few films.

Top of the pile: The last king of Scotland tells the story of Nicholas Garrigan, a young Scottish doctor who becomes the personal physician of Idi Amin. It's fictional, but the character of Garrigan was inspired by Amin's 'white rat', Bob Astles. This is one of those films that just works. The pace and plot are right, the acting is good, there are enough twists and turns to hold the attention, and mercifully we are spared the graphic gore of some of the nastier events that take place.

Sticking with an African theme, Blood Diamond is an action movie with a conscience that fails to spare the gore. Set in the Sierra Leone civil war in 1999, it tackles the twin thorny issues of conflict diamonds and child soldiers. Leonardo DiCaprio puts in a really good performance as diamond-smuggling Danny Archer - his character is probably the strongpoint of the film. Otherwise, I found it a bit disturbing. The violence is unremitting and very graphic. The plot is hollywooded-up with numerous coincidences and the main characters seemingly protected by an invisible bullet shield. Yes, the film does have an important ethical dimension, but it verges on using the violence and death as a source of entertainment.

I enjoyed Notes on a scandal. Cate Blanchett is a young teacher starting at a new school. She strikes up a friendship with older teacher and control-freak spinster Judi Dench. Dench proves to be a manipulative, possessive cow and she gains the leverage she seeks in her relationship with Blanchett when she finds out that her younger colleague, who is married to Bill Nighy, is knocking off a 15 year old pupil. Much relational pain and conflict ensues. A clever film, only slightly spoiled by the fact that the relationship between Blanchett and her pupil just doesn't seem plausible.


Day trip

It's 5 am in the morning and I should be in bed. Instead, I'm sitting in the departure lounge at Stansted Airport, waiting for a plane to Bilbao, from where I'm visiting Rioja for the day. I can't begin to express how unappealing the start time this morning was. In order to get to Stansted for the flight, I had very few options. No chance of getting to Liverpool St in order to get the Stansted express, so instead I had to get a minicab to Heathrow (just a few miles from where I live), then the 03:20 National Express coach to Stansted. This meant getting up at 02:40. Alternatives would have been to drive (which would have meant hiring a car because ours is in use), staying the previous night at Stansted or taking a cab all the way there - all of these would have been expensive options.

Forgive me for ranting. National Express coaches are cheap, and tend to run on time, but they're a foul way to travel. Last time I did this trip I was the only person on the coach. This time it was almost full. You don't get any legroom at all. Far less than the worst charter airline. It's physically uncomfortable sitting in the seat. And there was an overweight slob in the seat behind who snored loudly and unpredictably for the whole journey. Loud predictable snoring is bad, but there's something far worse with unpredictable snoring, the sort that comes and goes like waves breaking on the shore, sometimes rising to a noisy crescendo, then lulling into quiet, snotty murmurs, the odd silent spell - rather than being a relief - only serving to build the tension and through a process of anticipation make the next wave even more terrible. Surely the snore is the ugliest sound made by the human body.

I remember as a child the rare occasions when I had to sleep in the same room as my parents. My dear father snores. Loudly. So loudly, infact, that when he goes to bed early you can hear him from downstairs. [I hope he doesn't mind me disclosing this.] So sharing a room with him was utter hell. You absolutely had to fall asleep first, and deeply, and hope that you weren't woken during the night. We used to go camping for our summer holidays, and I recall sleeping in the car with the windows up simply because this was the most effective means of muffling the loud snores coming from my parents' compartment of the tent.

Back to wine. This evening I tried an unusual Chilean wine: Anakena Ona's Pinot Noir Merlot 2005 from Casablanca Valley. Who ever heard of Pinot Noir blended with Merlot? Actually, the proportions are such that it could simply be labelled Pinot Noir in many wine countries: 79% Pinot, 15% Merlot, 3% Syrah and 3% Viognier. The wine itself shows supple, ripe red berry fruits with a bit of blackcurrant and red cherry. It's quite ripe and a little confected, but there's nice freshness to the fruit, together with just a hint of medicinal character. It would be interesting to taste blind. You'd certainly place it in the new world, but beyond this it would be tricky. Quite a nice food wine because of its freshness. £8.99 Oddbins.

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Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Real wine the Italian way

So I returned to Cave des Pyrene's real wine tasting for the second day. After concentrating on France yesterday, today I devoted myself to Italy. I was pleasantly surprised: I've always had a slight suspicion that Italy is a perennial underachiever, failing to make the most of its diverse terroirs and grape varieties. However, the wines on show today were exciting, diverse, sometimes a bit funky, but almost universally interesting.

I'll be writing them up in detail, of course, but for now some quick highlights. Elisabetta Foradori's (pictured) Teroldegos from Trentino were dark and pure with real ageing potential. COS from Sicilia is making some characterful, rather rustic reds, plus a fantastically pure, smooth Pithos that is fermented and aged in amphoras. Also from Sicily, Marco de Bortoli fashions thrilling Marsalas as well as smart table wines. Podere Le Boncie Chianti Classico Le Trame tastes like Chianti should taste: expressive, elegant, spicy. Edoardo Valentini's Trebbianos are remarkable. Sottimano's Barbarescos are profound. Paolo Bea's Umbrian wines thrill. The La Stoppa wines are remarkable, too, including the Ageno white that spends 30 days on its skins. I'd continue, but I risk being boring.

Two wines tonight: both bottles are from cases of 12 that I bought from a recent Bordeaux Index stock clearance. I know the winemakers responsible from my various trips to the Barossa (here) and so I trusted my own reviews and took a punt. I often regret buying 12 of the same wine - with so many to try, I just seem never to get to the end of the case. Will I regret these purchases?

Torzi Matthews Frost Dodger Riesling 2005 Eden Valley is a crisp, mineralic Riesling with some citrus pith character and a bit of spice, together with some richer, more complex textural elements. Still quite tightwound. Finishes dry. With a long drinking window, we'll get through this case happily. Rieslings like this are versatile food wines. Glad I bought it.

Massena The Moonlight Run 2003 Barossa is a blend of Grenache, Shiraz, Mataro and Cinsault that weighs in at a heady 15% alcohol. It has a ripe, sweet liqueur-like nose of pure red and black fruits with a spicy edge that's rather exotic. The palate is sweet and ripe with a distinctive spicy presence. Quite pure, pretty alcoholic, but with some supporting minerality that makes me think of a really good amarone, or a supercharged Chateauneuf. The fruit drives this. I'm not sure how it will evolve, and I guess this is the key factor in whether I've made a good buy or not. If it develops well into a rich, spicy, earthy, sweetly fruited sort of wine, then I'll be very happy. If it falls apart into a mush, I'll be disappointed. I reckon the former is more likely, partly because the wine seems to be developing in the glass. Or is it just that the 15% alcohol is beginning to have an effect on my perception? I'm never quite sure about reports of wines really opening out with time because of this rather obvious confounding effect!

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