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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
Forgive the non-wine related indulgence of some footy talk.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Really good article on terroir by Harold McGee and Daniel Patterson in the New York Times.
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.
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.
With all this long haul travel I've been doing, I've managed to catch quite a few films.
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.