jamie goode's wine blog: June 2007

Saturday, June 30, 2007

Test-tube wines

Alison Mann of EW PR sent me this link, and asked me what I thought of it, the idea being that press samples could be delivered this way.

The design is a test-tube-like arrangement with a screwcap seal. But - and this is the significant bit - it would only contain 6 cl of wine. This invention will send a chill of fear down the spines of all professional wine writers - it would certainly be a disaster for my friends and family who are used to receiving almost full bottles of wine at regular intervals!

More seriously, it's a good idea in principle, but I would be uncomfortable with the idea of it being used for press samples. There aren't that many wine journos who have a readership and impact high enough for it to be worth sending samples to, so I suspect for many wineries the extra hassle involved in bottling these test tubes with wine would outweigh the cost of wine and freight involved with whole bottles. There's also the issue of fraud: it would be so easy, if you are doing a separate bottling for journalists only, to do something different with the wine, or bottle a slightly different wine - ideally, I want the wines I taste to be taken from the batch of stock that is supplying the UK trade. At least one well known winery has attracted negative publicity for allegedly bottling a separate batch of wine for competitions. There's an issue of trust, here.

Technically, wine bottled in these test-tubes will behave differently to wines bottled in 75 cl bottles just because of the volume/oxygen transmission issues, and because it is unlikely that oxygen pick-up at filling will differ from normal bottles. It may not represent a huge difference, but it's a difference nonetheless.

Where this technique could be useful is in sampling to consumers. You could post out a large number of these samples to bloggers, for example, or to people who express an interest alerted via a magazine insert. It could also be used for tank samples, for example, of expensive wines. What do you think?

Friday, June 29, 2007

Rained off and getting organized

Supposed to be playing cricket today for the winetrade XI versus the Hamsphire Hoggs, down at their lovely ground near Petersfield (above). But it rained and rained. Then it stopped and the sun came out, but an inspection of the pitch revealed standing water, under the covers. So we had lunch, before the decision was made to call the game off just before 3 pm. Not a wasted journey though: an occasion like this gives you a good chance to chat with your colleagues and make some new connections. I did feel sorry for Nick Oakley, though, who'd driven down from Colchester specially for the game.

Got home and decided to get organized. I work with piles of paper (as well as a sort of electronic pile in my Eudora inbox), and in my study before I started sorting there were four piles, each perhaps two feet high. I've just spend over an hour working through them, chucking stuff out, discovering important stuff, and realizing that I have a lot of material that needs writing up soon. I realize I could be more efficient, but I'm not going to beat myself up about it - I have resources of time and energy, and if I just get more efficient I might end up running out of energy and still have time on my hands.

More rain is forecast for the weekend. This really is the most miserably damp June I can remember.

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Thursday, June 28, 2007

Sliverado, Priorat, Tesco, Lenz and Russ

Began today with Tesco's press tasting at County Hall. The Tesco team were beaming with pride as they launched their new range: all 180 wines on show were new additions. Dan Jago was bursting with boyish enthusiasm - he makes everything he does look very easy, as if he's just having a bit of fun. I suspect the reality is that it's like watching a swan cross a pond: on the surface everything looks smooth, but under the water those legs are paddling like crazy. I also discussed football with fellow Man City fan Jason Godley. Interesting times.

Then it was off to lunch with Lenz Moser (above) and Russ Weis (below), with the theme being Silverado (the Napa estate where Russ is manager) and Melis/Elix, Russ' Priorat venture. We were due to meet at Tendido Cero, but when Russ and Lenz got there the manager refused to let them open their own bottles, irrespective of corkage fee. They tried to explain they were presenting their wines to a journalist, but got absolutely nowhere. A strange attitude, really, and it meant that proceedings were moved to Bibendum, a short walk away. It was the first time I'd visited Bibendum (the restaurant, not to be confused with the wine merchant), and the setting in the Art Deco ex-Michelin building is stunning. The food is also pretty good.

Lenz and Russ are buddies from the time when they both worked for Mondavi. They are both charismatic brand ambassadors, and the lunch had a real sense of openness and energy to it. We began by looking at one of Russ' Priorat wines, the Elix 2005, which was superb, even though it is the young vines cuvee. Then we tried two Silverado wines side-by-side. The 2003 Cabernet Sauvignon really impressed, with lovely structure and focus to the dense fruit. The 2oo2 Solo Cabernet Sauvignon takes things up a bit in terms of elegance and density, and up a lot in terms of price (retail is c. £80). It's a lovely wine.

Over this last week, my view of California has shifted a bit. I've seen with some of the high-end Jackson Estate wines that California can offer serious wines that have some old world complexity and balance with new world intensity, and this has been confirmed today by these two Silverado wines. California needs ambassadors like Russ, because the image we have of Californian wines in the UK falls into two categories: first, cheap brands that aren't very good and, second, ego-driven wines made by exceptionally rich ex-doctors, lawyers and movie stars which sell for absurd sums to wealthy Americans. This image needs to change.

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Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Australia meets Italy

Another wet day in London. Elder son and younger son turned out for the same U11 cricket team tonight. Dodgy looking weather meant the match was restricted to 15 overs a side, and going in at no 3 elder son batted well, ending up with 18 not out. Then the heavens opened and the game was washed out. I can't remember the last day when it didn't rain, and we are almost into July.

Cold has receded a bit, to the degree that I can now taste again. The Glenguin from last night is showing very well from the fridge. Very crisp, primary and limey. Still don't think it's a long ager in the Hunter Semillon tradition, though.

I'm now drinking a very nice, commercially astute but still satisfying wine from De Bortoli:

De Bortoli Sero Merlot Sangiovese 2005 King Valley, Australia
Merlot usually sucks, and Sangiovese usually bombs when people try to grow it outside Italy, but here De Bortoli have worked some magic, and produced a delicious fruity red with a hint of seriousness. The Merlot was partially dried, which explains, perhaps, the generous, rounded mid-palate that really carries this wine. It shows a bright, spicy, sweetly fruited nose that leads to a concentrated palate with some savoury, spicy bite underneath the rich, sweet fruit. It finishes with a nicely bitter plummy tang, which makes this pretty food compatible. Quite tannic, which I like in this sort of wine. 89/100 (£7.99 Waitrose, but watch out for when this is on promotion)

Tomorrow is the eagerly awaited Tesco Press tasting where they launch a revamped range, followed by lunch at Tendido Cero with Lenz Moser and his chum from Silverado Vineyards in California. Bring it on.

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Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Semillon and more films

I have a cold. It's not horrendous, but it's mightily annoying, and tasting wine with a cold is like the equivalent of driving in rain with broken windscreen wipers - something I've done before, many years back when I was courting Fiona in a blue Vauxhall Astra 1.3 Estate with 140 000 miles or so on the clock. The windscreen wiper motor had failed, and it was summer, and in the interim period between the motor failure and getting a 'new' motor (from a breakers yard) I risked it, checking the weather forecast before driving. On the way back from Fiona's place in Cheam one day, it started raining. The remainder of the 5 mile drive back to Wallington was tricky, to say the least.

Anyway, I can still taste a bit, although not as well as normally, so I've opened another of the Bibendum sale wines (starts 3rd July, www.bibendum-wine.co.uk). It's the Glenguin Estate Old Broke Block Semillon 2005 Hunter Valley. An unoaked style, as is the norm in the Hunter with this variety, sealed with a tin-lined screwcap. It has a very attractive, bright personality with lots of vivid lemon and lime fruit and a savoury, acidic palate. There may also be just a hint of reduction here, of the flinty, minerally variety. Primary and intense, this is a boldly flavoured wine that I reckon is best in its first flush of youth. If it wasn't for the suspicion of reduction (which I can't be sure of because of the cold), I'd get some of this and lose it in the cellar for a few years to see if it underwent that Hunter Semillon sort of transformation. Good value at the sale price of just over £5.

Now a change of subject. Continuing my occasional commentary on films watched, I have three more for you, two very good and one a bit mixed.

The first is the mixed one. Babel, as the title suggests, is a film exploring the issue of communication difficulties, across cultures, languages and even the barrier of sensory impairment. There are three separate stories (although most reviews seem to pick out four); two connected quite strongly, with the third linked-in only tenuously. We begin in Morocco, with the shooting of an American tourist (Cate Blanchett) by two shepherd boys arsing around with a rifle. Didn't anyone tell them that guns are dangerous? The rest of this story centres on her husband's (Brad Pitt) attempts to summon medical help of a standard acceptable to Americans. The second story follows the plight of two kids being looked after in San Diego by a Mexican au pair who takes them with her to her son's wedding over the border because she can't get time off. The third story tracks the difficulties encountered by a hearing-impaired Japanese teenage girl in Tokyo, who finds that her emergent sexuality is the only way she can really connect with those around her. Overall, the film absorbs in places and shocks in others, but lacks any real coherent message, which is a drawback for a movie that otherwise feels like it's designed to convey a message. It's Hollywood trying to do an art house movie, but maybe that's a bit mean, because it is worth watching, all things considered.

The second film is altogether more inventive and clever, although you don't want to be taking it too seriously. Little Children is a wonderful black comedy exploring the hopes, aspirations and fears of affluent smalltown America. Kate Winslet is a bored housewife who finds (illicit) love and companionship by means of a trainee lawyer who can't quite bring himself to pass his final exams, and is acting as house husband to his pushy career wife. The occasional narration, which fades out as the film progresses, is very Desperate Housewives in feel. It's hard to describe much more without spoiling the plot, but there's just one scene, in which the local paedophile slips unnoticed into the crowded municipal swimming pool in flippers and a snorkel mask, and then is spotted causing a mass exodus reminiscent of Jaws, that is a work of comic genius. But this film is more than just a black comedy. There's some poignancy, too, and the characters are portrayed with sympathy and astute observation. Well worth watching.

Talking of comic genius, the third film in this selection, Hot Fuzz, is quite brilliant. Simon Pegg writes and stars in this buddy cop send-up. I really liked Pegg's previous effort, the fantastic Shaun of the dead, and Hot Fuzz is its equal. The story? Pegg is an ambitious and effective constable in the Met, who is transferred to a small country village because his high arrest rate is showing his colleagues up. Things are not as they seem though: Sandford is just too clean and crime-free to be believable. Brilliantly scripted, although perhaps just a little over-long, you gotta see it. Dude.

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Monday, June 25, 2007

Barbara Banke and Jackson Wine Estates

Had lunch with Barbara Banke of Jackson Wine Estates today. Barbara, wife of Jess Jackson (who pulled out of the gig because of negotiations surrounding a race horse, his new hobby), is fully involved in running Jackson Wine Estates, and communicated the story behind Kendall Jackson very effectively. As usual, I'll write up the interview and tasting in full soon, but here's a taster.

Kendall-Jackson began life 25 years ago as a leisure pursuit. 'Jess and I started the winery for relaxation', says Banke – they were both busy attorneys whose work was driving them a bit crazy. 'We bought a small property in Lake County and were going to sell the grapes', she recalls, but when selling the grapes proved tricky in 1982 they decided to make some wine.

The first wine was from eight cool climate coastal Chardonnay vineyards, and when the ferment of one of these stuck, the wine was blended in with the rest to create a slightly sweet Chardonnay that American consumers just loved: it got written up well and sold out in six weeks. KJ decided to stick with this style – a Chardonnay with a little residual sugar, and it proved to be a winning formula.

Of course, the high residual sugar style of Chardonnay isn't universally acclaimed, and you get the distinct impression that to this day KJ squirm a bit whenever the term 'residual sugar' is uttered by journalists. The current Chardonnay is made in a less sweet style, but there's still some residual sugar there, although no one I asked seemed to know how much, and the technical fiches don't disclose it.

The success of the Vintner's Reserve Chardonnay was the beginning of a steady growth, to the extent that KJ are now one of the largest players in the Californian wine scene.

But KJ have taken their business in a direction that's rather different from that of the rest of the wine industry. They are a big producer – depending on who you listen to they make between 3.5 and 4.5 million cases of wine each year – yet they make everything from estate-grown fruit. This contrasts strongly from the current situation where large publically listed wine companies divest themselves of capital-hungry assets such as vineyards in the quest for a better return on investment.
No short-cuts are taken in the winemaking: the Vintners Reserve Chardonnay, their big seller, is 80% barrel fermented, and no oak chips or staves are used. To satisfy their huge demand for barrels, for the last 10 years they have owned a stave mill in the Vosges forest of France.

Not only have vineyards been acquired – the current total stands at around 14 000 acres – but Jess and Barbara have also been buying up wine estates. They own 25 of them, mainly in California, but also stretching to Europe, Australia and South America. 'Essentially, we are collectors of these little vineyards', says Banke.
With lunch we tried several wines. The KJ Vintner's Reserve Chardonnay 2005, which retails at $12-15 in the USA, impresses, with plenty of weight allied with some freshness. It's unashamedly Californian in style. The Grand Reserve Chardonnay 2004 hails from Santa Barbara, and is a bit weightier and richer, with toasty complexity – nice stuff in a full flavoured style. A Hawkeye Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon 2003 comes from a mountain vineyard in the Alexander Valley of Sonoma, and has lovely savoury, tannic structure supporting vivid fruit. This really impressed. The 1999 Stature Cabernet Sauvignon from Mount Veeder in Napa was supremely elegant and ageing very nicely. Serious stuff. La Crema Pinot Noir 2005 from Carneros is fresh and cherryish with nice expressive fruit, while the Hartford Court Land's Edge Pinot Noir 2005 from a subregion of the Russian River Valley is a step up, with lovely clarity of pure red fruits – it should age well. Verite La Muse 2002 is Jess and Barbara's wannabe Petrus, and this is a serious effort: the Merlot-dominated blend from Sonoma County has clarity, focus and a nice mineral core. Not a heavy wine at all. Moving to St Emilion, the Chateau Lassegue 2003 is a wine that has overcome its vintage handicap and is actually pretty elegant and fresh, although the tannins do clamp down a bit hard on the finish. Finally, the Lokoya 2003 Diamond Mountain Cabernet is in a different style altogether. It's big, with 14.9% alcohol and lots of fruit, but the fruit never runs away with the wine: it is held in check by lovely spicy minerality. Pretty serious stuff in this forward style, and it should age well. Quite a portfolio.

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Sunday, June 24, 2007

Loire and Germany for dinner

Yixin Ong was in town, so on Friday night he convened a wine nut dinner at RSJ, with myself, Rahsaan Maxwell and Tom Blach. Tom and Rahsaan are people whose writing I've read on the internet, but have never met before. It was a very nice evening, with some interesting wines and a couple of near misses - wines that were good but had the potential to show better. (Pictured, left to right, are Tom, Yixin and Rahsaan.)

We began with a sparkling Vouvray from Huet - a 1987 - which was quite lovely. It was delicate and bright, but had a little of that Chenin funk that worked really well. This was followed up with an old Muscadet - the 1990 Luneau Papin Muscadet Le L D’Or. Initially we wondered whether this might be corked, but then decided it was just showing rather faded, along with some distinctive savoury minerality that stuck out a bit. Not at ease with itself, and others had fared better with this wine recently. 2000 Domaine de la Bellivière Coteaux du Loir Hommage à Louis Derré was a remarkable, lightweight red wine with a minerally, gravelly edge framing some slightly meaty but otherwise very fresh fruit. Lovely and expressive: points chasers would hate this. Then we moved on to a pair of Germans. 2006 Willi Schaefer Graacher Domprobst Spätlese #17 was expressive, minerally and a bit zippy from some carbon dioxide, and had some lovely weight to the fruit. 2006 Daniel Vollenweider Wolfer Goldgrube Spätlese GK was much richer, with over 100 grams/litre of residual sugar, and a thick, rich texture. Stylish and in need of some time for the complexity to emerge from all that sweetness. Finally, we went for a big gun, spotting the 1971 Huet Clos du Bourg Moelleux 1ère Trie on the list at a decent-ish price. Sadly, it was tiring a bit. It came up at room temperature, so we decanted and chilled it in the ice bucket, only for it to turn from light brown to dark brown in 20 minutes. It was still nice - under the oxidation there was the memory of a complex wine, but sweet Vouvray is usually pretty much immortal, so it was a shame not to get a pristine bottle. The evening came to an end and we were relatively full of wine, and Yixin was tired enough to fall asleep on the last train home. But he bravely revived enough when we got back to crack open a half of Reinhold Haart 2005 Piesporter Goldtropfchen Riesling Auslese, which was showing lovely lush fruit with a nice transparency to it, and the promise of greater things to come.

Evenings like this remind me why wine is such an interesting subject.

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Saturday, June 23, 2007

Alain Dominique Perrin

Interviewed Alain Dominique Perrin yesterday at a hotel in Canary Wharf. As the man behind the revival of Cartier, he's seriously well known in France; not so well known in the UK. One of his passions is wine, and for the last 27 years he's been the owner of Chateau Lagrazette in Cahors. I was slightly apprehensive about trying his wines: mega-rich guy buys Chateau, invests loads of money in it and hires Michel Rolland as a consultant - the potential is there for wines that have power but no sense of place. But the two wines we drunk, the Chateau Lagrazette 2001 (retail £17.99) and the Cuvee Pigeonnier 1999 (retail £80), were really impressive. They're big, dense wines which combine refinement with a darker, edgier personality that gives them a real sense of place. They actually taste like Cahors. He was charming, down to earth and had lots to say - the full interview will be on the site soon.

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Thursday, June 21, 2007

On blogging

Some late-night thoughts on blogging. I've been reading a lot of blogs recently. It seems that every website now *has* to have a blog, whether it's a winery, a magazine, a merchant or an agent. Somebody gets lumped with the job of blogging, or more commonly a team of people are required to provide the content. While I'm fully convinced about the effectiveness of the blog as a communication medium, I'm frequently underwhelmed by the blogs out there. Most of them just don't work. Why?

1. A blog has to have a voice. Multi-author blogs frequently lack this.
2. Content: what is written has to be interesting. It has to engage the reader. For this to happen, a blogger has to have something to say, which means that the blogger in question has to be a bit of a thinker.
3. Style: for a blog to be interesting, it has to be well written. Most people can't write. Writing can't really be taught, although people who can write can be trained to write better. Remember: just because you are smart, or because you are important, it doesn't mean you can write.
4. Conversation: blogs are about conversations with the readers. Most blogs from companies fail here: the authors are writing largely for their employers, not for their readers. There's a lack of genuine communication.
5. Disclosure: your readers need to get to know you. I guess this overlaps with (1). I'm probably not so good with this one. I'd like to disclose more about who I am and what makes me tick, but it feels a bit risky on a publically visible platform such as this.

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Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Confusing Chianti

One of the wine regions I can't get my head round is Chianti. I've had so many disappointments here, and so few memorable wines, that it's made me question whether there's much merit to Sangiovese at all. But in theory I'm still hoping; still believing; still trusting - surely Chianti is capable of greatness.

Tonight's wine leaves me confused once again. There are bits about it I really like, but then bits that put me off. The package as a whole doesn't quite convince, but then when I prepare myself to dismiss it, I take another sip and suddenly I think it's serious again.

Fattoria Selvapiana 'Vigneto Bucerchiale' 2003 Chianti Rufina Riserva
A perplexing wine. It's quite deeply coloured, with a nose of sweet, lush red and black fruits with a compelling spicy complexity and a hint of tar. The palate is alcoholic and sweet, but this is offset nicely by a lovely savoury, spicy structure, that persists through the finish with some mouth-drying tannins. There's a hint of oak, too. I love the spicy complexity, and the structure suggests this could be one for the cellar, but I'm slightly worried by the sweetness of the fruit and the 14.5% alcohol. It's not at ease with itself at the moment, but I reckon cellar time might cure that. 89/100 (£18 Marks & Spencer)

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Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Cricket (again), Meerlust and Rose

I'm tired at the end of an interesting day. This afternoon I played cricket at Hampton Wick: it was the Wine Trade XI versus Balls Brothers for a fun 20/20 game. I was donated to Balls Brothers as a guest player - technically this was because I was the last to sign up; perhaps, though, the Wine Trade XI fancied some easy runs off my bowling.

I took second over, mixing it up a bit (not deliberately) and going for a few runs. Just two overs though: everyone bar the wicket keeper gets to bowl two overs in these games, which makes for some great comedy bowling moments. The wine trade struck lustily and ended up with 150-odd. In response, Balls Bros fell short by 20 or so, to which my contribution was two (I went in at the rarified position of 7 - perhaps I was suffering from altitude sickness - and was lbw).

A barbecue and much London Pride plus various donated wines followed. Interestingly, one of the wine trade team was Chris Williams, winemaker for Meerlust and also his own venture, The Foundry, which I have written about in the past. Chris is rubbish at cricket, but extremely talented at winemaking. We tried two Meerlust wines which he didn't make, but did blend - the 2003 Merlot and 2003 Red. They're impressive in a distinctive Meerlust style: spicy, quite dense, a little earthy and nicely savoury.

Chris has been changing the wines a bit, but not too much, giving them a bit more generosity and focus. Under the terms of his employment he is able to make 2000 cases of The Foundry wines, a project he operates in tandem with a silent partner. He's invested the equivalent of £50 000 so far, and with the last vintage just began to break even. His commitment is to Meerlust for the forseeable future, but he hopes one day for The Foundry to become the focus of his whole attention.
Now I'm relaxing with a glass of rose, nursing three cricket-ball inflicted injuries, two on my right hand and one on my right foot (a full blooded cover drive). It's Ochoa's Rosado de Lagrima 'Finca el Bosque' Single Vineyard 2006 Navarra. A blend of cabernet and garnacha, this is quite deep coloured. It has a bright, bittersweet nose of cherry and cranberry, which leads to a palate of juicy, savoury cranberry fruit with a spicy finish. This is juicy, full flavoured and refreshing, and extremely food friendly. A hint of seriousness even? 86/100 (£7.99 Abbey Wines, £6.99 Taurus Wines, £6.65 Bretby Wines)

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Monday, June 18, 2007

Deadlines and inexpensive Portuguese

If you fancy being a winewriter - or a writer of any kind, for that matter - one of the things you have to learn to live with, and be ruled by, is the deadline. I've always had a simple attitude to deadlines, and it goes something like this. You keep them. While it may not seem very rock 'n roll, and it makes me sound like the smug kid who always handed his homework in on time, I realise that I need editors more than they need me, so I'll do all I can to keep them happy. Along those lines I try never to renegotiate deadlines (which is pretty much the same as not meeting them) unless absolutely necessary. I don't know whether my fellow winewriters feel the same; I don't really want to know, because sticking to deadlines is hard work and it's a good habit to keep.

I've said all this because I've just been working past midnight to try to stick to a tight deadline for a book project I'm involved with, and it looks like I'll be a day late. I feel bad about this, but it's an unusual project, and fitting the brief involved has taken much longer than I suspected.

Two wines sampled tonight. Both inexpensive, both from Waitrose, and both from Portugal. Sogrape's Duque de Viseu Dao 2002 comes from a dodgy vintage. It's dry, a bit earthy, a bit spicy and showing some evolution. There's a pleasing savouriness, together with a bit of sweet warmth. A good food wine without any rough edges, but it's fading fairly fast. Pleasant enough drinking now, though.

Altano 2004 Douro is a fairly supple, midweight style, that speaks (or rather mutters) its Douro origins without really exciting at all. There's a savoury, herbal edge to the red and black fruits, and it sort of clamps down quickly on the finish. This is a wine that would perform well with food, but on its own it comes across a little ungenerously. Mind you, at this price (£4.99) I'd take it in preference to just about any similarly priced branded wine. The 2005 Altano, recently tasted, is a real step up in quality.
These aren't great wines, but 10 years ago their equivalents would have been much worse. Portuguese wines are evolving fast - it's a country wine nuts should keep their eyes on.

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Chablis times two

A couple of Chablis to compare, Laroche 2005 and William Fevre 2005 (this will be priced at £8.99 in Bibendum's forthcoming sale, which starts on July 3rd).

Both taste like Chablis: that is they have fresh, bright fruit with a distinctive minerality lurking around somewhere in the background, and they also have a savoury nature to them. They don't taste like unoaked Chardonnays (which is what they effectively are, but which isn't the point of Chablis).

The Laroche is a bit smoother and broader than the slightly edgy Fevre. The Fevre has some citrus pith character; the Laroche has a touch of what I describe as 'straw'. Both are versatile food wines. The Fevre is sealed with natural cork, the Laroche with a screwcap (although the liner used here is saranex, without the common metal layer which allows much less oxygen transmission - it's a wise move for this sort of wine, because you have to be on your guard using a tin liner otherwise you can run into reduction problems).

Both these wines are good examples of Chablis and, while they're not going to blow your socks off, they're extremely tasty and versatile. Fevre just has the edge for me. The Laroche is available as part of a Laroche mixed case from Tesco, or from Sainsbury at £8.99.

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Saturday, June 16, 2007

The raspberries are peaking

It's mid-June. My favourite time. The vines have flowered (early), the evenings are long, and the raspberries are peaking. It's going to be a good raspberry season, with ripening well spread out. Last year the three different varieties I planted all fruited at the same time (I chose a mix of early, normal and late, to extend the season). This year it's been a bit cooler with plenty of rain, so they are nicely spread out. I love wandering into the garden and grazing for 10 minutes on soft fruits (we also have strawberries). The secret to good grazing is to pick berries at optimal ripeness. Not too tart, but then not too sweet and flat. Appropriately ripe is best, a bit like grapes.

Two wines tonight. De Loach Pinot Noir 2005 California: this will be one of the wines in the Bibendum summer sale, and is a steal at the sale price of £6. It's quite rich - it reminded me a bit of a northern Rhone Syrah with it's meatiness and nice greeness - but it still tastes of Pinot Noir, with plenty of dark cherry fruit. Drinkable and moreish, which is not something I say often about cheap Pinot. I've got five more to try from the Bibendum sale - this looks like a good one if the samples I've been sent are anything to go by.

Torres Salmos 2005 Priorat: Torres first wine from the most famous of Catalan terroirs (see their description of it here). It's a fairly serious effort - it reminds me of a Douro wine. Dark and intense, with some new oak evident backing up the ripe, taut, leathery-edged fruit. Quite savoury and structured. Some minerality, too - or is this a suggestion prompted by the label image of terraced schistous vineyards. There's a fair bit of alcohol (14.5%). At the moment this isn't a wine that seduces: it's too big, tight and edgy, and I think it needs a few years of bottle age to show what it's capable of. A blend of four varieties - Cabernet, Syrah, Carignan and Grenache, I'd be curious to know what the components tasted like. This tastes quite Carignan dominated, but it could be that the distinctive terroir overrides the variety somewhat. Retail price £13.99, which for Priorat is pretty good value.

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Thursday, June 14, 2007

An organic Langudeoc red and yet more cricket

It's been a bit of a cricket-focused sort of week. On Monday and Tuesday evenings I took the boys down to a local artificial wicket, where we set up our new sprung stumps (a great purchase) and trained for a hour or so each time.

Then on Wednesday evening, eldest son had an under 11 game, which I watched. He opened the batting and played like Chris Tavare, surviving for 8 overs and scoring just 1. Both he and I expected this to be hist last meaningful contribution to the game. But then, as our team bowled, he came on as second change and delivered four overs quite beautifully, taking one wicket for 9. Life is full of surprises.

Another surprise was that today, youngest son, who is in year 4, got a call-up to the year 5 (Under 10) team and played his first proper game of cricket at Hampton Wick. Playing with the older lads, he didn't get to bat, but was kindly given one over to bowl. He did OK, and I was very proud of him. This is all the more impressive because a year ago he showed no interest in sport at all.

Tonights tipple: an organic Languedoc red - Chateau du Parc from Marks & Spencer. It's a medium bodied wine with a distinctive peppery freshness. Actually, it's *really* peppery. It's honest and delicious, and good value at £4.99. The Rosemount from last night is still tasting nice after being open for a day.

Aside: I've been playing with Flickr. My very first efforts are at http://www.flickr.com/photos/jamiegoode/ - if it works well, I'll put all my pictures (gazillions of them) here.

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Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Rosemount Cabernet

Brands have a life span, or at least this is what marketing dudes tell me. Marketing dudes are usually smarter, better dressed and considerably richer than me, so I should listen to what they say.

Anyway, it goes like this. You build a brand. If it takes off, there is a growth period. You want this to be pretty fast, but you also want it to keep on going. Then there's a plateau period, where a successful, mature brand continues to sell well. The smart dudes reading this will be thinking that this is the phase you want to milk for all it's worth. Stretch it. Because next comes the decline phase. Your brand loses influence and sales. It's suddenly uncool, or boring, or out of touch.

Rosemount was a wine brand that recently, some commentators suggested, had entered the dreaded decline phase. Urgent action was called for to salvage it, and FGL Wine Estates revamped the range, paying attention not just to the liquid, but also the packaging. A simplified, elegant label and a square based bottle are the key design features in question.

What about the liquid itself? Well, the reason I'm blogging on this topic is because I'm drinking the Rosemount Cabernet Sauvignon 2005. And I'm impressed. This is not a geek wine, but I reckon they got the winemaking just right for this sort of brand.

It's deep coloured, with a forward, perfumed nose of sweet red berry and blackcurrant fruit, with a bit of spicy presence. There's a subtle herbiness, too. It is pretty refined. The palate shows sweet ripe blackcurrant fruit, with just enough spicy structure to counter the sweetness of the fruit. Any rough, slightly herbal edges are papered over adequately with the fruit sweetness. I reckon there's also a bit of residual sugar here, which rounds the palate, fleshing it out a bit, and making the wine a lot more accessible (I'd love to know how much - it's notoriously difficult to judge by taste alone because of the way sugar interacts with other components of wine, such as acidity). Look, this isn't the sort of wine that the readers of this blog are going to want to rush out and buy in quantity. But for a commercial style, it's extremely well done. It's tasty; it tastes of Cabernet Sauvignon; it's extremely well made; it avoids the obvious confected or green character a lot of commercial wines in this style display.

So here we have it. A wine I'm impressed by, but which I wouldn't buy. And the brand owners are probably relieved to hear this, because they aren't trying to sell to me.

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A wine like Man City

I'm trying to think of a wine like Manchester City, the football club I support (http://www.mcfc.co.uk/). But I can't. Oasis frontman and City fan Noel Gallagher sums the situation with City up best:

"The fixture list comes out on Thursday, we haven't got a manager, we've only got half a team and we haven't sold any season tickets. It's brilliant."
He adds:
"It's pure Man City. I'm loving it."

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Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Sustainability and cheese

Had lunch today with Dr Cecil Camilleri of Yalumba, who was keen to talk about the pioneering work he has initiated on sustainability. It's important, because this will be increasingly important in the wine industry. Also present was Valerie Lewis of Negociants (Yalumba's UK arm), and we ate at Black and Blue, an upmarket steak joint in Borough Market. Borough Market is a buzzy sort of place, and I like it.

I got there a little early, so I nipped into Neal's Yard to buy some cheese. Rather predictably, I walked out with a small chunk of Montgomery's, supplemented with a small chunk of Keen's. Both are fantastic. Keen's is a bit creamier, and while it has that spicy bite I really enjoy in cheddar, it's a little tamer (with a grassy, buttery mildness), than Montgomery's, which is so spicy and expressive it's a bit of an acquired taste. I'm not going to let RTL anywhere near these. To pair with these you are best off with a white wine: I don't think a red would work. I'm drinking a Henry Pelle Menetou Salon Morogues 2005, which doesn't quite have the richness to make a great match, but which does the job adequately well.

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Monday, June 11, 2007

places to walk

It's the most beautiful time of year. Early summer in England. The days are so gorgeous you want to grab them and store them up for later. I guess enjoying something without being able to hold on to it or control it in any way is a useful lesson in life.

We've been exploring some new places to walk the dog. On Saturday I visited Hounslow Heath for the first time and was amazed. Aside from the low flying planes (it's just under the final approach to one of Heathrow's runways; you can wave at the passengers as the wheels on the plane skim the trees) it's a beautiful spot, and big enough to get lost in. Amazing to find this in such an urban setting.

But then there are places that we visit frequently, but which change with the seasons. The closest walking spot, Hanworth Park, is little more than just a huge field - it used to be an airfield (from 1917 until the end of WW2), and in the 1930s the Graf Zeppelin airship visited. In recent weeks it has undergone a transformation, though: the grass is allowed to grow freely, and it has become quite beautiful. Grassland may not be everyone's cup of tea, but the site of such a large expanse of flowering grasses, dotted with wildflowers, and moving wave-like in the breeze is spectacular (pictured).


Sunday, June 10, 2007

Philosophy of wine...two books

Just a heads up about a new book, coming out in September 2007. It's entitled Wine and philosophy: a symposium on thinking and drinking. I'm a contributor, with a chapter entitled Experiencing Wine: Why Critics Mess Up (Some of the Time). There are some decent high-powered contributors so I'm looking forward to reading it when it comes out. Preceding this volume, there's another book on the same topic coming out in the next month or so, titled Questions of taste, another multiauthour work in which I also have a paper as a token wine writer with a philosophical bent. I reckon you should buy both. It won't benefit me financially (let me reassure you that because academics are used to writing for nothing, these were the least lucrative articles I ever penned), but I'd just be pleased to see these worthy, interesting projects both succeed.


Four rubbish wines, one good one

I don't like to be negative. At the same time, a critic's job is to be critical of the bad as well as praising the good.

Last night I opened four wines, all of which depressed me. Wine should be authentic; it should be fun; it should inspire and captivate; it should make us think a bit. Sadly, there's a lot of rubbish wine out there that does none of these things.

Tonight, therefore, I played safe. I opened something I knew I'd like. I have a soft spot for Bandol, and Domaine Gros' Nore is one of the top producers. The 1999 which I'm sipping now has a haunting nose: it's sweetly fruited, but the dominant theme is a perfumed earthiness - a savoury melange of spice, herbs, crushed rocks and turned earth. In the mouth it is savoury, dense, earthy and shows a bit of tarry, spicy fruit. There's quite a bit of tannic structure and good acidity. Beginning to drink really well, and I reckon it's good for another 10 years. As with all Bandols, Mourvedre is the key grape here.

Back to the duds. Oddbins Selection Bordeaux 2006 is the best of them: I like the dark, sweet chocolatey blackcurrant and blackberry fruit. My problem is that it tastes like Australian Cabernet, with sweet jammy fruit you just don't expect from Bordeaux. Is there residual sugar here? I wouldn't be surprised. Next, Yaldara 'The Farms' Shiraz 2004 tastes like an average £7 Barossa red, with sweet fruit and disjointed acid, together with heat and astringency. Problem is that Laithwaites sell this at £18.95, a price at which it represents spectacularly bad value. It has a twintop closure. Not usually seen on £20 wines. Now Chileno knock out some decent cheapo Chilean wines. Their Shiraz Cabernet Sauvignon 2006 is not one of them. The vibrant fruit has distinctive herbal greeness, and the result is a bit sickly. It's cheap, though, at under a fiver, but to be honest I'd rather drink water. Finally, Kendall Jackson's Cabernet Sauvignon Vintners Reserve 2003 from California is sweet and confected, with a vanilla streak to the red and black fruits. A crowd pleaser, but at £10 I was very disapponted: it just tastes 'made'.

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Saturday, June 09, 2007

More from wineterroirs

One blog I really enjoy reading is Bertand Celce's wineterroirs. For those of you who haven't visited, this report on a visit to Domaine Mosse is a good example of the sort of thing Bertrand writes. He has a good eye, writes sympathetically but still dispassionately, and has an interest in 'authentic' wines.

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Friday, June 08, 2007

Where is this picture from?

Where is the picture above from? What can you tell me about it? As much detail as possible, please. [The filename will give no clues.]

With the end of my last laptop, I've thought about my IT situation. I earn my living with computers as a tool, so I should plan my IT stuff more efficiently.

Currently, I have one laptop, two desktops at home (which I don't use much), and a wireless network (connected to broadband, security enabled). I also have a desktop for my science editing job.

Backing up consists of dumping stuff at irregular intervals onto the science editing job network (which is rigorously backed up itself). I pick up emails through two accounts on two different machines, into three different mailboxes. This is an unsatisfactory situation, but I should lose one of the accounts when I go fully freelance in a few months.

The most urgent matter is instituting a rigorous, bombproof backing up procedure that I can then follow to the letter, because computers (and particularly hard disks) fail. Then I need to sort out my email: it all needs to come into just one mailbox - the current situation is too complex. And I need to stop using my inbox as a filing system. Once emails are dealt with they need to leave the inbox. I also need to deal with emails as soon as I read them, not read them, decide to reply later, procrastinate, and then forget to reply - which happens too often. It also makes me feel a mixture of weariness and guilt to come to a full inbox each day. If I fail to reply to an email it needs to be through a conscious decision not to reply, and the email needs to be deleted.

We humans are bad at changing. We read about change, talk about change, decide to change, but only seldom do we actually implement personal change. Well, I am going to implement change, and to do this I'm going to set myself achievable sub-goals. The first one is to source and purchase a USB hard disk. I shall use this to act as a back-up and storage device. I shall back up every week, on Sunday evening. I'll let you know how I get on.

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Wednesday, June 06, 2007

How I killed my laptop

My laptop is dead. It had been playing up over the last couple of months, to the extent that I became extra serious about backing up. Then a few weeks ago it didn't start up. Repeated attempts, however, were successful in firing it back to life, but it was a short-lived remission, and tonight it looks like it's gone to laptop heaven - it won't respond at all.

The machine in question, a Dell Latitude D600, was a good performer, but always a little flimsy. I think I've just worn it out. Now I need to find a replacement, fast. I don't have high requirements - a gigabyte of RAM will suffice, plus decent battery life because I'm using it most days on the train and when I travel. When it comes to operating systems, I don't want Vista - XP Pro for me, please. And I'd like something rugged and reliable. A laptop that is easy to live with, because I spend so much time on it. One quirk is that I like the little nipple mouse thingy more than the trackpad, which I don't get on with. And no one makes these any more.

I'm going to try to revive the Dell, just to take the remaining non-backed up emails and data off it - a few day's worth, so it isn't too upsetting if I fail.

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Eric Asimov salutes internet wine geeks

Really nice piece by NY Times wine writer Eric Asimov on the influence of internet wine geeks in celebrating diverse wines. He even uses the term 'spoofulated'.

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Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Hitting the Chardonnay trail, once again

Two more Chardonnays. A while back I was doing a mini-series here on the blog on this grape; I guess it's back.

Casa Girelli Virtuoso Chardonnay 2004 Trentino, Italy
13% alcohol, extruded synthetic closure. Deep gold colour, which is a bit off-putting, but then we're talking Italy here, and up in the north they like to give their whites a bit of skin contact. Unusual nose: there's some lemony freshness, but also some more intense - severe, almost - savoury, toasty nose that's showing some complexity. There's a bit of herb, too. Fruity, fresh, but deep, rich, toasty and nutty on the palate. A bit grapey. An unusual but strangely satisfying wine that won't be to everyone's taste. Drink young. Very good+ 87/100 (£7.99 D Byrne, Wine Times)

Heggies Vineyard Chardonnay 2005 Eden Valley, Australia
Close planted Bernard clones grown at an altitude of 550 metres. Hand picked, gently pressed, wild ferment in French oak. 14% alcohol, tin-lined screwcap closure. This has quite a delicate nose (for an Aussie Chardonnay, at any rate), showing fresh, complex spicy, lemony fruit with a fine creamy and delicately bready edge. The palate is quite light - almost transparent - with a fine toastiness adding richness to the nicely phrased lemon, pear and vanilla flavours that work well together. I hate to use the term 'Burgundian', but that's where this wine is headed, although the cleanness and alcoholic depth might have given its new world origins away. But this really is a sophisticated, understated effort. Very good/excellent 92/100

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Monday, June 04, 2007

Gruner Veltliner

Had my brother and his wife to stay for the evening. They live in Plymouth, but had some business in London and so stopped over Chez Goode. So we drank some wine and played some cricket with the boys. Both my lads are getting into their cricket these days so today I'd bought them some decent bats: Woodworm 'The Flame' size 4 and 5, respectively. Coincidentally, they colour-matched one of tonight's tipples: the Laurenz und Sophie Singing Gruner Veltliner 2005 (pictured). I bought a case of it from Tesco a few weeks back, then at a price of under £5 a bottle, which is ludicrously cheap for a zippy wine that actually tastes of the grape it is made from. It's now back to its normal price, which is still very reasonable. I don't buy a lot of wines by the case, and when I do I normally regret it. But we're getting through this case briskly. Five bottles left. Another wine sunk tonight was the Massena Moonlight Run 2003 Barossa. Bought at around the same time for c. £10 a pop, I've drunk just 3 of the case to date. It's nice, but could do with just a hint more freshness and presence,

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Sunday, June 03, 2007

On the river

Another warm, mostly sunny day here in London. We headed over to lunch with two couples who are good friends Karl and Kate, and Paul and Ros, over at 'The Land'.

'The Land' is a riverfront property newly acquired by Kate's parents, known as 'The Land' because that's all it consists of: a good size, prime frontage on the river Thames at Chertsey that's approximately 60 metres deep. There's a caravan on it, plus a few sheds, but no planning permission for a permanent residence - Kate's father, a vicar, has bought it as a retirement location.

It's a beautiful setting, and we dined well, with the food washed down with some nice wines, including an Ascheri Barbera and a voluptuous Primitivo from Puglia. Then we went for a spin on the Thames on Kate's father's boat. Very relaxing.

This evening we watched A good year - a film that actually has at its core the subject of wine. But don't waste your time on it: it's a limp lettuce of a film, based around a flimsy, predictable plot. The cast, led by Russell Crowe, give the impression that they can't really be arsed to act, so weak is the script, and with just the faintest hint of a twist, the story ambles on to an utterly predictable and cheesy conclusion. A bit like a branded wine, it's not objectionable or unpleasant, and slips down easy enough, but it's uninspiring and leaves you unsatisfied.

And then RTL ate my cheese. I'd taken a few slivers off a chunk of comte, and left the rest on the worktop. The dog snarfed the lot, and before I'd realized it was all gone. Now she's sleeping soundly, with a belly full of decent cheese. My cheese.

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Saturday, June 02, 2007

Summer with Alsace

It's been a perfect summer's Saturday here in London. Wam but still comfortable temperatures and lots of sunshine. The day began with cricket practice for the boys: I drop them off on Twicknham green, then take Rosie for a walk via my allotment (where I applied the second sulfur treatment and dealt with the prolific weeds).
After cricket practice and a spot of lunch we played some more cricket on a local artificial wicket, and I was really impressed with one of our friends' sons, who at age 10 is already the sort of batsman you don't want to bowl at: he's got a full range of shots and is ruthless with anything short or wide. The next Pietersen.

One of this evening's wines is worth mentioning. It's a biodynamic Alsace Pinot Blanc. Pinot Blanc is often regarded as at the lower end of the Alsace pecking order, but I often really like the wines. Why don't we drink more Alsace wines? They rock.

Josmeyer Pinot Blanc 'Mise du Printemps' 2006 Alsace
Delicate gently herby nose with nice poise and freshness. The palate is bright and fresh with herb and mineral-tinged fruit, in a dry style. There's a touch of honeyed richness, making this a really versatile summer white. Very good+ 89/100

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Where's the wine gone?

I really should plan my blogging better. Readers will be wondering where the wine has gone, with all this talk about beer, cider, dogs and holidays. The thing is, I reckon blogging has a more genuine voice if it is done spontaneously, in the moment, rather than being systematically planned, with entries lined up in advance.
I'm also more keen on single user blogs, although this makes blogging difficult for organizations who say 'we must have a blog', but then find that their people with the ability to make interesting comments are too busy to blog frequently enough to make the blog work.
Their solution is to have a multi-author blog, but I've rarely found one that works - the strength of a blog is that it is a single voice. You have a connection with the author that is hard to maintain across several authors. Anyway, here's another post about beer.

Harviestoun Bitter and Twisted Blond Beer, Alva, Scotland
Apparently, this attractive beer is made with three hop varieties: the aromatic Hallertau Horsbrucker, the spicy Challenger and a late hopping with Styrian Goldings. It's a pale colour and has lovely bitter, slightly zesty flavours. It's nicely savoury and hoppy with a pleasant rounded mouthfeel. I like it a lot. Available from Waitrose for the usual sort of beer price (£1.69? £1.89?).

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