jamie goode's wine blog: July 2007

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Three whites

If you pushed me, Iíd have to confess to being a red wine sort of guy. Itís reds that I tend to plump for, unless my food choice absolutely dictates a C-thru (as some Aussies refer to white wines).

Tonight, three whites to report on. A seductive, aromatic Californian; a Roussillon white that I was a little harsh on yesterday; and a surprisingly good inexpensive white Rioja.

Folie ŗ Deux Mťnage ŗ Trois 2005 California
This is really interesting. Itís a blend of Chardonnay, Moscato and Chenin Blanc from California and it works. The result of this coming together of three rather different varieties is an accessible, pretty, grapey aromatic white with good balance between the floral, grapey aromas, a little touch of sweetness, and acidity to keep things fresh. A wine for casual sipping that doesnít need food, and which would really appeal to novice wine drinkers. Itís just good fun. 85/100 (£7.50 http://www.winedirect.co.uk/)

Domaine Lafage Cuvťe Centenaire Blanc 2005 CŰtes du Roussillon, France
This is made predominantly from 100 year old white Grenache vines, fermented in oak. I was a little unfair declaring this to be like Chilean Chardonnay when I tasted it yesterday. Thereís prominent oak here, but closer inspection reveals an extra dimension that Iíd like to believe comes from the old vines and terroir. The nose shows vanilla, nuts, honey and a subtle, fresh minerality. The palate has nice fresh, almost lemony fruit, alongside the richer toasty, nutty oak and some tropical fruit richness. If these were my old vines, Iíd pick a little bit earlier and tone down the oak (use old rather than new, and perhaps 500 litre rather than 225 litre) and aim at a reductive ťlťvage that brings out the flinty minerality in a more pronounced way. This isnít a bad wine Ė I quite like it, and at £6.99 itís a total bargain. But I reckon it could be a bit better and have more of a personality. 86/100 (£6.99 Waitrose)

Rioja Gran Familia White 2006 Rioja, Spain
Hand-picked Malvasia and Viura, without any of the oak that sometimes kills off white Rioja. The fresh, bright nose is quite lemony with some nutty, honeyed depth. The palate is crisp with good acidity and lovely fruity, herby, slightly nutty flavours. Nice balance and freshness: delicious for the price. 84/100 (£4.99 Tesco, Co-op)

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Monday, July 30, 2007

Almost summer, and three blind wines


Pictured is Regent's Park this lunchtime, taken with my Pentax *ist DL2 and posted using Google's Picasa (that's what the little coloured logo at the bottom of this post represents). I've been playing around with Flickr a lot, but Picasa seems quite a promising way of dealing with pictures on your computer, rather than on the web.

As you can see, it's almost a summer's day: it feels a bit fresh, but there's some sunshine, and no rain so far. It would be great if we could get some proper summer weather - I expect wine and beer retailers would like it, too. I wonder whether the sustained damp weather has put the brakes on the remarkable rise in rose sales in the UK over the last couple of years.

Last night Fiona tried another three blind wines on me. The first was an oaky white that I reckoned was a really good Chilean Chardonnay. Turned out to be an oaky Grenache Blanc from Domaine Lafage in the Roussillon. What's the point of making Grenache Blanc taste like Chilean Chardonnay? Then a red. Red berries, quite fresh, new worldy, with just a tiny hint of greenness - I called this as a really good Chilean Merlot - turned out to be Dona Dominga's Syrah Carmenere. Very nice, actually. Finally, a crappy South African Cabernet Sauvignon showing oxidation and greenness. It was all over the place and I couldn't get it at all. That's one thing that will always trip a blind taster up - an out of condition wine.

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Saturday, July 28, 2007

Surrey Hills and some wine

I'm slightly worried that with all these accounts of walks in the country en famille you are left with some picture of domestic idyll chez Goode. Let me correct this notion. When we announced to the boys this morning that we were intending to head off to the Surrey Hills for a family walk, there was severe rebellion in the ranks.

Not surprising, because the slightest parental request in our house is usually treated as fighting talk. For some reason, 'Would you like to come off playstation now, because you've been playing it for 2 hours and you need to eat lunch', is interpreted by elder boy as 'Step outside now'; it's not much better with younger son.

After some negotiation, we managed to set off for one of my favourite excursions, The Holmbury Hill Walk. The best bit about it is that half way round there's a decent pub where you can lunch. Fortified by a couple of pints of Ringwood, and encouraged by the half-decent weather, we had a lovely walk. Even though the kids had considered a long and painful death to be a better option than a family walk before we'd left, once we were there they enjoyed it too.

This evening, three wines sampled. Asda's Montepulciano d'Abruzzo 2006 is just what you want from an inexpensive Italian red: it's pleasantly tart and light, with plum and damson flavours. Torres Gran Sangre de Toro 2003 is nicely dense, but has a little too much sweet vanilla-scented American oak for my liking: they should lose some of the oak, use a bit of French rather than American, and aim at fruit intensity. The best of the evening was Chateau Clauzet 2004 Saint-Estephe, Bordeaux. This is quite serious claret. The dark fruits nose has a bit of spice and earthiness. The palate is nicely dense with focused black fruits with good tannins and a minerally undercurrent. This is a substantial, savoury, spicy wine with fresh fruit and well judged oak. A really nice claret. 88/100

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Wine from plastic...how does it taste?

Continuing the PET wine saga, I've posted an article on the main wineanorak site about technical issues to do with wine in PET here. I also tried the two Sainsbury wines in these plastic bottles. The first was the Sauvignon Blanc. For £4.99, this is as cheap as New Zealand Sauvignon gets. It's bulk shipped in tank and then bottled at Corby in Northants.

I poured a glass and alongside the crisp, fresh grassy flavours there was a distinct detergent edge - a bit like when you drink from soapy glasses that haven't been rinsed properly, or when you taste from a glass that's already been drunk from by someone wearing lipstick.

So I got a fresh glass and rinsed it well first. Still the same detergent edge. Another two glasses were tried; each time the wine had an unpleasant detergent edge to it. How mysterious. Is this just a problem unique to my bottle, or is this a problem affecting this wine across the board?

The Australian Shiraz Rose was perfectly OK, though, with nice slightly sweet strawberryish friut. At £3.99 in PET an ideal picnic wine.

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Thursday, July 26, 2007

London rain, again

It rained again today. With the odd exception - Sunday and Tuesday, and I think there was a day the previous week - it has rained every day for as long as I remember. And we've only got another month of summer left. I'm beginning to feel a sense of loss. We Brits love to talk about the weather, and we've had plenty to talk about in recent years. Pictured is the view up Portland Place at about 4 pm, looking towards RIBA.

Tonight I sip Tesco Alsace Gewurztraminer 2005. It's pretty good: there's peach and melon on the nose with just a hint of ripe grape and lychee. The palate is thick-textured and just off-dry, but with nice freshness, too. It's clean, fruity and quite pure, with lovely density.

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PET wine bottles

PET (a type of plastic) wine bottles are in the news. There's suddenly been a flurry of interest in the subject in the national media here in the UK. Just had a call from Sky News who wanted me to do a live interview at 6.30 this evening (I politely declined, can't make it) along with an environmental expert. Is PET good for the environment? (Much lighter, bottles are also smaller.) Is it good for wine quality? (The issue is oxygen transmission by the plastic, which isn't really known yet, although there are probably some doom merchants who'll suggest that the wine is leaching nasties out of the PET.)

[added later] When I got home I found two samples waiting for me from Sainsbury's (pictured) - both in PET bottles. These are 75cl like regular wine bottles, but the overall dimensions are much smaller. It's not a development I'm terribly keen on, because wines in PET will taste a little different even if iit is just because of package oxygen transmission differences. The only place I can see it being worthwhile is for new inexpensive brands where the novel packaging can be part of the brand image.
[added later] Article now on main site here explores this issue in more depth.

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Wednesday, July 25, 2007

honesty

I'm not really a cycling fan, but it has been interesting to see the coverage of this year's Tour de France being dominated by drug testing news. In all walks of life, cheats threaten the success of the honest. With professional sport attracting the sort of profile it does, it's important that its house is in order and that cheats are caught. The fact that they are being caught in droves in cycling is, in a strange way, reassuring.

This month sees the 40th anniversary of the death of Tom Simpson, riding up Mont Ventoux on the tour, boosted by amphetamines (see here, for example). But perhaps we are unfair to judge him by the standards of today.

How does this relate to wine? Well, we need to think about what is illegal in enhancing the performance of wines, and why. Should all wines be treated the same? And do some legal technological manipulations or additions actually destroy the 'soul' of wine? It's a debate that needs to happen.

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Tuesday, July 24, 2007

A day of family stuff

Took a day off today, to spend with the family. Fortuitously, it was one of the few rain-free days we've had over the last couple of months. It felt like summer.

We started off at Box Hill, near Dorking in Surrey. It's a beautiful spot, and one we return to frequently. A bit of gentle hill walking on a mostly-sunny English summer's day is hard to beat as an antidote to stress. From Boxhill you also get a great view of Denbies Wine Estate (below).

We then lunched at the Percy Arms in Chilworth, which has a nice garden. Greene King IPA and Ruddles Orchard were the accompaniment. This was followed by a visit to Mercedes Benz World at Brooklands, which the kids quite enjoyed. It's like a three-storey car showroom on a scale you've never seen before, with several attractions thrown in. It's free, and the kids really enjoyed sitting in some of the sports cars. You can spend a lot of money on a Mercedes. Me? I'm pretty happy with my Mazda 6 Diesel Estate, which has performed wonderfully over its first 14 months.

Then this evening it was off to Cineworld to see the latest Harry Potter film. It's good - as good as this sort of film can be. I'd rate this alongside number 3 (which incidentally had Michael Seresin, owner of Seresin winery in New Zealand's Marlborough region, as filmaker) as the best of the series. Imelda Staunton is a brilliant Dolores Umbridge, Filch is once again fantastic (especially when he's atop an implausibly high and shaky stepladder hammering Umbridge's edict no 113 to the wall), and there's a spooky, rather gritty edge to the whole film. But the problem is that by this stage in the series Rowling's books had become very fat indeed, and so compressing them into a single film means that there's not much time for character development or narrative - just action. It's hard to see how the next two films can develop the series, save for becoming 'darker', but then part of the appeal of Potter and his merry chums is magic and fun, and the lightness and childish delight is in danger of being squeezed out of this series.

Two wines. Calvet Reserve Merlot Cabernet Sauvignon 2003 Bordeaux (£6.99 Sainsbury, Waitrose, Co-op) is quite dense, dark, spicy and tannic - it tastes a bit like a Madiran, with firm, dark structure, blackberry/raspberry fruit and good acidity. Not terribly refined, but a good food wine with lots of savoury stuffing, and better than you might expect from Bordeaux at this price. 84/100. The second is Graham Beck Brut Rose 2005 Methode Cap Classique. This South African fizz is a pale salmon colour with lovely delicacy and poise. There's a smooth texture here, along with freshness and brightness. This is a really well made fizz that is fine for drinking on its own, but which would do a good job at table, too. 86/100 (UK importer Bibendum Wine.)

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Monday, July 23, 2007

Tasting wines blind

Every now and then I play a bit of a game. I close my eyes and ask Fiona to choose some wines from the various racks I have in the kitchen and serve them to me blind. Of course, I know roughly which wines I have in the rack, but there are a lot of them, so this makes the game quite fun. The stash includes numerous samples (perhaps 150) and a spattering of wines Iíve put there because they need drinking soon. In truth, there are a few wines that I'd rather Fiona didn't pick out, because they are expensive and deserving of a special occasion, but having them in there adds a bit of spice to the game.

Tonight I tried two whites, which Fiona had selected because they had similarly coloured (yellow) capsules. The first was clearly a new world Chardonnay, but a very good one. It was brilliantly balanced with lovely fruit, some lemony freshness, and well integrated oak. I couldnít really place it. It could have been a very good Australian, or even an exceptional Chilean. It turned out to be South African: the Boschendal Chardonnay 2006 (£7.99 Waitrose, Thresher). This is a wine I might not have rated so highly if Iíd seen the label, which is a bit unfair on it. Now I can give it full credit.

The second wine was really interesting, and equally good. It was aromatic and open, with lovely pure fruit. I though it was old world: maybe something serious made from RhŰne varieties, with some Viognier in the mix. Clearly not Chardonnay or Sauvignon or Riesling. It was actually the Ant„o Vaz 2006 from Alentejo winery Malhadinha Nova. I tasted this fairly recently and quite liked it; blind it seemed even better. A really interesting unoaked white wine.

Buoyed on by the success of these first two picks, Fiona chose a third Ė a red. I took a sniff and got lots of sweet, ripe, spicy fruit. New-worldish, but probably old world made in a ripe new world style. Pretty good, but accessible and drinking well now. It turned out to be the 2004 Peceguina Joao from Malhadinha Nova. What is it about this winery? Iíve been tasting quite a few of their new releases in recent weeks, and itís odd that Fionaís random-ish picks should find two of them. There's some spicy seriousness to this wine, although the 15% alcohol makes it taste a little hot. I reckon it has the stuffing to age in the medium term, though.

In conclusion, I like tasting blind. It really helps understand a wine first to taste it blind and then have the identity revealed. I must do it more often.

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Saturday, July 21, 2007

Print versus online, and Argentina

Journalism: print versus online? Both are useful. I don't take a newspaper regularly, with the notable exception of the Sunday Express, which we purchase religiously from the same newsagent each week, along with a bag of sweets (maximum value 50 p) for each of the boys (they get to choose). If I do, I tend to rotate between the usual suspects: The Guardian, The Independent, The Daily Telegraph. Three very different papers, but all usually containing some very good journalism. Yes, there's a political slant with each paper, but party politics is something we try to shed as we grow up.

My confession is, however, that I'm one of those sad individuals who reads newspapers the wrong way: I start with the sport. It's almost instinctive for me to flip a paper over and begin at the end. Most of the sports journalism I read is online at the BBC news site, and I've been impressed by the quality of it. Take this report on the Open golf, for example. It's written in that tight, two sentence paragraph online style, but it's a good piece. And I also admit to enjoying the BBC ball-by-ball commentaries on the test by Ben Dirs and Tom Fordyce, which are thoroughly entertaining.

Tonight's wine focus is on Argentinean Malbec. I'm writing up my notes from a mega-tasting of 50 different examples. But I've also tasted two inexpensive-yet-good Malbecs, one from Catena's Argento brand, and one from Finca Flichman. I rated both similarly, but stylistically prefer the Flichman because it's more food compatible. Both are very good value.

Argento Malbec 2006 Mendoza
This spends 3 months in a mix of French and American oak. Deep coloured, it has sweet, assertive, slightly jammy raspberry and blackberry fruit on the nose. The palate shows full, pure, rather jammy red and black fruits with a rich texture. There's a spicy undercurrent to this well made, more-ish wine. Is there a bit of residual sugar here? 86/100 (£5.99 Majestic, but £3.99 if you buy two; £5.99 Tesco, Sainsbury)

Finca Flichman Mysterio Malbec 2006
Deep, spicy, plummy dark fruits on the nose. Sweet, but with a savoury twist. The palate has a good concentration of ripe dark fruits with some chocolatey richness and a savoury, spicy character from the oak. It's a substantial wine, and offers more than you've any right to expect at this price. The plummy, savoury bitterness is almost Italian in style and makes it food friendly. 86/100 (£4.99 Co-op, Sainsbury)

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Friday, July 20, 2007

Adelaide Hills on Flickr

HPIM1604, originally uploaded by Jamie Goode.

I'm posting this picture directly from Flickr. It's one of the latest batch I put up - a set of pictures from a visit in October 2005 when I was the guest of Brian Croser. Budburst has just occurred.

Note added later: posting straight from Flickr doesn't work because the image size is too large for the page design. I've had to go in later and re-input the image manually. Worth a try.

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Thursday, July 19, 2007

Bits n' pieces

I'm quite tired tonight. I know the internet is a place where you get the chance to present yourself to the world in an ideal state, with all the blemishes airbrushed out - a facebook fantasy - but I need to come clean with you, my readers: I'm very human, with the usual human array of faults and weaknesses, and when I work past midnight over a consistent period (as has been the case of late), I get tired and function less effectively. Some days I feel great; other days I feel a bit weary.

The internet gives us the chance to reinvent ourselves for the outside world. But I reckon that authenticity matters. When you go to the National Gallery, you care about whether you are looking at original paintings or skilled copies. I think it's important that when you blog, your readers aren't presented with a version of you that is sanitized and highly filtered. Of course, some filtering is necessary - it would be a horrifying prospect for you and me if I were to write an uncensored account of what goes on in my head. As with newspapers, though, it's important the coverage here isn't too skewed by an agenda - in this case, an attempt to present a 'perfect' Jamie Goode to the world. I try not to write for effect - I write as I feel.

Tonight I'm sampling some bits and pieces. I started off with Asda Lambrusco Emilio Rosso, which isn't all that authentic, I suspect, but still quite tasty. Grapey and sweet, with a real sense of fun. I'd love to serve this to a wine geek party, matched with the right sort of food.

Next, an ambitious Chilean. Casillero del Diablo Cabernet Sauvignon Syrah Reserva Privada 2005 (£8.99 Morrisons, on offer at £6.99 for a month) is quite good: it's dense, with ripe, pastille-edged blackcurrant fruit and some spiciness, with good acidity and only a little greenness. Nice definition here.
But my focus for the evening is one of Portugal's best whites. Malhadinha Nova Branco 2006 Alentejo is a blend of Antao Vaz, Chardonnay and Arinto, fermented in new oak (mainly French). It's a mutlilayered melange of grapefruit, lemon, herbs, citrus pith, melon and subtle spicy oak, with a lovely broad texture. Verging on the profound; modern but good. There's a lot going on here.

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Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Cricket and greenness

Been at the cricket this evening, watching my sons play for the U11s. Elder son is a regular - he opens the batting and normally gets quite a few runs. Was bowled for just 4 today though (the moment is pictured, although the 'welfare officer' for the team we were playing was unhappy about me taking pictures...I think he wanted me to get parental consent forms signed from all the players...such is the modern world). Younger son is two years below in school, but gets the occasional U10 and even U11 game. Tonight he was keeping wicket, and did OK. It was fun to see elder son bowling, and younger son keeping wicket together.

Tonight I'm drinking Mellasat M 2003 Paarl, South Africa (see http://www.mellasat.com/). It's beautifully packaged in a Burgundy-shaped bottle. A blend of Cabernet, Syrah and Pinotage, this is a deep coloured wine with a nose of fresh, subtly green dark fruits. There's a nice savouriness here. The palate has more savoury, spicy dark fruit, but this is joined by a herby greenness. It would have been a really nice, understated, food-friendly red wine, but the green streak - which on the nose adds freshness and works quite well - is too obtrusive on the palate, and for me is a big distraction. Greenness at a certain level can be a good thing - it's an important component of many great Bordeaux wines, for example. But here, in conjunction with ripe fruit and at this sort of level, it verges on the faulty. There's still some enjoyment to be had from this wine, and if it could lose its greenness it would be really nice. Like so many South African reds... 82/100

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Tuesday, July 17, 2007

New wave Toro

Just been sent a wine that's a great example of new wave Spain - it's Finca Sobreno's Toro 2005. It's 100% Tinta de Toro, hand-picked from 50 hectares of vineyard planted at a low density. Macerated for 15 days in small stainless steel tanks, then aged for four months in American oak barriques. In the past, the problem with Spanish reds has often been extended oak ageing that has killed the fruit; now that many winemakers are realizing that primary fruit is an asset in affordable wines like these, they've made some brilliant wines.

Finca SobreŮo Toro 2005 Spain
Deep coloured, this is all about rich, vibrant, sweet, almost jammy fruit. I say Ďalmostí, because thereís still a bit of definition here, which stops it getting too mushy. Ripe black fruits are the order of the day, with a bit of spicy support from American oak. The fruit is always going to win out, though, and this is a generous, ripe red thatís sure to win lots of friends, and has a real sense of 'deliciousness' about it. The only slightly negative point is a subtle green, rubbery note, which distracts a little Ė I reckon this is from the American oak, but I canít be sure. The alcohol level is very sane at 13.5%, which is unusually low for such a ripe wine from a warm region. A super effort for the 3 for 2 price. 88/100 (£7.99 Thresher, but 3 for 2 which = £5.33 each)
Sobreno also do a Toro Crianza, with a garish orange label - this is carried by Waitrose. Last time I tried it - it was a sample of the 2004 - it was hideously and revoltingly overoaked, with vanilla and coconut dominating the fruit. Of course, if you like oak, then the Crianza may be for you - but I prefer this simpler offering.

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Monday, July 16, 2007

The world's best Chardonnay?

The title is somewhat misleading; it's meant to be provocative, but there's a more serious side to this question. Perhaps I should have re-titled it 'the world's most important Chardonnay'. This wine is significant.

Tonight, I'm drinking Kendall Jackson's Vintner's Reserve Chardonnay (which I'll abbreviate as KJVRC) 2005, which is an interesting wine, and not just because of the liquid in the bottle. I wrote a little about Kendall Jackson here on this blog a few weeks ago. They're an important player in the premium Californian wine scene, owning about 25 different estates and pumping out between 3.5 and 4.5 million cases per year all from estate-grown fruit.

The KJVRC was first made in 1982. It was an instant hit, and was the driving force behind the establishment of KJ as one of California's top wine estates. The secret to its success was that (1) it was based on good quality fruit from Sonoma Coast; (2) the wine was attractively priced considering the quality; and (3) there was a good dollop of residual sugar, together with a hint of botrytis.

It's the residual sugar that has been the 'story' that's most often brought up in connection with this wine. Basically, the first time it was made, some sweet, low alcohol Chardonnay - the result of a stuck fermentation - was later blended back into the main batch of wine (presumably after sterile filtering), resulting in a final wine with some sweetness. But it's clear that this was one of the reasons why this wine resonated with consumers, and is now a staggering 1 million case production.

I'm sure that KJ are fed up with questions about the residual sugar level of the KJVRC. At a recent press tasting, the technical fiches didn't mention it, and the suggestion was that it is now much lower than it used to be. Interestingly, residual sugar is the key to the success of a number of branded wines. Increasingly, commercial reds are being sweetened by as much as 9 grams/litre residual sugar, most commonly added post ferment as grape juice concentrate.

KJ winemaker Jed Steele left in 1991 and in 1992 was subject to legal action by his former employers. KJ weren't happy that he took with him the secret of the success of KJVRC (see this contemporary news article). I quote:
"In a milestone ruling for the wine industry, a county court in California has ruled that a winemaking process constitutes a trade secret belonging to a winery and may not be divulged by the winemaker to subsequent employers or consulting clients."

It's a ruling that upset the industry. There are only so many ways to make wine, and most of them have been practised for generations. If you are a winemaker who leaves a previous winery, legal shackles preventing you from using the techniques you utlized in your previous employment could effectively finish your career.

So what is the wine like? First, let's judge this in context. In the USA it sells for $13, but loads of places have it for just a few cents under $10. That's a fiver over here. At this price, it's a no-brainer. In the UK, retail is £8.99 through Morrisons, which puts it into a slightly different bracket, although it can certainly compete at this price level.

My first impression is of richness allied with freshness. There's some spicy peach, apricot and fig richness, coupled with fruit sweetness, but offset by good acidity and a citrussy focus. I'm getting a hint of grapefruit, too, on the finish. The sweetness here is alluring - I'm not sure how much is due to the fruitiness or whether this is a wine that still has a bit of residual sugar in the mix. If it wasn't for some of the more distinctive Chardonnay (fig, tropical fruit) characters and the subtle oak, the texture here - with sweetness offset by acidity - would lead me in the direction of a Riesling Kabinett from the Mosel. If points mean anything to you, I'd give this 88/100. Given the quantities made, the low price, the impact this wine has had, and the market penetration, this is one of the world's most important Chardonnays.

One further historical note. In the mid-1990s Gallo launched their 'Turning Leaf' range, including a Chardonnay. The logo for Turning Leaf has a picture of a vine leaf in its autumn colours, an image that appears (to my eye) to be somewhat similar to the autumnal vine leaf that's the visual hook for the KJVRC label. KJ sued Gallo about this and lost. Twice (once on appeal). Interestingly, one of my editors recently asked me a question about the 'Kendall Jackson Turning Leaf Chardonnay'.

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Sunday, July 15, 2007

Singapore in London

Just a quick post. The bizarre English 'summer' took a strange twist this evening. For a short while, I thought I was in Singapore. Hot with amazingly high humidity. Strangely, I quite liked it. We rarely get these conditions here.

I wandered over with the boys to Blockbuster, where in the 4 for £10 rack I managed to find all six of both series 3 and 4 of The West Wing. Fantastic: much cheaper than buying the box sets.

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Wild ale and theme parks

A sort of odd blog post today. A hybrid.

First, a note about a rather good beer I'm drinking. It's Wild Hare from Bath Ales, and it describes itself as an organic golden pale ale. Slightly murky brownish/gold colour. Extremely fresh, hoppy and bitter, which I love. It's as refreshing as a cold lager but much more flavourful and complex. There's a citrus freshness here, together with lovely hoppy bitterness, and it counts as my current favourite bottled beer. £1.70 from Asda.

Second, a blog post I wrote yesterday but didn't post until today:

Iím writing this sat at a table in Burger King, in Thorpe Park. Iíve brought my elder son and three of his friends here for elder sonís birthday treat. So Iím here for 7h 30, which is OK because Iím not going on any rides and the nine-cell battery on this laptop has 89% of power left which apparently is enough for 7 h 39 minutes. Why Burger King? Because itís the only place with a seat thatís serving coffee (of sorts). There is a Cafe Nero here, but for some unexplainable reason it is closed. Some more observations. Thorpe Park is Chav heaven. Iím quite an open minded guy, and I like theme parks generally. Loved taking the kids to LegoLand and Eurodisney because they were both done so well. Thorpe Park, in contrast, is hideous. Itís crassly commercial, of course, but worst of all itís ugly. Thereís no beauty here. Thereís none of the creativity or imagination that the best theme parks have. Thereís no sense of magic. It all focuses on the lowest common denominator.

The rides are all extreme, for people whose brains are so atrophied by constant immersion in popular culture, and whose souls have been numbed and bloated by modern living, such that the only stimulation that will reach them is being centrifuged at 5G for four minutes on a Thorpe Park Ďattractioní.

Lunchtime is approaching, so I may have to vacate my seat as the noise levels rise to a crescendo and the smell of fast food becomes overpowering. Iím meeting the kids at 12.50 for lunch. Donít get me wrong, you can have fun here, and I think my boy will have a great day with his friends. But I hope that by the time heís 18 he may have developed enough of an awareness of beauty and ugliness that he will choose something else for a day out.

My expectation is that by 6 pm Iíll be high on caffeine (having consumed regular cups of coffee such that I donít get expelled from my various writing spots) and have got a fair bit of work done, while still being a good dad because Iíve given my son freedom to have fun without the presence of his embarrassing parent. My slight worry is that by standing out from the crowd Ė I think Iím alone in coming here to work on a laptop Ė Iíll be expelled from the park for being a weirdo. Theyíve probably already got someone in the CCTV room following my every movement.

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Saturday, July 14, 2007

Low cost airlines, wine clubs and business models


Did you know that budget airlines make a loss on Ďthe metalí [the wonderful term they use to describe flying fare-paying passengers by aeroplane], but make their margin from what are known as ancillaries, such as on-board catering, sales and charging for luggage? I didnít, until yesterday lunchtime, when I attended the press launch of the Flybe wine club. During the presentation, Flybe's director of marketing Simon Lilley explained that despite not breaking even with their core businessóflying peopleóthe budget airline model is one that works if you maximize your ancillary income. This was one of the motivations behind launching a wine club.

In fact, Flybe are pretty good with this Ė they make £7 per passenger. Doesnít sound a lot, but when you realize that they fly 8 million people a year, and do the maths, thatís a tidy sum. And unlike some of the other budget carriers, they are looking to give people a good flying experience and develop some relationship with their customers.

The wine club is being run by Wines4Business, which is one of Peter Jonesí legion of entrepreneurial ventures, and which I have some involvement in as resident wine expert. Peter was there to give a short speech: if you are used to seeing him on television (Tycoon, Dragonís Den, etc.), the first thing you notice is how incredibly tall he is. Indeed, seeing as Lilley is on the short side, it was amusing to see the photographer struggling to get a shot of them together which included both their heads. Peter is also a tremendously good people person. Engaging, sincere and clearly pretty smart.

Back to budget airlines. Itís interesting to see a business where the core activity is not the profit driver. I guess TV has been like this for ages. You make good television programs and get lots of viewers because you have an interesting schedule. But you give this all away free and rely on advertising revenue: youíve attracted an audience for advertisers to target (the BBC is an exception here, relying on a licence fee). But now with cable/satellite services weíre seeing the revision of this model: thereís a split between advertising revenue and subscription, with some content being paid for.

But I can see a situation where advertising revenue comes under threat: as people download programmes for later viewing, they can skip the adverts. Of course, weíve been doing this for years with VCRs, but not to the extent that we stop watching broadcast material. Advertisers will need to move away from the 30 second commercial towards sponsoring programmes and other ways of getting their message across that canít be fast-forwarded. There becomes a merging of editoral/advertising boundaries.

So how do I develop wineanorak? I give content away free, and gain advertising revenue, much like traditional commercial broadcasting. More than that, though, I see giving content away as having less tangible benefits. By being widely read my reputation spreads, and from this there are ancillary benefits that pay. I wouldnít have found a way into writing for magazines and newspapers without the website; itís my presence on the net that has got me some of my contacts and paying gigs. These are my Ďancillariesí that the budget airline business relies on for profitability.

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Thursday, July 12, 2007

Aren't blogs wonderful?

Blogs are great. I love them. I really enjoy doing this blog, and it's a real bonus that so many read it. I feel lucky.

One of the things that makes it fun is the functionality of modern blogging software - I use blogger, which has the advantage that it publishes onto my web server, while not requiring installation as a program on my webserver (if you see what I mean...I'm not expressing myself very clearly, am I).

What this means is that all I have to do is fire up a window in my browser (currently IE, but I've been experimenting a bit with Safari), type away, upload images, and all the rest is taken care of, including the powerful labelling feature (which groups posts by topic). Flickr now manages my images with similar functionality. I may even switch my email to my google mail account, although this is a bit more complex for various reasons.

The way we work on the web is changing, and I might soon have to think about redesigning wineanorak so that the blog can be integrated more seamlessly with the rest of the site, and the site content managed a little more automatically. I haven't done any significant redesign of the site since I launched it in its current format in 2000. There are lots of options, and it's all very exciting. Still, the focus must be on better and more content.

Tonight, two more wines from the Malhadinha Nova stable.

Monte da Peceguina Branco 2006 Vinho Regional Alentejano, Portugal
Quite a deep yellow colour. Ripe herb, melon and wet stone nose leads to a full flavoured palate with a fresh mineral streak underneath the rich, warm, herb and straw fruit. This is quite a striking full flavoured white that's food friendly. There's a whack of alcohol on the finish, but it's not completely out of place. A fairly serious effort from a region not known for its whites. 88/100

Malhadinha Nova Pequeno Joao 2005 Vinho Regional Alentejano, Portugal
In a 50 cl bottle, this is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Aragones and Syrah, foottrodden in lagares and raised in new French oak. A very deep colour, this wine bears the hallmarks of the drought 2005 vintage, with great concentration, high alcohol (15%) and plenty of structure. It has a powerful, almost overwhelming nose of pure red and black fruits, together with some spiciness and tarry new oak. There's almost a saltiness on the palate, sitting under the multilayered dark fruits and spicy oak. It's hard to say where this wine is going: I reckon it needs some time to settle down, and then will develop nicely into a warm, complex wine. Hard to drink at the moment, such is its intensity. 92/100 (but this could change...)

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Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Wine with cheese, again

Apparently, the best way to gain weight is to eat at night, just before bed. I remember reading this advice in an interview with Vin Diesel, normally a tough, shaven-headed, six-pack touting hard guy who had to put on weight (and hair) for the excellent Find me guilty. He snacked on ice cream, late at night, and his six pack became a two-tyre.

Now as a person who likes to eat and drink, but doesn't want to become a fat boy, I'm on a continual diet (of sorts). I don't eat as much as I want, most of the time. It's tough, though, because I do love food.

Indeed, one of the things I've noticed about fat people - and I'm not being judgemental here, because I truly believe that beauty resides within, and you should feel good about yourself whether or not you conform to society's shallow obsession with appearance - is that they do enjoy their food. Forget about all this talk concerning metabolic rates and leptin gene status: if you have a friend with a big belly, just watch how much they eat. It's an eye opener.

I digress. Anyway, I have a weakness. I like to snack and drink late at night as I work. I've never had a six-pack, and this is probably why.

Tonight, I'm nibbling on Comte and bread, along with two rather different wines, both of which work quite well with the cheese. The first is the remainder of the Karlsmuhle Riesling Kabinett 2005 I reported on here a few days ago. It's amazing how well these young Rieslings keep in the fridge. Off-dry Rieslings seem to be a good match for quite a broad range of cheeses.

The second is a brilliant young Alentejo (Portugal) red - the 2006 Monte da Peceguina from Malhadinha Nova. It's amazingly vibrant, with ripe, pure summer fruits complemented really well by some grippy tannins and good acidity. I think it's this sweetly fruited, vibrant, juicy character that makes this a red wine that works with slightly harder (but not hard) cheeses like Comte. It's a wine that bridges the new and old worlds.

Some more thoughts on wine and cheese. Wines that rely on tannins for structure work less well with cheese than wines that rely on acidity. This is why whites generally work better with cheese than reds. Unusually for reds, the Peceguina relies more on acidity for structure than tannin; therefore, it works quite well with cheese. Tannins and cheese are a bad match, generally.

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Reciprocal linking...that isn't, quite

A well-known wine website has a page where it kindly links to other wine sites on a reciprocal basis. On the face of it, this seems to be quite generous because this site enjoys a good google ranking.

But a closer examination of the source code indicates a "no follow" instruction ahead of the links. This is a bit sly, because it means that the links have had their seach engine value taken out of them. I won't reveal the name of the site - instead, I've contacted the owner and asked them to remove it, and I hope that they will.

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Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Mollydooker The Maitre D'

A while back I reported my own experiences with two wines from the much talked about Mollydooker range (the post is here). I was a bit negative about them. They were 16% alcohol, yet not particularly 'hedonistic' - at least if you are making table wines that have such extreme alcohol levels, you want them to pack a flavour punch.

Tonight I'm drinking another Mollydooker: the Maitre D' 2004 Cabernet Sauvignon. A blend of grapes from three South Australian regions, this is a lot better than I remember the last two being. Weighing in at 15.5% alcohol, it would be *so* convenient to be able to dismiss this as an absurd expression of late-picked, over-ripe Australian wine.

But while this isn't my favoured style, it's actually well done (does this sound condescending? It's not meant to), with plenty of Cabernet character and the sweet, almost Porty fruit filling in the mid-palate nicely. [Aside: one of the problems with South Australian Cabernet can be the mid-palate; here, there's richness to offset that.] This isn't the direction that I think the Aussie wine industry should be going en masse, and it's not a wine I'll be seeking out, but I will state here that it's quite a satisfying, more-ish sort of wine. £10.99, imported by Seckford Wine Agencies.

There's room for different wine styles.

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Hard at work at the Bollinger lunch

A bit of a treat today. Bollinger lunch at Bruce Poole's fantastic restaurant Chez Bruce. There was a good turnout, as you might expect - someone commented that if a bomb had been placed in the restaurant, it would have taken out a sizeable portion of the UK wine press.

The food was extraordinarily good, and the fizz didn't disappoint. We kicked off with Bollinger's '2003' - a unique wine reflecting the rather unique weather conditions of that growing season. Atypical for Bollinger: light, fruity and quite expressive. A bit like a top notch new world fizz.

Ghislain de Montgolfier then gave a short speech, in which he mentioned how 2007 is shaping up. Apparently, we're looking at the earliest harvest in recent memory, because of the exceptionally hot April that led to early flowering. As long as nothing disastrous happens before late August, it should be a good one, too.

Bolling Cuvee Special followed, and this was really singing: back to the distinctive house style, that's quite intense, toasty, rich and yet fresh and balanced. The Grande Annee 1997 is a wine I've had a couple of times before and really liked. It's fresh, intense, concentrated and a little bit edgy, with good complexity. Then a rare chance to try the Vieilles Vignes Francaises 1999, of which we drank a good half of the UK's annual allocation between us (it's 12-18 bottles a year). This is quite different: rounded, complex, broad, thought-provoking. Finally, the 1995 RD is a bit of a stern beast. It's just so full-on, with massive acidity, massive flavour, massive savouriness. It will probably last a very long time - drunk now, it needs food.
Pictured: Stephen Brook (left) is entranced by Jim Budd's (foreground) shirt. Neil Beckett is also in the picture.

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Monday, July 09, 2007

Travel woes

As someone who gets to see his fair share of airport terminals, Gatwick South has to be one of the worst Iíve experienced in recent years. Even at 6.30 am itís crowded and noisy. The queues for departure are long. The departures lounge is hideously low budget with the usual range of rip-off shops (thatís to be expected, itís an airport) and complete lack of anywhere decent to eat (again, itís an airport). But the most annoying thing this morning has been the vastly restricted options for coffee. Thereís not even a Starbucks. The best option is the lousy Uppercrust, and to add insult to injury, there was a 15 minute queue to be overcharged for bad coffee. This is motorway service station bad. What is this place like at peak time in the Summer Holidays? Youíd need a holiday to recover from the appalling travel experience.

Getting to Gatwick was relatively painless though. 0506 train from Feltham Ė Clapham Junction where I waited five minutes for the 0539 to Gatwick, which cost £4.80 (from the boundary of Zone 6, where my season ticket ends). Nice quiet train gave me a chance to work on the laptop. Depending on what time I return tonight, getting home should be fun...

[posted later]
I'm now in Toulouse airport, and it's 10.25 pm, waiting for my 9.50 pm flight home. No sign of any orange-liveried plane. At this rate I'll be arriving at Gatwick well after any sensible travel options home have stopped running. Looks like a night bus to Heathrow beckons, followed by the 285 bus home.

Toulouse airport is at least quiet. There are just two shops here: one a rather basic 'duty free', and the other a refreshment stand offering a similarly basic (and airport-expensive) fare. There is wireless internet though.

Fortunately, my day here was very productive. It makes the travel woes bearable, sort of.

Sunday, July 08, 2007

Clonakilla revisited

Tried another bottle of Clonakilla's Hilltops Shiraz 2004. This isn't Clonakilla's top wine, the Shiraz Viognier, but is instead a sort of second wine made from fruit bought in from the Hilltops district near Young in New South Wales. It's fantastic stuff. Ripe, but not too ripe, with really well defined dark, meaty plum and blackberry fruit. There's a bit of sterness here alongside the sweet ripe fruit. It really works for me. I bought this from Andrew Chapman for about £13 a bottle, if I recall correctly.

Tomorrow morning I have an early start for a daytrip to Toulouse. It involves me getting a train at 0506, catching the Gatwick Express around 6 am and then flying with easyjet, then returning home around midnight. What joy! Should be a good day, but you can't be doing this sort of journey more than once or twice a week.

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Saturday, July 07, 2007

Riesling Kabinett: two compared


Two Rieslings compared. The suprise reappearance of the English summer led me to crack open two Riesling Kabinetts. Kabinett really appeals to me: it's usually a fresh, bright style of Riesling that drinks well young and combines freshness with a bit of sweetness to good effect. But it's also a wine style in danger of succumbing to global warming, with grapes achieving higher ripeness levels in the Mosel each year.

JJ Christoffel Erdener Trepphcen Riesling Kabinett 2005 Mosel Saar Ruwer, Germany
Pale coloured. Fresh with some carbon dioxide spritz. Wonderfully delicate and precise with lime, honey and lemon notes. The palate has a rich yet light texture with some minerality. Lovely freshness and a bit of complexity. I like this a lot. 90/100

Karlsmuhle Kaesler Nies'chen Riesling Kabinett 2005 Mosel Saar Ruwer, Germany
Quite deep coloured. Powerful limey, herby nose with some appley sweetness. The palate is quite full, just off-dry, with a distinctive herby edge. Refreshing acidity. A food wine. 87/100

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Wild vineyard

Visited my allotment vineyard for the first time in a while. It's pretty difficult trying to work organically when (a) you haven't got much time and (b) when it has rained for most of June. My sole defence against oidium (a fungal disease that affects Vitis vinifera vines) is sulfur, and when you apply this in the rain it gets washed off. I applied some more today, but there are already signs of oidium on some of the grapes. Not good. The vines are also amazingly vigorous, and you can hardly tell where one starts and one ends. Next year I'll try to implement a vertical trellis and grow the vines in neat hedges. I'll likely have plenty of time to spend on the allotment then.

Aside: Nice to see the sunshine again after so long.

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Friday, July 06, 2007

Flickr rocks!

I've been playing with flickr, and as someone here commented a while back, it's quite addictive. I've now shelled out US$24.95 on a year's subscription to the Pro version, and have been busy uploading pictures onto my page. There's a nifty uploading tool called 'Flickr Uploadr', which is recommended.

I've now got all my Douro pictures online, a collection that numbers 245. There's also a collection of 'wine people', which I've shared with a group of the same name set up by Jim Budd. It's a great utility, and I'll be adding more pics over the coming weeks. There must be a way of integrating the flickr pictures with my website. I need to explore.

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Thursday, July 05, 2007

France fights back - Mont Tauch

Despite what you hear in the press, there is hope for the French wine industry. The evidence? Wines like these from the Mont Tauch cooperative (with a great website - http://www.mont-tauch.com/). They are affordable, well made, modern, and have a sense of place about them. I can't imagine that many consumers, tasting these two wines alongside new world equivalents at the same price, would prefer the new world options - and especially if the wines were at table, with food. Mont Tauch rock.

That's not to say they are perfect wines. The Corbieres is perhaps just a touch too extracted (or am I being over-fussy at this price point?). The label design is very retro, and I'm not sure it communicates the right message. The back labels are dense with information, but I wonder whether a single message could be more effective and tell the story of the wines a bit more ('ideal with cheese, stews curries and grills' is a bit catch-all, and 'serve at room temperature' perhaps a little redundant).

Mont Tauch Corbieres 2006 Languedoc, France
Deep coloured. Lovely savoury, spicy, almost earthy undercurrents to the ripe, dense red fruits nose. The palate is richly fruited with lots of earthy tannins and great concentration. It's mouthfilling, dense and quite savoury with a drying finish. I like the density and stuffing, but with its prominent tannins this is a wine that would work best with food. The Carignan in the blend makes its presence felt here. The modern face of Corbieres, and a bargain. 83/100 (£4.99 Somerfield)

Mont Tauch Fitou 2005 Languedoc, France
Bright, fresh, peppery red fruits nose is aromatic and welcoming. The palate is vivid, bright, a little sappy and really nicely weighted. It's savoury and food friendly, finishing with dry, peppery structure. It's not as dense or rich as the Corbieres, but the extra freshness and spice makes this potentially a more successful wine. Very drinkable and another bargain. 84/100 (£4.99 Waitrose, Sainsbury, Somerfield)

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Sven at City

[Non-wine-related football banter. Sorry.]

So yesterday Sven rocks up to City (see pictures here on the BBC news site). He's not actually manager yet, but his appointment may be confirmed today...or tomorrow... With City, nothing is straightforward and eveything is possible.

Sven has one of his puzzled 'what on earth are we going to do here' looks on. Some media outlets have suggested that Sven says he needs 10 new players to make City competitive. It's never dull following this team.

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Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Fortnum and Mason

This afternoon I met with Tim French, wine buyer for upmarket London department store Fortnum and Mason. Tim, who comes across as young, articulate and smart, has been redeveloping Fortnum's house wines. Rather than them occupy the bottom rung in the Fortnum's offering, they are sourced from prestigious producers and then slotted into the upper-middle segment of the range, with the producer's identity made clear on the label.

'I've tried to put myself in the consumers' place', says French. 'When you come to Fortnum and Mason, you want quality and authenticity. Customers are largely buying our reputation and expertise'. When he chooses wines for own-label, French says he is 'looking for the most authentic example of an appellation or terroir'. He adds that, 'we are working with producers that stand out among their peers'.

The reason I was meeting with him is because I'm going to be writing an article on his new Port range, which comes from Dirk Niepoort. 'Port is such an important category for us', says French. 'Of all my own label challenges, one of the most important was to get the Port right'. When deciding on a supplier, he began with the LBV. He had some 40 wines open and tasted through them. Of them all, the Niepoort wine stood out. He's gone on to develop a range of five Ports and one Douro table wine from Niepoort, which we tasted together.

In brief:

1) Dry white Port: quite complex, fresh and moreish, and a bargain at £10.50

2) Douro 2005 table wine: this is the Vertente, and it's really good. French says, 'It's a style of wine that in many ways a Claret drinker would be familiar with, but it has modernity, too. For the traditional drinker it's a new experience in comfortable surroundings'. I agree. £14.50

3) LBV 2001: a mini-Vintage Port. Delicious. £13.50

4) Vintage Port 1997: this is stock left from Passadouro. Concentrated, smooth and intense, with a silky, layered palate. Serious. A bargain. £27.50

5) 10 Year Old Tawny: A brilliant balance between youth and development. Lovely delicacy and aromatics. 'I love the play of savoury and sweetness', says French. Finish is eternal. £22.50

6) Colheita 1991. Profound. Complex, spellbinding, with a lovely elegant soft texture, with subtelty and finesse. 'This whispers to you', says French. 'It's just so interesting'. £35

Footnote: Fortnum's wine bar allows customers to drink anything from the shop with a £10 corkage. From October, they will be open until 11 pm. Anyone fancy some serious drinking, with food?

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Monday, July 02, 2007

Jacob's Creek does Pinot Noir

Jacob's Creek, one of Australia's leading wine brands, has launched a new wine. It's a Pinot Noir, priced at £5.99 and available in Co-op stores nationwide.

I gave it a try. My verdict? I was pleasantly surprised. It's not Grand Cru Burgundy, but it actually tastes like Pinot Noir. It sounds like I'm damning it with faint praise, but I'd be interesting to see how this fared in a line-up of blind Pinot Noirs from the New World. Here's my note:

Jacob's Creek Pinot Noir 2006 Southeast Australia
Not too dark (a good thing for Pinot) with a sweet nose of redcurrants and cherry fruit, with a herbal tang. The palate is quite light with balanced ripe fruit and a bit of herby, subtly medicinal complexity. A nice new world style Pinot with admirable restraint. 84/100 (£5.99 Coop)

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Rain and a Douro quiz

It's raining again, today. I can't beleive it. And of the next 10 days, only one is forecast to be dry. Where has our summer gone?

This time last year it was hot and sunny. Fiona and I went to the Douro for the Quinta de la Rosa centenary celebrations. Pictured is the boat ride we took down river, on a swelteringly hot day. Wish I was there now, actually.

See if you can recognize the two characters at the centre of this picture doing a bit of Quinta spotting. Click picture to get a bigger one.

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Sunday, July 01, 2007

Serious Sonoma Cab

California has been off my radar screen for a while, but in the last week or two it has suddenly reappeared. A few wines I've drunk recently have struck me as reasonably serious, and this is one of them, which I first encountered at last week's Jackson Estates lunch, and which I'm drinking again tonight.

Hawkeye Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon 2003 Alexander Valley, Sonoma, California
One of the wines in the Kendall-Jackson Vineyard Estates 'Highland Estates' Portfolio. Deep coloured, this initially has a slightly oaky nose, but after a while the oak subsides to reveal a complex, intense nose of spicy blackberry and blackcurrant fruit with a distinctive minerally complexity. The palate shows great concentration and intense flavours of black fruits, underpinned by firm, minerally tannic structure. Despite the sweetness of the fruit, the overall impression is a savoury one: this is a tight, structured Cabernet that can be drunk now for its wonderful intensity of fruit, or cellared for a decade to allow the development of complex tertiary aromas. Pretty serious. 92/100

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A natural confession

I have a confession to make. Despite having a PhD in what used to be called botany (now 'plant sciences'), I'm rubbish at recognizing plants. If I watch an episode of Gardener's World, I'm bamboozled by all the technical terms. When I go for a walk in the countryside, I'm embarrassed at not being able to name the various species we come across.

The reason? I studied plant cells, and, more specifically, the cells of the first stages of growth of mosses, the protonema. I grew them in sterile culture on nutrient agar in Petri dishes. I then farted around with them a bit and looked at them under microscopes. I can give you a good lecture on plant physiology and cell biology, but I never got round to learning all those wonderful latin names of the sorts of plants you encounter on a walk through the woods.

Today, walking RTL, I encountered a beautiful stand of what look superficially like foxgloves, but which aren't (pictured). The interesting thing about the inflorescences here is that on each you have every stage of flower development, from budding to senescence, which is what you get with foxgloves. One of my PhD supervisors is an expert on flower senescence, and he did his PhD on foxgloves for this reason. Anyone know what the plant pictured here is? They're kind of like inverted wisterias, but pinker.

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