jamie goode's wine blog: October 2007

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

New Douro 2005...the best yet!

Went to a very enjoyable tasting held at the spectacular East Room, on the 7th floor of the Tate Modern today. It was the third installment of the New Douro, a collaborative effort including 18 of the top table wine producers in the Douro, and this year we were looking at wines from the 2005 vintage.

If I were to single out particular wines in this brief post it would be a little unfair, because the overall quality was uniformly high, but I'm going to do it anyway. First, a couple of general comments. 2005 isn't a perfect vintage, but it comes closer than most. It was perhaps just a touch too dry and too warm, but that's being fussy. Apparently 2007 is looking like an utterly incredible vintage: everyone I spoke to was thrilled by it. But let's not take attention away from 2005, because the average quality is very high.

One of the most exciting things about today's tasting was that there seem to be a real diversity of styles emerging with these Douro table wines - more so than was evident before. Producers seem to be finding their feet, and getting to grips with what effectively is a brand new region in terms of table wine production. It's very hard to say what Douro 'terroir' tastes like in terms of wines. The diversity of microclimates through the various valleys along the Douro, coupled with different approaches to winemaking, seems to make for a range of different styles.

So, some standouts. Niepoort Charme 05 is fantastic, as is Vale Meao 05. Crasto and Vallado both have thrilling Touriga Nacionals. La Rosa's Cerejinha and Vale do Inferno (single vineyard wines) are utterly lovely, Poeria 05 is the best yet and one of the wines of the tasting, Christiano van Zeller's CV 05 is great, and Pintas 05 is top-notch. (Pictured above is Sandra Tavares of Pintas showing off her wine; below is the lovely new label of La Rosa's Cerejinha.)

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Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Tasting the Douro

I'm preparing for tomorrow's New Douro 2005 tasting by drinking some Douro wine. Specifically, tonight's drinking involves a pair of 05s from a Quinta I've no previous experience with, Quinta Nova de Nossa Senhora do Carmo. With a snappy title like that, I guess they like to be referred to as Quinta Nova, although that's confusingly close to Quinta do Noval.

Nova is owned by the Amorim family of cork fame. They have a highly regarded wine hotel at the Quinta. And the wines seem to be made in the right sort of style, tasting of the Douro (or, at least, what I expect the Douro to taste like), without being tricked-up by over-ripeness or too much oak. The packaging is absolutely stunning.

Quinta Nova 'Grainha' 2005 Douro
Very attractively packaged, this relatively modestly priced Douro red has a deep red/purple colour. The nose shows berry and dark cherry fruit with a bit of spice and tar, and leads to a savoury, spicy, quite structured palate with a hint of plummy bitterness on the finish, and just the slightest hint of vanilla sweetness. It's an attractive food friendly wine for drinking now and over the next decade. I like the savouriness. 88/100

Quinta Nova Reserva 2005 Douro
Aromatically fresh and vibrant, this has a really attractive nose of dark cherries, herbs and spices. The palate is really lively, with some classy oak supporting the bright berry and cherry fruit. With nice grippy tannin and fresh acidity, this is a really elegant expression of the Douro that should evolve really nicely for at least a decade. It's almost Bordeaux-like in terms of its structure, if not its flavour profile, which is warmer and spicier. I'd be really interested to see how this wine develops - I reckon it will age well. 91/100

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Monday, October 29, 2007

An affordable southern French red that delivers

I used to be quite economical with money. Tight, even. But then I married this wonderful girl who once took £100 out of a cash machine, got it blown out of her hand by a gust of wind, and laughed - even though the money was gone. This cavalier approach to dosh has rubbed off on me, curing me of much of my frugality - and now I don't even like to read my bank statements. I don't spend money unnessecarily, and I rarely treat myself (although it is really important to treat yourself once in a while), but I try to be generous. As long as we aren't in debt, then that's OK.

But this scringing past catches up with me occasionally, and one area is in looking at wine prices. Now £6 still seems to me to be a reasonable sort of sum to spend on a bottle of wine. You should be getting something that delivers some flavour, and a little personality at this price. Yet most £6 wines taste like the tricked-up commercial pap that they are. So how nice to find one that isn't just confected muck, but actually tastes pretty good.

Chateau Guiot 2006 Costieres de Nimes, France
From the south of France, and more specifically a 75 hectare property south of Nimes planted mainly to Grenache and Syrah. This is really good. It's a boisterous young red with lovely fresh peppery, slightly meaty dark fruits on the nose. In the mouth the peppery, spicy fruit dominates, and is complemented by firm, grippy tannins and good acidity, making this a vibrant, savoury sort of red that's really versatile at the table. Lovely purity and focus, and the concentration and vibrancy to put many £10 wines to shame. 88/100 (£5.99 Majestic)

-this is currently on offer at £4.79, which makes it a bit of a no-brainer

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Bordeaux 2005, assessed from bottle

So popular is the Bordeaux 2005 vintage with the wine trade that the organizers of this year’s Union des Grands Cru tasting at the Royal Opera House had to operate a two-shift system. Given a choice of morning or afternoon tasting, I opted for the 10.30–13.30 band, and despite the split shifts, the place was still heaving.

In a crowded environment, tasting is made quite difficult. While the Riedel glasses, the open, airy room and the sunny weather all worked in the tasters’ favour at this event, the crowds, the jostling for position near spittoons, and the general noise level meant that the fine discriminations that need to be made in order to assess quality at the highest level were quite tricky.

Add to this the usual bugbear at large tastings – the repeated exposure of the mouth to dense, young, tannic wines – and you have a bit of noise in the system, which means that the notes and scores I made today aren’t my final word. To make this buccal over-exposure less of a problem, I kept my sampling down to a relatively modest 40 wines, even though there were close to 100 on offer (including whites and Sauternes, which I skipped). This was my third tasting of a large batch of the 2005s – en primeur in April 06, then a second cask sample session in February this year, followed by this first look at the bottled wines.

Overall impressions? 2005 is a remarkable vintage in Bordeaux, across the board. All the appellations have produced generously proportioned, concentrated, tannic wines that look set for long development in bottle. These are not wines that you want to drink now (although I’d imagine that more commercial wines made in a lighter style will now be beginning to show their best). I was repeatedly amazed by the density of fruit, usually backed up by firm tannin and good acidity, and not infrequently a fair whack of new oak. It will take a while for many of these wines to begin to harmonize. Some may be so tannic and extracted that they won’t ever achieve real balance, although it’s hard to be sure at this early stage.

I’d also say this is quite an awkward stage to be evaluating the 05s, because they are so tight and tannic. It’s as if they are currently bunched together. In time, I’d expect them to diverge more and then spotting the real gems amidst the generally high overall level of quality will be easier. It’s important not to be seduced by the wines that are currently more open, because these aren’t necessarily the top wines. Some of the wines that are tight and a bit ungainly now will be the swans in 30 years’ time.

Notes on the wines will follow shortly on the main site. One final thought. Bordeaux is a bit different, isn’t it? All the winery owners, representatives and winemakers were wearing suits, or smart dresses. [Many of the guys were wearing expensively tailored suits, too.] There was lots of jewellery. You get the impression that even cellar hands in Bordeaux wear a shirt and tie. No T-shirts, no jeans, no non-conformists. The wines seem to reflect this.


Sunday, October 28, 2007

A thrilling Saumur Blanc

Every now and then I drink a wine that (almost) leaves me speechless. It's usually not wines that wow with their first sniff or sip, but rather wines that beguile - that draw you in, and as your attention becomes focused on them, they seem to reveal progressively more, engaging both intellect and appetite in a journey of thrilling discovery. OK, less of the flowery language - I just really, really like this sort of wine. It's what the 'old world' does really well.

Domaine du Collier Saumur Blanc La Charpentrie 2004 Loire, France
A fantastic, complex, savoury dry white wine from the Chenin Blanc variety. A yellow gold colour, the nose is complex with notes of apples, pears, minerals, wax and dry straw. The mouth is savoury and minerally, and quite dry, with herb-tinged appley fruit and a flinty/matchstick reductive character that adds complexity. There's an acid tang on the finish, together with hints of apricots and pear-skin. I think this is quite profound - a really thrilling effort that should age gracefully for the next 20 years. With its distinctive character, though, I don't think this is a wine for everyone. 94/100 (Les Caves de Pyrene)

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Bits n' pieces

Just a few thoughts, strung together, some about wine.

1. City lost 6-0 to Chelsea yesterday. It was terrible. But there's a lesson to be learned: don't let success change you. City's players defended terribly, and these days in top-flight football defensive responsibilities need to be shared among all 10 outfield players. One suspects that sitting in the dizzying heights of third place caused them to think they were something special and that they didn't need to do the boring bits - like defending. So, if you do succeed to any extent, don't forget to keep on doing the stuff that got you there in the first place. Hopefully, then, if you teach yourself the lesson, you can avoid it being taught to you by catastrophe.

2. Along those lines, it's worth remembering that talent is just part of the equation of success. Lots of talented people fail; many gifted people never achieve anything. Talent is common; perserverance and application are rarer, especially among talented people.

3. I lost my allotment!! Can you beleive it? The vineyard plot I was cultivating didn't meet the required standards and I was sent a warning letter. So I went down to have a look and try to sort things out, but it was an impossible task. A couple of hours of tidying didn't make much impact, and then I forgot about it, and then I got a letter of termination. I was a bit sad, but the vineyard really was a mess, and needed some proper trellising, rather than my improvised single wire system. So some dude is going to inherit my patch. They'll have fun getting 7 year old, highly vigorous vines out of the ground. I would have loved to had the time to do a proper allotment, because I love growing stuff.

4. I have some lovely samples mounting up in my tasting queue. A range of stuff from Les Caves de Pyrene, which is one of my favourite sources of interesting wine; six wines from Brian Croser's Tapanappa; some AXA wines and Ports; and a surprisingly interesting looking case from Averys.

5. I bought some Bordeaux. A case of 2004 Chateau Brown Pessac Leognan (thanks Alex for the tip off about Albany as a source) and six bottles of Vieille Cure 2000 Fronsac from Sainsbury. [Only they delivered the 2002; I phoned up and they said they would pick it up and send the 2000 instead, but nothing has happened in two weeks.]

6. Anonymous blog comments: I allow these, because it allows people to criticize. You can learn a lot from criticism. Of course, I'd rather people felt able to be constructively critical and sign their posts. But I understand that some might find this difficult, and I'd rather have anonymous input than none at all. What I don't understand is people being remorslessly negative and mounting personal attacks. As John Gaunt says on his Talksport phone in program, 'this isn't Cuba'; you don't have to read my blog. No one is forcing you to come here. If you don't like me, or what I say (I may have insulted you by accident, or dissed one of your wines, or be one of your competitors, or you may think I have a spectacularly bad palate), then by all means read someone else's blog.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Posting movies...

Here's the first...it's a bit of a trial, with footage taken from the recent sojourn in Wales. I've just recorded my first 'Late night wine', which will follow if this works properly.


Corsican white that rocks

A really nice Corsican white, this. Vermentino is the grape, and I really like it. If you are interested, the producer's website is here.

Domaine Saparale 2006 Corse Sartene, France
From the island of Corsica, this is a varietal Vermentino from Philippe Farinelli's 100 acre estate. It's vibrant, floral and minerally, but with a rounded weighty depth to the palate. I like the contrast between the steely, lemony notes and the richer, peachy, almost nutty characters in the background. Mineralic, full flavoured and quite pure: a lovely wine. 91/100 (Yapp £8.95)

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Friday, October 26, 2007

Out of contact in Wales

Sorry for the radio silence. I've just spent a week in a cottage in Wales (pictured) with the family and dog. We've had no internet access and no mobile phone signal, so it has been a real break: while I took a couple of laptops, I did no work, other than write a few notes on wines drunk.

The cottage was in an idyllic spot, in a natural ampitheatre surrounded by forested hills in three directions, and miles from anywhere. So, lots of long walks with the dog, a couple of days out to the Gower, and long evenings spent in front of the fire watching family films.

I feel bad for not updating the website for a whole week. It's negligent, but I reckon that I've come back much fresher, with a renewed perspective and a strategy for how to grow the site and focus my other activities over the next few months, which in the long term will pay off. I've just finished wading through my inbox, which was 2225 messages, filtered down by Mozilla Thunderbird's spam detector down to 1775 (nice round numbers, those).
More serious wine commentary to follow!!

Friday, October 19, 2007

Buying a camcorder and the death of shopkeeping

I mentioned a while back that I was looking for a video camera so I could post video blog entries. Well, after much digging around on the web, and with some useful input by wineanorak readers, I’ve purchased one. I didn’t want to spend a fortune: I set my budget at a relatively miserly £300 or thereabouts. The newest cameras are high-definition and start at around £500 and aren’t an option, so I’m just considering standard-definition camcorders. For this money what you get largely depends on the format you choose.

HDD is the most expensive, and you get least for your money. These are cameras that record compressed video (usually MPEG2 format) onto a hard disk. They’re convenient, and will probably be the future of video cameras, but for £300 you can only get an entry level one, with say 30 Gb of disk space. The sensors are usually a bit small and the resulting video quality suffers. DVD camcorders are the next most expensive: they record compressed video (MPEG2) directly onto DVDs, which is convenient for most users who shoot their footage and then can play it back through their DVD players. £300 gets you a bit more spec with a DVD camera than you’d get with an HDD model, but not a whole lot more.

The third format is mini DV, which involves recording uncompressed video to small tapes. This is a bit more fiddly, but you get much better quality at the equivalent price points to the other two formats. It also means you have more editing options. The geeky choice. The model I chose was the Panasonic NV-GS320, which has three CCD sensors and a good lens. I’ve tried it out and have been impressed with the results. It was quite a bit less than £300 from ebuyer.com, but you could have spent quite a bit more if you had gone elsewhere.

I guess this is the modern way we purchase many items: by doing our own research on the internet and then hunting around for the best price. But is it the most satisfying or the most effective? I don’t think so. It leads to the death of shopkeeping. In these days of price comparison, we hunt around to save £5, £10 or £15 on a £200 item, and are delighted when we get the best deal. But that £5, £10 or £15 was the margin that allowed good shops to employ competent, friendly staff who knew their stuff and could help you make the right decision. Wouldn’t it be more satisfying and a better use of my time if I could have gone along to a retailer, chatted with someone about my requirements and then have chosen one of a range of options suggested to me? How much time have I spent digging for information, much of which I don’t have the context to process properly.

Look at wine. Wine-searcher is a great tool, but use it for locating hard-to-find wines. Don’t use it at the expense of your local, knowledgeable merchant (if you have one) who can hand sell you interesting wines that you’ll find rewarding. And if you see someone selling a particular wine for £5 less than your merchant has it on the shelves, don’t assume that your merchant is ripping you off. Bricks-and-mortar wine shops have their place, just as internet-only merchants do. You often pay a premium at a wine store where you can wander in, have a chat, get some advice and forge some sort of relationship because they are adding value to the wine buying experience. When you see wines being offered more cheaply by internet or mail-order merchants, bear this in mind.

Douro Boys Cuvee 2005

The Douro Boys - a coalition of five of the leading Douro table wine-producing quintas - have announced that they'll be releasing a special cuvee from the 2005 vintage. Dubbed 'Douro Boys Cuvee 2005', it's a blend of selected barrels from all five producers: Niepoort, Crasto, Vallado, Vale de Meao and Vale Dona Maria. (See: http://www.douroboys.com/ for more details)

What is especially intriguing about this initiative is that the wine was bottled only in magnum, and just 500 will be released, all of which will be sold in a special auction:

"Only 500 Magnum bottles of this very special wine will be offered, and in a very individual way. They will be auctioned on Friday, 30th of November in the Douro Valley at an event hosted by Peter Mansell, Associate Director of Christie’s International Wine Department.

The 500 Magnums are divided into 30 different lots, ranging from 1 single Magnum up to a group of 60 Magnums, and many of the lots come with an 'additional and personal bonus' courtesy of each Douro Boy, these include a surfing Lesson with Miguel Roquette, dinner prepared by Dirk Niepoort, a golfing day with Vito Olazabal… even a football match against a Douro Boys team! There will be many wonderful items encompassing boat rides, delicious meals and overnight stays at the most beautiful locations in the Douro Valley."

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Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Sena, Henschke and some boring Zins

This morning I went to a seminar on Terroir and innovation in the new world, put on by Lay and Wheeler to showcase their portfolios from Henschke and Sena/Arboleda. Prue and Stephen Henscke, and Eduardo Chadwick gave presentations, and we tasted their wines.

I was very interested in what Prue had to say about the vineyards at Henschke: they are adopting a melange of organic, biodynamic and IPM practices to create their own sustainable form of viticulture. I also thought that the Henschke range, which is pretty broad these days, was admirably consistent. Hill-of-Grace 1998 is developing into a very nice wine. 2002 is currently youthful and tight.

If I'm honest, I was disappointed by Sena, Eduardo Chadwick's icon wine. Four vintages were shown: 2004, 2003, 2001, 1996. They were all good, but no more than just good. For me, they lacked excitement and life. 1996 Sena, for example, was ageing gracefully and tasted nice, but I wouldn't say it was world class. And Sena is the icon wine that beat a bunch of first growths at the Berlin tasting back in 2004.

I have a problem with the results of this Berlin tasting. I'm shocked that (1) the given group of journalists actually preferred the Sena and its stablemate Vinedo Chadwick over Lafite, Margaux and Latour, and (2) that they didn't spot the Chilean wines as Chilean in this line-up. Look, I'm not suggesting that Chilean wines can't be as good, or better than first growth Bordeaux - after all, I love to think I'm open-minded - it's just that so far, I've not tasted a Chilean wine that has in qualitative terms even come close to top-notch Bordeaux. I'll be brutally honest with you: if these Senas I tried today are representative, then I reckon the tasters tasted badly that day. They got it wrong. I will be thrilled to report back on the exciting, complex, vibrant, balanced Chilean wines that I taste when I visit Chile in January, but so far, I haven't met them.

Stephen Spurrier, famous for his 1976 tasting where Californian wines outshone French classics took part in the Berlin tasting, and preferred the French wines. 'Logic dictated that the French or Italian wines were going to win, but what happened was that the Chilean wines took the top places', he recalls. 'The tasters preferred the Chilean wines, which was quite extraordinary.'
Tonight I've opened a few bottles. A couple of Zinfandels that were as boring as the one I mentioned yesterday, with just some red berry fruit and a hint of greenness, and then a much nicer Shiraz Viognier from McLaren Vale with ripe pure fruit and a bit of elegance, albeit at 15% alcohol (Battle of Bosworth 2005 - organic - £9.99 Oddbins).

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Vouvray bargain

Grand Cru wines is selling off the last of Poniatowski's Vouvray stocks at knock-down prices. I have no commercial connection with them, but I thought this was worth mentioning as a service to readers:

"1990 Clos Baudoin, Vouvray Moelleux
Only two months remain before Philippe Poniatowski has to clear his cellar in Vouvray, and hand over the Domaine to the new buyer. As large stocks are still in his cellars, he has given us even lower prices on some of the wines, and we have now purchased the remaining stocks of the outstanding 1990 Clos Baudoin.

The price is now ludicrously cheap for a wine of this quality. The 1990 was undoubtedly one of the greatest twentieth century vintages, and will last virtually forever. The 1990 Clos Baudoin has 79 grams per litre of residual sugar.

£159.00 for 1 case of 12 bottles, inclusive of duty, V.A.T. @ 17.5%, and delivery within UK mainland. [There are volume discounts] Offer valid until 31st December 2007.

Orders may be placed by email, fax (0871 733 7047), or by phone/answerphone (0871 474 0635). Enquiries to Grand Cru Wines Ltd.

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Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Nice bottle, shame about the wine

Aside: Spooks is back! Tonight's episode was a good start. But back to wine:

I'm not a negative person, but unlike a critic I spoke to recently who claimed their refusal to publish critical comments was because he was essentially a 'polite person', I think it's only right to occasionally put the boot in a bit...only where it's deserved, mind.

A disappointing recent bottle was Ravenswood's Lodi Zinfandel. I remember visiting California 10 years ago (rather topically, we left England the day of Princess Di's funeral) for a glorious two week tour with good friends Paul and Judith. This was pre-kids, so travelling was a good deal easier then. While wine was a minor part of the holiday, we did spend some time in Sonoma, and one of the wineries we visited was Ravenswood, which was known for its serious Zinfandels. The winery motto was 'no wimpy wines'. One of the distinguishing features of the Ravenswood wines was their wonderful packaging (elegant label, short silver-coloured capsule reminiscent of Ridge), and this Lodi Zin shared this beautiful appearance. The appearance creates expectation, and the wine turned out to be a real let down. Despite the Ravenswood motto, this was wimpy. No, it's not one of the single-vineyard offerings, but at £9, this doesn't deliver any great pleasure at all. And if Zin doesn't give raw visceral pleasure, what does it give?

Ravenswood Lodi Old Vine Zinfandel 2005 California
Beautifully packaged, but unfortunately the contents don’t quite live up to this. A cherry red colour, this medium-bodied wine has a modest berry fruit nose, and this leads to a sappy palate showing some sweet red berry fruit but not a lot else. Rather disappointing. 14.5% alcohol. 83/100 (£8.99 Majestic, Oddbins, Thresher)

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Monday, October 15, 2007

Interesting whites from the south of France

I love interesting wines. For me, the thrill of wine lies in its diversity, which is at least in part rooted in sense of place. But it's more than this: human choices, such as which grape varieties to grow, how to manage the vineyard, when to pick, and what to do in the winery all play a role in shaping the flavour of wine.

Two interesting wines tonight that rely heavily on human factors for their interesting personalities. Interestingly, the notes I wrote (a day apart) both finished with the same phrase; 'not for everyone'. I'm really glad people are making distinctive wines that will have enemies as well as friends.

Jeff C... Morillon Blanc 2005 Vin de Pays de l'Aude, France
This unusual wine made by Jeff Carrel has a striking personality. From what I gather, the Chardonnay grapes used to make this wine (Morillon is another name for Chardonnay) have been fermented either with some botrytised grapes, or on the skins of botrytised grapes used to make a sweet wine. [Perhaps someone can help me out here?] The result is a deep yellow gold coloured wine with a powerful nose of nuts, honey, vanilla, lemons and apricots. The palate is richly textured with some marmalade tang adding bite to smooth, sweet-edged tropical fruit. There's a rich texture here, and some subtle oxidative notes. Not for everyone - it has almost too much flavour - but I really like it. 91/100 (£8.45 Averys)

Christophe Barbier Les Terres Salées 2005 Vin de Pays des Côtes de Perpignan, France
An old vine Bourboulenc, this is a real treat. There’s apple crumble and honey character, coupled with a touch of vanilla oak, but also some waxy savouriness and a lovely minerally, burnt match reductive note. Indeed, it’s the distinctive reductive character that really frames this wine, and suggests to me that it could age very nicely for five years to a decade. With its savoury complexity, it is not for everyone, but I really like it. 91/100 (£10.99 Averys – the 2004 is £15 in Waitrose)

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Tasting at Bibendum

Hsien Min, a wine chum and fellow Man City fan, was in town on a visit from Singapore. So we grabbed a bit of lunch and then headed over to a mini-press tasting at Bibendum. Forty or so wines on show in an informal setting. The highlight for me was Catena's Alta Malbec 2004. This is concentrated, extremely refined and has lovely structure. It's not terribly new worldy, which I think is usually a good thing. This is a wine that I reckon will age gracefully. It might lose out in a blind tasting of Malbecs because it isn't the most assertive or spectacularly aromatic, but it is pretty grown up and sophisticated.

Bibendum are one of that rare breed of merchants with a decent blog.

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Saturday, October 13, 2007

Simply remarkable

England beat france...

I love wine!

Some bottles opened last night, and continued tonight, remind me why I do what I do: I love wine!

First of all, a couple of Gruner Veltliner. Lenz Moser's Laurenz V Sophie 2006 is a wine that we've consumed 15 bottles of in the Goode household since summer. It's brilliant for the price - around £5 on special from Tesco - and we have six more arriving next week. But a step up is the Stadt Krems Gruner Veltliner Weinzierlberg 2006, which is one of the most enjoyable whites I've had in a while. It's aromatic, full, generous, well balanced, lively and quite thrilling. This is GV at its very best, and just under £10 from Averys. I must buy some.

Then a really good Bordeaux: Chateau Brown 2004 Pessac Leognan. This is deep, minerally, gravelly, savoury and quite tight, with lovely dense dark fruit hemmed in by firm tannins, good acidity and a touch of oak. Pretty serious stuff, definitely in classed growth league, and which is a good four or five years off its peak. Again, this is a wine that had me on wine-searcher looking to see where I can get some. Unfortunately, none available in the UK...

The picture is of the closure used to seal the Stadt Krems GV. It's a Vino-Lok, which is a glass stopper with a plastic ring doing the business of sealing, covered in a metal cap. I'm not sure about Vino-Loks: they look good, and feel nice to open (no special tool is required), but plastic allows diffusion of oxygen, and it is plastic that is making the seal. Besides, they're really expensive compared with screwcaps and Diam, their main competitors.

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Friday, October 12, 2007

A sporting weekend beckons...

Today's blog comes in bullet points.

  • Above: gratuitous picture of some Cabernet Sauvignon ripening at Chateau Brown (Pessac Leognan, Bordeaux).
  • Lots of sport this weekend to watch, most notably England vs. France in the semi-final of the Rugby, and England's must-win match against Estonia in the football. The former is likely to be much more exciting.
  • Which means we have a dilemma: two couples coming round to dinner on Saturday. Should we suggest watching the game to them? We can't not watch it, surely. Or do we record it, and in Likely Lads style try to avoid hearing the result before we watch it???
  • I need to buy a camcorder. What should I buy?
  • I have to try some mulled wine for my Express column tonight. Wish me luck!


Thursday, October 11, 2007

Chile and Australia: trying new grape varieties

I've had a busy day, with two big tastings. Majestic first, followed by Waitrose. Not enough time to do them real justice: Waitrose alone would justify two whole days, with 240 wines on show, including some really good high end stuff. Majestic weren't shy, though, putting 130 wines up for tasting at the Landmark hotel. There were some real highlights: wines that I'm just dying to write about, but this will have to wait for another time, as I'm tired and I need to go to bed fairly soon.

So tonight I'll write about two wines that I have open. Both are from the new world, but they are varieties that you wouldn't associate with the new world. And I think they work rather well.
Wrattonbully Vineyards Tempranillon 2006 Wrattonbully
From a vineyard established by the Hill Smith family of Yalumba, this Tempranillo is ripe but surprisingly elegant, with juicy cherryish fruit dominating. There are sweet red berries playing a supporting role, and the acidity, well-tamed tannins and subtle sappiness provide a nice counter to the fruit. It isn't complex, but it's brilliantly drinkable and a welcome contrast to the big, lush, sweet dark fruit style that's common in Australia. I'd love to serve this blind to my wine nut chums. Tastes nothing like Spanish Tempranillo. 88/100 (£7.99 Marks & Spencer)
Morande Edicion Limitada Carignan 2001 Loncomilla Valley, Maule, Chile
I can't believe this is 2001: it tastes so fresh and vibrant, as if it had only just been bottled (it is 2001 - I checked). Carignan isn't a grape you come across too often in Chile (although Torres make a really good one), and this wine is made from old vines in Maule. I guess you could probably spot its Chilean-ness from the pastille-like, slightly rubbery edge to the nose, but you'd have to be on good form to pick this up. The dominant feature here is vibrant, fresh spicy red fruits with a subtle tarry twist. The palate is intense with high acidity, some tannic structure and very fresh red berry fruits. A tight, spicy, savoury style, this has real personality and intensity. It's alive. A brilliant food-friendly style. Chile should be making more wines like this. 89/100 (£9.99 Marks & Spencer)

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Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Press tasting with ODI cricket and Beaucastel 1983

Berry Bros' press tasting today was very good. As well as some superb wines, a thoughtful soul had decided to put the Sky coverage of England vs. Sri Lanka on the plasma screen in the Pickering Cellar, so as we tasted we could watch some of the cricket.

Highlight for me, in a tasting that included gems such as the 1996 Vega Sicilia Unico, was the magnum of 1983 Beaucastel that was shown alongside the 1998 in a regular bottle. Beaucastel invariably ages very well, and the 1983, at almost 25, is deliciously mature, spicy and warm. There's just so much earthy, leathery, spicy complexity to this wine - it is also supremely elegant, and dinking perfectly now. BBR still have some of this left, but it isn't cheap at £179 per magnum.

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Tuesday, October 09, 2007

A dry Kabinett from Fritz Haag

Riesling Kabinett can vary in style. These days there are some that taste as rich and full as Spatlese. They should be quite fresh, and in a just off-dry style. Now this one is at the more austere, dry, minerally end of the spectrum - it's a Kabinett trocken, which means that it's fermented for longer, reaching 11.5% alcohol as opposed to the usual 8 or 9, making a more-or-less dry wine. This style isn't seen in the UK that frequently: we tend to prefer it if the high acidity that grapes grown in this part of the world possess is balanced out by some sweetness. Although this isn't my favourite ever Kabinett, I think it works quite well, and the dryness makes for a less pretty, more food friendly style.

Fritz Haag Brauneberger Juffer Riesling Kabinett trocken 2005 Mosel Saar Ruwer, Germany
The nose shows some sulfur dioxide, and is really minerally and tight. Not revealing too much at the moment. The palate is crisp and fresh with some reticent limey fruit and nice minerality. A very light, quite acidic style that has lovely purity and freshness, but not the depth you might expect from a slightly sweeter wine. Give it a few years and this may put on a bit of complexity: with the level of sulfur dioxide present, it isn't going to keel over any time soon. 88/100 (from French and Logan, part of a mixed case of 05s purchased a while back)

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Bruce Jack on Kumala and his new role

So I did get a chance to quiz Bruce Jack yesterday about the Constellation/Kumala story. You can read the interview here. He was very upbeat about the opportunity he has to do something good with Kumala, 'taking the commodity and forcing it to be a real wine'.

Of course, he's going to put a positive spin on events, but after chatting with him in depth, I came away feeling that this move could just be good for South African wine in general. Yes, South Africa does need strong brands, and if Jack succeeds with his intentions for Kumala, the whole industry, including the 'serious' wine niche we're more interested in, could end up benefiting.


Monday, October 08, 2007

Constellation acquires Flagstone

News today is that Bruce Jack's Flagstone winery has been acquired by the world's largest wine company, Constellation.

Jack will stay on, and will oversee viticulture and winemaking with all of Constellation's South African interests, primarily the Kumala brand (which last year they acquired from Western Wines, and which accounts for almost a quarter of South African wine sold in the UK).

The press release includes the following corporate-speak:

Troy Christensen, President of Constellation Europe, said: “We are delighted to have reached agreement leading to the proposed purchase such a renowned wine company and to secure the wine making skills and expertise of Bruce Jack and his team.

“I believe that the South African wine industry offers a huge opportunity for Constellation Europe to drive sales, generate profit and enhance its corporate image.

“A major challenge for the UK industry is to build the value of the wine category through a greater focus on developing premium brands and delivering high quality for consumers.

“The proposed purchase of such a high-profile South African wine-making company and its dynamic portfolio of wines will mean that we have a credible premium-orientated portfolio to spearhead the development of South African wine in the UK and across Europe.

“Flagstone will help to take the South African category to another level of success by providing an incentive for the wine trade to ‘premiumise’ their wine business and by
encouraging more shoppers to trade up to better quality more often.”


Sunday, October 07, 2007

Brief wines to cap a sporting weekend

Just some brief wine notes this Sunday evening, after an exciting sporting weekend. What is it with sport? I know that it's a non-serious pursuit that acts as a catharsis for us, the masses, to distract us from real life in all its misery, and that serious people shouldn't care about it. But I love sport. I read newspapers from the back page. This weekend has been fantastic: the rugby yesterday was astonishing, and then the football today was brilliant, too. Last season, I'd grown pessimistic about the premiership. It was boring. But this year it's thrilling (unless you are a Spurs fan - I enjoyed taunting one of my Spurs-loving friends today by asking him whether he'd heard the latest rumour - that Jol was going to be replaced by David Pleat...)

Anyway, back to the wine. First, a lovely white. I bought a case of Domenic Torzi's Frost Dodger Eden Valley Riesling 2005 Australia from Bordeaux Index a while back at a good price, and I'll be in no hurry to drink this up. The second bottle I've opened, this is beginning to open out: lime, honey, spice with a hint of reduction that I hope won't grow with time in bottle. It's quite serious for a dry Riesling. Second, the Lynchpin 2005 mentioned below is, on day 3, showing well still, with lovely chalky minerality and some real elegance, which makes me think it's a reasonably ageworthy wine. Finally, Waitrose have brought out a new line of own label wines, and they have a Waitrose Barossa Shiraz Reserve 2005 from St Hallett that's really nice: fruit-focused, with no American oak (just a bit of French), it shows dark, ripe black fruits countered by some plummy bitterness and an almost ginger-like warm spiciness, with the oak very much in the background. It's a solid value (to use an American term) at £7.99.

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Saturday, October 06, 2007

Musar 1999 - it rocks

After mentioning Musar 2000 on my blog yesterday, I got some comments from people whose opinions I trust suggesting that 1999 is the vintage to go for. I've not tried this, so this afternoon, after watching England's heroic performance against the Aussies (how I regret not taking up the freebie ticket/flight/hotel option I was offered last week...but sometimes you have to put the family first) and taking elder son and friend to the golf range, I popped into Sainsbury, where I managed to find some 99 lurking behind a large quantity of 2000. (Yes, journalists sometimes do buy wine...)

It rocks. It's harmonious, complex, exotic and more-ish. If all you see in Musar is the wine 'faults', then you need to take a step back and think about wine afresh. This is world class wine, and it's only £13.99.

Chateau Musar 1999 Bekaa Valley, Lebanon
Complex savoury spicy nose shows so much aromatic interest, it's hard to know where to begin. There's leather, earth, a hint of balsamic vinegar, warm spices and some sweet red fruits. The palate is warm and harmonious, with a lovely sweet and savoury sort of character. It's full, earthy and spicy with a bit of bitter tang like a stinky cheese. In fact, I reckon people who don't get Musar are a bit like people who will only eat plastic-packed cheddar and find goats cheese offensive. Anyway, this is soft, warm, mellow and complex. A really good vintage of this wine in the mould of the 1993 or 1991. This has a 20-30 year drinking window, because it's lovely now but will continues to develop for ages. 93/100


Friday, October 05, 2007

Refinement from Cloof

Cloof, a South African producer from the Darling region, are making some interesting wines. Their Lynchpin is a bit of a tilt at left-bank Bordeaux, aiming at elegance and refinement. They even released this en primeur earlier this year (when I was really impressed with the sample they sent through). Now the finished wine, the Lynchpin 2005, is on the market, and here's my verdict.

Cloof Lynchpin 2005 Darling, South Africa
This is 71% Merlot, 25% Cabernet Franc and 4% Cabernet Sauvignon, aged in French oak, of which three quarters is new. It weighs in at 14.5% alcohol, but this is a warm region and the wine is actually quite restrained. There's a lovely complex, aromatic gravelly, minerally nose with a subtle hint of greenness to the berry fruits. The palate is concentrated, refined and well balanced, showing fresh red and black fruits with a distinctly mineralic edge framing the fruit nicely. Nothing sticks out at all: it certainly shows no signs of over-ripeness. There's the structure here for long ageing. If I have to be at all critical, there's perhaps just a bit too much greenness under the fruit, but this is a fairly serious effort, albeit slightly ambitiously priced. 91/100 (£19.95 http://www.winedirect.co.uk/)

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Another Tesco Press Tasting

Usually, most supermarkets will have a couple of press tastings a year. Tesco have had three in 2007, altogether showing almost 500 different wines. That's a lot. It's largely because they've been making a real effort with their range, and it shows: there are some interesting wines here, and the quality is consistently good. It's hard to be objective about which of the big retailers has the best range, but in broad-brush terms it seems that Tesco and Asda are on the up, while Sainsbury is treading water a bit. M&S seems to be doing quite well, but I don't know Morrisons/Safeway/Coop well enough to say too much about their performance.

Today's Tesco tasting was held, once again, at County Hall, overlooking the Thames. It's a really good venue, although I almost wandered into the Star Wars exhibition on the way out after getting lost in a maze of oak-panelled corridors.

Interesting wines included: my first look at the 2000 Musar, which is a pretty good vintage for this wine; the 2001 Noval LBV, which is really good, once again; a lovely PX from Gonzalez Byass that's only £4.99/half; Tyrell's Vat 1 Semillon 2000, which is a great Hunter white that's worth its £20 asking price; and a beefy but elegant Yering Station Reserve Shiraz Viognier 2005.


Thursday, October 04, 2007

A Burgundy lunch

Had lunch today at St John, with a very pleasant group of people who I'd not met before (this was one of those 'offlines'), with the theme being Burgundy. St Johns is good for wine dinners because the food is so great, and the service is superb. But the wine glasses are really bad. Your local corner bistro has better glasses. And the decision to have rubbish glasses, apparently, was made right at the top. We asked for their better glasses, but this was a bit of a problem as they were short of them (we were a party of 8), but after a while they appeared. They could only spare one each, though. And these were like slightly over-sized ISO glasses, which if I encountered in any other high-end restaurant, I'd ask if they had any better glasses. I'd brought along a couple of Riedel 'O' Syrah glasses in my bag, so I used one and donated the other to my neighbour. Enough about glasses. What were the wines like? My notes below. As an aside, my neighbour commented on the route many wine nuts take. It begins in Bordeaux, goes to the Rhone, and then finishes in Burgundy.

Burgundy lunch at St John, 4 October 2007

Fontaine Gaignard Chassagne Montrachet 1er Cru Les Caillerets 2004
Very bright, lemony, toasty nose is quite aromatic. The palate has a creamy, toasty richness. It’s broad with some bright lemony freshness. 90/100

Bonneau du Martray Corton Charlemagne Grand Cru 1994
Initially this is amazingly youthful, and a little mute, but it begins to express itself after time in the glass. Fresh, tight minerally nose with a stony sort of character. The palate is tight and minerally with nice pure fruit and a rather reticent, elegant personality. After a while, this wine begins to show itself with some complex minerality emerging. Serious stuff in a rather lean, tight style, with the potential to develop further. 93/100

Dominique Laurent Nuits St Georges 1er Cru Les Damodes 2000
Aromatic, open, slightly funky nose reminds me of some ‘natural’ wines, with its meaty warmth. The palate is open and elegant with warm, spicy, open fruit. It’s a very attractive style of wine, but perhaps a little unusual. 90/100

Fourrier Griotte-Chambertin Grand Cru 2003
Deep coloured. Open, sweetly fruited nose is quite dark with a hint of tar and some slightly funky notes. The palate is full, spicy and quite elegant with sweet dark fruit and a bit of tannin. It’s not really giving a great deal at the moment. 89/100

Armand Rousseau Ruchottes-Chambertin ‘Clos des Ruchottes’ Grand Cru 2003
Lovely aromatic nose with forward ripe fruit and a hint of meatiness. The palate is beautifully expressive with sweet fruit – almost like a very elegant New Zealand Pinot Noir. Quite expressive and fruity, this is delicious, but perhaps atypical? 93/100
Armand Rousseau Chambertin Grand Cru 1997
This is more evolved than you’d expect, with a distinct brown tinge to the colour. It has a warm, deep, spicy nose with a tarry, fudgey edge. The palate is dense, spicy and full with some nice spicy tannins. Quite expressive, warm and complex. The fruit has faded, though. 91/100

Armand Rousseau Charmes-Chambertin Grand Cru 1997
Open, expressive, elegant nose is beautifully perfumed with lovely aromatic red fruits. The palate is open and has lovely fresh, expressive red berry fruits together with some cherry notes and some spice. Supremely elegant: this is what we come to Burgundy for. 94/100

Faively Corton ‘Clos des Cortons’ Monopole 1990
Slightly medicinal, spicy nose is quite savoury. The palate is still quite tannic with some medicinal, spicy notes, but these tannins are beginning to soften a bit. I can only guess that this was once a big, chunky, tannic wine. Now it’s evolving: it isn’t particularly elegant, but there’s some real appeal here. 91/100


Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Wine TV, of a sort

Spent the day on camera, recording videos for a wine retailer, http://www.winedirect.co.uk/, down in Hailsham. This is something I’d been quite keen to do because I’ve been thinking about recording videos to put on this blog. I think it could be quite fun.

Of course, doing videos for a retailer creates a conflict of interest. After all, I got paid a fee for my services – my usual daily rate – and therefore it could be argued that my views on the wines are not going to be impartial. But the deal with Andrew Birtley, who heads up winedirect, was that he’d select the wines and I’d say what I really thought of them. Which is what I did.

The production company he hired were very professional and easy to work with. The routine we followed was the same for each wine. The bottle was filmed, then I proceeded to introduce the wines on camera, pour a glass, sniff and then slurp, commenting on the wines as I tasted. We didn’t rehearse, and I didn’t have any notes. Nor did I pretaste the wines – for the sake of freshness it was all done in one take, where possible, with my at-the-time comments on the wines being recorded.

As anyone who has spoken to camera before will know, it’s actually quite difficult – more difficult than it looks. In the majority of cases we got everything in one take, but a few times I had to stop and then start again. I haven’t seen the results yet, but everyone seemed quite satisfied. Altogether we did 35 wines, starting at 9.30 and finishing just before 7 pm. A long old day.

Standouts included a Pinot Noir and Syrah from Craggy Range (two separate wines, not a blend!), Spinifex Indigene 2005, a really lovely 1er Cru Meursault from Louis Latour, a couple of elegant Moeiux Pomerols, some rather nice restrained Baeulieu wines from Napa, The zippy Leeuwin Prelude Chardonnay, some nice Cloof South Africans and a lovely liqueur Muscat from Yalumba. These were nice wines I was happy to day lots of complimentary things about. When I get the results I’ll post some of them here and you can all critique my style.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Clos de los Siete 2006

New vintage of this rather controversial wine. Why controversial? Well, anything with the name Michel Rolland on the label is bound to stir up a bit of discussion, and this wine has been criticized in past vintages for being just too sweet, too ripe and too much everything.

I don't mind it. In its style, which is a distinctly new world one, the 2006 is a very good wine. I'd take it over any of Chile's icon wines, for example, and, at £10.99 (with discounts available at both Majestic and Oddbins), it's good value for money. Here's my note:

Clos de los Siete 2006 Mendoza, Argentina
A collaborative project by seven producers under the banner of Michel Rolland, this is a blend of Malbec, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah. Very dark in the glass, this is not a shy wine: it's 15% alcohol, and the grapes are picked quite late, by hand, before undergoing a cold pre-ferment maceration. The dominant feature here is sweet, lush, dark fruits. The oak, which gives a spicy sheen, is very much in the background. There's some structure here, with grippy tannins hiding under the sweet fruit, and overall the wine is savoury in character. My verdict? While this is clearly a modern, new world-style red, with its tannic structure it retains balance, and if you can get over the alcoholic heat, then this is a great companion to the usual Argentinean fare of large quantities of steak. Although it's not my favourite style, this is a wine I'd happily recommend to people who are new to wine because the sweetness of fruit makes it so accessible, and it offers great value for money. 90/100

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Monday, October 01, 2007

Two new-wave Spanish wines

Two Spanish wines tonight, in a distinctly modern mould.

Juan Gil Monastrell 'Silver Label' 2004 Jumilla, Spain
Monastrall (aka Mourvedre) is the grape variety here, from 40 year old low-yielding vines, fermented with whole bunches, given extended maceration, and then aged in French oak. The result is a deep-coloured wine showing ripe blackberry fruit on the nose with a herby, slightly pruney edge. The palate shows ripe, lush fruit backed up by spicy tannins, with a subtly bitter, plummy, almost rubbery tang. There's a savoury, slightly bitter herby character to the finish that stops it from being too sweet and cloying, and makes it more of a food wine. 89/100 (£8.50 D Byrne, Great Grog)

Mustiguillo Finca Terrerazo 2005 Vin de la Tierra el Terrerazo, Spain
This ambitious wine comes from Utiel-Requena, best known for its budget specials, and where the Bobal grape is dominant. Winemaker Toni Sarrion has decided do something special with this oft-derided variety, and has blended 70% Bobal with 20% Tempranillo and 10% Cabernet Sauvignon, giving the wine 19 months in new French oak. This is a wine that needs some understanding. Initially, the nose seems dominated by new oak, with the fresh red and black fruits somewhat dominated by woody, spicy notes. In the mouth, though, while the oak is still dominant, there's a lovely freshness to the bright dark cherry and red berry fruits, together with some prominent tannins and high acidity. There's chocolatey, rather bitter plummy fruit on the finish. It's not much fun to drink at the moment because of the excessive oak, tannins and acid, but this will probably age really well. It's almost Tuscan in flavour profile. 91/100 (£21 Cooden Cellars, Flying Corkscrew, Noel Young)

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A good day

Forgive the unrelated photograph. It's me on the back of a mechanical harvester, taken on Thursday afternoon in Entre-Deux-Mers. The other rider is Beverly Blanning. We were watching the harvest at Chateau Lavison, where Merlot was being picked, and the offer was made: do we want a ride? So precariously balanced on the back, quite high up, we watched as a couple of rows were picked. It's amazing how these machines can pick so well: the reception bins contained almost exclusively intact berries, and a simple triage at the winery picked out remaining stems and any rotten or unripe grapes.

Anyway, the title of this post refers to today, where a couple of nice things happened. First of all, I found Fiona's keys. Doesn't sound too eventful, does it? But it was. Last Tuesday, Fiona was walking RTL in Hanworth Park, when a horse, which wasn't supposed to be there, suddenly appeared. RTL ran fast towards it, and began running round its legs. There was panic, and Fiona ran after the imperiled hound trying to catch it. After the crisis had passed, she realized she no longer had her keys, which must have fallen out of her pocket. The problem is, Hanworth Park is huge, has tall, dense grass off the pathways, through which Fiona had to run, and the keys could have been anywhere within a patch approximately 200 m x 100 m. That evening we searched en famille without success; subsequent search attempts also failed the following day, so we gave the keys up for lost.

Now house keys are easy to re-cut. But the car key is a different matter. A quick call to Mazda revealed that it was easily replaceable, but at a cost of £260. £260 for a car key? That's more than an Ipod costs, and an Ipod is a whole lot more complex. And they needed the car for two hours on next Friday morning for some reason to supply the new one. Why?

So this morning, as I was walking the dog through Hanworth Park, my mind briefly flitted to the issue of the lost keys. Maybe I'll look for them again, I said to myself. I'd taken just two paces off the path when I looked down, and there they were. It felt like a miracle.

The second nice surprise was waiting for me when I got home: a nice royalty cheque for Wine Science. I'd previously just received and advance: this was the first time the earnings had passed the amount of the advance and I got some cash in my hand. It's selling particularly well in the USA, and has just been translated into Japanese. It's always nice to get money that you weren't expecting.

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