jamie goode's wine blog: November 2007

Friday, November 30, 2007

The transforming power of Austrian Riesling

Forgive the rather melodramatic title to this post. I guess I was led to it by my current enthusiasm for Austrian wine, and also - despite my silly comments - about Riesling.

That's not to say I rate Austrian Riesling higher than Gruner Veltliner. Far from it. It's just that tonight, a decision to open a Wachau Riesling to accompany a seafood risotto proved to be a very good one. This wine isn't from a terribly well known producer, but it's really nice, and is a superb food wine. It manages to carry quite a bit of weight, while remaining very fresh. And it's relatively affordable for this level of quality.

Erich Maccherndl Riesling Smaragd Steinterrassen 2005 Wachau, Austria
Quite a deep yellow colour with some green tinges, this is a full flavoured, savoury, 'trocken' style Riesling made from ripe grapes. The nose shows refined honeyed, minerally, herby/citrussy fruit. It leads to a palate that's rich and ripe, but nicely defined by fresh herb and citrus notes, together with a hint of sweetness and cutting minerally acidity. There's a lot of intensity and presence here in this dry styled wine, which is probably best served with food. 90/100 (£12.95 Great Western Wine here)

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Thursday, November 29, 2007

South African star with no added sulphur

I'm very excited by this wine. It's an inexpensive South African Cabernet Sauvignon but it is made without any added sulfur dioxide (the 'f' as opposed to the 'ph' spelling is the one now officially used by scientists worldwide, as per IUPAC guidelines - sorry about this boring aside). As you probably know, sulfur dioxide is the chemical almost universally added to wine to prevent the effects of oxidation and to deter unwanted microbrial growth.

Very few producers attempt to make wines without any added sulfur dioxide at all. There are a slightly larger group who don't use any during the winemaking process but add some at bottling. But, given the utility of sulfur dioxide, what is the motivation for doing without it? First, some people have a desire to make wine with no additions whatsoever, because they are committed to their vision of natural wines. Second, some people think that wines with no sulfur added have an aromatic purity and elegance that is worth taking a huge risk for.

I've had mixed experiences with no-sulfur added wines, but enough good ones that keep me pursuing this topic with interest. Yes, I know it's madness to try to make commercial wines without sulfur additions, but I admire people who try. And in this case, the wine is utterly fantastic - much, much more interesting and arguably better than any South African wine at this price point that I've so far tasted.

Stellar Organics Cabernet Sauvignon No Added Sulphur 2006 Western Cape
Made from organically grown grapes, with no added sulfur dioxide. A fantastic deep red/black colour, this looks like a barrel sample. It has a wonderfully perfumed, seductive nose of pure sweet blackcurrant fruit with an earthy edge and some gravelly minerally notes in the background. The palate is concentrated and quite lush, but underneath the sweet dark fruit lies a complex earthy core with a very subtle spicy green herby note adding an extra dimension. Despite the fact that this is quite a big wine, there's a lovely elegance here, and a delicious textural richness. I reckon you need to drink this gorgeously forward wine in the first flush of its youth: I suspect it will taste a bit tired and go all earthy by this time next year. 90/100 (£6.50 Vintage Roots, on offer a £5.95 until 11 January 2008)

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Spoofulated versus artisanal: a new article by Clark Smith

A brief post to direct readers to a really good article by Clark Smith on Spoofulated versus artisanal wines (here). I interviewed Clark last year - I think he has some important things to say. He also writes well, and is interesting.

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Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Three Rieslings: Chile, South Africa and Germany

Riesling rocks, even though it's the grape that we in the wine trade have to like. By this, I mean it carries a moral premium and gets talked up perhaps more than it should, because there's this groundswell of opinion that Riesling is the greatest grape variety, such that to suggest otherwise makes you feel like a heretic.

Tonight I'm trying three rather different Rieslings. First, an inexpensive Mosel Riesling, and then two Rieslings from new world countries not normally associated with this variety: Chile and South Africa. Both are quite interesting, made in very different styles, and, at £7.99, relatively affordable. I wouldn't say these wines were quite yet ready to compete with the best from Germany, Austria and Alsace - they are more works in progress. But it is encouraging to see what strides are being made with this variety in the new world.

Morrison's The Best German Riesling NV, Mosel Saar Ruwer, Germany
There's a whiff of minerally sulfur on the nose, which leads to a soft, off-dry palate with honeyed tropical fruit character bolstered by some minerally acidity. Nicely balanced, and at just 8% alcohol this is a really refreshing, quaffable wine. 82/100

Cono Sur Vision Riesling 'Quiltraman' 2007 Bio Bio Valley, Chile
This attractively packaged wine has a forward, perfumed nose of bright lime notes mixed with minerals, sweet honey and floral overtones. The palate is quite rich, with a talcum powder and lime character, together with some savoury minerality and some richness of texture, which I suspect in part comes from a bit of residual sugar, and in part from the high alcohol (14%). It finishes off with crisp acidity. This is a powerful style of Riesling, but it's balanced and quite crisp. A striking wine, and given further experience here I reckon future vintages will be even better. 89/100 (£7.99 Majestic, but £6.39 if you buy two)

Paul Cluver Weisser Riesling 2007 Elgin, South Africa
'Weisser Riesling' is a term used in South Africa to describe the true Riesling variety, and this wine comes from the cool climate Elgin region. It's an elegant, dry style of Riesling with apple and lemon fruit combining with a distinctly crisp, mineralic core to make a bone dry wine with a distinctly savoury character that is extremely food friendly. This is a moderately serious wine that is extremely versatile, and represents good value at the price. It is stylistically similar to Clare Valley Riesling, I reckon. South Africa should be making more Riesling, although I imagine it can be a tough wine to sell. 88/100 (£7.99 Jeroboams/Laytons)

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Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Fizz again, but of a different kind

I've been drinking a lot of fizz, recently, what with various celebrations and general self-indulgence and the like.

Tonight it is time for a rather different style of fizz: the red variety. One of Australia's specialities (or quirks, depending on how you look at it) is Sparkling Shiraz. I don't know who it was who initially thought it might be a smart idea to make a fizzy red, but their offbeat inspiration took off (to a degree), such that most big Aussie companies have one in their portfolio.

The one I'm drinking tonight is from Jacob's Creek, but big brand aside, it's a really good one. If you've never tried Sparkling red wine, this one would be a good place to start.

Jacob's Creek Sparkling Shiraz NV South Eastern Australia
Visually this is gorgeous, with the bubbles foaming up a beautiful pink colour over the dark red black core of the wine. This wine shows lovely pure, sweet plum and blackcurrant fruit with a nice dark, meaty edge to it. It finishes with a nice spritzy tang from the bubbles. There's a bit of sweetness here which adds to the texture, making it feel quite weighty. It's very ripe, but the alcohol is quite low at 12.5%. A very interesting, unique style of wine: it's perhaps just a little too sweet to serve with most foods, although with its low tannin and sweetness it works pretty well with cheese. 89/100 (£8.49 Sainsbury's)

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Monday, November 26, 2007

A biodynamic Champagne that rocks

It's a quiet Monday evening, so time for some fizz. And not just any old fizz, but a Vintage Champagne from one of the last century's great vintages, and from a biodynamic grower to boot. It's a really fantastic wine, and it should have been saved for a special occasion. But I don't feel too bad for opening it...

Champagne Fleury 1996
A yellow/gold colour, this has a sensational nose: it's complex and full, with notes of honey, baked apples, lemons, toast and pastry. The palate is concentrated with powerful flavours of lemon, herbs and toast. It's a rich style, with lots of impact, but kept fresh by piercing acidity. A really super effort - worth the relatively high asking price. Beginning to drink well now, but with this level of acidity it isn't going to fall apart any time soon. 94/100 (£38 Vintage Roots)

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Sunday, November 25, 2007

Fortieth celebration weekend

Whoever you are, you can't escape the passage of time. Rich and poor alike all age at more or less the same rate. Some people fight it harder than others do; some seem to accomodate the passing years better than others; but all grow chronologically older at the same rate.

I've just passed one of those significant barriers, the big four-oh, along with my twin sister. The fact that two of us were celebrating together required some sort of joint event, so Fiona organized a weekend involving the families of Anne and I, plus those of our two siblings, plus my parents, which totalled 10 adults (pictured above) and 11 children ranging from 1 to 11 in age.

So we gathered at Moreleaze Farm in Somerset, where we occupied three cottages, with a swimming pool, games room and tennis court for entertainment. Friday evening was curry night, with my father as a chef, washed down with lots of fizz. But this was preceded by a trip to the local, one of the most remarkable pubs I've ever visited.

The Seymour Arms at Witham Friary is a bit of living history. For a start, it doesn't serve food. These days virtually all pubs are overpriced restaurants that serve beer. The Seymour Arms is what pubs used to be like, 60 years ago. There's one large room, with a wooden bench running around the perimeter, painted duck-egg blue. In the middle of the room are four large tables, with bench seats either side. The bar is effectively a large window, interfacing with the residential part of the pub in which there is a single cask of ale, a couple of casks of cider, and the other drinks. Only one beer was available, Butcombe, and it was £2 a pint. We had a couple of pints, played darts, and left in awe at this flash-back in time to a different era.

Saturday was a day of activity, including a tennis match in which sister Hester and myself were narrowly beaten by younger brother Arthur and twin sister Anne. Saturday evening saw a talent show with the various families each putting in a performance (brother Arthur's family rendition of Old MacDonald on the ocarina was the most memorable), followed by a slide and cine (super 8) show which my father had organized (seeing yourself on film aged five puts things in perspective a bit), and then the gala dinner - a black tie affair washed down with some serious fizz, good claret and Vintage Port. Significantly, we enjoyed some fizz from a Jeroboam, which is effectively a double magnum. Kindly provided by brother-in-law Beavington, it was an impressive Drappier Millesime Selection 1999 (pictured).

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A nightmare...

Eagle-eyed readers may have noticed that on Friday, wineanorak.com took on a rather different look - instead of the normal site and blog, a holding page from network solutions.

I was greeted by this first thing in the morning, as I logged on before heading off for a family celebration in Somerset. I froze. Something was clearly very wrong. What had happened is that the domain had expired, because it hadn't been renewed. When I started the site in November 1999, my then hosting provider, Global Internet, registered and administered the domain on my behalf. As Global was bought, and then the company that bought it was bought (by Pipex), the domain continued to be administered and renewed on my behalf. But when I was shifted within Pipex to one of their many subsiduary companies, Web Fusion, the administration of the domain fell between the cracks.

Thus no one bothered to respond to domain renewal notices, and so the first thing I knew of this was when the domain had disappeared. This prompted 2.5 hours of frantic phone calls. Network Solutions wouldn't let me renew the domain, because it was purchased by my hosting company. Web Fusion said there was nothing they could do. Pipex said it wasn't really their problem, but were quite apologetic - although I was left nowhere nearer actually renewing the domain. It was an appalling situation.

Still, it's now back up, although there's a bit more negotiation needed to bring final resolution. When your primary business is online, a domain is an incredibly valuable part of your business. Wineanorak.com may not be worth all that much to someone else, but it is worth a very great deal to me, and the prospect of losing it, or having the site down for a significant time, is a frightening one.


Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Natural Gruner, a revision and a better comparison

A few days ago I reported on the Sepp Moser 'Minimal' Gruner Veltliner (here), which is made without any sulfur dioxide additions. I compared this 2005 with the regular 2006 from the same vineyard. Well now I have my hands on a 2005 to do a better comparison with, and I also have some of the 2005 Minimal left in the fridge.

On retasting the Minimal, some three nights after it was first opened, I'm going to revise my judgement. I think this is a fantastic wine. It is profound, even. I'm getting complex notes of orange, vanilla, lemon, herb, butterscotch and toast. The palate is concentrated with a lovely bitter citrus freshness to the warm nutty, toasty flavours. It's unusual but lovely. 94/100

So, now to the Sepp Moser Gruner Veltliner Schnabel 2005 Kremstal, Austria. A yellow gold colour, it has a beguiling, complex aroma of nuts, herbs, pepper and toast. The palate has a lively presence of fresh, herby, peppery fruit together with some nutty depth. As is typical of Gruner, there's an interesting texture: it's not fat, but there's some broadness, although the overall effect is one of dryness. Quite serious and food friendly. 91/100

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Brettanomyces at the Cafe Anglais

One of the recurring subjects in the wine world is brettanomyces, the rogue yeast that's common in red wines, and which some people think is always bad, and some people think can add complexity according to context.

Kiwi winemaker Matt Thomson (Delta, Saint Clair etc.) ran a masterclass on the topic yesterday, organized by Liberty Wines, who Matt does quite a bit of work for in Italy. It was held at the newly opened Cafe Anglais in Bayswater, where we had a really good lunch. This is Rowley Leigh's new venture, and the food was really good, even though the service was a little patchy. [We had some great hors d'ouvres (oysters, parmesan custard and toast, smoked fish, sardines) followed by spaghetti, followed by a lovely cut of rare roast beef, culminating in a super cheese board.]

I'm writing up the seminar to put on the site tomorrow, but in the interim, one interesting nugget: brett loves oak. It particularly likes toasted new barrels, and has been found 8 mm deep in staves. It can feed off cellobiose that is formed when barrels are toasted. ‘Brett can occur in the cleanest cellars’, says Thomson. ‘If you use new oak, you will get brett: it is not something you can associate just with a dirty cellar’.

But Thomson goes further, to suggest that not only is brett associated with new oak, but also he has identified specific coopers who have a problem with bretty barrels, although he won’t name them.

He also thinks that brett is a growing problem. ‘I am convinced that in large numbers of wineries in both the new and old worlds, brett is a new thing.’ Thomson has a theory that something happened to oak in the relatively recent past. ‘Something happened with the huge demand for new oak in the 1980s. Coopers had a boom period and started doing something different, and there was a change’.

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Tuesday, November 20, 2007


Doug of Les Caves has sent me a couple of pictures of the amphorae used for the fermentation and elevage of Cos' Pithos wine (a red wine from Sicily that I blogged on a couple of weeks ago). I thought I'd share them here.

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Monday, November 19, 2007

Gestos Malbec: cheap and good

I'm hesitant to describe a £6 wine as 'cheap', because for many people that's quite a bit of money, and you'll just think I'm some loaded snob. But, let's face it, £6 isn't a lot for a bottle of wine these days. Maybe I should use the less loaded term 'affordable'. Well, here's an affordable Argentinian wine that has quite a bit going for it, including a really attractive label design that attempts to communicate the concept of terroir to the drinker. On the back label it says: 'Gestos made from earth, altitude, climate and grape giving wines their own soul and character'. It's nice to see terroir being used in the marketing of new world wines.

Finca Flichman 'Gestos' Malbec 2006 Mendoza, Argentina
An equal blend of grapes from 1100 m and 700 m, this is a deep coloured wine. The nose shows raspberry and blackberry fruit with a savoury, spicy overlay and some coffee and tar oak overtones. It's quite tight and reductive. The palate shows nice fresh red fruit character with a bit of plmmy bitterness and some spicy oak influence. It's a savoury wine with some depth, and drying, grippy tannins on the finish. Yet there's some ripeness and charm here also. It's not the most refined wine you'll ever drink, but for the price, there's a lot going on here, and it is tremendously food friendly. Would be perfect with a big Argentinian rump steak. 87/100 (£5.99 Majestic, Stevens Garnier)

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Back to business

It's quite hard to adjust to late November London after spring in Kiwi land. The weather here seems miserably cold and it's awfully dark, although I did have a nice nature encounter yesterday - a hawk flew up from the ground just five feet in front of me, carrying a mouse. It alighted on a branch close by and then devoured the unlucky rodent. A beautiful bird, it seemed quite out of place in our urban setting.

The week ahead is a relatively quiet one. Tomorrow there's a masterclass on 'Brettanomyces: friend or foe' by Matt Thomson, and then on Thursday evening I'm doing a seminar for Women in wine on alcohol levels.

Then on Friday we're off for a family weekend away in the country, to celebrate a significant birthday for myself and my twin sister. Being a twin is odd: you have to share a space that most people have to themselves. And if you are both different sexes, is there an influence from your sex hormones on the other twin and vice versa? This could have all sorts of developmental effects, particularly with regards to brain development.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Gruner with and without added sulfur dioxide

Even 'natural' winemakers have to add stuff to wine - almost always. While wine pretty much makes itself without much in the way of additions, one chemical - sulfur dioxide - is pretty hard to do away with. It's almost universal use in wine is because it has the useful dual action of inhibiting the growth of unwanted microbes and preventing oxidation. There's quite a bit more to it than this, but the long and short of it is that if you try to make wine without sulfur dioxide additions, you run the risk of it being spoiled.

The two wines I'm drinking tonight are therefore of real interest. They're both Gruner Veltliners from the same producer and the same vineyard, but one was made conventionally, with normal sulfur dioxide addition, and the second without any. It's not a totally straight comparison because the vintages are different, but still it's interesting to see how the wines differ. I intend to ask Nikolaus Moser why he's trying to make wine without sulfur dioxide, and what he's hoping to gain from this approach, but first I wanted to try the wines. My verdict? They're both great wines, but completely different in style.

Sepp Moser Gruner Veltliner Schnabel 2006 Kremstal, Austria
A classic Gruner, this has a lovely peppery freshness with richer textural elements to the fruit. There's some bright minerality and fresh acidity on the palate, keeping this from being fat, and combined with the smooth, rich texture it makes for quite a compelling wine that should age nicely in bottle. Pure, refined and expressive. 91/100

Sepp Moser Gruner Veltliner Schnabel 'Minimal' 2005 Kremstal, Austria
This wine, made without any added sulfur dioxide, is pretty wild stuff. There's a hint of cloudiness to the yellow/golden colour. On the nose, spicy, slightly peppery fresh notes are combined with richer, toasty, vanilla, bready elements to create a warm, complex whole. The palate has really nice tangy, minerally acidity under the warm toasty, bready notes. There's also some tannic structure here, which is unusual in whites. Extremely food friendly and quite complex, with a pleasant sort of reductive character. Who knows how this will develop, but it's quite serious and thought provoking now. 92/100

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Saturday, November 17, 2007

Body clocks and Riesling

You can't cheat your body clock. No matter how savvy a traveller you think you are; no matter how many time zones you've flown through in the last decade; no matter how well you can rationalize the various issues surrounding the circadian clock and its resetting - when you've flown back from New Zealand to the UK you feel really bad, as I have been feeling today. It is more than just tiredness - it's a profound sense of unease with all sorts of endogenous rhythms out of sync. Since arriving in the UK at 6 am this morning, I've felt rubbish.

Still, there's wine. Right now, I'm drinking a really satisfying, affordable Riesling - Ernst Loosen's Blue Slate 2006 Mosel Saar Ruwer. It's a mass of grapefruit and lime freshness, with plenty of that indefinable character 'minerality', and just enough honey and melon sweetness to bring the wine to a delightful poise where all the flavours work in balance. At £7.99 from Somerfield this is a really good buy, and I'd recommend this to anyone as a textbook example of top quality Riesling, if they were wondering what all the fuss surrounding this variety was about.

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Friday, November 16, 2007

NZ (7) Waipara: a nice surprise

It turns out that the last segment of my short trip, added as a bit of an afterthought, turned out to be one of the most interesting and inspiring. What a country New Zealand is!

Let me explain the 'afterthought' comment. Just before I left the UK, I was playing around trying to get my internal flights matching up with my flight home. Nothing seemed to work, and I ended up with a flight into Christchurch at noon, and a flight out to Singapore at the same time the following day.

This gave me a chance to take a quick peek at Waipara, a region that's emerging as one of NZ's stars, with a particular reputation for Riesling and Pinot Noir. It's less than an hour's drive from Christchurch.

But who to visit? Where to stay? I had made a loose arrangment to pop in to Daniel Schuster Wines, at Omihi, and left the rest open. Then, on Monday, a couple of phonecalls from James Millton secured visits to Pyramid Valley Vineyards and Bell Hill, two estates I'd not come across before in the hills west of Waipara.

You know how it is at the end of trips. I was quite tired, I'd been all over the place, and I was thinking about home. My energy was in the wrong place. Yet this 'afterthought' day in Waipara were really inspiring, and provided a fitting finale to my trip.

I met with winemaker Nicholas Brown at Daniel Schuster Wines (http://www.danielschusterwines.com/). Immediately, just from looking at this vineyard (pictured above) I could tell that these guys were up to something different. Low-trained Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, closely spaced, on gentle slopes. The wines were full of old-world complexity, poise and interest. Biodynamics is being implemented here, in part.

I then headed off to Pyramid Valley (http://www.pyramidvalley.co.nz/), not knowing what to expect, other than hearing a few rave reviews and that they were biodynamic. But I had an incredible time with Mike and Claudia Weersing. Immediately, they offered dinner and a bed for the night, an incredibly generous offer. When I'm on the road I so much prefer staying in people's homes rather than in hotels. This gave us some time to spare. Mike took me to see the vineyards and gave me the most lucid, plausible explanation of terroir that I've yet heard, relating characteristics of specific sites to the wines they are making.

Mike is an American who trained in Burgundy, has worked making wine in the USA, France and New Zealand, and who had a very specific idea of what he was looking for in terms of a vineyard site: limestone over clay, on which he could fashion Burgundian-style Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. The vineyards he has established look fantastic, and the first wines from them - a pair of Pinot Noirs which are not yet released - are spellbinding.

My experience at Pyramid Valley was an incredible one, including a lovely dinner where we drank a 1990 Jadot Mazis-Chambertin that gained aromatic poise and weight in the glass, a 2006 Knoll Loibner GV Smaragd that was fresh, pure and peppery, and a 2006 Hirtzberger Weissburgunder that was quite beautiful. As well as Mike and Claudia's wines, of course.

This morning I had my rearranged appointment at Bell Hill (http://www.bellhill.co.nz/, pictured above), with Marcel Giesen and Sherwyn Veldhuizen. Like Mike and Claudia, they have a small hillside vineyard with perhaps a bit more lime and a bit less clay. It's run along a rather Burgundian model (Chardonnay and Pinot Noir are the focus, although there are a few Riesling vines on stakes on terraces).

We tasted the Bell Hill 2007s from barrel: deeply impressive, mineralic Chardonnay and structured but elegant Pinot Noir that is top-rank, and distinctly Burgundian. Beautiful wines, and a great way to finish my trip.

[I'm writing this from Changi Airport, where I have 5.5 hours to recover before the next leg. Free broadband internet access this time: I'm up on floor 3 near the business class lounges, which I think is the explanation. The contrast of the relaxed ease and warmth of Changi with the clamour and busyness of Heathrow is stark.]

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Wednesday, November 14, 2007

NZ (6) Gisborne and Hawkes Bay

Wellington Airport has free wifi access. How cool is that? I've been unable to blog for the last few days because I haven't had any internet access, but aside from that, I've hardly had a spare moment. So while I've got time (approximately 20 minutes until the next flight) and internet access, I'll try to give a brief update.

Leaving Marlborough on a gloriously sunny morning, I got on a tiny, tiny plane for a quick hop across to Wellington (the smaller the plane, the more fun flying is, I reckon) over the Cook Strait. I then flew to Napier, where I picked my hire car up, before heading off to Gisborne to see James Millton.

James had warned me that the 200 km journey was a tricky one, with winding roads, tight bends and lots of ups and downs. The 2.5 hour drive required a lot of concentration, but it was worth it, because the short time I spent at Millton was one of the best vineyard visits I've ever made. James runs his 28 hectares biodynamically, but this shouldn't be allowed to overshadow the fact that the wines he makes are quite brilliant, with a distinctive old world elegance and character.

We tasted, visited some vineyards, dug up some cows' horns, and I even got up at 0545 to see BD501 being mixed and sprayed. James and Annie were very hospitable, and I even had a chance to hit some golf balls and dip my toes in the Pacific (although not at the same time). James is pictured above with his special preparation stirring device.

Then it was back along the perilous highway 2 to Napier, the heart of the Hawkes Bay wine region. I arrived at the Craggy Range winery on the Gimblett Gravels (they also have a Cellar Door overlooked by the Te Mata Peak, where I was staying for a couple of nights in the vineyard cottage, which is a beautiful place to stay).

I tasted through the astonishingly good range of 06 reds, soon to be released Pinots, mind-blowing Syrahs and delightfully poised Rieslings. Craggy is on fire. That evening I crashed dinner with the board of Pinot Noir 2010, who were meeting at Craggy that day. Yesterday began with breakfast with Steve Smith, followed by a full day of appointments: Esk Valley, Sacred Hill, CJ Pask, Stonecroft and Trinity Hill. After the last appointment we had a beer and a glass of wine, before Warren Gibson invited me over to his beautiful rural home for dinner. The drive home proved a bit of a hit or miss affair (a combination of an inaccurate map, a tricky journey, darkness, and the fact that Hawkes Bay is a really easy region to get lost in), but I made it intact.

Today I'm off to Waipara, before heading off home from Christchurch tomorrow. This potted summary is a woefully inadequate, on the fly account, for which I apologise: as usual, the report in full will appear on the main site.

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Sunday, November 11, 2007

NZ (5) the Marlborough wine region

I've mentioned before how I think that visiting wine regions is important: you can taste as much as you like and read as much as you like, but it is only when you see where the wine comes from that it really clicks.

Over the last couple of days in Marlborough, this has certainly happened for me. There's so much to say, I don't really know where to start, but here's a woefully brief account.

Flying into Blenheim, you land right in the middle of the vineyards of the Wairau Valley plain: this is the heart of the wine region, and it's flat, with a sea of vines in all directions and not a lot else.

Five minutes after landed I had picked up my hire car, parked it, and was taken off by Damian Martin of Ara. Ara is an impressive new project: in a subregion of Marlborough some distance inland from Blenheim, Ara have started developing an enormous terrace of 1600 hectares. They've already put 400 hectares or so in, and they are tilting for the top. The vineyards are brilliantly run, with closer spacing than is normal for Marlborough, and a focus on Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir. Two wines have so far been released under the brand 'Composite', and more will follow. One to watch.

I spent the afternoon and evening with Damian - he invited me to his home (he has a French wife and three charming bilingual children) where we dined well on green lipped mussels (these are approximately four times larger than normal mussels, and are delicious) and salmon. We drank Ara wines, and finished with a beautiful Te Mata Coleraine 1998.

On Sunday morning I was up early to drive round the Wairau Valley taking pictures, before heading over to Montana's Brancott Winery. The vivid, startlingly intense sunlight was welcome after Saturday's leaden skies and biting wind. Katie Speakman, the Tour and Business Development Manager, drove me round the three main subregions of the district: the Awatare Valley, Wairau Valley and Raupaura. I learned a new word: hoon. Katie is with child, and needs her sleep, yet lives next door to some hoons who kept her awake all Friday night partying. Noise control confiscated their stereo system (again) but they just moved on next door... And I thought Blenheim was a sleepy rural town.

I lunched with Patrick Materman, who is the chief winemaker for Montana and the other brands that are made at the immense Brancott winery. We tried through quite a lot of wines, and had some fun discussions. Did you know that with 3000 tons of Pinot Noir passing through the winery here, this is perhaps the world's largest producer of this noble variety?

I left just before 4 pm, and headed out of town to Picton, some 25 kms away. This is where you catch the ferry to Wellington, and it is at the head of the Marlborough sounds. I took the Queen Charlotte Drive, a winding road through the sounds, with spectacular views all along. It was indescribably beautiful in the late afternoon sun - one of the world's great drives (am I getting carried away?).

After heading back into Blenheim, I wandered into town hoping to find something to eat. I opted for the Whalehaven restaurant, where I dined well, alone. Solitary dining can feel a little lonely, but I had a good book, a glass of Riesling and a couple of glasses of Pinot Noir, and had a thoroughly enjoyable time. I went to bed feeling immensely grateful.

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Friday, November 09, 2007

NZ (4)

After a successful conference on the way that the environment affects genetic vulnerability to disease, I'm now off to Blenheim, via Christchurch, to visit the important wine region of Marlborough.

Last night, Sir Michael Rutter, who is probably the UK's leading child psychiatrist, and who chaired our conference, kindly invited me and a couple of colleagues out to dinner. We went to a new restaurant on the waterfront at the back of the railway station, called Custom House. It was bright, airy and noisy (like many modern restaurants), but the food was excellent.

As often happens in these situations, I was asked to choose the wine - something I enjoy doing - and so I opted for the Wither Hills Sauvignon Blanc 2007 (which is a lovely Sauvignon) and the Rockburn Pinot Noir 2006 from Central Otago. This was really nice: aromatic, ripe, expressive, if perhaps just a little oaky at the moment - both bottles of this went down really well. It was a fun evening, tinged with a hint of sadness because this meeting will have been the last ever Novartis Foundation conference (the organization for which I have worked for the last 15 years, and which Mike is a trustee for; I'm aware this probably needs some more explanation for many people, and I'll do this in another post).

The gratuitous seal picture is from our excursion to the Otago peninsula the other day. Actually, my cetacean taxonomy isn't what it should be. It's possible that is one of the sea lions found on the peninsula, but I'm not able to tell the difference between this and a fur seal, although I'm guessing the former is bigger.


Thursday, November 08, 2007

NZ (3)

The time difference here is quite hard to get used to - it's actually 13 hours, which means that as I write this at 0815 on Friday, in the UK where I've recently called home it is 1915 on Thursday.
After a day sitting in a conference, last night we had a symposium dinner at the Vice Chancellor's Lodge, a rather grand residence overlooking the Otago Peninsula. The wines served were, once again, pretty good. I had Valli Pinot Noir 2006 from Bannockburn in Central Otago, which was very polished and quite elegant. I also tried a rich Dog Point Chardonnay, but didn't give it the attention it deserved.

Coincidentally, I had a good chat with one of the researchers who is working with a large population study here in Dunedin, and he has a PhD student working on PROP testing this group. PROP is a bitter tasting compound that some people can't taste, some people find mildly repellent and some people find utterly disgusting - there's a chapter dealing with this and the implications for wine tasting in my Wine Science book.

Anyway, with a bit of luck I should be able to find out my PROP taster status later today. The issue of individual differences in taste and smell perception is a really interesting one - it deserves more than just a blog post.

Also by way of coincidence, the previous evening, at a reception, I met a researcher who has been working with Dr Wendy Parr, a kiwi who has published extensively on sensory perception of wine. I need to go back and revisit her work.

Another day in the conference beckons today, and then tomorrow morning I'm off to Marlborough. I'm quite excited - it's always fun visiting a wine region you've heard a lot about, for the first time.

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Wednesday, November 07, 2007

NZ (2)

Of course, my first impressions of New Zealand were totally wrong. New Zealand totally rocks....man.

After the rather complicated journey to Auckland, by virtue of a couple of neatly connecting internal flights I arrived in Dunedin just an hour later than I should have (and Air NZ charged me just a modest $65 even though I'd missed my non-refundable, inflexible Christchurch to Dunedin flight). I did manage to lose my primary credit card along the way, but fortunately I carry two of them specifically for this reason.

I dumped my stuff and met a couple of colleagues for dinner, which was a jolly affair at a seafood restaurant, where we tried a couple of Central Otago wines - a Bald Hill Riesling (dry, very fruity and nicely intense) and a 2004 Gibbston Pinot Noir (expressive, bright, drinking nicely). On the way back from dinner we were amazed by the number of drunk students we encountered. Dunedin is full of them, it seems.

Yesterday was fun: after getting the preparation for the symposium out of the way by 11 am, I persuaded a colleague with a hire car to take us for a trip to the Otago Peninsula. We visited Taiaroa Head, which has a really important Albatross colony - unfortunately, you can't see them at the moment because they're choosing their new partners, or something like that (they only get to mate every other year), but it was very pretty. Then we went for a delightful hike through the Pyramids to Victory Beach, where we found a colony of seals lounging around on the rocks.

At the reception yesterday evening two very nice wines were served: a St Clair Sauvignon Blanc from Marlborough (sorry, can't remember the block number) that was really refined, and a Valli Pinot Noir from Central Otago, which was also refined and quite full bodied.

Aside: One thing I learned yesterday is that a real problem for agriculture in the region is a pest algal species called Didymo. Also known as 'rock snot', this is a diatom that has been invading waterways, and it causes real problems with irrigation equipment. Just thought I'd share this.


NZ (1) and some films

My first experience of New Zealand was not a good one. I arrived in Auckland airport around an hour ago (1pm local time), in persistent, heavy rain, temperatures of 12 C, and leaden grey skies.

I wasn’t even meant to be in Auckland. The journey so far has been a disaster. My Singapore Air flight was supposed to bring me in to Christchurch, from where I had a six hour gap (which would have given me a chance to head into town) before an internal flight to Dunedin. However, a three hour delay leaving London meant that the 1 hour connection in Singapore was missed, hence the detour to Auckland.

But it’s not turned out too badly. Through a combination of internal flights I’m going to be able to get into Dunedin just an hour late, and with just one extra payment of NZ$65, which is much better than I’d expected when we were stuck on the runway at Heathrow. Still, by the time I get there, I’ll have been on four planes without so much as an hour’s gap between any of them.

As usual, I’ve watched my fair quota of rubbish films. No Reservations is a really limp rom-com starring Catherine Zeta-Jones as a high-end chef. It’s got the sort of formulaic plot that’s typical of this genre, and I can’t believe I watched it till the end. (Why did I watch it in the first place? The food theme probably drew my attention.)

In a similar genre, but better because of some strong dialogue and sharp writing (although still flirting with the ‘why on earth did I watch that?’ category), was Knocked up. A high-flying girl has a bizarre one night stand with a total loser resulting in a child, and then, implausibly, they get together, work out their differences, and …you can guess what happens next.

Much more highly commended come another pair of films, neither of which have anything to do with Hollywood.

Eden is a German film (subtitled), again with a top chef as a theme. But where No Reservations is formulaic and shallow, Eden is clever, quirky and deep. Part drama, part black comedy, it tells the story of an elite chef and his platonic relationship with a sweet married woman, Eden, who finds his food utterly irresistible, even though she can resist his enormous, lardy body. The ending is a bit hollywoodish, I suppose, but I really enjoyed the central focus on food, and the way it is portrayed as having the potential to be a compelling force that binds two people together.

Moving continents, Brenda Blethyn delivers a really impressive, but painful-to-watch performance in Clubland. In this Australian film, she’s the source of much of the dysfunction in her family, where she just can’t seem to let her 21 year old son Tim live his own life.

Blethyn’s character is a hideous, pitiful individual, but she sort-of redeems herself in the film’s happy-ish ending. The happy ending in question does seem rather out of place, and smacks of amateurish, clumsy writing. Loose writing has been the bane of several of the Aussie films I’ve seen, just as it is with many British films. But I’d rather have averagely written interesting films than tight skilled writing applied to predictable Hollywood pap.


Sunday, November 04, 2007

Off to New Zealand

Flying out this evening with Singapore Airlines, arriving in Christchurch on Tuesday morning, which seems like a long time to be on planes. I'm hoping there will be some good films to watch, because I find it difficult to work on long haul flights. It's also kind of tricky using a laptop in economy class, because there just isn't the room to open the screen out. That reminds me - I'm also hoping that the person in front of me isn't one of those idiots who insists on reclining their seat to the maximum extent straight away.

First stop is Dunedin for a few days, where I'll be at the University editing a scientific conference on gene-environment interactions. Then it's wine all the way: Marlborough, Hawkes Bay, Gisborne and Wairapa. A bit of a lightning tour, but I'm looking forward to it very much.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

A biodynamic Sicilian amphora wine

Here's a wine that you might not 'get' of you just gave it a quick sniff and slurp in the middle of a large tasting. But once you give it a bit of time, and learn the story behind it, suddenly it all clicks, and it turns out to be almost profound. The importance of context...

Azienda Agricola Cos 'Pithos' 2006 Cerasuolo di Vittoria DOCG, Sicily
The story: two grape varieties - Nero d'Avola and Frappato - grown biodynamically and fermented in terracotta amphorae. No sulfur dioxide is used until bottling, so this wine is pretty 'natural'. Bottled in a beautiful squat, wide bottle. The nose has a haunting perfume, combining red fruits of great purity with fine minerally, spicy, earthy notes that frame the fruit quite precisely. Think of the aromatic profile of a great red Burgundy, warmed up a notch or two by the sun. It's the sort of nose you can keep returning to, and each time you attend you get something different. The palate is medium bodied and savoury, with an elegant earthiness. It has a spicy, subtly meaty complexion that makes me think of brettanomyces, but I feel stupid suggesting this, because it is hinting at a wine fault, when this wine is most certainly not faulty - it all pulls together to produce a profound result. But, at the same time, this is a relatively understated sort of wine that whispers, rather than shouts. The finish is long and dry. I think it's fantastic stuff, and I reckon this will develop nicely over the next 15 years or so, although it is drinking now. Strange to think, but that with its traditional elevage, this is a wine that could have been made 1000 or even 2000 years ago. 93/100 (Les Caves de Pyrene)

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Thursday, November 01, 2007

A bright Crozes-Hermitage

Tasting notes are fresher, I beleive, if you write them as you are drinking, and without thinking too carefully about what you are saying. There's something vibrant about sharing your perceptions in (close to) real time, as you are experiencing them. So here's tonight's tasting note on the fly.

Chapoutier Les Meysonniers Crozes-Hermitage 2005 Northern Rhone, France
Nicely packaged with the usual Chapoutier braille label and a good quality bottle. I have had mixed experiences with Chapoutier's wines over the last few years - they just haven't delivered that essence of northern Rhone Syrah that I'm looking for when I come to this region. This bottle sort of delivers, and I'm enjoying it. It has a fresh, savoury nose that's distinctly peppery with rather subdued dark fruits and a hint of greenness. The palate is midweight, showing more of those peppery dark fruits, good acidity, and mouth-drying, rather fearsome tannins. I like the fact that it's not tricked up, and that it is distinctly savoury. It's also showing good typicity. I just feel it could do with a touch more fruit intensity to balance those bold tannins. Still, a good food wine, and I'm happy to drink it. 88/100 (£11.49 Averys, Oddbins, BBR)

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More on Fake wine: Koch vs. Greenberg and Zachys

Those with an interest in the current ongoing counterfiet wine story should take a look at:


It's a copy of the lawsuit filed a few days ago by William Koch, detailing the purchases of wines he believes to be fakes that he was sold by individuals who he thinks knew that they were fakes.