jamie goode's wine blog: December 2007

Monday, December 31, 2007

Calm before the storm, and happy new year

I want to take this chance to wish all readers a happy new year. Let's hope that 2008 will be an interesting one, in the right sense.

We have 20 adults and 22 children descending on us tonight for a wild new year's eve party. I expect we will drink some wine, and even more beer. Catering for this many is quite a challenge - Fiona has cooked a really fantastic beef stew, into which went the balance of two decanters (these were mostly full) and a further bottle of red wine. One of the decanters had some rather good Bordeaux in it (a mistake).

I'm looking forward to next year, but I'm also a tiny bit apprehensive. There's no need to be, really, and fear can be pretty crippling if you let it affect your decision making. So, like a diver on a high board, I'm going to put those anxious thoughts behind me and take a jump into 2008...

Late night wine with the wineanorak, episode 3

Four more wines tasted: a German Riesling, a Douro red, a Priorat and a Chilean Gewurztraminer.

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Don't tell me the score...and other ramblings

I'm snatching a few moments online to update my blog, but in the process I'm anxious not to go anywhere near my usual online news sources where there's a danger I might see the football scores. This is because City were playing Liverpool this afternoon, and tonight I want to watch Match of The Day 2 without knowing the result...it makes it so much more exciting. Reminds me of the edisode of the Likely Lads (a BBC comedy from the early 1970s) where they try to avoid hearing the result of an England game (see here).

Today I had my first encounter with the Asus eee PC, which I've mentioned here before. It's a tiny thing - I think the technical term is a 'subnotebook' - that's cheap (£200) and amazingly fast to boot up, because it doesn't have a hard drive. I had a quick go on the keyboard, which seems functional enough. I made a few mistakes typing at normal speed, but I reckon you'd get used to it pretty fast, as long as you don't have big sausage fingers. I think I'd like one, just because it's so portable and convenient.
Had a nice walk at Virginia Water this afternoon with the kids and RTL. We met a Golden Poo - a cross between a Golden Retriever and a poodle. He looked like a hairier, larger version of RTL. Gorgeous dog, and with a scarily similar behaviour pattern to RTL (very playful, full of energy, likes jumping up...you get the picture).
Tried the Graillot today, and it was horrible. Went down the sink. Now what shall I drink tonight?

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Fizzy lunch and a Graillot

Continuing with our Christmas series of social engagements, today we had a really enjoyable family lunch with my parents and three siblings, plus my aunt, uncle and their kids, plus all the various sprogs. Quite a crowd in all, and it was good to see everyone. Cheerful mild chaos.

Brother-in-law Beavington was in good form and pulled out some magnums of Champagne - Drappier NV and Ruinart Blanc de Blancs. There's something special about drinking from magnum. As well as it being the best format for ageing wine, it just feels kind of generous and life-loving and a bit extravagant to be pouring a 1.5 litre bottle. The Ruinart Blanc de Blancs magnum, with its clear glass, looked particularly gorgeous (pictured above, on the table). The wine was really good, too.

At home this evening, I'm using the decanter again. The wine is Graillot's 1998 Crozes Hermitage. To be honest, I prefer Graillots Crozes to many Hermitages. They offer the essence of Northern Rhone Syrah, complete with edges and definition and personality. They can be quite challenging wines, though - the 1998 is an example of this. The last of nine bottles I purchased some time ago, this is still alive but was nicer a couple of years ago. There's high acidity, a bit of austerity on the palate, some green olive meaty notes and a bit of violetty perfume. The overall impression is a very savoury one, and I reckon this is definitely best with food, where it would excel with fatty meat, game, rich meaty stews or something a bit off-piste, like moussaka. A bottle that has been stored in pristine conditions might show a little better than this one, but I'd drink up soon if you have any. The most recent vintages of this wine that I've tried, the 2003, 2004 and 2005 have all been excellent.

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Describing wine, by non-wine nuts

Tonight we had some friends over who are not wine nuts. We drank some wine and they asked me what they 'should' be getting. So I turned the question around and asked them what they thought. It's always interesting to hear wine described by people who haven't got the baggage of a language for wine. In some ways, having a language for wine makes describing wine a lot easier. But it also causes problems: our descriptors can lead our perceptions, and can overshadow the actual sensations we are experiencing. It's nice to hear people say what they actually think about the wine. One person was uncannily accurate: faced with a Douro red (completely blind) he said it smelled of Port. He had no idea that Port comes from the Douro, or that he was tasting a Portuguese wine. Something must have just twigged.

Golf today was immense fun. It's a sad sport, yes - but I love playing it. In my first full round for two years I was pleased to play four of the holes in par! We played at the Duke's Meadow course in Richmond Park, which is quite long, but was in fabulous condition for this time of year.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

A brace of Portuguese reds

Two Portuguese reds this evening. Different regions - the Douro and Alentejo - but sharing the same rather elegant font face for the name on the label (was the same designer employed?). As an aside, over the last few days I've been decanting all the reds I've been drinking. It seems to have worked quite well, and it's something I might be doing more of. Must get an early night tonight: I'm playing golf first thing tomorrow.

Malhadinha Nova Monte da Peceguina 2006 Vinho Rehional Alentejano, Portugal
I'm enjoying this new wave Alentejo red, but there's just something about the finish that I'm not totally sure about. Deep coloured, it shows ripe, rather meaty but otherwise pure blackcurrant and raspberry fruit. It's really engaging, with good concentration. The palate has a nice freshness to it with - rather higher acidity than you might expect from such a ripe wine - and a finish that has a bit of a prickle to it. Is this a hint of Brettanomyces? It's really hard to say. But it stops what would otherwise be an excellent wine from being quite as good as it might have been. 89/100

Quinta Nova de Nossa Senhora do Carmo Grande Reserva 2005 Douro, Portugal
This is a concentrated, tight wound, rather classy Douro red with vibrant red and black fruits ensheathed by lots of creamy, vanilla new oak that adds a sweet sheen to the otherwise quite savoury, high acid character on the palate. There's a hint of austerity to the tannic structure, which, combined with the acidity gives a savouriness to the wine. An ambitious wine that may well develop in interesting ways, but at the moment the oak and the fruit aren't working completely in harmony. But what I do like is the aromatic plummy, herby character on the nose, that's almost Burgundian in poise. Maybe a day in the decanter might help. 90/100

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Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Some post-Christmas whites that work for me, baby!

Christmas has come and gone, and it was a very good one, Chez Goode. We've spent three days, now, doing the Christmas family thing of walks, meals, games, films and modest excess. I haven't blogged for a few days - I'd have been shot had I got my laptop out on Christmas day, and rightly so. [But I notice that Hugh at gaping void managed a Christmas day blog post, and typically thoughtful and insightful it is too.]

I wanted to take this chance to blog on two rather excellent, and very different, white wines. The first is an amazing dry Riesling; the second a seriously refined Australian Chardonnay.

Kofererhof Riesling Brixner Eisacktaler 2005 Sudtirol, Italy
This mountain wine is technically Italian, but I guess it is probably more Austrian in character. It's a thrilling, intense dry Riesling showing stunning limey, floral aromatics. The palate is mineralic, intense, complex and limey with multidimensional fruit characters, a long, dry finish and bold acidity. I think it's utterly beautiful and quite profound, but with its rather extreme personality, some might find it a bit much. 93/100 (Les Caves de Pyrene £14.25)

Tapanappa 'Etages' Tiers Vineyard Chardonnay 2006 Piccadilly Valley, Adelaide Hills, Australia
Fermented in 70% new oak (Vosges) where it stays for 10 months, and from a cool, dry vintage. This is a concentrated, extremely elegant, ageworthy Australian Chardonnay of real poise. It shows tight, complex, wonderfully lean lemony fruit with some brilliantly integrated fresh vanilla oak. There's massive extract on the palate, which has some minerality, but it avoids being at all rich, fat, or sweet, which immediately sets it apart from most Aussie Chardonnays. This is a wine that will likely develop brilliantly over the next decade: it's starting from an intense, tight-wound platform, which makes it a slightly challenging drink now on its own, without food. I think it's quite profound, and justifies the high price tag. 94/100 (UK retail c. £30, more info from david@lindsay-may.co.uk)

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Sunday, December 23, 2007

Three pre-Christmas wines I like

We're gearing up for Christmas in the Goode household. It's approached fast - indeed, this year has just zoomed by. And it feels a bit of an odd sort of Christmas, this year. Not in a bad way; just different. It could be that I'm facing a really important year in 2008, and this is playing on my mind. It could be that our family, which has seen its share of dysfunction (our boys are adopted, and had a very poor start to their lives, which has unfortunately set their emotional 'templates' a little askew), is actually beginning to work reasonably well. Whatever the reason, I'm looking forward more to the festive season this year than I have for some time.

On Friday afternoon we went to see a Christmas film at the wonderful IMAX cinema near Waterloo station. It was Polar Express in 3D, and if you have kids, I recommend it. The screen is fabulously large, and the sound system state of the art.

Then on Saturday it was time for a family winter picnic on Box Hill. We took RTL, of course, and half way round the walk set out our picnic rug, sat down, and had soup, bread, cheese and pate. The few passers by must have thought we were crazy, because it was mightly cold. But it was beautiful: there was a bit of mist in the air, along with some milky sunshine. Later in the afternoon I took elder son to the golf range, where there was a beautiful winter sunset. And I was really hitting the ball well.

Today we had friends round for what turned out to be a delightful Sunday lunch. We had some friends round last Sunday as well. It's good to be sociable, and friends are so much more rewarding than things, aren't they?

So, to some wines.

Cantina di Monteforte Soave Superiore Classico 2005 Italy
Made from 100% Garganega grapes by Kiwi Matt Thomson (he featured on this blog recently for a seminar he did on Brettanomyces). This is a really interesting wine, and it's relatively rare to be able to find an interesting wine for £7 these days. It's a richly flavoured white wine with a lovely minerally, herbal character, as well as richer melon/tropical fruits. There's depth, presence and richness here, but it's all in savoury balance. Fairly serious. 89/100 (£6.99 Waitrose)

Gemtree Vineyards Bloodstone Shiraz 2006 McLaren Vale, Australia
This screwcapped-sealed red is initially a bit dumb and simple on opening, but with several hours of air it begins to come to life. It's a rich Aussie Shiraz, but there's a bit more to it than just sweet fruit and oak. The nose shows attractive pepper spice, a hint of vanilla and bright, fresh raspberry and dark cherry fruit. The palate is fresh with nice tannic structure and vivid sweet red and black fruits. It's certainly a big wine that's sweetly fruited, but it doesn't descend into a sweet fruit mush - there's enough spicy, peppery freshness to act as a counter. The result is very appealing, but do give it time. 90/100 (£9.99 Oddbins)

Domaine Leon Barral Faugeres 'Jadis' 2002 Languedoc, France
Now for something a little different. This is a deliciously complex, funky Languedoc red that tastes a bit like a French version of Chateau Musar, the gloriously funky Lebanese red. If you approached this wine with a 'new world' mindset, you'd probably spit it out. But I think it's fantastic, because it really works, and it's tremendously food friendly. It has a warm, aromatic, spicy, meaty, earthy nose that's incredibly rich and inviting. The palate is rich and ripe, with meaty, earthy, savoury notes as well as sweet fruit. There's a slightly dry, subtly metallic finish, which is perhaps the only downside. I'd heartily recommend this wine, but be warned: it's on the funky side, and if you don't like your wines with a bit of funk, steer clear. 91/100 (£12.50 Les Caves de Pyrene)

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Friday, December 21, 2007

Ramblings on books and films

As the Christmas break approaches I'm starting to feel un-work-like, so my mind is drifting towards other things. I realize it's been a while since I did any amateur NWR book or film reviews. So here goes.

First, three books. Ian McEwan's Atonement is a good story, well written. It's one of those books where the prose is so rich that you want it to last a long time, and feel sad as you draw towards the close. From the cover, which features Hollywood stars, I gather a movie has been made of this - haven't seen it, though.

Khaled Hosseini's The Kite Runner is a book of two havles. It starts brilliantly. You really get a feel for what it must have been like to grow up in Afghanistan. But then it gets a bit silly, and starts reading like a bad John Grisham novel, with the author allowing himself just too many coincidences, and the pace just getting far too rapid. This is another book that has spawned a film. Haven't seen it, though.

Finally, Zadie Smith's On Beauty, which is funny, quite perceptive and brilliantly observed. The writing here is fantastic. The subject matter is original. It's a really good read.

Next, some movies.

The Painted Veil is a beautiful period piece -with teeth - set in China in the 1930s. It's based on the Somerset Maugham, and as well as being visually stunning, there are some strong acting performances. A hit.

Mitchell and Webb are comic geniuses, and their debut film Magicians is very,very funny. Another hit.

Finally, Die Hard 4.0 is a fun film if you are in the mood for it. Bruce Willis is very old now, but still indestructable. Fortunately, he manages to save the world (well, the USA, but isn't that the same thing?) from baddies. I enjoyed this.

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Thursday, December 20, 2007

The new Platter Guide and two South Africans

The new Platter Guide is out - the 2008 version. For those unfamiliar with this title, it's the pretty comprehensive annual guide to South African wines. It's a densely packed, information-rich tome that is a must-buy for any wine nuts with a strong interest in South African wines. It's not perfect, but it's hard to see how it could be much better.

In honour of its arrival, I opened two rather different South African reds, and then checked their entries in the Platter Guide.

Kloovenberg Shiraz 2005 Swartland, South Africa
At 15% alcohol, this is not a shy wine. While it's not aromatically overpowering, showing sweet lush fruit with a bit of a peppery, earthy edge, as well as a bit of meaty, olive-like character, the palate is full and sweetly fruited, with plummy bitterness allied with high alcohol on the finish. Despite the high alcohol, though, this isn't a wine made in an over-the-top dead fruit and new oak style. It's tilting towards fresh fruit and elegance, and I suspect that the heat is a result of a hot vintage. So judgement reserved a bit: I like it, but wish it had a bit more definition and lower alcohol. 87/100 (UK availability: Laithwaites)

Platter says: 4.5 stars (out of 5) - Northern Rhone-style red lacks some of the sophistication and harmony of previous wines in big 2005 (****) vintage. Very ripe and feshy, yet silky, with black olive notes, fynbos hints and fine tannins. Alcohol (15%) still a little disjointed. 2004 was elegant and seamless. [My comment - they seem to have nailed this one, although the scores are quite generous]

Rickety Bridge Winery Cabernet Sauvignon 2003 Franschoek, South Africa
A deep coloured wine that's spent a while in oak, this has a distinctly savoury, slightly medicinal old fashioned (but not unappealing) nose. It's meaty, slightly resinous, spicy and shows sweet dark fruits. The palate is concentrated and dense with prominent earthy, medicinal, spicy, tarry notes. Quite challenging and one for food. I'm not sure whether I really enjoy this old fashioned South African style very much. 82/100

Platter says: 3.5 stars - Harmonious 2002, more savoury, less overt berry character than previous, but food friendly, 30 months French oak, 25% new. [My comment - they haven't tried the 2003, but the fact that this spends so long in oak could explain its rather rustic, medicinal nature.]

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Tecchy bits

I've been thinking about how I can best integrate my online life. It's currently a bit 'bitty'. I have three different email accounts, two of which I use regularly, of which one currently copies into the other. The third is a gmail account which I'm thinking of making my primary one. Then there's facebook et al, which I check regularly, plus some blogs and online fora, as well as the usual news outlets.

Because I use multiple computers and am often on the road, the idea of being able to access my online life through a single portal is an appealing one. I've been having a look at www.netvibes.com, which seems to be a powerful and flexible way of doing this. It's really, really impressive. Does anyone reading have experience of this - or similar - solutions?


Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Some wines with Luis Antunes

Continuing my recent Portuguese theme, Luis Antunes came round for tea last night. He's an academic (home page here) at the University of Lisboa, and in his spare time he writes about wine for Revista Vinhos, Potugal's leading wine magazine. I first met Luis for real (i.e. other than online) at Dirk Niepoort's 40th celebration weekend in Porto back in 2004, and have subsequently rubbed shoulders with him in the Douro and Bordeaux. So we had a really fun evening of modest excess.

We began with some fizz. Champagne Perrier Jouet Belle Epoque 1999 is pretty serious stuff. I suppose it should be, retailing at £75 and coming in a beautiful painted bottle. It has a lovely expressive, Chardonnay-dominated complex nose that is toasty and lemony. The palate is crisp and toasty with delicious savoury, lemony complexity. Sylish and quite serious. 93/100

Then we had a look at the Tapanappa Whalebone Vineyard Cabernet Shiraz 2004 from Wrattonbully in South Australia. It's an elegant Aussie with sweet, smooth fruit. Some structure, too. This is still noticeably Australian, with its sweet fruit profile, but I think it will age well.

So, to Luis' bottle - a rare bottling from Alentejo producer Esporao.

Herdarde de Espor„o 2000 1o Prťmio do X Concurso Os Melhores Vinhos do Alentejo 2000 Alentejo, Portugal
This rare wine from Esporao has a sweet, aromatic, slightly volatile nose with sweet red fruits and a bit of tar. The palate is quite spicy with dense, rather sweet red fruits and good acidity. It's still fresh for a 2000, the volatility the only thing that gives its age away. Interesting but not great: I expect that this would have been very impressive a few years ago, made in a very fruit-forward modern style. 89/100

This is the stage where I dug out an old Portuguese bottle that I wasn't that hopeful about. I'd bought it for peanuts many years ago from a retailer in a bin-end sale, and it hadn't been terribly well stored since. But it proved to be a brilliant wine, ageing nicely.

Luis Pato Vinhas Velhas 1995 Bairrada, Portugal
60 year old Baga vines have made this wine, which was aged for 10 months in new oak. It's really fantastic now, 12 years on. It has an earthy, spicy, savoury red and black fruits nose which is quite stylish and aromatic. The palate is smooth with a nice spicy, earthy savouriness and still quite a bit of fruit. Quite fresh and drinking very well now, especially with food. 90/100

Then we hit some sweet stuff. A brilliant Tokaji. Every time I drink a Tokaji, I kick myself for not drinking them more frequently. For me, this was the wine of the night, although the Bairrada was the one that left the strongest impression just because it had aged so unexpectedly well.

Disnůk? Tokaji Aszķ 5 Puttonyos 1995 Tokaji, Hungary
Orange/gold colour. Complex, sweet marmalade, apricot and spice nose. The palate is complex and sweet with spice, vanilla, apricot, citrus and tea notes. Quite viscous and dense with lovely lively acidity. Fantastic, complex sweet wine. 94/100

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Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Tasting Portugal's best

Each year, a journalist gets asked to pick what they consider to be Portugal's 50 top wines, which are then used as the basis for a tasting held each February at the Portuguese Embassy. It's a popular event that's usually full to bursting. So far, Richard Mayson, Tim Atkin and Charles Metcalfe have done the honours; this year the job has fallen to Simon Woods.

Because he's an all-round nice chap, Simon invited a few of his journalist chums to join him in tasting through the pre-selection samples. It turns out I was the only one able to take up this generous offer, and so I spent an enjoyable few hours with him yesterday afternoon and this morning, steadily working through over a hundred wines from all the major Portuguese regions.

The wines turned out to be a little mixed. As you might expect, the Douro put in a strong showing, although I wonder whether 2005 is quite the vintage some people reckon it is. While the 2005s looked good at the New Douro tasting last month, they didn't look as good today. Perhaps just a little too warm in the Douro during the 2005 growing season?

The whites (from all regions) showed strongly. Yes, it was a small group, but Portuguese whites are getting better and better. However, the reds from Estremadura and Ribatejo struggled a bit. Some good wines, but no great ones. Many average bottles.

The selection from Dao was small but good, with the various wines from Alvaro Castro leading the way, followed by a couple from Sogrape. We had a few nice Bairrada wines, but all were labelled 'Beiras', rather than using the Bairrada appellation itself.

The Alentejo reds were pretty good in a ripe, modern style. Again, 2005 seems quite a warm vintage, in what is already a warm-climate region. As an aside, the Douro and Alentejo together account for the majority of Portugal's top wines, I reckon.

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Sunday, December 16, 2007

Not so humble humble red Burgundy

A fine way to cap a weekend is to open a bottle of red Burgundy. But only a relatively humble one - a Bourgogne Rouge. This humble bottle turns out to be more than respectable though. It's from Boisset's super-domaine, Domaine de la Vougerie, which was created in 1999 (for background the reader is directed to a typically good article by Bill Nanson).

Domaine de la Vougerie Bourgogne Pinot Noir 'Terres de Famille' 2004 Burgundy, France
Made from a blend of grapes from the Cotes du Beaune and Cotes de Nuits, this is a wine that punches above its weight. The grapes are destemmed and left without crushing in the cuve, to which no yeasts are added. It's not too dark in colour, which is often a good thing for Pinot. The nose has quite classic cherry, herb and earth characters, combining sweet fruit with more savoury notes. The palate has elegant sour cherry and herbs with some sweetness as well as a bit of savoury, earthy tannic structure. It's a very expressive, natural tasting wine that is drinking very well now. A brilliant, affordable expression of Pinot Noir from what was a difficult year in Burgundy. It would be interesting to put this into a blind tasting with some more esteemed peers. 89/100 (£12.95 Berry Bros & Rudd)

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Saturday, December 15, 2007

Saturday evening

Fiona and I are just back from one of our rare nights out. We went for drinks at a friend's house and then to a tapas joint in Twickenham. We worked out, to our horror, that this was our first night out since the Glenfiddich awards in May. It's a miracle that we're not divorced, several times. I guess this is the price you pay for having kids who are tough to babysit.

Apologies for the quadruple post of the Beefeater video - caused by Blogger's technical hitches. I post the video from blogger and nothing happens, so 24 h later I post again, and nothing happens. The process is repeated, and then suddenly all the videos are posted together. D'oh.

I'm feeling happy that City are back on a winning streak. City 4 Bolton 2...result. Up to fourth.

Just a quick wine note before I turn in for the night. Domaine de Nizas 2003 Coteaux du Languedoc (Great Western Wine) reminds me that the Languedoc is a region I have been neglecting a bit in recent months. [Along with Portugal.] It's a really good, lively, garrigue and wood spice flavoured red, with a fair bit of freshness.

Friday, December 14, 2007

More on the remarkable Di Barro Torrette...

Just revisiting the Di Barro Torrette Vallee d'Aoste Clos de Chateay Feuillet that I reported on yesterday, and I have to say, this is a remarkable wine. I need to talk some more about it.

I know scores are a bit silly, but yesterday I gave it 91 - today, I'd go higher.

The first thing this wine has is an incredibly elegant texture, but also the fact that it is really thick textured, without being at all heavy. When you pour it, it just looks different as it is poured. I'm probably not sounding clear, but it looks sort of viscous, and more like a smoothie. I think the wine has put on weight overnight, because as I sip it, there's an incredible richness of texture, even though this is not by any means a 'rich' sort of wine.

The palate is fresh and quite complex, with minerally, sappy undertones to the red fruits. I'm also getting the faintest hints of freshly turned earth. It's an incredible wine - a bit like a shy person, who you are a bit tempted to dismiss on first impressions, but when you get to know them you realize they are a really interesting, deep, beautiful human being.

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How gin is made: a film from the Beefeater distillery, London

A short, rather rough and ready film showing how gin is made...

This was filmed yesterday at the Beefeater distillery, near the Oval cricket ground in Kennington, South London. It's an interesting process. The rules stipulate that gin distilleries can't do the first distillation on site, so the spirit comes in, is put into tanks, and then mixed with botanicals before the second distillation.

It's the 'botanicals' that is the interesting bit about gin. In a way, gin production is a bit similar to the work of a perfumier. Juniper berries are one of the key components, but as you'll see from the film, there are a lot more, including coriander seed, seville orange peel, liquorice, almonds and lemon peel.

These botanicals are steeped in alcohol for 24 h, then distillation begins. The end result is then taken off to Scotland where it is diluted to the appropriate strength to make gin.


Thursday, December 13, 2007

Elegant Italian alpine wine

The Vallee d'Aoste (or Valle d'Aosta, depending on your linguistic bent) is an alpine region of Italy, on the borders with France and Switzerland, and it includes Europe's highest vineyards. (For some background to the wines of Valle d'Aosta, see here.)

This red wine, from the Torrette subregion, is understated, elegant and really compelling. I started drinking it from a Riedel Chianti glass, then moved to the Bordeaux glass, but quickly realized that there's only one glass for this wine - the Pinot Noir glass, which is what I'm now drinking it from. It's not made from Pinot, of course: as far as I can tell from a quick google, the varieties involved are Petit Rouge, Mayolet, Vien de Nus, Premetta and Cornalin. Petit Rouge predominates, and all I can find out about it is that it is somewhat similar to Gamay. That fits with this wine.

Di Barro Clos de Chateau Feuillet 2005 Torrette Vallee d'Aoste, Italy
This alpine red, from high altitude vineyards, is supremely elegant. The nose shows smooth, quite pure red fruits with a really subtle herby, sappy edge and a hint of sweetness. It's on the palate the wine excels, with ultra-smooth, elegant red fruits backed up by subtle herbiness and fine-grained tannins. It's a really pure, natural tasting wine of surprising concentration, despite it's rather understated personality - it doesn't force itself on you, but if you peek below the surface, there's some depth and seriousness waiting to show itself. Bottled elegance. 91/100 (Les Caves de Pyrene, c. £10 retail)

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Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Duvel's awesome triple hop

Look, I'm sorry. About all the beer-related posts on a wine blog. It's just that I'm driven by interest, and I want to report here whatever I think is worthy of a plug - and tonight's tipple, the Duvel Triple Hop Special Edition beer, is certainly worthy of that.

This is a Belgian beer brewed with three hops: Saaz Saaz, Styrian Golding and Amarillo. It's fantastically complex with myriad flavours: amazing citrus and spice aromatics; rich, honeyed, spicy, sweetly fruity palate; tangy, herbal, hoppy, nicely bitter finish that goes on for ages.

At 9.5% alcohol you don't want to swill pints of this - rather, treat it a bit like a wine. It's food friendly and can go with a wide range of dishes. A first-growth of beers.


Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Suicide cat

Pictured about midnight last night: Oswald, assuming RTL is asleep, comes in through the cat flap and begins tucking in (duh, read the bowl)... He's lucky. RTL is asleep upstairs and doesn't stir. But had she awoken, Ozzie would have been a dead cat walking.

Old timers here will know that Ozzie is actually a celebrity cat. I attach documentary evidence: we are not his first owners. Google the address! Perhaps we should sell him on ebay?


Monday, December 10, 2007

A really good, affordable Douro red

Respected Port house Quinta do Noval came relatively late to the Douro table wine revolution, but they arrived with a splash when they released their inaugural 2004 wines last year (see my earlier report here). Tonight I revisted one of these wines: the 2004 Cedro do Noval. It's just a really good wine, and if the Douro can make more wines of this sort of quality at this sort of price (retail = £10), then its future as one of the world's great wine-growing districts is assured. It tastes of the Douro, I reckon - although it's clearly an impossible (an undesirable) task imposing a single Douro style on all of its red wines.

Cedro do Noval 2004 Douro, Portugal
This Douro table wine is one of the best-value examples of this genre around, and I reckon it can compete effectively with many of its more expensive peers. The nose is complex with dark cherry fruit and some spicy, minerally depth. Itís ripe and sweet, but savoury and balanced at the same time. The palate has some savoury tannic structure, some ripe cherry fruit and a pleasant plummy bitterness. Good acidity keeps it fresh. An appealing, dense, savoury wine that displays some warm-climate ripeness allied with old-world savouriness. 91/100 (c. £10 retail)

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RTL update and more beer

I realize it's been a while since I gave you an update on our faithful hound, Rosie The Labradoodle. Of course, all the rulebooks say 'never blog on your pets', but I'm afraid I'm going to, anyway.

RTL has been with us a year. There are moments when we wish we'd never got her, but weighing up all the pros and cons, I think we're just about glad we did. She's like another member of the family.

She now barks less. We've been using a bark collar in the evenings - it's a device that gives her a blast of strong-smelling liquid (citronella) every time she gives a woof. I think you can get versions that deliver an electric shock, but that seems a bit cruel and excessive. As a result, she's got out of the habit of barking, which is a good thing, because there are few more stressful sounds than a barking dog. [Crying infants?]

She still wants to eat the cats. No progress there.

We've faithfully given her two long walks a day. This means every morning I have to get up at the crack of dawn, whatever the weather, and no matter how tired I'm feeling (usually very), to take her out. Change is normally something we aspire to but never quite pull off. RTL has forced on me a quite significant change in lifestyle.

She now looks more like a labradoodle and less like a golden retriever. Only yesterday a fellow labradoodle owner came over to me and asked, 'Is she a labradoodle? So is mine'. Having said this, most people just look puzzled when they meet her.

She now sleeps in our bedroom. Yes, I know: she shouldn't. But at least she sleeps, whereas before she was waking us up regularly at 4 am.

So back to drinks. Some more beers this weekend that I enjoyed. Worthingtons White Shield IPA is fresh and complex. Serious effort. Deuchars IPA from the Caledonian Brewery in Scotland is also fresh and complex, but it's an orange ale with a bit of malty richness to counter the hoppiness. Another serious effort. And Grolsch Weizen Premium is also a serious beer with a lovely citrussy freshness and floral aromatics. All three would be good with food.

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Saturday, December 08, 2007

Late night wine with the wineanorak, episode 2

Part three of my baby steps in video blogging: it's the second late night wine. I confess, this was filmed before I received all the helpful feedback for part 1, so expect part 3 when it comes to be improved.

Four wines are tasted:

Bouza Tannat 2004 Uruguay (£9.95 Great Western Wine)
Baron de Ley 7 Vinas Rioja Reserva 2001 Spain (£16.99 Tesco)
Jean-Claude Lapalu Brouilly 2005 Beaujolais, France (Les Caves de Pyrene)
Chateau La Vieille Cure Fronsac 2002 Bordeaux, France (£14.99 Tesco)

The book is George Taber's 'To Cork or Not To Cork: Tradition, Romance, Science, and the Battle for the Wine Bottle' published by Scribner

Friday, December 07, 2007

Heathcote Shiraz: regionality in Australia

Regionality is a bit of a theme in the new world, these days. People are recognizing that there are some sites that are just great for wine growing, which I guess fits in with the notion of terroir. In Australia, one of the buzz regions is Heathcote in Victoria (see here for an introduction to the region), which specializes in Shiraz wines with a real presence and freshness,

Tonight I'm drinking a Heathcote Shiraz with a real sense of place. It tastes like some of the other wines I've had from this region. The fact that, irrespective of winemaker, a certain place can produce wines that resemble each other, is something I find exciting.

Sanguine Estate Shiraz 2004 Heathcote, Australia
This is a really expressive Heathcote Shiraz with a sense of place. The nose is quite fresh with sweet dark fruits together with a bright peppery, meaty character. It's aromatically alive and fruit driven, with a really appealing, almost floral complexity. The palate is ripe, sweet and dekicious, but there's a lovely freshness to the dark fruits which prevents it from becoming over-the-top. It's definitely a warm climate wine, but it's also fresh and expressive, too. 92/100 (£16.95 Great Western Wine)

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The passing of a great

I reckon I was as shocked as most of my colleagues to hear of the very sad passing of one of the world's great sweet wine makers, Alois Kracher, who died this week of cancer at the horridly early age of 48. As my tribute to this visionary and talented wine grower, I'd point readers to a report I wrote on my visit to his winery and home back in 2004, on the occasion of the release of his stunning 2002 wines.

I remember when I first tasted Kracher's wines, with Noel Young pouring them at the London trade fair - it was the 1998s, if I recall correctly. I asked Noel how long he thought the wines would last for. Noel looked at me like I was a bit of an idiot (perhaps he's a good judge of character) and said 'longer than you and me'. Kracher may have gone, but his wines are still with us as his legacy, and there's every reason to expect that his son will continue the fantastic work he has begun.


Thursday, December 06, 2007

Some Chilean whites from Errazuriz

You know, I reckon that Chilean whites work better for me than Chilean reds at the moment. After a strenuous but hugely enjoyable game of football tonight, played on the new synthetic surface that England played Russia on a while back, I'm trying three Chilean whites from Errazuriz. And they're pretty good.

Errazuriz Single Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc 2007 Casablanca Valley, Chile
This is sourced from a block on the La Escultura estate, planted in 1992 with clones 242, 107 and Davis 1. 20% of the fruit (all hand harvested) was given 6 hour maceration with skins. It's nicely aromatic, with a fresh, slightly herby nose that shows good freshness and minerality, along with more tropical fruit richness. The palate is quite rich textured with lovely fruit sweetness giving it a rounded character (yet there's only 1.39 g/l residual sugar), along with good acidity contributing freshness. There are notes of grapefruit and herb, too. It's quite a concentrated and moderately complex Sauvignon of real appeal. A great buy at this price. 90/100 (£9.95 Berry Bros & Rudd http://www.bbr.com/, http://www.chileanwineclub.co.uk/)

Erazzuriz Estate Sauvignon Blanc 2007 Casablanca Valley, Chile
Again, a portion of the fruit here (24%) was given a 6 hour maceration to add body and aromatics to the wine. The wine has quite a zesty, citrussy nose with some fresh green herby notes and a bit of fruit richness. The palate is refreshing and quite crisp, but there's an appealing richness to the fruit, and a rounded character, too. Good concentration here, in a style that falls somewhere between the in-yer-face Marlborough (NZ) style and the more savoury Loire expression of this grape variety. 88/100 (£6.49 Oddbins, £7.99 Thresher, but three for two)

Errazuriz Estate Wild Ferment Chardonnay 2006 Casablanca Valley, Chile
I like the concept behind this wine. 'Wild Ferments' are those where cultured yeasts aren't added. What happens is that indigenous yeasts from the vineyard and winery environment begin the fermentation slowly, and then after a while the regular wine yeast, Saccharomyces cerevisiae, kicks in and finishes the job. Because of this, the wines that result (particularly the whites, in my experience) have added complexity of flavour, and a rather different mouthfeel. And here, with this Chardonnay, it works well. It has a warm, complex nose of butter, toast, herbs, vanilla and fruit spanning the spectrum from figs to lemons. The palate shows nice toasty complexity and nice fresh acidity, finishing long. Altogether, this is a thought-provoking, rich style of Chardonnay that may well improve with a couple of years in bottle. Good value for money. 90/100 (£9.99 Tesco; Sone, Vine and Sun; £11.95 Berry Bros & Rudd)

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A glitzy beer dinner

Last nightís Guild of Beer Writers awards dinner was a fun event. I didn't know what to expect, and felt a bit like I didnít belong. After all, Iím a wine writer with little more than an amateur interest in beer, although there are obvious parallels between what I do professionally Ė taste and evaluate an alcoholic beverage Ė and beer writing.

So I arrive at the Millennium Gloucester hotel and make my way up to the conservatory, where the event is being held. It looks like quite a smart event, and there are perhaps 200 people present. After grabbing a beer from one of the waistaff, I mingle, acutely aware that I know absolutely no one here: evidently, thereís not much overlap between the wine and beer writing communities.

I begin chatting to a random stranger, and then I spot some people I do know: Rupert Ponsonby, who does beer PR as well as wine (he invited me to the dinner), and Graham Holter, currently editorial director at William Reed who will soon be going freelance. I also get to chat with Zak Avery, an off-licence manager who writes an entertaining column in Off Licence News.

Then itís time for dinner. Our table is an entertaining one: thereís Rupert and his merry staff, plus drinks writer Johnny Goodall and another Rupert, Rupert Thompson who runs the Wychwood brewery. I learn quite a lot about beer from chatting to the two Ruperts, and I also learn that Johnny and I have something in common: we are both proud owners of Labradoodles. His is a seven-month old boy. Maybe we should get him together with Rosie, who is just beginning her second season. Johnny paid £800 for his doodle, and it was one of 12, so someone is making some cash here. It could be us.

Anyway, the food is prepared by Brian Turner and his team, and for each course Brian chooses a beer to match. Brian stands up and introduces the food and beer combos in his usual Yorkshire style. Heís quite entertaining, and the food is very good.

The beers work well. My favourite is the DeuS (yes, the final capital letter is intentional, not a typo). Itís a Belgian beer that is matured in the Champagne region Ė indeed, itís a methode Champenoise beer, which comes in a Champagne-style bottle. Itís complex, fresh, zingy and warm all at the same time. Itís 11.5% alcohol and is served in a Champagne glass, and comes with a Champagne-like price tag of £12 a bottle, but itís worth it. We also have a fantastic IPA named Jaipur, and the familiar but lovely Inns and Gunn oak aged beer.

The awards ceremony is mercifully brief and nicely compered, and then itís time for some more beer, before heading off into the night with a belly full of ale and a warm glow.


Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Tired today, but beer to come

I'm feeling sluggish today - a result of staying up late to watch two episodes of the entertaining but increasingly bizarre Spooks, and then being woken up early once again by younger son, who is slightly hyperactive and at age 10 has yet to develop the teenage habit of lying in.

Anyway, I need to shake it off because I'm going out to a dinner tonight, albeit one at which no wine will be served. [Gasps of horror....]

That's because it's the British Guild of Beer Writers Annual Dinner, at the Milennium Gloucester Hotel, at which we will enjoy a beer banquet devised by Brian Turner. I'm not a member of the BGBW, but have been invited as a guest. I do like beer, though, and have written about it occasionally - although I am not an expert, just an interested consumer. I have no idea how many people will be there, but I'm looking forward to it.

[Pictured is the view from my window about 20 minutes ago. I know it's probably a bit childish, but I still find rainbows very beautiful.]


Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Another video: biodynamics in action

I'm enjoying this video blogging thing. Here's another video. This time, I don't feature in it. It's a short film showing James Millton and his team at Millton Vineyards in Gisborne, New Zealand, preparing a biodynamic preparation, BD501. This is mixed in a particular way (dynamized), and then sprayed onto the vineyard. I had to get up at 0545 after a late wine dinner to film this, so I hope you think it's worth it! It was actually a beautiful morning, and I'm quite intruiged by biodynamics, so this wasn't too much of a hardship.

A brilliant, affordable red from the Loire

This is perhaps the best £4.99 wine I've ever had! I'm just amazed that Waitrose can list a wine of this quality, with a real sense of place, at a regular price of £4.99. If it were £8.99, I'd still think this was a good value wine. Look, it sounds like I'm exaggerating, but I'm not. And I didn't have just a sip at a big tasting (sometimes you can over- or underestimate a wine this way); I drank the bottle over two nights. I suspect that the excellent 2005 vintage is largely responsible for the over-delivery on quality.
Les NiviŤres 2005 Saumur, Loire
From Cave de Saumur. I love this wine. A varietal Cabernet Franc from a ripe vintage (13.5% alcohol), it has a nose of leafy, spicy, deep blackcurrant fruit with a distinctive minerality. The palate is quite dense, savoury and tannic with lovely fresh, pure, sappy raspberry and blackcurrant fruit, and a mouth-drying finish. Itís a really intense, food friendly sort of wine that captures the essence of Loire Valley reds brilliantly. This has so much character, it gets a surprisingly high rating from me for such an inexpensive wine. 90/100 (£4.99 Waitrose)

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Sunday, December 02, 2007

Two stunning whites: South Africa and Spain

Thanks for all the comments on the first video blog. Really useful feedback - and for free! I appreciate it.

Now tonight, two stunning white wines in rather different styles. Actually, these wines are almost (but not quite) polar opposites. Both really good, but really different. Which is one of the reasons I think the notion of a 'best' wine is a bit silly. It depends on the intended use or context.

The FMC Forrester Meinert Chenin 2006 Stellenbosch, South Africa
This is perhaps South Africaís finest expression of Chenin blanc. Itís a big old wine with a mighty flavour impact, and comes mainly from low-yielding old bush vines planted in 1967, which is my vintage. Harvested at full maturity, the grapes are treated to a wild-yeast fermentation in new French oak 400 litre barrels, using late harvested botrytised Chenin as a blending wine. Maturation on the lees ensues, with a total of 10 months in the barrel. 9.7 g/litre residual sugar. This is powerful, viscous and concentrated, with sweet vanilla, herb, honey and spice notes. Itís very broad and attractive with an almost sweet tropical fruit quality and some warm, sweet creamy depth. Not really in a Loire style, but really intense and interesting. 93/100 (Tesco, Waitrose, Great Western Wine £16.95)

Terras Gauda AlbariŮo 2006 O Rosal, Rias Baixas
This is utterly brilliant. It has a beautifully precise aromatic nose with perfumed, slightly herby, ripe melon and lemony fruit. The palate is deliciously fresh with light, subtly grapefruity citrussy fruit along with some richer ripe melon notes. Great balance here to create a thrilling white wine thatís a perfect match for seafood dishes. 93/100 (Les Caves de Pyrene)

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Saturday, December 01, 2007

Late night wine with the wineanorak, episode 1

Here's my first attempt at video blogging. Whaddya think? Go easy on me, I'm still learning...