jamie goode's wine blog: February 2008

Friday, February 29, 2008

Making the jump

Today was my last day of full-time employment. Because the organization is closing down, the atmosphere was a bit strange. We’ve lost a few people who have found jobs to go to, so the remaining staff consists of a couple of people who haven’t found anything else to do yet, me, and the three directors who are all retiring. The remnant also includes a small hospitality team, who are staying on for the time being pending decisions about what will happen to the Foundation’s assets, which includes a beautiful Portland Place house that is run as a hotel for scientists, as well as offices for the scientific program.

So it was only natural that today had a bit of sadness to it, coupled with a bit of panic concerning clearing out our stuff and disentangling all the non-work material from the computer and email system (actually, this was mainly on my part, because I’ve not been very good at keeping my ‘work’ work and 'wine' work separate, nor did I leave enough time to clear out my junk, including quite a few boxes of wine in the basement), coupled with a sense of anticipation about what the future holds. To mark the occasion we had some wine with lunch: a vibrantly berryish Carmen Cabernet Sauvignon from Chile’s Maipo, and an apple-and-spice flavoured Pinot Blanc from an Alsace producer whose name has flown my rather congested mind.

Leaving a workplace after many years in a job is a bit like packing for holiday. You know you can’t take everything (not easily—I’ve got literally scores of books, lots of wine, masses of papers, and gigabytes of documents on my PC), but it’s still hard to leave things behind or deleting them.

So here’s to the future…

Super southern French red

I feel bad. I've been neglecting the Languedoc a bit. I first really discovered it through Mike and Liz Berry's wonderful shop La Vigneronne, on Old Brompton Road in South Kensington (it's now Handford Wines). But for a few years I've not been following this dynamic region as closely as I should have been.

As I write, I'm drinking a really impressive Minervois. It encapsulates what is great about the best Languedoc reds: it's ripe without being jammy or soupy; it has freshness; there's non-fruit complexity; it's affordable.

Domaine Tour Trencavel Minervois 'Lo Cagarol' 2004 Languedoc, France
This is a tight, youthful, brooding effort that needs time to develop. After half-and-hour it's beginning to show its real personality: dark spicy, slightly earthy notes underpinning focused plum and blackberry fruit on the nose, leading to a savoury, mineralic palate with superb balance between the fruit and the slightly earthy structure. There's a real elegance here, and while it's a heady 14.5% alcohol, there's no impression of over-ripeness. The Carignan makes its presence felt here to good effect. 91/100 (£10.99 http://www.therealwineco.co.uk/; see also http://www.domaine-tour-trencavel.com/)


Thursday, February 28, 2008

Hello Dorking!

Just back from a 'gig' in Dorking tonight. It was a wine tasting I was hosting for St Paul's church as a favour to a friend, and it turned out to be a really enjoyable evening. I used a powerpoint presentation and got people tasting pretty soon in the evening; there were quite a few questions, which always helps keep things moving along. And the wines (below) showed pretty well.

Bizarrely, Mark and Ali Brookman, who were coordinating the evening, turned out to know my younger sister Hester pretty well. It's a small world...

The wines were (all from Majestic):

  • Lawson's Dry Hills Sauvignon Blanc 2007 Marlborough, New Zealand
  • Louis Latour Grand Ardèche Chardonnay 2005 Vin de Pays des Côteaux de l'Ardèche
  • Susana Balbo Crios Torrontes 2007 Argentina
  • Château Guiot 2006 Costières de Nîmes, France
  • Porcupine Ridge Syrah Viognier 2006 Western Cape, South Africa
  • Concha y Toro Winemaker's Lot Carmenère 'Puemo Lot 114' 2006 Colchagua Valley, Chile
  • Petit Verdot 'Par Preignes' 2005 Vin de Pays d'Oc, France
  • Catena Malbec 2006 Mendoza, Argentina

The star, for me, was the Winemaker's Lot Carmenere. I'm beginning to appreciate this variety, when it's ripe enough. This is a fabulously concentrated, intense wine, but the sweet never shows any sign of straying into soupiness. Instead, it develops this smooth, beguiling texture with an almost autumnal dark fruit quality, framed beautifully by a subtly chalky, minerally greenness that is subtle enough to be a positive feature. But the first place votes among the gathered crowd were spread pretty evenly across the wines, which I find strangely reassuring.

I got home quickly, despite being led on a strange, meandering route by the sat nav, which I'm still getting the hang of.

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Wednesday, February 27, 2008

SITT, Banrock and more

It's been a busy day - the sort of day where you know there isn't time to fit in everything you planned, but you still attempt to cram it all in.

I had to attend to some stuff in the office, and then I was off to Vinopolis for the SITT tasting. SITT stands for 'specialist importers trade tasting' - a relatively recent fixture in the calendar, it has deservedly grown in size and popularity. There were some fantastic wines being shown, and I didn't have enough time to do them all justice. I spent most of my time at just four tables: Genesis Wine, Richards Walford, Clark Foyster and Raymond Reynolds. There are loads more I'd liked to have loitered by.

It's hard to pick a favourite wine from such a diverse and excellent sampling, but nicest funky wine of the tasting goes to Stephane Tissot's Arbois Chardonnay Les Bruyeres 2005. It's a simply wonderful wine with herby, minerally, reductive, tangy, nutty fruit. Complex and a bit weird, but really alive and interesting. (Guide retail £15, Genesis Wines)

After the SITT, I had an appointment with Tony Sharley, who runs Banrock Station for Hardy. Based in Australia's Riverland region, Banrock Station is a combination of wetland and vineyard. It supplies but a small portion of what goes into the Banrock Station wines (there are 700 growers on Hardy's books, contributing grapes that are then assigned according to quality to the various Hardy brands), but it is important to Hardy because Banrock is an environmentally aware brand. We talked a lot about water issues, which are very important in drought-hit Australia.

Then I headed off to meet up with Sam Harrop. We've several projects on the go, including a potential publication on wine faults and also a book on natural wine. It's always quite energizing meeting with someone like Sam.

Just two days to go with the day-job, so lots of sorting out to do there. And I'm doing a tasting in Dorking tomorrow night.


High Street wine merchant Oddbins restructures

Oddbins, the UK high street retail chain, has a fond place in the hearts of many wine nuts. A good portion of my wine education in the early/mid-1990s came through spending a lot of time browsing the shelves of Oddbins and buying too much wine as a result.

In those days Oddbins was fantastic. It had an eclectic mix of wines, and the staff were invariably knowledgeable and enthusiastic. But a few years ago the chain began to falter. In 2001 parent company Seagram was sold to Diageo, who promptly sold Oddbins to Castel Frères Group, a French company who also own the Nicolas off-licence chain. The range became patchier and less exciting. The staff became disillusioned. And then Castel began changing Oddbins stores to Nicolas stores, which was bad news for wine lovers, because the Nicolas range is consistently disappointing and over-priced.

Now the news is that a restructure is planned. From March 2008 there will be four different styles of shops in the Castel portfolio:
Oddbins High Street (65 stores)
Nicolas High Street (65 stores)
Oddbins bulk and large retail units (47 stores)
Oddbins Suburban (51 units)

So far, 61 Oddbins stores have been converted to Nicolas, 61 disposed of, 31 new stores have opened and a further 21 are earmarked for disposal. That leaves 142 Oddbins branches.

The good news is that all the wines for Oddbins will be purchased by the UK buying team, with the exception of French wines that will be sourced in France. I live in hope that the team that do the buying for Nicolas will improve their game. There are loads of fantastic French wines - why don't they find their way into Nicolas and Oddbins?

Concha y Toro with Marcelo Papa

Just on my way back home from a dinner with a small group of journalists hosted by Concha y Toro winemaker Marcelo Papa. It was held at Le Cercle restaurant (Sloane Square), in a stunning private room that at one end overlooked the rest of the dining room a floor below. It was a stroke of genius on the part of the restaurant to put a private room in this position – you don't feel like you are separated off from the rest of the restaurant (which can happen with private rooms), but you still feel superior!

We tasted and drank through a range of the 2007 Casillero del Diablo wines, plus the latest wines from the more-upmarket Maycas de Limari range.

Now Concha y Toro is the largest Chilean wine producer. They sell 3 million cases of Casillero del Diablo wines worldwide. They also sell a huge quantity of the cheaper brands Frontera and Sunrise (which, incidentally, is one of the top 10 lines in Waitrose).

Of the big companies, I can't think of many who manage to combine these sorts of volumes with such admirable quality. The Casillero del Diablo wines are all really good. Yes, they are accessible and show quite sweet fruit profiles, but they taste of the grape varieties they are made of. And the Cabernet Sauvignon, Carmenere and Malbec are particularly impressive wines, punching well above their weight. The Pinot is good; the Shiraz is tasty in a sweet, new world style.

I'm a big fan of the Maycas de Limari wines. They're more expensive, at UK retail £10.99, but they justify the price tag. The Sauvignon is green and minerally, with a distinctive personality, but to my palate falls a little short of the excellent Chardonnay, which is amazingly fresh. The Syrah is probably the star of the range, with a lovely fresh, violetty, peppery nose that leads to a smooth, sweet palate. One of Chile's best. The Cabernet is full and bright with pure blackcurranty fruit.

What about the food at Le Cercle? Excellent - but the menu, consisting of 11 small courses, left me wanting a little less diversity and a little more focus. It's a bit like a wine tasting – sometimes you want lots of small samples of many different wines, but there comes a point where you just want a glass of wine to drink. Having said this, the kitchen put in a pretty flawless performance.

We ended the evening with a vigorous discussion of icon wines and the Berlin tasting. It was an enjoyable night.


Monday, February 25, 2008

Sainsbury's stock a £4.99 'no added sulphites' wine

I've just had a news piece published on the Decanter.com website about a really interesting wine that's hitting the shelves at UK supermarket Sainsbury next month. Priced at £4.99, it's an organic Cabernet Sauvignon from South Africa, made by Stellar Organics. You can read all about it in the Decanter article, but I thought I'd add some comments here, and a brief tasting note.

First, it's really difficult to make wine without adding sulphur dioxide at all. Few winemakers try, because the risks are so great. And those that do tend to be 'natural winemakers' who make niche wines in relatively small quantities. It's truly remarkable to see a £4.99 wine on supermarket shelves made without any sulphite additions.

Second, what is the benefit? It's unlikely that even asthmatics will have problems with the relatively low levels of sulphur dioxide added to today's wines, so I don't think we can talk about any real health benefits. So could there be a flavour/aroma benefit? Are wines without sulphur dioxide additions somehow purer and more elegant? Perhaps. I've had some that are; I've had others that are bretty or just plain weird.

This wine is really good, though. It's dark and intense with lovely purity of blackcurrant and blackberry fruit. There's a real aromatic precision here, and an openness to the flavours - is this due to the absence of added sulphur dioxide? It's hard to say. At this price point, £4.99, it's a wine that's punching well above its weight. I think it's quite delicious. I don't think you'd want to cellar it for too long, but for current consumption, it's lovely. As well as being organic, it's also a Fairtrade wine.

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MacBook Air or EeePC?

The new MacBook Air is a beautiful-looking piece of kit. I've yet to see one in the flesh, but from looking at the various online reviews and the promotional video, it is enough to induce techno-lust in even the most hardened PC advocate. (See another review here.)

It's designed for those who want something smaller and lighter than a conventional laptop for working on the go. So how does it compare with the EeePC, which is my current preferred solution for ultra-mobile computing? I guess they aren't designed to be competitors - but they do share a common role, as a secondary machine where portability is key.

The MacBook Air weighs in at just under 1.4 kilos, as opposed to the eeePCs 0.9 kilos.
The Air has a 13 inch screen; eeePC gives you just 7 inches, but this does make the eeePC smaller.
The Air looks very sexy; so does the eeePC, in its own sort of way. However, the Air will get you more of those jealous glances.
The Air is less robust than the eeePC because the eeePC doesn't have a hard disk.
The Air has a bigger keyboard and is therefore less fiddly than the eeePC.
The Air runs the Mac operating system, if you like that kind of thing; eeePC runs a version of Linux and all the software is open source.
The Air has one USB port; the eeePC has three.

But the clincher, in my view is this:
The Air is £1200; the eeePC is £200.


Sunday, February 24, 2008

A fantastic 'real' wine from the Jura

I love this wine. It's a red wine from the Jura region. Pale in colour, it's the antithesis of the big modern international style. We need more wines like this. But it's not just because of what it isn't that I like it - it has amazing qualities of its own. [As an aside, I've found when I'm judging that sometimes judges with old world palates go for new world wines that don't have any particular virtues, just because they aren't overblown, or oaky, or extracted. I think this is wrong, and I'm not praising this wine as a knee jerk reaction to big, sweet reds. I just like it a lot.]

Lucien Aviet (Caveau de Bacchus) Arbois Cuvee des Geologues 2002 Jura, France
Quite pale coloured. Brooding, earthy, subtly spicy nose which shows subtle cherryish fruit and a bit of undergrowth. It's all very elegant. The palate a savoury, earthy component to the supremely elegant, pure cherryish fruit, and there's a bit of tannic structure, too. Light, quite bright and rather intriguing, with a subtly green, sappy note in the background. Brilliant stuff: drink out of Burgundy glasses. 92/100 (Les Caves de Pyrene)

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Saturday, February 23, 2008

Organic, biodynamic and Californian

I've had mixed feelings in the past about the Bonterra wines, if I'm honest. I've enjoyed them without falling in love with them, and I have to admit to being slightly suspicious by the way that Brown Forman (the parent company) have seemed to over-play their organic hand. It just seems like there's a disconnect between big company/corporate marketing strategy and the generally smaller scale organic/biodynamic approach.

But I'm an open minded sort of guy (or, at least, I like to think I am), and so I judged these two wines as I saw them. The Viognier is fantastic, and good value at £10. The flagship biodynamic McNab is quite a serious effort, which I reckon will show brilliantly with a few years in the cellar.

Bonterra Vineyards Viognier 2006 North Coast, California
Organic. Wonderful aromatic Viognier nose showing apricot, peach, honey and lemon. The palate has appealing bright fruit with a nice rich texture. It's apricotty and fresh, with some vanilla. Good concentration: a lovely full flavoured dry white. I'm impressed. 90/100 (£9.99 Booths, Majestic [from May])

Bonterra The McNab 2003 Mendocino, California
A blend of 47% Merlot, 36% Cabernet Sauvignon and 17% Old Vine Petite Sirah. Initially fruity and a bit oaky, but after a short while this is beginning to show its true colours: there's some earthy, minerally, spicy depth to the ripe fruit. Quite elegant, albeit in a ripe style, with an attractive plummy savouriness. A stylish, well balanced, intense wine that finishes with firm tannic structure, suggesting it has some way to go. I reckon the oak will integrate well with a few more years in bottle, and this has great potential. It's almost like a serious, traditional Rioja in terms of flavour profile. 92/100 (£19.99 Vintage Roots)

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Thursday, February 21, 2008

The zoo, and fake wine

Took a day off, and took younger son to London Zoo, via a 2 hour stop at Hamleys (he *loves* trying everything out). I've not been to London Zoo since I was a kid, so I enjoyed the experience too. The reptile and amphibian bit was probably the most interesting for both of us. You do feel a bit sorry for the larger animals, who have been brought from (usually) warmer climes to London, where for four months each year it's grey and cold. It was a special day, and one I'll remember for a long time.

There have been some developments in the fake wine story that I blogged on some time ago. First of all, a new website, http://www.wineauthentication.com/, has been launched by a serious collector who wants to help stamp out wine fraud. It's worth taking the time registering for this (it's free), because it's an initiative that needs supporting, even if many of us are unlikely to have bottles in our collection that could justify the $249 photoauthentication fee. Decanter's excellent news site has also been following the twists and turns in the story very well (see e.g. this latest news article, which has links to other relevant pieces). In brief, the lawsuit against Hardy Rodenstock filed by William Koch was thrown out, but a few days ago Koch refiled an amended suit, and Russel Frye has settled out of court with retailer The Wine Library.


Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Working for free

One of the balancing acts you play is a freelancer is between the gigs you do for free versus the paying gigs. I had a busy day today, none of which directly earned me any money. That's OK - I can choose to accept or decline invitations. No one forces me. It's a balancing act.

This morning I was tasting at WSET for Wine and Spirit magazine. It was a tasting of 56 Carmeneres and 28 Pinot Noirs from Chile, organized by Jane Parkinson, one of the team at the Wines of Chile Awards in Santiago. Other journalists attended, including Beverley Blanning who was also one of the WOCA team. So a bit of a reunion. Tasting 84 wines conscientiously is quite hard work, and it took until after 2pm.

Then I trogged off to Flat White, a Kiwi coffee shop in Soho to meet with fellow wine blogger Robert McIntosh, who is busy organizing a European wine bloggers conference for the end of August. We had an interesting discussion, and the Flat White is a very fine coffee experience.

I had a short while after this to finish my presentation for this evening's talk at the Science Museum's Smith Centre, which was a wine tasting combined with a presentation on wine science. A really interesting group of patrons were present (if I had some money spare I'd love to give some to the science museum, who do some excellent work), and the evening went very well. The wines I poured, each designed to fit with a wine science theme, were as follows:

Yes, they're all from Waitrose, but this is just because I had to select from a single retailer, and they had some very good options. The Musar was the most popular! It was a really enjoyable evening - I'm quite lucky that standing in front of a group of people doesn't worry me, and I enjoy the evening just as much as if I was a punter. So I think this is something I shall do more of. Pictured is a set of ivory anatomical figures dating back to the 17th and 18th centuries, currently on display at the Smith Centre.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Lunch at Bentleys with Craggy's Steve Smith

I'm slightly worried that readers will get the impression that most of my days consist of a long lunch, with some wine. That's quite unfair, although, of late, this may have been more common than it used to be.

Anyway, today I lunched at Bentley's (see http://www.bentleys.org/) with Steve Smith MW of Craggy Range, along with a handful of other journalists. It was a low key, rather jolly affair.

The food was fantastic. I had stuffed squid and then pheasant with foie gras, both of which were perfectly executed. The wines were Craggy's Te Muna Sauvignon Blanc 2006 and 2005 Block 14 Syrah. They're both lovely wines. Te Muna is all about texture - a rich but still-fresh Sauvignon that's a great food wine, and Block 14 is dark and peppery, with restrained richness.

We had some discussion of naturalness in wine. Steve mentioned how NZ studies showed the efficacy of using a white cloth under the vines to reflect sunlight back onto the bunches of developing grapes. 'But I don't like laying down left-over petroleum product in vineyards', he added. So instead he's been using osyter shells which reflect light and also add some calcium to the soils. It's a more natural solution.

We talked about wine additions. He doesn't see too much of a problem with chaptalization. 'But I have a huge issue with adding tannin', he mentioned, 'which changes the structure of the wine. There's also a big debate about reverse osmosis. 'I would have no issue with using it on juice to remove water after rains', says Steve, 'but I would have a big issue with altering the wine after fermentation, or using it to reduce alcohol'.

We could have discussed these issues all afternoon, stretching into the evening. But unfortunately Steve had to leave for a photoshoot. In a florist's. The man's a rock star!

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Monday, February 18, 2008

Lunch at Portal

Today, I had lunch at Portal, London's leading Portuguese restaurant. I was there to interview owner Antonio Correia (above), who established the restaurant in St John Street three years ago. I'll publish the interview elsewhere; for now you'll have to make do with a brief restaurant review.

The ambience is great, with stylish decor and great use of natural light. The food is fantastic. I had a brilliant octopus carpaccio with squid ink and potato foam, red pepper sauce for starters (pictured) and the followed this up with black pork loin with deep fried potatoes, coriander, parsley and a tomato sauce. The flavours were great; the food was visually very appealing; the service was flawless. The wine list is 70% Portuguese and this is where you want to hunt, because Antonio is a Portuguese wine expert and puts a lot of effort into this. By the glass selection is quite good (but could be a bit broader) - I had a glass of the Quinta do Portal Reserva 2003, which was really nice.

Overall, a very positive experience.

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Monday morning bits and pieces

It's been a really enjoyable weekend. We haven't done a great deal, but it's just been easy, and fun. Not all our weekends are like this.

One of the contributing factors has been the fantastic crisp, cold, bright weather. The quality of light makes a big difference for me: even the moderately scabby Feltham skyline looks fantastic in bright sunlight. And the countryside looks fantastic. It's really uplifting.

On Saturday morning I took older son and RTL for a walk at Bedfont Lakes Country Park. Then I gave my mother-in-law a lift to the airport, and then I took younger son to Staines for a spot of chav watching (and some shopping). Back in time to take RTL for her second walk of the day; we get the kids to bed and eat together.

Yesterday followed a similar pattern - a couple of good walks, including a really enjoyable wander around Virginia Water (pictured), as well as a traditional family-style Sunday lunch featuring a free range chicken. Last week we had a free range organic chicken that cost £9 - the Aston Martin DB5 of chickens. Talking of Aston Martins, in the evening I watched Casino Royale with the boys. I'd not seen it before, and I was quite impressed with Daniel Craig.

Several wines made an appearance over the weekend, including a nicely complex Domaine Chandon Vintage 2002 - one of the bestAussie sparkling wines I've tried - and also a reticent, savoury Yalumba Organic Shiraz 2006 (£7.99 Waitrose), which emerged from its reductive shell on the second day to show supple, midweight plummy fruit.


Sunday, February 17, 2008

I love NZ Pinot Noir!

Most wine nuts have a Pinot Noir epiphany. They start off wondering why peope make such a fuss about this variety - it's not a grape that makes big, heavy, intense wines (remember, size tends to impess newbies). Then, some way into their journey of exploration they suddenly 'get' Pinot Noir, and fall in love with it. But even then Pinot Noir is a bit like an unreliable lover - you suffer a lot of pain along the way, although the occasional highs make you persevere through the trouble.

The first Pinot Noir that really got me hooked on this variety was a New Zealand Pinot - I think it was from Palliser Estate. Since then, I've found New Zealand to be the most reliable source of delicious, elegant, complex Pinot Noir. Burgundy, of course, makes the greatest expressions of this grape, but it's just all to easy to spend £30 on a red Burgundy that just tastes simple, or square, or ungenerous, or inelegant.

For the last couple of days I've been drinking a fantastic Kiwi Pinot. Now I'm getting to the stage where I'm starting to get regionality in NZ Pinot Noir. Marlborough, Martinborough, Waipara and Central Otago all have distinctive regional characters to their Pinots, which are hard to explain, but which I might have a chance of getting right tasting the wines blind (or maybe not...). This Pinot is from Marlborough, and has that vibrant, slightly sappy berryish character that Marlborough Pinots share. It's a really great wine - not cheap at £17, but good value nonetheless.

Blind River Pinot Noir 2006 Marlborough, New Zealand
Hand harvested from the Awatare Valley, small batch processing with indigenous yeasts and maturation in French oak. This has a lovely perfume: aromatic cherry/berry/raspberry fruit with some dark spiciness and a bit of sappiness. There's a liqueur-like purity here. The palate is sweetly fruited with lovely purity and smoothness. A bit of plummy bitterness adds contrast. An impressive Pinot Noir of real poise. 92/100 (£17.99 Oddbins)

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Friday, February 15, 2008

Nice lunch, cold rugby and sherry

So we had a nice lunch today. It was a small affair - a sort of unofficial farewell do. As I mentioned in my blog a couple of days ago, the place where I've been working as I've been developing my wine career is closing down, and we are being made redundant. My boss treated our small department of four to lunch at his club, the Atheneum.

The Ath is a remarkable institution - a club predominantly for distinguished intellectuals from the arts and sciences. We had a very enjoyable lunch in a lovely setting, washed down with the house claret, which is a delicious Cru Bourgeois Bordeaux from 2001. This wine, selling in the restaurant at £17, is utterly delicious: savoury, intense, a bit gravelly, with great balance and poise. This is what you want from a good claret. No wonder the majority of wine sales here are this particular wine, because it is just so well chosen.

This evening I spent three of the coldest ever hours of my life watching elder son play rugby. It was a tournament at London Irish, and it was utterly freezing. His team got hammered. They looked about half the size of some of the others. At this age group, U12, there is a remarkable diversity of sizes and developmental stages: some of the kids looked almost adult-sized. Fortunately, elder son's team didn't make it past the five group games so I was home by 21:15.

I'm currently sipping some more of the fantastic Hidalgo Oloroso Viejo I mentioned last week. With sherry and madeira, nothing beats time. When I get my life more in order, I'll try to make sure I always have great sherry or madeira on the go at all times. What a nice thought!

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Thursday, February 14, 2008

DRC 2005

The new release tasting of DRC's iconic Burgundies is one of the most eagerly anticipated dates in the wine calendar. It's not every day you get to taste wines like these. I'm not sure of the prices yet, but expect the top wine, the Romanee-Conti, to be over £1000 per bottle on release (and even at this price, you'll have to join a very long queue).

So I popped into Corney & Barrow this morning to try the 2005s. A lot of familiar faces were there, including the triumverate of Neal Martin, Bill Nanson and Linden Wilkie (who made a whole morning out of it, sitting down, taking extensive notes, trying the wines, sitting down, chatting and so on). I also saw Tim Atkin, Natasha Hughes, Anthony Rose, Harry Gill, Serena Sutcliffe and Jasper Morris (who at one point dropped his glasses into a spitoon as he bent over too far).

My report on the wines is posted on the main site here. You can compare my notes with those of Eric Asimov of the NY Times, who also tasted the wines recently here.

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Wednesday, February 13, 2008

A celebratory blind fizz

Got a sizeable cheque today. I felt a bit sad banking it, though, because it was my redundancy payment from what has become known in the Goode household as the 'day job'. As many readers will probably already know, for the last 15 years I've been working as a science editor, and as my interest in wine has grown, a parallel career has developed - wine writing. It was getting to the stage that I couldn't keep both going, and because wine is my passion, the science editing had to give. The fact that the organization I've been working for is closing down and my post is now redundant has helped me in my decision-making process (!!), and so from the end of this month I'll be able to give wine the time it deserves - expect to see this site improve in terms of content. I'm a bit sad to say goodbye to science, though, and I hope there's a way I can still have some involvement with the scientific community.

So, having banked the cheque, it was time for a modest celebration. Fiona surprised me with a blind fizz. I thought it was something pretty serious and fresh, but didn't get much further than that. It's not cheap, but it's really impressive.

Champagne Devaux Ultra D
'Ultra' refers to the fact that this fizz is bottled without a dosage - the 8-10 g of sugar that is typically added to fizz just before bottling to bring it into balance. It's fantastic stuff. Delicate, elegant, refined fresh lemony toasty nose. The palate is bright and elegant with good acidity and great balance. It's dry but not at all austere, even without the dosage. Just has great natural balance, which is what you want from a non-dosage fizz. A light, elegant style. 91/100 (£34.95 toastchampagne.co.uk, Harrods, Liberty Wines - contact info@dillonmorral.com for further information)


A lovely Viognier

Very impressed by tonight's wine, a Viognier from the South of France. It wasn't so long ago that Viognier was a rarity. Now it seems everyone is growing it, especially in the Languedoc. Growing Viognier is one thing; doing it well is another matter - but Anna and Jorge Maslakiewicz seem to have got it just right. Their success has come by skill and hard work: they identified the style they wanted to make, took great care in the vineyard and cellar, and then benchmarked their wine against other Viogniers until they were sure they'd got it right. The results are impressive.

Domaine St Ferreol Viognier 2006 Vin de Pays d'Oc, France
Lovely stuff. Beautifully aromatic nose with tangerine peel, apricot, honey and vanilla notes. The palate has a lovely texture and great balance, with bright fruit, a hint of sweetness and a rich texture. Rich but not too rich, this is the qualitative equal of a good Condrieu. 90/100 (Not available in the UK yet; 6 Euros ex-cellar price)
Added later: it is now available in the UK from The Flying Corkscrew, Le Caviste, Bertrand & Nicholas, Leon Stolarski Fine Wines - priced £9.95 or therabouts

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Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Biodynamic wine from Montalcino

Very interesting wine tonight, after a day that started off foggy and opaque, but which ended up bright and sunny.

It's a biodynamic wine from Sesti, a Brunello producer, which is full of interest. It's not a wine that everyone will 'get', but if you like savoury, food-friendly reds with some personality, this could be for you.

Sesti Buona Fede Rosso di Montalcino 2002 Tuscany, Italy
100% Sangiovese from Brunello, this is a cherry red colour with a brick red rim. Lovely warm spicy nose with a savoury, earthy, slightly mushroomy tang. The palate is very savoury and a bit funky with complex, evolved spicy, earthy flavours and a hint of medicine. It's really expressive and a bit old fashioned (in a good way), and I really like it. Finishes with good acidity and a bit of tannic grip. A great food wine. 89/100 (£9.95 available from new internet wine merchant http://www.fromvineyardsdirect.com/)

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Monday, February 11, 2008

RTL almost in trouble and good cheap Pinot

The gloriously warm but worryingly aseasonal weather continues here in London. I'm enjoying my early morning dog walks because the light is just so wonderful. However, today's walk was quite difficult because now RTL is fully in season, and walking her is proving to be fraught with male danger. She ran after a brown labrador and started engaging in some vigorous play, but eventually I rescued her from peril and got her back on her lead. Ten minutes later I let her off the lead again, and she took one guilty look at me before haring off in the other direction. Fortunately, the male lab was long gone.

Then, shortly after, a bulky bull terrier spotted her and attempted a quick hump. His aim was off, though. This was fortunate, because a labradoodle crossed with a bull terrier would spawn rather strange and terrifying offspring.

Tonight's tipple is an affordable Pinot Noir. It's not the world's greatest ever wine, but it tastes like Pinot and costs less than a fiver, which is some sort of miracle. It shows attractive savoury cherry and herb fruit with a fresh sappy edge. Refreshing and bright. It's the Canaletto Pinot Noir 2006 from Pavia, Italy, and it is £4.99 from Tesco. It's actually rather good, and I'm enjoying drinking it, which I can't say for many wines in this price bracket.

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Sunday, February 10, 2008

This is not a football blog, a cracking affordable aussie, and a film

This is not a football blog. Therefore I shall say very little about today's Manchester derby, except that City were good value for their win over United. I'm also thrilled that the City fans respected the minute's silence. Vassell, Benjani, you beauties.

The wine tonight is one that surprised me. I don't expect a great deal for a sub-£6 Australian red, but this wine over-delivered. It was bright, fresh, a bit meaty, a bit peppery and very tasty.

Stamford Brook Shiraz Viognier 2006 South AustraliaMade for Sainsbury by Angoves. Lovely fresh sweet dark fruits nose with a bit of pepper and some meaty richness. Really focused and appealing. The palate is pure, peppery and bright with great balance. It’s not at all confected or soupy. For the price, this is really good: as well as sweet fruit, there’s a fantastic savouriness and a bit of old world peppery Syrah character that I really like. Delicious. 88/100 (£5.99 Sainsbury’s)

Finally, a film. We saw Atonement last night, after having read the book. The film was very true to Ian McEwan's novel, but the ending in the film is less ambiguous than that in the book. If anything, the film is clearer and better integrated, although you miss out on the delicious, rich, complex writing style of McEwan. It's really worth seeing - James McEvoy is simply fantastic, as he was in the Last King of Scotland.

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Saturday, February 09, 2008

NZ Sauvignon Blanc: Sacred Hill on form

It's easy to take NZ Sauvignon Blanc for granted. But we shouldn't forget that 25 years ago Marlborough didn't really exist - we also shouldn't forget the revolution in the world of wine that NZ Sauvignon has caused. Its impact has been huge.

Tonight I'm drinking a good-un - it's from Sacred Hill, one of the Hawkes Bay wineries I visited in November. This Sauvignon is actually from Marlborough, though, and it treads the ripeness/greenness tightrope well. Tony Bish, the chief winemaker (pictured), has forged a wine that balances riper tropical fruit notes with fresher, grassier ones, to make an intense, full-flavoured, fresh white wine with real appeal. Good value for £7.99 from both Morrisons and Tesco.

As an aside, it has been another glorious, spring-like day in London. We headed out to the Surrey Hills to do a circular route taking in Holmbury Hill, stopping at a pub for a pint of London Pride and picnicking in the woods on soup and bread. It's one of my favourite walks, and on a day like today, it's hard to beat.

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Friday, February 08, 2008

Chile movies: helicopter ride over the Andes

I'm just beginning to sort out all the material I collected on my Chile trip, which includes words, videos and pictures. Here's a short film of the helicopter ride we had over the Andes from Santiago. We stopped down for lunch in a spectacular mountain refuge.

An award

Last night was the Portuguese wine awards dinner at the Embassador's residence, and after the Ferrero Rochers (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4P-nZZkQqTc) were served the prizes were announced. I was delighted and surprised to win the journalism award. Alas, you don't get a cheque, but you do get a nicely framed certificate and an engraved Riedel decanter (I got some strange looks carrying this home on the tube...). You also get to choose the Top 50 Portuguese wines for the following year, something which I'm really looking forward to.


Thursday, February 07, 2008

Almost spring, Portugal and a suit and tie

It has been a lovely bright, warm day here in London. Almost spring-like, in fact - although worryingly early in the year for a spring day. There's something wonderful about living in a place that has four seasons, although I would like summer to be a little longer...

Today I attended the top 50 Portuguese wines tasting. I tasted a selection; I'd already been through these wines with Simon Woods, when he was making his final pick. They were showing very well, and perhaps the stand-out for me was the rather minimalistically labelled 'J' 2005 from the Douro. If you can get past the oddness of the name, then this is a really super, fresh, concentrated Douro red from Jorge Moreira (of Poeira) that is well worth its £17 retail price.

Another wine that stood out - with a retail price exactly double that of 'J' - is Quinta do Noval 2004. Sweetly aromatic, elegant, and yet still tasting of the Douro.

I've been wearing a suit and tie today, for the Portuguese dinner tonight (there's a dress code; it's at the embassy), and for an appointment I have soon in a posh club (which also has a dress code). The effect has been amazing. People have come up to me in astonishment, remarking on how smart I look. The level of reaction suggests to me that I must dress very badly the rest of the time. I have also noticed that when you are wearing a suit you get treated differently in shops.


Wednesday, February 06, 2008

A serious sherry: Hidalgo Oloroso Viejo

Today I attended a sherry tasting at the offices of William Reed, in Crawley, for Drinks International magazine. It was quite civilized - we were just looking at 23 wines, a mixture of Finos and Olorosos.

You can learn a lot from a tasting like this. The finos were all quite different, with a few showing marked reduction, which I've never come across in sherry before. The Olorosos were, on the whole, quite lovely. We had four rather special very old Olorosos, each with an average age of at least 30 years. One of them I'm sipping now, my favourite wine of the tasting.

Hidalgo Oloroso Viejo VORS, Sherry
Made from wines with an average age of greater than 30 years, this oloroso is something special. It's so complex and thought-provoking that writing a note is quite hard. Still, I'll try. An orange/brown colour, it has a complex, almost Madeira-like nose of warm casky notes and lifted, waxy, citrus fruit. The overall impression is one of combined depth and freshness. The palate is super-complex, with lively, citrussy acidity and warm, tight-knit spicy, woody notes. There's some old furniture, too. It's immensely concentrated and the finish is almost eternal. Not cheap, at £52 from Berry Bros & Rudd here, but this is quite a profound wine. 95/100

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Tuesday, February 05, 2008

My column has grown!

Some good news. I've been asked to grow my Sunday Express column from five wines a week to seven. It means more work, but it also allows me to get more wines into the paper. Pictured is last Sunday's set of recommendations, which was the first of the expanded columns.

The wines? Churchill Estates 2005 Douro (£8.99 Majestic); Mont Tauch Fitou 2005 Languedoc, France (£3.98 Asda); Douglas Green Cabernet Sauvignon 2005 Paarl, South Africa (£4.99 Sainsbury, Waitrose); Babich Gimblett Gravels Syrah 2004 Hawkes Bay, New Zealand (£7.99 Tesco); Wild Rock Gravel Pit Red Merlot Malbec 2005 Hawkes Bay, New Zealand (£9.99 Waitrose); Fairtrade Shiraz 2007 Curico, Chile (£5.49 M&S); and Spy Mountain Pinot Noir 2006 Marlborough, New Zealand (£9.99 Majestic, £15.98 for two).

Monday, February 04, 2008

Wild Honey with Hannes Sabathi

I met with young Austrian winemaker Hannes Sabathi (pictured) today for lunch.

The venue was Wild Honey (newly Michelin starred) in St George Street. It's simply fantastic: some of the best food I've had in a long time - my slow-roasted pork belly, served with a remarkable risotto, containing chorizo among other things, was close to perfect. Hannes had a gorgeous looking medium-rare roast of veal. My creme brulee to finish with truly was perfect. The ambience is good too. The only thing that let it down a bit was the patchy service: at one point we were presented with someone else's desserts, and it took an age to see sight of the wines that Hannes had bought with him.

Indeed, the restaurant seemed very confused by the whole process of bringing wines along, even though this had been negotiated at the time of booking. In the end we got them, and remarkably they didn't charge us any corkage.

So, how were Hannes' wines? Not yet 28, and running the family winery, he seems to be doing a brilliant job. The winery is in Sudsteiermark (Southern Styria), which specializes in Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc, Chardonnay and Muskateller. The Klassik wines are precise and fresh, while the Single Vineyard wines have real personality and depth, allied to a minerally precision. There's also a reserve line, and the two Sauvignon Reserves I tried, 2003 and 2006, are among the best expressions of this grape I've yet to experience.

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Sunday, February 03, 2008

More city stuff...sorry!

In what I promise will be the last footy post for a long time (unless we win the Manchester derby next Sunday), just a few pictures from today's stadium tour. Some prawn-sandwichy seats (in the directors area); me and Rob in the tunnel; and the pitch with some of the same photosynthesis lights that I saw at the Emirates on Thursday (City still have the same pitch that was laid a few years back when the stadium opened - UTD have to re-lay theirs during each season).


Blind tasting at home, and a bretty Rioja

As I've mentioned here before, I often do blind tastings at home where I let Fiona select at random from the sample rack and then present me a few wines double-blind. It's a really useful educational experience, although you could argue it's not truly double-blind, because I have some idea of what wines are sitting there (usually around 250 different bottles).

Tonight's two are detailed below. I'm reproducing the notes I made as they were made, and then adding some brief comments made after the wine was revealed.

Wine 1. White. Fresh, spritzy and vibrant. A youthful white with zippy acidity and a spritz. Light, dry and a bit mineralic. There's a touch of herbaceous methoxypyrazine character. I think it's a youthful warm climate Sauvignon Blanc. Price guessing: £5. [It's the Flagstone 'The Berrio' Sauvignon Blanc 2007 Elim, South Africa. Tasting it sighted, I think I was a bit unfair calling this a £5 wine, or is this just the sight of the label speaking? It's quite refined and very refreshing, but there's a strong cool-climate feel here: it reminds me a bit of some of the Leyda Sauvignons I tried in Chile.]

Wine 2. Very deep coloured red/black. Rich, dark fruit here: quite weighty with a tarry edge to the dark fruits, together with just a hint of rubberiness. It's ripe and powerful, with black fruits showing some evolution. There's some oak and a hint of mint. Tastes quite expensive, and it has some evolution. It doesn't taste Australian, but it's new world. Chilean? I reckon a high-end Chilean Cabernet-based wine. Price £15. It's quite attractive; almost Bordeaux like in places. [It's the Santa Rita Triple C 1999 Maipo, Chile. Tasting it sighted, a bit later, this does have a lovely evolved aromatic presence that has a bit of a minerally, gravelly, tarry Bordeaux finesse. The palate is nice but doesn't quite match that - there's a hint of bitterness on the finish. Interestingly, this is more than half Cabernet Franc. It's quite a serious effort, actually. I'm pleasantly surprised.]

Interestingly, the Faustino VII Rioja Semi Crianza 2005 Spain (£5.99 Co-op) I opened earlier is remarkable, in that it's a widely available commercial brand, but it's stuffed full of (what my palate takes to be) Brettanomyces. It's worth trying if you haven't experienced a bretty wine before, I reckon.

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Saturday, February 02, 2008

In Manchester with the mighty blues!

I'm in Manchester with my chum Rob. We've been to see City play Arsenal at the City of Manchester stadium, which is one of the most impressive football venues you can imagine [I am heavily biased, of course]. City played OK-ish; Arsenal played very well - the result, 3-1 to Arsenal, flattered them slightly - their first goal was soft, their third came when we were chasing hard in the final minutes. I have to admit that Arsenal are a great side, and City could really do with a striker like the awesome Adebayour.

It was an early start to get here, though, for a 1245 kick-off time. And that was after a heavy Friday night out with the school dads in Twickenham. We started out at the White Swan (three pints of Tribute), proceeded to the Barmy Arms (a Bombardier and a London Pride) before finishing off at the Eel Pie for a final pint. At this stage I had to bail out while the others went off for a curry. This is what happens when old blokes who don't get out very often are let out for the night.

So we got to Manchester in good time, went to the stadium and parked without any hassle. Because the COMS is located on an old brownfield industrial site, there's loads of parking. It's a really well thought out stadium and copes pretty painlessly with 48000 crowds.

Rob and I are staying over, making a bit of a weekend of it (indeed, this match was a present from our respective spouses, which was very kind of them). We're staying in the Radisson Edwardian, which used to be the Free Trade Hall. It's pretty central, and an excellent place to stay, with a great spa.

We decided to grab some food and watch a film. We ate at Wagamamas, and it was good food - simple and fresh and with plenty of flavour. Then we watched a remarkable, unusual film - Cloverfield. It's about huge, wantonly destructive aliens who invade Manhattan (why always Manhattan?), but it's entirely shot as faux camcorder footage later recovered from the scene. As a result, it's incredibly jerky (there were wet patches on the floor of the cinema where they'd cleared vomit up from people who'd experienced motion sickness), but it has a really greast sense of realism. I really enjoyed it - it was silly, a bit scary, and quite fun.

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