jamie goode's wine blog: March 2008

Monday, March 31, 2008


Spent an interesting day down at the Gaymer Cider Company in Shepton Mallet, Somerset. The goal was to learn a bit more about cider. Now cider isn't wine, but it does have quite a lot in common with it. For a start, there are different varieties of cider apple, and the same variety grown in different places will produce ciders that taste different. Cider can be made in lots of different ways, but at its simplest, it is the juice of crushed apples that is then fermented to dryness by yeasts.

The Gaymer Cider Company is not small. It's the second biggest cider company in the UK, and is part of the Constellation drinks portfolio. But the ciders I tried today were all pretty good, and even the more commercial products have a lot going for them. I guess it is like the wine world: there's no reason why large brands can't coexist with small, artisanal producers, and some of the big companies are better at doing big brands than others. Gaymers are launching a new county series, with ciders from Devon and Somerset. I particularly like the Somerset cider, which is dry and complex - and potentially food friendly.

I spent some time with the head cidermaker Bob Cork, who fed me plenty of seriously technical information and answered my rather geeky questions very well. You may be interested to learn that you can get brettanomyces in cider, and that there's a bacterial problem in some 'rustic' ciders which involves rope-like growth of filament-forming bacteria. Mercaptans and sulfides can also be a problem in cider. I was left wanting to learn more, and eager to begin exploring a range of different ciders, armed with some new knowledge about how the stuff is made.


Sunday, March 30, 2008

Wines at home, from Argentina

Digging around on my sample racks recovered three Argentinean wines that I felt like trying. Two inexpensive reds were successful, offering great value for money. And a more expensive Chardonnay proved a fine match for a Spanish tortilla served with garlic prawns.

Aside: after a dismally damp day on Saturday, we had a taste of spring today. I spent a few luxurious hours pottering in the garden, doing some tidying up and planting. This year I'm determined that our garden should be pretty and productive.

Fuzion Shiraz Malbec 2007 Mendoza, Argentina
From Familia Zucchardi. Sweet, pure, ripe berry and black fruits dominate here, and there are some autumnal, foresty flavours, too. There's a hint of sweetness, but the dominant feature is the attractive pure fruit. Over-delivers for the price. Just 13% alcohol, too. 83/100 (£3.99 Somerfield)

Finca Flichman Reserva Shiraz 2006 Mendoza, Argentina
A dark, spicy, slightly meaty wine with lovely fruit intensity. This is joined by a subtle roast coffee edge, perhaps from the oak. There's some grippy structure on the palate which adds savouriness: I reckon this is a style best with food. Some substance here. 86/100 (£5.99 Waitrose, Stevens Garnier)
Terrazas Reserva Chardonnay 2006 Mendoza, Argentina
From high vineyards, at 1200 m altitude. This initially strikes me as very ripe, with tropical fruit, honey and vanilla to the fore. It's smooth, nutty and rich-textured, but there's also a brightness to the fruit, with some citrussy notes. It's a rounded, well integrated sort of wine of real appeal, although some might prefer their Chardonnays to have a bit more in the way of 'edges' and contrast between the various flavours. I like the way it is so 'together'. 89/100 (£10.99 Harvey Nichols)

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Saturday, March 29, 2008

Some Argentina pics

Just got back from Argentina this morning. Flight from Mendoza was delayed, so we were very tight for time making the connection with our London-bound flight that left from the international airport at Buenos Aires. This is where I was supposed to pick up my missing bag, so it was a little concerning. Fortunately the disappearing bag was safely located lying on the floor of the BA office behind the check-in desk. I was delighted to be reunited with it!

A few pics from the trip. Above, harvest at O Fournier; below, the difference between low and high-yielding Malbec.

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Thursday, March 27, 2008

More on Argentina

In a rare gap in the itinerary (an hour free before dinner), I now have a chance to blog a little more on my first impressions of Argentina. These will be just a series of bullet points, I'm afraid - I am too tired to attempt anything grander.

1. The meat here really is great, and there's a lot of it. We have eaten very well. I have probably over-eaten. You just have to.

2. Mendoza is not how I expected it to be. Prior to this visit, I'd read a lot about the effects of altitude, and how being in the foothills of the Andes was so important to moderate temperature effects. As a result, I expected the vineyards to be on slopes. But they aren't. There's such a slow gradation in altitude that the vineyards look like they are on huge, flat plateaus. Some of them are really big.

3. The quality of the wines we have experienced has been very high. We have only visited a few producers, but I now have a list of perhaps a dozen wines that I have felt to be truly world class. That's really encouraging.

4. Whites lag behind reds. I don't mind Torrontes, but it's not my favourite variety. The Terrazas Reserva Chardonnay is pretty good, and the Catena Alta Chardonnay is lovely; we also had a very impressive Dona Paula Sauvignon Blanc today. But it's the Malbecs, the red blends, and the Cabernets that excel here.

5. Of all the really good wines we have tried so far, our afternoon visit to Achaval Ferrer confirmed to me what I suspected from previous tastings: these are stunningly elegant expressions of Malbec. Mind you, the Catena Adrianna is up there (it's fantastic) and the top Terrazas wine isn't far off.

I think my sore throat is improving - last night I thought I was going to die, although dinner at a really smart tapas place in Mendoza (The Winery) revived me a bit. Fortunately this bug that is attacking my throat has left my nose alone: it would be horrible to travel all this way and then not be able to taste the wine.

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Post from the road

Quick post from the road:

Argentina has been great fun so far. It hasn't been straightforward, though. First, my luggage disappeared somewhere between London and Mendoza (the latest is that they have found it and it is waiting for me in Buenos Aires, so I will have to pick it up on the way home). As a result, I was left with the clothes I was standing up in, so I have had to resort to wearing various items of winery clothing. Unfortunately, wineries rarely sell branded socks or underpants. Hmmm, lovely.

I have also had a really sore throat, making it painful to swallow and speak. But the vineyards, wineries and wines have been great, and I even got to ride a horse in Cheval dos Andes.

Wineries visited so far include Cheval dos Andes, Fournier and Catena (we saw the Adrianna high altitude vineyard, which makes a stunning Malbec). Today we will be visiting Terrazas, Dona Paula and Achaval Ferrer.

I have a new pair of boxers and some new socks to wear today, which I purchased last night on the way to dinner, so I don't smell as much.

Oh, and British Airways business class rocks. More soon...


Monday, March 24, 2008

A good weekend

It has been a really fun Easter weekend, despite the appalling weather. It was great to have my parents staying, and the family gathering yesterday was really enjoyable. I worry sometimes that the image of the Goode family lifestyle presented on this blog is far too wine-centric; while we did have a great blind tasting session yesterday, it was in the context of an extended family lunch, with an easter egg hunt (above) and spoof talent show (below, my two sisters and father enjoying the action).

I'm getting picked up by a cab in 30 minutes for my BA flight to Buenos Aires. The good news is that it's business class, which makes long haul flying much more bearable. I shouldn't get too used to it, though, because not all press trips are like this.
Anyway, I don't want to make too many assumptions about technology, but the next blog post should be coming from a sunnier part of the world...

Three blind Sauvignons, and off to Argentina

Later on today I depart wintry old London for a quick trip to Argentina. It's my first time to this increasingly interesting wine country. I'll be based in Mendoza, and will be seeing some of the top producers. Forgive my childish enthusiasm, but I find visiting wine regions very exciting still. If ever it becomes a chore, I'll stop writing about wine.

Yesterday, we headed over to brother-in-law Beavingtons for some lunch, but perhaps more importantly a spot of blind tasting. Devoted readers of this blog will remember that last time we did this he served me some of his Justerini & Brooks cellar plan wines, which he'd just removed from bond without being aware of their current market value - so we enjoyed Bruno Clair Corton Charlie and Le Dome.

This time the tasting was in three parts. First some Sauvignons, then a couple of Champagnes I'd brought along, then three reds, finishing up with a couple of dessert wines. I'll start with the Sauvignons. Notes as written, with no tidying up later.

Wine 1 (Jackson Estate Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2006)
Quite refined. A Sauvignon Blanc with some subtlety and minerality. Finishes crisp. It's delicious and could be either a Sancerre or a stylish New World Sauvignon Blanc. Guess the price at £9.99. 88/100

Wine 2 (Montana Brancott Sauvignon Blanc 2007 Marlborough)
Full grassy green nose. Green pepper here: very assertive. Powerful, herby, tangy palate with real weight and freshness. A new world Sauvignon Blanc. 87/100 Guess price at £7.99

Wine 3 (Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc 2007 Marlborough)
A powerful, intense, fresh Sauvignon Blanc combining rich tropical friut notes with high acidity. Assertive and crisp. Concentrated style with lots of impact. A stylish new world Sauvignon Blanc. There's a bit of tomato leaf, too. Precision and power. 89/100 Guess price at £9.99

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Saturday, March 22, 2008

Some Languedoc wines and an evil cork

Impromptu tasting of some Languedoc/Roussillon wines, after another bitterly cold day - on which it even snowed here in London, although a little half-heartedly. Pictured is the view outside the front of our house at about 4 pm. This is the reason God created the southern hemisphere, where I am escaping to on Monday.

Just a note on the evil cork (pictured above). It was sealing one of the Languedoc wines, a £2.99 AOC Minervois from Lidl. Now this Lidl wine was actually relatively sound and drinkable, but for a subtle streak of mustiness which I assume is TCA and its related compounds. In other words, cork taint. If you mash up bits of cork and stick them together, there's a very high chance that you end up with low level taint in almost all of them. If, say, one in 20 or one in 30 corks is tainted to above-threshold levels with TCA, then imagine the effect of dispersing this taint among all your corks. It's just a barmy decision to use cheap agglos like this, especially now there are many alternatives at a similar sort of price. Utterly evil.

Anyway, a mixed sort of bag of Languedoc/Roussillon reds on show tonight (partly because of a dodgy vintage, 2002, in the mix), although my enthusiasm for the two neighbouring regions continues. Here are my notes.

Mont Tauch Les Douze Fitou 2006 Languedoc, France
Gently herby, spicy nose with supple red fruit character. Palate is midweight with a nice combination of sweet fruit and spiciness. It's not a blockbuster, but it's nicely savoury. Likeable. 86/100 (£6.49 Majestic)
Les Hauts de Forca Real Cotes du Roussillon Villages 2003 France
Quite a dark, dense wine with a meaty, earthy edge to the super-ripe black fruits. Big, ripe, but savoury too, and not imbalanced. Rich, earthy, spicy, tannic palate is very bold, and showing a bit of Brettanomyces character, but in a rich wine like this it works quite well, making a full flavoured, attractively savoury wine. 90/100 (£10.99 http://www.therealwineco.co.uk/)
Abbotts Cumulus 2002 Minervois, France
100% Syrah matured in 40% new American oak, 20% old American oak and 40% in old French oak. Indeed, the dominant feature here is the sweet cocount and vanillla of oak lactones, which threaten to dominate the supple spicy fruit. It's tasty enough if you like oak - in fact, it tastes a bit like a new wave Rioja. I can see that there's a big market for this sort of wine, but it's not for me. 84/100 (£5.99 Averys)
Mas de l'Ecriture 'Les Pensees' 2002 Coteaux du Languedoc, France
A tricky vintage for Pascal Fulla's Mas de l'Ecriture, which is one of the Languedoc's star properties. Treat this like Burgundy, and open and decant, serving from a Burgundy glass. There's some earthy, spicy complexity on the nose with a hint of undergrowth. The palate is dense with sweet red fruits and some firm tannins. There's a distinctive earthy character. Drink soon-ish. 88/100

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Friday, March 21, 2008

Prosecco isn't Champagne

I can't believe it's Easter. It has come very early this year, and instead of nice warm springtime weather, it has been freezing, with a biting wind. Despite the weather, though, I've had a couple of nice walks - this morning in Richmond Park (my favourite dog walking location at the moment, especially now that RTL has stopped mauling joggers and young children), and then this afternoon in Osterley Park (pictured).

My parents are staying for the weekend, so tonight I enlisted their help in an impromptu tasting for my Sunday Express column, where I have been given the topic of Prosecco for April 27th. We tried six examples, ranging from one that's currently in Lidl at £2.49 (a bit cidery, but - miraculously - drinkable) to a Sainsbury Taste the Difference Prosecco di Conegliano (which was quite nice and apricotty). Too few samples to draw a firm conclusion, but my impression is that Prosecco is a useful situation wine but it's rarely serious. And I don't like it all that much. Having said this, I'll wager that some readers know of biodynamic artisanal Prosecco producers who make seriously funky unsulfured wines...
Question: when RTL dies, shall I turn her into a jumper? (Only in Newcastle!)

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Thursday, March 20, 2008

57 varieties of rose Champagne

Spent the morning tasting rose Champagnes blind. 57 of them were lined up for a Wine & Spirit tasting held at the WSET, and it proved a rather demanding session. The problem with these sorts of blind tastings is that it's really hard to keep your concentration at the right level for the duration, and also that your palate can become quite fatigued.

But, providing you can stay in the zone (as David Williams clearly is above) and give your mouth the odd break, tasting lots of the same sort of wine like this in a blind format is quite illuminating. You get to spot subtle differences between the wines that you might miss if you just had one or two bottles in front of you. You get a broad-brush perspective of the category. And not having sight of the label can prevent those subtle biases that we're all prone to. There are weaknesses with this format, too, but those are its strengths.

The 57 wines were a mixed bag. Perhaps half a dozen were unpleasant, and another half a dozen were exceptional, but then there was a big cluster of very good but not world-beating wines in the middle. Interesting to see the range of colours, too - again, some were quite dark pink, most were salmon pink, and then there were a few that had hardly any colour at all. I'll get the names of the wines together with my notes in a few days, so I can write them up here.


Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Crazy French wines at Lords

France Under One Roof is the title of a large annual tasting held here in the UK, the 2008 installment of which I attended today. Held at the Nursery Pavillon, Lords, it's an event that brings together all manner of French wines, from cheap branded bottles to some smart high-end stuff.

Aside from being mistaken by Tina Coady for Jack Hibberd, I found today's tasting quite reassuring. At the bottom end - the more commercial wines, where France has traditionally struggled to compete - I tasted quite a few wines that would give similarly priced new world competitors a real run for their money. In fact, it's getting to the stage where I'm beginning to be confident that a £6 French wine will outperform a £6 Californian or Australian bottle.

But it's France's diversity at higher price points that is so exciting. I spend a good deal of time tasting with Doug Wregg of Les Caves de Pyrene. They have some utterly fantastic, and in some cases crazy, wines.

The craziest of all, and one of the lovliest (in a funky sort of way) was a 'natural' wine from the Loire, which Doug described as being like 'Chenin on acid'. He was right.

Domaine Julien Courtois 'l'Originel' Vin de Table, France
This is a 100% Menu Pineau, an old Loire variety, grown biodynamically. It's a crazy, but lovely wine, reeking of cheese and cider. Herby, waxy, appley and pretty complex on the nose. The palate is appley and wonderfully complex with a long, minerally, acid finish. Fantastic stuff: weird but lovely. 93/100 (£15.99 Les Caves)

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Late night wine with the wineanorak, episode 5

Tasting two wines and a beer:

Domaine du Closel La Jalousie Savennières 2005 Loire, France
A really fantastic, intense dry Chenin from the Loire, boasting aromas of herbs, honey, straw and lanolin. The palate is concentrated, mineralic and dry, with a strong savoury, almost cheesy character to it. Nice acidity keeps things very fresh. It’s quite a challenging drink now, but I reckon this will age very well and pick up complexity over the next decade. 90/100 (£9.95 The Wine Society, £11.95 Tanners)

Southern Right Sauvignon Blanc 2007 Walker Bay, South Africa
A fresh, intense and rather unusual Sauvignon Blanc from a relatively cool-climate maritime region in South Africa. The dominant feature here is a distinctive green pepper, chalky methoxypyrazine streak, which adds some savoury complexity to the intense herby, grassy fruit. It’s a concentrated wine that would work very well with food, but isn’t really suited to casual sipping. Beautifully packaged with a lovely label, a half-length silver capsule (a la Ridge) and a high quality natural cork. 88/100 (£8.99 Noel Young, www.sawinesonline.co.uk)

The beer is Innis and Gunn Cask Strength Oak-aged beer

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

A pair from Monterey, California

California makes some great wine. It also makes some dire wine. I know this is a bit of a generalization, but in the UK we mostly see the former - central valley rubbish (the big Californian brands - I don't need to name names) - because the good stuff works out too expensive for our competitive market and tight wallets.

Part of the problem is that California seems to make a lot of very cheap wine, and a lot of very expensive wine, but the middle ground of good quality, affordable wine is a bit of a desert.

So it's nice to see a new pair of wines from Monterey, priced at £8.50 each, both of which taste pretty good. They are imported by Bibendum wine (http://www.bibendum-wine.co.uk/). I wasn't sure about the back labels (see the picture...'everyone remembers their first love...' puhleeze!), but the juice inside is very attractive.

Loredona Pinot Grigio 2006 Monterey, California

I’m not sure about the packaging: it comes in a clear-glass, Alsace-shaped bottle that doesn’t flatter the wine at all. But the juice itself is quite nice. It has a grapey, fresh nose that’s a little spicy – it reminds me a bit of Muscat. The palate has a bit of herby freshness and a slightly rounded texture. An attractive wine. 87/100 (£8.50 retail, agent is Bibendum)

Loredona Pinot Noir 2005 Monterey, California
Bright, focused, slightly sweet cherry and raspberry fruit on the nose. The palate is fresh and fruit driven, with the sweet fruit countered nicely by good acidity and a spicy twist. It’s a focused wine of real appeal that avoids being overly jammy or sweet, even though it is made in an attractively modern, fruit driven style. Quite delicious. 89/100 (£8.50 retail, independents and on-trade, agent is Bibendum)

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Monday, March 17, 2008

A symposium: UK wine and Pinot Noir

Just on the way home from a very interesting day, spent at the UK Vineyards Association Symposium, held in Oxford. Pictured above, right to left, Sam Lindo (Camel Valley, a speaker), Stephen Skelton MW (speaker) and Bob Lindo (who chaired proceedings).

I’d been asked to give a talk. I'm always a bit embarassed by such invitations, because (1) what do I know?; and (2) there'll always be people in the audience who know more than me. But I invariably agree, because I quite enjoy doing talks. My chosen title was ‘Natural wine’: does it mean anything, and how can wine science help? Pretty broad in scope, and more than a little conceptual, my main point was that all wine is effectively natural, but we’ve allowed the naturalness agenda to be snatched by a fringe. We need to claim it back, and make good use of wine science (for example, by employing integrated farming/IPM) so that we can be sustainable and environmentally friendly in all that we do as an industry. We need to let people know that wine is a natural product, but first we need to make sure our own house is in order.

The symposium itself was well attended. The first paper was by Dr Steve Charters MW, and it looked at the way Champagne is marketed. Champagne has succeeded because it is a clearly defined, well defended territorial brand managed by the CIVC. It has a long-term marketing vision, and an outward-looking perspective. It offers substantial added value, with successful positioning as a luxury product and a clearly defined story. And it has a continuing commitment to quality.

The next paper was by Robin Manning from DEFRA. It described the recent EU Wine Reform, and its implications for UK producers. Basically, UK wine has done well: chaptalization is still allowed (it was going to be banned) and the UK industry is exempt from the planting rights issue which was threatening to stop any new vineyard development. This is hugely important for the UK industry. As an aside, the planting rights ruling is due to finish in Europe in 2015, when anyone who wants to can then plant a vineyard where they want to. Makes sense, because the current situation stifles innovation.

After a ‘networking lunch’, Stephen Skelton MW gave a personal overview of the Pinot Noir variety in all its complexity and clonal diversity. Stephen has millions of years of experience working in the English wine industry, and so he’s well placed to give perspective on how things are developing. This was followed by a Pinot Noir tasting, which included a range of English still and sparkling wines, as well as a few international Pinots by way of benchmarking. The English wines performed well, I thought.

We then had a presentation by David Clark, an ex-motor racing engineer (Williams F1 team) who spent a year at enology school in Burgundy and then bought a vineyard there. He gave a solid presentation on viticulture and winemaking in Burgundy, although (and this isn’t meant as a criticism) I was left wanting to hear a bit more about his own experience. What’s interesting about David’s venture is that he’s started with rather humble vineyards, which he manages as if they were much more serious vineyards. For example, his Bourgogne Pinot Noir vineyard is cropped at Grand Cru levels (35 hl/ha, but remember there are 9000-13 000 vines/hectare here) as opposed to the normal 80 hl/ha. His wines are carried by Berry Bros & Rudd in the UK.

The next talk was a bit of an odd one. Jonathan Snashall, a South African winemaker with experience working for Villa Maria in New Zealand, talked about new world cool-climate Pinot Noir. He was the only speaker not to use a powerpoint presentation, and I don’t think he’d had a lot of preparation time.

Finally, Sam Lindo from Camel Valley gave an interesting, practically grounded account of making award-winning sparkling wine in the UK. I like the Camel Valley fizzes a lot: they show really good balance.

Following the symposium, Sam Harrop, John Worontshak and I headed off to a local hostelry for a couple of pints of Timothy Taylor’s Landlord. A satisfying end to an enjoyable and rather educational day. Pictures will follow, but at the moment blogger seems to be playing up a bit!

Sunday, March 16, 2008

A pair of periquitas

Periquita is, if I recall correctly, the Portuguese word for parrot. It was until fairly recently a synonym for the Castelao grape variety. And it is also the name of Portugal's oldest wine brand, dating back to 1850.

It's interesting that Portugal was the source of some of the earliest and strongest wine brands - with the likes of Lancers, Mateus and Periquita, Portugal pre-empted the modern world of branded wine.

JM ds Fonseca's Periquita is one of those rare commodities: a reliable, characterful branded wine with plenty of personality, and the ability to age for a few years in bottle. As Jancis Robinson observes, 'It’s difficult to think of any other wine with such a history, such distinctively local character and such a low price'.

Interestingly, the image that forms the backdrop to the Periquita website is a panorama of Rio de Janeiro, reflecting the importance of this brand to the Brazilian wine market.

Tonight I'm tasting a brace of Periquitas: as well as the red, there's now a white in the range.

JM da Fonseca Periquita 2005 Terras do Sado, Portugal
A blend dominated by Castelao, with some Trincadeira and Aragonez (aka Tempranillo). The nose shows dark, cherryish, blackberry fruit with a slightly bitter plummy edge, together with some savoury spice. The palate is dark and plummy with some savoury, spicy personality. Perhaps a bit more fruity and modern that Periquitas of the past, this still has a slightly rustic edge, and I reckon it will develop nicely over the next year or two in bottle. Great value. 84/100 (£4.99 Waitrose, on offer at £3.99 until April 22nd)

JM da Fonseca Periquita White 2007 Terras do Sado, Portugal
A blend of Arinto and Moscatel. Very pretty, perfumed and fresh with a sweet grapey character, as well as a bit of spiciness. The palate is fresh and crisp with an attractive perfumed, fruity quality. Distinctive stuff that would suit strongly flavoured or spicy food. 83/100 (£4.99 Waitrose, on offer at £3.99 until April 22nd)


Wine and rugby

Went to the rugby yesterday, courtesy of Pernod Ricard's wine division. Tim Atkin and Oz Clarke were also there (pictured), and we had a very jolly time.

I've not been to see a six nations international at Twickenham before, and it was a great occasion. It may not look much of a stadium from the outside, but inside it is fantastic, and the way the 82 000 fans are packed together creates an excellent atmosphere.

It's hard to explain exactly why, but rugby crowds are very different to football crowds. They don't sing as much, and there's no segregation of fans, but when noise is made it has a deeper, more resonant quality to it. The anthems at the beginning of the game are particularly moving, sung by fans and players alike. I should add that Ireland have a much better anthem than England: ours is a bit sterile and polite; theirs is melodic and heartfealt. I guess the atmosphere thing is also because rugby as a game is much more of a battle. It has a primeval quality: as you see the teams line up at the start, it's fifteen strong men against fifteen strong men. Courage, determination and bravery are needed.

The game itself was a good one, with England putting in a solid performance after a very shaky start. Afterwards, I met up with brother-in-law Cliff who'd come over from Geneva to see the game with his brother-in-law Justin. We went into Twickenham and had a pint at the White Swan, and then another at the Eel Pie before returning home for some curry. Twickenham after a match is a pretty bustling, buzzy place - it's very good natured, too, with opposing fans mingling happily.

So, some wine talk. Pernod Ricard poured some nice wines before the game, including a crisp Brancott Sauvignon from Montana, Jacob's Creek Steingarten Riesling and Centenary Hill Shiraz, and a new red wine from Wyndham, a super-premium Cab/Shiraz blend called George Wyndham. They have a decent wine portfolio these days, although I felt I should have been drinking beer, not wine, before rugby. It's a tough life, this wine writing lark.

Tomorrow I'm doing a talk at the UK Vineyards Association symposium in Oxford. I'm going to be speaking about natural wine and the role of wine science.

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Friday, March 14, 2008

A mountain white and three Pinots

It's been a nice day here at the Goode residence, as I end week two of my freelance life. I confess: Fiona and I took another long Friday lunch together. This time we went to Richmond and ate at Wagamama, which I think I'm slightly addicted to. We both ordered no. 42 - yaki udon (£7.25) which consists of: teppan-fried udon noodles with curry oil, shiitake mushrooms,
egg, leeks, prawns, chicken, chikuwa, beansprouts and green and red peppers, garnished with spicy ground fish powder, mixed sesame seeds, fried shallots and pickled ginger. It's fantastic. I had a beer and Fiona had a glass of Chilean Sauvignon.

Tonight, three Pinots (what a fickle grape) and a mountain white. Tomorrow I'm going to Twickenham for the rugby.

Blanc de Morgex et de la Salle 2006 Vallee d'Aoste, Italy
From the Cave du Vin in Morgex, this is a pure, fresh mountain wine that's part of the Vini Estremi group (http://www.viniestremi.com/). Weighing in at just 11.5% alcohol, it's delicate and minerally with a subtle apple and herb flavour and high acidity. There's a lovely bright savouriness to it: remarkably refreshing stuff. I do like mountain wines. 88/100 (Les Caves de Pyrene)

Parducci Pinot Noir 2006 California
Mendocino-based Parducci are these days riding the sustainability wagon (I haven't used the perjorative term 'bandwagon' here) - see www.parducci.com/sustainability. I remember Oddbins used to stock a Parducci Charbono a few years back; now they are stocking this Pinot Noir. By Californian standards this is an inexpensive wine, and it certainly tastes like Pinot, although at this price point it's facing strong competition from the cheaper NZ Pinots. The nose is quite sweet, with bright berry and cherry fruit, but there's also a savoury green herbal streak. The nicely balanced palate has a bit of this sweet and savoury thing going on, with sweet berry fruit countered by a spicy herby savouriness. It's not quite elegant enough to be a must buy, but it's certainly acceptable at this price, and avoids being confected and forced. Reminds me a bit of the Cono Sur Pinot. 86/100 (£8.49 Oddbins)

Domaine Mas Viel Pinot Noir 2006 Vin de Pays d'Oc, France
Sealed with ProCork, a natural cork with a special membrane attached to each chamfered end, to prevent any risk of TCA transmission from the cork to the wine: I haven't seen many of these around. It has a ripe, forward sweet berry fruit nose that's richer than you'd expect from Pinot. Quite dense on the palate with some firm tannins, ripe fruit and a herby tang, together with some sweet vanilla oak notes. It's attractive, in a flirty sort of way, but this doesn't really taste like Pinot. Still, it's quite cheap, and I suspect that if it was from Chile or California, it would have its fans. 81/100 (£6.95 http://www.therealwineco.co.uk/)

Blason de Bourgogne Mercurey 2003 Burgundy
This is bright and quite tart, displaying cherry and raspberry fruit with some stern, savoury earthy undercurrents. It's lean, a bit acidic, and ungenerous. There's also a rustic herbal streak. It was just a shade under £10 from Tesco and Asda a couple of years ago, and I think it was a bit overpriced. It would work well as a food wine, I suspect, but it's a bit severe on its own. 80/100

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Thursday, March 13, 2008

A few Spanish wines

Five Spanish wines tasted tonight in an impromptu line-up. Good, solid commercial wines, these. The two Laithwaites wines were nice surprises: I wasn't expecting them to be up to much, but they were really good.

Castillo Labastida Aniversario Rioja 2004
From the Cosecheros de Labastida Co-op, made for Laithwaites. Very deep red/purple colour. Ripe, sweet fruit on the nose which is quite lush, and has a hint of vanilla. The palate is dense and fruit-driven with some ripe, spicy fruit and a bit of tannic structure. It's nice to find this density of fruit and a relative lack of obvious oak in a Rioja. Modern but balanced. 88/100 (£7.06 Laithwaites)

Monasterio de Santa Cruz Tarragona 2005
Deep red colour. Ripe sweet berryish fruit here with a nice supple quality and a cherry freshness. This is a delicious fruit-driven style that's ripe and approachable with just a hint of spicy seriousness. Well made. 86/100 (£6.55 Laithwaites)

Marques de la Concordia Tempranillo 2005 Rioja
Deep coloured. Savoury, spicy, slightly earthy and midweight, with a drying finish. Attractive drinkable wine. 84/100 (£5.99 Tesco, Oddbins)

Bodegas Navajas Vega del Rio Rioja Crianza 2003
Light, bright and quite attractive with red berry fruits, backed up by some earthy, spicy depth. Not profound, but savoury and bright. 83/100 (£5.99 Morrisons)

Vina Herminia Excelsus 2005 Rioja
Mid-red colour. Complex sweet, ripe cherry and red berry fruit nose is quite perfumed and harmonious. The palate is sweet and round with smooth, elegant, subtly spicy fruit. It seems to have a fair bit of Grenache character (Garnacha makes 45% of the blend). Not a big wine, but really expressive without that overpowering oak influence so often found in Rioja: this spends less than a year in oak, and is better for it. Impressive. 89/100 (£9.99 Oddbins)

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Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Mud House Pinot Noir

One of my favourite ways of relaxing is by doing a bit of work. This sounds nuts: it makes me out to be some crazy sort of workaholic who needs to get his head examined, his priorities sorted out and a course of sessions with a therapist booked, promptly.

So let me qualify that. The sort of work I like to do to relax is to open a few bottles of wine, and drink them. Not all of them; just a little of each. And then to write about them here, in real time, on this blog. Sometimes I'll revisit wines a day after opening to see how they are holding out. I like to look at wines the way someone who's brought a bottle to drink would look at them - I think this perspective, that of a reader, is easily lost in sniff and spit trade tastings.

Perception of wine is a funny old business. We bring to the glass as much as the glass brings to us. If you don't believe that, open a bottle of DRC with a random selection of people you meet on the street. Get the point?

Tonight's wine, which I've had open a day or two, is a really impressive Marlborough Pinot Noir.

Mud House Pinot Noir 2007 Marlborough, New Zealand
Aromatic, bright sweet cherry and berry fruit nose is quite startling in its purity and freshness, and has a herby lift I often find in Marlborough Pinot. The palate is brightly fruited and cherryish, with some sweetness, but also a savoury, spicy twist. Nicely elegant with a delicious, vivid sort of personality. This isn't meant to be Burgundy, but it has a light touch and is only 13.3% alcohol - low by New World standards. 91/100 (c. £12 retail, UK agent MMD)

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Organics and biodynamics unleashed: Vintage Roots tasting

Spent an enjoyable day tasting the range of UK merchant Vintage Roots. They are unique in that they only stock organic/biodynamic wine.

It was a really well organized tasting for several reasons. (1) The location is great: the Worx at Parsons Green is a light, airy space that's just right for tasting wine. (2) There weren't too many people (although it was well attended). (3) Plentiful supply of Riedel Chianti stems which are now the default wine tasting glass for serious tastings. (4) Just the right quantity of wines, c. 140, so you can taste widely in a day but not feel like you are missing loads out.

The wines were pretty good across the board, but for me, there were a number of stand-outs. It was good to see a healthy representation of new world wines, with the best producers being Millton (very consistent range from New Zealand's Gisborne region - wines of real personality) and Emiliana (Organic Chilean winery). I also really enjoyed the Champagnes from Fleury, including three versions of the same Vintage 1995 with varying dosages (5, 10 and 53 g), a brilliant Vintage 1996 and a lovely 1990. An honourable mention should go to Quinta do Coa's Douro red (the basic not the reserve), a pleasant, understated Californian Pinot from Barra, and an affordable, tasty Pinot from Meinklang in Austria.
I also had a nice chat with Tom Dean, a Brit who married into a wine estate in Piedmont and who has converted it to biodynamics over the last few years. He had with him a cow's horn and two biodynamic preparations: horn silica and horn manure (pictured).

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Tuesday, March 11, 2008

wineanorak update

I’m aware that some readers of the blog never venture on to the main wineanorak site. Now that I’m fully freelance I’ll be spending more time writing for both the blog and the main site. The reason I do both? Well, blogging is fine for shorter pieces, but it’s a communication medium that doesn’t suit some sorts of articles – so they end up on the main site. So, to keep blog readers aware of what has been published on wineanorak, I think I’ll do a regular update here describing the latest additions. Here goes:

Recent additions to the main anorak site include
  • Josh Jensen and the wines of Calera: an interview with one of California’s top proponents of Pinot Noir, with a horizontal tasting of single-vineyard Pinots from 2004. I liked them a lot, and Josh is a really interesting person with a good story to tell.
  • The wines of Wieninger: tasting the wines of Austrian producer Wieninger, from Vienna (Wien). These were pretty smart wines.
  • What do you want from a wine critic? An opinion piece looking at the characteristics that constitute a good wine critic.
  • Ata Rangi: the wines of this top New Zealand producer reviewed

Tesco press tasting

For anyone with a newspaper column, one of the most important tastings in the calendar is that organized by Tesco, who sell more wine than anyone else in the UK. And today was the Tesco spring tasting, held in the pleasant surroundings of County Hall on the south bank of the Thames, opposite Westminster.

The Tesco wine range is quite strong at the moment, and there was a nice mix of the outright commercial and more geeky 'individual' wines, with quite a bit in between. I came away with lots of ideas for filling my Express column, which now includes seven wines each week.

A I wanted to blog about here is one that surprised me as soon as I took a sniff. It's De Bortoli's All Rounder Semillon 2002, from the Riverina region, and which sells at £6.99 a bottle. This is utterly remarkable stuff. It's a more-or-less dry botrytised Semillon, with 9.5 g/litre residual sugar. The nose is incredible: complex apricot, lime and spice with some sweet melony notes. It smells like a really good Sauternes. The palate is just off-dry, with complex lime, herb and vanilla notes. Concentrated and intense, this is an incredible wine, and a complete bargain. You just have to ignore the dreadful packaging.

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Monday, March 10, 2008

Recioto di Soave

Tonight I'm sipping the Recioto di Soave from Tamellini that I mentioned at the weekend. It's a serious effort, with a wonderful tangerine-like character, combining peachy, apricotty richness with a fresh citrus kick. It's complex and alive, with brilliant balance between the concentrated sweetness and fruity freshness. There's a unique personality to this wine: I don't think I've ever tried anything quite like it. It has a rich, almost viscous texture, but it avoids being at all cloying. With sweet wines, sweetness and acidity act in opposition (or is that apposition?), with one cancelling the other out in a see-saw like manner, but with both contributing to the intensity of the wine. This wine has a lot of acidity and a lot of sweetness, and the finish goes on for ages. It's £18.50 for 50 cl from Les Caves de Pyrene, and a bargain at this price, I reckon.

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Late night wine, episode 4

More late night wine drinking, this time with three wines that disappoint, and three book reviews.

The books reviewed:
Jay McInerney's 'A hedonist in the cellar'; 'Questions of Taste', a multiauthor volume edited by Barry Smith; and Kermit Lynch's 'Adventures on the wine route'.

Sunday, March 09, 2008

A lovely Spatlese, a good film, and a close shave

Tonight I'm drinking the remains of the Reihnold Haart Piesport Domherr Riesling Spatlese 2005. It's a remarkable sweet wine of real class, with bold apricot and honey fruit, together with a fat melony texture, and a citrussy freshness. As I mentioned in my earlier post, it's weighty enough to be an Auslese. I don't know how you'd use this wine: perhaps its best suited to casual sipping. I'd never put it with a dessert, and it would be wasted paired with spicy food. It would probably age well for 30 years or so? Hard to tell.

The film in the title is one we watched yesterday afternoon. Michael Clayton is one of the best films I've seen of late. Starring George Clooney and Tilda Swinton, it's a clever legal thriller that starts at the end and then fills all the gaps in later. You need to have your wits about you to keep track of what is going on. John Grisham-ish, but a bit smarter. The writing and acting are excellent, and the pace is just about perfect, building to a very smart, stylish ending. Highly recommended.

The close shave involved RTL and a busy dual carriageway. We were at the Wheatsheaf, Virginia Water, celebrating the engagement of Jeni and Johann. We'd taken RTL for a quick walk. Coming back, before we had a chance to get her on her lead, she darted off, through the pub car park, and onto the A30, where she proceeded to run more-or-less randomly across all four lanes, causing cars to swerve and then to stop, so that a large tailback was generated as we tried to catch her. Several motorists joined in the rounding-up excercise, which was very public spirited of them. Finally, she was caught, and we were embarassed and relieved. We are certainly bad dog owners.

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Some nice wines with friends

I have a few nice wines to report on, from a dinner last night here chez Goode, where I was joined by David Bueker (visiting London from the USA) and Greg Sherwood MW (of Handford Wine). I'd never met David before, but I have communicated with him over a period of years on internet wine bulletin boards. Sounds weird, I know, meeting up with people you met on internet boards, but all the 'real life' interactions I've had with fellow wine nuts have been positive ones, and last night was no exception.

Three is a nice number for a wine dinner, and we had some really interesting wines. David brought along a Schloss Gobelsburg Riesling Heiligenstein 2006 Langenlois, Kremstal. I love Austrian Riesling, and this is a really superb example of dry Riesling at its best. It's rich and mineralic, with plenty of weight and a nice texture. Drinking very well now, but good for another five, I reckon. I'd already opened a Reinhold Haart Riesling Piesport Domherr Spatlese 2005 Mosel Saar Ruwer, which was nowhere near ready to drink. It has the richness of an Auslese with lovely spicy apricot, honey and citrus flavour. I think it's a superb wine, but not for broaching now. Another Riesling I opened by way of comparison, Torzi Matthews Frost Dodger Riesling 2005 Eden Valley, was very reductive, with lots of burnt match character and a rather grippy mouthfeel. I wonder whether this was because of the tin-lined screwcap.

A fourth Riesling we tried was Dr Loosen Beerenauslese 2006, in 187 ml bottle. It was sweet and rather simple, lacking complexity (this is now in stock at Waitrose). Greg brought a couple of bottles. The first, Chateau de Donos Corbieres 1989 was still alive and had some evolved earthy complexity. The second was probably the wine of the evening. Louis Latour Chateau Corton Grancey Crand Cru 1990 was just singing. It's one of those rare wines where you feel you are drinking it at its peak. Smooth, mature and really elegant, I'd rate this at 94 if you forced me to put a score to it. I really liked the next wine, but it had its work cut out following the Burgundy. It was Domaine du Gros Nore Bandol 2000. Spicy and dense, as you'd expect from Bandol, but with fantastic purity of fruit, too. I have 11 more bottles of this, and I'm pleased about that.

Finally, Tamellini Vigna Morogne Recioto del Soave 2003 is sensational. Deep coloured, it is a thrilling viscous sweet white with complex apricot, honey, peach and vanilla notes. I guess for me this would tie for wine of the night. It's amazing stuff (another gem from Les Caves de Pyrene).

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Saturday, March 08, 2008

Drink wine and live longer

The subject of wine and health is an interesting and complex topic. A new scientific paper in the American Journal of Medicine is a welcome addition to the literature, because it seems to be pretty free of the issue of confounding, where other factors could potentially explain the results (an example of this would be that moderate wine drinkers tend to be moderate in other areas of their life, for example they may eat more healthily than other groups).

The paper in question is titled 'Adopting Moderate Alcohol Consumption in Middle Age: Subsequent Cardiovascular Events', and the results are summarized in the abstract thus:
"Of 7697 participants who had no history of cardiovascular disease and were nondrinkers at baseline, within a 6-year follow-up period, 6.0% began moderate alcohol consumption (2 drinks per day or fewer for men, 1 drink per day or fewer for women) and 0.4% began heavier drinking. After 4 years of follow-up, new
moderate drinkers had a 38% lower chance of developing cardiovascular disease than did their persistently nondrinking counterparts. This difference persisted after adjustment for demographic and cardiovascular risk factors (odds ratio 0.62, 95% confidence interval, 0.40-0.95)."

There's a BBC news piece on this paper here. The conclusion seems quite clear, to me. If you are middle-aged, then if you can take up moderate wine drinking without becoming an alcoholic, then you will reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease.

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What is this?

OK folks, it's competition time. Can anyone tell me what this is, and what it is used for? Best answer gets a prize.


Friday, March 07, 2008

Long lunch and a walk in the park

So Fiona and I, now with time to spend together without the kids, decide to take lunch together. We head off to Edwinns, a brasserie in Englefield Green, next to Windsor Great Park. The sun was shining and it was all very spring-like.

It was really nice to have lunch together, but the lunch itself was not good. I enjoyed it because it was nice to be with Fiona. But I don't want to go back to this place again.

Edwinns doesn't have a set lunch, and has the same menu for lunch and dinner. The first think that struck me was that it was expensive. We're talking London restaurant prices, with starters £6-8 and mains hovering around £15-20. That's fine, if the food justifies it, but our food today was pretty ordinary pub grub standard, of the sort that doesn't require a skilled chef. My main of slow roasted pork was overcooked, with an overpowering, rather gloopy, treacly sauce. It tasted like it had been cooked, and then reheated. Fiona's starter of scollops and pancetta consisted of pureed peas, overlaid with some salad, then with three crispy slices of pancetta on top and three over-done scollops round the outside.

The winelist was upsetting. It was really short. All the wines were perfectly adequate, drinkable commercial offerings, but that was it. There was nothing I felt even vaguely interested in trying. It was so predictable and dull. All the wines by the glass were 250 ml servings, which is one-third of a bottle (there was no option to have a 175 ml glass).

Maybe Edwinns is serving its target clientele well. Perhaps their punters aren't usually very discriminating, and don't have high expectations for their food and drink.
Looking at the website (http://www.edwinns.co.uk/) I see that it's part of the Bluebecker restaurant group. My guess is that the dishes are prepared centrally and then put together/reheated/simple elements cooked at each restaurant, thus alleviating the need for skilled kitchen staff.

After lunch we had a nice walk in the park.


Thursday, March 06, 2008

Taking it easy with organic Syrah

After an exhausting Wednesday, I decided to take things a bit easier today, day 4 of my freelance existence. I began by taking younger son to school and then walking RTL in Bushey Park, where she spent about 25 minutes in the water trying to eat assorted wildfowl (fortunately, with little success). I was standing helplessly at the side, calling her name in vain and generally feeling rather embarassed that I'm such a rubbish dog owner. 'There's no such thing as bad dogs', all the guidebooks on dog behaviour say, 'just bad owners'.

Then I set about my work, dealing with emails, doing some tinkering with the website, making some phonecalls, typing up some notes. Lunch was a brief affair, and I returned to work, pausing to do the afternoon dog walk, and then finishing about 5.30. I took a few breaks to play some guitar and make some coffee. The day passed pretty quickly.

This evening I hopped off to younger son's parent's evening. He loves his current teacher, a dude into his technology who uses an iPhone. I was very impressed by him, too - it's so nice when your kids are being taught well. Teachers have a great deal of power to influence their pupils, and I still remember the good (and not so good) teachers I had when I was at school. [As an aside, I almost became a teacher: when I was finishing my first degree I was going out with a medic in Leicester, and I had an interview to study teacher training in Leicester so I could be close to her. But then I realized it wasn't for me, and that she wasn't for me. Life would have been very different if I'd taken that particular fork in the road.]

After this I drove into central London to pick up the last of my stuff from the office. On the way I listened to Radio 4. I must be a sad old git, because it was actually very entertaining. I caught a program on science, and then a repeat of Melvyn Bragg's 'In our time'. A bit nerdy and geeky, but the sort of thing you listen to, learn a bit, and feel better for it. I also listened to the Sat Nav. My friend Rob has a sexy female voice on his Sat Nav, but I have a rather stern sounding bloke. It's the default voice, I think. Or it's the one Fiona has chosen.

Tonight I'm trying an organic red from the Languedoc's Minervois region, which has just been listed by Waitrose at £7.99 in store. It's one of those wines that I like, but I don't love. Does that make sense?

Chateau Maris 'Syrah Organic' 2006 Minervois, Languedoc
An intensely coloured wine made with grapes grown organically 'according to biodynamic principles' (which presumably means it is not certified biodynamic), weighing in at a heady 14.5% alcohol. The nose is a little shy, with some spicy minerality, a bit of alcohol, and fresh dark fruits. The palate shows vivid, pure red and black fruit with some rather grippy, peppery, spicy tannic structure and a drying, earthy finish. I like the way the fruit has been captured here: it's a vivid, fresh sort of wine. But the hot, slightly bitter alcohol does make its presence felt, too, and the fruit isn't rich enough to cope with the grippy tannins. 87/100 (£7.99 Waitrose)

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Wednesday, March 05, 2008

A Spanish dinner and some Brazilians

Last night’s dinner was indeed black tie. It was the Twenty-Fourth Investiture Dinner of the Gran Order de Caballeros del Vino, to give it its full title. I’m not quite sure what the Gran Order de Caballeros del Vino are, other than that three more people joined their ranks last night; that they are almost exclusively male and middle-aged; they have made or promoted or sold Spanish wine to a level at which they are invested by the mysterious ‘Order’; and they get to wear funny hats and red capes at this event each year. Tim Atkin, Charles Metcalfe and John Radford are the journalists I spotted among their ranks.

Anyway, the speeches and general silliness (there was a loyal toast, for example) were kept to a minimum, and it was a really nice dinner with about 300 people in attendance. The wines served were:

  • René Barbier Brut Reserva Cava (OK – pretty typical Cava)
  • Williams & Humbert Alegría Manzanilla (bright, fresh, delicious)
  • Martín Códax Viña del Alba 2006 Rías Baixas (wasn’t as fresh or aromatic as I was expecting)
  • Storks’ Tower Sauvignon Blanc Verdejo 2007 Vino de la Tierra de Castilla y León (really vibrant, grassy and fresh)
  • La Paz Tempranillo 2006 La Mancha (quite bright with nice fruit expression)
  • Legaris Reserva 2003 Ribera del Duero (nice fruit, but a sweet, oaky, rich style)
  • Luis Cañas Amaren Reserva 2002 Rioja (this was nicely balanced with focused fruit)
  • González Byass Noé Muy Viejo Pedro Ximénez (deliciously rich, quite complex, ultra sweet)

I didn’t leave until almost 2 am, and then had a horridly early start which meant catching the 0810 Stansted Express to visit HwCg at their offices in Bishop's Stortford, close to the airport (their olde worlde tasting room is pictured). My brief was to taste and make notes on the 80 wines that retailer wines4business have just listed, which is actually quite an arduous task, especially when you’ve been up to late the night before. I got there just after nine, having retrieved my coat that, in my sluggish state, I’d left on the train. Phew. It was still there. The 80 wines took just under three hours to taste, and then I had to hurry back to London to taste some Brazilian wines.

Junior Vianna is a Brazilian living in London who is doing his MW dissertation on whether Brazilian Merlot has potential for the UK marketplace, and he needed some help. A crack team of seven of us, including Jo Aherne, Sam Harrop, Peter McCombie and John Worontshak tasted through 17 Brazilian Merlots blind, and then discussed our opinions. It was quite an in-depth session, lasting three hours. The conclusion? Not yet. So ends day three of my freelance life. I think I’ll take it a bit easier tomorrow.

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Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Wine blogging, looking back

Had a phone call from Claire Hu of Wine and Spirit magazine who is preparing an article on wine blogs. One of the questions she asked was when it was that I began this rather strange practice of keeping an online journal, otherwise known as blogging. The answer is - a surprisingly long time ago.

The very first entry was on July 12th 2001 - you can access it here at the bottom of the page. The first photos didn't appear until December 26th 2002, which is when I got my first digital camera, and adding pictures to blog entries became practical. [See the archive for more entries.]

The blog moved to its current home in January 2006.

Tonight I'm off to a Spanish wine dinner, which I'm led to believe is black tie. I need to confirm this - wouldn't it be horrible to turn up in a dinner jacket and bow tie when everyone else is wearing something altogether more casual. And, for the record, day 2 of freelance life has been a gentle one: I finished an Express column, did some sorting in my office, checked my emails, wrote a blog entry and went for a walk with Fiona and RTL to Richmond Park, where we lunched on some fabulous steak pasties.


Monday, March 03, 2008

Great wines from Mr Duck

What better way to start my freelance life than a long lunch, with some great wines.

Today was the Luis Pato ('Pato' is Portuguese for 'duck') tasting and lunch at London's leading Portuguese restaurant Portal. Luis is one of Portuguese wine's great ambassadors. Not only does he make great wines, chiefly from an unfashionable grape variety (Baga) in an unfashionable region (Bairrada), but he also does the leg work of presenting them to journalists and merchants across the globe. And he's a friendly, engaging guy, albeit in quite a low key sort of way.

The wines today were very impressive: the triumvirate of top reds, Vinhas Velhas, Vinha Barrosa and Vinha Pan, from the 2005 vintage, are all exceptional wines that need some time in the cellar to show their best. Quinta de Ribeirinho Per Franco 2005, a small production number, is also exceptional.

We were treated to some older wines. By way of almost bizarre coincidence, one of the three older wines on show was a bottle I'd recently opened for Portuguese journalist Luis Antunes when he came to dinner (the report is here). It was the Vinhas Velhas 1995, and I wasn't expecting much of this when I showed it to Luis, because I'd bought it a decade previously in a Majestic bin end sale for just a few pounds, while I was visiting my brother down in Southampton. But it's a wine that has aged really well, and it gave me a strong reminder that Bairrada makes some serious, ageworthy wine. We also tried a Vinha Pan 1995, which was even better and still quite tannic, and a 1985 Bairrada which was very evolved but still alive.

One of the best wines we tasted was the 2005 Vinha Formal, a white wine of great presence, depth and minerality that will age beautifully - it's one of Portugal's best whites.

Apparently you can still buy vineyards in Bairrada for between 125 and 400 Euros per square metre. Tasting these wines makes me think this might be a gamble worth taking. Luis reckons Bairrada is best for sparkling wines, whites, and high-end red wines. With a quality minded approach, you could make some great ageworthy reds here that combine elegance and power to good effect - think Nebbiolo from the great Piedmont terroirs, and you have an idea of what Baga at its best can achieve.
Portal performed. Eel pie to start (no connection with the island), then a stunning slow roast wild boar that had been seeped for 24 h in Madeira. The green bean and chorizo mash it came with didn't complement it terribly well, but the boar was so sensational I didn't mind. Pudding was custard tarts. Very Portuguese, and utterly delicious.

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Sunday, March 02, 2008

The new Spain: Toro

It's been a nice weekend. On Saturday morning I took the boys out shopping to Kingston, with the purpose of buying some mother's day gifts. We spent some time browsing various stores (without actually buying anything, except for four CDs - AC/DC, Rush, Foo Fighters and Tracy Champan - and a couple of presents for Fiona), and had some lunch. But the real hit with elder son - who is highly motivated by food - was a coffee and donut in Krispy Kreme at Bentalls. I've never had a Krispy Kreme donut before, but because we were given some complimentary donuts I got to try one, and although I hate to admit it, these are seriously addictive.

Later in the afternoon I took younger son to Virginia Water with RTL, who has now finished her season. We had a fun time, and I think RTL enjoyed the chance to run free.

Today we celebrated mother's day by getting out all the old videos, dating back to 2001, which is a year after the boys came to live with us. We were all taken aback by just how far we've travelled together over the last seven years. It was quite moving.

So, to tonight's wine. Spain promises much, but so many Spanish winemakers are addicted to oak that this potential is infrequently realized. This is an unoaked red from Estancia Piedra, a winery in Toro founded by Scottish lawyer Grant Stein, in 1998. The great thing about establishing a winery here is that you get access to some fantastic old vines. And the climate here, at 2000 feet, gives you a large diurnal temperature variation. The result is a dense, fruit-forward red of great appeal.

Estancia Piedra 'Azul' 2006 Toro, Spain
Hand-picked old vine Tinta de Toro (Tempranillo) grapes. Vivid, bright, fresh, pure blackberry and raspberry fruit nose is quite sweet with a subtly jammy character. The palate is vivid and pure with nice freshness and grippy tannins. Deliciously vivid - this is a more-ish, ripe wine. 89/100 (£7.95 Berry Bros & Ruud, http://www.bbr.com/)

Saturday, March 01, 2008

Gimblett Gravels rock

I worry that sometimes I repeat myself on this blog. One of the themes I might have talked a bit too much about is New Zealand reds, but they're consistently good. I'm especially taken by the reds from the Gimblett Gravels, a unique 'terroir' in the Hawkes Bay region. Detractors say that viticulture in the gravels is essentially hydroponics, but this is the one place in NZ that seems to be able to ripen Cabernet Sauvignon reliably. Tonight's wine is a stylish, fresh, intense Bordeaux-style blend with lovely expressive character from one of the most reliable wineries out there.

Villa Maria Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon Merlot 2005 Hawkes Bay, New Zealand
Fresh blackcurrant and plum fruit dominates here, with a savoury, gravelly, spicy tannic structure providing a nice foil. It shows high acidity, and there's an almost floral perfumed character to nose. I don't think you'd mistake this for Bordeaux (and I don't think this was the intention of the winemaker), but there's a freshness and precision to this wine that is often missing in new world reds. Quite primary now; I reckon this will develop well over the next decade, although I'm slightly concerned that the high acidity might stick out a bit if the fruit recedes. 91/100 (£15.99 Hailsham Cellars, D Byrne, Peake Wine, nzhouseofwine.co.uk)

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