jamie goode's wine blog: May 2008

Saturday, May 31, 2008

I love Portugal (2)

The last couple of days have been very relaxing. The sun has come out, and so we've been to the beach, dipped in the pool, played some tennis, and generally taken it easy. Espinho, where we are staying, isn't the sort of place you'd think of as a holiday destination, but it's really nicely situated, on a long, sandy beach that runs north as far as Vila Nova (the town on the other bank of the Douro from Porto).

An added bonus is 15 km boardwalk running along the seafront through the dunes, which makes long beach walks and runs a lot easier, while preserving the natural habitats from too much human impact. Younger son has been busy hunting lizards, and was delighted, after many hours trying, to catch one at last. It was released an hour later, unharmed.

The great excitement was earlier this evening, when after spending an hour hunting for crabs, we found an adder near the hotel, which we were able to follow for a while (albeit at a couple of arm's lengths). He was thrilled, as was I: there's something about a genuine encounter with nature that a zoo experience just can't match, even though the species may be the same on both occasions.

All this talk of nature, and naturalness, leads me on to wine. We've been enjoying some wines that taste pretty natural, namely Vinho Verde, both Branco and Tinto. Quinta da Aveleda Branco 2006 is brilliantly fresh and fruity with real precision; Ponte da Barca Tinto 2006 has been my red companion over the last two nights, with vibrant, juicy fruit, a bit of spritz and high acidity - just 10% alcohol, too. It's really fresh and drinkable - not serious, but fun and delicious.
These wines taste natural, even though, for all I know, they may have been made industrially. The thing is, they are expressions of where they have come from. No one has tried to fake them, making them taste sweet and modern. They are not perfect wines, but they have character and they are affordable. I guess this is one of the reasons I like Portugal.

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Friday, May 30, 2008

A rainy Guimaraes and some old wine with Dirk

Yesterday was appallingly wet. It rained and rained, and then rained some more. There were sheets of rain, and then there was drizzle, and then the clouds were so low they were at street level, and then the sheets of rain started again. So we hopped in the car and drove through Porto, past the impressive, compact FC Porto stadium and out the other side, heading for Guimaraes, the ancient capital of Portugal (above).

Portuguese drivers have a bad reputation, and there were a few hairy moments with crazy drivers on the motorway, but we got there safely. It was even wetter in Guimaraes, but that didn't spoil the beauty of this old town. We walked up to the beautifully preserved castle, where you can walk round the ramparts, as long as you have a head for heights (no guard rail here, as you can see in the picture below). Then we lunched well and cheaply on some typically Portuguese fare. I ordered a 25 cl jug of house red, and it was utterly fantastic - and just E1.25. It was a red Vinho Verde: amazingly bright red/purple in colour, with a bit of spritz and lovely vibrant, forward fruit. The acidity was really high, but in combination with the fruit this made it a brilliantly refreshing drop.
Then we were off to Dirk Niepoort's for dinner. It was brave of him to invite all four of us over. We were joined by Niepoort general manager José Teles and winemaker Luis Seabra. Time for a cellar raid. Dirk told me and Luis to pick something interesting, but he retained the right to veto. His cellar has a lot of Riesling, white Burgundy, red Burgundy (including a couple of rows of DRC), a bit of Rhone, quite a bit of Bordeaux and lots of old Portuguese bottles, as well as plenty of Port and Madeira.

So what did we drink?

Billaud Simon Chablis Grand Cru Vaudesir 2002
Fine, bready and minerally, this is fresh and bright yet rich and deep at the same time. Quite serious. 92/100

Bernard Van Berg Le Vin Le Plus Simplement 2005 Bourgogne Grand Ordinaire
This red Burgundy shows what you can do with a lowly terroir and yields of just 18 hl/ha. It's quite reductive (burnt match) along with vibrant red berry fruit. It's fresh and quite elegant with freshness and nice depth of fruit and a bit of meatiness. Very stylish for this appellation, and with a few years in bottle should shed its reductive youth and turn out very nice. 90/100

Caves S. Joao Reserva Particular 1959 Portugal
This old bottle is a blend of fruit from Bairrada and Dao. A deep colour with some brown hints, this has a wonderfully aromatic nose that is dark and meaty with a lovely spiciness. There's old wine complexity here, but it is still really alive, with bloody, iron-like notes in the background. There's also a bit of herby undergrowth character. Brilliant old wine. 94/100

Chapoutier Hermitage 1978
Very fresh and complex with minty, herby notes emerging, as well as some dark fruit character. This an appealing wine with brightness and elegance to the fore. It's not a big, heavy wine, but instead shows a precise, well focused personality, and you get the feeling that this has still got a bit more to give. 93/100

Niepoort Pinot Noir 2006 Douro
Still in cask, soon to be bottled. This is from the highest, coolest Niepoort vineyards, and this year Luis Seabra said he cut his holidays short to pick on the 24th August, to keep the wine fresh. It certainly is fresh, with bright, ripe red fruit character and a bit of mintiness. There's some elegance and nice texture, with hints of vanilla oak on the finish. This is actually pretty stylish. 89-93/100

Robustus 2004 Douro
Robustus was the name of Dirk's first table wine, made in 1990 (for more, see here). This new Robustus is a wine made repeating many of the 'mistakes' Dirk made back in 1990, and it's fabulous. It's half Redoma, half Batuta fruit, bottled after four years in wood. Deep coloured, it has a fresh, pure dark fruits nose that leads to a focused palate with elegant fruit and some oak imprint. There's brilliant freshness here with good tannins. It's quite firm with lovely freshness and density. Serious stuff. 'Not a modern, fruit-driven, square wine', says Dirk. Just four 1200 litre barrels made. 94/100

Niepoort 1963 Vintage Port
We tasted this blind. The others were in the 1970s; I was in the 1960s but got no closer. It's mature, super-elegant, spicy and a bit floral. There's nice freshness here as well as a seamless texture. Almost perfect balance: this isn't a big, heavy wine at all. 95/100

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Thursday, May 29, 2008

Making corks

Spent yesterday morning at Amorim's labs with Dr Paulo Lopes, who's a scientist working on issues such as oxygen transmission by closures. It sounds nerdy and dull, but it's really important. Paulo did a presentation on efforts by Amorim to deal with the taint issue, then he presented his work on how much oxygen ingress there is with each type of closure.

Then it was time to see a couple of cork manufacturing and processing plants. High-end corks are still punched by hand (top picture), a skilled task where rapidly taken decisions about where to punch the next cork from have important quality implications. The corks are then sorted either automatically, or manually (above). The best quality corks can cost more than a Euro each (below) - and they look beautiful. The modern cork production process is a fusion of the modern (e.g. gas chromatography screening for minute TCA levels) with the traditional (cutting cork bark, hand punching corks).

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Tuesday, May 27, 2008

I love Portugal...

Post from the road. I'm in Portugal, this time with my family. As well as visiting solo on several occasions, I've been here with Fiona a couple of times before, but this is the first time we've brought the kids along, and I'm really glad we did. There's something special about this country that I wish my two boys could 'catch' a little of.

The reason behind the visit is to learn more about cork and its production, courtesy of the leading cork producer in the world, Amorim. I'm keen to find out more about the sorts of measures that Amorim are taking to eradicate taint issues, which still haunt the industry, and also about the natural cork-based alternative closures they are marketing. I'm also looking at issues such as sustainability, which are of great current interest.

It's the first time I've really tried to juggle a work trip and a family trip in this way. It's fraught with danger, in the sense that if Amorim were to foot the whole bill this would be a significant conflict of interest (rather than just a mild one). I guess the only way to deal with this problem is to be honest, and disclose any such information, and trust that readers realize that at all times, I'm trying to deliver the best, most balanced, most informed perspective on any particular issue that I'm writing on.

After all, my reputation, and thus my future earning potential, depends on this. If gathering data means spending time with winemakers, staying in their homes, eating dinner with them, having flights paid for, and receiving samples, all in order to get the best perspective and inside line on any particular story and issue, then as long as it is disclosed, it is not a huge problem. It's the undisclosed, behind the scenes deals that are worrisome. And for me, in half-term week, being able to combine family time with work on the road is hugely advantageous.

Last night we stayed in the Alentejo at Monte dos Arneiros. It's a beautifully quiet, secluded country retreat just an hour's drive from Lisbon, and we liked it so much we intend to go back there in the near future. While I visited Amorim's plants at Coruche, the kids and Fiona swam and rode bicycles through the 500 hectares of cork oak forest that this property manages. Food was authentic local fare, presented without any fuss or pretension. The weather was atypically cool and damp, but we still had a good time.

Tonight we are staying in Espinho, at the Hotel Solverde. It's on the coast, some 18 km south of Porto, and despite the dire account of Espinho in the Rough Guide, it seems quite a nice spot - well, at least, the hotel is rather plush and well managed, boasting indoor and outdoor pools, a spar, and a helicopter pad. We haven't hit the town, yet.

Much merriment was had this evening when we checked out the indoor pool, and were told that we had to wear swimming hats. All of us. We purchased these from the spa reception - elder son chose pink, younger son red, I was yellow and Fiona was blue. They made us all look very daft indeed, and it reminded me of the time when we fell foul of French swimming pool laws that insisted on males wearing speedo-style trunks and not swimming shorts (so, as a mark of protest, we swam in our briefs, which was, rather strangely, allowed).

Tonight we dined on room service and ordered some wines from the restaurant list. Even in a five-star joint like this, you can drink well reasonably cheaply. The wine list had some good names (alas, no vintages or descriptions), but we enjoyed the Quinta das Bageiras 2003 Bairrada (good, complex, earthy, spicy Baga that tastes wonderfully natural and traditional) and the Casa de Togeira Vinho Verde 2007 (laser-sharp, crisp and attractively fruity). The former was 17 Euros, the latter just 11.
Tomorrow I meet with Amorim's technical expert Miguel Cabral, and then we're off to Antonio Amorim's home for dinner with the kids. I really hope they behave themselves. His kids are of similar age, and ours have been sternly warned...

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Monday, May 26, 2008

Two impressive Chileans

I used to be a bit of a Chile sceptic. Since my January visit, though, I've seen plenty of reasons for optimism about Chilean wine. Yes, there's still a bit of a problem with greenness in reds, and a bit more diversity and complexity in the higher-end wines would be welcomed. And I also think the country needs more boutique wineries, pushing the boundaries of quality on a small scale. But there's a dynamism to the current Chilean wine scene that suggests that in five years time, the picture will be a very different one.

Tonight two interesting wines, both from UK supermarket Marks & Spencer. Not perfect, but encouragingly good, and considering the prices, better than almost all other new world countries can do at this level.

Secano Pinot Noir 2007 Leyda Valley
Made for Marks & Spencer by Vina Leyda. This is a really vibrant Pinot Noir with lovely pure, sappy cherry and raspberry fruit, complemented by a subtle spicy, medicinal note that remains in the background. It's perhaps a little too green and herbal, but the fresh, bright fruit here has a lovely purity to it. It's a delightfully fresh wine that tastes like Pinot. Very primary, but quite joyful. 88/100 (£6.99 Marks & Spencer)

Corralillo Chardonnay Reserve 2005 San Antonio
This biodynamic white comes from Matetic, one of Chile's most exciting producers. It's almost overpowering, with intense flavours of nuts, vanilla, figs, citrus fruits and spice. Super-rich and very ripe, this wine almost has too much flavour for its own good. It really comes into its own with richly flavoured food, where the weight of the wine isn't quite so obvious. It would also work quite well with cheese. A big, complex Chardonnay for current drinking, and not for the timid. 90/100 (£9.99 Marks & Spencer)

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Sunday, May 25, 2008

Lord of The Rings, the shorter version (not wine related)

Found this very funny clip on YouTube. Would have made the 9 h of DVD or 3 h of theatre production a little more manageable.

Two Vouvrays from Huet

Vouvray is wonderful stuff. It's an unusual white wine from the Loire, made from the Chenin Blanc grape, and it can be dry, fizzy, off-dry or sweet (with or without botrytis) - it just depends on the vintage, the vineyard, and the producer. Huet is one of the best producers, and certainly the most famous. A sleb Vouvray, I guess. Here are two very interesting examples.

Domaine Huet Vouvray Le Mont Demi-Sec 2000 Loire, France
Lovely tangy, herby nose with some appley fruit, as well as a bit of sweetness. The palate is just off-dry, with melon, apple and herb notes, finishing with nice mineral complexity. Quite full and lovely. 92/100 (rrp £16, Richards Walford are the UK agent)

Domaine Huet Vouvray Le Haut Lieu Sec 1995 Loire, France
Lovely complex nose is fresh and tangy with cheesy, herby fruit. The palate is bright and lean with high acidity. It’s really expressive. A lean, minerally style with a really fresh personality. 92/100 (rrp £17.49, Richards Walford are the UK agent)

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Saturday, May 24, 2008

Lord of the rings, and more wine

As I think I've mentioned here before, our boys are adopted. They're brothers, and they have two sisters who are also adopted with another couple. We get together a couple of times a year, home and away, and it's usually good fun.

This weekend we're here in London, and we thought it might be nice to go to the theatre. So we booked tickets for Lord of the Rings. I'm not a huge fan of musicals - lots of songs and dancing and all that. But it was actually fantastically creative, although our younger son didn't get the concept: 'That was so fake', he said at the end. The set and lighting were utterly incredible, and the way that this complicated, action-packed plot was dealt with on one stage was imaginative and totally memorable.

It was long, though, and I fell asleep during one of the fight scenes, but then I was up late last night watching Peep Show and the Mighty Boosh, so I was quite tired. My bad.
Tonight, we're trying a few wines. The De Bortoli Shiraz Viognier 2004 is even better than last night, showing lovely focus and dark peppery fruit, although there is a hint of greenness - I guess the challenge is to get 'old world' focus and freshness by picking earlier, but then to avoid overt greenness.
A real hit for me is the Churchill Estates 2006 Douro, which is fresh with lovely dark, plummy fruit. It has a slightly bitter plummy tang on the palate, but it really tastes of the Douro, which is a good thing. If you want an introduction to Douro reds, Churchill's is one of the few inexpensive examples that actually show some of the genuine Douro character.
Secano Estate Pinot Noir 2007 Leyda Valley, Chile is remarkably fresh, expressive cool-climate Pinot, with herby, slightly green, slightly reductive cherryish fruit. There's some plumminess here. It's just a little too green and reductive for me, but it is deliciously well defined and fresh. Promising, but there is still some work to do here.

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Friday, May 23, 2008

Thoughts on blind tasting, and stuff...

So I spent the day in the office. When I went freelance I thought I'd be spending a lot of days working from home. It has actually been much busier than I'd envisaged, so I haven't had all that many days when I've not been going out to work elsewhere.

The way I prefer to work is in bursts. I like to work really hard, and then take it a bit easier. I aim to try to get some work/life balance where I'm not crazy busy all the time. To make this work with the family, I work unusual hours - quite often, I'm working late at night simply because this means I'm more available when the kids are around. The other factor is the 'muse': when you are writing, some times are unpredictably much more fertile than others - you have to run with this.

So what did I do today? I finished a piece on the perception of wine that looked at studies investigating what happens in the brain when we taste wine. I did some invoicing. I wrote an annoyed email to a car hire company who were being arseholes about a one-day rental Fiona made last month (a long story). I spent a while on the phone to Susanna from Imbibe magazine who is doing a really interesting piece on wine preservation devices, and wanted some technical input. I walked RTL. I helped Fiona bath RTL (a traumatic process). I played three games of Top Trumps with younger son, losing 2-1. I mowed the lawn. I fired up the barbie. And I responded to Fiona's challenge and tasted three wines blind.

The blind tasting was difficult, as it often is. The first wine was tricky: it was red, and sweet enough to be new world, but then again it was savoury enough to be ripe old world. There wasn't the complexity for it to be serious old world, but then it wasn't sweet and simple.

It was impossibly hard to place. I guessed South Africa, then Chile, then Italy, then France, before hitting the mark with Australia. It was the De Bortoli Yarra Valley Shiraz Viognier 2004. Tasting it unblind, though, I'm getting lovely dark peppery cool climate Syrah fruit that I didn't get blind. Blind, I got more of the ripeness/greenness contrast. [So is this the power of suggestion at work, or just that when I taste unblind my perception receives input from my memory and knowledge of wine that then helps me to make more of the sensory information I am getting?] It was the greenness that led me to Chile and South Africa, but because I now know this is from the Yarra, I'm not as afraid of the greenness.

The second wine was white, but it wasn't obviously Chardonnay or Sauvignon. I couldn't spot oak, but there was a rounded texture. It was actually a Chardonnay Reserve from Finca Flichman, but, almost bizarrely, it tasted like a rich unoaked Italian Pinot Grigio. Really tough blind. Finally, I was poured a vile, slightly oxidised Chardonnay - it turned out to be a supermarket entry level Chilean Chardonnay fro 2005 that hadn't survived well.

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Thursday, May 22, 2008

A busy week draws to a close

A gentle day in the office is in order tomorrow, after four rather hectic days. The LIWF (London International Wine Fair) has finished. It's an intensely busy time for anyone associated with the wine industry in the UK, and for journalists like me it's a great opportunity to catch up with all the winemakers and principals visiting from around the world - this is perhaps the most significant opportunity the fare presents, rather than simply tasting wines, which we're lucky enough to be able to do a lot of here in London, anyway. Even so, it's best not to look to carefully through the show catalogue because you just come away feeling that you've missed out on so much, rather than being content about the good work you got done.

After ducking out of the fair and spending Tuesday at the Natural Wines tasting, I spent the last two days at Excell in meetings, seminars, and even wandering the floor doing a bit of opportunistic tasting. Wednesday night was the PLB (a huge UK agent/importer/wholesaler) 25th anniversary party at Vinopolis, which just about the whole of the trade fair seemed to be present at. I watched the football and drank a lot of beer, but was shrewd enough to leave before transport options home got complicated or expensive. It was quite a jolly event.

But rather than talk in depth about the myriad experiences I've had this week, I thought I'd just share a few photos, with brief captions. They can be found here (currently blogger seems to be reluctant to post images).

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Natural wine tasting

Remarkable tasting today at the Whole Foods market on Kensington High Street, with a focus on natural wines. I hadn't intended to stay the whole day (this is London Trade Fair Week) but it was so compelling that I just couldn't leave, and even though I meant to depart by a certain time to head elsewhere, I ended up staying beyond this.

The tasting was organized by two importers specializing in natural wine: David Harvey's Sous l'Nez and Videvin (Isaure de Pontbriand and Florian Perate's new venture). In addition, a dozen or so growers were there presenting their wines. It's late and I haven't got time to mention any specifics, but I came away really impressed and enthused.

Of course, there are lots of questions, such as, 'what is natural wine anyway'? And some of these wines were so out of the ordinary it was hard to assess them in the normal way. But most tasted as if they were 'living', and there were very few wines that I'd pick out as being faulty, because even where they weren't totally spotlessly clean, they worked.


Australia's young guns, a tasting

There was a collective deep intake of breath in the UK wine trade today, as everyone prepared for the London International Wine Fair, which is the big event in the calendar each year, and begins tomorrow (Tuesday). It will be a crazy busy three days, with lots of people in town from around the globe - from a journalist's perspective an embarassment of riches, making it hard to know just who to spend the limited time available with.

Today there was a pre-fair lunch with Australia's 'young guns' at Ransome's Dock restaurant. The young guns weren't all that young, to be honest. I mean, I was younger than some of them. They were Stuart Bourne (Barossa Valley Estates), Samantha Connew (Wirra Wirra), Linda Domas (Linda Domas Wines), Marty Edwards (The Lane), Mac Forbes (Mac Forbes Wines), Matt Gant (First Drop) and Celine Rousseau (Chalkers Crossing). All of them brought a few wines along, and there were also a couple from Ben Glaetzer who was meant to be there but had visa problems. Pictured above is Linda Domas in full flow; Mac Forbes is at the end of the table.

The wines were pretty interesting, and the food was excellent (fillet of red mullet with saffron, potato and fennel broth, followed by lapin au vin, followed by some nice cheeses). Standout wine for me was Mac Forbes EB1 Pinot Noir 2005 from the Yarra: 6 h foottreading, followed by 24 h maceration, then pressed to barrel. Remarkable stuff, which has put on some colour during its long elevage and is now super-elegant. Mac has spent some time with Dirk Niepoort in the Douro, and this shows in his approach, I reckon.

Ransome's Dock is hard to get to - the easiest route is through Battersea Park from Queenstown Road station. It's a really nice walk, and pictured is the view of a gasholder and Battersea Power Station that you get as you leave the park.

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Monday, May 19, 2008

Two Furmints: Slovenia and Hungary

Furmint is a grape variety that's relatively new to me. It's the classic variety of Hungary's Tokaji region, where it makes the fabulous sweet Tokaji wines. But it also makes dry wines here, too. By coincidence, I had two Furmints in my sample rack, one from Hungary and one from Slovenia. So I thought I'd try them together. They both show a family resemblence, but also some differences. I was really thrilled by the Slovenian wine, which reminded me of a very good drier style of Gruner Veltliner. The Hungarian Furmint is possibly a little more complex, and also has a hint of Austria about it, but it's perhaps more of an acquired taste.

Aside: I reckon the vineyards of central Europe have staggering potential for making serious, interesting wines, with a combination of good sites and unusual grape varieties.

Verus Vineyards Furmint 2007 Slovenia
(Alternative name: Verus Stajerska Slovenia Kakovostino Vino ZGP Šipon 2007, where Šipon is a synonym for Furmint.) Beautifully packaged, this is a really stylish wine that reminds me a bit of Austrian Gruner Veltliner. It has a lively, fruity, almost peppery nose with some grapey depth to it. The palate is really lively and fresh, with an exuberant fruity, spicy character and a hint of spritz on the bright, acidic finish. This is a very pure, clean, minerally white that's full flavoured but zippy, and would be a versatile food wine. I like this a lot. 12% alcohol. (See www.verusvino.com for more details). 90/100 (£7.99 http://www.therealwineco.co.uk/)

Disznók? Tokaji Dry Furmint 2006 Hungary
The ancient variety of the Tokaji region makes dry whites like this, as well as the legendary sweet Tokaji. This has a broad, rich, deep nose with a smoky, spicy edge to the melon and herb fruit. The palate is quite complex with a fresh minerally character underpinning broad, grapey, slightly spicy fruit. There’s lots of interest here: a really food friendly style with a lot of personality. Beguiling stuff. 91/100 (£9.19 rrp, contact fionacampbell@btopenworld.com for more information)

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Sunday, May 18, 2008

Serious Languedoc Sauvignon?

France's appellation system is mucked up. The problem is, it's hierarchical, but the hierarchy doesn't really work all that well. Many Vin de Pays are much better quality wines than AOC (Appellation d'Origine Controllee) wines. This is completely confusing for consumers. Look, I'm not denying the fact that AOCs have helped preserve the wondeful diversity of French wines - it's just that in practice the whole system needs some sort of overhaul.

Anyway, the Vin de Pays category goes from strength to strength, but it's a shame that these wines have to be stigmatized by being a lower rung on the hierarchical appellation system.

Here's a fantastic Sauvignon that's the best yet Vin de Pays Sauvignon I've encountered.

La Baume 'La Grande Olivette' Sauvignon Blanc 2007 Vin de Pays d'Oc, France
Beautifully packaged in a deeply punted bottle, this is a serious Sauvignon Blanc. The nose shows lots of rich, almost pungent gooseberry and passion fruit (technically, this is a thiol-rich style, and it's almost sweaty), together with some green pepper notes. The palate is concentrated and intense with richness combining nicely with grassy freshness. Stylish stuff. 90/100 (£6.99 Waitrose)

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Saturday, May 17, 2008

A Portuguese white blend with a difference, and more footy

FA Cup final day. [For the benefit of non-English readers, this is the final of England's main soccer cup competition, which has been going for 120+ years and is rich with history and passion.] This year, we had a final without any of the big four for the first time in ages, but like the Millwall vs. UTD match a few years ago, there was a non-premiership team in the final - this time Cardiff City. The game itself was quite good, with Cardiff showing well and Portsmouth looking decidedly short of ideas. A rather scrappy, but well taken goal by the talented but ungainly Kanu settled it Portsmouth's way. Could have done with a few more goals, and even a sending off to make it truly memorable, though. In Parker points? 86/100.

The football season is all but ended, with just Wednesday's Champions league final to come. The latest on the City/Sven saga is that Thasking allegedly decided to put the whole squad up for sale, which is crazy. City have issued a statement saying this is nonsense, which such a proposal surely should be. The cost of assembling a side of equivalent quality would be immense.

The reality is that the premiership has a top three of Arsenal, Chelsea and Man UTD. Then there's Liverpool who have fourth spot to themselves. Vying for fifth and sixth place are a gaggle of teams, including Everton, Aston Villa, Tottenham. Then I'd say there's a group of teams who are safe from relegation but who would struggle to get into Europe: West Ham, Newcastle, Porstmouth. Then everyone else is involved in a relegation battle. Where do City stand? At the moment, they're just about in the fighting for 5/6th group (look, I'm being optimistic). Which isn't bad. The cost of creating a team, from scratch, that could find themselves in the same position is absolutely staggering. Let's face it, to improve a side that is already safe in the premiership is difficult, even if you have a bit of cash to play with. There just aren't that many really good players around, and even fewer of them are available. Look how Liverpool have struggled trying to keep up with the big three.

The danger is that messing around with the squad too much and selling some of the stars could result in a side that is suddenly thrust into the relegation scrap. That would be disastrous.

Onto more cheerful subjects. Let's talk wine. I'm sipping, as I write, a rather unusual bottle of Portuguese white. It's called 'Wine writer's white cuvee: created for the IWA by Charles Metcalfe, blending wines from all six IWA producers, to celebrate the 2008 London extravaganza'. This is an upcoming tasting of Portuguese white wines, and IWA stands for Independent Winegrowers' Association, so the component wines will have come from Luis Pato, Quinta dos Roques, Quinta de Covela, Alves de Sousa, Casa de Cello and Quinta do Ameal.

The wine is in a clear glass bottle, sealed with the longest, most perfect-looking cork I've ever seen. I wish all corks were this good (pictured). What about the wine? It's reductive with a strongly minerally, flinty, slightly rubbery nose, but lovely fresh citrussy fruit. The palate is quite tight, showing some more of that mineralic reduction, and more of the citrussy fruit. The acidity is quite high, making this a refreshing sort of wine, but there's a bit of flatness, too. Reduction and oxidation in the same wine? Possible, but I don't want to be too hard on what is essentially a sound wine. However, I think this is a case where the whole isn't greater than the sum of its parts. But it is a thought-provoking sort of wine.

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Friday, May 16, 2008

The F word

Just watching the first of the new series of The F Word. On one level, I should hate this: Gordon Ramsay's vulgar, celebrity-obsessed approach combines with a slice of The Generation Game (watching members of the public embarass themselves) to make entertainment that's perfect for for the ADHD generation. But on another level, it's drawing people into food, which somehow manages to stay at the centre of this program. If I'm being honest, I enjoy watching it, and Gordon is brilliant at doing TV. It works. You can watch this and enjoy it even if you have little interest in food, but by watching it you might begin to develop such an interest. This is the food equivalent of Top Gear, which my wife watches even though she has no interest in motors. I wonder if anyone could ever do the same sort of thing with wine?

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Friday night thoughts

Had a day working from home today. A bit of a late start, but then some serious work on Brettanomyces, that most complex and interesting of wine 'faults'. Found out that the theme for my next Sunday Express column has been changed at short notice - this goes with the territory. Forgot to do some much-needed invoicing (I'm not the most financially motivated of writers). Walked the dog twice.

Then I took elder son to play golf at what turned out to be a really nice nine-hole course in Ascot called Lavender Park. Good greens, bunkers in good nick, thoughtful layout - ideal place to learn how to play. Finished off by watching a rather dud film, Charlie Wilson's War. There was just something deeply wrong with the idea of a comedy about such a serious subject as the Russian invasion of Afghanistan and its aftermath. And casting ultra-clean Tom Hanks as a playboy congressman was simply absurd. Philip Seymour Hoffman is a serious actor who was also incongruous in his role, although he pulled it off well. Then a chance to catch the latest episode of Peep Show, which is a fantastic comedy. One of the best.

So, wine? Yes. Bonterra Rose 2007 Mendocino, California is pretty good - savoury and bright, a fusion of cranberry juice and red cherries, with some grassiness, too. It's very hard for a rose to be serious or really exciting, but this is rather nice. But, at £9.99 from Waitrose, it isn't cheap: I wonder whether it's ever necessary to pay £10 for a rose. Shaw & Smith Adelaide Hills Shiraz 2006 is pretty impressive. It has a fantastic peppery, cool-climate Syrah character, with some meatiness and raspberry fruit. There's also a darker blackberry fruit character, and some spicy oak in the background. At the moment this is quite tight-wound and tannic, but I'm very impressed by the freshness and definition. This is pretty serious, and I'd rate it at 93/100. But perhaps this should have been labelled 'Syrah', to better reflect its old-world leanings, rather than 'Shiraz'?

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Two from Esporão in Portugal's Alentejo

I would like to like the Esporão wines more. Let me try to explain what I mean by this.

Esporão is one of the largest producers in Portugal's Alentejo region. Based in Reguengos, they make large quantities of the Monte Velha brand, plus some more serious wines, the Reservas (tried here), the varietal wines, and a few high-end bottlings such as the Garrafeira. David Baverstock, an Aussie who's been working in Portugal for a coulple of decades, is the likeable and extremely able chief winemaker.

It would be so convenient if I really liked the wines. After all, they are highly thought of in Portugal, and I'm a big fan of all things Portuguese. But I'm not all that keen on the reds, and this Reserva in particular. I think it's the imprint of American oak that I find off-putting. But this could just be a personal thing. The white Reserva is very nice.

Esporão Reserva (Tinto) 2005 Alentejo, Portugal
A blend of the Trincadeira, Aragones and Cabernet Sauvignon grape varieties, this is a deep-coloured wine. It shows fresh, bright plum and blackberry flavours, with a distinctive slightly roasted, tarry savoury edge and a hint of bitterness, that isn't completely masked by the sweet coconut and vanilla characters from the American oak that was used here. It's an attractive, food-friendly red, but, if I'm going to be ultracritical, I don't find the oak that well integrated, and the bitterness on the finish is a bit off-putting. 85/100 (£12.30, UK agent Charles Hawkins)

Esporão Reserva (Branco) 2007 Alentejo, Portugal
A blend of Arinto, Antão Vaz and Roupeiro that spends six months in new French and American oak barrels. The nose is attractive, with lemony fruit as well as some grapefruit freshness, and any oak notes right in the background. The palate is savoury, with citrus pith and grapefruit, together with a hint of waxiness and good acidity. A food-friendly style of wide appeal, with very little obvious oak, aside from a hint of vanilla. It's a really nice wine. 89/100 (£9.95 UK agent Charles Hawkins)

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Thursday, May 15, 2008

Danish reduction

Just back from Denmark, where I was attending Lallemand's technical conference. Last night, I arrived at Billund airport at 11.30 pm, and was driven 40 km to Horsens, for the Bygholm Park hotel (http://www.scandic-hotels.dk/) where we were meeting.

It's a beautiful setting, surrounded by attractive parkland (above). I was up early to put the finishing touches on my presentation, grab some breakfast, and then wander down to the conference room.

It felt like a rare luxury to be able to attend a scientific meeting. This was the first I had been to since I finished my day-job employment as a science editor. The open spirit of enquiry and generosity of spirit that you get at scientific meetings is to be marvelled at. [Science is one of the few truly cooperative human ventures I can think of that actually works.]

The program was as follows:

Technical meeting Sulphur compounds –production and sensory impact

Wine faults and their prevalence: data from the world's largest blind tasting
Jamie Goode and Sam Harrop

The genetics of sulfide taint production in Saccharomyces
Angela Lee Linderholm, Linda F. Bisson, Kevin L. Dietzel, Yeun Hong, Gagandeep R. Kumar, and Carrie L. Findleton

Formation of aroma-active S-compounds by Oenococcus oeni during malolactic fermentation in wine-like media and wine

Doris Rauhut, Volker Schäfer, Beata Beisert, Bernd-Christoph Lochbühler, Magdalena Gawron-Scibek and Sibylle Krieger-Weber

Optimizing wine quality through the application of flavour-active yeast strains and nutrients.
Chris Curtin

A reduction in smell?
Michael Moisseeff

I'm happy to expand on any of these if there's any interest. I thought all the papers were excellent. The most entertaining by far, though, was the final one, which featured some fun with scents. Moisseeff works the audience brilliantly - he's like a stand-up comedian. I should really blog on his talk separately.

I left after a quick beer to catch my return flight, and was back home by 10 pm. Utterly painless journey, in part because I was flying from a tiny airport in an organized sort of country. A really good day.

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Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Wine faults in Denmark

I'm currently enduring that special part of hell also known as Gatwick South Terminal, en route to Billund in Denmark, where tomorrow I'll be presenting a paper on wine faults at the XXth Entretiens Scientifiques Lallemand. I've never been to Denmark before, and seeing as I'm coming back tomorrow evening, I doubt I'll see much of it. Apparently, Legoland is in Billund.

Most of my talk will be based on the last three years' data from the International Wine Challenge. These data have been collected by Sam Harrop MW (pictured), who is a co-author on this paper, and they're really exciting. The strength of this data set is that it's large (c. 15 000 wines opened, 10 000 separate wines entered); it's a 'real world' analysis of faults; some reasonably smart palates have been involved in getting the data; and there are multiple years' worth of data to look at. The weakness is that it's sensory analysis and not chemical, and also that faults such as reduction and brettanomyces may well be under-reported, as well as the possibility of false positives.

One of the exciting things about the paper is that it will contain a regional breakdown. Some countries are over-delivering oxidized wines, bretty wines, and wines with reduction defects.

There's a limit to what I can say about the data here, because they aren't mine to share. But I can say (and these are provisional figures from an ongoing analysis, so please don't quote them elsewhere) that cork taint is hovering around 3% all three years. Screwcap reduction is around 2.5%, but going down. With 2008, it seems that winemaking faults are overtaking closure faults as the chief cause of problems. Around 7% of wines entered into the challenge show some sort of fault, which isn't really good enough.

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Tuesday, May 13, 2008

A birthday and some more wine

It has been another gloriously summery day here in London. I've done the bare minimum of work, because it was a significant birthday for Fiona, and celebration was in order.

After a relaxed start to the day, we went to lunch at The Wharf in Teddington, which is beautifully situated on the river, right next to the lock. The service was good, the setting was stunning, but unfortunately the food was distinctly average. But that's the problem with the restaurant scene in the suburbs: most of our local options are mediocre, but they still do a roaring trade. I suspect that people generally aren't all that fussy about what they put in their mouths, as long as the menu looks good and the setting seems right.

We had a couple of glasses of wine - it was the sort of list that looked OK, but had an annoying tendency not to give the producers' names. Fiona's choice was a Wairau Valley Sauvignon Blanc and mine a Chilean Carmenere Reserve (yes, the by-the-glass option was pretty limited), and the waiter wasn't able to find out who had made them. The wines were actually quite good, but it's frustrating not being given important information on the list.

Then this evening we met up with good friends Karl and Kate and their kids for a relaxing evening, again on the river. Kate's parents have some land fronting onto the Thames at Chertsey, and keep a boat there, and that was the venue for this evening's fun. We had a few drinks and then took a trip on the river, before heading back for some food. It was a beautiful evening, and the kids behaved themselves. Pictured is Fiona taking a swing over the water. She stayed dry.

Two quick wine mentions. First, Burgans Albarino 2006 Rias Baixas is a classic Albarino with a subtly floral, lemony nose and a palate that displays grapefruit and citrus pith character. It's fresh and quite precise, but with good depth of flavour. Stylish. 89/100 (£8.99 Oddbins). The second wine is a red with a bit of southern personality. Selection Laurence Feraud Seguret 2006 Cotes de Rhone Villages is quite deep in colour with attractive aromas of sweet red fruits and peppery spice. The palate is brightly fruited with some grippy, peppery tannins and a distinctive spiciness that nicely counters the sweetness of the fruit. There's also a hint of meatiness here, together with a bit of earthiness. This is quite seductive, in a modern, fruit forward style, but there's also some old world earthiness and spice that I find really appealing. Isn't cheap, but it is good. 90/100 (£9.99 Virgin Wines)

Nerdy closure note: the Burgans is sealed with a bright orange synthetic cork (supremecorq), while the Seguret is sealed with a screwcap (saranex-only liner).

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Music affects the perception of wine - a scientific study

An interesting study has been released today showing that music can affect the perception of wine.

Most of us have experience of wines showing differently according to context, but this study actually demonstrates that the style of the music can prime the listener and then alter their perception of a wine being tasted at the same time. The reason this is interesting is because information from one sense (hearing) is affecting another unrelated sense (flavour perception).

The study itself isn't a proper scientific paper, but rather a short publication of the results of a collaboration between Chilean producer Montes and Dr Adrian North, a psychologist working at Heriot Watt University in Edinburgh. 250 adults from the University were offered a glass of one of four Montes wines in exchange for answering a short set of questions about the experience of this wine. As they were tasting, one of four pieces of music were playing, or as a control, no music was played.

The four wines:

Montes Alpha Chardonnay 2006 - Majestic, Tesco & Morrisons £10.99
Montes Alpha Cabernet Sauvignon 2005 - Majestic, Tesco & Morrisons £10.99
Montes Alpha Merlot 2006 - Majedstic & Co-op £10.99
Montes Alpha Syrah 2006 - Waitrose & Tesco £10.99

The four pieces of music:

Powerful and heavy: Carmina Burana – Orff
Subtle and refined: Waltz of the Flowers (from The Nutcracker) – Tchaikovsky
Zingy and refreshing: Just Can’t Get Enough – Nouvelle Vague
Mellow and soft: Slow Breakdown – Michael Brook

The results showed a statistically significant shift in the perception of the wine with music type. The authors concluded that the study "...shows that the music shifted the perception of the wine in the direction of the mood expressed by the music by an average of 37.25%. The mean percentage for the white wine was 32.25% and the mean percentage for the red wine was 42.25%, meaning that the effect of music was stronger on the taste of red wine than on the taste of white wine"

You can read the report here.

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Monday, May 12, 2008

Two wines from Cyprus

Always nice to try something different, although I'm anxious not to give excessive coverage to wines that are novel over better wines that aren't (if you see what I mean).

These two wines are from Cyprus, and are the result of a collaboration between Sodap (a large co-operative winery) and the Co-op (UK retailer). Both are priced £3.99, and represent good value for money, although I'm not sure exactly how commercial they are.

Island Vines White 2006 Cyprus
A blend of the Xynisteri, Ugni Blanc, Malvasia Lunga and Gordo grape varieties. This is quite rich and minerally, with taut savoury, herby, citrussy fruit and good acidity, as well as a slightly grippy persistency on the palate. It's very fresh, but there's depth here, too. A bright unoaked white that's highly food compatible. You'd expect the 2007 to be on the market now, which would have added freshness, but this is still a very appealing white wine with a hint of seriousness. 87/100 (£3.99 Co-op)

Island Vines Red 2006 Cyprus
A blend of Carignan, Alicante, Mavro, Mataro and Cabernet Sauvignon. There's sweet, slightly baked jammy, raisined fruit here, but this is countered by some peppery, spicy freshness. It's quite tasty, though: the fruit remains to the fore, and the rather grippy, peppery structure, leading to a drying finish, serves to counter the sweeter, more-ripe elements of the wine. Overall, a satisfying, grippy, peppery red that's very food friendly. 84/100 (£3.99 Co-op)

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James Millton's compost heap

Another short film from my New Zealand trip, which I've just posted on YouTube to accompany the write up that's appeared on the main site today.

Here we see James Millton's compost heap. Composting is an important part of organics and biodynamics. When it's done well, like this, the core of the heap reaches 70 degrees Centigrade, fuelled by microbial activity. That's really hot - too hot for most organisms to survive.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Golf at the Belfry

Just back from a tremendous weekend at the Belfry, where I got to play on the Brabazon course. The golf day was organized by New Zealand winery Craggy Range, and Fiona and the kids came too, which was a nice touch.

I was in a fourball with Chris Losh (editor of Imbibe), Warren Adamson (who runs NZ winegrowers in the UK) and TJ Peabody (joint MD of Craggy). Warren and Chris are very good golfers with single-figure handicaps. TJ and I aren't. But we had a fabulous time, and the course was magnificent (although the greens were slower and the rough longer than we were expecting, probably because of the time of year).

I hit one remarkable shot that was heading for a creek, hit the corner of the wooden banking on the other side of the creek and bounced back over the creek onto the fairway. I also hit a big drive into the trees only to see it bounce back onto the fairway. Luck was with me. But I still lost half-a-dozen balls.

It was really hot though, and so by the end we were all knackered. In the evening there was a dinner in the Ryder room, with some very nice Craggy wines. I felt a bit guilty because Fiona was left with the kids, dining on room service and watching TV. But the room did have a spectacular balcony looking over the 10th and 18th.

Pictured is the view looking back down from the 18th green. It's a real treat for someone of my golfing ability (low) to get to play a serious course.

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Friday, May 09, 2008

First barbie of the year, with three lovely Aussies

Just about to fire up the first barbie of the year, as I sit outside and write this blog entry. It will be for a ribeye steak, and to pair with it I have three delicious wines from Margaret River, Western Australia. They're all from Vasse Felix, one of the producers I didn't visit on my trip, this time last year.

It is my honestly held opinion that Margaret River is a serious wine region. It rocks. There's something about the best reds from here: they're ripe and intense, but they're also well balanced and well defined. You wouldn't mistake a Margaret River Cabernet-based wine for a classed-growth (at least, not in their youth), but there's a seriousness here. It's not quite best-of-old-world seriousness, but it's getting close.

But before I get to the wines, I have to log the fact that I'm a warm-climate sort of person. I love, more than almost anything else, to be able to sit outside in the evening at the end of a hot day. Yes, the cosy fireside has an appeal of its own in winter, but it doesn't come close to sitting outside, preferably surrounded by natural beauty, as the sun begins to dip. I also love eating al fresco at night (if it's possible to eat al fresco in the evening).

Vasse Felix Cabernet Merlot 2005 Margaret River
Lovely expressive well-balanced nose showing elegant blackberry and dark cherry fruit. The palate is ripe with lovely freshness to the sweet, berryish blackcurrant fruit, which is backed up by spicy tannins. Delicious stuff, with freshness, ripeness and balance. A delicious, expressive Margaret River red in quite an elegant style. 91/100 (£10.50 Majestic, Tanners, Christopher Piper)

Vasse Felix Shiraz 2005 Margaret River
Weighing in at 15% alcohol, this is a dense, deep coloured red with a nose that shows sweet dark fruits, but which is tight wound and spicy, too. The palate is sweet and dense with ripe, intense blackberry fruit and some firm spicy tannins providing a counter for this sweet, lush fruit. There's also a bit of a chocolatey, coffee-ish richness. Pretty serious stuff. 92/100 (£10.50 Hennings, Hailsham Cellars, Cambridge Wine Merchants)

Vasse Felix Cabernet Sauvignon 2005 Margaret River
This spends 18 months in French oak. An intense, sweet ripe nose showing blackcurrant fruit with some lovely earthy, chalky, spiciness and lush intensity. The palate is sweetly fruited with lovely depth and a really attractive minerality. A refined, fresh Cabernet of real depth, this has good medium term ageing potential. Intense but balanced. 94/100 (£14.50 Hailsham Cellars, Selfridges, Direct Wines)

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The future of wine, and Bordeaux 2007

Just a brief post to alert readers to two documents that were in my in-box this morning.

The first is from Berry Bros & Rudd, and it's their predictions for the future of wine. They range from the sound, to the slightly absurd. It's a good read. See for yourself here.

The second is from Liv-ex, and it's a document on Bordeaux 2007. I quote:

"Each year Liv-ex surveys its members upon their return from tasting the new Bordeaux vintage. The survey is designed to track the consensus of opinion amongst the best professional tasters of young Bordeaux. Liv-ex’s membership numbers 175 of the world’s biggest buyers and sellers of fine wine globally. The 2007 was conducted from mid-April onwards and was concluded prior to the release of scores and notes from Robert Parker."

You can read this here.


Thursday, May 08, 2008

Tasting in Oxford, and an epic journey

Did a tasting yesterday evening in Oxford, for the Oxford University Wine Society. It went well, but my plans for getting home were thrown into disarray when the train to Reading was late, and I missed my connection to Feltham. This meant that my next best option was to head into Paddington, but by the time I got there the tubes had finished and the last Heathrow Express (another option) had left ages ago. So I headed off and got the first bus I could find that was going west, ending up at Hammersmith bust station. From there I got the N9 to Heathrow, and at Heathrow I picked up the 285 bus, which finally got me home just before 3 am.

Oxford is a beautiful city, especially in the evening sunlight. It must be a very cool place to be a student. Not since Beijing, though, have I seen as many bicycles. There are millions of them. Pictured is Broad Street, looking towards the Sheldonian theatre.

Earlier in the day I'd been to the Sainsbury press tasting; today is the Waitrose press tasting. Tomorrow I feel like taking a day off.

Footnote: as of today, Fiona and I have been married for 15 years. Can you believe it?


Tuesday, May 06, 2008

A day in Lisbon

Spent a day in Lisbon, doing some benchmarking for Portuguese producer D&F. The idea: D&F are trying to crack the UK market (among others) with a range of wines, mainly from co-ops plus some from private growers. They put together a tasting for their various winemakers of some 31 wines, including six branded wines from elsewhere that have proved successful in the UK. They invite two UK journalists with a particular interest in Portuguese wines (Simon Woods and myself) to come out to give them our perspective on the wines.

Simon and I were asked to be honest, and we were, which at times proved quite uncomfortable. But it was a worthwhile exercise. I think there were some good wines there, but not many that I think will stand a chance in the crowded UK marketplace. But they aren't a million miles away from being successful. Packaging/label design/presentation was perhaps the biggest problem. The labels need to be better designed (with the UK market in mind), and give the sorts of information that will help consumers make a decision. The use of shrink-on plastic capsules should be avoided because these look horribly cheap.

The winemaking was also a tiny bit off for UK palate preferences. As a whole, the reds were too oxidative in style and lacked freshness and definition. For this level of the market - inexpensive supermarket wines - the fruit is the key, and it needs to be bright and attractive. The raw materials that these wines are made from seem to be fairly sound in almost all cases. Two of the whites were really impressive; the roses were a little off target, though. But the fact that D&F are doing this sort of exercise is tremendously encouraging, and the hope is that just by getting all these winemakers together to talk and bond will have some real benefit that will be seen in the wines.

Also had a chance to wander round a bit during the lunch break. Didn't get far, but it's always great fun to wander round interesting cities such as Lisbon.


More Bordeaux 2005. High alcohol? From Bordeaux?

What do you come to Bordeaux for? I'd suggest that the primary draw for most people is full-flavoured-yet-elegant, ageworthy, structured red wines offering impeccable balance and moderate alcohol - which you'd hope would develop with age into something complex and compelling.

I know a lot is made of alcohol levels these days. It's a bit of a stick to beat winemakers in new world regions with, and sometimes I encounter wines with high alcohol that seem perfectly balanced and at ease with themselves. But I did a double take with this next pair of wines in my round-up of affordable 2005 Bordeaux, because they weighed in at 14 and 14.5% alcohol, respectively.

Chateau Grand Barrail Lamarzelle Figeac 2005 Saint-Emilion Grand Cru, Bordeaux
14% alcohol. Sweet, open blackcurrant fruit with a bit of herbiness and some attractive minerality on the nose. The palate has classic dark fruits with a gravelly edge. This is ripe, balanced and quite elegant, with nice tannins, but it's not unapproachable. 90/100

Chateau La Clariere Laithwaite 2005 Cotes de Castillon, Bordeaux
14.5% alcohol. Rich blackcurranty fruit on the nose with some chocolatey richness and spice, but to an extent this is closed. The palate is rich and spicy with sweet fruit and some alcoholic heat. A rich, ripe, modern-styled Claret that's a little closed now - needs time to open out. 88/100 (£14.99 Laithwaites)


Sunday, May 04, 2008

Two stunning kiwis, and a note on the power of terroir

To my mind, New Zealand is the new world country that is coming closest to making high-end wines with some of the complexity and interest of the best from the old world. [Maybe this is a bit unfair on California.] I'm hesitant to say this lest it be misinterpreted; I don't want people to think I'm an old fogey who thinks that Bordeaux and Burgundy have a monopoly on fine wine. But if you're honest, and you've tasted serious high-end wines from around the world, then you'll doubtless share my view that the new world can't yet compete at the very top end.
Anyway, New Zealand continues to make strides, and here are two wines that I reckon are pretty serious. The first is the latest release of Clos St Henri, the 2006 of which I tried a couple of weeks ago in Tate Britain. The second is a delicious Merlot (don't say that often...) from the Gimblett Gravels, a fantastic terroir in New Zealand's Hawkes Bay region. I'd say this wine shows as much Gimblett character as it does Merlot character; I reckon a Gimblett Syrah is closer to this wine than a Merlot from somewhere else, if you see what I mean.
Clos Henri Sauvignon Blanc 2007 Marlborough, New Zealand
Amazing stuff, this Sauvignon made by Henri Bourgeois of Sancerre. It's beautifully textured with good balance between the sweet, ripe pear and peach notes and the green grassy herby, gooseberry character. Real intensity and complexity here, with lovely focus and just the right amount of greenness to confer savoury freshness. I love the packaging, too - this is one of the few (5%?) of New Zealand wines that is still cork sealed. 93/100 (UK agent Les Caves de Pyrene)
Villa Maria Reserve Merlot 2005 Gimblett Gravels, Hawkes Bay, New Zealand
This tastes so much of the Gimblett Gravels - it reminds me of the Syrahs that I've had from here, even though it's a Merlot? Is that terroir? I still think Syrah is the best variety for this patch of ground, but there's no doubting that this is a lovely Merlot. Deep coloured, it has a lovely fresh, bright peppery, gravelly edge to the well defined blackberry and raspberry fruit. The palate has lovely definition with lovely freshness, concentration and ripeness. There's some nice tannic structure. Pretty serious, especially for a Merlot. 93/100 (£15.99 Waitrose, http://www.nzhouseofwine.co.uk/)

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Saturday, May 03, 2008

Spring, some telly and a nagging injury

Was meant to play cricket yesterday, but unfortunately it was called off because of the weather. Probably a good thing: I would have played even though I'm crocked, with a nagging, persistent hamstring injury (that makes it sound like I'm some fit wannabee sporting dude) that just won't go away. I'm a bit of a child when it comes to sport. I love it - it's a beautiful distraction from work and real life.

The weather really has been appallingly bad for the last three weeks or so, with heavy rain every day and unseasonally low temperatures. But today was a proper spring day, and so we went for a long family walk in the Surrey countryside (East Horsley), followed by a pub lunch. The kids were a pain, though. Especially older son, who has been appalling all day, throwing toddler style tantrums. The problem is he's 11 and a big lad, so when he loses it, he needs serious effort to restrain him. His crowning moment so far today has been to lock himself in the bathroom, throw the waste basket (full) out of the window, and use Fiona's cosmetics to write 'F*** You' on the glass. Charming.

Last night I didn't work, but instead we watched some telly. The wonderful Peep show has started a new series, and there was a wine reference. Yes! Mark was meeting up with an ex (Big Suze) to tell her he has chlamydia, but when he finds she's single again he decides to not break the news and instead turn it into a date. Classy! He grabs the wine list and asks her if she wants some wine. She asks for Barolo, her favourite. In a distraught state he scans the list, going further and further down until he finds a Barolo for £45, which he orders through gritted teeth. He tastes it and says its delicious, adding in an aside to himself, 'Obviously it's not really delicious like chocolate or coke, but for wine it's delicious'.

We also watched 'James Taylor, one man band' on BBC4. James Taylor is a dude - he writes some fantastic songs, even if some of them do sound a bit the same. Very early in his career, before things really took off, he came to England and spent two weeks in Twickenham (where we lived for several years, and a couple of miles down the road from where we now are). I never knew that. One of the guitars he was playing, which looked like a small-bodied Martin, has the most beautiful tone. It was mesmeric.

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Thursday, May 01, 2008

More Bordeaux 2005, and I'm not finished yet

I've been taking a closer look at affordable Bordeaux from the 2005 vintage. Four more bottles opened tonight and tasted together.

I'm beginning to wonder about whether this is the sort of vintage that's best offered out of sequence. What I mean is, some producers might be best off sending their 2006s and perhaps their 2007s to market before their 2005s. The Champagne houses sometimes do this with their vintage wines.

Many of the affordable 2005s have been almost impossibly tannic and quite closed: not wines that you gain much pleasure from drinking at the moment. This applies even to some of the less expensive branded wines. But in two years' time they may well be showing their best. [Let's not forget that these are not sweet, seductive wines that consumers can easily understand. They're quite challenging, with high tannins and high acidity. They have their work cut out.]

The problem is, they'll have largely sold through, and these days people drink wines as soon as they buy them. The possibility remains that most of this vintage will be drunk before its time. Pick of the bunch here? The Diane de Belgrave (stocked by Majestic).

Château De La Ligne Cuvée Prestige 2005 Bordeaux Supérieur
This property, with 11 hectares of vines planted in 2002, is owned by Northern Irish businessman Terry Cross (read about the project here). It comes in a heavy, broad-shouldered bottle. The fresh nose shows some fresh red fruits with a bit of tarry spiciness – some American oak was used here as well as French. The palate is bright with super-fresh red berry fruits and a bit of spice, but the dominant theme here is the firm tannic structure and high acidity, giving the wine an almost austere, savoury feel. While I like the freshness of the fruit, and the ample concentration, there’s not enough charm here - and far too much structure - for this to be an enjoyable drink at the moment. It may well blossom, however, with a decade in the cellar – hard to tell. Considering that the vines are still young, it’s a good performance. 85/100

Château Barreyres 2005 Cru Bourgeois, Haut-Médoc, Bordeaux
Given a couple of hours of air, this wine opens out to show a classic, attractive Bordeaux nose of subtly leafy, minerally blackcurrant and red berry fruit. The palate is beginning to evolve a little, showing soft green spicy notes underneath the fruit, held together with some tannic structure and good acidity. A balanced, well proportioned claret beginning to enter its drinking phase, and offering good value. Drink now and over the next couple of years? 86/100 (£8.75 Sainsbury’s)

Diane de Belgrave 2005 Haut-Médoc, Bordeaux
The second wine of fifth growth Château Belgrave, this has a really attractive nose showing dark fruits, minerals, olives and spice. The palate shows generous, rich blackcurrant and raspberry fruit backed up by spicy, mineralic structure. There’s some elegance here, and it isn’t as square and tannic as some of the other 2005s I have been tasting of late. Stylish stuff that’s beginning to be approachable now. Drink now and over the next three years? 89/100 (£11.99 Majestic)

Château Preuillac 2005 Cru Bourgeois, Médoc, Bordeaux
Very attractively packaged, this deep coloured wine has a slightly closed nose showing fresh blackcurrant fruit with some dark spice character. The palate is ripe and fresh, with a strongly savoury, gravelly, spicy streak, as well as some attractive chocolatey richness. The tannic structure is fairly dominant at the moment, and there’s good acidity, as well as a bit of oak. Tastes a bit tight and young at the moment, but there’s no reason to suppose that this won’t age well in the medium term. Finishes with dry, grippy tannins. Lose in the cellar for five years? 87/100 (£12.99 Soho Wine Supply)