jamie goode's wine blog: June 2008

Monday, June 30, 2008

Old Sherry rocks!

Sherry, like Madeira, is best old. Very old. [The exception is Fino/Manzanilla, which is best young. Very young.]

I'm trying two very old Sherries side by side tonight, both of which I've blogged on before. They're both brilliantly complex, beguiling, thrilling wines, but there are some differences. Tonight I'm slightly preferring the first, the Hidalgo Oloroso Viejo VORS, which is a little warmer and mellower than the second, the Fortnum and Mason Oloroso VORS from Bodegas Tradicion that I reported on last week, although it's a close run thing.

You only need to sip a very small quantity of these wines, such is their power and complexity. The finish is just amazing on both. Once you've sipped them, you can still taste them ten minutes later. And it just seems a bit foolish trying to describe the myriad flavours that dance on your palate in the form of a standard tasting note.



Had an interesting tasting lunch today. Ben Smith from Bibendum invited me to join him, Vittorio Zoppi (export director of Bisceglia, http://www.agricolabisceglia.com/) and Marco Sabellico (editor at large with Gambero Rosso, http://www.gamberorosso.it/, pictured below) for an informal meal at a Greek restaurant in Primrose Hill, washed down with some Aglianico.

Marco was over to present a masterclass on Aglianico, a grape that is pretty much unknown outside Italy, with the help of the wines from Bisceglia, a go-ahead producer who specializes in the variety. In Italy, Aglianico has a fantastic reputation as the Nebbiolo of the South, although most of it is consumed locally in the southern province of Basilicata, where it comes from. Interestingly, Bascilicata is the only province with a left wing local government, and Vittorio added that it was 'almost free' of the influence of the mafia.

Bisceglia see their role as putting Aglianico back on the map, and based on the tasting I think they might just do it. But what would be really great is if they could gang together with perhaps half a dozen like-minded producers of Aglianico and present a united front. Maybe they could do a press tasting in London, telling the story of this interesting grape variety.

The wines had a modern sheen, with nice purity of fruit, but at their core was an authentic-tasting spine of spicy, slightly earthy tannic structure. It would be unfair to call them rustic, because they are not, but I do like the dense, savoury, spicy character this grape seems to possess. My favourite was the Bisceglia Gudarra Aglianico del Vulture 2005, but it was given a good run for its money by the traditional, ageworthy Riserva 2001. The wines are available in the UK from Bibendum (http://www.bibendum-wine.co.uk/).

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Sunday, June 29, 2008

Pinot Blanc times two: Luxembourg and Germany

Pinot Blanc is a wallflower grape that never gets much attention. Yet it can deliver really attractive wines. Tonight, two examples - one a cheap German from the Pfalz, the other from Luxembourg, freshly listed by Waitrose in the UK. Both are attractive, versatile whites with relatively modest price tags.

Palatium Pinot Blanc 2007 Pfalz, Germany
Bright, fresh and fruity with some melony richness to the fruit, as well as a touch of honey and a crisp, slightly herby, citrussy finish. With a hint of sweetness and a subtle smoky hint, this is a rather stylish, versatile, fruit-driven white that's good value for money. 84/100 (£5.29 Tesco)

Clos des Rochers Pinot Blanc Wormeldange Nussbaum 2006 AOC Moselle Luxembourgoise
I think this is the first wine from Luxembourg that I've tried, and it's pretty good. It's a sort of cross between Germany and Alsace in style. The rich, fruity, smoky spicy nose has real appeal. The palate is just off-dry, with a hint of sweetness to the rich, spicy, herby, baked apple and citrus fruit, which finishes nice and spicy. The high acidity keeps things fresh. A sophisticated white wine that's pretty useful with spicy food. This is actually really good value for money. 89/100 (£8.99 Waitrose)

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Saturday, June 28, 2008

A perfect summer's evening with two Rhones

It's one of those rare evenings in the UK that I just love so much. Warm enough, and still light enough, to sit outside even at 9.30 pm. And part of the reason it is so exciting for me this evening is that it's the first time in quite a while we haven't been in a domestic conflict setting.

As regular readers of this blog will know, our two lads were adopted some eight years ago. They had a rough start, and so it's been great to grow this family together, even though it has been tough work. Sadly, elder son has always been the more troubled, and of late his troubles have intensified to the point where he is throwing enormous tantrums both morning and evening. I guess this is understandable given the bad early experiences. You can cope more easily with tantrums from a toddler because of their size; when it's a big 11 year old, it's trickier. Today, though, he went to stay overnight at Fiona's mum's, and in his place, Louis has a friend to stay. Suddenly, it's like living in a normal family. We went for a long walk with the dog along the Thames, and then came back and they've played happily since. Fiona and I feel like different people.

I cooked this evening. An improvised, simple recipe that involved using lots of tomato, lots of olive oil, lots of garlic, lots of parmesan and a bit of sea salt, served over spagghetti. To accompany it, two Rhones. The first, from Chapoutier, is OK, but like many Chapoutier wines, underdelivers slightly. The second, from Domaine Richaud, is just fantastic: dense, generous, pure and really more-ish.

Chapoutier Crozes-Hermitage Petite Ruche 2005 Northern Rhone, France
This northern Rhone Syrah is bright, fresh and juicily vibrant, with focused raspberry-tinged fruit as well as a subtle peppery meatiness. There's good fresh acidity here, and it's nicely savoury, but it does taste quite light and commercial when compared with more serious Crozes Hermitage. A useful food wine, I'd buy this if the price was right - around £6. 84/100 (Waitrose)

Domaine Richaud Cairanne 2006 Cotes du Rhone Villages, France
A dark, concentrated Southern Rhone wine, this is a blend of Grenache, Syrah, Mourvedre and Carignan. The nose is ripe, meaty, peppery and quite pure. The palate is dense with lovely sweet blackberry and raspberry fruit combining well with a savoury, spicy, slightly reductive streak. There's some lushness here (it's 14.5% alcohol), but it avoids being over-ripe. The most impressive aspect is the concentration and purity of the fruit. With its richness, this could almost be a new world Syrah, but if it was, it would be one of the very best because it's still really well balanced and quite elegant. 92/100 (this was around 10 Euros from a Paris wine shop)

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Cricket and just a bit about wine

One of the benefits of being a freelancer is that you can take the odd day off without worrying about eating into your holiday entitlements and then having to have a difficult conversation at home about why you can only manage one week by the seaside in August rather than the customary two. Actually, I find it's essential to be able to do something that prohibits you checking your emails and writing another article (or blog post) from time to time, so invasive is the nature of freelance writing, where you can end up filling every idle moment with work. And standing a deep midwicket on a lazy summer afternoon achieves this goal very effectively.

So yesterday I was down in Warnford playing for the wine trade XI versus Hampshire Hoggs. Last year the corresponding fixture was a washout - we all turned upl (including Nick Oakley who drove for three hours from deepest Essex) and looked at the sky, looked at the pitch, had a lunch with some wine, and then realized that the pitch was so wet no play was going to be possible. If I remember correctly, there was about an inch of standing water under the covers.

This year, we arrived, and it began to drizzle. The rain cleared, we started, reaching 4-0. It rained again and we came off. It was looking grim, so we took an early lunch. I enjoyed a few glasses of the 2006 Rabbit Ranch Central Otago Pinot Noir, which is made at Chard Farm. It's really vibrant and fruity, with lots of presence, and upstaged a Giant Steps Yarra Pinot by some distance. I also sneked a couple of glasses of Bodega Farina's Val de Reyes sweet wine from the Toro region. It's unfortified, elegant and really quite nice - Bibendum carry this in the UK.

Eventually, things cleared up and we played a 25 over game, but we were well beaten by a side all of whom were under 30, and a majority of whom were under 20. They were clearly good cricketers, and while the wine trade side at full strength is a club-standard side, there were only nine of us (and that's with a couple of Hoggs ringers filling in), and most of us are the wrong side of 40. We scored 113 and didn't bat out the full 25 overs. I enjoyed my time in the middle, and felt very comfortable, but got run out for 7 with a direct hit. There were a couple of other run-outs, including a comical one where Robin Copestick set off for a run, Chris Quin at the other end didn't move, Robin reached Chris, who was standing his ground, only for Chris then to sacrifice himself at the last moment, probably because Robin is his boss.

When they batted, we were really looking at damage limitation, because we knew our target would never be enough. I opened with my gentle swingers, but unfortunately I had some problems with my length, and the rather dodgy cheap ball that Chris had provided simply didn't swing, as well as going out of shape after a couple of lusty blows. At the other end Charles Taverner ditched his usual brisk offspin to revert to bowling quick and was quite effective. But we didn't make the first breakthrough until late, and by then they were on their way to victory. There was still time for me to drop a swirling up and under, though.

Still, it's such a fun way to spend a day. I'm also playing next Friday in Colchester, then the following week I'm watching the Lord's test on Thursday, as well as playing on Saturday and Sunday. You never know, with all this, I might even improve a bit. There's plenty of room for that.

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Thursday, June 26, 2008

Craggy Range, recycling and umpiring

Three shorts.

First, a heads up. My extensive write-up from my visit to Craggy Range, which I reckon is one of the New World's most important wineries, is now up on the main site here and here.

Second, an interesting piece on the BBC news site here regarding a new recycling facility that, for the first time in the UK, makes recycling of plastic bottles (presumably including PET wine bottles) possible.

Finally, I'm an idiot. My son's cricket team had no one to umpire for tonight's U12 game, which he's playing in, and when I was phoned up last night I stupidly agreed to fill in. I know the laws of cricket, but I'm no umpire, and what happens if my son is batting and gets hit on the pads? It's a lose-lose-lose scenario. If he's out, and I give out, he's cross. If he's out and I give not out that would be wrong and I'd be criticised. If he's not out and I give not out, then I'll be under suspicion.


Wednesday, June 25, 2008

High end Sherries from Fortnum

Notes on three high-end Sherries tasted with Fortnum & Mason wine department head Tim French. He's developed an own-label range with Bodega Tradicion, and they're really impressive.

Fortnum & Mason Amontillado VORS
This is a 40 year old wine but it has so much vitality. It has a massively complex nose of citrus peel, smoke and old furniture, that’s fresh and fruity but also very rich. The palate is dry, tangy and mouthfilling with lovely length and complexity. ‘It’s almost hypnotic in its power and strength, with a salty character, tar, caramel and dried figgy fruits’, says Tim. This unctuous wine is great with food, particularly nuts and smoked fish. ‘It’s a wine to be discussed and enjoyed with company’, says Tim. ‘There’s so much to get into, you need the helping hand of education to enjoy it.’ (£18.50/half bottle) 95/100

Fortnum & Mason Oloroso VORS
This has a richer, nuttier nose than the Amontillado, with some caramel and fudge. ‘There’s a layer of richness that is almost like Christmas cake’, points out Tim. The palate is soft, rich and broad-textured. Smooth, complex and nutty with woody, slightly earthy notes. The finish is intense and almost eternal: you can still taste it minutes later. ‘The thing I love about it is that despite its age, there is still some fruit here with a broad array of secondary flavours, such as smoky bacon, burnt toffee, leather and tobacco’, says Tim. ‘It’s as if you have a magnifying glass: all these flavours come into such focus.’ It’s a wine that is luscious and sumptuous on the palate, yet it is bone dry. How would you use a wine like this? ‘The dream partner is top air-dried Spanish ham’, reckons Tim, ‘but one can be versatile with it: it’s lovely with a big rich beef stew, great with cheese, and works brilliantly as a digestif’. As with all these sherries, a little goes a long way, and you can keep an open bottle for a long time, so even though it isn’t cheap, a bottle can provide a lot of pleasure over many evenings. (£18.50/half bottle) 94/100

Fortnum & Mason Pedro Ximénez VOS
This is mind-blowing stuff. It’s a concentrated brown/black colour with a consistency of used engine oil. The super-sweet aromatic nose is raisiny, yet fresh at the same time. The palate is thick, viscous and incredibly sweet, while remaining quite pure and even a little elegant. ‘This is impossibly unctuous with huge intensity’, remarks Tim. ‘It’s so intense and opulent’. He reckons it works bizarrely well with blue cheese and also works well with chocolate. ‘It’s a pudding in its own right: you almost need a spoon to drink it’. (£19.50 half/bottle). 93/100

As well as offering these Sherries separately, Tim has designed a ‘Jerez Box’, which contains a bottle each of the Oloroso and Pedro Ximénez Sherries, together with a measuring funnel and instructions on how to mix a cream sherry (20 ml PX and 80 ml Oloroso) and an Amoroso (40 ml PX and 60 ml Oloroso). We tried them both, and they were deliciously different. ‘We’re trying to be educational as well as delivering a great product’, emphasizes Tim.


Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Italy and 10 years of 'offlines'

A busy sort of day. First, the 'definitive' Italian wine tasting at Lord's. I've been taking quite an interest in Italian wines of late, so this was of real interest to me. The problem with Italy is that it has many gems, but they're kind of hidden in a sea of dross. Few countries can boast the sort of vinous diversity Italy posesses, but then few countries would make such a hash of this fantastic diversity if they had it. I shall persevere and continue to learn.

I started off with the Italian portfolio of Les Caves de Pyrene, which is superb. I also spent time with Winetraders, Altissimo, Genesis Wines, Liberty and HS. There were some really impressive wines.

After the tasting there was a reception in the Member's Pavillion, and after lengthy and difficult negotiations Tina Coady had persuaded Lord's to relax their dress code by a degree, such that jacket and tie wasn't obligatory for gentlemen. I wasn't able to stay long, but I took the chance to enter this hallowed area, taking a couple of pictures of the fantastic view that the MCC members enjoy from the roof terrace (above).
Then I was off to the City, for an internet wine geek dinner at Alba. Six of us gathered, a decade after the first UK internet wine geek offline was held (at Gilbeys in Ealing). At the inaugural event ten years ago the guests included Robin Garr (from the USA), Tom Cannavan, Nick Alabaster, Simon Goldberg and myself. Tonight, Nick Alabaster and I drank a toast to that summer evening long ago, and were joined by Theresa Regli-Iverson, Rahsaan Maxwell, David Plattner and Victor Randall. We were all known to each other through internet discussions and previous offlines, and it was a jolly night, with the conversation straying from wine to all manner of diverse topics.

The wines? Quite memorable. Poll Roger Winston Churchill 1990, Clos St Hune 2000, Hans Wirsching Riesling Schofer Julius Echer Berg 2006 Franken, Ogier C-R 998, Clusel Roch C-R 2001, Sorrel Hermitage La Greal 1995, Roberto Voerzio Barolo Cerequio 1990 and Svepsy Madi Szoleszet Danczka Dulo Tokaji Aszuessencia 1993. It was a fun gathering, ending a little prematurely because of the rather poor transport options London offers much beyond 11.30 pm.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Two wine blogs of note

Two blogs I've recently stumbled on and which I think deserve a plug:

1. Winosapien (http://wino-sapien.blogspot.com/), which contains the thoughtful musings of a wine-loving doctor from Australia.

2. Domaine David Clark (http://www.domainedavidclark.com/blog.html), which contains insight into the life of a Scottish-motor-racing-engineer-turned-vigneron in Burgundy.

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Sunday, June 22, 2008

Wines from Brazil

Two Brazilian wines. Brazil grew its wine production by a quarter in 2007 and is now the fifth largest producer of wine in the southern hemisphere. With 88 000 hectares under vine and a production more than a third of Chile’s, this is clearly a serious industry, but one that’s virtually unknown in the UK. [More information can be found on the useful http://www.winesfrombrazil.com/ website.] The first of these wines was world class, the second pretty good – and I’ll certainly be keeping an eye out for more Brazilian wines in the future.

Miolo RAR Cabernet Sauvignon Merlot 2004 Campos de Cima da Serra, Brazil
From one of the coolest regions in Brazil, at over 1000 metres altitude. Refined, sophisticated nose showing fresh red and black fruits with some classy oak. Ripe but with an attractive minerally edge. The palate shows focused dark fruits with lovely spicy structure. Surprisingly Bordeaux like, although this is closest to cool climate New World in style. Really well balanced and a serious effort. 90/100

Lidio Carraro Merlot Grande Vindimia 2004 Encruzilhada do Sul, Brazil
This wine has a warm, spicy, earthy nose that’s not unattractive, but which is quite old fashioned. The palate has some ripe fruit, but it’s largely driven by warm spicy notes, together with a subtle medicinal/earthy character. Finishes quite dry. An appealing if slightly rustic wine. 85/100

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Terry Theise on reductionism in wine

There's a great article in the latest edition of the World of Fine Wine. Well, actually there are many great articles, but the one I'm referring to is by Terry Theise, titled 'Wine and the unspeakable' (WOFW 20, p 128-131), and it's looking at the topic of beauty in wine in a thoughtful, slightly tangential way. It includes the following quote, referring to how a reductionist approach to wine often fails:
The idea of 'forest' is different from the notion of 'a lot of trees'. The notion of 'a lot of individual tones and pitches arranged in organized and pleasing ways' is existentially very different from the idea of 'music'. Landscape is different from the hills and rivers it might contain. There are wines that live in the whole - which is not only greater, but also other than the sum of its parts'.


Saturday, June 21, 2008

Raspberries and Malbec

18 months ago I decided to plant some raspberries in the garden. I think it was a good move, although I didn't realize quite how prolific the 15 canes (three different varieties) would prove to be - we're now facing a raspberry invasion problem.

But of all the things you can grow in your garden, raspberries have to be one of the most useful. They're delicious, you eat all of them, and to buy them would cost a lot of money. Plus they are really easy to grow. Other things I'm growing this year: tomatoes, a salad crop, spring onions, coriander, basil, thyme, tarragon, courgettes. I'd love to grow more. There's something very healthy about growing stuff.

This year it looks like we have a bumper raspberry crop, and I quite enjoy spending a few minutes grazing, selecting the most delicious-looking berries and devouring them. What's interesting is that they all taste a bit different. There are some that are under-ripe, and taste a bit sharp; there are some that are a little over-ripe, and taste a bit soft, sweet and characterless. The key is picking them at optimum ripeness, where there's some sweetness, but also some acidity to keep them fresh and complex.

I guess it's very similar to wine: you should pick the grapes at optimum ripeness, where there's some fruit sweetness, but also good acidity. Easier said than done. The modern tendency is to pick late to get the sweet, lush fruit and then add acid. People have rather differing views on what 'balance' looks like in practice.

Tonight's wine: Catena Alamos Malbec 2006 Mendoza. There's lots of sweet, pure fruit here, with notes of raspberry jam backed up with a bit of spice. It's pure and focused, with really good balance. Yes, it's a modern, commercial style, but it avoids over-ripeness and doesn't taste at all forced. This is one of the wines in the forthcoming Bibendum sale, which starts early july, when it will be reduced from its normal price of £7.55 to £4.55/bottle, at which price it's great value. 86/100

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Friday, June 20, 2008

Sweet wines: Sauternes and its neighbours

I must admit, I do enjoy sweet wines. But not very often, because I can't seem to generate enough situations where it seems appropriate to pop the cork on something sweet. It's not like you'd open a bottle of Sauternes at 6 pm and drink it for the evening, is it?

I've been opening quite a few sweet wines from Sauternes and other neighbouring Bordeaux regions over the last few days because I had some samples in. It's been quite fun: overall, the quality has been good, and while these are by no means the best or most expensive examples of sweet wines from Bordeaux, they're pretty consistent, with one notable exception.

The exception was a Laithwaites wine, which was actually quite awful: the LS Semillon 2002 1er Cotes de Bordeaux. The thing is, it looked so good from the label (above), but unfortunately this tasted like cheap, dilute sweet white Bordeaux - not worth (to my palate) the asking price of over £6 for a half. In fact, I wouldn't buy this if it was £2 a half. [I hate to write negative notes, but sometimes the real underperforming wines need to be outed. I also think it's healthy for critics to be critical: my job is to write for consumers, not to act as a PR agent for the wine trade.]

The others, from Cadillac, Loupiac, Sainte-Croix-du-Mont and Sauternes itself, have all been enjoyable wines. With their golden colours, presented in clear glass bottles with white labels and gold capsules, they also look stunning. Probably the best (certainly in terms of value) has been the Chateau La Caussade 2004 Sainte-Croix-du-Mont (£11.86 Waitrose for 75 cl). Yellow/gold in colour, this has an appealing nose of honey, lanolin, spice and ripe peach. The palate is richly textured and broad, with sweet melon and apricot fruit balanced by a subtly spicy bite. It's not as intense or multidimensional as the best Sauternes can be, but it's still a really nicely balanced wine.
My only concern with drinking these sweet wines is how fat I'll get. They're deliciously sweet, with perhaps 130 grams/litre of residual sugar. That means a bottle will have roughly 100 grams of sugar in it, which, together with the alcohol, sounds like a lot of calories. Has anyone done the maths?

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Thursday, June 19, 2008

Not wine but cider

I've been trying quite a few ciders of late. Cider is, of course, not wine, but it is nonetheless quite a serious drink (or, should I say, has the potential to be a serious drink).

A few years back cider was a Loser Drink. The only people who drank it had some sort of link with the west country, wore cardigans, didn't shave (much) and liked to listen to folk music. As well as teenagers who couldn't handle the taste of beer. But now it is back in fashion, which is a Good Thing.

I avoided it for the best part of two decades after having a very bad experience at university watching the superbowl at a party in Founder's East (the girl's wing of Royal Holloway [University of London]'s rather grand Founder's building), where I spent a very happy if rather crazy year as a resident (although, I was of course, at least most of the time in Founder's West).

But now I'm back drinking cider, which is potentially a great British drink, as well as a great Normandy/Brittany drink. It can be food compatible, complex and beguiling, and is usually remarkably affordable, too, when compared with high quality wine.

Tonight, after a long session in the nets (that's where we practice cricket, for the benefit of non-brits and colonials), two ciders that are rather good.

Aspall Premier Cru Dry Suffolk Cyder
7% alcohol, made with 100% fresh pressed apple juice. Quite light in colour with a green gling. Very fresh appley nose leads to a palate that is savoury, fresh, a bit lemony and crisp, with tight, pure appley fruit. Not too cidery, and a bit like a gently sparkling wine. Prosecco-like? Seriously refined. 8.5/10 (Tesco, Waitrose)
Henney's Dry Cider, Frome Valley, Herefordshire
Very attractively packaged. Yellow/gold colour, 6% alcohol, made from fresh pressed apple juice. Sweet appley aroma. Palate has a delicious bittersweet apple character with some spicy bite and a bit of tannic grip. Very fruity and quite pure, with a nice savoury twist. 7.5/10 (Tesco)


Bordeaux campaign, vintage 1934

At Fortnum & Mason today to taste a few sherries with wine buyer Tim French. Tim produced an old Fortnum's wine list from 1938, which made fantastic reading.
'It's amazing how tight the range was in those days', he remarked. There's a big section on Champagne, a page of Port from the wood, a page of Vintage Port, lots of Madeira, more than a page of sherry, then large sections on Bordeaux, Burgundy, Hock and Mosel.

The rest of France has a small section, and then there's a fascinating - if brief - list of 'Empire wines' (see below). It was fascinating also to see the Bordeaux section, including the 1934 campaign that includes both merchant-bottled and Chateau-bottled releases. How the wine world has changed.

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Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Busy day

Busy day today and lots to report on, including a remarkable cheese tasting with the Neals Yard guys and a Douro Boys workshop. But it's late and I'm tired, so I shall just mention the brief lunch I had with fellow Man City fan and serious wine geek Hsien Min, who is over from Singapore. We met at the Whole Foods store in High Street Kensington, where we each had a fantastic steak and cheddar sandwich and a pint of Sierra Nevada Pale Ale. We also browsed the wine department (below), which has some really interesting bottles. Hsien Min flew over on the new A380, which he says is a fantastic experience. I'll tell you about the rest of the day tomorrow when I have more energy.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

The death of Kabinett...almost

Germany’s Mosel region, which produced some of the world’s best Riesling, uses a classification known as the Prädikat system, which is a hierarchical system with six different levels based on the ripeness of the grapes. When this was introduced, in 1971, the problem was getting the Riesling grapes ripe, and only the best fruit from the best sites got into the Spätlese and Auslese wines (the levels above this, Beerenauslese and Trockenbeerenauslese, relied on the concentrating effect of botrytis). But now, the effects of global warming mean that sugar levels are rising in the grapes, and the lowest end of the classification, Kabinett, is in danger of extinction. This is because the great vineyard sites are turning out grapes that have higher sugar levels than those you’d normally associate with Kabinett.

Is this a problem? Yes, if like me, you love Kabinett Rieslings. They’re fantastically fresh, with lovely tension between the high acidity and the sweetness. They are bright enough to go really well with food, as well as being good for casual sipping. Nowhere else in the world can make Riesling in such a focused yet light style. And because they are at the bottom end of this hierarchical system, they are also affordable.

These days, many of the Rieslings labeled ‘Kabinett’ are actually far sweeter and richer than the traditional Kabinett style. It’s perfectly legal to pick Riesling grapes at Spätlese levels of sweetness and then declassify these to Kabinett, but what’s the point of doing this? It invalidates the Prädikat system. Today’s wine is a Riesling Kabinett that tastes like Kabinett, from Dr Loosen, whose US office recently sent out a press release highlighting the problem that Kabinett faces. Loosen’s response has been to release a new Kabinett without a vineyard designation, based on less exalted vineyard sites where the grapes don’t get quite so ripe. “Kabinett is the lightest, most delicate style we produce,” says Loosen, “but in recent vintages our grand cru sites have become too warm. So we’ve gone to cooler sites to find the fruit we need to keep the true Kabinett style alive.” But he has shown with his regular Kabinetts that he is keen that a wine labelled as a Kabinett should actually taste like one, which is a good thing.

Dr Loosen Ürziger Würzgarten Riesling Kabinett 2007 Mosel Saar Ruwer, Germany
A delightfully bright example of Kabinett, with a lovely aromatic, fresh lemony, flowery, honeyed nose. The palate has a brilliant balance between the sweet tropical fruit and the high grapefruity acidity, with some spicy complexity and lovely precision. Fruity, fresh and low in alcohol (7.5%), this is the perfect lunchtime wine, but it’s also great for casual sipping, and would work well with light seafood dishes. Just off-dry, but still very fresh. 90/100 (£11.99 Waitrose, Booths)

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Monday, June 16, 2008

Bottle Shock behind the scenes

An 8 minute film going behind the scenes of the soon-to-be-released film Bottle Shock, looking at the famous Judgement of Paris tasting in 1976. Will it be any good? Unfortunately no London preview screenings are planned.

Consolation in natural wine

Had a bit of a rubbish day yesterday. Supposed to be fathers' day, but the kids were appalling (most specifically older son) and it was all a bit depressing. So I turned to wine, and specifically a rather remarkable natural wine. Suddenly, everything seemed a lot better.

Le Clos de Tu-Boeuf La Guerrerie Vin de Table Français
This is actually from the 2006 vintage, and it’s a wine made by Thierry Puzelat in the Loire, from a blend of Cot (aka Malbec, 70%) and Gamay (30%), with the grapes grown in the Cheverny appellation. Following Doug Wregg’s advice (he’s the dude from Les Caves de Pyrene who import this into the UK), I chilled it down and decanted it before drinking. It’s fantastic, life-affirmining, ‘alive’ wine. It’s aromatic with some earthy, spicy depth to the dark fruits. In the mouth it’s refreshing and bright with a lovely dense, grippy, spicy earthy quality under the focused bright fruit. It finishes quite grippy, but the defining feature is the brightness. It’s a natural tasting sort of wine that’s just so easy to drink. It’s kind of like Pinot Noir, but with some edges. 91/100 (£11.75 Les Caves de Pyrene)

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Sunday, June 15, 2008

Summer beer

Couple of beers with lunch today. You know, beer really is fantastic, and it's cheap, too. Rubbish beer and world class beer both cost about the same. And Britain makes some of the world's very best beers.

Whitstable Bay Organic Ale, Shepherd Neame
Brewed with New Zealand Gem and Hallertau hops. Orange/gold in colour. This is a fresh, savoury style with some citrussy notes as well as a pleasant hoppy edge. There's a bit of spiciness here, too. Deliciously savoury. 8/10

Badger Hopping Hare 'Thrice Hopped'
The 'thrice hopped' refers to the practice of using Super Styrian hops twice during the brewing process, and then at the end adding Styrian Goldings for aromatic lift. This is a warm, complex beer with a fudgey, toffee edge to the honeyed fruit. It's backed up with a spicy, slightly bitter finish. 7/10

Both were around £1.30 from Tesco, which currently has a beer and cider promotion (everything is 20% off).


Saturday, June 14, 2008

Rose from Provence: tasting with the eyes

I was recently sent some rosé samples with a Riedel Sommelier Rosé glass. It’s a beautiful piece of ‘stemware’, if a little effete in appearance. In terms of its shape, it’s not an ideal wine tasting glass, but despite this it works pretty well for rosé.

Why? At its best rosé is a good-time wine. And nowhere does it better than Provence, which has unbeatable chic-ness, sunshine and good food, much of it served al fresco. In this sort of setting, rosé makes so much sense, and this is because it’s not just about the taste of what is in the glass.

You can see where I'm going. I guess one of the reasons the Riedel rosé glass is just so right is simply because of aesthetics: part of the key to understanding rosé is understanding its aesthetic appeal. We taste with our eyes, at least to a degree. What we see as we approach a glass of wine shapes our expectation, and our expectation can then, in turn, shape our perception.

Today I was sent a couple of rosé samples, so I pulled out my Riedel glass and gave them a go. These two rosés are both beautiful looking wines, and are nicely presented. They taste good, if not remarkable (it’s hard to find rosés that really stun), but combine this with the visual and emotional elements, and they’re both compelling. Of course, because they come from Provence, they’re probably at least a couple of quid more expensive than wines of equivalent quality from elsewhere, but then nowhere does rosé quite like they do in Provence.

Domaine de la Grande Pallière Rosé 2007 Côtes de Provence, France
This organic rosé is a beautiful pale salmon pink colour. The dominant theme here is fresh strawberry fruit with good acidity and a smooth, luxurious texture. There’s a bit of spicy, bite too. It’s the sort of wine you could quaff without too much though, but if you give it some contemplation, it rewards you with some complexity. 89/100 (£9.95 Nicolas)

Les Maîtres Vignerons de la Presqu’ile de Saint-Tropez Cuvée Carte Noir 2007 Côtes de Provence, France
In a very elegant round-shouldered, tall bottle, this is an attractive salmon pink colour. There’s gentle strawberry fruit here, along with a savoury mineral character and an attractively rounded texture. A stylish, grown-up sort of rosé that’s perfect for a summer’s day, and has the ability to recreate summer if you drink it in another season. 88/100 (£9.50 Nicolas)


Friday, June 13, 2008

Some thoughts on closures

I'm stiff. Stiffer than stiff. I played cricket for the wine trade team on Wednesday (first game of the season for me), and came away stiff after bowling seven overs and running between the wickets for a while, as well as acting as a substitute fielder for the other side. And then I went and spent two hours in the nets last night. The result is that today I feel about 83 years old.

Just been writing a piece on closures for US trade magazine Wines & Vines. The topic was alternative closures to cork, so I was covering the likes of screwcap, synthetic corks, Vino-Seal (Vino-Lok in Europe), Zork and Diam.

The whole closures debate seems to have died down a little of late. What we really need, to make any progress, is the answer to a two part question:

Precisely what oxygen transmission levels do we need from a closure for each style or type of wine? And precisely what oxygen transmission levels do the existing closures we have deliver?

Synthetic cork manufacturer Nomacorc have embarked on an 'Oxygen and wine' study with a multimillion pound budget to try to answer these questions, and I think it will be very interesting to follow this. They are collaborating with INRA Montpellier, the Australian Wine Research Institute, University of California Davis, Geisenheim and an unnamed Chilean research institute.

Each centre will be looking at the development of one or two varietal wines under a range of closures. The project will be following the wines from grape to analysis, knowing exactly how much oxygen the wine has seen before and after bottling. It looks to be an exciting project.

It's all very well offering a range of closures with different oxygen transmission properties, but who knows what the desired oxygen transmission properties are in the first place?


Thursday, June 12, 2008

Bottle shock, the trailer

Bottle shock is a new wine film that has recently been released in the US. It's based on the famous 1976 Paris tasting in which Californian wines 'beat' the best of the old world. The tasting was arranged by Stephen Spurrier, who is contributing editor for Decanter, and who is also behind a film project on the same topic that has been 'scooped' by this project. Also see: http://www.decanter.com/news/132516.html

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

What's new on wineanorak, and some corky encounters

After a long period of no corked bottles, two in three nights - a Rioja and a serious Fiano were struck with musty taint. The Rioja cork had a big, ugly looking lenticel running through its wine-side face (pictured). Could this be the reason? I guess lots of microbes live in the lenticels (the gas-excange pores running through the cork bark), and its these that produce the musty taint, presumably.

Anyway, an update on the recent articles posted on the main wineanorak site, for those who just look at the blog:


Tuesday, June 10, 2008

The perfect wine...for tonight

I don't know about you, but for me, mood has a lot to do with my drinking pleasure. Sometimes it takes me a long time to find just the bottle that's right for the moment, which is one of the reasons I'm quite keen on having physical (as opposed to virtual) wine merchants nearby so you can buy the right wine for any particular evening, rather than having to rely on just what's in the cellar or stash at home.

Tonight is a beautiful evening. Warm, but not muggy. I'm sitting outside in the slowly fading light, with the kids in bed. I guess one of the benefits of these northerly latitudes is the long summer evenings, even if, in some sort of trade-off, you have to sacrifice the frequency of warm summer evenings in exchange for their duration.

Fiona is out for the evening with her girlfriends, and I've put some meat on the barbie. It's a Weber gas barbecue, and while for a long time I was wedded to the charcoal ritual, I have to confess that the convenience of gas means you can fire up the grill much more frequently and easily, even if it doesn't satisfy all those Neanderthal fire-making male urges.

What wine for tonight? Well, it's a Californian wine that, perhaps, in another context, I'd dismiss as rather crude and over-done. But tonight, it's perfect. Well, that may be an exaggeration: if you offered to trade me a Grand Cru Burgundy from a top producer, a first growth Claret, an aged traditional Barolo, or a Chave Hermitage, I'd accept in the blink of an eye. But you know what I mean.

EOS Reserve Petite Sirah 2004 Paso Robles, California
An inky dark purple black colour, this is a bold, intense red wine of real character, although it won't appeal to everyone. It's bursting with rich blackberry and raspberry fruit, together with some bitter dark chocolate notes, as well as a bit of earthiness. I'm even getting a hint of rubber here. All this is underlain by some firm spicy tannins. Not at all shy, but savoury and dense enough to stop it being just another sweet, over-ripe, over-cooked new world red. Hard to score such a distinctive wine. It's edgy, imperfect, but interesting. 89/100 (£9.99 Co-op)
Petite Sirah is actually a synonym for the Durif variety. You can read a lot more about it here, at a website set up by an advocacy movement for the PS grape variety in California.

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Monday, June 09, 2008

One day, two remarkable tastings

Two amazing tastings today. Feel a bit spoiled, I guess.

Zubair Mohamed of Raeburn kindly invited me to a lunch featuring the wines of Gianfranco Soldera, who makes Brunello's most sought-after wines (he's the UK agent). Quite a nice coincidence seeing as I was in Montalcino only last week. The tasting was held in the private room at The Square, and we were ten in all: three wine writers (Neil Beckett, Stephen Brook and myself), two restarateurs (Nigel Platts Martin, owner of The Square and The Ledbury, and Ossie Gray of River Cafe), and the balance sommeliers.

This was my first experience of Soldera's wines, and they were mindblowingly good. Really complex: made in a traditional style with a long elevage. What a treat. The food at The Square was brilliant, too. It really is one of London's very best restaurants.

Then, after a couple of hours to recover some strength, I was off to the Caledonian Club in Halkin Street (off Belgrave Square - embassy territory) for a Domaine Leflaive masterclass, with Anne-Claude Leflaive, hosted by Corney & Barrow. How often do you get to try perhaps Italy's best red wines (OK, I may upset some Barolo fans by saying this...), followed by wines from what may be the world's greatest white wine domaine (I've just upset some Germans here)? The 2003s disappointed, if I'm honest, but the 2004s are thrillingly good, with a hint of reduction and high acidity: they'll outlive me, I suspect. And the 1996 Chevalier Montrachet and 1997 Pucelles were fabulous. Full notes to follow on both events.

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Sunday, June 08, 2008

Can Muscadet be 'serious'?

Of course it can! In fact, there aren't many wine regions that cannot make 'serious' wine, should the ambition and expertise of the grower be present. Having said this, some regions find it harder to make serious wines than others, and Muscadet isn't wall-to-wall with world class bottles. But it is often in these lesser-rated appellations that growers with a commitment to making excellent, expressive, terroir-based wines without any spoofiness get their chance to excel. And when they do, it's a happy coincidence that the wines are often affordable, because points chasers and 'collectors' are after the right names for their cellars. So here's a serious Muscadet that I enjoyed quite a bit.

Pierre Luneau-Papin Semper Excelsior Clos des Noelles 2002 Muscadet Sevre et Maine, France
After a 30 month elevage, this attractively packaged Muscadet is just beautiful. It's a concentrated, full flavoured white with expressive, complex mineral and herb notes on the nose. The palate is rich with powerful mineralic fruit and hints of citrus pith, as well as an almost marine-like quality that's hard to describe. Almost profound. 90/100 (Available in UK from Les Caves de Pyrene)

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Saturday, June 07, 2008

I love Italy

Back from Italy. We were only there a few days, but once again I've come away with a restless sort of feeling - I must explore Italy more deeply, and I must not be so neglectful of Italian wines.

I don't know why, but here in the UK there's a widespread ignorance and lack of interest in Italian wine. France gets the lion's share of coverage, but then countries such as Spain, Portugal and the 'new world' nations seem to be in front of Italy when it comes to the attention paid to their wines by the press and the serious wine drinking public.

Personally, I reckon Italy is full of interest, although - as with other wine countries - you've got to put a lot of hard work in finding the really great wines from among the dross. And I'd also say that many of the more expensive wines that hog the limelight aren't the real stars: there's a lot of spoofiness in Italy - the success of certain famous wine consultants making wines in a particular style is evidence of this.

So one of my missions over the next few months is to search for the 'real' Italy.

Pictured is the place Fiona and I were staying in: Poggio Alla Sala. Verdict? It would have scored 10/10 - it's a new, serious high-end hotel with impeccable service, luxurious high-ceilinged rooms, three swimming pools, a spa and a gorgeous hilltop location amid the vines of the Vino Nobile estate of the same name. The standard of finishing is stunning. However, it is still a work in progress, and while the main part of the resort is complete, there was some building work still going on. So, for this reason, we'd have to dock a point or two.

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Friday, June 06, 2008


Yesterday was fun. We headed over to Montalcino, another gorgeous medieval hilltop town. Tuscany has too many of these! We lunched fabulously well at Trattoria Il Lecce in the center of a small village outside Montalcino, Sant' Angelo in Colle. Lunch was accompanied by a lovely Rosso di Montalcino 2003 from Carpazo.

Then there was a 3 pm appointment at a small Brunello producer called Il Paradiso di Manfredi. Despite the language barrier this was a great visit, and the wines were stunningly pure, with great complexity and presence. There are just two hectares under vine here, nestled in a spectacular location on the slopes leading up to Montalcino. It really is an idyllic setting. The wines are made as naturally as possible, aged in slavonian oak botte, with just a small (legally required by the DOCG) sulfur addition at bottling. As we left we were given a large punnet of cherries from a tree on the estate.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Dinner at La Frateria di Padre Eligio

Had a remarkable dinner last night. Filippo Mangani, who does some work with Les Caves in Italy, recommended a few places to us, and one of them was La Frateria di Padre Eligio, quite near where we are staying. So without knowing much about it, we booked, found our way there, and entered with very few expectations.

It's a remarkable place. The restaurant is part of a project called Mondo X, and it is a community set in a restored 13th Century Franciscan convent staffed and run by ex-drug addicts (see http://www.lafrateria.it/). But rather than just be a humble, rustic eating place, it's actually a high-end, multiple-Michelin-star level restaurant in an idyllic setting. The menu is hand written, and there's no choice. We ended up being presented with eight courses (if you include a large selection of antipasti to start with), all hugely creative and perfectly executed. The wine list was excellent and extensive, but we modestly ordered just a solitary bottle (in addition to the complementary bottle of Prosecco) - a Schiopetto Pinot Bianco 05 from Collio.

The service was amazing: attentive, perfectly judged and not at all self-conscious or fawning. The food was memorable, if slightly excessive - these were not small courses. The bill was high, but fitting for this sort of establishment (253 Euros). I felt hideously underdressed in a T-shirt and sandals, but they didn't make me feel bad about it. Clientele was mixed: the restaurant was full, with about 25 covers. One Italian table, two American (there seem to be lots of Americans in high-end places in Tuscany, and few Brits), one mixed (businessmen) and one indeterminate.

Journey back was tricky (I got lost at one point and found myself driving through tiny medeival streets, and then we passed police and ambulances next to a car that had left the road in the torrential rain). This morning we are off to Montalcino.

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Wednesday, June 04, 2008


Had lunch in Montepulciano, a charming hilltop village. We ate at Caffe Poliziano, where the food was fantastic, and the view from the scenic terrace table was stunning. This afternoon we swam, and now we're off to find some dinner. Sorry for the brevity of the post, but time is short!

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In Tuscany

Just a quick post from the road. I'm in Tuscany with Fiona, staying at a beautiful grand hotel on a hill near Montepulciano. Had a horror drive through the rain last night from Pisa, but now we are here it's very relaxing. We've got some serious lunches and dinners to attend, plus a visit to a great biodynamic producer in Montalcino, so I have to go now... Here's the view from our bedroom window.

Monday, June 02, 2008

How cork is made: a sort film

A short film from my visit to Amorim's cork processing plants in the Alentejo and Porto, showing how natural corks are made. There's a lot more to include, such as the sort of QC and preventive measures employed (e.g. GC analysis for TCA; ROSA steam treatment) - I'll include these when I do a proper write up on the main site.

Sunday, June 01, 2008

Back home with some Californians

Another vivid, bright sunny day in Portugal. We walked along the beach and found a seafront restaurant, where we dined well in the sun. I had a half bottle of the 2007 vintage of the Vinho Verde Tinto I'd drunk the previous nights, which was even more vibrant and primary. It was fantastic, and just E4.20. Fiona had another half bottle of Aveleda.

Then we headed to the airport, and a rather painless journey home. As soon as we got back, it was off to St Margarets to pick up RTL. She was overjoyed to see us again, but there was an element of school report time as we asked how she'd got on with the dogsitter, who has an impeccably behaved poodle. Apparently, she was mostly good - just a little possessive.

So, tonight, a couple of Californians from the Co-op. They're not expensive, but they are a lot better than most Californian branded wines at a similar price. First, a wine from Cline - a winery I visited way back in 1997, which has a reputation for really reliable, flavourful, affordable reds. Then a good value example from Washington State.

Cline Syrah 2005 California
A distinctive wine, showing ripe plummy, berry fruit along with some meatiness, a touch of olive character and a hint of herbal greenness. It's ripe, sweet and accessible, but there's a savoury meatiness that reminds me a bit of some South African Syrahs (although this isn't meant to be taken negatively). My only criticism is that it's tending towards the medicinal end of the spectrum. 86/100 (£7.99 Co-op)

The Magnificent Wine Co. 'Steak House' Cabernet Sauvignon 2005 Columbia Valley, Washington State
Nicely packaged, and billed as a steak wine, this is a bright, quite refined Cabernet that is light in style. There's some bright red fruit here, but also a complex, earthy, spicy, slightly phenolic quality that makes me suspect a bit of brettanomyces. Fresh and quite European in style, this is attractive and food friendly. 87/100 (£7.99 Co-op)

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