jamie goode's wine blog: July 2008

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Oregon, the final day, and a mention of the 1978 Amity

Two visits this morning, before I headed to the airport. The first was at Bergstrom wines, with the impressive Josh Bergstrom who is working his own vineyards biodynamically. I was especially impressed with his Riesling, which is wittily named 'Dr Bergstrom' - all precise, linear and minerally with a touch of residual sugar. Then I drove over to Rex Hill/A to Z wineworks, which is a relatively new operation in its current form, making seriously impressive commercial wines under the A to Z label and more serious wines under the revitalized Rex Hill label, including some profound single vineyard Pinots.

I didn't want to let pass mention of one of the wines last night. Myron very kindly brought along a bottle of the 1978 Winemaker's Reserve Pinot Noir from his vineyard, Amity. This piece of living history was very much alive; indeed, it was drinking almost perfectly. A profound, mature Pinot with elegance, some flesh, showing bit of evolution but not tasting at all over-the-hill. How many new world wine regions can make Pinot Noir that can not only survive 30 years, but also evolve positively?

Labels: ,

Oregon day 4

One of the most striking facets of this trip has been how nice the people are here. Yes, I know when you are press visiting wineries, people are usually showing you their best face, but beyond this, I've been struck by a genuine warmth, and also the sense of camaraderie that exists between the growers here. Any region that could have sustained an event such as the IPNC for 22 years has to have some special sense of cooperative endeavour and working for the greater good - the internal rivalries that exist in many regions globally would have ensured that an event like this would have imploded long ago, if it ever got off the ground.

I started off at Eyrie Vinyeards, one of the pioneers here, with a meeting with Jason Lett (above) and Emily Stoller Smith. Jason has recently taken over from his father, David, but only came back to the family business rather late, after having spent some time working as an ecologist in New Mexico. The wines here are quite beautiful, made in a light, elegant style but with real complexity and development potential. I was really taken by the beauty of these expressions of Pinot, and found the Pinot Gris and Pinot Blanc pretty impressive, too.

Lunch was at Domaine Drouhin Oregon, whose vineyards are remarkable for their Burgundian-style close spacing and low hedging. The wines are pretty impressive, too. David Millman (MD) and Arron Bell (cellarmaster) are pictured. We lunched causally on BLT sandwiches washed down with some of the DDO wines. It was an extremely informal visit, but fun. By now the morning clouds had lifted and it was another gorgeously sunny summer's day.

Next up was Torii Mor, where I met Margie Olsen and her French winemaker Jacques. They have a beautiful new winery which supplies almost half its power requirements with large solar panels. The tasting room has a Japanese garden, and stunning views from the hilltop location. The wines, once again, impressed. Pictured above is some work in the cellar, moving the wine from barrel to a blending tank with the help of nitrogen.

The final winery visit was at Stoller. A large estate that had once been a turkey farm is now a stunning vineyard with an equally stunning new winery. Here I met with winemaker Melissa Burr and cellar room manager Mich Nelson (pictured), who were both charming, and tasted the wines, which were very impressive (this is getting a bit boring, isn't it? Can we have some bad wine? Anyone? Anyone?). Melissa had a cross-flow filtration unit running, which she was very excited about - we compared the before and after versions of the 2007 JV Pinot Noir which was running through it at the time.

Finally, the Founder's dinner at Ponzi's restaurant in Dundee. Along with Nanci Ponzi, the company assembled was Myron Redford and Vicki Wetle (Amity), Jim Bernau (Willamette Valley Vineyards), Marilyn Webb (Bethel Heights), Susan Sokol Blosser (Sokol Blosser) and fellow writers Tom Cannavan and Stephen Brook. A jollier, more friendly crowd you could not wish to meet, and we drank (and spat; we were all driving) some lovely wines, including a stunning 1978 Winemaker's Reserve Pinot Noir from Amity.
It's now my final morning, and I have two visits before catching my plane home.
As usual, all these visits will be written up in depth on the main site.

Labels: ,

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Oregon wine country, day 3

Some brief notes from the road. Day 3, Oregon. Started off at Beaux Freres winery, with Mike Etzel. It was a really educational visit. Mike has two hillside vineyards, hidden away among woodland - indeed, most of his property is wooded, and it's quite beautiful. The vineyards are farmed biodynamically, and the wines are among Oregon's most prized. Above is the in-row cultivator at work, while below the old fire engine is used for developing the compost heaps, which need a lot of water. We spent a fair bit of time in the vineyards, tasted some barrels and then had lunch at a brilliant, inexpensive Mexican joint in town.
After glorious sunshine all the way, the weather was a bit of a shock: showers and temperatures in the high sixties made it feel pretty cool. Next up, one of the pioneers, Elk Cove. Adam, who has taken over from his parents, recalls that when they came here in the early 1970s the family lived in a van as the site was developed - and this was when there were less than 100 acres of vines in Oregon.

Patton Valley Vineyards was a good visit: Jerry Murray runs this small operation, and has a welcoming committee of two very sweet dogs, a beagle and a Boston Terrier (she's pictured here with a vole in her mouth).
Finally, dinner was with the Oregon Chardonnay Alliance (ORCA). David Adelsheim was responsible for identifying the problem with Oregon Chardonnay (the wrong clone was being used) and he helped bring the Bernard clones into Oregon in the 1980s. Since then the quality of Oregon Chardonnay has leapt, but for some reason each year there's less and less of it, as everyone goes after Pinot Gris and the other Alsace aromatics for whites. We enjoyed a really nice dinner at Nick's Italian in McMinnville, with some great Chardonnay. David Millman of Domaine Drouhin Oregon was also there, along with Chris Sawyer (a writer) and his buddy.

Labels: , ,

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

On the road in Oregon wine country, day 2

Woke up early at King Estate to a gorgeous summer's day and a beautiful view. After some coffee, a pastry and a vanilla bean yoghurt I drove up to the winery to taste with winemaker Lindsay Kampff, who was brilliant in dealing with my geeky techno-head questions. The wines were good too, and like many young winemakers in larger companies, she's also got her own small label called Journey's End, a high-end Pinot which impressed.

By the time I left for my next appointment, the temperature was nudging 80 F, with a bright blue sky plus a little haze on the horizon from the fires lit by grass seed farmers to deal with their stubble. Oregon is one of the world centres for grass seed, as well as hazelnuts (second only to Turkey here). In fact, the Willamette Valley grows just about everything. I was tempted to stop at one of the the pick-your-own blueberry farms, because they looked so gorgeous.

Next stop was Benton Lane, another beautiful property with rolling hillside vineyards. It's owned by Steve and Carol Girard, who moved here from Napa some years ago, having identified it as a perfect place to grow Pinot. We lunched on delicious home-made pizza that they fired in their Pizza oven, and it was hard to leave for the next appointment. Once again, the wines were very good.

After quite a drive north, I headed to Bethel Heights - a pioneering property in the new AVA of Eola-Amity Hills that's home to identical twin brothers Ted and Terry Casteel and their families. It's yet another beautiful property (I haven't encountered any ugly or boring Oregon vineyards yet) and the wines are quite special, including a brilliant Chardonnay and some mesmerising Pinots.
A short drive over to the other side of the hill took me to the final visit of the day: Cristom. Steve Doerner (above) is making some amazing Pinot Noir here, as well as an impressive cool-climate Syrah that's amazingly fresh and peppery. It turns out that Steve is a bit of a guitar nut, so we had a fun conversation telling each other which guitars we had.

Finally, after checking into my hotel in McMinnville, I had dinner with Bryan Croft from Firesteed at a Spanish joint in town. It was a lovely dinner, and I was amazed to find out how inexpensive the Firesteed Pinot Noir is ($13-15 on the shelf), because it's actually pretty good.

Labels: ,

Monday, July 28, 2008

Oregon wine route, day 1

The IPNC finished at noon, and I hit the road. I had a bit of a scare as I packed: I couldn't find my good buddy Garmin anywhere. Then I realized that in my jet-lagged state on Friday I must have left him at the hotel reception desk. So I asked if anyone had handed in a Sat Nav. Blank stares. Went back to the room to double check. Came back and asked whether a GPS had been handed in. 'Oh yes. Here it is.'

First stop was Brick House, a biodynamic winery run by ex-CBS news guy Doug Tunnell. It was a lovely visit, and Doug even took the temperature of his compost heap for me (above). Oregon wine country is quite beautiful, with rolling hills and warm but not excessively hot summer days. Doug's property is just idyllic.

Then it was time for a long drive down to King Estate (above), which is near Eugene, just past the end of the Willamette Valley. It took over two hours, but was worth it - King Estate is a truly beautiful place. It's a large operation, with more than 1000 acres, of which over 400 are planted to vines. It's the largest single contiguous organic vineyard in the USA, and probably the new world. Are there any bigger organic vineyards in Europe? I had a lovely dinner last night with the Japanese importers, and this morning I'm finishing my visit here and then heading off on the road again.


Sunday, July 27, 2008

The IPNC Salmon Bake and some mosh pit wines

The hottest ticket in McMinnville: the IPNC Salmon Bake, which was held last night (Saturday) in the Linfield College Oak Grove. The wild salmon is baked on Alder stakes over an open fire (pictured), which is a traditional method, and looks pretty spectacular. The salmon is served with a sumptuous buffet, and sommeliers go round distributing wines to the tables so you get to try quite an assortment of things.

It was free seating, but the smart journos were those who found their way onto Jim Clenenden's table (I didn't), where some serious wines were being opened. A couple of other tables had some high-end collectors who'd brought their own wine, and before long there was a crowd (described by one winemaker as the 'mosh pit') gathered round anxious to blag any scraps that might be falling. People are generous with the wine they bring, but even so, there's a limit to how generous you can be with just one bottle, and so there's an interesting social dynamic that develops when people are trying to blag pours.

I tried:

Lafon Meursault Clos de la Barre 2000
Slightly reductive with a lovely cabbage note. Long and mineralic with great weight and depth. Fantastic wine. 94/100

Lafon Meursault Clos de la Barre 1996
Slightly oxidised nose. Herby, a bit funky, but still some nice minerality. I'm not sure this is an OK bottle.

Drouhin Charmes Chambertin 1985
Beautifully soft and evolved with some earthy, spicy structure. A lovely aged red Burgundy of real charm. 93/100

Dujac Clos de la Roche 2001
Wonderfully textured earthy, spicy Pinot with lovely expressive character. Dense and full with massive concentration and rich texture. Thrilling wine. 95/100

Dominique Laurent Gevrey Chambertin Clos St Jacques 1999
Seriously expressive with fresh fruit and earthy complexity. Nicely structured with brilliant purity and depth. 95/100

Rene Engel Clos de Vougeot 1996
Very earthy and dense with a mushroomy character. Quite earthy and evolved. 90/100

Domaine Drouhin Oregon Pinot Noir 1993
Elegant, complex nose. The palate is fresh, vivid, spicy and beautifully expressive with good structure. 95/100

Bonneau du Martray Corton Charlemagne 2003
This maybe atypical, because of the hot summer, but it's still a very nice wine. Rich and sweetly fruited with lovely smooth toasty complexity. 92/100

Denis Mortet Gevrey Chambertin Les Champeaux 2002
Savoury, dense and complex with a lovely earthy edge to it. Mouthfilling, savoury and spicy. 94/100

Au Bon Climat Pinot Noir 1996 Santa Barbara County
Evolved and quite earthy but there's some freshness to the fruit here: this is still alive and drinking very well. A ripe expression of Pinot but interesting with it. 88/100

Lafarge Volnay 1er Cru 1999
Beautifully focused and structured with lovely freshness and some tannin. Complex stuff that's pretty serious. 95/100

Leroy Auxey Duresses 1976
Focused, earthy and fresh with a citrussy edge and some good structure. Finishes tannic, and it's drying out a little, but it is drinking brilliantly still and has lovely minerality. 93/100

Au Bon Climat Pinot Noir Sandford & Benedict 1999
This is brilliant. Earthy, spicy nose leads to an expressive palate that's quite pure with lovely focus and depth. Quite profound, and drinking perfectly now. 94/100

F Mugnier Bonnes Mares 1998
Earthy, dense, spicy nose leads to a palate that is quite structured. Evolving really nicely, there's some real complexity here. 93/100

Then it was 1130 pm and time for bed: I declined an invitation to go the dive bar with the other journos.

Labels: ,

Philippe Pacalet - wonderful natural Burgundy

One of the winemakers present at the IPNC this year is Philippe Pacalet, from Beaune. He is an interesting guy whose Pommard 1er Cru 2006 was beautifully expressive and elegant, with amazing aromatic purity.

He's the nephew of Marcel Lapierre, and was mentored by Jules Chauvet, among others. So it will come as no surprise that Philippe uses no sulfur during his winemaking, save for a bit at bottling. He doesn't own vineyards himself, but rents plots with interesting terroir. He also had some interesting theories about why it is that grapevines are so susceptible to disease (they have been vegetatively propogated for so long it makes them weak) and what he would do about it (GM vines, but only with the motivation of doing away with any spraying). It's very interesting to meet a natural winemaker who isn't bound by dogma (although I wouldn't want to suggest that most are).
He's a producer whose wines I'll look out for in the future.

Labels: ,

Day two of the IPNC

So, it's day two of the IPNC here in sunny McMinnville, OR. I got caught out last night by the diurnal temperature differential which is of Mendoza proportions: 80 degrees by day, 50 by night. Consequently, I froze as the dinner progressed and I was wearing just shirt sleeves. So today I hit downtown looking for some warmer clothing options. The only shop selling clothes, as far as I could tell, was a surf/skate dude shop. I shall be attending tonight's salmon bake looking like a wannabe 19 year old skateboarder.

Spare a thought for Tyler Colman whose Mac died on him. News travels fast, though. Someone came up to him today and said words to the effect of, 'Tyler, can **** have your power supply now you won't be needing it.'

This morning we had our seminar on sustainability. We began with the Jasper (Morris) and Dominique (Lafon) show, which Jasper chaired fantastically. We tasted Dominique's wines as he told us about his journey to biodynamie. We were about two thirds of the way through when one of the audience asked whether Dom could explain more about how he uses Vitamin E in his winemaking. It was a wonderful moment.
Then there was a panel with five Pinot Noir producers from around the world talking about their interest in sustainability. Ted Lemon, of Littorai outlined his four definitions of biodynamy.

  • The farm should be seen as a self-contained individuality, with the goal that it should be entirely self-sustaining
  • The material world is nothing more than condensed spirit, so we are farming the spirit rather than material.
  • The idea of using preparations is that by putting them on the ground it enhances the spirit dimension of your farm.
  • The enhanced wine and food grown using biodynamics gives us the force to confront the challenges of our lives.
Following the seminar there was a really nice lunch including some great wines, and also one of the most remarkable gastronomic experiences I've had. It was a suite of three bacon desserts. Yes, bacon. And they worked amazingly well. These were made by Cheryl Wakerhauser from Pix Patisserie in Portland.
[Note: message edited and a comment deleted to prevent someone getting into trouble]

Labels: , , ,

Saturday, July 26, 2008

In Oregon: the IPNC, first day

Just woken up on day two of my Oregon trip, where I'm currently in McMinnville attending the IPNC (International Pinot Noir Celebration). It really is a fantastic event, bringing together Oregon's Pinot Noir producers with some high calibre international guest wineries for a weekend of serious tasting and some pretty serious dining. Pictured above is the setting for the dinner last night, which was in the pretty campus of Linfield college where the event is being hosted.

I had a very pleasant flight with Northwestern, which was a surprise because last time I flew with an American carrier it wasn't a good experience. Watched a couple of films, slept, and ate and drank reasonably well, including a really nice Cab/Malbec blend from Waterwheel. Even Homeland Security was a better experience than I was expecting: the guy who dealt with me was charming and turned out to be a bit of a wine buff.

I picked up my hire car from Portland, and with the help of my good buddy Garmin managed to find McMinnville pretty painlessly. I checked in, and then went to buy a cheap pay-as-you-go mobile, because mine doesn't work here. Customer service at the AT&T shop was brilliant. Total cost a very reasonable $60, including $25 talk time.

Then off to the IPNC. I did the pre-dinner tasting, which was a casual outdoor walkaround affair - there were some really good wines (I don't want to say too much more until I've tasted more widely). Then it was time for the grand dinner - a jolly affair with frequent small pours of a huge range of wines, and really good food. I was sitting with fellow journos Tyler Colman of Dr Vino (http://www.drvino.com/), Elin McCoy (Bloomberg) and Patrick Comiskey (Wine & Spirits magazine). Fellow brits Stephen Brook and Jasper Morris are also here. Now I must go and get some breakfast before the sessions begin.

Labels: ,

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Vibrant Alentejo red

Very attractive red wine tonight from leading Alentejo producer Herdade de Malhadinha Nova.

Monte da Peceguina 2007 Alentejo, Portugal
From Malhadinha Nova, this a blend of Alicante Bouschet, Aragonês, Touriga Nacional, Cabernet Sauvignon and Tinta Caida, aged in French oak for seven months. It’s a vibrant, pure, fruit focused red for early consumption, offering blackberry, raspberry and ripe cherry fruit, with a bit of spicy tang. It’s ripe and sweetly fruited, but there’s a lovely freshness, with good acidity and just a hint of attractive plummy bitterness on the finish, which makes it food friendly. Impressive stuff. 90/100

Labels: ,

Off to Oregon, after some petrol-heading

Off to Oregon in a few hours for the Pinot Noir celebration. Flight leaves at 0630.

Spent today taking the boys to the London motorshow, held at Excel in the Docklands (pictured). It was a fun day, with lots of very fast and expensive cars to ogle. I do have a sense of guilt, though, when I realize how much fuel these cars burn (and their corresponding emissions). Even if I had a bit more money, would I feel free to indulge my motoring fantasies? One of these is to own an old Land Rover. But the fuel consumption of one of these is enormous. My sons are more into Hummers, Maseratis and Aston Martins.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Chardonnay fest

Four Chardonnays compared and contrasted. All pretty good.

Howard Park Chardonnay 2006 Great Southern, Western Australia
Fresh but warm nose of buttered toast, spice and citrus fruits. The palate is concentrated and taut with classy, toasty oak combining well with rich tropical fruits offset nicely by herby, lemony freshness. A refined, pure expression of new world Chardonnay that needs a year or two longer to show at its best. Finishes with lovely grapefruity acidity. This is a million miles away from overdone, blowsy Australian Chardonnays of yesteryear. 13% alcohol. 91/100 (http://www.bibendum-wine.co.uk/)

Sonoma-Cutrer Chardonnay 2006 Sonoma Coast, California
Full yellow colour. Nutty nose has a fresh minerality to it, as well as a hint of lemon. The palate shows nice balance between some buttery softness and some firmer, slightly bitter citrussy notes. The overall effect is of a fairly sophisticated, well balanced and food friendly wine that doesn't show too much of that broad, fat, slightly blowsy personality that's the besetting sin of Californian Chardonnay. I'd be happy to drink this in a high-end restaurant with richer seafood dishes, and if it wasn't for the slight hint of bitterness on the finish I'd rate it higher. 89/100 (£14.99 Waitrose, Majestic, but will be promoted in both soon at £9.99)

Louis Jadot Les Climats Chardonnay Reserve 2004 Burgundy, France
This is a bit different: from Burgundy, where terroir reigns supreme, we have a blend of different village and even 1er Cru sites, in a wine labelled varietally. It's creamy, sophisticated and a bit toasty on the nose, leading to a precise, gently nutty, lemony palate that's fresh and mineralic, with well integrated oak. With some bottle age, this is showing really well, and is surprisingly unevolved. It tastes like an ultra-sophisticated new world Chardonnay. 90/100 (£13.99 Vickis of Chobham, Kingsgate Wine Winchester, £18.99 Thresher but with a multibottle deal)

La Chasse du Pape Chardonnay 'Unoaked' 2007 Vin de Pays d'Oc, France
Attractive broad, fruity nose. It's quite rich with melon, apple and pear. The palate is fresh and nicely fruity, with a really approachable sort of personality. What it lacks in depth, it makes up for in charm. Impressive commercial winemaking. 86/100

So the comparison. The two new world Chardonnays? The Howard Park is more lively and fresher, with grapefruity notes adding to the citrus freshness. At this stage the oak is also a little more apparent. It would be interesting to see how these wines evolved: one under cork, and one under screwcap, both in slightly different styles. I think the Howard Park will certainly live the longest; which would be the most satisfying drink in three years is a more difficult question. Moving to France, the Climats is an interesting modern-styled white Burgundy that is developing very nicely. Its key feature is the citrussy freshness. I'll have to be honest, though: I wouldn't want to have faced this triumvirate blind, because the two new world wines are quite old world in style, while the old world wine is a bit new worldy. This tasting really shows how Chardonnay is such a global citizen: it seems to do quite well wherever it is planted. The final wine, the inexpensive Vin de Pays, overdelivers for its price point, but it is clearly a little out of its depth in this company.


Tuesday, July 22, 2008

A warm evening and its smells

Tonight is an unusually warm evening in London. It's not hot or sweaty; rather, just the sort of temperature that when you go outside it feels slightly warmer than inside (I don't know why - we don't have air conditioning), and in the absence of any breeze it's as if the air joins seamlessly with your skin.

One of the things I appreciate about warm, modestly humid evenings like this is the way that things smell different. Most of the time we don't notice smells: our sense of smell is designed to equilibrate itself with the 'normal' smells of the environment, such that just important or unusual smells (such as those indicating food or danger) are noticed. But I find there's a different quality of smell on warm evenings.

There's something wonderful about warm evenings. Perhaps it's just nostalgia, but it brings back memories of wandering around the campsite in southern Spain at night from my childhood. Or the evenings spent in the balmy tropical conditions in Singapore. Or taking an evening stroll in Margaret River under the vividly starry southern sky. Or our honeymoon on the Greek island of Cephalonia, before anyone had heard of Captain Correlli. And many more. Maybe it's because we get so few of them here in the UK that they are valued so highly.

It makes me think of my own sense of 'rootedness'. I like where I live: London is a great place to be, and it's hard to leave once you are here. But I don't feel rooted here: I have no sense of identity tied in with the place where I live. I guess this is because London is such a cosmopolitan place. Perhaps if I was living somewhere smaller and less diverse, this would be different. But then I have only a passing sense of identification with the place where I was born, because I lived there just a short time and I speak with a different accent to the locals.

As someone who has been fortunate enough to travel widely, I have a reasonably broad perspective (you can't help but pick this up if you travel a lot), and then the need to identify with a particular patch of planet earth becomes less urgent, even though there's a small sense of loss that comes from not being 'rooted' in a geographic locale. But would it be better to have stayed just in one place? I can't say. It's too late for that, anyway.

Part of me feels like I would jump at the chance to leave London and live somewhere else for a while. Perhaps even another country? Decisions like this are almost too hard to make, especially when you have a family to consider. But I'm pretty tempted.


Tomato leaf aromas in wine

Was watering my tomatoes today, and struck by the remarkable aroma that comes from the leaves when you brush them with your hand. It made me think of the wines where 'tomato leaf' is used as an aroma descriptor.

Which chemicals are responsible? For the distinctly green leafy aroma, cis-3-hexenol is the prime culprit, but I have also seen 2-isobutylthiazole listed as the signature chemical behind this smell.

Which wines have it? Tomato leaf is a Sauvignon Blanc sort of descriptor. It's pungent and quite green, and it is often used to describe Sauvignons from the cool Awatare Valley in Marlborough. It's a very attractive smell, although I'm not sure I'd want too much of it in my wine.
As with many of these descriptors, after a while it becomes a bit of a code word. As we taste, we decide what sort of wine we are tasting, and then trot out the usual terms that we associate with that wine. To smell and taste what's actually there requires quite a bit of concentration and deliberate effort.

Labels: , ,

Monday, July 21, 2008

Impressive Chilean Sauvignon Blanc

Chile is a wine country that is learning and developing fast. One of the most exciting things about Chile is that winegrowers are eagerly prospecting for new vineyard areas, and a relatively recent discovery is Leyda. It is a cool-climate, coastal wine region adjacent to the more established (but still quite new) Casablanca Valley, and it's currently making some really impressive Sauvignon Blancs, as well as some smart Pinot Noir. Here's a wine from Leyda that I like a lot. It's sophisticated and even a little understated.

Santa Rita Floresta Sauvignon Blanc 2007 Leyda Valley, Chile
Attractively packaged, this Sauvignon comes from the cool-climate coastal Leyda region in Chile. It’s quite impressive, with a mandarin and grapefruit notes, as well as some green pepper and a bit of minerality. Concentrated but smooth and quite understated, this is sophisticated rather than showy. A serious effort. 91/100 (£8.99 Waitrose)

Labels: , ,

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Light reds have a big future?

I'm enjoying some lighter red wines this summer. It seems to me we're all a bit obsessed with bigger, darker, richer, sweeter red wines. But sometimes you want something lighter, with less of everything, but still good concentration and a smooth texture - perhaps with a bit more aromatic interest.

I'd like to think that lighter reds have a big future, as people turn away from the bigger is better mentality and begin to value such characteristics as elegance, balance, texture and poise. Let's face it, that's part of the appeal of Pinot Noir, isn't it?

Beaujolais can do lighter reds brilliantly, with a combination of granitic soils and the Gamay variety. [Granitic soils do seem to make lighter, more aromatic red wines.] But Beaujolais has been at least partly ruined by efforts to 'modernize' the wines, using special cultured yeasts that just make the wines smell and taste of bubblegum. Lighter reds seem to benefit from more natural vinifications.

Tonight I'm sipping a cheap Gamay from the northern Rhone that's quite delicious in the right context. Marks & Spencer Gamay 2007 Vin de Pays de l'Ardeche is a red wine that benefits from being served chilled, when it displays light, fresh cherry fruit with a subtle herby freshness and some strawberry sweetness. Vibrant and juicy, and good fun. 82/100

Labels: ,

Sing along with Conti

Attentive readers will remember that the Chateau Tour des Gendres Bergerac Sec I blogged on a couple of days ago had a musical score on the label.

One reader has been kind enough to translate this into a midi file so you can hear it for yourself:

Conti midi file

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Two beautiful natural wines from the Rhone

Two wines from Hervé Souhaut at Domaine Romaneaux-Destezet in the northern Rhône. He has about 5 hectares of vines over the river from the Hermitage hill, so the wines are classified as Vin de Pays de l’Ardèche, but they are utterly beautiful, elegant creations, made from old vines with very little sulphur dioxide added. Elegantly packaged with their minimalist labels and black synthetic corks, these are wines of the moment – not designed to be cellared. Best served a little cooler than room temperature, too. [Unsurprisingly, in the UK these are available from Les Caves de Pyrene. No commercial connection, etc.]

Domaine Romaneaux-Destezet ‘La Souteronne’ Gamay 2007 Vin de Pays de l’Ardèche, France
Fresh, slightly sappy, herb-tinged nose. The palate has a lovely smooth texture and shows pure red cherry and cranberry fruit, with freshness, elegance and just a little spicy grip on the finish, making this a delightful, food-compatible wine of great purity. 91/100

Domaine Romaneaux-Destezet Syrah 2007 Vin de Pays de l’Ardèche, France
This is simply beautiful. There’s a distinctive cool-climate Syrah peppery kick on the nose, which is otherwise really pure and focused, with a gentle leafy character underneath the red fruits. The palate is beautifully supple, slightly sappy, and fantastically elegant, with real purity to the smoothly textured fruit. I guess the granite soils may have something to do with this: it’s light, but aromatic. Just 11.7% alcohol. 93/100

Labels: , , ,

The 'F' word does beer, and macaroni cheese with Stichelton

You know, I think the 'F word' is good for food, and even drink...

For those outside the UK, let me explain. The 'F word' is a national TV show in the UK that's the platform for celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay. It is fast-paced, popular and profane. But it is brilliantly done. Like Top Gear, the car program that appeals to people who have no interest in cars, the F word draws in viewers with little interest in what they put in their mouths. But, precisely because of this, it's a program that has the potential to get many people interested in real food.

Tonight, Gordon was brewing his own beer, with a view to matching it with food. What sort of beer? In an inspired choice, he chose to emulate Innis & Gunn's wonderful oak-aged beer that's aged in used Bourbon casks. [Aside: the C4 website repeatedly mispells this name as 'Inns and Gunn')

And then in his interpretation of Macaroni cheese he uses the fantastic Stichelton cheese. This is the Neal's Yard interpretation of Stilton, but made with unpasteurized milk, the way that the best Stiltons used to be made. Randolph Hodgson found that in recreating the classic style, he was unable to use the Stilton name - by law, Stilton now has to be made with pasteurized milk. But his Stichelton, still a work in progress, is better than any Stilton.

I reckon Gordon has some very good researchers indeed. It's kind of ironic, though, that a show devoted to redicovering and promoting the best of all that is edible is sponsored by Gallo. I guess that shows that wine has a bit of a mountain to climb.

Labels: ,

Friday, July 18, 2008

Bergerac Blanc from Luc Conti

A deliciously full flavoured white from Luc Conti's Tour des Gendres. Very stylishly packaged, too.

Chateau Tour des Gendres Bergerac Sec Muscadelle Petit Grain 2005 France
Nicely packaged with a musical score as a front label (can anyone read this?), this is a richly textured Muscadelle of real appeal. It's quite complex, with notes of grapes, lemons, nuts and vanilla ice cream, as well as an almost floral, herby character. In the mouth it is quite thick, with a lush texture and a hint of pithy bitterness on the finish. It reminds me of a cross between an Alsace Pinot Gris and a rich Viognier. Quite a serious effort, and it also tastes quite modern in style, with fruit to the fore. 90/100 (Les Caves de Pyrene)


In Portugal's Dao wine region with Alvaro Castro

A short film from last week's visit.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

NWR: RTL's poor paw

RTL (Rosie The Labradoodle) is our dog. She had a bad week: a grass seed had become embedded in one of her paws, and required surgery to get it out. That'll be £150. This is where I learned we were supposed to be checking her paws regularly. So I go for a walk with her and her bandaged paw, and get stopped several times by other dog walkers. The conversation is eerily similar each time. 'What's wrong?' 'Grass seed in paw.' 'Oh yes, you should check them every day. My vet says grass seeds pay for his summer holidays'. It never said this in the dog owners' manual. Anyway, she's now back to full health.

A photoshoot, a Merlot and a Roussillon red

Spent most of the day at Denbies winery (www.denbiesvineyard.co.uk) doing a photoshoot for the Sunday Express. This required the services of quite a team: a photographer plus her assistant, a make-up person, the section editor plus her assistant, the art editor, the fashion stylist and me. I was dressed in a white linen suit, brown shoes and a panama hat. While we were shooting in the vineyards a team of cyclists passed us and one of them commented loudly, 'It's the man from del monte'. I was embarrassed. We shot pictures in the cellar, too. The results will be in a special section in the magazine on summer drinks, on August 3rd. It was a really interesting and slightly surreal experience.

Two wines this evening. The first is a Merlot from Australia. Many readers will have switched off at this point, because Merlot sucks most of the time, and almost always when it comes from Australia. But this is quite a good one.

The second is a Roussillon red from the holy trinity of Mourvedre, Syrah and Grenache, and it's nicely dense and rather attractive.
Linda Domas Wines Boycat Merlot 2006 McLaren Vale, Australia
Slightly reductive on the nose, with a hint of burnt rubber, but also some really fresh, vibrant berry fruit, as well as a hint of gravel. The palate is juicy and medium bodied, with delightfully expressive, fresh, sweet red berry fruit, a trace of blackcurrant, and also some spicy tannins on the finish. I guess that the McLaren Vale isn't the best place in the world to grow Merlot, but this is still a very attractive, supple, sweetly fruited wine of some appeal. Elegant and very berryish. 88/100 (£8.99 Marks & Spencer)

Domaine Treloar Three Peaks 2006 Cotes du Roussillon, France
This attractive southern French red is the inaugural vintage from this producer, a Kiwi-English collaboration farming just 10 hectares in the Roussillon. It's a blend of Grenache, Syrah and Mourvedre. A concentrated wine with sweet-yet-focused red and black fruits with a spicy lift. There's a distinctly savoury, spicy quality to this wine which has enough tannin and acidity to keep it quite fresh. Finishes distinctly savoury and quite grippy. A food-friendly style that may develop nicely over the next few years. 90/100 (£10.25 Leon Stolarski)

Labels: , , , ,

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Retro Fitou, yeah baby!

Interesting sample in the post today. A 'retro' Fitou, from hugely successful coop Mont Tauch. Though there's nothing terribly retro about the closure (screwcap with a saranex-only liner, just right for this wine), the label is very attractively retro, with a mock-torn effect. I think it works really well, and the whole thing looks very good indeed.

What about the wine? Like many of the wines in the Mont Tauch portfolio, it delivers without threatening to overdeliver. It's lacking a bit of concentration and stuffing (I didn't say dilute, although there is a risk that it is heading that way), but aside from this it is very well made with attractive spicy, earthy, dark cherry and red berry flavours. Nicely savoury, and very drinkable. Remember, though, this is an inexpensive wine and it's much, much better from a lot of the new world offerings at this price point.

Mont Tauch 'Retro' Fitou 2006 Languedoc, France
Light, with savoury, spicy, slightly earthy cherry and berry fruit, as well as just a hint of that wild herb complexity known as 'garrigue'. A versatile, drinkable red with a sense of place to it. 83/100 (£5.99 Tesco)

Labels: , ,

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

A modern-styled Spanish red with 94 Miller points

I did a quick Google search to find out some more about tonight's wine, but all I could seem to get was Jay Miller's review for the Wine Advocate, where he talks about pain grille, meat, bacon and blueberry, and then dishes out 94 points, which I think for him is a kind of low score, although to me it sounds alarmingly high.

The wine in question is an ambitiously packaged, ambitiously priced modern Spanish red from the Mentrida appellation near Toledo. I find it exciting that producers in regions such as this, which a few years back were making almost exclusively cheap plonk (if they were making wine at all), are now aiming much higher. It has to be good for wine as a whole that this sort of push for high quality from lesser-known regions is taking place around the world.

Jimenez-Landi 'Pielago' 2006 Mentrida, Toledo, Spain
Beautifully packaged in a deeply punted Burgundy-shaped bottle, this is an ambitious new-wave Spanish red. The nose shows a bit of alcoholic heat, as well as a slightly baked, caramelly edge, along with lush, pure, sweet raspberry and blackberry fruit. The palate is warm and a little jammy, but with a nice spicy definition to the lush fruit. There's a lot going for this wine - the concentrated sweet, ripe fruit, and the attractive spiciness, as well as the fact that any oak is well in the background. But it has just a little too much 'warmth' to it to justify a higher score. New world in style, which I guess is understandable given the fact that it's very much a warm climate wine, made in a modern way. I'd like to see them aim for more freshness, without losing the concentration. 90/100 (£20 Handford Wines)


NWR: City fans are the best

[Not wine related]

Haven't had any Man City talk for a while on the blog (this is the football team I support for those a little puzzled...http://www.mcfc.co.uk/). As regular readers will know, I was, along with just about every other City fan, perplexed and distressed by the way the chairman - the ex-Thai priminister - dispensed with the services of Sven at the end of last season, even though he'd got City playing good football and transformed the club from relegation battlers into contenders for Europe.

Anyway, after this ill-judged, heavy handed decision, he sort of redeemed himself by making a sensible choice for the next manager - Mark Hughes. While some uncertainty surrounds the future of the chairman, who has had to return to Thailiand to face trial for corruption, the City faithful can look forward to the new season with a degree of optimism.

The season begins early, because City have managed to get into the UEFA cup by the backdoor route of the fairplay league. Basically, the country with the most sporting behaviour gets a place, which is given to the team that fouled the least that didn't already qualify for Europe, and that's City. The only drawback is you have to start right at the beginning of the competition, and City will be playing their first game against a team from the Faroe Islands.

It's difficult to get there, so one enterprising City fan has chartered chartered a trawler. Sounds hilarious, although not for land lubbers who suffer from motion sickness.


Monday, July 14, 2008

Krispy Kreme and the Douro

Went to the fifth day of the Lord's test today.

After having been on Thursday for the first day, I was looking at the rate of subsequent play with great attentiveness. That's because test matches have five days scheduled for play, but because the scoring rate is higher than it used to be, most tests are now finished within four days, and it's rare to have much play on the fifth. As a result, no tickets are sold in advance for the final day's play (it's pay on the gate, £20 for adults, £10 for kids), and box holders for Sunday get to keep their boxes for Monday as a bonus. Which is why I was attending today, as guest of Douro producer Quinta de la Rosa - not the normal sort of corporate hospitality gig. Also present in the box from the wine trade were Tim French of Fortnum & Mason, Hamish Anderson of the Tate group and Charles Metcalfe.

Anyway, the game was nicely poised at the start of play, with South Africa trailing by 100 runs but with nine wickets in hand. It was going to be very exciting (if England got some early wickets), or very boring (if South Africa managed to bat through a few sessions unscathed). In the end, it was the latter. I love test cricket, but I'll admit that when games fizzle into a damp squib of a draw like this, it's enough to make you rush out and buy tickets to see some 20:20 fireworks.

England's bowlers struggled to trouble South Africa on a pitch that made batting look quite easy. Still, we had a very enjoyable day. Some Quinta de la Rosa wines were sampled. The 2006 Quinta de la Rosa is deliciously fresh and aromatic with vibrant dark cherry fruit and more than a hint of seriousness. 2005 Passagem, from their new property in the Douro Superior, is a serious effort with lush, sweet, pure fruit backed up by some spicy structure. I really liked this ripe but focused and balanced wine. The 2004 Reserva is evolving nicely with lovely purity of fruit. And I found out that the 1997 Colheita goes pretty well with Krispy Kreme donuts. Especially the one with a bit of jam in the middle.

Krispy Kreme donuts look evil and I should hate them, but I find them thoroughly addictive. I was first introduced to them by my older son, who was already hooked at the time: I bought him one at the KK outlet in Bentalls in Kingston, and then found out that the coffee I'd ordered came with two free KK donuts. They looked appalling but tasted delicious, in much the same way that Pringles do. And now I have found they work with Colheita, which is a bit of a bonus.

Labels: , , ,

Another video blog post: Riesling from Germany and Australia

OK, time for another vlog post. It has been a while since the last one.

The subject is Riesling, and I've chosen two contrasting bottles. One is from Germany - a Riesling Kabinett from Dr Loosen (Waitrose), and the other is from Australia's Clare Valley, made by Knappstein (Marks & Spencer). I like them both, but they are quite different.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Weekend wines: Portugal and pink Burgundy

Two wines to report on from the weekend. One a leading Portuguese red from the Alentejo; the other a delicious pink wine from Burgundy.

Malhadinha Nova Pequeno Joao 2005 Alentejo, Portugal
A small production run of Cabernet, Aragones and Syrah that's bottled in 50 cl format. Beautiful purity of sweet raspberryish fruit with foresty, blackberry notes in the mix too. The palate is pure and intense with lovely fruit intensity and nice spiciness. Ripe, rich, fruit-driven and delicious. 92/100

Simonnet-Febvre Bourgogne Rose 2006 France
Pink orange in colour, this has a sweet nose of strawberry and redcurrant fruit, with a herbal freshness. The palate is richly textured with a nice sappy finish along with the sweet fruit. Stylish and appealing. It's hard to make serious rose, but this is almost there. 87/100 (£9 Hayward Bros, Anne et Vin, Hennings, ND John)

Labels: , , ,

A relaxed weekend, with yet more cricket

It has been an enjoyable weekend. On Friday night my twin sister, Anne, and her husband and kids came to stay at the Goode madhouse. I opened about 20 bottles for sampling, and we drank some, too - the rest we took with us on Saturday morning for the bi-annual family cricket match organized by two of my cousins. Held in the magnificent settings of Caldicott School, it's a fun event where the extended family gather and there's a half decent game of cricket.

Under overcast skies we played a 30-over-a-side game. Rather bizarrely, the first innings was played on an all-weather pitch on a different field to the second innings on the main square, because of the damp early conditions. We batted first and made 215-8, and then restricted them to 211-8 off their overs. My contribution? 1 with the bat (caught in the deep) and 3-8 with the ball. It was great to catch up with so many relatives.

Today was a bit sunnier, and it was younger son's chance to perform at cricket, as he kept wicket for his school side against the same age group from Twickenham CC. He did pretty well, only letting a few balls through.

Pictured above is a view from the local park where I take RTL for walks most days, at about 8 am this morning. I don't always feel like taking her out, but it's actually a brilliantly relaxing thing to do at this time of year.

Friday, July 11, 2008

On the main site, and Rioja

On the main site recently:
Tonight I have my twin sister Anne and her husband Dominic staying with their kids, before a big family cricket match tomorrow. We've been opening lots of bottles, including an interesting Rioja. It's really oaky, with lots of vanilla and coconut, plus some menthol and spice from the oak. But it also has really concentrated, well-defined red berry fruit. It's the Vina Izadi Rioja Gran Reserva 2002 (£18.59 Laithwaites).

This wine has me in two minds. Tasted today, I think it's just too much, with too much extraction and intensity and oak all mushed together. The sort of wine that impresses but isn't all that drinkable. However, I suspect it is also the sort of wine that could metamorphose with a decade's bottle age into something elegant and complex, and so I'm going to give it the benefit of the doubt. The fruit really is quite impressive.

Also enjoying some chocolate Anne and Dominic bought along: Lindt Excellence 85% Cocoa dark chocolate, which is intense and rich, but not at all bitter. I imagine this could even be wine compatible, because it's not too sweet. In fact, this Rioja works quite well with it, although it shouldn't.

Labels: ,

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Cricket at Lords and sweet wine

Spent the day at Lord's, watching the first day of the England v. South Africa test match. To those unfamiliar with cricket, the idea of a game that lasts five days must seem ludicrous. I suppose it is, but it is also wonderful that in this age of hurry and busyness, a day can be spent watching nothing much happening at a cricket match as a punctuation-style interval in an over-busy life.

South Africa have four good fast bowlers, and between them they kept things pretty tight, restricting England to 80-odd for none (this means England scored 80 runs without any of their batsmen getting out) by lunch. Shortly after lunch, though, South Africa made a breakthrough, with Strauss lbw for 44. Soon after, Vaughan was clean bowled for 2, and then Cook was out a few balls later for 60. At 117-3 things were nicely poised. But a solid partnership by Bell and Pietersen followed. Initially, Bell looked the more in-form, with some cracking shots. But as Pietersen entered the 20s, he found his touch, motoring towards his century with some bold yet measured stroke play. When I left, with a couple of overs to go, England were just over 300 with three wickets down.

Lords is a very attractive ground to watch cricket at. It also has the enlightened policy of allowing guests to bring a bottle of wine in with them, something that other test match grounds prohibit, perhaps because of fears of lost revenue and upsetting drinks sponsors.

Two sweet wines tonight.

Chateau Haut Bergeron Sauternes 2004 Bordeaux
Golden colour. Attractive sweet herbal nose with dried fruit, apricot, citrus peel and spice. The palate is viscous with citrus and barley sugar character as well as some appealing spiciness. A dense, mouthfilling sweet wine with some complexity. Deliciously rich. 90/100 (Asda £9.99/half)

Vendanges d'Automne Muscat de Saint Jean de Minervois NV, France
Golden colour with some brown hints. Rich and quite viscous with notes of baked apple, dried apricot and organge peel, as well as some tea-like complexity. Very sweet, with a bit of spice on the finish. A satisfying, thought-provoking wine. 89/100 (Co-op £11.99/50 cl)

Labels: ,


The Louis Roederer shortlist is out today. I was shortlisted for the online category, which was nice. But I also entered three other categories, which I wasn't shortlisted for. A shame, but I guess I'm just not good enough. Here's the shortlist for the online category, which is new this year:

Louis Roederer Award for International Online Wine Writer of the Year 2008

Tom Cannavan for www.wine-pages.com
Jamie Goode for www.wineanorak.com and www.wineanorak.com/blog
Chris Losh for articles on www.just-drinks.com
Jancis Robinson for www.jancisrobinson.com

It's really good that there is an online category, but looking at the judging panel, it will be a miracle if Jancis doesn't win it.


Wednesday, July 09, 2008


Trying a Bardolino tonight, after flying back from Portugal. TAP in-flight catering is never all that smart (whose short-haul food is?), but they've recently replaced the semi-edible lukewarm ham and cheese sandwich with a grotesque alternative filled with a light-grey, flavourless meat with the texture of damp cardboard. So I'm rescuing my palate with some wine.

It's a Bardolino, and it's not really a red wine, as much as a souped up rose. I guess you could call it a red/rose hybrid. Think Italian Beaujolais, and you aren't far off it. But it's not just frivolous alcopoppy stuff - this is actually quite a 'gastronomic' wine, with good acidity and a bit of tannic grip on the finish.

Guerrieri Rizzardi Bardolino Classico 2007 Veneto, Italy
Light red in colour, this is like a very dark rose more than a red wine. Sweet, bright cherry fruit dominates the nose and palate. It's quite rounded, with a rich texture, a hint of sappiness and just a touch of spicy tannin on the finish. Joyful and quite drinkable, but would work well with a range of foods, too. There's a place for this sort of wine. 87/100 (£7.49 Longford Wines, Davy's wine shop)

...and so does Dao

After a wonderfully educational and productive day in Bairrada, I spent Tuesday in Dao. The day started with a quick visit to the Paco dos Cunhas de Santar, an ancient property dating back to 1609 which Dao Sul are now rebuilding. Carlos Lucas told me that it will be finished by August, and will include a wine shop and a restaurant of Michelin star standard. We then walked over to the Casa de Santar, a beautiful manor house that makes wine (I visited four years ago), and which Dao Sul have bought a controlling interest in - their goal is to raise the quality of the wine to new heights. It's a beautiful place (pictured above).

Then, retracing my steps of four years ago, I revisited Alvaro Castro, who is currently making the Dao's best wines - his wines are actually among Portugal's very best, in my opinion. We toured his three vineyards in his fantastic Toyota Landcruiser, which is as old as me and required a bump start. First, Quinta da Pellada (pictured above), Quinta de Saes and a new block that used to belong to Passarela, which he recently acquired. It was a beautiful morning: temperatures in the mid-20s, bright sunshine, a gentle breeze. Then we did an extensive tasting of some fabulous wines, and had some lunch, joined by his daughter Maria, who is an enologist. I was very excited by these wines.

The afternoon consisted of a tasting at the Solar de Vinhos de Dao (above - they are celebrating the centenary of the demarcation of the Dao region this year) with 11 producers who'd all brought their wines along for me to taste. It was a great opportunity to look a broad range of wines that would not have been possible otherwise. As with the joint tasting in Bairrada, I left impressed with the quality.

Then it was time to drive across towards the Spanish border and up a bit to a remote part of the Beira Interior, where we were to spend the night. We were joined by Jose Almeida Garrett, who was presenting his wines, and also Joao Portugal Ramos, Luis de Castro and Jose Maria Soares Franco, who happened to be staying there the night on the way to their new project in the Douro.

Labels: ,

Monday, July 07, 2008

Bairrada rocks!

I've finished a long but enjoyable day in Bairrada, which I reckon is one of Portugal's most interesting wine regions. The key grape here is Baga, a red variety that is best known for its firm tannic structure, usually coupled with high acidity. This is no bad thing: well made red Bairrada is extremely food friendly, as well as being long-lived. Some of the wines I tasted today reminded me a bit of Italy's best reds. Full report to follow, of course, so I won't go into specifics. I also tasted quite a few wines from Dao, the other main region in Beiras, which is the collective name for the broader region that includes Bairrada, Dao and Beiras interior. Lots of very exciting discoveries.

Tomorrow, the focus is on Dao, and tonight I'm staying in a very nice hotel in Visieu, the Montebello Hotel and Spa, which boasts five stars. I managed a quick dip in the pool before dinner, and tomorrow we are not leaving until 10 am, so I may get to swim then as well.

Pictured is the view from the balcony at Dao Sul's Quinta da Encontro winery and restaurant in Bairrada. This post is generated by my remarkably dainty EeePC, which I'm now going to use to check my emails. Then I'm going to sleep.

Labels: ,

Sunday, July 06, 2008

Off to Portugal

Heading off in a few hours for Portugal. This time, it's a short trip to the Beiras, including Bairrada, Dao (pictured) and a bit of the Beiras interior. I'm particularly looking forward to having a first look at Bairrada, a region I've somehow managed to miss off my list on previous visits.


Saturday, July 05, 2008


Three Soave wines tonight. I'm intrigued by Soave. On one level it can be pale and neutral and a bit boring. But made by growers who care, it has real personality. The three wines tried tonight have personality, for sure, but express varying facets of 'Soave'. They aren't terribly easy whites, because with this depth of flavour there are some aspects of their taste that are a bit challenging - in particular a slightly bitter, tangy, pithy character that wouldn't be a problem when they are drunk with food, but might be an obstacle to casual sipping. The easiest of the three to appreciate is probably the Tamellini, which tastes a little sweet.

Monte Tondo Casette Foscarin 2004 Soave Classico
Yellow/gold colour. Complex nose of lemon, mandarin and herbs leads to a palate that is mouthfilling, dense and rich, with citrus fruit, honey and a bit of nutty depth. There are some pithy, bitter notes on the finish. It's a complex, food-friendly white that's peaking now. 91/100 (£12.30 Great Western Wine)

Guerrieri Rizzardi Costeggiola 2007 Soave Classico
A single vineyard blend of Garganega and Chardonnay. Quite deep yellow colour. Fresh and herby with citrussy notes and a slightly pithy bitterness. A full flavoured wine with a tangy finish. Distinctive. 89/100 (£8.99 Longford, Davy's, Fortnum & Mason, Harrods)

Tamellini 2006 Soave
Full yellow colour. Rich and a bit nutty with a sweet, mealy, toasty richness and some melon fruit, as well as some finer honeysuckle notes. Sophisticated and broad with a distinctive sweetness. 89/100 (£9.99 Cadman Fine Wines)

Labels: ,

Cricket, again, with a bit of wine

Spent a most enjoyable Friday playing cricket with the Wine Trade XI at Colchester. We had a rather different look to our side, because of the official Wine Trade XI tour to Porto (where, I get the impression, they play just a couple of games of cricket, but drink a good deal and generally let their hair down). But the makeshift side we put together was better than many of the Wine Trade teams I have played in, which was a good thing, because Colchester normally field a very strong XI, and there are lots of runs in this pitch, which is sometimes used as a county strip.

We bowled first, and our first few bowlers were simply too good for the batsmen, who played and missed a lot but didn't get out. We finally made a breakthrough shortly before lunch, and then, in the last over before lunch, which was my first, we dislodged their best batsman off a dodgy ball (I bowled a full toss, which was whacked in the direction of the boundary, and brilliantly caught by Ollie Styles of Decanter). It's not always the good balls that get the wickets.

Lunch, as usual, is accompanied by wine we supply. Nick Oakley, the captain, brought along two nice wines that he imports into the UK. First, a red from Quinta de Sant'Ana in Portugal's Estremadura, that was ripe and generous with rich berry and black fruit. This is about £9 in independents. The second was from Bierzo in Spain, made from the Mencia variety, and it was really beautifully fruited with fresh, vivid dark fruits and no oak influence. I can't remember the name of it, but it will be in supermarkets at around £6, and as such is a great buy.

After lunch, we bowled well enough, and wickets fell, before they declared at 220-ish for 8. My figures were 6-0-21-2, which is reasonably tidy. We began our chase slowly, but as the overs ticked away, we steadily accumulated more runs. Howard Sayers was the anchor of the innings, and after a Tavare-like start he began to hit out quite effectively, and was to finish on 96. Occasional player Sam Harrop, wearing cricket whites purchased for him by that other occasional antipodean cricketer John Worontshak that were two sizes too big, hit a speedy 17 that looked full of promise. Had we not run out of overs, we would have won comfortably; in the end a draw was probably a fair result, because we really should have bowled them out earlier.

It's funny how much fun you can have on a nice sunny day, playing a game where your individual contribution isn't all that much. I guess that's one of the appeals of cricket.


Thursday, July 03, 2008

An excellent Syrah from South Africa

Julien Schaal is a young winemaker from Alsace who also makes wine in South Africa. His home in the Cape is the Newton Johnson winery in Hermanus, but the grapes for this excellent Syrah come from Elgin, a cool-climate area not all that far away. It's really one of the best Syrahs I've tried from South Africa - perhaps not quite up to the Foundry, TMV or Columella level, but not far off. I picked it up today at Handford Wines on the Old Brompton Road, where it was recommended to me by Greg Sherwood MW. Handford are doing good work: they've got a really good selection of wines in at the moment. I was impressed.

Julien Schaal 'African Dream' Syrah 2005 Western Cape, South Africa
From a vineyard in Elgin, this is made by a French winemaker and matured in 900 litre French oak barrels, and it's really good. The nose is sweet and ripe with dark cherry and blackberry fruit framed by a subtly roasted, spicy character, as well as a bit of meatiness. The palate combines lush fruit with spicy definition, as well as bright acidity. It's very ripe, but minerally and fresh with it. I wouldn't go so far as to call it Rhone-like, as some has done. It's more like an elegant take on Barossa Valley. Finishes fresh. Great value for money, this. 91/100 (£9.99 Handford Wines)

Labels: ,

More on the coffee pinotage, and Bertus 'Starbucks' Fourie

A few days ago I blogged, slightly tongue-in-cheek, about Pinotage and Diemersfontein's remarkable coffee-n'-chocolate example (although, of course, I was serious when I said Pinotage sucks and anyone who likes it lacks a decent palate).

Well here's some more information on it, gleaned from a number of sources, including Peter May's excellent site here, Grape here, and Wine here.

The winemaker at Diemersfontein who 'invented' this coffee and chocolate style was Bertus Fourie, who, because of his work, is widely known as Bertus 'Starbucks' Fourie. He was hired by KWV in 2005 to create their Cafe Culture Pinotage, and then left KWV in May this year for a boutique venture called Val de Vie (read more here).

According to Grape, the owners of Diemersfontein were not pleased that he left taking his 'recipe' with him (see here). They even went as far as initiating legal action. So what is this recipe?

The fruit is ripe, without much greenness. The destemmed grapes are hand sorted to remove any green material. But the key aspect is the wood, which in this case consists of staves in tanks. I'm guessing that there is something about the wood - perhaps the toasting process - that is causing those distinctive coffee/chocolate flavours, rather than the vanilla/coconut lactones that normally come from oak.

Labels: , ,

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

A delicious Languedoc wine, blind

It had been quite a difficult evening (same old, older child), so as I was doing sentry duty after things had quietened down a little, Fiona brought up a glass of something blind for me to identify, and then enjoy.

I'm afraid I wasn't good on the identification front tonight. It was a really classy red wine, with smooth blackberry fruit and a bit of spicy structure, all in a very harmonious package. But it could have been ultra-refined new world, or sleek, modern-styled old world. It didn't taste Italian, nor did it taste terribly French or Portuguese, and it wasn't very Spanish either. So I opted for new world. Wrong. So then I guessed Languedoc, and was right.

I find wines like this, with no real sense of place, a bit unnerving. But I can't criticize it, because it is so beautifully made. Embarrasingly, I can't remember where it's from. I don't think it's Waitrose, and in the back of my mind I'm thinking Asda, although this doesn't seem right. If anyone knows, please share. Retail price would be around £9, which makes it good value.

Chateau Paul Mas 'Les Dons' Vinus 2005 Coteaux du Languedoc, France
A Shiraz/Grenache blend from 40 year old vines on clay and lime soils, with a bit of maritime influence, this is sleek and sophisticated. Harmonious, smooth red and black fruits combine with fine-grained tannins and fresh acidity to make a very stylish, modern red wine of real appeal. Warm climate elegance here. 89/100

Labels: ,

Shareacase dot com

A quick plug for a new venture, http://www.shareacase.com/. Fronted by wine writer Charles Metcalfe, the idea behind it is a good one: if you want to buy Bordeaux or Burgundy en primeur, but don't want to buy in case quantities, you can use Shareacase to mix and match, while still benefiting from the benefits of en primeur purchasing (namely cost and getting stuff that won't make it to retail shelves). I like the concept a lot.

The downside? In these troubled economic times, there's a degree of risk buying en primeur. If the company goes bust, you could lose your wine. But you would expect a venture with Charles on board to be a legitimate operation. From the FAQs on the site: "We understand your concern as purchasing wine en primeur does require a high degree of trust in the organisation you are dealing with. We are all respected company directors who are personally committed to meeting our obligations to ShareACase.com customers. We will only be dealing with reputable and established wine merchants to purchase our wines and you will be kept fully informed at each stage of your wine purchase to give you the reassurance that everything is in order."


Tuesday, July 01, 2008

A crazy Pinotage and two from Waitrose

I can't help, when it comes to Pinotage, descending to a level of criticism that I object to when I see it from others, if you know what I mean. I become dogmatic and opinionated.

Normally, I reckon I'm an open-minded sort of guy. I embrace diversity. Live and let live; see the best in everything; every cloud has a silver lining; everyone deserves a second chance.

But Pinotage is vile. In fact, I've thought of both a new competition, and also a new way to assess wine show judges based on this variety. The new competition is for the World's Least Vile Pinotage, and perhaps I should brand this with my name to make it an excercise in ugly self-promotion (as some other, nameless, writers do with top 100s and the like). And the new way to assess wine show judges is to give them a glass of Pinotage. If they say it's OK, they're sacked. If they dislike it, they are in. If they take a sip, cuss loudly and expel the contents from their mouths rapidly, then they are senior judges.

Anyway, I think I have found a potential winner for my competition. It's the Diemersfontein Pinotage 2007 Wellington, South Africa. The back label reads:
'This is the one! The original coffee/chocolate Pinotage now in its seventh great vintage. It befriends - it converts - it seduces'

You know, Diemersfontein have sussed Pinotage. The way to make it work is to mask the flavours of the grape. This wine really does smell of coffee and chocolate, and it is seductive. There's a hint of roast bacon here, as well. The fruit is sweet, and it's actually quite delicious, in a rather strange, slightly weird way. This is available in the UK from Asda, and it's probably my favourite expression of Pinotage.

Also tasted tonight, with a barbecue after watching elder son play cricket (golden duck this time, alas, and after we'd spent ages in the nets trying to work on some sort of defensive strategy), a couple from Waitrose which go well with this balmy summer's evening. They're from the Waitrose own-label range, which are sort of hybrid 'in partnership with' wines.

The first is a beautifully balanced, rich Sauvignon from Villa Maria (Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2007) that's really delicious. The second is a Barossa Shiraz 2006 Reserve from St Hallett, which is smooth and pure with nice texture and a hint of vanilla and chocolate. It's suave and stylish, if a little primary.

Labels: , , , , , ,

What a scorcher, and some Torrontes

It has been one of those very rare scorching hot days in London, with bright blue skies, a light breeze, and temperatures in the upper twenties. I headed up to the Wine and Spirit Education Trust, near London Bridge, for a tasting of 28 Torrontes wines for Wine & Spirit, and because of the beautiful weather I decided to walk rather than take the tube from Waterloo.

The walk, along the south bank of the Thames, is a pleasant one, and takes around 35 minutes. It passes the Tate Modern, with the famous Millennium footbridge across to St Pauls (see picture). This was the one that opened in June 2000, but was closed after three days because of a phenomenon known as synchronous lateral excitation. Basically, it wobbled. The problem took 89 dampners and £5 million to fix before the bridge was reopened in 2002.

What was the Torrontes like? A little disappointing, if I'm going to be really honest. Quite a lot of the wines had some pithy bitterness on the finish, which wasn't all that nice. Some were pretty and floral, with grapey fruit. Others were a bit oily and pungent. Argentina doesn't do whites all that well, in my opinion. I'm not sure why, because I really like many Argentinean reds.

Labels: , ,