jamie goode's wine blog: August 2008

Sunday, August 31, 2008

A delightful Riesling Kabinett Trocken

On the way back from Graz through Frankfurt airport (busy, horrible, much prefer Munich where I changed on the way out) I looked at the wine selection. Just one bottle caught my eye, amid a sea of big brands and rather obvious international wines - this deliciously crisp and focused Riesling from Schloss Vollrads. Sealed with a Vino-Lok, it's a trocken (dry) style which is very popular in Germany, but isn't seen all that often in the UK.

Schloss Vollrads Riesling Kabinett Trocken 2007 Rheingau, Germany
Minerally, lemony nose is focused and precise. The palate is crisp, limey and acidic with lots of minerality. A pure, zippy sort of Riesling with beautiful focus. Highly food compatible and bone dry. 12% alcohol. 89/100 (9 Euros)

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Saturday, August 30, 2008

Sauvignon in Stryria, day 4 and summary

Back home after a wonderful few days in Austria. Graz proved to be a fantastic venue for the worldsauvignon conference: the organization was utterly perfect (in particular, good quality simultaneous translation into three languages is quite a feat), and it's a very easy city to spend some time in. It would be a nice place to live: big enough that there's cultural richness and some people to hang out with, but small enough that it feels relaxed and friendly. Pictured above, by night.

The sessions on the final day included a very polished paper by Larry Lockshin on marketing issues, a Masters of Wine panel conducting a tutored tasting of 12 very interesting Sauvignons from around the world, and a final panel looking at the market for wine in Germany, Russia, the UK and the USA.

After the conclusion of the conference, Tim Atkin and I joined some of the NZ guys for beer at the top of the mountain. Graz is unusual in that it has a small mountain right in the middle of the city. You can take a furnicular, or a lift, or even walk up - and at the top there's a beautiful beer garden with views over the city. It was a lovely way to end what was an inspiring and stimulating three days.

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Thursday, August 28, 2008

Sauvignon in Styria, day 3

Right now, I'd kill for a red wine. Day three of the worldsauvignon congress has been brilliant, but there's only so much Sauvignon a boy can take.

Some really good stuff today. Highlights for me were three rather technical papers. The first was Denis Dubourdieu's excellent talk on thiols in Sauvignon Blanc. He's a bit of a wine science legend, and a really nice guy to boot. Had a couple of nice chats with him today.

Matt Goddard, a Brit who has relocated to the University of Auckland, has been doing some great work on identifying the yeasts involved in spontaneous ferments, and has discovered that if you inoculate with specific Saccharomyces cerevisiae strains plus Pichia kluyveri (a wild yeast) you get really interesting wines. Specifically for Sauvignon, there's a synergistic interaction in terms of thiol production.

Also from kiwiland, Chris Winefield presented another excellent paper looking at thiol precursors. Really good science unpacking the GLV (green leaf volatile) pathway in vines. Not for everyone, but I found it gripping.

Then there was a panel tasting looking at the ageing potential of Sauvignon Blanc. If the conclusion of our clones panel was that it's a bit of a non-issue, then the conclusion of this panel was don't bother ageing Sauvignon Blanc. [Maybe I'm being a bit naughty here.] I just loved the typo in Jean-Christoph Bourgeois' name (pictured).

Then this afternoon, there were several topical excursions to the Styrian wine regions. Mine was titled 'The culinary side of life: typically Stryrian'. We went to a castle, tasted some Sauvignon Blanc, and tried some ham. Then we had dinner. It was jolly, and I was with a nice group, but it was a little short on the culinary side. Pictured at the top is a view from the castle, and also the tasting we had.

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Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Sauvignon in Sytria, day 2

A very successful first day of the World Sauvignon Congress, held here in sunny Graz. 250 delegates are attending, representing 30 different countries. The proceedings began with an hour's opening ceremony, which contained several speeches, as well as some country dancing and a performance by a folk group, as well as an anthemic four-piece brass band. There were also appearances from the three 'princesses of wine', pretty Austrian girls selected for their attractiveness but also their knowledge of all things vinous. Pepe Schuller MW revealed that his wife is an ex-wine princess.

The folk group was led by Hans, who is the president of the local wine growers syndicate. He composed a piece titled 'from vine to wine', which he played. It's in 3/4 time, as it most Austrian music it seems. The dancing group were good, but had the rather alarming habit of letting out high pitched yells at seemingly random intervals. In one dance (pictured), the men systematically clapped the soles of their feet, their thighs and their hands in a complex sequence.

The sessions were very good, once they got underway. We learned from Ferdinand Regner that the parents of Sauvignon Blanc are Traminer and Chenin Blanc. Richard Smart told us why Tasmania is just as good as Marlborough for growing Sauvignon Blanc, and also spelled out the implications of global warming for the wine world. 'The world's wine sector is a canary in the coal mine for agriculture', he pointed out. 'It's an early warning signal'. The lucky regions set to suffer least are Chile, Argentina, China, New Zealand and northern Europe. And Tasmania.

Mike Trought gave a thorough overview of the amazing development of Marlborough over the last 20 years into New Zealand's top wine region. He also looked at the issue of regionality. Kobus Hunter explained why canopy management is key for quality in South African Sauvignon Blanc. Ulrich Pedri described his studies on looking for suitable sites for Sauvignon Blanc in the Sudtirol. And then it was my turn to chair the panel on Sauvignon Blanc clones, with three experts - Laurent Audeguin, Wolfgang Renner and Damian Martin - each making presentations.

Tonight is the conference dinner. More country dancing, folk songs and yodelling?

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Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Sauvignon in Styria, day 1

Arrived in Graz this afternoon for the Sauvignon Congress. I'm staying at a wonderful traditional hotel in the old town, Erzherzog Johann, which is in the best part of a small city that just falls short of being beautiful (although it has a lovely laid back feel to it). Conference sessions start tomorrow, but this evening there was a reception and dinner at the Schlossberg, which is perched on top of a steep hill in the town centre, accessible by a steep path or furnicular car.

It was a lovely evening. Part of the reason for attending a conference like this is that you get a chance to meet loads of people. I chatted this evening for the first time to Denis Dubourdieu and Richard Smart, both legends in their own fields, as well as catching up with a whole bunch of others.

There was also an informal tasting of a range of Styrian Sauvignons, which were uniformly very good. Sauvignon Blanc in Styria has a particular character - it's bright, fresh and fruity, with some depth to it. It isn't grassy/herbaceous like the New Zealand style; nor is it minerally as it so often is in the Loire. I think the next few days will be interesting.

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Monday, August 25, 2008

Off to Austria

In the morning I leave for Austria. More specifically, Graz, for the World Sauvignon Congress, where I have to sing for my supper by moderating a session on clones.

I'm looking forward to it: I'll learn a lot, and Styria in August should be very pleasant. I'll let you know how I get on.

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Sunday, August 24, 2008

Buying my book on wine science

I get quite a lot of queries on how to buy my book Wine Science. In the UK, this book was published by Mitchell Beazley in November 2005. It sold pretty well, and the initial print run all disappeared. Will they reprint it? Probably not, was the answer I got. They aren't very good at responding to emails, and so I don't know whether it's officially out of print, or whether I can get back the rights to publish it.

But whatever the situation, the result of this is that you can't get hold of it in the UK or most other markets (although I recently found out that http://www.aroundwine.com/ have some copies still). Amazon.co.uk list it as out of stock.

In the USA, it was published in March 2006 as The Science of Wine. Different cover, too (pictured), but exactly the same content. They sold through their initial order of 5000 and have since ordered two more runs of 4000, which is good, but I don't get very much for each copy sold (just 10% of gross receipts received by Mitchell Beazley, who sell them the books very cheaply).

The good news is that it's very cheap to buy the book from amazon.com in the USA and then get it shipped to the UK. Cheaper, even, than it was to buy the book in the UK when it was still available here. I just checked on amazon.com and the cost was £17.82 delivered. The link is here.

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Two recent reads, NWR

Two recent reads that I'd recommend.

Douglas Coupland's JPod (see website http://www.jpod.info/ or the book on amazon) is a very funny, astute sort of book. It's a creative, humorous satirical and deeply ironic look at the current hi-tech generation, and it is almost perfectly judged. I read it in the space of a couple of plane journeys and the assorted delays associated with them. Coupland is accessible and light without being too ephemeral. It's the first time I've read him – I think I'll have to take a look at his back catalogue, despite seeing him referred to, perhaps not unfairly, as specializing in ‘hyper-ironised glibness’. Of special merit are a number of stream of consciousness-like blocks of text interspersed in the narrative. They’re brilliantly done.

The second book is a bit of a door wedge, but I'm really enjoying it. Andrew Marr's History of Modern Britain is something of a rarity: an interesting, absorbing history book. I guess Marr's skill lies in what he leaves out as much as what he includes. The tone is quite lively, seasoned gently with dry wit, and the text paints a vivid picture of the way Britain was in the 40s, 50s, 60s and 70s (I'm only now onto the 80s, and I’m looking forward to see how he deals with the nineties and noughties). The book also comes across as tremendously balanced. We all have biases when we re-tell stories. There's what 'actually happened', but the very act of observing what happened, even first hand, is a personal thing. The 'truth' passes through a set of filters. With a history like this, focusing heavily on the political landscape, the potential for skewing and bias is huge. Some people say that for this reason, all history is biased and any attempt to get to the 'truth' is doomed to failure. But I feel that we have a duty to try to get as close to we can, and be as free from bias as possible. And Marr's account does seem to do this pretty well. His interpretation of events seems a really intelligent, insightful and balanced one, and it's filling in lots of the gaps in my knowledge of postwar Britain. It's also forcing me to rethink some of my own views on this history, which in truth were probably not based on all that much information at all.


Saturday, August 23, 2008

Serious Rueda

Verdejo (grape variety) from Rueda (wine region): one of Spain's relatively few contributions to the genre of serious white wine. This is a really good one, as transparent as a haunting cataract on a sunny April day.

Naia Verdejo 2007 Rueda, Spain
Crisp, minerally, complex and elegant, with an aromatic nose of grapefruit and lemon that leads to a palate where there's crisp yet rich textured spicy apple, pear and citrus fruit. Beautifully balanced and quite complex. Drink now. 91/100 (£10.99 Indigo Wine [the agent in the UK], Harrods, The Vineyard [Dorking], Christopher Piper)


Friday, August 22, 2008

At last, the sun

Devon update. After unremitting rain, the last two days have seen the reluctant appearance of the sun. It has been lovely. We've been to the burrows a lot, for long walks with lots of running up and down sand dunes. Today we lunched on the beach, and our pasties were washed down with two very nice beers - Cooper's Sparkling from Australia, and Sierra Navada Pale Ale from the USA. The latter is perhaps a little more complex and full flavoured, but both are really good.

Tonight we are firing up the barbie, and I've made some bread. I guess I was inspired to try to make bread by watching the Hairy Bakers on TV the other day. It's an odd show. A bit like the Chuckle Brothers doing food.

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Thursday, August 21, 2008

Casillero del Diablo Cabernet Sauvignon 2007 - brilliant value?

Picked up a bottle of Concha y Toro's Casillero del Diablo 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon. What does the devil's cellar yield? Actually, a rather good cheapie.

For just £4.99 you get dense, sweet blackcurrant fruit with lots of savoury spiciness, a hint of burnt rubber (not as bad as it sounds in this context) and some grippy tannin. Look, they make oceans of this wine. You can buy it anywhere. And it's actually pretty tasty, with enough oomph to be a good food match. It isn't totally spoofy and sweet, but actually tastes like proper wine.

Part of the secret is that Concha y Toro are right on the ball. Of the seriously large wine companies, they are at the top. The other part of the secret is the 2007 vintage, which was really good in Chile - and they are pointing this out to consumers on the capsule.

To be honest, I'd prefer this honest, dense, slightly rustic Cabernet to some of the more spoofed-up, confected icon wines from Chile. Am I nuts? And if you can find it, I'd also recommend the 2007 CdD Carmenere, which is even better.

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DeuS - a remarkable beer

One of the great things about beer is that even great beers are usually not much more expensive than rubbish ones. You can get something remarkable for less than £2 a bottle. But there is one notable exception: DeuS. Can you believe it? I went and spent £13.99 on a single bottle of beer.

Admittedly, this is a 75 cl bottle, and the cost reflects that this is a Belgian beer that's then finished off in Champagne, with a secondary fermentation in bottling and riddling. It's incredible stuff, weighing in at 11.5% alcohol and with bags of flavour.

DeuS Brut des Flandres Cuvee Prestige 2007
Rich, complex and delicious, with heady aromas of vanilla, yeast, toast and whisky. The palate is rich and broad with sweet rich-textured toasty, bready flavours, as well as a savour, casky, vegetable soup and sherry edge. Some alcohol evident. Remarkable stuff, and great with food - especially cheese. 9/10 (£13.99)


Wednesday, August 20, 2008

White Chateauneuf rocks

White Chateauneuf-du-Pape is a bit of a geek wine (geek, not greek). It's relatively rare, made from geeky varieties, and takes a bit of effort to appreciate. Here's a really good one, made in a modern, fresh style, but with the personality that white Rhone varieties have still evident. Although this is M&S own-label, and the label is a bit coy about its origins, the cork reveals that this comes from Chateau Mont Redon.

Marks & Spencer Chateauneuf du Pape Blanc 'Le Fussier' 2006 Rhone, France
A blend of Grenache Blanc, Picpoul, Clairette, Bourboulenc and Roussane, without oak, from Chateau Mont Redon. Fresh herby, lemony flowery nose is crisp. The palate is rounded and quite fat, as Rhone whites tend to be, but with some crisp minerality on the finish. Delightfully expressive and crisp, and quite complex, too. 91/100 (£13.99 Marks & Spencer) 

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Mac vs. PC

This week I've been spending some time working on an imac, as opposed to my usual PC laptop/desktop combination. I can understand why Mac fans are so loyal - and why someone might want to spend a lot more on a Mac to get the same level of performance that they would from a PC. 

They are aesthetically beautiful machines, and the screens are so bright, detailed and vivid. They are also highly intuitive - you don't need to be at all geeky to feel comfortable with them.

The downside? I guess it's the cost. A 20-inch imac will set you back about a grand, while an equivalent specced PC can be had for around £400. And if you are used to PCs, or you like to fiddle with your computer, then it's quite a step to make the shift. 

But most of us spend a lot of our waking hours with computers. They are the extensions of our brains. It's not an area of expenditure where you want to make too many compromises. If aesthetics and beauty matter to you, and you find macs beautiful and PCs ugly, then spend the extra on the mac. It nay be a bit fashion-victimy, but if that's what makes you feel good about yourself, then who's going to criticise you?

Now that there aren't any real compatibility issues, even media folk can do what they need to do on both PCs and macs. So it's a question of choice. Personally, while I find macs very attractive, I don't find them attractive enough to justify the difference (which would include new software costs, as well - a non-trivial expense). When I get a new desktop, it will be a PC, I reckon, with a nice big TFT screen.  


Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Another great Portuguese red

Took RTL for a late afternoon walk along the Tarka trail, and on the way back had a quick look around the 'Cheers Bottle Shop' in a small arcade in Braunton. They have a few interesting wines, and one that really caught my eye was Alvaro Castro's Quinta de Saes Dao 2006. This is his least expensive wine (it was £8.29), but it's brilliant and massively overdelivers. The 2005 was superb, and if anything the 2006, which I tried with him last month at the winery, is even better. A definite repeat purchase, and a brilliant ambassador for Portuguese reds.

Quinta de Saes 2006 Dao, Portugal
Beautiful stuff. It's dark and intense with a lovely aromatic nose of dark cherries, raspberries and spice. Pure fruit dominates. The palate is concentrated with dense spicy structure and good acidity adding a savoury complexion to the bold, sweet, pure fruit. A vivid, expressive and rather primary wine of immense appeal. 90/100 (£8.29 Cheers Bottle Shop)

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Monday, August 18, 2008

Duas Quintas - affordable Douro

Ramos Pinot's Duas Quintas has been around a while and predates many of the new wave reds from Portugal's Douro. The partner red, the Reserva, is usually up there with the best from the region; the much cheaper regular Duas Quintas, which I'm trying here, is usually reliable and affordable, if a little unspectacular.

Duas Quintas has had a bit of a face-lift. It boasts a new label, and the wine has changed a bit - much more modern and fruit forward, with nice purity. Is this the vintage, or a style change? I reckon this delivers (even at the slightly inflated Nicolas pricing) and is a good introduction to what the Douro is capable of, even in a less celebrated vintage.

Duas Quintas 2006 Douro, Portugal
Lovely vivid pure sweet raspberry and blackberry fruit dominates here, and it flirts with jamminess. The palate has nicely dense berryish fruit with an attractive spicy edge and some chocolatey richness. It's quite pure with nice balance between the primary fruit and some spicy tannins. 88/100 (Nicolas £9.15)

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In Devon

We've swapped houses with my sister and brother-in-law for a week. They get to visit London but we get to have a fabulous north Devon break. It's an excellent arrangement, and their house, in Braunton, is a beautiful cottage in the centre of the old town. Another benefit is that our kids get a whole bunch of toys, new playstation games, DVDs and a trampoline too, courtesy of their cousins, to entertain them.

The only problem is the weather. Suddenly it's October when it's supposed to be August. It's chilly and wet. Despite this, we've had plenty of fun, spending almost all our time in Braunton Burrows, a remarkable system of sand dunes sitting behind Saunton Sands - it's an absolutely huge area that is also used for military training, so that means that younger son has fun collecting used blank bullets. The kids love it, as does RTL, who doesn't stop running around and finishes the day totally exhausted.

Yesterday we spent several hours there, lunching on sausages cooked on a one-use barbecue. Today we got rained on, but then the sun came out and it was glorious. It's great to be able to have a change of scene for a week - I can do a bit of work, and combine this with family time. Result.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

wineanorak update

For the benefit of those who just read the blog, here's what I've put up on the main site recently:

carboNZero Riesling: what does it mean?

One of the bottles opened last night was a Grove Mill Riesling 2007 Marlborough, New Zealand. A very attractive, intense, piercing Riesling full of racy lime and grapefruit, with the high acid nicely countered by some residual sugar. A good buy at £8.99 from Threhser.

Prominently displayed on the label was the carboNZero logo, advertising that this wine was carbon neutral. But what exactly, in practical terms does this mean? And are we going to be seeing increasing numbers of wines sold on a green marketing ticket?

Grove Mill's website gives some more information. 'carboNZero' is managed by Landcare Research New Zealand. Grove Mill itself is a brand owned by the New Zealand Wine Company (NZWC), and they took three steps to achieve this certification. First they measured their carbon footprint. Then they tried to reduce it as much as possible. And the balance they offset. 'For NZWC we were able to purchase credits from a local carbon farmer, Ron Marriott, in the Marlborough Sounds', says the website. A 'carbon farmer'? I guess, if enough people are wanting to offset their emissions, then there's money to be made by planting trees on land you own.

When you see a wine company making a fuss on their label about their environmental credentials, it's easy to feel a bit cynical about their motivations. But the NZWC are doing this properly, and it's good to see that there's some substance behing the marketing talk.

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Saturday, August 16, 2008

The new Spain: Ochoa Graciano & Garnacha

Spanish reds are changing. For the better. In the past, you could bet your salary that most reds above a certain price point would have spent too long in the wrong sort of oak (American), and as a result would be washed out and reeking of vanilla and coconut. There was a bit of a renaissance a few years back, and then you could bet that the more ambitious wines would be overextracted, a little over-ripe, very sweet, and with loads of French oak. Now, however, Spanish winemakers are realizing that with their fantastic resources of warm, sunny climates and old vines, they can make wines with wonderful fruit presence that doesn't need all that much oak to enhance them. The result is increasingly impressive, commercially astute wines like this one from Navarra producer Ochoa. If more producers do what Ochoa are doing, then Australia and California are in for one hell of a beating.

Ochoa Graciano & Garnacha 2005 Navarra, Spain
A beautiful, fruit-forward red wine made with Grenache combined with the highly regarded but now rare Rioja grape Graciano. Deep coloured, the dominant feature here is vibrant, juicy, sweet raspberry and dark cherry fruit with very little oak impact and a spicy, tangy finish. This is a stylish, modern red wine of real appeal, for current drinking (it's sealed with a purple coloured synthetic cork). 89/100 (£7.99 Taurus Wines, Christopher Piper, Bentley's, Arthur Rackhams)

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Friday, August 15, 2008

Mike Rigby: a tribute

A couple of weeks ago I heard the very sad news of the death of Mike Rigby, a good friend from a while back who I'd not been in touch with for ages. Mike, who lived alone, had been dead for a while when he was found in his flat, and his cause of death is still unknown. He was responsible for introducing me to wine, and so I thought it was appropriate to post my own, personal tribute to him here.

When I first met Mike, he was a vicar at a CofE church in Wallington, Surrey. I was aged 18, had just finished my 'A' levels, and was on a young person's 'houseparty' organized by an Anglican youth organization, held in the lovely settings of Milton Abbey School in Dorset. Mike was one of the leaders. These houseparties were great fun; coming from the background of a boys' school, to be able to spend a week with 120 other kids half of whom were female was a wonderful opportunity, and one that I made the most of.

The following year I attended the same houseparty, this time as a 'helper' (I was now at university), and Mike introduced me to a remarkable group of young people from his own church. We got on so well that I spent a good deal of time in Wallington over the next few years, and several members of this group are still very good friends. One is my wife!

In my weekend trips to Wallington I saw quite a bit of Mike. He was incredibly intelligent (one of the smartest people I've met) and insightful, yet at the same time quiet, reserved and almost self-contained. He loved truthfulness, and absolutely hated any form of control. He inspired great loyalty in his friends, but also a perplexingly intense hostility in his enemies - and, sadly, he made quite a few of these in the congregation at Wallington, which eventually led to him leaving the Anglican church to go and work on the pictures desk at the Sunday Telegraph.

In 1992 I completed my PhD and moved down to Wallington, and I needed somewhere to stay. I was engaged to be married to Fiona, but the wedding date was some months away. Unexpectedly, Mike offered me a room in his flat, so from October until the following May I moved in with him. Mike was an incredibly tidy, ordered person; I was somewhere close to the opposite, but there was never a moment's tension (I kept my mess to my room). It was during this time that Mike introduced me to wine. [It wasn't enough that he'd introduced me to the group of people who were to form my closest friendships - and in this process Fiona - he also introduced me to what was to become my career.]

Each Sunday evening a few of us would gather in Mike's flat, and he'd usually have an interesting bottle or two that he'd open. His interest in wine dated back to his time at Oxford, but he wore his knowledge very lightly, and didn't have any pretensions; nonetheless, he had a cultured, eclectic palate - and in the Wine House, a local merchant run buy a guy called Morvin Rodker, there was a good source of interesting bottles for us to experiment with.

I was inspired. I fondly remember one of the wines Mike showed us - the 1991 Brokenwood Graveyard Hermitage - which was to become my first multiple bottle purchase (3 at £13 each). I also remember Gonzalez Byas Matusalem sherry, and a birthday gift of a 1987 Warres Quinta da Cavadinha. I also recall sharing a 1982 Leoville Barton with this group, which was probably my first exposure to serious Bordeaux.

Fiona and I largely lost touch with Mike when we moved from Wallington to Twickenham in the mid-1990s. He came over to see us once; I also met him for lunch in Canary Wharf on one occasion. I wish we'd seen more of him. I guess we owe him a lot.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

A pair from Maycas del Limari

Concha y Toro, Chile's largest wine company by far, is on fire at the moment. They're making seriously good wines in large volumes. Perhaps their most interesting venture is the Maycas del Limari wines, from a cool climate region in the far north of the country that is emerging as a promising place to grow vines. This affordable pair of wines impress.

Maycas del Limari Sauvignon Blanc Reserva 2007 Limari Valley, Chile
Super-fresh, this is a bright Sauvignon with a nose showing gooseberry, grapefruit and green pepper. The palate is crisp and fruity with vivid fruit and a hint of greenness that comes across as almost spicy. A beautifully expressive, lean, concentrated Sauvignon that's quite extreme but works really well. Think Awatere Valley with even more edginess. 90/100 (£8.99 Tesco)

Maycas del Limari Syrah Reserva 2007 Limari Valley, Chile
Amazingly deep colour. Beautiful nose of sweet brooding blackberry and raspberry jam with complex spicy notes and lovely purity. On the palate there's a hint of rubbery greenness, which along with the pure blackcurrant fruit which makes it taste a bit Chilean, but there are also warm spicy notes. It's a ripe, fruity wine of broad appeal, and overdelivers for its price point. 90/100 (£8.99 Oddbins, Tesco)

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Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Serious Alentejo wine

Alentejo producer Malhadinha Nova is a relative newcomer, but from the start their wines have received a hugely positive response from the press. This is my first chance to look at their top wine, Marias da Malhadinha, and I'm really impressed. It's certainly a ripe, warm climate wine with plenty of oak influence, but it works. A serious effort. There's a slight discrepancy between the technical fiche and the back label concerning the grape varieties - I'll assume the former is correct (the latter misses out the Alicante Bouschet component).

Marias da Malhadinha 2004 Vinho Regional Alentejo
A blend of 40% Aragonês, 25% Alicante Bouschet, 15% Cabernet, 10% Syrah and 10% Touriga Nacional, aged for 26 months in new French oak. This is an intensely concentrated red with a sweet nose of ripe blackberry and plum fruit with complex spicy notes. The palate is dense and sweetly fruited with spiciness and smooth but firm tannins. This generous red wine is ripe but not jammy, and there's lovely balance between the sweet fruit and the more savoury, spicy elements. Massively intense and multilayered, this should age really well, and in terms of style it's similar to a high-end new-wave Rioja. 94/100 (08/08)

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Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Vintage time at Achaval Ferrer winery, Mendoza, Argentina - a short film

Here's a short film from my visit to Argentina in March. It's vintage time at one of Mendoza's leading boutique producers, Achaval Ferrer. We get to see the press, the winery (where wine is being racked and returned) and then a small segment of the tasting with Santiago Achaval.

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Monday, August 11, 2008

Vilafonte: the C and the M

Two wines tasted tonight. It's the 'C' and 'M' pair from high-end South African venture Vilafonte. This is a joint project between Mike Ratcliffe, Phil Freese and Zelma Long, aimed partly (I suspect) at the US market, which so far has been quite resistant to South African wine.

You can read more about the project at Vilafonte's excellent website, which also includes some video content. To supplement my tasting notes here, I'm also embedding into this post Zelma's own tasting comments on the two wines (she's in charge of winemaking at Vilafonte).

I think the wines are very good, and will likely age well. But at the prices they command (ranging from £25 at agwines.com to £28 at winedirect.co.uk to £43 at Handford), I have to be honest and say that I have some slight misgivings about the lack of fruit purity they are currently showing at this early stage in their evolution. I'd have expected young wines like these to be much more fruit-forward and linear in their early life; instead, these are both showing quite a few secondary spicy, earthy and even subtly medicinal notes. I hope that I will be proved wrong and that in a decade's time they will have evolved into something beautiful and complex. Currently, they leave me a little confused.

Vilafonte series m 2005 Paarl, South Africa
A blend of 52% Merlot, 17% Malbec and 31% Cabernet Sauvignon, weighing in at 14.5% alcohol. This has a dark fruits nose with a smooth, spicy, earthy edge and some hints of medicine and old libraries. The palate is earthy with smooth tannins and a long savoury finish. This is an interesting wine: it's not about primary fruit, but rather spicy and earthy notes dominate. Quite stylish with good ageing potential. 89/100

Vilafonte series c 2005 Paarl, South Africa
66% Cabernet Sauvignon, 6% Cabernet Franc, 22% Merlot and 6% Malbec. This is the more structured and dense of the Vilafonte wines, and I prefer it. The sophisticated, complex nose shows blackcurrant fruit with a herby, spicy, earthy sort of personality. The palate is strongly savoury with spice, earth and medicinal hints to the dense, structured fruit. A bold, savoury, tannic wine with a good future ahead of it. 91/100


Sunday, August 10, 2008


Just watching the closing holes of the USPGA (for the non-golfers, this is one of the top four tournaments in golf known as the 'majors'), courtesy of Sky TV's website.

A remarkable nail-biting finish is in store. Of course, I am embarrassed by my interest in golf, but I do enjoy it. I took older son to the range yesterday and had a lot of fun, hitting the ball really well. I really *must* play more golf.


Another corked wine: the lenticels?

Another corked wine tonight (not that I'm getting many these days). I looked at the cork - once again, it had angry looking lenticels. I'm beginning to thing that the lenticels are the source of the problem with corks: where they run across the face of the cork, does this increase the chance of cork taint? Interestingly, this tainted wine had some mustiness, but also some sweek oaky notes (even though this was an unoaked rose).

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Saturday, August 09, 2008

A beautiful Coteaux du Loir

Tonight's wine is a beautiful, natural Loire red from the Coteaux du Loir appellation. It is made by Christian and Nathalie Chaussard from the Pineau d'Aunis grape variety, with no sulfur dioxide added during the winemaking process save for a little at bottling.

You just have to love any winegrower who can label their capsule with the slogan 'vigneron non-conforme'.

Nathalie et Christian Chaussard Les Longues Vignes 2005 Coteaux du Loir
Slightly chilled, this is a beautifully aromatic red wine with a peppery, spicy edge to the pure, sweet cherry fruit on the nose. The palate is smooth and pure but with a distinctly savoury, earthy, spicy finish. Complex and alive, with lovely freshness. A hauntingly beautiful light red wine. 92/100 (Les Caves de Pyrene)

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Friday, August 08, 2008

Mallorca, the final installment

Back home from Mallorca tonight after a brilliant ending to the holiday, spending two nights and three days in the wonderful C'an Calco hotel in Moscari. We even managed some winery visits, popping over to Macia Batle and Jose L. Ferrer.

The former was a really impressive operation with a very modern winery and some good wines: we showed up and were offered a self-guided tour of the winery and then a free tasting of anything we were interested in. The second also impressed with its wines, although doing a proper tasting wasn't so straightforward.

The only way they seemed to work was for visitors to buy a glass of each wine for E1.50 or E2.50 for the more expensive ones. They didn't seem to cater for the possibility of someone just wanting to taste a small measure of each. In the end, I persuaded them to let me on the promise that I actually buy something. It was encouraging that both wineries seem to be making some really good wines.


Thursday, August 07, 2008

A fantastic hotel in a beautiful spot

Mallorca update. We grew depressed by the chav-special seaside resort we were located in and so we moved to a new place on the north coast. It turned out to be a beautiful 4-star hotel, but alas slap bang in the middle of more of the same - an over-developed resort with lots of English pubs and restaurants boasting that they had English chefs and owners. So we moved agin, this time inland to a beautiful village, Moscari, set in rolling hills and totally undeveloped.

The hotel we are in is utterly beautiful: a tastefully renovated old building with a fantastic restaurant and a couple of pools. It's quiet, tranquil and soothing. We are happy again. Last night we had a fantastic four course meal washed down with a couple of bottles of Macia Batle Blanc de Blancs 2007, which is a really nice, full flavoured white.

Monday, August 04, 2008

In Mallorca

Barely have I got off the plane from Oregon, and I'm getting on to another one. This time it's a last-minute family holiday to Mallorca. We've done this a bit differently, though - we swapped our elder son for our good friends' younger daughter, who is the same age (and gets on well with) our younger son. We think this will work better than taking our two boys together. Past experiences with family holidays have not been great.

But this means we have to brave travelling with a budget airline at the busiest time of year. We flew RyanAir from Stansted, and endured a 45 minute queue at check-in, then a queue for security, then a queue to get on the plane, then a queue at the other end for our hire car (45 minutes more). After all this hassle, we find ourselves dropped into that special corner of hell - a Mediterranean holiday resort. I'd forgotten how soul destroyingly ugly and naff they are. We'd booked the hotel we are staying in for a number of reasons, one of which was that it advertised WiFi internet access (for me) and Satellite TV (for the kids) in each room. This turned out to be a lie.

But, fortunately, we have a car, and have discovered a stunningly beautiful beach 15 minutes away, where we spent today. And I've found a 4 star hotel in town with a nice lobby and wireless internet for 1 Euro per hour. So things are looking up. Oh yes, this is supposed to be a wine blog. Last night Fiona and I shared a nice bottle of Masia Batle's Blanc de Blancs 2007, a fresh, full flavoured white.

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A good wine from Mallorca

My first wine from the holiday isle of Mallorca (which we, as kids, used to pronounce Majorca with the 'j'). For a ripe, warm climate wine weighing in at 14.5%, this is pretty good. And, all being well, I should be in Mallorca by the time you read this for a short break with the family.

Macia Batle Crianza 2005 Binnisalem, Mallorca, Spain
Sweet, seductive ripe fruity nose with some savoury, spicy, tarry notes. Quite sophisticated in a warm, ripe style. The palate is sweetly fruited but has bold, earthy, spicy notes, too. Nicely savoury, finishing long and earthy. A complex wine that should evolve nicely for the next three years or so. 90/100 (£10.99 Noel Young, The Vineyard Dorking, Thomas Panton, Corks of Cotham)

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Sunday, August 03, 2008

Remarkable Spanish sweetie from Malaga

Jorge Ordonez, a well known importer of Spanish wines, hails from the southern Spanish town of Malaga. Malaga used to be well known as a region producing sweet wines, but of late has fallen from grace. But the region is undergoing a small revival: flying winemaker Telmo Rodriguez has made some lovely wines here, and there's also this beauty, the result of a collaboration between Ordonez and the late Alois Kracher from Austria. Unlike traditional Malaga, which was sweet and raisiny, this is brilliantly bright and delicate.

Jorge Ordonez & Co Malaga Seleccion Especial 2006
Made from Moscatel grapes dried on the vine. Light yellow in colour, this has a beautifully fresh aromatic nose of citrus oil, grapes and mandarins. The palate is super sweet and quite viscous, but with lovely bright spicy orange fruit and good acid providing a perfect counterpoint. Deliciously fresh, and quite complex for a young wine, this is tremendously easy to drink. 92/100 (£12.99 per half, Indigo Wines, Lay & Wheeler, The Vineking)

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Saturday, August 02, 2008

Jet lag

Had a very comfortable journey back from Portland, but despite that I'm still feeling a bit weird today. However, I did manage to sleep through last night, albeit with some periods of mild wakefulness. You can't cheat your body clock.

The thing about jet lag is that our bodies have rhythms. Quite a few of them. There's the 24 hour circadian rhythm, which then governs all these sub-rhythms. For example, hormones - the chemical messengers that coordinate many of the body's functions - are released in a pulsatile fashion. The information they contain is not just in their concentration, but also in the temporal information conveyed by the timing patterns of their release.

When we cross time zones the result is that this carefully coordinated timing is jumbled up. So not only do we sleep strangely, we also feel a bit weird. The circadian clock that regulates much of this rhythmic activity needs to be re-entrained, and so the best way to achieve this is to fit in with the new time zone as much as possible. Light is the main cue for entrainment, but food and excercise also work. The worst thing to do is take a nap or go to bed really early, because then the clock takes longer to re-set. [You can also take melatonin, but for this to work, the timings need to be pretty spot on, and combined with suitable light cues. Melatonin is available over-the-counter in the USA, but not the UK.]

Having said this, I recently met a scientist visiting New Zealand who, because he was there only a few days, didn't want to re-entrain his clock. The poor guy was trying not to fit into the new time zone, and was being extra careful not to expose himself to daylight. To me this seems a bit nuts. You don't often get to visit New Zealand from the UK, and even if it is just for a few days, you can't have much of a love for life if you hide yourself indoors with the curtains drawn.