jamie goode's wine blog: September 2008

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Two Pinots from the Winegrowers of Ara

Two Pinot Noirs from Winegrowers of Ara. I've also posted a long article on the main site about the concept behind this project here, which I think is interesting. But then I'm a bit of a geek. Anyway, here are the notes.

Ara Composite Pinot Noir 2006 Marlborough, New Zealand
Quite light in colour for a new world Pinot, this has notes of red cherry, cranberry, rhubarb and sweet herbs. The palate is fresh and a bit sappy, with grassy, green herbal notes under the fresh cherry fruit. It’s quite tangy, with good acidity, and a bit of spiciness. There’s a persistence here, and some nice textural elements, although there’s a bit of herby bitterness to the finish that clamps down on the fruit. It’s a really attractive, supple, savoury style of new world Pinot that will likely evolve interestingly over the next five years. 13% alcohol. 89/100 (£10.95 Berry Bros & Rudd, Majestic)

Ara Resolute Pinot Noir 2006 Marlborough, New Zealand
Quite light in colour, this has a charming, beguiling nose of sweet red cherries with integrated warm spicy notes adding an appealing warmth. Still fresh, though. The palate has spicy complexity sitting nicely under the smooth sweet cherry fruit, with textural richness and a bit of tannic grip keeping things savoury. There’s a hint of chocolate here, too, presumably from the oak (which is unobtrusive). Pretty serious stuff, with a distinctly European sheen. A complex, understated, elegant new world interpretation of Pinot Noir with the potential to develop well over the next few years. 13% alcohol. 91/100 (£19.99 Majestic, available from early November)

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Monday, September 29, 2008

Clos de los Siete, take six


'It is already the sixth vintage from Clos de Los Siete', says Michel Rolland, the famous consulting winemaker who has worked with Bordeaux-based Dourthe to produce this new (now not so new) wine from Mendoza.

The larger project of which Los Siete is a part is called 'Campo de Vista Flores'. A large area of 850 hectares, 90 km south of Mendoza city and previously unplanted, was divided into seven plots - one for each of the main partners (there are now just six - one left). The land had to be prepared and then planted. With a high planting density (5500 vines/hectare) the vineyards are managed like a Bordeaux first growth, with double guyot pruning, vertical canopies, crop thinning, leaf removal, hand-picking into small crates and triage on a sorting table. Then, in the winery there's a cold pre-fermentation maceration, pumping over during fermentation and maturation in new French oak (2/3) and vat (1/3).

Altogether, 430 hectares of the 850 are now planted. The altitude is 1100 metres and the soils are sand and clay, with large pebbles. Yields average 34 hl/ha, which is quite low. And here is my note on the just-released 2007 vintage.

Clos de los Siete 2007 Mendoza, Argentina
A blend of 48% Malbec, 28% Merlot, 12% Cabernet Sauvignon and 12% Syrah, harvested from the end of March until the end of April. Deep coloured, this has lovely floral aromatics together with ripe but not jammy summer fruit aromas. There's a bit of spice, too. The palate is nicely poised with sweet but well defined dark fruits and good acidity. This isn't jammy or super-ripe, which is a good thing. But the alcohol (14.5%) is evident, and the tannins are a little drying and grippy in the mouth, and they clamp down the finish somewhat. It's a beautifully packaged wine that offers great value for money, and without those rather drying tannins it would get a higher rating. 90/100 (£10.99 Waitrose, Majestic, Oddbins)

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Sunday, September 28, 2008

A new high-end Spanish white

Storks' Tower is an innovative new project from Spanish wine company Barcelo, who are behind the Cosme Palacio and Glorioso Rioja wines. Three impressive Storks' Tower wines are already listed in Tesco (£6.99 each, with promotion down to £4.99) - a crisp white, an attractive rose and a nicely defined red. But they are also making some more serious wines under the brand 'Triunfo', and this is the white, not yet stocked in the UK. Sam Harrop MW consults here.

Stork's Tower 'Triunfo' Verdejo Sauvignon Blanc 2007 Vino de la Tierra de Castilla y Leon, Spain
A really interesting wine. It's barrel fermented, but rather than being an oaky monster, this is complex, fresh and minerally. The nose shows tight nutty, herby, citrus pith aromas that are joined on the palate by complex grassy, herbal, citrussy notes. There's good concentration, but the overall effect is one of a very fresh, focused, minerally wine with nice textural elements and good acidity, rather than something 'big'. There's a hint of tangerine on the finish, too. Highly food compatible, with potential for further development. 90/100 (expected retail will be c. £14 in the UK)

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Coddington Vineyard: a short film clip

A short film from an English vineyard, for the benefit of those readers who have never seen what viticulture in England looks like. This was shot in early September. And it was damp and wet!

Friday, September 26, 2008

Two impressive newer Alentejo reds

Friday night after a satisfying week of hard work. I'm still trying to get the balance right as a freelancer, and a couple of weeks ago I realized that I was probably spending a little too much time travelling and going to tastings and dinners, and not enough time actually writing. One of the strengths of having a well-read website is that you can write everything up. What I've found of late is that I was accumulating enormous amounts of information that deserved a readership, but wasn't getting written-up.

So I've made a bit of a shift, and this week I've had quite a few days spent at home, working, with just one day and one evening spent in London. [I'm off to Tuscany next week though.] So, to close a week of much writing, I decided to do a bit of compare and contrast with two Alentejo reds, both of which are from relatively new projects.

It's a slightly unbalanced comparison, in that one of the wines (the Malhadinha) is more expensive, but they are both from the same vintage. Both are highly impressive. The first is the second vintage from winewriter Richard Mayson's project in Portalegre; the second is the fourth vintage from Malhadinha Nova, in Albenoa, which is much further south, and therefore quite a bit warmer. Both involve consultant winemakers. Richard has chosen Rui Reguinga, while the Soares family have chosen Luis Duarte. I've decanted both bottles to give them a chance to evolve and show what they have to offer. Some more points to note: both wines have brilliant label design, and both are aged in French rather than American oak.

Pedro Basta 2006 Alentejo, Portugal
A blend of Trincadeira, Aragonez, Alicante Bouschet and Cabernet Sauvignon, aged for 12 months in new and used French oak. Dark blackberry fruit on the nose with overt roast coffee character, plus a bit of plummy spiciniess. Quite savoury. The palate is dense with some firm, savoury, spicy structure underneath the sweet blackberry and plum fruit. Quite well structured with nice balance and focus. This is a warm climate wine with nice definition. 90/100 (£10.50 The Wine Society)

Herdade de Malhadinha Nova 'Malhadinha' 2006 Alentejo, Portugal
A blend of Alicante Bouschet, Touriga Nacional, Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon, aged for 14 months in new French oak. Aromatically intense, with beautifully forward lush, sweet blackberry and blackcurrant fruit. Real purity here, as well as some warm spicy notes. The palate is ripe and sweet with concentrated, lush, pure fruit that marries well with some spicy oak notes. Despite the sweetness, there's lovely spicy definition and good acidity. Delicious now, but with the potential to develop. 93/100

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Latest additions to the main wineanorak site

It's time, again, to point blog readers to some of the latest additions to the main wineanorak site:
  • Il Paradiso di Manfredi: a report on a visit to this sensational Brunello producer
  • About me: I've updated the gratuitous self-promotion portion of my website with more details of what I've been up to
  • Colomé: reviewing the wines from this highly regarded Argentinean producer
  • Henschke: one of Australia's most famous wineries reviewed, but a discussion about their recent move towards biodynamics.
  • Bilancia: part 15 of my New Zealand series leads me to taste some impressive wines from a new boutique winery
  • Photos from the Barossa Valley: latest addition to my photo gallery, even though these were taken absolutely ages ago
  • Montana Sauvignon Blanc: an affordable iconic wine

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Portal dinner at Ransome's Dock

A late night post: just back from a Quinta do Portal (Portuguese producer from the Douro) dinner at Ransome's Dock in Battersea. The most remarkable thing about this evening was my journey home. Ransome's Dock is a fantastic restuarant in the middle of nowhere - I can't think of anywhere in central London further from a Tube or mainline station. Yet my journey home was one of the quickest ever. I caught a bus to Clapham Junction (although there was no indication that we'd arrived there, I guessed and got off, and fortunately got it right), and immediately there was a train to Feltham, which meant a door-to-door time of less than 40 minutes. Wonderful.

The food was great, and the Quinta do Portal wines and Ports were really good. I think the quality has risen here since I last tasted through the range. I really enjoyed the two 2003 vintage Ports, which had lovely structure and balance. Of the table wines, the 2003 Grande Reserva was showing very well, with tight tannic structure that made me think of Italy, and the 2005 Reserva was focused, dark and fresh with nice structural definition. 2000 Grande Reserva was showing very well, too, and the 2006 Grande Reserva was quite aromatic and fruit forward. All were deliciously good.

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Reader discount on SWIG's new offer

Apologies for bombarding blog readers with a commercial offer, but Damon at SWiG (a top mail order/internet merchant) has just released a pre-arrival offer of some top South African wines at special prices, and if you mention the word 'wineanorak' when you order he's kindly offered to give you a further 10% discount. No commercial link, etc.

You can see the offer here (warning - it's quite a big file - 4 mb)

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Remarkable natural Burgundy

Tonight I'm drinking a wine that is bringing me great joy. It's alive. It's complex. It's elegant. It's wild. But it's just a humble Bourgogne.

Domaine de Chassorney Bourgogne Pinot Noir 'Bedeau' 2005 Burgundy, France
Frederic Cossard is a natural wines sort of guy who works with very little sulfur dioxide, and this is a beautifully expressive, pure, alive expression of Pinot Noir that belies its humble appellation. The nose is lively and bright, with enthralling spicy, almost meaty complexity under the fresh, vivid bright cherry fruit. It is slightly lifted, but not at all dirty or muddy. The palate has lovely freshness, with good acidity and spicy, peppery, sappy notes countering the sweet cherry fruit beautifully. Elegance, freshness and definition are the hallmarks here: there's a hint of rusticity, but it's not detracting at all from the appeal of this lovely wine. I think this is utterly beautiful, and I could drink a lot of it. 93/100

'Natural wines – are they different or are we making an artificial case for qualitative superiority?' says Doug Wregg of Les Caves, who are the UK agents of this wine. 'Tasting Cossard’s Bourgogne Rouge, Herve Souhaut’s northern Rhone Syrah [reviewed here] and the Pineau d’Aunis from Domaine Le Briseau, to name but three, you are aware that all the wines possess energy. They do not suffer “palate drag” whereby excessive fatness, sweetness, extraction, bitterness, alcohol or wood seem to hold back the very essence of the wine or cause our tongues to negotiate superimposed textures and flavours.'

I couldn't agree more.

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Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Tasting grapes - a remarkable aftertaste

Time for some wine science. There was an interesting aside in Denis Dubourdieu's paper at the recent Austria conference. Denis is the man responsible for identifying a group of sulfur-containing compounds called thiols as being important in the aroma of Sauvignon Blanc.

Now thiols are made by yeasts from precursors present in the grapes. In the must, these precursors are odourless. The late Emile Peynaud, another famous wine scientist, remarked that 'it is winemaking that reveals the aroma hidden in the fruit'. Denis recalled how Peynaud talked about the aftertaste of Sauvignon grapes: 30 seconds after swallowing, you suddenly get all these lovely aromatics which weren't there earlier.

This reflects the transformation of precursors to aromas by the enzymes in the mouth. I was reminded of this comment when I tasted some almost ripe Phoenix grapes in my back garden today. They didn't taste of all that much, but after a minute or so I was getting these remarkable passion fruit/gooseberry aromas in the back of my nose.

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Monday, September 22, 2008

Two Californian Chardonnays

'Have I gone mad?' asks Jancis Robinson as she selects the Robert Mondavi Woodbridge Chardonnay 2006 as her wine of the week. As one of the world's top wine commentators and a super-nice person to boot, Jancis is clearly pretty sane, and there's some real merit in this wine, although it is still quite a commercial style of Chardonnay without a whole load of complexity. Much more impressive is another Californian I opened tonight, from Miguel Torres' sister Marimar in the Russian River Valley. Admittedly, this wine is much more expensive, but then it offers a lot more.

Robert Mondavi Woodbridge Chardonnay 2006 California
Fresh, fruit driven nose with hints of citrus peel and white peach. The palate is quite crisp with a bit of nutty richness, some tropical fruit and notes of lemon and spice. A solid commercial Chardonnay with some freshness and definition. 83/100 (£7.20 all supermarkets, Thresher and some independents, but it's much cheaper in the USA, apparently)

Marimar Estate Acero Chardonnay Don Miguel Vineyard 2006 Russian River Valley, Sonoma
This unoaked Chardonnay is really stylish. This is full flavoured and concentrated with a nice nuttiness and some buttery richness to the focused, slightly sweet-tasting fruit with good acidity and a long, minerally finish. Much more complex than many unoaked Chardonnays, with good food compatibility. You sort of expect Californian Chardonnay to be over-blown, so it's a lovely surprise to find a wine like this, even though it is a hefty 14.2% alcohol. 90/100

Find these wines where you are with www.wine-searcher.com

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Political aside

Couldn't help but blog on a subject that I'm loathe to broach here - politics. [The risk of offending readers is too high, but then a blog that doesn't take any risks can be a dull read.]

The BBC has just run a story here about an aside allegedly made by David Miliband at the Labour party conference, in which he seems to indicate that he deliberately toned down his speech because he's keeping his powder dry for a future leadership challenge.

Now I'm not a terribly party political person, but I've found it fascinating to watch what has happened since Tony Blair gave the leadership of the Labour party, and the job of prime minister, to Gordon Brown. It seems obvious that Brown, while a highly competent cabinet minister and intelligent person, is not really a leader. Leadership is a relatively rare quality, and only some people possess it. You can spot leaders, because people instinctively want to follow them - that's why they are called leaders.

Gordon has been coached and coached, and you can see he's trying to do all the right things, like smile, and be personable, and crack jokes. But it all looks so rehearsed and so false. If he walked into a room, people wouldn't terribly much want to be near him. Even though he's the prime minister. The poor bloke has got the top job - the one he has been longing for - and it has turned into a living nightmare because he can't carry it off.

I suspect that everyone in the Labour party of average intelligence and above knows it would be madness to approach the next election with Gordon at the helm. Yet, for now, there is this show of faux unity. Like the pursuit cycling event we all watched for the first time at the Olympics this year, timing is everything (this is the event where the two cyclists, who are racing each other, almost stop, waiting to see who will make the first move). Within the higher echelons of the party, there exist natural leaders, and foremost among these is the as-yet inexperienced Miliband. Sooner or later, it seems inevitable that he will make his move. As I said, timing is everything, and it is fascinating to watch.

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Sunday, September 21, 2008

A lovely weekend and some digestible reds

So, we were cheated out of a summer here in England. Not sure whether climate change or el nino or just bad luck was to blame. But we didn't have a proper summer. This weekend, though, we were handed a freebie - a glorious summer's weekend that was more mid-August than late September in character.

Also, older son was down for the weekend from boarding school, and it was nice to see him, even if it meant I had to spend 7 hours driving on Friday evening and 7 hours this evening to pick him up and drop him off.

On Saturday we got together with good friends and went for a walk at Horsley in Surrey (pictured). It was a lovely time, and compensated in some way for all those lovely English summer days we missed out on this year.
Today older son spent the morning with some of his friends, and then we lunched outside with some of the English fizz from yesterday's blog post as accompaniment. Then it was time for the long drive to Devon. We listened to the radio commentary of Man City vs. Portsmouth on Radio Solent (City won 6-0). On the way back I was able to listen to music loud: I find music always sounds better at a decent volume and I hate it when you have people round for dinner and the music is used as a sort of aural wallpaper, at a just-audible volume.

Now I'm drinking two wines as I watch Match of the Day. They're what I would describe as digestible reds, with modest concentration, some savouriness, and good balance. They don't stand out, particularly, but they are ideal if you just want something simple to accompany food.

The Magnificent Wine Company Steak House Cabernet Sauvignon 2006 Columbia Valley, Washington State, USA
I've reported on the previous vintage of this wine here. It's an attractively packaged wine, with a roasted, savoury edge to the dark fruits on the nose. The palate shows sweet cherry and plum fruits backed up by earthy, spicy notes and with some grippy structure. Quite European in style, and a great food wine. Enjoyable. 86/100 (£7.99 Co-op)

Clos Saint-Martin Madiran 2005 Southwest France
A co-op Madiran, unsurprisingly this doesn't have all that much of the character that makes Madiran such a distinctive wine. But it's an agreeable enough drinking wine, though, with juicy blackcurranty fruit kept savoury with some grippy tannins. There's fresh acidity, too. 84/100 (£6.79 Nicolas)

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Saturday, September 20, 2008

Two impressive English fizzes

English fizz is hot at the moment. Well, not literally, of course - it's just another way of saying that there's currently a lot of interest in English sparkling wines. The English wine industry as a whole is turning rapidly from being a curiosity/novelty industry ('I didn't know they made wine in England') to being taken more seriously, and the increasingly convincing sparkling wines made here are one of the reasons for this. Here are two impressive fizzes from Chapel Down, which is the main brand of The English Wines group, a thoroughly professional outfit with a broad portfolio of wines.

The question many people will be asking is, 'Are they as good as Champagne?' It's a complex question to answer (what does 'as good as' mean? Which Champagne?), but I'll try. The Vintage Reserve Brut has real finesse and purity, but also a little more fruity character than most Champagnes, perhaps reflecting the contribution of the non-Champagne grape varieties. The Pinot Reserve is much more Champagne like and is one of the best English fizzes I've yet tasted. It's sharper and fresher than many Champagnes. This will be even more interesting in a year or two.

Chapel Down Vintage Reserve Brut NV English Sparkling Wine
A blend of Rivaner, Reichensteiner and Pinot Noir. Very fresh, bright nose is citrussy and pure with subtle herbiness. The palate is bright, lemony and quite fruity with lovely focus and purity. Tight with high acidity. A serious effort. 88/100 (£16.99)
Chapel Down Pinot Reserve 2002 English Sparkling Wine
A blend of Pinot Noir and Pinot Blanc. Aromatic nose is full with notes of ripe apples, toast and subtle nutty and herby notes. This is pure and quite sophisticated. The palate is citrussy and intense with good acidity and lots of flavour. There's some Pinot richness here, but overall the impression is one of focus and brightness. A serious effort with lovely purity, and justifying the price-tag. 91/100 (£24.99)

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Reducing agricultural inputs in France

Just read a news piece describing French government plans to reduce agricultural chemical inputs in France over the next few years. I don't know how much impact this series of measures will have, but it seems like sensible policy, embracing both organics and integrated farming approaches. While the announcement applies to all forms of agriculture, viticulture is affected more than most because of its high use of pesticides and fungicides.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Elegant Shiraz from Victoria

On Tuesday afternoon I had some time to spare in central London, so I went visiting wine shops. One was Philglas & Swiggot, round the back of Selfridges. The wonderfully named Philglas also has a branch in Richmond, and the original shop in Clapham/Battersea, but this was the first time I'd been to their Marylebone store. Mike Rogers, the owner, was there, so I had a good chat with him and browsed the shelves. They've got a fantastic, hand-picked selection that's particularly strong in Australia and Italy. Mike admits that if he had to chose between France and Italy, it's the former that would get the boot.

A shop like this is wine geek heaven. You want to learn about wine? Find a shop like this, staffed by smart people who know wine. Use their recommendations and develop a relationship. Forget that wine-searcher shows that somewhere else has the same wine a pound cheaper - it's a false economy. [I'm not suggesting that Philglas are expensive; just that a shop like this won't always be the cheapest because of the overheads, and also the higher cost of hiring smart staff and buying geeky high-end wines.]

I bought just one bottle, but I'd liked to have walked out with a case. It was an Aussie Shiraz that Mike and his wife Karen have developed in conjunction with genius winemaker Mac Forbes. Now I'm not buying much Aussie wine at the moment, but I know Mac and the sort of style he likes, and I know that Mike and Karen understand Aussie wine really well, so it's worth a punt, I reckon to myself. And this is actually a really good wine, although it will be better in two or three years.

Rogers & Pietersen Mullens Vineyard Shiraz 2006 Moonambel, Victoria, Australia
At just 13% alcohol, this is an elegant, bright expression of Aussie Shiraz. It shows a nose of sweet, spicy blackberry and raspberry fruit that's well defined and a bit tight at the moment. The palate has good acidity and some tannic grip, with fresh, focused fruit and a sense of the flavour being hemmed in a bit, waiting to come out. There's some Rhone like meaty, spiciness that adds complexity, and I reckon that in three years this wine will have opened out beautifully and will just be singing. A serious effort, but don't drink it just yet. 91/100 (£16.99 Philglas & Swiggot)

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Thursday, September 18, 2008

A great lunch with Chave 83

Lunch at the Ledbury today, with a rather special bottle: Chave Hermitage 1983. The reason? I was meeting with Keith Prothero and Lionel Nierop, who are starting a new online wine auction system (which I'll write about when it is ready to go, in about a month), and Keith is a generous guy who enjoys sharing his wines.

The day started with the Corney & Barrow press tasting, held at a swanky location in Grosvenor Place. But for some bizarre reason I got Hyde Park Corner and Marble Arch tube stations muddled up in my head and ended up at the latter rather than the former. So I decided to walk through Hyde Park to get to Hyde Park Corner, which is a lovely stroll on a day like today, but took longer than I thought it would.

London is well supplied with nice parks. I love Regent's Park, and Kensington Gardens is lovely. Green Park is small but pleasant, and Hyde Park is big and quite pretty. Battersea Park is worth a detour; I haven't yet made it to Victoria Park in east London. Further out west, Richmond Park is absolutely enormous.

After just an hour of tasting, I had to leave the Corney & Barrow event to get to my lunch appointment on time. The Ledbury is spectacular – one of London's very best restaurants. And lunch is a steal here, with the set menu a few pence under £20. For that, you get astonishingly good food and excellent service, in a very nice environment. We had a really enjoyable couple of hours, with a great combination of food, wine and company.

Neudorf Moutere Chardonnay 1998 Nelson, New Zealand
Yellow gold in colour, this is rich and intense with a lovely toasty depth to the herby, slightly citrussy fruit. It's pungent and dense on the palate with complex herb-tinged fruit complemented by sweet nutty, spicy oak and hints of oiliness. There's citrussy freshness on the finish. A delicious, bold Chardonnay that's evolving well. 92/100

Chave Hermitage 1983 Northern Rhone, France
A fantastic wine. Beautifully aromatic, with a fresh, spicy personality and a complexity that’s hard to put into words. I was getting notes of tar, earth, herbs, blood and meat. It’s sweet but savoury at the same time. The palate showed spicy red fruits with a subtle medicinal character, as well as tangy citrus notes on the finish. A complex, multifaceted wine with nice definition. 95/100

Then it was off to the M&S press tasting, held at their headquarters round the back of Paddington Station. It’s actually surprisingly close to the Ledbury (in Notting Hill) – it turned out to be a brisk 15 minute walk. There were 160 wines on show; I tried just over half, and then slept on the train on the way home.

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Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Steak at Gaucho and City Hall

Had a nice lunch at Gaucho Tower Bridge on Monday, with Trapiche's single-vineyard Malbecs.

This particular Gaucho restaurant, which, like the others, is lavishly decorated with cowhide, is in an interesting location. There are great views of Tower Bridge and also the remarkable squashed egg- or scrotum-shaped building called City Hall. Indeed, the Gaucho is part of the 'More London' development that includes City Hall, home to the Mayor of London and his recently pruned band of staff. Administrators and governing types always tend to be particularly well housed. If you are ever on a university campus, for example, and are looking for the administrative building, it's usually easy to find. Just head to the tallest and grandest construction, and there you will find them.

I always enjoy eating at the Gaucho, which specializes in huge hunks of very nice Argentinean beef, and has an extensive (if slightly expensive) list of Argentinean wines. They've got the ambience just right, and with all that cowhide there's a sense of irony that liberates you to enjoy tasty, simple hunks of meat without feeling bad.

Initially, I thought the 2006 Trapiche single vineyard wines we tasted were a bit obvious and made in a very modern style. But then trying a 2004 version of one of the wines with lunch, I suddenly saw what the point was. Aromatically, it was singing, and was just beautiful, with sweet, expressive, harmonious red fruits. There's something to be said for just a little patience with reds like this.

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Insolite: a lovely Loire Chenin

Loire Chenin Blanc is geek territory. Chenin is a fabulous grape, but it's not for the masses - it requires quite a bit of investment on behalf of the drinker, in terms of understanding it and learning to love it.

Here's a good one. Appley, minerally, a bit tangy, with some notes of cider (in particular, it has a bit of tannic bite like you get with bittersweet cider apples). Perhaps that is one reason that Chenin can age so well - it's a white wine with tannin.

Thierry Germain Domaine des Roches Neuves 'Insolite' 2006 Saumur, Loire
Fantastic stuff from old vine Chenin Blanc. Notes of honey, spice, apples, vanilla and dry straw on the nose. The palate is savoury and vivid with fresh green apple and lemon acidity and concentrated herb and straw savouriness. Extremely fresh with real cut and bite: this needs food, really. A complex savoury wine with a bit of bite. 91/100 (around £13, Les Caves de Pyrene, artisanwines.co.uk, Wimbledon Wine Cellar, RSJ)

As an aside, it's interesting to compare the corks from this and the Sottimano I mentioned here recently. The Sottimano looks like it is unbleached. The Insolite shows something I often find in sweet wines, and also Chenins - the wine seems to have eaten into the end of the cork, softening it. Is this the acidity? (see below)

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Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Fairtrade wine and more ramblings

I'm posting again from the coffee shop in Bermondsey I found myself in the other day. I spent the morning judging the Fairtrade Wine Awards at the WSET just up the road, followed by lunch in Delfina opposite. It was supposed to take the whole day, but we finished early, and now I have a couple of hours to kill before dinner.

The wines were mixed - some good, some less so. The other judges were good humoured and fun to hang out with - they included Michelle Smith, Olly Smith, Sarah Jane Evans, Susan Hulme and Patricia Langton. We were doing it for love, because fairtrade is a *good thing*, but I'm beginning to realize that I have to ration the number of non-billable days I spend since Fiona's review of family finances (she deals with the cash; it depresses me) showed that I need to earn more money.

That's the challenge. Naturally, I'm not terribly money motivated. But I have skills that can earn a good deal if I channel myself in the right direction, and make the most of the opportunities there are. However, I need to make sure that commercial considerations never come before the journalistic desire to tell it like it is.

Now I'm going to visit a few wine shops with a view to updating my guide to London's wine destinations.

Channel 4 Dispatches: what's in your wine?

Last night Channel 4 aired an episode of Dispatches titled 'What's in your wine?' (You can watch it here for the next seven days).

It was a desperately poor programme. Some months ago one of the researchers got in touch with me asking questions about what goes into wine. It seemed to me that they'd decided to make a film showing that all sorts of bad things are added to wine, and they were just fishing for dirt. After a couple of conversations and a few email exchanges I decided that I wasn't prepared to help them and go on camera (the bait they used to get some dirt), because this seemed to me to be a hatchet job. While there are many things in the wine industry I'm not happy about, overall, wine is a remarkably natural product and even badly made industrial wine doesn't represent a threat to human health. And I'm not going to help anyone who intends to put the boot into the industry I make my living from.

In the end, they didn't really find any serious targets. They went after Champagne, rather ludicrously making a big play that sugar is added to Champagne. That's the dosage, dude! They had some major brands analysed in their laboratory and found that they contained on average 7 g of sugar per bottle. I could have told you that. The cellarmasters would have told you that. The dosage is an integral part of the production of Champagne. Then they said that fizz they tested from independent producers only had 3.5 g sugar. That's silly. It's just a style choice by the producer. [And Jane, the presenter, mispronounced Moët, not sounding the 't'.]

In an attempt to find examples of producers who added illegal things to their wine, the best they could do was head to Italy where some crazy-looking producer was under prosecution for adding sugar to his wine. Dispatches caught up with him - but rather than run away when he was doorstepped, he seemed happy to chat and admitted that he added sugar. It all went a bit flat.

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Monday, September 15, 2008

Some fine wines at Pepi's dinner, with an Austrian focus

On Thursday evening, after the Sainsbury Press tasting, I headed over to Shepherd’s Bush with Tim Atkin for an Austrian wine dinner. The room was full of Masters of Wine (MWs) – they’d just had their AGM. And the purpose of the dinner was to celebrate the first non-Brit chairman of the Institute of Masters of Wine, Dr Pepi Schuller, who is Austrian, but rather exotically has a PhD from the University of Stellenbosch.

The dinner was held at the wonderful Princess Victoria, a former gin house, then seedy pub, and now a serious wine-friendly gastro pub run by Matt Wilkin (see reviews here and here). It was a cracking evening, full of good humour, gossip, boisterous banter and fantastic wines. Here are my notes. The journey home was a long one involving two tubes and a bus, but it was worth it.

Walther Polz Therese Sauvignon Blanc 2006 Sudsteirmark, Austria
Serious Sauvignon from Styria, in southern Austria. Rounded and generous with ripe fruit and just a hint of greenness. Good concentration. Quite a rich style, but still savoury. 89/100

Georg Bruer Berg Schloossberg Riesling 2006 Rheingau, Germany
A fantastic wine that shows Riesling at its best. Lovey taut limey fruit on the nose; great concentration and minerality on the palate. Good weight with real presence and also a bit of residual sugar adding volume. 92/100

Bründlmayer Steinmassl Riesling 2006 Kamptal, Austria
Willi Brundlmayer was there to present this wine. Taut, pure and mineralic with some lemony fruit on the nose. Good concentration on the palate with lovely fresh acidity. Bright and lovely. 91/100

Louis Carillon Puligny Montrachet 1er Cru Champs Canet 2005 Burgundy, France
This wine will divide people, I reckon. Nicely focused nose with creamy, nutty notes and precise citrussy notes showing some new oak. Oaky palate has nice focus and purity, with promise for the future. Oak dominated at present, though, and so the score is a bit of an act of faith. 92/100

Schloss Gobelsburg Grüner Veltliner Tradition 2005 Kamptal, Austria
Michael Moosbrugger made this wine in a traditional style after finding papers in the loft of the monastery detailing how the wines were made in the past, and it’s brilliant. Richly textured, smooth and slightly creamy with some spice and mineral characters on the nose. The palate is texturally rich and complex with great depth and a hint of honeyed richness. 92/100

Domaine Bonneau du Martray Corton Grand Cru 2003 Burgundy
An atypical vintage for Burgundy, but this wine still has lots of interest. Dark coloured, it has sweet, intense, spicy dark fruits backed up by firm, spicy tannins. Really dense and quite surprising, I suspect this will benefit from some age. It’s not really all that Burgundian at the moment! 90/100

Moric (Roland Velich) Blaufränkisch Neckenmarkter Alte Reben 2004 Burgenland, Austria
Lovely minerally blackcurrant fruit is the dominant theme here. It’s quite focused, with lovely structure from smooth but firm tannins. Good integration of oak and lovely minerality to this serious red wine. 92/100

Château Leoville-las-Cases 2004 St Julien, Bordeaux
This is a beautiful Claret of great purity, that’s ageing very well. Lovely blackcurrant fruit nose with minerally, spicy depth. The palate has good structure and presence under the generous, pure, sweet fruit. Just a baby, but with fantastic potential. 94/100

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Sunday, September 14, 2008

Cabbage in Champagne

Drinking a nice Champagne tonight that has a distinctive note of cabbage to it. It's the Asda Extra Special Vintage 2000 Brut, made by Chanoine Freres (£17.97). It's pretty serious stuff (won a Decanter gold and an IWC silver), and has a complex, toasty, cabbagey nose with savoury, yeasty complexity. The palate is concentrated, savoury and dense with nice grippy, toasty, herby flavours. Nice balance, too.

So where do the cabbagey notes come from? (They are actually much nicer than they sound, in the context of this wine.) I guess it must be a hint of reduction - something I often find in Cava, incidentally. Ordinarily, you'd want to manage your ferments so the yeasts don't produce too many of these sulfur compounds (which contribute aromas ranging from rotten eggs, through cabbage, through matchstick, to flintiness). But here, in this Champagne, they add a nice savoury richness. This is a nice fizz. Well done Asda.

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Saturday, September 13, 2008

Incredible Brachetto, and no more excuses for boring wine

You know there's no excuse for boring wine. Most regions in the world are capable of making interesting wine, I reckon. It's just that commercial pressures, lack of imagination, and poor understanding of what is great as opposed to rubbish wine conspire to make interesting wines on the shelves of large retailers quite rare.

I'd prefer to have interesting, inexpensive wines from lesser know grape varieties and less exalted appellations than most regular wines from well known places and the usual small roster of varieties.

Tonight I'm drinking an inexpensive yet unbelievably expressive and aromatic Italian red from the Brachetto grape variety, and it's just gorgeous. It's food friendly, digestible, interesting and life-affirming. How could you not find this interesting and enjoyable? Actually, I can imagine quite a few people stuck in a conventional rut not warming to this wine simply because it is unfamiliar and different. Their loss.

Sottimano Maté 2007 Vino Rosso da Tavola, Piedmont, Italy
From a 1.1 hectare vineyard in Treiso, this is a varietal Brachetto fermented with indigenous yeasts, and it's gorgeous. The nose is extravagantly aromatic with sweet cherry, herb and plum notes that leap out of the glass. The palate is light, fresh and subtly sappy with cherryish fruit together with some earthy, herby notes keeping things savoury. Think grown-up Beaujolais on steroids and you are pretty much there. Just perfect with antipasti, or even for sipping on its own - and it won't object to being chilled lightly before serving. There's a real elegance to this wine that I love. 91/100 (Available in the UK from http://www.lescaves.co.uk/)

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Friday, September 12, 2008

Hans Ulrich Kesselring: sad news

Heard the news that Hans Ulrich Kesselring, of Schlossgut Bachtobel (www.bachtobel.ch) has died at the terribly young age of 61. I met him in Switzerland a couple of years ago, and continued a correspondence. He was a deep thinker, and had a love for natural wine, but thought about this subject with scientific rigour. Many years ago, he spent some time with Jules Chauvet, the father of the current natural wine movement. While few will have tasted Kesselring's wines in the UK, I wanted to post this brief tribute to an extraordinary man with great insight into wine.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

In a cafe in Bermondsey

You know, one of the best blogs have an unplanned, dynamic, of-the-moment feel to them. They have a personal voice. They are well written, but not polished. That's what I aspire to. [I'm aware that blogging about blogging is a bit self-referential. Sorry. I shall try not to do it too often.]

I'm sitting in coffee shop in Bermondsey. It's quite trendy, but rough round the edges: one wall is bare breezeblocks, and the ceiling is concrete. A bit like the location, I guess, because Bermondsey has a rough, slightly dangerous edge which fuses well with the impoverished arty crowd.

There's free wifi so the place is full of people like me nursing a cup of coffee and updating their facebook pages, blogging, checking their emails, making use of some down-time. Two people are reading newspapers; the rest are on their laptops. I wonder if some are writing their novels? [Now if you want to get really self-referential and circular, you could write a novel about someone trying to write a novel. How cool is that?] Anyway, I have the smallest laptop (my eeepc). There's one mac; the rest are PCs. The music playing is jangly and alternative poppy.

I've just been to the Sainsbury's press tasting round the corner and I'm due to return to join Tim Atkin to travel over to Shepherd's Bush with him for an Austrian wine dinner. Sainsbury's range is a bit of a curate's egg: some good stuff, but also a lot of uninspiring wines. It will be interesting to see how the other supermarkets are doing (their press tastings will be over the next few weeks) to see whether this inconsistency is across the board.

What's your coffee order? I used to just do Americano (or long black, depending on where you are ordering), but now I'm alternating this with Latte - this was because of the excellent experience I had at Flat White, the kiwi coffee shop in London. But I'm not a coffee geek. For me, coffee is as much a psychological sort of event as it is a flavour experience. Even instant coffee will do the trick - a cup of coffee is a punctuation mark in a busy day. It is something you do with other people, too - a bridging event. While it's great to have good coffee, bad coffee will do, some of the time, at least.

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Austrian Sauvignon that rocks

Played football again tonight for the first time in ages, and it was great fun. I was really encouraged that while I felt knackered after 10 minutes, I stayed that way for a full hour without feeling totally knackered. Football is brilliant for fitness. You run a lot in short bursts, but because you are chasing a ball your mind is taken off the fact that your muscles and lungs are in real pain, and thus you cover much more ground, more pleasurably, than you would if you were jogging or running on a treadmill. Best of all, if you exercise regularly, you can drink more wine and eat more calorific foodstuffs (e.g. cheese) without becoming fat. Not that it's wrong to be fat. It's just that I have such a fragile ego I need to avoid becoming fat because I couldn't cope with other people's disapproval.

Time for some wine after the football, and nothing better than a beautifully aromatic, fresh, minerally Sauvignon from Austria. This is a really superb effort.

Huber Sauvignon Blanc 2007 Niederosterrich, Austria
Wonderfully pure, precise and aromatic, with lovely minerality and bright fruit, along with some freshness from high carbon dioxide levels. The palate is pure with rounded, fresh, almost transparent fruit, a hint of fruit sweetness, and then beautifully focused minerality. It's a bright wine, but it's not at all sharp or acidic. There's a lovely combination of ripe fruit and minerality, but none of the grassiness that's a signature of this grape in New Zealand. It reminds me a bit of Gruner Veltliner, with its textural components and hints of spiciness. 91/100 (UK agent Thierrys)

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Wednesday, September 10, 2008

A busy day of tasting, plus Monty's red!

Two very good tastings today. I started off at the Bunch press tasting at the Century Club. All the serious people were there, plus me (non-serious, of course). The Bunch is a coalition of six pretty serious wine merchants: Tanners, Berry Bros & Rudd, Lay & Wheeler, Adnams, Corney & Barrow and Yapp. Each merchant brings six wines plus one for lunch, although most of them sensibly had the lunch wine on the tasting table, too, because serious journalists don't tend to have long lunches washed down with wine these days. [Although, there is something to be said for actually enjoying drinking wine as opposed to just tasting it. On press trips, I often have wine with lunch, but not in the UK. Perhaps I have an inhibited, prohibitionist streak?] Lots of people asked me what I'd done to my face: obviously they don't read this blog.

I'll mention many of the wines I tasted later on this blog, because there were some really good ones. Tastings like this remind me why I love wine, and confirm to me that I've made the correct career choice. But just one will get a mention now, and this is an unofficial wine that was sneaked in by Adnams - it's Monty's Red. Attentive readers will recall my review of the first episode of Chateau Monty, a reality TV series on Channel 4 (Thursday, 8 pm) that has elements of wife swap, find a new home abroad and all manner of other reality TV delights. It follows the progress of wine journalist Monty Waldin as he sets out to make a wine in the Roussillon. And this is the final product. My verdict? He's done really well. It's a lovely wine that I really like, and which is better than he thinks, if the self-deprecating back label is his honest view - at £7.99 it's a really good buy.

Monty's French Red 2007 Vin de Pays des Cotes Catalanes, France
Lovely spicy, earthy edge to the fruit on the nose - quite savoury with some tarry notes. The palate is savoury and has an earthy undercurrent to the fruit, which is bright and expressive. A lovely wine, made in a style I really love. 90/100 (£7.99 Adnams)

After the tasting I headed over to Lillywhites to buy a cricket helmet. I've never worn one before, but my experience on Monday showed me how vulnerable the face is to a hard ball. Losing a couple of teeth would be very expensive indeed. It's not just the quick bowlers that are the problem: when I played at Colchester this year one of the guys on our team had just spent £5K replacing his two front teeth which he'd lost against a spinner when he top-edged a sweep.

Then it was off to Vinoteca (fabulous wine bar in St John Street, but that's another story) for a tasting of Burgundies from HG Wines, the wine merchant arm of St John restaurant. These guys have bought very well, and I really enjoyed their wines. More to follow.

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Physics - sexy? Who'd have thought it.

As a scientist I think all this coverage of the LHC (Large Hadron Collider) is really great. It's good for science to be in the news, because science is a good thing. But as a biologist with embarrasingly little understanding of particle physics, I have to admit to finding some of the concepts involved a bit mind-blowing and rather daunting. [But then I find looking at the stars and thinking about the distances and galaxies and light years a bit too much for my tiny brain to take in.] There's a good introduction to the LHC and what it does on the BBC news site. Pictured is Google's logo for the day. Nice one.

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Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Montana Sauvignon Blanc: new release of an affordable iconic wine


The first release of Montana Sauvignon Blanc was in 1979, which puts it at the dawn of history in this, the largest and most well known of New Zealand’s wine regions. Considering the impact that Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc has had on the wine world, it’s amazing to consider that this region didn’t really take off until the mid-1980s.

New Zealand has a history of wine dating back to 1819, when the first grape vines were planted by a missionary named Samuel Marsden in the north of North Island (although there’s no record of him making wine – you have to wait another 16 years for this). But until the 1970s, the wine industry didn’t develop much. Indeed, an early edition of Hugh Johnson’s famous World Atlas of Wine dating from 1970 doesn’t even mention New Zealand.

Some growth occurred in the 1970s, but then there was a problem of over-production that resulted in a vine pull. The problem was that Kiwis generally preferred beer to wine.

It was in 1973 that Montana planted the first commercial vines of the modern era in Marlborough. Montana founder Frank Yukich decided read more...

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Monday, September 08, 2008

Cricket and a strange Ridge

Played cricket today for the wine trade down in Keevil, Wiltshire, against Further Friars. The pitch was a little damp after all the recent rain, but we had good conditions to play in. Batting first, the wine trade team did well against some good bowling, and headed in to lunch at 80-3. After lunch, the wickets fell quite steadily, and I came in at no. 8 only to catch a ball full in the face off a top edge. There was quite a bit of blood, but fortunately I didn't lose any teeth, which would have been expensive. I carried on, but was last out bowled for 3, with our total at 126.

We then bowled well and got Further Friars out for just under 100. I had a long spell where despite my swollen face I was quite accurate, and came away with nice figures of 9-3-13-3. It was a good game on a tricky pitch. Afterwards Jasper Morris (who was captaining the wine trade side) opened several bottles, including a Ridge Alicante Bouschet 1995. It was dense, dark and incredibly intense, with some spicy American oak adding a rich, almost medicinal note to the bold fruit. Not terribly fine, but really striking, and potentially long lived. I don't think this wine was ever released commercially.

The state of my face plus bad traffic on the M3 meant that I wasn't able to make it for tonight's Roederer Awards ceremony at Somerset House. I was shortlisted for the online category, as was Jancis Robinson - but it was Tom Cannavan (of wine-pages.com) who won. Congratulations to him.

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Sunday, September 07, 2008

Matetic EQ Syrah - a serious effort

Over the last couple of evenings I have been enjoying the Matetic EQ Syrah, which is a serious wine. It's one of the vineyards I visited on my Chile trip in January, and for me this is Chile's best producer. They're operating biodynamically, and they seem to get such definition and freshness into their reds. I bought a couple of bottles of this from the Oddbins in St Margarets, and was rather surprised to find it had been reduced from £17 to £12, at which price it's a steal.

Matetic EQ Syrah 2006 San Antonio, Chile
Incredible stuff. Very deep coloured. Intense, pure blackberry and blackcurrant nose complemented by spicy, meaty, earthy notes, as well as a hint of olive and tar. The palate is earthy and dense with plenty of structure, but also lots of blackberry and plum fruit. There's lovely fresh acidity. Just a tiny trace of that Chilean rubbery greenness, but overall this is a really serious effort and I'll be buying some more with a view to seeing how it ages over the medium term. 92/100 (£12.75 Oddbins, reduced from £17)

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Saturday, September 06, 2008

More English wine

After judging yesterday's SWVA awards, I was joined by Fiona and younger son and we stayed the night at the Cottage in the Wood, near Malvern. It's a hotel in a gorgeous natural setting, nestled into the side of the Malvern Hills with stunning views.

We were joined for dinner by Fiona's aunt, who lives locally, and it lovely to see her again. But unfortunately the much-anticipated meal disappointed. Both my starter and main tasted like they had been plated out and then reheated - thus the red onion and goats cheese tart tasted overly sweet and the pastry had disintegrated, and the seabass (over what was once a nice risotto) simply tasted tired and a bit oily. At the prices charged (£10 starters, £20 mains) the food should be top notch.

It's a tragedy, because given the natural setting, the friendly service and the extensive, well-priced wine list (with some mouthwatering, affordable older Bordeaux and Burgundy), this could have been a special destination. As it is, I can't recommend it, unless the kitchen was having an unusually bad day. Because I had to drive later, we had just a single bottle of wine with dinner - a Loimer Gruner Veltliner from Austria's Kamptal (£22) which was very good. Not enough to take away the disappointment of the tired food, though.

Then it was off to Coddington Vineyard, for a vineyard visit with the SWVA crowd (top image). It's an immaculate 3 acre vineyard owned by Denis and Ann Savage, planted with Bacchus, Ortega and Pinot Gris. After this we headed over to Brockbury Hall (above) for the lunch and awards ceremony. There was a chance to taste the remainder of the wines from yesterday's competition, this time unmasked, and after lunch as part of the official proceedings, I was asked to give a short summary of how the wines had shaped up the previous day. It was great to meet so many producers, ranging from hobbyists with a few vines to reasonably serious commercial concerns. The future of English wine, despite this damp and miserable 2008 growing season, looks very bright indeed.

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English wines, lots of them

Spent yesterday judging 110 English wines, blind, for the South West Vineyards Association at Three Choirs in Newent.

It's the first time I have tried so many English wines together, and it proved to be an informative experience. There were six of us judging, and it was quite a fun process - consensus was reached painlessly in most cases. Here are some of my impressions.

1. There were some delicious wines. Overall quality was pretty consistent, with fewer shockers than I was expecting - and remember that in this sort of event the submitted wines include bottles from established producers as well as some from enthusiastic part-timers. I came away thinking that the hype about the future of the English wine industry is justified.

2. 2007 showed better than 2006, which was a bit surprising.

3. The most successful dry whites were those where the fresh, grassy, green notes were well balanced by some riper fruity notes, and where the acidity wasn't too harsh. Because of the climate we enjoy, growers should be looking to lose greenness and lose acidity - the least successful wines were just too green and harshly acidic.

4. While you can use residual sugar to balance too-high acid, you can't use it to mask greenness.

5. Sparkling wines are pretty consistent, but some of them had crazy-high acid levels and just weren't in balance. I also wonder whether some of the base wines needed just a little more time. Lots of promise here, though.

6. The reds need some work. Managing red ferments is an area that many winemakers need to look at. Of the dozen or so reds in the competition, two were overtly bretty, three were reduced, and one had lunatic levels of volatile acidity. Some winemakers seem obsessed with colour at the expense of flavour.

7. There were a handful of wines that were disgusting. One tasted of rhubarb. Another smelled of diesel oil. I wonder why people bother submitting wines like this? Do they actually like them? Do they think the judges will like them? Or are they in denial?

Pictured is tasting in progress. In a quaintly English fashion, the bottles were masked by hand-knitted covers, all different.

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Thursday, September 04, 2008

Guardian guide to wine, this weekend

Just a heads up. This weekend The Guardian newspaper and its Sunday edition The Observer will be publishing a two part guide to wine (6th and 7th September). I haven't seen it, and didn't contribute, but it sounds pretty good.

Incidentally, blogger tells me that this is the 1000th post on this particular blog (I switched over to blogger back in January 2006). I think that works out about a post a day. I should celebrate, but it's late and I have to drive over to Three Choirs vineyard tomorrow to act as chair of judges looking at 110 English wines, beginning at 0930. And the AA routeplanner tells me it is 2 h 30 driving time.

International Wine Challenge awards dinner

Last night was the International Wine Challenge Awards Dinner. Lots and lots of wine trade people in a huge ballroom in a swanky Park Lane hotel, all dressed up very smartly (black tie). I always find it quite funny seeing just how well everyone scrubs up for events like this; even the scruffiest, most badly dressed of the wine trade turn out impeccably for this sort of gig.

I was sitting at the Emma Wellings PR table, which was quite jolly. But it seemed that the speeches and awards took more time than they did last year, not finishing until 11.30 pm. On the way out I bumped into Chris and Jane Scott of 30:50, who had won an award. They live near me so we shared the cost of a cab back home. For 10 minutes, though, I had a rather surreal conversation with Chris, which confused me greatly until I realized that he'd mistaken me for Sam Harrop.

Here are my notes on some of the sweet wines that we were served. I know it's sad to be taking notes at a dinner like this, but this was when the awards were being dished out.

Mission Hill Riesling Reserve Icewine 2006 Okanagan Valley, Canada
Very, very sweet and grapey with aromatic grapey, raisiny notes. Massively concentrated, viscous palate is supersweet, rounded an full. A huge wine that's still in balance, if a little overpowering. 90/100

Rabl Gruner Veltliner Eiswein 2006 Langenlois, Austria
Citrussy, sweet and herby with lovely elegant, fresh fruit that's viscous and intense at the same time. Nice acidity. A striking, supersweet unctuous wine with the richness offset by good acidity. 91/100

Ordonez Seleccion Especial No 1 2006 Malaga, Spain
Aromatic with lovely complex orange, tea and herb notes on the nose. Viscous, grapey palate with sweet fruitiness but also a lovely expressive character. 91/100

Hans Lang Riesling Auslese Hattenheimer Hassel 2005 Rheingau, Germany
Sweet and honeyed with some melony fruit. Rich with lots of fruit, and quite viscous, too. Well made but not as exciting as I was hoping. 89/100

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Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Chateau Monty: a new national TV series on wine

Monty Waldin, a British wine writer who has been living in Italy for the last few years, is one of the best known commentators on (and advocates of) biodynamic wine growing. He's the focus of a new TV series, Chateau Monty, which begins on Channel 4 (UK) tomorrow night. The program follows his efforts to make wine biodynamically in France's Roussillon region, and I have reviewed the first episode on the main wineanorak site here. I think it's worth a watch, and it's good that wine is back on national TV.

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Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Meet Matthew Munzberg, a Barossa grower on a world tour

Went into central London again for the first time in ages. It really feels a bit like going back to school after the long summer away.

I met up with Matthew Munzberg for lunch. He's a fourth-generation Barossa grape grower who farms 45 hectares, and also makes some wine under the Mad Dog label - he's also the author of an interesting, pithily written blog.

For the last 14 weeks Matthew has been touring the world by virtue of a Nuffield farming scholarship. His travels have taken him to China, the Philippines, Idaho and Europe, visiting all manner of farmers and absorbing large volumes of information. He's written about some of his travels on his blog, and it sounds like a brilliant program.

One of the things he's looking at is how Barossa can promote itself as a wine region. Currently, the Barossa is dominated by growers. On average they farm 8 hectares each, which isn't a lot, and are paid around 800 dollars a ton for their grapes. It's hard to make a living this way: Matthew, with 45 hectares, says it's a struggle even with a larger holding. The worry is that growers will be forced to sell and big companies will acquire the vineyards, with the region losing its soul in the process.

For this reason, it's important for Barossa to have more visibility with consumers as a region. At the moment many grapes from here go into wines that aren't labelled 'Barossa'. If Barossa were to count for more, then grapes would be worth more, and growers' livelihoods would be safeguarded.

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Monday, September 01, 2008

NWR: Deep pockets. How deep? Very deep pockets.


Who are Chelsea? Who are Manchester United?

Life as a Man City fan is never boring, but over the last week it has got a whole lot more interesting. We're having to pinch ourselves to convince ourselves that this isn't just a dream.

First of all, City re-sign Shaun Wright-Phillips from Chelsea, and win 3-0 against Sunderland away with SWP scoring twice. Then there's a big money take-over by Abu Dhabi's royal family (see here) on transfer deadline day. A spokesperson for the group confirms that they have very, very deep pockets. Then there are rumours that City are bidding with Manchester United for Spurs' Dmitar Berbatov, at around £34 million. That would really upset UTD, and at the very least should put the price up substantially, even if he does end up joining City's rivals. Sweet. [Breaking news - he's signed for UTD for £30.5 m, when a day ago UTD weren't willing to pay £25 m - and they've got a proven temperamental player on their hands to boot. Good luck.]

Then comes the news that City have signed prime Chelsea target Robinho. He's a 24 year old Brazilian striker from leading club Real Madrid, and 24 hours' earlier would have been well out of City's range as one of the world's leading players. Outbidding Chelsea is super-sweet, especially when City aren't paying any more money than Chelsea would have - it's just that Real were so upset with Chelsea they'd rather sell to City, given the choice. There's a nice Youtube video of Robinho here, although I should add that these Youtube compilations tend to make anyone look great - even I look like Pele when you collate all my good moments (c. 50 seconds) and omit all my bad (c. 2 years).

His first game will be against...Chelsea.
As you'll see from the picture, even some of the news agencies are so shocked by this news they've assumed that the wrong Manchester team are involved (above). Also, I don't know much about AFP, but when they say '3 hours ago', I'm unsure as to their source of information - the story broke about 7 minutes prior to me taking this screen grab from the web.

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a (sort of) pink English fizz that's really good

Today has been quite a difficult one. I drove older son down to his new school (160 miles away), which he starts tomorrow. He's beginning as a boarder, at age 12, which must be incredibly difficult for him. Also, any parent reading can probably share a sense of how difficult it is to leave your child in someone else's care like this. But it's not a decision we came to lightly, and it's one that he participated in. He's an incredibly talented, able chap with a very bright future ahead of him, but had things carried on the way they were at home, then the future would have been much less bright. It seems a bit absurd and flippant to document this major change in a paragraph on a blog post, but I feel it needs to be mentioned, and it's either a paragraph or a whole book.

Back to the safe territory of wine, and more specifically a rather good sparkling rose from England that's the equal of a good rose Champagne.

Sainsbury's Taste the Difference Sparkling Rose NV, England
Made by Chapel Down, this is really delicious. A very pale salmon pink colour, it's only just a rose. The nose is super-sophisticated with tight herby, citrussy notes as well as a hint of strawberry. The palate is dry and complex, with a hint of fruity richness offsettin the high acidity really nicely. There's none of the overt herbiness that is the besetting sin of so many English wines, and all the flavours work in tandem to create a stylish whole. Pretty serious effort - shame about the rather naff packaging. 90/100 (£17.99 Sainsbury's)

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