jamie goode's wine blog: October 2008

Friday, October 31, 2008

'Terroirs': Fiona Sims reviews London's first natural wine bar

There's a new natural wine bar in London. It's called, rather appropriately, 'Terroirs', and it is reviewed here in tomorrow's (the wonder of the internet) Times by Fiona Sims. I'll try to check it out next time I'm in town. The centrepiece of her article focuses on whether natural wines give you a hangover - the issue for me is whether they taste interesting.


Back from Cornwall

We returned to London today, after a very relaxing break in Cornwall. I'll miss the hot tub, the steam room and the beautiful views. It would be incredible to spend a week at the stunning house (the slightly blue house on the right) we rented during the summer, when - given a bit of luck with the English climate - you could sit outside and eat, and spend whole days just chilling on the beach. But you'd have to stay put most of the time, because during the summer Cornwall fills up with tourists and the roads become jammed.

I'm off to Portugal in the morning for some serious tasting at a big wine event in Lisbon. I'll report back.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Cornwall: the Eden Project

On our final full day in Cornwall, it was freezing cold and raining. So I took the boys to the Eden Project, while Fiona stayed at basecamp with RTL. I'd heard a lot about Eden before, but had never visited, so I was interested to see what the experience would be like, albeit on a cold late-October day.

I was quite impressed: it would have been a really, really good experience, if it hadn't been for the crowds. There are two enormous greenhouses (called 'biomes') which are at the centre of the whole experience. One is Mediterranean, the other tropical (this is the larger one).

We started off in the slightly less crowded Mediterranean biome, where the boys were delighted to find Blue Peter presenter Andy Akinwolere doing a piece to camera (younger son took the picture of him, right).

There was a small section here dedicted to grape growing, with a rather bedraggled (and mildewy) collection of grape vines, arranged around a dionysian metal sculpture (below). I know it's eco and all that, but at least they could spray the vines with some sulfur. You can't grow vines without treating against fungal diseases. Not since the mid-19th century, anyway.

The tropical biome is spectacular, but the shuffling hordes (made even slower by those annoying individuals who line up their friends and family for a group photograph in front of various plant exhibits, and then take ages to compose it, while everyone else politely stops) take a lot of the natural beauty and drama out of the plants on display. Pretty cool to see coffee beans growing (I'd not seen this before, below).

Landmark Australia Tutorial: a great opportunity for 12 lucky winners!

The late, great Len Evans set up a tutorial system, where each year a select band of Australia'ss young wine elite were offered the opportunity to attend an intensive tasting course where some serious bottles were opened (see http://lenevanstutorial.com.au/). As far as I can tell, this is still ongoing, with the 2008 edition due to run next week. It reminds me a bit of Willy Wonka and his golden tickets.

Along similar lines, Wine Australia has launched a similar Tutorial, but this time focusing on a dozen emerging talents from outside Australia, titled Landmark Australia Tutorial. It looks to be a really promising program with some high-level tutors. Worth thinking about if you are in the trade?


Wednesday, October 29, 2008

A great Vouvray

I know. Vouvray is unfashionable and a bit geeky, bit it can be great. This is an old bottle that I bought from Oddbins in the 1990s for around £12 if I recall correctly. It has developed beautifully and is now drinking very well, although I suspect it will last a couple more decades. I think I have one more left.

Domaine des Aubuisieres Les Giradieres 1er Trie 1996 Vouvray, Loire, France
A delicious, mature sweet Vouvray that's just beginning to hit its stride. Deep yellow colour, it has a lovely waxy, herby, lanolin nose with some crystalline fruits. The palate is sweet, concentrated and multidimensional, with high acidity offsetting the intense herby, tangy fruit. Although it is sweet, it's not really a dessert wine. Would be great with strongly flavoured cheeses. 93/100

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One of the best things about the house we are staying in here in Cornwall, apart from the steam room and hot tub, is the fact that the living room has sea views in three directions. It's simply stunning to sit here looking out to sea, even if the weather has been a bit dodgy - as I sit here typing there's a storm brewing, and the rain is lashing against the windows. It's quite dramatic.

We've had some fun over the last few days. There have been some flashpoints with the kids, but that's par for the course. Nothing too destructive or dramatic. Yesterday my brother Arthur and his family, who are holidaying in Looe, came over for the afternoon and stayed for dinner. It was a fun time, even though their youngest found RTL a bit scary.

The hot tub here is great. It's a Japanese style version without bubbles, made out of a barrel-like wooden construction. Very relaxing, and an ideal Champagne moment.

How normal people buy wine

I mentioned that we'd been running out of wine, holed up here in our idyllic Cornish holiday home. Well, this meant I had to venture out to try to procure some desparately needed supplies. I had to buy wine like a normal person. There were three options in Looe: a Co-op, a Somerfield and a Thresher. And in Torpoint, I found another Co-op and another Somerfield.

The choice was not broad in any of these stores. I ended up buying in Somerfield, and could only find a handful of wines that were potential drinking candidates. There was certainly nothing even remotely high end. Interestigly, these selections don't give you a very good reason to trade up from the affordable, drinkable end of the range. The more expensive wines just seemed to be dodgy examples from appellations that happen to be more expensive, such as Burgundy and Chateauneuf-du-Pape.

I chose the following. (1) Casillero del Diablo Sauvignon Blanc 2008 (on offer at £4.99 - the Casillero wines are good value at this price - they are very solid efforts); (2) Torres Vina Sol 2007 (£5.69 - a really reliable, fresh white wine); (3) Oyster Bay Pinot Noir (on offer at £7.99 - a reliable if unexciting Marlborough Pinot that tastes nice); (4) Riverview Merlot Kekfrankos (£4.99 - a really delicious, light, sappy, leafy red wine with some elegance and a bit of a 'natural wine' character).

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Continuing yesterday's theme of Chianti Classico, this is a paradox of a wine from Chianti producer Fattoria Le Fonti. It's an IGT Toscana Sangiovese weighing in at 14.5% alcohol from a 2 hectare single vineyard. It's sweetly fruited, lush and ripe (in a modern style), yet also shows a hint of volatility, as well as some earthy, spicy notes (more traditional). The overall effect is pleasing and complex, but it's not an easy wine to come to terms with.

Fattoria Le Fonti Vito Arturo Sangiovese 2004 IGT Toscano, Italy
This single vineyard wine is complex and alluring, bringing together modernity and tradition in the same bottle. With a slightly lifted, volatile edge, the nose is lush with ripe, sweet, liqueur-like dark cherry and blackberry fruits combining with spicy, minerally, earthy notes. The palate shows ripe, sweet fruit together with that trademark Sangiovese rasp of earthy, spicy structure and grippy tannins alongside some bitter plum notes. Finishes long and savoury with notes of chocolate and tar. A really complex, interesting example of late-picked, ripe Sangiovese. 92/100 (£22.99 Cadman Fine Wines)

Find this wine with wine-searcher.com

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Monday, October 27, 2008

Rick Astley's Chianti

One of the estates I visited on my recent jaunt in Chianti country was Castello di Brolio, Barone Ricasoli's imposing property strategically placed on the border between the ancient city states of Florence and Siena. (The bomb-scarred Castello is pictured.)

Ricasoli (pronounced 'Rick Astley' with a soft-ish 't') is a modern-style producer. The current Barone's father sold the property to Seagram, who took the brand down-market and expanded production, and then the Barone bought it back and has spent time and money revitalizing the brand by taking it up-market, dropping production dramatically. This is quite a modern styled Chianti Classico, but it still has bags of personality and Sangiovese character. A really good drink that's given me some pleasure when drunk over the last two evenings.

Barone Ricasoli Castello di Brolio Chianti Classico 2006 Tuscany, Italy
Dark coloured, this has a lovely vibrant nose of dark cherries and bitter plum, with some spicy notes. The palate has fresh spicy, plummy fruit with some attractive bitter notes as well as firm tannins. It's fruit driven and quite modern, but distinctly spicy and savoury with real Sangiovese character. 90/100 (£13 in the UK, agent Enotria)
Find this wine with wine-searcher.com

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'Blink' and wine tasting

One of the books on the shelves in the house we are staying on is Malcolm Gladwell's blink: the power of thinking without thinking. It's a book I'd heard about, but never read. So I've skimmed through it, and it's interesting - well, sort of.

The thesis is that we humans are often better at making split-second decisions than we are at reaching conclusions with lots of deliberation and research. 'This book is all about those moments when we "know" something without knowing why', it says on the back cover.

Gladwell suggests that there's some background processing going on in our brains, which we are unaware of but which helps us make rapid decisions. I suppose this is similar to the familiar notion of 'intuition'. 'Blink' likely resonates with people because it makes them feel extra clever and reassures them that their instinctive reactions are usually correct.

I think Gladwell's cheif cleverness is in making a solitary interesting idea stretch out far enough to fill a whole book. The reason I wanted to comment on it is because of the application of the 'blink' principle to wine tasting. We can spend a long time dissecting a wine into its components, trying to analyse it and understand it, but sometimes it's the instant impression that is the most useful. Much of the time, even if I struggle to write a good note on a wine, I know immediately what I think of it. It's often the first impression that is the purest and most accurate.

That's not to say, of course, that there aren't some wines that require time and attention to show what they've got.

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Sunday, October 26, 2008

More from Cornwall (2)

I could waste a lot of time if we had Sky Sports at home. I'm a sad 'bloke' who likes to watch sport as a sort of catharsis for real life. To be honest, I prefer to play than watch. But watching is OK.

Today I've been watching football (Liverpool vs. Chelsea, City vs. Stoke) and cricket (the Stanford 20/20). It's great. I've never really watched 20/20 cricket before, but I think it's wonderful, although I still think there's something special about two-innings cricket that can last five days at Test level, especially in our hasty world where there's never time for anything.

It's been a mixed day here in Cornwall, as most days are with our family. Our two boys are emotionally highly volatile, and while they can both be lovely, they can be absolutely appalling. The combination of the two together is particularly challenging. That's one of the reasons that the older boy is now at boarding school.

Highlights today included a rain-soaked walk around the coast path (pictured is our village from the top of the cliff), cooking chinese food together as a family, and a nice time in the hot tub with the sea raging not too far away. We also did some crab catching, and it took me a while to summon up the courage to pick up the individual pictured.
We're almost out of wine.

Blind River: another great New Zealand Pinot

Very keen on New Zealand Pinot Noir at the moment. Helps feed my Pinot addiction. Let's face it, while the best red Burgundies are peerless, the average quality in Burgundy is low disappointing, and there's not much to like about almost all affordable red Burgundy. But New Zealand delivers in the £10-20 range and seldom really disappoints.

Blind River Pinot Noir 2007 Marlborough, New Zealand
Lovely vibrant, fresh, sweet cherry fruit nose with some spiciness. The palate shows complex cherry and plum fruit with a subtle greenness as well as rich spicy character. It's fresh and fruity but there's more to it than just fruit: there's richness and depth, too. A brilliant effort: it's still quite primary but likely will develop well over the next five years. 92/100 (£17.99 Oddbins)

Find this wine with wine-searcher.com

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Saturday, October 25, 2008

More from Cornwall

Had a cheese fondue last night. Retro dining. Some white wine, crushed garlic and juice from a lemon, heated up. Then lots of grated Emmenthal and Gruyere added until it melts and sort of dissolves. A bit of cornflour added later to thicken and smooth it. Really delicious.

White wine is the ideal accompaniment and we had a Sainsbury's Taste the Difference Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2008 and a delicious Marques de Riscal Rueda 2007.

So far today we've been searching the rockpools on the beach and flying kites.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Quick post from Cornwall

Just a quick post. I'm in Cornwall on a family break. We're staying in the most stunning house, practically on the beach. It's super-luxurious and has a hot tub as well as wifi internet access and a couple of Sky boxes. But it's the setting that is the best feature: as we arrived after a long journey, we were greeted by the sight of the sun setting over the bay. Just beautiful. [To get this house we had to book last February. When we thought we were richer than we are.]

And I've bought a case of wine. Heaven. Let's hope the kids behave.

[Picture added later, early morning.]

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Music, Rioja, Morrisons & Majestic

Spent this afternoon at Morrisons (a major UK supermarket) press tasting, held at Vinopolis. It was quite disappointing: far too many wines were tired, lacked freshness, or just were rather ordinary. I hate having to say negative things like this, but I have to be honest or I'm no use to anyone as a journalist.

On the way out I wandered through the Majestic store at Vinopolis. What has happened with Majestic's range? I went to their press tasting last week, and came away underwhelmed. And taking a look at the wines they stock in store, I was struck by how much less interesting the range seems to be now compared with, say, two years ago. Majestic used to be brilliant; now they are just merely good.

That brings me round to Rioja, which along with Bordeaux is vying for the title of 'world's most underperforming wine region'. When you consider the resources Rioja has in terms of old vines, climate and fantastic terroirs, how come so much average or poor wine is made? Presumably because they can get away with it: Rioja is a very strong brand with consumers. Tonight, though, I'm sipping Cune's Rioja Reserva 2004 (11.49 Majestic, Waitrose, Wimbledon Wine Cellar), and it's very nice. With ripe dark fruits, it has a hint of modernity, but then there's some spice, earth and minerality that makes it taste more traditional. Reasonable value for money and with room for further development.

So, what about music? I don't like to go on too much about music on this blog, because musical taste is just so personal - even more so that taste in wine. I'm a keen music fan - I have four guitars, which I'm playing quite a bit of late, as well as a mandolin. But I haven't been listening to as much music as I'd have liked to.

Yesterday, picking up older son from boarding school in Devon, I had a few minutes spare so I wandered into town and bought a CD from a lovely little record shop run by a real enthusiast, who complimented me on my selection. It was I want to see the bright lights tonight, by Richard and Linda Thompson, from 1974. I guess you could describe this sort of folk-influenced rock as the musical equivalent of natural wine. A bit quirky, but interesting. My previous CD purchase was a more modern recording: Sarah Bareilles' Little voice, which has two stand-out tracks - Love Song and Gravity. Another album (yes, I know, terribly old fashioned term, but I still miss buying 12" records in gatefold sleeves) that I've listened to a lot of late is The Feeling's Twelve stops and home, which is a modern classic that combines elements of Supertramp, Queen and 10 cc in a thoroughly creative work that's a hundred times better than their follow-up album Join with us.

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Top SA Sauvignon and a classic Barossa red

Two wines from a batch of samples sent by Enotria. The first - a really impressive SA Sauvignon. Nice to see this, because most SA Sauvignons I've tried of late have shown overpowering methoxypyrazine character (green pepper/vegetal/chalky). The second - a traditionally styled Barossa red, with rather obvious but tasty ripe fruit and American oak characters.

Iona Sauvignon Blanc 2007 Elgin
A really fine, elegant South African Sauvignon. It has a very pure, minerally nose with delicate, subtly herbal, gently grassy fruit. The palate is really pure and minerally with some savoury, cut pepper notes, but also a bit of lemony fruit. Itís quite subtle but full flavoured, and would be great with a wide range of different foods, especially a really fresh, simply prepared grilled sea bass. This is one of the best South African Sauvignons Iíve yet tried. 90/100 (£9.99 Waitrose)

Peter Lehmann Clancyís Red 2005 Barossa, Australia
A traditional-styled Aussie blend of Shiraz, Cabernet and Merlot, this is great fun. It shows sweet, ripe, tarry, slightly minty, spicy raspberry, blackberry and blackcurrant fruit which carry over to the palate, which is rich, sweet, mouthfilling and really spicy, with some sweet vanilla oak. The classic Barossa blend of super-sweet fruit and American oak works well. Itís not a subtle wine, but itís honest and delicious if you are in the mood for it. 88/100 (£7.99 Tesco, Waitrose)

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Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Addicted to Pinot: Philippe Pacalet Gevrey-Chambertin

I'm pretty much addicted to Pinot Noir these days. I can't refuse its charms. When it calls me, I am powerless to resist. I dream of Pinot, and when I awake, I can't wait until it's 6 pm and time to open another. [I exagerrate, a little. But I do really, really like good Pinot.]

Pinot Noir from its home territory, Burgundy, frequently disappoints. You can spend a lot of money on a bottle of red Burgundy and end up with something filthsome and mean. Cheap Burgundy is almost always pointless. It's the region of the great wine swindle.

Tonight's wine, though, is the real deal. A naturally made red Burgundy from Philippe Pacalet, who I first met at the International Pinot Noir Celebration this summer in Oregon (see my blog post). He's a really interesting person with well thought-out views on wine.

You can read more about him here at Bertrand Celce's wonderful wine blog.

Philippe Pacalet Gevrey-Chambertin 2006 Burgundy, France
Quite pale in colour, this has a lovely aromatic, slightly sappy nose of sweet cherry fruit, with some subtle notes of fresh-turned earth. The palate is pure and elegant, showing smooth, precise cherry fruit with some firm, spicy, grippy tannic structure taking hold of the finish. A really light, pure, elegant style, but showing good concentration and enough structure to make me think this might reward mid-term cellaring. But it's hard not to drink it now. It's not perfect, but this is a benchmark example of elegant, natural red Burgundy. 92/100 (UK agent: Les Caves de Pyrene. £36.99 Zelas Wines)
Find this wine with wine-searcher.com

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Ciders from Once Upon a Tree

UK-based winemaker Simon Day has turned his hand to cider making, and 2008 sees the first releases from his new company Once Upon a Tree. The idea is to take top quality cider apples from Dragon Orchard in Herefordshire and produce something special from them. Here's what I made of them.

2007 Miracle Ridge
A still dry table cider, 7.5% alcohol, made from Ellis Bitter, Brown's Apple and Dabinett. Beautifully aromatic nose is sweet and rounded with notes of honey, spice and apple crumble. The palate is dry but full, with broad fruit, a hint of citrus and a savoury, food-friendly finish. Really appealing.

2007 Dabinett
A single varietal still table cider at 7.5% alcohol. Warm, aromatic nose with sweet honeyed apple notes and a hint of green leafiness. Quite pure. The palate is fresh with a herby, citrussy kick. Really tangy, like biting into a just-ripe apple. There's a bit of tannic grip here too, leaving a pleasing bitter finish. One for food.

2007 Putley Gold
A medium-dry still table cider at 7.5% alcohol, made from Dabinett, Ellis Bitter and Brown's Apple. Sweet open appley nose with a nice herby tang. There's a rounded character to the off-dry palate, and with the high acidity and subtly bitter tang it doesn't taste too sweet.

Conclusion? They're really good, interesting drinks, and at £3.95 for a 75 cl bottle they are very fairly priced. You could use these at table as you would wine.


Tuesday, October 21, 2008

My wine predictions for 2008: how are they shaping up?

Back at the beginning of the year, I posted my wine predictions for 2008. How do you think they are shaping up?


Koru Sauvignon Blanc: remarkable stuff!

Here's a really fantastic Sauvignon Blanc from Marlborough. It's made by Jasper and Sarah Raats (which is the name of Jasper's family's vineyard in South Africa), who I've just found out are involved with one of my other favourite Marlborough Sauvignon producers Clos Henri. Their own wines come from a 1 hectare vineyard in the upper Wairau valley with stony loam and silt soil (Sauvignon), and a 1.1 hectare vineyard at the foot of the Wither hills on clay soil (Pinot).

You can read more about Koru on their website. Interestingly, they state:

'We also believe that the fresh herbaceous, capsicum, grassy flavours in Sauvignon Blanc, that many people love, is not the only flavour spectrum possible in NZ Sauvignon Blanc. It actually has a very complex flavour profile that develops with more time out on the vine and ripening in the sun. The flavours we are after also includes flavours of lime, lemon, grapefruit, ripe gooseberry, passion fruit, very ripe kiwifruit and, if we are lucky, some gunflint and mineral tones.'
They've certainly achieved this here:

Koru Sauvignon Blanc 2007 South Island, New Zealand
Sealed with natural cork. Made from a 1 hectare single vineyard by Jasper and Sarah Raats, this is an intense, concentrated Sauvignon Blanc with rich peach, pear and passion fruit character, together with a bit of grapefruit freshness. It's really intense and well balanced with ripeness and richness to the fore. It isn't grassy like so many Sauvignons, but tends to the more tropical end of the flavour spectrum, while still retaining freshness. This is certainly quite expensive, but it is one of the very best Kiwi Sauvignons out there. 93/100 (£22 Hellion Wines)
Find this wine with wine-searcher.com

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Monday, October 20, 2008

C'mon Citeh...the pain continues

Spent the evening watching Manchester City's Premier League encounter with Newcastle United, with my City-supporting chum Rob round at Pranay's house (he's a friend who has both Setanta and Sky Sports - he's planning to get up at 5 am tomorrow to watch India finish off Australia in the test match, which would be a fantastic result. Respect).

Things started well with City winning a slightly controversial penalty and Newcastle having the offender sent off. But then, just before half time, Newcastle pulled a goal back. Shortly after the break, they scored another. It was amazing: City had close to 70% of the posession and an extra man, but were losing! Life is never straightforward following this club. Eventually we equalized, but it was a strange and rather disappointing game that should have been won.

My verdict? City need more options than *just* playing a very tidy, neat passing game that relies on the killer pass from the edge of the box. They also need to threaten from both flanks, with the options to attack from slow build-up play down the middle, or from wing play, or from more direct balls from deeper positions. They need to be able to play on the break, but also to take the game to the opposition. Variety like this stretches defences.

For me, the most effective player tonight was Shaun Wright-Phillips. He's the real deal. Robinho is clearly a genius, but he has to be careful not to play too deep, where he is less effective. Martin Petrov is sorely missed. Ched Evans looked pretty good, again, coming on as a late substitute. I wonder whether Jo might find his position under threat when Benjani is fit again?

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Great value from Spain: Pleyades and Spanish Steps

The besetting sin of Spanish red wine has usually been horrible oak usage. This commonly means too much of it, and the wrong sort, and for too long. But now that Spanish winemakers are realizing that their less expensive reds don't need much at all, we're seeing some fantastic, affordable red wines from Spain that over-deliver, big time.

The first wine is one of the best value reds I've tried of late; the second is equally impressive and offers lots of character for relatively little money. Both are fruit-driven and delicious, and wines like these must send shivers down the spines of new world wineries competing at the same price point.

Plťyades Shiraz 2007 CariŮena, Spain
From Terrai ViŮedos y Crianzas, this has to be one of the wine bargains of the year. It shows lovely bright, slightly meaty, almost floral dark fruits, which have some appealing sweetness and purity, but also some meaty, spicy, black pepper savouriness. The purity of fruit and the tension between the sweet ripe characters and the darker, more savoury ones keep my interest here: itís a wine that I enjoy drinking. Delicious stuff, and I can see why this won a gold medal at the Decanter Wine Awards (to be honest, I think itís more of a Bronze/Silver, which still makes it great value for money). It also toys a little with reduction, and I like it all the more for this. Iíd be very happy to have this as my house red, in these tight economic times. 88/100 (£4.98 Asda)

Spanish Steps Mencia 2007 Bierzo, Spain
From northwest Spain, this varietal Mencia (known as Jaen in Portugal) really delivers. Deep coloured, it has a lovely vibrant, pure nose of summer fruits with a plummy edge. Fruit dominates, but thereís nice definition here. The palate is juicy and ripe with lovely bright blackberry and damson character, as well as fresh acidity. Pure and primary, this is a delicious wine for current drinking. Brilliant value at a suggested retail price of £5.99, and Iím really surprised that this hasnít got any major listings yet. 88/100 (£5.99 Oakley Wine Agencies, 01787 220070)


Sunday, October 19, 2008

A Riesling QBA from 2007 that just sings...

As I've said before on this blog, if you are in the wine trade you have no choice about which your favourite white grape is. It *just* has to be Riesling. Well, with wines like this, it's not difficult. It's beautifully balanced and delicious. The only problem? It should really be a pound or two cheaper, I think.

Reichsrat von Buhl Riesling QBA 2007 Pfalz, Germany
Delightfully fresh, light, bright and aromatic, with lovely lemon and grapefruit zippiness. There's a hint of sweetness on the palate, but overall it is dry and minerally; mouthwatering and precise. Brilliant stuff. Sealed with a Diam closure, and 11% alcohol. 89/100 (£10.39 Laithwaites)

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Saturday, October 18, 2008

Getting ready for harvest at Denbies - a video

A short film taken the week before last at Denbies, England's largest wine estate. Harvest was underway and here I follow winemaker Marcus Sharp, consultant John Worontshcak and Sam Harrop round as they take a look at Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Regent and Schoenberger which are yet to be harvested.

Preparing for the harvest at Denbies, the UK's largest vineyard from Jamie Goode on Vimeo.

Serious Loire Chenin

A new wine for me. It was part of the Les Caves de Pyrene tasting I did on Thursday morning, and I brought the remaining 3/4 of a bottle home to study at length(!). It's a fantastically pure, fresh, intense Chenin of real appeal. It also goes very well with mature Cheddar cheese.

Frantz Saumon ĎMinťrale +í 2007 Montlouis, Loire
From a grower in conversion to organics, working with indigenous yeasts in large and small oak. Intriguing nose shows classic Chenin notes of herbs, apples, lemon and a faint hint of soft cheese. Itís really pure and focused. The palate is pure and minerally with broad, textured herby, appley fruit kept fresh with high acidity. Itís more-or-less dry, fresh, pure and linear, but with a rounded character that presumably is contributed by a bit of residual sugar. A lovely, precise wine with a long future ahead of it. 92/100 (Les Caves de Pyrene in the UK)
Find this wine with wine-searcher.com

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Friday, October 17, 2008

Richard Kelley's new Loire website

Big plug for Richard Kelley's new website devoted to the wines of the Loire: www.richardkelley.co.uk. First serious content here is the ultimate guide to Savennieres. This is serious wine geek territory, and Richard, who is an MW who works for Richards Walford, has done some meticulous research which he is very generously offering for free on the web.

Disclaimer: I've been helping Richard put this together - I haven't touched the content, but have just done some basic web design and tecchie things. Apart from being paid for my time, I have no financial interest - rather, I was just keen to help get this amazingly good information out there for the benefit of wine lovers worldwide.


More tasting, with some gems

Two tastings today. Normally, Friday is a quiet day, with tastings clustered Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. But it's a busy time of year, hence a couple of essential tastings beinbg held today.

First up, Berry Bros & Rudd. The big draw here, in addition to a choice selection from Berry's fantastic range, was a rare chance to taste not only Krug's newly released Vintage 1998 (at £230 a pop), but also the Krug Clos de Mesnil 1998 (if you have to ask....oh, alright then - £720 - yes, that's per bottle).

But an additional treat was a wonderful, uninterrupted vertical of Quinta do Vesuvio Ports from 1989 to 2006. Ideally, I wouldn't want to have tasted through this before the Majestic tasting that was to follow, but you can't ignore such a great opportunity. Vesuvio rocks. Especially 1990, 2000, 2001 and 2003 (my favourite).

So, longer than I'd intended at Berry Bros somewhat compressed my Majestic experience. But I still tasted most of the Majestic offering, with some disappointments (more than I'd have expected from Majestic) along with a few very tasty wines (Cave de St Desirat Lirac 2007 a good buy at £5.99 offer price, a nice 2000 Navarra on offer at £5.99, a chunky, structured Aglianico del Vulture at £9.99, a fresh Vina Mayu Syrah from Elqui, and some nice sweet wines).

Now I've got taster's mouth. Only time will heal that.

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Off to see Angus! - and an added wine quote

One of the great things about having kids is that you can re-live your childhood/adolescence through them. Younger son is currently crazy about music, and his favourite band is AC/DC. It just so happens that the first album I ever bought was Back in Black, back in the 1980s.

Angus and his pals are just embarking on their first world tour for about a thousand years. They're really old (he's 53). But they still rock! In April next year they come to the UK and the tickets for the O2 arena gig went on sale at 10 am this morning. I went online at 10.01, and the public sale tickets seemed to have all gone, but prescient as I am I had joined the fan club a day previously and so, armed with my access code, managed to get a couple of lower tier tickets.

Fiona is happy to let younger son go to the gig, but insists that he wears ear plugs.

Now the tickets are in the bag, I need to go and taste some wine. Berry Bros and Majestic today.

[added later] On the train, reading The Guardian's review of the new AC/DC album, I found the following quote:
'A cynic might say that the kind of person who can distinguish a good AC/DC album from a bad one is like those faintly disturbing wine buffs who can tell you the terroir in which grapes were grown just by holding a glass to the light: it's a specialist skill garnered through a lifetime of extensive research, a considered judgement based on infinitesimal difference, entirely beyond the ken of ordinary mortals. '

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Thursday, October 16, 2008

A busy day of tasting, but a very good one. Those of you who don't taste professionally will probably think I'm a total wimp when I blog that 'I'm tired' after a day of tasting wine. I understand: it doesn't sound like a tough way of earning a living, but it *really* is physically quite demanding and requires a lot of concentration when you spend a full day doing it.

I began at 10 am at the WSET (Wine and Spirit Education Trust) headquarters in Bermondsey, near London Bridge station, for a Wine & Spirit magazine tasting. Natasha Hughes, David Williams, Claire Hu, Simon Woods and I were tasting 20 wines from Les Caves de Pyrene, unblind. As you'd expect it was an eclectic, slightly funky, but fascinating selection. It's so good to taste wines like these, which are full of interest, because it reminds you what it was that attracted you to wine in the first place.

Then it was off to the Waitrose press tasting, part two. Today I did whites and some more sweet wines. Some real highlights, including a lovely flight of Germans Ė with the standout being a wonderfully, breathtakingly pure and aromatic Riesling from Donnhoff (Kreuznacher Krotenpfuhl Riesling Spatlese 2006)Ė a lovely Austrian Riesling (Rabl Schenkenbichl 2007), a profound pair of Spanish whites (Fefinanes Albarino 2007 and Mas d'en Compte 2006) and a mindblowingly good sweet Sherry (Matusalem). The tasting confimed that Waitrose is the wine-lover's supermarket.

I finished the day by heading over to the Atlas in Fulham for a rather special sherry tasting. It was focusing on 20 and 30 year old wines, and they were wonderful. The final straight in the tasting was a flight of seven Pedro Ximenez wines. If you haven't tried an old PX you probably won't appreciate what a daunting task this flight represents, but I survived! It's a cliche, but Sherry is underrated and undervalued. We should drink more of it.

So now, as I head home on the District Line, I'm really knackered. Fortunately my teeth don't hurt, but my mouth feels a bit weary, and the last thing I feel like doing is pouring a glass of wine.


Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Locked in time with a Huet 89

Waitrose press tasting today. Nice to see Neal Martin there - haven't seen him for quite a while. Perfect tasting conditions at the Worx in Parson's Green, with plenty of space and lots of spittoons, as well as fantastic natural light. The tasting is so extensive I'll be going back tomorrow to finish it off.

For as long as I can remember, Waitrose used to be the top supermarket for wine. It was one of the things I quickly learned - they were almost untouchable. But despite having a gazillion Masters of Wine on their buying staff, in the last year or two the unthinkable has happened: people have been starting to criticize Waitrose's wine range, albeit in hushed tones. I began hearing whispers on the tasting circuit that some of their buying was a bit safe - a bit boring even. Tesco began to get plaudits for the work they were doing, and then M&S started to win awards for their range.

From my tasting today - I did the reds and sweet wines - I think this is a little unfair. There are some really good, exciting, innovative wines. Yes, there were a few duds and some rather ordinary offerings, but fewer than most supermarkets have. I found plenty to like, and it's not just the wines that were restricted to only a few stores that impressed.

It's hard to select just one wine to blog on tonight, but I've chosen a Loire classic, which, alas, is expensive and only available in 2 branches (although it is available on Waitrose Wine Direct). Still, it was nice of them to let us taste it.

Domaine Huet 'Le Clos' Premiere Trie 1989 Vouvray, France
Deep yellow colour. Complex, sweet spicy-edged nose showing lemon, herbs and crystalline fruits. The palate is pure and fresh with lovely bright tangy apple and citrus fruit with some apricotty richness. Lovely purity and length. This wine has evolved much less than you might expect and still seems like a baby, with a long life ahead of it. 72 g/litre residual sugar, so it's sweet but not too sweet. 93/100 (£85 Waitrose)

They also showed the 2002 'Le Mont' Demi-Sec:

Domaine Huet 'Le Mont' Demi-Sec 2002 Vouray, France
Lovely intense appeal and herb nose with just a hint of savoury Chenin funk. Concentrated linear herb and apple palate with some lemony freshness. Richly textured and off-dry. Delicious, and still very youthful. 91/100 (£22 Waitrose)

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Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Pinot Noir from Germany: three good wines, including a trophy winner

A video of me tasting three German Pinot Noirs, including the one that won the Decanter World Wine Awards Pinot Noir tropy this year. Notes on the wines are below.

Kendermanns Pinot Noir Special Edition 2007 Pfalz, Germany
Quite pale coloured, which is often a good thing with Pinot Noir. This shows somewhat muted aromatics, but lovely fresh, slightly sweet cherryish fruit on the palate with nice smooth texture and a hint of green sappiness. Itís not the most complex Pinot ever, but it does taste like Pinot Noir, and itís a satisfying drop with attractive ripe fruit. 86/100 (£7.99 Tesco)

Villa Wolf Pinot Noir 2006 Pfalz, Germany
Pale cherry red colour. Thereís an attractive herby, savoury, minerally character to the nose which shows some lightly aromatic red cherry fruit. The palate has a smooth, elegant sort of fruitiness, with a hint of grippy spiciness backing up the red cherry fruits, as well as a trace of undergrowthy complexity. A light, attractive Pinot of real merit. 88/100 (£9.99 Oddbins, £7.99 if you buy any 12 wines)

Meyer-Nškel Dernauer Pfarrwingert Spštburgunder Grosses Gewšchs 2006 Ahr, Germany
This is a really beautiful, complex wine. Itís the follow-on vintage from the one that won the Pinot Noir trophy at the Decanter World Wine Awards 2008. Fantastically aromatic nose reminds me a bit of a really good Marlborough (New Zealand) Pinot Noir: itís sweet and forward, with bright fresh cherry fruit coupled with subtle green sappy and herby medicinal notes. Itís really attractive: one of those wines that you just want to smell again and again. The palate is complex with spicy dark cherry fruit coupled with red berry notes. Itís sweet, but savoury at the same time, with some plummy bitterness in the background, good acidity and some grippy tannins, but always the sweet fruit is to the fore. This shows just how good German Pinot Noir can be, but it does come at a price. 93/100 (£41.50 The Wine Barn, http://www.thewinebarn.co.uk/ )

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A serious Languedoc white!

Continuing yesterday's Languedoc theme, I wanted to share this wine with you, my loyal readers. It falls into the (slightly) weird but wonderful category. To be honest, I'd resisted cracking it open for a while because I thought that there wasn't much hope for a 2000 vintage Languedoc white. I was pleasantly surprised.

Domaine La Combe Blanche 'Le Blanc' 2000 Vin de Pays des Cotes de Brian, France
A blend of Roussanne and Viognier aged in barrel for 12 months. Yellow/gold in colour this is very smooth, with a fruity sweet pear nose that also has complex notes of mandarin, fennel and apricot. The palate shows warm, sweet fruit with a crystalline fruits richness and some hints of nuts and peach. Broad, smooth and quite complex, with freshness as well as richness. Just lovely. 92/100 (£9.75 Leon Stolarski)

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Monday, October 13, 2008

A serious wine from the Languedoc

I've neglected the Languedoc a bit of late. Back in the days of La Vigneronne (a London merchant who specialized in this region) I followed what was going on pretty closely. That's something I'd like to return to. Grand Lauze is a producer based in the Boutenac (officially a 'cru' since 2005) region of Corbieres. They farm organically, employing some biodynamic practices. They have 22 hectares in all, including some very old Carignan (youngest = 60 yo, much is over 100 yo) and Grenache vines. (See http://www.grand-lauze.net/.)

Grand Lauze Ledogar Vin de Table Francais
The Roman 'IV' on the label indicates this is from the 2004 vintage. This is one of those wines that ended up being rejected by the local Appellation authorization committee (in this case for Corbieres) for being 'atypical', hence the Vin de Table status. It's actually pretty serious: a blend of 12 barrels, 8 of which are 100-year old Carignan, 2 Mourvedre, 1 Grenache and 1 Syrah. All organically grown, with some biodynamic practices. Deep coloured, this has a tight, dense, slightly reductive nose showing spicy dark fruits. The palate is intense and concentrated with fresh, savoury, spicy dark fruits with firm tannins and attractive, minerally complexity. It's a pure, focused, youthful wine of real impact that needs time to show its best. Old vine Carignan at its best - not the easiest wine to 'get', but pretty serious. 91/100 (£15 http://www.therealwineco.co.uk/)

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'Burnt rubber' in South African reds - update

Just a quickie concerning last week's post on the great Cape wine debate, where I posted a video of the discussions about burnt rubber characters in South African reds. I used Veoh because the video wasn't uploading properly to Youtube, but I've now been told that Veoh is blocked in South Africa. So I have uploaded the video to blip.tv (thanks for the recco, Alex) which is much better. I've altered the original post in light of this. You can also view the video directly on http://wineanorak.blip.tv

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Striking Kiwi Sauvignon

A distinctive New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc - not from Marlborough, the region normally associated with Kiwi Sauvignon, but from nearby Nelson. This shows perfectly the passion fruit character that is often part of the aroma of Sauvignon, which comes from a chemical that belongs to a group known as 'thiols'. Thiols are sulfur-containing compounds that are quite important in wine flavour chemistry - wine science geeks will know that as well as being positive, in some contexts they can contribute to the fault known commonly as 'reduction'.

Brightwater Vineyards Sauvignon Blanc 2007 Nelson, New Zealand
Remarkably forward, aromatic passion fruit nose that's quite tropical, and slightly 'sweaty'. The palate is broad and quite rich with tropical fruit and a grassy minerally freshness. A really intense, striking sort of Sauvignon that teeters on the edge of being unbalanced, but which I quite like. 90/100 (£10.79 Laithwaites)

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Rosie finds love

On Thursday Fiona took Rosie for her second and final session with Diglett. Apparently, it was successful, and the amorous couple 'tied', which is, I beleive, a technical term that describes what happens when two dogs want to make babies. Fiona took the photograph above after the event - Rosie is on the right.

If nature works as it should, then in about 9 weeks we'll have some puppies. Now that will be fun.

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Friday, October 10, 2008

Video: harvest at Fontodi, Chianti Classico

A short film from my recent Tuscan excursion. I'm experimenting with Vimeo rather then Youtube as the hosting site. I'm not too happy with the quality on Youtube, so we'll see whether this is an improvement.

Harvesting Sangiovese at Fontodi, Chianti Classico from Jamie Goode on Vimeo.

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Thursday, October 09, 2008

Burnt Rubber: the great South African wine debate

Here's a film from an event held yesterday titled 'The Great Cape Wine Debate'. It involved a group of UK journalists and a select band of South African winemakers to discuss several current topics, focusing in particular on the 'Burnt Rubber' issue. The debate was organized by South African specialist Richard Kelley MW (of importer Richards Walford), and he gathered a stellar line-up of winemakers:

  • Marc Kent (Boekenhoutskloof)
  • Roelf & Michelle du Preez (Bon Cap)
  • Gottfried Mocke (Cape Chamonix)
  • Bruce Jack (Constellation)
  • Chris Williams (Meerlust/The Foundry)
  • Niels Verburg (Luddite)
  • Carl van der Merwe (Quoin Rock)
  • Eben Sadie (Sadie Family Wines)
  • Callie Louw (TMV)
  • Mike Ratcliffe (Warwick and Vilafonte)

So what is the 'Burnt Rubber' issue? In brief, it's the off flavour/aroma that many people have been noticing in South African red wines. Critics, largely in the UK, have been pointing out that too many South African reds show a rather off-putting burnt rubber character that immediately marks them as South African. In response, Jo Mason of Wines of South Africa got together a group of these critical journalists and presented them with a number of South African reds (as well as a few ringers) blind. They reached more-or-less a consensus on which reds showed the burnt rubber character, and these were sent to wine science researchers in South Africa for analysis to see if any offending characters could be identified.

The 20-minute video covers the discussion between the journalists and winemakers. It's evidently a sensitive topic- and a controversial one. It should be pointed out that this group represents some of South Africa's top winemaking talent, and their wines (which we tasted) don't show any hints of burnt rubber. As such, it's a little unfair to be putting them under the spotlight like this.

You can read more about this issue in the following pieces:

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Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Busy tasting, Tesco and Asda, and some comments on the market

It's peak tasting time at the moment in the UK wine calendar, and I've been busy at it. Yesterday spent a few hours tasting at Tesco's Autumn tasting. The Tesco tastings are held at County Hall, next to the London eye, and to get to the riverfront room used for these events you have to pass through labyrinthine wood-panelled, marble-rich corridoors.

The wines were pretty good. I'm always pleased when a retailer like this does good work, because most people buy their wines from supermarkets, and it's good that people are being given tasty wine to drink. Someone had a copy of Malcolm Gluck's new book, 'The Great Wine Swindle', so I had a quick flick through. It seems that Gluck is now putting the boot into the industry that has given him a very nice career, and he's accusing other people of conflicts of interest even though he got into trouble with his editor at the Guardian over the same issue. Odd behaviour. I want to encourage more people to drink wine, because it's good, it's wholesome, and it is pretty naturally made.

I was chatting to Tesco's Nick Juby, who revealed that since the beginning of the year 250 000 households in the UK have stopped buying wine. 'It's tough', he said. 'There's clear evidence that the customers are trading down. The retailers that are doing well are the discounters, and Morrisons and Asda'.

Today began with the 'Great Cape Wine Debate' (more on this later - very interesting event), and then Asda's press tasting. The offering from Asda was better than I was expecting, which sounds like I'm damning it with faint praise. But Asda have been buying well, and a number of their wines in the £3-£5 range were really good. It's great for the consumer that they can buy good, affordable wine.

There was quite a bit of discussion about selling wine below cost - something that Asda have been accused of with their 3 for £10 offers. Philippa Carr MW, who heads the Asda wine team, would (of course) not comment on whether they actually do this (commercially sensitive information). But she did point out that brand owners can't set prices (price fixing is illegal) and it is up to Asda what price they sell their wine for.

I haven't asked Pernod Ricard's wine people this (they are the large drinks company that own a number of brands, including Jacob's Creek), but I don't imagine they were too impressed to see Jacob's Creek involved in the 3 for £10 offer (my advice to punters is buy, buy, buy at this price - it's one of the best of the big brands and a serious bargain at £3.33 a bottle). Moves like this have the capacity to devalue brands in the eyes of consumers.

Normally, promotions are funded by the producer. But some supermarkets actually foot the bill when they want to use wine as a loss leader to get customers into the store. Brand-loyal consumers are very price-sensitive with wine. If they feel they are getting a great bargain on their wine, then they might not notice when the supermarkets make their profit on other items which consumers are not as price-sensitive about. And you can bet that the supermarkets know exactly which items are price-sensitive and which are not.

I think it's a shame when wine is sold below cost. It hurts the producers - both those whose brand is damaged, and also those who are not promoted and thus considered as too expensive by consumers. I'd love it if supermarkets could think of selling interesting wines from smaller producers (perhaps by having a selection of 'niche' wines that differs from store to store - they often aren't any more expensive than branded wines), but this will never happen in such an artificially devalued wine market.


Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Video: Vinedo Chadwick with Eduardo

A brief film from my Chile trip in January. We visit Eduardo Chadwick at Vinedo Chadwick, one of Chile's top icon wines.


RTL update: a big day for her...

As I write, RTL is on her way to be mated! If all goes to plan, she'll have 8-12 little RTLs by mid- December. Of course, it might not work out. She can be a fussy girl, and she might not like this arranged marriage with Diglet (the boy's name, apparently).

As she's a labradoodle, we've chosen another labradoodle to mate her with. I've no idea what the outcome will be. If she does have puppies, they're likely to be extremely cute. And if we sell them, then we should turn a healthy profit! A new business direction?
Fancy a cute puppy? All blog readers are, of course, entitled to 'mates rates'.

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Monday, October 06, 2008

More Italy, and mind-blowing Madeira

Went to Raymond Reynolds portfolio tasting today, in a rather crowded and warm upstairs room in a pub. Raymond's company is responsible for importing the vast majority of decent Portuguese wine into the UK, and so I follow what they do pretty closely, because I love Portuguse wine.

Lots of good wines, but the highlight was a reasonable sampling of the offerings of Madeira's top producer, Barbeito. These wines were mind-blowingly beautiful, and I wish I could have had more time just to sit down and appreciate them, rather than taking somewhat hurried notes.

Veramar Boal Reserve
Dense, sweet and expressive with bright citrussy notes. Rich and full bodied. 89/100

'VB' Verdelho-Boal Lote 1
Complex spicy nose is sweet and full with a lively citrussy, tangerine-like edge. The fresh lemony palate is lively and complex. 93/100

Boal 10 Years Old Reserve
Waxy, complex nose is thrilling, nutty and expressive. The palate is just beautiful, with bright orange and citrus fruits, together with dried fruits, and some sweetness. 94/100

Malvasia 10 Years Old Reserve
Malvasia is often referred to as Malmsey in Madeira. This is sweet, fresh and complex with some nutty notes. Bright. 91/100

Sercial 10 Years Old Reserve
Complex, pungent, herby, citrussy, nutty nose. The palate is fresh, bright and tangy with some citrussy fruit. 93/100

Malvasia 20 Years Old Reserve Lote 7199
Deep, complex, intense nose leads to a super-concentrated, limey, spicy, broad palate with sweetness and acid in lovely tension. 93/100

Malvasia Special Reserve 30 Year Old
Deep orange colour. Madly complex nose is really thrilling, with orange, lemons, nuts and spice. The off-dry palate is viscous and super-concentrated with complex spice and citrus characters. Eternal finish. 95/100

Single Harvest 1997
Complex, herby, fresh, dense and lively. Delicious. 92/100

Malvasia Colheita 1994 Single Cask 232c
Very rich, intense and concentrated, with raisin, casky notes, herbs and citrus. Broad and quite sweet. 93/100

Boal 1982 Fransqueira
Complex nose showing old furniture, spice, nuts and herbs. Viscous, broad palate wit a nice citrussy finish. Thrillingly bright and expressive with a crazy long finish. 95/100

Tonight I've been calibrating my Tuscan experience by actually drinking one of the wines I'd tasted on my visits. It's Felsina's 2006 Berardenga Chianti Classico, and from a half bottle, this is beautifully dense yet expressive. 100% Sangiovese, and a full flavoured, structured, yet still-pure expression of what this grape can achieve when well handled. I gave it 91/100 on my visit, and I'd stick there with this rating at home, although I have a few concerns that tonight's bottle may have experienced heat damage in Pisa airport's shop. UK suggested retail is £17.49, but I've seen the 2005 for as low as £13.

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Sunday, October 05, 2008

Seductive Italian red

After a trip to Chianti country, I'm in a mood for Italian reds, and here's a good one. It's not from Tuscany, but the Veneto. It's delicious and quite elegant.

Guerrieri Rizzardi 'Pojega' Ripasso 2006 Valpolicella DOC Classico Superiore, Italy
A single-vineyard wine made primarily from Corvina and Corvinone grape varieties, then aged in oak. It shows sweet cherry and berry fruit character with a liqueur-like purity, as well as some subtle earthy, spicy elements in the background. It's really quite elegant with good concentration, yet at the same time a lightness and purity to the fruit. There's a bit of textural richness but it never loses it fresh, cherryish fruity character. 90/100 (£9.99 HBJ Wines, Longford Wines)
I should add something about 'Ripasso', which is followed on the label by 'TM'. This is a technique devised by a producer called Masi in the 1960s, who trademarked the term, but have recently released it to be used by other producers in the region. The idea is that after Amarone, made by drying grapes before fermentation, has finished its fermentation, Valpolicella wine is introduced to the tank and re-ferments on the lees and skins of the Amarone. I'm not sure of the wine science underlying this, but the results are often interesting, as they are here.

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Saturday, October 04, 2008

Superb Waipara Sauvignon

New Zealand Sauvignon is no secret, but it's usually Marlborough that's the region in question. Here's a stunning example of this variety from the Waipara region, near Christchurch.

Waipara Springs Sauvignon Blanc 2008 Waipara, New Zealand
Part from ungrafted 20 year old vines; part from a new block of selected clones. Limestone-rich soils. This is a cracking Sauvignon with some Loire-like minerality and well as focused grassy, fruity, blackcurrant bud aromatics. The palate is concentrated with lovely bright grassy, herby fruit and lovely textural richness, finishing quite minerally with high acidity. Lively, intense and well balanced. 92/100 (£9.99 Hellion Wines, http://www.hellionwines.co.uk/ - this is the new vintage, just available, with the equally good 2007 vintage still available in a whole range of independent wine merchants, such as Stone Vine & Sun and Noel Young)

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Friday, October 03, 2008

More from Chianti

Mainly pictures. It's late. Punchdown at Ricasoli (which sounds like 'Rick Astley' with a soft 't'), harvest at Bebbiano, traditional botti at Podere Palazzino, harvested grapes at Collelungo.

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In Tuscany, part 2

Sorry about the radio silence, but I have been on a tight schedule here in Chianti Classico country, and the hotel internet connection wasn't working last night. So now I'm taking a break in an internet cafe in Italy in a small gap in the program, before dinner and tasting tonight.

I didn't realise before that in Italy, because of terrorism laws, you can't use an internet cafe or the hotel internet connection without a passport, identity card or driving licence, which they then photograph and send to the officials. It seems kind of weird and control-freaky.

It has been a jolly press trip so far. I'm with Tom Cannavan, Simon Woods, Jane Parkinson, Sally Easton, Andrew Catchpole and Christine Austin, and it has been good humoured and easy going. We have started at 0815 each morning and not finished until 2330 each night, but it is just for three days. You get to know people reasonably well when you do a trip like this with them. So far no conflicts or falling-outs to speak of.

Being here during the vintage has been great. There's something special about seeing grapes being picked and then made into wine that doesn't lose its magic, even if you have seen it happen before. The grapes look just perfect, but most winemakers aren't expecting 2008 to be a particularly good year because of the poor weather in May and June, followed by extreme heat in July and early August.

What about the wines? They have varied quite a bit. Some have been ethereal, complex and thrilling, while others have been a bit rustic, or forced, or too modern. It is hard to pin down exactly what Chianti Classico is. One thing is clear: nowhere else apart from Tuscany manages to make compelling Sangiovese.

I won't be more specific now because I want to keep my powder dry for the proper write-up. I do have some wonderful photographs and videos, though.

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Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Chianti, day 2: harvest at Fontodi

Spent the day in Chianti Classico, with a presentation by the Constorzio in the morning, followed by visits to producers. The highlight was catching the vintage in action at Fontodi, and then tasting the wines, which were simply fantastic. Sangiovese rocks (when it's handled well, anyway). Here are some pictures. Now it's very late, I have an early start, and I have to get to bed.

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In Chianti

Brief post from the road. In Chianti country for the next few days, with a bunch of other wine writers on a press trip. Haven't done much yet apart from enjoy a nice dinner last night. It's the middle of harvest here, so should be quite an interesting trip. More later!

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