jamie goode's wine blog: November 2008

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Tawny Port and Vinho Verde

Fiona has been away for the weekend, picking older son up from his Devon boarding school and taking him down to her sister's family in Braunton to stay the weekend. So I've been with younger son, giving him my undivided attention (apart from when I have to walk our increasingly plump labradoodle - I reckon there are about a dozen poopies in her tummy).

In fact, we had some people round to have a look at Rosie, and they've placed a firm order for the first of RTL's litter.

Two wines tonight. A really elegant tawny, plus an impressive high-end Vinho Verde.

Reguengos de Megaco Alvarinho 2006 Vinho Verde, Portugal
Fresh, bright, minerally, lemony nose with some fruity depth as well as the freshness. The palate has a citrussy edge to some beautifully weighted just-ripe peach notes, with a lovely fresh balanced character. Quite serious stuff, this. 90/100 (UK retail c. £12, agent Hallgarten)

Noval 10 Year Old Tawny Port
Pale in colour: cherry red with orange tints. It's smooth, sweet and mellow with subtle spicy notes on the nose. The palate is elegant and super-smooth with nice soft texture and some mellow warmth. Some floral notes and hints of cherry add aromatic interest; overall, this shows great purity and elegance. 91/100 (£16 Waitrose, Tanners)

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Pssst...wanna buy a poopee?

RTL has just a couple of weeks to go before she gives birth to her first litter of labradoodle puppies. If you hold your hand to her tummy you can feel them kicking. It's very cool. Labradoodles are the best dog breed. Dogs are great: if you've never had a dog you are missing out. Dogs love unconditionally. We all want to be loved, and to love. Well, your new labradoodle puppy will love you, and it will let you love it. Sorted.

Let me know how many you'd like. You MUST have a labradoodle. They are cool, and if you are seen walking a cool dog, by extension others will think that you are COOL.

RTL is pictured this evening as she lies sleeping, like a good mother, nurturing those valuable feti (is that the correct plural of 'fetus'?). Contact me by email to place your orders.

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Saturday, November 29, 2008

Two high-end Cavas

Cava struggles with a low rent image. Here are two more ambitious examples, one made from the traditional grapes, the other from Chardonnay. I guess the issue here is whether or not you consider Cava to have an identity of its own, or just to be a cheap alternative to Champagne.

Codorniu Reina Ma Cristina 2006 Cava, Spain
Distinctly Cava in style, with a herby, lemony, fruity nose. The palate is crisp, herby and tangy with some citrussy notes and a distinctive citrus/grapefruit pith character. Not trying to be Champagne, this is a serious, quite complex expression of Cava. 90/100 (£17.99 Majestic)

Parxet Titiana Chardonnay NV Cava, Spain
What happens when you ditch the traditional Cava grape varieties and use Champagne? This. It has a broad, toasty, slightly nutty nose with rich fruit and notes of apple, pear and peach. The palate is warm, fruity and nutt with a smooth, sophisticated character. Very stylish and broad, and like a ripe, rich expression of Champagne, yet a little softer. 90/100 (£10.99 Moreno)

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Spain and Portugal: Priorat and Pegoes

Two very enjoyable reds this evening. A striking Priorat, in quite a different style to the blockbuster Torres reported a few other days (although, interestingly, this one comes from a guy called Fredi Torres), and a really nice inexpensive Portuguese red that's full of interest.

Sao del Coster Terram Priorat 2005
14% alcohol. Almost Italian in style, with a hint of the Douro, too. This is a superb expression of Priorat that really needs time. It is dark, with a gravelly, spicy, minerally nose showing taut, tarry plum, blackberry and raspberry fruit. The palate is fresh, focused and savoury with youthful fruit and good acidity. There's firm structure with spicy tannins and a bit of earthiness that reminds me a bit of a top Chianti. Real potential here, if you are patient: could be a 20 year wine. 92/100

Adega de Pegões Colheita Seleccionada 2005 Terras do Sado, Portugal
13.5% alcohol. Touriga Nacional, Trincadeira, Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah grown in the sandy soils of the Setúbal Peninsula near Lisbon. This has a lovely sweet, fresh, aromatic nose of cherries, plums and raspberries, with lovely fruit purity. The palate is bright and refreshing with tangy cherry and berry fruit, and a hint of plummy bitterness and savoury spiciness on the finish. This is really delicious, and great value for the 6 or 7 Euros it retails for in Portugal. It’s made by the over-performing co-op at Pegões, which is probably Portugal’s best. 88/100 (UK agent is Hallgarten)

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Friday, November 28, 2008

More from Bordeaux

Some more pictures from the Bordeaux trip:
Chateau Margaux
Better than Easyjet and Ryanair!

Chateau Cos d'Estournel, St Estephe

One of our helicopters, outside Chateau Perenne


The Perception of Wine tasting at The Athenaeum

The tasting last night that I did at The Athenaeum was great fun. It is a little unnerving to be standing up in front of people with such enormous IQs, and then to be talking on a topic that cuts across several fields of intellectual endeavour that I'm not really qualified to talk on (The perception of wine). But it went well.

Here are the wines we tried. It was interesting to see the reaction of the members to some of these - many of which will have been quite unfamiliar in style terms.

Prosecco di Conegliano, Casa Coste Piane
2006 Gringet, Terre Le Feu, Domaine Belluard - Savoie
2000 Savagnin Ouille, Emmanuel Houillon - Arbois
2006 Gevrey-Chambertin, Philippe Pacalet
2006 Trousseau, Cuvee des Geologues, Lucien Aviet - Arbois
2004 Schioppettino, Bressan, Friuli
2007 Kuenhof Veltliner, Peter Pliger - Alto-Adige
2007 Valle Isarco Kerner, Kofererhof - Alto-Adige
2006 Marcillac Cuvee Lairis, Jean-Luc Matha
2007 Syrah, Domaine Romaneaux-Destezet
2005 Jurancon, La Magendia de Lapeyre

I really enjoyed drinking these wines. They were wild, complex, weird and delicious in equal measure.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Some piccies from Bordeaux trip

Some pictures from the last couple of days.
Chateau Latour from above, with the Pichons in the background.

St Emilion from the air.

Bordeaux versus Chelsea.

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More science and a quick trip to Bordeaux

It has been a busy week so far. Monday and Tuesday were taken up by the meeting I was working on about the evaluation of medical research, and which I now have to write a report on. It may seem odd for a wine journalist to be working on this sort of project, especially when I have plenty of other stuff to keep me going, but I'm keen to maintain a link to science – a field in which, until earlier this year I'd been working in for fifteen years. I have lots of experience that I don't want to waste, and I reckon that an occasional science gig can only help keep me fresh for my wine work.

Then for Wednesday and Thursday were spent in Bordeaux, visiting the properties of Bernard Magrez. We stayed overnight at Chateau Pape Clement, which was quite grand. On a non-wine related note, we also accompanied Monsieur Magrez to watch the Bordeaux v. Chelsea game in his private box. The coolest bit of the trip, though, was the transport. We flew from London City airport on his private jet, and then were whisked around the various properties by helicopter. Flying over the famous estates of the Medoc in a chopper is a memorable experience. Full write up to follow. Pictured above is the view of Ch Fombrauge, one of the Magrez properties, in St Emilion.

Tonight I have to give a talk on the perception/psychology/philosophy of wine at the Athenaeum club. I need to finish my presentation.


Top 10 Food Blogs, from the Times online

The Times today carried a list of Top 10 Food Blogs, compiled by Simon Majumadar of the excellent Dos Hermanos blog. He very kindly included this blog in his list!

Nice quote from the piece:

Food bloggers are the bane of every restaurant owner’s life — I know, I am one.
Two and a half years ago, when I started my food blog Dos Hermanos with my brother, Robin, we were part of what was a realtively small group of enthusiasts keen to record our cooking and dining habits in words and blurry pictures. Now, at the opening of any new restaurant you will see tables occupied by diners making detailed notes of each bite while snapping away with their cameras before rushing home to pontificate about their meal online.

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Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Priorat from Torres

Torres make some of Spain's best wine brands. I love Vin Sol, Vina Esmeralda is fun, and Sange de Toro isn't bad. They also make some impressive high-end wines, and this - the latest addition to their portfolio - is a rather impressive, if slightly 'modern' Priorat. Similar soils, and not all that dissimilar climate to the Douro in northern Portugal, and there's certainly a sort of kindred spirit here with high-end Douro wines. This is the top wine from their Priorat project - the regular Salmos was released a while back (see my review here).

Torres 'Perpetual' Salmos 2005 Priorat, Spain
Old vine Carignan and Grenache from steeply sloped schistous (licorella) soils, with 16 months in French oak, weighing in at 15% alcohol. This is quite delicious, although it currently shows itself in a ripe, 'modern', slightly oaky style (although there's certainly enough fruit here to stand up to the oak). Beautifully dense, quite complex black fruit character at its core, with ripeness yet freshness. There's a floral, mineral lift to the nose, as well as some oak spice, and the palate is dense and quite structured, with a chocolatey, spicy edge to the forward fruit. The tannins lurking under the fruit suggest that this is a wine with a good deal of evolution ahead of it. It's rich, likeable and a bit oaky now, but with a few years in bottle I reckon it will hit a point of beautiful balance. It's one of those wines you can drink very happily now, but wish you'd waited a few years before popping the cork. Serious. 93/100 (£17.99 Fareham Wine Cellar)
here's the wine on Torres' website

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Fun article of biodynamics

Regular readers will know that I'm quite a fan of many biodynamic wines, as well as being interested in biodynamics as a way of running vineyards. But, as a scientist I'm sceptical about some of its claims, although I do recognize that there are aspects of it that could have efficacy in the vineyard and be explainable by mechanisms other than those claimed by biodynamic practitioners.

Here's an article from the USA that puts the boot into biodynamics (I was alterted to this through a post on the erobertparker forum here. It's rare to see biodynamics criticized in the wine press, even though there's plenty people could go after. In particular, many BD practitioners believe in 'sensitive crystallization'. Here's a v. funny quote from the article on this topic:
Bonny Doon's Randall Graham doesn't need a consultant — he hired Biodynamics expert Corderey as his full-time viticulturist. Corderey, a brusque, strapping Frenchman who rolls his own cigarettes, has turned Graham on to the power of sensitive crystallizations. Originally developed by Steiner disciple Ehrenfried Pfeiffer in the 1930s, crystallization is a process in which a dab of material – in this case, wine — is mixed into a copper chloride solution in a Petri dish. It is left in a small oven to evaporate overnight, leaving a residue of intricately formed crystal patterns. Corderey claims the crystals are the tangible mark of the "life forces" within the wines. Boltlike veins of crystals indicate that the vines are young and unfocused, like a child with a short attention span. Denser and more organized patterns indicate maturity and age. He glances up from his computer. "You know," he says with a smile, "I also crystallize people."
Corderey had a co-worker spend the day with a vial of wine in her pocket. He then crystallized the wine from the vial and compared it to a control sample. He would not reveal what he divined from the crystals, but said that he stunned the co-worker by pinpointing "exactly where she was in life." When SF Weekly suggested that someone could merely take a sip of wine, spit it out, and have Corderey crystallize that, he nodded — that could work, too. "You see this?" he said, gesturing toward a choppy swirl magnified many times on his computer screen. Beneath the crystallization, a label read "2007 Albarino exposed to AC/DC Highway to Hell." Corderey had played the 1979 rock anthem to a glass of wine. He then played Native American music to another glass — resulting in a much smoother, more organized crystallization. "You can see the connection — these people work with nature and not against it."


Monday, November 24, 2008

I love Italian wine - a biodynamic Tuscan

It's been a busy day. After seven months of just wine, I've taken on a science gig, producing a report from a two day conference on evaluating medical research. Feels a bit strange to be back in the world of science, but I figure it is important to keep up with it, seeing as wine science has been such an important (and modestly lucrative) field for me. A change of scenery helps keep you fresh.

Tonight's wine is a really lovely, supple Italian red. Apparently, the Wine Spectator awarded this 82/100. Whoever the reviewer is, I reckon they don't really understand wine. It's fantastic stuff. What it isn't, is rich, ripe, sweet and alcoholic.

Tenuta di Vagliano Palistorti 2005 Colline Luccesi, Tuscany
I really like this fresh, supple, fruit-driven yet fresh red from the little known Colline Luccesi in Tuscany. The vineyards this wine came from have been farmed organically since 1997 and biodynamically since 2002. They have limestone and sandstone soils, and are in the hills 10 km north of the northern Tuscan town of Lucca. This is a blend of 70% Sangiovese, 20% Merlot and 10% Syrah, and it shows a bright, fresh nose of spicy-edged, rather pure black cherry and raspberry fruit, with nice freshness. The palate is fresh and supple with just a hint of greenness under the bright cherry and berry fruit, and a nicely savoury, spicy kick. This is a beautifully food friendly red of real appeal, with potential for further development. In style, it's modern and fruity, but with lovely savoury seriousness, too. 13% alcohol and really easy to drink, but if you want an oaky, rich, new world style red then this is not for you. 91/100 (£16.95 Berry Bros & Rudd)

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Sunday, November 23, 2008

Old vine Carignan

Carignan is an underdog grape variety. Most people don't rate it, but when it's fully ripe and from vines that yield sensibly - frequently, this means old vines - the results can be really interesting. This is a Languedoc wine from AXA's portfolio (the wine interests of AXA include Noval in the Douro, Pichon Baron in Bordeaux, and Disznoko in Tokaji), and because its 100% Carignan it's labelled as a Vin de Pays.

Mas Belles Eaux Vieux Carignan 2006 Vin de Pays de Caux, France
Old vine Carignan (over 60 years). Forward bright spicy fruit with some pure blackberry character and a bit of sweet black cherry. Nicely dense and savoury with some spiciness. Good combination of sweet pure fruit with some of that savoury, plummy, spicy Carignan character, as well as a bit of earthiness on the finish. Quite youthful with the potential to develop in bottle. 90/100 (£14.99 Bristol Wine Co, Cotswald Vintners, Hendersons Wines, Worcester Wine Co)

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Saturday, November 22, 2008

Belgian food and rugby

One of the advantages of being a freelancer is that you can lunch without feeling guilty about taking time away from your employer.

On Friday I had a very enjoyable lunch in Richmond with a friend. We ate at Brouge (http://www.brouge.co.uk/), a new Belgian restaurant that has two branches, in Twickenham and Richmond. The restaurant was really nicely done, with a good quality high-end gastropup style menu and a wine list from Bibendum (http://www.bibendum-wine.co.uk/).

The real draw here, though, is the extensive selection of Belgian beers, including the up-market Deus. We opted for the lunch deal, which was a main course plus a Belgian beer at £8.95. Great value for money, and recommended.

Today I was at the Rugby, watching England get pasted by South Africa. Despite the result, it was a good occasion, although I ended up having to walk/jog the 4.6 miles to my rendez vous because the trains from Feltham station were all full after a cancellation and some delays. It took me 45 minutes.

England didn't play well, but I think they were made to look bad because South Africa's defence were so impressive. We were surrounded by pissed saffers. The great thing about rugby is that you don't have the same aggressive tribalism that you do in football, and so segregation is not necessary. But with this, I guess you lose a bit of the 'edge' that you get at football matches.

The RFU have to be a bit careful, though. They're charging a lot of money for these games, and so they're trying to make it more of a spectacle. They hired Passionata, who describe themselves as a 'rock opera' group, consisting of five presentable young ladies, to sing before kick off. Their version of the well known bit of Carmina Burana was excruciatingly bad, blending hooked-on-classics with the X-factor. Fortunately, the crowd outsang them for the national anthem.

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Friday, November 21, 2008

Helicopter ride to Matetic wine estate, Chile

I've just written up my trip to Matetic, one of Chile's most interesting wineries, on the main wineanorak site (here). Here's a short film of the journey to Matetic, courtesy of the Loma Larga helicopter!


Thursday, November 20, 2008

Beaujolais Nouveau arrives, but it's not the Beaujolais I drink tonight

I quite like young wines. The idea behind Beaujolais Nouveau is a great one, but the problem is the wine. If they could get a vibrant, youthful, natural-tasting wine that tastes like a barrel sample to market soon after the vintage, I'd buy it and drink it in quantity. But most nouveau tastes confected and fake. There's no joy in that. Bottle me some still fermenting wine from a cask if you must! This is a wine of the moment. As Kermit Lynch puts it, the 'one night stand of wines'.

In recognition of the fact that today is Nouveau Day 2008, tonight I'm drinking two cru Beaujolais from the 2007 vintage. One is nice and fruity, but a little confected. The other is fantastically elegant and pure.

Henry Fessy Cuvee 'Georges Fessy' 2007 Brouilly, Beaujolais
This is sweet, seductive and fruity, with a smooth red cherry fruit character, as well as a hint of bubblegum aromatics. It's very polished and fruity, but a little bit too smooth and confected for me. It's nice enough, but there are lots of wines offering simple fruit these days, and I'm left wanting a little bit more. 86/100 (£10.99 Handford, Amps, Planet of the Grapes)

Yvon Metras Fleurie 2007 Beaujolais, France
This is fantastic. It has a complex, forward nose of bright cherries, spice and earth, with an underlying sweetness and some subtly tarry notes. The palate is smooth, seamless and really elegant with a delicious earthy, minerally core to the fruit holding everything in lovely tension. There's some sweetness and richness here that you don't really expect from Beaujolais, but there's also lovely elegance. This is what Gamay can do so well. 91/100 (Les Caves de Pyrene)

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Football and Grana Padano cheese

Just back from football. I've rather stupidly played for two consecutive nights, with different groups of people. I find it hard to say no. I'm 40 and my body is slowly winding down, but I love playing, and the more you use it the less you lose it. My feet are feeling a bit sore tonight, but everything else is still OK.

As I write I'm snacking on Grana Padano, a wonderful hard cheese from Italy. It's like parmesan, but a little less hard and dense. It still has that wonderful spicy bite, though. It's actually a bit cheaper than parmesan, and you can use it in recipes in much the same way, as well as eat it on its own.

I have two different Grana Padanos open. The first is Asda's own label (£2 for 200 g), and the second is Medeghini (Sainsbury's £2.50 for 200 g). The Asda version is a bit smoother and simpler, while still being very tasty. The Medeghini has more of that spicy bite and crumbly texture that I love in Grana Padano. They're both great value for money when you compare them with the cost of the other high-end cheeses that I buy regularly, such as serious cheddar, Manchego, Comte and cave-aged Gruyere.

Hard cheeses, I find, work quite well with wine.

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Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Meeting Jason Korman, the Stormhoek dude

Had a really interesting conversation yesterday evening with Jason Korman, who is one of the dudes who devised the Stormhoek wine brand, with its emphasis on making use of novel 'Web 2.0' marketing. It was Jason who linked Stormhoek up with leading blogger Hugh MacLeod, whose cartoons (example, right) have since become firmly established with the Stormhoek brand. Together, they adopted initiatives such as sending free bottles to 85 leading tech bloggers, and then a well publicized 40% offer with Thresher that went 'viral'.

But then things went a bit 'sideways' with Stormhoek as they ran out of money (cashflow issues) and went into administration. The brand was bought by Origin Wines, and now they are back in business, with Jason and Hugh on board once again.

Our discussion this evening was wide-ranging and provocative. I learned great deal: Jason is an entrepreneurial guy who has some interesting ideas about how to sell wine and engage consumers. It's really helpful to be exposed to fresh thinking like this. I came away thinking 'why not?'

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Dog Point: serious NZ wines

Two wines from Dog Point, a premium New Zealand winery formed by ex-Cloudy Bay viticulturalist and winemaker team Ivan Sutherland and James Healy. These wines are better than Cloudy Bay! Especially the remarkable Pinot Noir, which I really enjoyed.

Dog Point Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc 2007 Marlborough, New Zealand
Lively aromatic nose with a nice combination of intense, grassy herby notes with restrained passion fruit character. It falls on the side of freshness rather than richness. The palate is concentrated, rich, vibrant and intense with lovely rich fruity characters combining with grassy, minerally freshness. Fantastic grown-up Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc of real interest. 91/100 (£12.95 Berry Bros & Rudd)

Dog Point Vineyard Pinot Noir 2006 Marlborough, New Zealand
This is just fantastic. One of the very best New Zealand Pinot Noirs: complex, balanced, and every so slightly funky. The nose has a lovely subtly meaty, spicy, warm, herb tinged cherry fruit character, as well as some floral, almost northern Rhône-like notes. The palate is textured and elegant with beautifully balanced savoury spiciness, just a touch of herbiness, and sweet berry fruits with just enough structure to keep things savoury. Beautifully poised and very easy to drink, this has seriousness, elegance and charm. 94/100 (13.5% alcohol, cork sealed) (£20.50 Berry Bros & Rudd)

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Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Typical City: B of the Bang

Footy talk with an artistic twist. My team, Manchester City, used to play at a ground on the fringes of Moss Side, called Maine Road. Like the team, it was a funny old place, with a rather odd juxtaposition of stands. The Kippax was a massive three tier structure, modern and impressive, which completely failed to mesh with the other three sides of the ground. Then there were the temporary corner stands, designed to fill in the gaps and increase capacity. It was a stadium suited to the team.

Then a few years back we moved to The City of Manchester Stadium. Remarkably, City seemed to have made a shrewd move. A brand new stadium at the expense of the council, built for the Commonwealth games in 2002, and then retrofitted out as a state-of-the-art football venue.

But things are never straightforward with the world's most interesting football club. A remarkable 60 metre sculpture was commissioned for the entrance to the stadium. 'B of the Bang' is a dramatic metal construction featuring large, lethal-looking shards of metal (pictured, rather unflatteringly, from the stadium itself on a cold February day). These shards began to fall off, rather perilously. So the studio responsible has just settled with Manchester City Council for £1.7 million (see BBC news story). It's just so city.


Skype rocks

Just spent 40 minutes calling California for an interview. Normal phone charges would have made this an expensive conversation. With Skype, it just cost me 52 p. Quality was great.

This followed on from a conference call with the fellow organizers of the Sparkling wine symposium, which we also did on Skype, and which cost nothing.

Just another example of how the internet has changed the way that we communicate. Some people make use of it; many don't.


Monday, November 17, 2008

BBR wine list from 1909

Berry Bros & Rudd, the famous London wine merchant, recent sent out a copy of their price list from 1909. It makes for interesting reading (unfortunately, it wasn't proofread properly and so the rather mixed up fonts ruin the visual appeal). Three points. First, the world of wine was much smaller then. Secondly, wines were valued rather differently: top German wines were as sought after as classed growth Clarets. Finally, the differential between the cheap and expensive wines is much less than now. You can download it here.

[Later edit] BBR have sent me a scan of the same page of the original list, which I'm reproducing below:

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Consumers' awareness of wine critics

Wine Intelligence have recently published the results of a survey on the awareness on the part of consumers of wine critics (see their report). Sample size isn't huge, but the results show that 29% of regular wine drinkers show that they are influenced by critics. Which ones? Interesting question. Oz Clarke is the one they've come across most in the last six months. The list is posted here (click on the image for a bigger one if you can't read it). I was pleased to be on it, and also pleased that wineanorak is recognized, as well as my newspaper column, although I clearly have some work to do to climb the charts. If I'm honest, I'm disturbed by some of the names higher up in the list, as well as pleased by some of those lower down or absent!

Vintage Port and dry Tokaji

RTL is definitely pregnant. Big nipples, starting to swell in her abdomen, and less hyperactive. Fancy a puppy? Labradoodles are great. Really!

Two interesting wines today. First, a dry Furmint from superstar Tokaji winery Disnoko. Then a really serious, affordable Vintage Port. Portugal is responsible not only for some serious table wines, but also three remarkable fortified wine styles: Moscatel de Setubal, Madeira and Vintage Port.

Disznoko Dry Furmint 2006 Tokaji, Hungary
Distintive, fresh, flinty, minerally nose with complex fresh herb and lemon notes. The palate is really minerally with distinctive herb-tinged fruit. It's a bit Chablis-like in style with pronounced minerality and a hint of smokiness. Lovely. 90/100 (£9.19 Waitrose)

Taylor's Quinta de Vargellas Vintage Port 2001 Portugal
Bottled in 2003, this is Taylor's top Port from a year that didn't quite make it to an official 'Vintage'. Coming after 2000, 2001 was actually a pretty good vintage in the Douro, and so this wine is relatively underpriced (had 2000 been a poor year, I bet they'd have declared 2001). It's a serious Vintage Port style, so could do with decanting, and will improve for some years to come - although it is delicious now. Deep coloured, it has a lovely floral, aromatic blueberry and blackberry nose with some tarry, spicy notes. The palate is concentrated with beautifully pure sweet fruit and a lovely spicy, savoury, tannic structure. I'd either drink this now, or leave it for a decade: I often find top Vintage Ports perform well young, enter a sullen middle age, and then reemerge into a mellow, complex maturity. 93/100 (c £23 Sainsbury's, Tesco, Waitrose, Selfridges, Majestic, Oddbins)

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Saturday, November 15, 2008

Back from Portugal, a few pictures

Just a quick post to share a few pictures from my recent trip to Vinho Verde country and the Setubal peninsula.

The wonderful autumnal reds of the Vinhao grape (aka Sousao) in the vineyards at Laurosa. This makes the red Vinho Verde that's upopular these days, but which I love.

Quinta de Azvedo, Sogrape's beautiful property in Vinho Verde.

Tiles at Bacalhoa, Azeitao (Terras do Sado). Bacalhoa has some amazing tiles dating from the 15th and 16th centuries. The majolica tiles above are the earliest examples of tiles made using this technique (which made it possible to paint directly onto the tiles) in Portugal.


Thursday, November 13, 2008

In Portugal (again)

Sorry for the radio silence. I'm in Portugal again for a few days having a wonderful time. It is such a great country and I'm thrilled to be picking the top 50 for January's embassy tasting, because all the wines will IMHO be really exciting. It's not because I am great at choosing them; just that there are so many really good ones to pick from.

I'm with Ana Sofia de Oliveira of viniportugal and Sarah Ahmed. Yesterday we were in the Minho, exploring vinho verde. We stayed the night at Quinta de Azevedo, which is utterly stunning, and enjoyed Barca Velha 2000 with dinner.

Today we had a fantastic lunch at the Bull and Bear in Porto with a large tasting put on by the Independent Wine Growers' Association (Pato, Ameal, Cello, Covela, Alves de Sousa, Dos Roques). Now were are near Lisbon, at Bacalhoa, where we are staying the night. It's a stunning, historic property.


Tuesday, November 11, 2008

I visit terroirs wine bar

Went last night to Terroirs, a new wine bar in London focusing on 'natural' wines, located just a few yards from Charing Cross station.

There's already a thriving natural wine bar scene in Paris, and it's about time it came to London, because these wines are authentic, interesting and affordable. Terroirs manages to do the difficult job of combining a nice ambience, good food and a stunning, fairly priced wine list – and I thoroughly recommend it.

What exactly are 'natural' wines? They're wines that honestly express their sense of place ('terroir'), which usually means that they are made by committed wine growers who add as little as possible to their wines and allow their vineyards (usually managed without reliance on synthetic chemicals) to express themselves to the full. Typically, this will mean fermentation without the addition of cultured yeasts, no new oak, no added acidity or tannin, and no added sulfur dioxide until bottling, if at all.

I met with Doug Wregg of Les Caves de Pyrene who are partners in Terroirs and who supply around 90% of the wines. We ate at the bar, and enjoyed a number of wines with our food. The food was fantastic. The chacuterie plate had two excellent terrines, plus an awesome, melt-in-the-mouth jambon iberico, as well as a smooth, delicate salami.

We then shared potted shrimp on toast, bone marrow and truffle on toast, grilled eel, and belly pork with beans. All were superb.

What about the wines? I let Doug choose, and he chose well.

Domaine des Foulards Rouge Cuvee Octobre [2008] Vin de Table
A young wine from the Roussillon, this is amazingly fresh and bright, with sweet, pure, sappy cherry and berry fruit. Vibrant and joyful this is superbly drinkable with lovely purity and freshness. 89/100 (£6 glass; £23.50 bottle)

Philippe Valette Macon-Chaintre 2005 Burgundy, France
Lovely concentration and intensity here, with beautiful balance between the rich bold fruit and smoky, spicy minerality/ A tiny hint of oxidation adds richness. Complex rich, toasty and intense with lovely boldness and intensity. 92/100 (£8.50 glass/£33.75 bottle)

Massia Vecchia Bianco 2006 Maremma, Toscano, Italy
65% Vermentino, with some skin maceration. Orange coloured, this has lovely aromatics: fresh, lifted floral notes with lemons, herby notes and a hint of sweetness. The palate has some lovely spiciness with herb and mineral notes. Quite beautiful, and almost like a red wine in terms of its structure. 94/100 (£48 bottle)

Carso Zidarich ‘Teran’ 2005 Friuli, Italy
This is a varietal Teran/Terrano (a special sort of Refosco). It’s powerful, minerally and super-fresh with notes of gravel and citrus. Lovely fruit purity, with black cherry, plum and raspberry. Vivid, intense and delicious. A sappy, grippy character keeps it fresh. 91/100 (£38.50 bottle)

Clos Lapeyre Jurançon ‘Magendia’ 2005
100% Petit Manseng, late harvested. Savoury, herby and pithy with intense citrussy fruit and lovely complexity. Richly textured and quite pure, with nice acidity. 92/100 (£6.50 glass)

We then finished off with some weird stuff.

Massa Vecchia ‘Aliatico’ is a red Muscat variant, and its wild, sweet and volatile with musky, herby, grapey fruit and a blast of vinegar. Sounds weird but it’s lovely. And three from Maison Laurent Cazottes:

First, an Aperitif aux Noix Verts. This is weird: it’s spicy, earthy and nutty with notes of cinnamon and curry spice, as well as sweetness on the palate. It’s actually walnuts seeped in wine. Second, an eaux de vie made of Poire William, which is pure and delicious. Third, an eaux de vie made from greengages (Reine Claude Doree), which is weird and delicious.

Summary? Terroirs is a great addition to the London gastronomic scene, and is a must visit for open-minded wine lovers.

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Monday, November 10, 2008

Recently, on the main wineanorak site...

It's a horrid, dull rainy morning - and I have to take RTL out for her morning walk. I'm procrastinating in the hope that it will clear up. So, for the benefit of those who just read the blog, here are some recent additions to the wineanorak site:

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Lagoalva de Cima Afrocheiro: a fresh Portuguese red

On a horrible, wet, windy Autumn evening I'm drinking a fresh, spicy Portuguese red that would probably be better suited to summer sipping, but I'm enjoying it. It's from Quinta Lagoalva de Cima, a large estate in the Ribatejo region. The Lagoalva wines are usually quite savoury, dense and traditional, but this is fresher and a bit more elegant, and I like it. Alfrocheiro is an interesting grape variety, I reckon.

Quinta Lagoalva de Cima Alfrocheiro 2006 Ribatejo, Portugal
Cherry red in colour, this has a nose of bright cherry and berry fruit, with a hint of spiciness. The palate is juicy and vibrant with lovely red cherry and raspberry fruit, backed up by firm, spicy tannins. There's a nice fresh quality to this wine, which reminds me a bit of Pinot Noir. While it's quite structured, the fruit has a lightness to it that's really attractive. Some earthy spiciness on the finish. Delicious stuff. 90/100 (Clark Foyster Wines is the UK agent; the Wine Society have the 2005 for £9.95)


Saturday, November 08, 2008

Some nice reds with the folks

My parents are staying at Chateau Goode this weekend. Time to open some nice reds.

First, Chateau Veyry 2005 Cotes de Castillon, Bordeaux. This is a new-wave red Bordeaux from a 4 hectare estate in the Cotes de Castillon, and it's absolutely delicious. Dense, with smooth dark fruits on the nose and a hint of chocolatey spice. The palate is intense and concentrated with ripe fruit and some new oak spiciness. Firm yet smooth tannins provide ample structure. This is stylish, dense and well defined, and should age very well. 92/100 (£22.95 Cadman Fine Wines)

Then a Douro red. I'd sampled it the night before, when I found it a bit tight and clunky, but a day later it was singing. It's the Quinta do Judeu 2006 Douro, Portugal. There's nicely defined, fresh fruit here with admirable purity and freshness. I think some of the pronounced minerality on day one was actually a bit of reduction, and a day later the fruit was much purer and linear. Very nice stuff, and a step up from previous efforts. 90/100 (not available in the UK yet)
Next, the remainder of the D'Arenberg Feathered Dinosaur Cabernet Sauvignon 2004, which was really singing. So dense, intense and powerful, but nicely balanced with it. I rated it very highly and would stick with that rating. One of Australia's best Cabernets.

Finally, Fiona picked a wine out blind and opened it. I guessed it correctly - the Matetic EQ Syrah 2006. It's dense, ripe, fresh and concentrated. The give-away was the fact that it had just a touch of that Chilean green/rubbery character on the nose. Not much, but enough to mark it as Chilean. And once I got this, the rest was easy because there aren't many Chilean wines of this quality in my home.

Today we walked the dog and went to the Hoo Ying oriental supermarket on the North Circular road near Wembley. Tonight we shall play more games (I am ritually humiliated by my folks at boggle - which they are masters of, but which I'm pretty lousy at) and uncork more wines.

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Friday, November 07, 2008

Choosing the first dog, and wine for Obama

Silly but fun article on the BBC News site about one of the important choices facing Obama: which puppy to choose for his kids?

The favourite candidate breed seems to be a goldendoodle (retreiver/poodle cross), although labradoodle is also mentioned in the piece. If he can wait until December, our very own RTL should have some puppies coming - he can have one at a discounted rate.

We're not totally sure she's pregnant - they don't sell pregnancy tests for dogs in Boots - but her nipples have swollen. Fiona has been reading all about the whole puppy issue and she tells me that this is one of the signs.

I also got a press release yesterday from Kendall Jackson who say that they are sending Obama two cases of Vintners Reserve Chardonnay. That will make his day! It's not a bad wine, but there are plenty of others in the KJ portfolio that I'd rather have two cases of! (See my report on KJ's wines here). I quote from the release:
"A recent story in People Magazine profiling the family life of then-candidate, now President-elect, Barack Obama, mentioned that a bottle of Kendall-Jackson chardonnay sat on the Obama’s kitchen countertop. It now seems only fitting that the California winemaker send a few congratulatory cases of the brand to the incoming President for his new wine cellar on Pennsylvania Avenue. So the company is doing just that."


Thursday, November 06, 2008

Crazy Aussie Cabernet

Tonight's tipple, as I watch Man City win in Europe, is a remarkable, crazily intense Australian Cabernet Sauvignon. Cabernet has never really worked all that well in Barossa and McLaren Vale (although I've tasted some impressive examples from the Clare, also in South Australia), but this example from D'Arenberg is fantastic stuff, if you are in the mood for it.

D'Arenberg 'The Feathered Dinosaur' Cabernet Sauvignon 2004 McLaren Vale, South Australia
This is a massive wine: indeed, it's the first time I've seen a screwcap liner like this stained with the wine! It's an incredibly taut, intense, complex, tight wound wine with aromas of sweet, minerally, spicy blackcurrant and raspberry fruit, with some meaty, earthy notes. The palate has dense sweet fruit, but comes across as intensely savoury with spicy, earthy, cedary, tarry notes, strong tannins and high acidity. There may even be a bit of matchstick reduction here, too - there's so much going on it's hard to separate the individual flavour components out. I reckon this will age into a mellow, rich, tarry spiciness, but it really does need some time. Lovely stuff in a traditionally Australian style, but you do need to be in the right mood for it. 94/100 (£17.99 Tesco)

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Losing weight with drugs: new research

New research has uncovered a potential drug that can help with weight loss (reported on the BBC here). The chemical involved is SRT1720, which is related to resveratrol, found in red wine, and targets the SIRT1 protein. This is a member of a chemical group called the Sirtuins, which are involved in metabolic choices between living longer (in environments with fewer resources) and living shorter but brighter (a sort of 'candle in the wind' effect where you sow as many oats as possible before exiting early when things are good).

This sort of drug could allow people to eat a high fat diet, yet not put on weight or suffer other ill-effects of too-high calorific intake. You could do 'supersize me' and eat as much fast food as you like, pop a couple of pills, and not face the consequences of your poor dietary choices.

Yes, we need a solution to the obesity epidemic. But is this it? I fear not, for two reasons. First, it separates people from the consequences of their choices. Not a good idea. Self-control is difficult, but it is an essential life skill. We should instead teach people to use food properly, just as we should be teaching people to use alcohol properly (not taking it away from them).

Second, there are many people who are unhappy with their weight. There are people with addictive personalities. They may well start off overweight, but because they are unhappy with themselves 'inside their skin', they will never arrive at a level of weight loss that satisfies them. Such a drug could cause severe ill-effects in those who have a poor self-image, and result in severe medical problems.

So, IMO, we should be cautious about going down this road.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Football and South Africa's Cloudy Bay

Played football again tonight. I've been playing regularly again for the best part of two months now, and I really like it. It's a group of dads from my younger son's school, with a few ringers thrown in. The standard is pretty good (if you're c. 40 and prepared to risk stiffness for a few days afterwards, you have to have some commitment to the game), and it's great fun, as well as doing some good for us.

On the subject of football, younger son, who has never shown much interest in sport (he's more into wrestling, dancing, hip hop and AC/DC) has been playing for his school 'B' team, as captain. I went to see him play this afternoon, and he did really well. He's tall, skinny, athletic and committed, and while he's only just developing real awareness of tactics and position, he had a really good game. I was proud to watch him.

So, to tonight's wine. It's Spier Private Collection Sauvignon Blanc 2006 Stellenbosch, South Africa. This is as dramatic as Cloudy Bay was when it was first released: bold, aromatic, almost overpowering in its intensity, with rich tropical fruits, plus fresh grassiness, some chalky minerality and hints of smoke and spice. Concentrated and richly textured, yet fresh at the same time. It's a full-on style with real interest, and much better than I was expecting it to be. 91/100 (£13.99 Morrisons)

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Video content: Pyramid Valley Vineyards, a remarkable wine venture in New Zealand's Canterbury region

This is a short film I shot while I was visiting Pyramid Valley Vineyards with owner Mike Weersing. Located in the Canterbury Hills of New Zealand's South Island, this is a remarkable project with Burgundian-style close-planted vineyards that are farmed biodynamically. The full write-up of the visit went live on the main site today - you can see it here. Even if you don't normally watch video content on the web, you really should see this! It's an incredible place.

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Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Switching to web-based mail

I realized this week that I've never really sorted my email communication out properly. My first email account was a work one, back in the mid-1990s. It was all very new, then. As I began writing about wine on the internet, I used my work e-mail address for all my correspondence. Then, when I registered wineanorak as a domain, I began a dual email system, using both my work address and my wineanorak address in tandem. This carried on until earlier this year, when I left the Novartis Foundation.

At this stage I began to think about shifting from a POP3-based mail system (my wineanorak address) to a web-based email system (in my case, googlemail). The advantage with a POP3-based system is that you download all your e-mails onto your local machine, so you can access them without being online.

The advantage of a web-based system is that you can access your emails fully wherever you are, and from any machine, as long as you have an internet connection. I have three different laptops and a desktop machine that I use regularly. Currently only one machine can be used for my emails. These days, internet connections are everywhere, no matter where you travel to. So it's a bit of a no-brainer: web-based email has to be the way to go.

Googlemail can pick up your POP3 emails, so today I switched completely to Gmail, which I'd been using for a while in tandem with my wineanorak account. All the mail from my wineanorak account will now come through Gmail. It seems strange, but as from today, all my emails will be fused into a single, efficient system.


Wine Science in Japanese

Here's a review that Ken Ohashi kindly sent me of the Japanese edition of Wine Science. Apparently, it's a very good review and the book gets three glasses (out of three). How cool is that?

You can still buy the US version of Wine Science here. In the UK it's sold out, and the lastest news is that Mitchell Beazley are working out costings for print on demand.

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Monday, November 03, 2008

Portugal mega-tasting day two

Another busy, tiring, but thoroughly enjoyable day of tasting on Sunday. My candidate list for the Top 50 Portuguese wines has swelled considerably. I'm pleasantly surprised by just how many seriously good wines there are on show. Even though I have been following the Portuguese wine scene for some years, I hadn't realized just how fast the ranks of top-flight producers had swelled. There's quite a bit of stuff we don't see in the UK on show here, too.

Last night's dinner was an enjoyable event which, rather fortunately, didn't go on until 4 am! Distributor Vinalda took me out to the impressive Casa da Dizima restaurant with four of their producers: Alves de Souza, Carlos Lucas (Dao Sul, now called Global Wines), Nuno Cancela de Abreu (Casa Alorna) and Julio Bastos (Dona Maria). The wines we drank were excellent, and the food was simple and beautifully prepared.

Now I'm going back to do a little more tasting before heading home. Pictured are some of Dirk Niepoorts crazy 'Projectos' wines.


Sunday, November 02, 2008

Fantastic wine dinner, with some incredible wines

Had a remarkable wine dinner last night over at the apartment of one of Luis Antunes’ wine friends, Luis Ferreira. A small group (6) of us ate, chatted and drank some incredible bottles. By the time we left it was 4 am. As a measure of how crazy the evening was, at 3 am Luis Ferreira brought out a blind white wine – it was the 2001 Yquem. Incredibly generous of him, but it felt a bit surreal drinking a legendary wine like this at that time in the morning. A mind-numbingly good line up of wines, really. The good thing is that these wines weren’t just tasted and spat: they were drunk and enjoyed.

Here are my notes.

Château Beaucastel Blanc 2003 Châteauneauf-du-Pape
Yellow/gold colur this is a rich white wine that’s made in a slightly oxidative style. It has nutty, rich, broad fruit with nice complexity – toasty and waxy. Unusual stuff with a broad texture and lots of flavour. 90/100

Conceito Bastardo 2007 Vinho Regional Durienses
Apparently 100 years ago Bastardo and Alvarilhão were the most widely planted grapes in the Douro. They don’t have a lot of colour, and this is why Sousão, a teinturier (red fleshed) variety, was introduced from Vinho Verde. This is a remarkable wine. It’s a varietal Bastardo made in lagar, with stems, and no sulfur dioxide addition. Very pale in colour, it looks like a rosé. It has a beautiful, fresh, aromatic nose with a nice herby green edge to the bright cherry fruit. The palate is remarkable: even though this is a pale wine, it is intense, with a rounded texture and lovely spiciness. Fresh, super-elegant and persistent, this is a beautiful wine. It’s labelled Vinho Regional because the IVDP refused the Douro appellation numerous times because this is ‘atypical’. 93/100

Niepoort Charme 2002 Douro
Not much of this made in 2002. Quite deep coloured, the nose shows sweet aromatic, spicy-edged red berry and cherry fruit. Smooth and aromatic. The palate is dense an firm with some nice tannic structure and a core of tight spiciness. There’s some elegance here, but also some structure, with a subtle, integrated greenness. Stylish and intense with lovely purity, and beginning to evolve nicely – if I had some I’d keep it for a while before opening. 93/100

Prunotto Bussia Barolo 1996 Piedmont, Italy
A new-wave modern Barolo that’s ageing pretty well. Tight yet aromatic nose is spicy, minerally and tarry. The palate is fresh and intense with lovely bright tarry red fruits. Great acidity, and still quite fruity with nice minerality. 92/100

The next wine was served blind.

Château La Tour 1999 Pauillac, Bordeaux, France
Tight, earthy, spicy nose with nice savoury black fruits. Brooding and intense. The palate is firm and tannic with some evolution, but real future potential. Serious stuff with some elegance. 94/100

Conceito Vintage Port 2005
Sweet, rich, intense and spicy with good structure. Pure and quite serious with lovely intensity of fruit. 93/100

Fonseca Guimarens Vintage Port 2001
Really nice aromatics. Fresh, slightly spicy and quite sweet with red and lack fruits to the fore. The palate is expressive, dense and sweet with lovely structure and brilliant spicy tannins. A very expressive, alive Port with real complexity. 94/100

Fonseca Vintag Port 2003
This is incredible. Intense, sweet, firm spicy nose. The palate shows some concentration with lovely intensity and firm tannins. A massively intense, structured Vintage Port that’s utterly serious. 96/100

JM da Fonseca Moscatel de Setubal 1976
Beautifully aromatic: fresh and spicy with dried fruits, citrus, waxy notes. The palate is super-concentrated with intense spicy, fresh, herby super-complex fruit and spice characters. Thrillingly intense with lovely complexity. Simply amazing. 96/100

JM da Fonseca Moscatel de Setubal 1960
Amazing stuff, with a really volatile, intense nose showing wildly aromatic varnish and old furniture notes. The palate is amazingly complex: powerful, intense, tarry, wild, raisiny and viscous with alarming flavours and an everlasting finish. I’d score this higher, but it isn’t really balanced. A remarkable wine experience. 94/100

You’d have thought we’d had enough by now. But no, as we stood round outside getting some refreshing night air, Luis brought out a large glass into which he’d dumped a whole bottle of a sweet white wine (it was a half!). I don’t really think my tasting note on this is much use. Truly delicious and quite special it was the Château d’Yquem 2001 Sauternes.

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Saturday, November 01, 2008

A fabulous day's tasting in Lisbon

Flew to Lisbon first thing this morning for a weekend of tasting Portuguese wine. I was invited out by leading Portuguese wine magazine Revista Vinhos for their annual three-day tasting event, which brings together Portugal's top wine producers for a large consumer tasting.

I was picked up from the airport by Luis Antunes, a buddy who writes for the magazine, and we headed over to the conference centre where the tasting was being held. There we did a bit of tasting, before enjoying a fabulous informal lunch - the tasting event has several 'kitchens', all operated by leading chefs, and for a few Euros you can have a small portion of one of their dishes. Mario Sergio of Bageiras (Bairrada) gave us a bottle of one of his wines to help wash our lunch down with.

After this, it was down to some serious tasting, which lasted from 2 pm until I quit exhausted just before 8. Tasting conditions were pretty good, and the place didn't get crowded until early evening. I tried some realy fabulous wines, and I'm now exhausted. I have about an hour before it's dinner time, but we won't be tasting - rather, we'll be drinking.

Because I'm selecting the Top 50 Portuguese wines for the tasting at the Portuguese Embassy in February 2009, this sort of event is particularly useful. Picking just 50 wines is going to be tough. I've made a special effort to get up to speed with Portuguese wines this year - this visit is my fourth trip to Portugal this year, and I have another visit in a couple of weeks.
I think after all this research I should do a short book on Portugal's best wines!