jamie goode's wine blog: December 2008

Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Wine in band riders

I've been doing some fun research on band riders, looking for the sorts of requests they make when it comes to wine.

A word of explanation: band 'riders' are the bit of the contract that performers make with venues that detail their requirements in terms of dressing rooms, catering and the like. They're often really amusing - some stars are a little anal about what they require. These riders are usually confidential, but website http://www.thesmokinggun.com/ has excerpts from a few hundred that it's managed to obtain.

I checked some of them and found the following wine requirements:

Van Halen (1982)
Not very sophisticated tastes: just two bottles of Blue Nun white wine

However, by 2008, Eddie Van Halen asks that his stage cooler contains four mini bottles of Gallo Twin Valley Cabernet Sauvignon

Foo Fighters (2008)
Simply request three bottles of quality red wine (Merlot, Cabernet etc) and three bottles of quality white wine

U2 (1992)
Bono has a reputation of being a bit of a wine nut. Obviously, back in 1992 his management weren't aware of this. U2 asked for:

Moet Champagne
3 very good French Chardonnays
3 very good Bordeauxs (sic)
2 Mouton Cadet red wines
2 Jacob’s Creek or Black Opal Australian white wine
1 medium quality Port or sherry e.g. Sandimint (!!!sic)

Elton John
Knows his wines, even if there's a bit of a problem here with the spelling.

1 bottle excellent quality white wine Sancerre or similar
2 bottles excellent quality Bordeaux
Band room (as spelt on the rider):
Pouilly Fuisse, Chablis Meursault, Chassagne Montrachet
French Bordeaux, Chateaunuef du Pape, Chevrey Chamratain, Pommard, Eshaseaux Margaux

Bon Jovi
Two bottles of Mouton Cadet again. Why is this so popular with rockers?

Coldplay, 2003
Two bottles of cold white wine, NOT Chardonnay
Two bottles of red wine

Added later: As Thor comments below, by far the best is Diana Krall's rider, which is totally hilarious and includes an amazing wine list here

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Dangerously drinkable natural wine

Currently finishing off the remains of a bottle of a dangerously drinkable natural wine. It's beautifully packaged in a minimalist/modern style, and finished with a bright red synthetic cork that I'm not 100% keen on (although I respect the attitude shown here by the producer).

Les Foulards Rouges 'La Soif du Mal' Vin de Table de France (NV)
No vintage declared (although the code 'L06' on the label indicates one), this light coloured red is utterly delicious and very drinkable. It has aromas of sweet cherry fruit with a sappy edge and lively purity, countered by an earthy, spicy note. The palate is bright and supple with a spicy, herby character that I often get in natural wines, as well as fresh, rather savoury cherry fruit. Think somewhere between new Zealand Pinot Noir and a deliciously fresh Gamay from the Beaujolais, and you've got something of the character of this wine. It's light, fragrant and aromatic. 13.5% alcohol, but it tastes lighter than this. This is remarkable, considering that this wine is a 70/30 Syrah/Grenache blend from the Roussillon. 'Soif du Mal' translates, I guess, as a wicked thirst, and this is the sort of wine that will certainly satisfy a thirst. 91/100 (UK agent: Les Caves de Pyrene)

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Monday, December 29, 2008

Puppy update

All the puppies are gone! Well, we still have them, but they're all spoken for now, except for one which we're discussing whether or not to keep. We were worried that because of the economic downturn we'd end up with eight unwanted dogs, but it's been quite the opposite: we've had a lot of interest and have been able to find seven lovely homes for the puppies, which is fantastic. We've been overwhelmed that we can come into contact with such nice people merely by advertising some puppies on the internet.

And the poopies themselves? They're all doing really well and are becoming more adorable by the day.

[Update: one of the puppies is now available again after a couple who'd put their name down changed their mind. So we have a boy spare if anyone is interested.]


Some blind Sauvignons, a 30 year old Tawny and a 35 year old Claret

A family lunch at my sister's place in Gerrards Cross. Brother-in-law Beavington is a bit of a wine nut so we usually do some blind tasting, and befitting our give and take relationship (I do the taking part), he provides the wines. The tasting was a little scaled down this time in view of the credit crunch (although he is one of the few bankers who still have jobs) and also the fact that several of the party were ill. And I was driving.

Anyway, we started with three Sauvignons, and then did a really nice Tawny port and an old Claret from a slightly dodgy year. Great stuff.

Dog Point Sauvignon Blanc 2006 Marlborough, New Zealand
This is tight, crisp and minerally with some limey fruit and grassy notes, as well as a bit of residual sugar adding roundness. Real purity and focus here - it's almost like a Riesling. 90/100

Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc 2007 Marlborough, New Zealand
Fresh, herby, grassy nose. The palate is lean with high acidity. This is an acidic Sauvignon with some minerality. An averagely good Marlborough Sauvignon, which is surprising considering its fame. 87/100

Dog Point Vineyard Section 94 Sauvignon Blanc 2006 Marlborough, New Zealand
Remarkable stuff, vinified with a bit of oak, although it's not an oaky wine. Stongly herbal, aromatic nose with bright grassy fruit and some grapefruit and citrus pith notes. Pungent, intense palate with a tangerine peel edge to the grassy fruit. I had this down as a high-end Bordeaux Sauvignon Blanc - quite unlike anything else I've had from New Zealand. 92/100

Chateau Lynch Bages 1973 Pauillac, Bordeaux
This is a fully mature, savoury Bordeaux with some soy notes joining the earth, spice and red fruit character. Tastes like old wine, but there's still some interest and life here. Savoury and bone dry with high acidity. Drinking quite well, but don't hold on to this any longer, because it's fading fast. 83/100

Sandeman 30 Year Old Tawny Port
Beautifully complex and intense with amazingly complex nutty, citrussy, woody notes combining together brilliantly. Superb with amazing acidity and complexity. Beautiful. 94/100

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Sunday, December 28, 2008

Juicy speculation: could Magrez move for Latour??

A bit of juicy speculation. Could Bernard Magrez, who already owns a gazillion Bordeaux estates as well as wineries around the world, make a move for Chateau Latour? This speculation is contained in this article in today's Sunday Times, which focuses on the pressures that current owner Francois Pinault is under, and suggests that Latour is on the market for around £170 million. Pictured is Mr Magrez taken on my recent visit to his Bordeaux estates.

Note added later (29/12): I checked, and Mr Magrez has no comment to make for now.


Saturday, December 27, 2008

A delicious northern Rhone Syrah

When you write about wine professionally, it's hard to answer the question, 'what's your favourite wine?' But when people quiz you on this topic, they usually don't want a five-minute answer explaining why it's hard to give an answer: they want a simple answer.

And in the past, this answer has frequently been 'Cote Rotie'. I'm a big fan of northern Rhone Syrah, and usually the best expression of this is Cote Rotie (unless we're talking Chave, the best producer of Hermitage by a country mile, or Thierry Allemand's Cornas). I feel like I've neglected the northern Rhone a bit in the last year or two, but now I'm coming back to it, and tonight I've opened another bottle that is just delicious.

It's a Crozes Hermitage. Along with St Joseph, Crozes offers an affordable glimpse of the greatness of northern Rhone Syrah, when it's done well. This is one of the general observations I can make about the northern Rhone, though - the producer matters hugely, because the standard varies widely, as does the stylistic expression.

Gilles Robin Crozes Hermitage Cuvee Alberic Bouvet 2005 Northern Rhone, France I really like this wine: it's a fantastic expression of northern Rhone Syrah. Deep coloured, it has a fresh, peppery dark fruits nose with a meaty, slightly animally complexion to the sweet blackberry and blackcurrant fruit. The palate has a lovely earthy, meaty, spicy edge to the ripe black fruits with good acidity and a subtle plummy bitterness keeping things nice and savoury. Tight and youthful, this is great with hearty food right now, but could be kept for another five years to mellow out a bit. 13.5% alcohol. 91/100 (£14.95 Great Western Wine)

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Friday, December 26, 2008

A wine list from the USA back in 1861

Thought this might be a fun read - stumbled across today. It's an American wine list from 1861.


Serious Saffie Sauvignon and a top Champagne

Two very impressive wines today, a relaxed family Boxing Day. First, a remarkable South African Sauvignon Blanc. Second, a lovely Champagne.

Kumkani Lamner Hill Sauvignon Blanc 2007 Groenekloof, South Africa
This is amazing stuff. Weighing in at 14.5% alcohol and with immense concentration, it's a serious Sauvignon from a vineyard whose climate is moderated by the fact that it's just 7 kms from the Atlantic ocean. It has a powerful green grassy, herbal nose with green peppery notes. On the palate there's tropical fruit/passion fruit richness balanced nicely by the powerful grassy methoxypyrazine character. Not at all subtle, but a serious, striking wine. 92/100 (£11.99 Majestic, £9.99 each if you buy two)

Mumm de Cramant Grand Cru Champagne Brut Chardonnay
12% alcohol. This Grand Cru Blanc de Blancs is beautifully precise with crisp lemont fruit and nice herb and apple complexity. It's concentrated and intense with lovely fruit expression. Quite dry and savoury - this has a lower dosage (sugar addition) than is normal for Brut Champagne. A brilliant effort. 93/100 (£43.99 Thresher, Harrods, Ocado)

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A short position statement on closures

So what's my current position on wine bottle closures? [This is a lenghy post I've just made to an online wine forum, in response to another post.]

There's no such thing as a perfect closure. It's about choosing the best closure available for your wine. If it were a simple matter of 'sealing' a bottle to stop liquid coming out, then of course there would be no excuse for continuing to use cork. There are a range of alternative wine bottle closures that are taint free. Take your pick.

But what we've learned - largely through the adoption of alternatives to cork - is that the oxygen transmission properties of the closure matter. And the precise level of oxygen transmission will affect the way the wine develops after bottling.

For an inexpensive wine that's likely to be drunk within a year or two after release, it's nuts to use natural cork, because cheap natural cork is nasty and carries a risk of taint. For these wines, synthetic corks, screwcaps with a saranex-only liner (there are two different liners for screwcaps, one of which allows very little oxygen transmission - the tin/saran - and one which allows more - saranex only) or Diam represent good alternatives.

Microagglomerates that have been steam-cleaned are also a good bet, although do carry a small risk of taint, as do steam-cleaned one-plus-ones (two discs of natural cork sandwiching an agglomerate core).

For more expensive wines that may be cellared, then it becomes more tricky. I'd say for high end, ageable wines then natural cork bought from the most quality-minded cork producers is the best option. This is because we like the way that wine develops under good natural corks.

I'm personally not keen on the tin/saran liner used widely for screwcaps. It just doesn't allow enough oxygen transmission. This means that there's a risk of reductive problems post-bottling (although the exact nature of this risk hasn't yet been quantified). It also means that the wine will develop differently to the way it develops under cork. Will it be better? How lucky do you feel?

Synthetic corks have developed quite a bit over the last decade to the point where they are claiming really good oxygen transmission characteristics. I'd like to see independent data on this. Likewise with Vino-Lok, the glass closure where the seal is by means of a plastic 'O' ring. It's certainly a functional and good looking closure.

Diam may prove suitable for long-ageing wines. I'm sure it's good for 10 years, because the Altec (the tainted predecessor using the same mechanical design) has shown the physical integrity of the closure is fine after this time.

Finally, a plea - let's try to be as informed as possible when we discuss this complex business of closures. I've found the whole debate to be unessecarily polaized in the past, with people splitting off into factions, and spouting propaganda at each other. For example, when we talk about 'screwcaps', let's remember that the screwcap isn't the closure, but merely a way of holding the liner in apposition to the rim of the bottle. It's the liner that determines the oxygen transmission properties of the closure.

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Wine personality disco dance

See whether you can identify the five wine trade personalities caught disco dancing in the following clip:


[Thanks to Alex Murray for the link to the site that helped me create this fiendish quiz.]

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Christmas day, and modest excess is in order

It has been a delightful Christmas day in the Goode household. We were woken just before 7 am, which, when you have kids, almost counts as a lie-in. After an hour or so of opening presents from Santa's sacks, it was time for breakfast, then walking the dog, followed by Church, followed by presents round the tree. Then it was time for lunch. We were joined by Fiona's mum (Patsy), her husband Fred, and Fred's American niece Maeve.

We did the traditional turkey thing, and it was delicious. To match, I opened a range of bottles. Two Champagnes to start: Bollinger NV (widely available, c. £32) is a classic, with rich, bold, toasty flavours. Ayala Brut Majeur is more precise with lovely tight citrussy, toasty notes (M&S £19.99). Both are delicious, but if pushed I'd opt for the the Ayala.

For whites, we went with two. First, a Gobelsburg Gruner Veltliner 2007 Austria (£8 Waitrose), which is a deliciously bright Gruner with some richness and a hint of peppery character. This is a really good, affordable, versatile white. Second, a white Hermitage 2007 from Domaine du Colombier (another Bibendum sample), which is a perfect turkey match. It's rich and textured with ripe pear fruit and notes of honeysuckle and vanilla on the nose. Pretty serious stuff.

Just a solitary red, and it was polished off pretty quickly, which is a sign of a good wine. It's the Chateau La Tour Carnet 2004 Haut Medoc, Bordeaux. This is a serious effort that has the potential for further development but which is already drinking well. It's smooth and dark with rich blackcurranty fruit and some gravelly depth. This is one of Bernard Magrez' wines, and it's utterly delicious and reasonably serious. I wouldn't say it was a terribly good match with turkey, but sometimes you just want a delicious wine to drink whatever you're eating.

Finally, a pair of Vintage Ports, both from 1997. I have a theory with Vintage Port: it's great young, and it's great old. In the middle it has a bit of an awkward phase. I reckon the 1997s aren't showing their best at the moment, and while both of these are enjoyable, they need another 10 years to start singing. Quinta do Portal 1997 (£35 Great Western Wine) is rich, spicy and fresh with some earthy structure and nice balance. It's just beginning to show complex, evolved notes on the nose, and there's quite a bit of fruit left. The Cockburn's 1997 (c. £30 retail) is nicely expressive with warm, spicy, earthy notes as well as a tarry richness to the dark fruit. They're both wines aiming more at elegance than power. If I had to choose one, it would probably be the Portal. But for current drinking I'd probably opt for a cheaper traditional (unfiltered) Late Bottled Vintage Port (e.g. Noval, Crasto, Niepoort) than these.

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Merry Christmas

It's Christmas day, just. Staying up late because we have to make sure that Santa doesn't get caught by younger son who has set a booby trap for him, and is determined to stay up late in order to 'get' him.

It means we'll be tired and grouchy tomorrow!

Currently I'm drinking JP & JL Jamet Cotes du Rhone 2007, which is a deliciously drinkable Syrah of the type I could spend time with every night. It's fresh, bright, cherryish and a bit peppery. Nice balance.

Happy Christmas to all my loyal readers! You're the best!

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

A lovely Cote Rotie, and a delicious Cotes du Rhone

Nice wine tonight - a cask sample of one of Gilles Barge's Cote Roties. It's a special cuvee made from an abandoned, steeply sloping site replanted in 2000, and this was one of the samples bottled for Bibendum's recent en primeur tasting. Now samples like this should be tasted soon after bottling, and this was sent to me by Bibendum just after the event but then got lost in transit for a couple of weeks, only arriving today. It's still tasting fantastic, though, with a distinctly meaty, peppery edge and some Burgundian elegance. Bibendum are offering this at £240 per case of 12 in bond.

Domaine Gilles Barge Côte-Rôtie Le Combard 2007 Northern Rhône, France (cask sample)
Just delicious. Fresh, bright nose of meaty, peppery raspberry and just-ripe cherry fruit with lovely floral aromatics. The palate is expressive and elegant, with a meaty, subtly animally edge to the beautifully textured sweet and sour fruit, combining pure, sweet cherries with tart acidity and peppery freshness. It’s complex, brooding and quite profound: the antithesis of clumsy, dark, extracted, oaky Syrah. 92–94/100

More affordable, and almost as good is this robust, sweetly fruited Cotes du Rhone in the same Rhone 2007 offer. Apparently 2007 was an awesome vintage in the Southern Rhone - better than in the North.

Domaine Grand Veneur Les Champauvins 2007 Côtes du Rhône Villages, France (cask sample)
Apparently, Robert Parker gave this 91/100, which is a high score for a relatively affordable wine. I can understand why: it’s a deliciously rich, dense Southern Rhône red with concentrated, sweet spicy raspberry liqueur fruit, backed up by fresh acidity and a bit of earthy structure. It’s smooth and delicious, with a hint of ginger adding aromatic interest. Much better than most Châteauneuf-du-Papes, with real richness and intensity. 90–92/100 (£55 in bond for 12 bottles in www.bibendum-wine.co.uk’s recent en primeur offer).

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Funny Christmas card from Wines of Argentina

Wines of Argentina have been sending out an amusing Christmas card, below:
Almost as good as the all time modern classic, the Chavtivity (http://www.chavtivity.com/).

Monday, December 22, 2008

Lovely Bourgueil

Tonight's tipple is a delicious Loire red. Loire reds rock.

Frederic Mabileau Racines 2005 Bourgueil, Loire, France
13% alcohol. Cabernet Franc from 40 year old vines. This is a really delicious, ripe Loire red with beautifully focused sweet blackcurrant and raspberry fruit with a slightly sappy edge and some gravelly, chalky notes adding contrast. Impressive stuff. I really like the savouriness combined with the pure dark fruit: it's what Loire reds do so well. 90/100 (£8.99 Waitrose)

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RTL's poopies at 12 days, another video

Once again, apologies if you aren't interested in dogs. But here's another short film of the poopies, which are now 12 days old. They're almost walking, and their eyes are beginning to open, but most of the time they spend eating or sleeping. You can see all the posts to date on the poopies by using the RTL tag at the bottom of this post, or at this URL: http://www.wineanorak.com/blog/labels/RTL.html

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Seckford's label quiz

Looks like a fun competition. Identify as many of the 30 label snippets as you can and win some nice wine here. Satisfy that inner geek in you.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Surprised by an older Portuguese bottle

Man City lost again today. They're in the relagation zone. It will be tough to win the premiership from this position, but we need to keep believing.

Anyway, tonight I'm drinking an older Portuguese wine that surprised me. First of all, because it's actually really good indeed, and I wasn't expecting it to be this good. And secondly, because it's a proper wine offering good value for money from Laithwaites, who are best known for their own label brands that they price highly and then sell at 'discount'.

Quinta do Poço do Lobo Garrafeira 1993 Beiras, Portugal
From Caves São João, this is a Cabernet Sauvignon from the Bairrada region. It’s evolving really nicely with a beautiful nose of tar, herbs, earth and sweet blackcurrant fruit. The palate is fresh and elegant with good balance between the sweet fruits and savoury, gravelly, earthy notes. Delicious structure and drinking perfectly now. It's great to be able to buy a wine with some bottle age on it like this. 91/100 (£10.49 Laithwaites) 12/08

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Saturday, December 20, 2008

Beeeerrr time!

Just back from taking my younger son to Craven Cottage to see Fulham play against Middlesborough. 3-0 to Fulham - a convincing performance that owed a lot to Jimmy Bullard's action packed midfield display. He's worth two players.

Anyway, it's beer time. These, opened tonight with my parents, were all pretty good.

Shepherd Neame Spitfire Kentish Ale
4.5% alcohol. Amber coloured this has lovely hoppy, spicy freshness with some citrus notes as well as a hint of toffee warmth. I like the slight bitterness on the finish. A good food beer. 8/10
[Aside: has a typo on the back label]

Shepherd Neame Whitstable Bay Organic Ale
4.5% alcohol. Orange colour. Aromatic, spicy, hoppy sort of nose leads to a nicely bitter, fresh palate. This is really drinkable with a nice spicy, hoppy freshness. 8/10

Brakspear Oxford Gold Organic Beer
4.5% alcohol. Golden amber in colour this is beautfully aromatic and fresh with some sweet, subtly hoppy notes (Target and Goldings hops used here). There's a bit of sweetness here. It's perfectly balanced and really delicious. 8.5/10

Innis & Gunn Oak Aged Beer Rum Cask
7.4% alcohol. Brown coloiured, this is warm and rich with sweet fudge, chocolate and roast coffee notes, as well as hints of tar and warm spiciness. A remarkable, rich, warming sort of beer. 8.5/10

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Friday, December 19, 2008

A nice lunch with a sound Claret

Went into town today to lunch with my former boss at his club, the Athenaeum (pictured). We dined well on pheasant, washed down with a bottle of the house Bordeaux, Château d’Arche 2002. The wine committee there have chosen well: this is a really delicious Claret that's beautifully balanced with some Cabernet richness and a delicious earthy grip. [D'Arche is managed by the negociant house Mahler-Besse, who own Palmer, but I can't locate any UK stockists.]

It was nice to catch up. My ex-boss is a fan of Wittgenstein, and he gave me a quick tutorial on the mind/body problem. I think he must be appalled by my attempts to grapple with the nature of perception, and the way I fall for the Mereological fallacy (i.e. mistakenly stating that it is the brain that perceives, rather than the person).

After lunch I went shopping. We may be in the midst of a recession/depression but Oxford Street was heaving. I love shopping for some things (e.g. wine, technology bits, sports gear), but otherwise I really don't enjoy the shopping experience at all.

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Thursday, December 18, 2008

Beautiful Italian white

Really nice Italian white tonight. It's not a terribly obvious wine, but it shows real purity and focus. And when you give it a bit of attention, it begins to reveal all sorts of subtle complexities. This is real wine.

I Clivi di Ferdinando Lanuzzo Clivi Brazan 2004 Collio Gorziano, Friuli, Italy
This is a Tocai from 50-70 year old vines. Made without any oak, with natural ferments and gravity bottle filling by hand after the wine has spent two years on its own lees. Even though it's had some bottle age, this is pale in colour and has a fresh, slightly floral nose of herbs, apples, pears and wax. The palate has a wonderful minerally complexity and a concentrated yet quite linear fruity character. Satisfying, pure wine that rewards a bit of attention. The producer has a nice website: http://www.clivi.it/. 91/100 (13.5% alcohol; imported into the UK by Fields, Morris & Verdin - can't find any stockists online, alas - guide price, £15-20).

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Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Shipping in flexitank

If you are going to ship wine, there are two ways of doing it. One is to bottle at source and then ship the bottles. The other is to ship the wine in bulk, and then bottle nearer to the destination market. For wines from the new world, quite a bit of UK or European bottling takes place these days, and it needn't be detrimental to quality if the wine is handled well during the critical points during the process - the transfers.

One of the things I saw today was the unloading of a 25 000 litre flexitank which had been shipped to France from Chile. This is now the standard way of shipping wine: a 25 000 litre flexitank is like a huge bag-in-box - it's a single-use skin that's placed inside a standard shipping container and is filled with wine. When it reaches the port, it's loaded onto a lorry and then at the bottling facility it is transferred to tank, ready for bottling. Pictured are (from top) the lorry unloading the flexitank; then the flexitank itself inside the container, almost empty; then the punp, with a meter for measuring the dissolved oxygen in the incoming wine; then the microbullage device that injects bubbles of nitrogen into the wine that prevents any oxygen pick-up during the transfer process.


Tuesday, December 16, 2008


Quite tired this evening. Had to drive down to Devon and back again, to pick up elder son who rather sillily got himself excluded from school for three days. Listened to a lot of Radio 4, which is fantastic, but almost fell asleep at the wheel three times on the way back. Not ideal.

Tomorrow I'm off to Lyon for the day. I'm flying out of Heathrow's Terminal 5, which I haven't experienced before.

The puppies are a week old today. This time a last week they were in the middle of popping out. They've doubled in weight over the last seven days and all appear to be doing well. With eight to place, any assistance in finding loving homes will be welcomed. Labradoodles are the BEST breed of dogs EVER.

Tonight, a few wines open. Mas Belles Eaux Les Coteaux 2005 Languedoc, a beautifully packaged wine, is dense and spicy, with a delicious earthiness underpinning the grippy, slightly peppery dark cherry fruit. There's lots of savoury structure here, and I reckon it will age well. A nice fusion of modern winemaking (ripe sweet fruit) with tradition (peppery, spicy tannic structure). Part of the AXA portfolio, quality is definitely on the rise here, and I'd cellar this for five years, I reckon. 14.5% alcohol is a little on the high side though. 90/100

It's Day 2 with the John Duval Entity Shiraz blogged on yesterday, and this is drinking very nicely tonight with more typical Barossa Shiraz aromatics and a bit more spicy definition on the palate.

Moving to fortifieds, the Fortnum & Mason 30 year old Oloroso from Bodegas Tradicion is stunning (it has now been open for a couple of months). It's a lighter style with amazing aromatic complexity and one of those eternal finishes that very old Sherries seem to have. One sip lasts for minutes. I'm now getting to the last few slugs from my Hidalgo Oloroso Viejo, another 30 year old wine. A little richer in style than the Tradicion, it is incredibly complex stuff with really lively acidity and amazing spicy, cedary intensity. While it isn't as complex as these two old Sherries, the Andresen Royal Choice 20 Year Old Tawny Port (£25 Laithwaites) is still complex enough: pale coloured, this has lovely elegant, smooth spicy warmth to it, and it's quite delicious.

Monday, December 15, 2008

John Duval Wines: high-end Barossa wines

Two wines this evening. I thought I'd go Australian, so I opened a couple of recent releases from John Duval. He spent 29 years at Penfolds, and, from 1986-2003, as chief winemaker John was the dude in charge of Grange, which is quite a heritage to mantain. He started his own label in 2003, and also consults in Europe, Australia and the Americas. I really like these wines, and I reckon they'll age beautifully. I do wonder, though, whether the tin-lined screwcap used here is the best closure for these sorts of wines. Might they show better with a decent quality cork? [Admittedly, it's quite a job getting a cork supplier who can deliver this...]

John Duval Wines Entity Shiraz 2006 Barossa Valley, Australia
14.5% alcohol. 17 months in French oak, 30% new. Deep coloured. Initially shy and simply fruity on opening, after time this picks up weight and begins to show its potential. Lovely aromatic, slightly meaty, pure dark fruits nose with blackberry, dark cherry, spice and violets. On the palate there’s real elegance to the dark fruits, which marry beautifully with the oak. This isn’t a big blockbuster style; rather it’s a brilliantly balanced, youthful Shiraz with masses of potential for future development. John Duval says that his aim with this wine is to produce a Shiraz with elegance and structure, and I think he’s achieved this. But it needs time. 93/100 (£20.99 Noel Young, Oz Wines, SWIG, Harperwells, Secret Cellar, Wimbledon Wine Cellar)

John Duval Wines Plexus Shiraz/Grenache/Mourvèdre 2006 Barossa Valley, Australia
14.5% alcohol. Half Shiraz, one third old bush vine Grenache, the remainder old bush vine Mourvèdre, aged mostly in old oak. This is dominated by sweet, plum, red cherry and blueberry fruit, with a lovely soft structure and some attractive peppery spiciness in the background. It’s lively and pure with a seductive lushness, but there’s enough spicy structure to provide balance. It’s delicious now, with real Barossa typicity, but it should age really nicely, too. 91/100 (£18.99 Noel Young, Oz Wines, SWIG, Harperwells, Secret Cellar, Wimbledon Wine Cellar)

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Landmark Australia Tutorial: winners announced

I was delighted to find out that I was one of the 12 selected to take part in the inaugural Landmark Australia tutorial. I'm really looking forward to it. Of the other participants, I know Julia Harding and Tyler Colman, and it will be great to spend time with them, as well as getting to know the other participants, and learning loads from the high-calibre tutors. I'm also really excited by the possibility of tasting some serious old Aussie wines. It will be a craic. Here's the press release issued today:

Issued Monday 15th December, 2008
Super 12 converge on Wine Australia
Twelve of the world’s fastest-rising wine influencers, from across ten different countries, will join leading Australian commentators and winemakers for the Landmark Australia Tutorial in June 2009.

After an exhaustive application process involving over 4000 initial enquiries, the inaugural Landmark Australia Tutorial intake will comprise an exceptional group of media, trade and educators from around the world:

Barbara Philip MW (Canada)
Bell - Pei Tang (China)
Dermot Nolan MW (Ireland)
Essi Avellan (Finland)
Frank Kämmer, M.S. (Germany)
Jamie Goode (UK)
Julia Harding MW (UK)
Lim Hwee Peng, CSW (Singapore)
Rebecca Leung (Hong Kong)
Sean Razee, M.S. (US)
Tyler Colman (US)
Yukari Iwashiro (Japan)

The winning applicants will attend a unique, week-long residential course aimed at exploring Australia’s contribution to fine wine performance, viticultural practice, technical innovation and education from a truly international perspective.

Over 130 formal applications were received, resulting in an extremely competitive selection process for the Tutorial’s executive committee.

The successful applicants will be joined in the Barossa by a distinguished line-up of Australian wine writers and makers who will present an authoritative narrative and a series of context setting tastings of Australia’s fine wines. The June 2009 tutorial aims to be the first in what is hoped will become an annual event, and what the organisers believe can become the world’s most sought-after educational wine experience. To view the Tutorial schedule and to review further information on the 12 participants please visit www.wineaustralia.com/landmark.



Sunday, December 14, 2008

No-sulfur added Cabernet Sauvignon, mini-vertical

Regular readers will know that I take a keen interest in 'natural' wines: those with as little added as possible. Normally these are niche wines, available only from speciality retailers. But in February Sainsbury listed a commercial no-sulfur-dioxide-added wine (see my report here), and it was really good. Here, I retaste that wine to see how it has shaped up, as well as the latest release, the 2008. Both are tasting really good, and represent brilliant value for money at around a fiver.

Sainsbury’s So Organic South African Cabernet Sauvignon 2007 Western Cape, South Africa
14% alcohol. Made without any added sulfur dioxide by Stellar Winery; sealed with a tin-lined screwcap. Vibrant, aromatic, juicy and ripe, with sweet blackcurrant and berry fruit. This is fresh and vibrant with lovely purity. An utterly delicious inexpensive, fruit-forward red with a bit of spicy bite on the finish. Considering no sulfur dioxide has been used, it’s incredible that it’s holding up so well. Dudley the winemaker knows what he’s doing. 88/100

Sainsbury’s So Organic South African Cabernet Sauvignon 2008 Western Capw, South Africa
14% alcohol. Made without any added sulfur dioxide by Stellar Winery; sealed with a tin-lined screwcap. A really vivid, vibrant forward wine that tastes like a barrel sample. It’s that fresh! It’s bold, blackcurranty and intense with lovely density and the sweet, forward, aromatic fruit balanced by lovely crunchy, spicy tannic structure. It’s just delicious with a grippy, crunchy mouthfeel that works really well with the sweet blackcurrant fruit. I’m really impressed. 89/100

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Saturday, December 13, 2008

Some more Portuguese wines

Been trying some more Portuguese wines as I look to firm up my Top 50 selection for the tasting in January. I'm just so impressed by how many serious wines are currently being made in Portugal. It's a very exciting wine scene, and choosing just 50 wines will be tough. The good news is that all the wines in the tasting will be well worth seeking out, although I need to qualify that this is a personal selection, and others would likely come up with different lists to mine.

Five wines open at the moment. Two are from Joao Portugal Ramos - the Marques de Borba Reserva 2004 Alentejo and the Quinta de Foz de Arouce Vinhas Velhas de Santa Maria 2005 Beiras. Of these, I prefer the latter: a tight-wound, serious expression of the Baga grape with great potential for ageing beautifully. Two are from Quinta de Sant'Ana, an interesting estate in Estremadura. The 2006 Tinto is deliciously bright and meaty, with some of the characters of a northern Rhone Syrah (meat, olives, spice, as well as vibrant fruit). The 2005 Reserva is a varietal Aragonez, and is modern, dense, ripe, pure and a bit spicy. Both are really good wines. Finally, a Douro red: Quinta do Tedo 2006. This is actually quite serious, and great value for money at £9.99. It shows lovely dense fruit with a nice minerally, expressive character, unadorned by too much oak. Impressive, even if the label design is a bit crazy.


RTL and her pups, another video

[Please ignore this if you are fed up with dogs and puppies. I quite understand.]


Friday, December 12, 2008

Stir crazy, almost

Haven't been out of the house much in the last few days. On Wednesday evening I played football, and tonight I'm off to see younger son's school production, and that's it. I'm getting a little stir crazy.

The puppies are doing well. All eight still alive and seemingly healthy. RTL has a squeaky orange/red ball that she thinks is a ninth puppy, and she's distraught if she's separated from it. The night the pups were born she left them to go and find it. Bizarre.

Last night Fiona finally pinned me down and got me to watch Mamma Mia, which I was dreading. But, I have to admit, it's a fun, feelgood musical, and whatever you think of Abba, Benny and Bjorn (and Stig) wrote some incredibly good, enduring pop songs.

When I get back from watching the Christmas production tonight, I'm going to open something Portuguese.

Win a bottle of Mouton 2004

Just a quick alert to wineanorak readers: Duchy Originals are running a competition in conjunction with Handford wines in which you can win a bottle of Mouton Rothschild 2004.

Details are here.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Icon wines at The Sampler

On the main site, I've just posted a lengthy review of innovative wine merchant The Sampler, which I visited last Friday (www.wineanorak.com/thesampler.htm). Here, as promised, I'm posting notes of the icon wines they currently have on tasting. It's always difficult tasting wines like these when you know what they are, because you don't want their reputations to influence you (either way).

Domaine de la Romanée Conti Romanée St Vivant 1993
Beautifully elegant, perfumed nose is warm and open with subtle herbiness, hints of earth and nice spiciness. A bit of greenness, but in a nice way. The palate is earthy and spicy with good structure and lots of elegance. The fruit is beginning to recede a bit but there’s lots of complexity here, and some herby notes meshing well with spicy tannins. Some people I was tasting with were disappointed by this, but I found it thrilling, although I wouldn’t say it has a huge amount of evolution ahead of it. And it’s absurdly expensive, but it is DRC. 95/100 (£699 The Sampler)

Harlan Estate 2002 Napa Valley
My first time with this cult Napa wine, which sells for around £600 a bottle. Fresh, spicy, earthy aromatic nose with sweet blackcurrant fruit and warm, subtly tarry, spicy notes. Hint of chocolate, too. The palate is sweetly fruited and dense with really nice dense, spicy, slightly earthy structure under the rich, but not overblown fruit. It’s an accessible new world-style wine but it’s balanced and has a long finish. 93/100

Screaming Eagle 1999 Napa Valley
A rare chance to try one of the most sought after Napa cult wines. Wonderfully aromatic with perfumed, sweet, complex, beautifully poised nose of tar, herbs, spice and sweet berry fruits. The palate is evolving beautifully with notes of leather and spice under the elegant sweet red berry fruits. Really nicely balanced with beautiful fusion of complex spicy notes, fruit and structure. 96/100 (£1500 The Sampler)

Château Margaux 1934 Margaux, Bordeaux
It’s always a great experience to taste very old wine, even though it is a bit of a lottery. This elderly Margaux is an orange-brown colour, and the nose is earthy, spicy, mature and quite complex. The palate is light with some earthy notes and fresh acidity, as well as some meaty hints. Not much left here: it has a beguiling, faded, haunting beauty, but it’s beginning to taste of old wine. There’s real interest, but I suspect this isn’t a great bottle. 92/100 (£550 The Sampler)

Château Petrus 1983 Pomerol, Bordeaux
A little disappointing considering the reputation of Petrus, but still an attractive mature Pomerol. Warm, spicy and earthy on the nose, with some sweetness. The palate is earthy, slightly herby and has fresh acidity, with some evolution. Quite structured but the fruit is beginning to recede a bit. An attractive, savoury wine, but some way short of greatness. 92/100 (£850 The Sampler)

Château Le Pin 1995 Pomerol, Bordeaux
This cult Pomerol is very appealing, but surely you don’t have to spend a grand to get something like this? Lovely sweet aromatics showing subtly leafy sweet red fruits. Quite complex. The palate has some firm savoury character with nice spiciness and freshness. It’s balanced, earthy and fresh with nice bright fruit and a hint of nice greenness. 93/100 (£1000 The Sampler)

Château Mouton Rothschild 2000 Pauillac, Bordeaux
Earthy, spicy and slightly rustic on the nose. Quite firm. Is there some brett here? The palate is earthy and dense with a robust spicy character. Dense and firm at the moment but lacks real elegance. To be honest, I expected a bit more from this. 91/100 (£700 The Sampler)

Château D’Yquem 1983 Sauternes
Totally beautiful. This is concentrated and perfectly balanced with dense, complex spicy lemon/citrus flavours with waxy, spicy notes and wonderful depth. Drinking perfectly now. 96/100

Château de Beaucastel Châteauneuf-du-Pape 1990 Southern Rhône, France
This is a lovely, light, evolved wine drinking at its peak. Complex, warm, spicy and earthy with a lovely earthy, spicy character, as well as some meaty funkiness. A savoury style with lots of interest. 94/100 (£160 The Sampler)

Added later: people have asked about the sampling prices - they're all on the website - http://www.thesampler.co.uk/sampling.asp?submenu3

For these wines:

Wine Icons
DRC Romanée Saint Vivant 1993 £31.46; Harlan Estate 2002 £27.00; Screaming Eagle 1999 £60.00; Château Margaux 1934 £20.37; Pétrus 1983 £38.25; Le Pin 1995 £43.33; Château Mouton Rothschild 2000 £31.50; Château de Beaucastel 1990 £7.20

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Wednesday, December 10, 2008

A brilliant, affordable Vintage Port

I wonder whether this division between Vintage Port and single-quinta Vintage Port is becoming outmoded. Could it be the idea of 'declared' and 'non-declared' years is going to gradually diminish in importance? That's the way it seems to be going. Anyway, this is a wine from a time when the declarations by the major Port houses were the big focus in the Douro.

It is a cracking Vintage Port from a non-declared year, and so the grapes here, which in other years might have gone into Fonseca's legendary Vintage Port, were used for this 'second' wine. Having said this, 1988 wasn't a terribly good year, but it has yielded a Vintage Port that, at 20 years old, is drinking perfectly. I'm probably going to be criticized by giving a wine from a dodgy vintage such a high rating, but it's just beautiful - it's not perfect, but it works so well.

Fonseca Guimaraens Vintage Port 1988
I really like this. It's showing some evolution, which has added complexity, but there's still a real fruity presence here. Deep coloured, it's aromatic with lovely complex dark fruits with herbs, leather and spice, as well as a hint of sweet tarriness. The palate is open and lively - vinous, almost - with pure plum and dark cherry fruit backed up by warming spiciness and notes of earth, tea and tar. It's drinking beautifully now, with lovely complexity and a dark elegance, but do decant this because it has a ton of sediment in it. 20.5% alcohol. 93/100 (£19.99 Sainsbury, Waitrose, Fortnum & Mason, Booths, Costco, Makro)

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More puppy pics and a video!

Here are some more pics of Rosie The Labradoodle and her Labradoodle pups. They're still less than a day old. I've also added a short video of the birth experience!


BBR offer: £50 off for three days

Nice time-limited offer from Berry Bros & Rudd - £50 off when you spend £250, excluding en primeur. All you have to do is add a code at the till: DS1QDP. BBR have a cracking list of wines, and while they are expensive for some of the more trophy-like wines, they also have some impressive less expensive stuff. Offer lasts until December 12th: www.bbr.com.


The puppies have arrived, and we're exhausted

Tonight we played midwife to RTL, as she finally delivered her puppies. First one arrived at 8.15 pm, last one just before midnight. Eight in all, which is far more than we'd expected. And all alive and seemingly healthy.

It's an amazing experience to witness a relatively large mammal give birth. As the first one slid out, encased in its amniotic sac, Fiona was convinced it was dead. But RTL gave it a few licks, chewed off the umbilical cord, gave it a few more licks and it promptly attached itself to a nipple and began feeding.

All but one came out head first, and even the seventh, which decided to enter the world with its rear feet and tail to the fore, didn't cause too many problems.

I'm going to retire to bed soon. I just hope that they're all alive tomorrow morning. I'll probably still be slightly traumatized - but still in awe, too.

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Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Cork on TV: forest in a bottle

Tonight there's a prime time national TV show all about cork. Titled Cork, forest in a bottle, it's focusing on the environmental impact of abandoning cork for alternative closures such as screwcaps and synthetic corks, and it will be shown at 9 pm tonight on BBC 2.

A quick recap on the issues surrounding corks and their alternatives. Cork is a wonderful natural product, which does a great job sealing wine bottles. It's only as we've moved away from cork to alternatives that we've found that the technical requirements of a wine bottle closure are not all that simple. What cork does (and this seems to be important), is to allow a slow release of oxygen from its compressed cellular structure for the first few months after bottling, and then a very low level of oxygen transmission from then on, through the cork/glass interface. The level of gas transmission by a sound cork seems to be just enough for optimum wine development, but not too much (in reality, it's hardly any at all).

But cork has a real problem: trichloroanisole (TCA) taint. 2,4,6-Trichloroanisole, the major compound responsible for musty taints associated with cork, is formed in cork bark by the chemical combination of phenolic compounds with chlorine. These phenolic compounds are naturally present in bark as a result of the breakdown of lignin, a hard substance giving bark its rigidity. The chlorine can come either from the environment, or from fungi living on or in the bark.

We’re incredibly sensitive to TCA and its chemical relatives, and can detect them at very low concentrations. It makes wines taste and smell musty, like old cellars, or mouldy bread, or damp cardboard. Some people can detect TCA at concentrations as low as 2 ng/litre; others don’t recognize it at 10 ng/litre.
This makes life very hard for the cork industry. There’s no easy way to spot a good cork from a bad one, and so winemakers have either had to resign themselves to losing a certain percentage of the wines they seal with cork to taint, or switch to cork alternatives such as screwcaps and synthetic corks. Many winemakers choose to remain with cork.

The good news for them is that the cork industry is responding to criticism and doing something about natural cork quality, trying to understand the causes of TCA and also to devise ways of removing it.

There are two rather different, yet complementary, approaches to dealing with TCA. The first is to use quality control measures to try to prevent contaminated cork from being turned into closures that then leave the factory. The second is to assume that TCA will be present, and to then remove it by some sort of extractive or washing method – the curative approach. Put both strategies together and substantial reductions can be obtained even if either strategy is not 100% effective alone.

The current rates of cork taint? About 3.3% - this is the figure from the International Wine Challenge faults clinic, which is the world's largest blind tasting, and includes wines from all over the world (this is the percantage of those bottles sealed with natural cork). It's likely that the rate was higher in the late 1980s and early 1990s, but the hope is that as the quality control measures and curative strategies that the leading cork companies have taken begin to show up in terms of lower taint levels, the rate of cork taint should drop to much lower levels.

It is largely because of the pressure put on cork companies by the success of alternative closures that these strategies have been put in place. Without alternative closures as competition, it is likely that we'd be stuck with much higher levels of cork taint. Winemakers have a responsibility to source cork only from those companies that are serious about combating taint.

The future? Cork is a wonderfully sustainable product with a low carbon footprint. The cork forests really are beautiful, and because wine stoppers are the most profitable use for cork, using cork this way sustains rural communities and helps preserve these ecosystems. But the wine industry can't take the hit that it was taking in terms of ruined bottles in the late 1990s all in the name of sustainability. If the rate of cork taint really is on the way down, then there's certainly a future for cork, but as just one of the closure solutions alongside a range of alternatives.
What has saved cork so far is that fact that sealing a wine bottle so that the wine tastes good when it's opened isn't a trivial matter of just 'sealing' it. If screwcaps, for instance, did exactly the same job as cork, then it would be stupid not to switch straight to screwcap for all wines: they don't have musty taint issues, and they are a lot more convenient because you don't need a device to open the bottle.

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Monday, December 08, 2008

Another long drive...time for some listening

Just got back from driving elder son back to school. He's currently boarding in Devon, 3 h 19 minutes away when the roads are clear. I had to drive down and pick him up on Thursday and then return him tonight. That's a lot of driving.

Only one thing to do - that's listen to stuff. On the segments when I'm driving on my own, I can whack the volume up to decent levels, which I find always helps you to enjoy the music more. As a muso myself, I always enjoy hearing the different bits and how they fit together. I hate music as aural wallpaper, barely loud enough to hear - just providing some background noise.

My listening varies. An embarrasingly varied mix. Today I revisited Wishbone Ash (not listened to them for possibly a decade; used to love them when I was 16-19, and even saw them in concert once) and Nanci Griffith. Also popular at the moment, Sarah McLachlan's Afterglow and Sarah Bareilles' Little Voice. I'm off AC/DC and Rush at the moment.

I also listen to Radio 4. Caught a really interesting program on carbon dioxide this evening, presented by Chris Rapley, director of the Science Museum, who was at the tasting I gave there earlier this year. There was also a program on the Darien scheme - important in the history of Scotland, but something I'd never heard about before.

The wine tonight is a crisp, minerally Rully.

Domaine Ninot Rully Blanc 'La Barre' 2006 Burgundy, France
A Chablis-like expression of Chardonnay: crisp, minerally, precise and with a taut presence. There's good concentration here and lovely fresh acidity. Distinct minerality is the central theme. Serious in a savoury, traditional style. 13% alcohol. 89/100 (£12.95 Jeroboams here)


Sunday, December 07, 2008

Bordeaux Blanc

I've drunk quite a bit of Bordeaux Blanc over the last few weeks. It varies in quality, of course, but I think it should be a bit more popular than it is. First of all, it's dominated by Sauvignon Blanc, which is super-fashionable these days. Often, it's blended with a bit of Semillon, which adds lemony freshness. And then there might be a bit of Muscadelle in, to add fruity, grapey notes.

Bordeaux Blanc can be fresh, fruity and inexpensive. It can also be more serious and more expensive. Often, the more expensive examples will have a bit of oak - this is one of the few regions where Sauvignon is regularly barrel fermented. As a rule, Bordeaux Sauvignon tends to be more minerally and less generous and aromatic than, say, New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc.

Tonight's wine is an example of a really good Bordeaux Blanc - one that's serious and quite complex.

Château Doisy-Daëne Sec 2007 Bordeaux
100% Sauvignon from a Château that is more famous for its fabulous Sauternes. It is made by Denis Dubourdieu, the Bordeaux University professor famous for his work on the flavour compounds in Sauvignon Blanc. Grapefruit and lemon notes dominate, with some herby, tangy savouriness and high acidity. There’s a pronounced tangerine character, too, with lovely contrast between the ripe, bright fruit and the more savoury pithy notes. Some wood here, but it fits in perfectly. A complex, gastronomic wine. 93/100 (£14.50 The Wine Society)

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Saturday, December 06, 2008

Golden tree walking the dog

Having a dog is a commitment. You saddle yourself with responsibilities. But you also benefit from the companionship, unconditional love, and moments of comedy (because dogs are, unlike cats, quite dumb at times).

One of the things I like about having a dog is that you simply have to walk it, twice a day. It's a huge commitment, but without the dog, you just wouldn't do it. Indeed, when I walk without a dog I feel a bit strange. A dog legitimizes a lengthy walk alone in the countryside. If you do this sort of thing without a dog people think you are nuts.

This morning I took this picture of a small oak tree that looked golden in the low-trajectory sunlight. You'd miss a lot if you weren't out walking at odd times. It's good thinking time, and when you are doing a job like this you need thinking time to keep yourself fresh.

City vs. Fulham and a delicious cheap red

Went to see Man City play Fulham at Craven Cottage this afternoon. Located on the bank of the River Thames opposite Putney, Fulham's ground is pretty, compact and really easy to get to, and it's one of the away games I try to catch each year.

Despite the lunchtime kick-off, there was time for a couple of pre-match beers, and then City scored early on to lift the travelling support. The home fans were almost silent. Fulham pulled one back after half-an-hour, and from then on it was pretty much a stalemate. Both sides were well organized, worked hard and kept their shape. A draw was a fair result, but it wasn't a memorable game.

Would have been nice to have seen Robinho play, but he was injured. I don't think City will win the premiership this year.

One impressive cheap Italian red to report on. It's Il Faggio Montepulciano d'Abruzzo 2007, put together by Liberty Wines and available in Asda at £5.99. Masses of sweet, focused blackberry and raspberry fruit with some spiciness and lovely purity. Robust, modern and savoury - and tastes like a £10 wine. The only slight downside is there's just a hint of rubbery reduction, but it's really quite delicious.

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Friday, December 05, 2008

A Burgundy-dominated wine lunch - fantastic!

Great wine lunch today. Ken Reich, Neal Martin, Amanda Laden, Sharon Bowman, Dan Coward and me gathered Harry Gill's Arches wine bar for a lengthy lunch. It was one of those lunches that just kept on going, and when Neal, Dan and I left at 5.15 we felt we were sloping off early. Harry kindly donated a wine (the George Jayer NSG) which he served to us blind. I really should do more lunches like this.

Château Ulysse Collin Blanc de Blancs Extra Brut NV
First vintage for this new producer – a non-dosage wine at 12.5% alcohol. Deep yellow coloured with lovely toast and herb aromatics. The palate is savoury and spicy with lovely depth and some richness, despite the lack of dosage. Lovely complexity and some notes of toffee, too, emerging after a while. Interesting stuff. 92/100

Taittinger Comtes de Champagne 1998
I love Taittinger’s Comtes, a Blanc de Blanc from Grand Cru vineyard sources, part aged in oak. Toasty and intense with lovely precision and complexity. Bright, expressive and fine with lovely toasty complexity as well as some lemony freshness. A really complex, refined fizz of great appeal. 94/100

Pierre Morey Meursault Perrieres 2002 Burgundy
Something not right here. Toasty, buttery, popcorn and cabbage edge to the nose, together with some oxidation. The palate is dense and savoury with good acidity but no depth.

Y de Yquem 2005 Bordeaux
A dry(ish) white wine from Château d’Yquem, and it’s delicious. Rich and intense with lovely lemony, melony, herby fruit. Some richer apricot, spice and wax notes on the palate which also has some sweetness (c. 8g/l residual sugar) as well as some vanilla and toast notes. The first time I’ve tried this, and I liked it. 92/100

Ponsot Clos de la Roche 1981 Burgundy
We bought this off the Arches’ wine list. You tend to approach old Burgundies from non-classic vintages with trepidation, but this was delicious. Beautifully aromatic with meaty, spicy, soy sauce notes as well as some fruit. The palate has lovely acidity and depth, with elegant, fresh fruit and some earthy notes. Beautifully evolved and drinking very well now. 93/100

Ponsot Griotte-Chambertin 1991 Burgundy
This is thrilling. Beautifully dense, spicy and aromatic with dark cherry fruit and a lovely savoury, slightly sour character. Beautifully perfumed and dense with lovely expressive personality and lots of complexity. 95/100

Dominique Laurent Ruchottes-Chambertin 2001 Burgundy
Very rich, smooth, dark and meaty with nice spiciness on the nose. The palate is intense, dark and spicy with lovely density and weight. Good structure. This is a powerful, rich wine with great potential for positive development. 94/100

Leroy Gevrey-Chambertin 1er Cru Fonteny 1999 Burgundy
Amazing blackcurranty, leafy nose. The palate is powerful and rich with dense fruit. Structured like a Bordeaux. An extracted, rich style that’s not at ease with itself. 90/100

Emmanuel Rouget Vosne-Romanée 1er Cru Les Beaumonts 1999 Burgundy
Dense, intense, spicy and quite firm with lovely lifted dark fruit aromatics and a complex, sweetly fruited palate. Quite a serious effort with plenty more to give. Very rich. 93/100

Domaine George Jayer Nuits St Georges 2002 Burgundy
Made by Rouget. Beautiful aromatics: sweet, rounded, spicy and smooth. The palate is quite elegant with nice complexity to the sweet red fruits. Ripe, rich and delicious. 93/100

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Ivy at the Sampler

Incredible wine day today. First up, a remarkable tasting at The Sampler in Islington, where we got to try out the sampling machines and taste an incredible range of high end wines. More very soon when I've written my notes up. Pictured is Ivy, the Sampler's dog - a friendly border collie.

Then it was off to The Arches wine bar for a superb wine lunch, which lasted until 5.15 pm when a few of us had to slope off. Present were Ken Reich, Neal Martin, Amanda Laden, Sharon Bowman, Dan Coward and myself. Some wonderful wines - again, more later when I've written up the notes.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

The World of Fine Wine - discount for wineanorak readers

One of the magazines I write for fairly regularly is the wonderful World of Fine Wine. It is quite different to most other magazines in terms of depth of content and approach. It's also quite expensive, but that's because the business model is quite different to most consumer magazines, where the copy is basically designed to attract advertisers - this is where the majority of most magazines make their money.

World of Fine Wine have kindly agreed to offer a discount to Wineanorak readers - you can read about it here.

Two impressive unfiltered LBV Ports

Late-bottled vintage (LBV) is a category of Port that has been devalued a bit in recent years. The idea is that these are Vintage Port in style, but more approachable, with slightly longer in cask - ready to drink when released. [See my introduction to Port for more on this.] Yet promotional activity has meant that LBVs have become cheaper and cheaper in recent years, especially in the run-up to Christmas.

A few companies have broken clear of the pack and are making serious LBVs that sell for around £11 a bottle. These are frequently designated 'unfiltered' or 'traditional' to set them apart from the rest, and these are wines that can develop further with bottle age. The best are usually those from Noval, Crasto and Niepoort. These wines taste like mini-Vintage Ports and are great value for money. They're sealed with the same driven natural corks that are used for Vintage Ports, rather than the T-tops that are often found on cheaper Ports.

Two I'm trying now are both really good. They're both from the 2003 Vintage, which was excellent for Port (although, sometimes, you get brilliant LBVs from slightly less good, non-declared years because if a Vintage Port isn't being made the grapes from the best vineyards end up in the LBV).

The first is the Barao de Vila LBV 2003 (Laithwaites £11.39), which is concentrated, dense, spicy, rich and really tannic. It's a mouthfilling, grippy wine which is as good as many Vintage Ports, so at this price it's a bargain. I'm often a bit disappointed by Laithwaites, but they've done well in sourcing this. The second is Quinta do Noval's Unfiltered LBV 2003 (£11.49 Oddbins, but the website only has the 2001; Tesco also stocked the 2001), which, when I opened it, was a bit shy and flat. After a while, though, it's qualities start to emerge. This is an aromatic, floral, linear style, with focused dark fruits and some firm tannic structure. It is, however, a little closed at the moment, with brooding intensity waiting to emerge. In two years I reckon this will have put on some weight, and will be singing. For now, though, the more rough and ready (and more concentrated) Barao de Vila will deliver the most vivid experience.

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Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Cold medicine: Clare Valley Cabernet

I hate colds. They're a severe problem when you are supposed to be assessing wines profesionally, because they mess with your sense of smell. They don't eliminate it altogether, but you end up grasping at smells that would otherwise come more easily. A bit like looking through a dirty window.

Or trying to see through the windscreen when it's raining and your windscreen wipers are broken, as once happened to Fiona and I just after we were married. My faithful old sky blue (C'mon City) Vauxhall Astra with 130 000 miles on the clock had a windscreen wiper motor failure. Before it was fixed, we carried on driving it when the forecast was clear - until one drive from Wallington (where we lived) to Cheam (where Fiona's folks lived), when we were caught out. It's only a short drive, but it started raining, and so we had to keep stopping to clean the windscreen manually. Not recommended.

I have about 60% normal olfactory function today, I'm guessing. So I turn to a wine I have a few bottles of, which I've tasted before. It's the Wakefield Cabernet Sauvignon 2005 Clare Valley (known as 'Taylors' in Australia). I bought quite a few bottles at the ludicrously cheap price of £5.99 at Majestic when it was on offer after having tasted it in Australia in April 2007, and it's a serious ageworthy red with lovely dense blackcurranty fruit and savoury spicy structure. Despite its 14.5% alcohol it's really well balanced, and I think that the origin of the fruit is the key. I really rate the Clare Valley as a source of serious red wines. Unlike many South Australian wine regions, Cabernet does as well in the Clare as Shiraz does (Coonawarra is similar in this regard - well, actually, there Cabernet is better than Shiraz).
Even with a cold, this Clare Cabernet is utterly delicious. I have four bottles left, and I'm going to cellar them for a few more years. They're sealed with screwcaps (tin/saran liner) so it will be interesting to see how they do.

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Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Bordeaux from the air - a short film

Here's the first of the video clips I shot last week. This takes in a good portion of the Left Bank.

Latest from the main wineanorak site...

Feeling a bit grotty today. Spent the last two days sitting in bed working. Quite civilized, actually, although I've still taken my turn walking the dog. Anyway, here's the latest from the main wineanorak site:
  • Alex Gambal: high quality Burgundy negociant reviewed
  • Casas del Bosque: part 5 of my Chilean series
  • Bell Hill: small but perfectly formed New Zealand estate, in the hills inland from Waipara
  • Dominique Lafon: a report on his sustainability seminar in Oregon this summer, with a tasting of his wines
  • Pépière: Marc Oliver's natural Muscadets reviewed
  • Luis Pato: A lengthy article looking at one of Portugal's star winemakers
  • Matetic: a remarkable biodynamic Chilean winery

Monday, December 01, 2008

The clustering of point scores

Had a reader write in recently, making a very good point:

I'm wondering about points and the '100 point' scale and inflation and the tight range that wines score. What percentage of the wines you review score between 86 and 93 points? Not specifically referring to your use of this scale, but it seems to me that either there is inflation, or wines have got better in recent years (quite possible, I agree). In the old days, I thought that 80 was considered a good score. Sort of a Jacob's Creek Chardonnay and 90 or above was pretty damn awesome. These days it seems that for some people, anything below 85 is a bit of a failure. Though I'm sure you'll agree with me that scores are not the be all and end all, just a useful guide. By my worry is also not just about inflation, but clustering. To you, I'm sure there's a big difference between 93 and 89 points, yet in other walks of life, say your kid's result in a maths exam, that wouldn't be a big deal. [Andrew Halliwell]

The point is well taken. My scores cluster horridly - effectlively I'm using a 15 point scale, not 100 points. But then do Robert Parker's, and the reason I use this scale is because he has established it as the 'standard' scale for rating fine wines. What are your views?