jamie goode's wine blog: January 2009

Saturday, January 31, 2009

Some New Zealand wines from M&S

Four solid Kiwi wines from UK retailer Marks & Spencer tonight. Three are from Pernod Ricard (Montana), and the Pinot is from Wither Hills.

Bluff Hill Brut NV, New Zealand (M&S £8.99)
From Pernod Ricard. Rich, toasty and quite complex with a lovely savoury character, backed up by good acidity. Richly flavoured and quite serious: a good food wine. 89/100

Kaituna Hills Chardonnay Reserve 2007 Marlborough, New Zealand (M&S £9.99) From Pernod Ricard. Bold aromatics with toast, herbs, figs and some spicy vanilla notes. Broad, intense, richly textured palate has real richness, with ripe melon and pineapple fruit combining well with some new oak. A really stylish effort which justifies itís £10 price-tag. 89/100

Kaituna Hills Reserve Cabernet Merlot 2006 Hawkes Bay, New Zealand (M&S £8.99)
From Pernod Ricard. Very fresh, bright blackcurrant fruit nose with a savoury, gravelly edge and some subtle grassy greenness hiding in the background. The palate shows a nice combination of sweet but just-ripe dark fruits with some more savoury, fresh herby notes. This is what you hope inexpensive Bordeaux could be like: generous yet savoury, and digestible and food friendly. 87/100

Clocktower Pinot Noir 2007 Marlborough, New Zealand (M&S £10.99)
From Wither Hills. A richly flavoured Marlborough Pinot with powerful dark cherry and raspberry fruit together with a strongly savoury herby, slightly green, earthy structure. Itís not as elegant as some top Pinots, but it is attractive and fresh. 88/100


Friday, January 30, 2009

50 Great Portuguese wines, the list

In response to demand, I've taken the 50 Great Portuguese Wines brochure and converted it from a v. large file to a smaller word document. You can access it here. Some of the formatting is lost, but the content is all there, including contact details of both producers and UK importers.


Puppies, Day 50

RTL's puppies are now seven weeks old. The first pup has already gone to its new home, a little early, another is due out tomorrow, and then the rest follow the weekend after. It will be sad to see them go, but at least we know they are going to lovely homes and will bring great joy (and a lot of hard work, at least at first!) to their new owners.

It has been fun to watch them grow, but clearing up after them, feeding them and making sure they're OK has been quite an effort. Fiona has spent gazillions of hours looking after the little darlings - if you worked out an hourly rate for all this work she's put in, it would be about 23 p. It's something you do for the fun of it. An experience.


Thursday, January 29, 2009

Pinot Noir: DRC and Australia

Lots of tasting today. I began at Corney & Barrow for the new release 2006 DRC tasting. It's such a treat to be able to taste these wines each year. They're absolute benchmarks of Burgundy at its very finest.

I had a chat with Aubert de Villaine, who is a total star: he's polite, thoughtful and patient, and is one of those rare people who is a winemaking legend, yet when you interview them they don't make you feel they are doing you a huge favour. I asked him about the 2006 vintage.

'The wines show that one cannot speak of great vintages or small vintages any more', says Aubert. 'Take the last 10 years: each has had its own character. 2006 was more difficult, certainly, than 2005, but, finally, with a small yield and a lot of care at sorting you have a maturity - both phenolic and sugar - that is at the same level as 2005. The difference is in the style of the wines'.

Aubert says that being organic is very important, and has had an effect on the quality of the wines. The domaine has been organic for 25 years, and part biodynamic for a while. With the 2008 vintage it is fully biodynamic. Yet Aubert thinks the big quality gain is switching to organics from conventional farming, not the move from organics to biodynamics.

The wines were really, really good, especially for 2006, and a write-up will appear tomorrow.

Then it was off to the Australia day tasting at the Emirates Stadium. It was a really good tasting, and a special feature was five themed rooms with 20 wines each, chosen by a particular Aussie journalist. Aromatic whites, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, blends and odd varieties, Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon made up the selections, and this worked really well.

My favourite wines of the tasting were the super-elegant Pinot Noirs of Mac Forbes. They ROCK!

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50 Great Portuguese Wines 2009

So yesterday was the 50 Great Portuguese wines tasting - the 2009 installment where I got to choose 50 of my favourite Portuguese wines to show to the press and trade at large, hosted at the Ambassador's residence.

I was a bit nervous. While, of course, the wines speak for themselves, the selection I made did leave out some big names who might have expected to be there, and included some less well known smaller producers, who I think really deserved to be there, but whose presence was a bit of a surprise to many.

The tasting was really well attended, and even at the close there were still a lot of people still working their way through the wines. I got lots of favourable comments (mind you, who is going to be blunt enough to tell me they didn't like the wines), although I know some people couldn't get their heads around the Concieto Bastardo, which is a really pale red wine ('a bit thin', said one old boy who I think must measure the merit of red wine by its opacity), but one with amazing elegance and aromatics. The red Vino Verde (Afros Vinhao) also split the tasters: some really loved it, others didn't get it at all.

A few wines didn't show well, which was disappointing. I can think of three that didn't really justfy their presence on yesterday's showing, although my previous experience of them has been really positive. I was really pleased by the way the Alentejo line up showed - this included some less obvious choices (and a couple of notable omissions).

The tasting was followed by a dinner which included the Portuguese wine awards. Journalism prize went to Sarah Ahmed, who will pick next years Top 50, and they couldn't have made a better choice: Sarah knows Portuguese wines really well, and I'm looking forward to tasting her selection this time next year.

Finally, a word about ViniPortugal. They are widely recognized to be the BEST of the trade bodies of any wine-producing country, providing excellent support to both journalists and the wine trade. They're doing a really good job, and I hope that whoever is in charge of funding them in Portugal recognizes the important work they do.


Tuesday, January 27, 2009

A couple from Argentina

I'm currently writing up my Argentina trip from last year (why has it taken me so long? Must try to reduce lead times...) and so I thought it would be nice to open a couple of Argentinean reds. The connection between the two is that they are NOT made from Malbec. Now Malbec is a great variety, but we mustn't forget that Argentina also does well with other red varieties. Sometimes really, really well.

Benegas Finca Libertad 2005 Mendoza, Argentina
A blend of Cabernet Sauvignon (55%), Cabernet Franc (32%) and Merlot (13%). Michel Rolland is the consultant winemaker here, and there's some similarity in style to the Clos de Los Siete, but that's not necessarily a bad thing. It shows lovely, smooth, refined pure blackberry fruit with some plummy notes, as well as spicy new oak. It's rich and modern, but not totally over-the-top. As well as the sweet fruit, there are notes of chocolate, coffee and spice, and I reckon it could age quite nicely over the next few years. 90/100 (£12.99 Virgin Wines)

Alamos Cabernet Sauvignon 2007 Mendoza, Argentina
This is a really impressive inexpensive red. The nose shows sweet, pure red berry and blackberry fruit. The palate is smooth and refined with accessible blackberry and blackcurrant fruit which flirts with jamminess but stays fresh and well defined. A lovely easy drinker. 87/100 (£7.07 Bibendum, on sale at £5.49 3-13 February)

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NWR: A beautiful day

Not much to say, other than to note that today is, officially, a beautiful winter's day here in this corner of west London: blue skies, warming sun and virtually no wind. The quality of the light is just lovely.

The picture above was taken as I walked the dog this morning. I was thinking about the importance of seasons and rhythms in life. There's the rhythm of work and rest/recreation: one that's hard to get right, but which is important for happiness. And then there are seasons: times of tight deadlines and intense activity, and times when it's all a bit calmer.

Anyway, I've got to do both walks today, and the hound needs her exercise, so I'm off out again in a few moments.

Take care opening fizz

There are obvious dangers opening a bottle of sparkling wine (corks ejecting at 60 mph), and less obvious ones. This is the picture of the rim of a bottle I recently opened. As I twisted the cork to loosen it, I felt something sharp dig into the palm of my hand and my index finger. While there was a bit of blood, it could have been much worse than it was. From now on, I'll be checking the rim is intact.


Monday, January 26, 2009

Annoying winery website prize?

Should there be a prize for "most annoying winery website", I think I've found a strong contender. I won't name it because I think that's a bit too negative, and I like to keep the energy here positive. But to get to the first page proper, I had to tell the site my date of birth (ludicrous), then negotiate a totally pointless splash page (press 'enter'!), and then once I was on the main site, it was one of those over-the-top flash presentations, thin on content - and, to cap it all, some silly music started. And this site didn't have the information I wanted (the winemaker's name).

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Now is different (2)

A week ago I posted here on how now is different, and how old ways of doing business in the wine trade need to change. It met with a range of responses, from highly positive, to highly negative.

I've been thinking some more on these issues.

I think a different type of leadership is needed in times of difficulty and rapid change. There are people who do a very competent, effective job when conditions for business are stable and benign, but whose skill sets are likely to be unsuited to tougher times of rapid flux.

The organizations that are going to find things very difficult are those with managers at the helm rather than leaders.

Here's an important point: sometimes changing nothing and carrying on just as before is the most effective strategy. But if this is the chosen route, then people need to be led into it - it needs to be communicated that the decision to carry on is an active choice, and people need to buy into this.

However, I suspect that in the current difficult economic climate strategies of 'batten down the hatches' and 'ride out the storm', might lead to failure - albeit a slower, more drawn-out failure than would otherwise have been the case.

Think of a parallel with evolution. Rapid shifts in climate, for example, threaten those species least able to adapt rapidly. Typically, larger animals with longer generation times and higher energy requirements will be more at risk. Smaller animals, able to adapt quickly to changing circumstances may be better off. New niches will appear and these will offer opportunities for some.

While economic downturn is bad news for most, there will be some winners. Wine companies must make sure they are being led by leaders who are set free to lead, and not crippled by fear, with cautious managers making all the decisions. There is a risk in this, but failure to take risks will be even riskier, in that it looks doomed to failure. We may see a much changed wine market emerge the other side of the current crisis.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Trying to find the right wine: Arbois

Had a funny wine evening. Opened four bottles before I could find something I wanted to drink. A Bordeaux that was just blah, a Californian that was sweet and confected, a South African that was clumsily oaked and 15.5% alcohol, and then finally a lovely Arbois. It's the 2002 Cuvee des Geologues from Lucien Aviet (Les Caves de Pyrene c. £13). It's light in colour, with real elegance. I love the sweet, smoothly textured, silky cherry fruit with a subtly earthy, sappy savoury edge. It's a light, expressive sort of wine, but with enough richness and depth to make it a good match for all but the most intense of dishes.


A New Zealand Syrah

I really, really like Syrah from New Zealand. Most of the good stuff comes from a special patch of ground, the Gimblett Gravels in Hawkes Bay, a warm microclimate with special soils.

Tonight I'm tasting one such wine. It was the favourite of mine from the line-up of Southbank Estate wines that I tried at the recent New Zealand tasting. It's not the best Kiwi Syrah, by any measure, but it's very attractive, and relatively easily available in the UK.

Southbank Estate Syrah 2005 Hawkes Bay, New Zealand
This is a light, medium-bodied red with fresh cherry and red berry fruit, as well as some hints of white pepper and a bit of gravelly grip on the palate. It's a bright, quite savoury red, with more in common with red Burgundy than Australian Shiraz. It flirts with greenness, but there's enough ripeness here for it to work really well. At just 12.5% alcohol, this is a bright, vibrant, food-friendly Syrah that will age well, and which is dangerously drinkable. 89/100 (£13 Majestic, Blackrock Wines, Penistone Court Wines)

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Friday, January 23, 2009

Some questions from Bordeaux

Currently sitting in the last session of the Lallemand Tour. We're in Bordeaux today, holding our meeting in the HQ of the syndicat of Bordeaux and Bordeaux Superieur.

Last night we dined well at a lovely restaurant in St Emilion. Even in driving rain, it's still quite a beautiful town. Two of the wines we had divided opinions. Both were Fronsacs from the 2001 vintage. One was edgier, more lively, a bit grippier, fresher and with some lovely semi-funky dark fruit notes. The other was lighter, simpler and fruitier. I preferred the first, which was really interesting; some others preferred the latter. Is there a universal standard for wine? Are we both right? But there are cases when there is right and wrong in wine judging, aren't there? It's no good saying 'anything goes', and not all opinions are equally valid, surely?

The wines were decanted. I was sitting next to Jean-Michel Salmon, a noted wine scientist. He confirmed what I suspected: decanting at table doesn't allow time for oxygen to have an effect on the wine. So what does it do?

Pictured is Mickael Moisseeff, an expert in smells, giving his talk. He's a very interesting person, with some wonderfully colourful stories to tell. His talk is very participatory, with lots of aromas to smell. Jean-Michel is also in the picture - it makes Mickael look like a giant.

Recently on the main site

One of my periodic updates on what I've posted on the main wineanorak site.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

In Saumur

Here's the view from our hotel (Mercure) in Saumur, over the Loire. Just about to hit the road for Bordeaux. Later...


On tour in France (2) Macon and Saumur

The Lallemand tour continues. It's the next best thing to being in a band. We show up in town, check in to our hotel, have dinner together and then the next day we do our gig, finishing early afternoon. Then we pile into the tour bus and drive to the next destination.

Day 2 was Macon, where we did our seminar at the Lycee Agricole in Davaye. It really is beautifully sitauted, in the middle of the rather beautiful vineyards of Pouilly-Fuisse and Saint Veran (pictured above and below - two of the shots were taken in the early morning sun). I never realized just how attractive this region was. The room we were meeting in was the Salle de Jules Chauvet, named after the famous wine scientist who these days is celebrated as the father of natural wine.

After the seminar we had a five-and-a-half hour drive to Saumur, where we are today. We dined very well last night at 'La Reine de Sicile' on rue Waldeck-Rousseau. Really nice food washed down with Saumur wines, both white and red. I'm shortly about to give my presentation for the third time, so I'm hoping my delivery will be almost perfect!

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Monday, January 19, 2009

On tour in France

I'm spending this week on tour in France with Lallemand, a yeast company. They're holding a series of seminars in various locations, and the topic this time is oxidation and reduction.

I took the 0755 flight from Gatwick to Toulouse where I met up with everyone, and we then drove to Nimes for the first seminar, which will be tomorrow. I'm looking forward to it.


Sunday, January 18, 2009

Moldovan wine

I was recently sent three wines from Moldova to try: an aged red wine, an aged dessert wine and a more recent Chardonnay (2005). The Chardonnay was minerally but a bit flat and showing some traces of oxidation, but the two older wines were of real interest.

They come from Cricova, a company famous for its amazing underground cellars: see their website here. They're distributed in the UK by Exquisite Wines, whose blog makes interesting reading.

Cricova Vin de Colectie Dionis 1992 Moldova
10% alcohol. A blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Pinot Noir, which I think is the first time I've had this combination. It's a bright cherry red colour without much fading at the rim. The nose shows lovely aromatics with notes of leather and herbs under the sweet, focused raspberry and plum fruit. The palate shows nice fresh fruit with an earthy, savoury undercurrent and just a hint of earthy funkiness on the finish. It's evolving really well, and would have got a higher rating had it not been for the slight savoury funk. Overall, though, I was really impressed by this wine. 89/100

Cricova Vin de Colectie Gratiesti Nectar 1990 Moldova
16% alcohol. Orange/brown colour. Bold, rich and sweet with flavours of raisins, barley sugar, nuts, apricots and dates. Quite richly textured and very sweet. Warming, like a Tawny Port crossed with a sweet sherry, with nice complexity. 90/100


Saturday, January 17, 2009

Neglected Alsace

Over the last couple of nights I've been enjoying an Alsace white, and wondering why I don't drink more Alsace wines. This isn't the best wine in the world, by any measure, but it's really good. The exciting thing is that there are loads more better than this out there, I'm sure.

Jean Becker Gewurztraminer 2006 Alsace, France
An organic wine, this is deliciously balanced and rounded. It shows grape, melon and lychee aromas with a smooth, textured palate. There's also a distinctive tangerine character here. It's off-dry but not at all cloying. A benchmark Gewurz with some spicy minerality on the finish. 90/100 (£10.99 Oddbins)

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The poopies, day 38

OK, They're getting bigger. Now they're experiencing short spells of freedom in our kitchen. [But first of all they sleep and feed in this short video.] The poopies are now at the stage where we can tell them all apart without their neck tags. They all have homes to go to, and we're delighted that all the prospective owners are so lovely.


Friday, January 16, 2009

Now is different

The wine industry needs to change. It needs to realize that now is different, and the old ways of making and selling wine will have to change.

The wine industry needs leaders, not managers. As we enter a period of rapid change, the wine industry will only thrive if it is led by brave, visionary leaders. If it is led by managers with a fear of failure and a tendency to maintain the status quo, then we're stuffed.

Note: there's a difference between embracing tradition and heritage as part of a deliberate strategy, and sticking with what we've always done because that's the way it's done, and the way it has worked in the past.

If you use sales figures or other data points as performance metrics, you need to understand the time-lag behind adopting new initiatives and the results of these initiatives in the marketplace. Often, this time-lag can be significant. As a result, those statistics you are looking at are telling you about what happened in the industry some time ago. You can get caught out in this way: it can lead you to think all is well, when in fact a lack of innovation today will only become apparent in two or three years time.

Leaders and managers are different. Often, organizations are born as the result of the vision of a leader, and they start to grow - often quite fast. Leaders frequently make the mistake of hiring people like them - other leaders. This doesn't work out, so they hire a manager to work with them and look after all the details. Things are much better.

Then the initial period of growth begins to wane, and the leader wants to move on to a fresh challenge, or retires. What the organization badly needs now is a new leader. But what they invariably do is reward the manager by promoting them to run the organization. This invariably results in stagnation, because the manager hires other managers and feels threatened by leaders within the organization, so they end up leaving.

The wine industry is facing a difficult time: there's oversupply, and there's a recession. What it needs is not managers to give a safe steer, although there's a temptation to play things safe in such difficult times. It needs visionary leaders, who are fearless innovators, looking for opportunities, developing new markets and recruiting new wine drinkers.

Pousadas, football and the power of the blog

A few short items for Friday morning.

1. Pousadas rock. They're the wonderful hotels based on historical buildings, palaces and castles dotted around Portugal. Just seen on their website that they have some tempting specials. I'd love a week touring Portugal like this, or even a long weekend. [No connection or commercial plug here, just wanted to big them up a bit.]

2. It's a great time to be a City fan. Looking likely that we'll be in a relegation scrap (along with half the premiership?), and we're talking about signing Kaka for enough money to buy an average-sized premier league team like West Ham or Middlesborough.

3. Very amusing article in The Guardian about Masal Bugduv, a 16 year old footballing prodigy who made No. 30 in a list of the world's hottest footballing talents compiled by The Times. The only thing is, he doesn't exist. Bugduv was created by football bloggers, and then picked up by a number of media sources in the course of their research.

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In a chalk mine, tasting Portuguese and Italian wine

Took a trip over to Berkshire today to visit wine merchant Milton Sandford (website), who are located in an old chalk mine. It's a perfect place to store wine, with a constant, low temperature in its underground tunnels (pictured above). It's a pretty cool place, but it must be weird if you're one of the office-bound staff who never sees daylight. You might end up a bit like Gollum.
Specifically, I was looking at two different products: a pair of organic Italian wines that are being sold in Tetrapak, and a couple of Portuguese wines. The Portuguese wines were pretty impressive, actually. Both sell (to restaurants) at around £5. Notes below:

Casalinho Arinto 2007 Vinho Verde, Portugal
This is really good. Beautifully aromatic with notes of herbs, lemon and minerals. The palate is zippy and bright with lovely herby freshness and light, zippy lemony fruit. Very fresh and precise. This is a beautiful wine with lovely spritzy freshness, as well as some seriousness. 90/100

Romanisco Reserva 2005 Douro, Portugal
Fresh dark cherry and spice nose with some tarry richness, as well as a plummy, herby note. The palate has a tarry, spicy edge to the spicy, savoury plummy fruit. An intense savoury style with chunky tannins. Good stuff. 87/100


Thursday, January 15, 2009

PROP tasting and the 'supertaster' hypothesis questioned

Some of you will be familiar with the PROP/supertaster story, which I've written about a fair bit in the past. It's the intriguing observation that people can be split into three groups by their ability to taste a bitter compound called propylthiouracil (PROP), and that this separation is genetic in its origin. The idea goes that we live in rather different taste worlds, and that while this result is specific to PROP and bitter tasting chemicals such as quinine, it also affects taste intensity more generally. Thus there are non-tasters, supertasters (or hypertasters) and then the group in the middle.

I've tried to apply all this psychophysical work to wine - in fact, this was a theme in the first ever feature I wrote for Harpers, when I was starting out as a paid wine writer in 2002.

But new research is calling into question the general significance of PROP taster status. It may be that this is more accurately seen as a specific aguesia (inability to taste). You can read the abstract of a recent study here.


An Aussie Pinot

Played football again this evening. I'm nuts: I'm playing again tomorrow night. At my age? Well, I'm keen on exercise because it means I can keep eating and drinking well, and not become a big fatty. [I'm not being fattist here: everyone is beautiful and worthy of much love - whatever their waist size - it's just I'm a weak individual who has a shallow self-confidence, and I couldn't carry 'fat' off very well.]

So a little wine before bedtime. It's a commercial Aussie Pinot Noir. By all rights, it should be awful - Pinot Noir is so hard to do well. Actually, it's quite nice. Overall, I'm quite a fan of the Jacob's Creek range. Of all the big brands, they're one of the best - along with Yalumba's Oxford Landing (especially the reds) and Concha y Toro's Casillero del Diablo.

Jacob's Creek Reserve Pinot Noir 2006 Southeast Australia
The colour is encouraging: it isn't too deep. Sweet, quite dense cherry and blackberry fruit on the nose with some spiciness and a hint of green sappiness. The palate has a nice texture, with some sweetness, and attractive cherry and plum fruit. There's a bit of tannic grip on the finish, which clamps down a bit on the fruit, and there's some greenness evident, too. But overall, a really attractive lighter-styled red wine that tastes like Pinot Noir. That's an achievement. It's the sort of wine I'd opt for in a restaurant or supermarket with a restricted, commercially oriented list, and you can derive some real pleasure from it. 86/100

I reviewed the regular JC PN here, 18 months ago.

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Wednesday, January 14, 2009

The best way to learn about wine

I was thinking today about the best way to learn about wine. I'd travelled down to Devon to see my son (he's boarding at school) and attend a meeting. After the formalities were over we went together to a coffee shop for some hot chocolate, an then popped in to a record shop on the high street.

Now this place is about as far away as you can get from HMV. It is run by someone who's clearly a music enthusiast, and as well as carrying the latest chart items it has a display section of mid-priced classics. I've bought a few things here before, so this time I asked for advice. The shop owner was really helpful, and I came out with Joni Mitchell's Blue. I'm embarassed I don't already know her stuff, but this is a really brilliant album.

There's so much music out there, how do you choose what to listen to? Which new avenues should you explore? What are the 'benchmarks'? It's a similar problem faced by the newbie wine drinker. While modern retail offers amazing selections at amazingly keen prices, it's difficult to know where to start.

A shop, properly run by an enthusiast whose main drive is passion for the product, has to be the best place. If you have a local wine merchant with a good range and staff who care, then that's surely the best way to learn about wine. Of course, I think you should be making good use of critics and writers - and websites like this - but then there's the issue of finding the wines that are being talked about.

If you have a good merchant, use them, and be prepared to pay slightly more for the wine than the cheapest price on wine-searcher. You are getting, in the price of the bottle, the benefit of a relationship that could be your best means of discovering new wines, tailored to your palate and interests. That's got to be worth something.

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Tuesday, January 13, 2009

What's hot at the New Zealand annual tasting?

Some days I find I can taste really well. Others, it's a bit tougher - I just don't get the wines as quickly, or else things that should be really good are just so-so. Today was a bit like that. I don't know why this is - is it me, or atmospheric conditions, or - as the biodynamic guys claim - to do with the phases of the moon? But it's good to remember that the taster is an important factor in the 'taste' of the wine.

Today was the New Zealand annual tasting, held at Lords, and very well attended. Disappointingly, while many tastings now provide us punters with decent glasses, we were on ISOs today - the inadequately small glasses that don't show wines very well (especially not Pinot Noir). It's a false economy. You've flown everyone there, spent loads, and then balked at spending a bit more on hiring proper glasses.

I spent a lot of time chatting, but still did quite a bit of tasting. Some highlights:

1. The Framingham range: really nice aromatics here from Marlborough. Winemaker Dr Andrew Hedley is doing a brilliant job, and his wonderfully pure Noble Riesling 2008 was one of the wines of the tasting for me. Great value for money, these wines.

2. John Forrest took me through his burgeoning range. Really liked The Forrest Collection The White 07 and 08, and his two Gimblett Gravels wines - the Collection Syrah 06 and Collection Cabernet Sauvignon 06. He told me that he bought 70 acres of Gimblett Gravels when it was $400/acre. Now the price is more like $25K/acre, and $50K/acre developed!

3. Matt Thomson showed his Saint Clair wines, and they are really impressive across the board. Yes, the Sauvignons are in a thiol-rich style, but there's minerality, too. I really like his Pinots, too.

4. Chatted to Tamra Washington, winemaker at Yealands, a remarkable and enormous new venture in the Awatere Valley, Marlborough. Making some really nice wines. I met Tamra back in Sicily when she worked for Calatrasi, but I hadn't seen her since. She left for KWV, but had an absolutely dreadful experience there and only stayed for three weeks!

5. The Jackson Estate wines are really, really good.

6. Wine of the tasting, for me, was Bilancia's 2007 Syrah, Hawkes Bay. So fresh, bright, peppery and expressive. Bilancia's La Collina Syrah is also remarkable and profound.


Monday, January 12, 2009

A comment on comments

In light of some of the recent comment-flurry, I thought I'd say a few things about commenting on this blog.

1. I'm reluctant to pull comments. I beleive in openness and freedom of expression, and if you have something critical to say, then I'm grateful that you take the time to say it. We all have something to learn from our critics [it helps if they are at least trying to be constructive]. I have pulled a couple of comments in recent months, but that was because they were verging on racist in their tone. If you are really mean to someone, or bang out of order (e.g. racist), then I'll pull your comment.

2. I'm continuing to allow anonymous comments, because sometimes people who want to say something critical will be put off if they have to use their real names. But I'd much rather people used their names to leave comments, even if this requires a bit of courage.

3. I really value your comments, so please keep them coming. The days of vertical communication by 'experts' to their readers are dead; the new model is a horizontal one, where we all talk to each other.

4. Please 'play nice'. There are different ways of saying the same thing. By all means let's engage in banter and be as edgy as we want, but let's be gracious and kind at the same time. Sorry if this sounds preachy, but kindness is important.

5. I don't mind people linking to (relevant) articles on their own blogs or other websites, because that can be useful for other readers. That's fine. It's best to do this openly. Blatant spam, of course, will get zapped.

Late night wine VLOG: Vinho Verde

It's been a while since my last VLOG post. Here's a new one, including the wonderful crazy Vinhao I reported on yesterday.

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Sunday, January 11, 2009

Vinhao: amazing stuff, and woefully underappreciated

On one of my trips to Portugal this year - in May - I made a brilliant discovery. [Of course, I'm not referring to my process of discovery as brilliant; rather, it was what I discovered that was brilliant.] It's red Vinho Verde. I'd heard it mentioned many times, but had never tried it. But I was curious, because most people seemed to think of it as an oddity verging joke status. So when I saw it on a wine list at the hotel I was staying at I ordered a bottle. It was absurdly inexpensive, and arrived chilled. I popped the cork and poured it - it was a deep, intense, vivid, youthful red purple colour, with a trace of spritziness. And it tasted beautiful: sharp, tannic, vibrantly fruity, juicy, slightly green but sweet at the same time, and a brilliant foil for most foods with its high acidity.

Then, a few days later, in a small restaurant in Guimaraes, I ordered a carafe of house red. The waiter came with a jug of darkly coloured, vibrant, youthful red Vinho Verde that tasted just like it had finished fermenting. It was dark, intense, fruity, tannic and acidic - and so full of life. And it cost just a few Euros.

But when I visited Vinho Verde in November, I had to ask producers to show me their red wines. They just didn't think foreign journalists would be interested in such a 'local' taste. Indeed, it's hard to find the wine outside the region - even in Lisbon you just don't see it, despite the fact that quite a bit is made.

Vinhao is the principal grape that red Vinho Verde is made from. It's also known as Sousao in the Douro, and its distinctive characteristic is that it is a teinturier, a red fleshed grape. This explains the incredible intensity of colour that these wines have. Generally, I really like wines where the grapes struggle for ripeness and only just achieve it, as the Vinhao does in the north of Portugal.

I don't know why the Portuguese are so apologetic about Vinhao. It's an extreme taste, with high tannins and acidity, but this is offset by the amazing fruit presence, and the youthful character of the wines. They have rough edges, but so do many interesting people. Vinhao should be cherished as something unique, delicious, and thoroughly gastronomic.

Two Vinhaos have prompted this post. They are both from the same producer, Afros: one is still and one is sparkling. They're utterly brilliant wines, but not for everyone. The estate is being run biodynamically, with Rui Cunha (Covela) as the consultant winemaker.

Afros Vinho Verde Tinto Vinhao 2007 Portugal
Remarkable stuff, and pretty refined by Vinhao standards. Opaque inky-dark red black colour with a purpe rim. Intense, sweet but savoury pure raspberry and cranberry fruit nose. The palate has a slightly spicy spike under the intense, pure, cherry, raspberry and plum fruit with a spicy, tannic bite. Brilliantly vivid, savoury and moreish with a gastronomic character. Great fun, but with a serious side. I love it. 92/100

Afros Vinho Verde Tinto Espumante 2006 Portugal
Another Vinhao, this time the sparkling version. Really deep red/purple in colour, this sparkling red is really food friendly. There's nice vivid dark fruit here with a hint of chocolatey richness and a trace of meatiness. Lovely acidity and some delicious tannic grip. But it shows some refinement, too. This is delicious stuff that would work brilliantly with a wide range of foods. 91/100

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Saturday, January 10, 2009

An amazing fortified Tannat

I think it's a bit stupid to eat chocolate and drink wine at the same time, but if you really, really want to match chocolate with wine, this is the one to choose.

It's a remarkable Tannat from the Madiran region that's had its fermentation arrested by the addition of spirit, similarly to the way that Port is made. This leaves it sweet and alcoholic (17.5%). It's brilliant stuff, quite different to Port, but complex and tasty.

Domaine Berthoumieu Tanatis Vin de Liquer NV, Southwest France
Really interesting sweet, spicy, earthy blackfruits nose. The palate is dense and spicy with lovely pure sweet blackberry fruit and some pepperiness, as well as firm tannins that mesh well with the sweetness. There are subtle hints of mint and medicine in the background, too. Delicious and unusual. 92/100 (Les Caves de Pyrene)

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Friday, January 09, 2009

Cigalus - top Languedoc white

Don't come across many high-end Languedoc whites, but here's one that's been on my sample rack for a while. It's really refined and pretty serious, but I'm not sure about the price tag (it says £26.99 Oddbins, although I don't think they have any still in stock).

Gerard Bertrand Cigalus 2007 Vin de Pays d'Oc, France
75% Chardonnay, 20% Viognier and 5% Sauvignon Blanc, two-thirds of which is fermented and aged in new oak. It's a really refined wine that shows great balance between the lush, rounded, opulent Viognier and Chardonnay characters, and an innate sort of fruity freshness, which keeps it from being at all heavy. It's even a bit floral. The oak is really well integrated, just supplying a little vanilla spice and subtle breadiness. Overall, it's a really refined, modern wine of real poise, and the Viognier is adding something distinctive to it. 91/100

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RTL's puppies: a video update

The latest on the puppies. They're now like little dogs, and are cute and playful. They are still suckling, but eating solid food as well. Each is developing its own personality, and it will be really hard to let them go in four weeks' time. This weekend we have a steady stream of new owners coming to select their littl'uns. We aren't sure about whether we should keep one or not. If we don't, there is still a little boy looking for a home.


Thursday, January 08, 2009

Working for free?

Now that I'm a freelancer I have to be a bit careful how I spend my time. To put it bluntly, I need to have enough billable days each month, or I'll be in financial trouble.

Yet I still get people asking me to do things when they haven't got any budget to pay me. I don't mind people asking, as long as they don't mind me saying no, and as long as they don't make it difficult for me to say no, and as long as they're suitably apologetic or grovelling when they ask me to work for no pay.

This week I had an MW phone me up asking me to spend a day tutoring MW candidates on wine journalism, and how to write better [he did say he was desperate]. He's a nice guy and I'd love to have helped him out, but I have a lot of deadlines this week (paying work), and it would have been quite a task rearranging everything, preparing material, and then doing the gig. I asked early on in the conversation whether there would be a fee, and was told perhaps a bottle of wine or two, which isn't much good for paying the mortgage.

I feel bad asking for money, and I know that a lot of people give their time freely to help with the IMW. But these people are often salaried. Or they are MWs with a sense of duty towards the MW 'club'. Or they aren't busy, or have plenty of money already.

I know from experience that non-paying gigs don't bring out the best in me; I say yes to them, then find it puts pressure on my paying work, and I end up not doing such a good job with them because I can't justify spending enough time on preparation. It's generally much better all round if I charge my normal day rate (£400, which is pretty competitive) and then give the client my full attention.

I'm not saying that I won't do freebies, but people need to realize exactly what they are asking for when they expect a service but have no budget.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Some questions for contemplation, with wine

Just poured a glass of Bodega Tradicion's 30 year old Oloroso (from Fortnum & Mason, it's their own label offering). It is a profound wine and it has reminded me of some of the questions and thoughts I was thinking about when I was walking the dog this afternoon.

1. Is wine art?
2. Does art have the power to redeem? I guess, by this, I'm thinking about whether art has the power to enable us to step outside our daily struggles and busyness, and transport us to a different place: one from which we can see ourselves and our situations in a different light - a light that then empowers us to better deal with our lives.
3. I beauty transforming? Does beauty experienced somehow relfect back on us in a way that changes us, elevating us beyond our current state?
4. As an example, music seems to have a transforming or redeeming quality to it. We can be in a painful, difficult, or mundane place, but then listening to the right music for the time seems to be able to transport us in our minds, distancing us from our current situation, opening up for us a new vista. I also find that music has this ability to bypass my mind (with all its various processing issues) and reach to my 'heart'.
5. There is truth in wine, in as much that modest intoxication by means of wine seems to enable us to see things from a new - and often more generous - perspective. Other forms of intoxication promise to reveal another world, or a new 'reality'; wine keeps us grounded in this world, but helps us to see it differently. It is, in this sense, a virtuous intoxicant. [I think this is one of Roger Scruton's ideas.]
6. The meaning of art, or music, or wine depends on our previous experience. The significance of a particular piece of art is therefore different for each person. This is not to suggest that everything is relative; just that we shouldn't assume that what works for us will also work for others.
7. There is a difference between popular culture and high culture. But it's a shame where people try to erect a firm barrier between the two. Both are important.

Back to tonight: I think this 30 year old Oloroso is a totally profound, complex wine. I think it is 'wine as art'. It has a transforming quality to it that can, in some senses, be counted as redemptive. There's a beauty to it that allows me to step outside my particular circumstance and gain a renewed perspective, one that is tangible on a number of levels - the complexity of the wine, the context of its production (long ageing in barrels), the fact that is displays particular sensory characteristics that I can appreciate in the context of what I know about sherry, and also the sense of mild intoxication that it brings. This would, of course, all be enhanced if I could share this wine with others who also appreciated its qualities.

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I hate pseudoscience!

I've been researching a piece today on a medical doctor in Australia who has been marketing a range of resveratrol-supplemented wines. It's the sort of subject that is liable to set me ranting.

This is because I hate the abuse of science, and one of the primary areas in which science is abused (in my opinion) is in the field of dietary supplements. And, again, in my opinion, I think that to supplement wine with resveratrol, is moving beyond the current state of good science on this topic.

What's the story? A few years ago some really interesting reports turned up in the literature showing that resveratrol, which is a phytoalexin (plant defence molecule) found in red wine, can affect signalling molecules called sirtuins, which act as a metabolic switch.

This switch can shift the metabolism of a wide range of organisms, from yeasts to mammals, between two different strategies: live short and fast, or long and slow.

It seems that nature has built-in these two different strategies so that organisms can adapt to environments of either feast or famine. Normally, caloric restriction - the only intervention shown to extend lifespan across a range of different organisms - will result in a slow-burn sort of metabolism where organisms just hang in there, waiting for things to improve.

Resveratrol signalling, at least in experimental studies, seems to mimic caloric restriction, and it has been suggested that it could be protective against a range of age-related diseases, including cancer. Scientists are taking this seriously, and there is currently a lot of interest in this molecule, although there are issues with dose and bioavailability (it seems you need more than wine contains for there to be an effect, and also that while it's rapidly taken up by the body, it is also rapidly metabolized).

But while drug development based on initially promising findings is a long road that requires researchers to substantiate their claims by proving safety and efficacy of potential drug targets, the dietary supplements industry isn't bound by such restrictions.

Hence, if you search the internet, you'll find many companies already offering resveratrol-based supplements that claim to have amazing health benefits. I think this is wrong. It's far too early to be making claims for compounds such as resveratrol and marketing resveratrol-enhanced wines in the way that's currently being attempted. The science simply isn't there yet.

I also think it's a mistake to market wine as a 'nutriceutical' in this way. There's good evidence that moderate wine consumption may be good for health; so why the need to add extra things to wine?

Let the research scientists do their work. There are good reasons why the pharmaceutical industry is heavily regulated and that consumers are protected from potentially false claims or dangerous medicines. It's high time that the dietary supplements industry was subjected to the same rigorous scrutiny, because it's an industry that's making billions of pounds a year from peddling products whose efficacy is largely unsubstantiated.

I'm going to stop now because I'm beginning to rant.

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Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Nicolas Catena Zapata, a first growth from Argentina

Tonight's wine is a serious effort from Argentina, in a grand bottle that weighs 1.2 kg empty! Actually, I opened it last night, but was confused. Either this was a top class wine being judged very early in its life, or it was a rather grotesque misjudgment on the part of the winemaker. The problem was the extremely ripe fruit profile allied with masses of new oak. Was this a spoofulated modern wine, or actually something quite serious? I witheld judgment until tonight, when I went back to the wine. My verdict? While it currently shows spoofy tendencies, and could potentially be even better with a little less overt ripeness and oak, it is an Argentinean first growth.

Nicolas Catena Zapata 2005 Argentina
Approximately two-thirds Cabernet and one-third Malbec, this is a serious effort from one of Argentina's top producers. A concentrated, dark coloured wine it is currently extremely oaky: on opening, there's a big waft of vanilla and spice, along with ripe, sweet blackberry and blackcurrant fruit. After a while, this oak subsides a little, revealing more interesting floral and mineral notes under the super-ripe fruit. The palate is dense, smooth, ripe and rich with concentrated sweet fruits and some smooth but spicy tannic structure hiding underneath it. Currently quite oak dominated, all the ingredients are here for a long, graceful evolution. Don't open this now, but in five, ten or fifteen years, I reckon it will be quite special. It's 'new world' in style, and I'd probably prefer a little less ripeness, but it's serious. 93/100

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Monday, January 05, 2009

A new Aussie classic

A new wine this - and it looks set to become an Aussie Classic. A really serious, intense, yet well balanced Cabernet Sauvignon from the Clare Valley. I really like the Clare Valley. You have to take your hat off to a region that makes great Cabernet Sauvignon and great Riesling.

Jim Barry The Benbournie Cabernet Sauvignon 2002 Clare Valley, South Australia
From a 70 acre vineyard planted in 1964, aged in new American oak for 14 months. This is a serious effort. Wonderfully dense of earthy, spicy blackcurrant fruit, with that almost oily blackcurrant bud character. The palate is dense with spicy, slightly medicinal blackcurrant fruit as well as a cedary woodiness. There's lovely intensity here, but all the flavours meld together well to form a serious wine with real focus and concentration. 93/100

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Sunday, January 04, 2009

A walk, a party, and a Portuguese wine

Yesterday was a fun day. Crisp and bright and very cold; one of those days where all the colours are in laser-sharp focus and the air has a wonderful purity to it.

I took RTL and the two boys out for a long walk in Windsor Great Park. It was great - everyone was in a good mood, and we met a huge golden retriever-poodle (goldenpoo) cross called Dougal who looked very similar to RTL but with big, furry feet.

Then, in the evening, we partied. It was our good friend Karl's 40th, and it was a real craic. Nice bunch of people, good spirits all round, and a few nice wines including a really smooth, lush Alentejo red - the Herdade de Sao Miguel 2006.

Puppy update, day 24

Here's a short video of our rather gorgeous labradoodle puppies, day 24. They're growing well, and developing their own personalitites. We potentially have one puppy left, out of the eight - the rest are spoken for.


Friday, January 02, 2009

Wine predictions for 2009

Some wine predictions for 2009 - the full version on the main site has more in the way of explanation.

  • Itís bad news folks. The real economic pain is yet to come. But you knew that, and itís getting a bit boring talking about it.
  • Selling wine below cost will end: some UK supermarkets have been using wine as a loss-leader, damaging brands in the process, but they will stop.
  • The strength of the Euro will change the face of the UK marketplace.
  • Print magazines will suffer; online wine writing will continue to thrive.
  • Neo-prohibitionism has gathered momentum, and unless challenged will be a major threat to the wine industry.
  • 2009 is South Africaís big opportunity, but will they take the chance?
  • Finding a route to market will remain the major challenge for producers: and solving this should be the key focus of those who want to succeed.
  • Could this be the year of the co-op? Given the right direction and leadership, co-operative wineries could find some marketplace opportunities in 2009.
  • But 2009 will see some real innovation in the wine industry Ė specifically, lower alcohol wines that taste good, and a fully recyclable triple-layer PET bottle and closure option.

I'd also like to refer readers to Doug Wregg's wonderful (and wittier) predictions here

Catena Malbec rocks!

Just drinking Cantena's 2006 Malbec (from Argentina's Mendoza region), which, at just over £10 a bottle (UK agent Bibendum) is a really superb value wine.

It shows lovely purity of ripe, sweet, but well-defined raspberry and blackberry fruit on the nose. In the mouth, this sweet, pure fruit is joined by a bit of spicy structure. Tannins are really smooth and, while present, mesh with the fruitiness really well. Overall, it's quite an elegant wine: indeed, my view is that Argentinean Malbec at its best has more in common with Pinot Noir than it does with Cabernet Sauvignon - it's an elegant, ripe, yet expressive wine. This is sourced from four vineyards, all at altitude: Adrianna (5000 ft), Angelica (2850 ft), Piramide (3100 ft) and Nicasia (3870 ft). For the benefit of those used to metric measures, a foot is about 1/3 metre (this was a sample destined for the US market). It's 14% alcohol, and I rate it at 90/100.

Picture is a tasting I had in March at the Adrianna vineyard in Mendoza, Argentina.

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Thursday, January 01, 2009

Blogs of note

First rule of blogging: little and often. In a quick review of those blogs that have made it onto my blog roll, I was horrified to find that some have been updated as little as once a month. Others seem to have understood how to do it a bit better, though.

Some that I really enjoy:

Bertand's www.wineterroirs.com is awesome, because of what he covers as much as how he does it. Really super selection of wine growers reviewed here, with great photography.

Thor Iverson keeps his blog updated and is always worth a read for his thoughtful commentary and good taste in wines.

Angry Alice has another well-updated, intelligent blog that I enjoy reading. I think she'd be even better, though, if she focused more on what she liked and vented less spleen on what she disapproves of. But I guess this gives added spice to her writing.

I always enjoy Clark Smith, and his interesting take on winegrowing, winemaking, wine science and technology.

Tyler Colman is emerging as one of the leading US online winewriters and he's always worth following.

Eric Asimov's The Pour is probably the best read of all wine blogs because of his position with the NYT. And it's great that for someone so prominent, he has such a great taste in wine.

These are just a few of the great wine blogs out there, so apologies to any that I didn't include in this short list. Next time.


Seeing the new year in with a fantastic Douro wine

Some good friends came over last night to see the new year in with us, and they brought with them a lovely Douro wine. I love it when people bring wine round: even though we have no shortage of bottles chez Goode, it's great when someone makes the effort, and last night they couldn't have chosen better. The wine is one that I've chosen for the 50 Great Portuguese Wines tasting later this month at the Portuguese Embassy, and it's a brilliant expression of Touriga Nacional from the Douro.

Quinta do Vallado Touriga Nacional 2005 Douro, Portugal
Wonderfully aromatic nose of dark, violetty, spicy fruit with some complex meaty notes. The palate shows sweet dark cherry and raspberry fruit with some oak influence and a nice savoury, spicy tannic structure. A stylish, fruit-driven style with beautiful Touriga aromatics. 93/100 (£17.99 Waitrose)

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