jamie goode's wine blog: February 2009

Saturday, February 28, 2009

Different faces of Pinot Noir

We had some good friends over last night for dinner, two couples and another friend, all of whom we've known for 20 years. There's something rich about this sort of history.

Among the various wines we consumed, there was a nice pair of Pinot Noirs, one from Burgundy and one from New Zealand - interestingly, both similarly priced.

The first was Drouhin's Rully 2006 (c £14 Waitrose). It's pale in colour (remember, this is often a good thing with Pinot), and quite savoury with an earthy edge to the attractive cherry fruit. Delicious, but lacks perhaps a touch of elegance.

The second is Villa Maria's Reserve Pinot Noir 2006 Marlborough (£15.99 Tesco, Noel Young, Fresh & Wild, Hailsham Cellars, nzhouseofwine). It's deep coloured, with lovely sweet dark cherry fruit and some raspberry and blackcurrant richness. While this is quite a rich wine, it's pure and elegant, too.

Which did people prefer? Some liked the Burgundy best, but I marginally preferred the New Zealand Pinot, with its richness as well as elegance. A close call, though.

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Friday, February 27, 2009

A nice wine dinner

Andrew Reed (of William Reed, who runs the International Wine Challenge) and his wife hosted a nice wine dinner last night at Berry Bros & Rudd, with Jancis Robinson presenting the wines. It was an interesting crowd: also present were Mike Florence (IWC), Sarah Florence (of Cube, and wife of Mike), Ray O'Connor (IWC), Lee Sharkey (publisher of the William Reed titles), Steve Lewis (Chief Executive of Majestic) and Sue Glasgow (Spear Communications).

The wines were:

JL Chave Sélection Hermitage Blanche 2004 Northern Rhône, France
Mainly Marsanne. This is a lovely, rich-textured, soft wine with real intensity and a bit of spicy wood. Really deep and bold with a hint of tangerine and fat melony fruit. Remarkable stuff. 90/100

Au Bon Climat Chardonnay Sanford & Benedict Vineyard 2004 Santa Ynez Valley, California
Oaty, lean, minerally and quite spicy, with lovely freshness and nice lemony acidity. Nicely savoury, this – a million miles from fat, overblown Californian Chardonnay. 89/100

Domaine René Engel Vosné-Romanée 1er Cru Les Brulées 2004 Burgundy, France
Really aromatic sweet cherry fruit nose with a sappy, green herby edge. Floral and sweet but also a tiny bit green. Smooth, lush, sweet palate with some savoury, grippy structure under the fruit. Quite complex and long, finishing dry and savoury. 93/100

Tignanello 1999 IGT Toscana, Italy
This is great: Jancis describes it as a ‘Tuscan claret’, and notes that these days it could probably be called Chianti Classico, because it has the required 80% Sangiovese, with the balance the Cabernets Sauvignon and Franc. Complex earthy, spicy brooding nose with some tarry notes. The palate has some sweet dark fruit and dense yet smooth structure with lovely refined earthiness. It’s really complex and stylish, it’s distinctly Italian, and it’s ageing beautifully. 94/100

Château Léoville-Poyferré 2eme Cru Classé St Julien 1999 Bordeaux (from magnum)
Dense, spicy and earthy with hints of farmyard and meat. Lovely savoury, gravelly depth here with lots of earthy spiciness. Burly rather than elegant, but quite delicious, still. 91/100

Fonseca 1970 Vintage Port
I find it’s quite hard to describe and rate older Vintage Ports. This is mellow yet concentrated with lovely smooth plummy, spicy fruit. Warm, rich and harmonious without any edges sticking out. 92/100

On camera at the SITT tasting

Ryan and Gabriella of Catavino ambushed me with their flip camera at the SITT tasting the other day, and they've just posted the interview here.

I'm also embedding the video file below.

Catavino interviews Jamie Goode of the Wine Anorak from ryan opaz on Vimeo.


Yarra Valley bushfire update

Tony Jordan, president of the Yarra Valley Winegrowers Association, sent me the following update on the effects of the recent bushfires.

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Wednesday, February 25, 2009

SITT twitterers

The SITT (specialist importers trade tasting) today at Vinopolis was excellent, if a little busy at times and slightly too warm. It was brilliantly organized, with a plentiful supply of great tasting glasses and far too many interesting, characterful wines to try in one session. If I find the time I'll post my top ten from the tasting here.

I bumped into a bunch of wine twitterers (see http://www.twitter.com/ if you are wondering what this is about - it's a form of micro-blogging that's all the rage at the moment) - and Andrew Chapman, an avid twitterer, took the picture above. From left to right, Brett Jones, Ryan Opaz, me, Robert Mackintosh and Gabriella Opaz. [For the original picture, go to: http://twitpic.com/1onra]

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Caught an interview with the four members of U2 last night on BBC Radio 4 arts programme Front Row (http://www.bbc.co.uk/radio4/arts/frontrow/past_programmes.shtml). As these interviews go, it was a good one. I particularly liked the was the interviewer asked about the way that Larry and Adam (the lower-profile members of the band) felt about Bono travelling round the world meeting presidents, prime ministers and people of power in his campaigns to cancel third world debt and combat AIDS/HIV.

I know that we're all supposed to be cynical about people who try to make a difference, but I'm tremendously impressed by Bono's efforts. I'm also impressed by U2, both musically, and also because they've stuck together for 30 years and haven't done the rock and roll thing of falling out, changing personnel, and crashing and burning at an early age.

The other day I listened to The Joshua Tree again. It has to be their best album? I remember when it came out - it made a huge impact. And listen to the first three songs: I can't think of a stronger opening to an album ever. The Edge's guitar work is economical, innovative and just brilliant. He doesn't use many notes, but listen to the tones he gets, and his clever use of delay (it's this, more than anything, that defines his style).

But one thing puzzles me. What do his friends and family call him? Does he insist on the 'The' being used in conjunction with 'Edge'? And does he let people use nicknames (e.g. 'Edgy mate, what are you drinking?')? When he's being addressed formally, are people supposed to call him 'Mr Edge'?


Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Are the French serious about killing their wine industry?

Take a look at this news article:

Thanks to Wink Lorch for the link. See Wink's perspective here

I love French wine and I'd love to see all segments of the French wine industry succeed. It's such a shame that growers have to fight not just against market forces, but also against their own government.

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A duo of Sauvignons: Aussie meets Kiwi

Two Sauvignons this evening. Quite interesting.

Nepenthe Sauvignon Blanc 2008 Adelaide Hills, Australia
Pale coloured, this is a really impressive Aussie Sauvignon. It's crisp and super-fresh, with herbs and minerals on the nose, and a palate of lemony, herby fruit with a slight tropical lift. Minerally acidity keeps this lean and refreshing, with a lovely transparency to it. 88/100 (£8.99 Majestic, reduced to £5.99 until 28/04/09 - at which price it's a bargain; 13.5% alcohol)

Ara Resolute Sauvignon Blanc 2007 Marlborough, New Zealand
This isn't your typical Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc. It's a concentrated, mineralic style with less of the tropical flourishes you might expect from the region. Instead, the focus is on concentrated, tight, herby, citrussy fruit with a distinctly savoury green pepper character on the palate. Great concentration and minerality; this really needs food to show its best at the moment. 89/100 (£13.99 Majestic; 13.5% alcohol)

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Monday, February 23, 2009

The last snowy pictures, and some Southern French supermarket reds

We're back from Norway. I can't speak highly enough of the SAS Radisson in Trysil (well, except for the somewhat limited wine options). When we checked out we were issued with a bill just shy of double what we expected (22 000 Kr as opposed to 12 000 Kr; £1 = almost exactly 10 Kr), caused by the hotel charging us rack rates rather than the internet prices we booked for. But, after showing them our booking, and watching ever-more-senior members of staff being summoned, they corrected it and then knocked a tiny bit more off. For a half-board package at such a beautiful hotel, we were very pleased with the final bill. I've added some pictures (dodgy quality, I'm afraid, from phone camera) just to taunt those who haven't made it to the slopes this season!

We then caught the Trysil Express bus to the airport (3 h journey time, £65 for the family), before catching our Norweigan flight (painless budget airline that actually allocates seats on check-in - useful when travelling with the family) to Stansted.
However good a holiday, there's something comforting about returning home. As I type, I've opened a couple of supermarket southern French reds.

Cave de Roquebrun Roches Noires 2006 Saint Chinian
Varietal breakdown: 60% Syrah, 20% Grenache, 20% Mourvedre. This has a nose of ripe red fruits with a pronounced roast coffee and cured meat character. The palate shows good concentration and a bit of spiciness, with some grippy tannic structure under the plum and cherry fruit. A solid effort. 85/100 (£7.95 Tesco; 13% alcohol)

Asda Extra Special Vacqueyras 2006 Southern Rhone, France
Surprisingly muted nose doesn't give much away, except for some faint liqueur-like red fruits and a hint of spice. The palate is more expressive with an attractive peppery character under the pure, smooth cherry fruit. This isn't a totally obvious wine: you need to look under the surface, and there you find some attractive Grenache fruit. Finishes a little earthy with some grippy tannin, which makes me think this wine might evolve a little more. Not mind-blowing, but authentic - decant for an hour to get the best from this now? 86/100 (£6.98 Asda; 14% alcohol)

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Sunday, February 22, 2009

Random thoughts from Norway

Some random thoughts from our brief holiday in Norway.

1. From what little I've seen of Norway, I like it - it's functional, efficient, reliable and the people are nice. A bit like Sweden.
2. Trysil is a really good place to come skiing in half-term week, when the alps are crowded and crazy expensive. The skiing here is fantastic and the resort works really well. In fact, it's a good place to ski any time in the season.
3. Things I like about the hotel: it's brand new, it's beautifully fitted out, the staff are great, it's ski-in/ski-out, and the wifi is free. Things I don't like about it: everything extra is expensive, the swimming pool costs extra, the wine list is short/over-priced, and I'm sharing a room (OK, suite, with a separate bedroom) with my kids.
4. If I'd come just with Fiona this would have been a perfect holiday. Unfortunately, my kids can be lovely, but they can be utterly horrible - and I mean horrible. I hope that one day they look back and realize just how horrible they were, and set out to make amends.
5. We are so lucky to be able to come away skiing to a luxury hotel and experience such perfect snow conditions. This is while a sizeable portion of the human race struggles to get enough to eat and/or is denied basic human rights.
6. I'm really enjoying the remainder of the Vinha da Palha that I blogged on yesterday. It's a really characterful wine that delivers lovely well-defined flavours - just what you want from a relatively inexpensive bottle. I'd like this as a house wine. I'd not grow tired with it quickly. Is this the Castelao character? It reminds me of some of the Terras do Sado wines that I've enjoyed.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Baths, and another Portuguese wine

I love baths. There are few things more wonderful than putting the plug in, turning the taps, seeing a forceful cascade of hot water flow out, adjusting the temperature until it's just a little hotter than is comfortable, pouring a glass of fizz, opening a book, and getting in a slightly over-full bath.

I bathe every day (not with fizz, though, and not always with a book). It's just great. One of the decisions we made when we bought the house we are now living in was to spend money on the kitchen and the bathroom. We have a lovely deep bath and a 3 bar pump to help fill it quickly, and I'm glad we chose to do this. We also have a fantastic shower that cost as much as a second hand family car, but it's seldom used.

After a hard day's skiing, my legs are like jelly, and I'm looking forward to a bath. I've just opened another Portuguese red, and I'm really enjoying it. It's not a great wine, but it's delicious and relatively inexpensive, it tastes Portuguese, and it delivers just what you want from an everyday wine.

Vinha da Palha 2007 Estremadura, Portugal
The second label of Sandra Tavares' Quinta da Chocapalha, this is a blend of 60% Castelao and 40% Tinta Roriz. It's a deliciously bright, fresh red wine with a real Portuguese taste to it: slightly herby ripe plummy fruit with hints of mint and thyme on the nose, leading to a fresh, vibrant palate of ripe cherries and plums, with good acidity and a bit of spicy structure. It's not the world's most complex wine, but it's balanced, food friendly and delicious. 86/100


Being a drinker and not just a critic

Wine is one of those businesses where many people enter because of a passion for the product. They find it interesting, and want to spend their working hours involved with a subject that engrosses them.

That's why I decided to become a wine critic. While I loved science, and enjoyed being a science editor, I spent a lot of my time involved with rather boring editorial work, I wasn't my own boss, and I was paid badly. Worst of all, if I turned in an excellent performance, no one really noticed.

So I decided to begin writing about wine. I found out I was quite good at it, and I had some lucky breaks. I was passionate about wine, and this came across in what I wrote. I reached the fortunate position of being able to give up the day job (or, more truthfully, for the day job to finish and for me not needing to find a new one).

But when your hobby or passion becomes your living, you can easily lose that passion. Too much sniffing, slurping and spitting, and not enough drinking, can lead to a dulling of interest. I know a lot of people in the wine trade who hate to discuss wine. They are no longer (or never were) passionate about wine. For them, it's just a job, and that's a shame, I think.

Being surrounded by so much wine, you need to find a way to stay fresh. That's why I really enjoy taking my critic's hat off, and becoming a punter once again. Buying bottles and drinking them. Going to a restaurant and choosing off the list where someone else isn't picking up the tab. Visiting a wine region as a tourist with your family. All these things can help to shift your perspective back to the way the reader sees things, which has to be healthy.

I still really enjoy going into wine shops, picking up a few bottles, pondering for a while, and then making a purchase. It's fun. At heart, you see, I'm still the wide-eyed, enthusiastic wine geek that I was in 1996 when I started discussing wine on the internet with other geeks.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Foz De Arouce, a Portuguese red

One of the wines I bought from the Vinmonopolet was a Portuguese red that I've actually not tried before: Quinta de Foz De Arouce 2006 Beiras. I've tried the reserve version (Vinhas Velhas), but not this, the regular wine - a blend of Baga and Touriga Nacional. It's made by Joao Portugal Ramos from his wife's property, and it's really attractive. The nose shows sweet plummy fruit with some spiciness. The palate is quite Italian in character, with plummy, damsony bitterness as well as sweet cherry fruit, and quite firm structure, as well as fresh acidity. There's some modernity here, but there's also a more traditional earthy spicy character. A solid 88/100.

It's nice to be able to get a wine like this - the Portuguese selection was quite good at the Vinmonopolet, as was the Italian. France was rubbish. German Riesling was one of the few other categories with a decent selection, but then this is a tiny resort town. Prices were quite high with very little under 100 Kr (£10).

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Facing fear with a Torres ski wine

Trysil is a fantastic place to come skiing. The snow here has been perfect. There are plenty of slopes, catering for skiers of varying abilities. And despite the fact that it's the winter holdiday for east Norway, the resort doesn't feel crowded and there aren't long queues for the lifts.

Today I faced my fear a bit. I'm not keen on heights. Wimpy, I know, but I can't help it - it's not like you can rationalize these things. But I took a chair lift, which for agarophobics is pretty full on. And then I skied down a run beyond my ability. However, I only wiped out twice - once at some ferocious speed where I just couldn't carry on!

My ski wine has been Torres Gran Coronas Cabernet Sauvignon Reserva 2004, purchased for £8 from 'duty free' at Stansted. It's actually quite nice, and I managed to make it last three days. It has a strong oak imprint, but in this case it's not the sickly vanilla and coconut that is the besetting sin of so much Spanish wine, but a sort of spicy, cedary character that melds well with the warm, plummy blackcurrant fruit. It's not the sort of wine you set out to buy, but if you find it on a restaurant list where there's not much good stuff, or in a limited selection such as Stansted 'duty free', it's a safe, satisfying bet. I think Torres are one of the most reliable of the big wine brands.
The good news is that I wandered down into town today and found a Vinmonopolet shop. I purchased four bottles of wine. We're now sorted for a few more days.

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Thursday, February 19, 2009

Burning up the beginner slopes

Just come back from a day on the slopes here in Trysil, and we're all exhausted. I'd forgotten the little I'd learned about skiing from three previous (and short) forays onto the slopes; the boys had only been once before - so we were all taking it easy at first.

I don't think I'll ever be a good skier, but it is fantastic fun. I guess the key bit is making sure you are on slopes where you feel confident, yet still a little bit scared in places. There's nice fear and nasty fear - I really hate the terror of standing at the top of a slope you know you can't do at all, but I quite enjoy the adrenaline rush that comes from taking on a slope just a little out of your comfort zone.

We may reward ourselves with a glass of wine at dinner - even though it will cost what I normally spend on a good bottle of wine at home. This trip will turn out one of our most expensive ever, but I don't think we'll regret it. Life is short and it's there to be experienced.

Pictured is me on a nice big easy piste.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

In Norway, ready to hit the mountain!

We're in Norway, en famille, on an impulse skiing trip. Fiona has wanted to go skiing for ages; I've held firm (cost, the thought of spending a week with my kids in a confined environment and so on), but I finally relented and withdrew my veto.

So this morning we flew out to Oslo, and then took a bus to Trysil, three hours north and east a little bit. We're staying in the fabulously plush Radisson SAS hotel which opened in December, and the accommodation is perfect (just as the prices are eye-watering!). Snow is fantastic, and we're looking forward to hitting the pistes tomorrow.

Currently, Fiona and I are drinking Montana Reserve Sauvignon Blanc 2008 chilled in the snow on the balcony outside our room (view is above). It tastes great, but anything would in this setting. The cheapest wine on the winelist at the hotel is Jacobs Creek Chardonnay for £34 (we bought the Montana at the 'duty free' shop in Stansted, which has a miserably small selection).

The boys have both gone to a Madcon gig - he's playing at the hotel tonight.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Are wine writers and critics too soft? Am I too soft?

Lots of wine writers seem to follow the principle, 'if you haven't got anything nice to say, then don't say anything at all'. It seems polite not to be mean about wines, and I can see why some people might prefer to keep their negative opinions to themselves. However, many who take this course come across as toothless.

You may be liked by the trade if you are a safe bet for a kind review. But you don't serve your readers very well if you aren't totally honest. I try to write with my readers in mind, rather than winemakers whose wines I'm critiquing, or PR people who kindly send me samples.

I'm worried that I might be getting a bit soft. Have my scores crept upwards over time? Am I afraid to use the 70s, and perhaps even the 60s?

There's a certain honesty and transparency that comes from reviews written by people who have actually paid for the wine they are drinking. Perhaps I should be buying my own wines a bit more often?

But there is also the opposite scenario, when reviewers are deliberately and OTT mean, because this is entertaining. It might be fun to list your five worst wines of the month, and exaggerate the awfulness of these bottles for dramatic effect, but we are dealing with people's livelihoods here, and so we need to be fair in our criticism - and not grouchy and harsh for the fun of it.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Some Chilean reds that taste Chilean

Why is it Chilean reds taste so Chilean? I can almost always spot them a mile off in blind tastings. It's not that they're bad; it's just that they are recognizably Chilean. It's a combination of ripe blackcurranty fruit (seemingly independent of grape variety) with a sweet, pastille-like character and a hint of rubbery greenness under the sweetness.

Here are three I have open at the moment. Of all of them, the Anakena is least Chilean. The Cantavida Carmenere is less expensive, and works pretty well - I had a quick dig and found out that this is also made by Anakena! [Quick off-topic note: also trying another Chilean Viognier, the Casa Silva Lolol 2007, and it's brilliant. That's the second brilliant Chilean Viognier I've had of late. Is this going to be Chile's hot variety?]

Dona Dominga Andes Vineyard Gran Reserva Cabernet Sauvignon 2006 Cochagua, Chile
Sweet blackcurrant pastille nose with some creamy notes. The palate shows pure, sweet blackcurrant fruit with a creamy edge and a hint of herbiness. A little rubbery on the finish. 85/100 (£9.99 Waitrose, Oddbins)

Anakena Ona Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot/Carmenere 2006 Rapel, Chile
Deep coloured and seductive, with sweet blackcurrant fruit as well as notes of cloves, tar and rubber. Smooth textured and quite pure with some spicy structure. A good effort. 88/100 (£9.99 Oddbins)

Cantavida Carmenere 2007 Rapel, Chile
Unoaked, this is a delicious example of the Carmenere grape variety - one that I'm keen on. It shows sweet blackcurrant fruit with a lovely gravelly, earthy, autumnal edge to it and some smooth but grainy tannins. This is the sort of easy drinking wine that Chile does really well, but there's also a hint of seriousness here. 87/100 (£6.99 Oddbins)

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Stouts and Porters

Doing some research on dark beers (porters and stout, the latter a form of the former) for my Sunday Express column. I like stout, although I'm probably more of a pale ale sort of guy.

Crazy Dog Stout
£1.99 Sainsbury 6% alcohol
From the Red Rat Craft Brewery, this deep brown beer has a roasted, malty aroma and complex, rich flavours of chocolate, coffee and earth. Lots of flavour here. 8/10

Meantime London Stout
£1.55 Tesco 4.5% alcohol
London used to be the home of stout, and this Greenwich-brewed beer aims to recapture the magic of old time London stout. It has lovely sweet, toffee and roast coffee aromas, but in the mouth its surprisingly fresh and dry, with a warm, chocolatey personality and creamy finish. 7.5/10

Midnight Sun
Williams Bros Brewing Co, Alloa, Scotland
£1.71 Tesco 5.6% alcohol
Described as a ‘rich, dark and spicy porter’, this is made from a mix of malted barley, oats, roast barley and chocolate malt, enhanced with some hops and root ginger. An opaque brown/black colour, it has a sweet, spicy smell and rich, concentrated, smooth chocolatey flavours, beautifully complemented with a hint of ginger. Rich and delicious. 9/10

Wooden Hand Brewery Black Pearl
£1.49 Morrisons 4.5% alcohol
This cornish stout is made from malted, flaked and roast barley, with some hops. It’s a concentrated brown colour with distinctive, powerful flavours of tangy herbs and sweet molasses. It’s quite savoury and has a bitter hoppy finish, and would work well with food. 7.5/10
Asda Whitechapel Porter
£1.50 Asda, 5.2% alcohol
Advertising itself as ‘tough but slightly sweet’, this is made by Shepherd Neame. It has fabulous sweet, figgy, raisiny aromas with hints of dark chocolate. In the mouth it is lively, complex and delicious with some sweet fudge notes countered by hoppy, espresso bitterness. 8/10

Dragon Stout, Jamaica
£0.90 Asda, 7.5% alcohol
All the way from Jamaica, this deep coloured stout is sweet, rich and quite delicious. It’s smooth and creamy with notes of coffee and raisins, and it’s really quite sweet. You wouldn’t want to drink a whole pint of this, but it’s very seductive in small quantities. 8/10

Guinness Foreign Extra
£1.50 Asda 7.5% alcohol
Amazing stuff. This is like regular Guinness on steroids. Concentrated black/brown in colour, it has powerful roast coffee and dark chocolate aromas, and intense, rich-textured flavours of bitter chocolate, treacle and iron. It’s sweet and savoury at the same time. 8.5/10
Guinness Original
£1.49 Morrisons, Tesco 4.2% alcohol
A complex, dark coloured stout with an almost metallic savoury edge to the treacly, chocolatey flavours that Guinness is famous for. Finishes fresh and savoury. 7/10


Sunday, February 15, 2009

Wine on telly: 'The Firm', tomorrow night

Wine on telly again: BBC4, 9 pm, Mon Feb 16th. It's the first of a three part series on wine, and it begins with a year in the life of the UK's oldest wine merchant, Berry Bros & Rudd (http://www.bbr.com/). I've just watched my preview DVD, and I really enjoyed it.

The film focuses its narrative on the two regions that make up 80% of the turnover of BBR, Bordeaux and Burgundy [although later we are told that Bordeaux makes up 70% of turnover, which infers that Burgundy is of less importance], and sets this theme against the backdrop of gathering economic gloom. 'The world has changed', says chairman Simon Berry, filmed in the 308 year old cellars of the St James' St shop. 'It's a more complicated world right now, but wine is still a good investment', he adds with more hope and salesman's instinct than certainty.

The scene changes. We are now in the real heart of BBR - its Basingstoke headquarters. There we meet Simon Staples, described as the world's biggest buyer of investment-style Bordeaux wines, although the narrator doesn't make it clear whether this refers to Staples' £60 m en primeur budget or his considerable frame.

We follow Staples to Bordeaux, where the feautured producer is Cos d'Estournel. It's the 2007 en primeur campaign, and there's a conflict between what BBR think customers are willing to pay, and what Jean-Guillaume Prats thinks his Cos is worth. The BBR guys think £30 a bottle; Prats, who comes across as greedy with his pricing (he clearly thinks Cos is a first growth), sets the price at 65 Euros. Staples buys 10 cases, as opposed to 2000 in 2005. 'Wrong price, wrong time', says Staples.

We meet Jasper Morris doing some repairs to a dry stone wall. In Burgundy, the featured producer is the wonderfully reserved and gentle David Clark, the ex-Williams engineer who has followed his passion by making red Burgundies from humble appellations that punch above their weight. 'There is much more of a human touch in Burgundy', says Jasper, and watching David Clark at work is so much more appealing that looking at Cos' hugely expensive, rather over-elaborate new cellar renovations. I especially enjoyed seeing David's home-made crawler that allows him to sit down as he works the low-trained vines by hand.

Finally, we see a private dinner for top customers at BBR, with Jean-Guillaume. Simon Staples gets them to blind taste 1870 Cos. The first customer thinks it's 1982. Other guesses are 1989, late 1940s, 1955 and 1964. Jean-Guillaume comes closest with 1928/9. It's fun.

The program finishes with headlines of economic collapse. Cue Simon Berry to remind us all to invest in wine again.

Overall verdict? Brilliant stuff, well filmed. Jasper, Simon S and Simon B come across really well, and you should make every effort to watch this if you can.

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Saturday, February 14, 2009

Back to wine with a lovely Cahors, after a nasty day

Had a very difficult day today with older son. I'm never sure how much I should share on the blog about my private life, but I'm coming round to the conclusion that honesty is the best policy, and that any separation of private and public (albeit a small public!) life doesn't make all that much sense. You are what you are. Compartmentalization is the antithesis of authenticity, and I reckon being authentic is hugely important.

Anyway, we've had an utterly horrible day, and I've added to my cold some asthmatic symptoms which I reckon are stress related because I only wheeze when I'm really, really stressed (last time was summer 2003), or after intense exercise.

It's easy to paint a glossy version of your life on the web, through your social networking, with the bad bits edited out. But, when I think of the occasions where people have been honest enough to admit their difficulties to me, I've always come away feeling greater respect and affection for them. It's much easier to trust people who 'walk with a limp'.

I'm beginning to feel better now, watching Hustle on BBC's iPlayer, drinking Chateau du Cedre 2004 Cahors, which is inky, dark, tannic and gravelly. Yes, I'm back on wine, and I'm really enjoying it. Lying in bed, with a TV show on a laptop and a glass of wine in hand is like flying business class. Especially when the wine is authentic, too.

Restaurant da Vittorio - just brilliant

One of the highlights of the Sicily trip was lunch at Restaurant Da Vittorio (website here) on the beach in Porto Palo near Menfi.

It's not terribly swanky - in fact, it looks a bit downmarket inside. But the food, prepared by Vittorio, is legendary. We ate exclusively seafood, including a sea snails in tomato sauce, spaghetti with whitebait, spaghetti with sea urchins and then a fish that's known in Italy as Dentice, which seems to be translated as Dentex. It's a mediterranean fish that has delicately flavoured white flesh, a bit like sea bass.

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Friday, February 13, 2009

Video: Cheval des Andes, Mendoza, Argentina

Here's a short film from my visit to Cheval des Andes in Mendoza, Argentina. This is the one where I get on a horse, kindly filmed by Chris Losh. It's a companion video to the write-up on the website, here.

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Not drinking, but still blogging

Since I got back from Sicily in the early hours of Thursday morning, I've not been drinking any wine. I've got an annoying cold, made worse by flying - the pressure changes made my ears hurt and I still can't hear properly. Nor can I taste with any sort of precision. It's frustrating.

Simon Woods, one of the journos on the Sicily trip, came back to stay at our place on Wednesday night. He's based near Manchester (sadly, he follows United) and so it wasn't practical for him to get home from a Stansted flight that arrived just shy of midnight.

Ben Smith of Enotria, who was leading the trip, got his assistant to arrange for a cab to take us home; he was a little horrified to find out it was a black cab on the meter. So I can now tell you that a black cab from Stansted to west London costs in excess of £200! Olly Smith, the other journo on the trip, went by cab to Lewes, in Sussex. Do black cab meters go that high?

It's good to see that Simon's blog is back up and running again, with regular updates. At one stage it looked as if he'd abandon it. If you do a blog, little and often is the way to go. It just has to become a daily routine.

I'm looking forward to being able to taste again. I'm hoping this will be tomorrow. The fact that when you have a cold you don't feel as if you are 'getting' the wine suggests that there is something to be 'got' about a wine - that is, that wine tasting is in some senses an objective process. This point is a bit of a caveat to one of my favourite themes - that the taste of a wine is actually the result of an interaction between the taster and the liquid in the glass; that it is not solely the property of the wine.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Video: visiting Planeta, Sicily

A short film from this week's visit to Planeta

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Back from Sicily

I got back from Sicily in the early hours this morning. I've been without internet access for three days, and I apologise for not updating the blog, but Italy doesn't seem to be great for wifi networks. Indeed, Palermo airport is the only airport that I've travelled through in the last few years that appears to have no wifi internet.

For now, just a couple of pictures from Planeta's vineyards near Menfi.


Monday, February 09, 2009

The puppies have gone!

We're bereft. Our eight little labradoodle puppies have all gone, and the house seems empty. Even though looking after them was much harder work than we'd ever have thought (most of it done by Fiona, I admit), it is sad to see them go. The consolation is that they've all gone to lovely homes. You can review the progress reports by clicking on the tag RTL below.

In just eight weeks they went from this:

To this:


Sunday, February 08, 2009

De Bortoli Vat 4 Petit Verdot

Driven to Devon and back this evening in pretty grotty conditions to drop older son back at school. While there's no snow left here in west London, there's still plenty in the west country. In fact, there's a stretch of road from Tiverton to Crediton that passes through some spectacular English countryside, with beautiful rolling hills. In the late afternoon sunlight, with a thick coating of snow, the view almost compensated for the long drive: it was really special.

Tonight, a bit of an Aussie classic, this, from one of my favourite Australian producers, De Bortoli. It's one of their more commercial wines, but it's just delicious, with lovely sweet, pure fruit marrying almost seamlessly with spicy American oak to create something ripe, delicious and well balanced.

De Bortoli Vat 4 Petit Verdot 2006 South Eastern Australia
Lovely fresh, sweet, pure blackberry and plum fruit here with a nice spicy imprint from the American oak it's matured in. Nice purity with a lovely savouriness that makes it food friendly. It isn't the world's most profound wine, but it's delicious, well balanced and substantial. 14.5% alcohol. 88/100 (£7.99 Sainsbury)

I'm off to Sicily first thing in the morning. Don Goode will report back.

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Australian fires

The news headlines here in the UK have been dominated by the awful bush fires in South East Australia. It's Australia's worst natural disaster of all time. Wine seems almost irrelevant when you think about people losing their lives, but it seems that the Yarra Valley vineyards in particular are at risk.

There's a Melbourne Age article on the affected wine areas here, and there's also an annotated google map here showing the location of the fires.


Saturday, February 07, 2009

Full-on crazy Chenin

I really like this wine, but subtle it ain't. It's a full-on, barmily intense Chenin that has plenty to offer, and I think it's great. It's from Bellingham, a South African producer that seems to have really upped its game of late, making commercial but delicious wines.

Bellingham 'The Bernard Series' Old Vine Chenin Blanc 2007 Coastal Region, South Africa
40 year old bush vine Chenin fermented in barrel. Remarkable stuff that will revive even the most tired taste buds. Wildly aromatic nose of peaches, cream, spice and herbs - warm and lively. The palate has an amazing concentration of rich, sweet peachy, figgy fruit with lemony freshness and spicy vanilla oak notes. There's also a hint of cheesy Chenin funk, and the texture is rich and mouthfilling. 91/100 (£8.99 Majestic)

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NWR: Are you City in disguise?

All out for 51. Crazy!

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How consistent are wine reviewers?

Interesting article in the Telegraph titled Consumers warned over consistency of wine reviews. It's based on a survey undertaken at the California State Fair wine competition at Sacramento, in which the judges were assessed for the reliability of their palates. You can read the original article from the Journal of Wine Economics here.

Tasting wine blind in competition settings is difficult, and few do it really well. It's important we know how reliable tasters are in these sorts of settings, because then we know what sort of confidence we can have in the results.

This is the first time I've seen these sorts of data collected, and the results are quite sobering. If we, as the 'wine trade', are to be taken seriously, then these are the sorts of studies we should be encouraging.

How about doing this sort of exercise at the International Wine Challenge, or the Decanter World Wine Awards? Or entering exactly the same wine into the competition under several different names? We should be eager to see how well we are doing, because this would reassure us, or help us improve.

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Friday, February 06, 2009

Back from Stockholm, and BBC 4 rocks

So I returned from Stockholm this afternoon, regretting the fact that I didn't have more time to explore what looks like an interesting City. It's also manageable in size - the sort of place you could begin to get to grips with in a weekend. Pictured above is the view from the Wine and Spirit offices, through sleet and snow.

Only four puppies left here now. Three go tomorrow; the last one, our unofficial favourite (named 'Yellow' by us after its identification tag), goes on Sunday.

Just watching a BBC4 programme on Bob Dylan's performances at the Newport Festival in 1963, 1964, 1965. (See review here and watch it for the next week here). I love this sort of programme. I'm fascinated by the 1960s and 1970s, and, in particular, the way that music has developed. It's so great to be able to see this sort of thing on TV: here are these people witnessing Dylan's emergence, sitting there at a festival, some caring about the music, others just enjoying the atmosphere. These carefree, tanned 20 year olds are now in their mid-60s.
I was born in 1967, and that seems an age ago now. What fascinates me about history is how different things were in the past, but how people haven't really changed at all. And the fact that now we are making tomorrow's history.

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Systembolaget: Sweden's alcohol monopoly

This morning I made a presentation to the Systembolaget buying team on PET packaging for wine. Then Johan Bostrom, MD of Wine World, who is hosting me here took me to see a Systembolaget store.

Systembolaget is the Swedish alcohol monopoly - they sell all the wine sold in Sweden. You can read about them on their website, which has an English section: http://www.systembolaget.se/Applikationer/Knappar/InEnglish/

The store I visited here in Stockholm is one of their flagship outlets, and the range of wines on sold was impressive. Yes, there's a huge section devoted to bag-in-box, which accounts for 50-60% of all sales (the exact figure is quite seasonal; Tetrapak is another 8%). But there's also a fine wine section that would match the selection of any independent wine merchant in London. For example, the Portuguese selection included Poeira, Pintas, Crasto TN and Maria Therese, Vallado Touriga Nacional, Dona Maria Reserva and Vale Dona Maria CV - all on the shelf at prices similar to those in London.

Apparently, when rare wines come in there are queues outside the door. When DRC is released, people queue for two days, hiring students to line up in their place and such like.

One of the attractive features of the monopoly is that there is no price promotion.

As well as buying from the monopoly's own selection, consumers can also buy from a special list - there's a delay of about a week until the wines come in, and you have to go to the stores to pick the wine up physically: there are no internet or mail order sales here.

There are just shy of 70 accredited wine journalists here, and plenty of tastings are organized by the 400 different importers. The monopoly runs press tastings when they offer new releases. Journalists are important here in helping promote wine sales because of the lack of price promotion and strict rules about advertising. Even in specialist wine magazines, one-fifth of the space of alcohol adverts has to consist of a health warning, and you aren't allowed to associate your product with situations, such as outdoor living or dining with friends.

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Spare a thought for Aussie growers

While here in northern Europe we moan about the cold, let's spare a thought for Aussie growers (e.g. blogging Matthew http://barossa-grapegrower.blogspot.com/) who are experiencing a sustained heatwave that looks set to spoil the 2009 vintage for them.

It's comparatively easy writing about wine. The worst that can happen is that you write a bad article, or fail to get a commission you really wanted. And when you assess a wine, you're passing judgement on something that's taken a year or more to nurture by someone at the mercies of the seasonal conditions. This calls for a spattering of humility.

Thursday, February 05, 2009

In Sweden

I'm in Stockholm today and tomorrow. It's my first trip to the land of Sven Goran Eriksson and Abba, and it's been great so far.

My role is to assist with the launch of some wines in new packaging: multilayer PET (a sort of plastic) with a plastic (Novatwist) screwcap and a special label material, making it all fully recyclable. I'm here in a technical capacity as a neutral closures/wine packaging expert to discuss issues such as oxygen transmission, migration and carbon footprints.

The wines themselves are made by Mitchelton, and they're pretty good. Really good, even. But the real interest here is this innovative packaging solution.

This afternoon I met with Claes Lofgren (http://www.winepictures.com/) and Johan Bostrom in the offices of Wine World, and then this evening Claes, Johan and I were joined by Bengt-Goran Kronstam (publisher of Alt Om Vinj) and Catharina Forsell of Wine World for dinner.

We ate at the Food Bar of Mathias Dahlgren, one of Sweden's top chefs, and the food was fantastic. It was washed down well with some lovely wines, including a brilliant Clos St Denis Grand Cru 2005 from Lucien Le Moine, which should really not have been drunk for another decade, but which hinted strongly of greatness to come.
Tomorrow I'm doing a presentation for the Systembolaget, then a radio interview, then I'm heading for home.

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De Bortoli Gulf Station Pinot Noir

Interesting interpretation of Aussie Pinot Noir, this. It's made by Steve Webber at De Bortoli, who is clearly aiming at old world elegance rather than sweet new world fruit. It's not a great wine, but it's interesting, food compatible and thought-provoking.

De Bortoli Gulf Station Pinot Noir 2007 Yarra Valley, Australia
Weighing in at just 12.5% alcohol, this is a fresh Pinot Noir from hand-picked fruit that tastes more old world than new. The nose shows tight, fresh, savoury dark cherry fruit with a slightly green herbal edge. The palate is bright and tangy with herb-tinged berry fruit and distinctly savoury, earthy structure, as well as high acidity. It could probably do with just a touch more fruity aromatic quality, but it's an interesting take on Pinot. A a really good food wine that may age well. 89/100 (£9.99 Sainsbury's)

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Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Anakena Viognier: it's brilliant

Viognier almost went extinct in the 1970s, but now it's really, really cool and everyone likes it.

Here's one of the new world's best examples, IMHO. It's the Anakena Viognier 2008. The 2007 tasted a couple of weeks ago is also fantastic (I remember tasting it blind at the WoC awards tasting in Chile last January and giving it a clear Gold medal, and there weren't many of those dished out).

Anakena Viognier 2008 Rapel Valley, Chile
A really stunning new world interpretation of Viognier. It's fresh and aromatic, combining richness and exotic fruit notes with lively vigour. The nose shows ripe peach and fresh tangerine notes, with a hint of vanilla. The palate is richly fruited with apricot and peach fruit meshing well with livlier citrus notes. It's just a beautifully balanced, full flavoured, fresh expression of this grape. 91/100 (£8.99 Thresher)

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Two days to go

The remaining six puppies leave for their new homes this weekend...


Snowy Denbies

Couple of shots from Denbies vineyard, near Dorking. These were taken before my meeting there this morning about the International Sparkling Wine Symposium we are holding there next month (see http://www.sparklingwinesymposium.com/).


Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Enough about the weather, and another Malbec

First ten minutes of the BBC evening news tonight was devoted to one subject: the weather. It's getting a bit boring, but the conditions here have been pretty unusual.

Found out today that I had to go and pick my son up from boarding school. It's a long drive and I wasn't looking forward to it - the Highways agency advised against non-essential travel, and on their advice I almost packed a spade. But that seemed a bit extreme, so I didn't.

Actually, the journey was better than I'd feared. Just a couple of flurries of heavy snow, and in the bit of Devon I was in most of the snow had thawed. The journey back was also relatively straightforward, although it was still quite tiring driving, with a particularly crazy blizzard just before Reading.

Back to wine. I've opened another Argentinean Malbec tonight. It's the Salentein MCM Winemaker's Selection 2004 Malbec/Cabernet/Merlot. It's fresh and aromatic, but there's probably a bit too much oak imprint here: it shows itself in tarry, toasty, slightly bitter notes along with the sweet berryish fruit. £8.59 from Tesco - reasonable value, but not something I'd rush out to buy.

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Monday, February 02, 2009

Great value from Argentina - can we forgive some spoofiness?

Tonight's wine is from Argentina, and it's delicious. It actually won the trophy for best varietal wine under £10 at this year's Decanter World Wine Awards. It's really impressive. But, if I'm honest, it tastes a bit spoofy. Like it was made to win awards. The colour is a little too dark, the fruit a little too sweet, the tannins a little too smooth. In fact, it almost tastes like it has been tweaked a little with grape juice concentrate, just to add a little sweetness and colour. I'm just trying to find out how the winemaker could have got the colour this dense and the fruit so deliciously sweet. I'll try to find out from the agent.

Can spoofiness be forgiven? This is the sort of wine that will be adored by people new to wine, and I suppose there's nothing wrong with that. It is, after all, very tasty in a hedonic sort of way, and I'm enjoying it. It's just that for an intelligent audience like mine, I wanted to point out my concerns: delicious, really impressive, but perhaps spoofy.
Vinalba Malbec Reserva 2006 Mendoza, Argentina
Deep coloured. Amazingly sweetly fruited, alluring nose with very ripe blackberries and a hint of blackcurrant jam. The palate is lush and sweet with ripe, dense, pure fruit and some savoury, spicy notes. Lots of impact here: a dense, full, sweet red wine with lovely purity of fruit and real flavour impact. It's unashamedly new world in style and will be sure to win lots of fans. 90/100 (£9.99 Majestic)

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Fun in the snow

Had a great afternoon in the snow with our friends and their kids in Windsor Great Park. Almost as good as heading off to the mountains.


Snowy day: no work, lots of play

Woke up to find six inches of snow on the ground. The most we've had for years. So all plans for work today are shelved and we are in serious play mode. We've already been out with the dog, and met some friends in the park for a big snowball fight. This afternoon it's time for some sledging. Cool.

Sunday, February 01, 2009

Two gone, six to go

Two of the puppies have now gone, a little early - six remain with us. They're off to their new homes next weekend after their first vaccinations.

We'll miss them, even though it has been hard work over the last couple of weeks as they've got bigger, and we've had to try to keep RTL away from them most of the time, otherwise she'll keep feeding them several times a day.

Fiona and I are both really, really tired!


A loooong Sunday lunch

We had a couple of families over for lunch today. They're good friends and it was a relaxed, lengthy affair. Fiona cooked an excellent Portuguese stew, and it was washed down with an eclectic selection of wines.

We kicked off with Champagne Moutardier NV, a rich style with lots of character and depth - I bought six bottles of this a while ago from my brother in law, Beavington, who'd managed to get hold of a lot at a very reasonable price from Great Western Wine.

Then a really classic Chablis: 1er Cru Vaucopins 2007 from Domaine Long-Depaquit (made by Albert Bichot). Portugal was represented by the Covela Tinto Colhieta Seleccionada 2003, which is a super-refined oaked red wine that went down very well. This was followed by the Benegas Lynch Libertad Vineyards Meritage 2005 Mendoza, a big old Argentinean red weighing in at 15% alcohol, with some spicy complexity but also a bit of heat.

But the winner on the day was a sweet white wine from Bordeaux - the Chateau de Ricaud Loupiac 2001 (£12.90 Nicolas). This is a really rich yet balanced sweet wine with lovely apricot, crystalline fruit and waxy complexity. Tastes like a really good Sauternes.