jamie goode's wine blog: March 2009

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Just back from Champagne

Just got back from a couple of very pleasant days in Champagne, visiting Bollinger (above). With wonderful blue skies, it was fantastic to go for a walk in the vineyards of Ay (Grand Cru Pinot Noir) near the Bollinger HQ. We tasted the 2008 vins clairs, the Bollinger range, visited Ayala and ate very well. For starters, here are some pictures. More to come soon.

Bollinger vineyards in Grand Cru Ay. This is Pinot Noir.

What can you tell me about the rather unusual looking vineyard above?

All Bollinger's reserve wines are stored in Magnum; they have around 600 000 of these magnums in their cellars. When it comes to using them in the blend, someone has to uncork them and pour them in manually.


Sunday, March 29, 2009

A 70th birthday

It has been an enjoyable weekend. Yesterday I played 11-a-side football; the guys I play with on Wednesday evening (parent's from younger son's school) formed a side and we challenged another team who play quite regularly. Playing on a full-sized pitch with 11 each side is quite different to our smaller games on astroturf, but despite getting beaten, we did OK. I played three different positions: centre back, centre mids and right back. I'm now a little stiff. The game was followed with a pint of Fuller's Discovery at the Angler in Teddington. A really nice beer.

In the evening we partied with some friends who were celebrating their 40ths. It was one of those events where you get chatting to people and then suddenly it's time to go because you agreed with the babysitter to be back by midnight.

Today we were off to my younger sister's for lunch. The occasion: dad's 70th. It's weird to think of your parents growing older. I still can't get my head round the fact that I'm over 40. But he's looking pretty good for 70 (pictured above), so I'm hoping there's a component to healthy ageing that's genetic!

It was an informal, low key event (his instructions), but we still had some wine. Jobard's Bourgogne Blanc 1998 is holding up pretty well: fresh and minerally with good weight. Dog Point Sauvignon Blanc 2006 is also delicious: subtly green herbal with a hint of talcum powder, and a real sense of elegance.
Tonight I'm getting ready to head for Champagne in the morning. I'm spending a couple of days at Bollinger, visiting vineyards and tasting vins clairs. Looking forward to it.

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Late night wine VLOG: four German Rieslings

The latest of the late night wine VLOGs: I taste four German Rieslings, despite the best efforts of RTL.

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Friday, March 27, 2009

Films and Friday night wine

It's been ages since I saw a decent film. In fact, the last really good film I remember seeing is Sidney Lumet's Before the devil knows you're dead, and that was in BA business class flying to Argentina a year ago. Shocking.

Last night we watched the latest Bond - Quantum of Solace - and it's a woeful effort. Lots of absurd action scenes, but so little character development and an empty headed plot. Bond takes his indescructability to new levels, but action scenes and stunts alone can't carry the film, which just isn't very well written. I'm not looking for too much from Bond, but Quantum just doesn't seem to work.

It's a bit like the wine I'm drinking now: Palmer's second wine, Alter Ego 2004 (Margaux, Bordeaux). There's the essence of a good Bordeaux here, but you can see why these lots were declassified to the second wine. Structured and firm, quite correct, but without any joy or real personality. It's not often I can't bring myself to have another glass of a £40 wine. That's Bordeaux for you, I'm afraid. Palmer is one of the best, but their second wine isn't (see my report on a vertical tasting of Palmer here - I think I was a little generous on my rating of this Alter Ego then by a point or two).

Other films of late? Well, I quite liked 88 minutes, an Al Pacino action film. And Juno was quirky, well acted and fun. The latest Indiana Jones was fun with the kids, including the totally absurd fridge/atom bomb scene. But I can't think of much else. Are films getting worse, or am I just watching the wrong ones?

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Natural wine bar in London: Artisan and Vine

It's a bit soon to be calling it a 'movement', but London currently has two natural wine* bars. Last year it had none. Paris is chock full of them, and they're just brilliant places to drink delicious natural wines, usually accompanied by simple, honest food.

I've blogged here about one of the new natural wine bars, Terroirs, but it wasn't until Monday that I finally got to visit the second, Artisan & Vine. And the good news is that it's really great!

Just a short walk up the hill from Clapham Junction Station, until last year this was a Cuban-themed cocktail joint. Now, new owner Kathryn O'Mara has transformed it into an attractive wine bar with a really interesting list of wines. I met up with her to see how she was getting on.

Born and raised in Sydney, Kathryn (above) has a business background. She was a successful management consultant with Price Waterhouse, with an Audi TT convertible as a company car. But she wasn't excited by the work. 'I decided that if I wasn't excited by this job, then I wouldn't be excited by any corporate job', she recalls. Kathryn had been cultivating an interest in wine, and after positive experiences visiting English vineyards she decided she'd like to run a wine bar where 'everyone could try things'.

So she did a WSET intermediate certificate, but at the time had no thoughts about specializing in natural wine. It was a tasting of biodynamic wines at Green & Blue that sparked her interest in all things natural, and led her in the direction of what she's now doing at Artisan & Vine, which she opened in July 2008.

The wine list is really interesting, combining natural wines from a range of different suppliers with a selection of English wines. At any one time there are four reds and five whites for sale by the glass, and also any odd bottles that happen to be open. Kathryn has some very attractibe small carafes that take a single glass - these are popular with customers who might want to tackle a small tasting flight together. There are also regular wine tastings, which start at £12 a head for five wines.

Kathryn recently switched to a cash mark-up from a percentage mark-up for bottles over £26. 'It was pretty obvious that wines over this price sold rarely', she reports. You can also buy any of the wines at retail prices to take home. With only a small kitchen area, food is largely cheese and meat plates, with a small selection of mains, most of which are under £10.

We tried one of the wines, a Provencal red.

Clos Milan 'Duo' 2000 Les Baux de Provence, France
Made without any added SO2, a Grenache-dominated blend. Really aromatic with sweet plum and cherry fruit, as well as a delicious earthy spiciness. Smooth, pure, earthy and sweet on the palate, showing lovely complexity and some earthy notes. Utterly delicious: a beguiling, warm red wine. 92/100 (£42 from the bar)

Kathryn says that on Friday and Saturday nights Artisan & Vine is a bar that could be 'like any nice bar'. But I think it's just great that people are being given the chance to try such an interesting bunch of wines, even if that's not why they're drinking here. I also find it really encouraging that wine (and particularly natural wine) has enough intrinsic interest to encourage people like Kathryn to lay aside successful, lucrative careers to pursue their dreams.

*I realise that I haven't defined the term 'natural wine' here. It's a complex sort of definition, but in short these are wines made in a traditional way, with the only permitted additive being sulfur dioxide, and usually this is only added at bottling in small amounts. The growers work sustainably in the vineyards: many are organic or biodynamic.


Thursday, March 26, 2009

A taste of heaven: Clos du Tart

Had a very nice afternoon over at Corney & Barrow's offices tasting a vertical of Clos du Tart. For those unfamiliar with this domaine, it's a monopole (that is, they own the whole Grand Cru vineyard) of 7.5 hectares.

Since 1996, Silvain Pitiot (pictured) has revitalized this great domaine, and now the wines are some of the very best expressions of red Burgundy, up there with DRC and Leroy.

As well as tasting the wines (2007 and 2007 La Forge, 2005, 2002, 2001, 1999), I had a nice chat with Sylvain. I'll be posting notes very soon; suffice to say I was thrilled by these wines.


Video: visiting Beaux Freres, Oregon

A short film from a visit to one of the leading Oregon Pinot Noir producers, Beaux Freres.

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Wednesday, March 25, 2009

The transformative power of old Sherry

As I write, I'm drinking the last half-glass of the bottle of Hidalgo Oloroso Viejo VORS, which I've been enjoying over the last year. It's an expensive wine, but one that can give a huge amount of pleasure; a glass here and a glass there, with no noticeable deterioration in quality.

I was prompted to drink it by finishing off an article on Sherry that contains notes from an amazing tasting of VOS, VORS and Anada Sherries. These are some of the most complex and thought-provoking wines you can find, with amazing complexity and length. They're old, but there isn't the same risk with these wines as there is with old table wines.

I'd try to describe the wine in a tasting note, but there's just so much going on, it's really hard. The nose is lifted (a little volatile) with herbs, spices, citrus fruits, raisins, old furniture and wax. The palate is concentrated and lively, with a tangy, citrussy freshness, a hint of pithy bitterness, some warm, rounded spiciness and vanilla and fudge sweetness, although it is actually quite dry. But this note doesn't even come close to capturing the wine!

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The polarization of the wine trade

Just read a thought-provoking, heartfelt post by Doug over at the Les Caves de Pyrene Blog on the polarization of the wine trade.

I decided to write about wine for a living because I care about it, am enthusiastic about it, and derive great pleasure from it. Not because I wanted to get rich. I'm thrilled that so far I seem to be making a living from it - enough to support a family - but that's a side issue.

Because I care about wine, I want the good guys to win and the bad guys to get their come-uppance. I want people everywhere to be able to drink interesting wines, and it upsets me when people are put off wine by being offered commercial dross at price points where they could have been enjoying something more interesting.

Les Caves are, in my book, right at the front of the line of 'good guys'. They've got a crazily full list of amazingly interesting wines. I want them, and merchants like them, to succeed. [They're not the only ones, by any means, which is a fortunate thing.]

Doug touches on the issue of morality, something that matters a great deal, even if - in our cynical age - it sounds a bit 'preachy'. It matters how we treat other people.
"I wonder how far you can divorce morality from your business. A mentality that exploits suppliers, also probably abuses staff and disrespects customers. Greed is not good; it demonstrates weakness and ultimate lack of faith in quality and usually leads to karmic payback. When I talk to some restaurateurs I realise that they will never respond to rational argument for they see the world dimly through excessively frosted, triple-glazed egos. Do-as-you would-be-done-by is a mantra that most people would have no trouble endorsing. Except in business. Business relationships, like five pounds notes, are paper thin; agreements have no validity unless underpinned by written contracts and loyalty is an aerial as an angel’s good intentions. Wine merchants are constantly enjoined to look at the bottom line profits of their customers; those customers, however, are rarely capable of seeing how sustainable margins are just as vital for wine merchants."

His piece is worth a read. One of the things that I hope web2.0 achieves is a change in the relationship between customers and merchants/businesses/service providers: I hope we all begin to look behind the surface, to see what is really there. It's a bit like walking behind a row of houses, only to find that it was just a Hollywood set, built of plywood and 2 x 4s. We'll move on to something different and more authentic.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Video: picking Sangiovese

I've been thinking quite a bit about Sangiovese of late. It's a difficult-yet-interesting grape variety, and I've been dwelling on its merits as I've been preparing to write up (at last) my Chianti Classico trip, and also an amazing tasting from last year of Soldera's remarkable Brunellos.

Here's a short video taken during the harvest at Paneretta, one of the producers I visited. The grapes look to be in perfect hygeinic condition, and the berries going to tank look perfect. But 2008 was quite a tricky harvest in this part of the world.

My view on Sangiovese? Difficult grape, but capable of greatness. Tuscany seems to be a special place to grow it. No cellar should be without serious expressions of Sangiovese.

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Amazing wines at The Ledbury

Keith Prothero (pictured below) convened a lunch at the Ledbury yesterday. The occasion? Chris Mullineux, a South African wine grower who Keith is involved in a venture with, was in town to present the new Mullineux wines. Also present were Neal Martin, Jamie Hutchinson (the Sampler), Jim Budd, Nigel Platts-Martin (owner of The Ledbury, The Square and other restaurants), and Lionel Nierop (Bid for Wine). Keith kindly provided the wines, too.

I won’t dwell on the Mullineux wines, because I intend to write them up separately. Suffice to say, Chris is right up there with the very best South African producers. The Syrah is beautifully expressive with lovely aromatics and a subtle meatiness; the white blend is taut and complex, with lovely depth from old vine Chenin combined with Viognier, Clairette and Grenache Blanc; and the straw wine, a curiosity made from Chenin grapes dried to reach double their original sugar content, is fantastically fresh and complex.

For those unfamiliar with The Ledbury, all I can say is that you must visit. It’s one of London’s very best restaurants. Aussie chef Brett Graham is a genius and I’ve had some of my most memorable gastronomic experiences here. The food is modern and inventive, without being gimmicky. And the lunchtime menu is brilliant value, too.

We began with an old Sancerre that was quite puzzling: it tasted really young.

Pascal Cotat Sancerre Les Monts Damnés 2001 Loire, France
Really intense, linear nose with minerality, grassiness, grapefruit pith and taut herby notes. The palate is intense, savoury and quite herbal with bright fruitiness. A remarkably fresh 2001, with an attractive greenness. 90/100

With the first course (cured scallops with frozen horseradish, seaweed and herbs) we had the Mullineux white 2008 and Lopez de Heredia’s Tondonia Gran Reserva white 1981, which unfortunately was corked. We followed this with the Mullineux Syrah 2008, and then the fish course (fillet of turbot cooked on bread with new seasons morels, beef shin and cauliflower) was accompanied by:

Roumier Bonnes Mares Grand Cru 1994 Burgundy
Lovely sweet pure cherry and red fruit aromatics, with a subtle sappiness. The palate is lively and spicy with lovely grippy structure under the elegant fruit. Nicely structured with a lovely spicy finish, but perhaps not showing all it has at the moment. 92/100

Guiseppe Mascarello Barolo Monprivato 1974 Piedmont, Italy
Brown colour. Like an old tawny port on the nose, and an old oloroso in the mouth, with a strong molasses character. Sadly this is dead.
The main course (sauté of Berkshire hare with poached grapes and a feuilleté of chanterelles and Jerusalem artichokes) was accompanied by one of the best flights of wines I’ve ever experienced. Quite incredible! [Above: Jim Budd, Chris Mullineux and Neal Martin prepare to tuck in.]

Château Haut-Brion 1982 Graves, Bordeaux
Lovely aromatic, minerally nose with complex sweet fruit and gravel notes. Beautifully poised. The palate is complex with sweet berry and cherry fruit, some mineral notes and hints of tar and gravel. Really pure with fantastic balance, this is super-elegant and still quite fruity with amazing purity. Lovely. 96/100

Château La Mission Haut Brion 1978 Pessac-Léognan, Bordeaux
Lovely sweet, pure blackberry fruit nose, with spiciness and minerality. Gorgeously aromatic with a gravelly edge. The palate is sweet and quite lush with lovely purity and elegance. Beautifully complex, this is a breathtaking wine. 97/100

Jabulet Hermitage La Chapelle 1991 Northern Rhône, France
Sweet, pure, liqueur-like nose with rounded red fruits. The palate is quite lush with some meatiness and bright cherry fruit, showing a liquer-like, jellied fruit purity. Sweet, with a fresh finish. 93/100

Château de Beaucastel 1981 Châteauneuf-du-Pape, France
Aromatic, spicy nose with warm dark cherry fruit, herbs, ginger and tar. The palate has cherry fruit as well as notes of soy sauce, earth and herbs. Savoury and earthy, this is delicious, but may be beginning to fade just a bit. 92/100

How do you follow this? With a remarkable dessert (passion fruit soufflé with sauternes ice cream) and two serious dessert wines : the complex Mullineux Chenin Blanc straw wine, and Yquem 1986.

Château d’Yquem 1986 Sauternes, Bordeaux, France
Deep gold colour. Sweet and viscous with barley sugar, honey and powerful citrus and peach flavours. Luscious and rich with some spiciness, dried fruit and minerality. Almost savoury! Lots of intensity here. 93/100

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Monday, March 23, 2009

A busy day of tasting, with some memorable wines

Crazy day, but very enjoyable. It began with a seminar at the California tasting on the Napa Valley. Really well judged: an introduction, plus seven wines to taste, delivered at a rapid pace. I sat next to Neal Martin, and after a quick taste of some FMV wines (Ridge, Qupe, Au Bon Climat, Ramey), we set off together for a rather special lunch at the Ledbury.

I'll write up the wines from this lunch in detail, because they were remarkable. Keith Prothero was the host, and the occasion celebrated the visit of Chris Mullineux, who is making wines with Keith as a partner in the Swartland region of South Africa. Nigel Platts Martin, Lionel Nierop, Jim Budd, Neal Martin, Jamie Hutchinson and I were the lucky recipients of Keith's wine generosity, including La Mission Haut Brion 1978, Haut Brion 1982, Jaboulet La Chapelle 1991, Beaucastel 1981, Roumier Bonnes Mares 1994 and Yquem 1986. [Pictured are Jamie, Nigel and Lionel.]

Lunch finished at 5 pm, and then I headed over to natural wine bar Artisan and Vine in Clapham Junction I'd been meaning to visit for ages. This new venture, owned by Kathryn, an Aussie ex-management consultant, has a wonderful range of natural wines complemented by a good selection of wines from the UK. Again, more on this later.

After this I was off to another natural wine bar, Terroirs. It was for a dinner with market-leading Languedoc producer Jean-Claude Mas. Jean-Claude was a little delayed, so we started proceedings with a bottle of Boisson Rouge (the sparkling Loire red I reported on here a while back). Jean-Claude's wines are really good, and the food (small plates) was fantastic.

Also present were Tina Gellie, Guy Woodward, Joe Wadsack, Paul Stratford, Naomi Cook and Stuart Peskett. It was a jolly crowd. It turns out that Paul Stratford and I grew up in the same Buckinghamshire village: Tylers Green/Penn (going to the same junior school, but he's 8 years older than me). Now it's bedtime.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Kosovan Vranac in Waitrose

Coincidentally, a case of Waitrose samples that arrived on my doorstep also contained one of the Kosovan wines I tried this week at the weird wines tasting. I figured it would be a nice lunch wine, especially on a bright spring day. It is made from the Vranac variety that is unique to the Balkans, and which is (apparently) known for its berry/forest fruit character and firm tannins. It's more than just a curiosity wine; this is something I'd be happy to drink on its own merits.

Stonecastel Vranac Premium 2007 Rahoveci Valley, Kosovo
A delightfully fresh, juicy cherry and plum flavoured red wine with good acidity and a bit of tannic grip. This is modern-styled with fresh primary fruit, but it has a little more acidity and structure than many commercial wines, which makes it a great food companion. It's a bit like a well made Loire red in style, perhaps crossed with a Beaujolais. Impressive. 88/100 (£7.99 Waitrose, but £5.99 15 April-17 May)



Just back from a charity quiz night for an organization called The Lunch Bowl. It was great fun, even though the team I was in ('the anoraks') was third last. My excuse was the lack of wine questions.

It was a nice way to end a lovely day. It was another superb, sunny spring day here in west London. I pruned my vines (I have 30 vines in my garden - Pinot Noir, Bacchus and Phoenix) and mowed the lawn for the first time this season.

It's good to prune late like this, because it retards bud burst and thus lessens the risk of frost damage. I use dto ave an allotment vineyard in Twickenham, but lost this in 2007 because I couldn't keep it under control. It was also a pretty vigorous site: anywhere that grows great vegetables isn't well suited to viticulture.

We also had our first barbecue of the year, which is always a significant moment. Now it's bedtime.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Torres Rioja and some nice Iberian wines with friends

I have a soft spot for Torres, as many readers will know. They make good wines in quantities that ensure everyone can get their hands on them. I wish more big wine companies did as good a job.

Of late, Torres have branched out from their Catalan base, and have recently released their first Rioja. It's called Ibericos, and 480 000 bottles have been released from the first vintage (2006) - over the next couple of years this is expected to be close to a million bottles annually.

Torres Ibericos Crianza Tempranillo 2006 Rioja, Spain
Deep coloured. Lovely balance here in this modern-styled Rioja, which combines sweet, creamy blackberry fruit wuth spicy oak. There's nice freshness, and also a hint of meat and olives. Good acidity keeps things fresh. A primary wine with lovely definition. The oak is noticeable, but less cloying than in many examples of Rioja. 89/100 (£8.99 Waitrose from the end of April)

I tasted this wine again tonight with some friends, in what turned out (coincidentally) to be an Iberian-themed dinner party. Also drunk were:
  • The wonderfully pure, focused Waitrose Douro Valley Reserva 2006 from Quinta de la Rosa, which is a brilliantly afforable expression of the Douro. My wine of the evening.
  • Cune Imperial Rioja Reserva 2001, which is deep, spicy and complex with some coconut and vanilla notes.
  • Vina Herminia Rioja Crianza 2004 - sweet, ripe and seductive with a bit of vanilla and some spicy, plummy fruit.
  • Marques de Monistrol Reserva Privada 2004 Catalunya, which is plummy, spicy and dense with a savoury, earthy character to the fruit.

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Thursday, March 19, 2009

Serious Languedoc lunch, and tasting wines from India, Kosova and Georgia

On yet another beautiful spring day, I headed into town for a lunch with Christian Seely and his winemaker Cedric Loiseau focusing on the wines of Mas Belles Eaux, AXA's Languedoc property.

It was held at South Kensington restaurant Le Colombier, and was really good, with the exception of the glasses, which were crap. I hate to sound like a moaning ninny, but why bother showing high end wines to the press out of really, really bad wine glasses? And Le Colombier can't hope to be taken seriously as a wine restaurant if they can't be bothered to buy decent stemware. [I guess the worrying alternative is that they think their glasses are good.]

The Mas Belles Eaux wines were really good. Since 2005, they've taken a step up in quality, and are now among the Languedoc's best. Sadly, they aren't cheap (the reds range from £18-25 in price), but they should age really well.

Then it was off to Queensgate, next to the Natural History Museum, for a rather weird tasting. First, I tried the wines of Kosovan estate Stonecastle. Nice Riesling, delicious Vranac (which has just been listed at Waitrose and will be promoted at £5.99 from mid-April) and solid, fruity Merlot and Cab.

Then it was time for some Indian wines. These were from the India Food Company in Vinchur, Maharashtra in the Nashik wine region. In India they are labelled V&V; in the UK they will be either Godavari Estate or The Maharaj. A Chenin was green and nasty, while the rose, Shiraz and Zinfandel were solid but a tiny bit rustic. The Zin was the best of the bunch.

Finally, I tried several Georgian wines that are being imported into the UK by Guamarjos. These were really good, including a couple of lovely whites (Tbilvino Rkatsiteli and Marani Mtsvane) and a delicious Saperavi made in amphorae (Marani Satrapezo).

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More on the sparkling wine symposium

I'm probably not the right person to ask about how the first International Sparkling Wine Symposium went. As one of the organizers, I'm too close to it. But I think it went brilliantly, and exceeded our expectations by some distance. Even better, it looks like we broke even, which was a big worry a few weeks ago.

Jim Budd has posted a report with lots of photographs on his blog. It gives a flavour of the event. Overall, the various components of the day pulled together really well.
Massive credit should go to the speakers and sponsors. Tony Jordan came over from Australia just for this event; Tom Stevenson gave the introduction, chaired a panel and ran the options game at the dinner; Dominique Demarville was a star presenting a vin clairs tasting; Michel Salgues was fantastic; Sarah Mowl carried out some great consumer research and presented it really well; Dee Blackstock kindly agreed to sit on the business panel at short notice; and Bob Lindo, Bertrand Robillard, Giles Cossanteli, Arthur O'Connor and John Worontschak all sat on a panel.
The sponsors included Bucher Vaslin, Codorniu, Diam (Mytik), Institute of Champagne, Proven PR, Litmus Wines, Dartington, Barcelos (for the dinner wine). They should be congratulated for getting behind a new venture like this, when many others took a wait and see policy, or even opposed what we were trying to do.


Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Sparkling Wine Symposium

I'm currently sitting in a session of the first ISWS (www.sparklingwinesymposium.com) which I've been involved in organizing. It's finally here! After a lot of organization and last-minute shuffling...

We've got a great bunch of speakers, and some excellent participants, and so far it has gone brilliantly. One of the great things about an event like this is the chance to meet lots of new people, and that's been true today.

Last night the speakers and organizers met for a meal at The Running Horses in Mickelham, which is a gastropub that is aiming to be a serious restaurant. The food was pretty good, although it took a long time to appear. The service was bad: sullen and with attitude. The wine list? Pretty mediocre, which is a real shame.

It was one of those lists where new wine names had been created for the restuarant trade, which meant that even though we were in the trade, we only recognized a couple of names. It was short, too. I really don't like this sort of list: how can you choose when all the producer/brand names are made up? And it was no good asking for help. I ordered our wines (Vergisson Macon and Taltarni Cab/Merlot) by name, and the server said abruptly 'number!'. It felt like ordering from a take-away.

Couple the good food and nice surroundings with a proper wine list and good service, and you have a winning combination. But the pub was full, which suggests that people tolerate mediocre wine lists and bad service; they aren't the things that matter to many customers.

We're currently in a technical panel. After this we have some consumer research that we've commissioned, which should be really interesting. Then we have a business panel, before the grand tasting and dinner. My job for the day is simply to introduce each speaker and tell people where to go.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Two Loire Sauvignons, one of which is great

I love the Loire, but it tends to be Chenin Blanc rather than Sauvignon that gets me excited when it comes to the whites.

Here are two interesting Loire Sauvignons, one of which is particularly wonderful.

Sébastien Riffault Akméniné Sancerre 2007 Loire, France
I thought Sancerre was mostly boring, but this is brilliant. It’s a challenging, complex, life-enhancing expression of Sauvignon Blanc. Full yellow in colour, it has a complex, rather wild nose of nuts, minerals, herbs, diesel oil, lemons and apples, with hints of sweet dried fruits. The palate is savoury and full, with lovely minerally acidity and nutty, grassy fruit. It’s just so complex, but if you’re looking for typical Sancerre, then this isn’t for you. I really like it, and rate it as the best Sancerre I’ve ever tasted. 92/100 (Les Caves de Pyrene) 03/09

Jean Paul Mollet Pouilly Fumé ‘L’Antique’ 2007 Loire, France
Aromatic grassy, herby nose with some melony richness. There are some pronounced green herbal notes here. The palate is concentrated and richly textured with a hint of fruit sweetness and green pepper/herby notes, as well as a touch of minerality on the finish. Quite a serious Sauvignon. 89/100 (Sainsburys, this is due to be offered at a promotional price in April) 03/09

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A good lunch with some lovely old wines

I attended my first ever lunch at Berry Bros & Rudd's historic St James' St premises today. I was invited by Jasper Morris, the occasion being the visit of Californian winemaker Douglas Danielak; also present was fellow wine writer Margaret Rand.

We began by tasting through the Paras Vineyard wines that Douglas makes (you can read my review of these here). Then we went through to lunch, where we drank some rather interesting wines. I should lunch like this more often!

All the following were BBR bottlings/own labels. First, a white Burgundy, and then three reds from the 1960s, the first of which was served blind. Drinking older wines like these is a total gamble (sometimes they can just be nasty), but today, they all showed really well.

Puligny Montrachet 1er Cru Les Folatieres 1983
From Prosper Mafoux, a negociant-eleveur in Santenay. This is deep coloured, and initially it seems a bit nutty and sherried. But after a while it reveals lovely fresh mineral notes under some richer, apricot and barley sugar notes. An interesting, rather evolved wine. 89/100

St Amour 1964
From Thorin, this was served blind. It was a revelation. Lovely aromatics: pure, a bit spicy, with wonderful purity of fresh red fruits. The palate is really elegant with sweet, pure fruit, a hint of sappiness and a little spicy structure. Beautiful balance here - you'd never expect this from an old Beaujolais. So elegant. 93/100

Gevrey Chambertin 1er Cru Combes aux Moines 1964
This came via Reid, Pye and Campbell and is from Maison Lupe-Cholet. BBR paid £122 for the hogshead. It's a rich, dense wine with some meaty, soy sauce and herb notes on the nose, as well as just a hint of musty earthiness. The palate is dense and rich with dark fruit and some structure. Not totally pure, but deliciously rich and still drinking very well indeed. 92/100

Chambertin Clos de Beze Grand Cru 1966
No information on who this is from. It's fresh and spicy with a dark cherry fruit nose. Well defined on the palate, this is almost youthful, with just a bit of earthiness. Really well defined, and ageing beautifully, this will continue to drink well for some time I reckon. 92/100

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Sunday, March 15, 2009

England hammer France...with some French wine

So I went to the Rugby today. I was a guest of Mont Tauch (http://www.mont-tauch.com/), who shared their hospitality (from the back of an old Citroen van in the Rosebine car park) with ex-Rugby player and wine producer Gerard Bertrand (pictured).

We drank wines from both. Mont Tauch are one of the new breed of super-coops, and were showing a really nice Ancien Carignan among other wines. And I liked the Bertrand Tautavel and La Forge reds a great deal: modern, sweetly fruited, but fresh and well defined. It was very civilized standing in the sunshine, drinking wine with good company.

The game? Incredibly, England were brilliant. France played like England usually do. And by half time, England were 29-0 up. We were sitting in a largely French section, next to the French band, who were silenced by their side's performance. The second half was closer, but by then it was all over.

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Saturday, March 14, 2009

Portuguese wines at Nandos

By coincidence, today I ended up drinking wine made at the winery I visited yesterday. It's kind of cool.

We took a quick trip to Chav heaven, Staines, for some shopping. Afterwards, we decided to get something to eat, and so we gave Nandos a go (www.nandos.co.uk). I've never been before, despite the fact that we have one virtually opposite our home.

Verdict? Much better than I'd expected. It's really well conceived, and the food is simple and quite tasty. There's a Portuguese emphasis, but it's a modest one. [Nandos actually stems from Portuguese ex-pats in South Africa.]

We washed our food down with a couple of the Tagus Creek wines from the short Portuguese/South African wine list. Fiona had the Fernao Pires/Chardonnay 2007 (fresh, a bit nutty, with nice fruity flavours) and I had the Cabernet Sauvignon/Aragonez 2007 (a spicy, chunky but deliciously fruity red). They're not especially Portuguese in character, but it's good to see these wines on a mainstream list like this (Nandos has 207 branches in the UK).

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Video: Duorom, a new project in Portugal's upper Douro

A short film on the new Douro Superior project of Joao Portugal Ramos, called Duorum. The first wine, the Colheita 2007, has just been released. The current wines are sourced from old vineyards in the Cima Corgo (some 15 of them) and also a 60 hectare rented vineyards in the Douro Superior. This film concentrates on the new 150 hectare estate that has been purchased in the Douro Superior and is now being planted. It's a spectacular project.

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Friday, March 13, 2009

More from Portugal

Just back from Portugal, and a very enjoyable, successful trip. I do worry about the weather, though: while temperatures in the 20s are very enjoyable, it is only March.

I came back very impressed by the various projects of Joao Portugal Ramos (above). Since I last visited in 2005, the wines have all improved (they were already pretty good) - the 2008 Alentejo wines are spot on, including a great 3 Euro wine, the Loios, showing amazing vibrancy of fruit. The new Duorum project is exciting, and not least because the Colheita 2007 is retailing at a price where it offers incredible value for money (c. £10 in the UK). Below is the view from one of Joao's vineyards towards Estremoz.

I was in the Ribatejo today, at the Falua winery with winemakers Antonina Barbosa and Mario Andrade. We took a look at some vineyards - pictured below are budbreak in a Trincadeira block, and wild flowers in an old vine Castelao (Periquita) vineyard.
The Falua winery is home to the Tagus Creek brand, as well as Conde de Vimioso. The Ribatejo isn't a very well known region outside Portugal, but the wines offer excellent value for money.

We lunched on cow's feet and chick peas at a small restaurant close to the winery. The cow's feet were gelatinous (mostly collagen), but the overall effect was a good one!

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In Portugal

For the last two days I have been in Portugal, visiting the Douro on Wednesday and the Alentejo today. The purpose of the trip is to see all the properties of Joao Portugal Ramos, one of Portugal's most well known winemakers. Wednesday was particularly interesting because I saw the new venture Duorum, which so far has released just one wine, the 2007 Colheita. The idea is to blend old vine Cima Corgo fruit with fruit from the Douro Superior, and Joao, aided by Jose Maria Soares Franco (who has worked with Sogrape for 28 years in the Douro), he's purchased a 150 ha property in the Douro Superior (currently 60 ha of vines are rented there)

I haven't got time to do the project justice here, so I'm going to post some photographs I took of the Cima Corgo (first two) and the Douro Superior (taken from the Duorum property).

I stayed last night at Quinta Foz de Arouce, and tomorrow I'm off to Falua, Joao's property in the Ribatejo. It's unseasonally warm here - in the 20s, which is high for March.

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Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Off to Portugal on the 0640

Busy day yesterday. First, the Tesco press tasting, held at a new venue on Grosvenor Place, opposite the gardens of Buckingham Palace. Some very good wines, but a disappointing show from France and Italy. It's not the fault of the buyers; it's just that sourcing good quality wines from the well-known regions that have to be represented, at tight price points, is hard.

Look at Chianti, or Barolo, for example. Some cracking wines at the high end, but mostly dross at the commercial end. Compare Tesco's wines from these big name regions with those from Sicily, for example, and the Sicilian wines win easily: the Tesco Fiano and Nero d'Avola are both excellent wines for c. £6.

Then it was off to Lords, for the Portuguese annual tasting. Because of the Tesco tasting (which is pretty much compulsory because of my newspaper column), I couldn't give Portugal as much time as I needed to.

After this, I had to run home to change into my DJ for the Caballeros dinner - it's an annual Spanish wine dinner, and this year was held at the Dorchester, which, for some reason, had the thermostat set to about 90 degrees, and we all sweated. The dinner was really good, with some super wines, including three sherries. Note to self: must drink more sherry.

I left relatively early and got home just after midnight. I had to pack and set the alarm for 0430, in order to get to the airport for my 0640 flight to Porto. The company who booked my tickets thoughtfully spelled my surname 'Goodie', so we'll see if I get on the plane...


Tuesday, March 10, 2009

A brilliant, affordable Portuguese red

After some negative comments about a widely available Portuguese red a few days ago, here's one that I'm happy to see well distributed. If you haven't tried a Portuguese wine of late, get thee to Waitrose or Majestic to pick up a bottle of this. It's a really good example of why Dao is one of Portugal's most interesting wine regions. And best of all, it's affordable.

Sogrape Pena de Pato Dao 2005 Portugal
From Portugal's Dao region, this is a blend of Touriga Nacional, Tinta Roriz and Alfrocheiro, and it's just delicious. Deep coloured, it has lovely violet, dark cherry and blackberry aromatics, with hints of spice and meat. The palate shows fresh, bright modern fruit with some peppery structure and lovely fresh acidity. There's perhaps a hint of jamminess to it, but overall this is a beautifully fresh, cherryish, fruity red wine with lovely definition. A great introduction to the new Portugal. Pena de Pato translates 'duck's feather'; there's no relation to Luis Pato of Bairrada fame. 88/100 (£6.99 Majestic, Waitrose)

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Monday, March 09, 2009

'New' 1855 Bordeaux classification - interesting results

One of the first things wine nuts learn is the famous 1855 classification of the left-bank Bordeaux properties. What is amazing is that despite the significant changes in the wine world - including the phylloxera outbreak and subsequent replanting - over the last 154 years, this classification has been surprisingly enduring. Especially when you consider that just one factor was used to determine the ranking: the prices wines that the wines sold for.

Well, as a bit of fun, Liv-ex have revised the 1855 classification and brought it up to date. James Miles, Director at Liv-ex , explains: “Our aim from the outset was to recreate the conditions of the 1855 classification. To base it wholly on price – as the 1855 classification was – and include only the major estates of the Left Bank. In essence, to create the classification that would have been drawn up if today’s prices were those prevalent 154 years ago.”

Liv-ex give some background to the original 1855 classification, which was produced by the Bordeaux Brokers Union at the request of the Bordeaux Chamber of Commerce. Its purpose was to be used as part of the regional display at the Paris Universal Exhibition of 1855. The Brokers returned their classification just two weeks after the original request was made. It was based wholly on the price each chateaux’s wine reached on the Bordeaux market. This was soon considered an ‘official’ classification, particularly by those outside the Bordeaux trade.

The Liv-ex Bordeaux Classification
Criteria for inclusion: left bank wines only (both Medoc and Pessac-Leognan); minimum production of 2000 cases; first wines only.

· Mission Haut Brion joins the 1st growths
· Lynch Bages is the biggest climber, moving up from the 5th growths to join the 2nds
· Palmer moves from the 3rds to become the top 2nd
· 10 wines drop out of the classification
· 9 wines join it

“Mission Haut Brion has clearly reached the level of a First Growth", says James Miles. "The difference in price between Mission and the wine below it (Palmer) is larger in percentage terms than that between any other adjacent wines in the classification, with the former twice the price of the latter.”

“The second wines of the great chateaux are a complicating factor," says Liv-ex's Jack Hibberd. "They obviously didn’t exist in 1855, so we decided to classify each property on the basis of their first wine. It is interesting to note, however, that if they were included as separate chateaux, 12 would make the cut, with Carruades de Lafite and Forts de Latour reaching the level of second growths.”

You can view the new 1855 classification here.


Should wine journos insure their palates?

Caught the first 90 minutes of Mondovino - Nossiter's famous film about the world of wine, which I hadn't yet seen - last night on BBC4, but then couldn't stay awake any longer.

I liked what I saw, on the whole. One of the more interesting segments was Nossiter's invasion of the Parker home in Monktown. In it, Bob confirmed that his palate was insured for $1 million.

Then, today, a buddy (thanks Chris) sent me the following link, here, reporting on a coffee taster who's taken out £10 million insurance on his taste buds:

"The taste buds of a Master of Coffee are as important as the vocal cords of a singer or the legs of a top model, and this is one of the biggest single insurance policies taken out for one person," said a spokesman for Lloyd's broker Glencairn Limited, which arranged the insurance cover.

Another famous case of palate insurance was that of Angela Mount, when she was working as a buyer for Somerfield in 2003 (see here). In this case her palate was insured for £10 million. Should wine tasters insure their palates, or is this just a publicity stunt?

There certainly is a risk of losing some or all of your sense of taste or smell. There’s the well known case of Harry Waugh, who lost his sense of smell after a blow to the head. There’s the possibility of damage to the trigeminal nerve from dental anaesthetic.

But the majority of olfactory decline occurs simply through age. While there’s no evidence that the taste buds lose function with time, the ability to smell is gradually lost with age. It could be that some of this loss is offset by the benefits of experience as we age, but it’s a depressing thought that when we’re old, we’ll just be tasting memories!

Sunday, March 08, 2009

Smelling gorse

I'm obsessed with taste and smell, to the point that I sniff things quite a bit. I took RTL for a walk on Hounslow Heath this weekend to find that gorse was in flower (it almost always seems to be in flower, at least a bit), so I sniffed one of the flowers. They have the most amazing smell of coconut. [Picture above was taken with my mobile phone camera.]

The world of aromas is one that, to a degree, is closed to us. We traded a whole stack of our olfactory ability for trichromatic vision some time back in evolutionary history. We don't have functional vomeronasal organs (which detect pheromones); many of our olfactory receptor genes are pseudogenes. As a result, I reckon we have to make a special effort to work on our ability to detect and recognize smells. Even then, it's clear that RTL experiences a spatial smell landscape that I just don't get.

In some ways, it has been a strange weekend here in West London. Saturday was lovely and spring-like, and Sunday also started that way. But then just after lunch the wind started, and then the rain. It was horrible. Just as we thought spring was really on the way, we've had another reminder of winter.

Busy week ahead. Off to Denbies tomorrow for final planning of http://www.sparklingwinesymposium.com/. Then on Tuesday there's the Tesco Press tasting, the Portuguese tasting and the Caballeros dinner. I have a 06.30 flight to Portugal on Wednesday, where I stay until Friday. Two articles to write, as well.


Decanting wine

I admit it, I don't use my decanters all that often. But when I do, I wonder why I don't do it more often.

The science of decanting isn't all that clear-cut. While many experienced tasters, whose opinions I respect, are convinced of the benefits of decanting, I can't come up with many good scientific explanations for why it might enhance the character of a wine.

The received wisdom in the trade is that decanting 'opens up' the aromas of younger, more structured wines that are otherwise a little closed; that it changes the structure of tannic wines, making them more rounded.

And, from my experience, I'd agree. The problem for my science is that decanting often has an effect almost instantly, yet oxidation reactions in wine take much longer to have their effect. Decanting the wine would saturate it in oxygen, but this would take quite a while to work on wine components.

Perhaps some of the benefits of decanting are the effects it has on us, the tasters. After all, wine tasting is an interaction between the wine and the taster, with both contributing. If the act of decanting changes our expectation of the wine, then it may change the taste.

The wine in my decanter at the moment is Poliziano's Vino Nobile di Montepulciano 2005, which I bought in Tuscany in June. It's a good wine: there's some stylish oak complenting the grippy Sangiovese fruit, and while it's pretty tannic, it's quite sophisticated, too. If anything, overnight in the decanter has improved the wine a bit (and 24 h will have been long enough for some oxidative changes, but in a young wine like this the oxygen will probably have been absorbed by the phenolic compounds).

Saturday, March 07, 2009

Video: visiting Brick House, biodynamic Oregon producer

A short film from a visit to Doug Tunnell's Brick House winery (reported in detail here). We begin by looking at the compost heap...

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Friday, March 06, 2009

Crazy sparkling red, again

I don't know why, but I seem to have been drawn towards sparkling red wines of late. There's the Afros Vinho Verde Espumante, the M&S Lambrusco, and now this - a sparkling red from the Loire.

Domaine de Montrieux Petillant Naturel Boisson Rouge, Vin de Table NV
Emile Hérédia is the dude behind this remarkable wine - a Gamay from the Loire, made naturally (without the addition of sulfur dioxide), with the fermentation finished in bottle. Sealed with a crown cap, this is a sparkling cherry red-coloured wine that's just a little off dry. It's deliciously more-ish, with flavours of ripe cherries backed up by some subtle spicy, earthy notes, giving it a savoury feel despite the sweetness. It gains complexity with time in the glass - while this is a fun wine, it also repays contemplation, and I really like it. It's the sort of wine you just want (or need) another glass of. Serve chilled. 90/100 (£13.75 Les Caves de Pyrene, Green and Blue)

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Majestic acquires Lay & Wheeler

Very interesting news: Majestic, one of the UK's most successful wine retailers, has just acquired well-regarded east anglian merchant Lay & Wheeler (see news here). What will Majestic do with Lay & Wheeler, and how does the acquisition of a more traditional wine merchant fit with Majestic's current retail model (out-of-town warehouses selling in quantities of 12 bottles or more)?

Thursday, March 05, 2009

Doug on red vinho verde and wine writers

Quick plug for the 'Grapevine' on the Les Caves de Pyrene website, written by Doug Wregg and his colleagues. Two recent articles that caught my eye:

There's a lot of good reading here.

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

VLOG on closures

Here's me talking for 10 minutes on the subject of wine bottle closures. And there is still so much that I didn't have time to say!

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Grown-up Lambrusco that rocks

Please try this wine! It's really, really good.

I was wandering home from the Stokes tasting yesterday and popped into Marks & Spencer to pick up some treats for tea. I walked out with a bottle of this, an 'authentic' Lambrusco that Jo Ahearne MW deserves a medal for sourcing, and a box of mezes.

And yesterday evening I drank the said bottle of Lambrusco watching four back-to-back episodes of Gavin & Stacey. Tidy.

Autentico Reggiano Lambrusco NV Vino Frizzante, Italy
Very deep coloured - a bit like an Aussie Sparkling Shiraz in appearance. Sweet, grapey, dark cherry nose that manages to be sweet and savoury at the same time. The palate is vivid with high acidity and powerful dark cherry and bitter plum notes, with a bit of fizziness. Lovely stuff: this has to be good for you? 89/100 (£7.49 Marks & Spencer)

The producer's website is http://www.medici.it/

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Latest from the main wineanorak site...

The latest from the main part of the wineanorak site:
  • Visiting Bernard Magrez: part 1, La Tour Carnet - I begin my write up of a short visit to some of the Bordeaux properties of Bernard Magrez, who's on a mission to change the face of Bordeaux
  • Top 10 supermarket wines: a list of my top 10 inexpensive supermarket wines, something my non-wine geek friends have been asking for for ages
  • Top wines from SITT: a selection of gems from the recent SITT tasting
  • Inama: stunning wines from the Veneto revisited
  • Bethel Heights: part 7 of my Oregon series
  • Cheval des Andes: the second part of my Argentina series

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Churchill's Ports and table wines, including the 2007s

Had an interesting tutored tasting today with Johnny Graham of Churchill Graham, who was showing a range of vintages of both his vintage Port, and also Quinta da Gricha single quinta Port. It was part of the Stokes Fine Wine portfolio tasting, so the Churchill table wines, including the 2007 cask samples were also on show.

The Gricha wines are fantastic: it's a north-facing vineyard with lovely freshness and definition to the fruit. The Churchill Vintage Port is also superb, but my preference is probably for the Gricha, which probably means I have a bad palate! But I love the freshness, acidity and fruit purity that wines from this Quinta show.

2007 samples of both Ports and table wines were fantastic (the glass above contains the 2007 Churchill VP). This looks like being a superb year - I've already heard lots of good things about it, but these were the first wines I have tasted from this vintage, which could be the Douro's best for a very long time. For 2007, Churchill have introduced some new table wines - a Reserva, a Gran Reserva and a varietal Touriga Nacional. They're all really good.
Look out for the regular Churchill table wine in Majestic at £8.99 - it's one of the best value Douro wines out, showing Douro personality at a reasonable price. The 2006 is really good; the 2007 will be a little better.

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Monday, March 02, 2009

Wine, episode 3: The Future

Tonight I caught the third episode of BBC4's series on Wine. It was set in South Africa, and followed the fortunes of two producers trying to make it in the UK wine market. I quote from the publicity blurb:

Oupa Rangaka and Mark Solms are two unlikely wine producers. Six years ago, Oupa, a retired philosophy professor, didn't even drink wine, let alone make it.
Today he and his family, including three-year-old grandson Kwena, are the only
black people to own a vineyard in South Africa. Its survival depends on their ongoing relationship with Marks and Spencer and convincing the judges at London's International Wine Challenge that their pinotage passes muster. Mark is a world-renowned neuroscientist who inherited the family business, and is struggling to reconcile his idealistic plans for the farm with the practical realities of post-apartheid South Africa. He worries that the harvest festival he is organising may degenerate into an orgy of violence and drunkenness. Via the struggles of these two remarkable men, wine becomes a prism through which to view the current state of the Rainbow Nation.
It was a really well-constructed programme, tackling some tricky issues in an intelligent way. I particularly liked the focus on the International Wine Challenge, including a three-second shot of me sniffing and slurping! Pictured above is the film crew in attendance at the challenge, following the course of these South African wines.
You can catch it if you missed it at http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b00j0g7v

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Recent books, and top wines from SITT

Posted an article with notes on my top wines from the SITT tasting last week here. What do you think of the selection? It doesn't pretend to be comprehensive, but there are some really nice wines included.

As you probably know, I quite like to branch out from wine coverage and include other stuff on this blog - ranging from dodgy film reviews to naive sports commentary, with a bit of amateur philosophy thrown in for good measure. So here are my thoughts on a couple of recent reads.

I don't normally bother with books by politicians, but some time ago Fiona bought me Barack Obama's Dreams from my father, so I eventually (and rather reluctantly) read it. I'm so glad I did, because it's brilliant. Barack can write - really well - and the story he tells of his family backround and formative years is compelling, compassionate and insightful. He is an intensely smart dude who really seems to care.

Another book I wouldn't have chosen to read, but which was I enjoyed greatly is Mohsin Hamid's The Reluctant Fundamentalist. It's a creative, imaginative and gripping book that draws you in by the power of its narrative, and the distinctive writing style. Totally recommended.


Sunday, March 01, 2009

Portugal: the good and the bad

Regular readers will know that I'm keen on Portuguese wines. But in my enthusiasm, I'm not blind to the fact that Portugal still makes some fairly dodgy wines - just as most countries do.

I have three Portuguese wines open at the moment. Two are really good, and one is fairly dreadful. It's such a shame, therefore, that it's the dreadful one that's listed by Tesco. It's bad news for Portugal. What was the Tesco buyer thinking of? Portugal makes loads of really good wines at all price levels, so why did they list this throwback to the bad old days? There aren't many slots for Portuguese wines, and here's one taken by a dud.

I hate being negative, but I have to be honest, and sometimes this means saying critical things.

Tesco Finest Touriga Nacional 2006 Estremadura, Portugal
Strangely earthy and medicinal on the nose. Smells a bit like a hospital ward. The palate is bright with some plummy fruit, but the medicinal, spicy character dominates. Disappointing. 73/100 (currently £4.74 at Tesco.com)

Adega Pegoes Colheita Seleccionada 2005 Terras do Sado, Portugal
Nose of spicy, plummy, raspberry fruit with a savoury edge. The palate is spicy and intense with nice bright but structured cherry and plum fruit. Delicious and almost Italian in style. Great performance for a co-op wine. 89/100 (UK agent Hallgarten)

Covela Escolha 2005 Minho, Portugal
Deep coloured, this unoaked red from just outside the Douro is really fresh and vibrant, with a gravelly, earthy edge to the sweet, focused dark cherry and blackberry fruit. Savoury and food friendly, with good acidity. Quite serious. 90/100 (retail c. £13, UK agent Corney & Barrow who currently have the also excellent 2004 listed on their website)