jamie goode's wine blog: April 2009

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Brilliant Aussie Cabernet

With all the attention focused on Shiraz, it's easy to forget that Australia makes some great Cabernet Sauvignon. [But, then, if you look hard enough, you'll find that Australia also makes some really great Pinot Noir. And does well with lots of other varieties, too. You just have to look hard enough.]

Well, here's a cracking Cabernet from Coonawarra.

Parker Coonawarra Estate Terra Rossa Cabernet Sauvignon 2005 Coonawarra, Australia
Lovely nose of pure blackcurrant fruit with dark, spicy, earthy notes adding savoury complexity. Quite blackcurrant-bud like. The palate is taut and backward with a lovely spicy, gravelly edge to the sweet fruit. Lovely freshness and definition here. It's varietally true and quite complex, and you don't really feel the 15% alcohol. 92/100

Find this wine with wine-searcher.com

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Portuguese wines in Edinburgh

I'm in the airport on the way back from presenting the Edinburgh edition of 50 Great Portuguese wines. It was a good day and I met some great people - but I felt bad flying in and out in one day.

This is my first time in Edinburgh, and I wish I could have allocated more time here, because it really is as lovely as people say it is. The taxi in from the airport takes you through some rather ordinary suburbs, past Murrayfield, but then when you hit the town centre it's just beautiful.

Note to self: I must come back here sometime.

The wines showed quite well today - interestingly, having tried the wines two days apart in different cities, there are some subtle differences, but this could just be me.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Some incredible wines today

Two rather different tastings today, both of which were really impressive.

First the Waitrose (UK supermarket) press tasting. Their range - a large chunk of which was on show - is unparalleled among supermarkets. Some really good wines, with solid buying across the board. They keep freshening it up with new wines: four that caught my eye were Remelluri Rioja 2004 (brilliant stuff with amazing minerality and intensity), Mac Forbes Coldstream Pinot Noir 2006 Yarra (amazingly elegant), Clonakilla Hilltops Shiraz 2007 (pure, burly, meaty, fresh) and the Penfolds Bin 311 Tumburumba Chardonnay 2006 (really fresh, lively and exciting). But wine nuts need to wait a few months for the next development, which will be Waitrose Wine Online's new website, on a new platform with added functionality. Headed up by Alex Murray, who was at BBR.com before his recent two year stint with game.com, it looks set to become a really exciting wine destination.

Then the Les Caves de Pyrene REAL WINE 2009 tasting. My, there were some fantastic wines here. I could really have done with another day tasting these, but I have to go to Edinburgh tomorrow so I can't do the second day. It seems silly to pick out highlights, but I must - Frederic Cossard's Burgundies are stunning, as are Philippe Pacalet's 2007s. Zidarich makes some fantastic wines, as do La Stoppa (including a wonderful lightly sparkling Barbera, Guturnio Vivace). Camilo Donati's sparkling Trebbiano is really special, and I loved the Foulards Rouges range from the Roussillon, which were so, so pure. Pictured above is Jean Foillard, a famous natural wine maker from Morgon, Beaujolais.

Early flight to Edinburgh tomorrow. On reflection, it's probably not the greatest time to be hanging around Heathrow, what with the emergent swine flu pandemic and all.


Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Olivier Leflaive dinner

After a long day in Manchester, I wasn’t finished. Arriving back into Euston at 19:45 I headed over to the Groucho Club on Dean Street for Corney & Barrow’s Olivier Leflaive dinner. It was a really enjoyable dinner – not least because I was sitting with some really interesting people.

As well as representing the peerless white Burgundies of Anne-Claude’s Domaine Leflaive, Corney & Barrow also have the agency for Olivier’s negociant wines. In some ways, the ‘Leflaive’ name must be a bit of a handicap, because it reminds people of what Olivier’s wines are not, making it harder to assess them on their own merits.

But these wines showed fantastically well. I joined just as dinner was getting underway, having missed the pre-dinner tasting of the 2007s. What was left of these wines was being held for me for a post-dinner tasting, which was very kind of Corney & Barrow, but twice as the evening progressed Cecily Chambers of C&B had to rescue them as entrepreneurial members of the C&B staff went and liberated them for their tables to enjoy!

The dinner wines:

Olivier Leflaive Puligny Montrachet Les Meix 2006
Lovely compex, aromatic, toasty nose with some lemony freshness. Crisp and bright with nice intensity. A lighter style, but still complex, and a lovely white Burgundy. 91/100

Olivier Leflaive Puligny Montrachet Les Meix 2002
Really toasty and full on the nose with lovely aromatics. The palate is bold and intense with rich, toasty, nutty, herby notes. Quite fresh, but at the same time it is almost structured, showing good acidity and lovely complexity. Drinking perfectly now. 94/100

Olivier Leflaive Chassagne Montrachet 1er Cru Abbaye de Morgeot 2006
Quite minerally, with a bit of matchstick reduction, but in a complexing way. The palate is concentrated and minerally with some matchstick notes as well as fresh fruit. Lovely stuff that’s savoury, mineralic and delicious. 92/100

Olivier Leflaive Chassagne Montrachet 1er Cru Abbaye de Morgeot 2000 (magnum)
Deep yellow/gld colour. Really broad, intense, nutty herby nose with warm toastiness. The palate shows evolution with powerful broad nutty, toasty notes. There’s a crystalline fruit character, too, but this is a wine that I suspect is just past its peak, so drink up now. 90/100

2007 wines

Olivier Leflaive Chablis Les Deux Rives 2007
Very fresh and minerally with lovely bright lemony fruit on the nose. Crisp, bright and fruity on the palate with a nice expressive character. 89/100

Olivier Leflaive Chablis Vaudesir Grand Cru 2007
Refined yet minerally lemony nose. Focused, fresh, pure minerally palate that’s quite backward but with great concentration and freshness. 90/100

Olivier Leflaive Montagny 1er Cru Bonneveaux 2007

Fresh, pure and quite dense with a minerally edge to the bright fruit. Tight and quite pure with lovely freshness and some real substance. 89/100

Olivier Leflaive Rully La Chatalienne 2007
Subtle herby, nutty nose with nice lemony freshness. Lovely fresh acidity on the palate with bright, citrussy, minerally fruit. Deliciously full and intense. 90/100

Olivier Leflaive St Aubin 1er Cru En Remilly 2007
Slightly toasty, taut nose with some herbiness. The palate is broad and herby with citrussy freshness and nutty, minerally depth. Long finish. 90/100

Olivier Leflaive Puligny Montrachet 1er Cru Les Referts 2007
Nutty, minerally, toasty nose is taut and quite intense. The palate shows lovely depth with some toasty richness as well as herby, citrussy freshness. 92/100

Olivier Leflaive Meursault Clos de Cromin 2007
Broad but fresh on the nose. Intense but fresh and quite lemony on the palate with savoury, toasty notes adding firmness. Quite lean and savoury with high acidity. 90/100

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50 Great Portuguese wines in Manchester

So I'm in Manchester - where, many, many years ago, I was born. I'm here for the second installment of 50 Great Portuguese wines, which this year I've been given the responsibility of choosing.

I came up on the train this morning from London. The Virgin high-speed service takes just over 2 hours, which is really impressive, and a return ticket (0920 out, 0535 back) cost me £66 a few weeks ago, which is quite good value. The train does roll, though, when it's going really fast, and I felt a tiny bit motion sick at one point when I was working on my laptop. No wireless internet, alas.

The tasting has gone really well so far. Some of the wines are showing particularly well: I'm especially keen on the 05 Vale Meao and the 05 Poeira, both of which are astonishingly good today. Truly world class. I still have a few more wines to taste, which I must go back to now. It's so good to be able to reacquaint myself with these wonderful bottles. The third installment is in Edinburgh on Thursday.


Monday, April 27, 2009

A decent Riesling from JJ Christoffel

Much of the time I'm reporting here on samples. But I do still buy wine, although not as much as I'd like, or I should. This is one I paid for.

I'm drinking it at the end of a long day in the office - the first in a couple of weeks - during which I've been sorting out my diary and beginning to tackle the back-log of things that need writing up. I punctuated the day with a lengthy walk, all the way round Virginia Water lake, with RTL. It was wet and grey, but still enjoyable. Tomorrow I'm off to Manchester, technically my home town, for the day for the 50 Great Portuguese Wines tasting.

This is a Riesling Kabinett from JJ Christoffel, which I purchased as part of a mixed case a couple of years ago. I really like Mosel Kabinett. One of the best things about it is that the wines usually have an extended drinking window.

JJ Christoffel Urziger Wurzgarten Riesling Kabinett 2005 Mosel, Germany
A rich, weighty, off-dry Riesling with honeyed, melony fruit and some spicy minerality. It's beautifully textured and balanced, with more density and richness than you might expect from a typical Mosel Kabinett. There's some bright liminess, here, too. It's a style of Riesling that can't really be done convincingly anywhere else in the world, with the possible exception of some bits of New Zealand. It would get a higher rating were it not for the slighly sugary, syrupy note on the finish. But that's nit-picking - it's a really nice wine. 88/100

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Conflicts of interest and all that...

There's been a big internet storm about conflicts of interest policy at the Wine Advocate of late, over on Tyler Colman's Dr Vino blog. Tyler pointed out that there seems to be a discrepancy between the stated policy of the Wine Advocate and the practice of some the new members of team WA.

Specifically, Robert Parker, in his Wine Buyer's Guide, states that he doesn't accept hospitality and pays for his own trips. Some of team WA have taken press trips and work like 'normal' wine journalists in accepting samples, lunches and dinners.

Some observations.

1. The WA is probably the most widely trusted source of wine information out there. Robert Parker has set the standard when it comes to impartiality. But his stated policy needs amending because while it may still apply to him it doesn't fit the way his team operate. It's a counsel of perfection that is uneccessarily tight.

2. There's no big story here. Team WA are just doing what you do as a wine journalist. There's probably a bit of tall poppy syndrome: because of the success of WA, there are a whole load of people out there who want to have a pop and cause a bit of trouble.

3. As a wine journalist you need to have some level of interaction with the trade. It's not like being a police detective investigating the mafia, where it would be hard to argue that a close working relationship would enhance your effectiveness. We are talking about covering wine accurately and intelligently, and for me and many other wine journalists the economics just wouldn't stack up if I had to pay for all my own travel.

4. Accepting hospitality and trips isn't a big deal, in that I don't feel beholden at all. To someone outside wine journalism, the chance to travel to nice places and stay in nice places and eat nice meals might seem an enormous perk – one that would leave you feeling you owed your host something. But here's the point: it's a two-way thing. You aren't just receiving; you are giving. Specifically you are giving your time and attention, without charge, and if the wines merit it, there's the possibility of coverage. Once you rise high enough in the journalistic pecking order, then you get so many offers of trips, it's not a big deal. Don't get me wrong: I love the travel part of my job, but I don't feel accepting trips places obligations on me, and I certainly don't demand any hospitality that is offered.

5. Almost all the journalists I have met are passionate about wine, and are ambitious people who want to be successful. While there are few who have a comfortable existence living off the largesse of the trade, not rocking the boat and wallowing in mediocrity, they are in the minority. Personally, I care too much about wine to give good write ups to people doing mediocre work, and to pass over a more deserving but smaller producer in favour of a less deserving but bigger (and more hospitable) one.

6. My impression is that by far the biggest threat to wine coverage isn't conflicting interests, but people with bad palates. However free of conflicts of interests you are, if you are a crap taster then your work will be poor. If you fall for spoofy nonsense wines, or taste randomly, then being whiter than white isn't going to help.

7. In the end, it's a matter of trust. Readers should develop some sort of relationship with the writer, getting to know their preferences and underlying philosophy. Writers need to do the best work they can. Sometimes I fund my own trips (e.g. New Zealand, all my Australian visits); other times I take press trips, and sometimes from single producers. I'm learning, and these trips help me learn more – you, the reader, have to decide whether 'm compromised or not.

8. It's kind of self-regulating. You get offered trips if you have a big enough readership. f you start doing fluffy puff pieces and go soft, then you lose your readership and hence don't get offered trips. The only sustainable policy is to be honest, impartial and rigorous.

If The Wine Advocate ends up instituting some strict conflicts of interest policy for its staff that prohibits press trips, then they'll lose out and more importantly the readers will lose out, too, because the current depth of coverage will end up being prohibitively expensive.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Swine flu..a potential pandemic

Not Wine Related - but I wanted to comment on the Mexican swine flu outbreak that is in the news (for a good piece of journalism see Susan Watts' blog on the subject).

It's very worrying. A while back, we had the scare about bird flu, H5N1. This virus was extremely dangerous in that it killed a good proportion of the people it infected. The reason it didn't become a pandemic is because it never developed the capacity to transmit from human to human. Had it done so, and kept its virulence, then it would have been grim. In my capacity as science editor I was involved in a couple of meetings on the topic held in Singapore, and the scientists were really concerned.

What's alarming about this swine flu outbreak is that the virus shows human to human transmissibility. It could be very serious indeed. I probably sound like a nutter, but our family has bird flu provisions (three month's worth of non-perishable food plus a course each of Tamiflu) which we've kept up to date. Might be worth thinking about doing the same now?

Clonakilla Hilltops Shiraz 2003

I have a soft spot for Clonakilla. I love the wines, and I also really like the people behind the wines. [See my report of a visit a few years ago here.] It seems odd that one of Australia's top wines - the Clonakilla Shiraz Viognier - should come from a lesser known region - that of the Canberra District.

This is the more affordable Hilltops Shiraz, from the 2003 vintage. It's a slightly perplexing wine, which tastes a bit reduced and meaty, but which has plenty of personality. I think I would have liked this more a couple of years ago when the fruit was more intense and pure. But it's still a very nice wine indeed.

Clonakilla Hilltops Shiraz 2003 Canberra District, Australia
Dark, intense, slightly reduced meaty nose showing rich blackberry fruit. The palate is dense and ripe with sweet dark fruits and also an attractive meaty, spicy dimension, with notes of olives, tar and earth under the sweet fruit. Still some tannin here, but I think it was better a year or two ago - although there's every chance this will blossom with further bottle age. 90/100

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Socializing with colleagues

Had a nice day yesterday. Fiona and I took the dog for a walk, and then I got into my footie kit and headed over to Teddington for a game of 11-a-side. It was a rematch of the game played a month earlier, against a side who play regular 11-a-side. In the first game we lost 4-0; this time we turned things around and won 2-1. I played in central defence.

Then in the evening it was off to John Worontschak's house for a really enjoyable dinner. Tim Atkin and his fiancee Sue were also there. Fiona and younger son accompanied me, and John's kids did a great job of keeping our son entertained while we ate and drank well. John cooked the most amazing belly pork for us - close to perfect.

We drank some nice wines, but the most interesting bottle appeared at the end. It was a McLaren Vale 'Port' that John had made back in the mid-1980s with two of his winemaking buddies, and this was the last bottle.

The Singlemans Shiraz Port 1985 McLaren Vale
600 bottles made. Spicy, tarry and a bit herby on the nose, with a hint of mint. The palate is rich and dense with some freshness and structure, as well as an attractive herby character. Delicious, and with some distance to go. 89/100

Friday, April 24, 2009

Do you tweet?

So, do you do twitter? After a few weeks of tweeting, I feel like an old timer, following many and being followed back. Is this form of microblogging a waste of time – a gimmick – or is there some substance to it?

As a professional writer with a number of different outlets, it's always important for me to be open-minded about new technologies and tools. When I hear people (remember back in the mid-1990s when having a web presence really set you apart?) dismiss twtter as frivolous nonsense, I can't help but worry that they are sounding dangerously like those of the the generation before who dismissed the internet, and then those who followed who dismissed blogs.

Blogs are now well established, and I'm glad that I jumped on the bandwagon back in 2001 by starting one of the first wine blogs. Will twitter prove to be as successful? It's hard to say, but I'm on board.

Social networking (including facebook and myspace along with twitter) offers people a chance to be generous and give to their network of friends, colleagues and associates. It's not necessarily about the quality or nature of the content: it's that you care enough to share with others, and in return they give back. It's communication. To dismiss these networking tools for the quality of the content on them is liike dismissing the importance of small talk in social gatherings. It matters a great deal, even if it is largely emphemeral, shallow and inconsequential. Its significance is that it shows you care enough about people to make an effort, make a connection and give them some of your attention.

If you don't twitter, give it a go – I'll follow you! I'm on @jamiegoode

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Beer and darts and stuff

Well, today was the penultimate day of judging at the IWC. I had another excellent panel, which consisted of Graham Nash of Tesco, Julia Jenkins of Flagship Wines and Alan Kennett of Yellow Tail in Australia. Quite serious, when you consider that Graham is a buyer for the UK's leading wine retailer by far, and that Alan is in charge of 10% of the Australian Wine Industry's crush.

This evening I was planning to have an early night, but I ended up going out with with two good friends from way back - Karl and Richard - and we ended up drinking beer and playing darts in the Ailsa Tavern in St Margarets. This is after I ribbed Joe Wadsack and Nick Dymoke-Marr for their darts sessions in a Ham pub, near where Joe lives. I just thought that Joe and Nick would look the part as darts players, dressed in proper darts shirts. Maybe we should organize a wine trade team darts competition. I also joked with Noel Young that he could pass as a darts player when we were tasting on adjacent tables yesterday, which didn't go down well.

The Ailsa Tavern has a beer festival on at the moment. We tried Pale Rider from Kelham Island in South Yorkshire (5.2%) which was warm, rich and fruity with a lovely hoppy bitterness, and Tribute from St Austell (4.2%), which was richer and maltier but still fresh and citrussy - not showing as well as it should have done.


Wednesday, April 22, 2009

A good day - tasting and playing

Really enjoyed today's tasting at the International Wine Challenge. We're well into the medal-awarding phase, and for the last two days I've had large panels of six people who have all worked well together. We've had some disagreements, but we've resolved them well, and I'm really pleased with the good humour and professional approach everyone has shown. And lunch at Searcy's was particularly good today (fishcakes followed by duck - simply executed from high quality ingredients).

Teamwork is so rewarding. We're social beings, and nothing beats working in a team that functions well. Perhaps this is why I so enjoy playing football on Wednesday nights. As well as getting fitter and indulging in sporting fantasies (sometimes I think I'm OK as a player), you work with others in a common cause.

Tonight I played football for an hour, with a 40 minute cycle ride each way. I'm tired now, but it was fun. We have another 11-a-side coming up on Saturday.

Another super-sleek Vinalba wine from Argentina

Some time ago I reported on the Vinalba Reserva Malbec from Mendoza that won the Decanter Trophy, and which sells for £9.99 in Majestic. I pointed out that it was delicious, a crowd-pleaser and brilliantly made - but expressed a concern that for my audience here it might be a bit too sleek and 'made'.

Well here's anothr Vinalba, this time the Malbec Syrah 2006 from Patagonia, which is similarly smooth and delicious. The good news? It's as good as the Reserva Malbec, but it's cheaper (£6.98 in Asda). This won a trophy at the 2008 International Wine Challenge, which takes some doing. It's a modern, lush wine, but it has some edges, too. I really like it. If you want to try it, rush out and buy it now, because it won't last for long.

Vinalba Malbec Syrah 2006 Patagonia, Argentina
This is a wine with a real sense of deliciousness. It is ripe, smooth, lush and pure with sweet raspberry and blackberry fruit as well as some spicy, chocolatey richness. The tannins are really soft, although there's just a bit of plummy bite on the finish. Oak is well integrated, and it's well defined and has some nice floral overtones. A deliciously rich, lush style with seductive fruit sweetness. At this price, it's one of the very best value for money wines around, and it will win many friends. Compare this with the big brands (at this price), and you'll be amazed at how much better this is. 89/100 (£6.98 Asda; 14.5% alcohol)

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Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Not wine, but beer and cider

Not wine, but beer and cider. Research for a Sunday Express column - these four got in. There are lots and lots of good ciders and beers out there, and they're all very affordable, too - unlike wine, you don't pay an awful lot more for the best beer or cider than you do for the worst.

Henney’s Vintage Still Cider
Asda, Sainsbury’s, Morrisons, 6.5% alcohol
Yellow gold in colour, this still cider is appley and intense, with real depth of flavour. It tastes of late summer, with notes of apricots, herbs and apple crumble, and is the sort of cider you could serve with food. 8/10

Gaymer’s Somerset Medium Dry Cider
Tesco, 5.8% alcohol
Orange gold, with just a little bit of fizziness. This is a fresh style of cider, with tangy, pleasantly bitter apple character and a hint of sweetness that rounds out the palate. Just a hint of tannin, too. 7.5/10

Wells Bombardier Burning Gold Ale
(Tesco, 4.7% alcohol)
Zesty and crisp, this is a golden coloured beer with pleasantly bitter, hoppy notes adding complexity and making it really food friendly. I’m even getting some lemon and orange peel notes. 8/10

Brakespear Triple Bottle Conditioned Ale
(£1.99 Sainsbury’s, Booths, Asda, Co-op, 7.2% alcohol)
A rich, complex, malty, toffeed beer with warm fudgey flavours kept fresh by some bitter hoppiness. There’s great balance here between the richness and the freshness. Quite special. 8.5/10

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Monday, April 20, 2009

A really nice southern Rhone

Two Southern Rhone reds from a forward-thinking property, Domaine du Mourchon in Seguret. The 2007 Tradition really impressed: modern but lovely.

Domaine de Mourchon Séguret Tradition 2007 Côtes du Rhône Villages, France
14.5% alcohol, unoaked. A beautiful expression of the southern Rhône, this is a deep coloured wine with lovely sweet, dark cherry, blackberry and plum fruit aromatics, as well as hints of meat and spice. The palate shows lovely sweet, vivid fruit, but with added meat and pepper complexity, adding a deliciously savoury counter to the ripe fruit. It’s dense and well structured, but lush and smooth at the same time. Really successful: modern but interesting, with plenty of non-fruit complexity. 91/100

Domaine de Mourchon Séguret Grande Resérve 2006 Côtes du Rhône Villages, France
15% alcohol, 40% aged in oak for 10 months. Deep coloured, this is a bit of a beast of a wine. The nose shows intense, slightly reduced spicy dark fruits. The palate is intense with high alcohol and firm tannins creating quite an astringent base, over which the ripe, sweet fruit is layered. It’s a big, intense, rather ungainly wine with lots of everything, and a bit of a mouth-drying finish. While it would work well with the right sort of food, it doesn’t have the appeal or drinkability of the 2007 Tradition. Perhaps it will pull together in time. 88/100


Sunday, April 19, 2009

On biodynamics

It has been fascinating to see biodynamic wine covered on mainstream news (both TV and newspapers) here in the UK over the last few days. So I thought I'd draw readers' attention to some articles on the topic.

First, the newspaper piece that started the discussion off. It was this article in the Guardian, which was the direct result of a press release by Quite Great Publicity (on behalf of David Motion's shop The Winery) that was sent on April 8th.

My take? I did a series on the topic which can be found here. And here's a video of James Millton preparing and spraying BD501, one of the preparations.

Then the nay-sayers: here's an article in The World of Fine Wine that's worth a read.


The wineanorak on BBC News

So I followed up yesterday's turn on Sky News with a couple of slots on BBC News this morning. It meant an early start - the car came for me before 6 am, and I was whisked off to BBC TV Centre in Shepherds Bush. Another session in make-up (no airbrush this time) then off to the tiny green room, where I met up with David Motion of The Winery (an excellent London wine shop) who I was to appear with on the programme.

Our first slot was at 0650, and went well. Then we had to wait for a while until the second slot, at 0850. Also in the green room was Sir Steve Redgrave who was there to talk about hydration (and some hydrating drinks he's involved with) in advance of next week's London marathon.

In the second slot we tasted some wine on camera - one of David's - a Spatlese Trocken Riesling from the Mosel, which was delicious. Just the sort of wine you want before breakfast. It was a fun segment, and we were all pretty relaxed. Unfortunately, I don't have a video to show you.


Saturday, April 18, 2009

The wineanorak on Sky News

I was on Sky News today talking about biodynamic wine, and Tesco's revelation that they hold press tastings according to the biodynamic calendar. It was a fun experience. I got picked up, driven to the studios in Osterley, and went straight through to make-up. 'Do you do airbrushing?', she asks. I nod as if I knew what she was talking about. With my blemishes covered, I'm through to the green room. Then after a quick flick through a newspaper I'm onto the set and wired up, and then we're on air. A few minutes later, it's all over.

You can see the video on:

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Friday, April 17, 2009

Closures in the news

The subject of wine bottle closures has hit the UK media today - many leading newspapers carried a story on Duval-Leroy's plans to use a new, unspecified metal-based closure for some of its Champagnes. An example of the coverage is here.

The exact closure is a mystery - one that will be revealed at the London trade fair next month. I'm a bit confused, though. For Champagne, the closure has to be mushroom shaped, and currently the only closures found on Champagne are natural cork and Mytik (the Diam version of the Champagne cork). As far as I know, you simply aren't allowed to use crown cap - or, if such a closure could be devised, a type of screwcap - on Champagne.

It will be interesting to see what Duval-Leroy have in mind - and they have done brilliantly attracting all this media attention without even specifying what they're planning to use.


TOP 10: things I like about judging at the IWC

Just finished the first week of the International Wine Challenge. It's been tough but fun, and now I'm properly tired. [Fiona pointed out that this is probably because I'm not used to proper work.] So here's my top ten things I like about judging at the IWC.

1. The chance to meet new people
One of the best things about the Challenge is meeting new people and making new connections. If you spend a day judging with someone, you get to know them a bit.

2. Catching up with colleagues
There's a real collegiate spirit in the wine trade. A sense that we're all on the same team. I think it comes from working with something we're interested in, and perhaps being driven more by this than by the lure of financial reward. Anyway, the Challenge gives us all a great chance to catch up and chat, and pull together in a common cause.

3. The lunches
We get fed well, at Searcy's restaurant in the Barbican complex. The food is really, really good – two courses, plus sparkling water of course.

4. The wines
Tasting lots of wines blind in matched flights is an interesting experience. You learn quite a bit, both from the similarities and the differences. Labels influence us in all sorts of ways, so it's good to look at wines identity unknown from time to time.

5. Palate sharpening
I think that after a few days of intensive tasting your palate does get better. It's a it like an athelete in training. It's not that you detect things better; rather that you are able to analyse more rapidly and more accurately what your palate is picking up.

6. The venue
The Barbican is a slightly crazy, but ultimately rather cool location. It could easily be the most depressing council estate ever if it was in the wrong place, but this 60s monstrosity is of its time, and where it's located, it's a wonderful place.

7. The organization
It's really good – which makes it easy to taste. And the fact that it all goes on unseen makes the tasting floor quite a relaxed place, even though I'm sure it's a logistical nightmare behing the scenes.

8. The results
It's nice to be contributing towards a tool (the IWC medals) that actually helps consumers navigate the wall of wine in their local supermarket.

9 The workload
We taste a lot of wines each day, but not too many. About 100 – any more would be tough going.
10. Cooper's at the end of the day
When all the judging is finiished, we sit down for a Cooper's Sparkling Ale – or a Greene King IPA (new this year). It's sociable, and a great way to finish a day's tasting.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Keith's lovely Burgundy: Chauvenet Damodes

A few days ago I posted on the World's best Pinot Noir, commenting that New Zealand and Oregon seem to hit the mark far more consistently than Burgundy. Well, Keith P kindly sent me a bottle of Burgundy that he'd purchased in a sale for less than £5, which I couldn't help opening, even after tasting all day at the IWC for the second consecutive day. And it was really good - so much so that I've just finished it off tonight, after the third day's consecutive tasting when it takes something really interesting to make me want to face wine in the evening. This is Burgundy as it should be - elegant and complex.

Jean Chauvenet Nuits-Saint-Georges 1er Cru Les Damodes 1998 Burgundy
1998 is widely regarded to be one of the worst recent vintages in Burgundy. But here’s a beautiful wine. The nose has some savoury, meaty, soy sauce and earth notes, but they’re not out of control, and are joined by some ripe, silky red fruit characters. The palate is where this wine comes to life, though: it’s delicate, like a fine piece of silk – a little fragile, but supremely elegant with a wonderful combination of smooth, sweet cherry and berry fruit with just a hint of earthy tannic structure hiding in the background. It’s a beautiful wine, now at its peak – but I don’t think it will stay there for all that long, so drink up. But right now, it’s all silky elegance and is so easy to drink. Quite lovely: I feel bad about giving this wine such a high rating, but I think it deserves it, as long as you’re prepared to open it soon-ish. 93/100

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Wednesday, April 15, 2009

International Wine Challenge, day 2 of 9

It was day 2 of the International Wine Challenge today. I had a really good panel and we tasted well together, which made for an enjoyable day's work.

Just 94 wines tasted today, which is a comfortable number. But with retastes, and deliberations, you end up putting a lot of wine into your mouth. The result is that when you get home in the evening, the last thing you feel like is another glass of wine.

So far this year I've experienced few really nasty wines, but there have been quite a few faults. As well as the odd musty tainted bottle (which we normally assume to be cork taint), there have been quite a few reduced wines. In fact, I'd say reduction was the most common fault (from a small sample so far). I've personally not seen any bretty wines, but have seen a handful of oxidized/VA bottles. I'm looking forward to seeing the results of the official faults analysis from the competition this year.

Stayed behind for a couple of Cooper's Sparkling Ales, which is a really nice way to finish a day's judging.


Tuesday, April 14, 2009

For those about to rock...

Just back from an awesomely good concert. Took younger son to watch AC/DC in their first gig in the UK for ages and ages (on possibly their last world tour).

It was at the O2 arena - a brilliant venue for watching live music. The sound was really good, which makes a difference at loud gigs like these. And it was loud - not too loud that it hurt (as some gigs I can remember when I was a teenager), but as loud as you'd ever want it.

AC/DC are quite old now, but they put on a cracking show, playing a solid 2 hours. It was just great rock music - simple, but good, with lots of great blues-influenced riffs. As the first album I ever bought was Back in Black, it was quite special to catch them live. Younger son, who is 11, really enjoyed it, too. It helped that we knew all the songs.

They're the ultimate good-time band, and they don't take themselves too seriously. They rock.

Also today: it was the first day of judging at the International Wine Challenge. My team tasted 110 wines, and it was a pleasure to judge with such a nice bunch of people. I really enjoy doing the challenge, in part because the organization is so good, which makes tasting much easier - and also you get treated well - a nice lunch at Searcy's and a Cooper's Pale at the end of the day. More on this tomorrow, when I've finished day 2 of judging.


Monday, April 13, 2009

Ampelidae and a Jurancon

Two impressive white wines tonight. First, one of Frederic Brochet's Amplelidae wines - the 'S'. [See my review of his wines from last year.]

Ampelidae Le S 2006 Vin de Pays de la Vienne, France
This Sauvignon has a fresh, assertive nose of grassy, green herby notes. But on the palate these green notes are joined by some lovely rich melon/tropical fruit notes. The combination is really attractive. It's also a beautifully packaged wine. When I tried this last year it was a bit reduced; it's resolved a bit since. 90/100 (£9.99 Waitrose)

Second, a sweet wine from Jurancon. It's a little unusual, but delicious.

Domaine Castera 'Cuvee Prestige' 2006 Jurancon, France
Sweet, citrussy and herby with nice spiciness and hints of vanilla accompanying the peach and pear fruit. There are also some notes of crystalline fruits. Rich and sweet, yet fresh at the same time, with a hint of pithy structure. Lively and intense. 90/100 (£14.95 Great Western Wine)
Must go to sleep soon - it's the first day of the International Wine Challenge tomorrow, after which I'm taking younger son to see AC/DC at the O2 arena.

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Sunday, April 12, 2009

The world's best Pinot Noirs

When I was first getting into wine, the line with Pinot Noir was that it was a tricky grape that didn't really perform outside Burgundy.

Relearn. That's just not true anymore. Aside from the top producers and the best vineyards, Pinot Noir doesn't perform all that well in Burgundy. And now other countries are getting much more consistent results.

My desert island Pinot Noirs are the famed wines of Burgundy. But I can't really afford them, and buying affordable red Burgundy is generally an unrewarding business. My rankings of the best Pinot Noir producing regions now reads more like this:

= 1. New Zealand (Waipara, Wairarapa, Central Otago, Marlborough)
=1. Oregon
3. Burgundy

Today's wine has been an incredibly elegant Kiwi Pinot Noir, and the dregs of yesterday's De Bortoli. The Kiwi Pinot is the best I've yet tried from Marlborough.

Koru Pinot Noir 2007 Marlboroughy, New Zealand
From a single 1.1 hectare vineyard, just 311 cases were made. This is special. Beautifully smooth, pure, complex, elegant nose of dark cherry and plum fruit, with some deeper spice and herb notes. The palate is concentrated and intense with lovely rich cherry fruit, but its trademark is that it is just so elegant, with a wonderful minerality and smooth, silky texture. Brilliant effort, although it is, sadly, rather expensive. 93/100 (£34 Hellion Wines)

see also: my note on the Koru Sauvignon Blanc 2007

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Saturday, April 11, 2009

Spring, natural wine and the power of blogs

A few late night thoughts.

Just had the contract through for my next book, which will be on the subject of natural wine. It's a collaborative project between me and consultant winemaker Sam Harrop, who will help ground the theory in a more practical basis. It's a brave (or crazy?) project. So I'm devoting a lot of my thinking time to this subject at the moment.

Interesting to see new media making an impact, with political blogs are in the news at the moment (see this news item). The message is, of course, more important than the medium. But new media are allowing important messages to get through to people in ways that weren't possible before.

Governments can exercise a degree of control over TV and newspaper journalists. For example, they can reward 'on message' journalists with enhanced access, and withdrawing priveleges from those who rock the boat. A lobby journalist can be given an inside line on a regular basis, which guarantees them good material, if they behave tamely. People outside the club - political bloggers - have their flaws, but they can be more independent and act like good journalists: saying things that people don't want them to say.

Perhaps this is a naive reading of the situation, though. A legitimate concern with blogs is that they just spread misinformation and unfounded gossip. There's less comeback with bloggers, who aren't accountable and who sometimes don't have much grasp of journalistic principles and ethics.
We've had a couple of days of rain after some beautiful spring weather. Still, it's a lovely time of year. Had a really nice walk on Hounslow Heath today with RTL (pictured, some rather wet blossom). It has been a great Easter break so far. Now, back to watching the third round of the Masters.

Contrasting Pinots: Jadot and De Bortoli

Two rather different Pinots, but both costing £9.99 and weighing in at 12.5% alcohol. One from Burgundy; the other from the Yarra Valley. Both producers have strong reputations for Pinot.
Which did I prefer?
The Louis Jadot Couvent des Jacobins Bourgogne Pinot Noir 2006 is simple with some cherry fruit and hints of earth and spice. It's quite savoury and works well with food, but if I'm honest, it's a bit boring and unexciting. It needs more ripeness and sweeter aromatics, really. If you are paying £10 for a wine you should expect to get something delicious; Jadot are a good producer, but even they can't make this level of wine interesting, which is a shame.
De Bortoli's Gulf Station Pinot Noir 2007 Yarra Valley (Sainsbury's £9.99) isn't perfect, but it delivers. There's a balance here between sweet cherry and plum fruit and some subtly green herbiness. This makes for a sweet but fresh expression of Pinot Noir that's got a degree of complexity and is really attractive to drink.
So I have to go with the Aussie Pinot. I feel slightly guilty about this, but it just tastes nicer.

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Friday, April 10, 2009

Golf and stuff

Currently watching the Masters golf. It's the first major tournament each year, and since the mid-1990s I've watched it almost religously - I guess it's a sort of spring ritual. Shaping up nicely for a good weekend.

It has been a slightly strange day. Younger son went to play with friends, so we went to lunch with older son at Ask Pizza in Twickenham. Nice food; usual anonymous wine list, but i had a pleasant glass of Montepulciano d'Abruzzo. Then I popped in and asked the pharmacist at Maple Leaf if he had anything for my eye - one of the kids had caught me in the face a few days ago, and it was really painful last night. He took a look, and told me to see a doctor.

This meant a trip to Teddington Hospital, who told me to go to Kingston Hospital. After signing a form reassuring them that I was a UK resident and was entitled to NHS treatment, I sat down and prepared to endure the advertised two-hour wait.

Miraculously, I was seen within nine minutes. They put some anaesthetic in my eye, gave me an eye test, and then put some fluorescein dye in, before looking again with a blue light. After a bit of deliberation, they decided I wasn't in grave peril, and gave me some chloramphenicol ointment.

So I was out in record time. I wandered back into town and did some shopping, but I wish someone had told me that the fluorescein dye had stained one side my face a bright orange. I looked like a total nutter.

Tonight's wine is a rather faded Jadot Les Climats Pinot Noir Reserve 2004, and the remains of last night's Fombrauge, which seems oakier tonight.

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Brown Brothers Prosecco

Had to do a bit of a double-take when I saw this one. It's a Prosecco from Australia. Because Prosecco is the grape variety and not the region, I guess there's nothing the Italians can do to stop Aussies using the name!

It's made by the Charmat method (where the secondary fermentation takes place in tank, rather than in the bottle), and it's very attractive and fruity. Delicious, even. I don't know how much it will retail for - currently this new wine isn't stocked in the UK.
Brown Brothers Prosecco 2008 King Valley, Australian Sparkling Wine
12% alcohol. First release of this new wine. Very attractive, bright and fruity with mandarin, pear and lemon fruit as well as nice acidity. Fizzy and fresh, this is Aussie take on Prosecco is really east to appreciate. It's also very nicely packaged. A hit. 86/100

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Thursday, April 09, 2009

Tasting versus drinking, and confidence in ratings

As a 'professional' (yeah!), I make many of my tasting based on a relatively quick sniff, slurp and spit. I'm comfortable with this, because I do it a lot, and I have a reasonable amount of experience.

But as with any data point, it's important to know the confidence you can place in the rating. How much variability might there be in judgements made on different occasions? Could a 91 on one day be a 90 or 92 on another? Or is the variance larger?

The advantage of drinking, rather than tasting, is that there is less variance in the rating. After I've consumed a reasonable portion of a bottle, I'm happy that I've 'got' the wine in a way that I'm not quite as sure about from a quick taste. It's not that I'm unhappy with my judgments based on tasting; rather, that I'm more certain when I've drunk a wine.

It's good to be honest about these issues, and not try to promulgate some notion of taster infallability.

St Emilion and Garnacha

Took the boys to Thorpe Park today. It's a horrible, horrible place, but they love it. I spent most of the time on my laptop hiding in a coffee bar. When we got back Fiona chose two red wines for me from my rack - one an inexpensive Spanish Garnacha, the second a high-end St Emilion.

Cruz de Piedra Garnacha 2007 Catalayud, Spain
An example of good modern Spanish winemaking, focusing on intense fruit rather than too much American oak. Vibrant, fresh sweet cherry and berry fruit dominates, with a slightly grippy, spicy, peppery edge. Great value for money, and while it's not the most sophisticated wine you'll ever encounter, it's deliciously fruity. 87/100 (£5.65 Great Western Wine, 14% alcohol)

Chateau Fombrauge 2004 St Emilion
This is one of the Bernard Magrez properties that I visited last November (pictured above). It's a really attractive, almost seductive wine, with a lovely melange of ripe but well defined, smoothly textured blackcurrant and blackberry fruit, and sophisticated oak. It's a really well balanced wine with nice gravelly depth (a signature of 2004, I reckon) and some firm but refined tannins. This oozes class: quite a serious effort. It's modern, but not too modern; oaky, but not too oaky. 92/100
Find these wines with wine-searcher.com

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Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Two iconic Marlborough Sauvignons

So what are the two most important wines from New Zealand? Tough question, but my answer would be a pair of Sauvignon Blancs from the Marlborough region. They weren't the first wines to be made in this region, but they were the ones that established its reputation and led to its current status as the best place on the globe to grow the Sauvignon Blanc grape. I like them both, but while I'd count them as New Zealand's most important wines, they're not currently its best wines, by quite a long margin.

Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc 2008 Marlborough, New Zealand
There’s something magical about Cloudy Bay. An iconic wine, particularly here in the UK where it used to be almost impossible to find on shelves, and which some merchants sold for as much as £25 a bottle. People love it: the label, the name, the wine. Anyway, availability seems to have improved – I picked this up in Sainsbury’s. Assertive, grassy nose with complex herbal flavours with some nice aromatics and a hint of tropical fruit. The palate is intense and herby with some grapefruit and citrus character, as well as high acidity. Not as rich and showy as the early Cloudy Bays, but still an attractive wine. 88/100 (£16.99 Sainsbury’s, 13.5% alcohol)

Montana Sauvignon Blanc 2008 Marlborough, New Zealand
A classic: this is one of the wines that established Marlborough as a great place to grow Sauvignon Blanc. It’s also the wine that introduced me to Sauvignon Blanc back in the early 1990s. Made in reasonable quantities, it’s totally reliable and a great ambassador for New Zealand wine. Fresh, lively nose with great balance between the grassy, herby aromas and the richer passion fruit characters. The palate is lively and intensely fruity with green grassy, grapefruity freshness allied with fuller tropical fruit notes. It has lots of personality. 88/100 (£7.93 Asda, 12.5% alcohol)
Read more about the origins of Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc and the importance of Montana's here.

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Adam Brett-Smith on Bordeaux 2008, with some advice

Just received this interesting viewpoint on the 2008 Bordeaux from Adam Brett-Smith of Corney & Barrow. It seems that 2008 is creating quite a bit of interest for all sorts of reasons.

"The Problem with the 2008 is the 2007…

The culture of en Primeur purchasing in the UK is very strong. On the whole, for good reasons; it allows customers to buy at the best price, to have a good chance of securing rare and in demand wines and in the bottle format that is required. They might also benefit from spotting a latent ‘star’ whose true value has not been recognised in the market. These are the compelling en Primeur ideals – I stress ideals.

Bordeaux’s problem is that it is frequently incapable of pricing according to intrinsic quality and market strength. It often uses either one or the other and on the rare occasion it uses both, it usually does so in the wrong way. So it was with 1984 – a bad vintage with a strong US market and therefore grotesquely overpriced. The result? UK Merchants who were forced to buy in order to ‘maintain their allocations’ couldn’t even sell them at cost and they hung around like a bad smell (literally in some cases!) for more than a decade.

Likewise with 1997. A perfectly decent, moderate year priced hugely more expensively than the very good 1995 and 1996. So, a hot market with average quality. The result? See above. Likewise in 2007; a decent year and overpriced. See above again…

In fact, the problem with the about-to-be-offered 2008 is not 2008 itself (likely to be pretty, even very good) but 2007. 2007’s pricing allows significantly less room for manoeuvre on price reductions for a much better vintage (2008) because of the greed shown by most producers with their 2007’s. Factor in the devaluation of Sterling (and the overvalued Euro), a very sticky market and you can appreciate the

But it is difficult to weep for the Chateaux owners. They have made a lot of money whilst the Bordeaux négoces and the UK Wine Merchants have had their margins squeezed and squeezed again. The balance has shifted but the consumer has not benefited.

That’s the extent of the problem and, of course, the opportunity. My advice to the Bordelais? Be dramatic, even inspirational. Use 2001 opening prices as a reference, or 2002, or even 2004. You can afford to and you really, really need to make some
friends. We all need them in these times do we not?


Tuesday, April 07, 2009

One of England's finest

Drinking one of England's top sparkling wines tonight - it's the Nyetimber Classic Blend 2003, from West Sussex. The nose is a bit lactic (hints of cheese and milk) with very fresh, herby, subtly toasty notes. It's quite serious. The palate is really fresh and has high acidity, but also lovely toasty depth. It's rich and quite Pinot-influenced. Sophisticated and quite dramatic with the combination of richness and almost alarming acidity; I'm convinced by this. 91/100

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Monday, April 06, 2009

Yalumba's 'The Signature' 2004

My recent experiences with Yalumba have been pretty good. They're bigger than a boutique winery, but they're still family owned. The Oxford Landing branded wines punch above their weight; the Y Series wines are excellent value for money - especially the wonderful Viognier; and the higher end wines generally perform very well, too, although in my limited experience with the trophy Shiraz (Octavius) I've found it a bit too oak-dominated. What about this - 'The Signature'? Well, I was expecting it to be big and oaky, but it is actually surprisingly well balanced.

Yalumba 'The Signature' Cabernet Sauvignon/Shiraz 2004 Barossa, Australia
Barossa Cabernet is not all that highly regarded, but it can perform well, especially when blended with some Shiraz. This has a fresh, focused nose showing sweet, rich blackberry and plum fruit with a hint of mintiness (that's the Barossa Cabernet) and some tarry oak notes, although these are quite subtle and well integrated with the fruit. The palate is sweetly fruited and quite intense with the spicy American oak adding a layer of complexity. It's a big, ripe, typically Australian wine, but it all pulls together and I reckon this will develop nicely over the next five years, and will survive even longer. A classic Barossa style, I reckon you'd spot this as Aussie in five seconds in a blind tasting, but this is no bad thing. 91/100 (around £23 in the UK)

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Majestic's google map of the leading Bordeaux properties

Just discovered this very useful google map of the leading Bordeaux properties. Who needs the World Atlas of Wine? It was put together by the team at Majestic Wine (http://blog.majestic.co.uk/2009/03/28/bordeaux-from-space/).


Sunday, April 05, 2009

Two contrasting whites

Fiona has gone to visit her aunt for a few days, leaving me in sole charge of the kids. Fair enough: I get to travel a lot, so it's only appropriate that I should experience the other side of this. It's actually quite tough work. I'll never moan about deadlines again.

Tonight I baked some bread and had a simple supper of the aforementioned bread with three cheeses: Manchego, Keen's Cheddar and Comte. With this, a pair of contrasting whites.

Afros Vinho Verde Loureiro 2008 Portugal
From the Lima sub-region, this is super-fresh and lively with lovely lemon, pear, melon and peach flavours. It's crisp and bright with fresh fruit and an attractive pithy character. High acidity is offset by the overt fruitiness. I'm really getting to like the Loureiro grape variety. 90/100
De Bortoli Yarra Valley Chardonnay 2005 Australia
Slightly reduced matchstick and cabbage edge to the nose, which shows rich, toasty notes as well as fresh, herby fruit. The palate is concentrated and intense with spicy, toasty notes complementing the well balanced fig and peach fruit, with a pithy, citrussy edge. It’s like a blend of a rich Aussie Chardonnay with a lean, minerally white Burgundy. Not quite pulling together, with the reduction notes sticking out - but with real potential. 90/100 (£12.99 Tesco, Oddbins; 13.5% alcohol)

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A wedding on a lake

It's not often Fiona and I get out to play without the children. Yesterday was one such rare occasion - it was the wedding of my youngest cousin, Katy, and so a good proportion of our extended family gathered for a really enjoyable celebration in the spring sunshine.

However many weddings you've been to, it's hard not to be moved by seeing someone you know walk down the aisle and take their wedding vows. There's also something amazingly refreshing about the degree of commitment that these vows entail. There's no 'let's wait and see' about the sorts of promises made. They're final and absolute.

Then it was off to Dorney Lake for the reception. It's an amazing place: a world class rowing facility (the Olympic rowing will be held here in 2012) in extensive grounds, with a gorgeous club house that doubles up as a great venue for hospitality. Katy and her husband Simon arrived by rowing boat (pictured), which was a nice touch.

For the meal, I was sitting on a table with my three siblings and their partners, plus my cousin Nick and his wife. It was great fun. Whenever we attend events like this we always come away thinking that we should get together more often. The wine - a French negoce red and white - was pretty respectable, and we drank quite a bit of it.

Friday, April 03, 2009

Another Vinhao, and a Heathcote Shiraz

Two wines tonight. I'm finishing off the remainder of the Vinhao (red Vinho Verde) that I opened last night and posted an extended tasting note on here. I enjoy this style of wine a lot, while accepting that it's not to everyone's taste. It's a bit like drinking pressings straight from the press. There's a time and a place for it.

The second wine is a Shiraz from Heathcote that's quite striking.

Shelmerdine Merindoc Vineyard Shiraz 2005 Heathcote, Victoria
From a single 7.4 acre vineyard on granitic soils, wild ferment and aged in French oak. 14.5% alcohol. This has a complex nose of super-sweet blackberry and plum fruit with some meatiness, a hint of mint and a pure, almost liqueur-like richness. The palate is concentrated with lush, sweet, intense fruit combined with some spicy oak and complexing black olive, meat and herb notes, as well as hints of medicine. It's very much new world in style with its ripe, intense fruit, but there's some old world-style complexity here, too. Overall, though, while I'm impressed with its size and dimensions, it doesn't really pull together all that well as a whole: could the closure (screwcap) have anything to do with this? 90/100 (£23.99 Oddbins)

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Communicating about wine: the way forward

[Thinking out loud]

The old model (1):

Vertical communication. Expert shares information with consumers. A bit like teacher in front of the class. One way transfer of information. Medium: magazine articles, books, newsletters.

The new model (2):

Horizontal communication. Writer is on a journey and takes others with them. Conversations, with dialogue between writer and reader. Medium: blogs, social networking, some websites (although you can have a website that works along the lines of the old model).

In the new model, the writer acknowledges that some readers will have more expertise than them in some areas. It removes the distance between the writer and the reader, and is a more open, honest and interesting way of communicating about wine.

Does this mean books and magazines are dead? No, there will still be a place for them, but I think the style of writing will have to change. The vertical transfer of the expert's knowledge to the reader is going to diminish in importance and appeal.

At the moment, I think we're in transition. Many readers are used to model (1) and so publishers using this model will still find an audience...for now. But it will be a shrinking audience. The challenge for commercial publishers will be to adapt their revenue stream to fit model (2).


Thursday, April 02, 2009

Fino and Manzanilla...must drink more of it

Popped a bottle of Hidalgo's Manzanilla La Gitana in the fridge earlier on, and now I'm sipping it, accompanied by a hunk of bread, some Manchego cheese and a few slices of chorizo. It's a lovely food accompaniment, and I wonder why I don't drink more of it.

It's quite rich textured, with some appley, nutty (acetaldehyde) notes countering the bracing, almost salty freshness. It's 15% alcohol, which isn't much more than many table wines, but it does give some warmth and texture to the otherwise super-fresh palate. I don't know if I could serve this at a dinner party with non-wine geeks, but I do wonder why more people don't use Fino or Manzanilla at table more, especially when you get a really interesting wine for £8 (Sainsbury's, Tesco, Waitrose, Whole Foods).

I'm comparing it with another similarly styled wine, M. Fina from Gonzalez Palacios. It's from Lebrija, a town located between Jerez and Sevilla, an it's made with flor like Fino and Manzanilla. It's nuttier and perhaps saltier than the La Gitana, with a bit more depth, but less of the zingy freshness. It has lots of that nutty, appley acetaldehyde character, and is highly food compatible. Yours for £6.95/half from Warren Edwardes' new venture www.stickywines.co.uk. Whether you prefer this or the more edgy La Gitana is probably a matter of taste. Warren sent this interesting nugget about Lebrija:
'Grapes from Lebrija are permitted to be used to produce Sherry and Manzanilla in Jerez and Sanlucar in the DO Jerez-Manzanilla. But vinification of the grapes in Lebrija is not permited to be designated as DO Jerez-Manzanilla. So Bodegas Gonzalez Palacios have demonstarted the quality of their wines to the Andalucian Government and have finally secured their own Quality Region with a view to moving on to a single estate Pago. Arguably Lebrija is more suitable than coastal Sanlucar de Barrameda for the production of "Manzanilla". The hill-top location of the Gonzalez Palacios bodega outside Lebrija along with its coastal aspect ensures a lower temperature not only than Jerez but also Sanlucar de Barrameda so comfortably ensuring a year round flor cover that leads to the sea-salty taste remniscent of "Manzanilla" - only more so. But DO Manzanilla ensured through the courts that wines produced by Gonzalez Palacios in Lebrija cannot be called "Manzanilla Fina". Hence M. Fina or Flor de Lebrija.'

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Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Greek wines in Westminster

Went into town this afternoon for the Wine Roads of Northern Greece tasting. It was held in Westminster School, in the shadow of Westminster Abbey. It must be amazing going to school in such a historic location.

The wines were pretty good. If anything, the fault was that some of the red wines were too modern and polished, with all their personality ironed out. My favourites?

Gerovassiliou's whites are world class: Malagousia and Viognier. Both wines are stunningly good.

Kir-Yianni's reds are brilliant: Dyo Elies is modern but delicious with lots of personality; Ramnista is a serious expression of Xinomavro that tastes like top-flight Barolo; Diaporos is equally good - similar but with a touch more intensity.

Finally, Tsantalis' Rapsani Reserve Mount Olympus is a brilliant red that's sweet and aromatic with minerals, spice, dark cherry and raspberry characters. Really serious.


A nice lunch in Paris

On the way to Champagne, we stopped off for a lovely lunch in Paris. It was at a small restaurant called Chez Casimir, a short walk from Gare du Nord (6 rue de Belzunce, 75010 Paris, 01 48 78 28 80). Nothing flash; just good simple French cooking, bistro style, with a short but fabulous wine list.

I was let loose on it, and chose two reds. But first we began with a really nice Champagne.

Champagne Drappier Pinot Noir Non-dose
Really interesting: tight and fresh with lemony elegance and a hint of toasty richness. Very bright and lively, and despite the lack of dosage this doesn't seem out of balance. 91/100

Then to the reds: one a natural Loire red; the second a really individual Cote Rotie. Both brilliant. Prices? The Breton was about 20 Euros, the Barges around 50.

Catherine & Pierre Breton 'La Dilettante' 2007 Bourgeuil, Loire, France
Light coloured, this has a lovely nose of elegant cherry and herb fruit, with some hints of earth and spice. The palate is light and complex with a bit of funk as well as juicy, vibrant fruit. A deliciously drinkable wine with some natural elegance. 89/100

Gilles Barge Cote Rotie Cuvee du Plessy 2005 Northern Rhone, France
Wonderful: bloody, earthy, slightly spicy with lovely dark fruits. The palate is a bit meaty with lovely concentration and definition. A fantastic effort in a rather traditional style. 93/100

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