jamie goode's wine blog: May 2009

Sunday, May 31, 2009

In Adelaide for the Landmark Tutorial

I'm sitting in the lobby of the Grand Hyatt in Adelaide. But I have to be quick - Hyatt hotels seem to run a business model of gouging their guests. Still sore from paying £300 for half-a-dozen calls home from their Santiago outpost last year, I'm slightly resenting the A$15 they charge for just 30 minutes internet access.

I flew into Adelaide at 7 am this morning, and since then I've had a quick sleep and explored the city on foot. I've been here before, but I've only really driven through the centre, so this is the first time I've had a good look. It's quite a compact, easy-going city. I particularly enjoyed wandering around the botanic gardens on this sunny, gently warm late autumn day, in a jet-lagged semi-trance.

I'm here for the Landmark Australia Tutorial, and having seen the full programme for the first time today, I'm very excited by the prospect of being immersed in the world of Australian fine wine for a week.

You can read more about the tutorial at www.landmark-wineaustralia.com - it's a really interesting project.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

In Singapore

Just had a shower in the lounge at Singapore airport, and I now I feel human again. I arrived here a few hours ago and headed off to meet with Yixin, Jules and Hsien Min, wine buddies here.

We met at Thos in the Raffles hotel complex, where we sat outside in the courtyard drinking a very nice bottle of Coltibuono Sangioveto 1995. Aromatically interesting, with some firm tannins still and complex, earthy notes.

I do enjoy Singapore, and it was nice to see the place again, even if it was just for a few hours. I'm going to be back on the plane shortly.

The journey out was lovely - upper deck of a 747 with lie-flat beds. Watched two films. Revolutionary Road was brilliant but a bit depressing. Who'd have thought a film with Leonardo di Caprio and Kate Winslet could be so good? And then Frost & Nixon, which was also pretty good, although you have to work hard to get the images of these two famous people out of your mind.y

Friday, May 29, 2009

On my way to Aus - tasting some lounge wines

I'm in the BA lounge on my way to Singapore, where I'm going to catch up with some of my wine chums and then get back on the plane to head for Adelaide.

There's a nice selection of wines, which I'm trying now. I'll blog them live.

Champagne Piper Heidsieck Brut Reserve NV
Taut, toasty and quite rich with some complex bready, toasty notes on the palate. Quite complex and full - this is very tasty. 90/100

Sin Palabras Castro Valdes Albarino 2007 Rias Baixas, Spain
This is interesting. The winery is obviously very modern: they mix the case of the lettering on the front label seemingly randomly. The wine is a bit Viognier-like, with nice depth of nutty fruit, some peach and pear notes, good texture and a fresh finish. Likeable stuff. 89/100 see www.sinpalabras.com.es

Mulderbosch Chenin Blanc 'Steen op Hout' 2008 South Africa
Richly textured, bold, complex and nutty with sweet pear and melon fruit as well as a hint of vanilla. A rich style of Chenin that's broad and delicious. A fat, seductive style. 89/100

Eric Texier Crozes Hermitage 2007 Northern Rhone, France
This is nice. It's not a big, obvious, meaty style of Crozes, but instead shows more in the way of elegance. It's sappy, smooth, fresh and has gently peppery cherry fruit. It tastes like a really good Beaujolais, with its juicy, open character. Delicious. 91/100

Boutinot Les Hauts Terrasses Gigondas 2007 Southern Rhone, France
This is sweet, a bit spicy and nicely fruity, but overall a little bit bland. It's tasty and ripe, but it's really showing a lot of interest at the moment. 86/100

A Vintage Port from 2007

It's kind of young, but I'm sampling a 2007 Vintage Port. It's from Duorum, the new joint venture between Joao Portugal Ramos (famous winemaker from the Alentejo) and Jose Maria Soares Franco (who for 27 years was the man behind iconic Portuguese wine Barca Velha).

It's incredibly drinkable - like many of the 2007 Ports, it has amazingly vivid fruit. This is a year of intense, vivid fruit expression, and Duorum is no exception here. It shows admirable concentration, with lovely rich, pure blackberry and dark cherry fruit. There's nice freshness, with some violetty complexity and also a bit of white pepper. The palate is firmly tannic, but these tannins are made palatable by the rich, pure, sweet fruit character. I reckon this is one of those Ports that will drink well young (if you're a bit nutty, like me, and don't mind tannin(, enter a short, sulky adolescence, and then age gracefully. I really like the style.

Pictured: Jose Maria Soares Franco and I on the bridge that leads to the Castelo Melhor station (now disused) in the Douro Superior, near the Spanish border. This is at the foot of the Duorum property Quinta de Castelo Melhor.

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Thursday, May 28, 2009

'People may be able to taste words'

Check out this recent BBC News Piece on synaesthesia (the jumbling of the senses). It features Charles Spence, a researcher from Oxford University, who is working with Heston Blumenthal on a very interesting-sounding project...

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Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc 1986

It has been a lovely day. One to cherish. It's interesting how one good day counts for at least as many as three or four bad days, cancelling out all the negative energy. We went over to my younger sister's place in Gerrard's cross, where we met with her family, my twin sister's family and my parents. It was good fun, with a BBQ, some football, some cricket, a bit of table tennis and some table football, as well as numerous young kids running riot.

I digress. I wanted to post a belated note on a remarkable wine that Oz Clarke brought along to a recent icon Sauvignon Blanc tasting as a blind ringer, which I have just written up here. It turned out to be the 1986 Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc. This was just the second vintage of this iconic wine, and it was a real treat to taste this piece of Marlborough 'archeaology', which has survived remarkably well. The 2000, tasted this August, had also evolved in interesting ways.

My note, as written blind:

Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc 1986 Marlborough, New Zealand
Deep yellow/gold colour. Intense, herby nose with a hint of greenness, as well as toast, honey and butter notes. Bold palate is very rich with savoury, herby characters. Very unusual. A distinctive style with lots of weight and some sweetness. Quite remarkable. 92/100

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Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Not more Riesling, surely?

OK, last Riesling for a while. Had a glass with lunch and now a glass to finish the otherwise wine-less evening.

It's Dr Loosen Blue Slate Riesling 2006 Mosel. 8% alcohol. It's a slight step up from the Dr L Riesling (which is bought-in fruit) - a qualitatswein made from estate fruit, which retails at just over £8 in the UK, and is available from Bibendum and Somerfield.

This is better than the already very good Dr L, and shows tight, minerally, spicy grapefruit and lemon character, with a hint of sweetness. I love the freshness and transparency. It's very easy to drink, but there's a precision here that would make it a good food wine. Brilliant value for money and probably the perfect introduction to Mosel Riesling for those who don't really drink it much.

I know everyone gets really excited about Auslese and above, but there's something to be said for decent Kabinett-styled wines like this, with their freshness and acidity - there are just so many more occasions where you can drink them. And they're much better value.

Just a couple of days left until I'm off to Australia for the Landmark Australia Tutorial.

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Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Need another Riesling fix

I'm going big on Rieslings at the moment. Rather boringly and predictably, my trip to Germany has switched me on to the magic of Riesling such that I'm actually finding myself enjoying it and not just admiring it and feeling like I ought to enjoy it more.

Three tonight.

Kees-Kieren Graacher Himmelreich Riesling Kabinett 2005 Mosel, Germany
9.5% alcohol. Deep yellow in colour, this is much richer than you'd expect from a Kabinett - it's almost like an Auslese, never mind a Spatlese. Rich, sweet melon and peach fruit on the nose, which leads to a richly-textured sweet melon and apricot palate with a hint of spice. Bold, rich and ripe, this is deliciously plump, but well balanced. 91/100

Kurt Hain Piesporter Goldtropfchen Riesling Kabinett 2005 Mosel, Germany
9% alcohol. Full yellow colour. There's lovely balance here between the ripe, plump, melony fruit and the more mineralic, spicy citrus notes. It's quite zippy and fresh, but rich and ripe at the same time. I like the balance this wine shows. A rich style of Kabinett, perhaps reflecting the vintage. 90/100

Leitz Rudesheimer Burgweg Riesling Kabinett 2006 Rheingau, Germany
9.5% alcohol. Yellow colour. There's a distinctive struck match reductive note here on the nose, as well as a hint of cabbage. It's not unpleasant, but it does take away from the purity of the wine. The palate is crisp, bright and focused, but I don't think reduction works very well in the context of a delicate wine like this. You have to be careful when you use tin-lined screwcaps. 82/100 (£8.99 Tesco)

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The Wine Advocate's new standards

After all the fuss about standards/conflicts of interest with respect to the new reviewers at the Wine Advocate, Robert Parker's influential publication, they have released a new set of Writer Standards. Very sensible they are too: this should put that little storm in a teacup to bed (sorry for the mixed metaphors).

One section I particularly applaud, titled Individual Accountability. I'm reproducing it here, because I think it's so true.

Individual Accountability: While I have never found anyone's wine?tasting notes compelling reading, notes issued by consensus of a committee are the most insipid and often the most misleading. Judgments by committees tend to sum up a group's personal preferences. But how do they take into consideration the possibility that each individual may have reached his or her decision using totally different criteria? Did one judge adore the wine because of its typicity while another decried it for the same reason, or was the wine's individuality given greater merit? It is impossible to know. That is never in doubt when an individual authors a tasting critique.

Committees rarely recognize wines of great individuality. A look at the results of tasting competitions sadly reveals that well?made mediocrities garner the top prizes, and thus blandness is elevated to the status of a virtue. Wines with great individuality and character never win a committee tasting because at least one taster will find something objectionable about the wine.

I have always sensed that individual tasters, because they are unable to hide behind the collective voice of a committee, hold themselves to a greater degree of accountability. The opinion of a reasonably informed and comprehensive individual taster, despite the taster's prejudices and predilections, is always a far better guide to the ultimate quality of the wine than the consensus of a committee. At least the reader knows where the individual stands, whereas with a committee, one is never quite sure. Every article and tasting note we issue is attributed specifically to the writer responsible.


You know I haven't seen that many good films of late. I don't know whether that's because there aren't so many good ones coming out, or just that we've been really bad at selecting what to watch.

In the last week, though, I've seen two that were worth commenting on.

First, Brideshead Revisited. Why bother making a film when the 1981 TV series was just about perfect? I wasn't going to watch it as a point of principle, but curiosity got the better of me. And I'm delighted to report that this condensed version - which by necessity has to leave a lot out - is beautifully constructed and brilliantly acted. The story flows well, with the narrative theme coherent, and this makes the film work. Matthew Goode does a very Jeremy Irons-like performance as Charles, although in this film Charles comes across as more confident - his pursuit of Julia is moved to a more central position in the story - and Sebastian is a weaker, more vulnerable character here than he is the TV adaptation.

Then Australia. It's a funny old film. It begins like a cross between Crocodile Dundee and George of the Jungle, with Nicole Kidman as an unconvincingly prim English lady thrown into the sweaty surrounds of the Northern Territory. Then it turns into a good old-fashioned western, before morphing into a war story at the end. It's flawed, ponderous and clumsy, but there's something magical about the epic tale that it tells (think Nevil Shute) and the almost stylized, fantasy-like filming that captures the imagination enough to make this over-long film worth the effort.


Monday, May 25, 2009

Sherry rocks

Three sherries that rock.

Marks & Spencer Manzanilla Sherry NV
15% alcohol, from Williams & Humbert. Fresh, salty, nutty nose is complex with some smoky notes. The palate is dry and fresh with some appley, salty character and nice texture. Fresh and intense with savoury complexity. Versatile food wine. 89/100

Lustau 15 Year Old Amontillado Sherry
19% alcohol. Warm, complex and nutty with some sweet orange peel and toffee notes. Rich yet dry palate with fudge, raisin and cask notes as well as citrus peel and nuts. Attractive stuff. 87/100 (Wine Rack, Thresher)

Gonzalez Byass Matusalem Oloroso Dulce Muy Viejo
20.5% alcohol. Deep brown colour. Wonderfully complex, almost perfect nose with citrus fruit, raisins, old furniture, lifted acidity, tar, fudge and spice notes. The palate has wonderful balance between the rich, bold, raisiny, earthy, spicy notes and the fresh citrussy acidity. Complex and brilliant. 95/100 (Wine Rack, Waitrose)


Bank holiday wines

Continuing my theme of really good inexpensive wines, here are a couple more you should try if you can.

The first is Dr L Riesling 2007 from the Mosel, which is the entry level Dr Loosen wine made from brought in fruit. At just under £7 in loads of outlets (Sainsbury, Waitrose, Tesco et al) it's a cracking introduction to Mosel Riesling with brilliant balance and a hint of sweetness.

The second is one of Portugal's best value wines: Sogrape's Pena de Pato 2005 Dao. Brilliantly vivid, brightly fruited and with a twist of meaty, spicy complexity, it's a modern-styled yet expressive red wine that massively over-delivers for its £5.99 price point (Waitrose, Majestic). Buy by the case for summer drinking, and chill lightly on hot days.

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Sunday, May 24, 2009

A fine day for Fiano

It has been one of those rare blue sky and sunshine days here in west London. The combination of heat, sunshine and Sunday puts everyone into a good mood. It would be the perfect day if we didn't have a chavvy fair on the green outside our house (incidentally, this is the same fair that was present when Google sent their streetview cameras down our road - key in tw134af as a postcode and you'll see it.)

I'm just back from a lovely walk on Hounslow Heath with RTL, and so now it's time for wine. Another cheapie tonight: Asda Extra Special Fiano 2007 Sicily, Italy. It was just £4 and it's really nice. Made by the Settesoli co-op, it's fresh, lemony, a bit peachy and has good acidity. It makes me think a bit of a ripe Riesling, but with added peach, pear and passionfruit richness. It's great to be able to get a wine with this sort of personality for just £4.

I think I'll shortly move on to a Manzanilla I have chilling in the fridge (it's the screwcapped one from Marks & Spencer, made by Williams and Humbert), and then later on, watching Match of the Day to see who's relegated, I'll treat myself to a bit of the Matusalem Oloroso from Gonzalez Byass, one of the greatest Sherries of all in my opinion.

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Saturday, May 23, 2009

Good cheap wine: Faggio Montepulciano and Montana SB

After a long day, involving a lengthy trip to Ikea to buy some new beds for the boys (they're getting too big for their high-up bunks), it's time to enjoy some inexpensive wines with a BBQ.

Il Faggio Montepulciano d'Abruzzo 2007 (on offer at £5, Asda) is a deliciously modern interpretation of this Italian red style, with focused, spicy, dense lush ripe blackberry and raspberry fruit. It's not the most complex ever wine, but for this price it over-delivers a good deal. [Geeky closure comment: interestingly, when I tried this 6 months ago I'm sure it had a tin/saran liner to the screwcap and tasted a bit reduced; this one has a saranex only liner.]

Montana Sauvignon Blanc 2008 (available just about everywhere, but this was on offer at £5.99 in Morrisons) is a wine I've commented on before. It's really good, and shows wonderful balance. Yes, the 2008 vintage in Marlborough isn't a great one, but Montana have a nice wine here, with some fresh grassiness and a bit of passion fruit richness, too. Crisp and lively.

Video: the spectacular vineyards of the Mosel

Here's my first video from this week's trip. It's a film showing three spectacular Mosel vineyards: Urziger Wurzgarten, Erdener Pralat and Wehlener Sonnenuhr.

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Friday, May 22, 2009

The wonderful Germany trip: a quick summary

I'm still very excited about this week's visit to some of the leading German producers, even though today was mostly consumed with driving down to Devon and back (on a Friday before a bank holiday) to pick up older son from school.

It was my first visit to German vineyards, and however much you read, however much you taste the wines, it only really makes total sense for me when I actually visit the patch of land the wines come from. I guess this is why I try hard to integrate pictures and videos in with my content here at wineanorak.com - I want to give you a feel for where the wines I'm talking about come from.

For this trip, organized by ABS Wine Agencies, I was with a group of buyers and merchants - not fellow journalists. It was a great bunch of people, and we had some fun. We began by visiting Johannes Leitz in the Rheingau, and appropriately enough for a gorgeous summer's day, he took us to the vineyards around Rudesheim (below is the Schlossberg vineyard). Some of the slopes were amazingly steep, with the rows planted up and down the hill. This is quite a contrast to the Douro (another steep vineyard area which I'm very familiar with) where the vineyards are terraced when they reach a certain gradient. We went back to Leitz and tasted through a large range of wines, with a bit of lunch, too. The Leitz wines at the top end really shone, and I was quite taken by the Trockens (the drier-styled wines) from 2008.

Next stop was the Nahe, and Helmut Donnhoff (pictured top). He's one of Germany's most celebrated producers, and the wines he showed us in an extensive tasting were absolutely brilliant. We then visited two of his vineyards: the beautiful Niederhauser Hermannshole, and the spectacular Felsenberg. We tasted a couple more wines at the top of the Felsenberg as the sun set, and then headed off for dinner with Helmut and his wife.

The following morning we had a double appointment at Gunderloch in the Rheinhessen. First, Fritz and Agnes Hasselbach showed us their fantastic Gunderloch wines, and then Paul Furst came over to show us his remarkable Franconian whites and Pinot Noirs. We followed this with lunch, before heading out to view the vineyards stretching between Nachenheim and Nierstein.
Then it was off to the Mosel, for an extended visit with Ernst Loosen. We drove along the Mosel, stopping off at the Erdener Pralat vineyard, before making our way to the spectacular Urziger Wurzgarten vineyard (above) with its terrifyingly steep slopes. We also had a look at the Wehlener Sonnenuhr vineyard, before dining very well at Ernie's place. Dinner involved an extensive blind tasting of some amazing wines, including 88 Lynch Bages, a 1976 Meursault from Leroy and some old Riesling. Dinner finished at around 2 am, at which point five of us walked back to our hotel for some much needed kip, while the three who were being given a lift back to the guesthouse with Ernie somehow ended up in the bars of Bernkastel, drinking all sorts of strange things, and not getting back into bed until 04 30 h.

They paid for this the next day: they looked rather peaky when they finally showed up, an hour and a half late, for the following morning's tasting of the Loosen wines. 2008 is looking like a really good vintage for quality growers, with the extra acidity bringing brilliant freshness when there's the fruit to go with it. It's a Spatlese/Kabinett vintage, which I like.

The Bernkastel three looked even peakier on the journey to the Pfalz that followed. They were broken men. Ernie, however, was his usual self!

Our final appointment was at JL Wolf, the Loosen outfit in the Pfalz. These wines, while being very tasty, weren't in quite the same league as the others tasted on this trip. But then they are more affordable. Full write-up of all to follow.

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Thursday, May 21, 2009

Germany (2)

Here's another picture of the Urziger Wurzgarten vineyard in the Mosel. These slopes are unbelievably steep and must be terrifying to work.

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In Germany

Apologies for the lack of activity here on the blog for the last couple of days. I have been in Germany without internet access, but visiting some fantastic producers and some amazing vineyards.
For now, just a few pictures will have to suffice, because I am in the airport waiting for my flight home. Top is the village of Urzig, taken from the Urziger Wurzgarten vineyard (which is pictured above), and then below is the Rudesheimer Berg Roseneck vineyard in the Rheingau.

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Monday, May 18, 2009

How to scare the Kiwis

I have yet to report on a remarkable tasting I took part in last Friday. It was led by Montana's head winemaker Jeff Clarke, and it was an attempt to discuss what 'icon' level Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc might look like. Montana are midway through a project, aided by top wine scientist Denis Dubourdieu, to work out where they are going with development of a high-end Sauvignon.

A small group, including Julia Harding, Oz Clarke, Stephen Spurrier, Quentin Johnson, Jane Parkinson, Robert Joseph and myself tasted 24 high-end Sauvignons from around the world, blind.

I won't spill the beans yet - this is something I want to write up in detail - but it was a really interesting tasting. There was quite a divergence of opinion among us as we discussed the wines. For example, one South African that was just a blast of methoxypyrazine was disliked by me, but loved by Stephen Spurrier. This was just one example of many where experienced tasters disagreed about what made for top-notch Sauvignon.

Oz Clarke bought along Vina Leyda's Garuma Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc 2008 from Chile's Leyda Valley, and this was slipped into a flight of Sancerres. It looked really good, so much so that the following day I bought a bottle of the 2007 in Waitrose to try at home. This is an impressive effort, and if I was a Kiwi I'd be concerned: it's real competition to Marlborough.

Leyda Sauvignon Blanc Garuma Vineyard 2007 Leyda, Chile
Pretty serious. Lovely fresh grapefruit and lime nose with some fresh grassy notes. The palate is concentrated, limey and mineralic with some lovely crisp, taut fruit. Lively and expressive. 90/100 (£8.99 Waitrose)

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Sunday, May 17, 2009

Portuguese cheese with Alentejo wine

There's been an Alentejo theme to supper for the last two evenings. Tiago, the marketing dude for the Alentejo region, kindly gave me two cheeses at the trade fair, left over from the food and wine matching session. So I felt it was only right to accompany them with a serious Alentejo wine: Malhadinha 2006.

Now the Alentejo is a warm region in the south of Portugal, which as well as producing some of Portugal's best-loved wines (mainly, but not exclusively red), is also known for its cork, wheat, sheep and the famous black pigs.

These two cheeses are pungent and intense ewes' milk cheeses. The first is Serpa, which is a semi-soft cheese that's coagulated not with animal rennet, but with an extract from the flowers of a plant that's a relative of artichoke (cardoon thistle). It is deliciously rich and intense, but not totally crazy. You open up the cheese with a knife and then scoop it out with a spoon.

The second is queijo de Nisa, which is cured for longer, and is semi-hard. It comes in small wheels that are about 10 cm across: you cut them into slices and eat the lot, rind and all. It is intense, spicy and delicious.

The wine? I don't normally find red wine a great match for cheese, but this coped very well with the intense flavours.

Malhadinha Nova 'Malhadinha' 2006 Alentejo
A blend of Alicante, Touriga Nacional, Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon aged in new French oak. This has a fresh, aromatic spicy nose with pure blackberry and raspberry fruit. It's ripe (15% alcohol) but not lifeless and over-sweet. In fact, it's really well defined. The palate is fresh and complex with wonderful spicy notes and vibrant fruit, but this tends more to red than black fruit in character. It's carrying quite a bit of oak, but this integrates almost perfectly with the vivid, bright fruit. I reckon this could age really well. 93/100

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Saturday, May 16, 2009

A day without children

With older son away at school and younger son off on scout camp, Fiona and I are enjoying a weekend alone. We don't get many of these, and so it feels like Christmas and birthday all rolled into one - a real treat.

The danger is, however, that you feel the time is so precious that you have to do something really, really special or else you are just wasting it away. One one level, the feeling that time is valuable is a good thing. But on another, it means you aren't able to simply enjoy just hanging around, which is sometimes the most rewarding and fulfilling thing to do.

We didn't do anything spectacular today, but it was still a very enjoyable day. A long walk in Windsor Great Park with RTL, lunch out, another walk on Hounslow Heath, and a dinner of tapas and Portuguese (Alentejo) cheeses watching a film. But it's a day I'll remember for a long time. And we still have until 5 pm tomorrow to enjoy!


Drink me and Corralillo

Last night we had dinner with some friends. I always bring a few bottles along, simply because I have access to a lot of nice samples and it seems appropriate to share them around. But my buddy Karl often springs a nice surprise by bringing something interesting - and I really appreciate this. He brought along a bottle of Niepoort's 'Drink Me', which he'd bought from Hampton Hill independent merchant Noble Green. It's one of the most brilliantly packaged wines I know, with the label consisting of a series of 11 cartoons by Steven Appleby called 'Message in the Bottle'.

Niepoort have produced this affordable (£10) wine before for foreign markets (they began with Falbehaft for the German/Austrian market a couple of years back), but the 2006 'Drink Me' is the first release in the UK. The wine itself is lovely, and serves as a great introduction to the Niepoort style.

Another wine opened last night was the Corralillo Merlot Malbec from my favourite Chilean winery, Matetic. It works really well because it isn't just about sweet fruit, but also has a lovely savoury, minerally dimension. It still has a bit of a Chilean edge, but this only slightly interferes with the lovely expressive character of this wine.

Niepoort Drink Me 2006 Douro
Dark, spicy and a bit earthy with some cherry and blackberry fruit on the nose. The palate is savoury and dense with attractive earthy, spicy notes, as well as good acidity. Fresh and quite complex, with lots of personality (perhaps a hint of brettanomyces, too, but it works well in the context of this wine, which is delicious). 89/100 (£10 Noble Green Wines)

Matetic Corralillo Merlot Malbec Reserva 2006 San Antonio, Chile
Dark cherry and blackberry fruit nose with some spice and a distinctive meatiness. There's also a hint of Chilean character (dark rubbery edge) but this is quite subtle. The palate has sweet dark fruit with a lovely meaty, earthy savouriness, reminding me of a good Southern Rhone red. Finishes firm and tannic. I like the fact that this isn't just about sweet fruit. 90/100 (c. £12 Oddbins, but Majestic are also stocking the Matetic wines - they're all good)

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Friday, May 15, 2009

NWR: RTL's poopies growing up

In the last few days we've had some photos through from owners of two of RTL's puppies. They look so lovely - these were two of the curliest of the eight, and it's good to see them doing so well. On the left is Barney, who's a boy (he was the big chunky one with the yellow tag in the videos) and on the right is Flower, a girl.


Thursday, May 14, 2009

A remarkable press tasting at Berry Bros & Rudd

It takes a brave wine merchant to schedule a press tasting during the LIWF, but Berry Bros & Rudd (http://www.bbr.com/) held their spring tasting today. One glance at the list of wines they were showing (www.wineanorak.com/bbr09.pdf) shows why so many were willing to break a busy time at the trade fair for a trip to the cellars at 3 St James St.

I came away with my faith in wine restored. There were too many highlights to point them all out, but I really enjoyed the Barolos from Giovanni Rosso, the wines from Alvaro Palacios (including l'Ermita, which we don't see often), some older Burgundies from Nicolas Potel, the 2005 and 2000 Trevallon which were both brilliant, the 1999 Vega Sicila Unico, three 1989 magnums from Jacquesson, Chris Mullineux' South African wines and some lovely Alsace wines from Rieffel.

I've already written up the Palacios wines from Bierzo and Priorat here. Chris Mullineux pouring his wines is pictured above.

LIWF, final day: the future of wine journalism

Day 3, LIWF. Took part today in a panel on the future of wine writing, organized by Catherine Monahan of Clink Wines. The panel was pretty hardcore, with Mike Paul, Angela Mount, Chris Murphy, Robert Joseph and Richard Siddle.

I normally shudder at the thought of anything with the word 'future' in the title, but I accepted the invitation, partly out of curiosity. And the discussion was pretty good. It was broad-ranging in scope, covering all manner of topics from social media, newspaper columns, the level of influence wine journos have and the wine merchant's perspective. It focused mainly on mainstream wine. I think Catherine will be doing something with the film of the session, so those who missed it will be able to hear what was said.

Here are some of my random thoughts on the topic, with some thoughts about what it might take to become a wine journo today.

1. What is a wine writer anyway? There are currently a number of people making a successful living out of words and wine, and they seem to be following different models. There's the wine critic model: Robert Parker et al, selling essentially reviews of specific wines. Then there are broadsheet wine journalists, whose primary activity is a newspaper column (Tim Atkin, Anthony Rose). Then there are book authors, whose chief focus is writing wine books (e.g. Tom Stevenson, Hugh Johnson). We mustn't forget broadcasters, either, or people who write articles for trade and consumer magazines. Bea in mind that there are many hybrids out there: people who do a bit of this and a bit of that. There's no one job called 'wine writing'. Jancis Robinson is notable because she spans everything from books to TV to twitter, and is making a great success of using all these different communication tools effectively.

2. I love newspapers and I am glad to have a newspaper column. But newspapers are not doing well financially, and so if your business model relies on getting a newspaper column that will give you a sizeable chunk of your necessary income, then forget it. In the old days you'd get a proper contract and a decent wadge of cash (equivalent of 25-40 K) if you landed a broadsheet wine column. But things have changed. The last two columns to change hands were Victoria Moore taking over from Malcolm Gluck at The Guardian (she's excellent, but does her column in addition to her day job as features writer for The Daily Mail), and Bob Tyrer taking over from Joanna Simon at The Sunday Times (he's a senior manager at the paper and will do the wine column in his spare time).

3. TV trumps everything, still. Especially national TV. One of the reasons Oz Clarke can charge an enormous day rate is because he is in a league of his own in that he's the only wine writer to do regular national TV, and he does it well. Olly Smith has come from nowhere in recent years to be one of the top UK wine journos simply because he's done quite a bit of telly, and he does it very, very well. If a proper celeb took an interest in communicating about wine they'd be catapaulted forwards to the front of the wine writing queue. TV is just so powerful as a medium.

4. So you want to be a wine writer? Not a problem. You need to start by building your own audience. Don't rely on other people and other media platforms – the internet has provided all of us with our own soap boxes. We can all build a tribe of followers. If you have to ask me how, you aren't ready to start, and you clearly don't need it enough to make a success of it.

5. You need to have unshakeable self belief. Now I reckon there's a difference between self-belief and arrogance, and that it's possible to be humble (a good thing) and yet believe that you're better than most of the other guys/girls out there. You have to have absolute confidence in your tasting ability, and also (perhaps more importantly) in your ability to communicate effectively.

6. Don't use your elbows. It is competitive out there – the queue of prospective wine writers is long – buy play nice. The negative energy generated by worrying about the competition and behaving selfishly outweighs any benefit it may bring you. Others higher up in the food chain will likely be nice to you and give you help; make sure that you don't forget to help those around you in turn. Make sure you pay back into the favour bank, and don't just withdraw from it.

7. Is this what you were 'made for'? Is your skill set best suited to this activity? Do you enjoy it enough that putting in silly hours is going to be sustainable?

8. Who is your audience? Aim too low, and there simply won't be people motivated enough to read your work. Aim too high, and you'll be writing for very few. TV is a good way to reach low involvement consumers, especially when there's interest other than just the wine. So are lifestyle magazines. A mistake is to aim for high involvement consumers (for example, by charging a subscription for content) and then deliver consumer-level reviews about mainstream wines.

9. Find your own voice. Don't assume that what has worked for others will also work for you. You are unique. There's an authentic voice that only you possess, and you need to find it. It's the innovators and risk takers who are likely to get the attention in what is a crowded field.

That's enough for now. It really is a broad subject.


Wednesday, May 13, 2009

The London wine fair so far...

Spent a slightly truncated day at the London wine fair today (known as the LIWF). This is the huge annual trade fair held at Excel in London's Docklands each May. It's liked and loathed in equal measure by wine people, but I find it a useful place to organize meetings, and you usually pick up a few paying gigs that makes attendance worthwhile.

Yesterday I began with a debriefing meeting with the organizing team of the http://www.sparklingwinesymposium.com/ that we held in March. Then I had a lengthy meeting with the Nomacorc scientific team to discuss their oxygen in wine project. I followed this by visiting the Portuguese stand, where I caught up with Ryan and Gabriella of http://www.catavino.net/, who are doing some social media work at the fair. I also chatted with Andre Riberinho who is the dude behind http://www.adegga.com/ and also the wine barcode http://www.avin.cc/. All very interesting stuff.

In the afternoon I chaired the closures debate, which was sponsored by Oeneo (makers of the Diam technical microagglomerate cork). We had Linley Schultz, John Stitchbury, Peter Bright and John Worontschak on the panel. It went really well.

This morning I was delayed by some dodgy trains, and began with preparation for an Alentejo food and wine matching session I was running. We matched Serpa and Nisa cheese (soft and hard ewes milk cheeses that were deliciously full flavoured) and two pata negra sausages with a range of six Alentejo reds.

Then I did some wandering and tasting. I tried the M'Hudi wines from South Africa that had featured in the final episode of the BBC4 series on wine. Diale Rangaka of M'Hudi hadn't seen the programme yet, so I have him my press DVD (Peter May, who is working on the South African stand at the LIWF had put out a call on the UK wine forum for a copy). After this I tasted Adi Badenhorst's new wines (AA Badenhorst Family Wines), which were fantastic. This was followed by a visit to the Yarra Valley stand where Steve Webber guided me through some fantastic small production high-end wines that are really breaking new ground.

I finished off the day by spending some time with David Stevens of TFC wines, who are using the spinning cone to produce a range of low and lower alcohol wines that actually taste good.

Tomorrow I'm part of a panel on the Future of Wine Writing!

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

A great dinner at St John

Just on the way back from a remarkable evening at St John, with my long term wine buddie Yixin Ong from Singapore and some of his friends. We were six, and one of the things that contributed to it being an excellent dinner was the fact that we shared all the dishes, passing them round after eating a bit of each.

St John lends itself well to this sort of informality. Diners are packed in, in relatively basic surroundings: people come for the food, not the ceremony of crisp tablecloth restaurants.

Starters were several. Broad Beans and Berskwell (a hard sheep's cheese) worked really well. Ducks' hearts were also excellent (below). Cured beef and celeriac brought the tastebuds to life, while roast bone marrow (top) is a St John staple that is richly delicious. Of the mains, tripe, peas and bacon was probably the stand-out dish. Blood sausage topped with two fried eggs was wonderfully eccentric, and chitterlings and lentils worked very well. I wasn't too keen on the rather dry rabbit saddle and wild garlic; nor did the pigeon (rare) and radishes overwhelm. But the calves liver, bloody and tender, was really impressive.

As if this wasn't enough, we went big on puddings. Eccles cake and Lancashire cheese was my favourite – a brave combination that went together very well. Ginger loaf and butterscotch sauce was nicer than it sounds, and rhubarb jelly, shortcake and clotted cream was delicious. Apple and calvados cake with icecream was nice but not spectacular, but the execution of the madeleines was almost perfect.
Wines? We began with Eric Texier Brezeme Rousanne 2007 from the very good (exclusively French) St John list. Then we did two northern Rhone reds: a beautiful St Jospeh 1997 from Vincent Gasse, which was lively, meaty and expressive; and a more subdued but still elegant Cote Rotie Bassenon 1997 from Cuilleron. These were followed by a Trimbach Gewurztraminer Vendange Tardive 1997 that was fat, honeyed and quite rich. All three 1997s came from Yixin's university stash at Oxford, the last of which he has only just liberated from the college cellars where they were being stored for him.


Monday, May 11, 2009

New Zealand lunch at Providores

Awesomely good lunch today. We were four: Steve Smith and Michael Henley of Craggy Range, and Joe Wadsack and myself. We ate at Providores, the wonderful creation of master of Kiwi fusion cuisine, Peter Gordon.

The food was spot on, and the wines, from the superb wine list at Providores (see http://www.theprovidores.co.uk/) were absolutely brilliant. Conversation was wide ranging and pretty much non-stop. A very enjoyable way to kill a few hours. Pictured above is the view up towards Portland Place from Regent Street, with All Souls Langham Place (beautiful Nash creation) being assailed by the cranes at work on BBC's Broadcasting House [this is a view I had on my way to work every day for 15 years, which was revisited today]. Then below this are Steve Smith and Joe, and below are Michael Henley and I.

Vinoptima Gewurztraminer 2006 Gisborne, New Zealand
All Nick Nobilo makes is Gewurz: it's a good job he does it so well. This is wonderfully aromatic and has a lovely texture, with gentle peach, pear and lychee fruit. Great balance and concentration with lovely purity and focus. Just off-dry, this is really special. 92/200

Bell Hill Chardonnay 2004 North Canterbury, New Zealand
A profound Chardonnay from a remarkable vineyard in the Canterbury Hills. Deep yellow coloured, this is wonderfully aromatic with nutty, buttery, toasty depth and some crisp freshness. The palate is powerful and nutty with intense, bold, peach, pear and citrus fruit, as well as fantastic acidity and freshness. There's a complex, subtly cabbage-like edge that reminds me of great white Burgundy. 94/100

Craggy Range Sophia 2004 Gimblett Gravels, Hawkes Bay, New Zealand
The first bottle of this we had was unclean and slightly muted. The second was singing. Amazing complexity here with sweet blackberry and plum fruit offset by tar and spice notes. The palate is smooth and ripe, but has a lovely gravelly edge. Good focus and precision - a special wine that's in the same vein as top Bordeaux. 94/100

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Sunday, May 10, 2009

Summer wine

It's the transition point between spring and summer here in London. Today started off bright and chilly, got a bit cloudy, and then morphed into a gorgeously sunny summer's afternoon.

It has been fun having our open-topped hire car for the weekend. The boys have loved driving around with the roof down, cruising with some tunes playing.

Had an email from a colleague today who was very upset by something I said on my website recently. I hate to upset people, and so I removed the offending lines. But I think they over-reacted: what I said was an honestly held opinion, and instead of dashing off an outraged email, perhaps they should have reflected on whether there was any truth in what I was saying. I think that criticizing our colleagues is fraught with danger, but we're going too far if we never comment on what others say for risk of offending them. As a journalist, my job is to say things that, from time to time, will make other people feel uncomfortable. My duty is to my readers, first and foremost. If I'm holding back a little from frank honesty all the time, in order to play it safe, my writing will suffer.

To celebrate the lovely weather, it's time to crack open some Vinho Verde. Today it's Sograpes Quinta de Azevedo.

Quinta de Azevedo Vinho Verde 2008 Portugal
Pale and lightly spritzy, this is beautifully delicate with a hint of pithy bitterness, some floral notes and delicious citrus character. The high acidity keeps things very fresh. This is a lovely summer wine. 87/100 (10.5% alcohol, £5.99 Majestic, but £4.99 if you buy a couple)

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Saturday, May 09, 2009

VLOG: I taste three Pinot Noirs

Here's another VLOG, for those who like this sort of thing. It's me, talking about three Pinot Noirs.

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Another Portuguese wine: Churchill Estates 2007, and it tastes good

Another Portuguese wine tonight: the Churchill Estates Douro red from 2007. This is fantastic stuff, that manages to engage both on the level of deliciousness (it tastes good), and also satisfies in the intellectual realm, too. It's one of the best affordable Douro reds, and there's really no need to cellar this because it tastes so good now. I reckon it will improve for a year or two in bottle and survive for a decade, or perhaps more. Thoroughly recommended - so much so, that this is one of those wines that I'm reluctant to recommend because if it sells out, I won't be able to get any more.

Churchill Estates 2007 Douro, Portugal
14% alcohol. A blend of Touriga Nacional (40%), Touriga Franca (30%) and Tinta Roriz (30%). This deep coloured wine shows beautifully focused, fresh dark cherry and blackberry fruit with a lovely spiciness underpinning the pure fruit. This is fresh and complex with a nice balance between the fresh, ripe fruit and the savoury structure. Quite a serious effort, and brilliant value for money. 90/100 (£8.99 Majestic)

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What Majestic need to do next

As I mentioned in the previous post here, last night I popped into the Twickenham branch of Majestic and bought a few bottles. What did I get?
  • Inama Soave 2007 - I really like Inama's wines
  • Pegoes red - from Portugal's Terras do Sado, and tasted last night - great cheapie
  • Pena de Pato Dao 2005 - one of the best value wines on the market at the moment
  • Churchill Estates 2007 Douro - a brilliant, affordable Douro red
  • Matetic EQ Syrah 2007 - yes, a Chilean wine! One of the best, new vintage
  • Druet Bourgeuil Les Cent Boisselees 2003 - a bit of a gamble, but I like Loire reds and it looked interetsing
  • Settesoli Fiano - a cheap nice white
  • Azevedo Vinho Verde 2008 - cheap and delicious; a bracing white from northern Portugal
  • Cono Sur Sauvignon 2008 - a bargian basement Sauvignon for those occassions where you need a cheap white

So what do Majestic need to do to improve what is already an very good wine shopping experience? As their estate has grown, the danger is that some interesting wines aren't available in large enough quantities to be spread reliably across all stores. The result is that you can sometimes find things in the stores that aren't on their website - presumably as the stock falls below a certain level it gets lifted from the website. And it would be nice if the buyers could pick up small parcels, spread them across just a few stores, but still make these wines accessible to web customers.

Yet the strength of the Majestic web business is that delivery - often the biggest headache for online operations - is managed at a local level by the nearest store, rather than being coordinated by a central warehouse. So the only way to make small parcels available via the web would be to have some sort of database integration between an individual store's stockholding, and the Majestic.co.uk website. Then a shopper could enter their postcode, and be shown not only the core range, but also any small parcels that their local stores have. This would be the icing on the cake for the website operation, although I imagine that there would be some significant technical hurdles to overcome.

Friday, May 08, 2009

Really good, affordable Portuguese wine

Here's a really good Portuguese red, purchased as part of a mixed case from Majestic. It's a lovely chunky wine that offers great value for money, made by the over-performing Pegoes co-op - the sort of cheap wine that I like to drink.

Marco de Pegoes 2007 Terras do Sado
13.5% alcohol. This is a delicious, robust, fruit-driven red from Terras do Sado - a wine region in the Setubal peninsula near Lisbon. It's quite meaty, dark and spicy, with lovely plum and dark cherry fruit with a strongly savoury core. There's a pleasing bitterness offsetting the sweet fruit. Dense and quite structured, with a hint of attractive rusticity, this is superbly food friendly and over-delivers considering its inexpensive price. 86/100 (£5.99 Majestic, but £4.99 if you buy more than one)


RTL update, and a new camera

It's been a while since Rosie The Labradoodle graced these pages. Heck, back in December when she had a litter of puppies, this blog was more about dogs than it was about wine. But since then she's been off the radar.

Well, she's totally back to her normal loveable, full-on, playful, annoyingly hyperactive self. She's like a two-and-a-half year old puppy. It's probably because we are bad owners, but I actually like the way she is so full of life. She's pictured above, with her hair even shaggier, and sporting a beard.

I got a new camera today. While I'm still using my Pentax digital SLR for serious stuff, it's big to lug around. So I have a need for a decent pocket camera. What did I choose? The Panasonic DMC-TZ5. I didn't want to spend too much - around £150 - because then I won't be worried about it getting a bit beaten up. And for that price, the Panasonic rocks, with 10x optical zoom, image stabilization, a 3-inch screen - and it's pretty compact. There's a new version out, which costs twice the price. It means I could pick this one up in-budget by buying a factory refurb. Cool. Pictured below is a Pinot Noir shoot in the background. You can see the potential flower cluster here.
Today was Fiona and my 16th wedding anniversary. We were going to go to the Glasshouse in Kew for a nice lunch, but we got a call this morning saying that older son and another boy had been getting up to mischief and so were excluded from boarding for three days. So Fiona volunteered to do the 6.5 h round trip to pick him up, and our lunch had to be cancelled. We did manage to get a traditional English breakfast in at Wetherspoons over the road, though - £2.69 each. And younger son is delighted that the hire car we've picked up for the weekend to help make some complicated logistics work more smoothly was upgraded to a very sport soft top (and we're paying just £16.50 a day for it). Roof down, CD in, and he's happy.


Thursday, May 07, 2009

Random thoughts on comparing different styles of wine

Since the 'Berlin tasting' reported on in Tuesday's blog post, I've been thinking about the issue of comparing different styles of wines.

My take on the tasting was that the Chilean wines were good, but simple, showing little more than sweet, lush, concentrated fruit. The Bordeaux, Italian and California wines, with one exception, were more complex and interesting, and had better potential to age. That isn't to say they were perfect - they weren't. But they were more serious.

But some suggest that we can't compare such different styles of wine. That wine tasting is subjective. That if someone likes the Chilean wines more, who is to say they are wrong?

I'm not going to say you are wrong if you prefer the Chilean wines, but I think you are mistaken if you consider them to be the qualitative peers of high-end fine wines from Europe's leading regions. There is a level of wine appreciation that is hedonic, based on the sense of innate deliciousness. It is important, but not the whole story.

For fine wine, learned appreciation which is based on knowledge and experience and intellectual appreciation is critical. We are part of an aesthetic system of fine wine. Take fine art as an example. Someone may travel on holiday to a Cornish fishing village and find an 'art' gallery with sentimental oil paintings of cliched Cornish fishing village scenes which they just love. They buy a painting to hang on their wall at home. Who is to tell them that they are wrong; that they have bad taste; that sentimentality is the death of art? After all, isn't art just subjective?

Not at all. There are aesthetic systems that are present in all disciplines, and what occurs now is built on what went before, and is refined by a system of benchmarking, criticism and so on. This applies also to wine. While there are differences of opinion among experts, we all more-or-less agree on what is serious, worthy and fine in terms of wine, if we are honest and have good, well-trained palates.

As a critic, it's my job to have opinions. It is the job of others to decide whether these opinions are reliable and well-judged. In the case of Tuesday's tasting, my opinion is that the Chilean wines didn't show enough complexity and relied on sweet, pure, ripe fruit for their effect. I don't think they'll age well. And there is a problem I have with Chilean wines in general: I find that there is this 'Chilean' character in red wines that overwhelms terroir and grape variety differences, and which is easy to spot blind.

It's not that I'm one of these old fogeys who only likes French wines. I'm an open-minded taster and I have praised top wines from Australia, New Zealand and California - and even South Africa - in the highest terms. I've also celebrated the best efforts of Chile (for example, the wines of Matetic and Maycas del Limari, and also many of Eduardo Chadwick's wines). But all the time I am benchmarking and looking for qualities that I think should be possessed by the world's great fine wines. I still find these qualities more often in the old world than the new.

Chile performs at the value and premium ends of the wine market. But it still has some way to go in terms of fine wine. That's my honest assessment based on lots of tasting. Do you agree?


Cricket at Lords: England perform!

Spent a great day at Lords today, watching England play some very good cricket at the first test vs. West Indies. It would have been a perfect day, but for the chilly weather and heavily overcast skies! [Pictured above is the the England slip cordon in front of the Compton stand, with the new retractable floodlights in the background.]

Highlights? Swann was the star early on, as England put on quick runs to bring the total past 370. Anderson got a nasty knock on the back of his head, as he turned his back trying to duck a fast one, but was OK to continue. Onions, the debutant, was bowled first ball with a fast full toss that struck almost half-way up the stumps.

West Indies began at an amazing pace, but in a crazy spell of play Swann took two wickets in successive balls, then Onions got three wickets in one over. The result was that the West Indies were bowled out for 150-odd, and had to follow on.

It was a fine display of bowling by England, with the three quicker bowlers - Anderson, Broad and Onions, all averaging 88/89 mph, and occasionally going just over 90. This is proper fast bowling, and bodes well for the Ashes series, where a genuinely brisk, hostile attack is needed to give us a chance to bowl Australia out twice each match.

Spare a thought for Tim Bresnan, though, the other debutant bowler. While Onions picked up a five-for, Bresnan had just one over. Hopefully, he'll get a few more tomorrow.

Unless the West Indian batsmen change the way they're playing quite dramatically, this match will be all over tomorrow lunchtime, and it's going to cost the ECB a fair bit in lost ticket sales over the weekend.

And the wine? I was guest of Thierrys, and we drank a new Lord's branded red and white that they are producing. The white is a respectable, fresh 2008 white Burgundy, and the red is a Bordeaux 2007 from Lapalu that's tasty, ripe and generous (which is rare for relatively inexpensive Bdx).


Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Another remarkable day

It has been another busy day. I am lucky to have one of the best jobs in the world.

I began with coffee with Andre Van Rensburg of South African super-estate Vergelegen (pictured above). Andre is a wine journalist's dream. He's talkative, controversial, direct - and smart and well informed with it. Our discussion was wide ranging, taking in subjects as diverse as leaf roll virus/mealybug, the over-emphasis of methoxypyrazines in Sauvignon Blanc and the concept of icon wines.

Then it was off to the Sainsbury's press tasting. Two stand-out wines that you must buy are the 2007 Taste The Difference Cotes du Rhone, which is £5.99 but tastes better than wines twice the price, and the 'Limited Release' McLaren Vale Shiraz 2008 which was sourced from Phil Sexton's Innocent Bystander operation, has a splash of Viognier and 15% Victorian Shiraz in it, and has beautiful concentration and texture. It will be on the shelf at £8.99 (good value at this price) but then discounted to £5.99 (which makes it absurdly cheap).

Next up, the 2007 Vintage Port preview at Somerset House (pictured). I hadn't read my invitation properly, so I was delighted when I got there to find out that the Ports from 2000 and 2003 were also being shown. Included were the Symington/Fladgate Partnership/Noval Ports. I set about the older vintages like a kid in a sweet shop ('candy store' for Americans). I love the 2000 vintage, and love the 2003 vintage perhaps a little more. The good news is that the 2007 vintage is fantastic: perhaps more on the fruit-driven style, but the aromatics and intensity on some of these wines was stunning. Dow, Graham, Noval, Silval and Romaneira were my picks from 2007. For 2003, Fonseca, Graham, Noval, Taylor, Vesuvio and Warre were all stunning. For 2000, Fonseca, Noval, Taylor, Vesuvio and (surprise) Smith Woodhouse were my top picks.

Then it was off to Bibendum, for a tasting of 31 Pinot Noirs from Oregon, 2007 vintage. It was a blind tasting for Tim Marson's MW dissertation, looking at whether the various Willamette AVAs are recognizable blind across a range of producers. This was a vintage spoiled a bit by harvest rain - and, interestingly, some of the wines were showing some rot/geosmin characters to the extent that I'd dismiss them as faulty.
Tonight I've played football, and tomorrow it's day 2 of the test match at Lords.

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Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Results from The Berlin Tasting, London

Very enjoyable day. Began with lunch and a couple of pints of Harveys at the White Horse, Parsons Green, with James Gabbani of Cube. We were discussing the closures debate at next week's wine trade fair. Then, the Wine Rack tasting, at the same venue. I was actually quite impressed with the wines - the whites, in particular, showed well.

Then it was off to The Landmark Hotel for the Berlin Tasting, London. My full write-up is already online (here). In brief, the Chilean wines were quite easy to pick. Superb tasting: thanks to Eduardo for organizing such a great event.

Group top 3: (1) Margaux 2005; (2) Lafite 2005; (3) Solaia 2005

My top 3: (1) Margaux 2005; (2) Solaia 2005; (3) Opus One 2005

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The Berlin tasting comes to London - will Chile beat Bordeaux?

Off to the 'Berlin' tasting in London this afternoon. This is a re-run of the event where Eduardo Chadwick pits his icon wines Sena and Vinedo Chadwick against some stiff competition, blind. Crack tasters then deliver their verdicts, and the results are compiled. Is the reason top Chilean wines don't fetch first growth prices simply because we are biased against them when we see the label? Will our deep prejudices be uncovered when we taste the wines blind?

It will be very interesting, particularly if the competition to the Chilean wines is as stiff as it has been in previous years. I will be fascinated to see what my perceptions are in such a setting.

Ultimately, I think the result will depend (a) on the stylistic preferences of the tasters; and (b) on the competence of the tasters in distinguishing among wines in a blind setting. Blind tasting is difficult, and not many people are all that good at it.

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Monday, May 04, 2009

A St Emilion that improves dramatically overnight

Some people suggest that the way a wine changes overnight - when a portion is drunk one day, the bottle recorked, and then a portion the next day - is indicative of its ageing potential. I'm not so sure there's a direct correlation, but here's one wine that last night was hard, unyielding and tough to drink, and which tonight is really fantastic.

It's Chateau Louvie 2005 St Emilion Grand Cru. I reckon that 2005 in general is not a vintage to approach now. My experience so far of 05 Bordeaux is that the tannins can sometimes be overpowering, and will take many years to resolve properly. This is certainly the case here: a modern wine, made with quite a bit of oak, but with fierce tannic structure that only softens its grip a bit on day two, to show how this wine might evolve. Drinking it tonight, there's still quite a bit of structure evident, but it has also opened up aromatically to reveal slightly minty blackberry and raspberry fruit with spicy, gravelly overtones and well integrated oak. There's good concentration here, too, and I reckon it will be lovely in a decade. But I could be wrong! UK availability: Cadman Fine Wines (£14.50)

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Recently on the main wineanorak site...

For those who just look at the blog, here are some additions to the main wineanorak site you may have missed:

Saturday, May 02, 2009

Two more Aussie Cabernets

Following on from my post on the Parker Terra Rossa Cabernet a few days ago, here's a note on another couple of good efforts.

Suckfizzle Cabernet Sauvignon 2005 Margaret River, Australia
14% alcohol. A really delicious, expressive Cabernet. The nose shows sweet yet fresh blackcurrant fruit, with attractive aromatics and a hint of earth/gravel savouriness. The palate shows good concentration of beautifully balanced dark fruits and savoury, smooth, tannic structure. There’s a really nice fusion of sweet fruit with the spicy, gravelly, savoury notes. Pretty serious stuff. 92/100 (the image above is from the label - a foot with angel's wings treading grapes - nice)

Wynns Coonawarra Estate Cabernet Sauvignon Vintage Release 2005 Coonawarra, Australia
14.5% alcohol. A stylish, dark, ripe Cabernet with sweet blackberry and blackcurrant fruit complemented by some spicy oak. There’s a hint of mint here, as well as some tarry, olive-like notes. Very ripe, but still well defined, with no evidence of greenness. Quite savoury, and beginning to develop some softer, more complex evolved notes, although this has a long way to develop, I reckon. 90/100

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Friday, May 01, 2009

Berry Bros & Rudd - a plug for their blog

One of the other wine blogs I enjoy a great deal is that of wine merchant Berry Bros & Rudd (bbrblog.com). It has some informed commentators - including Jasper Morris, Simon Staples and David Berry Green - and, as the latest entry indicates, it is not afraid to get a bit controversial.

The story I'm referring to specifically here is the lament by Staples about Robert Parker's scores for the 2008 Bordeaux vintage. A cynic might argue that Staples wants prices to stay low so he can sell more; then again, he could just jump on the high Parker ratings and use these to sell more wine, even if the Chateau owners stick their prices up a bit in response. But I think Staples is acting in good faith here. He sounds like he wants what is best for Bordeaux, a region he seems to care a good deal for.

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Cricket on a Friday, with some wine

It was great to spend a day away from work today. Well, sort of. I was playing cricket, but with a bunch of wine trade colleagues, but that doesn’t count as work, does it?

Today’s game: the Wine Trade XI versus Gents of Essex at Coggeshall, a lovely ground in the Essex countryside that’s used as a county second XI venue. The pitch is invariably what is described by seasoned cricketers as ‘a road’, meaning that it’s so flat and consistent it favours the batsmen over the bowlers. This makes it great for pros who are bunging the ball down at 80 mph+. For the likes of me, it can make life a little harder, especially if you are bowling against good club-standard batsmen.

I met up with five others from the Wine Trade XI at Liverpool Street, where we boarded the 1018 to Kelvedon. We sat there in the carriage for an hour and a half before the train finally left, and the total journey time was 3 hours, which is 2 hours 20 minutes longer than it should have been . As a result, our side batted first, and so by the time we arrived, just in time for lunch, we hadn’t been missed as Mark Leveson-Gower, Geoff Taylor and Howard Sayers had put on 100 with just the loss of Geoff.

Lunchtime was accompanied a lot of wine. From memory, I recall trying the 2001 Ashbourne (the icon Pinotage – no, don’t snigger – from Hamilton Russell which was refined but very green), Esk Valley Verdelho, Storks Tower Cuesta del Aire red and white (a very attractive fruit-driven Spanish pair), Nicolas Potel Bourgogne Rouge 2004 (a bit herby/stalky), Zontes’ Footstep’s high end red (very rich and soupy with lots of everything, but fun if you are in the mood), Quinta de Sant’Ana red 2007 Estremadura, Portugal (lovely fresh, fruit-driven red with a hint of meatiness – very nice), Quinta de Sant’Ana Sauvignon 2008 (very impressive with lovely Sauvignon character), Quinta de Sant’Ana Fenao Pires 2008 (brilliant, fresh rendition of this variety), and Rosso di Montalcino and a Lazio white from Howard Sayers that were delicious. It was the best set of wines I can remember at a wine trade match.

After lunch we did the English thing and had a slight middle order collapse, but no.8, Sam Harrop, began to attack the Gents’ spin bowlers with some fearsome hitting. He was eventually out for 49, which represented an awesome effort, and helped us on our way to a respectable-ish total of 213. The comedy moment was probably John Worontschak going out to bat and only realising he didn’t have gloves and a box when he reached the middle. Much attention was also focused on the performance of our no. 11, Pierre, who is French. After receiving some explanation of what the lines on the pitch represented, he faced half a dozen deliveries and ended up 3 not out.

The Gents opened with two rather serious batsmen who made their intentions clear from the beginning. They hit us around the park a bit. Soon, our field was dispersed with several on the boundary. Our hands began to feel sore from stopping some lusty blows. Howie was the pick of the bowlers with his line and length, but debutant Tim – a Kiwi – did an admirable job bowling at a brisk pace from a run of just a few paces. The Wine Trade team has discovered a new opening bowler, and he can bat, too.

But while we gave ourselves a sniff of a chance with a few wickets, including some staggering catches – first a high, long swirler that Stuart Peskett bagged very proficiently, and then a remarkable diving catch from Howie after he’d run 30 metres to dismiss the Gents’ best batsman, Jimmy. But by this stage Jimmy had hit a fantastic century, and the Gents closed on our target with five overs to spare.