jamie goode's wine blog: June 2009

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

In Burgundy (2)

Incredible day's tasting and visiting today. We began in Meursault, with Jean-Philippe Fichet - really impressive wines, tasting back to 1992. Now I remember why I love white Burgundy. Below is a view over Meursault Tesson towards the village.

Staying in Meursault, we visited Domaine Pierre Morey, where we were hosted by his daughter, Anne Morey (below). Really precise wines, with real impact and minerality - using 'good' reduction well.

Lunch was at Louis Latour, with a big tasting that included some very smart wines, as well as some more commercial bottles. This was followed by a drive through some of the top vineyards of Burgundy (Corton Charlemagne is below, and below that I'm pictured in front of the Romanee Conti vineyard).

The afternoon began very well indeed. Domaine Dujac, with Jeremy Seysses (above), was one of the best tastings I've had all year. Such elegance and balance in the wines, going back to 1990.

Finally, we visited Sylvain Cathiard in Vosne-Romanee. It's a small family domaine that's making some serious wines. Sylvain and his wife Odette have recently been joined by their son Sebastien, who will be taking over the domaine in due course. They are pictured in front of their small holding of the Romanee St Vivant vineyard (above).


Monday, June 29, 2009

In Burgundy (1)

Took the Eurostar to Paris, then headed to Dijon, and now I'm in Beaune. There's something thrilling about Burgundy.

Just one visit today - Joseph Drouhin. We met with Jean-Francois Curie and Philippe Drouhin and tasted through a large range of wines, including a wonderful 2007 Clos des Mouches Blanc and the excellent 2007 Montrachet.

Then it was off to dinner at Le Benaton (www.lebenaton.com) in Beaune - an excellent, ambitious restaurant, where we dined well, with some fantastic older bottles (2003 Montrachet, 1990 Clos des Mouches and 2000 Chambolle Musigny 1er Cru). On the menu:
Les escargots de Bourgogne pieds de veau et anguille fumée en coque de pain , écume de brandade fondue de tomate et jus de persil (pictured above - a strange snail concoction where you had to inject your dish with parsley juice); and Demi pigeon du Louhanais désossé le filet rôti la cuisse farcie jus au mélilot (a delicious pigeon dish).

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Sunday, June 28, 2009

Off to Burgundy

Excited to be off to Burgundy for a short trip tomorrow morning. Some nice visits planned:

Drouhin, Fichet, Coche Dury, Cathiard, Louis Latour and Clos de Tart.

And the weather forecast is fantastic.


Saturday, June 27, 2009

Wimbledon and dressing up

A quick blog post before I retire to bed, tired from a busy day.

Fiona and I were off to Wimbledon, courtesy of Beaujolais. It's the first time I've been, and it was exciting - since my childhood, it has been the one tennis tournament that we've watched avidly every June/July. It's wonderful that in this modern world there's still a major tennis event being played on grass.

We took the train from Strawberry Hill and walked up from Wimbledon station, through pretty Wimbledon village. Fiona used to live round here, and it's a really attractive area.

We had a lovely lunch, washed down with Beaujolais, including Jean Foillard's wonderful 2007 Cotes de Py Morgon, and a 2007 Domaine des Nuges Fleurie (recently stocked by Majestic - a really solid wine). Then it was time for the tennis.

Live, the court seems more compact than it does on TV. And the ball seems to be hit a bit harder. First match was Davydenko getting thrashed by Berdych - a case of one player's game not being suited to grass. Then we saw the conclusion of the Haas vs. Cilic game, which was hard fought. Finally, some female action: a bit of a surprise as Kusnetsova was dumped out by the young German girl Lisicki. And then we had to leave. It was a really enjoyable day, but we had to get back for a party.

One of our friends was turning 40, and had invited us to a fancy dress do at Orleans Park House in Twickenham. I hate dressing up, but it turned out to be a good craic, and even though I was wearing tight lycra and Fiona was dressed as some kind of mutant leprechaun, we had a fun evening. We drank Prosecco.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Seriously fun day's cricket with the wine trade team

No work today at all. Spent the day playing cricket for the wine trade XI versus the Hampshire Hogs down in Warnford.

It was a great day. We batted first under gray skies with high humidity, and were quickly reduced to 10-2 as their quick bowlers moved it around a bit. But then a mega-partnership between Charles Taverner and Mike Henley, who both scored in the 80s, set us up well.

Soon after a wine-filled lunch both departed, to be replaced by debutant Will - a South African who works as a winemaker with Distell - who hammered some awesome blows before being sharply caught.

A collapse of England proportions followed, but we'd already posted a good score, and we were all out for 235. Going in at no. 9, I suffered the humiliation of a first ball duck, stumped after going after one of septuganerian Christopher Bazalgette's famous dollys. They are just so tempting.

235 didn't feel enough of a target. They had lots of young guys on their side, with strength in depth. Last year they hammered us. And they began well. Will the saffer semi-pro was bowling amazingly - fast, accurate, quite scary really. But he didn't make a breakthrough. They had one very good batsman who was settling in. John Thorne got a couple of wickets, and almost had their top batsman, who was dropped.

Then after tea, I got a bowl. I was feeling good, and managed to hit a spot. Yet in my four overs I bowled two low full tosses on leg stump, which normally would go for runs, and got their two best batsmen out with them to easy catches.

We began to run through their side, with everyone chipping in. Kiwi Tim got a lovely caught behind; Dally got a nice LBW, as did Will. We got them down to their last pair with 18 overs left to play, and just one wicket needed to win.

But the overs kept ticking by, and a solid pairing of Bazalgette and a young lad kept our best efforts out. With just two overs to go I was handed the ball. I think we were getting desperate. First ball was on the spot. Second swung in and took leg stump. I was thrilled - it would have been shocking to have ended up drawing a game we'd worked hard to dominate, against good opposition. I finished with figures of 4.2-2-5-3, which more than made up for my shameful batting display.

It was a really solid team effort - one of the best wine trade games I've played in.


Thursday, June 25, 2009

Two Gimblett Gravel reds

Tonight's drinking: two red wines, both from the same remarkable patch of land. That'll be New Zealand's Hawkes Bay region, and more specifically the Gimblett Gravels - a relatively recently discovered terroir that makes lovely red wines, both from Syrah and also Bordeaux varieties. These wines aren't the very best that the Gimblett has to offer (Waitrose have a couple of Craggy Range wines - Block 14 and Sophia - that should give you that), but they are affordable and delicious.

Wild Rock Gravel Pit Red Merlot Malbec 2007 Hawkes Bay, New Zealand
14% alcohol. This is a blend of Merlot and Malbec, with a dash of Cabernets Sauvignon and Franc from the Gimblett Gravels. It's fresh and berryish, with a subtle green herbiness and some minerally, gravelly depth. The focused fruit is well supported by grippy, slightly grainy tannins. Ripe but beautifully balanced, this is a mid-weight wine that sort of straddles the new world/old world divide. Nicely savoury. 89/100 (£9.99 Waitrose; £11.99 Bon Coeur Fine Wines, General Wine Co, Highbury Vintners)

Vidal Syrah 2007 Hawkes Bay, New Zealand
14% alcohol. Sweet, almost lush blackberry and dark cherry nose with a peppery, slightly medicinal, whisky-like edge to it. The palate combines sweet, ripe dark fruit with a spicy, white pepper kick and some nice grippy structure. It's a bright, fruity good-time Syrah with a hint of seriousness. Still very berryish, and tastes like a very rich Pinot Noir. 88/100 (£9.99 Waitrose)

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Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Grange versus Bin 389, a masterclass

Very interesting tasting this afternoon. It was held at Australia House (where they have the annoying rule that if the invitation says 3.30 pm, you aren't even allowed in the building until 3.30 pm), and it involved a vertical of two Penfolds wines: the iconic Grange, and its sibling the Bin 389. There was a good turnout, including cricketing legend Ian Botham.

Peter Gago presented, and did a very good job in keeping the tasting moving. But when he took questions, he simply avoided answering mine by being horridly, politician-level evasive - I'd asked him about the extent and timing of additions of acid and tannin. His response was that they didn't add tannins, but did tannin finings, and talked about all the other finings that they don't use. He said that they added grape-derived tartaric acid 'which all falls out anyway', and that they have a Barossa Sangiovese which they didn't add any acid to at all.

But it's the wines we were there for, and they were lovely. Penfolds have a distinctive, instantly recognizable house style. Grange is an icon and lasts for ever, as the 1955 and 1971 we enjoyed at the Landmark Tutorial showed. [It's probably partly because of the addition of acid -totally normal in Australia - and tannin that the wines live so long.]

Bin 389 is underrated. It's a great, ageworthy wine in its own right. 1986 389 was fading but complex (not the best bottle, apparently), 1990 was beautiful with lovely pure fruit, 1991 almost as good but more woody, 1996 was weaker, 1998 fantastically fruity and 2004 was brilliantly intense.

As for Grange? 1986 was brilliant, 1990 and 1991 both fantastic but rather different in style, 1996 was very good but has sticky out acid, 1998 was a backward classic, and 2004 was in a league of its own - a truly great Grange with amazingly intense fruit, great focus and real complexity. It's horribly expensive, but a really special wine. Gago and his team truly are custodians of a national treasure.

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Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Three great value, easy to find wines

Back in March, I published my Top Ten Supermarket Wines list (here). I'm currently tasting three excellent wines that should be added to this list. As a wine journalist I'm always delighted to find wines that I can recommend to people that they can actually find and buy without too much trouble.

Asda Extra Special Shiraz 2008 Vin de Pays d’Oc, France
Here’s a wine that should give a lot of hope to France’s wine industry. It’s affordable, delicious, modern and characterful. Jean Claude Mas of Domaines Paul Mas is the man behind it, and everything he is touching seems to turn to gold. It’s deep coloured, with spicy dark fruits on the nose and has a lovely savoury, tarry, earthy complexity. The palate shows ripe, sweet blackberry and plum fruit with a nice spicy bite and some grippy tannins brilliantly countering the sweet fruit. With its richness this will appeal to lovers of Australian Shiraz, but with its savouriness and definition it will win over those who like the old world style. Brilliantly judged. 88/100 (£6.07 Asda, 13.5% alcohol)

Vinalba Reserva Malbec 2007 Mendoza, Argentina
14.5% alcohol. This is the follow-on vintage to the hugely successful 2006 that sold out fast. Deep coloured. This has a full-on nose with sweet dark cherry and blackberry fruit, with a spicy depth to it and hints of smoke and tar. The palate is dense, dark and sweet, but has a lovely spicy, savoury character and good tannic structure which helps keep things in balance. It has some jammy, berryish sweetness, as well as a bit of chocolatey richness, but there's savouriness, too. A lovely wine. 89/100 (£9.99 Majestic, but will likely be on multibuy discount -stock will be in by July)

Dr L Riesling 2008 Mosel, Germany
8.5% alcohol. Pale in colour, this has a lovely light lemony, herby nose. The palate is bright and fruity with lemon and grapefruit character, a hint of apples, and good acidity. There's a hint of sweetness, too, but overall this is really crisp and bright with a nice minerality. Great value – a perfect summer wine. 88/100 (£6.99 Asda, Sainsbury's, Majestic)

Monday, June 22, 2009

Riesling is hard to get, I reckon

I'm drinking Riesling tonight, sitting outside just after the light has finally faded and the temperature has dipped into the late teens.

It has taken me a long time to 'get' Riesling, to the point where I actually really enjoy it, rather than just appreciate it. I've joked here before that Riesling is the one variety that, once you are in the wine trade, you have to like. Outside the trade, seemingly, no one buys it, no one drinks it. But as a writer, I must plug it because that's in my contract.

This year, though, I've passed the appreciation phase and entered the enjoyment phase. I've been buying Riesling, and drinking it through choice. Especially Mosel Kabinetts, which, with their beautiful tension between sweetness and acidity, tantalize the taste buds and leave you wanting more. But I'm also quite taken by the new generation of Trocken Rieslings from Germany, when they are made with ripe enough grapes.

Austria and Alsace are also great destinations for Riesling. Both seem to be able to do dry Riesling really well, without it being austere or awkward.

Australia is famous for its dry Rieslings, with both the Clare and Eden Valleys excelling. They're cheap, too, and can age well. I appreciate them (although sometimes they can be a bit austere and samey), but I'm also excited to see new styles emerging, including those where some residual sugar is left in to provide balance.

Tonight's wine, however, comes from New Zealand, and the Marlborough region. It's Spy Valley Marlborough Riesling 2007, and for the technically minded this has a pH of 3 and TA of 8 g/litre, weighing in at 12% alcohol. It's super fresh, with explosive flavours of lime and grapefruit, finishing with high acidity and a nice dollop of sweetness that serves to balance out the acidity without making the wine seem anything other than dry, fresh and minerally. There's nice delicacy here, even though there's also a lot of flavour, and a hint of grippiness about the palate. I really like it. In the UK it is available from Bibendum (http://www.bibendum-wine.co.uk/) and will be one of the wines in their forthcoming summer sale, when you'll be able to pick it up for a song. For me, this is an 89 point wine.

New Zealand is promising for Riesling. Here's a really informative post from Framingham winemaker Andrew Headley, published on the Caves de Pyrene Grapevine.

Is Riesling an accessible variety to you? Is it something you got pretty much straight away? Or, like me, did you have to warm to its charms over several years of relatively heavy drinking?

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Sunday, June 21, 2009

Napa Cab on a summer's eve

Where can you find world-class Cabernet Sauvignon-based wines outside Bordeaux? Australia does a good job in Margaret River and Coonawarra (and I'd add Clare Valley, too), but perhaps the leading contender is California's Napa Valley, where the leading wines compete in price with the very best from Bordeaux.

Tonight's wine, on a glorious summer's evening, is a decent Napa Cabernet. It's not one of the top examples, but it's still really good - and also pretty expensive. But the price tag comes with the territory. Napa is not a place to come to if value for money is a requirement.

Stag's Leap Wine Cellars Artemis Cabernet Sauvignon 2006 Napa, California
Lovely dense blackcurrant fruit nose with real savoury, gravelly depth and some earthy hints. There's a really nice subtle greenness here. The palate shows nice plum and blackcurrant fruit with dark, savoury tannic structure. Very minerally and gravelly with good acidity. Nice restraint here: a stylish, savoury wine that bridges the gap between old world and new world successfully. 92/100 (£40 Majestic)

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My vines are flowering!

For the last few days my back-garden vines (Bacchus, Phoenix and Pinot Noir) have been flowering. We've had brilliantly settled warm weather, too, which is so important during this process, and which means that fruit set will probably be quite good.

The pictures show what grape vine flowers look like. They're small and not terribly pretty. You can see that some of the flowers still have their 'hats' on, while others are fully open. Vitis vinifera, the species of vine that wine as we know it is made from, has what are known as 'perfect' flowers, with both male and female bits in the same flower structure.


Saturday, June 20, 2009

Two mad dogs from the Barossa

Fellow blogger and Barossa grape grower Matthew Munzberg recently sent me two vintages of his own wine to try. It's a Shiraz called 'Mad Dog', and is brilliantly packaged. I like the wines a lot: typical Barossa style, with lots of character. Matthew makes 400 cases from the best of his 35 hectares of vineyards in the heart of the Barossa, and the wine is available in the UK from Corney & Barrow (here) for £15.99 a bottle.

Mad Dog Shiraz 2006 Barossa, Australia
15.5% alcohol, sealed with a tin-lined screwcap. Very sweet, vibrant nose of plum, spice and blackberry with a hint of vanilla. The palate is rich and lush with dense fruit. It's quite sweet with ripeness and high alcohol, but also some nice spiciness. A rich, generous Barossa Shiraz that's ripe but still well defined. 91/100

Mad Dog Shiraz 2005 Barossa, Australia
14.5% alcohol, cork sealed. Beginning to open out with dense, spicy, tarry herby savouriness as well as sweet fruit. The palate is rich and ripe with blackberry and raspberry fruit. There are hints of menthol, tar and earth, as well as spicy oak. A classic Barossa style with some more evolution and savoury spiciness than the 2006. 89/100

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Friday, June 19, 2009

Lunch in Kingston: Jamie's Italian

Fiona and I headed off to Kingston for lunch today. We checked out Jamie's Italian (www.jamieoliver.com/italian), one of the restaurants in the neighbourhood Italian chain that Jamie Oliver is in the process of building.

I was expecting to be mildly disappointed, but came away enthused by the quality of the food. It was really delicious: well prepared and nicely presented, and good value for money, too. I don't mind the no booking policy, either - even though the restaurant was buzzing, we were squeezed in. Service was efficient, partly because they'd actually got enough people working the tables, something you don't always find in these sorts of establishments.
The wine list is quite good. All Italian, mostly from Liberty (a good thing), with the house wines a couple of tetrapak organic wines sourced from Milton Sandford.

We ate (text from the online menu):

Crispy fried smoked pancetta with ribbons of courgettes, tossed with eggs, thyme and parmesan cheese
Finely shaved wild black truffles folded with butter, parmesan and nutmeg, a real luxury
Focaccia, ciabatta, sourdough country bread, grissini sticks and 'snappy music bread' with lemon and rosemary gremolataServed with single estate extra virgin olive oil and fine balsamic vinegar

We drank:
MONTEPULCIANO D’ABRUZZO 13% 2008 GRAN SASSO £16.95 / £12.75 / £4.55
Cherry and chocolate, typical of this well known grape
SOAVE CLASSICO VENETO 12.5% 2008 CANTINA DI MONTEFORTE £15.75 / £11.25 / £4.25
Great depth and balance of ripe fruit and acidity

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Thursday, June 18, 2009

Taste of London

Had a reasonably busy day today. I began by meeting with Aussie wine scientist Richard Gibson, who runs a wine consultancy called Scorpex (http://www.scorpex.net/). We discussed closures, and oxygen and wine.

Then it was off to Taste of London (www.tastefestivals.com/london) to present a couple of masterclasses on behalf of Codorniu. I did the first, then went off to a coffee shop to work on an article and do an update on the website (an interview with Monty Waldin on biodynamic wine).

Returning to the festival for my second session, I found that Regent's Park, the venue, had been evacuated because of a security alert. Eventually we got in, and the the three of us working the wine theatre today (Will Lyons, Neil Phillips and me) had to rejig the schedule a bit. I went first, and the audience - most of who had been waiting outside for two hours - were really positive.
I had a wander round the festival, too. My impression was that it was a bit 'corporate' in feel this year. I'm going back to do another session on Sunday.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

A nice walk followed by Semillon

We took advantage of our child-free status to walk in the countryside. The walk? One of the Guardian's series on British walks, this one in the Oxfordshire countryside focusing on the white horse of Uffington - here. It was really enjoyable, and the directions were clear and unambiguous. We completed the 10 mile route in 3.5 hours, and for most of the way RTL could be let off the lead.

Tonight's wine? An Australian Semillon, but not from the Hunter Valley. Hunter Semillons are one of Australia's unique contributions to the fine wine scene: they're low in alcohol, high in acidity, and start out life neutral but age into a beautiful toasty maturity. Now this is an exception. It's a top Semillon but it comes from the Barossa.

Peter Lehmann Margaret Barossa Semillon 2002 Barossa, Australia
A wonderfully intense unoaked Semillon that's different to the classic Hunter style, but has some similarities, too. Powerful, minerally, limey nose with wax and herb notes. The palate is intensely limey with some toasty, honeyed richness. Taut, crisp and citrussy with a grippy, savoury finish. Drinking beautifully now but will probably improve. 92/100 (£11.99 retail, 12% alcohol)

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Victoria Moore on Terroirs

There's a wonderful piece by Victoria Moore on Terroirs, the natural wine bar that's shaking the London dining scene, on the Caves de Pyrene website. This originally appeared in the ES Magazine, but it deserves a wider readership, which is why I'm plugging it here.


Portuguese wines reviewed in WOFW 24

The World of Fine Wine issue 24 arrived on my doormat today. It's an expensive publication (£30/$60/E50 for a single issue), but it's unbelievably rich in content (disclaimer: I write for it).

I love the way the tastings are run, with three expert tasters chosen for each, and the comments of each plus their scores reproduced in full. This issue, one of the tastings is on Portuguese reds, with Julian Jeffs, Richard Mayson and Charles Metcalfe as the tasters. What is instructive is the way that all these experienced tasters seem to disagree on most of the wines. The beauty of this format is that rather than smooth out the data to reach a rather meaningless average, we get to see the different perspectives.

What did I think of the results? Where I know the wines, I wasn't too keen on the verdicts reached (even allowing for the disagreements among the three tasters). Maybe it was a root day?

Here are two examples:

The top wine of the tasting was the 2005 Herdade de Sao Miguel Reserva (Alentejo), which had scores of 18.5, 18.5 and 18 from the tasters. Yet it seems they went for size: Richard described it as: 'So dark as to be almost inky; dusty overextracted aromas, lacking in definition at this stage but may open up; dense, quite impressive, big, bold tannins, mouth-filling but lacking in finesse'. That doesn't sound all that appetizing to me.

Dirk Niepoort's Charme 2006, one of my favourite Douro wines, got hammered. Julian gave it 12.5, Charles 13.5 ('no great complexity') and Richard 9.5 ('Very pale, washed out colour; similarly hollow on the nose, not much to give; totally hollow on the palate...this wine serves no purpose at all').


Tuesday, June 16, 2009

A lovely day in the country, followed by GruVee

It has been one of those summer days that England is so good at. Temperatures in the low 20s, just a few high clouds, and a gentle breeze. Warm but not hot. Easy.

We went for a walk to Holmbury Hill in the Surrey Hills, which is a really beautiful spot. You can wander through Hurtwood for miles, and dip down to Holmbury St Mary for a pint of beer. The village also has an idyllic cricket ground hidden in the woods, with an undulating, almost hilly outfield.

I'm now sipping a deliciously fresh expression of Gruner Veltliner, one of my favourite grape varieties. This is the Domaene Gobelsburg Gruner Veltliner 2008, from Schloss Gobelsburg, which is stocked by Waitrose in the UK and costs £8. It's crisp, bright and minerally with a hint of smoky white pepper character that you often get with this grape variety. There's some citrus character, too, as well as a hint of apricot richness hidden under all the steely minerality.

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Monday, June 15, 2009

Lunchtime fizz: Philipponnat non dose

Fiona and I have a few days without children. This is almost an impossible luxury, and we were planning to go away for a few days somewhere exotic. But RTL is in season, and there's nowhere we can leave her, so we're staying put. The only solution is to drink wine, good wine, and in quantity. We made a good stab at it this lunchtime, beginning with a zero dosage Champagne in the glorious sunshine.

Champagne Philipponnat Royale Reserve Non Dose
From the 2005 vintage, with no dosage added. Deep yellow/gold colour. Taut, warm, toasty and herby, with a lovely savoury, fruity quality and good acidity. This avoids being at all harsh, with a honeyed, toasty richness and a dry palate. Nicely complex. 91/100 (UK agent Les Caves de Pyrene)


Video: making Vin Santo

Vin Santo is a sweet wine from Tuscany that's made by picking grapes and then drying them for a while to concentrated the sweetness and acidity. These are then fermented and aged in small barrels, sealed with wax. Here's a short film made during my Chianti Classico trip of Vin Santo production at Castello della Paneretta:

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Sunday, June 14, 2009

A beautiful evening with a Portuguese red

Almost a year ago I visited the Dao and Bairrada regions of Portugal; on that trip, Ana Sofia of Viniportugal encouraged me also to visit the Beria Interior, the region that is sandwiched between the Douro and the Alentejo in the east of Portugal. I'm glad she did, because this is a rather poorly known region that's making some great wines. Tonight's wine comes from here.

It's one of those perfect English summer evenings, with temperatures comfortably in the 20s and some gentle sunshine. We don't get all that many of these, so you have to savour them when they come along. So I'm sitting outside, glass in hand, blogging. This is one of my favourite times of year. I wish I could bottle evenings like this up and save them for later.

This afternoon we were round at some friends for lunch. It was a jolly crowd, but unfortunately we had a dog war. RTL, who is in season, took issue with Bramble, our friend's dog, and they started going for each other. We separated them, but it was quite scary, and quite out of character, because these are placid dogs who normally get on very well.

So, my note on tonight's wine:

Gravato Touriga Nacional 2006 Beira Interior, Portugal
From Quinta dos Barreiros, 14.5% alcohol. This deliciously rich Touriga is a sort of half-way house between the aromatic, cherryish Dao style and the lush, ripe Alentejo style. It shows lovely vibrant plum and dark cherry character as well as richer, spicy, slightly tarry blackberry fruit. There's some attractive oak influence, but it integrates nicely into the ripe, dense fruit. Fruit driven, this finishes with some grippy, spicy tannic structure, with a streak if minerality. Good definition. A really well made wine with great appeal. What I particularly like about it is the way that it really tastes of Touriga Nacional. 91/100 (see http://www.gravatoqb.pt/ for more details).

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Saturday, June 13, 2009

Sicilian wines, specially priced, at Carluccio's

Italian restaurant chain Carluccio's (www.carluccios.com) are having a wine festival. It began a few days ago and runs through to the beginning of August, and features Sicilian wines from Planeta and the Settesoli co-op. These wines are really good, and they're exceptionally well priced, and so I thought I'd draw my readers' attention to it (no commercial link). There are free tastings of these wines every Thursday, as well as a series of special dinners.

I've just tried three of them (notes below), but on my recent trip to Sicily I tried a few more, including the fantastic Ceresuolo, the ageworthy Chardonnay and the complex Santa Cecilia. Here's the full list of wines:
  • La Segreta Bianco (from Planeta) £8.95
  • Feudo dei Fiori Mandrarossa (from Cantine Settesoli) £8.95
  • Planeta Alastro (from Planeta) £12.50
  • Planeta Chardonnay (from Planeta) £19.50
  • La Segreta Rosso (from Planeta) £8.95
  • Bonera Mandrarossa (from Cantine Settesoli) £9.95
  • Planeta Ceresuolo (from Planeta) £12.50
  • Carthago Mandrarossa (from Cantine Settesoli) £15.95
  • Bendicò Mandrarossa (from Cantine Settesoli) £16.95
  • Planeta Santa Cecilia (from Planeta) £19.50
  • Planeta Rosé (from Planeta) £10.50
Planeta Rose 2008 Sicilia
Made with Syrah, 12% alcohol. Salmon/pink colour. Nicely savoury with a herbal tang to the cherry and cranberry fruit. Good acid and quite savoury. Food friendly. 85/100

Mandrarossa Feuro dei Fiori 2008 Sicilia
A blend of Grecanico and Chardonnay, 12.5% alcohol. Full yellow colour. Powerful flavours of nuts, herbs, melon and apricot with a savoury, minerally depth. Really intense and food friendly: a distinctive boldly flavoured white wine. 88/100

Mandrarossa Carthago 2006 Sicilia
Nero d'Avola aged in French oak, 14% alcohol. Lovely vivid sweet pure cherry and raspberry fruit showing floral aromatics and creamy, spicy oak notes. The palate is sleek and sophisticated with a hint of plummy bitterness on the finish. A deliciously rich, modern-styled wine. 89/100

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Questions on biodynamics

A leading expert on biodynamics kindly agreed to answer some queries I had about this unusual but increasingly important way of growing wine grapes. Here are the 12 questions I sent him. Have you got any you'd like to add to the list?

  1. Is 'naturalness' a valid and important concept in wine?
  2. Does the BD approach follow through from the vineyard to impact what goes on in the cellar?
  3. Is there a benefit to BD over what can be achieved by organics plus composting? If so, what?
  4. Are there elements of BD that people can adopt and see benefit from without taking on board the whole package of treatments and timings?
  5. How did you first get into BD?
  6. How much efficacy can people achieve with just the treatments and not the timings?
  7. What do you think about Nicolas Joly's views on the effects of electrical currents on wines?
  8. Is biodynamics metaphysical, involving a realm outside the scope of scientific physical measurement?
  9. Is BD practical for larger companies?
  10. What about BD in vineyards where the grower only owns a small section, such as the isolated blocks of vines owned by growers in the top vineyards of the Mosel?
  11. Do you see any value in trying to reconcile conventional viticulture with BD viticulture?
  12. If a top Bordeaux property came to you and asked about implementing BD, where would you start them off?

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Thursday, June 11, 2009

Tasting great wines blind

I've recently had the chance to taste some rather grand French wines blind, without realizing what I was tasting. There were some smart wines in the London installment of the Berlin tasting - Lafite, Latour and Margaux 2005. And then in the Pinot Noir session at the Landmark Australia Tutorial, Tom Carson slipped in a bottle of DRC Romanee St Vivant 2002 as a ringer.

Some observations? Well, the DRC wasn't very good, or at least not as good as it should have been. It was in the middle of a flight of older Australian Pinot Noirs, and while I scored it at 90/100, I didn't think for one moment that it was of DRC quality, or even that it was particularly Burgundian when compared with the other wines in the flight.

The Lafite was too oaky - almost to the point of faultiness - although I noted that there was a serious wine here waiting to emerge. The Margaux I liked, but I thought it was a little rustic and bretty. The Latour wasn't totally clean, but this could have been a cork issue. Had I seen the label of any of these wines, I'd have felt some pressure to look harder for their merits. Indeed, when the identity of the DRC was revealed everyone started to make excuses for it in a way they wouldn't have done with the Australian wines (it's closed; it's going through an awkward phase).

Reputation matters a great deal in the world of wine. Our senses of taste and smell are, it seems, easily fooled. We bring a lot of expectation to these grand bottles of wine. In a mischievous experiment, a French researcher called Frederic Brochet (see here) served the same average-quality wine to experienced tasters at a week’s interval.

The twist was that on the first occasion it was packaged and served to people as a Vin de Table, and on the second as a Grand Cru wine. So the subjects thought they were tasting a simple wine and then a very special wine, even though it was the same both times.

We’d probably all like to think we’d not have been taken in by this ruse, but Brochet’s tasters fell for it. He analysed the terms used in the tasting notes, and it makes telling reading. For the ‘Grand Cru’ wine versus the Vin de Table, ‘A lot’ replaces ‘a little’; ‘complex’ replaces ‘simple’; and ‘balanced’ replaces ‘unbalanced’ – all because of the sight of the label.

Brochet explains the results through a phenomenon called ‘perceptive expectation’: a subject perceives what they have pre-perceived, and then they find it difficult to back away from that. For us humans, vision is our dominant sense and so we trust it over our senses of smell and taste. Brochet uses these results to explain Peynaud’s observation that ‘Blind tasting of great wines is often disappointing’.

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Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Heitz Cabernet Sauvignon

Almost as if to prove that this hasn't become Jamie's Australian Wine Blog, I'm switching my attention to a Californian wine tonight.

But before I continue, a quick note about one of the wines Quantas was serving on my flight home last night/this morning. It was the Clonakilla Hilltops Shiraz 2006, and it was fantastic. I drank a fair bit of it, as I tried to understand what the film I was watching was about (Synedoche New York).

Back to tonight's wine. I'm pretty jet-lagged, but determined to stay up until I reach a sensible bed time. You can't cheat your body clock, but you can try to help it resynchronize as fast as possible (light, food and excercise at the right time are all beneficial).

Heitz Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon 2003 Napa Valley, California
This wine spends three years in oak - one in large casks made of American oak, and two in French oak barriques. That's a lot of time, and it shows in the wine, which displays an attractive spicy, cedary edge to the plum and blackcurrant fruit. The palate has a strongly savoury, spicy woody character which meshes pretty well with the sweet fruit. There are notes of herbs and tar adding complexity, as well as hints of iodine and medicine. While my initial thought that this is a wine that has spent just a bit too much time in oak, there's no doubting that it does have a very attractive savoury, spicy complexity, too. This distinctive wine may age well into a mellow spicy warmth with another five years in bottle, but it is starting to dry out a bit on the palate. Whether or not this is for you depends on how much you like oak character in your wine. 88/100 (UK retail c. £30)

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Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Saying goodbye to Australia

I'm in the Quantas lounge at Sydney waiting to board a pretty much direct flight back to London. I'm looking forward to some sleep, and a few bad but enjoyable films on the way back, as well as some space to digest the remarkably rich experiences of the last week and a half. And don't be mistaken: I do realize how incredibly lucky and priveliged I have been to take part in the first Landmark Tutorial, and also to have the opportunities I'm offered for travel like this.

Still, my focus is on trying to understand and assess wine as objectively as possible; more than this, also to be able to communicate my experiences in ways that encourage others to explore the wonderful, thrilling diversity of wine that is there for us to enjoy.

Talking of films, I forgot to mention a great one that I saw on the way out - In Bruges. As long as you don't mind the language and violence (it gets a bit gory at the end), then this black comedy is one of the funniest films I've seen for a long time.

I'm missing my 11 fellow Landmark tutees. Being stuck together through an intense experience like this bonded the group into quite a family. It was a really good group of people, from all sorts of backgrounds and nationalities.

Chris and I had dinner last night with Bruce Tyrrell and Rowena from the Hunter Valley Winegrowers Association. It was a low key but jolly event at Chez Pok. Bruce brought along a string of unprintable anecdotes and revelations, as well as some very impressive wines: 1986 Semillon was a bit tired, but the 1998 Vat 1 was singing, and two reds - 1987 Block 5 Shiraz and 1998 Vat 9 Shiraz - were both world class, the first very Burgundian, the second reminiscent of a good Claret. The 2002 Vat 47 Chardonnay was fresh as a daisy and singing. The Hunter may be a challenging place to grow grapes, but it makes wines that last and last.

Pictured above is one of Tyrrell's' venerable Shiraz vineyards, planted with a clone that came from Hermitage in the 19th century.

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Monday, June 08, 2009

Good morning from the Hunter

Just woken up for my last day in Australia. I'm in the Hunter, and this is the view from my room at the Sebel Kirkton.

Chris and I had a shocker yesterday - the receptionist at our hotel advised us to take the scenic route from Katoomba to Pokolbin via Mudgee. It took more than 5 hours so we missed our first appointment here in the Hunter.

However, subsequent appointments at Tyrrells and Brokenwood made up for it. Pictured above are Iain Riggs and Chris Coffey. More later.

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Sunday, June 07, 2009

R&R in the Blue Mountains

A quick update from the road. For the last couple of days I’ve been having a crazy time in the Blue Mountains, a beautiful national park that’s just a couple of hours’ drive from Sydney.

I’m travelling with Chris Coffey, who is a final year enology student at the University of Adelaide, and who won a South Australian Press Club bursary last year. Wine Australia reckoned I needed a minder/fixer for this leg of the trip, which includes a visit to the Hunter. We’re having a great time, and Chris is a great guy. The poor bloke has to put up with me for four days, though.
On Satudrday we got here and spent the afternoon abseiling with a local outdoor adventure company (http://www.rdmh.com.au/). Now I’m afraid of heights, so it was a real fear-conquering effort to step backwards over a cliff with just a thin rope attached to my waist.

We started off with a 5 m drop, then went to 15 m, and finally a 30 m cliff face with lots of overhangs. I thought I was going to die. The thing that made it a bit easier was that the two young guys doing it with us were clearly even more scared than me. And, of course, I didn’t want to look a prat in front of Brenda, our instructor. But afterwards I felt like I'd achieved something, and I was still alive, and I hadn't smacked my face into the rock, so overall I counclude that it was a great experience, in a beautiful setting.

Then yesterday we did a breathtaking day-long bush walk with another company (http://www.treadlightly.com.au/). Tim, our guide, was incredibly knowledgeable about the geology, flora and fauna of the Blue Mountains, and the walk was sufficiently challenging to be fun without being so hard that we couldn’t enjoy the views. It has wetted my appetite: I’d love to do a three or four day wilderness hike through this remarkable environment. Maybe I'm getting old, but I find being in naturally beautiful places quite uplifting. Spiritual, even.

Today we’re off early to drive to the Hunter.

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Friday, June 05, 2009

Day 5 at the Landmark, and some emotional wine

It has been one of the most remarkable wine weeks of my life. After all that had gone before, it was only appropriate that we should finish with two of the most remarkable wines I have ever tasted. James Godfrey from Seppeltsfield presented the final session on Fortifieds, and this started off well and just got better. The list of wines reads:

Morris Show Amontillado, Rutherglen
Seppeltsfield Museum Oloroso DP104, Rutherglen
Seppeltsfield 2005 Vintage, Barossa Valley
Seppeltsfield DP90 Rare Tawny, Barossa Valley
Grant Burge 30 year old Tawny, Barossa Valley
Penfolds Great Grandfather Series 1, Barossa Valley
Campbells Isabella Rare Topaque Muscadelle, Rutherglen
Seppeltsfield Paramount Rare Topaque Muscadelle, Rutherglen
Morris Old Premium Liqueur Topaque Muscadelle, Rutherglen
McWilliam's Show Reserve Muscat, Hunter
Morris Old Premium Liqueur Muscat, Rutherglen
Campbells Merchant Prince Rare Muscat, Rutherglen
Chambers Rare Muscadelle, Rutherglen
1928 Morris Liqueuer Muscat, Rutherglen
Seppeltsfield 1909 100 year old Para, Barossa Valley

The final three on this list were served blind as a separate flight. The Chambers was utterly remarkable. Then came the 1928 Morris Muscat. It was viscous - almost solid, and clearly very old. But when I tasted it I was profoundly moved. I felt quite emotional: this was one of the most incredibly complex and profound wines I've ever been lucky enough to taste. No spitting. Just awe. The room was hushed as clearly many others were similarly moved. As if that was not enough, the Seppeltsfield 1909 Para was also mindblowing: darker, more intense and with a huge weight of sweet and savoury complexity. I've never had two wines quite as amazing as these before, and next to each other, too! A great way to conclude a memorable week.

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Thursday, June 04, 2009

It's almost over - final day of Landmark Tutorial

Just about to embark on the final day of the Landmark Tutorial. We have sparkling and fortifieds for this morning's sessions, followed by a presentation lunch at Peter Lehmann. Pictured above is the view from my room this morning at 7 am.

Yesterday we had some really interesting sessions. Chardonnay was first up, with tasting taking us through the evolving styles and regional differences. Then Tom Carson (below) delivered an amazing blind tasting of Pinot Noir, with Domaine de la Romanee Conti Romanee St Vivant 2002 as a ringer in the second flight (of older wines). No one picked it. It was, in truth, a disappointing wine - the least aromatically interesting DRC I've encountered.
Then in the afternoon, a blind tasting organized by Brian Croser, and held at Maggie Beer's farm. This was a complex yet fascinating exercise where we had to taste 20 high-end Aussie reds blind, and answer a set of questions about winemaking style (varietal/regional wine or a winemaker's wine), variety (Cabernet or Shiraz based), region, acid level (high, balanced, low), alcohol level and residual sugar (high, evident or dry). The results were compiled, and I'll be able to share them in due course.

So the Tutorial finishes today. It has been a fantastic, brilliantly conceived and near-flawlessly executed program. It will be sad to leave - both the lovely Louise (that's the place we're staying in, not a sheila), and also the wonderful tight-knit group of tutors and participants.

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Good evening from the Barossa

After a long day, with some exceptional tastings - including a blind session of Pinot Noir with a DRC RSV 2002 slipped in - I'm too tired to do a proper blog post, so here are some pictures from the Barossa taken earlier today. It's now officially winter here, but it's still comfortable low teens centigrade during the day.

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Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Day 3 at the Landmark Tutorial

Yesterday - day 3 of the Landmark Tutorial - was a bit different.

We began with a session on Semillon, Sauvignon Blanc, and blends thereof. I can understand why Semillon was included, because Hunter Semillon is one of Australia's unique, and great, wine styles.

But Sauvignon isn't. With the honorable exception of Michael Hill Smith's Adelaide Hills Sauvignon, Australia doesn't do all that well with this variety. The Sem/Sauvs from Western Australia are OK, but they're never great, and some of them have too much methoxy character.

Favourite wines of the tasting? Tyrrels Vat 1 1998 is a beautiful wine, and Peter Lehmann's Margaret Semillon 2002 - from the Barossa - is also thrilling. The Braemore Semillon 2008 is a young Hunter wine that will become a classic with 15 years' bottle age.

Rob Mann (above) then led a session on Cabernet Sauvignon. Normal service is resumed: these were pretty fantastic wines. Mount Mary Quintets 05 rocked in a very restrained, almost Burgundian fashion. From Margaret River, we had Howard Park Abercrombie 05, Cape Mentelle 05, Woodlands 'Colin' 05 and Sandalford Prendiville 05. Very impressive bunch, with the Woodlands shading it for me.

Then a ringer: Mouton Rothschild 2005. Now had this been an Australian wine, we'd have dismissed it for being overoaked. Lots of chocolate and coffee oak here, with very firm tannins and a bit of brett? It's not an enjoyable drink at the moment. There's probably a great Pauillac waiting to emerge in time.

From Coonawarra we had Parker Terra Rossa First Growth 2005 - big and burly, and split opinions - and Majella 'The Malleea' 2005. Henschke Cyril 05 was concentrated, lush and very smooth, and Wendouree Cab Malbec 05 was really unique and quite beguiling. We finished off with the Reynella 05 and Penfolds Cellar Reserve Cab 05.

Then it was on the bus and off to Yalumba for a spot of lunch, and a tasting of alternative varieties, presented by Louisa Rose (above) and Max Allen (below). The tasting was held in a remarkable and beautiful room that was previously an enormous wax-lined cement storage tank (pictured top of page). We looked at 20 different wines chosen by Max and Louisa, showcasing some of the progress made by alternative varieties in Australia.

It was a patchy tasting. There were some really good wines, but also some average wines, and a few poor ones. I think they call this 'a work in progress'. Highlights? Louisa's Yalumba Virgilius Viognier 2008 is world class. Dal Zotto's Arneis 2008 is a really unique and beautifully expressive wine. R Wines Mod Gamay 2008 is made with no additions (not even SO2 at bottling) and is fresh and sappy, with some rhubarb character, but also lovely sweet cherry fruit. Peter Godden's Arrivo Lunga Macerazione Nebbiolo 2006 was the wine of the tasting for me: the first truly stunning Nebbiolo I've seen from outside Piedmont, with incredible tannic structure. And I mustn't forget the lovely Boireann Tannat 2005 from Queensland's Granite Belt. The lowlights? Castagna's Viognier 2006 was oxidized and Coriole's Fiano 2008 had lots of VA. Hewitson's Old Garden Mourvedre 2002 was tired and dried out.

Then dinner. We enjoyed some really lovely wines. Julian Castagna presented some of his reds, and I loved the Castagna Genesis Syrah 2002 and the 2005 Un Segreto Sangiovese Shiraz, which were beautifully expressive, complex wines. Vanya Cullen showed us the truly beautiful 2007 Cullen Mangan, with lovely vivid fruit and good structure. Ngeringa Syrah 2006 from the Adeliade Hills was really elegant and Burgundian, even, and Bass Phillip Estate Pinot Noir 2007 successfully combined intensity and elegance. I was also really taken by the Lethbridge Kabinett Riesling 2007, which showed thrilling acidity and a brilliant limey, spicy intensity - in an off-dry, very Germanic style.
It was a great end to a thought-provoking day. Oh, and Max told us that it was a root day here in the southern hemisphere...

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25% off at Waitrose Wine Direct

Just wanted to draw the attention of UK-based readers to a week-only 25% off all wine at Waitrose Wine Direct (http://www.waitrosewine.com/). Waitrose have a good range, and this is a genuinely good, honest offer.

I've just bought a mixed case, including some Donnhoff, Valldado's Touriga 05, Planeta's Cerusualo, Colome Malbec and a few bottles of Gobelsgurg's cheap but tasty Gruner.

Ends 9th June.

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Good morning from the Barossa (2)

It's another beautiful morning here in the Barossa as we prepare for day 3 of the Landmark Tutorial. This morning: Iain Riggs on Semillon (and blends thereof), then Rob Mann on Cabernet (and blends thereof).

Sat next to Chester Osborn of D'Arenberg last night at dinner, who was great value for money, crazy as hell and really entertaining. He's launching a new fashion label, called Beakus Twisterus. There's be shirts and jeans, retailing at A$300-400 for the shirts and A$500-1000 for the jeans. The designs won't be conservative...

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An incredible second day at the Landmark Tutorial

It has been one of those days that I'll remember for a very long time.

It's day 2 of the Landmark Australia Tutorial, and we've been treated to some very special wines, presented by some remarkable people.

Jeffrey Grosset (above) kicked the day off with a presentation on Riesling that included his stunning 1984 Polish Gill Riesling, which despite coming from an ullaged bottle (all he has left) was almost perfect, and the first Aussie Riesling I've managed to get really, really excited about. We were also treated to a remarkable 1973 Leo Buring DWC15 Riesling, that was still very much alive.

Then Stephen Pannell (above) presented a stunning collection of Shiraz wines from across Australia. I'll be writing this up in depth, but I really enjoyed the diversity of wines on show. There were four 1990/1 wines (including a cracking 1991 Wendouree), then a range of 2006 that illustrated some of the regional styles (Langi Ghiran, De Bortoli Reserve, Giaconda Warner, Shaw & Smith, Astralis all showed really well), and then we tasted some Shiraz-containing blends blind.

But the best was yet to come. Andrew Caillard and James Halliday (above) presented a historical perspective on Australian wine, which included a 20-wine tasting that was among the most remarkable I've ever experienced. So exciting was the line-up that as we sat down to taste, the atmosphere was electrifying. The anticipation in the air was almost tangible - it was like the sense of buzziness you get at a great sporting occassion just before commencement of play.

Some highlights? Seppelt Great Western Hermitage K72 1954, 1955 Grange, 1955 Wynns Coonawarra Estate Michael Shiraz, Penfolds Bin 60A 1962, 1971 Grange, 1982 Wynns John Riddoch, 1985 Wendouree Shiraz, 1986 Brokenwood Graveyard, 1990 Mount Mary Quintet... it was just incredible. And now I've run out of time and have to leave for dinner. More later.


Monday, June 01, 2009

Good morning from the Barossa

Here's the view from my room this morning here in the Barossa, as I prepare for an exciting day's tasting and learning. We are so, so lucky to be experiencing this! I hope you'll forgive my unbridled enthusiasm...

Last night we closed day one of the Landmark Tutorial with a dinner at Appellation, the restaurant here at the Louise. As part of the Tutorial, we're really fortunate to be eating here each night, with menus chosen by chef Mark McNamara to complement the rather special wines that will be served with dinner.

Each evening, we'll be joined by some rather special guests. Last night we had James Halliday, Andrew Pirie and Stephen Henschke, as well as our tutor for the day Michael Hill Smith. Tony Jordan and Andrew Caillard will be with us all week. Access to people of this stature is another reason why this week is such a treat.

Last night's wines included verticals of Jacob's Creek Steingarten Riesling, McWilliam's Mount Pleasan Lovedale Semillion, and Yarra Yerring Dry Red No 1 and No 2. Of the four Yarra Yerring reds, three were astonishingly good; one was disappointing. We also had a remarkable Domaine A Cabernet Sauvignon 2000 (this is fantastic) and the 2001 and 2004 Dahlwhinnie Eagle Series Shiraz.

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The Landmark Tutorial, Day 1

I’m now in the Barossa, staying at The Louise (www.thelouise.com.au; one of the best places I've ever stayed), and about two-thirds through day one of the Landmark Tutorial. It is already very exciting, and we’ve only really just got going.

Last night (Sunday) the twelve of us, plus some of the tutors, met for dinner at the Sparrow Kitchen and Bar in Adelaide. It was a relaxed affair, with really nice food and a good selection of wines that Tony Jordan chose off the list. This included the Innocent Bystander Pinot Gris 2008 (fresh, complex, interesting); Crawford River Young Vines Riesling 2006 Victoria (lovely expressive, pure style); Corinna’s Olive’s Taranga Vineyards Shiraz Cabernet 2005 McLaren Vale (dense and spicy with good definition); De Bortoli Pinot Noir 2006 Yarra Valley (quite green and savoury with bright cherry fruit); Spinifex Esprit 2007 Barossa (lovely meaty, pure dark fruits) and the Parker Coonawarra Terra Rossa 2005 (benchmark Coonawarra Cabernet).

It was early to bed, but in my jet-lagged state I slept only fitfully. This morning began with a session at the Australian Wine Research Institute where we were treated to a taste of one of their Advanced Wine Assessment Courses. These normally last four days, and judges’ scores are collected in and analysed. We had just a couple of hours, so did a mini-AWAC, involving two flights of ten wines each: the first all Riesling, the second all Shiraz. Interestingly, several of the wines were replicated in each flight (that is, we were given the same wine more than once), as part of the assessment process.

After we’d tasted, we all had to call out our scores. Some of the replicates were easy to spot – others were much harder. It’s a really useful exercise. Doing this sort of process helps you get to know how your palate performs in this type of setting.

We finished late morning, and headed off to the Barossa, where, after a light lunch, we began session 1 of the Tutorial. Led by Michael Hill Smith, Andrew Caillard and Tony Jordan, it was a look at Australia’s ‘regional classics’. The tasting component consisted of some very smart wines, but even better is yet to come. With dinner - which I have a feeling will be very special - we’ll be looking at ‘Australia’s Fine Wine’.

Enough for now. I’m feeling pretty tired and I need to make use of the wonderful bath I have in my suite of rooms before pre-dinner drinks at 6.30 pm.

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