jamie goode's wine blog: July 2009

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Finca Allende Calvario: high-end Rioja that hits the spot

I have a bit of a love-hate relationship with Rioja. I recognize the brilliance of the terroirs, but I'm frequently upset to see them squandered by growers who aim too low, or who get sucked into spoofulating their wines with too much new oak and picking too late. Here's a heavyweight high-end example that actually hits the spot. It's expensive, though.

Finca Allende Calvario 2004 Rioja, Spain
Allende is located in Briones, and is a producer that seems to be able to integrate tradition wth modernity to great effect. The wines are vineyard based (unusual for the region) and aged in French oak, as opposed to the more usual American. This is a single vineyard wine from 60 year-old Tempranillo vines. Rich, slightly roasted red fruits nose showing subtly creamy raspberry fruit. The palate is fresh with lovely pure, spicy, dense, sweet red fruits backed up by firm tannins. A fresh, pure, intense red of real class. 94/100 (£65 Berry Bros & Rudd)

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86 Points Robert Parker

Bought a bottle of Storks Tower Tempranillo Shiraz 2007 from Tesco. It was cheap and tasty with lots of bright, focused, well defined fruit. Good modern Spanish style, and it went down well with our friends (we're camping for a few days in the south west).

What surprised me about it was that it had a gold sticker saying '86 Points Robert Parker'. How many people shopping for £6 wine in Tesco have heard of Robert Parker? [He's much more widely quoted in the USA.] Also, it's not Robert Parker who gave it 86 points, but Dr Big Jay - and 86 seems like a low score for him. And this leads me on to the final point: who boasts about 86 points in this era of grade inflation?

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

A crazy natural white from the Loire - Chenin on acid

How could you not like this wine? Quite easily, I suppose, if you are uncomfortable leaving familiar territory. It's a crazy wine made by a biodynamic grower from the Menu Pineau grape variety and aged in large barrels. I really like it.

Julien Courtois L'Originel Vin de Table Francois NV
This is actually from the 2006 vintage (indicated by 'L6' at the bottom of the front label. Importer Doug Wregg describes it as Chenin on acid - cheese and cider in one glass. It has a complex herby, appley, waxy nose. The palate is open, appley and wonderfully complex with a long minerally, acid finish. Weird but lovely. 93/100 (Les Caves de Pyrene - retail is around £16)

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Tuesday, July 28, 2009

A sense of place

How is it, that bunches of grapes, picked from a vine, then crushed, fermented and aged for a year can convey a sense of place?

They can, in the sense that a good, experienced taster can often spot (and explain) the differences in wines made from the same variety but in different places.

In part, though, that difference has to be learned. It is because of our context and experience that we are able to ascribe a geographical origin to a particular wine. There is often a cultural resonance between the wine and the locality, which can only be understood by prior exposure.

I really like - on an emotional level - the idea of the vine's roots extracting something from the soil that then imparts particular characters to the wine. The notion is that the wine contains the essence of the soil in which the vineyard is rooted. That's a literal sense of place.

But I'm not sure that I can tally this idea with what I know about root uptake and plant physiology. It doesn't mean that there isn't such a connection - rather, it implies that the link may be a more complex one than literal transduction of the soil into the glass.


Quinta do Vallado 2006 - a delicious, affordable Douro red

As regular readers will know, I'm a great fan od the red wines from Portugal's spectacular Douro Valley. However, they can be quite expensive. So it's nice to find one that's sort of affordable, and which is still pretty serious.

Quinta do Vallado 2006 Douro, Portugal
This nicely packaged wine is essence of Douro, with rich, plummy, spicy blackberry fruit and nice grainy tannic structure. There's some nice savoury, meaty character, too. A ripe, forward wine that manages to retain its focus and restraint. A delicious expression of the Douro. 90/100 (£11 Noble Green Wines)

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Monday, July 27, 2009

Spanish whites, continued: amazing Priorat

Continuing with the theme of Spanish white wines, here's a really amazing example from Priorat. It's pretty serious, and justifies the high price tag.

Mas d'en Compte 2006 Priorat, Spain
50% old vine Garnacha Blanca, 20% Picapoll, 15% Pansal and 15% Macabeo from 'licorella' soils. Fermented in 3000 litre oak barrels. Very deep yellow/gold colour. Fantastic intense nose with complex sweet nuts, herbs, vanilla, spice and melon notes. The rich palate is bold but fresh with complex herb-tinged fruit character. Concentrated and bold with lots of flavour. Fantastic stuff. 94/100 (£17.99 Waitrose)

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Sunday, July 26, 2009

Terroir: one of the most interesting wine concepts

I love the topic of terroir: the idea that the specific soils and local climate of a vineyard area can impart distinctive local character to the wines it produces.

I love the fact that it is still quite mysterious. We know that some sites are very special, and are capable of making great wines, yet we don't know exactly why, despite extensive scientific investigation.

I've been re-reading James Wilson's book on Terroir (Mitchell Beazley), but as much as I find his descriptions of the geology of the various French wine regions interesting, I'm frustrated by his inability to link specific soil types to wine flavours.

I have my own theories - but that's all they are. On one level, it's just a wonderful mystery that the partnership of specific sites and grape varieties yields great wines in ways we can't predict, and that there aren't that many places on earth that are capable of this. On another level, I'd love it if we could find ways of prospecting new 'great' vineyard sites more accurately, and of making great wines more available and affordable.

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A great Albarino

Spain is best known for its red wines, but there's a lot happening with whites, too, in this dynamic wine-producing country. Here's a really good example of the heights that Spanish whites can hit: a lovely expressive Albarino from the green northwest.

Fefinanes Albarino 2007 Rias Baixas, Spain
Made from grapes sourced from 66 growers in the Salnes Valley, hand harvested and fermented in stainless steel. Complex, expressive, herby and lemony. This is really delicious with beautiful fruit expression and lovely complexity. A stylish, elegant white. 92/100 (£14.99 Waitrose)

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Saturday, July 25, 2009

An amazing natural Beaujolais

Beaujolais should be a fun, good-time wine, but it's mostly depressing and either a bit spoofy of simply joyless. Fortunately, there are some natural winemakers who are producing incredibly elegant, complex expressions of Gamay from Beaujolais' distinctive terroirs. They're the ones that I like to drink. And they're also the sorts of wines that I always feel like drinking, too. Here's a good one.

Yvon Metras Moulin-a-Vent 2007 Beaujolais
Pale cherry red colour. Wonderful tension between the sweet, light cherry fruit and the more savoury, earthy, minerally dimension. This is subtle, complex and beautiful with pure sweet fruit complemented by a touch of more evolved character, adding complexity and elegance. Almost perfect balance with a hint of sappiness and lovely purity: this has the same sort of elegance as a good Grand Cru red Burgundy. 93/100 (Les Caves de Pyrene)

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Friday, July 24, 2009

NWR: are dogs a good idea?

RTL, pictured above on a recent walk with my son and his friend, has gone away for a few days. I dropped her off this afternoon with a dog sitter in Barnes, who already had a motley collection of four rather different sized canines in tow. She was charming, and I'm sure RTL will have fun with her new friends.

But our home seems kind of empty without her. And less smelly. It gives me a chance to reflect on whether dogs are a good thing or not.

In her favour? She gets us out of the house, whatever the weather, twice a day. Dogs need walking, and - to be honest - humans need walking too. A walk is a great way to start the day. It's thinking space.

Also, it's psychologically healthy to care for and cherish something other than oneself. It's quite easy to care for a dog like RTL, because she's always pleased to see you and never seems to get upset or have a bad day.

And she's fun. Animals bring out the child in me, in a positive sort of sense. They fill me with wonder and make me want to play as well.

The case against? She's smelly. She can be a pest, especially when we are eating. She often barks before 6 am demanding to be let out. She chases cats. She is a tie, and the logistics of not leaving her too long and making sure she gets her two walks can be complicated and annoying.

But overall, I'd say dogs are a very good idea.


A rich Mosel kabinett

Here's a rich-styled Mosel Riesling kabinett. I guess it's not as crisp and bright as I really like them, but it's still a really good effort. Sealed with a Vino-Lok (glass) closure, this is a good food wine.

Paulinshof Brauneberger Juffer Riesling Kabinett 2007 Mosel, Germany
Pale yellow colour. Focused sweet melony fruit dominates with a citrus pith and white peach edge, as well as good acidity. There's a hint of spiciness, and it is quite broad textured. Off-dry but with a savoury dimension, possessing more weight of flavour than some kabinetts. Good concentration and depth. 10% alcohol. 90/100 (UK agent Enotria)

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Thursday, July 23, 2009

'If my name's on it...'

Seth Godin is a famous blogger, running the world's most celebrated marketing blog. He also writes successful business books. If you haven't read him, you should - he always has something fresh to say, and he writes simply and effectively. His latest move is that he's hired someone to help him, which I imagine will increase his effectiveness and allow him to sleep at least a few hours each night.

What impresses me greatly is his following statement:
If my name is on it, it's still from me... every word is still mine, every email too.
Seth gets what a lot of people don't about the next generation of media. In this age of social networking, Web2.0 and all that stuff, people value authenticity. There are still many people who are happy to read stuff with celeb bylines that are ghost written. Or tweets from a PR. Increasingly, though, this won't wash.

I love Oz Clarke and Hugh Johnson, but I'm uncomfortable with the fact that a lot of their output is written by other people. Both pocket guides are written by other wine writers who have expertise in specific areas - the content is more informed because of this, but it isn't correctly bylined. I'm uncomfortable because it isn't authentic - readers are led to believe that this is all Hugh's or Oz' work. I'm also uncomfortable because it short changes the writers who do the work.

I respect Seth, who now is important enough and busy enough to have other people write his copy or emails (and then approve them), but he doesn't. That authenticity is valuable beyond measure.

Cleaning glasses

Clean glasses are really important for enjoying wine. It's not rare to encounter smelly glasses that make it hard to appreciate the aroma of a wine. This is especially common where you are faced with a flight of several glasses: the more glasses are used in a tasting, the harder it is to ensure that they are really clean.

I'm quite obsessional about washing glasses. This is how I do it:

1. I use a cloth and lots of hot soapy water. I know some people don't like using detergent because of worries about residues, but unless you use soap it's hard to get the glass really clean, especially if it is a bit greasy.

2. Then I wash the glass out with lots of hot water. Lots and lots. Soapy glasses kill wine.

3. I don't use mineral water to do a final rinse with, so I have to make sure that the glasses are dried properly. I use a microfibre glass cleaning cloth (here), which does the job really well.

I wouldn't use a dishwasher for wine glasses. I'd also avoid turning them upside down on a cloth to dry them: this can make the rim a bit smelly. It's really worth the effort of washing glasses well before you put them away, because then you can use them without worrying about whether they are going to be smelly or not. If you are in doubt about a glass, a quick rinse with wine primes the glass nicely.


Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Dinner with Francis and Bronwen

Had a fantastic dinner last night at Francis and Bronwen Percival’s beautifully situated flat above NYD in Borough Market. They’d gathered a jolly crowd, with Jamie Hutchinson and Dawn Mannis of The Sampler, Champagne expert Peter Liem, and Neil Beckett and his wife Luciana. For the main course Francis headed outside to grill some wonderful slabs of beef, and as you’d expect we drank well.

Here are my notes on the wines:

Champagne Roses de Jeanne Blanc de Blancs 2005
This is Pinot Blanc from the Aube, effectively biodynamic, with no dosage. It goes through full malolactic, and is bottled with lower pressure than normal. Cedric Bouchard makes just 800 bottles of this, and The Sampler has the UK allocation of 50 bottles. Creamy, elegant and delicate with lovely pure, subtly lemony fruit. Lovely fruit expression: this actually tastes of Pinot Blanc. Fine bubbles with fresh acidity and no harshness. Such balance. 92/100
Champagne Doyard Cuvée Vendémiaire Extra Brut NV
From Vertus, this has a low dosage and is made from a blend of three years, with extended lees ageing. This one is 1998/99/00. Herby, toasty, complex nose. Intense with lovely precision and a bit of grippiness. Subtly toasty and herby with lots of character. 92/100

Champagne Marie-Noëlle Ledru Cuvée du Goulte Grand Cru Blanc de Noirs 2004
From a small grower in Ambonnay who titles herself a viticulturice. Focused lemony, subtly toasty nose is elegant with some restrained richness. Quite savoury with nice density and some subtle honeyed notes. Rich but fresh. 93/100

Domaine de la Bongron Mâcon Clesse Quintaine Cuvée Spéciale Levroutée 1995
14.5% alcohol with some residual sugar, too. Rich and intense with notes of barley sugar, apricot, honey and spice. The palate is dense and off-dry with some sweetness and a rich texture. A lovely wine that’s bold and still quite fresh. 91/100

Bollinger La Côte aux Enfants Aÿ Rouge 2002 Coteaux Champenois
A still red wine from the Champagne region. This is Pinot Noir from a small 2 acre south-facing vineyard in Aÿ. Focused and quite rich with fresh berry and cherry fruit. Dense and berryish, with some structure. There are also some medicinal notes as well as a hint of sappiness. It’s actually quite a big wine, and hard to pick as Pinot Noir. 88/100

Jaboulet Crozes-Hermitage Thalabert 1983 Northern Rhône
Intense, rich and sweetly fruited with lovely fruit: damson, plum and raspberry. There’s also a lovely savoury, meaty dimension here, with hints of earth, medicine and black tea. This has aged beautifully and is peaking now, I reckon, but there’s still lots of life here. 93/100

Equipo Navazos La Bota de Palo Cortado No 17 Bota Punta, Jerez
This stunning sherry is quite rare: just 600 half bottles were produced. Amazingly complex nose with notes of nuts, herbs, lemon and old casks. Fresh and intense with wonderful complexity, as well as some toffee and nut richness. Good acidity. 94/100

Equipo Navazos La Bota de Manzanilla Saca de Enero de 2009 No 16A
really interesting take on Manzanilla, showing floral, aromatic, nutty notes on the nose. It’s broad, complex and softly textured in the mouth with delicious tanginess and apple notes. Remarkable stuff with real complexity. 92/100

Szepsy Tokaji Cuvée 2002 Hungary
Wonderfully complex with rich apricot and peach fruit, as well as a touch of tangerine. Rich and concentrated on the palate, but not overly sweet, with great fruit focus to the fore and good complexity. 93/100

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L'Autre Pied: great food for the weight conscious!

Had lunch with Wine Australia's UK head Lisa McGovern yesterday at L'Autre Pied in Marylebone. Head chef Marcus Eaves is a genius: the food was brilliantly executed, with really good ingredients prepared creatively, but not too fussily (you won't find smears of different coloured gloops on your plate here). The wine list was also pretty creative, with lots of interest, but typically gougey London prices (how I wish restaurants would move to a cash margin for the smarter bottles, rather than just a straight GP).

My only slight gripe is the portion sizes. They're tiny. When the starters were brought out I thought they were an amuse bouche. I know this sounds greedy - and I could probably do with eating less - but there's a psychological impact that comes from looking at the food on your plate and thinking that the portion is probably about half what you'd have served yourself!

To drink? Australia isn't the strong point on the list, but that was where we were morally obliged to venture (Wine Australia were paying), and so we chose the excellent Mac Forbes rs09 Riesling 2008, at £40. It's a deliciously pure Aussie Riesling with just a touch of residual sugar, and it made a surprisingly versatile food match considering that we'd ordered all over the place in terms of flavour. Service was excellent, and wine advice which we tried out proved to be unstuffy and reliable.


Monday, July 20, 2009

Duorum Vintage Port 2007

Above: José Luís Moreira da Silva, João Perry Vidal and José Maria Soares Franco of Duorum.

Duorum is latin for ‘from two’. It’s a joint project between João Portugal Ramos and Jose Maria Soares Franco. As well as two famous enologists, the ‘from two’ also refers to the fact that the wine is a blend from two rather different parts of the Douro. On the one hand, Duorum is renting two old vineyards and buying from a further 15–18 growers in the Cima Corgo; on the other, the Douro Superior, further up river towards the Spanish border. Currently, the Douro Superior vineyards are rented, but Duorum have also purchased 150 hectares – from some 60 different owners – which is being converted into a spectacular Quinta, called Castelo Melhor.
The first release of the Vintage Port, 2007, is what I'm drinking now. It's tannic and dense, but it has lovely violet and dark cherry fruit, with real intensity and some finesse. There's a spicy element to the structure. I love the combination of fruit purity and dense structure. 93-95/100 (this is a cask sample)

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The USA "would be well advised to concentrate on producing great white wines"

Got the second issue of TONG through today. It's a new quarterly magazine hailing from Belgium, aiming at the high end of the market (it's Euro 100 for four issues). The theme for the second issue is Terroir.

TONG is good, with high profile contributors and an academic approach. But it is undeniably expensive for what it is: just 48 pages in this issue. I hope it succeeds, but I think they need to make it a bit thicker (in terms of page numbers).

One of the articles in this issue is by soil scientists Claude and Lydia Bourgignon, who have quite a reputation in France. They work with many high-profile producers. Yet some of their pronouncements strike me as strange. For example:

The vine, originally found growing in Caucasian limestone, is a plant that thrives on lime-rich soils. All great red wines are produced on limestone soils and as these are relatively rare, not many places produce them ... The USA has very little limestone, and its winemakers would be well advised to concentrate on producing great white wines.


Sunday, July 19, 2009

RTL reunited with one of her poopies

We had a lovely afternoon, heading over to Brockham in Surrey to meet with Tim and Claire, whose dog, Barney, is one of RTL's poopies.

He's a beautiful labradoodle - much better looking than RTL. It was great to see the two dogs playing together. They seemed immediately to have some sort of bond, although Barney is a young dog with some drive, and tried to engage with his mother in rather inappropriate ways.

We went for a walk. Brockham is just beautiful: a picture-perfect English village in the shadow of Box Hill. At one stage, we'd juggled with the idea of keeping Barney (we called him 'Yellow' - the way we identified the puppies was by the colour of the cotton neck tag each had), but seeing the size of him and how happy he is in his new family, we're glad we didn't, even though he's adorable.


A nice evening with friends and good wine

We had some friends over last night, new and old, which was a good excuse to open some bottles. James and Vicky have been chums for some time - Fiona worked with Vicky years back, and we've kept in contact since. Heather and Mathieu are long-term friends of theirs, but by a bizarre twist of coincidence, they've moved back from France and their son is in the same class at school as our youngest. So it seemed sensible to have a dinner party, especially since Mathieu has a wine connection: his family own a small 3.5 hectare domain in Pessac Leognan.

It's called Chateau Trigant, and we tried the 2006, which is pretty respectable stuff. It's well made, but it's not spoofy. Instead, it represents its terroir, with a nice gravelly structure under the focused blackberry and blackcurrant fruit. Retail price in the UK is £13.50, which makes it very good value for Bordeaux.

Vinous highlights? Louis Jadot Meursault 2006 is really nicely balanced, with good depth and well judged fruit and oak. Domaine Gros' Nore Bandol 2000 is drinking brilliantly now. It's modern-styled, in that there's ripe fruit, but it also has that essence of Mourvedre: a peppery, dry, spicy structure. Lovely. Moving to the new world, Jim Barry's Lodge Hill Shiraz 2005 from Australia's Clare Valley is actually a brilliant wine. It's 15% alcohol, but the fruit shows beautiful focus and purity, with lovely vibrancy. We finished off with a Port: a cask sample of the 2007 Duorum Vintage Port, which is just fantastic, with dense fruit, good concentration and dense structure. It's tannic, but the fruit is so forward at the moment, it's not too hard to drink. Especially if, like me, you quite like young Vintage Port.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

A remarkable Roussillon white: Matassa

This is a brilliant wine, but it won't be to everyone's tastes. It's the sort of wine that if I were a sommelier, I'd warn people about. This is because it has some reduction, but for me this is good reduction: matchstick and flint, which I think will set this wine up for a long future, and which adds complexity in this context (and this doesn't 'blow off' - it's still there on day 3 - I think this idea of reduction blowing off with air is not always true). Quite profound.

Matassa Blanc 2007 Vin de Pays des Côtes Catalanes, France
13% alcohol. 70% Grenache Gris, 30% Maccabeu. This is a serious, complex, backward wine that’s a bit of an acquired taste, but which I think is brilliant. It has a smoky, minerally, almost salty nose with some nuttiness and a bit of burnt match reduction. The palate is dry, savoury and intensely mineral with a long, nutty, broad finish. There’s real focus and intensity to this wine: it’s not at all fat. Just delicious, and all set for an interesting evolution over the next 5–10 years. 93/100 (Les Caves de Pyrene)

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Friday, July 17, 2009

Buy my last book for just £5!

I've just moved office, and in the process I found a couple of boxes of my last book, Wine Bottle Closures (optimistically, I did quite a large print run). So if you'd like a copy of this incisive assessment of the closures scene, then you can buy one at the knockdown price of £5 from http://www.flavourpress.com/.

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Recently on the main wineanorak site...

I've been busy. Recently on wineanorak.com:
  • Drouhin: part 1, Burgundy series - a lengthy report
  • Patton Valley: part 11, Oregon series
  • Mac Forbes: one of Australia's emerging stars
  • TOP 10: Portuguese wines under £10 that you can buy in the UK
  • About me the section on the website where I explain who I am, updated

Thursday, July 16, 2009

The Sampler expands

Good news for London's wine lovers. One of the capital's best wine shops, The Sampler, is to open two new branches - in South Kensington and Notting Hill. For those unfamiliar with this innovative shop, which allows customers to taste a range of 80 wines from its Enomatic machines, there's a write up on this site.

Dawn and Jamie, the owners, have raised more than £1 million funding from investors to make this expansion feasible. One of the investors, regular commentator on this blog Keith Prothero, has this to say:
"I see The Sampler as the future of wine retailing. By offering over 1000 interesting wines at all prices and styles, and enabling customers to sample the wines, the experience is fun, educational and most importantly the customer buys a bottle of wine that they know they like."


Signs of mildew

My Pinot Noir has some signs of downy mildew. It's the first time I've had to deal with this - in the past the problem has been oidium (powdery mildew), which is prevented by using elemental sulfur.

Downy mildew manifests as pale patches on the leaves, known as 'oil spots'; when you turn the leaves over, you can see the fungal infection. To prevent the mildew spreading, I've had to spray with copper (Bordeaux mixture).

Both copper and sulfur are allowed in organics and biodynamics.


Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Bill Nanson on the 2004 red Burgundy problem

For those who don't read Bill Nanson's Burgundy Report, well, you should. I stumbled across this report of his on the problem affecting many red Burgundies from the 2004 vintage. It's a great piece of journalism.


Another Alsace Riesling: Josmeyer

Following on from last week's Trimbach encounter, here's a bottle I picked up at Haynes, Hanson & Clark for £11.50. Not the best ever, but a really good example of dry, fruity Alsace Riesling.

Josmeyer Riesling 'Le Kottabe' 2007 Alsace
12.5% alcohol, certified Biodynamic (Biodyvin). A really attractive dry Riesling with a lovely fruity character. Spicy minerality underpins the lemony fruit, with a subtle herbiness in the background, as well as some honeyed notes. Satisfying and balanced. 89/100 (£11.50 Haynes, Hanson & Clark)

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Clouds, and learning about wine

There was a recent program on BBC4 about Cloudspotting, featuring a dude who's set up the Cloud Appreciation Society. It may sound very geeky, but it was actually rather interesting. I learned some new stuff about clouds, and that has now made looking at clouds a little more rewarding. For example, I could admire and enjoy these stratocumulus clouds, pictured while walking the dog.

This reinforces why it's so good to learn a bit about wine, or any other foodstuff or drink. It's because learning enhances enjoyment. Knowing just a little about a subject opens up fresh avenues for appreciation that are closed to those who lack any knowledge. It's also important that people are given easy, approachable ways to do this learning.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Which famous vineyard is this?

Which famous vineyard is this? And what do you notice about the picture? I was surprised when I saw it. Taken earlier this month.
[Added later: the close-up below.]

Monday, July 13, 2009

Clare Valley: two good-uns from Mitchell

A few years back Andrew and Jane Mitchell kindly let me stay for a couple of nights at their home, when I visited the Clare Valley (see report here). I missed Andrew on a recent trip he made to the UK, but he left a couple of wines for me to try. These are pretty impressive: a pair of high-end, late-release wines under the McNicol label.

Mitchell McNicol Riesling 2005 Clare Valley
Intense, limey nose with some richer honey and tropical fruit notes. It's quite mineralic, too. The palate is bold and rich with limey, spicy intensity, good concentration, and a lovely minerality. Dry but rich, with wonderful depth of flavour. Clare Valley at its best. 92/100

Mitchell McNicol Shiraz 2001 Clare Valley
Evolving really nicely with a focused nose of sweet blackberry fruit, with some rich tarry notes and a mineral dimension. The palate shows nice balance between the sweet dark fruit and the almost salty, spicy structure. Good concentration with good supporting oak. 91/100 (£15.50 Haynes, Hanson & Clark)

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Sunday, July 12, 2009

Video: Meursault, Burgundy, with J P Fichet

The first film from my recent visit to Burgundy:

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Two nice Portuguese reds

Two very impressive Portuguese reds: one from the Douro, one from the Alentejo. Both show lovely focus and definition, and subtle use of oak. The Portuguese seem to be so much less heavy handed than the Spanish with their oak use (yes, a generalization, I know).

And well done England! (Cricket...)

Arco de Esporão 2008 Alentejo, Portugal
14% alcohol. A blend of Syrah, Aragonez and Touriga Nacional, made by David Baverstock. Deep coloured. Some subtle meaty, savoury notes here alongside the sweet dark fruits. Slightly floral aromatics are really appealing. Nice balance with a spicy savouriness countering the sweet dark fruits very effectively. A delicious fruit-driven style that’s focused and less spoofy than some of the riper Alentejo wines. 89/100 (£9.99 Waitrose)
Quinta do Portal Reserva 2007 Douro, Portugal (pictured above)
40% Touriga Nacional, 40% Tinta Roriz and 20% Touriga Franca; 14% alcohol; aged in new French oak for 9 months. This shows a lovely nose of meaty, spicy, floral blackberry, plum and dark cherry fruit. The palate is focused with meaty dark fruits and some black olive character. Fresh and savoury with good acidity and firm tannins. It’s a really expressive, focused sort of wine that shows real personality. Quite serious, in a distinctive savoury style. 91/100

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Saturday, July 11, 2009

Two top South African reds

I've neglected South Africa of late. I'm sorry. It's just that in so many of their red wines I get this South African signature that I don't really like: it's a sort of earthy, green, slightly bitter character that gets in the way of the fruit. These are warm-climate wines, yet they don't have the sweetness and purity of fruit you might expect from warm-climate wines. I got the South African character in the Warwick on the first day, but by the second it had pretty much disappeared to reveal lovely pure fruit. Perhaps it's a reduction issue, in part? Anyway, these are two pretty good wines that I enjoyed drinking, from two of the country's leading producers.

Warwick The First Lady Cabernet Sauvignon 2007 Western Cape, South Africa
14% alcohol. Attractive dark, gravelly blackcurrant fruit backed up by earthy, minerally notes. On the first day this has the fruit obscured by a green, earthy, slightly bitter character that is often encountered in South African reds, but the following day the fruit is much purer with sweet berry and blackcurrant notes. Finishes earthy. Tasty wine. 88/100 (UK agent Louis Latour)

Vergelegen Cabernet Sauvignon 2005 Stellenbosch, South Africa
14.5% alcohol. Lovely dark blackcurrant fruit dominates, with meaty, savoury, earthy notes. There’s also some cedary woodiness, too. There’s an interesting tension here between the sweet, open fruit and the more savoury, minerally, earthy notes. Finishes dry and spicy. A sophisticated wine. 90/100 (£13.99 Majestic, SWIG, The Vineking, Hailsham Cellars, SA Wines Online)

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Friday, July 10, 2009

Wine closures: do we need a new screwcap liner?

In short, yes.

Screwcaps are great, but in all the discussion on the topic (which has generated a lot of heat), one thing people keep forgetting is that the screwcap is not the closure. It's merely a way of keeping a liner (the actual closure) in apposition to the bottle rim. A crown cap does the same.

Now this sounds geeky and pedantic, but it's actually incredibly important. The gas transmission properties of the liner are crucial, because this determines how much oxygen gets into the wine after bottling.

There are two liners used for wine. The most commonly encountered is one with a metal (tin) layer in its construction, as well as a layer of saranex, which allows very little oxygen transmission. This is the one used in Australia and New Zealand almost exclusively.

The other is saranex-only. This allows more oxygen transmission, by a factor of 10. It's commonly used in Europe, especially for more commercial wines.

How does cork compare? Corks vary in their oxygen transmission (OTR) properties, but typically they fall somewhere between the tin/saran liner and the saranex-only. For the technical minded, Jim Peck of G3 in California has published the following guideline figures based on his research with a technique known as MOCON.

Typical OTRs in air (cc Oxygen/closure per day)
Screwcap, tin/saran liner 0.0001
Screwcap, saranex liner 0.001
Natural cork 0.0005
Synthetic cork 0.005

What are the implications of these figures? Do we want any closure OTR? The answer seems to be yes, just a little, to avoid problems with sulfur compounds (reduction). Othwerwise, as little as possible seems to give the best results for most wines.

The tin/saran liner is risky. It doesn't really allow enough OTR to reduce the risk of reduction to an acceptable level. Winemakers often have to resort to copper fining when they use this closure, which isn't ideal. Otherwise, it's great for shelf life and keeping wines fresh for a long time.

The saranex liner is great for wines that are going to be drunk in the first three to five years after bottling. But it's not really suitable for wines that will be cellared for longer.

So we have a need for a liner with properties somewhere between the two, and this is just what Jim Peck and his colleagues at G3 have been working on. Their solutions? Microperforations in the tin layer of the liner.

They have developed a mathematical formula that allows them to predict the level of OTR depending on how many perforations are made and where they are located. This could be great news for winemakers who are currently unprepared to switch to screwcaps because of the risk of reduction, or for winemakers already using screwcaps who are unhappy making the foot fit the slipper in terms of preparing their wines differently to suit the closure they are bottling with.

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Thursday, July 09, 2009

Video: my segment with David Motion on BBC news

David Motion of The Winery has uploaded the segments he and I did on BBC news a while back, talking about why wine tastes different on different days:

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Recently on the main wineanorak site...

I've been quite busy on the main wineanorak site, and I wanted to draw the following to the attention of those who just visit the blog:

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Video: visiting Helmut Dönnhoff in Germany's Nahe region

A short film from my recent visit to Dönnhoff, one of Germany's top producers.

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Heard on twitter: driving distance and wine styles

One of the USA's leading wine educators posted the following on Twitter this afternoon:

It is less than a 5hr drive to Bordeaux from Rioja, so it's no coincidence that Rioja wines often have a Bordeaux style

This sounded a bit dodgy, so I checked some driving times on Via Michelin to see if this driving distance/wine style premise held any water. I found the following:

  • Reims to Dijon takes 2 h 40
  • Nantes (Loire) to Bordeaux is 3 h 21
  • Beaune to Avignon (Southern Rhone) is 3 h 36.

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Stunning Aussie Riesling

I'm on the Riesling trail at the moment. Here's a brilliant Australian Riesling from the Clare Valley that's utterly delicious, with a nice elegance coupled with limey intensity.

Skillogalee Trevarrick Riesling 2008 Clare Valley
11% alcohol, sealed with a Vino Lok. 250 cases made. Amazing stuff: bracing, limey, minerally and quite fine, with lovely elegance to the intense fruit. There’s a floral edge to the aromatics, as well as a pithy, citrussy depth. It’s one of the very best dry Australian Rieslings I’ve had, with lovely precision, purity and elegance. 93/100 (UK agent: Enotria)

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NWR: Books and films

Some amateur film and book reviewing now follows. I've gone through a bit of a barren period of late with both genres, but long-haul travel usually helps here...

My favourite book of late has been Douglas Coupland's The Gum Thief. I also loved Coupland's last book, J Pod. In some ways, these books are a bit of a guilty pleasure. They're funny and self-referential, but essentially trivial. They focus on the banality of modern life, but they work. There are good reviews here and here.

Now films. Benjamin Button is a rubbish film. I'm sorry, this seems a bit negative, but I tried watching it twice (once on a plane) and never managed to get to the end. It was a rip-off of Forest Gump, if you ask me, with a bizarre plot twist (guy gets younger rather than older) that isn't really explored properly or intelligently.

I did enjoy Revolutionary Road, despite the fact that both Kate Winslet and Leonardo di Caprio take the starring roles. But it's a really good film. Set in the 1950s, it chronicles the breakdown of a marriage in all its dark complexity. There's a good review here.

Synecdoche New York is a film that annoyed me intensely, but which, on reflection, has some merit. It's massively self-indulgent and totally bizarre. Yet it has some powerful messages, if you can get past the delivery. Philip Seymour Hoffman - perhaps the best actor of his generation? - delivers a strong performance. For me, the key message delivered is quite a negative one: while the role we play in our daily lives seems so important to us, no one is actually watching, and it doesn't really matter. I don't agree with this premise, but I understand how people can feel like this.

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Monday, July 06, 2009

Randall's Cigare

Randall Grahm is one of the most interesting people in the world of wine. Yet his Bonny Doon wines haven't done all that well in the eyes of the critics. Following on from tasting Randall's delicious Sangiovese a couple of days ago, I turned to his top red - Le Cigare Volant 2005. This is a great dop. I particularly like the way it manages to taste of the old world, with a beautiful savoury dimension and a distinctive minerality. It's just as good on day two as it was the night before.

Bonny Doon Le Cigare Volant 2005 California
A blend of 50% Grenache, 24% Mourvèdre, 22% Syrah, 3% Carignan and 1% Cinsault. This has a lively, vibrant, spicy nose with a distinct meaty savouriness to the plum and blackberry fruit. The palate shows a lovely complex spicy character with some lemony acidity bringing freshness to the sweet, meaty plummy fruit. It finishes dry, a bit grippy, and quietly mineral. This is a lovely complex, meaty, spicy, Rhône-like wine with a delicious savoury dimension, and I reckon it will age well for some years to come. 13.5% alcohol. 91/100 (UK retail c. £23, 2004 available from Hailsham Cellars, imported by FMV)

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Sunday, July 05, 2009

Must drink more Alsace: Trimbach Riesling

A coincidence. This afternoon, before driving down to Devon to drop older son off at school, I put a bottle of Alsace wine in the fridge. Then, on the way back home, I heard Jancis talking on BBC Radio 4's Last word about the late Jean Hugel. A sign: I must explore Alsace wines further, because they are brilliant, even if I keep forgetting about them. I must also visit Alsace as soon as possible because I have never been there (embarassing admission).

Where to start? Trimbach and Hugel are certainly good producers (Trimbach's CFE and Clos Ste Hune are two of Alsace's very best Rieslings, in a dry style). Zind Humbrecht and Marcel Deiss are probably the two top producers, with Kreydenweiss and Albert Mann hot on their tails.

Anyway, this entry level Trimbach Riesling is pretty solid. It's brought into the UK by Enotria.

Trimbach Riesling Reserve 2006 Alsace, France
12.5% alcohol. A really delicious dry Riesling from Alsace, with exuberant lemony fruit, showing a hint of apricot richness, but otherwise it’s really dry and citrussy. Lovely purity and freshness here – it reminds me a bit of a top Australian Riesling in style. 89/100

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Saturday, July 04, 2009

What have you done to my dog? And a good Valpol

Rosie went to the dog groomers yesterday. 2 hours and £36 later she came out. But with some bizarre 80s haircut. She now looks really stupid. Maybe we will get used to it. Above is a before and after shot.

Very nice Valpolicella this lunch time - chilled lightly, it's a delicate, beguiling red. Shame it's not a few quid cheaper, which would bring it into everyday drinking territory, but it's a perfect wine for summer.

Guerrieri Rizzardi Valpolicella Classico 2008 Italy
A blend of Corvina, Rondinella, Molinara and Merlot. Lovely elegant, fresh, sappy sweet cherry fruit is the theme here: it's light but has nice presence to it, with some sweetness to the fruit and also an attractive spicy, minerally bite. This is really alive, with some elegance and complexity - it's just so natural-tasting and joyful. 12% alcohol. 90/100 (£12.99 Longford Wines)

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Friday, July 03, 2009

Biodynamic-ish Sangiovese from California

A conundrum of a wine. It's from Randall Grahm's Bonny Doon operation. It's mainly from a vineyard farmed biodynamically in San Benito County, yet it contains an ingredients list that most emphatically is not an indicator of typically natural wine making. Yet you have to respect the honesty and integrity that led to that list appearing on the bottle. It reads:


Then, on the front label, it has a picture of the sensitive crystallization of the wine.

Ca' del Solo Sangiovese 2006 San Benito County, California
Intensely savoury with tarry, spicy notes on the nose as well as dense blackberry and plum fruit. The palate shows rich, ripe dark cherry and plum fruit backed up with savoury, spicy, earthy notes and high acidity that sticks out a little. Dense, savoury and seriously structured, this is a bit rustic, but is one of the best non-Italian expressions of Sangiovese that I've encountered, and is utterly delicious and thoroughly food friendly. 90/100 (the 2005 is £13 at Berry Bros & Rudd)

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Thursday, July 02, 2009

The future of wine publishing: the Gault Millau war

Interesting situation developing in Germany. It seems that one of the most influential German wine guides, Gault Millau, has asked producers for a voluntary fee of 195 euros (see here). I suppose, should the guide be in real trouble, then you can understand the pass the plate approach.

However, the response of an elite group of producers (see here and here) has been to send an open letter saying that they won't pay, and that because of this perceived 'problem' of not paying, they don't want to be included in future editions of the guide, and they won't be sending any more samples.

When you take a look at the calibre of the estates involved, effectively doesn't this seem to signal the end of the Gault Millau guide? They've called on the favour bank, and found it empty.

[added later] I've done some asking around. It seems that (a) it wasn't a straight donation the publishers were asking for, but optional payment in exchange for books, placards, certificates and so on - the two authors would not know who paid and who didn't; (b) some competitors may have been trying to stir up trouble; and (c) some producers may have been looking for a chance to vent their spleen.


Here's my Pinot Noir, as it looks today. The berries are starting to form, and you can still see the remains of the flowers. It's a bit less advanced than the same variety in Burgundy, but not too far off. [One Alentejo winegrower twittered today that their vines were going through veraison already!]
Last night was good fun. I met with the fellow organizers of the sparkling wine symposium for a planning meeting followed by dinner. We went to Fino in Charlotte Street (http://www.finorestaurant.com/), which is a swanky tapas joint that allows corkage for £15. So we brought along some wine, and drank well, with a high strike rate. Food was first-rate, and service was just right.
Champagne Philipponnat Grand Blanc 2002
Very fine, toasty, biscuitty, lemony nose with great precision. The palate is complex and fresh with lovely acidity and balance. Serious stuff that’s quite winey with lots of intensity. 94/100 (£39 Oddbins) [Oddly, the neck label on the bottle said 2004 vintage, while the front and back labels said 2002.]

Kumeu River Chardonnay 2005 Auckland, New Zealand
Fantastically bold and intense with dense, mealy, spicy fruit. Lovely intensity on the palate with savoury, spicy richness. A very rich style of Chardonnay, but it is serious and balanced. 93/100 (£21 Oddbins)

Millton Clos Ste Anne The Crucible Syrah 2007 Gisborne, New Zealand
I love this wine. It has a really fresh peppery nose with lovely vivid red berry fruit. Quite northern Rhône like. Lovely freshness and focus on the palate with dark pepper, dark cherry and raspberry notes, as well as some spiciness that may be from a bit of new oak. Fantastic effort. 93/100

Chaupoutier Hermitage La Sizeranne 2004 Northern Rhône, France
I was pleasantly surprised by this. It shows supple, sweet red berry and dark cherry fruit with a hint of pepperiness. The palate has elegant, midweight savoury red fruits. Lovely focus with good acidity and some pure, bright fruit. 91/100

Matetic EQ Syrah 2006 San Antonio, Chile
Lovely: dark, meaty, spicy and focused. A really dense Syrah with lots of intensity, and sweet but balanced blackberry fruit. We had this chilled down because it was quite hot, and it helped the wine a bit, although it did bring out the tannins a bit more. 92/100 (£16 Oddbins)

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Burgundy (3): Clos du Tart

My final day in Burgundy was a brief one: just time for one appointment before heading back to Dijon for the train.

But what an appointment! It was at Burgundy's largest Grand Cru Monopole, Clos du Tart. I'd recently tried a whole bunch of the wines in London, so it was fantastic to be able to visit this famous estate. I was shown round by Sylvain Pitiot himself, which was great.

It operates more like a Bordeaux chateau, in the sense that just one Grand Vin is made from this single vineyard (planted in 1141!), together with a second wine in many vintages. Full report will follow very soon.

I really, really enjoyed this short soujorn in Burgundy. It is a special place.
On the way home I bumped into Brian and Ann Croser at Paris Gare du Nord. They just happened to be standing next to me. Small world.