jamie goode's wine blog: August 2009

Monday, August 31, 2009

Two mineralic whites from Italy

I love minerality in wine, even if I can't define it very well. I just know it when I see it. Here are two lovely mineralic whites of real interest. They're not totally obvious at first sip - rather, these are wines that creep up on you and grow in depth as you drink them.

Meroi Sauvignon Blanc 2007 Colli Orientali del Friuli, Italy
From Paolo Meroi, who is working biodynamically, but isn't certified. Slightly reductive, minerally, smoky nose with some fresh, savoury lemony notes. The palate has wonderful minerality underneath the fresh, subtly green fruit. Bright, precise and savoury, this is an attractive wine that has real potential. A shame it's so expensive, but it is quite serious. 90/100 (£17.55 Berry Bros & Rudd)

Benanti Pietramarina Etna Bianco Superiore 2004 Sicily, Italy
From the Carricante grape variety, unique to Etna, grown as free-standing bush vines with a density of 9000/hectare, of average age 80 years. Altitude of 950 metres offsets the warmth of this part of the world. Wonderfully smoky, minerally nose with a hint of tangerine and subtle nutty notes, as well as notes of pear and grapefruit. The palate is fruity and fresh, showing lemons and minerals. Focused, intense and pure, this is evolving in a beautifully linear direction. 91/100 (Les Caves de Pyrene, c. £25)

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Sunday, August 30, 2009

Two elements to wine criticism

What makes for a good palate?

There are two elements.

The first is the physical reliablity of a critic's palate. Can they spot duplicates in a line-up? How much do their ratings of the same wine, tasted on different occasions, differ?

Then it's the issue of aesthetic judgement. What is quality as it applies to wine? What makes one wine better than another?

Then, of course, there's the small matter of communicating this informaton in ways that are useful to readers.

If you have a poor palate, it doesn't matter how many wines you have tasted, or how many times you have tasted each wine, or how long you have deliberated over each wine for.

I don't mind whether someone tastes 20 000 wines a year or just 300 - what matters is their ability to taste accurately, make sense of what they are tasting, and then communicate this well.

And then there's the whole issue of biological differences in flavour perception, which add an extra layer to this discussion.


Fume Blanc

The late Robert Mondavi was famous for many things, among them creating a new white wine style. The year was 1966, and his idea was to oak age Sauvignon Blanc and call it Fumé Blanc. It was a hit, and now this name is also used by other producers for similarly styled versions of this variety. Normally, Sauvignon works best unoaked, but the estate Fumé Blanc works really well (I was surprised how much I liked this). The Private Selection is less successful, although it’s still quite an attractive wine.

Robert Mondavi Private Selection Fumé Blanc 2008 California
Interesting nose, with a combination of sweet pear fruit, some herby greenness and a touch of sweet oak. The palate is richly flavoured with a herbal edge to the sweet fruit, bolstered with a hint of vanilla. Attractive and broad, this is a distinctive wine. 85/100 (£9.99 Planet of the Grapes, Drinks Direct)

Robert Mondavi Winery Fumé Blanc 2006 Napa Valley, California
This is really good. It’s very fresh, with minerally, lemony fruit, a touch of grassiness and also some subtle vanilla and spice from barrel fermentation. There are some richer melon notes, but the fruit profile tends to the fresher end of the spectrum, and the oak is both high quality and really well integrated. It works, and the result is a sophisticated, fairly complex dry white wine. 90/100

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Saturday, August 29, 2009

Kermit's Adventures

I have been re-reading one of the best books on wine ever written. It's Adventures on the wine route by Californian merchant and importer Kermit Lynch. I just wish there were more books like this on the subject: well written, interesting and perfectly judged. Yes, there's a bit of salesmanship here, but I can forgive this because it's just so good.

Does anyone have recommendations of wine books that are a good read?


Friday, August 28, 2009

Vintage of the century: England 2009!

Things are looking very good for the 2009 vintage in the UK. We had wonderful conditions for flowering, which is always a problematic time here. Normally, flowering weather is rubbish and so yields are really low. Not so in 2009.

And while it hasn't been the hottest summer on record, June was hot (1.5 degrees above average) and now August is shaping up very well. However, July was the wettest on record, which has caused some mildew problems.

Sam Lindo, of award-winning southwest winery Camel Valley says its their biggest ever vintage, and that it's early.
On a rather smaller scale, the vines in my back garden, which had virtually no grapes last year, are bearing healthy crops. Phoenix (a hybrid cross that needs no spraying) (below) and Bacchus (top) are looking particularly good. Pinot Noir has really small bunches, but they've gone through veraison nicely and are looking good. Powdery mildew is non-existent, but downy mildew has been a problem for the Pinot Noir especially.


Thursday, August 27, 2009

Affordable white Burgundy, alternatively closed

Enjoyed this Bourgogne Blanc, which I also tasted at Drouhin on my visit there in June. Interesting to see that it is closed with an attractive-looking Stelvin Lux. Opened two other Burgundies today from another leading negociant, Louis Jadot - these were both sealed alternatively, too, with Diam 5s.

Joseph Drouhin Laforet Bourgogne Chardonnay 2007
Fine, minerally nose is fruity and quite refined with lovely precision. The palate is fresh and bright with nice acidity and some minerality. An attractove, pure white Burgundy. 89/100 (£11.99 Oddbins)

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Tesco wine fairs

It's great to see Tesco, the UK's largest wine seller, running some consumer wine shows, in four cities over the next couple of months. It's so important to get people tasting, thinking about and enjoying wine. The more people who become interested in wine, the better it is for all of us (the only downside is more people chasing after small production gems, pushing the prices up). We need more consumer events like these.

But part of me is disappointed that all these people are making the effort to taste and learn, but they're not being shown all that many wines that you can really get excited about. I'm not knocking Tesco here, who do a pretty good job; it's just that any retailer of this sort tends to carry lots of correct but boring wines on its shelves.

Let's be brutally honest. Most commercial wines are crap. The Tesco buyers are talented individuals, but the constraints they work under mean that they're largely buying wines that I suspect they wouldn't choose to drink if they had the choice. There are some very notable exceptions (and given the commercial constraints it's amazing just how good some of the wines they carry are). But most of them are still dull, especially those from the old world classic regions where buying to a price point is a tough job.

If I was given free rein to choose from Tesco's range, I could certainly put together a very educational and enjoyable tasting for consumers. But I know that I could do a lot better if I were to source wines from elsewhere.

The problem here is the modern retail environment, which requires economies of scale. To play at all, you have to be big. And it's hard to be big and good when it comes to wine. The compromises that must be made in scaling up production are almost inevitably tasted in the glass.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Burgundy: the perfect wine region?

A late night thought, for some discussion, perhaps. Is Burgundy the perfect wine region for geeks?

We have great red wines and great white wines. Very few regions can pull both off to this level. At the top end, Burgundy produces perhaps the most compelling red wines and white wines on this planet.

Just two grape varieties are grown here (conveniently forgetting Aligote, which is probably a bit mean, and the traces of white Pinots), but the diversity is provided by the various expressions of these varieties.

This diversity comes from both winegrowing/making choices and also the vineyard soils. The vineyards provide the latent potential; skilled growers and winemakers then try to fulfil this potential. Then each vintage adds its own complexion and mixes things round a little.

Providing you had a sufficient disposable income, you could devote yourself to Burgundy, drink its wines almost exclusively, and not grow bored for a very long time.

What I love the most about the region, though, is the very real connection between the wines and the vineyards they came from. That's special.


Great value Shiraz, part 3

Here's a brilliant Aussie Shiraz that costs just £7.99 from Oddbins (here) and is 20% cheaper as part of a mixed case, taking it down to £6.39 a pop.

It's Gemtree Vineyards Tadpole Shiraz 2008 McLaren Vale. Organic grape production, natural winemaking and minimal handling (this is unfiltered; the Oddbins info is wrong here) have resulted in a deep coloured, thick textured wine with lovely richness and generosity to the fruit, as well as good definition and a bit of meaty savouriness. It's one of those bottles that gets finished pretty quickly because it has that quality of deliciousness. Really superb effort, and I rated it as high as 90/100 for its lovely purity and relative complexity that you don't normally find at this price point. Buy some now!

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Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Another good Portuguese white

Another impressive Portuguese white to report on.

Esporao Reserva 2008 Alentejo, Portugal
A blend of Antao Vaz, Arinto and Roupeiro. Lovely floral, lemony nose with notes of tangerine and a hint of vanilla oak. The palate has citrus pith, grapefruit and peach notes with a touch of spicy oak. A bright, focused wine with lots of interest. Fresh, full flavoured and well balanced. 89/100

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South Africa: Platter 5 star wines 2010

These are the 41 wines that have received 5 stars in the 2010 Platter guide, which is the industry standard guide to South African wines. Comments are welcomed on these results:

White Wine of the Year
Sadie Family Palladius 2008

Red Wine of the Year
Le Riche Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve 2005

Sauvignon Blanc
Fleur du Cap Sauvignon Blanc Unfiltered 2009
Lomond Pincushion Sauvignon Blanc 2009
Tokara Elgin Sauvignon Blanc 2008
Woolworths Cape Point Vineyards Sauvignon Blanc Limited Release 2009
Cape Point Vineyards CWG Auction Reserve Barrel Fermented Sauvignon Blanc 2008

White blends – Bordeaux style
Woolworths Steenberg Sauvignon Blanc-Semillon Reserve 2009
Cape Point Vineyards Isliedh 2008
The Berrio Wines Weather Girl 2008
Vergelegen White 2008

Chenin Blanc
Beaumont Hope Marguerite Chenin Blanc 2008

White Blends
Nederburg Ingenuity White 2008
Rall 2008
Sadie Family Palladius 2008
Woolworths Tulbagh Mountain Vineyards Spectrum White Limited Release 2008

Ataraxia Chardonnay 2008
Chamonix Chardonnay Reserve 2008
Paul Cluver Chardonnay 2008

Pinot Noir
Newton Johnson Domaine Pinot Noir 2008
Catherine Marshall Pinot Noir 2008

Neil Ellis Vineyard Selection Grenache 2007

Beyerskloof Diesel Pinotage 2007

Red Blends
Sadie Family Columella 2007
Spier Frans K. Smit 2005

Dunstone Shiraz 2008
Haskell Vineyards Pillars Shiraz 2007
Rustenberg Stellenbosch Syrah 2007
Saxenburg Shiraz Select Limited Release 2005

Red Blends – Bordeaux Style
De Trafford CWG Auction Reserve Perspective 2006
Kanonkop Paul Sauer 2006
Morgenster Estate Morgenster 2006
Stony Brook Ghost Gum 2006
Woolworths Jordan Cobblers Hill Classic 2005

Cabernet Sauvignon
Boekenhoutskloof Cabernet Sauvignon 2007
Le Riche Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve 2005

Boplaas Cape Vintage Reserve Port 2007
De Krans Cape Tawny Port NV
Boplaas Cape Tawny Port 1997

Unfortified Dessert Wine
Buitenverwachting 1769 2007
Fleur du Cap Noble Late Harvest 2008
Nederburg Winemaster's Reserve Noble Late Harvest 2008
Mullineux Family Straw Wine 2008


Monday, August 24, 2009

Social media encounter: the L'Anima wine list challenge

I took part in a social media experiment today. Before you all groan and close your browser windows in desperation, let me explain what this was about.

It was an initiative by high-end Italian restaurant L'Anima to engage with the wine twitter/blogger community to help shape their wine list. The official spiel is:

On Monday, August 24th 2009 the select group of wine enthusiasts will taste and rate a selection of wines (click here to see the full list) – and probably share a lot of thoughts, pictures and video via twitter (check it out between 3pm and 5pm on Monday). Unfortunately, these wine enthusiasts rarely agree with each other. So, the three most contentious categories will be put to a public vote, via this site for YOU
to vote on. Tasters will be:

Gal Zohar (@zoharwine)
Dan Coward (@bibendumwine)
Jamie Goode http://twitter.com/jamiegoode)
Douglas Blyde (@douglas_blyde)
Anthony Rose (@antrose33)
Denise Medrano (@thewinesleuth)

All we ask is that you watch each team’s short video explaining why you should support their choices, and then give us your vote. The winning selections will then be listed in the restaurant. Simple and fair.

So we tasted through five flights, each of three candidates, and then were paired in teams to present our opinions on the three most contentious categories. As I write, the videos still aren't online, which takes a bit of the immediacy away from the whole venture. But when they are, do take a look and make your vote. You stand to win a bottle of each of the winners, so it's probably worth it.

So, a question. Do you feel this is a useful experiment, or just a gimmick?
[Pictured above: Anthony, Gal and Douglas.]

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Sunday, August 23, 2009

To celebrate the Ashes, something uniquely Australian

What to drink to celebrate England's memorable victory over Australia? [Cricket, by the way, for the benefit of those sensible non-sporting types.]

Has to be something uniquely Australian, so I've turned to a sparkling Shiraz. Quite nice it is, too, and fizz is always appropriate for a celebration.

Scarpantoni Black Tempest Sparkling Shiraz NV McLaren Vale, Australia
13.5% alcohol. Deep coloured, this fizzy red has lovely balance, with the fizziness adding bite to the sweet, ripe, chocolatey plum and blackberry fruit. There are also some earthy, spicy notes here, giving a savouriness to what might otherwise be an overly confected style. I reckon this would be quite food friendly, but it's also delicious on its own. Weird but nice: as Sparkling Shiraz goes, this is one of the good ones, and it will age nicely. 89/100 (£15.99 Laithwaites)

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A lovely high-end Marlborough Sauvignon

A while back, I attended a remarkable tasting where we looked at top-flight Sauvignon Blanc. I asked the question, can it ever be serious?

Well, this is a wine that I was sent in response, from Seresin winemaker Clive Dougall. 'We aksed ourselves the same question in 2006,' says Clive, 'and in 2007 produced our first reserve Sauvignon Blanc, with the aim of creating a serious, complex and food friendly wine, which would improve with age.'

This wine was made from Seresin's oldest vines (18 years), thinned to three tonnes per hectare. The fruit is hand-picked, sorted and whole-bunch pressed, with no inoculation. Half is fermented in old oak, half in stainless steel. The wine is certified organic. I think it's pretty serious. UK availability is Armit (agent), suggested retail price £23.55.

Seresin Reserve Sauvignon Blanc 2008 Marlborough, New Zealand
Amazingly full, aromatic nose with notes of grapefruit, passionfruit, herb and pear. Lots of richness, with a hint of greenness. The palate is complex and concentrated with sweet bold fruit and a subtle herbiness, as well as a nice minerality. Texturally rich but still fresh. Brilliantly poised. 92/100

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Saturday, August 22, 2009

Great value Shiraz, part 2

Another great value Shiraz. It's Asda's Extra Special Shiraz 2008 Vin de Pays d'Oc, which is made for them by Jean Claude Mas, Languedoc superstar.

This is an example of brilliant commercial winemaking, and it over-delivers for its price (which, I think, is £6.07, but I've seen this for closer to £5 on offer). It's sweetly fruited, well defined and has some meaty complexity to it. It's very drinkable, with a hint of seriousness. I like the fact that it tastes of Syrah. Do try it if you get the chance.

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An incredible day's cricket, but Guy misses out...

Spent an incredible day at the Oval yesterday, watching day 2 of the final Ashes test. I was with wine writer Anthony Rose, Decanter editor Guy Woodward and Chris Stroud of Foster's EMEA.

The Oval is a lovely place to watch cricket, and where we were seated was just about perfect, in the Bedser upper. The morning session was uninspiring: England didn't add many runs for their last two wickets, and Australia then batted through to lunch without loss, despite some tight England bowling. And then it started raining.

This was the stage where Guy decided to head back to the office to sign off the latest issue, so he swapped his ticket with his art editor, Patrick. I imagine he now regrets it, because we witnessed one of the most remarkable sessions of Ashes cricket, during which England took 8 wickets for just 72 runs. Broad and Swann did the damage, and it was thrilling stuff.

Shortly after tea, Australia were all out and England batted to close with the loss of three wickets. The game is far from won, yet, but this day certainly swung things in England's favour.


Thursday, August 20, 2009

Great value Shiraz, part 1

Just wanted to share a few recent, highly positive experiences with inexpensive Syrah, beginning with this little beauty from Boekenhoutskloof's Marc Kent.

It's the Porcupine Ridge Syrah 2008, from South Africa (Waitrose, £6.99). Quite simply, this is the best example of this grape available anywhere at this price in the UK. It's ripe and sweet, but it has a lovely savoury, meaty dimension to it. In some ways, it's a fusion of the old world (meaty, savoury, floral aromatics) with the new (bold, sweet, ripe and mouthfilling). I really like it. You owe it to yourself to go and buy a bottle and give it a try.

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Wednesday, August 19, 2009

St Paul's and football

Just back from a very warm game of football. There were nine of us, so we doubled up with the guys who play on the pitch next to us and played eight a side (they were seven). It's a good number - especially if, like us, you play on a large pitch. The game is played in a very good spirit: competitive, but always with respect for the opposition. For me, this means that a crunching tackle that leaves an opponent flat on the ground is followed by a handshake and an apology. I'm still red faced, though, an hour after the game. However, I must report that my workrate has improved since Fiona and I began running together every second day. We may be incredibly old, but we're not going down without a fight...

On a beautifully hot day (how much would I pay for this weather on Friday when I'm going to the Oval for day two of the final Ashes test) I found myself in St Paul's Cathedral. We're so used to amazing sights and experiences these days that we take this sort of place in our stride. But imagine how it must have looked to someone back in 1697 when the first service was held here. To someone from that time, this would have been a mind-blowing edifice, with its scale, the intricate, beautiful interior decoration, and the cavernous dome. [Forgive the camera phone picture above - it's all I could get because they get very upset if you try to use a proper camera inside the cathedral.]

I'm trying a great value Shiraz from the Languedoc: Asda Extra Special Shiraz from Jean Claude Mas. Brilliant stuff: ripe and meaty. And you can often get this for £5 (regular price is, I think from memory £6.07).

Another lovely Australian Cabernet: Howard Park

Continuing my mini-obsession with Aussie Cabernet, here's a brilliant one from Margaret River producer Howard Park. It's from the Wilyabrub sub region.

Howard Park Leston Cabernet Sauvignon 2007 Margaret River
18 months in French oak; 14% alcohol. Elegant, bright sweet berry and blackcurrant nose with some gravelly, minerally notes adding a savoury dimension. Sweet but spicy, minerally palate with elegant midweight berry fruits. Beautifully proportioned, showing great balance between the fruit and the oak, and with lovely earthy, savoury undertones. A beautiful wine. 92/100 (£14.99 Bibendum)

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Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Lunch at Scotts

Had a lovely lunch today at Scott's in Mayfair, a really smart slebby fish-oriented restaurant that's part of the Caprice Holdings group (includes Caprice, The Ivy, J Sheekey et al). I was with Charlie Bennett and Emily Monsell of BBR (Emily is behind BBR's excellent blog, while Charlie is in charge of their groundbreaking website) .

Starter of chargrilled squid with green pepper, chiles and preserved lemon was delicious and quite filling. The main of fillet of cod with padron peppers and chorizo was beautifully done, and the flavours meshed well, without the chorizo overpowering, which it sometimes does in these sorts of dishes. Overall experience of Scott's was very positive.

To drink we had a lovely Sylvaner Vieilles Vignes 2007 from biodynamic Alsace producer Andre Ostertag. This was quite pure, aromatic, and dry with lovely presence and great food compatibility.


Monday, August 17, 2009

Impressive Cab Merlot from Margaret River

Continuing with the Aussie Cab theme, here's a really delicious Margaret River Cabernet Merlot from a producer I'd never heard of before. I suppose this is excusable: Flametree are new kids on the block, and the previous vintage of this wine was their first - it ended up winning the prestigious Jimmy Watson trophy. Flametree wines are being brought into the UK by new online retailer Auswineonline.co.uk.

Flametree Cabernet Merlot 2008 Margaret River
Vibrant aromatic nose with gravelly-edged sweet blackcurrant fruit, and some attractive floral notes. The fresh, bright palate shows sweet blackcurrant and stewed plum fruit with a hint of richness and more of that gravelly character. There's quite a bit of tannic structure here. It's a fresh, perfumed, midweight style with a lovely expressive personality. Very Margaret River in style. 91/100 (£12.50 http://www.auswineonline.co.uk/)

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Sunday, August 16, 2009

Victoria Moore's Guardian column goes technical

Respect to Guardian wine columnist Victoria Moore for putting some hardcore technical material on screwcaps into her most recent piece here. She's done her research, and as a good journalist hasn't just trotted out the party line, but formed her own opinion.

Unfortunately, she's been let down by her subs. As well as putting the price for Lawson's Dry Hills Riesling in at £1.99 (didn't they think to check this rather low figure?), they've also changed the last sentence in the third from last paragraph and reversed the meaning - see whether you can spot this!

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Coonawarra Cabernet

Australian Cabernet Sauvignon is sometimes underrated. Coonawarra and Margaret River are the two regions acknowledged to do best with this variety, but I'd plead for the inclusion of the Clare Valley into this list, because I just love Clare Cab.

I used to think I could tell the difference between Margaret River and Coonawarra, but after the Landmark Tutorial, where we had a few wines blind, I'm not so sure. Anyway, here's a fairly serious Coonawarra Cabernet. It's beautifully expressive with the Coonawarra character in spades, but for some it may be just a little too extreme and full-on. This level of intensity seems to be the Majella style.

Majella Coonawarra Cabernet Sauvignon 2006
14.5% alcohol. Very sweet brooding blackcurrant and berry fruit nose with some savoury, gravelly, spicy notes. Rich but still distinctly Coonawarra in style. The palate is dense and spicy with fresh lemony acidity under the ripe, sweet fruit, which has a savoury, earthy character. A delicious wine with real impact. 91/100 (£14.99 Oddbins)

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Saturday, August 15, 2009

NWR: Les Paul (guitars)

As a guitarist, I was sorry to see the passing of Les Paul this week. While I'm unfamiliar with the man and his music, his name is on one of the two definitive types of electric guitar.
It's fascinating that of all the different styles of electric guitar, there are just two main types: the Gibson Les Paul (twin humbucker pickups, glued on neck, fixed bridge, slightly shorter scale length) and the Fender Stratocaster (three single coil pickups with a five-way selector switch, bolt on neck, tremelo bridge, longer scale length). [Perhaps I'm being a little unfair to the Telecaster here.]

Guitarists are usually either Les Paul or Stratocaster. I'm more Les Paul. I've never owned a strat, but I've nothing against them.

But it seems that the Gibson Les Paul may not have had all that much to do with Les Paul himself, and that he had limited input into the wonderful design that he put his name to. Even so, his name will be on the lips of guitarists for generations to come.

The future of newspapers

Thanks to Tim Atkin and his tweeting for alerting me to a a brilliant column in The Guardian by Simon Jenkins. It's about the future of newspapers.

He rightly points out that they are in peril, and suggests that 'paywalls' (charging for content) may not be the answer.
At present the newspaper industry is like the British army retreating on Dunkirk. As before Wapping, it asks only how many boats might there be for survivors, two titles or perhaps three?

Instead, he proposes a different future, and I really like the direction he is proposing.
They [newspapers] have let the torch of cultural championship pass to a new generation of promoters and impresarios. Local newspapers are quietly dying when they should be staging everything from commercial fairs to sporting events and arts and book festivals. There is money in all of them. Newspapers should not be investing in fancy printing presses but in the "long-tail" economics of live enterprise, with the printed word as a mere core activity.

Could it be that what Jenkins is proposing for newspapers also applies to other content-based media? It's a really interesting discussion.


A wonderful Swiss white

Humagne Rouge, Humagne Blanche, Heida, Petit Arvine, Cornalin, Amigne, Lafenetscha and Resi. These are all wonderful old Swiss grape varieties from the canton of Valais, and the chances are you've never heard of them, let alone tasted them. In conjunction with Swiss wine writer Chandra Kurt (who I've spent time with in Portugal, Austria and London), Provins Valais are releasing a series of wines based on these varieties.

They're titled 'Collection Chandra Kurt', and this Heida is my first look at them. It's a brilliant wine, and Chandra should be pleased to be associated with this. I've tasted a reasonable number of Swiss wines before (see here), and I like them a good deal. I'd really like to try the Cornalin and Humagne Rouge from this series.

Provins Valais Heida Collection Chandra Kurt 2008 Valais, Switzerland
The Heida grape variety is also known as Savagnin or Paien, and it's one of the mountain varieties. Here, at 1150 m it has still attained a heady alcohol level of 14%. This is a beautiful wine. The nose is fresh and minerally, with apricot, nectarine and melon fruit adding richness. The palate is fresh yet beautifully textured, with a smoky, minerally edge to the pure, crisp yet generous fruit. It's full flavoured and focused with potential for further development. Very pure. 91/100


Friday, August 14, 2009

Video: tasting three great Syrahs from South Africa

Here's a clip of me tasting three rather good Syrah/Shiraz wines from South Africa. I've had half a dozen over the last week, and they've all exceeded my expectations. Less of the South African character, more purity to the fruit, and some personality, too.

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Get out your soda stream: bottled versus tap water

Was a guest on BBC Breakfast this morning. The subject? Tap versus bottled water. Bottled water is under fire for being environmentally questionable, and many people say it's unnecessary when we have good quality tap water. Sales of bottled water are falling.

We did a taste test on camera, with the two presenters and another guest. All four of us, blind, preferred the tap water at the BBC to an unnamed bottled water. It was quite funny, although not terribly scientific.

It made me think that I should try and locate our old soda stream. Then we'd be able to have sparkling tap water with dinner!

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Carchelo: two modern Spanish reds from Jumilla

I've been trying quite a few Oddbins wines of late. My impression is that the buying is pretty good across the board now - before, Oddbins did well in the new world, but was a bit of a shocker when it came to France. Now even France seems to be improving. Here's a pair of modern Spanish reds from Bodegas Carchelo, that, refreshingly, are fruit driven and unspoiled by too much oak. The packaging is distinctive, too. Don't cellar for too long: these are sealed with white plastic corks.

Bodegas Carchelo Altico Syrah 2007 Jumilla, Spain
Very sweet, almost liqueur-like blackberry, dark cherry and blackcurrant nose with subtly cedary, earthy notes. The palate is sweet and lush with ripe, soft, jammy fruit and a subtle earthiness in the background. The oak (4 months in French) is in the background. While it's a very ripe, almost late-harvest style, there's still some freshness. Quite delicious, although it is super-ripe. 89/100 (£10.99 Oddbins)

Bodegas Carchelo 'Carchelo' 2008 Jumilla, Spain
A blend of 40% Monastrell, 40% Tempranillo, 20% Cabernet Sauvignon. Sweet herby, minerally, spicy edge to the lush, sweet raspberry and cherry fruit nose Very seductive. The palate shows lovely spicy, minerally definition to the sweet fruit. Lovely purity of fruit, unencumbered by oak (it spends just 2 months in French oak). 89/100 (£8.99 Oddbins)

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Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Serving temperature for reds: cool them down, dude

Tonight is warm. At 11.30 pm the room temperature here was 23 Centigrade. This means that wines at room temperature are going to be too warm to appreciate at their best.

I know it sounds nerdy, but wine temperature really does make a difference. Whites I don't have much of a problem with: I serve them from the fridge, and they then warm up a bit. While 4 C (fridge temperature) is a bit too cool, after a short while, they're fine. The only time I have an issue with white wine serving temperature is at trade tastings where the wines are frequently left in an ice bucket with an ice/water combination: this is a really effective way of cooling the wines to around 0 C, which is far too low, and makes tasting a waste of time. I'd rather taste white wines too warm than too cold.

With reds, people just don't think enough. Often, in restaurants, the wines are served warm - even hot. And they're totally rubbish when they are warm. Most reds are best at about 18 C. 20 C isn't usually a problem, but any higher makes them taste mushy and unstructured. Some reds are better at around 15 C.

The difficulty with chilling warm reds is that you can take them too far, so that they're at around 12 C (which is what I've just done with a pair of reds that I whacked in the freezer for 20 minutes). Oh well, they'll warm up again.

Recently on the main wineanorak site

Recently on the main wineanorak site, just in case you missed it:

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

A 90+ point Lambrusco - incredible!

This is the stage where you begin to think that I've lost it. I go crazy over ...Lambrusco! But this is the real deal; one of the most enjoyable wines I've drunk this year. It's just barmy, and I love it.

Camillo Donati Lambrusco 2008
A biodynamically grown, bottle-fermented Lambrusco weighing in at 12% alcohol. It's deep coloured, with sweet, complex pure dark cherry notes on the nose as well as a subtle meatiness and some lovely floral notes. The palate is focused, fresh and meaty with lovely presence and a slight fizziness. Rich and sweet, but with some savoury earthy notes under the dark fruits. Amazingly dense and savoury; a million miles away from cheap Lambrusco. Truly world class. 92/100 (Les Caves de Pyrene)

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Monday, August 10, 2009

New cheese discovery: Ilha Graciosa

Over the last few weeks I've made a new cheese discovery. It's a Portuguese cheese called Ilha Graciosa, which, as you might expect from the name, hails from the Azores island of Graciosa.

It's a medium hard cheese made from cow's milk with a creamy, almost buttery texture, and a wonderfully spicy character along with hints of vanilla and herbs.

Writing cheese tasting notes is fraught with peril: the same cheese will change in taste, texture and character with the season, as the diet of the animal producing the milk changes. The microbiology of the individual lot will differ a bit, also.

Anyway, the three lots of this cheese that I've enjoyed (it is stocked by Waitrose in the UK) have all been fantastic, and the last two chunks have been especially spicy.

Wine match? I'd go for a sweet new world red wine, or a richly textured white, such as an oaked Chardonnay or a bold Pinot Gris. It might also work with a Mosel Riesling Spatlese.


Superb Portuguese white

Portugal's red wines tend to get more attention than the whites. I'm guilty here: my recent 50 Great selection had just five whites in it, if I recall correctly, and all from the Minho. Here's a superb white from the master of Dão.

Quinta da Pellada Primus 2007 Dão, Potugal
From Alvaro Castro, this is a serious white wine. It’s made from old vine Encruzado, Cercial and Bical. Castro is trying to replicate a great 1964 white he had, made by CEN (Centro de Estudos Vitivinícolas de Nelas) oenologist Cardoso de Vilhena. Castro has been strongly influenced by Vilhena, who he believes was a brilliant winemaker. This, the second release (2006 was first vintage) has a beautiful, intriguing nose: floral and herbal with lemon oil and waxy notes. Refined fruit character dominates the palate, which has lovely depth and intensity. There’s a rich herby complexity as well as some spice. It only has a hint of oak. Just a baby, this will develop beautifully and could age well for a long time. It’s a shame to drink it so young, really. 92/100 (£28 Castas, http://www.castas.co.uk/)

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Sunday, August 09, 2009

A fresh, peppery Crozes-Hermitage

Supermarket Crozes-Hermitage can be pretty anonymous, but here's a really nice one that I enjoyed. I'd buy it again.

Crozes-Hermitage Beaufeuil 2008 Northern Rhone, France
Really fresh cherry fruit nose with a distinctive pepper character. The palate shows really attractive bright cherry fruit with some grippy tannins under the sweet fruit as well as nice meaty savouriness. Midweight, fresh and delicious, this is lovely cool climate Syrah that's expressive and quite elegant. 89/100 (£8.99 Morrisons)

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Saturday, August 08, 2009

Domaine de Chevalerie: fantastic Loire reds

I'm a huge fan of red wines from the Loire, which, when they're good, are fantastically fresh and characterful. I'm almost always in the mood for a good Loire red, which is something I can't say for all wine styles. Here are two brilliant wines from Domaine de Chevalerie, which is owned by the Caslot family: Pierre, Stephanie and Emmanuel. This domaine is currently in conversion to organics (will be certified by Ecocert from the 2009 vintage) and is experimenting with biodynamics. It's definitely a domaine to watch.

Domaine de Chevalerie 'Galichets' 2006 Bourgeuil
Just lovely. Pure, sweet blackcurrant and dark cherry fruit with some grippy, savoury gravelly notes sitting in there beautifully with the sweet fruit. Rich, with good concentration, but also lovely freshness and definition. Good tannic structure. 91/100 (Les Caves de Pyrene, £16.99 Handford)

Domaine de Chevalerie 'Chevalerie' 2006 Bourgeuil
From southwest facing 70 year old vines on sandy clay over limestone. Beautiful wine. Lovely full aromatic nose of dark cherries, blackcurrants and smooth chalky gravelly notes which add definition. The palate is midweight with elegant fruit and silky-yet-firm tannins. Supple and quite complex, this is a delicious wine with a sense of place. 91/100 (£14.60 Berry Bros & Rudd)

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Friday, August 07, 2009

"You don’t sell wine, you sell deals"

Doug Wregg of Les Caves de Pyrene recently wrote a provocative piece looking at the way deals are done in the off-trade. You can read it here.

Have you ever wondered why many restaurant/gastropub wine lists are just so appallingly bad? To paraphrase Geoffrey Boycott, when I look at the list plopped in front of me in an average establishment, my first thought is: 'my granny could do better than that with a stick of rhubarb.' And the people running these joints are supposed to be food and wine professionals.

Well, it seems that one of the reasons for this sort of poor performance is the deals that are struck that have nothing to do with the quality of the wine.
Here is an example of the shenanigans that go on when contacts are bid for. A group of three local pub restaurants is currently signed up to a single wine company – the usual penny-pinching discounted prices plus 3% retro as gravy. A fourth site is purchased and the contract comes up for renewal. The incumbent company offers a continuation of the existing generous arrangement, another very large company tenders £5,000 for the full contract of the four sites, and then one of their rivals, a specialist in spirits, minerals and beers trumps that with £7,000. After some haggling the second company reduces their offer to £5,500 whilst the original wine company stumps up £2,000 to keep the wine business in the form of an opening credit note. The contract, by the way, is for one year only.

Who suffers? The honest wine merchants whose business is squeezed by the wine bribery of others, the customer who is being sold a pup, and finally the consumers who have to drink the narrow selection of overmarked-up mediocrity. It is counter-intuitive to sacrifice quality and loyalty on the altar of short-term greed. The restaurants that take their customers for granted are making a big mistake.


A biodynamic Vacqueyras

I'm acutely aware that some really interesting wine regions are a bit neglected on this blog. It's not my deliberate policy to ignore any particular region - it just happens. One of the regions I should be giving more space to is the Southern Rhone, with its fantastic Grenache-based blends and intriguing, ageworthy whites. Here's a tasty, relatively affordable biodynamic Vacqueyras that I liked.

Domaine Montirius Vacqueyras Garrigues 2006 Southern Rhone, France
Deep coloured, this has a lovely spicy, peppery nose with sweet blackberry fruit together with a hint of meatiness and just a touch of mint. The palate is rich and ripe with lovely savoury spiciness and some earthy hints. Ripe but savoury: this is what you come to the southern Rhone for. 90/100 (£11.95 BBR)

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Thursday, August 06, 2009

Good news for Chilean winemakers

Michael Cox from wines of Chile has just sent through the following information, based on Nielsen data for the UK market:

  • Despite only modest growth in total wine market Chile’s sales are growing faster with increases in the past year of +7% by volume and +15% by value
  • Chile's market share is at its higher ever with 8.2% by volume and 7.9% by value (France and Australia are falling substantially)
  • Chile making strong progress in the Independent sector with growth of +25% by volume and +27% by value
  • Chile sales above £5 are at their highest ever with growth over last year of +40%. Sales over £5 now exceed 1 million cases and represent 13% of total Chile sales (last year it was 10%)
  • Chile's average bottle price is at its highest ever at £4.13
  • In a rapidly shrinking on-trade wine market Chile’s sales are up +4%, one of only 3 countries to show growth. Its share has risen to 9.5% - the highest ever

The secret of Chile's success? I think it's that the wines offer good value for money and meet customer expectations at their price points. The Chilean industry seems innovative and attentive to the demands of export markets - most of the big players seem willing to listen and also willing to all pull together for the greater good. There's a relative lack of internal politics - at least of the disruptive, problematic source. And it helps that Chile's biggest wine company, Concha y Toro, do such good work with their wines.
However, I suspect that many readers of this blog - I'm talking here about wine nuts - don't buy many Chilean wines. Chile still struggles in its fine wine dimension. Of course, you could argue, with the commercial success it enjoys, why bother with a fine wine dimension at all?


I broke my leverpull!

I've been using my Screwpull Leverpull cork-removing-device (you can't really call it a plain 'corkscrew') for some years now. It has been through three teflon-coated worms (the spiral screw bit), and I've been careful not to use it for synthetic corks (which tend to strip the coating from the screw). But it has failed on me: a substantial bit of metal has snapped clean through. Must have been metal fatigue. I wonder whether I can get it replaced? Or is that an unfair expectation?

Le Creuset say they give a 10 year guarantee for this model (here).

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Rotundone: a chemical in wine responsible for pepper aromas

The Australian Wine Research Institute is responsible for some of the best wine research currently being done. One recent, newsworthy project has been the identification of a compound responsible for pepperiness in Australian Shiraz. Called rotundone, it is found in lots of herbs and vegetables, and it’s incredibly potent. For example, just 5 mls of rotundone would be enough to make all wine in Australia taste spicy. Finding it in wine is tricky, though, because of this potency: it’s like trying to identify one person out of six billion. Technically speaking, rotundone is a sesquiterpene.

The aim of this research? It’s to provide Australian winemakers or viticulturalists with the management techniques to be able to moderate spiciness in their wines. However, it’s also of interest that a proportion of people – as many as a fifth – simply can’t smell rotundone. This is one of the most fascinating of all the findings to me. The AWRI researchers state:
Whereas most of the sensory panelists were sensitive to rotundone, approximately
20% could not detect this compound, even in water, at the highest concentration tested (4000 ng/L). Thus, the sensory experience of two consumers enjoying the same glass of Shiraz wine or sharing the same meal seasoned with pepper might be very different. The variation in individual sensitivity to rotundone suggests that the way wines containing this compound are assessed by consumers or wine judges could vary substantially from one person to another. Similarly, the flavor perception of ground pepper might vary considerably among consumers. This is supported by the common practice of pepper being placed on the table or offered to individuals by restaurant waiters

You can access the original research papers here and here.

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Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Nespresso? At the Fat Duck?

I was shocked to find out that The Fat Duck, regularly voted one of the world's top restuarants, has sold out its coffee operation to Nespresso (see here and here). It's not that I think Nespresso (the pod coffee system owned by Nescafe) is evil or particularly bad. But according to the coffee geeks I've spoken to, it just isn't terribly good. And for a restaurant like the Fat Duck, you'd expect them to be perfectionist about everything. Including the coffee.

From the Nespresso website:

"A coffee that appeals to the greatest chefs
Heston Blumenthal, chef of the renowned English Michelin-3-star restaurant "The Fat Duck", succumbed to the exceptional quality of Nespresso coffees, which - in his opinion - are meant to be tasted like great wines: first with the eyes, then with the nose and finally with the mouth."

So why have 18 of the world's top 50 restaurants (or thereabouts) opted for Nespresso and their exclusive coffee supplier? It may be because of the convenience of these systems for a busy restuarant (this I'd understand for a less exalted establishment), but isn't it more likely to be because Nespresso have specifically targeted these top restaurants, and are rumoured to pay a fee for this exclusivity. [Note added later: since I posted this, a PR company working for Nespresso have denied that there is any payment for exclusivity at restaurants using Nespresso.]

I think it's a nutty decision.

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Wine marketing: "stories rule"

I'm currently turning my thoughts to marketing wine. Specifically, can wine's 'naturalness' be used to help sell it? Do people care whether wine is produced sustainably, with a natural approach in the cellar?

I came across this wonderful quote from Seth Godin:

“Stories rule. Stories make us vote, or buy an iPod or give money to a charity. Stories trump science very time.”

With wine, what sort of stories can we tell? I think they are crucial if you want your wine to resonate with consumers. The stories must be true, they must be engaging, and they must be easily remembered. And how can we tell those stories? I think modern forms of communication make this achievable. You want to engage with your customers, and get them talking about you. But to do this your wine must be remarkable, and have a good story. While we face difficult economic times, there are great opportunities available for anyone who is prepared to step up to the plate with a product worth talking about.


Monday, August 03, 2009

The Glasshouse, Kew, with Patricio Middleton of MontGras

Got a text this morning from Ben Smith of Enotria, reminding me of today's lunch date with him and Patricio Middleton (MD of Chilean operation MontGras). In the chaos of holiday season I'd clean forgotten about it, but it was a nice surprise to find myself with the prospect of lunch at The Glasshouse (http://www.glasshouserestaurant.co.uk/) in Kew.

Patricio (above) is a very smart guy, but he's also delightful company. His interests extend beyond wine: he's over here to compete in the Fastnet sailing race that takes place shortly. This makes him a pretty hardcore sailor. MontGras have an interesting strategy: rather than build the MontGras brand, their approach has been to build a portfolio of brands from around Chile. The roster includes MontGras, Ninquen, Intriga and Amaral. Of the wines we tried, the Amaral Sauvignon and Chardonnay from Leyda really impressed, with their aromatic intensity and freshness. With Patricio at the helm (sorry!), this is a winery that we should be watching.

This was my first trip to The Glasshouse, and I was really impressed. It had a laid back feel to it, yet it delivered a high-end dining experience. I had the two signature dishes. For the starter, the warm salad of wood pigeon with balsamic vinegar and deep fried truffled egg (above), which was just beautifully executed and also quite substantial. The wood pigeon was perfectly done.

Then, for the main, a remarkably presented assiette of pork with apple tarte fine, choucroute and madeira jus. This was topped off with a slice of fried pancetta, and included a wedge of black pudding as well as a chunk of sausage, sitting on a sort of sauerkraut base. This wasn't quite in the same league as the wood pigeon salad (the flavours didn't complement each other as well), but it was still lovely.

I want to go there again, soon. I reckon it's probably the nearest high-end restaurant to my home, too. (Actually, it's probably equidistant to Chiswick's La Trompette. Both are brilliant.)

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Sunday, August 02, 2009

Vesuvio vertical

Quinta do Vesuvio, in Portugal's Douro Superior, makes some of the best vintage Ports of all. A while back, I was lucky enough to have a pretty much complete vertical tasting of the recent era (the Symington's purchased the property in 1989). These are seriously good Ports, and my write up is here.

Pictured above is the view of the property from the river. This photo was taken back in July 2006 when, as part of the Quinta de la Rosa centenary celebrations, we enjoyed a train ride up to Pocino, and then a boat ride back down to Pinhao.
It was a scorchingly hot day, and many of us decided to have a swim in the Douro. After disembarking, I remember swimming again, in the pool at Bomfim and drinking beer with Luis Antunes, before a low-key dinner where Jorge Moreira poured from a magnum of Batuta 2004, after which there was a power cut. The following evening was the crazy party, which went on pretty much all night. Great memories.

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Essence of Touriga Nacional

Portugal's most famous grape variety is Touriga Nacional. I really like it, but it is an angular grape that sometimes performs best as part of a blend. The two most successful regions for this variety are the Douro (on schist soils) and the Dao (on granite-based soils). Here's a brilliant - but angular - Dao version of Touriga Nacional, which captures the lovely floral signature of this variety.

Falorca T-nac 2005 Dao, Portugal
This is a really good example of Dao Touriga Nacional from Quinta Vale das Escadinhas. It's just so typical of really good Touriga, even though it's a slightly edgy wine that won't be to everyone's taste. Lovely meaty, spicy, olivey, sweetly fruited nose with enticing floral notes that are so typical of this variety. The palate is concentrated with firm tannins and robust, spicy, meaty fruit backed up by good structure. Dense, firm and wild with lovely depth of flavour. 92/100 (£12.99 Castas.co.uk, also available from Armit)

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Saturday, August 01, 2009

Delicious SA Sauvignon at a good price

I've been slightly concerned by the direction that South African Sauvignon Blanc seems to have taken of late. The emphasis has been shifted towards methoxypyrazines - the grape-derived compounds that give that grassy, green pepper character. Now these can be positive in small doses, but when they're the main flavour signature, it's a bit yukky.

Here's a brilliantly balanced SA Sauvignon, that's also great value for money. It's from Warwick, who call themselves 'Warwick Estate' on the label where the grapes are estate grown, but here are just 'Warwick', presumably because the grapes are not all from the property: in South Africa, the term estate has a specific meaning.

Warwick Professor Black Sauvignon Blanc 2008 Stellenbosch, South Africa
This is a delicious, well balanced Sauvignon showing a mix of ripe, melony, peachy fruit with crisper herby, grassy, grapefruity notes. The overall effect is a wine that manages to be ripe and rich, yet fresh and crisp at the same time. Very stylishly done: one of the very best Cape Sauvignons around, and from far the most expensive. At the offer price, it's a total bargain. 89/100 (£8.99 Waitrose, currently on offer at £6.79)

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NWR: mobile phones

Both our kids have much better phones that Fiona and I do.

Younger son has an LG Cookie KP500 touch phone. He's pretty good with his possessions, but a few weeks ago fell onto his phone and killed the LCD screen. I was a soft Dad and, after finding out the cost of repair (c £45) bought him a new one, and then sold his old phone on Ebay. It raised £31, which I thought was remarkable because the new phone was just £80. [For what the cookie offers, this makes it brilliant value.]

Older son has today bought an LG Viewty with his birthday money. Like the cookie, it's a touch screen phone, but it has a better camera and some more features, and cost him a shade under £100. Again, a lot of technology for the money.

My phone is an LG KC550, which isn't as good as either of theirs. It has a decent camera (5 MP), but mobile phone cameras are always going to be pretty rubbish because of the problem of small sensor size and pixel crowding, so I only use it in emergencies. But, as a phone, it works fine.

I guess the issue I will need to face at some stage is picking up emails on my phone, which might necessitate a plunge to a blackberry. I'm not really enthusiastic about the iPhone. People whose technical knowledge I respect are getting very excited about the Palm Pre, which hasn't yet hit the UK. Unfortunately, it will be exclusive to O2 in the UK, which will make it expensive to use, I suspect.