jamie goode's wine blog: September 2009

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

A brilliant natural wine from the Rhône

I wanted something decent to drink tonight, so I opted for a delicious natural wine from the Rhône. It's made by a dude in Tavel by the name of Eric Pfifferling, who you can read more about here. No sulfur dioxide is added during the vinification, although there's an outside chance that a small amount is added at bottling (the label says, 'contains sulfites', but this might just be precautionary - yeasts can make SO2). Like many natural wines, it is elegant, bright, complex and utterly drinkable. There's an amazing purity to it: with some wines you feel as though you are tasting through a veil; here, all the flavours are uncovered and laser-sharp. And I hate scoring wines like these: it just seems wrong.

L’Anglore Cuvée de la Pierre Chaude NV Vin de Table de France
This is a lovely natural wine from the Rhône, made by Eric Pfifferling from 85% Grenache and 15% Clairette, and although this is officially NV because it’s a VdT, it’s from the 2008 vintage. A bright cherry red colour, it has a vibrant, subtly peppery cherry and red berry fruit nose with just a hint of green herbiness, and some alluring sweet earthy notes. The palate is beautifully bright and fresh with red fruits, herbs, some grippy peppery tannins and a lovely, subtly bitter savoury quality that balances the fruitiness quite beautifully. This is a light, expressive, elegant wine that you’d be hard to place in a blind tasting. It’s quite Burgundian, has a touch of Beaujolais about it, but also shows a bit of Rhône character. I really like it, and it’s amazingly easy to drink. 92/100 (UK availability: Les Caves de Pyrene)

It's wines like this that make me want to hot foot it over to Paris, which has an amazing array of cavistes who specialize in vins naturels (see Bertrand's article here for inspiration). Natural wines shouldn't work, but they do!

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Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Lunch with Marcelo Papa, and a very sexy Syrah

Had lunch yesterday with one of Chile's most able and influential winemakers: Marcelo Papa of Concha y Toro. He's in charge of the wines from Chile's largest wine company; fortunately for Chile, Concha over-deliver at every price point.

Their Casillero del Diablo brand is a big one, but the wines are really good. For example, 1.2 million cases of the Cabernet Sauvignon 2008 were made, but quality isn't compromised. With such large volumes, three blends of this are usually made during the year. 'I try to make them as similar as possible,' says Marcelo.

We met in the Kensington Wine Rooms (nearest tube: Notting Hill Gate) which was impressive. The food was excellent - good modern bistro style - and they have five enomatic wine preserver machines, which means that they are able to offer tasting pours (currently these are illegal measures, but this is about to change) of a wide range of wines, in the same way that The Sampler in Islington currently does.

Marcelo's main theme? It's the move away from the central wine regions (e.g. Colchagua, Rapel, Maipo, Maule) to the newer coastal regions (San Antonio, Leyda, Elqui, Limari, Casablanca) for white wines. The key to this shift has been water availability, and the result of moving to cooler coastal areas has been much better whites. Watch out for the new wave of Chilean white wines!

But of all the wines we tried, it was a red that really wowed me. It's the Maycas del Limari Syrah Reserva Especial 2006 Limari Valley. At £12.49 in Majestic this is a total bargain. Marcelo had decanted it, and it was showing amazing texture, richness and elegance, with loads of sweet dark fruit and persistent but fine-grained tannic structure. If Majestic have any left (they only have it in about half their stores), then this a definite buy.

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Champagne bubbles, take two: on the BBC news

Earlier this evening I did a slot on BBC news on the Champagne story. I was asked to bring some Champagne and glasses in as props. I'd tweeted that I was making the appearance, and a very proactive PR working for Champagne Lanson responded by sending me a couple of bottles to take in.

Unfortunately, strict BBC editorial guidelines meant that they weren't allowed to show the bottle, and after some deliberation it was decided that the presenters weren't allowed to try the fizz on air. Apparently, with all the issues surrounding expenses and the use of public money, the prospect of having presenters drink Champagne on camera was a step too far.

The slot itself was pushed back by some horrible west London traffic and a breaking story, but just before 9 pm we were live. It went really well: it was one of those on camera slots where it's all relaxed and has some energy of its own. I've done a few of these now, and I don't even have a glimmer of nerves, which make the whole experience rather enjoyable. I was sorely tempted to drink the Champagne, though: it just smelt so good.

Lanson is good stuff. It's very acidic and fresh, because there's no malolactic fermentation. But the aromatics are lovely, and it's fun to find out that the aromatic qualities of Champagne are in part because of these tiny flavour-bearing aerosols that break off from the surface as the bubbles pop.

[Thanks to Warren Edwardes of Wine for Spice for the screen grab.]

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Monday, September 28, 2009

Champagne bubbles in the news

A scientific paper in journal PNAS (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA), published tomorrow morning (embargoed until 8pm today), looks at the nature of the bubbles in Champagne and sparkling wines.

As they rise to the surface, they aerosolize, carrying very fine droplets bearing flavour molecules, which we can then smell. The authors of this paper identified the compounds present in these fine aerosols, showing that they are important in the perception of fizz.

There's a nice BBC news story on this here, which I contributed to.

The actual research paper is:

Gerard Liger-Belair, Clara Cilindre, Regis D. Gougeon, Marianna Lucio, Istvan Gebefugi, Philippe Jeandet, and Philippe Schmitt-Kopplin 2009 Unraveling different chemical fingerprints between a champagne wine and its aerosols. PNAS 106: 16545–16549

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Video: the Yeatman, a new luxury hotel in Porto

Here's a short film from last week's visit to the new Fladgate Partnership (Taylor, Fonseca, Croft) hotel project, the Yeatman. It's an ambitious and exciting venture, and it's due to be completed early summer 2010.

You can read my full write-up here.

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Sunday, September 27, 2009

Some more from the Douro

Mostly pictures of last week's trip, which will be written up in full.

The Douro's most famous grape variety: Touriga Nacional, here at Quinta de Romaneira.

Yesterday morning. Under the famous cedar tree on the terrace at Quinta do Noval, an awesome tasting of Noval VP and Nacional back to 1963 is laid out.

Margaret Rand and Chris Losh, my fellow tasters, with Christian Seely in the background.

These babies don't come out to play very often. It was a truly incredible tasting. Christian also included the vintages from Noval's dark era, when quality wasn't what it was supposed to be.

Christian contemplates the single, small lagar of 2009 Nacional, which was picked and filled earlier in the day.

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Alcohol regulation: is minimum unit pricing the answer?

Looks like Scotland may soon get further alcohol regulation in the form of a minimum price per unit. According to this BBC news report, a minimum price of 40 p per unit would save many lives. This would make the lowest price for a bottle of wine £3.60.

The alcohol industry has campaigned against this sort of intervention, but the current government sentiment is one where they are almost bound to take some sort of step to lessen the social harm of cheap alcohol.

I was discussing this issue with Chris Losh on the way back from Noval. He's an experienced trade and consumer journalist who has written quite a bit on these issues. Chris reckons that the industry has basically ceded ground to neo-prohibitionists simply because it hasn't come up with any strategies of its own. It has simply opposed every form of regulation that has been proposed.

I agree with Chris that the best form of regulation would be for the drinks trade to campaign for a ban on alcohol price promotion. While this is undoubtedly more complex than it seems initially (Where does it leave bin-end sales? What can show owners do with slow moving stock?), I think it would be the least problematic of all strategies.

It would make it much harder for supermarkets to use drinks as a loss leader. It would create a level playing field [surely there has to be a less tired metaphor than this?] for wine sales. It would do away with these depressing soft brands that are priced artificially high only to be discounted deeply.

And it would force Laithwaites to change their business model, too.

The question is, in the long-run, would the consumer suffer? Do consumers really benefit from price promotions as they are now?

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Saturday, September 26, 2009

More from the Douro

Had a fantastic time at Noval; now on my way back home, logging on in Porto airport. Just time to post a few photographs. This morning we had a vertical of Noval VP/Nacional going back to 1963, which was rather fun.

Top to bottom: Picking Tinta Roriz at Noval; Quinta de Romaneira; Quinta do Noval; picking Nacional; filling a lagar; and a Noval terrace.

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Friday, September 25, 2009

Great value Shiraz, part 8

Here's an elegant, perfumed Syrah from the Languedoc that I really like. Could drink a lot of this: it isn't too heavy, but it has lots of interest. Please forgive the rubbish camera phone picture!

Laurent Miquel Cazal Viel Cuvée des Fées 2007 Languedoc, France
13% alcohol. Lovely aromatics here: sweet, ripe and full with a hint of meatiness. Lovely aromatics and a hint of floral character, as well as red berries and plum. The palate is juicy and bright with nicely poised ripe meaty red fruits. Deliciously drinkable with real personality, and not at all forced. 89/100 (£8.99 Majestic)

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Thursday, September 24, 2009

Great value Shiraz, part 7

Another great Syrah. Now this isn't cheap, but it's great value for what is certainly one of South Africa's top 5 examples of this grape. Buy, buy, buy!

Mullineux Syrah 2008 Swartland, South Africa
A brilliant first vintage from Chris Mullineux. This has a profound nose of sweet dark fruits which provide a backdrop to the meaty, dark olive, spice and black pepper notes. There are real hints of the northern Rhône here, but with a bit more richness. The palate is sweetly fruited and rich with depth and power, showing notes of blackberry, spice, olives and herbs. Quite meaty with a lushness alongside the savoury intensity. Youthful and complex. 93/100 (£16.50 Berry Bros & Rudd)

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In the Douro

For the last few days I have been in the Douro, first of all staying at Taylor´s Quinta de Vargellas, and now at Noval. Harvest is coming to a close here; it has been an early vintage, with a very hot dry July and August. Winemakers are describing it as complicated. The weather for this week has been very hot and sunny.

Last night a group of us got in a lagar. It was tremendous fun treading grapes. I have so much to report on, but time is short, so it will all have to wait.

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Wednesday, September 23, 2009

A Pinotage I quite liked: eye-gouging Meerkat

I usually find Pinotage a bit repulsive, but occasionally I find one that works, and this is one such (rare) occurrence. It's from Schalk Burger, father of the eye-gouging rugby player of the same name.

Actually, I had a PR working for Decanter contacting me about one of Burger wines (which won an award), in which they treated the eye gouging incident as some sort of breezy intro to their puff. It's actually an utterly disgusting incident and Schalk junior should have been banned from Rugby for a long time, not just 8 weeks, which is the ban he received. I was tempted not to review this wine for that reason.

Schalk Burger and Sons Meerkat Pinotage 2008 Wellington, South Africa
14% alcohol. Rich, intense and spicy, with some herby notes, and a core of delicious forward blackberry fruit. There are hints of chocolate and coffee. It's a delicious, non-funky version of Pinotage with lots of flavour. 86/100 (UK agent Thierrys)

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Great value Shiraz, part 6

Here's another great value Shiraz. Not as cheap as the previous recommendations I've made in this mini-series, but well worth the asking price. I really like this wine. As with many Gimblett Gravel reds, it has wonderful freshness allied to ripeness. I'm almost always in the mood to drink wines like this.

Villa Maria Cellar Selection Syrah 2007 Gimblett Gravels, Hawkes Bay, New Zealand
I love this wine, which shows beautiful focus. Fresh, sweet, pure dark cherry and blackberry fruit on the nose with a white pepper edge. The palate is juicy and bright with cherry and berry fruit, as well as some savoury peppery structure. Good acidity too. Sweet and rich in part, but savoury, juicy and fresh. Brilliant. 92/100 (Wine Rack £14.99 but £9.99 if you buy three)

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In Porto

A quick post from the road. I'm in Porto, staying at the Pestana hotel (below) on the waterfront, looking over to the town of Vila Nova de Gaia where all the Port lodges are located. The Pestana is a lovely hotel. The last time I stayed here in 2002 it was called the Carlton.

Last night we dined at the Factory House with Adrian and Natasha Bridge. It's a huge building that used to be the hub of the English Port Trade, liberated from the French in 1811. It is still owned and used by the English Port shippers, but there are now just three companies left because of mergers and consolidation: the Symingtons, the Taylor-Fladgate group, and newcomer Churchill.

Still decorated as it would have been 100 years ago, the Factory House is a piece of living history.

Every Wednesday the shippers would gather for lunch, drinking Port together, and playing guess the vintage. Wednesday was chosen because this was the day when no post arrived, so there wasn't much work to be done.

The Port last night? Fonseca 1970 from magnum. It was superb.

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Monday, September 21, 2009

Film vs. TV: State of Play

As well as Julie and Julia, which I reported on here a couple of days ago, I've seen two enjoyable films recently.

The first was a fantastically creative childrens' film, Cloudy with a chance of meatballs, in 3D. If you have kids, go and see it. It's brilliant.

The second was State of Play, a hollywood adaptation of the excellent BBC series. I really liked the BBC series, one of the best political thrillers of recent years, and so was expecting to be disappointed by the film version. However, I was pleasantly surprised: the film is really good. Tense, engrossing, and not ruined by having seen the TV version first.

But the BBC version is even better, and if you haven't seen it, you should.


More Beeer!

Three more nice beers to review, including a lovely newcomer: the Suffolk Springer.

Greene King Suffolk Springer Dark Ale
6% alcohol. A new beer from Greene King. Deep brown with an orange edge. Very rich toffee and malt nose with some fresh citrus notes. Richly textured palate is sweet, dark and fruity. A bold, full flavoured, warm ale. 8.5/10

Wells Waggle Dance
5% alcohol. Brewed with honey. Bronze colour. Fresh, a bit hoppy and with sweet subtly honeyed character. Nicely fresh, this is very drinkable, and the honey isn't too obtrusive. Pale ale style with added richness. 7.5/10

Young's Bitter Bottle Conditioned
4.5% alcohol. Lovely savoury, bitter ale with real presence and some complexity. Rich but fresh with food compatibility. 7.5/10


Sunday, September 20, 2009

High-end Douro red: Casa Amarela

I'm off to the Douro tomorrow, so I thought it would be appropriate to blog on a high-end Douro red.

Quinta Casa Amarela Reserva 2006 Douro, Portugal
14.5% alcohol. Touriga Franca, Touriga Nacional and Tinta Roriz, aged in new French oak. Sweet, dark intense nose with ripe dark fruits, some spicy notes from the oak and a savoury, mineral edge. The palate shows good concentration of sweet ripe dark cherry and plum fruit with a tarry oak veneer and good acidity and tannic structured. Rich but well structured, with some potential for future development. Well made and modern-styled, showing some oak, but with substance, too. 90/100 (£25.99

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Saturday, September 19, 2009

Julie and Julia

It has been a lovely day here in this part of west London. Unseasonably warm (24 C), and with no wind, it feels foreign. The air seems heavier and stiller than usual, and it cloaks and surrounds in a way that isn't usual here.

Fiona and I went to the cinema, and then took RTL out to Virginia Water (pictured); by this stage the sky was cloudy, with a storm brewing.

We saw Julie and Julia, which is a film I'd wanted to see, and which Fiona had already seen and liked so much she wanted me to see it as well. If she's prepared to watch it twice in a week, that's quite an endorsement.

So Julie (and this is a true-life story) is a blogger who attempts to cook all the recipes in the classic cookbook part authored by Julia Child (Mastering the Art of French Cooking, by Beck, Bertholle and Child). The film is part chronicle of this venture; part biography of Julia Child.

The latter part is more successful, and what really makes this film. Meryl Streep's portrayal of Child is engaging, funny and quite moving. Fairly late in life, while living as an American in Paris, Child falls in love with food, trains as a chef, and goes on to make a collaboration with Beck and Bertholle that results in an iconic cookbook.

The relationship with Julia and her husband Paul is beautifully played, and it's a shame that the same can't be said of the interaction between Julie and her rather wooden husband, which is over-sentimentally portrayed and consists of a series of smart one-liners and relationship cliches.

Overall, though, what comes through in this film is a celebration of the love of flavour, and for this reason, I thoroughly recommend it. [Wine interest? Well, there's quite a bit of wine poured, but nowhere do we see a label, although Julie's Boef Bourgignon is cooked with wine from a Bordeaux-shaped bottle.]

Here are the rather conflicting reviews from The Observer and The Guardian.


Friday, September 18, 2009

Humagne Rouge and Blanche

Some more Swiss wines, from Provins Valais, selected by Swiss journalist Chandra Kurt. In Switzerland these retail for around ChF20.

They're from two grape varieties that share a name, but no genetic relationship. Humagne Blanche is an indigenous variety, while Humagne Rouge is thought to come from Italy’s Val d’Aosta. Both are from the Valais, which is Switzerland’s largest wine Canton (see www.lesvinsduvalais.ch/en/).

Provins Valais Humagne Blanche ‘Collection Chandra Kurt’ 2006 Valias, Switzerland
12.5% alcohol. This is a beautifully balanced rich white wine, with lovely bright floral minerally aromas as well as some rich grapey notes. The palate has lovely texture with some white peach and melon fruit backed up by spicy notes and a mineralic finish. Rich yet fresh, this reminds me of top Alsace Pinot Gris, but perhaps with more delicacy and balance. It’s rich and bold, yet it’s only 12.5% alcohol. Lovely. 90/100

Provins Valais Humagne Rouge ‘Collection Chandra Kurt’ 2006 Valias, Switzerland
13% alcohol. Quite deep cherry colour. There’s a hint of undergrowth to the ripe, cherry-fruited nose, which has an attractive sappy greenness. The palate has some earthy, spicy complexity, but the dominant theme is fresh dark cherries with a lovely elegance . It’s ripe and sweet, yet supple and balanced at the same time. It reminds me of an Austrian St Laurent in terms of personality. Quite Pinot Noir like, with elegant cherry and berry fruit. 89/100


Apply for the 2010 Landmark Australia Tutorial!

Applications are open today for the 2010 Landmark Australia Tutorial. If you are a wine professional, you should apply! It's an amazing experience.


Thursday, September 17, 2009

Clonakilla vertical: one of Australia's new classics

Had lunch today with Tim Kirk of Clonakilla, tasting a vertical of Clonakilla's amazing Shiraz Viognier back to 1997. For those of you unfamiliar with this wine, it's one of Australia's new classics. Clonakilla is based half an hour's drive from Canberra. I visited back in 2006, and I really enjoyed both the wines and also meeting Tim and his father David.

The Shiraz Viognier is a blend of cool-climate Syrah and just a little Viognier - typically 5-6% - and it works perfectly. I found the vertical quite thrilling, because these wines have beautiful floral aromatics, complex red fruit characters and terrific acidity and freshness. They're quite elegant, and they age well.

My favourites included the crazy white pepper infested 1999 (made from a second crop after serious frosts took the first shoots), the brilliant 2001, 2002 and 2005, the amazing rare 2007, and the ethereal 2008.

We're lucky to get any of this wine in the UK (UK agent is Liberty). Tim could happily sell his whole production to his mailing list customers in Australia, and get more for it, too.

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I made some wine this year

I'm embarassed to mention it, but this year I made some wine. One gallon of it. It's from some back garden vines: Phoenix, Bacchus and Pinot Noir.

Because the back garden in question is a sheltered spot and it has been a warm summer here in London, harvest was early. Last weekend, in fact. While Phoenix is a hybrid cross and doesn't suffer from powdery or downy mildew, it sure does suffer from botrytis. I had to do an individual grape selection to discard the botrytised grapes, which you can see above. I know botrytis is prized by some, but I was worried that some of the rot was actually other fungi, perhaps from the rotten plums on our over-laden plum tree.

Pinot Noir suffered a bit from downy mildew, but the fruit was in fine health, with lovely ripe skins. Bacchus was in good health all round. I sprayed both of these with three lots of sulfur early in the season and one application of Bordeaux mixture in July.
Because I have just a small harvest, I decided to combine the white and red grapes and ferment all of them together, with a five day maceration and then pressing off to a solitary demi-john (1 gallon). No sulpur dioxide was added, but because of the worry about getting the odd rotten grape in the must, with all the acetic acid bacteria that would be colonizing the grape, I used a yeast starter culture to get fermentation going quickly. I also chaptalized a little, because some of the Bacchus wasn't all that ripe.

The wine is currently a mid-pink colour. I will report back.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

I love Vouvray

UK importer Richards Walford specialize in the Loire, among other things. Today they put on a treat for trade and press - a tasting of the 2008 Huet Vouvrays, plus a vertical of Huet demi-secs taking in the decades back to the 1940s. My favourite was 1962, but the 1947 was pretty smart, also. The 1957 was remarkably fresh. I didn't really get on with the 1971, which I thought was a bit herbal.

2008s were oustanding across the board. You can just buy these blind in confidence knowing they will taste great now, and great in 20 years, and probably outlive you if you store them well.

Most of these older wines had been reconditioned in the domaine: topped up where necessary, had a small SO2 addition, and then recorked. That's why the labels look so good: they'll have been added fairly recently.

Vouvray is a wine nut's sort of wine. I love it. [And forgive the quality of the picture: I only had my camera phone with me.]

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Social media - let's not over-sell it

You can't go to a big tasting these days without someone plugging social media.

Now don't get me wrong: I'm a huge fan of Twitter and Facebook (and of course blogging, if that counts - I was one of the first wine bloggers in the UK, starting in 2001), and I think you are borderline nuts if you don't use these incredibly useful communication tools.

But I worry that social media is being over-sold to the UK wine trade, most of whom are still trying to get to grips with the internet itself.

Although it may seem to those of us on Twitter and Facebook that we are at the centre of the universe and that the whole world is watching, that simply isn't true.

If you are in the business of selling wine, don't expect social media to save you. [Yet.] Most of your potential customers aren't there. They won't be listening.

I think this will change in the future, however. But it may take five or ten years.

And the other thing to remember is that these are just tools, and tools can be used well or badly. I worry that wine companies will rush to social media, do it clumsily, find it has no effect, and then abandon it. A measured approach is called for, and I reckon that unless you have someone who is prepared to learn (and understand) the medium, and who is a gifted communicator, then perhaps now is not the right time for your company.

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Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Benjamin Wallace discusses the 'Billionaires Vinegar'

As many readers will be aware, US author Benjamin Wallace has written a book on 'fake' wine, titled The Billionaires Vinegar. It focuses on the whole saga of the notorious Jefferson bottles, and is currently the subject of a lawsuit. Here, on an authors@google video, he discusses his book at length.

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Football: Chelsea versus Porto

I quite enjoy attending football matches as a neutral. You can watch the game without a gnawing sensation of anxiety in your stomach, for a start.

Tonight I went to Stamford Bridge to watch Chelsea versus Porto.

On an extremely wet night in west London, both sides tried to play attractive passing football, and although the surface got a bit sticky as the rain kept pouring down, the game was open and quite engrossing.

Chelsea did just enough to win. A solitary Anelka goal early in the second half - he had a second stab at it when his first shot was well saved - was sufficient to see them 1-0 winners. But Porto gave them a few scares, and passed the ball around with confidence.

However, Chelsea just seemed to have a little more quality in most positions. In the absence of Drogba, who was banned, Anelka was very classy. He's not a target man, but instead has wonderful feet, pace, and a great eye for goal.

Chelsea's midfield is compact and solid, but perhaps lacks a bit of flair and width. Essien plays the anchor role really well, and Lampard is very effective going forward, but Ballack seemed a bit out of sorts.

I reckon Chelsea will have a really good season, but I don't think they'll win the premiership if tonight's performance was anything to go by. Porto are a good side, but they won't win the Champions League this year.


Adolfo Hurtado's novel views on minerality

Last Friday, one of the things we discussed with Cono Sur winemaker Adolfo Hurtado was minerality in Chilean Sauvignon Blanc.

He has an interesting theory.

Most of the important Sauvignon Blanc vineyards he works with are close to the sea. For lengthy periods, they are blanketed in coastal fogs. (Pictured above is a fog developing on the Chilean coast.)

These coastal fogs, he claims, are salty. Any iron-containing metal structures near the sea rust almost immediately because of this.

The fog transmits small quantities of salt directly onto the grape skins, and thus the wines have a slight saltiness which presents itself as minerality.

What do you think?

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Monday, September 14, 2009

A tragedy unfolds in Germany's Mosel region

I visited the Mosel for the first time in May. It's one of the world's most spectacular wine regions, making wines that are unique: crisp, mineralic off-dry Rieslings, as well as sweet yet beautifully balanced Rieslings of incredible intensity. It's one of the wonders of the world.

Yet for some bizarre reason, there are plans (now at the very advanced stage) to put a huge great bridge over this viticultural treasure, causing irreperable damage. It's a tragedy.

Mike Steinberger has written a great article on the subject here in Slate magazine, outlining the issues.

This weekend there was a protest against the bridge, with Hugh Johnson (pictured) and leading German wine writer Stuart Pigott delivering speeches.

Who is to blame? It's the Rheinland-Pfalz government. This High Mosel Bridge, carrying the B50 road is, in Johnson's words, 'a folly.' I don't know if anything can be done about this, but if it comes to pass it will be deeply sad.
Added later: here's a video of Hugh's speech -

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Great value Shiraz, part 5

Latest installment in my selection of great value Shiraz, here's another South African.

Zalze Shiraz Mourvèdre Viognier 2008 Western Cape
14.5% alcohol. Great value here. Rich, smooth, pure dark fruits with a lovely meaty, slightly peppery edge. Good focus and bright acidity supporting the bright fruit, with sweetness as well as a more savoury dimension, too. The Viognier seems to add a floral, slightly peachy/fruity appeal to the nose without making it taste confected. A really successful wine of great appeal, and worth at least £2 more then the retail price. (£5.99 Waitrose)

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Sunday, September 13, 2009

Zalto glasses: just beautiful

One thing that true wine nuts get excited about, apart from wine, is the topic of wine glasses.
Riedel are the best known wine glass manufacturer - they make a large range, with specific shapes favouring particular styles of wine. They also make different levels of quality, ranging up to the hand blown Sommeliers, which cost a fortune.

I've recently come across another glass manufacturer whose glasses I really love: Zalto (their website is here). These are truly beautiful hand blown glasses that are amazingly light and delicate, yet quite flexible and resilient, too. I have three of them: the universal white, the universal red and the Burgundy glass. They're expensive at around £25 each, but for such quality, they're excellent value, especially compared with the cost of the Riedel Sommeliers.

Available in the UK from Around Wine


Video: two superb Syrahs: South Africa and New Zealand

A video of me tasting two utterly brilliant Syrahs: Mullineux 2008 (Swartland, South Africa) and Villa Maria Cellar Selection 2007 (Gimblett Gravels, Hawkes Bay, New Zealand). I really liked these wines.

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Saturday, September 12, 2009

Recently on the main wineanorak site

  • Castell'in Villa: Chianti Classico, part 7 - some great wines with the Princess, who refuses to be photographed
  • Top wines from Waitrose: my selection of 43 serious wines from the most recent press tastings by this leading UK supermarket
  • Denbies: reviewing the wines from the UK's largest vineyard
  • Torii Mor: part 15 of the Oregon series
  • Landmark tutorial: session 1, regional classics - the start of my write-up of the remarkable Landmark Australia tutorial that explored Australia's fine wine dimension
  • James Millton: revisiting these amazing Kiwi wines, made by one of the new world pioneers of biodynamics
  • DDO: Drouhin's Oregon outpost
  • JP Fichet: amazing white Burgundies from this Meursault domaine, which I visited in June
Much more to come of course - I'm spending quite a bit of time developing the website at the moment.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Another packed day: focusing on Chile

Another busy day, focusing on Chile.

It began at La Fromagerie in Marylebone, with a tasting of Cono Sur's organic wines with chief winemaker Adolfo Hurtado. We had a long discussion about organics, which was very useful research material for a book chapter, and finished the tasting off with four cheeses from La Fromagerie, matched with the Cono Sur wines.

They were (clockwise from 12 in the photo below) Cabecou du Rocamador (stinky but not too wild goats cheese with a soft rind); Napoleon from Montrejeau in the Pyrenees (a lovely ewe's milk cheese with rich texture and a lovely complex salty character - brilliant stuff, a bit like a softer version of comte); Taleggio di Valbrembana (guey but textured with lovely creamy, salty character, not too strong, very pure); and La Gabietout, Pyrenees (a mix of cow and ewe's milk, creamy, buttery, gentle and a bit nutty).

The wines were really good: solid commercial style with a twist of complexity.
Then it was off to lunch at the Bleeding Heart restaurant with Grant Phelps of Viu Manent, and Doug Wregg of Les Caves (who are the agents for Viu Manent). I think the Viu Manent range is probably the best in Chile: these are serious wines with real structure, good acidity, and loads of personality. Viu Manent's Carmenere, Viognier and Cabernet all excel. Their single-vineyard Malbecs, and their Viu 1 (mostly or all Malbec depending on the vintage) are just world class. I was blown away by them. Rather amazingly, Jay Miller of the Wine Advocate recently gave the top Viu Manent wines scores in the 60s. He was wrong by some 30 points, which is a staggering margin! (See a discussion on this here.)
Below: a full table, with Tina Gellie and Grant Phelps.

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Thursday, September 10, 2009

Incredible red from Sicily

Lots of good wines on show at the Bunch tasting today. The Bunch is a grouping of five of the UK's leading merchants: Berry Bros & Rudd, Corney & Barrow, Adnams, Tanners and Yapp. Here's one of my favourites:

Passopiscaro 2006 Sicily
Made by Andrea Franchetti of Tenuto di Trinorio fame, this is a wonderfully complex wine from Mount Etna, a region of Sicily that’s currently attracting a lot of attention. Franchetti has 8 hectares of old vines, at high altitude (from 650–1000 m), and this is a varietal Nerello Mascalese, harvested in November. Viticulture is organic, with no herbicides or fertilizers; 2300 case made. It’s a pale cherry colour with a wonderfully complex nose of red berry and cherry fruit together with savoury, spicy, herby, slightly meaty notes in the mix. The palate is rich, generous, spicy and herby with lovely warmth and some complex meaty, earthy notes. Imagine a cross between a refined, old-style Barolo, top red Burgundy and Château Musar, and you are sort of getting there. Amazing complexity, a hint of funk, but just lovely. 93/100 (£26.79 Corney & Barrow)

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Wednesday, September 09, 2009

A busy day: Chile, Australia, Germany

A brief post at the end of a busy day. It began at China Tang in the Dorchester (fabulous, amazing toilets here - the best I've yet seen, perhaps with the exception of the futuristic pods at Sketch). This was for a tasting lunch celebrating the 20th anniversary of the wonderful wines of Shaw & Smith from Australia's Adelaide Hills.

Then off to the Wines of Chile annual tasting (pictured). Consistency is the key to Chile's success, but I also found excitement with two producers: Vina Leyda and Matetic. This was followed by some socializing over beer at a post-tasting party.

Then it was off to The Mercer in Threadneedle St to have dinner with Lenz Moser and Donatus Prniz von Hessen from the Rheingau. Fabulous mineralic, precise Rieslings here from this now revitalized estate. More later.

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Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Great value Shiraz, part 4

Here's a remarkably good value wine. It's normally just a fiver, but will (I'm told) soon be on promotion at 3 for £10 in Asda. That's amazingly cheap for what is a reasonably serious and delicious drop.

Pléyades Shiraz 2007 Cariñena, Spain
Sweet, rich dark fruits nose with some lovely smooth-textured plum, raspberry and blackberry fruit on the palate, together with a bit of meatiness. Lovely freshness and definition here: this is certainly stylish for the price. It won a Decanter gold medal; I think this is a bit excessive, but it’s still a really good wine, and it really over-delivers at this price point. 87/100 (£4.98 Asda)

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Champagne in crisis? (Updated)

[Note added later: for a thorough review of this issue, including some important corrections to the information here, you should read the comments below, and also this article just posted on Jancis Robinson's website. JG, 10/09.]

There's a great piece in the Guardian about the issues facing Champagne, which quotes both Adam Lechmere and Robert Joseph. The key issues:
  • Champagne sales are down (exports down 45% in the first half of 2009 versus 2008 figures)
  • This year, growers are only going to be allowed to pick about half their grapes, leaving the rest on the vine, in attempt to reduce supply to keep demand high
Effectively, Champagne is a brand, and one of the rules of brand management is that you shouldn't kill your brand by discounting it.

Yet the sorts of market manipulations attempted by the Champenois make me feel uncomfortable.

The horror scenario for Champagne is that consumers should lose the perception they have that Champagne is special and worth a huge premium over other sparkling wine styles. What if consumers decide that it's fizz they want, not Champagne, and they can get fizz that ticks all their boxes from other regions?

With Champagne producers committed to protecting their price points through regulating supply, this creates an opportunity for sparkling wines from other regions.

Would it be so disastrous if Champagne were to win new consumers with £10 supermarket own-label Champagnes, £15 Grand Marques, and more prestige cuvees kicking in at £30? Lower margins but increased volumes might win customers who otherwise would shift to discover other sparkling wine styles.

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Monday, September 07, 2009

Wine trade cricket, final installment for the season

Played my last game of wine trade cricket today down at Further Friars, on the wonderfully idiosyncratic ground of Keevil Manor.

We won this one comfortably last year; this year was not to be a repeat. We had a good morning session, reaching 138-4 on a rather unpredictable pitch. Then we collapsed spectacularly in the afternoon, losing six wickets quite fast. Remarkably, I scored all of our afternoon runs. Both of them. I have two bruises on my chest where I took two short balls that came up unexpectedly high, too. Six for two is quite a collapse.

Then we bowled. We began well, with Scott Trutwein on fire, picking up four wickets in all. I normally do well here, but the ball just wasn't swinging (we began the innings with an older ball that didn't shine up), and in my second over I pulled my hamstring. I bowled a further four overs after this, off a shorter run, but it wasn't really working. Jasper Morris hit the winning runs for them with a lovely straight drive.

Now I'm in pain and hoping that this isn't a long-term problem. Pictured is Jasper (with his back to us) chatting to bowling hero Scottie.


Sunday, September 06, 2009

Organic German Riesling

You don't find all that many organic wines in Germany. It's surprising. I suppose in the Mosel it's hard to be organic, when you have small plots of vines in many vineyards, some of which are so steep that they have to be sprayed by helicopter. Anyway, here's an organic Riesling from the Rheingau that I quite liked.

Peter Jakob Kuhn Riesling Trocken QbA 2007 Rheingau
11% alcohol. Yellow colour. Savoury, minerally, limey nose with a hint of honeysuckle and apple. The palate is bone dry and mineralic with complex savoury, citrussy fruit and good acidity. Full flavoured with good food compatibility. 88/100 (£11.99 The Winery)

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Some thoughts on terroir: different expressions of Touriga Nacional

Regular readers will know that I'm really interested by the way that different soils influence the flavour of wine. It's usually referred to as 'terroir', but there's more to terroir than just soils. Climate also plays a big role.

Portugal has a great demonstration of terroir in action. Consider the different expressions of Touriga Nacional in the Dao and the Douro regions. Yes, the climates are a little different (Douro is warmer and drier), but one of the chief differences is the soils.

Pictured above is a typical Dao soil type: sandy granite. Below we have the signature soil of the Douro: schist. Both are good vineyard soils in that they limit vigour and are free draining, but Touriga is quite different when grown on each.

This is perhaps a big generalization, but Dao Touriga is brighter, fresher and more aromatic, with distinctive floral/violet aromas, and red berry and black cherry fruits. Douro Touriga is typically richer and denser, with more palate weight and some meaty blackberry fruit. It can be floral, but it's usually richer and meatier.

Both are fantastic. I think Douro Touriga is usually best as part of a blend, though. Dao Touriga is also usually blended, but I think it can stand up on its own as a single variety. Still, generally speaking, Touriga is a fantastic blend component, and that's the way it is most effectively used.

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Saturday, September 05, 2009

Old Walls Vineyard, Devon

Today was the awards ceremony and lunch following on from the SWVA competition yesterday. It was held at the Old Walls Vineyard, Bisophsteington, not far from Exeter.

Present were many of the winegrowers from the region, and the atmosphere was very jolly as everyone caught up and discussed the soon-to-happen 2009 vintage. The general impression is that in the southwest, 2009 is a late vintage, and because of all the rain this part of the world has received, it's a tricky one, too. This is at odds with other reports I've heard - travel east and you'll find many growers enjoying a very good, somewhat early vintage. And the Lindos are buzzing about 2009 in their patch of Cornwall.

We had a tour round the Old Walls vineyard, which by UK standards is incredibly steeply sloped. From the top of the hill where the picture above was taken, you can see the river and the sea. 2009 has been a very difficult vintage here, with poor fruit set for many varieties and low yields.

After lunch we had the awards ceremony. I was asked to give a short speech as chair of the judges. I made the point that the quality seems to be increasing year on year - 75 of the 97 wines entered achieved a medal or a highly commended. This is an impressive statistic. A second look at the wines in the free-pour tasting before lunch confirmed that English wine is on the way up.


More thoughts on panel tastings

More thoughts on panels, prompted by yesterday’s judging experiences.

There are some levels of discrimination of quality where, irrespective of biological differences, personal preferences and cultural likings or dislikes, a panel of experienced tasters can reasonably hope to agree on broad-brush ratings of wines. [I’m thinking here of whether a wine is worthy of a bronze, silver or gold medal in a competition.]

These sorts of panels are good at filtering out poor or badly made wines, but can lack discrimination at the higher end. We were averaging points (on the 20 point scale) yesterday, and that makes it quite hard to get silver medals, and very hard to get golds – especially if you are using 18.5/20 as your benchmark for gold as in the Australian show system.

For this reason, the benchmark for gold was set lower at 17/20, with silver 15.5 and bronze 14. These may sound low, but they are realistic when you consider the way that averaging marks tends to bring down the overall score considerably.

To come up with sensible results, some level of conferring is necessary after each flight, to make sure that every wine is given a fair chance to get the medal it deserves. We found that we agreed on the majority of the wines (perhaps with one outlier out of the six), but some wines seemed to split opinion somewhat. We went back to these to reassess them.

The quality of the tasters is really important. One or two ‘random’ tasters in a panel can really mess up the results.

Panels like these can lose their effectiveness when dealing with the highest quality wines. While they serve a useful purpose in rating commercial wines, panels (and averaging scores) don’t work well for fine wine. They end up creating too many anomalies.

Friday, September 04, 2009

Judging wine at the Southwest Vineyards Association competition

I've been down in Exeter today judging the Southwest Vineyards Association competition. We had a great panel of judges, and spent the day assessing almost 100 wines, of which more than half received a medal or commendation.

I'm very happy with the results we came to. It was an experienced panel of judges, and we were in quite good concordance for most of the wines. Where we weren't, we then went back and looked at the wine again, and had some discussion. It was really civilizd.
The standard of entries was really good overall. Very few wines were faulty or unpleasant, and there were a few that were lovely. In particular, some of the sparkling wines really impressed, as did many of the dry whites. The red flight had the highest incidence of problems, with a few of the wines showing volatility, reduction or brettanomyces.

We were at Kenton Vineyard, which is a relatively new venture: the vineyard was first planted in 2003 by Matthew and Jo Bernstein. Pictured, Richard Bampfield MW is checking what's in the glass of Alastair Peebles MW.

Added later: the results are now available in full HERE.


Thursday, September 03, 2009

Amazing Italian Gewurztraminer

You know, I think Oddbins may be back on form. I’m having quite a bit of joy with their wines of late. And now their 20% discount applies to six-bottle purchases, making their pricing pretty good. The latest? An interesting Italian mountain white.

Andrian Gewürztraminer 2008 Südtirol, Alto Adige, Italy
14% alcohol. Wonderful stuff: richly textured and grapey with sweet lychee notes. The palate is rounded and off-dry with a spicy, Turkish delight edge, as well as notes of melon, grape and lychee. Thick and intense with lovely personality. Quite Alsace like in style, with good acidity and some minerality. 91/100 (£13.99 Oddbins, but £11.16 with six-bottle purchases)

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International Wine Challenge results 2009

The International Wine Challenge results were announced last night. As yet, they're not up on the website (www.internationalwinechallenge.com).

IWC 2009 Awards:
Champion Wines:

Champion Sparkling: Charles Heidsieck Blanc des Millénaires 1995, France, RRP £93.00, Wine Studio
Champion White Wine: Meursault Clos De La Baronne 2007, Château Labouré Roi, France, Labouré Roi
Champion Red Wine: Guardian Peak, Lapa Cabernet Sauvignon 2007, Stellenbosch, South Africa, RRP £16.50, South Africa Online, D. Byrne & Co, Lewis & Cooper
Champion Sake: Kinmon Akita Shuzo Co Ltd, Yamabuki 1995, Japan, Kinmon Akita Shuzo Co Ltd
Champion Fortified: Verdelho Old Reserve 10 Year Old NV, Vinhos Barbeito Madeira Lda, Madeira, Portugal, RRP £24.95, Raymond Reynolds
Champion Sweet: Escherndorfer Lump Riesling Trockenbeerenauslese 2007, Weingut Horst Sauer, Franken, Germany, Justerini & Brooks

Great Value Wines:
Great Value Champion White: Tim Adams Riesling 2008, Tim Adams Wine, South Australia, RRP £8.99, Tesco, Australian Wine Agencies
Great Value Champion Rosé: Côtes-du-Rhône Parallèle 45 Rosé 2008, Paul Jaboulet Ainé, France, RRP £8.99, Valvona & Crolla, Whighams of Ayr, Liberty Wines
Great Value Champion Sparkling: Sainsbury’s Blanc De Noirs Champagne NV, Société Coopérative De Producteurs Des Grands Terroirs De La Champagne, France, RRP £15.99, Sainsbury’s
Great Value Champion Red: Pascual Toso Malbec 2008, Mendoza, Argentina, RRP £7.99, Soho Wine Supply, Reserve Wines, Wine in Cornwall, Field & Fawcett York, Wine Direct, Stratford’s Wine Agencies
Great Value Champion Fortified: Marks & Spencer Manzanilla Sherry NV, Williams & Humbert, Jerez-Xérès-Sherry, Spain, RRP £5.99, Marks & Spencer
Great Value Sweet: Marks & Spencer Scheurebe 2005, Weingut Darting, Pfalz, Germany, RRP £14.99, Marks & Spencer


I remember years back, when I was first getting into wine. I was living in Wallington, newly married to Fiona, and I bought my wine from the Wine House, a now deceased independent merchant, run by Morvin and Sue Rodker.

Fiona wouldn't drink red wine. [She still won't.] It was a bit of a problem, because these were the days before I could look a bottle in the eye alone. Morvin recommended Dornfelder to me as a way to convert non-red-wine drinkers, much as you might tempt a vegetarian with bacon.

Why? Because Dornfelder has little in the way of tannins. It gives you colour without firm structure. The grape was first released in 1979 after a concentrated breeding program by German scientists (read more here). Currently, Germany has more than 8000 hectares of this variety. It has also met with some success in the UK (indeed, I have made wine from Dornfelder).

So here's an organic take on Dornfelder, that's a tiny bit weird, but which I'm actually quite enjoying.

Weingut Klaus Knobloch Dornfelder Trocken 2006 QbA Germany
13.5% alcohol, organic. Cherry red colour. Sweetly aromatic with smooth red cherry fruit nose. The palate has really soft tannins with fresh cherry fruit, lovely sweet purity, and a lovely framing sappy greennes that doesn't obscure the sweet fruit. Drinkable and fun: what Beaujolais should do more often. 88/100 (£9.99 Vintage Roots)

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Penfolds Bin 311 Chardonnay

Here's a brilliant Aussie Chardonnay from the relatively new region of Tumbarumba. It's in New South Wales, in the foothills of the Snowy Mountains of the Australian Alps, with altitudes ranging from 500-800 metres. There are no wineries here: the fruit is all shipped out to be processed elsewhere. Things only got going here in the 1990s, and now there are 25 vineyards with over 300 hectares of vines. Three-quarters of this is Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, and most is destined for sparkling wine. You can read more about it here.

Penfolds Bin 311 Tumbarumba Chardonnay 2006 New South Wales, Australia
From a new-ish region at the foothills of the Snowy Mountains that specializes in Chardonnay, this is a superb wine. 13.5% alcohol. Very lively toasty aromatics. The palate is dense yet fresh with lovely crisp lemony, nutty fruit showing pear, peach and oatmeal richness. Delicious. 92/100 (£17.99 Waitrose, 21 branches, and Waitrose Wine Direct)

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I'm a wine writer, not a beer writer, but I do enjoy beer. And I'm hoping that some of my wine assessment skills (no laughing at the back) are, to a degree, transferable to the realm of ale.

Anyway, here are some beers I've recently tried, with my assessments. Scores are on the Goode 10-point beer scale, with half marks allowed.

Marston’s Pedigree
5% alcohol. Orange brown colour. Fresh, bitter, a bit malty with a nice tangy yet rich savoury personality. Classic full-flavoured style. 7

Marston’s Burton Bitter
3.8% alcohol. Light and fragrant with some toffee richness and subtle bitter notes. Nicely warm. 6

Young’s Kew Gold Bottled Conditioned Ale
4.8%. Hops grown at RBG Kew. Yellow/gold colour. Beautifully hoppy, floral nose leads to a palate with complex, tangy, fresh bitter lemon and herb notes. Just a hint of sweet malt, too. 8

Wells Bombardier Burning Gold
4.7% alcohol. Golden colour. There’s some tangy bitterness here, but also malty, slightly syrupy sweetness. This creates a balanced, rounded, rather rich textured ale with some complexity. Really nicely poised, combining freshness and richness. 7.5

Old Speckled Hen
5.2% alcohol. Orange brown. A really rich style with sweet nutty toffee and caramel notes, smooth texture and lovely malty depth. It lacks any bitterness. In-yer-face. 8


Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Are wine competitions reliable? Data from the USA

An interesting paper from The Journal of Wine Economics has analysed the reliability of judging at wine competitions in the USA. You can download it for free here.

From the abstract:
An analysis of over 4000 wines entered in 13 U.S. wine competitions shows little concordance among the venues in awarding Gold medals. Of the 2,440 wines entered in more than three competitions, 47 percent received Gold medals, but 84 percent of these same wines also received no award in another competition.
There's some good analysis of data in the paper. The conclusions are extremely discouraging:
(1) There is almost no consensus among the 13 wine competitions regarding wine quality, (2) for wines receiving a Gold medal in one or more competitions, it is very likely that the same wine received no award at another, (3) the likelihood of receiving a Gold medal can be statistically explained by chance alone.
We can conclude that there's something fundamentally wrong with these US competitions. Is it a US-specific problem, or does it also apply to competitions in other countries? Is it that the judges used simply aren't good enough tasters in this sort of environment?

[The same author has also published a paper looking at judge reliability at one of these US competitions.]


Majestic's news: two big developments

Today UK merchant Majestic announced that they are changing their mininum purchase policy, from 12 bottles to six bottles.

Since their beginnings in 1981, their business model has been to sell by the case. While this restricted their potential customer base, it meant that they could open premises in places where a normal retail wine shop selling by the bottle wouldn't be possible for licensing reasons. The one exception has been the Majestic shop attached to Vinopolis, near London Bridge station, where single bottle purchases are possible.

It turned out that people quite like to visit Majestic stores where they can park, fill up a box with 12 or more bottles, and then load them into their car. They now have 150 stores and are effectively a category buster: they have no competition for what they do.

It's unlikely that they'll lose money from this shift in policy. After all, they have trialled the 6 bottle minimum in a number of stores over the last few months, so they have a good idea of what will happen to sales.

But while many people have commented on the new 6 bottle minimum, perhaps more significant is their new venture, Wine Uncorked. This is a free in-store introduction to wine course, which will be led by Majestic store managers. I think it's a brilliant initiative, both for the consumers who take advantage of this opportunity, and also the managers who will presumably find running these courses a rewarding experience.

Wine trade commentators, who tend to be a bunch of doom-mongers, are using this Majestic news to predict the end of independents/Oddbins/Wine Rack, but I think they are being overly pessimisstic.

Majestic's initiative might encourage people who aren't really into wine to become hobbyists - the sort of involved wine consumers who then in turn begin shopping at high-end independent wine merchants. While Majestic have recently branched out into fine wine selling, involved consumers are a promiscuous bunch who will buy wine in all sorts of different places, and are unlikely to restrict their purchasing to just one retail outlet.