jamie goode's wine blog: October 2009

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Bloggers Conference: what I'd say if I was there!

Sad to be missing the second European Wine Bloggers Conference which is taking place in Lisbon this weekend. But as an old-time wine blogger (indeed, I think the original wineanorak blog was the first wine blog in Europe), and as an opinionated git, I think I'd have plenty to say, along these lines:

1. Authenticity is everything. You have to be yourself as you blog, or else it won't ring true, and it will be hard work to write.

2. You have to write fast, without agonising over every sentence and planning your postings too carefully. Otherwise it will take too long and you'll lose interest.

3. Related to (2), you need to post frequently. Daily is the gold standard. Less than weekly, and it's not really a blog, and you'll find it hard to build readership.

4. You have to be incredibly patient, and keep persevering. Being good will get you only so far. There are plenty of people smarter and more engaging that I am, but their blogs failed because they didn't persevere.

4. Monetization. This only applies to content sites. If you become really successful, you might have enough traffic that you can carry adverts. But that's some way down the line for most people. For most, the only way to make money from a blog is indirectly. You show the world what a switched on, competent, literate, entertaining person you are and they hire you for gigs.

5. Be honest. Don't let people pay for entries on your blog. Don't take backhanders for positive write-ups. Always say what you think, not what important people would like to hear. Turning down a shady-sounding deal may cost in the short-term, but it will pay in the long-term.

6. For companies or wineries looking to blog, go for it. Everyone is now, to some degree, a content provider. The boundary between journalism and commerce is fading, which is no bad thing as long as everyone is transparent, authentic and honest. Wineries can talk about what they are doing without giving a sales pitch. Agents can talk about their producers in ways that don't sound like they are just bigging them up. The important thing is to put your company/winery blog in the hands of someone who can write and can engage with readers, and set them free to do it.

7. Social media stunts like the Murphy-Goode hire will get you lots of attention, but this is only useful if your product is exceptional and worth talking about. You can get your time in the spotlight, but do you really want it? Only if your product can stand the scrutiny.

8. We all have to promote ourselves. It comes with the territory. But you can promote yourself too much. You can get in other people's faces to a degree that, frankly, becomes annoying. And it's generally best left to others to tell the world how good you are. (So no straplines, 'frankly, the world's best wine blog', please!)


Precision viticulture in the news

Interesting to see the BBC news site pick up on a story about English winegrowers using precision viticulture.

It's not really new technology - it has been around for a while, and I wrote a chapter on it in my wine science book (happy to send this chapter to anyone who is interested - email me). But it's a sign of the progress being made in the UK wine industry that people are thinking of applying it here.

How does it work? The principal behind PV is to understand the natural variability in your vineyard and then work with it. In a sense, growers have always done this: they've noticed blocks that reach ripeness earlier, for example, or have struggled with particular disease pressures. The new tools make this sort of zoning much quicker and more precise.

Satellite imagery at appropriate points in the growing season, using a range of wavelengths of light, can be used to generate what's called an NDVI (normalized differential vegetation index, so effectively what is being measured is vigour), and with some computer processing, you can make a map of your vineyard showing the homogeneous blocks (that is, the ones that are similar). If these are similar year-on-year, you can then treat these blocks differently, and pick them at different times. The result is improved quality. It's terroir in action.

Another way of doing this, when you have a large vineyard that is mechanically harvested, is to use a yield monitor on your harvester, together with a GPS system.

In the UK, most vineyards are small enough that you can walk round them a number of times during the season and see what is going on. I'd be surprised if there was a huge need for remote imagery, but it is a really powerful technique that can raise quality in more commercial vineyards.


Friday, October 30, 2009

Does Sauvignon age? Two older Seresins

Does Sauvignon Blanc age? I used to think 'no'; now I think 'usually not', but perhaps I should say 'yes, when the original wine is balanced and not too green.'

Here are two older Sauvignon Blancs from Seresin, one of Marlborough's leading producers. Both have aged well; the 2002 is very stylish indeed, the 1999 more 'interesting'.

Seresin Sauvignon Blanc 2002 Marlborough
92% Sauvignon, 8% Semillon, 7% fermented in French oak. Refined nose is minerally and citrussy with some tomato leaf and some green pepper notes. The palate has a lovely greenness that hasn't turned to tinned pea, with complex grassy, herby notes as well as some grapefruit freshness. This is still fresh and is ageing really beautifully, with chalky minerality under the fruit. 91/100

Seresin Sauvignon Blanc 1999 Marlborough
89% Sauvignon, 11% Semillon (this portion fermented in French oak). Yellow gold colour. Evolving with some toasty nutty notes and hints of oiliness. The palate is savoury with some lemony acid under the dense, subtly grassy minerally fruit. Still very much alive but perhaps past its best. 87/100

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Thursday, October 29, 2009

New world Chardonnay: Chilean Chablis, Australian Burgundy

Perhaps a slightly naughty title, but here are two fabulous new world Chardonnays, one very much in the style of Chablis, and one in the style of a Puligny Montrachet. Chardonnay's star is waning (can stars wane, or just the moon?), but I think that it's a serious grape variety and deserves a bit more respect.

Maycas del Limari Unoaked Chardonnay 2007 Limari Valley, Chile
Fresh, focused and fruity with gentle nutty notes on the nose. Concentrated and bright with nice minerality and lemon and grapefruit notes. This is stylish and reminds me of a dense Chablis. Long minerally finish. 89/100

Howard Park Chardonnay 2007 Great Southern, Western Australia
Barrel fermented with natural yeasts. Very fine, fresh, taut toasty nose with lemony freshness and hints of figgy richness. The palate is concentrated, fresh and intense with high acidity, taut lemony fruit and lovely toasty richness. It has a cool-climate feel to it. Sophisticated and refined, this is like a modern-styled Puligny Montrachet. Give this 3-5 years and it will be fascinating. 91/100

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Wednesday, October 28, 2009

New Douro 2007 - a thrilling vintage

Today was the long-awaited New Douro 2007 tasting, where we finally got an in depth look at the 2007 vintage in the Douro. It was held in the spectacular east room on the seventh floor of the Tate Modern (the view is above). 2007 is a very exciting vintage with some lovely wines. And its interesting to see a diversity of styles, too. You'd be hard pressed to put your finger on exactly what the 'Douro' style is. It's a region that seems to express itself in many ways.

From a tasting like this, I feel bad about picking out just a few highlights, because there were so many really good wines. And as well as the table wines, we got a chance to look at many of the 2007 Ports (although the big omission here was the Taylor Fladgate group, who don't make a table wine). 2007 is a great vintage both for Ports and table wines.

Also worth pointing out is that this New Douro group is a sort of club, and there are some top Douro wines that aren't part of the club. For example, Noval has been allowed in at last, but there's no Romaneira here. There's no Passadouro. No Bago de Touriga. No newcomers such as Conceito, Sao Jose and so on. Including these would probably make the tasting too large.

I have to mention a few wines. Niepoort's 2007 line-up was thrilling. The wines have taken on their own personalities in ways that they haven't before. They are getting more elegant, more linear. Redoma is perhaps the best yet, with a move away from just small oak to larger, more neutral oak (40% of the blend) which Dirk has purchased from Italy. Charme is just incredible in 2007, with newfound elegance and purity. Batuta is so focused, taut and fruit-driven but with amazingly persistent fine yet firm structure.

I re-tried 2004 Robustus, and was awed. This wine has, in bottle, begun to fuse into a taut core, putting on weight and structure, and paradoxically getting fruitier and purer. It is perhaps Portugal's greatest wine ever? It will need patience, though. Luis Seabra says that the 2005 is better still.

Jorge Borges and Sandra Tavares of Wine & Soul/Pintas, produced some great wines in 2007. As well as the lovely reds, the 2008 Guru is a serious wine. It's white (Douro whites are an emerging story) from old vines, and it has lovely grapefruit pith precision with well integrated oak. It reminds me of the very best white Bordeaux.

Jorge Moreira's Poeira is a Douro first growth, and its getting better and better. The 2007 is the wine Jorge is happiest with of all those he has made. It's focused, pure, quite elegant and is tight-wound, with a long future ahead of it.

The Symingtons (or the Syms as they are commonly known) finally have a world class red table wine in their portfolio. It's the 2007 Quinta do Vesuvio, and I really like it. 70% Touriga Nacional, 20% Touriga Franca and 10% Tinta Amarela, It's sweetly fruited, aromatic, but structured and alive, too. Fantastic stuff.

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Recently on the main wineanorak site

Some recent additions to the main wineanorak site:

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

A truly beautiful NZ Pinot Noir

I just love this wine. I suspect there's something special about Pinot Noir from the Wairarapa (Martinborough) region: when I visit NZ again early next year, I'm going to pay a visit to explore further.

Martinborough Vineyard 'Te Tera' Pinot Noir 2008 Martinborough, New Zealand
13.5% alcohol. Beautifully focused with elegant cherry/berry/spice nose. Ripe but balanced, and really alive. The palate is beautifully elegant with smooth, pure fruit. Just fantastically elegant. 93/100 (£14.99 Majestic, but £11.99 if you buy two from the end of this week)

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Monday, October 26, 2009

Not wine, but tea

Instead of a glass of wine, I'm drinking some tea. It's Flowering Dragon Eye Tea from specialist importers JING. It's certainly the most visual brewing experience I've had: the hand tied balls of green tea open up in the pot to reveal flowers - in this case, a pot marigold in the base, an arch of pure jasmine blossoms and a globe amaranth flower on top.

The taste is attractive: mild, tea-like, and quite subtle. I haven't got a decent vocabulary for tea, so describing my perception is a little tricky. On the main site, I have just written up (rather belatedly) a tutored tasting of Chinese tea organized by JING. There are quite a few parallels between tea and wine.


Stunning Champagne: R&L Legras

This is a wonderful Champagne, from R&L Legras in Chouilly. It's a pure Chardonnay, and possibly the best fizz under £30 from anywhere.

Champagne R&L Legras Brut NV
Very warm, aromatic, toasty nose is beautifully perfumed and quite profound. The palate is precise and taut with high acidity and real complexity. Lovely focused lemony fruit here. 94/100 (£25.95 Berry Bros & Rudd, www.bbr.com)


Walks with the hound

It has been a lovely autumn so far in west London. Lots of gentle late-season sunshine, with above average temperatures. Great for walking the dog.

When I was persuaded that getting a dog was a good idea, just over three years ago, I never realized quite how much it would change our lives. The mutt in question, Rose the Labradoodle (RTL) is a strange creature, loveable and annoying in equal measure.

She has probably paid for herself by having puppies, so I can't complain that she's expensive. But she does take up a lot of time: we walk her twice daily, and in the evenings she craves attention. And she still wants to eat the cats (they live upstairs, where she is not allowed) and the postman.

Actually, we've probably benefited from the walking. Whatever the weather, we simply have to take her. For me, the morning walk is an ideal start to the day. It's time to think and reflect, and when you work from home most of the time, it's helpful for your sanity to get out of the house a bit.

Pictured are two rather poor quality camera phone snaps from walks with the hound in the last few days. One is of Amanita muscaria, the fly agaric. It's hallucinogenic. The second is a view from Hounsow Heath, one of RTL's regular walks.


Sunday, October 25, 2009

Some serious Riesling

I know how incredibly boring it must be to keep hearing the same message repeated here ad nauseum: Riesling, when it is done well, rocks. And Germany just seems to do it so well.

I love it, as do most wine trade people. It seems that the average consumer remains to be convinced, though. But this is a serious Riesling, made in a dry style, and it's fantastic.

Reichsrat von Buhl Kirchenstück Forst Riesling Trocken Grosses Gewachs 2008 Pfalz, Germany
Amazing aromatic, spicy, limey nose leads to a vibrant, precise, minerally, limey, grapefruity palate with great concentration and a spicy freshness. There’s a melony, honeyed richness in the margins but the dominant theme is the steely minerality and high acidity. A taut, enthralling Riesling with real precision. 93/100 (UK agent www.worldwineagencies.com)

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Saturday, October 24, 2009

Great value Shiraz, part 9

I just keep coming across affordable examples of the wonderful Syrah grape that have loads of personality and interest. Here's one from Spain that has some of that lovely meaty Syrah character to it. Actually, it reminds me a bit of the Porcupine Ridge Syrah from South Africa.

Hacienda El Espino 1707 Syrah 2007 Alamansa, Spain
13.5% alcohol, 3 months in French and American oak. Lovely ripe meaty, olive, floral nose. The palate is midweight, meaty, and spicy with plummy, berryish fruit. Really attractive with a lovely savoury character. 87/100 (£8.49 therealwineco.co.uk)

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Friday, October 23, 2009

Wrestling with tannins

Regular readers of this blog will know that I have a strong interest in the language of wine. I find it fascinating that in the wine trade we frequently share our own private, conscious experiences of specific wines with others.

This, of course, requires that we develop a vocabulary for describing the taste and smell of wine (although I do know of a colleague whose tasting notes are embellished with a small graphic showing the ‘shape’ of the wine). It’s actually remarkably difficult to translate flavour perception into words in a way that is meaningful to others. Frequently, we achieve this by means of a code language, learnt through tasting with others in a structured manner. Part of wine education is, I suspect, learning this code.

In this codified language, the term ‘tannin’ crops up on a regular basis. Indeed, it’s probably the most common descriptor in tasting notes of red wines. Tannins can be soft, silky, smooth, harsh, green, velvety, coarse, rustic, fine-grained and even ‘filigree’. By using the term ‘tannin’, which is actually a chemical term, albeit an imprecisely defined one, tasters are making an assumption about the chemical entity that is causing this particular aspect of flavour perception.

However, I strongly suspect that most of the tasters using this term only have a vague understanding of what tannins are in a chemical sense. Do the many varieties of tannin described by tasters correspond with chemical realities? Or is this an example of a code in which the chemical term is merely borrowed?

One question that we should probably address is whether the link between perception and chemistry is important. Does it matter that tasters use chemical terms without these corresponding to what is occurring in the wine?

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Thursday, October 22, 2009

Reluctant mechanic: the power of the internet

I'm a reluctant mechanic. It's not one of my core skills. But my 12 yr old younger son recently spent some birthday money on a second hand mini-moped. It had a problem: the pull-start mechanism had sheared, damaging the bit it engages with on the engine. I had to act.

Through the internet, I found out that the bit referred to is known as a flywheel. I went to ebay and purchased a new flywheel (£8, pictured) and a new pull start mechanism (£10). Then I found out, also on the internet, that the way to remove the flywheel is by unscrewing the bolt, and then prising it off by inserting two long M6 bolts in the two holes on the flywheel, and turning them clockwise. Now it works again, and I feel like a good dad. Without the internet, I'd be stuffed.

I played football tonight, for the second night in a row. It was fun. I've just watched BBC Question Time, which had the BNP leader on it (a racist party that has just secured a seat at the European Parliament). It was very frustrating. He said enough to damn himself, but the other participants almost helped him by being ineffectual and trying to score points off each other. Jack Straw, the justice secretary, was particularly poor, I felt. I think it would have been better not to have him (the BNP leader) on the programme: I support free speech, but not when it crosses the boundary of racism.

Now I'm drinking Champagne Laurent Perrier NV. It's very good: crisp, focused, quite fruity, but with nice toasty complexity. Very stylish and balanced with a tart appley finish.

Two fantastic Syrahs from Great Southern

Great Southern is a region in Western Australia. As the name suggests, it's in the south of the state, and it's one of Australia's coolest wine regions. These two Syrahs are very cool-climate in style, and they're fantastic.

Both wines are made with fruit from the same vineyard by winemaker Andrew Hoadley. This is what he has to say about La Ciornia, which is under his personal wine label La Violetta:

'The inspiration for La Ciornia comes from my time spent working in Barbaresco in Piedmont 2002-2003. The local Piedmontese varieties (the well-known Nebbiolo, Barbera and Dolcetto, and obscurities such as Freisa, Grignolino, Pelaverga) encompass the extremes of red winemaking (in terms of site expression, colour, tannin, aromatics, acidity, using oxygen constructively, etc) so you need to think creatively and have a steady nerve to get the results. Also, being an important culinary centre, most often the focus is on how the wines will function in context with food - rather than aiming for maximum ripeness/fruitiness/extract. When I first came to Denmark and tasted the extraordinary 2007 Kalgan River shiraz in barrel, I immediately had the desire to get hold of some fruit from that vineyard and see what I could do with it, aiming for a slightly divergent style - a shiraz that my Piedmontese friends would love to drink - relatively strict and unadorned, expressing the vineyard character.'

Kalgan River Shiraz Viognier 2008 Great Southern, Western Australia
14.5% alcohol, hand-picked. Very fresh and peppery with vibrant dark cherry, raspberry and blackberry fruit, together with a savoury olive streak. This shows lovely peppery cool climate Syrah character, as well as having some rich fruitiness. Youthful, quite serious, with some structure. 92/100 (£16 auswineonline.co.uk)

La Violetta ‘La Ciornia’ Shiraz 2008 Great Southern, Western Australia
14% alcohol. Very fresh and bright: almost Burgundian in its style. Subtly meaty with sweet cherry and red berry fruit, as well as some restrained spicy notes. Quite rich, but overall more red fruits than black with good acidity and a peppery edge. Pure, primary and vibrant with brightness and freshness. I think this will be sensational in a few years (and would therefore get a higher rating), although it’s still impressive in this primary state. 91/100 (£23 auswineonline.co.uk)

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Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Cheese, a great NZ Riesling and a great restuarant

I'm currently sitting at my desk, eating a simple tea of bread rolls and Comte cheese, drinking an understated, rather elegant New Zealand Pinot Noir (Villa Maria Cellar Selection Pinot Noir 2008, Marlborough, New Zealand).

Cheese and bread is understated as a meal. But you get all you could want from it: deliciousness, calories (cheese is amazingly calorific), protein, carbohydrates and wine compatibility. I really love decent Comte, and even middling Comte will work when the good stuff isn't available. [I'm also going through a bit of a Gruyere phase. It's similar in texture and not too far apart in flavour.]

The Pinot Noir works OK with the cheese, but perhaps a complex, nutty Chardonnay would be better. Or maybe an off-dry Alsace Pinot Gris.

The reason I'm eating late is because I've been playing football. Scored another glory goal today. I won't talk you through it.

Had a lovely lunch with Fiona today at a restaurant that exceeded expectations by some distance. We trecked out to The Royal Oak in Paley Street, near Maidenhead. It's a high-end gastropub, but the food was Michelin star standard. We'll be going back. The sommelier is fantastic, and has put together a really interesting list, drawing on a range of suppliers. It's so refreshing to come to a wine list where the wines are all real wines (not on-trade-only 'made-up' lines), and where there is a diverse selection, even in the wine by the glass range.

We chose the Framingham Classic Riesling 2008 Marlborough, New Zealand. This is a brilliant wine from New Zealand's top Riesling producer, and it's by some distance the best NZ Riesling I've tried of late. It's dry, but with great acidity and some sweetness in the mid-palate.

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Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Parker and neuroscience

Thanks to fellow blogger Tyler Colman for bringing to my attention an interesting post by Jonah Lehrer on his blog The Frontal Cortex. He argues that the sensory limitations of the human brain make a nonsense of a serious belief in the 100 point scale.

He states:
The underlying assumption behind such point scores is that the taste of a wine is merely the sum of our inputs. But that's wrong: we can't quantify a wine by trying to listen to our tongue. This is because what we experience is not what we sense. Rather, experience is what happens when our senses are interpreted by our subjective brain, which brings to the moment its entire library of personal memories and idiosyncratic desires....Before you can taste the wine you have to judge it.

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Tesco press tasting at the Festival Hall

Just back from the Tesco press tasting, which was held on the top floor of the Royal Festival Hall on London's Southbank. It was a great venue, with some spectacular views.

I didn't taste all the wines (they showed 153), but I did a fair selection. Not all that many gems, but I did find a few. Bollinger Grande Annee 2000 is a mind-blowingly good fizz - yours for £59, but I think you could make a case for it being worth the money. Villa Maria Reserve Pinot Noir 2007 Marlborough is a little more affordable at £16.99, but also thrilling, with bright, elegant, focused cherry and raspberry fruit. I really liked Tim Adams Semillon 2008 Clare Valley (£9.99), a serious, ageworthy, food compatible white with an indecent amount of flavour. Going down in price, Paul Mas La Forge Malbec 2008 VdP d'Oc is fantastic (£8.99), and the one of the best values of the tasting was the Tesco Finest Malbec 2008 from Mendoza: made by Catena, this shows lovely pure fruit and is £6.99.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Some crazily good beers from M&S

Marks & Spencer have recently launched a new range of beers. I tasted through a range of them with Sue Daniels of M&S, and I thought they were brilliant. I'm going to go and buy some. Here are my notes on the best, using my special 10-point beer scale! On this scale, 8 is brilliant and 9 is close to perfection.

Spanish Lager (from La Zaragozana Brewery)
£4.99 for four bottles. 5% alcohol. Beautifully savoury, tangy, slightly herby. Lots of flavour here, and a hint of dimethylsulfide to add complexity. 8/10

Belgian Lager (Haacht Brewery)
£4.99 for four bottles. 5% alcohol. Tangy, hoppy, nose. Warm herb and straw palate. Savoury and fresh with lovely depth of flavour. 8.5/10

Czech Lager (Bohemia Regent Brewery)
£1.49, 5% alcohol. Really lovely warm aromatic nose: mealy, nutty, herby. The palate is dense and full with bold sooth textured fruit. Warm and rounded. 8/10

Belgian Wheat Beer (Huyghe Brewery)
£1.99, 4.5% alcohol. Amazing fresh, floral, spicy nose with a coriander edge. Very intense, savoury palate yet it still tastes quite light and expressive. Complex. 8/10

Belgian Cherry Wheat Beer (Huyghe Brewery)
£2.19, 3.5% alcohol. Cherry red colour. Crazy sweet cherry and almond nose. Lovely sweet intense cherry palate. Crazy stuff but utterly delicious with brilliant fruitiness. 8.5/10

Belgian Tripel Abbey Beer (Huyghe Brewery)
£1.99, 9% alcohol. Golden colour. Very sweet, rich, intense nose with herbs and nuts. Rich texture. Almost wine-like with lovely bold honeyed flavours. 9/10

Staffordshire IPA (Marstons Brewery)
£1.99, 5.5% alcohol. Really intense with lovely fresh hoppy characters. Rich and complex with lovely fresh citrus and herb flavours. 8/10

London Porter (Meantime Brewery)
£1.99, 5.5% alcohol. Deep coloured, this is rich and chocolatey with bold, rich flavours. Slightly sweet fruity characters. Bold and more-ish. 8.5/10

Irish Stout (Carlow Brewing Company)
£1.99, 4.5% alcohol. This is amazing. Brown/black colour with an intense roast coffee and chocolate character. Really intense and full with a hint of earthy bitterness on the palate. 9/10


New Scientist launch wine club with a twist

Respected popular science magazine New Scientist have launched a new wine club, with a distinctive scientific twist to it. It is being run in conjunction with the Colchester Wine Company.

'Every organ has their wine club,' explained editor Roger Highfield. 'We talked to Hugo Rose and he came up with 18 wines we could tell a science story behind.' Roger and his colleagues had a tasting, and selected six for the initial launch, which is in the current issue of the magazine (cover dated 17 October).

The wines come with both regular tasting notes and also some scientific insight for each one. 'It's a bit of fun,' says Highfield.

The wines are as follows (with the science hook in brackets)
  • 2008 Sauvignon Blanc, McCorkindale, Marlborough, New Zealand (talking about methoxypyrazines, the natural chemical responsible for green herbal/grassy/green pepper flavours)
  • 2008 Colombard, Plaimont, Vin de Pays des Cotes de Gascogne (discussing the benefits of cold fermentations/temperature control)
  • 2007 Montagny 1er Cru, Olivier Leflaive, Burgundy (introducing umami, the fifth taste)
  • 2001 Rioja Reserva, Bodegas Murua, Rioja (talking about wine evolution and oak ageing)
  • 2007 Nero d'Avola, MandraRossa, Sicilia (discussing the concept of physiological ripeness)
  • 2005 Laudun, Château Courac, Southern Rhone (introducing tannins and polyphenols)
This initial case is being offered to readers at £95, with two bottles of each wine.


Sunday, October 18, 2009

Spoofy wine

The inconvenient truth for those of us writing about wine is that 90% of all wine is crap. I apologise for putting it so crudely, but that's the way it is.

While I admire the UK supermarket wine buyers, I'm sorry to say that if you were to go into your local supermarket and pick a wine at random, you'd likely be getting something that isn't worth using your weekly alcohol unit allocation on. Serious wine is actually quite hard to find, and you need to know where to look.

We're not just talking about price here. Unfortunately, you can spend a lot of money and end up with rubbish wine.

Once you start spending more, you run a high risk of encountering a 'spoofulated' wine. One that has been tarted up to look like something authentic, or which has been made to appeal to a certain palate - for example, by late picking, extended cold maceration and ludicrous new oak barrel regimes.

I'm also quite depressed by the way that cheap wines are made to imitate more expensive wines. Rather than producing something delicious, authentic and simple, producers feel the need to trick their wines up with grape juice concentrate, barrel alternatives and misguided application of microoxygenation.

But the good news is this: the 10% of wines that aren't crap are utterly compelling, life-enhancing, thrilling examples of how the combination of site, variety and intelligent work in the vineyard and cellar can produce a product that conveys an authentic sense of somewhereness.

I actually feel very positive about the wine industry. My hope is that those who write about wine (1) can tell the difference between authentic and spoofy wines; and (2) can resist the commerical pressures to favour the latter in place of the former.

A brilliant effort: Château Léoville-Barton 2005

Supermarket press tastings don't always focus on the bottom end of the market. Especially not when it's Waitrose, who have a list of fine wines that parallels that of a decent independent wine merchant.

It was nice to find the Leoville-Barton 2005 at their recent tasting, although I worry that consumers buying this to drink now wouldn't be getting the most out of this wine, which is definitely one for the long haul. At its peak, in a decade or two, this will be an awesome example of top quality Bordeaux.

Château Léoville-Barton 2005 St Julien 2eme Cru Classe, Bordeaux
75% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Merlot and 5% Cabernet France, matured for 20 months in French oak, half of which was new. Tight, brooding blackcurrant fruit nose is quite pure with lovely precision. Quite primary. The palate is really grippy and tannic, but there's lovely pure fruit here. Complex minerally, gravelly notes add a savoury dimension. A beautiful wine, but it's a real crime to drink it now. 94/100 (£67.50 Waitrose)


Saturday, October 17, 2009

Football and spotify

Just rearranged my study. Brought in my amplifier and two speakers, which had been redundant since iPod and Bose Sound Dock arrived. Combined with the wonderful spotify, this means I can work with music, and a wide variety of music, too. So, dear readers, what should I be listening to?

Played 11-a-side football today. We have an occasional team made out of the Wednesday night five/six/seven-a-side group I play with. I started off as sub, but came on after 20 mins to play right midfield. With the game at 0-0, a minute before half-time, the ball broke to me outside the area. I'm not short of self-confidence, so I had a crack at goal. To my amazement, the ball rocketed into the top corner of the goal, from fully 20 yards out, Gerrard style. Awesome. We ended up drawing 2-2, which isn't bad. We got thoroughly beaten by this side last year.

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Delaforce Quinta da Corte 1991 - just brilliant

Looking for a Port to drink now? Well, here's a fantastic Single Quinta Port that's from a superb vintage, and which is over-delivering by some margin.

Delaforce Quinta da Corte 1991 Douro, Portugal
This is a superbly complex Port that is drinking well now. Complex, warm, intense spicy nose is herby and aromatic. The palate is really smooth and elegant with lovely rich spicy complexity. Wonderful poise and elegance here. Top quality Port to drink now. 93/100 (£17.99 Majestic, but £15.99 if you buy two bottles from 30/10/09 until 01/02/10)

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Friday, October 16, 2009

Beaucastel 07 at the Majestic press tasting today

I really enjoyed the Majestic press tasting today. There were lots of really good new wines, affordable and more expensive, and I'll be featuring them here over the next few weeks, along with the other highlights from the last two weeks of intensive tasting activity. It's so good to see the likes of Donnhof, Gunderloch and Nikolaihof make an appearance on their list.

My impression is that the Majestic range is improving. That's really good news. From recent experience, I think the Oddbins range is also improving. The recent Waitrose press tasting was really good; M&S was good too. Could it be that things are looking up for wine lovers?

One of the treats today was a look at the 2007 Beaucastel. This is a property I have a semi-sentimental attachment to, in that when I was getting into wine, this was one of the legendary names I was besotted by. The 2007 has immense potential; it is showing a bit of that already.

Chateau de Beaucastel Chateauneuf du Pape 2007 Southern Rhone, France
Sweet but focused berry and plum nose is elegant, fine and fresh. The palate is warm and complex with dense red berry and dark cherry fruit with fine grained tannins and good acidity. Rich but balanced with lovely elegance and definition, this is quite a pure expression of this wine that has great potential for development. 92/100, but this score will likely improve over time. (£50 Majestic)

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Bottle variation spoils fine wine

One of the myriad attractions of great wines is the way that they develop over time.

Old wines can be fantastic. But they can also be appalling disappointments. Often, people put on a brave face when a 'great' wine is opened and it turns out to be mediocre, but it is more common that it should be.

The reason for these disappointments? Provenance and bottle variation, the besetting sins of fine wine.

Provenance refers to the history of an old bottle: how it has been stored. Wine is sensitive to high temperatures, and also temperature variation. Often during shipping, it exposed to both. And unless a wine is cellared well, it won't age gracefully. If you open a heat-exposed bottle just after it has been abused, you might not spot the difference. But time reveals the truth: that bottle likely won't age well after an early insult.

Wine can be heat damaged without the cork popping out, or leakage.

Bottle variation is largely the responsibility of the cork. Corks differ slightly in their oxygen transmission levels. Over five years you might not spot too much difference, but after 20, all the bottles in the same case will be slightly different. The ullage (fill level) is an indicator of this. However, there's more to the condition of wine than ullage.

It's really frustrating, and even small differences in how wines are stored or how good a seal the cork makes will be exaggerated over time. You get to the point where when people talk about a great wine, such as Palmer 61, they have to qualify their notes by whether they got to taste a good, middling or poor bottle.

And we haven't even considered the issue of authenticity...


Two from Gallo

Should I just ignore giant brands such as California's largest, E&J Gallo? Or are big brands something that wine writers should comment on?

Of course, Gallo is just one brand of many (c. 60) in the E&J Gallo portfolio, but as a company, they probably crush more grapes than the entire Australian wine industry, and are the second largest wine company in the world (if you count Constellation as a single wine company). Size is only hinted at on their website (gallo.com), where they mention that they employ 4600 people. Production is around 60 million cases a year.

Here are my notes on two Gallo wines. They sell very well in the UK, but I can't help feeling that punters could buy much tastier wines than these for £6, if they'd leave the comfort zone of a familiar brand. The Chardonnay is nicer than the Cabernet Sauvignon.

Gallo Family Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon 2008 California
13% alcohol. Why do I dislike this wine? It’s really not because it says ‘Gallo’ on the label (the wine company that many love to hate, simply because it is so big). Rather, it is because it has a superficial attractiveness, with sweet red berry fruit, and then as you look closer you find a green, aggressively herbal streak hidden underneath all the confected, jammy fruit. It’s both over-ripe and green at the same time, and I find it a bit sickly. But it is certainly drinkable. 74/100 (£5.99 just about everywhere)

Gallo Family Vineyards Chardonnay 2008 California
13% alcohol. A ripe, almost off-dry fruity white wine with hints of butter and toast alongside the smooth peach, grape and pear fruit. Simple and monodimensional, but clean and correct. An accessible, easy drinking wine – perhaps a stepping stone from Liebfraumilch to drier styles of white wine? No rough edges. 79/100 (£5.99 just about everywhere)

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Thursday, October 15, 2009

A remarkable day of tasting

Spent pretty much the whole day tasting, today, but it was no chore.

Began with the Berry Bros & Rudd press tasting, where, as usual, we were treated to some real gems from the ludicrously extensive BBR range, including Tokaji Essencia from Royal Tokaji, which we were served on special glass spoons. I was particularly taken by the range of grower Champagnes, by some lovely Grand Cru Chablis from Droin, by the northern Rhones and also by BBR's own spirit range. There was a great turn-out with lots of colleagues to banter with. Time flew.

Then it was off to the annual Madeira tasting. Madeira is great, but off most peoples' radar screens. Barbeito's Madeiras were excellent, as usual. They're my absolute favourites. Blandy had a couple of fantastic colheitas, as well as the wine of the tasting: a 1920 Bual. I was also really impressed by the Justino's line-up: the 10 year old varietal wines all showed lovely freshness and complexity. D'Oliveras rocked: they brought along a wide selection of old colheitas back to the 1960s, which was really kind of them.

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A world-class Cava from Raventos

Over the last year or so, I've become increasingly interested in the world of Champagne and sparkling wine. I'm an open-minded guy, but at the very top end, I have to confess that almost all my favourite bubbly wines are actually from Champagne. So I was delighted to find this thoroughly delicious Cava. It's world class.

Raventos I Blanc Sant Sadurni D'Anoia Gran Reserva 2003 Cava
Yellow/gold colour. Lovely toasty, complex nose with subtle herby notes, hints of grapefruit and some citrussy fruit. Very refined and complex. The palate is fresh and fruity but has a savoury, complex side with toast and nuts. There's a herby tang on the finish that reminds me this is Cava. Very attractive and sophisticated. 90/100

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Wednesday, October 14, 2009

The growing importance of twitter

I've just ordered some business cards from the excellent moo.com

Mine lists (1) name, (2) website, (3) email, (4) twitter name (@jamiegoode), (5) mobile no, (6) address

Why include @jamiegoode? This is because twitter has become an increasingly important business tool for me. This week, I passed 1500 followers. I follow just under 600. Of course, on one level twitter is just fun. It's banter, and, yes, it can be trivial.

On another level, it's a really effective way to maintain connections, share ideas, and - perhaps most importantly - break news. There's an immediacy to twitter, and because of re-tweeting, new stories have the potential to reach significant numbers of people very quickly.

I started tweeting in January 2009. I was just dipping my toes in, then. Now I couldn't imagine life without it. My tweets also become my facebook updates (except for my RTs, which I edit out). This works, because not all my facebook friends tweet.

If you are tweeting, follow me, and I'll follow you back!


Great value Shiraz, part 8

I'm still in my pursuit of great value Shiraz/Syrah. Here's a good-un from today's Sainsbury's press tasting.

Sacred Hill Hawkes Bay Syrah 2007 New Zealand
13% alcohol. From the Gimblett Gravels, this is a really impressive Syrah at a good price. It has a fresh, spicy nose with notes of white pepper, cloves, meat and blackcurrant fruit. The palate is fresh and pure with focused black fruits backed up by some spicy, savoury notes. Berryish and pure, and a lovely cool-climate expression of Syrah. 90/100 (£8.99 Sainsbury's)

(will be available from 25/10/09)

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A plug for an amazing charity dinner at the Square

Just a quick plug for a charity dinner at the Square (one of London's best restaurants) with Hugh Johnson on the 31st October.

It's organized by regular commenter here, Keith Prothero. There's an awesome list of wines and every single penny donated by attendees goes directly to Pebbles via his 'just giving' page http://www.justgiving.com/keithprothero/
Bidding for places closes at noon on the 17th October and the lowest bid so far is £750.

The list of wines is:

Trimbach Clos St Hune VT 89
Trimbach Clos st Hune Hors Choix 89
Egon Müller Scharzhofberger Riesling Auslese 89

Lafite 1950
Petrus 1950
Palmer 61
Lafite 82
Cheval Blanc 85
Montrose 90 in magnum

Leroy Chapelle-Chambertin 66
Musigny Georges De Vogue 78
Leroy Les Beaux Monts 90
Rouget VR Cros Parantoux 93

Guigal La Turque 88
Chave Hermitage 90
La Chapelle 78 and 90
Chapoutier Ermitage Le Pavillon 90
Trevallon 90

Yquem 86
Climens 88
Tokaji 5 puts 37

Bual Quinta do Serrado 1827

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

BBR's blog on Bordeaux 2009

There's a lot of excitement around about the 2009 vintage in Bordeaux, which is still being picked as I write.

I enjoyed reading the report on the 2009 harvest on Berry Bros & Rudd's excellent blog. It's written by Max Lalondrelle, and you just have to love someone who in replying to a comment on the blog begins with 'Dear Sir'! I think Max is new to blogging.

I particularly liked the reference to the optical sorter, which selects individual berries. Now that is cool.

But it makes me think. Here we have a vintage where people are surprised by the hygeinic conditions of the grapes. They have, as in 2005, elevated levels of physiological ripeness, and elevated levels of potential alcohol. And the top properties are taking more care than ever, for example with the selection of grapes.

Could it be that Bordeaux is better than ever before? Perhaps. But could it also be that Bordeaux is different to the Bordeaux of yesterday? This seems to be the case.

The potential difficulty is that the current 'paradigm' (sorry, horrible word) of fine wine has been largely based on Bordeaux as it used to be, and as it used to develop in bottle. This may need to change in light of the fact that Bordeaux has changed.

Might it be that the top 2009 Bordeaux wines will resemble, say, Margaret River Cabernet/Merlot blends? Personally, I love Margaret River Cabernets, and this is not meant as a slight to them. The issue is that there is a sort of contract with the consumer of top Bordeaux that these are wines destined to age and develop in a certain way, and this may no longer be the case.

What do you think?


Broadbent's 'Billionaire's Vinegar' libel settled out of court

News just in: Michael Broadbent's libel action against Random House, publishers of Benjamin Wallace's 'Billionaire's Vinegar', has been settled out of court. Random House issued a public apology to Broadbent, and paid 'undisclosed damages' [I'd really like to know how much!]

Wallace's book, examining the authenticity of the famous 'Thomas Jefferson' wines, is an excellent read, but unfortunately Broadbent did come across very badly in it.

From what I gather, it is just the UK distribution of the book that is affected. Random House has agreed not to distribute the book in the UK, but it is still available in unchanged form in the USA. Readers in the UK can, of course, still obtain the book via US mail order retailers such as amazon.com.

The press release reads:

The libel action centred on the book The Billionaire’s Vinegar, the subject of which was the provenance of a number of bottles of wine said to have been owned by Thomas Jefferson. The book made allegations which suggested that Mr Broadbent had behaved in an unprofessional manner in the way in which he had auctioned some of these bottles and that his relationship and dealings with Hardy Rodenstock, who discovered the original collection, was suspected of being improper.

In a statement read out in open court today, Random House apologised unreservedly for making the allegations and accepted that they were untrue. It has given an undertaking not to repeat the allegations and paid Mr Broadbent undisclosed damages.

Commenting on the settlement Sarah Webb, head of Russell Jones & Walker’s Defamation department, who acted for Mr Broadbent said:

“The Billionaire’s Vinegar made highly damaging claims about my client that seriously compromised both his professional and personal reputation. We are delighted that Random House has today accepted that these allegations are totally without foundation and avoided the need to proceed to a full trial. My client is relieved that the good name he has built up over many years as one of the country’s leading wine experts has been fully restored.”


Monday, October 12, 2009

A Douro white

Portugal's Douro Valley is primarily red wine country, but of late the whites have really begun to impress. It would be interesting to do a tasting of high-end Douro whites, but serving them to tasters blind, so they were tasting without prejudice. The results might be fun.

Quinta do Judeu Branco 2008 Douro, Portugal
13.5% alcohol. Mixed varieties, old vines. Lovely forward aromatics with some grapey richness (is there some Moscato in here?) as well as herby, waxy, citrussy notes. The palate is rich and quite bold with fresh, waxy, pithy citrussy fruit, as well as richer grapey, peachy notes. There are lots of different flavours here, all working together to create an interesting, textured, fruit-driven wine. 89/100

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Sunday, October 11, 2009

A soul-restoring Montlouis

There is always hope for the world of wine when, amongst the sea of spoofulation and depressing commercial correctness, you get ambitious, talented people investing their time and money in worthy but unfashionable regions such as Montlouis. Stephan Cossais is one such winegrower, and this wine of his isn't perfect, but it is beautiful. It's an amazingly rich, vibrant, life-full expression of Chenin Blanc. You can read more about Cossais at Jim Budd's Loire Blog.

Stéphane Cossais ‘Le Volagré 2006 Montlouis-sur-Loire, Loire, France
13.5% alcohol. Beautifully packaged, and with an amazing good-quality long cork. Deep yellow/gold colour. Rich, mineral, toasty nose with notes of herbs and apples, and a lemony, subtly cidery lift on the nose. Bold, intense palate shows a hint of vanilla and toast (this cuvee, unusually, had 20% new oak) with powerful citrus, herb and mineral notes. A distinctive dry Chenin Blanc with power, richness and intensity. This is a producer to watch. 91/100 (retail c. £19, UK agent Les Caves de Pyrene)

[Note added later: sadly, as Jim points out in the comments below, Stephane Cossias died in July at the awfully young age of 42.]

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Lunch with Drappier Grande Sendree 2000

Just come back from a very enjoyable family lunch where b-in-law Beavington served a Drappier Grand Sendree 2000 in response to my trio of Portuguese wines. It's a fabulous Champagne: intense and alive. Of all the prestige cuvees, this is one of the best values in the whole region.

Champagne Drappier Grande Sendree 2000
Golden colour. Wonderful stuff: there's a lifted nose that is intensely toasty lively apple, citrus and herb notes. The palate has lovely savoury intensity with notes of minerals, lemons and spice. Beautifully poised and intense with great balance. Still youthful, and with so much personality. 93/100


Saturday, October 10, 2009

Two brilliant, affordable Douro reds

Two brilliant wines from the Douro, from two rather different properties, under the same management. They are both the 'second' wines of the respective estates, which makes them relatively affordable (c. £12 each, well priced for wines from these amazing terroirs), but they deserve to stand on their own merits as reasonably serious efforts. They are both from the 2007 vintage, which in the Douro was fantastic.

Cedro do Noval 2007 is classified as a Vinho Regional Duriense because it has a good dollop of Syrah in it, as well as the native Portuguese varieties. It's beautifully aromatic, balanced and nicely structured, with lovely sweet dark cherry and blackberry jam fruit backed up by good acid and grippy tannin. No hurry to drink this. It's named after the famous cedar tree in front of the Quinta (pictured below).

R de Romaneira 2007 is perhaps a little richer and darker, but still with great definition to the sweet fruit, and hints of meat and spice adding complexity. Lovely fusion of rich fruit with fresh acidity and some assertive but ultimately tamed tannins.

Both wines are classy and show great balance, with 13.5% alcohol.

(Find these wines with wine-searcher.com)

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Friday, October 09, 2009

Update: what I'm working on

I'm tired. It's Friday evening and soon I stop working for a day. I've spent most of today fiddling around working out how best to migrate my website to a new server (this is much more complicated and fraught with grave peril than it sounds) because of issues with bandwidth (too many visitors - a nice problem). I've also been thinking about redesigning wineanorak, which is pretty much the way it looked 9 years ago - internet pre-history, dudes.

I've also finished off my winery lists for a new book project called Opus Vino (working title) with Dorling Kindersley. I get to do Portugal (115 wineries), New Zealand (90 wineries) and Australia (300 wineries). The editor, Jim Gordon, has assembled an interesting list of mainly young contributors, including Peter Liem, Tyler Colman, Stuart Pigott and Jane Anson. It's very exciting. A flatplan of one of the map pages is above.

My book on natural wine is progressing well, although co-author Sam Harrop has just had a baby (George), and it's vintage. So he's a little behind!

I have about a gazillion things to write up for the website, too. Time for some fizz. Ruinart tonight.

Thursday, October 08, 2009

Vina Casa Silva's 'microterroir' Carmenere

I've grown to really like Carmenere, that uniquely Chilean variety that began life in Bordeaux, but now is all but extinct except in its adopted country. Here's a really good one from Vina Casa Silva, whose microterroir project I have just written up.

Viña Casa Silva Microterroir de los Lingues Carmenère 2005 Colchagua, Chile
14.5% alcohol. Deep coloured and dense, this has a classic Carmenère nose of brooding, sweet red fruit pastille and blackberry fruit with a spicy, chalky dimension. The palate is concentrated, smooth and quite lush with an appealing, smooth grainy tannic structure. Like many serious Carmenères it is very ripe and full, but is far from jammy, with grainy, chalky, spicy notes keeping the fruit really well defined. There’s a hint of dark chocolate, too, but the emphasis here is really on the bold fruit. 92/100 (UK retail c. £25)

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Closures: managing risk

I've decided to delete this post, but wanted to leave a marker here for the sake of openness, rather than just make it vanish, '1984'-style.

It was a 'thinking out loud' post attempting to put rough figures on various aspects of closure risk, but on reflection, and after some discussion, I think it's actually really unhelpful - what the closures debate needs are more solid data points, and not more anecdote and opinion.


Wednesday, October 07, 2009

A stunning northern Rhone at Waitrose's Press Tasting

Spent most of today at the Waitrose press tasting. As UK readers will know, of all the supermarkets in the UK, Waitrose has the most serious wine list. While many of the high-end wines are available in just a few top stores (Kingston and Canary Wharf are the two flagship stores, carrying pretty much the entire range), they're all available from Waitrose Wine Direct, headed up by the extremely able Alex Murray, who used to be with Berry Bros & Rudd. Waitrose Wine Direct allows you to buy mixed cases, which is handy.

Many of the wines in the tasting today were lovely, but my favourite, by a whisker from the 2005 Leoville Barton, was a stunning Cornas. It was just so beautifully perfumed and structured. Almost Burgundian.

Vincent Paris Granit 30 Cornas 2007 Northern Rhone, France
13% alcohol, half matured in barriques. Wonderful nose: thrillingly alive, with fine meaty, spicy notes. Just so lively and expressive with perfumed floral elements. The palate is beautful, with high acidity and lovely firm but fine-grained tannins sitting under the elegant red fruits. Just thrilling: my favourite style of wine. 96/100 (£23.99 Waitrose, 2 branches)

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Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Four remarkable old Colares wines

Some fantastic wines were shown at yesterday's portfolio tasting from Clark-Foyster wines. But there was a nice surprise, too. Filipa Pato and William Wouters brought with them, along with their own wines (which are great), four bottles of old Colares, from the 1968, 1955, 1952 and 1934 vintages. This was really kind of them: we got to taste a bit of Portuguese wine history. The wines were just fabulous. My write up, with a bit of background on Colares is here.


Asda press tasting, and Philippa Carr begins blogging

Went to Asda's press tasting today. Lots of wine, almost all affordable, and many really good. It's easy as a wine journalist to forget what it's like to stand in front of the aisles with £5 0r £6 to spend on wine, trying to find something nice. Asda's range has its fair share of spoofy branded wines, but it also has some delicious, inexpensive wines, too. They've done particularly well with the buying for their extra special range. My favourites? Any of the following:

Vinalba Patagonian Syrah Malbec 2006 (£7.48)
Extra Special Argentinian Malbec 2008 (£5.98)
Mayu Syrah Reserva 2006, Elqui (£8.82)
Extra Special Primitivo di Puglia (£5.88)
Extra Special Shiraz 2008 VdP d'Oc (£6.98)
Extra Special NZ Sauvignon 2009 (£7.98)
Extra Special Fiano 2008 Sicily (£5.98)
Extra Special Gavi 2008 (£6.97)
Asda Verdicchio Classico 2008 (£4.10)

What's news? Well, Philippa Carr MW, who heads up the wine department, has begun to blog (see screengrab above). She's one of the team on 'aisle spy', the new Asda blog that takes customers behind the scenes. Issued with a Flip video recorder, she is licensed to blog, and her section is here. Initial signs are promising - and she was busy collecting new material today.

Monday, October 05, 2009

Lunch with Peter Gago

Had lunch today with Peter Gago, who since 2002 has been Penfolds Chief Winemaker. This job title makes him the custodian of Grange, Australia's most famous wine, which enjoys true celebrity status. Since its beginnings in the 1950s, Grange has just four of these custodians: Max Schubert, Don Ditter, John Duval and now Peter.

It's the first time I've spent proper time with Peter, who is ideally suited to one of the most fun jobs out. Basically, he gets to travel the world as a Penfolds (and therefore Grange) ambassador, drinking a heck of a lot of back vintages in the process with some very interesting people, including a fair smattering of celebrities.

Our discussions today were broad ranging and quite organic, in the sense that we drifted from one theme to another without much structure. Peter is smart, articulate, and has a rich fund of stories. He's an interviewer's dream, in that you hardly have to ask a question to get a lot of juicy material in return, but much of the discussion was of an off-the-record nature.

Peter is a Champagne nut. It's probably his favourite wine style, outside his own portfolio; he started off as a sparkling wine maker, working closely with Ed Carr. Last night he was staying at the Capital Hotel, and he dined there. On the wine list he found a 1943 Krug, priced at £155, which he promptly ordered. He showed me the bottle, which he had kept and which he had with him: interestingly, it had a bluish tinge to the glass. He'd snagged a bargain (did they miss a zero off?).
I like Peter. While he's an accomplished 'people person', you don't feel like he's trying to 'spin'. We didn't drink any Grange with our lunch (in recent months, I've done a wide range of vintages of this wine) but we did look at several other wines, including two newcomers to the Penfolds portfolio. They're a pair of new releases under the Koonunga Hill label, with wonderful retro labels.

Koonunga Hill used to be quite serious. First released in 1976, it didn't cost much, but it was an ageworthy red that over-delivered. Over time, the brand became a little devalued, but the new releases are raising the game a little. The first is called Koonunga Hill Autumn Riesling 2008, and it's just lovely, with a delicate sweet honeyed note to beautifully balanced lime and lemon fruit. The second is the Koonunga Hill Seventy Six Shiraz Cabernet 2008, and it's brilliantly sleek, smooth, well defined and just delicious, and will likely age beautifully over a decade. Both will be priced around £9, and at this level represent fantastic value for money. It's great that this historic old label is being revived in this way. [The current Koonunga Hill releases will remain for the time being, though. These new wines are quite a bit different.]


Sunday, October 04, 2009

Is educating people to drink better elitist?

At the Flavour Extraction symposium I blogged on earlier, one of the points I raised was that the role of the communicator in making 'real' food and drink accessible to people is critical. Most people don't eat and drink well. Certainly, when it comes to wine, most people drink inexpensive branded wines. And even when they trade up, they usually buy uninteresting commercial wines when for the same price they could get something much more interesting.

Communicators are needed to tell people about the world of flavour. Someone needs to get the message out, making high-end food and drink products of real interest accessible to people who aren't going to find them in their supermarket shop.

But then I checked myself. Was I being elitist, thinking that people need to be educated about wine (and food) when they are perfectly happy with what they already have? [Even if what they already have is crap.]

Randolph Hodgson of Neal's Yard made a great point, though. In fact, it's elitist to think that people shouldn't be told about great, authentic food and wine. We're deciding that most people aren't ready for, or aren't able to appreciate, real flavours. There's something wrong about this attitude, but unfortunately many of the gatekeepers (the editors of consumer publications) feel this way.

Amazing flavour symposium

On Thursday night I took part in a remarkable symposium on Flavour Extraction. It's the first of a series of events, escalating in scale and scope, that look to explore flavour from a multidisciplinary perspective.

These events come under the banner of London Gastronomy Seminars, convened by a group of four: Francis Percival (food writer), Bronwen Percival (Neals Yard cheese buyer), Dr Rachel Edwards-Stuart (who has a PhD in molecular gastronomy) and James Hoffmann (Square Mile Coffee).

They state:
We live in an age where the great communicator of French bourgeois cooking to post-war America only tops the best-sellers list after her story is reinvented as a heart-warming relfection on marriage and destiny. Coverage of food too often sacrifices an understanding of the food itself - what makes it good, and why - to an ecstatic testimonial focused on an imagined foodie lifestyle: all fluff and no substance.

Thursday's seminar was, for me, a stimulating evening of rich fare. Tony Coigliaro kicked off with a short presentation on his work creating novel drinks. He owns the bar at 69 Colebrooke Row, and illustrated his talk with a cocktail creation in which the eggs used in it had been kept in boxes infused with a straw-like essence (hexenol). He had been using egg whites in sours to bind flavours together, but ran into the problem of wet dog nose; this was solved by using essences such as the hexenol used here in the egg box.

I gave a talk on wine flavour extraction, and illustrated it with two wines from Les Caves de Pyrene, with a very different flavour profile (Romaneaux-Destezet Syrah 2007 and Minervois Les Aspres 2004). This prompted a fairly lengthy discussion on flavour perception.

James Hoffmann (Square Mile Coffee, and his blog) gave a brilliant presentation on some of the issues concerning coffee flavour extraction. There are three steps to great coffee. (1) Creation: 'everything good about coffee is how it is grown'. (2) Preservation: how much quality can be kept through the stages of processing, transport and roasting? (3) Extraction. There's a brewing control chart created by Dr Robert Lockhart in the 1960s, which plots strength against extraction. While strength, the ratio of solubles to solvent, is a matter of personal preference, extraction only works between 18 and 22%. We tried two coffees that were the same strength, but had different levels of extraction. The 19% extraction tasted much, much better than the 14.5% extraction, which tasted weaker, less complete and more bitter.

Finally, John Forbes from RC Treatt gave an absorbing talk on the manufacture of natural flavourants. His company produces 150 essential oils and 1500 flavour chemicals. These chemicals are used by the food industry, perfumiers and even the pharmaceutical industry. It was a window into a fascinating world of flavour extraction and aroma capture, and John illustrated the talk with a range of different aromas.

The next event will be on 30 November, and it's a public lecture on flavour extraction, to be held at the University of London's Senate House.

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Saturday, October 03, 2009

Missing the Douro - more pictures

I wish I was back in the Douro. It's such a magical place. Here are some more pictures from last week's trip. They're from Taylor's Quinta de Vargellas in the Douro Superior.

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Friday, October 02, 2009

2007 Vintage Port: a great vintage

Just written up the 2007 vintage Ports on the main part of the site here. If I wasn't paying for one of my children's education, I'd go big on this vintage, which I think is fantastic. I also think the 2003 vintage is equally excellent, after having retried a number of the wines.

My choices? I'd order a case of Noval, a case of Niepoort (backward but serious), a case of Taylors, a case of Graham, a case of Warre, and then some Romaniera and Silval to keep me going in the meantime. Vintage Port rocks.

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Thursday, October 01, 2009

Reduced alcohol wines: time for a new category?

Today in London there's a forum on low alcohol wines. Technology such as the spinning cone and reverse osmosis mean that it's now possible to reduce the alcohol level of finished wines without damaging the wine flavours all that badly. And with the recent media push towards lower alcohol wines, could we be seeing the birth of a new category of wine here, with reduced levels of alcohol?

One of the leading companies operating in this area is called TFC Wines, who already have a low alcohol wine called Sovio on the market. It's a 5.5% Sparkling White Zinfandel, which can't legally be called wine (it's described as 'made with White Zinfandel'), and it's £4.99 in Tesco.

Perhaps more interesting to wine lovers are their other wines, which have alcohol contents of 8, 9 and 11%. I've met with their winemakers and tried their wines, and come away quite impressed.

There's also a French producer, Domaines Auriol, who have recently launched a range of three wines from the Languedoc at 9% alcohol. Here, a modified form of reverse osmosis has been used to bring the alcohol levels down.

While techniques that reduce alcohol in a finished wine seem quite manipulative, the results are much better than those obtained by picking grapes very early, which is used for some of the lower alcohol wines found on supermarket shelves.

I wrote quite a long piece on this for Wine Business International. An updated version of this, with some new material, is available here.

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