jamie goode's wine blog: December 2009

Thursday, December 31, 2009

Video: the new year blind Champagne tasting

Here I taste Champagnes blind with brother-in-law William Beavington. Will Krug and Bollinger triumph over much cheaper growers' Champagnes when the label isn't in view? [And there's a nice family new year's toast at the end!]

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Lots of Champagne and a nice Port with family

Had a brilliant time last night with my family, over at my sister Hester's place in Gerrards Cross. All four siblings plus parents were gathered for the first time in ages.

B-in-law William and I filmed a blind Champagne tasting, which I'll be posting later. We gathered some high end Champagnes, a couple of lesser known grower Champagnes, and a sparkling wine ringer, and had them presented to us blind to assess without sight of the label.

The list included Bollinger, Krug, Belle Epoque 1999, Ruinart, Duval Leroy 2004, Legras BdB GC, Marc Chauvet Brut Selection and Pelorus 2005. The results surprised us! Then we drank them all.

After dinner, we had a couple of halves of Sandemans Vau Vintage Port 1997. I remember buying some of this from Oddbins for £4.99 a half almost a decade ago. It has developed beautifully, and thrown a shed load of sediment. Rich, sweet and spicy, this is much better than I'd have predicted. We also started on a large Cropwell Bishop Stilton. It was pretty good: nice balance between the creaminess and the bite of the blue.

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Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Costero Riesling: an affordable gem from Chile

A few days ago I blogged on the brilliant Costero Syrah, from Vina Leyda. Well, here's the Riesling. Watch out Australia: this is a very impressive dry Riesling at an affordable price. It would be great to sneak this into a line-up of the best Aussie Rieslings, because I think it would do quite well.

Costero Riesling 2008 Leyda Valley, Chile
Very pure with notes of lime, grapefruit and mandarin. Tight palate with freshness and an almost salty minerality. A bright expression of Riesling with some subtle herby notes. Delicious. 88/100 (£6.95 Majestic if you buy more than one Chilean wine)

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Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Recently on the main wineanorak site...

For the benefit of those who just visit this blog, here are some of the more recent additions to the main wineanorak site:

Monday, December 28, 2009

Beautifully elegant Aussie: De Bortoli Shiraz Viognier 2004

I have a few bottles of this lurking around, purchased a few years ago for around a tenner a bottle. It's just beautiful, and at five years old is starting to hit its stride, but clearly has some distance to go.

De Bortoli Shiraz Viognier 2004 Yarra Valley, Australia
14% alcohol. 11 months ageing in new and used French oak barrels. This is a beautifully expressive, elegant wine. There's a hint of floral, apricotty perfume to the nose which shows slightly peppery dark fruits. The palate is super-fresh with cherry and plum fruit backed up by some spiciness, and a structure which is in part tannin, in part acidity. There's a sweetness to the fruit which is very much Australian, but also a freshness and structure that's much more Northern Rhone. Wonderful stuff that's ageing beautifully. 94/100

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My new photostream

Here's my new photostream on Flickr, which contains around 180 of my favourite wine pictures.


Sunday, December 27, 2009

Awesome natural southern Italian: Monte di Grazia

I love this wine, which I've been drinking for the last couple of nights. It's one of my wines of the year, I reckon. I opened it to celebrate the first game under the charge of Roberto Mancini.

It's from Tramonti, high above the town of Amalfi in Campania, some 45 km from Naples. The wine comes from 2.7 hectares of vines spread over five plots, with tendone trellising (a sort of pergola system with the vines trellised high, the leaves shading the grapes from the hot sun). These vines are old, ranging from 50 years to over 100, and are ungrafted.

The principle grape is a teinturier (red fleshed) called Tintori di Tramonti, with 10% Piedirosso. It's aged in large barrels, and no sulfur dioxide is used. It reminds me a bit of the Southwest of France, but then also a bit of red Vino Verde, and there's definitely an Italian accent in the mix, too.

Monte di Grazia Rosso 2007 IGT Campania
Deep coloured. This has a wonderfully meaty, bloody, iodine, mineral nose with plum and cherry fruit. It has lots of fruit, but it is predominantly savoury. The palate continues this savoury theme, with a lovely minerally, gravelly, spicy edge to the rich dark fruits. It's quite robust and complex with high acidity and lots of freshness, as well as real mineralic intensity. There's a purity to it, as well - it avoids being rustic. Thrilling wine. 93/100 (UK agent Les Caves de Pyrene, retail c. £11)

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Saturday, December 26, 2009

Christmas day drinking

So here's what we drank on Christmas day. A wide selection of stuff, in part reflecting the fact that our full household didn't include many serious wine nuts. Well, one actually. Here's the brief run down, left to right.

Champagne Perrier-Jouet NV - nicely balanced, quite savoury, fruity with moderate complexity. Went down easily.
Champagne Laurent Perrier Brut 1999 - attractive, taut, citrussy, moderately serious. Proper fizz.
Casillero Del Diablo Brut 2007 Limari Valley, Chile - the surprise of the day. Taut, fresh and lemony with lovely precision. Fresh and focused with sophistication to spare.
Champagne Nicolas Feuillatte Blanc des Blancs 2002 - I liked this quite a bit. Focused citrussy fruit with some toasty notes. Stylish.
Quinta do Noval 10 Year Old Tawny - lovely, almost Burgundian style of Port.
Chateau Brown 2004 Graves, Bordeaux - a Christmas claret. Very traditional gravelly style with nice fruit. Not flashy, but satisfying.
Marques de Riscal Rueda 2008 - lovely aromatic dry white - great thiols.
Hatzidakis Santinori No 15 Assyrtiko 2007 - rich but balanced with lovely mineral and melon character. Lovely.
Montana Sauvignon Blanc 2008 Marlborough, New Zealand - classic Marlborough Sauvignon. In this vintage, better than Cloudy Bay.
Fonseca Terra Prima Organic Port NV - this rocks. I've blogged on this recently.
Clos Baudoin Vouvray Aigle Blanc 'Vin Tris' 1989 Vouvray - even when out of form, this producer has made a long-lived, beguiling sweet Vouvray with real interest. Still tastes fresh and mineral.
Croft LBV Unfiltered 2004 - at £4 a half, this is good value. Croft are generally underperforming at the moment. Don't know why.
M&S Irish Stout - brilliant, much better than Guinness
M&S Christmas Ale - very, very spicy, with cinnamon and clove notes. Great with mince pies.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Merry Christmas, dear readers

It's very sad to be blogging on Christmas eve, so I'll be brief. And then I'll get a life.

We're just waiting for relatives to arrive. I managed to sneak in a bit of late Christmas shopping today, including the purchase of some more Port, which we are drinking a lot of. I found Quinta do Noval's wondeful unfiltered LBV in Tesco at a knock-down price of £9.80. It was the 2001, a good vintage for this wine. I also picked up a couple of halves of the Croft Unfiltered LBV 2004, at £3.99 a piece. It's not as good as the Noval, but it's still an acceptable drop, and halves of Port are useful.

My big regret is that we have no decent Sherry in the house. That's a huge oversight. Matusalem, for example, is a perfect wine for late morning - it would be great for opening presents to.

Earlier on today we took the kids and RTL for our traditional Christmas eve walk round Bushy Park, checking on the deer before Santa picks them to drive his sleigh (or something like that).

Now I'm trying to pick wines for tomorrow. I'm under orders not to choose anything too strange, or with too strong a flavour. This ties my hands somewhat. I don't want to have to resort to the Richard Nixon trick of having one bottle for me, and one for my guests. And yet I perfectly understand that not everyone wants to experiment with their wines, or be exposed to challenging flavours. Tricky one.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

A serious Chilean wine: Viu Manent

Here's a Chilean wine I'd seek out and buy. I'm a real fan of Viu Manent, and a report of their wines will be coming soon...

Viu Manent Malbec Single Vineyard San Carlos Estate 2007 Colchagua, Chile
14.5% alcohol. From 70 year old Malbec vines. Deep coloured. Wonderful aromatic nose with fresh, complex, spicy, violetty black fruits with an appealing savoury dimension. The palate has great concentration and firm tannic structure with intense, spicy, savoury plum and blackberry fruit. Beautifully savoury, with great acidity and structure, this is destined for a long life. Beautiful. 93/100 (UK agent: Les Caves de Pyrene)

Find this wine with wine-searcher.com

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An inexpensive, delicious Chilean Syrah

Tonight's tipple? A really great Syrah from Chile. It's from Leyda, a cool climate region on the coast, where there's only just enough warmth to get the Syrah grapes ripe. This leaves them with a lovely peppery freshness, although this isn't your average crowd-pleasing Chilean red, because it has edges. But I think it's the edges that make it interesting.

Costero Syrah 2008 Leyda, Chile
From Vina Leyda. An amazingly vibrant, edgy Chilean Syrah with some meatiness to the red fruits, as well as a hint of white pepper. The palate has high acidity and some grippy tannins, making it a good food option. There's just a hint of that Chilean rubbery character, but that doesn't detract overly from the impact of the wine. You're getting a lot more wine here than you are paying for. 89/100 (£6.95 Majestic when you buy more than one bottle of Chilean wine)

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Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Carrick's new high-end Central Otago Pinot Noir

Carrick, one of the leading Central Otago producers, tried to up their game a bit by launching a new high-end Pinot Noir - this, the 2005, was the first vintage of the Excelsior, which is a selection of older vine fruit. It's a wine with the presence and structure to age; currently, it seems a bit to young to show all that it's capable of.

Carrick Excelsior Pinot Noir 2005 Central Otago, New Zealand
A single-vineyard wine made from Carrick’s older vines in Bannockburn. 13.5% alcohol. Rich yet restrained nose of red berries, cherries and complex spices. The palate is concentrated and taut with lovely red fruit character, good acidity and spicy tannins. It’s lively, assertive and complex. Still quite primary, even though it is four years old, with superb balance and promise for the future. It seems a shame to drink it now: this is a serious, quite structured wine that will probably be approaching its best in a decade. 93/100

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Some snow play, and a trip to buy wine

Our family has been pretty dysfunctional of late (long, long story), but we had a rare afternoon of family fun in the snow. We took RTL and a sledge over to Virginia Water, where there was still quite a bit of snow.

RTL had a great time. She goes crazy when she sees snow, running around in a state of crazed hysteria. We managed to find a good long sloping run and had some fun on the sledge. It was great.

Then, later this afternoon I visited Majestic Wine in Twickenham, to buy a few affordable but tasty bottles for the Christmas break. It was packed. There was no room in the car park. People were buying a lot of wine. But even though the staff were rushed off their feet, they were excellent. More than anything else, I think this contributes to Majestic's success.

Monday, December 21, 2009

A high-end Cabernet from Clark Smith

I've profiled Californian winemaker Clark Smith on wineanorak before (here). He's an interesting person. Often controversial, frequently funny, and almost always worth listening to. This is one of his wines, and I really like it.

Wine Smith Crucible Cabernet Sauvignon 2005 Napa Valley, California
A really intriguing wine. It’s had a 42 month elevage, and knowing Clark Smith there will have been a bit of alcohol reduction and some microoxygenation thrown into the process. It has a very fresh, focused nose with spice, a hint of oak, and blackcurrant and red cherry fruit. The palate is concentrated and intense with firm tannins, a fresh fruit profile that’s more red than black, and a slightly drying finish. It has some spicy, earthy complexity, and it’s a really sophisticated, savoury, potentially ageworthy wine. I like the freshness and savouriness, something you don't always find in high-end Napa wines. 92/100

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Superb organic Port from Fonseca

I always turn to Port in the winter. I should be drinking it all year round, but it tends to get forgotten a bit in the summer months. Here's a favourite of mine, that delivers a lot of pleasure for a relatively affordable price. It's Fonseca's organic Port, Terra Prima. There are very few organic Ports at all, because the spirit that is added to stop fermentation (about one-fifth of the blend) has to be organic too. And the Taylor Fladgate group were able to source and get approved organic spirit only in 2002, when this wine was first produced. It comes mostly (or all?) from selected blocks on Quinta do Panascal (where the fermenting grapes are pictured, above).

Fonseca Porto Terra Prima NV
This is wonderfully focused and almost vinous, with dense, spicy dark cherry and plum fruit showing lovely purity and good structure. The sweetness is offset by lovely dry, spicy tannins (almost Italianesque) and deliciously vivid, focused dark fruits. Better than most Late Bottled Vintage wines. Quite serious. 90/100 (£14.99 Waitrose)

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Sunday, December 20, 2009

A wine movie: bottle shock

Picked up a copy of Bottle Shock in Blockbusters the other day, and watched it over the space of two nights.

It's so good to see another film about wine. It's just a shame it wasn't better.

The film is (loosely) based on the celebrated 1976 tasting, organized by Stephen Spurrier, which pitted the best of France against the best of California, blind. Guess who won?

I enjoyed bits of it. I really liked the visual appeal of Napa as a wine region. Almost worth watching for this alone. The film makers really captured the essence of Napa wine country - it was less Highway 29, and more Silverado Trail. It can't have been easy filming and making it look like 1976, but they managed this bit well.

But the characterization was really poor. This was a mass-appeal Hollywood feel-good film, and I suspect they took a lot of liberties with the truth. There was a high corny quotient, and cheese to spare.

Despite all the problems, though, it's still quite an enjoyable watch by Hollywood standards. After a slow start, there's enough here to hold the attention, and while it could have been so much better, it's not a total disaster of a film. It's quite fun. If I was Stephen Spurrier, I'd be quite flattered that (a) someone had made a film about my tasting, and (b) Alan Rickman was playing me. [Even if I was involved in a competing film project on the same subject.]

Reference: There's a really good Wikipedia page on the Judgement of Paris. It gives all the judges' individual scores. I didn't realize that Aubert de Villaine was one of the judges, and it was interesting to see how they ranked the wines.

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Saturday, December 19, 2009

England's best yet?

Could this be the UK's best wine yet produced? I think it's up there. Buy, buy!

Ridgeview Merret Bloomsbury 2006 West Sussex, England
61% Chardonnay, 27% Pinot Noir, 12% Pinot Meunier; 12 year old vines on chalky soils; 12% alcohol, 9 g/l dosage. Deep yellow colour. Lovely complex savoury toasty style with nice herby fruit, some citrus notes and good acidity. Real power and precision here. 93/100 (£19.99 Waitrose)

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Friday, December 18, 2009

It's freezing, so wine to warm

It's freezing cold. I had to spend 30 minutes waiting at Reading station this evening to meet older son, who was getting the train back from school for the holidays. I haven't been as cold in years. But let's be positive: the great thing about bitter cold is that suddenly a moderately warm room has the potential to confer immeasurable pleasure.

It snowed last night, albeit a little half-heartedly. I took RTL (above) for a walk this morning, and there was still a thin covering. She loved it, running around like a nutter. I think we're due a bit more tonight.

So time for some warming wine. I'm off to the South of France. Elian Da Ros' Aboriou 2007 from the Cotes du Marmandais is peppery, spicy, meaty and distinctly savoury, with a big dollop of Brettanomyces. It's a distinctive style: whether or not you like it will depend on how you respond to the animal appeal of brett. Le Clos du Pioch 2007 Montpeyroux (£7.99 Marks & Spencer) is much more elegant and less edgy, with subtly meaty, floral perfume to the bright raspberry and cherry fruit. I like both wines, but without food, the Montpeyroux wins out because of its balance and elegance.

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Grande Annee 2000: an incredible Champagne

A serious fizz, this. A step up from the delicious 1999, and reasonably priced for a prestige cuvee. A Christmas treat?

Champagne Bollinger Grande Année 2000
Pale yellow colour. Fine aromatic nose is almost floral, with summer meadow hints and notes of toast and fresh lemons. The palate is concentrated and taut with lovely savoury herby, toasty notes, fresh persistent apple and lemon fruit, a hint of vanilla richness and some structure. A beautiful wine. 94/100 (£50 Majestic, £59.99 Tesco)


Thursday, December 17, 2009

A new look for wineanorak

I've been working for a while on changing the look of wineanorak. The old design had been tweaked a little, but wasn't much changed since the launch of the site proper in early 2000 (although a previous version of the site, as a sort of hobby page, dated back to internet pre-history - 1997). The new design isn't set in stone yet, but I've tried to follow research on how people actually use sites, without using too many snazzy navigational menus. I've also tried to make the site compatible with all browsers (did you know ie6 is still the most widely used?), and I've therefore avoided using the otherwise elegant css for designing the pages. Using tables for design will no doubt upset web designers on quite a deep level.

I've also thought quite a bit about bringing the blog and website together more closely. But I've decided against it. You just couldn't do the same sort of in-depth articles as blog posts, so the division will remain. Also, blogs are hard to navigate through after the event. A few weeks after posting, it becomes tricky for readers to navigate all the way through a blog. So I've kept the two running in parallel.

What do you think?

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Ampelography: Gouais Blanc is Chardonnay's mum

A paper published today has shown that the lowly variety Gouais Blanc is the mother of some very important grape varieties, including Chardonnay and Gamay Noir.

The paper (A banned variety was the mother of several major wine grapes; Harriet V. Hunt, Matthew C. Lawes, Mim A. Bower, John W. Haeger and Christopher J. Howe; Biology Letters) is freely available on the net if you are interested.

The fact that crosses between Gouais Blanc and Pinot Noir resulted in a number of varieties from eastern France has been known for a while. Back in 1999, a paper by John Bowers and colleagues in leading journal Science showed that this cross has resulted in the following varieties:

Aligote, Aubin vert, Auxerrois, Bachet noir, Beaunoir, Chardonnay, Dameron, Franc noir de la Haute Saöne, Gamay blanc, Gloriod, Gamay noir, Knipperle, Melon, Peurion, Romorantin, Roublot and Sacy.

The significance of the new paper is that it identifies which variety (Gouais or Pinot) provided the pollen (the father) and which was the mother vine in each of the crosses (or, at least, the 12 that were studied). The authors addressed this by examining the chloroplast DNA.

Chloroplasts are like mitochondria in that both of these organelles contain their own DNA. All your mitochondria were inherited from your mother; in the grape vine, in addition to maternal inheritance of mitochondria, there is maternal inheritance of chloroplasts, all of which come from the maternal side.

This means that the way the cross occurs matters. The characteristics of the mother are a little more important than those of the father. And, interestingly, the lesser grape in the crossing, the reviled Gouais, is the mother in most of these crossings.

Gouais is the mother for: Aligoté, Auxerrois, Bachet, Chardonnay, Franc noir, Gamay noir, Melon, Romorantin and Sacy.

Pinot is the mother for: Aubin vert, Knipperlé and Roublot.


Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Science in Cambridge

I’ve just spent two days doing a science gig, editing a meeting held at Clare College, Cambridge, on the role of the placenta in developmental programming. The work, which will involve producing a written account of the discussions that took place among a select band of scientists, is very similar to what I was doing before I became a full time wine writer. While I’m (fortunately) not short of wine work, I’m trying to keep my hand in with science just because (a) it’s interesting; (b) it’s worthwhile; and (c) sometimes doing something a bit different helps you to keep fresh, bringing a renewed perspective.

Once you get away from the low rent suburbs, Cambridge is a beautiful place. Like Oxford, it is a town that is shaped and defined by the presence of one of the world’s great universities. The walk to Clare from the station took me along the back of some of the leading colleges (Queen’s, King’s, Trinity, St John’s) and they look spectacular. Imagine studying at a university with 800 years of very obvious history like this. (Of course, you’d have to make sure you went to one of the old, prestigious colleges.)

So what was the take home message from the meeting? How the placenta seems to have quite important implications for the future of the fetus, with a strong correlation between certain placental growth patterns and the susceptibility to chronic disease in later life.

If you’ll excuse my rather loose use of language, it seems that the fetus is able to make some sort of calculation about the environment it is about to be born into, through sensing the nutritional state of the mother, and then tailoring its metabolic strategy to best fit this environment. This communication is mediated through the placenta. But these metabolic ‘choices’ have implications for susceptibility to chronic diseases such as heart disease and diabetes in later life. This is the ‘programming’ referred to in the title of the meeting.

It’s strange to think that this fetal programming is more predictive of your chances of getting heart disease, for example, than how much you exercise, how fat you are, or whether you smoke or not. But that’s the case.

Now I'm back at home, reassuring myself that whatever happened to me in the womb (I was a small baby, at 6 pounds, which isn't great - it's usually best to be a big baby, although there's more to it than just that - but I was a twin, so things may be different) my moderate (notice I failed to define 'moderate') consumption of decent wine is likely to have some protective effect against cardiovascular disease. (I'm working my way through a case of samples from Yalumba.)

Monday, December 14, 2009

Churchill's Quinta da Gricha 2007: serious Douro wine

2007 is a very successful vintage in the Douro, which is one of my favourite places on earth. And this Quinta da Gricha is one of the many serious table wines made this vintage, by the growing bevy of top flight Douro producers. I wonder how long it will be before Portugal is given the credit it deserves for its best wines? Nice touch to see a black and white aerial view of the vineyard on the label.

Churchill Quinta da Gricha 2007 Douro, Portugal
Brooding, dark and intense with lovely floral blackberry, tar and sweet dark cherry nose. The palate has attractive mineral undertones to the smooth but firmly structured blackberry and plum fruit. Lovely concentration of fruit here with some savoury complexity. It's a warm-climate wine, but there's really good definition and this should age well over the next couple of decades. 93/100 (c. £30, UK agent Stokes Fine Wines)

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Sunday, December 13, 2009

A nice cheap Chilean Pinot Gris with real character

Surprised by how good this is. At £6, a contender for house white this Christmas.

Casillero del Diablo Pinot Grigio 2009 Limari, Chile
Lively grapefruit and citrus flavours. Very fruity with crisp grape skin character, and refreshing acidity. A vibrant expression of Pinot Gris with real personality: brilliant effort. 87/100 (£7.49 Majestic but £5.99 if you buy more than one Chilean wine)

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Saturday, December 12, 2009

An icon a day: DRC Grands Echezeaux 1971

Domaine de la Romanée-Conti Grands Echezeaux 1971 Burgundy, France
Cloudy and pale coloured on pouring, this doesn't look to promising, but actually it's drinking superbly. Old earthy nose with some smooth bright cherry fruit. The palate, however, is beautifully elegant with subtle, sweet cherry and herb fruit, some undergrowth and fine spicy notes. Super-smooth with good complexity and a bit of sweetness. This is beautiful, but drink now. 95/100 (Tasted at The Sampler)

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Friday, December 11, 2009

Why beauty matters

A while back I caught a late-night re-run of a film by wine-loving philosopher Roger Scruton on BBC entitled Why Beauty Matters. 'In the 20th Century beauty stopped being important,' claimed Scruton. 'It was originality that won the prizes...we are losing beauty, and there is a danger that with it we will lose the meaning of life.'

Now I'm not sure whether I'm allowed to like Scruton, but I really liked his programme, and I've been thinking about it ever since. It was brilliantly put together and bravely argued, and it challenged some of my own thinking. [Unfortunately, it is no longer available on the BBC iPlayer, but he comments on it here on his own blog.]

I scribbled down some of Scruton's lines. 'Beauty has been central to our civilization for over 2000 years...through the pursuit of beauty we shape the world...we are spiritual beings...beauty matters...if we ignore this need we find ourselves in a spiritual desert...there is a path out of this that leads to home....beauty is a remedy for chaos and suffering... it shows human life to be worthwhile...many modern artists have become weary of this sacred task.'

He uses the example of Marcel Duchamp, who in 1917 unveiled a signed urinal as a satirical gesture. 'I want to get rid of it [art]', Duchamp said at the time. Then there's Piero Manzini's can of shit, and Carl Andre's pile of bricks. Scruton suggests that this cult of ugliness reflects the assertion that since the world is disturbing, art should be disturbing.

'The goal of the artist is to show the real in the light of the ideal, and so transfigure it,' claims Scruton. He then turns to architecture. 'Beauty is assailed by the cult of ugliness in art, and the cult of utility in every day life: architecture brings these together.' Sullivan's doctrine of 'form follows function' is used to justify the crime of modern architecture, suggests Scruton.

'If you consider only utility, the things you build will soon be useless...put beauty first, and what you do will be beautiful forever...ornaments liberate us from the tryanny of the useful.' He cites Plato's assertion that beauty is the sign of another and higher order. 'A transcendental God at the heart of art.' Interesting stuff, but I'm sure it's quite controversial, with it.

An icon a day: Petrus 1978

I'm not usually a Petrus tart: in the past my experiences with this wine have left me a bit nonplussed. But this 1978 is the real deal. Thrilling stuff.

Château Petrus 1978 Pomerol
Pale colour. Elegant, open, evolved nose is really beautiful, with minerals, sweet cherries and subtle earthiness. The palate is super-elegant with sweet, slightly sappy red fruit character. Beautiful evolution here. So elegant yet really balanced with good acidity and fine, soft tannic structure. This is elegant and light on its feet, and it's drinking perfectly now, with all the components pulling together in harmony. This is definitely the right time to open any remaining bottles of this wine. 97/100 (Tasted at The Sampler)


Thursday, December 10, 2009

Get thee down to Whole Foods Market: very good wine list and excellent wine bar

I had lunch today at the wine bar in the Whole Foods Market store on High Street Kensington, with their wine buyer Pete Hogarth and PR person Alex Tunney, who'd invited me to come and see what they are up to.

The wine range at Whole Foods is simply brilliant. It's a mix of conventional and natural wines, and is full of interest. In particular, the Italian and regional French ranges are superb, with strength in depth and an array of natural wines that is simply unparalleled in London.

The wines aren't overpriced, although they are not the cheapest, either (some seemed a bit on the expensive side, such as JM Stephan’s Côte Rôtie at £75, but is probably a function of what the wines were purchased for).

Browsing the shelves I found perhaps two dozen wines that I'd have bought on the spot if I'd been shopping. This is unusually good.

The best bit is that the wine bar allows customers to take a wine off the shelf, pay for it at the till, and then drink it at the bar with no extra corkage at all. That is seriously cool. The food options at the bar aren't too extensive, but what there is is very good. We had one each of the tartines (these are open sandwiches with a range of charcuterie and cheese toppings), raclette, a large plate of Italian charcuterie and some generous-sized slabs of Montgomerie Cheddar and cave-aged Gruyere.

These were washed down with three very interesting wines.

Angiolino Maule I Masieri 2008 Garganega del Veneto IGT
12% alcohol. 60% Garganega, 40% Trebbiano, made with some skin contact and with low sulfur dioxide (50 mg/litre). Yellow colour. Lovely bright, minerally, appley fruit here with some gently spicy notes. Quite complex with real personality. After a while in the glass it begins to pick up more complexity, with grapefruit pith and mandarin notes, as well as subtle matchstick complexity. A lovely natural wine. 91/100 (£11.99 Whole Foods Market)

Roagna Langhe Rosso 2001 Piedmont, Italy
13% alcohol. Long skin maceration, aged for years in large Slavonian oak casks, with just a touch of sulfur dioxide at bottling. This wine comes from Barbaresco: it's Roagna's younger vines and those at the bottom of the slope. But it's better than most Barolos or Barbarescos. Wonderfully savoury and elegant with subtly earthy cherry fruit, together with some spicy notes. There's a nice texture: while this is fairly tannic, there's a smoothness and elegance to the palate, with refined, complex spicy, earthy notes under the fruit. Very Burgundian style of Nebbiolo, and drinking beautifully now. 93/100 (£24.99 Whole Foods Market)

Veramar Vineyard Cabernet Franc 2007 Virginia, USA
13.4% alcohol. This is my first Virginian wine, and I'm just so impressed. It's got lovely purity of fruit, and real old world elegance. Clean red berry and cherry fruit nose with some sweetness and no greenness, and just a subtle chalky minerality hinting at the varietal origin. The palate shows lovely focused midweight berry fruits with great purity and balance. It reminds me a little of a Central Otago Pinot Noir, with its lovely stylish, focused fruit. Really delicious and quite serious. 90/100 (£16.99 Whole Foods Market)

Disclosure: I didn't pay for my lunch.

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Wednesday, December 09, 2009

A Loire red after football: P-J Druet

I've just come off the football pitch after an enjoyable game. Nine versus eight, finishing 2-1 after an hour. A solid defensive display by our side, coupled with a goalkeeping error by the other side, allowed us to sneak a hard-fought victory. There were some juicy challenges, but it was a warm-spirited affair, and the inevitable stiffness tomorrow will be worth it. I'm playing again tomorrow night, but this will be a less taxing five-a-side.

I've turned to a bottle that I bought a while ago from Majestic for some vinous refreshment (professional footballers tend to prefer the ice bath, and then a night club). It's Pierre-Jacques Druet's Le Cent Boisselees Bourgeuil 2003, a Loire red from the famously hot vintage. I remember buying it because Druet is one of the Bourgeuil's stars, and because the Loire suffered less than most other French regions in this otherwise disastrous vintage. It's interesting that those who hyped 2003 in Bordeaux and the Southern Rhone have never really been called to account. It's a vintage I avoid every bit as much as 2002 (although Bordeaux and Burgundy didn't do all that badly in this otherwise damp year).

The wine? Quite elegant and almost Burgundian, with a bit of the minerally, gravelly character that I love in Loire reds, but with some softness and richness that you don't always get in these wines. Elegant, midweight and approachable with strawberry and raspberry fruit, it's drinking very well now, but might not last too much longer. This is Druet's machine-picked, unoaked cuvee, and I reckon it's one for drinking early. I'll be on the lookout for more recent vintages; sadly, no longer at Majestic.

For more information on Druet, see the excellent report by Chris Kissack at his Winedoctor website. Chris is really good on the Loire, and his site is an excellent read.

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An icon a day: Lafite 1982

Château Lafite 1982 Pauillac, Bordeaux
Considering that we have here a combination of perhaps Bordeaux's top property and a truly great vintage, you'd expect great things of this wine. To be honest, it is a bit disappointing, although it's certainly a good drink. The nose is warm and spicy with some evolved meaty, earthy notes. The palate is earthy and intense with lovely spiciness: soft, concentrated, meaty and spicy. Nice density here, but it lacks real focus and purity. Just a disappointing bottle? 92/100 (tasted at The Sampler)


Amarone: watching grapes dry

Last week I had to do a presentation in the Valpolicella region of north east Italy. While I was there, I had a chance to visit the research centre for the region, to learn about a new project to identify new varieties for use in Valpolicella. There was also a opportunity to see the grapes being dried for Amarone production. I'm posting some pictures - in this case, the grapes are in plastic crates, but it's also common to find them laid out on wooden trays, or even hung up tied on to bits of string. The important thing is that they are in good condition, without any rot. I'm also posting a couple of pictures of the vineyards, which have very high trellising.

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Tuesday, December 08, 2009

An icon a day: Screaming Eagle 1996

Screaming Eagle 1996 Napa Valley, California
This is not a big, spoofy wine. It's actually amazingly elegant and refined. Beautiful nose is aromatic and floral with spicy sweet cherry and plum fruit. Integrated, harmonious and profound. The palate is really elegant and smooth with open, midweight fruit and perfectly integrated oak. It's just a beautifully expressive wine that's hard to spit, combining softness and openness with real interest. 96/100 (tasted at The Sampler)

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One of my favourite Chiantis...yum!

Podere Le Boncie Chianti Classico Le Trame 06 Tuscany, Italy
Just wonderful stuff, this naturally made Chianti from organically farmed vineyards. It shows almost perfect balance, countering the spicy, earthy, slightly medicinal savoury notes with vivid, bloody dark cherry and plum fruit. There's just a hint of fleshiness to the fruit, but currently the firm, savoury, spicy structure is the key theme, with fresh acidity keeping everything lively. It's a brilliant example of traditional, structured, yet balanced Chianti that should age brilliantly for a decade or two. I love the style. 93/100 (UK agent Les Caves de Pyrene)

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Monday, December 07, 2009

An icon a day: Ogier Belle Helene 1999

Ogier La Belle Helène Côte-Rôtie 1999 Northern Rhône, France
Just two barrels of this wine made. Aromatic, rich, warm spicy nose is complex and profound with lovely rich red fruit, cherry, spice and subtle earthy notes. It's powerful and intense, yet harmonious. The concentrated palate has beautifully elegant, open, fresh meaty red fruits with lovely acidity. It has absorbed the new oak beautifully. Meaty and powerful yet elegant with a mineral finish. Profound stuff: the northern Rhône at its best, and starting to age very well. 97/100

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Two brilliant new world Chardonnays

New world Chardonnay is a relatively uncool category for wine geeks. But styles and fashions are changing, and there are some that I really like. Here are two very good, equivalently priced Chardonnays that I really enjoyed. They're both from the 2006 vintage and are ageing beautifully, with good balance.

Clos du Val Chardonnay 2006 Carneros, Napa Valley
13.5% alcohol. Very fresh aromatic nose with subtle toasty notes, bright lemon and melon fruit, as well a subtle creaminess. The palate has a lovely savoury toasty streak to the lively lemon and just-ripe peach and white plum fruit. Complex with a hint of spice on the finish. Fresh, broad and focused, this is a lovely wine with great balance. 92/100 (£18.99 Hennings Wines, £16.50 Caviste)

Penfolds Bin 311 Tumbarumba Chardonnay 2006 Australia
13.5% alcohol. Lovely bright fresh fruit-driven nose with lemon oil, grapefruit, white peach and pineapple notes. The palate is fresh but rounded with focused bright fruit and subtle toasty, spicy warmth. Fresh, bright and developing in a lovely restrained style with good complexity and very little obvious oak influence. 93/100 (£17.99 Waitrose, Tesco.com)

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Sunday, December 06, 2009

An icon a day: Jaboulet La Chapelle 1990

After the 1978 reported on yesterday, the 1990: different, but totally compelling.

Paul Jaboulet Aîné Hermitage La Chapelle 1990 Northern Rhône, France
Warm, complex, earthy spicy nose with some lovely richness. There are hints of medicine, old wood and game, and there's a distinct sweetness to the aromas. The palate has lovely smooth, warm, spicy notes and rounded, rich fruit. It's a powerful yet elegant wine that's ageing beautifully, and it really is a crime to spit it. Lovely tannic structure keeps the richness in check. Just beautiful. 97/100 (tasted at The Sampler)

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Video: the Labradoodle reunion

So Rosie the Labradoodle had her reunion. Five of her eight puppies joined her for a walk, along with Digglett (the father) and a couple of guests. It was a lovely dog-filled afternoon. Here's a short film of the encounter.

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Saturday, December 05, 2009

Video: the spectacular Tulbagh Mountain Vineyards, South Africa

One of the short films from my recent South Africa trip: the beautiful TMV, a biodynamically run estate in Tulbagh.

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An icon a day: Jaboulet La Chapelle 1978

Paul Jaboulet Aîné Hermitage La Chapelle 1978 Northern Rhône, France
This 1978 is a legendary northern Rhône wine, and so tasting it knowing what it was made being objective quite hard. But fortunately the wine did not disappoint. A relatively pale colour, it has a complex nose of red fruits, undergrowth and spice, with a hint of medicine and some subtle floral notes. Almost Burgundian in style, weight and elegance. The palate is sublimely elegant with soft, complex cherry fruit, spice, herbs, fine tannins and some mineral notes. It's just so, so elegant with amazing length and an eternal finish. A really beautiful wine, approaching perfection. As with all wines of this age, there will be considerable bottle variation; this is clearly a very good bottle. 98/100 (Tasted at The Sampler)

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Friday, December 04, 2009

Icon wines at The Sampler

Had an incredible chance to taste some iconic wines this morning courtesy of north London wine merchant The Sampler. There's always a good range of interesting wines to taste here, courtesy of their multiple enomatic machines, but in the run up to Christmas they've put some serious icon wines on tasting, giving people the chance to see what all the fuss is about.

Unless your budget is pretty much limitless, I wouldn't steer you towards buying these sorts of bottles. For example, the £1700 a single bottle of Screaming Eagle costs could buy you 80 or 90 bottles of pretty delicous wine that would arguably give you a lot more pleasure over a consistent period. But it's really interesting to be able to try these wines for a lot less than it could otherwise cost, just because they're there, they're talked about and they are regarded as sort of benchmarks.

The tasting this morning contained some magical, almost spiritual wine moments, so good were some of these bottles. So to wring out the most from these experiences, I'm going to be drip feeding you an icon a day.

Coming up, in no particular order:

  • DRC Grands Echezeaux 1971
  • Screaming Eagle 1996
  • Hermitage La Chapelle 1978 and 1990
  • Lafite 1982
  • Petrus 1978
  • Ogier Belle Helene Cote Rotie 1999


Thursday, December 03, 2009

Brief Napa reports: Trinchero Napa Valley

[Continuing my brief write-ups from Napa.] I had lunch and a tasting with Barry Wiss, a charming host who had a pile of my wine science books for signing. Education is a big emphasis at Trinchero, and here they have a particular focus on wine and food. Trichero run an education centre, offering a range of classes in food and wine that can lead to certification.

The facility I visited in Napa is a new one (the site was previously occupied by Folie à Deux), and it is devoted to high-end wines, with a sparkling new winery. The beautifully designed visitor facility and restaurant offer scenic views of the surrounding vines. Trinchero Napa Valley makes just 13 000 cases annually from estate vineyards.

But you are more likely to have heard or Trinchero’s more commercial wines, including the famous Sutter Home White Zinfandel. Trinchero is actually the second largest family-owned wine company in the world (only Gallo eclipses them), with a 13 million case annual production.

It was in 1920 that the Trinchero family came to the USA from Italy. Mario was a speakeasy bartender in 1920s New York, and his older brother John became a broker buying bulk wine and sending it to the east coast. In his travels he found a run down winery, Sutter Home, and bought it in 1947, paying all he had ($12 000). Here he started making wine on a small scale.

They muddled along, and in 1960 John handed over winemaking duties to his son Bob. In 1968 Bob made his first Reserve Zinfandel. In 1972, he took off the free run juice and made a Zinfandel Rosé, which he named oeil de perdrix in homage to the classic European style. It wasn't a great success.

But then the Trincheros had a lucky break. In 1974 two things conspired to change their fortunes. Bob's pink Zinfandel experienced a stuck fermentation, leaving it slightly sweet. And rather than label it oeil de perdrix he decided on 'White Zinfandel'. The wine exploded in popularity, and was to form the basis of the rapid expansion of the Sutter Home brand.

However, not everyone was so keen on this new creation. Bob Mondavi and the Beringers, neighbours in the Napa, criticized Bob Trinchero for associating Napa with a wine like this. [Ironically, Beringer now sell more white Zinfandel than anything else they make.]

These days, Trinchero is still family owned. Bob is chairman of the board, with his younger brother Roger as CEO. President is Bob Torquelson, whose the first in this post from outside the family.
Green issues are a concern to Trinchero. Their 250 acres of Napa vineyards are certified Napa Green. Their 7000 acres in Lodi also have sustainable certification. One of the Lodi wineries is 100% solar power operated, with one of the largest solar facilities in the state. 'It is a huge capital expenditure,' says Wiss, 'but we are looking into the future.'

Trinchero have even tried biodynamics in one of their Napa vineyards. It's a property where they have some cattle, too - 23 acre Chicken Ranch vineyard in Rutherford. Interestingly, the Cabernet Sauvignon vines in this vineyard had a bad leafroll virus problem, and within a few years of farming with biodynamics this was cured.

What about the wines? They’re made in quite a sweetly fruited, blockbuster style. The Mary’s Vineyard Napa Sauvignon Blanc 2008 ($20) was bright, refined and lemony with a creamy texture. Mario’s Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2007 ($50) was sweet, rich, lush and ripe, but not without hedonic appeal (15.3% alcohol), and the Cabernet Franc 2007 was probably the most distinctive wine, with a subtle greenness to the lush, dark autumnal fruits and incredibly soft tannins ($35).


Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Social media: thinking about the consumer

[thinking out loud]

I love the way that internet has opened up the media.

Now, all can play.

Before, considerable power resided in the hands of a range of gatekeepers. Editors were sure of what their readers or viewers wanted, and, with an eye to the demands of their advertisers, delivered it. As an author, if you wanted your work to be published, the major major hurdle facing you was the editor of the magazine or the commissioning editor at the book publisher.

Now we can all be content providers, whether we are journalists, winemakers, retailers, PR professionals or just hobbyists. We are entering a happy age where everyone gets a chance to find their own audience. Some will do good work, some bad. It's up to the readers to decide who to listen to.

But so far these consumers of media have been almost totally absent from this discussion. Resembling the production-led wine industry which focuses on making wine and only then thinks about selling it, we produce our content without much thought for who will consume it all.

The attention span of our information consumers is already stretched. The sort of readers the wine media would like to attract are usually busy people with limited media-consuming capacity.

If the amount of information published grows rapidly, yet the capacity for consumption of this information is static or falling, then the conclusion is that readers or viewers are going to be spread more thinly, and new media entrants will have difficulty in building a sizeable readership.

People who are time-poor may also have difficulty in locating the best information and content, which is now more thinly spread across a broader range of websites and blogs. This could actually work in favour of the old style gatekeepers: we still have a need for media outlets capable of filtering through lots of material and bringing us the best.

Print media are struggling but not dead. Existing print media players have a small window to grow into cross-media brands. Having a magazine may not make much money, but it may be possible to cross-subsidize the print production (which brings credibility and brand recognition) by events, for example.

We also assume that because few people buy print wine magazines that there is a limited market for wine media. It could be that there is actually a limited market for wine media as it is published today. What if the reason for poor readership of wine magazines was because the content failed to engage? If new media is better written and more engaging, then this could grow the market for this sort of information.

Whatever happens with wine media, it will be the consumers who are critical in shaping the future. We need to remember them in our discussions.