jamie goode's wine blog: January 2010

Sunday, January 31, 2010

NZ: back to Martinborough

So a big group of us drove back from Napier to Martinborough yesterday. Lots of banter on the bus, which was fun. We had a big tasting arranged of 60 wines from the region, which most of us did blind, followed by a feed, and then off to various vineyards for some visiting in smaller groups.

I went to Palliser with Oz Clarke, and then we went to Escarpment, where we were joined by James Halliday.

In the evening it was time for dinner at Neil McCallum's home. We had a superb tasting of some of the best wines of 2004, 2005, 2006 and 2007, followed by a near-perfect dinner accompanied by some very special Martinborough wines.

Apologies for the brief update: this will all be written up in full, but I'm off to collect some crayfish and paua from the sea, and it's an 0715 start.

Pics: tasting at Neil's; tasting at Escarpment with Oz and James; Oz and his new friend; Larry McKenna; Richard Riddiford and Pip Goodwin at Palliser; close planted young vineyard at Escarpment

Saturday, January 30, 2010

New Zealand, day 6: Syrah Symposium

A bit of a change. After visiting beautiful vineyards, I've been stuck in a room all day.

But productively. It has been the Syrah Symposium here in Hawkes Bay. A mixture of science, tasting and opinion. A tight schedule, running from 8 am until 6 pm, with four excellent tasting sessions blended in with the talks.

The first, led by the excellent Rod Easthope (Craggy Range) looked at New Zealand Syrah. The second, led by Dan Buckle of Mount Langhi Ghiran focused on cool-climate Australian Shiraz. The third, presented by Jason Yapp, featured six brilliantly chosen wines from the Northern Rhone. Finally, Tim Atkin chose ten Shiraz/Syrah wines from around the world (deliberately excluding France and Australia).

After the symposium, many of us went to Steve Smith's pad for a BBQ, with imperials of Le Sol 2005 and Block 14 2004, both of which were suberb, with my preference being the latter. Nice to be able to chat to Brian Croser and Brian Walsh, as well as the Craggy guys.

The details of the Syrah symposium will have to wait for another time. I'm exhausted and we have an early start in the morning.

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Friday, January 29, 2010

New Zealand, day 5 - Martinborough/Wairarapa

Four very good visits today. Pictured above, Neil McCallum of Dry River, whose wines are just incredible. I met with him - an engaging, interesting host, and Poppy and Shayne Hammond (below), winemaker and viticulturalist, respectively. The team here is doing a fantastic job.

The viticulture at Dry River is immaculate, with a split canopy system, total leaf pluck in the fruit zone, and reflective sheets under the vine to allow extra UV exposure to the developing bunches.

Then off to see another of the region's stars: Ata Rangi. Pictured above are Phyll and Clive Paton. The wines are beautifully expressive.

Here's the team at visit 3, Martinborough Vineyard: Pete Wilkins (vineyards), Janine Tulloch (general manager) and Paul Mason (winemaking): great hosts, got a good feed, and the wines were spot on. Especially liked the rare Shiraz Viognier, and the super-concentrated low yield 2007 Pinot. Good Riesling, too.

Home block vineyard, Martinborough vineyards (above)

Final visit, before my drive to Napier, was at Gladstone, in the Gladstone district of Wairarapa about 20 minutes from Martinborough. They're making super wines, but also doing good work with their vineyards. Above is buckwheat, used as a cover crop to encourage beneficial parasitic wasps.
It's owned by Scots Christine and David Kernohan (above). Below is one of their vineyards.
Over three hours drive to Napier. Went down to dinner on my own, only to meet up with Tim Atkin and later Oz Clarke. A jolly way to pass the time. Syrah symposium tomorrow.

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Thursday, January 28, 2010

NZ: from Central Otago to Martinborough

Finished my Central Otago leg with two great appointments: Peregrine (top image) and Gibbston Valley. Peregrine's 2008 Pinots are brilliantly fresh and elegant, with lovely poise. Gibbston are making great wines across the board, and Chris Keys, the young winemaker here seems on top form. The 2009 Pinots will be something worth waiting for if the barrel samples are anything to go by.

Then it was off to Wellington via Christchurch. Internal flying in New Zealand is as painless as flying can be. It's just so low stress; I guess the whole country is pretty low stress.

I picked up a hire car and drove to Martinborough, a 90-minute journey that gets winding and pretty in places. Wellington is a bigger city than I'd realized.

I'm staying for one night at Peppers Martinborough Hotel, a beautiful period-style hotel that has been beautifully restored. I managed to get here in time to get a feed in the bar, while watching Murray's semi on the big screen. The food was fantastic: a beautiful belly pork on a bed of asian slaw, washed down with a couple of Emersons (the red wines were at room temperature, which was about 25 C, which put me off).

Now for some winery visits. Dry River first, then Ata Rangi, then Martinborough, then Gladstone, then a long-ish drive to Napier for the Syrah Symposium.

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Wednesday, January 27, 2010

New Zealand, day 3 - Central Otago

Another really good day today. Began with a helicopter flight over the region to get a good sense of where everything is, together with some other journalists. We landed at Carrick for a masterclass on the various varieties and subregions, as well as a vertical tasting led by Rudi Bauer. This was followed by lunch. It was a brilliantly informative morning, and there was a good buzz - relaxed but we got plenty of work done, too.

Jo Mills then picked me up and took me up to Rippon, in Wanaka. It's a beautiful vineyard, run along biodynamic lines (not certified). Jo and Brett (who's no. 2 to Jo's husband Nick, who wasn't there) were great hosts, and the wines were really good.

Final appointment of the day was at Amisfield, where I had a tasting and dinner at the restaurant just outside Queenstown. The wines are interesting across the board, and it was another really nice, relaxed and enjoyable visit.

Images from top to bottom: distinctively labelled barrels at Rippon; Gibbston sub-region; Rudi Bauer in full flow; aerial landscape; Rippon view; compost heaps at Rippon

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Tuesday, January 26, 2010

New Zealand, day 2 - Central Otago

I'm sitting on a bench outside my room at the Carrick Lodge, a Motel in Cromwell in the heart of the Central Otago wine growing region. It looks set to be another beautiful day, which is great because I'll be meeting up with some other journos in a while for a helicopter ride over the region.

I was on my own yesterday, with appointments at Felton Road, Mount Difficulty, Pisa Range and Carrick. It was a wonderful day; the wines were really good; the people were interesting, generous and fun. I'm beginning to get a handle on this young wine region, with its raw, moving, almost unfinished scenery and piercingly intense light.

Some photographs. The three at the top of the page, top to bottom: Felton Road winery in their Elms vineyard; cover crop growing between the rows of the Calvert vineyard; a view of Cornish Point vineyard.

Pisa Range, the vineyard, with the Pisa Range, the mountain, in the background.

Mount Difficulty: one of the hillside vineyards

Mount Difficulty: vineyard in front of some rather distinctive relics of the gold mining era in the 19th century. This environmental vandalism is now protected!

A vine shoot at Carrick.

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Monday, January 25, 2010

Quick post from the road - day 2 NZ

Just waiting for my pick up to visit Felton Road. Slept all through from 8pm to 7.30am, after drifting off to sleep watching the first of the 10 hour-long episodes of Mondovino uncut. Very entertaining, but I was horridly jetlagged.

Yesterday evening I had one of the best burgers of my life at the famous Fergburger. Fergberger and fries is too much for one person, though: I was defeated.

I then took a bottle of Pinot Noir, walked along the lake, and sat down and read my book, taking in the beautiful views, even though I was by then feeling pretty out of it. It's a beautiful place, Queenstown.

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In Queenstown - a beautiful place

Arrived rather jetlagged in Queenstown at noon today, but I was shaken from my stupor by the view as we walked down the steps from the plane. Just remarkable: the best quality light you can imagine, and some incredibly raw, vivid mountains surrounding the town.

I spent a couple of hours wandering around town and taking in some of the views. It's very much dominated by thrill-seeking outdoor tourism. I'm spending the afternoon taking it easy; I'll try to stay up late-ish tonight, and then I'll be up early with my first appointment at Felton Road in the morning; a nice way to start.

I tried to buy a cheap mobile for using here, but they don't have cheap mobiles in NZ, it seems. In the UK you can get a pay as you go mobile for £15; here the cheapest I could find was $149, and you even have to pay $30 for just a SIM card. So I'll use my mobile and take the hit.

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Sunday, January 24, 2010

Celebrity spotting on NZ1

I'm sitting in the lounge at LAX, showered, relaxed and ready for the next leg of the trip to New Zealand.

Air New Zealand business class is excellent. It rocks. It is better than BA business class, because the layout is more relaxed, the cabin crew are more attentive, and like BA they also have lie flat beds. Better than Quantas, too.

Neal Martin and I were in the front part of business class, where there is just one seat on each side, arranged in a sort of herringbone pattern. I was in seat 2J, but Neal was in row 7. Some dude in row 6 offered to swap seats with me so I could be with Neal. We'd just completed the swap, then who should walk in but Victoria Beckham. She was in seat 2A, so I'd traded sitting next to her for sitting next to Neal.

Probably a good choice, because the whole of the front section of the cabin was a little star struck. It's amazing how people respond to celebrity. She got up and walked around lots, had a special meal that looked very low in calories (lots of green leaves, and then some grapes for dessert), and spent some time chatting to the girls sitting in front of me, which seemed very generous.

I felt a bit sorry for Peter Alliss, sitting in row 8, show was sleb outgunned a bit. He'd have been interesting to talk to.

Wines? Escarpment Vineyard The Edge Viognier 2008 was gently aromatic with some varietal character. Quite stylish if a little simple. Forrest Pinot Noir 2007 was pretty good, without being exceptional. User friendly, varietally true. Villa Maria Cellar Selection Merlot Cabernet Sauvignon 2007 was nicely dense, ripe and had some attractive oak. Very stylish and enjoyable.

Watched just one film in its entirity: District 9. Brilliant stuff. Got bored with The Informant (the book by Kurt Eichenwald is quite good, though, if overlong), and found Vintner's Luck to be total drivel with some angel appearing annually to a peasant wannabe winemaker who is forced to eat the soil, or something like that. Fell asleep during it.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Reading material for the NZ trip

Off to New Zealand tomorrow. Not the worst time of year to be visiting Kiwiland.

The flight is long, and in my spare moments I like to read, so I did an amazon raid, choosing a range of books, many of which were recommended by readers here (thank you to those concerned).

The Lovely Bones, Alice Sebold - a risk, this. Could be great, could be dire. A good friend liked it a lot, and I trust him.

Black Swan Green, David Mitchell - reader's recommendation, sounds good

Generation A, Douglas Coupland - I'm a Coupland junkie who loved JPOD and The Gum Thief, so v looking forward to this

Ghost Rider: travels on the healing road, Neal Peart - the drummer from Rush, but he writes genius lyrics, and this is his narrative of a motorcycle journey that helped him recover from an unbelievably sad double bereavement

The Road, Cormac McCarthy - not read him before - it's 'now a major film', which doesn't bode well, but a trusted reader recommended this


Thursday, January 21, 2010

Awesome natural Fiano at the gastronomy seminar

Just back from the second of the London Gastronomy seminars. It was a cracking event, although as one of the speakers it isn't really my job to say that. Amazing people attending - I chatted to quite a few afterwards - there's such a concentration of serious people interested in flavour in London, I suspect these events will keep going - it might be interesting to have a Question Time style panel for one of them, where issues of flavour, provenance, authenticity and so on are answered by a group representing different flavour disciplines, including academics, merchants, wholesalers and the like.

James Hoffmann's presentation tonight on coffee was fantastic. He's younger and smarter than me, and you can follow him at www.jimseven.com.

The wine I chose to serve was something a bit off the wall. It's a natural wine from southern Italy, and it's brilliant, life-enhancing, challenging and simply mind-blowing. But not for everyone, I admit.

Don Chisciotte Campania Fiano IGT 2007 Italy
From a vineyard at 850 metres, this is a varietal Fiano, tank matured with no sulphur dioxide additions (even at bottling) and skin maceration. A slightly cloudy orange/gold colour, it has amazing aromatics of nuts, spice, tangerine, cox apple and herbs. The palate is fresh and tangy with spicy citrus notes as well as a bit of tannic grip, with beautiful balance. Despite its wildness, it's not at all clumsy or rustic. A brilliant food companion, this is a tremendous advert for natural winemaking. You could imaging drinking something very similar to this 1000 years ago. It is not oxidised or sherried at all. A wine that demands the attention and expands the imagination. 94/100 (Les Caves de Pyrene, retail c. £16, but not much made)


Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Anakena rock: a great value Pinot Noir

Very impressed with Chilean winery Anakena of late. First of all they made a fantastic Viognier, vying with Australia's Yalumba for the best sub-£10 Viognier on the planet. Now this: a really attractive sub-£10 Pinot, that doesn't have that 'Chilean' taste to it. It's streets ahead of Cono Sur, the other well regarded inexpensive Chilean Pinot.

Anakena Pinot Noir 2008 Rapel Valley, Chile
Lovely sweet, aromatic, subtly leafy fresh cherry fruit nose with a hint of spice. The palate is supple and nicely textured with some sweet cherry and berry fruit and real elegance. Light and expressive with a seamless quality: not the most complex wine but a really delicious Pinot. 89/100 (£8.49 Fareham Wine Cellar)

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Hot on the heels of South Africa, how have Chile been performing?

After blogging on South Africa's promising moves in the UK marketplace, I just received the following data on the performance of Chilean wine. [Maybe next we should have an arm wrestle between Michael Cox (WoC) and Jo Mason (WOSA) - Michael is bigger and quite fit for his age, working hard on his rowing machine, but Jo is young and a bit feisty, so it could go either way.]

Chile has performed strongly in 2009, maintaining its growth across all UK trade sectors for the 7th year running.

  • Total off-trade wine sales +3% in volume, +7% in value
  • Total Chile off-trade wine sales outperforming the market: +26% in volume, +28% in value (the only other country to register better growth percentages was New Zealand)
  • Chile’s market share rose 8.6% by value, 8.9% by volume, Chile’s highest ever
  • Chile’s average retail bottle price has risen 9 p to £4.16
Chile’s sales growth is all the more impressive because the increases are spread across all sectors of the trade:
  • Supermarkets (Multiple Grocers) – Volume +26% and Value +29%
  • Multiple Specialists – Volume +20% and Value +16%
  • Independents – Volume +26% and Value +31%
  • On trade – Volume +14% despite total on-trade decline of 4%
  • Sales above £5 have risen in the last 12 months by 25%; now 1.1 million cases (UK total sales of wine over £5 increased 11.5%)


South Africa's strong performance in the UK

Just got these latest stats through on the performance of South Africa in the UK market. Quite amazing really, especially seeing as South Africa has the handicap of significant vineyard area being wasted by means of being planted to Pinotage. [That last sentence was intended as a wind up.]
  • South African wine achieved the largest increase in UK market share during 2009 (10.4% of market to 12.3%, off-trade by volume)
  • South African category grew by 24% in value and 23% in volume for the same period
  • South Africa’s market share is now only 0.1% behind France, which is in decline
  • Exports to the UK were up 14% by volume, maintaining the UK’s position as the leading export market for the South African wine industry (so perhaps South African journalist Neil Pendock should cease his mean-spirited crusades against WOSA and UK journalists in general?), accounting for 32% of total global exports
  • Success from South Africa’s top brands helped to drive the category: FirstCape, Kumala, Arniston Bay, Two Oceans and KWV all grew significantly
  • But it's not just cheap wines doing well. There was an uplift of 15% by value above £5, a 27% increase above £7, and a 43% increase above £10


Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Italian wines with the Manchester derby

Football talk, I'm afraid. It's half-time in the Manchester derby game. City started off badly, went 1-0 down. The prize? A place in a cup final, City's first since 1981, although this semi is over two legs.

Then City equalize from a slightly soft penalty. In a sign of respect to Mancini (the city manager), I'm drinking Italian.

Chianti Rufina Riserva 2004 from Villa di Vetrice (BBR) is nicely bitter, lively, plummy, earthy and has a hint of animal. Satisfying and a bit rustic. Nigel de Jong.

Banfi Rossi di Montalcino 2007 is more refined, less edgy and has some satisfying spicy, earthy notes with a bit of tannic grip. Solid, dependable but lacks any real excitement. A good squad member who'll do a job. Pablo Zabaleta. Better than many Banfi reds I've had of late, and this one will be in the Bibendum sale that starts in February.

The commentary team are hopelessly pro-United. City outplayed United for large periods of the first half. Shearer's the only one who realized that. The BBC football punditry is just so rubbish these days.

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Monday, January 18, 2010

When the drugs don't work

I've just taken my medication, with a glass of wine. I'm reminded of a comment I heard by a very senior pharmaceutical chief at a small meeting I was involved with in my previous life - held in Basle, Switzerland, with luminaries such as Peter Goodfellow and Craig Venter in attendance. It was looking at genomics. Allen Roses from GSK suggested that the vast majority of drugs only work in perhaps 30-50% of people (see hBBC report here).

Why? It's because of individual differences. We're all wired slightly different. While Roses may have been exaggerating a little (it would be fairer to say that there are a number of people in whom drugs have no effect, but that the effect of most drugs varies quite a bit among others, making it hard to get doses right), he does have a point.

I'm fascinated by individual differences, especially where they relate to the perception of wine. I've mentioned before that a winewriter I greatly respect loves Springfield's Life From Stone Sauvignon Blanc; I hate it - I think the wall of pure, unripe, methoxypyrazine character this wine presents to me is verging on a fault.

But Roses' point is that if we can get a handle on peoples' genetic make up, for example by cheap SNP arrays, we can prescribe drugs much more accurately. Personalized medicine. We can also rescue useful drugs that have failed clinical trials because of their adverse effects in small groups.

Grunhuas Abs Kab 02: a beautiful Riesling

Just the sort of Riesling I'm always in the mood from, from one of my favourite German producers. Great label, too. Glad I bought two bottles of this, and wish I'd bought a few more.

Maximin Grünhäus Abstberg Riesling Kabinett 2002 Mosel Saar Ruwer, Germany
7.5% alcohol. Very fresh, precise and taut with lovely spicy grapefruit notes as well as lemon and melon fruitiness. Beautiful balance and freshness to this nicely concentrated Kabinett that displays some complexity and brilliant focus. Just lovely: the style of Riesling I can drink all the time. 93/100 (£13 Lay & Wheeler)

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Sunday, January 17, 2010

Tesco announce the world's lightest glass bottle: so what does it look like?

This probably won't be terribly relevant to the majority of wines featured on this blog, but the UK's largest wine retailer Tesco have just announced a new 300 g glass bottle, the lightest yet.

It's the result of a project in collaboration with WRAP, Kingsland Wine and Spirits (the UK bottler Tesco use), and Quinn Glass.

“Tesco has one of the largest wine ranges of any retailer and a traditional 12 bottle case weighs about 6kg in glass alone, presenting a real opportunity for us to make a difference,’ says Andrew Gale, technical manager for beers wines and spirits at Tesco. 'We have committed to bottling all entry level New World wines in the new 300 g option.’

In order to maintain strength of this lightweight bottle, the shape of the bottle has been modified, with a greater slope on the shoulder. It is also a fraction shorter, but it does look very good, as you can see from the picture above.

Tesco already ship the majority of their own-label new world wines in bulk, and since starting bulk shipping in 2003 the amount packaged in the UK (Tesco do all their bottling at Kingsland), has risen to 10 million litres annually, encompassing 57 different SKUs. About 80% of these wines are shipped to Kingsland from the port by barge, which makes the process even more carbon efficient.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Houghton The Bandit Shiraz Tempranillo

Very impressed by this. It's a western Australian red by Houghton, the 2008 Bandit Tempranillo Shiraz (75%/25% in favour of Shiraz). Lovely vibrant, primary berry fruits with great definition and freshness, as well as a hint of spice and a bit of structure. Beautifully poised between the sweet fruit and the fresh savouriness, without any hint of jamminess. Quite food friendly and with oak playing a background, supporting role at most. It will soon be available at £8.99 from Ocado.

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Video: train ride in the Douro

A brief film of a train ride through the the spectacular Douro wine region in northern Portugal, ending up at Quinta de Vargellas, which is one of the properties owned by the Taylor Fladgate group. The train is an excellent way to travel in the Douro because the track runs along the river, whereas the road is less direct, and less scenic. You can take a train from Porto all the way to the Douro, changing at Regua (see the timetable at www.cp.pt); here we started at Pinhao, in the heart of the wine region, and headed out towards the Spanish border, stopping a short way before the end of the line at Vargellas' own station (the line now ends at Pocinho, a few stops further on).

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Hester is a life saver

My back was still terrible this morning, so I called my sister Hester, who is a physio. She came over, took one look at me, and announced with delight that she hadn't seen a prolapsed disc with lateral shift this bad since she worked in New York. And that was a decade ago. Oh goody. She says it is McKenzie Deviation 4. Nice to be able to name your pain.

She then proceeded to do some manipulations. They were quite physical. But this girl is a miracle worker. Immediately I was finding some relief. She also phoned the GP to ask him to prescribe some proper pain relief and some diazepam. I now feel much more hopeful than I did when I woke up.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Spar wines and back pain

I'm in pain today. Bad back. Came from nowhere, starting as stiffness in my hamstring a few days ago. Now I can hardly walk. I'm lying down on my bed, and I'm going to watch Silent Witness and drink wine.

Still, I braved it into town this afternoon to taste through a range of wines from Spar with Laura Jewell MW who runs the operation. Spar have some 2600 branches, and so they're a very important wine retailer.

We tasted through 40 wines, and I was really impressed. Almost all of them really delivered at their price points. I even liked the White Zinfandel. Laura's sourcing is spot on, and that's good news for consumers who can pretty much buy any of the own label Spar wines and come away with something nice to drink.

My favourites were two special purchases Spar have made for a mini wine fair this spring. Alexander Fontein Shiraz 2008 and Darling Sauvignon Blanc 2009 are two South African beauties, that will be listed from the end of March at £9.99 and then reduced to £5.99 for six weeks from April 22. They're really good, I'm going to hunt down my local Spar and buy some.

It was agony coming home from town. Pure agony. Let's hope I'm feeling better tomorrow.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Trimbach at Trinity

Last night had a great food and wine experience. It was a dinner with Jean Trimbach (above right) providing the wines (some of Alsace's best) and the wonderful Trinity restaurant in Clapham providing the food. Chef Adam Byatt (above left) began the evening with a pig butchery demonstration, which I'll cover separately. It really was an embarassment of riches.

I was one of two wine journos, along with Tim Atkin. Also present: Robert Mackintosh (@thirstforwine), Denise Medrano (@thewinesleuth), Douglas Blyde (@foodguardian), Helen Graves (@foodstories), Niamh Shields (@eatlikeagirl) and Ben Smith of Enotria. It was a jolly crowd.

On this showing, Trinity is a superb restaurant of Michelin star standard. Truffled white onion and thyme veloute (above) was really beautifully flavoured and textured, and nicely presented.

This is about as pretty and funky as we get with food,' says Adam as he introduces the next course. It's a combo of smoked eel, steamed osyter and goujons of sole with a leek terrine and horseradish sauce. Brilliantly executed: I particularly liked the leek.

The best course followed: the pigs trotter on toasted sourdough with fried quail egg, sauce gribiche and crackling. Byatt describes the pigs trotter as a signature dish, and says its the best selling starter on the menu: people feel they can take a chance with their starters. 'Eating out should be about new experiences,' he says.

Then it was the belly pork with black olive oil mash, braised celery hearts and cockle and saffron vinaigrette. This wasn't quite up to the stellar standards of the other courses, IMHO. The old spot belly was cooked for 16 hours in a water bath at 68 C. Then the skin and fat is removed, and the pork glazed in maple syrup and pan fried. For me, it lacked the texture and softness of the best belly pork, and I actually find the fat the most delicious bit.

We finished off with quince tart tatin and honey ice cream that was just about perfect.

The Trimbach wines were really good. They're one of Alsace's leading producers, and make their wines in quite a precise, drier style. The Riesling 2007 is pretty good, in a fresh, citrussy, slightly mineral style. Pinot Gris Reserve Personelle 2002 was just superb, with rich, intense fruit with some sweetness but finishing dry and a bit mineral. Pinot Noir Reserve 2007 was really good for an Alsace Pinot, but that's not saying much. It's an attractive, slightly leafy Pinot but not as good as the other wines. Then three vintages of the wonderful Cuvee Frederic Emile Riesling. 1997 is fresh, limey and mineral, just starting to peak. 2004 is beautiful, with lovely freshness, focus and complexity. The star, though, was the thrilling 2001 375th anniversay cuvee, which is perhaps the very best dry Riesling that I've tasted, with lovely precision and minerality. This was kindly provided by sommelier Rupert Taylor from his list. Then we finished with the wonderful Gewurztraminer Selection des Grains Nobiles 1989: beautifully textured and spicy without too much sweetness.

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Monday, January 11, 2010

Brilliant Aussie Nebbiolo: Arrivo 2007

Really enjoying this wine. It's an Australian Nebbiolo, produced by Peter Godden of the Australian Wine Research Institute, from grapes grown in the Adelaide Hills. Nebbiolo is a difficult variety that rarely performs well outside Piedmont in Italy, but Peter seems to have found the knack of working with it. As well as this wine, he also produces a rose, and a high-end bottling called Lunga Macerazione (the 2006 version of this was one of the wines in the Landmark Tutorial - it was fantastic - and I have another bottle of this in the tasting queue).

I'm sure Peter wouldn't claim that Arrivo has fully arrived yet; but if this is what he's able to achieve at the outset (2007 is the fourth vintage), then future wines look set to be incredible. The Arrivo website is here.

Arrivo Nebbiolo 2007 Adelaide Hills
14.5% alcohol. This is a beautiful wine, and it's just a baby: as such, it benefits from decanting, and tasted on the second day it shows even more complexity and elegance. Pale cherry coloured, it has a sweetly aromatic nose of ginger, herbs, warm spices and sweet cherry and plum fruit. The palate has intensely spicy sweet cherry fruit with firm tannins, but with some air settles down a bit to show complex, elegant savoury, subtly earthy fruit. Nice smoothness and purity of texture here: a really interesting Australian take on this difficult but beguiling Italian grape variety. I think this will be great in five years time, and it will be interesting to see where it gets to in a decade. 92/100

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Sunday, January 10, 2010

Dude, what have they done to your labels? Flagstone's disaster

Bruce Jack of Flagstone is one of my favourite South African winemakers. He's very smart, makes good wine and there's a lovely warmth to his character. You can't help but like him.

In October 2007 I reported how he'd (unexpectdely) sold his winery to drinks giant Constellation. Visiting him in November last year I found that the Flagstone wines were as good as ever, but the one deeply regrettable change that Constellation had made was in the packaging.

Jack's labels used to be wonderful (see picture above which shows some of them on the wall of the winery). Now they are hideously bad (see the bottle shot above). What's with the mock wax seal thing? And the signature on the Dark Horse (you may need to click on the picture to get a larger version)? It's not even his!


Loosen Erdener Treppchen Kabinett 2008

I like 2008 as a vintage in the Mosel. It's not regarded as a great vintage, but what I appreciatee about it is the fact that the Kabinetts actually taste like Kabinetts: they are fresh, lean and precise with good acidity and without too much richness. Here's a nice one that I'm enjoying at the moment, from Loosen but bottled under Marks & Spencer's own label.

M&S Ernst Loosen Erdener Treppchen Riesling 2008 Mosel, Germany
Really fresh, with lovely grapefruit, melon, apple and pear notes. There's a bit of richness, but the sweetness is really well countered by the acidity. A really delicious fruity style with some minerally seriousness to it. 90/100 (£11.99 M&S here)

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Saturday, January 09, 2010

An incredible dessert cider!

OK, this isn't wine, but it deserves a mention here. It's a dessert cider, made by the innovative Simon Day of Once Upon a Tree in Herefordshire. Expensive, but worth it.

Dragon Orchard Cider Blenheim Orange 2008
9.5% alcohol. A dessert cider made by concentrating apple juice by freezing it, and then fermented over several months. Orange/gold colour. Sweet rich aromatics of apple and pear. The palate has lovely concentration with apricot and pear richness. Viscous with nice balance between the sweetness and the acidity. A brilliant effort, and truly unique. Hard to score, but on my ten-point beer and cider rating scale, it's certainly 9/10. (£15.95 for 375 ml bottle, here)


Friday, January 08, 2010

London Gastronomy Seminar no 2: From plant to cup

Very excited to announce the second of the London Gastronomy Seminars. It's titled From Plant to Cup: Flavour in Coffee and Wine, and it will be held at on 21st January at Senate House, University of London (hosted by the Centre for the Study of the Senses, Institute of Philosophy, School of Advanced Study). I'm the wine guy; coffee will be covered by James Hoffmann. I've heard James speak before - he's a good reason to attend. You can buy tickets here.

Thursday, January 07, 2010

Striking Provencal red: Domaine Hauvette

This is an interesting wine. It's one that will divide people, depending on their tolerance for and acceptance of Brettanomyces (the 'spoilage' yeast that's relatively common in red wines, and which contibutes an earthy, spicy, medicinal, animally quality). Now I'm not a Brett policeman. If I was a winemaker, I'd do all in my power to avoid it. But I recognize that sometimes it acts as a complexing factor in wine; there are some wines where its presence just seems to work. If you approach red wine from the perspective of looking for faults, then often you can't see past the Brett in wines like this through to the actual qualities of the wine itself. That's your loss.

Domaine Hauvette 2004 Les Baux de Provence, France
13.5% alcohol. Firm, savoury and spicy with olive, mineral and animal notes. Very savoury and spicy with hints of clove and pepper. There's real complexity and depth here. Fresh, deep and intense with lovely focus and personality. Not an easy wine, but one that I like quite a bit. 92/100 (UK agent Les Caves de Pyrene, available from Oddbins for £29.99 here)

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When work takes second place

Younger son's school was closed today. So we jumped in the car, packed a sledge and RTL, and called some friends. Time to hit Windsor Great Park for a bit of snow fun. Roads were clear, but near the park were covered in ice and snow, so driving was tricky. On the Egham bypass we saw one motorist who had underestimated the conditions - their vehicle had flown off the road, through some metal fencing, into a ditch.

There's a fantastic NASA satellite image of the UK earlier today here. There can't have been many times when getting a picture like this would have been possible. If, as some have predicted, global warming causes us to lose the Gulf Stream (part of the thermohaline circulation), then given our northerly latitude we could expect long, freezing winters like this every year! And it would spell the end for many of Europe's great wine regions. I really, really hope this doesn't happen. Time to move to New Zealand or Australia?

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Is this the world's smartest dog?

No, it's RTL, and she's actually pretty dumb sometimes, as well as being fairly annoying. (Although the possibility remains that for a dog she's quite smart, and that's why she can be difficult, because like bright humans stuck in confined environments she gets bored.) But we love her. The title of the post is taken from the headline of a BBC news story promoting a Horizon program on the secret life of the dog.

As you can see from the picture, it has been snowing in earnest today in west London. Younger son still went to school, but our plans to go out for a long walk and do a bit of sledging (adults should have fun too) were thwarted by the fact that Fiona was very sick this morning with symptoms very similar to my recent bug. And I now have mild flu-like symptoms which are making me feel a bit grotty. So I took the dog for two shorter walks today, which she enjoyed immensely, and got lots of work done.

Maybe I should turn to a fortifying glass of Port. I have the Noval and Taylors 10 year old Tawnies open. They're both really good, with the Noval having the slight edge. Strangely, the Noval LBV 2003, also open, isn't as good as this wine usually is.

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Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Superb South African white: De Grendel Winifred

Very impressed with tonight's tipple, which is from Durbanville producer De Grendel. It's an unusual blend, but it works brilliantly.

De Grendel Winifred Viognier Semillon Chardonnay 2008 Durbanville, South Africa
13.5% alcohol. Fantastic stuff: very fresh grapefruit and pear nose with some richer peachy notes. The palate has lovely herb, grapefruit and melon fruit with a hint of vanilla. Not at all fat or blowsy. Focused, with the Viognier (40% of the blend) dominant. 91/100 (£9.99 Oddbins)

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Monday, January 04, 2010

Wine personality of the decade? The screwcap

As the recent online survey on the excellent Dr Vino blog has demonstrated rather well (IMHO), it’s very hard to pick one single person who deserves to win this award. So my vote goes to a thing, not a person. And that thing is the screwcap.

10 years ago cork was performing pretty badly. Cork taint was a big issue, and the Australians were also getting cross about a phenomenon called random oxidation, caused by the variable nature of oxygen transmission by poor quality corks.

The only alternative to cork was the new but rather poorly performing plastic cork, and that wasn’t winning too many friends. So cork producers had little motivation to up their game, because they enjoyed what was effectively a monopoly situation.

The major breakthrough came in 2000, when a bunch of Clare Valley producers formed a coalition to release their Rieslings under screwcap. This initiative, and the publicity that ensued, changed the closures market forever.

As the results from the Australian Wine Research Institute’s Closures Trial, initiated in 1999, began to appear, they showed that screwcaps kept the wine fresher and fruitier for longer than any of the other closures available, including natural cork.

The adoption of screwcaps by the Australian and New Zealand producers was almost immediate. With the tin/saranex liner, screwcaps now seal the vast majority of bottles in these two countries. Of the estimated 18 billion bottles of wines sealed each year, screwcaps now account for over 2 billion (synthetic corks have also done well, and account for around 4 billion).

But screwcaps aren’t the perfect closure. Currently there are just two liners used: tin/saranex and saranex only. The first, the one used almost exclusively in Australia and New Zealand, allows very little oxygen transmission at all (probably not enough), and the second a little more than an average natural cork: ideally, we’d like a liner with intermediate properties.

And they haven’t been widely accepted in all markets. But what they have done is change the closures market completely. Were it not for screwcaps, it’s unlikely the cork industry would have implemented the quality control measures that they have. And it is unlikely that we’d have seen the rise of alternative closures such as Diam, Vino-Lok and the improved new generation synthetic corks. It is only since they've been widely used that we've started to get to grips with post-bottling wine chemistry.

The noughties have definitely been the decade of the screwcap.

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Sunday, January 03, 2010

Pendock: stirring up trouble on Pinotage

Slightly confused by a recent blog post by South African wine journalist Neil Pendock here. He quotes some comments I made (some time ago) on Pinotage.

Yes, I can understand how my hyperbolic, tongue-in-cheek remarks might have upset those who believe, like Pendock, that Pinotage is 'the national grape and the USP of South African wine'. But I don't see why he has to bring Wines of South Africa (WOSA) into it in the way he does.

Is he suggesting that WOSA should blacklist foreign press who are critical of Pinotage? Or that, if a journalist is hosted by WOSA, it is bad form, or impolite, for them to then be critical of any aspect of South African wine? [I'd have thought that WOSA is doing well if it reaches out to those members of the foreign press who are unconverted, or who are agnostic.]

Actually, I'm a friend of South African wine, as you'll see from the very positive coverage I've given to its top producers. But I disagree with Pendock about Pinotage.

I've had very good examples of Pinotage, but in terms of the South African wine industry moving forwards, Pinotage is not the USP he claims it to be. It should remain an important story in South African wine, but I think that the great examples of this variety are very few and far between. It's very difficult to make world class Pinotage.

South Africa's fine wine dimension is growing, and it's an exciting scene. But very few of the producers making world class wines are concentrating on Pinotage - most are avoiding it.

And as for the coffee-style Pinotages he refers to, they're an absurdity. Honestly.

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Saturday, January 02, 2010

A very important wine: 1999 AWRI Trial Semillon

Really pleased to get a chance to try this wine, because it's an important one.

It's the Clare Valley Semillon 1999, made by Kerri Thompson at Leasingham, which was the wine used in the now famous Australian Wine Research Institute Closures Trial. In this trial, the same wine was bottled using fourteen different closures, including this one - the tin/saran-lined screwcap.

The significance of this trial? In the years that followed, the different bottles were repeatedly analysed by sensory and analytic methods. The results showed that the different closures resulted in very different wines, largely because of their differing oxygen transmission levels.

Those with the synthetic closures available at the time oxidised quite quickly. In comparison, the screwcap-sealed wines stayed fresher for much longer, although some low level struck flint/burnt rubber reduction notes were detected on sensory analysis.

Opponents of screwcaps used this 'reduction' to bash screwcaps, which otherwise seemed to be doing the best job of all the closures. But consider this: when the trial was begun, virtually no Australian wines were screwcap sealed; now the vast majority of them are.

So, some 10 years and eight months after bottling, how does this wine look? It's a full yellow colour, with a minerally, flinty edge to the attractive honeysuckle and citrus fruit nose. The palate has a lovely focused fruit quality to it with pithy citrus fruit and a hint of grapefruit. There are also some subtle toasty notes. Very attractive and amazingly fresh for a 10 year old Clare Semillon.

The reduction? If you look for it you can find it, in terms of the struck match character and a slight hardness on the palate. But it's nowhere close to being a fault. I doubt any of the other bottles in the trial that aren't sealed with a tin/saran-lined screwcap are still drinkable.

Geeky note: this is one of the old fashioned screwcaps without the BVS finish (noticeable around the rim); this was introduced later to make the seal more robust. (Pictured.)

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Friday, January 01, 2010

Welcome to 2010

Not eating today. I'm feeling ill - both ends affected. Most unpleasant. We had an awesome new year's party round at friends last night, but although a reasonable amount of booze was consumer, it wasn't anywhere enough to explain my symptoms. Must be microbial.

So no food, and no wine. Just a bit of coke to drink, because I remember hearing somewhere that in the absence of rehydration therapy, coke works quite well because of its high sugar content. Could be wrong about that.

I've been incredibly lazy and spent the first part of the day in bed. I arose to rig up my laptop to the TV so we could watch both parts of Dr Who back-to-back en famille; the first part on the wonderful BBC iPlayer, and the second on TV.

Good news: after a disastrous few days of the holidays, our boys have behaved quite nicely. They started out killing each other and then trying to kill us. Now their worst is to be profane, sullen and angry, without physical threat! This is progress. They've been angel-like today.