jamie goode's wine blog

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Grange versus Bin 389, a masterclass

Very interesting tasting this afternoon. It was held at Australia House (where they have the annoying rule that if the invitation says 3.30 pm, you aren't even allowed in the building until 3.30 pm), and it involved a vertical of two Penfolds wines: the iconic Grange, and its sibling the Bin 389. There was a good turnout, including cricketing legend Ian Botham.

Peter Gago presented, and did a very good job in keeping the tasting moving. But when he took questions, he simply avoided answering mine by being horridly, politician-level evasive - I'd asked him about the extent and timing of additions of acid and tannin. His response was that they didn't add tannins, but did tannin finings, and talked about all the other finings that they don't use. He said that they added grape-derived tartaric acid 'which all falls out anyway', and that they have a Barossa Sangiovese which they didn't add any acid to at all.

But it's the wines we were there for, and they were lovely. Penfolds have a distinctive, instantly recognizable house style. Grange is an icon and lasts for ever, as the 1955 and 1971 we enjoyed at the Landmark Tutorial showed. [It's probably partly because of the addition of acid -totally normal in Australia - and tannin that the wines live so long.]

Bin 389 is underrated. It's a great, ageworthy wine in its own right. 1986 389 was fading but complex (not the best bottle, apparently), 1990 was beautiful with lovely pure fruit, 1991 almost as good but more woody, 1996 was weaker, 1998 fantastically fruity and 2004 was brilliantly intense.

As for Grange? 1986 was brilliant, 1990 and 1991 both fantastic but rather different in style, 1996 was very good but has sticky out acid, 1998 was a backward classic, and 2004 was in a league of its own - a truly great Grange with amazingly intense fruit, great focus and real complexity. It's horribly expensive, but a really special wine. Gago and his team truly are custodians of a national treasure.

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Saturday, June 20, 2009

Two mad dogs from the Barossa

Fellow blogger and Barossa grape grower Matthew Munzberg recently sent me two vintages of his own wine to try. It's a Shiraz called 'Mad Dog', and is brilliantly packaged. I like the wines a lot: typical Barossa style, with lots of character. Matthew makes 400 cases from the best of his 35 hectares of vineyards in the heart of the Barossa, and the wine is available in the UK from Corney & Barrow (here) for £15.99 a bottle.

Mad Dog Shiraz 2006 Barossa, Australia
15.5% alcohol, sealed with a tin-lined screwcap. Very sweet, vibrant nose of plum, spice and blackberry with a hint of vanilla. The palate is rich and lush with dense fruit. It's quite sweet with ripeness and high alcohol, but also some nice spiciness. A rich, generous Barossa Shiraz that's ripe but still well defined. 91/100

Mad Dog Shiraz 2005 Barossa, Australia
14.5% alcohol, cork sealed. Beginning to open out with dense, spicy, tarry herby savouriness as well as sweet fruit. The palate is rich and ripe with blackberry and raspberry fruit. There are hints of menthol, tar and earth, as well as spicy oak. A classic Barossa style with some more evolution and savoury spiciness than the 2006. 89/100

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Wednesday, June 17, 2009

A nice walk followed by Semillon

We took advantage of our child-free status to walk in the countryside. The walk? One of the Guardian's series on British walks, this one in the Oxfordshire countryside focusing on the white horse of Uffington - here. It was really enjoyable, and the directions were clear and unambiguous. We completed the 10 mile route in 3.5 hours, and for most of the way RTL could be let off the lead.

Tonight's wine? An Australian Semillon, but not from the Hunter Valley. Hunter Semillons are one of Australia's unique contributions to the fine wine scene: they're low in alcohol, high in acidity, and start out life neutral but age into a beautiful toasty maturity. Now this is an exception. It's a top Semillon but it comes from the Barossa.

Peter Lehmann Margaret Barossa Semillon 2002 Barossa, Australia
A wonderfully intense unoaked Semillon that's different to the classic Hunter style, but has some similarities, too. Powerful, minerally, limey nose with wax and herb notes. The palate is intensely limey with some toasty, honeyed richness. Taut, crisp and citrussy with a grippy, savoury finish. Drinking beautifully now but will probably improve. 92/100 (£11.99 retail, 12% alcohol)

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Thursday, June 04, 2009

It's almost over - final day of Landmark Tutorial

Just about to embark on the final day of the Landmark Tutorial. We have sparkling and fortifieds for this morning's sessions, followed by a presentation lunch at Peter Lehmann. Pictured above is the view from my room this morning at 7 am.

Yesterday we had some really interesting sessions. Chardonnay was first up, with tasting taking us through the evolving styles and regional differences. Then Tom Carson (below) delivered an amazing blind tasting of Pinot Noir, with Domaine de la Romanee Conti Romanee St Vivant 2002 as a ringer in the second flight (of older wines). No one picked it. It was, in truth, a disappointing wine - the least aromatically interesting DRC I've encountered.
Then in the afternoon, a blind tasting organized by Brian Croser, and held at Maggie Beer's farm. This was a complex yet fascinating exercise where we had to taste 20 high-end Aussie reds blind, and answer a set of questions about winemaking style (varietal/regional wine or a winemaker's wine), variety (Cabernet or Shiraz based), region, acid level (high, balanced, low), alcohol level and residual sugar (high, evident or dry). The results were compiled, and I'll be able to share them in due course.

So the Tutorial finishes today. It has been a fantastic, brilliantly conceived and near-flawlessly executed program. It will be sad to leave - both the lovely Louise (that's the place we're staying in, not a sheila), and also the wonderful tight-knit group of tutors and participants.

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Good evening from the Barossa

After a long day, with some exceptional tastings - including a blind session of Pinot Noir with a DRC RSV 2002 slipped in - I'm too tired to do a proper blog post, so here are some pictures from the Barossa taken earlier today. It's now officially winter here, but it's still comfortable low teens centigrade during the day.

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Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Good morning from the Barossa (2)

It's another beautiful morning here in the Barossa as we prepare for day 3 of the Landmark Tutorial. This morning: Iain Riggs on Semillon (and blends thereof), then Rob Mann on Cabernet (and blends thereof).

Sat next to Chester Osborn of D'Arenberg last night at dinner, who was great value for money, crazy as hell and really entertaining. He's launching a new fashion label, called Beakus Twisterus. There's be shirts and jeans, retailing at A$300-400 for the shirts and A$500-1000 for the jeans. The designs won't be conservative...

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Monday, June 01, 2009

Good morning from the Barossa

Here's the view from my room this morning here in the Barossa, as I prepare for an exciting day's tasting and learning. We are so, so lucky to be experiencing this! I hope you'll forgive my unbridled enthusiasm...

Last night we closed day one of the Landmark Tutorial with a dinner at Appellation, the restaurant here at the Louise. As part of the Tutorial, we're really fortunate to be eating here each night, with menus chosen by chef Mark McNamara to complement the rather special wines that will be served with dinner.

Each evening, we'll be joined by some rather special guests. Last night we had James Halliday, Andrew Pirie and Stephen Henschke, as well as our tutor for the day Michael Hill Smith. Tony Jordan and Andrew Caillard will be with us all week. Access to people of this stature is another reason why this week is such a treat.

Last night's wines included verticals of Jacob's Creek Steingarten Riesling, McWilliam's Mount Pleasan Lovedale Semillion, and Yarra Yerring Dry Red No 1 and No 2. Of the four Yarra Yerring reds, three were astonishingly good; one was disappointing. We also had a remarkable Domaine A Cabernet Sauvignon 2000 (this is fantastic) and the 2001 and 2004 Dahlwhinnie Eagle Series Shiraz.

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The Landmark Tutorial, Day 1

I’m now in the Barossa, staying at The Louise (www.thelouise.com.au; one of the best places I've ever stayed), and about two-thirds through day one of the Landmark Tutorial. It is already very exciting, and we’ve only really just got going.

Last night (Sunday) the twelve of us, plus some of the tutors, met for dinner at the Sparrow Kitchen and Bar in Adelaide. It was a relaxed affair, with really nice food and a good selection of wines that Tony Jordan chose off the list. This included the Innocent Bystander Pinot Gris 2008 (fresh, complex, interesting); Crawford River Young Vines Riesling 2006 Victoria (lovely expressive, pure style); Corinna’s Olive’s Taranga Vineyards Shiraz Cabernet 2005 McLaren Vale (dense and spicy with good definition); De Bortoli Pinot Noir 2006 Yarra Valley (quite green and savoury with bright cherry fruit); Spinifex Esprit 2007 Barossa (lovely meaty, pure dark fruits) and the Parker Coonawarra Terra Rossa 2005 (benchmark Coonawarra Cabernet).

It was early to bed, but in my jet-lagged state I slept only fitfully. This morning began with a session at the Australian Wine Research Institute where we were treated to a taste of one of their Advanced Wine Assessment Courses. These normally last four days, and judges’ scores are collected in and analysed. We had just a couple of hours, so did a mini-AWAC, involving two flights of ten wines each: the first all Riesling, the second all Shiraz. Interestingly, several of the wines were replicated in each flight (that is, we were given the same wine more than once), as part of the assessment process.

After we’d tasted, we all had to call out our scores. Some of the replicates were easy to spot – others were much harder. It’s a really useful exercise. Doing this sort of process helps you get to know how your palate performs in this type of setting.

We finished late morning, and headed off to the Barossa, where, after a light lunch, we began session 1 of the Tutorial. Led by Michael Hill Smith, Andrew Caillard and Tony Jordan, it was a look at Australia’s ‘regional classics’. The tasting component consisted of some very smart wines, but even better is yet to come. With dinner - which I have a feeling will be very special - we’ll be looking at ‘Australia’s Fine Wine’.

Enough for now. I’m feeling pretty tired and I need to make use of the wonderful bath I have in my suite of rooms before pre-dinner drinks at 6.30 pm.

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Monday, April 06, 2009

Yalumba's 'The Signature' 2004

My recent experiences with Yalumba have been pretty good. They're bigger than a boutique winery, but they're still family owned. The Oxford Landing branded wines punch above their weight; the Y Series wines are excellent value for money - especially the wonderful Viognier; and the higher end wines generally perform very well, too, although in my limited experience with the trophy Shiraz (Octavius) I've found it a bit too oak-dominated. What about this - 'The Signature'? Well, I was expecting it to be big and oaky, but it is actually surprisingly well balanced.

Yalumba 'The Signature' Cabernet Sauvignon/Shiraz 2004 Barossa, Australia
Barossa Cabernet is not all that highly regarded, but it can perform well, especially when blended with some Shiraz. This has a fresh, focused nose showing sweet, rich blackberry and plum fruit with a hint of mintiness (that's the Barossa Cabernet) and some tarry oak notes, although these are quite subtle and well integrated with the fruit. The palate is sweetly fruited and quite intense with the spicy American oak adding a layer of complexity. It's a big, ripe, typically Australian wine, but it all pulls together and I reckon this will develop nicely over the next five years, and will survive even longer. A classic Barossa style, I reckon you'd spot this as Aussie in five seconds in a blind tasting, but this is no bad thing. 91/100 (around £23 in the UK)

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Monday, December 15, 2008

John Duval Wines: high-end Barossa wines

Two wines this evening. I thought I'd go Australian, so I opened a couple of recent releases from John Duval. He spent 29 years at Penfolds, and, from 1986-2003, as chief winemaker John was the dude in charge of Grange, which is quite a heritage to mantain. He started his own label in 2003, and also consults in Europe, Australia and the Americas. I really like these wines, and I reckon they'll age beautifully. I do wonder, though, whether the tin-lined screwcap used here is the best closure for these sorts of wines. Might they show better with a decent quality cork? [Admittedly, it's quite a job getting a cork supplier who can deliver this...]

John Duval Wines Entity Shiraz 2006 Barossa Valley, Australia
14.5% alcohol. 17 months in French oak, 30% new. Deep coloured. Initially shy and simply fruity on opening, after time this picks up weight and begins to show its potential. Lovely aromatic, slightly meaty, pure dark fruits nose with blackberry, dark cherry, spice and violets. On the palate there’s real elegance to the dark fruits, which marry beautifully with the oak. This isn’t a big blockbuster style; rather it’s a brilliantly balanced, youthful Shiraz with masses of potential for future development. John Duval says that his aim with this wine is to produce a Shiraz with elegance and structure, and I think he’s achieved this. But it needs time. 93/100 (£20.99 Noel Young, Oz Wines, SWIG, Harperwells, Secret Cellar, Wimbledon Wine Cellar)

John Duval Wines Plexus Shiraz/Grenache/Mourvèdre 2006 Barossa Valley, Australia
14.5% alcohol. Half Shiraz, one third old bush vine Grenache, the remainder old bush vine Mourvèdre, aged mostly in old oak. This is dominated by sweet, plum, red cherry and blueberry fruit, with a lovely soft structure and some attractive peppery spiciness in the background. It’s lively and pure with a seductive lushness, but there’s enough spicy structure to provide balance. It’s delicious now, with real Barossa typicity, but it should age really nicely, too. 91/100 (£18.99 Noel Young, Oz Wines, SWIG, Harperwells, Secret Cellar, Wimbledon Wine Cellar)

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Thursday, October 23, 2008

Top SA Sauvignon and a classic Barossa red

Two wines from a batch of samples sent by Enotria. The first - a really impressive SA Sauvignon. Nice to see this, because most SA Sauvignons I've tried of late have shown overpowering methoxypyrazine character (green pepper/vegetal/chalky). The second - a traditionally styled Barossa red, with rather obvious but tasty ripe fruit and American oak characters.

Iona Sauvignon Blanc 2007 Elgin
A really fine, elegant South African Sauvignon. It has a very pure, minerally nose with delicate, subtly herbal, gently grassy fruit. The palate is really pure and minerally with some savoury, cut pepper notes, but also a bit of lemony fruit. It’s quite subtle but full flavoured, and would be great with a wide range of different foods, especially a really fresh, simply prepared grilled sea bass. This is one of the best South African Sauvignons I’ve yet tried. 90/100 (£9.99 Waitrose)

Peter Lehmann Clancy’s Red 2005 Barossa, Australia
A traditional-styled Aussie blend of Shiraz, Cabernet and Merlot, this is great fun. It shows sweet, ripe, tarry, slightly minty, spicy raspberry, blackberry and blackcurrant fruit which carry over to the palate, which is rich, sweet, mouthfilling and really spicy, with some sweet vanilla oak. The classic Barossa blend of super-sweet fruit and American oak works well. It’s not a subtle wine, but it’s honest and delicious if you are in the mood for it. 88/100 (£7.99 Tesco, Waitrose)

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Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Meet Matthew Munzberg, a Barossa grower on a world tour

Went into central London again for the first time in ages. It really feels a bit like going back to school after the long summer away.

I met up with Matthew Munzberg for lunch. He's a fourth-generation Barossa grape grower who farms 45 hectares, and also makes some wine under the Mad Dog label - he's also the author of an interesting, pithily written blog.

For the last 14 weeks Matthew has been touring the world by virtue of a Nuffield farming scholarship. His travels have taken him to China, the Philippines, Idaho and Europe, visiting all manner of farmers and absorbing large volumes of information. He's written about some of his travels on his blog, and it sounds like a brilliant program.

One of the things he's looking at is how Barossa can promote itself as a wine region. Currently, the Barossa is dominated by growers. On average they farm 8 hectares each, which isn't a lot, and are paid around 800 dollars a ton for their grapes. It's hard to make a living this way: Matthew, with 45 hectares, says it's a struggle even with a larger holding. The worry is that growers will be forced to sell and big companies will acquire the vineyards, with the region losing its soul in the process.

For this reason, it's important for Barossa to have more visibility with consumers as a region. At the moment many grapes from here go into wines that aren't labelled 'Barossa'. If Barossa were to count for more, then grapes would be worth more, and growers' livelihoods would be safeguarded.

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Tuesday, July 01, 2008

A crazy Pinotage and two from Waitrose

I can't help, when it comes to Pinotage, descending to a level of criticism that I object to when I see it from others, if you know what I mean. I become dogmatic and opinionated.

Normally, I reckon I'm an open-minded sort of guy. I embrace diversity. Live and let live; see the best in everything; every cloud has a silver lining; everyone deserves a second chance.

But Pinotage is vile. In fact, I've thought of both a new competition, and also a new way to assess wine show judges based on this variety. The new competition is for the World's Least Vile Pinotage, and perhaps I should brand this with my name to make it an excercise in ugly self-promotion (as some other, nameless, writers do with top 100s and the like). And the new way to assess wine show judges is to give them a glass of Pinotage. If they say it's OK, they're sacked. If they dislike it, they are in. If they take a sip, cuss loudly and expel the contents from their mouths rapidly, then they are senior judges.

Anyway, I think I have found a potential winner for my competition. It's the Diemersfontein Pinotage 2007 Wellington, South Africa. The back label reads:
'This is the one! The original coffee/chocolate Pinotage now in its seventh great vintage. It befriends - it converts - it seduces'

You know, Diemersfontein have sussed Pinotage. The way to make it work is to mask the flavours of the grape. This wine really does smell of coffee and chocolate, and it is seductive. There's a hint of roast bacon here, as well. The fruit is sweet, and it's actually quite delicious, in a rather strange, slightly weird way. This is available in the UK from Asda, and it's probably my favourite expression of Pinotage.

Also tasted tonight, with a barbecue after watching elder son play cricket (golden duck this time, alas, and after we'd spent ages in the nets trying to work on some sort of defensive strategy), a couple from Waitrose which go well with this balmy summer's evening. They're from the Waitrose own-label range, which are sort of hybrid 'in partnership with' wines.

The first is a beautifully balanced, rich Sauvignon from Villa Maria (Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2007) that's really delicious. The second is a Barossa Shiraz 2006 Reserve from St Hallett, which is smooth and pure with nice texture and a hint of vanilla and chocolate. It's suave and stylish, if a little primary.

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Monday, April 28, 2008

Some serious Aussie wines

Remarkable tasting today, titled 'Landmark Australia', held by Wine Australia at Australia House in the Strand. Despite an encounter with a doorman who lacked any people skills whatsoever (I was strongly ticked off for being early), it was a fantastic event. The idea was to showcase Australia's 'proud and exceptional history of fine wine'. There's one thing you have to admire the Aussies for, and that's their self-belief. When this comes to wine this is exemplified by their show system, where judgements are made with a degree of certainty and confidence that worries me slightly. Still, the show system has undoubtedly helped in the pursuit of quality (or, at least, a self-sustaining Aussie-centric perception of quality), even though it may have stifled innovation to a degree in the past.

Michael Hill-Smith led the tasting, in conjunction with Paul Henry of Wine Australia. [Hill-Smith comes across as a smart but rather bullish Aussie; I suspect you wouldn't want to disagree with him.] The first part was a sit-down tasting with 17 specially chosen wines, showcasing the best of Australia's fine wine offering. Afterwards, we were treated to a further 26 wines on self-pour, with a long lunch where we got a chance to drink any of these 43 wines that took our fancy.

I came away really enthused by many of the wines. There were lots of really stunning bottles, one after the other. In fact, I was taken by surprise: I follow Aussie wine quite closely, and I guess this familiarity had made me forget just how good the best wines are. It was also great to be able to drink as well as taste - it gives you a bit more of a chance to get to know the wines.

Some highlights:

Tyrell's Vat 47 Chardonnay 1998 Hunter - a big, massive Chardonnay that's unashamedly Australian, but which at 10 years old is ageing beautifully. 94/100

Jim Barry The Florita Riesling 2007 Clare - wow, this is good: pure, rich, focused limey fruit with great balance. 94/100

Wynns John Riddoch Cabernet Sauvignon 1996 Coonawarra - it was hard to believe this wine is already 12 years old. Fantastically concentrated, complex and fresh with lovely purity of fruit. A real classic. 96/100

Cullen Diana Madeline Cabernet Merlot 2005 Margaret River - a thrilling wine that's still tight and youthful. Concentrated ripe, dense fruit with great precision and real potential for further development. 94/100

Hardys Eileen Hardy Shiraz 1999 - Distinctive, classically styled Aussie Shiraz that's ageing beautifully - sweet fruit and nice spiciness, with great integration of ripe, sweet fruit and oak. 94/100

Penfolds RWT Shiraz 2004 Barossa - much better than I was anticipating with beautifully dense, pure dark fruits. Fruit is the dominant feature here. 94/100

Mount Langi Ghiran Langi Shiraz 2004 Grampians - utterly brilliant cool-climate Shiraz with a fresh white pepper nose and lovely purity and lushness to the well defined, precise fruit. Thrilling. 96/100

Brokenwood Graveyard Shiraz 2005 Hunter - stunningly good: fresh, focused and well defined, with massive potential for future development. 95/100

Wild Duck Creek Estate Duck Muck 2004 Heathcote - crazy stuff, with 16.5% alcohol and incredibly rich, porty fruit. But it's actually in balance and is thoroughly delicious. A guilty pleasure. 94/100

Mitolo Serpico Cabernet Sauvignon 2005 McLaren Vale - incredible stuff, with a lovely rich, spicy mid palate and fresh, sweet, slightly leafy blackcurrant fruit. 94/100

Moss Wood Cabernet Sauvignon 2004 Margaret River - thrillingly intense Cabernet that's taut and brooding at the moment, but it's a serious wine with a long life ahead of it. 95/100

Shaw & Smith Shiraz 2006 Adelaide Hills - cool climate Syrah with a peppery edge to the beautifully fresh, well defined red fruits. Fantastic stuff. 94/100

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Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Sena, Henschke and some boring Zins

This morning I went to a seminar on Terroir and innovation in the new world, put on by Lay and Wheeler to showcase their portfolios from Henschke and Sena/Arboleda. Prue and Stephen Henscke, and Eduardo Chadwick gave presentations, and we tasted their wines.

I was very interested in what Prue had to say about the vineyards at Henschke: they are adopting a melange of organic, biodynamic and IPM practices to create their own sustainable form of viticulture. I also thought that the Henschke range, which is pretty broad these days, was admirably consistent. Hill-of-Grace 1998 is developing into a very nice wine. 2002 is currently youthful and tight.

If I'm honest, I was disappointed by Sena, Eduardo Chadwick's icon wine. Four vintages were shown: 2004, 2003, 2001, 1996. They were all good, but no more than just good. For me, they lacked excitement and life. 1996 Sena, for example, was ageing gracefully and tasted nice, but I wouldn't say it was world class. And Sena is the icon wine that beat a bunch of first growths at the Berlin tasting back in 2004.

I have a problem with the results of this Berlin tasting. I'm shocked that (1) the given group of journalists actually preferred the Sena and its stablemate Vinedo Chadwick over Lafite, Margaux and Latour, and (2) that they didn't spot the Chilean wines as Chilean in this line-up. Look, I'm not suggesting that Chilean wines can't be as good, or better than first growth Bordeaux - after all, I love to think I'm open-minded - it's just that so far, I've not tasted a Chilean wine that has in qualitative terms even come close to top-notch Bordeaux. I'll be brutally honest with you: if these Senas I tried today are representative, then I reckon the tasters tasted badly that day. They got it wrong. I will be thrilled to report back on the exciting, complex, vibrant, balanced Chilean wines that I taste when I visit Chile in January, but so far, I haven't met them.

Stephen Spurrier, famous for his 1976 tasting where Californian wines outshone French classics took part in the Berlin tasting, and preferred the French wines. 'Logic dictated that the French or Italian wines were going to win, but what happened was that the Chilean wines took the top places', he recalls. 'The tasters preferred the Chilean wines, which was quite extraordinary.'
Tonight I've opened a few bottles. A couple of Zinfandels that were as boring as the one I mentioned yesterday, with just some red berry fruit and a hint of greenness, and then a much nicer Shiraz Viognier from McLaren Vale with ripe pure fruit and a bit of elegance, albeit at 15% alcohol (Battle of Bosworth 2005 - organic - £9.99 Oddbins).

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Sunday, October 07, 2007

Brief wines to cap a sporting weekend

Just some brief wine notes this Sunday evening, after an exciting sporting weekend. What is it with sport? I know that it's a non-serious pursuit that acts as a catharsis for us, the masses, to distract us from real life in all its misery, and that serious people shouldn't care about it. But I love sport. I read newspapers from the back page. This weekend has been fantastic: the rugby yesterday was astonishing, and then the football today was brilliant, too. Last season, I'd grown pessimistic about the premiership. It was boring. But this year it's thrilling (unless you are a Spurs fan - I enjoyed taunting one of my Spurs-loving friends today by asking him whether he'd heard the latest rumour - that Jol was going to be replaced by David Pleat...)

Anyway, back to the wine. First, a lovely white. I bought a case of Domenic Torzi's Frost Dodger Eden Valley Riesling 2005 Australia from Bordeaux Index a while back at a good price, and I'll be in no hurry to drink this up. The second bottle I've opened, this is beginning to open out: lime, honey, spice with a hint of reduction that I hope won't grow with time in bottle. It's quite serious for a dry Riesling. Second, the Lynchpin 2005 mentioned below is, on day 3, showing well still, with lovely chalky minerality and some real elegance, which makes me think it's a reasonably ageworthy wine. Finally, Waitrose have brought out a new line of own label wines, and they have a Waitrose Barossa Shiraz Reserve 2005 from St Hallett that's really nice: fruit-focused, with no American oak (just a bit of French), it shows dark, ripe black fruits countered by some plummy bitterness and an almost ginger-like warm spiciness, with the oak very much in the background. It's a solid value (to use an American term) at £7.99.

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Sunday, June 10, 2007

Four rubbish wines, one good one

I don't like to be negative. At the same time, a critic's job is to be critical of the bad as well as praising the good.

Last night I opened four wines, all of which depressed me. Wine should be authentic; it should be fun; it should inspire and captivate; it should make us think a bit. Sadly, there's a lot of rubbish wine out there that does none of these things.

Tonight, therefore, I played safe. I opened something I knew I'd like. I have a soft spot for Bandol, and Domaine Gros' Nore is one of the top producers. The 1999 which I'm sipping now has a haunting nose: it's sweetly fruited, but the dominant theme is a perfumed earthiness - a savoury melange of spice, herbs, crushed rocks and turned earth. In the mouth it is savoury, dense, earthy and shows a bit of tarry, spicy fruit. There's quite a bit of tannic structure and good acidity. Beginning to drink really well, and I reckon it's good for another 10 years. As with all Bandols, Mourvedre is the key grape here.

Back to the duds. Oddbins Selection Bordeaux 2006 is the best of them: I like the dark, sweet chocolatey blackcurrant and blackberry fruit. My problem is that it tastes like Australian Cabernet, with sweet jammy fruit you just don't expect from Bordeaux. Is there residual sugar here? I wouldn't be surprised. Next, Yaldara 'The Farms' Shiraz 2004 tastes like an average £7 Barossa red, with sweet fruit and disjointed acid, together with heat and astringency. Problem is that Laithwaites sell this at £18.95, a price at which it represents spectacularly bad value. It has a twintop closure. Not usually seen on £20 wines. Now Chileno knock out some decent cheapo Chilean wines. Their Shiraz Cabernet Sauvignon 2006 is not one of them. The vibrant fruit has distinctive herbal greeness, and the result is a bit sickly. It's cheap, though, at under a fiver, but to be honest I'd rather drink water. Finally, Kendall Jackson's Cabernet Sauvignon Vintners Reserve 2003 from California is sweet and confected, with a vanilla streak to the red and black fruits. A crowd pleaser, but at £10 I was very disapponted: it just tastes 'made'.

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Monday, June 04, 2007

Gruner Veltliner

Had my brother and his wife to stay for the evening. They live in Plymouth, but had some business in London and so stopped over Chez Goode. So we drank some wine and played some cricket with the boys. Both my lads are getting into their cricket these days so today I'd bought them some decent bats: Woodworm 'The Flame' size 4 and 5, respectively. Coincidentally, they colour-matched one of tonight's tipples: the Laurenz und Sophie Singing Gruner Veltliner 2005 (pictured). I bought a case of it from Tesco a few weeks back, then at a price of under £5 a bottle, which is ludicrously cheap for a zippy wine that actually tastes of the grape it is made from. It's now back to its normal price, which is still very reasonable. I don't buy a lot of wines by the case, and when I do I normally regret it. But we're getting through this case briskly. Five bottles left. Another wine sunk tonight was the Massena Moonlight Run 2003 Barossa. Bought at around the same time for c. £10 a pop, I've drunk just 3 of the case to date. It's nice, but could do with just a hint more freshness and presence,

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Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Real wine the Italian way

So I returned to Cave des Pyrene's real wine tasting for the second day. After concentrating on France yesterday, today I devoted myself to Italy. I was pleasantly surprised: I've always had a slight suspicion that Italy is a perennial underachiever, failing to make the most of its diverse terroirs and grape varieties. However, the wines on show today were exciting, diverse, sometimes a bit funky, but almost universally interesting.

I'll be writing them up in detail, of course, but for now some quick highlights. Elisabetta Foradori's (pictured) Teroldegos from Trentino were dark and pure with real ageing potential. COS from Sicilia is making some characterful, rather rustic reds, plus a fantastically pure, smooth Pithos that is fermented and aged in amphoras. Also from Sicily, Marco de Bortoli fashions thrilling Marsalas as well as smart table wines. Podere Le Boncie Chianti Classico Le Trame tastes like Chianti should taste: expressive, elegant, spicy. Edoardo Valentini's Trebbianos are remarkable. Sottimano's Barbarescos are profound. Paolo Bea's Umbrian wines thrill. The La Stoppa wines are remarkable, too, including the Ageno white that spends 30 days on its skins. I'd continue, but I risk being boring.

Two wines tonight: both bottles are from cases of 12 that I bought from a recent Bordeaux Index stock clearance. I know the winemakers responsible from my various trips to the Barossa (here) and so I trusted my own reviews and took a punt. I often regret buying 12 of the same wine - with so many to try, I just seem never to get to the end of the case. Will I regret these purchases?

Torzi Matthews Frost Dodger Riesling 2005 Eden Valley is a crisp, mineralic Riesling with some citrus pith character and a bit of spice, together with some richer, more complex textural elements. Still quite tightwound. Finishes dry. With a long drinking window, we'll get through this case happily. Rieslings like this are versatile food wines. Glad I bought it.

Massena The Moonlight Run 2003 Barossa is a blend of Grenache, Shiraz, Mataro and Cinsault that weighs in at a heady 15% alcohol. It has a ripe, sweet liqueur-like nose of pure red and black fruits with a spicy edge that's rather exotic. The palate is sweet and ripe with a distinctive spicy presence. Quite pure, pretty alcoholic, but with some supporting minerality that makes me think of a really good amarone, or a supercharged Chateauneuf. The fruit drives this. I'm not sure how it will evolve, and I guess this is the key factor in whether I've made a good buy or not. If it develops well into a rich, spicy, earthy, sweetly fruited sort of wine, then I'll be very happy. If it falls apart into a mush, I'll be disappointed. I reckon the former is more likely, partly because the wine seems to be developing in the glass. Or is it just that the 15% alcohol is beginning to have an effect on my perception? I'm never quite sure about reports of wines really opening out with time because of this rather obvious confounding effect!

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Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Mitolo Reiver

On both occasions that I’ve tasted through the Mitolo wines I’ve come away impressed (see e.g. here). Made by new Aussie superstar Ben Glaetzer, they’ve seemed to combine ripeness and size with a good degree of that almost indefinable character shared by most fine wines: elegance.
I was quite looking forward to comparing the 2001 and 2004 vintages of the Reiver Barossa Shiraz in the relaxed setting of the Goode kitchen, where it’s not just a question of a sniff, a slurp, a spit and a rapidly penned note. At home there’s time to revisit a wine; to drink it; to try to get to understand what it is saying.

I uncorked the 2001 (the 2004 is screwcapped), and took a sniff. Very sweet and forward, not much else. A few minutes later and I came back to it. It wasn’t quite right. Under the sweet fruit was a faint earthy, slightly musty edge. This persisted for a couple of days. I can only assume it’s fallen victim to some low level cork taint. Not enough for it to be obvious, but enough for the wine not to be working properly.

So on to the 2004. Initially this showed sweet jammy fruit, but after a while it developed a savoury nose of red and black fruits, with good purity and a minerally, tarry core. The concentrated palate showed lots of sweet fruit and some spicy tannin, with a hint of greenness. The second day it became complex, chocolatey, spicy and liquoricey, with good structure.

It wasn’t utterly convincing, though (and when I checked back later, I saw that this was the least impressive of the premium wines when I'd tasted them before, although it was still pretty good). Then I looked more closely on the back label. This wine was labelled ‘late harvest’, and the displayed alcohol level was 15%. I’m not saying that it’s fundamentally wrong to have high alcohol levels: some wines can carry this. Grenache, in particular. But it does affect the wine when you reach levels of 15%, which I think is just too much for most table wines to bear. Would this wine have come across better at lower alcohol? You know, it might have done. It's hard to say, for sure, and Ben has to work with what nature gives him. But high alcohol is an issue that worries me.

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