jamie goode's wine blog

Friday, December 11, 2009

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)


Wednesday, December 09, 2009

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)


Thursday, November 26, 2009

A quick trip to Bordeaux

Just come back from a quick trip from Bordeaux with fellow wine journo Tim Atkin. We were visiting Dourthe, one of the larger negociants who own several properties spread across the region.

The focus of yesterday morning was Sauvignon Blanc. Tim and I tried 30 of the blend components for Dourthe No 1 Blanc, which is a varietal Sauvignon Blanc, with winemaker Thomas Drouineau, consultant Christophe Ollivier and CEO Patrick Jestin (below). It was interesting to see the differences between the various lots of wines, and we more-or-less agreed about the best wines. We also had a go at making some theoretical blends: it's interesting how just a small amount of one particular wine can change the whole blend.

This was followed by a benchmark blind tasting of Sauvignons on the UK market ranging from £6-£17, with most under £10. The shock was how badly Cloudy Bay 2008 fared: Oyster Bay 2008 was much, much better. Tim and I more or less agreed with our ratings, except with the two most methoxypyrazine-dominated wines, where his scores went right up, and mine went right down. I hate wines with excessive methoxypyrazine. My favourite wine was the Leyda Garuma Sauvignon Blanc from Chile.

We then visited La Garde in Pessac Leognan, where we had dinner. At dinner, where we were joined by winemaker Guillaume Pouthier and Matthieu Chadronnier, a lot of blind tasting was done. The most interesting bit was a pairing of two wines, one of which I thought was first-growth quality and complex in a Graves style, the other which I thought was a good wine but which was dominated by a roasted oak character to its detriment. The first turned out to be Dourthe Essence 2000; the second Ch Mouton Rothschild 2000. I'd rather drink the former by a mile.
Today we visited Ch Pey La Tour in Entre Deux Mers, and then Ch Belgrave (above), which borders St Julien and Ch Lagrange on one side, and Ch Latour Carnet on the other. It has a lovely terroir: white gravel, largely, with some clay (pictured below is an old Merlot vine on gravel). There we looked at the blending components for the 2008 Essence, which is made from the best bits of the various Dourthe properties.

Tim and I did our own blends, in competition with Guillaume and the other Dourthe head winemaker Frederic Bonnaffous (top picture). My chosen blend was 45% La Garde Cabernet, 23% Le Bosq Merlot and Petit Verdot, 8% Belgrave Merlot Soleil block, 8% Belgrave Cabernet Graves block, 8% Belgrave Cabernet Puits block, 8% Belgrave Cabernet Rendez Vous block. I think it was great. We then tried the blends blind, where mine came second behind Guillaume's. It was great fun.

We tried a lot of 2009 samples from all properties. It looks like a really serious vintage. Really serious.


Sunday, October 18, 2009

A brilliant effort: Château Léoville-Barton 2005

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

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

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


Tuesday, October 13, 2009

BBR's blog on Bordeaux 2009

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What do you think?


Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Results from The Berlin Tasting, London

Very enjoyable day. Began with lunch and a couple of pints of Harveys at the White Horse, Parsons Green, with James Gabbani of Cube. We were discussing the closures debate at next week's wine trade fair. Then, the Wine Rack tasting, at the same venue. I was actually quite impressed with the wines - the whites, in particular, showed well.

Then it was off to The Landmark Hotel for the Berlin Tasting, London. My full write-up is already online (here). In brief, the Chilean wines were quite easy to pick. Superb tasting: thanks to Eduardo for organizing such a great event.

Group top 3: (1) Margaux 2005; (2) Lafite 2005; (3) Solaia 2005

My top 3: (1) Margaux 2005; (2) Solaia 2005; (3) Opus One 2005

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Monday, May 04, 2009

A St Emilion that improves dramatically overnight

Some people suggest that the way a wine changes overnight - when a portion is drunk one day, the bottle recorked, and then a portion the next day - is indicative of its ageing potential. I'm not so sure there's a direct correlation, but here's one wine that last night was hard, unyielding and tough to drink, and which tonight is really fantastic.

It's Chateau Louvie 2005 St Emilion Grand Cru. I reckon that 2005 in general is not a vintage to approach now. My experience so far of 05 Bordeaux is that the tannins can sometimes be overpowering, and will take many years to resolve properly. This is certainly the case here: a modern wine, made with quite a bit of oak, but with fierce tannic structure that only softens its grip a bit on day two, to show how this wine might evolve. Drinking it tonight, there's still quite a bit of structure evident, but it has also opened up aromatically to reveal slightly minty blackberry and raspberry fruit with spicy, gravelly overtones and well integrated oak. There's good concentration here, too, and I reckon it will be lovely in a decade. But I could be wrong! UK availability: Cadman Fine Wines (£14.50)

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Friday, May 01, 2009

Berry Bros & Rudd - a plug for their blog

One of the other wine blogs I enjoy a great deal is that of wine merchant Berry Bros & Rudd (bbrblog.com). It has some informed commentators - including Jasper Morris, Simon Staples and David Berry Green - and, as the latest entry indicates, it is not afraid to get a bit controversial.

The story I'm referring to specifically here is the lament by Staples about Robert Parker's scores for the 2008 Bordeaux vintage. A cynic might argue that Staples wants prices to stay low so he can sell more; then again, he could just jump on the high Parker ratings and use these to sell more wine, even if the Chateau owners stick their prices up a bit in response. But I think Staples is acting in good faith here. He sounds like he wants what is best for Bordeaux, a region he seems to care a good deal for.

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Thursday, April 09, 2009

St Emilion and Garnacha

Took the boys to Thorpe Park today. It's a horrible, horrible place, but they love it. I spent most of the time on my laptop hiding in a coffee bar. When we got back Fiona chose two red wines for me from my rack - one an inexpensive Spanish Garnacha, the second a high-end St Emilion.

Cruz de Piedra Garnacha 2007 Catalayud, Spain
An example of good modern Spanish winemaking, focusing on intense fruit rather than too much American oak. Vibrant, fresh sweet cherry and berry fruit dominates, with a slightly grippy, spicy, peppery edge. Great value for money, and while it's not the most sophisticated wine you'll ever encounter, it's deliciously fruity. 87/100 (£5.65 Great Western Wine, 14% alcohol)

Chateau Fombrauge 2004 St Emilion
This is one of the Bernard Magrez properties that I visited last November (pictured above). It's a really attractive, almost seductive wine, with a lovely melange of ripe but well defined, smoothly textured blackcurrant and blackberry fruit, and sophisticated oak. It's a really well balanced wine with nice gravelly depth (a signature of 2004, I reckon) and some firm but refined tannins. This oozes class: quite a serious effort. It's modern, but not too modern; oaky, but not too oaky. 92/100
Find these wines with wine-searcher.com

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Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Adam Brett-Smith on Bordeaux 2008, with some advice

Just received this interesting viewpoint on the 2008 Bordeaux from Adam Brett-Smith of Corney & Barrow. It seems that 2008 is creating quite a bit of interest for all sorts of reasons.

"The Problem with the 2008 is the 2007…

The culture of en Primeur purchasing in the UK is very strong. On the whole, for good reasons; it allows customers to buy at the best price, to have a good chance of securing rare and in demand wines and in the bottle format that is required. They might also benefit from spotting a latent ‘star’ whose true value has not been recognised in the market. These are the compelling en Primeur ideals – I stress ideals.

Bordeaux’s problem is that it is frequently incapable of pricing according to intrinsic quality and market strength. It often uses either one or the other and on the rare occasion it uses both, it usually does so in the wrong way. So it was with 1984 – a bad vintage with a strong US market and therefore grotesquely overpriced. The result? UK Merchants who were forced to buy in order to ‘maintain their allocations’ couldn’t even sell them at cost and they hung around like a bad smell (literally in some cases!) for more than a decade.

Likewise with 1997. A perfectly decent, moderate year priced hugely more expensively than the very good 1995 and 1996. So, a hot market with average quality. The result? See above. Likewise in 2007; a decent year and overpriced. See above again…

In fact, the problem with the about-to-be-offered 2008 is not 2008 itself (likely to be pretty, even very good) but 2007. 2007’s pricing allows significantly less room for manoeuvre on price reductions for a much better vintage (2008) because of the greed shown by most producers with their 2007’s. Factor in the devaluation of Sterling (and the overvalued Euro), a very sticky market and you can appreciate the

But it is difficult to weep for the Chateaux owners. They have made a lot of money whilst the Bordeaux négoces and the UK Wine Merchants have had their margins squeezed and squeezed again. The balance has shifted but the consumer has not benefited.

That’s the extent of the problem and, of course, the opportunity. My advice to the Bordelais? Be dramatic, even inspirational. Use 2001 opening prices as a reference, or 2002, or even 2004. You can afford to and you really, really need to make some
friends. We all need them in these times do we not?


Monday, April 06, 2009

Majestic's google map of the leading Bordeaux properties

Just discovered this very useful google map of the leading Bordeaux properties. Who needs the World Atlas of Wine? It was put together by the team at Majestic Wine (http://blog.majestic.co.uk/2009/03/28/bordeaux-from-space/).


Friday, March 27, 2009

Films and Friday night wine

It's been ages since I saw a decent film. In fact, the last really good film I remember seeing is Sidney Lumet's Before the devil knows you're dead, and that was in BA business class flying to Argentina a year ago. Shocking.

Last night we watched the latest Bond - Quantum of Solace - and it's a woeful effort. Lots of absurd action scenes, but so little character development and an empty headed plot. Bond takes his indescructability to new levels, but action scenes and stunts alone can't carry the film, which just isn't very well written. I'm not looking for too much from Bond, but Quantum just doesn't seem to work.

It's a bit like the wine I'm drinking now: Palmer's second wine, Alter Ego 2004 (Margaux, Bordeaux). There's the essence of a good Bordeaux here, but you can see why these lots were declassified to the second wine. Structured and firm, quite correct, but without any joy or real personality. It's not often I can't bring myself to have another glass of a £40 wine. That's Bordeaux for you, I'm afraid. Palmer is one of the best, but their second wine isn't (see my report on a vertical tasting of Palmer here - I think I was a little generous on my rating of this Alter Ego then by a point or two).

Other films of late? Well, I quite liked 88 minutes, an Al Pacino action film. And Juno was quirky, well acted and fun. The latest Indiana Jones was fun with the kids, including the totally absurd fridge/atom bomb scene. But I can't think of much else. Are films getting worse, or am I just watching the wrong ones?

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Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Amazing wines at The Ledbury

Keith Prothero (pictured below) convened a lunch at the Ledbury yesterday. The occasion? Chris Mullineux, a South African wine grower who Keith is involved in a venture with, was in town to present the new Mullineux wines. Also present were Neal Martin, Jamie Hutchinson (the Sampler), Jim Budd, Nigel Platts-Martin (owner of The Ledbury, The Square and other restaurants), and Lionel Nierop (Bid for Wine). Keith kindly provided the wines, too.

I won’t dwell on the Mullineux wines, because I intend to write them up separately. Suffice to say, Chris is right up there with the very best South African producers. The Syrah is beautifully expressive with lovely aromatics and a subtle meatiness; the white blend is taut and complex, with lovely depth from old vine Chenin combined with Viognier, Clairette and Grenache Blanc; and the straw wine, a curiosity made from Chenin grapes dried to reach double their original sugar content, is fantastically fresh and complex.

For those unfamiliar with The Ledbury, all I can say is that you must visit. It’s one of London’s very best restaurants. Aussie chef Brett Graham is a genius and I’ve had some of my most memorable gastronomic experiences here. The food is modern and inventive, without being gimmicky. And the lunchtime menu is brilliant value, too.

We began with an old Sancerre that was quite puzzling: it tasted really young.

Pascal Cotat Sancerre Les Monts Damnés 2001 Loire, France
Really intense, linear nose with minerality, grassiness, grapefruit pith and taut herby notes. The palate is intense, savoury and quite herbal with bright fruitiness. A remarkably fresh 2001, with an attractive greenness. 90/100

With the first course (cured scallops with frozen horseradish, seaweed and herbs) we had the Mullineux white 2008 and Lopez de Heredia’s Tondonia Gran Reserva white 1981, which unfortunately was corked. We followed this with the Mullineux Syrah 2008, and then the fish course (fillet of turbot cooked on bread with new seasons morels, beef shin and cauliflower) was accompanied by:

Roumier Bonnes Mares Grand Cru 1994 Burgundy
Lovely sweet pure cherry and red fruit aromatics, with a subtle sappiness. The palate is lively and spicy with lovely grippy structure under the elegant fruit. Nicely structured with a lovely spicy finish, but perhaps not showing all it has at the moment. 92/100

Guiseppe Mascarello Barolo Monprivato 1974 Piedmont, Italy
Brown colour. Like an old tawny port on the nose, and an old oloroso in the mouth, with a strong molasses character. Sadly this is dead.
The main course (sauté of Berkshire hare with poached grapes and a feuilleté of chanterelles and Jerusalem artichokes) was accompanied by one of the best flights of wines I’ve ever experienced. Quite incredible! [Above: Jim Budd, Chris Mullineux and Neal Martin prepare to tuck in.]

Château Haut-Brion 1982 Graves, Bordeaux
Lovely aromatic, minerally nose with complex sweet fruit and gravel notes. Beautifully poised. The palate is complex with sweet berry and cherry fruit, some mineral notes and hints of tar and gravel. Really pure with fantastic balance, this is super-elegant and still quite fruity with amazing purity. Lovely. 96/100

Château La Mission Haut Brion 1978 Pessac-Léognan, Bordeaux
Lovely sweet, pure blackberry fruit nose, with spiciness and minerality. Gorgeously aromatic with a gravelly edge. The palate is sweet and quite lush with lovely purity and elegance. Beautifully complex, this is a breathtaking wine. 97/100

Jabulet Hermitage La Chapelle 1991 Northern Rhône, France
Sweet, pure, liqueur-like nose with rounded red fruits. The palate is quite lush with some meatiness and bright cherry fruit, showing a liquer-like, jellied fruit purity. Sweet, with a fresh finish. 93/100

Château de Beaucastel 1981 Châteauneuf-du-Pape, France
Aromatic, spicy nose with warm dark cherry fruit, herbs, ginger and tar. The palate has cherry fruit as well as notes of soy sauce, earth and herbs. Savoury and earthy, this is delicious, but may be beginning to fade just a bit. 92/100

How do you follow this? With a remarkable dessert (passion fruit soufflé with sauternes ice cream) and two serious dessert wines : the complex Mullineux Chenin Blanc straw wine, and Yquem 1986.

Château d’Yquem 1986 Sauternes, Bordeaux, France
Deep gold colour. Sweet and viscous with barley sugar, honey and powerful citrus and peach flavours. Luscious and rich with some spiciness, dried fruit and minerality. Almost savoury! Lots of intensity here. 93/100

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Monday, March 09, 2009

'New' 1855 Bordeaux classification - interesting results

One of the first things wine nuts learn is the famous 1855 classification of the left-bank Bordeaux properties. What is amazing is that despite the significant changes in the wine world - including the phylloxera outbreak and subsequent replanting - over the last 154 years, this classification has been surprisingly enduring. Especially when you consider that just one factor was used to determine the ranking: the prices wines that the wines sold for.

Well, as a bit of fun, Liv-ex have revised the 1855 classification and brought it up to date. James Miles, Director at Liv-ex , explains: “Our aim from the outset was to recreate the conditions of the 1855 classification. To base it wholly on price – as the 1855 classification was – and include only the major estates of the Left Bank. In essence, to create the classification that would have been drawn up if today’s prices were those prevalent 154 years ago.”

Liv-ex give some background to the original 1855 classification, which was produced by the Bordeaux Brokers Union at the request of the Bordeaux Chamber of Commerce. Its purpose was to be used as part of the regional display at the Paris Universal Exhibition of 1855. The Brokers returned their classification just two weeks after the original request was made. It was based wholly on the price each chateaux’s wine reached on the Bordeaux market. This was soon considered an ‘official’ classification, particularly by those outside the Bordeaux trade.

The Liv-ex Bordeaux Classification
Criteria for inclusion: left bank wines only (both Medoc and Pessac-Leognan); minimum production of 2000 cases; first wines only.

· Mission Haut Brion joins the 1st growths
· Lynch Bages is the biggest climber, moving up from the 5th growths to join the 2nds
· Palmer moves from the 3rds to become the top 2nd
· 10 wines drop out of the classification
· 9 wines join it

“Mission Haut Brion has clearly reached the level of a First Growth", says James Miles. "The difference in price between Mission and the wine below it (Palmer) is larger in percentage terms than that between any other adjacent wines in the classification, with the former twice the price of the latter.”

“The second wines of the great chateaux are a complicating factor," says Liv-ex's Jack Hibberd. "They obviously didn’t exist in 1855, so we decided to classify each property on the basis of their first wine. It is interesting to note, however, that if they were included as separate chateaux, 12 would make the cut, with Carruades de Lafite and Forts de Latour reaching the level of second growths.”

You can view the new 1855 classification here.


Monday, December 29, 2008

Some blind Sauvignons, a 30 year old Tawny and a 35 year old Claret

A family lunch at my sister's place in Gerrards Cross. Brother-in-law Beavington is a bit of a wine nut so we usually do some blind tasting, and befitting our give and take relationship (I do the taking part), he provides the wines. The tasting was a little scaled down this time in view of the credit crunch (although he is one of the few bankers who still have jobs) and also the fact that several of the party were ill. And I was driving.

Anyway, we started with three Sauvignons, and then did a really nice Tawny port and an old Claret from a slightly dodgy year. Great stuff.

Dog Point Sauvignon Blanc 2006 Marlborough, New Zealand
This is tight, crisp and minerally with some limey fruit and grassy notes, as well as a bit of residual sugar adding roundness. Real purity and focus here - it's almost like a Riesling. 90/100

Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc 2007 Marlborough, New Zealand
Fresh, herby, grassy nose. The palate is lean with high acidity. This is an acidic Sauvignon with some minerality. An averagely good Marlborough Sauvignon, which is surprising considering its fame. 87/100

Dog Point Vineyard Section 94 Sauvignon Blanc 2006 Marlborough, New Zealand
Remarkable stuff, vinified with a bit of oak, although it's not an oaky wine. Stongly herbal, aromatic nose with bright grassy fruit and some grapefruit and citrus pith notes. Pungent, intense palate with a tangerine peel edge to the grassy fruit. I had this down as a high-end Bordeaux Sauvignon Blanc - quite unlike anything else I've had from New Zealand. 92/100

Chateau Lynch Bages 1973 Pauillac, Bordeaux
This is a fully mature, savoury Bordeaux with some soy notes joining the earth, spice and red fruit character. Tastes like old wine, but there's still some interest and life here. Savoury and bone dry with high acidity. Drinking quite well, but don't hold on to this any longer, because it's fading fast. 83/100

Sandeman 30 Year Old Tawny Port
Beautifully complex and intense with amazingly complex nutty, citrussy, woody notes combining together brilliantly. Superb with amazing acidity and complexity. Beautiful. 94/100

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Sunday, December 28, 2008

Juicy speculation: could Magrez move for Latour??

A bit of juicy speculation. Could Bernard Magrez, who already owns a gazillion Bordeaux estates as well as wineries around the world, make a move for Chateau Latour? This speculation is contained in this article in today's Sunday Times, which focuses on the pressures that current owner Francois Pinault is under, and suggests that Latour is on the market for around £170 million. Pictured is Mr Magrez taken on my recent visit to his Bordeaux estates.

Note added later (29/12): I checked, and Mr Magrez has no comment to make for now.


Thursday, December 25, 2008

Christmas day, and modest excess is in order

It has been a delightful Christmas day in the Goode household. We were woken just before 7 am, which, when you have kids, almost counts as a lie-in. After an hour or so of opening presents from Santa's sacks, it was time for breakfast, then walking the dog, followed by Church, followed by presents round the tree. Then it was time for lunch. We were joined by Fiona's mum (Patsy), her husband Fred, and Fred's American niece Maeve.

We did the traditional turkey thing, and it was delicious. To match, I opened a range of bottles. Two Champagnes to start: Bollinger NV (widely available, c. £32) is a classic, with rich, bold, toasty flavours. Ayala Brut Majeur is more precise with lovely tight citrussy, toasty notes (M&S £19.99). Both are delicious, but if pushed I'd opt for the the Ayala.

For whites, we went with two. First, a Gobelsburg Gruner Veltliner 2007 Austria (£8 Waitrose), which is a deliciously bright Gruner with some richness and a hint of peppery character. This is a really good, affordable, versatile white. Second, a white Hermitage 2007 from Domaine du Colombier (another Bibendum sample), which is a perfect turkey match. It's rich and textured with ripe pear fruit and notes of honeysuckle and vanilla on the nose. Pretty serious stuff.

Just a solitary red, and it was polished off pretty quickly, which is a sign of a good wine. It's the Chateau La Tour Carnet 2004 Haut Medoc, Bordeaux. This is a serious effort that has the potential for further development but which is already drinking well. It's smooth and dark with rich blackcurranty fruit and some gravelly depth. This is one of Bernard Magrez' wines, and it's utterly delicious and reasonably serious. I wouldn't say it was a terribly good match with turkey, but sometimes you just want a delicious wine to drink whatever you're eating.

Finally, a pair of Vintage Ports, both from 1997. I have a theory with Vintage Port: it's great young, and it's great old. In the middle it has a bit of an awkward phase. I reckon the 1997s aren't showing their best at the moment, and while both of these are enjoyable, they need another 10 years to start singing. Quinta do Portal 1997 (£35 Great Western Wine) is rich, spicy and fresh with some earthy structure and nice balance. It's just beginning to show complex, evolved notes on the nose, and there's quite a bit of fruit left. The Cockburn's 1997 (c. £30 retail) is nicely expressive with warm, spicy, earthy notes as well as a tarry richness to the dark fruit. They're both wines aiming more at elegance than power. If I had to choose one, it would probably be the Portal. But for current drinking I'd probably opt for a cheaper traditional (unfiltered) Late Bottled Vintage Port (e.g. Noval, Crasto, Niepoort) than these.

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Friday, December 19, 2008

A nice lunch with a sound Claret

Went into town today to lunch with my former boss at his club, the Athenaeum (pictured). We dined well on pheasant, washed down with a bottle of the house Bordeaux, Château d’Arche 2002. The wine committee there have chosen well: this is a really delicious Claret that's beautifully balanced with some Cabernet richness and a delicious earthy grip. [D'Arche is managed by the negociant house Mahler-Besse, who own Palmer, but I can't locate any UK stockists.]

It was nice to catch up. My ex-boss is a fan of Wittgenstein, and he gave me a quick tutorial on the mind/body problem. I think he must be appalled by my attempts to grapple with the nature of perception, and the way I fall for the Mereological fallacy (i.e. mistakenly stating that it is the brain that perceives, rather than the person).

After lunch I went shopping. We may be in the midst of a recession/depression but Oxford Street was heaving. I love shopping for some things (e.g. wine, technology bits, sports gear), but otherwise I really don't enjoy the shopping experience at all.

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Thursday, December 11, 2008

Icon wines at The Sampler

On the main site, I've just posted a lengthy review of innovative wine merchant The Sampler, which I visited last Friday (www.wineanorak.com/thesampler.htm). Here, as promised, I'm posting notes of the icon wines they currently have on tasting. It's always difficult tasting wines like these when you know what they are, because you don't want their reputations to influence you (either way).

Domaine de la Romanée Conti Romanée St Vivant 1993
Beautifully elegant, perfumed nose is warm and open with subtle herbiness, hints of earth and nice spiciness. A bit of greenness, but in a nice way. The palate is earthy and spicy with good structure and lots of elegance. The fruit is beginning to recede a bit but there’s lots of complexity here, and some herby notes meshing well with spicy tannins. Some people I was tasting with were disappointed by this, but I found it thrilling, although I wouldn’t say it has a huge amount of evolution ahead of it. And it’s absurdly expensive, but it is DRC. 95/100 (£699 The Sampler)

Harlan Estate 2002 Napa Valley
My first time with this cult Napa wine, which sells for around £600 a bottle. Fresh, spicy, earthy aromatic nose with sweet blackcurrant fruit and warm, subtly tarry, spicy notes. Hint of chocolate, too. The palate is sweetly fruited and dense with really nice dense, spicy, slightly earthy structure under the rich, but not overblown fruit. It’s an accessible new world-style wine but it’s balanced and has a long finish. 93/100

Screaming Eagle 1999 Napa Valley
A rare chance to try one of the most sought after Napa cult wines. Wonderfully aromatic with perfumed, sweet, complex, beautifully poised nose of tar, herbs, spice and sweet berry fruits. The palate is evolving beautifully with notes of leather and spice under the elegant sweet red berry fruits. Really nicely balanced with beautiful fusion of complex spicy notes, fruit and structure. 96/100 (£1500 The Sampler)

Château Margaux 1934 Margaux, Bordeaux
It’s always a great experience to taste very old wine, even though it is a bit of a lottery. This elderly Margaux is an orange-brown colour, and the nose is earthy, spicy, mature and quite complex. The palate is light with some earthy notes and fresh acidity, as well as some meaty hints. Not much left here: it has a beguiling, faded, haunting beauty, but it’s beginning to taste of old wine. There’s real interest, but I suspect this isn’t a great bottle. 92/100 (£550 The Sampler)

Château Petrus 1983 Pomerol, Bordeaux
A little disappointing considering the reputation of Petrus, but still an attractive mature Pomerol. Warm, spicy and earthy on the nose, with some sweetness. The palate is earthy, slightly herby and has fresh acidity, with some evolution. Quite structured but the fruit is beginning to recede a bit. An attractive, savoury wine, but some way short of greatness. 92/100 (£850 The Sampler)

Château Le Pin 1995 Pomerol, Bordeaux
This cult Pomerol is very appealing, but surely you don’t have to spend a grand to get something like this? Lovely sweet aromatics showing subtly leafy sweet red fruits. Quite complex. The palate has some firm savoury character with nice spiciness and freshness. It’s balanced, earthy and fresh with nice bright fruit and a hint of nice greenness. 93/100 (£1000 The Sampler)

Château Mouton Rothschild 2000 Pauillac, Bordeaux
Earthy, spicy and slightly rustic on the nose. Quite firm. Is there some brett here? The palate is earthy and dense with a robust spicy character. Dense and firm at the moment but lacks real elegance. To be honest, I expected a bit more from this. 91/100 (£700 The Sampler)

Château D’Yquem 1983 Sauternes
Totally beautiful. This is concentrated and perfectly balanced with dense, complex spicy lemon/citrus flavours with waxy, spicy notes and wonderful depth. Drinking perfectly now. 96/100

Château de Beaucastel Châteauneuf-du-Pape 1990 Southern Rhône, France
This is a lovely, light, evolved wine drinking at its peak. Complex, warm, spicy and earthy with a lovely earthy, spicy character, as well as some meaty funkiness. A savoury style with lots of interest. 94/100 (£160 The Sampler)

Added later: people have asked about the sampling prices - they're all on the website - http://www.thesampler.co.uk/sampling.asp?submenu3

For these wines:

Wine Icons
DRC Romanée Saint Vivant 1993 £31.46; Harlan Estate 2002 £27.00; Screaming Eagle 1999 £60.00; Château Margaux 1934 £20.37; Pétrus 1983 £38.25; Le Pin 1995 £43.33; Château Mouton Rothschild 2000 £31.50; Château de Beaucastel 1990 £7.20

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Sunday, December 07, 2008

Bordeaux Blanc

I've drunk quite a bit of Bordeaux Blanc over the last few weeks. It varies in quality, of course, but I think it should be a bit more popular than it is. First of all, it's dominated by Sauvignon Blanc, which is super-fashionable these days. Often, it's blended with a bit of Semillon, which adds lemony freshness. And then there might be a bit of Muscadelle in, to add fruity, grapey notes.

Bordeaux Blanc can be fresh, fruity and inexpensive. It can also be more serious and more expensive. Often, the more expensive examples will have a bit of oak - this is one of the few regions where Sauvignon is regularly barrel fermented. As a rule, Bordeaux Sauvignon tends to be more minerally and less generous and aromatic than, say, New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc.

Tonight's wine is an example of a really good Bordeaux Blanc - one that's serious and quite complex.

Château Doisy-Daëne Sec 2007 Bordeaux
100% Sauvignon from a Château that is more famous for its fabulous Sauternes. It is made by Denis Dubourdieu, the Bordeaux University professor famous for his work on the flavour compounds in Sauvignon Blanc. Grapefruit and lemon notes dominate, with some herby, tangy savouriness and high acidity. There’s a pronounced tangerine character, too, with lovely contrast between the ripe, bright fruit and the more savoury pithy notes. Some wood here, but it fits in perfectly. A complex, gastronomic wine. 93/100 (£14.50 The Wine Society)

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Friday, November 28, 2008

More from Bordeaux

Some more pictures from the Bordeaux trip:
Chateau Margaux
Better than Easyjet and Ryanair!

Chateau Cos d'Estournel, St Estephe

One of our helicopters, outside Chateau Perenne


Thursday, November 27, 2008

Some piccies from Bordeaux trip

Some pictures from the last couple of days.
Chateau Latour from above, with the Pichons in the background.

St Emilion from the air.

Bordeaux versus Chelsea.

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More science and a quick trip to Bordeaux

It has been a busy week so far. Monday and Tuesday were taken up by the meeting I was working on about the evaluation of medical research, and which I now have to write a report on. It may seem odd for a wine journalist to be working on this sort of project, especially when I have plenty of other stuff to keep me going, but I'm keen to maintain a link to science – a field in which, until earlier this year I'd been working in for fifteen years. I have lots of experience that I don't want to waste, and I reckon that an occasional science gig can only help keep me fresh for my wine work.

Then for Wednesday and Thursday were spent in Bordeaux, visiting the properties of Bernard Magrez. We stayed overnight at Chateau Pape Clement, which was quite grand. On a non-wine related note, we also accompanied Monsieur Magrez to watch the Bordeaux v. Chelsea game in his private box. The coolest bit of the trip, though, was the transport. We flew from London City airport on his private jet, and then were whisked around the various properties by helicopter. Flying over the famous estates of the Medoc in a chopper is a memorable experience. Full write up to follow. Pictured above is the view of Ch Fombrauge, one of the Magrez properties, in St Emilion.

Tonight I have to give a talk on the perception/psychology/philosophy of wine at the Athenaeum club. I need to finish my presentation.


Saturday, November 08, 2008

Some nice reds with the folks

My parents are staying at Chateau Goode this weekend. Time to open some nice reds.

First, Chateau Veyry 2005 Cotes de Castillon, Bordeaux. This is a new-wave red Bordeaux from a 4 hectare estate in the Cotes de Castillon, and it's absolutely delicious. Dense, with smooth dark fruits on the nose and a hint of chocolatey spice. The palate is intense and concentrated with ripe fruit and some new oak spiciness. Firm yet smooth tannins provide ample structure. This is stylish, dense and well defined, and should age very well. 92/100 (£22.95 Cadman Fine Wines)

Then a Douro red. I'd sampled it the night before, when I found it a bit tight and clunky, but a day later it was singing. It's the Quinta do Judeu 2006 Douro, Portugal. There's nicely defined, fresh fruit here with admirable purity and freshness. I think some of the pronounced minerality on day one was actually a bit of reduction, and a day later the fruit was much purer and linear. Very nice stuff, and a step up from previous efforts. 90/100 (not available in the UK yet)
Next, the remainder of the D'Arenberg Feathered Dinosaur Cabernet Sauvignon 2004, which was really singing. So dense, intense and powerful, but nicely balanced with it. I rated it very highly and would stick with that rating. One of Australia's best Cabernets.

Finally, Fiona picked a wine out blind and opened it. I guessed it correctly - the Matetic EQ Syrah 2006. It's dense, ripe, fresh and concentrated. The give-away was the fact that it had just a touch of that Chilean green/rubbery character on the nose. Not much, but enough to mark it as Chilean. And once I got this, the rest was easy because there aren't many Chilean wines of this quality in my home.

Today we walked the dog and went to the Hoo Ying oriental supermarket on the North Circular road near Wembley. Tonight we shall play more games (I am ritually humiliated by my folks at boggle - which they are masters of, but which I'm pretty lousy at) and uncork more wines.

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Sunday, November 02, 2008

Fantastic wine dinner, with some incredible wines

Had a remarkable wine dinner last night over at the apartment of one of Luis Antunes’ wine friends, Luis Ferreira. A small group (6) of us ate, chatted and drank some incredible bottles. By the time we left it was 4 am. As a measure of how crazy the evening was, at 3 am Luis Ferreira brought out a blind white wine – it was the 2001 Yquem. Incredibly generous of him, but it felt a bit surreal drinking a legendary wine like this at that time in the morning. A mind-numbingly good line up of wines, really. The good thing is that these wines weren’t just tasted and spat: they were drunk and enjoyed.

Here are my notes.

Château Beaucastel Blanc 2003 Châteauneauf-du-Pape
Yellow/gold colur this is a rich white wine that’s made in a slightly oxidative style. It has nutty, rich, broad fruit with nice complexity – toasty and waxy. Unusual stuff with a broad texture and lots of flavour. 90/100

Conceito Bastardo 2007 Vinho Regional Durienses
Apparently 100 years ago Bastardo and Alvarilhão were the most widely planted grapes in the Douro. They don’t have a lot of colour, and this is why Sousão, a teinturier (red fleshed) variety, was introduced from Vinho Verde. This is a remarkable wine. It’s a varietal Bastardo made in lagar, with stems, and no sulfur dioxide addition. Very pale in colour, it looks like a rosé. It has a beautiful, fresh, aromatic nose with a nice herby green edge to the bright cherry fruit. The palate is remarkable: even though this is a pale wine, it is intense, with a rounded texture and lovely spiciness. Fresh, super-elegant and persistent, this is a beautiful wine. It’s labelled Vinho Regional because the IVDP refused the Douro appellation numerous times because this is ‘atypical’. 93/100

Niepoort Charme 2002 Douro
Not much of this made in 2002. Quite deep coloured, the nose shows sweet aromatic, spicy-edged red berry and cherry fruit. Smooth and aromatic. The palate is dense an firm with some nice tannic structure and a core of tight spiciness. There’s some elegance here, but also some structure, with a subtle, integrated greenness. Stylish and intense with lovely purity, and beginning to evolve nicely – if I had some I’d keep it for a while before opening. 93/100

Prunotto Bussia Barolo 1996 Piedmont, Italy
A new-wave modern Barolo that’s ageing pretty well. Tight yet aromatic nose is spicy, minerally and tarry. The palate is fresh and intense with lovely bright tarry red fruits. Great acidity, and still quite fruity with nice minerality. 92/100

The next wine was served blind.

Château La Tour 1999 Pauillac, Bordeaux, France
Tight, earthy, spicy nose with nice savoury black fruits. Brooding and intense. The palate is firm and tannic with some evolution, but real future potential. Serious stuff with some elegance. 94/100

Conceito Vintage Port 2005
Sweet, rich, intense and spicy with good structure. Pure and quite serious with lovely intensity of fruit. 93/100

Fonseca Guimarens Vintage Port 2001
Really nice aromatics. Fresh, slightly spicy and quite sweet with red and lack fruits to the fore. The palate is expressive, dense and sweet with lovely structure and brilliant spicy tannins. A very expressive, alive Port with real complexity. 94/100

Fonseca Vintag Port 2003
This is incredible. Intense, sweet, firm spicy nose. The palate shows some concentration with lovely intensity and firm tannins. A massively intense, structured Vintage Port that’s utterly serious. 96/100

JM da Fonseca Moscatel de Setubal 1976
Beautifully aromatic: fresh and spicy with dried fruits, citrus, waxy notes. The palate is super-concentrated with intense spicy, fresh, herby super-complex fruit and spice characters. Thrillingly intense with lovely complexity. Simply amazing. 96/100

JM da Fonseca Moscatel de Setubal 1960
Amazing stuff, with a really volatile, intense nose showing wildly aromatic varnish and old furniture notes. The palate is amazingly complex: powerful, intense, tarry, wild, raisiny and viscous with alarming flavours and an everlasting finish. I’d score this higher, but it isn’t really balanced. A remarkable wine experience. 94/100

You’d have thought we’d had enough by now. But no, as we stood round outside getting some refreshing night air, Luis brought out a large glass into which he’d dumped a whole bottle of a sweet white wine (it was a half!). I don’t really think my tasting note on this is much use. Truly delicious and quite special it was the Château d’Yquem 2001 Sauternes.

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Monday, September 15, 2008

Some fine wines at Pepi's dinner, with an Austrian focus

On Thursday evening, after the Sainsbury Press tasting, I headed over to Shepherd’s Bush with Tim Atkin for an Austrian wine dinner. The room was full of Masters of Wine (MWs) – they’d just had their AGM. And the purpose of the dinner was to celebrate the first non-Brit chairman of the Institute of Masters of Wine, Dr Pepi Schuller, who is Austrian, but rather exotically has a PhD from the University of Stellenbosch.

The dinner was held at the wonderful Princess Victoria, a former gin house, then seedy pub, and now a serious wine-friendly gastro pub run by Matt Wilkin (see reviews here and here). It was a cracking evening, full of good humour, gossip, boisterous banter and fantastic wines. Here are my notes. The journey home was a long one involving two tubes and a bus, but it was worth it.

Walther Polz Therese Sauvignon Blanc 2006 Sudsteirmark, Austria
Serious Sauvignon from Styria, in southern Austria. Rounded and generous with ripe fruit and just a hint of greenness. Good concentration. Quite a rich style, but still savoury. 89/100

Georg Bruer Berg Schloossberg Riesling 2006 Rheingau, Germany
A fantastic wine that shows Riesling at its best. Lovey taut limey fruit on the nose; great concentration and minerality on the palate. Good weight with real presence and also a bit of residual sugar adding volume. 92/100

Bründlmayer Steinmassl Riesling 2006 Kamptal, Austria
Willi Brundlmayer was there to present this wine. Taut, pure and mineralic with some lemony fruit on the nose. Good concentration on the palate with lovely fresh acidity. Bright and lovely. 91/100

Louis Carillon Puligny Montrachet 1er Cru Champs Canet 2005 Burgundy, France
This wine will divide people, I reckon. Nicely focused nose with creamy, nutty notes and precise citrussy notes showing some new oak. Oaky palate has nice focus and purity, with promise for the future. Oak dominated at present, though, and so the score is a bit of an act of faith. 92/100

Schloss Gobelsburg Grüner Veltliner Tradition 2005 Kamptal, Austria
Michael Moosbrugger made this wine in a traditional style after finding papers in the loft of the monastery detailing how the wines were made in the past, and it’s brilliant. Richly textured, smooth and slightly creamy with some spice and mineral characters on the nose. The palate is texturally rich and complex with great depth and a hint of honeyed richness. 92/100

Domaine Bonneau du Martray Corton Grand Cru 2003 Burgundy
An atypical vintage for Burgundy, but this wine still has lots of interest. Dark coloured, it has sweet, intense, spicy dark fruits backed up by firm, spicy tannins. Really dense and quite surprising, I suspect this will benefit from some age. It’s not really all that Burgundian at the moment! 90/100

Moric (Roland Velich) Blaufränkisch Neckenmarkter Alte Reben 2004 Burgenland, Austria
Lovely minerally blackcurrant fruit is the dominant theme here. It’s quite focused, with lovely structure from smooth but firm tannins. Good integration of oak and lovely minerality to this serious red wine. 92/100

Château Leoville-las-Cases 2004 St Julien, Bordeaux
This is a beautiful Claret of great purity, that’s ageing very well. Lovely blackcurrant fruit nose with minerally, spicy depth. The palate has good structure and presence under the generous, pure, sweet fruit. Just a baby, but with fantastic potential. 94/100

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Friday, June 20, 2008

Sweet wines: Sauternes and its neighbours

I must admit, I do enjoy sweet wines. But not very often, because I can't seem to generate enough situations where it seems appropriate to pop the cork on something sweet. It's not like you'd open a bottle of Sauternes at 6 pm and drink it for the evening, is it?

I've been opening quite a few sweet wines from Sauternes and other neighbouring Bordeaux regions over the last few days because I had some samples in. It's been quite fun: overall, the quality has been good, and while these are by no means the best or most expensive examples of sweet wines from Bordeaux, they're pretty consistent, with one notable exception.

The exception was a Laithwaites wine, which was actually quite awful: the LS Semillon 2002 1er Cotes de Bordeaux. The thing is, it looked so good from the label (above), but unfortunately this tasted like cheap, dilute sweet white Bordeaux - not worth (to my palate) the asking price of over £6 for a half. In fact, I wouldn't buy this if it was £2 a half. [I hate to write negative notes, but sometimes the real underperforming wines need to be outed. I also think it's healthy for critics to be critical: my job is to write for consumers, not to act as a PR agent for the wine trade.]

The others, from Cadillac, Loupiac, Sainte-Croix-du-Mont and Sauternes itself, have all been enjoyable wines. With their golden colours, presented in clear glass bottles with white labels and gold capsules, they also look stunning. Probably the best (certainly in terms of value) has been the Chateau La Caussade 2004 Sainte-Croix-du-Mont (£11.86 Waitrose for 75 cl). Yellow/gold in colour, this has an appealing nose of honey, lanolin, spice and ripe peach. The palate is richly textured and broad, with sweet melon and apricot fruit balanced by a subtly spicy bite. It's not as intense or multidimensional as the best Sauternes can be, but it's still a really nicely balanced wine.
My only concern with drinking these sweet wines is how fat I'll get. They're deliciously sweet, with perhaps 130 grams/litre of residual sugar. That means a bottle will have roughly 100 grams of sugar in it, which, together with the alcohol, sounds like a lot of calories. Has anyone done the maths?

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Thursday, June 19, 2008

Bordeaux campaign, vintage 1934

At Fortnum & Mason today to taste a few sherries with wine buyer Tim French. Tim produced an old Fortnum's wine list from 1938, which made fantastic reading.
'It's amazing how tight the range was in those days', he remarked. There's a big section on Champagne, a page of Port from the wood, a page of Vintage Port, lots of Madeira, more than a page of sherry, then large sections on Bordeaux, Burgundy, Hock and Mosel.

The rest of France has a small section, and then there's a fascinating - if brief - list of 'Empire wines' (see below). It was fascinating also to see the Bordeaux section, including the 1934 campaign that includes both merchant-bottled and Chateau-bottled releases. How the wine world has changed.

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Friday, May 09, 2008

The future of wine, and Bordeaux 2007

Just a brief post to alert readers to two documents that were in my in-box this morning.

The first is from Berry Bros & Rudd, and it's their predictions for the future of wine. They range from the sound, to the slightly absurd. It's a good read. See for yourself here.

The second is from Liv-ex, and it's a document on Bordeaux 2007. I quote:

"Each year Liv-ex surveys its members upon their return from tasting the new Bordeaux vintage. The survey is designed to track the consensus of opinion amongst the best professional tasters of young Bordeaux. Liv-ex’s membership numbers 175 of the world’s biggest buyers and sellers of fine wine globally. The 2007 was conducted from mid-April onwards and was concluded prior to the release of scores and notes from Robert Parker."

You can read this here.


Tuesday, May 06, 2008

More Bordeaux 2005. High alcohol? From Bordeaux?

What do you come to Bordeaux for? I'd suggest that the primary draw for most people is full-flavoured-yet-elegant, ageworthy, structured red wines offering impeccable balance and moderate alcohol - which you'd hope would develop with age into something complex and compelling.

I know a lot is made of alcohol levels these days. It's a bit of a stick to beat winemakers in new world regions with, and sometimes I encounter wines with high alcohol that seem perfectly balanced and at ease with themselves. But I did a double take with this next pair of wines in my round-up of affordable 2005 Bordeaux, because they weighed in at 14 and 14.5% alcohol, respectively.

Chateau Grand Barrail Lamarzelle Figeac 2005 Saint-Emilion Grand Cru, Bordeaux
14% alcohol. Sweet, open blackcurrant fruit with a bit of herbiness and some attractive minerality on the nose. The palate has classic dark fruits with a gravelly edge. This is ripe, balanced and quite elegant, with nice tannins, but it's not unapproachable. 90/100

Chateau La Clariere Laithwaite 2005 Cotes de Castillon, Bordeaux
14.5% alcohol. Rich blackcurranty fruit on the nose with some chocolatey richness and spice, but to an extent this is closed. The palate is rich and spicy with sweet fruit and some alcoholic heat. A rich, ripe, modern-styled Claret that's a little closed now - needs time to open out. 88/100 (£14.99 Laithwaites)


Thursday, May 01, 2008

More Bordeaux 2005, and I'm not finished yet

I've been taking a closer look at affordable Bordeaux from the 2005 vintage. Four more bottles opened tonight and tasted together.

I'm beginning to wonder about whether this is the sort of vintage that's best offered out of sequence. What I mean is, some producers might be best off sending their 2006s and perhaps their 2007s to market before their 2005s. The Champagne houses sometimes do this with their vintage wines.

Many of the affordable 2005s have been almost impossibly tannic and quite closed: not wines that you gain much pleasure from drinking at the moment. This applies even to some of the less expensive branded wines. But in two years' time they may well be showing their best. [Let's not forget that these are not sweet, seductive wines that consumers can easily understand. They're quite challenging, with high tannins and high acidity. They have their work cut out.]

The problem is, they'll have largely sold through, and these days people drink wines as soon as they buy them. The possibility remains that most of this vintage will be drunk before its time. Pick of the bunch here? The Diane de Belgrave (stocked by Majestic).

Château De La Ligne Cuvée Prestige 2005 Bordeaux Supérieur
This property, with 11 hectares of vines planted in 2002, is owned by Northern Irish businessman Terry Cross (read about the project here). It comes in a heavy, broad-shouldered bottle. The fresh nose shows some fresh red fruits with a bit of tarry spiciness – some American oak was used here as well as French. The palate is bright with super-fresh red berry fruits and a bit of spice, but the dominant theme here is the firm tannic structure and high acidity, giving the wine an almost austere, savoury feel. While I like the freshness of the fruit, and the ample concentration, there’s not enough charm here - and far too much structure - for this to be an enjoyable drink at the moment. It may well blossom, however, with a decade in the cellar – hard to tell. Considering that the vines are still young, it’s a good performance. 85/100

Château Barreyres 2005 Cru Bourgeois, Haut-Médoc, Bordeaux
Given a couple of hours of air, this wine opens out to show a classic, attractive Bordeaux nose of subtly leafy, minerally blackcurrant and red berry fruit. The palate is beginning to evolve a little, showing soft green spicy notes underneath the fruit, held together with some tannic structure and good acidity. A balanced, well proportioned claret beginning to enter its drinking phase, and offering good value. Drink now and over the next couple of years? 86/100 (£8.75 Sainsbury’s)

Diane de Belgrave 2005 Haut-Médoc, Bordeaux
The second wine of fifth growth Château Belgrave, this has a really attractive nose showing dark fruits, minerals, olives and spice. The palate shows generous, rich blackcurrant and raspberry fruit backed up by spicy, mineralic structure. There’s some elegance here, and it isn’t as square and tannic as some of the other 2005s I have been tasting of late. Stylish stuff that’s beginning to be approachable now. Drink now and over the next three years? 89/100 (£11.99 Majestic)

Château Preuillac 2005 Cru Bourgeois, Médoc, Bordeaux
Very attractively packaged, this deep coloured wine has a slightly closed nose showing fresh blackcurrant fruit with some dark spice character. The palate is ripe and fresh, with a strongly savoury, gravelly, spicy streak, as well as some attractive chocolatey richness. The tannic structure is fairly dominant at the moment, and there’s good acidity, as well as a bit of oak. Tastes a bit tight and young at the moment, but there’s no reason to suppose that this won’t age well in the medium term. Finishes with dry, grippy tannins. Lose in the cellar for five years? 87/100 (£12.99 Soho Wine Supply)


Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Affordable Bordeaux 2005, part 3

Some more 2005 Bordeaux in the tasting line-up. Even at this level, I reckon some of the wines really need some time before they are broached. 2005 was a high tannin, high alcohol, even high acid vintage which means that opening the wines now doesn't necessarily maximize their potential for enjoyment. I haven't finished yet - more 05s to come!

Château Le Boscq 2005 Saint-Estèphe, Bordeaux
The nose here is perhaps slightly reductive, with a hint of rubber and some roasted notes (or is that from the oak?). The palate, though, is fresh and dense with well proportioned, ripe, slightly chocolatey dark fruits, as well as firm tannins and some supporting oak. It’s dense but not at all heavy, with some minerality and plenty of upside potential for the patient. 89/100 (£17.39 Sunday Times Wine Club, Laithwaites)

Château Pey de la Tour Reserve 2005 Bordeaux Supérieur
95% Merlot, 4% Cabernet Sauvignon and 1% Petit Verdot, so pretty much varietal Merlot. This is pretty impressive for the price. It’s dense, tight and firm at the moment, with the ripe dark fruits somewhat clamped by firm tannins and good acidity. But there’s lots of weight here, and plenty of charm waiting to emerge. I reckon this is one to hold onto for a couple of years, although you could drink it now with food. It’s proper Bordeaux, without the greenness and unresolved tannins that are the besetting sins of many wines at this price point. 88/100 (£8.99 Waitrose, The Wine Society)

Dourthe Barrel Select Saint-Émilion 2005 Bordeaux
70% Merlot blended with 30% Cabernets (Franc and Sauvignon). Fresh nose is quite classic, with blackcurrant and blackberry fruit along with herbal, subtly green notes. The palate has a distinctive minerally, chalky, slightly herbaceous streak alongside the fruit, which makes it very fresh and savoury. It’s a good food wine, but for me (and I’m probably being fussy here) the tannins are just a little too green, and the fruit just a little short of ripeness for this to really hit the spot. But it isn’t unripe, and there’s some class here, although I think Dourthe do better for the price elsewhere. 82/100 (£8.99 Waitrose, £9.46 Tesco)

Cabernet Franc sample from Calvet Reserve 2005 Bordeaux
In 2005 some Cabernet Franc found its way into the Calvet Reserve blend, and this is a sample of it. Smells a bit funky (as tank samples often do, with some oxidation) on the nose, but the palate shows lovely dense, tight, ripe red fruit character with lovely firm structure. Pretty good stuff, and a bit of a shame to see it in a bigger blend – it’s a really nice wine in its own right.

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Sunday, April 27, 2008

More affordable 2005 Bordeaux

Three more Bordeaux wines from the 2005 vintage. Solidly made and good value for money, I reckon - at least, by the usual Bordeaux standards.

Dourthe No 1 2005 Bordeaux
This well known brand is a blend of Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon, put together by none other than M. Rolland. It's classic Bordeaux: there's a hint of gravelliness to the nose, there's some brightness to the dark fruits, and there's fresh grippy structure. It's not going to set the world alight, but it is very drinkable. Solid effort. 83/100 (£6.49 Waitrose, currently on offer at £4.79, until 13 May)

Chateau Pey la Tour 2005 Bordeaux Superieur
77% Merlot, 14% Cab Sauv, 8% Cab Franc, 1% Petit Verdot. Very attractive nose showing sweet open blackcurrant fruit with a nice sappiness. The palate is soft and seductive with fresh, almost pure fruit. A ripe, modern style of Claret that's very drinkable, without feeling at all tricked-up. Also one of the Dourthe portfolio. 88/100 (£8.99 Wine Society, Waitrose)

Chateau Rival-Bellevue 2005 Bordeaux Superieur
85% Merlot, 15% Cabernet. On opening this is dominated by sweet oak, but after a while it settles down to reveal attractive, forward sweet dark fruits bolstered by some spicy tannins and a bit of new oak. Ripe, modern and well put together, but perhaps just a little too much reliance on oak? 85/100 (was £8.99 at Waitrose, reduced to £5.99 in their French wines showcase, but currently out of stock, I believe)


Saturday, April 26, 2008

Affordable Bordeaux from 2005, part 1

Cheap Bordeaux can be nasty. While the top wines, from the finest terroirs, are sought after by collectors and command increasingly high prices, the rest – and the majority – of Bordeaux vineyards struggle in the modern marketplace, which is increasingly fussy about quality. The problem is that you need really good sites to ripen the two Cabernets and Merlot properly in the average Bordeaux vintage. If producers are making wine from lesser vineyards, and in particular if they are greedy with their yields, the result can be rather thin, green, ungenerous wines that lack charm and consumer appeal. Get it right, though, and there are few regions that can make such digestible, classic red wines with moderate alcohol and food compatibility.

2005 has universally been acknowledged to be an exceptional Bordeaux vintage. Theoretically, less famous producers and the negociants should do a better job this vintage. So tonight I cracked four bottles of affordable (by Bordeaux standards) 2005 clarets to see how they matched up. My impressions are below, and I have more to follow.

As a side issue, it’s interesting to consider what the future will be for non-classed growth claret. Château or brands? One of these wines is a brand; the other very clearly are selling as Château wines, with old fashioned labels featuring an engraving of an extremely big house, and black, gold and red as colours. What is the way forward for Bordeaux as a region?

Calvet Reserve Merlot Cabernet Sauvignon 2005 Bordeaux, France
Pleasant sappy dark fruits nose with a slightly green edge. It’s savoury and fresh. The palate shows some ripe red fruit character, together with a leafy, chalky greenness that isn’t unpleasant. There’s some firm tannic structure on the palate, which is overtly savoury. For negociant Bordeaux at this price it is a good effort: if you are used to reds with sweet fruit and soft tannins, this might come as a bit of a shock. I reckon it’s a good session claret, and with food you could drink this quite happily. Top marks for the packaging, though – it’s a nice bottle shape and the label design is quite classy. 82/100 (£6.99 Waitrose, Co-op, Sainsbury’s)

Château Lapelletrie 2005 Saint Emilion Grand Cru, Bordeaux
70% Merlot, 30% Cabernet Franc, from a 12 hectare vineyard. Quite deep coloured. Aromatic, with attractive blackberry and blackcurrant fruit on the nose, framed with a nice chalkiness. The palate shows ripe red and black fruits combining well with firm, spicy tannins. There’s some softness here, as well as a bit of sweetness to the fruit, which in combination with the slightly grippy structure makes for a very self-assured, versatile and food friendly Saint Emilion. This is pretty serious for the price. 89/100 (£11.99 Tesco)

Château Tour Prignac 2005 Cru Bourgeois, Médoc, Bordeaux
A roughly equal blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot from a 147 hectare estate. I like the nose, which is quite classic. There’s some smoky, earthy, tarry red fruit along with a subtle gravelliness. The palate already shows some evolution, with lovely balance between the sweet fruit and the slightly earthy, minerally savouriness. Drinking well now, although with potential for development over the next couple of years. I guess this is what most people come to Bordeaux for: something digestible and approachable that shows some character but isn’t too heavy. 86/100 (£9.99 Oddbins)

Château d’Arcins 2005 Cru Bourgeois, Haut-Médoc, Bordeaux
55% Merlot and 45% Cabernet Sauvignon from a 100 hectare vineyard. Very attractive nose, showing some evolution. It’s fresh, gravelly and attractively fruited, with some warm plummy blackberry fruit. The palate has soft, ripe fruit bolstered by grippy, minerally structure and a hint of oak. A really approachable wine: a classic claret for current drinking, but don’t hold on to this in the hope of improvement – it’s nice now. 87/100 (£13.50 Nicolas)


Friday, February 15, 2008

Nice lunch, cold rugby and sherry

So we had a nice lunch today. It was a small affair - a sort of unofficial farewell do. As I mentioned in my blog a couple of days ago, the place where I've been working as I've been developing my wine career is closing down, and we are being made redundant. My boss treated our small department of four to lunch at his club, the Atheneum.

The Ath is a remarkable institution - a club predominantly for distinguished intellectuals from the arts and sciences. We had a very enjoyable lunch in a lovely setting, washed down with the house claret, which is a delicious Cru Bourgeois Bordeaux from 2001. This wine, selling in the restaurant at £17, is utterly delicious: savoury, intense, a bit gravelly, with great balance and poise. This is what you want from a good claret. No wonder the majority of wine sales here are this particular wine, because it is just so well chosen.

This evening I spent three of the coldest ever hours of my life watching elder son play rugby. It was a tournament at London Irish, and it was utterly freezing. His team got hammered. They looked about half the size of some of the others. At this age group, U12, there is a remarkable diversity of sizes and developmental stages: some of the kids looked almost adult-sized. Fortunately, elder son's team didn't make it past the five group games so I was home by 21:15.

I'm currently sipping some more of the fantastic Hidalgo Oloroso Viejo I mentioned last week. With sherry and madeira, nothing beats time. When I get my life more in order, I'll try to make sure I always have great sherry or madeira on the go at all times. What a nice thought!

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Thursday, January 31, 2008

Serious, affordable white Bordeaux

I never drink white Bordeaux. Ever. Nor does anyone else. If you want Sauvignon, you go to New Zealand or the Loire. If you want it with a splash of Semillon, you go to Margaret River. What's the point of Sauvignon with an attitude problem? And it's only Americans who try to oak their Sauvignons.

But we know the truth is more complex than this, if we are honest with ourselves. In particular, we realize that white Graves is serious stuff, and that sometimes Sauvignon/Semillon blends from Bordeaux with a bit of barrel fermentation are worthy of our attention: they're serious, ageworthy wines in their own right.

Tonight I sip a white Bordeaux that is both serious and affordable. It's Chateau Beaumont 'Les Pierrieres' 2006 Premieres Cotes de Blaye Blanc, which Lea and Sandeman list for £7.95. Initially, on opening it Fiona and I had divergent opinions. She's highly sensitive to oak, and doesn't like oaked white wines at all - she immediately rejected this as being oaky. I'm clearly an idiot, and didn't get oak at all when I first tried it. Instead, I got a bit of struck match reduction as the defining feature on the nose. But Fiona is right: Beaumont used new oak barrels for this wine. They fermented it in new barrels destined for their red wine program, understanding that by the time fermentation was complete with the white, the red would be ready to press into the already-used barrels.

The combination of oak, reduction and fresh, herb-tinged fruit results in a fairly complex, savoury, expressive white wine that I reckon will improve in bottle for perhaps five to ten years. It's a really interesting wine, in the style of serious white Graves, but it's affordable.

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Monday, October 29, 2007

Bordeaux 2005, assessed from bottle

So popular is the Bordeaux 2005 vintage with the wine trade that the organizers of this year’s Union des Grands Cru tasting at the Royal Opera House had to operate a two-shift system. Given a choice of morning or afternoon tasting, I opted for the 10.30–13.30 band, and despite the split shifts, the place was still heaving.

In a crowded environment, tasting is made quite difficult. While the Riedel glasses, the open, airy room and the sunny weather all worked in the tasters’ favour at this event, the crowds, the jostling for position near spittoons, and the general noise level meant that the fine discriminations that need to be made in order to assess quality at the highest level were quite tricky.

Add to this the usual bugbear at large tastings – the repeated exposure of the mouth to dense, young, tannic wines – and you have a bit of noise in the system, which means that the notes and scores I made today aren’t my final word. To make this buccal over-exposure less of a problem, I kept my sampling down to a relatively modest 40 wines, even though there were close to 100 on offer (including whites and Sauternes, which I skipped). This was my third tasting of a large batch of the 2005s – en primeur in April 06, then a second cask sample session in February this year, followed by this first look at the bottled wines.

Overall impressions? 2005 is a remarkable vintage in Bordeaux, across the board. All the appellations have produced generously proportioned, concentrated, tannic wines that look set for long development in bottle. These are not wines that you want to drink now (although I’d imagine that more commercial wines made in a lighter style will now be beginning to show their best). I was repeatedly amazed by the density of fruit, usually backed up by firm tannin and good acidity, and not infrequently a fair whack of new oak. It will take a while for many of these wines to begin to harmonize. Some may be so tannic and extracted that they won’t ever achieve real balance, although it’s hard to be sure at this early stage.

I’d also say this is quite an awkward stage to be evaluating the 05s, because they are so tight and tannic. It’s as if they are currently bunched together. In time, I’d expect them to diverge more and then spotting the real gems amidst the generally high overall level of quality will be easier. It’s important not to be seduced by the wines that are currently more open, because these aren’t necessarily the top wines. Some of the wines that are tight and a bit ungainly now will be the swans in 30 years’ time.

Notes on the wines will follow shortly on the main site. One final thought. Bordeaux is a bit different, isn’t it? All the winery owners, representatives and winemakers were wearing suits, or smart dresses. [Many of the guys were wearing expensively tailored suits, too.] There was lots of jewellery. You get the impression that even cellar hands in Bordeaux wear a shirt and tie. No T-shirts, no jeans, no non-conformists. The wines seem to reflect this.


Saturday, October 13, 2007

I love wine!

Some bottles opened last night, and continued tonight, remind me why I do what I do: I love wine!

First of all, a couple of Gruner Veltliner. Lenz Moser's Laurenz V Sophie 2006 is a wine that we've consumed 15 bottles of in the Goode household since summer. It's brilliant for the price - around £5 on special from Tesco - and we have six more arriving next week. But a step up is the Stadt Krems Gruner Veltliner Weinzierlberg 2006, which is one of the most enjoyable whites I've had in a while. It's aromatic, full, generous, well balanced, lively and quite thrilling. This is GV at its very best, and just under £10 from Averys. I must buy some.

Then a really good Bordeaux: Chateau Brown 2004 Pessac Leognan. This is deep, minerally, gravelly, savoury and quite tight, with lovely dense dark fruit hemmed in by firm tannins, good acidity and a touch of oak. Pretty serious stuff, definitely in classed growth league, and which is a good four or five years off its peak. Again, this is a wine that had me on wine-searcher looking to see where I can get some. Unfortunately, none available in the UK...

The picture is of the closure used to seal the Stadt Krems GV. It's a Vino-Lok, which is a glass stopper with a plastic ring doing the business of sealing, covered in a metal cap. I'm not sure about Vino-Loks: they look good, and feel nice to open (no special tool is required), but plastic allows diffusion of oxygen, and it is plastic that is making the seal. Besides, they're really expensive compared with screwcaps and Diam, their main competitors.

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Monday, October 01, 2007

A good day

Forgive the unrelated photograph. It's me on the back of a mechanical harvester, taken on Thursday afternoon in Entre-Deux-Mers. The other rider is Beverly Blanning. We were watching the harvest at Chateau Lavison, where Merlot was being picked, and the offer was made: do we want a ride? So precariously balanced on the back, quite high up, we watched as a couple of rows were picked. It's amazing how these machines can pick so well: the reception bins contained almost exclusively intact berries, and a simple triage at the winery picked out remaining stems and any rotten or unripe grapes.

Anyway, the title of this post refers to today, where a couple of nice things happened. First of all, I found Fiona's keys. Doesn't sound too eventful, does it? But it was. Last Tuesday, Fiona was walking RTL in Hanworth Park, when a horse, which wasn't supposed to be there, suddenly appeared. RTL ran fast towards it, and began running round its legs. There was panic, and Fiona ran after the imperiled hound trying to catch it. After the crisis had passed, she realized she no longer had her keys, which must have fallen out of her pocket. The problem is, Hanworth Park is huge, has tall, dense grass off the pathways, through which Fiona had to run, and the keys could have been anywhere within a patch approximately 200 m x 100 m. That evening we searched en famille without success; subsequent search attempts also failed the following day, so we gave the keys up for lost.

Now house keys are easy to re-cut. But the car key is a different matter. A quick call to Mazda revealed that it was easily replaceable, but at a cost of £260. £260 for a car key? That's more than an Ipod costs, and an Ipod is a whole lot more complex. And they needed the car for two hours on next Friday morning for some reason to supply the new one. Why?

So this morning, as I was walking the dog through Hanworth Park, my mind briefly flitted to the issue of the lost keys. Maybe I'll look for them again, I said to myself. I'd taken just two paces off the path when I looked down, and there they were. It felt like a miracle.

The second nice surprise was waiting for me when I got home: a nice royalty cheque for Wine Science. I'd previously just received and advance: this was the first time the earnings had passed the amount of the advance and I got some cash in my hand. It's selling particularly well in the USA, and has just been translated into Japanese. It's always nice to get money that you weren't expecting.

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Saturday, September 29, 2007

A brief Bordeaux visit

Just back from two action-packed days in Bordeaux. Day 1 was very practical, spent in Entre-Deux-Mers researching integrated viticulture - a scientific approach to sustainability that attempts to forge a balance between the environment, economic considerations and product quality. Yvon Mau have a club of 13 producers who are working in this system, which shows great promise because it is something that even large volume low cost producers can implement (unlike organics or biodynamics, for example), and it results in better quality with far fewer chemical inputs.

Then yesterday, Richard Bampfield (who organized the visit) and I set off early to do some tourism, either side of a visit to Jean-Christoph Mau's Chateau Brown in Pessac Leognan. We hit Saint Estephe, Pauillac, St Julien, Margaux before our visit, and then Pomerol and Saint Emilion afterwards. It's a really good time to see the visit as harvest is either soon to begin, or has begun, depending on where you are. More on the potential of 2007 later. For now, two pictures. First, harvest underway at Lafleur (Pomerol) and, second, Cabernet Sauvignon grapes at Lafite.


Wednesday, September 26, 2007

From an Asda press tasting to Bordeaux

Asda press tasting today was well attended. I bumped into Tim Atkin, Victoria Moore, Anthony Rose, Joanna Simon, Malcolm Gluck and Julia Harding. Also present (bizarrely) were Christine and Neil Hamilton. I was surprised just how drinkable Asda's half-dozen sub £3 wines were. I thought this was a category that had dried up. Philippa Carr MW has been doing some good work with the business end of her range.

I'm off to Bordeaux tomorrow for a couple of days, to see the harvest, and the forecast is good. Horridly early start, though! I'll have to catch the 05:06 train.


Sunday, September 02, 2007

Le Dome 1996, plus others, blind

So we headed off to brother-in-law Beavington's (who is married to my sister Hester) for lunch, along with twin sister Anne and her husband Dominic. Little did I know that I was going to be treated to a flight of 13 wines, all blind. It was a really interesting excercise, and we had a great time.

As someone who professes to know a bit about wine, I love the chance to taste blind. Of course, there's more to a wine that just what is in the glass. The context matters, and the sight of the label can help a great deal in guiding or shaping our perception. At the same time, the sight of the label can lead us into bull***t land, where we begin to 'experience' things we have never really perceived, but this doesn't mean that the only legitimate tasting is blind.

What blind tasting does is focus the mind and provide a bit of a reality check. If a taster can't tell the difference blind between a first growth Bordeaux and a Chilean Cabernet, or Krug and Cava, then what are they doing wasting my money buying the top stuff? If the difference is too close to call, then they could save a lot of money by buying the cheaper option.

I'll just mention one of the wines we tasted today here; many of the others deserve their own space. It's a wine I immediately identified as a top Bordeaux, but it had what hindsight shows me to be some distinctive Cabernet Franc/Merlot leafiness - a clue that I missed, and which would have led me more to the right bank than the left.

Chateau Le Dome 1996 Saint Emilion
Beautifully perfumed, showing lovely deep, smooth dark fruits nose with a nice spiciness, and a subtle greenness that's really attractive. The vivid blackcurranty fruit makes me think Cabernet Sauvignon, and there's a bit of bloodiness, too. Quite intense on the palate with good savoury dark fruits and nice structure. Some age here. Not a heavy, structured wine: the key here is the gravelly, minerally complexity under the sweet fruit. 94/100

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Saturday, July 28, 2007

Surrey Hills and some wine

I'm slightly worried that with all these accounts of walks in the country en famille you are left with some picture of domestic idyll chez Goode. Let me correct this notion. When we announced to the boys this morning that we were intending to head off to the Surrey Hills for a family walk, there was severe rebellion in the ranks.

Not surprising, because the slightest parental request in our house is usually treated as fighting talk. For some reason, 'Would you like to come off playstation now, because you've been playing it for 2 hours and you need to eat lunch', is interpreted by elder boy as 'Step outside now'; it's not much better with younger son.

After some negotiation, we managed to set off for one of my favourite excursions, The Holmbury Hill Walk. The best bit about it is that half way round there's a decent pub where you can lunch. Fortified by a couple of pints of Ringwood, and encouraged by the half-decent weather, we had a lovely walk. Even though the kids had considered a long and painful death to be a better option than a family walk before we'd left, once we were there they enjoyed it too.

This evening, three wines sampled. Asda's Montepulciano d'Abruzzo 2006 is just what you want from an inexpensive Italian red: it's pleasantly tart and light, with plum and damson flavours. Torres Gran Sangre de Toro 2003 is nicely dense, but has a little too much sweet vanilla-scented American oak for my liking: they should lose some of the oak, use a bit of French rather than American, and aim at fruit intensity. The best of the evening was Chateau Clauzet 2004 Saint-Estephe, Bordeaux. This is quite serious claret. The dark fruits nose has a bit of spice and earthiness. The palate is nicely dense with focused black fruits with good tannins and a minerally undercurrent. This is a substantial, savoury, spicy wine with fresh fruit and well judged oak. A really nice claret. 88/100

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