jamie goode's wine blog

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Brief Napa reports: Corison

Corison took me by surprise a bit: it's a smaller operation than I had been expecting, and the wines were made in a style I love: the antithesis of the big, in-yer-face, points chasing excess. Cathy Corison wasn't around (she was in a plane at the time), but I was ably hosted by Maurey Feaver. We tasted and lunched on the balcony of the top floor of the winery, warmed by the late autumn sun, and looking across to the Mayacamas Range and Spring Mountain.

Cathy chooses to make the wines in a more restrained, ageworthy style than many here. She picks a little earlier, and so doesn't have to add acid. As well as coming from the Kronos vineyard around the winery, grapes are sourced from other vineyards from this west side of the valley floor, plus some mountain fruit.

A vertical of Corison Cabernet Sauvignon from 1998-2002 showed how well these wines age. Indeed, they positively need age: the current release 2006 is tight, tannic and brooding, only hinting at what is to come. They are fantastic, pure, structured, ageworthy wines, and with the library releases the same price as the current release ($70), I'd suggest that the remaining bottles of 1998 are one of the Valley's great bargains.

The temptation for writers is sometime to praise certain wines for what they are not. In this case, I'd reassure you I'm not just plugging Corison because the wines are not made in the big point-chasing spoofulated style, but because they actually have complexity and character as well as restraint.

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Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Another lovely Australian Cabernet: Howard Park

Continuing my mini-obsession with Aussie Cabernet, here's a brilliant one from Margaret River producer Howard Park. It's from the Wilyabrub sub region.

Howard Park Leston Cabernet Sauvignon 2007 Margaret River
18 months in French oak; 14% alcohol. Elegant, bright sweet berry and blackcurrant nose with some gravelly, minerally notes adding a savoury dimension. Sweet but spicy, minerally palate with elegant midweight berry fruits. Beautifully proportioned, showing great balance between the fruit and the oak, and with lovely earthy, savoury undertones. A beautiful wine. 92/100 (£14.99 Bibendum)

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Monday, August 17, 2009

Impressive Cab Merlot from Margaret River

Continuing with the Aussie Cab theme, here's a really delicious Margaret River Cabernet Merlot from a producer I'd never heard of before. I suppose this is excusable: Flametree are new kids on the block, and the previous vintage of this wine was their first - it ended up winning the prestigious Jimmy Watson trophy. Flametree wines are being brought into the UK by new online retailer Auswineonline.co.uk.

Flametree Cabernet Merlot 2008 Margaret River
Vibrant aromatic nose with gravelly-edged sweet blackcurrant fruit, and some attractive floral notes. The fresh, bright palate shows sweet blackcurrant and stewed plum fruit with a hint of richness and more of that gravelly character. There's quite a bit of tannic structure here. It's a fresh, perfumed, midweight style with a lovely expressive personality. Very Margaret River in style. 91/100 (£12.50 http://www.auswineonline.co.uk/)

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Sunday, August 16, 2009

Coonawarra Cabernet

Australian Cabernet Sauvignon is sometimes underrated. Coonawarra and Margaret River are the two regions acknowledged to do best with this variety, but I'd plead for the inclusion of the Clare Valley into this list, because I just love Clare Cab.

I used to think I could tell the difference between Margaret River and Coonawarra, but after the Landmark Tutorial, where we had a few wines blind, I'm not so sure. Anyway, here's a fairly serious Coonawarra Cabernet. It's beautifully expressive with the Coonawarra character in spades, but for some it may be just a little too extreme and full-on. This level of intensity seems to be the Majella style.

Majella Coonawarra Cabernet Sauvignon 2006
14.5% alcohol. Very sweet brooding blackcurrant and berry fruit nose with some savoury, gravelly, spicy notes. Rich but still distinctly Coonawarra in style. The palate is dense and spicy with fresh lemony acidity under the ripe, sweet fruit, which has a savoury, earthy character. A delicious wine with real impact. 91/100 (£14.99 Oddbins)

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Saturday, July 11, 2009

Two top South African reds

I've neglected South Africa of late. I'm sorry. It's just that in so many of their red wines I get this South African signature that I don't really like: it's a sort of earthy, green, slightly bitter character that gets in the way of the fruit. These are warm-climate wines, yet they don't have the sweetness and purity of fruit you might expect from warm-climate wines. I got the South African character in the Warwick on the first day, but by the second it had pretty much disappeared to reveal lovely pure fruit. Perhaps it's a reduction issue, in part? Anyway, these are two pretty good wines that I enjoyed drinking, from two of the country's leading producers.

Warwick The First Lady Cabernet Sauvignon 2007 Western Cape, South Africa
14% alcohol. Attractive dark, gravelly blackcurrant fruit backed up by earthy, minerally notes. On the first day this has the fruit obscured by a green, earthy, slightly bitter character that is often encountered in South African reds, but the following day the fruit is much purer with sweet berry and blackcurrant notes. Finishes earthy. Tasty wine. 88/100 (UK agent Louis Latour)

Vergelegen Cabernet Sauvignon 2005 Stellenbosch, South Africa
14.5% alcohol. Lovely dark blackcurrant fruit dominates, with meaty, savoury, earthy notes. There’s also some cedary woodiness, too. There’s an interesting tension here between the sweet, open fruit and the more savoury, minerally, earthy notes. Finishes dry and spicy. A sophisticated wine. 90/100 (£13.99 Majestic, SWIG, The Vineking, Hailsham Cellars, SA Wines Online)

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Sunday, June 21, 2009

Napa Cab on a summer's eve

Where can you find world-class Cabernet Sauvignon-based wines outside Bordeaux? Australia does a good job in Margaret River and Coonawarra (and I'd add Clare Valley, too), but perhaps the leading contender is California's Napa Valley, where the leading wines compete in price with the very best from Bordeaux.

Tonight's wine, on a glorious summer's evening, is a decent Napa Cabernet. It's not one of the top examples, but it's still really good - and also pretty expensive. But the price tag comes with the territory. Napa is not a place to come to if value for money is a requirement.

Stag's Leap Wine Cellars Artemis Cabernet Sauvignon 2006 Napa, California
Lovely dense blackcurrant fruit nose with real savoury, gravelly depth and some earthy hints. There's a really nice subtle greenness here. The palate shows nice plum and blackcurrant fruit with dark, savoury tannic structure. Very minerally and gravelly with good acidity. Nice restraint here: a stylish, savoury wine that bridges the gap between old world and new world successfully. 92/100 (£40 Majestic)

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Saturday, May 02, 2009

Two more Aussie Cabernets

Following on from my post on the Parker Terra Rossa Cabernet a few days ago, here's a note on another couple of good efforts.

Suckfizzle Cabernet Sauvignon 2005 Margaret River, Australia
14% alcohol. A really delicious, expressive Cabernet. The nose shows sweet yet fresh blackcurrant fruit, with attractive aromatics and a hint of earth/gravel savouriness. The palate shows good concentration of beautifully balanced dark fruits and savoury, smooth, tannic structure. There’s a really nice fusion of sweet fruit with the spicy, gravelly, savoury notes. Pretty serious stuff. 92/100 (the image above is from the label - a foot with angel's wings treading grapes - nice)

Wynns Coonawarra Estate Cabernet Sauvignon Vintage Release 2005 Coonawarra, Australia
14.5% alcohol. A stylish, dark, ripe Cabernet with sweet blackberry and blackcurrant fruit complemented by some spicy oak. There’s a hint of mint here, as well as some tarry, olive-like notes. Very ripe, but still well defined, with no evidence of greenness. Quite savoury, and beginning to develop some softer, more complex evolved notes, although this has a long way to develop, I reckon. 90/100

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Thursday, April 30, 2009

Brilliant Aussie Cabernet

With all the attention focused on Shiraz, it's easy to forget that Australia makes some great Cabernet Sauvignon. [But, then, if you look hard enough, you'll find that Australia also makes some really great Pinot Noir. And does well with lots of other varieties, too. You just have to look hard enough.]

Well, here's a cracking Cabernet from Coonawarra.

Parker Coonawarra Estate Terra Rossa Cabernet Sauvignon 2005 Coonawarra, Australia
Lovely nose of pure blackcurrant fruit with dark, spicy, earthy notes adding savoury complexity. Quite blackcurrant-bud like. The palate is taut and backward with a lovely spicy, gravelly edge to the sweet fruit. Lovely freshness and definition here. It's varietally true and quite complex, and you don't really feel the 15% alcohol. 92/100

Find this wine with wine-searcher.com

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Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Nicolas Catena Zapata, a first growth from Argentina

Tonight's wine is a serious effort from Argentina, in a grand bottle that weighs 1.2 kg empty! Actually, I opened it last night, but was confused. Either this was a top class wine being judged very early in its life, or it was a rather grotesque misjudgment on the part of the winemaker. The problem was the extremely ripe fruit profile allied with masses of new oak. Was this a spoofulated modern wine, or actually something quite serious? I witheld judgment until tonight, when I went back to the wine. My verdict? While it currently shows spoofy tendencies, and could potentially be even better with a little less overt ripeness and oak, it is an Argentinean first growth.

Nicolas Catena Zapata 2005 Argentina
Approximately two-thirds Cabernet and one-third Malbec, this is a serious effort from one of Argentina's top producers. A concentrated, dark coloured wine it is currently extremely oaky: on opening, there's a big waft of vanilla and spice, along with ripe, sweet blackberry and blackcurrant fruit. After a while, this oak subsides a little, revealing more interesting floral and mineral notes under the super-ripe fruit. The palate is dense, smooth, ripe and rich with concentrated sweet fruits and some smooth but spicy tannic structure hiding underneath it. Currently quite oak dominated, all the ingredients are here for a long, graceful evolution. Don't open this now, but in five, ten or fifteen years, I reckon it will be quite special. It's 'new world' in style, and I'd probably prefer a little less ripeness, but it's serious. 93/100

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Sunday, December 14, 2008

No-sulfur added Cabernet Sauvignon, mini-vertical

Regular readers will know that I take a keen interest in 'natural' wines: those with as little added as possible. Normally these are niche wines, available only from speciality retailers. But in February Sainsbury listed a commercial no-sulfur-dioxide-added wine (see my report here), and it was really good. Here, I retaste that wine to see how it has shaped up, as well as the latest release, the 2008. Both are tasting really good, and represent brilliant value for money at around a fiver.

Sainsbury’s So Organic South African Cabernet Sauvignon 2007 Western Cape, South Africa
14% alcohol. Made without any added sulfur dioxide by Stellar Winery; sealed with a tin-lined screwcap. Vibrant, aromatic, juicy and ripe, with sweet blackcurrant and berry fruit. This is fresh and vibrant with lovely purity. An utterly delicious inexpensive, fruit-forward red with a bit of spicy bite on the finish. Considering no sulfur dioxide has been used, it’s incredible that it’s holding up so well. Dudley the winemaker knows what he’s doing. 88/100

Sainsbury’s So Organic South African Cabernet Sauvignon 2008 Western Capw, South Africa
14% alcohol. Made without any added sulfur dioxide by Stellar Winery; sealed with a tin-lined screwcap. A really vivid, vibrant forward wine that tastes like a barrel sample. It’s that fresh! It’s bold, blackcurranty and intense with lovely density and the sweet, forward, aromatic fruit balanced by lovely crunchy, spicy tannic structure. It’s just delicious with a grippy, crunchy mouthfeel that works really well with the sweet blackcurrant fruit. I’m really impressed. 89/100

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Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Cold medicine: Clare Valley Cabernet

I hate colds. They're a severe problem when you are supposed to be assessing wines profesionally, because they mess with your sense of smell. They don't eliminate it altogether, but you end up grasping at smells that would otherwise come more easily. A bit like looking through a dirty window.

Or trying to see through the windscreen when it's raining and your windscreen wipers are broken, as once happened to Fiona and I just after we were married. My faithful old sky blue (C'mon City) Vauxhall Astra with 130 000 miles on the clock had a windscreen wiper motor failure. Before it was fixed, we carried on driving it when the forecast was clear - until one drive from Wallington (where we lived) to Cheam (where Fiona's folks lived), when we were caught out. It's only a short drive, but it started raining, and so we had to keep stopping to clean the windscreen manually. Not recommended.

I have about 60% normal olfactory function today, I'm guessing. So I turn to a wine I have a few bottles of, which I've tasted before. It's the Wakefield Cabernet Sauvignon 2005 Clare Valley (known as 'Taylors' in Australia). I bought quite a few bottles at the ludicrously cheap price of £5.99 at Majestic when it was on offer after having tasted it in Australia in April 2007, and it's a serious ageworthy red with lovely dense blackcurranty fruit and savoury spicy structure. Despite its 14.5% alcohol it's really well balanced, and I think that the origin of the fruit is the key. I really rate the Clare Valley as a source of serious red wines. Unlike many South Australian wine regions, Cabernet does as well in the Clare as Shiraz does (Coonawarra is similar in this regard - well, actually, there Cabernet is better than Shiraz).
Even with a cold, this Clare Cabernet is utterly delicious. I have four bottles left, and I'm going to cellar them for a few more years. They're sealed with screwcaps (tin/saran liner) so it will be interesting to see how they do.

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Thursday, November 06, 2008

Crazy Aussie Cabernet

Tonight's tipple, as I watch Man City win in Europe, is a remarkable, crazily intense Australian Cabernet Sauvignon. Cabernet has never really worked all that well in Barossa and McLaren Vale (although I've tasted some impressive examples from the Clare, also in South Australia), but this example from D'Arenberg is fantastic stuff, if you are in the mood for it.

D'Arenberg 'The Feathered Dinosaur' Cabernet Sauvignon 2004 McLaren Vale, South Australia
This is a massive wine: indeed, it's the first time I've seen a screwcap liner like this stained with the wine! It's an incredibly taut, intense, complex, tight wound wine with aromas of sweet, minerally, spicy blackcurrant and raspberry fruit, with some meaty, earthy notes. The palate has dense sweet fruit, but comes across as intensely savoury with spicy, earthy, cedary, tarry notes, strong tannins and high acidity. There may even be a bit of matchstick reduction here, too - there's so much going on it's hard to separate the individual flavour components out. I reckon this will age into a mellow, rich, tarry spiciness, but it really does need some time. Lovely stuff in a traditionally Australian style, but you do need to be in the right mood for it. 94/100 (£17.99 Tesco)

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Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Football and South Africa's Cloudy Bay

Played football again tonight. I've been playing regularly again for the best part of two months now, and I really like it. It's a group of dads from my younger son's school, with a few ringers thrown in. The standard is pretty good (if you're c. 40 and prepared to risk stiffness for a few days afterwards, you have to have some commitment to the game), and it's great fun, as well as doing some good for us.

On the subject of football, younger son, who has never shown much interest in sport (he's more into wrestling, dancing, hip hop and AC/DC) has been playing for his school 'B' team, as captain. I went to see him play this afternoon, and he did really well. He's tall, skinny, athletic and committed, and while he's only just developing real awareness of tactics and position, he had a really good game. I was proud to watch him.

So, to tonight's wine. It's Spier Private Collection Sauvignon Blanc 2006 Stellenbosch, South Africa. This is as dramatic as Cloudy Bay was when it was first released: bold, aromatic, almost overpowering in its intensity, with rich tropical fruits, plus fresh grassiness, some chalky minerality and hints of smoke and spice. Concentrated and richly textured, yet fresh at the same time. It's a full-on style with real interest, and much better than I was expecting it to be. 91/100 (£13.99 Morrisons)

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Sunday, September 21, 2008

A lovely weekend and some digestible reds

So, we were cheated out of a summer here in England. Not sure whether climate change or el nino or just bad luck was to blame. But we didn't have a proper summer. This weekend, though, we were handed a freebie - a glorious summer's weekend that was more mid-August than late September in character.

Also, older son was down for the weekend from boarding school, and it was nice to see him, even if it meant I had to spend 7 hours driving on Friday evening and 7 hours this evening to pick him up and drop him off.

On Saturday we got together with good friends and went for a walk at Horsley in Surrey (pictured). It was a lovely time, and compensated in some way for all those lovely English summer days we missed out on this year.
Today older son spent the morning with some of his friends, and then we lunched outside with some of the English fizz from yesterday's blog post as accompaniment. Then it was time for the long drive to Devon. We listened to the radio commentary of Man City vs. Portsmouth on Radio Solent (City won 6-0). On the way back I was able to listen to music loud: I find music always sounds better at a decent volume and I hate it when you have people round for dinner and the music is used as a sort of aural wallpaper, at a just-audible volume.

Now I'm drinking two wines as I watch Match of the Day. They're what I would describe as digestible reds, with modest concentration, some savouriness, and good balance. They don't stand out, particularly, but they are ideal if you just want something simple to accompany food.

The Magnificent Wine Company Steak House Cabernet Sauvignon 2006 Columbia Valley, Washington State, USA
I've reported on the previous vintage of this wine here. It's an attractively packaged wine, with a roasted, savoury edge to the dark fruits on the nose. The palate shows sweet cherry and plum fruits backed up by earthy, spicy notes and with some grippy structure. Quite European in style, and a great food wine. Enjoyable. 86/100 (£7.99 Co-op)

Clos Saint-Martin Madiran 2005 Southwest France
A co-op Madiran, unsurprisingly this doesn't have all that much of the character that makes Madiran such a distinctive wine. But it's an agreeable enough drinking wine, though, with juicy blackcurranty fruit kept savoury with some grippy tannins. There's fresh acidity, too. 84/100 (£6.79 Nicolas)

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Thursday, August 21, 2008

Casillero del Diablo Cabernet Sauvignon 2007 - brilliant value?

Picked up a bottle of Concha y Toro's Casillero del Diablo 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon. What does the devil's cellar yield? Actually, a rather good cheapie.

For just £4.99 you get dense, sweet blackcurrant fruit with lots of savoury spiciness, a hint of burnt rubber (not as bad as it sounds in this context) and some grippy tannin. Look, they make oceans of this wine. You can buy it anywhere. And it's actually pretty tasty, with enough oomph to be a good food match. It isn't totally spoofy and sweet, but actually tastes like proper wine.

Part of the secret is that Concha y Toro are right on the ball. Of the seriously large wine companies, they are at the top. The other part of the secret is the 2007 vintage, which was really good in Chile - and they are pointing this out to consumers on the capsule.

To be honest, I'd prefer this honest, dense, slightly rustic Cabernet to some of the more spoofed-up, confected icon wines from Chile. Am I nuts? And if you can find it, I'd also recommend the 2007 CdD Carmenere, which is even better.

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Friday, May 09, 2008

First barbie of the year, with three lovely Aussies

Just about to fire up the first barbie of the year, as I sit outside and write this blog entry. It will be for a ribeye steak, and to pair with it I have three delicious wines from Margaret River, Western Australia. They're all from Vasse Felix, one of the producers I didn't visit on my trip, this time last year.

It is my honestly held opinion that Margaret River is a serious wine region. It rocks. There's something about the best reds from here: they're ripe and intense, but they're also well balanced and well defined. You wouldn't mistake a Margaret River Cabernet-based wine for a classed-growth (at least, not in their youth), but there's a seriousness here. It's not quite best-of-old-world seriousness, but it's getting close.

But before I get to the wines, I have to log the fact that I'm a warm-climate sort of person. I love, more than almost anything else, to be able to sit outside in the evening at the end of a hot day. Yes, the cosy fireside has an appeal of its own in winter, but it doesn't come close to sitting outside, preferably surrounded by natural beauty, as the sun begins to dip. I also love eating al fresco at night (if it's possible to eat al fresco in the evening).

Vasse Felix Cabernet Merlot 2005 Margaret River
Lovely expressive well-balanced nose showing elegant blackberry and dark cherry fruit. The palate is ripe with lovely freshness to the sweet, berryish blackcurrant fruit, which is backed up by spicy tannins. Delicious stuff, with freshness, ripeness and balance. A delicious, expressive Margaret River red in quite an elegant style. 91/100 (£10.50 Majestic, Tanners, Christopher Piper)

Vasse Felix Shiraz 2005 Margaret River
Weighing in at 15% alcohol, this is a dense, deep coloured red with a nose that shows sweet dark fruits, but which is tight wound and spicy, too. The palate is sweet and dense with ripe, intense blackberry fruit and some firm spicy tannins providing a counter for this sweet, lush fruit. There's also a bit of a chocolatey, coffee-ish richness. Pretty serious stuff. 92/100 (£10.50 Hennings, Hailsham Cellars, Cambridge Wine Merchants)

Vasse Felix Cabernet Sauvignon 2005 Margaret River
This spends 18 months in French oak. An intense, sweet ripe nose showing blackcurrant fruit with some lovely earthy, chalky, spiciness and lush intensity. The palate is sweetly fruited with lovely depth and a really attractive minerality. A refined, fresh Cabernet of real depth, this has good medium term ageing potential. Intense but balanced. 94/100 (£14.50 Hailsham Cellars, Selfridges, Direct Wines)

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Saturday, March 01, 2008

Gimblett Gravels rock

I worry that sometimes I repeat myself on this blog. One of the themes I might have talked a bit too much about is New Zealand reds, but they're consistently good. I'm especially taken by the reds from the Gimblett Gravels, a unique 'terroir' in the Hawkes Bay region. Detractors say that viticulture in the gravels is essentially hydroponics, but this is the one place in NZ that seems to be able to ripen Cabernet Sauvignon reliably. Tonight's wine is a stylish, fresh, intense Bordeaux-style blend with lovely expressive character from one of the most reliable wineries out there.

Villa Maria Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon Merlot 2005 Hawkes Bay, New Zealand
Fresh blackcurrant and plum fruit dominates here, with a savoury, gravelly, spicy tannic structure providing a nice foil. It shows high acidity, and there's an almost floral perfumed character to nose. I don't think you'd mistake this for Bordeaux (and I don't think this was the intention of the winemaker), but there's a freshness and precision to this wine that is often missing in new world reds. Quite primary now; I reckon this will develop well over the next decade, although I'm slightly concerned that the high acidity might stick out a bit if the fruit recedes. 91/100 (£15.99 Hailsham Cellars, D Byrne, Peake Wine, nzhouseofwine.co.uk)

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Thursday, January 24, 2008

Two from Meerlust

Switching the focus of this blog away from Chile to South Africa - perhaps its closest competitor in the UK marketplace - I'm drinking two rather good wines tonight from the same producer. They share a family resemblance.

Meerlust Merlot 2004 Stellenbosch, South Africa
This is quite an elegant red, even though it has a bit of a traditional feel to it. The nose is distinctly spicy, with the sort of greenness that manifests as a rich, minerally, gravelly quality, and meshes well with the warm, ripe red fruits. The palate has some tannic structure and a bit of a drying finish, but there's enough flesh here to make the whole experience a pleasant, rather seamless one. I hope this all doesn't sound a bit off-putting, because this is actually a really well balanced, concentrated, complex red wine, albeit in quite a traditional style where fruit isn't the dominant feature. Because it's seen quite a bit of oxygen during its elevage, it should age well for a decade or more. 90/100 (£17.99, imported by MMD Ltd)

Meerlust Cabernet Sauvignon 2004 Stellenbosch, South Africa
Lovely aromatic nose is old fashioned South African in style, but not rustic. It has smooth cedary, gravelly, spicy notes combining with warm red/black fruits. It's not too fruity, and there's a bit of smoke and tar. The palate is warm and spicy with some earthy notes. Well balanced, this works really well. Not a fruit-driven wine, but there is some blackcurranty richness. Structure for development here: this could happily be cellared for a decade. 91/100 (£18.99, imported by MMD Ltd)

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Thursday, November 29, 2007

South African star with no added sulphur

I'm very excited by this wine. It's an inexpensive South African Cabernet Sauvignon but it is made without any added sulfur dioxide (the 'f' as opposed to the 'ph' spelling is the one now officially used by scientists worldwide, as per IUPAC guidelines - sorry about this boring aside). As you probably know, sulfur dioxide is the chemical almost universally added to wine to prevent the effects of oxidation and to deter unwanted microbrial growth.

Very few producers attempt to make wines without any added sulfur dioxide at all. There are a slightly larger group who don't use any during the winemaking process but add some at bottling. But, given the utility of sulfur dioxide, what is the motivation for doing without it? First, some people have a desire to make wine with no additions whatsoever, because they are committed to their vision of natural wines. Second, some people think that wines with no sulfur added have an aromatic purity and elegance that is worth taking a huge risk for.

I've had mixed experiences with no-sulfur added wines, but enough good ones that keep me pursuing this topic with interest. Yes, I know it's madness to try to make commercial wines without sulfur additions, but I admire people who try. And in this case, the wine is utterly fantastic - much, much more interesting and arguably better than any South African wine at this price point that I've so far tasted.

Stellar Organics Cabernet Sauvignon No Added Sulphur 2006 Western Cape
Made from organically grown grapes, with no added sulfur dioxide. A fantastic deep red/black colour, this looks like a barrel sample. It has a wonderfully perfumed, seductive nose of pure sweet blackcurrant fruit with an earthy edge and some gravelly minerally notes in the background. The palate is concentrated and quite lush, but underneath the sweet dark fruit lies a complex earthy core with a very subtle spicy green herby note adding an extra dimension. Despite the fact that this is quite a big wine, there's a lovely elegance here, and a delicious textural richness. I reckon you need to drink this gorgeously forward wine in the first flush of its youth: I suspect it will taste a bit tired and go all earthy by this time next year. 90/100 (£6.50 Vintage Roots, on offer a £5.95 until 11 January 2008)

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Friday, September 21, 2007

Hotel du Vin, Cheltenham

Stayed last night in Cheltenham at the Hotel du Vin, where I'm blogging live from. Verdict? A little mixed. The hotel has only been open since July, and it is sort of part travelodge, part luxury hotel in feel - some bits of the decor really work, some bits (most notably the carpets and coridoors and public areas) feel low budget. All the rooms are named after wines (ours is Hush Heath, the makers of the UK's finest pink sparkling wines), but the maze of coridoors and lack of numbering system makes it impossible to navigate. We kept running into guests who were hopelessly lost, as we were.

We arrived quite late and decided to have food in our room with a DVD. The food, and service, is great - you get the impression from the buzzy bistro (and the 'metal' in the parking lot) that the restaurant is 'happening'. I had a brilliant done ribeye which I washed down with a bottle of Jim Barry's Coverdrive Cabernet Sauvignon 2005. I'd opted for this because of my current interest in the Clare Valley - turns out that it's a Coonawarra/Clare blend. Very nice, dark and intense, and doesn't show the 15% alcohol too much.

Now we're off to have a look round Cheltenham and find some breakfast.

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Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Bargain alert!

Read about it here first! One of the bargains of the year! OK, I'm slightly overstating my case, but there's a wine that I highly recommend at a very affordable price that has just come into Majestic (http://www.majestic.co.uk/). I've bought 8 bottles (12 of anything seems a bit much, especially given the fact that there is never a shortage of wine at home).

It's a wine that I tasted twice some months ago and which I gave exactly the same score to, 91, both times. It's a serious effort.

It's the Wakefield Cabernet Sauvignon 2005 Clare Valley, which is £7.99 a bottle in Majestic, but if you buy more than one the price dips down to under £6, which is silly for such a good wine. In Australia the winery is known as Taylors, but for legal reasons they had to change this for the UK market (I'm guessing that this is because there is a well known Port house under the same name). Pictured is a bottle that I enjoyed in April in Australia, showing a typo on the screwcap skirt. I don't know whether this has been corrected for the Wakefield version, which is exactly the same wine.

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Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Mollydooker The Maitre D'

A while back I reported my own experiences with two wines from the much talked about Mollydooker range (the post is here). I was a bit negative about them. They were 16% alcohol, yet not particularly 'hedonistic' - at least if you are making table wines that have such extreme alcohol levels, you want them to pack a flavour punch.

Tonight I'm drinking another Mollydooker: the Maitre D' 2004 Cabernet Sauvignon. A blend of grapes from three South Australian regions, this is a lot better than I remember the last two being. Weighing in at 15.5% alcohol, it would be *so* convenient to be able to dismiss this as an absurd expression of late-picked, over-ripe Australian wine.

But while this isn't my favoured style, it's actually well done (does this sound condescending? It's not meant to), with plenty of Cabernet character and the sweet, almost Porty fruit filling in the mid-palate nicely. [Aside: one of the problems with South Australian Cabernet can be the mid-palate; here, there's richness to offset that.] This isn't the direction that I think the Aussie wine industry should be going en masse, and it's not a wine I'll be seeking out, but I will state here that it's quite a satisfying, more-ish sort of wine. £10.99, imported by Seckford Wine Agencies.

There's room for different wine styles.

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Sunday, July 01, 2007

Serious Sonoma Cab

California has been off my radar screen for a while, but in the last week or two it has suddenly reappeared. A few wines I've drunk recently have struck me as reasonably serious, and this is one of them, which I first encountered at last week's Jackson Estates lunch, and which I'm drinking again tonight.

Hawkeye Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon 2003 Alexander Valley, Sonoma, California
One of the wines in the Kendall-Jackson Vineyard Estates 'Highland Estates' Portfolio. Deep coloured, this initially has a slightly oaky nose, but after a while the oak subsides to reveal a complex, intense nose of spicy blackberry and blackcurrant fruit with a distinctive minerally complexity. The palate shows great concentration and intense flavours of black fruits, underpinned by firm, minerally tannic structure. Despite the sweetness of the fruit, the overall impression is a savoury one: this is a tight, structured Cabernet that can be drunk now for its wonderful intensity of fruit, or cellared for a decade to allow the development of complex tertiary aromas. Pretty serious. 92/100

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Monday, June 25, 2007

Barbara Banke and Jackson Wine Estates

Had lunch with Barbara Banke of Jackson Wine Estates today. Barbara, wife of Jess Jackson (who pulled out of the gig because of negotiations surrounding a race horse, his new hobby), is fully involved in running Jackson Wine Estates, and communicated the story behind Kendall Jackson very effectively. As usual, I'll write up the interview and tasting in full soon, but here's a taster.

Kendall-Jackson began life 25 years ago as a leisure pursuit. 'Jess and I started the winery for relaxation', says Banke – they were both busy attorneys whose work was driving them a bit crazy. 'We bought a small property in Lake County and were going to sell the grapes', she recalls, but when selling the grapes proved tricky in 1982 they decided to make some wine.

The first wine was from eight cool climate coastal Chardonnay vineyards, and when the ferment of one of these stuck, the wine was blended in with the rest to create a slightly sweet Chardonnay that American consumers just loved: it got written up well and sold out in six weeks. KJ decided to stick with this style – a Chardonnay with a little residual sugar, and it proved to be a winning formula.

Of course, the high residual sugar style of Chardonnay isn't universally acclaimed, and you get the distinct impression that to this day KJ squirm a bit whenever the term 'residual sugar' is uttered by journalists. The current Chardonnay is made in a less sweet style, but there's still some residual sugar there, although no one I asked seemed to know how much, and the technical fiches don't disclose it.

The success of the Vintner's Reserve Chardonnay was the beginning of a steady growth, to the extent that KJ are now one of the largest players in the Californian wine scene.

But KJ have taken their business in a direction that's rather different from that of the rest of the wine industry. They are a big producer – depending on who you listen to they make between 3.5 and 4.5 million cases of wine each year – yet they make everything from estate-grown fruit. This contrasts strongly from the current situation where large publically listed wine companies divest themselves of capital-hungry assets such as vineyards in the quest for a better return on investment.
No short-cuts are taken in the winemaking: the Vintners Reserve Chardonnay, their big seller, is 80% barrel fermented, and no oak chips or staves are used. To satisfy their huge demand for barrels, for the last 10 years they have owned a stave mill in the Vosges forest of France.

Not only have vineyards been acquired – the current total stands at around 14 000 acres – but Jess and Barbara have also been buying up wine estates. They own 25 of them, mainly in California, but also stretching to Europe, Australia and South America. 'Essentially, we are collectors of these little vineyards', says Banke.
With lunch we tried several wines. The KJ Vintner's Reserve Chardonnay 2005, which retails at $12-15 in the USA, impresses, with plenty of weight allied with some freshness. It's unashamedly Californian in style. The Grand Reserve Chardonnay 2004 hails from Santa Barbara, and is a bit weightier and richer, with toasty complexity – nice stuff in a full flavoured style. A Hawkeye Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon 2003 comes from a mountain vineyard in the Alexander Valley of Sonoma, and has lovely savoury, tannic structure supporting vivid fruit. This really impressed. The 1999 Stature Cabernet Sauvignon from Mount Veeder in Napa was supremely elegant and ageing very nicely. Serious stuff. La Crema Pinot Noir 2005 from Carneros is fresh and cherryish with nice expressive fruit, while the Hartford Court Land's Edge Pinot Noir 2005 from a subregion of the Russian River Valley is a step up, with lovely clarity of pure red fruits – it should age well. Verite La Muse 2002 is Jess and Barbara's wannabe Petrus, and this is a serious effort: the Merlot-dominated blend from Sonoma County has clarity, focus and a nice mineral core. Not a heavy wine at all. Moving to St Emilion, the Chateau Lassegue 2003 is a wine that has overcome its vintage handicap and is actually pretty elegant and fresh, although the tannins do clamp down a bit hard on the finish. Finally, the Lokoya 2003 Diamond Mountain Cabernet is in a different style altogether. It's big, with 14.9% alcohol and lots of fruit, but the fruit never runs away with the wine: it is held in check by lovely spicy minerality. Pretty serious stuff in this forward style, and it should age well. Quite a portfolio.

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Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Cricket (again), Meerlust and Rose

I'm tired at the end of an interesting day. This afternoon I played cricket at Hampton Wick: it was the Wine Trade XI versus Balls Brothers for a fun 20/20 game. I was donated to Balls Brothers as a guest player - technically this was because I was the last to sign up; perhaps, though, the Wine Trade XI fancied some easy runs off my bowling.

I took second over, mixing it up a bit (not deliberately) and going for a few runs. Just two overs though: everyone bar the wicket keeper gets to bowl two overs in these games, which makes for some great comedy bowling moments. The wine trade struck lustily and ended up with 150-odd. In response, Balls Bros fell short by 20 or so, to which my contribution was two (I went in at the rarified position of 7 - perhaps I was suffering from altitude sickness - and was lbw).

A barbecue and much London Pride plus various donated wines followed. Interestingly, one of the wine trade team was Chris Williams, winemaker for Meerlust and also his own venture, The Foundry, which I have written about in the past. Chris is rubbish at cricket, but extremely talented at winemaking. We tried two Meerlust wines which he didn't make, but did blend - the 2003 Merlot and 2003 Red. They're impressive in a distinctive Meerlust style: spicy, quite dense, a little earthy and nicely savoury.

Chris has been changing the wines a bit, but not too much, giving them a bit more generosity and focus. Under the terms of his employment he is able to make 2000 cases of The Foundry wines, a project he operates in tandem with a silent partner. He's invested the equivalent of £50 000 so far, and with the last vintage just began to break even. His commitment is to Meerlust for the forseeable future, but he hopes one day for The Foundry to become the focus of his whole attention.
Now I'm relaxing with a glass of rose, nursing three cricket-ball inflicted injuries, two on my right hand and one on my right foot (a full blooded cover drive). It's Ochoa's Rosado de Lagrima 'Finca el Bosque' Single Vineyard 2006 Navarra. A blend of cabernet and garnacha, this is quite deep coloured. It has a bright, bittersweet nose of cherry and cranberry, which leads to a palate of juicy, savoury cranberry fruit with a spicy finish. This is juicy, full flavoured and refreshing, and extremely food friendly. A hint of seriousness even? 86/100 (£7.99 Abbey Wines, £6.99 Taurus Wines, £6.65 Bretby Wines)

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Thursday, June 14, 2007

An organic Langudeoc red and yet more cricket

It's been a bit of a cricket-focused sort of week. On Monday and Tuesday evenings I took the boys down to a local artificial wicket, where we set up our new sprung stumps (a great purchase) and trained for a hour or so each time.

Then on Wednesday evening, eldest son had an under 11 game, which I watched. He opened the batting and played like Chris Tavare, surviving for 8 overs and scoring just 1. Both he and I expected this to be hist last meaningful contribution to the game. But then, as our team bowled, he came on as second change and delivered four overs quite beautifully, taking one wicket for 9. Life is full of surprises.

Another surprise was that today, youngest son, who is in year 4, got a call-up to the year 5 (Under 10) team and played his first proper game of cricket at Hampton Wick. Playing with the older lads, he didn't get to bat, but was kindly given one over to bowl. He did OK, and I was very proud of him. This is all the more impressive because a year ago he showed no interest in sport at all.

Tonights tipple: an organic Languedoc red - Chateau du Parc from Marks & Spencer. It's a medium bodied wine with a distinctive peppery freshness. Actually, it's *really* peppery. It's honest and delicious, and good value at £4.99. The Rosemount from last night is still tasting nice after being open for a day.

Aside: I've been playing with Flickr. My very first efforts are at http://www.flickr.com/photos/jamiegoode/ - if it works well, I'll put all my pictures (gazillions of them) here.

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Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Rosemount Cabernet

Brands have a life span, or at least this is what marketing dudes tell me. Marketing dudes are usually smarter, better dressed and considerably richer than me, so I should listen to what they say.

Anyway, it goes like this. You build a brand. If it takes off, there is a growth period. You want this to be pretty fast, but you also want it to keep on going. Then there's a plateau period, where a successful, mature brand continues to sell well. The smart dudes reading this will be thinking that this is the phase you want to milk for all it's worth. Stretch it. Because next comes the decline phase. Your brand loses influence and sales. It's suddenly uncool, or boring, or out of touch.

Rosemount was a wine brand that recently, some commentators suggested, had entered the dreaded decline phase. Urgent action was called for to salvage it, and FGL Wine Estates revamped the range, paying attention not just to the liquid, but also the packaging. A simplified, elegant label and a square based bottle are the key design features in question.

What about the liquid itself? Well, the reason I'm blogging on this topic is because I'm drinking the Rosemount Cabernet Sauvignon 2005. And I'm impressed. This is not a geek wine, but I reckon they got the winemaking just right for this sort of brand.

It's deep coloured, with a forward, perfumed nose of sweet red berry and blackcurrant fruit, with a bit of spicy presence. There's a subtle herbiness, too. It is pretty refined. The palate shows sweet ripe blackcurrant fruit, with just enough spicy structure to counter the sweetness of the fruit. Any rough, slightly herbal edges are papered over adequately with the fruit sweetness. I reckon there's also a bit of residual sugar here, which rounds the palate, fleshing it out a bit, and making the wine a lot more accessible (I'd love to know how much - it's notoriously difficult to judge by taste alone because of the way sugar interacts with other components of wine, such as acidity). Look, this isn't the sort of wine that the readers of this blog are going to want to rush out and buy in quantity. But for a commercial style, it's extremely well done. It's tasty; it tastes of Cabernet Sauvignon; it's extremely well made; it avoids the obvious confected or green character a lot of commercial wines in this style display.

So here we have it. A wine I'm impressed by, but which I wouldn't buy. And the brand owners are probably relieved to hear this, because they aren't trying to sell to me.

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