jamie goode's wine blog

Saturday, December 19, 2009

England's best yet?


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

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

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Saturday, September 05, 2009

Old Walls Vineyard, Devon


Today was the awards ceremony and lunch following on from the SWVA competition yesterday. It was held at the Old Walls Vineyard, Bisophsteington, not far from Exeter.

Present were many of the winegrowers from the region, and the atmosphere was very jolly as everyone caught up and discussed the soon-to-happen 2009 vintage. The general impression is that in the southwest, 2009 is a late vintage, and because of all the rain this part of the world has received, it's a tricky one, too. This is at odds with other reports I've heard - travel east and you'll find many growers enjoying a very good, somewhat early vintage. And the Lindos are buzzing about 2009 in their patch of Cornwall.

We had a tour round the Old Walls vineyard, which by UK standards is incredibly steeply sloped. From the top of the hill where the picture above was taken, you can see the river and the sea. 2009 has been a very difficult vintage here, with poor fruit set for many varieties and low yields.

After lunch we had the awards ceremony. I was asked to give a short speech as chair of the judges. I made the point that the quality seems to be increasing year on year - 75 of the 97 wines entered achieved a medal or a highly commended. This is an impressive statistic. A second look at the wines in the free-pour tasting before lunch confirmed that English wine is on the way up.

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Friday, September 04, 2009

Judging wine at the Southwest Vineyards Association competition

I've been down in Exeter today judging the Southwest Vineyards Association competition. We had a great panel of judges, and spent the day assessing almost 100 wines, of which more than half received a medal or commendation.

I'm very happy with the results we came to. It was an experienced panel of judges, and we were in quite good concordance for most of the wines. Where we weren't, we then went back and looked at the wine again, and had some discussion. It was really civilizd.
The standard of entries was really good overall. Very few wines were faulty or unpleasant, and there were a few that were lovely. In particular, some of the sparkling wines really impressed, as did many of the dry whites. The red flight had the highest incidence of problems, with a few of the wines showing volatility, reduction or brettanomyces.

We were at Kenton Vineyard, which is a relatively new venture: the vineyard was first planted in 2003 by Matthew and Jo Bernstein. Pictured, Richard Bampfield MW is checking what's in the glass of Alastair Peebles MW.

Added later: the results are now available in full HERE.

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Friday, August 28, 2009

Vintage of the century: England 2009!

Things are looking very good for the 2009 vintage in the UK. We had wonderful conditions for flowering, which is always a problematic time here. Normally, flowering weather is rubbish and so yields are really low. Not so in 2009.

And while it hasn't been the hottest summer on record, June was hot (1.5 degrees above average) and now August is shaping up very well. However, July was the wettest on record, which has caused some mildew problems.

Sam Lindo, of award-winning southwest winery Camel Valley says its their biggest ever vintage, and that it's early.
On a rather smaller scale, the vines in my back garden, which had virtually no grapes last year, are bearing healthy crops. Phoenix (a hybrid cross that needs no spraying) (below) and Bacchus (top) are looking particularly good. Pinot Noir has really small bunches, but they've gone through veraison nicely and are looking good. Powdery mildew is non-existent, but downy mildew has been a problem for the Pinot Noir especially.

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Tuesday, April 07, 2009

One of England's finest

Drinking one of England's top sparkling wines tonight - it's the Nyetimber Classic Blend 2003, from West Sussex. The nose is a bit lactic (hints of cheese and milk) with very fresh, herby, subtly toasty notes. It's quite serious. The palate is really fresh and has high acidity, but also lovely toasty depth. It's rich and quite Pinot-influenced. Sophisticated and quite dramatic with the combination of richness and almost alarming acidity; I'm convinced by this. 91/100

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Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Snowy Denbies

Couple of shots from Denbies vineyard, near Dorking. These were taken before my meeting there this morning about the International Sparkling Wine Symposium we are holding there next month (see http://www.sparklingwinesymposium.com/).

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Saturday, September 20, 2008

Two impressive English fizzes

English fizz is hot at the moment. Well, not literally, of course - it's just another way of saying that there's currently a lot of interest in English sparkling wines. The English wine industry as a whole is turning rapidly from being a curiosity/novelty industry ('I didn't know they made wine in England') to being taken more seriously, and the increasingly convincing sparkling wines made here are one of the reasons for this. Here are two impressive fizzes from Chapel Down, which is the main brand of The English Wines group, a thoroughly professional outfit with a broad portfolio of wines.

The question many people will be asking is, 'Are they as good as Champagne?' It's a complex question to answer (what does 'as good as' mean? Which Champagne?), but I'll try. The Vintage Reserve Brut has real finesse and purity, but also a little more fruity character than most Champagnes, perhaps reflecting the contribution of the non-Champagne grape varieties. The Pinot Reserve is much more Champagne like and is one of the best English fizzes I've yet tasted. It's sharper and fresher than many Champagnes. This will be even more interesting in a year or two.

Chapel Down Vintage Reserve Brut NV English Sparkling Wine
A blend of Rivaner, Reichensteiner and Pinot Noir. Very fresh, bright nose is citrussy and pure with subtle herbiness. The palate is bright, lemony and quite fruity with lovely focus and purity. Tight with high acidity. A serious effort. 88/100 (16.99)
Chapel Down Pinot Reserve 2002 English Sparkling Wine
A blend of Pinot Noir and Pinot Blanc. Aromatic nose is full with notes of ripe apples, toast and subtle nutty and herby notes. This is pure and quite sophisticated. The palate is citrussy and intense with good acidity and lots of flavour. There's some Pinot richness here, but overall the impression is one of focus and brightness. A serious effort with lovely purity, and justifying the price-tag. 91/100 (24.99)

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Saturday, September 06, 2008

More English wine

After judging yesterday's SWVA awards, I was joined by Fiona and younger son and we stayed the night at the Cottage in the Wood, near Malvern. It's a hotel in a gorgeous natural setting, nestled into the side of the Malvern Hills with stunning views.

We were joined for dinner by Fiona's aunt, who lives locally, and it lovely to see her again. But unfortunately the much-anticipated meal disappointed. Both my starter and main tasted like they had been plated out and then reheated - thus the red onion and goats cheese tart tasted overly sweet and the pastry had disintegrated, and the seabass (over what was once a nice risotto) simply tasted tired and a bit oily. At the prices charged (10 starters, 20 mains) the food should be top notch.

It's a tragedy, because given the natural setting, the friendly service and the extensive, well-priced wine list (with some mouthwatering, affordable older Bordeaux and Burgundy), this could have been a special destination. As it is, I can't recommend it, unless the kitchen was having an unusually bad day. Because I had to drive later, we had just a single bottle of wine with dinner - a Loimer Gruner Veltliner from Austria's Kamptal (22) which was very good. Not enough to take away the disappointment of the tired food, though.

Then it was off to Coddington Vineyard, for a vineyard visit with the SWVA crowd (top image). It's an immaculate 3 acre vineyard owned by Denis and Ann Savage, planted with Bacchus, Ortega and Pinot Gris. After this we headed over to Brockbury Hall (above) for the lunch and awards ceremony. There was a chance to taste the remainder of the wines from yesterday's competition, this time unmasked, and after lunch as part of the official proceedings, I was asked to give a short summary of how the wines had shaped up the previous day. It was great to meet so many producers, ranging from hobbyists with a few vines to reasonably serious commercial concerns. The future of English wine, despite this damp and miserable 2008 growing season, looks very bright indeed.

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English wines, lots of them

Spent yesterday judging 110 English wines, blind, for the South West Vineyards Association at Three Choirs in Newent.

It's the first time I have tried so many English wines together, and it proved to be an informative experience. There were six of us judging, and it was quite a fun process - consensus was reached painlessly in most cases. Here are some of my impressions.

1. There were some delicious wines. Overall quality was pretty consistent, with fewer shockers than I was expecting - and remember that in this sort of event the submitted wines include bottles from established producers as well as some from enthusiastic part-timers. I came away thinking that the hype about the future of the English wine industry is justified.

2. 2007 showed better than 2006, which was a bit surprising.

3. The most successful dry whites were those where the fresh, grassy, green notes were well balanced by some riper fruity notes, and where the acidity wasn't too harsh. Because of the climate we enjoy, growers should be looking to lose greenness and lose acidity - the least successful wines were just too green and harshly acidic.

4. While you can use residual sugar to balance too-high acid, you can't use it to mask greenness.

5. Sparkling wines are pretty consistent, but some of them had crazy-high acid levels and just weren't in balance. I also wonder whether some of the base wines needed just a little more time. Lots of promise here, though.

6. The reds need some work. Managing red ferments is an area that many winemakers need to look at. Of the dozen or so reds in the competition, two were overtly bretty, three were reduced, and one had lunatic levels of volatile acidity. Some winemakers seem obsessed with colour at the expense of flavour.

7. There were a handful of wines that were disgusting. One tasted of rhubarb. Another smelled of diesel oil. I wonder why people bother submitting wines like this? Do they actually like them? Do they think the judges will like them? Or are they in denial?

Pictured is tasting in progress. In a quaintly English fashion, the bottles were masked by hand-knitted covers, all different.

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Monday, September 01, 2008

a (sort of) pink English fizz that's really good

Today has been quite a difficult one. I drove older son down to his new school (160 miles away), which he starts tomorrow. He's beginning as a boarder, at age 12, which must be incredibly difficult for him. Also, any parent reading can probably share a sense of how difficult it is to leave your child in someone else's care like this. But it's not a decision we came to lightly, and it's one that he participated in. He's an incredibly talented, able chap with a very bright future ahead of him, but had things carried on the way they were at home, then the future would have been much less bright. It seems a bit absurd and flippant to document this major change in a paragraph on a blog post, but I feel it needs to be mentioned, and it's either a paragraph or a whole book.

Back to the safe territory of wine, and more specifically a rather good sparkling rose from England that's the equal of a good rose Champagne.

Sainsbury's Taste the Difference Sparkling Rose NV, England
Made by Chapel Down, this is really delicious. A very pale salmon pink colour, it's only just a rose. The nose is super-sophisticated with tight herby, citrussy notes as well as a hint of strawberry. The palate is dry and complex, with a hint of fruity richness offsettin the high acidity really nicely. There's none of the overt herbiness that is the besetting sin of so many English wines, and all the flavours work in tandem to create a stylish whole. Pretty serious effort - shame about the rather naff packaging. 90/100 (17.99 Sainsbury's)

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Friday, April 04, 2008

Springtime...almost here - a visit to Denbies

It has been a rather gentle end to the week. Today I visited Denbies, which for a long time has been England's largest winery, in a beautiful setting on the north Downs, near Dorking. I was due there at 1030, but because of excellent traffic arrived almost an hour early, so I went for a wander on Box Hill. It was a beautiful spring morning, with gently warming sunshine filtered through some light cloud cover. The countryside is slowly wakening after what seems like a very long winter - it's a great time of year. Seemed strange going for a walk without the dog, though.

At Denbies, Sam Harrop, John Worontshak and I were meeting with the Denbies team to discuss a potential project. First, we tasted through some of the wines with Marcus Sharp, who heads up the winemaking team. I was really impressed: the Champagne-method sparkling wines were really good, and the varietal series, including Schoenberger, Bacchus, Ortega, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, were very smart wines. From the evidence of this and other experiences I've had recently, English wine seems to be progressing really well. At lunch we tried a 2003 Chardonnay that was really stylish: admittedly, 2003 was a bit of a freak year, but this wine is proof of what can be achieved in our possibly not so marginal climate after all.

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Sunday, August 12, 2007

Pinot Noir from England

Can England make serious wine? Your answer to this question will probably depend on your definition of 'serious'. Here's a promising English rendition of Pinot Noir - a good wine, but not a great one. Is it serious? Not by my definition of the term: I reckon it needs a bit more oomph (yes, elegance and oomph can come as part of the same package), a bit more definition, and a little 'magic' before it falls into this category. But Bookers are on the right track, it seems.

Bookers Vineyard Pinot Noir 2006 Sussex Regional Wine
Pale coloured, like a dark rose. Lovely balanced cherry and herb nose with a hint of undergrowth and sappiness. The palate is soft with a bit of herby, spicy bite to the open, light cherryish fruit. It's a very light wine which just lacks a little in depth. But it's charming, understated and food friendly. 88/100 (12.99 Telegraph Wine Club or direct from http://www.bookersvineyard.co.uk/)

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Tuesday, July 24, 2007

A day of family stuff

Took a day off today, to spend with the family. Fortuitously, it was one of the few rain-free days we've had over the last couple of months. It felt like summer.

We started off at Box Hill, near Dorking in Surrey. It's a beautiful spot, and one we return to frequently. A bit of gentle hill walking on a mostly-sunny English summer's day is hard to beat as an antidote to stress. From Boxhill you also get a great view of Denbies Wine Estate (below).

We then lunched at the Percy Arms in Chilworth, which has a nice garden. Greene King IPA and Ruddles Orchard were the accompaniment. This was followed by a visit to Mercedes Benz World at Brooklands, which the kids quite enjoyed. It's like a three-storey car showroom on a scale you've never seen before, with several attractions thrown in. It's free, and the kids really enjoyed sitting in some of the sports cars. You can spend a lot of money on a Mercedes. Me? I'm pretty happy with my Mazda 6 Diesel Estate, which has performed wonderfully over its first 14 months.

Then this evening it was off to Cineworld to see the latest Harry Potter film. It's good - as good as this sort of film can be. I'd rate this alongside number 3 (which incidentally had Michael Seresin, owner of Seresin winery in New Zealand's Marlborough region, as filmaker) as the best of the series. Imelda Staunton is a brilliant Dolores Umbridge, Filch is once again fantastic (especially when he's atop an implausibly high and shaky stepladder hammering Umbridge's edict no 113 to the wall), and there's a spooky, rather gritty edge to the whole film. But the problem is that by this stage in the series Rowling's books had become very fat indeed, and so compressing them into a single film means that there's not much time for character development or narrative - just action. It's hard to see how the next two films can develop the series, save for becoming 'darker', but then part of the appeal of Potter and his merry chums is magic and fun, and the lightness and childish delight is in danger of being squeezed out of this series.

Two wines. Calvet Reserve Merlot Cabernet Sauvignon 2003 Bordeaux (6.99 Sainsbury, Waitrose, Co-op) is quite dense, dark, spicy and tannic - it tastes a bit like a Madiran, with firm, dark structure, blackberry/raspberry fruit and good acidity. Not terribly refined, but a good food wine with lots of savoury stuffing, and better than you might expect from Bordeaux at this price. 84/100. The second is Graham Beck Brut Rose 2005 Methode Cap Classique. This South African fizz is a pale salmon colour with lovely delicacy and poise. There's a smooth texture here, along with freshness and brightness. This is a really well made fizz that is fine for drinking on its own, but which would do a good job at table, too. 86/100 (UK importer Bibendum Wine.)

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Sunday, March 11, 2007

Bottling it

Finally got round to bottling my wine today. Made from a vineyard in Surrey, I ended up with 40 bottles of white and 66 of red. It's the red I'm most excited about. Both were made quite naturally, with no sulphur dioxide added until after malolactic, and the red has withstood the rather oxidative winemaking style a bit better.

The red is a blend of Regent and Dornfelder, harvested ripe and in very good hygenic condition. There was a strict selection for the best grapes, carried out at the same time as the hand destemming. Fermentation was in five gallon buckets, with foot treading and hand plunging. It then went into 1 gallon demijohns after pressing, where it remained without racking on its lees. I've chosen to bottle early while it can still take the oxidative insult of the bottling process in its stride. No filtration or fining was required.

As you can see from the picture, it's quite a dark coloured wine, but it's elegant enough, with good acidity and grippy tannins. There'll be no hurry to drink it up, but it's a natural wine meant for drinking soon, rather than a vin de garde. Assuming malo really has finished, I think it will be the sort of wine that I enjoy drinking. 11 demijohns were bottled separately rather than being blended together, so there'll be a degree of bottle variation. I can live with that. I'm delighted with how it's turned out.

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Sunday, March 04, 2007

Suffolk escape

Been visiting my parents in Suffolk for the weekend. It's the first time we've taken Rosie the Labradoodle (RTL) in the car for such an extended journey, and she coped with it well.

I enjoy visiting my parents, although with their penchant for changing properties this is only our second visit to their current pad, in Lidgate, near Newmarket (in the last decade they have lived in Hythe, Dover, Isleham, Leiston and Lidgate). There's no broadband internet connection, and no mobile phone signal, so you don't have much choice but to be thoroughly spoiled and take long walks in the country.

On Saturday we headed out to Ickworth House and its grounds. It's a National Trust property, and has its own small walled vineyard of 2.5 acres, mostly planted to Bacchus and Rondo. I've never tried the vines, but the sheltered south-facing site looks very promising. We walked for a few hours, thoroughly tiring RTL out.
Last night we played cards and drank some samples I came armed with. I ended up sleeping on the couch downstairs to keep RTL company: because my folks are looking after her over our Singapore and Western Australia jaunt next month, I didn't want them to be woken by RTL at 4 in the morning just because she felt the need for a little bit of social interaction. But when everyone else was up I went and found a proper bed, staying asleep until 0930, which is an almost unheard of luxury...

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