jamie goode's wine blog

Saturday, December 12, 2009

An icon a day: DRC Grands Echezeaux 1971

Domaine de la Romanée-Conti Grands Echezeaux 1971 Burgundy, France
Cloudy and pale coloured on pouring, this doesn't look to promising, but actually it's drinking superbly. Old earthy nose with some smooth bright cherry fruit. The palate, however, is beautifully elegant with subtle, sweet cherry and herb fruit, some undergrowth and fine spicy notes. Super-smooth with good complexity and a bit of sweetness. This is beautiful, but drink now. 95/100 (Tasted at The Sampler)

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Friday, October 16, 2009

Beaucastel 07 at the Majestic press tasting today

I really enjoyed the Majestic press tasting today. There were lots of really good new wines, affordable and more expensive, and I'll be featuring them here over the next few weeks, along with the other highlights from the last two weeks of intensive tasting activity. It's so good to see the likes of Donnhof, Gunderloch and Nikolaihof make an appearance on their list.

My impression is that the Majestic range is improving. That's really good news. From recent experience, I think the Oddbins range is also improving. The recent Waitrose press tasting was really good; M&S was good too. Could it be that things are looking up for wine lovers?

One of the treats today was a look at the 2007 Beaucastel. This is a property I have a semi-sentimental attachment to, in that when I was getting into wine, this was one of the legendary names I was besotted by. The 2007 has immense potential; it is showing a bit of that already.

Chateau de Beaucastel Chateauneuf du Pape 2007 Southern Rhone, France
Sweet but focused berry and plum nose is elegant, fine and fresh. The palate is warm and complex with dense red berry and dark cherry fruit with fine grained tannins and good acidity. Rich but balanced with lovely elegance and definition, this is quite a pure expression of this wine that has great potential for development. 92/100, but this score will likely improve over time. (£50 Majestic)

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Wednesday, September 30, 2009

A brilliant natural wine from the Rhône

I wanted something decent to drink tonight, so I opted for a delicious natural wine from the Rhône. It's made by a dude in Tavel by the name of Eric Pfifferling, who you can read more about here. No sulfur dioxide is added during the vinification, although there's an outside chance that a small amount is added at bottling (the label says, 'contains sulfites', but this might just be precautionary - yeasts can make SO2). Like many natural wines, it is elegant, bright, complex and utterly drinkable. There's an amazing purity to it: with some wines you feel as though you are tasting through a veil; here, all the flavours are uncovered and laser-sharp. And I hate scoring wines like these: it just seems wrong.

L’Anglore Cuvée de la Pierre Chaude NV Vin de Table de France
This is a lovely natural wine from the Rhône, made by Eric Pfifferling from 85% Grenache and 15% Clairette, and although this is officially NV because it’s a VdT, it’s from the 2008 vintage. A bright cherry red colour, it has a vibrant, subtly peppery cherry and red berry fruit nose with just a hint of green herbiness, and some alluring sweet earthy notes. The palate is beautifully bright and fresh with red fruits, herbs, some grippy peppery tannins and a lovely, subtly bitter savoury quality that balances the fruitiness quite beautifully. This is a light, expressive, elegant wine that you’d be hard to place in a blind tasting. It’s quite Burgundian, has a touch of Beaujolais about it, but also shows a bit of Rhône character. I really like it, and it’s amazingly easy to drink. 92/100 (UK availability: Les Caves de Pyrene)

It's wines like this that make me want to hot foot it over to Paris, which has an amazing array of cavistes who specialize in vins naturels (see Bertrand's article here for inspiration). Natural wines shouldn't work, but they do!

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Monday, March 16, 2009

Two Loire Sauvignons, one of which is great

I love the Loire, but it tends to be Chenin Blanc rather than Sauvignon that gets me excited when it comes to the whites.

Here are two interesting Loire Sauvignons, one of which is particularly wonderful.

Sébastien Riffault Akméniné Sancerre 2007 Loire, France
I thought Sancerre was mostly boring, but this is brilliant. It’s a challenging, complex, life-enhancing expression of Sauvignon Blanc. Full yellow in colour, it has a complex, rather wild nose of nuts, minerals, herbs, diesel oil, lemons and apples, with hints of sweet dried fruits. The palate is savoury and full, with lovely minerally acidity and nutty, grassy fruit. It’s just so complex, but if you’re looking for typical Sancerre, then this isn’t for you. I really like it, and rate it as the best Sancerre I’ve ever tasted. 92/100 (Les Caves de Pyrene) 03/09

Jean Paul Mollet Pouilly Fumé ‘L’Antique’ 2007 Loire, France
Aromatic grassy, herby nose with some melony richness. There are some pronounced green herbal notes here. The palate is concentrated and richly textured with a hint of fruit sweetness and green pepper/herby notes, as well as a touch of minerality on the finish. Quite a serious Sauvignon. 89/100 (Sainsburys, this is due to be offered at a promotional price in April) 03/09

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Sunday, March 15, 2009

England hammer France...with some French wine

So I went to the Rugby today. I was a guest of Mont Tauch (http://www.mont-tauch.com/), who shared their hospitality (from the back of an old Citroen van in the Rosebine car park) with ex-Rugby player and wine producer Gerard Bertrand (pictured).

We drank wines from both. Mont Tauch are one of the new breed of super-coops, and were showing a really nice Ancien Carignan among other wines. And I liked the Bertrand Tautavel and La Forge reds a great deal: modern, sweetly fruited, but fresh and well defined. It was very civilized standing in the sunshine, drinking wine with good company.

The game? Incredibly, England were brilliant. France played like England usually do. And by half time, England were 29-0 up. We were sitting in a largely French section, next to the French band, who were silenced by their side's performance. The second half was closer, but by then it was all over.

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Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Are the French serious about killing their wine industry?

Take a look at this news article:

Thanks to Wink Lorch for the link. See Wink's perspective here

I love French wine and I'd love to see all segments of the French wine industry succeed. It's such a shame that growers have to fight not just against market forces, but also against their own government.

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Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Locked in time with a Huet 89

Waitrose press tasting today. Nice to see Neal Martin there - haven't seen him for quite a while. Perfect tasting conditions at the Worx in Parson's Green, with plenty of space and lots of spittoons, as well as fantastic natural light. The tasting is so extensive I'll be going back tomorrow to finish it off.

For as long as I can remember, Waitrose used to be the top supermarket for wine. It was one of the things I quickly learned - they were almost untouchable. But despite having a gazillion Masters of Wine on their buying staff, in the last year or two the unthinkable has happened: people have been starting to criticize Waitrose's wine range, albeit in hushed tones. I began hearing whispers on the tasting circuit that some of their buying was a bit safe - a bit boring even. Tesco began to get plaudits for the work they were doing, and then M&S started to win awards for their range.

From my tasting today - I did the reds and sweet wines - I think this is a little unfair. There are some really good, exciting, innovative wines. Yes, there were a few duds and some rather ordinary offerings, but fewer than most supermarkets have. I found plenty to like, and it's not just the wines that were restricted to only a few stores that impressed.

It's hard to select just one wine to blog on tonight, but I've chosen a Loire classic, which, alas, is expensive and only available in 2 branches (although it is available on Waitrose Wine Direct). Still, it was nice of them to let us taste it.

Domaine Huet 'Le Clos' Premiere Trie 1989 Vouvray, France
Deep yellow colour. Complex, sweet spicy-edged nose showing lemon, herbs and crystalline fruits. The palate is pure and fresh with lovely bright tangy apple and citrus fruit with some apricotty richness. Lovely purity and length. This wine has evolved much less than you might expect and still seems like a baby, with a long life ahead of it. 72 g/litre residual sugar, so it's sweet but not too sweet. 93/100 (£85 Waitrose)

They also showed the 2002 'Le Mont' Demi-Sec:

Domaine Huet 'Le Mont' Demi-Sec 2002 Vouray, France
Lovely intense appeal and herb nose with just a hint of savoury Chenin funk. Concentrated linear herb and apple palate with some lemony freshness. Richly textured and off-dry. Delicious, and still very youthful. 91/100 (£22 Waitrose)

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Tuesday, October 14, 2008

A serious Languedoc white!

Continuing yesterday's Languedoc theme, I wanted to share this wine with you, my loyal readers. It falls into the (slightly) weird but wonderful category. To be honest, I'd resisted cracking it open for a while because I thought that there wasn't much hope for a 2000 vintage Languedoc white. I was pleasantly surprised.

Domaine La Combe Blanche 'Le Blanc' 2000 Vin de Pays des Cotes de Brian, France
A blend of Roussanne and Viognier aged in barrel for 12 months. Yellow/gold in colour this is very smooth, with a fruity sweet pear nose that also has complex notes of mandarin, fennel and apricot. The palate shows warm, sweet fruit with a crystalline fruits richness and some hints of nuts and peach. Broad, smooth and quite complex, with freshness as well as richness. Just lovely. 92/100 (£9.75 Leon Stolarski)

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Monday, October 13, 2008

A serious wine from the Languedoc

I've neglected the Languedoc a bit of late. Back in the days of La Vigneronne (a London merchant who specialized in this region) I followed what was going on pretty closely. That's something I'd like to return to. Grand Lauze is a producer based in the Boutenac (officially a 'cru' since 2005) region of Corbieres. They farm organically, employing some biodynamic practices. They have 22 hectares in all, including some very old Carignan (youngest = 60 yo, much is over 100 yo) and Grenache vines. (See http://www.grand-lauze.net/.)

Grand Lauze Ledogar Vin de Table Francais
The Roman 'IV' on the label indicates this is from the 2004 vintage. This is one of those wines that ended up being rejected by the local Appellation authorization committee (in this case for Corbieres) for being 'atypical', hence the Vin de Table status. It's actually pretty serious: a blend of 12 barrels, 8 of which are 100-year old Carignan, 2 Mourvedre, 1 Grenache and 1 Syrah. All organically grown, with some biodynamic practices. Deep coloured, this has a tight, dense, slightly reductive nose showing spicy dark fruits. The palate is intense and concentrated with fresh, savoury, spicy dark fruits with firm tannins and attractive, minerally complexity. It's a pure, focused, youthful wine of real impact that needs time to show its best. Old vine Carignan at its best - not the easiest wine to 'get', but pretty serious. 91/100 (£15 http://www.therealwineco.co.uk/)

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Wednesday, August 20, 2008

White Chateauneuf rocks

White Chateauneuf-du-Pape is a bit of a geek wine (geek, not greek). It's relatively rare, made from geeky varieties, and takes a bit of effort to appreciate. Here's a really good one, made in a modern, fresh style, but with the personality that white Rhone varieties have still evident. Although this is M&S own-label, and the label is a bit coy about its origins, the cork reveals that this comes from Chateau Mont Redon.

Marks & Spencer Chateauneuf du Pape Blanc 'Le Fussier' 2006 Rhone, France
A blend of Grenache Blanc, Picpoul, Clairette, Bourboulenc and Roussane, without oak, from Chateau Mont Redon. Fresh herby, lemony flowery nose is crisp. The palate is rounded and quite fat, as Rhone whites tend to be, but with some crisp minerality on the finish. Delightfully expressive and crisp, and quite complex, too. 91/100 (£13.99 Marks & Spencer) 

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Sunday, July 20, 2008

Light reds have a big future?

I'm enjoying some lighter red wines this summer. It seems to me we're all a bit obsessed with bigger, darker, richer, sweeter red wines. But sometimes you want something lighter, with less of everything, but still good concentration and a smooth texture - perhaps with a bit more aromatic interest.

I'd like to think that lighter reds have a big future, as people turn away from the bigger is better mentality and begin to value such characteristics as elegance, balance, texture and poise. Let's face it, that's part of the appeal of Pinot Noir, isn't it?

Beaujolais can do lighter reds brilliantly, with a combination of granitic soils and the Gamay variety. [Granitic soils do seem to make lighter, more aromatic red wines.] But Beaujolais has been at least partly ruined by efforts to 'modernize' the wines, using special cultured yeasts that just make the wines smell and taste of bubblegum. Lighter reds seem to benefit from more natural vinifications.

Tonight I'm sipping a cheap Gamay from the northern Rhone that's quite delicious in the right context. Marks & Spencer Gamay 2007 Vin de Pays de l'Ardeche is a red wine that benefits from being served chilled, when it displays light, fresh cherry fruit with a subtle herby freshness and some strawberry sweetness. Vibrant and juicy, and good fun. 82/100

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Friday, July 18, 2008

Bergerac Blanc from Luc Conti

A deliciously full flavoured white from Luc Conti's Tour des Gendres. Very stylishly packaged, too.

Chateau Tour des Gendres Bergerac Sec Muscadelle Petit Grain 2005 France
Nicely packaged with a musical score as a front label (can anyone read this?), this is a richly textured Muscadelle of real appeal. It's quite complex, with notes of grapes, lemons, nuts and vanilla ice cream, as well as an almost floral, herby character. In the mouth it is quite thick, with a lush texture and a hint of pithy bitterness on the finish. It reminds me of a cross between an Alsace Pinot Gris and a rich Viognier. Quite a serious effort, and it also tastes quite modern in style, with fruit to the fore. 90/100 (Les Caves de Pyrene)


Thursday, July 17, 2008

A photoshoot, a Merlot and a Roussillon red

Spent most of the day at Denbies winery (www.denbiesvineyard.co.uk) doing a photoshoot for the Sunday Express. This required the services of quite a team: a photographer plus her assistant, a make-up person, the section editor plus her assistant, the art editor, the fashion stylist and me. I was dressed in a white linen suit, brown shoes and a panama hat. While we were shooting in the vineyards a team of cyclists passed us and one of them commented loudly, 'It's the man from del monte'. I was embarrassed. We shot pictures in the cellar, too. The results will be in a special section in the magazine on summer drinks, on August 3rd. It was a really interesting and slightly surreal experience.

Two wines this evening. The first is a Merlot from Australia. Many readers will have switched off at this point, because Merlot sucks most of the time, and almost always when it comes from Australia. But this is quite a good one.

The second is a Roussillon red from the holy trinity of Mourvedre, Syrah and Grenache, and it's nicely dense and rather attractive.
Linda Domas Wines Boycat Merlot 2006 McLaren Vale, Australia
Slightly reductive on the nose, with a hint of burnt rubber, but also some really fresh, vibrant berry fruit, as well as a hint of gravel. The palate is juicy and medium bodied, with delightfully expressive, fresh, sweet red berry fruit, a trace of blackcurrant, and also some spicy tannins on the finish. I guess that the McLaren Vale isn't the best place in the world to grow Merlot, but this is still a very attractive, supple, sweetly fruited wine of some appeal. Elegant and very berryish. 88/100 (£8.99 Marks & Spencer)

Domaine Treloar Three Peaks 2006 Cotes du Roussillon, France
This attractive southern French red is the inaugural vintage from this producer, a Kiwi-English collaboration farming just 10 hectares in the Roussillon. It's a blend of Grenache, Syrah and Mourvedre. A concentrated wine with sweet-yet-focused red and black fruits with a spicy lift. There's a distinctly savoury, spicy quality to this wine which has enough tannin and acidity to keep it quite fresh. Finishes distinctly savoury and quite grippy. A food-friendly style that may develop nicely over the next few years. 90/100 (£10.25 Leon Stolarski)

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Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Retro Fitou, yeah baby!

Interesting sample in the post today. A 'retro' Fitou, from hugely successful coop Mont Tauch. Though there's nothing terribly retro about the closure (screwcap with a saranex-only liner, just right for this wine), the label is very attractively retro, with a mock-torn effect. I think it works really well, and the whole thing looks very good indeed.

What about the wine? Like many of the wines in the Mont Tauch portfolio, it delivers without threatening to overdeliver. It's lacking a bit of concentration and stuffing (I didn't say dilute, although there is a risk that it is heading that way), but aside from this it is very well made with attractive spicy, earthy, dark cherry and red berry flavours. Nicely savoury, and very drinkable. Remember, though, this is an inexpensive wine and it's much, much better from a lot of the new world offerings at this price point.

Mont Tauch 'Retro' Fitou 2006 Languedoc, France
Light, with savoury, spicy, slightly earthy cherry and berry fruit, as well as just a hint of that wild herb complexity known as 'garrigue'. A versatile, drinkable red with a sense of place to it. 83/100 (£5.99 Tesco)

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Wednesday, July 02, 2008

A delicious Languedoc wine, blind

It had been quite a difficult evening (same old, older child), so as I was doing sentry duty after things had quietened down a little, Fiona brought up a glass of something blind for me to identify, and then enjoy.

I'm afraid I wasn't good on the identification front tonight. It was a really classy red wine, with smooth blackberry fruit and a bit of spicy structure, all in a very harmonious package. But it could have been ultra-refined new world, or sleek, modern-styled old world. It didn't taste Italian, nor did it taste terribly French or Portuguese, and it wasn't very Spanish either. So I opted for new world. Wrong. So then I guessed Languedoc, and was right.

I find wines like this, with no real sense of place, a bit unnerving. But I can't criticize it, because it is so beautifully made. Embarrasingly, I can't remember where it's from. I don't think it's Waitrose, and in the back of my mind I'm thinking Asda, although this doesn't seem right. If anyone knows, please share. Retail price would be around £9, which makes it good value.

Chateau Paul Mas 'Les Dons' Vinus 2005 Coteaux du Languedoc, France
A Shiraz/Grenache blend from 40 year old vines on clay and lime soils, with a bit of maritime influence, this is sleek and sophisticated. Harmonious, smooth red and black fruits combine with fine-grained tannins and fresh acidity to make a very stylish, modern red wine of real appeal. Warm climate elegance here. 89/100

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Monday, June 16, 2008

Consolation in natural wine

Had a bit of a rubbish day yesterday. Supposed to be fathers' day, but the kids were appalling (most specifically older son) and it was all a bit depressing. So I turned to wine, and specifically a rather remarkable natural wine. Suddenly, everything seemed a lot better.

Le Clos de Tu-Boeuf La Guerrerie Vin de Table Français
This is actually from the 2006 vintage, and it’s a wine made by Thierry Puzelat in the Loire, from a blend of Cot (aka Malbec, 70%) and Gamay (30%), with the grapes grown in the Cheverny appellation. Following Doug Wregg’s advice (he’s the dude from Les Caves de Pyrene who import this into the UK), I chilled it down and decanted it before drinking. It’s fantastic, life-affirmining, ‘alive’ wine. It’s aromatic with some earthy, spicy depth to the dark fruits. In the mouth it’s refreshing and bright with a lovely dense, grippy, spicy earthy quality under the focused bright fruit. It finishes quite grippy, but the defining feature is the brightness. It’s a natural tasting sort of wine that’s just so easy to drink. It’s kind of like Pinot Noir, but with some edges. 91/100 (£11.75 Les Caves de Pyrene)

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Monday, June 09, 2008

One day, two remarkable tastings

Two amazing tastings today. Feel a bit spoiled, I guess.

Zubair Mohamed of Raeburn kindly invited me to a lunch featuring the wines of Gianfranco Soldera, who makes Brunello's most sought-after wines (he's the UK agent). Quite a nice coincidence seeing as I was in Montalcino only last week. The tasting was held in the private room at The Square, and we were ten in all: three wine writers (Neil Beckett, Stephen Brook and myself), two restarateurs (Nigel Platts Martin, owner of The Square and The Ledbury, and Ossie Gray of River Cafe), and the balance sommeliers.

This was my first experience of Soldera's wines, and they were mindblowingly good. Really complex: made in a traditional style with a long elevage. What a treat. The food at The Square was brilliant, too. It really is one of London's very best restaurants.

Then, after a couple of hours to recover some strength, I was off to the Caledonian Club in Halkin Street (off Belgrave Square - embassy territory) for a Domaine Leflaive masterclass, with Anne-Claude Leflaive, hosted by Corney & Barrow. How often do you get to try perhaps Italy's best red wines (OK, I may upset some Barolo fans by saying this...), followed by wines from what may be the world's greatest white wine domaine (I've just upset some Germans here)? The 2003s disappointed, if I'm honest, but the 2004s are thrillingly good, with a hint of reduction and high acidity: they'll outlive me, I suspect. And the 1996 Chevalier Montrachet and 1997 Pucelles were fabulous. Full notes to follow on both events.

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Sunday, June 08, 2008

Can Muscadet be 'serious'?

Of course it can! In fact, there aren't many wine regions that cannot make 'serious' wine, should the ambition and expertise of the grower be present. Having said this, some regions find it harder to make serious wines than others, and Muscadet isn't wall-to-wall with world class bottles. But it is often in these lesser-rated appellations that growers with a commitment to making excellent, expressive, terroir-based wines without any spoofiness get their chance to excel. And when they do, it's a happy coincidence that the wines are often affordable, because points chasers and 'collectors' are after the right names for their cellars. So here's a serious Muscadet that I enjoyed quite a bit.

Pierre Luneau-Papin Semper Excelsior Clos des Noelles 2002 Muscadet Sevre et Maine, France
After a 30 month elevage, this attractively packaged Muscadet is just beautiful. It's a concentrated, full flavoured white with expressive, complex mineral and herb notes on the nose. The palate is rich with powerful mineralic fruit and hints of citrus pith, as well as an almost marine-like quality that's hard to describe. Almost profound. 90/100 (Available in UK from Les Caves de Pyrene)

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Sunday, May 18, 2008

Serious Languedoc Sauvignon?

France's appellation system is mucked up. The problem is, it's hierarchical, but the hierarchy doesn't really work all that well. Many Vin de Pays are much better quality wines than AOC (Appellation d'Origine Controllee) wines. This is completely confusing for consumers. Look, I'm not denying the fact that AOCs have helped preserve the wondeful diversity of French wines - it's just that in practice the whole system needs some sort of overhaul.

Anyway, the Vin de Pays category goes from strength to strength, but it's a shame that these wines have to be stigmatized by being a lower rung on the hierarchical appellation system.

Here's a fantastic Sauvignon that's the best yet Vin de Pays Sauvignon I've encountered.

La Baume 'La Grande Olivette' Sauvignon Blanc 2007 Vin de Pays d'Oc, France
Beautifully packaged in a deeply punted bottle, this is a serious Sauvignon Blanc. The nose shows lots of rich, almost pungent gooseberry and passion fruit (technically, this is a thiol-rich style, and it's almost sweaty), together with some green pepper notes. The palate is concentrated and intense with richness combining nicely with grassy freshness. Stylish stuff. 90/100 (£6.99 Waitrose)

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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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Saturday, March 22, 2008

Some Languedoc wines and an evil cork

Impromptu tasting of some Languedoc/Roussillon wines, after another bitterly cold day - on which it even snowed here in London, although a little half-heartedly. Pictured is the view outside the front of our house at about 4 pm. This is the reason God created the southern hemisphere, where I am escaping to on Monday.

Just a note on the evil cork (pictured above). It was sealing one of the Languedoc wines, a £2.99 AOC Minervois from Lidl. Now this Lidl wine was actually relatively sound and drinkable, but for a subtle streak of mustiness which I assume is TCA and its related compounds. In other words, cork taint. If you mash up bits of cork and stick them together, there's a very high chance that you end up with low level taint in almost all of them. If, say, one in 20 or one in 30 corks is tainted to above-threshold levels with TCA, then imagine the effect of dispersing this taint among all your corks. It's just a barmy decision to use cheap agglos like this, especially now there are many alternatives at a similar sort of price. Utterly evil.

Anyway, a mixed sort of bag of Languedoc/Roussillon reds on show tonight (partly because of a dodgy vintage, 2002, in the mix), although my enthusiasm for the two neighbouring regions continues. Here are my notes.

Mont Tauch Les Douze Fitou 2006 Languedoc, France
Gently herby, spicy nose with supple red fruit character. Palate is midweight with a nice combination of sweet fruit and spiciness. It's not a blockbuster, but it's nicely savoury. Likeable. 86/100 (£6.49 Majestic)
Les Hauts de Forca Real Cotes du Roussillon Villages 2003 France
Quite a dark, dense wine with a meaty, earthy edge to the super-ripe black fruits. Big, ripe, but savoury too, and not imbalanced. Rich, earthy, spicy, tannic palate is very bold, and showing a bit of Brettanomyces character, but in a rich wine like this it works quite well, making a full flavoured, attractively savoury wine. 90/100 (£10.99 http://www.therealwineco.co.uk/)
Abbotts Cumulus 2002 Minervois, France
100% Syrah matured in 40% new American oak, 20% old American oak and 40% in old French oak. Indeed, the dominant feature here is the sweet cocount and vanillla of oak lactones, which threaten to dominate the supple spicy fruit. It's tasty enough if you like oak - in fact, it tastes a bit like a new wave Rioja. I can see that there's a big market for this sort of wine, but it's not for me. 84/100 (£5.99 Averys)
Mas de l'Ecriture 'Les Pensees' 2002 Coteaux du Languedoc, France
A tricky vintage for Pascal Fulla's Mas de l'Ecriture, which is one of the Languedoc's star properties. Treat this like Burgundy, and open and decant, serving from a Burgundy glass. There's some earthy, spicy complexity on the nose with a hint of undergrowth. The palate is dense with sweet red fruits and some firm tannins. There's a distinctive earthy character. Drink soon-ish. 88/100

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Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Crazy French wines at Lords

France Under One Roof is the title of a large annual tasting held here in the UK, the 2008 installment of which I attended today. Held at the Nursery Pavillon, Lords, it's an event that brings together all manner of French wines, from cheap branded bottles to some smart high-end stuff.

Aside from being mistaken by Tina Coady for Jack Hibberd, I found today's tasting quite reassuring. At the bottom end - the more commercial wines, where France has traditionally struggled to compete - I tasted quite a few wines that would give similarly priced new world competitors a real run for their money. In fact, it's getting to the stage where I'm beginning to be confident that a £6 French wine will outperform a £6 Californian or Australian bottle.

But it's France's diversity at higher price points that is so exciting. I spend a good deal of time tasting with Doug Wregg of Les Caves de Pyrene. They have some utterly fantastic, and in some cases crazy, wines.

The craziest of all, and one of the lovliest (in a funky sort of way) was a 'natural' wine from the Loire, which Doug described as being like 'Chenin on acid'. He was right.

Domaine Julien Courtois 'l'Originel' Vin de Table, France
This is a 100% Menu Pineau, an old Loire variety, grown biodynamically. It's a crazy, but lovely wine, reeking of cheese and cider. Herby, waxy, appley and pretty complex on the nose. The palate is appley and wonderfully complex with a long, minerally, acid finish. Fantastic stuff: weird but lovely. 93/100 (£15.99 Les Caves)

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Sunday, February 24, 2008

A fantastic 'real' wine from the Jura

I love this wine. It's a red wine from the Jura region. Pale in colour, it's the antithesis of the big modern international style. We need more wines like this. But it's not just because of what it isn't that I like it - it has amazing qualities of its own. [As an aside, I've found when I'm judging that sometimes judges with old world palates go for new world wines that don't have any particular virtues, just because they aren't overblown, or oaky, or extracted. I think this is wrong, and I'm not praising this wine as a knee jerk reaction to big, sweet reds. I just like it a lot.]

Lucien Aviet (Caveau de Bacchus) Arbois Cuvee des Geologues 2002 Jura, France
Quite pale coloured. Brooding, earthy, subtly spicy nose which shows subtle cherryish fruit and a bit of undergrowth. It's all very elegant. The palate a savoury, earthy component to the supremely elegant, pure cherryish fruit, and there's a bit of tannic structure, too. Light, quite bright and rather intriguing, with a subtly green, sappy note in the background. Brilliant stuff: drink out of Burgundy glasses. 92/100 (Les Caves de Pyrene)

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Thursday, February 14, 2008

DRC 2005

The new release tasting of DRC's iconic Burgundies is one of the most eagerly anticipated dates in the wine calendar. It's not every day you get to taste wines like these. I'm not sure of the prices yet, but expect the top wine, the Romanee-Conti, to be over £1000 per bottle on release (and even at this price, you'll have to join a very long queue).

So I popped into Corney & Barrow this morning to try the 2005s. A lot of familiar faces were there, including the triumverate of Neal Martin, Bill Nanson and Linden Wilkie (who made a whole morning out of it, sitting down, taking extensive notes, trying the wines, sitting down, chatting and so on). I also saw Tim Atkin, Natasha Hughes, Anthony Rose, Harry Gill, Serena Sutcliffe and Jasper Morris (who at one point dropped his glasses into a spitoon as he bent over too far).

My report on the wines is posted on the main site here. You can compare my notes with those of Eric Asimov of the NY Times, who also tasted the wines recently here.

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Wednesday, February 13, 2008

A lovely Viognier

Very impressed by tonight's wine, a Viognier from the South of France. It wasn't so long ago that Viognier was a rarity. Now it seems everyone is growing it, especially in the Languedoc. Growing Viognier is one thing; doing it well is another matter - but Anna and Jorge Maslakiewicz seem to have got it just right. Their success has come by skill and hard work: they identified the style they wanted to make, took great care in the vineyard and cellar, and then benchmarked their wine against other Viogniers until they were sure they'd got it right. The results are impressive.

Domaine St Ferreol Viognier 2006 Vin de Pays d'Oc, France
Lovely stuff. Beautifully aromatic nose with tangerine peel, apricot, honey and vanilla notes. The palate has a lovely texture and great balance, with bright fruit, a hint of sweetness and a rich texture. Rich but not too rich, this is the qualitative equal of a good Condrieu. 90/100 (Not available in the UK yet; 6 Euros ex-cellar price)
Added later: it is now available in the UK from The Flying Corkscrew, Le Caviste, Bertrand & Nicholas, Leon Stolarski Fine Wines - priced £9.95 or therabouts

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Sunday, December 23, 2007

Three pre-Christmas wines I like

We're gearing up for Christmas in the Goode household. It's approached fast - indeed, this year has just zoomed by. And it feels a bit of an odd sort of Christmas, this year. Not in a bad way; just different. It could be that I'm facing a really important year in 2008, and this is playing on my mind. It could be that our family, which has seen its share of dysfunction (our boys are adopted, and had a very poor start to their lives, which has unfortunately set their emotional 'templates' a little askew), is actually beginning to work reasonably well. Whatever the reason, I'm looking forward more to the festive season this year than I have for some time.

On Friday afternoon we went to see a Christmas film at the wonderful IMAX cinema near Waterloo station. It was Polar Express in 3D, and if you have kids, I recommend it. The screen is fabulously large, and the sound system state of the art.

Then on Saturday it was time for a family winter picnic on Box Hill. We took RTL, of course, and half way round the walk set out our picnic rug, sat down, and had soup, bread, cheese and pate. The few passers by must have thought we were crazy, because it was mightly cold. But it was beautiful: there was a bit of mist in the air, along with some milky sunshine. Later in the afternoon I took elder son to the golf range, where there was a beautiful winter sunset. And I was really hitting the ball well.

Today we had friends round for what turned out to be a delightful Sunday lunch. We had some friends round last Sunday as well. It's good to be sociable, and friends are so much more rewarding than things, aren't they?

So, to some wines.

Cantina di Monteforte Soave Superiore Classico 2005 Italy
Made from 100% Garganega grapes by Kiwi Matt Thomson (he featured on this blog recently for a seminar he did on Brettanomyces). This is a really interesting wine, and it's relatively rare to be able to find an interesting wine for £7 these days. It's a richly flavoured white wine with a lovely minerally, herbal character, as well as richer melon/tropical fruits. There's depth, presence and richness here, but it's all in savoury balance. Fairly serious. 89/100 (£6.99 Waitrose)

Gemtree Vineyards Bloodstone Shiraz 2006 McLaren Vale, Australia
This screwcapped-sealed red is initially a bit dumb and simple on opening, but with several hours of air it begins to come to life. It's a rich Aussie Shiraz, but there's a bit more to it than just sweet fruit and oak. The nose shows attractive pepper spice, a hint of vanilla and bright, fresh raspberry and dark cherry fruit. The palate is fresh with nice tannic structure and vivid sweet red and black fruits. It's certainly a big wine that's sweetly fruited, but it doesn't descend into a sweet fruit mush - there's enough spicy, peppery freshness to act as a counter. The result is very appealing, but do give it time. 90/100 (£9.99 Oddbins)

Domaine Leon Barral Faugeres 'Jadis' 2002 Languedoc, France
Now for something a little different. This is a deliciously complex, funky Languedoc red that tastes a bit like a French version of Chateau Musar, the gloriously funky Lebanese red. If you approached this wine with a 'new world' mindset, you'd probably spit it out. But I think it's fantastic, because it really works, and it's tremendously food friendly. It has a warm, aromatic, spicy, meaty, earthy nose that's incredibly rich and inviting. The palate is rich and ripe, with meaty, earthy, savoury notes as well as sweet fruit. There's a slightly dry, subtly metallic finish, which is perhaps the only downside. I'd heartily recommend this wine, but be warned: it's on the funky side, and if you don't like your wines with a bit of funk, steer clear. 91/100 (£12.50 Les Caves de Pyrene)

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Monday, October 29, 2007

An affordable southern French red that delivers

I used to be quite economical with money. Tight, even. But then I married this wonderful girl who once took £100 out of a cash machine, got it blown out of her hand by a gust of wind, and laughed - even though the money was gone. This cavalier approach to dosh has rubbed off on me, curing me of much of my frugality - and now I don't even like to read my bank statements. I don't spend money unnessecarily, and I rarely treat myself (although it is really important to treat yourself once in a while), but I try to be generous. As long as we aren't in debt, then that's OK.

But this scringing past catches up with me occasionally, and one area is in looking at wine prices. Now £6 still seems to me to be a reasonable sort of sum to spend on a bottle of wine. You should be getting something that delivers some flavour, and a little personality at this price. Yet most £6 wines taste like the tricked-up commercial pap that they are. So how nice to find one that isn't just confected muck, but actually tastes pretty good.

Chateau Guiot 2006 Costieres de Nimes, France
From the south of France, and more specifically a 75 hectare property south of Nimes planted mainly to Grenache and Syrah. This is really good. It's a boisterous young red with lovely fresh peppery, slightly meaty dark fruits on the nose. In the mouth the peppery, spicy fruit dominates, and is complemented by firm, grippy tannins and good acidity, making this a vibrant, savoury sort of red that's really versatile at the table. Lovely purity and focus, and the concentration and vibrancy to put many £10 wines to shame. 88/100 (£5.99 Majestic)

-this is currently on offer at £4.79, which makes it a bit of a no-brainer

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Sunday, October 28, 2007

A thrilling Saumur Blanc

Every now and then I drink a wine that (almost) leaves me speechless. It's usually not wines that wow with their first sniff or sip, but rather wines that beguile - that draw you in, and as your attention becomes focused on them, they seem to reveal progressively more, engaging both intellect and appetite in a journey of thrilling discovery. OK, less of the flowery language - I just really, really like this sort of wine. It's what the 'old world' does really well.

Domaine du Collier Saumur Blanc La Charpentrie 2004 Loire, France
A fantastic, complex, savoury dry white wine from the Chenin Blanc variety. A yellow gold colour, the nose is complex with notes of apples, pears, minerals, wax and dry straw. The mouth is savoury and minerally, and quite dry, with herb-tinged appley fruit and a flinty/matchstick reductive character that adds complexity. There's an acid tang on the finish, together with hints of apricots and pear-skin. I think this is quite profound - a really thrilling effort that should age gracefully for the next 20 years. With its distinctive character, though, I don't think this is a wine for everyone. 94/100 (Les Caves de Pyrene)

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Saturday, October 27, 2007

Corsican white that rocks

A really nice Corsican white, this. Vermentino is the grape, and I really like it. If you are interested, the producer's website is here.

Domaine Saparale 2006 Corse Sartene, France
From the island of Corsica, this is a varietal Vermentino from Philippe Farinelli's 100 acre estate. It's vibrant, floral and minerally, but with a rounded weighty depth to the palate. I like the contrast between the steely, lemony notes and the richer, peachy, almost nutty characters in the background. Mineralic, full flavoured and quite pure: a lovely wine. 91/100 (Yapp £8.95)

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Sunday, September 23, 2007

Trevallon 2000: the real deal

Space on this blog is limited. I usually post just once a day, which means only a certain number of wines can get a look-in each year. It's for this reason that I'd like to apologise if you feel I have got the balance wrong: perhaps for not including enough of the truly worthy wines, instead giving too much space to slightly spoofy, commercial wines that are more widely available. In my defence, it's a difficult line to tread...

Well here's a wine that, for me, is the real deal. If you gave it to a new world winemaker, blind, then I suspect they'd probably give you a list of perceived faults, and I don't think they'd like it. And this would be a wrong assessment of this wine, in my opinion. It's Trevallon 2000. It rocks.

Domaine de Trevallon 2000 Vin de Pays des Bouches du Rhone
Dark, intense, savoury and spicy on the nose, with an earthy, slightly medicinal whiff at the edges. It's complex and thought provoking. The palate is concentrated, earthy and spicy, with a firm, almost impenetrable spicy structure, giving it a very dry, savoury mouthfeel. There's some blackcurranty fruit here, but this is not a fruit-dominated wine. It's like a really good Bandol in character, with great depth and plenty of potential for long ageing. And it's only 12.5% alcohol. 94/100 (£24.95 Yapp)

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Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Hard at work at the Bollinger lunch

A bit of a treat today. Bollinger lunch at Bruce Poole's fantastic restaurant Chez Bruce. There was a good turnout, as you might expect - someone commented that if a bomb had been placed in the restaurant, it would have taken out a sizeable portion of the UK wine press.

The food was extraordinarily good, and the fizz didn't disappoint. We kicked off with Bollinger's '2003' - a unique wine reflecting the rather unique weather conditions of that growing season. Atypical for Bollinger: light, fruity and quite expressive. A bit like a top notch new world fizz.

Ghislain de Montgolfier then gave a short speech, in which he mentioned how 2007 is shaping up. Apparently, we're looking at the earliest harvest in recent memory, because of the exceptionally hot April that led to early flowering. As long as nothing disastrous happens before late August, it should be a good one, too.

Bolling Cuvee Special followed, and this was really singing: back to the distinctive house style, that's quite intense, toasty, rich and yet fresh and balanced. The Grande Annee 1997 is a wine I've had a couple of times before and really liked. It's fresh, intense, concentrated and a little bit edgy, with good complexity. Then a rare chance to try the Vieilles Vignes Francaises 1999, of which we drank a good half of the UK's annual allocation between us (it's 12-18 bottles a year). This is quite different: rounded, complex, broad, thought-provoking. Finally, the 1995 RD is a bit of a stern beast. It's just so full-on, with massive acidity, massive flavour, massive savouriness. It will probably last a very long time - drunk now, it needs food.
Pictured: Stephen Brook (left) is entranced by Jim Budd's (foreground) shirt. Neil Beckett is also in the picture.

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Thursday, July 05, 2007

France fights back - Mont Tauch

Despite what you hear in the press, there is hope for the French wine industry. The evidence? Wines like these from the Mont Tauch cooperative (with a great website - http://www.mont-tauch.com/). They are affordable, well made, modern, and have a sense of place about them. I can't imagine that many consumers, tasting these two wines alongside new world equivalents at the same price, would prefer the new world options - and especially if the wines were at table, with food. Mont Tauch rock.

That's not to say they are perfect wines. The Corbieres is perhaps just a touch too extracted (or am I being over-fussy at this price point?). The label design is very retro, and I'm not sure it communicates the right message. The back labels are dense with information, but I wonder whether a single message could be more effective and tell the story of the wines a bit more ('ideal with cheese, stews curries and grills' is a bit catch-all, and 'serve at room temperature' perhaps a little redundant).

Mont Tauch Corbieres 2006 Languedoc, France
Deep coloured. Lovely savoury, spicy, almost earthy undercurrents to the ripe, dense red fruits nose. The palate is richly fruited with lots of earthy tannins and great concentration. It's mouthfilling, dense and quite savoury with a drying finish. I like the density and stuffing, but with its prominent tannins this is a wine that would work best with food. The Carignan in the blend makes its presence felt here. The modern face of Corbieres, and a bargain. 83/100 (£4.99 Somerfield)

Mont Tauch Fitou 2005 Languedoc, France
Bright, fresh, peppery red fruits nose is aromatic and welcoming. The palate is vivid, bright, a little sappy and really nicely weighted. It's savoury and food friendly, finishing with dry, peppery structure. It's not as dense or rich as the Corbieres, but the extra freshness and spice makes this potentially a more successful wine. Very drinkable and another bargain. 84/100 (£4.99 Waitrose, Sainsbury, Somerfield)

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Saturday, June 23, 2007

Alain Dominique Perrin

Interviewed Alain Dominique Perrin yesterday at a hotel in Canary Wharf. As the man behind the revival of Cartier, he's seriously well known in France; not so well known in the UK. One of his passions is wine, and for the last 27 years he's been the owner of Chateau Lagrazette in Cahors. I was slightly apprehensive about trying his wines: mega-rich guy buys Chateau, invests loads of money in it and hires Michel Rolland as a consultant - the potential is there for wines that have power but no sense of place. But the two wines we drunk, the Chateau Lagrazette 2001 (retail £17.99) and the Cuvee Pigeonnier 1999 (retail £80), were really impressive. They're big, dense wines which combine refinement with a darker, edgier personality that gives them a real sense of place. They actually taste like Cahors. He was charming, down to earth and had lots to say - the full interview will be on the site soon.

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Monday, June 18, 2007

Chablis times two

A couple of Chablis to compare, Laroche 2005 and William Fevre 2005 (this will be priced at £8.99 in Bibendum's forthcoming sale, which starts on July 3rd).

Both taste like Chablis: that is they have fresh, bright fruit with a distinctive minerality lurking around somewhere in the background, and they also have a savoury nature to them. They don't taste like unoaked Chardonnays (which is what they effectively are, but which isn't the point of Chablis).

The Laroche is a bit smoother and broader than the slightly edgy Fevre. The Fevre has some citrus pith character; the Laroche has a touch of what I describe as 'straw'. Both are versatile food wines. The Fevre is sealed with natural cork, the Laroche with a screwcap (although the liner used here is saranex, without the common metal layer which allows much less oxygen transmission - it's a wise move for this sort of wine, because you have to be on your guard using a tin liner otherwise you can run into reduction problems).

Both these wines are good examples of Chablis and, while they're not going to blow your socks off, they're extremely tasty and versatile. Fevre just has the edge for me. The Laroche is available as part of a Laroche mixed case from Tesco, or from Sainsbury at £8.99.

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Thursday, April 26, 2007

Back to London after what seems a very long time away. It’s been a great trip. The family holiday worked better than I thought it might: you never quite know how good a destination is going to be until you get there, I guess. Margaret River was fantastic: good wine, good food (in places) and all in proximity to some stunning beaches. If it were a couple of hours nearer Perth, it would be perfect – and probably totally overrun with tourists.

The third segment, Exmouth, was quite different, but utterly magical. Yes, the town itself is …how can I put this dimplomatically…a bit frontier-like. But it’s OK. What thrills is the natural setting, and the stunning Ningaloo Reef, in its unspoilt glory. Turquoise Bay is perhaps the best beach I’ve experienced.

And Singapore, segments one and four, is a place I enjoy. I’ve been here quite a bit over the last few years, and although it’s not somewhere I’d travel to without an ulterior motive – it’s not really a holiday destination in its own right – it has got a lot going for it. Yesterday I had a free afternoon and spent it swimming and then wandering through the botanic gardens (pictured). By this time there was a humid, broody presence in the air, with distant thunderstorms that later became much less distant, soaking us on our way out to dinner. We ate at Ah Hoi's in the Traders Hotel, near Orchard Road, which impressed for its nicely presented food and rather causal setting.

Now feeling fresher than I should, approaching lunchtime after getting in at six this morning.

Aside: what is it with the French and lunchtime? Just phoned Yvon Mau (a big, commercial producer in Bordeaux) for a quote, only to be greeted with some canned music and an announcement that they are closed for two hours, from 12-2 pm each day, so call back later, punk! [Well, I added the last bit]. How do these guys do business?

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Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Comparing notes

How consistent is your palate from day to day? And how much bottle variation exists? If you use scores, what sort of error margin is built in to them? In the light of such questions, it's nice to be able to compare notes made on separate occasions. It's best when you don't remember having tasted a wine previously, because then there's no temptation to score the same the second time round.

I was planning to write up the last of the natural wines I purchased in Paris last month on this blog, but then leafing through past notes I realised that I'd reviewed this producers wines last May - the write-up went live this week (here). I'm adding here my notes from drinking the wine the other night, which are as written. You can compare them and see how close the perceptions were, even though they were separated by several months, and made in different environments. Always a healthy comparison to make.

Domaine Rosse Anjou 2004 France
Very deep colour. Dark, savoury, gravelly, minerally nose with some cured meat and black fruits notes. The palate is very savoury and tannic - verging on the austere - with vibrant black fruits, gravelly, earthy undertones and a hint of black olives. This is extreme and wonderful: a real delight for fans of wines with personality. Very good/excellent 91/100

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Sunday, February 18, 2007

1997 Bordeaux

Just a tasting note tonight:

Château Pavie-Macquin 1997 Saint-Emilion, Bordeaux
So beautifully perfumed, it’s almost Burgundian, even though this is classic Bordeaux. There’s some gravelly minerality, a faint trace of tar, and tight red berry fruit, with an underlying earthiness. The palate shows savoury red fruits with some earthy tannic structure and good acidity. The wine has a lovely fresh feel to it, although the fact that the fruit seems to be beginning to recede a little makes me think this is one for drinking over the next couple of years. Tasting the wine again on day two confirms this. This is what we come to Bordeaux for, I reckon: complexity allied to balance allied to drinkability. Very good/excellent 90/100 (Will be featured in the forthcoming Bibendum sale, http://www.bibendum-wine.co.uk/)

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Saturday, February 17, 2007

Bretty Beaujolais

Time to crack another of my 'natural' wines, which I purchased on a recent Paris trip. Now, although I'm a wine technology sort of guy, I'm not a wine faults policeman. The initial response of those who have learned to spot what are known as wine faults is to then police wines they taste for the faintest whiff of brettanomyces, or volatile acidity, or reduction. I prefer to treat each wine on its own merits, and judge more holistically. I can forgive a 'fault' if it works in the context of the wine. This bottle has left me struggling a little: I don't think brettanomyces works terribly well in the context of a Cru Beaujolais. Of course, I don't have a lab test to prove the presence of brett, but this is about a bretty a wine (to my perception) that I have met. It's a shame: I wanted to love it.

Jean-Paul Thevenet Morgon Vieilles Vignes 2005 Beaujolais, France
Hmmm, bretty Beaujolais. Quite fresh, brightly fruited nose with a spicy, medicinal, smoky sort of character. The palate has a meaty, spicy, phenolic character imprinted on the otherwise pure red fruits. Quite enjoyable in a very savoury, spicy, funky sort of way, but it's verging on flawed for me, and I don't really mind brettanomyces too much in the right sort of context. Very good+ 85/100

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Sunday, February 04, 2007

If you have to ask the price...

Friday was the Corney & Barrow DRC tasting, of the 2004 vintage. It's rather nice of them to let us try these wines each year, at an event which runs from 8.30-12.30 (most arrive before 10 to avoid the risk of the wines running out - I don't know whether they do). There's an atmosphere of hushed reverence; Aubert de Villiane is in attendance, hovering in the background - he's very approachable and welcomes questions, and I had a productive few minutes with him. We taste out of Riedel Burgundy glasses, with a carefully measured pour that is just sufficient to taste, but allows for no waste. The 2004s are pretty impressive. The Echezeaux stands out as being fantastically perfumed, while the RSV and La Tache are more structured. There's just the faintest hint of green in a couple of the wines, but none disappoint. The Romanee-Conti itself is the most complete wine, but all are sensationally good. As for the prices, projected final per bottle tab ranges from GBP121.96 for the Echezeaux to GBP979.71 for the Romanee-Conti. And they'll still all sell out in a flash.

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Friday, January 26, 2007

Paris, France

I'm off to Paris, France (as the Americans like to call it) on Sunday, for the [expensive] Wine Evolution conference. I was originally going to be moderating the closures session, but lo and behold they put me down for the logistics session as well, presumably on the back of a piece I did for the 2005 Harpers Logistics Supplement. Since I found this out I've been swotting up on logistics, which I will soon be a world expert on! I'm more confident about the closures presentation, because I had a run-through of essentially the same one at last week's Wine+ event.

Talking of logistics, I've been following with interest reports in the press about stricken container ship Napoli, which is currently lying a mile off the Devon coast. It has been amusing to see the press talk about wine being looted as people walk off carrying barrels...do they know how much a barrel of wine weighs? And that it has been a long time since wine is shipped in barrel. The barrels in question are actually new ones from Tonnellerie Boutes, destined for South Africa. Bit of a shame to turn £425 barrels into flower tubs. Maybe they could be used to spoof up some English wines.
While in Paris, I've got the best part of a day to explore. I plan to spend it visiting wine shops and wine bars, particularly those with an interest in 'natural wines', of which there are a few.

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Monday, January 22, 2007

Cheap Carignan cheer

A plug for a really enjoyable cheap red wine:

La Difference Carignan 2005 Vin de Pays des Cotes Catalanes, France
A brilliant cheapie, with lots of personality, from the oft-maligned Carignan grape - which these days is being treated a bit more seriously by some winemakers. It's quite robust and structured, yet at the same time is made in a modern fruity style. There's some dense, spicy fruit with a fresh peppery character and a bit of cured meat richness. It's finished off with fresh acidity. It's not a wine that demands to be taken seriously, but along with the joyful fruit, there's far more seriousness than the price tag would suggest. It's a cheap wine that would satisfy people who understand and like wine. Very good+ 85/100 (Sainsbury £3.99)

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Michel Laroche

Spent some time this evening tasting 2005 Grand Cru Chablis from Laroche and Fevre. It was also the first time I'd met Michel Laroche. As well as being a very good Chablis producer, Laroche is also famous for being an advocate of screwcaps. He's been a pioneer in a country that has been quite slow to adopt alternative closures.

'I started using screwcaps in the 2002 vintage', he explains. 'That year we sold 3% of our total production under screwcap; last year it was 32%; and this year we think it will be 60%'. Interestingly, in 2002 he used the saranex-only liner, which allows more oxygen transmission than the tin liner that has been so popular in New Zealand and Australia. Discussions with Jeffrey Grosset and Michael Brajkovic led him to switch to the tin liner for following vintages. The 2002 Les Clos, bottled with the saranex liner, was on tasting, and showed very well.

How has this shift affected sales? 'We've probably lost 5% of customers, but I think we've gained 15% or more', he estimates. 'I'm not going to change my mind!'

I asked Laroche whether he gets fed up about discussing closures; shouldn't the emphasis be on the wine? But he likes the issue; it's one he feels strongly about. I did ask him about the 2005 vintage. 'My first vintage was 1963', he says, 'when I carried the hod.' [Laroche was 17 then; doing the sums, I reckon he looks very youthful for 60.] 'My first proper vintage was 1967, and a vintage like 2005 is very rare'. He cites the 2005 ripeness levels combined with good natural acidity as being unique in his experience.

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Saturday, January 13, 2007


Fiona and I suffered West Wing withdrawal bravely for three days, before I snapped and purchased the box set of the second series (£29.99 from Borders - and on ebay these are selling for £25, so I think I'll recoup most of this outlay). So last night and tonight we saw four episodes in all.

Back to wine. Now Gewurztraminer isn't a grape I have a great deal of affection for, but I'm drinking two rather different but brilliant expressions of this variety at the moment. Both are from the Alsace region, and are available from UK supermarket Morrisons. The first is the Preiss-Zimmer Gewurztraminer 2004, which is sealed with a saranex-lined screwcap (this allows a little more ox-trans than the more commonly encountered tin-lined cap). It's full flavoured, perfumed and has lots of the typical Gewurz lychee fruit. Good acidity offsets the richness nicely, and it's sort of dry. A really useful food wine (£6.99).

The second is the Cave de Turckheim Grand Cru Brand Gewurztraminer 2002, and it's brilliant, with lots of apricot, peach and lychee fruit. It's fat, viscous and quite sweet, but with good spice and acid providing balance. Certainly a sweet wine, but not a dessert wine. Well worth the £13.99 price ticket.

How do you use these wines? The dogma is that Gewurz works with spicy food. I think these would also be OK with anything rich and fatty. The latter wine, being richer and sweeter, would also do the classic foie gras combination quite well.

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Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Organic white Minervois

An interesting white that I wanted to blog about. It was a sample sent some time back, and rather frustratingly I have no recollection of who it was sent by, although I'm pretty sure it wasn't a major UK retailer - perhaps direct from the domaine.

Le Moulin des Nonnes Cuvee Ines Blanc 2003 Minervois, Languedoc, France
A blend of 50% Roussanne, 40% Grenache Blanc and 10% Muscat a Petits Grains; organically grown grapes. A deep colour, this has a beguiling minerality to the ripe, melony fruit. It's from a hot year, but it combines ripeness with a lovely mineralic freshness, with the result that it's a fat wine walking the line of overripeness but just staying on the right side. You've got to be in the mood for this sort of white, which with its declared 14% alcohol packs a bit of a punch, but it does it very well - creditably, the oak is barely noticeable, which allows the fruit the spotlight. It's the beatifully perfumed nose that wins it for me. Very good/excellent 90/100

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Monday, December 25, 2006

Merry Christmas

Christmas greetings, dear readers. After a few days' abstinence, I felt up to some wine today. Just a little, and nothing terribly excessive. We began with the two wines I bought on Thursday for research purposes. Domain Chandon ZD 2002 is a delightful Aussie fizz with good complexity and a very dry finish. Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc 2006 is a very good New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, but you are certainly paying a premium for the label: I could easily find seven or eight NZ Sauvignons that are its equal, and which are much cheaper. Finally, a Bandol: Lafran Veyrolles Longue Garde, which is now entering is earthy, evolved phase. Nice in a very savoury style.

The Goode family Christmas day has been a very successful one. This has not always been the case, I should add! Just the four of us, plus various animals. Lots of present unwrapping, a nice lunch, a walk, some telly, some family games, and for everyone else an early night. I have to stay up to see to the hound, but I'm hoping to find my bed soon. Merry Christmas.

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Monday, December 18, 2006


Wine again. This remains predominantly a wine blog, despite recent evidence to the contrary. Two more data points from the Chardonnay trail, this time from France and Chile.

Blason de Bourgogne Chardonnay 2005 Saint-Veran, Burgundy, France
This medal-encrusted wine (it won three gongs at the 2006 International Wine Challenge) is interesting, in that it represents the new face of inexpensive white Burgundy: the word 'Chardonnay' appears on the label alongside the appellation. It's quite rich, broad and nutty on the nose, with a warm, almost Autumnal edge. The palate is quite savoury and full, with a spicy, nutty character. Full flavoured and for drinking now, before the slightly oxidative side to the fruit becomes dominant. Very good+ 86/100 (This is, I think, around £7.99 retail, but is frequently on price promotion for £5.99, at which point it becomes competitive.)

Leyda Single Vineyard 'Falaris Hill Vineyard' Chardonnay 2005 Leyda Valley, Chile
While my enthusiasm for Chile's reds remains largely nascent, I'm being won over by many Chilean whites. The Leyda wines, in particular, have really impressed. This single-vineyard Chardonnay is brilliant. It begins with a powerful, opulent nose of tropical fruit, spice, herbs, some toasty oak and a hint of fudge. The palate is full with rich apricotty fruit and spice, almost like a dry Sauternes. It's a complex, expressive, intense new world Chardonnay. Very good/excellent 91/100 (Great Western Wines are the UK importers).

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Sunday, December 10, 2006

Another 'hot' wine

A hot wine for the wrong reasons. This should have been better: Calvet Thunevin Cuvee Constance 2004 Vin de Pays des Cotes Catalanes has the backing of the famous Jean-Luc Thunevin of Valandraud, and it's a blend of Grenache and Carignan from the wonderful terroir of . But it's just not quite right. There's some smooth, liqueur-like, almost over-ripe red fruit character, stewing away in alcohol, which makes its presence felt both on the nose and the palate. I don't want to put my dear readers off this blog by a string of Meldrew-like negative notes (I just call things as I see them and include the negative alongside the positives); nor do I want you to think I'm on a bit of a crusade against high alcohol. It's just that this wine seems to have too much of it, and would probably be much better with less. If I haven't put you off completely, then you can buy it from Waitrose for £8.99. Says 15% alcohol on the label.

I was surprised to see this as one of Jancis' wines of the week here. Surprised, because she tends to dislike hot wines. Readers may be interested to know that Thunevin has his own blog (here in English).


Saturday, December 02, 2006

Teaching children to drink well

Another BBC News article:

'French schools should teach children the virtues of drinking wine, a report by France's governing party says. The report says children who learn how wines are "cultivated and transformed to acquire their taste" are more likely to stay healthy and respect nature'.

Read the full article here. Sounds great.

This raises the issue of whether learning about wine enhances its enjoyment. I think it does. I also think that as you learn about wine, the nature of the perceptive event (your 'experience') of wine changes. Simplistically speaking, there are two levels of appreciating wine. There's the immediate appreciation of 'niceness' (hedonic valence is the posh term). This is where you say to youself, 'yum, that's delicious', or 'yuk, I don't like that'. But then there's the intellectual level of appreciation, where we call on our past experience and context, and also our intellectual understanding of the wine we are tasting. These thoughts might be more along the lines of 'this is well a balanced St Julien, showing good typicity, a bit of minerality and nice acidity as well as rich fruit; it's quite a young wine, with some development potential ahead of it'. In truth, our assessments usually take both forms, and they are richer for it.

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Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Wine on the telly: Oz and James part 2

Just half an hour of Oz and James tonight, and it worked better. The theme tonight was wine and food matching, which is a difficult topic because it reduces most wine commentators to either dogmatism or nonsense. The truth is, most wine and food combinations work sort of OK - while there are a few clashes, and a few real synergies, a lot of the time you should drink what you feel like with your food. After all, how often do you put wine and food in your mouth at the same time? I exaggerate: wine and food matching is quite interesting, it's just that so many people take it too seriously and end up looking silly. All IMHO.

The programme began with oysters, which are raised to a certain size, cemented to ropes in threes and then left in the water for a year before harvesting. James gets frustrated with Oz who is talking oysters with one of the growers rather than eating them. 'Talk about it, talk about it', he exclaims in frustration. 'After a while you think "why actually eat it?", why not just talk about it?' James continues, 'This is a wine programme? We're not turning into foodies are we? We'll end up with out of focus shots of oysters soon!'

James gets to choose a wine to match with oysters and comes up with a beautifully phrased analogy with baroque music. Oz is stunned: 'You make some sensationally intelligent comments sometimes'. James takes a step back in shock: 'I've turned into a ponce'.

The truth is, that when James is sincere, he's great. He's clearly a well educated, thoughtful sort of chap. But on the telly, sincerity is death. Telly demands insincere celebs saying silly things. Oz has been away from telly long enough still to have some sincerity about him, and he remarks that James has 'moments of lucidity in the midst of his bombast'.

The programme falters a bit with a Generation Game moment in a Michelin 2* restaurant when James gets to make a dessert. Then it's off to Pic St Loup (a region I have great affection for) where James gets to try his hand at food matching: the dish? Fried spam and beans.

As an aside, their guide in the Languedoc was Jean-Claude Mas, who once gave me an 'arrogant frog' beret and rugby shirt, which I still have.

It's great to see wine on TV again.

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Thursday, November 23, 2006

Oz and James and their adventure

Last night saw the return of wine to prime time national televsion, in the form of Oz and James' Big Wine Adventure. James May, of Top Gear fame, is the newbie who knows nothing about wine. Oz Clarke, a gifted taster who achieved a degree of celebrity status as wine expert on the Food and Drink Programme, has the task of convincing May that French wines are interesting. He's cast as the 'wine ponce', and James begins by predicting, 'I think Oz will turn out to be quite an annoying man'.

Oz concentrates on getting James to recognize smells he might later encounter in wines. He even gets him to sniff cow pats. James retorts by introducing a whistle which he christens 'the Ozzilator', destined to be blown whenever he deems Oz to be entering wine bore territory.

The first wine stop is Bordeaux, and Pichon-Longueville Comtesse Lalande. Here the producers decide to tackle the drink-drive issue head on: James doesn't taste the wine at all. Sensible enough, but it does make it rather hard for the poor chap to learn anything.

Then we have the embarassing scene where Oz and James share a Jacuzzi of grape juice and are later hosed down wearing nothing but some rather odd-looking posing pouches. Next stop is Pichon Baron with a rather bemused Christian Seely and his wife, who serve three wines to our hosts. Here are James' comments:

2001 Suduiraut - model aircraft dope
1989 Pichon Baron - Trebor fruit salad (an old sweet)
1988 Pichon Baron - Bonfire. Bakes Sausage. Pork fat high note. Virginian tobacco.

After a stunt where Oz drives a 2CV across a field with a basket of eggs on the passenger seat (they don't break), it's off to the Roussillon to pick grapes and try making wine. Interstingly, the featured domaine is Matassa, which is run by Tom Lubbe and Sam Harrop (who I know well).

Next stop is Provence, with Oz' brother, and then Oz and James try their hand at making their own wine from some supermarket grapes. They then present this wine blind at a market, with two other wines - one expensive and one cheap. Almost everyone prefers the expensive wine, although one nutter opts for the bizarre homebrew.

Overall, not a bad programme. It's great to see wine on TV again, and given the constraints of making a wine show for newbies, this was pretty good. The pace was about right, and both Oz and James are good on telly. My only worry is that the contrast between the two (enthusiastic wine ponce versus Victor Meldrew-like curmudgeonly cynic) will be hammed up just a little too much.

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