jamie goode's wine blog

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Italian wines with the Manchester derby

Football talk, I'm afraid. It's half-time in the Manchester derby game. City started off badly, went 1-0 down. The prize? A place in a cup final, City's first since 1981, although this semi is over two legs.

Then City equalize from a slightly soft penalty. In a sign of respect to Mancini (the city manager), I'm drinking Italian.

Chianti Rufina Riserva 2004 from Villa di Vetrice (BBR) is nicely bitter, lively, plummy, earthy and has a hint of animal. Satisfying and a bit rustic. Nigel de Jong.

Banfi Rossi di Montalcino 2007 is more refined, less edgy and has some satisfying spicy, earthy notes with a bit of tannic grip. Solid, dependable but lacks any real excitement. A good squad member who'll do a job. Pablo Zabaleta. Better than many Banfi reds I've had of late, and this one will be in the Bibendum sale that starts in February.

The commentary team are hopelessly pro-United. City outplayed United for large periods of the first half. Shearer's the only one who realized that. The BBC football punditry is just so rubbish these days.

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Sunday, December 27, 2009

Awesome natural southern Italian: Monte di Grazia

I love this wine, which I've been drinking for the last couple of nights. It's one of my wines of the year, I reckon. I opened it to celebrate the first game under the charge of Roberto Mancini.

It's from Tramonti, high above the town of Amalfi in Campania, some 45 km from Naples. The wine comes from 2.7 hectares of vines spread over five plots, with tendone trellising (a sort of pergola system with the vines trellised high, the leaves shading the grapes from the hot sun). These vines are old, ranging from 50 years to over 100, and are ungrafted.

The principle grape is a teinturier (red fleshed) called Tintori di Tramonti, with 10% Piedirosso. It's aged in large barrels, and no sulfur dioxide is used. It reminds me a bit of the Southwest of France, but then also a bit of red Vino Verde, and there's definitely an Italian accent in the mix, too.

Monte di Grazia Rosso 2007 IGT Campania
Deep coloured. This has a wonderfully meaty, bloody, iodine, mineral nose with plum and cherry fruit. It has lots of fruit, but it is predominantly savoury. The palate continues this savoury theme, with a lovely minerally, gravelly, spicy edge to the rich dark fruits. It's quite robust and complex with high acidity and lots of freshness, as well as real mineralic intensity. There's a purity to it, as well - it avoids being rustic. Thrilling wine. 93/100 (UK agent Les Caves de Pyrene, retail c. £11)

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Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Amarone: watching grapes dry

Last week I had to do a presentation in the Valpolicella region of north east Italy. While I was there, I had a chance to visit the research centre for the region, to learn about a new project to identify new varieties for use in Valpolicella. There was also a opportunity to see the grapes being dried for Amarone production. I'm posting some pictures - in this case, the grapes are in plastic crates, but it's also common to find them laid out on wooden trays, or even hung up tied on to bits of string. The important thing is that they are in good condition, without any rot. I'm also posting a couple of pictures of the vineyards, which have very high trellising.

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Monday, November 30, 2009

Nebbiolo: what a crazy, wonderful grape

I've decided that I love Nebbiolo. It's so uncommercial, making wines that are pale in colour, brutally tannic, high in acid, complex in flavour, and generally hard to get.

It's also wildly difficult to do well. Especially outside Piedmont. It's like Pinot Noir, in many ways, just more awkward.

But when it's great, it is the sort of wine that is without parallel. I don't know how many truly great examples I've had, but I've had a few really good examples that have convinced me that this is one of the best red varieties out there.

Two that prompted this post:

Rivella Serafino Montestefano Barbaresco 2004 Piedmont, Italy
Complex, earthy, spicy nose leads to a drying palate with intensely savoury, fine spicy notes and some focused red cherry fruit (but not too much). There are some subtle floral notes. A dense, structured wine that's tannic and complex. Nebbiolo at its most awkward best. 92/100 (£36 BBR)

Cascina Fontana Langhe Nebbiolo 2007 Piedmont, Italy
Fresh, bright cherry nose with spicy, earthy, herbal character. The palate is fresh and sappy with nice savoury complexity. Firm but appropriate tannins and good acidity underpin this elegantly expressive Nebbiolo. 89/100 (£20 BBR)

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Sunday, November 22, 2009

Pelaverga: an obscure but incredible Italian wine

Very excited to try a rather obscure but wonderful Italian red last night. It's from Piedmont, but the grape variety is Pelaverda, which is grown mostly in the commune of Verduno. This is the sort of red wine I just love. Fresh, natural, complex and expressive.

Fratelli Alessandria Pelaverga Verduno 2008 Piedmont, Italy
13.5% alcohol. Light coloured, this red wine has a lively peppery, savoury nose which is quite sappy and fresh. The palate shows open, elegant cherry fruit with vibrant spicy, peppery notes and a savoury finish. It's elegant, complex and refined: just thrilling. 93/100 (£12.95 BBR)

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Thursday, September 10, 2009

Incredible red from Sicily

Lots of good wines on show at the Bunch tasting today. The Bunch is a grouping of five of the UK's leading merchants: Berry Bros & Rudd, Corney & Barrow, Adnams, Tanners and Yapp. Here's one of my favourites:

Passopiscaro 2006 Sicily
Made by Andrea Franchetti of Tenuto di Trinorio fame, this is a wonderfully complex wine from Mount Etna, a region of Sicily that’s currently attracting a lot of attention. Franchetti has 8 hectares of old vines, at high altitude (from 650–1000 m), and this is a varietal Nerello Mascalese, harvested in November. Viticulture is organic, with no herbicides or fertilizers; 2300 case made. It’s a pale cherry colour with a wonderfully complex nose of red berry and cherry fruit together with savoury, spicy, herby, slightly meaty notes in the mix. The palate is rich, generous, spicy and herby with lovely warmth and some complex meaty, earthy notes. Imagine a cross between a refined, old-style Barolo, top red Burgundy and Château Musar, and you are sort of getting there. Amazing complexity, a hint of funk, but just lovely. 93/100 (£26.79 Corney & Barrow)

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Thursday, September 03, 2009

Amazing Italian Gewurztraminer

You know, I think Oddbins may be back on form. I’m having quite a bit of joy with their wines of late. And now their 20% discount applies to six-bottle purchases, making their pricing pretty good. The latest? An interesting Italian mountain white.

Andrian Gewürztraminer 2008 Südtirol, Alto Adige, Italy
14% alcohol. Wonderful stuff: richly textured and grapey with sweet lychee notes. The palate is rounded and off-dry with a spicy, Turkish delight edge, as well as notes of melon, grape and lychee. Thick and intense with lovely personality. Quite Alsace like in style, with good acidity and some minerality. 91/100 (£13.99 Oddbins, but £11.16 with six-bottle purchases)

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Monday, August 31, 2009

Two mineralic whites from Italy

I love minerality in wine, even if I can't define it very well. I just know it when I see it. Here are two lovely mineralic whites of real interest. They're not totally obvious at first sip - rather, these are wines that creep up on you and grow in depth as you drink them.

Meroi Sauvignon Blanc 2007 Colli Orientali del Friuli, Italy
From Paolo Meroi, who is working biodynamically, but isn't certified. Slightly reductive, minerally, smoky nose with some fresh, savoury lemony notes. The palate has wonderful minerality underneath the fresh, subtly green fruit. Bright, precise and savoury, this is an attractive wine that has real potential. A shame it's so expensive, but it is quite serious. 90/100 (£17.55 Berry Bros & Rudd)

Benanti Pietramarina Etna Bianco Superiore 2004 Sicily, Italy
From the Carricante grape variety, unique to Etna, grown as free-standing bush vines with a density of 9000/hectare, of average age 80 years. Altitude of 950 metres offsets the warmth of this part of the world. Wonderfully smoky, minerally nose with a hint of tangerine and subtle nutty notes, as well as notes of pear and grapefruit. The palate is fruity and fresh, showing lemons and minerals. Focused, intense and pure, this is evolving in a beautifully linear direction. 91/100 (Les Caves de Pyrene, c. £25)

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Tuesday, August 11, 2009

A 90+ point Lambrusco - incredible!

This is the stage where you begin to think that I've lost it. I go crazy over ...Lambrusco! But this is the real deal; one of the most enjoyable wines I've drunk this year. It's just barmy, and I love it.

Camillo Donati Lambrusco 2008
A biodynamically grown, bottle-fermented Lambrusco weighing in at 12% alcohol. It's deep coloured, with sweet, complex pure dark cherry notes on the nose as well as a subtle meatiness and some lovely floral notes. The palate is focused, fresh and meaty with lovely presence and a slight fizziness. Rich and sweet, but with some savoury earthy notes under the dark fruits. Amazingly dense and savoury; a million miles away from cheap Lambrusco. Truly world class. 92/100 (Les Caves de Pyrene)

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Saturday, July 04, 2009

What have you done to my dog? And a good Valpol

Rosie went to the dog groomers yesterday. 2 hours and £36 later she came out. But with some bizarre 80s haircut. She now looks really stupid. Maybe we will get used to it. Above is a before and after shot.

Very nice Valpolicella this lunch time - chilled lightly, it's a delicate, beguiling red. Shame it's not a few quid cheaper, which would bring it into everyday drinking territory, but it's a perfect wine for summer.

Guerrieri Rizzardi Valpolicella Classico 2008 Italy
A blend of Corvina, Rondinella, Molinara and Merlot. Lovely elegant, fresh, sappy sweet cherry fruit is the theme here: it's light but has nice presence to it, with some sweetness to the fruit and also an attractive spicy, minerally bite. This is really alive, with some elegance and complexity - it's just so natural-tasting and joyful. 12% alcohol. 90/100 (£12.99 Longford Wines)

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Friday, June 19, 2009

Lunch in Kingston: Jamie's Italian

Fiona and I headed off to Kingston for lunch today. We checked out Jamie's Italian (www.jamieoliver.com/italian), one of the restaurants in the neighbourhood Italian chain that Jamie Oliver is in the process of building.

I was expecting to be mildly disappointed, but came away enthused by the quality of the food. It was really delicious: well prepared and nicely presented, and good value for money, too. I don't mind the no booking policy, either - even though the restaurant was buzzing, we were squeezed in. Service was efficient, partly because they'd actually got enough people working the tables, something you don't always find in these sorts of establishments.
The wine list is quite good. All Italian, mostly from Liberty (a good thing), with the house wines a couple of tetrapak organic wines sourced from Milton Sandford.

We ate (text from the online menu):

Crispy fried smoked pancetta with ribbons of courgettes, tossed with eggs, thyme and parmesan cheese
Finely shaved wild black truffles folded with butter, parmesan and nutmeg, a real luxury
Focaccia, ciabatta, sourdough country bread, grissini sticks and 'snappy music bread' with lemon and rosemary gremolataServed with single estate extra virgin olive oil and fine balsamic vinegar

We drank:
MONTEPULCIANO D’ABRUZZO 13% 2008 GRAN SASSO £16.95 / £12.75 / £4.55
Cherry and chocolate, typical of this well known grape
SOAVE CLASSICO VENETO 12.5% 2008 CANTINA DI MONTEFORTE £15.75 / £11.25 / £4.25
Great depth and balance of ripe fruit and acidity

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Monday, June 15, 2009

Video: making Vin Santo

Vin Santo is a sweet wine from Tuscany that's made by picking grapes and then drying them for a while to concentrated the sweetness and acidity. These are then fermented and aged in small barrels, sealed with wax. Here's a short film made during my Chianti Classico trip of Vin Santo production at Castello della Paneretta:

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Saturday, June 13, 2009

Sicilian wines, specially priced, at Carluccio's

Italian restaurant chain Carluccio's (www.carluccios.com) are having a wine festival. It began a few days ago and runs through to the beginning of August, and features Sicilian wines from Planeta and the Settesoli co-op. These wines are really good, and they're exceptionally well priced, and so I thought I'd draw my readers' attention to it (no commercial link). There are free tastings of these wines every Thursday, as well as a series of special dinners.

I've just tried three of them (notes below), but on my recent trip to Sicily I tried a few more, including the fantastic Ceresuolo, the ageworthy Chardonnay and the complex Santa Cecilia. Here's the full list of wines:
  • La Segreta Bianco (from Planeta) £8.95
  • Feudo dei Fiori Mandrarossa (from Cantine Settesoli) £8.95
  • Planeta Alastro (from Planeta) £12.50
  • Planeta Chardonnay (from Planeta) £19.50
  • La Segreta Rosso (from Planeta) £8.95
  • Bonera Mandrarossa (from Cantine Settesoli) £9.95
  • Planeta Ceresuolo (from Planeta) £12.50
  • Carthago Mandrarossa (from Cantine Settesoli) £15.95
  • Bendicò Mandrarossa (from Cantine Settesoli) £16.95
  • Planeta Santa Cecilia (from Planeta) £19.50
  • Planeta Rosé (from Planeta) £10.50
Planeta Rose 2008 Sicilia
Made with Syrah, 12% alcohol. Salmon/pink colour. Nicely savoury with a herbal tang to the cherry and cranberry fruit. Good acid and quite savoury. Food friendly. 85/100

Mandrarossa Feuro dei Fiori 2008 Sicilia
A blend of Grecanico and Chardonnay, 12.5% alcohol. Full yellow colour. Powerful flavours of nuts, herbs, melon and apricot with a savoury, minerally depth. Really intense and food friendly: a distinctive boldly flavoured white wine. 88/100

Mandrarossa Carthago 2006 Sicilia
Nero d'Avola aged in French oak, 14% alcohol. Lovely vivid sweet pure cherry and raspberry fruit showing floral aromatics and creamy, spicy oak notes. The palate is sleek and sophisticated with a hint of plummy bitterness on the finish. A deliciously rich, modern-styled wine. 89/100

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Sunday, May 24, 2009

A fine day for Fiano

It has been one of those rare blue sky and sunshine days here in west London. The combination of heat, sunshine and Sunday puts everyone into a good mood. It would be the perfect day if we didn't have a chavvy fair on the green outside our house (incidentally, this is the same fair that was present when Google sent their streetview cameras down our road - key in tw134af as a postcode and you'll see it.)

I'm just back from a lovely walk on Hounslow Heath with RTL, and so now it's time for wine. Another cheapie tonight: Asda Extra Special Fiano 2007 Sicily, Italy. It was just £4 and it's really nice. Made by the Settesoli co-op, it's fresh, lemony, a bit peachy and has good acidity. It makes me think a bit of a ripe Riesling, but with added peach, pear and passionfruit richness. It's great to be able to get a wine with this sort of personality for just £4.

I think I'll shortly move on to a Manzanilla I have chilling in the fridge (it's the screwcapped one from Marks & Spencer, made by Williams and Humbert), and then later on, watching Match of the Day to see who's relegated, I'll treat myself to a bit of the Matusalem Oloroso from Gonzalez Byass, one of the greatest Sherries of all in my opinion.

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Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Grown-up Lambrusco that rocks

Please try this wine! It's really, really good.

I was wandering home from the Stokes tasting yesterday and popped into Marks & Spencer to pick up some treats for tea. I walked out with a bottle of this, an 'authentic' Lambrusco that Jo Ahearne MW deserves a medal for sourcing, and a box of mezes.

And yesterday evening I drank the said bottle of Lambrusco watching four back-to-back episodes of Gavin & Stacey. Tidy.

Autentico Reggiano Lambrusco NV Vino Frizzante, Italy
Very deep coloured - a bit like an Aussie Sparkling Shiraz in appearance. Sweet, grapey, dark cherry nose that manages to be sweet and savoury at the same time. The palate is vivid with high acidity and powerful dark cherry and bitter plum notes, with a bit of fizziness. Lovely stuff: this has to be good for you? 89/100 (£7.49 Marks & Spencer)

The producer's website is http://www.medici.it/

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Saturday, February 14, 2009

Restaurant da Vittorio - just brilliant

One of the highlights of the Sicily trip was lunch at Restaurant Da Vittorio (website here) on the beach in Porto Palo near Menfi.

It's not terribly swanky - in fact, it looks a bit downmarket inside. But the food, prepared by Vittorio, is legendary. We ate exclusively seafood, including a sea snails in tomato sauce, spaghetti with whitebait, spaghetti with sea urchins and then a fish that's known in Italy as Dentice, which seems to be translated as Dentex. It's a mediterranean fish that has delicately flavoured white flesh, a bit like sea bass.

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Thursday, December 18, 2008

Beautiful Italian white

Really nice Italian white tonight. It's not a terribly obvious wine, but it shows real purity and focus. And when you give it a bit of attention, it begins to reveal all sorts of subtle complexities. This is real wine.

I Clivi di Ferdinando Lanuzzo Clivi Brazan 2004 Collio Gorziano, Friuli, Italy
This is a Tocai from 50-70 year old vines. Made without any oak, with natural ferments and gravity bottle filling by hand after the wine has spent two years on its own lees. Even though it's had some bottle age, this is pale in colour and has a fresh, slightly floral nose of herbs, apples, pears and wax. The palate has a wonderful minerally complexity and a concentrated yet quite linear fruity character. Satisfying, pure wine that rewards a bit of attention. The producer has a nice website: http://www.clivi.it/. 91/100 (13.5% alcohol; imported into the UK by Fields, Morris & Verdin - can't find any stockists online, alas - guide price, £15-20).

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Saturday, December 06, 2008

City vs. Fulham and a delicious cheap red

Went to see Man City play Fulham at Craven Cottage this afternoon. Located on the bank of the River Thames opposite Putney, Fulham's ground is pretty, compact and really easy to get to, and it's one of the away games I try to catch each year.

Despite the lunchtime kick-off, there was time for a couple of pre-match beers, and then City scored early on to lift the travelling support. The home fans were almost silent. Fulham pulled one back after half-an-hour, and from then on it was pretty much a stalemate. Both sides were well organized, worked hard and kept their shape. A draw was a fair result, but it wasn't a memorable game.

Would have been nice to have seen Robinho play, but he was injured. I don't think City will win the premiership this year.

One impressive cheap Italian red to report on. It's Il Faggio Montepulciano d'Abruzzo 2007, put together by Liberty Wines and available in Asda at £5.99. Masses of sweet, focused blackberry and raspberry fruit with some spiciness and lovely purity. Robust, modern and savoury - and tastes like a £10 wine. The only slight downside is there's just a hint of rubbery reduction, but it's really quite delicious.

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Monday, November 24, 2008

I love Italian wine - a biodynamic Tuscan

It's been a busy day. After seven months of just wine, I've taken on a science gig, producing a report from a two day conference on evaluating medical research. Feels a bit strange to be back in the world of science, but I figure it is important to keep up with it, seeing as wine science has been such an important (and modestly lucrative) field for me. A change of scenery helps keep you fresh.

Tonight's wine is a really lovely, supple Italian red. Apparently, the Wine Spectator awarded this 82/100. Whoever the reviewer is, I reckon they don't really understand wine. It's fantastic stuff. What it isn't, is rich, ripe, sweet and alcoholic.

Tenuta di Vagliano Palistorti 2005 Colline Luccesi, Tuscany
I really like this fresh, supple, fruit-driven yet fresh red from the little known Colline Luccesi in Tuscany. The vineyards this wine came from have been farmed organically since 1997 and biodynamically since 2002. They have limestone and sandstone soils, and are in the hills 10 km north of the northern Tuscan town of Lucca. This is a blend of 70% Sangiovese, 20% Merlot and 10% Syrah, and it shows a bright, fresh nose of spicy-edged, rather pure black cherry and raspberry fruit, with nice freshness. The palate is fresh and supple with just a hint of greenness under the bright cherry and berry fruit, and a nicely savoury, spicy kick. This is a beautifully food friendly red of real appeal, with potential for further development. In style, it's modern and fruity, but with lovely savoury seriousness, too. 13% alcohol and really easy to drink, but if you want an oaky, rich, new world style red then this is not for you. 91/100 (£16.95 Berry Bros & Rudd)

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Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Continuing yesterday's theme of Chianti Classico, this is a paradox of a wine from Chianti producer Fattoria Le Fonti. It's an IGT Toscana Sangiovese weighing in at 14.5% alcohol from a 2 hectare single vineyard. It's sweetly fruited, lush and ripe (in a modern style), yet also shows a hint of volatility, as well as some earthy, spicy notes (more traditional). The overall effect is pleasing and complex, but it's not an easy wine to come to terms with.

Fattoria Le Fonti Vito Arturo Sangiovese 2004 IGT Toscano, Italy
This single vineyard wine is complex and alluring, bringing together modernity and tradition in the same bottle. With a slightly lifted, volatile edge, the nose is lush with ripe, sweet, liqueur-like dark cherry and blackberry fruits combining with spicy, minerally, earthy notes. The palate shows ripe, sweet fruit together with that trademark Sangiovese rasp of earthy, spicy structure and grippy tannins alongside some bitter plum notes. Finishes long and savoury with notes of chocolate and tar. A really complex, interesting example of late-picked, ripe Sangiovese. 92/100 (£22.99 Cadman Fine Wines)

Find this wine with wine-searcher.com

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Monday, October 27, 2008

Rick Astley's Chianti

One of the estates I visited on my recent jaunt in Chianti country was Castello di Brolio, Barone Ricasoli's imposing property strategically placed on the border between the ancient city states of Florence and Siena. (The bomb-scarred Castello is pictured.)

Ricasoli (pronounced 'Rick Astley' with a soft-ish 't') is a modern-style producer. The current Barone's father sold the property to Seagram, who took the brand down-market and expanded production, and then the Barone bought it back and has spent time and money revitalizing the brand by taking it up-market, dropping production dramatically. This is quite a modern styled Chianti Classico, but it still has bags of personality and Sangiovese character. A really good drink that's given me some pleasure when drunk over the last two evenings.

Barone Ricasoli Castello di Brolio Chianti Classico 2006 Tuscany, Italy
Dark coloured, this has a lovely vibrant nose of dark cherries and bitter plum, with some spicy notes. The palate has fresh spicy, plummy fruit with some attractive bitter notes as well as firm tannins. It's fruit driven and quite modern, but distinctly spicy and savoury with real Sangiovese character. 90/100 (£13 in the UK, agent Enotria)
Find this wine with wine-searcher.com

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Friday, October 10, 2008

Video: harvest at Fontodi, Chianti Classico

A short film from my recent Tuscan excursion. I'm experimenting with Vimeo rather then Youtube as the hosting site. I'm not too happy with the quality on Youtube, so we'll see whether this is an improvement.

Harvesting Sangiovese at Fontodi, Chianti Classico from Jamie Goode on Vimeo.

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Monday, October 06, 2008

More Italy, and mind-blowing Madeira

Went to Raymond Reynolds portfolio tasting today, in a rather crowded and warm upstairs room in a pub. Raymond's company is responsible for importing the vast majority of decent Portuguese wine into the UK, and so I follow what they do pretty closely, because I love Portuguse wine.

Lots of good wines, but the highlight was a reasonable sampling of the offerings of Madeira's top producer, Barbeito. These wines were mind-blowingly beautiful, and I wish I could have had more time just to sit down and appreciate them, rather than taking somewhat hurried notes.

Veramar Boal Reserve
Dense, sweet and expressive with bright citrussy notes. Rich and full bodied. 89/100

'VB' Verdelho-Boal Lote 1
Complex spicy nose is sweet and full with a lively citrussy, tangerine-like edge. The fresh lemony palate is lively and complex. 93/100

Boal 10 Years Old Reserve
Waxy, complex nose is thrilling, nutty and expressive. The palate is just beautiful, with bright orange and citrus fruits, together with dried fruits, and some sweetness. 94/100

Malvasia 10 Years Old Reserve
Malvasia is often referred to as Malmsey in Madeira. This is sweet, fresh and complex with some nutty notes. Bright. 91/100

Sercial 10 Years Old Reserve
Complex, pungent, herby, citrussy, nutty nose. The palate is fresh, bright and tangy with some citrussy fruit. 93/100

Malvasia 20 Years Old Reserve Lote 7199
Deep, complex, intense nose leads to a super-concentrated, limey, spicy, broad palate with sweetness and acid in lovely tension. 93/100

Malvasia Special Reserve 30 Year Old
Deep orange colour. Madly complex nose is really thrilling, with orange, lemons, nuts and spice. The off-dry palate is viscous and super-concentrated with complex spice and citrus characters. Eternal finish. 95/100

Single Harvest 1997
Complex, herby, fresh, dense and lively. Delicious. 92/100

Malvasia Colheita 1994 Single Cask 232c
Very rich, intense and concentrated, with raisin, casky notes, herbs and citrus. Broad and quite sweet. 93/100

Boal 1982 Fransqueira
Complex nose showing old furniture, spice, nuts and herbs. Viscous, broad palate wit a nice citrussy finish. Thrillingly bright and expressive with a crazy long finish. 95/100

Tonight I've been calibrating my Tuscan experience by actually drinking one of the wines I'd tasted on my visits. It's Felsina's 2006 Berardenga Chianti Classico, and from a half bottle, this is beautifully dense yet expressive. 100% Sangiovese, and a full flavoured, structured, yet still-pure expression of what this grape can achieve when well handled. I gave it 91/100 on my visit, and I'd stick there with this rating at home, although I have a few concerns that tonight's bottle may have experienced heat damage in Pisa airport's shop. UK suggested retail is £17.49, but I've seen the 2005 for as low as £13.

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Sunday, October 05, 2008

Seductive Italian red

After a trip to Chianti country, I'm in a mood for Italian reds, and here's a good one. It's not from Tuscany, but the Veneto. It's delicious and quite elegant.

Guerrieri Rizzardi 'Pojega' Ripasso 2006 Valpolicella DOC Classico Superiore, Italy
A single-vineyard wine made primarily from Corvina and Corvinone grape varieties, then aged in oak. It shows sweet cherry and berry fruit character with a liqueur-like purity, as well as some subtle earthy, spicy elements in the background. It's really quite elegant with good concentration, yet at the same time a lightness and purity to the fruit. There's a bit of textural richness but it never loses it fresh, cherryish fruity character. 90/100 (£9.99 HBJ Wines, Longford Wines)
I should add something about 'Ripasso', which is followed on the label by 'TM'. This is a technique devised by a producer called Masi in the 1960s, who trademarked the term, but have recently released it to be used by other producers in the region. The idea is that after Amarone, made by drying grapes before fermentation, has finished its fermentation, Valpolicella wine is introduced to the tank and re-ferments on the lees and skins of the Amarone. I'm not sure of the wine science underlying this, but the results are often interesting, as they are here.

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Friday, October 03, 2008

In Tuscany, part 2

Sorry about the radio silence, but I have been on a tight schedule here in Chianti Classico country, and the hotel internet connection wasn't working last night. So now I'm taking a break in an internet cafe in Italy in a small gap in the program, before dinner and tasting tonight.

I didn't realise before that in Italy, because of terrorism laws, you can't use an internet cafe or the hotel internet connection without a passport, identity card or driving licence, which they then photograph and send to the officials. It seems kind of weird and control-freaky.

It has been a jolly press trip so far. I'm with Tom Cannavan, Simon Woods, Jane Parkinson, Sally Easton, Andrew Catchpole and Christine Austin, and it has been good humoured and easy going. We have started at 0815 each morning and not finished until 2330 each night, but it is just for three days. You get to know people reasonably well when you do a trip like this with them. So far no conflicts or falling-outs to speak of.

Being here during the vintage has been great. There's something special about seeing grapes being picked and then made into wine that doesn't lose its magic, even if you have seen it happen before. The grapes look just perfect, but most winemakers aren't expecting 2008 to be a particularly good year because of the poor weather in May and June, followed by extreme heat in July and early August.

What about the wines? They have varied quite a bit. Some have been ethereal, complex and thrilling, while others have been a bit rustic, or forced, or too modern. It is hard to pin down exactly what Chianti Classico is. One thing is clear: nowhere else apart from Tuscany manages to make compelling Sangiovese.

I won't be more specific now because I want to keep my powder dry for the proper write-up. I do have some wonderful photographs and videos, though.

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Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Chianti, day 2: harvest at Fontodi

Spent the day in Chianti Classico, with a presentation by the Constorzio in the morning, followed by visits to producers. The highlight was catching the vintage in action at Fontodi, and then tasting the wines, which were simply fantastic. Sangiovese rocks (when it's handled well, anyway). Here are some pictures. Now it's very late, I have an early start, and I have to get to bed.

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In Chianti

Brief post from the road. In Chianti country for the next few days, with a bunch of other wine writers on a press trip. Haven't done much yet apart from enjoy a nice dinner last night. It's the middle of harvest here, so should be quite an interesting trip. More later!

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Saturday, September 13, 2008

Incredible Brachetto, and no more excuses for boring wine

You know there's no excuse for boring wine. Most regions in the world are capable of making interesting wine, I reckon. It's just that commercial pressures, lack of imagination, and poor understanding of what is great as opposed to rubbish wine conspire to make interesting wines on the shelves of large retailers quite rare.

I'd prefer to have interesting, inexpensive wines from lesser know grape varieties and less exalted appellations than most regular wines from well known places and the usual small roster of varieties.

Tonight I'm drinking an inexpensive yet unbelievably expressive and aromatic Italian red from the Brachetto grape variety, and it's just gorgeous. It's food friendly, digestible, interesting and life-affirming. How could you not find this interesting and enjoyable? Actually, I can imagine quite a few people stuck in a conventional rut not warming to this wine simply because it is unfamiliar and different. Their loss.

Sottimano Maté 2007 Vino Rosso da Tavola, Piedmont, Italy
From a 1.1 hectare vineyard in Treiso, this is a varietal Brachetto fermented with indigenous yeasts, and it's gorgeous. The nose is extravagantly aromatic with sweet cherry, herb and plum notes that leap out of the glass. The palate is light, fresh and subtly sappy with cherryish fruit together with some earthy, herby notes keeping things savoury. Think grown-up Beaujolais on steroids and you are pretty much there. Just perfect with antipasti, or even for sipping on its own - and it won't object to being chilled lightly before serving. There's a real elegance to this wine that I love. 91/100 (Available in the UK from http://www.lescaves.co.uk/)

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Saturday, July 05, 2008


Three Soave wines tonight. I'm intrigued by Soave. On one level it can be pale and neutral and a bit boring. But made by growers who care, it has real personality. The three wines tried tonight have personality, for sure, but express varying facets of 'Soave'. They aren't terribly easy whites, because with this depth of flavour there are some aspects of their taste that are a bit challenging - in particular a slightly bitter, tangy, pithy character that wouldn't be a problem when they are drunk with food, but might be an obstacle to casual sipping. The easiest of the three to appreciate is probably the Tamellini, which tastes a little sweet.

Monte Tondo Casette Foscarin 2004 Soave Classico
Yellow/gold colour. Complex nose of lemon, mandarin and herbs leads to a palate that is mouthfilling, dense and rich, with citrus fruit, honey and a bit of nutty depth. There are some pithy, bitter notes on the finish. It's a complex, food-friendly white that's peaking now. 91/100 (£12.30 Great Western Wine)

Guerrieri Rizzardi Costeggiola 2007 Soave Classico
A single vineyard blend of Garganega and Chardonnay. Quite deep yellow colour. Fresh and herby with citrussy notes and a slightly pithy bitterness. A full flavoured wine with a tangy finish. Distinctive. 89/100 (£8.99 Longford, Davy's, Fortnum & Mason, Harrods)

Tamellini 2006 Soave
Full yellow colour. Rich and a bit nutty with a sweet, mealy, toasty richness and some melon fruit, as well as some finer honeysuckle notes. Sophisticated and broad with a distinctive sweetness. 89/100 (£9.99 Cadman Fine Wines)

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Monday, June 30, 2008


Had an interesting tasting lunch today. Ben Smith from Bibendum invited me to join him, Vittorio Zoppi (export director of Bisceglia, http://www.agricolabisceglia.com/) and Marco Sabellico (editor at large with Gambero Rosso, http://www.gamberorosso.it/, pictured below) for an informal meal at a Greek restaurant in Primrose Hill, washed down with some Aglianico.

Marco was over to present a masterclass on Aglianico, a grape that is pretty much unknown outside Italy, with the help of the wines from Bisceglia, a go-ahead producer who specializes in the variety. In Italy, Aglianico has a fantastic reputation as the Nebbiolo of the South, although most of it is consumed locally in the southern province of Basilicata, where it comes from. Interestingly, Bascilicata is the only province with a left wing local government, and Vittorio added that it was 'almost free' of the influence of the mafia.

Bisceglia see their role as putting Aglianico back on the map, and based on the tasting I think they might just do it. But what would be really great is if they could gang together with perhaps half a dozen like-minded producers of Aglianico and present a united front. Maybe they could do a press tasting in London, telling the story of this interesting grape variety.

The wines had a modern sheen, with nice purity of fruit, but at their core was an authentic-tasting spine of spicy, slightly earthy tannic structure. It would be unfair to call them rustic, because they are not, but I do like the dense, savoury, spicy character this grape seems to possess. My favourite was the Bisceglia Gudarra Aglianico del Vulture 2005, but it was given a good run for its money by the traditional, ageworthy Riserva 2001. The wines are available in the UK from Bibendum (http://www.bibendum-wine.co.uk/).

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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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Saturday, June 07, 2008

I love Italy

Back from Italy. We were only there a few days, but once again I've come away with a restless sort of feeling - I must explore Italy more deeply, and I must not be so neglectful of Italian wines.

I don't know why, but here in the UK there's a widespread ignorance and lack of interest in Italian wine. France gets the lion's share of coverage, but then countries such as Spain, Portugal and the 'new world' nations seem to be in front of Italy when it comes to the attention paid to their wines by the press and the serious wine drinking public.

Personally, I reckon Italy is full of interest, although - as with other wine countries - you've got to put a lot of hard work in finding the really great wines from among the dross. And I'd also say that many of the more expensive wines that hog the limelight aren't the real stars: there's a lot of spoofiness in Italy - the success of certain famous wine consultants making wines in a particular style is evidence of this.

So one of my missions over the next few months is to search for the 'real' Italy.

Pictured is the place Fiona and I were staying in: Poggio Alla Sala. Verdict? It would have scored 10/10 - it's a new, serious high-end hotel with impeccable service, luxurious high-ceilinged rooms, three swimming pools, a spa and a gorgeous hilltop location amid the vines of the Vino Nobile estate of the same name. The standard of finishing is stunning. However, it is still a work in progress, and while the main part of the resort is complete, there was some building work still going on. So, for this reason, we'd have to dock a point or two.

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Thursday, June 05, 2008

Dinner at La Frateria di Padre Eligio

Had a remarkable dinner last night. Filippo Mangani, who does some work with Les Caves in Italy, recommended a few places to us, and one of them was La Frateria di Padre Eligio, quite near where we are staying. So without knowing much about it, we booked, found our way there, and entered with very few expectations.

It's a remarkable place. The restaurant is part of a project called Mondo X, and it is a community set in a restored 13th Century Franciscan convent staffed and run by ex-drug addicts (see http://www.lafrateria.it/). But rather than just be a humble, rustic eating place, it's actually a high-end, multiple-Michelin-star level restaurant in an idyllic setting. The menu is hand written, and there's no choice. We ended up being presented with eight courses (if you include a large selection of antipasti to start with), all hugely creative and perfectly executed. The wine list was excellent and extensive, but we modestly ordered just a solitary bottle (in addition to the complementary bottle of Prosecco) - a Schiopetto Pinot Bianco 05 from Collio.

The service was amazing: attentive, perfectly judged and not at all self-conscious or fawning. The food was memorable, if slightly excessive - these were not small courses. The bill was high, but fitting for this sort of establishment (253 Euros). I felt hideously underdressed in a T-shirt and sandals, but they didn't make me feel bad about it. Clientele was mixed: the restaurant was full, with about 25 covers. One Italian table, two American (there seem to be lots of Americans in high-end places in Tuscany, and few Brits), one mixed (businessmen) and one indeterminate.

Journey back was tricky (I got lost at one point and found myself driving through tiny medeival streets, and then we passed police and ambulances next to a car that had left the road in the torrential rain). This morning we are off to Montalcino.

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Wednesday, June 04, 2008


Had lunch in Montepulciano, a charming hilltop village. We ate at Caffe Poliziano, where the food was fantastic, and the view from the scenic terrace table was stunning. This afternoon we swam, and now we're off to find some dinner. Sorry for the brevity of the post, but time is short!

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Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Frescobaldi, Albarino and a glance backwards

Spent the morning catching up with paperwork, doing some much-needed invoicing, before dodging the showers heading into town. I then headed for a 'Green Spain' tasting, featuring the wines of Northwest Spain - lots of Albarinos, and they were really impressive. The tasting itself was just perfect in a practical sense, too, with self-pour, plenty of space, lots of spitoons, an ideal room and not too many tasters.

Then I was off to the Italian Embassy to interview Leonardo Frescobaldi, of the Tuscan wine dynasty (pictured). Things were running a bit late, and so my interview was a little hurried, but it was still worthwhile. Unfortunately, I couldn't stay for the tutored vertical tasting of Luce. That's life.

One of the things I'd like to focus on over the next 12-18 months is deepening my knowledge of Italian wine. Italy makes so many different wines, but in the UK we're so France-centric that they don't get their due. Of course, Italy is frighteningly inconsistent, but which old world wine-producing countries aren't? And, in general, Italy - like Spain - is badly covered by the media.

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Friday, March 21, 2008

Prosecco isn't Champagne

I can't believe it's Easter. It has come very early this year, and instead of nice warm springtime weather, it has been freezing, with a biting wind. Despite the weather, though, I've had a couple of nice walks - this morning in Richmond Park (my favourite dog walking location at the moment, especially now that RTL has stopped mauling joggers and young children), and then this afternoon in Osterley Park (pictured).

My parents are staying for the weekend, so tonight I enlisted their help in an impromptu tasting for my Sunday Express column, where I have been given the topic of Prosecco for April 27th. We tried six examples, ranging from one that's currently in Lidl at £2.49 (a bit cidery, but - miraculously - drinkable) to a Sainsbury Taste the Difference Prosecco di Conegliano (which was quite nice and apricotty). Too few samples to draw a firm conclusion, but my impression is that Prosecco is a useful situation wine but it's rarely serious. And I don't like it all that much. Having said this, I'll wager that some readers know of biodynamic artisanal Prosecco producers who make seriously funky unsulfured wines...
Question: when RTL dies, shall I turn her into a jumper? (Only in Newcastle!)

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Monday, March 10, 2008

Recioto di Soave

Tonight I'm sipping the Recioto di Soave from Tamellini that I mentioned at the weekend. It's a serious effort, with a wonderful tangerine-like character, combining peachy, apricotty richness with a fresh citrus kick. It's complex and alive, with brilliant balance between the concentrated sweetness and fruity freshness. There's a unique personality to this wine: I don't think I've ever tried anything quite like it. It has a rich, almost viscous texture, but it avoids being at all cloying. With sweet wines, sweetness and acidity act in opposition (or is that apposition?), with one cancelling the other out in a see-saw like manner, but with both contributing to the intensity of the wine. This wine has a lot of acidity and a lot of sweetness, and the finish goes on for ages. It's £18.50 for 50 cl from Les Caves de Pyrene, and a bargain at this price, I reckon.

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