jamie goode's wine blog

Monday, March 02, 2009

Wine, episode 3: The Future

Tonight I caught the third episode of BBC4's series on Wine. It was set in South Africa, and followed the fortunes of two producers trying to make it in the UK wine market. I quote from the publicity blurb:

Oupa Rangaka and Mark Solms are two unlikely wine producers. Six years ago, Oupa, a retired philosophy professor, didn't even drink wine, let alone make it.
Today he and his family, including three-year-old grandson Kwena, are the only
black people to own a vineyard in South Africa. Its survival depends on their ongoing relationship with Marks and Spencer and convincing the judges at London's International Wine Challenge that their pinotage passes muster. Mark is a world-renowned neuroscientist who inherited the family business, and is struggling to reconcile his idealistic plans for the farm with the practical realities of post-apartheid South Africa. He worries that the harvest festival he is organising may degenerate into an orgy of violence and drunkenness. Via the struggles of these two remarkable men, wine becomes a prism through which to view the current state of the Rainbow Nation.
It was a really well-constructed programme, tackling some tricky issues in an intelligent way. I particularly liked the focus on the International Wine Challenge, including a three-second shot of me sniffing and slurping! Pictured above is the film crew in attendance at the challenge, following the course of these South African wines.
You can catch it if you missed it at http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b00j0g7v

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Sunday, February 15, 2009

Wine on telly: 'The Firm', tomorrow night

Wine on telly again: BBC4, 9 pm, Mon Feb 16th. It's the first of a three part series on wine, and it begins with a year in the life of the UK's oldest wine merchant, Berry Bros & Rudd (http://www.bbr.com/). I've just watched my preview DVD, and I really enjoyed it.

The film focuses its narrative on the two regions that make up 80% of the turnover of BBR, Bordeaux and Burgundy [although later we are told that Bordeaux makes up 70% of turnover, which infers that Burgundy is of less importance], and sets this theme against the backdrop of gathering economic gloom. 'The world has changed', says chairman Simon Berry, filmed in the 308 year old cellars of the St James' St shop. 'It's a more complicated world right now, but wine is still a good investment', he adds with more hope and salesman's instinct than certainty.

The scene changes. We are now in the real heart of BBR - its Basingstoke headquarters. There we meet Simon Staples, described as the world's biggest buyer of investment-style Bordeaux wines, although the narrator doesn't make it clear whether this refers to Staples' £60 m en primeur budget or his considerable frame.

We follow Staples to Bordeaux, where the feautured producer is Cos d'Estournel. It's the 2007 en primeur campaign, and there's a conflict between what BBR think customers are willing to pay, and what Jean-Guillaume Prats thinks his Cos is worth. The BBR guys think £30 a bottle; Prats, who comes across as greedy with his pricing (he clearly thinks Cos is a first growth), sets the price at 65 Euros. Staples buys 10 cases, as opposed to 2000 in 2005. 'Wrong price, wrong time', says Staples.

We meet Jasper Morris doing some repairs to a dry stone wall. In Burgundy, the featured producer is the wonderfully reserved and gentle David Clark, the ex-Williams engineer who has followed his passion by making red Burgundies from humble appellations that punch above their weight. 'There is much more of a human touch in Burgundy', says Jasper, and watching David Clark at work is so much more appealing that looking at Cos' hugely expensive, rather over-elaborate new cellar renovations. I especially enjoyed seeing David's home-made crawler that allows him to sit down as he works the low-trained vines by hand.

Finally, we see a private dinner for top customers at BBR, with Jean-Guillaume. Simon Staples gets them to blind taste 1870 Cos. The first customer thinks it's 1982. Other guesses are 1989, late 1940s, 1955 and 1964. Jean-Guillaume comes closest with 1928/9. It's fun.

The program finishes with headlines of economic collapse. Cue Simon Berry to remind us all to invest in wine again.

Overall verdict? Brilliant stuff, well filmed. Jasper, Simon S and Simon B come across really well, and you should make every effort to watch this if you can.

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Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Chateau Monty: a new national TV series on wine

Monty Waldin, a British wine writer who has been living in Italy for the last few years, is one of the best known commentators on (and advocates of) biodynamic wine growing. He's the focus of a new TV series, Chateau Monty, which begins on Channel 4 (UK) tomorrow night. The program follows his efforts to make wine biodynamically in France's Roussillon region, and I have reviewed the first episode on the main wineanorak site here. I think it's worth a watch, and it's good that wine is back on national TV.

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Saturday, July 19, 2008

The 'F' word does beer, and macaroni cheese with Stichelton

You know, I think the 'F word' is good for food, and even drink...

For those outside the UK, let me explain. The 'F word' is a national TV show in the UK that's the platform for celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay. It is fast-paced, popular and profane. But it is brilliantly done. Like Top Gear, the car program that appeals to people who have no interest in cars, the F word draws in viewers with little interest in what they put in their mouths. But, precisely because of this, it's a program that has the potential to get many people interested in real food.

Tonight, Gordon was brewing his own beer, with a view to matching it with food. What sort of beer? In an inspired choice, he chose to emulate Innis & Gunn's wonderful oak-aged beer that's aged in used Bourbon casks. [Aside: the C4 website repeatedly mispells this name as 'Inns and Gunn')

And then in his interpretation of Macaroni cheese he uses the fantastic Stichelton cheese. This is the Neal's Yard interpretation of Stilton, but made with unpasteurized milk, the way that the best Stiltons used to be made. Randolph Hodgson found that in recreating the classic style, he was unable to use the Stilton name - by law, Stilton now has to be made with pasteurized milk. But his Stichelton, still a work in progress, is better than any Stilton.

I reckon Gordon has some very good researchers indeed. It's kind of ironic, though, that a show devoted to redicovering and promoting the best of all that is edible is sponsored by Gallo. I guess that shows that wine has a bit of a mountain to climb.

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Friday, May 16, 2008

The F word

Just watching the first of the new series of The F Word. On one level, I should hate this: Gordon Ramsay's vulgar, celebrity-obsessed approach combines with a slice of The Generation Game (watching members of the public embarass themselves) to make entertainment that's perfect for for the ADHD generation. But on another level, it's drawing people into food, which somehow manages to stay at the centre of this program. If I'm being honest, I enjoy watching it, and Gordon is brilliant at doing TV. It works. You can watch this and enjoy it even if you have little interest in food, but by watching it you might begin to develop such an interest. This is the food equivalent of Top Gear, which my wife watches even though she has no interest in motors. I wonder if anyone could ever do the same sort of thing with wine?

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Saturday, May 03, 2008

Spring, some telly and a nagging injury

Was meant to play cricket yesterday, but unfortunately it was called off because of the weather. Probably a good thing: I would have played even though I'm crocked, with a nagging, persistent hamstring injury (that makes it sound like I'm some fit wannabee sporting dude) that just won't go away. I'm a bit of a child when it comes to sport. I love it - it's a beautiful distraction from work and real life.

The weather really has been appallingly bad for the last three weeks or so, with heavy rain every day and unseasonally low temperatures. But today was a proper spring day, and so we went for a long family walk in the Surrey countryside (East Horsley), followed by a pub lunch. The kids were a pain, though. Especially older son, who has been appalling all day, throwing toddler style tantrums. The problem is he's 11 and a big lad, so when he loses it, he needs serious effort to restrain him. His crowning moment so far today has been to lock himself in the bathroom, throw the waste basket (full) out of the window, and use Fiona's cosmetics to write 'F*** You' on the glass. Charming.

Last night I didn't work, but instead we watched some telly. The wonderful Peep show has started a new series, and there was a wine reference. Yes! Mark was meeting up with an ex (Big Suze) to tell her he has chlamydia, but when he finds she's single again he decides to not break the news and instead turn it into a date. Classy! He grabs the wine list and asks her if she wants some wine. She asks for Barolo, her favourite. In a distraught state he scans the list, going further and further down until he finds a Barolo for £45, which he orders through gritted teeth. He tastes it and says its delicious, adding in an aside to himself, 'Obviously it's not really delicious like chocolate or coke, but for wine it's delicious'.

We also watched 'James Taylor, one man band' on BBC4. James Taylor is a dude - he writes some fantastic songs, even if some of them do sound a bit the same. Very early in his career, before things really took off, he came to England and spent two weeks in Twickenham (where we lived for several years, and a couple of miles down the road from where we now are). I never knew that. One of the guitars he was playing, which looked like a small-bodied Martin, has the most beautiful tone. It was mesmeric.

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Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Some more films, and TV

It's been a while since I did any of my low-rent, amateur film and TV critic slots. Time to amend that, while tasting a full-throttle Chilean wine that has a whiff of petroleum products about it. Most odd.

No country for old men is the Coen brothers' celebrated adaptation of Cormac McCarthy's novel, and it's a gripping film, with a dollop of Ethan and Joel's quirkiness wrapped around a dominant core of ruthless violence. The secret of the film's success is an awesome performance by Javier Bardem as a menacing psychopathic hitman, who relentlessly pursues his targets with a complete lack of empathy and a scary singlemindedness. He's the sort of dude you really, really wouldn't want to have on your tail. Not a perfect film, but a very good one. Cast note: Kelly MacDonald, a Glasweigan, plays the wife of the main lead - she was really good in the excellent political drama series 'State of Play', a few years ago, and also Richard Curtis' 'Girl in the cafe'.

Killing time on a recent long-haul flight, I really enjoyed Before the devil knows you're dead. It's a brilliantly constructed film with a disjointed chronology, where part of the story is told backwards - we start two-thirds through, then track back to the build-up, and then look at the repercussions. It's hard to describe what happens without plot-busting, so I won't try, other than to say that the theme here is a severely dysfunctional family who end up comitting crimes against each other, on a number of levels. Philip Seymour Hoffman stars, from among a star-studded cast, with another brilliant performance. Notably directed by octagenarian Sidney Lumet.

Another film with a disjointed chronology that I also enjoyed quite a bit is Michael Clayton, a conspiracy thriller starring George Clooney as a legal fixer who runs into some trouble. Clooney is brilliant, but for me the most interesting performance is by Brit Tom Wilkinson as Arthur, a crazy lawyer who's flying solo and needs to be brought in. Tilda Swinton also puts in a strong performance in a film that keeps you gripped until the rather cheesily tidy (but still satisfying) ending.

What about TV? Well, I was pleased to see Gavin and Stacey do well in the BAFTAs, because it's brilliantly done and surprisingly addictive. Rob Brydon is a comic genius, too. And, rather guiltily, I confess that we've also been watching the BBC's Apprentice, which despite appearing horridly staged (they seemed to have recruited candidates solely on their ability to make good car-crash TV), is a bit addictive. When I can, I'm also trying to keep up with the brilliant Mad Men.

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Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Chicken run, a museum Riesling and a fairtrade Shiraz

Three rather different elements are thrown into the pot to create tonight's blogpost.

First, an aside - this blog has a google page rank of 6, while the main site index page has a page rank of 5. That's a bit odd. Am I spending too much time blogging?

The first element is some telly. It's not often that I sit down in front of the TV - even though the last two nights have seen Fiona and I get through four episodes of the West Wing (we're on series 3) - but tonight I watched the second program of Hugh's chicken run on C4.

Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall is on a mission to wean the nation off intensively reared chickens. But denied access to film in the 'battery farms', he creates two scaled down chicken farms of his own in adjacent sheds, one free range and one intensive. I enjoyed the program, and I'm highly sympathetic to its aims: I believe we have a strong moral duty to treat with kindness the animals we are going to eat.

But I think this program may backfire, in part because of the honest intent shown by the program makers. Because I'd expected battery farming to look a lot worse than the vision of it presented by Hugh.

My preconceptions: I had thought the chickens were kept in small cages, and had their beaks clipped to prevent them from pecking holes in their neighbours, and that many of them died and were left to rot in situ. Instead, they are just kind of crowded and never see the sunlight, and the weak or sick are removed and sacrificed. It's not pretty, but it's better than I had anticipated.

The emotional bit in the program is when Hugh breaks down in tears because he has to finish off two sick birds in the same day. Look, I would hate to have to kill a chicken. But this is the man who raises pet pigs for the pot. I thought he was made of sterner stuff.

Still, despite the criticisms, I'll continue buying free range chickens (which are reared the same way, but in less dense situations, with bales of hay, plastic footballs, suspended CDs and access to an outdoor area). But the program makers are spinning this one out a bit with lots of shots of Hugh in his red Land Rover and various contrived reality TV moments. Hugh is very good on camera, though.

The second element is a really nice Riesling.

Pewsey Vale 'The Contours' Museum Release Riesling 2001 Eden Valley, Australia
Intense, fresh, limey nose with a pronounced spicy quality, and a bit of honey and toast. The palate is bone dry and piercing with high acidity, a lemony zing and an attractive freshness. It's quite complex and not too petrolly, with a delicious, precise 'nervous' sort of quality. Not heavy or phenolic. 91/100 (RRP - £10.99 Stockists: Berry Bros & Rudd, Selfridges & Co, Australian Wines Online, Premier Vintners, Free Run Juice, Averys of Bristol, Layton Wine Merchants, The Wineman)

The third is a delicious, affordable, quaffable Chilean Shiraz.

Marks & Spencer Fairtrade Shiraz 2007 Curico Valley, Chile
From Vinos Los Robles, this is really appealing. It's vibrant, juicy and aromatic, showing red and black fruits with a nice spiciness, and a savoury twist. It's fresh and quite pure, and lacks that off-putting rubbery greenness that some Chilean reds show. This isn't a wine to beat you around the head: it's really nicely balanced. Savoury finish. 85/100 (£5.49 Marks & Spencer)

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Friday, May 18, 2007

Hustle...fake wine on telly

I was a huge fan of BBC series Hustle when it first came out a few years ago: it was creative, fun, smart and stylish. Haven't seen too much of it in recent series, but fortuitously caught it last night for an episode centred around wine.

For those of you who haven't seen Hustle before, it focuses on a team of con merchants with a difference. Like modern-day Robin Hoods, they only con those who really deserve it. 'You can't con an honest man' is one of their mantras.

Last night they conned an unpleasant manager of a nursing home who herself cons old people out of their homes. They attack her through her weakspot: her love of expensive wine. The only problem is that she's already had someone selling her fake wine at auction, so although the hustle team have a specialist wine faker as one of their acquaintances (who offers them 1947 Petrus, among others), they need to think of a smarter plan. All I'll say is that this involves the purchase at auction of a genuine 1787 Yquem followed by opening of said bottle, a quick swig, and then pouring it all down the drain. Painful to watch.
The price paid by Danny for the Yquem is £47000, which is pretty close to what such a bottle might fetch. Recently one traded hands for US$90000 - the most expensive white wine ever sold. Nice to see wine on the telly again!

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Monday, December 11, 2006

Wine Library TV

Got an email from Gary Vaynerchuk alerting me to the fact that he'd included this blog in a segment on his latest Wine Library TV show here. I've only seen a couple of his videos, but I'm impressed. He's got a good approach to wine and makes the difficult job of talking to camera about wine tasting look relatively effortless. Overall: an effective use of the internet as a medium for publishing wine information. Maybe I should start including videos here? What would you like to see?

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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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Friday, November 10, 2006

River Cottage goes lame

You have to be careful when you’re preaching to others about what they should eat. I was uncomfortable with some of the content on Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s program The River Cottage Treatment last night—quite apart from the fact that it was contrived reality TV that didn’t work very well. The basic idea behind the program is a good one: take some regular punters whose diet mainly consists of ready meals and take-aways, and get them to cook ‘real’ food. So Hugh gets these people to camp in a field at the bottom of the garden, and does food-related things with them.

Last night in the segment I saw they gathered blackberries and went to see a couple of Hugh’s sheep being slaughtered (he thought this was important—or maybe his producer thought it was important because it would make good TV—and much weeping ensued at the admittedly rather gory demise of the lambs, although to the credit of the punters only one of them turned vegetarian as a result).

The bit I was uncomfortable with, though, was where Hugh took them to some food safety officer to show them just how bad the food was eating. It was an unbelievably lame segment. They took a burger and the food scientist chap prepared a row of bottles containing the ‘chemicals’ that had been added to it. The punters were shown this row of chemicals (all of them white powders) and Hugh then asked a burger-eating chap how he felt about it. The guy looked fairly clueless, but on pressing by Hugh he sort of agreed how horrifying and disgusting it was. Hugh had more luck when the food scientist read the ingredients list on a Tikka Masala ready meal, because he found it contained E120 (cochineal). Hugh turned to a girl (whose intellect resembled Alice off the Vicar of Dibley) and triumphantly announced, ‘That comes from beetles!’ The girl obliged, a look of horror crossing her face, ‘I’ve been eating beetles, ugh!’ The irony that this is in fact a natural food colouring was lost on all of them. Look, I agree that it’s best to eat food that’s been messed about with as little as possible, but to use this sort of manipulative, fear-based propaganda about ‘bad’ food isn’t the way to go. It makes bad television, too.

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