jamie goode's wine blog

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Another super-sleek Vinalba wine from Argentina

Some time ago I reported on the Vinalba Reserva Malbec from Mendoza that won the Decanter Trophy, and which sells for £9.99 in Majestic. I pointed out that it was delicious, a crowd-pleaser and brilliantly made - but expressed a concern that for my audience here it might be a bit too sleek and 'made'.

Well here's anothr Vinalba, this time the Malbec Syrah 2006 from Patagonia, which is similarly smooth and delicious. The good news? It's as good as the Reserva Malbec, but it's cheaper (£6.98 in Asda). This won a trophy at the 2008 International Wine Challenge, which takes some doing. It's a modern, lush wine, but it has some edges, too. I really like it. If you want to try it, rush out and buy it now, because it won't last for long.

Vinalba Malbec Syrah 2006 Patagonia, Argentina
This is a wine with a real sense of deliciousness. It is ripe, smooth, lush and pure with sweet raspberry and blackberry fruit as well as some spicy, chocolatey richness. The tannins are really soft, although there's just a bit of plummy bite on the finish. Oak is well integrated, and it's well defined and has some nice floral overtones. A deliciously rich, lush style with seductive fruit sweetness. At this price, it's one of the very best value for money wines around, and it will win many friends. Compare this with the big brands (at this price), and you'll be amazed at how much better this is. 89/100 (£6.98 Asda; 14.5% alcohol)

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Friday, February 13, 2009

Video: Cheval des Andes, Mendoza, Argentina

Here's a short film from my visit to Cheval des Andes in Mendoza, Argentina. This is the one where I get on a horse, kindly filmed by Chris Losh. It's a companion video to the write-up on the website, here.

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Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Enough about the weather, and another Malbec

First ten minutes of the BBC evening news tonight was devoted to one subject: the weather. It's getting a bit boring, but the conditions here have been pretty unusual.

Found out today that I had to go and pick my son up from boarding school. It's a long drive and I wasn't looking forward to it - the Highways agency advised against non-essential travel, and on their advice I almost packed a spade. But that seemed a bit extreme, so I didn't.

Actually, the journey was better than I'd feared. Just a couple of flurries of heavy snow, and in the bit of Devon I was in most of the snow had thawed. The journey back was also relatively straightforward, although it was still quite tiring driving, with a particularly crazy blizzard just before Reading.

Back to wine. I've opened another Argentinean Malbec tonight. It's the Salentein MCM Winemaker's Selection 2004 Malbec/Cabernet/Merlot. It's fresh and aromatic, but there's probably a bit too much oak imprint here: it shows itself in tarry, toasty, slightly bitter notes along with the sweet berryish fruit. £8.59 from Tesco - reasonable value, but not something I'd rush out to buy.

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Monday, February 02, 2009

Great value from Argentina - can we forgive some spoofiness?

Tonight's wine is from Argentina, and it's delicious. It actually won the trophy for best varietal wine under £10 at this year's Decanter World Wine Awards. It's really impressive. But, if I'm honest, it tastes a bit spoofy. Like it was made to win awards. The colour is a little too dark, the fruit a little too sweet, the tannins a little too smooth. In fact, it almost tastes like it has been tweaked a little with grape juice concentrate, just to add a little sweetness and colour. I'm just trying to find out how the winemaker could have got the colour this dense and the fruit so deliciously sweet. I'll try to find out from the agent.

Can spoofiness be forgiven? This is the sort of wine that will be adored by people new to wine, and I suppose there's nothing wrong with that. It is, after all, very tasty in a hedonic sort of way, and I'm enjoying it. It's just that for an intelligent audience like mine, I wanted to point out my concerns: delicious, really impressive, but perhaps spoofy.
Vinalba Malbec Reserva 2006 Mendoza, Argentina
Deep coloured. Amazingly sweetly fruited, alluring nose with very ripe blackberries and a hint of blackcurrant jam. The palate is lush and sweet with ripe, dense, pure fruit and some savoury, spicy notes. Lots of impact here: a dense, full, sweet red wine with lovely purity of fruit and real flavour impact. It's unashamedly new world in style and will be sure to win lots of fans. 90/100 (£9.99 Majestic)

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Tuesday, January 27, 2009

A couple from Argentina

I'm currently writing up my Argentina trip from last year (why has it taken me so long? Must try to reduce lead times...) and so I thought it would be nice to open a couple of Argentinean reds. The connection between the two is that they are NOT made from Malbec. Now Malbec is a great variety, but we mustn't forget that Argentina also does well with other red varieties. Sometimes really, really well.

Benegas Finca Libertad 2005 Mendoza, Argentina
A blend of Cabernet Sauvignon (55%), Cabernet Franc (32%) and Merlot (13%). Michel Rolland is the consultant winemaker here, and there's some similarity in style to the Clos de Los Siete, but that's not necessarily a bad thing. It shows lovely, smooth, refined pure blackberry fruit with some plummy notes, as well as spicy new oak. It's rich and modern, but not totally over-the-top. As well as the sweet fruit, there are notes of chocolate, coffee and spice, and I reckon it could age quite nicely over the next few years. 90/100 (£12.99 Virgin Wines)

Alamos Cabernet Sauvignon 2007 Mendoza, Argentina
This is a really impressive inexpensive red. The nose shows sweet, pure red berry and blackberry fruit. The palate is smooth and refined with accessible blackberry and blackcurrant fruit which flirts with jamminess but stays fresh and well defined. A lovely easy drinker. 87/100 (£7.07 Bibendum, on sale at £5.49 3-13 February)

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Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Nicolas Catena Zapata, a first growth from Argentina

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

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

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Friday, January 02, 2009

Catena Malbec rocks!

Just drinking Cantena's 2006 Malbec (from Argentina's Mendoza region), which, at just over £10 a bottle (UK agent Bibendum) is a really superb value wine.

It shows lovely purity of ripe, sweet, but well-defined raspberry and blackberry fruit on the nose. In the mouth, this sweet, pure fruit is joined by a bit of spicy structure. Tannins are really smooth and, while present, mesh with the fruitiness really well. Overall, it's quite an elegant wine: indeed, my view is that Argentinean Malbec at its best has more in common with Pinot Noir than it does with Cabernet Sauvignon - it's an elegant, ripe, yet expressive wine. This is sourced from four vineyards, all at altitude: Adrianna (5000 ft), Angelica (2850 ft), Piramide (3100 ft) and Nicasia (3870 ft). For the benefit of those used to metric measures, a foot is about 1/3 metre (this was a sample destined for the US market). It's 14% alcohol, and I rate it at 90/100.

Picture is a tasting I had in March at the Adrianna vineyard in Mendoza, Argentina.

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Monday, September 29, 2008

Clos de los Siete, take six


'It is already the sixth vintage from Clos de Los Siete', says Michel Rolland, the famous consulting winemaker who has worked with Bordeaux-based Dourthe to produce this new (now not so new) wine from Mendoza.

The larger project of which Los Siete is a part is called 'Campo de Vista Flores'. A large area of 850 hectares, 90 km south of Mendoza city and previously unplanted, was divided into seven plots - one for each of the main partners (there are now just six - one left). The land had to be prepared and then planted. With a high planting density (5500 vines/hectare) the vineyards are managed like a Bordeaux first growth, with double guyot pruning, vertical canopies, crop thinning, leaf removal, hand-picking into small crates and triage on a sorting table. Then, in the winery there's a cold pre-fermentation maceration, pumping over during fermentation and maturation in new French oak (2/3) and vat (1/3).

Altogether, 430 hectares of the 850 are now planted. The altitude is 1100 metres and the soils are sand and clay, with large pebbles. Yields average 34 hl/ha, which is quite low. And here is my note on the just-released 2007 vintage.

Clos de los Siete 2007 Mendoza, Argentina
A blend of 48% Malbec, 28% Merlot, 12% Cabernet Sauvignon and 12% Syrah, harvested from the end of March until the end of April. Deep coloured, this has lovely floral aromatics together with ripe but not jammy summer fruit aromas. There's a bit of spice, too. The palate is nicely poised with sweet but well defined dark fruits and good acidity. This isn't jammy or super-ripe, which is a good thing. But the alcohol (14.5%) is evident, and the tannins are a little drying and grippy in the mouth, and they clamp down the finish somewhat. It's a beautifully packaged wine that offers great value for money, and without those rather drying tannins it would get a higher rating. 90/100 (£10.99 Waitrose, Majestic, Oddbins)

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Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Steak at Gaucho and City Hall

Had a nice lunch at Gaucho Tower Bridge on Monday, with Trapiche's single-vineyard Malbecs.

This particular Gaucho restaurant, which, like the others, is lavishly decorated with cowhide, is in an interesting location. There are great views of Tower Bridge and also the remarkable squashed egg- or scrotum-shaped building called City Hall. Indeed, the Gaucho is part of the 'More London' development that includes City Hall, home to the Mayor of London and his recently pruned band of staff. Administrators and governing types always tend to be particularly well housed. If you are ever on a university campus, for example, and are looking for the administrative building, it's usually easy to find. Just head to the tallest and grandest construction, and there you will find them.

I always enjoy eating at the Gaucho, which specializes in huge hunks of very nice Argentinean beef, and has an extensive (if slightly expensive) list of Argentinean wines. They've got the ambience just right, and with all that cowhide there's a sense of irony that liberates you to enjoy tasty, simple hunks of meat without feeling bad.

Initially, I thought the 2006 Trapiche single vineyard wines we tasted were a bit obvious and made in a very modern style. But then trying a 2004 version of one of the wines with lunch, I suddenly saw what the point was. Aromatically, it was singing, and was just beautiful, with sweet, expressive, harmonious red fruits. There's something to be said for just a little patience with reds like this.

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Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Vintage time at Achaval Ferrer winery, Mendoza, Argentina - a short film

Here's a short film from my visit to Argentina in March. It's vintage time at one of Mendoza's leading boutique producers, Achaval Ferrer. We get to see the press, the winery (where wine is being racked and returned) and then a small segment of the tasting with Santiago Achaval.

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Tuesday, July 01, 2008

What a scorcher, and some Torrontes

It has been one of those very rare scorching hot days in London, with bright blue skies, a light breeze, and temperatures in the upper twenties. I headed up to the Wine and Spirit Education Trust, near London Bridge, for a tasting of 28 Torrontes wines for Wine & Spirit, and because of the beautiful weather I decided to walk rather than take the tube from Waterloo.

The walk, along the south bank of the Thames, is a pleasant one, and takes around 35 minutes. It passes the Tate Modern, with the famous Millennium footbridge across to St Pauls (see picture). This was the one that opened in June 2000, but was closed after three days because of a phenomenon known as synchronous lateral excitation. Basically, it wobbled. The problem took 89 dampners and £5 million to fix before the bridge was reopened in 2002.

What was the Torrontes like? A little disappointing, if I'm going to be really honest. Quite a lot of the wines had some pithy bitterness on the finish, which wasn't all that nice. Some were pretty and floral, with grapey fruit. Others were a bit oily and pungent. Argentina doesn't do whites all that well, in my opinion. I'm not sure why, because I really like many Argentinean reds.

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Saturday, June 21, 2008

Raspberries and Malbec

18 months ago I decided to plant some raspberries in the garden. I think it was a good move, although I didn't realize quite how prolific the 15 canes (three different varieties) would prove to be - we're now facing a raspberry invasion problem.

But of all the things you can grow in your garden, raspberries have to be one of the most useful. They're delicious, you eat all of them, and to buy them would cost a lot of money. Plus they are really easy to grow. Other things I'm growing this year: tomatoes, a salad crop, spring onions, coriander, basil, thyme, tarragon, courgettes. I'd love to grow more. There's something very healthy about growing stuff.

This year it looks like we have a bumper raspberry crop, and I quite enjoy spending a few minutes grazing, selecting the most delicious-looking berries and devouring them. What's interesting is that they all taste a bit different. There are some that are under-ripe, and taste a bit sharp; there are some that are a little over-ripe, and taste a bit soft, sweet and characterless. The key is picking them at optimum ripeness, where there's some sweetness, but also some acidity to keep them fresh and complex.

I guess it's very similar to wine: you should pick the grapes at optimum ripeness, where there's some fruit sweetness, but also good acidity. Easier said than done. The modern tendency is to pick late to get the sweet, lush fruit and then add acid. People have rather differing views on what 'balance' looks like in practice.

Tonight's wine: Catena Alamos Malbec 2006 Mendoza. There's lots of sweet, pure fruit here, with notes of raspberry jam backed up with a bit of spice. It's pure and focused, with really good balance. Yes, it's a modern, commercial style, but it avoids over-ripeness and doesn't taste at all forced. This is one of the wines in the forthcoming Bibendum sale, which starts early july, when it will be reduced from its normal price of £7.55 to £4.55/bottle, at which price it's great value. 86/100

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Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Wine and Spirit magazine on 'how the internet transformed wine'

Tasting at the IWC today, where the rather congenial panel I was on awarded many silvers, even more bronzes, but no gold medals. We didn't even come close to gold, alas, although I found one wine that I rated as gold in the last flight of the day. It was a stunning Cotes du Rhone Villages that was modern-styled, with dense fruit, but a lovely freshness, too. My panel thought it was 'jammy', but I reckon 'jammy' should be used to describe wines that have over-ripe, cloying fruit, with no life in it. Maybe they're afraid of fruit when it's this vibrant and exuberant - but this is a wine that I think had more to it than just fruit.

While I was at the IWC I picked up a copy of the excellent Wine and Spirit magazine. It grabbed my attention, because the front cover story is 'Revenge of the nerds: how the internet transformed wine'. It contains two articles on the internet wine scene, the first concentrating on internet-based retailers, and the second on wine bloggers ('Blogging a dead horse', by Claire Hu).

(An online version of the article is here.)

The standfirst sums up the article well. 'Online diarists have opened up new possibilities for wine. But are they still effective - or just open to corruption? Claire Hu investigates.'

Claire's piece is a good one. I'm happy to be quoted, mostly accurately (although she says, incorrectly, that I decided to go full time on my site after being made redundant from my day job - in fact, I'd say about one-quarter of my time is spent on my site - the rest is spent writing for other people and working on projects on a freelance basis). I also feel slightly that she pulled the bits out of our conversation that supported the agenda she had for her piece, which is that the wine blogging world is open to corruption, and that people taking money to review certain products is a big threat to the independence of wine bloggers.

I'm hesitant to say this, lest it give the impression that I think Claire's piece isn't good. I think it is good, and she has done her research properly, and given a good summary of the state of play of wine blogging. But from my perspective, I think the wine blogging community is quite 'pure' in the sense that people are saying what they think rather than answering to advertisers, or even more sinister commercial concerns.

She states that, 'At great risk to himself (imagine hundreds of wine nerds descending on your home), Charles Short of cluelessaboutwine.co.uk, has decided to lift the lid on what he sees as the hijacking of editorial integrity of wine blogs. "You have a lot of wine companies asking if you can write about products for £15 or £50", he says.' Considering Clive's site has an Alexa ranking (for what it is worth) of just shy of 5 million, I assume he's referring to other wine sites that have been approached in this way. I certainly haven't been approached by anyone offering payment for reviews - I'd be interested to know if any of the other wine bloggers with a decent readership have been. If they have, then I take this back. But the way I'm quoted, it makes me sound like I'm losing sleep over the issue of editorial integrity on wine blogs, which I'm not.

But where I'm very happy with the way my views are depicted is in the penultimate paragraph. Yes, I think blogs are a useful communication tool. But I still think there's a place for magazines and books - and an important one at that.

Back to wine. Tonight I'm drinking a lovely Argentinean wine, from the Bonarda grape, which we don't see a lot of, even though there's a lot of it planted there (only recently has Malbec overtaken it). It's a complicated grape to get a handle on: some people think it's the same as Charbono in California; it was brought to Argentina from Italy in the 19th century, but its Italian origins aren't clear.

Familia Zucchardi Bonarda Reserva 2006 Mendoza
A deep-coloured, oak-aged Bonarda weighing in at a modest 13% alcohol. This has an attractive, savoury nose of spicy plummy fruit, which leads to a palate that's dense, savoury and structured. There's plenty of forward red berry, cherry and plum fruit here as well as well integrated oak. Some grippy tannins on the finish make this a useful food wine. Great value for money and really delicious. 88/100 (£6.99 Oddbins)

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Saturday, April 12, 2008

Argentina and the Roussillon: two big reds

Two big, generous red wines:

Domaine Treloar ĎTahií 2006 CŰtes du Roussillon
The top wine from this domaine, who advocate the use of sustainable viticulture. Itís a big old wine, made with a fair dollop of new oak, but thereís more than enough fruit to deal with it. Tight, dark, concentrated and quite tannic, this could do with a few years to become more approachable and is potentially very long-lived. Ripe dark fruits dominate, with a subtly roasted coffee oak edge and a bit of plummy bitterness on the finish. Thereís a lot going for this wine, but itís pretty tannic and full-on at the moment, and the tannins overpower the finish. Iíd be fascinated to see how this wine will taste in a decade: I reckon it will be pretty serious. 93/100 (£16.50 Leon Stolarski here)

Landelia Malbec ĎSingle Vineyardí 2005 Agrelo, Mendoza
A bit of a bargain this: itís a dense, dark, fruit driven Malbec of real poise, with some purity to the sweet dark fruits nose thatís nicely complemented by some meatiness and a bit of spice. The palate is densely fruited with chocolatey richness and earthy, spicy complexity, finishing quite savoury. Tastes much more expensive than it is, and is acceptably modern, with lovely focus and purity. Surprisingly low alcohol (13.5%) considering how ripe the fruit profile is. 91/100 (£8.49 Virgin Wines)

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Sunday, March 30, 2008

Wines at home, from Argentina

Digging around on my sample racks recovered three Argentinean wines that I felt like trying. Two inexpensive reds were successful, offering great value for money. And a more expensive Chardonnay proved a fine match for a Spanish tortilla served with garlic prawns.

Aside: after a dismally damp day on Saturday, we had a taste of spring today. I spent a few luxurious hours pottering in the garden, doing some tidying up and planting. This year I'm determined that our garden should be pretty and productive.

Fuzion Shiraz Malbec 2007 Mendoza, Argentina
From Familia Zucchardi. Sweet, pure, ripe berry and black fruits dominate here, and there are some autumnal, foresty flavours, too. There's a hint of sweetness, but the dominant feature is the attractive pure fruit. Over-delivers for the price. Just 13% alcohol, too. 83/100 (£3.99 Somerfield)

Finca Flichman Reserva Shiraz 2006 Mendoza, Argentina
A dark, spicy, slightly meaty wine with lovely fruit intensity. This is joined by a subtle roast coffee edge, perhaps from the oak. There's some grippy structure on the palate which adds savouriness: I reckon this is a style best with food. Some substance here. 86/100 (£5.99 Waitrose, Stevens Garnier)
Terrazas Reserva Chardonnay 2006 Mendoza, Argentina
From high vineyards, at 1200 m altitude. This initially strikes me as very ripe, with tropical fruit, honey and vanilla to the fore. It's smooth, nutty and rich-textured, but there's also a brightness to the fruit, with some citrussy notes. It's a rounded, well integrated sort of wine of real appeal, although some might prefer their Chardonnays to have a bit more in the way of 'edges' and contrast between the various flavours. I like the way it is so 'together'. 89/100 (£10.99 Harvey Nichols)

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Saturday, March 29, 2008

Some Argentina pics


Just got back from Argentina this morning. Flight from Mendoza was delayed, so we were very tight for time making the connection with our London-bound flight that left from the international airport at Buenos Aires. This is where I was supposed to pick up my missing bag, so it was a little concerning. Fortunately the disappearing bag was safely located lying on the floor of the BA office behind the check-in desk. I was delighted to be reunited with it!

A few pics from the trip. Above, harvest at O Fournier; below, the difference between low and high-yielding Malbec.


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Thursday, March 27, 2008

More on Argentina


In a rare gap in the itinerary (an hour free before dinner), I now have a chance to blog a little more on my first impressions of Argentina. These will be just a series of bullet points, I'm afraid - I am too tired to attempt anything grander.

1. The meat here really is great, and there's a lot of it. We have eaten very well. I have probably over-eaten. You just have to.

2. Mendoza is not how I expected it to be. Prior to this visit, I'd read a lot about the effects of altitude, and how being in the foothills of the Andes was so important to moderate temperature effects. As a result, I expected the vineyards to be on slopes. But they aren't. There's such a slow gradation in altitude that the vineyards look like they are on huge, flat plateaus. Some of them are really big.

3. The quality of the wines we have experienced has been very high. We have only visited a few producers, but I now have a list of perhaps a dozen wines that I have felt to be truly world class. That's really encouraging.

4. Whites lag behind reds. I don't mind Torrontes, but it's not my favourite variety. The Terrazas Reserva Chardonnay is pretty good, and the Catena Alta Chardonnay is lovely; we also had a very impressive Dona Paula Sauvignon Blanc today. But it's the Malbecs, the red blends, and the Cabernets that excel here.

5. Of all the really good wines we have tried so far, our afternoon visit to Achaval Ferrer confirmed to me what I suspected from previous tastings: these are stunningly elegant expressions of Malbec. Mind you, the Catena Adrianna is up there (it's fantastic) and the top Terrazas wine isn't far off.

I think my sore throat is improving - last night I thought I was going to die, although dinner at a really smart tapas place in Mendoza (The Winery) revived me a bit. Fortunately this bug that is attacking my throat has left my nose alone: it would be horrible to travel all this way and then not be able to taste the wine.

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Post from the road

Quick post from the road:

Argentina has been great fun so far. It hasn't been straightforward, though. First, my luggage disappeared somewhere between London and Mendoza (the latest is that they have found it and it is waiting for me in Buenos Aires, so I will have to pick it up on the way home). As a result, I was left with the clothes I was standing up in, so I have had to resort to wearing various items of winery clothing. Unfortunately, wineries rarely sell branded socks or underpants. Hmmm, lovely.

I have also had a really sore throat, making it painful to swallow and speak. But the vineyards, wineries and wines have been great, and I even got to ride a horse in Cheval dos Andes.

Wineries visited so far include Cheval dos Andes, Fournier and Catena (we saw the Adrianna high altitude vineyard, which makes a stunning Malbec). Today we will be visiting Terrazas, Dona Paula and Achaval Ferrer.

I have a new pair of boxers and some new socks to wear today, which I purchased last night on the way to dinner, so I don't smell as much.

Oh, and British Airways business class rocks. More soon...

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Monday, November 19, 2007

Gestos Malbec: cheap and good

I'm hesitant to describe a £6 wine as 'cheap', because for many people that's quite a bit of money, and you'll just think I'm some loaded snob. But, let's face it, £6 isn't a lot for a bottle of wine these days. Maybe I should use the less loaded term 'affordable'. Well, here's an affordable Argentinian wine that has quite a bit going for it, including a really attractive label design that attempts to communicate the concept of terroir to the drinker. On the back label it says: 'Gestos made from earth, altitude, climate and grape giving wines their own soul and character'. It's nice to see terroir being used in the marketing of new world wines.

Finca Flichman 'Gestos' Malbec 2006 Mendoza, Argentina
An equal blend of grapes from 1100 m and 700 m, this is a deep coloured wine. The nose shows raspberry and blackberry fruit with a savoury, spicy overlay and some coffee and tar oak overtones. It's quite tight and reductive. The palate shows nice fresh red fruit character with a bit of plmmy bitterness and some spicy oak influence. It's a savoury wine with some depth, and drying, grippy tannins on the finish. Yet there's some ripeness and charm here also. It's not the most refined wine you'll ever drink, but for the price, there's a lot going on here, and it is tremendously food friendly. Would be perfect with a big Argentinian rump steak. 87/100 (£5.99 Majestic, Stevens Garnier)

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Monday, October 15, 2007

Tasting at Bibendum

Hsien Min, a wine chum and fellow Man City fan, was in town on a visit from Singapore. So we grabbed a bit of lunch and then headed over to a mini-press tasting at Bibendum. Forty or so wines on show in an informal setting. The highlight for me was Catena's Alta Malbec 2004. This is concentrated, extremely refined and has lovely structure. It's not terribly new worldy, which I think is usually a good thing. This is a wine that I reckon will age gracefully. It might lose out in a blind tasting of Malbecs because it isn't the most assertive or spectacularly aromatic, but it is pretty grown up and sophisticated.

Bibendum are one of that rare breed of merchants with a decent blog.

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Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Clos de los Siete 2006


New vintage of this rather controversial wine. Why controversial? Well, anything with the name Michel Rolland on the label is bound to stir up a bit of discussion, and this wine has been criticized in past vintages for being just too sweet, too ripe and too much everything.

I don't mind it. In its style, which is a distinctly new world one, the 2006 is a very good wine. I'd take it over any of Chile's icon wines, for example, and, at £10.99 (with discounts available at both Majestic and Oddbins), it's good value for money. Here's my note:

Clos de los Siete 2006 Mendoza, Argentina
A collaborative project by seven producers under the banner of Michel Rolland, this is a blend of Malbec, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah. Very dark in the glass, this is not a shy wine: it's 15% alcohol, and the grapes are picked quite late, by hand, before undergoing a cold pre-ferment maceration. The dominant feature here is sweet, lush, dark fruits. The oak, which gives a spicy sheen, is very much in the background. There's some structure here, with grippy tannins hiding under the sweet fruit, and overall the wine is savoury in character. My verdict? While this is clearly a modern, new world-style red, with its tannic structure it retains balance, and if you can get over the alcoholic heat, then this is a great companion to the usual Argentinean fare of large quantities of steak. Although it's not my favourite style, this is a wine I'd happily recommend to people who are new to wine because the sweetness of fruit makes it so accessible, and it offers great value for money. 90/100

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Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Argentina, again

I seem to be covering Argentina quite a bit of late. Today was the Argentinean trade tasting at Lords, which seemed quite well attended. I caught a seminar on terroir and Malbec, which was presented by Philippe Rolet of Alta Vista.

He presented three single vineyard Malbec wines, from roughly similar altitudes, in three different vintages. The goal was to show consistent differences between the vineyards. The wines, from 2003, 2004 and 2005, were all fantastic, and all three vineyards seemed to have their own individual stamp.

But beacuse this was a 'generic' tasting, the rules were that the wines had to be shown bagged (blind). Politics. However, it was clear from the corks that these were Alta Vista's single vineyard wines, which made the bagging process rather pointless.

Chatting later to someone, their comment was that the wine business in Argentina is very political. 'Imagine Italy', they said to me, 'but ten times worse!'

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Thursday, September 13, 2007

Malbec and meat - a heavenly marriage

Did you know that the annual consumption of beef by an adult in Argentina is 68 kilograms? Incredible. Someone has worked out that this equates to a seven ounce steak each, every day.

Today I was one of the judges at the finals of the Malbec Made for Meat competition, held at the Gaucho, Piccadilly. The Gaucho is a wonderful Argentinean restaurant which also has a wine shop attached to it, Cavas de Gaucho. [Pictured are fellow judges sitting opposite me: Victoria Moore has her mouth full, Anthony Rose is reaching to select the perfect match, and Peter Richards is jotting down his.]

Our task was to taste 14 wines (the finalists) blind with three different meats: pork, lamb and beef, assiging a score to the quality of the match ranging from 1 (poor) to 5 (sublime). It was an interesting exercise, and even more so because there was a steak and Malbec masterclass sandwiched in the middle of the proceedings.

In this masterclass, Gaucho beef expert Ryan Hattingh showed us the different cuts, discussed their merits, told us how to prepare them best - and then we got to eat them. There was loads and loads of steak to munch, and it was lovely. Each of the five different steaks were then matched with a specific Malbec, and the pairing was brilliant in all but one of the cases.

I came away from the session full of meat, and impressed by how well Argentinean Malbec and steak works as a pairing. Malbec and rare Patagonian lamb also works well, but perhaps not as spectacularly, and Malbec and pork is merely an adequate match in most cases. A full write up on the beef and Malbec masterclass will follow promptly on the main bit of the site.

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Saturday, September 08, 2007

Another merrr-low - one for Musar fans?

Continuing in my pursuit of the drinkable Merlot (I jest...), here's an interesting one. It's from Argentinean winery Weinert, known for their wines made in a distinctive 'traditional' mould. This was really nice, and reminded me a bit of the famous (and funky) Lebanese wine Chateau Musar. Look, this won't be to everyone's taste, but I think it's a delicious wine in this particular style.

Bodega Weinert Merlot 2002 Mendoza, Argentina
Slightly faded brown/red colour. The nose is aromatic and evolved, with earthy notes and a sweetly spiced character. The palate is soft and spicy with a very smooth fruity character and nice sweet earthiness. This is a bit Musar-ish, with its reliance on non-fruity elements. It's deliciously balanced. 90/100 (£10.95 http://www.winedirect.co.uk/)

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Monday, August 27, 2007

Reach for the skies!

Just been away for a fabulous weekend, staying with my parents in Lidgate, Suffolk. The weather was fantastic, the kids behaved, RTL sort of behaved and we had a good time.

On Saturday my dad and I took the boys to IWM Duxford, which is a fabulous airforce museum at a functioning airfield. I confess to having a latent nerdy interest in aircraft - I grew up making airfix models - and so I was really looking forward to this.

Spread out over five hangars, Duxford's collection is incredible. There are also some very good hands-on exhibits for the kids, and we were fortunate enough to see flying displays from a Spitfire and Mustang. Yes, if you have even just one nerdy bone in your body, then Duxford comes highly recommended.

We drunk a fair bit of wine over the weekend, although my ability to enjoy it was somewhat muted by a cold. Some very brief notes on a few:

Fabre Montemayou Phebus Cabernet Sauvignon 2006 Mendoza, Argentina: dense, savoury, intense, great value for an inexpensive wine. Serious, almost.

Pewsey Vale Riesling 2006 Eden Valley, Australia
Bright, aromatic, versatile and well balanced. Lovely stuff.

Wolf Blass Green Label Cabernet Shiraz 2006 South Australia
From a 75 cl PET bottle (plastic). BBE May 2008 on label. Open, sweet blackcurrant fruit with a noticeable green character. Generous, confected.

Cano Toro Cosecha 2006 Spain
A very well made cheapie. Vibrant, jammy, emphasis on forward fruit - perhaps a bit rough at the edges.
M&S La Basca Tempranillo 2006
Unoaked and with lovely sweet black fruits, this would have been lovely, but it was corked. Why on earth didn't M&S insist on a taint-free closure for this delightful, inexpensive red. Diam, ProCork, screwcap or synthetic for this sort of wine. No excuse for using natural cork.

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Tuesday, August 21, 2007

A merr-low I quite like

I'm sticking with Merr-low for the time being. As an open-minded sort of guy - despite being quite opinionated at the same time - I like to give grape varieties, wine regions and producers a second chance, and even a third chance. In fact, part of the fun of wine is that the wine world is in a continual state of flux, not least because of the annual roll-over of vintages.

A challenge. Next time you go to a restaurant, I dare you to pronounce 'Merlot' with a hard 't' in your interchange with the sommelier. Gwan, gwan, gwan. You get 10 anorak points for this. You get a further 10 anorak points if the sommelier corrects you. You get a further 10 points if the sommelier corrects you in a condescending or patronising manner. You get a further 10 points if they do it with a little chuckle, as if to say, how stupid of you. I hate it when people are patronized by sommeliers. It's an attitude that takes wine from the people and puts it into the hands of experts.

Anyway, I digress. I found a Merlot I liked. The wine in question is actually from Patagonia in Argentina. My note follows:

Canale Reserve Merlot 2005 Patagonia, Argentina
The garish orange label isnít a good indicator of whatís in the bottle. This stylish red wine, from Patagonia in southern Argentina, is really quite restrained and balanced Ė itís not at all brash. The nose is quite fresh, with bright dark fruits joined by a bit of gravelly minerality and some vanilla and spice oak notes. The palate is quite Bordeaux-like: thereís a freshness and savouriness to the dark fruits thatís not usually found in the new world, with tar, spice and earth notes joining the well defined dark fruits. This rather sophisticated, well mannered Merlot is a wine thatís best with food, and which will age well over the medium term. 90/100 (Marks & Spencer £9.99)

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Wednesday, August 01, 2007

A big Malbec and a Black Tower

Three days without rain now. Looks like we're going to get a summer (of sorts) after all. And two rather different but quite interesting red wines to report on.

But first a slight digression about oak. Have you ever noticed that oak is very much more obvious when you open a bottle and pour it immediately, than when you've opened a bottle, poured some wine out and then let it sit (or decanted it)? I wasn't keen on the Lafage Roussillon white I reported on recently immediately after I'd opened it because of the obvious new oak, but it settled down after a night in the fridge. The Torres Gran Sangre de Toro also came across as overoaked immediately on opening, and was better some hours later. Tonight's first red also seemed much more oaky on opening than it does now, some three hours later. Why is this?

First up we have a very good Argentinean Malbec. This isn't a subtle wine: it's extracted, it's very ripe, it's quite alcoholic, and 14 months in French oak were needed to tame the tannins. If I was the winemaker I'd make some adjustments here which I think could turn this very good wine into a superb one. I'm enjoying it, still, and for the price it's good value if you're in the mood for something big.

Salentein Malbec 2004 Valle de Uco, Mendoza
Very deep coloured, this inky dark wine has a full nose of ripe dark fruits, spice, some minerals and new oak. The palate is bold, ripe, spicy and quite tannic with sweet spicy oak adding a slightly confected quality. There's high alcohol evident, too. It's a big old wine with plenty of oomph, but there's some spicy complexity, too. Begging for a big steak to go with it. I'd probably have preferred this to have a touch less extraction, a little less ripeness and a bit less oak, because the vineyard is clearly an excellent one, but for the price this is very good value and if you are in the right mood, it's more-ish. 89/100 (£8.49 Tesco)

The second wine can be seen to the right of the Salentein in the picture. Yes, folks, this is Black Tower, but not as we know it. This successful German brand, a frequent guest at dinner parties in the 1970s along with its peer, Blue Nun, is back. The wine in question, in the distinctive (and appalling) tall, tower-like bottle with a mottled finish, is a red, made from Dornfelder and Pinot Noir. It's actually quite drinkable.

Black Tower Dornfelder Pinot Noir 2006 Pfalz, Germany
Hideous bottle shape. Deep coloured with sweet red and black fruits on the nose, showing creamy blackcurrant fruit. The palate is summer pudding in a glass - blackberries, raspberries and blackcurrants - with some sweetness and a juicy quality. Some residual sugar here? Astute commercial winemaking. 82/100 (£4.49 Tesco)

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Saturday, July 21, 2007

Print versus online, and Argentina

Journalism: print versus online? Both are useful. I don't take a newspaper regularly, with the notable exception of the Sunday Express, which we purchase religiously from the same newsagent each week, along with a bag of sweets (maximum value 50 p) for each of the boys (they get to choose). If I do, I tend to rotate between the usual suspects: The Guardian, The Independent, The Daily Telegraph. Three very different papers, but all usually containing some very good journalism. Yes, there's a political slant with each paper, but party politics is something we try to shed as we grow up.

My confession is, however, that I'm one of those sad individuals who reads newspapers the wrong way: I start with the sport. It's almost instinctive for me to flip a paper over and begin at the end. Most of the sports journalism I read is online at the BBC news site, and I've been impressed by the quality of it. Take this report on the Open golf, for example. It's written in that tight, two sentence paragraph online style, but it's a good piece. And I also admit to enjoying the BBC ball-by-ball commentaries on the test by Ben Dirs and Tom Fordyce, which are thoroughly entertaining.

Tonight's wine focus is on Argentinean Malbec. I'm writing up my notes from a mega-tasting of 50 different examples. But I've also tasted two inexpensive-yet-good Malbecs, one from Catena's Argento brand, and one from Finca Flichman. I rated both similarly, but stylistically prefer the Flichman because it's more food compatible. Both are very good value.

Argento Malbec 2006 Mendoza
This spends 3 months in a mix of French and American oak. Deep coloured, it has sweet, assertive, slightly jammy raspberry and blackberry fruit on the nose. The palate shows full, pure, rather jammy red and black fruits with a rich texture. There's a spicy undercurrent to this well made, more-ish wine. Is there a bit of residual sugar here? 86/100 (£5.99 Majestic, but £3.99 if you buy two; £5.99 Tesco, Sainsbury)

Finca Flichman Mysterio Malbec 2006
Deep, spicy, plummy dark fruits on the nose. Sweet, but with a savoury twist. The palate has a good concentration of ripe dark fruits with some chocolatey richness and a savoury, spicy character from the oak. It's a substantial wine, and offers more than you've any right to expect at this price. The plummy, savoury bitterness is almost Italian in style and makes it food friendly. 86/100 (£4.99 Co-op, Sainsbury)

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Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Glenfiddich Awards 2007

Time for a spot of shameless self promotion. Last night was the 2007 Glenfiddich awards, held at swanky Sketch and hosted very ably by Tim Atkin. I was shortlisted for winewriter of the year, and - amazingly - came away with the trophy. The Drinks book of the year award was won by Williamson and Moore's Wine Behind the Label.

To celebrate, Fiona and I sloped off to Gaucho Piccadilly. The decor is remarkable (right): lots of cowhide, on the seats, on the walls - but all done very tastefully in a striking modern style. As well as the buzzy ambience (this place was full on a Monday night), service was excellent and the food was superb. The steaks here are legendary, but everything else is done well, too. On the wine front, the expensive but extensive list of Argentinean wines is well chosen, and I picked the Amalaya 2004 from Colome high up in Salta, which was a really lovely vivid red blend. The only downsides were the long wait for our food (although there was an unsolicited apology) and the final bill (the food was worth it, but it was on the high side).

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