jamie goode's wine blog

Saturday, December 05, 2009

Video: the spectacular Tulbagh Mountain Vineyards, South Africa

One of the short films from my recent South Africa trip: the beautiful TMV, a biodynamically run estate in Tulbagh.

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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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Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Another Alsace Riesling: Josmeyer

Following on from last week's Trimbach encounter, here's a bottle I picked up at Haynes, Hanson & Clark for 11.50. Not the best ever, but a really good example of dry, fruity Alsace Riesling.

Josmeyer Riesling 'Le Kottabe' 2007 Alsace
12.5% alcohol, certified Biodynamic (Biodyvin). A really attractive dry Riesling with a lovely fruity character. Spicy minerality underpins the lemony fruit, with a subtle herbiness in the background, as well as some honeyed notes. Satisfying and balanced. 89/100 (11.50 Haynes, Hanson & Clark)

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Thursday, July 09, 2009

Video: my segment with David Motion on BBC news

David Motion of The Winery has uploaded the segments he and I did on BBC news a while back, talking about why wine tastes different on different days:

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Friday, July 03, 2009

Biodynamic-ish Sangiovese from California

A conundrum of a wine. It's from Randall Grahm's Bonny Doon operation. It's mainly from a vineyard farmed biodynamically in San Benito County, yet it contains an ingredients list that most emphatically is not an indicator of typically natural wine making. Yet you have to respect the honesty and integrity that led to that list appearing on the bottle. It reads:


Then, on the front label, it has a picture of the sensitive crystallization of the wine.

Ca' del Solo Sangiovese 2006 San Benito County, California
Intensely savoury with tarry, spicy notes on the nose as well as dense blackberry and plum fruit. The palate shows rich, ripe dark cherry and plum fruit backed up with savoury, spicy, earthy notes and high acidity that sticks out a little. Dense, savoury and seriously structured, this is a bit rustic, but is one of the best non-Italian expressions of Sangiovese that I've encountered, and is utterly delicious and thoroughly food friendly. 90/100 (the 2005 is 13 at Berry Bros & Rudd)

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Saturday, June 13, 2009

Questions on biodynamics

A leading expert on biodynamics kindly agreed to answer some queries I had about this unusual but increasingly important way of growing wine grapes. Here are the 12 questions I sent him. Have you got any you'd like to add to the list?

  1. Is 'naturalness' a valid and important concept in wine?
  2. Does the BD approach follow through from the vineyard to impact what goes on in the cellar?
  3. Is there a benefit to BD over what can be achieved by organics plus composting? If so, what?
  4. Are there elements of BD that people can adopt and see benefit from without taking on board the whole package of treatments and timings?
  5. How did you first get into BD?
  6. How much efficacy can people achieve with just the treatments and not the timings?
  7. What do you think about Nicolas Joly's views on the effects of electrical currents on wines?
  8. Is biodynamics metaphysical, involving a realm outside the scope of scientific physical measurement?
  9. Is BD practical for larger companies?
  10. What about BD in vineyards where the grower only owns a small section, such as the isolated blocks of vines owned by growers in the top vineyards of the Mosel?
  11. Do you see any value in trying to reconcile conventional viticulture with BD viticulture?
  12. If a top Bordeaux property came to you and asked about implementing BD, where would you start them off?

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Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Day 3 at the Landmark Tutorial

Yesterday - day 3 of the Landmark Tutorial - was a bit different.

We began with a session on Semillon, Sauvignon Blanc, and blends thereof. I can understand why Semillon was included, because Hunter Semillon is one of Australia's unique, and great, wine styles.

But Sauvignon isn't. With the honorable exception of Michael Hill Smith's Adelaide Hills Sauvignon, Australia doesn't do all that well with this variety. The Sem/Sauvs from Western Australia are OK, but they're never great, and some of them have too much methoxy character.

Favourite wines of the tasting? Tyrrels Vat 1 1998 is a beautiful wine, and Peter Lehmann's Margaret Semillon 2002 - from the Barossa - is also thrilling. The Braemore Semillon 2008 is a young Hunter wine that will become a classic with 15 years' bottle age.

Rob Mann (above) then led a session on Cabernet Sauvignon. Normal service is resumed: these were pretty fantastic wines. Mount Mary Quintets 05 rocked in a very restrained, almost Burgundian fashion. From Margaret River, we had Howard Park Abercrombie 05, Cape Mentelle 05, Woodlands 'Colin' 05 and Sandalford Prendiville 05. Very impressive bunch, with the Woodlands shading it for me.

Then a ringer: Mouton Rothschild 2005. Now had this been an Australian wine, we'd have dismissed it for being overoaked. Lots of chocolate and coffee oak here, with very firm tannins and a bit of brett? It's not an enjoyable drink at the moment. There's probably a great Pauillac waiting to emerge in time.

From Coonawarra we had Parker Terra Rossa First Growth 2005 - big and burly, and split opinions - and Majella 'The Malleea' 2005. Henschke Cyril 05 was concentrated, lush and very smooth, and Wendouree Cab Malbec 05 was really unique and quite beguiling. We finished off with the Reynella 05 and Penfolds Cellar Reserve Cab 05.

Then it was on the bus and off to Yalumba for a spot of lunch, and a tasting of alternative varieties, presented by Louisa Rose (above) and Max Allen (below). The tasting was held in a remarkable and beautiful room that was previously an enormous wax-lined cement storage tank (pictured top of page). We looked at 20 different wines chosen by Max and Louisa, showcasing some of the progress made by alternative varieties in Australia.

It was a patchy tasting. There were some really good wines, but also some average wines, and a few poor ones. I think they call this 'a work in progress'. Highlights? Louisa's Yalumba Virgilius Viognier 2008 is world class. Dal Zotto's Arneis 2008 is a really unique and beautifully expressive wine. R Wines Mod Gamay 2008 is made with no additions (not even SO2 at bottling) and is fresh and sappy, with some rhubarb character, but also lovely sweet cherry fruit. Peter Godden's Arrivo Lunga Macerazione Nebbiolo 2006 was the wine of the tasting for me: the first truly stunning Nebbiolo I've seen from outside Piedmont, with incredible tannic structure. And I mustn't forget the lovely Boireann Tannat 2005 from Queensland's Granite Belt. The lowlights? Castagna's Viognier 2006 was oxidized and Coriole's Fiano 2008 had lots of VA. Hewitson's Old Garden Mourvedre 2002 was tired and dried out.

Then dinner. We enjoyed some really lovely wines. Julian Castagna presented some of his reds, and I loved the Castagna Genesis Syrah 2002 and the 2005 Un Segreto Sangiovese Shiraz, which were beautifully expressive, complex wines. Vanya Cullen showed us the truly beautiful 2007 Cullen Mangan, with lovely vivid fruit and good structure. Ngeringa Syrah 2006 from the Adeliade Hills was really elegant and Burgundian, even, and Bass Phillip Estate Pinot Noir 2007 successfully combined intensity and elegance. I was also really taken by the Lethbridge Kabinett Riesling 2007, which showed thrilling acidity and a brilliant limey, spicy intensity - in an off-dry, very Germanic style.
It was a great end to a thought-provoking day. Oh, and Max told us that it was a root day here in the southern hemisphere...

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Saturday, May 16, 2009

Drink me and Corralillo

Last night we had dinner with some friends. I always bring a few bottles along, simply because I have access to a lot of nice samples and it seems appropriate to share them around. But my buddy Karl often springs a nice surprise by bringing something interesting - and I really appreciate this. He brought along a bottle of Niepoort's 'Drink Me', which he'd bought from Hampton Hill independent merchant Noble Green. It's one of the most brilliantly packaged wines I know, with the label consisting of a series of 11 cartoons by Steven Appleby called 'Message in the Bottle'.

Niepoort have produced this affordable (10) wine before for foreign markets (they began with Falbehaft for the German/Austrian market a couple of years back), but the 2006 'Drink Me' is the first release in the UK. The wine itself is lovely, and serves as a great introduction to the Niepoort style.

Another wine opened last night was the Corralillo Merlot Malbec from my favourite Chilean winery, Matetic. It works really well because it isn't just about sweet fruit, but also has a lovely savoury, minerally dimension. It still has a bit of a Chilean edge, but this only slightly interferes with the lovely expressive character of this wine.

Niepoort Drink Me 2006 Douro
Dark, spicy and a bit earthy with some cherry and blackberry fruit on the nose. The palate is savoury and dense with attractive earthy, spicy notes, as well as good acidity. Fresh and quite complex, with lots of personality (perhaps a hint of brettanomyces, too, but it works well in the context of this wine, which is delicious). 89/100 (10 Noble Green Wines)

Matetic Corralillo Merlot Malbec Reserva 2006 San Antonio, Chile
Dark cherry and blackberry fruit nose with some spice and a distinctive meatiness. There's also a hint of Chilean character (dark rubbery edge) but this is quite subtle. The palate has sweet dark fruit with a lovely meaty, earthy savouriness, reminding me of a good Southern Rhone red. Finishes firm and tannic. I like the fact that this isn't just about sweet fruit. 90/100 (c. 12 Oddbins, but Majestic are also stocking the Matetic wines - they're all good)

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Sunday, April 19, 2009

On biodynamics

It has been fascinating to see biodynamic wine covered on mainstream news (both TV and newspapers) here in the UK over the last few days. So I thought I'd draw readers' attention to some articles on the topic.

First, the newspaper piece that started the discussion off. It was this article in the Guardian, which was the direct result of a press release by Quite Great Publicity (on behalf of David Motion's shop The Winery) that was sent on April 8th.

My take? I did a series on the topic which can be found here. And here's a video of James Millton preparing and spraying BD501, one of the preparations.

Then the nay-sayers: here's an article in The World of Fine Wine that's worth a read.


The wineanorak on BBC News

So I followed up yesterday's turn on Sky News with a couple of slots on BBC News this morning. It meant an early start - the car came for me before 6 am, and I was whisked off to BBC TV Centre in Shepherds Bush. Another session in make-up (no airbrush this time) then off to the tiny green room, where I met up with David Motion of The Winery (an excellent London wine shop) who I was to appear with on the programme.

Our first slot was at 0650, and went well. Then we had to wait for a while until the second slot, at 0850. Also in the green room was Sir Steve Redgrave who was there to talk about hydration (and some hydrating drinks he's involved with) in advance of next week's London marathon.

In the second slot we tasted some wine on camera - one of David's - a Spatlese Trocken Riesling from the Mosel, which was delicious. Just the sort of wine you want before breakfast. It was a fun segment, and we were all pretty relaxed. Unfortunately, I don't have a video to show you.


Saturday, April 18, 2009

The wineanorak on Sky News

I was on Sky News today talking about biodynamic wine, and Tesco's revelation that they hold press tastings according to the biodynamic calendar. It was a fun experience. I got picked up, driven to the studios in Osterley, and went straight through to make-up. 'Do you do airbrushing?', she asks. I nod as if I knew what she was talking about. With my blemishes covered, I'm through to the green room. Then after a quick flick through a newspaper I'm onto the set and wired up, and then we're on air. A few minutes later, it's all over.

You can see the video on:

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Thursday, March 26, 2009

Video: visiting Beaux Freres, Oregon

A short film from a visit to one of the leading Oregon Pinot Noir producers, Beaux Freres.

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Saturday, March 07, 2009

Video: visiting Brick House, biodynamic Oregon producer

A short film from a visit to Doug Tunnell's Brick House winery (reported in detail here). We begin by looking at the compost heap...

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Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Fun article of biodynamics

Regular readers will know that I'm quite a fan of many biodynamic wines, as well as being interested in biodynamics as a way of running vineyards. But, as a scientist I'm sceptical about some of its claims, although I do recognize that there are aspects of it that could have efficacy in the vineyard and be explainable by mechanisms other than those claimed by biodynamic practitioners.

Here's an article from the USA that puts the boot into biodynamics (I was alterted to this through a post on the erobertparker forum here. It's rare to see biodynamics criticized in the wine press, even though there's plenty people could go after. In particular, many BD practitioners believe in 'sensitive crystallization'. Here's a v. funny quote from the article on this topic:
Bonny Doon's Randall Graham doesn't need a consultant he hired Biodynamics expert Corderey as his full-time viticulturist. Corderey, a brusque, strapping Frenchman who rolls his own cigarettes, has turned Graham on to the power of sensitive crystallizations. Originally developed by Steiner disciple Ehrenfried Pfeiffer in the 1930s, crystallization is a process in which a dab of material in this case, wine is mixed into a copper chloride solution in a Petri dish. It is left in a small oven to evaporate overnight, leaving a residue of intricately formed crystal patterns. Corderey claims the crystals are the tangible mark of the "life forces" within the wines. Boltlike veins of crystals indicate that the vines are young and unfocused, like a child with a short attention span. Denser and more organized patterns indicate maturity and age. He glances up from his computer. "You know," he says with a smile, "I also crystallize people."
Corderey had a co-worker spend the day with a vial of wine in her pocket. He then crystallized the wine from the vial and compared it to a control sample. He would not reveal what he divined from the crystals, but said that he stunned the co-worker by pinpointing "exactly where she was in life." When SF Weekly suggested that someone could merely take a sip of wine, spit it out, and have Corderey crystallize that, he nodded that could work, too. "You see this?" he said, gesturing toward a choppy swirl magnified many times on his computer screen. Beneath the crystallization, a label read "2007 Albarino exposed to AC/DC Highway to Hell." Corderey had played the 1979 rock anthem to a glass of wine. He then played Native American music to another glass resulting in a much smoother, more organized crystallization. "You can see the connection these people work with nature and not against it."


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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Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Video content: Pyramid Valley Vineyards, a remarkable wine venture in New Zealand's Canterbury region

This is a short film I shot while I was visiting Pyramid Valley Vineyards with owner Mike Weersing. Located in the Canterbury Hills of New Zealand's South Island, this is a remarkable project with Burgundian-style close-planted vineyards that are farmed biodynamically. The full write-up of the visit went live on the main site today - you can see it here. Even if you don't normally watch video content on the web, you really should see this! It's an incredible place.

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Sunday, September 07, 2008

Matetic EQ Syrah - a serious effort

Over the last couple of evenings I have been enjoying the Matetic EQ Syrah, which is a serious wine. It's one of the vineyards I visited on my Chile trip in January, and for me this is Chile's best producer. They're operating biodynamically, and they seem to get such definition and freshness into their reds. I bought a couple of bottles of this from the Oddbins in St Margarets, and was rather surprised to find it had been reduced from 17 to 12, at which price it's a steal.

Matetic EQ Syrah 2006 San Antonio, Chile
Incredible stuff. Very deep coloured. Intense, pure blackberry and blackcurrant nose complemented by spicy, meaty, earthy notes, as well as a hint of olive and tar. The palate is earthy and dense with plenty of structure, but also lots of blackberry and plum fruit. There's lovely fresh acidity. Just a tiny trace of that Chilean rubbery greenness, but overall this is a really serious effort and I'll be buying some more with a view to seeing how it ages over the medium term. 92/100 (12.75 Oddbins, reduced from 17)

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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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Sunday, July 27, 2008

Day two of the IPNC

So, it's day two of the IPNC here in sunny McMinnville, OR. I got caught out last night by the diurnal temperature differential which is of Mendoza proportions: 80 degrees by day, 50 by night. Consequently, I froze as the dinner progressed and I was wearing just shirt sleeves. So today I hit downtown looking for some warmer clothing options. The only shop selling clothes, as far as I could tell, was a surf/skate dude shop. I shall be attending tonight's salmon bake looking like a wannabe 19 year old skateboarder.

Spare a thought for Tyler Colman whose Mac died on him. News travels fast, though. Someone came up to him today and said words to the effect of, 'Tyler, can **** have your power supply now you won't be needing it.'

This morning we had our seminar on sustainability. We began with the Jasper (Morris) and Dominique (Lafon) show, which Jasper chaired fantastically. We tasted Dominique's wines as he told us about his journey to biodynamie. We were about two thirds of the way through when one of the audience asked whether Dom could explain more about how he uses Vitamin E in his winemaking. It was a wonderful moment.
Then there was a panel with five Pinot Noir producers from around the world talking about their interest in sustainability. Ted Lemon, of Littorai outlined his four definitions of biodynamy.

  • The farm should be seen as a self-contained individuality, with the goal that it should be entirely self-sustaining
  • The material world is nothing more than condensed spirit, so we are farming the spirit rather than material.
  • The idea of using preparations is that by putting them on the ground it enhances the spirit dimension of your farm.
  • The enhanced wine and food grown using biodynamics gives us the force to confront the challenges of our lives.
Following the seminar there was a really nice lunch including some great wines, and also one of the most remarkable gastronomic experiences I've had. It was a suite of three bacon desserts. Yes, bacon. And they worked amazingly well. These were made by Cheryl Wakerhauser from Pix Patisserie in Portland.
[Note: message edited and a comment deleted to prevent someone getting into trouble]

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Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Crazy French wines at Lords

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

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

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

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

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

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Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Organics and biodynamics unleashed: Vintage Roots tasting

Spent an enjoyable day tasting the range of UK merchant Vintage Roots. They are unique in that they only stock organic/biodynamic wine.

It was a really well organized tasting for several reasons. (1) The location is great: the Worx at Parsons Green is a light, airy space that's just right for tasting wine. (2) There weren't too many people (although it was well attended). (3) Plentiful supply of Riedel Chianti stems which are now the default wine tasting glass for serious tastings. (4) Just the right quantity of wines, c. 140, so you can taste widely in a day but not feel like you are missing loads out.

The wines were pretty good across the board, but for me, there were a number of stand-outs. It was good to see a healthy representation of new world wines, with the best producers being Millton (very consistent range from New Zealand's Gisborne region - wines of real personality) and Emiliana (Organic Chilean winery). I also really enjoyed the Champagnes from Fleury, including three versions of the same Vintage 1995 with varying dosages (5, 10 and 53 g), a brilliant Vintage 1996 and a lovely 1990. An honourable mention should go to Quinta do Coa's Douro red (the basic not the reserve), a pleasant, understated Californian Pinot from Barra, and an affordable, tasty Pinot from Meinklang in Austria.
I also had a nice chat with Tom Dean, a Brit who married into a wine estate in Piedmont and who has converted it to biodynamics over the last few years. He had with him a cow's horn and two biodynamic preparations: horn silica and horn manure (pictured).

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Saturday, February 23, 2008

Organic, biodynamic and Californian

I've had mixed feelings in the past about the Bonterra wines, if I'm honest. I've enjoyed them without falling in love with them, and I have to admit to being slightly suspicious by the way that Brown Forman (the parent company) have seemed to over-play their organic hand. It just seems like there's a disconnect between big company/corporate marketing strategy and the generally smaller scale organic/biodynamic approach.

But I'm an open minded sort of guy (or, at least, I like to think I am), and so I judged these two wines as I saw them. The Viognier is fantastic, and good value at 10. The flagship biodynamic McNab is quite a serious effort, which I reckon will show brilliantly with a few years in the cellar.

Bonterra Vineyards Viognier 2006 North Coast, California
Organic. Wonderful aromatic Viognier nose showing apricot, peach, honey and lemon. The palate has appealing bright fruit with a nice rich texture. It's apricotty and fresh, with some vanilla. Good concentration: a lovely full flavoured dry white. I'm impressed. 90/100 (9.99 Booths, Majestic [from May])

Bonterra The McNab 2003 Mendocino, California
A blend of 47% Merlot, 36% Cabernet Sauvignon and 17% Old Vine Petite Sirah. Initially fruity and a bit oaky, but after a short while this is beginning to show its true colours: there's some earthy, minerally, spicy depth to the ripe fruit. Quite elegant, albeit in a ripe style, with an attractive plummy savouriness. A stylish, well balanced, intense wine that finishes with firm tannic structure, suggesting it has some way to go. I reckon the oak will integrate well with a few more years in bottle, and this has great potential. It's almost like a serious, traditional Rioja in terms of flavour profile. 92/100 (19.99 Vintage Roots)

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Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Biodynamic wine from Montalcino

Very interesting wine tonight, after a day that started off foggy and opaque, but which ended up bright and sunny.

It's a biodynamic wine from Sesti, a Brunello producer, which is full of interest. It's not a wine that everyone will 'get', but if you like savoury, food-friendly reds with some personality, this could be for you.

Sesti Buona Fede Rosso di Montalcino 2002 Tuscany, Italy
100% Sangiovese from Brunello, this is a cherry red colour with a brick red rim. Lovely warm spicy nose with a savoury, earthy, slightly mushroomy tang. The palate is very savoury and a bit funky with complex, evolved spicy, earthy flavours and a hint of medicine. It's really expressive and a bit old fashioned (in a good way), and I really like it. Finishes with good acidity and a bit of tannic grip. A great food wine. 89/100 (9.95 available from new internet wine merchant http://www.fromvineyardsdirect.com/)

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Monday, November 26, 2007

A biodynamic Champagne that rocks

It's a quiet Monday evening, so time for some fizz. And not just any old fizz, but a Vintage Champagne from one of the last century's great vintages, and from a biodynamic grower to boot. It's a really fantastic wine, and it should have been saved for a special occasion. But I don't feel too bad for opening it...

Champagne Fleury 1996
A yellow/gold colour, this has a sensational nose: it's complex and full, with notes of honey, baked apples, lemons, toast and pastry. The palate is concentrated with powerful flavours of lemon, herbs and toast. It's a rich style, with lots of impact, but kept fresh by piercing acidity. A really super effort - worth the relatively high asking price. Beginning to drink well now, but with this level of acidity it isn't going to fall apart any time soon. 94/100 (38 Vintage Roots)

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Friday, November 16, 2007

NZ (7) Waipara: a nice surprise

It turns out that the last segment of my short trip, added as a bit of an afterthought, turned out to be one of the most interesting and inspiring. What a country New Zealand is!

Let me explain the 'afterthought' comment. Just before I left the UK, I was playing around trying to get my internal flights matching up with my flight home. Nothing seemed to work, and I ended up with a flight into Christchurch at noon, and a flight out to Singapore at the same time the following day.

This gave me a chance to take a quick peek at Waipara, a region that's emerging as one of NZ's stars, with a particular reputation for Riesling and Pinot Noir. It's less than an hour's drive from Christchurch.

But who to visit? Where to stay? I had made a loose arrangment to pop in to Daniel Schuster Wines, at Omihi, and left the rest open. Then, on Monday, a couple of phonecalls from James Millton secured visits to Pyramid Valley Vineyards and Bell Hill, two estates I'd not come across before in the hills west of Waipara.

You know how it is at the end of trips. I was quite tired, I'd been all over the place, and I was thinking about home. My energy was in the wrong place. Yet this 'afterthought' day in Waipara were really inspiring, and provided a fitting finale to my trip.

I met with winemaker Nicholas Brown at Daniel Schuster Wines (http://www.danielschusterwines.com/). Immediately, just from looking at this vineyard (pictured above) I could tell that these guys were up to something different. Low-trained Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, closely spaced, on gentle slopes. The wines were full of old-world complexity, poise and interest. Biodynamics is being implemented here, in part.

I then headed off to Pyramid Valley (http://www.pyramidvalley.co.nz/), not knowing what to expect, other than hearing a few rave reviews and that they were biodynamic. But I had an incredible time with Mike and Claudia Weersing. Immediately, they offered dinner and a bed for the night, an incredibly generous offer. When I'm on the road I so much prefer staying in people's homes rather than in hotels. This gave us some time to spare. Mike took me to see the vineyards and gave me the most lucid, plausible explanation of terroir that I've yet heard, relating characteristics of specific sites to the wines they are making.

Mike is an American who trained in Burgundy, has worked making wine in the USA, France and New Zealand, and who had a very specific idea of what he was looking for in terms of a vineyard site: limestone over clay, on which he could fashion Burgundian-style Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. The vineyards he has established look fantastic, and the first wines from them - a pair of Pinot Noirs which are not yet released - are spellbinding.

My experience at Pyramid Valley was an incredible one, including a lovely dinner where we drank a 1990 Jadot Mazis-Chambertin that gained aromatic poise and weight in the glass, a 2006 Knoll Loibner GV Smaragd that was fresh, pure and peppery, and a 2006 Hirtzberger Weissburgunder that was quite beautiful. As well as Mike and Claudia's wines, of course.

This morning I had my rearranged appointment at Bell Hill (http://www.bellhill.co.nz/, pictured above), with Marcel Giesen and Sherwyn Veldhuizen. Like Mike and Claudia, they have a small hillside vineyard with perhaps a bit more lime and a bit less clay. It's run along a rather Burgundian model (Chardonnay and Pinot Noir are the focus, although there are a few Riesling vines on stakes on terraces).

We tasted the Bell Hill 2007s from barrel: deeply impressive, mineralic Chardonnay and structured but elegant Pinot Noir that is top-rank, and distinctly Burgundian. Beautiful wines, and a great way to finish my trip.

[I'm writing this from Changi Airport, where I have 5.5 hours to recover before the next leg. Free broadband internet access this time: I'm up on floor 3 near the business class lounges, which I think is the explanation. The contrast of the relaxed ease and warmth of Changi with the clamour and busyness of Heathrow is stark.]

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Wednesday, November 14, 2007

NZ (6) Gisborne and Hawkes Bay

Wellington Airport has free wifi access. How cool is that? I've been unable to blog for the last few days because I haven't had any internet access, but aside from that, I've hardly had a spare moment. So while I've got time (approximately 20 minutes until the next flight) and internet access, I'll try to give a brief update.

Leaving Marlborough on a gloriously sunny morning, I got on a tiny, tiny plane for a quick hop across to Wellington (the smaller the plane, the more fun flying is, I reckon) over the Cook Strait. I then flew to Napier, where I picked my hire car up, before heading off to Gisborne to see James Millton.

James had warned me that the 200 km journey was a tricky one, with winding roads, tight bends and lots of ups and downs. The 2.5 hour drive required a lot of concentration, but it was worth it, because the short time I spent at Millton was one of the best vineyard visits I've ever made. James runs his 28 hectares biodynamically, but this shouldn't be allowed to overshadow the fact that the wines he makes are quite brilliant, with a distinctive old world elegance and character.

We tasted, visited some vineyards, dug up some cows' horns, and I even got up at 0545 to see BD501 being mixed and sprayed. James and Annie were very hospitable, and I even had a chance to hit some golf balls and dip my toes in the Pacific (although not at the same time). James is pictured above with his special preparation stirring device.

Then it was back along the perilous highway 2 to Napier, the heart of the Hawkes Bay wine region. I arrived at the Craggy Range winery on the Gimblett Gravels (they also have a Cellar Door overlooked by the Te Mata Peak, where I was staying for a couple of nights in the vineyard cottage, which is a beautiful place to stay).

I tasted through the astonishingly good range of 06 reds, soon to be released Pinots, mind-blowing Syrahs and delightfully poised Rieslings. Craggy is on fire. That evening I crashed dinner with the board of Pinot Noir 2010, who were meeting at Craggy that day. Yesterday began with breakfast with Steve Smith, followed by a full day of appointments: Esk Valley, Sacred Hill, CJ Pask, Stonecroft and Trinity Hill. After the last appointment we had a beer and a glass of wine, before Warren Gibson invited me over to his beautiful rural home for dinner. The drive home proved a bit of a hit or miss affair (a combination of an inaccurate map, a tricky journey, darkness, and the fact that Hawkes Bay is a really easy region to get lost in), but I made it intact.

Today I'm off to Waipara, before heading off home from Christchurch tomorrow. This potted summary is a woefully inadequate, on the fly account, for which I apologise: as usual, the report in full will appear on the main site.

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Saturday, November 03, 2007

A biodynamic Sicilian amphora wine

Here's a wine that you might not 'get' of you just gave it a quick sniff and slurp in the middle of a large tasting. But once you give it a bit of time, and learn the story behind it, suddenly it all clicks, and it turns out to be almost profound. The importance of context...

Azienda Agricola Cos 'Pithos' 2006 Cerasuolo di Vittoria DOCG, Sicily
The story: two grape varieties - Nero d'Avola and Frappato - grown biodynamically and fermented in terracotta amphorae. No sulfur dioxide is used until bottling, so this wine is pretty 'natural'. Bottled in a beautiful squat, wide bottle. The nose has a haunting perfume, combining red fruits of great purity with fine minerally, spicy, earthy notes that frame the fruit quite precisely. Think of the aromatic profile of a great red Burgundy, warmed up a notch or two by the sun. It's the sort of nose you can keep returning to, and each time you attend you get something different. The palate is medium bodied and savoury, with an elegant earthiness. It has a spicy, subtly meaty complexion that makes me think of brettanomyces, but I feel stupid suggesting this, because it is hinting at a wine fault, when this wine is most certainly not faulty - it all pulls together to produce a profound result. But, at the same time, this is a relatively understated sort of wine that whispers, rather than shouts. The finish is long and dry. I think it's fantastic stuff, and I reckon this will develop nicely over the next 15 years or so, although it is drinking now. Strange to think, but that with its traditional elevage, this is a wine that could have been made 1000 or even 2000 years ago. 93/100 (Les Caves de Pyrene)

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Monday, April 30, 2007

Real wine tasting

A thrilling tasting today, held by Les Caves de Pyrene at the Delfina Gallery near Bermondsey Street. The theme of the tasting was 'real wine', and these are the sorts of wines that make you realise what it was that made you excited about wine in the first place. No, not absurd Californian Cabernets with 99900 points and a price tag to make you weep, containg long-hang-time dead, saggy fruit tricked up by new oak, and delivered in a heavy bottle with a big punt. These were wines with a sense of place, honestly made and sensibly priced, presented by people with calluses on their hands.

Pictured is Olivier Pithon from the eponymously named Roussillon domaine, which he began in 2001. Other standouts include the fantastic wines of Domaine Gramenon, Domaine des Roches Neuves from Samur, Emanuelle Houillon's Arbois wines, Domaine Ganevat from the Jura, Arrtxea's Irouleguys, Clos du Gravillas from the Languedoc, and this still leaves a load more I have to go back for tomorrow.

The wines were all showing pretty well today. Is that because of the atmospheric conditions? Or because it's a root day (no, I mean in the biodynamic sense, not the Australian one...)? Doug Wregg told me that all the supermarkets hold their tastings on root days (or shoot days...I may have got this mixed up) because although hardly any of them would contemplate stocking a biodynamic wine, they recognize that wines taste better on these days.

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Friday, April 27, 2007

Educational reading

Just thought I'd point out some articles I've dug up recently in my web travels.

Wines and Vines has a nice comparative tasting of wines made with oak chips and those without, looking at the influence of oak alternatives on the final wines. First time I've seen this. There's also an earlier article in the same mag on this subject.

Sticking with Wines and Vines, there's a nice article on minerality in wine, a topic I'm really interested in. The author makes a reference to a chapter in my Wine Science book. Glad someone has read it.

The World of Fine Wine has placed a couple of my articles online as pdfs, free of charge. Here's one on the premature oxidation of white Burgundy crisis and another on grafted versus ungrafted vines.

On the same site there's a lengthy but gripping (and surprisingly high level) discussion on biodynamics. Phew!

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Friday, February 23, 2007

Big tastings

Big tastings. We all go to them. Have to. But we all hate them. Not for the fact that we get to meet lots of producers and colleagues: that's what these events are good for. But because it's really hard to do wines justice when you are tasting one after another in an often crowded, noisy environment where it is very hard to concentrate, and where your palate definitely undergoes some sort of transformation in response to the physical assault of repeated challenge by acidic, alcoholic and frequently tannic liquids.

It requires experience, discipline and perseverance to get good information from big tastings. Yesterday afternoon I was at the Austrian trade tasting, which was packed full of really good - often great - wines. But it's so frustrating to know that simply through the constraints of time and the fact that I have just one mouth/nose/palate/brain I couldn't taste all the wines I really wanted to. What I did taste, I liked very much.

One slightly annoying aspect of the tasting is that some leading producers were showing their 2006 Gruner Veltliners, which are simply too young to show well at this stage. Gruner is a funny beast: it starts out all bright, rather tanky fruit, and takes a year or so to begin to express its true character. It just seems really hard to assess it when it is very young, although I guess winemakers must be able to do this to a degree.

Pictured is Christine Saahs of Nikolaihof. I learned yesterday that this estate, which makes very pure, mineralic wines, was the first biodynamic wine producer in Europe (they are certified by Demeter). They converted back in 1971, under the guidance of Christine's Aunt Uta, who was an anthroposophical doctor. One of Christine's daughters is now an anthroposophical doctor, too.

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