jamie goode's wine blog

Thursday, December 31, 2009

Video: the new year blind Champagne tasting

Here I taste Champagnes blind with brother-in-law William Beavington. Will Krug and Bollinger triumph over much cheaper growers' Champagnes when the label isn't in view? [And there's a nice family new year's toast at the end!]

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Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Are wine competitions reliable? Data from the USA

An interesting paper from The Journal of Wine Economics has analysed the reliability of judging at wine competitions in the USA. You can download it for free here.

From the abstract:
An analysis of over 4000 wines entered in 13 U.S. wine competitions shows little concordance among the venues in awarding Gold medals. Of the 2,440 wines entered in more than three competitions, 47 percent received Gold medals, but 84 percent of these same wines also received no award in another competition.
There's some good analysis of data in the paper. The conclusions are extremely discouraging:
(1) There is almost no consensus among the 13 wine competitions regarding wine quality, (2) for wines receiving a Gold medal in one or more competitions, it is very likely that the same wine received no award at another, (3) the likelihood of receiving a Gold medal can be statistically explained by chance alone.
We can conclude that there's something fundamentally wrong with these US competitions. Is it a US-specific problem, or does it also apply to competitions in other countries? Is it that the judges used simply aren't good enough tasters in this sort of environment?

[The same author has also published a paper looking at judge reliability at one of these US competitions.]


Thursday, June 11, 2009

Tasting great wines blind

I've recently had the chance to taste some rather grand French wines blind, without realizing what I was tasting. There were some smart wines in the London installment of the Berlin tasting - Lafite, Latour and Margaux 2005. And then in the Pinot Noir session at the Landmark Australia Tutorial, Tom Carson slipped in a bottle of DRC Romanee St Vivant 2002 as a ringer.

Some observations? Well, the DRC wasn't very good, or at least not as good as it should have been. It was in the middle of a flight of older Australian Pinot Noirs, and while I scored it at 90/100, I didn't think for one moment that it was of DRC quality, or even that it was particularly Burgundian when compared with the other wines in the flight.

The Lafite was too oaky - almost to the point of faultiness - although I noted that there was a serious wine here waiting to emerge. The Margaux I liked, but I thought it was a little rustic and bretty. The Latour wasn't totally clean, but this could have been a cork issue. Had I seen the label of any of these wines, I'd have felt some pressure to look harder for their merits. Indeed, when the identity of the DRC was revealed everyone started to make excuses for it in a way they wouldn't have done with the Australian wines (it's closed; it's going through an awkward phase).

Reputation matters a great deal in the world of wine. Our senses of taste and smell are, it seems, easily fooled. We bring a lot of expectation to these grand bottles of wine. In a mischievous experiment, a French researcher called Frederic Brochet (see here) served the same average-quality wine to experienced tasters at a week’s interval.

The twist was that on the first occasion it was packaged and served to people as a Vin de Table, and on the second as a Grand Cru wine. So the subjects thought they were tasting a simple wine and then a very special wine, even though it was the same both times.

We’d probably all like to think we’d not have been taken in by this ruse, but Brochet’s tasters fell for it. He analysed the terms used in the tasting notes, and it makes telling reading. For the ‘Grand Cru’ wine versus the Vin de Table, ‘A lot’ replaces ‘a little’; ‘complex’ replaces ‘simple’; and ‘balanced’ replaces ‘unbalanced’ – all because of the sight of the label.

Brochet explains the results through a phenomenon called ‘perceptive expectation’: a subject perceives what they have pre-perceived, and then they find it difficult to back away from that. For us humans, vision is our dominant sense and so we trust it over our senses of smell and taste. Brochet uses these results to explain Peynaud’s observation that ‘Blind tasting of great wines is often disappointing’.

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Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Another remarkable day

It has been another busy day. I am lucky to have one of the best jobs in the world.

I began with coffee with Andre Van Rensburg of South African super-estate Vergelegen (pictured above). Andre is a wine journalist's dream. He's talkative, controversial, direct - and smart and well informed with it. Our discussion was wide ranging, taking in subjects as diverse as leaf roll virus/mealybug, the over-emphasis of methoxypyrazines in Sauvignon Blanc and the concept of icon wines.

Then it was off to the Sainsbury's press tasting. Two stand-out wines that you must buy are the 2007 Taste The Difference Cotes du Rhone, which is £5.99 but tastes better than wines twice the price, and the 'Limited Release' McLaren Vale Shiraz 2008 which was sourced from Phil Sexton's Innocent Bystander operation, has a splash of Viognier and 15% Victorian Shiraz in it, and has beautiful concentration and texture. It will be on the shelf at £8.99 (good value at this price) but then discounted to £5.99 (which makes it absurdly cheap).

Next up, the 2007 Vintage Port preview at Somerset House (pictured). I hadn't read my invitation properly, so I was delighted when I got there to find out that the Ports from 2000 and 2003 were also being shown. Included were the Symington/Fladgate Partnership/Noval Ports. I set about the older vintages like a kid in a sweet shop ('candy store' for Americans). I love the 2000 vintage, and love the 2003 vintage perhaps a little more. The good news is that the 2007 vintage is fantastic: perhaps more on the fruit-driven style, but the aromatics and intensity on some of these wines was stunning. Dow, Graham, Noval, Silval and Romaneira were my picks from 2007. For 2003, Fonseca, Graham, Noval, Taylor, Vesuvio and Warre were all stunning. For 2000, Fonseca, Noval, Taylor, Vesuvio and (surprise) Smith Woodhouse were my top picks.

Then it was off to Bibendum, for a tasting of 31 Pinot Noirs from Oregon, 2007 vintage. It was a blind tasting for Tim Marson's MW dissertation, looking at whether the various Willamette AVAs are recognizable blind across a range of producers. This was a vintage spoiled a bit by harvest rain - and, interestingly, some of the wines were showing some rot/geosmin characters to the extent that I'd dismiss them as faulty.
Tonight I've played football, and tomorrow it's day 2 of the test match at Lords.

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Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Results from The Berlin Tasting, London

Very enjoyable day. Began with lunch and a couple of pints of Harveys at the White Horse, Parsons Green, with James Gabbani of Cube. We were discussing the closures debate at next week's wine trade fair. Then, the Wine Rack tasting, at the same venue. I was actually quite impressed with the wines - the whites, in particular, showed well.

Then it was off to The Landmark Hotel for the Berlin Tasting, London. My full write-up is already online (here). In brief, the Chilean wines were quite easy to pick. Superb tasting: thanks to Eduardo for organizing such a great event.

Group top 3: (1) Margaux 2005; (2) Lafite 2005; (3) Solaia 2005

My top 3: (1) Margaux 2005; (2) Solaia 2005; (3) Opus One 2005

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The Berlin tasting comes to London - will Chile beat Bordeaux?

Off to the 'Berlin' tasting in London this afternoon. This is a re-run of the event where Eduardo Chadwick pits his icon wines Sena and Vinedo Chadwick against some stiff competition, blind. Crack tasters then deliver their verdicts, and the results are compiled. Is the reason top Chilean wines don't fetch first growth prices simply because we are biased against them when we see the label? Will our deep prejudices be uncovered when we taste the wines blind?

It will be very interesting, particularly if the competition to the Chilean wines is as stiff as it has been in previous years. I will be fascinated to see what my perceptions are in such a setting.

Ultimately, I think the result will depend (a) on the stylistic preferences of the tasters; and (b) on the competence of the tasters in distinguishing among wines in a blind setting. Blind tasting is difficult, and not many people are all that good at it.

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Wednesday, April 15, 2009

International Wine Challenge, day 2 of 9

It was day 2 of the International Wine Challenge today. I had a really good panel and we tasted well together, which made for an enjoyable day's work.

Just 94 wines tasted today, which is a comfortable number. But with retastes, and deliberations, you end up putting a lot of wine into your mouth. The result is that when you get home in the evening, the last thing you feel like is another glass of wine.

So far this year I've experienced few really nasty wines, but there have been quite a few faults. As well as the odd musty tainted bottle (which we normally assume to be cork taint), there have been quite a few reduced wines. In fact, I'd say reduction was the most common fault (from a small sample so far). I've personally not seen any bretty wines, but have seen a handful of oxidized/VA bottles. I'm looking forward to seeing the results of the official faults analysis from the competition this year.

Stayed behind for a couple of Cooper's Sparkling Ales, which is a really nice way to finish a day's judging.


Saturday, February 07, 2009

How consistent are wine reviewers?

Interesting article in the Telegraph titled Consumers warned over consistency of wine reviews. It's based on a survey undertaken at the California State Fair wine competition at Sacramento, in which the judges were assessed for the reliability of their palates. You can read the original article from the Journal of Wine Economics here.

Tasting wine blind in competition settings is difficult, and few do it really well. It's important we know how reliable tasters are in these sorts of settings, because then we know what sort of confidence we can have in the results.

This is the first time I've seen these sorts of data collected, and the results are quite sobering. If we, as the 'wine trade', are to be taken seriously, then these are the sorts of studies we should be encouraging.

How about doing this sort of exercise at the International Wine Challenge, or the Decanter World Wine Awards? Or entering exactly the same wine into the competition under several different names? We should be eager to see how well we are doing, because this would reassure us, or help us improve.

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Monday, October 27, 2008

'Blink' and wine tasting

One of the books on the shelves in the house we are staying on is Malcolm Gladwell's blink: the power of thinking without thinking. It's a book I'd heard about, but never read. So I've skimmed through it, and it's interesting - well, sort of.

The thesis is that we humans are often better at making split-second decisions than we are at reaching conclusions with lots of deliberation and research. 'This book is all about those moments when we "know" something without knowing why', it says on the back cover.

Gladwell suggests that there's some background processing going on in our brains, which we are unaware of but which helps us make rapid decisions. I suppose this is similar to the familiar notion of 'intuition'. 'Blink' likely resonates with people because it makes them feel extra clever and reassures them that their instinctive reactions are usually correct.

I think Gladwell's cheif cleverness is in making a solitary interesting idea stretch out far enough to fill a whole book. The reason I wanted to comment on it is because of the application of the 'blink' principle to wine tasting. We can spend a long time dissecting a wine into its components, trying to analyse it and understand it, but sometimes it's the instant impression that is the most useful. Much of the time, even if I struggle to write a good note on a wine, I know immediately what I think of it. It's often the first impression that is the purest and most accurate.

That's not to say, of course, that there aren't some wines that require time and attention to show what they've got.

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Friday, May 23, 2008

Thoughts on blind tasting, and stuff...

So I spent the day in the office. When I went freelance I thought I'd be spending a lot of days working from home. It has actually been much busier than I'd envisaged, so I haven't had all that many days when I've not been going out to work elsewhere.

The way I prefer to work is in bursts. I like to work really hard, and then take it a bit easier. I aim to try to get some work/life balance where I'm not crazy busy all the time. To make this work with the family, I work unusual hours - quite often, I'm working late at night simply because this means I'm more available when the kids are around. The other factor is the 'muse': when you are writing, some times are unpredictably much more fertile than others - you have to run with this.

So what did I do today? I finished a piece on the perception of wine that looked at studies investigating what happens in the brain when we taste wine. I did some invoicing. I wrote an annoyed email to a car hire company who were being arseholes about a one-day rental Fiona made last month (a long story). I spent a while on the phone to Susanna from Imbibe magazine who is doing a really interesting piece on wine preservation devices, and wanted some technical input. I walked RTL. I helped Fiona bath RTL (a traumatic process). I played three games of Top Trumps with younger son, losing 2-1. I mowed the lawn. I fired up the barbie. And I responded to Fiona's challenge and tasted three wines blind.

The blind tasting was difficult, as it often is. The first wine was tricky: it was red, and sweet enough to be new world, but then again it was savoury enough to be ripe old world. There wasn't the complexity for it to be serious old world, but then it wasn't sweet and simple.

It was impossibly hard to place. I guessed South Africa, then Chile, then Italy, then France, before hitting the mark with Australia. It was the De Bortoli Yarra Valley Shiraz Viognier 2004. Tasting it unblind, though, I'm getting lovely dark peppery cool climate Syrah fruit that I didn't get blind. Blind, I got more of the ripeness/greenness contrast. [So is this the power of suggestion at work, or just that when I taste unblind my perception receives input from my memory and knowledge of wine that then helps me to make more of the sensory information I am getting?] It was the greenness that led me to Chile and South Africa, but because I now know this is from the Yarra, I'm not as afraid of the greenness.

The second wine was white, but it wasn't obviously Chardonnay or Sauvignon. I couldn't spot oak, but there was a rounded texture. It was actually a Chardonnay Reserve from Finca Flichman, but, almost bizarrely, it tasted like a rich unoaked Italian Pinot Grigio. Really tough blind. Finally, I was poured a vile, slightly oxidised Chardonnay - it turned out to be a supermarket entry level Chilean Chardonnay fro 2005 that hadn't survived well.

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Friday, April 25, 2008

The final day's tasting at the IWC

A full day of tasting today - the final day of the International Wine Challenge (although there's a further trophy tasting day next week). Once again, I was with a fun, competent team of tasters. We worked hard, and were the last to finish - an extra flight of Sicilian reds had been found hiding behind a fire extinguisher, so we did the honours.

Our tasting today consisted of:

white Burgundy (6)
Californian Merlot/Cabernet (7)
Chablis (7)
Californian Zinfandel (5)
Chenin Blanc (5)
Californian Zinfandel (4)
Touriga Franca-based Portuguese reds (3)
Portuguese and Spanish whites (3)
Gruner Veltliner (1)
France Rose (1)
Chile Rose (1)
Portuguese reds (2)
Australian Grenache (1)
Chianti (1)
Canada and California Cabernet Franc (2)
Portugal reds (2)
Coonawarra Cabernet (3)
Australian Cabernet (6)
Sherry (1)
Sicily reds (3)
Fortified Muscat (3)

Which makes 65 wines, which isn't too tough on its own. But if you want to do a proper job you probably end up tasting all the wines twice, or even more, in consultation with your fellow judges. The surprise flight of the day was the second bunch of Californian Zinfandels. Now I hate Zinfandel, which is a rubbish grape. But these four wines were all excellent, and I gave them all gold medals. My team were also impressed, although not quite as impressed as me - I think we ended up golding a couple and giving the others silver.

Now I am exhausted.

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Thursday, April 24, 2008

Striking gold at the IWC

Another day's tasting at the International Wine Challenge. After a short day on Tuesday where we were finished mid-afternoon, the last two days have been quite hard work - we've been going full throttle until 4.30 pm. I know it sounds a bit effete when you explain to people that you've been tasting wine all day, but it requires a lot of concentration and stamina. Yes, really!

This week the goal has been to re-taste the wines that we selected last week as being potentially medal-worthy. In our panels of four, five or six tasters we look at the wines carefully, in short flights of up to eight, and decide what medal to give each one, if indeed they really deserve a medal at all.

Leading a panel of tasters is quite a sensitive task. Everyone has their own opinions, and sometimes these opinions differ quite markedly. Rather than simply average out all the scores, which would lead to massive clustering, with almost all wines getting bronze medals, I'm on the lookout for potential gold and silver medal winners. If just some of the panel think a wine is worth a gold, then we'll take another look at the wine with a view to seeing whether we can agree to raise our scores a bit - as long as the wine justifies it, of course.

Our panel today managed to dish out half a dozen gold medals, and I think the wines that were thus awarded were all fantastic. That's after awarding no gold medals on the previous two days. The wines getting silver were all pretty smart, too. For some reason, we had a lot of Portuguese wines today, which I enjoyed. We started with some lovely Nuits-St-Georges and finished with some cracking liqueur Muscats.

I do need to mention the organization of the challenge, and the behind-the-scenes team. They've delivered a flawless performance. Each team works on two tables, and while we're judging one flight, the previous flight is cleared away and the next is laid out, so that there are always wines waiting to be tasted. If a bottle is faulty, a replacement is quickly found - no easy feat when there are 10 000 different wines in the competition. The flights have also varied nicely, with white fights interspersing red to keep our palates fresh.

Lunches are also excellent. One side of the room takes a 12.15 lunch; the other has the 13.15 slot. You desperately want to have a 12.15 lunch, or else the morning becomes a very long session!

Just one more day to go of the regular judging, and then the trophy tasting next Wednesday. It has been fun being involved in this competition.


Monday, April 21, 2008

Behind the scenes at the IWC...

Tomorrow I begin the second week of judging at the International Wine Challenge (IWC). This is the bit where we take a second look at the wines that survived the first week, to decide on medals.

Here's a behind the scenes perspective of the IWC, from Colin, who is one of the highly professional team that make the whole competition work.


Friday, April 18, 2008

IWC: BBC and the end of week one

Finished the first week of the International Wine Challenge (IWC). It has been less physically demanding on my palate that I'd anticipated, although I am physically very tired.

Yesterday a BBC camera crew were in attendance (pictured above). They were filming our tasting - and, in particular, tracking a single bottle, which they'd followed from the grape vine to the shop shelf. I hope it got through to next week...

The last couple of days the panels I've been tasting with have been excellent. It has been fun, with some healthy disagreement, but the relatively painless reaching of consensus. The constant rotation of flights from white to red, and from old world to new, keeps your palate quite fresh. The lunches are also excellent. The Coopers beer at the end of the day goes down very easily.

Usually, a day's solid tasting leaves me pretty tired and looking forward to an early night. But last night I went out for a curry in Teddington with some friends to celebrate the 40th birthday of a buddy, Rob, who happens also to be a Man City fan. It was a great evening, with modest excess and some good banter. We finished off with everyone ribbing me for my self-belief. It stems from the fact that I made a bet on new year's eve that by the end of the year I'd be down to a single-figure golf handicap. At the time I genuinely believed this was achievable, if I played often enough (i.e. most days) and had a few lessons. Now I realize it's merely a theoretical possibility. Last night I threw in two more theoretical wagers. The first was that if I played as a striker with a top premiership team, I'd score at least one goal in a whole season. The second was that if I played a full test series and bowled at least 20 overs per innings, I'd get at least one wicket. They all howled with laughter.

Next week we have Monday off, but then it's back to the IWC for the second round of judging. Pictured are the massed bottles waiting to be assessed.

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Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Day 3 of the IWC, and a note about the Barbican

The International Wine Challenge (IWC) is held in the Barbican. It's a remarkable construction, built on a site that had been bombed out in WWII, which then remained undeveloped for two decades, before plans were made for a residential development in the late 1950s. The design was approved in 1959, and the building work began in 1963, continuing through into the next decade.
It's a striking sight, with the main feature being three rather tall towers. The rough concrete used to build the estate is pretty ugly, and there's a rather industrial, dirty, ugly feel to the whole place. But I guess, looked at in another light, the Barbican has its own sense of beauty. There are over 2000 flats here of different styles, which range in price from around £600 000 for a two bed to £1 million for a three bed. There's a thorough if slightly dull website describing the Barbican's history, written by a resident.

I've finished the third day’s judging. So far, it’s been a little easier than I’d expected it to be. I had worried that my palate and teeth wouldn’t stand up well to day after day of tasting 100+ wines, but they have, and I even managed a wine tasting and dinner last night after a full day’s judging.

The organization of the Challenge is fantastic. It makes the job of tasting easier when you have a support team who make sure everything is in the right place at the right time. As for the accuracy of the process, I think it’s pretty good. Accurate blind tasting is difficult: it needs a degree of expertise and also good concentration. Most of the tasters I’ve worked with on the challenge so far have been very good, but it only takes one random or variable taster on your panel to make the job of sorting out the medal-winning wines from the rest that much harder.

One of the best aspects of working on a competition like this is the chance you get to hang out with other people in the wine trade - at the beginning of the day, in the panels, at lunchtime, and over a Coopers at the end of the day. As well as being an enjoyable social interaction, you do make some useful connections.

Tasted today:

Eastern European Pinot Noir (5)
Stellenbosch Shiraz (6)
French Merlot (mostly Bordeaux) (8)
Argentina Tannat (1)
Uruguay Tannat (1)
Ukraine Zweigelt (1)
Brazilian Touriga Nacional (1)
South African Touriga Nacional (1)
Australia Tannat (1)
Sparkling Rose (2)
Sparkling Reds (2)
Australian Cabernet Sauvignon Blends (12)
Eastern Australian Shiraz (9)
Chile Carmenere Blends (4)
Italian Sauvignon Blanc (12)
Canadian Cabernet Sauvignon (6)
Argentina Malbec (9)
Stellenbosch Gewurztraminer (3)
Chianti (9)
Languedoc Cabernet (6)
Spanish Rose (10)
Portuguse sweet Moscatel (5)

Total = 105 wines.

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Monday, April 14, 2008

126 wines today

Today was the first day's judging at the International Wine Challenge, where I'm busy for the next two weeks as a panel chair. It's the world's largest blind tasting competition.

What I tasted today, by flight, with the number of wines in each in brackets:
  • Vintage Champagne (7)
  • Spanish Merlot (3)
  • Languedoc Sauvignon Blanc (5)
  • Spanish Syrah (7)
  • German Pinot Noir (8)
  • Australian Semillon (10)
  • Spanish Tempranillo Blends (6)
  • Spanish Syrah Blends (12)
  • Bordeaux reds (12)
  • English Madeleine Angevine (3)
  • South African Cabernet (6)
  • Austrian Riesling (13)
  • Piedmont Cortese (8)
  • Douro Touriga Nacional (5)
  • Australian Chardonnay (21)
which makes 126 wines, which didn't feel like too many.

The panel I was on was great, although we lost one to fatigue at lunchtime, and then another was seconded to a separate group in the afternoon. We finished the day with a couple of Coopers, which is a nice touch.


Monday, March 24, 2008

Three blind Sauvignons, and off to Argentina

Later on today I depart wintry old London for a quick trip to Argentina. It's my first time to this increasingly interesting wine country. I'll be based in Mendoza, and will be seeing some of the top producers. Forgive my childish enthusiasm, but I find visiting wine regions very exciting still. If ever it becomes a chore, I'll stop writing about wine.

Yesterday, we headed over to brother-in-law Beavingtons for some lunch, but perhaps more importantly a spot of blind tasting. Devoted readers of this blog will remember that last time we did this he served me some of his Justerini & Brooks cellar plan wines, which he'd just removed from bond without being aware of their current market value - so we enjoyed Bruno Clair Corton Charlie and Le Dome.

This time the tasting was in three parts. First some Sauvignons, then a couple of Champagnes I'd brought along, then three reds, finishing up with a couple of dessert wines. I'll start with the Sauvignons. Notes as written, with no tidying up later.

Wine 1 (Jackson Estate Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2006)
Quite refined. A Sauvignon Blanc with some subtlety and minerality. Finishes crisp. It's delicious and could be either a Sancerre or a stylish New World Sauvignon Blanc. Guess the price at £9.99. 88/100

Wine 2 (Montana Brancott Sauvignon Blanc 2007 Marlborough)
Full grassy green nose. Green pepper here: very assertive. Powerful, herby, tangy palate with real weight and freshness. A new world Sauvignon Blanc. 87/100 Guess price at £7.99

Wine 3 (Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc 2007 Marlborough)
A powerful, intense, fresh Sauvignon Blanc combining rich tropical friut notes with high acidity. Assertive and crisp. Concentrated style with lots of impact. A stylish new world Sauvignon Blanc. There's a bit of tomato leaf, too. Precision and power. 89/100 Guess price at £9.99

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Sunday, February 03, 2008

Blind tasting at home, and a bretty Rioja

As I've mentioned here before, I often do blind tastings at home where I let Fiona select at random from the sample rack and then present me a few wines double-blind. It's a really useful educational experience, although you could argue it's not truly double-blind, because I have some idea of what wines are sitting there (usually around 250 different bottles).

Tonight's two are detailed below. I'm reproducing the notes I made as they were made, and then adding some brief comments made after the wine was revealed.

Wine 1. White. Fresh, spritzy and vibrant. A youthful white with zippy acidity and a spritz. Light, dry and a bit mineralic. There's a touch of herbaceous methoxypyrazine character. I think it's a youthful warm climate Sauvignon Blanc. Price guessing: £5. [It's the Flagstone 'The Berrio' Sauvignon Blanc 2007 Elim, South Africa. Tasting it sighted, I think I was a bit unfair calling this a £5 wine, or is this just the sight of the label speaking? It's quite refined and very refreshing, but there's a strong cool-climate feel here: it reminds me a bit of some of the Leyda Sauvignons I tried in Chile.]

Wine 2. Very deep coloured red/black. Rich, dark fruit here: quite weighty with a tarry edge to the dark fruits, together with just a hint of rubberiness. It's ripe and powerful, with black fruits showing some evolution. There's some oak and a hint of mint. Tastes quite expensive, and it has some evolution. It doesn't taste Australian, but it's new world. Chilean? I reckon a high-end Chilean Cabernet-based wine. Price £15. It's quite attractive; almost Bordeaux like in places. [It's the Santa Rita Triple C 1999 Maipo, Chile. Tasting it sighted, a bit later, this does have a lovely evolved aromatic presence that has a bit of a minerally, gravelly, tarry Bordeaux finesse. The palate is nice but doesn't quite match that - there's a hint of bitterness on the finish. Interestingly, this is more than half Cabernet Franc. It's quite a serious effort, actually. I'm pleasantly surprised.]

Interestingly, the Faustino VII Rioja Semi Crianza 2005 Spain (£5.99 Co-op) I opened earlier is remarkable, in that it's a widely available commercial brand, but it's stuffed full of (what my palate takes to be) Brettanomyces. It's worth trying if you haven't experienced a bretty wine before, I reckon.

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Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Chile day 4 - more tasting

Today was the second full day of tasting at the wines of Chile awards. We were down to eight judges, because unfortunately Sarah Ahmed had been stricken with a nasty illness, and was unable to continue. We were reassured that it had nothing to do with her scores on the first day.

But before I say more about the judging, a word on restaurants. Last night we went to Akarana, which is opposite the Ritz Carlton, and presumably relies on American visitors for a good portion of its trade (signs on the outside were in English). It was really buzzy, and the food was pretty good. Recommended. Tonight we went to Mestizo, which is a stunningly situated restaurant in the Vitacura region of the city, which has only been open for a few days (they don't have their license for alcohol yet). The food - modern Chilean - scored 9/10. It was brilliant. The service mustered only 2/10, though - chaotic, unfocused and unprofessional. If they cure that, this will be a great restaurant, because the setting and the kitchen are pretty much perfect.

Tasting today was quite tough work. Working in our groups of three, we awarded quite a lot of medals - the standard was consistently quite high. But gold medals were hard to come by. The wines we have tasted at dinner over the last few days have shown that Chilean wine has come a long way in a relatively short time. But in our tastings, few wines really stood out as being really exceptional. It's quite hard as judges to have to say this: it would be much easier to give lots of golds and keep everyone happy. But we have to do our job as professional tasters and give an honest opinion of the wines that are in front of us.

Don't get me wrong, though: overall, I'm getting a favourable impression of Chilean wine through our tasting and drinking this week.

Story of the day was Joanna Simon's experience at breakfast this morning. Seeking butter to go with her roll, she asked for 'burro', which led to bemusement on the part of the waitstaff. Now I'm very tired (more tennis and swimming after work), and it's past midnight, so I shall go.
[Pictured is John Hoskins, Jo Simon and Julia Harding hard at work.]

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Sunday, September 02, 2007

Le Dome 1996, plus others, blind

So we headed off to brother-in-law Beavington's (who is married to my sister Hester) for lunch, along with twin sister Anne and her husband Dominic. Little did I know that I was going to be treated to a flight of 13 wines, all blind. It was a really interesting excercise, and we had a great time.

As someone who professes to know a bit about wine, I love the chance to taste blind. Of course, there's more to a wine that just what is in the glass. The context matters, and the sight of the label can help a great deal in guiding or shaping our perception. At the same time, the sight of the label can lead us into bull***t land, where we begin to 'experience' things we have never really perceived, but this doesn't mean that the only legitimate tasting is blind.

What blind tasting does is focus the mind and provide a bit of a reality check. If a taster can't tell the difference blind between a first growth Bordeaux and a Chilean Cabernet, or Krug and Cava, then what are they doing wasting my money buying the top stuff? If the difference is too close to call, then they could save a lot of money by buying the cheaper option.

I'll just mention one of the wines we tasted today here; many of the others deserve their own space. It's a wine I immediately identified as a top Bordeaux, but it had what hindsight shows me to be some distinctive Cabernet Franc/Merlot leafiness - a clue that I missed, and which would have led me more to the right bank than the left.

Chateau Le Dome 1996 Saint Emilion
Beautifully perfumed, showing lovely deep, smooth dark fruits nose with a nice spiciness, and a subtle greenness that's really attractive. The vivid blackcurranty fruit makes me think Cabernet Sauvignon, and there's a bit of bloodiness, too. Quite intense on the palate with good savoury dark fruits and nice structure. Some age here. Not a heavy, structured wine: the key here is the gravelly, minerally complexity under the sweet fruit. 94/100

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Monday, July 30, 2007

Almost summer, and three blind wines

Pictured is Regent's Park this lunchtime, taken with my Pentax *ist DL2 and posted using Google's Picasa (that's what the little coloured logo at the bottom of this post represents). I've been playing around with Flickr a lot, but Picasa seems quite a promising way of dealing with pictures on your computer, rather than on the web.

As you can see, it's almost a summer's day: it feels a bit fresh, but there's some sunshine, and no rain so far. It would be great if we could get some proper summer weather - I expect wine and beer retailers would like it, too. I wonder whether the sustained damp weather has put the brakes on the remarkable rise in rose sales in the UK over the last couple of years.

Last night Fiona tried another three blind wines on me. The first was an oaky white that I reckoned was a really good Chilean Chardonnay. Turned out to be an oaky Grenache Blanc from Domaine Lafage in the Roussillon. What's the point of making Grenache Blanc taste like Chilean Chardonnay? Then a red. Red berries, quite fresh, new worldy, with just a tiny hint of greenness - I called this as a really good Chilean Merlot - turned out to be Dona Dominga's Syrah Carmenere. Very nice, actually. Finally, a crappy South African Cabernet Sauvignon showing oxidation and greenness. It was all over the place and I couldn't get it at all. That's one thing that will always trip a blind taster up - an out of condition wine.

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