jamie goode's wine blog

Monday, January 04, 2010

Wine personality of the decade? The screwcap

As the recent online survey on the excellent Dr Vino blog has demonstrated rather well (IMHO), itís very hard to pick one single person who deserves to win this award. So my vote goes to a thing, not a person. And that thing is the screwcap.

10 years ago cork was performing pretty badly. Cork taint was a big issue, and the Australians were also getting cross about a phenomenon called random oxidation, caused by the variable nature of oxygen transmission by poor quality corks.

The only alternative to cork was the new but rather poorly performing plastic cork, and that wasnít winning too many friends. So cork producers had little motivation to up their game, because they enjoyed what was effectively a monopoly situation.

The major breakthrough came in 2000, when a bunch of Clare Valley producers formed a coalition to release their Rieslings under screwcap. This initiative, and the publicity that ensued, changed the closures market forever.

As the results from the Australian Wine Research Instituteís Closures Trial, initiated in 1999, began to appear, they showed that screwcaps kept the wine fresher and fruitier for longer than any of the other closures available, including natural cork.

The adoption of screwcaps by the Australian and New Zealand producers was almost immediate. With the tin/saranex liner, screwcaps now seal the vast majority of bottles in these two countries. Of the estimated 18 billion bottles of wines sealed each year, screwcaps now account for over 2 billion (synthetic corks have also done well, and account for around 4 billion).

But screwcaps arenít the perfect closure. Currently there are just two liners used: tin/saranex and saranex only. The first, the one used almost exclusively in Australia and New Zealand, allows very little oxygen transmission at all (probably not enough), and the second a little more than an average natural cork: ideally, weíd like a liner with intermediate properties.

And they havenít been widely accepted in all markets. But what they have done is change the closures market completely. Were it not for screwcaps, itís unlikely the cork industry would have implemented the quality control measures that they have. And it is unlikely that weíd have seen the rise of alternative closures such as Diam, Vino-Lok and the improved new generation synthetic corks. It is only since they've been widely used that we've started to get to grips with post-bottling wine chemistry.

The noughties have definitely been the decade of the screwcap.

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Saturday, January 02, 2010

A very important wine: 1999 AWRI Trial Semillon

Really pleased to get a chance to try this wine, because it's an important one.

It's the Clare Valley Semillon 1999, made by Kerri Thompson at Leasingham, which was the wine used in the now famous Australian Wine Research Institute Closures Trial. In this trial, the same wine was bottled using fourteen different closures, including this one - the tin/saran-lined screwcap.

The significance of this trial? In the years that followed, the different bottles were repeatedly analysed by sensory and analytic methods. The results showed that the different closures resulted in very different wines, largely because of their differing oxygen transmission levels.

Those with the synthetic closures available at the time oxidised quite quickly. In comparison, the screwcap-sealed wines stayed fresher for much longer, although some low level struck flint/burnt rubber reduction notes were detected on sensory analysis.

Opponents of screwcaps used this 'reduction' to bash screwcaps, which otherwise seemed to be doing the best job of all the closures. But consider this: when the trial was begun, virtually no Australian wines were screwcap sealed; now the vast majority of them are.

So, some 10 years and eight months after bottling, how does this wine look? It's a full yellow colour, with a minerally, flinty edge to the attractive honeysuckle and citrus fruit nose. The palate has a lovely focused fruit quality to it with pithy citrus fruit and a hint of grapefruit. There are also some subtle toasty notes. Very attractive and amazingly fresh for a 10 year old Clare Semillon.

The reduction? If you look for it you can find it, in terms of the struck match character and a slight hardness on the palate. But it's nowhere close to being a fault. I doubt any of the other bottles in the trial that aren't sealed with a tin/saran-lined screwcap are still drinkable.

Geeky note: this is one of the old fashioned screwcaps without the BVS finish (noticeable around the rim); this was introduced later to make the seal more robust. (Pictured.)

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Thursday, October 08, 2009

Closures: managing risk

I've decided to delete this post, but wanted to leave a marker here for the sake of openness, rather than just make it vanish, '1984'-style.

It was a 'thinking out loud' post attempting to put rough figures on various aspects of closure risk, but on reflection, and after some discussion, I think it's actually really unhelpful - what the closures debate needs are more solid data points, and not more anecdote and opinion.

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Thursday, August 27, 2009

Affordable white Burgundy, alternatively closed

Enjoyed this Bourgogne Blanc, which I also tasted at Drouhin on my visit there in June. Interesting to see that it is closed with an attractive-looking Stelvin Lux. Opened two other Burgundies today from another leading negociant, Louis Jadot - these were both sealed alternatively, too, with Diam 5s.

Joseph Drouhin Laforet Bourgogne Chardonnay 2007
Fine, minerally nose is fruity and quite refined with lovely precision. The palate is fresh and bright with nice acidity and some minerality. An attractove, pure white Burgundy. 89/100 (£11.99 Oddbins)

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Sunday, August 16, 2009

Victoria Moore's Guardian column goes technical

Respect to Guardian wine columnist Victoria Moore for putting some hardcore technical material on screwcaps into her most recent piece here. She's done her research, and as a good journalist hasn't just trotted out the party line, but formed her own opinion.

Unfortunately, she's been let down by her subs. As well as putting the price for Lawson's Dry Hills Riesling in at £1.99 (didn't they think to check this rather low figure?), they've also changed the last sentence in the third from last paragraph and reversed the meaning - see whether you can spot this!

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Friday, July 17, 2009

Buy my last book for just £5!

I've just moved office, and in the process I found a couple of boxes of my last book, Wine Bottle Closures (optimistically, I did quite a large print run). So if you'd like a copy of this incisive assessment of the closures scene, then you can buy one at the knockdown price of £5 from http://www.flavourpress.com/.

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Friday, July 10, 2009

Wine closures: do we need a new screwcap liner?

In short, yes.

Screwcaps are great, but in all the discussion on the topic (which has generated a lot of heat), one thing people keep forgetting is that the screwcap is not the closure. It's merely a way of keeping a liner (the actual closure) in apposition to the bottle rim. A crown cap does the same.

Now this sounds geeky and pedantic, but it's actually incredibly important. The gas transmission properties of the liner are crucial, because this determines how much oxygen gets into the wine after bottling.

There are two liners used for wine. The most commonly encountered is one with a metal (tin) layer in its construction, as well as a layer of saranex, which allows very little oxygen transmission. This is the one used in Australia and New Zealand almost exclusively.

The other is saranex-only. This allows more oxygen transmission, by a factor of 10. It's commonly used in Europe, especially for more commercial wines.

How does cork compare? Corks vary in their oxygen transmission (OTR) properties, but typically they fall somewhere between the tin/saran liner and the saranex-only. For the technical minded, Jim Peck of G3 in California has published the following guideline figures based on his research with a technique known as MOCON.

Typical OTRs in air (cc Oxygen/closure per day)
Screwcap, tin/saran liner 0.0001
Screwcap, saranex liner 0.001
Natural cork 0.0005
Synthetic cork 0.005

What are the implications of these figures? Do we want any closure OTR? The answer seems to be yes, just a little, to avoid problems with sulfur compounds (reduction). Othwerwise, as little as possible seems to give the best results for most wines.

The tin/saran liner is risky. It doesn't really allow enough OTR to reduce the risk of reduction to an acceptable level. Winemakers often have to resort to copper fining when they use this closure, which isn't ideal. Otherwise, it's great for shelf life and keeping wines fresh for a long time.

The saranex liner is great for wines that are going to be drunk in the first three to five years after bottling. But it's not really suitable for wines that will be cellared for longer.

So we have a need for a liner with properties somewhere between the two, and this is just what Jim Peck and his colleagues at G3 have been working on. Their solutions? Microperforations in the tin layer of the liner.

They have developed a mathematical formula that allows them to predict the level of OTR depending on how many perforations are made and where they are located. This could be great news for winemakers who are currently unprepared to switch to screwcaps because of the risk of reduction, or for winemakers already using screwcaps who are unhappy making the foot fit the slipper in terms of preparing their wines differently to suit the closure they are bottling with.

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Wednesday, March 04, 2009

VLOG on closures

Here's me talking for 10 minutes on the subject of wine bottle closures. And there is still so much that I didn't have time to say!


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Thursday, February 05, 2009

In Sweden

I'm in Stockholm today and tomorrow. It's my first trip to the land of Sven Goran Eriksson and Abba, and it's been great so far.

My role is to assist with the launch of some wines in new packaging: multilayer PET (a sort of plastic) with a plastic (Novatwist) screwcap and a special label material, making it all fully recyclable. I'm here in a technical capacity as a neutral closures/wine packaging expert to discuss issues such as oxygen transmission, migration and carbon footprints.

The wines themselves are made by Mitchelton, and they're pretty good. Really good, even. But the real interest here is this innovative packaging solution.

This afternoon I met with Claes Lofgren (http://www.winepictures.com/) and Johan Bostrom in the offices of Wine World, and then this evening Claes, Johan and I were joined by Bengt-Goran Kronstam (publisher of Alt Om Vinj) and Catharina Forsell of Wine World for dinner.

We ate at the Food Bar of Mathias Dahlgren, one of Sweden's top chefs, and the food was fantastic. It was washed down well with some lovely wines, including a brilliant Clos St Denis Grand Cru 2005 from Lucien Le Moine, which should really not have been drunk for another decade, but which hinted strongly of greatness to come.
Tomorrow I'm doing a presentation for the Systembolaget, then a radio interview, then I'm heading for home.

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Friday, December 26, 2008

A short position statement on closures

So what's my current position on wine bottle closures? [This is a lenghy post I've just made to an online wine forum, in response to another post.]

There's no such thing as a perfect closure. It's about choosing the best closure available for your wine. If it were a simple matter of 'sealing' a bottle to stop liquid coming out, then of course there would be no excuse for continuing to use cork. There are a range of alternative wine bottle closures that are taint free. Take your pick.

But what we've learned - largely through the adoption of alternatives to cork - is that the oxygen transmission properties of the closure matter. And the precise level of oxygen transmission will affect the way the wine develops after bottling.

For an inexpensive wine that's likely to be drunk within a year or two after release, it's nuts to use natural cork, because cheap natural cork is nasty and carries a risk of taint. For these wines, synthetic corks, screwcaps with a saranex-only liner (there are two different liners for screwcaps, one of which allows very little oxygen transmission - the tin/saran - and one which allows more - saranex only) or Diam represent good alternatives.

Microagglomerates that have been steam-cleaned are also a good bet, although do carry a small risk of taint, as do steam-cleaned one-plus-ones (two discs of natural cork sandwiching an agglomerate core).

For more expensive wines that may be cellared, then it becomes more tricky. I'd say for high end, ageable wines then natural cork bought from the most quality-minded cork producers is the best option. This is because we like the way that wine develops under good natural corks.

I'm personally not keen on the tin/saran liner used widely for screwcaps. It just doesn't allow enough oxygen transmission. This means that there's a risk of reductive problems post-bottling (although the exact nature of this risk hasn't yet been quantified). It also means that the wine will develop differently to the way it develops under cork. Will it be better? How lucky do you feel?

Synthetic corks have developed quite a bit over the last decade to the point where they are claiming really good oxygen transmission characteristics. I'd like to see independent data on this. Likewise with Vino-Lok, the glass closure where the seal is by means of a plastic 'O' ring. It's certainly a functional and good looking closure.

Diam may prove suitable for long-ageing wines. I'm sure it's good for 10 years, because the Altec (the tainted predecessor using the same mechanical design) has shown the physical integrity of the closure is fine after this time.

Finally, a plea - let's try to be as informed as possible when we discuss this complex business of closures. I've found the whole debate to be unessecarily polaized in the past, with people splitting off into factions, and spouting propaganda at each other. For example, when we talk about 'screwcaps', let's remember that the screwcap isn't the closure, but merely a way of holding the liner in apposition to the rim of the bottle. It's the liner that determines the oxygen transmission properties of the closure.

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Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Insolite: a lovely Loire Chenin

Loire Chenin Blanc is geek territory. Chenin is a fabulous grape, but it's not for the masses - it requires quite a bit of investment on behalf of the drinker, in terms of understanding it and learning to love it.

Here's a good one. Appley, minerally, a bit tangy, with some notes of cider (in particular, it has a bit of tannic bite like you get with bittersweet cider apples). Perhaps that is one reason that Chenin can age so well - it's a white wine with tannin.

Thierry Germain Domaine des Roches Neuves 'Insolite' 2006 Saumur, Loire
Fantastic stuff from old vine Chenin Blanc. Notes of honey, spice, apples, vanilla and dry straw on the nose. The palate is savoury and vivid with fresh green apple and lemon acidity and concentrated herb and straw savouriness. Extremely fresh with real cut and bite: this needs food, really. A complex savoury wine with a bit of bite. 91/100 (around £13, Les Caves de Pyrene, artisanwines.co.uk, Wimbledon Wine Cellar, RSJ)

As an aside, it's interesting to compare the corks from this and the Sottimano I mentioned here recently. The Sottimano looks like it is unbleached. The Insolite shows something I often find in sweet wines, and also Chenins - the wine seems to have eaten into the end of the cork, softening it. Is this the acidity? (see below)

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Friday, June 13, 2008

Some thoughts on closures

I'm stiff. Stiffer than stiff. I played cricket for the wine trade team on Wednesday (first game of the season for me), and came away stiff after bowling seven overs and running between the wickets for a while, as well as acting as a substitute fielder for the other side. And then I went and spent two hours in the nets last night. The result is that today I feel about 83 years old.

Just been writing a piece on closures for US trade magazine Wines & Vines. The topic was alternative closures to cork, so I was covering the likes of screwcap, synthetic corks, Vino-Seal (Vino-Lok in Europe), Zork and Diam.

The whole closures debate seems to have died down a little of late. What we really need, to make any progress, is the answer to a two part question:

Precisely what oxygen transmission levels do we need from a closure for each style or type of wine? And precisely what oxygen transmission levels do the existing closures we have deliver?

Synthetic cork manufacturer Nomacorc have embarked on an 'Oxygen and wine' study with a multimillion pound budget to try to answer these questions, and I think it will be very interesting to follow this. They are collaborating with INRA Montpellier, the Australian Wine Research Institute, University of California Davis, Geisenheim and an unnamed Chilean research institute.

Each centre will be looking at the development of one or two varietal wines under a range of closures. The project will be following the wines from grape to analysis, knowing exactly how much oxygen the wine has seen before and after bottling. It looks to be an exciting project.

It's all very well offering a range of closures with different oxygen transmission properties, but who knows what the desired oxygen transmission properties are in the first place?

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Thursday, May 29, 2008

Making corks

Spent yesterday morning at Amorim's labs with Dr Paulo Lopes, who's a scientist working on issues such as oxygen transmission by closures. It sounds nerdy and dull, but it's really important. Paulo did a presentation on efforts by Amorim to deal with the taint issue, then he presented his work on how much oxygen ingress there is with each type of closure.

Then it was time to see a couple of cork manufacturing and processing plants. High-end corks are still punched by hand (top picture), a skilled task where rapidly taken decisions about where to punch the next cork from have important quality implications. The corks are then sorted either automatically, or manually (above). The best quality corks can cost more than a Euro each (below) - and they look beautiful. The modern cork production process is a fusion of the modern (e.g. gas chromatography screening for minute TCA levels) with the traditional (cutting cork bark, hand punching corks).

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Tuesday, May 27, 2008

I love Portugal...

Post from the road. I'm in Portugal, this time with my family. As well as visiting solo on several occasions, I've been here with Fiona a couple of times before, but this is the first time we've brought the kids along, and I'm really glad we did. There's something special about this country that I wish my two boys could 'catch' a little of.

The reason behind the visit is to learn more about cork and its production, courtesy of the leading cork producer in the world, Amorim. I'm keen to find out more about the sorts of measures that Amorim are taking to eradicate taint issues, which still haunt the industry, and also about the natural cork-based alternative closures they are marketing. I'm also looking at issues such as sustainability, which are of great current interest.

It's the first time I've really tried to juggle a work trip and a family trip in this way. It's fraught with danger, in the sense that if Amorim were to foot the whole bill this would be a significant conflict of interest (rather than just a mild one). I guess the only way to deal with this problem is to be honest, and disclose any such information, and trust that readers realize that at all times, I'm trying to deliver the best, most balanced, most informed perspective on any particular issue that I'm writing on.

After all, my reputation, and thus my future earning potential, depends on this. If gathering data means spending time with winemakers, staying in their homes, eating dinner with them, having flights paid for, and receiving samples, all in order to get the best perspective and inside line on any particular story and issue, then as long as it is disclosed, it is not a huge problem. It's the undisclosed, behind the scenes deals that are worrisome. And for me, in half-term week, being able to combine family time with work on the road is hugely advantageous.

Last night we stayed in the Alentejo at Monte dos Arneiros. It's a beautifully quiet, secluded country retreat just an hour's drive from Lisbon, and we liked it so much we intend to go back there in the near future. While I visited Amorim's plants at Coruche, the kids and Fiona swam and rode bicycles through the 500 hectares of cork oak forest that this property manages. Food was authentic local fare, presented without any fuss or pretension. The weather was atypically cool and damp, but we still had a good time.

Tonight we are staying in Espinho, at the Hotel Solverde. It's on the coast, some 18 km south of Porto, and despite the dire account of Espinho in the Rough Guide, it seems quite a nice spot - well, at least, the hotel is rather plush and well managed, boasting indoor and outdoor pools, a spar, and a helicopter pad. We haven't hit the town, yet.

Much merriment was had this evening when we checked out the indoor pool, and were told that we had to wear swimming hats. All of us. We purchased these from the spa reception - elder son chose pink, younger son red, I was yellow and Fiona was blue. They made us all look very daft indeed, and it reminded me of the time when we fell foul of French swimming pool laws that insisted on males wearing speedo-style trunks and not swimming shorts (so, as a mark of protest, we swam in our briefs, which was, rather strangely, allowed).

Tonight we dined on room service and ordered some wines from the restaurant list. Even in a five-star joint like this, you can drink well reasonably cheaply. The wine list had some good names (alas, no vintages or descriptions), but we enjoyed the Quinta das Bageiras 2003 Bairrada (good, complex, earthy, spicy Baga that tastes wonderfully natural and traditional) and the Casa de Togeira Vinho Verde 2007 (laser-sharp, crisp and attractively fruity). The former was 17 Euros, the latter just 11.
Tomorrow I meet with Amorim's technical expert Miguel Cabral, and then we're off to Antonio Amorim's home for dinner with the kids. I really hope they behave themselves. His kids are of similar age, and ours have been sternly warned...

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Saturday, March 22, 2008

Some Languedoc wines and an evil cork

Impromptu tasting of some Languedoc/Roussillon wines, after another bitterly cold day - on which it even snowed here in London, although a little half-heartedly. Pictured is the view outside the front of our house at about 4 pm. This is the reason God created the southern hemisphere, where I am escaping to on Monday.

Just a note on the evil cork (pictured above). It was sealing one of the Languedoc wines, a £2.99 AOC Minervois from Lidl. Now this Lidl wine was actually relatively sound and drinkable, but for a subtle streak of mustiness which I assume is TCA and its related compounds. In other words, cork taint. If you mash up bits of cork and stick them together, there's a very high chance that you end up with low level taint in almost all of them. If, say, one in 20 or one in 30 corks is tainted to above-threshold levels with TCA, then imagine the effect of dispersing this taint among all your corks. It's just a barmy decision to use cheap agglos like this, especially now there are many alternatives at a similar sort of price. Utterly evil.

Anyway, a mixed sort of bag of Languedoc/Roussillon reds on show tonight (partly because of a dodgy vintage, 2002, in the mix), although my enthusiasm for the two neighbouring regions continues. Here are my notes.

Mont Tauch Les Douze Fitou 2006 Languedoc, France
Gently herby, spicy nose with supple red fruit character. Palate is midweight with a nice combination of sweet fruit and spiciness. It's not a blockbuster, but it's nicely savoury. Likeable. 86/100 (£6.49 Majestic)
Les Hauts de Forca Real Cotes du Roussillon Villages 2003 France
Quite a dark, dense wine with a meaty, earthy edge to the super-ripe black fruits. Big, ripe, but savoury too, and not imbalanced. Rich, earthy, spicy, tannic palate is very bold, and showing a bit of Brettanomyces character, but in a rich wine like this it works quite well, making a full flavoured, attractively savoury wine. 90/100 (£10.99 http://www.therealwineco.co.uk/)
Abbotts Cumulus 2002 Minervois, France
100% Syrah matured in 40% new American oak, 20% old American oak and 40% in old French oak. Indeed, the dominant feature here is the sweet cocount and vanillla of oak lactones, which threaten to dominate the supple spicy fruit. It's tasty enough if you like oak - in fact, it tastes a bit like a new wave Rioja. I can see that there's a big market for this sort of wine, but it's not for me. 84/100 (£5.99 Averys)
Mas de l'Ecriture 'Les Pensees' 2002 Coteaux du Languedoc, France
A tricky vintage for Pascal Fulla's Mas de l'Ecriture, which is one of the Languedoc's star properties. Treat this like Burgundy, and open and decant, serving from a Burgundy glass. There's some earthy, spicy complexity on the nose with a hint of undergrowth. The palate is dense with sweet red fruits and some firm tannins. There's a distinctive earthy character. Drink soon-ish. 88/100

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Saturday, October 13, 2007

I love wine!

Some bottles opened last night, and continued tonight, remind me why I do what I do: I love wine!

First of all, a couple of Gruner Veltliner. Lenz Moser's Laurenz V Sophie 2006 is a wine that we've consumed 15 bottles of in the Goode household since summer. It's brilliant for the price - around £5 on special from Tesco - and we have six more arriving next week. But a step up is the Stadt Krems Gruner Veltliner Weinzierlberg 2006, which is one of the most enjoyable whites I've had in a while. It's aromatic, full, generous, well balanced, lively and quite thrilling. This is GV at its very best, and just under £10 from Averys. I must buy some.

Then a really good Bordeaux: Chateau Brown 2004 Pessac Leognan. This is deep, minerally, gravelly, savoury and quite tight, with lovely dense dark fruit hemmed in by firm tannins, good acidity and a touch of oak. Pretty serious stuff, definitely in classed growth league, and which is a good four or five years off its peak. Again, this is a wine that had me on wine-searcher looking to see where I can get some. Unfortunately, none available in the UK...

The picture is of the closure used to seal the Stadt Krems GV. It's a Vino-Lok, which is a glass stopper with a plastic ring doing the business of sealing, covered in a metal cap. I'm not sure about Vino-Loks: they look good, and feel nice to open (no special tool is required), but plastic allows diffusion of oxygen, and it is plastic that is making the seal. Besides, they're really expensive compared with screwcaps and Diam, their main competitors.

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Monday, September 03, 2007

Reductive Viognier and a nice Syrah


Two wines tonight, both of interest.

Yalumba's Eden Valley Viognier 2005 had the potential to be an excellent wine. That it is merely good, is, I suspect, down to the closure - in this case a tin-lined screwcap. The luscious, rich, complex peachy fruit that typifies many top Viogniers, here enhanced by ageing in old French oak, is hidden behind the dominant theme of this wine: some intense, almost pungent struck match reduction character. In the absence of chemical analysis this is an educated guess, but I reckon the low redox environment generated by this almost hermetic seal has led to a shift in the sulfur chemistry such that a clean wine at bottling has turned reductive. If this was a rich Chardonnay, the reduction might have been complexing. But here it doesn't work: it masks the fruit.

Second wine is Laurent Miquel's Nord Sud Syrah 2004, which at £6.99 in Tesco is agood buy, with its ripe, concentrated, meaty/spicy fruit. It's quite perfumed, and has a sane alcohol level of 13.5%. Very stylish winemaking for a humble Vin de Pays d'Oc.

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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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Thursday, May 24, 2007

Trade fair day three

Just to show that I'm not hidebound by tradition, I rock up at the trade fair early, about 0945. I say 'about', because for the last three days my watch has stopped. Battery dead, and I haven't been able to replace it. I've been wearing my watch, which has read 1021 on the numerous occasions where I've looked at it, almost instinctively, but I've been relying on my mobile to tell me the time. Today I'd forgotten my mobile, so I had to rely on the odd occasion where I caught sight of the time to guide me. The last few days have made me think about issues about time - a 'romantic' part of me hankers after the age when we'd have relied on the church bells and the position of the sun in the sky to tell us what time it was.

I was early for the session I'd agreed to attend: Nomacorc's oxygen seminar. So I stopped by the Wines of South Africa stand and tasted through the Chenins (expertly guided by wine writer Sarah Ahmed) and the Rhone varieties. Really enjoyed the 2006 Sequillo white and the Tulbagh Mountain Vineyards Syrah Mouvedre 2004. The Black Rock 2005 was also lovely. Also had a quick chance to chat with WOSA's UK manager Jo Mason, and controlled myself by not saying 'variety is in our nature' in a silly voice, which is just as well because her boss was in earshot.

Then it was off for Nomacorc's seminar. It was overlong - they'd just tried to pack too much into it, and as well as four presentations by their own people there was a tasting and comments from a four person expert panel. Add questions into the mix, and it all felt a bit rushed. But there was some really good stuff here: in particular, Olav Agaard's closing pitch on the impact of oxygen transmission on wine characteristics was pretty hot, including some really nice theory on tannin perception and how oxygen transmission through the closure might affect this.

The tasting was also really useful, showing the same two wines bottled with a different closures with a variety of different oxygen transmission methods. The overall message resonated well with me: it backed up a lot of the conclusions I drew in my book on wine bottle closures. I'm quite excited by some of the research on the role of oxygen in post-bottling wine chemistry that they are undertaking. Pictured are head honcho Malcolm Thompson and manager of oenological research Stephane Vidal in pensive mood.
On the way home got my watch battery changed. Night in tonight. Watched Hustle. RTL is on heat and is leaving red drips around the house. What were we thinking of getting a dog?

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Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Trade fair day one

So I rock up to the London wine fair at about 2 pm. I have a few moments spare, so I taste through the Symington portfolio of Douro table wines (Altano much improved in 2005, as is Chryseia and Post Scriptum) and Ports, before heading up to the seminar rooms where I was chairing the Closures debate.

This year the focus was on retailers and their involvement in closure development, with a star-studded panel made up of Andy Gale (Tesco), Howard Winn (Sainsbury), Jenny Bond (ex-retailer, now a consultant) and Ian Rogerson (consultant who works with Co-op). Before we get going, Sam Harrop pops in to let me know the preliminary findings from the faults clinic at the International Wine Challenge. More on those in a few days.

We kick off. Last Thursday I stayed up to watch Question time to get some tips on how to run a panel debate from the master himself, David Dimbleby. While closures is a hot topic, it's not nearly as contentious as the subject matter Dimbleby deals with, but I got some useful pointers: most significantly, don't let questions hang in the air - always direct them to someone. So I reckon I did a better job this year than last, and the panel were great.

Afterwards it was time for a quick beer with James Gabbani (of Cube, organizers of the debate), Andy Gale and the Oeneo guys, before a quick stop at the Cube party. James had to explain to the bouncers not to be too rough with any drunken guests (apparently last year a wayward reveller got their face a bit mangled when they were dropped onto the concrete floor outside from a height), and Scott Burton runs after Murray McHenry (of McHenry Hohnen) to tell him that, yes, he can come in even though he doesn't the required wristband, the lack of which has led to him being refused admission. Then we get some beer. Had a nice chat with Jack Hibberd, Stuart Peskett, Christian Davis and Graham Holter, but then it was time to head off.

Dinner was with Dirk Niepoort, Swiss journalist Chadra Kurt and Cloudy Bay viticulturalist Siobhan Harnett at RSJ restaurant near Waterloo. RSJ has an incredible wine list that is almost exclusively from the Loire. We chose a 2004 Savennieres Clos de Coulaine by Claude Papin and 2005 Saumur Champigny Domaine des Roches Neuves by Thierry Germain. Dirk bought some wines: 2005 Charme, 2006 Niepoort Pinot Noir and a 1978 Colheita, all of which were great. Siobhan brought the 2004 Te Koko and a late harvest Riesling. I'll be seeing Dirk again tonight for the official 2007 Dirk Niepoort annual dinner.
Pictured is the view from the balcony of one of the waterfront rooms at Excel. Canary Wharf is visible in the distance.

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Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Champagne and sparkling wine

Continuing my semi-obsession with bubbles at the moment, I opened two fizzes side-by-side this evening. It felt a little decadent, because like it or not it is hard to get away from the image of bubbly wine and celebration, celebrity and conspicuous consumption. Two very different bottles, though, and this wasn't intended to be a straight shootout.

First: Champagne Mumm de Cramant NV Grand Cru Brut Chardonnay. There's a bright, fresh, perfumed, almost salty quality to the nose. It's tight, savoury and shows lemony freshness alongside some denser herby, toasty notes. The palate is bright, fresh and savoury with complex toasty, honeyed, herby depth. There's precision here, as you'd expect from a Blanc de Blancs, but there's also some midpalate depth and savoury weight. All in, it's a really lovely fizz. Bottled with 8 g/l dosage and a lower pressure (4.5 atmospheres versus the usual 6, which makes it less fizzy). Very good/excellent 93/100

Second: Deakin Estate Brut NV, Australia. Sealed with a crown cap, this is an attractively packaged fizz showing bright, delicate lemony fruit and nice acidity. A very fresh, almost transparent style of sparkling wine. It's not the most complex example of its genre, but at this price it's a great value all-purpose fizz. Very good 84/100 (£6.99 Oddbins, 6 for the price of 5)

Aside: crown caps are great for sparkling wines, but they aren't hermetic seals. The seal between the rim of the bottle and the cap is what determines the oxygen transmission properties, and this case it is some sort of plastic material, which allows oxygen diffusion. So for this sort of fizz it's fine; I'd be cautious about cellaring crown capped bottles for any length of time, though.

In the Mumm picture the corner is turned down: apparently, in days gone by the wine was delivered unlabelled, and the turned-down corner of the business card indicated personal delivery. Although made since 1882, this cuvee wasn't released commercially until 1960.

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Monday, March 26, 2007

Closures debate, part 4348

If you thought the closures debate was dead, then take a look at the comments in response to a news story on Decanter.com. Some interesting reading: I'm particularly interested by the post by Eric Baugher. Not so convinced by Chris Exley's point: the wine simply doesn't come into contact with aluminium in a screwcap unless someone forgot to put the liner in.

I've been researching a piece on wine cabinets. It's made me look round the house trying to think of a place where I could store one - it would have to be a big space, as I'd like something with a 200 bottle capacity. I'm one of those people who worries about wine storage conditions almost obsessively.

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Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Max Allen on closures

Just found a nice to-camera piece on closures by Australian wine writer Max Allen, originally on a show called Better Homes and Gardens, and which is now on the Zork website - you can see it here. Until this, I'd never seen a Zork in action before. I met Max for lunch at St John a while back (my old blog tells me it was 15 September 2005); he's a nice chap.

I'm looking forward to an Alion vertical and lunch tomorrow, at The Square. Should be fun.

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Monday, March 19, 2007

closures book in Australia

Just a brief note - my closures book is now available from WineTitles in Australia here.

As an aside, it's just turned really cold in London. Worryingly, my vines were gearing up for budbreak, a couple of weeks early. Some frost now could spell disaster.

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Friday, March 16, 2007

Big in Hermanus

Peter May (of www.winelabels.org) kindly sent this picture of my closures book (www.flavourpress.com) in a bookshop in Hermanus, South Africa. Who'd have thought it?

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Monday, February 19, 2007

Elian da Ros cheapie

If, like me, you are an irredeemable wine nut, you'll probably have a tendency to buy more wine than you can drink. This is something I've battled with for a while: it's a problem that's compounded if you are thinking in terms of building a cellar. You can always justify another purchase as one for the future. My problem is that I get tempted by offers and end up buying stuff for near to mid-term drinking that I just can't get through. Particularly when I have a pile of samples to wade through.

One such wine was Elian da Ros' Vignoble de Cocumont 1999 Vin de Pays de l'Agenais. I recently found an untouched case which I'd bought a few years back from La Vigneronne (now Grand Cru Wines) for about £3 a bottle, which, it must be said, was a remarkable price for this half decent wines. Elian's wines have plenty of gutsy stuffing, tasting like a half-way house between serious Claret and a beefy Madiran. This, his entry wine, has evolved nicely - now it's showing minerally, chalky blackcurrant fruit (quite Claret-like) with some serious spicy tannins and good acidity. It's turning a bit earthy with bottle age, and overall, I reckon this wine is now peaking in a rather chunky, rustic sort of way. I'm enjoying it a good deal, but then I don't mind robust, tannic reds. One thing that has surprised me with his 1998s and 1999s is the amount of wine travel on the corks, which I've illustrated in the picture. There's something odd about the corks he's used, and I don't know what it is.

The other wine I sampled this evening is the bretty Thevenet Morgon I blogged on a few days back. Aromatically, this is interesting, but the phenol-like metallic brett on the palate is too much. I'm convinced that brett really only works in sweeter, more southern wines where there's something to counter that distinctive bretty signature.

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Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Paris

Iíve been in Paris for a couple of days at the Wine Evolution conference, where yesterday I spoke at both afternoon sessions, one of logistics, the other on closures. The real value of these events, however, is not information, but the people you meet. I guess thatís why business people still rack up the airmiles in this information age, when there are other much cheaper and simpler ways of corresponding: nothing beats a face to face meeting. Today Iím a free agent and itís a great opportunity to hunt down interesting wines in Paris, as well as just walking the streets and seeing some famous sights. Pictured is the view from my hotel window (33rd floor), the tones warmed by the early morning sunshine.

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Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Arrivals


Been some fresh arrivals chez Goode. First, a new printer. My old inkjet died, and I've replaced it with another inkjet. It wasn't expensive. Inkjet printers represent the ugly side of modern retailing. The hardware is cheap; they sting you for the ink cartridges. Ink, of course, is very cheap. But by putting it in special cartridges that look all technical, they ensure that you don't mind forking out substantial sums of money on these devices at regular intervals.

The modern retail environment takes advantage of human psychology. We stall when faced with a high upfront cost, but stomach regular, less painful cash outflows quite well. The great example of this is my boys and their sticker books, where if they realized up front how much a completed sticker book would cost, they'd be horrified, and would put their money to better use. Or would they? Because their other great passion, Playstation, works on the same principle - the console is cheap, but the games expensive.

Back to printers: apparently some printer manufacturers underfill the cartridges supplied with the printer. My printer manual advises me that the cartridges won't last as long as they should because of the ink required to 'prime' the printer heads. Sounds like an evil lie to me. And they didn't supply a USB lead to connect the printer with. So I pop into a nearby Dixons. The USB leads look very fancy, but are £19.99 each. How much? Are they crazy? After rooting around a bit I find one for £14.99, but this is still absurdly expensive, even though it is beautifully packaged. I ask one of the staff whether they have any reasonably priced USB leads and get a blank look in exchange. What sort of business model is this, where consumers are being charged over the odds for peripherals? Probably one that works to extract maximum cash for minimum pain on the part of the consumer, who is anxious to get their printer working as soon as possible. In the end I pick one up in Maplins the following day for £6.49, which is still a little steep.

The second noteworthy arrival is a Fed-Ex bag with 100 Diams in it. Of the taint-free, in-neck closures available - Diam, synthetic cork and ProCork - all would have done probably done a good job with my wine. It was just easiest to obtain the Diams, and I think they'll fit my purpose well. The big question now is whether I bottle my red wine lots separately (in five or six bottle runs), or combine everything and bottle just one red wine. [The white wine is already blended in a big container.] It's a difficult choice. I'm slightly concerned about the effect of any oxygen pick-up during blending prior to bottling. But a cuvee of just five bottles is hardly sensible, if I'm to be sending out bottles to friends and colleagues.

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Monday, January 22, 2007

Michel Laroche

Spent some time this evening tasting 2005 Grand Cru Chablis from Laroche and Fevre. It was also the first time I'd met Michel Laroche. As well as being a very good Chablis producer, Laroche is also famous for being an advocate of screwcaps. He's been a pioneer in a country that has been quite slow to adopt alternative closures.

'I started using screwcaps in the 2002 vintage', he explains. 'That year we sold 3% of our total production under screwcap; last year it was 32%; and this year we think it will be 60%'. Interestingly, in 2002 he used the saranex-only liner, which allows more oxygen transmission than the tin liner that has been so popular in New Zealand and Australia. Discussions with Jeffrey Grosset and Michael Brajkovic led him to switch to the tin liner for following vintages. The 2002 Les Clos, bottled with the saranex liner, was on tasting, and showed very well.

How has this shift affected sales? 'We've probably lost 5% of customers, but I think we've gained 15% or more', he estimates. 'I'm not going to change my mind!'

I asked Laroche whether he gets fed up about discussing closures; shouldn't the emphasis be on the wine? But he likes the issue; it's one he feels strongly about. I did ask him about the 2005 vintage. 'My first vintage was 1963', he says, 'when I carried the hod.' [Laroche was 17 then; doing the sums, I reckon he looks very youthful for 60.] 'My first proper vintage was 1967, and a vintage like 2005 is very rare'. He cites the 2005 ripeness levels combined with good natural acidity as being unique in his experience.

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Friday, January 19, 2007

Recent coverage of screwcap faults

I mentioned earlier my disap- pointment about how the 'screwcaps fault' issue has been treated in the press. My response is now online.

The Wine+ closures talk I did yesterday was OK. Well enough attended, but I reckon I rushed through my material a bit. Always hard to know how you did when you are presenting technical stuff to a largely non-techie audience; I think I judged some bits well, some badly.
Caught up with Tony Jordan again and tasted the Cloudy Bay and Cape Mentelle ranges. Also tried Vickbar's excellent Greek range.

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Thursday, January 18, 2007

wine+

Giving a talk this afternoon at wine+ at Olympia. It's on the subject of closures, a topic that is currently of great media interest (see here, here and here). It's very disappointing to have such inaccurate coverage of this topic. I'll blog more on this later explaining why I think these articles haven't got it right.

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Tuesday, January 16, 2007

The bottles arrive!

Got home to find several large boxes in the living room. Turned out to be 100 bottles from the Quinn Group, for the inaugural vintage (here) of my English wine that I intend to bottle in the next few weeks. Arriving soon will be 100 Diams (the closure I've chosen - it's taint free - and I don't have a screwcap line here so that wasn't an option - other taint-free in-neck closure options would be to use ProCork [the membrane cork] or synthetics, both of which would have suited my needs fine). So far the wine hasn't seen any sulfur dioxide, but I'll probably add just a little at bottling.

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Thursday, December 21, 2006

buying wine and cheese

Just come back from Waitrose, where I did a pre-Christmas treat shop. On the cheese front I bought Keen's Cheddar, Colston Bassett Stilton and Comte. But I also bought two bottles of wine. I try very hard not to buy wine, because my kitchen is full of it, and I have to work hard to keep on top of the samples. I can't always stop myself, though - and it's also healthy to remember what it feels like to shell out your own cash on the stuff. It's easy to overlook the fact that a £20 Chianti Classico or red Burgundy is just plain dull when you didn't pay for it. When it's your own £20, you quite rightly have higher expectations, and you are more likely to be appropriately critical.
What did I buy? First, a bottle of the crowncap-sealed Domaine Chandon ZD 2002, which I recently wrote up (this was £13.99). I liked it in the Yarra; will I like it in my kitchen in London? Always helpful to calibrate my tasting notes with my drinking notes. Second, from the same LMVH empire, a bottle of Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc 2006 (£15.99). An odd choice? Well, my brother in law, Beavington, raves about this stuff. I've not tried it for a couple of vintages - I'd come to the conclusion that it's no better or worse than a dozen other leading Marlborough Sauvignon Blancs. But Beavington is insistent that it is magical. I'm slightly worried that he's a bit of a label drinker, but I'm giving him the benefit of the doubt by buying this wine to see whether it over-delivers in the way he says it does.

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Wednesday, December 06, 2006

post from the road

Just a rapid post from the road, in a small town called Badajoz, which is just on the border between Spain and Portugal on the Spanish side. I'm with Cube's James Gabbani, who is as good a travelling companion as you could wish for.

Yesterday after a 3 am start we arrived in Lisbon early in the morning, picked up a hire car, and motored through the Alentejo (passing near Evora and Esrtremoz) at a rapid rate. We ended up in a small place about half an hour away from here where Oeneo's Diam facility is located.

Yes, it's a long way to come to see a closures factory, but what a factory. For those of you unfamiliar with Diam, it's a cork-based closure made by gluing together small fragments of cork with some polymer microspheres to make a uniform, inert 'cork'. Sounds a bit unremarkable, but the amazing thing about Diam is that it is completely taint free, because the cork granules are washed by supercritical carbon dioxide. When Carbon dioxide is subjected to a particular combination of temperatures and pressures it enters the supercritical state, where it has the cleaning power of a liquid and the penetration power of a gas. In short, Diam rocks as a wine bottle closure, and it's causing quite a stir in New Zealand, France, Germany, South America and even Australia...other countries are proving tougher to reach.

After the factory visit it was back to Badajoz for a big night out. Well, a night out. James and I devised a new format for a TV wine show, and were 'treated' to a shot of 160% proof black Absinthe by a barman. It was filthsome, evil stuff. James seemed visibly shaken by the experience. I think the fact that I was feeling pretty colded up insulated me from the full force of the experience.

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Monday, December 04, 2006

wine and the brain

Over at the World of Fine Wine website you can download a pdf of the first piece I did for them, back in 2004, on Wine and the brain. It's here. Clearly, I'm biased, because I write for them, but I think that this is a fantastic magazine and you should all subscribe to it.
Off to Spain at 3 am tomorrow (yes...am) with Cube's James Gabbani to visit the Diam factory. Last time I was invited there was the carrot of a Real Madrid vs. Barcelona match thrown in. I couldn't go. This time, they reckoned I was nuts enough to be persuaded without such a carrot, and the impediment of a lost night's sleep.

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