jamie goode's wine blog

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Saying goodbye to Australia

I'm in the Quantas lounge at Sydney waiting to board a pretty much direct flight back to London. I'm looking forward to some sleep, and a few bad but enjoyable films on the way back, as well as some space to digest the remarkably rich experiences of the last week and a half. And don't be mistaken: I do realize how incredibly lucky and priveliged I have been to take part in the first Landmark Tutorial, and also to have the opportunities I'm offered for travel like this.

Still, my focus is on trying to understand and assess wine as objectively as possible; more than this, also to be able to communicate my experiences in ways that encourage others to explore the wonderful, thrilling diversity of wine that is there for us to enjoy.

Talking of films, I forgot to mention a great one that I saw on the way out - In Bruges. As long as you don't mind the language and violence (it gets a bit gory at the end), then this black comedy is one of the funniest films I've seen for a long time.

I'm missing my 11 fellow Landmark tutees. Being stuck together through an intense experience like this bonded the group into quite a family. It was a really good group of people, from all sorts of backgrounds and nationalities.

Chris and I had dinner last night with Bruce Tyrrell and Rowena from the Hunter Valley Winegrowers Association. It was a low key but jolly event at Chez Pok. Bruce brought along a string of unprintable anecdotes and revelations, as well as some very impressive wines: 1986 Semillon was a bit tired, but the 1998 Vat 1 was singing, and two reds - 1987 Block 5 Shiraz and 1998 Vat 9 Shiraz - were both world class, the first very Burgundian, the second reminiscent of a good Claret. The 2002 Vat 47 Chardonnay was fresh as a daisy and singing. The Hunter may be a challenging place to grow grapes, but it makes wines that last and last.

Pictured above is one of Tyrrell's' venerable Shiraz vineyards, planted with a clone that came from Hermitage in the 19th century.

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Monday, June 08, 2009

Good morning from the Hunter

Just woken up for my last day in Australia. I'm in the Hunter, and this is the view from my room at the Sebel Kirkton.

Chris and I had a shocker yesterday - the receptionist at our hotel advised us to take the scenic route from Katoomba to Pokolbin via Mudgee. It took more than 5 hours so we missed our first appointment here in the Hunter.

However, subsequent appointments at Tyrrells and Brokenwood made up for it. Pictured above are Iain Riggs and Chris Coffey. More later.

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Monday, April 28, 2008

Some serious Aussie wines

Remarkable tasting today, titled 'Landmark Australia', held by Wine Australia at Australia House in the Strand. Despite an encounter with a doorman who lacked any people skills whatsoever (I was strongly ticked off for being early), it was a fantastic event. The idea was to showcase Australia's 'proud and exceptional history of fine wine'. There's one thing you have to admire the Aussies for, and that's their self-belief. When this comes to wine this is exemplified by their show system, where judgements are made with a degree of certainty and confidence that worries me slightly. Still, the show system has undoubtedly helped in the pursuit of quality (or, at least, a self-sustaining Aussie-centric perception of quality), even though it may have stifled innovation to a degree in the past.

Michael Hill-Smith led the tasting, in conjunction with Paul Henry of Wine Australia. [Hill-Smith comes across as a smart but rather bullish Aussie; I suspect you wouldn't want to disagree with him.] The first part was a sit-down tasting with 17 specially chosen wines, showcasing the best of Australia's fine wine offering. Afterwards, we were treated to a further 26 wines on self-pour, with a long lunch where we got a chance to drink any of these 43 wines that took our fancy.

I came away really enthused by many of the wines. There were lots of really stunning bottles, one after the other. In fact, I was taken by surprise: I follow Aussie wine quite closely, and I guess this familiarity had made me forget just how good the best wines are. It was also great to be able to drink as well as taste - it gives you a bit more of a chance to get to know the wines.

Some highlights:

Tyrell's Vat 47 Chardonnay 1998 Hunter - a big, massive Chardonnay that's unashamedly Australian, but which at 10 years old is ageing beautifully. 94/100

Jim Barry The Florita Riesling 2007 Clare - wow, this is good: pure, rich, focused limey fruit with great balance. 94/100

Wynns John Riddoch Cabernet Sauvignon 1996 Coonawarra - it was hard to believe this wine is already 12 years old. Fantastically concentrated, complex and fresh with lovely purity of fruit. A real classic. 96/100

Cullen Diana Madeline Cabernet Merlot 2005 Margaret River - a thrilling wine that's still tight and youthful. Concentrated ripe, dense fruit with great precision and real potential for further development. 94/100

Hardys Eileen Hardy Shiraz 1999 - Distinctive, classically styled Aussie Shiraz that's ageing beautifully - sweet fruit and nice spiciness, with great integration of ripe, sweet fruit and oak. 94/100

Penfolds RWT Shiraz 2004 Barossa - much better than I was anticipating with beautifully dense, pure dark fruits. Fruit is the dominant feature here. 94/100

Mount Langi Ghiran Langi Shiraz 2004 Grampians - utterly brilliant cool-climate Shiraz with a fresh white pepper nose and lovely purity and lushness to the well defined, precise fruit. Thrilling. 96/100

Brokenwood Graveyard Shiraz 2005 Hunter - stunningly good: fresh, focused and well defined, with massive potential for future development. 95/100

Wild Duck Creek Estate Duck Muck 2004 Heathcote - crazy stuff, with 16.5% alcohol and incredibly rich, porty fruit. But it's actually in balance and is thoroughly delicious. A guilty pleasure. 94/100

Mitolo Serpico Cabernet Sauvignon 2005 McLaren Vale - incredible stuff, with a lovely rich, spicy mid palate and fresh, sweet, slightly leafy blackcurrant fruit. 94/100

Moss Wood Cabernet Sauvignon 2004 Margaret River - thrillingly intense Cabernet that's taut and brooding at the moment, but it's a serious wine with a long life ahead of it. 95/100

Shaw & Smith Shiraz 2006 Adelaide Hills - cool climate Syrah with a peppery edge to the beautifully fresh, well defined red fruits. Fantastic stuff. 94/100

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Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Semillon and more films

I have a cold. It's not horrendous, but it's mightily annoying, and tasting wine with a cold is like the equivalent of driving in rain with broken windscreen wipers - something I've done before, many years back when I was courting Fiona in a blue Vauxhall Astra 1.3 Estate with 140 000 miles or so on the clock. The windscreen wiper motor had failed, and it was summer, and in the interim period between the motor failure and getting a 'new' motor (from a breakers yard) I risked it, checking the weather forecast before driving. On the way back from Fiona's place in Cheam one day, it started raining. The remainder of the 5 mile drive back to Wallington was tricky, to say the least.

Anyway, I can still taste a bit, although not as well as normally, so I've opened another of the Bibendum sale wines (starts 3rd July, www.bibendum-wine.co.uk). It's the Glenguin Estate Old Broke Block Semillon 2005 Hunter Valley. An unoaked style, as is the norm in the Hunter with this variety, sealed with a tin-lined screwcap. It has a very attractive, bright personality with lots of vivid lemon and lime fruit and a savoury, acidic palate. There may also be just a hint of reduction here, of the flinty, minerally variety. Primary and intense, this is a boldly flavoured wine that I reckon is best in its first flush of youth. If it wasn't for the suspicion of reduction (which I can't be sure of because of the cold), I'd get some of this and lose it in the cellar for a few years to see if it underwent that Hunter Semillon sort of transformation. Good value at the sale price of just over 5.

Now a change of subject. Continuing my occasional commentary on films watched, I have three more for you, two very good and one a bit mixed.

The first is the mixed one. Babel, as the title suggests, is a film exploring the issue of communication difficulties, across cultures, languages and even the barrier of sensory impairment. There are three separate stories (although most reviews seem to pick out four); two connected quite strongly, with the third linked-in only tenuously. We begin in Morocco, with the shooting of an American tourist (Cate Blanchett) by two shepherd boys arsing around with a rifle. Didn't anyone tell them that guns are dangerous? The rest of this story centres on her husband's (Brad Pitt) attempts to summon medical help of a standard acceptable to Americans. The second story follows the plight of two kids being looked after in San Diego by a Mexican au pair who takes them with her to her son's wedding over the border because she can't get time off. The third story tracks the difficulties encountered by a hearing-impaired Japanese teenage girl in Tokyo, who finds that her emergent sexuality is the only way she can really connect with those around her. Overall, the film absorbs in places and shocks in others, but lacks any real coherent message, which is a drawback for a movie that otherwise feels like it's designed to convey a message. It's Hollywood trying to do an art house movie, but maybe that's a bit mean, because it is worth watching, all things considered.

The second film is altogether more inventive and clever, although you don't want to be taking it too seriously. Little Children is a wonderful black comedy exploring the hopes, aspirations and fears of affluent smalltown America. Kate Winslet is a bored housewife who finds (illicit) love and companionship by means of a trainee lawyer who can't quite bring himself to pass his final exams, and is acting as house husband to his pushy career wife. The occasional narration, which fades out as the film progresses, is very Desperate Housewives in feel. It's hard to describe much more without spoiling the plot, but there's just one scene, in which the local paedophile slips unnoticed into the crowded municipal swimming pool in flippers and a snorkel mask, and then is spotted causing a mass exodus reminiscent of Jaws, that is a work of comic genius. But this film is more than just a black comedy. There's some poignancy, too, and the characters are portrayed with sympathy and astute observation. Well worth watching.

Talking of comic genius, the third film in this selection, Hot Fuzz, is quite brilliant. Simon Pegg writes and stars in this buddy cop send-up. I really liked Pegg's previous effort, the fantastic Shaun of the dead, and Hot Fuzz is its equal. The story? Pegg is an ambitious and effective constable in the Met, who is transferred to a small country village because his high arrest rate is showing his colleagues up. Things are not as they seem though: Sandford is just too clean and crime-free to be believable. Brilliantly scripted, although perhaps just a little over-long, you gotta see it. Dude.

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