jamie goode's wine blog

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Steak at Gaucho and City Hall

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

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

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

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

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Tuesday, July 01, 2008

What a scorcher, and some Torrontes

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

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

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

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Monday, February 04, 2008

Wild Honey with Hannes Sabathi

I met with young Austrian winemaker Hannes Sabathi (pictured) today for lunch.

The venue was Wild Honey (newly Michelin starred) in St George Street. It's simply fantastic: some of the best food I've had in a long time - my slow-roasted pork belly, served with a remarkable risotto, containing chorizo among other things, was close to perfect. Hannes had a gorgeous looking medium-rare roast of veal. My creme brulee to finish with truly was perfect. The ambience is good too. The only thing that let it down a bit was the patchy service: at one point we were presented with someone else's desserts, and it took an age to see sight of the wines that Hannes had bought with him.

Indeed, the restaurant seemed very confused by the whole process of bringing wines along, even though this had been negotiated at the time of booking. In the end we got them, and remarkably they didn't charge us any corkage.

So, how were Hannes' wines? Not yet 28, and running the family winery, he seems to be doing a brilliant job. The winery is in Sudsteiermark (Southern Styria), which specializes in Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc, Chardonnay and Muskateller. The Klassik wines are precise and fresh, while the Single Vineyard wines have real personality and depth, allied to a minerally precision. There's also a reserve line, and the two Sauvignon Reserves I tried, 2003 and 2006, are among the best expressions of this grape I've yet to experience.

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Sunday, August 19, 2007

...but not Merrr-loww

I gathered together five or six Merlots last night for a bit of comparative tasting. I won't name names (yet), but it reminded me that this is not my favourite grape.

I know that Merlot bashing is now a popular sport ever since the film Sideways, and in truth I have had some fantastic Merlots in the past, but in general terms Merlot is a really difficult grape to make good wine from. People talk about Pinot Noir being fussy. I reckon Merlot is even fussier.

We have a full house at the moment: Fiona's brother and his family are visiting from Geneva, and Fiona's sister and her family are visiting from Devon. It's fun, even if it does stretch our accommodation facilities a little. We hit London yesterday, and had some fun.

We began with the Science Museum and the spy exhibition (which the kids liked) and the Spongebob simulator (which the kids liked, but I'm not sure what the science connection was), then went to the Rainforest Cafe for lunch (which the kids liked), before catching the Simpsons movie (which is fantastic). We had planned to do more, but it's amazing how time flies, and how tiring a Saturday in London can be - it was unbelievably busy in town.

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Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Fortnum and Mason

This afternoon I met with Tim French, wine buyer for upmarket London department store Fortnum and Mason. Tim, who comes across as young, articulate and smart, has been redeveloping Fortnum's house wines. Rather than them occupy the bottom rung in the Fortnum's offering, they are sourced from prestigious producers and then slotted into the upper-middle segment of the range, with the producer's identity made clear on the label.

'I've tried to put myself in the consumers' place', says French. 'When you come to Fortnum and Mason, you want quality and authenticity. Customers are largely buying our reputation and expertise'. When he chooses wines for own-label, French says he is 'looking for the most authentic example of an appellation or terroir'. He adds that, 'we are working with producers that stand out among their peers'.

The reason I was meeting with him is because I'm going to be writing an article on his new Port range, which comes from Dirk Niepoort. 'Port is such an important category for us', says French. 'Of all my own label challenges, one of the most important was to get the Port right'. When deciding on a supplier, he began with the LBV. He had some 40 wines open and tasted through them. Of them all, the Niepoort wine stood out. He's gone on to develop a range of five Ports and one Douro table wine from Niepoort, which we tasted together.

In brief:

1) Dry white Port: quite complex, fresh and moreish, and a bargain at £10.50

2) Douro 2005 table wine: this is the Vertente, and it's really good. French says, 'It's a style of wine that in many ways a Claret drinker would be familiar with, but it has modernity, too. For the traditional drinker it's a new experience in comfortable surroundings'. I agree. £14.50

3) LBV 2001: a mini-Vintage Port. Delicious. £13.50

4) Vintage Port 1997: this is stock left from Passadouro. Concentrated, smooth and intense, with a silky, layered palate. Serious. A bargain. £27.50

5) 10 Year Old Tawny: A brilliant balance between youth and development. Lovely delicacy and aromatics. 'I love the play of savoury and sweetness', says French. Finish is eternal. £22.50

6) Colheita 1991. Profound. Complex, spellbinding, with a lovely elegant soft texture, with subtelty and finesse. 'This whispers to you', says French. 'It's just so interesting'. £35

Footnote: Fortnum's wine bar allows customers to drink anything from the shop with a £10 corkage. From October, they will be open until 11 pm. Anyone fancy some serious drinking, with food?

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Monday, April 02, 2007

The benefits of age

Another glorious spring day in London, with temperatures hitting 18 centigrade (hotter than Jerez and Corfu, for example). But given the unpredictability of the weather these days, it could be snowing later in the week! Pictured is Regent's Park about an hour ago.

Forgot to mention some nice wines had over the weekend, at a lovely dinner party hosted by a rather good chef. The deal was that I should bring the wine. With goose foie gras we had Aigle Blanc Vouvray Moelleux 1990 - I was worried this wouldn't be sweet enough, but it worked very well. With asparagus and truffle cooked in butter we had Louis Jadot Meursault 2003: the fatness and richness of this wine worked well, with what is traditionally a difficult pairing. With a veal main course it was the turn of a 1989 Penfolds St Henri. This was the first vintage that St Henri was labelled 'Shiraz Cabernet' rather than 'Claret', and it was drinking perfectly. Age has turned this wine into something elegant, dark and thought-provoking.

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Monday, March 05, 2007

St Pauls to the Tate Modern

Last Friday I made a lunchtime visit to St Paul's cathedral, which I haven't been in for ages - in fact, not since a school visit, perhaps 25 years ago. Fortunately, a friend had a free pass, otherwise the entry ticket would have set me back a cool £10. Ouch.
What do you get for your money? A spectacular, almost mind blowingly perfectly constructed cathedral, but the ambience is a bit spoiled by people shifting tacky-looking chairs around and modern-styled poster displays in the wings...it just seems a bit noisy and functional.
The climb up to the whispering gallery and beyond is rewarding, but for some reason there's a ban on all photography inside the church. Now I understand the ban on flash photography, but even discrete flashless digital photography results in stewards shouting at you (...how do I know that?) Above is a picture of the Tate Modern viewed from St Pauls, and then one looking back from the Tate Modern (taken at last year's New Douro tasting).

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Wednesday, December 20, 2006

winter warmer

Today had a real winter chill to it, which in the days of global warming is sort of reassuring for the UK in late December: it's supposed to be cold in mid-winter! Indeed, I'd just love some sub-zero temperatures, together with a dusting (or more) of snow, for the Christmas holidays.

I went for my usual lunchtime walk today, through Regent's Park. The morning mist had cleared, but the air was still heavy with moisture. It gave the sunlight a rather milky feel, and gave the cold air a penetrating quality that cut straight through my clothing, chilling my skin in an icy blast. In the rose garden the work of winter pruning was well under way, even though some blooms were still evident. Pruning is a strongly metaphorical process, reminding me that this is a convenient time of year to address areas in my own life that could do with cutting back, in order to encourage healthy future growth.

Watching the crowds in London, it seems that there's an unusual tiredness/weariness to people. It's something you expect with the season; this year it seems to be exceptional. I guess for many this year has been a difficult one. Next year will have its own peculiar challenges, which are likely to match or exceed what this year has brought. That's the impression I'm getting. Of course, this might be total nonsense. But I'm going to use the next week and a bit to do nothing much. Downtime. However, I'll still be updating the site and blog - for me, this is fun.

The 'winter warmer' of the title of this post is a vintage Port. From Barros, a producer best known for its Colheitas, the 2003 Vintage is showing really beautifully at the moment. I've been drinking a lot of young Vintage Port recently, and I'm enjoying it a good deal. You've got two choices with Vintage Port: catch it young and enjoy it in its first blush, or stick it away for a decade or more, with two or three decades recommended for the top examples.

Barros Vintage Port 2003 Douro, Portugal
Deep coloured, this Vintage Port has a wonderfully perfumed, open nose. Thereís an almost floral, herb-tinged dark fruits character, which is supplemented by lifted spicy notes. Itís very seductive and expressive, with a nice sweetness. The palate has lovely sweet fruit with some assertive spiciness and a bit of tannic grip, but itís not really built for the long haul. Instead, this is a beautifully poised, perfumed Vintage Port which will keep for a decade or two, but which will probably reach its peak earlier rather than later. Itís incredibly enjoyable now, though. Very good/excellent 93/100

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Saturday, December 16, 2006

London murders

Had an enjoyable and rather different Friday night. Fiona and I went on a murder mystery walk through the legal district of London, which was hosted by a friend of ours, Steve Newman (he's pictured here in front of Samuel Johnson's house).

He's an actor and walks like these are his current business. We were trialling a new walk, and it was really well done. Each participant is assigned role to play, and you gradually get to know more information about your role through the course of the evening. By chatting to the other participants, mainly during the regular pub stops, you all try to identify the murderer.

An additional facet of the evening is that the walk takes you through some highly interesting, lesser known bits of town - Steve spins a wonderful story that combines the plot with the various landmarks - even the pubs we stopped at had historical significance. It was a jolly crowd and I think we all had a lot of fun, fuelled by pints of Timothy Taylor's Landlord, Fuller's London Pride, Youngs Winter Warmer and a Samuel Smiths. This sort of event would be great for teambuilding, for example, and I'd be happy to put any interested parties in touch with Steve.

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