jamie goode's wine blog

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Wines from Brazil

Two Brazilian wines. Brazil grew its wine production by a quarter in 2007 and is now the fifth largest producer of wine in the southern hemisphere. With 88 000 hectares under vine and a production more than a third of Chile’s, this is clearly a serious industry, but one that’s virtually unknown in the UK. [More information can be found on the useful http://www.winesfrombrazil.com/ website.] The first of these wines was world class, the second pretty good – and I’ll certainly be keeping an eye out for more Brazilian wines in the future.

Miolo RAR Cabernet Sauvignon Merlot 2004 Campos de Cima da Serra, Brazil
From one of the coolest regions in Brazil, at over 1000 metres altitude. Refined, sophisticated nose showing fresh red and black fruits with some classy oak. Ripe but with an attractive minerally edge. The palate shows focused dark fruits with lovely spicy structure. Surprisingly Bordeaux like, although this is closest to cool climate New World in style. Really well balanced and a serious effort. 90/100

Lidio Carraro Merlot Grande Vindimia 2004 Encruzilhada do Sul, Brazil
This wine has a warm, spicy, earthy nose that’s not unattractive, but which is quite old fashioned. The palate has some ripe fruit, but it’s largely driven by warm spicy notes, together with a subtle medicinal/earthy character. Finishes quite dry. An appealing if slightly rustic wine. 85/100

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Sunday, May 04, 2008

Two stunning kiwis, and a note on the power of terroir

To my mind, New Zealand is the new world country that is coming closest to making high-end wines with some of the complexity and interest of the best from the old world. [Maybe this is a bit unfair on California.] I'm hesitant to say this lest it be misinterpreted; I don't want people to think I'm an old fogey who thinks that Bordeaux and Burgundy have a monopoly on fine wine. But if you're honest, and you've tasted serious high-end wines from around the world, then you'll doubtless share my view that the new world can't yet compete at the very top end.
Anyway, New Zealand continues to make strides, and here are two wines that I reckon are pretty serious. The first is the latest release of Clos St Henri, the 2006 of which I tried a couple of weeks ago in Tate Britain. The second is a delicious Merlot (don't say that often...) from the Gimblett Gravels, a fantastic terroir in New Zealand's Hawkes Bay region. I'd say this wine shows as much Gimblett character as it does Merlot character; I reckon a Gimblett Syrah is closer to this wine than a Merlot from somewhere else, if you see what I mean.
Clos Henri Sauvignon Blanc 2007 Marlborough, New Zealand
Amazing stuff, this Sauvignon made by Henri Bourgeois of Sancerre. It's beautifully textured with good balance between the sweet, ripe pear and peach notes and the green grassy herby, gooseberry character. Real intensity and complexity here, with lovely focus and just the right amount of greenness to confer savoury freshness. I love the packaging, too - this is one of the few (5%?) of New Zealand wines that is still cork sealed. 93/100 (UK agent Les Caves de Pyrene)
Villa Maria Reserve Merlot 2005 Gimblett Gravels, Hawkes Bay, New Zealand
This tastes so much of the Gimblett Gravels - it reminds me of the Syrahs that I've had from here, even though it's a Merlot? Is that terroir? I still think Syrah is the best variety for this patch of ground, but there's no doubting that this is a lovely Merlot. Deep coloured, it has a lovely fresh, bright peppery, gravelly edge to the well defined blackberry and raspberry fruit. The palate has lovely definition with lovely freshness, concentration and ripeness. There's some nice tannic structure. Pretty serious, especially for a Merlot. 93/100 (£15.99 Waitrose, http://www.nzhouseofwine.co.uk/)

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Thursday, January 24, 2008

Two from Meerlust

Switching the focus of this blog away from Chile to South Africa - perhaps its closest competitor in the UK marketplace - I'm drinking two rather good wines tonight from the same producer. They share a family resemblance.

Meerlust Merlot 2004 Stellenbosch, South Africa
This is quite an elegant red, even though it has a bit of a traditional feel to it. The nose is distinctly spicy, with the sort of greenness that manifests as a rich, minerally, gravelly quality, and meshes well with the warm, ripe red fruits. The palate has some tannic structure and a bit of a drying finish, but there's enough flesh here to make the whole experience a pleasant, rather seamless one. I hope this all doesn't sound a bit off-putting, because this is actually a really well balanced, concentrated, complex red wine, albeit in quite a traditional style where fruit isn't the dominant feature. Because it's seen quite a bit of oxygen during its elevage, it should age well for a decade or more. 90/100 (£17.99, imported by MMD Ltd)

Meerlust Cabernet Sauvignon 2004 Stellenbosch, South Africa
Lovely aromatic nose is old fashioned South African in style, but not rustic. It has smooth cedary, gravelly, spicy notes combining with warm red/black fruits. It's not too fruity, and there's a bit of smoke and tar. The palate is warm and spicy with some earthy notes. Well balanced, this works really well. Not a fruit-driven wine, but there is some blackcurranty richness. Structure for development here: this could happily be cellared for a decade. 91/100 (£18.99, imported by MMD Ltd)

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Friday, October 05, 2007

Refinement from Cloof

Cloof, a South African producer from the Darling region, are making some interesting wines. Their Lynchpin is a bit of a tilt at left-bank Bordeaux, aiming at elegance and refinement. They even released this en primeur earlier this year (when I was really impressed with the sample they sent through). Now the finished wine, the Lynchpin 2005, is on the market, and here's my verdict.

Cloof Lynchpin 2005 Darling, South Africa
This is 71% Merlot, 25% Cabernet Franc and 4% Cabernet Sauvignon, aged in French oak, of which three quarters is new. It weighs in at 14.5% alcohol, but this is a warm region and the wine is actually quite restrained. There's a lovely complex, aromatic gravelly, minerally nose with a subtle hint of greenness to the berry fruits. The palate is concentrated, refined and well balanced, showing fresh red and black fruits with a distinctly mineralic edge framing the fruit nicely. Nothing sticks out at all: it certainly shows no signs of over-ripeness. There's the structure here for long ageing. If I have to be at all critical, there's perhaps just a bit too much greenness under the fruit, but this is a fairly serious effort, albeit slightly ambitiously priced. 91/100 (£19.95 http://www.winedirect.co.uk/)

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Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Clos de los Siete 2006

New vintage of this rather controversial wine. Why controversial? Well, anything with the name Michel Rolland on the label is bound to stir up a bit of discussion, and this wine has been criticized in past vintages for being just too sweet, too ripe and too much everything.

I don't mind it. In its style, which is a distinctly new world one, the 2006 is a very good wine. I'd take it over any of Chile's icon wines, for example, and, at £10.99 (with discounts available at both Majestic and Oddbins), it's good value for money. Here's my note:

Clos de los Siete 2006 Mendoza, Argentina
A collaborative project by seven producers under the banner of Michel Rolland, this is a blend of Malbec, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah. Very dark in the glass, this is not a shy wine: it's 15% alcohol, and the grapes are picked quite late, by hand, before undergoing a cold pre-ferment maceration. The dominant feature here is sweet, lush, dark fruits. The oak, which gives a spicy sheen, is very much in the background. There's some structure here, with grippy tannins hiding under the sweet fruit, and overall the wine is savoury in character. My verdict? While this is clearly a modern, new world-style red, with its tannic structure it retains balance, and if you can get over the alcoholic heat, then this is a great companion to the usual Argentinean fare of large quantities of steak. Although it's not my favourite style, this is a wine I'd happily recommend to people who are new to wine because the sweetness of fruit makes it so accessible, and it offers great value for money. 90/100

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Saturday, September 08, 2007

Another merrr-low - one for Musar fans?

Continuing in my pursuit of the drinkable Merlot (I jest...), here's an interesting one. It's from Argentinean winery Weinert, known for their wines made in a distinctive 'traditional' mould. This was really nice, and reminded me a bit of the famous (and funky) Lebanese wine Chateau Musar. Look, this won't be to everyone's taste, but I think it's a delicious wine in this particular style.

Bodega Weinert Merlot 2002 Mendoza, Argentina
Slightly faded brown/red colour. The nose is aromatic and evolved, with earthy notes and a sweetly spiced character. The palate is soft and spicy with a very smooth fruity character and nice sweet earthiness. This is a bit Musar-ish, with its reliance on non-fruity elements. It's deliciously balanced. 90/100 (£10.95 http://www.winedirect.co.uk/)

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Tuesday, August 28, 2007

So I was wrong...and another good Merr-loww

Scratch my comments in the post below. The ones where I reckoned I could taste OK with a cold. Yesterday I could taste pretty well; tonight, not a thing.

My sense of smell has deserted me, and there's very little fun to be had from wine when you can't smell anything, save for the physiological effects of the alcohol. Port was a bit better: I managed to get some pleasure from the sugar and tannin on my tongue. But I still couldn't 'get' the wine at all. It's like looking at a picture through frosted glass.

I'm hoping that tomorrow I'll have recovered: the big worry is that with each successive cold there might be some cumulative damage to the olfactory epithelium - just as you get with your hearing from attending too many Iron Maiden, Whitesnake, Gary Moore, AC/DC and Saxon concerts in your youth. It's concerning to think that as you get older you lose the fine nuances, and end up just appreciating the brutal, obvious wines - or find yourself relying on your memory and reputations to assist you in sorting good from bad.

Last night I tasted a good Merlot; one which caught me a bit by surprise. I really wasn't expecting it to be this good. For a start, it was from South Africa, and secondly, it was from an unnamed producer, bottled as Marks & Spencer's own label. But this is pretty serious stuff, and it went very well with the barbecue I was cooking. So much so, that I ended up not bothering to open any other samples, and drunk most of the bottle.

Marks & Spencer Silver Tree Merlot 2005 Stellenbosch, South Africa
Sealed with a Diam. This lovely Merlot has a gravelly, minerally nose with nice spicy depth to the palate, which displays appropriately ripe (but not jammy) fruit. It's fruity, but not overly so, and there's just a hint of greenness here, but it's a good sort of greenness - this is a wine perfectly in balance. Satisfying stuff with some old world elegance. Very stylish and a bargain at this price. I reckon this must come from a serious producer. 89/100 (£8.99 Marks & Spencer)

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Tuesday, August 21, 2007

A merr-low I quite like

I'm sticking with Merr-low for the time being. As an open-minded sort of guy - despite being quite opinionated at the same time - I like to give grape varieties, wine regions and producers a second chance, and even a third chance. In fact, part of the fun of wine is that the wine world is in a continual state of flux, not least because of the annual roll-over of vintages.

A challenge. Next time you go to a restaurant, I dare you to pronounce 'Merlot' with a hard 't' in your interchange with the sommelier. Gwan, gwan, gwan. You get 10 anorak points for this. You get a further 10 anorak points if the sommelier corrects you. You get a further 10 points if the sommelier corrects you in a condescending or patronising manner. You get a further 10 points if they do it with a little chuckle, as if to say, how stupid of you. I hate it when people are patronized by sommeliers. It's an attitude that takes wine from the people and puts it into the hands of experts.

Anyway, I digress. I found a Merlot I liked. The wine in question is actually from Patagonia in Argentina. My note follows:

Canale Reserve Merlot 2005 Patagonia, Argentina
The garish orange label isn’t a good indicator of what’s in the bottle. This stylish red wine, from Patagonia in southern Argentina, is really quite restrained and balanced – it’s not at all brash. The nose is quite fresh, with bright dark fruits joined by a bit of gravelly minerality and some vanilla and spice oak notes. The palate is quite Bordeaux-like: there’s a freshness and savouriness to the dark fruits that’s not usually found in the new world, with tar, spice and earth notes joining the well defined dark fruits. This rather sophisticated, well mannered Merlot is a wine that’s best with food, and which will age well over the medium term. 90/100 (Marks & Spencer £9.99)

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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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Thursday, August 16, 2007

Procrastination, and wild rock rocks!

One of the features of the broadband internet age is that there are now 1001 ways to procrastinate. Never before has it been so easy to put off doing proper work by hopping over to check the BBC news site, or waste time on facebook or flickr, pick up emails yet again, or just generally arse around on various blogs and internet sites.

At least in the age of dial-up it cost money to stay online, and getting online was a mild hassle so you just collected your messages a few times a day. 'Always on' connections make this sort of discipline difficult. I find that to work effectively, it takes me perhaps five minutes to get in the zone, and maybe another 10 to function really efficiently. So if I'm continually replying to emails, or browsing, then it's much harder to achieve the state of maximum productivity. So I'm going to make a pledge to procrastinate less over the next month. [Heck, now this is beginning to sound like one of those awful 'work more efficiently in the information age' blogs...]

Back to wine. Last night, watching City record their their second successive victory of the new campaign on Match of the Day, I opened a Wild Rock Gravel Pit Red 2005. And Wild Rock rocks! (see the tasting note below)

Wild Rock Gravel Pit Red 2005 Hawkes Bay, New Zealand
From the Craggy Range stable, this is a blend of Merlot and Malbec from the Gimblett Gravels of Hawkes Bay. It's really impressive: a lovely, well balanced red in a Bordeaux mould. Attractive nose of dark fruits - ripe but still fresh, with a minerally, gravelly edge. Dark, almost brooding palate shows a lovely savoury edge to the spicy dark fruits. Some grippy, spicy tannins on the finish, together with just the faintest hint of animal character, complete this satisfying wine, which is not at all sweet or over-ripe. In its focus and depth, it reminds me a bit of some of the leading Margaret River reds from Australia. 90/100 (£9.99 Waitrose, on offer at £7.49 from 3-30th September 2007)

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Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Australia meets Italy

Another wet day in London. Elder son and younger son turned out for the same U11 cricket team tonight. Dodgy looking weather meant the match was restricted to 15 overs a side, and going in at no 3 elder son batted well, ending up with 18 not out. Then the heavens opened and the game was washed out. I can't remember the last day when it didn't rain, and we are almost into July.

Cold has receded a bit, to the degree that I can now taste again. The Glenguin from last night is showing very well from the fridge. Very crisp, primary and limey. Still don't think it's a long ager in the Hunter Semillon tradition, though.

I'm now drinking a very nice, commercially astute but still satisfying wine from De Bortoli:

De Bortoli Sero Merlot Sangiovese 2005 King Valley, Australia
Merlot usually sucks, and Sangiovese usually bombs when people try to grow it outside Italy, but here De Bortoli have worked some magic, and produced a delicious fruity red with a hint of seriousness. The Merlot was partially dried, which explains, perhaps, the generous, rounded mid-palate that really carries this wine. It shows a bright, spicy, sweetly fruited nose that leads to a concentrated palate with some savoury, spicy bite underneath the rich, sweet fruit. It finishes with a nicely bitter plummy tang, which makes this pretty food compatible. Quite tannic, which I like in this sort of wine. 89/100 (£7.99 Waitrose, but watch out for when this is on promotion)

Tomorrow is the eagerly awaited Tesco Press tasting where they launch a revamped range, followed by lunch at Tendido Cero with Lenz Moser and his chum from Silverado Vineyards in California. Bring it on.

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Monday, June 25, 2007

Barbara Banke and Jackson Wine Estates

Had lunch with Barbara Banke of Jackson Wine Estates today. Barbara, wife of Jess Jackson (who pulled out of the gig because of negotiations surrounding a race horse, his new hobby), is fully involved in running Jackson Wine Estates, and communicated the story behind Kendall Jackson very effectively. As usual, I'll write up the interview and tasting in full soon, but here's a taster.

Kendall-Jackson began life 25 years ago as a leisure pursuit. 'Jess and I started the winery for relaxation', says Banke – they were both busy attorneys whose work was driving them a bit crazy. 'We bought a small property in Lake County and were going to sell the grapes', she recalls, but when selling the grapes proved tricky in 1982 they decided to make some wine.

The first wine was from eight cool climate coastal Chardonnay vineyards, and when the ferment of one of these stuck, the wine was blended in with the rest to create a slightly sweet Chardonnay that American consumers just loved: it got written up well and sold out in six weeks. KJ decided to stick with this style – a Chardonnay with a little residual sugar, and it proved to be a winning formula.

Of course, the high residual sugar style of Chardonnay isn't universally acclaimed, and you get the distinct impression that to this day KJ squirm a bit whenever the term 'residual sugar' is uttered by journalists. The current Chardonnay is made in a less sweet style, but there's still some residual sugar there, although no one I asked seemed to know how much, and the technical fiches don't disclose it.

The success of the Vintner's Reserve Chardonnay was the beginning of a steady growth, to the extent that KJ are now one of the largest players in the Californian wine scene.

But KJ have taken their business in a direction that's rather different from that of the rest of the wine industry. They are a big producer – depending on who you listen to they make between 3.5 and 4.5 million cases of wine each year – yet they make everything from estate-grown fruit. This contrasts strongly from the current situation where large publically listed wine companies divest themselves of capital-hungry assets such as vineyards in the quest for a better return on investment.
No short-cuts are taken in the winemaking: the Vintners Reserve Chardonnay, their big seller, is 80% barrel fermented, and no oak chips or staves are used. To satisfy their huge demand for barrels, for the last 10 years they have owned a stave mill in the Vosges forest of France.

Not only have vineyards been acquired – the current total stands at around 14 000 acres – but Jess and Barbara have also been buying up wine estates. They own 25 of them, mainly in California, but also stretching to Europe, Australia and South America. 'Essentially, we are collectors of these little vineyards', says Banke.
With lunch we tried several wines. The KJ Vintner's Reserve Chardonnay 2005, which retails at $12-15 in the USA, impresses, with plenty of weight allied with some freshness. It's unashamedly Californian in style. The Grand Reserve Chardonnay 2004 hails from Santa Barbara, and is a bit weightier and richer, with toasty complexity – nice stuff in a full flavoured style. A Hawkeye Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon 2003 comes from a mountain vineyard in the Alexander Valley of Sonoma, and has lovely savoury, tannic structure supporting vivid fruit. This really impressed. The 1999 Stature Cabernet Sauvignon from Mount Veeder in Napa was supremely elegant and ageing very nicely. Serious stuff. La Crema Pinot Noir 2005 from Carneros is fresh and cherryish with nice expressive fruit, while the Hartford Court Land's Edge Pinot Noir 2005 from a subregion of the Russian River Valley is a step up, with lovely clarity of pure red fruits – it should age well. Verite La Muse 2002 is Jess and Barbara's wannabe Petrus, and this is a serious effort: the Merlot-dominated blend from Sonoma County has clarity, focus and a nice mineral core. Not a heavy wine at all. Moving to St Emilion, the Chateau Lassegue 2003 is a wine that has overcome its vintage handicap and is actually pretty elegant and fresh, although the tannins do clamp down a bit hard on the finish. Finally, the Lokoya 2003 Diamond Mountain Cabernet is in a different style altogether. It's big, with 14.9% alcohol and lots of fruit, but the fruit never runs away with the wine: it is held in check by lovely spicy minerality. Pretty serious stuff in this forward style, and it should age well. Quite a portfolio.

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