jamie goode's wine blog

Thursday, January 31, 2008

Serious, affordable white Bordeaux

I never drink white Bordeaux. Ever. Nor does anyone else. If you want Sauvignon, you go to New Zealand or the Loire. If you want it with a splash of Semillon, you go to Margaret River. What's the point of Sauvignon with an attitude problem? And it's only Americans who try to oak their Sauvignons.

But we know the truth is more complex than this, if we are honest with ourselves. In particular, we realize that white Graves is serious stuff, and that sometimes Sauvignon/Semillon blends from Bordeaux with a bit of barrel fermentation are worthy of our attention: they're serious, ageworthy wines in their own right.

Tonight I sip a white Bordeaux that is both serious and affordable. It's Chateau Beaumont 'Les Pierrieres' 2006 Premieres Cotes de Blaye Blanc, which Lea and Sandeman list for £7.95. Initially, on opening it Fiona and I had divergent opinions. She's highly sensitive to oak, and doesn't like oaked white wines at all - she immediately rejected this as being oaky. I'm clearly an idiot, and didn't get oak at all when I first tried it. Instead, I got a bit of struck match reduction as the defining feature on the nose. But Fiona is right: Beaumont used new oak barrels for this wine. They fermented it in new barrels destined for their red wine program, understanding that by the time fermentation was complete with the white, the red would be ready to press into the already-used barrels.

The combination of oak, reduction and fresh, herb-tinged fruit results in a fairly complex, savoury, expressive white wine that I reckon will improve in bottle for perhaps five to ten years. It's a really interesting wine, in the style of serious white Graves, but it's affordable.

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Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Brettanomyces at the Cafe Anglais

One of the recurring subjects in the wine world is brettanomyces, the rogue yeast that's common in red wines, and which some people think is always bad, and some people think can add complexity according to context.

Kiwi winemaker Matt Thomson (Delta, Saint Clair etc.) ran a masterclass on the topic yesterday, organized by Liberty Wines, who Matt does quite a bit of work for in Italy. It was held at the newly opened Cafe Anglais in Bayswater, where we had a really good lunch. This is Rowley Leigh's new venture, and the food was really good, even though the service was a little patchy. [We had some great hors d'ouvres (oysters, parmesan custard and toast, smoked fish, sardines) followed by spaghetti, followed by a lovely cut of rare roast beef, culminating in a super cheese board.]

I'm writing up the seminar to put on the site tomorrow, but in the interim, one interesting nugget: brett loves oak. It particularly likes toasted new barrels, and has been found 8 mm deep in staves. It can feed off cellobiose that is formed when barrels are toasted. ‘Brett can occur in the cleanest cellars’, says Thomson. ‘If you use new oak, you will get brett: it is not something you can associate just with a dirty cellar’.

But Thomson goes further, to suggest that not only is brett associated with new oak, but also he has identified specific coopers who have a problem with bretty barrels, although he won’t name them.

He also thinks that brett is a growing problem. ‘I am convinced that in large numbers of wineries in both the new and old worlds, brett is a new thing.’ Thomson has a theory that something happened to oak in the relatively recent past. ‘Something happened with the huge demand for new oak in the 1980s. Coopers had a boom period and started doing something different, and there was a change’.

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Wednesday, August 01, 2007

A big Malbec and a Black Tower

Three days without rain now. Looks like we're going to get a summer (of sorts) after all. And two rather different but quite interesting red wines to report on.

But first a slight digression about oak. Have you ever noticed that oak is very much more obvious when you open a bottle and pour it immediately, than when you've opened a bottle, poured some wine out and then let it sit (or decanted it)? I wasn't keen on the Lafage Roussillon white I reported on recently immediately after I'd opened it because of the obvious new oak, but it settled down after a night in the fridge. The Torres Gran Sangre de Toro also came across as overoaked immediately on opening, and was better some hours later. Tonight's first red also seemed much more oaky on opening than it does now, some three hours later. Why is this?

First up we have a very good Argentinean Malbec. This isn't a subtle wine: it's extracted, it's very ripe, it's quite alcoholic, and 14 months in French oak were needed to tame the tannins. If I was the winemaker I'd make some adjustments here which I think could turn this very good wine into a superb one. I'm enjoying it, still, and for the price it's good value if you're in the mood for something big.

Salentein Malbec 2004 Valle de Uco, Mendoza
Very deep coloured, this inky dark wine has a full nose of ripe dark fruits, spice, some minerals and new oak. The palate is bold, ripe, spicy and quite tannic with sweet spicy oak adding a slightly confected quality. There's high alcohol evident, too. It's a big old wine with plenty of oomph, but there's some spicy complexity, too. Begging for a big steak to go with it. I'd probably have preferred this to have a touch less extraction, a little less ripeness and a bit less oak, because the vineyard is clearly an excellent one, but for the price this is very good value and if you are in the right mood, it's more-ish. 89/100 (£8.49 Tesco)

The second wine can be seen to the right of the Salentein in the picture. Yes, folks, this is Black Tower, but not as we know it. This successful German brand, a frequent guest at dinner parties in the 1970s along with its peer, Blue Nun, is back. The wine in question, in the distinctive (and appalling) tall, tower-like bottle with a mottled finish, is a red, made from Dornfelder and Pinot Noir. It's actually quite drinkable.

Black Tower Dornfelder Pinot Noir 2006 Pfalz, Germany
Hideous bottle shape. Deep coloured with sweet red and black fruits on the nose, showing creamy blackcurrant fruit. The palate is summer pudding in a glass - blackberries, raspberries and blackcurrants - with some sweetness and a juicy quality. Some residual sugar here? Astute commercial winemaking. 82/100 (£4.49 Tesco)

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Monday, May 21, 2007

Death by oak

Finca Sobrena Crianza Toro 2004 has the makings of a really good, value for money wine. It's got plenty of well defined fruit, but for some reason the winemaker decided to smother it in the sweet coconut and vanilla perfumed imparted by American oak. The result is a bit sickly. This is a wine that's got some good listings, including Waitrose and Co-op. But I think it's nasty.

Instead I turned to Nepenthe's Tryst, a blend of three varieties - predominantly Cabernet Sauvignon but with a bit of Tempranillo and just a trickle of Zinfandel. It's nice, vibrant and fresh with cool-climate blackcurranty fruit and a bit of gravelly character. Unobscured by noticeable oak.

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Friday, April 27, 2007

Educational reading

Just thought I'd point out some articles I've dug up recently in my web travels.

Wines and Vines has a nice comparative tasting of wines made with oak chips and those without, looking at the influence of oak alternatives on the final wines. First time I've seen this. There's also an earlier article in the same mag on this subject.

Sticking with Wines and Vines, there's a nice article on minerality in wine, a topic I'm really interested in. The author makes a reference to a chapter in my Wine Science book. Glad someone has read it.

The World of Fine Wine has placed a couple of my articles online as pdfs, free of charge. Here's one on the premature oxidation of white Burgundy crisis and another on grafted versus ungrafted vines.

On the same site there's a lengthy but gripping (and surprisingly high level) discussion on biodynamics. Phew!

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