jamie goode's wine blog

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Pinot Noir 2010, day two

The theme today? Sustainability, and all that goes with it.

I gave my talk, in a session that included Steve Smith, Doug Bell (Wholefoods), Andrew Jefford, Nick Mills and Max Allen. I thought it went OK, although I did have a little too much information for a 15 minute presentation, and to avoid over-running had to do some jettisoning of the later slides.

The star turn, however, was the tasting of 13 wines blind. These were all Pinot Noirs from New Zealand, and all from the 2007 vintage. They were a mix of sustainable, organic (although the organic ones were labelled 'organic canopy management', which meant under row growth was controlled with glyphosate, I assume) and biodynamic.

Aside from the cultivation method, I thought all 13 wines were excellent. My highest mark (94) went to Rippon and Palliser, with Dry River, Craggy Range Calvert Vineyard and Villa Maria Reserve coming in on 93. All wines scored over 90, which is some achievement. I'd like to drink any of them.

Pictured above: the scope of the conference; and John Belsham, strangely dressed, leading the tasting session.

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Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Pinot Noir 2010, day one

So Pinot 2010 is now in full flow. The event opened by a welcome from New Zealand PM John Key (top). Pretty cool that the PM should open a wine conference - can't see it happening in the UK! He has a good vintage, too - 1961. Seems like a smart guy with a great common touch and his speech was perfectly judged.

Today's proceedings went pretty smoothly, although in the tasting sessions I felt that the panels were being a little too polite and not saying what they thought in a more direct and helpful manner. We had a rather futile session trying to distinguish regionality in a bunch of just seven 2007 wines; this was followed with a vertical of nine 2003 Pinots from around New Zealand, most of which had lost more with age than they'd gained. The panel didn't really say this, but Neal Martin did rather bravely from the floor.

The tasting that followed was really good - I ran out of time a bit, but still managed to catch some very nice wines, including one of the home block Pinot Noirs from Pyramid Valley (Mike and Claudia Weersing are pictured; very serious wine) and some lovely single-vineyard Marlborough wines from Seresin (Michael Seresin, the film maker, is pictured below). Also appreciated the TerraVin wines from Marlborough.

This evening we had a really fun social event, which finished around 2030, and I then went for a beer with Angus Thompson of Urlar and Damian Martin of Ara. I avoided the lure of several of my colleagues who were clearly planning a big night out at Matterhorn, which sounded very dangerous and potentially messy.

I'm amazed by how big and well organized this NZ Pinot 2010 conference is. It's absolutely enormous, taking over the whole TSB Arena here in Wellington. Only a few days ago AC/DC played here! And Diana Krall is due to play here on Friday 19th - she of the amazing wine-list containing rider.

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Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Anakena rock: a great value Pinot Noir

Very impressed with Chilean winery Anakena of late. First of all they made a fantastic Viognier, vying with Australia's Yalumba for the best sub-£10 Viognier on the planet. Now this: a really attractive sub-£10 Pinot, that doesn't have that 'Chilean' taste to it. It's streets ahead of Cono Sur, the other well regarded inexpensive Chilean Pinot.

Anakena Pinot Noir 2008 Rapel Valley, Chile
Lovely sweet, aromatic, subtly leafy fresh cherry fruit nose with a hint of spice. The palate is supple and nicely textured with some sweet cherry and berry fruit and real elegance. Light and expressive with a seamless quality: not the most complex wine but a really delicious Pinot. 89/100 (£8.49 Fareham Wine Cellar)

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Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Carrick's new high-end Central Otago Pinot Noir

Carrick, one of the leading Central Otago producers, tried to up their game a bit by launching a new high-end Pinot Noir - this, the 2005, was the first vintage of the Excelsior, which is a selection of older vine fruit. It's a wine with the presence and structure to age; currently, it seems a bit to young to show all that it's capable of.

Carrick Excelsior Pinot Noir 2005 Central Otago, New Zealand
A single-vineyard wine made from Carrickís older vines in Bannockburn. 13.5% alcohol. Rich yet restrained nose of red berries, cherries and complex spices. The palate is concentrated and taut with lovely red fruit character, good acidity and spicy tannins. Itís lively, assertive and complex. Still quite primary, even though it is four years old, with superb balance and promise for the future. It seems a shame to drink it now: this is a serious, quite structured wine that will probably be approaching its best in a decade. 93/100

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Saturday, December 12, 2009

An icon a day: DRC Grands Echezeaux 1971

Domaine de la Romanťe-Conti Grands Echezeaux 1971 Burgundy, France
Cloudy and pale coloured on pouring, this doesn't look to promising, but actually it's drinking superbly. Old earthy nose with some smooth bright cherry fruit. The palate, however, is beautifully elegant with subtle, sweet cherry and herb fruit, some undergrowth and fine spicy notes. Super-smooth with good complexity and a bit of sweetness. This is beautiful, but drink now. 95/100 (Tasted at The Sampler)

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Wednesday, November 25, 2009

A silky Oregon Pinot Noir

Last year I really enjoyed visiting Oregon for the first time, and developed a liking for Oregon Pinot Noir. Here's a really good one that I cracked open last night, and am finishing off tonight.

Torii Mor Pinot Noir La Colina Vineyard 2006 Dundee Hills, Oregon
Winemaker Jacques Tardy has used one-third new oak for this single-vineyard Pinot. It is sweetly aromatic with a dark cherry nose and notes of meat and spice. The palate is ripe and smooth with lovely texture. Mineral notes complement the subtly meaty, silky textured plum and cherry fruit. Stylish. 92/100

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Thursday, November 19, 2009

Brief Napa reports: Saintsbury

For my next visit I was off to Carneros, the cooler-climate bit of Napa at the south of the valley, where the influence of breezes from the San Francisco bay are more keenly felt. This is where Pinot Noir and Chardonnay thrive, and Saintsbury was my destination.

David Graves (above) was waiting for me when I arrived, and we had a broad-ranging discussion and tasted some nice wines. David and his business partner have been making wine here since 1981, and have established a good reputation.

The vineyard is planted in a lyre system, which works well for Pinot Noir. 'It's like a giant bonsai project', quips David. They've stopped tilling the vineyards because they want to avoid compaction, and they use straw and compost, too. Irrigation is now managed much more carefully using pressure bombs to look at water stress in the vines.

There's a huge solar panel array (above) next to the vineyard that generates 85 kw/h. It cost $991 000, but with subsidies from the state and a complex sale leaseback financial arrangement, it's not that much more expensive than the original electricity costs. And it powers the winery completely. 'I obsess about sustainability as it relates to climate change,' reveals David.

Saintsbury is best known for Pinot Noir, but also makes some fantastic Chardonnay. The Brown Ranch 2006 is particularly impressive, showing restraint, complexity and minerality. Beautifully expressive, this will age well.

The Garnet Pinot Noir 2008 is one of the wine world's great bargains at $20. Made since 1983, it is a selection of the lighter, fresher lots that enter the winery, and shows lovely fruit.

The Carneros Pinot Noir is a bit more meaty and dense. All the Pinots here show a family resemblance, but the single vineyard lots also show some site differences. They're rich an d fruit-forward, but elegant with it. I found it hard to choose between the Lee Vineyard, Toyon Farm and Stanly Ranch, but they are all superb wines. I was less taken by the outlier: the Anderson Valley (Mendocino) 'Cerise', which is fresher with bright herby cherry fruit, but lacks the smooth elegance of the Carneros wines. Perhaps my favourite wine is the expressive yet powerful Brown Ranch Pinot Noir 2007.

2007 is the first vintage made since the winery was expanded, with 12 new open-top fermentors adding to the capacity for making small lots.

David's theme is that while terroir is important winemakers should have a point of view. 'Any winemaker worth their salt is trying to construct a point of view and present it to the drinker,' he argues. 'Winemaking is an amazingly human enterprise.' I agree with him.

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Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Amazing Pinot from Danny Schuster

On my last visit to New Zealand, one of the many highlights was visiting Daniel Schuster in Waipara. He wasn't there, but the vineyard was spellbindingly beautiful, and the wines elegantly European in style.

Sadly, the winery went into receivership earlier this year (see this report), and unless the buyer decides to retain Danny and his team, it looks like the wine I'm drinking tonight will become an artefact. It's a shame, because Danny's Pinots are really fantastic, although they've never really received the acclaim they deserve.

Daniel Schuster Omihi Selection Pinot Noir 2006 Waipara, New Zealand
14.5% alcohol. Incredible stuff: richly aromatic nose with dark cherry and blackberry fruit, as well as sweet, subtly meaty, spicy depth. The palate is concentrated and ripe with real intensity, yet it is still elegant with lovely purity alongside the depth of fruit. There's some firm spicy structure, suggesting a bright future for this wine, but it doesn't compromise the elegance and focus. Brilliant. 94/100

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Tuesday, October 27, 2009

A truly beautiful NZ Pinot Noir

I just love this wine. I suspect there's something special about Pinot Noir from the Wairarapa (Martinborough) region: when I visit NZ again early next year, I'm going to pay a visit to explore further.

Martinborough Vineyard 'Te Tera' Pinot Noir 2008 Martinborough, New Zealand
13.5% alcohol. Beautifully focused with elegant cherry/berry/spice nose. Ripe but balanced, and really alive. The palate is beautifully elegant with smooth, pure fruit. Just fantastically elegant. 93/100 (£14.99 Majestic, but £11.99 if you buy two from the end of this week)

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Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Cheese, a great NZ Riesling and a great restuarant

I'm currently sitting at my desk, eating a simple tea of bread rolls and Comte cheese, drinking an understated, rather elegant New Zealand Pinot Noir (Villa Maria Cellar Selection Pinot Noir 2008, Marlborough, New Zealand).

Cheese and bread is understated as a meal. But you get all you could want from it: deliciousness, calories (cheese is amazingly calorific), protein, carbohydrates and wine compatibility. I really love decent Comte, and even middling Comte will work when the good stuff isn't available. [I'm also going through a bit of a Gruyere phase. It's similar in texture and not too far apart in flavour.]

The Pinot Noir works OK with the cheese, but perhaps a complex, nutty Chardonnay would be better. Or maybe an off-dry Alsace Pinot Gris.

The reason I'm eating late is because I've been playing football. Scored another glory goal today. I won't talk you through it.

Had a lovely lunch with Fiona today at a restaurant that exceeded expectations by some distance. We trecked out to The Royal Oak in Paley Street, near Maidenhead. It's a high-end gastropub, but the food was Michelin star standard. We'll be going back. The sommelier is fantastic, and has put together a really interesting list, drawing on a range of suppliers. It's so refreshing to come to a wine list where the wines are all real wines (not on-trade-only 'made-up' lines), and where there is a diverse selection, even in the wine by the glass range.

We chose the Framingham Classic Riesling 2008 Marlborough, New Zealand. This is a brilliant wine from New Zealand's top Riesling producer, and it's by some distance the best NZ Riesling I've tried of late. It's dry, but with great acidity and some sweetness in the mid-palate.

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Saturday, May 09, 2009

VLOG: I taste three Pinot Noirs

Here's another VLOG, for those who like this sort of thing. It's me, talking about three Pinot Noirs.

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Thursday, April 16, 2009

Keith's lovely Burgundy: Chauvenet Damodes

A few days ago I posted on the World's best Pinot Noir, commenting that New Zealand and Oregon seem to hit the mark far more consistently than Burgundy. Well, Keith P kindly sent me a bottle of Burgundy that he'd purchased in a sale for less than £5, which I couldn't help opening, even after tasting all day at the IWC for the second consecutive day. And it was really good - so much so that I've just finished it off tonight, after the third day's consecutive tasting when it takes something really interesting to make me want to face wine in the evening. This is Burgundy as it should be - elegant and complex.

Jean Chauvenet Nuits-Saint-Georges 1er Cru Les Damodes 1998 Burgundy
1998 is widely regarded to be one of the worst recent vintages in Burgundy. But hereís a beautiful wine. The nose has some savoury, meaty, soy sauce and earth notes, but theyíre not out of control, and are joined by some ripe, silky red fruit characters. The palate is where this wine comes to life, though: itís delicate, like a fine piece of silk Ė a little fragile, but supremely elegant with a wonderful combination of smooth, sweet cherry and berry fruit with just a hint of earthy tannic structure hiding in the background. Itís a beautiful wine, now at its peak Ė but I donít think it will stay there for all that long, so drink up. But right now, itís all silky elegance and is so easy to drink. Quite lovely: I feel bad about giving this wine such a high rating, but I think it deserves it, as long as youíre prepared to open it soon-ish. 93/100

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Sunday, April 12, 2009

The world's best Pinot Noirs

When I was first getting into wine, the line with Pinot Noir was that it was a tricky grape that didn't really perform outside Burgundy.

Relearn. That's just not true anymore. Aside from the top producers and the best vineyards, Pinot Noir doesn't perform all that well in Burgundy. And now other countries are getting much more consistent results.

My desert island Pinot Noirs are the famed wines of Burgundy. But I can't really afford them, and buying affordable red Burgundy is generally an unrewarding business. My rankings of the best Pinot Noir producing regions now reads more like this:

= 1. New Zealand (Waipara, Wairarapa, Central Otago, Marlborough)
=1. Oregon
3. Burgundy

Today's wine has been an incredibly elegant Kiwi Pinot Noir, and the dregs of yesterday's De Bortoli. The Kiwi Pinot is the best I've yet tried from Marlborough.

Koru Pinot Noir 2007 Marlboroughy, New Zealand
From a single 1.1 hectare vineyard, just 311 cases were made. This is special. Beautifully smooth, pure, complex, elegant nose of dark cherry and plum fruit, with some deeper spice and herb notes. The palate is concentrated and intense with lovely rich cherry fruit, but its trademark is that it is just so elegant, with a wonderful minerality and smooth, silky texture. Brilliant effort, although it is, sadly, rather expensive. 93/100 (£34 Hellion Wines)

see also: my note on the Koru Sauvignon Blanc 2007

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Saturday, April 11, 2009

Contrasting Pinots: Jadot and De Bortoli

Two rather different Pinots, but both costing £9.99 and weighing in at 12.5% alcohol. One from Burgundy; the other from the Yarra Valley. Both producers have strong reputations for Pinot.
Which did I prefer?
The Louis Jadot Couvent des Jacobins Bourgogne Pinot Noir 2006 is simple with some cherry fruit and hints of earth and spice. It's quite savoury and works well with food, but if I'm honest, it's a bit boring and unexciting. It needs more ripeness and sweeter aromatics, really. If you are paying £10 for a wine you should expect to get something delicious; Jadot are a good producer, but even they can't make this level of wine interesting, which is a shame.
De Bortoli's Gulf Station Pinot Noir 2007 Yarra Valley (Sainsbury's £9.99) isn't perfect, but it delivers. There's a balance here between sweet cherry and plum fruit and some subtly green herbiness. This makes for a sweet but fresh expression of Pinot Noir that's got a degree of complexity and is really attractive to drink.
So I have to go with the Aussie Pinot. I feel slightly guilty about this, but it just tastes nicer.

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Saturday, March 07, 2009

Video: visiting Brick House, biodynamic Oregon producer

A short film from a visit to Doug Tunnell's Brick House winery (reported in detail here). We begin by looking at the compost heap...

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Saturday, February 28, 2009

Different faces of Pinot Noir

We had some good friends over last night for dinner, two couples and another friend, all of whom we've known for 20 years. There's something rich about this sort of history.

Among the various wines we consumed, there was a nice pair of Pinot Noirs, one from Burgundy and one from New Zealand - interestingly, both similarly priced.

The first was Drouhin's Rully 2006 (c £14 Waitrose). It's pale in colour (remember, this is often a good thing with Pinot), and quite savoury with an earthy edge to the attractive cherry fruit. Delicious, but lacks perhaps a touch of elegance.

The second is Villa Maria's Reserve Pinot Noir 2006 Marlborough (£15.99 Tesco, Noel Young, Fresh & Wild, Hailsham Cellars, nzhouseofwine). It's deep coloured, with lovely sweet dark cherry fruit and some raspberry and blackcurrant richness. While this is quite a rich wine, it's pure and elegant, too.

Which did people prefer? Some liked the Burgundy best, but I marginally preferred the New Zealand Pinot, with its richness as well as elegance. A close call, though.

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Thursday, February 05, 2009

De Bortoli Gulf Station Pinot Noir

Interesting interpretation of Aussie Pinot Noir, this. It's made by Steve Webber at De Bortoli, who is clearly aiming at old world elegance rather than sweet new world fruit. It's not a great wine, but it's interesting, food compatible and thought-provoking.

De Bortoli Gulf Station Pinot Noir 2007 Yarra Valley, Australia
Weighing in at just 12.5% alcohol, this is a fresh Pinot Noir from hand-picked fruit that tastes more old world than new. The nose shows tight, fresh, savoury dark cherry fruit with a slightly green herbal edge. The palate is bright and tangy with herb-tinged berry fruit and distinctly savoury, earthy structure, as well as high acidity. It could probably do with just a touch more fruity aromatic quality, but it's an interesting take on Pinot. A a really good food wine that may age well. 89/100 (£9.99 Sainsbury's)

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Thursday, January 29, 2009

Pinot Noir: DRC and Australia

Lots of tasting today. I began at Corney & Barrow for the new release 2006 DRC tasting. It's such a treat to be able to taste these wines each year. They're absolute benchmarks of Burgundy at its very finest.

I had a chat with Aubert de Villaine, who is a total star: he's polite, thoughtful and patient, and is one of those rare people who is a winemaking legend, yet when you interview them they don't make you feel they are doing you a huge favour. I asked him about the 2006 vintage.

'The wines show that one cannot speak of great vintages or small vintages any more', says Aubert. 'Take the last 10 years: each has had its own character. 2006 was more difficult, certainly, than 2005, but, finally, with a small yield and a lot of care at sorting you have a maturity - both phenolic and sugar - that is at the same level as 2005. The difference is in the style of the wines'.

Aubert says that being organic is very important, and has had an effect on the quality of the wines. The domaine has been organic for 25 years, and part biodynamic for a while. With the 2008 vintage it is fully biodynamic. Yet Aubert thinks the big quality gain is switching to organics from conventional farming, not the move from organics to biodynamics.

The wines were really, really good, especially for 2006, and a write-up will appear tomorrow.

Then it was off to the Australia day tasting at the Emirates Stadium. It was a really good tasting, and a special feature was five themed rooms with 20 wines each, chosen by a particular Aussie journalist. Aromatic whites, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, blends and odd varieties, Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon made up the selections, and this worked really well.

My favourite wines of the tasting were the super-elegant Pinot Noirs of Mac Forbes. They ROCK!

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Thursday, January 15, 2009

An Aussie Pinot

Played football again this evening. I'm nuts: I'm playing again tomorrow night. At my age? Well, I'm keen on exercise because it means I can keep eating and drinking well, and not become a big fatty. [I'm not being fattist here: everyone is beautiful and worthy of much love - whatever their waist size - it's just I'm a weak individual who has a shallow self-confidence, and I couldn't carry 'fat' off very well.]

So a little wine before bedtime. It's a commercial Aussie Pinot Noir. By all rights, it should be awful - Pinot Noir is so hard to do well. Actually, it's quite nice. Overall, I'm quite a fan of the Jacob's Creek range. Of all the big brands, they're one of the best - along with Yalumba's Oxford Landing (especially the reds) and Concha y Toro's Casillero del Diablo.

Jacob's Creek Reserve Pinot Noir 2006 Southeast Australia
The colour is encouraging: it isn't too deep. Sweet, quite dense cherry and blackberry fruit on the nose with some spiciness and a hint of green sappiness. The palate has a nice texture, with some sweetness, and attractive cherry and plum fruit. There's a bit of tannic grip on the finish, which clamps down a bit on the fruit, and there's some greenness evident, too. But overall, a really attractive lighter-styled red wine that tastes like Pinot Noir. That's an achievement. It's the sort of wine I'd opt for in a restaurant or supermarket with a restricted, commercially oriented list, and you can derive some real pleasure from it. 86/100

I reviewed the regular JC PN here, 18 months ago.

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Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Dog Point: serious NZ wines

Two wines from Dog Point, a premium New Zealand winery formed by ex-Cloudy Bay viticulturalist and winemaker team Ivan Sutherland and James Healy. These wines are better than Cloudy Bay! Especially the remarkable Pinot Noir, which I really enjoyed.

Dog Point Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc 2007 Marlborough, New Zealand
Lively aromatic nose with a nice combination of intense, grassy herby notes with restrained passion fruit character. It falls on the side of freshness rather than richness. The palate is concentrated, rich, vibrant and intense with lovely rich fruity characters combining with grassy, minerally freshness. Fantastic grown-up Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc of real interest. 91/100 (£12.95 Berry Bros & Rudd)

Dog Point Vineyard Pinot Noir 2006 Marlborough, New Zealand
This is just fantastic. One of the very best New Zealand Pinot Noirs: complex, balanced, and every so slightly funky. The nose has a lovely subtly meaty, spicy, warm, herb tinged cherry fruit character, as well as some floral, almost northern RhŰne-like notes. The palate is textured and elegant with beautifully balanced savoury spiciness, just a touch of herbiness, and sweet berry fruits with just enough structure to keep things savoury. Beautifully poised and very easy to drink, this has seriousness, elegance and charm. 94/100 (13.5% alcohol, cork sealed) (£20.50 Berry Bros & Rudd)

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Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Video content: Pyramid Valley Vineyards, a remarkable wine venture in New Zealand's Canterbury region

This is a short film I shot while I was visiting Pyramid Valley Vineyards with owner Mike Weersing. Located in the Canterbury Hills of New Zealand's South Island, this is a remarkable project with Burgundian-style close-planted vineyards that are farmed biodynamically. The full write-up of the visit went live on the main site today - you can see it here. Even if you don't normally watch video content on the web, you really should see this! It's an incredible place.

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Sunday, October 26, 2008

Blind River: another great New Zealand Pinot

Very keen on New Zealand Pinot Noir at the moment. Helps feed my Pinot addiction. Let's face it, while the best red Burgundies are peerless, the average quality in Burgundy is low disappointing, and there's not much to like about almost all affordable red Burgundy. But New Zealand delivers in the £10-20 range and seldom really disappoints.

Blind River Pinot Noir 2007 Marlborough, New Zealand
Lovely vibrant, fresh, sweet cherry fruit nose with some spiciness. The palate shows complex cherry and plum fruit with a subtle greenness as well as rich spicy character. It's fresh and fruity but there's more to it than just fruit: there's richness and depth, too. A brilliant effort: it's still quite primary but likely will develop well over the next five years. 92/100 (£17.99 Oddbins)

Find this wine with wine-searcher.com

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Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Addicted to Pinot: Philippe Pacalet Gevrey-Chambertin

I'm pretty much addicted to Pinot Noir these days. I can't refuse its charms. When it calls me, I am powerless to resist. I dream of Pinot, and when I awake, I can't wait until it's 6 pm and time to open another. [I exagerrate, a little. But I do really, really like good Pinot.]

Pinot Noir from its home territory, Burgundy, frequently disappoints. You can spend a lot of money on a bottle of red Burgundy and end up with something filthsome and mean. Cheap Burgundy is almost always pointless. It's the region of the great wine swindle.

Tonight's wine, though, is the real deal. A naturally made red Burgundy from Philippe Pacalet, who I first met at the International Pinot Noir Celebration this summer in Oregon (see my blog post). He's a really interesting person with well thought-out views on wine.

You can read more about him here at Bertrand Celce's wonderful wine blog.

Philippe Pacalet Gevrey-Chambertin 2006 Burgundy, France
Quite pale in colour, this has a lovely aromatic, slightly sappy nose of sweet cherry fruit, with some subtle notes of fresh-turned earth. The palate is pure and elegant, showing smooth, precise cherry fruit with some firm, spicy, grippy tannic structure taking hold of the finish. A really light, pure, elegant style, but showing good concentration and enough structure to make me think this might reward mid-term cellaring. But it's hard not to drink it now. It's not perfect, but this is a benchmark example of elegant, natural red Burgundy. 92/100 (UK agent: Les Caves de Pyrene. £36.99 Zelas Wines)
Find this wine with wine-searcher.com

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Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Pinot Noir from Germany: three good wines, including a trophy winner

A video of me tasting three German Pinot Noirs, including the one that won the Decanter World Wine Awards Pinot Noir tropy this year. Notes on the wines are below.

Kendermanns Pinot Noir Special Edition 2007 Pfalz, Germany
Quite pale coloured, which is often a good thing with Pinot Noir. This shows somewhat muted aromatics, but lovely fresh, slightly sweet cherryish fruit on the palate with nice smooth texture and a hint of green sappiness. Itís not the most complex Pinot ever, but it does taste like Pinot Noir, and itís a satisfying drop with attractive ripe fruit. 86/100 (£7.99 Tesco)

Villa Wolf Pinot Noir 2006 Pfalz, Germany
Pale cherry red colour. Thereís an attractive herby, savoury, minerally character to the nose which shows some lightly aromatic red cherry fruit. The palate has a smooth, elegant sort of fruitiness, with a hint of grippy spiciness backing up the red cherry fruits, as well as a trace of undergrowthy complexity. A light, attractive Pinot of real merit. 88/100 (£9.99 Oddbins, £7.99 if you buy any 12 wines)

Meyer-Nškel Dernauer Pfarrwingert Spštburgunder Grosses Gewšchs 2006 Ahr, Germany
This is a really beautiful, complex wine. Itís the follow-on vintage from the one that won the Pinot Noir trophy at the Decanter World Wine Awards 2008. Fantastically aromatic nose reminds me a bit of a really good Marlborough (New Zealand) Pinot Noir: itís sweet and forward, with bright fresh cherry fruit coupled with subtle green sappy and herby medicinal notes. Itís really attractive: one of those wines that you just want to smell again and again. The palate is complex with spicy dark cherry fruit coupled with red berry notes. Itís sweet, but savoury at the same time, with some plummy bitterness in the background, good acidity and some grippy tannins, but always the sweet fruit is to the fore. This shows just how good German Pinot Noir can be, but it does come at a price. 93/100 (£41.50 The Wine Barn, http://www.thewinebarn.co.uk/ )

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Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Two Pinots from the Winegrowers of Ara

Two Pinot Noirs from Winegrowers of Ara. I've also posted a long article on the main site about the concept behind this project here, which I think is interesting. But then I'm a bit of a geek. Anyway, here are the notes.

Ara Composite Pinot Noir 2006 Marlborough, New Zealand
Quite light in colour for a new world Pinot, this has notes of red cherry, cranberry, rhubarb and sweet herbs. The palate is fresh and a bit sappy, with grassy, green herbal notes under the fresh cherry fruit. Itís quite tangy, with good acidity, and a bit of spiciness. Thereís a persistence here, and some nice textural elements, although thereís a bit of herby bitterness to the finish that clamps down on the fruit. Itís a really attractive, supple, savoury style of new world Pinot that will likely evolve interestingly over the next five years. 13% alcohol. 89/100 (£10.95 Berry Bros & Rudd, Majestic)

Ara Resolute Pinot Noir 2006 Marlborough, New Zealand
Quite light in colour, this has a charming, beguiling nose of sweet red cherries with integrated warm spicy notes adding an appealing warmth. Still fresh, though. The palate has spicy complexity sitting nicely under the smooth sweet cherry fruit, with textural richness and a bit of tannic grip keeping things savoury. Thereís a hint of chocolate here, too, presumably from the oak (which is unobtrusive). Pretty serious stuff, with a distinctly European sheen. A complex, understated, elegant new world interpretation of Pinot Noir with the potential to develop well over the next few years. 13% alcohol. 91/100 (£19.99 Majestic, available from early November)

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Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Remarkable natural Burgundy

Tonight I'm drinking a wine that is bringing me great joy. It's alive. It's complex. It's elegant. It's wild. But it's just a humble Bourgogne.

Domaine de Chassorney Bourgogne Pinot Noir 'Bedeau' 2005 Burgundy, France
Frederic Cossard is a natural wines sort of guy who works with very little sulfur dioxide, and this is a beautifully expressive, pure, alive expression of Pinot Noir that belies its humble appellation. The nose is lively and bright, with enthralling spicy, almost meaty complexity under the fresh, vivid bright cherry fruit. It is slightly lifted, but not at all dirty or muddy. The palate has lovely freshness, with good acidity and spicy, peppery, sappy notes countering the sweet cherry fruit beautifully. Elegance, freshness and definition are the hallmarks here: there's a hint of rusticity, but it's not detracting at all from the appeal of this lovely wine. I think this is utterly beautiful, and I could drink a lot of it. 93/100

'Natural wines Ė are they different or are we making an artificial case for qualitative superiority?' says Doug Wregg of Les Caves, who are the UK agents of this wine. 'Tasting Cossardís Bourgogne Rouge, Herve Souhautís northern Rhone Syrah [reviewed here] and the Pineau díAunis from Domaine Le Briseau, to name but three, you are aware that all the wines possess energy. They do not suffer ďpalate dragĒ whereby excessive fatness, sweetness, extraction, bitterness, alcohol or wood seem to hold back the very essence of the wine or cause our tongues to negotiate superimposed textures and flavours.'

I couldn't agree more.

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Thursday, July 31, 2008

Oregon, the final day, and a mention of the 1978 Amity

Two visits this morning, before I headed to the airport. The first was at Bergstrom wines, with the impressive Josh Bergstrom who is working his own vineyards biodynamically. I was especially impressed with his Riesling, which is wittily named 'Dr Bergstrom' - all precise, linear and minerally with a touch of residual sugar. Then I drove over to Rex Hill/A to Z wineworks, which is a relatively new operation in its current form, making seriously impressive commercial wines under the A to Z label and more serious wines under the revitalized Rex Hill label, including some profound single vineyard Pinots.

I didn't want to let pass mention of one of the wines last night. Myron very kindly brought along a bottle of the 1978 Winemaker's Reserve Pinot Noir from his vineyard, Amity. This piece of living history was very much alive; indeed, it was drinking almost perfectly. A profound, mature Pinot with elegance, some flesh, showing bit of evolution but not tasting at all over-the-hill. How many new world wine regions can make Pinot Noir that can not only survive 30 years, but also evolve positively?

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Oregon day 4

One of the most striking facets of this trip has been how nice the people are here. Yes, I know when you are press visiting wineries, people are usually showing you their best face, but beyond this, I've been struck by a genuine warmth, and also the sense of camaraderie that exists between the growers here. Any region that could have sustained an event such as the IPNC for 22 years has to have some special sense of cooperative endeavour and working for the greater good - the internal rivalries that exist in many regions globally would have ensured that an event like this would have imploded long ago, if it ever got off the ground.

I started off at Eyrie Vinyeards, one of the pioneers here, with a meeting with Jason Lett (above) and Emily Stoller Smith. Jason has recently taken over from his father, David, but only came back to the family business rather late, after having spent some time working as an ecologist in New Mexico. The wines here are quite beautiful, made in a light, elegant style but with real complexity and development potential. I was really taken by the beauty of these expressions of Pinot, and found the Pinot Gris and Pinot Blanc pretty impressive, too.

Lunch was at Domaine Drouhin Oregon, whose vineyards are remarkable for their Burgundian-style close spacing and low hedging. The wines are pretty impressive, too. David Millman (MD) and Arron Bell (cellarmaster) are pictured. We lunched causally on BLT sandwiches washed down with some of the DDO wines. It was an extremely informal visit, but fun. By now the morning clouds had lifted and it was another gorgeously sunny summer's day.

Next up was Torii Mor, where I met Margie Olsen and her French winemaker Jacques. They have a beautiful new winery which supplies almost half its power requirements with large solar panels. The tasting room has a Japanese garden, and stunning views from the hilltop location. The wines, once again, impressed. Pictured above is some work in the cellar, moving the wine from barrel to a blending tank with the help of nitrogen.

The final winery visit was at Stoller. A large estate that had once been a turkey farm is now a stunning vineyard with an equally stunning new winery. Here I met with winemaker Melissa Burr and cellar room manager Mich Nelson (pictured), who were both charming, and tasted the wines, which were very impressive (this is getting a bit boring, isn't it? Can we have some bad wine? Anyone? Anyone?). Melissa had a cross-flow filtration unit running, which she was very excited about - we compared the before and after versions of the 2007 JV Pinot Noir which was running through it at the time.

Finally, the Founder's dinner at Ponzi's restaurant in Dundee. Along with Nanci Ponzi, the company assembled was Myron Redford and Vicki Wetle (Amity), Jim Bernau (Willamette Valley Vineyards), Marilyn Webb (Bethel Heights), Susan Sokol Blosser (Sokol Blosser) and fellow writers Tom Cannavan and Stephen Brook. A jollier, more friendly crowd you could not wish to meet, and we drank (and spat; we were all driving) some lovely wines, including a stunning 1978 Winemaker's Reserve Pinot Noir from Amity.
It's now my final morning, and I have two visits before catching my plane home.
As usual, all these visits will be written up in depth on the main site.

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Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Oregon wine country, day 3

Some brief notes from the road. Day 3, Oregon. Started off at Beaux Freres winery, with Mike Etzel. It was a really educational visit. Mike has two hillside vineyards, hidden away among woodland - indeed, most of his property is wooded, and it's quite beautiful. The vineyards are farmed biodynamically, and the wines are among Oregon's most prized. Above is the in-row cultivator at work, while below the old fire engine is used for developing the compost heaps, which need a lot of water. We spent a fair bit of time in the vineyards, tasted some barrels and then had lunch at a brilliant, inexpensive Mexican joint in town.
After glorious sunshine all the way, the weather was a bit of a shock: showers and temperatures in the high sixties made it feel pretty cool. Next up, one of the pioneers, Elk Cove. Adam, who has taken over from his parents, recalls that when they came here in the early 1970s the family lived in a van as the site was developed - and this was when there were less than 100 acres of vines in Oregon.

Patton Valley Vineyards was a good visit: Jerry Murray runs this small operation, and has a welcoming committee of two very sweet dogs, a beagle and a Boston Terrier (she's pictured here with a vole in her mouth).
Finally, dinner was with the Oregon Chardonnay Alliance (ORCA). David Adelsheim was responsible for identifying the problem with Oregon Chardonnay (the wrong clone was being used) and he helped bring the Bernard clones into Oregon in the 1980s. Since then the quality of Oregon Chardonnay has leapt, but for some reason each year there's less and less of it, as everyone goes after Pinot Gris and the other Alsace aromatics for whites. We enjoyed a really nice dinner at Nick's Italian in McMinnville, with some great Chardonnay. David Millman of Domaine Drouhin Oregon was also there, along with Chris Sawyer (a writer) and his buddy.

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Tuesday, July 29, 2008

On the road in Oregon wine country, day 2

Woke up early at King Estate to a gorgeous summer's day and a beautiful view. After some coffee, a pastry and a vanilla bean yoghurt I drove up to the winery to taste with winemaker Lindsay Kampff, who was brilliant in dealing with my geeky techno-head questions. The wines were good too, and like many young winemakers in larger companies, she's also got her own small label called Journey's End, a high-end Pinot which impressed.

By the time I left for my next appointment, the temperature was nudging 80 F, with a bright blue sky plus a little haze on the horizon from the fires lit by grass seed farmers to deal with their stubble. Oregon is one of the world centres for grass seed, as well as hazelnuts (second only to Turkey here). In fact, the Willamette Valley grows just about everything. I was tempted to stop at one of the the pick-your-own blueberry farms, because they looked so gorgeous.

Next stop was Benton Lane, another beautiful property with rolling hillside vineyards. It's owned by Steve and Carol Girard, who moved here from Napa some years ago, having identified it as a perfect place to grow Pinot. We lunched on delicious home-made pizza that they fired in their Pizza oven, and it was hard to leave for the next appointment. Once again, the wines were very good.

After quite a drive north, I headed to Bethel Heights - a pioneering property in the new AVA of Eola-Amity Hills that's home to identical twin brothers Ted and Terry Casteel and their families. It's yet another beautiful property (I haven't encountered any ugly or boring Oregon vineyards yet) and the wines are quite special, including a brilliant Chardonnay and some mesmerising Pinots.
A short drive over to the other side of the hill took me to the final visit of the day: Cristom. Steve Doerner (above) is making some amazing Pinot Noir here, as well as an impressive cool-climate Syrah that's amazingly fresh and peppery. It turns out that Steve is a bit of a guitar nut, so we had a fun conversation telling each other which guitars we had.

Finally, after checking into my hotel in McMinnville, I had dinner with Bryan Croft from Firesteed at a Spanish joint in town. It was a lovely dinner, and I was amazed to find out how inexpensive the Firesteed Pinot Noir is ($13-15 on the shelf), because it's actually pretty good.

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Sunday, July 27, 2008

The IPNC Salmon Bake and some mosh pit wines

The hottest ticket in McMinnville: the IPNC Salmon Bake, which was held last night (Saturday) in the Linfield College Oak Grove. The wild salmon is baked on Alder stakes over an open fire (pictured), which is a traditional method, and looks pretty spectacular. The salmon is served with a sumptuous buffet, and sommeliers go round distributing wines to the tables so you get to try quite an assortment of things.

It was free seating, but the smart journos were those who found their way onto Jim Clenenden's table (I didn't), where some serious wines were being opened. A couple of other tables had some high-end collectors who'd brought their own wine, and before long there was a crowd (described by one winemaker as the 'mosh pit') gathered round anxious to blag any scraps that might be falling. People are generous with the wine they bring, but even so, there's a limit to how generous you can be with just one bottle, and so there's an interesting social dynamic that develops when people are trying to blag pours.

I tried:

Lafon Meursault Clos de la Barre 2000
Slightly reductive with a lovely cabbage note. Long and mineralic with great weight and depth. Fantastic wine. 94/100

Lafon Meursault Clos de la Barre 1996
Slightly oxidised nose. Herby, a bit funky, but still some nice minerality. I'm not sure this is an OK bottle.

Drouhin Charmes Chambertin 1985
Beautifully soft and evolved with some earthy, spicy structure. A lovely aged red Burgundy of real charm. 93/100

Dujac Clos de la Roche 2001
Wonderfully textured earthy, spicy Pinot with lovely expressive character. Dense and full with massive concentration and rich texture. Thrilling wine. 95/100

Dominique Laurent Gevrey Chambertin Clos St Jacques 1999
Seriously expressive with fresh fruit and earthy complexity. Nicely structured with brilliant purity and depth. 95/100

Rene Engel Clos de Vougeot 1996
Very earthy and dense with a mushroomy character. Quite earthy and evolved. 90/100

Domaine Drouhin Oregon Pinot Noir 1993
Elegant, complex nose. The palate is fresh, vivid, spicy and beautifully expressive with good structure. 95/100

Bonneau du Martray Corton Charlemagne 2003
This maybe atypical, because of the hot summer, but it's still a very nice wine. Rich and sweetly fruited with lovely smooth toasty complexity. 92/100

Denis Mortet Gevrey Chambertin Les Champeaux 2002
Savoury, dense and complex with a lovely earthy edge to it. Mouthfilling, savoury and spicy. 94/100

Au Bon Climat Pinot Noir 1996 Santa Barbara County
Evolved and quite earthy but there's some freshness to the fruit here: this is still alive and drinking very well. A ripe expression of Pinot but interesting with it. 88/100

Lafarge Volnay 1er Cru 1999
Beautifully focused and structured with lovely freshness and some tannin. Complex stuff that's pretty serious. 95/100

Leroy Auxey Duresses 1976
Focused, earthy and fresh with a citrussy edge and some good structure. Finishes tannic, and it's drying out a little, but it is drinking brilliantly still and has lovely minerality. 93/100

Au Bon Climat Pinot Noir Sandford & Benedict 1999
This is brilliant. Earthy, spicy nose leads to an expressive palate that's quite pure with lovely focus and depth. Quite profound, and drinking perfectly now. 94/100

F Mugnier Bonnes Mares 1998
Earthy, dense, spicy nose leads to a palate that is quite structured. Evolving really nicely, there's some real complexity here. 93/100

Then it was 1130 pm and time for bed: I declined an invitation to go the dive bar with the other journos.

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Saturday, July 26, 2008

In Oregon: the IPNC, first day

Just woken up on day two of my Oregon trip, where I'm currently in McMinnville attending the IPNC (International Pinot Noir Celebration). It really is a fantastic event, bringing together Oregon's Pinot Noir producers with some high calibre international guest wineries for a weekend of serious tasting and some pretty serious dining. Pictured above is the setting for the dinner last night, which was in the pretty campus of Linfield college where the event is being hosted.

I had a very pleasant flight with Northwestern, which was a surprise because last time I flew with an American carrier it wasn't a good experience. Watched a couple of films, slept, and ate and drank reasonably well, including a really nice Cab/Malbec blend from Waterwheel. Even Homeland Security was a better experience than I was expecting: the guy who dealt with me was charming and turned out to be a bit of a wine buff.

I picked up my hire car from Portland, and with the help of my good buddy Garmin managed to find McMinnville pretty painlessly. I checked in, and then went to buy a cheap pay-as-you-go mobile, because mine doesn't work here. Customer service at the AT&T shop was brilliant. Total cost a very reasonable $60, including $25 talk time.

Then off to the IPNC. I did the pre-dinner tasting, which was a casual outdoor walkaround affair - there were some really good wines (I don't want to say too much more until I've tasted more widely). Then it was time for the grand dinner - a jolly affair with frequent small pours of a huge range of wines, and really good food. I was sitting with fellow journos Tyler Colman of Dr Vino (http://www.drvino.com/), Elin McCoy (Bloomberg) and Patrick Comiskey (Wine & Spirits magazine). Fellow brits Stephen Brook and Jasper Morris are also here. Now I must go and get some breakfast before the sessions begin.

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Monday, May 26, 2008

Two impressive Chileans

I used to be a bit of a Chile sceptic. Since my January visit, though, I've seen plenty of reasons for optimism about Chilean wine. Yes, there's still a bit of a problem with greenness in reds, and a bit more diversity and complexity in the higher-end wines would be welcomed. And I also think the country needs more boutique wineries, pushing the boundaries of quality on a small scale. But there's a dynamism to the current Chilean wine scene that suggests that in five years time, the picture will be a very different one.

Tonight two interesting wines, both from UK supermarket Marks & Spencer. Not perfect, but encouragingly good, and considering the prices, better than almost all other new world countries can do at this level.

Secano Pinot Noir 2007 Leyda Valley
Made for Marks & Spencer by Vina Leyda. This is a really vibrant Pinot Noir with lovely pure, sappy cherry and raspberry fruit, complemented by a subtle spicy, medicinal note that remains in the background. It's perhaps a little too green and herbal, but the fresh, bright fruit here has a lovely purity to it. It's a delightfully fresh wine that tastes like Pinot. Very primary, but quite joyful. 88/100 (£6.99 Marks & Spencer)

Corralillo Chardonnay Reserve 2005 San Antonio
This biodynamic white comes from Matetic, one of Chile's most exciting producers. It's almost overpowering, with intense flavours of nuts, vanilla, figs, citrus fruits and spice. Super-rich and very ripe, this wine almost has too much flavour for its own good. It really comes into its own with richly flavoured food, where the weight of the wine isn't quite so obvious. It would also work quite well with cheese. A big, complex Chardonnay for current drinking, and not for the timid. 90/100 (£9.99 Marks & Spencer)

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Saturday, May 24, 2008

Lord of the rings, and more wine

As I think I've mentioned here before, our boys are adopted. They're brothers, and they have two sisters who are also adopted with another couple. We get together a couple of times a year, home and away, and it's usually good fun.

This weekend we're here in London, and we thought it might be nice to go to the theatre. So we booked tickets for Lord of the Rings. I'm not a huge fan of musicals - lots of songs and dancing and all that. But it was actually fantastically creative, although our younger son didn't get the concept: 'That was so fake', he said at the end. The set and lighting were utterly incredible, and the way that this complicated, action-packed plot was dealt with on one stage was imaginative and totally memorable.

It was long, though, and I fell asleep during one of the fight scenes, but then I was up late last night watching Peep Show and the Mighty Boosh, so I was quite tired. My bad.
Tonight, we're trying a few wines. The De Bortoli Shiraz Viognier 2004 is even better than last night, showing lovely focus and dark peppery fruit, although there is a hint of greenness - I guess the challenge is to get 'old world' focus and freshness by picking earlier, but then to avoid overt greenness.
A real hit for me is the Churchill Estates 2006 Douro, which is fresh with lovely dark, plummy fruit. It has a slightly bitter plummy tang on the palate, but it really tastes of the Douro, which is a good thing. If you want an introduction to Douro reds, Churchill's is one of the few inexpensive examples that actually show some of the genuine Douro character.
Secano Estate Pinot Noir 2007 Leyda Valley, Chile is remarkably fresh, expressive cool-climate Pinot, with herby, slightly green, slightly reductive cherryish fruit. There's some plumminess here. It's just a little too green and reductive for me, but it is deliciously well defined and fresh. Promising, but there is still some work to do here.

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Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Australia's young guns, a tasting

There was a collective deep intake of breath in the UK wine trade today, as everyone prepared for the London International Wine Fair, which is the big event in the calendar each year, and begins tomorrow (Tuesday). It will be a crazy busy three days, with lots of people in town from around the globe - from a journalist's perspective an embarassment of riches, making it hard to know just who to spend the limited time available with.

Today there was a pre-fair lunch with Australia's 'young guns' at Ransome's Dock restaurant. The young guns weren't all that young, to be honest. I mean, I was younger than some of them. They were Stuart Bourne (Barossa Valley Estates), Samantha Connew (Wirra Wirra), Linda Domas (Linda Domas Wines), Marty Edwards (The Lane), Mac Forbes (Mac Forbes Wines), Matt Gant (First Drop) and Celine Rousseau (Chalkers Crossing). All of them brought a few wines along, and there were also a couple from Ben Glaetzer who was meant to be there but had visa problems. Pictured above is Linda Domas in full flow; Mac Forbes is at the end of the table.

The wines were pretty interesting, and the food was excellent (fillet of red mullet with saffron, potato and fennel broth, followed by lapin au vin, followed by some nice cheeses). Standout wine for me was Mac Forbes EB1 Pinot Noir 2005 from the Yarra: 6 h foottreading, followed by 24 h maceration, then pressed to barrel. Remarkable stuff, which has put on some colour during its long elevage and is now super-elegant. Mac has spent some time with Dirk Niepoort in the Douro, and this shows in his approach, I reckon.

Ransome's Dock is hard to get to - the easiest route is through Battersea Park from Queenstown Road station. It's a really nice walk, and pictured is the view of a gasholder and Battersea Power Station that you get as you leave the park.

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Tuesday, March 18, 2008

A pair from Monterey, California

California makes some great wine. It also makes some dire wine. I know this is a bit of a generalization, but in the UK we mostly see the former - central valley rubbish (the big Californian brands - I don't need to name names) - because the good stuff works out too expensive for our competitive market and tight wallets.

Part of the problem is that California seems to make a lot of very cheap wine, and a lot of very expensive wine, but the middle ground of good quality, affordable wine is a bit of a desert.

So it's nice to see a new pair of wines from Monterey, priced at £8.50 each, both of which taste pretty good. They are imported by Bibendum wine (http://www.bibendum-wine.co.uk/). I wasn't sure about the back labels (see the picture...'everyone remembers their first love...' puhleeze!), but the juice inside is very attractive.

Loredona Pinot Grigio 2006 Monterey, California

Iím not sure about the packaging: it comes in a clear-glass, Alsace-shaped bottle that doesnít flatter the wine at all. But the juice itself is quite nice. It has a grapey, fresh nose thatís a little spicy Ė it reminds me a bit of Muscat. The palate has a bit of herby freshness and a slightly rounded texture. An attractive wine. 87/100 (£8.50 retail, agent is Bibendum)

Loredona Pinot Noir 2005 Monterey, California
Bright, focused, slightly sweet cherry and raspberry fruit on the nose. The palate is fresh and fruit driven, with the sweet fruit countered nicely by good acidity and a spicy twist. Itís a focused wine of real appeal that avoids being overly jammy or sweet, even though it is made in an attractively modern, fruit driven style. Quite delicious. 89/100 (£8.50 retail, independents and on-trade, agent is Bibendum)

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Friday, March 14, 2008

A mountain white and three Pinots

It's been a nice day here at the Goode residence, as I end week two of my freelance life. I confess: Fiona and I took another long Friday lunch together. This time we went to Richmond and ate at Wagamama, which I think I'm slightly addicted to. We both ordered no. 42 - yaki udon (£7.25) which consists of: teppan-fried udon noodles with curry oil, shiitake mushrooms,
egg, leeks, prawns, chicken, chikuwa, beansprouts and green and red peppers, garnished with spicy ground fish powder, mixed sesame seeds, fried shallots and pickled ginger. It's fantastic. I had a beer and Fiona had a glass of Chilean Sauvignon.

Tonight, three Pinots (what a fickle grape) and a mountain white. Tomorrow I'm going to Twickenham for the rugby.

Blanc de Morgex et de la Salle 2006 Vallee d'Aoste, Italy
From the Cave du Vin in Morgex, this is a pure, fresh mountain wine that's part of the Vini Estremi group (http://www.viniestremi.com/). Weighing in at just 11.5% alcohol, it's delicate and minerally with a subtle apple and herb flavour and high acidity. There's a lovely bright savouriness to it: remarkably refreshing stuff. I do like mountain wines. 88/100 (Les Caves de Pyrene)

Parducci Pinot Noir 2006 California
Mendocino-based Parducci are these days riding the sustainability wagon (I haven't used the perjorative term 'bandwagon' here) - see www.parducci.com/sustainability. I remember Oddbins used to stock a Parducci Charbono a few years back; now they are stocking this Pinot Noir. By Californian standards this is an inexpensive wine, and it certainly tastes like Pinot, although at this price point it's facing strong competition from the cheaper NZ Pinots. The nose is quite sweet, with bright berry and cherry fruit, but there's also a savoury green herbal streak. The nicely balanced palate has a bit of this sweet and savoury thing going on, with sweet berry fruit countered by a spicy herby savouriness. It's not quite elegant enough to be a must buy, but it's certainly acceptable at this price, and avoids being confected and forced. Reminds me a bit of the Cono Sur Pinot. 86/100 (£8.49 Oddbins)

Domaine Mas Viel Pinot Noir 2006 Vin de Pays d'Oc, France
Sealed with ProCork, a natural cork with a special membrane attached to each chamfered end, to prevent any risk of TCA transmission from the cork to the wine: I haven't seen many of these around. It has a ripe, forward sweet berry fruit nose that's richer than you'd expect from Pinot. Quite dense on the palate with some firm tannins, ripe fruit and a herby tang, together with some sweet vanilla oak notes. It's attractive, in a flirty sort of way, but this doesn't really taste like Pinot. Still, it's quite cheap, and I suspect that if it was from Chile or California, it would have its fans. 81/100 (£6.95 http://www.therealwineco.co.uk/)

Blason de Bourgogne Mercurey 2003 Burgundy
This is bright and quite tart, displaying cherry and raspberry fruit with some stern, savoury earthy undercurrents. It's lean, a bit acidic, and ungenerous. There's also a rustic herbal streak. It was just a shade under £10 from Tesco and Asda a couple of years ago, and I think it was a bit overpriced. It would work well as a food wine, I suspect, but it's a bit severe on its own. 80/100

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Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Mud House Pinot Noir

One of my favourite ways of relaxing is by doing a bit of work. This sounds nuts: it makes me out to be some crazy sort of workaholic who needs to get his head examined, his priorities sorted out and a course of sessions with a therapist booked, promptly.

So let me qualify that. The sort of work I like to do to relax is to open a few bottles of wine, and drink them. Not all of them; just a little of each. And then to write about them here, in real time, on this blog. Sometimes I'll revisit wines a day after opening to see how they are holding out. I like to look at wines the way someone who's brought a bottle to drink would look at them - I think this perspective, that of a reader, is easily lost in sniff and spit trade tastings.

Perception of wine is a funny old business. We bring to the glass as much as the glass brings to us. If you don't believe that, open a bottle of DRC with a random selection of people you meet on the street. Get the point?

Tonight's wine, which I've had open a day or two, is a really impressive Marlborough Pinot Noir.

Mud House Pinot Noir 2007 Marlborough, New Zealand
Aromatic, bright sweet cherry and berry fruit nose is quite startling in its purity and freshness, and has a herby lift I often find in Marlborough Pinot. The palate is brightly fruited and cherryish, with some sweetness, but also a savoury, spicy twist. Nicely elegant with a delicious, vivid sort of personality. This isn't meant to be Burgundy, but it has a light touch and is only 13.3% alcohol - low by New World standards. 91/100 (c. £12 retail, UK agent MMD)

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Sunday, February 17, 2008

I love NZ Pinot Noir!

Most wine nuts have a Pinot Noir epiphany. They start off wondering why peope make such a fuss about this variety - it's not a grape that makes big, heavy, intense wines (remember, size tends to impess newbies). Then, some way into their journey of exploration they suddenly 'get' Pinot Noir, and fall in love with it. But even then Pinot Noir is a bit like an unreliable lover - you suffer a lot of pain along the way, although the occasional highs make you persevere through the trouble.

The first Pinot Noir that really got me hooked on this variety was a New Zealand Pinot - I think it was from Palliser Estate. Since then, I've found New Zealand to be the most reliable source of delicious, elegant, complex Pinot Noir. Burgundy, of course, makes the greatest expressions of this grape, but it's just all to easy to spend £30 on a red Burgundy that just tastes simple, or square, or ungenerous, or inelegant.

For the last couple of days I've been drinking a fantastic Kiwi Pinot. Now I'm getting to the stage where I'm starting to get regionality in NZ Pinot Noir. Marlborough, Martinborough, Waipara and Central Otago all have distinctive regional characters to their Pinots, which are hard to explain, but which I might have a chance of getting right tasting the wines blind (or maybe not...). This Pinot is from Marlborough, and has that vibrant, slightly sappy berryish character that Marlborough Pinots share. It's a really great wine - not cheap at £17, but good value nonetheless.

Blind River Pinot Noir 2006 Marlborough, New Zealand
Hand harvested from the Awatare Valley, small batch processing with indigenous yeasts and maturation in French oak. This has a lovely perfume: aromatic cherry/berry/raspberry fruit with some dark spiciness and a bit of sappiness. There's a liqueur-like purity here. The palate is sweetly fruited with lovely purity and smoothness. A bit of plummy bitterness adds contrast. An impressive Pinot Noir of real poise. 92/100 (£17.99 Oddbins)

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Monday, February 11, 2008

RTL almost in trouble and good cheap Pinot

The gloriously warm but worryingly aseasonal weather continues here in London. I'm enjoying my early morning dog walks because the light is just so wonderful. However, today's walk was quite difficult because now RTL is fully in season, and walking her is proving to be fraught with male danger. She ran after a brown labrador and started engaging in some vigorous play, but eventually I rescued her from peril and got her back on her lead. Ten minutes later I let her off the lead again, and she took one guilty look at me before haring off in the other direction. Fortunately, the male lab was long gone.

Then, shortly after, a bulky bull terrier spotted her and attempted a quick hump. His aim was off, though. This was fortunate, because a labradoodle crossed with a bull terrier would spawn rather strange and terrifying offspring.

Tonight's tipple is an affordable Pinot Noir. It's not the world's greatest ever wine, but it tastes like Pinot and costs less than a fiver, which is some sort of miracle. It shows attractive savoury cherry and herb fruit with a fresh sappy edge. Refreshing and bright. It's the Canaletto Pinot Noir 2006 from Pavia, Italy, and it is £4.99 from Tesco. It's actually rather good, and I'm enjoying drinking it, which I can't say for many wines in this price bracket.

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Sunday, January 27, 2008

A good red Burgundy

I don't drink enough Burgundy. Trying to redress this balance, I opened one this lunchtime. A village Gevrey, it's quite elegant and understated, but at over £20 it feels a little on the expensive side. Perhaps I'm being unrealistic, but if I shell out £20 on a bottle of wine, I want something exciting. It's not that this wine is expensive by the standards of the region - it's actually one of the best £20 red Burgundies I've had - and I suppose this is the reason I don't really drink a lot of Burgundy.

Albert Bichot Gevrey-Chambertin 'Les Corvees' 2004 Burgundy, France
A light red in colour, this is a really pleasant, elegant red Burgundy with restrained cherry fruit and a pleasant earthy, spicy structure. It's got an almost weightless quality to it, with all the components working in harmony. There's a supple, slightly green quality under the fruit, which makes this quite savoury. If it just had a little more richness and fruit sweetness, it would be really top notch. Satisfying drinking now and for the next couple of years. 89/100 (£21 Soho Wine Supply, Harrison Vintners)

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