jamie goode's wine blog

Sunday, November 01, 2009

A boy's day out: rugby and beer

Got a good deal yesterday. I was allowed to take my brother-in-law Dave out to watch Quins vs. London Irish at the Stoop (for the benefit of non-sporty types, this is rugby union), while the rest of the extended family went off to Thorpe Park for the day.

We started off with a curry, followed this by some beer in the Barmy Arms, and then wandered up the road to the Stoop for the game. It was a beautifully mild, with late season sunshine, and everyone seemed to be in good humour.

The game itself was a tight affair, with Irish looking much more threatening. 6-6 at half-time, and with a minute to go Quins, who were losing 9-6, got a penalty miles out. They scored it, and the game was drawn 9-9 - which I suppose is the rugby equivalent of 0-0 in football.

A very big family do last night in our place will be followed today by another big lunch. It's hard to know what wine to open for these occasions: the emphasis is on the social aspect, and everyone is having fun - so you don't really want to divert peoples' attention to what they are drinking by talking about it. Best to let the wine have a secondary role, I reckon. We had a delicious Aragonez from Malhadinha Nova (Alentejo), and the remainder of a couple of Conceito (Douro) wines that I had been looking at over a couple of days (both brilliant - more later).

Today I have to drive older son down to school in Devon, and it's a miserable rainy day.

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Sunday, June 07, 2009

R&R in the Blue Mountains

A quick update from the road. For the last couple of days Iíve been having a crazy time in the Blue Mountains, a beautiful national park thatís just a couple of hoursí drive from Sydney.

Iím travelling with Chris Coffey, who is a final year enology student at the University of Adelaide, and who won a South Australian Press Club bursary last year. Wine Australia reckoned I needed a minder/fixer for this leg of the trip, which includes a visit to the Hunter. Weíre having a great time, and Chris is a great guy. The poor bloke has to put up with me for four days, though.
On Satudrday we got here and spent the afternoon abseiling with a local outdoor adventure company (http://www.rdmh.com.au/). Now Iím afraid of heights, so it was a real fear-conquering effort to step backwards over a cliff with just a thin rope attached to my waist.

We started off with a 5 m drop, then went to 15 m, and finally a 30 m cliff face with lots of overhangs. I thought I was going to die. The thing that made it a bit easier was that the two young guys doing it with us were clearly even more scared than me. And, of course, I didnít want to look a prat in front of Brenda, our instructor. But afterwards I felt like I'd achieved something, and I was still alive, and I hadn't smacked my face into the rock, so overall I counclude that it was a great experience, in a beautiful setting.

Then yesterday we did a breathtaking day-long bush walk with another company (http://www.treadlightly.com.au/). Tim, our guide, was incredibly knowledgeable about the geology, flora and fauna of the Blue Mountains, and the walk was sufficiently challenging to be fun without being so hard that we couldnít enjoy the views. It has wetted my appetite: Iíd love to do a three or four day wilderness hike through this remarkable environment. Maybe I'm getting old, but I find being in naturally beautiful places quite uplifting. Spiritual, even.

Today weíre off early to drive to the Hunter.

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Friday, April 10, 2009

Golf and stuff

Currently watching the Masters golf. It's the first major tournament each year, and since the mid-1990s I've watched it almost religously - I guess it's a sort of spring ritual. Shaping up nicely for a good weekend.

It has been a slightly strange day. Younger son went to play with friends, so we went to lunch with older son at Ask Pizza in Twickenham. Nice food; usual anonymous wine list, but i had a pleasant glass of Montepulciano d'Abruzzo. Then I popped in and asked the pharmacist at Maple Leaf if he had anything for my eye - one of the kids had caught me in the face a few days ago, and it was really painful last night. He took a look, and told me to see a doctor.

This meant a trip to Teddington Hospital, who told me to go to Kingston Hospital. After signing a form reassuring them that I was a UK resident and was entitled to NHS treatment, I sat down and prepared to endure the advertised two-hour wait.

Miraculously, I was seen within nine minutes. They put some anaesthetic in my eye, gave me an eye test, and then put some fluorescein dye in, before looking again with a blue light. After a bit of deliberation, they decided I wasn't in grave peril, and gave me some chloramphenicol ointment.

So I was out in record time. I wandered back into town and did some shopping, but I wish someone had told me that the fluorescein dye had stained one side my face a bright orange. I looked like a total nutter.

Tonight's wine is a rather faded Jadot Les Climats Pinot Noir Reserve 2004, and the remains of last night's Fombrauge, which seems oakier tonight.

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Monday, February 02, 2009

Fun in the snow

Had a great afternoon in the snow with our friends and their kids in Windsor Great Park. Almost as good as heading off to the mountains.


Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Some questions for contemplation, with wine

Just poured a glass of Bodega Tradicion's 30 year old Oloroso (from Fortnum & Mason, it's their own label offering). It is a profound wine and it has reminded me of some of the questions and thoughts I was thinking about when I was walking the dog this afternoon.

1. Is wine art?
2. Does art have the power to redeem? I guess, by this, I'm thinking about whether art has the power to enable us to step outside our daily struggles and busyness, and transport us to a different place: one from which we can see ourselves and our situations in a different light - a light that then empowers us to better deal with our lives.
3. I beauty transforming? Does beauty experienced somehow relfect back on us in a way that changes us, elevating us beyond our current state?
4. As an example, music seems to have a transforming or redeeming quality to it. We can be in a painful, difficult, or mundane place, but then listening to the right music for the time seems to be able to transport us in our minds, distancing us from our current situation, opening up for us a new vista. I also find that music has this ability to bypass my mind (with all its various processing issues) and reach to my 'heart'.
5. There is truth in wine, in as much that modest intoxication by means of wine seems to enable us to see things from a new - and often more generous - perspective. Other forms of intoxication promise to reveal another world, or a new 'reality'; wine keeps us grounded in this world, but helps us to see it differently. It is, in this sense, a virtuous intoxicant. [I think this is one of Roger Scruton's ideas.]
6. The meaning of art, or music, or wine depends on our previous experience. The significance of a particular piece of art is therefore different for each person. This is not to suggest that everything is relative; just that we shouldn't assume that what works for us will also work for others.
7. There is a difference between popular culture and high culture. But it's a shame where people try to erect a firm barrier between the two. Both are important.

Back to tonight: I think this 30 year old Oloroso is a totally profound, complex wine. I think it is 'wine as art'. It has a transforming quality to it that can, in some senses, be counted as redemptive. There's a beauty to it that allows me to step outside my particular circumstance and gain a renewed perspective, one that is tangible on a number of levels - the complexity of the wine, the context of its production (long ageing in barrels), the fact that is displays particular sensory characteristics that I can appreciate in the context of what I know about sherry, and also the sense of mild intoxication that it brings. This would, of course, all be enhanced if I could share this wine with others who also appreciated its qualities.

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Monday, December 22, 2008

RTL's poopies at 12 days, another video

Once again, apologies if you aren't interested in dogs. But here's another short film of the poopies, which are now 12 days old. They're almost walking, and their eyes are beginning to open, but most of the time they spend eating or sleeping. You can see all the posts to date on the poopies by using the RTL tag at the bottom of this post, or at this URL: http://www.wineanorak.com/blog/labels/RTL.html

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Wednesday, December 10, 2008

The puppies have arrived, and we're exhausted

Tonight we played midwife to RTL, as she finally delivered her puppies. First one arrived at 8.15 pm, last one just before midnight. Eight in all, which is far more than we'd expected. And all alive and seemingly healthy.

It's an amazing experience to witness a relatively large mammal give birth. As the first one slid out, encased in its amniotic sac, Fiona was convinced it was dead. But RTL gave it a few licks, chewed off the umbilical cord, gave it a few more licks and it promptly attached itself to a nipple and began feeding.

All but one came out head first, and even the seventh, which decided to enter the world with its rear feet and tail to the fore, didn't cause too many problems.

I'm going to retire to bed soon. I just hope that they're all alive tomorrow morning. I'll probably still be slightly traumatized - but still in awe, too.

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Sunday, November 30, 2008

Pssst...wanna buy a poopee?

RTL has just a couple of weeks to go before she gives birth to her first litter of labradoodle puppies. If you hold your hand to her tummy you can feel them kicking. It's very cool. Labradoodles are the best dog breed. Dogs are great: if you've never had a dog you are missing out. Dogs love unconditionally. We all want to be loved, and to love. Well, your new labradoodle puppy will love you, and it will let you love it. Sorted.

Let me know how many you'd like. You MUST have a labradoodle. They are cool, and if you are seen walking a cool dog, by extension others will think that you are COOL.

RTL is pictured this evening as she lies sleeping, like a good mother, nurturing those valuable feti (is that the correct plural of 'fetus'?). Contact me by email to place your orders.

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Monday, October 20, 2008

C'mon Citeh...the pain continues

Spent the evening watching Manchester City's Premier League encounter with Newcastle United, with my City-supporting chum Rob round at Pranay's house (he's a friend who has both Setanta and Sky Sports - he's planning to get up at 5 am tomorrow to watch India finish off Australia in the test match, which would be a fantastic result. Respect).

Things started well with City winning a slightly controversial penalty and Newcastle having the offender sent off. But then, just before half time, Newcastle pulled a goal back. Shortly after the break, they scored another. It was amazing: City had close to 70% of the posession and an extra man, but were losing! Life is never straightforward following this club. Eventually we equalized, but it was a strange and rather disappointing game that should have been won.

My verdict? City need more options than *just* playing a very tidy, neat passing game that relies on the killer pass from the edge of the box. They also need to threaten from both flanks, with the options to attack from slow build-up play down the middle, or from wing play, or from more direct balls from deeper positions. They need to be able to play on the break, but also to take the game to the opposition. Variety like this stretches defences.

For me, the most effective player tonight was Shaun Wright-Phillips. He's the real deal. Robinho is clearly a genius, but he has to be careful not to play too deep, where he is less effective. Martin Petrov is sorely missed. Ched Evans looked pretty good, again, coming on as a late substitute. I wonder whether Jo might find his position under threat when Benjani is fit again?

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Friday, October 17, 2008

Off to see Angus! - and an added wine quote

One of the great things about having kids is that you can re-live your childhood/adolescence through them. Younger son is currently crazy about music, and his favourite band is AC/DC. It just so happens that the first album I ever bought was Back in Black, back in the 1980s.

Angus and his pals are just embarking on their first world tour for about a thousand years. They're really old (he's 53). But they still rock! In April next year they come to the UK and the tickets for the O2 arena gig went on sale at 10 am this morning. I went online at 10.01, and the public sale tickets seemed to have all gone, but prescient as I am I had joined the fan club a day previously and so, armed with my access code, managed to get a couple of lower tier tickets.

Fiona is happy to let younger son go to the gig, but insists that he wears ear plugs.

Now the tickets are in the bag, I need to go and taste some wine. Berry Bros and Majestic today.

[added later] On the train, reading The Guardian's review of the new AC/DC album, I found the following quote:
'A cynic might say that the kind of person who can distinguish a good AC/DC album from a bad one is like those faintly disturbing wine buffs who can tell you the terroir in which grapes were grown just by holding a glass to the light: it's a specialist skill garnered through a lifetime of extensive research, a considered judgement based on infinitesimal difference, entirely beyond the ken of ordinary mortals. '

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Saturday, October 11, 2008

Rosie finds love

On Thursday Fiona took Rosie for her second and final session with Diglett. Apparently, it was successful, and the amorous couple 'tied', which is, I beleive, a technical term that describes what happens when two dogs want to make babies. Fiona took the photograph above after the event - Rosie is on the right.

If nature works as it should, then in about 9 weeks we'll have some puppies. Now that will be fun.

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Tuesday, October 07, 2008

RTL update: a big day for her...

As I write, RTL is on her way to be mated! If all goes to plan, she'll have 8-12 little RTLs by mid- December. Of course, it might not work out. She can be a fussy girl, and she might not like this arranged marriage with Diglet (the boy's name, apparently).

As she's a labradoodle, we've chosen another labradoodle to mate her with. I've no idea what the outcome will be. If she does have puppies, they're likely to be extremely cute. And if we sell them, then we should turn a healthy profit! A new business direction?
Fancy a cute puppy? All blog readers are, of course, entitled to 'mates rates'.

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Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Physics - sexy? Who'd have thought it.

As a scientist I think all this coverage of the LHC (Large Hadron Collider) is really great. It's good for science to be in the news, because science is a good thing. But as a biologist with embarrasingly little understanding of particle physics, I have to admit to finding some of the concepts involved a bit mind-blowing and rather daunting. [But then I find looking at the stars and thinking about the distances and galaxies and light years a bit too much for my tiny brain to take in.] There's a good introduction to the LHC and what it does on the BBC news site. Pictured is Google's logo for the day. Nice one.


Tuesday, July 22, 2008

A warm evening and its smells

Tonight is an unusually warm evening in London. It's not hot or sweaty; rather, just the sort of temperature that when you go outside it feels slightly warmer than inside (I don't know why - we don't have air conditioning), and in the absence of any breeze it's as if the air joins seamlessly with your skin.

One of the things I appreciate about warm, modestly humid evenings like this is the way that things smell different. Most of the time we don't notice smells: our sense of smell is designed to equilibrate itself with the 'normal' smells of the environment, such that just important or unusual smells (such as those indicating food or danger) are noticed. But I find there's a different quality of smell on warm evenings.

There's something wonderful about warm evenings. Perhaps it's just nostalgia, but it brings back memories of wandering around the campsite in southern Spain at night from my childhood. Or the evenings spent in the balmy tropical conditions in Singapore. Or taking an evening stroll in Margaret River under the vividly starry southern sky. Or our honeymoon on the Greek island of Cephalonia, before anyone had heard of Captain Correlli. And many more. Maybe it's because we get so few of them here in the UK that they are valued so highly.

It makes me think of my own sense of 'rootedness'. I like where I live: London is a great place to be, and it's hard to leave once you are here. But I don't feel rooted here: I have no sense of identity tied in with the place where I live. I guess this is because London is such a cosmopolitan place. Perhaps if I was living somewhere smaller and less diverse, this would be different. But then I have only a passing sense of identification with the place where I was born, because I lived there just a short time and I speak with a different accent to the locals.

As someone who has been fortunate enough to travel widely, I have a reasonably broad perspective (you can't help but pick this up if you travel a lot), and then the need to identify with a particular patch of planet earth becomes less urgent, even though there's a small sense of loss that comes from not being 'rooted' in a geographic locale. But would it be better to have stayed just in one place? I can't say. It's too late for that, anyway.

Part of me feels like I would jump at the chance to leave London and live somewhere else for a while. Perhaps even another country? Decisions like this are almost too hard to make, especially when you have a family to consider. But I'm pretty tempted.


Tuesday, May 13, 2008

A birthday and some more wine

It has been another gloriously summery day here in London. I've done the bare minimum of work, because it was a significant birthday for Fiona, and celebration was in order.

After a relaxed start to the day, we went to lunch at The Wharf in Teddington, which is beautifully situated on the river, right next to the lock. The service was good, the setting was stunning, but unfortunately the food was distinctly average. But that's the problem with the restaurant scene in the suburbs: most of our local options are mediocre, but they still do a roaring trade. I suspect that people generally aren't all that fussy about what they put in their mouths, as long as the menu looks good and the setting seems right.

We had a couple of glasses of wine - it was the sort of list that looked OK, but had an annoying tendency not to give the producers' names. Fiona's choice was a Wairau Valley Sauvignon Blanc and mine a Chilean Carmenere Reserve (yes, the by-the-glass option was pretty limited), and the waiter wasn't able to find out who had made them. The wines were actually quite good, but it's frustrating not being given important information on the list.

Then this evening we met up with good friends Karl and Kate and their kids for a relaxing evening, again on the river. Kate's parents have some land fronting onto the Thames at Chertsey, and keep a boat there, and that was the venue for this evening's fun. We had a few drinks and then took a trip on the river, before heading back for some food. It was a beautiful evening, and the kids behaved themselves. Pictured is Fiona taking a swing over the water. She stayed dry.

Two quick wine mentions. First, Burgans Albarino 2006 Rias Baixas is a classic Albarino with a subtly floral, lemony nose and a palate that displays grapefruit and citrus pith character. It's fresh and quite precise, but with good depth of flavour. Stylish. 89/100 (£8.99 Oddbins). The second wine is a red with a bit of southern personality. Selection Laurence Feraud Seguret 2006 Cotes de Rhone Villages is quite deep in colour with attractive aromas of sweet red fruits and peppery spice. The palate is brightly fruited with some grippy, peppery tannins and a distinctive spiciness that nicely counters the sweetness of the fruit. There's also a hint of meatiness here, together with a bit of earthiness. This is quite seductive, in a modern, fruit forward style, but there's also some old world earthiness and spice that I find really appealing. Isn't cheap, but it is good. 90/100 (£9.99 Virgin Wines)

Nerdy closure note: the Burgans is sealed with a bright orange synthetic cork (supremecorq), while the Seguret is sealed with a screwcap (saranex-only liner).

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Thursday, May 08, 2008

Tasting in Oxford, and an epic journey

Did a tasting yesterday evening in Oxford, for the Oxford University Wine Society. It went well, but my plans for getting home were thrown into disarray when the train to Reading was late, and I missed my connection to Feltham. This meant that my next best option was to head into Paddington, but by the time I got there the tubes had finished and the last Heathrow Express (another option) had left ages ago. So I headed off and got the first bus I could find that was going west, ending up at Hammersmith bust station. From there I got the N9 to Heathrow, and at Heathrow I picked up the 285 bus, which finally got me home just before 3 am.

Oxford is a beautiful city, especially in the evening sunlight. It must be a very cool place to be a student. Not since Beijing, though, have I seen as many bicycles. There are millions of them. Pictured is Broad Street, looking towards the Sheldonian theatre.

Earlier in the day I'd been to the Sainsbury press tasting; today is the Waitrose press tasting. Tomorrow I feel like taking a day off.

Footnote: as of today, Fiona and I have been married for 15 years. Can you believe it?


Saturday, May 03, 2008

Spring, some telly and a nagging injury

Was meant to play cricket yesterday, but unfortunately it was called off because of the weather. Probably a good thing: I would have played even though I'm crocked, with a nagging, persistent hamstring injury (that makes it sound like I'm some fit wannabee sporting dude) that just won't go away. I'm a bit of a child when it comes to sport. I love it - it's a beautiful distraction from work and real life.

The weather really has been appallingly bad for the last three weeks or so, with heavy rain every day and unseasonally low temperatures. But today was a proper spring day, and so we went for a long family walk in the Surrey countryside (East Horsley), followed by a pub lunch. The kids were a pain, though. Especially older son, who has been appalling all day, throwing toddler style tantrums. The problem is he's 11 and a big lad, so when he loses it, he needs serious effort to restrain him. His crowning moment so far today has been to lock himself in the bathroom, throw the waste basket (full) out of the window, and use Fiona's cosmetics to write 'F*** You' on the glass. Charming.

Last night I didn't work, but instead we watched some telly. The wonderful Peep show has started a new series, and there was a wine reference. Yes! Mark was meeting up with an ex (Big Suze) to tell her he has chlamydia, but when he finds she's single again he decides to not break the news and instead turn it into a date. Classy! He grabs the wine list and asks her if she wants some wine. She asks for Barolo, her favourite. In a distraught state he scans the list, going further and further down until he finds a Barolo for £45, which he orders through gritted teeth. He tastes it and says its delicious, adding in an aside to himself, 'Obviously it's not really delicious like chocolate or coke, but for wine it's delicious'.

We also watched 'James Taylor, one man band' on BBC4. James Taylor is a dude - he writes some fantastic songs, even if some of them do sound a bit the same. Very early in his career, before things really took off, he came to England and spent two weeks in Twickenham (where we lived for several years, and a couple of miles down the road from where we now are). I never knew that. One of the guitars he was playing, which looked like a small-bodied Martin, has the most beautiful tone. It was mesmeric.

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Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Footy talk

Apologies to the sensible readers who aren't obsessed by sport, but I have to get this off my chest. What on earth are Manchester City doing if they are seriously thinking of sacking Sven? (Here.) Despite the tail-end blip, this has been the best ever season for City in the premiership. But then remember that this is a club that sacked Tony Book after City finished 2nd and then 4th in what was then Division 1 back in the late 1970s, and then Peter Reid after two successive 5th place finishes. Both interventions led to a period of instablity and ultimately relegation. While the current craziness seems to be initiated solely by Thaskin, who must be naive, badly advised or both, we're talking about a club with a history for self-destructive behaviour.

Good to see two English teams in the final of the champions' league. I was hoping Liverpool would progress at the expense of Chelsea tonight, because then I could cheer for them in the final. Now I may be put in the uncomfortable position of having to cheer for UTD, which as a City fan will be quite hard. But I admire what they've done this season.

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Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Some more films, and TV

It's been a while since I did any of my low-rent, amateur film and TV critic slots. Time to amend that, while tasting a full-throttle Chilean wine that has a whiff of petroleum products about it. Most odd.

No country for old men is the Coen brothers' celebrated adaptation of Cormac McCarthy's novel, and it's a gripping film, with a dollop of Ethan and Joel's quirkiness wrapped around a dominant core of ruthless violence. The secret of the film's success is an awesome performance by Javier Bardem as a menacing psychopathic hitman, who relentlessly pursues his targets with a complete lack of empathy and a scary singlemindedness. He's the sort of dude you really, really wouldn't want to have on your tail. Not a perfect film, but a very good one. Cast note: Kelly MacDonald, a Glasweigan, plays the wife of the main lead - she was really good in the excellent political drama series 'State of Play', a few years ago, and also Richard Curtis' 'Girl in the cafe'.

Killing time on a recent long-haul flight, I really enjoyed Before the devil knows you're dead. It's a brilliantly constructed film with a disjointed chronology, where part of the story is told backwards - we start two-thirds through, then track back to the build-up, and then look at the repercussions. It's hard to describe what happens without plot-busting, so I won't try, other than to say that the theme here is a severely dysfunctional family who end up comitting crimes against each other, on a number of levels. Philip Seymour Hoffman stars, from among a star-studded cast, with another brilliant performance. Notably directed by octagenarian Sidney Lumet.

Another film with a disjointed chronology that I also enjoyed quite a bit is Michael Clayton, a conspiracy thriller starring George Clooney as a legal fixer who runs into some trouble. Clooney is brilliant, but for me the most interesting performance is by Brit Tom Wilkinson as Arthur, a crazy lawyer who's flying solo and needs to be brought in. Tilda Swinton also puts in a strong performance in a film that keeps you gripped until the rather cheesily tidy (but still satisfying) ending.

What about TV? Well, I was pleased to see Gavin and Stacey do well in the BAFTAs, because it's brilliantly done and surprisingly addictive. Rob Brydon is a comic genius, too. And, rather guiltily, I confess that we've also been watching the BBC's Apprentice, which despite appearing horridly staged (they seemed to have recruited candidates solely on their ability to make good car-crash TV), is a bit addictive. When I can, I'm also trying to keep up with the brilliant Mad Men.

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Friday, April 18, 2008

IWC: BBC and the end of week one

Finished the first week of the International Wine Challenge (IWC). It has been less physically demanding on my palate that I'd anticipated, although I am physically very tired.

Yesterday a BBC camera crew were in attendance (pictured above). They were filming our tasting - and, in particular, tracking a single bottle, which they'd followed from the grape vine to the shop shelf. I hope it got through to next week...

The last couple of days the panels I've been tasting with have been excellent. It has been fun, with some healthy disagreement, but the relatively painless reaching of consensus. The constant rotation of flights from white to red, and from old world to new, keeps your palate quite fresh. The lunches are also excellent. The Coopers beer at the end of the day goes down very easily.

Usually, a day's solid tasting leaves me pretty tired and looking forward to an early night. But last night I went out for a curry in Teddington with some friends to celebrate the 40th birthday of a buddy, Rob, who happens also to be a Man City fan. It was a great evening, with modest excess and some good banter. We finished off with everyone ribbing me for my self-belief. It stems from the fact that I made a bet on new year's eve that by the end of the year I'd be down to a single-figure golf handicap. At the time I genuinely believed this was achievable, if I played often enough (i.e. most days) and had a few lessons. Now I realize it's merely a theoretical possibility. Last night I threw in two more theoretical wagers. The first was that if I played as a striker with a top premiership team, I'd score at least one goal in a whole season. The second was that if I played a full test series and bowled at least 20 overs per innings, I'd get at least one wicket. They all howled with laughter.

Next week we have Monday off, but then it's back to the IWC for the second round of judging. Pictured are the massed bottles waiting to be assessed.

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Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Day 3 of the IWC, and a note about the Barbican

The International Wine Challenge (IWC) is held in the Barbican. It's a remarkable construction, built on a site that had been bombed out in WWII, which then remained undeveloped for two decades, before plans were made for a residential development in the late 1950s. The design was approved in 1959, and the building work began in 1963, continuing through into the next decade.
It's a striking sight, with the main feature being three rather tall towers. The rough concrete used to build the estate is pretty ugly, and there's a rather industrial, dirty, ugly feel to the whole place. But I guess, looked at in another light, the Barbican has its own sense of beauty. There are over 2000 flats here of different styles, which range in price from around £600 000 for a two bed to £1 million for a three bed. There's a thorough if slightly dull website describing the Barbican's history, written by a resident.

I've finished the third dayís judging. So far, itís been a little easier than Iíd expected it to be. I had worried that my palate and teeth wouldnít stand up well to day after day of tasting 100+ wines, but they have, and I even managed a wine tasting and dinner last night after a full dayís judging.

The organization of the Challenge is fantastic. It makes the job of tasting easier when you have a support team who make sure everything is in the right place at the right time. As for the accuracy of the process, I think itís pretty good. Accurate blind tasting is difficult: it needs a degree of expertise and also good concentration. Most of the tasters Iíve worked with on the challenge so far have been very good, but it only takes one random or variable taster on your panel to make the job of sorting out the medal-winning wines from the rest that much harder.

One of the best aspects of working on a competition like this is the chance you get to hang out with other people in the wine trade - at the beginning of the day, in the panels, at lunchtime, and over a Coopers at the end of the day. As well as being an enjoyable social interaction, you do make some useful connections.

Tasted today:

Eastern European Pinot Noir (5)
Stellenbosch Shiraz (6)
French Merlot (mostly Bordeaux) (8)
Argentina Tannat (1)
Uruguay Tannat (1)
Ukraine Zweigelt (1)
Brazilian Touriga Nacional (1)
South African Touriga Nacional (1)
Australia Tannat (1)
Sparkling Rose (2)
Sparkling Reds (2)
Australian Cabernet Sauvignon Blends (12)
Eastern Australian Shiraz (9)
Chile Carmenere Blends (4)
Italian Sauvignon Blanc (12)
Canadian Cabernet Sauvignon (6)
Argentina Malbec (9)
Stellenbosch Gewurztraminer (3)
Chianti (9)
Languedoc Cabernet (6)
Spanish Rose (10)
Portuguse sweet Moscatel (5)

Total = 105 wines.

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Sunday, April 13, 2008

A big birthday weekend

Fiona's mother is 70, and so we've been hosting an epic of a surprise birthday weekend here chez Goode. Family have flocked to Feltham from the corners of the world (well, Geneva, Devon and Herefordshire, to be more exact) for three days of celebration. We've been accommodating most of the participants, with some overspill booked into the Travelodge over the road. It's been exhausting but great fun.

Families are great. I love the way everyone is thrown together - a melange of ages, interests and personality types - and yet it seems to work pretty well most of the time. There's a richness to it. And as generations transition, there's a natural renewing of it all. It doesn't grow stale.

On Friday I drove up to Malvern to pick Fiona's Auntie Moira up. It was a straight run, some 2 h 20 min, and as I arrived early I went for a walk on the Malvern Hills (above), which are always spectacular, even on a rather chilly, overcast spring day. The return journey was not so straightforward though, and took five hours. Ouch. We arrived just after Fiona's mother, and the surprise welcome. The dinner that followed was great fun, and despite a critical mass of kids, there was no nuclear explosion.

Yesterday, we left all the kids under the watchful care of Hannah, the oldest cousin, and her boyfriend Josh, as we headed off to lunch at Dean Timpson at The Compleat Angler in Marlow (above). It's a stunning setting on the river, sandwiched between the lovely bridge and the weir. The food was really, really good: top quality, with service, presentation and attention to detail of Michelin star standard. I spent some time with the wine list, which has some excellent producers shoulder to shoulder with mediocre ones. In the end I ordered a Vidal Syrah from Hawkes Bay, which was quite elegant and old worldy in style, and a Bordeaux Sauvignon Semillon that was crisp and fresh (and was also the least expensive wine on what is quite an expensive list).

I can't help but mention ££££. You expect a top quality joint like this to be expensive, because it costs a lot to do a restaurant really well. But it was the way it was expensive that left me a little disappointed: the menu itself is good value, but all the 'unseen' items, such as water (we were poured eight bottles at £4.80 each), espresso (£4 a single shot) and drinks seem excessive. I'd much prefer it if restaurants put their margins in their food. People look at how much they spend on the total bill when they consider returning; at the prices Timpson charges per head when all these extras are included, he's batting with the big boys, and will end up being judged with more scrutiny.

Today is the final day of the epic. Overall, it has been a superb weekend. Now we're trying to persuade Fiona's brother to issue us with an extended invitation for Geneva this summer.

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Sunday, April 06, 2008

Snow, in April

Remarkable weather. For April. This was the view this morning on my walk with RTL. Below is the view outside our house.


Friday, April 04, 2008

Springtime...almost here - a visit to Denbies

It has been a rather gentle end to the week. Today I visited Denbies, which for a long time has been England's largest winery, in a beautiful setting on the north Downs, near Dorking. I was due there at 1030, but because of excellent traffic arrived almost an hour early, so I went for a wander on Box Hill. It was a beautiful spring morning, with gently warming sunshine filtered through some light cloud cover. The countryside is slowly wakening after what seems like a very long winter - it's a great time of year. Seemed strange going for a walk without the dog, though.

At Denbies, Sam Harrop, John Worontshak and I were meeting with the Denbies team to discuss a potential project. First, we tasted through some of the wines with Marcus Sharp, who heads up the winemaking team. I was really impressed: the Champagne-method sparkling wines were really good, and the varietal series, including Schoenberger, Bacchus, Ortega, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, were very smart wines. From the evidence of this and other experiences I've had recently, English wine seems to be progressing really well. At lunch we tried a 2003 Chardonnay that was really stylish: admittedly, 2003 was a bit of a freak year, but this wine is proof of what can be achieved in our possibly not so marginal climate after all.

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Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Very funny news piece on Decanter

Priceless post on Decanter.com. Stroke of genius for Adam to pick Javier Bardem, who was fantastically menacing in No Country for old men.

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Thursday, March 06, 2008

Taking it easy with organic Syrah

After an exhausting Wednesday, I decided to take things a bit easier today, day 4 of my freelance existence. I began by taking younger son to school and then walking RTL in Bushey Park, where she spent about 25 minutes in the water trying to eat assorted wildfowl (fortunately, with little success). I was standing helplessly at the side, calling her name in vain and generally feeling rather embarassed that I'm such a rubbish dog owner. 'There's no such thing as bad dogs', all the guidebooks on dog behaviour say, 'just bad owners'.

Then I set about my work, dealing with emails, doing some tinkering with the website, making some phonecalls, typing up some notes. Lunch was a brief affair, and I returned to work, pausing to do the afternoon dog walk, and then finishing about 5.30. I took a few breaks to play some guitar and make some coffee. The day passed pretty quickly.

This evening I hopped off to younger son's parent's evening. He loves his current teacher, a dude into his technology who uses an iPhone. I was very impressed by him, too - it's so nice when your kids are being taught well. Teachers have a great deal of power to influence their pupils, and I still remember the good (and not so good) teachers I had when I was at school. [As an aside, I almost became a teacher: when I was finishing my first degree I was going out with a medic in Leicester, and I had an interview to study teacher training in Leicester so I could be close to her. But then I realized it wasn't for me, and that she wasn't for me. Life would have been very different if I'd taken that particular fork in the road.]

After this I drove into central London to pick up the last of my stuff from the office. On the way I listened to Radio 4. I must be a sad old git, because it was actually very entertaining. I caught a program on science, and then a repeat of Melvyn Bragg's 'In our time'. A bit nerdy and geeky, but the sort of thing you listen to, learn a bit, and feel better for it. I also listened to the Sat Nav. My friend Rob has a sexy female voice on his Sat Nav, but I have a rather stern sounding bloke. It's the default voice, I think. Or it's the one Fiona has chosen.

Tonight I'm trying an organic red from the Languedoc's Minervois region, which has just been listed by Waitrose at £7.99 in store. It's one of those wines that I like, but I don't love. Does that make sense?

Chateau Maris 'Syrah Organic' 2006 Minervois, Languedoc
An intensely coloured wine made with grapes grown organically 'according to biodynamic principles' (which presumably means it is not certified biodynamic), weighing in at a heady 14.5% alcohol. The nose is a little shy, with some spicy minerality, a bit of alcohol, and fresh dark fruits. The palate shows vivid, pure red and black fruit with some rather grippy, peppery, spicy tannic structure and a drying, earthy finish. I like the way the fruit has been captured here: it's a vivid, fresh sort of wine. But the hot, slightly bitter alcohol does make its presence felt, too, and the fruit isn't rich enough to cope with the grippy tannins. 87/100 (£7.99 Waitrose)

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Monday, February 18, 2008

Monday morning bits and pieces

It's been a really enjoyable weekend. We haven't done a great deal, but it's just been easy, and fun. Not all our weekends are like this.

One of the contributing factors has been the fantastic crisp, cold, bright weather. The quality of light makes a big difference for me: even the moderately scabby Feltham skyline looks fantastic in bright sunlight. And the countryside looks fantastic. It's really uplifting.

On Saturday morning I took older son and RTL for a walk at Bedfont Lakes Country Park. Then I gave my mother-in-law a lift to the airport, and then I took younger son to Staines for a spot of chav watching (and some shopping). Back in time to take RTL for her second walk of the day; we get the kids to bed and eat together.

Yesterday followed a similar pattern - a couple of good walks, including a really enjoyable wander around Virginia Water (pictured), as well as a traditional family-style Sunday lunch featuring a free range chicken. Last week we had a free range organic chicken that cost £9 - the Aston Martin DB5 of chickens. Talking of Aston Martins, in the evening I watched Casino Royale with the boys. I'd not seen it before, and I was quite impressed with Daniel Craig.

Several wines made an appearance over the weekend, including a nicely complex Domaine Chandon Vintage 2002 - one of the bestAussie sparkling wines I've tried - and also a reticent, savoury Yalumba Organic Shiraz 2006 (£7.99 Waitrose), which emerged from its reductive shell on the second day to show supple, midweight plummy fruit.


Sunday, January 27, 2008

Organic Italian and bits and pieces

Some late night bits and pieces.

Two long walks with the dog today - Richmond Park and Virginia Water (Windsor Great Park) - both were very enjoyable, and reminded me of how lucky we are here to be in easy access of nice green spaces, even though we're living in a London borough. RTL found a dead rabbit and had eaten part of it before I could stop her; she chased a jogger; she almost got killed by two horses; she harrassed some swans. But we did meet another labradoodle.

Spoke to my parents on the phone. My father likes buying cars, and he has a new one. He bought it from a garage who only had one set of keys available. Mother took a drive to Isleham, and on the way stopped to post a letter. She left the engine running. The door closed. The central locking turned on. She was left locked out, with the engine running, with the car on a main road. She had to walk home and confess (imagine the conversation...), and father had to then drive 14 miles to Bury to pick up the second set of keys, drive back, and then open the door of the car. Hilarious!

Tonight's tipple is an organic Italian red from a producer called Organico (www.organi.co.uk). It's Dominico Colli della Toscano Centrale Rosso 2004, and it's one of their own-brand wines that is priced at £6.35. I like it: it's fresh, earthy, spicy and very savoury. Really bretty, but it works quite well as a rustic, bright food-friendly red. It tastes nice and works with food, and I'd rather have this than a soulless fruit-driven brand, even though it is technically a rather faulty wine. There's a time and a place for savoury, bretty, relatively inexpensive reds, don't you think?

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Thursday, January 03, 2008

Predictions for 2008

Those of you who follow both the blog and the main wineanorak site will see that I've put up a list of wine predictions for 2008 (here).

In bullet form they are:
1. More competitive market
2. Belt tightening by consumers
3. Neoprohibitionism on the move
4. Alternative packaging increasing
5. High alcohol takes a beating
6. No more RP for UK retailers
7. Fewer corks
8. Australia struggles; NZ thrives

I also think we'll see a change of government in the UK, that bird flu will cause a global pandemic (get out your Tamiflu and food supplies), and that Man City will nick a champions league spot. On that latter point, you can see City's win last night here. I reckon they should sign Berbatov, Bentley and Mascherano and then they'll be challenging for the title. [Now I'm verging on silliness, I admit it.] Just got my tickets to see West Ham v City on Saturday in the FA Cup - I'm going with my chum Rob, and we're both taking our kids (he has two girls about the same age as our boys). I've not been to Upton Park before - it should be a good game.

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Friday, December 21, 2007

Ramblings on books and films

As the Christmas break approaches I'm starting to feel un-work-like, so my mind is drifting towards other things. I realize it's been a while since I did any amateur NWR book or film reviews. So here goes.

First, three books. Ian McEwan's Atonement is a good story, well written. It's one of those books where the prose is so rich that you want it to last a long time, and feel sad as you draw towards the close. From the cover, which features Hollywood stars, I gather a movie has been made of this - haven't seen it, though.

Khaled Hosseini's The Kite Runner is a book of two havles. It starts brilliantly. You really get a feel for what it must have been like to grow up in Afghanistan. But then it gets a bit silly, and starts reading like a bad John Grisham novel, with the author allowing himself just too many coincidences, and the pace just getting far too rapid. This is another book that has spawned a film. Haven't seen it, though.

Finally, Zadie Smith's On Beauty, which is funny, quite perceptive and brilliantly observed. The writing here is fantastic. The subject matter is original. It's a really good read.

Next, some movies.

The Painted Veil is a beautiful period piece -with teeth - set in China in the 1930s. It's based on the Somerset Maugham, and as well as being visually stunning, there are some strong acting performances. A hit.

Mitchell and Webb are comic geniuses, and their debut film Magicians is very,very funny. Another hit.

Finally, Die Hard 4.0 is a fun film if you are in the mood for it. Bruce Willis is very old now, but still indestructable. Fortunately, he manages to save the world (well, the USA, but isn't that the same thing?) from baddies. I enjoyed this.

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Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Suicide cat

Pictured about midnight last night: Oswald, assuming RTL is asleep, comes in through the cat flap and begins tucking in (duh, read the bowl)... He's lucky. RTL is asleep upstairs and doesn't stir. But had she awoken, Ozzie would have been a dead cat walking.

Old timers here will know that Ozzie is actually a celebrity cat. I attach documentary evidence: we are not his first owners. Google the address! Perhaps we should sell him on ebay?


Monday, December 10, 2007

RTL update and more beer

I realize it's been a while since I gave you an update on our faithful hound, Rosie The Labradoodle. Of course, all the rulebooks say 'never blog on your pets', but I'm afraid I'm going to, anyway.

RTL has been with us a year. There are moments when we wish we'd never got her, but weighing up all the pros and cons, I think we're just about glad we did. She's like another member of the family.

She now barks less. We've been using a bark collar in the evenings - it's a device that gives her a blast of strong-smelling liquid (citronella) every time she gives a woof. I think you can get versions that deliver an electric shock, but that seems a bit cruel and excessive. As a result, she's got out of the habit of barking, which is a good thing, because there are few more stressful sounds than a barking dog. [Crying infants?]

She still wants to eat the cats. No progress there.

We've faithfully given her two long walks a day. This means every morning I have to get up at the crack of dawn, whatever the weather, and no matter how tired I'm feeling (usually very), to take her out. Change is normally something we aspire to but never quite pull off. RTL has forced on me a quite significant change in lifestyle.

She now looks more like a labradoodle and less like a golden retriever. Only yesterday a fellow labradoodle owner came over to me and asked, 'Is she a labradoodle? So is mine'. Having said this, most people just look puzzled when they meet her.

She now sleeps in our bedroom. Yes, I know: she shouldn't. But at least she sleeps, whereas before she was waking us up regularly at 4 am.

So back to drinks. Some more beers this weekend that I enjoyed. Worthingtons White Shield IPA is fresh and complex. Serious effort. Deuchars IPA from the Caledonian Brewery in Scotland is also fresh and complex, but it's an orange ale with a bit of malty richness to counter the hoppiness. Another serious effort. And Grolsch Weizen Premium is also a serious beer with a lovely citrussy freshness and floral aromatics. All three would be good with food.

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Sunday, November 25, 2007

Fortieth celebration weekend

Whoever you are, you can't escape the passage of time. Rich and poor alike all age at more or less the same rate. Some people fight it harder than others do; some seem to accomodate the passing years better than others; but all grow chronologically older at the same rate.

I've just passed one of those significant barriers, the big four-oh, along with my twin sister. The fact that two of us were celebrating together required some sort of joint event, so Fiona organized a weekend involving the families of Anne and I, plus those of our two siblings, plus my parents, which totalled 10 adults (pictured above) and 11 children ranging from 1 to 11 in age.

So we gathered at Moreleaze Farm in Somerset, where we occupied three cottages, with a swimming pool, games room and tennis court for entertainment. Friday evening was curry night, with my father as a chef, washed down with lots of fizz. But this was preceded by a trip to the local, one of the most remarkable pubs I've ever visited.

The Seymour Arms at Witham Friary is a bit of living history. For a start, it doesn't serve food. These days virtually all pubs are overpriced restaurants that serve beer. The Seymour Arms is what pubs used to be like, 60 years ago. There's one large room, with a wooden bench running around the perimeter, painted duck-egg blue. In the middle of the room are four large tables, with bench seats either side. The bar is effectively a large window, interfacing with the residential part of the pub in which there is a single cask of ale, a couple of casks of cider, and the other drinks. Only one beer was available, Butcombe, and it was £2 a pint. We had a couple of pints, played darts, and left in awe at this flash-back in time to a different era.

Saturday was a day of activity, including a tennis match in which sister Hester and myself were narrowly beaten by younger brother Arthur and twin sister Anne. Saturday evening saw a talent show with the various families each putting in a performance (brother Arthur's family rendition of Old MacDonald on the ocarina was the most memorable), followed by a slide and cine (super 8) show which my father had organized (seeing yourself on film aged five puts things in perspective a bit), and then the gala dinner - a black tie affair washed down with some serious fizz, good claret and Vintage Port. Significantly, we enjoyed some fizz from a Jeroboam, which is effectively a double magnum. Kindly provided by brother-in-law Beavington, it was an impressive Drappier Millesime Selection 1999 (pictured).

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Friday, October 12, 2007

A sporting weekend beckons...

Today's blog comes in bullet points.

  • Above: gratuitous picture of some Cabernet Sauvignon ripening at Chateau Brown (Pessac Leognan, Bordeaux).
  • Lots of sport this weekend to watch, most notably England vs. France in the semi-final of the Rugby, and England's must-win match against Estonia in the football. The former is likely to be much more exciting.
  • Which means we have a dilemma: two couples coming round to dinner on Saturday. Should we suggest watching the game to them? We can't not watch it, surely. Or do we record it, and in Likely Lads style try to avoid hearing the result before we watch it???
  • I need to buy a camcorder. What should I buy?
  • I have to try some mulled wine for my Express column tonight. Wish me luck!


Sunday, October 07, 2007

Brief wines to cap a sporting weekend

Just some brief wine notes this Sunday evening, after an exciting sporting weekend. What is it with sport? I know that it's a non-serious pursuit that acts as a catharsis for us, the masses, to distract us from real life in all its misery, and that serious people shouldn't care about it. But I love sport. I read newspapers from the back page. This weekend has been fantastic: the rugby yesterday was astonishing, and then the football today was brilliant, too. Last season, I'd grown pessimistic about the premiership. It was boring. But this year it's thrilling (unless you are a Spurs fan - I enjoyed taunting one of my Spurs-loving friends today by asking him whether he'd heard the latest rumour - that Jol was going to be replaced by David Pleat...)

Anyway, back to the wine. First, a lovely white. I bought a case of Domenic Torzi's Frost Dodger Eden Valley Riesling 2005 Australia from Bordeaux Index a while back at a good price, and I'll be in no hurry to drink this up. The second bottle I've opened, this is beginning to open out: lime, honey, spice with a hint of reduction that I hope won't grow with time in bottle. It's quite serious for a dry Riesling. Second, the Lynchpin 2005 mentioned below is, on day 3, showing well still, with lovely chalky minerality and some real elegance, which makes me think it's a reasonably ageworthy wine. Finally, Waitrose have brought out a new line of own label wines, and they have a Waitrose Barossa Shiraz Reserve 2005 from St Hallett that's really nice: fruit-focused, with no American oak (just a bit of French), it shows dark, ripe black fruits countered by some plummy bitterness and an almost ginger-like warm spiciness, with the oak very much in the background. It's a solid value (to use an American term) at £7.99.

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Monday, October 01, 2007

A good day

Forgive the unrelated photograph. It's me on the back of a mechanical harvester, taken on Thursday afternoon in Entre-Deux-Mers. The other rider is Beverly Blanning. We were watching the harvest at Chateau Lavison, where Merlot was being picked, and the offer was made: do we want a ride? So precariously balanced on the back, quite high up, we watched as a couple of rows were picked. It's amazing how these machines can pick so well: the reception bins contained almost exclusively intact berries, and a simple triage at the winery picked out remaining stems and any rotten or unripe grapes.

Anyway, the title of this post refers to today, where a couple of nice things happened. First of all, I found Fiona's keys. Doesn't sound too eventful, does it? But it was. Last Tuesday, Fiona was walking RTL in Hanworth Park, when a horse, which wasn't supposed to be there, suddenly appeared. RTL ran fast towards it, and began running round its legs. There was panic, and Fiona ran after the imperiled hound trying to catch it. After the crisis had passed, she realized she no longer had her keys, which must have fallen out of her pocket. The problem is, Hanworth Park is huge, has tall, dense grass off the pathways, through which Fiona had to run, and the keys could have been anywhere within a patch approximately 200 m x 100 m. That evening we searched en famille without success; subsequent search attempts also failed the following day, so we gave the keys up for lost.

Now house keys are easy to re-cut. But the car key is a different matter. A quick call to Mazda revealed that it was easily replaceable, but at a cost of £260. £260 for a car key? That's more than an Ipod costs, and an Ipod is a whole lot more complex. And they needed the car for two hours on next Friday morning for some reason to supply the new one. Why?

So this morning, as I was walking the dog through Hanworth Park, my mind briefly flitted to the issue of the lost keys. Maybe I'll look for them again, I said to myself. I'd taken just two paces off the path when I looked down, and there they were. It felt like a miracle.

The second nice surprise was waiting for me when I got home: a nice royalty cheque for Wine Science. I'd previously just received and advance: this was the first time the earnings had passed the amount of the advance and I got some cash in my hand. It's selling particularly well in the USA, and has just been translated into Japanese. It's always nice to get money that you weren't expecting.

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Monday, September 03, 2007

Rosie's new friend

While we were lunching yesterday, Rosie The Labradoodle disappeared upstairs (unknown to us - this is something she is never allowed to do at home) and came down with a rather large soft toy in her mouth. It was a horse, almost the same size as she is. She was allowed to bring it home, and RTL and horsey have been inseparable since. She slept with it last night.

Our hope is that horsey will give her the companionship she misses when we all go to bed and she's left downstairs. We'd be delighted if she were to stop waking us up in the middle of the night by barking loudly just because she's lonely.


Tuesday, August 28, 2007


The cold which had been threatening to burst at any moment has really clicked into gear, and I can no longer smell all that much. It's a myth (from my experience at least) to say that you can't smell anything when you have a cold, but the clarity of the olfactory perception is certainly much diminished at the moment.

I reckon I could still taste wine OK in my current impaired state (in terms of rough impressions), but I'd be less sure of my perception - that I was actually 'getting' the wine.

The fact that we think we are 'getting' the wine or not is one argument in favour of the idea that wine tasting is, at least in part, objective. There is something there, that is a property of the glass of wine we are drinking, that can be 'got'. Aside from inter-individual differences in perception, the assumption is that the characteristics of a wine - what it tastes like - are properties of that wine.

When I write a tasting note, I first write the name of the wine. Then I write under it the descriptive words - a selection of terms from my sadly rather impoverished vocabulary for tastes and smells - that best describe my perception of that wine. But all the time, the assumption is that the description I have given is of the wine. I am describing the wine, and my descriptive abilities (or lack of them) affect how accurately I carry out this task, but what I am describing is a wine that, if you were there tasting with me, you could experience for yourself. In this sense, the perception of the wine in question is not a private experience.

However, an argument could be made that what I am in fact describing is the interaction between me and the wine, and more specifically, a perceptual event occurring somewhere in my brain. In this sense, our potential for sharing this experience is dependent on us sharing: (1) taste and smell receptors that produce similar electrical activity for the brain to then process; (2) similar higher-level processing of this electrical information in the brain; and (3) similar experience (context) with which to review and further reflect on the perceptual experience (indeed, our experience may shape the perception itself).

It all gets very complicated, and the difficulty I have here in thinking about these issues is in trying to fit what I've learned with neuroscience into a sort of philisophical framework, without being too philosophically naive (which is something I'm prone to).

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Monday, August 27, 2007

Reach for the skies!

Just been away for a fabulous weekend, staying with my parents in Lidgate, Suffolk. The weather was fantastic, the kids behaved, RTL sort of behaved and we had a good time.

On Saturday my dad and I took the boys to IWM Duxford, which is a fabulous airforce museum at a functioning airfield. I confess to having a latent nerdy interest in aircraft - I grew up making airfix models - and so I was really looking forward to this.

Spread out over five hangars, Duxford's collection is incredible. There are also some very good hands-on exhibits for the kids, and we were fortunate enough to see flying displays from a Spitfire and Mustang. Yes, if you have even just one nerdy bone in your body, then Duxford comes highly recommended.

We drunk a fair bit of wine over the weekend, although my ability to enjoy it was somewhat muted by a cold. Some very brief notes on a few:

Fabre Montemayou Phebus Cabernet Sauvignon 2006 Mendoza, Argentina: dense, savoury, intense, great value for an inexpensive wine. Serious, almost.

Pewsey Vale Riesling 2006 Eden Valley, Australia
Bright, aromatic, versatile and well balanced. Lovely stuff.

Wolf Blass Green Label Cabernet Shiraz 2006 South Australia
From a 75 cl PET bottle (plastic). BBE May 2008 on label. Open, sweet blackcurrant fruit with a noticeable green character. Generous, confected.

Cano Toro Cosecha 2006 Spain
A very well made cheapie. Vibrant, jammy, emphasis on forward fruit - perhaps a bit rough at the edges.
M&S La Basca Tempranillo 2006
Unoaked and with lovely sweet black fruits, this would have been lovely, but it was corked. Why on earth didn't M&S insist on a taint-free closure for this delightful, inexpensive red. Diam, ProCork, screwcap or synthetic for this sort of wine. No excuse for using natural cork.

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Saturday, August 11, 2007

A wild vine observed

It's been one of those perfect summer days here in west London, following on from a similarly balmy, sunny day yesterday.

Wandering around early Friday evening there was a hummy, buzzy sort of atmosphere - a sense that something was about to happen; as if people were set on enjoying themselves in whatever form this enjoyment might take. A spirit of leisure was unleashed. And because we've waited so long for this summer feeling, and because there isn't a lot of summer left, there was a sense of urgency - that we must make the most of this now - added into the mix, which ramps the intensity a notch.

I took RTL for a long walk on Hounslow Heath this morning. It was beautiful, and even more so because the flight path into Heathrow wasn't directly overhead today. During the course of this excursion I did a double take as I found a grape vine growing up an oak tree (pictured). Of course, the natural habit of Vitis vinifera is as a woodland climber: it's specialized for this role, with its fast growth of narrow-girth shoots, tendrils, drought resistance and a root system that's extremely good at going deep and competing with established plants for resources of minerals and water.

Where the grapevine shoot finds a gap in the canopy of its host plant, the exposure to sunlight initiates the process of flower (and thus grape) formation. However, there weren't any noticeable fruit clusters on this 'wild' vine, which is most likely derived from a table grape used to being grown in much warmer, sunnier climates.

Then this afternoon I took the boys to play golf, in almost perfect conditions. Warm but not too hot, with a gentle breeze.

Another reason to be happy besides the late appearance of summer is that the football season began again today, and Svennis' City team won 2-0 away at West Ham.

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Friday, August 10, 2007

Holiday in the country

Sorry for the radio silence over the last week. I've been away, on holiday, staying at a lovely converted barn in the middle of the English countryside. I've been without e-mail access, and so I'm just picking up my 2944 messages (the majority of which will of course be junk), and I didn't do any work.

We were staying in Worcestershire, not far from the Malvern Hills, which are spectacular. We also had some great weather - had we visited a couple of weeks earlier, most of the surrounding countryside would have been under water.

So, lots of walking the dog, lots of going out for the day, lots of eating and drinking, and lots of sleeping. Indeed, if there is such a thing as sleep debt, I've paid mine back double. I'm now well into sleep credit. The picture shows the boys feeling rather weary after ascending a few hills.


Saturday, July 28, 2007

Surrey Hills and some wine

I'm slightly worried that with all these accounts of walks in the country en famille you are left with some picture of domestic idyll chez Goode. Let me correct this notion. When we announced to the boys this morning that we were intending to head off to the Surrey Hills for a family walk, there was severe rebellion in the ranks.

Not surprising, because the slightest parental request in our house is usually treated as fighting talk. For some reason, 'Would you like to come off playstation now, because you've been playing it for 2 hours and you need to eat lunch', is interpreted by elder boy as 'Step outside now'; it's not much better with younger son.

After some negotiation, we managed to set off for one of my favourite excursions, The Holmbury Hill Walk. The best bit about it is that half way round there's a decent pub where you can lunch. Fortified by a couple of pints of Ringwood, and encouraged by the half-decent weather, we had a lovely walk. Even though the kids had considered a long and painful death to be a better option than a family walk before we'd left, once we were there they enjoyed it too.

This evening, three wines sampled. Asda's Montepulciano d'Abruzzo 2006 is just what you want from an inexpensive Italian red: it's pleasantly tart and light, with plum and damson flavours. Torres Gran Sangre de Toro 2003 is nicely dense, but has a little too much sweet vanilla-scented American oak for my liking: they should lose some of the oak, use a bit of French rather than American, and aim at fruit intensity. The best of the evening was Chateau Clauzet 2004 Saint-Estephe, Bordeaux. This is quite serious claret. The dark fruits nose has a bit of spice and earthiness. The palate is nicely dense with focused black fruits with good tannins and a minerally undercurrent. This is a substantial, savoury, spicy wine with fresh fruit and well judged oak. A really nice claret. 88/100

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Thursday, July 26, 2007

London rain, again

It rained again today. With the odd exception - Sunday and Tuesday, and I think there was a day the previous week - it has rained every day for as long as I remember. And we've only got another month of summer left. I'm beginning to feel a sense of loss. We Brits love to talk about the weather, and we've had plenty to talk about in recent years. Pictured is the view up Portland Place at about 4 pm, looking towards RIBA.

Tonight I sip Tesco Alsace Gewurztraminer 2005. It's pretty good: there's peach and melon on the nose with just a hint of ripe grape and lychee. The palate is thick-textured and just off-dry, but with nice freshness, too. It's clean, fruity and quite pure, with lovely density.

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Tuesday, July 24, 2007

A day of family stuff

Took a day off today, to spend with the family. Fortuitously, it was one of the few rain-free days we've had over the last couple of months. It felt like summer.

We started off at Box Hill, near Dorking in Surrey. It's a beautiful spot, and one we return to frequently. A bit of gentle hill walking on a mostly-sunny English summer's day is hard to beat as an antidote to stress. From Boxhill you also get a great view of Denbies Wine Estate (below).

We then lunched at the Percy Arms in Chilworth, which has a nice garden. Greene King IPA and Ruddles Orchard were the accompaniment. This was followed by a visit to Mercedes Benz World at Brooklands, which the kids quite enjoyed. It's like a three-storey car showroom on a scale you've never seen before, with several attractions thrown in. It's free, and the kids really enjoyed sitting in some of the sports cars. You can spend a lot of money on a Mercedes. Me? I'm pretty happy with my Mazda 6 Diesel Estate, which has performed wonderfully over its first 14 months.

Then this evening it was off to Cineworld to see the latest Harry Potter film. It's good - as good as this sort of film can be. I'd rate this alongside number 3 (which incidentally had Michael Seresin, owner of Seresin winery in New Zealand's Marlborough region, as filmaker) as the best of the series. Imelda Staunton is a brilliant Dolores Umbridge, Filch is once again fantastic (especially when he's atop an implausibly high and shaky stepladder hammering Umbridge's edict no 113 to the wall), and there's a spooky, rather gritty edge to the whole film. But the problem is that by this stage in the series Rowling's books had become very fat indeed, and so compressing them into a single film means that there's not much time for character development or narrative - just action. It's hard to see how the next two films can develop the series, save for becoming 'darker', but then part of the appeal of Potter and his merry chums is magic and fun, and the lightness and childish delight is in danger of being squeezed out of this series.

Two wines. Calvet Reserve Merlot Cabernet Sauvignon 2003 Bordeaux (£6.99 Sainsbury, Waitrose, Co-op) is quite dense, dark, spicy and tannic - it tastes a bit like a Madiran, with firm, dark structure, blackberry/raspberry fruit and good acidity. Not terribly refined, but a good food wine with lots of savoury stuffing, and better than you might expect from Bordeaux at this price. 84/100. The second is Graham Beck Brut Rose 2005 Methode Cap Classique. This South African fizz is a pale salmon colour with lovely delicacy and poise. There's a smooth texture here, along with freshness and brightness. This is a really well made fizz that is fine for drinking on its own, but which would do a good job at table, too. 86/100 (UK importer Bibendum Wine.)

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Sunday, July 15, 2007

Singapore in London

Just a quick post. The bizarre English 'summer' took a strange twist this evening. For a short while, I thought I was in Singapore. Hot with amazingly high humidity. Strangely, I quite liked it. We rarely get these conditions here.

I wandered over with the boys to Blockbuster, where in the 4 for £10 rack I managed to find all six of both series 3 and 4 of The West Wing. Fantastic: much cheaper than buying the box sets.


Wild ale and theme parks

A sort of odd blog post today. A hybrid.

First, a note about a rather good beer I'm drinking. It's Wild Hare from Bath Ales, and it describes itself as an organic golden pale ale. Slightly murky brownish/gold colour. Extremely fresh, hoppy and bitter, which I love. It's as refreshing as a cold lager but much more flavourful and complex. There's a citrus freshness here, together with lovely hoppy bitterness, and it counts as my current favourite bottled beer. £1.70 from Asda.

Second, a blog post I wrote yesterday but didn't post until today:

Iím writing this sat at a table in Burger King, in Thorpe Park. Iíve brought my elder son and three of his friends here for elder sonís birthday treat. So Iím here for 7h 30, which is OK because Iím not going on any rides and the nine-cell battery on this laptop has 89% of power left which apparently is enough for 7 h 39 minutes. Why Burger King? Because itís the only place with a seat thatís serving coffee (of sorts). There is a Cafe Nero here, but for some unexplainable reason it is closed. Some more observations. Thorpe Park is Chav heaven. Iím quite an open minded guy, and I like theme parks generally. Loved taking the kids to LegoLand and Eurodisney because they were both done so well. Thorpe Park, in contrast, is hideous. Itís crassly commercial, of course, but worst of all itís ugly. Thereís no beauty here. Thereís none of the creativity or imagination that the best theme parks have. Thereís no sense of magic. It all focuses on the lowest common denominator.

The rides are all extreme, for people whose brains are so atrophied by constant immersion in popular culture, and whose souls have been numbed and bloated by modern living, such that the only stimulation that will reach them is being centrifuged at 5G for four minutes on a Thorpe Park Ďattractioní.

Lunchtime is approaching, so I may have to vacate my seat as the noise levels rise to a crescendo and the smell of fast food becomes overpowering. Iím meeting the kids at 12.50 for lunch. Donít get me wrong, you can have fun here, and I think my boy will have a great day with his friends. But I hope that by the time heís 18 he may have developed enough of an awareness of beauty and ugliness that he will choose something else for a day out.

My expectation is that by 6 pm Iíll be high on caffeine (having consumed regular cups of coffee such that I donít get expelled from my various writing spots) and have got a fair bit of work done, while still being a good dad because Iíve given my son freedom to have fun without the presence of his embarrassing parent. My slight worry is that by standing out from the crowd Ė I think Iím alone in coming here to work on a laptop Ė Iíll be expelled from the park for being a weirdo. Theyíve probably already got someone in the CCTV room following my every movement.

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Saturday, July 07, 2007

Wild vineyard

Visited my allotment vineyard for the first time in a while. It's pretty difficult trying to work organically when (a) you haven't got much time and (b) when it has rained for most of June. My sole defence against oidium (a fungal disease that affects Vitis vinifera vines) is sulfur, and when you apply this in the rain it gets washed off. I applied some more today, but there are already signs of oidium on some of the grapes. Not good. The vines are also amazingly vigorous, and you can hardly tell where one starts and one ends. Next year I'll try to implement a vertical trellis and grow the vines in neat hedges. I'll likely have plenty of time to spend on the allotment then.

Aside: Nice to see the sunshine again after so long.

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Thursday, July 05, 2007

Sven at City

[Non-wine-related football banter. Sorry.]

So yesterday Sven rocks up to City (see pictures here on the BBC news site). He's not actually manager yet, but his appointment may be confirmed today...or tomorrow... With City, nothing is straightforward and eveything is possible.

Sven has one of his puzzled 'what on earth are we going to do here' looks on. Some media outlets have suggested that Sven says he needs 10 new players to make City competitive. It's never dull following this team.

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Sunday, July 01, 2007

A natural confession

I have a confession to make. Despite having a PhD in what used to be called botany (now 'plant sciences'), I'm rubbish at recognizing plants. If I watch an episode of Gardener's World, I'm bamboozled by all the technical terms. When I go for a walk in the countryside, I'm embarrassed at not being able to name the various species we come across.

The reason? I studied plant cells, and, more specifically, the cells of the first stages of growth of mosses, the protonema. I grew them in sterile culture on nutrient agar in Petri dishes. I then farted around with them a bit and looked at them under microscopes. I can give you a good lecture on plant physiology and cell biology, but I never got round to learning all those wonderful latin names of the sorts of plants you encounter on a walk through the woods.

Today, walking RTL, I encountered a beautiful stand of what look superficially like foxgloves, but which aren't (pictured). The interesting thing about the inflorescences here is that on each you have every stage of flower development, from budding to senescence, which is what you get with foxgloves. One of my PhD supervisors is an expert on flower senescence, and he did his PhD on foxgloves for this reason. Anyone know what the plant pictured here is? They're kind of like inverted wisterias, but pinker.


Friday, June 29, 2007

Rained off and getting organized

Supposed to be playing cricket today for the winetrade XI versus the Hamsphire Hoggs, down at their lovely ground near Petersfield (above). But it rained and rained. Then it stopped and the sun came out, but an inspection of the pitch revealed standing water, under the covers. So we had lunch, before the decision was made to call the game off just before 3 pm. Not a wasted journey though: an occasion like this gives you a good chance to chat with your colleagues and make some new connections. I did feel sorry for Nick Oakley, though, who'd driven down from Colchester specially for the game.

Got home and decided to get organized. I work with piles of paper (as well as a sort of electronic pile in my Eudora inbox), and in my study before I started sorting there were four piles, each perhaps two feet high. I've just spend over an hour working through them, chucking stuff out, discovering important stuff, and realizing that I have a lot of material that needs writing up soon. I realize I could be more efficient, but I'm not going to beat myself up about it - I have resources of time and energy, and if I just get more efficient I might end up running out of energy and still have time on my hands.

More rain is forecast for the weekend. This really is the most miserably damp June I can remember.

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Thursday, June 21, 2007

On blogging

Some late-night thoughts on blogging. I've been reading a lot of blogs recently. It seems that every website now *has* to have a blog, whether it's a winery, a magazine, a merchant or an agent. Somebody gets lumped with the job of blogging, or more commonly a team of people are required to provide the content. While I'm fully convinced about the effectiveness of the blog as a communication medium, I'm frequently underwhelmed by the blogs out there. Most of them just don't work. Why?

1. A blog has to have a voice. Multi-author blogs frequently lack this.
2. Content: what is written has to be interesting. It has to engage the reader. For this to happen, a blogger has to have something to say, which means that the blogger in question has to be a bit of a thinker.
3. Style: for a blog to be interesting, it has to be well written. Most people can't write. Writing can't really be taught, although people who can write can be trained to write better. Remember: just because you are smart, or because you are important, it doesn't mean you can write.
4. Conversation: blogs are about conversations with the readers. Most blogs from companies fail here: the authors are writing largely for their employers, not for their readers. There's a lack of genuine communication.
5. Disclosure: your readers need to get to know you. I guess this overlaps with (1). I'm probably not so good with this one. I'd like to disclose more about who I am and what makes me tick, but it feels a bit risky on a publically visible platform such as this.

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Saturday, June 16, 2007

The raspberries are peaking

It's mid-June. My favourite time. The vines have flowered (early), the evenings are long, and the raspberries are peaking. It's going to be a good raspberry season, with ripening well spread out. Last year the three different varieties I planted all fruited at the same time (I chose a mix of early, normal and late, to extend the season). This year it's been a bit cooler with plenty of rain, so they are nicely spread out. I love wandering into the garden and grazing for 10 minutes on soft fruits (we also have strawberries). The secret to good grazing is to pick berries at optimal ripeness. Not too tart, but then not too sweet and flat. Appropriately ripe is best, a bit like grapes.

Two wines tonight. De Loach Pinot Noir 2005 California: this will be one of the wines in the Bibendum summer sale, and is a steal at the sale price of £6. It's quite rich - it reminded me a bit of a northern Rhone Syrah with it's meatiness and nice greeness - but it still tastes of Pinot Noir, with plenty of dark cherry fruit. Drinkable and moreish, which is not something I say often about cheap Pinot. I've got five more to try from the Bibendum sale - this looks like a good one if the samples I've been sent are anything to go by.

Torres Salmos 2005 Priorat: Torres first wine from the most famous of Catalan terroirs (see their description of it here). It's a fairly serious effort - it reminds me of a Douro wine. Dark and intense, with some new oak evident backing up the ripe, taut, leathery-edged fruit. Quite savoury and structured. Some minerality, too - or is this a suggestion prompted by the label image of terraced schistous vineyards. There's a fair bit of alcohol (14.5%). At the moment this isn't a wine that seduces: it's too big, tight and edgy, and I think it needs a few years of bottle age to show what it's capable of. A blend of four varieties - Cabernet, Syrah, Carignan and Grenache, I'd be curious to know what the components tasted like. This tastes quite Carignan dominated, but it could be that the distinctive terroir overrides the variety somewhat. Retail price £13.99, which for Priorat is pretty good value.

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Wednesday, June 13, 2007

A wine like Man City

I'm trying to think of a wine like Manchester City, the football club I support (http://www.mcfc.co.uk/). But I can't. Oasis frontman and City fan Noel Gallagher sums the situation with City up best:

"The fixture list comes out on Thursday, we haven't got a manager, we've only got half a team and we haven't sold any season tickets. It's brilliant."
He adds:
"It's pure Man City. I'm loving it."

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Monday, June 11, 2007

places to walk

It's the most beautiful time of year. Early summer in England. The days are so gorgeous you want to grab them and store them up for later. I guess enjoying something without being able to hold on to it or control it in any way is a useful lesson in life.

We've been exploring some new places to walk the dog. On Saturday I visited Hounslow Heath for the first time and was amazed. Aside from the low flying planes (it's just under the final approach to one of Heathrow's runways; you can wave at the passengers as the wheels on the plane skim the trees) it's a beautiful spot, and big enough to get lost in. Amazing to find this in such an urban setting.

But then there are places that we visit frequently, but which change with the seasons. The closest walking spot, Hanworth Park, is little more than just a huge field - it used to be an airfield (from 1917 until the end of WW2), and in the 1930s the Graf Zeppelin airship visited. In recent weeks it has undergone a transformation, though: the grass is allowed to grow freely, and it has become quite beautiful. Grassland may not be everyone's cup of tea, but the site of such a large expanse of flowering grasses, dotted with wildflowers, and moving wave-like in the breeze is spectacular (pictured).