jamie goode's wine blog

Friday, November 27, 2009

Two good, affordable Spanish wines

Over recent years I've focused a lot on Portugal, but not so much on Spain. It's something I may change: I'm tasting quite a lot of interesting Spanish wines of late, but in the past I had problems with the Spanish tendency to use too much oak. I don't like wines where oak is a key flavour signature. And I don't like over-ripe, jammy reds all that much either.

Two wines tonight: both affordable, both delicious. Neither jammy, neither oaky. Both from Berry Bros & Rudd, too, who seem to be buying really well in this price range at the moment.

Luna Beberide Godello 2008 Bierzo, Spain
13.5% alcohol. Fresh, aromatic and grapey, with some depth and texture. A bit like a serious Alsace Muscat, I suppose. A really refreshing dry white with nice delicacy. Pure fruit is the signature here, with grapefruit and citrus as well as some Muscat-like richness. 88/100 (£9.95 BBR)

Laderas de El Segué 2007 Alicante, Spain
13.5% alcohol. A blend of Monastrell, Syrah, Cabernet, this shows that reds from relatively hot climates can still be fresh and balanced. It shows lovely fresh, pure, sweet berry and cherry fruit with a nice bright personality and some bright acidity. There’s some nice minerality and more than a hint of elegance to the very focused fruit. Lovely stuff, made by Rioja superstars Artadi. 89/100 (£8.95 BBR)

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Saturday, October 24, 2009

Great value Shiraz, part 9

I just keep coming across affordable examples of the wonderful Syrah grape that have loads of personality and interest. Here's one from Spain that has some of that lovely meaty Syrah character to it. Actually, it reminds me a bit of the Porcupine Ridge Syrah from South Africa.

Hacienda El Espino 1707 Syrah 2007 Alamansa, Spain
13.5% alcohol, 3 months in French and American oak. Lovely ripe meaty, olive, floral nose. The palate is midweight, meaty, and spicy with plummy, berryish fruit. Really attractive with a lovely savoury character. 87/100 (£8.49 therealwineco.co.uk)

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Thursday, October 15, 2009

A world-class Cava from Raventos

Over the last year or so, I've become increasingly interested in the world of Champagne and sparkling wine. I'm an open-minded guy, but at the very top end, I have to confess that almost all my favourite bubbly wines are actually from Champagne. So I was delighted to find this thoroughly delicious Cava. It's world class.

Raventos I Blanc Sant Sadurni D'Anoia Gran Reserva 2003 Cava
Yellow/gold colour. Lovely toasty, complex nose with subtle herby notes, hints of grapefruit and some citrussy fruit. Very refined and complex. The palate is fresh and fruity but has a savoury, complex side with toast and nuts. There's a herby tang on the finish that reminds me this is Cava. Very attractive and sophisticated. 90/100

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Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Great value Shiraz, part 4

Here's a remarkably good value wine. It's normally just a fiver, but will (I'm told) soon be on promotion at 3 for £10 in Asda. That's amazingly cheap for what is a reasonably serious and delicious drop.

Pléyades Shiraz 2007 Cariñena, Spain
Sweet, rich dark fruits nose with some lovely smooth-textured plum, raspberry and blackberry fruit on the palate, together with a bit of meatiness. Lovely freshness and definition here: this is certainly stylish for the price. It won a Decanter gold medal; I think this is a bit excessive, but it’s still a really good wine, and it really over-delivers at this price point. 87/100 (£4.98 Asda)

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Thursday, August 13, 2009

Carchelo: two modern Spanish reds from Jumilla



I've been trying quite a few Oddbins wines of late. My impression is that the buying is pretty good across the board now - before, Oddbins did well in the new world, but was a bit of a shocker when it came to France. Now even France seems to be improving. Here's a pair of modern Spanish reds from Bodegas Carchelo, that, refreshingly, are fruit driven and unspoiled by too much oak. The packaging is distinctive, too. Don't cellar for too long: these are sealed with white plastic corks.

Bodegas Carchelo Altico Syrah 2007 Jumilla, Spain
Very sweet, almost liqueur-like blackberry, dark cherry and blackcurrant nose with subtly cedary, earthy notes. The palate is sweet and lush with ripe, soft, jammy fruit and a subtle earthiness in the background. The oak (4 months in French) is in the background. While it's a very ripe, almost late-harvest style, there's still some freshness. Quite delicious, although it is super-ripe. 89/100 (£10.99 Oddbins)

Bodegas Carchelo 'Carchelo' 2008 Jumilla, Spain
A blend of 40% Monastrell, 40% Tempranillo, 20% Cabernet Sauvignon. Sweet herby, minerally, spicy edge to the lush, sweet raspberry and cherry fruit nose Very seductive. The palate shows lovely spicy, minerally definition to the sweet fruit. Lovely purity of fruit, unencumbered by oak (it spends just 2 months in French oak). 89/100 (£8.99 Oddbins)

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Thursday, July 30, 2009

Finca Allende Calvario: high-end Rioja that hits the spot

I have a bit of a love-hate relationship with Rioja. I recognize the brilliance of the terroirs, but I'm frequently upset to see them squandered by growers who aim too low, or who get sucked into spoofulating their wines with too much new oak and picking too late. Here's a heavyweight high-end example that actually hits the spot. It's expensive, though.

Finca Allende Calvario 2004 Rioja, Spain
Allende is located in Briones, and is a producer that seems to be able to integrate tradition wth modernity to great effect. The wines are vineyard based (unusual for the region) and aged in French oak, as opposed to the more usual American. This is a single vineyard wine from 60 year-old Tempranillo vines. Rich, slightly roasted red fruits nose showing subtly creamy raspberry fruit. The palate is fresh with lovely pure, spicy, dense, sweet red fruits backed up by firm tannins. A fresh, pure, intense red of real class. 94/100 (£65 Berry Bros & Rudd)

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Monday, July 27, 2009

Spanish whites, continued: amazing Priorat

Continuing with the theme of Spanish white wines, here's a really amazing example from Priorat. It's pretty serious, and justifies the high price tag.

Mas d'en Compte 2006 Priorat, Spain
50% old vine Garnacha Blanca, 20% Picapoll, 15% Pansal and 15% Macabeo from 'licorella' soils. Fermented in 3000 litre oak barrels. Very deep yellow/gold colour. Fantastic intense nose with complex sweet nuts, herbs, vanilla, spice and melon notes. The rich palate is bold but fresh with complex herb-tinged fruit character. Concentrated and bold with lots of flavour. Fantastic stuff. 94/100 (£17.99 Waitrose)

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Sunday, July 26, 2009

A great Albarino

Spain is best known for its red wines, but there's a lot happening with whites, too, in this dynamic wine-producing country. Here's a really good example of the heights that Spanish whites can hit: a lovely expressive Albarino from the green northwest.

Fefinanes Albarino 2007 Rias Baixas, Spain
Made from grapes sourced from 66 growers in the Salnes Valley, hand harvested and fermented in stainless steel. Complex, expressive, herby and lemony. This is really delicious with beautiful fruit expression and lovely complexity. A stylish, elegant white. 92/100 (£14.99 Waitrose)

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Thursday, April 09, 2009

St Emilion and Garnacha

Took the boys to Thorpe Park today. It's a horrible, horrible place, but they love it. I spent most of the time on my laptop hiding in a coffee bar. When we got back Fiona chose two red wines for me from my rack - one an inexpensive Spanish Garnacha, the second a high-end St Emilion.

Cruz de Piedra Garnacha 2007 Catalayud, Spain
An example of good modern Spanish winemaking, focusing on intense fruit rather than too much American oak. Vibrant, fresh sweet cherry and berry fruit dominates, with a slightly grippy, spicy, peppery edge. Great value for money, and while it's not the most sophisticated wine you'll ever encounter, it's deliciously fruity. 87/100 (£5.65 Great Western Wine, 14% alcohol)

Chateau Fombrauge 2004 St Emilion
This is one of the Bernard Magrez properties that I visited last November (pictured above). It's a really attractive, almost seductive wine, with a lovely melange of ripe but well defined, smoothly textured blackcurrant and blackberry fruit, and sophisticated oak. It's a really well balanced wine with nice gravelly depth (a signature of 2004, I reckon) and some firm but refined tannins. This oozes class: quite a serious effort. It's modern, but not too modern; oaky, but not too oaky. 92/100
Find these wines with wine-searcher.com

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Thursday, April 02, 2009

Fino and Manzanilla...must drink more of it

Popped a bottle of Hidalgo's Manzanilla La Gitana in the fridge earlier on, and now I'm sipping it, accompanied by a hunk of bread, some Manchego cheese and a few slices of chorizo. It's a lovely food accompaniment, and I wonder why I don't drink more of it.

It's quite rich textured, with some appley, nutty (acetaldehyde) notes countering the bracing, almost salty freshness. It's 15% alcohol, which isn't much more than many table wines, but it does give some warmth and texture to the otherwise super-fresh palate. I don't know if I could serve this at a dinner party with non-wine geeks, but I do wonder why more people don't use Fino or Manzanilla at table more, especially when you get a really interesting wine for £8 (Sainsbury's, Tesco, Waitrose, Whole Foods).

I'm comparing it with another similarly styled wine, M. Fina from Gonzalez Palacios. It's from Lebrija, a town located between Jerez and Sevilla, an it's made with flor like Fino and Manzanilla. It's nuttier and perhaps saltier than the La Gitana, with a bit more depth, but less of the zingy freshness. It has lots of that nutty, appley acetaldehyde character, and is highly food compatible. Yours for £6.95/half from Warren Edwardes' new venture www.stickywines.co.uk. Whether you prefer this or the more edgy La Gitana is probably a matter of taste. Warren sent this interesting nugget about Lebrija:
'Grapes from Lebrija are permitted to be used to produce Sherry and Manzanilla in Jerez and Sanlucar in the DO Jerez-Manzanilla. But vinification of the grapes in Lebrija is not permited to be designated as DO Jerez-Manzanilla. So Bodegas Gonzalez Palacios have demonstarted the quality of their wines to the Andalucian Government and have finally secured their own Quality Region with a view to moving on to a single estate Pago. Arguably Lebrija is more suitable than coastal Sanlucar de Barrameda for the production of "Manzanilla". The hill-top location of the Gonzalez Palacios bodega outside Lebrija along with its coastal aspect ensures a lower temperature not only than Jerez but also Sanlucar de Barrameda so comfortably ensuring a year round flor cover that leads to the sea-salty taste remniscent of "Manzanilla" - only more so. But DO Manzanilla ensured through the courts that wines produced by Gonzalez Palacios in Lebrija cannot be called "Manzanilla Fina". Hence M. Fina or Flor de Lebrija.'

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Wednesday, March 25, 2009

The transformative power of old Sherry

As I write, I'm drinking the last half-glass of the bottle of Hidalgo Oloroso Viejo VORS, which I've been enjoying over the last year. It's an expensive wine, but one that can give a huge amount of pleasure; a glass here and a glass there, with no noticeable deterioration in quality.

I was prompted to drink it by finishing off an article on Sherry that contains notes from an amazing tasting of VOS, VORS and Anada Sherries. These are some of the most complex and thought-provoking wines you can find, with amazing complexity and length. They're old, but there isn't the same risk with these wines as there is with old table wines.

I'd try to describe the wine in a tasting note, but there's just so much going on, it's really hard. The nose is lifted (a little volatile) with herbs, spices, citrus fruits, raisins, old furniture and wax. The palate is concentrated and lively, with a tangy, citrussy freshness, a hint of pithy bitterness, some warm, rounded spiciness and vanilla and fudge sweetness, although it is actually quite dry. But this note doesn't even come close to capturing the wine!

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Friday, March 20, 2009

Torres Rioja and some nice Iberian wines with friends

I have a soft spot for Torres, as many readers will know. They make good wines in quantities that ensure everyone can get their hands on them. I wish more big wine companies did as good a job.

Of late, Torres have branched out from their Catalan base, and have recently released their first Rioja. It's called Ibericos, and 480 000 bottles have been released from the first vintage (2006) - over the next couple of years this is expected to be close to a million bottles annually.

Torres Ibericos Crianza Tempranillo 2006 Rioja, Spain
Deep coloured. Lovely balance here in this modern-styled Rioja, which combines sweet, creamy blackberry fruit wuth spicy oak. There's nice freshness, and also a hint of meat and olives. Good acidity keeps things fresh. A primary wine with lovely definition. The oak is noticeable, but less cloying than in many examples of Rioja. 89/100 (£8.99 Waitrose from the end of April)

I tasted this wine again tonight with some friends, in what turned out (coincidentally) to be an Iberian-themed dinner party. Also drunk were:
  • The wonderfully pure, focused Waitrose Douro Valley Reserva 2006 from Quinta de la Rosa, which is a brilliantly afforable expression of the Douro. My wine of the evening.
  • Cune Imperial Rioja Reserva 2001, which is deep, spicy and complex with some coconut and vanilla notes.
  • Vina Herminia Rioja Crianza 2004 - sweet, ripe and seductive with a bit of vanilla and some spicy, plummy fruit.
  • Marques de Monistrol Reserva Privada 2004 Catalunya, which is plummy, spicy and dense with a savoury, earthy character to the fruit.

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Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Off to Portugal on the 0640

Busy day yesterday. First, the Tesco press tasting, held at a new venue on Grosvenor Place, opposite the gardens of Buckingham Palace. Some very good wines, but a disappointing show from France and Italy. It's not the fault of the buyers; it's just that sourcing good quality wines from the well-known regions that have to be represented, at tight price points, is hard.

Look at Chianti, or Barolo, for example. Some cracking wines at the high end, but mostly dross at the commercial end. Compare Tesco's wines from these big name regions with those from Sicily, for example, and the Sicilian wines win easily: the Tesco Fiano and Nero d'Avola are both excellent wines for c. £6.

Then it was off to Lords, for the Portuguese annual tasting. Because of the Tesco tasting (which is pretty much compulsory because of my newspaper column), I couldn't give Portugal as much time as I needed to.

After this, I had to run home to change into my DJ for the Caballeros dinner - it's an annual Spanish wine dinner, and this year was held at the Dorchester, which, for some reason, had the thermostat set to about 90 degrees, and we all sweated. The dinner was really good, with some super wines, including three sherries. Note to self: must drink more sherry.

I left relatively early and got home just after midnight. I had to pack and set the alarm for 0430, in order to get to the airport for my 0640 flight to Porto. The company who booked my tickets thoughtfully spelled my surname 'Goodie', so we'll see if I get on the plane...

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Friday, February 20, 2009

Facing fear with a Torres ski wine

Trysil is a fantastic place to come skiing. The snow here has been perfect. There are plenty of slopes, catering for skiers of varying abilities. And despite the fact that it's the winter holdiday for east Norway, the resort doesn't feel crowded and there aren't long queues for the lifts.

Today I faced my fear a bit. I'm not keen on heights. Wimpy, I know, but I can't help it - it's not like you can rationalize these things. But I took a chair lift, which for agarophobics is pretty full on. And then I skied down a run beyond my ability. However, I only wiped out twice - once at some ferocious speed where I just couldn't carry on!

My ski wine has been Torres Gran Coronas Cabernet Sauvignon Reserva 2004, purchased for £8 from 'duty free' at Stansted. It's actually quite nice, and I managed to make it last three days. It has a strong oak imprint, but in this case it's not the sickly vanilla and coconut that is the besetting sin of so much Spanish wine, but a sort of spicy, cedary character that melds well with the warm, plummy blackcurrant fruit. It's not the sort of wine you set out to buy, but if you find it on a restaurant list where there's not much good stuff, or in a limited selection such as Stansted 'duty free', it's a safe, satisfying bet. I think Torres are one of the most reliable of the big wine brands.
The good news is that I wandered down into town today and found a Vinmonopolet shop. I purchased four bottles of wine. We're now sorted for a few more days.

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Saturday, November 29, 2008

Two high-end Cavas

Cava struggles with a low rent image. Here are two more ambitious examples, one made from the traditional grapes, the other from Chardonnay. I guess the issue here is whether or not you consider Cava to have an identity of its own, or just to be a cheap alternative to Champagne.

Codorniu Reina Ma Cristina 2006 Cava, Spain
Distinctly Cava in style, with a herby, lemony, fruity nose. The palate is crisp, herby and tangy with some citrussy notes and a distinctive citrus/grapefruit pith character. Not trying to be Champagne, this is a serious, quite complex expression of Cava. 90/100 (£17.99 Majestic)

Parxet Titiana Chardonnay NV Cava, Spain
What happens when you ditch the traditional Cava grape varieties and use Champagne? This. It has a broad, toasty, slightly nutty nose with rich fruit and notes of apple, pear and peach. The palate is warm, fruity and nutt with a smooth, sophisticated character. Very stylish and broad, and like a ripe, rich expression of Champagne, yet a little softer. 90/100 (£10.99 Moreno)

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Spain and Portugal: Priorat and Pegoes

Two very enjoyable reds this evening. A striking Priorat, in quite a different style to the blockbuster Torres reported a few other days (although, interestingly, this one comes from a guy called Fredi Torres), and a really nice inexpensive Portuguese red that's full of interest.

Sao del Coster Terram Priorat 2005
14% alcohol. Almost Italian in style, with a hint of the Douro, too. This is a superb expression of Priorat that really needs time. It is dark, with a gravelly, spicy, minerally nose showing taut, tarry plum, blackberry and raspberry fruit. The palate is fresh, focused and savoury with youthful fruit and good acidity. There's firm structure with spicy tannins and a bit of earthiness that reminds me a bit of a top Chianti. Real potential here, if you are patient: could be a 20 year wine. 92/100

Adega de Pegões Colheita Seleccionada 2005 Terras do Sado, Portugal
13.5% alcohol. Touriga Nacional, Trincadeira, Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah grown in the sandy soils of the Setúbal Peninsula near Lisbon. This has a lovely sweet, fresh, aromatic nose of cherries, plums and raspberries, with lovely fruit purity. The palate is bright and refreshing with tangy cherry and berry fruit, and a hint of plummy bitterness and savoury spiciness on the finish. This is really delicious, and great value for the 6 or 7 Euros it retails for in Portugal. It’s made by the over-performing co-op at Pegões, which is probably Portugal’s best. 88/100 (UK agent is Hallgarten)

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Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Priorat from Torres

Torres make some of Spain's best wine brands. I love Vin Sol, Vina Esmeralda is fun, and Sange de Toro isn't bad. They also make some impressive high-end wines, and this - the latest addition to their portfolio - is a rather impressive, if slightly 'modern' Priorat. Similar soils, and not all that dissimilar climate to the Douro in northern Portugal, and there's certainly a sort of kindred spirit here with high-end Douro wines. This is the top wine from their Priorat project - the regular Salmos was released a while back (see my review here).

Torres 'Perpetual' Salmos 2005 Priorat, Spain
Old vine Carignan and Grenache from steeply sloped schistous (licorella) soils, with 16 months in French oak, weighing in at 15% alcohol. This is quite delicious, although it currently shows itself in a ripe, 'modern', slightly oaky style (although there's certainly enough fruit here to stand up to the oak). Beautifully dense, quite complex black fruit character at its core, with ripeness yet freshness. There's a floral, mineral lift to the nose, as well as some oak spice, and the palate is dense and quite structured, with a chocolatey, spicy edge to the forward fruit. The tannins lurking under the fruit suggest that this is a wine with a good deal of evolution ahead of it. It's rich, likeable and a bit oaky now, but with a few years in bottle I reckon it will hit a point of beautiful balance. It's one of those wines you can drink very happily now, but wish you'd waited a few years before popping the cork. Serious. 93/100 (£17.99 Fareham Wine Cellar)
here's the wine on Torres' website

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Monday, October 20, 2008

Great value from Spain: Pleyades and Spanish Steps

The besetting sin of Spanish red wine has usually been horrible oak usage. This commonly means too much of it, and the wrong sort, and for too long. But now that Spanish winemakers are realizing that their less expensive reds don't need much at all, we're seeing some fantastic, affordable red wines from Spain that over-deliver, big time.

The first wine is one of the best value reds I've tried of late; the second is equally impressive and offers lots of character for relatively little money. Both are fruit-driven and delicious, and wines like these must send shivers down the spines of new world wineries competing at the same price point.

Pléyades Shiraz 2007 Cariñena, Spain
From Terrai Viñedos y Crianzas, this has to be one of the wine bargains of the year. It shows lovely bright, slightly meaty, almost floral dark fruits, which have some appealing sweetness and purity, but also some meaty, spicy, black pepper savouriness. The purity of fruit and the tension between the sweet ripe characters and the darker, more savoury ones keep my interest here: it’s a wine that I enjoy drinking. Delicious stuff, and I can see why this won a gold medal at the Decanter Wine Awards (to be honest, I think it’s more of a Bronze/Silver, which still makes it great value for money). It also toys a little with reduction, and I like it all the more for this. I’d be very happy to have this as my house red, in these tight economic times. 88/100 (£4.98 Asda)

Spanish Steps Mencia 2007 Bierzo, Spain
From northwest Spain, this varietal Mencia (known as Jaen in Portugal) really delivers. Deep coloured, it has a lovely vibrant, pure nose of summer fruits with a plummy edge. Fruit dominates, but there’s nice definition here. The palate is juicy and ripe with lovely bright blackberry and damson character, as well as fresh acidity. Pure and primary, this is a delicious wine for current drinking. Brilliant value at a suggested retail price of £5.99, and I’m really surprised that this hasn’t got any major listings yet. 88/100 (£5.99 Oakley Wine Agencies, 01787 220070)

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Sunday, September 28, 2008

A new high-end Spanish white

Storks' Tower is an innovative new project from Spanish wine company Barcelo, who are behind the Cosme Palacio and Glorioso Rioja wines. Three impressive Storks' Tower wines are already listed in Tesco (£6.99 each, with promotion down to £4.99) - a crisp white, an attractive rose and a nicely defined red. But they are also making some more serious wines under the brand 'Triunfo', and this is the white, not yet stocked in the UK. Sam Harrop MW consults here.

Stork's Tower 'Triunfo' Verdejo Sauvignon Blanc 2007 Vino de la Tierra de Castilla y Leon, Spain
A really interesting wine. It's barrel fermented, but rather than being an oaky monster, this is complex, fresh and minerally. The nose shows tight nutty, herby, citrus pith aromas that are joined on the palate by complex grassy, herbal, citrussy notes. There's good concentration, but the overall effect is one of a very fresh, focused, minerally wine with nice textural elements and good acidity, rather than something 'big'. There's a hint of tangerine on the finish, too. Highly food compatible, with potential for further development. 90/100 (expected retail will be c. £14 in the UK)

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Saturday, August 23, 2008

Serious Rueda

Verdejo (grape variety) from Rueda (wine region): one of Spain's relatively few contributions to the genre of serious white wine. This is a really good one, as transparent as a haunting cataract on a sunny April day.

Naia Verdejo 2007 Rueda, Spain
Crisp, minerally, complex and elegant, with an aromatic nose of grapefruit and lemon that leads to a palate where there's crisp yet rich textured spicy apple, pear and citrus fruit. Beautifully balanced and quite complex. Drink now. 91/100 (£10.99 Indigo Wine [the agent in the UK], Harrods, The Vineyard [Dorking], Christopher Piper)

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Saturday, August 16, 2008

The new Spain: Ochoa Graciano & Garnacha

Spanish reds are changing. For the better. In the past, you could bet your salary that most reds above a certain price point would have spent too long in the wrong sort of oak (American), and as a result would be washed out and reeking of vanilla and coconut. There was a bit of a renaissance a few years back, and then you could bet that the more ambitious wines would be overextracted, a little over-ripe, very sweet, and with loads of French oak. Now, however, Spanish winemakers are realizing that with their fantastic resources of warm, sunny climates and old vines, they can make wines with wonderful fruit presence that doesn't need all that much oak to enhance them. The result is increasingly impressive, commercially astute wines like this one from Navarra producer Ochoa. If more producers do what Ochoa are doing, then Australia and California are in for one hell of a beating.

Ochoa Graciano & Garnacha 2005 Navarra, Spain
A beautiful, fruit-forward red wine made with Grenache combined with the highly regarded but now rare Rioja grape Graciano. Deep coloured, the dominant feature here is vibrant, juicy, sweet raspberry and dark cherry fruit with very little oak impact and a spicy, tangy finish. This is a stylish, modern red wine of real appeal, for current drinking (it's sealed with a purple coloured synthetic cork). 89/100 (£7.99 Taurus Wines, Christopher Piper, Bentley's, Arthur Rackhams)

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Monday, August 04, 2008

In Mallorca

Barely have I got off the plane from Oregon, and I'm getting on to another one. This time it's a last-minute family holiday to Mallorca. We've done this a bit differently, though - we swapped our elder son for our good friends' younger daughter, who is the same age (and gets on well with) our younger son. We think this will work better than taking our two boys together. Past experiences with family holidays have not been great.

But this means we have to brave travelling with a budget airline at the busiest time of year. We flew RyanAir from Stansted, and endured a 45 minute queue at check-in, then a queue for security, then a queue to get on the plane, then a queue at the other end for our hire car (45 minutes more). After all this hassle, we find ourselves dropped into that special corner of hell - a Mediterranean holiday resort. I'd forgotten how soul destroyingly ugly and naff they are. We'd booked the hotel we are staying in for a number of reasons, one of which was that it advertised WiFi internet access (for me) and Satellite TV (for the kids) in each room. This turned out to be a lie.

But, fortunately, we have a car, and have discovered a stunningly beautiful beach 15 minutes away, where we spent today. And I've found a 4 star hotel in town with a nice lobby and wireless internet for 1 Euro per hour. So things are looking up. Oh yes, this is supposed to be a wine blog. Last night Fiona and I shared a nice bottle of Masia Batle's Blanc de Blancs 2007, a fresh, full flavoured white.

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A good wine from Mallorca

My first wine from the holiday isle of Mallorca (which we, as kids, used to pronounce Majorca with the 'j'). For a ripe, warm climate wine weighing in at 14.5%, this is pretty good. And, all being well, I should be in Mallorca by the time you read this for a short break with the family.

Macia Batle Crianza 2005 Binnisalem, Mallorca, Spain
Sweet, seductive ripe fruity nose with some savoury, spicy, tarry notes. Quite sophisticated in a warm, ripe style. The palate is sweetly fruited but has bold, earthy, spicy notes, too. Nicely savoury, finishing long and earthy. A complex wine that should evolve nicely for the next three years or so. 90/100 (£10.99 Noel Young, The Vineyard Dorking, Thomas Panton, Corks of Cotham)

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Sunday, August 03, 2008

Remarkable Spanish sweetie from Malaga

Jorge Ordonez, a well known importer of Spanish wines, hails from the southern Spanish town of Malaga. Malaga used to be well known as a region producing sweet wines, but of late has fallen from grace. But the region is undergoing a small revival: flying winemaker Telmo Rodriguez has made some lovely wines here, and there's also this beauty, the result of a collaboration between Ordonez and the late Alois Kracher from Austria. Unlike traditional Malaga, which was sweet and raisiny, this is brilliantly bright and delicate.

Jorge Ordonez & Co Malaga Seleccion Especial 2006
Made from Moscatel grapes dried on the vine. Light yellow in colour, this has a beautifully fresh aromatic nose of citrus oil, grapes and mandarins. The palate is super sweet and quite viscous, but with lovely bright spicy orange fruit and good acid providing a perfect counterpoint. Deliciously fresh, and quite complex for a young wine, this is tremendously easy to drink. 92/100 (£12.99 per half, Indigo Wines, Lay & Wheeler, The Vineking)

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Tuesday, July 15, 2008

A modern-styled Spanish red with 94 Miller points

I did a quick Google search to find out some more about tonight's wine, but all I could seem to get was Jay Miller's review for the Wine Advocate, where he talks about pain grille, meat, bacon and blueberry, and then dishes out 94 points, which I think for him is a kind of low score, although to me it sounds alarmingly high.

The wine in question is an ambitiously packaged, ambitiously priced modern Spanish red from the Mentrida appellation near Toledo. I find it exciting that producers in regions such as this, which a few years back were making almost exclusively cheap plonk (if they were making wine at all), are now aiming much higher. It has to be good for wine as a whole that this sort of push for high quality from lesser-known regions is taking place around the world.

Jimenez-Landi 'Pielago' 2006 Mentrida, Toledo, Spain
Beautifully packaged in a deeply punted Burgundy-shaped bottle, this is an ambitious new-wave Spanish red. The nose shows a bit of alcoholic heat, as well as a slightly baked, caramelly edge, along with lush, pure, sweet raspberry and blackberry fruit. The palate is warm and a little jammy, but with a nice spicy definition to the lush fruit. There's a lot going for this wine - the concentrated sweet, ripe fruit, and the attractive spiciness, as well as the fact that any oak is well in the background. But it has just a little too much 'warmth' to it to justify a higher score. New world in style, which I guess is understandable given the fact that it's very much a warm climate wine, made in a modern way. I'd like to see them aim for more freshness, without losing the concentration. 90/100 (£20 Handford Wines)

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Friday, July 11, 2008

On the main site, and Rioja

On the main site recently:
Tonight I have my twin sister Anne and her husband Dominic staying with their kids, before a big family cricket match tomorrow. We've been opening lots of bottles, including an interesting Rioja. It's really oaky, with lots of vanilla and coconut, plus some menthol and spice from the oak. But it also has really concentrated, well-defined red berry fruit. It's the Vina Izadi Rioja Gran Reserva 2002 (£18.59 Laithwaites).

This wine has me in two minds. Tasted today, I think it's just too much, with too much extraction and intensity and oak all mushed together. The sort of wine that impresses but isn't all that drinkable. However, I suspect it is also the sort of wine that could metamorphose with a decade's bottle age into something elegant and complex, and so I'm going to give it the benefit of the doubt. The fruit really is quite impressive.

Also enjoying some chocolate Anne and Dominic bought along: Lindt Excellence 85% Cocoa dark chocolate, which is intense and rich, but not at all bitter. I imagine this could even be wine compatible, because it's not too sweet. In fact, this Rioja works quite well with it, although it shouldn't.

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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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Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Frescobaldi, Albarino and a glance backwards

Spent the morning catching up with paperwork, doing some much-needed invoicing, before dodging the showers heading into town. I then headed for a 'Green Spain' tasting, featuring the wines of Northwest Spain - lots of Albarinos, and they were really impressive. The tasting itself was just perfect in a practical sense, too, with self-pour, plenty of space, lots of spitoons, an ideal room and not too many tasters.

Then I was off to the Italian Embassy to interview Leonardo Frescobaldi, of the Tuscan wine dynasty (pictured). Things were running a bit late, and so my interview was a little hurried, but it was still worthwhile. Unfortunately, I couldn't stay for the tutored vertical tasting of Luce. That's life.

One of the things I'd like to focus on over the next 12-18 months is deepening my knowledge of Italian wine. Italy makes so many different wines, but in the UK we're so France-centric that they don't get their due. Of course, Italy is frighteningly inconsistent, but which old world wine-producing countries aren't? And, in general, Italy - like Spain - is badly covered by the media.

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Thursday, March 13, 2008

A few Spanish wines

Five Spanish wines tasted tonight in an impromptu line-up. Good, solid commercial wines, these. The two Laithwaites wines were nice surprises: I wasn't expecting them to be up to much, but they were really good.

Castillo Labastida Aniversario Rioja 2004
From the Cosecheros de Labastida Co-op, made for Laithwaites. Very deep red/purple colour. Ripe, sweet fruit on the nose which is quite lush, and has a hint of vanilla. The palate is dense and fruit-driven with some ripe, spicy fruit and a bit of tannic structure. It's nice to find this density of fruit and a relative lack of obvious oak in a Rioja. Modern but balanced. 88/100 (£7.06 Laithwaites)

Monasterio de Santa Cruz Tarragona 2005
Deep red colour. Ripe sweet berryish fruit here with a nice supple quality and a cherry freshness. This is a delicious fruit-driven style that's ripe and approachable with just a hint of spicy seriousness. Well made. 86/100 (£6.55 Laithwaites)

Marques de la Concordia Tempranillo 2005 Rioja
Deep coloured. Savoury, spicy, slightly earthy and midweight, with a drying finish. Attractive drinkable wine. 84/100 (£5.99 Tesco, Oddbins)

Bodegas Navajas Vega del Rio Rioja Crianza 2003
Light, bright and quite attractive with red berry fruits, backed up by some earthy, spicy depth. Not profound, but savoury and bright. 83/100 (£5.99 Morrisons)

Vina Herminia Excelsus 2005 Rioja
Mid-red colour. Complex sweet, ripe cherry and red berry fruit nose is quite perfumed and harmonious. The palate is sweet and round with smooth, elegant, subtly spicy fruit. It seems to have a fair bit of Grenache character (Garnacha makes 45% of the blend). Not a big wine, but really expressive without that overpowering oak influence so often found in Rioja: this spends less than a year in oak, and is better for it. Impressive. 89/100 (£9.99 Oddbins)

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Wednesday, March 05, 2008

A Spanish dinner and some Brazilians

Last night’s dinner was indeed black tie. It was the Twenty-Fourth Investiture Dinner of the Gran Order de Caballeros del Vino, to give it its full title. I’m not quite sure what the Gran Order de Caballeros del Vino are, other than that three more people joined their ranks last night; that they are almost exclusively male and middle-aged; they have made or promoted or sold Spanish wine to a level at which they are invested by the mysterious ‘Order’; and they get to wear funny hats and red capes at this event each year. Tim Atkin, Charles Metcalfe and John Radford are the journalists I spotted among their ranks.

Anyway, the speeches and general silliness (there was a loyal toast, for example) were kept to a minimum, and it was a really nice dinner with about 300 people in attendance. The wines served were:

  • René Barbier Brut Reserva Cava (OK – pretty typical Cava)
  • Williams & Humbert Alegría Manzanilla (bright, fresh, delicious)
  • Martín Códax Viña del Alba 2006 Rías Baixas (wasn’t as fresh or aromatic as I was expecting)
  • Storks’ Tower Sauvignon Blanc Verdejo 2007 Vino de la Tierra de Castilla y León (really vibrant, grassy and fresh)
  • La Paz Tempranillo 2006 La Mancha (quite bright with nice fruit expression)
  • Legaris Reserva 2003 Ribera del Duero (nice fruit, but a sweet, oaky, rich style)
  • Luis Cañas Amaren Reserva 2002 Rioja (this was nicely balanced with focused fruit)
  • González Byass Noé Muy Viejo Pedro Ximénez (deliciously rich, quite complex, ultra sweet)

I didn’t leave until almost 2 am, and then had a horridly early start which meant catching the 0810 Stansted Express to visit HwCg at their offices in Bishop's Stortford, close to the airport (their olde worlde tasting room is pictured). My brief was to taste and make notes on the 80 wines that retailer wines4business have just listed, which is actually quite an arduous task, especially when you’ve been up to late the night before. I got there just after nine, having retrieved my coat that, in my sluggish state, I’d left on the train. Phew. It was still there. The 80 wines took just under three hours to taste, and then I had to hurry back to London to taste some Brazilian wines.

Junior Vianna is a Brazilian living in London who is doing his MW dissertation on whether Brazilian Merlot has potential for the UK marketplace, and he needed some help. A crack team of seven of us, including Jo Aherne, Sam Harrop, Peter McCombie and John Worontshak tasted through 17 Brazilian Merlots blind, and then discussed our opinions. It was quite an in-depth session, lasting three hours. The conclusion? Not yet. So ends day three of my freelance life. I think I’ll take it a bit easier tomorrow.

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Wednesday, February 06, 2008

A serious sherry: Hidalgo Oloroso Viejo

Today I attended a sherry tasting at the offices of William Reed, in Crawley, for Drinks International magazine. It was quite civilized - we were just looking at 23 wines, a mixture of Finos and Olorosos.

You can learn a lot from a tasting like this. The finos were all quite different, with a few showing marked reduction, which I've never come across in sherry before. The Olorosos were, on the whole, quite lovely. We had four rather special very old Olorosos, each with an average age of at least 30 years. One of them I'm sipping now, my favourite wine of the tasting.

Hidalgo Oloroso Viejo VORS, Sherry
Made from wines with an average age of greater than 30 years, this oloroso is something special. It's so complex and thought-provoking that writing a note is quite hard. Still, I'll try. An orange/brown colour, it has a complex, almost Madeira-like nose of warm casky notes and lifted, waxy, citrus fruit. The overall impression is one of combined depth and freshness. The palate is super-complex, with lively, citrussy acidity and warm, tight-knit spicy, woody notes. There's some old furniture, too. It's immensely concentrated and the finish is almost eternal. Not cheap, at £52 from Berry Bros & Rudd here, but this is quite a profound wine. 95/100

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Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Tio Pepe: a legend

I've just finished writing a commission on Sherry, so I thought it would be appropriate to open some. The bottle I chose is one of the most famous of Sherry brands, Tio Pepe from Gonzalez Byas. It's a fino - a wine made from the main sherry grape, Palomino Fino, that has been aged in cask under a protective layer of yeasts, the flor. This protects the wine from oxygen and contributes a distinctive nutty, appley, yeasty flavour to what would otherwise be a fairly neutral wine. Fortification to 15% adds body to the palate.

The result is a remarkable food-friendly wine that's tangy, fresh and salty. It's quite strongly flavoured: as well as being fresh and precise, there's a depth of flavour that makes this the sort of wine that needs a receptive audience. I think it would work brilliantly with a range of foods, but it's something I'd have to think carefully about serving to dinner party guests, because fino sherry is a bit of an acquired taste.

I love it, and it's something I reckon we should drink more of - along with the other styles of sherry such as amontillado and oloroso. The good news is that it is pretty affordable, too (this is around £8 a 75 cl bottle, and there are cheaper alternatives that are also good). As an aside, it's really good news that as one of the most visible brands of fino, Tio Pepe is such a good quality wine. Remember: the key to fino is buying the freshest bottle you can get your hands on, and then drinking it up within a couple of days of opening. Pictured are Tio Pepe adverts from 1966 (top) and 1975 (below).

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Sunday, December 02, 2007

Two stunning whites: South Africa and Spain

Thanks for all the comments on the first video blog. Really useful feedback - and for free! I appreciate it.

Now tonight, two stunning white wines in rather different styles. Actually, these wines are almost (but not quite) polar opposites. Both really good, but really different. Which is one of the reasons I think the notion of a 'best' wine is a bit silly. It depends on the intended use or context.

The FMC Forrester Meinert Chenin 2006 Stellenbosch, South Africa
This is perhaps South Africa’s finest expression of Chenin blanc. It’s a big old wine with a mighty flavour impact, and comes mainly from low-yielding old bush vines planted in 1967, which is my vintage. Harvested at full maturity, the grapes are treated to a wild-yeast fermentation in new French oak 400 litre barrels, using late harvested botrytised Chenin as a blending wine. Maturation on the lees ensues, with a total of 10 months in the barrel. 9.7 g/litre residual sugar. This is powerful, viscous and concentrated, with sweet vanilla, herb, honey and spice notes. It’s very broad and attractive with an almost sweet tropical fruit quality and some warm, sweet creamy depth. Not really in a Loire style, but really intense and interesting. 93/100 (Tesco, Waitrose, Great Western Wine £16.95)

Terras Gauda Albariño 2006 O Rosal, Rias Baixas
This is utterly brilliant. It has a beautifully precise aromatic nose with perfumed, slightly herby, ripe melon and lemony fruit. The palate is deliciously fresh with light, subtly grapefruity citrussy fruit along with some richer ripe melon notes. Great balance here to create a thrilling white wine that’s a perfect match for seafood dishes. 93/100 (Les Caves de Pyrene)

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Monday, October 01, 2007

Two new-wave Spanish wines

Two Spanish wines tonight, in a distinctly modern mould.

Juan Gil Monastrell 'Silver Label' 2004 Jumilla, Spain
Monastrall (aka Mourvedre) is the grape variety here, from 40 year old low-yielding vines, fermented with whole bunches, given extended maceration, and then aged in French oak. The result is a deep-coloured wine showing ripe blackberry fruit on the nose with a herby, slightly pruney edge. The palate shows ripe, lush fruit backed up by spicy tannins, with a subtly bitter, plummy, almost rubbery tang. There's a savoury, slightly bitter herby character to the finish that stops it from being too sweet and cloying, and makes it more of a food wine. 89/100 (£8.50 D Byrne, Great Grog)

Mustiguillo Finca Terrerazo 2005 Vin de la Tierra el Terrerazo, Spain
This ambitious wine comes from Utiel-Requena, best known for its budget specials, and where the Bobal grape is dominant. Winemaker Toni Sarrion has decided do something special with this oft-derided variety, and has blended 70% Bobal with 20% Tempranillo and 10% Cabernet Sauvignon, giving the wine 19 months in new French oak. This is a wine that needs some understanding. Initially, the nose seems dominated by new oak, with the fresh red and black fruits somewhat dominated by woody, spicy notes. In the mouth, though, while the oak is still dominant, there's a lovely freshness to the bright dark cherry and red berry fruits, together with some prominent tannins and high acidity. There's chocolatey, rather bitter plummy fruit on the finish. It's not much fun to drink at the moment because of the excessive oak, tannins and acid, but this will probably age really well. It's almost Tuscan in flavour profile. 91/100 (£21 Cooden Cellars, Flying Corkscrew, Noel Young)

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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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Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Three whites

If you pushed me, I’d have to confess to being a red wine sort of guy. It’s reds that I tend to plump for, unless my food choice absolutely dictates a C-thru (as some Aussies refer to white wines).

Tonight, three whites to report on. A seductive, aromatic Californian; a Roussillon white that I was a little harsh on yesterday; and a surprisingly good inexpensive white Rioja.

Folie à Deux Ménage à Trois 2005 California
This is really interesting. It’s a blend of Chardonnay, Moscato and Chenin Blanc from California and it works. The result of this coming together of three rather different varieties is an accessible, pretty, grapey aromatic white with good balance between the floral, grapey aromas, a little touch of sweetness, and acidity to keep things fresh. A wine for casual sipping that doesn’t need food, and which would really appeal to novice wine drinkers. It’s just good fun. 85/100 (£7.50 http://www.winedirect.co.uk/)

Domaine Lafage Cuvée Centenaire Blanc 2005 Côtes du Roussillon, France
This is made predominantly from 100 year old white Grenache vines, fermented in oak. I was a little unfair declaring this to be like Chilean Chardonnay when I tasted it yesterday. There’s prominent oak here, but closer inspection reveals an extra dimension that I’d like to believe comes from the old vines and terroir. The nose shows vanilla, nuts, honey and a subtle, fresh minerality. The palate has nice fresh, almost lemony fruit, alongside the richer toasty, nutty oak and some tropical fruit richness. If these were my old vines, I’d pick a little bit earlier and tone down the oak (use old rather than new, and perhaps 500 litre rather than 225 litre) and aim at a reductive élévage that brings out the flinty minerality in a more pronounced way. This isn’t a bad wine – I quite like it, and at £6.99 it’s a total bargain. But I reckon it could be a bit better and have more of a personality. 86/100 (£6.99 Waitrose)

Rioja Gran Familia White 2006 Rioja, Spain
Hand-picked Malvasia and Viura, without any of the oak that sometimes kills off white Rioja. The fresh, bright nose is quite lemony with some nutty, honeyed depth. The palate is crisp with good acidity and lovely fruity, herby, slightly nutty flavours. Nice balance and freshness: delicious for the price. 84/100 (£4.99 Tesco, Co-op)

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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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Tuesday, July 17, 2007

New wave Toro

Just been sent a wine that's a great example of new wave Spain - it's Finca Sobreno's Toro 2005. It's 100% Tinta de Toro, hand-picked from 50 hectares of vineyard planted at a low density. Macerated for 15 days in small stainless steel tanks, then aged for four months in American oak barriques. In the past, the problem with Spanish reds has often been extended oak ageing that has killed the fruit; now that many winemakers are realizing that primary fruit is an asset in affordable wines like these, they've made some brilliant wines.

Finca Sobreño Toro 2005 Spain
Deep coloured, this is all about rich, vibrant, sweet, almost jammy fruit. I say ‘almost’, because there’s still a bit of definition here, which stops it getting too mushy. Ripe black fruits are the order of the day, with a bit of spicy support from American oak. The fruit is always going to win out, though, and this is a generous, ripe red that’s sure to win lots of friends, and has a real sense of 'deliciousness' about it. The only slightly negative point is a subtle green, rubbery note, which distracts a little – I reckon this is from the American oak, but I can’t be sure. The alcohol level is very sane at 13.5%, which is unusually low for such a ripe wine from a warm region. A super effort for the 3 for 2 price. 88/100 (£7.99 Thresher, but 3 for 2 which = £5.33 each)
Sobreno also do a Toro Crianza, with a garish orange label - this is carried by Waitrose. Last time I tried it - it was a sample of the 2004 - it was hideously and revoltingly overoaked, with vanilla and coconut dominating the fruit. Of course, if you like oak, then the Crianza may be for you - but I prefer this simpler offering.

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Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Cricket (again), Meerlust and Rose

I'm tired at the end of an interesting day. This afternoon I played cricket at Hampton Wick: it was the Wine Trade XI versus Balls Brothers for a fun 20/20 game. I was donated to Balls Brothers as a guest player - technically this was because I was the last to sign up; perhaps, though, the Wine Trade XI fancied some easy runs off my bowling.

I took second over, mixing it up a bit (not deliberately) and going for a few runs. Just two overs though: everyone bar the wicket keeper gets to bowl two overs in these games, which makes for some great comedy bowling moments. The wine trade struck lustily and ended up with 150-odd. In response, Balls Bros fell short by 20 or so, to which my contribution was two (I went in at the rarified position of 7 - perhaps I was suffering from altitude sickness - and was lbw).

A barbecue and much London Pride plus various donated wines followed. Interestingly, one of the wine trade team was Chris Williams, winemaker for Meerlust and also his own venture, The Foundry, which I have written about in the past. Chris is rubbish at cricket, but extremely talented at winemaking. We tried two Meerlust wines which he didn't make, but did blend - the 2003 Merlot and 2003 Red. They're impressive in a distinctive Meerlust style: spicy, quite dense, a little earthy and nicely savoury.

Chris has been changing the wines a bit, but not too much, giving them a bit more generosity and focus. Under the terms of his employment he is able to make 2000 cases of The Foundry wines, a project he operates in tandem with a silent partner. He's invested the equivalent of £50 000 so far, and with the last vintage just began to break even. His commitment is to Meerlust for the forseeable future, but he hopes one day for The Foundry to become the focus of his whole attention.
Now I'm relaxing with a glass of rose, nursing three cricket-ball inflicted injuries, two on my right hand and one on my right foot (a full blooded cover drive). It's Ochoa's Rosado de Lagrima 'Finca el Bosque' Single Vineyard 2006 Navarra. A blend of cabernet and garnacha, this is quite deep coloured. It has a bright, bittersweet nose of cherry and cranberry, which leads to a palate of juicy, savoury cranberry fruit with a spicy finish. This is juicy, full flavoured and refreshing, and extremely food friendly. A hint of seriousness even? 86/100 (£7.99 Abbey Wines, £6.99 Taurus Wines, £6.65 Bretby Wines)

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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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Monday, May 21, 2007

Death by oak

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

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

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Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Torres and Tuscany

Had a tasting, lunch and lots of tecchie chat with Mireia Torres, daughter of Miguel and technical director for all Torres' wines. We began by tasting all the Torres Chilean wines, and then lunched at La Trompette in Chiswick, which performed very well, getting my two dishes just right. I'm quite a fan of the Torres wines: their strength is that they do commercial winemaking very, very well, and their higher end wines aren't bad either. As an example, with lunch we had Grans Muralles 1998, and it was singing: evolved but still very fresh, bright and focused. And their two top Chilean wines - the spicy Carignan-dominated Cordilleira 2005 and the lush Conde de Superunda 2000 with Tempranillo, Cabernet, Mourvedre and Carmenere - rank among the very best that Chile has to offer. I also like the Marimar Torres wines from California.

Switching from Torres to Tuscany, I'm drinking a wine I can't make my mind up about, but which I think I like.
Villa Cafaggio San Martino 2001 IGT Toscana
This is a wine I'm enjoying quite a bit, but which leaves me unsure about whether it's truly serious or not. It's a wine made from different clones of Sangiovese in Chianti (so why is it an IGT Toscana?), aged in new small oak barrels. Weighing in at 14% alcohol this is quite deep coloured. It has a fresh, bright nose that's more red fruit than black, with some lifted spice complementing the tight fruit. The palate is mouthfilling, tannic and quite extracted, dominating by bright red fruits with a vivid spicy, grippy character that leaves the mouth feeling quite dry. There's certainly a lot going on here: I really like the freshness of fruit, I appreciate the savouriness, but I struggle a bit with the rather agressive spiciness, some of which I suspect has its origin in the new oak. Is this wine overextracted and lacking in elegance? Will the dry tannins outlive the fruit? Or is it a serious wine caught early in its youth? I like the fact that it's not soupy and overripe, so I'm going to give it the benefit of the doubt. Very good/excellent 93/100 (c. £23 Waitrose, D Byrne, Sandhams, Upton on Severn Wines, Satchells, Wine Times, Wright Wine)

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Thursday, March 22, 2007

Alion vertical

It's a tough life being a winewriter, but there is the occasional perk. Like today's Alion vertical, followed by lunch, which was held at top London eatery The Square. Of course, wine nuts reading will already be aware that Alion is a separate estate in Spain's Ribera del Duero owned by Vega Sicilia, making wines in a more modern style (but this is relative: Vega Sicilia is very traditional). We tried all the vintages of Alion, ranging from the inaugural 1991 to current release 2003, plus the current releases of Vega Sicilia Unico, Vega Sicilia Reserva Especial, Pintia Toro, Valbuena, Mandolas and Oremus Tokaji, in the company of proprietor Pablo Alvarez and winemaker Javier Ausas. A rather special line up of wines, and the prospect of trying these coupled with lunch at the square brought out the great and good of the winewriting/drinking fraternity.

For the tasting I was flanked by David Peppercorn and Steven Spurrier, with Serena Suttcliffe sharing the same table. In front was Jancis, Sarah Jane Evans, Beverly Blanning, Hamish Anderson, Stuart Peskett (Harpers) and Linden Wilkie. Also spotted were the Irish contingent (Tomas Clancy, Joe Breen, Liam Campbell and Raymond Blake), Julian Jeffs QC (who was a charming companion at lunch) and Stephen Brook.

The food:
  • Roast isles of Orkney scallop with vanilla, endive, tangerine and sauternes (the only dish that didn't really work)
  • Tortellini of Devon crab with a capuccino of shellfish and basil (sensational, as were all the dishes from here onwards)
  • Roast fillet of john dory with oxtail, morels and red wine
  • Roast and smoked loin of fallow deer with celeriac, chanterelles, caramelised root vegetables and pink peppercorns
  • Comte and st nectaire
  • Brillat-Savarin cheesecake with rhubarb
Pictured: Vega Sicilia winemaker Javier Ausás presenting his wines

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Monday, December 11, 2006

Velazquez and the wine writers

Tonight was the Circle of Wine Writers Christmas party. Usually these events are hosted by the embassy of a wine-producing nation who then seizes the opportunity to ply the wine hacks and hangers on with booze from their country. This year we were due at the Spanish embassy, but because of refurbishment works we were relocated to the National Gallery (pictured), and a private showing of the Velazquez exhibition.
Diego Rodriguez de Silva y Velázquez, to give him his full name, lived from 1599-1660, and is widely regarded as one of the greats. I was particularly thrilled to see a picture that, as a child, I had a small print of - a remarkably intense, detailed portrayal of an old lady cooking eggs, which was painted when Velazquez was just 19 years old (see right).
The party itself was a sedate affair that represented a good opportunity to catch up with people and meet a few more for the first time. By these criteria, it was an evening well spent. However, there were loads of people I'd never seen before, and a relatively low head count of the leading wine writers. Also, the Spanish wine people had their chance and muffed it: we were greeted by a glass of oxidized Cava, and then the wines we were supposed to taste ran out fast (and the clean glasses ran out even faster), so by around 8.30 pm there was nothing left to drink. It felt odd to leave a wine writers' party horridly sober...

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Wednesday, December 06, 2006

post from the road

Just a rapid post from the road, in a small town called Badajoz, which is just on the border between Spain and Portugal on the Spanish side. I'm with Cube's James Gabbani, who is as good a travelling companion as you could wish for.

Yesterday after a 3 am start we arrived in Lisbon early in the morning, picked up a hire car, and motored through the Alentejo (passing near Evora and Esrtremoz) at a rapid rate. We ended up in a small place about half an hour away from here where Oeneo's Diam facility is located.

Yes, it's a long way to come to see a closures factory, but what a factory. For those of you unfamiliar with Diam, it's a cork-based closure made by gluing together small fragments of cork with some polymer microspheres to make a uniform, inert 'cork'. Sounds a bit unremarkable, but the amazing thing about Diam is that it is completely taint free, because the cork granules are washed by supercritical carbon dioxide. When Carbon dioxide is subjected to a particular combination of temperatures and pressures it enters the supercritical state, where it has the cleaning power of a liquid and the penetration power of a gas. In short, Diam rocks as a wine bottle closure, and it's causing quite a stir in New Zealand, France, Germany, South America and even Australia...other countries are proving tougher to reach.

After the factory visit it was back to Badajoz for a big night out. Well, a night out. James and I devised a new format for a TV wine show, and were 'treated' to a shot of 160% proof black Absinthe by a barman. It was filthsome, evil stuff. James seemed visibly shaken by the experience. I think the fact that I was feeling pretty colded up insulated me from the full force of the experience.

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Monday, December 04, 2006

wine and the brain

Over at the World of Fine Wine website you can download a pdf of the first piece I did for them, back in 2004, on Wine and the brain. It's here. Clearly, I'm biased, because I write for them, but I think that this is a fantastic magazine and you should all subscribe to it.
Off to Spain at 3 am tomorrow (yes...am) with Cube's James Gabbani to visit the Diam factory. Last time I was invited there was the carrot of a Real Madrid vs. Barcelona match thrown in. I couldn't go. This time, they reckoned I was nuts enough to be persuaded without such a carrot, and the impediment of a lost night's sleep.

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Monday, November 13, 2006

Clark Smith and his Roman wine

Last night I met Clark and Susie Smith, thus fulfilling one of my long-held ambitions. Clark is the guy behind www.vinovation.com, a hi-tech wine consulting company in California, and I've wanted to meet him ever since I wrote one of my early Harpers technical pieces where I interviewed him by phone. But he isn't advocating using technology to spoofulate wines. Seeing technology as a useful tool, he then sets about using his tool kit, which includes microoxygenation and reverse osmosis, to make more interesting and tasty wines. Not convinced? Well, I'll do a lengthy article soon on this subject, which I hope will explain what I'm getting at.

We tasted a range of wines before dinner, including a 'sweet spot' tasting of an Amador County Syrah - the same wine at 15.4%, 14.2% and 13.75% alcohol. The differences were striking. We also tried Clark's own wines - which effectively act like business cards. WineSmith is his high end range; Cheapskate the everyday stuff. In fact, the Cheapskate wines are the best $8 wines you'll ever taste. At least that's what I reckon. After the tasting we headed over to Tendido Cero, one of my favourite eating places, where we ate and drank well (my choice - a bottle of the 2004 Finca Sandoval from Manchuela - dark, spicy and mineralic, with a bit of the new world and a bit of the old).

Tonight's tipple is the dregs of one of the wines tried last night. It's the WineSmith Roman Syrah 2003. The remarkable thing about this wine is that it is made without any addition of sulphur dioxide, the almost universally used wine preservative. Clark explains how he made this wine on his own Grapecrafter blog:
"To be safe, I began with a wine that could serve as its own preservative, one that would consume oxygen and oppose a microbial takeover on its own, and also a varietal type for which microbial complexity might be regarded as a plus.

I decided to work with a high altitude syrah which had a lot of reductive strength from two sources: tannin and minerality. Raw unpolymerized tannin has the ability to gobble tremendous quantities of oxygen when wine is young. A beneficial side effect of micro-oxygenation is the creation of a rich, light structure which integrates aromas. Oxygen is the wire wisk in creating a tannin soufflé. This is going to keep the wine from smelling spoiled later on when the microbes have their party.

Paradoxically, working properly with oxygen doesn't oxidize the wine -- rather it increases its ability to take up more oxygen. The chemistry of phenolic polymerization is well understood, and in this case, Vern Singleton's 1986 paper on the vicinyl diphenol cascade explains why polymerizing tannins become more reactive than their precursors. "

It's a really thought-provoking wine. There's some aromatic purity and elegance, with sweet dark fruits that have a brooding depth to them. The palate is very unusual and interesting. It's expressive and angular, with firm tannins and a meaty, spicy sort of rasp. These jostle with some funkier, herby, tobbacoey sort of elements. It finishes savoury and spicy. It's a wine that seems to show you one thing and then another. It's not a wine for everyone: some will find these bold, savoury flavours just a little too dangerous. But I like it a good deal.

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