jamie goode's wine blog

Friday, December 04, 2009

Icon wines at The Sampler

Had an incredible chance to taste some iconic wines this morning courtesy of north London wine merchant The Sampler. There's always a good range of interesting wines to taste here, courtesy of their multiple enomatic machines, but in the run up to Christmas they've put some serious icon wines on tasting, giving people the chance to see what all the fuss is about.

Unless your budget is pretty much limitless, I wouldn't steer you towards buying these sorts of bottles. For example, the £1700 a single bottle of Screaming Eagle costs could buy you 80 or 90 bottles of pretty delicous wine that would arguably give you a lot more pleasure over a consistent period. But it's really interesting to be able to try these wines for a lot less than it could otherwise cost, just because they're there, they're talked about and they are regarded as sort of benchmarks.

The tasting this morning contained some magical, almost spiritual wine moments, so good were some of these bottles. So to wring out the most from these experiences, I'm going to be drip feeding you an icon a day.

Coming up, in no particular order:

  • DRC Grands Echezeaux 1971
  • Screaming Eagle 1996
  • Hermitage La Chapelle 1978 and 1990
  • Lafite 1982
  • Petrus 1978
  • Ogier Belle Helene Cote Rotie 1999


Thursday, July 16, 2009

The Sampler expands

Good news for London's wine lovers. One of the capital's best wine shops, The Sampler, is to open two new branches - in South Kensington and Notting Hill. For those unfamiliar with this innovative shop, which allows customers to taste a range of 80 wines from its Enomatic machines, there's a write up on this site.

Dawn and Jamie, the owners, have raised more than £1 million funding from investors to make this expansion feasible. One of the investors, regular commentator on this blog Keith Prothero, has this to say:
"I see The Sampler as the future of wine retailing. By offering over 1000 interesting wines at all prices and styles, and enabling customers to sample the wines, the experience is fun, educational and most importantly the customer buys a bottle of wine that they know they like."


Sunday, February 15, 2009

Wine on telly: 'The Firm', tomorrow night

Wine on telly again: BBC4, 9 pm, Mon Feb 16th. It's the first of a three part series on wine, and it begins with a year in the life of the UK's oldest wine merchant, Berry Bros & Rudd (http://www.bbr.com/). I've just watched my preview DVD, and I really enjoyed it.

The film focuses its narrative on the two regions that make up 80% of the turnover of BBR, Bordeaux and Burgundy [although later we are told that Bordeaux makes up 70% of turnover, which infers that Burgundy is of less importance], and sets this theme against the backdrop of gathering economic gloom. 'The world has changed', says chairman Simon Berry, filmed in the 308 year old cellars of the St James' St shop. 'It's a more complicated world right now, but wine is still a good investment', he adds with more hope and salesman's instinct than certainty.

The scene changes. We are now in the real heart of BBR - its Basingstoke headquarters. There we meet Simon Staples, described as the world's biggest buyer of investment-style Bordeaux wines, although the narrator doesn't make it clear whether this refers to Staples' £60 m en primeur budget or his considerable frame.

We follow Staples to Bordeaux, where the feautured producer is Cos d'Estournel. It's the 2007 en primeur campaign, and there's a conflict between what BBR think customers are willing to pay, and what Jean-Guillaume Prats thinks his Cos is worth. The BBR guys think £30 a bottle; Prats, who comes across as greedy with his pricing (he clearly thinks Cos is a first growth), sets the price at 65 Euros. Staples buys 10 cases, as opposed to 2000 in 2005. 'Wrong price, wrong time', says Staples.

We meet Jasper Morris doing some repairs to a dry stone wall. In Burgundy, the featured producer is the wonderfully reserved and gentle David Clark, the ex-Williams engineer who has followed his passion by making red Burgundies from humble appellations that punch above their weight. 'There is much more of a human touch in Burgundy', says Jasper, and watching David Clark at work is so much more appealing that looking at Cos' hugely expensive, rather over-elaborate new cellar renovations. I especially enjoyed seeing David's home-made crawler that allows him to sit down as he works the low-trained vines by hand.

Finally, we see a private dinner for top customers at BBR, with Jean-Guillaume. Simon Staples gets them to blind taste 1870 Cos. The first customer thinks it's 1982. Other guesses are 1989, late 1940s, 1955 and 1964. Jean-Guillaume comes closest with 1928/9. It's fun.

The program finishes with headlines of economic collapse. Cue Simon Berry to remind us all to invest in wine again.

Overall verdict? Brilliant stuff, well filmed. Jasper, Simon S and Simon B come across really well, and you should make every effort to watch this if you can.

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Wednesday, January 14, 2009

The best way to learn about wine

I was thinking today about the best way to learn about wine. I'd travelled down to Devon to see my son (he's boarding at school) and attend a meeting. After the formalities were over we went together to a coffee shop for some hot chocolate, an then popped in to a record shop on the high street.

Now this place is about as far away as you can get from HMV. It is run by someone who's clearly a music enthusiast, and as well as carrying the latest chart items it has a display section of mid-priced classics. I've bought a few things here before, so this time I asked for advice. The shop owner was really helpful, and I came out with Joni Mitchell's Blue. I'm embarassed I don't already know her stuff, but this is a really brilliant album.

There's so much music out there, how do you choose what to listen to? Which new avenues should you explore? What are the 'benchmarks'? It's a similar problem faced by the newbie wine drinker. While modern retail offers amazing selections at amazingly keen prices, it's difficult to know where to start.

A shop, properly run by an enthusiast whose main drive is passion for the product, has to be the best place. If you have a local wine merchant with a good range and staff who care, then that's surely the best way to learn about wine. Of course, I think you should be making good use of critics and writers - and websites like this - but then there's the issue of finding the wines that are being talked about.

If you have a good merchant, use them, and be prepared to pay slightly more for the wine than the cheapest price on wine-searcher. You are getting, in the price of the bottle, the benefit of a relationship that could be your best means of discovering new wines, tailored to your palate and interests. That's got to be worth something.

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Thursday, December 11, 2008

Icon wines at The Sampler

On the main site, I've just posted a lengthy review of innovative wine merchant The Sampler, which I visited last Friday (www.wineanorak.com/thesampler.htm). Here, as promised, I'm posting notes of the icon wines they currently have on tasting. It's always difficult tasting wines like these when you know what they are, because you don't want their reputations to influence you (either way).

Domaine de la Romanée Conti Romanée St Vivant 1993
Beautifully elegant, perfumed nose is warm and open with subtle herbiness, hints of earth and nice spiciness. A bit of greenness, but in a nice way. The palate is earthy and spicy with good structure and lots of elegance. The fruit is beginning to recede a bit but there’s lots of complexity here, and some herby notes meshing well with spicy tannins. Some people I was tasting with were disappointed by this, but I found it thrilling, although I wouldn’t say it has a huge amount of evolution ahead of it. And it’s absurdly expensive, but it is DRC. 95/100 (£699 The Sampler)

Harlan Estate 2002 Napa Valley
My first time with this cult Napa wine, which sells for around £600 a bottle. Fresh, spicy, earthy aromatic nose with sweet blackcurrant fruit and warm, subtly tarry, spicy notes. Hint of chocolate, too. The palate is sweetly fruited and dense with really nice dense, spicy, slightly earthy structure under the rich, but not overblown fruit. It’s an accessible new world-style wine but it’s balanced and has a long finish. 93/100

Screaming Eagle 1999 Napa Valley
A rare chance to try one of the most sought after Napa cult wines. Wonderfully aromatic with perfumed, sweet, complex, beautifully poised nose of tar, herbs, spice and sweet berry fruits. The palate is evolving beautifully with notes of leather and spice under the elegant sweet red berry fruits. Really nicely balanced with beautiful fusion of complex spicy notes, fruit and structure. 96/100 (£1500 The Sampler)

Château Margaux 1934 Margaux, Bordeaux
It’s always a great experience to taste very old wine, even though it is a bit of a lottery. This elderly Margaux is an orange-brown colour, and the nose is earthy, spicy, mature and quite complex. The palate is light with some earthy notes and fresh acidity, as well as some meaty hints. Not much left here: it has a beguiling, faded, haunting beauty, but it’s beginning to taste of old wine. There’s real interest, but I suspect this isn’t a great bottle. 92/100 (£550 The Sampler)

Château Petrus 1983 Pomerol, Bordeaux
A little disappointing considering the reputation of Petrus, but still an attractive mature Pomerol. Warm, spicy and earthy on the nose, with some sweetness. The palate is earthy, slightly herby and has fresh acidity, with some evolution. Quite structured but the fruit is beginning to recede a bit. An attractive, savoury wine, but some way short of greatness. 92/100 (£850 The Sampler)

Château Le Pin 1995 Pomerol, Bordeaux
This cult Pomerol is very appealing, but surely you don’t have to spend a grand to get something like this? Lovely sweet aromatics showing subtly leafy sweet red fruits. Quite complex. The palate has some firm savoury character with nice spiciness and freshness. It’s balanced, earthy and fresh with nice bright fruit and a hint of nice greenness. 93/100 (£1000 The Sampler)

Château Mouton Rothschild 2000 Pauillac, Bordeaux
Earthy, spicy and slightly rustic on the nose. Quite firm. Is there some brett here? The palate is earthy and dense with a robust spicy character. Dense and firm at the moment but lacks real elegance. To be honest, I expected a bit more from this. 91/100 (£700 The Sampler)

Château D’Yquem 1983 Sauternes
Totally beautiful. This is concentrated and perfectly balanced with dense, complex spicy lemon/citrus flavours with waxy, spicy notes and wonderful depth. Drinking perfectly now. 96/100

Château de Beaucastel Châteauneuf-du-Pape 1990 Southern Rhône, France
This is a lovely, light, evolved wine drinking at its peak. Complex, warm, spicy and earthy with a lovely earthy, spicy character, as well as some meaty funkiness. A savoury style with lots of interest. 94/100 (£160 The Sampler)

Added later: people have asked about the sampling prices - they're all on the website - http://www.thesampler.co.uk/sampling.asp?submenu3

For these wines:

Wine Icons
DRC Romanée Saint Vivant 1993 £31.46; Harlan Estate 2002 £27.00; Screaming Eagle 1999 £60.00; Château Margaux 1934 £20.37; Pétrus 1983 £38.25; Le Pin 1995 £43.33; Château Mouton Rothschild 2000 £31.50; Château de Beaucastel 1990 £7.20

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Wednesday, December 10, 2008

BBR offer: £50 off for three days

Nice time-limited offer from Berry Bros & Rudd - £50 off when you spend £250, excluding en primeur. All you have to do is add a code at the till: DS1QDP. BBR have a cracking list of wines, and while they are expensive for some of the more trophy-like wines, they also have some impressive less expensive stuff. Offer lasts until December 12th: www.bbr.com.


Friday, September 19, 2008

Elegant Shiraz from Victoria

On Tuesday afternoon I had some time to spare in central London, so I went visiting wine shops. One was Philglas & Swiggot, round the back of Selfridges. The wonderfully named Philglas also has a branch in Richmond, and the original shop in Clapham/Battersea, but this was the first time I'd been to their Marylebone store. Mike Rogers, the owner, was there, so I had a good chat with him and browsed the shelves. They've got a fantastic, hand-picked selection that's particularly strong in Australia and Italy. Mike admits that if he had to chose between France and Italy, it's the former that would get the boot.

A shop like this is wine geek heaven. You want to learn about wine? Find a shop like this, staffed by smart people who know wine. Use their recommendations and develop a relationship. Forget that wine-searcher shows that somewhere else has the same wine a pound cheaper - it's a false economy. [I'm not suggesting that Philglas are expensive; just that a shop like this won't always be the cheapest because of the overheads, and also the higher cost of hiring smart staff and buying geeky high-end wines.]

I bought just one bottle, but I'd liked to have walked out with a case. It was an Aussie Shiraz that Mike and his wife Karen have developed in conjunction with genius winemaker Mac Forbes. Now I'm not buying much Aussie wine at the moment, but I know Mac and the sort of style he likes, and I know that Mike and Karen understand Aussie wine really well, so it's worth a punt, I reckon to myself. And this is actually a really good wine, although it will be better in two or three years.

Rogers & Pietersen Mullens Vineyard Shiraz 2006 Moonambel, Victoria, Australia
At just 13% alcohol, this is an elegant, bright expression of Aussie Shiraz. It shows a nose of sweet, spicy blackberry and raspberry fruit that's well defined and a bit tight at the moment. The palate has good acidity and some tannic grip, with fresh, focused fruit and a sense of the flavour being hemmed in a bit, waiting to come out. There's some Rhone like meaty, spiciness that adds complexity, and I reckon that in three years this wine will have opened out beautifully and will just be singing. A serious effort, but don't drink it just yet. 91/100 (£16.99 Philglas & Swiggot)

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Wednesday, January 31, 2007

What I did in Paris

On Monday I was speaking at Wine Evolution, but on Tuesday I had a choice: attend the conference sessions, or do some exploring. Tough one. Not. Much as I love the wine business, wine itself, and one of Europe's great capitals has a bigger pull on me. I was late getting up (we'd been out till 0215 the previous night), but this still gave me time to visit a few wine destinations. In particular, I was interested in Cavistes specializing in vins natural, which is a bit of a fad in France.

First stope was Caves Augé (116, Boulevard Hausmann), which is a fantastic old wine shop, crammed full of wines - the majority of which are 'natural' in one form or another. Customer service isn't perhaps their strong point, and the way the wines are arranged makes it hard to browse efficiently. But this can be forgiven for the wonderful stuff they sell. I purchased three bottles only (I could have purchased two cases) - Morgon Vieilles Vignes 2005 Jean-Paul Thevenet, Morgon 2004 Cuvee 3,14 Jean Foillard and Morgon Vieilles Vignes 2004 Guy Breton.

Next I visited La Cremerie/Caves Miard (9, rue des Quatre-Vents - pictured), a charming wine bar and shop located in a tiny old dairy. Here I bought Anjou 2004 Agnes et Remi Mosse, Cheville de Fer 2005 VdP du Loir et Cher O Lemasson and Les Marrons Villages Vin de Table Lot 04 05 Gilles et Catherine Verge.

Then it was off to lunch with philosopher Ophelia Deroy, who specializes in the philosophy of science and has contributed to the forthcoming wine and philosophy volume 'Questions of Taste', which is being edited by her partner Dr Barry Smith (I'm also contributing a paper to this book). We met at Caves Legrand, which is a wonderful caviste and small wine bar. I came away with a solitary bottle, Domaine Richaud Cairanne 2005, but this was only because I was already carrying six, and I was cutting it fine for catching the Eurostar.

There's a lot of fun to be had for wine nuts in Paris; I only scratched the surface. I will be back, I hope, fairly soon.

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