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[For the uninitiated, a 'blog' (or weblog) is a web journal with links. This gives me a chance to add short, 'off the record' style items that wouldn't merit a separate article. I try my best to keep entries informal, frequent, brief and (hopefully) interesting. For more information about Jamie Goode, see the about the author section. ]

Monday 10th November 2003
I was googling today, trying to look up a price for a recommendation for my Western Mail column (Blandy’s 1996 Harvest Malmsey Madeira, stocked by Sainsbury) when I came across two well written wine pieces. The first was from a slightly unexpected source, Malcolm Gluck’s superplonk column. I say unexpected not as a slight to Malcolm’s writing, but rather because his style isn’t usually one I appreciate. But in his piece on the threat of wine brands, I think he’s hit the target.

‘The UK's first teetotal wine buyer is probably being interviewed for the job right now,’ says Malcolm, ‘for who needs to drink wine to buy the brands that are becoming so prominent on certain wine retailers' shelves?’ He continues: ‘This trend surfaced at the smaller supermarket chains, and at the retailers who fight it out in the high street it has become a movement. The big supermarkets have become so successful at creating own-label brands that the high-street shops and less competitive chains can survive only if they stock brands. So Oddbins has placed more emphasis on brands …. Unwins is devoted to them and Thresher must stock them in order to survive.’ He goes on to recommend a rather good Madeira.

The second piece is also on Madeira, this time by Jancis Robinson. It’s a nice, Jancis-ish piece on the island’s wines with lots of up-to-date info and a good list of recommended wines. It ties in nicely with my on-going series on Madeira – although Jancis, unlike me, has actually visited the island.  Back to the Blandy’s single harvest I started off with. It’s a lovely drop, with lots of smoky, tarry, raisiny complexity and good balancing acidity. I reckon it’s a bargain at £12 or thereabouts – interestingly, Sainsbury’s website doesn’t list any Madeira at all (they stock four at my local), so I can’t give you an exact price right now. I’m looking forward to another glass of this tonight.  

Sunday 9th November
Apologies for the lack of updates, but it’s the weekend of our move. As I write, on Sunday afternoon, we have just finished shifting the last of our possessions from our rental house to our new home. The 'new home' is still a work in progress. That is, it’s a building site without any sinks, baths or showers, and no hot water. We do have a toilet, however, so we should be grateful that there won’t be any trips to the garden with a spade and a loo roll. Despite the amount of work still to be done and the alarming condition of our budget, I’m delighted with the new house. It has more space than we need (the ground floor of our old house was shorter than our current kitchen–diner), and I have my own study: a 20 foot loft room with a nice big window. Into this goes all my wine stuff (a tremendous amount of paperwork) and my music stuff (three guitars and various bits of amplification and recording equipment). I’m thrilled, but knackered—we moved ourselves. We’ve not been drinking anything special of late. The cheapies we’ve knocked back in our state of exhaustion have included the following. Peter Lehmann Clancy’s Red 2001 is a glugger that’s a little spoiled by too much American oak. I don’t mind American oak when it adds spice and a bit of smokiness, but I dislike it when it veers to the sweet coconut and vanilla end of the spectrum, flavours often found in Spanish reds. Clancy’s is poor value at £6.99 and just passable at the Sainsburys offer price of £5.29. Torres Vina Sol 2002 is a lovely fresh lemony white that I find it hard to tire of. Unlike the Clancy’s it doesn’t dress itself up in tarty oak, but just shows good, clean, crisp fruit. Last night there was the farcical sight of me about to ram the cork into the bottle with a car key before we realised that there was a cork screw that hadn’t been packed. Desperate stuff. Finally, Oxford Landing Chardonnay isn’t much to write home about. Just-adequate buttery commercial Chardonnay with a rather chemical, bitter finish. It fails where the Torres succeeds.  

Monday 27th October
Contrasting wine fortunes over the weekend. On the positive side, I opened one of my last two bottles of Mas Bruguière’s La Grenadière 2000, from the Pic St Loup commune in the Langeudoc. It’s their top cuvee, and a sophisticated effort with elegant, spicy, meaty fruit combining well with the oak. Well poised despite its richness. Also a success was possibly the cheapest wine I’ve had all year – an Asda Minervois NV. Retailing at £2.77, it’s not as plonkish as you’d expect with a nice savoury, spicy character to the midweight fruit. There are many worse wines retailing for twice this price, which is incredible considering how much the wine inside the bottle (which in this case was a press sample) will have cost Asda. Less successful was the 1997 vintage Port from Quinta do Crasto. I can’t explain why this wine is tasting so light and herby at the moment – maybe it’s going through some weird closed phase. It tastes a bit like a middling LBV, which isn’t what you’d expect.

I’m currently on my way home from a vertical tasting of Montevetrano, tutored by Silvio Imparato herself (estate owner and winemaker, a top photographer in a previous life). Montevetrano has been described as the Sassicaia of the southern Naples Hillside by Robert Parker, and is sought after and expensive. This was the first complete vertical of all the wines produced, from the 1992 vintage to a cask sample of 2001, and because of the scarcity of the early vintages it’s likely to be the last. A full report will appear on wineanorak, or course, but my impression was a favourable one. It’s a wine that has a sense of place, and doesn’t fit into the ‘international wine’ bracket, surely a good thing. This is perhaps surprising considering that consulting here is Ricardo Cotarella. Michael Palij, whose company Winetraders is the UK agent, maintains that Italy has ‘the most potent terroir in the world’, but that as a wine producing country it is ‘in danger of turning its back on its terroir’. He remarked on how tasting the tri biccheri wines this week he was struck by how non-Italian they all tasted. Cotarella is seen as a problem, with his consulting often resulting in international-styled wines. Montrevetrano is in Palij’s words the ‘least Cotarella-ish’ of all the wines that Cotarella has consulted for. Strong words, but much needed, I feel.

Thursday 23rd October
Had another nice South African Sauvignon last night – Ken Forrester’s 2002, from Stellenbosch (Oddbins £6.49). I say another, because I’m increasingly impressed with what South African producers are doing with both Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay, as well as their continued efforts with the underrated Chenin Blanc. Although the Cape winelands are pretty hot as wine regions go, winemakers there are managing to make very impressive Sauvignons with a lovely crisp, fresh character and nicely defined acidity. In terms of value for money, they blow most of the competition away. My favourite is the Zondernaam Sauvignon Blanc: the 2003, tasted last week at Majestic’s press tasting, has the same sort of excitement and over-the-top nose that first made Cloudy Bay famous back in the 1990s. It’s a stunning effort and at only £6.99 I’ll be buying a fair bit. While South Africa is known mainly for its reds, I’m currently more enthusiastic about the whites. While Aussie Chardonnay rarely flicks my switches these days, time and time again I’m finding that the South African interpretations of this grape hit the mark, with classy oak well integrated with elegant fruit. And the price is usually right. Favourites include Warwick, Jordan, Thelema and the impressive Journey’s End recently released by Kumala. But Chenin Blanc is South Africa’s most widely planted white grape – traditionally the white workhorse of the industry – and despite being held in lowly regard, can produce profound white wines in the right hands. Ken Forrester is particularly good with this variety (Oddbins stock two inexpensive but worthy examples by him), and another widely available favourite of mine is the Villiera Chenin Blanc that sells for £5.99 in Threshers. Don’t expect Loire-like racy acidity, but the same nutty, straw-like, slightly cheesy Chenin character is there hiding among the fruit and (sometimes) oak.

Tuesday 21st October
I think our builders and central heating engineers are quite amused by us. We were due to move in to our new place next weekend, but as you’ll see from the pictures of the third bedroom (floor is unsound and the joists will need replacing) and the rear of our over-sized kitchen–diner (new suspended floor going in), there’s still a little bit of work to be done. When it came to the point of deciding between having the central heating finished and running and having a toilet, we realized it might be wise to stay another week in our rented house—fortunately, this is still an option. 

Amateur property developers we may be, but in our defence we didn’t intend this to be such an involved project. We’re best off doing the big things that need doing now, though, rather than face further disruption at a later stage. Whenever you start a project like this, wise friends always say take your budget and double it. At the time you think they're talking nonsense, but I'm not so sure now. The same probably applies to the projected timescale. 

I’m hoping there’s enough left of our hard-pressed budget to buy a wine cabinet with (although the thought did cross my mind of sinking a cellar of sorts into the kitchen floor). I’ve not been doing much wine recently with all these upheavals, save for a characteristically chunky bottle of Elian da Ros’ basic Marmandais vin de Pays – lots of dense, rather rustic southwestern fruit on display, backed up by formidable tannic structure. One thing about Elian's wines is that the corks all seem to have shrunk quite a bit, with the wine penetrating quite high up (and this bottle or others like it haven't been heat damaged). I'm wondering about the longevity of these wines (mine are a mixture of 98s and 99s) because of this.

Wednesday 8th October
The race is on to make our house habitable for the end of the month, which is when we have to leave our rental property. We went over to see how progress is with the building work and to plan the central heating system – and this is what our kitchen currently looks like (right). It's a big Victorian house, but with big houses come big bills, and our initial budget is being stretched all over the place. That aside, it's an exciting phase, although we feel a bit daunted - in fact, it feels like a real life version of one of those property development programmes which seem to be on TV every night. No cellar unfortunately, so I'm going to have to go for a wine cabinet. 

Yesterday evening I went to trendy London eatery Sketch for a dinner launching the Languedoc wines of Gerard Bertrand. Gerard is a big, athletic looking Frenchman with a fine head of curly hair, and it came as no surprise to find that he’s an ex-France Rugby international. The wines are very consistent and modern, with lots of flavour. He even manages to make a surprisingly convincing Pinot Noir in the Languedoc. The food? Well, I was left a little underwhelmed. Very good, and very creative, but the combinations – such as a lovely fillet of beef topped with slightly salty, iodiney caviar –  didn’t quite flick my switches. Still, a nice event, I was sitting with some nice people, and it was a good chance to eat at Sketch without putting a huge hole in my credit card bill. 

Friday 2nd October
I'm in Tokyo now, staying in a very tall hotel in Shinjuku (I'm nowhere near the top and it's the 31st floor, picture from my window is on the right). Shinjuku is a bustling, lively part of the city, buzzing with energy and more appealing than I thought it was going to be. I'd like to stay here a bit longer. I managed to track down a good wine selection at the Isetan department store. Not quite as smart as the Cave de Yamay in Tsukuba I reported on below, but still a nice choice. I don't think, though, that wine matches too well with Japanese food, unless you are quite careful with the flavours and the wines. Beer is a safer bet, or green tea, even, if you can live without the alcohol.

Sunday 28th September
I’m in Japan for a conference this week, just arrived this afternoon. I’m staying for most of the week in Tsukuba, a town not far from Tokyo. It’s not terribly pretty – at least, not as nice as Kyoto, which I visited a few years back, but as a university town it’s got a fairly relaxed feel. I took a wander round and stumbled into the most fabulous wine shop. It’s not comprehensive, but it’s very strong on Bordeaux and Burgundy, and has some famous names on the shelves, all at very respectable prices. There’s Mauro and Valbuena from Spain, JJ Prum from Germany, a host of top Barolos and supertuscans, Beaucastel, Guigal and Ferraton from the Rhône, Clarendon Hills and Lenswood Vineyards from Australia, Calera, Sainstbury, Ridge, Shafer, Dominus and Togni from the USA, Joly from the Loire and Zind Humbrecht from Alsace. I bought a 2000 1er Cru 'Les Damodes' Nuit St Georges from Dominique Laurent for just a tad over £20. It’s a wine I’m curious about, and I haven’t seen on the shelves in the UK. On the way out of London I bought a couple of bottles from Berry Bros at Terminal 4: the Barbeito Single Harvest Madeira 1995 (£13) and Niepoort Vintage Port 1994 (£23). Unfortunately, I don’t have a corkscrew, so I can’t enjoy any of them now. Japan is an unusual country (from a European perspective), but I like it. Its foreignness is appealing in a world that’s rapidly becoming to look standardized. I also like the food, although my chopstick technique with noodles could do with some refining.

Thursday 25th September
I’ve been drinking some good wine recently. On Tuesday night, an association of winemakers from New Zealand’s Central Otago put on a dinner for the Circle of Winewriters at the Sugar Club. A range of wines, including six different Pinot Noirs – the region’s trump card – were poured, and a delicious four-course menu was chosen to accompany them. I had fun chatting to Jeff Sinnot (previously winemaker at Isabel Estate, now involved in a new project) and Alan Brady (pioneering winegrower who first planted vines here in 1981). I was also sitting next to Christian Davis, new editor of Harpers Wine and Spirit Weekly, so it was good to get a chance to get to know him a bit.

Some impressive wines were on show at the ‘i5’ tasting, held at the quaintly old-fashioned Traveller’s Club in Pall Mall. This is an association of five specialist importers, including Raymond Reynolds (the UK’s premier Portuguese specialists), Winetraders (mouthwatering Italian list), DMT (David Thomas’ small production Barossa gems) and Gauntley (Nottingham-based merchant specializing in the Rhône and Alsace). Some highlights included the spectacular Macedos 2000 and Redoma 1999 from the Douro; the Bradissimo 1999 and the impenetrable Binomio 2000 from Inama; a breathtakingly elegant and balanced Côte Rôtie from a producer I’d not encountered before and the concentrated but perfectly formed Spinifex Indigene from the Barossa.

Then, last night, a lovely wine dinner that was organized as an offline from Mark Squires’ bulletin board. This was one of the most easy going and successful of the offlines I’ve attended, and not a bad wine to be found. We kicked off with a Langenbach Erbacher Marcobrum Auslese ‘Cabinet’ 1949 from the Rheingau. Now this orange-coloured wine is over 50 years old, but on pouring it is fresh and fruity, with a nose of apricot and marmalade, together with some spice. The palate shows more of the spicy apricot flavours, together with some waxy notes, but it doesn’t show any of the odd chemical tones that some ancient wines can often develop. It changes in the glass as we drink it. It’s hard to be objective about an old wine like this, but I’d rate this as very good/excellent. 

The next wine, the Weinbach Riesling Grand Cru Schlossberg ‘Clos des Capucins’ 1999 from Alsace is chunky and limey, but rather disappointing. Next up, one of the wines of the night. Domaine Leflaive’s 2000 Bienvenues Bâtard Montrachet started off showing toasty, nutty, minerally complexity on the taut nose, together with elegant acid structure and richness on the palate, and then just got better and better, displaying layers of complexity and precise balance. Stunning stuff. This contrasted with the richer, sweeter, nuttier Kistler Hudson Vineyard Chardonnay 2000 from Carneros (California). It wasn’t bad by any means, but suffered in comparison with the Leflaive. Different wines, different cultures. On to the reds. The 1970 Beaulieu Vineyards George de Latour Private Reserve is still drinking very well after 33 years – there aren’t many Californian reds that can boast this. Very soft, sweet tarry fruit with spicy American oak providing a cushion. We turned our gaze temporarily to Bordeaux.  The 1988 Château Palmer from Margaux followed – this was showing appealing, minerally fruit with a touch of greenness, together with high acidity. The Château Gruaud Larose 1982 (St Julien) was showing badly according to some who had drunk this recently, but I enjoyed the soft, dense fruit and spicy minerality. It’s got life in it yet. Unfortunately the 1986 Léoville Barton was hard, taut and closed, if classic in its proportions. The 1995 Angelus is a serious drop: although it is clearly made in a forward, almost new world style, there’s plenty of firm structure here. One for the future? Time to return to California, first with the Venge Family Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 1994 from Oakville in Napa. Bold, characterful and forward with lots of ripe spicy fruit – a tasty drop with real appeal. This was bettered by the 1995 Phelps Insignia, which was seamlessly lush and concentration. No edges here, and a sexy style. One participant described it as a ‘booty wine’. Peter Michael’s Les Pavots 1996 is an altogether more restrained, structured wine making more than a passing nod to Bordeaux. Great balance and quite classy. Finally from the USA, we head up to Washington State, for the Quilceda Creek Cabernet Sauvignon 2000. This shows remarkable pure, fully ripe fruit, but is a bit hot from the high alcohol levels (disclosed as 14.9% on the label). The final two reds were new cult Douro wines from Portugal. The 1999 Batuta is a serious, structured wine that’s lost just a little of the initial lushness of the fruit and is starting to develop some taut herbal complexity. Firm tannins. It will be interesting to see how this inaugural vintage develops. The Pintas 2001 is very different in character, showing lush, complex herby fruit with smooth, silky tannins and great concentration. Very tasty in a new world sort of style yet still reflecting the personality of the Douro. To finish off with we enjoyed a wonderful German Riesling TBA from 1976 (Winkeler Hasensprung Lundgräflich Hessiches Riesling TBA 1976, Rheingau) that was full of life, and a disappointing 1970 Quinta do Noval vintage Port that was a bit awkward and shot.

Sunday 21st September
It's been a lovely weekend. Bizarrely hot, for London in late September, in the high twenties centigrade. On Saturday we had a picnic lunch in nearby Bushey Park (a Royal Park between Teddington, Kingston and Hampton Court). There's a lovely woodland walk section, and despite the hot weather, it was relatively quiet. We heard some rustling in the bushes, and so we stopped and looked around. Out popped a young fox, just a few feet away from us. He looked at us, but didn't seem to flustered, and sat down. We'd eaten most of our food but we had an apple left, which we dropped in front of him. He picked it up, glanced our way, and then pottered off. I like these encounters with nature. Last year in Tenerife I had a wild lizard come and eat out of my hand - that was fun. Wine wise, it's been a bit of an off couple of days - last night I opened two bottles which both were showing very badly, past their best. First, the Quinta dos Roques Reserva Dão 1997. I'd have expected this to be hitting its stride, but it's all awkward acid and tannin edges, and hard work. The 1998 Coudoulet de Beaucastel was basically over the hill, with leathery caramel aromas and a bit of a baked quality. Kept too long or heat damage?

The big news, though, is that I have landed my first book deal. I signed the contract and the advance cheque will soon be in the post. I had a number of options, but I wanted to go with the leading wine book publisher, Mitchell Beazley, who publish the World Atlas of Wine, among others. I've been chatting to the commissioning editor for quite a while, but we've finally found the right project and now I've got to research and write it. I'll keep you posted, but that's all I'm saying for now.  

Friday 19th September
The tasting season is now in full swing, and if you are a wine writer with half decent credentials living in London, you get more invites to tastings than you know what to do with. I could happily spend the next fortnight tasting wine virtually without a break. Well, it wouldn’t be ‘happily’ – it’s actually quite hard work if you approach it with an anorak-like thoroughness. Because of time constraints, I’m having to pick and choose what I attend. I’ve passed on the generic Chile and Argentina tastings this year, because I went to them last time round and they are areas I’m relatively strong and up to date in. Since I have a newspaper column to write every week (albeit a fairly modest one), supermarket tastings are important events. I was at the Tesco press tasting yesterday, and next week it’s Sainsbury, followed by Waitrose. Unfortunately I’m going to be in Japan for the M&S and Asda events, but I’ll be back for the Co-op. Today I spent an hour at the Vintage Roots tasting at the Landmark Hotel. I like Vintage Roots – they are a mail-order and internet retailer specializing in organic wines, and as well as being a friendly bunch they have some lovely wines. My favourites include the following. First, the biodynamic wines from VOE in Chile, with their rich, lush fruit and excellent balance. Next, the wonderfully expressive dry Chenin from Huet in the Loire. I was also very keen on the biodynamic wines from James Millton in New Zealand, especially the two Chardonnays and the Chenin Blanc. Some of the top end reds from Albert I Noya in Penedes stood out for their dense, tannic fruit and huge concentration. Sweet wine lovers should check out the complex, delicious Sauissignacs from Domaine Richard. Finally, there’s a brilliantly juicy biodynamic red from Domaine St Nicolas that Vintage Roots are selling under their own label. Full report to follow.

Monday 15th September
The good news is that after a whole series of hitches and hassles, we’ve finally exchanged on our house purchase and are due to complete in a week’s time. Then begins the enormous task of getting it ready to live in. But we’re just delighted to have finally got there. A bit of advice for anyone considering moving: don’t unless you have to. It’s incredibly stressful, and you end up shelling out serious sums of money to people who haven't earned it. (Like the government, estate agents and conveyancers.) I’ve been on a bit of a lucky run recently with wine, too. First a Ch Montus Madiran 1998 from Alain Brumont. Man, this is a beast of a wine – dense, tannic and spicy; a fearsome concoction that might be ready to drink in a decade. I love its challenging, savoury character, combined with the dense fruit. Serious stuff, and typically southwestern France in nature. The second wine was quite different: the Ch des Tours Reserve 2000 Côtes du Rhône. This is the essence of Grenache, with a sweet, voluptuous fruity nose that has a distinctive peppery edge. Is there a bit of cinnamon, too? This is a lovely wine that just screams Southern Rhône, and punching well above its weight as a Côtes du Rhône. Grenache is a funny grape, but this is what it does so well. Not a blockbuster, but a very authentic wine – this was the second of a sixpack I bought from a recent Bibendum sale. Another purchase from the Bibendum sale has also proved satisfying. This was the Les Demoiselles de Lavabre Pic St Loup 1999, a Languedoc wine. The tyranny of vintage charts is that if you researched Pic St Loup in 1999, you’d have found that it was a very difficult vintage in this region, and so you’d have steered clear. But this wine, without being profound, is really satisfying with midweight elegant black and berry fruits with a distinctive meaty, spicy twang. Tasted blind, I’ve had thought this was a good quality St Joseph from the Northern Rhône. It’s drinking very well now with a bit of steak. What more do you want from a wine?

Thursday 11 September
In everyone's thought's today is that fateful day two years ago. It seems that the world is now a different place to the way it was when we woke up on September 11th 2001. 

I often get asked what my favourite wine is. For a true geek, I suspect this is a question that’s almost impossible to answer. I give a stock answer – Côte Rôie from a good producer – although in truth, I have dozens of favourite wines. A lot depends on the mood I’m in, and what I choose to drink is a combination of this and, of course, availability. Availability isn’t great at the moment because my cellar is packed up in boxes waiting for our house move, but last night I managed to grab a bottle that satisfied my mood perfectly. It was the 1998 Glenguin Orange Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon. Glenguin is a boutique producer in Australia's Hunter Valley whose wines I first tasted when I was out there in March 2000. For this wine Robin Tedder looked to the relatively cool Orange region in the New South Wales Highlands. The first thing that hits you is the nose: it’s huge, with an aromatic blend of tar, fruit, balsamic vinegar, mint and menthol, together with some exotic spices. But it isn’t overly sweet or jammy. The palate is hugely concentrated, and while this can be an overrated virtue, it works here because the balance between the rich, spicy fruit, the oak, and the firm acidity works very well. In fact, the wine is just at that stage where the fruit has crept back a little to reveal the earthy, spicy non-fruit components – any longer and I think that the acid and tannins will take hold and the balance will be lost. I’ve had some of the older Lindemans Hunter River Shiraz bottlings were at 10 years this has happened: the fruit has receded and the acidity is left sticking out. But for now, this is a wonderfully characterful, savoury wine of real interest and appeal. It’s obviously Australian, but then you’d expect it to be – call it ‘terroir’ if you will.

Friday 5th September
It’s been a long week, dominated for me by sorting out the sticking points that have bedevilled our house purchase (regular blog readers will know that we are currently in rented accommodation). It’s not quite sorted, but it’s almost there, and barring last minute problems we’ll be exchanging next week. If you are thinking of moving, my advice is don’t unless you absolutely have to. It’s a surprisingly stressful business. On the wine front, I went to a really interesting tasting today. Organized by Tom Stevenson to mark the launch of Wine Report 1994 (a new book, but I can’t tell you about it just yet because its contents are embargoed until later in the month), it consisted of just 18 wines. But these wines were chosen for their weirdness, uniqueness, originality or some other such characteristic that set them apart. Weirdest wine of the tasting was undoubtedly Miyazaki Tsuno’s Campbell Early Rosé 2002, from Japan. It’s a vivid pink wine from the hybrid Campbell Early grape, and tastes remarkably like sweet strawberry jelly. There was also a Chinese wine that was a whole lot more serious, the Dragon Seal Syrah 2000 from Huailai, near the Great Wall. It’s savoury and spicy, with a distinctive minerality and just a touch of herbaceousness. Best value wine of the tasting was the lovely fresh Domaine Gerovassiliou 2002 from Greece, which Oddbins stocks at £6.49. This was quite delicious and brilliantly poised. I was bowled over by the Zind Z001 from Zind Humbrecht, an Alsace wine that’s been declassified to a Vin de Table because of its Chardonnay component. This was packed with complex herbal flavours: really intense and a snip at £13 (from Anthony Byrne, UK agent). It was cask fermented with natural yeasts. Another striking white was the Arbois Naturé from Frederic Lornet, which is intense, savoury and clean, made from the Savagnin grape. It’s not available in the UK, alas.

Monday 1st September
It’s the first day of September today, which I always think of as a month of transition: it has one foot in summer, another in Autumn. This morning, September is definitely showing its summer face, with bright blue skies and a very comfortable temperature. I see any warm sunny days we get from now on are seen as a sort of bonus—a freebie from nature. The September transition also acts as a reminder of how life is cyclical. One season follows another. Life begins, it ends and it starts again. The vine uses up the last of its energy to ripen this year’s crop, and then dies until next spring. In our modern society we have insulated ourselves from the changing seasons, largely to our detriment. Yes, we can get strawberries in February or tomatoes in December, but is it worth trading this year round sameness and endless availability for the natural wisdom of the changing seasons? Goodness, I’m beginning to sound like a hippy, or a disciple of Nicolas Joly. I’m neither, I assure you. It’s just that there’s a richness that comes from seasonal changes – each of them have their own characteristics and positive qualities – and our modern way of living tends to buffer these natural variations, homogenizing life into a year-round sameness. Fortunately, the wine world constantly reminds us of seasons. Unlike most other beverages, wine isn’t ‘manufactured’. It is fashioned from the starting materials – the grapes – which largely determine the potential quality of the final product in a way that the starting materials for other drinks almost always can’t match. The focus of fine wine is therefore very much on the vineyard, and not the winery, although it would be fairly barmy to discount the importance of competent, skilled winemaking in guiding the taste of the final product. This is reflected in the importance of vintages. Of course, wine branders and mass retailers would like to do away with vintages altogether because of their inconvenience. I suspect they’d quite like to cut the tie wine has with the soil altogether. The awkwardness of dealing with a product so close to nature is a problem for modern retailing. But it’s the heart of wine.

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