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Jamie's Blog

Tuesday Friday September 14th
In the light of the dreadful events that have taken place this week, it seems horribly trivial to be discussing wine. Like most readers, I suspect, I'm still in shock at the enormity of the evil terrorist act that shook the civilised world on Tuesday, and I'm reluctant to add to what has already been said. But not to continue as before would be some measure of victory to the enemies of civilization. 

Online retailer and wineanorak sponsor Bringmywine.com yesterday suspended trading indefinitely. The website is no more. It's a shame. A fortnight ago I tried many wines from the 1000-strong range at their press tasting, and I was impressed. Part of the CERT group (who among other things own Octavian wine storage), buyer Paul Liversedge and wine director Kim Tidy had put together an impressive range, and their website was among the most functional and cleverly thought out of all e-tailers. Of course, Bringmywine joins a pretty long list of e-commerce-only casualties, including Aussie big boys wineplanet and recently sold-off madaboutwine. Free-spending virginwine are still there, though, as are relative newcomers everywine.

Tuesday September 11th
I’ve been feeling a bit fragile this morning after a wonderful wine nut dinner last night. Location: Launceston Place (beautiful surroundings, nice food, Richard Branson and his acolytes on the table next to us). In attendance: Robert Helms, David Filkin, Emmanuel Petit (no, not the footballer), Robert Asher, journalist-turned-MP Sîon Simon and myself. It was a fun evening and the wines were pretty good. We began with a triplet from Alsace: the surprisingly good Hugel Tradition Riesling 1997 prepared the ground for a pair of Frédéric Emile Rieslings from Trimbach. The 1989 (an orphan rescued from a Wine Rack branch) was aromatic, evolved, ripe and multifacted; the 1995 was still quite youthful and austere, although very fine. Then on to the reds, kicking off with a tasty, rather sturdy Savigny-Beaune 1er Cru Les Lavières 1990 from Bouchard. Next, a trio of clarets. The 1990 Lafon Rochet was ripe and sweetly fruited, beginning to hollow just a touch; the 1989 Gressier Grand Poujeaux was much more sturdy, with firm, spicy tannins running the show. Both nice wines, but overshadowed by the superb 1982 Château Palmer that followed. This was still deep coloured and dense, a multilayered wine that’s only getting into its stride. And this is supposed to be a less-good Palmer! On to the Rhône. First stop is the 1995 Cornas Reynard from Allemand: a powerful, inky-dark beast with a pronounced pepperiness overlying the meaty, savoury fruit. Too young, but tasty. Rostaing’s ripe, dark, complex 1990 Côte Rôtie La Landonne followed, along with a mystery wine (the label was missing) that turned out to be the 1983 Chave Hermitage. This was savoury, evolved and showing some mushroomy, earthy complexity, and drank very well. Two stickies to complete the indulgence: a 1983 Climens was rich textured, complex, balanced and gorgeous; the 1997 Les Eyguets from Cuilleron was fragrant, aromatic and deliciously over the top. On the surprisingly hassle-free journey home, I felt a bit spoiled.

Sunday September 9th
A recent news feature left me shaking my head in disbelief. Franconian winemakers have been protesting about new EU regulations to allow anyone to use the distinctive ‘bocksbeutel’ bottles (picture here) to bottle their wine in. This raises a question: why on earth would anyone in their right mind want to put their wines in a bocksbeutel, except of course the Franconian producers who already use it? This bottle shape was apparently originally inspired by a goats scrotum, and according to the news article this bottle is a ‘recognized symbol of quality’. Ponder for a moment that the only example of a wine bottled in a bocksbeutel that most UK consumers will have seen is Sogrape’s Mateus Rosé, and you’ll see why I feel that this is a battle not worth fighting.

Wednesday September 5th
Berry Bros' new wine knowledge game is a brilliant way to waste 20 minutes or so. It’s not a complete doddle: you'll need to be a bit of an anorak to do well on it (I won’t tell you what score I got, although I’d be impressed by anyone scoring a great deal higher…). Beware: it took me a while to work out how to place the bottles in the bins. The game is against the clock, and I challenge you to play it without looking up any answers. If you’ve completed this and are looking for more distraction, why not try the Berry Bros quiz?

Sunday September 2nd
Last night was footy night: England v Germany. What a sensational game. Sitting in front of the telly, eating mixed tapas and cheering Sven Goran's men along, we finished off some open bottles: five England goals, five wines. First, and quite appropriately, was a German wine -- a Riesling Auslese 1994 from the famous Ürziger Würzgarten vineyard by Dr Hermann. Worryingly, Germany scored after just six minutes, only for England to equalize quickly. 1-1. This is another of the great German bargains from Majestic, retailing at a paltry £4.99, and it's a lovely drop. Buy by the case. Next up was the dregs of John Alban's 1997 Lorraine Syrah from California's Edna Valley. Kim Tidy of Bringmywine.com very kindly gave me this along with Alban's Reva Syrah (my favourite) and Viognier at last week's press tasting. They are all superb wines, among the finest that I've tried from the USA. 2-1 England, a classic strike from Stephen Gerrard. Just after half time, England went ahead 3-1, and we sipped some of the delicious and inexpensive Petit Chenin 2001 from Ken Forrester (Stellenbosch), a wine recommended by wineanorak reader Dirk Kind. With the fourth goal we broached a corked Rioja Crianza from the ubiquitous Campo Viejo. Ho hum. Remarkably, England scored a fifth -- it was a rout -- and we drank up the rest of the 1999 Beaujolais from Château Cambon. Made by Marcel Lapierre, it's one of those unfiltered, biodynamic, virtually sulfur-free wines. There's a strong warning on the back label to store at less than 14 °C, and this unstable wine has pretty much turned, three days after opening, although it's still drinkable in a rustic, volatile sort of way. A great evening.    

Wednesday August 29th
For the last few days I've been having a splendid break in the Peak District, sharing a cottage with some good friends of ours. The weather has been sensational (you know how we Brits love to talk about weather). As these chums appreciate good wine but are not wine-geek types, I've been drinking a fair bit of inexpensive wine. Now the chief sin of cheap wine is blandness: it's rare to find real character in sub-£5 wines; it's equally rare to find something disgusting. But this is a step forwards from not so long ago when buying cheapies often used to expose you to the real risk of turning up an absolute stinker. I remember the house wine at University (1986-1993, University of London, Royal Holloway College): it was a French Vin de Pays called 'Fleur du Lys', and both the red and white were almost undrinkable. You really had to grit your teeth to drink this stuff. I'll wager that the house wine in 2001 is some clean, fruity, forgettable Aussie number named 'Gum Tree Ridge' or 'Kangaroo Creek': much more palatable but instantly forgettable. Let's hope in another decade that cheap wines won't just be drinkable, but they'll have some individuality and character, too. Cheapies we've had this week include a couple of Hungarian whites (Budai Chardonnay 2000 and Pinot Gris 2000: crisp, acidic, fresh and quite classy), an Italian Muscat (Trulli 2000, Puglia: clean, grapey, spicy, short finish) and a South African pair (the bland Kumala Chardonnay and the slightly stinky but tasty Sainsbury own-label Pinotage). We've also drunk a ridiculously overoaked New Zealand Cabernet Merlot (Esk Valley 1999, Hawkes Bay), a pleasant, balanced Zinfandel (Kenwood Sonoma County 1996) and a herby, medium bodied new world Pinot Noir (Firesteed 1996, Oregon). Nothing great; not wines to ponder, but good drinking.

Friday August 24th
Yesterday I stumbled across a bizarre news story concerning wine on the BBC news archive. It was a report from November 2000 describing how the Indian state of Maharashtra is planning to set up a German wine village in an effort to increase foreign tourism. According to this report, ‘the village will take the form of a theme park, where wines will be served by Germans dressed in traditional costume.’ Can this be true? If so, why German wine? In India? It sounds like a joke to me. Intrigued, I set off in search of an explanation. The first lead I came to was an internet site called India Today News, which has a longer piece on this story (dated November 23rd). However, it is about as clear as mud and full of spelling errors. An article a week later in the Hindustan Times reveals more. It emerges that the intention is for this village to actually make wine, albeit from citrus fruits, of which they have an excess. In this article there’s no mention of people dressed up as Germans, so I suspect that the BBC news reporter got their wires a bit crossed. A bit of a shame.

Monday August 20th
Periodically we all need time to chill and reflect, and seven days in Menorca on a family holiday provided just that. It’s a beautiful island that hasn’t been unduly spoiled by an influx of largely British tourists, and where we were staying was set in a stunning natural location. In between playing on the beach with our boys (this was our first trip abroad with them) I spent time relaxing in the crystal clear blue waters of the Med thinking profound thoughts. Before kids, we used to get through a huge amount of reading material during a holiday: this has now changed. My reading was restricted to just one book – ‘Servants of the people', Andrew Rawnsley’s riveting, witty and delightfully gossipy inside story of New Labour. A really good read. I also packed two wine magazines: Wine and the Wine Spectator. These are publications I’ve previously been critical of, and I wanted to give them another chance. The verdicts? Well, the September issue of Wine is actually quite a good read. It really seems to have turned a bit of a corner, and there was plenty of interest for me here. Yes, it’s aimed slightly lower than Decanter in terms of wine expertise, but there seems to be more drive and imagination in this issue than I’ve seen for some time. As for the Wine Spectator, three things stood out. First, it’s terribly American and terribly ‘lifestyle’ led. Second, I couldn’t get over the number of Cigar adverts: almost as many as there were for wine. Third, all the editors and columnists are wearing suits and ties in their mugshots. It seems terribly formal. I wasn’t to impressed with the content, either. For this holiday, I decided to leave the laptop and notebooks at home, so no notes on any of the wines were taken. Just a few brief observations. First, where we were staying was a bit of a gastronomic desert. No worries, we were eating with the nippers most of the time, anyway. Among several enjoyable bottles of plonk, the Torres pairing of Vina Sol and Sangredetoro were reasonably tasty quaffs, and we even had one tasty, modern white Rioja. At one restaurant, three bottles of house wine all had a low level whiff of TCA: the culprit was our old friend the Altec agglomerate cork. Final observation: when you are sitting looking out over the sea on a perfect summer’s evening, even a fairly basic bottle of wine can provide a sublime experience.

Thursday August 9th
I was delighted to find out that Andrew Jefford said some nice things about wineanorak in his recent piece in the Evening Standard. A commendation from a wine writer of Andrew's repute is a real encouragement, and I'm extremely grateful for the plug. The article in question was a glowing write up of South Kensington wine shop La Vigneronne, who have featured heavily on these pages before, and it was there that yesterday evening I attended a tasting of Bourgeuil from a single property, Domaine des Chesnaies. It's not a well known property, but the superb, remarkably youthful 1989 and 1976, and the only-marginally-less-good 1969 were all impressive efforts, bristling with chalky, leafy minerality. Full write up to follow. I find myself increasingly drawn to lesser-known appellations and oddities for my vinous kicks. Is this a bad thing? On an entirely separate subject, Tuesday night was dinner with good friends Paul and Judith. Paul is, I suspect, like many consumers: he enjoys good wine, but it's not a hobby of his. He served two Wolf Blass reds that reminded me why Aussie wines have taken the UK market by storm. They were ripe, sweetly fruited, oaky, concentrated and actually fairly delicious. Without my 'serious wine geek' hat on I really enjoyed them, although I'd have probably marked them down in a tasting. I guess they were just right for the occasion.

Monday August 6th
Regulars here will know my opinions on the role of wine journalists. Praising the good is just half the job; it's also necessary to level criticism where it is merited. So it's good to see two prominent wine critics dishing out some (well earned?) rebukes. First of all, Jane MacQuitty lays into mail order giant Direct wines in her Saturday slot in The Times. I quote 'Direct wines is Britain’s biggest mail order wine merchant by far and you may never have heard of it. Yet 600,000 of you bought wine from this company at least once every six months in the past year'. She goes on, 'No one can deny that DW is a whizz at selling wine. As Adrian Bentham, the club’s wine director, reports in the Summer 2001 issue of Wine Times: "The hardest part is not selling these wines but getting enough volume in the first place." And there’s the rub. DW wines look the part but they don’t taste it. The company has to buy in such vast quantities that big bulk producers and their bland blends dominate its list, although you would not guess this from the labels or glowing descriptions. I worked through almost 150 DW wines on show at a recent tasting ....The majority, in my view, were overpriced dross. So next time you are sucked into reading a DW ad or mail shot, you will know what I would do — bin it.' Go for it, Jane! While I've had limited experience of Direct Wines (familiar to many as the Sunday Times Wine Club, among other incarnations), I've been unimpressed by what I've seen. I groan when I go round to someone's house to dinner, and they tell me that they but their wines from this lot. And to think that no less a luminary than Hugh Johnson is the president of this outfit. Doesn't reflect too well on him. The second swipe of the weekend comes from none other than Jancis Robinson, and this time she's shooting at a broader target: supermarkets (other than Waitrose) 'I despair of most British supermarkets and their approach to wine. Each month they come up with a list of special offers and promotions that is drearier than the last - because they are dominated by deals with a smaller and smaller number of bigger and bigger companies who pay the supermarkets to promote their brands.
But Waitrose is an exception …..It is all very well boasting shelves groaning with wines from x different countries, but if they have all been made using the same handful of buying criteria and winemaking advisors then the wines end up tasting dismally similar.'

Saturday August 4th
Some personal (and non-wine related) news. Yesterday was a significant day in the Goode family, as we attended a court hearing during which our two boys were legally adopted. They've been with us for more than a year, but legal processes often take a while -- anyway, we are now officially a family.  

Friday August 3rd
I have a theory. Most wine geeks, left unchecked, would buy far more wine than they actually need for their own consumption. We continually have to exercise self control in our purchasing to avoid filling our cellars up with more than we could ever get through. I know of fellow magpie-like wine nuts who, lacking the normal constraints of cellar space and limited budget, have amassed collections of several thousand bottles. So I feel I've done quite well restricting my personal stash to just 200 bottles, although I still get the occasional pangs of guilt about how much I spend on fermented grape juice. Last night popped into one of my favourite haunts, La Vigneronne in South Kensington, and try as I might I couldn't avoid walking out without buying another six bottles (it would have been more, but this is about as many as I can carry home). I did have an excuse though -- there's currently a sale on, with some interesting bottles at vastly reduced prices. The three wines I bought (two bottles of each) were the Domaine des Espiers Côtes du Rhône 1998 (rationale: earthy, savoury red makes great everyday drinking at under a fiver), Domaine La Rocalière Lirac Cuvée Presitge 1998 (rationale: full flavoured, complex varietal Mourvèdre with real character) and the Château Cambon Beaujolais 1999 (rationale: unfiltered, unchaptalised Beaujolais from Marcel Lapierre). I had the first bottle of the Cambon last night, and it was quite brilliant, and unlike any other Beaujolais I've ever tasted. Instead of Duboeuf-style bubblegum-laced primary fruit, there was a real depth of earthy flavour to this slightly cloudy wine. On the back there's a stern warning to store this below 14 °C: any higher, and I suspect it would be a microbiological time-bomb. Cracking value at less than a fiver. A 'real' wine that would even satisfy Patrick Matthews' stringent criteria.

Thursday August 2nd
Yesterday evening I raided the local Majestic store (Cross Deep, Twickenham) to see what they had been allocated from the Sensational Sonoma Parcel that Majestic have recently got their hands on. They had a reasonable selection: I bought the 1996 Carneros Chardonnay and Pinot Noir from Frexeinet-owned fizz specialists Gloria Ferrer, a Zinfandel from Kenwood, a Merlot from Rodney Strong and another Chardonnay from a producer I've never heard of. Normally I wouldn't go for these sorts of wines, but at about half normal retail price they'll be interesting 'educational' bottles. I cracked the Gloria Ferrer 1996 Carneros Chardonnay open last night: while still drinkable, it's beginning to oxidise and is definitely on its way out. Let's hope the others are better. You see, I have a bit of a problem with California wines. It's a schizophrenic sort of market. At the bottom end are the mass-market brands. Brands don't have to be bad, but the Californian ones generally are. In my experience the likes of Gallo, Glen Ellen, Mondavi's Woodbridge and the abysmal Blossom Hill offer poor value for money, and are beaten hands down by their counterparts from Australia. The only US brand I've ever had any warm feelings for is Brown Forman-owned Fetzer. And at the top end of the Californian market, while there are some impressive wines, the prices have become absurd. Even relatively middle-of-the road Napa and Sonoma Cabernets regularly sell for £30- £40 a bottle, and you won't really get anything interesting from California until you hit the mid-teens. I was recently impressed (in a Californian sort of way) by a couple of Peter Michael Chardonnays, but they cost £30-£40, the same price as top-notch premier cru white Burgundy. And why pay £25+ for the Au Bon Climat vineyard-designated Pinot Noirs (admittedly very tasty), when you can pick up some super red Burgs for the same money? I realise that the California wines aren't trying to imitate the old world classics, but for the most part they lack the track record, complexity and pedigree of wines they are competing with in terms of price.

Tuesday July 31st
For the benefit of non-Brits reading these pages, let me explain that one of the favourite pastimes in the UK is discussing the weather. When you are next faced with the task of making small talk with a Brit, just mention the weather and it should start a conversation that will keep going for at least 20 minutes. Possibly longer. And let me tell you, the last several days have been extremely warm and muggy in London. Although there’s been plenty of sunshine (a good thing; we don’t see it that often), there’s also been very high humidity (a bad thing). Because our climate is usually damp and cool, air conditioning is rare, so one thing wine geeks have to watch for is the air temperatures reached in some wine shops. During hot spells like this, they can rapidly reach wine-killing levels. So now’s a good time to stroll into your regular retail haunts, to see how warm they get. I wandered into a local branch of Oddbins today, and it was sweltering. I mentioned to the staff that these sorts of temperatures might be bad for the wine that was sitting there quietly baking on the shelves. The response? ‘We have a high turnover’ (not that high, considering some of the less popular wines can be sitting there for six months or more), ‘The wines will mature quicker’, and ‘It helps the wines breathe’. Ah, we have a comedian in the house. Hot shops that cook their wines are a big problem in the UK. If a wine is spending any time standing on the shelf in the summer in a non-air-conditioned shop, then it’s at risk. Look for the presence of electric fans by the till: if it’s too hot for humans, then it’s probably too hot for wines.

Saturday July 28th
You could grow old waiting for a Richmond train at Earls Court tube station. One of the frustrations of living out in the suburbs is that after a night out in London, you're forced to rely on the rather flaky  public transport system to get you home. Semi-inebriated, last night I waited approximately 37 minutes for a Richmond train, which in the end arrived just before midnight. That's a personal record. That aside, Friday night was a great success. Eight wine nuts gathered for a farewell bash to see off celebrated internet wine personality Yixin Ong, who is shortly leaving for California. In his time at Oxford, among various exceptional achievements Yixin recently managed to secure a UK agent for cult Rhône winemaker Eric Texier. On a muggy, sweaty evening at El Gauchos, we managed to get through 14 wines—I'll comment briefly on some of the highlights here. First off, the Grand Cru Mailly Champagne from Raymond Boulard. The second bottle of this I've had recently, it's fizz to put hairs on your chest, with striking, rich, yeasty character and a tiny touch of rusticity. I love it. Off next to Germany: the 1994 Donnhoff Oberhauser Leistenberg Riesling Kabinett is tasty, showing some age, while the 2000 Kees-Kieren Erdener Treppchen Riesling Kabinett has a wonderful ripe nose of tropical fruit and melon, a full palate and the weight of an Auslese. This is delicious stuff, and I stick around a while. No more whites, because El Gaucho is a vegetarians worst nightmare. The menu revolves around enormous pieces of Argentinean cow. I order a sirloin steak and get the largest piece of meat I've ever seen. Yixin orders a fillet steak with two fried eggs on top. On to the reds. Chilled down, the 1982 Samur Champigny from R-N Legrand is not an assertive wine, but it's full of leafy, pencil lead charm. Thanks to Tim York for sending this one for us to enjoy, even though he wasn't attending. Two contrasting efforts from the South of France followed. Vaquer's L'Exception 1998 is a Catalan beast; a wonderfully rich wine with a licqouricey, herby edge to the lush red berry fruit. Big. The Tempier Bandol La Tourtine 1997 is very different, with a lovely herby, leathery, animal-like nose and just a hint of volatility. Thoughtful. Cornas is supposed to be a hard, angular expression of Syrah, but Clape's 1996 is deep and rich, fuller than I expected. From the same grape, the 1997 Paloma Syrah (Spring Mountain, Napa Valley) is a concentrated, new world-style drop, with vanilla and minty notes joining the sweet fruit. Too much. Three sweeties to finish, but by this stage my palate is a little tired. A Scheurebe Beerenauslese from von Buhl is tasty but not top drawer; a Coteaux du Layon St Aubin 1997 from Cady is reliable and a tiny bit syrup; and finally the Banyuls Rimage 1995 from Clos de Paulliles is tasty, soft and a bit tawnyish. I have the left-overs from this in the fridge—think I'll try a glass now. And Yixin has promised he'll be back in December. 

Tuesday July 24th
Blind tasting is nasty business. It’s mean. It makes you look daft. But it’s good to be humbled once in a while. When I can manage it I try to attend anorak contributor Greg Sherwood’s blind tasting club, that meets on alternate Monday nights in Holland Park. The wines are usually pretty interesting, and the atmosphere relaxed and informal, but it still doesn’t stop me making a pillock of myself by missing their identities by a mile. Last night we started off with a Ch. Monterminod 1999 Roussette de Savoie. Crisp, slightly nutty and with no trace of oak, I was convinced it was a Chablis. Next up was a very disappointing Pouilly Fumé ‘Les Griottes’ from Jolivet: at least I got the grape right here (Sauvignon Blanc), even though I thought it was from the New World. The third wine I nailed correctly as a Riesling Kabinett from the Mosel (1998 Ürziger Würzgarten from Alfred Merkelbach) , but I incorrectly guessed the rather oaky Mersault 1999 from Francois Mikulsky to be a Chassagne Montrachet. Well I guess that’s not too bad, but there’s no excuse for the next one. Where did I place the 1996 Cantermerle? Not in the Haut-Medoc, where it’s one of the overperforming 5th growths, but in Chile. Chile? And I wasn’t the only one. Granted, this wasn’t showing very well at all, but with its forward blackcurrant fruit and dusty, spicy tannins, I thought it was an ambitious South American. Ironically, I correctly spotted the lush, ripe Escudo Rojo 1999 from Baron Phillipe de Rothschild as Chilean Cabernet blend. Next wine, a lovely 1995 Brunello from Sesti, I had down as an Italian Cabernet-based wine, and after this I really blew it by placing the Veenwouden Vivat Bacchus 1998 in Western Australia instead of Paarl. I won’t tell you where I placed the 1999 Noble One from De Bortoli…. It’s good to be humbled from time to time.

Sunday July 22nd
The Twickenham vineyard is taking shape nicely: yesterday I had an hour spare to plant some new vines, and the existing vines (now in their second year) are going well. Some of them are even sporting the odd bunch of grapes. Today was spent visiting my brother down in Winchester. A pleasant lunchtime Picpoul de Pinet had an odd, slightly musty note on the palate, even though the nose was fairly clean. Hmm. I didn't think this was a case of normal cork taint. Instead, I guessed (correctly) it to be the characteristic fault imparted by the use of agglomerate corks (the ones made out of lots of little bits of cork stuck together). Sabaté's 'Altec' is the most frequently encountered version of this stopper, and I reckon I can spot them blind with a very high success rate (I don't know whether other manufacturers produce them). Recent experiences with these agglomerates include in several of Alain Brumont's less expensive wines (taint rate 100%), and in a handful of bottles of JB Adam's Tokay Pinot Gris (taint rate 100%). The wines would have been pretty good but were tainted by the cork. Fancy using a stopper that slightly taints the wine 100% of the time. It makes you suspect that the people who use either have really shitty palates, or else they cynically calculate that none of the people drinking their wines will notice (or both, of course). And it's only the French that really use these: whereas in the UK consumers realise that plastic stoppers in less expensive wines are a good thing, the French consumers strongly resist this idea. As a result, a good proportion of the cheap wines on the French market have these agglomerate stoppers that impart mild taint to almost all the wines they seal. How odd. Rant over. For more on this subject, visit Robert Joseph's corkwatch site: despite the alarming web design, the idea behind the site is a good one, and it's developing into a useful resource.

Thursday July 19th 
Selling 'new tools for an ancient craft', the helpful people at Vinovation have a fascinating array of winemaking technologies on offer. The website urges wineries to ‘Visit Our Sebastopol Facility & Dial In Your Style!’ The procedures they offer include microoxygenation, which simulates some of the effects of barrel ageing without using barrels (fairly widely used and respectable these days), and alcohol fine-tuning. This is a reverse osmosis-based technology, where water and alcohol are taken out of the wine, some of the alcohol distilled off, and then the mixture is added back to the wine. It's a technique more commonly used to remove water from unfermented grape must, to enhance concentration. I quote, ‘Since even small differences in alcohol content can have a large impact on aroma and texture, Vinovation offers the capability of tasting while your wine is being treated, which allows the winemaker to examine wine characteristics at 0.1% intervals to choose the wine of the best balance for the desired style. These "sweet spot" tastings remove the guesswork from discovering the best alcohol level for your wine.’ But reverse osmosis is not the latest technology for removing alcohol: there’s a newer method that is supposed to strip less of the character out of the original wine -- the spinning cone column (see here, here and here). Apparently, this device is widely used in the Californian wine industry. (Want to know more? There's a very readable discussion of this issue in Patrick Matthews’ book Real wine.)

Wednesday July 18th
Torrential rain put paid to my plans to tend my vines, so I spent the evening with a bottle of Esperão 1990 rescued from amid the lager and branded plonk in a local branch of Threshers. This elderly Alentejo (Portugal) wine had obviously been languishing on the shelves for several years (current release is 1997), so there was a very high chance that it had been cooked. Still, a knockdown price of a fiver and a guarantee of money back if it was dead convinced me to take the plunge. My curiosity was rewarded. The wine was a healthy red/purple, with only a slight bricking around the rim. The nose was spicy and leathery, and the palate showed enough complexity to keep me interested. Even then Esperão were using American oak (I suspect this was pre-David Baverstock, although I'm not sure), and this has presumably helped to contribute the lovely spicy character this wine displays. I'm just amazed that it survived for all this time in such hostile conditions, and was actually quite a pleasant drink: I suspect the high acidity helped here. As an aside, the First Quench stores (Threshers, Bottoms Up and Wine Rack) all used to carry a reasonable selection of high end wines. In particular, they used to have a strong Alsace range. If you look hard enough, you'll probably the odd one sitting unloved in some dusty corner, often at very good prices. The big variable will be storage conditions, which are often dreadful. But armed with your 'wine buyers guarantee', it's worth taking a risk: some wines seem to survive better than others in less-than-ideal environments.

Monday July 16th
I was browsing through Malcom Gluck's Superplonk site, and came across a bizarre but entertaining article. It's a long (8200 words), rambling piece entitled Conflicts of Interest. What are they? Why are they relevant? Why am I having to spend so much time on this subject? What am I guilty of? If you get through this, then you might also be interested in checking out the articles that sparked this tirade off. I won't make any comment: you can decide for yourself who's right and who's wrong in this rather drawn out episode. It all began with a piece in the Times by Jane MacQuitty, Beware the rotten old wine racket, subtitled: 'There’s a lot of bad plonk out there, but cosy trade deals stop you reading about it'. This was followed up by a news piece in the same paper Rival critics round on cheap wine champion. Jane MacQuitty then had some more to say here. The Guardian (where Malcolm publishes his column) published a piece on the subject by Tim Atkin, and the readers' editor of the Guardian also made an official response. For an interesting commentary on conflicts of interest in wine writing, see Robert Parker’s stance here (scroll down to the final section, entitled 'Wine writers' ethics and competence'). I'm sure we've not heard the last on this issue. 

Friday July 13th
The term ‘organic’ used to be associated with people sporting baggy jumpers and poor personal hygiene, but these days it’s chic and mainstream. As you’d expect, the organic badge is a useful one when it comes to selling wine. But it’s difficult to get people past the ideology to see the real issues clearly. As part of my day job, I browse through a bunch of scientific journals, and today an article in Nature (March 22 issue), caught my eye. It was an opinion piece by well known Edinburgh-based plant scientist Tony Trewavas, entitled ‘Urban myths of organic farming’, and subtitled ‘Organic agriculture began as an ideology, but can it meet today’s needs?’ (There’s a copy of the text here.) Interestingly, a month later the same journal published a research article claiming to show that organic apples can be cheaper, tastier and better for the environment (a news article announcing this can be found here). Both pieces have attracted quite a bit of attention elsewhere: see, for example, the article by Henry Gee in the Guardian, or the discussion on a sustainability forum. As an aside, Trewavas mentions that traditional copper fungicides (e.g. Bordeaux mixture), sanctioned by organic and biodynamic farming (a bit of a cheat this), are to be banned in Europe after 2002. Where does this leave organic grape growers? Thanks to oidium (powdery mildew) it's just about impossible to grow grapes in northern Europe without some kind of antifungal treatment.

Thursday July 12th
First entry in my blog. Yesterday was the ‘Definitive Italian wine tasting’, held at the Galleria in Chelsea Village (this is what the Stamford Bridge home of Chelsea Football Club is known as these days). Part of the hotel that backs onto the football ground, it's a long gallery with windows along one side that look out directly onto the playing area behind one goal. It’s a regular location for wine trade bashes, but despite the impressive view over the pitch, as a keen soccer fan (Manchester City, BTW) I always feel a little uncomfortable with this place: it’s corporate football at its worse. Across the country the terraces have been pulled down and replaced with plush boxes. Corporate hospitality is squeezing out the real fans. Is there a parallel with wine? Do wealthy collectors buying by Parker ratings raise the price of some wines until they are out of reach of geeks? Undoubtedly. As an aside, at the Galleria I picked up a sample bottle kindly sent by his bubbliness Francis Boulard of Champagne Raymond Boulard, and hand delivered courtesy of John Holland of Champagne Magic. The irrepressible Francis can often be spotted on the
UK wine forum, where his eccentric but witty posts have often brightened up an otherwise dull day. I look forward to tasting his wine. 

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