Exploring the beauty of the Oregon coast, staying at the spectacular Headlands Coastal Lodge & Spa

Next time you are visiting Willamette Valley wine country, add an extra day onto your schedule, brave the tsunami warnings and head to the Oregon coast. It is beautiful. This was my second visit: last time I stayed in Cannon Beach, which was lovely. But this visit, to Pacific City, was even better, in large part because of where I stayed.

The enormous sand dune, Cape Kiwanda, Pacific City

Headlands Coastal Lodge & Spa is stunning. This sounds like hyperbole, but there’s no other word for it. It’s not cheap (my friend had arranged a media rate, which eased some of the pain), but it’s one of the best places I’ve stayed. There’s an unspoiled wildness about the beach at Pacific City, and Headlands is right on it, but sympathetically and stylishly integrated into the side of a hill. Staying here, you really feel that you are camping wild on the beach, but in discrete luxury. The area here is called Cape Kiwanda, and right next to the hotel there’s a huge sand dune. The steep climb is worth it, as the view from the top is something else.

This is the view from one of the rooms

So, eating and drinking? The restaurant at Headlands is Meridian, and we had dinner here. It has a nice menu of seasonal, locally sourced dishes. We ate simply but well, and chose two very impressive Oregon wines.

Rose Rock is the newer property from Domaine Drouhin Oregon, and the Chardonnay is really impressive. Taut with plenty of flavour.

It’s been a while since I tried Brick House’s Gamay – this is a biodynamic estate in Ribbon Ridge and they’re Gamay specialists. This was really good.


Honest opinions on big brand wines (1) Apothic Inferno

Wine critics rarely talk about the most popular wines. I thought it would be interesting to do a thorough, honest review of a range of big brand wines, so I went and bought 9 bottles from various supermarkets and tasted them on camera.

I began with a rather controversial wine: the Apothic Inferno, which is a Californian wine aged in used Bourbon Barrels. Watch the video to see what I made of it, but if you haven’t got a few minutes spare, here’s my review below.

Apothic Inferno 2016 California
16% alcohol. This is aged for 60 days in whiskey barrels. It has aromas of cedar, vanilla and spice, alongside sweet black fruits. The palate is rich and ripe, and very smooth, with sweet fruit supplemented by barrel notes of vanilla, old wood and maple syrup. The finish is woody and spicy. This is a very distinctive wine, but the sweet fruit, the alcohol and the wood all combine very well, to give a smooth, harmonious flavour that will appeal to a lot of people. It’s not totally dry, either, and the sweetness smooths over any cracks quite nicely. It’s not the future of wine, but products like these have their place, especially when they are well made, like this one is. 86/100


Château Brown 2004

I’ve just been reunited with some of my wine. When I got divorced a few years back, I had left some wine at my ex-house. My ex-wife’s new partner kindly relocated this to one of his storage units (she’s done well second time round, he’s a nice guy). He recently returned the wine to me, so I opened one of the bottles (there were more than I thought, and I’d forgotten about them, so it was quite a bonus). It was fabulous, and it was also very exciting to find out that the storage conditions of the wine have been good!

Château Brown 2004 Pessac-Léognan, Bordeaux
This shows why Bordeaux is so highly regarded. It’s sleek, restrained and brooding on the nose with lovely blackcurrant fruit supported by fine gravelly hints, and a bit of chalk. The palate is smooth and seamless, with more blackcurrant, a hint of cherry, and a bit of chalk and plum on the finish. Drinking perfectly now, with lovely sweet fruit and just the right amount of melted, resolved tannin to balance it. It’s why we cellar Bordeaux. I have another six bottles of this left, and it’s time to start working through them. 94/100

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In the Okanagan judging the Lieutenant Governor's Awards

I’m in Canada’s Okanagan Valley judging the BC Lieutenant Governor’s Awards. We’re assessing 750 wines from the province over two days. It’s really nice to hang here with a great group of Canadian judges. Of these wines, around 200 got bronze, 100 silver and 60 golds. We’re currently judging the gold medal wines to find the platinums.

Iain Philip

Brad Royale

Matt Landry

Sid Cross

Rhys Pender and bear

DJ Kearney

Sebastian Le Goff


In the vineyards of Southern California, searching for forgotten gems with Abe Schoener


So we drove south from Los Angeles, to check on a couple of special old vineyards. I was with Abe Schoener and Christina Rasmussen, who’s spending vintage at his new urban winery next to the LA river.

Abe Schoener

First stop was an unusual location for a vineyard. At the intersection of a couple of large highways, and surrounded by suburban residential developments, there are about 300 acres of vines. This is the Lopez vineyard owned by the Galleano family, and it is entirely planted to own-rooted Zinfandel bush vines, who next year will turn 100.

When Lopez was planted, this whole area – the Cucamonga Valley, some 50 miles east of LA – would have been dominated by vineyards. Most have yielded to development, but here, with its sandy soils, Lopez remains. The vines are dry-grown, and their sprawling canopies yield small quantities of intense fruit.

Christina checks on the sugar levels using a refractometer

Deep sandy soils


This is the first time that Abe has managed to get fruit from this vineyard. He’ll take all he can: he’s clearly thrilled by the prospect. We check the grapes: they’re not ready yet, and maturity is arriving nice and slowly.

A beautiful wild vineyard

The next stop is a secret location. This vineyard is small, around 70 years old, and is quite wild. Planted with a range of varieties (unknown) and dry grown, this is very much an Abe vineyard. Again, it’s his first year with this block, and the owner is very private, hence my discretion in not identifying it. The grapes are a long way from maturity. Yields will be tiny this year, but with a little bit of work they should be a bit more productive next vintage.

People like Abe deserve a lot of recognition for their work in trying to champion, and thus preserve, the viticultural heritage of California. Quite a bit remains, and the unfashionable regions and grape varieties can make some amazing wines in the right hands.

See also: In an urban winery in Los Angeles


Back at Brat, one of London's top restaurants


Revisited Brat, this time for lunch. Love this place.

Small leeks

Chopped egg salad and bottarga

Soused sardines

Blood pudding, beans and figs

Roasted greens

Smoked potatoes


We had two bottles – Telmo’s fab Gaba do Xil Godello, and this – the amazing Lousas from Envinate, a really elegant, fragrant, ethereal wine

Six Kiwi Pinot Noirs

While I was in Tokyo last week I did a seminar on New Zealand Pinot Noir with Akihiko Yamamoto, a well-known local wine writer. After a presentation on New Zealand’s various wine regions, we discussed these wines with the group, and he asked me questions about how they were made, how this might affect the flavour, and also my general impressions on the wines. These are my notes.

Folium Pinot Noir 2016 Marlborough, New Zealand
Bright and sappy with nice green hints as well as lovely bright cherry fruit, with good acidity. It’s really fresh and vivid, with attractive red fruits and some herby hints. Satisfying stuff. 92/100

Felton Road Pinot Noir Bannockburn 2016 Central Otago, New Zealand
Lovely sweet aromas here of red cherries and spice with a floral lift. The palate is elegant, supple, has some fine green notes, and lovely expressive, restrained red cherry fruit with some nice spicy framing. Not at all over-extracted. Has lovely balance and elegance with great purity and transparency. 94/100

Prophet’s Rock Home Vineyard Pinot Noir 2015 Central Otago, New Zealand
Ripe and concentrated with a little bit of lift bringing out the floral red and black fruit aromas. There’s a smoothness and elegance on the palate, but also a distinctive acid line keeping things fresh. Ripe black cherry and berry fruits, with some grip on the finish. 94/100

Rippon Mature Vine Pinot Noir Wanaka 2014 Central Otago, New Zealand
This is taut and fine, with bright red cherry fruits and nice structure. Precise and well defined with harmony between all the elements: good acidity, decent structure and focused red berry and cherry fruits. Restrained and understated. Compact and long, this has great potential. 95/100

Black Estate Home Pinot Noir 2016 North Canterbury, New Zealand
Lighter in colour, this has a beautifully aromatic nose showing dried herbs, some hay, red cherries and spice. The palate is open and expressive with juicy red cherry fruit, layered acidity and some herbs and spices on the finish. Lively and expressive with some nice savoury character and some green notes well integrated with the fruit. 94/100

Ata Rangi Crimson Pinot Noir 2017 Martinborough, New Zealand
Lovely aromatics here: there’s a hint of cedar spice underneath floral red cherry fruit. The palate is expressive and juicy with bright, vivid cherry and plum fruit. A really drinkable wine, with some grip and acidity under the sweet fruit. 93/100


Okanagan (5) Anthony Buchanan Wines

Anthony Buchanan (above) is the winemaker at Desert Hills, but since 2014 he’s been making wines under his own label, Anthony Buchanan Wines. He began in 2014 with 56 cases of Pinot Noir, and last vintage (2018) he was up to 1000 cases. In 2019, he’ll be doing 1500 cases, with a range of six wines.

‘The whole concept was that I wanted to make wines I could drink myself,’ he says. He’s been around in the Okanagan a while: his first vintage here was 2007 when he worked at highly-regarded winery Blue Mountain.

He’s been progressing to using lower levels of sulphites in the wines. He’d always been taught to add 30 ppm of SO2 at grape reception, and to add enzymes, and now he’s moved away from this approach.

Sourcing grapes can be a challenge in the region, but he’s been pretty successful, helped by the fact that his production is quite small. ‘I’ve built up some good relationships in the region,’ he says, ‘and I’ve just leased 10 acres in the Similkameen. There he will plant Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Blaufrankisch. ‘I’d like to do a small lot every year of something totally unique and have fun with it.’

Anthony Buchanan

Anthony Buchanan Wild Ferment Method Ancestrale 2018 Okanagan, Canada
76% Chardonnay, 24% Pinot Gris. This comes from Vantage Point in Keledon. The plan was not to disgorge this but it had 5.5 bars pressure and they ended up having too. It too three long days to disgorge 90 cases. Bone dry and precise with pure citrus fruit. Linear with lovely citrus fruit and some pear richness, and a bit of grapiness. Clean and pristine with lovely acidity. Has some seriousness. 90/100

Anthony Buchanan Lawson Pinot Blanc 2017 Okanagan, Canada
The grapes come from Kelowna. Stainless steel ferment and then goes to third-use barrels. Lovely weight: has tangerins and pear fruit with some brightness. Pure, with a hint of waxiness. Quite fine. 90/100

Anthony Buchanan Lawson Pinot Blanc 2018 Okanagan, Canada
Fruit from Black Sage Bench this year. 100% barrel fermented with 20% new oak. Natural malolactic, and unfined and unfiltered. Lovely texture to this wine, which shows some fine spiciness and just a touch of oak. Notes of white peach and citrus with real harmony on the palate. 92/100

Anthony Buchanan Semillon 2018 Okanagan, Canada
Old vines from the Golden Mile Bench. Barrel fermented. This has a lovely crystalline character, combining citrus fruit and some toast and spice. Very bright and detailed with a hint of mandarin. Fine and expressive with a touch of honey. 93/100

Anthony Buchanan RMG Orange 2017 Okanagan, Canada
A blend of Riesling, Müller Thurgau and Gewurztraminer that spends three weeks on skins with no additions. Aged in neutral and second fill barrels. Lovely weight and structure here with fresh white peach fruit, some nuts and a bit of spice. There’s a hint of mint, too. Nice grippy structure. Fresh, detailed and delicious. Stylish stuff. 92/100

Anthony Buchanan Ashlyn Pinot Noir 2017 Similkameen, Canada
This is 777 clone from the Similkameen, 11 year old vines. 12% stems and 40% new oak. This has a lovely savoury, structural edge to the bright cherry and plum fruit, with nice brightness. Shows good structure with a hint of pepper. Quite serious. Focused and tight. 94/100

Anthony Buchanan Syrah Whole Cluster Ferment 2017 Okanagan, Canada
Whole cluster Syrah from the Black Sage Bench, food trodden. 2% Viognier cofermented. This is so fresh and peppery. It’s fleshy but fine with lovely depth, but also nice bright peppery fruit, showing bright cherries. Stunning texture and purity here. 95/100

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Two smart Kiwi reds: Smith & Sheth and Elephant Hill

Because of the success of Sauvignon Blanc, many people think of New Zealand as a white wine country. And if they’ve heard of New Zealand red wines, it’s usually Pinot Noir – the country’s second most widely planted grape variety, and a success story in its own right. But don’t forget about Hawke’s Bay, which until the flourishing of Marlborough in the late 1980s and 1990s, was the largest wine region in New Zealand. I spent some time there last year, and came away enthused. Here are a couple of lovely reds from the Gimblett Gravels district in the Bay, which enjoys a slightly warmer microclimate.

Elephant Hill Stone Syrah 2017 Hawke’s Bay, New Zealand
13% alcohol. This Syrah comes from the Gimblett Gravels and spent two years in French oak barrels (40% new). It’s a very sleek, polished wine showing ripe black cherry and blackberry fruit, with some hints of liquorice, tar and cedar. There’s a bit of black pepper, but the smooth, ripe fruit, coupled with some vanilla sweetness from the oak, leads the flavour profile. But despite the seductive side, there’s also a nice meaty savouriness. A very stylish, polished expression of Hawke’s Bay Syrah. 94/100

Smith & Sheth Cru Cantera 2017 Hawke’s Bay, New Zealand
13% alcohol. This is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Tempranillo. Deep coloured, this is a fresh, floral, brooding red with flavours of blackcurrant, black cherry and plum fruit, with a nice smooth mouthfeel, firm but fine tannins, and a woody vanilla edge from the oak. The creamy vanilla character dominates the finish a bit at the moment, but this is a very stylish wine that shows great concentration and fruit intensity, and it should age well. New Zealand does Rioja crossed with Bordeaux. 93/100

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The importance of adversity


As I write, I’m watching a documentary titled The Edge, on a plane. It’s about the quest of the England cricket team to reach world number one ranking, from an all-time low of seventh. Under the leadership of ex-Zimbabwe star Andy Flower, they managed this feat. One of the pivotal moments was when the team were taken – just before the 2010/11 Ashes series in Australia – on a training camp to the Bavarian woods. It looked pretty brutal.

In slushy snow they were forced to endure a military-style regime of treks, endurance testing, pack-bearing runs, sleep deprivation and relentless physical endeavour. But this ‘pointless pain’ – it seemed far-removed from the goal of actually playing better cricket – brought the side together emotionally and mentally. It taught them something valuable, and forged a unity and toughness that ultimately helped them to succeed in their goal. Talent alone isn’t enough in a team sport, even a strange team sport like cricket where individuals often have to perform alone in pursuit of team success.

It made me think about the important role of adversity in forging character, and consequently success. Most of the time, we try to avoid adversity: it would be a strange person indeed who actually sought it out. But, unless we are particularly good at avoiding it, and a little lucky, adversity will appear in our lives uninvited. Then we should recognize that contrary to all appearances, it can be our friend.

One of the problems we face is that often, as we achieve some success in life, and if we are smart and resourceful, then we become quite good at avoiding adversity. But this is not entirely a positive thing, although it certainly seems like it at the time. Unless our journey involves a few hill climbs, long days on the path, a bit of challenging weather, and the odd wrong turn, then we become soft, entitled and we lose our edge.

We don’t want to achieve all our dreams. They need to remain a little out of reach, so that we keep pressing forward. We have small victories along the way, but always we are pressing forward, and always we are having to struggle a little, and face a degree of adversity. Recognizing this sets us free to enjoy the journey, and if we are smart, we realize that it is all about the journey, and we begin to live in the moment more, we become nicer people, and we experience (from time to time) true fulfilment and happiness. People who are resourced, lucky and smart enough to remove all adversity from their lives often become soft, selfish and uninteresting, and unfulfilled and unhappy on a deep level.

So, I’m beginning to think this is true: comfort seems our friend, but it’s actually an untrustworthy acquaintance. Is there a parallel in wine? Perhaps it’s the fact that if a vine is well nourished and given all the nutrients and water that it needs, it will not make grapes that then produce interesting wine.