An amazing fine wine lunch at Chez Bruce

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This was one of the most remarkable lunches I’ve experienced – and I’ve been to quite a few special lunches. The food, company and wines were all just perfect. The pace was ideal, too: there was no need to rush these special bottles: we started at 1215 and finished at 1730.

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Keith and Greg

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Jim and NeilOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Neleen and Nigel

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Nicolette and Keith

It was hosted by Keith Prothero, whose cellar we were depleting, and guest of honour was Nicolette Waterford, who was over from South Africa on business. Also present: Nigel Platts-Martin, Neleen Strauss, Greg Sherwood, Christelle Guibert, Neil Beckett and Jim Budd. It’s an ideal number for a lunch, because you get a decent pour from each bottle, and it’s possible all to take part in the same conversation over the table.

Chez Bruce was at it’s usual best, and sommelier Sara Bachiorri did a great job with the wines. The conversation was ALL off the record, which is a good thing for all concerned.

Wines like these deserve to be drunk in a setting like this. They shouldn’t just be tasted.

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Champagne Bollinger RD 1996 France (magnum)
This was the 2011 disgorgement. So tight, linear and fine with trademark 1996 acidity that, in this case, is well integrated. Lemony, linear and precise with such purity. This will probably be immortal, especially in magnum. 94/100

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Coche-Dury Meursault 2004 Burgundy, France
Village level, but exceptional. So pure, fine, elegant and linear with lemony fruit, distinct but subtle mineral/matchstick hints and a bit of spiciness. Everything just works together so perfectly, it’s a really lovely beguiling wine. 96/100

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Domaine Leflaive Chevalier Montrachet Grand Cru 2008 Burgundy, France
Creamy, slightly buttery nose with lovely pear and white peach fruit. Soft textured and concentrated, but there’s a bit of minerally freshness on the finish. 93/100

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Bonneau du Martray Corton Charlemagne Grand Cru 2007 Burgundy, France
Lovely taut, lemony and mineral nose. Real finesse and purity. Detail and minerality on the palate with fine acidity and lovely precision. A very fine, linear wine. 95/100

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Armand Rousseau Chambertin Grand Cru 2001 Burgundy, France
This is incredibly beautiful. Textured, elegant and pure with refined, seductive red cherry fruit and a bit of meatiness. Lovely finesse and purity, with some subtle leafy greenness in the background. Such a pure wine. 97/100

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Jacques-Frédéric Mugnier Musigny Grand Cru 2001 Burgundy, France
Subtle, textured and warm with fine red cherry fruit and some plumminess. Silky with a bit of fine spiciness and elegant sweet fruit. Lovely elegance here. 95/100

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Domaine Dujac Clos St Denis Grand Cru 2001 Burgundy, France
A wine that combines power with finesse. Taut with lovely cherry and raspberry fruit, showing nice structure and density. Slightly stern and intellectual: a tutorial rather than a date. 95/100

Château La Mission Haut Brion 1978 Graves, Bordeaux, FranceElegant, sweet and pure, with blackcurrant bud, spice and some subtle herbal notes. Mouthfilling, silky and with a fine-grained structure, this is a mature wine with a fine, sweet personality. Lovely finesse here. 96/100

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Château Haut Brion 1982 Graves, Bordeaux, France
Warm, sweet and ripe with smooth cherries, plums and blackberries. Quite smooth and yet there’s some intensity here, as well as some grip. A very nice, mature wine, although it wasn’t quite as compelling as we were expecting it to be. 94/100

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Château Mouton Rothschild 1986 Bordeaux, France
This was served blind. Aromatic, pure, fine red cherry fruit core, with lovely freshness and precision. It’s quite elegant, and it tastes much younger than it actually is. Ageing beautifully. I had it down as right bank rather than left, which tells you a bit about the personality of this amazing wine. 96/100

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Marques de Murrieta Castillo Ygay 1942 Rioja, Spain
This was served blind. It’s mature, malty, sweet and bold with a warmth to the sweet fruit, yet it’s elegant and quite beautiful. We had no idea of its age: for an 73 year old wine, this is astonishing. So complete, elegant and assured, with all the flavours beautifully integrated, and still with a sweet core of fruit. 95/100

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Château d’Yquem 1986 Sauternes, Bordeaux, France
I just love this wine. Stylish, silky, pure and sweet with viscous, creamy texture and complex pear, peach and apricot fruit with some savoury waxy notes. Complex and beautiful. 96/100

Domaine des Aubuisières Le Marigny Selection de Grains Nobiles Vouvray Moelleux 1989 Loire, France
A beautiful Vouvray that will probably outlive me. Complex lemon, apricot and marmalade notes with powerful acidity and incredible vitality. Sweet but not too sweet. Fabulous. 95/100

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Crab tartlet with thinly sliced scallop salad, bisque vinaigrette and chives

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Rare roast venison loin with rocket, truffle, coolea and hazelnuts

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Roast veal and sweetbread with lyonnaise fondant potato and wild mushrooms

The perfect wine critic, and assigning confidence to scores

brunellotasting

Yesterday I tasted 62 different Brunellos from the 2010 vintage. I wrote short tasting notes, and gave each wine a score.

But it’s quite a task tasting 62 wines like this together in a short space of time. Do I think I got all the wines right? And how much confidence do I have in my scores? These are important questions for wine writers, because critics do this sort of thing all the time. Tasting notes and scores like these are their currency. It’s what they are selling. If you are an important enough critic, people will use these scores to sell bottles. Collectors will use them as the basis of dropping serious $$$ on wines that they haven’t tasted.

So, to answer my questions. No, I think I will have overrated some wines and underrated others. But tastings like this give me a chance to get a broad perspective. I’d be much more confident of my verdicts if I’d spent more time with each wine – say, opening two or three of them and spending the evening with them, or sitting down with flights of five or six at a time, and spending much longer critiquing each. So, as with many things in life, there’s a trade off between volume and quality. Interestingly, I’m much more confident of some of these instant verdicts than others.

This raises an interesting broader question: what would the perfect wine critic look like?
In many areas of professional endeavour we are used to the idea that there are objective measures of performance, and that those who perform to higher standards get rewarded and recognized over those who exhibit less competence. Is this also true of wine tasting?

There are two elements to the performance of a wine critic, which can be separated out, and in my opinion only one of these is measurable.

The first is in terms of raw tasting ability, and this would be fairly straightforward to measure by sensory scientists, although I can think of precisely zero critics who would allow their palates to be assessed like this. How well do a critic’s tasting faculties work? Are they sensitive or insensitive to smells and tastes? Faced with a large set of wines including duplicates, will they pick the duplicates out? Faced with repeated sets of wines, will they be consistent in their scoring? And let’s bring memory into this: how good are they at recognizing wines when they are tasting double blind?

It’s interesting that some of the leading critics have allowed stories to circulate that suggest that they, among all critics, are particularly gifted. They infer that nature has bestowed on them rare and unusual powers in the realms of taste and smell. But this can be measured.

The second element can’t be measured, but is perhaps even more important, and it’s because of this there can be no such thing as a perfect critic. It’s the exercising of the critical faculty: deciding which wines are better than others. It’s ‘taste’ as in aesthetic appraisal. The idea that there is one correct way to read or assess a wine, and that as critics get better at their job they converge on this correct assessment, is false. There’s a level at which wines can be thought of as good or bad, but this is a very basic level of assessment. Beyond this, critics make style choices, and even highly competent critics are likely to disagree on many wines. There’s room for a plurality of opinions, and if we are to use critics we need to choose which ones align more closely to our own tastes.

Five nice Rhône wines

delas saint esprit

Some notes on five Rhône wines that I selected for last week’s Côtes du Rhône wines Google hangout. It was fun trying these with fellow bloggers, and – remarkably – the hangout went through with no technical issues at all! If you have 1 h 17 min spare you can watch the whole thing here, although I believe and edited highlights version will soon be available. [Disclosure: I was paid to host the hangout, but these are my honest opinions on the wines.]

Delas Frères St Esprit 2012 Côtes du Rhône, France
Rich, sweet and meaty with lovely rounded berry and black fruits. Warm with a hint of olive and pepper. This is a ripe, Syrah-dominant wine and it shows lovely richness. 90/100 (£9.99 Majestic)

chaume arnaud

Domaine Arnaud Chaume Côtes du Rhône 2012 France
Chocolatey, rich and dense with spicy fruit and notes of herbs. Lovely blackberry fruit with some peppery characters and a hint of aniseed. A full bodied wine with a savoury edge to it. 91/100 (£12.25 Berry Bros & Rudd)

bouquet des garrigues

Le Clos de Caillou Le Bouquet des Garrigues Côtes du Rhône 2012 France
Floral, aromatic and warm with berry and cherry fruit. It’s silky, pure and elegant with lovely focus and some peppery notes and a touch of pot pourri. Yes, the alcohol is evident, but this is a really impressive wine. 93/100 (£16.75 H2Vin)

vernay sainte agathe

Domaine Georges Vernay Côtes du Rhône Sainte-Agathe 2012 France
This is a varietal Syrah from the northern Rhône, and it’s great. Notes of olives, black pepper, grilled meat and even violets. Sweet palate is smooth and ripe with lovely blackberry fruit. So delicious and fine. Warm and ripe but it has a silkiness to it. 93/100 (£19.95 Berry Bros & Rudd)

coudoulet beaucastel

Coudoulet de Beaucastel 2012 Côtes du Rhône, France
Spicy and grippy with lovely peppery black fruits. Smooth, balanced and powerful with lovely plums and berries, and some grippy structure. A lovely wine. 92/100 (£16.63 The Little Big Wine Company)

Penfolds' Bin Series wines

penfolds bin series

So, some tasting notes of the Bin Series wines from celebrity Australian producer Penfolds. Penfolds is a great wine brand, and lately they’ve been managing it with the focus and skill of a top Champagne house. Normally, it’s just the Champagne guys who get marketing and brand building in the wine world, but Penfolds clearly understand how to make it work.

The principles? Aim to make yours a luxury brand. Target high net worth individuals. Make your wine desirable and expensive: if you get it right it becomes a Veblen good and increasing the price then increases demand. Rely on blending – across vineyards, across regions, across varieties: this makes your brand scaleable.

Present your products to journalists and gatekeepers in controlled conditions, preferably where you have your brand ambassador, who ideally is a winemaker, present to talk people through the tasting. The product must always be sampled in controlled conditions, and keep the brand sceptics away. Give preferential treatment to journalists who are favourable to your brand and they will become brand champions.

When I was starting out in the wine world, I used to love these wines. I still admire them, but now they’re just too expensive for what they are, and as you’ll see from my notes I rate some of these wines quite highly, so you can deduce from this something about the Penfolds pricing strategy.

Penfolds Bin 138 2011
A blend of Shiraz, Grenache and Mataro. Ripe, sweet black fruits with some spiciness. Nice structure. Smooth and sweet, and a bit grainy. 90/100

Penfolds Bin 138 2012
Sweet, ripe, spicy blackberry and black cherry fruit with a hint of tar. The palate is ripe and supple with some creamy, spicy underpinnings and a bit of grippy tannin. Ripe but still has definition. Currently a little one-dimensional but nicely balanced and may develop. 91/100

Penfolds Bin 28 Kalimna Shiraz 2010
Sweet, war, spicy black fruits nose. Supple and lush, yet well defined black cherry and blackberry fruit. Very attractive with lovely balance. 92/100

Penfolds Bin 150 Marananga Shiraz 2010
Very rich, sweet blackberry fruit nose with some spice and tar notes. Ripe and intense. Smooth, dense, sleek palate is lush but not jammy with lovely balance. Smooth textured and welldefined with great concentration, finishing spicy. 94/100

Penfolds Bin 389 Cabernet Shiraz 2010
Lovely intense blackcurrant fruit nose. Gravelly, rich and intense with lovely aromatics. The palate has great definition and good structure. Ripe with lovely density and fine-grained but firm tannins. A really lovely wine. 95/100

penfolds bin 707

Penfolds Bin 707 2010
Wonderfully intense blackcurrant and spice nose. The palate has great concentration and density with sweet blackcurrant fruit and a warm spiciness. Very ripe and intense but with good structure, too. Such a lovely wine. 96/100

penfolds grange

Penfolds Grange 2008
Very ripe, sweet, intense blackberry and blackcurrant fruit nose. Sweet, brooding and with great definition. The palate is super-concentrated with bold, sweet fruit – it’s really full and intense. Superbly structured with warm, spicy, woody notes under the ripe dark fruits. Lovely structure and complexity. It’s really fine but needs time to shed its primary fruit state. 96/100

Penfolds Magill Estate 2010
Ripe, sweet, intense nose of blackcurrant, spice and hints of tar. The palate is dense and structured with a savoury, spicy edge to the sweet, ripe, black fruits. Nice fresh fruit but it’s a bit angular and oaky at the moment. 92/100

Penfolds St Henri Shiraz 2009
Very open with sweet black cherry and plum fruit. Lush, fine and fresh with some blackcurrant notes too. Supple fruit dominated palate with nice blackcurrant and plum notes. Fine and fresh. 93/100

Find these wines with wine-searcher.com

Burgundy Lunch at the Clove Club with Noble Rot

leroy aligote

Sunday lunch doesn’t come much better than this. It was a chance to drink some lovely Burgundies with epic food from one of London’s most talked about restaurants, the Clove Club  in Shoreditch, at an event organized by hipster wine magazine Noble Rot.

It was an interesting crowd, too – a mix of Noble Rot readers and Clove Club regulars. My dining companions were super nice and easy to talk to, and because we were all here with a common purpose, and the food and wine was so good, the atmosphere was great.

This was my first visit to the Clove Club – I know, I know, I should have been lots of times before – and so I was really curious about the food. It’s one of the few restaurants that’s brave enough to offer a no choice menu: for dinner, you get five courses for £55, with optional wine pairing for another £45. Lunch gives you the option of three courses (£35) or five. This is the way high end restaurants should work, if their customers trust them enough.
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The food was beautifully done – creative, inventive, not over busy, and well matched to the wines. The most interesting dish was the raw orkney scallop, hazelnut, sudachi and perigord truffle (above), which didn’t look too good (raw mushrooms aren’t pretty, alas), but it tasted amazing.

Honorary mentions must go to the first and last of the food items – buttermilk fried chicken and pine salt (amazing texture) and the three peated barley cakes (remarkable, and a perfect match for islay whisky I suspect).

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Dry aged wood pigeon with wild plum and salted cherry blossom

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Sauteed French rabbit, chestnut, brussel tops and Burgundy truffle

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Veloute of potatoes, Abbaye de Tamie, snails and parsley

Domaine Leroy Aligoté 2010 Burgundy, France
Full yellow colour. Slightly salty and nutty with a bit of herbiness. Really appealing lemony fruit with a stony character and slight honey notes. Distinctive. 92/100

clove club orkney scallop

Jacques Carillon Puligny Montrachet 2012 Burgundy, France
Very fresh and pure with linear citrus fruit and a faint toastiness, with a mineral core. Pure and fine with lovely focus. 93/100

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Etienne Sauzet Puligny Montrachet 1er Cru Les Folatières 2007 Burgundy, France
Powerful, nutty and intense with toast, nuts and citrus, as well as generous white peach fruit. Bold but bolstered by lovely acidity. Delicious current drinking. 94/100

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Domaine Pierre Guillemot Savigny-Lès- Beaune 2009 Burgundy, France
Sweet, fresh red cherry and berry fruit with lovely perfume and a savoury, grippy edge. There’s an undercurrent of cedar/clove spiciness. 92/100

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Domaine Lafarge Volnay 2008 Burgundy, France
Pure and floral with lovely fine red cherries and a hint of rose petal. Juicy and bright raspberry and red cherry fruit with lemony acidity. Very pure and linear with keen acidity and a real raspberry kick. 92/100

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Fourrier Gevrey Chambertin 1er Cru Cherbaudes 2006 Burgundy, France
Silky smooth, ripe and textured with lovely grainy structure under the fresh cherry and plum fruit, with some soy sauce notes in the background. Textured and smooth. 94/100

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Domaine L&A Lignier Clos de la Roche Grand Cru 2008 Burgundy, France
Juicy, bright, savoury and grippy with nice acidity under the raspberry and black cherry fruit. Grippy with high acidity. A juicy cherry fruit finish: very bright and a bit cedary. Very 2008. 92/100

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Domaine de Courcel Pommard 1er Cru Epenots 1988 Burgundy, France
Savoury, earthy, iodine, spice, minerals: this is a delicious fully mature Burgundy. It has some plum and berry fruits, but it’s quite savoury with focused acidity and some earthy characters. Detailed and fine. 94/100

 

Should we take pictures of food and wine in restaurants?

I love instagram and twitter. And facebook. Wouldn’t it be great if one day I didn’t need to do any proper work – just taking instagrams, writing tweets, posting to facebook. That would be epic! I am moving towards it, little by little.

What’s that? I heard you: this Goode chap doesn’t do any proper work anyway. OK, I get you. My work isn’t arduous by conventional standards. It would be horrifying if I had to actually do a job, like most people do.

But I have an important question, that’s social media related. Should we be taking pictures of our food? And the wine that we drink, in restaurants?

Isn’t a restaurant meal a time to relax, enjoy good company, and have a pleasant gastronomic experience? Isn’t it a bit vulgar to be taking a picture of the plate in front of us, when our attention should be fully focused on our companions? Shouldn’t we really have a no phones on the table policy in restaurants?

I do love my phone, but I am getting increasingly worried about the effect that filming or photographing everything has on our actual engagement with reality. If you go to a concert or sporting event, a sizeable proportion of people are holding phones up, filming everything. For what reason? There is, I suspect, a subtle psychological process that takes place when we are behind our phones, which impacts on our involvement with the world around us. We move from being participants to observers.

Still, I take pictures of food. I quite like the policy that Heston Blumenthal’s restaurants have stated. Rather than banning the practice, they have set constraints. No flash photography. No standing up to take the picture. No shifting round the dishes. That seems like a sensible stance to take.

And wine? Generally speaking, I don’t think you should take a picture of a bottle of wine unless you are drinking it. It just seems odd to take a picture of a grand bottle in your cellar, or in a posh wine shop, that you aren’t actually consuming.

Château Angélus and the paradoxical 2010

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I have just written up a vertical tasting of Château Angélus that I attended last week, courtesy of the IMW. It was very interesting, as these sorts of vertical tastings always are. Not all the wines are as incredible as they should be, given the hype that they receive, and there are some surprises. The markets prices aren’t always a reliable guide as to the best vintages, either.

The real surprise for me was the 2010. This is a paradox of a wine, because at 15.5% alcohol I should utterly despise it. But it’s actually a really balanced wine, and for me was probably the best of the tasting, with 2012 and 2008 in close competition. In comparison with the 2009 tasted warmer and riper, and with less of a future ahead of it, even though it was lower in alcohol.

Château Angélus 2010 Saint-Emilion, Bordeaux
55% Merlot, 45% Cabernet Franc. 15.5% alcohol, pH 3.57. Sweetly aromatic with black cherries and blackberries. Lovely focus on the palate which is rich and quite extracted with fresh black cherries and raspberries. There’s a lushness to the fruit but it’s not liqueur-like or jammy. Grainy structure provides a foil to the sweet fruit and there’s good acidity. It carries its 15.5% alcohol brilliantly. Primary and really impressive. 96/100

Why was the 2010 so good? Because of the pH, which as a very healthy 3.63. Remember, they don’t add acid in Bordeaux. It’s natural acidity. If you had a 15.5% wine with a pH of 3.6 where shed loads of tartaric had been bunged in, it would be a horror show. So I’m guessing the explanation for the paradoxical performance of 2010 is that it just had high sugars in the Merlot, but the grapes weren’t physiologically over-ripe.

Normally high alcohol wines are just picked too late, with dead fruit flavours and a cloying sweetness that can seduce some people, but which is really rather horrible. I didn’t find any of the Angelus wines particularly over-ripe, and this is something I’m sensitive to.

You can read all my notes and also Hubert’s insightful and interesting comments here.  And there’s a video of Hubert in action here:

The 2014s from London Cru

london cru 2014

Last night I had a chance to look at the 2014s from London’s Urban winery London Cru. For those unfamiliar with the winery, see this article based on a visit when they were taking in their first harvest in 2013, and my report on the first releases.

The 2014s are looking very good. As with the 2013s, they are consistent, and made in a lovely balanced style, with a bit of generosity but also freshness and definition. These are of course barrel samples, so the final wines will be a bit different. I’ve added some notes from winemaker Gavin Monery about each. He adds that he’s actively looking for more growers to supply grapes, especially Chardonnay from the Haut Vallee in Limoux or Jura, and Chenin from the Loire.

Chardonnay 2014
Gavin says: ‘The Chardonnay was the same vineyard as last year in the Roussillon. It was whole bunch pressed, no enzymes, 20ppm S02 added at the press, settled overnight and racked into barrel at about 300 NTU to try and foster a textural element and a little bit of reduction. I used 5 different yeasts, plus did some barrels natural and some started natural then I added S. cerevisiae after 5 days. It’s still on the gross lees right now and hasn’t been racked, stirred or touched, simply topped up. I cut the malo short this year, adding SO2 when the malic was 0.6g/L to try and keep some leanness to it. It’s mostly in 3 year old oak, with one new barrique out of 14.’

My comment: Beautifully bright and lemony with fresh fruit and a bit of pithiness, allied to some pear and peach richness and a hint of fennel. 90-92/100

Syrah 2014
This year it is from Calatayud in Spain. Gavin says: ‘We took a 6 tonne lot from a lovely vineyard at 900 m, with decomposed granite soils and split it into three batches: one was 100% destemmed, one had 20% whole bunch and one had 40%. They’re all still ageing separately at the moment so the exact final blend is still up in the air, but this sample was an even blend of all three.’
My comment: Lovely supple bright raspberry and cherry fruit with some appealing spicy notes and grippy tannins. Fresh and pure with lovely precision. 20% whole cluster. 91-93/100

Barbera 2014
Same grower as 2013, but different plots. Gavin says: ‘The Barbera was a better site than 2013. As we paid on time and they liked the way we worked so we got upgraded apparently! The 2014 is from a small parcel at the top of a hill with good exposure. It gets good light through most of the day and is windy, so helps ripen Barbera fully and protects against disease, as the Barbera bunches are tight and skins thin, so Botrytis especially is a big risk.’
My comment: Lovely black cherry and plum fruit. Sweet, fresh, juicy and focused with hints of liqourice and spice. 90-92/100

Grenache 2014
From Cayatalud. gavin says: ‘The Grenache was one parcel of three separate vineyards we had to pick on the one day, as they were all small and low yielding. Each vineyard had different aspects and soils, but all the vines were around 90 years old and bush trained. The one shown last night is grown at 850 m and faces southwest so gets hot afternoon sun. Despite the cold nights it is still pretty ripe and full throttle, though the acidity (pH3.41, TA 7.7) keeps it nice and fresh. It’ll age well but just doesn’t work in a blend with the other two. The other two are at 950 m and 1000 m, face south and are much more delicate, floral and expressive. They’re also quite light as with the whole bunch I didn’t want to over extract tannin so was only punching down once or twice a day.’
My comment: Rich, sweet, fresh berry fruits with some spicy peppery notes. Smooth with some liqueur-likenotes. Pretty, rich, ripe. 89-91/100

The wine boats of the Douro river

This is a great film. It’s titled ‘The wine boats of the Douro river’, and it represents a very different Douro than that of today, shot in 1923. This was before the Douro was dammed in the late 1960s/early 1970s with five different dams, which converted it from a sometimes rather wild river into the placid beast that it is today, as well as raising the river level a bit, taking out a few of the lower vineyards.

In the past, the wine used to be made in the Douro and then shipped down river in cask to Vila Nova de Gaia, to be aged and blended in the large warehouses of the various shippers. The Rabelo boats shown in this film can now be seen as floating adverts for Port houses in Gaia, and some are adapted for tourist rides.

There’s also another, slightly quirky old film from 1962 showing a Rabelo on the Thames!


Advice for young winewriters

I try to be a helpful sort of guy. Now that I have climbed the first few rungs of the wine writing ladder, I’m occasionally asked for advice about how to start out writing about wine. And unlike the last post I wrote on the topic – how to succeed as a wine writer by writing boring wine articles – this post is mostly serious and sincere. So here are my tips if you are thinking about becoming a wine writer, or if you are currently a loser wine writer and would like to be less loser-ish.

  1. Read widely and read often. Seriously, if you aren’t devouring a novel a week, then how do you hope to write fluently and well? ‘I haven’t got time to read,’ people respond. Well, I’m surprised you are busy if you are a lousy writer. Maybe I was right: producing boring, formulaic wine pieces is the way to stay too busy to read.
  2. Read. I’m repeating myself because you just ignored my first point, because you think you know better. Seriously, read more.
  3. Find a niche. Take a step back and look at yourself.What are you known for? When people mention your name, what is the immediate association? The only people who can afford to be generalist wine writers and not be total losers are the likes of Jancis and Hugh, the very top critics (perhaps one or two of them), and people who do top TV. To establish yourself you need one, two, or possibly three specialities. You need to be a big fish in a small pond, because in the large pond you are going to get eaten immediately and no one will notice.
  4. Develop your own writing style. And it’s so much easier if you are using a style that is YOU – that is authentic and represents the way you think and speak. Because then it will be effortless to maintain.
  5. Write fast. Think of yourself as a painter decorator, not a painter artist, but working with words not paint. You need to use a roller not a delicate paintbrush. Get those words up there, and fast. It’s the only way to make a living from this game.
  6. Practice writing different sorts of articles. Some of my colleagues are great writers, but they are one-trick ponies. All they can write is 1500-2000 word features, because that’s all they have ever done. There are different sorts of writing. Expand your toolkit.
  7. Don’t try to make wine writing your sole income, at least not at first. You’ll be under such pressure that you’ll end up taking crappy gigs, you’ll make compromises you never intended to make, and you’ll be sucked into turning out rushed articles that give you no joy and only just enough income to pay your rent. Being under financial pressure sucks, and it’s never a good place for a writer to be. Be realistic: how much do you need to live on, and how will you earn this as a freelancer? When I started as a freelancer I was the sole wage earner in the home with two kids to support. It was not a decision I took easily, but as a moonlighting wine writer I already had a newspaper column, a book deal and two Glenfiddich awards in the bag, so I reckoned I had a chance of success.
  8. Always be on the lookout for the story. Look behind the surface. Try to tell stories that no one else is telling.
  9. And when you begin to achieve a bit of success, be careful. Everyone is looking for new, fresh, young voices in the world of wine, and people will help you and celebrate you. There are two perils that then face you. The first is that you’ll begin to believe the hype, and think that you are something special. This will cause you to behave like a dick, and your work will suffer. Second album syndrome. The second is that those who helped you initially will begin to regard you as a potential threat, and will no longer be quite so helpful. Stay humble, be grounded, and keep your head. Now is not the time to take your foot off the pedal, it’s the time to work really hard. You won’t be new or young forever, so you’ll have lost that advantage. Now is the time to produce your best work, dude. Go for it!