Some good value wines that impress

good value wines

I’m aware that many of the wines I recommend here are quite expensive. So these are some wines that I’ve tried recently that represent excellent value for money. These are real stand-outs.

Château de Lascaux ‘Carra’ Pic St Loup, Languedoc, France
£13.99 Vintage Roots
14% alcohol
Organic. Syrah, Grenache and Mourvèdre. Really fresh and well defined with lovely bright black cherry and blackberry fruit, showing some peppery detail and hints of meatiness. Nice raspberry freshness on the finish. There’s lovely fruit here, but also nice structure and acidity. Super stuff for the price. 90/100

Tanners Super Claret 2012 Haut-Médoc, Bordeaux, France
£14.95 Tanners
13% alcohol
Made by Château Clément Pichon. 51% Merlot, 49% Cabernet Sauvignon. Beautifully fresh and vivid with a chalky edge to the blackcurrant fruit. There’s a nice greenness here with provides freshness and drinkability, and meshes beautifully with the supple, sweet fruit. So drinkable: this is what we come to Bordeaux for. Shows great balance. 90/100

Château Le Coin Sauvignon Gris 2015 Bordeaux, France
£10.99 Laithwaites
14% alcohol
Beautifully focused with a lovely herb, fennel and grapefruit edge to the nose. The palate has depth and texture with a slightly smoky, spicy edge to the pear and canteloup melon notes. It’s richer than you’d expect from a Sauvignon with lovely depth to the bold fruit. But it’s not overblown. There’s nice passionfruit richness, hemmed in by the grapefruit. 90/100

Nicosia Classic Etna Rosso 2013 Sicily, Italy
£12.49, £10.99 When you mix 6 or more, Laithwaites
13% alcohol
This lighter coloured red is a blend of 80% Nerello Mascalese and 20% Nerello Cappuccio, both local varieties that thrive on Etna’s volcanic soils. It’s fresh and aromatic with some spicy, mineral, slightly medicinal hints adding complexity to the red cherry and cranberry fruit. Elegant and moreish, and not lacking in flavour even though it’s a lighter-style red. So fresh and detailed. 90/100

Perdeberg Cellars The Vineyard Collection Chenin Blanc 2015 Paarl, South Africa
13.5% alcohol
£11.99 Virgin Wines
This is a lovely old-vine Chenin, with concentrated, fresh flavours of pear and peach with a hint of pineapple, as well as some ripe apple and spice. There’s a lovely lemony core here which keeps things nicely focused. A really tidy, precise wine with restraint, but also the potential for development over the next few years. 91/100

The Society’s Exhibition Pouilly-Fuissé 2014 Burgundy, France
13% alcohol
£18 The Wine Society
Full yellow in colour, this is a deliciously full flavoured white Burgundy with rich flavours of hazelnut and cream, as well as fresh citrus fruits with a bit of baked apple sweetness. After a while, the richer notes subside and it settles into a stony, mineral personality, with real presence and complexity. This wine shows good concentration and balance, and is drinking perfectly now. It’s made for the Wine Society by Frédéric Burrier of Maison Joseph Burrier and Château de Beauregard, who own 22 hectares in the Pouilly-Fuissé appellation. 93/100

Le Bijou de Sophie Valrose 2015 Cabrières, Languedoc, France
14% alcohol
£7.99 Waitrose
This is fabulous. It’s fresh, vivid and direct with blackberry and black cherry fruit, with some lovely meatiness in the mix. There are notes of pepper and clove adding savoury interest, and a deliciously floral, aromatic spicy garrigue edge to the fruit. It’s almost saline, too, with a savoury intensity and plenty of freshness. Grippy and delicious. So peppery. 91/100

On flying

on flying - tips for airline travel

Flew back from Vancouver on Saturday night. The plane in the top left picture above is the ancient BA 747-400 that we were flying on, getting ready for boarding. The plane was creaking at the seams a bit: it had to abandon taxiing and return to the stand to have its electrics looked at. We sat on board for 30 minutes while they rebooted various bits of the electrical system, and lights went on and off, and eventually they sorted it.

I travel a lot. I fly all the airlines and across different classes, and I’ve tried to fine-tune the whole flying experience to make it as painless as possible. Passing through airports is a pain, but it’s the little things you can do to improve the process that, together, make the experience tolerable. Here are some of my thoughts.

First of all, fly on modern planes if you can. Forget about the airline: if the plane is new your flying experience will be much better. New planes have more comfortable seats, larger entertainment screens, and everything tends to work. I’d rather fly on a new plane with a less good airline than the other way round. BA is a good airline but it tends to put the old 747s on the popular routes. I fly with them to Cape Town but the planes are the very oldest, and the only reason I persist is because there aren’t any other direct options from London.

Second, it’s worth flying on airlines which are trying hard. Turkey, Singapore and UEA are all making a big effort with their airlines, which they see as playing a role in national PR. I’ve been flying Emirates a bit of late and they’re excellent (very new planes, with wifi on board), although you usually end up in Dubai for a few hours in the middle of the night. Mind you, it’s relatively easy to get status on their frequent flier program so that you can use the lounges in Dubai.

Ah yes, frequent flier status. It’s worth getting some, but don’t fret about getting to the highest levels of status. I’m Gold on Star Alliance, Bronze on BA, Silver on Emirates. The first gets me lounge access and priority boarding, the second just priority boarding, and the third access to business class lounges in Dubai only. Plus you can do more with your airmiles, with all three. The one bonus I really like is priority boarding, because these days, when everyone is trying to fly hand luggage only, the real competition is for space in the overhead lockers. It’s a major pain if your carry-on gets checked because there’s no room, especially if you have tight connections. It’s also a hassle queuing to board.

Lounge access can be nice, but these days there’s less need for it. Lounges used to be the only places you could get reliable wifi and power, but most modern airports give you free wifi, and if you hunt you can usually find power. And the eating and drinking options in the main airport usually far surpass the quality of what’s available for free in the lounge. Lounge food and drink is usually pretty bad, and if you want Champagne you often have to beg for it. I like the peace of the lounge, but it’s no big loss not to hang around in the main part of the airport.

It’s a bit like business class flying: most of the benefit is a psychological one. Airlines play up to this. If you fly to Australia or New Zealand or San Francisco, you’ll be equally jet-lagged if you are in the front of the plane or the back. If you have a lie-flat in business, you’ll probably have slept quite a bit better, but your body clock won’t be any better aligned, and you (or a client) will have paid a serious premium for the privilege. If you can get over the perceived stigma of flying economy, then you’ll have saved enough money to buy a new Macbook Air or an Olympus Pen F, plus a Michelin-star level lunch to boot. This is how I think of it. Business or First class travel is simple conspicuous consumption.

Many people like to stick with just one frequent flier program, but then you end up travelling by less convenient routes, on older planes (sometimes), and paying more for your flights. It’s better to have the flexibility of a few to chose from. I draw the line at SkyTeam, though, because of the frequency of French strikes. It’s now bigger than Oneworld, but smaller than Star Alliance. I’ll stick with Oneworld in addition to Star Alliance because of BA, though, and its Heathrow hub.

Get to airports early. The inconvenience and stress that come through being short of time and almost missing flights far outweighs any benefit of having an hour or so extra at home before flying. Just decide you are going to get some work done at the airport and give yourself a decent cushion, and then if there’s a problem with your transport you won’t risk missing your flight. Most stress around flying is totally avoidable, yet it’s amazing how many people rush panicked to the gate because they thought they were being smart cutting timings fine.

If your airline has an app, use it. These apps usually alert you to things like delays or boarding times, and they are the easiest way of managing your airmiles/frequent flier status.

Finally, pack light. Buy clothes with a view to travel. Reduce duplication. Be ruthless. Packing light and flying hand luggage only makes travelling a much nicer experience. I don’t even use a big, wheeled carry-on these days, so I don’t have to worry about finding space in the overhead lockers. It reduces the potential hassle or stress of flying even further. The whole flying experience is much better if you feel empowered and in control, and these days with modern technology and a bit of planning ahead, you can be in control of your flying experience and have a stress-free time travelling the world.

Those are my views. Any tips for frequent fliers? I’d love to hear them.

Gamay focus 25, Julien Sunier Fleurie 2015

julien sunier fleurie

This Fleurie is from the ripe 2015 vintage, but Julien Sunier has fashioned a really detailed, relatively fresh wine here, and it’s delicious.

Julien Sunier Fleurie 2015 Beaujolais, France
13.5% alcohol. Lieu Dits La Tonne and Charbonnieres, 2.85 ha. Dense yet fresh and beautifully floral, meaty and spicy. There’s a sweetness here, from the vintage, but as well as the ripe, sweet cherry and berry fruits, there are herbs, meats and spices. Focused and dense with a lovely nervy edginess. Dense raspberry fruit core here. Lovely detail, and Julien has handled a riper vintage really well. 93/100 (£19.99 Roberson down from £23)

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Natural wines from Haywire, Okanagan Valley, Canada


I’ve been impressed by the wines from Haywire in the Okanagan Valley, in Canada’s BC. Based at the Okanagan Crushpad, where their team also makes wine for other people, they have been pioneers of interesting, geeky natural wines in a region that has often played it a little safe, as many emerging wine regions do. Rather than just using small oak and stainless steel as tools for elevage, they have invested heavily in concrete eggs and tanks. They’ve also used terroir expert Pedro Parra as a consultant (normally new world wineries just get expensive winemaking consultants).

These three wines intrigued and impressed. They aren’t easy, conventional wines, but there’s lots to like about them. Haywire is very much a work in progress, but they are already producing some very interesting things.

Haywire Waters and Banks Sauvignon Blanc 2015 Okanagan Valley, Canada
13.5% alcohol. From the Waters and Banks vineyard, which is a 7.5 acre vineyard in Summerland. Limestone and granite soils. Whole bunch pressed into concrete fermenters. Wild yeast ferment and malolactic in concrete. Seven months on gross lees. Highly aromatic with distinctive grapefruit, cats’ urine and passionfruit characters, with some subtle herbiness and a bit of white asparagus. The palate is concentrated and textured with weighty fruit and some lushness, and a fresh citrus edge that frames the richer flavours really nicely. This is a wine with freshness and also drinkability, showing lovely textural elements. It’s really hard to put into a box: there are just so many flavours jostling for position on a bed of creamy, leesy richness. Give it six months to resolve, and I think this will be brilliant. 92/100

Haywire Free Form White 2015 Okanagan Valley, Canada
13% alcohol. From the Waters and Banks vineyard, which is a 7.5 acre vineyard in Summerland. Limestone and granite soils. This is clone 72/1103P Sauvignon Blanc, in third year of transitioning to organic certification. Pedro Parra identified this site as special. Fermented with wild yeasts in stainless steel. Full malolactic and 9 months of skin contact. Pressed and then bottled unfiltered. Lots of deposit floating in the bottle. Beautiful, slightly lifted nose of peach, ripe apple and apricot, with a nice spiciness. The palate is rounded and spicy with sweet pear and ripe apple fruit, as well as hints of melon and apricot. Textured and detailed, this is really natural with a slight oxidative character and lots of ripe apple. I appreciate it, but it’s not for everyone. There’s a bit of grip on the finish. 90/100

haywire free form

Haywire Free Form Red 2015 Okanagan Valley, Canada
13.8% alcohol. 23 Brix and pH 4 with a TA of 5.6. Clone 667 Pinot Noir from the Waters and Banks vineyard in Trout Creek Canyon, Summerland. There’s limestone and granite in the soil. Wild ferment in two 800 litre amphorae, with 8 months on skins. No added sulphites. Such a distinctive wine. Vivid, slightly earthy raspberry and red cherry fruit. Edgy and grippy with some herby notes as well as a bit of roast coffee. There’s a touch of raisin, too, alongside the bright berry and cherry notes. It keeps changing in the glass and shows nice freshness, but there’s also a softness and slight soapiness from the high pH. It’s very stony and tastes a bit of terracotta. I admire it, and enjoy it, but I don’t quite understand it. Do I have to? 92/100

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The UK importer of Haywire is Red Squirrel Wines

In Victoria, British Columbia, Canada


Coming out to Cornucopia in Whistler gave me a chance to visit Vancouver Island. I’ve not been here before, but I’d heard lots of good things about it.


So for the last few days I have been in Victoria, doing lots of drinks-related things.


On Monday I visited three breweries in Victoria with Brent Muller, of Vessel, Victoria’s top wine shop. We began at Driftwood, then headed over the road to Koyne, and finished up at Moon. All three were quite different, but really interesting: there’s a vibrant craft brewing scene here on the island.

beer vancouver island

Then we had a tasting of top BC beers that Brent and Vessel GM Ross Borland had selected. Vessel isn’t just a wine shop: it also has a superb selection of craft beers and spirits. I spent quite a bit of time browsing the shelves here and came away very impressed. Victoria is lucky having such a good store because the BC licensing laws don’t make it easy to run a high quality operation like this. I’ll be writing up the BC wine scene in full on

oak bay victoria

The view from my bedroom in Oak Bay

Tuesday was all about Champagne. Treve Ring, hosted me, Anthony Gismondi and David Lawrason at her home, and we tasted through dozens of Champagnes which had been sent in for a big feature on Gismondi on Wine. It was a great opportunity to try a lot of well known bottles, as well as some lesser known ones, in a comparative setting.

The wines from the VISA seminar

The wines from the VISA seminar

jamie goode seminar

On Wednesday, I gave a seminar for VISA (Vancouver Island Sommelier Association) at Vessel. I’d chosen nine interesting and affordable bottles from the selection at Vessel. I began by giving a talk on perception of wine based on my new book I taste red, and then we tasted and discussed the wines. It was a great group to speak to and taste with because they were really engaged and interested.


Thursday was judging for Gold Medal Plates. I wrote the wines up yesterday on this blog. And also tasting more wines from BC, including lovely wines from Synchromesh. Le Vieux Pin, Averill Creek, Unsworth, Bella and Haywire.


It has been fun to hang around here. Victoria is a beautiful place, on the water. It has a relaxed atmosphere. And the light changes all the time: every morning is different. I’m staying in Oak Bay, and the view from my bed is of the sea. It’s quite magical waking up to the dawn each day, as the sun rises over the horizon. Back to London tomorrow for the International Wine Challenge. I hope I get the chance to come back here in the summer.

Gold Medal Plate wines: 17 wines from BC, Canada

BC wines canada

This afternoon I was a judge in the Victoria version of Gold Medal Plates here on Vancouver Island. We tasted the following wines, and these are my personal notes.

Pipe Dreams Gruner Veltliner 2014 Okanagan Valley, Canada
From Oliver. Dense and quite oily with powerful pear and quince fruit. Intensely flavoured with some pithy bitterness on the finish. A very rich style but it lacks finesse. 85/100

Culmina Decora Riesling 2015 Okanagan Valley, Canada
This Riesling is floral, fine and expressive with a hint of white pepper, some nice pithy grapefruit character and lovely fine-grained texture. There’s real concentration here. A dry style with lovely poise and finesse. High acid is really well integrated. 92/100

Tantalus Chardonnay 2014 Okanagan Valley, Canada
From Kelowna. Fresh and detailed with white peach and citrus fruit, and a fair whack of oak, although it’s elegant, refined oak, contributing some cream, toast and spice notes. Fresh, lemony and expressive, this wine needs more time to settle down and integrate the oak characters, when it will likely score higher. 89/100

Liquidity Chardonnay 2014 Okanagan Valley, Canada
13.5% alcohol. Clone 76, planted in 1994 and 2009, Okanagan Falls. Lively with lots of flavour: there are nuts, bread, some toast, plus dense pear and citrus fruit. It’s fresh and appealing with good acidity underpinning the rich fruit. Oak is in the background. Bright finish. 90/100

Tightrope Viognier 2014 Okanagan Valley, Canada
From Naramata Bench. Concentrated flavours of pear, white peach and melon, together with some really vivid apricot aromas. It has a lot of promise on the nose, but the palate has a pronounced sweetness and some intrusive pithy notes. It finishes with a bitter character. Just a little big and clumsy, although there’s some Viognier character here. 87/100

Stag’s Hollow Viognier 2014 Okanagan Valley, Canada
From the Hearle vineyard. Beautiful nose of apricot and peach is really varietally true. There’s a subtle almond note, as well. The palate is fresh and expressive with lovely purity and balance. It’s a ripe but fresh Viognier that’s very pretty and detailed. Lovely wine. 91/100

Time Estate Meritage 2014 Okanagan Valley, Canada
13.9% alcohol. From the Sundial Vineyard in the Black Sage Bench. 68% Sauvignon Blanc and 32% Semillon. Very smooth and richly textured, this shows fat white peach and pear fruit with some sweet, spicy detail. Concentrated, lush and with a very fat mid-palate, this a ripe interpretation of the white Bordeaux style that could probably do with some tightening up. There’s a touch of fudge and honeycomb on the finish. 88/100

Calliope Figure 8 Blanc 2014 British Columbia, Canada
13.5% alcohol. Pinot Gris, Chardonnay, Gewürztraminer. Distinctive stuff. Ripe and generous with some grapey richness, and floral, spicy aromatics with lychee, peach and yellow plums. A rich, easy, fruity style, but there’s a tiny bit of pithy bitterness on the finish. 87/100

Sea Star Blanc de Noir Rosé 2015 Pender Island, BC, Canada
12.7% alcohol. Pinot Noir. Fresh, lively, juicy and sappy with lovely leafy spicy red cherry fruit. Lively and bright, this is really fresh and focused. Pretty, in a dry style. Highly food compatible. 90/100

Haywire Pinot Noir Canyonview Vineyard 2013 Okanagan Valley, Canada
13.5% alcohol. Raised in concrete. Lifted, warm, smooth cherry fruit with a touch of stewed plum character. Has softness of textured and some complexing herb and undergrowth characters. Finishes savoury. A warm, soft, satisfying style with lots of interest. 91/100

The Hatch Black Swift Vineyards The Long Road Pinot Noir 2014 Okanagan Valley, Canada
13.8% alcohol. From Kelowna. Slightly lifted cherry and spice nose leads to a structured but quite fine palate with taut raspberry and cherry fruit. There’s freshness and finesse here: it’s a grown up Pinot with some appeal, although the cedary oak isn’t quite integrated yet. 89/100

Burrowing Owl Pinot Noir 2013 Okanagan Valley, Canada
14.5% alcohol. Ripe, sweet, spicy and tarry with lush berry fruits. Very ripe style that has generosity and an easy-going nature, but it also has sweet fruit and ripe oak that get in the way of site and varietal expression. 86/100

Black Sage Vineyard Cabernet Franc 2014 Okanagan Valley, Canada
13.5% alcohol. South Okanagan, aged in French and American oak. Sweet, lush, ripe and creamy with seamless cherry and berry fruits with a bit of blackcurrant. There’s some chalkiness, too. Ripe and seductive, this has lovely purity. Very well crafted in a new world style. 89/100

Calliope Figure 8 Cabernet Merlot 2014 British Columbia, Canada
14% alcohol. Very sweet, supple and easy with soft blackberry and blackcurrant fruit. Has an easy texture. A generous crowd-pleaser of a wine. 86/100

Tinhorn Creek Oldfield Series Cabernet Franc 2012 Okanagan Valley, Canada
14.6% alcohol. Supple and bright with refreshing green-tinged blackcurrant fruit. Midweight and digestible, this is juicy and tasty. Subtle tar and spice notes. Quite savoury. 88/100

Stag’s Hollow Heritage Block 2013 Okanagan Valley, Canada
14.2% alcohol. Bordeaux-style blend from the South Okanagan. Lively herb-tinged, midweight berry fruits. There’s an attractive texture with appealing blackberry notes and some tar and herb spiciness. This has warmth to it. There’s quite a bit going on here: ripe but detailed. 89/100

Quails’ Gate Merlot 2014 Okanagan Valley, Canada
14.5% alcohol. Ripe but elegantly textured with concentrated, smooth red berry and blackcurrant fruit. Nicely structured with sweet, dense fruit, this is an attractive, stylish new world style Merlot with lush but fresh fruit. Very ripe but well made. 90/100

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Lunch with Dirk Niepoort at Trinity, Clapham

trinity restaurant clapham

Last week we had a wonderful lunch at Trinity Restaurant in Clapham Old Town, with Dirk Niepoort and his wines. Trinity is a great place, and Adam Byatt had prepared a lovely informal sharing menu based on pyrenees kid goat cooked on charcoal. This is the sort of food I love. There was roast goat leg, goat offal kebabs, a really nice burrata, and some lovely salads. Byatt has just got his Michelin star, and on this showing it is well deserved.

Adam Byatt, Trinity

Adam Byatt, Trinity

The wines? Some I know quite well, but even then it’s good to come back to try a wine on different occasions. The Bairrada VV, in particular, was singing. ‘Since 2013 we are making wines that are much more elegant and less extracted,’ explained Dirk. And since 2012, Niepoort has also been working in Bairrada and Dão. ‘In those areas I made no compromise,’ says Dirk. ‘I took the old styles. I’m going back to what used to be made.’ He explained that in the 1960s Dão wines weren’t alcoholic, and they weren’t dark in colour. They had good acidity and lots of freshness. ‘Bairrada should be Barraida and Dão should be Dão.’ In the 1960s monster cooperatives started appearing and wine quality went down. Another problem is that Portugal mainly exported to former colonies, and they sent cheap bad wine to these undemanding markets. Dirk is a big fan of both regions. In particular, he says that Bairrada has the best terroirs in Portugal, but it’s also the most difficult to work with. This is only partly because of the humidity that can cause disease problems. ‘Actually, the biggest problem is the people,’ he says.

niepoort wines

Some selected tasting notes:

Niepoort Conciso 2012 Dão, Portugal
60% whole bunch, no pumping over, 10 days on skins. Racked to stainless steel and then to a large 2500 litre barrel. Grainy, fine and fresh with linear cherry fruit as well as some lifted raspberry notes. Fresh and fine with real finesse. 95/100

Niepoort Bical Maria Gomes Vinhas Velhas Branco 2013 Bairrada, Portugal
This is made in 1000 litre fuders from the Mosel, and spends 3o months without sulfur. Fine, stony and mineral: you can taste the chalky soil influence here. This is a blend of a few vineyards, and it’s lemony, pure and very fresh. So fine. Practically perfect on today’s showing. 97/100

Turris is a vineyard that Dirk fell in love with as soon as he saw it. He initially rented it to correct Batata. It’s 0.8 hectares and is located in Alves at high altitude. It was one of the first plantings after phylloxera, and it was untrellised until the IVDP ordered all vineyards to be trellised. This wine is made in foudres with 30% whole bunch. ‘The purity is what makes this wine so special,’ says Dirk.

niepoort turris

Niepoort Turris 2012 Douro, Portugal 
Really fine, fresh and detailed with pure, linear, mineral black cherry fruit. Such finesse here, with amazing purity. 97/100

Niepoort Poerinho Baga 2013 Bairrada, Portugal
Tight, focused and really fresh with red cherries, spice and some citrus. Grippy and focused with raspberries and herbs. Linear and taut. Stony and mineral. Some grip, and high acidity, both of which make this a little challenging. It’s a lovely wine though. 95/100

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Three prestige Champagnes: Krug, Dom P and Comtes

taittinger comtes de champagne

Tried these three yesterday. They are all really good, and all quite different. The Comtes was the star; the Dom P accessible yet serious; the Krug still tight and youthful, but with latent richness and depth. We drank them, too.

Taittinger Comtes de Champagne 2006 France
12.5% alcohol. Tight, fresh, complex and detailed with subtle toast, white peach, white pepper, yellow plum and lemon notes. Bright and pure with precision and good acidity. Has beautiful detail and brightness, with a core of lemony fruit. There’s a bit of toast and honeycomb here, also. A remarkably good wine. 96/100

champagne krug

Champagne Krug Grande Cuvée NV France
12% alcohol. Disgorged summer 2014, oldest wine 1990, base wine 2007, seven years on lees, 12 different vintages. Complex and intense; lemony, appley and herby. Lots of flavour here with bracing freshness and notes of toast, citrus pith, grapefruit and herbs. There’s a sweet toffee and toast note adding richness, but the core of this wine is linear, intense, citrussy fruit. Still quite primary, this will blossom into all out toasty richness with a bit of time in bottle. Very tight now, and tighter than I’d expect from Krug. 94/100

dom perignon champagne

Champagne Dom Pérignon 2006 France
12.5% alcohol. Fine, expressive and fruity. Lovely weight here: pear, white peach, a hint of melon. Generous fruitiness and attractive, smooth texture define this wine. A bit of sweetness, too. There’s an elegance and purity here, and it’s a wine that has some seriousness but also it’s so approachable and friendly. Such a good wine. 95/100

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Jean-Paul and Benoît Droin Chablis 2015

drown chablis 2015

I was given this blind to taste. Immediately I opted for very serious Chardonnay, and Chablis in quick succession. I wrote my note and scored it. Then I was stunned to find out that this wasn’t a grand cru or premier cru, but just a regular Chablis. It’s quite brilliant.

Jean-Paul and Benoît Droin Chablis 2015 Burgundy, France
Very fine, linear and pure. This has great precision and concentration with a really linear mineral core, and a slight saltiness. There’s just a faint hint of matchstick mineralogy, and this wine shows amazing purity and focus. I really like it. 94/100

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The importance of stories, good and bad


One of the most popular programmes on BBC Radio 4 is Desert Island Discs, which is presented by Kirsty Young. It has been running forever (since 1942), and the idea behind it is that a notable person undergoes a biographical interview punctuated by eight pieces of music that they’d choose to take with them if they were to be sent to a desert island (these are the ‘discs’: this only really works with vinyl). I recently caught the episode with Ali Smith, the writer. As usual, it was interesting to listen to: this format works well for an extended interview. But one interchange in particular struck me:

Smith: Stories are incredibly powerful. We think we live; that we are just going along from day to day. Actually, we live by telling ourselves stories about the lives we are living. We take in, like sponges, the stories that come at us on all the waves – the TV, radio, internet – everything is a kind of story, which all adds to the story which is supposed to be the story of each individual’s life. So it is not surprising that if the stories are good, and they come at us and we are the sponges that take the stories in, then we will feel better about it. And those stories are coming at us, and us being so porous, if we aren’t careful with our stories then we will probably block our pores.

Young: If there are right stories, then by definition there are wrong stories that can do harm. That seems quite a curious thing for a writer to say.

Smith: We have to know that our lives are narrated to us, and also the way that we narrate lives around us. It is all construct. As soon as we become aware of that, we can do whatever we like with the construct: we can change it if we need to, we can stay with it if we like it, we can change bits of it. In other words, it empowers us. So if we are not careful, stories will take the shirts off our back, but if we are careful, the stories will see us through like boats on whatever surface the sea is doing.

The idea here is one I’ve been interested in for a while. It is stories that mould us, and if we want to change, then we need to retell these stories – or absorb and integrate fresh ones. You can’t change people’s minds by presenting them with facts. You have to use stories.

There is very little that is neutral in our culture, and in the media. Most information we are exposed to comes with narrative attached. As Smith points out, we are like story sponges. We soak up narrative and it becomes part of us.

Our culture is full of these stories and, inevitably, we pick them up. At the moment, the world is focused on what has just happened in the US political arena. For many of us it is hard to see how anyone could have found Trump a plausible candidate for any public office, yet we forget that the average Trump supporter has been soaking up very different stories, and their belief in the man – which is astonishing to us – is a result of sponging up what many readers will regard as ‘bad’ narratives.

I’m interested in stories and how they apply to wine. I think there are similar narratives in wine that influence how we feel about certain regions and styles of wine. A great example of wine storytelling is Kermit Lynch’s excellent Adventures on the Wine Route. This narrative has, I think, had a strong impact on the world of wine, particularly for those Americans who know of Lynch and have read the book. The quest for real, authentic and natural wine is, remember, a relatively recent one.

I like to think we are moving away from the points system. The idea that a wine can be summed up usefully in a points score is absurd, although a score of some sort is useful in that it helps readers know how much you liked the wine. Wine is so diverse, and the story of wine that has at its centre the notion that a wine can be of a place, is a powerful narrative. I buy a Chablis and celebrate its Chablis-like essence. A good Chablis is one that is a sensible, skilled interpretation of that place.

To suggest that the merit of a wine is how much you ‘enjoy’ the flavour, and how much hedonic appeal it has, is nonsense. If you view the destination as 100 points, a wine that is perfect, then it reduces place to merely a means of helping create this perfect wine, and not as something important in its own right.

Do wine journalists matter? I think so, and it’s not just because of the way their recommendations affect the sale of specific wines. It’s because good journalists tell stories, and this narrative then shapes how people feel about regions, varieties, producers and vintages. Just as Smith points out, there are good narratives and bad ones. As journalists, and as a wine trade, we need to be careful that we are telling the right sorts of stories.