Wind Gap Syrah and Grenache - class from California


I’ve written recently about Pax Mahle’s Wind Gap, giving his Trousseau Gris a positive review. Now it’s the turn of two Rhone varieties, Syrah and Grenache. They’re both beautiful, but my preference is for the remarkable Syrah.

Wind Gap Old Vine Grenache 2012 Sonoma County, California
13.75% alcohol. 420 cases made in two concrete eggs. Sweetly aromatic with red cherries and strawberries. It’s quite lush with some liqueur-like notes, but also has some fine spiciness and hints of leather. The palate is smooth and ripe but has great definition. There’s nice grip here with some cherries and herbs, and a bit of structure. Real complexity and interest. 93/100 (£33.95 Roberson)

Wind Gap Syrah 2011 Sonoma Coast, California
11.4% alcohol. 495 cases made in 17 barrels and 2 puncheons. Thrilling aromatics of meat, pepper and black cherries and plums. Sweetly fruited and very Syrah-like: it’s perhaps a little sweeter and riper than classic northern Rhone, but it has all the delicious meaty, spicy cool-climate Syrah character. Just a hint of green sappiness. Smooth and supple in the mouth. Hauntingly aromatic with finesse and beauty. Silky, detailed and quite profound, and I’d drink this now for the pleasure it delivers. 95/100 (£34.95 Roberson)

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Lunch with Olivier Bernstein

olivier bernstein

Had lunch on Thursday with Olivier Bernsteinm (above), along with some other journos and the fabulous Simon Staples at Berry Brothers & Rudd.

Olivier was born in the Loire, and his grandfather founded a music publishing house. It was while he was working in international management that Olivier caught the wine bug and did a degree in winemaking and viticulture at Beaune. He bought an old farmhouse in the Roussillon, and with 8 hectares of vines formed Mas de la Deveze in 2002. But his true love was Burgundy, and in 2007 he started a micronegociant operation under his own name.

He buys grapes solely from premier and grand cru vineyards, and in 2012 he purchased his first vineyard parcels (Grand Cru Mazis Chambertin and Gevrey 1er Cru Les Champeaux). He says prices for 1er and Grand Cru grapes has doubled over the last seven years. ‘I was lucky when I started in 2007,’ says Bernstein. ‘I entered the game at a period when demand was not so crazy. It has increased every year.’ He adds, ‘Bordeaux was too expensive, so a lot of people came to Burgundy. The luxury groups in France want to buy land and make offers that are so crazy that the owners think they can increase the price of everything. What I did seven years ago is now impossible.’

The word is out that one individual is willing to pay 2 million Euros per ouvree of Grand Cru vineyard, which would value the land at 48 million Euros per hectare. Since Bernstein bought his vineyard parcels in 2012 he has received offers for them five times higher than what he paid. ‘Burgundy is becoming the Village d’Asterix,’ says Bernstein, likening it to a theme park.

We drank a range of his wines, and my notes are as follows.

Olivier Bernstein Puligny Montrachet 1er Cru Champ Gain 2011 Burgundy, France
Nice precision with some lemon and toast notes, as well as hints of peachy richness and subtle nuts. Stylish. 93/100

Olivier Bernstein Corton Charlemagne Grand Cru 2011 Burgundy, France
Wonderfully precise with nice minerality and a hint of matchstick. Real detail here. Lovely lemony precision with citrus and subtle herb notes. Really mineral. Showing real precision and focus. 95/100

Olivier Bernstein Gevrey Chambertin Les Champeaux 1er Cru 2008 Burgundy, France
Sweet cherries and plums. Well defined with juicy focus and nice tannins. Taut and with an appealing spicy dimension, still quite primary but lovely with it. 93/100

Olivier Bernstein Gevrey Chambertin 2008 Burgundy, France
Supple, structured and pure with some plums, cherries and spice. Really nice structure. Ripe and fresh with good precision. 92/100

Olivier Bernstein Chambolle Musigny 1er Cru Les Lavrottes 2010 Burgundy, France
Sweet, lush, ripe and floral with some subtle pepper spice and plummy fruit. Generous with black cherries sitting over nice structure. Lovely finesse here. 94/100

Olivier Bernstein Gevrey Chambertin 1er Cru Les Cazetiers 2011 Burgundy, France
Fresh, robust and nicely reductive with taut fruit and some nice matchstick notes. Fresh black cherries and plums. taut, youthful and reduced with great future potential. 95/100

Olivier Bernstein Clos Vougeot Grand Cru 2009 Burgundy, France
Supple, sweet and structured with bright cherry and plum fruit. Quite dense with lovely weight and structure. very fine, and needs more time. 95/100

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Pre- and post-run wines from last weekend at Pichon


Last Friday night I stayed at Château Pichon in Pauillac, in preparation for the long run the next day. I was intending to drink very little, but in the end some nice bottles were opened. Ideal preparation for the run! I’ve also added some notes for a few post-run bottles. The Noval Vintage 2003, which is spectacular at the moment, was tasted on both occasions.

Joh. Jos. Prum Wehlener Sonnenuhr Riesling Kabinett 2008 Mosel, Germany
Limey, precise and lemony with pure linear fruit and a mineral core. Subtle melon and honey adding richness. Very pure and still quite primary. 91/100

Joh. Jos. Prum Wehlener Sonnenuhr Riesling Spätlese 2007 Mosel, Germany
Sweet grapefruit and tangerine notes with some melony richness. Ripe apples, too. Fresh and very drinkable, this is a lovely Riesling. 93/100

Joh. Jos. Prum Wehlener Sonnenuhr Riesling Auslese 2004 Mosel, Germany
Lively and mineral with subtle hints of cabbage. Very fresh and not too sweet with focused, pure, linear fruit. Not too developed. 92/100

Christian Seely

Christian Seely


Château Pichon Baron 2007 Pauillac, Bordeaux
Dense, rich blackcurrant fruit with some spiciness and subtle green notes. Lovely structure with some grip and lovely fruit. A real surprise from a badly regarded vintage. 93/100

Château Pichon Baron 2008 Pauillac, Bordeaux
Lovely blackcurrant, blackberry and gravel notes. Smooth and still quite youthful with nice grip and precision. Quite tannic with fresh black fruits dominating. Still youthful, with a lot of potential. 94/100

Château Pichon Baron 2002 Pauillac, Bordeaux
‘This hasn’t finished saying what it has to say,’ says Christian Seely. ‘It’s something I rather like in this vintage.’ Grippy with lovely perfumed blackberry and blackcurrant fruit. Sweet with some gravel and lovely black fruits. Smooth, ripe and pure with an attractive grainy structure. 93/100

Château Pichon Baron 2004 Pauillac, Bordeaux
Lovely spicy, savoury blackcurrant fruit with some cedary notes. Nice structure, coupled with good freshness. Fine spices. Ripe but with nice savouriness. 93/100

Corinne Michot and 9 times Medoc marathon winner Philippe Remond

Corinne Michot and 9 times Medoc marathon winner Philippe Remond


Château Suduiraut 2006 Sauternes, Bordeaux, France
This is sensational. Honeyed crystalline fruits with caramel richness and some toast. Complex smoky apricots with orange peel, cinnamon, cloves and white pepper spiciness. Complex and complete. 95/100

Quinta do Noval Vintage Port 2003 Douro, Portugal
Quite amazing, with dense blackberry and black cherry fruit with lovely precision. Floral and dense with freshness, structure and complexity. Beginning to show a little positive evolution, but still a baby. 96/100

Quinta do Noval Colheita 1971 Douro, Portugal
Sweet, spicy and rich with powerful cherry and plum fruit. Complex notes of spice and cedar with great concentration and density. Quite profound. 96/100


Some thoughts about perfectionism.

Generally speaking, this is an undesirable trait. There are some people who you would quite like to see perfectionism expressed in: for example, your neurosurgeon, your architect, or the payroll person at work. But perfectionism isn’t easy to live with, and in the long run makes people miserable.

It leads to a binary view of the world. Things have to be exactly right, or they are no good at all. Perfectionists see in black and white, and are continually disappointed by the real world, with its compromises and shades of grey.

Those around them are left to feel like there is something wrong with them; that they have failed to achieve the minimum standard; that they are a source of disappointment.

Like most human traits, perfectionism has a number of roots. I suspect that one root is being badly let down by a significant figure early in life. The perfectionist has a low self image, and doesn’t feel accepted. But, if they are able to turn in a perfect performance, and play by the rules, then deep down they feel that this may be a way for them to earn acceptance. The problem: they become a harsh judge of themselves, and this drives them even further in the direction of perfectionism. Naturally, they expect others to play by these rules as well.

It doesn’t work. The perfectionist feels that if they try hard enough, they can control everything, and in truth they can’t. None of us is in control.

This is where there is a link to wine. If you are making wine, the perfectionist approach is a dangerous one, because it puts you in control. And you can’t control the process, no matter how hard you try. Trying to control winegrowing will invariably lead to disappointing results.

Wine is created by the agroecology of the vineyard, and is steered during the winemaking process. But it is this partnership among organisms that produces the final product, and this is something you join in with, not control.

Broc Cellars Valdiguié 2012

broc valdigue

This is a lovely wine. It’s made from the Valdiguié grape variety, a rather unremarkable variety from southern France that once was popular in California because of its disease resistance, where it was known as California Gamay. However, it was judged to make rather ordinary wine, and now only 300 acres or so are left. However, like other ‘ordinary’ varieties such as Cinsault, Carignan and Pais, Valdiguié is capable of making really superb, drinkable wines. It all depends what you are looking for. If you are looking for deep, powerful, rich, dark-coloured wines, don’t come here. But if you want something elegant, nicely poised and drinkable, this is for you.

Broc Cellars Valdiguié 2012 Solano County, California
12% alcohol. Very fine, fresh and natural. Perfumed black cherry, red cherry and plum nose with a hint of leathery savouriness. The palate is supple, pure and elegant, with a light body and delicious cherry fruit. Lots of detail here: a really pure, expressive wine with freshness and vitality. So drinkable. 93/100 (available in the UK from Roberson Wine)

The first wines released from urban winery London Cru


So, the first vintage of London Cru’s wines are bottled and will soon be on the market. [Read my report on them from last year.] I visited this – London’s first urban winery – to try the new wines with winemaker Gavin Monery. It’s also time for vintage two to start coming in, and so Gavin is quite nervous. ‘You have one chance a year,’ he says. ‘Screw it up and that’s it. So our focus at the moment is getting the grapes off at the right time.’

This year, London Cru are using the same growers as last time. So in 2014 there will be a Cabernet from Jeff Coutelou (Languedoc), a Barbera from Giovanni Cordero (Piedmont), and Chardonnay and Syrah from Château de Corneilla (Roussillon). Plus a new wine: a Garnacha from Norrel Robertson in Cayatalud, which comes from 90 year old bush vines at 950 m.

‘I’d rather make less wine than mediocre wine,’ states Gavin. ‘The whole project is about making good wine, not gimmicky wine.’ All of the 2013s will be the same price (£15), with 1400 cases overall.

When I visited (the week before last) the Cabernet was just about to be harvested and sent back to arrive a few days later. The key part of the grape movement process is that the fruit is chilled within 2 or 3 hours of the harvest. ‘This is the most important thing from the quality viewpoint,’ says Gavin.

The only problem that London Cru have so far found insurmountable is to do with names. The UK rules mean that the wines must be labelled as ‘EC wine’, with no vintage or grape variety indicated. ‘This really annoys me,’ Gavin reveals. ‘The paper trail back to the vineyard is water-tight. The veracity of varieties and vineyards is 100%. It is an arbitrary rule at this end.’

The 2013 releases are all impressive.

SW6 Chardonnay 2013
Very fine nose is subtly nutty with some delicate toastiness and lovely citrus characters. The palate is fine and expressive with gentle bread, nut, citrus and white peach notes. Very stylish wine. Super-clean style. 90/100

SW6 Syrah 2013
From a spot 5 km from the ocean in the Roussillon: a cool site in a warm region. 12.5% alcohol. Fine, fresh black cherry fruit with lovely purity, and a bit of raspberry freshness. Direct and pure with subtle green notes. Nicely textured. 91/100

SW6 Barbera 2013
Supple, bright, expressive wine with spicy black fruits over damson and plums. Lovely acidity and a bit of bite (this was 12.5% alcohol and pH 3.35 after malo). Vibrant juicy fruit and lovely grippiness. 91/100

SW6 Cabernet Sauvignon 2013
Jeff Coutelou supplies this, and he was previously giving these excellent grapes to the coop because he just wanted to make wine from local varieties. Lovely pure, sweet blackcurrant fruit nose with some blackcurrant leaf. So classic and expressive. The palate is beautifully balanced with nice structure and classic Cabernet characters. A lovely wine with real potential. 91/100

The marathon du medoc


So I ran the Marathon du Médoc yesterday for the second year. it was the 30th anniversary of the race, so even more than usual there was a party atmosphere. There were also more runners – over 10 000.

It was a hot sunny day. Great for the vines, which need just another week of this weather for 2014 to be a very interesting vintage, even after the coolest August for 50 years. But the heat made running hard, even though it made for a visually spectacular scene.


I ran the first half with Christian Seely, who is great company. He then stopped and I carried on alone. I stopped for wine several times, and it was very enjoyable.

How did I do? Unlike last year, which was painful, this year I had no pain. I came 2741 out of 10196 runners, which is better than last year. I was slow, but it was very warm and there were lots of wine stops, and congestion at the start cost around 25 minutes. It was tremendous fun. I was 808 out of 2380 in my age group – my time was (cringe) 5.27 – I was very lazy because I had lots left in my tank at the end and sprinted the last stretch! Then I had a 20 minute walk back to Pichon, where we had lunch with wine, port and Sauternes, which was most splendid. A short film is posted below these pictures.









And a short film:

Keep on running

I wrote last year about how I’d begun running. The good news is that I have managed to keep it up. And I’m just about to get on a plane to run the Marathon du Médoc for the second year.

I’m so pleased that I have managed to carry on, because what it shows me is that change is possible. We love the idea of change, but in reality it is very hard to achieve. Enduring change, I reckon, comes from within. It revolves around changing our internal narrative: the story we have running in the background about who we are, what we are like, what our purpose is, where we have come from and where we are going.

When you get older, you have to do some exercise, or you have to change your eating habits, or you will get fat. If you are happy being fat, then that is fine. Sort of. Being fat is a major risk factor for diabetes, cardiovascular disease and cancer – and it rarely looks good. So I want to avoid it. I find it very difficult to eat and drink less. Particularly the drinking thing, because I love wine and beer. So exercise is necessary, and unfortunately it takes a considerable amount of exercise to burn off a decent meal or a nice bottle of wine.

Short term change isn’t too tricky. It’s comparatively easy to make a once-off special effort and lose weight and gain fitness. A diet will do it, or maybe working towards a heroic sporting goal. What is more difficult is sustainable change: building this new approach into normal life, in such a way that you can keep it up.

I am lucky in that I am a freelancer, so I have flexibility. For winter running, this is a real help. There is little joy in running in the dark. It’s difficult enough running in the wet and cold, but add darkness into the mix and I don’t know whether I could do it.

I am, however, under no illusion that I am a good runner. I am below average. It is not a talent I possess: I was rubbish at cross-country at school, so I just don’t think I am biologically equipped for it. This knowledge does serve a purpose: it keeps me from becoming a running bore. It prevents me from boasting of my PBs (personal bests), and getting competitive. Long and slow is how I roll.

My tips for novice runners, as someone who was very recently in these ranks, are as follows. Get some decent shoes, and wear tight-fitting gear (you won’t blister or chafe). Always wear shorts over the top of running tights in winter, otherwise it looks obscene. Find some good routes to run, preferably in places that are naturally beautiful – nature lifts the soul. Buy an arm wallet for your keys and carry some change so you can buy a drink half way during a long run (I hate carrying a water bottle). Rehydrate on warm days using diarrhea rehydration salts rather than just water. Use a running app such as Runkeeper to track your runs, but don’t share them via social media. Where possible, run with others (although I do almost all my runs alone).

I’m a little scared about Saturday’s run, but my goal is simple. To enjoy the day as much as I can, and just to finish. I am not aiming for a time, but if I do break last year’s very slow time of 5:18 I will be delighted. Truly and honestly.

Pressing under nitrogen, the Inertys system

bucher vaslin inertys


One of the things I saw in Provence was the way that many of the wineries are projecting the juice by pressing in the absence of oxygen. Pictured above is the press at Chateau Gassier, which has been fitted with the Bucher Inertys system.

The big bag (pictured below is one at Chateau Jas d’Esclans) contains nitrogen gas, and is flexible. It breathes in and out like a lung, depending on the pressing phase. As a result, a closed loop is created, where the gas in the system is nitrogen, not air, protecting the juice from any oxidation at all. Of course, you could just inject nitrogen into the press with every cycling, but then you’d use a lot of it, and the cost would be prohibitive. The creation of the closed loop is the key to the success of Inertys.



This is ideal for making high quality rose, where the protected juice keeps all its aromatic qualities, as well as preserving precursors of aroma compounds (which the yeasts use to make aroma compounds during fermentation) that might also be susceptible to oxidation. Grape must is capable of taking up considerably more oxygen than wine is. It means that it’s possible to use less sulfur dioxide during winemaking, too. Not only do you need to add less to the must, but also the oxidation inhibitor glutathione is protected, and this can have an important role to play later on in winemaking.

Another innovation used by some rose winemakers is shown above at Minuty. Hand-picked grapes are destemmed and then pumped into a device that cools them down before they go to the press. If you have to process a lot of grapes, it’s not always possible to leave them in a cool room overnight, and if you are picking by hand it isn’t always easy to pick at night, or very early in the morning.

On the road in Provence, some pictures


I’m currently on the road in Provence. It’s a beautiful time of year to be here. Harvest has just begun in many areas; in others it is a week or two away. It’s sunny but not scorching hot, and the bulk of the tourists have gone home, so it means that the roads aren’t permanently jammed. I’m travelling with a small but jolly band – Amelia Singer, Natasha Redcliffe (of Westbury, the UK PR company who run the Wines of Provence account), and Caroline and Valerie of the CIVP.

We have been busy visiting some very interesting producers, as well as the rose research institute. Rose is the big story here. It represents the vast majority of wines from the region, and it’s something Provence does very well. And in the UK last year sales grew by close to 60% in both volume and value (May 2014 year to date). But I have also had some excellent whites and some very good reds. For now, just some pictures.