Announcing beeranorak.com, a collaboration between Jamie Goode and Daniel Primack

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What is it?
A beer website created by two wine people: Jamie Goode (wine journalist, wineanorak.com, drinks writer The Sunday Express) and Daniel Primack (General Manager at Around Wine, selling wonderful wine glasses, wine storage equipment and fridges + accessories).

What will you find there?
Unfettered enthusiasm about interesting beer is the order of the day, without any of the usual baggage. We’ll try our best to keep it amusing, engaging and utterly honest, of course.

Why did we start this?
We both love interesting beer. And beer has gotten a lot more interesting of late. The craft beer movement has revitalised this sector, and we reckon it’s going to get a lot bigger, and a lot more interesting. Let’s face it, great beer is still niche, and it isn’t taken as seriously as wine – especially in the context of restaurants. We think this is beginning to change, which is why we wanted to share our enthusiasm for decent beer and give recognition to the very best brewers.

Aren’t there already lots of beer websites and blogs?
Yes, and there are some excellent ones. Does ours have something fresh to say, and a point of difference? We think so, but really that’s up to you to judge. We hope there’s room for fresh voices in the world of beer writing, and that’s what we hope to provide.

BeerAnorak ¦ www.beeranorak.com ¦Twitter/Instagram @beeranorak
Jamie Goode jamie@wineanorak.com /Daniel Primack daniel@aroundwine.co.uk

Some lovely older South African wines

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So I arrived here in St James, Cape Town, South Africa, in time for lunch. It was with the other judges of the Top 100 competition that I am participating in, and it was accompanied by some older South African wines.

We began with decade-old Sauvignon. These are wines you wouldn’t have expected to age well. But these bottles were lovely. They were followed up by a selection of older reds, most of which showed really well too.

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Springfield Estate Life From Stone Sauvignon Blanc 2004 Robertson, South Africa
Powerful green herbal notes but these have integrated well, to create a seamless, textured wine with some crystalline fruit quality and just a hint of mushroom. Surprisingly delicious: I wouldn’t have expected a methoxypyrazine dominated wine like this to have aged so well. 90/100

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Neil Ellis Sauvignon Blanc Vineyard Selection Groenekloof 2004 South Africa
Lovely rich texture here with sweet pear, spice, peach and toast notes. Intense, quite rich, textured and ripe. 92/100

Cape Point Isleidh 2004 South Africa
Amazing wine: toasty and rich but with fine grapefruit and sweet quince, pear and peach notes. Toasty and bold yet delicate at the same time. 93/100
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Steenberg Sauvignon Blanc 2004 Constantia, South Africa
Very fresh and pure with some nice green herby notes as well as lemon and grapefruit. Nice precision and good texture. 90/100

Steeenberg Sauvignon Blanc 2005 Constantia, South Africa
Some green herbal notes with citrus and a subtle toasty character. 89/100
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Cape Point Sauvignon Blanc 2004 South Africa
Fresh with some green herby notes, lovely texture and a bit of toastiness. There’s precision and freshness to this wine. Nice depth. 91/100

Rust en Vrede Cabernet Sauvignon 1998 Stellenbosch, South Africa
13% alcohol. Sweet, warm and cedary with a hint of earth and spice. Really smart and elegant with smoothness and sweetness. 92/100

Cordoba Crescendo 1998 Stellenbosch, South Africa
13.5% alcohol, a Cabernet Franc-dominated wine. Sweet, cedary, spicy and warm with powerful blackcurrant and blackberry fruit. Warm, attractive and spicy with nice depth. 91/100
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Cederberg V Generations 2004 Cederberg, South Africa
14% alcohol. 100% new French oak. Sweet blackcurrant fruit nose with herb and tobacco notes. Rich, warm, spicy palate with smooth tannins and lots of berryish fruit. A ripe, seamless style. 91/100

Meerlust Rubicon 2001 Stellenbosch, South Africa
Sweet, warm and spicy with powerful blackcurrant bud and blackberry notes, as well as some tar. Warm and intense with nice tannic grip. A powerful wine that’s still youthful and a bit angular. 92/100
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Rustenberg Peter Barlow 1999 Stellenbosch, South Africa
Dense, sweet and ripe with blackcurrant and berry fruit, with a spicy undercurrent. 90/100

Rustenberg John X Merriman 1999 Stellenbosch, South Africa
This is in a good place at the moment and outperforms its big brother. Floral and aromatic with fresh blackberry and blackcurrant fruit, with a hint of leafiness. Amazing silky texture. 93/100

Le Riche Cabernet Sauvignon 1999 Stellenbosch, South Africa
12.5% alcohol. Full, gravelly with blackcurrant and sweet berry fruits. Some grip, too. 91/100

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Jordan CWG Sophia 2006 Stellenbosch, South Africa
13.5% alcohol, 50% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Cabernet Franc, 30% Merlot. Fresh, gravelly, with lovely bright blackcurrant fruit. Really dense, precise and pure with nice weight and real finesse. 93/100
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Klein Constantia Vin de Constance 2000 Constantia, South Africa
Bronze/gold colour. Sweet, concentrated, bold and rich with spice, raisins, tea leaves, herbs, apricots and honey. Complex and textured, this is lovely. 95/100

Some nice bottles at The Remedy wine bar

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Visited The Remedy for the first time on Thursday. It’s a new wine bar in Fitzrovia, on Cleveland Street and in close proximity to three tube stations (Regents Park, Warren Street and Great Portland Street).

This is a great addition to the rapidly expanding London wine bar scene, and the wine list is the real deal (you can see it here), with lots of interesting bottles. There’s a strong natural element to it, but it’s not as hardcore a list as some. The by the glass selection is a sensible size and has some interesting bottles on it. It would be nice to have a few more options, but then there’d be a lot of wastage and the possibility of running into tired or out of condition bottles.

You can eat here too, with a menu offering light bites to something a bit more substantial. What we had was excellent (mixed cured meats and breads). I was visiting with Ted Lemon of Littorai and Burn Cottage, but as well as tasting a few of his wines (which I’ll write up separately), we also explored some of the wines from the Remedy’s list.

Suertes del Marques Trenzado 2012 Tenerife, Spain
Really complex, fresh, minerally nose with some lovely matchstick/flint notes. Fresh but textured palate with pronounced minerally reduction and great precision. Such a lovely wine, for those who like a bit of good reduction. 94/100
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Escoda Sanahuja Els Bassots 2011 Conca de Barbera, Spain
A skin contact Chenin. Yellow/orange colour. Structured with apply, nutty characters, plus minerals, lemons, pear and herbs. Some structure evident. Such a distinctive wine with interest and complexity. 93/100
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Filippi Soave Monteseroni 2008 Veneto, Italy
Nutty and textured with apples and pears, as well as some rounded honeyed notes. A really textured, thought-provoking wine with subtly oxidative characters adding interest and texture. 92/100
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Keller Riesling Von der Fels 2012 Rheinhessen, Germany
This is brilliant. Fresh, mineral and bright with some grapefruit and lemon notes. Really detailed and precise; dry but generous, with brilliant balance. Thrillingly good. 94/100
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Dujac Gevrey Chambertin 2011 Burgundy, France
Very strong for a village level negoce wine. Fresh and bright with subtle green notes and some spice, a hint of herbs and a touch of pepper. This has lovely sweet cherry fruit but also a bit of structural grip. Such an expressive wine. 93/100

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JM Stephan Cote Rotie 2012 Northern Rhone, France
Very floral violet and pepper nose with some meaty olive notes too. It smells like a cool climate Syrah from a warmer region: it has edges. The palate is suberbly fresh and edgy, with some rustic notes, tannins and sweet dark fruit. This is essence of northern Rhone. 93/100

Generalists versus specialists

For those of us making a living writing about wine, there’s a choice we have to make. Do we position ourselves as experts or generalists? Do we specialize in just a few areas, going deep, or do we try to maintain a global focus, covering all regions more generally?

For anyone starting out, I’d say focus on the former, but don’t neglect the latter.
You want to become the go-to writer on a few areas of expertise. That’s the way to get work. There are just too many wine writers and not enough work for all (even all the good ones), so you have to have a point of difference, as well as being an excellent taster and writer.

There are real dangers with the generalist approach. If you try to cover the whole world of wine you’ll be spreading yourself too thin, and any serious attempt to cover every significant region will leave you a sleepless workaholic.
Having said this, the best approach is to specialize on the platform of a strong general knowledge. You have to put the work in to gain the sort of context where you can do ‘specialist’ well. If you want to be a really useful specialist, you need to benchmark with the classics; to have an understanding of what the aesthetic system of fine wine considers to be ‘great wine’.

Consider the wines of a new world country. You’d expect that the best source of knowledge on these wines would be a local writer – someone on the ground in the midst of the action. But if they don’t have access to wines from around the world, and in particular the established old world classics, then they are lacking the context that would make them an even more useful authority. A critic from outside that country might have the advantage of better context, but then they have the disadvantage of distance, without the easy access a local wine writer might have.

So my answer. If you are starting out now, in a crowded field, work hardest at being a niche player, but in order to do this well, you need to make an effort developing general context.

Champagne Agrapart Terroirs Extra Brut

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On my last day in San Francisco I met up with Blake Edgar, editor at University of California Press (who have published 3 of my books). It was a beautiful day, so we sat outside at the Market Bar restaurant in the Ferry Building. I’d brought along a decent bottle of Champagne in the hope that they’d allow us to open it, and they did for a fair-enough corkage fee of $25. I’m not sure Blake is used to drinking at lunchtime, but it was a beautiful bottle that exceeded my expectations.

Champagne Agrapart Terroirs Extra Brut Granc Cru Blanc de Blancs NV
This is fabulous. It’s half Avize, with the rest from Cramant, Oger and Oiry, and the dosage is 5 g/litre. Complex, taut, fresh with lovely weight and nice density to the citrussy fruit. It’s not at all austere: there’s a fruit richness and purity here, as well as subtle toastiness and nice structure. A lovely fizz. 94/100

Find this wine with wine-searcher

Results of the ML wines competition, 2014

A few weeks ago I posted about the ML wines competition held by Lallemand in Madrid.

The results are now out (click on the image below to see it full size as a pdf).

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A good inexpensive Portuguese red

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I was impressed by this affordable Portuguese red. yes, it has seductive ripe fruit, as you’d expect. But it has more than this: a lovely floral, meaty perfume and nice freshness. It does what an inexpensive red should do: delivering pleasure, without spoofiness. Available from the Asda Online wine shop, which also has the lovely Vincent Careme Spring Vouvray and the super Fossil white.

Conde de Vimioso 2011 Tejo, Portugal
13.5% alcohol. From João Portugal Ramos’ Falua winery in the Tejo region comes this really attractive, full flavoured red. It’s a blend of Touriga Nacional, Aragones (Tempranillo), Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah, showing sweet, intense blackberry and black cherry fruit with a floral, meaty edge as well as some spiciness. Chunky and dense, but quite delicious with enticing florality on the nose. 90/100 (£8.50 Asda Online)

10 Californian Pinot Noirs that will blow your mind

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It’s official. California is exciting place for Pinot Noir, and there is now now shortage of elegant, detailed, supple, world class Pinot Noir here, if you look in the right places. The In Pursuit of Balance tasting held in San Francisco in March 2014 showcased the top Pinot Noirs from California, and from the many wines I tried, I’ve selected 10 that I think will surprise many who haven’t yet discovered the ‘new’ California. I must add a caveat: this is a personal selection, and to a degree it is a little arbitrary, because there were just so many good wines it is hard to separate them. And I didn’t manage to try all the wines on show.

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Cobb Coastlands Vineyard Pinot Noir 2010 Sonoma Coast, California
Made by Ross Cobb, who is also winemaker at Hirsch (since 2010). Pale cherry red colour. Fresh, floral, bright red cherry fruit nose with some fine, slightly edgy herby/spicy notes. The palate has freshness and finesse, with some fine herbal notes under the pure, silky, sweet cherry fruit. Profound wine. 96/100

Littorai Platt Vineyard Pinot Noir 2012 Sonoma Coast, California
Pale in colour. Fresh aromatic sweet red cherry fruit leads to a silky, fresh, sappy palate that just about defines the term ‘elegant’ as it relates to Pinot. So beautiful, pure and refined. Stunning. 96/100
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LaRue Rice-Spivak Vineyard Pinot Noir 2011 Sonoma Coast, California
This is the first time I’ve tried the wines of Katy Wilson, and I was impressed. This is supple and sweet with some spicy notes under the fresh, silky, ripe cherry fruit. There’s real detail and complexity here: a generous wine but one that’s still really elegant. 95/100

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Tyler Sanford & Benedict Pinot Noir 2011 Santa Rita Hills, California
From the original 1971 plantings, Justin Willett has produced a beautifully poised Pinot. Fresh, fine, floral, sappy nose. The palate is precise and pure with expressive red fruits and a lovely mineral dimension. Sophisticated and fine. 95/100
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Domaine de la Côte ‘La Côte’ Pinot Noir 2011 Santa Rita Hills, Calfornia
The packaging here is making a nod at DRC. It’s a bit like playing football wearing a Brazil shirt. This has a fine, expressive nose with spice and herbs complementing the floral fruit. The palate is tight and structured with some edginess, and a grippy finish. But this complements rather than takes away from the fine, pure fruit, and haunting minerality. Just beautiful. 95/100

Hirsch Reserve Estate Pinot Noir 2011 Sonoma Coast, California
Fine, fresh and pure, this is an elegant expression of Pinot, showing red cherry fruit and minerals. It shows purity and detail, with an expressive personality, and lovely freshness. 95/100

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Kutch Falstaff Pinot Noir 2012 Sonoma Coast, California
Jamie Kutch’s Pinots are quite structured and intense, yet they don’t lack elegance: wines for the long haul. This is from a very cool site, it’s 100% whole cluster and 25% new oak. Sweet, lively, aromatic cherry and plum nose. The palate is fresh, pure and concentrated, with lovely bright fruit, boldness, and good structure. 94/100

Ceritas Hellenthal Vineyard Pinot Noir 2012 Central Coast, California
From a vineyard planted in 1980, just east of Hirsch, dry farmed with Calera clone on own roots. This is pure and taut, with nice raspberry and cherry fruit. It’s fresh, precise and detailed, and has the structure to age nicely. 94/100

Chanin La Rinconada Vineyard Pinot Noir 2012 Santa Rita Hills, California
Gavin Chanin’s wines have the prettiest labels in the state, but fortunately what’s inside the bottle is pretty, too. This is from a vineyard with similar soils to the famous Sanford & Benedict vineyard, and was first planted in 1997. With 40% whole cluster, this Pinot has some edges. It shows supple, fine, pure cherry and red fruits with some grippiness and nice detail. Fine. 94/100

Copain Wentzel Pinot Noir 2011 Anderson Valley, California
Wells Guthrie makes some of the leanest, freshest, bravest Pinots you can find, and I really like them. This has a fresh, floral, aromatic nose. The palate shows precise, vivid, focused cherry fruit. It’s youthful and primary, with nice grippy structure, and I reckon it’s one for the long haul. 94/100

Find these wines with wine-searcher.com

Drinking California Pinot Noir history

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On Sunday night I was lucky enough to drink two wines that are important bottles in the story of Pinot Noir in California. I was with Raj Parr, Sashi Moorman, Jasmine Hirsch and Jamie Kutch at Zuni, and these remarkable wines were brought out. It was an immense privilege to be able to drink them.

Sanford & Benedict Pinot Noir 1979 Santa Ynez Valley, California
This is from the famous Sanford & Benedict vineyard in what’s now known as the Santa Rita Hills, which Richard Sanford and Michael Benedict planted in 1971. 13.2% alcohol. Warm, sweet, textured and spicy, this is a generous wine showing sweet plums and black cherry fruit, with a lovely warm spiciness and a soft, broad mouthfeel. It has aged beautifully into a mellow maturity. 94/100

williams selyem 1985

Williams Selyem Pinot Noir Rochioli Vineyard 1985 Russian River Valley, Sonoma, California
A celebrated wine in the history of Californian Pinot, a bit of internet research tells me that this was picked as the best wine at the state fair in 1987, and helped establish the reputations of Burt Williams and Ed Selyem. There was some disagreement in our small group about this wine: I really liked it, but others weren’t so keen. It shows vivid, bright cherry fruit with warm notes of herbs and spice, as well as hints of malt. But as well as the aged characters, it remains floral and fine. It is certainly still alive. 94/100

A Sunday in San Francisco

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So, I got a text from Joshua Thomas: ‘Are you interested in brunch?’ Of course! So I headed across town to meet him at Nopalito for a Mexican brunch. The walk from where I’m staying on Geary took me through some sketchy areas, as I cut down Taylor to Market and then hit Fell. There were a lot of rather scary looking people hanging around, but as I proceeded along Fell things became much better. Nopalito is on the intersection between Oak and Fell on Broderick, and it’s a lovely place to brunch.
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You just don’t get decent Mexican food in the UK, so this was a real treat. We had a few dishes, and they were all fabulous, including the very indulgent carnitas, which is delicious, fatty, meltingly soft pork that you wrap in tortillas.

We had a couple of beers each, too: the Moonlight ‘Reality Czeck’ Czech Style Pilsner from Santa Rosa, and the Magnolia Brewery Proving Ground IPA, which is made just around the corner in upper Haight. We later walked past the brewery.

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Refreshed and refuelled, it was time for a brisk stroll around the neighbourhood. Josh took me to upper Haight, on the boundary of the Golden Gate Park, and then we walked down from here to Lower Height. It’s a famous part of San Francisco, with strong associations with the hippy era. In fact, it’s still pretty hippy. Everyone seems to be smoking weed, and you can buy tie-dyed clothes.

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Lower Haight is home to one of the world’s great beer bars, Toronado. It’s quite small, decidedly old fashioned, and rough round the edges. But it has some incredible beers. We stayed here a long time, and were joined by Ross Cobb, of Cobb Wines and also winemaker at Hirsch Vineyards, as well as a couple of hipster friends of Josh.

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We stated off with Pliny The Elder from Russian River, on tap. This is an incredible beer: pale, complex, hoppy, fresh and perfectly balanced. Then the Hop 15 double IPA, which was pretty strong but just amazingly focused and well balanced. Then the Bochor Jacobins Rouge, a really complex sour beer, animally, bretty and quite wine like. Then La Merle Saison, a yeasty, smooth Belgian-style beer. Then Allagash White, a complex fresh lemony wheat beer.

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After this, it was back to Josh’s place, where he did sabrage on a magnum of Billecart Salmon. It was pretty cool. Here’s the film:

We followed this with some Madeira: first a Barros e Sousa 1980 Terrantez, and then a 1908 D’Oliveras Boal. Both were incredible. I even took notes:

Barros e Sousa Terrantez 1980 Madeira
Fresh, spicy and tangy with citrus fruit, nuts, spice, raisins and herbs. So complex. 95/100

D’Oliveras Boal 1908 Madeira
So complex with herbs, spice, tar, some treacle. Sweet, concentrated and intense with amazing complexity and depth. 97/100

After all this, it was time to head off for dinner. I hadn’t expected to be out quite so long. But it had been an epic time.