I’m delighted to say that if you are as nerdy about wine as I am, there’s a new book coming out next month that will be just up your street.
OK, I am a little biased. It’s the new version of Wine Science, which in the USA is published as The Science of Wine. Both books are identical, save for the covers. This time, it’s just the title on the cover that is different: the rather fetching cover design is the same for both editions, which should stop any confusion (last time I kept getting e-mails asking me whether I’d advise buying both).
If you have access to amazon.co.uk, then you can get the book from February 3rd. If you have access to amazon.com, you can get it at the beginning of April. The publishers are unable to tell me yet whether (and when, if so) a Kindle version will be available. If you can’t buy books from amazon, then getting hold of it may depend on who is working for the publisher in your particular territory. I’ll quiz both Mitchell Beazley (UK publisher) and University of California Press, and publish a list of distributors in the major potential markets.
So, the big question: if you have a copy of the first edition, should you buy this new one? It is nine years now since I wrote the first edition, and I have learned a great deal in the time since then – a lot of this new-found knowledge has gone into the second edition. There are a few entirely new chapters, and everything has been revised.
Also, it’s now in full colour! So, yes, you really MUST buy a copy, even if you have the original.
I am a huge fan of the Languedoc. It’s a region that possesses some serious terroirs, and where winegrowers have the motivation, they can use these to make serious wines that usually represent great value for money. The potential of the Languedoc has attracted the attention of larger wine companies: AXA Millesimes purchased Mas Belles Eaux in 2002, with a view to working their magic there.
I suspect it has been a longer journey than they had anticipated. Most of the wines have been very good but not great. With this 2011, from their best terroirs, I think they are beginning to hit their stride.
Mas Belles Eaux Sainte Helene 2011 Languedoc, France A blend of Syrah and Grenache. Ripe, sweet, spicy and meaty with nice freshness and definition, as well as some mineral notes. Tar, herb and liquorice characters add complexity, and the tannins are attractively grippy, with blackberry and plum fruit dominating. Good concentration. 92/100
This is a lovely wine. It’s from the Mencia grape variety and it comes from the fabulous Ribeira Sacra wine region in Galicia, north west Spain. The vineyards are terraced, a bit like the Douro – and this region isn’t all that far from the Douro, located just north of where the Douro river becomes the border between Portugal and Spain. It’s just my sort of red wine, and a bargain to boot.
Guimaro 2012 Ribeira Sacra, Spain 13.5% alcohol. Ripe but fresh with sweet black cherry and berry fruit. Quite Pinot-like, I guess. There’s a lovely stony, mineral undercurrent to the supple cherry and berry fruit palate, finishing very mineral, unencumbered by oak. Drinkable and quite delicious. 92/100 (£9.95 The Wine Society)
This is quite a remarkable wine. It’s also quite challenging, with really bold, edgy flavours. But brave winemaking like this – and, in particular, the decision to pick early, has to be rewarded. I reckon it’s one of Chile’s most interesting Syrahs, up there with the likes of Matetic and Vina Leyda – which, incidentally, come from the same cool-climate part of the country, San Antonio/Leyda Valley.
Casa Marin Miramar Vineyard Syrah 2009 San Antonio Valley, Chile 12% alcohol. Distinctive, fresh and lively with notes of tar, olice, spice and herbs as well as black cherry and plum fruit. Fresh with a menthol/mint edge as well as a hint of medicine. On day two it opens up a bit and the fruit is released a little. A distinctive, fresh, savoury style of Syrah. 92/100
A while back I posted on ‘Nebbiolo, I’d love to like you more’, which drew some very intelligent responses. I’m sure I lost a few followers – people who realized that if I question the greatness of Nebbiolo, I clearly have no palate and am not a serious person. I understand.
But even if I am not serious, I am open minded. So I have started seeking out what people consider to be good examples of this complex variety. Here are two Barolos from Pio Cesare, who are imported into the UK by MMD. I guess you’d describe Pio Cesare as a modernist traditionalist. They’re using a combination of small French oak and the more traditional large oak casks, and they are a reasonably sized producer with 50 hectares of their own vineyards, as well as sourcing from growers.
Pio Cesare Barolo 2009 Piedmont, Italy 14.5% alcohol. Attractive nose of cherries, plums, spice, some floral notes, a hint of dried herbs, and some tea and roses. The palate is grippy and tannic with sweet, warm, ripe cherries and plums, good acidity and a hint of tar. Drying, tannic mouthfeel. There’s real interest here: warm and ripe but angular and fresh at the same time. 91/100
Pio Cesare Barolo Ornato 2009 Piedmont, Italy 14.5% alcohol. An ornate nose of cherries, spice, roses, turned earth and dried herbs. The palate is fresh, bright and cherryish with grippy tannins lurking under the delicate, sweet cherry fruit. Already has some complexity with minerals, earth and herbs. There’s a sweetness here that works nicely in fusion with the savoury notes. Distinctly Barolo and quite structured, with the potential for development. 94/100
London is an interesting place for food and drink these days. Last night I went out with buddy Daniel Primack of Around Wine to have some fun in Charlotte Street, taking in three establishments that represent the best of London’s new gastro/booze scene.
We started of at Vagabond (pictured above), which I reckon represents the future of wine retailing. The Charlotte Street branch has only been open a few months, but it’s already pretty busy. There are over 100 wines to try from the sampling machines, and there’s space to sit down. Each of the wines on tasting has a small sheet explaining what is and where it comes from, and these are available for customers to take away. It’s a fun, social place.
How does it compare with The Sampler? At Vagabond the wines are less high-end, and it’s less of a wine shop than a place to come and try wine – it’s less geeky and more accessible, although for a serious geek like me The Sampler has more of the sort of wines that will get me excited. Vagabond is a bit more social, and for its location and clientele they seem to have got it just right.
Daniel and I spent a while tasting wines. For £20 between us we tried 8 wines each, finishing with the remarkable Equipo Navazos La Bota de Palo Cortado 24, a sensational Sherry.
This set us up nicely for the next stage of the evening: a spot of dinner at Drakes Tabanco round the corner in Windmill Street. This is a gem of a place: simple, a bit rustic, with a sherry focus and remarkably detailed, complex, flavoursome small plates. Highlights included cured sardines and an amazing plate of smoked scallops with avocado puree. My pictures (taken in terrible light) don’t do these dishes justice.
To drink we began with Fernando de Castilla’s Fino en rama and then two bottles of red: Heinrich 2010 Blaufrankish from the Burgenland and La Makerida Bobal 2012 from Utiel Requena in Spain (we’d brought these with us; they’re not on the list). Both fresh, bright, focused and rather delicious.
Then it was off to the Draft House Charlotte Street. This is the smallest of the Draft House’s five London locations – a compact, atmospheric bar with great staff and fabulous beers. We began with the Odell St Lupulin and Oscar Blues Dales Pale Ale – both brilliant examples of the US craft beer scene, the latter in a can (good for beer quality). Then we hit the amazing Stone Ruination, and the quirky Partizan Saison Grisette Lime. The beer scene is so exciting these days, and places like the Draft House make serious beer accessible to non beer geeks, which is important.
My full notes:
Henry Pelle Menetou Salon Silex du Carrois 2011 Loire, France
Fruity, textured and lively with some herbs and a hint of melon. It’s a rounded, sophisticated, rich expression of Sauvignon with nice texture. 89/100
Claude Riffault Sancerre Denisottes 2012 Loire, France Fresh, mineral and lively with lovely citrus and herb notes. Mineral and quite linear this has lovely focus. 90/100
Pegasus Bay Sauvignon Blanc Semillon 2011 Waipara, New Zealand? Such a bright, pure wine with lovely fresh, green-tinged fruit. Great precision here. 90/100
Domaine Gayda Figure Libre 2010 Languedoc, France An organic Macabeo. Complex, herby, pithy and dense with some waxy notes and rich fruit. Dense and rich yet still quite fresh. 88/100
Pietradolce Etna Rosso 2012 Sicily, Italy This shows fresh, bright, vivid red cherry fruit with some spice and herbs, finishing grippy. Lively and quite fresh, but also quite angular. 89/100
Maseria Li Veli Susumaniello 2011 Salento, Italy Rich, spicy and berryish with some reductive notes, as well as black cherry fruit and herbs. A little bit animal but it’s a lovely, complex ripe red wine. 91/100
Quinta do Seival Castas Portuguesas 2006 Campanha, Brazil Warm, rich, dense, ripe and spicy with vanilla notes under the black fruits. Dense, ripe, oaky, and quite Spanish in style. 87/100
Equipo Navazos La Bota de Palo Cortado 24 Sherry/Jerez, Spain Amazing nose: toasty, nutty, tangy and rich with some citrus freshness. Tangy, intense palate has real depth and complexity. Just fabulous. 94/100
Fernando de Castilla Fino en Rama NV Sherry/Jerez, Spain Wonderfully nutty, lemony and tangy with herbal hints and fresh citrus notes, allied to richness. Very stylish. 93/100
La Malkerida Bobal 2012 Utiel Requena, Spain 12.5% alcohol. I really like this: it’s fresh, vibrant and pure with sweet fruit but also a bit of savoury grip. Juicy and focused with structured cherry and raspberry fruit the dominant theme. 92/100
Heinrich Blaufrankisch 2010 Burgenland, Austria 12.5% alcohol. Ripe, sweet and fresh with nice meatiness and a subtle green edge to the raspberry and black cherry fruit. Supple and lively with a meaty peppery streak. Very drinkable. 93/100
At the Draft House
Oscar Blues Brewery (Colorado) Dales Pale Ale 6.5% alcohol, in a can. Hoppy, bitter and stylish. Fresh, tangy flavours. A lovely edgy, hoppy beer. 8.5/10
Odell Brewing Company St Lupulin Extra Pale Ale 6.5% alcohol. Warm, creamy, malty and rich but also hoppy and tangy. A lovely textured, rich style of pale ale. 9/10
Stone Ruination IPA 8.2% alcohol. Concentrated, dense, citrussy and herby with rich complexity and nice spicy bitterness, as well as some sweetness. Powerful and satisfying. 9/10
Partizan (Bermondsey, London) Saison Grisette Lime 3.8% alcohol. Fresh, citrussy, limey and a bit like a Sauvignon Blanc with fresh aromatics and a hint of skunkiness. Really interesting lighter style of beer. 8/10
Wine videos on YouTube don’t usually get all that many views. Mine occasionally go into four figures (unless it’s about labradoodles, where I can hit six!), but some recognized wine journos regularly fail to get to 100.
It’s everyone’s dream, of course, that their video will go viral. For Stephen Cronk, of Provence producer Mirabeau, the dream has come true. His video (Mirabeau video #222) has rocked up more than 3 million views (both on YouTube, and the embedded version on his website). It’s a short film (less than a minute), showing how to remove a cork from a bottle without a corkscrew, using a shoe. It’s not the first time that this has been filmed, but Stephen seemed to get the video right (being short helps) and managed to catch the wave.
‘Its success has surprised me as much as anyone else,’ said Stephen when I quizzed him. ’The “shoe method” has probably been known for hundreds of years and I think there are several (if not dozens) of versions on YouTube too.’ So why this one? Us marketing blogger Jennifer Williams has given a very good explanation for the Mirabeau miracle here.
‘My most viewed video before this was “Harvesting olives and making olive oil” which had been viewed around 36,000 times, mainly (according to the YouTube analytics) by Greek males over 65 years of age,’ reports Stephen. ‘So hardly my target audience!’
He adds, ‘What is particularly good is that this is not a video of my crazy dog or cat doing a trick for the camera. It’s a wine related video, from a wine producer and that’s why we’re so pleased that it’s done well.’
But the key question: will this help Mirabeau sell more wine? Not directly: I don’t imaging that many viewers will watch this clip then hit wine-searcher looking for where they can find a bottle of Stephen’s wine. But that’s not the point. From the start Mirabeau have chosen to use social media as their marketing stategy, as I reported here back in 2011.
This video will allow Mirabeau to interact with a lot more people, and build the brand. Mirabeau is a small family business with no outside investors, and without social media would never have been able to dream of this sort of reach. It’s also a scalable brand, not tied to one vineyard. This sort of brand building would normally be incredibly costly.
‘Our YouTube subscribers, Facebook Likes, Twitter and Pinterest followers and Newsletter subscribers have all grown as a result of this and so we now have a much larger base of engaged people to work from for all future content,’ says Stephen. It’s quite a story.
If you are a small winery, social media allows you a chance to play with the big boys. But the Mirabeau miracle shows one further thing: the value of perseverance. Stephen made 221 videos before he hit the big time with this one. These 49 seconds of wildly successful social media were built on years of previous work.
I was presented with these two wines blind by my brother-in-law Beavington. It was a fascinating challenge: both were clearly serious expressions of Chardonnay (we share an appreciation for great Chardonnay). But where were they from? I was in and out of Burgundy, Victoria (Australia) and New Zealand a few times. Subtle cues led me to the new world for both. But I was wrong: they were both wines I’ve had before, and rated equally highly, but one was from Burgundy. The notes below are from previous times I’ve encountered these wines. Both were superb. It’s so reassuring when you really like a wine blind that you’ve previously liked sighted.
The first was Oakridge Bin 864 2008:
Oakridge 864 Chardonnay 2008 Yarra Valley, Australia From the Van der Meulen vineyard, dry grown, near Seville, cropped at 5 tons/hectare on red volcanic soils. There’s a mineral, spice and matchstick edge to the precise pear and white peach nose. The palate is complex, powerful and quite mineral with fig, toast and nut complexity as well as lively citrus fruit. Complex and fine, this is quite amazing. 95/100
The second, Bachelet Monnot’s Puligny 1er Cru Referts 2010:
Domaine Bachelet-Monnot Puligny Montrachet 1er Cru Les Referts 2010 Burgundy, France Amazing nose of nectarine, toast, quince and pineapple. The palate is dense and rich with quince, pineapple, toast and minerals, as well as hints of marzipan and almond. A fabulously rich white Burgundy, showing great concentration. 94/100
So today I went to the Goedhuis Burgundy en primeur tasting. It was excellent: lots of really good producers, and a lovely setting in the Philip Mould Gallery in Dover Street.
I tasted 80 wines, which at this level is enough for a day. Let’s face it: with top Burgundies, we are talking about fine discriminations of quality. If you taste too many wines, you get olfactory adaptation (you screen out frequently encountered aromas), and your palate is negatively affected by exposure to too much tannin. For broad discriminations of quality – when you are tasting wines ranging from simple to high-end – you can still perform even when your palate is fatigued, assuming you have experience. But for those small differentiations that we fuss about with fine wine, care must be taken not to try too many wines in a day, or the results are compromised.
The overall impression I came away with from my second brush with 2012 is that it is a good vintage, but quite a variable one. I found some lovely wines, both white and red. But also some ordinary ones, and nothing is cheap in 2012. Burgundy is now properly expensive. En primeur, the 2012s are more expensive, in some cases, than 2005s on the shelf.
Pricing aside, I’m interested in the wines, and what’s interesting is how much stylistic differences among producers are showing – even eclipsing terroir and vintage effects. For me, it’s about finding producers whose style I like – those who I trust to make honest, authentic wines. With these producers, vintage and terroir differences suddenly become points of interest. I don’t want a perfect wine: I want an honest wine – one that tells me a story of a time and place.
Of today’s wines? I really liked the J-P Fichet white Burgundies, which were all interesting and detailed. The village Meursault was brilliant, as was the Puligny Montrachet 1er Cru Referts. Jobard’s Meursault 1er Cru Purozots was a stand-out. The Etienne Sauzet wines were brilliant, but I especially liked the matchstick tinged Puligny villages and the Puligny 1er Cru Champ Gain. Hubert Lamy’s St Aubins are great value with lovely appley, citrussy fruit and good complexity.
On to the reds. A real standout was the offering from Domaine Fourrier. All the wines showed incredibly purity and elegance, and are approachable at a young age. I find these wines so thrilling and natural.
I wasn’t keen on Denis Mortet or Cathiard (really over-oaked, simple samples), but I was thrilled by the Chambolles of Gislaine Barthod, which are just brilliant in 2012 – floral, fresh, perfumed and elegant. The Hudelot-Noellat wines were also classically elegant, although somewhat over-priced. They are light, expressive and elegant, but it’s only when you get to the Grand Cru level (Clos de Vougeot, RSV and Richebourg) that they have real concentration and structure allied to the elegance.
De L’Arlot’s wines are modern and pure, but also have some seriousness. Tollot-Beaut is one of those domains where the house style almost (but not quite) trumps terroir: there’s a distinctive herby, spicy quality allied to the sweet, bright fruit. The Comte Armand wines (Auxey Duresses 1er Cru, Volnay, Pommard 1er Cru des Epeneaux) all showed amazing concentration, firm structure and vivid fruit, and were quite compelling. A nice surprise was Domaine Joseph Voillot, with three Volnays and a Pommard all showing lovely detail, freshness and elegance, in a more traditional style.
I really like the wines of Alsace. It’s a region I’d like to focus on more in the future, because I think it’s seriously underrated and often forgotten. If you are a white wine fan, there’s a lot of fun to be had here without spending serious money.
It’s from Hugel, a solidly good producer, and it’s a late-harvested Gewurztraminer, from the heart of the Grand Cru Sporen vineyard (Hugel and Trimbach are the two serious producers who don’t recognize the Grand Cru system), harvested with a potential alcohol of 18.4%! The resulting wine is 13% alcohol with a residual sugar level of 96 g/litre. It’s really serious, but it’s still just about affordable.
Hugel Gewurztraminer Vendange Tardive 2007 Alsace, France Wonderfully rich nose with grape jelly, lychee, spice, mango, herb and tea notes. The palate is richly textured and quite viscous, but avoids being heavy with bold, sweet, intense flavours of grapes, lychees, clementines and cantaloupe melon. Very sweet and smooth, with a broad texture. 94/100 (£33 The Wine Society, Vintage Marque)