Some more Champagne action. And another grower Champagne. Eric Rodez has 6.1 hectares of the second largest Grand Cru of all, Ambonnay. He uses 75% old oak for this particular wine, and does lots of work with the lees.
Champagne Eric Rodez Blanc de Noirs Grand Cru NV France
From Ambonnay, this has lovely complexity with a hint of cherry complementing the citrus fruit. It’s really focused, with great acidity. Taut, fresh and structured with some richness, too. Stylish Champagne showing elegance and focus. 94/100 (£37.95 Berry Bros & Rudd; UK agent Wine Source)
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Love this. It’s from Champagne Savart, a small grower with 4 hectares of vines, in two communes: Ecueil and Villers-aux-Noeuds. These 4 hectares are made from 50 separate plots, all premier cru, and 35 000 bottles are produced annually. This is a serious fizz, and it’s tremendous value at around £30 retail.
Champagne Savart Premier Cru L’Accomplie NV France
80% Pinot Noir, 20% Chardonnay, half of it aged in oak. Concentrated, precise and mineral with citrus fruits and some fine, savoury characters. Lovely weight and balance; very fine and expressive. 95/100 (£32.40 Bottle Apostle; UK agent Indigo Wine)
A travel writer, Mike Gerrard, is in potential legal trouble with Bill Bryson.
Mike interviewed Bill a few years ago, and recently released this interview as an ebook. Bryson’s publishers have demanded that he withdraw the book from sale, claiming that Bill owns the copyright to the words he spoke that day.
Let’s explore the implications of this for a moment.
If you or I speak, or write, we automatically own the copyright to our words, unless we assign them away to a third party. If we take this to its furthest extent, it would be impossible for journalists to operate. Every interview we do would be accompanied by a copyright assignment form, which our interviewee would have to sign. Imagine a press conference!
Clearly, when someone consents to an interview, or a press conference, they are implying permission for their words to be published by a third party. So Mike is in the clear?
Maybe not. When I write my books, I retain copyright to my words. But I licence my publisher to publish those words in a book. I can’t then go and reprint the book elsewhere. And my publisher can’t take some of my content and republish it elsewhere. I assign my rights to publish to the publisher, in the context of the book.
Perhaps an interview is similar. A subject isn’t signing away the copyright to their words, they are just licencing the journalist to use these words in the context of an interview. For the journalist to then re-use some or all of these words in another context may fall outside this loose agreement.
It’s a grey area. Many of my interviews are conducted without a specific article or publication in mind. There’s a sense of trust between interviewer and interviewee that the quotes will be used appropriately, and in the right context. Legal action like this turns the whole situation very messy.
In the last week I have been lucky to dine twice in high-end London restaurants, boasting five Michelin stars between them. How did they rate?
The first was lunch at Alain Ducasse at the Dorchester. (This was with Champagne Bruno Paillard – I have written up the wine part here.) Boasting three Michelin stars, this is fine dining at its finest and most exclusive. The dining room is modern, white, stylish but a little soulless and heavy. In fact, it’s exactly what you’d expect in an international luxury hotel. This will be reassuringly familiar to many of the clientele here: they want things expensive, but as soon as you put in too much personality into the design, you will alienate as many as you appeal too. And the super-rich are a fussy set.
The staff are everywhere. They are very attentive, but appropriately attentive. Professional not obsequious. The food? It’s amazingly luxurious, beautifully presented, and highly reliant on sauces. Each course is presented, then the sauce is applied at the table in an extra step. Even for the dessert.
The first course, sauté gourmand of lobster with truffled chicken quenelles and homemade pasta, was a masterpiece: expensive comfort food with lovely rich flavours. Maybe a little too rich? Rich ingredients with a rich sauce.
The fish course, a big chunk of halibut, was like a piece of plate art. Beautifully presented, and perfectly cooked, but this time perhaps lacking a little flavour?
Then, the main course. Veal loin. Nothing too world-shaking here, but very nicely executed, and beautifully sauced. The dessert, likewise. Very pretty, very tidy, very tasty, but not anything terribly imaginative.
Conclusions? A very impressive meal, but not a memorable experience. Perfectly pitched for a clientele who have money to spend, want the best, but who aren’t curious about food, and don’t want any nasty surprises. It’s classic French cooking with a hat tip to modernity, and it will set you back about £150 per head if you are easy on the wine list. Would I go back if I was paying? No. Would I be keen to go back if someone else was paying? No. There are just too many interesting places to eat in London for Alain Ducasse’s over-heavily starred restaurant to be top of the list. But it is certainly a very good restaurant, meeting the needs of its customers.
So to meal number two, and we are dropping a star to visit Le Gavroche, the famed Mayfair establishment, opened the year I was born, and which was London’s first to be awarded three-stars. It now has two. I was here as a guest of Credit Agricole’s wine division.
Visiting Le Gavroche is like getting in a time machine and going back to 1982, when it was awarded three stars for the first time. The bar is all Burgundy velvet, creaky floorboards and red carpets. The dining room is dimly lit, chintzily over-decorated, and patrolled by an army of staff. There’s also a dress code that insists that gentlemen keep their jackets on at all times. (A refurbishment is planned in January 2014, apparently.)
The food is classic French, and heavily sauce dominated. We began with a richly flavoured crab dish, which was nicely done but perhaps a little over-salted. The meat – beautifully tender veal fillet – was quite superbly done. Again, though, there were no surprises here. Richly flavoured, intricate, delicate French cooking. Technically superb, but staying on the safe territory of the familiar.
As you can see from a shot of the menu, this is a fabulously expensive place to eat in the evenings. You would be looking at £200 a head. While I admire the technical ability of the kitchen, it’s just not a very enjoyable place to eat out. The atmosphere is old fashioned and suffocating, and it’s catering for a safe, older clientele with a lot of money to spend.
One of my favourite New Zealand Sauvignons: Dog Point. In the 2013. Such a super wine, representing the best of Marlborough typicity, I reckon.
Dog Point Sauvignon Blanc 2013 Marlborough, New Zealand
Beatifully aromatic with a slightly smoky edge to the delicate, crisp, grapefruit and green pepper nose, which has a hint of chalk and floral passionfruit. Very fine and restrained on the palate with nice weight and precision. It’s very Marlborough in style, but it’s grown-up sophisticated Marlborough. 93/100 (UK retail c £15, agent FMV)
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Last week I attended one of the events at the Henley Literary Festival, titled Blog to Book. It was a session with two bloggers who have gone on to secure book deals, and one of them was Helen McGinn, a fellow wine blogger. I thought it would be interesting to hear Helen tell her story to this non-wine trade audience, which mostly consisted of the mummy blogging crowd.
Helen started blogging in 2008. She had been a wine buyer at Tesco for 10 years and then children came along. She found her friends were still asking for recommendations, so she put them in blog format every week: one red and one white, with a bit of chat. To this day, the format hasn’t changed.
Then, one night, when she was cooking tea for the kids, an e-mail arrived in her in box, from the editor of a publishing house. Would you like to write a book? Helen initially thought someone was having a laugh, but it was a genuine message, from Liz Gough of Pan Macmillan. Liz wanted Helen to turn the blog into a book. ‘I was very lucky,’ Helen comments.
Helen says that she had a lightbulb moment, when she was searching for some advice on the net. She found the help she was looking for from a blog called ‘modern mother.’ It made her realize that a blog is somewhere people can give advice in a digestible form, in a way that people can relate to.
‘Wine is a scary subject,’ says Helen, ‘but it needn’t be. It’s a perk of life, not an academic study.’
The book gave Helen a chance to go back to the beginning and tell the story of wine, ‘but just the bits people wanted to know.’ She says that the response to her blog posts showed her what people were actually interested in. It took her 6 months of Saturdays to produce the 45 000 word book: her supportive husband looked after the kids from 10 until 4 each week.
But it wasn’t to stop with the book deal. Helen had attended a Brit Mums Vlogging tutorial, and decide to create 2 video blog posts - on why she blogs, and how to taste wine. These were spotted by a producer on the Alan Titchmarsh Show, and a week later she found herself on the programme. With Sooty and Sweep.
As if the book deal and TV gig were not enough, she also landed a Daily Mail wine column, which appears in the femail section each Thursday.
What are the secrets to her success? First of all, she’s a talented communicator. But there are some talented communicators who never succeed like this.
Second, it’s a single subject blog: the theme is very clear. It is a wine recommendation blog. You come here to learn a bit about wine and to be steered to good bottles.
Thirdly, it is written for a clear target market: the mums’ community. There is a strong, lively, active online mums community in the UK, with sites like Mumsnet and Britmums. Helen’s writing is perfectly pitched for this audience. And her TV slot (daytime, with Titchmarsh) and newspaper column (the Daily Mail, a title pitched at women) meshes well with this target market. It’s a winning formula.
Helen has been able to do what few wine bloggers have achieved: to break outside the wine bubble.
Txomin Rekondo’s restaurant is a wine lover’s dream. He’s allowed his cellar to get completely out of control. With 150 000 wines, and a wine list that consists of a large book, you really need to arrive an hour early just to browse it and make your selection. You can get wines from around the world here, but the highlight is the extremely deep selection of Spanish wines, with multiple vintages and some remarkable prices that are well below market value for many wines.
Richard Hemming, Xavier Rousset and I hatched a plan to go and dine separately from the official congress dinner – after all, we were all here for the first time and we only had one night to play with. So we asked Ferran Centelles for advice: there is only one place to go, was his response. Rekondo. So he booked for us, and joined us along with David Molina and Sarah Jane Evans. And a few more. In the end we made a party of 12, so plenty of scope for some interesting wines. We initially set a nominal limit of 50 Euros per bottle to keep things from going crazy, which left plenty of scope for interesting old bottles, so good is the pricing here. But this limit was broken a few times!
With all this great wine it’s easy to overlook the food, but this was excellent. Unfussy, delicious, authentic. Pictured above is my suckling pig.
We began with beer. Keler 18: textured, rich, a bit spicy, boldly flavoured lager style. 6.5% alcohol and very good. This was followed by a white, the only one of the evening, and then a load of reds, heading back into the 1960s. It is remarkable how good the 1964s are.
Pazo de Senorans 2006 Rias Baixas, Spain
Tight with dense citrus and pear fruit, as well as some spiciness and just a hint of oak influence. Lovely texture and nice grapefruit highlights. White Bordeaux style, almost. 91/100
Finca Sandoval 2004 Manchuela, Spain
Sweet, spicy, tarry and dense with warm, rich plummy fruit. It’s ripe and forward, but has definition and structure, and is ageing very nicely. Lovely ripe style. 92/100
Cune Vina Real Crianza 1964 Rioja, Spain
Beautifully perfumed: sweetly aromatic with some cherry, a hint of soy sauce, some tar. The palate is silky, smooth and pure with cherries and plums. Finely spiced and beautifully elegant, this is a remarkable wine. 97/100
Muga Rioja Gran Reserva 1970 Rioja, Spain
Earth, spice, iodine and herbs to the fore in this mature wine, which shows some cherry fruit and notes of meat. There’s still a bit of life in it but it is now fully mature. 89/100
La Rioja Alta 904 Crianza 1968 Rioja, Spain
Very fine, perfumed nose with notes of herbs, tea, red cherries and undergrowth. The palate shows iodine, earth, spice and herbs, with some lemony acidity. Fresh and quite elegant, this is a lovely mature wine. 93/100
La Rioja Alta 904 Crianza 1964 Rioja, Spain
Supple and fine with elegant cherry fruit and some herbiness. Silky and expressive with some iodine and fine herbs. Expressive, elegant and pure. 96/100
Pesquera Reserva 1985 Ribera del Duero, Spain
Spicy, warm and intense with some earth and undergrowth notes. Damson and plum fruit on the palate. Savoury, grippy, slightly drying palate. Lots of interest here, and a steal at 35 Euros on the list. 93/100
Contino 1985 Rioja, Spain
Hints of earth, mushroom and spice here with a bit of rubber. Drying on the palate with mushrooms, earth and mint, as well as a bit of raspberry and cherry fruit. Possibly not a great bottle. 88/100
Ferran and David consult the list
How come I have not been here before? San Sebastian is a beautiful city.
I am here for www.sansebastiangastronomika.com/en/, which is a remarkable three day gastronomic festival with an amazing line-up of chefs. The theme this year is London, and so many of the top names from London are here this week that you may as well give up on high-end dining in London until at least Thursday, when most will have found their way home.
Richard and Xavier
I was here to give a talk about authentic wine. Other wine people include Richard Hemming, Sarah Jane Evans and Xavier Rousset. For lunch, Richard, Xavier and I headed into town to a tapas joint called Ganbara (http://www.ganbarajatetxea.com/presentation) in the old town. It was a great recommendation, and we had some brilliant food, washed down with beer, then Manzanilla, then Godello (Rafael Palacios).
Prawns and white asparagus
Mushrooms and foie gras, a speciality here
Hake cheeks and Godello
I have been reading an interesting paper in which some researchers from the University of Oxford scanned the brains of people using fMRI while they were looking at paintings.
Now we have to be a little careful here. FMRI is a technique that shows which areas of the brain are most active, and there are correlations between brain regions and certain tasks that the brain carries out, but caution is needed before too many conclusions are drawn.
These paintings were by Rembrandt. Well, some of them were by the master, and some were what is known as ‘school of Rembrandt’. In the old days, famous artists would have students working for them, and it is quite hard to tell if a certain painting was by Rembrandt himself, or was by one of his students, or was a clever forgery. Experts have been busy authenticating these works, and many have been declared school of Rembrandt, which is annoying if you own one and it’s no longer worth tens of millions of pounds.
In these experiments, subjects were given some information about Rembrandt, and told that some of the paintings they were seeing would be genuine, and some not. If they were not told which was which, they couldn’t tell the difference. Their brain responses were pretty much the same. If they were told a picture was genuine or not, this did change their responses. For a fake, they seemed to be working hard examining the painting for clues to why it might not be genuine. For the real thing, they had some activity in the orbitofrontal cortex, a region associated with reward. The information they received changed their relationship with the painting. Authenticity – or, rather, knowledge of authenticity – matters.
In this case, the art object itself doesn’t contain within it all that is necessary for its full appreciation.
Now wine isn’t art, but it is subject to aesthetic appraisal. Similarly to a painting by a great master like Rembrandt, wine in itself doesn’t contain everything that is needed for it to fully be appreciated. If you have never drunk wine before, and you are given a glass of a great wine, you might enjoy it, but you won’t be able to appreciate it fully. Blind tasting is useful and important, but you can’t make a full aesthetic appraisal of a wine if you taste it blind. A great wine needs to be drunk sighted for it to be appreciated properly.
Going back to paintings: imagine you could reproduce a painting to the extent that a group of viewers couldn’t distinguish the genuine from the copy. If this information is withheld from them, and they believe that the copy is genuine, then they can make a full aesthetic appraisal of the copy, and appreciate it fully. But if they are told that it is a copy, or even that there is a 50/50 chance they are viewing the copy, suddenly they are no longer able to appreciate the picture before them fully. If you were to open a gallery consisting of perfect copies of famous works, would it be a success? No, because people value authenticity.
Wine needs to be authentic. We need to know where it has come from, and trust that it was made honestly. If you could synthesize a wine that is an exact copy of a famous wine to the degree that professionals couldn’t tell the difference, would you pay the same for the synthetic wine? No, it wouldn’t even be close in value. Authentic wine has a connection with a time and a place. There is more to wine that just the liquid in the glass.
This is pretty special. It’s a biodynamic red from Western Australia that weighs in at just 12.5% alcohol, but has no lack of flavour at all. There’s currently a bit of oak sticking out, but this is a super wine that will age well.
Cullen Mangan East Block 2012 Margaret River, Australia
A blend of 54% Petit Verdot, 46% Malbec, aged for 5 months in 3 year old oak, and 1 month in new French oak barrels. Fresh, vivid and slightly gravelly black cherry and plum fruit nose, with some raspberry notes. There’s a bit of sweet vanilla creamy oak, too. The palate has primary fruit with some grippy structure. There’s some sweet oak that needs time to integrate. It’s a lovely sleek wine with great precision of flavour. Massive potential for development. 94/100
UK Agent Liberty Wines
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