This is a really good Central Otago Pinot Noir for a very good price. It’s an own-label wine form Marks & Spencer made by Duncan Forsyth at Mount Edward. It will need a bit of time for the oak to integrate fully, but at £16 a bottle this is punching above its weight.
Earth’s End Pinot Noir 2013 Central Otago, New Zealand
14% alcohol. Fresh red cherries with some floral notes, as well as a bit of spicy oak. The palate is smooth and pure with vibrant red cherry fruit but also a bit of spicy oak. Medium bodied, pure and interesting:give it year for the wine to fully integrate. 91/100 (£16 Marks & Spencer)
The Wine Society is one of my current favourite retailers. Good buying, and honest pricing, with relatively low margins and no special offers. They have just added three wines to their own label range, and they are sourced from interesting producers, so I was intrigued to see how they tasted.
The Society’s Exhibition Douro 2011 Portugal
From Quinta do Vale Meao, foot trodden and aged in French oak. Fresh black cherry fruit nose with some stony notes. Sweetly fruited palate with supple black fruits and some spiciness, as well as nice structure and acidity. Supple, interesting and drinkable. 91/100 (£13.50 The Wine Society)
The Society’s Exhibition Merlot 2012 Napa Valley, California
From Frog’s Leap: 95% Merlot and 5% Cabernet Sauvignon, aged in French and American oak for 18 months. Fresh, supple, slightly sappy cherry fruit nose with nice blackberry and blackcurrant notes too. The juicy, fresh palate has a gravelly edge with subtle green notes and direct blackberry and blackcurrant fruit. So fresh and vital, this is a pure wine not lacking in ripeness but with a lovely leafy freshness to it. 90/100 (£14.95 The Wine Society)
The Society’s Exhibition Pinotage 2013 Stellenbosch, South Africa
From Kanonkop, fermented in open concrete lagares. Deep coloured, this has a fresh sweet blackcurrant fruit nose with some green characters and a hint of mint. The palate is supple with a green edge to the raspberry fruit. It’s sweet and fresh with a vivid personality, and a hint of grip. 89/100 (£10.50 The Wine Society)
So, a month ago, I injured my knee skiing. I haven’t seen a doctor but I’m pretty sure, after some internet research, that it’s a medial ligament sprain, a very common injury for skiers. [Doctors must really hate idiots like me who self-diagnose, but I've enough experience of my GP that I know I won't get any proper diagnosis, which would require an appointment with a specialist and an MRI scan.] It’s one of those annoying injuries that you just don’t know how long it will take to clear up. It’s also not painful enough that it stops me walking the dogs every day. Ice and ibuprofen have helped, but it has taken ages to clear up properly, which is why I made the decision today to return to running.
I have been running in earnest for almost two years now. During this time I have run the Marathon du Medoc twice (here and here), which has been a nice focus. Fear always is a great motivator, and having this long run in the near future gets me out on a regular basis, because failure is not an option.
But I don’t want to become a running bore. I’m not interested in PBs (personal bests). I know I am not a good runner: as a schoolboy I hated cross country runs and hid at the back of the pack, only running when the games master threatened to send late runners around again. Nice. But now, as a rapidly ageing old dude, I figure that running long distances is a safe form of mid-life crisis.
The normal pattern for guys my age is to pack on the pounds and become a fatty. And the usual thing is to gradually lose muscle mass at the same time. That’s a path I’d rather not take, but I do so love food and wine. The thought of giving up wine, in particular, or even rationing it – or, perish the thought, having wine free days – scares me on a very deep level. If a fellow wine writer comes up to me and tells me that they have four wine-free nights a week, then I’m tempted to question whether they are in the right job.
That’s what I love about running. I may drink every day. I may exceed the government’s recommended alcohol unit intake by quite a distance. But I can run 42 km without any consequences other than a small degree of stiffness the next day. So it is a complete pain to be injured and unable to run. This is the first time this has happened to me, and it is really frustrating. If I can’t exercise, fatness beckons. And I lose the lovely post-exercise buzz. It’s hard to explain to a non-runner how good it feels after you’ve come back from a 15 km training run.
Today’s gym trip was a success. Although there’s still soreness in the outside of my knee, running on the treadmill (just 2.5 km) didn’t hurt any more, and it feels better for it now. Doing some other stuff also made me feel less anxious about getting fat. Cycling was painless. I’m very pleased, and I’ll start running outside (much better than treadmills) in a few days.
I had this remarkable Champagne at Mission E2 on Friday, with Pepe Raventos and Michael Sager-Wilde. They both had dinner plans and so I got to finish it, which was rather splendid, because it’s a really thought-provoking bottle from the fabulous Raphaël & Vincent Bérêche. They are growers, but they also make wine from special terroirs they don’t have holdings in, such as this wine. So the wines from their own vineyards are Bérêche et Fils, while the selected crus are labelled as Raphaël & Vincent Bérêche. Production is tiny.
Raphaël & Vincent Bérêche Montagne Premier Cru 2004 Champagne, France
This is Chardonnay from Montagne de Reims, from the premier cru Trépail vineyard, which is one of the few in the Montagne that is Chardonnay dominant. It’s extra brut, with a dosage of 4 g/l and it was disgorged in December 2013. Very taut and fresh, in a linear style, showing great balance with high acidity. Linear, lemony and pure with amazing presence. Such a beautiful wine, showing lovely clean taut fruit and a slightly salty mineral character. 94/100
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This week Robert Parker was in town. The most famous wine critic of all: a true wine celebrity. And he was holding a press conference! This was quite a thing.
I was very excited. While I know some of the Wine Advocate team (I have spent quite a bit of time with both Luis and Neal), I had never met Robert Parker. And for many of us who started our wine habits in the 1990s, he was The Man.
I came to wine writing via an out of control wine hobby. So, gate crashing the world of wine writing, it has been cool for me to meet some of my wine heroes – the likes of Oz Clarke, James Halliday and Jancis Robinson. They’re the people who wrote the books and made the TV shows that I devoured as a wine newbie.
Was I at last to get the chance to meet Robert Parker?
In short, no. There was no invite!
Someone at the Wine Advocate head office had presumably gone through the press list and taken out certain names. My name got scratched through. As did Tim Atkin’s. And Adam Lechmere tells me he got invited then uninvited. Of course, I’m no big shot. With space constraints on the venue, could Tim and I have just failed to make the cut? It seems not. In what parallel universe does The Cambridge Wine Blogger (Alexa rank 5.3 million, Klout score 53) come higher up on a press list than Tim or Adam?
This reminds me a bit of the infamous way that Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson used to deal with the press. If you asked a difficult question or upset him in some way, you’d get banned. (See this wonderful example here.)
I know lots of people have been mean and unfair towards Parker and his publication. But while I have been somewhat critical of the practice of scoring wines and the whole wine critic model, I hope I’ve always been fair, and I’ve never been mean.
I popped into Mission E2 last night before dinner to meet up with Pepe Raventós. What a dude.
His family have been super-important in the development of Cava – until recently they owned giant producer Cordorniu. But in 2012 he decided to do something brave and quite drastic. He took his highly regarded family winery (Raventós i Blanc) out of the Cava DO, and has embarked on establishing a new appellation, Conca Del Riu Anoia.
The rules for this new appellation will be much stricter. It will be geographically delineated to a relatively small area around the Anoia River valley between the Anoia and Foix Rivers. Only native varieties will be allowed. Yields will be restricted, and the vineyards must be managed biodynamically (Demeter certified). There’ll be a longer minimum ageing period. So far Raventos and one other high quality producer (who can’t go public yet) are working on this, and their hope is to get the geographic indication approved, and then make it a DO. It’s about returning the focus of Cava to the vineyards and to the place.
Pepe is an interesting guy. He really gets wine. Since training as an enologist in Madrid, he has worked with the likes of Didier Dagueneau in Pouilly Fumé, Olivier Lamy in Saint Aubin, Harald Hexamer in the Nahe and Phillippe Blanc in Alsace. That is quite a CV. He’s currently living in New York with his wife and four children: they live on the upper east side and send their kids to public school. From here, he’s regularly flying back to Spain, but living in New York helps him work the markets. His plan is to move the family back to Spain in the next couple of years.
With his understanding of interesting wine, and his wide experience, it will be interesting to see how Pepe progresses with this project of creating a Spanish sparkling wine appellation that’s a true peer of the best wines of Champagne.
This was one of the most remarkable lunches I’ve experienced – and I’ve been to quite a few special lunches. The food, company and wines were all just perfect. The pace was ideal, too: there was no need to rush these special bottles: we started at 1215 and finished at 1730.
Keith and Greg
Jim and Neil
Neleen and Nigel
Nicolette and Keith
It was hosted by Keith Prothero, whose cellar we were depleting, and guest of honour was Nicolette Waterford, who was over from South Africa on business. Also present: Nigel Platts-Martin, Neleen Strauss, Greg Sherwood, Christelle Guibert, Neil Beckett and Jim Budd. It’s an ideal number for a lunch, because you get a decent pour from each bottle, and it’s possible all to take part in the same conversation over the table.
Chez Bruce was at it’s usual best, and sommelier Sara Bachiorri did a great job with the wines. The conversation was ALL off the record, which is a good thing for all concerned.
Wines like these deserve to be drunk in a setting like this. They shouldn’t just be tasted.
Champagne Bollinger RD 1996 France (magnum)
This was the 2011 disgorgement. So tight, linear and fine with trademark 1996 acidity that, in this case, is well integrated. Lemony, linear and precise with such purity. This will probably be immortal, especially in magnum. 94/100
Coche-Dury Meursault 2004 Burgundy, France
Village level, but exceptional. So pure, fine, elegant and linear with lemony fruit, distinct but subtle mineral/matchstick hints and a bit of spiciness. Everything just works together so perfectly, it’s a really lovely beguiling wine. 96/100
Domaine Leflaive Chevalier Montrachet Grand Cru 2008 Burgundy, France
Creamy, slightly buttery nose with lovely pear and white peach fruit. Soft textured and concentrated, but there’s a bit of minerally freshness on the finish. 93/100
Bonneau du Martray Corton Charlemagne Grand Cru 2007 Burgundy, France
Lovely taut, lemony and mineral nose. Real finesse and purity. Detail and minerality on the palate with fine acidity and lovely precision. A very fine, linear wine. 95/100
Armand Rousseau Chambertin Grand Cru 2001 Burgundy, France
This is incredibly beautiful. Textured, elegant and pure with refined, seductive red cherry fruit and a bit of meatiness. Lovely finesse and purity, with some subtle leafy greenness in the background. Such a pure wine. 97/100
Jacques-Frédéric Mugnier Musigny Grand Cru 2001 Burgundy, France
Subtle, textured and warm with fine red cherry fruit and some plumminess. Silky with a bit of fine spiciness and elegant sweet fruit. Lovely elegance here. 95/100
Domaine Dujac Clos St Denis Grand Cru 2001 Burgundy, France
A wine that combines power with finesse. Taut with lovely cherry and raspberry fruit, showing nice structure and density. Slightly stern and intellectual: a tutorial rather than a date. 95/100
Château La Mission Haut Brion 1978 Graves, Bordeaux, FranceElegant, sweet and pure, with blackcurrant bud, spice and some subtle herbal notes. Mouthfilling, silky and with a fine-grained structure, this is a mature wine with a fine, sweet personality. Lovely finesse here. 96/100
Château Haut Brion 1982 Graves, Bordeaux, France
Warm, sweet and ripe with smooth cherries, plums and blackberries. Quite smooth and yet there’s some intensity here, as well as some grip. A very nice, mature wine, although it wasn’t quite as compelling as we were expecting it to be. 94/100
Château Mouton Rothschild 1986 Bordeaux, France
This was served blind. Aromatic, pure, fine red cherry fruit core, with lovely freshness and precision. It’s quite elegant, and it tastes much younger than it actually is. Ageing beautifully. I had it down as right bank rather than left, which tells you a bit about the personality of this amazing wine. 96/100
Marques de Murrieta Castillo Ygay 1942 Rioja, Spain
This was served blind. It’s mature, malty, sweet and bold with a warmth to the sweet fruit, yet it’s elegant and quite beautiful. We had no idea of its age: for an 73 year old wine, this is astonishing. So complete, elegant and assured, with all the flavours beautifully integrated, and still with a sweet core of fruit. 95/100
Château d’Yquem 1986 Sauternes, Bordeaux, France
I just love this wine. Stylish, silky, pure and sweet with viscous, creamy texture and complex pear, peach and apricot fruit with some savoury waxy notes. Complex and beautiful. 96/100
Domaine des Aubuisières Le Marigny Selection de Grains Nobiles Vouvray Moelleux 1989 Loire, France
A beautiful Vouvray that will probably outlive me. Complex lemon, apricot and marmalade notes with powerful acidity and incredible vitality. Sweet but not too sweet. Fabulous. 95/100
Crab tartlet with thinly sliced scallop salad, bisque vinaigrette and chives
Rare roast venison loin with rocket, truffle, coolea and hazelnuts
Roast veal and sweetbread with lyonnaise fondant potato and wild mushrooms
Yesterday I tasted 62 different Brunellos from the 2010 vintage. I wrote short tasting notes, and gave each wine a score.
But it’s quite a task tasting 62 wines like this together in a short space of time. Do I think I got all the wines right? And how much confidence do I have in my scores? These are important questions for wine writers, because critics do this sort of thing all the time. Tasting notes and scores like these are their currency. It’s what they are selling. If you are an important enough critic, people will use these scores to sell bottles. Collectors will use them as the basis of dropping serious $$$ on wines that they haven’t tasted.
So, to answer my questions. No, I think I will have overrated some wines and underrated others. But tastings like this give me a chance to get a broad perspective. I’d be much more confident of my verdicts if I’d spent more time with each wine – say, opening two or three of them and spending the evening with them, or sitting down with flights of five or six at a time, and spending much longer critiquing each. So, as with many things in life, there’s a trade off between volume and quality. Interestingly, I’m much more confident of some of these instant verdicts than others.
This raises an interesting broader question: what would the perfect wine critic look like?
In many areas of professional endeavour we are used to the idea that there are objective measures of performance, and that those who perform to higher standards get rewarded and recognized over those who exhibit less competence. Is this also true of wine tasting?
There are two elements to the performance of a wine critic, which can be separated out, and in my opinion only one of these is measurable.
The first is in terms of raw tasting ability, and this would be fairly straightforward to measure by sensory scientists, although I can think of precisely zero critics who would allow their palates to be assessed like this. How well do a critic’s tasting faculties work? Are they sensitive or insensitive to smells and tastes? Faced with a large set of wines including duplicates, will they pick the duplicates out? Faced with repeated sets of wines, will they be consistent in their scoring? And let’s bring memory into this: how good are they at recognizing wines when they are tasting double blind?
It’s interesting that some of the leading critics have allowed stories to circulate that suggest that they, among all critics, are particularly gifted. They infer that nature has bestowed on them rare and unusual powers in the realms of taste and smell. But this can be measured.
The second element can’t be measured, but is perhaps even more important, and it’s because of this there can be no such thing as a perfect critic. It’s the exercising of the critical faculty: deciding which wines are better than others. It’s ‘taste’ as in aesthetic appraisal. The idea that there is one correct way to read or assess a wine, and that as critics get better at their job they converge on this correct assessment, is false. There’s a level at which wines can be thought of as good or bad, but this is a very basic level of assessment. Beyond this, critics make style choices, and even highly competent critics are likely to disagree on many wines. There’s room for a plurality of opinions, and if we are to use critics we need to choose which ones align more closely to our own tastes.
Some notes on five Rhône wines that I selected for last week’s Côtes du Rhône wines Google hangout. It was fun trying these with fellow bloggers, and – remarkably – the hangout went through with no technical issues at all! If you have 1 h 17 min spare you can watch the whole thing here, although I believe and edited highlights version will soon be available. [Disclosure: I was paid to host the hangout, but these are my honest opinions on the wines.]
Delas Frères St Esprit 2012 Côtes du Rhône, France
Rich, sweet and meaty with lovely rounded berry and black fruits. Warm with a hint of olive and pepper. This is a ripe, Syrah-dominant wine and it shows lovely richness. 90/100 (£9.99 Majestic)
Domaine Arnaud Chaume Côtes du Rhône 2012 France
Chocolatey, rich and dense with spicy fruit and notes of herbs. Lovely blackberry fruit with some peppery characters and a hint of aniseed. A full bodied wine with a savoury edge to it. 91/100 (£12.25 Berry Bros & Rudd)
Le Clos de Caillou Le Bouquet des Garrigues Côtes du Rhône 2012 France
Floral, aromatic and warm with berry and cherry fruit. It’s silky, pure and elegant with lovely focus and some peppery notes and a touch of pot pourri. Yes, the alcohol is evident, but this is a really impressive wine. 93/100 (£16.75 H2Vin)
Domaine Georges Vernay Côtes du Rhône Sainte-Agathe 2012 France
This is a varietal Syrah from the northern Rhône, and it’s great. Notes of olives, black pepper, grilled meat and even violets. Sweet palate is smooth and ripe with lovely blackberry fruit. So delicious and fine. Warm and ripe but it has a silkiness to it. 93/100 (£19.95 Berry Bros & Rudd)
Coudoulet de Beaucastel 2012 Côtes du Rhône, France
Spicy and grippy with lovely peppery black fruits. Smooth, balanced and powerful with lovely plums and berries, and some grippy structure. A lovely wine. 92/100 (£16.63 The Little Big Wine Company)
So, some tasting notes of the Bin Series wines from celebrity Australian producer Penfolds. Penfolds is a great wine brand, and lately they’ve been managing it with the focus and skill of a top Champagne house. Normally, it’s just the Champagne guys who get marketing and brand building in the wine world, but Penfolds clearly understand how to make it work.
The principles? Aim to make yours a luxury brand. Target high net worth individuals. Make your wine desirable and expensive: if you get it right it becomes a Veblen good and increasing the price then increases demand. Rely on blending – across vineyards, across regions, across varieties: this makes your brand scaleable.
Present your products to journalists and gatekeepers in controlled conditions, preferably where you have your brand ambassador, who ideally is a winemaker, present to talk people through the tasting. The product must always be sampled in controlled conditions, and keep the brand sceptics away. Give preferential treatment to journalists who are favourable to your brand and they will become brand champions.
When I was starting out in the wine world, I used to love these wines. I still admire them, but now they’re just too expensive for what they are, and as you’ll see from my notes I rate some of these wines quite highly, so you can deduce from this something about the Penfolds pricing strategy.
Penfolds Bin 138 2011
A blend of Shiraz, Grenache and Mataro. Ripe, sweet black fruits with some spiciness. Nice structure. Smooth and sweet, and a bit grainy. 90/100
Penfolds Bin 138 2012
Sweet, ripe, spicy blackberry and black cherry fruit with a hint of tar. The palate is ripe and supple with some creamy, spicy underpinnings and a bit of grippy tannin. Ripe but still has definition. Currently a little one-dimensional but nicely balanced and may develop. 91/100
Penfolds Bin 28 Kalimna Shiraz 2010
Sweet, war, spicy black fruits nose. Supple and lush, yet well defined black cherry and blackberry fruit. Very attractive with lovely balance. 92/100
Penfolds Bin 150 Marananga Shiraz 2010
Very rich, sweet blackberry fruit nose with some spice and tar notes. Ripe and intense. Smooth, dense, sleek palate is lush but not jammy with lovely balance. Smooth textured and welldefined with great concentration, finishing spicy. 94/100
Penfolds Bin 389 Cabernet Shiraz 2010
Lovely intense blackcurrant fruit nose. Gravelly, rich and intense with lovely aromatics. The palate has great definition and good structure. Ripe with lovely density and fine-grained but firm tannins. A really lovely wine. 95/100
Penfolds Bin 707 2010
Wonderfully intense blackcurrant and spice nose. The palate has great concentration and density with sweet blackcurrant fruit and a warm spiciness. Very ripe and intense but with good structure, too. Such a lovely wine. 96/100
Penfolds Grange 2008
Very ripe, sweet, intense blackberry and blackcurrant fruit nose. Sweet, brooding and with great definition. The palate is super-concentrated with bold, sweet fruit – it’s really full and intense. Superbly structured with warm, spicy, woody notes under the ripe dark fruits. Lovely structure and complexity. It’s really fine but needs time to shed its primary fruit state. 96/100
Penfolds Magill Estate 2010
Ripe, sweet, intense nose of blackcurrant, spice and hints of tar. The palate is dense and structured with a savoury, spicy edge to the sweet, ripe, black fruits. Nice fresh fruit but it’s a bit angular and oaky at the moment. 92/100
Penfolds St Henri Shiraz 2009
Very open with sweet black cherry and plum fruit. Lush, fine and fresh with some blackcurrant notes too. Supple fruit dominated palate with nice blackcurrant and plum notes. Fine and fresh. 93/100
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