jamie goode's wine blog: November 2009

Monday, November 30, 2009

Nebbiolo: what a crazy, wonderful grape

I've decided that I love Nebbiolo. It's so uncommercial, making wines that are pale in colour, brutally tannic, high in acid, complex in flavour, and generally hard to get.

It's also wildly difficult to do well. Especially outside Piedmont. It's like Pinot Noir, in many ways, just more awkward.

But when it's great, it is the sort of wine that is without parallel. I don't know how many truly great examples I've had, but I've had a few really good examples that have convinced me that this is one of the best red varieties out there.

Two that prompted this post:

Rivella Serafino Montestefano Barbaresco 2004 Piedmont, Italy
Complex, earthy, spicy nose leads to a drying palate with intensely savoury, fine spicy notes and some focused red cherry fruit (but not too much). There are some subtle floral notes. A dense, structured wine that's tannic and complex. Nebbiolo at its most awkward best. 92/100 (£36 BBR)

Cascina Fontana Langhe Nebbiolo 2007 Piedmont, Italy
Fresh, bright cherry nose with spicy, earthy, herbal character. The palate is fresh and sappy with nice savoury complexity. Firm but appropriate tannins and good acidity underpin this elegantly expressive Nebbiolo. 89/100 (£20 BBR)

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Sunday, November 29, 2009

Should 'paid for' blog mentions be disclosed? Douwegate

In the past I have defended blogging from accusations that many leading bloggers take undisclosed payments for mentions. The accusations have always been non-specific, and I reckon that most bloggers care more for their integrity. But is this changing?

It's my view that a line has to be drawn between editorial content (a writer plugging what they want to plug) and sponsored content (a writer being paid to plug something). I don't accept payment for mentions on this blog, but I'm of the view that any paid mentions MUST be disclosed and flagged as such, if they are to be done at all (and I'm not sure that they should).

Douglas Blyde (www.intoxicatingprose.com) has just twittered that food bloggers have recently been offered £50 per video to post a series of three Douwe Egberts videos. And a number of them have accepted. That's shocking in itself (do they respect their readers' intelligence at all?). But what's even more shocking is that there's a surprising lack of disclosure.

The Douwegate hall of shame includes the following:

Oliver Thring has disclosed the payment quite clearly
Gourmet chick acknowledges that DE are sponsors

Video: L'Ormarins Estate, Antonij Rupert, Franschhoek, South Africa

Just uploaded a video from my visit to L'Ormarins, the home estate for Antonij Rupert Wines. Antonij Rupert is an incredibly ambitious project, based on four properties spread across the Cape. It's funded by the billionaire Rupert family, and while the best is yet to come, the wines are already impressive. The cellar here is one of the swankiest I've ever seen, with a revolving roof.

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Saturday, November 28, 2009

Rosie the Labradoodle, an update

Far too much serious wine talk of late. Haven't mentioned Rosie The Labradoodle (RTL) for ages.

She's pictured above on this morning's walk. A crisp, sunny Saturday stroll. I don't mind cold temperatures if the light is good. The problem with our UK winters is that we don't get to see the sun much - the grey, unceasingly overcast skies are rather depressing.

RTL is doing well. She's a pain in the a** at times, but then she's a dog. She has two good walks every day: I don't begrudge her these, because it's good for Fiona and I to get out of the house and stretch our legs.

But I do get annoyed by RTL's evening antics. She wants to go outside at frequent intervals, and because it's cold, we shut the door behind her. Five minutes later, she barks at the door, indicating strongly to us that she wants to come back in. But if we open the door she stands there and barks some more at us. She will only come in if you leave the door open and walk away (and then only sometimes) or if you tempt her with food.

Other complaints:
(1) She smells. Badly.
(2) She wants to eat the cats still.
(3) She wants to eat the postman.
(4) She decides which way she wants to walk when she leaves the house. If you try to take her the other way, she just lies down.

Overall? We're glad to have her.

Next Saturday we are meeting up with seven of her eight puppies, who are now a year old. It should be hilarious. If you follow the RTL tag, you'll be able to revisit the events a year ago...


A Penfolds pair

I grew up with Penfolds. When I was getting into wine, the likes of Bin 369, Bin 28 and Bin 128 were staples. Grange was cheap then (1993 = £35), comparitively speaking, but I wasn't ready to spend this much on wine, so I skipped it. Alas. There was a period when the Penfolds wines seemed to be less impressive, during the late 1990s and early noughties, but they seem to have picked things up a bit.

Two from the current Penfolds portfolio:

Penfolds Bin 128 Shiraz 2005 Coonawarra
14% alcohol, tin-lined screwcap seal, French oak. Cabernet is the variety more normally associated with Coonawarra, but Shiraz can do well here. This is very fresh, bright, a bit minty, meaty and has some spicy oak alongside the fresh blackberry and blackcurrant fruit. I like the fresh dark cool-climate-ish fruit character; I'm less convinced by slightly unresolved nature of the sweet oak and lemony acidity that currently stick out a bit. It's almost as if there's a disconnect between the sweetness of the dark fruit and the brightness of the (added) acidity. Still, it's a very well made, appealing wine that has a degree of seriousness to it. 88/100 (£11.99 Majestic, Tesco.com)

Penfolds Bin 28 Kalimna Shiraz 2006 South Australia
14.5% alcohol, cork seal, American oak. This is quite lovely: a wine that is integrated and at ease with itself. A dark colour, it is concentrated with rich, spicy blackberry and blackcurrant fruit and some cedary complexity. The richness of the fruit works well with the American oak, yielding a dense, bold, spicy wine with some meaty depth to it. It will probably age quite well, although it's drinking now, in its own chunky way. A crowd pleaser, too. 89/100 (£11.99 Majestic, Co-op, Tesco.com)

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Friday, November 27, 2009

Two good, affordable Spanish wines

Over recent years I've focused a lot on Portugal, but not so much on Spain. It's something I may change: I'm tasting quite a lot of interesting Spanish wines of late, but in the past I had problems with the Spanish tendency to use too much oak. I don't like wines where oak is a key flavour signature. And I don't like over-ripe, jammy reds all that much either.

Two wines tonight: both affordable, both delicious. Neither jammy, neither oaky. Both from Berry Bros & Rudd, too, who seem to be buying really well in this price range at the moment.

Luna Beberide Godello 2008 Bierzo, Spain
13.5% alcohol. Fresh, aromatic and grapey, with some depth and texture. A bit like a serious Alsace Muscat, I suppose. A really refreshing dry white with nice delicacy. Pure fruit is the signature here, with grapefruit and citrus as well as some Muscat-like richness. 88/100 (£9.95 BBR)

Laderas de El Segué 2007 Alicante, Spain
13.5% alcohol. A blend of Monastrell, Syrah, Cabernet, this shows that reds from relatively hot climates can still be fresh and balanced. It shows lovely fresh, pure, sweet berry and cherry fruit with a nice bright personality and some bright acidity. There’s some nice minerality and more than a hint of elegance to the very focused fruit. Lovely stuff, made by Rioja superstars Artadi. 89/100 (£8.95 BBR)


Thursday, November 26, 2009

Minimum pricing of alcohol

Lots of discussion about minimum pricing of alcohol at the moment. It's prompted by the move in Scotland to introduce a range of measures to combat alcohol abuse (see below, from an email I received today).

Would minimum pricing be bad for wine? It might help break the current unsustainable situation where producers and brand owners are squeezed ever harder by supermarkets who want to give their customers ever cheaper wine. It would be great to see people who make wine actually make some money from it.

But I worry that this is the thin end of the prohibition wedge. I worry that such measures could actually reduce the number of people drinking wine. Unexpected consequences of such a move could end up hurting the wine industry, rather than helping it.

CALL FOR EVIDENCE ON ALCOHOL BILL LAUNCHED  Views on minimum pricing, off-sales discounts and raising the alcohol sales age to 21, have all been called for by the Health and Sport Committee today. A call for evidence on the Alcohol etc. (Scotland) Bill was launched by the committee after the Bill was introduced to the Parliament by the Scottish Government yesterday. Committee Convener, Christine Grahame MSP said: “This Bill aims to address the serious public health issues surrounding alcohol consumption in Scotland. We hope all organisations and individuals with an interest in this subject from health to licensing sectors will submit their views by 20 January 2010 and allow us to consider this Bill thoroughly.” Call for written evidence The committee welcomes evidence from individuals as well as from organisations and professional bodies and intends that evidence received will inform its consideration of the Bill at Stage 1.  The committee invites views on all aspects of the Bill. Responses should address all or any of the following points in turn - * The advantages and disadvantages of establishing a minimum alcohol sales price based on a unit of alcohol;  * The level at which such a proposed minimum price should be set and the justification for that level;  * The rationale behind the use of minimum pricing as an effective tool to address all types of problem drinking;   * Possible alternatives to the introduction of a minimum alcohol sales price as an effective means of addressing the public health issues surrounding levels of alcohol consumption in Scotland;  * The advantages and disadvantages of introducing a social responsibility levy on pubs and clubs in Scotland;  * The justification for empowering licensing boards to raise the legal alcohol purchase age in their area to 21;  * The role of promotional offers and promotional material in encouraging people to purchase more alcohol than they intended; and  * Any other aspects of the Bill. The Alcohol etc. (Scotland) Bill  The main purposes of the Bill are to––  * Introduce a minimum sales price for a unit of alcohol (sections 1 & 2 of the Bill). * Introduce a restriction for off-sales on supply of alcoholic drinks free of charge or at a reduced price (section 3). * Make provision in law with respect to the sale of alcohol to under 21s (section 8). * Restrict the location of drinks promotions in off-sales premises (section 4). * Introduce a requirement for licence holders to operate an age verification policy (section 5).  * Make provision in law for a social responsibility levy on licence holders (sections 10 & 11).

A quick trip to Bordeaux

Just come back from a quick trip from Bordeaux with fellow wine journo Tim Atkin. We were visiting Dourthe, one of the larger negociants who own several properties spread across the region.

The focus of yesterday morning was Sauvignon Blanc. Tim and I tried 30 of the blend components for Dourthe No 1 Blanc, which is a varietal Sauvignon Blanc, with winemaker Thomas Drouineau, consultant Christophe Ollivier and CEO Patrick Jestin (below). It was interesting to see the differences between the various lots of wines, and we more-or-less agreed about the best wines. We also had a go at making some theoretical blends: it's interesting how just a small amount of one particular wine can change the whole blend.

This was followed by a benchmark blind tasting of Sauvignons on the UK market ranging from £6-£17, with most under £10. The shock was how badly Cloudy Bay 2008 fared: Oyster Bay 2008 was much, much better. Tim and I more or less agreed with our ratings, except with the two most methoxypyrazine-dominated wines, where his scores went right up, and mine went right down. I hate wines with excessive methoxypyrazine. My favourite wine was the Leyda Garuma Sauvignon Blanc from Chile.

We then visited La Garde in Pessac Leognan, where we had dinner. At dinner, where we were joined by winemaker Guillaume Pouthier and Matthieu Chadronnier, a lot of blind tasting was done. The most interesting bit was a pairing of two wines, one of which I thought was first-growth quality and complex in a Graves style, the other which I thought was a good wine but which was dominated by a roasted oak character to its detriment. The first turned out to be Dourthe Essence 2000; the second Ch Mouton Rothschild 2000. I'd rather drink the former by a mile.
Today we visited Ch Pey La Tour in Entre Deux Mers, and then Ch Belgrave (above), which borders St Julien and Ch Lagrange on one side, and Ch Latour Carnet on the other. It has a lovely terroir: white gravel, largely, with some clay (pictured below is an old Merlot vine on gravel). There we looked at the blending components for the 2008 Essence, which is made from the best bits of the various Dourthe properties.

Tim and I did our own blends, in competition with Guillaume and the other Dourthe head winemaker Frederic Bonnaffous (top picture). My chosen blend was 45% La Garde Cabernet, 23% Le Bosq Merlot and Petit Verdot, 8% Belgrave Merlot Soleil block, 8% Belgrave Cabernet Graves block, 8% Belgrave Cabernet Puits block, 8% Belgrave Cabernet Rendez Vous block. I think it was great. We then tried the blends blind, where mine came second behind Guillaume's. It was great fun.

We tried a lot of 2009 samples from all properties. It looks like a really serious vintage. Really serious.


Wednesday, November 25, 2009

A silky Oregon Pinot Noir

Last year I really enjoyed visiting Oregon for the first time, and developed a liking for Oregon Pinot Noir. Here's a really good one that I cracked open last night, and am finishing off tonight.

Torii Mor Pinot Noir La Colina Vineyard 2006 Dundee Hills, Oregon
Winemaker Jacques Tardy has used one-third new oak for this single-vineyard Pinot. It is sweetly aromatic with a dark cherry nose and notes of meat and spice. The palate is ripe and smooth with lovely texture. Mineral notes complement the subtly meaty, silky textured plum and cherry fruit. Stylish. 92/100

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Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Swinging at Vargellas

A couple of pictures from my September visit to the Fladgate partnership in September, which I've just been sent by Andy Costello, who took them. The first is of me trying to drive the Douro. I reckon the carry must be about 250-270 yards. It's a big ask. I creamed a couple, as did Andy, and they fell just short. I think this picture is of one that wasn't hit so cleanly. The second is treading in the lagares at Vargellas late one evening. I'm at the back, sort of in the middle, with the really big hand prints on my shirt. It was a fun trip.


World-class Riesling from Luxembourg

Really enjoying this world-class dry Riesling from Luxembourg. It's just perfectly balanced.

Mathis Bastian Riesling Fut 40 2004 Moselle, Luxembourg
12.5% alcohol. Incredible stuff, just beautifully poised and showing real balance. It's dry with a minerally, spicy complexity to the generous lemon and lime fruit. Pure and precise, with good acidity and nice concentration. This is sort of Alsace in style with a hint of the Mosel to it, too. Lovely and fine. 93/100 (Les Caves de Pyrene)

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Monday, November 23, 2009

More films

It's been a while since I did my amateur film reviewing. But having taken a number of long-haul flights recently, I've seen a few. [I would have seen more had not BA's 'high life' entertainment on demand system suffered a 50% failure rate, based on four journeys of c. 11 h duration each. Could do better.]

Dorian Gray is worth watching. It's a thoughtful interpretation of Oscar Wilde's book that resonates well with today's celebrity culture. A British film, it has that British feel, but it captures the attention and Ben Barnes puts in a good performance in the title role. I guess it's a sort of morality tale. My pick of the bunch.

500 days of summer is a romantic comedy. My least favourite category of film, usually, along with gory horror. But this is what is described as an 'offbeat' rom com, and, yes, it has a little more to it than most. So I quite liked it. But the first 10 minutes or so are really corny and make for uncomfortable viewing if you don't like corniness.

Coco before Chanel is worthy but dull. A nicely shot period piece, there's some good characterization, but not all that much happens. Sort of 'Coco before she did anything interesting'. [I have to confess to having fallen asleep for around 20 minutes about three-quarters through, and as the Highlife entertainment system was non operational, I couldn't rewind. So I might have missed the car chase, or the shoot out.] Still, miles better than some of the other options available on BA's limited roster of film choices.

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince is the moderately good latest installment in the Potter series. My kids had seen it, so I felt I ought to keep up and watch it too. This is the stage in the books where they started getting really thick, and the plots really complex. The Death Eaters are doing bad things, Harry and his chums are in grave peril, and significant characters are dropping like flies. Alan Rickman as Snape is at his sneering best. But I still don't understand exactly how they fight each other with their wands (what are the rules here?), and why they can't magic people back to life again if they can do all that other stuff like heal their really sick or badly injured chums.

Land of the Lost stars Will Ferrell. Not a good start. And it is truly bad. One of the worst films I've ever seen. I got about 20 minutes into it and could go no further. Why did I even think it would be a good option?

Moon, however, is worth watching. A clever, low budget sci fi flick, it's well written, suspenseful and engaging. It also gets a little bit confusing about two thirds of the way through, when the main character sort of doubles up. It was at this stage the plane landed, and so I didn't see the ending. But I'd seen enough to realize that this is a serious film.


Sunday, November 22, 2009

Pelaverga: an obscure but incredible Italian wine

Very excited to try a rather obscure but wonderful Italian red last night. It's from Piedmont, but the grape variety is Pelaverda, which is grown mostly in the commune of Verduno. This is the sort of red wine I just love. Fresh, natural, complex and expressive.

Fratelli Alessandria Pelaverga Verduno 2008 Piedmont, Italy
13.5% alcohol. Light coloured, this red wine has a lively peppery, savoury nose which is quite sappy and fresh. The palate shows open, elegant cherry fruit with vibrant spicy, peppery notes and a savoury finish. It's elegant, complex and refined: just thrilling. 93/100 (£12.95 BBR)

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Saturday, November 21, 2009


Tim Atkin, one of my favourite wine writers, has written an excellent editorial in this week's Off Licence News. It's about the Skinner scandal.

Matt Skinner is a young-ish Aussie sommelier who UK wine book publisher Mitchell Beazley have been attempting over the last few years to cast as the trendy face of wine. Initially, he was based in London as part of Jamie Oliver's 15 restaurant project, and this was when he began his annual wine guide, The Juice. A couple of years ago, he returned to Australia. This made doing an annual wine guide for the UK market problematic, because he's no longer so in touch with what is available here. But MB have persevered with him (although a third of his choices are Australian).

So what is the scandal with the 2010 version of The Juice? Skinner was caught inventing tasting notes for wines he couldn't possibly have tasted. This is because the deadline for the book was May, and some of the wines he included were from the 2009 vintage and weren't released by this time. Skinner admitted this deception, but defended himself by saying that the wines in question were consistent from year to year.

'This is dangerous territory,' comments Atkin. 'Wine writers aren't infallible, but what evolves over a period of years is a form of trust between a taster and his readers, based on the knowledge that the former is doing his best to point people towards good booze.' He adds, 'I do hope Skinner will change his modus operandi for The Juice 2011, because an author who selects a wine he hasn't tasted is short-changing his readers. Just as significantly, he is insulting his own profession.'

Tim is right. I'd go further. I wouldn't have so much of a problem if this had just been a general recommendation for a wine; the fact that there are tasting notes for wines untasted is the biggest problem, because this enters deeper into the territory of dishonesty. A specific tasting note is based on the wine and the clear contract between the reader and writer is that the wine has actually been tasted. To say that, for example, Montana Sauvignon Blanc is a consistently good bet year on year as an affordable Marlborough Sauvignon is a very different matter from me giving you a tasting note of the 2010 vintage (which would clearly be absurd).

For further reading, see the excellent Decanter news piece.

Brief Napa reports: Trefethen

My second full day in Napa began at Trefethen, in the Oak Knoll district. It was another beautiful morning, and I was meeting with Jon Ruel – like me, another lapsed scientist (he'd done research on plant ecology in a previous life). John was a great host.

Trefethen is a large family-owned property of 440 acres of vineyard, planted on the valley floor. There's also a 40 acre property not far from the estate in the hills, called Hillspring. While the valley floor estate looks like one big vineyard, there are some quite significant differences in the soils. The more gravelly bits from alluvial fans are better suited to Cabernet, while Chardonnay prefers the more fertile sections with deeper clay loam soils. There's also a fair bit of Riesling here (some was still on the vine with botrytis, for making a sweet wine), as well as some Pinot Noir that is sold to sparkling producers.

The Hillspring property, tucked into the hills, has more rocky, less fertile soils and is also warmer by a few degrees. It's really beautiful.

Sustainability is a big issue for John, and he's working hard to make the vineyards as naturally farmed as possible. As well as a large compost heap, there's a large array of 572 solar panels supplying 20% of the winery's needs.

The wines? They're solidly good. The Riesling is attractive, fresh and lime, and the Chardonnay is restrained and appealing, with a light touch of oak. The Merlot is well defined and supple, while the Cabernet is a bit richer, but still made in a bright, digestible and fruit-focused style. There's no hint of over-ripeness or excess here, and the wines are better for it. The 2005 Reserve is largely from the Hillspring property and shows lovely rich aromatics with a concentrated, ripe forward palate. It's a big wine, but it shows restraint with it.

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Friday, November 20, 2009

Brief Napa reports: Lagier-Meredith at Bottega

Americans like to eat dinner early. When I arrived at Bottega for dinner with Steve Lagier and Carole Meredith, some people we already finishing their main courses, and it was just 6.30 pm.

Husband and wife team Steve and Carole began their small Mount Veeder vineyard back in the late 1980s, but were both at the time gainfully employed elsewhere, Steve as a winemaker with Mondavi and Carole as a professor at University of California Davis. Carole was the researcher responsible for showing that Zinfandel actually hails from Croatia, among other things.

The first thing they had to do was repair the damage done by the previous owner, who had cut down lots of trees but left large root fragments in the soil. These can transmit root fungus to vines, so Steve and Carole needed to comb the soil to remove them all, and then plant cover crop, before establishing the new vines. The first vines were planted in 1994, and rather unusually for Napa the choice was Syrah.

Four acres of Syrah are planted, at an altitude of 400 metres. A little Mondeuse Noir has just been added. Steve and Carole do everything themselves, including viticulture and winemaking. The wines are aged in used barrels bought from Saintsbury.

We tried the 2005 and 2001 Syrahs, and both were utterly fantastic: bright, focused, a bit peppery, with lovely purity and precision. These are ageworthy wines that resemble more the northern Rhone than typical Californian Syrah. I love them, and for $48 retail, they are (by Napa standards at least) really good value.

Bottega really impressed. It's a restaurant owned by TV chef Michael Chiarello, and the food is beautifully executed modern Italian based on excellent ingredients, not over-elaborately prepared. We began with a creamy mozarella burrata with butternut squash, mushrooms and balsamic caviar that was just stellar. I then had a beautiful roast octopus dish, a near-perfect duck gnocci (pictured), and rich, tender short rib with a polenta side. As an added benefit, this seriously good restaurant, with its assured service, has a generous wine mark-up of just 10% on retail prices.

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Thursday, November 19, 2009

On my way home

Just about to catch the BART to the airport on my way home from San Francisco. It has been a really fun trip. I spent this morning wandering around the city, and bought a bag, some bubblewrap, sticky tape and scissors. This was to pack three bottles of wine that I wanted to bring back with me, which Clark Smith had given me yesterday.

It will be nice to be home: I've been travelling a bit too much recently, and it's unfair on the family. There's a certain threshold of travelling that's just right, though. It's one of the most fun aspects of this crazy job I have, and I feel very lucky to get the opportunity.

I really want to come back to California again soon.

Brief Napa reports: Corison

Corison took me by surprise a bit: it's a smaller operation than I had been expecting, and the wines were made in a style I love: the antithesis of the big, in-yer-face, points chasing excess. Cathy Corison wasn't around (she was in a plane at the time), but I was ably hosted by Maurey Feaver. We tasted and lunched on the balcony of the top floor of the winery, warmed by the late autumn sun, and looking across to the Mayacamas Range and Spring Mountain.

Cathy chooses to make the wines in a more restrained, ageworthy style than many here. She picks a little earlier, and so doesn't have to add acid. As well as coming from the Kronos vineyard around the winery, grapes are sourced from other vineyards from this west side of the valley floor, plus some mountain fruit.

A vertical of Corison Cabernet Sauvignon from 1998-2002 showed how well these wines age. Indeed, they positively need age: the current release 2006 is tight, tannic and brooding, only hinting at what is to come. They are fantastic, pure, structured, ageworthy wines, and with the library releases the same price as the current release ($70), I'd suggest that the remaining bottles of 1998 are one of the Valley's great bargains.

The temptation for writers is sometime to praise certain wines for what they are not. In this case, I'd reassure you I'm not just plugging Corison because the wines are not made in the big point-chasing spoofulated style, but because they actually have complexity and character as well as restraint.

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Update from the road

Tonight was the last of my brief California trip. The focus today was on closures, and a large panel of technical people were gathered to discuss the structure of a forthcoming closures trial which will be sponsored by Oeneo. Actually, it's not a closures trial, but rather a study aiming to look at bottle variation in the market place. When consumers buy a wine on two or more occasions, how much variation do they encounter?

It was nice to catch up with David Stevens and Clark Smith, two winemakers who have a technical angle to their work. It was also nice to put some names to faces, including Bruce Cass, Tim Gaiser, Wilfred Wong and Curtis Phillips. From the UK, Helen McGinn was also in town.

After the session, I headed off with Scott Burton, James Gabbani and Dean Banister for some beers down by the bay. Then it was off to a cocktail bar (Bourbon and Branch), followed by dinner at Hubert Kelley's burger bar at Macy's in Union Square. Tomorrow I have the morning free before flying back to the UK in the afternoon. It has been a productive and enjoyable trip.

Brief Napa reports: Saintsbury

For my next visit I was off to Carneros, the cooler-climate bit of Napa at the south of the valley, where the influence of breezes from the San Francisco bay are more keenly felt. This is where Pinot Noir and Chardonnay thrive, and Saintsbury was my destination.

David Graves (above) was waiting for me when I arrived, and we had a broad-ranging discussion and tasted some nice wines. David and his business partner have been making wine here since 1981, and have established a good reputation.

The vineyard is planted in a lyre system, which works well for Pinot Noir. 'It's like a giant bonsai project', quips David. They've stopped tilling the vineyards because they want to avoid compaction, and they use straw and compost, too. Irrigation is now managed much more carefully using pressure bombs to look at water stress in the vines.

There's a huge solar panel array (above) next to the vineyard that generates 85 kw/h. It cost $991 000, but with subsidies from the state and a complex sale leaseback financial arrangement, it's not that much more expensive than the original electricity costs. And it powers the winery completely. 'I obsess about sustainability as it relates to climate change,' reveals David.

Saintsbury is best known for Pinot Noir, but also makes some fantastic Chardonnay. The Brown Ranch 2006 is particularly impressive, showing restraint, complexity and minerality. Beautifully expressive, this will age well.

The Garnet Pinot Noir 2008 is one of the wine world's great bargains at $20. Made since 1983, it is a selection of the lighter, fresher lots that enter the winery, and shows lovely fruit.

The Carneros Pinot Noir is a bit more meaty and dense. All the Pinots here show a family resemblance, but the single vineyard lots also show some site differences. They're rich an d fruit-forward, but elegant with it. I found it hard to choose between the Lee Vineyard, Toyon Farm and Stanly Ranch, but they are all superb wines. I was less taken by the outlier: the Anderson Valley (Mendocino) 'Cerise', which is fresher with bright herby cherry fruit, but lacks the smooth elegance of the Carneros wines. Perhaps my favourite wine is the expressive yet powerful Brown Ranch Pinot Noir 2007.

2007 is the first vintage made since the winery was expanded, with 12 new open-top fermentors adding to the capacity for making small lots.

David's theme is that while terroir is important winemakers should have a point of view. 'Any winemaker worth their salt is trying to construct a point of view and present it to the drinker,' he argues. 'Winemaking is an amazingly human enterprise.' I agree with him.

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Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Brief Napa reports: Schramsberg

Schramsberg is my second visit. On a spellbindingly crisp, sunny morning I meet with Keith Hock, the winemaker here. Schramsberg reeks of history. When Jack and Jamie Davies brought the property in 1965 it was pretty much abandoned, and they decided to make wine here again. But they made an interesting decision. They saw that the 20 or so wineries in the valley at the time were all making table wines, and to carve out a niche, they decided to focus on sparkling wine.

The first vintage was done at Charles Krug (using Chenin Blanc) which was where the Mondavis were at the time – before Robert had struck out on his own. The Davies decided to replant their property with Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, and became the first producer in the USA to make traditional method sparkling wine from the classic Champagne varieties.

Now the large hillside property (250 acres with 50 acres of vineyards), doesn't produce grapes for sparkling wines: instead, grapes from 95 different vineyard blocks farmed by 45 different growers are used. 1300 tons were crushed in 2009.

In addition to the sparkling wines, a J Davies Cabernet Sauvignon is also made here.
Keith took me through the cellars where we tried quite a few base wines (as in base for sparkling, not 'base' in the other sense), as well as some stunning reserve wines. A quarter of the wines here are fermented in barrel. 'We like the richness, the mouthfeel and the texture we get from barrels,' says Keith. All barrels are about three years old, or older, and around 60 are brought into the cellar each year. Reserve wines are aged in larger puncheons (500 litres).

The tasting of bottled wines showed that Keith is making some very serious fizz here. Blanc de Blancs 2006 is complex, fresh and lemony, while the Blanc de Noirs 2006 has more fruitiness and purity. J Schram 2001 is the flagship wine, and it's really complex and focused. The Reserve 2001 is a high end Pinot-dominated blend with lively, intense fruit and both the Brut Rose 2006 and the J Schram Rose 2000 are very successful, dry, complex roses. We also tried the Schramsberg 1992 Reserve 'Napa Valley Champagne', which is rich, complex, very fruity and bold. I rated all the wines highly and would be delighted to drink them.

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Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Brief Napa reports: Cain

I arrived at San Francisco airport on a gorgeous late autumn day, just after 2 pm. After clearing homeland security and picking up a hire car, it was already 3.15 pm – travelling with just hand luggage, something I was very proud of, hadn't really saved me any time. According to my schedule I was supposed to be at my first visit, Cain, by 4.30pm, which wasn't going to happen, even given a nice steady drive out of town. Oh well.

This was to be my first visit to Napa, and so by the time I crossed the Oakland Bay Bridge, I was getting excited. The sun was dipping, and my only cause for regret was that it would be dark by the time I got to Spring Mountain, where Cain are located, and so I'd miss the views. It's about a 90 minute drive to the town of Napa on a good run, and the vineyards begin as you leave the town limits.

I called ahead to let Chris and Katie Howell at Cain know my progress. Very kindly they offered to pick me up from my accommodation, which turned out to be a lovely cottage at Cakebread Cellars just south of St Helena. In my jet-lagged state, not having to negotiate a windy mountain road was a real relief.

Their home is idyllically situated at the top of Spring Mountain. Even though it was dark, we could see the general layout of the valley, and over a ridge we could see to Sonoma. Katie was cooking – she'd spent the last year training in chef school, so the food was close to perfection. This was a really good start to the trip.

Chris Howell (above) is an interesting, thoughtful person, and this is reflected in his wines. Cain Cuvee NV6 is a Merlot-dominated blend of two vintages and is fresh and elegant. 'I think Napa Valley Cabernet is stereotyped as being very oaky, very ripe and high in alcohol', says Chris. 'The goal with Cuvee is to get a lighter style, although this is all in context.' It's picked a little less ripe and extracted less.

Cain Five 1996 is a really thrilling wine, with intense, savoury, spicy character and just a hint of animal. The purist might call this as bretty, but it's definitely good brett. It reminds me a bit of Trevallon, but maybe a bit more refined and focused. Cain Five 2005 is beautifully focused and structured, and I really like it. Cain Concept 'The Benchland' 2005 is poured by Chris to compare with Five – this is from the valley floor, as opposed to the mountain vineyards. It's sweeter and purer, but perhaps a little less intense and compelling.

Cain make proper wine. I was impressed.

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Monday, November 16, 2009

More from Napa

Another quick stop in St Helena library, sandwiched between appointments. Last night had a fantastic dinner with Steve Lagier and Carole Meredith at the wonderful Bottega in Yountville. This morning I was at Trefethen and Trinchero, and now I'm off to Grgich Hills, which is probably the world's largest biodynamic vineyard.

The weather continues to be fantastic, and Napa is truly beautiful at this time of year. This was an unexpected and welcome surprise. Must dash...

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Quick update from Napa

I'm sitting in the public library at St Helena. It's the only internet connection I can find and the library closes in five minutes, so I'll be brief.

I arrived in Napa yesterday evening, and had a lovely dinner at Cain, followed today by visits to Schramsberg, Corison and Saintsbury. This evening I'mm meeting Steve Lagier and Carole Meredith for dinner in Yountville.

The weather is fantastic and I'm really enjoying my trip.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

(Moral) panic on the streets of...

The biggest threat to the wine trade in the UK isn’t supermarket 3-for-£10 offers.

It’s neoprohibitionism. I think the moral panic surrounding alcohol is a huge threat to the drinks industry, because I can’t see it stopping.

The targeting of middle-aged drinkers enjoying a bottle of wine over dinner is particularly alarming. I can understand the government getting upset about booze-crazed youngsters fighting on the streets. But John and Lizzy Smith getting mellow on a bottle of Blossom Hill within the confines of their own four walls isn’t hurting anyone.

A leading doctor recently warned us that we faced a ‘tsunami’ of alcohol-related health problems. It sounds like we are being softened up for further duty increases. And then what? Restrictions on advertising alcohol? Minimum unit pricing? A government alcohol monopoly? Prohibition?

It seems that alcohol is increasingly becoming stigmatised. Soon it will be as socially unacceptable as smoking. I might have to band together with other wine nuts to form an underground wine cell. We’ll rent a disused military bunker in the woods and store our wine there. We'll have an armed guard. We’ll visit under cover of darkness and share our precious bottles: relics of a better, vanished age when people had choice and liberty, and wine was seen as a socially and culturally enriching beverage.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

More on Wine Future

I followed the recent Wine Future conference via a combination of Twitter and the live feed on the Catavino blog. I’m so glad I didn’t go. By all accounts, several of the speakers misjudged the event and simply used their slot as a promotional vehicle for their own ventures. That’s old thinking.

‘Old thinking’ media treat their audience as mildly stupid. It’s a mistake. Most of the emerging generation of media consumers are savvy enough to spot a commercial agenda at some distance. They hate this sort of self-promotional spiel. ‘New thinking’ is honest, open and, having grown up with spam, is acutely sensitised to marketing messages delivered without permission.

Old thinking ignores competitors and has an ungenerous spirit. New thinking acknowledges the competition, enters into conversation, and has an inclusive spirit. New thinking realizes that there is far more to be lost by showing potential readers that you’re a competitive twerp than there is to be gained from such ungenerous behaviour.

Old thinking is pushy. New thinking waits its turn. Old thinking sees competitors as enemies. New thinking realizes that their competitors’ success can benefit them too, because it expands and gives credibility to the category.

Kudos to Catavino and Wine Conversation for helping bring Wine Future to the rest of us, even if – as we thought might be the case – the conference largely failed to live up to its billing.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Judging beer awards in Leeds

Spent today in Leeds. It’s actually the first time I’ve been to this city, although aside from three nice pubs, I didn’t see all that much of it.

I was one of the four judges of the annual beer writers’ awards. In case you are wondering, I was the non-beer person on the panel, and as a non-beer person it was interesting to read all the entries, which gave me a snapshot of the current state of beer writing in the UK. (The panel was chaired by Zac Avery, with Sean Franklin and Larry Nelson the other members.)

I also got a feel for some of the hot debates in the world of beer. A recurrent theme seems to be that although CAMRA (Campaign for Real Ale) has done some good things for beer in the past, they currently seem a bit out of touch and stubbornly defensive of their own particular vision of ‘real ale’. Another controversy surrounds the brand ‘Brew Dog’, who rather bizarrely created a controversial beer and then complained about it to the Portman group about it, getting it banned. It’s just that they didn’t tell everyone that they were the ones to get their own beer banned until much later. This created quite a storm in the beer blogosphere.

I can’t give any specifics about the entries (you’ll have to wait until December 3rd for the results), but all four of us were very satisfied with the quality of the winning entries. Some decisions were easy to make; others much tougher. Today we will have made some people very happy indeed; others we’ve probably annoyed/disappointed a great deal. I know what it’s like to be on the other side of awards judging, and no decisions were made lightly.

Judging was at the Cross Keys, not far from the station. The food there is excellent: I had a corned beef hash with a fried egg on top that was close to gastronomic perfection. It was washed down with an excellent pint of Rooster’s Leghorn (Sean's brewery). After competing judging, Zac took us on a tour of a couple of local hostelries. Pints of Leeds bitter and Timothy Taylor Landlord went down smoothly. The second of these was consumed in a pub just next to the Tetley brewery. It’s threatened with closure, but tonight the smell of brewing beer hanging in the air was quite intoxicating.


Thursday, November 12, 2009

My thousandth tweet: time well spent?

Today I posted my thousandth tweet, and to celebrate, a few glasses of Champagne Jacquart's Brut de Nominee, which is an NV mainly from the 1999 vintage. It has a fresh, assertive nose with rich citrus fruit and toast aromas. The palate is concentrated, with sophisticated toasty flavours backing up the bright fruit. Polished and quite rich, it's really quite delicious and sophisticated, without being totally profound. I'd give it 91/100 (£60 Harrods, on offer for £50 during November).

So has all the time spent tweeting been well spent? I think so. It's impossible to measure its impact, but it's just something you do because you want to. It's like conversation in a pub. You don't measure it by its results, but some benefit invariably comes from hanging around with others and just chatting. You can follow me on http://twitter.com/jamiegoode, and there's a very good chance I'll follow back.

I've enjoyed chatting to others through Twitter, and even if there were to be no tangible benefit, just having fun online is justification enough.

Played a very wet game of football tonight, but it was enjoyable. Off to Leeds early tomorrow to judge the Guild of Beer Writers annual awards (it has been great fun reading some of the entries).

Earlier today, I went for a run with Fiona and RTL. In a few weeks' time we're taking RTL to meet up with six of her eight puppies, to celebrate their first birthdays. It should be a fun day. We've seen photos of how they are progressing, and they look like beautiful dogs. Let's hope they don't have RTL's crazy side.

Announcing the London Gastronomy Seminars

I'm helping out in a minor capacity with a very exciting new series of flavour-focused symposia, billed The London Gastronomy Seminars. The first event is later this month (30th) and features Herve This, the brains behind the molecular gastronomy movement. The website went live today, and you can book tickets through it directly.


Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Chile's Cloudy Bay? Sauvignon from coastal Colchagua

So you've got your head round the new Chilean cool-climate regions: Leyda, San Antonio, Elqui, Limari. Here's another for you - coastal Colchagua. And this Sauvignon Blanc is the first wine to be released from this new region, in vineyards recently planted at Paredones, just six kilometres from the sea.

It's a startling wine, with amazing freshness and precision. It's fully ripe (the flavour signature isn't methoxypyrazine), but it's stunningly pure and intense. Could this be Chile's 'Cloudy Bay'? A Sauvignon so distinctive and arresting that it becomes a bit of an icon?

Casa Silva 'Cool Coast' Sauvignon Blanc 2009 Colchagua, Chile
13.5% alcohol. Aromatic, fresh, pure, linear nose showing grapefruit and mineral characters. Almost alarmingly pure and transparent, with a hint of saline. The palate is intense and precise, with high acidity and dense grapefruit and lemon character, as well as some brine notes and piercing minerality. It's incredibly fresh yet shows no rough edges, avoiding austerity yet not tending towards fatness or blowsiness at all. I love it. 92/100 (£12.95 Averys)

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Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Amazing Pinot from Danny Schuster

On my last visit to New Zealand, one of the many highlights was visiting Daniel Schuster in Waipara. He wasn't there, but the vineyard was spellbindingly beautiful, and the wines elegantly European in style.

Sadly, the winery went into receivership earlier this year (see this report), and unless the buyer decides to retain Danny and his team, it looks like the wine I'm drinking tonight will become an artefact. It's a shame, because Danny's Pinots are really fantastic, although they've never really received the acclaim they deserve.

Daniel Schuster Omihi Selection Pinot Noir 2006 Waipara, New Zealand
14.5% alcohol. Incredible stuff: richly aromatic nose with dark cherry and blackberry fruit, as well as sweet, subtly meaty, spicy depth. The palate is concentrated and ripe with real intensity, yet it is still elegant with lovely purity alongside the depth of fruit. There's some firm spicy structure, suggesting a bright future for this wine, but it doesn't compromise the elegance and focus. Brilliant. 94/100

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The beauty of the Douro

Just been editing some of my pictures from this year's trips to Portugal's Douro. It really is a spectacular place. If you've never visited, you owe it to yourself to go there.

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Monday, November 09, 2009

'Wine Future'

The much talked-about 'Wine Future' conference is taking place in Spain later this week. I'm not going (although I probably would have gone had I been invited, even if it was out of morbid curiousity).

There's a glittering speaker list, and it will draw a significant crowd of important people, but I feel lukewarm to the whole idea.

I don't think the future of the wine industry will be determined top-down by the famous people who currently 'lead' the wine industry.

Instead, I think it will come from an under-the-radar movement of dedicated winegrowers who are prepared to understand the vineyards they work with and make interesting, authentic, characterful wines.

Very few of these winegrowers would be at all interested in a conference like this. They make wine not because they want to make money, but because they have to. These new great wines are made by people who see winegrowing as their vocation. Their focus starts in the vineyard and they work as naturally as possible. Typically, they prefer large oak to small, old oak to new, and concrete to stainless steel.

I am allowed to be provocative, I would say that Winefuture is about the old wine industry. The new wine industry will emerge from the corpse of the old industry. The secret revolution is underway.

South Africa's Fine Wine Dimension

So, after my recent trip, here are my thoughts on the state of South African wine. [Caveat: I'm not pretending that this is in any way anything more than my own personal perspective, so please excuse the presumption. And I know that I have just scratched the surface of South African wine through my various trips and tasting the wine here in the UK. But what I do have, FWIW, is a healthy international perspective.]

1. Much progress is being made over a short period. Since my last trip in December 2005, it is exciting to see how much has changed for the better. [Impressive progress has been made with the more commercial wines: this is really important for the industry, but here I'm going to be focusing on fine wine.]

2. South Africa's best wines are yet to be made, which is encouraging, I suppose. There is much potential.

3. I acknowledge the temptation to be obsessed with the new at the expense of the old. But while I acknowledge some of the classic wines made from Bordeaux varieties, I don't think this is the future of the wine industry, at least at the top end. Instead, I'm thrilled by the progress being made outside the the traditional Cape fine wine model (Estate wines/Bordeaux varieties/Stellenbosch and Paarl focus).

4. I'm very excited by the new Swartland/Paardeberg/Tulbagh wines. The Syrah-based reds and white blends (Chenin plus Rhone varieties) are frequently thrilling. It's so exciting seeing people driven by passion and ability seeking out special vineyard blocks and doing great things with them.

5. I was also excited by Sauvignon Blanc. It's great to see people beginning to understand that there's more to Sauvignon than just methoxypyrazines. I had so many really good Sauvignons on this trip, but clearly not all regions are suited to this variety: you need to focus on the right sites.

6. Syrah is doing so well. I think it will eclipse Cabernet fairly soon. South Africa does make some great Cabernets, for sure, but it is easier to make great Syrah (and Rhone blends) here.

7. There are many seriously talented people in the industry, and this is the hope for its future. And, encouragingly, many of them have got a brilliant sense of where they want to get to. This is important: you can be talented, but if you are aiming at the wrong destination, you won't make great wines. The people I met who impressed me had a clear objective: to make authentic, interesting wines that reflected a sense of place, aimed at elegance rather than power, and were made as naturally as possible. The likes of Marc Kent, Gottfried Mocke, Duncan Savage, Chris Mullineux, Eben Sadie, Chris Williams, Adam Mason and Bruce Jack are deeply impressive...and this is just an off-the-top-of-the-head list with many omissions.

8. Regionality is perhaps a lesser story. The important bit is the actual vineyard site. Identifying great patches of land for growing wine grapes, and farming them well, will be the factor that limits the scale of South Africa's fine wine dimension.

9. We shouldn't forget about sweet wines. Klein Constantia's Vin de Constance is definitely one of South Africa's great wines. The straw wines from the Swartland are looking very exciting.

10. I think the fine wine dimension of South Africa will be driven by great wines, with an authentic story to them. I think the 'icon' wines - reeking of ego and pretense, in unfeasibly heavy bottles - are a cul de sac.


Sunday, November 08, 2009

Flying: 'premium economy'

Returned from South Africa overnight, flying BA's premium economy (no upgrade this time) - it's the first time I've flown this way, and it wasn't bad. Compared with economy, you get plenty of legroom, a slightly bigger seat, and a proper wine glass, as well as slightly better service.

On the negative side, you get the same food, the same wine and the same toilet facilities as economy. And you don't get to use the lounges. And because the seat only reclines a little, the chances of a good night's sleep are diminished. The best you can hope for is an economy-style fitful napping.

There was a nice bit of honesty on today's flight. The food came and the option was offered: 'chicken or beef?' 'What's nicest?' I responded. 'It's airline food,' said the cabin crew member. Class. And then as we were taxiing after landing, the voice came over the PA: 'Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to a filthy day here in London.'

BA call all their cabins by special names. Business class is 'club world' (which sounds a bit chavvy to me); economy is 'world traveller'; and premium economy is 'world traveller plus'. I don't like it, but I can understand that the terms 'premium' and 'economy' spliced together make for a confusing combination.

Both outward and inbound flights were on Boeing 777s. On the way out the plane was 3 weeks old, but the in-flight entertainment system wasn't working properly. On the way back it was an older plane, and there was no video on demand service. That really isn't good enough these days. If you're going to be stuck in a small seat for 11 hours, you need some decent entertainment.

Saturday, November 07, 2009

Day 5 in South Africa: Constantia, Cape Point and sheet rain

The final day of my South African itinerary was a really good one, only partially spoiled by some really awful weather. From lunchtime onwards, it poured with rain in true English fashion. This was pretty annoying, because we had left some time free in the afternoon for some R&R – specifically, we'd planned to go down to Boulders Beach to see the penguins. This was not to be.

The day started with a visit to Klein Constantia, where winemaker Adam Mason gave us a tour of their wonderfully scenic vineyards followed by a vertical tasting of the Vin de Constance, their remarkable sweet wine. It acknowledges the great sweet wines of hundreds of years ago coming from this region, which were among the most sought after in the world, but which went out of production. Klein Constantia revived them, and this tasting showed that it's a really serious wine that ages beautifully. The 1999 was my favourite of a very high quality line-up.

Our driver couldn't seem to find our next appointment – Eagles' Nest, a new Constantia producer. But eventually we did, and it was well worthwhile. They're making three wines: Merlot, Shiraz and Viognier, from some steep slopes on the side of the mountain. The Merlot is pure, refined and elegant, the Shiraz very old-world Syrah-style, with meat, pepper and vibrant fruit, and the Viognier is probably the best I've tasted from South Africa. One to watch.

Then, to the final appointment of the trip: Cape Point, with winemaker Duncan Savage (above). We tasted the wines over a really good lunch at the Food Barn, and I was very impressed. Duncan is known for making one of South Africa's top-rated Sauvignons, but he also does great Chardonnay and Semillon. He's currently shifting the focus of his Sauvignon away from the more methoxypyrazine style to one with more richness and depth, and he's stopping doing the Semillon because he wants to use this variety more as a blending component. These already wonderful wines will probably get even better. By the time we finished lunch the sheet rain had set in, so the visit to the beautiful Cape Point vineyard was a brief and damp one.


Friday, November 06, 2009

More from South Africa: the day in pictures

Some pictures from a truly exciting day spent in Tulbagh, Paardeberg and Paarl.

Eben Sadie, who makes some of South Africa's very best red and white wines.

Bush-vine Carignan at Vonderling, Paardeberg

Flowering Cabernet Sauvignon, Vonderling

A Nomblot concrete egg next to a barrel, Tulbagh Mountain Vineyards (TMV)

Worm compost, TMV (and Rebecca the winegrower's hands)

The view at TMV

Chris and Andrea Mullineux, Mullineux wines, Riebecke, Swartland

Paul Nicholls of TMV with his bush-vine Mourvedre

La Capra, an exciting new brand from Charles Back's Fairview, Paarl


Thursday, November 05, 2009

Day 3 in South Africa - Franschoek, mostly

Had a great day today, even though for most of it the rain was lashing down in vast sheets. We began with another larger producer, continuing yesterday's theme: DGB, hosted at Boschendal. They have a range of brands, including Douglas Green, Bellingham, Franschoek Cellar, Boschendal and from 2010, Brampton will be all theirs. Highlight? The Bellingham Bernard Series wines, including (shock) an elegant, pure Pinotage. Pictured are winemakers Thinus and Lizelle.

Then it was off to lunch with Mark Kent of Boekenhoutskloof and Gottfried Mocka of Chamonix, at the wonderful Reubens. Mark and Gottfried's wines are all world class. I knew Mark's wines were great, but I'd not tried Chamonix for ages, and was utterly blown away. Highlights: Chamonix Pinot Noir Reserve 2008 and Boekenhoutskloof The Journeyman 2007. But all the wines were great.

Next? Off to Antonij Rupert, where a serious vineyard replanting program is taking place, and this grand, lavish property is looking to plant higher up the side of the mountain. The cellar here is remarkable, with a revolving roof and all the winemaking toys you could wish for. Highlight? The A Rupert Cabernet Franc 2005, which is utterly spellbinding in its refinement and character. Only 10 barrels made, though, and it will cost you a bit.

While we were there we also tried the wines from Rupert & Rothschild, which are very successful, stylish and European in their flavour profile. And also La Motte's wines, which are really good (and great value for money), with the highlight being the 2007 Shiraz Viognier, which is beautifully poised, smooth, fresh and elegant.

Tonight we're off to dinner with Mike Ratcliffe. But fellow journo Christian Davis has gone home, and we'll miss him.

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Wednesday, November 04, 2009

South Africa, day 2

First chance to report from the road. Arrived late on Tuesday and spent the afternoon with some wine scientists at Stellenbosch University, before heading out to Durbanville for a dinner at Ntida with some of the top producers in this small but appealing wine region. It was great fun, and I liked the wines.

I stayed overnight at River Manor in Stellenbosch (pictured above), and then met up with the two other journos on the trip at Flagstone, where Bruce Jack told us all about his journey with Constellation (the drinks giant who bought him out a couple of years ago).

Today was focusing on the more commercial end of the market, and we followed Flagstone/Constellation with KWV at Laborie, where we had lunch. After this, we finished the day at Nederberg (part of Distell, South Africa's largest wine company). Now it's almost time to hit Stellenbosch for an informal feed.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

A new netbook

I've just replaced my beloved Asus Eeepc with a new netbook. The Asus developed some technical problems, and so I bought a little Samsung (here). It's very like the Eeepc, except that it runs XP rather than Linux, is slightly larger, and has a larger screen.

My fingers like the larger keyboard, and my eyes like the larger screen. But it's not as convenient (the Asus was such a good size, and started up really, really fast) and feels less robust (it's very plastic-y).

The big benefit is the six cell battery, which gives 6 hours' + battery life. Result.

It's amazing that you can get computers like this so cheaply. Early days yet, but I'm quite pleased with this as a tool for working on the move.


Monday, November 02, 2009

Some airline lounge wines

I was supposed to be flying premium economy tonight, but I've happily been upgraded, so now I get to use the T5 BA lounge (I think it's the north one I'm in). So a chance to taste some wines and relax a bit before a flight that will be made immeasurably more comfortable by those lovely BA lie-flat beds.

First up, Cline Cool Climate Syrah 2006 Sonoma Coast. A bit more warm climate by taste: rich, sweet, a bit cedary, hints of tar. Lots of sweet, spicy plummy fruit. A bit rich and woody for my tastes, so 84/100.

Next, Ben Glaetzer Wallace Shiraz Cabernet 2006 Barossa. Very sweet, rich, warm and spicy with dense fruit and some warm woody notes. Some tannin, too, with a slightly drying finish. A bold style, classic Barossa. 89/100.

Another red. Plantagenet Omrah Cabernet Sauvignon 2005 Western Australia. Minty blackcurrant fruit here. Very ripe fruit profile with some warmth to it. Verging on lush. Not as well defined as I'd like, so 86/100

The first of three saffers: Simonsig Labyrinth Cabernet Sauvignon 2004 Stellenbosch is dense, spicy and quite elegant with some of that South African savoury earthiness under the blackcurrant and plum fruit. Smooth and refined. 88/100

The whites? They probably pip the reds, led by two nice, contrasting Chardonnays. De Wetshof Lesca Chardonnay 2008 Robertson is fresh, precise and gently nutty with lovely citrus fruit leading the line. Subtly toasty. Chablis-like, in a way. 91/100. Catena Chardonnay 2007 Mendoza is a bit of a tart, with plump, lush mealy, bready, oaty richness to the fruit. Sophisticated stuff in a very ripe, full style. 89/100.

The final saffer is a green-dominated Sauvignon. Zevenwacht Sauvignon Blanc 2008 Stellenbosch has a strongly green herbal nose with a chalky, mineral edge. The palate is strongly flavoured, precise and herbal with vibrant green pepper notes and good acidity. Stylish in this methoxypyrazine-dominated style. 88/100

And Spain? Sin Palastras Castrovaldes Albarino 2007 Rias Baixas has a fresh, pure, grape and grapefruit nose. The palate is quite pure with nice herb and grape character and a crisp, bright finish. Simple, but with lovely fruit. 88/100

Off to South Africa

I'm off soon (50 minutes) to South Africa for a five-day trip. It's the first time I've been since December 2005, when I tagged on a three day wine segment on the back of a scientific conference - those were the days when I had to juggle wine writing with a full time job.

It was a very enjoyable trip, written up in anorak-like detail elsewhere on this site. I'm hoping that this week's visit will be an eye-opener, and that I'll get a glimpse into South Africa's emerging fine wine dimension.

I'm particularly looking forward to a day in Swartland with the likes of Eben Sadie and Chris Mullineux.

The trip starts all geeky. When I arrive tomorrow after an overnight flight, I'll be meeting some scientists at Stellenbosch University. That's the way I like it.


Sunday, November 01, 2009

A boy's day out: rugby and beer

Got a good deal yesterday. I was allowed to take my brother-in-law Dave out to watch Quins vs. London Irish at the Stoop (for the benefit of non-sporty types, this is rugby union), while the rest of the extended family went off to Thorpe Park for the day.

We started off with a curry, followed this by some beer in the Barmy Arms, and then wandered up the road to the Stoop for the game. It was a beautifully mild, with late season sunshine, and everyone seemed to be in good humour.

The game itself was a tight affair, with Irish looking much more threatening. 6-6 at half-time, and with a minute to go Quins, who were losing 9-6, got a penalty miles out. They scored it, and the game was drawn 9-9 - which I suppose is the rugby equivalent of 0-0 in football.

A very big family do last night in our place will be followed today by another big lunch. It's hard to know what wine to open for these occasions: the emphasis is on the social aspect, and everyone is having fun - so you don't really want to divert peoples' attention to what they are drinking by talking about it. Best to let the wine have a secondary role, I reckon. We had a delicious Aragonez from Malhadinha Nova (Alentejo), and the remainder of a couple of Conceito (Douro) wines that I had been looking at over a couple of days (both brilliant - more later).

Today I have to drive older son down to school in Devon, and it's a miserable rainy day.

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