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Jamie's alternative christmas message, with some moments of the year

My alternative Christmas message. 2005 was a good year for some, a bad year for others. Some people were born, some people died. Probably more were born than died. If you are reading this site then you are almost certainly one of the lucky people on this earth in that you are in the top socioeconomic stratum, living in a relatively free country, and youíve rarely if ever gone to bed hungry. Be thankful and remember that life is pretty short Ė most winemakers get to make only about 40 vintages Ė so please make the most of 2006. Be nice and play fair, and take some time to stop off the conveyorbelt and reflect once in a while.

Itís the time of year when people look back on the last 12 months, and then proceed to bore their readers rigid with lists of Ďxí of the year. One honorable exception is Neal Martin and his list on www.wine-journal.com. As well as being perceptive enough to realize that my Wine Science is a work of genius (Neal chooses it as his best wine book of the year), his list is actually very funny. I can't hope to match it. In fact thatís a good place to start my own rather eclectic roll of honour for 2005. I nominate Neal for emerging wine writer 2005, although one could question the right of me, very much a beginner at this game, to be awarding awards like this at all. Nealís website has been going a while, but itís this year that I think heís turned the corner and established his own unique voice, and (importantly) has begun to earn some money from his writing, which is always the tricky part. The next Michael Broadbent, albeit in a slightly irreverent incarnation?

Wine of the year lists tend to turn into boasting sessions. The thing about wine is that what we are actually assessing is our interaction with the wine, where the properties of whatís in the bottle are only part of the equation. Some relatively modest wines have really touched me this year; profound ones have entertained me intellectually, but on occasion left my soul cold. But lots of wines have made an impression on me this year. Which ones in particular? I think Iíll pass on this question now and answer it later, if you donít mind.

New winery of the year 2005 has to go to Malhadinha Nova in Portugalís Alentejo. I visited in June, knowing nothing about them at all. In fact, the reason I visited was simply because when I asked Dirk Niepoort who was worth visiting, he texted back a list including the name Peceguina (the name of their second wine), which I forwarded to Jo„o Costa of Wines of Portugal. Theyíre making fantastic wines and I predict theyíll be the ones setting the standard for the Alentejo in years to come.

Wine dinner of the year is a hard one to choose, because the wine trade is full of nice people and Iíve been lucky enough to have dozens of great dinners in 2005. Let me mention just a few. Iíve really enjoyed three dinners with Dirk Niepoort, one at St John with several others, and two at Tendido Cero just with him. Heís a dude. His wines are getting even better. Theyíre complex; so is he. Iím really looking forward to seeing what heís done in the 2004 vintage. Sticking with the theme of Portugal, I really enjoyed the first Portuguese wine awards dinner, even if my nomination as journalist didnít lead to an award (Iím getting used to being on shortlists and not winning Ė maybe 2006 will be different?).

Wine lunch of the year? Hmmm, some good ones to choose from. Perhaps my favourite two were both at The Ledbury, Londonís new top restaurant (by my reckoning), first in the company of Remi Krug (showing the 88, 89 and 90 vintages together) and then after the aborted attempt to fly to Reims for the day on Roedererís private jet. But then there was a fun one at Corney & Barrow with Guardian political sketch writer Simon Hoggart and a semi-crazy restarateur whose name Iíve forgotten. I hope he doesnít read this site.

Nicest wine celeb of the year award is split three ways between Jancis Robinson, Brian Croser and Tim Atkin. I was flattered when Jancis asked me to write some entries for the new edition of the Oxford companion to wine, and a little starstruck when she invited me over to her home to discuss this with her and super-bright Julia Harding MW, who now works for Jancis full time. Brian Croser gave up two days of his time when I recently visited Australia, and then sent me a copy of John Gladstoneís viticulture book with a lovely and moderately profound inscription in it. Tim Atkin has been tremendously supportive and generously agreed to write an endorsement for the back cover of my first book. None of these people have anything much to gain from being nice to me, but they were. And some more beyond.

Wine Trip of the year award has to go to my four day trip to South Africa. I learnt loads, always a good measure of success. I met some of the leading figures in the modern Cape wine scene. Wines of South Africa pulled together a brilliant itinerary for me, and I was well looked after by Thelma Harris who drove me around. The weather was great, the food was good, and I came away with a sense of optimism about the direction South African wines are taking at the top end of the market.

Big break of the year came with landing the Sunday Express column. Suddenly Iím an ĎAí list wine writer and the PRs are all my friends. Of course, theyíll all disown me if I lose the gig. Thatís the way it works, unfortunately. For the meantime Iím enjoying the ride.

Book launch of the year? I didnít go to any. Apparently, they donít work unless you are really famous and you can guarantee some moderately famous people will be in attendance to give the party a buzz. I only went to one last year, in the mistaken impression that you get the chance to take away a free copy of the book at the end. You donít. How disappointing is that? Once youíve been a journo for even a short while you begin to develop a strong resistance to paying for anything. Itís because book launches are generally crap events that I decided not to inflict one on my publishers and colleagues who would have felt obliged to attend, for Wine Science.

Some non-wine related stuff? I find long-haul flights a good opportunity to catch up on crappy Hollywood films. Worst film of the year by a country mile was the inept, directionless, characterless War of the Worlds. Utter rubbish. Why did I even think of watching it? Best childrenís film of the year was The Chronicles of Narnia: the Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, which is a worthy and entertaining version of the C. S. Lewis classic (one of my books of the year was A. N. Wilsonís biography of Lewis: even though it was published a decade or more ago I read it this October). Worst kids flick? Herbie Fully Loaded. Limp. Predictable. Desperately unimaginative. Hard to pick a film of the year, because I canít remember seeing anything terribly memorable. Crash was pretty good, in a gritty sort of way. Thatíll have to do. Non-wine book of the year is probably Steve Mithenís The Prehistory of the Mind. A thoughtful and perspective-altering read.

That's all for now. Happy Christmas and best wishes for the new year, dear readers. 

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