jamie goode's blog
about wine... mostly

wineanorak home | archive

blog archive

Wednesday 11th June 2003
Time for some silliness, I’m afraid. First of all, a brilliant(?) tool called the ‘Baconizer’. With this you pick two books, CDs or films and apply the Kevin Bacon game to them. [For those unfamiliar with the Kevin Bacon game, you might want to check out the following article - Kevin Bacon, the Small-World, and Why It All Matters.] The Baconizer makes use of the affinity lists at amazon.com to see how many degrees of separation there are between them, so I thought I’d try it with some well known wine books and ….er, some other stuff. The following URLs take you to the results. Silly, but fun.

Continuing in a similar vein, I then checked out the Alanis Morissette Random Lyric Generator (thanks to Simon Woods for the tip). Try it for yourself. The following is what it generated from my rather winey input terms (shame about the blue, but the rest kind of works).


Barrel staves, oak chips, big brands
Why God, Why?
Oak chips, high yields, Australian wine
Why God, Why?

What have I done to deserve this blue horror?
Surrounded on all sides with the Hell of Australian wine
Like a Ted Hughes character, I'm wordy and alone
Why God, Why?

Screwcaps, barrel staves, tropical fruits
Why God, Why?
Australian wine, tropical fruits, big brands
Why God, Why?

What have I done to deserve this blue disaster that is my life?
Surrounded on all sides with the Hell of Australian wine
Like a Ted Hughes character, I'm wordy and alone
Why God, Why?

What have I done to deserve this blue misery?
Surrounded on all sides with the Hell of Australian wine
Like a Ted Hughes character, I'm wordy and alone
Why God, Why?
Why God, Why?
Why God, Why?
Why God, Why?
Why God, Why?

Sunday 8th June
Some recent wines. First, a wine I won – at the beginning of the last football season I wagered wine-loving spurs fan Mark Pearce that my side (newly promoted Manchester City) would finish above his. City finished ninth, Spurs tenth, so he owed me a bottle of wine. A decent chap, he paid up with a very respectable-looking bottle of Isole Olena Collezione de Marchi Syrah 1994, from Tuscany. I opened it on Friday night only to find it was stuffed with Brettanomyces (a rogue yeast that causes off flavours in wines, but which a very low levels may add a little complexity). This wine is so bretty you could use it as a primer on brett for the uninitiated. A little cloudy, it had distinctive animally, chicken shed aromas with an intensely savoury palate with a slightly metallic edge. For me, this is too much – the problem with brett is that it makes all wines thus affected taste the same, and it irons out terroir, so the wine lose their sense of place.  

Another recent Italian is the Dolcetto Dogliano ‘Vina Tec’ 2000 from Luigi Einaudi in Piedmont. Savoury and intense with inky, vivid fruit, this reminds me very much of a good Cahors – it’s got that southwestern France character. Satisfying but not showy or even terribly complex.

Moving down a little bit in price, the Trincadeira 2001 from João Portugal Ramos is a good example of new wave Alentejo (Portugal) winemaking. Lots of vivid fruit spiced up with some new oak, with nice supporting acidity. Good concentration and a good buy at the offer price of £5.99 from Waitrose. Another nice Waitrose wine is the Chenin Blanc 2002 from Peter Lehmann. Lots of varietal character here, unobscured by oak, and I find Chenin a fascinating grape – it’s hard to describe easily, but there’s a savoury, herby, straw-like note to the fruit, with nice lemony acidity. I could drink a lot of this at £4.99 each, and the screwcap it is sealed with suits this sort of fresh white well.

But the liquid highlight of the weekend so far hasn't been a wine: it is a real (or cask-conditioned) ale. There are few activities as uniquely British, or as pleasurable, as sitting in the garden of the White Horse at Hedgerley with a pint of Rebellion. Brewed by the Marlow brewery, Rebellion is a perfectly balanced ale with nice hoppy bitterness offsetting the rich, full herby flavours. It’s not too alcoholic, either. 

Saturday 31st May
Two pieces worth commenting on in the July issue of Decanter, which is otherwise a bit of a dull read. First, a piece by Hugo Rose MW, not a wine writer but a merchant – he’s with Lay & Wheeler. Entitled ‘The end of greatness’, it’s a ranty sort of piece defending terroir wines against the insurgent threat of modern, terroir-less wines. Now I’m a great believer in the diversity of styles found in traditional old world regions, but try as I might, I couldn’t work out what Hugo’s piece was really trying to say, other than he likes traditional-styled terroir wines and thinks they are under threat from modern-styled wines. I’ve read the piece twice now and I can’t really pick out a coherent argument other than the fact that Hugo likes regionality and terroir. Given this position, it’s interesting that Lay & Wheeler’s key producer from the northern Rhône is Jean-Luc Colombo. Perhaps Hugo isn’t that attached to terroir and regionality after all?

The second article, from Ch’ng Poh Tiong, editor of the Singapore Wine Review, is in the Bordeaux 2003 supplement. It’s along similar lines, lamenting the rise of modern-styled wine and the threat this poises to traditional styles. Ch'ng had a piece in a similar vein in a recent Harpers, entitled ‘the coca-colonization of wine’; this one is called ‘the unbearable lightness of being’. His entire argument can be summed up in the space of a standfirst. Bordeaux’s strength is in producing elegant wines, but instead the critics are acclaiming heavier, weightier styles – Ch'ng thinks the critics are wrong, and that producers should aim for a lighter style. But he uses 2000 words or so to make his point. It’s a piece laden with analogy, musical references, clever-dickery, rhetoric and a degree of iconoclasm. But overall, there’s very little substance behind the overall message that Ch'ng would like his Bordeaux wines to be made in a lighter style, and we should too. He's clearly bright, but the message needs to be more substantial. While both Rose and Ch'ng express sentiments that I am in some agreement with, I feel that they could have written pieces a lot more thoughtful, well argued and persuasive.

Wednesday 21st May
Three snippets today.

Tuesday 20th May
Those who write for a living are prone to vanity, and wine writers are certainly no exception. With this excuse in mind, I'm secretly quite proud of the fact that as of this week I have pieces in the three leading British wine publications. First of all, a feature on London's best wine shops in Decanter, then one on wine allergies in Wine Magazine, and finally a rather tradey but significant piece in this week's Harpers Wine and Spirit Weekly on the latest attempts to cure cork taint. OK, enough of the vanity.

This week is an important one in the UK wine calendar, as it's the London trade fair (known more formally as the LIWSF), a huge event held at Excel in the Docklands. A useful chance to catch up with producers from across the globe, although the cost of exhibiting (a basic stand costs several thousand pounds) means that many of the more interesting, smaller producers won't be found here. My policy of writing up just about every wine I taste is getting tested a little at the moment, simply because I've been fortunate enough to be swamped with one tasting after another in recent months. But I'll stick with it, and I hope that regular readers are noticing (and finding useful) the increasing archive of producer profiles on this site. 

Oh, and there's a chance our house sale/purchase may be back on. Heck, I haven't got time to move house...

Saturday 17th May
This morning I attended the Decanter Italian Fine Wine Encounter at the Landmark Hotel. The Decanter-organized events – a general Fine Wine Encounter in November and then a themed event each May – are among the best consumer tastings going. This was hugely popular, with over 80 producers attending (each paying Decanter £875+ VAT for the privilege of pouring their wines) and plenty of punters (£25 a ticket, with a series of masterclasses costing extra). The quality of wines was very high. The standouts for me this time were the sweet wines of Maculan, the Vino Nobile of Poliziano, Fonterutoli’s wines (including some new ones from Maremma) and Anselmi’s Veneto whites. I would have liked to have spent the whole day there, but the cup final called. A hard fought, open game, but lacking a bit of the FA cup magic for being played under floodlights with the roof of the Millennium Stadium closed.

Tuesday 13th May
Alas, it looks like our proposed house move is in jeapordy. Still, I like Twickenham and I'd be sad to leave it. 

On a totally different subject, I heard a rather shocking revelation from a wine importer who sells his wines to supermarkets. Have you ever wondered what happens if you take a faulty wine back to Tesco? According to him, and I've no reason to doubt what he's saying, he has to replace the cost of the wine plus a £25 administration fee. Suppliers feel bullied by this sort of tactic, but they are too scared to complain because they desperately need their wines to be listed by supermarkets if they are to shift any significant volumes. It's £15 with Sainsbury, apparently. 

 Friday 9th May
I’m on my way back from playing for the wine trade XI cricket team at Coggeshall in Essex. As with the corresponding fixture last year, we lost, but it was good fun. The deal is we contribute two bottles of wine per person for lunch, which probably explains why our side dropped two absolute sitters in the first afternoon session. It doesn’t, however, explain my bowling performance. I took the second over – this means you are bowling against the best batsman, a bit of a tall order for someone like me who bowls six overs a year, more or less – and finished with figures of 5-0-34-0. Not good. I was spraying it around all over the place. And I got to bat. I didn’t get out, but by the time the last wicket had fallen I had amassed the grand total of three runs. That means my average for the wine trade team rises to the heady heights of nine. US readers may not realise what a splendid game cricket is. Very civilized.

Last night we went for a quiet dinner at a small Richmond restaurant that boasts perhaps the best Californian wine list I’ve seen. We were first in, but second in was a party headed by Jasper Morris, whose company (Morris and Verdin) is one of the two leading importers of Californian wines, along with the Wine Treasury. I don’t know what Jasper was drinking, but we had a bottle of the Seqouia Grove Chardonnay 1998 from Carneros, followed up with the 2000 Frogs Leap Zinfandel from Napa. 

Wednesday 7th May
Last night was interesting. I went to a seminar and tasting with Nicolas Joly and Anne Claude Leflaive, courtesy of Corney & Barrow. Regular readers will be familiar with Joly, and his advocacy of biodynamics. As well as being the proprieteur of Coulée de Serrant in the Loire, he is one of the leading proponents of biodynamic viticulture. Anne Claude Leflaive runs the acclaimed Domaine Leflaive in Burgundy, and like Joly, she is a keen practitioner of biodynamie. She first heard of biodynamics in the late 1980s, and in 1990 when she took over the running of the domaine she managed to persuade the shareholders and vineyard workers to begin experimenting on small plots. These experiments continued – cautiously at first – with blind tasting of organic and biodynamic wines from the same vineyards as a reality check, until the entire domaine was switched to biodynamie in 1997. We tasted three of her wines, which were all pretty impressive, before tasting three from Nicolas Joly. Leflaive is quiter and much less animated than Joly, but she comes across as smart, determined and very able. I had a chance to catch her afterwards and quiz her about various aspects of biodynamie: she was very friendly and patiently answered my questions. A quote from Joly: ‘If you have complete silence and whisper a word, this will be much more powerful than shouting. It is the same with viticulture’. What he is getting at with this analogy is that once you get your vineyard into natural balance, a relatively small intervention – such as the application of  a dilute biodynamic preparation – may have a significant effect.

Sunday 4th May
As I write I’m sipping the Pokolbin Vineyard Shiraz 1998 from Glenguin, in the Hunter Valley. It’s a powerful wine, with intense blackcurrant and berry fruit, a spicy overlay and substantial structure – both tannins and acidity. Bold and quite challenging, it shows lots of Hunter Valley character. Call it terroir, if you like. As the fruit has receded a bit over the last couple of years (this is one of a sixpack I bought following a visit to the Hunter Valley in March 2000), the structure has become apparent. It’s thrown a shedload of sediment too, and the concentration is impressive. To me, this is a brilliant example of Australian wine. It’s also got a long life ahead of it. I prefer this sort of authentic wine, expressing its regional character, to some of the new wave of overblown efforts from the Barossa, which rely on harvesting over-ripe, saggy grapes and then producing lush, alcoholic, unbalanced monster wines but which boast size and little else.

Friday 2nd May
Just a brief one. Alas, no party bag from Marks & Spencer. It seems that Waitrose are a one-off. The Marks & Spencer range is good. Solid. Safe. It's the Volvo of supermarket wine ranges: reliable, side-impact-bar secure, but dull. Of the 60 or so wines I slurped through, just two merited a rating of very good/excellent (this is my equivalent of Parker 90 pts+), although there were very few disappointments. The biggest hole in M&S's range is South Africa: whereas most supermarkets are finding rich pickings in the Cape, M&S's few examples are forgettable and a bit joyless. But credit to them for listing four very good Portuguese wines. Report to follow. Prize for most alert taster goes to the Independent's Anthony Rose, who spotted that the back label of M&S's Oak aged white Bordeaux claimed that it came from the 'Graves region of the Medoc'. Also overheard, Simon Woods' method for determining whether he had been doing too much tasting. Apparently, it revolves around whether he feels like a glass of wine, a beer or a cup of tea when he gets home. If he feels like a glass of wine, he hasn't been working hard enough.  

Wednesday 30th April
Tastings are a bit like the tube trains to Richmond – none for a while, and then a whole bunch arrive at once. This is proving to be a busy week. Monday was Majestic’s press tasting: as usual, lots of good, affordable stuff, but is it my imagination, or are Majestic downgrading their range a little to compete with the supermarkets? There seems to be a touch less interest at the high end than there was a year or two ago. We'll see. For now, Majestic remains one of my favourite places to shop for wine, and it's never tough to fill a case. Yesterday was the Waitrose spring press tasting – as usual, a well crafted array of wines with good stuff at every level. The best of the supermarkets for wine? I think so. Waitrose also have a quaint and generous practice of giving journalists a party bag on the way out. [The same thing happens to my 5 and 6 year old boys when they leave their parties, of which there seems to be one almost every weekend.] At the autumn tasting my party bag contained some nice cheese, a bottle of beer and some Colombian coffee. This time it was nice cheese again, a bottle of Coteaux du Layon and some lamb and herb paté. Then, in the evening, I went to a Wine Society consumer tasting of Burgundy. With 20 odd wines from four good producers this was pretty leisurely compared with most trade events. It was quite crowded, but the hordes had it so fixed in their minds that whites had to come before the reds that anyone like me who was happy to reverse the order had virtually empty tables to taste from. Had a nice chat with Nicolas Potel, a young, ambitious and increasingly lauded negociant making a range of solid wines from grapes supplied by a network of 80 or so growers. Today, it’s a Bordeaux 2002 tasting at Charles Taylor and then the Marks and Spencer press tasting: will I get a party bag there?

Saturday 26th April
I’ve just been browsing idly through one of the first wine books that I ever bought (infact, this may well be the first wine book I purchased), back in 1993 – the Sunday Telegraph Good Wine Guide, by Robert Joseph and the Wine Magazine/International Wine Challenge team. It was an incredibly useful book at the time, with its focus on wines actually available on the UK market, although some of the wine descriptions, cobbled together from the notes written wine challenge tasters, are a little dodgy. It has to be said that for a wine novice, 1992/3 was a good time to be getting into wine, with some really interesting stuff fairly easily available on the high street and in supermarkets. This is before branded wines had taken the sort of stranglehold on these outlets that they now have. Prices weren’t bad then, but this was 10 years ago, I suppose. Still, while prices at the high end of the market in 1992/3 look very attractive by today’s standards, because this is the sector that has seen the strongest inflation in real terms.

Let's do some sums. Assuming an average inflation rate of 4% over the last few years, then by my calculations (remember compound interest?) a wine costing £10 then would cost £14.80 now. So here are some prices in the guide, adjusted for inflation in brackets, and with a guess at the retail price now for current releases:

  • Cheval Blanc 1985 £49.90 (£73.85) now £100+ for a decent vintage

  • Latour 1988 £50 (£74) now £100+ for a decent vintage

  • Charles Melton Shiraz 1990 £7 at Oddbins – this was one of my favourite early wines. (£9.94) now it’s close to £20

  • St Hallett Old Block Shiraz 1988 £8.10 (£11.50) it’s now £14, so less price inflation than most high-end Aussies

  • Penfolds Grange 1985 £30 in Wine Rack, Bottoms Up and Thresher (£42.60) now hovering around £110

  • Penfolds Koonunga Hill Chardonnay 1991 £4.99 (£7.38) moved up to the £5.99 price point

  • Montana Sauvignon Blanc 1991 £4.99 (£7.38) moved up to the £5.99 price point

  • KWV Roodeberg £4.79 (£7.08) it’s now about £6

  • Guigal Cotes du Rhone 1988 £5.95 (£8.80) it’s now about £7

  • Beringer Private Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 1986 £18.50 (£27.38) now the wrong side of £50

Monday 21st April
A range of wines over the last two nights, of differing levels of interest. First, an inexpensive Fitou from the Mount Tauch cooperative. It wasn’t flashy, but it was honest and quite satisfying in a savoury sort of way. This contrasted with a Noble Road Shiraz from McGuigans (designated South East Australia), which for a similar price took a different approach – it was manufactured and a little confected, with very sweet, ripe berry fruit and a bit of a chemical edge. What do you prefer? A cheap, honest wine, or a cheap wine that’s had every winemaking trick in the book thrown at it to make it taste expensive? Next up, a Gewürztraminer from the Hilltop winery in Hungary. A little on the dilute side perhaps, but lovely pure, delicate rose petal and grapey Gewürz character here. Very good value at £3.99. Something sweet? The basic Rutherglen Muscat from Campbells is a slightly tame version of this genre, but offers lots of appeal with sweet, raisiny, caramel-tinged flavours and good balance. Satisfying. Continuing with my efforts to tackle the wines I’m hoarding, I pulled the cork on Huet’s Vouvray Le Mont Sec 1998. It’s an unusual wine, showing why Chenin can be so much more interesting in the Loire than Sauvignon, with intense, slightly cheesy damp straw character and firm acidity. This is Vouvray in its bone dry, most savoury incarnation and although it’s extremely challenging, it also has a lot of intellectual appeal. Not so the Bonterra Chardonnay 2001 from Mendocino: the allure of this wine is entirely on a primeval sensory level. It shows thick ripe, tropical fruit and figs, backed up with some coconut and spice. Very Californian, but nicely balanced and quite satisfying in its style. Finally, a disappointing showing for Esporão’s 2000 Syrah. This wine, from Portugal’s Alentejo, comes across as a bit manufactured, with the American oak dominating the ripe, sweet fruit. Esporão can do (and have done) better.

Friday 18th April
It’s like summer here in London. Temperatures high 20s, cloudless sky, gentle breeze. The blossom on the apple trees near us is spectacular: where we live was originally an orchard, and there are a few of the original trees left. Indeed, we had one until it blew down a couple of years ago – it was a diseased old thing – miraculously falling neatly between the garage and fence. My vines are also sending out new shoots bravely into the new season. Will it be a good vintage or not in Twickenham in 2003?

One thing I’m fairly sure of is that I won’t be picking grapes from my of my back-garden vines this year. We’ve sold our house. It seems a lot of money for a rather small property – maybe now’s the time to move to Portugal and buy a small vineyard in Dão? We went viewing yesterday, although we may end up renting for a while before we buy. The second property we saw was a detached Victorian three-bed house. It had a large near-derelict garden that oozed potential, and there was a mature vine growing up the back wall of the house. Was it a sign?

Apologies for the non-wine-related comments, but you have to understand that my blog is the key means by which my family keep up-to-date with what’s going on in my life. They do tend to get a rather distorted perspective of our family life, as seen through the lens of wine.

I’ve been drinking a fair bit of white wine recently. Last night a refreshing Hugel Tradition 2001, an Alsace blend that effectively combines the slight meatiness of Pinot Gris with the grapeiness of Muscat and Gewürztraminer, filled out with some Pinot Blanc (I’m guessing as to the varietal composition). The night before was the intense, nutty, minerally Chablis 2001 from Domaine de la Tour. Lots of flavour here, in quite a classic style. On Tuesday evening it was the turn of the 1997 Semillon from Tim Adams. This is a consistently brilliant full flavoured white where the lemony fruit and vanilla oak are combined almost seamlessly. Tesco will soon be having a 20% of all Australian wines season, so this could be time to stock up on your Tim Adams whites.

Monday 7th April
Wednesday is budget day here in the UK. The BBC news website has a wonderfully entertaining game that lets you be the chancellor. See if your policies are smarter than Gordon’s: can you improve Britain’s economy? You can also see the effects of different interventions, such as raising duty on wine...

Sunday 6th April
Another lovely sea bass last night. This one was slightly bigger than the previous one, but just as fresh. The fishmonger in Twickenham is very good: with fish, freshness is everything, and their fish are fresh. Didn’t do too well with the wine match though: I chose a Riesling from Martinborough’s (NZ) Dry River winery – the 1998 vintage of their ‘Amaranth’. This had evolved more than I’d expected into a full-blown petrolly, toasty aged new world Riesling style. Very savoury and concentrated, but a little overpowering for a delicate grilled fish. Tonight’s wine, the lovely Thelema Sauvignon Blanc 2002, might have worked better. Aside: Thelema Sauvignon Blanc, by the way, is South Africa’s Cloudy Bay. Very similar aromatics and weight on the palate. Moving to the start of the weekend, we spent Friday night at Richmond Theatre. It’s one of our regular haunts – a lovely, quaint, intimate place to watch a play, with a slightly suburban tameness (in a nice way). Our evenings there have a regular pattern. We park in the Deer Park car park, wander across the green (a lovely setting), and head straight for the bar. The wine is respectable enough, and you get a huge glass – a plastic beaker, to be precise – noting that with just a few exceptions we are the youngest people there by some distance. We enjoy the first act and then repair to the bar for another generous measure of vin rouge. No matter what the quality of the performance, and this can vary quite a bit, we almost always enjoy the evening.

Thursday 3rd April
As I write I’m sipping the 2000 Laughing Magpie from D’Arenberg. It’s a joy-filled, exuberant blend of Shiraz and Viognier that shouts its McLaren Vale origins. The first thing I notice is the inky dark colour of this concentrated brew. On the nose and palate, rich, liquorice and mint-tinged tarry berry fruit combine well with intensely spicy American oak in a heady concoction backed up with some firm tannic structure. It’s an unmistakeably Australian style, but you wouldn’t expect it to be anything else. This raises an interesting point about ‘terroir’ if you will. While the inclusion of a dollop of Viognier is an acknowledged nod towards France’s Côte Rôtie, no one with half a palate would ever place this wine, tasted blind, in the Northern Rhône, let alone France. What’s the difference? It is winemaking? Well, you’d be unlikely to find anyone in Côte Rôtie quite as enthusiastic with American oak, but then Côte Rôtie with new American oak like this would be abhorrent, whereas I think it works quite well adding structure and spiciness to the ripe McLaren Vale fruit. No, it’s the ‘terroir’ that’s different – that elusive interaction of soils, climate and vine that imprints so profoundly on the character of a wine. It’s the difference between a hot region, where healthy super-ripe grapes create something sweet and fruity, yet with great concentration, and a much cooler region where grapes have to struggle to reach ripeness as the Autumn weather patterns arrive. Both styles are valid, and surprisingly different.

Friday 28th March
Sometimes I pause and ask myself whether I’m taking this wine thing all a little bit too seriously. It’s been a long day. It started off with a 5.45 alarm call in my Paris hotel room, followed with a dash to catch the early TGV from Gare de Lyon to Montelimar, in Provence. I was on a press trip to the high security Commissariat à l'Energie Atomique (French Atomic Energy Commission). The goal: to see the novel production process by which Sabaté have eliminated TCA from the cork ‘flour’ they use to make their Altec closure. Not only this, they also claim to have used the treatment to treat successfully raw cork bark, which can then be made into taint-free natural corks. Are these claims justified? You’ll just have to wait and see—I intend to write up a full report soon. I was one of 18 journalists, but the only Brit, and, along with an Italian one of just two etrangères. The briefing was therefore conducted in rapid-fire French, but fortunately my rather crappy command of this language is enough that, coupled with some assistance from Nicolas Serpette, Sabaté’s director of communication, I managed to understand a fair bit. I’m glad I took the time to do this. Some asides now follow. Provence smells different, even at this time of year. And I do like the French, although I lived in France there’s a chance this opinion might change. We had a nice boozy lunch (really nice Brusset Cairanne 1999, together with a pleasant Vacqueyras Blanc and a well balanced Muscat de Baumes-de-Venise) and then it was back onto the TGV to Paris. I’m currently on another train – Eurostar – heading for Waterloo. Eurostar is an excellent service, preferable by far to flying with all its attendant hassles and delays. But even more impressive is the TGV, on which Eurostar is modelled. The French are good at trains, and our (admittedly first class) journey both ways was reliable, comfortable and very fast. The new generation double-decker TGVs look hugely impressive. They are incredibly long, with an enormous capacity, and reach speeds of 280 kmh. That’s the way to travel.  

Previous entries 

Back to top