jamie goode's blog
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[For the uninitiated, a 'blog' (or weblog) is a web journal with links. This gives me a chance to add short, 'off the record' style items that wouldn't merit a separate article. I try my best to keep entries informal, frequent, brief and (hopefully) interesting. For more information about Jamie Goode, see the about the author section. ]

Monday 9th February 2004
An interesting weekendís drinking. One of the things I enjoy doing is opening two or three bottles together, having a glass or a small tasting pour from each, comparing them, and then drinking them with food over the course of an evening. Of course, I donít personally consume three bottles in a sitting Ė one seems to be the maximum I can comfortably enjoy, and often less than this Ė but most wines are good for a couple of days, if a little less impressive than when first opened, and having friends round helps, too.

The Ch‚teau des Tours Rťserve 2000 may be a lowly CŰtes du RhŰne, but itís a superb wine, brimming with alluring sweet Grenache aromas balanced by spicy, earthy notes. This is just archetypal Southern RhŰne for me. Delicious and balanced, my six-pack is diminishing fast (this originally cost about £6.50 in a sale; it was either Bibendum or H&H Bancroft). As a nice foil, the Pierre Gaillard 1999 St Joseph screams Northern RhŰne Syrah to me. Itís not a terribly complex wine, but it does have that typical roast meat, spicy, bloody edge to the raspberry fruit that is a trademark of Northern RhŰne Syrah. Iím half way through a case of this (this one was definitely from the H&H Bancroft Sale, also for £6.50), and the last bottle was decidedly tired, something I put down to the closure (two piece synthetic cork; either neocork or nomacork - this is no bad reflection one these closures because from other data it seems the one-piece synthetics wouldn't be expected to keep a wine protected for four years). This bottle is fresh as you like.

On to Austria. The BrŁndlmayer ZŲbinger Heiligenstein Riesling 1997 from the Kamptal is a delight. Itís fresh, angular and poised with piercing limey fruit, delicate and spicy, fresh and pure. I have one left of this. It really doesnít taste six years old. Iím on a bit of a Loire roll at the moment, so I opened a sweet Chenin to finish off with. The Domaine des GagniŤres Bonnezeaux 1999 Cuvťe BenoÓt is from a slightly dodgy vintage, but itís very nice. Like most Chenin, it takes some understanding. Itís rich textured, rounded and sweet with complex yet reticent flavours of marmalade, wax, melon and honey, together with hints of anise. It wouldnít stand up to a dessert; this is best enjoyed on its own.

Thursday 5th February
Donít worry. This mostly-wine blog isnít about to change into a football blog, but I canít let this opportunity pass without a mention of the remarkable goings-on at White Hart Lane last night. Me and my mate Rob were sitting there growing increasingly glum as our team (Manchester City, of course) conceded an early goal, lost their best player, conceded two more goals and had Joey Barton sent off, leaving us 3Ė0 down at half time and down to 10 men. We were very depressed and the game was effectively over. Then, the most remarkable turn-around of FA Cup history ensued. It was quite incredible. When the winning goal went in, sealing a 4Ė3 win, Rob turned and hugged a complete stranger. What a night. We had a slightly nervous walk back to the tube amid murderously depressed Spurs fans, but it didnít take the gloss off what was a remarkable performance the likes of which I doubt weíll see again in our lifetimes.

Tuesday 3rd February
Just a brief, note like entry in the blog tonight. Itís getting to be busy in the tasting calendar again. Yesterday a brief sojourn at the Bibendum tasting. Had a chat with Christiano Van Zeller of Douro fame, who was showing the Vallado wines. 2002 was a very tricky vintage in the Douro but heís more pleased than he expected to be with what heís produced (he makes his own wine, Vale Dona Maria, as well as Vallado and Domini in partnership with others). 2003 is very good indeed, so that will be something to look forward to. I found out today that Iím going back to the Douro in March, which Iím very much looking forward to. Today was the big Australian trade tasting, which continues tomorrow. I tasted widely. Stand-outs for me included the wines from Mitolo, which are simply sensationally good in a very ripe, exotic style. Dion Gunson was showing some new agencies, including the super Red Edge wines from Heathcote. Heathcote is also a region where the new Shadowfax operate, and their two Shiraz wines from here were superb. Charles Meltonís 2001s are very good, and the Two Hands wines are pretty impressive albeit in a super-ripe mould. Full notes to follow soon, of course. Tomorrow night Iím off to watch City in the fourth round of the cup at White Hart Lane, hoping for a much needed win.

Friday 30th January
I must admit to being a little concerned by all the flak the BBC is getting over the criticisms contained in the Hutton Report, published this week. Itís not that Iím disputing Lord Huttonís conclusions Ė I havenít studied the report so I canít really comment on them. Itís because I see the potential for this episode to be used by those with a political agenda against the BBC. The BBC is very important. Unlike other privately owned media, the BBC is funded by a licence fee and is thus effectively independent: it carries no advertising. Perhaps most importantly other media are owned by rich people, and rich peoples' particular interest is how to make sure that they stay that way. Thus they are invariably entangled with politics at some level, and have particular interests that are usually represented and championed at an editorial level. This isnít good for the rest of us. In any country, one of the keys to its proper functioning is a free, healthy media Ė information sources which act in the interests of the people and which canít be bought. The media keeps politicians honest, or should I say the media makes sure that politicians at least try to be honest. The BBC has shown that it is not afraid to upset government, and as a result one gets the impression that the government would quite like to remove the licence fee. This would be disastrous, not least because there is only one pot of TV advertising money and independent television would effectively have to share this with the BBC. Iím not claiming the BBC is perfect Ė interestingly, the Conservatives claimed they had a left-wing bias when they were in power, and New Labour criticise them for bias in a similar way Ė but they do a very good job which would be jeopardised if the licence fee were withdrawn.

My other main concern is that there exist bodies with an agenda to make the internet less mainstream, confining it to the fringe of computer nerds and technical people, replacing it with a more controllable information source. The brilliant thing about the internet is that the barrier to entry is currently low. Thus small time publishers who may still be of very high quality, and who because of their size have fewer editorial compromises, can get in on the game. This is good, because it offers a variety of voices, some speaking more clearly and truthfully than traditional media giants who previously had control. Big publishers feel a little threatened by this influx of competition, so donít be surprised if there emerges a collusion between large media providers and consumer electronics companies who offer a sanitized, controlled, TV-controller accessible, parallel version of the internet for the masses. I hope this sort of thing never really takes off Ė and I know that it has been tried already Ė because the internet is an important medium that should be kept out of the hands of media giants. There are a lot of people who want to control the information we receive, and a truly free media is to be cherished and valued.

Wednesday January 21st
Some of the quality of an evening out in central London for me is determined by the journey home. More precisely, how long do I have to wait for a tube to Richmond? Iíve mentioned it here before on my blog, but sometimes I can spend what seems like a lifetime at Earlís Court or South Kensington (often in a semi- or fully inebriated state) waiting for a ****** District Line Richmond train. Iíve even taken to going a few stops to Hammersmith on the wrong train just because there they have a modern departure board telling you how long you have to wait. Earlís Courtís antediluvian destination board is seriously bad psychology, designed to frustrate and enrage. Tonight, however, was one of those perfect evenings where I had just 30 seconds to wait for my train. It feels good.

Earlier this evening I attended the Handford Wine Burgundy 2002 tasting. Some very good wines, some of which even represent quite good value for money. Following this, my brother in law, William, had promised to take me for some food. Rather than just plumping for the usual Ifield Road El Gaucho (enormous Argentinian steaks) we decided to try something more local. I asked Handfordís Adrian Heaven for a recommendation, and he struck gold. Just a few minutesí walk from Handford South Ken down the Old Brompton Road is Tendido Cero, a serious location for Tapas. Best of all, itís BYO, so we chose two wines to take with us: Bierzo 1998 from Descendientes de J. Palacios (£18.95 Handford) and the 1999 AlŪon (£26.95 Handford) from the Ribera del Duero. Between the two of us we chose the following from their menu.  

  • Jamůn Ibťrico de Salamanca
    We liked this tender, sweet ham so much we ordered it again
  • Pan tostado con tomate y jamůn al estilo catalŠn
    Ham on toast with plenty of garlic
  • Tartar de salmon con alcoperras, pepinillos y mayoresa de enelado
    lovely oily richness and a fresh, fishy flavour
  • Tortillas rellenas de autķn, gambas y mayonesa
    Tuna and prawn pancake with mayonnaise Ė delicious
  • Croquetas Cremosas de jamon Serrano
    This was ethereally light and fluffy Ė wonderful texture
  • Cordero guisado al chilindron
    Tender, subtle lamb shoulder with a nice spiciness
  • Abůngidas al estilo de la abuela
    Richly flavoured meatballs Ė these were OK rather than spectacular
  • Tortilla de patata
    I like this rather stodgy potato omelette a lot
  • Chorizo picante de la sidra
    Rich, mindblowing, spicy flavours

The service was energetic and attentive Ė very professional. The quality of the food coupled with the fact that you can bring your own wine (£2 corkage) means that I canít recommend this place highly enough. One comment, though Ė some people really waste the rare privelige of BYO by bringing crappy wine. The next door table were drinking Sainsburyís own label Claret. BYO is a great chance to drink serious wine with good food without paying silly money for the privelige. Our wine choices would have cost us £60 a piece of an averagely priced restaurant list. As it stands, the bill for the two of us was around £80 (service included), which isnít cheap, but we did order a little more than we really needed, and we had at least four bottles of mineral water at £3 a pop. Even so, itís money well spent and I look forward to going there again soon, especially if my bro-in-law is treating me.

Tuesday January 20th
Goodness. Itís nearly the end of January. After a nice long, lazy break over the holiday period, Iíve experienced a crazy immersion into an activity packed new year. The January tasting season is in full swing, and later today Iím going to two events Ė the i5 (independent coalition of five small importers) tasting and the New Zealand bash. Last week I even forgot a couple Iíd been meaning to go to (the Bunch and Lay & Wheelerís Burgundy 2002). Two wine dinners in the last couple of weeks have been fun. First was a blind RhŰne and RhŰne-like do (reported on here) and then last Monday a wine nut dinner hosted by Sion Simon at the House of Commons. This was a little weird at first, because of the six combatants only a few had met before, and we were sort of aware that meeting like this with dozens of bottles of wine and only a little food was vaguely pathological. After a while, though, it kicked into life, and we had some lovely wines, including a tasty Cain Five 1994, 1998 Ogier CŰte RŰtie, 1998 Pegau, 1990 Vieux Telegraphe, 1993 Clerc Milon, 1970 Taylorís Port, a 1971 German Riesling Auslese whose name Iíve forgotten, and a bretty but nice 1990 Coudoulet. I made the mistake of drinking beer in the strangerís bar afterwards and still have no recollection of how I got home. One other noteworthy wine experience has been taking delivery of my sole case of RhŰne 2001 en primeur. The wine in question is the Gilles Barge Clos du Martinets St Joseph, and itís drinking beautifully now. I had my first bottle with a really good steak, cooked ŗ point, and it was a near-heavenly experience. Donít get me wrong: the Gilles Barge St Joe is not a perfect wine. But at £10 all in per bottle, with just the right weight of Northern RhŰne Syrah fruit, itís just right for me on an average Friday evening.

Monday January 5th
January is typically a time of giving up things that we think are bad; for trying to improve ourselves by purging our excesses and bringing in a new regime of fitness, happiness and general well being that we hope will extend throughout the new year and beyond. My sister and her husband announced that they are going to Ďdetoxí, whatever that involves. I might try my own, newly invented 'red' diet. Just foods coloured red: principally red wine and red meat. A new local gym has timed its opening to coincide with January resolve to get fit. But resolutions and fasts need not be restricted just to food and reduced bodyweight. I have a friend who once gave up reading, listening to or viewing any media for a period of 40 days. This novel-sounding fast might do us all good. While some news media do a good job, most see the information they disperse purely in terms of entertainment value. Thatís their business, after all, you may say. But what happened to the notion of excellence for its own sake? Is the best newspaper the one that is read by the most readers? Look at the circulation figures: this clearly isnít the case. As a whole, our society is distracted and engaged by nonsense. We live in a celebrity culture where being famous is a bankable commodity, and supposedly serious media have jumped on the celebrity bandwagon. The media have become more and more efficient at identifying what people want, and they give them more of it by the shovelful, until they can take no more. When itís not celebrity stories dominating our front pages, itís gory tales of crime and the ensuing trials that grab the big headlines. Thus we have the emergence of the rapist/child murderer or serial killer as celebrity. I was appalled by the in-depth coverage of the recent Soham murder trial which was lapped up by the news media and dominated coverage for almost a fortnight. Murder as entertainment. We now even have the bizarre phenomenon of news presenter/gatherer as celebrity. John Simpson is an example: originally he wrote a very successful and engaging account of his travels as BBC foreign correspondent. This was then followed up by a slightly more navel-gazing and pompous effort, but one which was probably still worthwhile. Perhaps running slightly short of anecdotes, he produced a third volume majoring on his experiences in Afghanistan. But Simpson hadnít finished, and has pulled out a fourth book, this time based on adventures in Iraq. What next? An account of Johnís summer holidays? His favourite cultural experiences? [Of course, he's free to write these books, and we are free to choose whether to buy them or not.] All in all, a decent-ish break from media and their distorted, celebrity-focused view of the world, would probably be beneficial for all of us.

Last night, I enjoyed a bottle of a good, honest, interesting wine. Donít ask me what criteria I use to define a wine as Ďhonestí ó I just know an honest wine when I come across one. It was a Jamet 2002 Syrah Vin de Pays des Collines Rhodaniennes (£5.99 Majestic), a wine that offers fresh, bright, savoury, meaty, roasted red berry fruits, followed up with high acidity. Itís just 12% alcohol, which should be normal for a red table wine but these days rarely is. The Jamet wine is made no doubt from fairly high yields of young or not particularly well sited vines, in or near the vineyards of CŰte-RŰtie in the northern RhŰne. While itís not big or showy, and some may find the intense savouriness a little too much, I find it an authentic expression of wines from this part of the world. Itís cheap enough to drink frequently, and savoury enough to match well with most foods. And to use a Jeffordism, itís eminently digestible.  

Friday January 2nd 2004
Christmas has come and gone, and here in the Goode household it has been a wonderful time, giving us an opportunity to begin enjoying our new house (our old kitchen was about 10 x 6 foot; the current one is 32 x 12), and catch up with a lot of friends and family. So hello 2004. What does this new year hold? For me 2003 was an eventful year in several ways: I suspect 2004 will be similar, although I donít think I particularly want to go through the hassle of another house move, at least for a decade or so.

Each new year I've used my blog as a chance to set out some loosely wine-related resolutions. In January 2002 I set out the following. (1) Drink less but drink better. (2) Be more creative in buying wine, supporting the merchants who really do good work, even if it's more hassle than popping into the local supermarkets or high street outlets. (3) Buy more educational bottles, leaving my comfort zone more frequently. Part of the joy of wine lies in its diversity. (4) Travel more. It's hard to write about wine regions with any great insight if you've never caught the real flavour of them first-hand. (5) Keep perspective, seeing wine integrated as part of a rich, healthy lifestyle, not as an end in itself. These are all pretty good, and would do this time around, with particular attention on number 4, I feel. Then, this time last year I set out some more resolutions: to learn more, to publish more (improving the quality at the same time) and to take more time to reflect. I've partially failed on the last one, in that life has become more busy and I've been pulled in several directions, so perhaps I need to concentrate on this. I remember Andrew Jefford once hinted that he thought - in analogy with grape vines - that some wine writers might be too high-yielding. I don't want to sacrifice quality for quantity, and it's always something that I keep in mind when pitching for fresh commissions. 

Other goals this year? (1) I have to write my book. I mentioned on this blog some months ago that I've been fortunate to secure a significant commission with leading wine book publishers Mitchell Beazley. It's a project I'm very excited about, and now I have to get down to serious research and writing. My goal is to make it the most interesting, profitable and original wine book to be published in the last three decades. Yes, I still believe that Man City are going to win the premiership in my lifetime ;) (2) Now I lack a subterranean space to stash my wine, I'm going to get some temperature-controlled storage. With global climate change and all that, summer 2003 might not be a one-off. (3) I really enjoy travelling, so I want to see some more wine regions this year. For various reasons I had to turn down three press trips at the end of last year; I'm going to try to get out more often in the next 12 months. (4) Finally, I'm going to improve wineanorak with more varied content and fresh features. Yes folks, I want to make this the most interesting stop on the web for wine information. Thanks for your support over the last year, and please visit often over the next. 

Friday 19th December
Last night was my first visit to Handford Wines, South Kensington (formerly La Vigneronne). Earlier in the year La Vigneronne was sold by owners Mike and Liz Berry to James Handford, to become the second Handford branch in addition to their superb Holland Park shop. At the time I was sad to see La Vigneronne go Ė it was a unique shop, with its strong focus on wines of the Languedoc and the South of France, and I had a sentimental attachment to it. So how has La Vig changed since it became Handford?

The good news is that itís still an interesting place to shop for wine. Of course, the range has broadened somewhat, with a corresponding (inevitable) loss of focus, but there is still a fine selection of southern French oddities and small production wines. Pascal Fullaís Mas LíEcriture, Remy Pedrenoís Roc díAnglade, Mas Jullien, Les Creisses, Aurelles, Ravanes and a host of others (including Puffeneyís remarkable Arbois wines) are still sitting there on the shelves. Portugal has been beefed up a bit with some more from Raymond Reynoldsí portfolio, and Bordeaux, Burgundy and Italy have also expanded. In the Alsace, itís good to see that Marc Kreydenweiss still has pole position, with support from Zind Humbrecht and Trimbach. South Africa is now Ďoverweightí as the city boys would say, but you can forgive Handfordís Greg Sherwood his passion Ė heís got the top names. What about prices? La Vigneronne wasnít the cheapest shop in the world; nor is Handford. If you are in the market for these sorts of wines, by the bottle, in an expensive neighbourhood, then you arenít going to be looking to save a pound or two. Thereís continuity of staff, and the tasting program continues Ė a relief to many wine geeks. All in all, I came away quite encouraged.

18th December
Two books Iím reading at the moment. Both about wine, but rather different from the usual run of the mill wine titles. The first is a proof copy of a book due to be published by Harper Collins in February, telling the story of phylloxera Ė the fiendish aphid that just about wiped out the wine industries of Europe in the late 19th Century. This was a bad time to be a wine grower. First they had to deal with oidium, a fungal disease that reached France via imported vines from the USA and knocked yields for six until someone found out that powdered sulphur was an effective prophylactic. Then less than 20 years later, in 1867, vignerons in the south of France started to notice a mysterious vine malady that rapidly spread, killing all vines in its path. Widespread panic ensued, and it was a while before scientists could work out what was causing the problem Ė a subterranean aphid. Thatís as far as Iíve got. In contrast, the second book is almost finished. Itís subject matter is ancient wine, recounting the quest to find the roots (forgive the bad pun) of viticulture in the ancient world. Patrick McGovern has used a new discipline, molecular archaeology, to try to work out when and where the first wines were made. Itís a technical book, but a good story nonetheless. Full reviews to follow.

What about non-wine books? Although I love books, Iím not a *serious* reader: after all, I gave up half way through the first part of Proustís classic work. Three favourite authors include one fairly high-brow and two most definitely not. First, Iím a fan of Chaim Potok, and have read everything heís written. Start with My name is Asher Lev. Second, Iíve also read everything by Nevil Shute, a great storyteller who was busy writing either side of the last world war. Most peopleís exposure to Shute is through A town like Alice and the rather depressing On the beach, but Iíd recommend digging further Ė Round the bend is a particular favourite. His writing style seems dated and a little sentimental now, but theyíre thoughtful, humane and very readable books. Finally, it may damn me in the eyes of some of my readers, I like Susan Howatchís writing. Iím a slightly more selective with her books, but I think that the Starbridge series (e.g. Glittering Images) is brilliant, and Iím also keen on the three more recent books that have been spin-offs from the first series of five. My holiday reading, though, will start with Primo Levi's Periodic Table, which I was given yesterday as a gift. Wonder how far I'll get.

Saturday 13th December
Extended tasting note number three:
Montegaredo Tinto ĎRobleí 2000 Ribero del Duero, Spain

Context: Itís Thursday evening. Buoyed by my limited success at first-time plumbing, Iíve just been attempting a bit of plastering. Itís hard, and Iím rubbish at it, but itís enjoyable having a go. Now Iím sitting typing on my laptop while watching television, a glass of wine by my side.

The wine in question is from Spainís Ribero del Duero, made by a producer Iím not familiar with. The label design is very Spanish and quite traditional. With a picture of a couple of barrels on it, and the designation Ďrobleí, Iím getting a little worried. A common theme with Spanish wines is that theyíve suffered from too much oak. Often the problem with the traditional wines is that they spend a long time in old American oak, which can confer a coconut and vanilla character that I donít like. The fruit has to be seriously intense initially to withstand a long time in barrel, and often traditional-style Riojas are dried out dominated by the sweet oak characters. The barrels also need to be clean. And then the new wave wines are often dominated by too much new oakóboth are undesirable in my book. So is this wine going to be flawed?

Fortunately, not. Or at least only a tiny bit. It has a lovely, beguiling nose with vivid fruit coupled with smoky, slightly tarry oak notes together with just a hint of vanilla and the tiniest whiff of coconut. Itís really well balanced and quite elegant. Thereís some spiciness, but the overall impression is savoury and intense. Thereís just enough lifted acidity to bring the aromas out of the glass, but not enough to cause any problems.

The programme Iím watching is BBCís flagship science series, Horizon. Generally this is a hugely impressive production, let down a little by the odd episode that allows the journalistic desire for a good story override scientific considerations. Tonight itís more technology than science, telling the story of how in 1899 a Brit called Percy Pilcher could have beaten the Wright brothers by being the first person to succeed with a powered flight. He designed a plane but never got to fly it, and so Horizon are trying to build his machine and put it to the test.

Back to the wine. The palate shows a lovely savoury character with dark fruits, good acidity and smooth yet firm tannins. Itís quite traditional in style but the intensity of fruit stands up well to the oak (presumably a mix of new and old American oak, but this is just a guess). The whole thing is wrapped up with a spicy, tarry finish. Youíd probably guess this as Spanish in a blind tasting because of the oak, but it is very well done. A reasonably serious wine, Iíd give this 90/100. Yours for £10.95 from Lay & Wheeler.

Thursday 11th December
Impromptu lunch today with fellow wine website publishers Bill Nanson and Neal Martin, at Japanese restaurant Sakura. Bill is a chemist working in Basle, but has recently begun the excellent Burgundy Report (www.burgundyreport.com), in addition to his slightly broader-focused personal wine site www.nanson.ch. Neal works in the trade buying wines for Jalexu, a Japanese company, but has also recently started his excellent Bordeaux-focused wine site, www.wine-journal.com. It comes complete with an album of the month section, where Neal pairs the music he recommends with a particular wine (I donít think this is fully serious, in case you are getting a bit worried). We had a broad ranging chat, much of which isnít for repeating here. The food was very good, too. No wine, though (Bill was on tea, Neal and I had Asahi). Bill, Neal and I also publish wine blogs. For the record, as far as I am aware, the original wine blog is that of US wine importer Joe Dressner, found at www.joedressner.com, the large majority of which you will quickly recognize (I hope) as a satirical creation, poking fun at the wine trade and internet wine personalities.  I havenít met Joe, but Iíve communicated with him online and by email. He has a wonderful portfolio of largely manipulation-free wines from small French producers, including many made from biodynamically and organically grown grapes.

Tuesday 9th December

House update. Things have progressed and we're quite settled in here, even though nothing is finished. I'm enjoying getting stuck in now there are no builders here to mock my efforts. I even plumbed in our kitchen sink and washing machine from scratch, without too many leaks. For those who've never done any plumbing before (I hadn't a couple of weeks back), it's actually quite easy using the modern plastic piping (speedfit or polyplumb are two of the brands available). You just need some confidence and a bit of guidance the first time.


As you can see from the pictures, our kitchen is far from finished: we've yet to decide what we want to do with it, so for the time being we have reinstalled what was left of the old kitchen with a new range cooker (gas connected today) and American style fridge freezer. There'll be room for a wine cabinet. The bathroom (right) is equally unfinished, but we have a lovely bath, sink and toilet installed and working, with the shower and boxing in of the boiler and cylinder yet to happen. It's surprising how quickly you get used to living in a building site. Last night had a surprisingly good £2.99 wine - the Tesco Simply Gewurztraminer, a fresh, fruity, grapey white with good balance and without that rather perfumed, confected character inexpensive Gewurztraminer sometimes has. It's from the reliable Hilltop winery in Hungary.  

 Thursday 4th December
Going to see my favourite football team play is a bit like opening a bottle of old wine. You stand a high chance of disappointment, and whatever the outcome, itís an expensive pursuit. Last night I went to see the team in question, Manchester City, play away in the fourth round of the Carling Cup against Spurs. Whitehart Lane is a nice, compact stadium and the pitch was looking superb. Out came the teams and for the next forty-five minutes I saw one of the worst performances Iíve ever experienced from City. They couldnít win the ball in midfield, the defence was scared and panicky, and poor old Kevin Stur-Ellegard, Cityís 20 year old third-choice keeper, looked a bit out of his depth. Then, after the break City were like a different side, playing with passion and precision and creating a whole bunch of chances. We still lost, but I didnít feel like Iíd totally wasted the £25 the ticket cost Ė and that is cheap compared with Chelsea, who charge away fans in excess of £40 for the privilege of visiting the Bridge.

Havenít opened any old wine for a while, but I have been enjoying DíArenbergís Vintage Fortified Shiraz 1999 (from Australiaís McLaren Vale) over recent nights. Itís different in character to Port, although it is made in the same way. There arenít any Ports at this price (£13.99 per 75 cl bottle, Oddbins) that Iíd prefer. Itís a wild wine, with hugely concentrated sweet, ripe fruit with masses of tannic structure balancing the sweetness. Thereís some herby, red fruit complexity, but itís the purity of the fruit combined with the spicy structure that makes this wine such a complete experience. I suspect it will mellow with age for some decades to come, but it really is tasting good now. No holds barred.

Technology continues to progress apace. Visiting the electronics shops on Tottenham Court Road the other day I was bowled over the sophisticated gadgetry you can now get for a dozen used twenties. Digital still cameras have doubled in specification for the same price over the last year. Digital video cameras are now about a third of the price they were when I was last looking at them. Mobile phones are fantastically sophisticated, although the choice and pricing is, I suspect, kept deliberately complicated so that consumers canít do a straight price comparison. And of course computer processing speed has been on the rise for as long as there have been computers Ė is Mooreís law ever going to be broken? But Tottenham Court Road is not the best place to go for customer service Ė it boasts some of the rudest, most disinterested retail staff youíll ever meet. One further thought: I reckon in about 20 years time thereíll be a crisis of arthritis of the thumb in people who today spend most of their lives texting and manipulating their mobiles with dextrous, nimble thumb operation.

Saturday 29th November
Last night we had an evening of good wine round at my brother in lawís. We usually have a good time there, and invariably I leave wondering why we donít visit more often. First off, Nyetimber PremiŤre Cuvťe Chardonnay 1995, a fizz that is perhaps Englandís most celebrated wine. It was golden colour and full flavoured, but perhaps a little to herby and lacking a bit of finesse. Still, a good wine, but this bottle didnít quite live up to the hype. Then a pair of clarets. The 1996 Phelan Segur, St Estephe, opened out to reveal quite a classically structured wine with nice minerally complexity and a fair bit of fruit. Well balanced and appealing, this is a tasty claret in quite a modern mould. The 1997 Gruaud Larose is drinking well now, with open blackcurranty fruit and some spicy, smooth tannins. Just a hint of meatiness, too. Our third red was the 1995 Lupicaia, a pricy ĎSuper Tuscaní boasting menthol, tar and spice elements along with rich, spicy fruit. Itís a big, bold wine with lots of oak imprint Ė in fact it reminded me of a top Aussie Cabernet with some bottle age. Very different in style and character to the two clarets. To follow, Berry Bros 20 Year Old Tawny (from Quinta do Noval) was exceptionally good with great balance and spicy, raisiny, cedary complexity. Delicious stuff. Wood-matured Tawny and Colheita Ports are a little overshadowed by the bottle matured Vintage Ports, but they can be every bit as compelling when they are made with such balance. The Lustau Old East India sherry we had alongside the Berryís Tawny seemed a little overblown in comparison, but was sweet and raisiny with great concentration.

Sunday 23rd November
Some weekend wines. Friday night we cracked open a 2000 Willows Vineyard Semillon from the Barossa Valley. Itís a striking, full flavoured wine with American oak adding structure, spice and even a bit of wood tannin to the citrussy fruit. Iím not completely sure about this, but it could work with some strongly flavoured foods. Yours for £9.99 from Thresher. Saturday night was claret night. First, a deeply impressive St Emilion that Iíd never heard of before, Ch‚teau Laniote Ďin the 1999í (as old-time claret swillers might say). Ripe, concentrated fruit here, lush and yet still elegant. Very tasty and moreish. This was followed by Ch‚teau Lynch Moussas, Pauillac, in the 1996. A chunky, assertive sort of claret, with just a hint of rusticity. Not subtle, but enjoyable. I have to admit to not being much of a Bordeaux head. Itís a dull-ish sort of region with a big money, elitist image that I find off-putting. But home to a lot of very good wines. The final wine in my round up was a humble, rather anonymous yet fresh Pinot Grigio which accompanied a pizza at a family Sunday lunch out. What surprised me about this was that there on the bottle the stated vintage was 2003. Impressive speed from vineyard to table, considering the grapes were still on the vine in late August/September. I thought it was just Beaujolais Nouveau that did this sort of trick.

Saturday was the Decanter Fine Wine Encounter, surely the best consumer wine tasting event in the calendar. Lots of very good wines in the fine surroundings of the Landmark Hotel, with Riedel glasses to taste from. I spent a few useful hours here and among the most impressive wines were the following. Seresin, from New Zealand, has to be one of this countryís very best producers. Some excellent wines including a lush, elegant Pinot Noir, a classy Chardonnay and a stunning oak aged Sauvignon. Torres may be best known for their Vina Sol and Gran Sangredetoro (both exemplary inexpensive everyday wines), but their premium range is also excellent, my favourite being the Grans Muralles, a combination of traditional Catalan grapes and slatey soils (licorella). Lůpez de Heredia make stunning traditional white Rioja which is an acquired taste and ages indefinitely. Jasper Hill, from the Heathcote region of Victoria, makes one of Australiaís most compelling expressions of Shiraz, with lovely vivid fruit. They are now following biodynamic principles, and will soon be Demeter certified. And I loved the elegance of the Ch‚teau Brane Cantenac 2000 from Margaux, while the second wine wasnít far behind. More to follow. 

Wednesday 19th November
Regular readers of this wine blog will no doubt have noticed that this isnít a proper blog in the truest sense of the word. Real blogs are based around links to outside sources, with added commentary; this is more like an online diary with the occasional link. One of the common features of blogs is lists Ė peoplesí favourite books, CDs and so on. Often these lists are used as a way of telling the world how sophisticated and deep-thinking the writer is, or how the writer sees themselves in their better moments. In an effort to bring my humble blog a little closer to the real thing, I will share a few of my thoughts on movies, a common blog-list topic.

If I was a sophisticated intellectual, Iíd be able to roll off a list of high-brow art house movies that no one has ever heard of, many of which are subtitled. I canít. Alas, my diet in films is restricted to the mainstream, with a larger than average proportion of childrenís movies courtesy of my 6 and 7 year old boys. Perhaps thatís a good place to begin. Weíve recently seen the first two Harry Potter movies, about a decade later than the rest of the world. Iíd always avoided them in the past, partly because I thought our nippers were too young for them, and partly because I donít like the way that theyíve been forced down our throats with all the incessant publicity and cross-promotional activity that has accompanied their release.

What changed? A couple of weeks back, a friend of ours who works on film visual effects took the boys to see the set of the fourth film, currently in production. They met Hagwid (sp?) and Harry himself, and were given sweets from one of the shops on Daigon (sp?) Alley, so we had to let the boys see the films themselves. Theyíre not bad (the films, that is), with some clever touches, although the breathless pace of the action is a bit wearing after a while. Like the best kidsí films they appeal to adults as well as children, but I donít think theyíd make my top 10 list of kidsí flicks. Instead, names on this list would certainly include Shrek (looking forward to a sequel), Hook (brilliant performance by Dustin Hoffman as Hook and good support from Bob Hoskins as Smee, preventing the film becoming yet another Robin Williams vehicle Ė Julia Roberts is an excellent Tinks, too), George of the Jungle (itís very, very funny in a corny sort of way), the Grinch (quirky but compelling, a role made for Jim Carrey), Matilda (you must see this brilliant adaptation of a very funny Roald Dahl story) and Toy Story 2 (creative and fun). Iím sure there are more.

On a rather more grown-up level I find it hard to pick a favourite film top 10 list, but contenders would be Mike Leighís Secrets and Lies (a poignant story with brilliant performances by Brenda Blethyn and Timothy Spall, which builds up to a wonderful final scene), Notting Hill (so well crafted Ė is this the perfect romantic comedy?) and Raising Arizona (off-beat, quirky comic offering from the Coen brothers). Thatís just for starters. Strangely (or not?) I canít think of a film centred around wine, or even with wine as a significant component or backdrop. 

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