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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. ]

Friday 7th May 2004
We have a pond and a green outside our house. Don’t get the wrong idea, though - it’s not the rural idyll of some country village, but rather a small oasis in the built-up suburbs of west London. Anyway, leaving the house in the morning I walk past the pond and enjoy seeing our resident wildfowl generally busying themselves. The resident population includes a dozen or so ducks and a Canada goose with a broken wing. This is joined daily by an influx of visitors, most commonly more geese, the odd moorhen and swans. Today, however, there was a cormorant and a heron. Just two birds, but they gave me great pleasure. Why do I mention this? It’s just that in nature, as in many other walks of life, diversity enriches our lives. Wine is no exception. This is partly why many people are so upset by the growing ‘internationalization’ of wines (dare I mention PAVIE). Unless diversity is nurtured, cherished and ultimately enshrined in legislation, then it will be obliterated by the steamroller of modern retailing. The French AOC rules have largely failed to ensure quality, but they have been spectacularly successful in ensuring the survival of myriad regional styles. 

The shape of modern retailing is such that there are two conduits left to market – that is, wine retailing is consolidating into two models: on the one hand wine as FMCGs (fast-moving consumer goods), which encompasses large volume branded wines sold by supermarkets and convenience stores, and on the other fine wines sold by specialist independents. The middle ground is being eroded, and with it, the access to market for relatively small-volume, mid-priced wines that reflect regional diversity has all but dried up. At the fine wine end, the reliance of consumers on points - and the facts that points are both a blunt tool for discriminating among different styles and that the most influential point scorers have a predilection for very ripe, concentrated wines – has meant that regional diversity is threatened there also. The answer? Consumers need to vote with their feet. Resist the lure of the rather boring international styled wines. Eschew the volume brands. Work hard to spend your wine budget with independent retailers who do good work and on wines made by producers who care, and who make wines expressing their origin. And for us hacks, we need to keep banging on about how important diversity is to wine. Just as the perception of Riesling by the public has changed in the last few years, largely driven by repeated press crusading, perhaps the way people think about wine diversity will also change.  

Monday 3rd May
Tadpole update: now the critters have legs. They’ll soon be froglets and on their way. Metamorphosis. Back to wine: last night I had a nice surprise. It was the D’Arenberg Coppermine Road Cabernet Sauvignon 2001 I mentioned a few days ago. I was half expecting this to be overblown, showy and a bit soupy, lacking balance. But it wasn’t - although it is a really big wine in a classical Australian mould, it’s a balanced monster. By this I mean that the sweet, concentrated fruit flavours are backed up by firm tannins, spicy oak (in this case French, and not the more usual American) and good acidity. Rather than the individual flavours sticking out, it works together as one unit. And while the Dead Arm from d'Arenberg gets all the attention, in some ways this is a more serious effort that will no doubt improve with some time in the cellar. I like it, although with an extreme wine like this drunk in its youth you have to be in the mood for it. I wonder what this will metamorphose into with a decade's cellar time?

Thursday 29nd April
Just on my way back from a tasting put on by four independent merchants at Vinopolis. Believe it or not, this was my first visit to the ‘city of wine’, which is located just a short walk from London Bridge station. My impressions, from a brief walk through the galleries, is that they’ve done a very good job. It’s designed to reach a broad audience, so hard-bitten wine nuts would probably leave a little unsatisfied, but the average person – someone with mild interest in wine rather than a pathological obsession – would probably be quite entertained.

Majestic have an outlet at Vinopolis, and this is (to my knowledge) the only place where you can buy their wines by the bottle rather than in quantities of at least a case. As well as the Majestic range this outlet stocks other wines that are on tasting at Vinopolis, including oddities from Greece, Romania, Armenia, China and Thailand. Curious wine nuts would no doubt be tempted by a Chinese red and white in Feng shui inspired specially shaped bottles. I bought a little more conservatively – a Blandys Single Harvest 1996 Malmsey Madeira and the 1997 Musar. These will go in my drinking queue, which was bolstered by a recent Berry Bros purchase and some Oddbins samples. I’m looking forward to trying the 2001 La Rosine Syrah from Ogier, Heidler Grüner Veltliner Spiegel 2002, Gilles Barges St Joseph Les Martinets 2001 (the two so far from my case have been delicious), a Pinot Blanc from Albert Mann and D’Arenberg’s 2001 Coppermine Road Cabernet Sauvignon. The latter will be interesting: there’s been a lot of controversy surrounding the 2001 Dead Arm, with some loving it and others being unconvinced. Are these high-end D’Arenberg wines simply showy and flash, with no real staying power or substance? Or are they the real deal? Too many wines and too little time.

Thursday 22nd April
Yesterday was the Portuguese annual trade tasting at the Royal Horticultural Halls. The problem that comes from getting to know people in the wine trade is that it gets harder to concentrate on tasting wine when there are so many people to chat with. Still, a nice problem to have. I do pity the key buyers though: at most tastings there are just a handful of them and they are relentlessly pursued by producers anxious to get them to taste their wines. Many of Portugal’s best wines were missing today, but still there were a number of stand-outs. I’ve written at length about Dirk Niepoort’s wines before: the 2001 Batuta and Redoma are both very impressive, serious wines destined for some prolonged cellar time. What a contrast with the other celebrity Douro wine in Raymond Reynolds’ portfolio, the 2001 Quinta do Vale Meão. This shows wonderfully alluring, sweet aromatic fruit already. It’s a showy, opulent wine that is delicious now, in quite a different style to Batuta. Each will have their fans. Five more Douro wines deserve a mention. New out is Lagar de Macedos 2000, a brother (sister?) wine to Macedos 2000: remarkably forward and sweet again, with an opulent, almost liqueur-like quality to the fruit. Then there’s the understated elegance of Dão Sul’s Quinta das Tecedeiras, which shows lovely expressive fruit. Also quite elegant is the Duas Quintas Reserva 2000, which has wonderfully pure fruit and shows great balance. Finally, Quinta de la Rosa and Churchill have made elegant, food friendly wines in the tricky 2002 vintage, the former with a new winemaker (Jorge Moreira) and the latter for the first time (they made an experimental table wine in Portugal but this is the first proper release of Churchill Estates red wine, made by João Brito e Cunha of Lavradores de Feitoria fame).

Moving away from the Douro, it was a pleasure to retaste the 2002s from Quinta do Ameal, which are both stunning, expressive, aromatic whites, rating in the 90s. I was also struck by the FP wines of Filpa Pato. She’s the daughter of Bairrada’s Luis, and is making her own wines from Dão and Bairrada vineyards. The top wine, a 2003 varietal Baga, is stunning. Fully ripe with amazing structure and complexity.

Wednesday 21st April
It’s been a good week for wine anorak. Last week I found out that I’d been shortlisted for the Glenfiddich Wine Writer of the Year award, along with heavyweights Clive Coates and Tim Atkin. As if that wasn’t enough, the shortlist for the Prix du Champagne Lanson, the other big drinks awards, have just been released, and I was stunned to find that wineanorak.com is in the running for the Ivory Label Award (the category for media including websites, radio, TV and photography). The results for both will be announced at the respective award ceremonies next month. To be shortlisted for two awards is great – to actually win one would be fantastic. Think of all the free Champagne and whisky! It'd be party on, at my place, and you're all invited.

Monday 19th April
Just got back from a short family break to Cornwall. It’s a story of two hotels. We’d intended to go for a luxury family ho–tel that had plenty to offer for the kids, and would also allow us a chance to relax in nice surroundings. We booked a hotel that seemed to fit the bill nicely, in Watergate Bay, between Newquay and Padstow. As soon as we got there, we realised we’d made a duff choice. The hotel looked great on the website, but despite its setting on a spectacular bay, it was just not right for us. The rooms were poky, smelly and badly finished, the decor of the hotel owed more to the council leisure centre than a luxury hotel, and the indoor pool was a token effort. The food was good enough, albeit served in a large brightly lit dining room freshly decorated in the style of a rather naff suburban semi, but by this stage we’d already decided to leave. The one plus point was the staff – they were mostly surf dudes looking to finance their surf habit, but they were very polite and helpful. I felt bad explaining to them that we couldn’t stay any longer, but it had to be done.

We phoned around and managed to book for the next two nights at Fowey Hall, overlooking the town of Fowey on the south coast. What a contrast. To use a motoring analogy, while Watergate was an XR3i, Fowey Hall was an XK8. We had one of the nicest breaks we’ve had. Fowey Hall is the real deal, oozing effortless class and luxury. It’s furnished to a very high standard in a traditional style, and caters for families brilliantly. The kids had a games room with pool, table tennis and table football, plus another room with games consoles. There’s a large, child friendly pool heated to bath temperature. The setting, overlooking the Fowey estuary, is unparalleled. Two nights and three days doesn’t sound long, but now we feel thoroughly refreshed. The food was very good indeed, without being quite top notch, and service in the restaurant was quite assured. I would like to see some more effort made with the wine list. It didn’t match the surroundings, being entirely sourced from one supplier, Berkmann. It was therefore rather predictable and opted for average, larger producers over the small and exciting.
Fowey Hall

The view 

I’d just love to put together an exciting wine list for a hotel like this: I reckon I could source some real gems at the business £20–35 end of the list, of the sort that were almost entirely lacking here. BY careful choice, on our two nights we had two good wines that matched the food well: a Jim Barry Clare Valley Riesling and a 2002 Chablis from Brocard, but even if I’d been in the mood to splurge then I really didn’t find anything to excite me. But this is just a small criticism, and I’d thoroughly recommend Fowey Hall for a relaxing long weekend for families. Pricey, but I think we got great value for money.

Thursday 15th April
The shortlist for the Glendiddich Food and Drink Awards 2004 has just been announced. You can see them here

Thursday 8th April
I’m drinking another wine tonight that I’ve had on several occasions. In my enthusiasm for the Glenguin wines after visiting the Hunter in 2000 I bought 18 bottles of this – a record for me (but probably not if you count all the bottles of Torres Vina Sol that have been knocked back in the Goode household). The wine in question is the Glenguin Orange Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 1998, from a vineyard at 700 m altitude in the New South Wales region of Orange. It’s another bold, wild wine but completely different to the Jamet Syrah I described yesterday. For me, this is Aussie wine at its best. There’s plenty of oak for sure – American, too – but it’s not at all minty or sweet or coconutty. The overall impression is savoury, with intense blackcurrant fruit firmly underlain by bold tannins and high acidity, with spicy, tarry complexity. There’s a lot of structure and intensity and I suspect this wine will still be going strong in another five years time. There’s nothing manufactured about this wine. While it is unsubtle and rather extreme, it’s an honest interpretation of what this high quality region can produce, shouting its origins proudly.

Wednesday 7th April
Wasn’t sure what to drink tonight, so with relatively low expectations I pulled out a bottle of Syrah Vin de Pays Collines Rhodaniennes 2001 from Jamet (a Syrah from the northern Rhône, pictured right). I say low expectations not because this is a bad wine, but because it’s something I’ve probably drunk half a dozen of in the past year, and I’m someone who gets off on novelty. I tend to get a bit bored drinking a whole case of the same wine unless it’s something that I can spin out over a number of years. Six packs are more my thing, but then I’m partial to singletons and twin bottles too. But while I was expecting little from this bottle, I’ve now got to reconsider my expectations because this Jamet is just cracking. It’s not a wine with broad appeal: in fact, it’s the antithesis of modern, fruity, easy drinking branded wine that sells so well to non-geek punters. Yes, the Jamet has plenty of vivid raspberry fruit, but it’s got a whole lot more besides. It’s savagely savoury, with cheesy, animally, spicy, sour cherry flavours. The acidity is high. It would be fascinating to do a chemical analysis on this wine—perhaps this would reveal some lactobacillus or brettanomyces—but even though it’s not a flawless creation, I find I can’t help myself drinking the stuff. Surely, points aside, this is the measure of the ‘quality’ of a wine: whether you can keep yourself from draining the bottle. A theme I tend to repeat is that a score given to a wine is not a property of the wine, but instead a response by a taster to a particular wine in a particular situation. In one context a humble wine is ‘better’ than a 98-pointer, and I can’t think of many wines that I’d rather drink right now. With regard to this Jamet VdP, which was £5.99 in Majestic, I’ve also got some of the 2002 (the current vintage), which while a little lighter is almost as nice as this in a similar style.

Sunday 4th April
Time to highlight some worthwhile material on other sites. First, Neal Martin who has some sensible things to say about the Bordeaux en primeur tastings, which are now upon us. I think Neal pinpoints some real problems with the current set-up, although I’m surprised at his final conclusion that these tastings over the next couple of weeks are going to be very revealing – he’s just spent the previous paragraphs explaining why they aren’t! Either they are or they aren’t. 

Bill Nanson’s Burgundy report takes my prize for the world’s best looking wine site. The content is good, also. The latest Burgundy report carries a good article on cork taint – Bill has a good angle on this as he’s an industrial chemist.

Monday 29th March
Robert Parker has spoken for the first time today on the quality of the 2003 vintage in Bordeaux. His view? It ‘has the greatest extremes in quality I have ever seen in my 25 years of experience in Bordeaux ....substantial even massive wines from rather indifferent terroirs, and clunkers from some very famous estates with great terroirs’. The rest of the trade will be tasting these wines from cask over the next couple of weeks, so expect to hear more than you could ever have wanted to on this subject for some time to come. Remember, though, vintage reports from merchants who are also selling wines from the same vintage are never to be taken too seriously. Even if the merchant is solid, sensible, honest and smart, the fact that they are trying to sell wine will colour their otherwise ‘objective’ judgment. They are not journalists, but salesmen, and there’s a difference. Should you buy 2003s? The weather was so weird in Bordeaux last year that I'd say this is one year where it pays to taste the wine yourself before buying it, if you can - or else wait until you see it reviewed by a critic you trust. The usual policy of buying on the basis of an estate's track record might not hold true for 2003.  

Friday 26th March
It’s been a long busy week, with a couple of tight deadlines. Among other subjects, I’m currently writing a piece on the world’s most expensive wines for a general interest magazine. In researching this piece, I came across an article that I thought deserved a wider audience. It’s on the section of Penfolds’ website that is devoted to iconic Aussie wine Grange, and the article in question is Max Schubert’s account of the origins of this wine. It makes good reading. Two aspects particularly struck me. First, about just how intrinsic to the style of Grange is the use of new, untreated oak barrels, something which hadn’t been tried before in Australia. ‘It was almost as if the new wood had acted as a catalyst to release previously unsuspected flavours and aromas from the Hermitage grape’, stated Schubert. He made two versions of the first Grange (1951), one in new oak and one in older oak barrels, and the former lacked a lot of the character that made Grange special. But perhaps even more interesting is that the original specification for Grange was to harvest grapes with 12 degrees potential alcohol. When did you last see a premium Australian or Californian wine with less than 13.5% alcohol? And 15% isn’t all that uncommon these days. I quote Schubert: ‘
The procedure to be employed was first to ensure that the grape material was sound and that the acid and sugar content was in balance consistent with the style of wine as specified. Using the Baume scale, this was to be not less than 11.5 degrees and not more than 12 degrees with a total acidity of not less than 6.5 and not more than 7 grams per litre. With strict attention to detail and close surveillance, this was achieved.’ 

Saturday 20th March
We have a new arrival in the Goode household. It’s a wine cabinet – a Vintec under-worktop unit to be precise (right). It’s designed to fit into a 600 mm slot in the kitchen, and we’re putting it into our new one which arrives next month. The capacity, 44 bottles, isn’t as much as I’d have liked, but the great advantage is that because this is integrated into the kitchen design (and looks very elegant with its stainless steel and smoked glass finish) it was much easier to get domestic approval. In this new house we don’t have any underground storage like we did in the last, so if there’s a danger of last summer’s temperatures being repeated cabinet storage for some bottles and off-site storage for the rest will be essential. Who knows, if I get on with this I might add another, larger one, but it's difficult to know where to put it. I’m currently researching global climate change for a Wine International feature, and the predictions are that there will be a significant and inevitable rise in temperature over the next few decades, because of greenhouse gas emissions, and hot summers are likely to be common. After summer 2003 I'm increasingly convinced that passive storage is a huge risk. What we do now in terms of controlling these emissions will affect what happens in the second half of this century. Tadpole update: they have been hatched for a few days and are vigorously swimming around. No sign of legs yet. We're feeding them with flaked goldfish food, and topping their water up from the pond infront of our house.  

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