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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. ]

Wednesday 9th June 2004
It's a tough life being a wannabe wine journalist. One of the hardest aspects of the job is saying no to things you'd really like to do. Yesterday I had to say no to an all expenses paid weekend watching England play France in Portugal. This opening Euro 2004 game is one of the most eagerly anticipated games in recent years, and I could have been there. But it doesn't fit with family commitments, and I've made an unspoken rule to myself that for the next few months I'm only going to accept trips if they are going to meet a threshold level of usefulness in terms of what I'm doing for wineanorak, the magazines I write for and the book. Besides, England will probably lose. I'm quite busy at the moment, having just finished a batch of commissions, including writing the sections on Portugal, Port, Austria and Germany for the Which? Wine Guide 2005. I enjoyed writing these but it was hard work for relatively little money, partly because of the innovative new style of the guide means you have to write very tight (thus it takes a lot of time to write 1000 words). I think the new format will mean that the 2005 edition will be a lot better than in previous years. Should be on the shelves in October. Regular readers will be aware of my obsession with Portuguese wines. I'm developing a bit of a fixation with Austrian wines, too, which I think are fascinating, and I'm keen to develop my interest in German wines. 

What is being 'busy' all about, though? To some extent, I think it's a frame of mind people get themselves into. It's almost as if they live in a place of busy-ness - that the state of 'being busy' underpins everything that goes on in their mental space. For this reason, I try to avoid thinking of myself as busy. I'm going to, as far as it is possible, set my own priorities and make sure that what I end up doing with my time reflects how I really want to spend it. I'll work hard and do all that I can do in the time available, but I'm determined not to become one of those people who always complains about being too busy. After all, it is nice to have work, and I can always say no to offers if it is going to put too much pressure on me. Now back to that book I was supposed to write.

Sunday 30th May
Yesterday was cricket. It was the second run of a biannual match involving extended family and friends of our cousins, the Guillebauds, held at a prep school where one of my cousins and her husband works. The standard varies from OK to very good. I enjoy playing cricket a great deal, but each time I play I am reminded why I don't play every week. We batted first, and I was in at number 9. Sadly, I missed the non-serious joke bowlers and by the time I was in the decent chaps were back. I just about blocked the first ball but missed the next one and was bowled. My brother Arthur had previously knocked a marvellous 70-odd, with lots of sixes, so I was a bit embarrassed. We were all out for some 240. When we came to bowl, I was first change, bowling the fifth over. I was fuelled with a wonderful pint of Rebellion from the Marlow brewery. Fortunately, things went right, and after a plum LBW (not given) and a dropped catch, I tempted the batsman with one in the corridoor of uncertainty and he snicked it to slip. Then, in my second over I got another, with a thick edge. Bingo. It made up for the duck. With the fielding, I had an interesting time. A friend of William (brother in law) called Neil was bowling some offspin. He got whacked. One of them came sailing towards me and I bottled it. I moved back instead of going forwards and then it dropped in front of me before bouncing past for four. The cruelty of cricket is that if you make a howling error, you often have to wait a long time mulling it over before you have a chance to make amends. Not this time though: a few balls later the batsman hammered one in the air - a trickier chance - but I held my ground and snatched it out of the air with joy. For me, playing cricket is a bit like a round of golf or a trade tasting - you only need to go away with a few good memories and it's relatively easy to forget the rest of it. Which is usually a good thing. For now, some more pictures from the Portugal trip. 

Jorge Borges and Sandra Tavares in the Pintas vineyard

Quinta de la Rosa in the Cima Corgo of the Douro

The Cima Corgo of the Douro

Christiano Van Zeller (Do Vale D. Maria) 
and Francisco Fereirra (Vallado)

Alvaro Castro pouring a cask sample for Dirk Niepoort

Saturday 29th May
Apologies for the lack of updates the last few days, but I’ve been busy. Busy doing what good wine journalists need to do from time to time – that is, actually go and gawp at vineyards. I’ve been in Portugal, one of my favourite wine countries, exploring the Dão (left) and Douro (below). This was an ICEP-organized press trip, but rather than a busload of a dozen hacks, it was just me, driven around by the endlessly patient João Costa. It was a brilliantly productive (and rather tiring) trip, and over the next few weeks I’ll be writing it up in depth. On Tuesday I visited Quinta Dos Roques, Dão Sul at Quinta de Cabriz and then Alvaro Castro at Quinta da Pellada. We were joined there later by Dirk Niepoort (who is making Dado, a Dão/Douro wine with Alvaro) and Luis Lopez (editor of Portugal’s main wine magazine) for dinner. On Wednesday we visited Sogrape’s Carvalhais and then Passarela for lunch, then Santarem and finally a tasting of seven other producers who showed their wines for me at the Solar de Dão. We then had dinner at Cabriz where they’d arranged a big screen to watch Porto win the Champions’ league final. On Thursday we drove to the Douro, and kicked off with a visit to Quinta de la Rosa. We lunched at Bom Retiro (Ramos Pintos) and then went to see Pintas with Sandra and Jorge. After this it was the Douro boys – a tasting with Vallado, Crasto, Vale Meão and Vale Dona Maria, where we also had dinner. Yesterday we squeezed in an early tasting at Ramos Pinto and then went to the Baixo Corgo to taste and lunch with Domingos Alves de Soara. All in all a very useful trip, so stay tuned for the full write up.

Monday 24th May
Finally, I got to drink my brother-in-law's solitary bottle of Pingus - the 1997 vintage. It's a cult wine that sells for silly money, and it was very generous of him to bring it round to dinner on Friday night. We had some good wines - a Grand Cru red Burgundy (Chambertin Clos de Beze 1993 from Bruno Clair), a Pouilly Fuisse, a single-vineyard Rioja (Valpiedra 1996), a German Riesling (JJ Prum 1994 Spatlese from a vineyard I've forgotten) and a Madeira (Cossart Gordon Bual 1990 Colheita), but it was the Pingus and the unctious 1997 Coutet Barsac that stood out. In fact, the Coutet was majestic, and we easily polished off the 75 cl bottle. I always think that I don't drink enough Sauternes or Barsac, and I enjoy it a great deal whenever I do. We followed up Friday's excess with a lovely multicourse meal cooked by a colleague who is an expert at classic French cooking on Saturday night. The wines served included a Craggy Range Old Renwick Vineyard 2003 Sauvignon Blanc (very refined, classy and with some minerally interest) and the 1999 Gaillard St Joseph (combined pure dark fruits with a lovely taut spicy, slightly animally core).  

Today I'm off to Portugal, returning Friday, visiting the leading properties in the Dão and the Douro. So there's lots more interesting Portuguese content to come on these pages in the near future. Other trips planned include Barossa/McLaren Vale/Adelaide Hills in September and then Austria and northeast Italy in October. 

Thursday 20th May
The London wine trade fair had lots of highlights for me, not least good exposure to some more Austrian wines, some lovely Madeiras and a chance to catch up on some Portuguese wines. Still, there's a large chunk of the fair that's of no use to anyone interested in wine: the rather depressing commercial side of wine - most evident with the big drinks companies and their ostentatious double decker stands, stacked with their desperately dull, industrialized wine brands. Last night was the Dirk Niepoort dinner at the Capital (replete with two Michelin stars), which was a sensationally good evening of food and wine. I felt I took another step forward in understanding where Dirk is trying to go with his wines. In particular the trio of 2001 reds impressed (Batuta, Redoma and Vertente), although I was very taken by the lush, elegant 2002 Charme. This will be the first Charme that people will
be able to buy. The 2000 was such a tiny production it was never sold. After showing the 2001 last year as a cask sample, Dirk decided not to bottle it. The 2002 will probably retail at around £30 and I'd recommend that you try it if you get a chance. I stayed longer than I'd planned, enjoying 77 vintage and a 30 year old tawny, and as a result had a rather awkward journey home - in the end I had to take the last tube to Heathrow and then get on a night bus. It was worth it, though. I'm off to Portugal on Monday, which I'm very much looking forward to.

A phone interview yesterday resulted in me being quoted in the Evening Standard today (see right) - it was a story about Unwins arranging their range by style rather than country on the shelves. I've always applauded attempts to help people choose from massed selections of wine, but I'm not sure that style is the way simply because these taste categories tend not to be robust enough or easy enough to understand. Is price any better? No, but it is probably more useful for people. The problem in Unwins runs deeper, in my opinion: the range is dull.  

Tuesday 18th May 2004
So, last night was the double-dose of award ceremonies. I’d been shortlisted for both the Glenfiddich and the Lanson – a nice position to be in, but both events were rather bizarrely on the same evening. I started with the Glenfiddich where my award, wine writer of the year, was first up. Tim Atkin won it, and because he was also shortlisted for a Lanson we both shared a cab to the new globe for the Lanson awards, along with Fiona Smith the PR guru for Mitchell Beazley. We got to there just in time to hear that Tim had won that as well. My category had been announced earlier, and I hadn’t go that either. After about five minutes and two glasses of Champagne, my disappointment had worn off and I actually enjoyed the evening a great deal. Nick Alabaster had been standing in for me, and we had a nice time meeting the great and worthy of the wine writing world, with several more glasses of cold Champagne. Much nicer than the whisky cocktails we were given at the Glenfiddich.

It’s a busy week for wine people. The London International Wine and Spirit Fair at Excel is the centrepiece of the wine trade’s calendar, and this afternoon and tomorrow morning I’m going to be busy tasting and chatting. The scale is daunting. The big commercial stands packed with branded nonsense wines are of no interest to wine nuts, and, of course, many of the best producers don’t feel the need to exhibit when they sell out all their wines without much trouble. Still, there’s plenty to keep me busy, and more interesting people than I could ever have time to meet. I spent quite a bit of time in Austria and the rest in Portugal. Tomorrow I will branch out a bit, I promise.

Monday 17th May 2004
Saturday’s Decanter French Wine Encounter was up to the usual standard of these Decanter tasting days. They’re very civilised events, held in the wonderful setting of the Landmark Hotel. The abundance of clean Riedel Chianti glasses certainly helps to make serious tasting a little easier. The only problem is that it can get a bit crowded around some of the tables, and a proportion of the punters haven’t learned the etiquette of tasting in these circumstances. If it’s at all crowded, you should take your pour, then step away from the table so others can get in. Simple and polite. I had a nice time chatting to some of the producers. René Rostaing prefers to speak French, but he does it clearly and precisely enough that I can understand him. I had a lengthy chat with Christian Seely who is in charge of all the AXA properties – it’s the first time I’ve spoken to him and I found him very open, friendly and convincing. He was pouring Suiduiraut 1997, 1999 and 2001, and the excellence of these wines led me to go on a Sauternes/Barsac hunt. The Baly brothers of Coutet were on fine form, and I did a mini-vertical of Climens. Staying on the sweet theme, Pierre Bise and Baumard showed some impressive Quarts de Chaume. I also had a productive chat with negociant-eleveur Xavier Copel of Primo Palatum. It was nice to taste with my brother in law Monsieur Beavington, who I think I shall hire as my press officer. Other internet wine guys spotted at the event were Chris Kissack and Neal Martin (who greeted me with ‘Hi Linden’ – you need some new glasses Neal).

Friday 14th May
Some interesting recent drinking. I picked up a few bottles in Sainsbury, the other day: while most of the range is as you’d expect (commercial stuff), Sainsbury have been buying in a few selected smaller parcels of wines. Among these was Inama’s Soave Classico 2001, which is such a wonderful, expressive wine – and a snip at £6.99. It’s a beautifully perfumed white with some delicate herbal tones, and if I had any sense I’d have picked up more than just two. But then there are only so many drinking opportunities, and I’m a sucker for novelty. I find it hard to get through a case of anything, unless it’s something whose drinking window allows me to stagger consumption over a few years. Or maybe I should just drink more? Over a couple of days I enjoyed the 2001 Côtes du Rhône Reserve from Château des Tours. The 2000 was a favourite of mine (half way through a six pack) but the 2001 Vaqueyras I think may be a dud purchase – both bottles I’ve had so far have been dull and fizzy. But the Côtes du Rhône 2001 is delicious. It’s an odd sort of wine, with very pure, sweet fruit and the softest tannins imaginable. Overnight it begins to express some really fascinating peppery, spicy Grenache character to supplement the sweet fruit. Very enjoyable if a bit quirky. Sticking with the Rhône, my first time with the Ogier La Rosine 2001 left me a bit undecided. It’s distinctly savoury (not a bad thing) with the dominant feature being the roast coffee and tar notes on the nose. There’s not really the richness of fruit there to support everything else, but it could be because I’m approaching it too young, so I’ll keep my second bottle a while yet. Another wine that I enjoyed but probably expected a little more from was the Heidler Spiegel Grüner Veltliner 2002. It’s a nice, pepper Grüner Veltliner but could do with just a little more concentration of flavour to justify the price tag (£7.50). More immediate in its impact is the 1996 Malmsey Single Harvest Madeira from Blandys, which I’ve been sipping for the last few nights. It’s the real deal, uncaramelized and not subjected to artificial heating. The move to making Single Harvest Madeiras (known traditionally as Colheitas) is a good one, I feel.

The frogs have now gone. After a few fatalities, we thought it best to let them out in the wildlife area of the boys' school. They'd begun hopping, although they still had remnants of their tails. Strange things, amphibians. 

Permit me a moan. If you are in the market for a laptop, don't buy a Dell. I loved my IBM Thinkpad, a solid machine in every way. This Dell I've been putting up with for the last 18 months or so is pain. It's plasticky, hard to live with and the nipple mouse device has finally given up after months of grumbling. I'm left with the touchpad, which I don't like. I'd trade a good deal of performance to have something that is nicer to live with. Moan over.  

Monday 10th May
My six-year-old’s favourite song at the moment is Air hostess by Busted. It’s a catchy song that boasts the immortal lines ‘Air hostess, I like the way you dress’, ‘I messed my pants, when we passed over France’, and ‘The temperature is rising, my coke has got no ice in’. It must be odd for the three Busted boys, being thrust into the celebrity world and suddenly having more money than they could ever have thought of. The whole celebrity phenomenon does my head in a bit, actually. Of course, society has always had its celebrities, but in the last couple of decades things have gone crazy. Our culture has reorganized itself around celebrities in an absurd fashion. We pluck people out of obscurity – sometimes on the basis of talent in a particular field, but other times for no particular reason – we make them famous, and then we are obsessed by every aspect of their lives until we grow bored, or are distracted, at which point we drop them. We imbue our celebrities with a special power or magic; we feel that if we can get close to them, if in some way a celebrity’s life can touch ours, then this will bring meaning and significance to our lives. We have fantasy connections with our own favourite celebrities – something captured so well by the film Notting Hill, which as well as being an entertaining romantic comedy, has a clever, deeper side exploring celebrity status and the interaction between the famous and the ordinary.

One of the most bizarre (to me) manifestations of this obsession is the growing band of celebrity magazine, in the Hello mode. Headline recently spotted on the cover of one: ‘Poor Posh, so sad, so thin’. It’s hilarious that readers don’t see the absurdity of this fixation with fame. Another tabloid report revealed that Posh shops in Matalan (a discount store) and bought tiles for her bathroom from Topps Tiles. This sort of stuff is on one level very funny, and on another very disturbing. The truth is that celebrities are no different to the rest of us: they are just as good, just as bad, just as kind, just as mean – and if we were to spend a day with our favourite celeb, our lives would be no different. In fact, they might be impoverished – our illusions would be broken. What about the celebrities themselves? No doubt there’s a cost to being famous; a very real loss of freedom that comes with being instantly recognizable. Also, imagine if you were to achieve all your life goals and beyond by your mid-20s, and yet still feel the same person when you get out of bed in the morning? Where do you go from there?

Celebrity status is a bankable commodity, and it’s not surprising that it’s been used to sell wine. There are a host of wines on the market with celebrity names on the label, and the most successful has probably been Sir Cliff’s Vida Nova from his Algarve estate. This is likely because he has put something of himself into the wine: he bought the vineyard and you get the impression that he’s driven the project. Other similar project seem to have been dreamt up by marketers, with the celeb themselves having little input into the project beyond a token presence at a blending session.  

Over this last weekend I’ve had a cold. The nadir was when on Friday night I lost my sense of smell almost entirely. It was weird and quite scary to swill a glass of wine and smell absolutely nothing, and then take a sip and experience very little other than the sweetness, acidity and bitterness. It reinforces how fundamental olfaction is to wine tasting – even the ‘taste’ bit. Fortunately this anosmia was just temporary.

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