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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 29th November 2004

What's on my tasting counter? One of the worktops in my kitchen serves as an unofficial tasting counter, and tends to get cluttered with bottles, both full and spent. I took a picture of it as it was yesterday evening. No bottles added or taken away or added. It's a real mix.

  • 1. Part empty. A 2003 CŰte de Brouilly, Ch Thivin. A sample from Nick Dobson Wines. Nice, fresh, sappy and light with good balance.

  • 2. Empty. Scarzhofberger Kabinett 1999 from Egon MŁller. Purchased from Haynes, Hanson & Clark a few weeks back. It was pretty nice. 

  • 3. Full. Nouvelle Vague No 7 Grand Cuvee 2002 from Alois Kracher. A gift from a visit to Illmitz last month. It's a fantastic wine.

  • 4. Empty. Salia 2001 - the second wine from Spanish journalist Victor de La Serna's Finca Sandoval. Purchased from Haynes, Hanson & Clark for about £11. Was a bit hard and dried out. Heat damaged?

  • 5. Part full. Olive oil from Domenic Torzi in the Barossa. Fantastic. (Or is this the unidentified bottle behind number 7? Can't tell.)

  • 6. Empty. Matassa Blanc 2003 from Sam Harrop and Tom Lubbe in the Roussillon. This was a sample received by another wine writer which I tried with them, and they gave me the rest of the bottle to drink at home. A stunning, minerally white. 

  • 7. Empty. Ch Doisy Daene 1995 - a wonderful rich, sweet Barsac with good definition to the abundant fruit. Bought a couple of years ago from La Vigneronne and drunk on my birthday last week, along with a lovely Vouvray from Huet.

  • 8. Empty. Lingenfelder's Fish Gewurztraminer. An Oddbins sample. Boldly flavoured and tasty, and worth trying if you are a fan of this grape.

  • 9. Full. CŰte RŰtie 1999 from Niero. Jeroboams, £17. Looking forward to it.

  • 10. Part empty. Olive oil from CARM in the Douro. Nice.

  • 11. Part empty. Quinta do Noval LBV 1998. Very impressive for an LBV - it's unfiltered. A bargain at £9.99 from Oddbins.

  • 12. Full. Another Oddbins sample: this time it's a blend of Touriga Nacional and Pinot Noir from Casa Santos Lima in the Ribatejo. 

  • 13. Full. This is a Penfolds St Henri from 1989 which I was given last week at a Penfolds recorking clinic. Journalists get given a mystery bottle which they then take through the recorking process, and they then get to keep. I was with Wine International's Richard Ross; he got an 85 Grange! Fortunately both were OK, so they got a top up from the current release and a new cork and capsule. Too bad if your bottle isn't up to scratch. They won't top it up and you'll have to drink it that evening!

There are a couple of unannotated bottles in the shot: one is an empty bottle from Domaine Harlaftis (a very good Greek red wine), and the other is a Gavi from Araldica (full).

Had a nice weekend, spent with my brother and his family in Plymouth. On Saturday it was beach time with the kids (it's amazing how much fun you can have on a beach in England at the end of November), and later we managed to catch the City game live at a local pub (a solid 2-0 victory; we're sad, aren't we). Then, on Sunday we hit Dartmoor, which was spectacularly rugged. 

Friday 26th November
On my way home after my debut appearance on live national television. It was a fun experience. Richard & Judy is filmed at the studios of Cactus TV, and everyone I met at Cactus impressed me with their professionalism and calmness in the face of getting a one-hour live program out on air. I guess this is the thing with TV Ė because so many people want to do it, if youíre an idiot or crap, you donít get very far, which just leaves the good ones. I got picked up by car (quite a swanky one, a Mercedes) and when I arrived I was shown to my dressing room. It even had my name on the door. A good start. My fellow wine expert for the night was Jean-Marc Saboua, a winemaker with Direct Wines Ė heíd been on before, so he knew what to expect. Catherine Mann, who is the Cactus person developing the wine club had a chat about the sort of topics we might cover, and then it was in to makeup. The makeup people are fantastic. They took 10 years off me in two minutes. Couldnít do much with my hair though. Wardrobe checked what we were wearing and advised Jean-Marc to wear a jacket to cover up his flowery shirt. Good idea. Then we went to see the set Ė a rather grand square wooden table, surrounded by oversize glasses containing liquids in varying shades of pink. On the table were raspberries and strawberries (covered by big Ďdo not eatí signs), and boiled sweets and roses as taste cues. We had to be quiet as on the other side of the studio Richard and Judy (R&J) were doing a run through. Then it was time for the program. Preceding us was Harry Hill, and he entertained enough that R&J were in a rather jovial mood by the time it came to wine club slot. Weíd been miked up and had our make-up touched up, and then the cameras turned to us. I was slightly nervous for the first minute or so, but the relaxed mood was contagious and it all went by very quickly. I think we managed to make some good points and I hope it was entertaining Ė itís very hard to judge your own performance in this sort of setting. At the very least, I hope I didnít embarrass all my family and friends who thought it was a big deal that I was on national television. I was fascinated by the mechanics of getting a show out: the turnaround during commercial breaks, the cameras, the autocue, and all the people standing around. After the show, quick call home to see what they all thought, then a few glasses of wine and some nibbles before departing homeward bound. I feel priveliged to be involved in a small way with a professionally run TV show that communicates to a couple of million people Ė letís face it, when wine magazines have circulations of just a few tens of thousands and newspaper wine columns are getting shorter, this is a program that is getting wine on TV Ė to lots of normal consumers. As such it is terribly important. Supermarkets havenít found a way of promoting wine in any other way than by price reductions, but here is a show that gives normal (i.e. non-wine geeks) people a chance to explore wine in a way that is accessible to them. Iíd love to get the chance to do it again, but even if I donít, itís been fun.

Thursday 25th Novmber
Tomorrow is the day: I'm going to be a wine 'expert' on Richard & Judy. If, along with 2 million other viewers, you'd like to watch me crash and burn, the wine slot is in the second half of the program, which runs from 5 pm- 6 pm on Channel 4. If you'd like to taste along, you'll need to arm yourself with Chivite's 2003 Gran Feudo Rosť, which I'm relieved to report is quite nice. I'm looking forward to it. I think it will be a fun experience. 

Monday 22nd November
Some weekend wines. First up, a Quinta do Crasto Touriga Nacional 1996, which Iíd cellared for a few years since a purchase from Oddbins Fine Wine, for around £15. It was better than I expected, with dense, savoury, spicy fruit. In those days the wines were made by David Baverstock and this saw only French oak. Next, two Beaujolais Nouveau samples which reminded me that I donít really like Beaujolais Nouveau. Light and confected. If you want a bright, fruity, fun wine then youíre better off with the next one, the Forresterís Petit Pinotage 2004 from South Africa . Pinotage often sucks, but this one I like, with its juicy, vibrant plumy fruit with a nice savoury tang. Brilliant value at under a fiver from Tesco, and the pink label suits the wine well. Slightly disappointing was the Errazuriz Shiraz 2003: this had bags of sweet, spicy fruit but there was a green herbal streak (some unripeness?) that was very Chilean, and the 14.5% alcohol made its presence felt. High alcohol is a real problem, not so much for its physiological effects, but more for its impact on sensory properties of wines so affected. Entering the home strait we have the Chivite Gran Feudo rosť 2003 from Navarra. I like this, which is a good job because itís the wine Iíll be discussing on the Richard and Judy wine club this Friday. Nice strawberry and raspberry fruit with a lovely savouriness. Two more to come: a Zenato Valpolicella Superiore 2001 entertained at an Italian restaurant on Saturday night with its dense, earthy, spicy fruit (at £13.50 not too bad a value), and the Grahams 1997 LBV is all you could ask of an LBV thatís selling for less than £8 at Tesco: tasty enough without being profound. And City won 3-1 away to Portsmouth.

Wednesday 17th November
Three wines tonight, all white, all 2003 vintage, all from the same part of France Ė the Roussillon Ė all hovering around the £20 mark, and all fantastic. They were Sam Harrop and Tom Lubbeís Matassa (whose red I've already raved about), and two from Gauby Ė the La Soula and the Vieilles Vignes. The common thread was a defined streak of minerality to the rich, distinctive fruit flavours. These were very fine wines, although I didnít take detailed notes. However, the wines werenít the focus of the evening: I was meeting with Jancis Robinson and her assistant Julia Harding (herself an MW, achieved in record time) to discuss any contributions I might be able to make to the 3rd edition of the Oxford Companion to Wine, round at Jancisí very elegant house in Belsize Park. Iím utterly flattered to be involved in a small way with this fantastic, iconic publication, and if I play my cards right there may even be one or two entries with the initials ĎJAGí (JG is already taken) after them. Iím sure Jancis doesnít need any more accolades, but my suspicion that she really is one of the nicest and most friendly people in the wine trade has been confirmed.

Tomorrow night Iím out again, this time my first visit to Gordon Ramsayís Michelin three-starred joint at Claridges. Fortunately, Iím not picking up the tab Ė itís another winemaker dinner. Iíll report back, but you canít do a proper restaurant review when you are going to an organized dinner as someoneís guest. If you could, Iíd be able to put a rather swanky restaurant reviews section on this site, because Iíve been lucky enough to be entertained at some nice gaffs over the last couple of years (Richard Corriganís Lindsay House, Roussillon, Sketch, Alaisdair Little, The Capital Hotel, Moro, Smithís at Smithfield, The Sugar Club to name some names). My only problem is with these wine dinners is that being the geek I am I tend to focus on the wines, and in doing them justice I sometimes neglect the food a bit. This was the case at the Dirk Niepoort dinner a few months ago held at The Capital, just a two-star joint (the Ďjustí is meant as a joke, by the way). The food was fantastic, but I was distracted by the remarkable wines, which is why I was invited in the first place.

Thursday 11th November
A week and a bit on with the new laptop, and Iím beginning to grow fond of it. The wireless network connection is great Ė Iím on a train now and could connect to the internet if I wanted, although the signal will fade in a few seconds as we leave the station. Technology rocks. But Iím not an early adopter Ė I wait for the price to drop a bit and the flaws to be ironed out. It takes a while to get used to new devices like laptops and digital cameras, but usually the shift brings with it added utility.

Two tastings this week have been noteworthy. The New Douro tasting was fantastic, with a superb turnout and some brilliant wines. It was nice to see so many familiar faces - people Iíve met in the Douro before, now coming over to London . As Danny Cameron of Raymond Reynolds pointed out, if the tasting had been held three years ago no one would have come, apart from wierdos like me. The fact that it was so well attended shows that the region is beginning to come of age as a source of some top table wines. It will be a while before we really see the best from the Douro , though. Itís an exciting prospect.

Then, today, I went to a Wines of South Africa tasting focusing on Sauvignon Blanc and RhŰne varieties. As I walked in, Peter May came over to me and offered to pour me a glass of the Fairview Pegleg Carignan 2003, which Iíve been critical of in the past. It was nice to catch up with him Ė Peter is turning into an unofficial ambassador of South African wines and in particular his beloved Pinotage. The Sauvignon Blancs were very impressive, overall, with a few real standouts, including wines from Cape Point, Steenberg, Thelema and Klein Constantia. South Africa does Sauvignon very well indeed. I also tried all the Syrahs, and found a slightly more mixed bag. Standouts included the Columella from Eben Sadie, Tom Lubbeís Observatory, Fairviewís Solitude and The Foundry. There were some that were a bit jammy and sweet, though, and a couple with a strong herbal streak. The signs are that Syrah is on a bit of a roll in South Africa, although prices seem to be creeping up (Columella is £38!). Two of the reds had low level taint, and I think the organizers thought I was being a bit fussy pointing it out. But I guess that's because all the bottles are tasted before being put out - both times though, the fresh bottle opened was better than the first, and the winemaker present agreed that there was some low level taint present. TCA is a bugger: my philosophy is if I have the slightest doubt, then it is best to ask for another bottle. Inevitably taint reveals itself in comparison. It does surprise me though, when dozens of professionals have already tasted the wines, that no one spots the taint. Is this a threshold issue, or just that people aren't concentrating or haven't trained their palates to pick it out. 

Tuesday 9th November
The wine trade calendar has quietened down a bit. Well, a lot actually. Tastings tend to come in batches: organizers suspect that if they bunch them all together in blocks, then theyíll be able to entice more people, as many out-of-towners will stay in London for the week when thereís enough going on. This means that during busy weeks, there are often two or more important tastings per day, with Tuesday to Thursday favoured over Monday and Friday. However, the tactic of putting on a tasting during a quiet week can also work well; todayís New Douro tasting is an example of an important event made all the more inviting a proposition for catching journos at a quiet time, when it wonít be just another event in an overloaded schedule. Certainly, for me this is a must-attend event, given my love of the Douro.

Popped into Jeroboams last night, on Elizabeth Street. Itís in a relatively swanky part of town Ė Belgravia , the nice bit near Victoria Station Ė so it carries a nice array of ready-to-drink classed growth clarets. I like the Jeroboams range: itís a little different to some of the other independents, whose ranges can sometimes have a rather off-the-peg feel to them. I bought just a solitary bottle: Billaud Simonís TÍte díOr Chablis, vintage forgotten. Theyíre one of my favourite Chablis producers, along with DE Defaix and the usual suspects of Fevre, JM Brocard, Raveneau and Dauvissat.

I canít allow the subject of Sundayís Manchester derby to pass without comment. Non-football fans, please forgive me. City were fantastic, putting on a superb defensive display. United had a dozen or more good chances, but couldnít get through. On another occasion it could have been a 5Ė0 drubbing, but City seem to be growing up as a side, and itís about time they had the luck. A 0Ė0 scoreline suggests a dull stalemate, but it was anything but. Champions league, here we come. UTD for a relegation dogfight! Thatís too much to hope for.

Monday 1st November
November already? I'm shocked. Saturday was a nice winey day. I was fortunate to be able to combine the wine bits nicely with some family time. On a glorious sunny Autumn day we all headed into town, and while the nippers went off to visit HMS Belfast, I popped into the Lay & Wheeler festival of wine at nearby Vinpolis. A well-run event let down only by the staggeringly ungenerous micropours (a couple of times I couldnít take notes because I didnít have enough wine in my glass to assess properly). There were some interesting wines on show. It was surprising, but I guess reassuring, that the busiest table was the one shared by Maximin Grunhaus and Fritz Haag, two of the finest producers of German Riesling. After a couple of hours slurping and spittings, I met up with the family for a nice lunch at Cafť Rouge (washed down with a glass of Alain Brumontís sturdy Tannat Merlot), and we then took the Jubilee Line down to South Kensington. While the nippers headed off to the playground at Kensington Gardens, I made merry at the Grand Cru Wines Southern French Wine Fair at Juryís Hotel. There was a superb line-up of wines from across the various southern appellations, and producer Robert Creus (right) was there pouring his wonderfully individual Terre Iconnue wines. I had a good chat with him. Thereís a nice story here: last week Iíd been discussing the Languedoc versus Franceís Best tasting on one of the wine boards, and then it turns out he's going to be at the Grand Cru wine event I'm attending the next weekend. It's nice merging the online world with real life like this.  

Friday 29th October
Forgot to mention last Saturday's wine dinner. It was a fantastic event held by wine lover and friend of Dirk Niepoort, John Crook. I first met him in Porto last March, and he kindly invited me to his gaff for what I suspected would be an evening of fine wine and very smart food, and I wasn't wrong. The list of wines was as follows:

  • Munsterer Dautenpflanzer, Riesling, Auslese, 1976, Staatliche

  • Redoma Branco, 1996, Niepoort

  • Batard-Montrachet, 1986, Blain-Gagnard

  • Batard-Montrachet, 1983, Blain-Gagnard

  • Vosne-Romanee Suchots, 1983, Mongeard-Mugneret

  • Grands-Echezeaux, 1983, Mongeard-Mugneret

  • Clos de Vougeot, 1983, Mongeard-Mugneret

  • Tokaji, 5 Putts, 1993, Royal Tokaji Wine Company

  • Malvazia, 1901, Adegas Torreao

All were served blind, which led to some heroic guessing. The Riesling was lovely with good balance and weight. Dirk's Redoma Branco 1996 had me guessing at a very smart, high-end white Burgundy, and I preferred it to the two Batard Montrachets, of which the 1986 wasn't showing as well as the fantastic 1983. The three MMs were all very high quality red Burgundies drinking at what I suspect is close to peak. The Tokaji was a tiny bit disappointing, but the 103 year old Madeira was fantastic. Breathtaking complexity and balance, a sensational wine. John's cooking is superb and complemented the wines well - a fine evening.  

I don't make a habit of blogging on all my mealtimes, but I should mention that I had lunch on Wednesday with Neal Martin, the Adrian Mole/Bridget Jones of the wine world. Neal is an emerging wine website star, and it was nice to catch up with him, made a doubly enjoyable occasion by the fantastic Sashimi we had, washed down with a few glasses of green tea (we youngsters - a relative term - haven't got the constitution of the older members of the wine trade who'd clearly have polished off a couple of bottles of wine on such an occasion). 

Wednesday 27th October
Donít dismiss synthetic corks altogether. Theyíve had a bad press: in the AWRI closure trial several synthetics were tested, and most did pretty badly. Their oxygen transmission characteristics meant that within a year or two the wines were oxidised quite badly. The problem has been that itís difficult to replicate the natural performance of cork. If the seal is provided by synthetics is good enough, itís impossible to get them out. But this conclusion is too simplistic. Not all synthetic corks are equal, and there are three on the market which seem to have superior properties, Nukorc, Nomacorc and Neocork. These three closures donít just have similar sounding names, they also look similar. They have an extruded core (which looks like a fine honeycomb) and a smooth sleeve. In the case of the Nomacorc and Neocork, the sleeve is separate from the extruded core and wraps round it during the manufacturing process. The Nukorc a one piece design, with the outside becoming smooth and denser during manufacture. All three seem to have better oxygen transmission characteristics and arenít going to let the wine oxidise within a couple of years. While itís true that screwcaps are a good option for most wine styles, there are plenty of wines for which a synthetic could be a good closure choice, and the advantage is that smaller producers donít have to change their bottling line in order to adopt them. Iím led to point this out because last night I had a St Joseph 1999 from Pierre Gaillard and it was singing: I bought a case of this wine a couple of years ago and was surprised to find it sealed with a synthetic cork Ė in this case a Neocork. Iíd followed the discussion on alternative closures closely and didnít hold out much hope for the longevity of this wine because of the synthetic closure. So when I pulled out the last couple of bottles a few days ago I was expecting them to be showing badly. Not so: this is a five year old red sealed with a synthetic thatís currently drinking superbly, with no sign of oxidation. Of course, a single data point isnít much used to anyone. A negative data point Ė the wine being off Ė wouldnít have told me much. But the fact that it was drinking well reveals a whole lot more: it means that certain synthetics can provide a reliable seal for rather chunky red wines for a number of years, and certainly long enough for most Ďcommercialí wines.

There is, however, one small cloud that still hangs over synthetics. Flavour scalping. This is when aromatic compounds are absorbed by the closure (or, in the case of food, the packaging). The conclusion of a recent study was that synthetic corks are responsible for considerable flavour scalping, and even natural corks are capable of absorbing certain wine aroma components in limited amounts. In contrast, screwcaps donít absorb anything. Itís a factor winemakers need to bear in mind when choosing closures.

Sunday 24th October
Wine out of a beaker. What next? Famous glass-maker Riedel have launched a range of new stemless wine glasses for 'informal' dining. I picked up a couple of the Syrah glasses (pictured) from the Riedel shop in Vienna airport, and I'm thinking of using them as my regular wine tasting glasses. Why not? Stemless glasses work just as well as traditional ones, and they are more practical than glasses with bits sticking out of the bottom that are liable to get broken. The only argument against them I can think of is that some people object to fingermarks on the bowls of their glasses (they should lighten up a bit...) and they could argue that if you hold the bowl in your clammy mit it might change the temperature of the wine. The major hurdle is a psychological one - it takes a while to get used to drinking top wines out of beakers.   

The wine pictured is a Weninger Blaufrankisch 2003, recently listed by Oddbins for £6.95. It's a good example of Blaufrankisch with good acidity and smoky, slightly roasted dark cherry fruit. Full and fresh - a wine that's best matched with food. Priced just right.  

Friday 22nd October

Imbecile watch
A while back I claimed that anyone who liked the Fairview Peg Leg Carignan 2003 was a bit of an imbecile. A slightly exaggerated statement, but I got the point across: this is a wine that looked so promising yet was ruined by the jamminess of the fruit and the excessive sweet coconut and vanilla sheen of too much oak. An imbecilic wine. I found out shortly after that the 2003 Goat Roti is another imbecileís wine Ė again, itís the jamminess of the fruit and rather obvious oak thatís the main problem. Have I got a problem with Fairview? No. Last week I purchased a bottle of the Goats du Roam in Villages red, and it was fantastic. Less oak (although still a fair whack) and a lovely definition to the spicy, slightly rustic fruit. But it works together very well, and this wine is packed with flavour. I enjoyed it a good deal and will recommend it.

An observation: wine critics have an annoying habit of trusting the reputations of producers more than their palates. They look for a name like Fairview, or Torres, and itís a banker for them. They just recommend anything successful producers like these make. With Torres the story is the same as with Fairview: some wines are wonderful, some less so. As youíd expect. Torres make probably the best value white on the planet, the 2003 Vina Sol. But expect to see lots of recommendations for the 2003 Sangre de Toro, its red sibling, because this is being pushed hard because of Torresí 50th anniversary. And while itís not a completely imbecilic wine, itís distinctly average: a bit chunky, hard and forced. Itís not bad, just not as good as some of the critics maintain. The Gran Sangredetoro, once a favourite of mine, is moving towards imbecile territory because of the coconutty American oak theyíve spoiled the fruit with. The Vina Sol is the star, though. My point: like people, wineries are capable of acts of beauty and ugliness, even closely juxtaposed. Thereís no simple formula.

So, I would like to start an imbecile watch. Have you seen someone recommending the 2003 Peg Leg or Goat Roti? Do let me know.

Thursday 21st October
The talk of the trade at the moment is Richard and Judyís new wine club. This is the first time wine has had a proper airing on telly for ages, and many are hoping that it could signal a resurgence of interest in wine as a television subject. Richard and Judy is one of Channel 4ís top programmes, with around 2 million tuning in every evening from 5Ė6 pm. The publishing world has been amazed at the success of their book club, and now the wine trade is hoping theyíll have similar success with wine. The idea is that viewers will buy the Richard and Judy tasting case (and thousands already have), and then on Friday evening theyíll be able to taste along at home as the wines are being poured in the studio with the assistance of the showís own wine experts. Wines are supplied by Averyís, a mail order specialist that now represents the slightly upmarket arm of the Direct Wines empire.

Who are the experts? This is where I come in. The MD of production company Cactus TV met with dozens of potential candidates, but in the end they chose six of us Ė the idea is that weíll be paired up and each do two of the six programmes. We met on Tuesday night at the press launch party, with R&J in attendance. The six experts are Matthew Jukes, Susy Atkins, Joe Wadsack, Penny Boothman, Jean-Marc Sauboua (French consultant winemaker who works with Averyís), and myself. The six wine slots are going to run from November 4th, and Iíll let you know when I have more details.

Monday 18th October
I'm just back from a three-day trip to Austria.

Austria was fantastic. Here are a few piccies to be going on with while you wait for the full write-up.

Alois Kracher (left) presenting his 2002 wines: 12 remarkable stickies including one with under 4% alcohol and around 500 g/litre of residual sugar.

We had a lot of fun at Kracher's!

Riesling grapes from the Gaisberg vineyard of Schloss Gobelsburg, in the Langenlois. This is a special clone of Riesling - it is used to make their Riesling Alte Reben, a superb wine. These will probably spend another few weeks on the vine.

Blaufrankisch, arguably Austria's leading red grape, growing in the Burgenland region - this is red wine country, and I visited Weninger and the revitalized Neckenmart co-op. We also popped over the border to see Weninger's Hungarian project.

A view over the Langenlois vineyards of Heiligenstein, Renner and Grub - some fine vineyard sites. Taken yesterday.

Inside the cellars of Schloss Gobelsburg, which is owned by Cistercian monks but run by Michael Moosbrugger.

Friday 15th October
Iíll soon be calling time on my trusty laptop. Itís going to be replaced with a newer, faster, lighter, flashier model. This will be my fourth laptop: the first two were IBM Thinkpads; Iíve now moved on to Dells, not because they are any better Ė the Thinkpads, with their Rolls Royce build quality, were fantastic to live with Ė but because they are cheaper. Mind you, when Iíd added everything I needed onto the basic spec, the price of this new Dell had crept up from £800 to a shade under £2000.

Itís a strange relationship we build with our electronic devices. Initially theyíre unfamiliar, yet we grow with them. I find I develop an affectionate bond with my laptops, no matter how much they mess me around Ė and this current model has messed me around a good deal. Itís been flimsy and flaky, with the mouse in particular proving very quirky. It also takes an age to boot-up, and is prone to intermittent pauses where it doesnít crash, but nor does it do anything for a minute or two.

But after a few years of loading various bits of software on, and tweaking it in numerous ways, and spending hours typing away, Iíve got a lot of affection for it. A laptop is a bit like an extension of the brain. As I write down my thoughts on my laptop, Iím able to structure them and develop ideas in a way that just isnít possible inside my cluttered and easily distracted mental space.

What would life be like without a laptop? How did wine writers work in the pre-computer age? The answer is that the world of wine writing was much more of a closed system in those days. Editors had a lot of power. You could only really get established through possessing good contacts within the wine writing world. The coming of the internet has opened things up. Everyone can now be a wine writer if they want to be. All you need is some webspace and you can start writing away. Failing this, you can express yourself on a wine bulletin board. Of course, not everyone can make money as a wine writer, or have a decent readership. Thatís a different matter. But the opening-up of publishing that the internet has facilitated can only be a good thing in the long run.

Thursday 14th October
Last nightís launch party for Monty Waldinís new bookóon biodynamic wines, published by Mitchell Beazleyówas a fun event. I have a confession to make: after dozens of invites, this is only the second book launch Iíve attended. But it was so much fun I think Iíll go to more. I was, however, under the impression that you got a copy of the book to take away with you - not so here. Instead, they were flogging them for £20 a piece. What made last night fun was firstly, there were lots of interesting people there; secondly, Iím at the stage now where people actually want to speak to me (do you detect a few shreds of insecurity there?); thirdly, there were an assortment of biodynamic wines for people to try, including a lovely Riesling from Marcel Deiss and a nice fizzy Vouvray from Huet (the rest were distinctly ordinary Ė just why are Chapoutierís wines so underwhelming, for example?); and fourthy the nibbles were very nice. 

Wine journalists generally fall into two camps about biodynamics. They either love it or hate it. What they fail to do is address the really obvious (to me) question: some of the claims of biodynamic practitioners are rather bizarre and, in fact, somewhat antiscience. Yet biodynamics works in many cases. Why? What is the scientific explanation for the efficacy of biodynamic treatments? This is what fascinates me. Can we come up with a version of biodynamics which strips out the weirder, more bizarre elements and yet still has the same beneficial effects? This would be tremendously useful to wine growers. Say that three of the preparations have efficacy. These could be used by non-believers to great effect, and if this reduced the need for chemical inputs or had a beneficial effect on wine quality without increasing chemical inputs, wouldnít this be a good thing?

Iím currently in a state of general excitement. Tomorrow morning, at the crack of dawn, Iím off to Austria to visit some of the leading producers, including Weninger, Stadt Krems, Kracher, Jurtschitsch and Schloss Gobelsburg. Iím looking forward to it a great deal and Iíll tell you all about it on my return.

Monday 11th October
Fairviewís Peg Leg and a St Chinian: satisfaction and disappointment. Two wines that both promised much, but only one delivered. Both looked good bets, and persuaded me theyíd be worth the money (both were a shade under £7, the Peg Leg from Majestic, the St Chinian from Waitrose). First, Fairviewís Peg Leg Carignan 2003 from South Africaís Paarl region. Nice label design, usually reliable producer. The fact that itís a Carignan is promising: itís an unfashionable grape popular in the South of France where it can yield heroically. That anyone should be making a varietal Carignan suggests theyíve got guts, at the very least. If Syrah is Manchester United, Carignan is Manchester City. And you know who I follow. I open it and pour a glass. Dark coloured. Looks good. But I take a sniff and recoil back. Theyíve killed this wine with too much oak: all Iím getting is a blast of sweet fruit heavily masked by sweet vanilla and coconut aromas. Yuk. On the palate, again, thereís more ripe, almost jammy fruit and a whack of oak. Itís a huge disappointment: a tarted-up wine lacking real savoury substance and oaked within an inch of its life. It sucks. You'd have to be an imbecile to like this wine. So I open another bottle, the Laurent Miquel St Chinin Cuvťe des Fees 2003. Iíd chosen this from Waitrose because Iíd enjoyed the 2001 from this Languedoc producer, and this was the first time Iíd seen the 2003 on the shelves. Thatís better. A wonderfully perfumed nose of garrigue-like herbs together with some sweet spicy fruit. Itís not a blockbuster on the palate but it is wonderfully balanced, with lots of that lovely garrigue quality and a nice savoury spiciness. I really want to drink this wine, unlike the Fairview. The St Chinian is an intelligent, thoughtful wine - it's Shakespeare while the Fairview is East Enders. But I have a nagging feeling that the critics will be touting the tarty Fairview in preference to the Languedoc wines because its superficial appeal is an immediate one.  

Wednesday 6th October
Tonight Iím drinking something uncomplicated, cheap and very tasty. Itís the Peter Lehmann Grenache 2002 from the Barossa, yours for a fiver from Tesco, or just £4 in their current promotion. Grenache is undervalued and misunderstood. These days, we seem to want our red wines as dark as possible, but Grenache is a bit like a southern version of Pinot Noir: lighter coloured Grenache wines are often more profound than the darker ones. Grenache is capable of making wines with a beguiling combination of heady sweet fruit aromas together with a lovely spicy, minerally structure. Itís subtle, complex and more-ish when it is done well. A distinctive feature of Grenache is that high alcohol isnít usually a problem: it doesnít have a negative effect on the personality of the wine, even at levels that would be unpleasant with Shiraz or Cabernet, for example. In fact, one of the keys to success with this variety is not picking by sugar ripeness, but letting the grapes reach physiological ripeness without being scared by the potential alcohol levels. The great thing about Grenache is that because of its comparative unpopularity, itís often pretty affordable. Grenache rocks.

Sunday 3rd October
Just a brief update from the road. Iím in Trieste for four days, staying in a pleasant hotel with a view of the Adriatic. Itís a nice place, and the proximity to the Friuli wine region means that thereís plenty of good drinking to be had. This is the land of Ribolla Gialla, Malvasia, Tocai Friuliano, Riesling and the two white Pinots, plus some fresh, juicy reds. I like the wines a great deal, and quality is generally pretty good. The night before last we had a delicious Refosco and a nice Ribolla Gialla, and then last night it was time for a Lagrein (not from this region, but a mountain red from nearby Alto Adige) and a Tocai.

Lots of tastings to report on in the coming weeks. One of the most interesting was Wednesdayís Languedoc versus Franceís best blind tasting put on by Mike and Liz Berryís Grand Cru Wines. A fascinating chance to taste Petrus 99, Chave Hermitage 01 and Leoville Barton 01 blind in the company of some serious Languedoc wines.

Wednesday 29th September
Bugger. Iíve learnt my lesson. Completed my tax return for year ending April 2004 last night. Should have done it earlier. The good news? I earned approximately three times more than I expected from my wine work last year Ė indeed, if I wasnít living in London this would be an OK full-time salary on its own. The bad news? I am living in London, and weíve spent the lot, so in January weíll be looking at an uncomfortably large tax bill, which we currently donít have the funds to settle. Donít get the wrong idea Ė we havenít been living the high life. Itís just that weíve gone way over-budget renovating our house. I was curious how much weíd been able to do without racking up the mortgage too far. Now I know why, and itís a case of lesson learned. Iíll just have to go out and earn some more.

Last night was Riesling night Chez Goode. In the red corner, Tim Adams Clare Valley Riesling 2004. In the blue corner, Egon MŁllerís Schazhofberger Kabinett 1999 from the Mosel Saar Ruwer in Germany. Both nice, but in completely different styles. For interestís sake I made a blend, half of each, in a glass. The mixing process was fascinating Ė clearly the Egon MŁller, with its high residual sugar, was much more dense, and there was a swirly pattern as the two encountered each other. The wines didnít synergize at all though, and both the nose and palate of the blend was dominated by the savoury liminess of the Aussie. It wasnít a nice drink and I donít think Iíll try this sort of experiment again.

Monday 27th September
Some surprisingly good wines with Sunday lunch yesterday, round at my brother-in-lawís with my parents. Old wines are a gamble, and so I wasnít expecting too much from the 1967 La Lagune we started with. But it was all there: a classic aged claret and a joy to drink. 1967 isnít a good Bordeaux vintage Ė the guidebooks would say all the wines are now past it Ė but this was still alive. And itís my birth year, too. You can pick 67s up very cheaply from brokersí lists. We then moved on to the 1970 Lafaurie Peyraguey, a venerable old Sauternes that was very evolved, but still fun to drink. To finish with, the 1997 Suduiraut was a little closed, but very high quality. Suduiraut never fails to impress, it seems. Not bad drinking for Sunday lunch. A thought: if you are prepared to take a few risks, you could make an interesting drinking career out of buying old and unfashionable wines from brokers and at auction. It is much, much cheaper than ageing it yourself.

Ch‚teau La Lagune 1967 Haut Medoc, Bordeaux
Quite fruity, very refined and still very much alive. Smooth complex nose of earthy gravely fruit, with a subtle herby, undergrowthy edge. The palate is perfectly balanced with savoury earthy fruit. Itís the balance here that is the key. Drinking perfectly. Very good/excellent 91/100

Ch‚teau Lafaurie Peyraguey 1970 Sauternes, Bordeaux
A deep yellow brown colour. Rather muted nose. The palate is rich and quite savoury with evolved butterscotch, caramel and nut character. Quite a thick texture. Impressive in an evolved style. Herb and tea notes, too. Very good+ 89/100

Ch‚teau Suduiraut 1997 Sauternes, Bordeaux
Slightly closed nose. Very taut, complex palate with rich apricot, caramel and lemon notes. Viscous, concentrated, sweet and smooth. Rounded and delicious. Very good/excellent 92/100

Friday 24th September
I met Bibendumís Willie Lebus for the first time today. He had some fairly outspoken things to say about the current state of wine writing (in the national press he thinks it is currently at an all time low, largely because writers havenít been able to stand up to their editors), and the relevance of wine writing to normal people drinking wine at home. He was also critical of large tastings and competitions. Whenever Iím tasting at a press event, Iím always trying to think how a wine  would perform in a more normal context, in a restaurant or at home, with dinner or in front of the TV. Itís a continual challenge, and regular double-checking of notes by drinking one of the wines at home and seeing how my opinions correlate is helpful. Iíd say Iím still in the learning phase: I hate being described as a wine expert. Iím just a guy who drinks a lot of wine and is lucky and privileged to have some good contacts and a journalistís access to the wine trade. Thatís all.

Itís currently the middle of the Autumn tasting season. If you fancy it, you could spend a fortnight full-time attending tastings. Iím rationing myself Ė I did Corney & Barrow, Tesco, Vintage Roots and Bibendum this week, and next week will be M&S, a Grand Cru wines event and Sainsbury. Shortly after, Majestic and Berry Bros will, I think, complete my appearances. Tasting is important, but you can overdo it. Most importantly, if you taste too many red wines in a single session, your sense of touch in your mouth (which is how we perceive tannic structure, or mouthfeel) is incapacitated. Mouthfeel is very important for red wines: the interaction of the wine tannins with salivary proteins is thought to be critical to tannin perception, and if you taste too much, this may well be impaired towards the end of a session.

Tuesday 21st September
More-or-less back into the swing of things now. Still a few little bits and pieces to finish regarding the book, and two outstanding commissions to finish, but life seems a little less crazy: I don't feel as if every minute of my existence has to be accounted for. It's important to get the balance right; hard work must be coupled with down time and fun, and plenty of the latter is needed.

Wandered past Haynes, Hanson & Clark last night, a wine shop on Ecclestone Street at the back of Victoria Station. I'd heard of them, but never been in, so I made up for this oversight. A fine range: a bit of dull stuff (rant: many independents tend to repeat themselves - stocking a rather uniform range of wines - this is lazy, and inexcusable given the fact that they all seem to be operating on a 40% profit margin. They should show some imagination in their buying), but more than a handful of wines you can't find easily elsewhere. I walked out with Victor de la Serna's Finca Sandoval 2002 (which I recently enjoyed with Luis Gutierrez) and also the second wine from this estate, Salia 2002. Lots of other bottles tempted me, but they will have to wait. 

Friday 10th September
Back in the UK. Got in yesterday morning at 6 am, and had a lovely relaxed day, taking the kids to school and then nipping off for lunch and a walk through Bushy Park. The restaurant we went to was the Wharf, in Teddington, on the river front. It's a swanky place, popular with LWL (ladies who lunch), of which there were a fair few present. I marvel at the their love for designer sunglasses and the inanity of their conversation. As for the Wharf, it serves decent quality bistro fare and prices it at Michelin star levels (a common business model in west London, and it seems to work), but we had a nice time and a decent-ish South African Chenin to wash it down. 

Last night I was feeling pretty tired and decided to open something uncomplicated. A Chilean Shiraz was in the queue - Castellero del Diablo Shiraz 2003, a £5 wine, but one that tastes a bit more expensive. It's got wonderful quality of fruit, bolstered with spicy, tarry, slightly resiny new American oak. A headbanger of a wine. I'm normally not a fan of American oak, but in this case it does work quite well, although there's little finesse on show. The alcohol is disclosed as 14.5%, and it comes through on the palate as a slight hotness and bitterness. Perhaps a case where alcohol reduction by reverse osmosis might work? I would be worried if I was knocking out commercial Aussie Shiraz at £7.99 because this Chilean effort could easily pass off as something more expensive.

Singapore Airlines deserve a mention. If you have to fly economy (as I do on my trips), theirs is pretty good. The entertainment system on three of the four flights allowed a choice between 60 movies, which you can start when you want and pause, forward and rewind as you choose. My favourites in ranking order from the flight: Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Shrek 2, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkbahn (sp?), Stepford Wives, Godsend, The Day After Tomorrow. Food was just about adequate, wine was palatable.  

Tuesday 7th September
Apologies for the radio silence over the last week, but this is the first time I've had internet access since I hit Australia, partly caused by a cluttered schedule, partly caused by the fact that my Barossa digs had no phone line. I had a splendid time in the Barossa, meeting a range of producers including Spinifex, Massena, Schwarz, Tin Shed, Torzi Matthews, Teusner, Turkey Flat, Langmeil, Rockford, Veritas and Torbreck - many of whom you won't know about - yet. Some stunning wines. Then I hit the Clare, spending time with Andrew and Jane Mitchell (who put me up, and put up with me), Jeffrey Grosset and Tony Brady (Wendouree). All will be written up here. I'm now staying with Richard Gibson, and soon I'll be off for an appointment at the AWRI, followed by Provisor, followed by one of Richard's clients, a closure manufacturer. Tomorrow I fly home. It's been an eye-opening trip, and you'll read all about it here.

Tuesday 31st August
Singapore day 4, and Iím getting used to the humidity, just about. Last night I had another wine dinner with Yixin, Hsien Min, and this time their friend Gavin. Between us we drunk a rather modest (by offline dinner standards) five wines in a Chinese restaurant near the Novena underground station. The strike rate was very high, beginning with the sensational Krug. This works for me, baby. The wines also matched the various dishes we had pretty well. Here are my notes.

Krug NV Champagne
This is fantastic. Delicate yet intense nose with slightly toasty, lemony fruit. With time in the glass this becomes progressively more toasty and rich. The palate has lovely crispness and long, minerally, subtly toasty fruit. Almost perfect. Excellent 95/100

Schlossgut Diel Dorsheimer Pittermšnnchen Riesling Spštlese 2001 Nahe, Germany
Forward, sweet melony nose with some fine lemony notes. The palate is rich and intense but still quite elegant with sweet melony fruit and good acidity. This needs some time to put on complexity, but itís more like an Auslese in weight. Very good/excellent 92/100

Huet Vouvray Moelleux 1997 Loire, France
Hmm, yes Ė archetypal Vouvray here. Lovely intense straw-like fruit with some herbiness and also a hint of cheesiness. The palate is firm and savoury despite a whack of sugar that adds some considerable weight. Certainly semi-sweet, but with good acidity and savouriness too. A delicious wine. Very good/excellent 92/100

Alain Graillot Crozes Hermitage 1998 Northern RhŰne, France
Really drinking well now, this shows pungent olive and herb character to the fairly lean, savoury red fruits. A distinctive style of wine that I really like. Very good/excellent 91/100

Niepoort Vintage Port 1994
Dense, spicy, tannic and rich with some sweetness. Good complexity but itís far to young to be drinking this now. Lots of promise for the future when it will merit a higher rating. A very good vintage Port indeed. Very good/excellent 91/100

We followed this up with more beer and some pool. Fun.

Sunday 30th August
Iím now in Singapore where Iíll be for a few days. Last night I had an excellent wine dinner with Yixin Ong and some of his friends at a restaurant called Soul Kitchen. It was a good evening with some really interesting wines, including a 1996 Cour Cheverny that tasted of old, flat cider, a remarkable Pouilly Fumť that Hsien Min (a fellow Man City fan) brought along, a delicious Trimbach CFE 1999 and a 1996 1er Trie GirardiŤre from Aubuisieres. I took some brief notes, although I canít find them and can only deduce that I left them in the sports bar we went to for some beer afterwards. Iím going out with them again tomorrow night, which Iím looking forward to.

On arriving at my hotel yesterday morning I was appalled to see that it has a Manchester United shop, restaurant and bar attached to it (right). Itís sickening. Me, a blue, staying in a hotel that has allied itself so shamelessly with the reds. I was encouraged to note yesterdayís premiership results, though: UTD struggled to a draw, but City hammered Charlton 4Ė0.

Itís hot here. Only the low 30s, but it feels much, much hotter than this because of the energy-sapping humidity. I decided to walk to the restaurant, yesterday Ė a gentle 40 minute stroll Ė but by the time I got there my shirt was covered in large, unsightly wet patches. Nice.

Friday 28th August
It's 00:08 hrs and I've just finished sending my book to Mitchell Beazley. I could have done with another month to refine it even further, but the danger is that it would then inevitably grow in size as I found something so interesting I just couldn't leave it out. It's a relief - I feel I might get my life back. 

Tomorrow morning I'm leaving for Singapore, followed by a promising looking trip to South Australia, to meet some of the most interesting producers in the Barossa and Clare, together with a meeting at the AWRI (Australian Wine Research Institute). I'm very much looking forward to the trip although I could do without the long flights and ensuing jet-lag, and it means being away from home for quite a while. 

I have a new digital camera. I've compromised and not gone for the state of the art; but this is a compromise I'm happy with. The camera I opted for was the HP photosmart 945, an ugly-looking but highly capable beast that offers some serious features for very little money (£230). Results so far are fantastic. 

Now I've got to go and pack. How dull. 

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