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. ]

Thursday 3rd February 2005
Saw the proofs of the book today for the first time. This is Wine Science, a very readable account of some of the most interesting current issues in the world of wine seen through a scientific lens. People tend to think of wine scientists as pointy heads with a fascination for obscure detail and a liking for squeaky clean, techno wines that lack soul. I hope Ė if you have any familiarity with this site at all Ė that you wonít put me in this category, even though I am, by training, a scientist. Iím hoping this is a book that wine geeks will enjoy reading, whether or not they have a grounding in or a liking for science. The proofs (actually, they arenít yet page proofs, just the final proposed layout for checking the colour) are looking really good. The designers have done a fantastic job. Iím happy.

Anelka has gone. [Sorry non-footie fans, this is a reference to my team Ė Manchester City Ė and the sale of their ex-star player, Nicolas Anelka.] Anelka is one of those flawed geniuses with incredible natural talent, but a temperament that has acted as a barrier to the full expression of his ability. He was Cityís record purchase by far, and is now their record sale. I shall toast his departure, and the frustratingly small amount of his genius we saw over the last few seasons, with a glass of something French. Itís the second half of a bottle of ĎRendez Vous du Soleilí 2001, a wine from Clos du Gravillas in the wonderfully named VdP des CŰtes de Brian. A distinctive southern red with pronounced roasted character to the nose, together with earthy, spicy fruit that has a touch of the garrigue about it. Distinctly savoury in style. Itís fundamentally an honest, hard working, jeans and T-shirt sort of wine, prepared to get out there and toil in the sun. Not really like Anelka. Perhaps an expensive, well bred, underachieving trophy Bordeaux would have been more appropriate.

Sunday 30th January
As I write, Iím sipping a bottle of Weningerís 2002 Veratina. Itís a reasonably high-end Austrian red. Dark fruits dominate, with a roasted, tarry edge and lots of freshness from the relatively high acidity. The Weninger reds are among Austriaís best (pictured right is Franz Weninger tasting his wines). They are quite modern in style, but they retain a sense of place and are highly food compatible. This is a wine that, while itís drinkable now, is saving its best for last Ė or at least another five years.

When it comes to deciding what wines to drink, Iím often at a loss. Iíve got a reasonable stash of wines at home, but frequently I find it incredibly difficult to decide what wine to drink to match my mood on a particular occasion. I find it much easier to buy wine than to drink it. Tonight, I tried a tactic I occasionally employ. I ask Fiona to randomly select a bottle for me from my stash. A relatively risky strategy, this, because there are some smart bottles mixed in among the everyday stuff. But itís precisely these smart bottles I can never find the right occasion to drink.

The Veratina is beginning to open out a bit on the nose, as wines often do shortly after uncorking. Thereís a gentle herbiness to the fruit, which is becoming more defined, towards the cherry and red fruits end of the spectrum. On opening, it was more dark fruits and roasted coffee. The fact that wines do change in contact with air means that critics have to be careful: you can have less confidence in a tasting where you are giving wines a quick sniff than you can in judgments forged over lunch, dinner or casual reflection. This wine is now much more elegant than it was just after it was opened. Our sensory apparatus Ė and the subsequent processing machinery of the brain Ė is relatively imprecise when it comes to flavour. This doesnít meant that we canít make reliable judgments; just that we have to think a bit about what we are doing, and be humble enough to know that we can make mistakes relatively easily. Having said this, Iím confident that I do have a bit of a knack for tasting wine and getting it Ďrightí (whatever that means). If I didnít think this, then Iíd just give up and do something else. I donít want to be one of those wine writers who tries to stick their finger in the air before nailing my colours to the mast (donít you just love that mixed metaphor, folks?); Iím happy to go out on my own. In writing this Iím recognizing that there are different cultures of wine (there still exist people who quite genuinely are horrified by the fact that the Australians are making wine, or by the sight of the grape variety on the label), and that there exist individual differences in perception that can render, for you, one critic useless and another spot on.

Another glass of the Veratina is poured. Franz Weninger named this after his two daughters. It must be great to be the offspring of the owner of a wine estate, if, that is you have an interest in wine (and if the estate is any good). If you were relatively able and got on with your folks, you might be the possessor of a dream job. But youíd have to really want to do it, or life could be hell. Perhaps its healthiest to move on, do something else, and then if you decide youíd like to, come back to the family business. Talking about families, regular readers of wineanorak might wonder why I seldom mention my kids. I have two boys, both under 10. Itís not because Iím not a devoted family man. Itís because in this day and age it is sadly inadvisable to put pictures of your kids, or their names, on a visible website like this; this problem is compounded by the fact that our boys have been adopted. Much as Iíd like to put family pictures up on the website to convince you how wonderful the Goode family is, it would be inappropriate and possibly risky. Besides, as an old friend used to say Ė kids are like farts: you donít mind your own, but you canít stand other peoplesí. Thereís some truth in this, so Iím doing you a favour by sparing you the family photos.

So I return once more to Veratina. [Sounds like a line from Brideshead Revisited.] Now itís dark, sweet, chocolatey and intoxicating. Itís deep, and drawing me further in, like a good wine should. A wine should invite the drinker into a higher experience; not changing the identity of the reality, but just opening it out with a subtly shifted perspective. Wine works best not as an end in itself, but as an accompaniment to thought or experience. In this case it is a little like music. Each of us has a soundtrack to our lives Ė for some who listen to a lot of music, this is more significant than others Ė whereby the tunes that fill our mental space form the backdrop to our experiences. An aural anchor to reality, that then is enmeshed in our memory with those very experiences, and acts as a key to unlock the emotions that accompanied them. If anything, tastes and smells have a stronger ability to do this. Wine rocks! 

Monday 24th January
Some interesting weekend wines Ė nothing flash, just nice drinking. First, a Ch des Tours CŰtes du RhŰne Reserve 2000, one of a sixpack bought long ago from Bibendum. The wines of Ch des
Tours are unusual. Grenache is the grape here, a variety that I used to scorn, but which Iím increasingly becoming fond of. I think of it as the Pinot Noir of the south. It doesnít make particularly deeply coloured wines, but the best have an aromatic complexity that you find only if you are looking out for it. On opening, this CŰtes du RhŰne is slightly fizzy. A worrying sign, but common for this producer in my relatively limited experience. After a while in the decanter, the fizziness disippates and the fruit begins to shine through. Itís compex and multilayered with a savoury, earthy backdrop. Thereís a slightly wild quality to this, but you are beckoned in by the sweet, alluring fruit. A thoughtful wine. Second, I had the 2000 Quinta do Vale D Maria, a Douro wine. This was awkward on opening, but after a while in the decanter really started to sing. Amazing elegance to the ripe red fruits. This estate has been on a roll recently Ė vintages 2001Ė2003 are all superb, as well. The price, at around £13, is still sane. Itís a little bit new world when compared with the likes of Redoma, but it is still noticeably Douro . Then, third, last night I opened another bottle of Jametís 2002 Vin de Pays des Collines Rhodannienes. Savoury, pleasantly tart, bloody and with lovely fruit freshness. With wines like this, where Iíve had them a number of times, itís like bumping into an old friend.

Watched, for the second time, the wonderful Eternal sunshine of the spotless mind (www.eternalsunshine.com). A really clever film thatís beautifully crafted. The nature of memory Ė and how our memories are an intrinsic part of our personality Ė is a fascinating topic. Ultimately, itís a film with a message of hope. At the end, he chooses her, even though he knows that sheís imperfect and that their relationship before was evidently a troubled one. Why? It is still worthwhile. It still has meaning.

Friday 21st January
Last night I went to the Corney & Barrow Comte de VogŁť dinner. It was a very posh black tie event, with a well chosen five course meal to accompany some very serious Burgundies: write-up follows shortly. In truth, I donít go to many black tie events. My DJ trousers have a waist of 32 inches, which is Ė how shall we put it Ė a little tight, but I managed to squeeze into them and survived the evening unscathed. I even looked quite smart. A very civilized evening, and it was nice to see Bill Nanson there (of www.burgundy-report.com), who, unlike me, can actually afford to buy De VogŁť wines in reasonable quantities.

One slightly surreal note about the dinner was the harpist. The location, food, wines and company were perfect. The harpist, although competent, tried her best to ruin the evening by playing covers of popular songs. How very, very cheesy. At one stage she started playing stairway to heaven. It was wierd, to say the least.

Michael Broadbent agreed to say a few words at the end. He's entertaining and pretty sharp for a man of four decades - he gently puts us all in our place with the casual mention of drinking these wines since the 40s - and among his comments he expressed a worry of his: 'What concerns me is this "global taste" being forced on us'.

Is he right? Part of me feels that what is labelled by some as a 'global taste' is actually a reflection of a rather different culture of wine. In a similar vein, Broadbent reflects the traditional British fine wine culture (which overlaps with, but doesn't totally equate with the traditional French culture). If we are indeed dealing with separate, learned cultures of wine, then it's difficult to say that one culture is right and one is wrong. We may have a preference for one culture, but we should respect the cultures of others. For example, in
Australia there is a very different benchmark of what makes a fine wine, which is largely to do with the different climatic conditions, but probably is also influenced by the approach of winemakers. It all gets very hard to disentangle the issues of wine culture, terroir, typicity and assessments of quality.

So is there a global taste? I'm not sure there is. Clearly, many new wine drinkers across the globe (myself included) have not learned about wine the traditional British way, ploughing through all the old world classics. We tend to start with new world, and only then discover the old. If anything, though, this makes us more broad-minded when we later approach the classics and begin to benchmark our palates. I don't see the wine world rushing to uniformity. If anything, it's terribly vibrant at the high end, with lots of new producers (or new generations) revitalizing regions from
Burgundy to the Barossa. Is Broadbent's beef with the new shift of power in the world of wine criticism, away from the untouchable establishment figures? Is he worried by consumer empowerment? Or does the democratization of wine concern him? I'm not sure. All I know is that no one has ever tried to force a taste, global or otherwise, on me. It's an issue I could go on about at length.

Sunday 16th January
Sunday evening, and Iíve just opened a fantastic wine that suits my mood perfectly. Itís a Gilles Barge St Joseph 2001 Ė thereís another bit to the name, which I think is Les Martinets, but I canít be sure because this bottle was unlabelled. [St Joseph is pictured right.] Part of a case I bought en primeur from Bibendum, this individual was the odd one out, lacking a label. The nose is wonderfully complex: spicy, savoury and meaty with a dusty, earthy edge. Quite perfumed, too. The palate is midweight with high acidity and some spicy tannic structure making it distinctly savoury. A brilliant Ďfood wineí, meaning that this is a wine that some might find a little challenging on its own in front of the telly, but which works very well at table. I like it a great deal.

Iíve just had a slice of cheese with it. Itís Comte, from the Jura, a cheese I like a lot. Remarkably, cheese is something I didnít like at all until last year. This is a confession. As a wine nut I knew I was supposed to like cheese, but I just hadnít acquired the taste, despite a willingness evidenced by some sporadic attempts. Learning to appreciate it Ė a process that is still ongoing for me Ė is proving a fascinating journey of discovery. What first turned me on? In Portugal in March and May I had a number of encounters with the wonderful Queijo de Serra, a mountain cheese from sheep thatís soft and runny on the inside, with a firm exterior. Then, in September, I tried two fantastic Italian cheeses with Domenic Torzi in the Barossa, Grana Padano and Pecorino. Iíve added to this list Parmegiano Rozzano and Comte as particular favourites. Iím still learning to like other styles, but it will come. I tried an aged Manchego but couldnít get past a rather musty, almost Ďcorkedí edge it had from the microbes that had been growing in the rind. Tips on what to try next from cheese experts out there are welcomed.

Friday 14th January
Iím enjoying life with my mobile phone. I havenít taken any calls on it yet, though; I have so far only given a handful of people my number. Instead Iíve been enjoying the world of predictive texting. It works pretty well, but wine terms such as Chablis (Ďput the Chablis in the fridgeí was a text sent yesterday evening) have to be keyed in separately. Texting is fantastic Ė it makes you think about words and their meaning. Writing tight, as all journalists are urged to do, takes on a new meaning in text messaging. Maybe I should try writing an article by mobile text? Relatively few words are needed to convey meaning, but writing well requires more words, carefully chosen, to add colour and balance. A facet of good writing that is commonly underrated is verbal rhythmn Ė how the words of a sentence scan. We often donít recognize really good writing. It just sounds right. Bad writing, in comparison, is tiring to read and something feels wrong about it.

The Chablis did go in the fridge. It was a 2002 premier cru Mont de Milieu from negociant J Moreau Ė a gift from a couple of months ago. Nice enough and textbook flavours of savoury, slightly herby fruit with a lemony/mineral streak. Tight but full flavoured with it. It was joined at table by another Caves Pyrene wine, a 2002 Frontonnais from Ch de Plaisance, which showed a nice depth of dark, minerally, almost animally fruit with a gravelly edge.

Earlier on Iíd been at an interesting customer tasting put on by David Motion at The Winery at Liberty. This famous Regent Street department store opened a wine department, run by independent merchant The Winery, late last year. Motion sources all his wines directly, without using agents, and the list is full of unusual names. This is a breath of fresh air. While everyone sings the praises of independent wine merchants, a lot of them have very samey looking lists that donít show much imagination or creativity. The 20 wines being poured last night were a really interesting cross-section. Iíll write them up in due course, and Iíll be popping down to Liberty from time to time to stock up on some interesting bottles.

Wednesday 12th January
On the way back from Bibendumís Burgundy 2003 en primeur event. It was primarily a consumer do, but there were quite a few press present. Consumer event means very small pours (I guess this is because most people arenít spitting, but itís also intended to make the wine go further), and people crowding round tables without stepping aside once theyíve got their sample to let others in Ė not ideal conditions to work in, but you can still do a sort of job. At least no one was wearing strong perfume, a perennial hazard at this sort of event. I donít want to sound ungrateful to Bibendum, though: the invite to an event like this is always appreciated, and I donít regard it with a sense of entitlement.

So, what did I make of 2003 in Burgundy. I went in expecting the wines to be very ripe, given the hottest growing season since Joan of Arc was busy bashing whoever she bashed (was it the English? Canít remember). I was expecting New Zealand Pinot Noir and Californian Chardonnay. I know itís hard to make generalizations about a vintage from a limited sampling of a non-homogeneous bunch of wines, but my impressions were rather different. Yes, thereís a lot of pure, ripe, sometimes sweet red and black fruits defining the reds, and soft, rich toasty fruit the prominent feature of the whites. But many of the reds had a sting in the tail: firm, tight, sometimes hard tannic structure. I guess the skins got quite thick in the heat and many winemakers have made wines that show on the one hand very ripe fruit but, on the other, tight tannins from those thick, polyphenol-rich skins. This makes them a little paradoxical: the fruit says Ďdrink me nowí while the tannins say Ďstay awayí. In addition, thereís a hint of bitterness in some of them that I suspect is contributed by high alcohol levels. Some nice wines, but overall, not one Iíd rush to buy en primeur. Full notes to follow very soon.

Tuesday 11th January
The Burgundy 2003 season kicks off this week, with en primeur tastings galore. Iím just taking in one, the Bibendum gig tonight. I suspect that many of my readers wonít be buying Burgundy 2003 en primeur, and those that are will likely have a chance to taste for themselves (unlike with Bordeaux, where consumers have to buy before they try). So I don't feel the need to trudge round all the tastings and spend hours writing them up for the benefit of very few.

Iíve mentioned my dissatisfaction with the way Bordeaux is sold before Ė it seems to stack the deck in favour of merchants and producers and against the consumer. I donít think things are going to change, and while I am in the current situation of not having large stretches of time to waste, itís better that I concentrate my efforts on informing wineanorak readers about regions where I can make a difference, rather than being one of many repeating the same things about the March Bordeaux tastings. Having said this, the Union des Grands Crus tastings two years after the vintage in October are definitely worth reporting on, because now the wines are in bottle. I suspect some wine writers who attend the March fiasco (these wines will have only just finished malo, and arenít yet blended) have rather tied their hands a bit by having to glance backwards at their previous pronouncements - often rather dodgy data points based on dodgy cask samples.

But this is a bit negative, isnít it? Concentrate on the positives. Bordeaux aside, Iím very enthusiastic about the world of wine. Of course, sub-£5 supermarket wine doesnít excite anyone, and I wouldnít expect it to. But at the top end, thereís more interesting wine being made than ever. Look at the Languedoc and the Roussillon. Some fantastic wines being made there now that didnít exist a decade ago. Look at the Douro: 15 years ago it was a table wine desert Ė now itís emerging as a fine wine paradise. Austria is making some fantastic wines. The Southwest of France is a rich resource of characterful, affordable wines that are laregely neglected by wine nuts. The new wave producers in the Barossa are raising the standard ever higher, revitalizing the scene there. You wonít read about all these in most UK wine magazines and newspaper columns, which are rather stuck in a rut. But you will find out about them on the internet, where exchange of information is freer and horizons are rather broader.

Wednesday 5th January
Reasons to be cheerful. (1) Itís the start of a new year, which means new opportunities. (2) Iíve got a good pile of commissions to keep me going over the next few months, but I donít feel at all pressurized. (3) My book comes out in the summer, and I think itís going to be OK. (4) City are doing OK Ė drew with Arsenal at Highbury last night and played really well. (5) The days are getting longer and I canít wait for May, my favourite month of the year.

Reasons to be down. (1) Iím mildly ill (chest, cough, throat) and feeling knackered. (2) Weíve got a good few months of the grey, damp English winter ahead of us. (3) My tax bill needs paying. What do the government spend it on? (4) Apparently our new GP is a complete nutter, who probably isnít even qualified. This is according to my wife who took one of our sons to see him yesterday. A drugs rep was discussing how to get an appointment to see him with the receptionist. She was told to buy some sandwiches for him, and the receptionist. And have some goodies handy, because he likes presents. While my wife was in there he took two lengthy phone calls during the consultation. He changed his mind about the prescription twice when questionedÖ Weíve decided that our best bet is not to get sick. If we do get sick, weíll have to diagnose ourselves and get to see a specialist, pronto.

Being a wee bit poorly I canít really enjoy wine, but Iím due a break. I had planned a wine clear week to aid recovery, but Iíve been slightly dissuaded by something that arrived in the post this morning. My father sent me a cutting from the Telegraph Ė it was an article by Jonathan Ray, the new wine correspondent, describing how he has a month off booze every January. Apparently, his GP has told him that itís no good abstaining for just a week: a whole month is needed if the hard-working liver is going to benefit at all. Three questions are prompted by this. (1) How can a wine correspondent do without wine for a whole month? Thatís a twelfth of the year. How could I serve my readers properly if I wasnít actually drinking wine for a month? Thereís a difference between tasting and drinking, and the two need to occur in tandem. (2) Whereís the evidence to back up Rayís GPís assertion that a whole month is needed for any benefit? If I was Jonathan, Iíd ask to see the evidence. A proper peer-reviewed study is needed. GPs arenít always right, and when it comes to booze health professionals have an annoying habit of lying in the cause of promoting public health. As a result, they assume you are lying when you tell them how much you drink. (3) How many readers are going to read this, and then promptly bin their plans for a week on the wagon? I could manage a week, but a month? No chance, mate. It isnít going to happen. 

Confession time. After years of holding out, I now have a mobile telephone. It was a gift. I actually quite enjoyed being hard to contact Ė calls, unlike email, are intrusive. They force me to let you have some of my mental space, when you want it. My reluctance to enter the mobile age met with bemusement by most people under 60. ĎYouíre a dinasourí, Dirk Niepoort once told me when I was unable to give him a mobile contact number. Of course, Iíve been too busy to read the manual, so itís taken me ages to work out how to text by trial and effort (RTFM, you might say by way of advice). I still donít know how to use the address book, or the camera. Iím not a technophobe, just a bit stubborn, thatís all.

Saturday 1st January 2005
New year. Where did the last one go? Iíve got a good feeling about 2005. No resolutions for this year, other than to work a bit harder and at the same time maintain a healthy balance in my life. Iíd also like to keep enjoying wine, and learn some more. Once Iíve managed to earn enough to kick our finances back into shape Ė their current malaise is the result of an enormous tax bill that needs paying by the end of this month Ė then I think weíll have a good time as a family in 2005 - we might even manage a holiday (we had two good ones in 2004). I find people are curious about how much wine writers earn. I canít really answer on other peopleís behalf, but unless you are one of the top four or five, the answer is probably less than many of oneís readers. Let's give you a feel for the sums involved for a newbie like me. With regard to my book, I got an advance of £5000. This isnít much considering how much work goes into it, but if the book sells well then there will be royalties on top of this. Articles typically pay £250 per thousand words. My website makes some money from advertising Ė if you want to know the rates, youíll have to drop me an email. So, you can see from this that you need to be fairly busy if you are faced with a London cost of living and two expensive children to keep. This said, writing about wine is tremendous fun, and I enjoy it to the extent that I still feel a bit guilty being paid for it.

Cameras. A while back I announced how Iíd gone digital. I shot 150 pictures in Australia, and another 150 in Austria on my 5 megapixel HP Photosmart 945. Iím happy with it, but to be honest the quality isnít as good as my Pentax SLR. So Iíve been buying on e-bay, replacing my defunct SLR body with various manual focus and autofocus bodies. I love the 1980s Pentax SLR cameras: Iíve now got an MV1, and MV and an ME (pictured). Of course, it would be nice to have an MX and in particular an LX, but all the quality is, after all, in the lens. The body just has to give the right exposure, and with the latitude of colour film, my old bodies do a fine job. I like the feel of them. Iíll still be using my digital camera, but Iíll also be travelling with a couple of SLRs in the future.

Tuesday 28th December
Weíve had a good Christmas so far, albeit a little chaotic. Itís been fantastic to have so many of my family visit Ė yesterday, with some 11 adults and 9 children for lunch, was great fun Ė yet at the same time Iím pleased to be able to take things a little slower now our guests have left. Frankly, Iím exhausted after an action packed year, and this week will be one of rest and reflection, preparing for perhaps an even more activity-filled 12 months in 2005. I like it that we just donít know what the next year will bring. Iím the opposite of a control freak in personality. What happens will happen. Iíll try to make the most of the opportunities that come my way next year (Iíve had some superb ones in the last year Ė more than I ever could have hoped for), but Iíll be happy with my portion. I can only do so much, but that will be enough. For me, the best thing about being taken somewhat seriously by the wine trade is that I get the chance to meet some fantastic people. I like to give everyone I meet a chance: itís almost always a mistake to judge by first appearances. After a while, you get a feel for people. Whether or not they are genuine is very important to me. There are some frauds and BS merchants in the wine trade, but what impresses me is how many earnest, genuine people there are, and how many really interesting folk Iíve been lucky enough to interact with. Thereís some money to be made from wine, but itís testament to the special nature of this drink we write about or try to sell that there are surprisingly many in the wine trade driven not by the desire to make money, but foremost by passion. Thereís nothing wrong with making money, but thereís a world of difference between wines made or words written by someone whose primary driving goal is money, or excellence. Motivation matters.

Iím currently drinking another fantastic Marcillac Ė Jean Luc Matha Cuvťe ĎPŤirafií 2000. Deep coloured, this has a fantastic nose of ripe, well defined red fruits with a lovely minerally, wet rocks edge. Itís very fresh and intense. The palate is savoury and very minerally with very bright, fresh red fruits backed up with good tannins. The structure is earthy and firm. Itís a bloody, intense red wine of great definition. Iíd give this 92/100 (another purchase from Les Caves de Pyrene). I havenít yet had a Marcillac I didnít like a great deal.

Iím going to do a wines of the year feature this year, but it wonít be a boastful tour of my great wine drinking experiences of the year. Instead, Iíll list some wines that have taught me something new. Iím always looking to learn Ė itís the only way I feel I can approach wine. In fact, commitment to being a lifelong learner is a valuable characteristic in all walks of life.

This afternoon a quick family shopping trip turned into a marathon session that ended up costing the best part of £200. We got back at about 3.30 pm only to find that our key didnít work in the lock. After 20 minutes of trying we realized it wasnít going to happen. Another 10 minutes of casing the joint made us realize that out home really is reassuringly secure. Thereís only one window we could have broken (the only one that isnít a modern double-glazed unit), but this would have meant demolishing the frame, too, because itís a non-opening window. So we called a locksmith, who earned £188 for 10 minutes work replacing the lock barrel, when he arrived about an hour later.

Monday 20th December
I've begun writing up the philosophy of wine conference, mentioned here on this site. I'm not sure I'm up to the task of understanding everything that academic philosophers have to say, but my attempts to understand the presentations and then translate them for a broader audience will be posted on this site. I've begun with Roger Scruton's opening paper. Among the many hats he wears, he's also wine critic for the New Statesman. He writes very well, although the role of a critic in a magazine like this is to endorse wine for sale directly. As an example of one of his columns, here's an excerpt from a beautifully written piece (the full version is here, in Google's cache):

ďWine, for me, has the character of a reward. I turn to it at the end of the day, and it rushes to meet me like a bride. Most delightful are the times when, after a prolonged period of work, I rise above the scene of my labour and take stock, counting my blessings and making half-serious plans for the future, with a glass before me and a warm glow within. The best place for these moments of moral recuperation is an aeroplane, which removes you from routine and lifts you high above the clouds, in a dream-world painted by Tiepolo. Your thoughts are borne aloft with your body, and the distance between the brain above and the ground below is amplified by the genie in the glass.  

The health fascists tell us that we should not drink alcohol when flying, that only a constant intake of water will counteract the dehydrating effects of a pressurised cabin. They threaten us with headaches, cramps, sleep disorders and thrombosis; and they seriously believe that the slight risk of these things so outweighs the enormous likelihood that we will actually enjoy the flight and be granted celestial visions as to tip the balance decisively in favour of abstinence. Rational beings, however, who know that health is only one good among many, and worthless without the gift of thinking and feeling, have learned to disregard this stunted reasoning and to see life as it is. And when seen at the bottom of a wine glass, life appears as it truly is.Ē

Thursday 16th December
Not many shopping days left until Christmas, a period which for those of us with nippers is just about salvaged by that bit of magic that helps us over the crass materialism that blights this holiday period for many. I'm enjoying my wine a great deal at the moment. I've been working my way through a 30 bottle purchase from Les Caves de Pyrene and tonight it's another fascinating Marcillac (Jean Luc Matha Cuvťe LaÔris 2002). This wine is the antithesis of the big, anonymous, fruit-forward, oaky, faux international style that's all the rage these days. From the Fer Servadou grape, it's intense with brooding, bloody, pure fruit. Startling intensity. The palate is all wet rocks, damp pavements and it's vivid with its high acidity. It's a wine that makes you think. There's something profound about it, but I don't know exactly what. It's cheap, too - substantially less than a tenner (I can't remember exactly how much). It's one of those wines that makes me want to work the soil and make wine. How much for a few hectares in Marcillac? But then part of my heart is still in the Douro, where I'd really love to have some vines. It's a dream, I guess, but there's something special about wine that inspires otherwise rational people to want to get involved at the business end - growing grapes and making the stuff. 

Saturday 11th December
One Friday I attended the wonderful Philosophy and wine: from science to subjectivity meeting. I have to admit to knowing relatively little about the academic discipline of philosophy, but itís a subject that interests me a great deal. Iím still trying to digest the presentations, and when Iíve thought things through a bit more Iíll write up my report (at great length, no doubt) here. The organizers kindly invited three of the wine journos present Ė Andrew Jefford, Malcolm Gluck and myself Ė to lunch at the nearby British Museum restaurant. This was the first time Iíd had a chance to speak to Malcolm, although Iíve seen him around at many a tasting. He was very friendly, and we had a good discussion. I also enjoyed speaking to Paul Draper, who was presenting a paper, for the first time. Paul comes across as a very intelligent, thoughtful man. He makes good wine, too.

Now with all this philosophy under my belt, Iím beginning to approach my wine tasting slightly differently. Tonight Iíve opened a rather unusual wine Ė a varietal Alicante Bouschet 2003 from Ollier Romanis in the Languedoc. Is my experience of this wine a private, subjective, once only experience? Or is my attempt to describe it by means of a tasting note indicating that there is something objective about the process of tasting? I guess by writing a note and sharing it with wineanorak readers, Iím suggesting that while I donít expect weíll all be having exactly the same perceptual experience drinking the same wine, there is something objective about my note. Iím going after the Ďtasteí of this wine; Iím trying to reach it; Iím trying to get my note as accurate as possible, and communicate it by means of words that mean something to you, the reader Ė that help you share in my own private experience. This wine is a deep, almost opaque red/black colour. Itís one of the darkest, most impenetrably deep-hued wines Iíve seen in a long time. But on the nose it is friendly, forward and inviting, bursting with ripe blackberry fruit. The palate is dense and full with lots of summer-pudding character, and under the sweet, thick fruit is a spicy, almost roasted core. Itís not too tannic. A delicious, forward, bold wine of some personality. I like it a great deal. This was another of those Caves de Pyrene wines, and Iíll be going back for more. Very nice with my supper of bread, olive oil and cheese. 

Tuesday 8th December
Had another of my Caves de Pyrene wines last night, a really interesting wine from Carignan experts Domaine de Gravillas. This producer came onto my radar screen when they contacted me about a Carignan association they were part of. I must admit that anyone forming an association around a reviled, unfashionable grape variety gets my attention (except I guess for Pinotage, which is rightly reviled - actually, this comment is tongue in cheek - a wind-up). My note is as follows: 

Domaine de Gravillas ĎVous en Voulez en Voilŗí 2003 Vin de Pays des CŰtes de Brian, Languedoc , France
This elegantly packaged wine is a blend including a third Carignan from Nicole and John Bojanowski in the Languedocís Minervois region. Itís a fairly serious, brooding red that needs some time to show itís best. The tight, deep nose shows hints of ripe raspberry and blackberry fruit, with a liquoricey, mineral edge. The palate is savoury and dense with lots of ripe red fruits cloaked in a rather minerally, taut structure. Itís got lots of appeal but not in a forward, showy style: itís more guarded and beguiling. Very good/excellent 90/100 (£7.50 Les Caves de Pyrene, www.lescaves.co.uk

Just posted a book review of Monty Waldins doorstop work on Biodynamics. Here's a simple was to spot immediately the critics who aren't worth reading. While most wine sites don't have affiliate links to wines that are reviewed, almost all of them have links following their book reviews. I do. Someone clicks a link to purchase the book, you get some dosh. So read the reviews: are they appropriately critical, or do they sound like sales pitches? Of course, if it's the latter then we can't assume that the £££ or $$$ has made the reviewer lose their critical faculties. They might not be influenced by the £££ or $$$ - they could genuinely be dopey enough to not find any fault in any of the books they review. Either way, they're probably not worth reading. 

Sunday 6th December
A busy, wine-full weekend is finishing. I'm currently sipping the fantastic Clos Roche Blanche Touraine CŰt 1999 - a Loire red bursting with minerally blood-and-iron rich red and black fruits. It's a wonderfully savoury, fresh red, with a exciting degree of wildness. A bargain at £6.99 from Les Caves de Pyrene. I visited the retail outlet of this wonderful importers, located in Arlington (near Guildford), for the first time on Saturday. They started out in the South West of France, and since have branched out sourcing wines from all over the world - still, though, their strengths lie in regional France, where they have some fantastic listings. I spent a lot of money and came back with almost 30 bottles. I've got wines from Marcillac, Irouleguy, Gaillac, Fronton, Touraine, CorbiŤres, Minervois, Monbazillac and Gascony, among others, most of which I can't really get elsewhere. It's a breathtaking shop. 

On Friday night we had dinner at my sister and brother in law's, and between the four of us we had two vintages of Ch Margaux, two of Suiduaraut, a Montrose and a Gruaud Larose, a La Tour Blanche, a vintage Champagne from Drappier and a couple of other whites. It was fun, and I'll report back in detail later. Last night I was doing a tasting for 40 or so mostly newbies in Laleham, near Staines, which went pretty well. It was a favour, for a friend, so I did it for free. I enjoy doing these sorts of tastings because it puts you in touch with how normal people respond to wine. Always helpful. I like to feel that by encouraging people to think a bit about what they are tasting, in some small way I can give something back to an industry that has been very good to me. It wasn't terribly long ago that I was listening to idiots like me talk about wine and just beginning to see wine as something more than just a delivery medium for C2H5OH. 

Friday 3rd December
Mondovino, a film all about wine, opens a week today. Itís a film Iíd like to see but havenít yet Ė although Iíve already turned down two previews and an interview with the director, Jonathan Nossiter, simply because of time pressure. Whether the movie is any good or not, itís a great thing that someone is actually making a film about wine, and itís also encouraging to see some of the important themes in Mondovino stimulate broader discussion (on of the themes to the film concerns the sorts of arguments put forward in the two cultures debate on this site). Iíve read some interesting articles based on the movie, most notably a very good piece by Alastair McKay in The Scotsman. Quoting from this:
 

ĎNever before, says Nossiter, have there been so many wines that express a sense of terroir. Never before has there been so much good wine: not just technologically good, but good in the sense of having a distinctive character. Sadly, there is a catch. The problem is that this river of fine wine canít reach the marketplace, because never before has there been such a concentration of power in the import/export of wine, in its distribution and at the point of sale. I think weíve reached a stage where what you buy is a political act, whether itís a pair of shoes, a shirt, a bottle of wine, or your childrenís education," he says. "My sense is that people are sophisticated and are more aware that theyíre being lied to, institutionally, in every field. Itís dangerous whatís happening in Britain with the influx of, basically, alcoholic grape juice from Australia, California, and South Africa.'

Food for thought? I also liked Jancis Robinsonís review of the film.

For more reviews of Mondovino, see:

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