jamie goode's blog
about wine... mostly

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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. ]

Saturday 6th August 2005
Feeling a bit sluggish today, but nothing to do with grog. Rather, my state of suboptimal mental function is caused by tiredness, brought on by a hideous journey home from my Sicily trip. Getting into Stansted at 11.15 pm, we were delayed at passport control by half an hour, and then I had to take a bus to Heathrow, followed by a night bus to Feltham. Could have been a lot worse, I guess, so I'm not complaining.

The Sicily trip was very good. Calatrasi are a forward thinking outfit, making some of Sicily's best wines. They have a kiwi winemaker (Tamra Washington) and an Aussie viticulturalist (Sean Howe), who are good people, and made sure we were well entertained. They wanted an honest opinion of where their wines fitted in the marketplace, so they arranged a blind tasting of Nero d'Avola with their competitors. It's a really good idea, and I'll produce an article on this soon. 

Dinner in Palermo on Thursday night was fun. It wasn't until about 2 am that we found ourselves back at our accommodation. A leisurely start yesterday was welcomed, and the tasting followed, with three flights of Nero at different price brackets. After the tasting we had a long lunch, followed by a trip to see vineyards. In this case, a spectacular 70 ha vineyard at around 700 metres on limestone-based soils (above right). Stunning. Time for a quick beer in Corleone, before making our way back to Palermo and the delights of a 3 hour flight on Ryan Air. 

Wednesday 3rd August
Nipped in to Bordeaux Index yesterday for a tasting of two wines from Domaine Matassa. This is one of the rising stars of the Roussillon (it looks like Bordeaux Index may be representing them in the UK). The 2004 Blanc is utterly fantastic, with a long life ahead of it; in contrast the 2003 Rouge Cuvťe Romanissa was a little overshadowed: nice, earthy and spicy but perhaps just lacking a little presence. Also there was Neal Martin of the excellent www.wine-journal.com. I first tasted the Matassa 2002 (inagural vintage) a year or so back, and this is a producer Iím predicting a bright future for. I always have a slight tinge of sadness on catching producers like these early on, because thereís every likelihood that five years later I wonít be able to afford them as the rest of the world realizes just how good they are. Unless, of course, I get rich. I have no particular desire for riches, with the exception that being loaded would enable me to buy Ė and drink Ė serious wines. Not for the reason of conspicuous consumption, but simply because Iím passionate about wine and I have an insatiable curiosity for trying, and attempting to understand, a wide range of great wines.

In partnership with David Thomas of the Cellar Door in Overton, Bordeaux Index also represent many of the Barossa rising stars I wrote about earlier in the year. I tried one of these wines last night: Kym Teusnerís 2004 Joshua. This unoaked Grenache/Shiraz/MourvŤdre is really singing at the moment, showing vivid, perfumed red fruits backed up with a spicy structure. Tonight, Iím drinking another David Thomas/Bordeaux Index wine, the Mount Billy Antiquity Shiraz 2001 Barossa Valley. Itís another fantastic wine: dark, concentrated and spicy with some tarry, herby notes that suggest this has seen some American oak. But it works with this wine Ė I guess itís a more traditional Barossa style than some of the new Barossa wines, but itís up there with the best of them. My only slight criticism is the combination of the oak and acid, which gives a slightly bitter, green-ish sort of finish. Maybe Iím just being ultra critical Ė itís still a lovely wine.

Itís all very circular: tomorrow Iím off to Sicily, with Sam Harrop MW (whoís one of the partners in Matassa). Weíre going to Calatrasi, to help see how their wines stack up in the market place, by means of blind tasting against the competition. It will be fun, Iím sure.

Saturday 30th July
Had lunch at Corney & Barrow yesterday, after a small tasting, together with Guardian journo Simon Hoggart, who does the wine offer for the Spectator. C&B do things in style. The lunch was very good indeed, prepared by resident chef Colin, who in appearance and demenour reminded me a bit (only a bit) of the character Colin from the Brittas Empire. As you might expect, we drank some wine. We started off with a Domaine Leflaive Puligny Montrachet Les Pucelles 1990. It was a surprisingly dark orange colour and I saw Adam Brett-Smith's eybrows raise. Oxidised. So we had a second bottle, which was much better, showing some evolution but also impeccable balance. Next up, a blind red - FranÁois Mitjavile's 1993 Terte Roteboeuf, a cult St Emilion from a small (by Bordeaux standards) vineyard of 5.7 hectares. Dense, tight, savoury and very good indeed. The final wine was a hard one to spot blind. It was ripe, seductive and elegant - not quite a Burgundy, because of the overt ripeness, but definitely in a Burgundian sort of style, and very classy. It was the Tenuta di Trinoro 'La Cupole di Trinoro' 2000.

Two interesting wines for Friday night drinking. Nicolas Joly's Clos de la Coulťe de Serrant 2002 is a unique wine. The fascinating thing about it is that it reveals itself to you a bit at a time, shifting and evolving in the glass moment to moment. It's also a bit of a weird wine: you have to work to 'get it'. The nose is sweet and savoury at the same time, with complex notes of pears, herbs and the Chenin damp straw. The palate is complex and intense with an unusual texture: a little soft and flat in the middle but then there's a big acid kick. Amazing length and real separation of flavours: a multidimensional wine, ending in a spicy acidity. Then the Moris Farms Avvoltore 2003 from Tuscany's Maremma region. This is a big wine. Dark, spicy and intense with lots of tannins, but these tannins are soft and ripe. Fantastic fruit, yet avoids being overblown and too new-worldy. Another remarkable wine, but probably a lot more accessible than the Coulťe de Serrant. 

Thursday 28th July
Iím enjoying doing the Sunday Express column. Itís fun. Part of my brief is to use the food theme of the week in order to select wines that (sort of) match. Iíve just been given my latest set of themes, and on 11th September it is Ďbreakfastí. How fantastic. Wines with breakfast! I think it was Yixin Ong who used to post to wine bulletin boards about breakfast wines. So Iíll have to consult him on his favourite combinations. With scrambled eggs, a nice crisp new world fizz; with bacon butties, a toasty Chardonnay or Pinot Gris; with marmalade on toast, a nice botrytised sweet wine. There are endless possibilities. [For the record, I can't recall ever drinking at breakfast time.]

With the Express gig, weíve had a huge rise in the number of samples landing on the doostop chez Goode. I used to be able to drink my samples; now I canít. Most nights Iíll open a few different wines for tasting. Itís interesting to group the samples together in mini-tasting flights and do some comparing. The big danger, however, is for me to become too reliant on samples and tastings, which could cause me to stop buying wine altogether. Itís not that thereís anything wrong with samples; rather, the problem is that you end up focusing on a skewed population of winesóthose that people are most anxious to flog. I have been buying wine still, most recently a case of Gros Nore Bandol Rouge 2000 at £129 all in from Grand Cru Wines (a snip: just over a tenner a bottle for this serious MourvŤdre-based wine that will go the distance). I bought six of the 1999 vintage of this wine and still have one left: of course, it should be the other way round with an ageworthy wine like this.

Monday 25th July
Non-wine related, I know, but I wanted to mention on this blog the passing of Richard Doll, who died over the weekend at the grand old age of 92. One of the worldís leading epidemiologists, Doll is responsible for saving millions of lives. Why? He was responsible for demonstrating the link between smoking and lung cancer back in the 1950s. This is something we all take for granted now, but his achievement needs to be seen in context: at the time of the study, most people in the UK smoked, including 80% of adult males. Dollís studies first highlighted the link between smoking and lung cancer, and then proved it was causal. His later work showed that smoking was also related to many other diseases. Good science, communicated well to the public, has thus resulted in a sharp decrease in smoking trends in the UK over the last few decades, literally saving millions of lives. In other European countries where the message has been less well communicated, and there hasnít been a corresponding reduction in smoking, the mortality statistics are still on an upward trend. Interestingly, I noticed that Doll was born in Hampton (in 1912), just a couple of miles from where I live. I never met him, but he wrote a letter following the publication of a book I edited on Alcohol and cardiovascular diseases, expressing some surprise at the rather ambivalent summing-up by the chair, which didn't reflect the positive tone of the discussions contained within. Indeed, Doll's research encompassed the supposed health benefits of drinking (see this paper, for example), and one of his last papers, published earlier this year, was on this very topic.  

see also: Observer profile on Sir Richard Doll

Sunday 24th July
Just a brief entry today. I'm still tired from Friday night. We had some friends over, with their kids, who then stayed for a 'sleepover' to celebrate one of our son's birthday. So we had six kids, aged under nine. Hell on earth. They went to sleep, finally just after 1 am, and woke before 6.30 am. 

Had a nice wine last night. The Alovini Alglianico del Vulture 2000 is a lovely dense, rich modern-styled Italian red with good concentration and an earthy, spicy structure. It's not too modern, though. A nice balance between rich fruit and savoury structure. Great balance. It's a sample from new venture Divinowines (so new their website isn't up yet, so I can't link to it) and retails at £16. This reminds me that I must drink more Italian wine. Today we're off to Thorpe Park with the kids. The hell continues!

Tuesday 19th July
My second Sunday Express column is out, and I've already taken some stick for it. I got a phone call yesterday from a PR person who I thought would have been delighted that I'd mentioned one of her wines in my column. But she was furious (or was it upset, about to break down in tears? I couldn't tell). It's because I mentioned that the wine had a faint whiff of paint thinners about it. I guess this isn't terribly flattering, and looking at it from her perspective, I see she's got a point. But at the same time, I have to remember who I am writing for: it's the readers that count. Sometimes winewriters get too close to the trade and forget whose side they are on. I write to keep my readers happy, and by doing this, the editors who commission me. You can't be too worried if you upset the trade from time to time: it's going to happen. No hard feelings. 

[Football talk] Couldn't let the leaving of Shaun Wright-Phillips pass without a mention. It's sad, but inevitable. I've enjoyed watching him over the last few years develop into the near-genius he is today. City never used to be a selling club, but with Chelsea's riches, all clubs are now selling clubs. £21m is good business, I guess, but it's a bit dispiriting to watch the way Chelsea are currently buying up so many good players just because they can afford it. One of my playstation games is LMA manager: you get to buy and sell players and build a team by skill and careful balancing of finances. There's a cheat where you can have unlimited finances but I've never been remotely tempted to use it because it removes any element of skill the game posseses. But this is exactly what Chelsea seem to be doing. Football is only a game, but the financial side has narrowly avoided taking the fun out of it in the past. Now it seems this uneasy balance is faltering and big money has the upper hand. I mean, if you were to hatch a dastardly plan to ruin football as we know it, how would you do it? Chelsea's current behaviour takes some beating as a strategy. 

Sunday 17th July
Man, this weather rocks! The UK has been like Spain for as long as I can remember. With the change in weather comes a change in drinking patterns: crisp unoaked whites and well-chilled rosťs are the order of the day (plus, of course, ice-cold beer). Generally, we winewriters underestimate the affect that situation has on drinking pleasure. We think itís all about the properties of the wine: it isnít. The circumstances and our own internal state at the time have a lot to do with the drinking experience.

Cricket on Friday (see entry below) was very enjoyable. The Wine Trade XI was a strong one, and we only lost because we declared earlier than we might on 224 for 6: they overhauled our total in the last over of the game.

Wine of the day, with Sunday lunch in the garden, was Quinta da Simaens Vinho Verde 2004. Itís light, zippy and refreshing with just a touch of carbon dioxide fizziness on opening. Not too heavy, and perfect well chilled.

Weíre currently trying to round up the rabbits. Itís nice to give them freedom of our generously sized garden, but itís hard work catching them afterwards. Youíve got to be quick. Very quick. Last night after an extended chase one of them had a squeaky kind of wheeze. I thought it was going to conk out. Happily, itís still very much alive and resisting capture this evening. We did try to name the rabbits when we got them, but itís impossible to tell them apart. So thereís no point.

Friday 15th July
Had a fantastic day yesterday (Thursday), most of which was spent at Hampton Open Air pool. It was hot, sunny and the water was at a perfect temperature. Fiona and I picknicked, washing our food down with some a quarter bottle of wine each. Mine was a cheap Kumala red with some Pinotage in it Ė it tasted pretty good, but then just about anything would in that setting. In the evening we popped into Twickenham for dinner at the A bar, tucked away in a residential street behind the Green. It has a wonderful courtyard so we ate outside. Food is pretty good, winelist more than servicable. Itís a little on the pricey side, but probably worth it.

This morning has so far been a disaster. Did you ever see the John Cleese film Clockwise? Well, Iím living that experience at the moment. My destination is Colchester to play for the Wine Trade XI in a cricket game. The first leg of the journey was OK, but we hit trouble when we were stuck on a hot Central Line train in a tunnel for 30 minutes.

So I get to Liverpool Street with time running out. I join a queue for tickets, and the person in front takes 10 minutes over their transaction (it was supposed to be a Travel Today window). I present my railcard to the guy behind the screen and asked for a boundary zone 6 to Colchester ticket. He gives me a lecture on how my railcard is hard to read and I should get it replaced with a fresh one but Iíll need to show proof of purchase, where did I get it from? etc. etc. Iím getting a bit frustrated.

He wonít stop going on about how my railcard is hard to read. I ask jobsworth, in the interests of time, to forget about the boundary zone 6 bit and just give me a ticket to Colchester because I am in a hurry. Not comprehending that Iím in enough of a rush to skip the railcard conversation and take the £5 hit that comes from not using it, he says again that he canít read my railcard. This is where I make my big mistake. ĎJust give me a [expletive deleted] ticket to Colchester,í I say, ashamedly unable to control my staggering sense of frustration. Immediately he switches into an affronted Ďdonít use that language with meí speech. I apologise.

He lectures me and informs me Iíll have to go to another window and join one of the snaking queues and wait my turn again. I apologise really hard, and eventually he serves me Ė I leave with the impression he rather enjoys the sense of power that this sort of interaction with customers in a hurry brings. Iím usually a calm person; for me to stoop to the level of letting my frustration show ptells me that I must chill a bit. Itís a symptom of something inside, and I need to pay attention to it.

Now Iím on the train to Colchester and it looks like Iíll just be in time. Letís hope the cricket is better than the journey. We have to bring two bottles of wine as a match fee, to drink at lunchhtime with the opposition. Iíve bought some Northern RhŰne Syrah, the Mouton 2000 Vin de Pays des Collines Rhodaniennes and the 1996 Jaboulet Thalabert Crozes Hermitages.

Wednesday 13th July
Man, itís hot. Itís two showers a day weather (we're talking personal hygeine, not precipitation), and it has been all week. Not that Iím complaining: thereís nowhere quite as beautiful as the UK on a hot summerís day. Well, actually there are dozens of places much more beautiful; the point Iím trying to make is that places that are normally cold and wet (such as England, Wales and Scotland) have a charm of their own on a hot summerís day. The trees, in particular, look wonderful.

So far, after a very late start, this summer is shaping up a bit like 2003. Weíve had two sustained hot spells and the grass on Twickenham Green (where my eldest had is sports day today) is a whitish yellow; the soil compact and hard. But the vines on my allotment are thriving: after the late frost which took out a good proportion of the first shoots in late April, growth has been strong but not too vigorous. The consequence of the frost is that fruit set has suffered so the crop will be very small and a little late. The quality should be excellent if we have a half-decent late summer.

Even though we are enjoying the somewhat atypical weather, it raises the spectre of global warming. If you are a reader from the USA I must apologise here. As a rule, Americansóeven intelligent, well read, scientifically literate onesódonít believe in global warming. Or should I say more precisely, they accept the reality of recent climate change; they fail to believe that it is significant, or that its origins are anthropogenic (caused by human activity, most significantly greenhouse gas emissions). So my mentioning of global warming will seem rather preachy and misinformed to Americans; I apologise once more for this.

It's hard not to be worried by the evidence, no matter how hard it is to be sure of the predictions scientists make about future climate change. The outlook for fine wine is bad: sites where grape varieties are currently well matched to local conditions will suffer twofold loss. First, the varieties will no longer be optimal for the site; second, the increased unpredictability of climate patterns will play havoc with vintage variation. There'll be many losers and few winners.

Monday 11th July
I enjoy getting my non-wine-geek chums to taste a couple of very different wines, to see how they respond. Had two couples round yesterday for a delightful long lunch, during which I served a couple of contrasting reds. First, Domaine du Baruel's 1996 Cuvťe Fontenilles, a Languedoc Syrah. The Baruel wines were only made during the 1990s - 1989 was the first vintage by Rainer Pfefferkorn, 1998 the last before he sold up. They have proved remarkably long lived, and the 1996 is still tight and quite youthful. It's an intensely savoury, earthy wine that I like a lot. Distinctly old world. I served it alongside the 2003 Clos de la Siete, Michel Rolland's Argentinean wine, which is voluptuous, lush and ripe with sweet blackcurranty fruit and a whopping 14.5% alcohol. The latter is the obvious crowd pleaser, but both wines were appreciated, and one of my chums even commented on the earthiness of the Baruel, which he found positive. My preference? Wine is largely about context, and in the context of al fresco dining on a warm summer's day, I think the Baruel wins hands down. In fact, at the table, I can't think of a context where I'd prefer the sweetly fruited Clos de la Siete: that's more of a showy wine to sip on its own. I also wonder whether the Siete might be a bit better with just a touch less alcohol. 

On Saturday night Fiona and I went to a fabulous 40th birthday party, held at out kids' school. We had to dress up in school uniform, which was slightly bizarre, but enjoyable. Some of the women took it a little bit too far, but I thought Fiona looked fantastic wearing our oldest son's school uniform and with some false pigtails and mutant teeth. Hmmm, nice.

Friday 8th July
Still shocked by yesterday's events in central London; at this time it seems a bit trivial to be talking about wine. I left the tube at Regent's Park station around 9.20 am yesterday; we were hurried out, and it was clear that something wasn't quite right. It was a nervous day in town as it became clear what had happened. Wandering back to Waterloo station late afternoon, I was surprised by how few cars were on the roads and how many people were walking. The atmosphere wasn't one of fear, but of quiet determination to carry on.

Reflected on the day's sad, terrible events with a glass of Quinta da Casa Amarela Reserva 2003, a little known but excellent Douro wine made by Susana Esteban, winemaker at Quinta do Crasto. I like it more than the Crasto wines: it has a lovely freshness of fruit and firm but elegant structure (from both the tannins and the acids). Enjoyed with an excellent Manchego cheese, which is becoming (along with Grana Padano and Comte) one of my favourites. 

Monday 4th July
Just back from a weekend spent in Chester, at the wedding of cousin Ingrid. Now weddings can be (and frequently are) a bit of a test of the guests' patience, but this was a really good one, and Ingrid and John had clearly put a good deal of thought into how to make it a pleasurable day for everyone. We were staying at the racecourse, and the logistics were just perfect: it was a nice wander through the centre of town to the church, and then the reception was held within a couple of hundred yards of the hotel. Our kids were entertained by professional nannies so they were happy, and before we sat down to eat there was a nice twist - we had a fun session with the drumcafe, where everyone was given a djembe drum and we spent an hour beating out rhythm. Sounds odd, but it was very well done, and it beats standing round for an hour waiting for the photos to be taken. What about the wines? The wines? They were good, too. Lindauer fizz, followed by Montana Sauvignon Blanc 2004 and Oyster Bay Merlot 2003. The Montana is a brilliantly balanced, textbook Sauvignon with some class. The Oyster Bay is very tasty, with a chocolatey richness to the spicy fruit. Both wines are accessible without being bland, and are versatile enough to work well with a range of foods. Tasting the Lindauer, it makes me wonder why people bother with cheap Champagne. It's fruity, rounded and balanced with a hint of smoky complexity underneath the slightly herby fruit. Champagne is odd: you could have spent a fortune serving Dom Perignon of Krug Grande Cuvee (both at around £70 per bottle) in a similar environment, and I'll bet only about two or three people there at most would have noticed the difference in the absence of seeing the label. Narrowly missed out on the sweepstake for the speeches (I guessed 36 minutes and it was a refreshingly brief 33), and finished the dinner with a couple of glasses of Dow's 10 year old tawny (nice) which brother in law Beavington had smuggled in.

Saturday 2nd July
Brian Croser is one of the giants of the Australian wine industry. He taught at Wagga in the 1970s and with his technical background was responsible for the application of a lot of good science in the vineyard and winery that has helped shape the modern Australian wine industry. With his own winery, Petaluma, Croser achieved great success: the Adelaide Hills Chardonnay (Croser was the first to plant in this region, which is now a sizeable one with thousands of hectares under vine), Coonawarra red and Clare Valley Riesling are all benchmarks of their respective vineyard areas. The ride has not been so smooth of late, though. Four years ago Petaluma was bought out by the Lion Nathan wine group, and while Croser is still very much involved (and proud of the wines), this move has clearly caused him a lot of grief. His latest venture is Tapanappa, a premium red wine from the Wrattonbully area (near Coonawarra in South Australia), and this was the reason I met with him and PR dude David Lindsay for lunch at the Capital Hotel on Friday. 

I think the wine is fantastic, and I'll write about it in due course. But for me the highlight was a decent amount of uninterrupted access to one of the most intelligent and thoughtful people in the world of wine. I didn't take extensive notes, nor did I use my tape recorder. I just sat, asked questions, listened and learned things. Lots of things. Brian's experience is a valuable resource, and he was generous with sharing his views. I guess it's one good reason to become recognized as a wine writer - you get access to people like Brian Croser. It's like a football fan getting to sit down with Steven Gerrard, or Wayne Rooney, or Shaun Wright-Phillips. I'm also planning to visit him in September when I travel to South Australia again. 

It's the second time I've eaten at the Capital Hotel, and the experience was a very good one. The food is fantastic, and worthy of its two Michelin stars. [But I don't want to sound like a boring old fart of a foodie who insists on telling others about great meals that they've enjoyed, so that's all I'll say.] 

Such is Brian's drawing power that the Capital's owner David Levin came and joined us at the end of the meal, to get Brian to taste his own wine, a Sauvignon Blanc produced from vineyard in the Loire. It was pretty good: fresh, and grassy, but with some pleasing richness.    

Friday 1st July
Twickenham's Rawalpindi grill is my favourite curry house, although to call it a curry house is a little misleading. It's actually a very fine, upmarket restaurant. We had a lovely meal there last night, our first visit in quite a while, and in the interim it has received a face lift. The decor is now very classy and a little understated, the service is excellent and the food fantastic - a bewildering array of flavours, textures and spices, brilliantly done. The only slight criticism is that the kitchen was rather slow (but this can be forgiven because of the quality of the food), and there were two large, exclusively male tables near us - I guess the curry house culture is hard to shake off. I don't do wine with curry, though, so nothing to report on that front. I won't be drinking wine tonight, either, as I'm driving up to Chester for a cousin's wedding tomorrow. I will however be lunching at the Capital Hotel with Brian Croser, and I suspect some wine will be involved...  

Monday 27th June
What a cracking weekend only spoilt slightly by the fact that I put a cricket ball through our kitchen window. Yes, it was stupid. At least it was my own window. Plenty of different wines tried, mainly because I had 36 samples delivered on Friday by a new wine company who wanted my verdict by the end of the weekend. It still feels a bit decadent opening a dozen wines at a time and taking just a small taste of each. At least we have friends who donít complain too much when we donate almost-full bottles of wine to them.

I have a confession to make. Until yesterday afternoon I was one of the few remaining people never to have sat through any of the Star Wars films from beginning to end. Of course, Iíve seen bits of some of the films Ė itís hard to avoid them Ė but I havenít watched any of them properly. This has now changed. Yesterday one of my sons persuaded me to take him to see Revenge of the Sith, and as it was a choice between this and taking the other son to Zippoís circus, I leapt at the opportunity. And you know what? It wasnít too bad. I now understand what Star Wars is about. Lots of flashing light sabres and special effects, but a good plot, and some good acting. Darth Vaderís outfit is so 80s, though, and looks comically out of place in such an otherwise hi-tech production (which I guess means that considering the first film was made in the late 70s, it was a bit ahead of its time).

One of the CDs we have in our small pile in the kitchen (the Goode family play list, if you like) is Damien Riceís O, a fine, cleverly made album (do people still use this term? In the age of MP3s and ipods, is the concept of an album Ė a selection of songs, put together in a particular order Ė dead?). Track 8, Cold Water, was very effectively used in the Richard Curtisí BBC drama The girl in the cafť which was shown on Saturday night. I found it engaging and well crafted, while at the same time contrived, sentimental, implausible and preachy. Itís the sort of thing you find yourself liking a great deal, while at the same time feeling you shouldnít be liking it Ė a bit like a big Australian Shiraz or a Californian Chardonnay. I felt the same way about Curtisí Notting Hill, which remains one of my favourite films, although I feel guilty to admit it. Director David Yates gives an interesting account of how Girl in a cafť was made here. I guess the reason it works despite its faults is because of the two lead parts, played very effectively by Bill Nighy and Kelly Macdonald, who Yates used together in last yearís brilliant political drama State of play.

Sunday ended with the great rabbit chase. We feel bad keeping our rabbits confined, so whenever we can we give them the freedom of the garden. The problem is catching them again. Last night it took 40 minutes. Rabbits may be faster and cuter than us humans, but itís our intelligence that gives us the edge. We outwitted them in the end. It feels rather primitive, a bit like stalking prey, but if we donít put them back theyíll be a tasty snack for the neighbourhood foxes.

Friday 24th June
Here in the UK weíre currently in the midst of a heatwave. The combination of high temperatures and long days has been fantastic. Itís just like being on holiday, sitting outside reading in the balmy evening conditions. Weíve been drinking a lot of chilled rosť Ė mostly simple, cheap stuff. Works well. In fact, it reminds me a great deal of summer 2003, when we spent a lot of time chilling outside during the famous heatwave. There's something about these still, warm evenings - they smell different. This heat is good news for the vines, which are currently flowering in perfect conditions.

Since the news has got out that Iím doing the Sunday Express column, Iíve suddenly been besieged by people wanting to send me wine and fly me round the world. Itís remarkable. This week alone, I have been offered press trips to Chile, South Africa, Portugal, Spain and France. If I didnít have family and work commitments Iíd be able to spend a good portion of the year on the road at other peopleís expense. A fantastic world of opportunities has opened up, but unfortunately Iím having to turn most of them down. I still find it all very amusing Ė Iím just a guy with a website, after all. A very lucky guy with a website.

Sunday 19th June
It was hot today. Hot, hot, hot. I took one of my sons to cricket practice at Twickenham Green, and then wandered over to my vineyardÖer, I meant my allotment, which resembles a rather crappy vineyard. Itís crappy, but I love it, because I planted the 50 or so vines myself. It would be a lie to say that Iíve tended them lovingly. Iíve tended them when I can: like so many aspects of my life, itís a question of squeezing things in. And for the most part, it works out OK. Things get done. Deadlines are always met. My vines get just enough love and care to survive. I sprayed them with wettable sulphur today, to protect against mildew, which in our damp English summers is a perennial threat. Encouragingly, thereís lots of healthy green growth, and even the more feeble of the vines are showing signs of life. I trellis them rather basically, on a single-wire permanent bilateral cordon about three feet from the ground. Theyíre planted at high density, just over four feet apart and with four feet between rows. If I ever make wine from these vines, Iíll be delighted.

After this it was off to the school fete, where I put in an hourís labour flipping burgers on the barbecue. It was hot work. This is one good reason why I canít afford to be a failing wine writer: I donít think I have a natural aptitude for flipping burgers. Itís important I donít end up doing this for a living.

Itís one of those warm summer evenings we see infrequently in England. Warm enough to be sitting outside tapping on my laptop keyboard at 9 pm, with plenty of daylight to come. The thing I notice most about these warm evenings is that they smell different. I think it has to do with the nearby trees. I noticed it also last week in the Alentejo, along with the birdsong: itís strange that loud birdsong doesnít seem at all intrusive on an otherwise peaceful evening.

To drink: the 2003 Syrah from Stonecroft in Hawkes Bay. Itís a lovely wine, perhaps a little lighter than the 2002 I mentioned here a few days ago, but quite perfumed with a delicious peppery edge to the savoury, spicy fruit. Not an overt new world style, and brilliantly expressive. On evenings like these you donít need the wine to be the star, though.

Saturday 18th June
Yesterday I introduced you to the black pigs of the Alentejo. I thought you might also like to meet the highly cute (I think so) baby black pigs I met at new superstar estate Malhadinha Nova. Last night finished off the bottle of Monte de Peceguina 2004, the second wine from this estate, which retails around 10 Euros in Portugal. It's wonderful stuff, packed full of pure red fruits.  

Today is looking like it's going to be a scorcher. Time to fire up the barbie, but first I've got to survive the school fete, and nip off to the allotment to spray the vines with sulphur, to combat the risk of mildew.

Friday 17th June
Just back from the Alentejo. For those unfamiliar with this, it's a big Portuguese wine region inland and down from Lisbon. Portugal has two leading, quite different wine regions - the Alentejo is one, the other is the Douro - both of which are a hotbed of innovation and expansion, with new producers popping up all over the place. I visited quite a range of properties (Jo„o Costa of ICEP was kind enough to take account of all my requests, made easier by the fact that the only other journalist on the trip was Julie Arkell - she was good company, and one of the few people who could put up with my endless questions and photo-stops), including Mouch„o, Cortes de Cima, Mouro and Cartuxa. 

I was very impressed by the overall standard, but the most exciting find for me was a new estate by the name of Malhadinha Nova. This is a name to watch out for. With a no holds barred approach to quality and some fantastic vineyards (left), they are already one of the very best producers in the Alentejo. As well as growing vines, they keep pigs and cattle. These are no ordinary pigs - they are the pata negra pigs (right) that by law have to feed predominantly on acorns, and 1 hectare of oak trees is needed for each single animal. We had a memorable lunch here, including some of the wonderful pata negra ham. The second wine, Monte da Peceguina, is superb, and wonderful value, but I suspect most of the fuss will be made of the first wine Malhadina. There are two whites, in addition to these reds, and both are also fantastic - unusual for the Alentejo, which is really a red wine region.   

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