Thursday, November 29, 2007

USB Wine

Stuck for Christmas presents for the wine lover in your life? Then try this fantastic new product developed in France which is sure to revolutionise your wine drinking.

Why bother having a cellar when the great vintages of the world are all available at one click....

Friday, November 23, 2007

I know, I know, I know...

Had an e-mail from my mate, old boss and fellow Taste-In colleague Robert Joseph recently in response to this post. This is the man from whom I learned inordinate amounts, not least the art of missing publishers' deadlines with the maximum of grace, but since neither of us had much in the way of business acumen - great ideas, yes; business acumen, no - then our partnership was doomed to failure. Anyway, the response from Bobby Jo (as some will insist on calling him) was that while he agreed with me both on the packaging and on Oddbins shaky future, he thought that the Cachet wines did stack up as part of the riposte from France to outside competition.

And yes, I realise that France needs to re-establish itself in the eyes of many wine drinkers, especially those who have cut their wine teeth not on the Old World but on the New World. But... And here's where my Latin O Level for once proves useful. I usually approach unknown Australian Shirazes with a suspicion born of too many examples of over-manipulated wines, but The Red Sedan 2005 McLaren Vale Shiraz is going down a storm tonight, perhaps because of the absence of oak, which gives the iron-rich fruit flavours a chance to shine (and it's getting better as I type - I fear for the rest of the bottle).

Anyway, back on the subject, Latin. Correct me if I'm wrong but 'McLaren Vale' means 'farewell McLaren' - quite appropriate for this week. Just as England proved against Croatia on Wednesday that despite the quality of the players on the field, the up-tempo, end-to-end, hoof-it-up-the-field game has had its day, so it might be time for some of the movers and shakers of the south of France to move on from the desire to please the beginner's palate. In other words, they should be looking for life beyond ripeness, fresh fruit and, err, that's it, which is nice in the short term, but a long term yawn.

So sorry Robert, but Cachet is a long term yawn. If all it provides is simple fruit with the right varietal names on the label, then other countries do it cheaper and - vital - more reliably. While I hate the idea of French wine sales remaining in the doldrums, I'd rather they were revitalised by better wines than Cachet.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Getting bladdered....

In this news story from Australia, getting bladdered takes on a completely new meaning. Reminds me of the Hitch-hikers Guide to the Galaxy where someone says that an impending and not very pleasurable experience is 'like getting drunk'. What's the problem with that, asks someone else. 'You ask a glass of water...'

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Wine & Spirit - How High Is Too High?

Just written a piece for Wine & Spirit about High Alcohol wines. I'll update this post when it's eventually published, but in the meantime, here are the wines I tasted for it.

Marquesa de la Cruz Garnacha 2006, Campo de Borja (14.5%)
Juan Gil Silver Label Monastrell Jumilla 2004 (14%)
Bodega Mustiguillo Finca Terrerazo 2005 (14.5%)
Macià Batle Binissalem Mallorca 2004 (14.5%)

La Bastide Saint Vincent Gigondas 2004 (14%)
Domaine Madeloc Collioure 2003 (15%)
Couly-Dutheil Chinon Clos de l’Olive 2005 (15%)

Tullymore Vineyards Merlot 2003, Coonawarra (14%)
Sainsbury’s Taste the Difference Coonawarra Cabernet Sauvignon 2005, Katnook Estate (14.5%)
Jacob’s Creek Reserve Shiraz 2005, South Australia (14%)
Kirribilly Estate Shiraz 2004, Langhorne Creek (14.5%)
Jim Barry The Lodge Hill Shiraz 2005, Clare Valley (15%)
Leylines Shiraz 2004, South Australia (15%)

Lagarde Henry Cabernet Sauvignon 2003, Mendoza (14.5%)
Soluna Premium Malbec 2005, Mendoza (14%)
Soluna Premium Organic Malbec 2005, Mendoza (14%)

Knockon Wood Reserve 2006, Western Cape (14.5%)
Cloof Lynchpin 2005, Darling (14.5%)

De Martino Colluvia Syrah 2006, Choapa Valley (14.5%)

Walker’s Pass Private Bin Reserve Zinfandel 2005, Santa Clara (14.5%)
Ravenswood Lodi Old Vine Zinfandel 2005 (14.5%)

Morella Old Vine Primitivo 2003, Puglia (15%)

When is a region not a region?

Ah, regionality and wine, eh? Dontcha just love it? There's a story on Decanter's web site about how the Aussies are struggling with the problem of having a wine blended from different states. The current SE Australia designation only covers the states in the south and east, and means that any inclusion of Western Australian wine is limited to 15%. With WA currently being the one place destined to have a surfeit of grog in the next few years, unsurprisingly those out east are looking at ways of getting their hands on the precious stuff. But there is opposition from some who see the creation of a new designation called Greater Australia or Southern Australia as denying regionality. Get real guys. The whole point of the SE Aus appellation is to produce a cheap homogenous blended wine, so talking of any regional identity is pointless. Terroir? Schmerroir.

Don’t get me wrong, I'm a fully paid up member of the terroir club - where the grapes are grown has a definite impact on a wine’s flavour. But I'm also a realist. The main factor in the flavour of a wine is not terroir, it is human influence. The ways in which grapes are grown and wine is made outweigh the impact of terroir, and this is as much true in Australia as in France. Yet the Australians, or at least those in charge of the wine industry, seem hell-bent on pursuing regionality, even though most of the wines are marked more by winemaking than region. Further proof of this was provided by a tasting of Clare Valley wines last week. Yes, there were some great wines in which the character of the region shone through, but they were outnumbered by ones where the word ‘made’ appeared in my notes.

Look at it this way. Does Clarendon Hills have a following because it tastes of McLaren Vale or because it tastes of Clarendon Hills? Ditto for Henschke, Cullen, Brokenwood, Yarra Yering, Bannockburn and their respected regions. In an ideal world, all wine would be made by great producers in great regions. But it isn’t, so the question we have to answer is this - which would we rather have: a wine made by a so-so producer in a great region or one made by a great producer in a so-so region? Anyone who wouldn’t take the second option every time is deluding themselves.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Wayne, Women and Song

First time I've ever linked to The Sun, but couldn't resist this story about how Wayne Rooney was developing a taste for the grape. Judging by the line up for yesterday's game against Blackburn, he's not the only wino in Fergie's side...

Edwine Van der Sar
Rioja Ferdinand
Patrice Evramoira
Wes Cantenac-Brown
La Mancha Vidic
Anderson D'Oliveira
Owen Haagreaves
Cristiano Ron-Aldo Conterno
Rion Giggs
Carlos Jerez
Louis Saar

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Kipper Wines

Not Kipper Tie, as in what Noddy Holder enjoys as liquid refreshment. No, here, I'm talking about those wines that you hardly ever drink at home, but instantly go for when you see them on a list. I can't remember ever cooking kippers in my current abode - I'm married to an anti-kipperite - but whenever I see them on a breakfast menu, I'm straight in there.

So, kipper wines.... For me, they're probably old wines. Not classic old wines, but humble bottles that you wouldn't normally think of ageing. So if I find a list that has old Beaujolais, Muscadet, Valpolicella, Alsace Pinot Gris, Cotes du Rhone and others of that ilk, I'll happily shell out for them. Sometimes they're past it, but a lot of the time they're surprisingly good, and attractively priced too.

However, I'd draw the line at having them with my breakfast kippers...

Saturday, November 10, 2007

I Can't Believe It's Not Better

The line-up:-
Robert Joseph – founder of What Wine (which became Wine, Which became Wine International which became Wine & Spirit) and inventor of the International Wine Challenge (he’s also a former boss of mine).
Allan Cheesman – ex-Sainsbury’s guru largely responsible for beginning the supermarket wine revolution.
Neil Tully – a Master of Wine whose company Amphora now designs dozens of the best wine labels in the UK.
Lynne Whittaker – marketing wizard

Surely a dream team to be involved in the creation of a new wine brand. So why have they come up with something as poor as Cachet? I’ve just tasted the range of three vin de pays from southern France – Viog/Chard, a Pinot Rosé and a Shiraz/Cabernet – and they’re just not what French wine is about. Where's the passion, the edge of arrogance, the Gallic charm? The best thing that can be said about them is that they’re not sweet, but when you hear that they’ve been created with the UK consumer in mind, you have to shudder.

They’re from Castel, the French behemoth that owns Oddbins, and of course, the wines are now available in said store on a 6 for 5 promo. Castel may be introducing a little business efficiency to Oddbins, but if it means that stores get overwhelmed with wines like this and the equally dire Oddbins Selection, then bring back the days of bad balance sheets. My only hope (vain, I know) is that the people involved were paid not in cash but in Cachet. A month of drinking this tired trio (and of looking at the pedestrian labels) is what they deserve.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Knives in West 11

A Clash song, for those querying the title. Yes, 1977, the year when I made the fateful decision to study O Level Geography - why, oh why? Our teacher, unfortunately a distant relative, would tell us useful things like 'it rains most in the wet season'. He was one of those pople who was really a sports teacher but got drafted in to teach other subjects - I use the word 'teach' loosely. But the music made up for it. Fond memories of being a Part Time Punk and pogoing in the bedroom to too many bands to mention, including the aforementioned Clash, but the bittersweet Buzzcocks were also close to my heart.

In the world of wine, Europe had a pretty dismal vintage, except in Portugal, where many of the producers trotted out vintage ports that were initially considered to be among the finest of the 20th century. Hmmm. I've done reasonably extensive tastings a few times, and the most recent line-up this week only confirmed my suspicions that this isn't a great year. These are wines that for the most part are already ready (and in some instance past it), and which offer little of the passion I've found in great port.

Here goes...
Taylor - 2 off bottles
Fonseca - clean, supple, figgy, very mature, nice honest flavours but hardly complex
Croft - solid, spirity, has depth and fruit but again rather simple, has length but hints of bandage on finish - brett?
Delaforce - dense, gutsy fruit, still feel young and lively, spicy with potential to improve further. Close to best of the day.
Niepoort - sweetest so far, lots of juicy berry fruit feels young, promising but not huge complexity.
Niepoort Garrafeira (as above but taken out of wood early and stored in demi-johns, apparently) - solid, iron-rich tinges to buxom berry and herb flavours, hints of minerals, v tasty oddity.
Sandeman - feels rather dank (two bottles the same), fruit still alive but again sweet and too simple
Dow - gutsy, very solid, has lots of poke and grip, fragrant spicy finish. Star of the tasting
Warre - rather overblown, bretty, not very enjoyable, nor well balanced, sweet jammy finish.
Graham - lively, tangy, still lots of development ahead, juicy fig, slightly jammy berry, would like a little more complexity but this is still good kit
Gould Campbell - soft, tender, spicy style, plenty of fruit still, now at its peak, but no sign of fading. Surpisingly good
Quarles Harris - rich, sweet, simple but still with a spirity bite, lacks complexity but easy honest drink
Smith Woodhouse - juicy and fresh still, long and balanced, but again I expect more complexity of a supposedly great vintage.

Look on winesearcher for stockists. While the wines still haven't reached silly prices, there's better wine available for the money. Those looking for affordable mature vintage port for this Christmas should look at Marks & Spencer own label 1991 at just £22.99, a gently mature figgy delight - the corks reveal that it's from Morgan, a label from Croft.