Monday, June 22, 2009

Adieu Blogger

This will be my last post on this site as I'm moving over to a new domaine at - see you over there soon!

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Domaine Saparale & Leonard Cohen

It's 2 in the morning and I'm still up. Why? Partly because I've had a great and stimulating day. It began with a talk from a Kiwi called Bob Franklyn that touched on many things, but that gave major prods about what it means to be community. Now whether we like it or not, we're all part of some community or other - geographical, work-related, hobby-related etc.

Then this evening, I've been talking with my sister Stella who lives in Melbourne, but is over to see what the Aussies call The Olds - and of course to be pressed into babysitting duty by my immediate clan. Stella's one of my favourite stimulators. At our worst, we bicker about irrelevancies, and at our best, we push each other onwards and upwards. And for someone like that, I want to pull out, not the trophy wines, but wines that move us (OK, a repetition) onwards and upwards.

She's gone to bed now, as has Jill, leaving me alone with a BBC4 concert of Leonard Cohen and the remains of our last stimulating bottle. It's from Corsica, the Domaine Saparale 2006 Corse Sartene. It's a wine that started of shy and wispy, but which over a couple of hours has emerged to show a gentle, smoky plum and pomegranate flavour, pepped up with rather more ethereal kirsch-like fragrances. Like Leonard, it's youth has passed, but it's all the better for having passed into confident maturity. Expect more about both Stella and stimulating wines in the next few posts - while she's over in Blighty, I'd be daft not to combine the two.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Two Great Cape Whites - Steenberg Semillon + Newton Johnson Chardonnay

First of all thanks to Graeme Bell (tweet him here) for the link to the great pics of Manhattanhenge. Yes, Manhattanhenge, click here for more. Would be great to be able to get similar pics in the Pennines, but for two things - the sun never shines and the roads aren't straight.

Never mind, it's a sunny day inside, thanks to two splendid Cape whites. I seem to be having a Chardonnay sort of week, with Cumulus on Tuesday (look it up on twitter), a great Rully yesterday, and today, the Newton Johnson 2007 Chardonnay from Overberg (£10.79 Bibendum, Fresh & Wild (Wholefoods), SA Wines Online). It's a bit of a boisterous pup at the mo, but under the creamy, nutty exuberance and bouncy fruit lie a minerally streak and a backbone of zesty acidity. I'm shoving the cork back in (it was a total git to remove) and plonking it in the fridge not for tonight but for tomorrow - I expect it to provide even more pleasure.

I'm also doing the same with the 2008 Steenberg Semillon (£21.50 Armit). Never mind puppyhood, this little beast is yet to open its eyes. Steenberg has sometimes overdone the green peppery side of Semillon in the past, but here it's in proportion with the rest of the wine, as is the toasty oak, which flits rather than galumphs across the senses. Add in tangerine, custard and cream notes, and a refreshing herby character, and you have an intriguing and complex wine with a great future.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Jean-Baptiste Ponsot - rising star of Rully

A name to watch. Jean-Baptiste Ponsot (nothing to do with the Ponsots of Morey St Denis) took the helm of the family estate in Rully six years ago, aged twenty, since when he’s been developing something of a loyal following. These two 2007’s show why. The Rully Blanc 1er Cru Montpalais is lush yet structured, with a creamy core, mealy intensity, tangy citrus and pineapple flavours with the oak (25% new) nicely in balance, and a zesty finish. The Rully Rouge 1er Cru Molesmes starts off with a wild bramble and prune edge, plus an ever-so-slightly rustic stalky spiciness (or spicy stalkiness? discuss...), and then turns richer and headier, with an exotic kirsch-like character coming to the fore. In this vintage, I side with the white, but both wines are really tasty, and beat the pants off all but a few similarly priced wines from the Côte d’Or. Both are £16.08 from Domaine Direct.

Monday, June 15, 2009

A selection from Artisan Wines

Andy Kerr has a full-time job in Chester but moonlights as on-line wine merchant Artisan Wines ( And while his range isn't the largest in the UK, it's one of the more intriguiing, focussing as it does on (currently) exclusively French wines, with a distinct organic and biodynamic slant. Some of the wines in the selection will divide opinion - the Savennières from Nicolas Joly for example. Others will raise eyebrows - if you though biodynamics was bonkers, then the cosmoculture of Domaine Viret qualifies as totally deranged**. Overall, it's an inspiring selection that deserves a much wider audience. Here are some notes on some wines I tried from the range in April (all are biodynamic bar the Marionnet):-

Domaine de l'Ecu Muscadet Cuvée Classique 2007 (£7)
Clean, nutty, very waxy bruised apple style, nutty, almost flor-like note, rich and beautifully balanced with bite and finesse.

Domaine Philippe Gilbert Menetou Salon Blanc 2007 (£9.75)
Looking good for 2007, with crisp, tangy citrus and grass flavours, hints of herbs and a quite fleshy, almost honeyed finish - good honest Sauvignon.

Domaine de la Coulée de Serrant Les Vieux Clos Savennières 2006 (£16)
The entry-level wine from Nicolas Joly's Domaine de la Coulée de Serrant is alarmingly concentrated, but has a pronounced savoury, cidery style that takes some coming to terms with. Some will love it, others (me included) will say it's oxidised - are you tasting terroir or winemaking style? (Joly says his wines need time once opened to show at their best - I gave it 48 hours, and it remained in a similarly awkward state)

Domaine des Roches Neuves Saumur-Champigny 2007 (£9.75)
Joyful, fresh, sappy Cabernet Franc at its best, balanced and earthy with the classic raspberry and blackcurrant leaf edge, classic chillable summer red

Henry Marionnet Les Cépages Oubliées Gamay de Bouze 2006 (£9.50)
From a red-fleshed mutation of regular Gamay, this is like a rustic southern Burgundy, with spicy, smoky cherry and raspberry flesh, and rich, hearty finish

Montirius Gigondas Terres des Aînes 2005 (£13.50)
Bold and fleshy, with bumptious plum, herb and berry character and an earthy minerality comeing through strongly. Would be very good but for the level of brettanomyces, which takes the edge off the freshness of the fruit, and adds a barnyard-y character - which some will love.


** On the subject of Domaine Viret, here's a little something I wrote a while ago for Wine & Spirit International magazine (which merged with Harpers earlier this year)...

Never mind organic farming, on their estate in the commune of Saint Maurice sur Eygues in the southern Rhône, father and son Alain and Philippe Viret practice Cosmoculture. According to the Virets, it’s based ‘…on exchanges between cosmic and telluric [terrestrial] energies.’ Cosmoculture makes conventional biodynamic practices look positively mainstream. So for example you’ll find menhirs (the things that Obelix delivers, for Asterix fans) in the vineyards, placed so as to direct those telluric energy fields. The winery, sorry, ‘cathedral of wine’ is inspired by ancient Inca and Mayan cultures and aligned according to the position of the sun on Philippe’s birthday in 1973. The massive granite blocks used for construction are sized according to the Royal Cubit (~524 mm) and the shape of the cathedral conforms to the Golden Section. Add in mystic fountains, crystals, amphorae and more and you have one of the world’s weirdest wineries. But the wines are excellent, brimming with life and personality, and deserve serious attention. If you want to find out more about aspects of Cosmoculture such as Radionic Culture, Geobiology, Planetary Beacons and Water Memory, check out the Viret web site at And if you want to try the wines, they’re imported by Artisan Wines (

Thursday, June 11, 2009

The word on the street is "Toast"

At least that's the news according to Wine Peeps. Last week's word was Malolactic fermentation - OK, that's 2 words, but I didn't come up with this. But toast, yes, that most agreeable to snacks. I'm always suspicious of people who don't like toast (and sausages and chocolate). I mean, what's not to like? OK, most domestic toasters seem to have no setting between anaemic and frazzled, but after a few sorry attempts, we all get around this failure.

In wine, toast is one of those characters that I like finding in wines that aren't aged in highly-toasted oaked barrels or indeed in any sort of barrel (think Champagne, Riesling and Semillon) and don't like finding in wines that are (think bimbo Chardonnay and too many New World Shirazes). In the first instance, it's a sort of complexity that has emerged almost as if by magic; in the second, it's there as a bolt-on flavour. I'm fed up of winemakers saying they age their wines in toasted oak barrels to add complexity. What they mean is they use it to add flavour, which is quite a different thing. Is a steak made more complex by being smeared with ketchup? No.

Toast rant over, but the word toast has another meaning in the Woods' household, that originated with my in-laws. It went something like this.
F-I-L: Can you smell toast?
M-I-L: (looking at F-I-L in astonishment) T-O-A-S-T...

OK, she's not got the best hearing and maybe you had to be there, but it's become part of our vocabulary. Whenever someone has misheard something, and gone off on a completely wrong tangent, we say, 'This is turning into a toast conversation.' Now you know...

Monday, June 08, 2009

Swizzing around M&S wines

Just marking time before going out for what may be a troublesome evening with Robert Joseph and potentially Adrian Atkinson, ex-Oddbins buyer and now a man breathing life into the Pernod Ricard wine portfolio. But the day has been taken up with a delicious lunch at Chez Bruce (veal cheek to die for) accompanied by wines from Domaine Gayda surrounded by a tasting of wines represented by one of the UK's top wine PR companies, Westbury Communications.

Will get on to Gayda some time soon, but in the mean time, a brief appraisal of some of the Westbury wines. Or maybe more accurately an appraisal of the big boys they represent - Oddbins, Nicolas and Marks & Spencer. Perhaps it's not the most critically accurate means of assessing the wines of these three giants of the High Street, but it was perhaps telling that only M&S's Jo Ahearne turned up to try the wines. 'I just thought I'd come and say "hello" to everyone, and while I'm here, I'll have a swizz round the competition.' Yes, I checked that word "swizz" - that's what she said. And "swizz" she did, unlike anyone from Oddbins or Nicolas.

Maybe Jo's "swizz" was a negative (or a swindle, as any fule kno). Maybe not. But it's perhaps telling that the wines selected by her and her cohorts stood out from the competition. So if you're swizzing round M&S in the near future, here are some gems to seek out...

Marin Ridge Shiraz 2007 (£9.99) - Tender, spicy berry fruit, with a tangy herby finish
Brothers & Sisters Shiraz 2005 (£9.89) - Buxom, but never OTT, with sweet and savoury plum and damson flavours
Domaine des Garennes Minervois 2006 (£9.99) - Stylish, herby wine, packed with dark fruit with earthy intensity and a fine, balanced finish
Les Orris Blanc 2007 (£7.99) - tinned pear and rhubarb flesh infused with aromas of fennel and herb
Collioure Blanc 2007 (£9.99) - Plump and creamy, but with a minerally streak to rein in the voluptuous fruit.
Fox Hollow Single Vineyard Verdelho 2008 (£9.99) - Wonderfully tangy citrus and passionfruit flesh, punchy and forward, yet with some grippy restraint

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

To soak or not to soak?

Power Point presentations... Is there anyone anywhere whose life has benefited from one? Normally, the guy in charge puts some slides on a screen, reads what's one the slides, gives you a hard copy of what is one the slides plus a CD of what is on the slides and then shuffles into 'any questions' mode. The slogan should be 'Power Point - how to make interesting things boring'.

So why am I thinking of doing some Power Point presentations regarding wine? Two reasons. 1) Visual things get through far better than words do alone. No, strike that. GOOD visual things get through far better than words do alone. And 2) Handsome as I am (at least my plastic surgeon tells me so), I think a montage of some well-chosen images with appropriate analogies will get my points across far better than me doing some stuff to camera, and Power Point would seem to be a good first port of call.

One of these presentations will involve the similarities between making red wine and making tea. More meat to be put on these bones at some time soon, but not until I've worked out where the whole process of cold soaking comes in. If you don't know about cold soaking, here's a piece to whet your appetite. And if you do know about it, or are a tea maven, any tips on where it would fit in would be appreciated.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

The perils of the wine writer, Episode 348

'And remember, we've got people round this evening....' The sign-off from her indoors and she set off out off doors hung over the kitchen like the aftermath of an evening on Old Peculier and kebabs. Tidy up all those wines, in other words. So down the sink went the remains of some of those bottles of claret that I'd had open for a few days just to see if they were really as ordinary as the first, second and third taste had led me to believe. And into the bottle bank went those empties that I'd kept because there was a minute chance that I'd write about them and need to photograph the bottles. But that still left a few dozen unopened sample bottles in need of a home, or at least a temporary hiding place. The easiest cause of action would have been to stack them in the cellar on top of some bottles which in turn are stacked up on top of other bottles and so on. But being a seasoned pro, I knew it was time to attack the backlog.

Now for those of you kind enough to send me samples, be assured that everything does get tasted - it's a rare bottle that survives for more than a couple of months here. But I tend to attack first the things that interest me most. Some things just get pushed further and further down the pecking order. Such as a set of wines from Asda that arrived probably in early March. They've not been left entirely untouched. There was a very tasty Malbec from Argentina that ended up here, and which did its job rather better than many of the more ambitious offerings I came across on my recent jaunt to mundo del carne. But there were six wines sitting in a box wearing a Lewis-Carroll-like 'Drink Me' or at least 'Taste Me' visage. So I did.

First of all can I say that I have nothing against Asda. Indeed, since Mistress of Wine Philippa Carr arrived in the wine department a few years ago, the quality on offer has soared, and there have been some spectacular bargains - name me a supermarket with better own-label Riojas. The reason why the samples had remained unsampled lies not with PC MW, but with the person who designs Asda's wine labels - guys, whoever you are, you need to get out a little more. But as for the contents of the bottles...

These were proper wines that at least did what they were supposed to do, and often went that little bit further. An Extra Special Chardonnay Vin de Pays d'Oc that was pleasant and peachy, and not too much of a bimbo. A 2008 Paarl Chenin Blanc that was lush and fleshy, with some apple-y crispness to rein it all in. A Torrontes that stayed fragrant without descending into cheap perfume territory. I wasn't a huge fan of the 2006 Ponotage - too bonfire-like - or the vin de pays Syrah. But the Syrah's companion, a Vin de Pays Marsanne from the efficient Foncalieu enterprise, was a peach, with bruised apple intesity and a gentle creamy, nutty finish reminiscent of good (and much pricier) Verdicchio. Price? £3.28. And not £5.49, promoted to £3.28 - just £3.28. Go out and buy it in large quantities, and if the price rises to £3.99, or even £4.99, still go out and buy it. Wouldn't the wine world be much better for more honest tasty wines like this sold at their proper price rather than at some Noddy price invented by the marketing pirates.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

I'm tellin' you, Mullineux

To the roster of excellent Swartland wineries, we can now add a new name - Mullineux Family Wines. It's owned and run by Chris and Andrea Mullineux, with business input from wine nuts Keith Prothero and Peter Dart, and the first releases, from the 2008 vintage, have just arrived in the cellars of Berry Bros & Rudd. The winery will be familiar to anyone who has paid more than a couple of visits to Tom Cannavan's wine pages forum over the past couple of years, since Keith has been banging on about it there for months, canvassing opinions on names, label designs, possible UK importers and more. Even if you've not tuned into that forum, you might be familiar with some wines Chris has made in various top SA cellars, and most recently at Tulbagh Mountain Vineyards.

Keith's very-bigging-up of the winery could have proved premature had the wines been damp squibs, but the only problem I had with the two wines I've just been sampling is that there just wasn't enough of each in the bottle. The barrel-fermented white (£13.95), mostly Chenin Blanc, with 7% each of Clairette and Viognier, is one of those wines where the fruit - lively zesty citrus fruit - plays second fiddle to smoky, nut and ginger characters, while the finish has lively mineral tones to pep it up. Indigenous yeasts no doubt add extra character to the finished wine.

The red (£16.50) is 100% Syrah from Swartland's granite-rich soils, and while at 14.5% it's certainly not light-bodied, it has that firm but cool, almost refreshing edge that granite soils often give to prevent anything going wobbly. Add in the dark cherry and damson flavours, and the fragrant, herby finish, and you have a very classy wine. I'd recommend decanting both of them, as they're still in short trousers, and need time to show their hidden layers. But as the French say, chapeau to all concerned and Keith, the hype was fully justified, good on you. Watch out too in the future for a Chenin-based straw wine.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Good old-fashioned Chilean wine

We'll get to Chile in a moment, but I'm kicking off with New Zealand. I first visited the Land of the Long White Cloud in 1995 (I know because I came back from the trip with a rather useful blue zip-up bag and a polo shirt, now covered I various flecks of paint - both have the date on them). While there were several delicious wines, two weeks in this green and pleasant land surrounded by Nice people and their Nice wines left me gagging for something a little more Machiavellian and grungy - mature Châteauneuf du Pape, Aglianico del Vulture, Château Musar that sort of thing. It's become something of a test of just how much I like wines from particular regions. Stuff the copious notes I've scribbled in my W H Smith Reporter Notebook, when I get back to Blighty, do I want more of the same, or do I want the polar opposite?

When I returned from a fortnight in Chile last autumn, I found myself in two minds. If you'd offered me some Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Noir or Syrah from the cooler climates, I'd have said 'yes, por favor'. However, if it'd been a beefier red based on Cabernet, Carmenère or Merlot, I'd have been much less enthusiastic. It's not that Chile's Bordeaux-inspired reds are bad. Deep in colour, carefully made, finely oaked, rich and concentrated, it's hard to fault them. But it's just that I very seldom want to drink them - for me, they're a bit like the foyers of smart business hotels, impeccable but a little soulless. Forget refreshing and subtle, the typical Chilean Cabernet tends to be forceful and intense, and usually with that tell-tale whiff of blackcurrant pastilles not far from the surface.

But Chile CAN do more relaxed styles of Cabernet - I drank one of them last night. Importers Heritage Wine claim that the 1993 Santa Monica Cabernet Sauvignon Envejecido de Bodega (aged in the cellar) from Rancagua in the Rapel Valley is oldest Chilean wine in the world.

A quick look on reveals that this isn't so, but their assessment of the wine as 'a beautifully aged and incredibly smooth vintage' is closer to the truth. It's the sort of wine that some would call old-fashioned, weighing in at a relatively sedate 13% alcohol and aged in big old Chilean oak (Rauli) barrels and then in smaller, newer French ones. Rauli casks were once widely used in Chile, but if they weren't kept very clean, they imparted a rather dirty, wet-doggy flavour to the wines. They've now all but disappeared from most Chilean cellars, but here's proof that rauli wasn't totally a bad thing. This is gentle, charming wine (think Gran Reserva-style Bordeaux), slightly leathery with soft, cedary fruit flavours, mature, but certainly not past it. Indeed, it's holding up far better than all but a few clarets from 1993, and is a snip at £10.49 - less than a quid for each year it's been in bottle. For that price, you can buy several younger, richer and more boisterous Chilean reds, but I'm not sure whether at 16 years old they'll be as alluring as this good old-fashioned gem.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Toro, Toro, Toro!

You'd expect wines called Toro to be big, beefy and bullish. And these reds made from 100% Tempranillo (aka Tinta de Toro) from a region to the west of the more famous Ribera del Duero usually lives up to such a billing. If you like big, meaty wines to go with big meaty, er, meats, this is the place to come. But sometimes Toro can be a bit too bovine for its own good. There's intense and there's painfully intense; there's ripe and there's raisinny ripe. Many in the region still have to learn that louder doesn't mean better.

I've no such complaints about a trio of recent samples from Covitoro, the region's main co-op. The big boy of the three is the 2005 Cañus Verus Viñas Viejas (£13 D Byrne, Noel Young), and while it's not shy on the cojones front, it's the boldness of dark-fruited, iron-tinged old vine intensity rather than an over-zealous winemaker. Several years of life still ahead of it.

At the opposite end of the weight spectrum is the 2007 T Toro Roble Barrel Aged (£6.99 Waitrose), which has a peppery red fruit lightness, almost like Mencia or some lighter Rhône Syrahs. But my favourite of the trio - and the cheapest to boot - is the Balcon de la Villa Tinta de Toro 2006 (£5.99 Marks & Spencer), a cocktail of dark fruits with a sprinkling of brown sugar and tinges of vanilla and iron. Bargain, bring on the rib-eye.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Rosé, Rose B

It's an odd day here. Been inside most of the time but had to pop out around lunchtime on an errand. It's quite bright and everywhere is so incredibly green at the moment. It would have been a perfect day to sit outside tasting a couple of 2008 rosé wines that have recently arrived, but for the fact that its drizzling and a bit cold. So I'm indoors sipping the Raimat Abadia Cab Sauv/Tempranillo, Costers del Segre (£6.99) from Spain and the Explorers Vineyard Marlborough Rosé (£6.49 The Co-op) from New Zealand with the central heating on.

The Kiwi pink would be outlawed in much of Europe, since it's mostly Riesling with a splash of Merlot to give it colour - most European rosés have to be made exclusively from red grapes, although I've never heard a satisfactory explanation as to why this should be. It's gentle and juicy, just a shade off-dry and reminds me of my mum's apple and raspberry pie. Good picnic fodder, and ideal for those looking to wean themselves (or their chums) off White Zin.

As for the Raimat, I confess I've had a problem with their wines in the past. They've been correct, but have seldom shown anything beyond the merest hint of a Spanish accent. I visited the hi-tech estate a few years ago, and remember telling the winemaker that while there was nothing wrong with his wines, I thought that the typical Portuguese wine showed more of a sense of place. Unfortunately, this was mis-translated as, 'Your wines are not as good as Portuguese wines,' causing the winemaker to throw a hissy fit and storm out of the room. Thankfully there was someone on hand to calm the situation down and provide a more accurate version of what I'd said. Anyway, back to the wine. I can't remember the last vintage of this I tried, but this is pretty nice. It's richer than the Explorers, with generous plummy fruit and some red berry character chucked in for good measure. Drink the Explorers while watching the cricket, save the Raimat for Sunday lunch with Spring lamb.

Friday, May 08, 2009

Argentina unplugged

Currently sitting in the domestic airport in Buenos Aires waiting to fly to Salta and then travel by road up to Colomé where there are what the owners (the Hess Collection) claim are the highest vineyards in the world. Are they the highest? Colomé's neighbour (and former owner) Raul Davalos might challenge the claim, as might some of those who are trying to put Bolivian wine on the map. But no matter. I'm filling up my MP3 for what promises to be an 'interesting' 4 hour journey by road to a part of Salta I've never ventured to before, and am anticipating a fascinating visit.

But on another matter, just spent the night in BA at the Ayres de Libertad, a clean and efficient establishment, and the third hotel I've stayed in on this jaunt to Argentina. Now if any locals are reading this, can you explain something to me - why do your hotels have no plugs in the bathroom? Not electric plugs, but plugs to stop the water running away. At the Executive Suites in Mendoza, I asked for a plug at reception and I might as well have asked for a team of strippers and a marching band. One begrudgingly arrived - a plug, not a stripper - but it only fitted the bath. I went and asked for a sink-sized plug - three days later when I left, it still hadn't arrived. Then at Valle Perdido in Neuquen, there was no bath, but there was a sink - but again, no plug. Finally at the Ayres de Libertad, a bath and a sink, but no plug for either (although there was one for the sink in the adjacent kitchenette).

Why? Am I supposed to dry shave? Or shave with the taps going and waste a precious resource? I ended up making do by wedging various of the bathroom bottles into the orifice, and managed to remove the stubble, although I had to keep the taps tricking to maintain water level. So a message to Argentine winemakers. Thank you for the gifts you have given me on this trip, among them a box of chocolates, an asados knife (perfect for those tense encounters at customs), a bottle of olive oil and enough pens to stock a small stationery store. But if you really want to win the hearts and minds of UK wine writers and plug the Argentina cause, you now know what it is that we really would like....

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Jewell in the Crown

Good to see that former Sainsbury's buyer Laura Jewell MW has been take on as head of SPAR's wine department - a sound, fun lady with a passion for wine. Miracles are probably not on the horizon, but let's hope she is able to inject the same passion for good, sensibly priced wines that ex-SPAR-er Philippa Carr (another Mistress of Wine) has in the last few years at Asda.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Rosé Wine & The Square Wheel Society

Just had news through of a petition of French origin aimed at blocking an EU move to allow production of rosé wine by mixing red and white wines. Part of it states, "By signing this petition, I agree to support rosé wine whose quality results from vinification, and I oppose the notion that rosé can be made by mixing wines."

I'll translate into normal language. Most major red grapes have pale flesh. Red wines get their colour from the time the grapeskins spend in contact with the juice that comes from that flesh. A long time, and you have a deeply coloured wine; a short time, and it's pink. That's the way these people want rosé to be made. But what on earth is the problem with blending red and white to make pink? Just because it's not the 'traditional' way doesn't make it wrong - and it's also how pink Champagne is made.

However, the uproar is the classic response from the French wine industry - anything that upsets the status quo is evil, if that square wheel was good enough for my Grandad Ackroyd, it's good enough for moi. Rather than seek to compete with anything vaguely new, let's slag it off, or go on strike about it, or overturn a tanker or two. Or come up with a petition.

Don't get me wrong, France makes some brilliant rosés, far, far better than most of the stuff from California that is driving the increase in sales in the UK. Think Sancerre, think Corbières, think Côtes de Provence - some lovely wines that are great with food, unlike some of the oversweet clodhopping New World offerings. But rather than get out there and show the rest of the world just how good they are, too many producers are just sitting back waiting for customers to come to them. And of course if sales aren't what they could be, it's someone else's fault - can we have a subsidy please?

Sunday, April 26, 2009

An appalling job

According to some bloke from a big beer company, the beer sector has done 'an appalling job' in targetting women (info garnered from Off-Licence News in the issue that also reported on the no-shit Sherlock research that drink can make you fat - well French for two, as my kids say...)

The man continues, 'Less than one in 10 women are drinking beer at home - what an amazing opportunity for our industry.' Too true, but let's not stop there. Yes, the beer sector HAS done a bad job in attracting female drinkers, so come on beer makers, get stuck in. But can I put out a similar call to the makers of White Zinfandel, Lambrini and Bacardi Breezers - your message seems to have got through to women, but when are you going to target us men? I'm sure less than a tenth of us are drinking such tipples regularly - what an amazing opportunity!

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Gazza, Al Pacino and Cindy Crawford's mole

Anyone see Gazza on Match Of The Day on Sunday? He's had more than enough problems over the last few years, and he still came across as being too close to the edge to pronounce his troubles over, but he knows and loves his football. One of his comments particularly struck home, even if it's not the first time I've heard someone say something similar. He said that there were many young kids who knew more tricks and skills than he'd ever done at their age. However, they were then taken on by football academies who proceeded to toughen them up, both mentally and physically, and encourage them to become solid team players rather than display their fancy footwork. The result he said was that the teams were becoming harder to beat, but that the game was far less entertaining than it used to be.

What's this got to do with wine? Simply this. The proportion of bad wines in the world is lower than it has ever been, but they've been replaced by wines that are strong but dull. And not just at the cheaper end of the market, nor just in the New World. This struck home yesterday at the IWC when I tasted a row of Chilean Cabs and some Sicilian reds. With the Chileans, I missed the lively, just-ripe blackcurrant flavour of the past, while with the Sicilians, the problem was an absence of the slightly volatile, even rustic flavours that used to make them so appealing. In the first case, the change in style is due to lowering yields; in the second, to enhanced hygiene in the winery. Both on the face of it sensible steps, but the wines had suffered as a result. All winemakers now know how to make wines, but only the good ones know the right point at which to stop. Reminds me of the late Bailey Carrodus of Yarra Yering who said that you should taste the winemaker's thumbprint rather than his footprint...

So please, winemakers all over the world, can you not act like football academies and eradicate all idiosyncrasies from your wines. Or to use a different metaphor, don't make Al Pacino taller, don't fill the gap in Madonna's teeth, and don't remove the mole from Cindy Crawford's extremely beautiful face.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

RIP Max Lake

Only met him a couple of times, but just as influential a figure on Australian wine as the late Len Evans. Good obit here.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Penfolds new releases

Having just blogged about luxury products, just read a press release from Penfolds about the 'Luxury and Icon' releases for 2009:

* Grange 2004 RRP £170
* Bin 707 Cabernet Sauvignon 2006 RRP £60
* RWT Barossa Valley Shiraz 2006 RRP £50
* Yattarna Chardonnay 2006 RRP £40
* Magill Estate Shiraz 2006 RRP £40
* St Henri Shiraz 2005 RRP £30
* Reserve Bin A Chardonnay 2007 RRP £28

Interesting to see how RWT, the most recent arrival in the range of Grange camp followers, is now more expensive than Magill and St Henri - I'm sure all three of these used to be similarly priced.

Affordable luxury....

Affordable luxury - what on earth does it mean? Just had an e-mail from a PR company proclaiming that their product (Prosecco since you ask) offers Affordable Luxury. I'm not complaining that they sent a 293-word press release as an attachment (although why do they bother?). And I'm not carping about the fact that, not being the world's best typist, I never seem to be able to type affrodable correctly (just as with Chinati). It's more that I'm questioning the concept of affrodable, sorry, affordable luxury. I like oxymorons (or oxymora? - discuss). Sweet sorrow, plastic cork, interesting Liebfraumilch, and so on. So is that the idea here? If so, then I'd beg to differ. The T K Maxx mentality is all the rage in Britain. We balk at buying a Tesco own-brand shirt for £10, but we'll happily buy a YSL/Pierre Cardin/Ben Sherman one that has been reduced to £10 (good job no one is fooled into doing similar things with wine...) But at least those brands do have a semblance of up-market-ability about them. But Prosecco - when did that become upmarket? I've said it before, and I'll say it agin, it's the Pinot Grigio of the sparkling wine world. For some reason, it has acquired a level of cachet that is out of all proportion to its quality. Yes, the good examples can be very nice - and I use the word 'nice' on purpose - but most of the wines are not exactly head-turners. For me, the word 'luxury' should only be applied to things that I want to cross the street for. And in the vast majority of instances and with notable exceptions (Nino Franco, top Bisols, for example) it shouldn't be used for Prosecco.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Quelle couleur?

'Yuck! I though it was going to be sweet!' Sorry my darling, but no. You see, she loves sweet wines - she loves other wines too, but they wouldn't get too many spaces in her desert island selection. So her reactions when she picked up a glass of something vaguely golden in colour, and found a bone dry wine were understandable, although not exactly positive. Because - for me at least - the dry wine was a bit of a star, and it's what I'm supping as I do this post. But look at this pic, and you can see her problem - which of these is the wine she picked up, and which is the sweet wine I opened to get the taste of the dry one out of her mouth?

(apologies for the red wine stains on the glasses - we'd had the very tasty Cuvée Crunch put together by Domaine Poujol and Duncan Murray, which at £5.99 is a snip)

But back to the dry v. sweet debate - which is which?

OK, a clue or two, one was an Australian wine, and one was from Bordeaux, and both were heavy on the Semillon. Any the wiser? And one is 7½ years older than the other. Still stumped?

Let me put you out of your misery. The left hand glass is Peter Lehmann Barossa Semillon, the right is Clos du Portail Graves Supérieures. And vintages, surely if they're more than 7 years apart, the Aussie is the younger one.... No, the Lehmann is a 1998, honeyed and rich, but with a taut tangy yet simultaneously rich and toasty character. Not the low alcohol style of the Hunter, this is 13% alcohol, but still reined in - think Kirstie Allsopp doing tango. Sadly, it's no longer a commercial reality, but the current vintage will age with similar class, and you should be able to find it for around £6 - TOTAL BARGAIN...

As for the 2005 Graves, that is still around here. And having poured a glass out for my beloved, I haven't heard a word of complaint, and I'm not surprised. This is basically Sauternes in short trousers - there's a bit more Sauvignon here than in the grander wines, and the vineyards fall outside the Sauternes boundaries, but it's young and lively, and delivers a dollop of waxy complexity.

To be honest, it's a toss-up as to which is the finer bargain. I reckon I'll be hoovering up the Lehmann while Jill sips the Portail. Which in a marriage is as it should be - Jack Spratt could eat no fat, etc.

Thursday, April 09, 2009

Everything bad about wine-marketing-speak...

...probably appears somewhere in this article in Drinks Business. I hope it's a reprint of a press release, rather than something a sentient member of staff has written. If some of the sentences are incomprehensible to normal people, I provide translation below...

E&J Gallo is seeking to attract more drinkers to the premium Californian wine sector in 2009 with the UK rollout of its male-oriented Redwood Creek brand following its success in the US market.
Gallo is trying to sell more wine to men - they were gullible enough in the US, why not here?

Redwood Creek is championed as a drink for those who enjoy the ‘great outdoors’ and aims to attract 35-65-year-old men to the sector.
(really not sure what this means - does it taste different from wines that appeal to couch potatoes?)

To emphasise the outdoor-type theme, the brand has agreed tie-ups with outdoor clothing label Regatta and the Woodland Trust in order to drive the brand towards its target market.
We're spending money on promoting it - if you're lucky, you might win a waterproof jacket and get some free days out in a forest.

Iain Newell, marketing director for Europe at Gallo, said: “This is more about hiking, fishing and camping than extreme sports and we are planning a programme of events and promotions around these areas to launch and develop the brand.”
Will appeal to those who like watching Ray Mears and Bear Grylls

Initially the range will consist of two reds – a Merlot and a Cabernet Sauvignon – and a Chardonnay, all retailing at £6.99.
...but probably available cheaper on promotion - hey, you might win some hiking boots!

Redwood Creek will be rolled out across all grocery and impulse channels after encouraging performances in the on-trade and with listings at Morrisons and Thresher.
(again, not sure what this means - if anyone knows what an impulse channel is, please will they let me know)

Turning Leaf is to enjoy a makeover designed to establish it as a stand-alone brand with new packaging that gives greater focus to the ‘leaf’ logo in order to avoid the possibility of consumers confusing the brand with Gallo Family Vineyards and create better stand-out on the shelf.
We've changed the label

Iain Newell said: “The leaf is a key icon and we will use it as a key marketing vehicle going forward.”
...and might consider taking legal action against anyone else with a leaf on their label.

Gallo said that wine quality across the Turning Leaf portfolio has improved significantly for the latest vintage, thanks to significant investment in its winery infrastructure as well as increased focus on its vineyards.
Previous vintages haven't been up to much.

The moves are part of Gallo’s overall 2009 strategy to drive “conversion” at point of sale in both the on- and off-trade.
We want to sell more wine.

Why can't marketing people speak normal language? Here's a post about what it would be nice to see in a press release...

Sunday, April 05, 2009

To beer or not to beer

My first liquid love is wine, but in my youth, it was beer that ignited my passions. Not beer of the wife-beater variety, but beer that tasted of beer, as opposed to all that chill-filtered, ultra-smooth pap that people seem to inisist on pouring down their throats in unfeasibly large quantities. I used to even make the stuff, thanks to a book called 'Brewing Beers Like Those You Buy' by a chap called Dave Line. My version of Greene King's Strong Pale Ale prompted someone to say, 'If you could play guitar like you make beer, you'd be Jimi Hendrix' - left unsaid was the fact that if I made beer like I played guitar, it'd be Skol...

Anyway, tonight, we've supped a nice bottle of Rioja (1998 Lealtanza Reserva) but I was still feeling thirsty come Match of the Day. So I turned to beer, in the shape of a rather large bottle of Innis & Gunn Original, which has been 'carefully matured [in oak barrels] for 77 days prior to bottling'. At 6.6%, it's not a shy fawn - the vinous equivalent of maybe Shiraz from the warmer bits of South Australia, or Californian Zinfandel. Some versions of such wines have a cerebral side to their brawny physique; others don't. And sadly, this falls into the latter category. I like its richness and full flavour, but it lacks the hoppy bite to rein in the flesh - think of a slightly overweight person without the necessary corsetry. On second thoughts, don't - you may have bad dreams...

Monday, March 30, 2009

When Burgundy gets it right

Opened a bottle of Nicolas Potel's Nuits St Georges 1er Cru Roncière this weekend with a little trepidation. Red Burgundy's one of those wines where I always have a back-up bottle of something different on-hand just in case of a bad hair day. But on this occasion, it was just a foxy wine, supple, lithe and svelte, with that slightly erotic truffle and violet aroma, and the yummy red fruit backed up by ripe but gently earthy tannins. Vintage? 2001, a year that has been alittle chunky for a while, but on this evidence is beginning to relax a little. Sadly this was the last bottle of the Potel, but there are a few other 2001s lurking somewhere in the cellar - I'm looking forward to them

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Asda price, jolly nice - Argie Malbec

TTH - it's a term I often use in my tasting notes for wines that are Trying Too Hard to impress. Most of the time, they're just too loud, with the excess volume coming through in either boisterous oak, overripe fruit or OTT extraction (and in some instances all three). Argentine reds often falls into the TTH category. Once upon a time, they were relaxed and gentle, but for the last five years, there have just been too many shouty-shouty wines.

But thankfully not everything from beef heaven conforms to such pigeon-holing. Last night, I was making beef stew, and reached for a bottle of basic red from the sample rack. I came up with Asda 2008 Argentinian Malbec, courtesy of Trivento (the Argie arm of Concha y Toro). And it's a bundle of joy, packed with violet-scented berry fruit, with a touch of smoky oak, and a lively refreshing finish. Some of it went into the stew, but just as much went into the chef. Price? £4.24. Bargain, fill yer boots

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

St Emilion classification - yawnus maximus

I'm not going to direct you to the Decanter web site for the latest piffle about the St Emilion classification. You're grown up, you have a computer, go and find it yourself. But I will print the list of 'Related Stories'. Normally on the Decanter news stories, there are a couple of these, but in this instance...

# French government dismisses St-Emilion reclassification proposal
# Demoted St-Emilion chateaux return to 2006 classification
# St Emilion classification reinstated - again
# St Emilion classification finally ruled invalid
# St Emilion back on track after classification ban lifted
# St Emilion classification suspended indefinitely
# St-Emilion classification suspended
# St Emilion chateaux take classification to court
# St-Emilion classification: the bloodletting begins

There would probably be more, but I think the editorial team ran out of both space and patience. Have written about another classification non-event here, so there's no point going over the same old ground. Suffice it to say that I think the French make some of the best wines on the planet, but have no idea how to tell the outside world about them.

Tuesday afternoon selection

Raft of wines to get through this afternoon, some good, some not

Cavit Alta Italia Pinot Grigio 2008, Valdadige, Italy
The label’s rather drab, but this actually smells of something beyond the bland, a good start for any PG. Gentle, peachy style, with a waxy, nutty core, it’s not earth-shattering, but at least you know you’re drinking wine.

San Pedro 35 South Sauvignon Blanc 2008, Central Valley, Chile
‘Fair enough’ wine. It’s a bit confected, but there’s an edge of pithy citrus fruit, and a reasonably fresh finish.

Nobilo Sauvignon Blanc 2008, Marlborough, New Zealand
A bit too much like Jeyes fluid, this is descending into an aromatic caricature of Kiwi Savvy. Blobby and sweet, full of flavour, just not a particularly pleasant flavour.

Penny Lane Sauvignon Blanc 2008, Marlborough, New Zealand
Crispier, drier, tangier, this is quite classy stuff, rich where it should be but then reined in, with gooseberry flesh, a stony/minerally edge and grassy note to the finish. Nicely packaged too.

Penny Lane Pure Chardonnay 2007, Hawkes Bay, New Zealand
Pure here means unoaked. Not sure why that makes it pure. I imagine the vines will be sprayed with something, yeast will be added, and the wine will be fined and filtered. But no matter, the wine is actually rather tasty, with gentle cashew, pear and peach, and a rich but lively finish. It says , ‘Drink me.’

Gran Lurton Corte Friulano 2008, Mendoza, Argentina
Big smoky style, an oaked blend of Sauvignon Vert, Pinot Gris, Chardonnay and Torrontes, very like the wines from NE Italy it’s supposed to ape. But like them, you wonder whether someone’s trying just too hard to impress. I think I’d prefer simpler versions of each of the varieties. And a bubblegummy finish. Would it have been better with longer in older oak? Will come back to this later to see if it improves

Kumala Chenin Blanc/Viognier 2008, Western Cape, South Africa
Rather simple, bland, bubblegummy style, has some froot** but very little personality beyond robotic winemaking.

Lurton Humo Blanco Pinot Noir 2007, Central Valley, Chile
Vanills and Chilean blackcurrant pastilles tinged with mint. There’s a slightly lean core to this that not all that appealing – OK fruit flavours, but a bit too stingy.

Penny Lane Merlot/Cabernet 2006, Hawkes Bay, New Zealand
Gentle, leafy, slightly herbal style, OK balance, but lacks real sex. Thin but a bit yawn-y.

Yali Winemaker’s Selection Cabernet/Carmenère 2007, Colchagua, Chile
Blue Riband biscuits! Or perhaps Taxi. That chocolate wafer but not Kit-Kat feel, although the coffee-bean-like Carmenère does come through eventually. Slightly overdone, over-processed – I want more fruit and I also want more life beyond fruit, not just clever winemaking.

Tesco Finest Touriga Nacional 2006, Estremadura, Portugal
I’m not alone in having been a little critical of the style of wines made by Jose Neiva. In the past, they used to stand out for their minty vanilla toothpaste character, but from some more impressive recent wines, I thought he’d moved on from that style. Sadly, this wine shows he hasn’t. This is not a good advert for either Portugal or Touriga Nacional.

Point West Touriga Nacional 2005, Estremadura, Portugal
Is this essentially the same wine as the Tesco Finest bit a year older? Not sure what the difference is (they both have the DFJ name on the cork), but this is far more successful, still with some of the vanilla and mint, but with the dark smoky fruit and fresh tobacco notes coming far more to the fore. Nice drink.

Sanguinhal Touriga Nacional 2003, Estremadura, Portugal
Smoky, rich, rounded and ripe, lovely fleshy, supple tobacco and intense, lush, like raisins soaked in brandy, a bit of the 2003 bake, but still tasty.

Finca Las Moras ‘Mora Negra’ 2005, Tulum Valley, Argentina
Big, chunky, solid wine, rather over-done though, with baked berry fruit, and a rather charmless, hunky finish. Where’s the finesse? It’s like drinking Mickey Rourke in The Wrestler...

** "froot" is the term I use for wines that have the sort of vaguely fruity flavour that speaks more of a lab than a bush, a plant or a vine. Remember those sweets called Fruit Salad - they still exist, and they are froot all the way.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Champagne Gaviscon

Lots of stuff in the news at the moment about how Brits are deserting Champagne for Prosecco, Cava and other cheaper fizzes. Not much of a surprise that, since most of us aren't awash with cash at the mo. But Prosecco and Cava are for me rather different beasts. Bog-standard Cava can be remarkably good, perfect stuff to practise your sabrage on, but it suffers from an image problem - suggest to someone that they spend £25 on a bottle of Champagne and they'll say, OK. Suggest that they fork out the same amount for Cava and they'll start spluttering. As for Prosecco, for me it's the Pinot Grigio of the wine world. Terrific examples of both exist, but the wines that are currently swelling the sales figures are about as dynamic as Duffy's dancing.

And Champagne... It's the annual Champagne tasting this week, which I find a bit of an ordeal. There's nothing too badly wrong with the wines (apart from their marketing-fuelled prices) but it's dominated by the major brands, with only a handful of growers on show. I'm giving it a miss this year, partly because I can't go to every tasting, but also because last year's event left a bad taste in my mouth.

It's also one of the most physically demanding tastings of the year. What all the multi-million pound ad campaigns never tell you is the combination of acidity and bubbles not only provides a stiff dental assault, but also has an effect lower down the digestive system, even for those spitting it all out. What chances are there for the region of having a new slogan of 'Champagne - it gives you wind'?

Friday, March 13, 2009

Bonterra Twins

Cast your mind back 20 years, if you can (and if you can't, sorry, indulge a sad old wine man for a few moments). Cheap Californian wine was just as disappointing as it was today, but in the midst of the gloom, one producer stood out like a beacon - Fetzer. The Valley Oaks Cabernet Sauvignon was a dream of a wine, the Zinfandel did what it was supposed to do and then some more, and the Chardonnay was also a peach. In short, if it said Fetzer on the label, then it came up with the goods.

But then from the mid-1990s onwards... It's hard to argue against some of the rot setting in following the purchase of the company by Brown Forman in 1992. Whatever it was, the wines, once so reliable, began to taste less interesting and more 'manufactured'. I've kept recherching le temps perdu since then, and for the most part have remained underwhelmed.

But I'm always willing to have my mind changed, and it was that in mind that I opened this duo, a 2007 Sauvignon Blanc (Lake and Mendocino) and a 2006 Merlot (Mendocino).

I'd love to say that they're opinion-changing wines, but they're not. The Sauvignon has a pleasant, grassy pear character, with a character almost like fresh hops, but it still feels created, not begotten. The Merlot, though not a blockbuster, has that chocolately brashness of too many modern wines. There's nothing wrong with it, but it just slips out of the mouth and out of the brain, apart from a slightly sickly vanilla-like residue. Both are perfectly drinkable, but with so much interesting wine around, I really don't want to drink any more of either of these.

Monday, March 09, 2009

It's a wine of two halves...

Loved this comment on the weekend's football from Yahoo's Early Doors team - "Chelsea's FA Cup sixth round win at Coventry was so completely lacking in drama that ITV would have been better off showing 90 minutes of Tic Tac adverts." The gist of an entertaining article was that while English football teams are more adept at winning than they were in the 1990s, they're also far more boring. "Were the likes of Matt Le Tissier, Gianfranco Zola and Dennis Bergkamp truly world class? Who cares? The Premiership might have little more than a retirement home for ageing stars, but it was a bloody exciting one."

Could the same be said of of today's High Street and supermarket wine ranges? Fewer duds than in the past, and more economically sound, certainly. But for the most part, predictable, with technically correct but often soul-less wines dominating. I must say I preferred it when Wine Rack had almost as many wine buyers as it had stores, when Oddbins shelves came over all Greek, and when Safeway failed to live up to its name with an inspiring selection of Eastern European oddballs. Sounds like I need to write a folk song on the subject...

Sunday, March 08, 2009

A Mission to the Judean Hills

Another weekend of foraging in the cellar and finding some Alice in Wonderland-style bottles that had 'Drink Me' written (invisibly of course) all over them.

I last tasted the Mission Vineyards Reserve Syrah 2002 from the Gimblett Gravels in Hawkes Bayin autumn 2005. Then, I said 'drink up to 2009' - I was wrong. It has mellowed and is showing some leathery edges, but it's still wonderfully bright and peppery with vibrant dark fruit flavours and a spicy finish. Still at least another five years ahead of it, and I wouldn't be surprised to see it going on for another five years.

By contrast, I'd thought that the 2001 Domaine Castel Chardonnay from the Judean Hills would still be going strong at age 10. But on the strength of the bottle opened this evening, I'd overestimated its longevity.

It wasn't dead, but while there was still the minerally, almost briny undercurrent that you'll also find in the excellent red, the fruit was fading, and a slightly cheesy/oxidised edge didn't add to the pleasure. No worse than some of the prematurely oxidised Burgundies of similar age. but a slight disappointment. Tonight I'm on a terrific Valpolicella - will post on that tomorrow...

Friday, March 06, 2009

1855 revisited, and the Wine Wasteland

Just back from three days in France, and a mound of work and clutter to deal with. After the sun of the Languedoc, it was a bit of a shock to wake up at home this morning with a smattering of snow on the car. After tasting ~400 wines from 2008 over the last few days, I'm hoping to tuck into something a little more mature this evening - not sure what yet....

Two things have caught my eye since I've returned. The first was this homage to T S Eliot written by Daron Fincham - it deserves as wide an audience as possible. The second was that Liv-ex, the fine wine exchange, has done it's own version of the 1855 Bordeaux classification. I couldn't find it on the Liv-Ex site, but you'll find it here.

I did my own rejig of the list in 2005 to celebrate its 150th anniversary - here's how it turned out...

1855 Revisited
As numerous Nick Hornby books will testify, men like lists. I remember being in one of Piedmont’s best restaurants in truffle season and having an enthusiastic debate on two topics – the top crus of Barolo and the best guitar solos of all time. Sad, but true. In wine terms, the granddaddy of all lists is the 1855 classification of Bordeaux châteaux. So potent was the original list that the only change to occur, the elevation of Mouton Rothschild from second growth to first growth, required a government decree.

The beauty of the classification was that it removed critical prejudice from the judging process in favour of hard commercial reality. Those wines that emerged as first second, third fourth and fifth growths did so purely according to the prices they commanded on the Bordeaux market at the time. Not surprisingly, there has been extensive debate in the last 150 years concerning how accurate the 1855 list is in determining the quality of Bordeaux wines. Cut to today, and there are several wines in the original list that, in cricket parlance, no longer trouble the scorers. And similarly, there are other wines that didn’t appear in the 1855 ranking but today are referred to as ‘honorary classed growths’, and even ‘honorary first growths’.

I’m not so much of a dreamer that I think that the price of a wine is a direct reflection of the quality. Yet nor am I so much of a cynic that I think that anyone can consistently overprice their wine in the hope that there are enough mugs out there who adhere to the ‘emperor’s new clothes’ school of wine buying. And so it is with more of a ‘what-if?’ mentality that I present my 2005 classification of the region’s producers, in which price has been the sole determinant of rank. If it ruffles feathers in Bordeaux, it’s not my fault.

To determine the list, I looked at the top vintages of the past decade, namely 1995, 1996, 1998, 2000, 2001 and 2003. I reasoned that the wines had to be available in the UK for at least three of the six vintages I was looking at, and that at least one of the vintages had to be on offer at £350 a case or greater, a rather arbitrary figure, but one which reduced the number of château down to a sensible figure. It was then a case of sifting through the prices from several UK fine wine merchants and brokers – thank you for helping me fill in some of the gaps – and then used the wonders of Microsoft Excel to churn though the data. (For the statisticians among you, I normalised the prices for each vintage so the highly priced 2000 vintage wouldn’t have a disproportionate effect in the figures, and then looked at both arithmetic and geometric means – there was very little difference in the lists given by the two methods.)

I chose the boundaries between the different tiers purely according to the statistics. In most instances, the gap between one level and another was small, but there was a definite cut-off point between the first and second growths, and also between the end of the fifth tier and the next bracket of châteaux. I toyed with the idea of a sixth level, but settled on five because that was how many there had been back in 1855, and because the total of 59 châteaux was close to the figure of 150 years ago.

The verdict? A conclusive triumph of Right Bank over Left. Whereas St Emilion and Pomerol never made it into the 1855 classification, they dominate this listing, with each having more representatives than the entire Médoc. Just sixteen of the original cru classé châteaux are among the top priced wines of Bordeaux 150 years later. Although all the original first growths are close to the top of the list, Haut-Brion is now at the top of the second level, while Mouton Rothschild, originally a second growth but promoted to the top echelon in 1973, has also slipped down a rung. Haut-Brion was the sole non-Médoc wine in 1855. Today, it has two compatriots from Pessac-Léognan in the list, its stablemate La Mission Haut-Brion, which tops the array of third growths, and Pape Clément among the fifth growths.

Meanwhile back on the Right Bank… Had a similar classification been done twenty-five years ago, a large proportion of the wines would not have appeared. Yes, châteaux such as Lafleur, Ausone, Cheval Blanc and Angélus have a long history of producing fine wine, while Pétrus has been at or close to the top of the Bordeaux price tree for decades. But as for others, particularly those of St Emilion, many of them simply didn’t exist. Le Dôme was first made in 1996, La Gomerie in 1995, while Valandraud and Croix de Labrie debuted in 1991. Le Pin, which heads the list, is something of a veteran by comparison – the inaugural vintage was 1979. These so-called garage wines, made in tiny quantities from a particular parcel of land, and often with the thumbprint/footprint of the producer very evident in terms of concentration and use of oak, are still seen as a Right Bank phenomenon, but they are beginning to appear elsewhere in Bordeaux. For example, Marojallia from Margaux appears among the 2005 third growths, where it holds a position higher than all but the four 1855 Médoc first growths and Léoville Las Cases. (Out of interest, the next highest non-classed growth Médoc wine was Sociando Mallet, which would have been a seventh growth).

A further point of debate is that of super-cuvées versus second wines. Again, the arrival of super-cuvées is a recent trend. In effect, the idea is to produce a garage wine from the vineyards of an existing château. The highest example in this list is Magrez-Fombrauge, the wine that Bernard Magrez, owner of Pape Clément in Pessac Léognan (a fifth growth in this list), began producing after buying Château Fombrauge in 1999. Another is Péby Faugères, a wine whose future looks uncertain following the sale earlier this year of Château Faugères in St Emilion and the adjoining Cap de Faugères in Côtes de Castillon. Proof that Lalande de Pomerol is not just a me-too appellation is provided by the presence of Le Plus de la Fleur de Bouard, which Herbert de Bouard of Château l’Angélus makes from the best parcels of the La Fleur de Bouard estate.

Such an approach contrasts with that traditionally used in Bordeaux, and particularly in the Médoc. This alternative view acknowledges that isolating the best cuvées would make it possible to produce small quantities of something truly special, but that the grand vin would suffer as a consequence. What the producers prefer to do to boost quality is to exclude lesser cuvées and younger vines from the grand vin, and use these for their second wines. Such is the quality and demand for these that several are seen as honorary classed growths. Among the 2005 fifth growths are the second wines from Mouton-Rothschild, Ausone, Cheval Blanc and Latour, while Lafleur’s Pensées makes it into the fourth tier.

The list throws up some interesting points. Some of the people I showed the list to questioned the inclusion of so many wines that have existed only for a short time, among them Anthony Hanson MW of Christie’s. ‘If garage wines are to be considered within the context of the 1855 classification, 10 vintages of the new-comers would need to be carefully considered, including blind-tasting by experienced, competent judges. This was the time-span used for the recent Cru Bourgeois assessments in Bordeaux. There is no reason to set the bar lower for the garagistes, and for other new labels.’

Another issue raised by the inclusion of some many garagistes was tiny quantities made of each. Renowned wine writer and Bordeaux fan Andrew Jefford said, ‘Since [the list] is price-led, it is obvious that price will be much higher for an equivalently good wine if there are only 500 cases for the world compared to 10,000 cases for the world. To be totally fair you would perhaps have to have a kind of handicap system based on the largest property, with points deducted for each 500-case decrease in available quantity. I’m sure such a system would redress this imbalance to some extent.’

To address this, I considered doing a separate list for which a minimum level of production, say 5,000 cases per annum, was required, but then changed my mind. Excluding those estates of less than 10 hectares (which with a yield of 45 hl/ha equates to 5,000 cases per annum) does remove the garagistes, but it also eliminates Ausone and Pavie Decesse in St Emilion, and a hefty proportion of long-established Pomerol châteaux, among them L’Eglise Clinet, Lafleur (and second wine Pensées with it), Trotanoy and Clos l’Eglise. Wouldn’t that be just as controversial as leaving Valandraud and Co. in the listing?

As a compromise, here are what would have been the next two tiers. If the presence of the garagistes offends you, simply omit them from the ranking and promote the larger properties from divisions six and seven.

Sixth growths: Beauséjour-Duffau (St Emilion), Gruaud-Larose (St Julien), Calon-Ségur (St Estèphe), Pavie Macquin (St Emilion), Gazin (Pomerol), Magdelaine (St Emilion), Monbousquet (St Emilion), Clos Fourtet (St Emilion), Canon (St Emilion), Latour Haut Brion (Pessac-Léognan), Rauzan-Ségla (Margaux), Troplong Mondot (St Emilion), Beauregard (Pomerol), Nenin (Pomerol), Grand-Puy-Lacoste (Pauillac), Petit Village (Pomerol), Léoville-Poyferré (St Julien), L’Hermitage (St. Emilion) and Virginie de Valandraud (St Emilion).

Seventh growths: Quinault l’Enclos (St Emilion), Bellevue (St Emilion), Smith Haut Lafitte (Pessac-Leognan), Clos de l’Oratoire (St Emilion), Pavillon Rouge du Château Margaux (Margaux), Sociando-Mallet (Haut-Médoc), La Couspaude (St Emilion), Les Grandes Murailles (St Emilion), Lagrange (St Julien), Talbot (St. Julien), Le Gay (Pomerol), Carruades de Lafite (Pauillac), Haut-Bailly (Pessac-Léognan), Les Carmes Haut Brion (Pessac-Léognan), Pontet-Canet (Pauillac) and Soutard (St Emilion).

I doubt whether those who produced the 1855 classification anticipated it still being discussed 150 years later. Theirs was a snapshot of an era, and so is my 2005 list. Just as several of the Right Bank properties that feature here wouldn’t have appeared in a price-based ranking from 25 years ago, so I imagine that a similar grading in 2030 will include châteaux that are not among the high fliers today. Theoretically, the best terroir should yield the best wine. However, that ignores the influence of man, and Bordeaux is replete with ambitious souls anxious to flex their wine muscles. The good news is that quality in the world’s largest fine wine region will continue to increase. The bad news is that the châteaux that top any price-based classification will pass even further out of the reach of mere mortals. Ah well, as the French say, C’est La Vie.

The 2005 Classification of Bordeaux

Le Pin, Pomerol
Pétrus, Pomerol
Ausone, St Emilion (1er GCC A)
Lafleur, Pomerol
Latour, Pauillac (1er GCC)
Margaux, Margaux (1er GCC)
Cheval Blanc, St Emilion (1er GCC A)
La Mondotte, St Emilion
Lafite Rothschild, Pauillac (1er GCC)

Haut-Brion, Pessac-Léognan (1er GCC)
Valandraud, St Emilion
Mouton-Rothschild, Pauillac (1er GCC*)
Le Dôme, St Emilion
Magrez-Fombrauge, St Emilion
Angélus, St Emilion (1er GCC B)
L’Eglise-Clinet, Pomerol
Léoville Las Cases, St Julien (2ème GCC)
Clos l’Eglise, Pomerol

La Mission Haut-Brion, Pessac-Léognan (CC)
Trotanoy, Pomerol
Le Tertre-Rôteboeuf, St Emilion
La Gomerie, St Emilion
L’Evangile, Pomerol
Pavie, St Emilion (1er GCC B)
Croix de Labrie, St Emilion
Péby Faugères, St Emilion
Le Plus de la Fleur de Bouard, Lalande de Pomerol
Marojallia, Margaux
Gracia, St Emilion
Pavie-Decesse, St Emilion (GCC)
Palmer, Margaux (3ème GCC)

Pensées de Lafleur, Pomerol
La Fleur Pétrus, Pomerol
Pichon-Longueville, Comtesse de Lalande, Pauillac (2ème GCC)
Vieux Château Certan, Pomerol
Clos Dubreuil, St Emilion
Cos d’Estournel, St Estèphe (2ème GCC)
Ducru-Beaucaillou, St Julien (2ème GCC)
Le Moulin, Pomerol
La Conseillante, Pomerol
La Fleur de Gay, Pomerol
Montrose, St Estèphe (2ème GCC)
Clinet, Pomerol

Figeac, St Emilion (1er GCC B)
Le Petit Mouton, Pauillac
Laforge, St Emilion
Pape Clément, Pessac Léognan (CC)
Chapelle d’Ausone, St Emilion
La Croix St Georges, Pomerol
Petit Cheval, St Emilion
Lynch-Bages, Pauillac (5ème GCC)
Les Forts de Latour, Pauillac
Canon La Gaffelière, St Emilion (GCC)
Certan de May, Pomerol
Léoville-Barton, St Julien (2ème GCC)
Pichon-Longueville-Baron, Pauillac (2ème GCC)
Bon Pasteur, Pomerol
Rol Valentin, St Emilion
Latour à Pomerol, Pomerol

St Emilion classification of 1996
1er GCC A = Premier Grand Cru Classé ‘A’
1er GCC B = Premier Grand Cru Classé ‘B’
GCC = Grand Cru Classé

Graves Classification of 1959
CC = Cru Classé

Bordeaux classification of 1855
1er GCC = Premier Grand Cru Classé
2ème GCC, 3ème GCC etc. = Deuxième Grand Cru Classé, Troisième etc.
* Originally a second growth, but elevated to first growth status in 1973.







St Emilion
























Pessac Léognan





St. Julien





Lalande de Pomerol



St Estèphe









David Elswood, International Head of Christie’s Wine Department
‘A fascinating classification which throws a justified spotlight onto many new or newly-improved wines. As a Bordeaux-wide, price-led classification, it would be fair to say there are no real surprises here. However, this type of updated hierarchy would have been very different five years ago and would be different again I’m sure in another five years from now. In my opinion it works as a thumbnail or buyers’ guide to “what’s hot and what’s not so hot” but is overly influenced by current demand and therefore availability, plus recent trends and fashions which are already changing. Perhaps the most interesting point is not the inclusion of so many new, mainly Right Bank wines which we’d expect of course, but which Chateaux from 1855 are demoted or plain disappear as a result. It might be interesting to do a similar exercise using only Parker points!’

Stephen Browett, Director of Farr Vintners
‘A very interesting list! The problem is that price is not the indicator of quality that it was in 1855. As you know, a wine with a 1,000 case production that has the same score/quality level as another that has a 30,000 case production level sells for much more money. Consequently any new classification made purely on price will have far too many garage wines in the top divisions. Chateau Latour could, after all, select their best 4 barrels every year and call it “La Crème de Latour” and sell it for the same price of Le Pin. It might be interesting to re-do it with a minimum production of 5000 cases, say, to qualify for entry and an alternative list for the micro-cuvees. Apart from that I don’t believe that Haut Brion should ever be demoted as they make great wine every year and in vintages such as 1989 and 1998, they make the top wine of the First Growths.’