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Aug

7

The Games

By mthomas

Staying on an Olympic theme, a review of all things sporting and vinous seems appropriate at the moment. It has been such an amazing time in London and good to see visitors from around the globe enjoying being here. Despite all the valid reservations about commercialism, relocation of businesses, ticket fiasco and empty seats, it has been superb so far. From the wonderfully subversive opening ceremony it has gained momentum and won over even the most hardened skeptics. Both my sons have been in awe at the sheer spectacle and I am confident that they will have wonderful memories from being part of it.

I have not been surprised by the superb performance of Team GB because ‘home advantage’ is such an robust finding. I just wish I had followed my instinct and had a flutter on us doing well.  The crowds have been brilliant and must have had an impact on results. I went to the England v Brazil ladies football game, slightly reluctantly, but it was the best atmosphere I have experienced at Wembley since 1996 when I saw England beat Holland 4‐1 in the euros. A big part of this was the prevalence of kids who had tickets through the ‘tickets for schools’ scheme and were happy to scream and Mexican wave through the match. They were fantastic and the game thrilling. It is just a shame Team GB will not be in the final on Thursday, as I’m going it.

Even more thrilling was being at the park on Sunday night. We abandoned the Handball in the Copper Box (despite it being a cracking sport) to catch Bolt on the big screen and there was a real sense of seeing history in the making. We had been to the park for Diving but left before sunset as our youngest was exhausted but one of my top tips is to stay until late if you can. At night the park is spectacularly lit up, not as crowded and has a bit of a party atmosphere. The Orbit is worth going up but don’t go near the BMW pavilion unless you want to be force fed corporate nonsense. The London Ambassadors deserve a special mention. They are representing us in all our diverse and eccentric glory. My favourite ‘ambassador’ plays dubstep on her phone through her loud hailer. Superb!

In terms of food and wine I have been disappointed. At the boxing at Excel we paid £1.50 for an apple and it wasn’t even a good apple!  They should be giving away English apples as a celebration of our produce but I guess it is like the way we exploit dairy farmers in this country, pay them a pittance then mark it up exponentially to generate huge profits. The ‘biggest Macdonalds’ in the world is a bit of a monolithic carbuncle that shouts out ‘global warming’ and the Champagne and Seafood bar is run like a overly strict boarding school where you ‘have to’ have this or that if you want to sit on the terrace. I guess it is legal to require people to buy Champagne (De Nauroy and Mumm) to sit somewhere but it’s not very inclusive or sensitive. I saw an Asian family pretty unhappy about it but the member of staff dealing with them didn’t seem to give a toss. The ‘prestige’ wines on sale were pretty good though, Argento Private Collection Malbec (£26.50), Spee’ Wah Pinot Grigio (£23.50), Chateau Coucheroy Pessac Leognan (£35.50) and an ok 2011 Chablis from Jean Dafaix (£32.50), and not as massively marked up as apples. The Olympic wines (see previous blogs) were really uninspiring with the Fairtrade Chenin the best bet of the three. Take empty water bottles as there are plenty of places to fill up and buying bottled water is a bit like burning money (expensive and polluting).

An alternative to eating at the park or the other venues is to eat locally or take snacks. Security has been pretty efficient and not overly pedantic (although at the shooting at Woolwich on Sunday it seemed a bit tighter). If you are at the Park then go to Franco Manca at Westfield which has excellent affordable pizza and great natural wine from Ottavo Rube. Alternatively book up one of the pop up restaurants. Jimmy’s supperclub at Annex East is very close to the park and has a small art gallery (website here). The other night Phil from Les Caves de Pyrene matched Jimmy’s sound cooking with Rene Mosse Moussamoussettes NV, 2011 Riesling from Andre Scherer, Le Petit Fantet d’Hyppolyte 2011, and Moscato d’Asti Ca’ d’Gal. Fun wines and nice people. Less successful was GlobalFeast2012 (website here) although Lin Soderstrom’s cooking was good. The guest chefs from around the world change every night and they have an amazing ‘global’ table.

For a couple of Olympic events we only got two tickets rather than four so I will be missing out on the Basketball tonight. However, it is the Corney and Barrow summer tasting with an Olympic quiz which should be fun. I will be ‘competing’ in the blind tasting and am hoping for a medal of any kind.

Jul

15

Jackson Estate Shelter Belt Chardonnay 2008

By mthomas

I like Jackson Estate and, for a few months during the prolific rise of wines from New Zealand, their Sauvignon Blanc was a bit of  a ‘house white’.  I still think it is consistently better than most of the ‘premium’ SBs (Cloudy Bay et al), and head and shoulders above the myriad of monotonous wines being churned out there now. However, for some reason I hadn’t had, or at least hadn’t registered having, the Shelter Belt Chardonnay until yesterday.

There is a bit of sun this morning so I am not going to spend much time on this review as who knows when the next respite from the Great British monsoon will be! Jackson are a paragon of consumer information and my guess is that this is just another reflection of a conscientious outfit doing their best to make their wine accessible. They provide good tasting notes and the pdf for the 08 Shelter Belt is here.

If only all producers made the effort to do this the wine world would be more accessible. I guess most people don’t care about ‘titratable acidity’ or that it was Geoff Woollcombe doing lots of hard work in the fields, but others do and providing this information can add value. I was really taken by this wine and wanted to see if my impressions were ‘right’ in terms of how it was made. I also like to check out my tasting notes with others (I guess this is an ingrained tendency to triangulate).

You don’t get much change from twenty quid with this wine but it knocks spots off many white Burgundys from the same year that cost more. It is drinking beautifully but has a good few more years left in it. I guess it demonstrates the utility of screwtops and I am going to cellar a few to see how they evolve.  The lovely balance and tropical notes make it really moreish. The French oak has been used sensitively and there is a nice oatmeal flavour in the background. Not much was left by the time the chicken had roasted…

Jackson Estate Shelter Belt Chardonnay 2008 Ocado £17.00

May

20

The Co-op at the ICA

By mthomas

I avoid most supermarket tastings because they are often really grim affairs. They tend to show an incoherent bunch of wines that reflect a need to appeal to a broad customer base so tastings feel ‘scattergun’. That’s not to say some of the wines aren’t really enjoyable and good value (see below) but the experience of working through 50 or a 100 is best left to people getting paid to guide us through the overwhelming number of wines on the supermarket shelves. However, I have a soft spot for co-operatives per se and also for the ICA so figured the worst that could happen was that I would abandon the wines and have a look at some of the works on show.

The wines verged from mediocre to pretty good. I don’t review wines much now because I can’t take the ratings game seriously and there are lots of other people doing it. A few of them even do it well but most fail to take into account what we know about the limits of sensory discrimination, memory and human consistency. When I blog for Winepsych it is really just a whimsical supplement to the real point of the website which is the wine research papers, book reviews and sharing ideas about psychology relevant to wine.  However, a couple of the wines being shown merited a description and seemed pretty good value;

The Cono Sur  Organic Sauvignon Blanc 2011 was showing well and at £7.99 is a good alternative to a lot of the boring NZ ones dominating the market. Winemaker Adolfo Hurtado’s name on a bottle is as reliable an indicator as any rating that you will be getting something technically sound, good value and potentially interesting.  This has lots of citrus fruit but it is balanced and  not overly acidic. It has nice melon notes and a hint of green herbs. It is refreshing and would work perfectly as an aperitif but has enough about it to match food from goats cheese to light chicken dishes. A rounded and versatile wine with organic credentials and 13% ABV. The label (pictured above) has a bicycle on it because this is the transport used by the local workers to cut emissions and avoid pollution in the vineyards. The label is itself is made from recycled paper. This is a wine which reflects an admirable mindfulness and it also drinks well.

The other wine that stood out for me (and it should always be borne in mind that my taste changes with the weather, as does the taste of the wine) was Domaine Brisson Morgon les Charmes 2009. I have a taste aversion (learned) to Gamay, I used to love it but now rarely drink it, so to pick this out was a surprise.  Morgon, at its best, can be really complex and age like Burgundy.  2009 was kind to the region and this is, in many ways, as good as it gets at this price level. Like the SB above it is £7.99 and when you are willing to stretch beyond the fiver threshold you can get so much more.  It had a surprising depth of colour, smooth fruitiness and subtle notes of tar and eucalyptus (which I like). This will be great for summer BBQs once summer arrives and at 12.5% much less likely to lead to you setting fire to yourself than all those 14% and 15% horrors out there. Try it slightly chilled with a burger.

I am no longer a member of the ICA because it seemed to lose direction a few years ago but I didn’t dwell on the tasting and was able to spend some time looking at Remote Control; an exhibition about the influence of television.  I got hooked by the Adrian Piper video ‘Cornered’ (1988) which explores notions of racial identity in quite a challenging way.  You can watch it here but it is not quite the same experience as sitting in one of the chairs in front of the installation in the gallery.

Feb

5

Whiteout and a white from Savoie

By mthomas

I thought I had escaped the Siberian cold front when I left Geneva on Friday… The temperature in the Alps had been around minus 4, with excellent skiing all week, but minus 30 (with chill factor) was expected so it was perfect timing for a return to balmy London.  However, the coming week in the UK will no doubt be categorized by snow induced chaos. I had hoped to make a tasting tomorrow with Raeburn wines at Hedone but the chances of Chiswick being accessible are as slight as me going to the South Pole on the Jubilee Line.

During the trip (to St Jean d’ Aulps near Morzine) I tried as many local wines as possible as they were a bit of an unknown quantity. I had enjoyed some Swiss Pinot Noir previously and knew there were a myriad of local varieties including chasselas (fendant), sylvaner (valais), gamaret etc.  However, the ‘house’ red and white (both from the Languedoc)  were so good it was hard to justify drinking anything else although there were a few forays into host Mark’s (chilly) cellar.

Pictured is a 2010 Vin de Savoie chosen mainly because it is called  ’Cuvee’ Thomas’! Made from jacquère (a local grape with, usually, high yields and not a great reputation in terms of ‘nobility’) by Jean Noel Blard and described as ‘vielles vignes’ from ‘anciennes parcelles’. It has a bit more minerality than most of the AOC vin de Savoie I tried and makes a decent aperitif but would be ideal with a fondue from local cheeses (such as Comte’, Beaufort or Abondance) and cepes.

Nov

27

Everyday Chardonnay

By mthomas

At the recent Corney and Barrow Winter tasting my friend (an overly bright prize winning psychologist) humorously derided my winespeak. However, I had the last laugh because, being new to tastings, he then went on a tipsy spending spree having been seduced by the the atmosphere at the Tower of London and the wonderful wines (Salon 99, Peter Sisseck’s Flor de Pingus, Leflaive’s Puligny Montrachet 1er Cru Les Referts and Tenuta di Trinoro IGT stood out). These are serious wines at serious prices and you cannot help but enjoy being guided through a range of white burgundy by Patrick Leflaive, but what to drink every day?

Despite me waxing lyrical (wittering on) about metaphor I have had some good hits and feedback on the site recently. I am also often asked for ‘tips’ and, despite the essentially subjective nature of tasting, I do think there are some really reliable, accessible and relatively good value bottles out there that most people enjoy.  Mindful of this, and the austerity Zeitgeist, I thought I would list a few ‘everyday bottles’ without resorting to too many flowery metaphors.  I will start with Chardonnay as I think the ABC (Anything But Chardonnay) brigade have been throwing out the baby with the bath water. The rise of Pinot grigio, Albariño, Gruner Veltliner, Viognier et al have made Chardonnay feel very 80s but it is still a great grape.

The days of unsubtle New World Chardonnay are not completely over but each year I am increasingly impressed by Chile and you can do a lot worse than Erraruziz Wild Ferment Chardonnay 2010 and Tabali Chardonnay (Reserva Especiale) 2010. There are still issues with oak but makers seem to be holding back a bit more and the wines are all the better for it. They often have good acidity and a distinctive tropical edge (the purple prose is resurfacing) which is exciting. They are unlikely to usurp Le Montrachet but you can drink well around the £10 a bottle mark.

If you want something more frugal then Chile can still deliver with Morrison’s Chardonnay, Central Valley 2010 coming in at £4.99. Don’t forget about France because Cave de Lugny Chardonnay Macon villages 2010 is a relative snip at around £6 and readily available (Asda, Majestic, Waitrose…). It will never wow you with its depth but will happily accompany a wide range of chicken and fish dishes. The Co‐operative’s, Chardonnay Western Cape 2010 also demonstrates that South Africa can produce passable Chardonnay that retails around the magic £5 mark.  I still find that you have to pay for good Australian Chardonnay (air miles are a consideration) but Oxford Landing is a staple for many, although reports of ‘bad bottles’ seems to divide people in to two distinct camps. Overall though we should be thankful that decent entry level Chardonnay is being made across the world. I may not enjoy what I would  consider over-oaked examples but some people  love vanilla toffee popcorn flavours in wine.  They are well-served but so too are people who want more subtle food friendly Chardonnay. It can be used to make great wines but also to make good wines that do not break the bank.

I will try and work my way through other varieties, maybe Riesling (as with Chardonnay, New World examples just get technically better and better) or Rhones next (the 09 Rhones are looking like some of the best value reds out there).

Nov

24

Nicolas Potel Beaune Premier Cru Clos des Vignes Franches 2006

By mthomas

As previously blogged, reading The Drops of God Manga (review here) whetted my appetite for a decent Burgundy. I couldn’t stretch to the 1990 DRC Richebourg (featured) in the story so plumped for a Monopole Beaune from Nicolas Potel bought en primeur from the wine society in a mixed case. Just as an aside, I have more or less given up on buying en primeur. The last time I bought any Bordeaux was 2005 and I have no intention of buying any more. This is partly because of prices which are increasingly exploitative and subject to fluctuations due to trading such as those seen with 2010. There are also longevity issues (not simply that the wines will not be ready to drink for 20 years but also that I am now 45…), although I am happy with the idea of my kids cracking some open in their twenties and thirties. I have also come to the conclusion that I prefer Burgundy (red and white) and Rhones (red) so will focus on them. I am also at a stage where I want to ‘back fill’ with wines that I know that I enjoy and are ready to drink.

With all things Burgundian generalizations can often be of limited use but the 06s are mostly drinking before the 05s and I have tasted a few recently that are in really good shape. Nicolas Potel is generally a safe pair of hands and the Beaune is a Parker 90 pointer (cited for reference not kudos). The fruit was bought from the owner of the decently sited Monopole (Les Vignes Franches) near the southern end of Beaune’s Premier Cru vineyards close to the boundary with Pommard and I had reasonably high expectations given the vineyard, maker, supplier and critic’s assessments.

On opening it was a lovely colour, crystalline raspberry with a pink rim and no obvious signs of age. It had quite a boozy nose which surprised me (13%ABV) but not much else going on. First taste showed concentration yet it was relatively light as pinot should be (in my opinion). It was cherry all the way with little meaty or herby complexity.

I was looking to satisfy a craving (although as I was playing tennis 3 hours later I knew one glass would be all I could indulge in) and so ‘pumped and fridged’ the rest of the bottle, hoping that it might be more expressive the next day.

24 hours later it was still slightly montone (a reasonably pleasant tone but not the complex melody I had hoped for).  Don’t get me wrong, this is technically ‘on the ball’ and a really nice wine, it just didn’t have that magic I craved. It could be characterized as a feminine wine and would probably make most people very happy; especially if they love those round cherry liqueur chocolates (which is what it most reminded me of).

Anyone into their wikis could update the wikipedia entry for Monopole Burgundys (here) because Clos des Vignes Franches is not listed.

Nov

19

A graphic approach to wine reviews

By mthomas

Building on the Manga blog below, have a look at this site (here) which has some wonderful graphic wine reviews by Lily Elaine Wakawaka.  A really refreshing alternative to stuffy point driven descriptions. I guess it is only a matter of time before reviews become increasingly multimedia and perhaps multisensory. I would happily listen to some music someone has matched with a wine whilst looking at a painting or graphic representation and guess it might add to the experience. Here is some research on the links between the two. Adrian North music and wine There are also some papers on the research page exploring multisensory perception and taste.

 

Oct

9

J. J. Prüm 2009 Riesling Kabinett

By mthomas

I am at a loss to why the lower alcohol wines of the Mosel are not more popular in these health conscious times. Perfect for drinking with a wide range of foods, including increasingly popular South East Asian cuisines, they still tend to languish in the popularity stakes whilst bars and restaurants select monotonous New World bottles for their lists. The explanations for this usually include the complexity of the German language with quadruple barrelled classifications, crap marketing, confusion over sweetness and perhaps there is a vague sense of distrust of things Germanic amongst some in the UK as well as intransigence on the part of the producers themselves. It could also be that some consumers use a heuristic that more alcohol equals more ‘value’ or that modern tastes have become accustomed to the increase in alcohol levels over the last few decades and only full on boozy fruit bombs register.

Whatever the cause, and it is likely to be a convergence of factors, wines from good producers in the Mosel are some of the most subtle, ‘terroir’ focused and wonderful wines out there. They can also offer excellent relative value if you can work out which style you like and have a history that underpins their quality. Many of the great vineyards were developed by the Romans and have been nurtured over centuries by families who have developed intimate knowledge of them. Riesling, which accounts for about 60% of volume, is recognised as a ‘great grape’ by a majority of the wine cognoscenti and devoted advocates include some of the wine writers I most admire such as Hugh Johnson who wrote the Foreword for Freddy Price’s excellent Riesling Renaissance, an erudite paen to Riesling (pictured).

I am no expert on the Mosel but have been lucky enough to taste quite a few of Joh. Jos. Prüm’s wines over the years and despite a few that push my tolerance for sweetness found them to be consistently interesting. I am really glad I succumbed when I was offered a case of  J. J. Prüm 2009 Riesling Kabinett recently at a pretty good, not cheap, price. It combines wonderful fullness with a clarity of flavour. It’s lime zest acidity makes it feel relatively light and 9% alcohol means you can have a glass with lunch without falling asleep mid afternoon. It also has an underlying stoniness to it and will evolve well over coming years so I have pushed a couple of bottles to the back of a double depth rack in the hope they remain unnoticed for a few years.

The J. J. Prüm website is under construction and will hopefully be better than others which fail dismally to promote these great wines effectively.

Price, F. (2004) Riesling Renaissance Mitchell Beazley

Aug

21

Olympic Basketball and ‘Wondering Wine’

By mthomas

A midweek outing to see Great Britain play Serbia in the Olympic Basketball Arena (pictured left) was destined to be dry as the tickets specified ‘airport style security’ and ‘no alcohol’. However, on arrival we were happy to note a shiny airstream trailer selling a decent selection of bottles. It is part of a fleet of vintage vehicles, also including classic Citroen vans,  used by the Wondering Wine Company (I wondered if it was a misspelling…) an offshoot of Bibendum Wines committed to entering the lucrative  ’festival market’.

The list includes three sparkling, five whites, a rose and five reds.  A solid mix of the familiar and dependable with a few pleasant surprises including some at a fiver a glass. The De Castellane Brut NV was ok but not cheap at £45  for a bottle or £7.50 a glass, although the blurb was a bit OTT with ‘compote, brioche and gingerbread’. Spy Valley Pinot Noir is consistently good, as is their Sauvignon Blanc and both were under 30 quid a bottle or £7 per 175 cl glass. Having wines like this available is welcome and I had a brief chat with Simon Swift MD the driving force behind Wondering Wine. He was particularly effusive about the Margaux on the list, La Bastide de Dauzac (£34 or £8.50 for a glass) which was ‘spicy’ as advertised but confusingly described as ‘clean’. It was technically sound and very drinkable. Having wines like this available, rather than some of the horrors on offer at other sporting events, has got to be a good thing.

I was most interested in the way in which the wines were served though. A lot of effort, and cost,  had gone into the cardboard box, with optional ice, and the ‘specimen bottle’ style plastic decanter (£5 deposit and pictured left). A nice touch is the label with the details of the wine on which is attached to the carafe with a rubber band. The tumblers were also plastic but a cut above the standard flimsy things favoured at glass free events. Perfect for picnics. If you are paying 30 quid for a bottle of wine you don’t want to drink it from something that completely undermines the taste and these were the best non glass ‘glasses’ I have experienced.

We got lucky in the Olympic ticket lottery with boxing, shooting, basketball, handball and diving tickets (friends attribute it to a postcode conspiracy) so it was exciting to get a taste of what’s to come.  I can really understand people being frustrated with the lottery but for me the tragedy of the games is that local kids have not been allocated tickets.  My kids will get to be part of it but many of their friends will not. Boris should reconsider this and keep in mind the alienation felt by many young people in East London.

Btw Great Britain lost in a nail-biting finish: with two seconds to go and two points behind Serbia they completely fluffed a potential 3 pointer which would have won it. Oldest son Luke, who is ‘shooting guard’ for Newham All Star Academy, could have got it closer! It was an exciting game though and the series of ‘test events’ should help preparations for the real thing next summer. Hopefully some decent wines will be available but the burger company monopoly might undermine a wide range of food being available…

Aug

1

Ridgeview

By mthomas

I went to a couple of tastings last week including the launch of Delamotte 2002. A very drinkable Blancs de Blancs from one of the oldest Champagne Houses best known for its connection to Salon. It retails at just over £30 (Corney and Barrow) and is a lovely special occasion fizz. Despite such continental distractions, I seem to be blogging about English sparkling wine (ESW) a lot at the moment. This is partly due to being UK based and having lots of family in the south of England but I think it also reflects the way in which ESW is moving from a relatively niche position into the mainstream. Vineyards are well established and attracting international investment. The product itself  has proven quality and it has been reclaimed as solidly ‘English’ because Dr Christopher Merret was the first to record the addition of sugar in sparkling wine production. I love Champagne but I am also increasingly enjoying ESW and its success in blind tastings. I am also loving the shenanigans over what it should be called.

Given the above, I decided to stop in at Ridgeview in Sussex on the way to a family gathering near Lewes. Despite having a serious cut on his arm Sales and Marketing Exec Oliver Marsh kindly showed me around.  Ridgeview concentrates on the traditional triad of ‘Champagne grapes’ and has an interesting range of wines (website here) and all are sparkling. They have invested in some serious kit and are awaiting a disgorger that should speed up production. This is a good thing as they are running out of reserves due to their popularity. I really liked the ‘Knightsbridge’ a Blanc de Noirs (pictured right) but this was out of stock and we had to track down a bottle tucked in amongst the cider and perry at Middle Farm near Firle.

The current debate regarding the implementation of a generic name for ESW is a healthy statement of intent but probably doomed to failure. Interestingly, one suggestion, ‘Merret’ , was copyrighted by Ridegview owner Mike Roberts and is used for a friends of the vineyard club. Other suggestions include Bretagne which sounds a bit like a bad 70s marketing strategy (Pomagne), Albion (Brighton and Hove, not West Brom) and Lancelot (French import). All seem flawed and, as I write this, I like the simplicity of ESW but  guess any committee decision is likely to be a complete ‘camel’.

BTW the image at the top of this blog is of course of Thomas Thornycroft’s wonderful statue of Boudicca by the Thames near Westminster.  Cast many years after his death it is instantly recognisable and uses her proper name not the Roman corruption Boadicea. The people suggesting Boadicea (Decanter September 2011 page 9) as a generic name for English fizz should be ashamed of themselves given its Italian connotations. Long live Boudicca!