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Monday, 30 April 2012

Portugal's Vinho Verde

Two Vinho Verde wines from Portugal

Portugal has been talked of as being the Next Big Thing for some time now - a small country re-inventing its wine industry, a couple of years ago, I'd heard the buzz, but had tried very few of the wines themselves as with over 600 native varieties, it is hard to generalise about Portugal.

And so to these two Vinho Verde examples, literally "green wine" and meaning young wines from the north of the country designed as sippers for early drinking.

One is a spritzy, entry-level sipper, the other more complex, sophisticated and food-friendly.

Arca Nova Branco Vinho Verde, 2011

Bright yellow in the glass with a light spritz, it is mineral on the nose.

Made from a blend of native grapes Loureiro, Arinto and Trajadura, it is light, fresh and lemony with ripe pineapple; mouthwateringly, moreishly sweet-sour on the palate with a touch of grapefruit or quinine bitterness.

Elegant, balanced and well-made, it is a lovely light sipper either for the garden, an aperitif or with light seafood dishes.

Available from The Sampler, £7.90

Soalheiro Vinho Verde, 2011





From 100% Alvarinho, it is intensely complex, mineral and herbaceous on the nose.

The palate is mouthwateringly lemony and sweet-sour; there is ripe peachy stone fruit, great depth of flavour, length and complexity and a minerally finish.

This is refreshing enough to drink alone, but will also match with food, such as meaty fish, creamy pasta and white meat. A versatile wine, it has the body to stand up to strong, restaurant-style flavours.

Priced from £15.95 at Butlers Wine Cellar, Uncorked and Fortnum & Mason (2010 only).

Both wines provided for review

Other related articles
The Cambridge Tasting - Vinho Verde

Links
Vinho Verde - http://www.vinhoverde.pt/en/

Saturday, 28 April 2012

Limoncello at Cambridge Food and Wine Society (with La Dante)

After I arranged a tasting of Italian wines for La Dante in Cambridge last year, Giulia Portuese-Williams, who runs the centre, suggested we do a joint event together with the Cambridge Food and Wine Society.

When, shortly afterwards, I made contact with Steve Turvill who runs Limoncello on Mill Road, everything fell into place and we agreed to promote the event together using our various Twitter accounts and Facebook groups.

La Dante in Cambridge is part of the international la Società Dante Alighieri, founded in 1889 with 440 offices worldwide - it is a national cultural institute rather like the British Council or the Goethe Institute, but unlike these it is not state-funded and so needs to rely on language lessons for its income.

As the old adage goes, I'm sure at least half of our social media efforts were wasted, but I've no idea which half; in any case it proved to be the best attended event the Society has held for a long time.

Numbers aside, it also proved very popular with both Society and La Dante members as well as the new guests who came along, including Caroline Biggs who writes an excellent  blog on Cambridge's hidden past, The Real Cambridge.

After introductions and welcomes, Giulia briefly spoke about La Dante which has recently moved into new offices, describing her experience of British bureaucracy as what she hoped to leave behind when she left her native Italy.

She also made an open invitation for everyone to drop into La Dante to see the new offices and have a cup of real Italian coffee, but I suspect that may not apply to the powers that be that oversee property moves in Cambridge.

We started the event itself with a Prosecco, Villa Sandi Millesimato 2011 Valdobbiandene - with ripe pear fruit, hints of yeasty brioche and good depth on the palate, it had good, food-friendly acidity and a long finish.

The name was familiar and reviewing this blog, I see that I tried a sparkler from Sandi some time ago and checking my notes, was impressed with it then as well.

Steve then invited us to try two different sets of olives - the first cured, the second marinaded; the accompaniment to this was a Sicilian Grecanico, Vinali Roccamora Sicilia. Also known as Garganega in Soave and with just 12% alcohol, it was crisp and fresh. A sandy yellow in the glass, it had an expressive nose, with herbaceous, floral hints, white pepper spice and toasty yeastiness; there is lemony citrus on the palate, and a long, savoury finish

There followed a series of "taste tests", starting with two olive oils; both had been poured into unmarked containers and we were invited to decide which we preferred - one being significantly more expensive than the other.

For me, olive oil should be strong, fruity and peppery and I was sorry to learn that my preferred, more-strongly flavoured oil proved to be the more expensive one.

This set up something of a pattern as we then repeated this with two types of cured ham - both were very good, but I found myself slightly preferring the (more expensive) San Daniele compared to the Prosciutto.

Next were two lots of balsamic vinegar to try - the first was thick, gloopy and sweet, whilst the second was incredibly complex and quite wonderful, so there were no surprises when #1 proved to be a basic "balsamic glaze" whilst the second was a 25yo, extremely expensive balsamico tradizionale.

We accompanied this part of the tasting with a Sangiovese; with cherry fruit and vanilla spice on the nose, there was juicy sour cherry on the palate which opens up and becomes more rounded with air.

Steve's chef Paul then made some pesto freshly using a blender which we compared to some from the shop; I found myself preferring the shop-made pesto for its stronger flavour and higher cheese content, but a number of people on the table who are regular visitors to Italy found the more herbaceous, freshly-made pesto to be typical of what they had experienced in Italy.

This led on to a discussion with Giulia about how best to keep basil in Cambridge - whilst I can grow rosemary, tarragon, parsley and chives in our south-facing garden, I've never been successful with basil.

According to Giulia, basil needs hot, damp conditions to thrive - essentially a Mediterranean climate, which is not easily reproduced in Cambridge - so I am unlikely to be making pesto from home-grown basil any time soon.

We then moved on to a comparison of three types of cheese - a Pecorino Fresco which had a soft texture, a firmer and stronger aged Pecorino with saffron and black pepper and some shaved parmesan, accompanied by bresaola, marinaded artichokes and various breads.

With this, Steve served an Elvio Cogno Vigna Elena 2005 Barolo; still relatively youthful at 6 years old, it was a pale, brick red in the glass with red and black cherry, tobacco leaf and pepperiness on the nose with cherry fruit, minty eucalyptus on the palate and a grippy finish.

The dessert section of the tasting featured home-made pannetone - better than any shop-bought one I have ever had - and cantuccini biscuits with a Moscato Sicilia; a golden colour, it had a an oxidative nose with a marmaladey palate cut through with fresh acidity.

The final digestivo was, appropriately enough a limoncello - a sweet lemon liqueur; on many occasions when eating out in Italy, I have found a sorbetto al limone con Prosecco a perfect digestivo at the end of a long, multi-course meal and the limoncello served the same purpose here.

With a zesty, pithy nose, it is initially intensely sweet and warming on the palate with a mouthfilling zesty, pithy bitterness that develops over time and a long, citrusy, aromatic finish.

It was a great event and very well received by Society members, those from La Dante and the large number of guests who came along - I put the success down to the sheer quality of the food and wine that Steve brought along for us to try, as well as to the way he ran the event; he is an easy-going, natural presenter and his love of and enthusiasm for all things Italian is very apparent - even if, as he admits, he would not actually want to live there.

For the final part of his talk, Steve explained how he had first got involved with Limoncello; in its previous guise, it had been his favourite deli and when it went bust, he bought the business and ran it as a sideline to his day-job. After a few years, the business was successful enough for him to do it full time and he is now looking to expand with further branches in the Cambridge area.

It should come as no surprise that there were a number of expressions of interest from the audience at this point.

Links

Cambridge Food and Wine Society - website, Facebook, Twitter
La Dante - website, Facebook, Twitter
Limoncello - website, Facebook, Twitter

Review of Limoncello on Wanton Flavours - http://wantonflavours.blogspot.co.uk/2011/01/limoncello.html

More on Elvio Cogno from Chris Kissak - http://www.thewinedoctor.com/italy/cogno.shtml

Friday, 27 April 2012

Richard Quest On Financial Crises

Last night I went to an alumni lecture organised by my university's business school, presented by former BBC and now CNN business presenter Richard Quest who graduated from Leeds with a law degree in the early 80s.

At the drinks reception, I chatted with Phil Steele, Head of Alumni Relations, who explained that the Business School is putting more effort into getting (paid) internships for undergraduates.

Whether it's the economic climate or the impact of tuition fees, going to university seems to have become more of a conscious decision these days, rather than just the default post-A level option, with undergraduates a lot more focused on their career prospects compared to when I did a languages degree because I liked reading foreign books.

Unpaid internships have become something of a hot topic in the marketing services industry - on the plus side, they allow motivated but otherwise inexperienced graduates to rise above their peers by gaining useful experience that gets them into work and increases their chances of finding paid employment on the basis that it's easier to find a job when you have a job.

Moreover, in a difficult market, smaller companies often simply cannot afford to pay interns, so an unpaid internship, whilst not as good as the ideal of a paid one, is at least better than no internship at all.

On the other side, many commentators, with a whiff of class envy or Champagne Socialism, talk of unpaid internships as the scourge of the industry, its dirty little secret, professing moral outrage at the unfairness of middle-class graduates funded by the Bank of Mum and Dad having their labour exploited for zero financial return.

As an argument, it's very similar to the Page-3-Girls-Are-Exploited line, and although involving money, class and young people, it does not feature scantily-clad nubiles, so therefore has not caught the public's attention in quite the same way and, for now, remains a storm in a marketing services wine glass.

For his talk, Richard Quest addressed himself to the issue raised by our Monarch in 2009; of the financial crisis that was then, and still is, unfolding, Her Majesty asked "Why did nobody see it coming ?"

Good catch, Ma'am.

Hindsight is a wonderful thing, so Quest started by recalling his experiences of the last few recessions, starting with Black Monday in 1987; as a junior staffer at the time, as the US stock market began to plummet, his first instinct was to rush around trying to make sense of the story until a more-experienced editor said "Calm down, this is going to go on for a long time", the point being, then as now, financial crises do not pass quickly and always have long-lasting effects.

Next came the bursting of the dot com bubble in the early noughties; at the time, due to this new thing called The Internet, companies with no profits and vast cash outflows were achieving spectacular valuations and the received wisdom was that we were seeing the emergence of a new business paradigm.

Though sceptical himself at the time, Quest also invested in a number of dot com stocks - of those that are still in existence ten years later, the value has more than halved; as Quest wryly observed, if I could pick shares to make a profit, do you think I would still be doing this job ?

Moving on to the current financial crisis, he gave three reasons why it was not spotted by financial journalists.

First, he argued, television news has an in-built bias against financial reportings or anything with numbers in it, much preferring to report on political and human-interest issues.

Secondly, he likened forecasting a financial crisis about to happen as akin to watching thousands of pots bubbling away on a stove and spotting which one is going to boil over.

Finally, he referred to the market's herd mentality - no-one wants to hear that the party is about to end, especially if they are trying to get an invitation to it.

A natural presenter with great charisma who clearly loves being in front of an audience, Quest is very persuasive, but I am not wholly convinced by his arguments; it seems as though everyone else is to blame but the financial journalists - the channels for not scheduling financial programmes, the public for not watching them and company CEOs for over-egging their prospects. And besides, the market is an untameable beast so the whole thing's just too complicated to work out anyway, right ?

If that's really so, then it begs the question, what's the point of financial journalism, unloved and incapable as it is ?

At the beginning of the New Millennium, I remember reading regularly in the FT about the growing problems at Enron for weeks before BBC news reported its "shock" collapse.

Later, in 2007 a colleague who worked in public sector PR used to remark that the then government throwing money at advertising campaigns was great for business in the short term, but fiscally unsustainable in the longer run and was bound to lead to problems.

So, isn't it the job of financial journalists to get the inside track and then join the dots - to hazard at least a guess at whether we are looking at a few isolated anomalies or starting to see a pattern, whilst observing the age-old rule on interest rate forecasting that you can give them a number, or give them a date, but don't give both.

For his final section, he made a point of not hedging his bets and insisted that we are seeing the start of a social media bubble, citing Facebook's proposed $1bn acquisition of Instagram - a company with employees numbering in the tens and which a show of hands in the room showed about 3 people using.

Taking questions at the end, he explained that after qualifying as a lawyer, he could have happily pursued a legal career, but decided he wanted to try journalism and felt he would have regretted it had he not at least given it a go.

He refused to be drawn on who would win the upcoming mayoral election in London, was impressed by Rupert Murdoch's performance in front of the Leveson inquiry, insisted that the Euro would not collapse, but equally doubted that it would continue in its present form, noting that the Eurozone countries had not solved their problems but merely papered over the cracks.

On social media, he declared it "a bloody pain in the arse" for journalists, telling a story of how, bored in an airport lounge late one night, he had started tweeting about an airline's poor service and landed a few hours later to find his tweet on the front pages of a newspaper and himself invited to see his boss to be hauled over the coals, ending with the crack "I now practise safe tweeting !"

As this is (mainly) a wine blog and I have not written about wine for a while, it's worth noting that the wine served at the reception, Cuvée Alexandre, was crisp and poised with nectarine, melon and stone fruit, lemony linear acidity and hints of something slightly oxidative, almost sherry-esque on the palate and finish.

Chatting to my neighbour at the end, we found that we had both been in Moscow in the fateful summer of 1991 when Gorbachev was placed under house arrest in his summer dacha in Sochi and tanks fired on the White House, that we had started our careers in manufacturing industries but then moved into client service, have both worked in personal finance (she more successfully than I) and have an interest in wine.

If, like Hilary, you are also interested in chocolate, port and consumer decision-making, you may like these posts:

- Barruzzo Chocolate Tasting
- Noval Port Dinner
- On Choosing

Thursday, 26 April 2012

Now we are 4, 5 becomes 3‏

I have not owned many cars - our first was a Honda Civic Coupe that we bought in Austria in the late '90s. An embarrassingly lurid purple colour, it was actually great fun to drive, cheap to run and very practical.

Light on the pedals, with a free-revving 1.5l engine, low-gearing and a low seating position, it felt as nippy as a go-kart.

We used it to visit six of Austria's seven neighbouring countries before bringing it back to Britain with us and finally selling it on for a nominal sum five years later.

Fun to drive, it was no motorway cruiser and with a job that required me to do the 200-mile round trip to Heathrow most weeks plus child #1 on the way, we bought a 5 Series BMW with 4 doors.

With some degree of time pressure - CJ was born less than a week after we bought it - it was only the second car we viewed properly - the first, via a private seller a hundred miles away in Bristol, had over 100,000 miles on the clock, was registered in the name of someone completely different and had had the dashboard replaced with absolutely no paperwork. After that, we learnt to ask a few questions on the phone first.

We paid between half and a third of the original selling price for it, thus saving ourselves thousands of pounds in depreciation, so I never really felt too badly off in respect of the higher running costs; we found a private garage in nearby Bury St Edmunds that would service at a fraction of the cost of our local BMW dealership and on the motorway, fuel consumption became quite reasonable.

It was never quite as much fun to drive as the Honda, never felt quite as nippy, but I soon began to appreciate what made it such a great car - the smoothness of the engine and overall sophistication of the complete package; other cars may do things individually better than the BMW, but none do everything together quite so well.

On more than one occasion, I drove it to Vienna for work - filling the boot with Austrian wines whilst there and French wines in Calais just before getting on the Le Shuttle on the way back - and always emerged feeling as fresh and relaxed as when I had got in.

But at 12 years old with nearly 130,000 miles on the clock and several chips and dents in the bodywork, we decided it was time for a replacement.

But where to go after a 5 Series ? None too keen on the appearance of the subsequent model with its "Dame Edna" headlights and controversial iDrive system, and no longer doing the long treks round the M25 to Heathrow as my job is now UK-based, we tended to use the car for shorter journeys and decided to go for something smaller.

I initially toyed with the idea of a Porsche for a while - it would have to be a four-seater, so the 911 would be the only sensible option as the kids, being young, could still fit in the back for a few more years.

Rejecting this as not affordable (but making a mental note to buy a Boxster for my retirement), I then moved on to the 3 Series Coupe with the folding hard-top roof. A practical four-seater with a solid roof and the ability for open-top motoring, it seemed like a great idea.

Until we sat in one and realised how cramped it is in the back and how little space there is in the boot with the roof down. And that was before we worried about handling issues with all the extra weight, the risk of the various electronics going wrong, fuel consumption and so on.

Around the same time, my brother took me for a drive in his SAAB convertible on a damp and chilly day in Cheshire and I decided that the reality of open-top motoring is not always quite as idyllic as the idea.

A soft-top seemed to require fewer sacrifices, but in the end, neither Mrs CWB nor I could agree and felt the compromises required for a convertible outweighed the benefits.

So it was settled - a regular 3 Series Coupe; better looking than the saloon and the children are now old enough to clamber into the back by themselves.

We had anticipated having to set aside several weekends to trawl through the internet looking for suitable bargains, but on a visit to my parents', a neighbour who had run a BMW dealership until his retirement offered to drive me round to his preferred supplier, Mark Edwards of Rockvale.

As a city, aside from its more affluent suburbs, Stockport is a pretty unprepossessing place even at the best of times and I do not have much fondness for it at all. Situated in a light industrial area near the railway line and the municipal tip, Rockvale is located in one of its least attractive areas - so at least my hard-earned pennies would not be needed to cover the rental costs of fancy premises.

On my first visit, I spent about an hour with Mark viewing stock as he explained how he works - ex-BMW himself, he employs only ex-BMW technicians and buys mainly from BMW GB at auction.

The deal, as the neighbour had expressed it, was that you tell him the car you want and the price you can pay and he goes out and gets it if possible, so we agreed our price range for the new car, including the value of our own car to be taken in part exchange and the sort of thing we were looking for.

Any reservations I had about dealing with a complete stranger, albeit a very friendly and charismatic one, in an unglamourous part of Stockport were put aside by two things - the connection with my parents' neighbour, the ex-BMW dealer, and the fact that when I checked his prices against similar cars on Auto Trader, he was no more expensive than private sellers.

Another reassurance for us was that we would not be required to pay a deposit or even commit formally to buying the car until after Mark had taken delivery, so he would need to buy a car that was good enough to sell on to someone else if for any reason we decided not to purchase.

I had originally planned to go for the 3l diesel on the basis of the huge amounts of torque it pumps out - the 530d, for example, costs half of the M5 yet has more torque.

However, advice from Mark was to avoid the diesels as more prone to problems than the petrol engines and instead go for the de-tuned post-2007 3l, badged as a 325 and cheaper to tax due to its lower emissions (he similarly dismissed the M3 as "fun for the likes of Jeremy Clarkson on a track, but several times more expensive to run than a standard 3").

So, we put our order in and waited. And waited. Occasional emails to Mark elicited the response only the the market was very quiet and he had not seen anything suitable.

Eventually after what seemed like ages, but was in reality less than a few months, I got an email saying two suitable cars had come up at auction and was I interested.

After a quick call with Mark about both, we agreed which was our preferred choice, and that he would bid for them with the aim of buying one at a price that would allow him to re-sell to us with a sensible profit margin - all very gentlemanly and very hassle free.

When Mark came back with the news that he had managed to get the car, the only thing left to do was view some photos of it online, decide that we definitely wanted it, pay the deposit and arrange a trip up to my parents' to carry out the exchange.

Whilst I am hardly a car-buying veteran, this was by far the easiest vehicle purchase I have ever made, with no need to trawl the internet, making price comparisons, vetting sellers or even viewing in person. And I got to sell the old one at the same time for a reasonable sum and zero hassle.

The car itself is low-mileage with lots of extras and in mint condition - probably better than we would have found for ourselves had we gone down the more normal route of looking through autotrader.

Behind the wheel, it looks and feels very similar to the old 5 Series - I tend to find myself noticing the small differences.

With a shorter wheel-base and run-flat tyres, the ride is slightly firmer, and there is less feedback via the steering wheel, but it corners better.

The pedals are closer together, so I sometimes find myself hitting the wall of the footwell rather than the clutch.

The children think the sun-roof is great, whilst Mrs CWB appreciates the park-distance sensor.

With run-flat tyres, there is no spare wheel (the old 5 carried a full-sized one around all the time), so boot-space is correspondingly better.

Minor niggles include a gadget that pushes forward the front seat-belts when you start the engine, but rarely works properly (why not just put them in the seat back as on the convertible ?) and an annoying "suggested gear" display on the dashboard that silently but almost constantly insinuates that I am over-revving the engine.

And despite the car being smaller and newer than its predecessor, it doesn't feel quite as quick off the mark as I had hoped.

Partly, that's due to me having owned a number of motorbikes, as there are very few cars that can challenge a bike for sheer accelerative thrill, and those that can are either effectively bikes on 4 wheels or well out of my price range.

Having owned our first two cars for 6 and 9 years respectively, I feel I am still getting used to this one - a holiday in the south of France this summer should help with that - and we have not even thought about how long we'll keep this one for.

But, whenever the time does come to replace it, we'll be picking up the phone to Rockvale.

Links

Rockvale - http://www.rockvale.co.uk/

Saturday, 21 April 2012

A Tasting of Naked Wines‏

It's been a while since I reviewed any wines from Naked, but the lovely Fran who oversees the company's PR got in touch and asked if I would like to try some of their new wines with colleagues.

I suggested that a general mix of wines would work well for a tasting, but left it to her to do the final selection.

What arrived a few days later was a fizz, three whites, three reds and a dessert wine and whilst some of the producers were familiar to me, a number were new additions to the Naked portfolio.

For the tasting, I organised a straightforward buffet of salamis, various cheese, bread and olive oil and started by explaining how Naked's business model is heavily based on the concept of choice architecture as put forward in Nudge.

From a standing start in 2008, the company has gained 200,000 customers, most of whom are Angels, with a "house style" of wines that are well-made, unashamedly populist crowd-pleasers.

The first of the wines was a Sachetto Prosecco - with good ripe cox's apple and pear fruit.

This, like most of the wines, was generally well-liked, with just a few dissenters finding it rather one dimensional or lacking in finesse (which I take to be more of an opinion on Prosecco in general rather than on this specific wine).

Next was a Californian Chardonnay, the Angels Reserve from F Stephen Millier, which was ripe with good orchard fruit, good acidity and balanced, creamy oak.

This was again well-liked with people comparing it vary favourably to the over-oaked, overly sweet style of New World Chardie that led to a backlash and the rise of kiwi SB and the now ubiquitous Pinot Grigio.

We followed this with, perhaps slightly out of order, a Loire Sauvignon from Villebois; aromatic and herbaceous on the nose, it has crisp acidity and minerality.

It perhaps suffered coming after the (gently) oaked Chardonnay, but went very well with some creamy goat's cheese.

The final white was a Pinot Gris from New Zealand's Classic South - with floral spice on the nose, it is very much an Alsation-style PG.

Big, rich and fat on the palate, it would match perfectly with a tarte flambee spiced with nutmeg.

The first of the reds was a 2006 Rioja Reserva from Carlos Rodrigez. It spends 12 months in oak, giving just the right amount of vanilla spice, but also preserving a lot of the fruit characteristics.

With aged brick red hints and a pale rim, it is showing some signs of age and feels wonderfully soft and mellow.

This wine proved very popular with colleagues for its oaky vanilla spice, bramble and cherry fruit and mouthfilling texture.

Next up was a Lirico Argentinian Malbec from Maurizio Lorca which proved to be rather more restrained and textured than I was expecting.

This wine was a little less well-received than the Rioja, perhaps because it had less instant appeal, but for me was the best of the reds and perhaps the best wine of the evening.

I also thought it proved an exception to Paola Tich's theory that Argentinian Malbecs tend to be like Essex Girls - fundamentally attractive, but overly made-up to the point where the natural beauty gets lost.

The final red was a mixture of select parcels (otherwise known as leftovers) from Australia's Brewery Hill, named Assemblage.

With prominent juicy acidity, low tannins and simple ripe cherry fruit it was reminiscent of a Languedoc red but was not so well received after the complexity of the Rioja and Malbec.

The final wine was a Moscato - a light sparkler with just 7% alcohol and some residual sugar.

With lots of floral Muscat aromas and refreshing lemon-lime acidity, it is a perfect match for a summer fruit pudding or an Eton Mess.

Recommended Wines

All these wines are very much in Naked's house style of well-made crowd-pleasers, but for me the best white was the rich, perfumed Alsatian-style Pinot Gris from Small and Small, whilst the best red was the Lorca Malbec.

Links

Naked Wines - http://www.nakedwines.co.uk/

Friday, 20 April 2012

Easter Punting‏

A list of the Top 3 Things To Do on a visit to Cambridge would probably include looking round King's College chapel, seeing The Backs and going punting.

Having lived in Cambridge for over a decade now, I occasionally find myself becoming rather blase about the city's charms - before a trip to the historic centre reminds me of why it's such a wonderful place.

With two small children to occupy, school holidays are often a good excuse to explore with them the historic and more picturesque parts of the city, so this Easter, I accepted an invitation from Lets Go Punting to meet one of the company's founders, Simon, for a chat whilst he chauffeured the three of us up and down the backs.

Passing the usual row of touts on Bridge Street, we followed the boardwalk on Quayside towards Jesus Green and found our host.

Simon has been working independently as a chauffeur for well over a decade now - having tried a day-job for a few years immediately after graduating and finding it not to his liking - and plies a second trade as a tree surgeon for the off season.

Unlike perhaps most punt chauffeurs, Simon is a local, being actually from Cambridge originally, and did not go to the university here; as a result, the bits of talk he gives us as we wind our way up and down the river focus more on Cambridge as a lived-in city, offering a local's eye view rather than merely a standardised recitation of the splendours of the university; the river as a trading route with the fens, its course and how the water levels have been managed over time.

It is a sunny but chilly day and so, despite it being the start of the season, the river is quiet. The children ask various questions, eat the snacks we have brought with us and have a go at taking photos (which I think they do rather well).


As anyone who has walked by the river on a hot summer's day will know, there is no shortage of punting touts eager for business, so I ask Simon how Let's Go Punting plans to tap into the market.

A relatively small start-up, the company's strategy is to offer something a little different from the usual chauffeured punts for tourists.

Rather, the aim is to go after a more corporate and events-led market with "punting plus", that is punting plus something else, such as wine-tastings, afternoon teas or hot snacks.

Part of me finds this a little bit gimmicky - combining two experiences does not, in my opinion, make them into a single super-experience, it's just two experiences put together.

But that's my pedant's Old-School approach and the Combined Experience is the very stuff of corporate away-days, significant-birthday parties and the like; wine tasting on a punt is aspirational dynamite and ranks highly for dinner party one-upmanship for the generation that cannot ever merely do one thing at once.

From a business perspective, it's also a great point of differentiation - there are only a few examples of themed punting events, such as Halloween Punts, so as well as being a talking point, this potentially creating a new category.

The Combined Event also has the potential to be more effective from a marketing perspective as it allows two local companies to market jointly and thus share costs; there is also the potential for the fabled "revenue synergies" or cross-selling; try a wine you like on a punting trip and you are more likely to go back to the merchant to buy more.

And as I wrote in a previous post on branding, events are where it's at in marketing terms these days with, for example, rock bands making their money from touring rather than album sales.

Back at the quayside, we hop on to dry land, say our thanks and wander down to Jesus Green lock for a quick game of Pooh Sticks, before heading off in search of somewhere that serves mains with chips and ice-cream for lunch.

Links

Lets Go Punting - http://www.letsgopunting.co.uk/

Image credits: King's College Chapel - http://www.cambridge2000.com/gallery/html/P7117484.html

Wednesday, 18 April 2012

Wines of Navarra

At lunchtime today, I popped out of the office and made the short trip to Bar Pepito in King's Cross for a tasting of Navarra wines.

For the uninitiated, Navarra is a non-classic region of Spain that, like much of the country, is benefitting from the quiet and ongoing revolution in Spanish wine, resulting in well-made, fruit-driven wines at low-ish prices.

With a limited time available, I tried as many wines as I could and was very impressed with the quality - and personality - of the wines on show.

Inurrieta - importer C&D Wines

Orchidea, SB, £7.49, crisp, expressive varietal nose, rounded palate, gentle finish

Norte 2009 CS/M/T £7.99 ripe bramble fruit, vanilla spice and oakiness, good texture, mellow and integrated, grippy finish

Altos de Inurrieta 2007 Graciano/Syrah/Garnacha £17, very dark purple, ripe bramble fruit and spice, softly rounded and velvety texture, mouthfilling with gentle grip on the finish

Bodegas Chivite

Gran Feudo Rosado, Garnacha £8.69 Waitrose - crisp and aromatic, nicely rounded on the palate, good varietal expression; a good picnic wine or summer rosé

Gran Feudo Edicion Chardonnay, £10.99, Fullers - a pleasant textbook Chardie, nice ripe orchard fruit, creamy texture, nothing exciting

Finca De Villatuerta, T/M, £15.99 - complex nose, cherry, plum, tobacco and spice, hints of sour cherry, ripe and mouthfilling palate, good acidity, balanced grippy finish

Bodegas NTR.SRA. Del Romero

Malon De Echaide Blanco, Ch/Viura - aromatic Viura nose, ripe and rounded Chardonnay palate, Viura minerality on the finish

Bodega de Sarria

Senorio de Sarria Rosado, Garnacha, £7.50 Bacchanalia and others - crisp and mineral with red soft berry fruit, great structural acidity

Senorio de Sarria Vinedo No7, 2008, Graciano, Old Vines, £9 Noel Young Wines and others - dark purple, cherry fruit, forest floor, truffley Pinot-esque funkiness and oaky spice, inky texture, wonderfully heady and hedonistic

Keith Grainger, who is writing a book on wine faults, subsequently told me that the funkiness was definitely Brett.

However, Birte Steinfatt subsequently wrote to me, saying the following:

I would like to clarify the point about saying that our wine Viñedo nº7 Graciano has brettanomyces. The grape variety Graciano – as you have noticed – is a very peculiar variety, with many different aromas going from dark fruit to spices, cut fresh wood or the smell of forest floor, and sometimes you even get aromas from the animal world like leathers, all of which have nothing to do with brett.

Beside that, it is certainly true that Graciano is a variety that benefits from some aeration in the glass as it tends to be slightly reductive.

Senorio de Sarria Gran Reserva 2001, CS/M, £13.50, various independents - brick red tones, ripe cherry fruit, cassis and truffley undergrowth, oaky spice; feels mellow, integrated and soft

Bodegas Pago De Larrainzar - importer Georges Barbier of London

Pago de Larrainzar, 2006, M/CS/T/Garnacha, £18.60 - ripe bramble fruit, plums, cassis, oaky spice, juicy acidity, soft tannins and good grip; ticks all the boxes

Raso De Larrainzar 2008, T/M/CS/Garnacha, £10.32 - very similar to the Pago 2006 and about half the price.

Bodega Marco Real

Marco Real Rosé, Old Vine Grenache - pleasant Grenche sour cherry aromas and soft texture.

Compania Vitivinicola Tandem - importer Hallgarten Druitt

Inmacula Viura - low-intervention wine, bordering on natural, feels rounded and creamy with big, Natural Wine mouthfeel, lacks the harsh edges of modern-style Viura, very good

Recommended Wines

The standard and value-for money was all good here, I thought; with so many receiving ticks, I have starred the "best in class" wines.

White
Inmacula Viura*
Inurrieta Orchidea

Rosé
Senorio de Sarria Rosado*
Gran Feudo Rosado

Red
Inurrieta Norte
Finca de Villatuerta
Senorio de Sarria No7*
Pago and Raso de Larrainzar

It is worth adding that Sarah Jane Evans MW rated the Inmacula and the Larrainzar as her top wines. She also rated the Ochoa Calendas Rosado which I did not get round to trying; £7.49 from City Beverage Co and WM Mortons.

Also there was Anne Krebiehl who wrote this piece for Harpers - http://harpers.co.uk/misc/content/article/12042-blog-anne-krebiehl-tastes-wines-from-navarra.html
Links

Wines of Navarra - http://winesofnavarra.com/
Wines from Spain - http://www.winesfromspain.com
Bacchanalia - www.winegod.co.uk
Noel Young Wines - www.nywines.co.uk

Monday, 16 April 2012

Abbotts & Delaunay Corbières Réserve 2010‏

This Abbotts & Delaunay Corbières Réserve 2010 is made from the classic trio of Languedoc grapes - Grenache, Syrah and Mourvèdre.

Three grape varieties  - three different locations - three ageing regimes (new oak, old oak and stainless steel).

Garnet in the glass, at just two years old, it already shows some paleness around the rim.

Straight from the bottle, there is a perfumey nose of ripe dark fruits, smokiness, liquorice, spice and a touch of undergrowth.

The palate is soft and supple with ripe, cooked cassis, black cherry and elderberry fruit and some typical Syrah inkiness. The finish is dry and grippy.

With extended aeration, however, the texture becomes more settled and harmonious, more inky-custardy, the aromas more secondary and complex with funky vegetal decay, black cherry fruit, woodsmoke-tarriness, dark berry fruit and pencil shavings.

After being initially a little underwhelmed, I find myself enjoying this much more once it's had sufficient airing. At its best when the Syrah characteristics dominate, I can't help wondering if it would not have been better as a varietal wine.

As it is, I would give this a couple more years in bottle - and/ or a bit of time in the decanter.

With its high acidity and a firm grip on the finish, it's definitely a food wine - despite the ripeness - so match with salami and bread with olive oil, or plain roast game.

The 2007 is available in the UK for £11.50 at Swig; provided for review.

It's also reviewed by Simon Woods, here: http://www.simonwoods.com/wine-tasting/wine-tasting-video-six-languedoc-reds/

Links

Abbotts & Delaunay - http://www.abbottsetdelaunay.com/
Swig - http://swig.co.uk/

Sunday, 15 April 2012

Louis Jadot Clos de Loyse 2009

I put this Louis Jadot Clos de Loyse in the fridge yesterday and then this afternoon poured it into the decanter before taking the kids for a bike ride along Grantchester meadows in the face of a bracing northerly breeze.

By the time we got back an hour or so later, we were well-aired, several degrees cooler and ready for some food.

By contrast, the wine had warmed up a few degrees but was equally well aired and ready for food.

Golden in the glass, on the nose, there are ripe orchard fruits and a complex toasty yeastiness.

The palate is full of ripe apple-and-pear fruit, rounded citrus acidity, savoury leesiness and oatmealy oak.

The finish is persistent and balanced; overall it feels well made, elegant and moreish.

The trick perhaps, to enjoying this wine at it best is not to overchill, give it plenty of air and serve with food that will match its savoury character - a simple fish or chicken dish.

We started with roasted sliced fennel and anchovies; main was chicken in a creamy tarragon sauce and it was a perfect match for both.

£12.49 from Wimbledon Wine Cellars, Eagle Wines, Luvians Bottle Shop, Peake Wine Associates, The Real Wine Company, The Leamington Wine Company, Jubilee Wines, Flagship Wines, Noble Green Wines, Matthew Clark; provided for review.

Links

Louis Jadot - http://www.louisjadot.com/

Image credit: Grantchester Meadows: http://www.cambridge2000.com/cambridge2000/html/2003/P71212207.html

Thursday, 12 April 2012

Antolini Valpolicella Superiore Ripasso 2008

I was given this Antolini wine by Howie Sayers with a request for a review; we met up briefly in London before taking our respective trains home and Howie explained how he has now gone from working in technical lab design to importing wine as his major activity.

His interest is mainly in Italian wines - especially the areas of Piemonte, Sicily, Friuli and Puglia - and he also organises vineyard tours.

In my experience, Italian wines can be a bit of a minefield - some superb, many disappointing - so it is especially useful to find a merchant who knows the area and can do the hard work of sorting the oenological wheat from the vinous chaff, so to speak.

This Valpolicella Superiore Ripasso 2008 is from Antolini, based between Verona and Lake Garda.

It is ripasso, meaning that a portion the grapes is dried out and the wine is re-fermented ("ripasso") with these intensified, dried grapes.

Dark purple in the glass, with four years' age there is some paleness around the rim.

The nose is concentrated with aromas of dark cherry and plum fruit, a touch of menthol, spice and tarry earthiness.

The palate is perfumey and ripe, with more cherry fruit and hints of something darker, like coffee, soy and cocoa as well as some eucalyptus; there is a sour rasp and a streak of bitterness that lasts onto the finish.

It would match perfectly with roast rosemary lamb - for the more culinarily ambitious Italophile, Howie suggests herb crusted loin of lamb with red Sicilian spinach, cavalo nero, celeriac dauphinoise & parsnip crisps.

Chris Kissak reviews this wine (and others from Antolini) on his WineDoctor blog here:.

I'm quite reassured by his tasting note, as the key elements he draws out ("warm fruit on the nose, with a little tobacco leaf. Nice texture at first, yielding to a more bitter grip through the middle, the sharp cherry fruit sitting with a little smooth dark chocolate") are very similar to what I found.

His score of 14/20, however, seems rather low to me.

Chris also adds some useful technical information in his review about the wine: it is, apparently, a blend of Corvina, Corvinone and Rondinella, but after the primary fermentation the wine is mixed with the Recioto marc in the spring the following year to induce an enriching second fermentation.

Links

Howie Sayers on Twitter - https://twitter.com/#!/atProfumodiVino
Antolini - http://www.antolinivini.it/index.htm

Tuesday, 10 April 2012

Vidal Syrah, 2008, Gimblett Gravels, New Zealand

This Vidal Syrah is from Gimblett Gravels in the Hawke's Bay area of North Island, a region of 800ha of gravely soils laid down by the old Ngaruroro River, which were exposed after a huge flood in the 1860s.

The Vidal winery traces its history back to 1905 - even though most of the modern New Zealand wine industry did not exist before the 1970s; and, whilst it may be traditional to think of Savignon Blanc as New Zealand's signature grape, I find it more useful to think in terms of a signature NZ style - technically well-made, cool climate wines from international varieties with pure fruit expression.

Although now four years old, this Syrah is still a dark purple in the glass, with just a touch of paleness around the rim. Sealed under screwcap, I open it up about an hour before dinner and pour it into the decanter.

The nose shows typical varietal fruit aromas of black cherries and elderberries and a touch of peppery spice. The palate feels inky and mouthfilling - more like a Rhône Syrah than an Aussie Shiraz - with vibrant acidity and pure dark-berry fruit expression.

On the finish, there are supple but grippy tannins and a rasp of acidity that demands food to match.

Poured back into the bottle and re-sampled, it continues to improve over several days with aromas of blackberries, liquorice and pencil shavings developing - this wine clearly has significant ageing potential.

It has a number of awards, mainly bronzes and silvers, which feels about right - impressive and technically very well-made, but not exactly cheap at £14, even if it is clearly a noticeable step-up from NZ wines around a tenner.

Match with a roast dinner of duck or leg of lamb.

£13.99 from Waitrose, The Halifax Wine Co, Askew Wines, Steep Hill Wines, http://www.nzhouseofwine.co.uk/, Matthew Clark, http://www.wine-studio.co.uk/

Links

Vidal - http://www.vidal.co.nz/

Monday, 9 April 2012

Errazuriz Estate Chardonnay, 2010

The grapes for this Errazuriz Estate Chardonnay are grown just 20 miles from the Pacific Ocean in the Casablanca Valley, one of Chile's top regions for white wines.

In the glass, it is pale gold with pear drops on the nose.

The palate shows ripe apple and pear fruit with a good depth of flavour; most of the wine is fermented in stainless steel for freshness and fruit expression, but around 20% is aged in French oak to give depth, richness and some butteriness.

The texture is creamy and mouthfilling with lively, rounded tropical fruit acidity and a long finish with just a hint of tannic buzz.

Well-made and balanced, this is a classic, really enjoyable, fruit-forward New World chardie; match with roast chicken, pasta with creamy sauce or meaty white fish.

£8.99 from Sainsbury's, Asda, Majestic, Booths, Wholefoods Market; provided for review.

Links

Errazuriz - http://www.errazuriz.com/

Sunday, 8 April 2012

Wine of the Month - April

APRIL is the cruellest month, breeding
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
Memory and desire, stirring
Dull roots with spring rain.
Winter kept us warm, covering
Earth in forgetful snow, feeding
A little life with dried tubers.

T.S. Eliot (1888–1965). The Waste Land. 1922

These days, I measure the time since I studied TS Eliot's free verse masterpiece on dusty middle class ennui and spirituality, in decades rather than years.

April is also the month of Easter, the most important festival in the Orthodox calendar, origin of the term "movable feast" and a Pagan fertility / earth re-birth celebration.

These days we may celebrate it by hiding chocolate eggs in the garden for small children to find, but for the ancients, the first signs of a return of the fruitfulness of the land after winter was a cause to rejoice and give thanks to their Pagan gods.

My own bar-stool philosophy is that it must have originated around the end of the last Ice Age when the arrival of spring was a long-awaited event whose outcome was anything but certain and when each winter must have felt like the threat of a return to permafrost.


These days, it is a long time since economic cycles followed the calendar year and in any case, its probably still too early to give thanks to the gods of the free market economy for the return of growth.

Bodega El Cortijo de la Vieja, Iniza Tinto 2008, £10 - Joseph Barnes Wines

A curious blend of 40% Tempranillo, 20% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Syrah and 20% Merlot from slopes of the Sierra de Gador Mountain range in the Alpujarra region of Granada, in Spain, this wine is dark purple in the glass with little suggestion of age.

On pouring, there is a nose of dark fruits and spice; the palate shows lots of sweet, ripe elderberry, plum and black cherry, spice, liquorice and hints of beeswax, leatheriness and undergrowth. It is soft and inky with a mouthfilling texture, liquorice and spice on the finish.

It is a big, effusive personality with a hint of a dark side; my only slight reservation - and it's a very personal one - is that with so many noble grapes in the blend, it feels a bit like a rock supergroup, with various different varietal characteristics vying for the limelight; at times the cassis of the Cab dominates, at others the plumminess of the Merlot and then there's the elderberry inkiness of the Syrah.

Dom. Rimbert Cousin Oscar 2011 Vin de France, £7.49 - Cambridge Wine Merchants

There's scant information on the label; it's a Vin de Table de France, pretty much the lowest classification there is, but a few tweets from Stewart Travers tell me that it's 100% Cinsault from St Chinian, 20yo vines, schisty soils and made by J-M Rimbert.

The only other bit of information on the label is the 11% alcohol and holding the bottle up to the light, I can see the wine is very pale.

In the glass, its the colour of Ribena - I've had darker Beaujolais and Pinots than this. On the nose, there is soft red fruit, cherries and a hint of Pinot-esque woody undergrowth.

Mrs CWB pronounces it "studenty", meaning light, quaffable and easy to drink with pizza on the sofa in front of the telly.

I think that undersells this curious wine a little - neither a blockbuster nor an up-front crowd-pleaser, it is elegant, delicate and well-made; light and fruity with low tannins and good acidity, it would work well for drinking in the garden or with tomato-based pasta dishes, such as a spaghetti pomodoro.

La Bascula 'Catalan Eagle', 2011, Terra Alta, £9.99 - Noel Young Wines

La Bascula is a joint project involving a British ex-wine merchant who just happens to be a Master of Wine and a South African wine-maker.

Based in Terra Alta, which is apparently somewhere near Barcelona, their Catalan Eagle is a curious mixture of the local but unusual Garnacha Blanca and the more well-known but decidedly un-Spanish Viognier.

Golden in the glass it has a peachy nose with hints of toasty yeastiness and roasted peach skin.

The palate is full of sweet ripe yellow stone fruit, with a peachy texture and a mouthfilling, rounded acidity.

The palate and finish are long, savoury and persistent.

It feels both exceptionally well-made - with great balance and superb depth of flavour - and also very more-ishly drinkable. Match with meaty fish such as salmon.

Duas Pedras, Alentejo, 2010, Quinta do Centro, £10.99 - Bacchanalia

Named ‘Two Stones’ after the granite and schist in the soils in Portugal's Portalegre region, this is an unoaked blend of the international varieties Syrah and Viognier with the native Tourga Nacional. As a result, it feels rather less distinctly Portuguese than something made purely from local varieties.

Straight from the bottle there is elderberry and black cherry fruit, liquorice, dark roasted spices and tar.

The palate feels inky yet custardy with ripe, sweet black cherry and prune, a slap of leather, some dark spice and a pleasing streak of sour cherry acidity.

On the second day, it seems to have become more understandable and turned into something approaching a classic Syrah Viognier; there is inky, ripe-elderberry-and-pencil-shavings from the Syrah whilst the Viognier adds a peachy texture and perfume on the finish; overall, it feels more harmonious and balanced now, and also more approachable.

By the third day, it is the turn of the Touriga Nacional and the port-like eucalyptus dominates.

Recommended Wine

Either of the Iberian reds would work well with some roast lamb for Easter, and the Cousin Oscar would be a good garden sipper if we have an early heatwave, but for me the most accomplished and enjoyable wine is the Catalan Eagle for its instant appeal with subtly effortless complexity and sophistication.

Links

Bacchanalia - www.winegod.co.uk
Cambridge Wine Merchants - www.cambridgewine.co.uk
Joseph Barnes Wines - www.josephbarneswines.com
Noel Young Wines - www.nywines.co.uk

Image credit: http://www.digitalbookworld.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/06/ts-eliot-the-wasteland-shot.jpg

Saturday, 7 April 2012

Polz and Tement from Austria's Styria‏


In the south of Austria near the Slovenian and Italian borders, Styria (known locally as Steiermark)  is a high-altitude land of hills, valleys and pre-historic fossil reefs warmed by southerly air currents that produces highly distinctive wines.

Piercingly crisp, thrillingly racy and lushly aromatic, Styria's entry-level klassic wines make great aperitifs, whilst higher up the scale, the richer, fuller, barrel-fermented wines will stand up to meaty white fish, chicken and lighter game.

Favoured grape varieties here are Chardonnay (unoaked and known as Morillon), Gelber Muskateller and, especially, Sauvignon Blanc.

Two of my favourite Styrian producers are Polz and Tement, and I got a chance to catch up with them at the Annual Tasting of Austrian Wines in London last month.

For more on the wineries themselves, check out my reviews from last year's tasting on Polz and Tement here:

Polz - http://cambridgewineblogger.blogspot.co.uk/2011/03/polz-styrian-terroir-elevation-and.html
Tement - http://cambridgewineblogger.blogspot.co.uk/2011/03/styrias-tement.html

Polz

Sauvignon Blanc 2010 - grown on mixed soils and fermented in stainless steel, this is aromatic and peppery with good structure.

Therese Sauvignon Blanc 2010 - from a single vineyard of 9ha at around 480m, this is grown on schist and fermented in stainless steel; less aromatic on the nose it is more mouthfilling and mineral.

Grassnitzberg Traminer 2008 - classic varietal gewurz aromas, good minerality and structure, dryish on the finish.

Hochgrassnitzberg Sauvignon Blanc 2009 - grown on limestone at 390m, this has been made in a Burgundian style since 2006 with fermentation in old oak -from a cool-ish year, it feels less open and tropical; tighter, more closed, there's a natural savoury depth with spice and smokiness, great finesse.

Tement

Gelber Muskateller Klassic 2010 - fermented in stainless steel from mixed vineyards, there is an expressive varietal nose of gooseberries and nettles, good structure and some flintiness.

Sauvignon Blanc Klassic 2010 - greener aromas on the nose and palate, good rounded acidity, some flintiness, balanced, elegant and focused.

Grassnitzberg Sauvignon Blanc 2010 - grown on shell limestone, this feels more weighty on the palate with less aromatic expression; savoury with a creamy texture and a minerally finish.

Zieregg Sauvignon Blanc 2009 - toasty smokiness on the nose and palate, it is savoury with a creamy texture and depth of flavour, long mineral finish.

Recommended Wines

These were all good wines and choice is really only dictated by budget as quality increases reliably as you move up the scale.

Whilst the entry-level wines are great, especially if you are looking for an introduction, for me the best wines are the Polz Hochgrassnitzberg SB and the Tement Zieregg SB.

Polz is imported by Clark Foyster, Tement is part of Austria's Fine Brands.

Links

Polz - http://www.polz.co.at/
Clark Foyster - http://www.clarkfoysterwines.co.uk/
Tement - http://www.tement.at/
Austria's Fine Brands - http://www.austriasfinebrands.com/

Thursday, 5 April 2012

On (Personal) Branding‏


Last night, I had a fascinating chat with ex-journalist and now owner of Cambridge institution, Fitzbillies, Tim Hayward about blogging as personal branding.

We were both at 12a Club for the launch event for Cambridgeshire Wine School, so the setting was highly apt.


Cambridgeshire Wine School is the new venture from vicar turned celebrity journalist turned wine education entrepreneur Mark Anstead. It follows a franchise model and the main challenge initially is simply raising awareness, for which having a website and a twitter account is merely the start.

12a has something of a similar issue as the terms of their licence prevent them from doing any overt advertising and instead it has to rely on word of mouth.

In the audience as well were local Masterchef finalist and now restaurateur Alex Rushmer, local history blogger Caroline Biggs and photographer Jean-Luc Benazet; as it happens, we all do something creative and are all building our personal brands in one way or another, be it for professional purposes or as a hobby.

The conversation kicked off when Tim, who is writing a book, referred to the need to know who your audience is and how you communicate with them, observing that his background in a PR agency had effectively trained him in the way of thinking.

"Of course, you understand branding as well", he said to me. I had not particularly thought of this, but the decade-plus spent counting the beans in various marketing and communications agencies has clearly rubbed off.

In the golden age of advertising, the 1980s, several now-famous novelists such as Salman Rushdie and Fay Weldon plied their trade as advertising copywriters. I had always assumed that they had used their time in agency to pay the bills and hone their writing skills.

But Tim had a more interesting observation; in these brand-building agencies, they had also learn the importance of personal branding.

But where, I asked, is the next generation of ex-agency writers, now that, with the rise of procurement and the fall in client spend, advertising has become more professional and workmanlike ?

Interestingly, the examples Tim gave were of food critics not from creative agencies (still but to a much lesser extent the powerhouses of marketing services) but from PR agencies which are much more closely linked with journalism and selling-in stories.

As I have written earlier, for a while I pondered the idea of trying to make living, or at least a second income, from my blog, but very quickly realised its better potential as a paid-for hobby.

Tim's next observation was another insight - the blog may be a mere paid-for hobby for now, but it is also building a personal brand. Right now, I have not yet found a way to commercialise the blog - and maybe I never will - but I am building up the equity in "brand CambridgeWineBlogger".

I find it rather ironic that as a company director who wants to know the return on investment of everything we do, I have invested a huge amount of time in the blog for negligible financial return - if I were a mere shareholder investing for a profit, I would have pulled the plug a long time ago.

Building a personal brand is something that celebrities instinctively understand - and yet it was precisely because he sees a decline in celebrity journalism that Mark Anstead decided to give up his day-job to run Cambridgeshire Wine School.

Where the money goes from here is anyone's guess - Tim talked about the need to keep fingers in various pies and just keep trying things to see what succeeds as the future works itself out.

The one analogy I can draw is with the music business where, essentially, you give away the album for free and make your money with the tour (plus associated merchandising); what has become valuable is not the (standardised) product, but the (unique) event.

How to apply that to wine blogging is unclear, but the zeitgeisty informal offering of Cambridgeshire Wine Schools, based around populist events, is not too far away from the music business model.

And just as success in the music business is about more than mere musical ability, so perhaps the future of wine education is about more than just the quality of the wines and the technical know-how imparted - as wine education becomes more popular, the growth in the market may well be at the more populist end where branding is more important.

Cambridgeshire Wine Schools have spotted that gap in the market, for whilst technology and habits will change for sure, brands are here to stay.

One of these people knows about personal branding

For more on the launch event itself, see these blogs:

http://movingfoodie.blogspot.co.uk/2012/04/event-cambridgeshire-wine-school-launch.html

http://www.gastronomicgirls.com/2012/04/bites-and-pieces.html
Main image credit: http://www.boxedsolutionsgroup.com/graphics-print/corporate-branding/