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Thursday, 31 January 2013

On Character Sketches, Languedoc Wines and Minor Royalty

If Bordeaux is Landed Gentry and Burgundy a land of dukedoms, then Languedoc wines are Prince Harry - more entertaining and characterful than its regal older relatives, and whilst a bit of a loose cannon and prone to the odd mishap for sure, yet all the more loveable for it.

Languedoc wines have an impish, cheeky grin: they are a bit of a handful and prone to some high-spirited behaviour - ill-judged fancy dress costumes, stripping off at a party in Vegas or diving in the pool fully clothed with their mates.

But these fun-loving, mischief-making tykes also have impeccable breeding and when occasion demands, scrub up well in uniform and cut a rather dashing figure - even if they are still liable to flirt with the pert-derriere'd maid of honour.

And given the choice, many of us I suspect, would rather spend time with these grinning, partying, swaggeringly handsome cheeky chappies than their more regal relatives who are, no doubt, excellent company but rather more staid and restrained in comparison.

With the top spots already taken and scant opportunity to put their mark on history, their motto is live for today. And Party On.

Their world is one of mates, girls and endless parties - for now at least. Given time, who knows, they may start to mellow a little more and crave a degree of respectability - instead of falling out of nightclubs.

That won't change their natures, but they may well mature into something approaching greater respectability, trading youthful exuberance for finesse and gravitas.

No amount of breeding can hide their wilful, fun-loving, unpredictable and slightly rogueish personalities and they will always refuse to conform to the stultifying norms of polite high society - hopefully.

Caity Weaver writing on Gawker.com puts it all much better than I:

"Whom would you rather have visit you when you're ill? William, who will bring you a card "signed by everyone in the office" signed by half the people in the office, or Harry, who will make balloons for you out of latex gloves and dress up in scrubs and pretend he's a doctor so he can sit in on your surgery and "keep an eye on things" even though you've begged him not to?

Whom would you rather have attending diplomatic functions? William, whose nervous, quiet laughter echoes so hollowly in marble ballrooms, or Harry, who can cajole the heads of warring nations to arm wrestle just by yelling "This one's for the Facebook!"

The appeal of Prince Harry is that, whether he's playing "strip pool" in Vegas, challenging Olympic gold medalists to swimming races in jeans, or making sex faces at William every time he stands behind Kate Middleton, he's just doing what any of us would do if we were a prince. Or Prince."


Now, glass of Languedoc anyone ?

Other related articles
Pays d'Oc Dinner
Domaine Treloar Dinner

Caity Weaver on twitter

Main image credit: http://gawker.com/5936914/prince-harry-should-be-king-of-england-mayor-of-funkytown-chief-inspector-of-boobs

Harry and Pippa image credit: http://www.toshstory.com/2011/04/royal-wedding-pippa-middleton-and.html

Wednesday, 30 January 2013

Crus Bourgeois 2010 At The Cambridge Tasting‏

The second part of the Cambridge Tasting at Downing College was six 2010 Crus Bourgeois wines with three 2000s provided by Davy from the college cellars for comparison.

As well as the group of tasters in the room, I had organised for Louise Hill of PR agency Phillips-Hill to be online for a tweet-up as well.

After the discussion prompted by the earlier Swiss reds, there was greater uniformity in the response to these wines that was only in part due to the quality.

Bordeaux is not only a benchmark style but also the basis of the whole En Primeur / wine-as-an-investment business - and, with prices in the £15 - £25 range, the Crus Bourgeois are perhaps the heartland of affordable, age-worthy wines that fill college cellars.

College buyers like Davy are accustomed to tasting through a room full of Crus Bourgeois wines to select just a small handful to buy. The tastings may well be organised by a merchants such as Cambridge Wine Merchants and the wines will be served to members of the University's Wine Tasting Society and Blind Wine Tasting Society.

As a result, the Crus Bourgeois wines we tasted were, for more than half the people in the room, not just familiar, but a fundament of their wine knowledge, a pillar or key reference point.

Historically somewhat independent-minded, I have never approached wine in terms of what I felt someone else said I should like - I have always wanted to make up my own mind. But over time, one inevitably drifts towards the classics - and with good reason.

Bordeaux, however, has always been my first love for red wines - the wine that first got me interested in wine and the one I would still buy above all else.

The 2010s
2010 was a good year in Bordeaux and the consensus here was that there was "lots of fruit, lots of everything" in all these wines - tannins, structure and general "stuffing".

Chateau La Garricq, Moulis en Medoc cassis and fragrant cigar box on the nose; ripe blackcurrant fruit and vanilla, good acidity and grip. Good depth and length.

Chateau La Commanderie, Saint Estephe a touch of cork taint on this one, perhaps - nose is funky, the palate feels thin and grippy in the wrong places, astringent on the finish.

Chateau Beaumont, Haut Medoc hints of farmyardiness on the nose, ripe bramble and vanilla fruit, pepperiness. Soft, mouthfilling texture, long on the palate and finish.

Chateau Gironville, Haut Medoc blackcurrant and cigar box, ripe bramble fruit, vanilla and good texture; the tannins are perfectly ripe, the fruit is ripe, it feels long and well-structured. Good.

Chateau Preuillac, Medoc very similar profile to the Gironville immediately before it. Perhaps a little more sweet vanilla and bramble fruit.

Chateau Patache d'Aux, Medoc ripe fruit, sweet vanilla and pepperiness. It feels easier-drinking with good grip and length.

The 2000s
2000 was another good year for Bordeaux and a good, well-cellared 2000 Cru Bourgeois is perhaps now just at full maturity.

Patache d'Aux, Medoc looks much younger than its decade-plus in the glass, just some slight paleness around the rim. Smells older though and a slurp reveals it has cork taint.

Chateau Bernadotte again, surprisingly youthful in the glass; complex, aged nose. Lovely blackcurrant fruit and vanilla.

Chateau Lanessan ageing and starting to tire, this one - fruit has become more rosehip, but acidity still lovely.

Recommended Wines

Of the 2010s, the style and quality was quite uniform. But if I had to pick one, it is the Gironville for its ripe tannins and lots-of-everything-ness.

It was hardly a fair fight between the 2000s, but the clear winner was the Bernadotte.

Other related articles
An Evening of Aged Bordeaux Wines
Troplong-Mondot Magnum, 1998
A 5th Growth Bordeaux from The Co-op
Affordable Right-Bank Bordeaux from Cambridge Wine Merchants
Rousseau de Sipian 2005, Haut Medoc

Crus Bourgeois - website, twitter
Phillips-Hill PR - website, twitter, Facebook
Bordeaux Wines - twitter (main), twitter (UK)

Image credit: side pictures courtesy of the Crus Bourgeois website.

Sunday, 27 January 2013

Adank at The Cambridge Tasting‏

I kicked off The Cambridge Tasting with six wines from Swiss producer Adank.

I had met Patrick Adank whose father makes the wines in German-speaking eastern Switzerland in Cambridge last year with fellow Cambridge wine blogger, Davy Kurniawan.

Based in the village of Fläsch on the border with Liechtenstein and in the foothills of the alps, Patrick had explained how they make international white varieties and mostly Pinot Noir for the reds.

With the snow falling outside and the heating in Downing College turned up to "institutional" levels, we had chilled the whites simply by popping them outside.

The most-planted Swiss white variety is the relatively-obscure Chasselas, but we had the international Sauvignon and a Chardonnay to try.

Both were, I thought, well-made and very interesting - with good fruit expression, textural interest and sense of individuality, blending modern and traditional.

Both were also liked by fellow Oddbins blogger, Paola Tich who is not generally a fan of generic Sauvignon and clunky Chardies.

The Pinots were not well-liked by two of the more experienced tasters in the room who felt they lacked fruit and "stuffing".

I found myself in the slightly odd position of speaking up for them (I somehow have not yet learnt to love Pinot); I approached them in terms of their acidity first, which I found to be quite good, as was the persistence.

I wondered whether the dislike stemmed from the fact that they fell outside of a standard PN pigeon-hole and, whilst not completely faultless, were perhaps as much "different" as "bad".

I spoke afterwards with late-arriver Matt Boucher who is a fan of German wines and he rather liked them, but noted that there was something of substance lacking on the mid-palate.

Some of the naysayers also suggested that the style was perhaps deliberately old school and rustic.

At the end of the tasting, I collected up all the leftovers and took them home. The Adank reds I thought improved with some air and showed more fruit - even after several days - so perhaps they did not show their best straight out of the bottle.

The final red, a Syrah, was light and pale - rather like a slightly darker version of the Pinots. I was unsure what to make of it at the tasting, but later I decided I rather liked its gentle, elegant softness.

2011 Fläscher Sauvignon Blanc pungent, aromatic, herbaceous nose; mineral, creamy texture. Long palate and good persistence.

2011 Fläscher Chardonnay ripe fruit, creamy buttery texture. Nicely-judged oaking, toasty. Feels elegant and very well-integrated.

2011 Fläscher Pinot Noir ripe cherry fruit and vanilla, touch of smokey spice, pleasant acidity.

2010 Fläscher Pinot Noir Auslese cherry and red berry fruit, a touch stalky with thinness on the mid-palate, but long acidity and reasonable persistence on the finish. A touch of spice develops but rather lacks complexity.

There were complaints at the time of this one being "hot, alcoholic and harsh" and "lacking fruit"; there is perhaps an element truth in all of those observations, but I don't feel that, taken alone, they adequately summarise the wine. And I think it improved significantly with aeration.

2008 Fläscher Pinot Noir Barrique the most complex of the PNs here. Again, not liked and described as a bit tired and lacking fruit.

2010 Fläscher Syrah translucent in the glass like the PNs, definitely not Rhône-esque.

Delicate fruits on the nose, some sous bois; spice and dark berry on the palate. Soft, gentle Pinot-esque texture, long on the palate with good acidity. Again, a touch of stalky astringency, especially on the finish, but otherwise quite elegant in style.

This was considered "fragrant but lacking complexity" which, again, I feel is not wholly representative.

Other related articles
Adank Pinot Noir Barrique 2010
Adank review by Vinoremus
The Cambridge Tasting
The Cambridge Tasting reviewed by Aoife Maxwell

Adank - website, twitter

Saturday, 26 January 2013

The Cambridge Tasting

Last weekend, I held The Cambridge Tasting at Downing College with the help of Davy Kurniawan.

It was a gathering of friends to try a range of wines that I thought might be interesting: mainly a mix of bloggers and trade, the idea was simply to taste our way through the wines and see what we thought - with the producers / their PR agencies on line for a tweet-up.

The Cambridge Tasting in numbers:

- 18 different wines
- three countries represented
- 16 tasters, a mix of bloggers, WSET students, trade, buyers and other enthusiasts
- 1 Cambridge College
- three tweet-ups and 4 twitter hashtags

The wines were from Adank in Switzerland, Crus Bourgeois 2010, with some 2000s from the college cellars for comparison and South Africa's 7Springs.

With a mix of experience levels and backgrounds, there was some interesting and often lively discussion. The consensus was that it worked very well as a format and should be repeated - with Davy heading off back to Indonesia shortly, the next one won't be at a Cambridge college, but at least one person offered to host some time.

I'll be writing up each flight of wines separately.

Attendees included:

- Davy Kurniawan
- Paola Tich
- Aoife Maxwell - who has already written up the event here:
- Caroline Biggs
- a number of Cambridge Wine Merchants buyers
- a number of Cambridge University Blind Tasting Society members

The Cambridge Tasting in Pictures

The Room - before any wine arrived.

The Adank Pinots - which caused quite a bit of discussion.

The 7Springs wines.

Finishing up.
Snow still falling as we leave.

Other related articles
Adank at The Cambridge Tasting
Crus Bourgeois at The Cambridge Tasting
Seven Springs at The Cambridge Tasting
The Cambridge Tasting by Aoife Maxwell

Adank - website, twitter
Phillips-Hill PR - website, twitter
7Springs Winery - website, twitter

Friday, 25 January 2013

Colin Hampden-White: Exhibition Closing Party

Um, who owns the copyright in this image, I wonder
A digital photograph of a digital photograph: it's a copy and it's digital, but it's not a digital copy in the way that downloading an album to your iPhone is.

But it is not an analogue copy either - is there even a word for what it is ?

Analog, like analogous - meaning basically the same as but not identical. An analogue copy stored digitally, perhaps ?

On a more pragmatic level, who owns the IP rights in my photograph of the original ? Am I breaching the artist's copyright by reproducing a shot here ?

I hope not, because Colin Hampden-White was kind enough to invite me to his photography display at The Marylebone Hotel and I was not able to stay long at all.

To find out I'd also breached copyright would merely add insult to injury.

I had time to say hello to Colin, catch-up with a few friends, one glass of Moet fizz, quick view of the photos and then I had to head off.

There were to be whiskies later, partly in recognition of the following day being Burns Night, but I missed that part.

I'm not quite sure how best to describe Colin's winemaker and whiskymaker photos - perhaps an appropriate analogy (that word again) is a vintage blanc de blancs Champagne; they have an elegance, purity and brightness as well as a recognisable style.

They are balanced, instantly recognisable and well-constructed.

So far, so good.

But, for me, what they do not have is contrast, impressionism or a sense of the unexpected. Each shot, generally, is a well-lit, face-on colour portrait of a wine-make or domaine owner with a little of the winery in the background; but it feels very much like a "public face".

They are not, for example, intimate portraits showing deep-set emotions - rather, they are perfectly executed studies, technically precise.

Perhaps these are photos to fall quietly in love with: they generally eshew quirks - out-of-focus juxtaposition, unusual angles or contrasting light - but gradually we find in their bright positivity and elegance a reassuring comfort.

I later had a look at Colin's portfolio on his website - where I found much more of the sort of thing that I'm trying describe here: architectural structures contrasted with cloud formations, intriguingly-lit interiors with a sense of depth and movement, public icons caught intimately in real-life situations.

There are some really lovely and eye-catching images there.

Now, I hope that's enough to keep the IP lawyers at bay.

Other related articles
Whiskies for Burns Night - with Colin's recommendations
On Intellectual Property Ownership

Colin Hampden-White - website, twitter
Greatest Winemakers
Greatest Whiskymakes

Wednesday, 23 January 2013

Laithwaites Grand Cru 2002 Cuvee Speciale

This Laithwaites vintage Champagne from 2002 was given to me as a gift many years ago - so long that I don't remember exactly when I received it.

It had sat on the wine rack for upwards of half a decade before I finally decided to open it.

I suspect it may well have come with the advice to cellar for a while - last year I had a bottle of vintage port from Laithwaites that had been handed over with similar instructions.

In any case, a good vintage Champagne should be just coming into its own at 10 years.

Its opening was not to mark a special occasion or event - we just needed a white to drink with dinner and a bottle of vintage Champagne happened to be the only white wine immediately to hand.

My expectations were mixed, tempered by previous experiences of Laithwaites; I'm not generally a fan.

Fortunately, this wine turned out to be rather good - a classic, food friendly Champagne with yeasty biscuitness and brioche, ripe orchard fruits, a touch of red fruit and sous-bois Pinot character with a pleasantly rasping and persistent finish.

A textbook Champagne, in fact - everything it should be.

The blurb on the back says the wine was made by Union Champage to mark 40 years of supplying Laithwaites.

I do have a recollection of a time when wines from Laithwaites / The Sunday Times Wine Club seemed actually quite good - this bottle seems to hark back to that time.

No idea of price, almost certainly no longer available; now just a museum piece.

Other related articles: Champage
Veuve Monnier NV from The Co-op
Etienne Dumont from Sainsbury's
Gosset Champagne Dinner at Hotel du Vin
Champagne Tasting at Alimentum
Bollinger Tasting at Cambridge Wine Merchants

Other related articles: Laithwaites
On Laithwaites
On Laithwaites (Again)

Laithwaites - website, twitter

Wednesday, 16 January 2013

Loeb Burgundy En Primeur 2011‏

The Burgundy En Primeur circus rolls into town again; it's a busy time at work for me and I only make it to one tasting - and just for a short while at that.

I fell briefly in love with Burgundy last year - in Nuits St Georges, Beaune and Vergisson, I started to love Burgundy with my heart rather than just understanding it with my head.

The region is complex and endlessly fascinating, the local cuisine rich and sumptuous.

But Pinot is a fickle grape and, despite my best efforts, I haven't fallen for it. Not properly.

I like it. I sometimes admire it - I love it when it's great. But I don't love it unconditionally.

At the Loeb tasting, I started with the whites before moving on to the reds.

The whites I liked: the word zesty comes up a lot in my tasting notes.

The reds I was less convinced by - as so often.

Prices are for 12 IB, unless otherwise stated.

Usual scoring system applies: Good (1 tick), Very Good (2 ticks), Very Good Indeed (3 ticks).


Montagny 1er Cru Maroques, Domaine Stephane Aladame (£120) good fruit, good acidity, toasty, nice savouriness. Good.

Santenay 1er Cru Beauregard, Domaine Roger Belland (£189) citrus, toasty, savoury. Good.

Chassagne-Montrachet, Domaine Michel Niellon (£120) zesty pithiness and lime zest dominates.

Puligny-Montracher, Domaine Bzikot Pere et Fils (£210) zesty, nicely balanced.

Chassagne Montrachet 1er Cru Morgeot, Domaine Fontaine-Gagnard (£320) intensity on nose, lovely streak of acidity, mouthfilling with great length. Zesty yet soft. Very Good Indeed.

Puligny-Montracher 1er Cru Champgains (£400) pure and precise; harmonious and balanced.

Chablis 1er Cru Vosgros Domaine Gilbert Picq (£120) pleasant citrus acidity.

Chablis 1er Cru Montmains, Domain Louis Michel (£149) zesty, lime and grapefruit, toastiness and good length. Good.

Pouilly-Fuisse Vielles Vignes, Chateau de Fuisse (£239) good zesty acidity, toastiness, mouthfilling and long. Very Good.

Rully 1er Cru les Raclots Veille Vignes, Celine & Vincent Dureuil (£139) pleasant, zesty, sharp.

Meursault "les Tillets", Domaine Patrick Javiller (£295) melon fruit, nice oak, citrus and buttery oatmealiness. A bit overchilled ?

Meursault Cuvee "Tete de Murgers", Domaine Patrick Javiller (£450) pear fruit and lime zest, long, complex palate. Very Good.


Rully 1er Cru Chapitre, Domaine Vincent Dureuil-Janthial (£165 est.) red fruit and mushrooms on nose, sharp acidity and some grip on palate. Doesn't feel harmonious.

Mercurey 1er Cru Clos des Montaigus, Celine & Vincent Dureuil-Janthial (£149) feels more balanced with a fuller mouthfeel on the palate, some grip on finish

Mercurey 1er Cru Clos de Roy Domaine Tupinier-Bautista (£145) farmyardy hints on nose, ripe reds fruits, soft texture and firm finish. Good.

Beaune 1er Cru les Sizies Domaine Pascal Prunier-Bonheur (£199) v. farmyardy nose, soft mouthfilling and silky on the palate, lithe and athletic and precise. Good structure. Very Good.

Volnay 1er Cru Clos des Chenes Maison Pascal Prunier-Bonheur (£265) mouthfilling and long, more muscular, dark red fruit and toastiness. A bigger, more imposing wine.

Beaune 1er Cru Greves, Maison Alex Gambal (£269) red fruits, rasping malic sharpness dominates the palate, some vanilla sweetness and grip.

Vosne Romanee Vielles Vignes Maison Alex Gambal (£349) red fruits, rasping malic sharpness and vanilla sweetness, toasty.

Volnay 1er Cru Caillerets, Domaine Bernard Moreau (£350) red fruit and sweet vanilla, ripe and harmonious on the palate; soft, mouthfilling and long. Very Good.

Pommard 1er Cru Grand Clos des Epenots (£585) sweet ripe red cherry fruit, soft mouthfilling texture, grippy. Very Good.

Vosne-Romanee 1er Cru les Suchots, Domaine Confuron-Cotetidot (£295 for 6) complex farmyard, mushrooms and sous-bois; balanced, harmonious and mouthfilling. Soft texture and some grip. Very silky. Very Good Indeed.

Gevrey-Chambertin 1er Cru Lavaut St Jacques Domaine Confuron-Cotetidot (£310 for 6) sour cherry, sweet vanilla, grip - doesn't feel harmonious.

Gevrey-Chambertin 1er Cru les Corbeaux Domaine Bruno Clavelier (£595) oaky vanilla dominates, grippy, more emphasis on texture than on fruit, long finish.

Recommended Wines
Top white: Chassagne Montrachet 1er Cru Morgeot, Domaine Fontaine-Gagnard for its intensity, structure and length.

Top red: Vosne-Romanee 1er Cru les Suchots, Domaine Confuron-Cotetidot for its textbook Burgundian aromas coupled with superb texture.

I attended the Loeb tasting as a guest of Brough Gurney-Randall who explained to me that it is difficult to know what this fickle variety [PN] is going to do even when you know the grower well and have tasted Pinot since birth - or at least a lifetime in the wine trade - but that is part of its fascination.

How can a 2000 Pommard that was lean and mean in the barrel, emerge ten years later as a fully fledged, balanced, complex wine against all the odds? And no I would not have bought it either ...

Other related articles
On Not Loving Pinot Noir
Rhone En Primeur
Restaurant L'Alembic, Nuits St Georges
Sangouard-Guyot, Vergisson
The CWB Pinot-Off

Loeb - website, twitter

Monday, 14 January 2013

On Not Loving Pinot Noir

A confession: I do not love Pinot Noir - there, I've said it.

We never actually fell out as such; with a reputation for ethereal beauty, I tried to fall in love but found I couldn't cope with the vanity, mood swings and expensive habits.

I went to PN's home and there, in context with all the family gathered, everything made sense for a while. But I couldn't stay and we drifted apart again.

Pinot Noir lovers are cat people; they are used to dealing with something that has a sense of its own superiority, that claws up the curtains, does not come when called and, whilst occasionally very prettily charming, only deigns to be so when in the right mood.

Fickle, unreliable and prone to mutation, PN seems to have multiple personalities - it can be light and pretty, pure and beautiful, earthy and characterful. It is said always to have a hedonistic, seductive side but is perhaps most often almost-very-attractive but not quite.

Drudging home from the station, keys in the door "What mood will it be today ?" I wonder, as I rock up once more chez Pinot Noir.

Will it be high heels and candlelit dinner - or a headache and how difficult the day has been ?

Pinot Noir's complexity and variety is partly the source of the attraction for many wine geeks - she responds minutely to her circumstances and surroundings, so there is always some new subtlety or nuance to experience.

But all too often - for me at least - she disappoints.

The younger sisters, sent away to find husbands, had to adapt to their new surroundings.

The Pippa Middleton of these was the one who went to New Zealand - she never quite showed the mix of Royal Elegance and aristocratic earthiness displayed by her older sister, but cut a very neat little figure in Central Otago and was even made to be reliable in the hands of Sir George Fistonich who managed to tame her mood swings and spending habits.

As for Chile, Australia and California, there is plenty of socialising, some flirting even, but no announcements in the Society pages of the broadsheets just yet.

Over-indulged, over-rated, overly sensitive, the Pinot sisters are just too high maintenance for me to fall in love with.

We hang out in the same circles and bump into each other occasionally. "How's it going ?" I ask; she responds, but I can tell she finds me rather dull; my conversation topics practical, mundane and deadly boring for her.

She looks into my eyes for a moment, a playful smile lights up her face and my heart feels like it's about to skip a beat. "Well, it was so lovely to see you again", she says and behind the smile, the unspoken words we both know "You never really understood me".

And with that she's off - gone. She sidles up to someone else. They chat - I can't hear the conversation, but the body language is intimate.

I look away and sigh inwardly.

When I look round again, I see they are dancing.

Other related articles
Villa Maria Pinot Noir
Hallowed Ground Tasting
Pure Noir

Image credit: http://www.cafepress.co.uk/+i_love_pinot_noir_framed_tile,189131139

Friday, 11 January 2013

On Sherry Molecules: Or, Sherry is Forever

James Bond: An unusually fine Sholera. Fifty wun, I believe.
M: There is no year for sherry 007.
James Bond: I was rufurrung to the orruginal vintuge on which the sherry is based,  shir. Eighteen fifty wun. Unmishtakable.
- Diamonds are Forever (1971)

It's a bit like asking how many angels can dance on a pin-head; how long can the original fill of sherry remain in the solera if you remove a third each year and top up with younger wine ?

The Wrong Answers

The schoolboy error is to say three years: a third each year.

An equally erroneous answer, in my view, is to say forever. This is called the asymptotic argument which says that even if you keep halving something there will always be at least a tiny bit left.

This works for infinitely-divisible things, but sherry molecules are indivisible, so eventually you'll come up against the last molecule and have to remove it from the solera.

The Right Question

So, the question is: take the number of sherry molecules in a solera, keep taking away a third and when the result you get is less than a whole number, then that's your answer. On average.

To put it another way: 2/3rds to the power x times the number of molecules in a solera equals just less than 1. What is x?

The Solera System Explained

Not to be confused with the solar system, the solera system is one of the key elements of sherry-making.

A third of the wine is bottled and the solera is topped up with younger wine, giving a consistency of style.

It also means, as M points out in Diamonds Are Forever, that all sherry is non-vintage.

The Romance of sherry - as Davy Kurniawan tells me - is that there is always a bit of the original sherry left in the solera.

However, if you keep taking away a third of the wine, eventually you will get to the point where no original wine is left - in my view at least.

A Worked Example

Let's say you put nine apples in a box; take out a third and replace them with bean bags.

Now take out a third of the things in the box - on average you will take 2 apples and 1 bean-bag (there are twice as many apples as bean bags).

Replace with bean bags and you have 4 apples and 5 bean bags.

Repeat and assume that you take 1 apple and two bean bags. You are left with 3 apples and 6 bean bags.

Keep going and eventually, you'll have no apples left - your original supply has run out.

So it must be with a solera - eventually, all the original sherry molecules must be removed.

The Asymptotic Argument

The asymptotic principle states that the distance between curve and axis approaches zero (but never reaches it) as it tends towards infinity.

As an example, Davy suggests imagining continually halving something; you never end up with zero because you always have the other half left. Same principle with sherry.

I get the point about continually halving; but sherry molecules are indivisible - you can't have half a molecule.

So eventually you get to a point where you cannot take a fraction of a molecule out - you have to take a whole molecule out and that molecule is the last one.

The Twittersphere Responds

I asked the question on twitter and got a number of different answers - sometimes from the same person:

Dr Jamie Goode, a science PhD, originally said the original sherry will last forever, you just keep depleting (the asymptotic argument). When I pointed out that sherry molecules are indivisible, he suggested it would take thousands of years.

Jeremy Rockett chipped in to say that Nobel Prize-winning economist Milton Friedman, on visiting the Tio Pepe bodega, calculated that there are 50-60 vintages in a glass of Tio Pepe Fino.

Of course, only an economist could spend time in a sherry bodgea working out the number of vintages in a glass.

But I'm not sure that the actual number of vintages in a glass is the same as the theoretical time it would take to deplete the original fill.

At this point Tio Pepe themselves contributed to the scientific discussion by sending me a picture of a solera with Milton Friedman's signature on from 1976 - the year he won the Nobel Prize. Nice

Tony Milanowski, an Australian winemaker and lecturer in Oenology at Plumpton College, then weighed in to say Milton got it wrong and the actual answer is 158 years.

If this is correct, then Bond's 1851 solera (actually, it was M's sherry, but Bond's observation) would, until a few years ago, still have had some molecules of the original fill. But as the new M seems to prefer whisky, where the 1851 sherry is now is anyone's guess.

Whether any of the character of the original fill would remain is another question entirely and perhaps a moot point - as Andy Hickey points out.

Throughout this discussion, I have been referring to sherry molecules as if they existed as a standardised, homogeneous compound.

Actually, sherry is of course about 80% water, 20% alcohol and some complex flavour compounds; a bit like using ping-pong balls, apples and footballs in my earlier example.

Godfrey Spence adds these comments:

First, only the cheapest Sherry will be run with a 1/3rd saca. Other than Pale Cream, even the big sellers are less than that (Tio Pepe I think is 20%, La Gitana a tad less). The age-dated wines are taking a tiny proportion from the solera each year: under 5% for VOS, and under 3 % for VORS.

Second, surely the issue is not how much of the oldest but the fact that there is also, in every bottle you buy, a tiny bit of the second oldest, and the third etc. So if a solera had been set up in, say, 1900 every bottle will have a percentage, however small, of every vintage of the last century.

All this assumes that the solera was set up from scratch and has never been added to from other soleras, which is a common, and inevitable, practice in the region

My final tweet on this subject was to the one person I know who has the intelligence, curiosity and knowledgeable contacts to work the answer out, the Principle of the Stephen Perse Foundation, Tricia Kelleher. She passed it on to her Head of Chemistry who had first to look up what a solera is, then gave this answer:

"If 1/3rd is removed each year then the amount of original remaining is 2/3 raised to the power of the number of years; a smaller and smaller amount approaching but never equalling zero [this is the asymptotic argument - TL].

One of the other tweets commented that eventually you must get down to a fraction of a molecule but performing a simpler calculation using a pure substance like water then a 1 litre bottle contains approximately approximately 6 x 10 to the power 25 molecules so it would take over 10 to the power 17 years to get down to only 1 molecule of the original water! Of course it's random chance as to which molecules are removed.

For now, I leave the last word to Davy:

I think you should always have the romance in your head, that there is an infinitessimal amount of the original sherry there - though perhaps in homeopathic quantities.


With thanks to Dr Jamie Goode, Dr Davy Kurniawan, Jeremy Rockett, Tony Milanowski, Andy Hickey, Godfrey Spence and Tricia Kelleher for all their thoughts and contributions on this topic: I hope I have represented them accurately and credited appropriately.

Other related articles
On Sherry's Image
The Great Sherry Tasting

Image credit: El Pantera

Tuesday, 8 January 2013

On Typicity - Exhibit A: 2009 Ch Clément-Pichon Cru Bourgeois Haut-Médoc

It's one sign of being a wine geek when you start to look for typicity in a wine.

As I have written before, the casual drinker tries a wine and either likes it or doesn't - by contrast the wine enthusiast (geek), tries it, assesses it, considers it and mentally compares it to other wines they have tasted, categorising and pigeon-holing it.

Regional typicity is essentially the idea that a wine should conform to certain stylistic parameters given its place of origin - Sancerre is steely and minerally with flintsmoke; red Burgundy has farmyardy, vegetal aromas and a soft texture, Champagne is biscuity and elegant.

Master of Wine and Team Jancis Robinson writer Alex Hunt penned a very thoughtful piece questioning the significance of typicity - it can be found here, albeit you'll need to be a PurplePages subscriber to  to view.

Whether it is valid to expect, require even, a wine from a certain place to display certain characteristics is something of a moot point and there are, of course, degrees of typicity - my own view is that it is a bit like the 10 Commandments: more of an aspirational guideline.

Or, to put it another way, typicity should not get in the way of making a good wine.

At its most basic, the concept of typicity is helpful to all wine drinkers - if you like a white wine with crisp acidity and herbaceous aromas, then Sauvignon Blanc is probably your thing. And if you prefer the lush, aromatic, tropical style of Sauvignon from Marlborough, you may find the steelier versions from Loire or Austria's Styria not to your liking.

I tend to think of typicity as more of an Old World concept than a New World one; the idea that a wine from a certain place should display certain characteristics is central to the concept of terroir and (in very broad terms) terroir vs varietalism is what separates the Old World from the New.

The question, then, is how one defines the Old World and the New - by geographic location or wine-making style.

Whilst one may legitimately have expectations of what a Barossa Shiraz or Otago Pinot Noir should be like, wine traditions do remain more deeply set in Europe's classic regions: 30 years ago, there was no benchmark for Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc; 20 years ago, Chile was only just discovering that it had plantings of Carmenere.

So, on opening an Haut-Medoc Cru Bourgois 2009 at the weekend, I had a set of expectations about what it would be like - from the left bank in Bordeaux, Cab-dominated, there should be bramble-blackcurrant fruit, pencil savings, maybe some cigar box, good acidity and mouthfilling tannins.

What I got was rather unexpected, albeit not unpleasant - the fruit is darker, more elderberry, it is riper and there is a distinct spiciness.

The rest of the wine is good and well-made - acidity, tannins, length, balance and so-on all fine; the ripeness is held in check, so this is not simply an over-cooked version.

Rather, it is a wine from one region consciously made in an atypical style; it reminded me more of a Rhone with lots of southern warmth, dark fruit and spiciness.

I initially wondered whether there might be a higher-than-usual proportion of Petit Verdot in the blend to account for this, but Jane Anson very kindly noted the grapes are limited to Cabs Franc and Sauv plus Merlot, explaining the Rhone-esque character comes from late harvesting, long maceration and some new oak.

The ever-concise Mrs CWB agreed with my assessment, noting "It doesn't taste like usual Bordeaux".

So, I find it a slightly strange experience - I like this wine as a Rhone; I'm just less convinced by it as a Bordeaux.

Whether that matters at all is of course entirely subjective and something of a moot point.

This wine was given to me as a gift, but a little Internet research shows it is available from Tesco online for £99 per case (£16.50 per bottle) here.

The 2008 is available from Jascots at £20.45 per bottle - here

With thanks to Elizabeth Kelly, Kat Wiggins, Lenka Sedlackova and Brent Bracamontes for joining in a twitter discussion on this subject.

Footnote: as often happens, I decide keep a bit back to see how it develops. After a couple of days the character becomes more Bordelais, the tannins and acidity now more prominent than the ripe primary fruit. I find I prefer this.
Other related articles

Chateau Clement Pichon - website
Jane Anson on twitter

Monday, 7 January 2013

On The Kitchen Cabinet

There was something of a homecoming / end of term feel for yesterday's recording of Radio 4's The Kitchen Cabinet at Clare College in Cambridge.

The programme - broadly a light-hearted foodie panel show - was at the end of its second series and many of the presenters had a connection with Cambridge.

Perhaps best-known locally is Tim Hayward who, with Alison Wright, gave up a career in London to resurrect the iconic Fitzbillies bakery, restaurant and purveyor of Chelsea Buns.

Resident food historian Dr Annie Gray is from just up the road in Ely, whilst chef Angela Harnett once studied in Cambridge.

Completing the panel was US-born 2011 Masterchef winner Tim Anderson, whilst the programme is hosted by restaurant critic Jay Rayner.

On arrival at Clare, drinks were provided, but as it was basic college undergraduate wine served from Paris goblets, after the first couple of slurps I did not go back for more; not offensive, it was merely rather basic and not the stuff of High Table.

I was lucky enough to have been included on the guest list which turned out to mean that firstly I found out beforehand who was on the panel but was also guaranteed a seat - the BBC it seems knows the same trick as every up-market restaurant about creating a buzz: there is nothing so powerful as turning a few people away to make people want to come along and so they give out rather more tickets than there are places available.

So I was honoured to find myself in the company of Michelin-starred chef Mark Poynton of Alimentum, albeit I quietly noted he had been rather more assiduously encouraged to come along than I.

The programme runs for 30 minutes, but recording takes just over an hour what with re-takes and fluffs and, inevitably, what makes for amusement in a live environment perhaps does not so work well for a pre-recorded programme, so it will be interesting to see what makes the final cut.

The show's format is a mix of pre-written material, audience participation and panel banter - a bit like Christmas panto, really.

This being the BBC, the pre-written material, read out by Jay Rayner, was cleverly done and included my favourite line of the afternoon: an introduction of Tim Hayward as being "the man with the best buns in broadcasting".

"Those" buns - in all their glory
And with the show being in Cambridge, there turned out to be not one, but two people in the audience who has eaten swan; one had had to go to China to do it, but my respect goes to the second who had it served at a St John's college dinner in 1981.

This led on to a comment by Tim Hayward about High Table and college rituals. He made the observation that High Table was not old-school formality for the sake of it, but rather an opportunity for great minds to meet, discuss and bounce ideas off each other.

This type of inquiry perhaps suits cutting-edge sciences more than anything else but, Tim explained, represents a conscious focus on inter-disciplinary stimulation by the University that I rather admire.

Many of the other topics discussed were more pedestrian in nature - what to do with left-over cheeses and left-over port: these came from two different people and had they but known of each other's dilemma, they surely could have solved it between themselves.

For me, left-overs of either cheese or port do not exist as a concept, but I did put up my hand to contribute to a question on what to do with celeriac.

Sadly the box for audience participation had been left unchecked for this question, so I did not get a chance to explain how celeriac is a key ingredient in tafelspitz on national radio.

For the uninitiated, tafelspitz is an Austrian dish of boiled beef and is far more appetising than it might sound: cheaper cuts of beef, ideally streaked with fat, are very gently boiled for several hours.

Then, the cooking liquid is clarified and slices of root vegetables (carrots, kohlrabi and of course celeriac) are added and the dish slow-cooked for a further hour or so.

The liquid and vegetables are served as a soup for a first course, whilst the beef makes a main course and comes with salty matchstick chips, apple and horse-radish sauce, sour cream and chives and creamed spinach.

The best place to eat tafelspitz is at Plachutta in Vienna - the branch in the 19th district was my local for many years when I worked in Austria, but I also used to go to the one in the Vienna's historic 1st district.

Chatting to panellist and food historian Dr Annie Gray afterwards, it turns out she had also been to Plachutta and described it as "like the C18th was alive and well on my plate".

File:Franz Joseph of Austria 1910 old.jpg
Franz Joseph I - a lover
of tafelspitz
Of course, tafelspitz is essentially a simple peasant dish, rather like the French pot au feu, so it is perhaps not surprising that it was a favourite of the bluff, militaristic Austrian Emperor Franz Joseph I, but did not register with the middle class, cutting-edge metropolitan chefs of the panel as an option for this lovely root vegetable.

And with that, it was all over bar the re-takes which, incongruously, included the initial introductions.

For those not on the guest list, the panel is kept secret until recording starts, so we had to feign surprise and enthusiasm in our repeated welcomes for the panellists - but it did give me a chance to hear the line again, "The man with the best buns in broadcasting - Tim Hayward !".

Later that weekend, I read this insighful, wide-ranging and thoughtful piece on a related theme from Cambridge blogger Heresy Corner: Obesity and Sin.

The programme airs on Tuesday January 8th at 3pm on Radio 4 and is available as a podcast on the website.

Other related articles
The Best Tafelspitz In Vienna: Plachutta
Families and Friends Dinner at Fitzbillies, Cambridge

The Kitchen Cabinet on BBC Radio 4 - website
Fitzbillies - website

Image Credits: Photos of Jay / Panellists by Robert Abel; Tafelspitz by Robert K.

Saturday, 5 January 2013

Whiskies for Burns Night

Bunnahabhain Bay and Distillery
Earlier today, I chatted with Alan Alder on Cambridge105 about whisky and my recommendations for holding a Burns Night whisky tasting.

If you missed the programme broadcast live, it will be available on podcast shortly; I started by explaining that whisky is not so much influenced by its place of origin as much as the process by which it is made, albeit the various regions have their own "house styles".

To find out more about these, you'll need to listen to the programme, but it's safe to say that Speyside is the Cognac of malts whilst Islay whiskies are the “wildest” and “hairiest”.

If you are only having one whisky for the evening, then it needs to be quite versatile as it's going to have to suit all tastes across a whole evening, but if you want to try a range of styles and don't want the expense of buying lots of bottles, a really good idea is a set of miniatures in different styles.

Colin Hampden-White very kindly came up with this idea and suggested the Classic Malts miniatures collection from Whisky Exchange, whilst Fiona Beckett suggests Master of Malt for miniatures.

If you want to shop locally, though, Bacchanalia do a set of three miniatures from Springbank for £30, but my suggestion is simply to go to Cambridge Wine Merchants who have a huge range of around 350 whiskies.

Good All-Rounders
Bunnahabhain 12yo Islay Single Malt Scotch Whisky £34.99 Islay malt in a suit and tie, sophisticated, clean, pure and strangely juicy. The water source is a fresh granite spring, and their barley is barely peated. Consequently the whisky, though obviously island in style, supports a complex flavour range without too much peatiness

Benromach 10yo Single Malt Scotch Whisky £30 rich and fruity, with sweet chocolate and delicate spicy aromas. Complex Speyside style – finished in Sherry casks

Something more special
Blair Athol 12yo Highland Single Malt Scotch Whisky £45 a wonderful deep colour, like a conker. Tastes like burnt raisins. Sherry cask from new. Big, deep, dark, brooding, and rather rare.

Edradour 10yo Highland Single Malt Scotch Whisky £38 A ‘cult’ whisky. Nestled in a charming rural spot near Pitlochry, this is the smallest distillery in mainland Scotland. Just three men work here. Gentle and fine with distinctive toffee, nutty and vanilla notes

Caol Ila 2000 Cask Strength Islay Single Malt Scotch Whisky 61.4% £58 Authentic, balanced and complex.

Bunnahabhain 12yo Islay Single Malt Scotch Whisky 46% 5cl £4
Ardbeg 10yo 5cl £5.75
Glenlivet 18yo 43% 5cl £5.75

Cambridge Wine Merchants have just brought out a guide to whiskies - normally free with any whisky purchase, Cambridge105 listeners can get a copy just by mentioning the programme - although, with its lovely shots of rugged distilleries, I defy anyone to get a copy and not want to try some of the whiskies in there.

Other related articles
A Wee Dram on Burns Night
Mill Road Winter Fair And A Glenfiddich Tasting

Image credit: http://www.islayinfo.com/islay-pictures-wallpaper/bunnahabhain_bay_1280x859.html