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Thursday, 26 February 2015

Maximum Bob - A 37-Year Retrospective From Robert Parker

"God is an American"
- I'm Afraid of Americans, David Bowie
The big news at the Wine Advocate press conference was the announcement of Neal Martin taking over Bordeaux En Primeur from Robert Parker.
But we also got a key trends retrospective of his 37 years in the business from the man who invented the Parker Points system.
To summarise it all in a single sentence, the globalisation of interest in wine has led to improvements in quality, expansion of production and ever higher prices at the top end, with all that that brings.
#1 quality: quality and reliability have improved across the board, including at the very top, due to the globalised marketplace and increased competition. The industrial approach of old has been replaced by an increased interest in organic and biodynamic practices.
#2 investment: related to #1, wineries have invested to focus on quality and make their wines a true representation of the Terroir, soil and region.
#3 New regions and diversity of styles: the emergence of Spain, Portugal, southern France, Eastern Europe, South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, South America.
#3 wine investment: the top classics are no longer affordable and this is not going away.
#4 wine as a profession: the rise of sommeliers and wine writers is a good thing
#5 social media: more wineries are on Twitter and reaching out to people, it is less elitist but people are still intimidated despite everything
#6 shipping and handling; these have improved, especially in the US with better temperature control in hotter areas
#7 fraud: the "ugliest side" of increased interest in wine, don't buy older vintages as you simply can't prove provenance.
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Wednesday, 25 February 2015

Robert Parker's Wine Advocate Press Conference

A Panel Discussion from Team Wine Advocate
The Robert Parker circus rumbles into town - below a veneer of good ol' boy humility, it is slick and well-choreographed. Since Robert Parker sold a majority stake in The Wine Advocate to Asian investors a couple of years ago, the pressure to broaden their offering and pay for that stake can only have increased.
And so we get an all-American, all-you-can-eat snackathon.
First the team introduce themselves and their areas of expertise - the message here is that Team Wine Advocate is more than just Bob.
Next, Robert Parker gives us a retrospective of the key trends of his 37 years in the business - it is easily-enough done, but insightful nonetheless.
Then we hand over to Lisa Perrotti-Brown to talk about the future; a generation younger than Parker, she seems to have been assigned the task of brand-stretching, so we get lifestyle magazines, tastings and so on.
Finally we get The Announcement, the real news - Neal Martin is taking over as Bordeaux En Primeur reviewer, marking a further step back by Robert Parker from the day to day assessments of wines.
We wrap up with some key but non-core messages; Bob is a great boss, they own the IP in their scores, the importance of scores has been blown out of proportion - by others.
Robert gives us a bit more of his charm, telling us he doesn't really enjoy the limelight, he just loves doing his job, the rest of the panel smiling benignly as he holds forth, centre stage.
A brief Q and A and we're done; the goody bag containing nothing more potent than a bottle of fizzy water from the sponsors.
Robert Parker has never been a hero of mine - too un-English for my tastes, he doesn't quite work here in Europe, and it seems to show.
For all his talk of demystifying wine, the American view of wine is as a status symbol, backed by a touching stateside belief that the more something costs the better it must be.
But I emerge with a more nuanced view of the man who is known best for his eponymous points system and a palate that likes more of everything - and then some.
He is sharp, astute and a deft performer; we see Bob the boss, the businessman and the CEO. I admire him. But, unlike the classy English fizz on arrival, he is still rather too American for me.
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Thursday, 19 February 2015

Sud de France Saint Chinian Tasting

A tasting of St Chinian wines at Maison de la Région Languedoc-Roussillon

When I think of Languedoc, it is still as a relatively homogenous area; I know there are different sub-regions and terroirs, of course - I have even visited some of them.
But Languedoc still stands as a byword for a broad region of improving quality, increasing sophistication, southern warmth and value for money.
One emerging sub-region that is gaining a profile is St Chinian; tasting the wines at the Maison de la Région Languedoc-Roussillon (yes, there is such a thing) in Cavendish Square, I learnt:
- the whites are good; full, sophisticated, versatile, food-friendly and fresh
- there are ageworthy reds, with complex aromas of old leather and game
- the most impressive producers I came across were Pech Menel and Pradels Quartironi
The wines are all AoP St Chinian unless indicated.
Whites / Rosé
Domaine Belot, Viognier 2014 IGP Oc harmonious and persistent
Domaine Belot Cuvee Vignalet Rosé 2014 fresh and long with ripe red berries
Domaine Pech Menel Poudre Rolle Viognier Chardonnay 2013 IGP Oc floral, aromatic and complex. Good.
Chateau Viranel Viognier 2012 toasty, smokey and full
Chateau Coujan Cuvee Bois Joli 2012 (swig) ripe and tropical-citrussy. Good.
Domaine Coujan Cuvee Rolle IGP Coteaux de Murviel (Linlithglow Wines) fresh and ripe with sweet spice. Good.
Domaine Marion Pla, Cuvee Les Larmes de Jeanne 2014 fresh, ripe and full. Good.
Domaine des Pradels Quartironi Blanc 2013 waxy, citrussy, ripe and tropical - a touch blowsy.
Domaine Marion Pla Cuvee Conviction Intime 2013 floral, violets, lifted dark fruits. An expressive, modern easy-drinker.
Domaine des Pradels Quartironi de Sars Haut Coup de Foudres 2011 complex with dark fruits and spice, mellow and harmonious, soft and supple with a firm finish. Good.
Chateau Quartironi de Sars, Campanil 2008 brick red hints, aged leather, dried red fruits, dried green herbs, cool mint, soft supple and harmonious. Very Good.
Domaine Belot Best of BELOT 2013 complex, with sweet vanilla, lifted ripe fruits, floral violets and spice; harmonious and persistent. Good
Chateau Pech Menel 2011 complex and supple, well integrated, dark fruits and gaminess. Very Good.
Chateau Pech Menel 2007 complex aged nose, aged leather and well-hung game, dark fruits, supple tannins with some firmness. Very Good.
Chateau Coujan Cuvee Gabrielle 2013 lifted dark fruits and spice, fresh and toasty with a grippy finish.
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Wednesday, 11 February 2015

Mornington Peninsula at #ADT2015‏

Australia Day Tasting 2015 with Wine Australia

Mornington Peninsula in Victoria is Australia's Cornwall or San Francisco - a breezy coastal haven for retirees, surfer dudes and anyone seeking a chilled-out lifestyle.
To anyone who thinks of Australia as an initial unlikely source of good Pinot Noir and Burgundian Chardonnay, two words: Mornington Peninsula.
Ten Minutes by Tractor
10X Chardonnay 2013 (£20.85) ripe, fresh, Burgundian and accomplished. Good.
10X Pinot Noir 2013 (£23.45) sweet, ripe red fruits; intense and accomplished, supple and persistent. Good.
Chardonnay 2012 (£29.05) leesy, lime-peel, tautness and depth; technically flawless. Very Good.
Pinot Noir 2012 (£32.40) Burgundian nose, fresh and limpid with minerality and cool mint. Very Good.
Wallis Chardonnay 2012 (£38.10) rich, ripe, complex and fullsome.  Compelling and androgynous, a Wallis Simpson of a wine. Very Good Indeed.
McCutcheon Chardonnay 2012 (£38.10) sweet and ripe with a fresh, leesy salinity. Alluring and seductive, a Martine McCutcheon of a wine. Very Good Indeed.
McCutcheon Pinot Noir (£47.15) mineral and peppery, less-prominent fruit. Well-structured and muscular with fine tannins. Very Good Indeed.
Judd Pinot Noir 2012 (£47.15) more-clayey soils, more fruit and plumpness. Ripe red fruits, pepperiness. Harmonious and very accomplished. Very Good Indeed.

Yabby Lake

Red Claw Chardonnay 2014 (£18.95) smoky, toasty, freshly mineral; technically flawless with a cool climate elegance. Very Good.
Single Vineyard Chardonnay 2013 (£35) more complex, nuanced and deft. Very Good Indeed.
Single Block Release, Block 6 Chardonnay 2013 (£55) more saline and mineral, intense and concentrated. Very Good Indeed.
Red Claw Pinot Noir 2013 (£18.95) ripe, fresh Red fruits and Burgundian truffleyness with cool mint; very pure and clean. Deft, elegant and intense. Very Good.
Single Vineyard Pinot Noir 2013 (£39) elusively superior - more complex, nuanced and textured, less fruit-led. Very Good Indeed.
Single Block Release, Block 1 Pinot Noir 2013 (£55) same clone as Block 2, this shows more ripe red fruits but with the same underpinnings. Very Good Indeed.
Single Block Release, Block 2 Pinot Noir (£55) more elegance, freshness and texture, cool and fresh - less fruit-led. Very Good Indeed.
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Monday, 9 February 2015

Wine of the Month: Wines For Valentine's Day

Three Champagnes for Valentine's Day

If you take Valentine's Day seriously, it has to include Champagne for a loved one. Here are three that will make the right statement.

Romantic - Pink Fizz: Lanson Rosé NV (The Co-op)

Yes it's pink and it's got bubbles, but this is serious not frivolous; a redcurrant-infused, orchard-fruited, leesy-biscuity Champagne; pale pink with great structure and a fine mousse.

Drink as an aperitif or match with king prawn vol-au-vents.

Elegant - Castelnau Blanc de Blancs 2002 (Spirited Wine)

A vintage Champagne made from only white grapes, this is as elegant and deeply desirable as a middle-aged Bryan Ferry. Fine, delicate and ethereal with citrus fruits, yellow peach and brioche. Assured, adept and complex, it doesn't have to try, it just is.

Match with grilled lemon sole, beurre blanc and courgettes.

Classy - Taittinger Brut Réserve NV (Majestic, Waitrose, Tesco)

A blend of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, this is a classic Grande Marque Champagne; peach and acacia, fresh citrus, honey and brioche. Long, fresh finish.

Match with smoked salmon.

If you have to ask the price, then you are clearly not entering into the spirit of Valentine's Day, but details are:

Lanson Rosé NV (£37.99, reduced to £27.99 until Feb 27)
Champagne de Castelnau Blanc de Blancs 2002 (£40.80)
Taittinger Brut Réserve NV (£37)

Other related articles
Wine of the Month - February 2013
Wine of the Month - February 2012

Sunday, 8 February 2015

Tasmania at #ADT2015‏

Australia Day Tasting 2015 with Wine Australia

Geographically - and metaphorically - part-way between Australia and New Zealand, Tasmania is, I'm told by Tasmanians, something of a rugged, unspoilt, cool-climate wilderness. A bit like the Scottish Highlands or West Virginia, then.
I was keen to try the wines.
Eddystone Point Pinot Gris 2013 (£14) ripe and toasty Pinot Gris with sweet spice. Good.
Josef Chromy Chardonnay 2013 (£15 - £20) fresh, beeswax and sweet spice; complex and technically accomplished. Very Good.
Eddystone Point Pinot Noir 2011 (£14) pale, fresh elegant, Burgundian. Technically very well-made. Good.
Bay of Fires Pinot Noir 2013 (£22) Burgundian nose, sweet ripe fruits, minerality. Fresh and adept.
Dalrymple Pinot Noir 2012 (£26.99) sampled with the seared venison and lentils at lunchtime, this was a lovely, fresh, pure Pinot.
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Saturday, 7 February 2015

Co-op Highland Single Malt Whisky 12yo

An unassumingly packaged Highland single malt from The Co-op that outperforms

The packaging for this Co-op whisky is, let's be honest, a little underwhelming - the box is reasonably smart, but the bottle looks a little perfunctory for something costing over £20.

But don't be fooled because the contents are very impressive; in practice, it means that more of your money is going on the liquid itself which makes for better value.

If eight years' aging is generally considered the entry level for whisky, going up to twelve gives noticeably more concentration and finesse.

A golden, mahogany toffee colour, it has a complex nose of citrus, sandalwood and roasted spices; cooked mixed fruit, pastry shop, sweet vanilla and complex dark sherry flavours. Warming, assertive and persistent.

Good value and Very Good.

Match with haggis, dark chocolate and espresso and a crackling log fire - in that order.

£22.99 from The co-op; provided for review.

Other related articles
Last Great Malts
Whiskies for Burns Night

Thursday, 5 February 2015

Australia Day Tasting

Australia Day Tasting 2015 with Wine Australia
Say "Australian wine" and I first think of "sunshine in a glass"; ripe, crowd-pleasing, fruit-forward, varietal, bulk, over-oaked generic wines produced from trucked-in grapes at something more resembling a factory than a farm.
But away from the rows of branded antipodean bottles on deep discount in the supermarkets, the truth is - like the wines - more nuanced.
Australia first invented itself as an exporter of iconoclastic wines, trading on its New World warmth and straight-talking bluntness.
But like every excessively talented Young Turk - from Cliff Richard to Mick Jagger - it eventually aspires to join the establishment it once spurned.
Yet Australia is not looking to ease into a turgid middle age comfort zone - there is part of its psyche that will forever be Iggy Pop, the driven underdog-outsider-turned-statesman.
Rather, with maturity, it is evolving, Beatles-like, and marrying an Old World deftness and subtlety to its New World energy.
The new General Manager of Wine Australia has a Consumer focus first and foremost - coming from the sales side, one his first actions was to hire Laura Jewell to work in the UK; an ex-Tesco Master of Wine, it is probably safe to assume she knows a few things about wine, consumers and marketing.
But what of the product itself?
The Australia Day Tasting highlighted not only the breadth and diversity of Australia's wines but a more cool-climate, European focus.
There were elegant Pinots and Burgundian Chardonnays, Rhone-esque Shirazes with freshness as well as ripe fruit and spice. There were Vins de Garde with structure and ageing potential, wines, both red and white, with more texture and minerality than fruit.
There were, of course, the inevitable few clumsy examples of overly alcoholic fruit bombs (possibly fewer than at an average tasting) and I have yet to fall for the skinny-supermodel charms of Australia's lean 'n' limey Rieslings.
And there were the inevitably overpriced trophy wines that were not good value at all.
But what ADT showed is that above a tenner and below, say, £50 Australia is producing some serious, and seriously enjoyable, wines that are redefining what we need to understand by the term "Australian wine".
Do we need a new term; a re-branding of Australian wine? Perhaps we do.
It may be as simple as coining a new phrase like "Australian Fine Wine"; for, just as the concept of a dedicated driver was only born with the creation of the term, so ambitious Australian wines now need an equivalent crystallization point.

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Sunday, 1 February 2015

A Greek Odyssey in the Supermarket; Chapter 2 - Waitrose

Two Greek wines from Waitrose, recommended by MW student Anne Jones

These two wines formed part of my further research for an article on Greek wines for Cambridge Business.

Santorini Assyrtiko, Hatzidakis 2013 (£11.99)  Sandy yellow, orchard fruits on the rose; sweet, ripe cooked peaches, but dry, fresh and mineral. A touch of salinity; long, mineral finish. Good.

A versatile food wine, it has the body and acidity to stand up to a range of strongly-flavoured foods such as pasta, roast pork or salamis and hard cheese.

Tsantali Organic Cabernet Sauvignon 2011 (£9.49) a modern Greek red with Bordeaux-style cassis, cedar and cool mint; deep, concentrated structure and an organic purity.

Still tightly knit, despite four years' age, this will benefit from several hours in the decanter / years' cellaring. Good.

Match with red meats, such as rare roast beef.

Other related articles
A Greek Odyssey in the Supermarket; Chapter 1