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Old Man Claret: Bordeaux at £10 – £15 per bottle

“The aim of life is to live, and to live means to be aware, joyously, drunkenly, serenely, divinely aware.” – Henry Miller Why drink Bordeaux at £10-15? Many other wines stride in with hi-how-are-you blasts. At this price, there are many choices for a medium-bodied red wine from nearly every corner of the globe. That’s why some are asking, is Bordeaux even relevant anymore? Especially those looking for quick teenage kicks. Many times, I have called Bordeaux in this price range Old Man Claret. Sometimes planky oak, sometimes contemptuous fruit. But a good bottle – and there are many good examples, especially from Listrac, Lussac St. Emilion, Graves and Cru Bourgeois, etc – are safe, reliable, well-made and good company. However, I will admit it often does not make me want to sing and dance on table tops. What I like about it though, is it is more like going to dinner with a friend you’ve known for twenty years: there’s little need to always talk and constantly re-introduce yourself. If you are seriously interested …

Fifth Dimension: Movement in Taste

It’s a fact that when you are truly dehydrated, the impulse for thirst in the body shuts down. So you never really know if you are dehydrated even though you desperately need water. In a similar way, sometimes with wine, you don’t know a good one, or the idea of what that may entail, until you have one. It’s a thirst you did not know existed! Recently I hit upon a new scale: this wine makes me happy to be alive. I have talked about the theory behind this in January 2009, How to Survive Passionate Intimacy with a Dreamy Partner While Making a Fortune on the Path to Enlightenment, but now I realise: there’s a lot more to this Theory than I initially thought… only because there’s been plenty of Practice in the meantime. So, back to more Practice. Last night I had 2008 Friulano, San Blas, Vitivinicole Valle from Colli Orientali del Friuli… a white wine from Friuli. This is what astounded me: the movement across the tongue. It had a combing sensation. …

No Fear


Michael Broadbent on music and wine tasting

“What perhaps is needed is something approaching musical notation, for in many ways the problems are similar. Both music and wine appeal to the senses; both are fleeting, in the sense that actual sounds and flavours cannot be retained by receptive ear or palate; both, on the other hand can be appreciated, even greatly loved, by those who lack technical knowledge or who are without a deep interest. But to reach the heights of full understanding and to convey this to others, rather more is required.” – Michael Broadbent in Winetasting Link: Michael Broadbent’s Winetasting

Bordeaux En Primeur 2009 vs The Volcano

Ejafjallajokull may have told Europe to kiss it’s ash during the week, but volcano or no volcano, the 2009 En Primeur show must go on. No volcano was going to stop Bibendum’s annual Bordeaux tasting, nor the punters from tasting a good vintage nor the winemakers to show off a great year. Anthony Barton, from Chateau Langoa Barton and Leoville Barton, even flew in on a private jet, against the flight restrictions, to make it for this important tasting for UK En Primeur buyers. Nine hundred people showed up to the tasting room at Lord’s Cricket Ground: the excitement was palpable. Especially compared to last year’s less-spectacular vintage smack-bang in the middle of the credit crunch pain. The sun shone through the windows as if it was God himself blessing the wine… Okay, now that’s an exaggeration. And there is a lot of hype and exaggeration around this vintage. But after tasting the wines, I can sympathize with the superlatives. Knowing what I know now, I am more forgiving to some of the media coverage …

Savennières: what’s cool in wine right now

Sit up straight. Now pay attention. I’m not going to say this twice.Savennières commands. The Chenin Blanc from the region in the Loire, doesn’t care about being popular or relaxing in front of the television at the end of the day. Turn the television off, says this wine, this is going to be a serious conversation about ideas. If you want to know it: taste, drink, read a book. Of course, this makes it instantly unpopular. Like avant-garde Japanese fashion, the steely mineral character is almost angular, yet try wearing it at a supermarket and you may get some blank stares. Not everyone is going to like it, or get it, but who cares. The best are dissonant yet interesting. The worse are flabby and boring. Even more annoyingly, with Savennières, the quality is highly dependent on the vintage. Best producers I have been fortunate to taste are Baumard (Clos du Papillon, Monopole) and Clos de la Coulee de Serrant from Chateau Roche aux Moins by biodynamic wine star, Nicolas Joly. It’s not popular. Not …

South African Chenin Blanc (Mullineux White): what’s cool in wine right now

There’s nothing really wrong with most Chenin Blanc from South Africa, it’s usually a perfectly nice breezy linen shift of a wine to throw in your bag for the day at the beach. This couldn’t be said about South African wine five to ten years ago, and for that reason alone, it has to be politely acknowledged that most South African wines have improved immensely. Well done. Then you taste Mullineux White from Swartland, South Africa. This is when you suddenly realise the danger of being too nice, wondering where the hell does it get you anyway. Sometimes good manners can be a shorthand for laziness. This is such an intelligent wine that it makes all other wines from South Africa appear like they need to try harder. This wine combines extremely intelligent vineyard practices to create something uniquely South African with South Africa’s (in)famous variety Chenin Blanc – or “steen” as I remember it almost sneered. It has a waxy character reminiscent of a very good Savennieres but with a white Rhone sensibility (due …

montepulciano d’abruzzo: what’s cool in wine right now

From the elegant and svelte to the overextracted and black, Montepulciano d’Abruzzo comes in as many styles as towns in the Abruzzo region of central-eastern Italy. And as many degrees of quality. Get the right wine though, and you have a rich Cote-Rotie but at the fraction of the price. The Montepulciano grape is very powerful, big variety which is Mediterranean in style – you can taste the warmth and herbal character from the earth. It is big but not heavy, and a good example shows a vigour that is sometimes missing from overripe Rhone or Shiraz. What’s great for us is it tends to sit as the second cheapest wine on wine lists everywhere in London. But don’t confuse it with a distinctly different wine with a similar sounding name, Vino Nobile di Montepulciano. This ‘Montepulciano’ denotes the name of the town in Tuscany, made with Sangiovese and is a lot dearer, whereas Montepulciano d’Abruzzo describes the name of the grape variety (the grape called Montepulciano) from the Abruzzo region and is usually found …

what’s cool in wine right now

Far from me to impose my tastes on you (!), this is a new series on what I observe people like to buy who seem to have taste at a premium in all aspects of their life. ie. they are pretty cool. There’s nothing scientific about it, other than intense everyday observation. It’s more a Face Hunter snapshot on the street than a marketing document. If this was Grazia it’d be called: What’s Hot in Wine! But the idea of hot wine makes me feel queasy. And winter is over. Bring on summer already. That’s why first up is the very easy to drink, yet with an interesting savoury bite, an Italian white wine from Sardinia – Vermentino di Sardegna.

Ten wines to buy 2009 Bordeaux En Primeur

a beautiful dream… Following on from my post En Primeur – five questions to ask before buying I’d like to share with you the list of 10 clarets I’d buy from Bordeaux 2009 En Primeur.* Notice there are no first growths or fashionable names (Mouton, Lafite, Margaux, Cheval Blanc, Ausone etc). En Primeur on this level is more about obtaining the limited allocation rather than buying for long-term drinking. They have their own allocations and prices determined by their own market, which exists in another stratosphere. This is a fantasy shop, but it’s a realistic fantasy shop. There are a few cases in my list for around £200 – £240. Without knowing the prices yet, nor the demand (will China be a huge presence in En Primeur buying this year, after all? The debate continues…) here is my fantasy shopping list of 2009 Bordeaux based on quality/value and good long-term drinking pleasure based on reports from last week at the En Primeur tasting. So, let’s go shopping! Price Guide – expensive to value £££££ – …

Why wine tastes better with music

“It is widely acknowledged within the scientific community that music affects behaviour, however this is the first time it has been scientifically proven that music can affect perception in other senses and change the way wine tastes. The research showed that when a powerful, heavy piece of music is heard, a wine such as Cabernet Sauvignon is perceived as being 60 per cent more powerful, rich and robust than when no music is heard. Now, back to practicing my cat dance on last night’s empty bottles… Link: Why wine tastes better with music

2010 Wish List #3: Screaming Eagle

“How can I get onto your waiting list? Production cannot nearly accommodate the demand evidenced by the existing waiting list, many of whom have been waiting patiently for many years. With a waiting list of this length it is unlikely that you will be able to purchase wine directly from the winery, and therefore we have stopped adding names to a waiting list. We thank you for your interest in the very small amount of wine that comes from this extremely special property.” From You might say I just want Screaming Eagle because it’s on a waiting list. Correction: a waiting list for the waiting list for the waiting list. OK, yes, I admit it: this does make me want it more. You got me. The Eagle is an elusive thing. Like a dream. You look up in the sky and maybe you see it but it’s so bright up there. You look into the sun. Those black dots are not birds, you are about to pass out. What is that? The world screaming …

2010 Wish List #5: Inflorescence Champagne

  Coming in at number five on my 2010 wish list is Cedric Bouchard’s Champagne, Inflorescence.             “The explosive, kaleidoscopic Champagnes of Cedric Bouchard are some of the most compelling wines coming out of the region today… Readers should do whatever they can to experience these magnificent wines.” – Antonio Galloni, Wine Advocate     When I read this review in Wine Advocate last April, I immediately started to look for stockists. There’s something appealing about a single-grower in Champagne in a place where every vineyard is held by multiple, usually corporate, interests. It’s the heroic story of the little guy winning against the big guys. There’s also hardly any of it around, and what was available had been snapped up, which, as you can imagine, drove me even more crazy…   Also, the word, Inflorescence – it sounds like it blossoms with marvelous bubbles. Does it live up to the name? I definitely want try a glass or two this year and find out whether it lives up to …

Top 5 Favourite Wines of 2009

For me, 2009 was my Grand Tour of Italian wine. Amarone, Brunello di Montalino, Barolo and the white wines of Friuli and Sardinia. It was also a year where the 2007 vintage from Burgundy and Bordeaux did not produce a predictable line-up of star wines. A challenging vintage, perhaps, but also a good challenge. For isn’t the process of sorting the wheat from the chaff half the fun? Without further delay, here are my top 5 favourite wines from the year: 1. 2004 Poggio di Sotto Brunello di Montalcino Even when it is woven in the palest of colours, the most expensive cashmere has an unusual depth of colour to its fibre. What is amazing about the Poggio di Sotto is its exquisite pale rose colour belies a depth of knitted-together, intense flavours. Like a favourite cashmere jumper, it may appear delicate at first but it soon tells its own story over time. I don’t think this is a social wine. Not that I mean it’s anti-social and offensive. What I mean is that it …

Benefizio (or, is that the champagne talking?)

“I really love you,” She said “Is that the Champagne talking?” he asked. “No,” she laughed, “That’s me talking to the Champagne.” Another year, another birthday. Apart from the regulatory Champagne (Veuve Clicquot and Billecart Salmon Brut), the wine that astounded everyone who joined us for lunch was the Marchesi de’ Frescobaldi 2006 Pomino Benefizio Reserva. The Benefizio glitters and spins like one of those disco lights programmed to move to music. Thrilling pineapple character is mellowed by a sudden acacia and honey character. Depth and light at the same time. It charms but does not dominate. It’s a slight shock to learn this is a Chardonnay. From the Pomino Valley in Tuscany, this area was already considered one of the four best wine-making areas in Tuscany during Medici times. It helps to have brilliant food and company, too. Simple, good Italian food such as real pasta Carbonara (ie no cream, based on eggs). Perfect for long Sunday lunches, this is the ultimate dinner party wine. Bravo. Yes, that’s me talking to the wine! Link: …

Prosecco cocktail, ‘Sbagliato’

With no signs of the craze for Prosecco slowing down after New Years, here’s a cocktail to soak up all the extra bottles you may (or may not) have leftover. Called a Sbagliato, or “mistake” in Italian, it’s much more fun than tired old Bellini (Prosecco and white peach); basically, it’s a Negroni with the Gin replaced by Prosecco. Sbagliato Two parts Prosecco to one part Campari and one part Martini Rosso (or sweet vermouth is also fine). Two drops of Angostura bitters, optional. Pour over ice and stir. Garnish with a slice of orange in a large wine glass. Link: The Cocktail Renaissance

wine in capsules

“James Rothschild sent Rossini [composer of ‘Barber of Seville’, ‘William Tell’ etc] some splendid grapes from his hothouse. Rossini, in thanking him, wrote, “although your grapes are superb, I don’t like my wine in capsules.” Rothschild read this as an invitation to send him some of his celebrated Chateau-Lafite, which he proceeded to do.” – Lillie de Hergermann-Lindencrone, “In the Courts of Memory” Image: The Last Supper, Damian Hirst (1999)

2007 Mouton Rothschild label features Sculptor, Bernar Venet

Even if you don’t drink first-growth Claret everyday for breakfast, you’ll soon be seeing a lot more of the sculptor Bernar Venet. Venet’s sculpture in steel graces the latest release 2007 Chateau Mouton Rothschild label. This is the first time the artwork on the label has been a sculpture – and it has quite a serious tone, especially in comparison to previous vintages. Apart from the eerie 1983 label, which is very bleak and existential, most previous labels seem to me to have something childishly gleeful about them: sheep doing handstands (1999, Raymond Savignac) or my favourite one of a sheep dancing in the sunlight (1982, John Huston). Who wouldn’t be ecstatic? The artist doesn’t receive money but 10 cases of Mouton Rothschild for the commission. That’s something to jump for joy about. Perhaps a parallel can be made between the 1983 and the 2007 – both are not spectacular vintages for this generally spectacular wine (if it is not too incongruous to have “general” and “spectacular” together in the one sentence – after all, …

back to basics

3 types of French Lavender  Vouillez Patienter. That’s the command from ATM machines and toll-gates in France. Oh, how I enjoyed the irony of a machine telling me to have patience.  Lately I have had a happy respite from machines, including computers; instead, I have been taking in the smells of the ocean road in France along the Basque country between Biarritz and San Sebastien. There’s something wild about this country, similar in many ways to the Australian coastline. Although the smells were different – not mint or menthol, instead, thyme and lavender. Both have the lovely fresh spray of the sea.  So thanks for being patient. For a while there, I only had the ability to smell disgusting things! Now I have refreshed the senses I am back to enjoying wine aromas with renewed awareness.  I hope you can join me for a glass or six.  P.S. If you are serious in fine-tuning your sense of smell then I recommend the Le Nez du Vin set of 54 wine aromas in phials. Just as you learn …


“These days the scientists are looking for quarks, strange subatomic entities, having qualities which they describe with such words as upness, downness, charm, strangeness, truth, beauty, colour, and flavor.” – Mu Soeng Sunim Link: whisky river

waiting for Brunello di Montalcino 2004

I’ve been in the lush waiting room for what seems like forever. The agony and the ecstasy! I’m talking about the forthcoming release of the 2004 Brunello di Montalcino. If you love Brunelli, you’ll know what I’m talking about. The 2004 vintage. And maybe you’ll even agree with me when I say Riserva Brunello di Montalcino has a strong semblance to a premier cru Burgundy from the Cote d’Or (even though of course, Brunello is made from Sangiovese and Burgundy is made from Pinot). At nearly half to two-thirds the price. The best of both wines from these regions have an ethereal quality, sometimes a lighter rose colour, layers of complexity and elegance. Although, to my mind, Brunello has a “savoury” character rather than the classic Burgundy “barnyard”. To give you an idea of what to expect, here is my tasting notes for the 2003 Poggio di Sotto (£69 per bottle), which is a ‘lesser vintage’ than 2004 (!) – Infinite jest. Light in colour, light-bodied but also complex like a gymnast with an intricate …

Bob Dylan… on cheap wine

Hey! Thank you for sending me Theme Time Radio Hour on “Drinking” (hosted by Bob Dylan). What’s the reaction? Satisfaction. What’s the flavour? Ask your neighbour. Link: More Theme Time Radio Hour with Bob Dylan on BBC Radio 2 Link: more wine and Dylan on WWS Fattoria Le Terraze and Rainy Day Women

Casanova di Neri

Brunello di Montalcino, Casanova di Neri, £37 Here’s the dilemma. But first let me tell you about the wine. It is not easy. To be honest, it’s downright difficult. You won’t like it. You’ll find it flat, deflated. And it’s half an hour already! (Stop here if you have to rush off.) The fruit reluctantly edges around the darkness with a savoury aftertaste. Only tasted on the second swallow. (Do you really have time for this?) It’s going to take you at least 1-2 hours to decant and then 5-7 hours to drink. (Leaving already?) Too bad. Now every single taste is different, asking questions, tempting you then turning away to reveal another layer of brilliance. Expectations are overturned, tastes are reversed, everything is a surprise. It’s a long journey with someone you just met. But at the end of the trip feel like you’ve known forever. But do you have the patience to endure a wine to allow it to reveal itself, tell it’s story and be itself with all its flaws and surprises. …

1934 Chateau Margaux

Marlene Dietriech, 1934, Paramount This was one of the early 20th century’s great vintages and if any wine was going to make it to the 21st century, then a First Growth Bordeaux from this great pre-war vintage would be it (the next great vintage was the Victory Vintage of 1945). Translucent, like pale brown-pink tissue paper, very thin and almost dried rose leaves. The tannins exhausted (which is fair – although, who knows whether there were perfect cellaring conditions?) and unfortunately, bordering on vinegary. But, where had it been for the past 74 years? Cellaring has to be a consideration. Had it crossed the Atlantic a couple of times like Marlene Deitriech? When was the rest of the case drunk – during World War II, or after World War II – as a celebration? Michael Broadbent’s notes on this wine are telling. He says it is his “favourite ’34. So very Margaux. Yet, and yet, the decay of the 1930s noted quite early, even in the mid-1950s, certainly by the early 1970s. But it soldiers on.” …

shelves crowded with perfumes

Houses and rooms are full of perfumes, the shelves are crowded with perfumes,  I breathe the fragrance myself and know it and like it, The distillation would intoxicate me also, but I shall not let it.  From Songs of Myself, Walt Whitman Link: photo by Tim Walker 

my New Year wish to you

May peace break into your house and may thieves come to steal your debts. May the pockets of your jeans become a magnet of $100 bills. May love stick to your face like Vaseline and may laughter assault your lips! May your clothes smell of success like smoking tires and may happiness slap you across the face and may your tears be that of joy. May the problems you had forget your home address! In simple words… peace.

the peculiar thrills of Gruner Veltliner

“Go on then, thrill me” he replied, “& have some more Gruner Veltliner.” Oh yes. Gruner Veltliner is an Austrian white wine made for dark thrills. Searing acid yet luscious fruit. It’s creamy skin under black leather. Elegantly depraved. A new favourite for jaded tastes. Welcome back Austrian wine.

post-election postscript

Wake up to a new world.  And a cigarette. Hang on. I need some water.  Those Californian wines last night were high in alcohol… Human, all too human.  & thank God for that… Link: This is Our Next President Previous post: election nerves

Bois Blond, Parfumerie Generale (limited edition)

I wore Bois Blond for months. Just to get me through. And I believed – because it was so good – I believed the man behind Parfumerie Generale, Pierre Guillaume, had trained as a winemaker. Well, I was wrong. So why did I believe this? I don’t know whether the sales person had told me this… Or was it the deep woody, sherry, cognac notes I find in their perfumes? Like a bourbon barrel from Kentucky gives a sherry edge to some Scottish whisky. Not only that, but the perfumes are numbered without names; just like bin vats for wine barrels in the winery. Ah well. I wrote to PG about the wine connection and this is my delightful response: The father of Mr Guillaume he is a wine collector and as a child PG visit a lot a Chateaux in Bordelais, Bourgogne and Midi of France with his father to discover and taste Wine culture… He share the passion of his father but, never “work” himself in wine making. For information, Mr Guillaume is …

what to drink during a financial crisis

“My clients’ enquiries: “Which wine is best to numb the pain and transport you most effectively from your woes?” What, for example, might the chief executive of the world’s fourth-largest investment bank pull up from his cellar, dizzy, reeling and nauseous, knowing that the jobs of 24,000 employees, a proud 158-year commercial history, over $600 billion and the reputation of an entire profession were about to go up in smoke?” I’d recommend a white wine from the south of France. A Picpoul de Pinet around £4 a bottle. Or better yet, crunch the credit card and buy a serious Champagne. One that asks questions and gives pause to reflect. Link: What to drink during a financial crisis

Diana Vreeland in her wonderful Garden in Hell

At the Andy Warhol exhibition at the Hayward Gallery was an interview of Diana Vreeland in her apartment. Extraordinary. Talking from her sofa in her Fifth Avenue apartment – decorated as a”Garden of Hell” – she talks to an academic about how she was the last person to see the Mona Lisa before it was stolen at the Lourve. A fascinating conversation with many other superb anecdotes. Link: Andy Warhol, Other Voices Other Rooms at the Hayward Gallery

Bowmore 16 year old 1990

Let me share with you my tasting notes. Although, as the tasting progressed, they look less like notes and more like boozy heiroglyphics. Starting out with calm, triple-distilled lowland single malts and irish blends, the day ended with some unrestrained darkness from the island of Islay. What I wrote for the final Islay whisky, Bowmore 16 year old 1990 (53.4% alc): “Like being violently dumped by a grey Atlantic wave face first on a rock pool covered with barnacles, waking up a few seconds later to cough out sea-water, seaweed and splinters of charred plank.” After some pause, my tutor decided to accept my note, “Ok, that’s pretty much it. Great, isn’t it?” Yes, no doubt. But, by then, the fumes had curled up into my brain. Hanging on the wall, water colour paintings of Islay distilleries by the “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas” artist, Ralph Steadman. When I first arrived and saw them in the tasting room, I found it hard to believe an artist inextricably linked with Hunter S. Thompson could paint …

Brian Eno: the key to a long life

“I believe singing is the key to a long life, a good figure, a stable temperament, greater intelligence, new friends, increased self-confidence, heightened sexual attractiveness and a sense of humour. There! That got your attention.” – Brian Eno Link: Ode Magazine, Freestyling