Stuart George

Archive for June, 2009|Monthly archive page

Twenty20 vision

In Cricket on June 29, 2009 at 1:58 pm


I have been watching a lot of Twenty20 cricket recently.

Although I didn’t go to any of the recent World Cup matches I saw many of them on TV in various South London pubs. Now that the international tournament has concluded the county version has started. I was at Lord’s yesterday for Middlesex vs. Sussex, which looked like it would be a shoo-in for the home team before Ed Joyce got stuck in. It was remarkable how quickly the dynamics of the game changed. In the space of three or four overs, Sussex’s run rate went from 3.5 to over 10. Hugely enjoyable and entertaining.

Twenty20 Vision?

At The Oval last Wednesday (24 June), Kent beat Surrey by one run. Not quite as absorbing as “The Greatest Test” at Edgbaston in 2005, but a lot of fun. And I actually rather enjoyed seeing smug Surrey beaten again. I have memberships at both Lord’s and The Oval but have little empathy for the home sides. Warwickshire is my county.

So what does a MCC member think of Twenty20? Well, I am a good deal younger and probably not quite as reactionary as some of the MCC membership. Indeed, I would not have joined the club if it had persisted with its “no women” rule. It cannot be “a private club with a public function” and discriminate against half the population; you cannot have it both ways. And surely the success of the England women’s team undermines any remaining vestiges of sexism at HQ.

The power-hitting and new batting strokes are all part of the game’s evolution. Perhaps batsmen will be playing Tillakaratne Dilshan’s “Dilscoop” in Test matches before too long – well, Dilshan will, anyway. Bowlers also are increasingly able to prevent the collateral damage that they suffered in the early days of Twenty20. Perhaps new bowling techniques will also find their way into Test cricket.

Twenty20 is the cricketing equivalent of Blue Nun – short and sweet. But just as Blue Nun is often people’s first taste of wine before moving onto better things – I can only speak for myself, of course! – I would hope that Twenty20 remains the entry point into the delights of cricket and that Test matches retain their status as the highest form of the game. It is all a matter of marketing, I suppose, for which we must rely on the ECB (England and Wales Cricket Board) and BCCI (Board of Control for Cricket in India). It doesn’t fill one with confidence. The BCCI is in thrall to the money generated by the Indian Premier League; the ECB is in danger of over-egging the omelette with a proposed P20 league to begin in 2010 and run alongside the existing Twenty20 Cup. But like Richard Branson’s trains, it is the future.

Interesting also that Twenty20, like the game of cricket itself, originated in England but has been better exploited overseas. That is the history of cricket in a nutshell.

Ice maidens: Champagne at Texture

In Tastings on June 26, 2009 at 9:56 am




Last night I enjoyed the company of an old friend at Texture in Portman Street, near Marble Arch in London.

Xavier and Agnar
We drank Andre Jacquard’s Grand Cru Blanc de Blancs from Mesnil – dry and austere, but delicious. The sommelier was the delightful Swedish-born Erica Laler, who recently finished runner-up in the UK Young Sommelier of the Year competition. Well done Erica. She is studying for the Master Sommelier qualification under the tutelage of Texture’s co-owner Xavier Rousset, who I first met in October 2006 when he was working at Le Manoir Aux Quat’ Saisons. I have met him only a couple of times since but he always recognises me and remembers my name – an incredible memory. He is very good at what he does and thoroughly deserves all his success.

After my friend left for his dinner date I was settling down to finish the bottle of Jacquard when I was ambushed by three strangers – Adam, Jane and Deborah, I later learned – who invited me to share a bottle of Vilmart Grand Cellier, which was a totally different style to the Jacquard – heavily oak-influenced and oxidative, a gypsy dancer to the Jacquard’s ice maiden, as Adam put it. The ice maiden analogy is correct for the first wine but I think the Vilmart was more French matron than gyspy dancer – strict and rather heavy on its feet.

Feet of Klee: Sotheby’s and Christie’s Impressionist and Modern Art sales

In Art and artists on June 25, 2009 at 8:16 am





Sotheby’s evening sale of Impressionist & Modern Art in London on 24 June totalled £33,531,150 (including premium) from 23 lots sold – an average of £1,457,876 per lot, which is about the same as a typical New York wine auction would total from 1,000+ lots.

The 85.2 percent sell-through rate was the best for an evening sale in this category since last June, claimed Sotheby’s.

The top lot was Picasso’s Homme à l’épée, which sold to a private collector for £6,985,250. Clearly, despite the ongoing doom and gloom about the global economy, there are still people that can afford to spend nearly £7 million on a Picasso painting.


The previous evening, Christie’s Impressionist and Modern Art Evening Sale made £37,235,550 (including premium) from 30 lots, a clearance of rate of only 68 percent.

The highest bid was £6,313,250 for Monet’s Au Parc Monceau, the painting that I had poked and prodded a few days beforehand. Another of Picasso’s Homme à l’épée paintings made £5,753,250, having sold for £2 million in 2005.

At first glance, the prices are impressive, but the Picasso sold within its estimate even with the premium added. The 14 lots that didn’t sell reveal the true state of the art market. These were “mid-range” works priced mostly between £300,000-600,000, a nebulous area for auctioneers at the moment. High quality work continues to sell well, albeit at lower prices than might have been seen two years ago, but lesser works that were clearly over-priced are now a more challenging sell for the auction houses.

The war of the rosés

In Tastings on June 24, 2009 at 10:56 am


At the end of May, I was invited to be a judge at the Concours des Vins de Provence 2009, a secondary competition to the Concours Mondial de Bruxelles. It is not easy to turn down an invitation to taste wines in St-Tropez!

Brigitte Bardot St-Tropez

Typically, many of the other tasters were local winemakers. I thought that the scores awarded to some wines were a little excessive… My neighbour awarded a perfect 100 to a wine that I rated at 62 because it reeked of volatile acidity. If locals form most of the judging panel, then high scores are a certainty. Provençal winemakers are not known for their broadminded view of the world: I think it’s called a “cellar palate.”

There was an awful lot of fuss during the Concours about proposed EU rules on blending red and white wine to make rosé. The EU’s argument was that it would make producers more competitive with the New World (where blending is allowed) and reduce the wine lake. Most winemakers in Provence insisted that coupage (blending) was the road to ruin and that only rosé made by saignée (“bleeding” the red wine) should be produced. Only the worst red and white wines would be used in rosé blends, they howled.

Some other overseas tasters (from Belgium, Germany and Japan) and I were filmed by the local TV station tasting blind two saignée wines against a coupage blend. It was obvious which was which: the coupage was so shockingly bad that it seemed as though the worst possible example was found and used as a stooge. It certainly supported the argument that only the worst wines would be used.

However, I agree with Charles Metcalfe that the coupage proposal was a “red herring.” As he pointed out, most rosé Champagne is made by blending red and white wines – even Krug uses this method – and much New World rosé is also blended to a good standard. (Doubtless the Australian taster Amanda Regan would have an opinion on this). As the Concours tasting proved, not all French (or at least Provençal) rosé is great – indeed, the greater part of it is poor when examined closely. Mercifully, the wines rarely show the sugary unctuousness of Californian rosés but volatile acidity and/or premature oxidation – essentially, a lack of freshness – is a persistent problem.

In the end, the proposal was abandoned one week before it was due to be ratified on 19 June, much to the glee of rosé winemakers across France and Italy.

But even the worst coupage rosé tastes good when, like Pink Floyd, you “reach for a peach, slide a line down behind a sofa in St-Tropez.”

Pink Floyd in St-Tropez

Monet for nothing: Previews of Sotheby’s and Christie’s Impressionist and Modern Art Sales

In Art and artists on June 19, 2009 at 11:20 am


Like an actor, I am currently “resting.” To stave off complete boredom I visited the previews of Sotheby’s and Christie’s Impressionist and Modern Art Sales, which will be held at the end of June. I did Art History at A- and degree level and the subject has long interested me.

The first stop was at Christie’s in King Street where I was hoping to meet Jussi Pylkkänen, President of Christie’s Europe and Middle East, who, the press office said, “will be available for comments and interviews on the international art market.” He was more interested in oligarchs than hacks, and I don’t blame him.

Instead I spoke to Giovanna Bertazzoni, head of the Impressionist and Modern Art department. She gave me an overview of the sale: nine works estimated at £1 million+, with the highest estimate at £5-7 million for Picasso’s 1969 Homme à l’épée, its high price supported by a recent Picasso retro in NYC curated by his biographer John Richardson. In 2005, the painting sold for £2 million.

Giovanna thought that Impressionism was a much more stable market than that for Russian and Chinese contemporary art, the prices of which were grossly inflated during the so-called “boom years.” The frothy contemporary art market was not unlike that of fine wine – it is a luxury and an indulgence, and as such is the first thing to go when the bonuses stop. She believes that the older, more classic works will always retain their interest and, to a certain extent, their value – ditto wine, I suppose. People will always crave Picasso and Romanée-Conti; they don’t necessarily retain their interest in Zhang Xiaogang and Sine Qua Non.

Giovanna also gave me the lowdown on Monet’s Au Parc Monceau, painted in 1878. The painting itself is very characteristic but the canvas is unusual in being “unlined” – that is, not having anything behind it to support it. She proved the point by making me touch the painting. I poked and prodded a £3.5 million painting – you can’t do that in a museum!


Up the road in New Bond Street, Sotheby’s was also offering another of Picasso’s Homme à l’épée series, never before seen at auction but estimated to sell at £6-8 million. Helena Newman, Vice-Chairman of the Impressionist and Modern Art Department, told me that the supply of fine art works is still mainly from private individuals. In Europe, it is not easy for state-owned museums to deaccess. She also believes that it is sentiment rather than price that causes people to retain works rather than sell them – ditto wine?

Sotheby’s Contemporary Art Evening Sale is on 25 June; Christie’s Impressionist and Modern Art Evening Sale takes place on 23 June.