Stuart George

Archive for July, 2009|Monthly archive page

Raymonde’s Review: Howard Park new releases

In Tastings on July 30, 2009 at 7:45 am

Jeff and Amy Burch very generously send the new releases of their Howard Park wines to me every year. Rather than self-indulge alone, I thought that I would share this bounty with some friends.

Paul Raymonde by himself

Paul Raymonde by himself

On Friday 24 July, I took a few bottles round to my great pals Paul (London’s finest caricaturist) and Angela Raymonde in sleepy W10. Also with me for the weekend was SuHua Newton of Newton Vineyards.

Everybody had an opinion on the wines—especially SuHua (she has an opinion on everything)—but the notes below are mine alone.

2007 Howard Park Chardonnay Great Southern

Ripe and plush fruit. Quite fat, even without a malo. Well-integrated oak. White peach flavours. Some sulphur on the nose—perhaps a legacy of its use to prevent the malo. Drink now.

2007 Howard Park Leston Cabernet Sauvignon Margaret River

Strong varietal character. Earthy and savoury, à la St-Julien. Sweet and juicy at the front, more savoury at the finish. Not very tannic—these will soften quickly. The oak became more apparent with aeration (50% new French for “approximately” 18 months). For relatively early drinking—now to 2012.

Howard Park Leston Cabernet Sauvignon

We also tried a couple of other bottles for comparative purposes.

2005 Pierro Chardonnay Margaret River

Finer and less opulent than the Howard Park Chardonnay. Full malo. The 13.5% alcohol shows a bit.

2006 Newton Vineyards Unfiltered Chardonnay

The third time that I have tasted this wine over the last year or so and its best showing yet. Soft and rounded but not fat. Last time I had it I found it rather cloying and blowsy. It was much better this time—though doubtless this evening’s company helped.

Then, at London’s greatest curry restaurant Hot Stuff on 28 July, I was joined by winewriter Maggie Rosen and The Times’ rowing correspondent (and cricket blogger) Patrick Kidd for more Howard Park wines.

2008 Howard Park Riesling Great Southern

Thinner than some recent vintages, according to my memory of the 2007 and 2006 Riesling. Drink now to 2013+.

Howard Park Riesling

2008 Howard Park Sauvignon Blanc Margaret River/Pemberton

Very grassy. Crisp and fresh. Like the Riesling, very sleek.

Howard Park Sauvignon Blanc

2007 Howard Park Leston Shiraz Margaret River

Dark berry fruit on the nose. Medium body. Nice texture but will be even smoother with age. Sweet, charming fruit. Drink now to 2011 for more balance and smoothness. Tasted alongside a 2007 Yalumba Patchwork Shiraz a day later, when the fruit sweetness became even more apparent. The Patchwork was similarly sweet at the front but finished dry and savory, whereas the Leston’s sweetness followed all the way through.

And a Kiwi curio courtesy of Maggie:

2005 Destiny Bay Magna Praemia Waiheke Island

Very oaky on the nose, though the palate is luscious and velvety. Styled to please the goût américaine but I will give it the benefit of the doubt… Drink now to 2012+ in the hope that the fruit will eventually subsume the oak.

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Blind tastings: The Wine Squad

In Tastings on July 24, 2009 at 10:31 am

In early July I had the pleasure of spending an afternoon with Michael Bishop, aka “Big Blind Mike.” He was quite easy to spot outside the Underground station where we had arranged to meet. He is big (or perhaps I am small) and he is “legally” blind.

Mike is a friend of a friend of a friend. He worked for Oddbins in London and Vintage Cellars in Australia before deciding to sell his shares in Woolworths (the Australian supermarket chain, not connected in any way to the recently deceased British version) to fund a television show called The Wine Squad, which Mike describes as “the footy show but for wine… we’re basically comedians.” There’s certainly plenty of footy language that would probably cause Daily Mail readers to tut in disapproval.

The Wine Squad is broadcast on Channel 31 in Australia, more specifically in Victoria. Wine choices are therefore “pro-Victorian, pro-Australian,” explains Mike, who co-hosts with Tony Clark, who is completely blind, and Gage Rositer.

There are 13 episodes per series to make it fit into a quarterly schedule. The most recent series assessed bottles in the A$15–25 range. Before the credit crunch hit, the range went up to A$40.

There is at least one winemaker guest on each show, who presents a range of their wines. “The winemakers were very reserved in the early shows, in their shell,” Mike told me. There is also a non-wine “celebrity” guest. These have included the (female) Tai Chi world champion and a Melbourne comedian called Andrew McClelland (never ’eard of ’em).

Some faux pas that a stricter producer might have cut are left in. For example, Mike asked Kathleen Quealy of Quealy Wines if her estate was named after a suburb of Mornington Peninsula. “Actually, it’s my surname,” pointed out Kathleen.

Blind tasting is taken literally: the tasters wear a blindfold to assess three wines on a “how much would you drink” basis—one glass, a quarter, half, three-quarters or a full bottle. Remarkably, there were no spillages in the four episodes that I watched. As Mike quipped in one episode, these blind tastings are “where good intentions always go sour.” Seemingly fearful of litigation, Channel 31 puts a disclaimer at the start of each program: “The opinions of the wine reviewers are strictly their own.”

Of course, the reputations of tasters and wines can be made or broken in a blind tasting. Gage Rositer was consistently good in his guesses. Grange was deemed by all to be no better than a A$25 red. The Wine Squad doesn’t take itself seriously, but nor does it pull its punches. Penfolds (again!) Club Port was dismissed as “sweet, cheap and high in alcohol.”

The set is very sparse—a table, some chairs and some bottle-filled wine racks in the background. But it costs A$30,000 to make a 13-episode series. Chatting with Mike gave me an insight into how much is required to make even a no-frills show like this. There are 16 people on the credits at the end of each program. No wonder Mike was persuaded by a producer to stay in the studio rather than go on location—the numbers would probably have doubled.

The Wine Squad is unpretentious, sometimes highly amusing, often informative and well worth a look. More details at http://bigblindmike.com.au/

Ashes to Ashes, dust to dust: England vs. Australia at Lord’s

In Cricket on July 20, 2009 at 4:48 pm

Lucky me to have been at Lord’s on Sunday and Monday to see England’s first win against Australia at this ground since 1934 (sic). Having waited from 1989 to 2005 for England to regain the Ashes visibly aged me; probably there is 100+ year old MCC member that has waited 75 years for today’s triumph.

And guess who made it possible more than anyone? That man Flintoff. He bowled a magnificent ten over spell this morning, taking 3-43 and winning the match for England before lunchtime. He was rightly made Man of the Match. It wasn’t quite as intense as his 14 over spell at The Oval in 2005 – the Lord’s pitch saw to that – but it was an outstanding display of fast, aggressive and hostile bowling. Let’s hope his ankle holds out for the rest of the series.

So England are 1-0 up with three matches to play. Next stop is Edgbaston, where England have such a good record – better than any other Test venue in this country, apparently – and where I misspent most of my youth. Although I am Worcestershire born and bred, I grew up just that bit closer to Birmingham than Worcester, so Warwickshire it was.

I am increasingly minded towards England winning this series…This is not a great Australian side, and certainly it is a shadow of its pre-2005 self. The bowling attack is weak even if the batting remains relatively strong – Michael Clarke played some superb shots through cover during his innings of 136, only to have a rush of blood to the head and end up being bowled by Graeme Swann.

SDG at Lord's 19 July 2009, England vs. Australia

But whatever might happen in the next three Tests, it was a famous victory at Lord’s today and a privilege to have been there.

The privilege was even more profound because I was meant to have attended on Sunday with my friend Steve Evans, who is suffering terribly with lung cancer at the moment. I thought we might have lost him at the weekend when my phone calls were not returned but I saw him this morning and he is steadily recuperating from an emergency operation. Please get better – Lord’s and The Oval are not as much fun without you.

Mother’s little helper: South African wines at Kew Gardens

In Tastings on July 10, 2009 at 8:53 am

On the evening of 9 July, those nice ladies at Wines of South Africa invited me to join them at one of Kew Gardens’ “Summer Swing” concerts. We saw The Counterfeit Stones and The Bootleg Beatles. It was probably the first time (and “The Last Time”) that The Rolling Stones have supported The Beatles. The two groups even have their own “bootleg” merchandise!

The Bootleg Beatles

The performances – or should that be interpretations? – of both acts were extraordinarily accurate, especially that of The Bootleg Beatles, who were able to recreate songs from Sgt Pepper to the nth degree. It was just like listening to the album. Mick Jagger apparently lives in Richmond so perhaps he could hear his Kew impersonator.

The Counterfeit Stones

Jo Mason and Claudia Brown of WoSA had also kindly laid on a picnic with plenty of wines to taste. I was too busy bopping to try everything but I made a beeline for The Foundry, made as a side-project by Meerlust’s winemaker Chris Williams. I met Chris on my one and only visit to South Africa in November 2003 when he was still winemaker at Delaire and tried (I think) the inaugural 2001 Foundry. It was impressive and continues to be among South Africa’s best reds. I also had a glass of Sequillo, one of Eben Sadie’s labels. Impressive, concentrated stuff. The Kanonkop Pinotage wasn’t bad either, if you like Pinotage (which I don’t generally). And the Bon Courage Shiraz and Saronsberg Full Circle were also good drinks. However, to my mind all these reds were marked by a rather dry and charmless tannin that was wood- rather than fruit-derived. Perhaps the next challenge for South African winemakers is to get better fruit tannins into their wines.

The whites that I tried were not so good, often lacking freshness – another challenge. But on the whole, with South African wines I’ve got to admit it’s getting better all the time.

Cruise Bourgeois: Travels in Bordeaux and Montpellier

In Travel on July 7, 2009 at 11:10 am

I spent most of last week in France, two nights at Château Giscours in Margaux and then two nights in Junas, near Montpellier.

I arrived at Giscours, saw the imposing château and assumed that I would be staying there. But the château is mothballed and guests stay in comfortable (albeit quite rustic) accommodation in an adjacent outbuilding.

Giscours

My host was Dutch-born Alexander Van Beek, manager of Giscours and its neighbour du Tertre. He is married to Haut-Bailly’s delightful manager Véronique Sanders. They have recently had a little boy so I was left to my own devices for dinner. Alexander recommended the Brasserie du Lac at the Golf de Margaux, a swanky golf club that overlooks the Île Margaux in the Gironde.

Driving up from Bordeaux to Margaux on the D2 that day I was confronted by a seemingly endless stream of Bernard Magrez signs – even one for Château Fombrauge, his St-Emilion estate. So in revenge I ate Magret de Canard.

Alexander had very kindly given me a bottle of Giscours 2003 to take with me to dinner but it was far too hot for red wine, so instead I drank Château Turcaud 2007, a clean and simple Entre Deux Mers Sec. It was bottled under a Nomacork, the first time I have seen this closure on a Bordeaux wine.

While the water sprays kept the greens lush, the Tiepolo clouds above gradually turned grey and a huge storm broke to the south, with forked lightning hitting somewhere in Bordeaux. In bed at Giscours, the heat was unbearable and I scarcely slept – no air conditioning.

Wednesday was spent mostly with Alexander, visiting Giscours and du Tertre. The latter has been restored – at great expense probably – to a superb standard. (There is a reason why Giscours languishes while du Tertre lavishes, which I will explain in profiles of the estates to appear on this blog in due course). In the afternoon I paid a brief visit to Château Palmer to taste the 2008 with Bernard de Laage, whom I first met in 2006 at the Young Wine Writer of the Year award ceremony.

du Tertre

I left Giscours on Thursday morning at 7.30 to ensure that I could return my hire-car in good time before catching a train to Montpellier via Toulouse. Another huge storm hit Bordeaux, causing flash flooding in the city centre.

Traveling by train in France is so civilised, with none of the rubbish that one has to endure in the UK. I used to enjoy the journey from Marylebone to the West Midlands to visit my family but over the last couple of years it has become a free for all, with people treating requests not to use mobile phones in the “quiet carriage” with contempt. Broken Britain…

At Montpellier, I was met by Florence Brutton, translator extraordinaire of Michel Bettane’s text for The World of Fine Wine. Among many other things, Flo did the translation for the People’s Century television documentary broadcast in 1995. I watched every episode.

Flo, her husband Mark and children Louis and Amy live in Junas, a small village north-east of Montpellier. They used to live in south-west London but relocated to France in 2003 to their then holiday home, which has guest accommodation available to rent. Junas hosts an annual jazz festival in its disused quarries, has a decent boulangerie and altogether a nice feel to it – a good place to rest for a few days.

Junas carrières

On Friday, Mark and his neighbour Santiago took me to Bouzigues to feast on the local oysters and mussels. I ate 16 oysters and at least half as many mussels. The three of us shared two bottles of Picpoul de Pinet, the tasty local white wine that is such an excellent match with shellfish.

Bouzigues (image courtesy of Stéphanie De Nadaï)

That evening, Flo took me to Domaine de Trépaloup, a small wine estate in St-Clément, not far from Junas on the so-called “Terre de Sommières,” run by the Vendôme brothers Rémi and Laurent. They produce a series of varietal Vin de Pays d’Oc – Syrah, Grenache, Mourvèdre, Carignan, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon – as well as some AOC Languedoc blends. The wines generally showed good varietal character, though always in a rustic Vin de Pays style.

Vino al vino, amico al’ amico

In Tastings on July 5, 2009 at 10:52 am

READ IT HERE

My friend Franco Ziliani has very kindly put something about my blog on his own site.

Grazie amico!

Informed Consent: 40th anniversary of Michael Powell’s Age of Consent

In Cinema on July 5, 2009 at 10:47 am

READ IT HERE

Although I studied literature, I have always been more enthusiastic about cinema than theatre and did film studies as part of my degree.

My favourite auteur is Michael Powell. For me, he is Britain’s greatest filmmaker.

This year marks the 40th anniversary of his penultimate film Age of Consent – not one of his great films, admittedly, but of interest for its cast (especially a young Helen Mirren) and its problems with the censors.

I have written a short article about this for the independent UK film magazine Little White Lies. It can be seen here.

Age of Consent poster