Stuart George

Archive for September, 2010|Monthly archive page

Black Smith

In Tastings on September 29, 2010 at 5:14 pm

Further to my recent post on Charles Smith, I might have to tread more carefully in the future about my sometimes less than flattering comments on wines.

Mr Smith is apparently suing the wine blogger Blake Gray for anonymous comments posted on his site. The flamboyant Smith is not to everybody’s taste – nor indeed are his wines.

If a winemaker can sue a blogger for not liking his wines (or the winemaker), it sets a very bad precedent. I reserve the right to say what I like, even if said winemaker has bought me a nice lunch.

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Wordles (Between the Lines of Age)

In Uncategorized on September 27, 2010 at 4:31 pm

Recently I read David Chrystal’s A Little Book of Language, in which he mentions Wordle.com.

I had not come across this site before but it’s huge fun. Wordle generates “word clouds” from a text; the clouds give greater prominence to words that appear more frequently in that text.

I pumped in a 2,000-word article on the fine wine market and this is what it looks like:

I find it very depressing that the most frequently used words are “per cent”. I am not at all a statto – it took me three (or was it four?) attempts to pass a GCSE in maths. I did much better at English, though.

(Apologies to Neil Young for this post’s title).

Cachaça me if you can

In Tastings on September 26, 2010 at 4:09 pm

Further to my recent post on a Cachaça tasting, my friend Jane Egginton has written about the same event on her blog at http://travelwriteruk.blogspot.com/2010/09/spirit-of-brazil.html

Enjoy.

Curry Hamburgers

In Restaurants/wine and food on September 23, 2010 at 10:28 am

On Wednesday 22 September I went to my local curry house Hot Stuff with my mates Paul Raymonde, Angela Raymonde Cutler and Andrea Talkenberg. I suppose I should be flattered that these West London residents are prepared to come Sarf of the River for dinner. They bring their passports, just to be sure.

Before dinner we had a bottle of 1985 Veuve Clicquot – not just any bottle, mind. This was a souvenir from a tasting in June 2009 of late-disgorged Champagnes in which all the wines had been disgorged on the same day (I forget when exactly – March or April 2009, I think). So this 1985 VC was completely one of (or rather two of) a kind. It was disgorged to order and is commercially unavailable.

I am not a great fan of Champagne – too acidic, too leesy and too expensive. But I can force it down. I was not as keen on the Clicquot as I was the Henriot 1985 (from the same tasting) that I shared with Paul and Angela earlier this year. That was really good – soft and mature. The Clicquot smelled of caramel and retained its exulcerating acidity. The colour was nice, though – amber, like the setting sun.

Hot Stuff is unlicensed and does not charge corkage so I can take my own wine. Indeed, I am notorious for taking a lot of bottles with me – I was asked by Raj, the charming owner and host, if 12 glasses would be enough for us this evening.

We drank 2008 St Hallett Gamekeeper’s Reserve, which is a a favourite of mine – my house red, I suppose. I like to chill it to emphasise the fun fruit and juicy acidity. It works really well with the food at Hot Stuff, which tonight was protein-free because Paul is in a persistent vegetative state.

The white wine was 2009 Sainbury’s Taste the Difference Chilean Sauvignon Blanc, made by Errázuriz from Casablanca fruit. It disappeared very quickly, hence Paul’s slightly vexed look. I look smug because I have visited St Hallett and Errázuriz – been there, drunk the wine and not bought the T-shirt.

As the drink and food went down, Angela and Andrea began to gossip in German (Andrea is from Hamburg and Angela is half-German – the bottom half, I think). Sie sind sehr ungezogen, meine lieblinge!

Three times the charm: Cantina di Clavesana

In Restaurants/wine and food, Tastings on September 22, 2010 at 9:49 am

How could I turn down an invitation to dine with three Italian ladies? Actually, one of them turned out to be French. Nobody’s perfect.

On Monday 20 September I went to Al Duca restaurant in St James’s to taste some wines from Cantina di Clavesana, one of the largest co-ops in northwest Italy. My hosts were Anna Bracco and Tessa Donnadieu of Clavesana and Marta Sobrino of Wellcom PR in Alba. I had some dealings with Marta in my previous day job but did not meet her until March this year at the Barbera Meeting 2010.

Like the Sputnik, Cantina di Clavesana was launched in 1959, just south of Dogliani in the Langhe. Production is mostly Dolcetto, with a bit of Barbera and Nebbiolo also made. In all, 15 wines are made but in theory it could make 340 wines! The co-operative has 340 growers spread across 500 hectares of vineyards, so the average holding is less than 1.5 hectares per grower. That is a lot of people and vineyards for Anna, who has been MD since 2002 but has worked at Clavesana since 1975, to oversee. It’s a big job and even tougher in the macho world of Italian winemaking: “It’s not easy to be a woman in a winery in Piemonte”, she admitted.

A whopping 1.5 million bottles are made of the basic Dolcetto di Dogliani. The 2009 was rustic, simple, unoaked and had the distinctive bitterness of an honest Italian red. It was less funky than the other wines, too – maybe there is some Brett lurking in Clavesana’s barrels. I liked this Dolcetto’s bucolic charms. It is sold ex-winery at €3 a bottle, which would equate to about £5 on the shelf in the UK – great value and very much my type of wine.

Il Clou 2008 is a more “structured” style of Dolcetto, coming from riper vineyards and spending six months in oak botti. The dry tannins were not very appealing but were far from the the horrors of so many overoaked wines at the Barbera Meeting. Nobody in their right mind would put Dolcetto into barriques: “It would kill the wine”, reckoned Tessa.

Clavesana’s 110 Dolcetto Dogliano “Dalle 3 giornate” is a single vineyard bottling from “3 giornate” (“3 days work”), the old measure of a vineyard’s size – one “giornata” is equivalent to a third of a hectare. There are coordinates on the back label of this and the other single vineyard wines for Google Earth so that people can see exactly where the wine comes from. Like Il Clou this spent six months in botti but has absorbed the wood flavours and tannins more effectively, retaining a rustic edge but with a smoother patina.

Domestic demand is falling so export markets must be found and cultivated. Clavesana is currently seeking UK representation and began to export to the USA in November 2009. The D’Oh bottling – not influenced by Homer Simpson, apparently – is a horses for courses drink made to appeal to the US palate. It is, of course, a bit sweet. Let the Yanks drink it.

Seña and sensibility

In Tastings on September 22, 2010 at 8:42 am

On Wednesday 15 September I went to the Autumn Portfolio Tasting of New Generation Wines, an affable bunch with some nice wines on their books – Schiopetto, for example.

The tasting was held in The Red Room of Les Ambassadeurs Club , just off the Hyde Park Corner end of Park Lane. “Les A” is supposedly the “most exclusive” gambling haunt in London, with a long history of catering to high rollers. The Red Room looked to me like one of those places that the vulgar rich enjoy – lots of mirrors (of course), hushed lighting, big sofas, gaudy decor and overpriced drinks. My former ladyfriend Alla – a stunning and thoroughly amoral creature from Moscow – would love it.

Aged Chilean wines are almost as rare as rich Russians with good taste. But New Generation had assembled a five-vintage vertical of Seña, the “icon” wine initiated by Viña Errázuriz and Robert Mondavi in the 1990s.

Seña 2000 was tasted from magnum. It was cedary and fleshy, though still rather taut on the finish. Good wine.

The 2001 was sweeter and richer – clearly a much warmer year – with more tannin to lose. But another good wine.

There was a change of pace with the 2002. It was much tougher, with tannins as rasping as a cough. But even those felt tender compared to the 2006 and 2007, which were very much in Chilean wine’s modernist style, all creamy oak flavours and scorching tannins to appeal to the US palate.

Will the recent vintages age as well as the 2000? I dunno. But I do know that Seña is an expensive wine – £39.80 ex-vat from New Generation.

Bear necessities

In Cricket on September 19, 2010 at 11:39 am

With the usual motley crew, I was at Lord’s yesterday to see Warwickshire, which I’ve supported for over 20 years, play Somerset in the CB40 Final at Lord’s.

My Somerset-supporting mates pointed out that there was no Warwickshire flag hoisted on the Pavilion. I quipped that this was because Warwickshire played in Lord’s finals so often that the flag was worn out.

Earlier this week I had seen an article by Vic Marks in which he thought this would be the lowest ever attendance at a Lord’s One Day final. He was right. So few tickets had been sold that the Tavern Stand, where my mates and I normally park ourselves, was closed. It was a woeful attendance, with the ground barely half full.

The idea of starting at 3pm and finishing under floodlights at 9pm or so is fine if you live in or close to London but if you have to travel from Birmingham or Taunton it is a very long (and expensive) day. I hope that Lord’s sees sense and reverts to the morning start.

I have never been fond of 40-over cricket but this was a super match. Daringly, the Warwickshire captain Ian Bell asked Somerset to bat first. Historically, the side batting second (Warwickshire in this instance) has always won the match. Mid-September morning dampness can make a cricket ball do all sorts of cruel things to batsmen. But batting second under floodlights and with a bit of evening moisture was courageous indeed.

Somerset should probably have scored 250. Warwickshire’s outstanding fielding kept them to 199.

Bell scored a magnificent 107, out with only one run needed to win. Until he played some big shots towards the end of the match, it was far from certain that Warwickshire would win.

It was tough on Somerset, who are also runners up in the County Championship and the FP 20/20 – second place in three competitions, which makes them, by general consent, the best team in the country. But they have nothing to show for it. Somerset were runners up in two competitions in 1978, which preceded the golden era of Botham, Richards and Garner in one of county cricket’s greatest teams. This current Somerset squad will surely come good.

In the meantime, I will enjoy Warwickshire’s first gong since 2002. Come on you Bears!

Pope discord

In Uncategorized on September 18, 2010 at 11:07 am

Very discreetly – it is not part of his “official” itinerary – the Pope will today visit St Peter’s Residence in the deeply unglamorous Meadow Road SW8, all of five minutes walk from my flat.

I am not a church goer or Catholic so I can take or leave his visit. I do like Alexander Pope, though!

Nonetheless, it is historic. I can remember my parents – both C of E and suspicious of Catholicism – being quite excited by Pope John Paul II’s visit to the UK in 1982. I saw his Easter Mass in Rome in 2002 when I was backpacking around Europe.

This week I read a highly amusing story about the how the Popemobile was developed after the attempted assassination of Pope John Paul in 1981. The Vatican commissioned a local firm to modify a Toyota, with the design to include Kevlar bodywork and bullet-proof glass but also, at the front, mountings for a couple of machine guns.

These were eventually dropped because, a  company spokesman admitted many years later, “it was decided it wouldn’t look good for the Pope to fight back.”

Cachaça 22: Brazilian Cachaça Day

In Tastings on September 16, 2010 at 12:38 pm

Monday 13 September was “Brazilian Cachaça Day”. With my pal and esteemed travel writer Jane Egginton, I was invited to taste some cachaças and cocktails at The Langham in London’s West End. Of course Brazilian Cachaça Day is entirely different to International Cachaça Day held on 15 June this year.

I am not a big drinker of spirits and certainly not of Cachaça. In Brazil last September I cannot recall ever drinking it, though we were in Rio Grande do Sul, which is a very Un-Brazilian part of the country. Jane, who has written numerous guide books to the country, gave me some Cachaça (and chemical weapon wine from her local off licence) her flat a while ago and it was not a pleasant experience. But some of the stuff here was really quite good – smooth and flavoursome. On the whole, though, it is better mixed into a cocktail.

Some stats were thrown at us. Brazil produces 1.2 billion litres of Cachaça annually but only 1% is exported. Brazilians tend to drink it neat rather than in a fancy cocktail – crushed ice is a luxury in South America!

The delightful Fabrína Volpato was here to represent Autêntica, which we were told was “the first brand of Cachaça (to be) sold in Duty Free shops.” Not something I would boast about but I suppose it pays the bills. The “Autêntica Sunrise” cocktail was rather flabby – I prefer something a bit more lively.

Cachaça Batista’s “Casca d’Anta” was very sweet and sickly, with a spoon of sugar mixed in with Cassis and pineapple juice. Blurgh.

The “Passion” (™, no less) of Bossa was fruity, easy and mouth-watering – not dissimilar to Fab Louis, who presented Bossa. He would be a huge hit in the nightclubs of Vauxhall. Sorry boys – he’s not interested.

The coffee-flavoured “Iced Cinnamon Latte” by Flor do Vale was good, as was the medicinal-smelling Poções “Special”.

The 300,000 banana trees at Germana justify the use of a banana leaf cover on the bottle. The “Apple Daiquiri” was just too strong for me – Calvados and Cachaça is a combination as lethal as Amy Winehouse and Pete Doherty.

Leblon is “the world’s first ultra-premium (i.e. expensive) Cachaça, combining the alluring culture of Brazil with the history of its national spirit while adding a touch of French refinement.” So there. I am often amused and bemused by wine PR bullshit but spirits take this dark art to a whole new level. PITÚ’s “New Key Visual” depicts “A good-looking Brazilian drummer (who) represents the Brazilian way of life”. The “PITÚmingu” cocktail was as red as my jumper and sickly – all that syrupy Grenadine.

Velho Barreiro has made Cachaça since 1873. Its “O Draque” was a “rustic” style of cocktail, which I liked, though it was very sweet.

I have not had a warm cocktail before but the charmingly named “Chocolate Dream” of Vila Pongó had a good slug of hot chocolate in it. The minty and dry Weber Haus cocktail was pleasing.

What is the “most respected national Cachaça ranking in Brazil”? The Playboy Magazine poll, according to Magnifica.

Silver Smith: K Vintners and Charles Smith Wines

In Restaurants/wine and food, Tastings on September 16, 2010 at 9:52 am

On Monday 6 September, I was invited by Bibendum to taste their new listings from K Vintners and Charles Smith Wines. Bibendum will be importing five of these wines in January 2011, so this was an early preview.

The tasting was at Nobu, which I had not visited before. On my wages I have to rely on invitations from wine merchants and PRs to eat at places like this. The food was very good, though the restaurant itself was too noisy, with lots of slebs shouting and laughing – not that I noticed anybody “famous” while I was there. Doubtless the place was crawling with famous people but I rarely watch TV and they’re mostly unknown to me.

Charles Smith (pictured left with Janna Kline Rinker –apologies for the poor lighting)  looks (and sounds) like a refugee from Haight-Ashbury. Born in California, he moved to Denmark in pursuit of what he calls a “hot piece of ass.” The hottie disappeared but Charles stayed in Europe and became the manager of several rock bands. He moved back to the USA 1999 to the Pacific Northwest. Here he found Walla Walla and began to make wine.

The wines balance New World Fruit with Old World winemaking. The grapes are very ripe – some of these wines hit 15.5% alcohol, which makes them very flattering to taste but I suspect a night out chez Smith would result in heads thumping like an earthquake.

As a self-taught winemaker, Charles is not dogmatic. Oak “depends on the vintage, depends on the wine.” Rather than wood, stems are used to build structure and texture.

The simple but eye-catching label designs (and names) conceal a cunning plan. “Black and white labels enable me to be consistent but change things,” said Charles.

He doesn’t like the “faux-European” stories of some US wineries who name themselves Château this or Domaine that: “I wanted this very much to be an American winery.” He is half-French, though.

I have not been to the Pacific Northwest but was told by Charles’s Director Janna Kline-Rinker that Walla Walla is not on the way to or from anywhere but it was on the Oregon Trail.

Charles’s favourite wine is Châteauneuf-du-Pape, with a particular liking for Henri Bonneau, whose wines I have tried only once. They were very raisiny, which is not something that one sees in Charles’s wines. Surprisingly, “I’m not a fan of Australian wine.”

2009 Kung Fu Girl Riesling

“I love Riesling and I found this vineyard of real character”, explained Charles, who has a democratic swagger: “I wanted to make a wine that was affordable… You can get great vineyards that are relatively inexpensive.” In the UK this will retail for £11.50.

A mineral nose and generous palate, crisply dry with lemon sherbet flavours on the finish. It has only 1.3 g/ltr sugar but the generous fruit makes it feel sweeter.

2009 K Viognier Columbia Valley

From the Archie Den Hoed vineyard in the Yakima Valley of Washington State. This is the only barrel fermented wine made by Smith. The varietal’s character really comes through on the finish – that dry, fruit-skin bitterness. £17 UK retail.

2008 K Syrah “Milbrandt” Wahluke Slope Columbia Valley

Jammy at first. Plummy, generous, low acid (pH 3.69). Sand and gravel vineyard, which perhaps created the pixellated tannins. Easygoing, like the man himself. Good with the tempera! £20 in the UK. K Syrah = que sirrah. Geddit?

2008 K Syrah “The Deal” Sundance Vineyard Wahluke Slope

Tauter than the Milbrandt, with spice and warmth on the finish. Lovely tannins. Generous style, as always. 15%.

2008 K Syrah “Northridge” Wahluke Slope

A different texture to the Sundance, with more tannin, though still approachable. 15.5%…

2008 K “El Jefe” En Chamberlin Walla Walla Valley

80% Tempranillo and 20% Cabernet Sauvignon, co-fermented. Liquorice on the finish.

2008 K “Ovide” En Cerise Vineyard Walla Walla Valley

57% Cabernet and 33% Syrah, co-fermented. More “aged” than the previous wines, nicely textured.

2007 K “The Boy” Walla Walla Valley

90% Grenache and 10% Syrah. Strong Grenache character (of course!). Bonneau-inspired, perhaps.

2007 Charles Smith “Heart” Syrah Royal Slope Columbia Valley

Big, rich and chocolaty. I was thinking “velvety” for the texture but for Charles “spandex” is more appropriate.