Wednesday, 22 February 2017

Tuesday, 8 November 2016

Mexico is very big guitar country...the Rolling Stones in Latin America: film premiere

Olé Olé Olé tells the story of the Rolling Stones’ América Latina Olé Tour this year, which culminated in the historic free stadium gig in Havana, the first visit by a western rock band after decades of isolation. As a rock movie it’s a conventional, access-all-areas look at a few weeks in the life of the supra-national juggernaut that is the Rolling Stones on tour – the planes, the motorcycle outriders, the “madness”, the  bonhomie (Mick: “what’s that word for bonding? That’s what we do in rehearsal”). The concert footage is amazing, and there are some wonderful aerial shots, of Lima (Keith: “Lima. It’s got enormous since I was last here in 68”) and Rio. The production values are top notch. It’s mercifully short on rock n roll clichés, if you ignore the fact that the concept of the “Rolling Stones” is one gigantic cliché in itself – the band as brand. Even the antimacassars on the plane are splashed with the tongue logo.

I’d gone along to the premiere at London’s Curzon Mayfair for a few glasses of Argentinian and Uruguayan wine – the excellent Argento, and Bodega Garzón, who sponsor the London showings of the movie – expecting to be entertained. The Stones have been around a while after all (“Please allow me to introduce myself …”), and they know how to put on a show. To my surprise, I was gripped.

Considering this quartet of multi-millionaires has been peddling the same old rock and roll for more than half a century, they come across as remarkably uncynical.

It’s often moving. There’s a sweet moment when a Cuban man collapses on the kerb in tears. “He just saw Mick,” his wife says with a gentle, understanding smile as he rubs his face. It’s hardly an exaggeration when someone - Keith, or Charlie, or Mick, or Ronnie – says of Cuba, “the Stones are a religion here”.

Jagger and Richards are the wizened prophets at the centre of it all. The latter, piratical old Keith, has been outspoken about the fact they haven’t exactly got on like a house on fire over the last decade or so, and you might wonder how they manage to seem so relaxed together in the few set-piece chinwags they have for the camera. I guess they rub along like brothers nowadays, or like the French and the British: respect, antipathy and mutual interests blended and buffed over the years into something like affection.

Then, in the corner of a dressing room, they break into a spine-tingling rendering of Honky Tonk Women, Mick crooning like a gypsy, his skinny little legs shaking out the rhythm, Keef bent double over his guitar. It brought cheers from the audience. If that was staged, then those two are better actors than I thought. There are other delicate touches that could even be accidental. In one classic backstage shot in Havana, the band’s just about to go on and the noise from the crowd is deafening. You see Jagger in his red shiny jacket (“I’m a man of wealth and taste”) actually hesitate, and for a moment he looks vulnerable.

I’m a Beatles man myself (I always suspected the Stones were more businessmen than musicians) but those songs – Satisfaction, Sympathy, You Gotta Move, Start Me Up, Wild Horses – are inscribed on the synapses of all of us. And when Jagger struts around the vast stage belting them out, the very screen bulges and pulses with the atmosphere.

As to getting a look into the psyches of the actors in this lengthy drama, that’s beyond this director’s remit. All I know is, the Stones are certainly enjoying themselves (“It all looks very festivally out there,” Mick drawls as he looks at another 50,000 fans revving themselves up), and it’s also clear they’re moved by the adulation. From the Argentinians, for example, who if they’re old enough remember what it was like under the generals, when they weren’t even allowed radios. “This would have landed us in prison,” says one grizzled Rolinga (that’s what Stones fans call themselves there). “This is profoundly touching”, Jagger’s says, simply. Music and dance is everywhere: wherever they go, the boys are serenaded. There are scissor dancers in Peru, mariachi bands in Mexico (Keith: “Mexico is a big guitar country), tango, samba, rumba and cha-cha, tribute bands in front rooms and kids singing in the street. “It’s humbling,” Jagger says, and I can see what he means – there’s the very strong impression that the Stones are welcomed as equals, not as rock stars (although there’s a devil of a lot of screaming when the lights go down, much of it by middle-aged men). And the music is fabulous. I’ve never heard Wild Horses sung with such passion as Jagger coaxes out of his voicebox.

What more do you want? Is there any more? If you’d asked me before, I would have said I’d like some insight – something like Julien Temple did with Joe Strummer in the masterful Clash documentary The Future Is Unwritten. But I don’t think the Stones go in for that sort of thing. If it was McCartney, there’d be soul-searching. Bono would be irritating, Sting even more so. But the Glimmer Twins? They’re just a pair of raddled old buccaneers, doing what they do. “How can you stop rock and roll?” Jagger asks, and it’s purely rhetorical.

Wednesday, 28 September 2016

"We're trying to fuck it up a bit ..." Modern Aussie winemaking on display in Shoreditch

(from Wine Searcher)

"A scrum of jostling hacks..." Cargo, in Shoreditch
There's nothing like a Shoreditch nightclub as a venue for a wine tasting. To call Shoreditch trendy is like suggesting the UK Independence Party is nasty – it just doesn't do it justice.

The East London borough is eye-wateringly, not-knowing-where-to-look trendy. Cargo nightclub – where the Artisans of Australian Wine event was held this week – is in the center of a barrio of booming street chic. Every bar or shop is shimmering white, or black, or self-consciously scruffy. There are restaurants in converted shipping containers where beautiful Japanese couples lunch off a bowl of three fries and a lozenge of wasabi for $45; next door you can buy a tee-shirt with a gnomic message for twice that. That's the thing about postcodes east of the City – they might look like a scene from Blade Runner, but they come with a hefty price tag.

Cargo is darkish, sweaty, the toilets reassuringly squalid (with signs warning that drugs are not tolerated). You don't want to touch the walls. At the door, dressed in black, stood Wine Australia's London chief Laura Jewell and her events manager Emma Symington, looking like they were about to ask me to step aside for a frisking. No such luck.

Of course, wine tastings have been held in nightclubs and bars before. There's any number of hip young gunslingers importing artisan wines who wouldn't dream of setting up their tables anywhere else. But it's a measure of the current state of Australian wine that Jewell and her team should choose this particular moment to hold this particular tasting in this particular venue, instead of in the hallowed marble halls of Australia House.

The avant-garde has become mainstream. It is now perfectly normal to find a Barossa Shiraz with less than 13 percent alcohol (Eden Road's wonderfully crunchy 2011 Canberra Shiraz is 12.9 per cent); whole-bunch pressing, carbonic maceration, natural yeasts and weeks on skins are standard practice. Experimentation is everywhere. The "natural", in all its myriad definitions, is celebrated. As Gary Mills of Jamsheed described the vinification of his entry-level Yarra Valley Pepe le Pinot: "We're trying to fuck it up a bit – roughen up the edges."

This is modern Australian winemaking. Read whole article

Tuesday, 30 August 2016

English sparkling wine comes of age

Nyetimber: the cruck barn, dated 1600-1605

The announcement late last year that Champagne Taittinger had bought a substantial parcel of land in Kent in a multi-million dollar investment was the best Christmas present the English wine industry has ever been given. For a house of this renown to endorse English wine in such unequivocal terms is a massive boost to the industry. Taittinger aims to produce 25,000 cases of “Premium English sparkling wine” from vines that are yet to be planted...

Read the entire article here

Monday, 27 June 2016

Tuesday, 7 June 2016

Olivier Bernard is in the wrong job... Bordeaux 2015 shenanigans remembered

this article first appeared in Meininger's Wine Business International

Olivier Bernard is in the wrong job. The owner of Domaine deChevalier in Pessac-Léognan, a chateaux of international renown, he’s also in his second term as president of the Union des Grands Crus de Bordeaux (UGCB). It’s observing him in this latter capacity that one wonders if his diplomatic skills would not be put to better use at the Quai d’Orsay – perhaps sorting out Syria, or intervening in the Ukraine.

No laughing matter: Olivier Bernard
Bordeaux wine politics can be febrile, and never more so than during en primeur, the annual barrel tastings of the previous year’s vintage. Depending on who you talk to, en primeur is either a robust, time-honoured system that works excellently – or it’s a creaking machine long past its usefulness and the sooner it goes the better.

Fuel is added to the fire every year or so. In 2012 ChateauLatour’s Frédéric Engerer caused sparks to fly when he announced the 2011 vintage was to be the last one Latour would sell en primeur. A wave of defections was predicted, though nothing has happened so far. In every mediocre vintage – such as 2011, 2012 and 2013 – merchants warn it will be the last en primeur. If the wines are not going to increase in value (indeed, if they’re going to go down in price), what possible reason is there for buying futures? The wine’s not going to sell out; far better to wait and see how it performs both in terms of price and quality. “The system will be dead if there’s no sound financial reason for buying en primeur,” Mark Wessels of the Washington DC merchant MacArthur Beverages told me.

As consumers see less reason to buy futures in Cru Classé Bordeaux, so châteaux find it more important to stand out from the crowd. And this is the problem that Bernard is faced with: every year more and more châteaux decide they will not show their wines at the collective tastings run by the UGCB. “The problem is that all over the world – and not just in wine – individuals have become stronger,” he told me. “They refuse to be a part of the collective. The First Growths have never shown their wines at the collective tastings, and there are some super seconds which have followed them. Now there are second growths which dream of being super seconds, and they won’t play the game.”

Things became even more complicated this year when Bernard announced that tastings which had previously been spread over a full week, hosted by different châteaux across Bordeaux, would now be held over two days at the vast Matmut Atlantique stadium near to the Vinexpo site. The press was horrified. “I really don't think a football stadium on the distant outskirts of the city is likely to have a particularly conducive atmosphere for wine tasting, however new it is and however much it cost,” Jancis Robinson thundered. The veteran French critic Michel Bettane was so outraged he could no longer taste blind that he threatened a boycott.

Bernard treads this minefield carefully. In response to Robinson’s and others’ complaints he said it is simply unfair that some chateaux (those which don’t show their wines at the collective tastings) are tasted non-blind, and others are tasted blind. “We just think that all grands crus should be tasted on a level playing field,” he said, rather plaintively.

Contrary to grumbling from certain sections of the press (“It was like being back at school,” one critic said) the seated tastings at Matmut were run efficiently and flexibly. Qualified sommeliers served the wines in any order the taster requested, the lighting was excellent and the glasses large and clean. We could taste standing up at the bar tops if we wanted a less formal setting.

Château owners and directors joined the press pack for lunch – Lilian Barton of ChateauLéoville Barton, Christophe Labenne of the Cru Bourgeois Poujeaux, Fabien Teitgen of Smith-Haut-Lafitte were just three I spotted wielding knife and fork – a great opportunity to discuss wines and communes we had just tasted.

Bernard thinks the format worked and he’ll keep it as it is. He gave a faint chuckle when I asked him how much he’d learnt about diplomacy during his UGCB presidency. “Diplomacy is important. But to make the right choice, and to be clear, is more important.”

Tuesday, 10 May 2016

Wine Searcher articles

I am the European Editor for Below is a list of recent articles

Bordeaux 2015 en primeur

Burgundy 2014 en primeur

General news

Features and interviews

Tim Mondavi

Edouard Moueix

Grandes Pagos de España

Bordeaux 10 years on: 2006

Louis-Michel Liger-Belair

Burgundy's Jane Eyre


Ex-Grange winemaker John Duval

Chateau Latour's Frederic Engerer