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

Olivier and Ann Bernard of Domaine de Chevalier
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.

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 whom 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 wine-searcher.com. 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


Thursday, 24 March 2016

How to make authentic Paella Valenciana

This is Paella Valenciana, as made at Bodega Mustiguillo in Utiel Requena. Inclusion of other ingredients such as mariscos (seafood) or caracoles (snails), chorizo etc is allowed but it then ceases to be authentic.

The paella doesn't have to be cooked over an open fire but the woodsmoke adds a wonderful flavour

Olive oil
Brown the chicken and set aside
Add artichoke, green beans (bajoqueta) and white beans (garrofon)
Replace chicken
Add water, bring to boil and reduce (40-45 mins)
Add saffron (warmed and crumbled), pimenton and chopped rosemary
Add rice and cook for 20 mins

1. The paella is the pan as well as the dish, from the Valencian/Catalan word which derives from the French paelle, which in turn comes from the Latin patella, akin in turn to the Old Spanish padilla.
2. A. Habbaba, agricultural section head of Icex, told me there is also a view that the word derives from the Arabic bakaia meaning 'leftovers'
3. The word paellera for the pan is approved by the Real Academia Española, though purists dislike it.
4. Valencians eat paella several times a week. When I visited Mustiguillo, owner Toni Sarrion told me he had not had one for four days, and he was feeling it

Friday, 18 March 2016

A vintage studded with gems: Bordeaux 2006 Ten Years On

this article first appeared on Wine Searcher

The 2006 vintage in Bordeaux was destined to be difficult. Apart from coming straight after the already-legendary 2005, the weather was far from ideal – a warm start, a broiling July (hotter, on average, than the heatwave of 2003), then a damp, cool August, a blast of heat in early September and then rain for two weeks until the end of the month.

The ripening process had been so protracted that bunches were unevenly ripe, and the rain just before harvest increased the danger of rot. It was a season when diligent – and costly – work in the vineyards, and rigorous sorting when the grapes arrived in the winery, was essential. "It was a very expensive harvest," Florence Cathiard at Smith Haut Lafitte said. "We had to select almost as if it was Sauternes."

Generalizations are hard to make. The accepted wisdom at en primeur in April 2007 was that it was a Merlot year on the right bank (the toughest decision had been whether to pick before or after the September rain) and a Cabernet year in the Medoc (the later-ripening variety was full and ripe by the beginning of October). The Graves was reckoned to have made some great wines.

Ten years later, those early opinions are borne out. At the London merchant Bordeaux Index (BI as it is now known), a small group of critics and journalists met, as they do every year, for the Bordeaux Ten Years On tasting, with 71 red wines shown. Every wine of any note was there: Petrus at £15,000 a case, Le Pin (£12,500), the big-hitting Saint-Emilions, all the First Growths and their second wines, the super seconds, fifths, fourths, thirds and a smattering of Cru Bourgeois.

The first thing to say is that – apart from the ultra-wealthy superstars that can be expected to make an excellent wine come what may – there are some very good wines indeed, others that are charming and interesting, and some that are thin and astringent. While there was a danger of picking unripe fruit, the vintage is characterized by good structured tannins and high acidity, which when handled right means wines with great ageing potential. "Its bedevilment lies in its variability," BI's Michael Schuster writes. It is a vintage that requires careful choosing.

The best wines are bright, classic in profile, with dense, gripping tannins and fine acidity. There are outstanding wines in every commune. In the Medoc,Saint-Julien shows consistently well: Talbot was a particular pleasure, Gruaud-Larose, Langoa-Barton and Leoville Barton have lovely perfume; Leoville-las-Cases is juicy and exotic (but twice the price of its neighbors). In Pauillac the energy of the best wines – Grand-Puy-Lacoste, Pontet-Canet were particular favorites – is notable.

The Graves lineup was also a pleasure. The two wines in which Michel Rolland has the most obvious hand, Malartic Lagravière and Smith Haut Lafitte, are beautifully made, calculatedly international wines with fresh ripe fruit and suave tannins; their neighbor Domaine de Chevalier is utterly different, precise and poised with sour cherry and damson fruit and brisk tannins releasing juice. Pape Clement too is excellent.

On the right bank, the earlier-ripening Merlot in Pomerol made some superb wines. At the top end, Petrus is a model of energy and harmony, its shy nose giving way to soft damson, blackberry, fine tannins and a delicate finish. Le Pin shows its colors instantly with a powerful savory nose, black cherry, the palate elegant and juicy, pretty but with a sense of power behind the structure. But note that there is far more affordable Pomerol, the best wines showing a creamy texture, developing into very precise, firm tannins. Look for Gazin, L'Eglise-Clinet and Conseillante.

Saint-Emilion, by contrast, is less consistent, with some wines showing a dryness and sour sharpness on the mid-palate and parsimonious juice at the end. The best wines managed to find ripeness to mitigate the acidity. Look out for Canon La Gaffèliere and Trotte Vieille. At the higher end, Figeac has sweet leathery damson fruit and a fine, juicy finish; at the very top, the concentration and energy, and soft creamy dark fruit of Cheval Blanc is a delight. Once again, Chateau Pavie is instantly recognizable for over-use of oak and clumsy extraction. Avoid.

2006 is not a cheap vintage: analysis from the trading platform Liv-ex shows that prices are on a par with 2001 and 2004, years which are similar in reputation. "There were some errors in pricing on release," Liv-ex's Justin Gibbs told Wine-Searcher, pointing to wines such as La Mission Haut-Brion, which had an opening price of £2,950 and is now half that at £1,480; but generally the wines are holding their value. Most of the First Growths have not dropped in price since release.

At every level and in every commune 2006 is a vintage studded with gems, the very best wines with structure and acidity to ensure another ten or twenty years ageing; there are also affordable, charming and accessible wines that are drinking beautifully now.
10 Years After – Bordeaux 2006
© Deepix

Bordeaux 2006 – wines to look out for:
(all prices approximate, case of 12 bottles, in bond)

Affordable to pricey:

Sweet pleasant woody nose leading to sour plum on the palate. Classic profile, charming, gentle fine length with some dryness.
£300, Drink 2016-2020

Attractive creamy texture on the attack, sweet dark fruit, delicate grip to the tannins and a perfumed mid-palate. Juicy and long.
£465, Drink 2016-2025

Slightly herbaceous nose, palate of damson and plum with hint of sour sloes, fresh and open, firm on the mid palate, juice released at the end.
£265, Drink 2016-2020

Fine earthy nose, instantly attractive attack with lots of juicy dark ripe fruit and ripe tannins. Polished, smart, international but very good.
£260, Drink 2016-2025

Delicious as always. Expressive nose with sour black cherry, sweet acidity, firm tannins, hints of just-ground coffee, lots of mineral energy. Superb.
£365, Drink 2018-2030

Fresh, perfumed, with lovely structure and sweet blackcurrant on the palate. Full, assured, opulent from this old-fashioned and consistently excellent property.
£420, Drink 2016-2025

Cigar-box nose, instant grip to the tannins mitigated by fresh acidity and ripe black fruit. Great persistence to the slightly dry finish,
£350, Drink 2016-2020

Complex nose with sandalwood and spearmint. Tannic density, serious weight, blackberry and ripe blackcurrant. Feels massive, dryness at end could be disconcerting until tannins release sweet juice. Will be very fine.
£380, Drink 2020-2030

Expensive to very expensive:

Coffee and blackberry nose, generous fruit, smoky, tobacco-tinged blackberry and hedgerow complemented by soft-grip tannin. Open, weighty, polished, modern. Lovely wine.
£535, Drink 2016-2030

In a ripe vintage Pape Clement can be vulgarly opulent but here the vanilla oak flavors are restrained, and there's delicacy to the sour plum fruit, precision to the tannins. Attractive in the modern style.
£700, Drink 2016-2028

Very fine earthy perfumed nose, fresh, open generous palate, creamy, with fresh-ground coffee, licorice and the merest hints of classic Palmer perfume. Firm insistent tannins and a lovely elegant finish.
£1275, Drink 2016-2030

Chateau Leoville-Las Cases, Saint-Julien 
Gorgeous perfumed nose, elegant and seductive, notes of exotic sandalwood on the palate, mint, blackberry, silky texture, endless length. Luscious, one of the best wines of the day.
£1075, Drink 2016-2030

Chateau Pichon-Longueville Baron, Pauillac 
Sweet blackcurrant coulis on the nose, rather more open and accessible than its neighbour Pichon-Lalande across the road, smoky, tannic, dense mouthfeel and then welcome juice at the end. Serious, concentrated, hefty.
£725, Drink 2018-2030

Chateau Calon-Sègur, Saint-Estèphe 
The perfume leaps out of the glass, followed by fresh ripe dark fruit on the palate, firm tannins, racy acidity alongside freshening hints of green. Utterly seductive and delicate, as only to be expected from this lovely property.
£595, Drink 2016-2030

Chateau Cos d'Estournel, Saint-Estèphe 
Extravagantly perfumed nose carried through to opulently-fruited palate, firm tannins releasing juice, baskets of cassis, blackberry, sour plum and roasted coffee beans. Dense, luscious, exotic.
£780, Drink 2018-2036

Chateau Mouton Rothschild, Pauillac 
Touted everywhere as the wine of the vintage. A shy nose revealing minerally graphite, but the palate astonishes, huge but with finesse, black fruit, cassis, mouthwatering acidity giving wonderful energy. Exceptional, even down to the oddly charming "zebra" label by the late Lucien Freud.

Underworld: the section headings

These are the section headings in Don DeLillo's Underworld. 
Summaries are my own


The Triumph of Death
The Game - Cotter - Sinatra, Gleason, Hoover - Russ Hodges

Part 1
Long Tall Sally
Spring - Summer 1992
Nick Shay - Klara Sax - Big Sims and Brian Glassic

Manx Martin 1
Stealing the baseball

Part 2
Elegy for Left Hand Alone
Mid-1980s - Early 1990s
The Texas Highway Killer - Marian and Brian - Brian and Marvin (baseball) - Bronzini aged - Sister Edgar

Part 3
The Cloud of Unknowing
Spring 1978
Marvin and Chuckie Wainwright

Manx Martin 2
Stealing shovels

Part 4
Cocksucker Blues
Klara on the rooftops with Miles - Matt Shay - Eisenstein's Unterwelt - Matt and Janet

Part 5
Better Things for Better Living Through Chemistry
Selected Fragmaent Public and Private in the 1950s and 1960s
Nick in correction - the Demings at home ("the sense of a tiny holiday taking place on the shelves") - Nick - Hoover and Clyde at the Waldorf - "Crisp little men aswagger with assets" - Lenny Bruce - Chuckie the bombardier

Manx Martin 3
Meeting Charles Wainwright and Chuckie at the game

Part 6
Arrangement in Grey and Black
Fall 1951 - Summer 1952
Bronzini coaches young Matt - young Nick and his friends - Rosemary Shay - Nick shoots George the Waiter

Das Kapital
Kazakhstan - Sister Edgar - "Peace"



1. The Manx Martin chapters appear before Elegy for Left Hand Alone, Cocksucker Blues and Arrangement in Grey and Black

2. Prologue, Epilogue and Cocksucker Blues are the only undated sections

3. Better Things for Better Living Through Chemistry is the only section to be subtitled. I have no explanation for the misspelling of 'Fragmaent' (in my Picador paperback)

4. If you search 'Fragmaent Underworld', you get six results, two of which are relevant: this blog, and Google books

5. All spellings and punctuation sic

6. Here's Observer writer Robert McCrum's essay on this "visionary edifice"

7. And here's Adam Begley's interview with DeLillo in the Paris Review

Cover to the 1st Edition 1997