I adore cheese.
This is the magnificent 'chariot de fromage' at the excellent L'Ambassade restaurant in Beziers.(picture taken on 23rd Feb 2012)
Cheese has so many different textures and nuances. It has the delicate soft yoghurts and soft cheeses, the mild cheeses, the mature cheeses and then the incredible blues and the stinky mature gooey cheeses. I am certainly no expert on cheese, but I adore a few good ones such as Saint Agur, Brie de Meaux, Roquefort, English Cheddar, Stilton, Parmesan and the delicious Burgundian smelly and gooey Epoisses.
I have no set 'education' with what is right or wrong with cheese. I just taste and enjoy what I like. And so often cheese can be a fantastic accompaniment to wine. The salty blue cheeses often need a bit of sweetness such as a good Sauternes or Barsac or a Saint Jean de Minervois, whilst the harder cheeses such as Comte, Cheddar or Parmesan can be great with dry reds. Otherwise I just enjoy!
The link between pure natural artisanal cheese and pure natural beautiful wine is an elixir of harmony.
There is a wonderful American lady called Jennifer who writes about cheese and she has set out to taste and write about all the cheeses of France. Her blog about life and cheese is here. She has tasted most of the cheese in France and has a good perspective.
Recently I spent a few days in the UK with Eric Mari, the owner of Domaine La Prade Mari wine estate in the Minervois. We were visiting wine shops and wine wholesalers who stock Eric's excellent wines and generally introducing the new wines and new vintages that are available. This was only Eric's second ever trip to England, which is slightly bizarre for a 35 year old French man. The first trip was two years ago when he kept commenting that the 'bricks in England are much smaller than the stones in Minervois'....yes, a bit odd I know.
So, on this trip I thought we would immerse ourselves in England. I picked him up from Stansted airport and we immediately went out to lunch at a lovely local restaurant in Sawbridgeworth called The Goose Fat and Garlic. My treat for Eric was some rare Roast Beef and Yorkshire Pudding accompanied by a bottle of Montes Alpha Cabernet Sauvignon 2009 from Chile(a nice wine but very oaky). The cliche of the English being called 'Les Rosbifs' had to be encountered.
We started our work with a trip to Norfolk to visit a very professional and slick wine merchant who might stock the wines, then we went to Newmarket to visit Waitrose and Majestic to give an overview of 'high street and supermarket' wine retail. Some very well priced wines and an incredibly competitive international market place.
We visited customers in Hertfordshire, Surrey, Sussex, Bristol, Gloucestershire, Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire over two days. I zoomed through central London one evening to show Eric Buckingham Palace, the Houses of Parliament, Trafalgar Square, Downing Street and the City of London. We tasted and presented the fantastic organic wines that Eric is currently producing and we ended up in a characterful and quality wine shop, wine bar, restaurant called No 2 Pound Street in the small town of Wendover.
The final evening was my turn to really turn the screw.
Here you will find a picture of Eric Mari tasting a fine slection of English (Yorkshire and Gloucestershire) and Welsh cheeses.
Yes we should be very proud in the Uk of excellent and interesting cheeses and even more proud of companies such as No 2 Pound Street for educating and offering such delicious platters of cheese. Even French people like them.
It was a hectic and busy couple of days, but great fun. I think Eric is certainly more impressed(and understanding) of English cuisine and the attitude towards quality food and wine that so many independent shops, bars and restaurants purvey.
I am very pleased to welcome Simon Woods as our next Guest on this blog. Simon is a charming award winning wine journalist, whose excellent humour and bright demeanour always enliven wine tasting events. His knowledge and diverse communication skills bring the often complicated and confusing subject of wine to a wider receptive audience. Simon makes wine fun! He is certainly worth following on twitter @woodswine and looking at his excellent and funny video blogs on his website: www.simonwoods.com
1. You have been writing about wine for some time Simon. What drew you to this subject and why?
Flavour – even though we didn’t have an especially exotic diet at home, I noticed at a reasonably early age that there was a difference between the bad, the OK and the best. Couldn’t work out in my teens how my friends could drink vast quantities of grotty beer when there was better stuff on offer for just a few pence more a pint. After a brief dalliance with the electronics industry, I spent a year in Australia during which time I picked grapes, worked in a bottle shop and visited several vineyards on a bike. Since then, I’ve managed to carve out a job that let me share my opinions with others.
2. Have you ever wanted to make wine and develop your own label? And if so, which area would you choose?
With so much interesting wine around, it would be hard to settle on a particular region. Also, running and promoting your own estate seems to be extremely hard work. But it would be great to develop a brand that covers many regions, something that is consistently good but which encourages normal people to spend just that little bit more to explore the world of wine.
3. You write mainly for the UK market which is facing some challenging times at the moment. You taste extensively all around the World. When you are polishing your crystal ball in the evening what do you think are the most exciting wines (area, region or country) that we are about to discover on the UK merchant shelves?
The traditional wine producing countries of Europe offer so much in terms of the spectrum of flavours, but most of the time, their promotion is very poor, and often forgets that the target audience is normal people rather than the wine trade. At the same time, countries outside Europe are often seen in the UK as simply sources of easy-going varietal wine, meaning that the more ambitious offerings are seen as overpriced. My concern is that our obsession with ‘getting a good deal’ will cause many wine producers to bypass the UK and seek out more appreciative audiences in other countries. So while there’s lots in both the Old and the New World that excites me, I’m not holding out much hope of our shelves being overwhelmed with whites and reds from Galicia, Austria, southern France, Swartland and Beiras, new wave Australian Chardonnay, Greek whites, post modern Bordeaux reds etc
4. What do you think of organic and biodynamic wines? Do you think the customer cares?
Love the idea of wines being made that are sympathetic to the environment, but for most customers the organic/bio status is a bonus rather than a reason for buying in the first place.
5. You live in the North of England. Are there enough tastings and activities for northern based journalists, consumers? Or do you feel that the wine trade is Londoncentric? What percentage of your time is spent travelling??
The wine trade IS very London centric: with regard to trade tastings, there are events in the north, but they often coincide with more interesting ones darn sarf. But there are several enterprising northern retailers who make sure their customers get plenty of chances to try wines. As for me travelling, family demands mean I do quite a lot less than in the past, but I’m still away from home – both in London and on trips to other countries – for maybe 80 nights a year.
6. Which journalist has the best reach to the audience? Which journalist do you read and appreciate the most?
They write for different audiences, but I’ve heard that reccos from Jancis Robinson, Jane McQuitty and Matthew Jukes translate into sales. I love reading Andrew Jefford, and just wish he had a decent outlet for his impassioned purple prose, but he’s never going to be mainstream.
7. If you had the choice of any other career.....what would you want to be?
Am too old now to be a footballer, but there may still be time to play lead guitar in a kick-ass band…
8. You do most of your reviews now on video – why?
There’s been a huge move to consuming information online rather than in print, with video leading a lot of the charge. Hopefully my enthusiasm for wine comes through in my videos, and not only exposes me to a wider audience, but lets people discover wine in a way that is more relevant to them
Simon is worth following for his humorous video blogs and his fun twitter activity.
www.simonwoods.com, twitter @woodswine
Yesterday Thierry Manoncourt passed away at the age of 92. Monsieur Manoncourt had run the exceptional Chateau Figeac(Premier Grand Cru Classe) since the 1947 vintage. He was a pioneer for many modern wine practises such as the use of 100% new oak for certain vintages; the effective use of malo lactic fermentation; varietal seperate fermentation. He also founded the Union de Grands Crus, which is now an effective promotional group for many top Chateaux.
I only met Monsieur Manoncourt once many years ago in Saint Emilion. I always felt that he was an extremely gracious and pleasant, friendly face of Saint Emilion.
Jancis Robinson wrote some splendid notes on Thierry Manoncourt's many many achievements over 3 years ago. Click here to see the full article. It is quite something for one man to have made the wine at one property for 63 years!.....But also to maintain an exceptional quality over all that time.
I love this comparison of purchases from this article in The Drinks Business, click here .
Although the global economy is still struggling and the UK economy is taking drastic measures to balance the books, there is still an enormous amount of wealth in this World. And an increasing amount of people who want to invest in wine, to drink wine, to enjoy wine.....and to have the very best quality wines on their dining room tables.
My only grumble is that wines such as Chateau Lafite Rothschild(pictured above) are becoming iconic collectors wines and are totally out of reach for the vast majority of us, who are not multi millionaires!
Even the second wine of Chateau Lafite Rothschild, which is called Carruades de Lafite is now trading(in the UK) at £3000 per case of 12 bottles for the 2009 vintage.
Wine is fun and enjoyable but the question is: Would you buy 8 bottles of wine or a Porsche 911?
When you have got 29 Appelations and 50,000 small and large growers and +/- 2 billion bottles of wine produced every year; it can be difficult to simplify the region.
But the CIVL (one of the governing bodies for the Languedoc wines) have now created the titles: 'Grands Vins' and 'Grands Crus'. This will obviously make it far easier for the consumer to understand!!!
It is difficult enough trying to explain the three main different classifications in Bordeaux.....one was introduced in 1855 (for the Medoc) one was introduced in 1953 (for the Graves) and one was introduced in 1955 (for Saint Emilion).
The article in decanter here tries to clarify the situation, but also confuses, as there are some exceptions to the rules that they are introducing.
CLARITY???? SIMPLIFICATION????.....I think not.
I have been busy trying to get a new website launched.
Please let me know what you think www.bellawinetours.com
An interesting initiative from the CIVB....the people who market and promote Bordeaux wines. They are trying to get a Bordeaux iphone App up and running. This will make it easier for any consumer in the World to identify a Bordeaux label and to learn more about that wine, the Chateaux and where it comes from. Click here for the story in Decanter.
This is all part of a new promotion 'Bordeaux Tomorrow', which sounds intriguing!!
The only difficult part could be:
'It is hoped the region's 9000 wine estates will upload information on their 15,000 to 20,000 wines during August and September despite the summer vacation and the impending 2010 harvest. '
I will follow this promotion eagerly. A positive initiative, but not too sure about the implementation.
This could be a very interesting week for release prices for some of the top wines from Bordeaux. There was an important wine show last week in Hong Kong (Vinexpo) and many of the Chateau owners would have been gauging the feedback and response to their wines. Also the top Chateau owners will have looked at which Chateaux have already released their prices and seen how quickly they have sold.
I have many UK customers who need large amounts of wine to fill their order books, but I am not wildly optimistic that I will get enough wine in order to fulfil the demand.
It could be a frustrating couple of weeks ahead!!
We also do not yet know the pricing for the 1st Growths. Will they release a small first 'tranche' at €300 per bottle? Then watch the secondary market add margings and re sell at double the price!
Lets see what happens.......
Decanter magazine have 'voted' Chateau Latour 2009 as their top wine from the Bordeaux vintage.
For the full article click here.
I have tasted Chateau Latour at the Chateau last week, as well as tasting Chateau Margaux (3 times), Chateau Lafite Rothschild (twice), Chateau Mouton Rothschild (3 times) and Chateau Haut Brion (twice).
Undoubtedly all the First Growths have made exceptional wines in the 2009 vintage. There are certainly more powerful (tannins and alcohol) wines produced. Wheras the top wines have a balance, poise and sheer class about them.
But for absolute pure elegance, charm, and beauty my vote would have gone for Chateau Margaux 2009.
Last week was hectic. I tasted over 1000 wines throughout the Bordeaux region. I was there to assess the 2009 wines, which were picked last September and October. This is an annual event, which takes place in early April. The wines are real 'babies' as they are still in early development stages. The wines have fully fermented and are at the stage when they are being aged in barrels. Many wines will age for another 12 or 14 months, so they will change and develop again. But this tasting of Primeur (or as the Americans like to say 'Futures') is a good indication of the future quality of the vintage.
2009 Viticultural Year
The Spring was quite late in 2009, with cooler temperatures and threat of disease in the vines until early June. However the Summer from mid June was great. A long dry spell, interspersed with occasional, but necessary, rain during July, August and September. High day time temperatures were complemented by cool nights (which are just as important for flavor and tannin development).
There were problems with two hail storms that effected vineyards in parts of Saint Emilion (Chateau Trottevieille in particular), extensively in the Entre Deux Mers and also in the southern part of the Margaux appellation. Hail is a very precise and frustrating enemy of a vineyard owner.
Generally the growing season was near perfect. The day time heat and the cool nights were the key factors.
At harvest time the grapes were abundant and in extremely good health. The only issue as Bruno Borie (at Ch. Ducru Beaucaillou) said:
'The grapes were analytically ripe at the beginning of September. They were healthy and full. But the pips were not fully ripe. We were helped by a light shower of rain in mid September, which washed the grapes, but did not effect the alcohol level. This purely held us back from the vineyard for a few days. When we started picking, we could not believe the quality and freshness of the grapes.'
Some people may say that is when the hype began for this vintage!!
But paraphrasing a top chef....you can only make good wine from good grapes.
Just got back to my hotel room at 2am.
Tasted some absolutely fantastic wines from Chateau Cheval Blanc, Lafite, Mouton Rothschild, Lynch Bages, Pontet Canet, Ausone. La Gaffeliere, Pavie Macquin and many many more.
Lets hope that I can gather my notes and post a coherent and incisive commentary on the 2009 vintage in Bordeaux, by this weekend. Many international buyers are tasting in Bordeaux and there are many stories to tell.........
What is 'en primeur? How does it work? Why?
The 'en primeur' or 'futures' are a method of buying wines, when they are not yet in bottle.
The wines are judged and assessed by tasting from barrels in the Spring following the vintage. The trade buyers and journalists taste, assess and critique the wines and then they either promote the wines to their customers or they write glowing reports.
The Primeurs started in the early 1980's. It serves two purposes.
1. For the Chateau owner it is a great opportunity to improve cash flow. Money will be received within the year after the harvest, as they still have to pay for barrels, storage and bottling over the next 18 months.
2.For the purchaser it is a great way to make sure that we get hold of the best wines direct from the Chateaux in the best condition. Many of the top wines are only made in very small quantities, therefore the Primeur offering may be the best way to secure stock. Eg Chateau Ausone in Saint Emilion produces about 2000 cases every year and Le Pin in Pomerol produce about 500 cases.
Many of the top wines of Bordeaux do not enter the secondary trading market due to small quanties produced, therefore if stock does appear it is usually at a premium...ie Chateau Petrus or Le Pin.
The majestic Chateau Haut Brion...I'll be tasting there next week.
The 2009 Bordeaux vintage will be tasted next week at the Union de Grands Crus tastings throughout the Bordeaux region. I will be there tasting at various Chateaux and seeing whether the undoubted hype for this vintage is real. Comparisons have already been made to the legendary 1947 vintage, but I treat this with caution as I am not sure how many of us have tasted extensively from 1947!! From everything I hear it is looking very good. The down side will be the quantities available....as there will be severe allocations of the top wines. And also inevitably the prices. It will be difficult for the UK and US market with the unfavorable exchange rate. But it will be an opportunity for French buyers and also the Far East.
If you are interested in buying en primeurs or hearing more about wines available please email me directly: firstname.lastname@example.org