On Wednesday June 29th, there’s a chance to taste more than 120 of the gold medal winning wines and sakes from the 2011 International Wine Challenge, for which I’m one of the panel chairmen. The event takes place at Lords Cricket Ground in London and is open to the public from 6pm to 9pm. I’m not able to go, but you can – if you buy a ticket. The normal price is £20, but if you fill in the details in the ‘Contact Me’ button on the left hand side of your screen before midnight on Sunday June 26th, I’ll send you a code that will enable you to get a £5 discount*. For a list of the wines already lined up for the event, just click on the logo above.
*Providing all the tickets haven’t already gone before then
The second in a series detailing my experiences with the new Asus Eee Pad Transformer – the first instalment is here.
It’s been a few weeks now since the Eee Pad arrived – has it changed my life? Can’t say it has in a major way, although it’s the first bit of cutting edge technology I’ve had for years that has had people looking on enviously…
I’ve been using it with and without the keyboard in roughly equal measure. The program I wanted to work more than any other was Polaris Office, since I deal with documents, spreadsheets and presentations in my work. Have to say that the results here have not been great, although I realise that this could be as much to do with the program as the Eee Pad. There doesn’t seem to be a way of jumping around within documents from word to word and paragraph to paragraph as you can in Word using the Shift and Arrow keys. That’s a program thing, but with regard to the Eee Pad, I’ve also had problems with the sensitivity of the track pad. If, like me, you’re one of those crap typists who looks at the keyboard rather than the screen, it can be a little disconcerting to find that because your fat thumb nudged the track pad in the middle of a long word, half of your sentence appears in the previous paragraph rather than where you intended it, which is a pain,
Just as much of a pain is using it instead of a regular A4 pamphlet at a wine tasting. Was at the Berry Bros & Rudd tasting last week – some very good 2000 Bordeaux, with the three Léovilles and the underpriced Batailley all showing well, but the Langhe Nebbiolos and the superb Gramona Cava being just as impressive – and tried to do my notes on the Eee Pad using the Polaris word processor. I tried it with a number of different versions of the onscreen keyboard and with Graffiti, both with and without the Asus keyboard. Beware – if you’re in the middle of editing something, and decide to disconnect the keyboard and revert to tablet mode, you lose everything you’ve typed since your last save. After half an hour, I went back to pen and paper, after which I sped up considerably.
Outside Polaris Office, Some Android programs only work in portrait mode – Virgin Trains for example – so while if it’s still connected, you can still use the keyboard, you have to twist your head through 90 degrees to see what you’re typing. Then there’s the lack of connectivity. If there’s a WiFi connection, it’s fine, but if there isn’t, you’re stuffed unless you have a MiFi dongle. If anyone knows how to use a regular broadband dongle on the Eee Pad, let me know.
So what are the plus sides? Well for one, it’s made me lose a bit of weight. I spend a fair bit of the year travelling, both to wine regions and to UK-based tastings, most of which are in London, but we’re now approaching the quiet bit of the wine year, so I’m at home most of the time. Over the last month, I’ve settled into a routine each morning whereby I grab my love handles, think, ‘Hmm, still too big,’ – love handles can be both too big and too small – and jump on the exercise bike armed only with a towel to blot away excess perspiration and the Eee Pad. Sure, it takes a little longer to get through the morning’s email/Facebook/Twitter trawl and to check for any Tweet-worthy wine news stories than on a PC, but when my trousers are looser and the chicks are checking me out (I made that last bit up), then I’m not going to complain.
Nor am I going to complain about the quality of the screen – watching videos on some smaller screens can be a bit iffy, but I’ve no complaints here. And hooking it up through an HDMI lead (mini-HDMI output) to the TV works fine for both audio and video, although for some reason the outer edges of the Eee Pad screen don’t make it onto the TV.
But can will it ever replace my laptop? Yes and no. I’m not the best person in the world at meeting editors’ deadlines, so I often find myself writing articles while travelling. If I had to do this, I wouldn’t want to just have the Eee Pad. However, if I was just responding to emails, then I’d be fine.
And what about updating a web site while travelling? So far, my reservation about this has been the lack of video editing capability. The version of Android that shipped with the Eee Pad didn’t have the Movie Studio program included with it, but Android 3.1 which I downloaded today does. So for the next post, I’m going to have a go at editing a video then uploading it to this site – wish me luck, and as I said before, any questions, do stick them in the comments below. And once again, if you’ve arrived here for techie rather than wine reasons, Hi there, don’t go without reading this post.
Had an email through a month or so ago asking whether I’d like to road-test something called the Asus Eee Pad Transformer. All I had to do was do a few reviews saying how I was getting on with it and then I could keep it – or sell it! I’ve had it a couple of weeks now and…well, have a look at the video below and see how I got on.
I’ll be doing another video in a few days, so if anyone has any questions about the Eee Pad, do fill them in on the comments section below, and If I’m up to it, I’ll try and address them in the next (non-wine) video.
And if you’ve arrived here for techie rather than wine reasons, Hi there, don’t go without reading this post.
Can’t quite describe how chuffed to bits I am after this evening’s events in the Gherkin. It’s been the Roederers – the Champagne Louis Roederer International Wine Writer’s Awards to give them their full name – and much fizz was consumed by all attendees. The 2004 Cristal was looking especially perky if rather juvenile, and it provided suitable liquid accompaniment to what the Bill of Fare described as ‘Bowl Food’. It looked great, it smelled great and apparently it tasted great, but as it nearly always seemed to evade me on its journey around the room, I had to take other people’s word on the matter.
But hey, I can’t complain – here’s the list of award winners….
International Wine Feature Writer of the Year – John Stimpfig, for articles in the FT’s ‘How To Spend It’ section
International Wine Columnist of the Year – Andrew Jefford, for columns in Decanter & Waitrose Food Illustrated
International Wine Book of the Year – Michael Edwards: The Finest Wines of Champagne
Regional Wine Writer of the Year – Tom Bruce-Gardyne, for Articles from The Saturday Herald (Glasgow)
International Wine Publication of the Year – The World of Fine Wine
International Wine Website of the Year – Jancis Robinson MW OBE, for www.jancisrobinson.com
Emerging Wine Writer of the Year – Rebecca Gibb
The Artistry of Wine Award – Jon Wyand
And finally… International Online Wine Columnist/Blogger of the Year – ME!
Yes, me, I mentioned in this post how it felt to have got to the end of a year of doing the web site proper, and to now get recognition from an eminent panel of experts is a major boost. So thanks once again to everyone who’s provided encouragement and inspiration over the last 15 months. If it’s been a bit quiet here recently, it’s because I’ve been on holiday, and I’m one of those people who can’t muster up enthusiasm to sit at a computer when I could be lounging by a pool, snorkelling, drinking cheap but tasty beer or eating proper sardines. But watch this space over the next few months, as you might see a few new developments….
You may have noticed it being a bit quiet here recently. A couple of reasons. Firstly, it’s been the Easter holidays – Alton Towers was great, the knackered clutch on the way home less so… Secondly, I’ve been on International Wine Challenge duty, and as one of the 20 panel chairmen, I am tasked (dreadful word) with guiding a set of judges through the good, the bad and the ugly of the wine world – today was good, yesterday was mostly ugly… And if you’re not sure what goes on at the IWC, take a look at these accounts from Kathryn O’Mara of Artisan & Vine and Tara Devon aka Wine Passionista
I have a number of videos in embryonic form waiting to be processed but to be honest, after a day of IWC tasting, the last thing I feel like doing is slaving over Sony Vegas on a hot laptop. So I’m handing over to my mother (1926 vintage) and her scone recipe, captured here in glorious colo(u)r by my Melbourne-based sister Stella on one of her recent trips back to Blighty. Enjoy…
Clarendelle is the ‘new’ range of generic Bordeaux from one of the finest addresses in Bordeaux. May I quote from a press release that accompanied them…. ‘According to Prince Robert of Luxembourg, great-grandson of Clarence Dillon and President of Château Haut-Brion; “Clarendelle’s style and structure represent elegance, complexity and balance. Clarendelle strives for a style representative of its roots. Our red and white wines are the fruits of an assemblage which mirrors the marriage of grape varietals found in our estate wines.” ‘
But as we all know, there is a difference in the quality of the nominally same raw ingredients. And there is a difference in the way different chefs approach those ingredients…
Clarendelle Bordeaux Blanc 2006 (£13.99 Avery’s) Quite old-fashioned and rather heavy, creamy lemon curd fruit with some beeswax and a touch of nuttiness, but ultimately lacks freshness. C-
Clarendelle Bordeaux Rosé 2007 (£10.99 Avery’s) Ripe blackcurrant and plum aromas, but this is flabby and lacking zip – they really should be on a younger vintage now. 0
Clarendelle Bordeaux Rouge 2004 (£13.99 Avery’s) Some plummy fruit, but the figgy/pruny edges speak of a wine that’s fading, slightly earthy edges to the finish, but very little charm or class. C
Clarendelle Amber Wine Monbazillac 2003 (£19.99/500 ml Avery’s) Heady, almost Tokaji-like, burnt sugar, orange marmalade, intense but simple and not exactly subtle. B(-)
All in all, not a great advert for Bordeaux. I find it hard to comprehend why such a famous producer would want to soil their reputation with a range such as this.
Snoqualmie Chardonnay 2008, Columbia Valley, Washington State, USA (~£11.50 Stratford’s Wine Agencies) Heavy vanilla fudge, crystallised pineapple, oily, tinned fruit cocktail syrup, rather heavy and clumsy style, not very appealing. 0
It’s about two decades since my words on wine first appeared in print. They weren’t all that memorable, just rehashes of other people’s tasting notes – ‘John found blackcurrants, Jane detected boiled hake, while Albert noticed a hint of Listerine etc.’ More inspiring stuff has hopefully emerged since then, and I’ve also come to the conclusion that I’d rather be entertaining and informative than earnest and scholarly. And so in that spirit, here are my 20 lessons from 20 years of wine writing.
1) I’d rather have an OK wine with a good friend than a great wine with a prat.
2) Not everyone thinks wine is fascinating. This used to disturb me, as I watched friends guzzle down stuff that deserved a more attentive audience. Now I know that for every nine people who see wine as a means to an end, there’ll be one who ‘gets’ it, and wants to go further. That’s why I’m all for supermarkets getting more people to drink wine – 10% of a bigger pie means more people having those ‘A-ha!’ moments.
3) The more expensive the wine glass, the easier it is to smash. Otherwise known as Riedel’s law.
4) There will always be another vintage. Bordeaux has already had three vintages of the century, and the century is only a decade old. Your tastes may change with time, and you could find you’ve lost the taste for those five cases of [FILL IN WINE OF CHOICE] you were suckered into by a pushy merchant.
5) Cheap does not mean good value. Which of course doesn’t apply only to wine.
6) Don’t get hung up on wine and food matching. Just as with people, there are a few matches made in heaven and a few ne’er-the-twain-shall-meets. But in general, most things get on OK together.
7) I don’t want drum-solo wines. Once upon a time, boisterous, ripe, oaky and potent wines had some sort of appeal. Now I’ve reached an age where permanently loud is not good. I don’t mind a bit of Sex Pistols and Metallica every now and then, but I also want a little Joanna Newsom and Purcell.
8) Similarly, I don’t mind tasting a winemaker’s thumbprint, but I don’t want his footprint. Some producers try to eradicate all blemishes from their wines, and in the process expunge all traces of personality. If they were in the Nip’n’Tuck business, they’d make Al Pacino taller, fill the gap in Madonna’s front teeth, and remove the mole from Cindy Crawford’s extremely beautiful face.
9) Tasting sparkling wines gives you wind. It’s not all that great for your teeth either.
10) Not everyone likes the same wines. Just because a wine gets a big score in an American magazine doesn’t mean it’ll go down well here. And just because I love a wine doesn’t mean everyone will.
11) Even if you’re spitting them all out, taste too many wines and you won’t be able to read your notes.
12) Be very suspicious of a winemaker who looks like he’s never got dirty. One wine merchant told me he picked out a particular Italian grower in their range purely because the man had filthy, scarred hands.
13) There ought to be a wine equivalent of uSwitch. So all those who have been signed up to those schemes where a case of wine arrives every three months can switch to a company that offers better value and better wines. Maybe uSwill?
14) There will be rumours of a Riesling revival roughly every four years.
15) The best thing to get grape juice off your hands is to be licked by a cat. I found this out picking grapes in Australia’s Yarra Valley. In theory it should work with wine stains on carpets, but I’ve never found a cat willing to experiment.
16) France and Italy have the most interesting wines and the worst marketing in the world.
17) Stories are more interesting than formulae. Is anyone bothered that a wine is 64% Cabernet Sauvignon and 36% Merlot, has been aged in a French oak barrel for 18 months and has won 23 gold medals? It’s far more interesting to discover that the winemaker shoots the wild boar that scoff the fruit from his vineyard – and that he has the evidence of this on a stone slab in his cellar.
18) Not enough places in the world make refreshing red wine.
19) Restaurants serve their whites at freezer temperature and their reds not much cooler than the minestrone. Don’t be afraid to get those whites out of that ice bucket and plonk the red in instead.
20) Wine is fermented grape juice. It is not worth fighting over. But it can be very nice. My job is to point you towards things that I think are very nice. It is a very nice job.
Encouraged by the inspired comments on yesterday’s post on visting wineries, I’m going to open the floor to you guys – what tips have you learned over all those glasses of wine?
The 4th and final installment of wines from the Wine Society and Morrisons.
Maurice & Fils Hautes Côtes de Beaune Grande Réserve 2008, Burgundy, France (£12.99/£6 Morrisons) Smells like it’s going to be scrawny and it is. There’s a touch of leafy raspberry, but there’s just not enough flesh, and the finish is very weedy and unsatisfying. 0
The Society’s Full French Red, Vin de Pays des Côtes Catalanes NV (Caves des Vignerons de l’Agly), Roussillon, France (£4.95/£4.50 The Wine Society) Rich, meaty vigorous wine, gutsy and healthy with bags of fruit, not subtle but wonderfully rustic style, bags of plummy berry fruit, touch of earth and raisins too. Bargain. B+
The Society’s Corbières 2007 (Château Ollieux Romanis), Languedoc, France (£6.95/£6.08 The Wine Society) Fascinating after the previous one, it’s riper but also opens up to be more fragrant and floral. Lush berry fruit, a wild herby side, also some meatiness, and a fleshy but tangy finish. S-
The Society’s Chilean Cabernet Sauvignon 2006 (Concha y Toro), Maipo Valley (£5.75/£5.00 The Wine Society) Classic Chilean blackcurrant pastille on the nose, also hints of mint, but these are in balance with the warm black fruit flavours and hint of tar. An honest tasty glug. B+
The Society’s Argentine Malbec (Dominio del Plata) 2009, Mendoza, Argentina (£5.95 The Wine Society) Starts off with the rich toasty chocolatey edge of oak dominating, but then the plummy blackberry notes tinged with violet emerge, and the finish is refreshing. B(+)
Buckingham Estate Reserve Shiraz 2006, Western Australia (£7.99/£6 Morrisons) Showing some leathery maturity, also a slightly savoury edge. There’s a minty note to the concentrated figgy berry and raisin flavours, but it’s just a tad simple for real class. B