Tag Archives: Wine tasting

The Best Wine Tasting Apps

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I’m a fan of technology. So much so that James, my nephew, now in his twenties christened me ‘The Gadget Man’ almost as soon as he was old enough to get the words out. What is more, I am not, by nature a terribly organised person. Distinctly right-brained people rarely are. So if technology can help purge some of the chaos from my life I call it up.

For about the last 5 or 6 years I’ve been looking for a convenient way of writing wine tasting notes and storing them on my desktop computer. The advent of the iPod Touch and  indeed, the iPhone was manna from heaven to me… or so I thought. I downloaded a few apps, tried them out. People who saw me tapping away at tastings were intrigued. However, I realised early on that most of the early apps in this field were devised with cellar management in mind. The excellent Vinoteka, which I now use solely  to manage my meagre collection of  bottles laid down being a case in point. Its deployment for this task will save me a repeat of the 1985 Bandol disaster – in 2011 I came across 3 bottles squirrelled  away under the floorboards in a spare room; all were oxidised to hell.

When it came to writing tasting notes most of the apps were too simplistic.  Others were too unwieldy. With much regret I went back to pen and notebook, or, to be truthful, an indiscriminate collection of notebooks that served to compound the aforesaid chaos. The  recent purchase of an iPad Mini rekindled my  interest so I revisited the App Store to see if the passage of time had thrown up better stuff. It had. I’ve been using Wine Notes, one of the most beautiful and ‘sexy’ Apps in any genre, IMO. For the average wine lover, who probably tastes/drinks a dozen bottles a month over 3-4 sittings Wine Notes is a lovely app to have and use. The click-in lists of aroma and flavour descriptors is  comprehensive as most would need – if not,  it can be edited to add the likes of ‘gun-smoke’, ‘wattle seed’, ‘Marmite’ ‘three year old Nike trainers’  or whatever. There are gorgeous maps; a built-in database of wines; a facility to snap a barcode and more. 

Flavoor picker

Alas, for the wine writer, who has to taste a high number of wines in a short space of time, Wine Notes is just too cumbersome. It initially only worked on the iPhone and iPod Touch -the iPad, particularly the mini version, too my mind, strikes the best compromise between portability and convenience. FOOTNOTE: Today, messing, I found it works on the iPad too, obviously been updated.

But lately, I’ve found an app that seems to be designed for use by ‘professionals’ – a term I hate, but whatever. By which I mean people in the wine business, wine writers and keen WSET students. This app is called Winescribe and when it comes to vinous note-taking it really is as good as it gets.  It is easy and quick to use; offers help in the shape of drop-down lists – vintages, descriptors, etc and also has a ‘lightbox’ feature that enables judgement of a wine’s colour and clarity in, say, a dark, windowless tasting room. There’s a  compilation of wine terms (badged as ‘Dictionary’,  a wee bit overblown) which early WSET students might find useful. There is also the facility to export your notes as an Excel spreadsheet on e-mail – a great feature for wine clubs. Also, uniquely I think, Winescribe offers the user a choice of employing the 100, 20 or 5 point scoring system. Competitions, particularly in Oz or New Zealand use the 20 point system almost exclusively, as do Martin Moran and I for our Sunday Times tastings.

I do have one or two quibbles. Chiefly that the list of descriptors is  too simplistic to suit the pros, all of whom have a wider wine vocabulary than the average wine lover, with, as I’ve outlined above, their own pet descriptors.  Having a list one could edit would be the perfect refinement (maybe in the next update, Mister Winescribe Developer).  The ‘Faulty’ section could be expanded – I couldn’t find ‘corked’ nor ‘bretty’ but that’s a minor quibble.

Lastly (and purely for the purposes of my Sunday Times Tastings) I would love the facility to create a list from which you could ‘pick with a click’. In my case I’d use it to incorporate stockists, of which Ireland has more than the average. Cutting-and-pasting 5 or 6 for each wine, from a database of 50+ outlets is trying and time-consuming, I find. For writers in the UK, where 90% of the wines are in the hands of  four or five major supermarket chains , this might not be seen as a problem.

I purchased Winescribe on the App Store – it is specifically designed for the iPad – for €4.99.

WEBSITES

 

http://grandepassione.com/posts/2011/5/2/winescribe-a-serious-ipad-app-to-effortlessly-record-tasting.html (iPad)

http://winenotesapp.com (iPhone, iPod Touch, iPad)

http://www.vinotekasoft.com (MAC)

For an ingenious and useful app that doesn’t fit the spec as outlined above try https://www.vivino.com

THE WINE BUNCH Tasting: BORDEAUX REDS under €25 May 2012

Martin Moran 1Ernie 1

BORDEAUX REDS under €25 Week One

The charms of Bordeaux red wines are not lost on the Irish wine drinker, writes Ernie Whalley. ‘Claret’ has long been our  tipple of choice when the occasion causes for a wine de luxe. A birthday, an anniversary, the boss coming to dinner, away go the Chilean cabernet and the Aussie shiraz and in come the St.Emilion, the Pomerol, the Margaux, etc.

It’s worth remembering that Bordeaux’s blandishments are very vintage specific. Talking it through, Martin and I decided that the best advice we could dish out is “If Bordeaux’s had a bad year, go south.” Frequently a good way south, to warmer parts of Europe and to the New World.

As with pinot noir, we are splitting the results of this tasting – 38 wines in total – over three weeks. 25 of these were priced in the sub-€25 band, of which we have selected eight. Here are the first four. I’m sure it won’t escape your notice that the wines below are all from the stellar 2010 vintage.

Mademoiselle L 2010 Haut Medoc €24, The Vintry, Rathgar D6 and selected independents SILVER

EW: Beautiful wine, soft and polished yet with a well-structured tannic backbone  making it ‘a keeper’. Absolutely unblemished with most of the things I’d expect from Haut Medoc in a great vintage.

MM:  I could sniff this for ages with its classic Medoc aromas of graphite and black fruits. It’s still got some firm tannin so aerate it if drinking now. 

17/20

Château des Laurets Puisseguin Saint-Emilion 2010 €23.99 www.mitchellandson.com  SILVER

EW: More classical in style, the merlot shining through the steely cabernet. There’s a Baron Edmond de Rothschild family restraint about this well-structured, stately wine.

MM: A wine that takes itself very seriously. Quite closed and tannic at first but air softens it to reveal damson, redcurrant and floral notes. Will become more complex as it ages.

17/20

Château Bauduc Clos des Quinze 2010 Côtes de Bordeaux €16.99 www.curiouswines.ie, Cork;  www.rednosewine.com, Tipperary  BRONZE

EW: Developing beautifully and thanks to the effulgent 2010 vintage, good enough to squirrel away for a year or three. Supple and quite elegant.

MM: A wine to watch under the guidance of clever winemaker Gavin Quinney with enough attractive fruit and spice to drink now and structure to age if you prefer.

16.5/20 

Château Haut Rian 2010 Côtes de Bordeaux www.winesdirect.ie €14.50 BRONZE

EW: Good quality spicy Cabernet fruit backing up the Merlot makes this a real hit for the modest ask. Luscious, liquorice, cinnamon, cloves amid nicely resolving tannins.

MM: A basic quality level wine but a good year, 2010, means it’s punching above its weight and shows interesting floral aromas mingling with spiced plum, supple tannin and elegant acidity giving finesse.

16/20

BORDEAUX REDS UNDER €25 Week Two

The hinterland of Bordeaux, France’s fourth largest city, is the country’s largest delineated wine growing region (AOC), writes Ernie Whalley. Located in the southwest corner of France, adjacent to the Atlantic, the region benefits from the coastal maritime influence, typically enjoying wet springs, fairly gentle summers and mild winters. The Gulf Stream exerts a warming influence on the region. However, summer weather can be fickle, making for interesting issues when it comes to getting grapes to ripen. In any given decade the wines of Bordeaux personify not so much The Good, The Bad and The Ugly but The Great, The Good and The Indifferent. Well-ripened grapes represent the building blocks for the classic vintages – 2000, 2005, 2009 and 2010 are examples – and wines from these vintages are crafted for the long haul. There is, however, a bonus involved in guying a vintage merely fêted as ‘good’. The wines will be more affordable and ready to drink earlier. This week we continue the ‘sub €25’ theme and here are four more recommendations from the 38 tasted.

Ch.Peychaud Maisonneuve 2006 € 20.50 Brechin Watchorn, D6 BRONZE

EW: 2006 was a vintage that started with high hopes and ended up plagued with problems. Some minor wines escaped the general mediocrity and this is one of them. Savoury and complex but just a tad short of ‘elegant’.

MM: Age has added spicy, savoury leathery notes to rich damson fruit and there’s still a rake of tannin, so give it some air to soften it.

16/20

Chateau Mouras 2007 Graves Jus de Vine, Portmarnock, Co Dublin; www.64wine.ie; www.fallonandbyrne.com, D2 €19.99 SILVER

EW: Totally typical Graves with abundant redcurrant fruit, cinnamon and clove hints and the give-away powdery ‘afterfeel’ high up on the roof of the mouth. Savvy winemaking. 

MM: Very successful for a difficult year like 2007 with attractive and characteristic Graves style showing redcurrant fruit rather than black and gentle spice with a little tannin.

17/20

Ch.Mahon Laville 2010 €17.99 www.drinkstore.ie, D7 BRONZE

EW: Almost hypermodern. A massive chunk of blackcurrant and brambly ripe fruit. The thought struck – could this be the Bordeaux that could lead lovers of Chilean wine back to the source? 

MM: A very modern style with shiny black fruit pastille like fruit and distinctive vanillin oak character.

16/20

Mitchells Claret 2009 €12.50 www.mitchellandson.com, IFSC and Glasthule, Co Dublin BRONZE

EW: Well made wine from a really good vintage. Decent weight of rich fruit with the tannins kept in check. Just about as good an introduction to red Bordeaux as you could get.

MM: A great vintage like 2009 means even on the lower rungs of the quality ladder you ret rich smooth plumy fruit enlivened by a dash of spice.

16/20

READ ERNIE WHALLEY AND MARTIN MORAN EVERY SUNDAY IN ‘SUNDAY’ IN

THE SUNDAY TIMES (IE)

THE WINE BUNCH Tasting: SOUTH AFRICAN REDS June 2013

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SOUTH AFRICAN REDS Week 1

 

In the early post-apartheid years South Africa enjoyed considerable patronage from Irish wine drinkers. Today, however, inflation has ramped up prices, making them a hard sell. Initially, South African wine was massively over-hyped. Years of isolation left the industry with scant opportunity to investigate what was happening in other wine regions and bereft of self-criticism. South Africa was also lumbered with pinotage, an indigenous grape variety seen as a national treasure but which, maladroitly handled, produces a wine with an elastoplast nose and a palate revealing notes of ersatz coffee and smoking tyres. Better wine science, helped by Interaction with winemakers in other countries, subsequently improved the wines dramatically. A key factor in the quality hike has been the transference of varieties such as merlot and sauvignon blanc to more suitable sites. In this tasting we found many interesting wines – including a respectable pinotage! 21 wines tasted, 8 chosen, here are the first four. Caroline Byrne, wine columnist  for Irish Garden, deputises for Martin Moran, away judging in England..

 

Neil Ellis Aenigma 2007, Elgin €18.99 Mortons, Galway; www.drinkstore.ie, D7, 64 Wines, Glasthule. Co Dublin

BRONZE

EW: The cheaper of a brace from a respected winemaker, this was a Bordeaux blend where the mint and herbal fragrance of cabernet franc floated over substantial plum and cabernet fruit. Absorbing and well-made.

CB: Fragrant mineral nose, with a touch of green bell pepper leads into very drinkable merlot-led red and black berry fruit fruit.

15.5/20

 

Post House Penny Black 2010, Stellenbosch €25.99 Many independents including Hole in the Wall, D7; Matsons, Bandon, Co Cork; Grapevine,Glasnevin, D9; Mulcahy’s. Charleville, Co Cork

SILVER

EW: An unfeasible pot pourri of shiraz, merlot, cabernet sauvignon, petit verdot and chenin blanc (ours not to reason why) that  fuse into a beast of naked power that still manages to charm. Skillfully made – but pleading to be drunk with rich roast meats.

CB: Phew! A floral  plus heather-and-herb nose then an explosion of rich ripe fruit – everything from raspberries to damsons. Needs food.

17/20

 

Glen Carlou Pinot Noir 2011 Paarl €16.99 Florries Fine Wines, Tramore Co Waterford; Worldwide Wines, Waterford; www.fallonandbyrne.com, D2   BRONZE

EW: A fragrant floral and true-to-varietal nose segueing into strawberry and cherry fruit with good balancing acidity make for a very pretty, even elegant, wine. Good value too.

CB: An intriguing black pepper-spiked nose, with strawberry, anis and cake spices on the palate with a Graves-like powdery aftertaste. Very pretty wine.

16.5/20

 

Graham Beck Pinotage 2010, Robertson €15.99 www.obrienswine.ie and many independents. BRONZE

EW: Amazing! This ultra-reliable producer has made a ‘pinotage without tears’ even I can enjoy.  Fragrant lightly-roasted coffee, violets and bergamot on the nose. Abundant plummy fruit, highlighted by soft dark tannins and pluperfect acid balance. Long finish.

CB: By far the nicest of the pinotage we tasted. An attractive floral nose, followed by dense blueberry fruit with a hint of cumin and coffee.

16/20

 

 

SOUTH AFRICAN REDS Week 2

 

If your grapes can’t stand the heat, get into shiraz, seems to be the mantra for modern South African winemaking writes Ernie Whalley. It’s a course of action I remember advocating on a visit there over twenty years ago after tasting a good deal of ‘overcooked’ merlot and pinotage. The suggestion was met with decided scepticism from grape farmers ingrained in the old ways. Things change – today syrah/shiraz is the cultivar that has shown the most dramatic growth in terms of plantings, new wines and competition entries.

The first confirmation of shiraz being planted on South African soil was at the end of the 1890’s in the vineyards of Groot Constantia. Later, some 15 examples are recorded as entries in the 1935 Cape Agricultural Wine Competition. Interestingly, 12 of these were sweet wines. By 1978 a mere 20 shiraz-based wines were recorded but the 1990’s saw a boom in plantings. Today shiraz is the country’s second largest planted red variety and fourth overall after chenin blanc (steen), cabernet sauvignon and colombard.

 

Bellow’s Rock Shiraz, 2011, Coastal Region €9.99 www.obrienswine.ie BRONZE

 

EW: A whiff of black pepper and allspice announces classical shiraz with a weight of greengage, dark plum and brambly fruit, with the alcohol sensibly constrained to 14.5% ABV. Excellent value.

 

CB: Floral nose with notes of black pepper and a whiff of spice. Plenty of rich fruit and a long finish. A touch of class about this wine.

 

16/20

 

Boland Cellar Five Climates Shiraz 2010 €13.99 Londis, Malahide, Co Dublin; Fresh Stores; Hole in the Wall, D7; 1601, Kinsale, Co Cork; Village Off Licence, D15 BRONZE

 

EW Spice and savoury fruit, a decent stab at producing a South African wine with Northern Rhone character. Pleasurable, greatly involving and good value for the ask.

 

CB: On the nose a compote of plum and morello cherry. Masses of plummy fruit on the palate, with grippy tannins that will help the wine develop.

 

 

16/20

 

Goats do Roam 2011, Paarl €12.99 www.sweeneys.ie, D11 and many independents BRONZE

 

EW: Charles Back’s vintage pun – Côtes du Rhône, geddit? -  still amuses and this balanced blend of Syrah (61%) plus 5 other grapes associated with the Southern Rhône proves reliable as ever.

 

CB: Not overly complex but well-made tasty stuff that emphasises good fruit selection and confident winemaking.

 

15.5/20

 

Delheim Cabernet Sauvignon, 2005, Simonsberg-Stellenbosch €15.99 www.obrienswine.ie nationwide SILVER

 

EW: Serious wine. Beautifully integrated fruit with an abundance of dark berries; tannins resolving nicely, good length. All-in-all, enticing well-structured wine that belies its age.

 

CB: Extraordinarily aromatic with a touch of smoke, blackcurrant and blueberry fruit. Well integrated oak and tannins.

 

17/20

 

READ ERNIE WHALLEY &  MARTIN MORAN every Sunday in ‘Sunday’ Magazine in The Sunday Times (IE)

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10, 20, 100, STARS OR SMILIES? Ernie Whalley looks at Rating Wines

I’m not mad about the idea of scoring wines. I grew up drinking wine in an age when good wines were treated with reverence and bad ones were scorned* but there was never any attempt to evaluate on a comparative basis other than stating a preference for bottle A over bottle B.  Certainly no one ever attempted to construct a new ‘league table’. We followed the 1855 and subsequent assessments, of course, but never slavishly. We noticed that some wines were in decline and that the star of certain others was on the rise. As wine writing in newspapers and magazines began to proliferate, so rating systems were invented. Some were numeric, usually based on a 0-20 point scale. Others involved stars, glasses (typically 1-5) or a row of happy faces.

Around 1985, everything changed. Robert M.Parker, a young American lawyer who had fallen in love with wine, invented a scoring system he believed would take the mystery, the guesswork out of choosing wine. As methodology it was perfectly suited to the American market where the public, it seems, have little truck with subtle nuances or shades of grey. Here was something they could relate to. Robert Parker’s rating system employs a 50-100 point quality scale (Parker Points®), based on the belief that the various 20 point rating systems – popular in wine competitions – do not provide enough flexibility, often resulting in compressed and inflated wine ratings. In Parker’s words “The Wine Advocate (the newsletter he founded)  takes a hard, very critical look at wine, since I would prefer to underestimate the wine’s quality than to overestimate it. The numerical ratings are utilized only to enhance and complement the thorough tasting notes, which are my primary means of communicating my judgments to you.“ Thus a wine rated  96-100 will be “an extraordinary wine of profound and complex character displaying all the attributes expected of a classic wine of its variety. Wines of this caliber are worth a special effort to find, purchase, and consume.” One rated 89-90 will be “a  barely above average to very good wine displaying various degrees of finesse and flavor as well as character, with no noticeable flaws.” A 60 – 69 wine, on the other hand, will be below average “containing noticeable deficiencies, such as excessive acidity and/or tannin, an absence of flavor, or possibly dirty aromas or flavors.”  Wines rated  50 – 59 are deemed “unacceptable.” Trouble is numbers such as 93/100, especially when awarded by an influential taster, tend to become set in stone. In the minds of winemakers, wine buyers and wine lovers these can become as exact and absolute as a blood pressure reading or the Premiership league table at the season’s end. Ratings are of so much interest because of their effect on producers, markets and consumers. We are , however much we dislike them, stuck with ratings. Robert Parker’s influence is enormous, particularly across the pond, much as people like to say it’s on the wane. A wine’s commercial success can vary greatly on whether it receives an 89 or a 91. Yet there are only two points between the scores. Minute differences in scores move the market, increasing or decreasing the price the wine can command. As the apocryphal saying goes “Parker gives a wine 89, no one buys it. Parker gives a wine 91, no one can afford it.” Taking advantage, certain wine producers have deliberately sculpted their wines to get attention and  garner better scores – a process that’s become known as ‘Parkerisation’. This is hardly Parker’s fault. In fairness Parker does issue a caveat that evaluating a wine and assigning a score to a beverage that will change and evolve, in many cases for up to 10 or more years, is “analogous to taking a photograph of a marathon runner.”Parker defends scoring as “important for the reader to gauge a professional critic’s overall placement of a wine vis-à-vis its peer group”. He also asserts that  “there can never be any substitute for your own palate nor any better education than tasting the wine yourself.” This is very sound.

When I started writing ‘So it Goes…’ my monthly column in Food & Wine Magazine I decided I needed a rating system so readers could take advantage of the work I’d put in at the numerous tastings I’d attended during the year. I constructed my own 0-20 point system (though some might be churlish and call it a 7-20 point system as wines rated 8 or less I regarded as ‘undrinkable’.  I should stress that it was just invented for my own purposes. No wine is likely to fluctuate in price because Ernie Whalley has rated it high or low. And amen to that, I say. The system, subsequently modified from the original,now  goes something like: 18-20 = Stellar Wine 17-17.8 = Class act 15-16.8 = Stylish wine, some excitement as you move up the scale. 13-14.8 = Decent drinking 11-12.8 = Reliable and value for money 10-10.8 = OK as “party wine” 8-9.8 = You might like it, I didn’t Under 8 = Don’t say I didn’t warn you!

Lately, I’ve been using an excellent iPhone/iPod touch/iPad app called ‘Wine Notes’. It’s fun, quick and easy to use and I’d recommend it as a useful tool for the wine aficionado. I have petitioned Bill Lindmeir the inventor to add a user customizable choice of 10, 20, or 100 rating systems. At the moment it’s 10. So if you see a wine I’ve scored on Facebook, Twitter or Forkncork using Wine Notes  just double the score. 8.6/10 will equate to 17.2/20 on my 20 point scale. I’d recommend, to anyone interested in the subject of scoring, pages 38-45 of the English wine writer Hugh Johnson’s autobiography ‘WINE – A life uncorked’ (Wiedenfeld & Nicolson). To my mind it’s the most commonsense that’s ever been written on the subject.  Chapter 5 of Gérard Basset’s ‘The Wine Experience’ (Kyle Cathie) contains some interesting stuff too. *I received my first taste of and tuition in wine back in 1956 from my Aunt Ethel who knew a deal about good Burgundy despite her mispronunciation. “This is called ‘Newits’. What do you think of it?” (‘Newits’ was, of course, Nuits Saint-Georges).

Sophia Pritchard, winemaker at Clos Malverne, with 'Le Café'

COFFEE CULTURE – Ernie Whalley finds a Pinotage he can actually drink

Sophia Pritchard, winemaker at Clos Malverne, with 'Le Café'

 

Until yesterday I’d always thought that offensive Pinotage and inoffensive Pinot Grigio were two grapes that should have been strangled at birth. Now, after a tasting of Dunne’s Stores current and proposd South African range, I’m prepared to grant the former at least a stay of execution.

I’ve always hated Pinotage. If I wanted to smell smoking rubber I’d have become a Formula One tifoso. Were I that fond of elastoplast I’d have become a paramedic. Every wine I’d ever tasted that was fettled from this grape seemed, however well-made, utterly charmless. The worst were savagely aggressive –  a mad axeman in a bottle. I’m not lacking company in my dislike of this varietal. Many wine writers have dissed Pinotage, to the extent where one of the fraternity called it “the punchbag of wine criticism”.

Yesterday, though, I found a Pinotage I could actually finish a glass of. And maybe a tad more.

According to Clos Malverne winemaker Sophia Pritchard what’s become known as ‘Coffee Pinotage’ is trending among South African wine drinkers, particularly among the younger set. The style, now around ten years in existence, was ‘invented’ by a winemaker called Bertus Fourie at the Deiemersfontein winery. Subsequently he was lured away by the giant KWW to create a Pinotage called Café Culture. The people at Diemerfontein were, apparently, not impressed, even going as far as to contemplate litigation, reckoning he had nicked the recipe. Bertus Fourie, having gained the nickname of ‘Starbucks’, left KWW in 2008 for a boutique operation called Val de Vie who also run a Polo Club and an estate agency. Val de Vie were Rhone varietal specialists, producing an iconic, for South Africa, Syrah. Curiously, what they didn’t have was Pinotage or at least it was never listed among their varietals on the website. However ‘Starbucks’ and his brother Martin, also a winemaker, set to and produced what was aimed at being the cream of the coffee Pinotages, a wine named (flourish of trumpets) ‘Barista’.

So, what’s the secret of the kick in ‘The Coffee’? According to Sophia the key ingredient is top-notch fruit, ripe in similar vein to the Merlot of the Bordeaux ‘garagistes’. Hand-sorting too, the motto being “If you find anything green, get rid of it.”  Plus cosseting  soft pressing. The main difference, however,  is in the wood employed – usually staves but there is some matured in new French barriques. The wood is toasted to a high ++ specification. I doubt you’ll find oak this charred elsewhere. This subdues the trademark vanilla and coconut of oak aged wine, replacing it with coffee sensations. The effect simulates someone tipping a few gallons of double espresso into the vat. The high toast also contributes, along with the premium fruit, to taming the weird things that go on in the typical Pinotage and making the wine more relaxed, more joyful. I found  the Clos Malverne ‘Le Café’ very decent. Full-boded, rounded and balanced with roasty-toasty aromatics announcing a heap of plum and Morello cherry fruit. Some South African winemakers seem bent on making a ‘Pinotage Light’, more in the manner of a New World Pinot Noir; I think the ‘Coffee’ route may present better opportunities of getting the grape worldwide acceptance.

That said, in all honesty, I couldn’t detect much of a taste of coffee. I roast coffee and my nose and palate are pretty well attuned to picking out the nuances. The smell of roast coffee is one of the great sensory myths. Initially, after roasting, there’s no smell at all until the CO2 generated by the process has dispersed. And during roasting what you are getting is the smell of…. yes, ‘roasting’. If I loaded my HotProg roaster with acorns it would smell much the same. Coffee, cocoa and chocolate flavours show up in a lot of red wines, particularly in New World Cabernet and Shiraz. Wolf Blass President’s Selection, to name but one, is a veritable chocolate factory.

Footnote: Clos Malverne ‘ Le Café is on the ‘maybe coming soon’ list at Dunnes Stores. I don’t have a price. Other wines that showed up well at the tasting were the clean, crisp Clos Malverne Sauvignon Blanc (€9.99); the well-balanced Clos Malverne Cabernet/Shiraz 2008 (€10.99); and the Bellingham Basket Press Syrah 2006, another hopefully en route from the Cape. There’s a Chardonnay, Heron’s Nest, on promotion at €6.99.

 

"Stuck in an appellation" Saint Emilion

GLEESONS-GILBEYS PORTFOLIO TASTING Feb 2011

"Stuck in an appellation" Saint Emilion

A day in a wine writer’s life. I get up, dress, eat my porridge then phone the Guinness Storehouse to see if they have a wheelchair. Oh dear, apparently they don’t. I should maybe make it clear that my request stems not from the previous night’s over indulgence but from a knee operation. The Storehouse is The Land That God Forgot for us D4, southside wine scribes – can’t get there by public transport, there’s no parking and a cab costs a fortune. Ah, well, needs must…

I grab my crutches and limp up the road towards the taxi rank. Three traffic jams later I arrive at the Gleesons Incorporating Gilbey’s Portfoilio Tasting, bit of a mouthful? No, it’s a lot of mouthfuls, 41 tables, groaning with wines from all over the world as well as ports, sherries, brandies and beers. Here’s a flavour.

Before I kick off I’ll issue the usual caveat. This is a personal view of a tasting on a particular day. Other folk may love wines I hated or hate wines I loved. Make of it what you will.

Scanning the catalogue I find lots of old familiars, known quantities. This saves me time. For instance, while I know that, say, Les Charmes de Magnol Medoc 2008 is going to be of merchantable quality it won’t excite or surprise so I pass. The Cheval Noir Grand Vin de St.Emilion 2005 (€18.50, selected independents) on did surprise and pleasantly so, good budget claret.

Louis Latour, as usual, have quite a presence but, as ever, I find you have to get into the upper echelons of their list before thye start to charm. Louis Latour Montagny (Super Valu €19.99) is much more inviting than their Chablis. Simmonet-Febre’s Chablis (€18.99, O’Brien’s) was nicer, less steely.

On the Chateau de Sours stand I re-encounter owner Martin Krajewski, nice man. His Petit Cantenac St.Emilion 2008 (€22.50) has plenty of potential. The Bordeaux Rosé,  as always, was well up to the mark (€14.99, independents).

I’m a massive fan of the wines of JCP Malthus as people who read my Herald and the old Sunday Independent columns may have noticed! Bordeaux, Barossa, wherever there’s a roundness, a loveliness, a warmth about them and something that just shouts “Hey, this is bloody good winemaking”.  Area Manager Myriam Carrere tempts me to a vertical – 2006/7/8 – of Ch.Teyssier St.Emilion – I seem stuck in this appellation at the minute – the 2008 promises much but if you can find it, buy the ’06, it’s simply stunning. Entry level Pezat was good as ever. Seems to be some confusion as to whether this and Ch.Lacroix are the same thing. I came away none the wiser.

Can’t help thinking that Jaboulet Ainé have lost their way.Though Caroline Frey has expunged the bad winemaking of Jabs from ‘90s days the newer wines still seem to be struggling to find a house style. Maybe I just liked the big ruggery-buggery wines I remember from the 1980s? Anyhopw, I think they’ve lost something in power, shape and robustness while recovering the finesse that  went missing for so many years.

The delightful Anne Trimbach is in Dublin to present the wines of this brilliant house. Unlike some of their Alsace rivals I can’t think of one wine in their portfolio that doesn’t hack it. Everything is ‘sorted’. Trimbach Alsace Riesling 2009 (€15.99, SuperValu, O’Brien’s, independents) is a classic of the genre.  As for the Cuvée Frederick Emile 2004 (€34.99) every wine lover should have at least one bottle squirreled away for a joyous occasion.

Next table, Gruner Veltiner, Austria’s signature from ex-hippy Laurenz Moser. Named ‘Singing’, ‘Sunny’ and ‘Charming’ (€15.99-€24.99, Donnybrook Fair and independents) the wines are as beguiling as the titles. German wines, happily, are back up and bouncing, after a rocky couple of decades.

Lingenfelder’s German riesling and gewürztraminer (€13.99, independents) with their engaging bird and hare labels should be sought out and bought.

Black Tower roll on, now with added varietal choice. Stick with the Riesling, honest wine for the €9.35 ask. The sylvaner is a bit grim.

Moving up the price scale, if you can still find Lo Zoccolaio’s Barolo 2001 for the stated €37.49 (McHugh’s had some) grab the merchant’s hand off, this is classic kit.

The Dalmau Reserva Rioja 1985 at €85 is daft money, considering you could have, as alternative, 4 bottles of the very quaffable Marques de Murieta Reserva 2005 (O’Briens, Dunnes, Molloys) and a taxi home. This wine, for me, wiped the floor with the popular Faustino equivalent.

The Bodegas Portia Prima Ribero del Duero 2007 (€25, selected independents) is currently dead sexy. Baby brother Ebeia Roble 2009, almost half the price, is good too.

Simonassi Malbec 2006 was decent for the money (€9.99).

Vergelegen Cabernet 2004 was good kit but at €29.45 I can think of a couple of dozen reds I’d rather drink or lay down. The better South African wines still impress, rather than charm.As a ‘how to’ they should look at the complexity St.Hallet are cramming into St.Hallet Old Block Shiraz 2005 (€34.95) , the 2004 of which I remember from a big Aussie seminar last year where it kicked sand in the eyes of a good few more expensive shirazes. The ’05 has all the poke of  a traditional Barossa red with lots of other nice things revolving round the glass.

Chileans Terra Andina gave us a well-priced Reserva Pinot Noir from Leyda (€10.99, Donnybrook Fair, Centra) and an electrifying, invigorating Sauvignon Blanc (€9.99) that carried more than a hint of old-style Marlborough before the Kiwis started shining it up.

More? Luscious the Lane ‘The Gathering’ Semillon-Sauvignon from Adelaide Hills (€22, independents); Hunter Estates Chardonnay from NZ, always class; and St.Hallett Old Block Shiraz 2005 (€35, O’Briens, Tesco) up there with the Barossa’s biggies.

Best of the budgets? No question. I give you False Bay Chardonnay, from South Africa’s Western Cape – classy stuff at ridiculous (€9.80, Londis, independents) money from Paul Boutinot, the Manchester maverick behind, among others, Chat en Oeuf (€9.10, Superquinn, Centra), one I’m always plugging for value. The 2010 False Bay Chardonnay is clean, non-cloying, more European than New World and altogther a worthy example of the sort of Chardy that should put noisy chavs like Pinot Grigio back in their box.

Can’t quit without mentioning the wonderful Julia Kennedy, whose organisation, as usual, was pluperfect. Great ideas of hers to get Fingal Ferguson there with mum Giana’s cheeses and his own salami, a huge quantum leap from when he started a few years back. The new mortadella, in particular, was a wondrous product.

Julia is off now to pastures new, Gleeson’s loss is Dillon’s gain.

Man O War mage

NEW ZEALAND WINE FAIR, DUBLIN – Jan 2011

But first… the AW, WTF THESE THINGS HAPPEN AWARD

Anyone looking at the site earlier may have seen a list of the Noffla (National Off-Licence Association) Awards. Thanks to Evelyn Jones at the admirable Vintry in Rathgar I am now advised that the press release they sent me at my request (I couldn’t make the award ceremony) contained the previous year’s winners which, in all good faith, I published. Apologies to this year’s winners, last year’s winners, forkncork readers and the public at large. Here are  the correct winners:

WINNERS

Specialist Off-Licence Group of the Year 2011 O’Donovans, Cork

Best First Time Entrant 2011 Next Door Swiss Cottage

Food Retailer Off-Licence of the Year 2011 Shiel’s Londis

Customer Service Award of the Year 2011 The Wine Centre, Kilkenny

Spirit Specialist of the Year 2011 Deveney’s Off-Licence, Dundrum

Beer Specialist of the Year 2011 McHugh’s Off-Licence, Malahide Road

Wine Specialist of the Year 2011 Jus de Vine, Portmarnock

Munster Off-Licence of the Year 2011 Matson’s Wine Store

Connaught/Ulster Off-Licence of the Year 2011 Dicey’s Off-Licence

Leinster Off-Licence of the Year 2011 Holland’s Fine Wines

Dublin Off-Licence of the Year 2011 Gibneys

National Off-Licence of the Year 2011 Sweeney’s Wine Merchants

On foot of the Noffla awards  came the New Zealand Wine Fair at The Radisson Golden Lane. Strange accents abounded and one winemaker was heard declaring he had “spent the summer ixtending my dick”, sounds painful. As you might expect, Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir were the major exhibits. I can still remember the shockwave that occurred when Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc hit the Irish market back in the late eighties. Racy, instantly invigorating, I remember likening the sensation to “standing up close to the Powerscourt waterfall in full spate”. Since then, Cloudy Bay became a cult, later a fashion icon and up went the price. Luckily, other fine and lower priced Sauvignons followed hard on its heels. My particular favourites are Astrolabe, Siefried, Seresin and the ever-reliable Hunter’s, all widely available here.

I thought I detected a sea change in Pinot Noir winemaking – a trend towards lower oaking, more developed fruit and blacker tannins – maybe a concerted attempt to escape from the (unjustified) charge that Kiwi Pinot Noir is a one-trick pony. At a dinner at Ely – special mention for the wonderful lamb – Matt Thompson of Tinpot Hut disagreed. What I might have been tasting, he reckoned, were the flavours common to the 2008 vintage. 2010, he opined, will be a fantastic year for New Zealand Pinot.

There was an interesting table of ‘oddities’ – wines from grape varieties outside and beyond ‘the usual suspects’. I wish the Trinity Hill Arneis, a real charmer, were available here. Another beguiling beauty was the Pyramid Valley Vineyard Pinot Blanc. Felton Road Vin Gris – not a Pinot Grigio but a free run Pinot Noir, vinified as a white wine, was interesting. A couple of producers, why I’m not sure, were flirting with Montepulciano. Even in Italy this grape ranks among the ‘also rans’.

Must make a mention of Lawson’s Dry Hills whose dry Riesling, in particular, continues to amaze and delight. Sad that the engaging Ross Lawson is no longer with us, he was one of wine’s nicest people.

And so to what was billed as ‘The One to Watch’. Syrah, they tell us, will be the next sensation from The Land of the Long White Cloud. A tasting of a dozen or so convinced me this could be true. The wines will be more European, more Rhone-like than their Aussie counterparts. The Trinity Hill offering impressed but this wine is listed at around €70 in the UK and at that price, sorry, it’s a non-starter. Two wines stood out: one, of course, was Craggy Range Gimblett Gravels 2008. I’d stand over any wine made by the uber-talented Steve Smith. The other was, for me, ‘wine of the day’. Man O’War Dreadnought Syrah 2008 (O’Brien’s, €29.99) hails from Waiheke Island, a mere 11 miles by ferry from the city of Auckland. The Dreadnought is a ‘big’ wine, in the nicest sense. Enveloping without overpowering; with none of that ‘prickly heat’ you sometimes get from wines of 14 degrees ABV and above. The bouquet was of intense, blueberries with a trace of spice, aniseed maybe. On the palate the blueberries were subsumed by ripe, dark plums offset by gamey flavours with, at the back end, a whiff of fragrant pepper, so often a trademark of wines like Cote Rotie. I’d be pretty sure this is 100% Syrah, too; no hint of Viognier. Good Northern Rhone wines years ago, cost buttons compared to their Bordeaux and Burgundy counterparts. Now they’ve got expensive. I’m going to play a hunch and lay a few Dreadnoughts down.

Went off afterwards to a dinner at Ely with Matt Thompson of Tinpot Hut and the celebrated Kevin Judd, the wine maker who put Cloudy Bay on the map, who is also a superb photographer. Kevin now has his own label, Greywackie whose wines were showcased on the night. People were split on the merits of the Pinot Noir 2009. I loved it, whilst other preferred Matt’s darker, more brooding Delta Bay Hatters Hill 2008. Tinpot Hut’s Hawkes Bay Syrah 2007 was developing nicely. Winemaker Fiona Turner made the wine and most of the fruit comes from her estate at Blind River.

I told a story of an unscrupulous Dublin wine merchant who (back in the days when Cloudy Bay SB was on quota) was asked by an American gent “Got any Cloudy Bay”. “Last two cases” he replied. “Okay I’ll take them”. I stood open-mouthed as the merchant loaded them into the Yank’s car. He had the grace to wink at me. Kevin Judd said “I’d have preferred to have the Chardonnay, anyway.” Funny, he might have told us at the time!

WINE – Brands. What do they do for us?

What’s the world’s oldest brand still around today? Hoover? Ford? Oxo? Coca-Cola? These were the names that sprang to mind when I asked the question of some colleagues. Sorry, but these household names are mere striplings when it comes to marketing history.

Unless you see ‘Christianity’ as a brand it’s hard to look farther than the Premier Cru red wine from Bordeaux, Chateau Haut-Brion, a wine continuously marketed and promoted under its own name since the mid-seventeenth century. Haut-Brion appears in the diaries of Samuel Pepys as a highly desirable tipple. Thomas Jefferson, in a letter to a friend, also commended Haut Brion (though he failed to spell it correctly).

What do brands do for us? Initially they provide an introduction to wine’s delights. Very few people come to wine by picking up a bottle bearing an obscure label from the Costieres de Nimes, saying “Must try this, I’ll take it home tonight.”  What brands do is give us confidence. The wine market is the most fragmented in the world, with the possible exception of womens’ clothing. Even in a small wine merchant’s the choice is daunting; you’ll be faced with at least 400 bottles. Brand psychology is an open book; the sub-text reads “choose a branded wine and you are far less likely to make a cock-up.”  Brands also provide a step ladder. If you could afford to work your way through, say, Penfold’s range of red wines from Koonunga Hill (around €14) to Grange (around €200) you’d have a pretty good palate by the time you reached the end of the line. You’d also have a handle on the quantum leap in enjoyment you can get by paying a tad more each step of the way. The existence of a ‘reserve’, ‘riserva’ or ‘reserva’ on the stepladder is no accident. It is there to prevent newbie drinkers from jumping ship when their palates crave a more sophisticated offering.

At the same time there are things that branded wines can’t do for you. They can’t give you that singular high that goes with linking a wine to an individual character or a small plot. Even when they highlight the connection between one of their wines and its ‘terroir’ it’s difficult to see the revelation as anything other than a marketing ploy. Worse, brand drinkers are denied the unbounded joy of boring the arse off their friends with the one about the little Chateau that they “discovered” whilst driving through France where they had “the most divine wine that ever existed”.

This time of year is ‘catwalk time’ for wine writers, when the supermarkets roll out their winter collections. Dunnes Stores were the first to switch on the spotlights and it was evident that their wine buying team are doing a decent job, particularly in bringing budget drinking to the ‘church mouse generation’. Hitherto, my normal advice would be to shun anything under €10 unless you want something to pep up a casserole but here, amazingly, was a very drinkable 2008 chardonnay/viognier, Tilia from Argentina, a gift at €6.99. A savvy blend, this; the viognier (around 25%) gave the wine a lovely floral lift. Also from the same stable came a clean, modern Malbec, Alamos, very nicely made red, well worth the €8 ask. California is not a region that springs to mind when you are looking for low cost decent drinking but I liked the Marmesa Brook Ranch syrah (€9.99), very balanced with good chunky fruit – ‘steak wine’. The wines of Laurent Miquel have been one one of the stars in Dunne’s firmament for some years. They had another highly quaffable chardonnay/viognier, Nord Sud 2009 at €8 and the 100% viognier, 30% of which was matured in French barriques, at €8.95 was better still. Wine of the show, for me, was the striking, dark-toned Sancerre, Domaine des Grosses Pierres, bang on the money at €12.99.

PUGLIA – AN UP-AND-COMING WINE REGION

A short trip to Puglia, in Italy’s extreme south-east, provided one of the most interesting experiences in this wine writer’s crowded year. The Mediterranean climate, coupled with a predominance of soil types suited to grape growing, has made the region a significant producer of wine. Close on half a million acres is dedicated to viticulture, split between wine and table grapes. Back in the 1980s, wine production reached nearly 350 million gallons. To put this in perspective, that’s over three times the current production of Chile.

In those days you wouldn’t have found a bottle of Puglian wine in your local wine merchants. Indeed very little was bottled at all. Some was sold at the cellar door. Some got distilled, or turned into grape concentrate to use for soil enrichment. Most was sent North for blending, chiefly into vermouth.

Our trip was based around the Torrevento winery, housed in a former monastery in the Castel del Monte area, north of Bari. There has been a good deal of investment in Torrevento, in shiny stainless steel tanks, expensive oak barrels and in technology. Torrevento has vineyards in other parts of Pugia and this is reflected in wines like Sine Nomine and Faneros, representing Salice Salentino in the far south of the province, made principally from a luxuriantly aromatic black grape called negroamaro. Another Puglian grape variety is bombino, a mispronunciation of which caused great hilarity over dinner when one of our number declared “I love pompino” – Italian for ‘blow job’! At lunch on the final day I enjoyed an invigorating easy-drinking young white wine, Pezzapiana, made from a blend of bombino bianco and pampanuto, another local hero.

We spent an afternoon picking grapes. It’s a backbreaking task, making you appreciate the efforts of the regulars. Even picking carefully, there still seemed an inordinate amount of leaf and stalk in my basket. To make an exceptional wine this has to be removed, calling for investment in either sorting by hand or expensive complex machinery. Another small reminder why good wine costs more.

On the final night we were subjected to a blending exercise. Blending wines is enormous fun, probably the most you can have with your clothes on; it certainly beats Scrabble, Trivvy and charades hands down. Over the years I’ve taken part in quite a few such exercises. I recall one where Phillip Laffer, at the time head winemaker of Orlando who make Jacob’s Creek, gave assorted wine scribes bottles of the Reserve Shiraz of the four consitutent parts – wines from MacLaren Vale, The Barossa, Padthaway and Langhorne Creek if I recall correctly, with instructions to replicate the finished article. I actually got it right first off but Phil snidely convinced me I was “nearly there” and so I starting fiddling with my blend and finished up further and further away. I remind him of this every time we meet, mainly because the prize for the winner was a case of top dollar shiraz and I was well miffed!

At Torrevento our task was to blend something potable from our choice of the four local wines they gave us. Steering a team of opinionated international wine writers in what you think is the right direction is no easy task. I had to summon up all my years of experience as a trade union official in a former life. Several times we reached a state of anarchy, chaos and instability comparable to the government of a bankrupt banana republic but eventually we pulled together and at the end of the night our wine was declared the gold medal winner.

I’d urge you, especially if you’ve never done it, to give blending a go. You’ll learn a lot about what makes wine tick and have bags of fun doing it. All you need is a few inexpensive bottles of single varietals – a cabernet sauvignon, a shiraz, a merlot will do nicely and a few pals to share the experience. A laboratory jar and a pipette would be handy – maybe ask the kids – but a kitchen measuring jug, marked in millilitres will do nicely, plus a plastic funnel and a few empty bottles to store your efforts . The smart thing is to make a ‘control wine’ first; one that everyone agrees is “almost there”. Keep this and test subsequent efforts against it.

The winery’s glory is the red Castel del Monte Riserva, Vigna Pedale, made 100% from Nero di Troia, a patrician grape that seemed destined for oblivion until rescued by Torrevento in the mid-nineties.  We were given a vertical tasting (same wine, successive vintages) of Vigna Pedale and the gulf in class between 1996, the first and 2006, the latest, were very evident. In quality terms, Vigna Pedale is at least the equivalent of, say, a top notch Chianti Classico. With this rate of progress and (I’m going out on a limb here) it might soon be able to compete with some of the trendy much-trumpeted ‘Super Tuscans’, more affordable too. Certainly the soft tannins and the abundant fragrance of the nero di troia make Vigna Pedale easy to drink when still relatively young.

Alas, it’s not available here in Ireland as yet, though Torrevento are established in the UK.  I’d love to see more Puglian wines in Ireland as the wines have real character, grapes employed are, for the most part, local and regional and make a refreshing change  from ‘the usual suspects’. The region is currently undergoing a huge quality hike in pursuit of which which the Torrevento winery is in the van.

Punta Aquila primitivo 2007, a lovely Puglian red (recently ‘on special’ for €12.99, O’Brien’s) comes loaded with dark, opulent plums, with a hint of black pepper and spice on the back palate. With enough balancing acidity to prevent it being flabby and boring.

TASTING AUSTRALIA 2010 – ADELAIDE DIARY

DAY 3

Up early – can’t seem to sleep beyond 5.15 at the minute, in whatever time zone. Walkabout for massive glass of squeezed fruit juice – orange, pineapple, mango, passion fruit, that will do nicely. Then weakened and nipped into Arcade for 2 x double shot flat whites and a bacon butty. Nice Chinese girl directed me to a restaurant called ‘Mongok’ – “spicy and cheap, I’m a student, need cheap”. Nothing changes.

Nipped into a couple of wine merchants. Prices in Oz have crept up to approaching ours (or maybe ours have come down). The revelation was NZ Oyster Bay Sauv B for which they charge around Aus$20 and make your feel they are doing you a favour for letting it go so cheap. Currently you can buy it in Dublin for the equivalent of Aus$14-15 are the Kiwis dumping here?

On a whim grabbed the guitar and caught tram to Glenelg, the Adelaiders’ nearest seaside scene. A strange, quiet, pleasant-though-faded resort – redolent maybe of the ones on the Bristol Channel, Weston SM, Portishead that I remember from trips on ‘the diesel’ from Temple Meads in my teens. Sat on beach and learned new song – played it to the seagulls because the locals don’t do that beaches and autumn thing.

Then went for oysters – rocks from Coffin Bay, much saltier/spicier than normal gigas and altogether a good eat.

Back to Adelaide, stowed the box and hiked up to Gouger for a late lunch. I love the Star of Siam – some of the freshest Thai food you’d get anywhere, enhanced by sensitive cooking. Always a buzz too. As is usual in SA, eating alone does not mean ‘eating alone’. A couple of nice solicitors (oxymoron, I know) invited me to join their table and I learned an expression new to me – “a cleansing ale”; a bon mot and habit I will henceforth adopt. Characteristically this led on to more cleansing ales and a few glasses of uncleansing Sauvignon Blanc. Oops, it’s half past five!

Back to the Hyacon, where my cronies are rocking up. Met Bisham, unbowed despite his amazing experiences in the Taj Mahal Mumbai and enthuisiastic as ever. Paul Rankin came in and greeted me like a long lost bro, or maybe in view of the horseplay that ensued the following week, ‘father’ would be more appropriate (more anon). Press room now up and running. In the longe I found Tom and Kaylene Murray, Rick Allen, Brenda Christian and David Bowden. Also greeted by that very nice guy/great chef Shannon Bennet from Vue de Monde, Melbourne. Cue for more oysters – Coffin Bays and Tassies (sweeter) – waved down with good Eden Valley Riesling.

In evening to house of Michael Angelis. Found Maggie Beer in the kitchen, flashing that 1000 watt and dead genuine smile. Treated to seafood festival – oysters, mussels, crab, lobster, clams, various white fish, smoked salmon and thg best taramasalata I’ve ever tasted. Wonderful wines too and some Talisker 10 to top off the evening. Most generous hospitality – it will live long in the memory. Met 80-something going on 16 Manchester Manmwho’s a TV gardening expert legend on Oz.

Later to a quiescent Apothecary with AWT and Rankin. Last time I was there the place was pure people – ebullient chefs, mostly. But then it was 11.45 at night. Bish found us as we knew he would. Managed to avoid going to Crazy Horse on way home (phew!!!).

DAY 4

The serious stuff begins, I have an 11am tasting, a Coonawarra Vignerons Masterclass.

Long before 9am the media centre is kicking in. Should perhaps mention that the Media Centre at Tasting Australia is an object lesson for the world’s event organizers. Take a bow, Monjava coffee who, IMO, provided a nicer product than the correct but rather bland Illy of the years before – boosted by a barista who really knows what a ‘double shot flat white’ is and, furthermore, can really do latte art. Throw in fresh crossants, yoghurt, a selection of fresh fruit and you have a good healthy start to the day, the more so if you could manage the somewhat penitential muesli bars – truly an edible hair shirt. Well, semi edible!

Then, in the afternoon, when you come back hot and tired from a trip there’s a fridge full of ‘cleansing’ James Squire ale – the IPA was my fave, followed by the ‘Golden’ (which they’ve snuck on to Quantas, I’m pleased to say). Had to sample the minerals, though (to my shame) I can’t remember the maker’s name – good old fashioned ginger beer and sarsaparilla among them. Barossa vignerons were taking it in turn to showcase their wines. Great to see big Bob McLean.

The inner journo was also kept topped up by decent salamis and cheeses – one day Australia’s Grand Fromage Will Studd drops by and unloads a big wheel of Montgomery Cheddar (bliss in the round).  Oysters, too, made an appearance along with other gourmet goodies throughout the week.

We didn’t have to go far for the Masterclass – up two flights of stairs. It was headed up by Pete Bissell, Sandrine Gimon and Paul Gordon, respected winemakers all. The aim was to explore vintage variation within the region and to this end they showed us examples of 2004 (cool) and 2005 (hot) vintages, also 2007 and 2008, falling into a similar pattern. I guess early ripening during the early 2000s has made the winemakers conscious of climate change and they are looking to adapt the wines accordingly. Had an interesting cross-discussion with American wine writer Kelly Hayes who preferred the more generous 2005s whereas me, having a more typically European palate plumped for the leaner, maybe more complex 2004s. Anyhow, a worthwhile and interesting exercise. Lunch followed in the hotel.

A bit of a doss afternoon as more denizens of grub and grape arrived. In the evening we were split into groups and taken to dinner. We went to the Lion Hotel, a historic building in North Adelaide  turned into a thoroughly modern gastropub – unlike some of the limp Dublin efforts, a true gastropub. Tim proved a most generous ‘Mine Jovial Hoste’ and I had one of the best steaks I’ve had in years, a large ‘scotch fillet’ which, as far as I could tell, is a T-bone with the bone removed, from the Coorong. It was cooked rarer than rare then given a quick turn around the rotisserie. Coupled admirably with Langmeil’s wonderful Freedom shiraz. No space for anything afterwards but squeezed in a brace of excellent homemade ice creams. Much to my disgust we didn’t stay for the Thursday night shindig afterwards. Bloody wimps!