Awards and citations:

1997: Le Prix du Champagne Lanson Noble Cuvée Award for investigations into Champagne for the Millennium investment scams

2001: Le Prix Champagne Lanson Ivory Award for

2011: Vindic d'Or MMXI – 'Meilleur blog anti-1855'

2011: Robert M. Parker, Jnr: ‘This blogger...’:

2012: Born Digital Wine Awards: No Pay No Jay – best investigative wine story

2012: International Wine Challenge – Personality of the Year Award

Saturday, 19 August 2017

A Scottish summer day – full of variety!

Today we drove down the A9 from Newtonmore to Pitlochry. Here are a series of photos taken over a short distance, on an iFone around Dalwhinnie showing how quickly the weather in the Highlands can change. 

 Mist on the hills 

 Looking through the windscreen!

 Now past Dalwhinnie – signs of clearing up 

 Dramatic sky and landscape

 Heading to the Drumochter Pass
(above and below)

Friday, 18 August 2017

2017 Loire vintage approaches

The 2017 vintage in the Loire will be relatively early, although not as early as originally thought as the weather recently has been fresher.

The initial predictions (published mid-July) by France's Ministry of Agriculture are that the 2017 Loire will be up on 2016 by 7%. However, 2016 was 25% down on a normal vintage, so the frost affected 2017 vintage will again be considerably down on a 'normal vintage'. 

Unfortunately 2017 will do little to replenish stocks that are now very low in parts of the Loire as there have been short vintages for many from 2012 onwards. Stocks of Muscadet are very low 160,000 hls at the end of July – normally they would be between 410,000 and 430,000 hls. The 2017 vintage in Muscadet is estimated to be between 200,000 and 280,000, while a normal harvest is now around 400,000 hls. Inevitably the 2017 Muscadet will not replenish the depleted stocks. 

Elsewhere stocks of Sancerre are not problematic following a serious of generally plentiful vintages, which have bucked the trend elsewhere in the Central Vineyards and the Loire as a whole. Pouilly-Fumé, by contrast, is short due to frost both last year and this. 

Staying with Sauvignon Blanc, there is just four months of stock of Touraine Sauvignon. Stocks of Saint-Nicolas-de-Bourgueil are also very low – 50% of normal. Fortunately, redwise, there are reasonable levels of Chinon, Saumur-Champigny and Saunur. Vouvray has 14 months of stock, which is low due to the tradition of growers holding on to some stock before they sell.   

Picking in the Pays Nantais is likely to start in early September rather than in the last 10 days of August as was originally possible. In the Central Vineyards Benoît Roumet, director of the BIVC,  told me that picking Pinot Gris in Reuilly could start around 13th September with Sauvignon Blanc from 16th September. 

For the moment the grapes appear to be healthy and looking promising. Fingers crossed that this continues. 

More updates on the 2017 Loire vintage will be following.


Thursday, 17 August 2017

Edinburgh Fringe: Peter Pik – musician

Peter Pik on Rose Street, Edinburgh

We came across Peter Pik in Rose Street buying copies of of his two CDs that he had on sale. He is a talented guitarist from Sydney in Australia. Peter has been coming to Edinburgh during the fringe for the past five years. CRM met him last year. Pik is on Facebook.

Unfortunately this may be the last year that he comes. "There is so much red tape and bureaucracy this year." Pik is particularly exercised by the blanket ban on the use of an amplifier in a public street in Edinburgh. I play an electric guitar which needs amplification. I have already been warned twice. Next time it will be a £40 fine."

One can understand Edinburgh Council wanting to clamp down on buskers during the year who may play at very high levels. However, surely during the four weeks of the Fringe this rule could be relaxed with only musicians using excessive noise being penalised.      

Wednesday, 16 August 2017

A fringe post from Edinburgh

Street performer

 Crowd watching 

We are down in Edinburgh for a couple of days at the Edinburgh Fringe. We started with the True to Life exhibition at the Scottish Modern Art Gallery. This is an interesting exhibition of British realist art which was a popular movement between the two World Wars. 

Then it was a hike across town to the Pleasance Courtyard where our neighbour and comedian Twayna Mayne is presenting her show Black Girl during the whole of the festival. Tickets here. Twayna tells of her experience as a child growing up with a non-functioning mother, who she hasn't seen since she was six, and being fostered and finally at the age of 14 being adopted by a white mother, a teacher who lives in Forest Hill (London SE23). Interestingly there were a number of people from Forest Hill in the audience. Definitely recommended – we were very impressed. 

In the evening we went to the excellent Rat Pack Live presented by Nicholas Abrams and Richard Williamson at C in Chambers Street. Afterwards we had a very good meal at Nanyang, a Malaysian restaurant.        

 Scottish Gallery of Modern Art

 There will be no miracles: Scottish Gallery of Modern Art

 Detail of the gallery

Colourful tiles in the toilets at the art gallery

Tuesday, 15 August 2017

Newtonmore's Highland Games: 5th August 2017 – a few more photos

 Piper with a frisky busby

Competitor in the individual 
piping competition

 Competitor tossing the haggis

Hammer throw 
Hill race: tartan shorts splashing 
through the stream 

Off to Edinburgh today for a couple of days at the Fringe.

Monday, 14 August 2017

Cycling: reducing the hostility (part 2)

75,000 rode around closed roads in the centre 
of London on 29th July 2017

On Friday I posted Part 1 of Cycling: 'reducing the hostility'looking at what pisses motorists about cyclists' behaviour. Now it is the turn to look at what pisses off cyclists about motorists.  Much of this post is based on the behaviour of some drivers in London.

Overall it is a lack of consideration that cyclists are far more vulnerable than people safely ensconced in their cars a lorries. 

Close pass
It is good to see that the police starting with the West Midland's Police's initiative are targeting and seeking to educate motorists to give cyclists space when passing them. This is a minimum of 1.5 metres. 

In London as a cyclist cars, lorries and buses pass far too close. It is noticeable in the Scottish Highlands cyclists are usually given much more space. They do, however, tend to try and pass where it is not safe to do so on the brow of a hill or a corner when they just can't see. 

In London the stress of driving in a crowded city makes drivers stupidly impatient. Not only not appreciating the need to give cyclists proper space but trying to pass when there isn't space.

SpeedingIt is good to see 20 mph speed limits being introduced across of much of London driving at this speed greatly reducing the likelihood of being killed if you are hit or in a collision with a car. Despite this unfortunately too many motorists drive at well over 30 mph in 20 mph zone. I would like to see many more remote speed cameras to enforce this ban.  

Impatient and reckless driving
Although there are considerate drivers there are too many boy racers who have no consideration for other drivers, cyclists and pedestrians. Driving far too fast, shooting red lights, driving through bollards and road furniture on the wrong side of the road. Again it would be good to see many more speed and traffic cameras to both discourage reckless driving through fines and driving bans. We have the technology to do this, we don't need to waste scarce police resources on checking idiotic driving.

It is commonplace for cyclists to be verbally abused by drivers complaining that they are being held up when a cyclist rides in the middle of the road or not right in the gutter. 

There is nothing in the Highway Code that requires cyclists to ride in the gutter. There are clearly times when cyclists need to ride well out in the road to be safe, for instance when passing a row of parked car to avoid someone suddenly opening a car door or when passing through road furniture. 

Given the slow average speed of journeys through London impatient drivers often do not benefit from speeding ahead or from the stupid risks that they take. Time to take a more relaxed approach to driving in urban areas.

Can they be persuaded to be more considerate of other road users?  

Sunday, 13 August 2017

Staying in Loches – some limited advice

The Château of Loches 
'My friends Julia and Quentin are going to stay in Loches in about a week and I wondered if you would be able to suggest some places for them to eat.  They are vegetarians but they do eat seafood.

Also as I know they appreciate a good bottle of wine, could you also recommend any vineyards and places that are worth a visit.'

A few days ago this request came through on an email. Although I do go to Loches from time to time mainly to go to the market – normally the Wednesday one but occasionally the Saturday one. 

Anyway here is my rather limited reply – would welcome comments and suggestions to make this post more comprehensive.  

The Indre and the Georges Sand 
with its terrace by the river

I hope you enjoy your stay in Loches.

Places to eat
I don't often eat in Loches mainly because it is some way from our place in Epeigné-les-Bois. Worth booking as Loches is a popular tourist destination.

I have had good meals at La Gerbe d'Or in the centre of Loches:

There is also the Hotel Georges Sand, which is by the Indre with an attractive terrace overlooking the river. I haven't eaten here in years but it was a nice place to have lunch.

The best place to eat in the region is La Promenade in Le Petit Pressigny, which is just under 30 kms south of Loches. You will need to book.

There is also Le Clos aux Roses in Chedigny, an attractive village which is some 12 kms from Loches. I have eaten there but not since it changed hands but I have good reports from friends.  

Home - Le Clos Aux Roses

On Wednesday and Saturday mornings there is a large and very popular market that takes up the centre of Loches.

Vineyards and producers to visit:
There are no vineyards close to Loches. Those in the Cher Valley near Montrichard are the closest. You could try Vincent Roussely in Angé or Jean-François Mériau in Montrichard . There is also the Cave Co-operative in Bléré that makes reasonable wines.

Vouvray and Montlouis are a little further afield with a number of producers to visit including Jacky Blot, Domaine de la Taille aux Loups and François Chidaine, who has a shop in Montlouis – Le Caveau Insolite. In Vouvray Vincent Carême in Vernou is a good producer to visit.  
For other suggestions please see the right hand column of Jim's Loire. 

The Georges Sand and the Indre

Saturday, 12 August 2017

Haridimos Hatzidakis – very sad news from Santorini, Greece

Stone at the Haridimos Hatzidakis winery
Giannis Krassaki

Facebook post from Vasilis Ioannou

I was very shocked and sorry to learn last evening that the inspirational winemaker Haridimos Hatzidakis, based in in Santorini making wonderful wines – world class Assyrtiko, had died suddenly yesterday.

I will treasure the couple of visits that I made to Hatzidakis winery on the Greek island of Santorini. My sincere condolences to Haridimos' family and close friends. The cause of Haridimos' death is as yet unknown.

Friday, 11 August 2017

Cycling: reducing the hostility (part 1)

29th July 2017: 75,000 cyclists rode around the 
centre of London on closed roads

In Wednesday's post I looked at the substantial health and environmental benefits that cycling can bring but also alluded to the very regrettable hostility that too often exists between motorists and cyclists, especially in large UK cities London. 

Cycling has increased enormously in popularity over the past 20 to 30 years both in the number of people that cycle as well as the number who follow cycle sport, especially the Tour de France, which this year was broadcast in its entirety.  Ride London's fun ride in through the centre of London on Saturday 29th July attracted an amazing 75,000 people. 

This is a great development but to encourage even more people to take to cycling we need to build greater understanding between motorists and cyclists. We also need to build suitable infrastructure to encourage cycling by making it feel much safer. A start has been made but much more needs to be done.  It would be great if the UK could become a new Holland

Building a suitable infrastructure takes time but in the meantime, can we reduce the hostility between motorists and cyclists? 

In this post I look at some of the things that pisses off motorists about cyclists. Tomorrow it is the turn of what pisses of cyclists.     

What upsets motorists?

Jumping red lights 
I agree cyclists should obey traffic lights and not jump them, although many motorists go through lights that have turned red. In contrast some cyclists go through red lights at all points of the sequence. 

Riding in the middle of the road 
There are many occasions when riding well out into the road makes perfect sense for a cyclist. You are likely to get more puncture by riding close to the gutter as there is more grit here than in the centre of the road.  

When passing a row of parked cars it again makes sense to ride well out in case someone suddenly opens a car door. 

The last 20 years or so has seen a big increase in road furniture, which is very useful to enable pedestrians to cross the road safely, but is usually an obstacle for cyclists as there is rarely enough space for a car and certainly not a lorry to overtake a cyclist while passing through a piece of road furniture, which is why I ride protectively in the centre of the road when passing through pieces of road furniture. When I can I swing off once I'm through the obstacle – not easy when there are a series of street furniture. 

There is nothing in the Highway Code that requires cyclists to ride in the gutter. 

Overtaking on the inside 
As cyclist you often have to be very careful attempting to pass vehicles on the inside as the driver may well not see you.  
Being visible especially at night
I am amazed by the number of cyclists in London who ride at night without lights and very frequently wearing dark clothing. It is utterly stupid not to make yourself as visible possible to motorists. There is a big choice of both reflective clothing and effective lights, so why take risks by making your self invisible?  

Not paying road tax This is a frequent but ignorant complaint as nobody pays road tax. Instead cars and lorries pay vehicle tax, which has been greatly reduced for people driving 'greener' cars. In any case cars and, especially, lorries cause far more wear and tear on roads than cyclists do and also require much more space. Then if you take into account the health benefits that flow from cycling, so saving on NHS bills, there is a very good case why cyclists don't pay vehicle tax. 

(Tomorrow I look at what upsets cyclists.)

Thursday, 10 August 2017

Train journey from Beijing to Moscow: Lake Baikal

 Figures on the frozen lake

One of the most memorable sections of our train journey from Beijing to Moscow in April was going round Lake Baikal, which was still frozen hard. 

 Lake Baikal – the world's oldest and deepest freshwater lake 

An investment property by the lake 

 Lakeside huts 
(above and below)

 Motorbike and sidecar on the lake 

Snowy peaks above Lake Baikal 
– the railway line around the side of the lake is just visible

Wednesday, 9 August 2017

Cycling brings huge benefits but can we reduce the hostility?

 Clouds over the Cairngorms @Kincraig 
The A9 in the foreground –
a great backdrop for a ride!

After riding around London and the South East it is a pleasure to be cycling up here on the roads around Newtonmore, Kingussie and Aviemore. With rare exceptions drivers give you plenty of room when overtaking, although I'm not always sure that they can see sufficiently far ahead especially when overtaking. 

When riding in London you are always aware these days that you could be killed or seriously injured through dangerous, impatient driving. You can never relax. Clearly one of the differences up here in the Highlands of Scotland is there is much less traffic, especially if you avoid venturing onto the busy A9. 

This means that both motorists and cyclists are less stressed and more relaxed, which is doubtless the problem in London where there are high levels of stress and impatience. Sadly there are often high levels of hostility between motorists and cyclists partly from a level a mutual incomprehension, which is odd as many motorists either cycle now or have done in the past – even if this was when they were kids. Equally many cyclists also drive. 

it is very important that we try to resolve and break down this hostility and look to towards what Holland has achieved where cycling is the norm and there is a proper and accepted cycling infrastructure. 

Why is it important? 
Because encouraging more cycling can help to reduce pollution in large cities like London and equally important can dramatically improve the people's health both improving their quality of life and substantially reducing demand on the National Health Service as shown by this report published in April 2017:  

'Research has consistently shown that people who are less physically active are both more likely to develop health problems like heart disease and type 2 diabetes, and to die younger. Yet there is increasing evidence that physical activity levels are on the decline.

The problem is that when there are many demands on our time, many people find prioritising exercise difficult. One answer is to multi-task by cycling or walking to work. We’ve just completed the largest ever study into how this affects your health. 

Published in the British Medical Journal today, the results for cycling in particular have important implications. They suggest that councils and governments need to make it a top priority to encourage as many commuters to get on their bikes as possible.'
Staggering results from the study:
'We found that cycling to work was associated with a 41% lower risk of dying overall compared to commuting by car or public transport. Cycle commuters had a 52% lower risk of dying from heart disease and a 40% lower risk of dying from cancer. They also had 46% lower risk of developing heart disease and a 45% lower risk of developing cancer at all. 

Walking to work was not associated with a lower risk of dying from all causes. Walkers did, however, have a 27% lower risk of heart disease and a 36% lower risk of dying from it.'
Clearly not everyone can commute to work by bike but we can put encourage many more to do so by taking out the fear factor as they have done so in Holland. If we can persuade people to be more active we can reduce obesity before it becomes a big problem. Once you are very over-weight it must be very hard to reduce your weight significantly to do so requires incredible and laudable dedication. 

Walking to work has some of the benefits of cycling but they are less marked. This may be that for most people cycling is more strenuous exercise than walking. Also people may well consider longer distances and for longer than they would walk. 

More recently Christian Wolmar posted this plea for Labour to promote cycling:

'One of areas where the Labour manifesto needs improvement is transport. It is rarely a frontline area at election time, and although the nationalisation of the railways proved a popular pledge, there was little on how Labour could make a decisive shift towards a more environmentally friendly policy that would also improve people’s journey experience.

Cycling received barely a mention, and among Labour activists it is often thought that cycling is a minority concern, and a policy encouraging its use would not attract any new voters, and, furthermore, would alienate some existing supporters. That is a mistaken view.'

Ideally the desire to promote the substantial benefits of cycling should have all party support and not be contentious. Being more active would bring such advantages:


One in four British adults is obese, according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation, prompting fears that the UK has become the "fat man of Europe".
The UK has the highest level of obesity in Western Europe, ahead of countries such as France, Germany, Spain and Sweden, the 2013 report says.

Obesity levels in the UK have more than trebled in the last 30 years and, on current estimates, more than half the population could be obese by 2050.

Europe's obesity league:
  • UK: 24.9%
  • Ireland: 24.5%
  • Spain: 24.1%
  • Portugal: 21.6%
  • Germany: 21.3%
  • Belgium: 19.1%
  • Austria: 18.3%
  • Italy: 17.2%
  • Sweden: 16.6%
  • France: 15.6%

Tuesday, 8 August 2017

Fine lunch @the elegant Rocpool Reserve, Inverness

Entrance to Rocpool Reserve

Today we met up with two friends that we had met in China to have lunch at the Rocpool Reserve, part of the Albert Roux empire. 

As our friends were delayed by a slow running train from Aberdeen, we went to the bar and ordered a bottle of 2014 Vondeling from South Africa. This is an attractive blend of 50% Chenin Blanc, 24% Chardonnay, 13% Grenache Blanc and 13% Viognier vinified in 500-litre French oak. The 2014 combines good concentration with freshness in the finish. 

We chose a mix of dishes from the set-menu (£32.50 for lunch, £35 for dinner) and from the à la carte. We were impressed throughout by the quality of the dishes. 

 Bar area 
(above and below)

 2014 Vondeling from South Africa 
(above and below) 

First courses: 

 Roux's classic souffle 
– wonderfully light and delicate 

 Long, slow cooked pork 

Smoked mackerel 

Our red: 

2015 Fleurie, Château de Raousset 
a powerful and rich black fruited Fleurie  

Main courses:

Rabbit ballotine 

Assiette of lamb 

Our sweet wine: 

 2011 Coteaux du Layon 1er Cru Chaume, 
Domaine des Forges 

This 2011 Chaume half bottle from Domaine des Forges (Stéphane et Séverine Branchereau) was a delight with a lovely balance of rich but delicate fruit with good acidity in the finish. Still youthful this Chaume can last for many years to come.  A clear demonstration as to why 2011 is a very good vintage in the Layon. 

Our two previous wines had been served in entirely appropriate Riedel glasses., so it was very surprising that the restaurant produced small copitas for this wine. I asked instead for the Chianti style Riedel glasses that we had had for our white wine and this was immediately done. 

I hope that producing small copitas for the Chaume was an aberration – I'm sure that Albert Roux would not be happy to see a very fine Loire sweet wine served in such small and inappropriate glasses! 

We finished with coffee sitting out on the terrace in the warm Inverness sunshine. 

Rocpool Reserve is certainly recommended for an indulgent mid-week lunch. The wine list has an interesting range of wines from around the world with a fair number at reasonable prices for a restaurant of this class. It is, however, a pity that the only sparkling wine available is Champagne starting from £87 a bottle. What about listing a more affordable Crémant?