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

Thursday, 31 July 2014

Fine 2012 Muscadet from Eric Chevalier – dare I say mineral!

The back label

Eric also makes good Pinot Noir

Eric Chevalier is probably best known for his Fie Gris (Sauvignon Rosé)* but this fine 2012 La Noë Muscadet Côtes de Grand Lieu Sur Lie is a reminder that Eric also makes very good Muscadet. This 2012 is lightly golden with considerable weight, very clean and precise and a lovely mineral character. Yes 'mineral' character!

I'm aware that some 'flavour führers' have cast doubt on using 'mineral' as a descriptor on the grounds that science suggests that roots are 'merely supplying water and dissolved mineral ions' as Jamie Goode explains in his fine new edition of Wine Science. Jamie does wonder whether science isn't missing something here:

'That underlying geology impacts wine so strongly is undoubted. The cost differential between a grand cru Burgundy and a lowly generic Bourgogne, or even a respectable village level wine, is such that there is a significant financial incentive for winegrowers to do all they can to improve the quality of their wine. But even where great care is taken in the vineyard, yields are dropped and the highest level of winemaking is practiced, there seems to be a quality ceiling that is imposed by the vineyard.

So we have a dilemma to solve: how is it that soils seem to be so important for wine quality, when science indicates that they are only playing a limited role in influencing the flavour of grapes?'  Jamie Goode, Wine ScienceSoils and vines

What I think is important here is that mineral best describes the character of what I am tasting. I could use grapefruit, perhaps, but that doesn't encompass the full flavour. So I'm opting for 'mineral' here and will continue to do so.
The Sandeman figure in their cellars@Vila Nova de Gaia

During our recent visit to Porto we took a consumer visit through the Sandeman cellars. It was fascinating listening to and watching the reaction of the people of the visit. In particular one question: "Wine is often described by citing fruits – strawberry, cherries etc. do you add these to the wine?"

The answer is no – any fruit extracts used are added illegally. But the interesting thing is that the person who asked the question was no fool and thought it perfectly possible that these fruits were added to wine hence the use of these descriptors to evoke the taste wines.  

*PS: Actually it is hardly surprising that Eric is known for his fie gris as this variety is incorporated in his website's url. 


Wednesday, 30 July 2014

A Lisbon treat!: back to A Taberna da Rua das Flores

 From the inner sanctum through to the 'main restaurant'

A week ago last Tuesday we went back to eat @ A Taberna. André had kindly reserved us a small table in the inner sanctum by the bar. It normally isn't possible to book tables in this tiny restaurant. Even when we arrived around 8pm there was a queue outside. I can, however, assure you that it is worth waiting for André's inventive cooking and it won't break the bank. 

André Magalhães (taken in February 2014)

Fromage de tête (on the house)

 2010 Nana Tejo Reserva: a delicious and soft red wine field blend made 
by André's girlfriend, named in homage to her mother

The dishes here are small – petiscos, so the idea is that if there are three of you then you should choose four, which is what we did

 Bacalhau with chick peas – sensational!

 Squid with Japanese squid noodles in squid ink – wonderfully staining!

 Slow cooked pork

 André's take on a hamburger

Strawberries lubricated with Vinho Generoso
(a version of home-made Port) 
and also in the glasses
+ passion fruit ice-cream – yum!

Vinho Generoso

With the bottle of wine our meal cost the three of us £57.50 – fabulous value!

Kiosk in Príncipe Real

On the way home we stopped for an expresso at a kiosk in Prínciple Real.

Tuesday, 29 July 2014

Porto: some lovely parts but serious investment required

 Porto: Majestic in parts – inside the famous eponymous café

 View of the Douro, Porto on right and 
Vila Nova de Gaia on left


 Dom Luís Bridge: trams above – road below, and walkways at both levels


 From Porto through to Vila Nova de Gaia

 Remarkable cactus garden close to the Douro

Parts of Porto are magnificent but walking around the centre you cannot fail to notice that there are a lot of abandoned or rundown buildings — to a far greater extent than is the case in Lisbon where a lot of buildings have been renovated over the past ten years or so.  

Porto: a city in need of care?

An abandoned block in the centre

Overgrown and abandoned buildings close to the Douro


Vila Nova de Gaia

Monday, 28 July 2014

2014 Bourgueillothérapie: Saturday 13th – Sunday 14th September – raising money for La Croix Rouge

Jim with a new shirt that is waiting to be auctioned for charity 
on Sunday 14th@Bourgueil 
... but what's the wine?

2013: the auction in progress

Bourgueillothérapie is a unique event blending wine tasting with art based around the appellations of Bourgueil and Saint-Nicolas-de-Bourgueil. It is organised by Ludo and Sophie Ragot of Café de la Promenade in Bourgueil with Sébastien David (Domaine Sébastien David).

Over the weekend the artists create works of art – pictures, sculptures etc, while based with a vigneron or group of vignerons. These are then auctioned off for charity on the Sunday afternoon. Each year the proceeds go to a different charity. This year it is La Croix Rouge (The Red Cross).   


Saturday 13th September
The artists set themselves up with their vignerons and start work. This year there is a change instead of having each producer host an artist, the producers and their artists will be grouped together. There will be four zones: Saint-Nicolas-de-Bourgueil, Restigné, the east of the appellation and Café de la Promenade for the vignerons invited from other Loire appellations.
This new arrangement will mean less driving for those wanting to visit the artists in situ and also less chance of getting lost. In the past some of the venues were not very well signposted.

Samedi 13 sept
: les artistes s’installent avec les vignerons dans quatre zones de dégustation dans le vignoble  (afin d’éviter de perdre des promeneurs en route et afin de raccourcir le circuit).
A Saint Nicolas de Bourgueil : Gérald Vallée, Sébastien David, Fréderic Mabileau, Les Vallettes, Xavier Amirault, Les frères Boisard, Laurent  Herlin
A Restigné : Domaine de la Chevalerie, Domaine Pierre et Catherine Breton, Domaine Georget , Domaine du Rochouard, Pierre Borel, Galbrun.  
A l’est de l’appellation
: Château Minière, Xavier Courant et Les Frères Nau
A La Promenade
: les invités hors appellation : Loic Terquem, Romain Guiberteau, Pascal Lambert, La Source du Ruault, Gérad Marula, Wilfrid Rousse, Antoine Sanzay et Vini Be Good.

Details of the three first three venues to come. 

Dimanche 14 sept
: 10 h dégustation sous les halles de Bourgueil puis cochon de lait à la broche à 13 h et dans la foulée à 15 h la vente aux enchères . Cette année les bénéfices seront donnés à la Croix Rouge.

Le jury sera parrainé par Jean-François Carmet

Even though July is not yet over we already have one piece of art ready to be auctioned – a new shirt for Jim.

Jim's new shirt and a glass of what?

More scenes from last year's auction:

Sébastien David with one of the paintings

Last year's crowd 

The well-heeled auctioneer..

Sunday, 27 July 2014

2014 Tour de France: Kittel wins Parisian King Sprint – Nibali crowned

Marcel Kittel won his second successive stage on the Champs Elysée having won last year. This time he beat Alexander Kristoff into second place. Kristoff was in the lead as the line approached by Kittel had his characteristic strength to put in a last spurt in the fianl 50 metres or so that moved him clear and won the stage. This takes Marcel Kittel's overall stage total to 8 – 4 wins in 2013 and 4 this year, so he is beginning to move into exalted company!

Vincenzo Nibali was duly crowned as the 2014 Tour de France winner. There was no change overall, although the time gaps have changed as little as Nibali made sure he rode over the finishing line with his team, so Jean-Christophe Peraud, for instance, gained a few seconds. When you are leading by well over seven minutes a few seconds lost on the final stage changes nothing.

Nibali has now won all three Grand Tours – France, Italy and Spain. He joins only five other riders who have managed this feat: Jacques Anquetil, Eddy Merckx, Felice Gimondi, Bernard Hinault and Alberto Contador.  

Nibali is a very worthy winner – he has clearly been the best rider in this year's Tour. You can speculate what would have happened if Chris Froome and Alberto Contador hadn't crashed out of this year's Tour but what is important is that Nibali finished and they didn't. I fancy that if Froome hadn't crashed and injured himself on Stage 4 from Le Touquet to Lille, it is very likely that he would have lost considerable time to Nibali on the cobbles the next day.

Le Tour 2014 has been great for France with two French riders on the podium – Jean-Christophe Peraud and Thibaut Pinot along with Romain Bardet in sixth. Of course, Pinot also has the White Jersey as the best young rider. 

The Tour de France continues to become increasingly global with Ramunas Navardauskas as the first Lithuanian stage winner and Rafa Majka as Poland's first winner of the Climbers' Jersey. Ji Cheng, clear winner of La Lanterne Rouge at 6.02:24 down on Nibali, is the first Chinese rider to compete in the Tour and the first to finish. 


Earlier in the day Marianne Vos deservedly won the first La Course - the race on the Champs Elysée for women. See details here. Unfortunately, Lizzie Armistead crashed out.

2014 Tour de France: the finale + La Course

 Stage 21: Evry to Paris Champs Elysées 137.5 kms

Today the riders cover the last 137.5 kilometres of the 3653 km total of the 2014 Tour de France. It will be a procession and celebration until the peloton reaches the Champs Elysées, where the racing will begin. The stage tends to finish in a bunch sprint. Marcel Kittel won last year beating André Griepel and Mark Cavendish. Will Kittel win again this year. Quite probably but it depends on how tired he is after the mountains. If it isn't Marcel then I'll go for either Griepel or Alexander Kristoff, who has already won two stages. 

Barring accidents the Jerseys and the podium places have been decided with Vincenzo Nibali, the overall winner of the 2014 Tour and Jean-Christophe Peraud second and Thibaut Pinot third wearing the White Jersey as Best Young Rider. Peter Sagan is the easy winner of the Green Points Jersey, while Rafa Majka has the Climbers' Jersey. 

La Course
This is a race for women and will be held on the Champs Elysées over 90 kilometres. It will precede the men's stage and the is result of a successful campaign to reintroduce a women's race at the same time as the Tour as used to be the case in the past. It is hoped that the La Course 2014 will be start of a  annual women's French stage race. 

World Champion Marianne Vos is the favourite.


Saturday, 26 July 2014

2014 Tour de France: Tony Martin's crushing win + 2 French riders on podium

As expected Tony Martin dominated today's time trial winning by 1:39 from Tom Demoulin and with only two other riders within two minutes of him. One of these being Vincenzo Nibali, who rode conservatively at the beginning speeding up in the second part of the course. As I rather suspected Jean-Christophe Peraud took the second place from Thibaut Pinot despite a puncture, although Pinot did a good ride. AGR2R Le Mondial had bad luck having two punctures. The second cost young Romain Bardet his fifth place as Tejay Van Garderen moved ahead of him by just two seconds. Even so it has been a great Tour de France for the French. The big disappointment today was Alejandro Valverde who lost a lot of time to both Peraud and Pinot, although he does keep his 4th place.  

This afternoon's victory takes Tony Martin's Tour stage wins to four. See updated list of stage winners from 1903 to 2014 here.

Vincenzo Nibali extended his lead to 7:58 – it is a long time since a Tour winner has had such a margin. It is also 30 years since there have been two French riders – Peraud and Pinot – on the podium in Paris, barring accidents during the last stage. The last time was in 1984 when Laurent Fignon won the Tour with Bernard Hinault in second and Greg Lemond in third. Of course Pinot has the white jersey as the Best Young Rider.  

2014 Tour de France: race of truth from Bergerac to Perigueux

Stage 20: Bergerac to Perigueux 54 km time trial

Today's 54-kilometre time trial is the last crucial Tour stage for the overall contenders and it is a tough one. The course undulates throughout with very few flat sections, so it will suit a powerful time triallist. World Time Trial Champion Tony Martin is the clear favourite. He has no problem climbing as his long solo victory in the Vosges showed.

The real battle is going to be for the final placings in the Top 10, especially the remaining two places on the podium in Paris with only fifteen seconds between Thibaut Pinot in 2nd place, Jean-Christophe Peraud (3rd) and Alejandro Valverde in 4th. It would be good to see both Frenchmen Pinot and Peraud on the podium but it is very difficult to call who will be on the steps. It is also possible that if some of them have a really bad day that Tejay Van Garderen on a good ride could move further up the order than imagined.  

Météo France is forecasting sunshine with some clouds, although some previews are suggesting rain in the morning with the weather clearing up in the afternoon. 

Overall standings after Stage 19 

Friday, 25 July 2014

2014 Tour de France: Ramunas Navardauskas' fine solo win in rain

Ramunas Navardauskas and his Garmin Sharp team earned a finely crafted victory in Bergerac this afternoon. Navardauskas attacked on the Côte de Monbazillac catching his team mate Tom Slagter, the only survivor from the day's break. The Lithuanian time trial champion then sped away opening a gap on his chasers of around 20-25 seconds.

The race was run in foul conditions – heavy rain and plenty of standing water on the roads. This gave Navardauskas an advantage over his chasers in the difficult, technical finish – as it easier to negotiate wet corners alone than with a group. His cause was further assisted by a crash in the front of the peloton inside the last three kilometres, which took out a number of riders including Peter Sagan who looked to have targetted this stage as one he could win. 

On the line Navardauskas managed to hold off the small group of chasers led by John Degenkolb, Alexander Kristoff and Mark Renshaw by seven seconds for his first individual Tour de France stage win. Navardauskas already had a Team Time Trial stage win with Garmin in 2011 – see amended overall list of stage winners. He also won a stage in the 2013 Giro.     

Although the crash delayed some riders by a good number of minutes, there was no change overall as the crash happened within the last 3 kilometres of the stage, so all the riders, except Navardauskas, were given the same time for this stage. Fortunately the forecast tomorrow is dry and sunny, so hopefully everyone will have an equal chance in the time trial, which will indeed be the race of truth for those with ambitions for the podium.       

Loire: two September dates for your diary – Vignes, Vins, Randos + Festivini

Les samedi 6 et dimanche 7 septembre 2014
Vignes, Vins, Randos, 11e édition,

Rentrée festive : randonnez et dégustez au milieu des vignes
Événement incontournable de l’oenotourisme en Val de Loire, “Vignes, Vins, Randos” ont 15 randonnées vigneronnes hautes en couleur ! 

Les appellations du Val de Loire se mobilisent pour vous faire découvrir leur terroir sur fond de paysages inscrits au patrimoine mondial de l’humanité par l’Unesco et de bonheurs partagés. 

Château de Saumur

Festivini, le festival du vin – 5e édition
Du 6 au 14 septembre 2014 à Saumur

Culture du vin et gourmandise :  l’événement phare en région pays de la Loire
Du 6 au 14 septembre, le vin fait son festival à Saumur avec Festivini.

Chaque jour, un événement aborde le vin et sa culture sous toutes ses facettes (gastronomie, cinéma, sport, musique, dégustations et débats...). 

Un programme qui fait la part belle au goût et à la convivialité pour (re)découvrir les vins du Val de Loire au départ du saumurois.

Details here.