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

Monday, 30 April 2018

Brett Jones – The Wine Maestro – dies

Brett in the Loire

We were very sorry and saddened to learn this evening that Brett Jones – the Wine Maestro – and Wink Lorch's partner died this morning losing his brave and courageous fight against prostrate cancer. 

One of our strongest memories was his performance back in September 2009 on the 4th plinth in Trafalgar Square highlighting the dangers of prostate cancer, which included, of course, a wine tasting. Brett had been treated and was in remission.

Brett on a high in Trafalgar Square:


Golden pants

The audience

 Stepping off the plinth

Here is the last post on the Wine Maestro blog

A sad day – you will be sorely missed, Brett. Our thoughts are with Wink and Brett's family. 

Sunday, 29 April 2018

Coldharbour's English fizz stirs memories

Acre Lane from Clapham leads onto Coldharbour Lane,
which heads through to Loughborough Junction

A bottle of 'Coldharbour' Classic Cuvée NV (West Sussex) enjoyed a week ago last Friday on the evening of our return to London after our long stay in Scotland stirred old memories.  

For a couple of years back at the end of the 1960s and very early 1970s I lived on Acre Lane in Brixton. The eastern end of Acre Lane finishes at Brixton Town Hall in the centre of the borough at the junction with Brixton Road.    

Memories of Coldharbour were reactivated in 1997 with the debut album from Alabama 3 that featured the fine Exile on Coldharbour Lane. Back in the days when I lived in Acre Lane, an evening stroll down Coldharbour Lane usually produced an invitation from the shadows to buy a wrapped up piece of dope. 

As I never accepted these kind invitations I can't say whether the proffered dope was anything like as well balanced as Coldharbour's quite austere Classic Cuvée – a blend of Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Pinot Meunier as are the majority of Champagnes. The winemaker is Dermot Sugrue, whose Sugrue Pierre, we have greatly enjoyed on several occasions at The Harrow in Little Bedwyn.

Saturday, 28 April 2018

2006 Saumur Champigny, Château de Villeneuve

2006 Saumur-Champigny, Château de Villeneuve

If you listened to some received ideas you would imagine that this 2006 straight Saumur-Champigny from Château de Villeveuve would be well past its best. Not at all! In glass it still looks youthful – no sign of brickiness. Similarly on the palate it has the roundness, soft texture and structure that is associated with the 2006 vintage. Tasted blind I am sure it would be difficult to say that this wine is nearly 12 years ago.

Impressive as this is Jean-Pierre Chevallier's straight Saumur-Champigny and not either the Vieilles Vignes or Grand Clos. 

Friday, 27 April 2018

2018 Loire Millésime – some thoughts on the second edition

The second edition of Loire Millésime was based in Blois and ran from Sunday 22nd to 25th April. In all some 70 journalists were invited from around the world with a strong contingent from North America. 

Visits during this second edition naturally focused on appellations to the east of Tours – the various Touraine appellations, especially Oisly, Chenonceaux and Mesland along with Vouvray. Whereas the first edition, based at Fontevraud, focused on Saint-Nicolas-de-Bourgueil, Chinon and Saumur. 

Sunday 22nd April
This second edition opened with a tasting of Loire Chenin Blanc, which was similar in format to that held at the Domaine de Rocheville (Saumur) in 2017. This year it and our other tastings were held in the Château de Blois.

During the tasting there are trays of canapés served with no sit down meal at the end of tasting. A number of the leading producers marking Loire Chenin were present at the tasting. These included Claude Papin, Olivier Lecomte, Patrick Baudouin, Philippe Porché, Joël et Ludovic Gigou, Vincent Lebreton, Tessa Laroche and Alexandre Monmousseau. 

There were many high quality Chenins to taste. It was also a useful reminder of the high average quality of wines from Jasnières and Coteux du Loir. Good to taste a couple of 2017s from Domaine Lelais, which with 14 hectares in Jasnières makes them the largest producer in this small appellation. Unfortunately Lelais lost 50% of their 2016 crop to frost.  

Unfortunately I find grazing on canapés and trying to taste these excellent Loire Chenin Blancs doesn't really work. I would rather taste without the distraction of food and then eat after the end of the tasting. Given the timing of this evening tasting, leaving eating until the finish of the tasting wasn't possible unless one was prepared to go hungry as local restaurants would be closing by the end of the event. 

Monday 23rd, Tuesday 24th and Wednesday 25th April
As it had been in the previous edition the centrepiece of the 2018 Loire Millésime was the possibility to taste some 700 wines from the 2017, 2016 and 2015 vintages that had been entered into the Le Concours des Vins du Val de Loire. Of these 700 wines – 287 had received medals. 

For the whole of Monday (9am-6.30pm) there was the opportunity to taste the 2017 vintage, then Tuesday and Wednesday morning for the 2016 and 2015 wines.

Doubtless it is admirably democratic that those who enter their wines into the Concours get them to be tasted by a global group of journalists as well as providing an incentive to enter. Unfortunately it is the nature of wine competitions, especially regional ones, that for a variety of reasons the best producers do not enter their wines. Most top producers already have established reputations and may well be a position to sell more wine than they can make. Furthermore with the 2016 and 2017 frosts in the Loire there is a shortage of stock. 

The result? From the 700 wines there were too few that were good and memorable. The overall quality was significantly below that of the Chenin Blanc tasting on Sunday night. The 2018 Loire Millésime is reported to have cost 140,000€ to stage. It does seem quixotic to fly in journalists from around the world and not show them the wines that you believe are the best the region has to offer. Furthermore it is very likely that it is the region's best producers who are present on export markets rather than producers who fail to get medals in their regional competition. 

To be fair the Tuesday afternoon trip to Vouvray, which I was not on, did include a visit with Vincent Carême to his vineyard and to the cellars of Domaine Huet, so two leading Vouvray producers. 

Next year's edition of Loire Millésime will be in the Pays Nantais, I trust that the organisers will have sorted out this problem and will show their guests the very best that the Loire has to offer. One solution would be to show only those wines from the Concours that are awarded medals and to show at the same time a selection from the Loire's best producers. 

Château de Chambord 

Two spectacular soirées
On Monday and Tuesday we enjoyed to two spectacular soirées: Monday evening at Château de Chambord and Tuesday at Château de Moncontour in Vouvray. On both occasions the weather was perfect. Monday featured wines from the straight Touraine and Touraine Villages appellations, while Tuesday was devoted to négociant and cave co-operative wines. 

 Château Moncontour

Visits to Touraines Oisly, Mesland and Amboise
On Tuesday afternoon I opted to go on the trip to Touraine Oisly. Here the focus was on two types of soil. The first, in the east of the Oisly appellation, had clay and limestone that had degraded to flint. The second was more sandy and had heavier clay making it a colder soil with the possibility of poor drainage during a wet winter. The visit included a tasting of Sauvignon Blancs from both Touraine Chenonceaux and Touraine Oisly. 

The tasting confirmed my overall impression from tasting 2016s from the two appellations  on Tuesday morning that the whites from Chenonceaux are more interesting, complex and varied than those from Oisly, which although in the wines we tasted have rich fruit, they have a tendency to blandness due to their soft finish that lacks vibrancy and punch. 

Wednesday afternoon was taken up with a drive in an iconic Citroen 2CV through the vineyards of Touraine Mesland and Touraine Amboise. The highlights were a tasting of five 100% Côt in a vineyard in the commune of Limeray. If the proposed Cru Amboise goes through the whites will be made only from Chenin Blanc and the reds solely from Côt (Malbec). Of the five the 2015 Prestige de Bessous, 2015 La Griffe d'Isa (Xavier Frissant) and the 2016 Domaine de Grande Foucardière stood out. At the end of our excursion a 1997 late harvest botrytised Touraine Amboise from Domaine de la Gabillière (the Lycée Viticole at Amboise) was a fine treat.  

Unfortunately the visits highlighted the high proportion of vineyards in Touraine that blasted with weedkiller. In some vineyards the destruction is almost total with a trace of biodiversity remaining. It is, however, encouraging that the proposal for the putative cru Amboise includes restrictions on the use of weedkillers. 

 Oisly vineyard completely blitzed by weedkiller
Less life in the soil than in the Gobi Desert?

Ouch – old Chenin Blanc in a lifeless vineyard 
@Limeray (Amboise)
There should be a law against treating old Chenin like 



Thursday, 26 April 2018

2018 Loire Millésime – Amboise aiming to be a cru

View over Limeray looking south with 
the south side of the Loire in distance 

Yesterday afternoon a group of us from Loire Millésime paid a brief visit to some of the vineyards of Touraine-Mesland and Touraine-Amboise traveling in convoy transported in six or seven of the mythic Citroen 2CVs (deux chevaux).

Touraine-Amboise is in the process of seeking promotion from Touraine-Amboise to cru Amboise. They are currently in negotiation with the INAO. 

The Amboise cru will be for just red and white. The red is to be 100% Côt (Malbec) and the white – pure Chenin Blanc. The current Touraine-Amboise appellation extends over 11 communes and has a potential planting area of 3200 ha, although the average declaration over the past five years has been only 181 hectares. Under the reclassification of the appellation, only 726 hectares would be kept as suitable for the future cru. These are the vineyards – actually planted or potential sites on the premières côtes that overlook the Loire from both banks. From the potential 726 hectares for the future cru around 400 ha are currently planted. Vineyards that are not considered suitable for Cru Amboise will just be classified as straight Touraine.

Amboise is one the very rare Loire appellations where an appellation has vineyards on both banks of the river. 

The regulations for AOP Amboise will limit the use of weedkillers. Complete blitzing of a vineyard will not be permitted. Producers will be permitted to use weedkiller under the vines but the centre of the rows will have to be grassed over or cultivated. This will be a welcome step forward as the widespread use of weedkillers in Touraine Meland, Amboise and Oisly is all too prevalent where biodiversity is non-existent.        

Wednesday, 25 April 2018

2018 Loire Millésime – fireworks conclude magical soirée at Moncontour

Tuesday's night's soirée was at Château Moncontour (Vouvray) and featured wines from the Loire négoce. The evening concluded with a magical and spectacular firework display set to appropriate music.

Many thanks to everyone who organised this fine soirée.   

Floodlit Château Moncontour

Tuesday, 24 April 2018

2018 Loire Millésime – spectacular soirée @Chambord

The appellations of Touraine treated us to a spectacular soirée at Château de Chambord on Monday evening. Firstly an apéritif on the roof and then dinner downstairs at the base of the famous double staircase. During the dinner we were entertained by a very good jazz band.

Many thanks to all involved. 

More photos to follow. 

Monday, 23 April 2018

2018 Loire Millésime @Blois

It is good to be back in the Loire for the first time since late October 2017. The occasion is the second edition of Loire Millésime. The first edition was held at the Abbaye de Fontevraud near Saumur. This year we are much further up the Loire at Blois and amongst the assembled journalists – some 70 from around the world – I have been joined by fellow Les Cinqs – Hervé and Marc, so 60% of us are present here.
Unlike last year there is no threat of frost the days are hot and the nights are much milder – well above freezing. In contrast last year the days were wonderfully bright but the temperature plummeted at night giving the producers a series of frosts to fight.

We started this three and a half days of tasting on Sunday evening with a look at Chenin Blanc along the same format as last year at the Domaine de Rocheville in the commune of Parnay. The tasting included some of the Loire’s best exponents of Chenin Blanc in its diverse facets.
Producers present at the event included Claude Papin, Jérôme Billard, Francis Jourdan, Jean-Max Manceau, Olivier Lecomte, Ludovic and Joël Gigou, Philippe Porché, Patrick Baudouin, Tessa Laroche, Julien Fournier, Xavier Frissant, Nicolas Paget, Marielle Henrion, Alexandre Monmousseau, Vincent Lebreton and Alexandre Cady, There were many exciting and diverse wines to taste.
Monday has been given over to tasting the 2017 vintage from wines that were entered in the 2018 Concours de Vins Val de Loire, This doubtless is a good way to encourage producers to enter the competition and is admirably democratic but it does mean the wines from some of the best and most famous Loire producers are not in the tasting. It is a given for all wine competitions that many of the top producers do not enter them. After all they may well have more to lose than gain and furthermore they rarely need the publicity as their established renown sells their wines. However, this format does give me the chance to discover good producers that I don’t already know.
Monday’s tasting confirmed that despite the April frost 2017 completes a quartet of good vintages in the Loire with successes in both the dry whites and the reds.
Some favourites from 2017: 
Haut Bourg Pavillon2017 Pavillon, Muscadet Côtes de Grandlieu sur Lie, 
Domaine du Bourg, Hervé et Nicolas Choblet
– elegant and with real character

Grolleau Robineau
2017 Grolleau IGT Val de Loire, Michel Robineau
Fine example of why Grolleau can be an excellent quaffing wine 
Côt Garnon La Chapinière
Côt Garnon, Touraine, La Chapinière
This promising 2017 underlines that Côt (Malbec) 
is very well suited to the Cher Valley.
Also that La Chapinière is a consistently good producer

Touraine Mesland-Rabelais
Barrel-aged Cuvée Anais Touraine Mesland, Domaine de Rabelais 
Good concentration and structure  

Thursday, 19 April 2018

Netta Macintyre – quiet, peaceful family burial @Old Petty

Old Petty Cemetery, Ardersier
close to Castle Stuart and the Castle Stuart Golf Course

Yesterday (18th April) Netta was buried in Old Petty Cemetery alongside Jimmy Macintyre, her beloved husband who died in January 2011. It was a quiet, peaceful occasion with only close family present. The sun shone and it was pleasantly warm. 

The service was very sympathetically conducted by Rev. Catherine Buchan.

Floral tributes and cards from the family: 


The coffin draped in purple, 
along with pink Netta's favourite colour, with a single carnation  

There are also a few war graves at Old Petty Cemetery 
mainly for Polish soldiers  – a timely reminder that Polish forces fought 
alongside the UK 
and its other allies to defeat Nazi Germany

Wednesday, 18 April 2018

Netta (Janet) Macintyre's funeral service attracts 300

Celebrating Netta's Life:  
the order of service for Netta's funeral service:
front and back cover

Netta as a young nurse:
the photo she gave Jimmy, her husband to be,
when they were courting 

Netta Macintyre's funeral service was yesterday afternoon at Saint Bride's Church in Newtonmore. It attracted a congregation of 300 people – a clear demonstration of the affection and respect in which Netta was held. The congregation included over 60 of her extended family, friends from Inverness, Newtonmore and elsewhere, and people from her multitude of community work. 

Poignantly the mourners included Edna Simpson, Netta's friend, who will be 100 this year and who was the recipient of the last letter that Netta wrote shortly before the pain and her cancer overcame her. 

The Minister, the Reverend Catherine Buchan, delivered a lovely tribute showing how well she knew Netta. Catherine had visited Netta several times during her final days in Saint Vincent's Hospital in Kingussie. 

A extraordinary but fitting turnout – many of whom came onto the fine reception at The Highlander.   

 The queue to get into the church

 The congregation before the start of the service 
– with places at the front reserved for the family 

The coffin

Family wreath on the coffin

 The floral displays in the church 
(above and below)

 After the service: the hearse and the line of 
mourners stretching up Glen Road, Newtonmore back to Saint Bride's