Monday, 30 January 2012

Charlie's first time at Cheltenham...

On Saturday just gone Charlie and I made his first Pilgrimage to the home of Jump racing – Cheltenham. This was his 4th days racing having been to Leicester, Newbury and Goodwood before. He has an interest through the fact I love the horses and a bet. We set of early to avoid the traffic and stopped off en route for breakfast and a quick first look at the Racing post, got to have a copy each!!

Just over a year ago we went, as a family, to Newbury and Charlie has ever since had Big Bucks as his favourite horse so he was delighted to see in print that he was running again. I had been keeping a close eye on this in the week before as it would be a great for Charlie to see him again.

With breakfast done and a good early arrival secured we had a good wander around before getting to the paddock for the first…we both liked the look of a few especially Hollow tree for Charlie but certainly thought that Pearl Swan was on his toes and too excitable. How wrong we were as Pearl swan picked up late on to be first past the post, he lost the race in the stewards room however. From then on we followed the tried and tested route of paddock, betting ring and back again. We found a friendly bookmaker who didn’t mind Charlie perching on the rail to get a good view.
The next three races came and went with Charlie getting in the frame each time but none of the bets were each way. We then needed a winner…Batonnier at 12/1 in the 5th was just the job as we both backed him and that put as nicely ahead!! We were now full of the joys and ready to cheer on Big Bucks. He looked awesome as always in the parade ring, very imposing, he even got a round of applause pre race. With the winner in the bag I could justify a cigar with a pint of the black stuff so out came the Por Larranaga Robusto (Asia Pacific Release 2007) it was good but if anything a little one dimensional. We then moved through for the Cleeve hurdle with Charlie getting on to his usual perch. We both had a little on Restless Harry “without Big Bucks” but that looked a lost bet turning for home. Charlie had convinced me to put £5 on BB for him at 1/5 he was happy with his £6 (I didn’t have the heart to tell him he’d scammed me, may be he knew!) when BB rallied well when looking like there might be a real battle, to win by 7 lengths. We rushed back over to the winners enclosure to see the reception he got and were not disappointed!!

It had been a cracking day and I was delighted that it was just about profitable too…where to next?

Wednesday, 18 January 2012

It's there to be drunk...

I was asked a couple of weeks ago to do a small "critics corner" feature for harpers so here it is...

The fine wine market has hit a bit of a lull of late, hardly breaking news or surprising , but I am not sure this is such a bad thing. It will be great to focus on selling wines where people’s interest is in drinking them, whether that is now or in 20 year’s time. I have found over the last 2-3 years that there is a massive overuse of financial terminology creeping into to the world of wine and for me it is a shame, it de-personalises and over simplifies wine. I am not naive and realise it is good for merchants, agents and brokers when wines prices are flying high and there is a frenzy but surely we have got to a stage where supply and demand (by which I mean bottles being drunk or bought by drinkers) have to be re-introduced to each other.

Wine investment as a by-product of the fact that supply goes down and therefore people have to pay more to incentivise people to sell is fine and has gone on for years but if prices are manipulated by the fact that so much is in “funds” or “portfolios” it can’t be healthy in the longer term. The market has to reflect what people will pay to open a bottle of a wine not what they will pay on the basis someone will pay more at a later date, surely that is a slippery slope?

To be more positive and go back to the drinker I don’t think they/we have ever had it so good, wines in the £10-£50 a bottle range have surely never been as good? I realise that is a large bracket but then people’s budgets are very different. Wherever you look, Italy and Piedmont in particular for me, there is great competition, diversity or styles and exceptional quality which can only be good. This forces even the established names to constantly review what they do in the vineyard and cellar. So whilst the investment angle may have dropped off the radar let’s all enjoying selling and better still drinking some great bottles, magnums and bigger in 2012.

The 2010 Burgundy tastings will be a good place to start with the excitement of a week where pretty much all the offers are out and a large group of growers travel to the UK to engage with their customers it is always a great week to be in the trade. Especially with 2010 looking a good to great, if small, vintage. There is real passion amongst those who buy and drink Burgundy and whilst you get some high prices at the top end the wines are produced in genuinely minute quantities and in most cases would sell to drinkers for more, a lesson to be learnt?

Monday, 16 January 2012

Hoyo de Monterey Epicure no2 - Robusto Review 10

Of all of the Robusto's this is the one I know best. It is at it's best a very elegant and graceful smoke, at its worst under filled and a bit plain...

The review - Nice looking "normal" Epi 2, tan colour, aroma was tea-like, cold draw of tea and hay. Nicely filled and with good construction. It went straight to the gentle side of medium, great even draw and burn, lovely dense smoke, almost a sweet toffeed tea note...a very good start.

To use a wine analogy it is a bugundian smoke, no overowering youthfulness to speak of, it is more about balance. Into the middle of the smoke it changed only a little, a touch of spice to add to the tea...still good but needs to move on to another dimension to be great rather than just good. One small aside, why does a cigar need two bands when it is a standard release? And on a cigar short one too, unnecessary in my book. When I first smoked these Epi 2's they had no band at all and I used to like that.

The final third got a little richer but didn't change much which was a bit of a shame. Overall it is an elegant smoke, a good first robusto for those not familiar with CC's and that is not to be patronising. I can see why so many people like them. A rating?....88-89

Several bottles at Planet of the Grapes

Last week we had two colleagues over from the Hong Office - Erica and Huge. We decide on a meal out on the Tuesday and headed off to Planet of the Grapes in Bow Lane near mansion house tube. It is a cracking spot and they allowed us to take two mags (see below which they were). The rest of the wines we just bought 2 bottles off the list and tasted. Most of the time we took it in turns to pick and then everyone could have a good go at calling what they thought it was. Food-wise we had a mixed platter of cold meats and cheese to start then mostly had steaks but a few people had other things...anyway on with the wines.
First up was Macon Verze 2009, Domaines Leflaive from magnum which we took along, it is starting to drink really well, a nice combination or richness and a racy acidity, it will open out more but is delicious now, I love white burgundy in magnum. Next on the agenda was a pick of mine, aimed slightly at catching one of the team out, Egon, as he's always going on about this type of wine it was Soave Classico 2010 Tiama. Most people thought it was a little older, it had good soft, mellow Sauvignon like fruit on the nose and a decently complex palate which might have been why people felt it was older, it went down well and quickly. Next was the choice of Mr H and was our last white, it was Kistler Chardonnay 2008. I really liked it and felt it might have been something like Kumeu River from New Zealand it was not hot. It had good complexity, was a touch short possibly but then I m not sure how good a vintage the 2008 is? I enjoyed it, rich and broad but not OTT.

And so with the platter done and steak on its way we moved to the reds starting with a real favourite of mine Cascina Francia Barbera 2008, Giacomo Conterno from magnum, I just love the fact it is packed full of fruit but also has a savoury, almost salty, edge to it, I could drink a lot of it, it'll age too. Next was another "blind" choice of mine - Barolo 2006, Aldo Conterno - this was picked as being a lot older by most of the team, I chose it because not many of them have seen the oaked side of Nebbiolo. I thought this was well done but for me oak and Nebbiolo should be kept well apart, you get a mint, iodine like nose that is not as elegant as the grape itself, a good wine but not a good barolo in my opinion. Mossy and Egon then chose the next wine which turned out to be Beaucastel CNDP 2001, I have been enjoying more and more Rhones of late. This was decent but I picked it as more northern rhone than southern, Guido got it right. There was an almost gravy-ish texture, I have a feeling that this is somewhere between a primary and secondary phase, it was ok but there was not enough fruit for my liking. I would love to taste again in 2-3 years, an interesting wine to try blind.

It was then decided we needed something sweet and plumbed for two halves of Filhot 2001, Egon will claim he got this but given that he mentioned every Chateau and vintage in Sauternes I think his scattered gun approach can not be rewarded. It was decent as a sauternes but I would expect more from a 2001, it was true to Filhot's style though with a lightness of touch. Huge and myself then decided we needed one more red to see the night out, we went for Ridge Monte Bello 2005. It was a very interesting one, there was no way anyone thought it was old world there was an exotic richness and fruitiness that meant you had to be new world, western Australia was also dismissed as this was bigger in fruit that those. The good thing was that there was no heat and no over high alcohol here. I thought it had very clear red fruits with a little creamy black currant in reserve, it was very good but I wonder how it will develop.

It was a cracking night and good to spend time with our colleagues from the HK office...we were very well looked after by the guys at Planet of the Grapes too, if you like simple proper food and interesting bottles you should go...

Monday, 9 January 2012

R&J Short Churchill...the next Robusto

Having had a cough, cold, sore throat thingy over Christmas this is my first proper cigar review of 2012. I warmed up the prevoius night with a Paratagas Short that was as good as ever, despite being a stick that was a bit battered from being in and out of a pouch.

Anyway on with the job at hand, the R&J Short Churchill, not to be confused with the R&J Wide Churchill, which I had in Spain and loved. This had a good appearance if not exciting, mellow tobacco aroma when cold, great draw, light hay notes when tugged on pre-lighting.

Good start, nice classical richness, just under medium body, good ash. Half an inch in it had picked up a touch to medium, leather and spice, dark tea too...promising at such an early stage.

By half way the spice has calmed and it is purely a lovely balanced leather and tobacco smoke, great aroma too. The drizzle had forced me to smoke half in, half out, of the shed and I'll be doing it again as you get more of the aroma.

Into the final third I was thinking it was just really good, solid smoke. I am not sure of box code but I'd guess 2010 rather than really young. I can't see it as being a smoke to keep for ages but at this stage it is "singing" well.

Very good all in all, last third got a bit soft but I'd think seriously about getting more of these...fits between a H d M Epicure No2 and Partagas SDN4 for me...90-92