Charles Smith, winemaker and Winesleuth hair twin

I met my hair twin the other night at Hawksmoor Steakhouse in London. We weren’t exactly hair twins, he’s blonde and I’m not but we both have wild and curly hair and we both like wine a lot! My hair twin in Charles Smith, ex-rock band manager and “2009 Food and Wine Magazine Winemaker of the Year” for K Vintners of Washington State. Charles has quite a reputation as a innovator, marketing genius, and is never afraid to speak his mind, his opinion of European wine drinkers – they’re “pussies” if they look at the back label see 15.5% alcohol and deem it too much for them without even trying it first. Luckily or unluckily, depending on how you look at it, I didn’t realize the alcohol content until late in the evening while chatting to Charles. His wines are extremely well balanced. I would never have guessed that they contained so much alcohol, no hint of a burn or alcohol on the nose, just  full bodied wines with refined tannins. If you start reading ingredients on a wine label, then his wines are not for you in Charles’ opinion. He does acknowledge that his wines “are not for everybody, they never are, it’s all about the individual”.  Charles picks the grapes when they are ready and not beforehand and if they have 15% alcohol so be it.  He wants to produce wines that reflect not only the region but also the vineyard where they are grown. To him, the most important thing is to produce balanced, soft, round and integrated wines. To drink his wines, you need food that’s going to stand up to it and Hawksmoor did an admirable job of serving up Porterhouse and Rib-eye steaks to match the wines. We had a selection of K Vintners wines, the 2008 Northridge Syrah from Wahluke Slope, the 2008 Morrison Lane Syrah, Walla Walla Valley and K Vintners 2008 Creator ( a blend of cabernet and syrah), Colombia Valley. Each wine was unique...

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Redwood Creek Wines

I neglected ‘Sleuth a bit during the month of July because I was so busy working summer festivals. Despite the fact that I’ve lived in this country for 4 years, I’d never been to a proper British music festival. I still haven’t been to a proper British music festival but I worked/attended Art in Oxford and the Port Eliot Festival in Cornwall. The Port Eliot Festival is a literary festival situated on the manor grounds of Lord and Lady St. Germans and every year plays host to a variety of authors as well as various musical groups. I loved the location, the festival was spread among the rolling green hills of the estate, as well as in the woods and along the river that runs through the estate. You’re probably wondering, “What the hell does this have to do with wine?” I’m getting to it. I was sent some wine by the California winemaker Redwood Creek and thought it would be great to take along these wines to a nature setting. Redwood Creek like to think of themselves as a wine of the Great Outdoors and what better place to try their wines then in the wilds of Cornwall. My friends and I stopped by the river to taste the Redwood Creek 2008 Merlot. A straightforward merlot, plums and black cherry, a bit of spice and mocha,  lovely round tannins but not jammy or overcooked. It was fresh and relaxed. I was really expecting a gigantic fruit bomb but this wine was nicely balanced. It’s a nice little wine, perfect for picnics or festivals when you really just want a good time wine. We joked that this wine was the good time girl of wines, lots of fun but you wouldn’t exactly take her home to meet your mom. We also tried the 2008 Redwood Creek Cabernet but felt it wasn’t as well balanced as the merlot nor was it anywhere near as satisfying as it. If you’re faced with both in the aisle,...

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Penfolds – Peter Gago,the most laid back winemaker I’ve met so far…

The most laid back winemaker I’ve met so far has to be Australian Peter Gago, Chief Winemaker of Penfolds Wines. I was at the launch of Penfold’s Luxury Icon wines recently and  sat down with Peter for a brief chat about his Kalimna 1998 Shiraz Bin 28 and what he thought were it’s finest qualities. We tasted through the range which included icon wines 2005 Penfolds Grange and 2007 Penfolds Yattarna Chardonnay as well as the Luxury range which included 2006 St. Henri Shiraz, 2007 Bin 707 Cab Sauv., 2007 RWT Shiraz, 2007 Magill Estate Shiraz and the 2008 Reserve Bin 08A Chardonnay. All just babies but showing their potential.  After tasting the young’uns, we went on to the oldsters and what a pleasure they were. The winemakers of Penfolds have definitely mastered the art of making wines that will age. But don’t take my word for it, watch the video and see what me and Peter thought of the ’98 Kalmina Shiraz. … Share this:TwitterFacebookLinkedInPocketRedditGoogleTumblrEmailPrintPinterestLike this:Like...

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Warwick Estate, S. African wine I like!

“Denise, there has been a slight change in our lunch plans today. Could you please call us? ” That was the first voice mail that greeted me on a recent Monday morning. I knew it was all that damn Icelandic volcano’s fault even before I returned the call. I was supposed to be attending a tasting and lunching with a Burgundy white wine producer that afternoon but I had a niggling feeling that lunch was going to have to be rescheduled due to the flight ban caused by the volcanic ash spewing into European air space. Rebecca,the PR rep, was very apologetic and to make up for the cancelled lunch offered me a lunch and tasting with James Dare, the stranded marketing director  of South African winery, Warwick Estate as a substitute. Much as the French winemaker couldn’t fly in, no one could fly out. James was stuck here until flights resumed. I’d gone from  a white Burgundy lunch to a S.African lunch in the space of two seconds. I was a bit hesitant because as many of you may know, I’m not a big fan of S.African wines but agreed because lately I have had some positive SA wine experiences and was curious to see what Warwick Estate had to offer. Lunch was at the delightful Islington restaurant, Frederick’s just off the high street. Walking in, it’s an oasis of calm with a lovely garden which is where we were seated. We sat down and James proceeded to give me a brief history of Warwick Estate as well as the Stellenbosch region since I wasn’t very well informed on the whole region.  Originally a fruit farm, in 1902 it was bought by Colonel Willam Alexander Gordon of the Warwickshire Regiment, converted into a vineyard and renamed Warwick Estate in honour of the regiment.  In 1964 the estate was bought by Stan and Norma Ratcliffe. The couple decided to plant cabernet. At first the grapes produced were sold to neighbouring wineries but Norma found...

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Lunch (and supper) with Casillero del Diablo – Reserva Privada Cab/Syrah ’07

There are few things that are more enjoyable to me then spending a lazy lunch with good friends. Interesting conversation, fun people and good times. I consider myself most fortunate in that most of my friends are foodies/excellent cooks and found myself one afternoon at the house of my friend, Luiz (AKA The London Foodie). Luiz is a big foodie and he prepared an amazing lunch for me and his partner. Starting off with a cold garlic and almond soup, garnished with fresh green grapes left me holding out my bowl and asking, “More, please. Sir.” The only cold soup I know of is gazpacho so this was a revelation. The garlic was mild and not overpowering, garnished with whole green grapes lolling about the bottom of the bowl. Delicious! For the main had Oxtail Stew with pumpkin with Moroccan couscous, oven cooked aubergine in a yoghurt sauce garnished with pomegrantes and a medly of sugar snap peas and aspargus with hazelnuts. Luiz really spoiled us! I had brought along the Casillero del Diablo, Reserva Privada 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon/Syrah which we paired with the oxtail stew. Casillero del Diablo Reserva Privada wines are made from old vines and come from their Pirque and the Peumo vineyards, of the Maipo and Rapel Valleys. The cabernet is from the Pirque vineyard which is situated in the northern and one of the coolest parts of the valley. The soil is nutrient poor and provides excellent drainage all of which makes the grape work that much harder to produce very concentrated fruit. The syrah used in the blend comes from the Peumo Vineyards further to the south of the Pirque vines and benefits from its position on south facing hills of the Rapel Valley. Here the soil is more clay like in character but has excellent drainage so the grapes don’t become bloated beachballs. The grapes produced have terrific balance and contribute depth of character and colour to the blend. The Reserva Privada Cabernet Sauvingon/Syrah 2007 spends 14...

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