Lady Gaga and Tiny Mechanical Feet

POSTED ON 14/06/2009

There’s a nice story at Bloomberg by the American wine journalist Elin McCoy (author of the excellent book about Robert Parker: The Emperor of Wine) about the 2007 vintage Ports. According to her and many of those who’ve tasted them, 2007 looks to be a great year for vintage port, which was unanimously declared a vintage year by Portugal’s port houses in April. Port is one of those curious anomalies in which, like champagne, it’s the producer who declares whether the year is a vintage year or not. Yes, it may come back and bite them in the bum later if it turns out it wasn’t so great after all, but the track record of declarations is pretty good.

The Douro Valley © GrahamsThe Douro Valley © Grahams

A small proportion of foot-treading is still done and can be one of the hallmarks of great vintage port for most wine lovers, i.e. grapes being crushed underfoot by barefooted men and women in the traditional, shallow, open lagares made of granite. Not apparently for the Chinese. Although she says that 2007s are surprisingly delicious now, 'with floral aromas, opulent fruit, silky textures and appealing freshness', this cuts no ice with the Chinese. She was told by Rupert Symington, whose family make Dow, Warre and Graham’s among others, “A few years ago, at a Shanghai trade tasting, our sales manager showed a video of foot-treading the grapes. After seeing it, none of the retailers wanted to taste the wines. We didn’t think about cultural differences and the disgust factor”.

I’m not sure whether it’s coincidence or not but, with labour an increasingly scarce commodity in the hinterland of Portugal’s wild and beautiful Douro Valley, the Symingtons, invented the robotic lagar for the 1998 vintage, a technique that resembles the gentle treading of the human foot. Shallow, stainless steel tanks are fitted with mechanical treading pistons whose movements replicate the patter of tiny, or large feet, and the results apparently are hard to tell from the real thing. In fact Graham’s say that ‘they have produced Ports that surpass the quality of traditional foot treading lagares, while at the same time eliminating the latter’s shortcomings’. Good news then for the Chinese? Possibly, and while you’re at it, tell the Japanese too. They, after all, are the most fastidious nation on earth.

disgusting foot treading © Grahamsdisgusting foot treading © Grahams

The patter of tiny robotic feet © GrahamsThe patter of tiny robotic feet © Grahams

The other problem however for port is that its sweet, fortified, sticky liquid is quite simply unfashionable at the moment with port sales significantly down. Is it the recession? Is it because so many New World reds now weigh in at 15% + alcohol and so make drinking port redundant? Is it because they’re sweet and hard to match with food? Is it because you have to lay port down for 10 years plus to wait for that fiery spirit and tannin to meld and soften? Probably a combination of these and other factors. Elin McCoy’s favourites are the Quinta de Vargellas Vinha Velha, Quinta do Vesuvio, Quinta do Noval, Graham’s, Dow and Croft. If I get to taste them before they appear on the market, I will report back.


I would like to set the record straight about Lady Gaga and me. Do you know the Lady Gaga song ‘Just Dance’? No reason why you should and even if you do, it’s hard to understand a single word the pint-sized platinum blonde actually sings. So, when you look up the lyrics on the net, it comes as little surprise to find that the words are still mostly incomprehensible. The most surprising thing though is that the lyrics posted on the internet, which seem to vary in subtle ways, all have her singing the first two words as ‘Red One’. This is hard to understand because the first two words of the song are the only ones that are clear and make any sense. So what does Lady Gaga sing in those first two words? ‘Red Wine’ of course, lyrics recorders and pop historians please note. Hopefully you will sleep more easily in your beds now you know.

The lady sings red wine ©Starpulse.comThe lady sings red wine ©

Wines of the Week

2001 Le Clos de Gamot.

From the Jouffreau family, this is a classic traditional Cahors malbec, nicey evolved and softened down tannins supporting earthy, savoury fruit that’s teetering on the edge of sweetness and savouriness. It’s the kind of wine that shows that Cahors needs time to soften, but the fruit has to be there in the first place. I like its earthy, potato-sack character, with its hint of fennel, but it’s hard to imagine anyone weaned on the New World, Argentinian malbec in particular, really enjoying this because it’s just a little too austere and dry for that kind of taste. £12.49, Les Caves de Pyrène, Guildford (01483 554750),

2006 Le Volagré, Montlouis-sur-Loire, Stéphane Cossais.

This is a serious Loire Valley white made from the chenin blanc grape, so in the mould of Vouvray, bone dry, mouthwateringly bone dry even but with an amazing depth and concentration of fruit that gives this wine at the same time an apricoty richness close in style and quality to the supposedly best of Loire chenins, Savennières, and it finishes with a mineral intensity that makes it both ultra-stylish and food-friendly. The right kind of dish: sander, aka pike perch, au beurre blanc would do nicely, thank you. £21.50, Les Caves de Pyrène, Guildford (01483 554750),


Anthony: Good to see a recommendation for Stéphane Cossais's brilliant wines. Sadly Stéphane died of a heart attack on Saturday, while on holiday in the Dordogne. He was only 42.

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