Richard Mark James' wine & travel blog
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27 September 2016

Cahors: Combel La Serre, Haute-Serre, Mercuès

Château de Mercuès
These Cahors words & wines are an extract from the recently updated version of my French wine tasting & touring e-magazine (click there for more info) available as a Kindle e-book on Amazon or emailed a monster PDF file.

Château Combel La Serre

Following on from what I've said recently about the Red Squirrel Wine company, their buyers have also been snooping around Cahors country in search of real Malbec; and obviously found some at Julien Ilbert’s winery Combel la Serre. There’s more about him and some of his previous vintages a little further on in this Cahors section (again, click above): I met him a few years ago in the region and was pretty impressed, thinking we’d be seeing more of him and his now 100% Malbec wines (even if they are a tad dear although so are the others reviewed here...).

Pur Fruit de Causse 2014 Cahors (no oak, 12.5% abv) - Alluring fruity 'funky' nose, very Malbec berry and spice style though; this one has light bite and grip. £14.99
Château Combel La Serre 2012 Cahors – Grippier and more textured wine than above showing good depth of enticing smoky fruit; very nice Malbec. £16.99

Château de Haute-Serre

There’s an in-depth profile of Georges Vigouroux‘s flashy estate winery and restaurant a few chapters further on, gleaned from a trip there (and rather good lunch it has to be said) a few years ago. Since replanting the hillside vineyards on this old property in the 1970s – 60 hectares surrounding the chateau - he’s injected even more money into Haute-Serre to make it a shining example of what can be done in Cahors (when you’re rich obviously). The wines are certainly impressive (even if sometimes a bit overly oaky in my view) and occasionally come up to ‘fine’ wine level, with a deliberate sense of recreating a Bordeaux-style ‘grand cru’ based on the region’s Malbec variety. In the UK, Oddbins have recently listed a couple of the range including their top red reviewed below and Lafleur de Haute Serre 2014 at £12.75.

Grand Vin Seigneur 2012 Malbec (13.5% abv) – Quite oaky still to start with coconut shavings on the nose, but it’s complex too with spicy herby damson, cassis and black cherry vs more savoury black olive even; very dense and purple colour still, dry coating of fine-textured tannins (posh oak probably), powerful yet well balanced with grip and fresh bite vs nice ‘sweet’/savoury fruit combo, concentrated long finish and classy with it despite that new oak coating. Second day: less oaky on the nose and smokier, very concentrated actually with dry vs fine coated tannins on the palate. Serious wine. £18.50 Oddbins.

Château de Mercuès

The asset-rich Georges Vigouroux & company also owns this magnificent property, a pukka posh 13th century castle (pic. top) with all the historical trimmings found to the north-west of the town of Cahors further up and overlooking the winding River Lot. He bought and had it transformed into a luxury 30‐room Relais & Châteaux hotel and restaurant in 1983, which is run by Bertrand-Gabriel Vigouroux along with 32 hectares (80 acres) of mostly Malbec vineyards. More info @ chateaudemercues.com where I copied the image from.

Le Vassal de Mercuès 2014 ‘Malbec de Cahors’ (90% Malbec, 8% Merlot, 2% Tannat; 13% abv) – Dense purple colour still, enticing blackcurrant and blueberry fruit with spicy earthy hints and a more savoury side too, concentrated palate with nice sweet vs sour fruit mix, firm textured with light bitter twist but the tannins have an attractive dry coating. Stylish red that should improve for a few years yet, and apparently this is the estate’s ‘second wine’. UK: £13 for the 2013 at Dulwich Vintners (who stock some older vintages of the Haute-Serre ‘Grand Vin’ above, part of one of the most serious Cahors’ ranges I’ve ever seen); The General Wine Co./Amazon £11.99/£11.39 on offer (vintage not specified). US: $13.99 Ball Square Fine Wines (MA) - vintage not specified; Sipping Serendipity Wine (WA) $16 for the 2009.

26 September 2016

More 'white grapes of the moment'

For 'serious' white wine fans out there, here are a few more, quirkier bottles worth trying made mostly from lesser-known grape varieties. Warning: this is a Pinot Grigio and Sauvignon Blanc FREE zone (no Chardonnay either, but, hey, I like Chardy)... Prices stated are all £UK.

Bodegas Hidalgo La Gitana Manzanilla - Sanlúcar de Barrameda, Spain (Palomino Fino, 15% abv). Classic very dry style sherry with intense yeasty notes, chamomile and apple too with tangy almond finish. £8 (50cl) Sainsbury's / widely available.

Domaine La Toupie 2014 ‘Fine Fleur’ - Roussillon, France (Grenache gris 49%, Grenache blanc 25%, Macabeu 25%, Carignan blanc 1%). Obviously that 1% white Carignan makes all the difference! Nicely aromatic and zesty with aniseed notes, then lightly ‘oily’ and nutty palate. £12.50 Joie de Vin.

Eschenhof Holzer 2014 'Haide' Roter Veltliner - Wagram, Austria. Despite its name, the RV variety isn't red (although does have a pink hue) and probably isn't related to Gruner Veltliner. Enticingly wild and yeasty nose vs creamy 'oily' notes, concentrated and rich vs steely bite; very nice and different too. £13.99 Red Squirrel Wine.

Marqués de Alella 2012 'Galactica' Pansa Blanca (= Xarello) - Catalonia, Spain. Nutty lightly oxidised and savoury nose yet still fresh and lively on the palate, very good unusual white although expensive (it's rare apparently). £21.99 Red Squirrel Wine.

Villa Maria 2014 Gewurztraminer - East Coast, New Zealand (13.5% abv). Surprisingly elegant with subtle hallmark 'Turkish delight' and lychee flavours, full bodied though yet with a lighter touch too. Drink now with Malaysian or Thai food (I did). £10.99 WineMark.

Alta Luna 2015 Gewurztraminer, CaVit - Trentino, Italy (13% abv). A little less in-ya-face and drier perhaps than most Alsace Gewurz, this is nevertheless still characteristically aromatic with rose water and peach, again quite elegant. M&S £9.

Chenin Blanc 2015, Adi Badenhorst - Swartland, South Africa (13.5% abv). Bargain compared to some of the wines reviewed here, considering the real mouthful of rich flavour you get for the money: honeyed melon fruit, 'oily' rounded and full-bodied with fresher side. Tesco Finest £6.

09 September 2016

French wine tasting & touring e-magazine updated

This substantial 'digital magazine' is an amalgam of pay-to-view supplements and guides originally written for this blog, with 15 pages of exclusive new material added in September 2016. Wine recommendations, winemaker profiles, regional mini-guides, travelling & eating tips, opinions and news from, extensively, the Languedoc with an extra in-depth Saint-Chinian report, and Cahors; plus Alsace (Grands Crus), Chablis wine touring and independent wine-growers' Champagne mini-guide.
Here's what's new since the last update: Languedoc ‘Outsiders’ and other new & updated winery profiles, featuring 17 producers from the Languedoc, Roussillon and southern Rhone valley:
Château Rives-Blanques, Limoux; Domaine Sainte Rose, Pays d’Oc; Château d’Anglès, La Clape; La Madura, Saint-Chinian; Domaine Turner Pageot, Pézenas; Domaine La Louvière, Malepère; Château de Panéry, Côtes du Rhône; Domaine Le Clos du Serre, Terrasses du Larzac; Domaine des Enfants, Côtes Catalanes; Domaine de Cébène, Faugères; Château Saint Jacques d’Albas, Minervois; Le Clos du Gravillas, Minervois/Côtes du Brian.
Plus: Domaine Jones, Fitou & Maury; Jourdan-L’Argentier, Sommières; Château Monfin, Corbières; Domaines Paul Mas, Languedoc; Domaine Bassac, Côtes de Thongue.
Languedoc & Roussillon: 10 recommended 2015 vintage white wines, and 10 hot 'reds of the moment' from Paul Mas, Costières Pomérols, Morin Langaran, Saint-Martin Garrigue, Dom Brial, Saint Hilaire, Mas Pont, Devoy Martine, Hecht & Bannier, Château Gaure, Château Lascaux; Gérard Bertrand, Mas Devèze, Château Bouis, Saint-Michel Clauses, Cave Roquebrun, Domaine Tholomies, Mas Gabinèle, Domaine d’Aupilhac, Mas Quernes and Domaine Mirabel.
And: the huge 'Cahors home of Malbec' section has been updated with the latest from two top estates: Château Combel La Serre and Château de Haute-Serre...

Click on the link below to buy this e-mag in your country's Amazon store (as a Kindle e-book - prices subject to exchange rate variations):
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Alternatively, this newly updated magazine is available for £4 (about US$5.30 or €4.75) as a whopping 141-page PDF file with photos by using the PayPal button below, to pay by card or your own PP account although you don't need one to buy it. I'll email the PDF to you once payment is received. Click here for more about card payments and general terms & conditions.




18 August 2016

White grape varieties 'of the moment'

Updated 03.09.16 - see two wines added at the bottom (Oz Viognier and Chile Chardy)...

Workhorse Chenin Blanc 2015 Stellenbosch South Africa (13.5% abv): Made by Chenin maestro Ken Forrester for Marks & Spencer, this dry white shows a bit of class and character with honeyed melon vs yeasty tones, fairly rich yet has fresh finish too. £8.50

Mineralstein Riesling 2014 Gerd Stepp, Pfalz Germany (12% abv): Delicious and complex dry Riesling from a former M&S winemaker blended by them, this delivers very good quality for the money balancing elegance and quince/lime fruit. £10

Fiano 2015 Cantine Settesoli, Sicily (13.5%): Bargain zesty yet full-bodied Mediterranean white with double the flavour of most Pinot Grigio at £5. Tesco 'Finest'

From vignobles-lesgourgues.com
Château Loumelat Bordeaux 2015 Sauvignon blanc (12.5% abv): This estate, found in the Côtes de Blaye zone on the right side of the Gironde estuary directly north of Bordeaux city, apparently dates back to before the Revolution (cut off their heads then). Attractive example of good French Sauvignon with herbal grapefruit aromas and flavours, yeasty lively and refreshing but not too acidic; actually gets a little rounder and more interesting after being open for a day (in the fridge naturally). Very nice with king prawn, leek and Gruyère risotto. €16 Mitchell and Son Dublin; Castelnau Wine Agencies London.

Le Soleil Nantais 2015 Guilbaud Frères, Muscadet Sèvre et Maine 'sur lie' France (12% abv): It's been almost a year to the day (go for it) that I tried the 2014 of Guilbaud's standard-bearing Muscadet, as well as a couple of amazing older vintages (the brothers obviously really care about this once very popular although all too often lacklustre dry white). The 2015 is perhaps a little softer and less racy, although still with characteristic 'chalky' / 'salty' tang coupled with gala melon and subtle yeasty tones. €6.52 cellar door. UK: Portal, Dingwall & Norris aka Ivy Wines £10.56.

Pazo Torrequintans Albariño 2015 Rías Baixas Spain (12.5% abv): Aromatic honeysuckle and quince fruit with nice yeasty bite, dry crisp and 'chalky' texture with a smidge of enticing oily character too. Tesco £7

Zilzie Viognier 2016 Australia (14.5% abv) - Attractive mix of zesty and lively vs exotic and full-on; unusual to find a Viognier at this price that actually has some character and flavour! £4.85 Asda.

Santa Rita '120' Chardonnay 2015 Chile (13.5% abv) - Very nice unoaked Chardy style considering this must be made in vast quantities: ripe and peachy with a bit of oomph yet zesty too. Widely available e.g. €8 Tesco Ireland.

07 August 2016

Australia: 2005 vintage Semillon vs Shiraz

mountpleasantwines.com.au
According to well-known Aus wine writer and critic James Halliday's site winecompanion.com.au, 2005 was a very good vintage for both white wines in the Hunter Valley and red wines in McLaren. Rare too to find 10+ year-old Australian wines beyond the winery's own museum stock, so it's good to see that it's possible for us to get a taste of what 'proper' Aus wine can be like over here as well.

McWilliam's Mount Pleasant Elizabeth Semillon 2005 Hunter Valley (12% abv) - I've bought this wine for tastings a few times now and it certainly always gets a strong reaction, good or bad! Distinctly quirky, unoaked bottled-aged Aus classic style dry white, with strangely toasty oily notes (considering there's no wood involved in the winemaking) and rich nutty flavours, underlined by surprisingly fresh acidity / elegant 'greener' fruit tones. Winemark £10.29; Tesco used to list it too so you might still find the odd bottle lurking around. You can't buy good ten year-old white Burgundy for a tenner!

Songlines Shiraz 2005 McLaren Vale (14.5% abv) - Sourced from 'selected 40 to 110 year-old vines with low yields, hand pruned and picked.' Dense purple/black/brown colour shading, seductive old Northern Rhone style nose mixing white pepper and wild mint with sweet dark fruit and liquorice with savoury leather notes; still punchy on the palate with concentrated lush mouth-feel, meat gravy vs chocolate truffle and sweet plum flavours (!), a little tannin still and overall luscious texture. Delicious mature red although at its peak I'd say; not very 'Aus', in the popular perception, but that was probably the idea. Exel Wines: £22 on offer.

23 July 2016

Italy: Sicily, Puglia, Veneto, Trentino

Here's an easy-to-find pick of Italian 'wines of the moment', including a red and white pair each from the far south and far north...

Grillo 2015 Terre Siciliane IGP - Sicily (13% abv): Grillo is a fab and fairly rare white grape variety; well-made tasty examples like this one are quite rich and rounded with aromatic peach and apricot fruit, lightly spicy and zesty on the finish too. £7.50 Marks & Spencer.
'Vigna la cupa' 2013 Salice Salentino DOC Riserva - Puglia (13.5% abv): Made from the local Negroamaro variety, meaning 'bitter black', this sunny red has a wild mix of very ripe cherries, dark chocolate, liquorice and more savoury, earthy, rustic and tobacco notes; quite full-on and firm palate vs nice sweet/savoury finish. £6.99 Lidl.

Pinot Grigio 2015 Trentino DOC, CaVit - Trentino-Alto Adige (12.5% abv) - This juicy fragrant and nutty white shows there's more to PG if you look beyond the big brand offers. Asda £6.
Amarone della Valpolicella 2012 DOCG, Monteforte d'Alpone - Veneto (14.5% abv): Special occasion red - or why not push the boat out with posh BBQ food - crafted from dried grapes (a classic local blend of Corvina, Rondinella and Molinara) giving plenty of body and rich flavours. Asda £16 (sometimes on offer for a few quid less though).

10 July 2016

Chile: Syrah, Pinot Noir and other 'wines of the moment'

Misty Valle de Limarí from www.winesofchile.org

WHITE WINES

Casa Marín Lo Abarca Riesling 2015, San Antonio Valley (12.5% abv) - Delicate floral style with 'mineral' notes and subtle crisp white peach fruit. £10 Marks & Spencer.
Cono Sur Riesling Reserva Especial 2015, Bio Bio Valley (13.5% abv) - Oilier fuller style with more ripe lime vs zesty 'chalky' undertones, fair depth and class too. £9-£10 Tesco.
Caliterra Chardonnay Reserva 2015, Casablanca Valley (13.5% abv) - Tasty example of how to make a nice balanced style of Chardy, mixing juicy citrus fruit, yeasty/creamy notes and unobtrusive oak touches £7.29 WineMark.

PINOT NOIR

Secano Estate Rosé 2015, Leyda Valley (13% abv) - I had the previous vintage of this flavoursome rosé many times; and the new-in 2015, while not as full-on as its predecessor, is just as tasty in a more elegant way. £9.50 Marks & Spencer.
Secano Estate Maiten Vineyard Block 1 2014, Leyda Valley (14% abv) - Pretty classy Pinot with understated 'sweet/savoury' fruit, silky texture and well-integrated hints of oak. £13 Marks & Spencer, although I got it on offer making it much better value of course!
Morandé Reserva 2015, Casablanca Valley - Aromatic and silky with elegant cherry fruit, nice and fresh on the finish; good. Morandé is considered one of a small band of pioneers of Casablanca Pinot, hence the name of this second wine:
Morandé Pionero 2014 - More perfumed with lovely 'sweet/savoury' Pinot characters, elegant and fresh vs maturing and savoury to finish. Good too.

Darwin Vineyards 'Curis Valley' 2015, Curicó Valley - Nice and silky and soft with light cherry fruit, tasty elegant style Pinot.
Montgras Reserva 2015, Leyda Valley - More structured and fresher style with subtle oak hints, very nice silky Pinot Noir fruit on the palate though.
Errazuríz Estate Series 2014 - Tight and fresh mouth-feel to start, then revealing vibrant aromatic 'sweet/savoury' fruit, attractive style.
Errazuríz Aconcagua Costa 2014 - More structured and closed up, silky vs fresh palate, needs a bit more time to express itself?
Errazuríz Wild Ferment 2014, Casablanca Valley - Yeastier edges, aromatic cherry fruit as well with spicier and gutsier palate, although again still very Pinot in character with long intense finish.

SYRAH

I wrote this not-overly-complimentary piece about Syrah/Shiraz from Chile nearly five years ago; but things seem to have moved on in bucket-loads since then, proving the potential was definitely there, as there are now many very tasty examples lining the shelves. Interesting to note perhaps, for wine geeks at least, that all of the wines tipped below were labelled as Syrah not Shiraz, meaning winemakers in Chile have now defined their own style(s) of the world's most popular grape variety? Discuss in 200 words or less...

Tabalí Los Molles Reserva 2013 Limarí (14% abv) - Lush black cherry fruit, peppery and powerful yet has a fresher side too with sweet/savoury finish; and if there's any oak, it's not very obvious. £10 Marks & Spencer: on offer at £8 at the moment.
Raiz Gran Reserva 2013 Maule - Quite a lot of dark choc / spicy oak, but this has plenty of tasty black cherry fruit, nice rounded tannins with oomph and grip to finish, fairly concentrated too. Good Syrah style.
Indomita Gran Reserva 2015 Maipo - Oaky structured and concentrated although again has quite rich dark berry / cherry fruit; a little youthful and closed up but should be good.
Tirazis 2012 Casablanca - Herby peppery style with crunchy black cherry, pretty intense and firm still vs layers of tasty fruit; very different.
Cremaschi Furlotti Single Vineyard Maule 2014 - Again herby spicy black cherry fruit vs firm and dry, pretty intense finish, needs a few more months to round out.
Errazuríz Aconcagua Costa 2014 - Delicious white pepper and black cherry nose, concentrated yet elegant balanced palate; highly recommended Syrah.

OTHER REDS

Santa Rita Estates 'Lot 8' Carmenère 2012, Colchagua Valley (14% abv) - Chunky and concentrated, touches of vanilla/coconut oak layered with tasty sweet/sour fruit flavours. €13.99 Lidl Ireland / £60 case of 6 UK.
Errázuriz Max Reserva Cabernet Sauvignon 2013, Aconcagua Valley (14% abv) - 2011 was the last vintage I tried of this pretty serious Cabernet - click here to read about it - and this Erráz 2013 amply keeps up their standards for structured age-worthy yet also drinking well enough now Cab. £12.99 WineMark.