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06 October 2014

Beer: Harviestoun, Scotland

A warmly welcome trip down memory lane lightened my weary path after a long day's (wine) tasting at the not-so-long-ago London Wine Fair (yes, there was beer there too). Back in another life in the hazy mid 80s, when I was president of the St. Andrews Uni Real Ale Society (without long hair or beard I hasten to add: more in the floppy fringed goth style actually), we organised a wee day trip to a small unheard-of independent (sorry, touchy word at the mo in a Scottish context) start-up 'brewery' lost somewhere in the hills near Dollar, Clackmannanshire. Not easy to find, and when we did, we weren't sure we were there, as it was just a shack in the middle of nowhere from memory. Harviestoun was dreamt up, set up and improvised together by Ken Brooker in 1983, who moved into his first 'proper' brewing premises three years later. Our group was so impressed with the tasty ale we sampled there that some serious lobbying was in order back in St. Andrews, resulting in one (the only?) of their brews being given a slot in the, at the time, fairly new student union bar.
Anyway, looking at their website, how times and things have changed (two lots of brew houses, a lot more people working for them, from one real ale to a whole range of cask, keg and bottled beers, and a sort-of couple of ownership switches later...). To the better, it would appear from this obviously innovative brewery's point of view and their now international customers.
So, there I was cruising past a series of crowded small tables among the show's "niche importer/retailer/producer" tasting area looking for something refreshing to finish the day's 'work' with; and I suddenly saw the Harviestoun Brewery name, garnished with a stack of unfamiliar-looking bottles, prompting the aforementioned vivid flashback. Well done guys, keep up the good work. 'Ola Dubh 18' bottle shot downloaded from www.harviestoun.com where you'll find tuns (ho ho) more info.

Schiehallion Craft Lager (4.8% abv) - refreshing crisp and citrus-y style, quite intense and tasty finish. Equivalent to about £1.88 per 500 ml bottle (you can buy different case sizes of their beers online - I've given an indicative bottle price here).
Broken Dial Amber Ale (4.5% abv) - pungent hoppy and yeasty nose with malty edges, sweeter palate but still nice and crisp, tight and tasty finish. £1.42 330 ml
Old Engine Oil Black Ale (6% abv) - dark and malty with chocolate and coffee notes vs nice bitter twist and bite; lovely Porter style. £1.58 330 ml
Ola Dubh 18 (aged in 18 year-old Highland Park barrels, 8% abv) - complex aromatic whisky-tinged nose, rich and dark palate with smoother stronger finish; very unusual, amazing beer. £6 330 ml

23 August 2014

Portugal: Bairrada, Dão, Douro - new winery profiles and updates on Aliança, Portal and Romeu

Fully updated profiles on Quinta do Portal and Aliança Vinhos de Portugal with their latest ranges reviewed (including a Portal Vintage Port retrospective featuring vintages from 1995 to 2000...), can be found in my new special Portugal report (click there for more info and to buy for just £2.50 or free if you subscribe for £10 a year). Includes RMJ's complete run-down on these wineries and several new wines. There's also a summary on my Portugal archive page HERE (scroll down).

From quintadoromeu.com
Quinta do Romeu – Douro Valley
A taster:
"The Menéres family estate was established in 1874, and the company is now run by João Pedro Menéres, José Clemente Menéres and Manuel Menéres Sampaio... "... We do not use any chemicals in our farming,” their site goes on in that glib manner. Ahh! That's the one thing that annoys me most about organic producers..." The complete rant, profile, reviews of the tasty wines below and where to get them can be found in my new special Portugal report (click there for more info and to buy or subscribe).

2013 Rosé (Tinta Cão, Tinta Roriz, Touriga Nacional – tank sample at the time) – yeast-lees notes, nice gummy zippy mouth-feel with fresh and gentle red fruit finish. Expensive though (in the UK anyway): £10.99. €6.25 cellar door.
2011 Moinho do Gato red (Tinta Barroca, Touriga Nacional, Tinta Roriz) – attractive soft fruity style with peppery touches, has a bit of grip vs juicy fruit on the finish. £8.99, $15. €4.50 cellar door.
2010 Quinta do Romeu red (Touriga Nacional, Tinta Roriz, Sousão) – aromatic floral red/blue berry fruits, nice soft fruity palate with light tannins and fresh acidity too; very attractive red drinking now. £10.85, $19. €6.25 cellar door.
2010 Reserva red (“field blend picked and fermented together with some oak ageing,” mostly Touriga Nacional with Touriga Franca and Sousão) – touch of coco oak and more structured vs still plenty of that nice juicy fruit, firmer finish yet well rounded too. £14.99, $27. €10.50 cellar door.

16 August 2014

Portugal: Lisboa wine focus

"Stretching out to the north and west of energetic Lisbon, this big wine-producing region used to be called Estremadura... renaming it 'Lisboa' seems logical (captain) thereby closely associating location and identity with the Portuguese capital... The most common grape varieties planted here are, for reds, Aragonez or Aragonês aka Tinta Roriz (isn't that often the way just to add a little charismatic confusion, and the Spanish call it Tempranillo, Tinta Fina, Cencibel...), Touriga Nacional, Castelão and Touriga Franca, with expanding plantings of Syrah and other French varieties..."
Available as a special 20-page PDF report with pics focusing on the exciting Lisboa wine region and featuring these ten wineries and my reviews of their ranges: Vale da Capucha - Quinta de São José, Sociedade Agricola Labrugeira – Vale das Areias, Quinta de Sant'Ana, Quinta do Monte d'Oiro, Quinta de Chocapalha, Marta Vine - Azulejo (Casa Santos Lima), Félix Rocha – Quinta da Ribeira, Quinta do Pinto, Companhia das Quintas - Quinta de Pancas.
Plus three extra winery profiles in different regions: Aliança Vinhos de Portugal - Bairrada, Dão. Douro Valley: Quinta do Portal (including a Vintage Port retrospective 1995 to 2000) and Quinta do Romeu (organic)...
And two bonus retro features: Niepoort Port 'masterclass' led by Dirk Niepoort including Garrafeira, Colheita and Vintage ports spanning a century back to 1912...
And my tasty Algarve & Tavira wine and food touring article...
All yours for a mere £2.50 (about $4 or €3) or free if you subscribe to my blogs (£10 a year) along with any other of my special reports published in PDF format, emailed to you once I receive confirmation of payment from PayPal. Choose your button to click on now!







"Vasco da Gama Bridge and Tagus River, Lisbon"
Photo by Jose Manuel from www.imagesofportugal.com

MORE ON PORTUGAL HERE.

02 August 2014

Wine tastings and courses in Belfast Oct to Dec 2014

Wine Education Service NI (that's me) evening wine tastings, five-week courses and one-day workshops scheduled from early October to early December in Belfast city centre are as follows:

Wines of Italy Saturday workshop
October 4 from 10:30 AM - 5:00 PM
Cost: £90 including 2-course lunch
"On our 'Wines of Italy' one-day workshop, we'll take you on a guided tour around several of this varied country's different wine producing regions and taste and talk about a dozen high quality wines. These will include classics from northern Italy, such as Piemonte and Veneto, central Italy such as Tuscany and Umbria, and the deep south e.g. Sicily, Sardinia or Puglia..."

Wines of South Africa tutored tasting
Thursday October 9, 7:30 PM - 9:00 PM
Cost: £27.50
"A mini tasting tour around the Cape wine-lands including popular varietals such as Pinotage, Shiraz and Chenin blanc, as well as some red and white blends highlighting the different winemaking styles, climate zones and terrain found in South Africa's diverse wine regions..."
More info and booking: wine-education-service.co.uk/wine-tasting-belfast or by Paypal - click on the button below.

Essential Wine Tasting five week course
Starts Wed October 29, 7:30 PM - 9:00 PM
Cost: £125
Five evening sessions on Wednesdays 29 October and 5, 12, 19, 26 November:
Tasting technique & classic grape varieties - Learn how to taste like a professional! Get to know some classic grape varieties.
Wine production & classic grape varieties - Learn what goes on in vineyards and wineries. Get to know more classic grape varieties.
The wines of France - Taste classic examples from Champagne, Burgundy, the Rhône Valley and Bordeaux.
The wines of other European countries - Taste stylish examples from Austria, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Portugal and Spain.
The wines of the New World - Taste signature wines from Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Chile, Argentina and California.
More info about this mini course can be found on our site: www.wine-education-service.co.uk/introductory. Book via the link on wine-education-service.co.uk/wine-tasting-belfast

Wines of Spain & Portugal tutored tasting
Thursday November 6, 7:30 PM - 9:00 PM
Cost: £27.50
"We'll taste and talk about a focused range of red, white, rosé and fortified wines selected to highlight the very different regions, grape varieties and wine styles found across the 'Iberian peninsular'. This will include well-known classics such as Rioja, the Douro Valley and Sherry but throwing in a few surprises too..."
More info and booking: wine-education-service.co.uk/wine-tasting-belfast or by Paypal - click on the button below.

"Christmas wines" tutored tasting
Thursday December 4, 7:30 PM - 9:00 PM
Cost: £35
"Christmas tasting" including Champagne and Port and some nibbles - more info to follow. Booking: wine-education-service.co.uk/wine-tasting-belfast or by Paypal - click on the button below.


Select tasting:



The venue for these events is the Ramada Encore Hotel near St. Anne's Square in the heart of 'the Cathedral quarter', Belfast city centre.
Wine Education Service NI does not sell wine - our informal wine tastings and classes are designed to be purely educational and fun of course; we source high quality representative wine samples from a variety of different retailers.

18 July 2014

Bordeaux has moved...

You'll now find everything Bordeaux teleported to French Mediterranean Wine.com, as "it seemed like a good idea (at the time)..." Click on the title links below to these two crammed pages:
Bordeaux 'retrospective': new page with archive features (2003-2001) on Pomerol (Vieux Château Certan, Le Pin, Gazin), Château Falfas & biodynamics and Bordeaux travel 'famous Châteaux spotting'...
"During the meanwhilst," just to prove I'm not entirely stuck in the past, I'm working on a big report on Portuguese wines from the Lisbon area (as well as a spot of decorating...): "watch this space" as they say...

30 May 2014

Australia & New Zealand: "wines of the mo"

Tried and tested recently at an Aus and NZ themed tasting I held in Belfast, here are my favourite half-dozen worth highlighting that are all widely available as long as you look on these supermarkets' usually a little dustier top shelves... But all good value in their own different ways, especially as a couple of them were on "third-off" type offers too.

Jacob's Creek 2011 Reserve Riesling, Barossa, South Australia (11.5% abv) – you've probably spotted this huge brand's "Reserve" range before (from specific subregions, there's also e.g. a Chardy, Pinot and Shiraz), which generally really are worth a go like this delicate mature yet fairly intense Riesling. It has lots of those characteristic intriguing maturing oily aromas/flavours and some lingering ripe lime zest still. Drinking well now with seafood in a winey/creamy sauce? £9.99 Tesco
More Oz Riesling HERE and HERE.
Villa Maria 2013 Pinot Grigio, East Coast, New Zealand (13.5%) - from memory, this was labelled as Pinot Gris until recently, pointing to a more French Alsace style perhaps (but sensible marketing obviously got the better of them). It's definitely got more character and mouth-weight than your average Italian PG, with nice juicy honey and melon flavours and refreshing vs full finish. Good with not too spicy Indian, Chinese or Thai I reckon. £10 Asda
Yering Station 2011 'Wild Ferment' Chardonnay, Yarra Valley, Victoria, Aus (12%) - one of Sainsbury's superior "Taste the Difference" labels, this was a good result since I wanted to show a more elegant less oaky style of Chardy. Attractive nutty lightly creamy and oatmeal edges, a touch of zing still although again drinking well now, well-balanced with very subtle oak ageing. Value @ £9 considering the price of say Chablis nowadays. 
McWilliam's 2005 Mount Pleasant 'Elizabeth' Semillon, Hunter Valley, New South Wales, Aus (12%) - a great example of one of those weird and wonderful bottle-aged Semillon styles, and again value @ £8.99 at Tesco, this has almost toasted characters, despite it being kept away from barrels, with lingering complex savoury vs green/stone fruit mix.
Oz Semillon tasting HERE.
Matua 2012 Pinot Noir, Marlborough, New Zealand (13%) - Matua seems quite big now, but they still turn out a fairly classy Pinot with perfumed cherry/berry fruit, a more savoury side too and just a hint of oak thankfully. With duck? £10.98 Asda
More NZ Pinot HERE.
Xanadu 2011 'Next of Kin' Cabernet Sauvignon, Margaret River, Western Aus (14%) - towards delicious Cab with plenty of ripe blackcurrant/cherry'damson, chunky mouth-feel yet with rounded texture, again subdued oak vs quite concentrated fruit, powerful yet balanced. Value @ £8.50 Sainsbury's.

24 May 2014

English Wine Week: 24 May - 1 June

English Wine Week kicks off today running to 1st June. Why not celebrate in style with my English sparkling wine supplement fizzing over with top sparklers including Digby, Henners, Hush Heath, Jenkyn Place, Danebury, Gusbourne, Chapel Down, Bolney, Bluebell, Ridgeview, Knightor and Furleigh. Yours for just £2.50 or free if you subscribe to my blogs (full details by clicking on the link above).

More info about what's going on at wineries in England and Wales, tastings, in-store promotions etc. can be found on the EWW website:
www.englishwineproducers.co.uk

22 May 2014

Spain: Rioja 2007 and 2009

According to the 'official' (seemingly rather biased) Rioja vintage ranking chart (goes to the Rioja UK site) - difficult to believe they've had nothing but "good", "very good" or "excellent" vintages since 1985, and 1972 was the last "average" year - 2007 and 2009 were both judged as "muy buena" (very good) and, generally speaking, are drinking well now. Here's my top twenty Crianza, Reserva, Gran Reserva (= shorter to longer barrel and bottle ageing: the site linked above clarifies this... yawn) and otherwise aged / labelled 2007 and 2009 reds picked from a more-Rioja-than-anyone-could-ever-taste tasting. The former traditional terms for maturation time / 'quality' are best taken as style guidelines, since some producers choose not to follow the 'rules' and don't use this terminology. All of these Riojas are made from mostly Tempranillo (sometimes 100%) with Garnacha (Grenache) and/or Mazuelo (Carignan/Cariñena) and/or Graciano; any variation on this theme has been specified after the wine's name. The vague ££-£££ bands quoted give you an idea of UK price at least.

familiamartinezbujanda.com
Álvarez Alfaro 2009 Crianza (14% abv) - still quite tightly structured with cedary notes/texture vs developing savoury/sweet fruit, a touch of firm tannin vs nice maturing and warming dried fruit finish. £5-£10. Profile on AA and previous vintages HERE (May 2011).
Berberana 2007 Reserva d'Avalos Etiqueta Negra (13.5%) - 'volatile' savoury notes vs ripe and smoky; smooth and warm with nice dried berry fruits, light grip and vanilla spice on the finish. £10-£15 United Wineries
Campo Viejo 2007 Gran Reserva - considering CV is now a massive international brand, they still manage to produce good quality, classic-style Reserva and Gran Reserva barrel-aged Rioja; this one delivers very nicely with smooth maturing fruit and light vanilla edges. Sainsbury's £15.99, £11.99 on offer (one of my Feb. "wines of the mo").
Cantauri 2007 Reserva, Alonso González (13.5%) - ageing meaty nose, quite concentrated and rich sweet/savoury fruit vs fair grip still and a touch of sweet oak; nice depth of character, drinking well now. £10-£15
Castroviejo 2009 Reserva, Pastor Díaz (13.5%) - turning 'volatile' / 'cheesy' with attractive ripe juicy fruit and sweet/savoury edges, quite soft tannins with a little dry bite; nice warm finish with some structure still vs liquorice and damson fruit. £5-£10 (?)
Caudum 2009 Selección Especial, Larraz (14%) - fairly rich and smooth dark cherry and berry fruit vs big and structured yet with soft tannins, nice warm savoury finish; good foodie style, drinking well now but still has a future ahead of it. £10-£15
Finca Egomei 2009 (14 months ageing, 14.5%) - enticing ripe dried fruit with savoury edges, big lush and warming palate with soft tannins and integrated oak texture; nice more 'modern' style. £5-£10
Federico Paternina 2009 Crianza Selección Especial (13%) - smoky, rustic, 'volatile', earthy edges with cedar/coconut tones; nice dark black cherry fruit with a bit of punch and dry bite/grip, rounded though and fairly elegant and balanced style, tasty and drinking well now.
Finca Valpiedra 2007 Reserva (also contains a splash of the Maturana tinta variety, 14% abv) - seductive smoky nose, dark ripe fruit vs sweet spiced oak vs 'volatile' savoury 'cheesy' edges; concentrated and lush with good bite and grip still, a big wine yet nicely layered/textured with lovely rich fruit. £21 Laithwaite's
Hacienda de Susar 2007, Marqués de la Concordia (15% Cabernet, Merlot and Syrah; aged 15 months in French oak; 14.5% abv) - leafier / more cedary on the nose, rich and dark vs light coconut grain; the wood's a little forced and awkward, but the wine's concentrated with nice warm fruit finish. +£15 United Wineries
Marqués de Campo Nuble 2007 Crianza (13.5%) - coconut grain edges vs seductive warm dried fruits and developing meaty edges, attractive sweet/savoury finish still with a bit of grip and oomph, nice dry vs sweet texture.
Marqués de la Concordia 2007 Reserva (13.5%) - complex and spicy with savoury vs sweet fruit and oak on the nose and palate, attractive dry vs ripe texture again, seductive and long. Pretty text book trad Reserva style. £10-£15 United Wineries
Navajas 2007 Reserva (14%) - similar to above, a bit fuller perhaps and less developed to start; turning warm and seductive, quite punchy on the finish still with cloves and sweet dried berry fruits, fairly structured for its age as well; nice commercial Reserva style and good value: £5-£10.
Ortubia 2007 Reserva (14%) - baked sweet black cherry fruit with 'cheesy' savoury edges, still firm and concentrated though with seductive spicy fruit and palate weight. Yum.
Peña Aldera 2007 Reserva, Jalón (organic, 14%) - surprisingly tight still on the palate vs smoky maturing edges, sweet dried plum and spice vs power and grip, opening up on its attractive and long savoury finish. Value: £5-£10.
Rioja Bordón 2007 Reserva, Franco Españolas (13.5%) - smoky maturing nose with light coconut hints, sweet/savoury profile, quite rich ripe and warm with subtle grip; nice balance and style. £5-£10
Señorio de Moraza 2007 Reserva (14%) - meaty slightly baked nose with enticing 'cheesy' tones, sweet/savoury fruit, tannins are a little clunky although has nice lingering warmth and mature sweet fruit. £5-£10
Señorio de Olartia 2007 Reserva (13.8%) - mature baked savoury fruit, sweet berry and plum too with a touch of grip still; nice wine although probably peaked. £5-£10
Solabal 2007 (24 months ageing, 14.5%) - sweet oak/fruit combo with coco edges and attractive berry fruit, still structured and pretty punchy (a bit too alcoholic maybe) vs good sweet/savoury fruit finish. £5-£10
Urbina 2007 Crianza (13.5%) - sweet perfumed vs meaty nose, fairly 'light' mouth-feel with almost Pinot Noir type of delicate sweet/savoury character and fresh bite, a touch of grip and subtle fruit to finish. Nice style.

Much more Rioja on my Spain archive page: www.winewriting.com/spain

15 May 2014

Croatia

New feature on wines from Croatia including these dozen wineries: Roxanich, Geržinić, Laguna, Matošević, Belje, Iločki, Krauthaker, Daruvar, Bodren, Stina, Zlatan, Svirče; and the local varieties Teran, Malvazija, Graševina, Zelenac, Traminac, Plavac Mali, Pošip among others... Plus a few travel tips thrown in too...
"As for the main wine producing regions touched on and tasted here, Istria is that huge peninsular forming the northwestern chunk of Croatia lying to the south of Trieste and the Slovenian border and, at a dreamy distance, facing Venice across the Adriatic to the west and the first of Croatia's many beautiful coastal islands to the east. The Istrian red variety Teran, or Terrano, is actually related to Refosco and is found in Croatia, Italy and Slovenia. One of the principal white grapes grown in this area is Malvazija or 'Istrian' Malvasia, which can be transformed into some pretty good and varied-style white wines..."
READ ON... (goes to "Croatia page".)

Pic. = RMJ in Split old town.