WineWriting.com & French Mediterranean Wine
Richard Mark James' wine and travel blog

07 April 2018

Grenache / Garnacha: Australia, France (Roussillon), Spain (Catalonia).

Wine Australia says that Grenache 'was the most widely planted variety,' but the amount of Grenache crushed in Aus in 2012 was sadly one-fifth of the quantity harvested in 1979. Meaning somewhere along the line, Australian winemakers fell out of love with the grape, combined with the drop in demand for traditional fortified 'Port styles' based on the variety, which must have been removed in favour of Shiraz, for example among others, and/or very old vines died and weren't replaced.
The Australians also claim they have 'some of the oldest vine varietals in the world, red and white,' - in South Australia essentially where a successful quarantine policy has kept out the vine-destroying phylloxera louse, including some cherished Grenache in the McLaren Vale for instance. And Barossa is the 'only wine area where old vine has a legal definition,' which was ratified in a 2009 charter. Hence Barossa Old Vine means 35+ years, Survivor Vine 70+, Centenarian Vine 100+ and Ancestor Vine an incredible 125+ years old. Elsewhere in the so-called 'New World', the term 'heritage vines' seems to have existed in Sonoma, California for old vine Zinfandel reds for some time. The Aussie Grenache selection (pure and blends) praised below was tasted at recent events in Belfast and Dublin mostly, hence the mix of Sterling and Euro recommended retail prices.
Old vine Grenache near Banyuls-sur-mer, Roussillon
Rockford Moppa Springs 2013 Barossa Valley Grenache/Mataro/Shiraz (60/25/15) - This was a very dry vintage apparently. Sunny and rich with kirsch and 'tar' tones, punchy and firm mouth-feel with nice spice and weight, wilder earthier savoury characters on the finish. Expensive though @ £30.99 Negociants. Mataró is a port in Catalonia, Spain that gave its name to Mourvèdre/Monastrell in certain export destinations.
Thistledown Vagabond 2015 McLaren Vale Grenache - This is sourced from senior-citizen vines (80 years of age and counting) in a single vineyard (Blue Springs), and half of the Grenache was whole-bunch fermented. Lovely sweet Grenache nose, cherry liquorice and pepper, rustic and ripe palate with quite soft yet punchy finish. Good. £19.95 Alliance Wines.
John Duval Plexus 2014 Barossa Valley Shiraz Grenache Mourvèdre - Okay so this blend is only almost one third Grenache (with a majority of Shiraz and 20% Mourvèdre), but I like the contrast of oomph vs softness combined with distinct characters of all three varieties: minty black cherry, liquorice and black olive (really!). €36.99 Liberty Wines Ireland.
Yalumba The Strapper 2014 Barossa Grenache Shiraz Mourvèdre (13.5% abv) - Another successful GSM mix (despite the macho name) giving enticing sweet fruit and soft palate with spicy kirsch notes. Negociants €22.99.
D'Arenberg The Derelict Vineyard 2013 McLaren Vale Grenache (14.2% abv) - Attractive sweet cherry fruit with wilder edges, light bitter twist on the palate with power and concentration. Febvre Wines €29.
Grant Burge The Holy Trinity 2012 Barossa Grenache Shiraz Mourvèdre (14% abv) - This nod to Chateauneuf-du-Pape (the packaging isn't subtle with it either) also contains "a splash of Touriga," I was told (the Portuguese variety), and is indeed a delicious southern Rhone Valley style blend, offering peppery punch and concentrated ripe fruit. Fine Wine Partners £29.99.
Grant Burge '20 Year Old Tawny' Barossa Grenache Mataro Shiraz NV (19.5% abv) - '...' marks perhaps required to avoid being sued by Port people, this is however a very tasty fortified 'Tawny' style, rich and treacly with complex matured characters, powerful but not too punchy. Fine Wine Partners £39.99.
Willunga 100 McLaren Vale 2015 Grenache (14.5% abv) - Structured mouth-feel layered with lively spicy berry fruit. Liberty Ireland €19.99.
Willunga 100 The Hundred Blewitt Springs McLaren Vale 2015 Grenache (14.5% abv) - Quite silky and soft with ripe cherry fruit, powerful and concentrated yet balanced; lovely wine. Liberty Ireland €27.99.
McPherson La Vue 2017 Victoria Grenache Rosé (13.5% abv) - Lively and juicy with big fruity mouth-feel, tasty Oz rosé. Lanchester Wines €17.95.
Willunga 100 McLaren Vale 2016 Grenache Rosé (14% abv) - Big fruity off-dry style with rich yeast-lees edges, impressive mouthful! Liberty Ireland €19.99.

Garnacha / Grenache is the third largest planted grape variety in both Spain and France (facts stolen off the internet somewhere, probably Wikipedia who stole it from someone else). In Spain, much of it is found in the northeastern corner between, and along, the Med coast and the Pyrenees (Garnacha is thought to have originated in Aragon). In France, it is grown right across the Mediterranean south and up into the southern Rhone Valley. In the Roussillon (or 'Eastern Pyrenees' or 'French Catalonia' if you like), there are around 6000 hectares of Grenache noir (the 'black' variety as the French say) planted, still making it the number one grape vine there although this position is now static or has slowly declined over the years; plus around 1200 ha of the 'white' versions (Grenache blanc and gris).
There are many delicious reds and recommendable producers centred on Grenache worth talking about in this region, but it seemed like a good idea, for some reason or other, to narrow the focus on the relatively new Maury Sec appellation in the northern Roussillon for this feature. With seven vintages under their belts - Maury sec, the dry red version made in the same area as their more famous sweet fortified wines, came into being from vintage 2011 - winemakers here are showing us what exciting things are being made from old-vine Grenache noir: the 'regulatory' minimum amount is at least 60% in the blend. There's (will be...) much more about this in my forthcoming (eventually) book on the Roussillon.
Prices quoted are cellar door in France by the way.
Les Vignerons de Maury Tradition 2016 - Plush and excellent value based on unoaked Grenache (80%) and Carignan, which shows aromatic wild herb tones, concentrated dark kirsch fruit and firm tannin structure (16% abv!). €9
Domaine de la Préceptorie makes a trio of impressive Maury sec reds:
Copain Comme Cochon 2016 (means something like ‘thick as thieves’) is a majority Grenache with Carignan (15% abv) aged for up to ten months part in cask and the rest in vat; nice 'schist-y' tannin texture, dark choc and raspberry with subtle length. €12
Coume Marie 2014 - Has a similar varietal mix undergoing longer barrel ageing: serious, concentrated and structured red needing some time in bottle to open up.
Terres Nouvelles 2014 - A higher proportion of old-vine Carignan supplementing the Grenache noir and matured for two years in large old casks: also tightly structured and another good example of what we should be seeing more of from the Maury sec appellation.
Domaine Dernier Bastion Perles Noires 2015 (Grenache and Carignan, no oak, 15% abv) - Wild herbs and crunchy berries mixed with spicier darker fruit flavours, tight 'chalky' tannins, good depth. €12.50
Domaine Cazes Castell d’Agly 2015 (80% Grenache, 20% Carignan; 15.5% abv) - Fragrant unoaked style representing good value and offering peppery kirsch fruit and attractive ‘chalky’ tannins. It’s made at Mas de Lavail. €9
Les Vignerons de Tautavel/Vingrau Rocher des Buis 2014 (Grenache Syrah, 15% abv) - Savoury notes on top of liquorice cherry and spice, well textured tannins. €12
Domaine Fontanel 2014 - A wow-factor Maury sec built on majority Grenache (85%) with Mourvèdre and aged in vats for 12 months rather than cask, which is complex, extracted and concentrated with lots of aromatic dark berry fruit flavours, wild mint/herb tones and firm chunky yet lush mouth-feel. Described as "Priorat without wood" by a tasting colleague. €14
Domaine La Toupie Sur un Fil Rouge 2014 (15% abv) - Majors on Grenache (70%), as it should stylistically, with one-quarter Syrah and the rest Mourvèdre planted on 'poor schist and marl soils.' Winemaker Jérome 'deliberately blends grapes sourced from contrasting terrain and climate zones: very old Grenache vines on south-facing slopes around Tautavel, and Syrah and Mourvèdre from cooler elevated sites around Maury and Saint-Paul, all low-yielding.' This tasty concentrated red shows aromatic dark berry fruit with a savoury chocolate side, well-poised considering its powerful 15% abv and tautly textured tannins. €13.50
Domaine des Soulanes Bastoul Laffite 2013 ('Vieilles Vignes' 80% Grenache 20% Carignan, certified organic, 15% abv, 24 months in used barrels) - Dense concentrated and tightly structured with 'chalky' tannins, peppery wild herb edges and lots of dark cherry fruit, meaty savoury flavours too. €18
Mas Amiel also produces a variety of Maury sec reds from selected different vineyards (they have an extensive surface area to work from):
2014 Légende - Powerful, peppery yet well-balanced showing lovely Grenache fruit (80% mixed with 20% Carignan from the northern side of Cabirou planted in 1949).
2015 Alt. 433m - From La Croix d’En Rodrigues, the estate’s highest site, 'a field blend of old-vine Grenache and Lladoner Pelut on granite,' which is more aromatic with fine tannins.
2015 Vers le Nord - Apart from this block’s obvious north-facing nature, it comes from a two-hectare parcel called La Devèze, ‘old-vine black Grenache and Syrah (about 8%) at 160 metres on schist soils with sandstone, blueish limestone and clay.’ This delicious red really lets the pure spicy Grenache fruit and some kind of intense untamed French Mediterranean character shine through (wild herbs, menthol, violet, cassis...).
2015 Voyage en Météore - Another relatively new, pure and elegant Maury Sec block-selection that doesn’t go anywhere near a barrel, built mostly on Grenache with Carignan (and other ‘endemic varieties’ whatever that means) from “the coolest shaded spot,” according to winemaker Nicolas, "where red sandstone meets chalky schist."
Domaine Pouderoux 2014 Montpin - Sourced from 'the highest blocks of black schist,' since the inaugural 2011 vintage showing lovely Grenache (80% plus Carignan) style, peppery and intense with savoury yet dark kirsch fruit, also fairly soft and elegant.
Château Saint-Roch (Domaine Lafage) 2014 Kerbuccio - More structured and savoury than their Cotes du Roussillon Villages wines, needing a little longer in bottle to develop.
Mas de la Devèze 2015 - Shaped by two-thirds Grenache picked from marl and schist soils on the western side of the estate, and aged 12 months in barrel (some of them new): quite toasty when young, powerful and structured with lovely kirsch fruit.

Catalonia, Spain
There are many good wines shaped from Grenache or rather Garnacha from this part of Spain (for the time-being...) - the variety is spelt Garnatxa in Catalan by the way - but here are just two tasty examples bought and enjoyed within the last few months.
Franck Massard Bellesa Perfecta 2015 Priorat (Garnacha, Cariñena; 15% abv) - This delicious blockbuster red is packed full of lush ripe spicy fruit with liquorice, prune and peppery kirsch, enticing wild and savoury tones too, powerful mouthful of flavour with rounded tannins though. Naked Wines £19.99/£13.99
Jordi Miró 2016 Garnacha Blanca, Terra Alta (13.5% abv) - There is a white variety variant of Grenache (there's 15% Macabeu blended with it too), and this attractive example also comes from the high ground in the Terra Alta region neighbouring Priorat: zesty and aromatic with yeast-lees and exotic fruit tones, quite full-bodied and textured mouth-feel. M&S £9.50 (£7.50 on offer at the time).

19 February 2018

Roussillon photos (part 2): Les Aspres vineyards and winemakers

Elise and Jean-Baptiste Trilles
Domaine Trilles, Tresserre

















Château Corneilla - Vignobles Jonquères d’Oriola
Corneilla del Vercol



















Stéphane Batlle
Domaine de la Meunière, Trouillas...
And saucisse catalane for lunch....






Some of the remaining legendary 1974 Rivesaltes Ambré Vin Doux Naturel safely stored at Les Vignobles de Constance et du Terrassous' Fourques cellar.

16 February 2018

Roussillon photos (part 1): Banyuls-sur-mer vineyards and winemakers












Romuald Peronne

Domaine Clos Saint-Sébastien


Hervé Levano
Domaine de la Casa Blanca






















Élise Gaillard
Domaine Madeloc


















These neglected photos were taken on a trip last spring in and around Banyuls-sur-mer. If you were expecting some inspirational words about these winemakers, you'll have to wait until I finish my new book on the Roussillon! More pictures to follow...

15 February 2018

Hungary: Tokay, Hárslevelű, Furmint, Pinot Noir...

Why not start with Hungary's most famous wine creation, sweet Tokay, by launching into a couple of recommended ones tried or bought last late summer while on holiday. I finally opened the Royal Tokaji 'blue label' below recently (apparently called 'red label' in the States, as you would), which was savoured on a Saturday wine workshop event I just ran in Belfast and hence was the prompt for this overdue blog post...
Royal Tokaji Tokaji Aszú 5 Puttonyos 2013 (Furmint, Hárslevelű, Muscat; 11% abv, sugar 156 g/l, total acidity 7.9 g/l) - Delicious alluring classic style with lashings of honey, sultanas, marmalade, dried apricot, quince... Mesmerizing opulence and quirky spice, lush sweet and richly textured with beautiful underlying fresh acidity holding it together effortlessly. Drinking nicely now (try with blue cheese or plain ice cream and nuts say) but will definitely develop over many years in bottle. Full price was €25 at Budapest airport, although it was on offer at the time equating to about £15 for a 50cl bottle. Majestic Wine in the UK sells it for £24/£21.60 depending on quantity; and some Waitrose stores stock a handy 25cl size for £12.99.
Another very nice, slightly less sweet Tokaji Aszú to look out for is:
2012 Simkó 3 Puttonyos (so just three 'buckets' of botrytised grapes rather than five per whatever vat size) with an additional year's ageing adding oiliness and richness. 800 HUF (= £2.26/€2.57) per 100ml glass in the Pár Pendégló Panzió restaurant across the river in the pretty town of Sárospatak.



Due to history and borders shifting correspondingly, there's been a long tradition of making Tokaji wines in the far south-eastern corner of Slovakia too (the part right alongside the Hungarian region obviously in the far north-east on the border). The seven villages permitted to produce these wines in the Slovak Tokaj region are Bara, Čerhov, Černochov, Malá Tŕňa, Slovenské Nové Mesto, Viničky and Veľká Tŕňa (pic. above). We explored some pretty hillside vineyards around here on foot before buying an ice cream, as it was just too hot to taste wine! I did call in on one winery though, the Ostrožovič family who has a good name, but they were busy expecting a big coach party at any moment. There's more generic info here: www.winesofslovakia.com.
Realising that the demand for expensive super-sweet wines is limited and that they obviously have some excellent indigenous white grapes varieties (Furmint and Hárslevelű essentially), it's no surprise that Hungarian winemakers are now making some very good dry white wines too.
Here are a few names discovered in restaurants and supermarkets in Hungary:
Zempléni Tokaji Furmint Száraz (Száraz means dry)
A Ház Bora Tokaji Furmint Száraz
Tóth Zoltán Pincézete Tokaji Hárslevelű Száraz (this spicy aromatic variety can work well as a dry style). HUF 1200.
Simkó Hárslevelű Premium (this one was medium in style, good as a not too sweet dessert wine).
Gellért Hill 2016 Gruner Veltliner, Törley (12% abv) - great value zesty dry white based on Austria's signature grape. £5.60 Tesco.
Hungary is also a successful producer of sparkling wines, such as the BB label (Bárhol Bármikor) Száraz Sparkling, from the Balaton region, which is light (11.5% abv) and refreshing with nutty yeasty undertones; and is widely available in supermarkets there for about HUF 1100.
The art of making fruity dry rosés hasn't escaped Hungarian winemakers either, from the Pinot Noir grape especially or using a mix of local and other French varieties, such as...
Törley Pinot Noir Rosé Száraz 2016, Etyekand-Budai region (12.5% abv) - Tasty juicy and crisp with aromatic red fruits and creamier finish. 699 HUF = about £2 or $2.65 (taxes on wine must be low in Hungary).
Takler Pinot Noir Rozé 2016, Szekszárdi region (12.5% abv) - richer coloured and textured rosé with plenty of fruit. 360 HUF per 100ml glass in the Pár Pendégló Panzió restaurant in Sárospatak.
Takler Rosetta Cuvée Rosé, Szekszárdi (12.5% abv) - another good rosé from these guys, about 1000 HUF in supermarkets.
Siller Pinot Noir Rosé Száraz 2015 (12.5% abv) - similar style to above, very nice.
Sauska Villányi Rosé 2016 (12.5% abv) - quirky deep pink blend of Kékfrankos, Merlot, Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon and Pinot Noir!

05 February 2018

Cabernet & Merlot: France, Chile, Australia.


Updated February 2018
I've added a few more Cab-Mer, Mer-Cab (Sauvignon/Franc) or straight Cab Sauvs that are worth the typing and fit the theme; the first one in particular is very well-priced:
Château Tanunda 2016 'Basket Press' Barossa Cabernet-Merlot (15% abv) - This sumptuous blockbuster red, one of Sainsbury's 'Taste the Difference' label range, is made by one of South Australia's most famous and elderly wine estates (as opposed to Monty Python's similar-sounding Chateau Chunder which was destined for 'laying down and avoiding...'), and is packed with cassis, ripe damson and liquorice flavours but is multi-layered and 'meaty' too. Lots of taste for £10.
Balnaves 2011 Coonawarra Cabernet Sauvignon - Minty cassis and toasty with leather and prune tones too, all at once (!), soft and silky tannins on the palate with a bit of oomph on the finish. Yum. Liberty Wines Ireland €38.99.
Woodlands Wines 2013 Margaret River Cabernet Sauvignon - Cedar and spice notes yet rich and savoury as well, nice blackcurrant fruit turning meatier on the finish, still firm but 'sweet' tannins, very concentrated, lovely wine.

Saint-Emilion Grand Cru 2015 Union des Producteurs de Saint-Emilion (Merlot, Cabernet Franc; 13.5% abv) - This reasonably classy 'east-Bordeaux' red made by the obviously very competent local co-op winery has been consistently tasty over the years. Well balanced, plummy and fairly soft with cedar oak undertones and subtle textured finish. £12.99 / £10.99 on offer according to the Lidl UK website (although not in their Belfast stores!).
Château Haute Combe 2015 Côtes de Bourg France (Merlot, Malbec, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc; 14% abv) - Stylish example of a ripe plump Merlot-dominant Bordeaux style from the successful 2015 vintage, fruity and fairly soft with herbal edges and full-bodied mouth-feel. Mega-bargain discounted to under a fiver in Lidl! From one of Vignobles Bourdillas' properties I think.

El Recurso Vineyard 2016 'Block 18' Cabernet Sauvignon, Maipo Chile (13.5% abv) - One of their posher Finest labels, this was made by Cono Sur and shows class and concentration with ripe blackcurrant fruit and firm yet rounded texture. Currently not available in Tesco UK stores (?), it was about £12-13 but this was on offer for under ten; €18 in Tesco Ireland.

Wynns 2013 'Black Label' Coonawarra Cabernet Sauvignon, South Australia - Minty cassis notes with savoury and red pepper edges, pretty solid palate still with attractive rounded tannins, concentrated showing enticing mix of ripe, herby and meaty flavours with a touch of smoky oak. Lovely. £22 Bibendum PLB Group.
Yalumba 2013 'The Signature' Barossa Cabernet Shiraz, South Australia (52% Barossa Cab and 48% Shiraz with some fruit from neighbouring Eden) - Dark and extracted colour, dusty smoky punchy nose, rich toasty grainy texture but nice and fleshy with it, sweet vs savoury fruit, extracted yet controlled tannins, powerful 'old-fashioned' Oz red in a 'mini-Grange' style. Yum. £35 Negociants.

Map from www.cotes-de-bourg.com