RICHARD MARK JAMES' OTHER WINE BLOG

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18 April 2015

Pinot Noir & Cabernet Sauvignon: "reds of the moment"

A few words about a pair of Pinots and a couple of Cabernets, pitching the US against South Africa and Chile against Argentina, which I selected for a "classic grape varieties" tasting held in Belfast a few weeks ago. All different and all good.

Primarius Pinot Noir 2011, Oregon USA (12% abv) - I was slightly apprehensive buying this Oregon red at this price (they're mostly dearer), but wasn't disappointed. Quite light and elegant style yet has plenty of attractive clear-cut Pinot character, aromatic red fruit notes vs a more 'mushroom-y' (!) side and background oak adding a little roundness, refreshing and tasty finish. Drink now. £8.99 Tesco
Paul Cluver 'Ferricrete' Pinot Noir 2013, Elgin South Africa (13.5% abv) - Cluver is a very reliable Pinot winemaker, and this one is sourced from selected blocks in the cooler Elgin region around the coast from the Cape. More obvious vanilla/coconut oak on the nose vs subtle 'sweet/savoury' Pinot tones underneath, quite intricate despite that initial oak with fairly concentrated, fuller and more structured palate; smoky vs 'sweet/savoury' fruit finish, the oak blended in better after being open for a day. Should improve even. £12 Marks & Spencer.

Doña Paula Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Mendoza Argentina (14% abv) - traditional and classy Cabernet from this fairly famous name, concentrated and chunky vs soft mature and meaty, attractive developed fruit finish with just a hint of lingering grip. Drinking nicely now. £10/€12-€13 Supervalu, Kenny's Wine Store, The Vineyard.
Viña Errázuriz 'Max Reserva' Cabernet Sauvignon 2011, Aconcagua Valley Chile (14%) - from another very reliable producer, this fairly serious (mostly) Cab Sauv is sourced from some of their older and slopier vineyards found to the north of Santiago. Rich nose combining spicy oak and lots of dark blackcurrant/cherry, concentrated and pretty firm still vs smoky ripe fruit vs a tangier fresher side, fairly full-on finish. Drinking now but would keep well for a couple of years or so. £12.69 WineMark

15 March 2015

Austria: Riesling & Blaufränkisch

This Austrian "mini-focus" kicks off with four random wineries featuring seven tasty dry Rieslings, since it's perhaps too easy to forget there's more to Austria than Grüner Veltliner (which can also be very good for sure - click there for more). But there's often something rather distinctive, intense, stylish about Austria's take on the Riesling variety, especially for a R-addict like me. And I've rounded things off nicely with a look at a slightly quirky Blaufränkisch red from an all-together different corner of Austria called 'Eisenberg' (no connection with a certain ex-chemistry teacher and New Mexico...).

Müller - Kremstal region
The Müller family works 65 hectares of vineyards on slopes around Stift Göttweig and their home/winery in Krustetten (near Paudorf) along the Danube valley, about an hour's drive north-west of Vienna. Importers: Clada in Galway, Ireland (not on their site though); Austrian Wines Direct in Scotland and the Austrian Wine Company in England both list some of their wines. More @ www.weingutmueller.at.
2013 Riesling Neubergen - steely zippy and lees-y palate with oily lime fruit and texture, quite intense with 'mineral' acidity, good extract and 'chalky' finish. Nice Riesling. €8-€9
2013 Riesling Leiten Reserve - more perfumed, oily and yeast lees-y; rounder mouth-feel vs steely bite, more concentrated too with lovely extract vs crisp length. €12.50-€14

Weszeli - Kamptal
Partners Davis Weszeli and Rupert Summerer are based in the fairly famous wine town of Langenlois in the Kamptal region, which lies to the north of Kremstal on the other side of the river. Their variety of vineyard plots includes some top-rated 'Erste Lage' sites, or Premier Cru if you like. Imported by Newcomer Wines in London (£ price below); in the US: Savio Soares Selections (NY) and The Age of Riesling (CA). More @ www.weszeli.at.
2013 Riesling Loiserberg - "the highest vineyard in this area..." Rich and full, oily and honeyed vs 'chalky' 'mineral' touches, lots of flavour and class. €12-€13, £16.90
2011 Riesling Steinmassl Erste Lage - 'yeastier' and creamier style with developing oily and savoury notes vs crisp bite and extract, delicate yet concentrated wine. €29-€32
2011 Riesling Seeberg Erste Lage - again lees-edged complex nose, very concentrated with lime flavours vs oily texture and steely bite. Very tasty, serious Riesling (and price too). €36-€40

Malat - Kremstal
This wine estate and hotel is found in Palt not far from the town of Krems itself a mere stone's throw from the big blue DanubeQuite widely exported including, they claim, The Wine Monger in California (also not on their site though?). www.malat.at 
2012 Riesling Steinbühel Erste Lage - stony hillside vineyard. Lovely developing oily nose, concentrated with lime and greengage fruit vs honeyed notes, perfumed yet savoury too, nice long 'mineral' finish. €16-€18

Huber - Traistental
The Huber family have been winegrowers for over 200 years, and current winery head Markus has continued to carve out a good name for their estate. They're based in Reichersdorf in the Traistental region, which borders Kremstal on its eastern side, where they actually mostly produce Gruner Veltliner but have a good reputation for Riesling too. Markus makes and exports a fairly wide range from good-value funky brands to top single site wines. Importers: Thierry's Wine Services in England, Broadbent Selection in the US (Richmond VA). www.weingut-huber.at
2013 Red Dolomite Riesling - more "commercial" off-dry? style, softer certainly with attractive perfumed flowery fruit and crisp 'chalky' finish.

Groszer Wein - Eisenberg
Eisenberg ('iron mountain') is a slightly mystical elevated hill lying in the far south-eastern corner of Austria in the southern Burgenland, right on the Hungarian border, not too far away from Slovenia and apparently closer to Croatia than Vienna (its most northerly point at least). This spot forms the backbone of a fairly new appellation area, which has been built around the red Blaufränkisch variety. Owned and run by Markus Bach and Mathias Krön, who launched themselves into this "winemaking adventure out of madness and love of wine," roughly translating from their site, the Groszer Wein ("great wine" or "big" or "tall" wine perhaps?!) winery has 16 hectares dotted with old vines on hillside sites around Eisenberg. Imported by Newcomer Wines in London and quite widely available around the rest of Europe. USA: The Wine Monger (CA), although couldn't find the wines on their site. More info @ www.groszerwein.at.

2012 Blaufränkisch Vom Riegl (13.5% abv) - meaning "from the hill" in local dialect. Surprisingly balsamic and 'volatile'/wild-edged on the nose with light cider notes in that 'natural'-styled way, ripe plum and liquorice too with resin and herbal minty tones, rich and quite peppery/earthy with subtle coconut vs herby dark berry fruit; fairly concentrated rounded and powerful yet has fresh acidity adding bite against that nice sweet fruit. Surprisingly "Mediterranean" yet with lively Austrian acidity, touch of grip too vs Italian-esque dried fruit characters. I liked it more the second day it was open actually, attractive unusual red but quite dear (like most good Austrian wine is): €19.90 / £22.90 in the UK, although you do get a big litre bottle for that!

12 March 2015

WES Belfast update: wine tastings, courses and workshops

RMJ snorting Chardonnay
@ the Ramada Encore
LAST FEW PLACES'New Spain' tutored tasting
Thursday 26 March 7 to 9 pm - £27.50
"We'll taste and talk about classic reds from, for example, Rioja and Ribeira del Duero and also venture into lesser-known territory like (real) Sherry country, Galicia for whites and Catalonia, including some very good Cava no doubt!"

NEW! Organic & 'natural' wines tutored tasting
Thursday April 30, 7-9 pm - £27.50
"What exactly is organic wine - wine made without 'chemicals' or is that just a myth? And what's the difference between organic, biodynamic and 'natural' wine? And does it mean it's better? We'll explore these ideas while tasting and talking about a selection of organic wine styles picked from around the world..."

Essential Wine Tasting 5-week course - £125 for 5 sessions
New dates: Thursday evenings 14/05/15 to 11/06/15.

'New World Wines' Saturday workshop - 6 June 2015
£90 including 2-course lunch
"What do we mean by 'New World' wines? We'll spend the day tasting and talking about a dozen or so classic styles, red white and rosé, mostly from wine producing countries in the Southern Hemisphere such as Australia, New Zealand, Chile, Argentina and South Africa; as well as choice examples from North America... Showing that 'New World' is, apart from its patronising colonial tone, just as much about attitude perhaps as it is about location and climate. And then what about certain New World producers in cooler regions, who are deliberately trying to make more 'European' wine styles?! The day will be nicely broken up by lunch at the hotel..."

More info and online booking: wine-education-service.co.uk/wine-tasting-belfast, or get in touch with me via the contact form on the right.
You can also pay by card using Paypal (you don't need a Paypal account to do this) - select the tasting below and click on the button, which takes you to PP's secure payment page (you can amend quantity of tickets there too).


Select event:




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.

04 March 2015

Slovenia: wine & travel

Church on Lake Bled
"Slovenia isn't a large country, to state the obvious perhaps, and is one the most forested and mountainous states in Europe (relative to surface area), so not surprisingly there are only about 22,000 hectares (54,000 acres) of vines planted. Wine production is dominated by three-quarters of whites reflecting the country's geography, location and climate; and most of the often steep hillside vineyards lie on or close to its borders with four surrounding winemaking nations: Austria to the north, Hungary to the east, Italy to the west and Croatia to the south, roughly speaking. Logically then, many of Slovenia's wineries are found not too far away from the country's handsome, friendly and very walkable capital city Ljubljana (watch your spelling!), which is found in the middle more or less. There's plenty of history and beautiful architecture and countryside just made for exploring elsewhere too, and I've included a few, slightly cliched perhaps (e.g. Lake Bled above) but nevertheless must-do sightseeing places to go to, contemplate and eat in..."
Featuring these wineries: Marof, Joannes Protner, Bajnof, Ščurek, Bregar, Reja, Peršolja, Hlebec, Černe, Marjan Simčič and Goriška Brda Cellar. Plus touring and eating tips from the awesomely impossible Predjama Castle and über-busy yet stunning Lake Bled, to serene historic Base 20 and charming Ljubljana old town...
I've created a special 13-page PDF including this new feature on Slovenia with some "nice" photos, plus a previous wine and travel report on Croatia, which are also stored HERE. Click there for the works or buy the PDF supplement emailed to you for just £2.50 (less than $4 or €3.50) with a debit/credit card or your own Paypal account. Click on the "does what it says" button:



06 February 2015

WES NI latest: wine tastings, courses and workshops in Belfast

'Classic Grape Varieties' tasting Thursday 26 February - now sold out!

'New Spain' tutored tasting - Thursday 26 March 7 to 9 pm - £27.50
"We'll taste and talk about classic reds from, for example, Rioja and Ribeira del Duero and also venture into lesser-known territory like (real) Sherry country, Galicia for whites and Catalonia, including some very good Cava no doubt!"

Essential Wine Tasting 5-week course - £125 for 5 sessions
New dates: Thursday evenings 14/05/15 to 11/06/15.

'New World Wines' Saturday workshop - 6 June 2015
£90 including 2-course lunch
"What do we mean by 'New World' wines? We'll spend the day tasting and talking about a dozen or so classic styles, red white and rosé, mostly from wine producing countries in the Southern Hemisphere such as Australia, New Zealand, Chile, Argentina and South Africa; as well as choice examples from North America... Showing that 'New World' is, apart from its patronising colonial tone, just as much about attitude perhaps as it is about location and climate. And then what about certain New World producers in cooler regions, who are deliberately trying to make more 'European' wine styles?! The day will be nicely broken up by lunch at the hotel..."

More info and online booking: wine-education-service.co.uk/wine-tasting-belfast, or get in touch with me via the contact form on the right.
You can also pay by card using Paypal (you don't need a Paypal account to do this) - select the tasting below and click on the button, which takes you to PP's secure payment page (you can amend quantity of tickets there too).



Select event:


23 January 2015

Spain: Bodegas Larraz, Rioja

Just in case you were wondering (yeah, right), I first tasted one of these Caudum Larraz wines last year, which is featured in a Rioja mini-focus looking at the 2007 and 2009 vintages: Spain: Rioja 2007 and 2009.
The 'Caudum' wines were launched over ten years ago as a limited edition range sourced from a half-hectare vineyard called Finca La Cuesta in the Cenicero area, which is still planted with very old un-grafted vines apparently (they're keeping a bit hush-hush on which varieties though). These reds are aged for at least a year in French and American oak barrels and aren't fined or filtered. Winemaking wise, I'd say they perhaps represent the more "modern" face of Rioja, using more new oak and building a denser, more structured and maybe more export-focused style (only available in Canada as far as I can tell...). There's nothing necessarily wrong with that at all, although I found their 2010 tasting-noted below a little oak heavy when I tried it. However, if the probably finer 2008 is anything to go by, it shows these wines do need a few years before they come together and start to develop. Same goes for their 2009 "Special Selection" red, also reviewed below, which is serious wine: denser and more concentrated still and has coped with the oak treatment better. € prices quoted are in Spain.
More info (although not much in English) @ www.bodegaslarraz.com, or try their Facebook page www.facebook.com/pages/Caudum-Bodegas-Larraz where I pinched the photo from.

2008 Caudum (14% abv) - deep and dense and still pretty purpley black in colour for its age, same goes for the initial oak notes on the nose (purple oak haze man?) - coconut, cedar and vanilla - blended with smoky cassis fruit and liquorice undertones, lightly floral even as well with intricate savoury meaty edges; fairly firm and dry in the mouth with more subtle coconut texture/flavour than on the nose, quite fine tannins though and powerful finish although balanced in the end; tangy vs lush berry fruit with lingering oak too, beginning to develop attractive mature savoury flavours. 2nd day - still quite oaky but has lovely richer sweet berry, cherry and blackcurrant fruit, nice texture with coconut hints and 'chalky' tannins, firm but not over-extracted vs good concentration, powerful finish with sweet vs savoury flavour mix, lightly grainy yet the oak has diminished leading to a fairly fine finish. 4th day open - yes, it did last that long! Still surprisingly alive, more sweet fruit and oak coming through layered with complex 'cheesy' and savoury notes, dark cherry/berry and black olive vs that fair grip, nice dry texture and oomph vs a hint of freshness too. Quite serious wine, was obviously still too young when first opened. Now, that was an essay almost! €11-€12
2010 Caudum (14% abv) - coconut oak dominates the nose, rich colour and lush fruit vs pretty extracted and solid mouth-feel, oaky finish bolstered by ripe berry fruit. One day open: still showing as rich and extracted, has good substance underneath although the oak hasn't yet blended into the wine... Mind you, I thought that about the 08 which did develop nicely through the oak, so just "let it lie" for the time-being. €11-€12
2009 Caudum Selección Especial (14% abv) - seems less oaky than the other two (although...), or has absorbed it better probably, with a lush and punchy palate, more blackberry/cherry with liquorice and prune edges even, grippy and extracted layered with lots of fruit vs coconut grain, dry yet fine tannins, powerful and concentrated. Showing some savoury development yet solid and quite closed up, although turned softer and rounder after a while despite its grip, bite and punch. Good stuff, should continue to improve in bottle for a few years. Left open for a couple of days or so: not oxidised, a tad smoother and less oaky yet still has that nice thick texture and concentration. €15-€17

24 December 2014

Spain: "wines of the mo"

Simply Garnacha Rosado Borsao (13.5% abv) - very reliable and fairly classic style of full-bodied dry Spanish rosé made by Bodegas Borsao in the Campo de Borja region in Aragón. Great value too: £4.69 Tesco.
Mas Miralda Cava Brut Vintage 2011 (11.5% abv) - another reliable favourite fizz with attractive mix of refreshingly frothy and light underlined by subtle yeasty / biscuity flavours, off-dry and easy-going. Asda £6
Finca Manzanos 'Coleccion Privada' 2005 Reserva Rioja (13.5% abv) - lovely mature Rioja style - although still on fine form for its age - with smoky sweet vs savoury fruit, maturing 'cheesy' notes and silky mouth-feel. M & S £13.99 - looks like the 05 is gone, although the current 2007 vintage on their site should be good too.
Special Reserve Dry Oloroso Sherry, Barbadillo (Palomino fino, 19% abv) - classic slightly oddball dark and lush sherry yet dry and tangy with layers of complex roast nut flavours from mellow ageing. Bargain: Tesco £6 50cl.

17 December 2014

WES NI: Belfast wine tastings update

A couple of new dates have been added to next year's Wine Education Service NI calendar; and, as a reminder (they make great gifts too - we can send a voucher!), here's the complete list of scheduled events so far with an updated Paypal button at the bottom:

'Essential Wine Tasting' 5-week course
Wednesday evenings 28 January to 25 February 2015
£125 including course manual, all wines for tasting and tuition.
Booking and details of this course can be found by following the links on this page:
www.wine-education-service.co.uk/wine-tasting-belfast

Wines of France Saturday 'workshop'
January 31
£90 including two-course lunch and course manual.
On this "Tour de France" wine tasting workshop, we'll take you on a guided tour of France's different wine producing regions and taste about a dozen wines, including classics from Bordeaux, Burgundy, Champagne, the Rhone valley, Loire Valley, Alsace and examples from 'the big south' too: Languedoc, Roussillon or Provence.
We'll also talk a little about tasting wine, who makes these wines and how, and what happens in their vineyards and winery that gives them different regional characters (grape varieties, climate, terrain, winemaking); as well as discussing some of the ideas, traditional and modern, that have shaped the French wine world.

'Classic Grape Varieties' tutored tasting
February 26 (Thursday) 7:00 - 9:00 PM
£27.50
Tasting of selected wines made from some of the world's "classic" grape varieties such as Chardonnay, Riesling or Sauvignon Blanc for whites and Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir or Syrah / Shiraz for reds. We'll taste and talk about three or four pairs of wines, with each pair made from the same variety but coming from two different regions / countries, to compare how climate and winemaking can change the style; or is it the grape that shines through most?!

'New Spain' tutored tasting
March 26 (Thursday) 7:00 - 9:00 PM
£27.50
"We'll taste and talk about classic reds from, for example, Rioja and Ribera del Duero; and also venture into lesser-known territory like (real) Sherry country, Galicia for whites and Catalonia, including some very good Cava no doubt!"

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.
More info and booking on the WES Belfast webpage HERE.
Or book by debit/credit card or using your Paypal account with the button below - you can change the quantity on the payment page that opens (more about payments HERE):



Select event:


22 November 2014

France: Champagne Dumangin

This quirky independent Champagne house was created and has been run by the Dumangin family since the 1880s. Quirky in that their Champagnes are much drier than most of the big brands and own-labels – the dosage levels (added to all traditional method fizz, except for 'Brut Nature' or 'Zero' styles, as a sweetener essentially) in the five I've reviewed below have from just 2 to 8 grams/litre residual sugar, whereas 10 to 12 or more is the norm for a so-called dry 'Brut'; and each dosage 'liquor' is lovingly “aged in perfumed oak casks,” which I'd never heard of before. The company also still does the 'riddling' by hand apparently - the process where the bottles of Champers undergoing second fermentation in bottle are slowly shaken and tilted upside-down, before the yeast sediment is 'disgorged' – which is generally done by mean machines called 'gyro-palettes' nowadays. More: www.champagne-dumangin.com photo: facebook.com/ChampagneDumangin.


La Cuvée 17 Brut (1/3 each Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier) - Lightly nutty and yeasty notes, elegant and crisp mouth-feel, pretty dry (this was the 'least' dry of the five actually) with subtle tasty finish.
L'Extra-Brut (50% Pinot Meunier, 25% each Chardonnay and Pinot Noir) – Very dry and mouthwatering with nutty and subtle yeast biscuit flavours, pretty intense and crisp finish but it works well. Like it although probably too dry for some.
Le Vintage 2004 Extra Brut (54% Chardonnay, 46% Pinot Noir) – A touch richer and fuller, more complex flavours, crisp long finish, well balanced; very nice stylish Champers.
Premium Blanc de Blancs 2006 Extra Brut (100% Chardonnay, single vineyard) – Enticing ageing characters vs still intense palate, concentrated and classy; lovely fizz.
Premium Rosé de Saignée 2008 Extra Brut (50% Pinot Meunier, 25% each Chardonnay and Pinot Noir) – unusual rosé sparkler, cidery notes mixed with understated floral / red fruit flavours.
Available from Yapp Brothers in the UK for £29-£39 per bottle, in Australia and quite widely distributed across the USA.

Italy: "wines of the moment"

A few late-autumn tips for looking beyond Pinot Grigio and Chianti (ok, there's one of these recommended here as well) on your local (UK) supermarket's Italian wine shelves, either posh own-labels at slightly higher price points (but often considerably less than for a fancy winery brand yet made by big names and of equivalent quality) or bottles you might overlook as they aren't familiar. In no particular order then...

Teroldego Vigneti delle Dolomiti IGT 2012 (12.5% abv) - Seeing more of this style of light to medium-bodied red around nowadays, made from the obscure and very northern Italian (Alpine almost) grape variety Teroldego. Attractive fruity spicy wine with a bit of character too. Tesco £7.99
Nero d'Avola Sicilia IGT 2011, Corte Ibla 'single estate' (14% abv) - quite serious and full-on, a lovely Sicilian red made from Nero d'Avola with big ripe dark fruit and fairly firm-textured palate too. M&S £12
Lugana DOC 2013, Tenuta Roveglia (variety: Trebbiano di Lugana, 12.5% abv) - I've been through a few vintages of this consistently tasty dry white with a touch of richness yet fresh and crisp too, from vineyards near Lake Garda just in Lombardy on the border with neighbouring Veneto. Asda £7 although now de-listed as I haven't seen it recently? Shame.
Barolo DOCG 2009, Cantine Ascheri Giacomo (Nebbiolo, 14% abv) - You can often pay more than this for Barolo and still be disappointed, this a very good example balancing meatiness and grip with nice maturing fruit. Tesco £14.99
Amarone della Valpolicella DOCG 2011, Cantina Valpantena (Corvina, Rondinella, 15%) - Similar comments on price/quality as above could apply, this very tasty blockbuster red has lush and spicy fruit, balsamic notes and full-on rounded vs grippy tannins. Enjoyable now with rich food, but it will probably get better if left alone for a couple of years. Sainsbury's £16.50
Chianti Riserva DOCG 2010, Piccini (Sangiovese, 13% abv) - Fairly straightforward wine but well-made (Piccini is a reliable producer), attractive and drink-now version of this popular Tuscan red. Asda £7
Grillo Terre Siciliane IGP 2013 (13% abv) - perhaps one of Sicily's most exciting white varieties, Grillo offers exotic ripe vs juicy fruit with body, a hint of honeyed spice and lightly tangy finish. M&S £7
Greco 2013 Sannio DOC, La Guardiense (13.5% abv) - another star southern Italian white grape from the Campania region, Greco also gives you rich fruit and honeysuckle notes with full-bodied mouth-feel then crisper finish. M&S £10
Notte Rossa Primitivo di Manduria DOP 2012, Cantine San Marzano (14% abv) - Primitivo is the same as, or closely related to, California's Zinfandel (yes, it's a black variety) and can produce some of the best reds in Puglia, especially good wineries in the Manduria zone like this delicious smoky vs dark Med red. M&S £10
Aglianico del Vulture DOC 2009 (14% abv) - Aglianico is another slightly obscure grape worth seeking out, and this example from the Basilicata region (in the deep south found between the two regions mentioned above) shows enticing liquorice and wild herb notes. The 2009 is looking a bit old now, so enjoy it this winter: on offer at Sainsbury's for £6.75 (usually £9).
Vermentino 2013 Tuscany (12%) - another new Italian white at Asda, give it a go for its floral character and elegant style; worth £6 on offer, although I wouldn't pay the "full" price (whatever that really is in any supermarket, with their deliberately confusing promotions and pricing policy, allegedly).