Richard Mark James' wine & travel blog
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26 October 2016

American 'reds of the moment' (North and South)

Ravenswood Lodi Old Vine Zinfandel 2014 (14.5% abv) - California, USA. Tasty reminder that Zinfandel is indeed a 'black' grape variety for making solid wild-edged red wines (as opposed to crap rosé), this is smoky and chewy with rich sunny fruit. Sainsbury's £10 (occasionally on offer at £8).
Marques de Casa Concha Syrah 2014 (14.5% abv) - D.O Buin, Maipo River, Chile. From 'a single vineyard at 500 metres above sea level' in the newly demarcated 'Buin' sub-region, this sexy Syrah spent 16 months in French oak barrels. Quite oaky when first opened - in fact it tasted better two days later - yet lush and concentrated with dark spicy fruit, firm but well-textured tannins. One of Concha y Toro's posh ranges: £9 on offer at Tesco, usually £12.
More Syrah from Chile HERE.
Finca La Celia Pioneer Malbec 2013 (14.5% abv) - Uco Valley, Mendoza, Argentina. More serious and more 'savoury' example of the slightly ubiquitous Malbec variety, fairly full-bodied and structured vs attractive maturing fruit. Winemark £9.99.
Another big brand widely available Malbec I've enjoyed recently: Trivento Malbec Reserva 2015. Despite the sometimes misleading 'Reserve' word (which too often just means 'oaky'), this one nicely brings spicy ripe fruit to the fore.

18 October 2016

Merlot pie

I've received many emails over the last couple of weeks with all the usual hyperbole, facts and figures, excitement and/or disappointment about this year's vintage in Europe, and France especially (a very general synopsis would be good but not that much of it). One very long (as is their style but with lots of nice photos too) newsletter did stand out though from Château la Tulipe de la Garde in Bordeaux, containing a tempting-looking recipe for Merlot pie (above, obviously) and several happy harvest workers chomping away. Read the full works and see all the pics here: (where I stole the image from).

02 October 2016

Wine Education Service Belfast tastings and courses: revised programme

Saturday 8 October 11am-2pm Italian wine tasting with lunch £50
Eight premium Italian wines tasted from around one of the world's most diverse and exciting wine producing nations, from the far north to deep south and the well-known to obscure, followed by your choice of a main course from the hotel's bar menu. Molto bene!

Thursday 24 November 6.45-8.30pm Bordeaux & Burgundy wine tasting £36
Six sumptuous whites and reds savoured from arguably France's two most famous wine regions, showcasing some classy styles of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Merlot. Soak up the history, chateaux and vineyard names!

Saturday 4 February 2017 10.45am to 4.30pm 'New World' wines one-day workshop £90
Including lunch from the hotel's bar menu, course manual and at least a dozen high-quality classic-style wines tasted and discussed, which will be sourced from across the southern hemisphere wine-producing nations and North America.

Thursday 2 March 2017 6.45-8.30pm Syrah / Shiraz wine tasting £30
Six to eight (depending on numbers) different wines from around the world - France, Australia, Chile, South Africa etc. - all made from the world's most popular red grape variety. So why do the French say Syrah, the Aussies say Shiraz and others say both?!

Classic Grape Varieties five week course £150 (£155 by PayPal) - Thursday evenings 6th April, 13th April, 20th April, 27th April and 4th May 2017 from 6.45-8.30pm.
Your chance to become an expert wine taster! At each session, we'll taste three white and three red wines; each trio of wines will be made from the same grape variety and sourced from leading wine producers worldwide. Varieties covered in each session: Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, Sauvignon Blanc and Cabernet Sauvignon, Riesling and Merlot, Viognier and Syrah/Shiraz, Pinot Gris/Grigio and Tempranillo. Comprehensive course material also provided. It's a classic!

The venue for these events is the Ramada Encore Hotel in Belfast's Cathedral Quarter. More info and online booking via the Wine Education Service site (payment by bank transfer or cheque): (sign in to Facebook to view).
Or you can pay by card or your own PayPal account by clicking on the button below (you don't need a PP account to do this though: just click on 'pay as guest'). You can change the quantity of tickets on the secure web form:

Select event:

Click here for more about PayPal payments and your privacy. WES terms & conditions apply, which will be emailed with your invoice or can be viewed on this blog HERE. Wine Education Service NI does not sell wine - our wine tastings and classes are designed to be purely educational and informal while focusing on getting more enjoyment out of tasting wine; we source high quality representative samples from a variety of different retailers.

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 as 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 @ 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):
Amazon US ($4.99), Amazon UK (£3.76), France (€4.44), Canada ($6.51), Australia ($6.62), India (₹333), Germany (€4.44), Spain (€4.44), Italy (€4.44), Netherlands (€4.44), Japan (¥512), Brazil (R$16.34) and Mexico ($94.30).
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'

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.