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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 denser and more concentrated still and has coped with the oak treatment better. I don't know what the prices of these wines are, but I can find out...
More info (although not much in English) @ www.bodegaslarraz.com, or try their Facebook page linked underneath the photo I copied.

From www.facebook.com/pages/Caudum-Bodegas-Larraz
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!
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.
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.

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).

15 November 2014

Italy: Nino Franco, Prosecco


This top-notch Prosecco winery isn't far off its 100th birthday and was established by Antonio Franco in Valdobbiadene, right in the beautiful heart of the 'original' production zone marked by often steep hillside vineyards at altitude (hence the snowy shot above), which has recently become a much smaller and more quality-focused sub-zone (Prosecco can be made pretty much anywhere in the Veneto region or virtually the entire northeastern corner of Italy it seems). Nino Franco then expanded the family operation and grandson Primo, who's been in charge for over 30 years, has boosted exports substantially - it shouldn't be too difficult to find their wines in your neck of the woods.
The three tasting-noted below are all made 100% from the Glera variety, the 'old' name for Prosecco which has been re-adopted especially in the Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore DOCG zone, to make a point of distinction presumably. They're all produced by the 'charmat', 'cuve close' or, less pretty sounding, 'tank' method, where the second fermentation and lees-ageing take place in a sealed vat, then the wine is cleverly bottled under pressure retaining the natural CO2 bubbles. Franco's sparkling wines just go to show that there's Prosecco and there's Prosecco...
These ones are available in the UK/Ireland from JN Wine, Wine Drop and Sommelier's Choice among others starting at £13.50-£14 (€23) up to £25-ish; or Wine.com and many other outlets in the US (from about $18). Photo copied from www.ninofranco.it.

Rustico NV - lively with lightly toasted almond and yeasty biscuit edges, quite intense fruity vs earthy flavours with long crisp vs toasty finish; very nice fizz.
Vigneto della Riva di San Floriano 2013 - more 'vinous' and concentrated, attractive fruity vs baked bread-y mix of flavours with intense bite and length, lingering oat biscuit notes vs fresh and 'salty'; stylish and elegant.
Grave di Stecca 2010 (old steep vineyard, longer lees ageing, only 7 gr/l residual sugar which is pretty dry) - quite rich and toasty with tangy nutty dry mouth-feel, more serious foodie fizz with lovely rounded vs crisp finish.

10 November 2014

Wine Education Service NI: tastings and workshop in Belfast

"Christmas wines" tutored tasting
December 4 (Thursday) 7:30 - 9:00 PM
£35 including nibbles.
Special "Christmas themed" wine tasting to give you some festive wine tips, including Champagne and other fizz, Port and 'classic' reds and whites, accompanied by a few hot nibbles from the hotel restaurant. We'll also talk a little about who, where and how these wines are made, and what food they might match with best...

Wines of France Saturday 'workshop'
January 31 2015
£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 2015 (Thursday) 7:30 - 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?!

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 using the PayPal buttons below (more about payments and subscribing HERE).


Select event:


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


MORE BEER ON THIS SITE

Beers of the moment: Whitewater vs Whitechapel

Beer of the moment: Fischer

And more to follow no doubt...

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.