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

01 May 2018

Sparkling wines from Chardonnay and Pinot: Italy, Australia, South Africa, France

A tad lengthy and random perhaps for a post title, especially since there's no Champagne included here; but this does feature an eclectic pick of contemporary 'traditional method' fizz (as in made the same way) based on those celebrity varieties. Just goes to show, in the unlikely event that you hadn't noticed, how well these grapes and the necessary know-how have exported in the right place and hands. It's also no surprise then to discover that some of the big Champagne brands invested in other places some time ago in fact - for instance, Moët et Chandon established sparkling production wineries in Argentina back in, unbelievably, 1959, Australia in 1986 and, the most recent India in 2014 among other countries (California, Brazil, China...). And recently as well, Taittinger started planting vineyards in Kent in England last year focusing on Chardy and Pinots Noir and Meunier.
Some of these tasty bubbles are one-offs by the way, particularly the two Lidl wines that could be special-parcel buys and not always available in all stores.

Barone dell' Isola Franciacorta Brut (12.5% abv): Chardonnay and Pinot Noir from northern Italy, bottle aged for 18 months on the yeast-lees. Pretty damn stylish actually with elegant toastiness, for those of you who thought Italy could only make frivolous or inoffensive bubbly. Good antidote to ubiquitous Prosecco. Lidl £9.99.
Crémant d'Alsace (12% abv) France: Okay, it's mostly shaped by Pinot Blanc, although this variety is a member of the same grape family apparently. Refreshing and very quaffable with subtle quality tones. Lidl £7.99.
Graham Beck The Rhona Brut Rosé NV, Western Cape South Africa (Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Pinot Meunier; 12.5% abv): Delicious and serious Marks & Spencer bubbly from one of South Africa's pioneers of the style. It's £15 a bottle but you'll be rather impressed.

Josef Chromy Tasmania Sparkling NV (62% Pinot Noir, 38% Chardonnay; 18 months lees-ageing): I'm told that three-quarters of Chardonnay grown on Tasmania is now destined for fizz production. Appley nutty aromatic with intense yeast-lees notes on the palate, crisp and fresh countered by rich toasted flavours. Classy. £25 Bibendum PLB.
Pirie Tasmania Sparkling NV (Chardonnay, Pinot Noir; blend of mostly 2012 vintage plus older wines, 20% of it barrel-fermented and aged 3.5 years on lees): Classic Pirie (a pioneer in Tas and for top bubbly too), superb 'Bolly-style' sparkler with lots of lush toasty flavours yet lovely fresh bite. Expensive but yummy: £34.
Brown Brothers King Valley (Victoria) NV (Pinot Noir Chardonnay, Pinot Meunier, 12.5% abv): Toasty and oily with oat-y edges, quite good fizz. €20 (in Ireland).
Jansz Tasmania Premium Cuvée (Chardy/PN, 12% abv): Another Tas classic style, very enjoyable (got the message yet about Tasmanian fizz). €33 Cassidy Wines, £15 to £20 UK.
Croser Non-Vintage Rosé, Adelaide Hills South Australia: a splash of red Pinot Noir wine is also blended into the 2/3 Pinot and 1/3 Chardy base; this has full-on 13.5% abv and 6.5 grams/litre residual sugar, which is about half the amount found in many European so-called Brut styles. In addition to their very tasty regular NV fizz, the famous Croser winery creates this sumptuous rosé with its toasty red fruit flavours and fine crisp balance. £17-£19.
House of Arras Grand Vintage Tasmania Chardonnay Pinot Noir 2008 (12.5% abv): Gorgeous baked brioche and toasted almond notes underpinned by fresh acidity and 'tight' very long finish; Tas 'vintage-Bolly' style! £35 Fine Wine Partners.

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...