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

13 October 2017

Riesling: Australia, Chile, Germany, California

Gary Mills from jamsheed.com.au
It's been a while since this blog subjected viewers to an unbridled Riesling-fest - those who are that way included might like to click here for lots of Riesling-tinged links. So here's my pick of five £10+ bottles that effortlessly exude the variety's class and charm while all being subtly different, which were made in various regions of Australia, Chile, Germany and California respectively.

Jamsheed Le Blanc Plonk Riesling 2015 Upper Goulburn Valley Victoria - Made from old vine Riesling with natural ferment in large old tuns and left on the yeast-lees for eight months. Ripe oily and lees-tinged with quite rich peach fruit and wilder 'real cider' notes, concentrated mouth-feel and full of character. £17 Indigo Wines, London (follow the link under the photo to find out the importer in your country, his wines are well distributed around the world).
Grosset Polish Hill Riesling 2016 Clare Valley South Australia - Jeffrey Grosset's famous high-altitude Riesling, sourced from the eponymous hillside vineyard at 500 metres above sea level which I'm told is now organic, has also got fairly expensive nowadays. Lively 'chalky' style with attractive citrus and white peach, pretty intense and structured palate although not as austere as expected given its age and memories of previous vintages. Serious Riesling although it has been more exciting for the money? £32.99 Liberty Wines, London and Dublin.

Cono Sur Reserva Riesling Especial 2016 Bio Bio region (13% abv) - I've tried this lovely Riesling from the southern end of Chile's main wine-growing zones (although the north-south spread has been getting further apart over the years...) over a few previous vintages (the link in the top paragraph shows where), and it seems to be getting better. Nicely mixes up trademark Riesling delicacy with oily perfumed lime notes and fairly rounded yet fresh mouth-feel. Good with Indian vegetable dishes (Bombay spuds, veggie rice etc.), smoked salmon. £10.50 Tesco - £3 off at the moment too.

Gerd Stepp Riesling Trocken 2015 Pfalz (12.5% abv) - Stepp really has mastered making this kind of 'modern' dry German Riesling style, which comes from the warmer Pfalz region (the Palatinate in old fashioned English) - he also does a couple of delicious wines for M&S (again follow that link at the top) - producing a riper fruitier fuller wine yet with hallmark racy 'chalky' palate too. £17.99/£12.99 Naked Wines.

Richard Bruno Riesling 2015 Santa Lucia Highlands Monterey County - Not a region I'd heard of before - it's an AVA (American Viticultural Area) lying inland from the central coast - but obviously suits the Riesling variety well. Lots of aromatic citrus and peach with lightly oily edges and refreshing elegant finish.  £12.99/£9.49 Naked Wines.


05 October 2017

Spain, Catalonia: posh Cava

In light of recent independence-aspiring events in the region, there will probably be as many who are unhappy as are happy with the post title above placing Spain and Catalonia together on one line separated by nothing more than a simple comma. That's enough topical politics on WineWriting.com, which will remain neutral except to say that there really are some delicious examples of the classic Catalan fizz out there offering great value for money, especially if you pay a little more for better bottles such as Vintage or Brut Nature styles. Here are three worth talking about that have been sampled and enjoyed recently by RMJ and the tasting team (= willing partner), all of them with a refreshing 11.5% abv.

Mas Sardana Cava Brut Nature, Franck Massard - 50% Xarel.lo, 25% Macabeu, 25% Parellada; +12 months ageing on the lees, less than 2 gr/l residual sugar. Very tasty crisp and dry style (no added sugar in the dosage) with floral citrus nose vs hazelnut and toasted brioche notes. Naked Wines £13.49/£9.99, Great Western Wine £13.50, Wines Direct £13.49, the Fine Wine Company £76.89 x 6.

Freixenet 2015 Vintage Especial Cava Brut - Same varieties as above, this is supposedly made from a special selection of high altitude grown grapes. Subtle yeasty toasty aromas mix with ripe citrus and peach, fresh and lively finish. Serious bargain: £7.49 B&M Belfast.

Marques del Norte 2015 Vintage Cava Brut, Jaume Serra - Same grapes. A touch more aromatic and apply than the above, delicate and satisfying with light yeasty tones. Asda £7.48 / £6 on offer.

By the way, Tesco's and Mark's own-label non-vintage Cavas are both good value too, particularly Tesco's yellow label Cava Brut for £5.55 (also produced by Jaume Serra).
MUCH MORE POSH CAVA IN MY MINI-GUIDE HERE.

02 October 2017

Wine Education Service Belfast wine tasting courses 2017-2018


Thursday 30 November 2017 - 'Irish themed' wine tasting! £32.50

This tutored evening wine tasting (starts 18.45 to 20.30 approx.) will focus on six to eight wines (depending on numbers) with a link to Ireland, whether produced by a winemaker originally from Northern Ireland or an Irish-owned wine estate; such as Château de ​l​a Ligne​ in Bordeaux, Creu Celta​ in Catalonia or the Miquel family in the Languedoc.

Saturday 3 February 2018 - 'Grape to Glass' one-day workshop £90

Including lunch from the hotel's bar menu with wine, a comprehensive course manual and at least a dozen high-quality classic wines sampled and talked about in a relaxed atmosphere. This general introductory Saturday wine tasting workshop will feature 12 or more classic styles from around the world's best-known wine regions and grape varieties that exemplify where they are grown and how they are made. More info can be found on the WES site HERE. Runs 10.45 to 16.45 approx with lunch break.

Thursday 1 March 2018'International grape varieties' evening wine tasting £32.50

We'll pick three or four (depending on numbers) pairs of varietal wines made from popular grape varieties, each pair being the same variety but sourced from different wine regions. For example, comparing Sauvignon Blanc from the Northern and Southern Hemispheres, Aussie Shiraz vs French Syrah, German Riesling up against a surprising rival or two Pinot Noirs from contrasting vineyards. Runs 18.45 to 20.30 approx.

Essential Wine Tasting five-week course £125 (£129 by PayPal)
Thursday evenings April 5, 12, 19, 26 and 3 May 2018 from 6.45-8.30pm.

Six great wines tasted each session covering the world's famous wine regions, grape varieties and winemaking styles, as well as some lesser-known examples. We'll also talk about tasting, enjoying and keeping wine, how different types of wine are made and how climate and what goes on in the vineyard shape them as we go along each week, in addition to many other general topics. Course manual included. Full details can be found on the WES site HERE.

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):
Facebook.com/WineEducationServiceNI (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 and 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.

19 September 2017

Greece, Peloponnese: Moschofilero, Agiorgitiko, Troupis, Skouras and Tselepos

A recent purchase from Naked Wines (UK) made by Troupis Winery, called Fteri Moschofilero 2015 from the Mantinia area (the Moschofilero variety comes from here) in the PGI wine region of Arcadia (£11.99/£8.99), reminded me that I never did write anything about a holiday trip to the Peloponnese one year ago including a quick visit and tasting at Domaine Skouras near Argos. The Troupis Moschofilero is tasty and intriguing, nicely mixing up rich flavours and texture with a floral and almost 'salty' freshness, and is attractively light at 12% abv. My resurrected tasting notes reveal that Skouras' Salto Moschofilero is also sourced from Mantinia from hillside vineyards at 600 metres altitude and made by wild ferment, producing a refreshing elegant (11.5% abv) yet intense crisp white with zesty 'mineral' notes (€9.10 for the 2015). Other recommended whites from Skouras include: a very nice well-balanced barrel-fermented Chardonnay called Almyra (13.5% abv) from coastal vineyards near Corinth (€9.80 for 2015); and a lush exotic Viognier called Eclectique, grown at 300 metres near the ancient city of Argos (where you can find a good range of TVs and washing machines too, ho ho), which is a bit oaky but again has good bite (€21).


Export guy George Svanias (pic. in their tasting room) said the Skouras family started the winery in 1986 "as a garage operation before they bought vineyards." They then purchased vineyards mostly on the Nemea hills to the north of Argos but also some here around the new winery completed in 2004. George said they use the approx. 1000 barrels in the cellar three times, which are mostly French oak although they mature Syrah in American oak. "We do six months' minimum ageing for our reds, and the top wines get over 18 months (in barrel)," he explained. He told me they sell all their production at the moment, with key export markets like the US doing quite well (Diamond Importers in Chicago).
Over to their reds then. Saint George is made from 100% Agiorgitiko (the English translation of this common red grape variety in this region) grown at up to 650 metres in Nemea and Corinthia; the 2013 was fairly light and tasty with nice spicy fruit (€7.70). The Grande Cuvée Nemea Agiorgitiko (€14.60) comes from selected blocks at around 1000 metres above sea level; the 2013 showed smoky oak with concentrated firm palate yet silky tannins. The same vintage of Megas Oenos, a Agiorgitiko and Cabernet Sauvignon blend, was good and rich although a tad too oaky (€16.50). Skouras also produces a high-altitude, attractively deep-coloured rosé from 70% Agiorgitiko and 30% Moschofilero (€4.90).
A couple of other recommended Greek wines from my travels are: 2014 Agiorgitiko red from Nemea made by the well-known Tselepos winery (bought at Athens airport, I can't remember how much but reasonably priced); and a classic 2015 Chardonnay from landmark producer Domaine Hatzimichalis (picked up at a supermarket somewhere), not based in this region but in central Greece to the north-west of Athens.

04 August 2017

Italian wines @ Lidl

Lidl (UK) continues to be 'on a roll' (seeded bap, wholemeal or ciabatta more likely?) with another new batch of its special Italian wine buys now in store (the posher ones in the wooden bins), although some of these are bound to be available in Lidl Ireland stores too and elsewhere in Europe. Mind you, a slight mystery lingers a casa mia regarding one Lidl white from the Campania region enjoyed and reviewed a few weeks ago, Sassi del Mare Falanghina 2016, which we tried again recently although it was £1 more, had an extra 0.5% abv and appeared to be in a heavier bottle (from memory), but it just wasn't as good somehow? Or was it 'just a dream within a dream' (as the Propaganda song sort-of said)? In any case, here are a few more Italian whites and reds worth looking out for at Lidl, some of them commendably unusual and hard to find; hopefully you'll get the same wine as I did. And the 'message' here is spending more than a fiver, even towards ten, does reap rewards. Image copied from www.lidl.de, where you'll find better information on these wines if your German is up to it - you're lucky to even find them on their UK site!

Masseria Metrano Fiano 2016, Salento IGT Puglia (12.5% abv) - Fiano is another star white grape variety, more commonly found in and probably originates from Campania (or Sicily?), but obviously capable of great things 'over the other side' in Puglia (Apulia seems to be the 'English' term although looks like Latin to me). At £7.99, it's fairly dear for Lidl but definitely worth the money with plenty of depth of flavour and texture too, aromatic and rich yet elegant.
Corte Allodola Terre del Vulcano 2016, Soave Classico DOC (12.5% abv) - A good example of 'gets what you pay for', since this tasty zesty and quite intense Soave is £6.99, obviously a couple of quid or so dearer than the many often rather bland examples usually found on the lower shelves. Very nice with trout or salmon.
Musita Grillo 2016, Sicilia DOC (13% abv) - At least I think it was this one with the eye-catching white label and arty vine drawing rather than the slightly cheaper one they do, this one being £5.99. Delivers what you'd expect from this lovely Sicilian white grape, quite apricot-y and honeysuckle-edged flavours, and nice mouth-feel combining weight with freshness.
Vigna la Capa Riserva 2014, Brindisi DOP (13.5% abv) - Not sure what the correct UK price is, as I paid £5.99 since that's what it said on the shelf-ticket (bargain, serves them right for not checking), but it scanned at £7.99 (probably more likely given it costs €6.99 in Germany with their low taxes on wine?). Sumptuous southern red brimming with ripe dried fruits and liquorice, lightly smoky with fairly soft tannins and a bit of oomph. Good with grilled Angus burgers and organic wholewheat pasta filled with potato and porcini mushrooms (man), also bought in Lidl. Made from old-vine Negroamaro grapes (50 year-old vineyards translating from the label in my best Italian) from a smaller area of Puglia around the town of Brindisi.
Montejanu 2015 Cannonau di Sardegna DOP (13.5% abv) - Cannonau is actually what they call Grenache or Garnacha in Sardinia (linguistically mind-boggling as it is) and isn't so easy to find over here. Not the finest example perhaps, with its lightly rustic 'volatile' edges, but tasty enough summer quaffing red with sweet and spicy fruit. £5.99
Other Italian reds to look out for in Lidl, available on and off:
South: Ciro Classico Superiore Riserva (from Calabria). North: Teroldego Rotaliano Riserva (Trentino); Valpolicella Ripasso (the black label one).

09 July 2017

Summer 'wines of the mo': Languedoc, Campania, Western Cape, King Valley

James and Catherine Kinglake from domainebegude.com
Domaine Bégude Le Secret du Sud Gewurztraminer 2016 Pays d'Oc (13.5% abv) - The Gewurztraminer variety has obviously adapted well to this beautiful spot in the hills just north of Limoux (off the road to Carcassonne); this delicious example is full-bodied and rich-textured with the trademark rose water and lychee characters, tasty rounded and exotic yet has a little 'chalky' freshness on the palate too. Expensive although you wouldn't easily find a similar quality Gewurz from Alsace for much less. £11.99 The Vineyard, Ormeau Road, Belfast. Very nice with scallops and Clonakilty pudding starter at Graffiti restaurant across the road (BYO).
Sassi del Mare Falanghina 2016 Beneventano IGT (12.5% abv) - One of southern Italy's most seductive white grape varieties, this Falanghina, grown on the Campania region hills is ripe honeyed and 'oily' with apricot and hazelnut freshened by a lighter touch and bite on the finish. Bargain: £5.99 Lidl.
Sangiovese Rosé 2016 King Valley, Australia (13% abv) - Tasty full-flavoured rosé style from north-eastern Victoria balancing sweet red fruits, lightly creamy texture, quite weighty mouth-feel and zingy finish. Might be made by De Bortoli although Asda doesn't say who on the label: £8.98, one of their 'Extra Special' range.
Zalze Shiraz Mourvedre Viognier 2016 Western Cape (14.5% abv) - Powerful spicy yet quite soft red made by reliable SA winery Kleinzalze (I also like their Chenin blanc white) that would go well with al fresco food, BBQ etc. Ripe berry fruits and rounded palate with peppery aromatic hints. £7.48 Asda.

07 June 2017

New Zealand 'wines of the moment': Pinot Noir, Gewurz/Riesling and Chardy

Dom Maxwell The Bloom 2016 - An aromatic towards exotic yet zesty and quite dry blend of Riesling and Gewurztraminer from Waipara region (near the coast north of Christchurch on South Island). Went well with a mix of Indian dishes (especially tandoori fish) although not too spicy. £14.99 / £9.99 ? (currently out of stock) Naked Wines (you have to become an 'Angel' and invest £20 a month to get the special prices - check out their website for background on Naked's winemaker funding strategy).

Villa Maria Private Bin East Coast Chardonnay 2016 - Very reliable subtle Chardy with lightly buttery nutty side and underlying freshness. Widely available for about £10.

Coolwater Bay Pinot Noir 2014, Marlborough from Endeavour Vineyards - One of Sainsbury's 'Taste the Difference' labels, this is good value Pinot with nice perfumed fruit and silky texture. £10 (sometimes on offer at £8).

Lay of the Land Ben Morven Farm Pinot Noir 2015, Marlborough, made by Mike Paterson (pic. from www.nakedwines.com) - Tasty Pinot balancing elegance and easy-drinking style with a little depth and class: fragrant cherry fruit with fairly soft mouth-feel and fresh bite to finish. £18.99 / £12.99 (see comment above about Naked Wines' prices: these wines are probably available on their US site too).