Richard Mark James' wine & travel blog
Buy my French wine touring & tasting (click there) e-magazine on Amazon for £4.95/$6.50/€5.89/¥682/Ca$8.43/Au$8.58 (or as a PDF) including Cahors, Champagne, Chablis, Languedoc & St-Chinian and Alsace. Other special supplements and guides: English wine guide £3.50 (updated June 2016), Cava guide £3, Slovenia & Croatia, Portugal, Argentina (follow links for more info and payment). Pay by card with PayPal: click here for more about card payments using PayPal, general 'terms & conditions', and your privacy.

23 July 2016

Italy: Sicily, Puglia, Veneto, Trentino

Here's an easy-to-find pick of Italian 'wines of the moment', including a red and white pair each from the far south and far north...

Grillo 2015 Terre Siciliane IGP - Sicily (13% abv): Grillo is a fab and fairly rare white grape variety; well-made tasty examples like this one are quite rich and rounded with aromatic peach and apricot fruit, lightly spicy and zesty on the finish too. £7.50 Marks & Spencer.
'Vigna la cupa' 2013 Salice Salentino DOC Riserva - Puglia (13.5% abv): Made from the local Negroamaro variety, meaning 'bitter black', this sunny red has a wild mix of very ripe cherries, dark chocolate, liquorice and more savoury, earthy, rustic and tobacco notes; quite full-on and firm palate vs nice sweet/savoury finish. £6.99 Lidl.

Pinot Grigio 2015 Trentino DOC, CaVit - Trentino-Alto Adige (12.5% abv) - This juicy fragrant and nutty white shows there's more to PG if you look beyond the big brand offers. Asda £6.
Amarone della Valpolicella 2012 DOCG, Monteforte d'Alpone - Veneto (14.5% abv): Special occasion red - or why not push the boat out with posh BBQ food - crafted from dried grapes (a classic local blend of Corvina, Rondinella and Molinara) giving plenty of body and rich flavours. Asda £16 (sometimes on offer for a few quid less though).

10 July 2016

Chile: Syrah, Pinot Noir and other 'wines of the moment'

Misty Valle de Limarí from www.winesofchile.org

WHITE WINES

Casa Marín Lo Abarca Riesling 2015, San Antonio Valley (12.5% abv) - Delicate floral style with 'mineral' notes and subtle crisp white peach fruit. £10 Marks & Spencer.
Cono Sur Riesling Reserva Especial 2015, Bio Bio Valley (13.5% abv) - Oilier fuller style with more ripe lime vs zesty 'chalky' undertones, fair depth and class too. £9-£10 Tesco.
Caliterra Chardonnay Reserva 2015, Casablanca Valley (13.5% abv) - Tasty example of how to make a nice balanced style of Chardy, mixing juicy citrus fruit, yeasty/creamy notes and unobtrusive oak touches £7.29 WineMark.

PINOT NOIR

Secano Estate Rosé 2015, Leyda Valley (13% abv) - I had the previous vintage of this flavoursome rosé many times; and the new-in 2015, while not as full-on as its predecessor, is just as tasty in a more elegant way. £9.50 Marks & Spencer.
Secano Estate Maiten Vineyard Block 1 2014, Leyda Valley (14% abv) - Pretty classy Pinot with understated 'sweet/savoury' fruit, silky texture and well-integrated hints of oak. £13 Marks & Spencer, although I got it on offer making it much better value of course!
Morandé Reserva 2015, Casablanca Valley - Aromatic and silky with elegant cherry fruit, nice and fresh on the finish; good. Morandé is considered one of a small band of pioneers of Casablanca Pinot, hence the name of this second wine:
Morandé Pionero 2014 - More perfumed with lovely 'sweet/savoury' Pinot characters, elegant and fresh vs maturing and savoury to finish. Good too.

Darwin Vineyards 'Curis Valley' 2015, Curicó Valley - Nice and silky and soft with light cherry fruit, tasty elegant style Pinot.
Montgras Reserva 2015, Leyda Valley - More structured and fresher style with subtle oak hints, very nice silky Pinot Noir fruit on the palate though.
Errazuríz Estate Series 2014 - Tight and fresh mouth-feel to start, then revealing vibrant aromatic 'sweet/savoury' fruit, attractive style.
Errazuríz Aconcagua Costa 2014 - More structured and closed up, silky vs fresh palate, needs a bit more time to express itself?
Errazuríz Wild Ferment 2014, Casablanca Valley - Yeastier edges, aromatic cherry fruit as well with spicier and gutsier palate, although again still very Pinot in character with long intense finish.

SYRAH

I wrote this not-overly-complimentary piece about Syrah/Shiraz from Chile nearly five years ago; but things seem to have moved on in bucket-loads since then, proving the potential was definitely there, as there are now many very tasty examples lining the shelves. Interesting to note perhaps, for wine geeks at least, that all of the wines tipped below were labelled as Syrah not Shiraz, meaning winemakers in Chile have now defined their own style(s) of the world's most popular grape variety? Discuss in 200 words or less...

Tabalí Los Molles Reserva 2013 Limarí (14% abv) - Lush black cherry fruit, peppery and powerful yet has a fresher side too with sweet/savoury finish; and if there's any oak, it's not very obvious. £10 Marks & Spencer: on offer at £8 at the moment.
Raiz Gran Reserva 2013 Maule - Quite a lot of dark choc / spicy oak, but this has plenty of tasty black cherry fruit, nice rounded tannins with oomph and grip to finish, fairly concentrated too. Good Syrah style.
Indomita Gran Reserva 2015 Maipo - Oaky structured and concentrated although again has quite rich dark berry / cherry fruit; a little youthful and closed up but should be good.
Tirazis 2012 Casablanca - Herby peppery style with crunchy black cherry, pretty intense and firm still vs layers of tasty fruit; very different.
Cremaschi Furlotti Single Vineyard Maule 2014 - Again herby spicy black cherry fruit vs firm and dry, pretty intense finish, needs a few more months to round out.
Errazuríz Aconcagua Costa 2014 - Delicious white pepper and black cherry nose, concentrated yet elegant balanced palate; highly recommended Syrah.

OTHER REDS

Santa Rita Estates 'Lot 8' Carmenère 2012, Colchagua Valley (14% abv) - Chunky and concentrated, touches of vanilla/coconut oak layered with tasty sweet/sour fruit flavours. €13.99 Lidl Ireland / £60 case of 6 UK.
Errázuriz Max Reserva Cabernet Sauvignon 2013, Aconcagua Valley (14% abv) - 2011 was the last vintage I tried of this pretty serious Cabernet - click here to read about it - and this Erráz 2013 amply keeps up their standards for structured age-worthy yet also drinking well enough now Cab. £12.99 WineMark.

03 July 2016

Posh Chardonnay: California, South Africa, Australia

Kendall Jackson Vintner's Reserve Chardonnay 2014, California (13.5% abv) - This classy wholesome Chardy is "a winemaker’s blend of mountain, ridge, hillside and benchland (a long narrow valley without a river apparently) hand select grapes grown along California’s cool coastal appellations." (The Banke-Jackson family owns vineyards in Santa Barbara, Monterey, Sonoma, Napa and Mendocino counties in fact). Each 'lot' is then fermented separately and barrel-aged. Enticing mix of buttery oatmeal aromas and flavours, and not too toasty with it, and sunny citrus/peach fruit, nice full mouth-feel yet reasonably subtle and fresh. Quite dear, although on a level with good white Burgundy especially if you're splashing out for you-know-what day tomorrow: £15.95 Slurp.co.uk.

Grier Family Villiera Brut Natural Chardonnay 2010 'Methode Cap Classique'; Stellenbosch, South Africa (12% abv) - This stylish Champagne-esque fizz was treated to no less than 34 months yeast-lees ageing in the bottle and unusually has no added sugar (unlike typical so-called 'Brut' styles) or sulphur dioxide. Still surprisingly youthful at first with frothy, fresh and structured palate; then revealing delicate 'brioche', oatcake and roast hazelnut flavours vs crisp and dry finish. Marks & Spencer £12.

Robert Oatley Vineyards '6285' Chardonnay 2014; Margaret River, Western Australia (13% abv) - Tasty example of that little extra touch of style you can find in Western Oz, this showed a deft mix of ripe juicy fruit, creamy texture and subtle oak spice in the background. Marks & Spencer: again fairly dear at £13 (I bought it on offer though) but you should be reasonably impressed.

19 June 2016

Portugal: 'wines of the moment'

Quinta de la Rosa
Douro Valley

Quinta de Fafide Reserva 2013 (Tinta Roriz, Touriga Franca, Touriga Nacional, 14% abv) - Fairly serious and concentrated, towards 'modern style' red with ripe berries and spice, firm but nicely textured tannins with a touch of oak. Marks & Spencer £10.
Quevedo Late Bottled Vintage Port 2006 (Touriga Nacional 30%, Touriga Franca 25%, Tinta Roriz 15%, Tinto Cão 5%, Tinta Barroca 5%, other 20% from Quinta Vale d’Agodinho, Trovisca, Mós; bottled July 2011, 19.5% abv, 106 g/l residual sugar (RS)) - Tasty mix of chunky powerful vs savoury mature with sweet dried fruits vs light grip and oomph. £10 half-bottle, £13.50 75cl different vintage: Wine-Boutique, Naked Wines.
Quinta de la Rosa 2009 Vintage Port (mainly Touriga Nacional,Touriga Franca, Souzão and Tinta Roriz from their older dry-stone terraced vineyards; bottled June 2011; 20% abv, 91 g/l RS) - Still pretty dense and youthful, packed with sunny damson and black cherry fruit with savoury and smoky tobacco edges, rich and sweet but nicely toned by integrated tannin / kick of alcohol. Delicious now but will keep and improve for a good few years yet. JN Wine ships QR wines in Ireland (North & South). €15 half-bottle cellar door: more on that trip to Qta. de la Rosa HERE.

Lisboa

Vidigal 'Porta 6' red 2013 (Tinta Roriz, Castelão, Touriga Nacional; 13.5% abv) - Very nice mix of spicy dark berry fruit and a hint of oak, full bodied yet reasonably soft. Grange Wines Holywood £8.99.

Madeira

Blandy's 10 Year Old Verdelho 'medium-dry' (19% abv) - Expensive but full of complex aromas and flavours, seems fairly dry really with Brazil/hazelnut notes, rich yet tangy finish. Grange Wines Holywood £19.99 50cl.
Henriques & Henriques Full Rich Madeira (17% abv) - Good-value dark sweet style Madeira, full of Christmas pudding, raisin and baked walnut flavours. Pour some over simple vanilla ice cream. £7 Sainsbury's half-bottle.

09 June 2016

Spain: Sherry and Jamón Ibérico



This sherry-and-ham-pairing piece stems from a fascinating 'masterclass' held in Dublin by embassy export body Wines & Foods from Spain; the words, jamón and sherries will be just as tasty now as they were then. Presented by César Saldana, Director of the Vinos de Jerez governing association, and Mario Hiraldo, master-carver and general Jamón Ibérico expert, which is arguably Spain's finest cured ham delicacy. The scrummy photo above was downloaded from actualidadgastronomica.es where there's an article (in Spanish) about it; and this site is good too, in English: www.jamon.com/iberico.

To start with, here are a few comments about the four different, and equally delicious sherries (all made from 100% Palomino fino variety) that were picked to match the various cuts of mouth-meltingly succulent Ibérico...

La Guita Manzanilla Bodega Hijos de Rainera Pérez Martín (15% abv) - Quite fresh and light with pungent yeast and chamomile notes vs tangy roasted salted almond flavours, very dry and refreshing.
Tio Pepe Fino 'en rama' González Byass (15% abv) - An 'unfiltered' version of the popular fino brand, this was a tad darker than the above with more intense yeasty and nutty characters, yet more rounded and fuller too with long intense yeasty and crisp finish.
Antique Palo Cortado Fernando de Castilla (20% abv) - "Made in the oloroso way using fino wines," was how César described this more obscure sherry style. More oxidised nose with walnut and 'varnish', intense and toasty with lingering pecan nut flavours vs crisp dry and structured.
Don Zoilo Oloroso 12 Years Williams & Humbert (19% abv) - Less dark than the above actually ("They top the barrels right up," so less / slower oxidation), fierier nose with hazelnut/walnut and 'furniture polish'(!), promises to be sweet but it isn't, smooth and rounded mouth-feel vs tangy and concentrated. Lovely.

Without rehashing the entire sherry production process, I've summarised a few key points from what César explained relating to how these classic styles are made. Fino is fortified to 15% (alcohol by volume), as it was discovered to be the perfect strength for the flor (the natural yeast that grows on top of the wine giving it much of its character) to survive and continue developing. 17% abv (or higher) kills flor so this is only done for wines that are already darker in colour and then classified as oloroso. He continued: "Fino is only possible because it isn't static: the young wines give it nutrients to survive." These wines from the latest harvest are called sobretabla and are fed into the top level of criadera ageing barrels used in the solera maturation process, where the wines at different stages are periodically drawn off and 'down' one level. Solera comes from the word for 'floor', as the bottom row contains wines that are ready for bottling; a maximum of one-third of these are drawn off at a time. "The flor also consumes glycerol (naturally present in wine, it gives a rounder 'sweeter' feel) giving (fino and manzanilla) drier flavour," César added.

"Ibérico pigs only come from the south-west of Spain... Serrano (ham) is from a cross-breed of European pigs," Mario enlightened us proudly, since that's where he's from. He explained how free-range the rearing of these pigs is - for the best Jamón Ibérico de Bellota or acorn fed ham - by pointing to St. Stephen's Green across the road: "Two pigs would have that much space!" These magnificent animals can grow up to 180 kg in weight but with "very thin legs," feeding on (lots of) organic encina acorns - this variety of evergreen oak or holly oak acorn tastes a little like chestnuts and contains "74% oleic acid," (the predominant unsaturated fat in olive oil).
This is why "the fat (on the ham) is good quality, because of the healthy pigs and acorn acids," Mario continued. "There are less calories in 100 grams of Ibérico than a can of diet coke!" he joked; you can see his point though, for a man who says he eats some of this sensational ham "every day," he is indeed slim. "And Ibérico is never the same from one producer to another." The ham he carved for us that day had been maturing for three and a half years (only salt is added, no artificial preservatives like most other hams) - "It gets darker and more intense as you go up the leg," remembering it's hung upside-down. "The different shapes and marbling give different flavours," he added.
The first cut - called La Caña - is from the 'top', i.e. the lowest part of the upper leg where there's less salt (this slowly travels down, or rather up through the leg as it ages), which tasted soft and melt-in-the-mouth and seemed to match the Fino and Manzanilla well. The second - Babilla from the rump end - where the fat actually melts on your hand at room temperature - tasted more intense with chunkier texture. The Contramaza was delicious with the Oloroso, a sweeter meatier and 'fattier' cut but not fatty tasting; and the Maza or Jarrete is the thickest driest and meatiest piece. La Punta, the hip, is the most intensely flavoured and saltier with lovely mature cheese type aromas.
I tried to check the facts, spellings and which cut was which here, and hopefully got it right - any Ibérico experts reading this, feel free to correct me if not...

04 June 2016

English Wine Week and wine guide

From www.lymebaywinery.co.uk
To mark ‘English Wine Week’ 2016 (to 5th June), I’ve done the second comprehensive update this year to my English wine mini-guide to include a couple of new names on the English wine scene, small and so far quite hush-hush, and a couple of conspicuously missing big names: Exton Park Vineyard (Hampshire), Sixteen Ridges (Worcestershire & Herefordshire), Denbies Wine Estate (Surrey), Lyme Bay Winery (Devon). And, for the first time, broadened the reach to take in ‘still’ whites, rosés and reds (the focus had previously been just on 'traditional method' sparklers).
This latter wine 'offering' used to be dominated by several lesser-known and Germanic sounding grape varieties – and some of them can make good wine e.g. Bacchus, Ortega, Reichensteiner – but, while tasting on the English Wine Producers stand at the recent London Wine Trade fair (along with a lot of other people it has to be said), it became clear that there’s an increasing amount of good quality Chardonnay and Pinot Noir coming our way. Not surprising perhaps, when you read (see guide for details) that these two ‘Champagne’ varieties are now the most planted, especially across southern England for creating traditional method fizz. So it makes absolute sense to offer wine consumers recognisable non-sparkling styles too from very recognisable varieties, particularly as some of these are rather tasty in an English ‘Chablis style’ for Chardonnay and light aromatic ‘Burgundy style’, or not dissimilar to certain 'German style', Pinot Noir reds. The main problem is the usual UK wine production dilemma: relatively small quantities mean prices remain quite high.
I’ve updated some of the existing winery profiles in this guide as well, with new vintage releases and labels which have also been highlighted: e.g. Hattingley Valley (Hampshire), Hush Heath Estate Winery (Kent), Chapel Down Winery (Kent), Furleigh Estate (Dorset). Buy the full-works 20-page PDF magazine for £3.50 (about $5 US or €uro 4.50) using the PayPal button below to pay by card or using your own account.



Click HERE for more about card payments, your privacy and terms and conditions. I will email the PDF supplement to you once I receive payment confirmation from PayPal. Enjoy.
More info on English Wine Week: englishwineproducers.co.uk.

24 May 2016

Wine Education Service NI: new dates added in Belfast

Here's the fully updated programme of wine tastings, wine workshops and wine courses scheduled in Belfast from summer 2016 to spring 2017.

Friday 1 July 6.45-8.30pm Champagne & sparkling wine tasting £36
We'll sample and compare six top-notch bottles of fizz from around the wine cosmos, including well-known favourites such as Champagne, Cava, Prosecco, alongside a few eye-openers from the Southern Hemisphere like New Zealand, Australia or South Africa... Add some sparkle to your weekend!

Classic Grape Varieties five week course £150 (£155 by PayPal) - Thursdays 6th October, 13th October, 20th October, 27th October and 3rd November 2016 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!

Saturday 8 October 11am-2pm Italian wine tasting with lunch £50
Six to eight (depending on numbers) premium Italian wines tasted from around one of the world's most diverse and exciting wine producing nations, 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 red wines from around the world - France, Australia, Chile, South Africa... - 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?!

Essential Wine Tasting five week course £125 (£129 by PayPal) - Thursday evenings 6th April, 13th April, 20th April, 27th April and 4th May 2017 from 6.45-8.30pm.
Six wines tasted each session covering the world's great wine regions and winemaking styles as well as some lesser-known examples. We'll also talk about tasting and ageing wine, how the different types of wine are made and what goes on in the vineyard as we go along, as well as 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 on the Wine Education Service site:
Facebook.com/WineEducationServiceNI (sign in to Facebook).
Or you can pay by card or your own PayPal account by clicking on the PP button below (you don't need an account to do this though). You can change the quantity of tickets on the secure web form:



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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.