Richard Mark James' wine & travel blog
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11 March 2017

Syrah-Shiraz 'wines of the moment'

Just to add a little substance and data to the usual geeky tasting notes accompanying a few recommended wines made from Syrah-Shiraz, let's start by confirming that the two myths about where the name Shiraz or Syrah came from are indeed just that. This grape variety apparently didn't come from the ancient city of Shiraz in Persia, now Iran, or from Syracuse in Sicily. Vine DNA profiling in the late 1990s pinpointed its origin to the Northern Rhone Valley, being a slightly strange natural crossing of a now virtually disappeared red variety called Dureza and the white variety Mondeuse Blanche, quite widely planted in France's Savoy region. Dureza isn't the same as Durif which is also known as Petite Sirah, which isn't Syrah but related to it being a crossing with another variety called Peloursin... 'Confused, you will be...'
Back to the present day, there are probably now at least 150,000 hectares (375,000 acres) of Syrah-Shiraz planted in the wine world: nearly 50% of it in France, mostly in the Languedoc & Roussillon (spiritual home Rhone Valley North isn't high up on the list actually), followed by Australia (about 40,000 ha) then Argentina, South Africa and the USA, but not necessarily in that order; with plantings increasing in Chile, Italy and Spain too. Historically, the Aussies have always called the variety Shiraz (or 'Sherarz' in the vernacular), although some of them have pretensions to Syrah, like winemakers elsewhere aiming to make a more French or 'European' style Shiraz. Or is that Syrah...
I lifted some of this information from who lifted it from The Oxford Companion to Wine and other sources listed at the bottom of that webpage.


Gabriel Meffre Saint-Joseph Les Chaponnes 2012, Northern Rhone Valley - Delicate and mature (2012 was a lighter vintage) with savoury edges. €15/£12 Supervalu.
Domaine de la Baume Syrah La Jeunesse 2015, Pays d'Oc, Languedoc - Good-value example of the un-oaked styles coming from southern France: black cherry/berry, peppery, weighty and firm-ish but drinking nicely now. €10/£8 Supervalu.
Domaine Bellavista Roméo 2016, Côtes Catalanes, Roussillon - a new wine, lively dark and spicy Syrah made without added sulphites.
Chateau de l'Ou L'Ove 2015, Roussillon - Very tasty Syrah with nice 'chalky' tannins vs spicy black cherry. Quite dear though, if it is €20 - the online shop on their site is a bit of a mess (shows reds but says whites...).
Clot de l'Oum Le Clot 2014, Côtes du Roussillon Villages Caramany ('majority Syrah' block selection at altitude) - Also a fairly serious price but a serious wine too, this has lovely aromatic minty black cherry with fresh and herbal vs ripe and rich profile, structured vs lots of fruit. €18.90 cellar door.


Tenuta Rapitala Syrah 2015, Sicily - Another attractive Med style with understated spicy blackberry fruit vs firm dry-coated texture. £9.99 The Wine Company, Ormeau Road Belfast.


Los Molles Syrah Reserva 2014 Tabalí Winery, Limarí Valley - Very dark inky colour, concentrated black and blue fruits, quite dense firm and fresh but nice roundness too, savoury black olive flavours on the finish. Very good. £11 Marks & Spencer.


Boom Boom! Syrah 2014 Charles Smith Wines, Columbia Valley, Washington State (+ 3% Viognier) - A little more on the wilder side and well-handled with it, lovely smoky fruit, depth character and texture (cask-aged but no new oak). Aiming at Northern Rhone styling especially with that splash of Viognier (c.f. Côte Rotie). £15.99 The Vineyard, Ormeau Road Belfast.

South Africa

Bellingham 'The Bernard Series' Basket Press Syrah 2014, Stellenbosch - Bellingham winery seems to be good at this sort of wine (also has 2% Viognier, all barrel-fermented together in open-top casks): touches of oak and solid and dense to start, but reveals lush dark spicy fruit with savoury edges; pretty classy red. £12 Sainsbury's.


Frankland River Shiraz 2014 Ferngrove Vineyards, Western Australia (aged in French oak) - Closed up to start, again dense and textured, quite subtle actually but definitely with Shiraz-esque peppery fruit; needs a little air to open up and some BBQ-ed food maybe. £11 Marks & Spencer.
Jacob's Creek Sparkling Shiraz Dry Cuvée, South Eastern Australia - Fun frothy red, a bit strange at first if you've not tried it before but very nice in the end; off-dry finish I'd say. £10 Sainsbury's.
The Gum Vineyard Shiraz 2015 The Lane, Adelaide Hills, South Australia (aged in French oak) - Another more restrained style, spicy berry fruit with good depth and structured finish. Quite expensive although sometimes on offer: Marks & Spencer £15.

05 March 2017

France: Beaujolais Blanc

At a recent Soirée Beaujolais in Marseille (as you do), where there were mostly older vintages of red Cru Beaujolais wines (Fleurie, Moulin-à-Vent, Juliénas etc.) on tasting, it was white Beaujolais that stole the show for me (all made from Chardonnay). Some of the aged reds were interesting and tasty in a mature Burgundy kind of way, but there were too many over-oaked, over-extracted and charmless wines for my liking. Certain of the older white wines were outstanding in fact (e.g. 2010 vintage), showing how easily the best ones can age sublimely like good Chablis. Here are a few highlights...

Dominique Cornin
Domaine Dominique Cornin
Biodynamic estate based in Chaintré in the far south of Burgundy (pic. opposite).
Three vintages of their Beaujolais blanc: the 2010 was lovely and buttery, well balanced and classy; the 2008 (also a great vintage I believe) had similar buttery flavours, nuttier too and mature now; and their 2012 showing very nice 'Chablis styling' balancing creamy fruit and freshness.

Château de Lavernette
Lying to the west of Cornin in the little village of Leynes, this estate is owned by the De Boissieu family and is also certified organic and biodynamic.
Beaujolais blanc 1998 - very tasty white: buttery and oaty and still alive.
Beaujolais rouge 2001 (not sure which one, they make three reds from Gamay) - attractive mature Burgundy style.

Domaine Chasselay
Organic winery located in Châtillon d'Azergues, 25 km north-west of Lyon, run by Jean-Gilles, Christiane, Claire and Fabien Chasselay.
Beaujolais blanc 2012 - oakier style but tasty with nice oaty creamy notes vs fresh bite.

24 January 2017

Belfast wine tastings and courses: Wine Education Service NI dates 2017

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. STILL A FEW PLACES LEFT!

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? NEARLY SOLD OUT!

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!

Château de La Ligne owned by Belfast businessman Terry Cross

NEW! Saturday 13 May 2017 'International grape varieties' one-day workshop £90
Including lunch from the hotel's bar menu, course manual and at least a dozen high-quality classic varietals tasted, compared and talked about... We'll pick half-a-dozen or so pairs of wines made from the world's most popular grapes, each pair being the same variety but sourced from different wine regions: e.g. New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc vs Sancerre from France, Australian Shiraz vs Syrah from Chile or South Africa... Approx. 10.45 to 16.45 with lunch break.

NEW! Saturday 10 June 2017 'Irish themed' wine tasting £32.50
This Saturday morning wine tasting (10.45 to 12.30 approx. including tea/coffee) 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... More details to follow...

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.

03 January 2017

Colheita Port: Cálem, Kopke, Barros, Burmester

Douro Valley vineyards by RMJ
Sogevinus is a sizeable brand-owning Port company (they claim to be the number one seller in Portugal) with four famous labels in their portfolio (as tasting-noted below): Cálem, Kopke, Barros and Burmester. They also specialise in the Colheita style, a traditional Vintage Tawny Port (from a single named year and aged for many years in cask depending on house style and philosophy) made in limited quantities that you don't see around so much in export markets. These seven vintages, spanning all four brands and from the youngest 2003 (that's a white Port too) back to 1961, were showcased at an esoteric tasting at this year's London Wine Fair tutored by entertaining wine maverick Joe Wadsack and Sogevinus' Tania B. Oliveira (a while ago now admittedly, but a few months are irrelevant to these ports time-wise...).
Tania told us that these wines were bottled two weeks before the event: "They are usually bottled on demand so are still in cask... Look out for the bottling date on each bottle. Some other houses bottle when they think it's ready." Grape varieties include the usual blend of Touriga Nacional, Touriga Franca, Tinta Roriz, Tinto Cão, Tinta Barroca, Tinta Amarela and others; except the second white wine obviously - rarer still as a Colheita - made from 'traditional Douro varieties' (as much detail as I could find anywhere online), which are all sourced from the various Quintas owned by each company. See for more info.

Cálem 2000 Colheita - Still relatively red/brown/orange in colour, toffee/coffee and dried raspberry notes with caramelised pecan nut edges, sweet and fiery palate initially although still tastes young, complex flavours with lingering sweetness vs more balanced 'cut'; powerful and concentrated, surprisingly fruity lively and well-balanced though, will keep and improve for some years yet. About £32 in the UK - Amathus Drinks.

Kopke 2003 white Colheita - A hot vintage. Volatile 'furniture polish' tones, still surprisingly ester-y actually; more obvious wood texture layered with roast hazelnut and walnut notes, tangy and punchy with attractive mix of subtle vs full-on flavours / sweetness; very nice and different 'white' Port, could age it for longer. £45 approx. - Hayward Bros.

Barros 1996 Colheita - Not much less colour than the 2000, a tad lighter/browner perhaps. A touch more 'volatile' and toffee-ish on the nose although still showing attractive red fruits and petals; relatively soft and mature with sweet pecan nut flavours, less punchy and drinking nicely now. £23-£28 The Drink Shop, Strictly Wine, Wine Man, Wine Therapy, Wine Poole.

Burmester 1989 Colheita - Quite brown/orange with 'Madeira' edges, oxidised caramel and nut notes with a fiery palate rounded by white chocolate and cocoa flavours, fairly sweet despite the alcohol cut; tasty now, gets more complex on the lingering finish. USA: Wineworth Importers (WA).

Barros 1974 Colheita - The year of the Revolution, not declared as a 'Vintage' Port year. This does not look 15 years older than the above! Slightly redder even. Spicy alcohol and walnut on the nose with sweet raisin and aromatic ginger cake flavours, sweet palate with a kick but layered with complex oxidised characters, still very alive; very nice Port. £97-£98 Wine from Portugal, Portugal Vineyards. €91 Portuguese Wines Shop.

Cálem 1961 Colheita - A touch browner and lighter but not much. 'Volatile' with baked nutty and coffee tones, woody even; punchy sweet and concentrated mouth-feel, turning tangier and more complex with sweet dried berries, textured palate too with almost old malt whisky edges; long and tasty finish, still surprisingly 'young' really. £168-£190 Amathus Drinks, Portugal Vineyards.

Kopke 1966 Colheita - Deeper browner colour. Mahogany and dark roast coffee on the nose with caramel, concentrated with nutty coffee flavours, punchy still rounded by nice tangy vs sweet berry fruit, powerful finish adding freshness to the rich backdrop. Wow. £117.50-£130 Hennings Wine, Davy's. US: Wineworth Importers (WA).

26 December 2016

Spain: Cava and Rioja 'of the moment'

Arestel Cava Brut (11.5% abv) - Such a bargain considering this is surprisingly good for the money: there can only be about £1 in it to cover production and everybody's profit, once you take off UK VAT and excise duty! (Who would want to supply Lidl and try actually making money...) Nicely floral and almond-nutty with refreshing aftertaste. £4.49 Lidl.

Heretat El Padruell Cava Brut, Jaume Serra (Macabeu, Parellada, Xarel-lo; 11.5% abv) - A touch yeastier/toastier and 'oilier' yet similarly light and easy-going; nice start and end to Christmas day quaffing. £6 M&S (usually £8).

Marqués del Romeral Rioja Reserva 2010, Bodegas Age (Tempranillo, Graciano and Mazuelo; 13.5% abv) - Lovely 'traditional' style with deft mix of smoky vanilla oak (American and French, for two years) and sweet red berry fruit, turning savoury and more complex on its soft stylish finish. Great pre-Christmas offer price too at £8.50 (usually £13.50 apparently), although it's probably already gone back up to full price. Went well with Guinea fowl for Xmas lunch. Image copied from Marks & Spencer's site.

22 December 2016

France: Bordeaux and Burgundy 'of the moment'

Juicy Merlot @
Château Soleil Puisseguin-Saint-Emilion 2009 (80% Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon; 14.5% abv): lush, concentrated, powerful yet stylish with plump mouth-feel; alluring smoky vs ripe vs maturing gamey fruit, still quite solid though. Delicious now (roast duck/goose?) but you could leave it for a few more years. €15.99 special offer at Aldi Ireland.
Baron de Rothschild Haut-Médoc 2013 (Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot; 13.5% abv): decent example of Médoc style with fair depth of blackcurrant/plum fruit and subtle cedar-y oak, has a bit of grip but good fruit underneath. £14 Marks & Spencer.
Domaine Pierre de Préhy (Jean-Marc Brocard) Chablis 2012 (Chardonnay, 12.5% abv): mature and elegant with subtle layers of buttery nutty fruit and a hint of freshness still. Drinking well now. £15 Marks & Spencer.
Cave des Charmilles Moulin-à-Vent 2015 (Gamay, 13.5% abv): good value example of proper 'Beaujolais' but denser with lovely aromatic fruit and a touch of tannin too. £7.99 Lidl.
Domaine Louis Max Mercurey 2014 (Pinot Noir, 13% abv): from the Côte Chalonnaise area further south than the traditional Burgundy 'heartland'. Delicate perfumed Pinot style, soft texture and subtle long finish. Sometimes £15 on offer - usually £18 in Sainsbury's fine wine section.
Sauternes 'Taste the Difference' 2011 (Sémillon, Sauvignon blanc; 13.5% abv): the good thing about Sainsbury's premium own-label range is that they tell you who the producer is, Château Guiraud in this case, one of the top Sauternes estates. Plenty of that weird exotic vs spicy botrytis-rot thing going on, very sweet and lush dried apricot flavours with rich oily texture vs fresh acidity riding underneath. Have a small glass instead of pudding (you don't want to ask how much sugar there is in this wine, not added though), or pour a little over some plain ice cream. £11 half-bottle.

10 December 2016

Pinot Noir 'of the moment': Bubbly, Burgundy and Beyond

Cono Sur Sparkling Pinot Noir Rosé Brut (12% abv) - Bio Bio Valley, Chile. Stylish and elegant fizz with delicate sweet red berry fruit, enhanced by light yeast-lees tones and fairly crisp finish. £8 on offer at Tesco (usually £10) and other supermarkets.
Matua Pinot Noir 2014 (13% abv) - Marlborough, New Zealand. Reliably good Pinot combining fragrant 'sweet/sour' fruit and subtle oak. £9.98 Asda.
Palataia Pinot Noir Gerd Stepp 2014 (13.5% abv) - Pfalz, Germany. Stylish German red made by a former M&S buyer/winemaker, this oozes elegant Pinot charm with sweet/savoury berry fruits yet fairly weighty rounded mouth-feel and subtle oak. £11 M&S.
Domaine Sainte Rose Pinot Noir Blanc de Noir 2013, Méthode Traditionnelle sparkling (18 months yeast-lees ageing) - Languedoc, France. Attractive and pretty classy style fizz, showing structured and zesty mouth-feel layered with subtle yeast and toasted almond flavours. Like it. £15.99
Paul Mas Cuvée Secrète Pinot Noir, Méthode Traditionnelle NV – Languedoc, France. Red fizz: kinda like red Vinho Verde meets sparkling Shiraz! Different, goes well with cheese. Typical Mas experimenting as usual, and why not, it's the Languedoc after all.
Domaine Louis Max 2014 Mercurey (13% abv) - Côte Chalonnaise, Burgundy. Delicate perfumed Pinot style, soft texture and subtle long finish. £15 (usually £18) Sainsbury's.