Richard Mark James' wine & travel blog
Buy my French wine touring & tasting (click there) e-book on Amazon for £4.95/$6.99/€6.19/¥760/Ca$8.96/Au$9.05 (or as a PDF magazine) including Cahors, Champagne, Chablis, Languedoc & St-Chinian and Alsace. Other special supplements and guides (£2.50-£3): Slovenia & Croatia, Cava guide, English Sparkling Wine, Portugal, Argentina (follow links for more info and payment). Pay by card with PayPal: click here for more about 'terms & conditions', card payments and your privacy.

24 April 2016

Spain: 'wines of the moment'

Catalonia
Vintage Cava 2011 Brut Nature Jaume Serra (Xarel.lo, Parellada, Macabeu, Chardonnay, 11.5% abv) - Attractive drink-now and dry version ('nature' here means zero added dosage) of the popular favourite, with oily roundness and a touch of style. Tesco 'finest' £7.
Marqués del Norte Vintage Cava Brut 2013 (11.5% abv) - Asda has been knocking out this own-label fizz at a ludicrous bargain £4! Also made by the Jaume Serra winery, less developed and fresher than above although more off-dry.
Frares Priorat 2014 (Garnacha, Carinena, 15% abv) - Tasty example of this often very expensive Catalan red from the hills behind Tarragona, full-on spicy liquorice with oomph and plenty of lush fruit. Marks & Spencer £13

Montilla – Moriles
Fresquito PX 2014 Perez Barquero (Pedro Ximenez, 14% abv) - Deliciously different dry white with the lively yeasty almond edges reminiscent of Fino Sherry, but a touch 'lighter' in style (despite that quite high alcohol). Marks & Spencer £9, on offer at £42 for 6 bottles online (late April).

Rioja
Marqués de Valido Reserva 2010 Bodegas Muriel (Tempranillo, 13% abv) - Always reliable Co-Op own-brand Rioja, not the greatest Reserva style around but has plenty of maturing charm and smoky smoothness for the price. £8.99
Perez Burton Tempranillo 2013 Telmo Rodriguez (14%) - A touch classier and more concentrated version from this well-known consultant winemaker. M & S £11.50.

Yecla - Murcia
Tapa Roja old vines Monastrell 2014 Bodegas del Mediterraneo (14.5% abv) - Same delicious unoaked style as the previous vintage featured on this blog a year ago (click there), layered with earthy dark fruit and black olive flavours. M & S £9/£7 on offer (late April).

Jerez/Sanlúcar de Barrameda - Andalusia
12 Year Old Oloroso Sherry Emilio Lustau (Palomino Fino, 20% abv) - Labelled as 'medium dry', but I think its inherent characteristic richness makes it taste less dry than it actually probably is. Towards stunning aged sherry for a bargain price, rich and baked walnut-y with complex lingering flavours. Sainsbury's 'taste the difference' £8 50cl.
La Gitana Manzanilla Bodegas Hidalgo (Palomino Fino, 15% abv) - Classic style dry and lively sherry with roasted salted almond notes and tangy finish. 50cl £8 Sainsbury's/widely available.

14 April 2016

Languedoc: Domaines Paul Mas, organic frog

You can't knock Domaines Paul Mas' boss Jean-Claude Mas for coming up with something new every year (at least) to taste and write about. His Arrogant Frog range appears to be doing well in export markets with a sense of humour - and the wines are mostly good too - which has now been boosted by a couple of organic labels too. Mas says this is part of an overall strategy, perhaps since buying the 30-hectare Mas des Tannes organic vineyard in Montagnac in the central Languedoc, across the road from their head office, winery and showcase restaurant/wine shop, which "has always been managed without any synthetic chemical products," the press blurb claims. Inspired by the 2015 vintage and "the outstanding quality of the fruit we picked... This year, we have been experimenting with low SO2 fermentation techniques and the results are convincing: the cuvées without sulphur taste far better than those to which sulphur has been used throughout the fermentation and they continue to develop in intensity,” Jean-Claude exuded.
So, I recently sampled five Mas wines positioned in this increasingly fashionable camp - whether they're worth the extra money for being organic or without added sulphites is another argument I suppose, one which will be decided by his regular wine punters. But this progressive winery is obviously trying to 'do the right thing' in terms of the environment and health. These were my favourites then...

Arrogant Frog Organic Chardonnay 2014 - 100% Chardonnay sourced from Limoux in the western Languedoc (vineyards farmed organically for 10 years), 20% of it fermented and aged for 3 months in American oak barrels, 13.5% abv. Tasty Chardy style, well made with subtle oak and yeast-lees notes complementing juicy vs sunny peachy fruit. £9.75 Vintage Roots.
Arrogant Frog Organic Ribet Rouge 'Rural' 2014 - 55% Cabernet Sauvignon / 45% Merlot, 25% of the blend aged for 3 months in new oak, 13.5% abv. Nice enough soft red, a bit too easy for the money though just because it's organic. £9.75 Vintage Roots.
Cuvée Secrète 2014 Merlot / Cabernet Franc - organic with no added sulphites, no oak, 14% abv. Quite serious red, chunky and concentrated with savoury/meaty edges, firm and spicy palate with cooked damson vs soy sauce flavours. Good stuff. £9.75 Vintage Roots.
Mas des Tannes Réserve Rouge 2014 - organic 55% Cabernet Sauvignon / 35% Grenache / 10% Mourvèdre, 6 months in French and American oak, 14% abv. Probably the best of these reds, richer spice and sweet berry fruit combo, structured yet rounded mouth-feel with good depth. Should improve over the next year or so. £12.95 Soho Wine Supply.

More about Jean-Claude Mas and his wines on this blog:

13 April 2016

New wine tasting events in Belfast

First of all, a quick reminder of the next tasting coming up in May:
Looney Tunes' Tasmanian Devil
downloaded from You Tube.

Thursday 19 May 6.45-8.30pm
'Island wines' tasting £28.95
This original tutored tasting will hop around from one island to another across the world taking in six to eight wines (depending on numbers), travelling from the Mediterranean (Corsica, Sardinia, Sicily, Greece...) to where the Indian Ocean meets the South Pacific (Tasmania, New Zealand...).

And here's the new programme of events so far for the summer, autumn and winter 2016-2017:

Friday 1 July 6.45-8.30pm - 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, South Africa or Chile...

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.

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 classic styles of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot - more details to follow.

Saturday 4 February 2017 10.45am to 4.30pm - New World wines one-day workshop £90 Including lunch, course manual and at least a dozen wines tasted from across the Southern Hemisphere and North America. More details to follow.

The venue for these wine 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 using 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:




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 site 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 enjoyment out of tasting wine; we source high quality representative wine samples from a variety of different retailers.

03 April 2016

2016 Wine Blog Awards


Submissions now being taken for 2016 awards

Feel free to nominate this blog WineWriting.com & French Mediterranean Wine in as many categories as you see fit before 15 April. Merci.
Follow this link: wineblogawards.org
Or via this post on my Google+ page: plus.google.com.

22 March 2016

English wine guide updated

The latest vintages - the delicious exuberant 2010 and finely 'structured' 2011 - of 'Champagne style' (they won't like me saying that, I can hear expensive-suited lawyers in Reims dictating a letter as I write...) sparkling wines from Henners Vineyard and Ridgeview Winery, both in East Sussex, have been added to my 15-page English Sparkling Wine PDF supplement, as well as some news on the 2015 harvest, burgeoning vineyard plantings and fizz production figures and other useful tit-bits of info. Buy it for £3 (about 4.25 US dollars or €uro 3.80) using the PayPal button below to pay by card or using your own account.

Henners 2010 Reserve and happy tasters in the background.




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.

12 March 2016

India - Grover Zampa

You may be tempted to think where don't they grow vines nowadays, but India appears to be shaping up into more than a pleasant surprise on the wine front. Kanwal Grover planted this company's first vineyard in 1992 with the help of certain prominent French wine consultants. Son Kapil expanded their plantings to a substantial 400 acre estate, or 162 hectares; and latest generation daughter Karishma studied oenology and viticulture at the famous University of California Davis.
Nashik in the Maharashtra region, lying north-east and a little inland of Mumbai, is considered the 'wine capital of India' and is where Grover's winery is based; they also own vineyards in another important production area in Karnataka, to the north-east of Bangalore in the Nandi Hills lurking in India's southern half, where grapes are grown at altitude as you probably guessed.
Grover Zampa's UK importer is Character Wines, where I copied the map from. More info on groverzampa.in, or check out this new book - 'the wines of India' by Peter Csizmadia-Honigh.

Grover Zampa Art Collection 2014 Sauvignon blanc – grassy green pepper notes then lively citrus fruits and zesty crisp finish. Good SB style. £10.99
Grover Zampa Art Collection 2014 Viognier – lightly exotic apricot fruit with zesty 'chalky' edges and fairly crisp mouth-feel, attractive easy-going style. £10.99
Grover Zampa VA 2013 Reserve Viognier (barrel-fermented) – richer texture and bigger mouthful, less Viognier character though and rather expensive. £15.99
Grover Zampa Art Collection 2014 Shiraz rosé – juicy 'gummy' palate with fruity ripe red berries, lively and crisp finish; nice dry rosé. £10.99
Grover Zampa Art Collection 2013 Cabernet/Shiraz – very ripe blackberry spice and dark chocolate on the nose (no oak though apparently), fairly punchy mouth-feel yet soft and smoky too with nice 'sweet/savoury' fruit vs light bitter twist on the finish. £10.99
Grover Zampa 2012 La Reserve (Cabernet Sauvignon) – quite spicy and punchy actually with cassis undertones, firmer palate with herby juicy blackcurrant fruit; could go well with lamb curry if not too spicy. £12.99
Grover Zampa VA 2013 Syrah/Cabernet Sauvignon/Viognier (oak aged) – spicy too and more structured although less firm with more 'substance', tight long and spicy finish. Could be good when it opens up a bit. £15.99 though.

03 March 2016

Lebanon: Heritage and Ksara


As a timely update to my substantial Lebanese wine and food page HERE, the latest vintages from the two widely exported wineries Château Heritage and Château Ksara are reviewed below. These also both feature in more detail in that archive material: from a trip to Lebanon in 2005 and tasted on other occasions since in 2008 and 2011.

Château Heritage
Run by the latest generation of the Touma family, who set up the present-day winery operation in 1997 - their history of owning vineyards mostly for distilling Arak goes back to the late 19th century though - in Kab-Elias in the high-altitude Bekaa Valley (1000 metres above sea level). They seem to specialise in holding back their top red wines for late release to mature them longer in bottle; and I didn't try their quirky fortified walnut liqueur on this occasion, but follow the Lebanon page link above (and scroll down) if that raises your curiosity (curious being the right word). UK importer = Lebanese Fine Foods & Wines. www.chateauheritage.com

Château Heritage 2008 'Château' (60% Syrah, 40% Cabernet Sauvignon; 12 months in French oak) - Touches of cedary coconut on the nose mingle with maturing notes and spicy black cherry fruit, quite punchy with a little grip still and attractive sweet/savoury fruit on the finish. Good. £11
Château Heritage 2008 'Family Reserve' (50% Syrah, 50% Cabernet Sauvignon; 12 months in American oak) - More coconut oak on the nose, more concentrated too with grippier mouth-feel; a tad extracted and oaky perhaps but has good depth vs structure. £12
Château Heritage 2012 'Plaisir du Vin' (50% Cabernet + Cinsault/Syrah; 6 months in French oak) - Aromatic cassis and liquorice aromas with a bit of vanilla oak adding sweetness and roundness, fairly soft and drinking nicely now. £6

Château Ksara
You'll see from my previous ramblings and musings about Ksara (follow the HERE link as mentioned above to my Lebanon archive page) that I've been disappointed with their wines in the past, but this time I seem to have been more impressed and liked a few of them in particular when tasting the whole range again. They claim to be "the country's oldest winery" - Jesuits bought the property (pic. top taken from their site) in the mid 19th century and planted more vineyards etc. - and it's been owned by a consortium backed by the Sara family since 1973 overseen by long-standing chairman Zafer Chaoui. www.chateauksara.com

2013 Chardonnay - Nutty and oaky touches enhanced by sweet citrus fruit and some freshness still too, drinking now. Nice Chardy but expensive at nearly £14 (unless that's a restaurant list price?).
2014 Gris de Gris rosé - Zingy and lively redcurrant and berry fruit, gets creamier on the palate vs zesty finish. Attractive mouthful and style. £9
2013 Le Prieuré red (Carignan, Cab Sauv, Mourvedre) - Ripe and 'resin-y' vs spicy / herby nose, firm fresh and structured mouth-feel vs a lusher side with perfumed fruit. Nice red. £8.15
2013 Reserve du Couvent red (Cab Sauv, Syrah, Cabernet Franc) - Leafy / cedary with cassis and black cherry, pretty firm palate vs powerful and concentrated. A tad 'extracted' but has good depth of fruit. £9
2012 Clos St Alphonse red (Syrah, Cab Sauv, Cab Franc) - Aromatic cassis and dark cherry with maturing savoury edges, 'crunchier' fruit and quite firm on the palate at first but finishing with a lusher softer texture, quite powerful and long too. Marks & Spencer does a good own-label version of this for £10.
2012 Cuvée IIIeme Millenaire (Cab Franc, Petit Verdot, Syrah) - Cedar and red pepper hints vs lush dark olive and cherry, better tannins and concentrated with enticing sweet/savoury fruit finish. Good. £24
2010 Le Souverain (50-50 Cab Franc-Arinarnoa (Petit Verdot/Merlot crossing apparently)) - Cedar and red pepper notes again, pretty dense extracted and firm mouth-feel with smoky oak but it's very concentrated; still surprisingly young although it is quite firm and oaky. £37