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

27 December 2017

Cabernet & Merlot: France, Chile, Australia

Château Haute Combe 2015 Côtes de Bourg France (Merlot, Malbec, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc; 14% abv) - Stylish example of a ripe plump Merlot-dominant Bordeaux style from the successful 2015 vintage, fruity and fairly soft with herbal edges and full-bodied mouth-feel. Mega-bargain discounted to under a fiver in Lidl! From one of Vignobles Bourdillas' properties I think.

El Recurso Vineyard 2016 'Block 18' Cabernet Sauvignon, Maipo Chile (13.5% abv) - One of their posher Finest labels, this was made by Cono Sur and shows class and concentration with ripe blackcurrant fruit and firm yet rounded texture. Currently not available in Tesco UK stores (?), it was about £12-13 but this was on offer for under ten; €18 in Tesco Ireland.

Wynns 2013 'Black Label' Coonawarra Cabernet Sauvignon, South Australia - Minty cassis notes with savoury and red pepper edges, pretty solid palate still with attractive rounded tannins, concentrated showing enticing mix of ripe, herby and meaty flavours with a touch of smoky oak. Lovely. £22 Bibendum PLB Group.

Yalumba 2013 'The Signature' Barossa Cabernet Shiraz, South Australia (52% Barossa Cab and 48% Shiraz with some fruit from neighbouring Eden) - Dark and extracted colour, dusty smoky punchy nose, rich toasty grainy texture but nice and fleshy with it, sweet vs savoury fruit, extracted yet controlled tannins, powerful 'old-fashioned' Oz red in a 'mini-Grange' style. Yum. £35 Negociants.

Map from

17 December 2017

Shiraz: Australia (and France)

According to Wine Australia, their country boasts around 40,000 hectares of Shiraz - Syrah under vine which means 25% of overall plantings. And here's another fascinating titbit for you: apparently rotundone, a chemical compound found in black pepper among other things is the same one found in Shiraz giving the wines that renowned spicy peppery character, but about 20% of people aren't able to detect and taste it. So now you know. Over to the wines then: discover five very different and worthwhile Shirazes below coming from South Australia, Victoria and Canberra. And a bonus one from the south of France (much better value too).

Old vine Shiraz in Barossa by Wine Australia.
Rabbit & Spaghetti Shiraz 2015 Adam Barton / Atlas Wines, Clare Valley (14.5% abv) - One of a series of Shirazes (also Barossa, McLaren, Adelaide 'super zone') made for the innovative on-liner Naked Wines 'supporting independent winemakers blah blah', this is a delicious classic mixing ripe dark berry fruit with spice, submerged oak and supple tannin texture finishing with a controlled bit of oomph. £14/£18 UK.

Magpie Estate Tight Cluster Sparkling Shiraz 2012, Barossa - Woah! This one-off oddball sparkling red was made 'still' and oak aged before undergoing 13 months bottle fermentation and lees ageing (adding some fortified Shiraz wine as dosage!). Maturing savoury leather notes mingled with seductive dark chocolate flavours and fizzy of course. Only in Aus. £19.99 Boutinot Wines.

Mount Langi Ghiran Cliff Edge Grampians Shiraz 2014, Victoria - From vineyards planted at 240 metres altitude, these guys have been making consistently exciting Shiraz for years and years. Rich and spicy, concentrated and powerful with lovely tannins, nicely integrated oak combined with lush savoury flavours vs well-balanced grip and punch to finish. Very tasty. £18.49 Bibendum PLB.

Clonakilla Hilltops Shiraz 2015, Canberra - Planted at 650 metres on the Great Dividing Range, where I'm told they sometimes have frost problems! Quite oaky to start with minty peppery undertones, savoury meaty characters too with firm and smoky palate nuanced by wild dark berries and violets, grainy yet rounded tannins. Good although fairly expensive: £25 Liberty Wines.

Langmeil Orphan Bank Shiraz 2013, Barossa - The name comes from them shifting old vines from the original vineyard to a new site, which 'mostly worked' apparently. Wow, big Barossa style. Dark and peppery, firm and powerful yet rounded, floral dark berries and chocolate merge with nice meaty notes, concentrated commanding finish. Woof, a classic with lots going on despite its full-on-ness. £44 Robb Brothers.

Wild-card 'Shiraz' from elsewhere:
Castelmaure Corbières 2015, Languedoc. Delicious example, made by the leading, wild middle-of-nowhere co-op winery Cave d'Embres et Castelmaure in conjunction with family mega-group Jeanjean, of the kind of red the French should be getting more of on our shelves. Actually a Syrah, Grenache and Carignan blend (with 14% abv), this deftly mixes up sunny spicy and herby fruit with fairly soft tannins, concentration and nice 'purity' too. £9 Tesco.

Some previous words (this year) on Syrah, Shiraz and Australia:

06 December 2017

Pinot Noir: Australia, California, France, Hungary

Vineyard in Tasmania by Wine Australia

Scott Peterson ROX Pinot Noir 2015 Sonoma Coast - Silky smooth Pinot with plenty of aromatic 'sweet and savoury' fruit, touches of vanilla oak but not overdone, nice supple tannins and 'lightness' despite its big 14.5% abv weight. £19.99/£14.99 Naked Wines $29.99/$17.99.

Apparently Pinot Noir was among the very first varieties to be planted in Australia, but it was only really in the 1990s onwards that the variety gained momentum with the arrival of new clones and the planting of cooler sites. These two would be pretty typical of this.
Crittenden 'Peninsula' Pinot Noir 2016 Mornington Peninsula, Victoria - Lovely perfumed Pinot nose and palate, elegant but with intense 'sweet/savoury' fruit, quite powerful yet soft and silky with fresh acidity; very nice delicate pure style, fair class. £21.25 Fields, Morris, Verdin.
Stargazer Pinot Noir 2016 Tasmania - Planted in 2002 with a Swiss clone of Pinot (as you do). Light colour, closed up at first with herbal hints, turning to sweeter cherry fruit, fresh acidity and a touch of weightier texture on the palate, floral and tight finish; aromas develop with aeration. Good potential although dear @ £35, Enotria & Coe.

'Wild card' red Burgundy: you wouldn't expect anything too exciting from Burgundy for £5.99, but this Lidl special is easy-drinking and not bad at all:
Coteaux Bourguignons Pinot Noir 2015 (12.5% abv) - Fairly light with distinct cherry Pinot aromas and soft fruity palate.

More wild cards, this time some Pinot rosés discovered and enjoyed on holiday last summer in Hungary:
Törley Pinot Noir Rosé Száraz (= dry) 2016 Etyek-Budai (12.5% abv) - Tasty juicy and crisp with aromatic red fruits and creamier finish. 699 HUF = about £2 or $2.65 (taxes on wine must be low in Hungary).
Takler Pinot Noir Rozé 2016 Szekszárdi region (12.5% abv) - richer coloured and textured rosé with plenty of fruit. 360 HUF per 100ml glass in the Pár Pendégló Panzió restaurant in Sárospatak.
Siller Pinot Noir Rosé Száraz 2015 (12.5% abv) - similar style to above, very nice.

05 December 2017

Chardonnay: France, Australia, South Africa

Continuing the varietal 'wines of the moment' theme (last time it was Riesling), Chardonnay is having a minor resurrection or holding its own at least - once so fashionable then eclipsed by Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Grigio - which is a good thing as it's much more versatile style-wise than either of those two grape varieties (peachy, citrus, tropical, oaky, oatmeal, buttery, mineral, something for everyone...). According to Wine Australia: "Chardonnay is Australia's number one selling variety in the UK off-premise market," although admittedly "the best growth" is for "other whites," such as PG and SB... Here are three pairs of recommended Chardys from three countries in different styles and stores.


Macon-Villages 2016 Gonter Nivelon (12.5% abv) - One of their posher Christmas special bin selection, this is a lovely example mixing ripe juicy fruit with yeasty edges and freshness too. £7.99 Lidl UK.
La Manufacture Chablis 2015 Benjamin Laroche (12.5% abv) - Tasty classic style Chabbers with nice pure fruit and lightly creamy vs crisp finish. Naked Wines £19.99 UK / $29.99 US (without the Angels' discount).

South Africa

Bellingham Chardonnay 2015 Stellenbosch (13.5% abv) - Well-made barrel-fermented Chardy but not overtly oaky, with buttery hazelnut flavours, attractive palate weight and balanced finish. £11/£9 on offer Tesco.
Mount Rozier Peacock Chardonnay 2016 Western Cape (13.5% abv) - Very good-value un-oaked style with tropical fruit and refreshing bite £7 Sainsbury's.


Voyager Estate Chardonnay 2013 Margaret River, WA - Buttery and forward with light yeast-lees and toast, quite rich yet elegant, drinking well now. £21.99 Justerini & Brooks.
Luke Lambert Chardonnay 2016 Yarra Valley, Victoria - Wilder-edged and cider-y 'natural' style nose with pretty intense, crisp lees-y mouth-feel vs light buttery flavours. Different. £24 Indigo Wines.

Next up: Pinot Noir and Shiraz...

13 October 2017

Riesling: Australia, Chile, Germany, California

Gary Mills from
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, 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).

02 October 2017

Wine Education Service Belfast wine tasting courses 2017-2018

Updated December 2017.

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 8 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
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):
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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.