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28 August 2015

Spain: Monastrell - Alicante, Castilla La Mancha

Here's a swift trio of Spanish reds celebrating the moody Monastrell variety, aka Mourvedre or Mataro, which is grown substantially along and inland from Spain's Mediterranean coast, especially further south. The first one comes from near Albacete just inside the Castilla-La Mancha region on the border with Murcia, the grape's spiritual home perhaps, directly inland from Alicante where the other two are from.

Pago de Montal 2010 Monastrell - Smoky liquorice and peppery wild bramble fruits, firm solid and powerful with nice lingering dark vs savoury fruit. €10.99 ? Mitchell & Son, Dublin; £9.75 Martinez Wines, England.
Bodega Vinessens Sein 2011 Monastrell-Syrah - Enticing dark berry / cherry and black olive, concentrated with lightly firm tannins still, attractive savoury vs dark fruit finish. Good. €17.99 Wines on the Green/Celtic Whiskey Shop, Dublin.
Bodegas ArtadLaderas el Sequé 2012 Monastrell - Quite juicy fruity for Monastrell, more 'serious' on the palate with savoury black olive vs dark fruit and a touch of grip. Nice Med red. c. €15/£10 ? James Nicholson, Northern Ireland.

27 August 2015

Spain, Catalonia: Priorat, Montsant, Terra Alta, Penedès, Empordà

Hot on the heels of the last post about my updated Cava guide (click there), here are fifteen more tasty Catalan recommendations sourced from fashionable (and dear) Priorat and the (better-value) neighbouring wine areas of Montsant and Terra Alta (inland and west of Tarragona), Penedès (west/north-west of Barcelona) and the perhaps lesser-known (name- and wine-wise at least as it's very touristy) Empordà region (Catalunya's north-eastern corner bordering France Med-side). Some of the prices indicated below were taken from Wine Searcher.

Clos Mogador 2010 (Garnacha, Carinena, Cabernet, Syrah) - a "famous" vineyard I believe, owned by René Barbier. Dense rich red, fair amount of coconut oak but it's intense concentrated and extracted, firm and fresh mouth-feel layered with dark cherry/berry fruit and savoury flavours, powerful and still young on the finish. Expensive naturally: about €70 in Ireland, at least £50 in the UK and $75-$100 in USA.
Álvaro Palacios 2012 Camins del Priorat (Garnacha, Carinena) - Delicious wild berry and herb fruit, pure and tasty, concentrated too with nice grip and lively finish. €27, £17.50, $21-$23
Cartoixa de Montsalvat 2009 Mont Classic (Garnacha, Carinena) - Baked maturing liquorice and tobacco aromas, extracted and concentrated, big vs softening, power and length; quite a mouthful! €22, $32-$34
Bernard Magrez 2010 Herencia del Padri (Carinena, Garnacha, Merlot, Cabernet, Syrah) - Light coconut tones and fairly perfumed ripe berry and cassis, beginning to mature turning savoury and tobacco, powerful vs soft tannins, quite elegant actually. €21.25, $20
Bernard Magrez 2005 Alegría (Garnacha, Carinena, Merlot, Cabernet) - Fairly oaky still actually vs smoky maturing dark fruit, quite concentrated, some grip still although nice texture and balance, coconut hints merge with lush spicy fruit. €49.50

Cellers Baronia del Montsant 2010 Cims del Montsant (Garnacha, Carinena) - maturing smoky tobacco nose, sweet liquorice fruit vs a touch of grip, attractive savoury finish, drinking well now. €16.99, $15-$20

Ramón Roqueta 2012 Vinya Nostra Nit de Tardor (Garnacha, Samsó) - Dark berries with liquorice and spice, nice fruity mouthful, fairly soft yet quite concentrated with lingering dark fruit and wild herb flavours. €17
Ramón Roqueta 2013 Vinya Nostra Xarel.lo (100% Xarel.lo) - Aromatic green fruit with yeast-lees edges, crisp and zesty mouth-feel vs fuller oilier side, fair weight and flavour in the end. Nice white. €17

Torres 2013 Vina Esmeralda (Moscatel, Gewurztraminer) - Aromatic Muscat nose with a touch of lychee, light and off-dry with zesty finish. €13.99, £7.50-£8.50
Torres 2011 Coronas Crianza (Tempranillo, Cabernet) - Vibrant berry fruit and subtle oak notes, tasty fruity vs savoury palate, lovely balance and style. £8-£9, €13.99
Torres 2010 Gran Sangre de Toro (Garnacha, Carinena, Syrah) - Smoky with a touch of oak and nice lively spicy ripe black fruits, quite concentrated with smooth tannins plus an elegant touch despite the Grenache oomph. €13.99, £8-£9.50
Torres 2009 Gran Coronas (Tempranillo, Cabernet) - Concentrated and stylish, savoury tobacco notes vs chunky and dark-fruity, drinking well now but will last a bit longer, very tasty red. €19.99, £11.50-£12.50

Terra Alta
Lafou Celler 2012 Els Amelers (Garnacha blanca) - Juicy and honeyed, zesty and lees-y vs quite rich, pretty intense with steely vs weighty finish. Very good white. €22, $20
Lafou Celler 2012 El Sender (Garnacha, Syrah, Morenillo) - Perfumed wild herb/violet aromas, lovely blackberry/cherry, soft tannins, lush vs powerful. Delicious red. €22, $18-$20

Clos d'Agon 2010 Amic (Garnacha) - Maturing wild dark fruit nose, big mouthful with chunky vs maturing finish, quite good although not exactly a bargain. €23.75, £15.95

25 August 2015

Spain: Cava guide updated

I've updated and tidied up my now 15-page mini-guide to "Creative Catalan Bubbly" country featuring new 'entries' from these wineries, big and small: Vallformosa, Chozas Carrascal, Segura Viudas, Freixenet, Marqués de Monistrol, Campo Viejo, Jaume Serra, Castellblanch, Marqués de la Concordia/The Haciendas Company, Castillo Perelada and Juvé y Camps. Also includes some latest thoughts and figures on Cava export markets and updated profiles on a couple of stand-out cellars.
This Cava mini-guide isn't viewable on, so you can buy the full PDF report for just £3 (less than $5 or c. €4) emailed to you once I get confirmation of payment. Hit the PayPal button below to pay by card or with your own PP account, although you don't need one to do so! More about card payments and general T&C by clicking HERE.

19 August 2015

Austria: Jurtschitsch, Grüner Veltliner & Riesling 'Erste Lage'

In the racy footsteps of my recent post below on 2013 Grosses Gewächs Rieslings (links to it) from some of Germany's leading producers, Austria has introduced a similar vineyard ranking called Erste Lage (meaning something like Premier Cru) for the country's best-rated Riesling and Grüner Veltliner (mostly) wines.

The Jurtschitsch family wine estate, now run by Alwin and Stefanie (above), is located in the Kamptal region (found not far to the northwest of Vienna) and is made up of nearly 70 hectares (173 acres) of vines in several different undulating sites around the pretty town of Langenlois (there are a few top winery names based here so obviously well-situated for making very good white wines). The vineyards have been managed organically since 2006.
They appear to have good distribution around the world including ABS Wine Agencies in the UK (approx £ prices indicated), Quintessential Wines in Dublin (€ prices) and David Bowler Wine in NY USA - see for more info about where you can find them (where the photo was downloaded from).

2012 Grüner Veltliner Loiserberg Erste Lage (13% abv) - Yeast-lees and maturing aromas with spicy floral edges, getting fuller and mellowing on the palate yet still pretty intense and fresh, subtle concentration. Less buzz than the 2013s though. £20 / €26.
2013 Grüner Veltliner Dechant 'Alte Reben' Erste Lage (13.5% abv) - Old vines. 'Gummy' zesty and 'chalky', steely vs oily mouth-feel showing good 'extract' and some roundness vs lively acidity and long finish. £23
2013 Grüner Veltliner Lamm Erste Lage (13.5% abv) - Pretty intense acidity and flavours, long linear palate showing fair weight too vs that crisp bite. Needs more time. £35
2013 Grüner Veltliner Schenkenbichel Erste Lage (13.5% abv) - More honeyed and richer with towards exotic fruit characters, a hint of sweetness adds roundness and weight vs steely acidity underneath and spicy tones as well. £35
2013 Riesling Loiserberg Erste Lage (13.5% abv) - Zippy lemon and lime aromas/flavours and 'chalky' texture, a light touch of sweetness and quite full-bodied on the final palate with intense and refreshing / 'mineral' and oily mix, tight long finish yet drinking fairly well now. £21 / €26
2013 Riesling Zöbinger Heiligenstein Erste Lage (13% abv) - Racy and classy Riesling with zippy 'chalky' mouth-feel vs aromatic lime fruit, tight and steely finish, more elegant and delicate. £21

18 August 2015

Germany: Grosses Gewächs Riesling 2013

This dozen-strong Riesling-tastic selection (and one Pinot Noir) comes from a slightly esoteric tasting of some intense 2013 vintage wines, even if my notes did get over-eagerly filed away for a little ageing before seeing the light of day again...
Recapping on 2013 conditions in Germany then, budding was “very late” thanks to a cool spring followed by challenging weather during flowering, then a “mild summer” finally set in although picking was also delayed due to tiresome rain in September. Apparently the net result was “fantastic quality but low yields,” according to UK importer ABS Wine Agencies (where the bottle shot comes from). This probably partly explains the wines' lofty prices, plus the fact that these estates are very sought-after with a serious following in Germany, where they can't get enough of them let alone Riesling-hungry export markets.
I wouldn't normally bother detailing the full-monty techno-geek details for each of the wines, but residual sugar (RS) and total acidity (TA) content in particular is quite important to understanding the way the Grosses Gewächs (GG – something like the French Grand Cru) classification works. Besides the more obvious and fundamental ground rules, i.e. drawing up and ranking of these top vineyards was a long process based on several different factors, including agreement among the wine authorities and leading winegrowers (members of the VDP association) on which sites have consistently nurtured Germany's very best Rieslings for many many years. And apart from their origins in these small cherished and often very sheer vineyard plots, GG wines are all dry and have to comply with the 'rules' for this trocken style: the sugar level must not exceed the total acidity +2 g/l RS up to maximum 9 g/l. For instance, the first Riesling below made by Fürst with 5.8 RS wouldn't be considered particularly dry under 'normal' circumstances, but, believe me, with an acidity level of 8.5, it tastes pretty damn dry. And talking of Fürst, in the Franken / Franconia region in southern Germany (the north-western part of Bavaria), Pinot Noir has also been incorporated into the GG ranking there – see first producer below for comments.
All wines here are Grosses Gewächs and 2013 vintage unless stated otherwise. Prices are approx UK retail.

Fürst – Bürgstadt, Franken
Riesling Centgrafenberg (12.5% abv, 5.8 g/l residual sugar, 8.5 g/l total acidity) – Floral vs lime fruit and already quite 'petrolly', has the slightest hint of sweetness vs mega steely acidity, intense and racy vs delicate 'chalky' texture, lots of lovely Riesling fruit flavour. £37
Pinot Noir Centgrafenberg 2012 (13.5%, 0.1 RS, 5.1 TA) – Nice perfumed 'sweet/savoury' Pinot nose, a little spicy oak on the palate with bitter chocolate twist vs silkier texture and lingering developing smoky flavours. £59
They make another couple of even dearer GG Pinots, which I found too oak-heavy.

Gunderloch – Nackenheim, Rheinhessen
Nackenheim Riesling Pettenthal (12.5%, 6 RS, 7 TA) – Yeast-lees notes, mouthwatering and delicate Riesling with linear steely acidity vs enticing lingering and intricate flavours. Barely off-dry. £37
Nackenheim Riesling Rothenberg (13%, 3.6 RS, 6.8 TA) – Lees-y start leading on to quite rich vs very steely palate, juicy aromatic lime fruit vs yeasty tones, long and fine finish; classy Riesling. £45

Dönnhoff – Oberhausen, Nahe
Schlossböckelheimer Felsenberg Felsentürmchen Riesling (13.5%, 4.8 RS, 7.4 TA) – More fragrant floral and lime nose, pretty intense and concentrated, juicy steely and fresh length with lees-y aromatic notes and delicious Riesling flavours. £40
Norheimer Dellchen Riesling (13.5%, 6.5 RS, 8 TA) – Similar perhaps although more ripe lime and exotic fruit, a tad richer and sweeter obviously vs super steely and intense, a little weight as well vs 'chalky' and 'mineral' finish. Wow. £40
Niederhauser Hermannshöhle Riesling (13.5%, 6.5 RS, 8.2 TA) – Oilier with more dried fruit tones almost, tastes 'older' and more developed vs that racy acid backdrop, again has lots of lovely Riesling character and intense long finish. £44

Josef Leitz – Rüdesheim, Rheingau
Rüdesheimer Berg Rottland Riesling – Very different aromas, floral and 'gummy', very intense acidity vs lots of extract, turning more citrus on the final palate vs lightly oily vs super crisp and mouthwatering finish. £33
Rüdesheimer Berg Roseneck Riesling – Richer oilier and limier, rounded vs intense fresh and 'mineral' mouth-feel, nice ripe lime fruit vs a 'fatter' side vs steely bite, showing better balance at this stage though. Fairly wow. £35

Dr. Loosen – Bernkastel, Mosel
Wehlener Sonnenuhr Riesling (12.5% abv) – Delicate and 'mineral' vs floral and oily, light lime notes with 'chalky' extract, delicious Riesling character with zip and elegant length; a little more forward than some of the others. £25
Bernkasteler Lay Riesling – More restrained and yeast-lees-y to start, 'chalky' texture ending up quite juicy with fuller oilier profile vs very steely and crisp, more intense and very long mouthwatering finish. Wow. £25
Graacher Himmelreich Riesling – Very 'gummy' and zippy at first, nice extract with steely vs oily mix, a little 'bubble-gummy' when I tried it (tank sample) with lees-y bite, more rounded vs tight and crisp on the finish. £25
Ürziger Würzgarten Riesling – Not much on the nose at first, fairly rich and oily with spiced lime tones, lees-y and intense, very concentrated vs very steely and long. Wow, serious Riesling. £30
Erdener Prälat Riesling Alte Reben (old vines) – Rich and concentrated with ripe lime oil aromas / flavours, very intense acidity with 'chalky' texture and almost savoury/salty tang, gets a tad weightier vs super intense and fresh finish. Very wow, serious stuff although it's double the price of the others... £65.

01 August 2015

Wine tastings & workshops in Belfast September to November

The autumn programme for wine tastings and workshops scheduled to run in Belfast city centre (Ramada Encore Hotel Cathedral Quarter) by Wine Education Service NI (that's me) from late September to late November 2015 is as follows (drum roll)...
Booking options are at the bottom:

Saturday 26 September: Spain and Portugal one-day workshop £90
"We'll taste and talk about a dozen or so red, white, rosé and fortified wines selected to highlight the very different regions, grape varieties and wine styles found across the 'Iberian peninsular'. This will include well-known 'classics' such as Rioja, Port​/Douro Valley and (real) Sherry​; but throwing in a few surprises too like Galici​a and Vinho Verde for dry whites, serious reds from Dao or the Alentejo and not forgetting the wine 'super-state' of Catalonia, home to some great reds, whites and Cava..." Includes two-course lunch at the hotel.

​​Thursday 29 October​ 7-9 pm​: ​​France vs ​​the 'New World' classic grape varieties tutored tasting £28.95
​"​We'll compare three or four pairs of well-known grape varieties from different regions of France ​with​ certain Southern Hemisphere countries, 'classic' styles of say Chardonnay, Riesling, Syrah/Shiraz, Malbec... (two of each). Which is 'better', or are they just different?!"​

​​Saturday 14 November ​11 am-​2 pm​: "off the beaten track" ​wine tasting and ​lunch £49
"Come and explore the lesser-known, although certainly not less exciting, wine world with this morning tasting of about eight diverse high-quality wines from countries such as Lebanon, Austria, Hungary, Slovenia, Croatia, Greece and fine English sparkling wine too. Includes a two-course lunch at the hotel afterwards."

​​Thursday 26 November 7-9 pm: Italian wines​ £28.95
​"​At​ ​this wines of Italy ​evening tasting​, we'll take you on a guided tour around several of this very​ varied country's wine producing regions ​by​ tasting and talking about ​a carefully selected range of​ tasty red and white​ wines. These will probably include classics from northern Italy, such as Piemonte and Veneto, central Italy such as Tuscany and Umbria, and the deep south e.g. Sicily, ​Campania,​ Puglia..."

Book online on our site: (you have to sign in to FB). 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:

20 July 2015

Douro Valley: Quinta de la Rosa, Pinhão

Quinta de la Rosa (above) is well-known for its Vintage Ports - I bought a half-bottle of their 2009 for €15 when I went there at the end of June by the way - and sublime old Tawnies. They also make red, white and rosé Douro wines, like everybody else in this region nowadays; and I was quite impressed by this tasty dry white quaffed that evening, nicely chilled of course:
2014 Dourosa white - (Codega 50%, Rabigato 20% and other white 'Port' varieties sourced from "nearby vineyards with a higher altitude." 13.3% abv) Aromatic and quite intense, zesty yeast lees and floral aniseed notes, crisp dry and tangy finish. €6
Quinta de la Rosa is a pleasant walk over the river and up the hill from the town of Pinhão (well signposted), like several other 'famous names' based in this area, offering beautiful views across the Douro and up and down the vineyard-lined valley. You can stay there too - more info @

Some other "famous name" photos just for the fun of it:

Port: Pinhão, Douro Valley

Vineyards around Pinhão on a 'steep' theme... Photos by RMJ.

19 July 2015

Port & Douro Valley: Quevedo

I talked to smiley Oscar Quevedo (right) and tasted some of the Quevedo family's Ports in their wine tasting cellar cum shop in Vila Nova de Gaia in late June, which is quietly tucked away behind Ramos Pinto and the other side of the pretty Santa Marinha church from Sandeman's. They have six vineyards totalling about 100 hectares: “Some of them have been in the family for four generations, and some of them were planted by my parents and grandparents," Oscar told me. But Quevedo the company, as it is now, and Port brand don't date back so far as Oscar explained: "Before they changed the law in 1986 – before that you had to have a cellar in Vila Nova de Gaia to be able to export - we made and sold Port to merchants.” So the contemporary Quevedo estate was created after that date with a new winery completed in the Douro Valley in 1991. His sister Claudia is the winemaker there and their father still looks after the vineyards, which are planted with Touriga Franca, Touriga Francesa, Tinta Barroca, Tinta Roriz, Tinto Cao, Touriga Nacional and certain white varieties. They also make Douro red and white wines, which I didn't taste this time, and have 25 hectares of olive groves.
Available in the UK from Naked Wines, Borough Wines and Wine Fantastic / Wine Boutique. USA: Flickinger Wines.

Rosé Port (19.5% abv, 83 grams/litre residual sugar) - contains "a fair bit of (the) Sousão (variety) which has very good acidity." Short maceration on skins and fermentation then fortified. Fruity 'winey' nose and palate, not too punchy or sweet with a hint of freshness too. “Sales of this style have really taken off in Germany and Holland," Oscar said. £13.50
2010 Late Bottled Vintage – lovely rich dark fruit vs peppery and punchy, plum and blackberry vs black olive flavours on a firm vs lush backdrop. Very attractive more towards-vintage style. £13.49-£18.99 or £10 half-bottle, US $20.
From vineyards in the Upper Douro "where it's drier giving more concentrated wines," he added. 2010 was a good vintage that some houses 'declared' as a vintage year, although "everybody declared 2011." Unfortunately their excitement is reflected in the prices!
2008 Vintage Quinta Vale d'Agodinho – from their main vineyard near Ferradosa, about 25 ha, located a couple of km from Quinta da Vargellas.
Dense and fruity still with marzipan and plum jam notes, concentrated and lush with sweet vs savoury finish, well balanced. Stylish, very good: still tasting quite young. About £40 or $50.
20 Year Old Tawny – dark mahogany colour, lovely toasted walnut and complex oxidised nutty tones, tangy vs sweet, quite mellow and mature vs long and still alive.
1996 Colheita – these vintage Tawny styles have “really taken off in Denmark and the US,” where it costs about $34 a bottle.
Tastes younger and fruitier than above vs savoury maturing notes, reminds me of old Banyuls, again quite smooth vs still lively, delicate complex finish. £27
40 Year Old Tawny – nuttier pecan nut nose with mature Gruyere type aromas, very intense and concentrated with tangy texture and delicious rich dark vs nutty oxidised flavours on its long finish. Yum.

Wine tasting and sales in Vila Nova de Gaia: 77 Rua de Santa Marinha.
To visit the winery and one of their vineyards in the Douro: Quinta Sra. Rosario in S. João da Pesqueira - more info @

Portugal: Port and railway theme

Top: railway bridge in Pinhão, Douro Valley. One down: barrels in Pinhão station for when the loo's closed. Next down: the station as photo'ed by everybody ever. Bottom: Porto São Bento station.

Photos by Richard Mark James.

Profile and notes on Porto Quevedo above this post...