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

11 July 2018

Portugal: 'wines of the moment' (and restaurant tips in Funchal).

Or Portuguese 'holiday wines of the moment' since these recommendable bottles were sampled and enjoyed recently on the wonderful island of Madeira (separate piece on one or two Madeira cellars to follow...), enhanced by a few eating-out tips where some of them were discovered. These are all convincing examples of just how happening Portugal now is on several different levels: well-made flavoursome wines, across the red white and rosé spectrum, fantastic diversity including many excellent (although sometimes difficult to get your tongue around pronunciation-wise) indigenous grape varieties and, to crown off the clichés, often good value too! Even if some of the more sought-after or celebrity wine names have become surprisingly expensive in fact. Euro prices quoted are supermarket, cellar door or restaurant prices in and around Funchal.
The fairly famous Alentejo winery Esporão produces a very enjoyable, easy-going 'house wine' range called Monte Velho. This includes a chunky fruity 2017 red made from the Aragonez (the local name for Tempranillo), Trincadeira, Touriga Nacional and Syrah varieties (14% abv), offering soft texture and dark fruit with spicy liquorice flavours. The tasty 2017 white is a blend of Fernão Pires, Arinto and Perrum (= Palomino, the sherry grape), with its weighty 14.5% abv lending it nicely to fried fish or pork dishes say, but also has plenty of aromatic fruit, rich ripe-textured mouth-feel and zesty finish making it difficult to resist. (€4.99 / €2.90 half).
From the Alentejo region as well (where the winemaking scene has exploded over the last twenty years) comes Chaminé 2015 from Danish/American-owned wine estate Cortes de Cima, which is one of their good-value entry label reds shaped from 30% Aragonez, 30% Syrah, 20% Touriga Nacional, 10% Alicante Bouschet and 10% Trincadeira (I think they were among the first to plant Syrah here by the way). It costs about €5 in supermarkets in Portugal (€6.95 Madeira airport). Cortes de Cima's top wines are pretty dear nowadays too, although they do make a much broader range since planting more vineyards than when I went there about twenty years ago!
This pair from the Douro Valley (Port country although these wines aren't) is a well-distributed (worldwide) red and white from vineyards owned by the mighty Sogrape group: Casa Ferreirinha 2016 Esteva red (40% Tinta Roriz (another local name for Tempranillo), 35% Tinta Barroca, 15% Touriga Franca and 10% Touriga Nacional), which has light tannin countered by peppery fruit; and Casa Ferreirinha 2016 Planalto Reserva white (30% Viosinho, 15% Malvasia Fina, 15% Gouveio, 15% Arinto, 15% Códega, 5% Rabigato, 5% Moscatel), which has yeast-lees tones, is rounded with white peach flavours and a bit of zing. €6 or €7 for a half-bottle of each in a decent Brazilian-themed restaurant in São Martinho (a towards-trendy western suburb of Funchal) called Espettus.
Good, inexpensive, dry Vinho Verde isn't hard to find in Portugal and its islands: the 2017 Torre de Menagem (Alvarinho / Trajadura) made by Monção e Melgaço (12% abv) is a refreshing and aromatic example with zesty citrus and soft juicy finish (€3.79). Like other traditionally red-focused wine areas, the Dão region is now producing some lovely white wines as well, such as the zesty and concentrated 2017 Grão Vasco Branco from Quinta dos Carvalhais (39% Encruzado, 38% Malvasia Fina, 15% Bical, 8% Gouveio). €6 or €7 for a half-bottle in the highly recommended Five restaurant (also located on the very long Estrada Monumental main road on the way into Funchal): perfect with the Madeira speciality grilled black scabbard fish.
Also made in Dão region, and far from being 'traditional' although that is the 'official' method of producing this superb sparkling wine, is Raposeira 2010 Super Reserva Bruto (12.5% abv): classy fizz indeed with the toasty yeasty richness you'd expect from vintage Champagne or top Cava, a tad rounder on the palate perhaps with underlying freshness. Follows the Champagne 'tradition' too of using white and red grapes: Malvasia Fina and Tinta Roriz. Lovely mouthful for only €8.99 a bottle.
Finally (almost), here's a couple of unusual dry whites from the Lisbon area to look out for (one to the south and the other to the north): Vinhas de Pegóes 2017 Verdelho (the 'Madeira grape' if you like) from the Setúbal peninsula (13% abv), which is aromatic and oily textured with apricot tones and a bargain for under €5. And Bucellas Arinto 2017 from the Bucelas DOC region, made by Caves Velhas (12.5% abv), offering elderflower aromas and white peach, lees-y zesty and 'chalky' mouth-feel with crisp dry finish.


Inevitably, I should include a couple of Madeira wines here too (separate feature on two quite different wine cellars, H&H and D'Oliveiras, coming soon...): Henriques & Henriques' delicious 10 Year Old Sercial, which is one of the drier styles, has great balance of citrus and apricot hints layered with lots of tangy roasted almond flavours, powerful with refreshing cut, long and complex finish. €15.50 for 50cl.
As part of the Restaurante do Forte's very good 'special concept' menu (three dishes chosen from their a la carte plus amuse-bouche, sorbet, coffee and petits fours all served with different wines for €42.50 per head), you get a glass of rich 5 Year Old Malmsey with your dessert, which is pretty sweet but its toffeed toasted pecan flavours go nicely with their varied cheese selection (and probably the chocolate pudding as well). I forgot to note down the names of the other wines served with this menu, but it included a lively dry rose-scented Touriga Nacional rosé and a firm-ish peppery red from the Beiras region (Bairrada country), made mostly from the Baga variety (with some Cabernet I think?), that went down well with my confit of duck. Photo above: me outside the old São Tiago fort thinking of taking a ride in their Austin 12 (can be booked for a taxi ride to or from the restaurant, which is literally poised on the seafront on the eastern side of Funchal old town). More info: en.forte.restaurant.
Back in the São Martinho district near the Forum Madeira shopping centre, Ego's Café is also worth checking out for good simple Portuguese food served outside if you wish, best served with a refreshing Coral beer (brewed in Madeira)!

03 July 2018

Belfast wine tastings and courses autumn 2018 to spring 2019

The Wine Education Service NI (that's me) program of wine tasting courses starting this autumn is (drum roll)...
Saturday 29 September 2018 - Grape to Glass workshop.
Saturday 10 November 2018 - France, Italy and Spain workshop.
Saturday 2 February 2019 - France, Italy and Spain workshop.
Saturday 30 March 2019 - Grape to Glass workshop.
Thursday evenings 25 April to 23 May 2019 inclusive - Essential Wine Tasting five-week course.
Prices: £90 for a Saturday wine workshop including lunch, course manual, tasting samples (of at least a dozen diverse high-quality wines) and a glass of wine with lunch and tuition. Runs 10.45 to 16.45 approx with breaks and lunch served in the room.
EWT 5-week course: £125 including tasting samples (six or so wines per session), course manual and tuition. Timing: 18.45 to 20.30 approx.
Wine tasting glasses supplied free for each event, although you're welcome to buy your own set (usually six in a box) and bring along. Unfortunately, WES NI does not keep a supply of tasting glasses for sale.
Venue: the Ramada Encore Hotel, Talbot Street (St. Anne's Square), Belfast city centre.
For further information and online booking, please visit the Wine Education Service website, send an email via the contact form on this blog or check out the WES NI Facebook page Facebook.com/WineEducationServiceNI.

Wine tutor RMJ tasting at Domaine Madeloc (Banyuls-sur-mer, France), pretending to be serious (slightly).

WES terms and conditions apply, which will be emailed with your invoice or can be viewed on this blog HERE. Over 18s only. 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.

07 June 2018

France, Roussillon: white wines

This is one of a handful of mini-features on the 'French Catalan' region of the Roussillon - the Eastern Pyrenees is the official département name (Perpignan, Rivesaltes, Maury, Collioure, Banyuls-sur-mer, erm... the bit in the middle (called Les Aspres) and way out west/south-west to Font Romeu and skiing country...) - which have been divided into simple 'best whites' and 'best reds' type hit lists (with a hint of commentary to set the scene), gleaned from a succinct tour and extensive tastings in situ last month in addition to a couple of trips last year. Another piece will reveal my pick of a rich variety of Vins Doux Naturels, those sweet fortified and often matured wines this region is traditionally perhaps better known for, from new-wave chunky youthful reds to sublime senior-citizen vintages of distinctly golden-brown-tinged cask-aged 'whites'. Finally, a fruity posting celebrating some of their delicious undiscovered rosés might also surface at some point... Take a look too at the previous post to this one, which is themed around the Grenache variety pitching some fine Australian reds against a tasty selection from Maury in the northern Roussillon (or click here).
This seems a more obvious way of highlighting my favourite wines and producers without delivering a wordy lesson (you'll have to wait for my book on the Roussillon for that) on supposed appellation hierarchies and which ones are thus supposed to make the best wines. Like anywhere else, when you sample a large amount of wines in a concentrated time-frame (and blind-tasted for a good number of them), it's pretty clear that it comes down to individual quality producers at the end of the day rather than one area being better than another purely because it has say 'village' status, superior terroir or whatever.
Challenging vine-scape between Banyuls-sur-mer and Collioure: the old and the new.
Having said that and coming swiftly back to dry white wines, the Collioure region on the Spanish border (Med-side) is, generally, a great example of where a cru appellation (a, in principle, more tightly defined sub-zone based on more specific quality criteria) idea has actually translated well into the final 'product'. Created in 2003 for white wines, as opposed to red Collioure in 1971, it appears that winemakers made the most of taking their time to get it right in terms of varieties, sites and production techniques. I probably tasted half as many whites as reds from this area (covers demarcated vineyards between and behind Collioure, Port-Vendres, Banyuls-sur-mer and Cerbère) yet found a good deal more stand-out white wines to recommend. And surprise surprise, certain winegrowers have indeed been focusing on planting more, for instance, Grenache blanc and gris and Vermentino in recent years.
Admittedly, these Collioure whites can be on the dear side (cellar door price of sometimes €15 to €20 and up to €30 or more for top cuvées), although unfortunately production costs do play a brutal role in keeping prices up here - rough steep difficult to work vineyards and rather low yields (see photo above) - as well as arguably a drop of marketing chic naming the wines after that chi-chi upmarket seaside town. There are some excellent dry whites being made in the northern and central Roussillon as well, of course, but these are all labelled as Côtes du Roussillon blanc or IGP Côtes Catalanes (the latter usually because a wine is varietal or contains a variety not 'sanctioned' by appellation rules, and/or the winemaker isn't interested in these anyway) since there are no other village appellation zones for whites outside of Collioure. 

RMJ's TOP WHITE WINES
30 must-try dry whites...

Southern Roussillon

Cave de L'Abbé Rous 2017 Collioure Cuvée des Peintres (Grenache gris 60%, Grenache blanc 25%, Marsanne, Roussanne & Vermentino 15%; just part barrel-fermented) - Aromatic aniseed, crisp and yeast lees-y with elegant finish. Good value at c. €10.
Domaine Cazes Les Clos de Paulilles 2017 Collioure blanc (Grenache blanc 80%, Grenache gris 20%; 5 to 6 months ageing on lees, no oak) - Richer and more exotic than above vs subtle 'mineral' intensity. €18
Clos Saint Sébastien 2016 Collioure Inspiration Minérale (plot selection of old-vine Grenache gris and blanc, barrel fermented) - Buttery and concentrated vs underlying zesty texture and freshness, delicious although dear. €28
Domaine Madeloc 2016 Collioure Cuvée Trémadoc (Grenache gris, Roussanne, Vermentino; barrel fermented/aged up to 8 months) - Toasty buttery start but with aromatic lees and exotic fruit combo, tasty northern Rhone style.
2015 Collioure Cuvée Penya (barrel selection of Grenache gris and Vermentino) - Surprisingly not oakier even though 25% new barrels are used, fresh and lively underneath a textured lees-y palate with exotic fruit, powerful and long.
M. Chapoutier Domaine de Bila Haut 2016 Collioure Chrysopée (Grenache gris (90%) and blanc, barrel fermented/aged 6 months overall) - Oily and nutty textures and flavours vs crisp and lingering with light bitter twist. Celebrity price too: €54.
Domaine Augustin 2016 Collioure Adéodat (old vine Grenache gris/blanc, barrel fermented/aged 6 to 8 months) - Toasted tones too but this is rich and buttery with powerful finish. €26
Domaine de la Rectorie 2016 Collioure L'Argile (Grenache gris (90%) and blanc, barrel fermented with 8 months on the lees) - Classy white showing subtle balance between weight and delicacy. €24/£20
Domaine La Casa Blanca 2015 Collioure blanc (Grenache gris and blanc from north-facing slopes, 50-50 vat/cask) - Almond notes and intense tangy palate, almost dry Montilla-esque in style, lovely crisp vs powerful finish.
Domaine Traginer 2015 Collioure blanc (Grenache blanc and gris, Malvoisie, Vermentino) - Peachy and quite rich with yeast-lees depth and nutty edges, powerful finish; very nice. €22.50/$27
Consolation 2015 Côtes Catalanes Juliette (Roussanne, 6 months in barrels) - Rich and buttery but deftly handled with good balance. €16

Central Roussillon

Domaine Treloar 2015 and 2016 Côtes Catalanes La Terre Promise (Grenache gris, Macabeu, Carignan blanc; wild ferment and ageing in barrel, 10% new oak, for 6 to 9 months) - Creamy and nutty with aromatic aniseed notes, juicy ripe fruit and weighty mouth-feel with very nice long finish. €14/£17
Domaine Lauriga 2015 and 2016 Côtes du Roussillon Soleil blanc (Grenache blanc, Macabeu, 6 months in barrels) - Quite toasty to start, well made though with creamy lees and nicely balanced buttery vs aromatic aniseed and crisp profile. €13-€15/£13.50
Pierre Talayrach 2015 Côtes Catalanes Secret de Pierre (Muscat d'Alexandrie, 7 months in barrels) - Characteristically Muscat-y and orange notes but it's quite rich and rounded with light toast, creamy yet aromatic too; very different. €12.80
Domaine Lafage 2015 Côtes du Roussillon La Grande Cuvée blanc (Grenache gris, Macabeu) - Tasty mix of ripe and powerful with subtle oak and refreshing acidity; very good. €19.50/£19
Domaine Vaquer 2015 Côtes du Roussillon L'Exception blanc (Grenache blanc and gris, Macabeu, barrel-fermented/aged for a year) - 'Natural'-esque style with Fino and cider edges but very good with it, intense and long. c. €20

Northern Roussillon

Arnaud de Villeneuve 2017 Côtes Catalanes Chardonnay Réserve - A surprise and one of a handful of good Chardies I've tried from the region (some made by co-op wineries like this one too), this was very tasty with lively juicy yeast-lees characters and creamy mouth-feel. Expensive though: €35.
Domaine Pouderoux Lavista 2016 Lavista Collection (field blend of six varieties) - Enticingly juicy, aromatic and distinctive with lovely zesty finish. £12/$13
Domaine Cazes 2016 Côtes du Roussillon Ego blanc (Grenache blanc, Marsanne; unoaked) - Oily vs 'salty' profile mix, plenty of depth and character. €12
Domaine Gardiès 2016 Côtes du Roussillon Les Glaciaires (Roussanne, Grenache blanc, Macabeu) - Alluring mix of yeast-lees, freshness, aromatic and exotic fruit, long stylish finish. €16/£12.50/$20
Domaine Laguerre 2015 Côtes du Roussillon Le Ciste blanc (Marsanne, Roussanne, Grenache blanc, Vermentino) - Hints of coconut grain, concentrated yet with tight acid structure and exotic fruit underneath; fair length and class. €17/$17
Domaine Rombeau 2015 Côtes du Roussillon Andrea (Grenache blanc and gris, Marsanne) - Rombeau's white is consistently good and age-worthy too: ripe and buttery with peachy fruit but still crisp and alive.
La Coume du Roy 2015 Côtes Catalanes Désir (Macabeu, Grenache gris) - Appley and nutty, quite intense and concentrated with long nutty and crisp finish. €13/£15
Les Clos Perdus 2015 Côtes Catalanes L'Extreme blanc (Grenache blanc, gris and noir) - This varied-location estate includes one block (very old: planted in 1898!) near Mas Las Fredas between Maury and Tautavel, source of this lovely textured nutty wild-ferment (in barrel) white with aromatic appley and exotic fruit notes. Fairly dear though: €30/£25.
Domaine Pithon 2015 Maccabeu (block selection, barrel-fermented) - Intense white with well-balanced mix of lively 'mineral' notes and nice 'oily' backdrop; very good but expensive: €34.
Domaine de l'Ausseil 2015 La Palummella (Grenache blanc and gris, Macabeu) - Quirky skin-macerated style with 'real cider' notes but has lovely texture and very intense mouth-feel; wow, 'natural' man but good with it. €26/£22
Clos des Fées 2015 Côtes Catalanes Grenache blanc Vieilles Vignes (+10% Grenache gris, which is barrel-fermented; 5 to 8 months lees-ageing) - Bit of a classic combining juicy and exotic fruit with very good concentration. €18-€20/£18-£20
Gilles Troullier 2010 Côtes Catalanes L'Imprévue (old vine Grenache gris and blanc) - Very different with a little bottle age, lovely nutty appley notes combine with rich oily texture and depth. Delicious.

OTHER RECOMMENDED WHITES
50 more to be tempted by...

South

Clos Saint Sébastien 2016 Collioure Empreintes
Cave de L'Abbé Rous 2016 Collioure Cornet & Cie
Domaine La Tour Vieille 2016 Collioure Les Canadells
Domaine Vial-Magnères 2016 and 2014 Collioure Le Petit Couscouril
Domaine du Grand Chene 2016 Côtes du Roussillon L'Edat
Mas Christine 2015 Côtes du Roussillon blanc
Coume del Mas 2015 Collioure Folio

Centre

Domaine Lafage 2017 Côtes du Roussillon Centenaire blanc
Château Nadal Hainaut 2017 Côtes Catalanes Chardonnay Prestige
Château Corneilla Vignobles Jonquères d’Oriola 2016 Côtes du Roussillon Cavalcade blanc
Domaine de la Meunière 2016 Côtes Catalanes Impromptu blanc
Domaine Trilles 2016 Côtes Catalanes Tio Tio 
Domaine de la Perdrix 2016 Côtes du Roussillon Joseph Sébastien Pons and 2015 Côtes du Roussillon Charakter.
Cap de Fouste 2016 Côtes Catalanes Taquin blanc
Domaine Boucabeille 2016 Les Terrasses de Régis Boucabeille
Mas Baux 2016 Côtes Catalanes Le Baux Blond
Maison Albera 2016 Côtes Catalanes Vermentino
Château de L'Ou 2015 Côtes Catalanes Infiniment blanc
Château Planères 2014 Côtes du Roussillon La Romanie blanc

North

Domaine Boudau 2017 Côtes du Roussillon Henri Boudau blanc
Domaine Sainte-Estelle (Serre Romani) 2017 Côtes du Roussillon blanc
Château de Jau 2017 Côtes du Roussillon blanc
Clos des Vins d'Amour 2017 Côtes du Roussillon Idylle
Domaine La Toupie 2017 Côtes du Roussillon Fine Fleur
Ninet de Pena 2017 Côtes Catalanes Muscat sec
Thunevin-Calvet 2017 Côtes Catalanes Constance blanc
Les Vignerons de Tautavel et Vingrau 2016 Côtes Catalanes Le Cirque
Domaine Mas Crémat 2016 Côtes du Roussillon La Yose
Domaine Cazes 2016 Côtes Catalanes Canon du Maréchal blanc
Domaine Singla 2016 Côtes Catalanes La Coste
Château Caladroy 2016 Côtes Catalanes Passion blanc
Mas Devèze 2016 Côtes Catalanes Macabeu
Domaine Gayda 2016 Pays d'Oc En Passant blanc (it's 70% Macabeu sourced from the Roussillon with 30% Viognier from Minervois made by a Languedoc-based winery, so why not 'let it in').
Domaine des Schistes 2015 Côtes du Roussillon Jasse d'n Bielh
Domaine de Besombes 2015 Côtes du Roussillon Léonie 1868
Domaine Piquemal 2015 Côtes du Roussillon Les Terres Grillées
Domaine Le Roc des Anges 2015 Côtes Catalanes Iglesia Vella
Domaine Pouderoux 2015 Roc de Plane
Mas Castello-Cachau Dubournais 2015 Côtes du Roussillon blanc
Dom Brial 2015 Côtes du Roussillon Mirade blanc Sélection Parcellaire
M. Chapoutier Domaine de Bila Haut 2015 Côtes du Roussillon blanc
Mas Janeil 2015 Côtes du Roussillon blanc
Domaine des Chenes 2014 Côtes Catalanes Les Olivettes
Domaine de l'Agly 2014 Côtes Catalanes Les Neiges d'Agly
Domaine Val de Ray 2014 Côtes du Roussillon Des Gouttes d'Or

01 May 2018

Sparkling wines from Chardonnay and Pinot: Italy, Australia, South Africa, France

A tad lengthy and random perhaps for a post title, especially since there's no Champagne included here; but this does feature an eclectic pick of contemporary 'traditional method' fizz (as in made the same way) based on those celebrity varieties. Just goes to show, in the unlikely event that you hadn't noticed, how well these grapes and the necessary know-how have exported in the right place and hands. It's also no surprise then to discover that some of the big Champagne brands invested in other places some time ago in fact - for instance, Moët et Chandon established sparkling production wineries in Argentina back in, unbelievably, 1959, Australia in 1986 and, the most recent India in 2014 among other countries (California, Brazil, China...). And recently as well, Taittinger started planting vineyards in Kent in England last year focusing on Chardy and Pinots Noir and Meunier.
Some of these tasty bubbles are one-offs by the way, particularly the two Lidl wines that could be special-parcel buys and not always available in all stores.

Barone dell' Isola Franciacorta Brut (12.5% abv): Chardonnay and Pinot Noir from northern Italy, bottle aged for 18 months on the yeast-lees. Pretty damn stylish actually with elegant toastiness, for those of you who thought Italy could only make frivolous or inoffensive bubbly. Good antidote to ubiquitous Prosecco. Lidl £9.99.
Crémant d'Alsace (12% abv) France: Okay, it's mostly shaped by Pinot Blanc, although this variety is a member of the same grape family apparently. Refreshing and very quaffable with subtle quality tones. Lidl £7.99.
Graham Beck The Rhona Brut Rosé NV, Western Cape South Africa (Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Pinot Meunier; 12.5% abv): Delicious and serious Marks & Spencer bubbly from one of South Africa's pioneers of the style. It's £15 a bottle but you'll be rather impressed.

Josef Chromy Tasmania Sparkling NV (62% Pinot Noir, 38% Chardonnay; 18 months lees-ageing): I'm told that three-quarters of Chardonnay grown on Tasmania is now destined for fizz production. Appley nutty aromatic with intense yeast-lees notes on the palate, crisp and fresh countered by rich toasted flavours. Classy. £25 Bibendum PLB.
Pirie Tasmania Sparkling NV (Chardonnay, Pinot Noir; blend of mostly 2012 vintage plus older wines, 20% of it barrel-fermented and aged 3.5 years on lees): Classic Pirie (a pioneer in Tas and for top bubbly too), superb 'Bolly-style' sparkler with lots of lush toasty flavours yet lovely fresh bite. Expensive but yummy: £34.
Brown Brothers King Valley (Victoria) NV (Pinot Noir Chardonnay, Pinot Meunier, 12.5% abv): Toasty and oily with oat-y edges, quite good fizz. €20 (in Ireland).
Jansz Tasmania Premium Cuvée (Chardy/PN, 12% abv): Another Tas classic style, very enjoyable (got the message yet about Tasmanian fizz). €33 Cassidy Wines, £15 to £20 UK.
Croser Non-Vintage Rosé, Adelaide Hills South Australia: a splash of red Pinot Noir wine is also blended into the 2/3 Pinot and 1/3 Chardy base; this has full-on 13.5% abv and 6.5 grams/litre residual sugar, which is about half the amount found in many European so-called Brut styles. In addition to their very tasty regular NV fizz, the famous Croser winery creates this sumptuous rosé with its toasty red fruit flavours and fine crisp balance. £17-£19.
House of Arras Grand Vintage Tasmania Chardonnay Pinot Noir 2008 (12.5% abv): Gorgeous baked brioche and toasted almond notes underpinned by fresh acidity and 'tight' very long finish; Tas 'vintage-Bolly' style! £35 Fine Wine Partners.