Richard Mark James' wine & travel blog
Buy my French wine e-magazine (click there - updated Sept 2016) on Amazon for £3.76/$4.99/€4.44/¥512/Ca$6.51/Au$6.62 (or £4 emailed as a PDF) including Languedoc, Cahors, Champagne, Chablis, Alsace. Other special supplements and guides: English wine guide £3.50, Cava guide £3, Slovenia & Croatia, Portugal, Argentina (follow links for more info and payment). Pay by card with PayPal: click here for more about card payments using PayPal, general 'terms & conditions', and your privacy.

07 June 2017

New Zealand 'wines of the moment': Pinot Noir, Gewurz/Riesling and Chardy

Dom Maxwell The Bloom 2016 - An aromatic towards exotic yet zesty and quite dry blend of Riesling and Gewurztraminer from Waipara region (near the coast north of Christchurch on South Island). Went well with a mix of Indian dishes (especially tandoori fish) although not too spicy. £14.99 / £9.99 ? (currently out of stock) Naked Wines (you have to become an 'Angel' and invest £20 a month to get the special prices - check out their website for background on Naked's winemaker funding strategy).

Villa Maria Private Bin East Coast Chardonnay 2016 - Very reliable subtle Chardy with lightly buttery nutty side and underlying freshness. Widely available for about £10.

Coolwater Bay Pinot Noir 2014, Marlborough from Endeavour Vineyards - One of Sainsbury's 'Taste the Difference' labels, this is good value Pinot with nice perfumed fruit and silky texture. £10 (sometimes on offer at £8).

Lay of the Land Ben Morven Farm Pinot Noir 2015, Marlborough, made by Mike Paterson (pic. from www.nakedwines.com) - Tasty Pinot balancing elegance and easy-drinking style with a little depth and class: fragrant cherry fruit with fairly soft mouth-feel and fresh bite to finish. £18.99 / £12.99 (see comment above about Naked Wines' prices: these wines are probably available on their US site too).

10 May 2017

Wine Education Service NI tastings and courses autumn 2017

Updated June 2017
Château de La Ligne owned by Belfast businessman Terry Cross
From www.chateaudelaligne.com
Saturday 30 September 2017 - 'International grape varieties' one-day workshop £90
Including lunch from the hotel's bar menu, course manual and at least a dozen top-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. For example, contrasting New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc vs Sancerre from the Loire Valley, Australian Shiraz vs Syrah from the Rhone Valley, German vs USA Riesling... Runs 10.45 to 16.45 approx with lunch break.

Essential Wine Tasting five-week course £125 (£129 by PayPal) - Thursday evenings October 5, 12, 19, 26 and 2 November 2017 from 6.45-8.30pm.
Six high-quality wines tasted each session covering the world's great 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.

Thursday 30 November 2017 - 'Irish themed' wine tasting! £32.50
This evening tutored wine tasting (starts 18.45 to 20.30 approx.) 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; such as Château de ​l​a Ligne​ in Bordeaux, Creu Celta​ in Catalonia or the Miquel family in the Languedoc...

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):
Wine-Education-Service.co.uk/wine-tasting-belfast or Facebook.com/WineEducationServiceNI (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.

12 April 2017

Classic Australia?

This pick of Australian 'wines of the moment' might challenge your perception of what could be perceived as 'classic'. Or maybe not; but they do show there are plenty more interesting Aus wines out there, usually from lesser-known and more 'distinctive' sub-regions and/or using quirkier winemaking, that stand out from the shelf-filling brands (even if one of them is)... (Updated 22/04/17).

Limestone Coast Chardonnay 2015 'Exquisite Collection', South Australia (14% abv) - Makes a literally refreshing change to find an oak-free Oz Chardy, this one is nevertheless full-bodied and oily textured with lots of ripe citrus, peach and melon fruit, but nicely balanced and good value too. €8.69 Aldi Ireland / £5.79 UK.

Campbell's Rutherglen Muscat 'Liqueur Wine', Victoria (17.5% abv) - 'Classic' in some ways (and Rutherglen is a demarcated wine zone), as in a very old-fashioned time-honoured Oz style, but hardly in the sense that most people would recognise, it takes a little courage to try it (especially as the price will inevitably limit its appeal). Made from late-picked Muscat grapes and aged for many years in a 'solera' type cask-maturation process (blend of different years). This is a superbly luscious and complex dessert wine with raisins, cooked marmalade and tangy roast walnut/pecan nut flavours. Try with blue, unpasteurized matured or goats' cheeses, fresh black coffee or drizzle a bit over plain vanilla ice cream. £14.99 half-bottle Grange Wines, Holywood and other good wine shops. Photo from campbellswines.com.au.

Ringbolt Cabernet Sauvignon 2014 Peter Gambetta, Margaret River, Western Australia (14.5% abv) - Offers a fair bit of class and depth for the money, with more restrained blackcurrant and plum flavours, light coconut oak spice and nicely textured tannins. Tesco £10.

Frankland River Shiraz 2014 Ferngrove Vineyards, Western Australia (aged in French oak) - Closed up to start, fairly 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: M&S £15.

Barossa Petit Verdot 2013 Chateau Tanunda, South Australia (13.5% abv, 18 months in French oak) - Deep coloured still for its age, spicy with ripe red pepper and cassis/damson followed by savoury and roast coffee hints, nice chunky texture yet maturing/softening too. Good with Cantonese duck in black pepper sauce. £10 M&S.

01 April 2017

South Africa: whites, pink fizz and reds to tantalize...

Here's a random selection of half-a-dozen higher-priced South African palate-tantalizers test-driven in recent times, which all show it's worth paying a little more for this country's wines as the quality and character factor appears to rise quickly in tandem. Without wanting to make generalisations, which is asking for trouble but I'm going to anyway, I think it's also better to buy South African wines bottled at source rather than those bottled in the UK or Germany for instance. While, in principle, bulk-shipping in tankers is a perfectly sound winemaking and distribution practice, given the advanced technology and know-how behind it nowadays; but this sort of wine is probably more processed with, for example, up to the maximum permitted levels of sulphites used to help preserve whites and rosés in particular. No doubt some angry wine business technician will disagree, but this is my experience from actually drinking some of those wines...


The 1812 Overture of South African reds, from kanonkop.co.za
Stellenrust Chenin Blanc 2016, Stellenbosch region (13.5% abv) - This famous and long-established winery (vineyards here dating from the late 17th century they say) is pretty good at a variety of Chenin styles. This one's ripe and rounded with exotic honeyed edges vs nice zesty citrus and yeast-lees notes on the finish. Good value for flavour. £7 (on offer)/£8 Sainsbury's.

Cornelia White 2015, Swartland region (Chenin blanc, Roussanne, Verdelho, Viognier; 13% abv) - Made by Adi Badenhorst, who's also a bit of a star for quirky white blends like this: attractive mix of oily texture, peach and apricot fruit with fresher spicier undertones and concentrated too. £10 Marks & Spencer.

Jan & Johan Old Vine Cinsault 2015, Paarl region (14% abv) - Tantalizing mix of lightly wild and perfumed berry fruits with fairly soft mouth-feel yet weight and roundness too. There's still a good deal of old vine Cinsault in parts of South Africa, like in southern France, although much of it has been pulled up. €8.99 Aldi Ireland.

Kanonkop Kadette 2015 Cape Blend, Stellenbosch region (about 50% Pinotage, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc; 14.5% abv) - This is their 'junior' red blend of these four varieties, which is something of a house specialty, offering lots of flavour and style for the money. Smoky red pepper notes mingle with blackcurrant, dark plum and spicy oak (14 months in French barrels); quite firm and structured still with power and concentration on the finish, nice texture and depth of fruit though. £8 (on offer)/£10 Sainsbury's.

Bellingham The Bernard Series Basket Press Syrah 2014, Stellenbosch region (14% abv) - 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. £13 Sainsbury's.

Graham Beck The Rhona Brut Rosé NV, Méthode Cap Classique, Western Cape (Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Pinot Meunier; 12.5% abv) - Beck is up there among South Africa's finest fizz makers, this sumptuous Champagne-style rosé bubbly is rich toasty and yeasty with aromatic brioche and red berry notes, intense and stylish with fresh bite balancing it out nicely. Yum. £15 M&S (sometimes £12 on offer).

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 wikipedia.org/wiki/Syrah who lifted it from The Oxford Companion to Wine and other sources listed at the bottom of that webpage.

France

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.

Italy

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.

Chile

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.

USA

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.

Australia

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
www.cornin.net
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.