Richard Mark James' wine & travel blog
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01 February 2000

Features archive 1998-2010...

For all the latest features and articles posted on this blog or my FrenchMediterraneanWine.com blog (Roussillon, Languedoc, Rhone Valley, Provence, Southwest, Bordeaux...), browse through "more wine words" or "blog archive" in the right-hand columns (2011 onwards).
All wine, food and/or travel words summarised below, with links to the full monty, were originally published in the "old" WineWriting.com archive (2010 and backwards); and have been / will be teleported over to "new" WineWriting or FrenchMedWine as appropriate (if you follow me...). All rights reserved: copyright Richard Mark James unless otherwise stated.

Banyuls and Maury: "sweet seductive red Roussillon..." (Nov 2010)
Riesling Riesling & Riesling: "or a couple of racy German tastings combined..." (Sept 2010)
Ardèche: unknown Rhône "oArdèche méridionale in French, which has a sexier south ring to it somehow..." (Aug 2010)
Argentina: "Malbec and Cabernet at a glance." (May 2010)
Focus on Portugal: Douro - Alentejo - Algarve... (May 2010)
Spotlight on Sicily... (July 2010)
"Larging it in the Languedoc"Jeanjean and Mas La Chevalière (July 2010)
Languedoc tasting reports 2009 and 2008 vintages... (June 2010)
Australia Focus: "world-class Chardy", Riesling & Shiraz, "consumer top 20", winery snaps (March-May 2010)

Le Tour de Listrac
"A gentle bike ride is an ideal introduction to this niche Bordeaux commune. Sounds great - but what's with all the homework, asks Richard James..." A version of this wine travel feature was originally published in Decanter magazine in May 2010.
"Listrac might not be the first stop on most Bordeaux enthusiasts' wine travel wish-list, although there certainly are a few admired chateaux in this relatively small area (630 ha of vines) lying approximately between Margaux and Saint-Julien further west of the river. The appellation has existed for over 50 years but had a subtle facelift more recently, i.e. they appended Médoc for ease of location. It borders green forestland on one side and, naturally, vineyards on the other..." Read on...

Relentless Roussillon: "Strange goings-on in Maury..."
Featuring Department 66 ("the Americans"), La Borde Vieille ("the Mexicans"), Les Enfants ("the Swiss"), oh... "the English" (Jones, Bee, Pertuisane...) and "French" too (Deveza, Mudigliza, Petite Baigneuse, Serre Romani...). "There's nothing new about a high-profile "outsider investment" story round these parts: Calvet-Thunevin's stark statement winery fashioned from blocks of orange Gard stone was the boldest testament to this up until now, and has somewhat altered the view on the way into town..." Click here to read this article on "FMW"... (Jan 2010)

Bordeaux: Côtes de Bourg and Listrac-Médoc (Nov 2009)
Roussillon: Saint-Bacchus awards (Oct 2009)

Wine travel: western Languedoc
"Suite Dreams. Forget cellar tours or winery restaurants. For a complete wine lover's experience, why not spend a night or two at a chateau or gite among the vines? Richard James heads to the Languedoc." This article originally appeared in the July 2009 issue of Decanter magazine.
“Some offer you just a drink. Others offer you a château,” a recent Bordeaux ad campaign boasted. They may well have an abundance of grand aristocratic châteaux; but how many of them can you actually visit, or better still stay the night at, as a humble wine traveller seeking the full monty vines & winemaker experience? The western Languedoc offers many handsome wine estates saturated in history and dramatic landscapes, which increasingly can be enjoyed first-hand as the huge potential for ‘wine tourism’ is slowly unleashed. And where better to start than the sprawling region of outstanding rugged beauty to the north, south and west of the Corbières hills…" Read on... (on "FMW")

Undiscovered Spain: Castilla y León (June 2009)

Provencal wine
These words were published in distilled form in the smart and very thorough (I'm slightly biased of course although not getting commission for this shameless plug) 2009 edition of the Time Out South of France guide - click here to buy it on Time Out's website. All rights © Richard M James / Time Out.
"When browsing through the many words written about the history of growing grapes and making wine in southeast France, you’ll no doubt come across plenty of that ‘since Roman’ and ‘Phoenician times’ or ‘Mediaeval monks’ stuff. However, it almost goes without saying that the region’s wine roots and culture are just as ingrained as its food and cuisine; as well as the way countless picturesque vine-scapes effortlessly mould its very varied terrain. As is happening in other vinous parts of France, Provence - Côte d’Azur winegrowers are striving to keep up with ‘les Martin’, let alone the Jones’ and Changs, and changing tastes at home and worldwide. The region has plenty to offer on the wine front with several quite different wine appellations, some of them household names and others hardly known beyond the borders of 13, 83 or 84..." Read on (goes to "FMW", March 2009)...

Germany: Terrassen-Mosel (Jan 2009)

"Straining at the leash"
"The Roussillon's strict regulations are forcing producers to work outside the AOC. Who's in the right and is this new creativity paying off, asks Richard James?" This feature was first published in the September 2008 issue of Decanter magazine.
"The ideal of the Appellation d'Origine Contrôlée (AOC) system as standard-bearer of ‘typicity’ (like terroir, English struggles to comfortably translate typicité) has been attacked before; but two damning reports in Que Choisir? (France's Which?) within the last year are yet more hefty nails in its coffin. The nationwide lobby group called Sève (www.seve-vignerons.fr), which has been pushing the establishment for an overhaul and back-to-basics approach, saw these as evidence of what they've been saying all along. AOC should be an honest reflection of the hard work and raw materials that go into the bottle, if true site-specific wines are to flourish. Yet here’s the dilemma: ‘table wines aren't the future.’ Some of the most exciting producers have been pushed outside the appellation framework, just like Tuscany all those years ago, due to obsolete regulations and entrenched views on what the right grape varieties or wine style should be. Besides, many growers have always believed instinctive creativity should have free rein, if you want to make the best and most unique wines possible from a particular area..." Read on... (and scroll down: on "FMW").

Gérard Bertrand"King of the Languedoc?" (autumn 2008)
"New Wave" Spain awards (July 2008)

The Roussillon, present and future: a mini-thesis
Master of Wine or Master of Methodology? OK, so it's a case of sour grapes: the IMW failed this dissertation outright. While I still maintain some of their criticisms were unjustified or inaccurate even (and I can back that up), I accept it's no masterpiece but wasn't given the chance to improve and resubmit it. If you have the time and inclination (yawn), read on by clicking on the link  below ("be brutal," I'm used to it). Anyway, hats off to all those who've managed to walk the unpredictable MW dissertation tightrope, you're a better man/woman than me. I'm afraid I've probably lost interest in doing (another) boring formulaic piece of work that now seems to be more about methodology than wine. Still, I did pass the exams at least... but hey, never say never!
"The Roussillon is usually referred to along with the Languedoc as forming the largest wine region in France. Although there are parallels in terms of wine styles, production structure and social issues (linked to the industry’s importance as an employer); Roussillon has a distinct identity and culture, as well as different climate and terrain, with a considerably smaller area under vine than the Languedoc. Nevertheless, the Roussillon’s image for wine remains largely polarised or unknown.
With its history of producing Vins Doux Naturels (VDN) fortified wines to satisfy once substantial, and lucrative, domestic demand (over one third of plantings is still dedicated to this); the region has had to face the challenges of adapting to changing tastes and markets. However, Roussillon winemakers have already revealed new dynamism based on the belief that the area is capable of offering a rich diversity of styles including value-for-money brands, Mediterranean varietals, fine estate wines and icon reds, in addition to unique sweet wines..." Read on (goes to "FMW" April 2008)...

Climate Change and Wine - Barcelona 15 February 2008
A taster: “The hotel manager just told me the pool outside the building will be confiscated,” Pancho Campo announced dramatically - president of the Wine Academy of Spain and organiser of last week’s ‘Climate Change and Wine’ conference in Barcelona - as an example of the Spanish government’s new measures to reclaim water and reduce irrigation...
Viticulture consultant Richard Smart said that “Australia will see shrinkage of possible grape growing regions towards the southern coasts and altitude,” yet 70% of them are currently along the Murray River centred on one of the hottest areas around Mildura. “If average temperatures increase by over 2°C, we’re not sure what will happen..."
Tony Sharley from Banrock Station based in Mildura said irrigation was “the biggest mistake we’ve made in Oz in the last 50 years...”
Vicente Sotés said “there’s no available land above 43° North in Spain, and in Rioja plantings already go up to 600m.” New high-altitude vineyard projects include the Canary Islands, Sierra Nevada in Granada and Pyrenees foothills, where Torres has already made a move...
"...Carbon footprint for Yellow Tail – 12 million case sales, glass sourced locally, no barrel ageing, loaded into containers and trucked to port then shipped directly into e.g. LA or port & train to NYC. CO2 emissions = 2.2 kg per bottle production + distribution = 3.44 kg / bottle x 12m cases..." Click here for more...

'CRAV - 100 years of protest'
"Richard James tracks the history and current state of a militant batch of French wine activists..." A shorter version of this feature was published in the December 2007 issue of Decanter magazine. A brief report drawing comparisons between 1907-2007 in the Languedoc and Roussillon: demonstration, uprising, co-operatives and winegrowing upheaval in the south of France. Many thanks to Jean Clavel, Rémy Pech and others who provided invaluable information and views for this article.
“We’re at the point of no return. Be the worthy successors of the 1907 revolt, when some died to allow future generations to live off their land.” This grim warning was issued in May 2007 to France’s fresh-faced President by hooded men shot in sinister video-footage (source: France3/AFP). It’s more reminiscent of a bloody broadcast from El Qaeda or ETA than a handful of angry winegrowers in a sleepy Languedoc village. One month before, explosives were set off outside supermarkets from Nîmes to Capestang. And the July 3 bombings - the morning after a demonstration in Béziers and day before the European Commission (EC) published wine sector reforms - mark a disturbing twist, as this time the target was Co-operative Cellars’ Federation headquarters in Montpellier and Narbonne..." Read on... ("FMW": scroll down).

1907 Winegrowers' Revolt - the Roussillon 100 years on! (Nov 2007)

Waitrose wine magazine (allegedly)
"Last year I was commissioned to do a few introductory pieces for a possible new wine magazine to be published by Waitrose (for those of you outside the UK, it's a superior supermarket chain owned by the John Lewis Group with a more enlightened wine range than some). Whatever happened between then and now behind the corporate scenes, my purple prose never saw the light of day and Waitrose has since launched a funky little drinks mag called Thirst. Anyway, I'm not very surprised they changed their plans as they already produce the glossy monthly Food Illustrated with wine articles by writers such as Andrew Jefford and Tim Atkin; as well as other features, interviews and food matching tips on their website. My four snippets here were written to a specific brief and are a little déjà-vu / back-to-basics / textbook in style, but I thought somebody out there still might find them an informative read..."
"Standing among the vines in a dramatic wine region setting can give simple pleasure and peace of mind, yet a vineyard’s location and environment also greatly influence how vines grow and the quality of grapes they produce. French winemakers in particular attribute this to the all-encompassing, slightly mysterious terroir. The word is basically untranslatable into English but has geographical and cultural overtones..." Read on... (Sept 2007)

Touring Crozes-Hermitage country
Part of this feature was originally written for the website www.winetourisminfrance.com
"Crozes-Hermitage literally stands in the imposing shadow of the Hermitage hillside vineyard, but do the wines lag far behind in its awesome wake? The busy little town of Tain l’Hermitage, on the Rhone’s right bank north of Valence, forms the heart of the appellation (AOC) and where the eponymous hill starts to rise steeply, immediately behind the station, adorned with placards carrying those oh-so famous names (Chapoutier, Jaboulet…) and the landmark Chapelle revered by wine lovers around the globe." Read on... (goes to FMW, summer 2007).

Chile: Ventisquero & Pangea tutored tasting.

"Roussillon's Identity Parade"
An edited (and occasionally inaccurate) version of this article was published in the 11 May 2007 issue of Harpers wine & spirit weekly.
"The Roussillon, apparently permanently chained to its larger and more talked-about sibling the Languedoc, isn’t perhaps the obvious place in the ‘new South’ to come up with popular brands and innovative labels that will take the UK by storm. There are less than 30,000 hectares (ha) under vine – below 10% of the surface area of Languedoc-Roussillon as a whole – with over one third of this dedicated to production of Vins Doux Naturels sweet wines. In addition, average yields are relatively low at 35-40 hl/ha (all CIVR figures for 2006 vintage). Fifty co-operative cellars – dwindling in number yet increasingly dynamic – account for 70-75% of the region’s volume. On the other hand, around 450 independent growers are blazing an alternative trail making ‘artisan’ wines; and in-between sit certain high-profile estate owners cum merchant houses..." Read on... ("FMW")

Languedoc & Roussillon: top reds over €10 (April 2007)

Southern French Muscat
A shorter edition of this report was published in Off Licence News on 9th March 2007.
"The ‘Rencontres Mediterranéennes du Muscat’ might sound like a dating agency for southern European winegrowers; but Perpignan’s second Muscat showcase prompted further investigation into the variety’s current standing and future potential in the UK. Firstly: traditional ‘vins doux naturels’ or other sweeties from the Roussillon - the leading producer - Languedoc and southern Rhône. Secondly: developments in dry Muscat styles and what retailers think of them..." Read on... ("FMW")

Clare Valley Riesling report March 2007
Austria Grüner Veltliner: more than thirty of Austria's signature grape variety tasted and reviewed, "so you don't have to..." February 2007
Rioja free zone! Hot tips from "elsewhere," Wines from Spain London tasting Feb 2007.
Organically focused on Alsace Corsica Tuscany: themes from Millésime Bio Jan 2007...

Fitou splits from Languedoc
This story was posted on www.decanter.com on 1/12/2006.
"The entire Fitou appellation and its producers have left the CIVL, the regional association of Languedoc wineries. When revealing export marketing budgets at the CIVL’s AGM in Narbonne, Fitou’s letter of resignation was also conspicuously on the agenda..." Read on...

South of France earmarks €7 million for export
An edited version of this news item was posted on www.decanter.com on 25/11/2006.
"Ambitious plans were announced by Languedoc wine producers at their recent AGM in Narbonne. In an unprecedented move to boost export sales, around half of the overall €15 million budget has been allocated to key European, North American and Far East markets..." Read on...

Finding Fenouillèdes country
This article is published in English and French on the wine travel website www.winetourisminfrance.com
"Whichever map angle you approach the Fenouillèdes region from, you’ll quickly be invaded by the primal beauty of the unforgiving terrain that cradles its vineyards. Draped across a dramatically wild, elevated valley landscape bridging Corbières and French Catalonia, you can kick off a wine route on its eastern side coming from Perpignan airport, around the villages of Calce, Estagel and Tautavel; or from the west between Caudiès de Fenouillèdes and St-Paul de Fenouillet. The latter choice is recommended, if you’re travelling down from Carcassonne via Limoux and Couiza then winding your way through the scary Gorges de Galamus. Between St-Paul and Estagel, dotted along and south of the D117 valley road, the villages and wines of Lesquerde, Maury, Caramany, Rasiguères and Latour de France all grab your attention..." Read on... ("FMW" Dec 2006)

Tour of Tokay & Budapest: Hungarian wine travelling autumn 2006

Understanding Mourvèdre
"Comparing Mourvèdre's European growing characteristics and winemaking styles provides an understanding of its U.S. potential..." A tweaked version of this feature was published in the August 2006 issue of Wine Business Monthly and on their website www.winebusiness.com
Dial M for Mourvèdre…Monastrell…or indeed Mataro
"The very fact that it has (at least) three names says a great deal about this migrant, mystifying and misunderstood variety. It depends on where in Europe or the ‘New World’ you find yourself, although Mourvèdre seems resolutely ‘Old World’ wherever it’s grown. Early confusion over synonyms and vine provenance, let alone erratic performance, cannot have helped further understanding or interest in planting it elsewhere. This report explores climate, vineyard location, plant material and viticulture in some of the regions where the variety excels. A comparison of techniques, philosophy and styles across southern France, Spain, Australia, South Africa and California thus aims to offer a broader perspective on the potential for high quality American Mourvèdre/Mataro varietals or blends, as well as imported wines..." Read on...

Languedoc-Roussillon feature
From the 21st July edition, 2006, of UK business fortnightly Off Licence News.
"Limitless, dramatic: the Languedoc-Roussillon is a wild landscape of contrasts. Demos and dynamite, dynamic estates and brave new brands. While we should, of course, sympathise with stranded growers asking for more help from a distant Paris; it was Vinisud, the showcase for Mediterranean wines held in February, which took Montpellier by storm in the most constructive sense. Unfortunate use of words perhaps, in light of the isolated desperate acts that scar the region. But it’s clearly the numerous creative winemakers, who are signposting the future path for the South. This report looks at some of the new success stories from the region and latest developments in building a cohesive approach to marketing in the UK..." Read on... ("FMW")

"Italy's great white hope" - Pinot Grigio
This ran in the 9th June 2006 issue of British trade paper OLN.
"Perceptive readers might have noted with interest the apparent paradox between two items in the 12th May issue of OLN. One story had M&S enthusing: “the sexy and magical words Pinot Grigio… (have) more resonance with shoppers.” The other, from a recent Wine Intelligence survey, stated that “only 55% of monthly wine drinkers can identify Pinot Grigio as a type of white grape.” The first follows some kind of positive, consumer ‘brand’ acceptance; on the other hand, they aren’t necessarily recognising it as a grape variety. So is the Pinot Grigio star phenomenon still in the ascendant, or are there signs that PG is passé?" Read on...

Signature Bio organic wine competition June 2006
6th Fenouillèdes wine fair May 2006

Biodynamic growers worldwide: "return to terroir"
Biodynamic viticulture is slowly moving from obscure homeopathy-cum-astrology to hippy mainstream... the illustrious names who are members of the Renaissance des appellations / return to terroir group... speak for themselves..." Two dozen 90+ pointers picked from a groundbreaking tasting in London (May 2006) including sublime wines from: Josmeyer, Falfas, Leroy, Abbatucci, Gauby, Coulée Serrant, Breton, Trévallon, Montirius, Chapoutier, Nikolaihof, Geyerhof, Herrnsheim, Sander, Eymann, Pepe, San Giuseppe, Trevvalle, Valgiano, Lezaun, Estela, Benziger, Bonterra, Antiyal and Castagna. Plus an attempted summary of Nicolas Joly's ideas, biodynamic guru grower and author: "winegrowing for the  future..." Read on...

Australia Pinot Noir tutored tasting May 2006 (scroll down).
South Africa Chenin Blanc: themed tasting May 2006 (scroll down).
Chile trophy winners: my favourites from "the third inevitable instalment of the Wines of Chile Awards..." (May 2006)

Click here!
Nebbiolo "International Symposium" Alba, March 2006
"Obviously the focus was on northwest Italy, but there were producers from elsewhere too - Sardinia, California, Virginia,  Mexico, Australia and South Africa - with their wines made from this "schizophrenic" variety... Comprehensive notes and comments on these wineries: Elvio Cogno, Sandrone, Ghiomo, Burlotto, Oddero, Viberti and giant Fontanafredda; plus a marathon walk-around tasting of BaroloBarbaresco, Ghemme, Valtellina... including verticals of top estates: Ascheri, Batasiolo, Bel Colle, Bussia Soprana, Verduno, Moccagatta, Rizzi, Gresy, Varaldo, Prevostini, Silver..." Click below those Nebbiolo grapes (and scroll down this page)!

Highlights from Vinisud wine show Montpellier 2006: featuring a dozen top Languedoc & Roussillon producers...
My pick of Millésime Bio organic wine fair 2006: 20 estates reviewed from the Languedoc, Roussillon, Provence and southern Rhone; plus "a few facts and thoughts" on organics...

Lebanon November 2005: Beirut, Baalbek and Bekaa
"This fascinating trip was full of pleasant surprises in personally uncharted territory. Château Musar is still the star but there are several wineries, large and small, that show great promise. Lebanon appears capable of offering something different, combining traditional French winemaking philosophy with a distinctive Middle Eastern accent; and sometimes high quality with reasonable prices..." Also includes Château Nakad, Château Ksara, Domaine des Tourelles, Clos Saint Thomas, Heritage, Château Kefraya, Cave Kouroum and Domaine Wardy; plus an excellent piece on Lebanese food by John Salvi MW... Go to article!


Armagnac trip autumn 2005
This report appeared in the UK retail trade paper OLN on 9th December 2005, and it can also be found on Graperadio.com (Over the Barrel, volume 2 number 1) and BKWine.com
"Watching Marc Saint-Martin stoke up Marie-Jeanne’s fire with chunks of dry wood evokes romantic images of steam trains and times gone by. It’s actually the name of his “probably at least 100 year old” travelling still: each one has a story to tell and emphasises the artisan nature of Armagnac production even today. Once he’d finished his first batch over the weekend, he was off touring around with two mobile units distilling for other small producers before returning to his makeshift cellar (a huge dilapidated barn about to be restored) to carry on non-stop until Christmas..." Read on... (scroll down a bit)

Pessac-Léognan, Pomerol and Saint-Emilion: winery touring Sept 2005.


"Once upon a time in the South…"
Published in UK business fortnightly OLN on July 22nd 2005.
"Once upon a time in the South…there were wines called Corbières and Coteaux du Languedoc. Now sweeping changes are afoot to both rationalise and diversify the AOC hierarchy and names across the Languedoc-Roussillon. An unenviable task for a region covering 300,000 hectares, where entrenched (and occasionally dangerous) tradition goes hand in hand with progressive export-driven producers. So watch out for La Clape, Grés de Montpellier, Saint-Chinian Berlou and straight Languedoc. Confused? Well, there is admirable logic behind all of this..." Read on ("FMW")...

Provence in the pink... rosé road trip
A version of this wine touring piece first appeared in the summer 2005 edition of Redhot, the in-flight magazine of Virgin Express. "It’s official: rosé wines are hot. Maybe it’s down to the success of those vibrantly pink, alcoholic fruit bombs from Australia or California; or sophisticated habits picked up in the south of France and Spain; or perhaps it’s global warming changing our taste buds… And the international ‘Mondial du Rosé’ competition held in Cannes in April further proves how seriously these wines are taken..." Read on...

"International Riesling Review" - an exciting comparison of wine styles from top Riesling producers around the world. Featuring: South Australia - Grosset Wines; Germany - Weingut Wittmann, Bassermann-Jordan, Robert Weil & Leitz; Alsace - Domaines Schlumberger; New Zealand - Spy Valley; Washington State, USA - Chateau Michelle & Ernie Loosen. Click here and go to the bottom of the page... (May 2005)

Tannat: Madiran v Uruguay
In fact, much more than Madiran v Uruguay: there are also some very good reds from the lesser known Côtes de St-Mont appellation of southwest France. All the Uruguayan wines tasted are 100% Tannat (although many do blends as well), whereas the French ranged from 60% upwards. My top three were: 1er Cru Garage Tannat from Familia Deicas, Cuvée Charles de Baatz from Domaine Berthoumieu, and Château Bouscassé/Alain Brumont's Madiran Vieilles Vignes. Click here to read full report and tasting notes... (May 2005)

Monastrell-Mourvèdre-Mataro strikes back! Jumilla, South Africa and Australia (May 2005).
Faugères, Saint-Chinian and Coteaux du Languedoc: 35 wines selected from the 'Meet the winegrowers' tasting - Mas de Saporta, Montpellier, March 2005.
Languedoc: Pic Saint-Loup daytrip Château La Roque, Mas de Mortiès and Domaine de l’Hortus (March 2005)

"Is there a d'Oc in the house?"
Published in the weekly trade magazine Harpers on 4th February 2005.
"Languedoc may well mean ‘tongue of the Oc’, but growers in the region have only just begun to speak the same language. To cynical eyes, the recent creation of a mega producers’ association representing the whole of Languedoc-Roussillon, as well as the new regional Languedoc AOC, might look like more bureaucratic hurdles for embattled French wine exporters. However, a fresh spirit of cooperation and desire to simplify things have emerged, as illustrated by the ‘Printemps du Languedoc-Roussillon’ tasting in London on February 15th, also held in conjunction with Vins de Pays d’Oc producers..." Read on ("FMW")...

Fenouillèdes country: this beautifully rugged, northwest corner of the Roussillon forms the 'border' between French Catalonia and the Pyrenees and Corbières hills... (Jan 2005)
Millésime Bio organic wine show 2005

Cortes de Cima wines & olive oil (Jan 2005)

Languedoc wines speak the same language
Here's the original version of my story published by Decanter.com on 14/12/2004.
"The Conseil Interprofessionnel des Vins du Languedoc (CIVL) has revealed plans to promote all the different appellations (AOC) under the one umbrella of ‘Languedoc’, and to work together with other producers to push the idea of ‘South of France’ in export markets..." Read on...

Fête des Vignes Montpellier (Dec 2004)

Waitrose Christmas Wines (Nov 2004)
Lingenfelder Vineyard Creatures (Oct 2004, go to bottom of this page)

Bandol harvest finishes early
A version of this news story first appeared on Decanter.com on 14th October 2004.
"The costumed tradition of ‘les Vendanges du Rond-Point des Mourvèdres’ – harvesting 225 Mourvèdre vines planted on the roundabout near motorway exit ‘La Cadière-Le Castellet’ north of the town of Bandol – took place on Thursday 7th October in temperatures of over 25°C, despite threats of rain issued by weather forecasters..." Read on...
Plus: Mourvèdre Madness! Bandol 2003-2004 & much more...

Big Turkish export push
An adaptation of this report was first published on Decanter.com on September 30 2004. I've since added a bit more info and opinion: Turkish Delight (my notes on wines tasted on this delight-ful (ho ho) Turkish wine trip). "Turkish wines are set to hit the UK as importer Alaturka teams up with two major producers to concentrate on exports. UK agent Alaturka will spearhead this export drive for wines from Turkey in partnership with Doluca and Kavaklidere, the two largest wineries in an industry previously lacking in co-operation..." Read on...

Report on Rhône Valley wines published by OLN on August 6th 2004.
France’s second longest river has inspired us to ‘think red’, ride with Rhône rangers and even roam with goats. Côtes du Rhône wines have, over time, won a place in the hearts of British buyers, but their current hit-or-miss performance has exposed the fickle nature of this relationship. If overall volume trends for the last year look a little alarming, then the rise in value and of certain appellations and brands – particularly from the southern Rhône – paints a rosier picture... Read on...

'Screwcaps and beyond' by guest wine writer Paul White
This detailed article was first published in World of Fine Wine magazine in the August 2004 issue. I've reproduced it here with Paul's kind permission to offer a different view on this news item I posted on 16/11/04: New Zealand takes lead in screwcaps as wine closures. Other related stuff on winewriting.com: Lingenfelder goes screwy, Laroche Chablis cork v screwcap (temporarily missing).
"It should be increasingly clear that screwcaps aren’t at all what they’ve been cracked up to be. Evidence increasingly suggests that they are as potentially faulty, albeit from a different set of faults, as either corks or synthetic stoppers. Before I dig myself any deeper into this contentious little hornet’s nest, let me declare up front that I have absolutely no preference for cork over screwcaps over whatever. I’ve had both magnificent and absolutely dreadful wine sealed under both corks and screwcaps. Like most consumers, all I want is to have wine delivered to me fault-free with a degree of consistency. If it’s wine intended for early consumption I would want it to be fresh and ready to drink without being disjointed or excessively harsh. And where it’s a fully matured, bottle aged wine, I would hope for the sublime heights of the finest old wines I’ve tasted so far under the best corks..." (Might be resurrected...ed)

Feature on Austrian wine Off Licence News July 23 2004
“I’ll be back,” as Austria’s most famous export, Governor Schwarzenegger, once put it. Austrian growers are a little frustrated with being told their wines are fantastic but too expensive. However, they do understand why and appear keen to make a come back. A recent trip across the country's main wine regions ably demonstrated what’s happening in vineyards and cellars there, and what kind of wines are on offer for the UK. So far distribution in the off-trade has been muted, but there are plenty of ideas coming out of Austria on the marketing front. Their new DAC appellation scheme looks interesting, and what about generic PR and the future for brands..? Read on...


Burgundy growers disagree with proposals for AOC reform
A version of this news item first appeared on Decanter.com on 16/7/2004.
"Growers and producers from the BIVB, the region’s main trade body, issued their initial reactions to President of the INAO – the organisation that sets and enforces the rules for French Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée wines – René Renou’s plans for AOC reform, presented at a packed meeting last week..." Read on...

Pass the Bolly
Notes and views on the Champagne market and the art of blending, based on a presentation to MW students on 17th May 2004 by Ghislain de Montgolfier from Champagne Bollinger. After the text, you'll find a few ecstatic tasting notes and reviews (well, Bolly is pretty good, no?) of the 'finished product' including Special Cuvée, La Grande Année 1990-95-96-97 and the incomparable one-off 1985 RD ("if it's the 85, you were expecting me," as 007 might have said...). Read on...

TIME OUT South of France Guide - Provence & the Côte d'Azur
A version of the following wine touring feature appeared in the 2004 edition of this essential guide to the region. Yours truly also compiled/updated the chapter on Marseille. Click on the picture for more info on the latest edition on Time Out's website.

"As you’ll soon notice when travelling around, the south of France is awash with vast areas of picturesque vineyards: sometimes endless rows forming great flat plains, sometimes impossibly steep or rocky terraces. The volume of wine produced between Perpignan and Nice is breathtaking, but there’s been a dramatic shift in thinking. The southeast generally seems less dynamic than the Languedoc-Roussillon, nevertheless there’s plenty of good wine to be found amidst the plonk. Provence and the Côte d’Azur are home to a bewildering array of wine regions: from miniscule Palette just east of Aix and Nice’s bijou Bellet to the huge sweeping Côtes de Provence and Coteaux d’Aix; up-and-coming Costières de Nîmes, Côtes du Ventoux, Cairanne and Rasteau to established royalty like Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Gigondas and Bandol. The relatively hot and dry climate prescribes red grape varieties foremost, although certain appellations are rated for their whites such as Cassis..." Read on...

'An Austrian adventure'
This feature was published on 16th April 2004 in Harpers wine & spirit weekly magazine. "You can almost see their eyes roll in time to the crescendo of Mahler’s 5th, when an Austrian grower is told yet again their wines are great but too expensive. But to fully appreciate Austria’s position, a cool reminder is required placing them in the context of world production. A recent visit covering regions such as Burgenland, Thermenregion, Kamptal and Wachau provided a fascinating insight into what is happening on the ground in terms of viticulture and winemaking. To date, distribution in the UK is at best niche; there is, however, no shortage of ideas or activity to broaden marketing and sales of Austrian wines. The innovative DAC ‘appellation’ system could prove an asset, and what of the potential of brands or even cult wines?" Read on...

And returning to your screens from the 2004 archive asap: I'm still rebuilding this blog so please bear with me if things are missing or look a bit odd. It'll be gran reserva when finished (cue 2020, a wine odyssey)...
Majestic Winter List reviewed, Aldi posh wines, Screwcaps on Grand Cru Chablis? Laroche: screwcap v cork, Soy Argentina: Patagonia & Mendoza, Germany - Southern States, Oz regional focus: Western Australia - South Australia - New South Wales - Victoria, 'New' South Africa and South African Syrah ShirazWines of Chile Awards, New Zealand Pinot Noir, "Old obscure and orbital", Wine for Spice, Rosé Riot, Austria: Styria - Pannobile - Thermenwinzer - Wachau Riesling - Grüner Veltliner, Washington State wines and Vinisud 2004: Abbotts & Boutinot - Minervois La Livinière - Pic St Loup.

Côtes de Provence – Massif des Maures
Full tasting notes and reviews of all the wines mentioned in this piece will be added as soon as possible... "A day trip in early November 2003 took in a handful of wine estates dotted along the peaceful (at that time of year at least) coastal strip between Hyères and Saint-Tropez, skirting the edges of the omnipresent silhouette of the Massif des Maures. Four of these were so-called Cru Classé properties: Château Sainte Marguerite, Clos Mireille (Domaines Ott), Château de Brégançon and Château Minuty. This slightly dubious 'classification' dating from 1956 holds no credible status in terms of official criteria for superiority, but it certainly pumps up the prices and expectations. Having said that, some of the Cru Classé wines are undeniably very good and swim gracefully above the shoals of mediocrity found in the vast sea that is Côtes de Provence. And if price and stature truly reflect track record, a natural hierarchy can sometimes speak volumes..." Read on...


Pastis: published in OLN on 28 November 2003.
"It’s an old cliché – it just doesn’t taste the same back home – but this seems so true when applied to pastis. Best enjoyed sitting outside a bar in the south of France, soaking up the rays and partaking in the full ritual: slowly add water from one of those cute oh-so-French jugs, watch the ice swirl and the drink turn opaque. But this cultural flavour experience doesn’t appear to translate as well to northern Europe and beyond. So who’s drinking pastis – and which brands – in the UK and other countries?" Read on...


Alsace travel in brief
City Life issue 498, August 2003.
"You get a nutshell glimpse of Strasbourg taking the groovy Mancy-style tram (although a touch more ‘Space 1999’) from the main station, which weaves through various clean-cut squares and shopping streets. The capital of Alsace - and allegedly Europe - does in certain ways give off a more Germanic than French feeling, especially in the architecture department..." Read on...

'HOT' South of France & Rhône
Harpers on-trade magazine, July/August 2003 issue.
“Château Latour, c’est le Pibarnon de Pauillac.” This facetious and flattering quip by the French magazine Le Nouvel Observateur - comparing Château Pibarnon (a leading estate in Bandol nestling between Marseille and Toulon) and that slightly more famous property in the Médoc - does in fact raise significant issues. Very few wines outside the ‘classic’ regions, let alone in the south, have such a reputation and saleable clout. So is there a place for the South of France and the Rhône on our wine lists, and how are they and French wines generally going down in restaurants and bars?" Read on (go to bottom of this page)...

L’Ambassade des Vignobles, Marseille...
Wine magazine June 2003. "This vast tranquil square is easily found just a stone’s throw from the traffic lining the south side of Marseille’s historic Vieux Port, at the bottom of the steep ascent to that other postcard landmark, the magnificently kitsch Notre Dame de la Garde basilica. On the port side, touristy restaurants offering bouillabaisse aplenty dominate; in the furthest southwestern corner sits L’Ambassade des Vignobles. The building is very old, the walls made of near-crumbling stone with dark wood beams above. However it’s smart in style but unstuffy in atmosphere; this is the South after all...." Read on...


"Macho Mourvèdre" - Bandol day trip April 2003
"Le rond-point des Mourvèdres. Magnificent, a roundabout dedicated to Mourvèdre: must be a good omen. This scene-setting postage-stamp vineyard, which is difficult to ignore if you take motorway exit 11 'La Cadière-Le Castellet' to the north of Bandol, lets you know immediately who’s boss around here. For majestic mythical Mourvèdre shapes not only the heart of the appellation on paper but also winegrowers' hearts and minds..." Click here!

Pomerol February 2003: invasion of MW students (on FMW.com)
Part one: Vieux Château Certan

'Alexandre Thienpont – third generation proprietor, vineyard manager and wine maker – is very much a terroir man. I know this word, this concept, is bandied about ad nauseum, particularly by French wine growers and sometimes for the wrong reasons or without real meaning. But in this case it seems to hold true: Alexandre’s philosophy and, on the surface, simple approach does translate through to his wines. “Everything is done in the vineyard, in the winery we just ferment juice with no improvements. Quality has been built up from generations of trial and error in the vineyard.” Bit of a simplistic staid cliché, I realise, but bear with me...'
Part two: Château Le Pin

'Reluctant to leave Vieux Château Certan so soon, we moved on animatedly to cult estate Château Le Pin just a stone’s throw away. Passing motorists found some amusement in dodging a coach-load of people, each armed with dripping tasting glass in hand, strolling down the road in two columns in opposing directions. The second group was drifting up from Le Pin heading for VCC; we couldn’t all visit together as the cellar at Le Pin is too small, in true ‘garage’ style. Owner Jacques Thienpont and his wife Fiona Morrison MW greeted us outside the ordinary-looking house/cottage/bungalow (I don’t think they live there), the best vantage point to survey the whole two hectares that make up the property. Jacques bought the vineyard in 1979 – unknown at the time but VCC used to buy one hectare of fruit from it – paying one million Francs for 1 ha (envious to think what it’s worth now), then acquired selected parcels around it...'
Click on the title above to read more.

Italian wines: Off Licence News April 2003
"Keeping their fingers crossed was never going to be enough for Italian wine producers with a presence on UK off-licence shelves. After at least two successive years of increasing their market share, the figures suggest a downturn in sales. In 2002 Italy lost about 5% of its value share of the take home market, but still occupied third slot with 10-11% in value and 12% in volume. Jan/Feb 2003 MAT data confirms a further slightly downward trend (all stats ACNielsen). In addition a difficult 2002 vintage resulting in lower volumes and possibly quality isn’t going to help." Read on...

"With the onslaught of the New World, German wines stand little chance of surviving..."
An essay in defence of German wine: originally written in 2002 but the ideas still hold up!
Onslaught is an extreme, emotive word. To substantiate or reject this statement, it’s necessary to briefly look at statistics of the performance of German versus New World wines in a few different markets (essentially whites bearing in mind they form 75% of Germany’s production). It’s clear Germany has lost share in the UK, for example, but what is happening elsewhere and, in contrast, does this hold true for all styles and qualities? We also cannot generalise about the so-called New World, and price and volume issues need to be considered. We have to look at some of the background problems hampering Germany in the face of competing countries, such as image, packaging, communication to the consumer, brands and wine styles. But in addition to analyse what traditional German wines have got to offer and the success - or not - of the so-called ‘new wave’ initiatives. And finally the question of the much talked about Riesling revival... Read more of this article...

Restaurants, bars and clubs: Edinburgh & London...
Refresh magazine March 2003 issue
Energetic Edinburgh is bursting with lively restaurants, bars and cafés, available in all shapes and styles to suit. The whole Broughton Street ‘district’ is so hip it even has its own website (www.broughtonstreet.co.uk), which offers a useful guide to the area’s establishments. Read more of this article...

Valentine’s Day drinking & eating...
Refresh magazine Feb. 2003 issue
The mere suggestion of drinking sparkling rosé might induce a wince or a tut, but the best ones are more serious than their pretty colour or perceived image implies. The key is to use high quality red grapes – Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier mostly – which are crushed and briefly left soaking with their skins, then the juice is drained off taking its seductive pink tinge with it. Having said that, most rosé Champagnes aren’t made like this but are a blend of red and white (Chardonnay) wines; the fizz and unique taste are then created in the usual way by slow second fermentation in bottle and ageing on the yeast. Read more of this article...

Chine Rouge Manchester... WINE magazine February 2003 issue.
"This grand swish establishment is a newcomer to Chinatown and offers refinement, cosiness and high camp courtesy of Manchester institution Francis Carroll (of Lounge Ten fame). The interior is glorious: black painted and red padded walls neatly matching red benches, low black armchairs and red stained wooden floorboards. A giant Buddha sits observing amidst candles, Chinese umbrellas above on the roof, marble-affect pillars ornamented with kitsch oriental designs and a large painting of two Geishas or lady-boys drinking..." (Picture courtesy of City Life magazine) Read on...

Kro2 Manchester... WINE magazine January 2003 issue.
"This independently owned mini-group is churning out sequels faster than Hollywood. Kro Bar opened to acclaim a couple of years ago further down Oxford Road in the heart of the University, and a third is being constructed occupying part of the Manchester Museum nearby (Kro3 The Return perhaps?). But who cares when they look this smart and offer good quality drinking and eating..." Read on...

Choice bar & restaurant Manchester... WINE magazine December 2002 issue.
"Its short and sweet name gets the juices flowing: so is the selection worthy at Choice bar & restaurant? This smart and clear-cut establishment has been open for a year but is perhaps overlooked, tucked away under Castle Quay by the canal in Manchester’s redeveloped Castlefield area. The restaurant elegantly oozes exposed old brick, cream and dark wood; the bar is similar with wines on display in a glass cabinet..." Read on...

More HOT... or hotter still?
A couple of bar reviews first published in 'Harpers On-trade' magazine (November and December 2002 issues): The Player, Ashton-Under-Lyne & Cosmopolitan Spirit, Manchester. Click here. A taster: "The Player is located just off Ashton’s old market square cum 70s-style hideous shopping centre..." and "This is no ordinary establishment: brandishing the Cosmo trademark, here you can drink, eat and visit their beauty spa downstairs..."


City Life Food & Drink Guide 2003
Wine in restaurants, wine & beer shopping, a wine glossary and review of the Gurkha Grill. "Wine is overpriced in restaurants. Now that I’ve annoyed restaurateurs from Bolton to Altrincham (“what does he know about overheads”), let me add that apparently on average two-thirds of wine sold is house wine. We are drinking more and better wine with food, but diners tend to set a psychological price ceiling and are thus discouraged from experimenting..." Read on...


Portugal OLN November 2002.
"Widely tipped as the next big thing, Portuguese wines frustratingly don’t seem to be grabbing the imagination of wine drinkers and flying off the shelves. Much has been said about the diversity of its indigenous grape varieties and regions, unique points of difference, advances in quality and value for money, and quite rightly so. However most consumers still don’t appear to recognise or understand and hence choose the wines, but do like the styles and flavours, when given the opportunity to taste them." Read on... (and jump to bottom of the page).

Bordeaux OLN Bordeaux feature, September 2002.
"57 Appellations, 12000 growers, 116000 hectares of vines and 6.8 million hectolitres – that’s about 75½ million cases of wine... Welcome to the diverse world of Bordeaux basking in all its glory and vastness, complexity and mediocrity. How can one region making so much wine send out a consistent message and product and please everyone from struggling grower to confused consumer? On the one hand there’s the aloof aristocracy of top quality Châteaux, who command very high prices and represent less than 5% of the total. On the other a mass of often indifferent wines that lead to disappointment with the area as a whole. And in between many unknown ACs or Petits Châteaux, which really do have something interesting to offer." Read on... (and jump to bottom of the page).

New Zealand wine tasting preview
Dropped from City Life at the last minute due to lack of space (would have been in the 11th Sept 2002 issue)! "The figures suggest we are a nation of avid kiwi-drinkers – over half of New Zealand wine exports are consumed in Britain – which nevertheless amounts to less than one tenth of the Australian wine we put away. New Zealand’s small production favours a focus on quality and does help explain their higher prices, although occasionally value for money can appear dubious..." Read on...


HOT: harpers on-trade September 2002 (issue 25)
"Miyako (50 Faulkner Street M1, 0161 228 1215  0161 228 1215) snuggles up, almost unnoticed, shoulder-to-shoulder with the myriad, densely packed and diverse restaurants, bakers and grocers that form Manchester’s China Town..." A brief investigation into, and review of sushi restaurants in Manchester. Plus a few thoughts on licensing policy and growth of late bars in the city centre: "...is there a trend towards late-licensed bars – whether exclusive, cavernous or plain raucous – taking over as the preferred venue for ‘after hours’ drinking and dancing?" Read on...


Italian wines - Class magazine August 2002
“Pinot Grigio or Pinot Grigio” was a likely reply when asking for an Italian wine in a bar a few years ago. So what’s changed? To find out, Richard James trawled some of Manchester’s coolest and newest establishments to see what’s listed, popular and quaff-tastic in Italian wine drinking. Read more of this article...


Château Falfas: "Biodynamic in Bordeaux"
"This fetching, subtly grand yet unpretentious and workmanlike property is owned by John and Véronique Cochran and is located near Bayon in the Côtes de Bourg appellation to the northeast of Bordeaux on the Right Bank. This area isn’t known for great quality and hence its wines don’t command high prices, but that doesn’t do justice to certain individual estates who are reaching to applaud-worthy heights. Château Falfas is one of them and almost unique in Bordeaux, as it has been run on biodynamic principles since 1988, thus joining such illustrious names as Zind-Humbrecht in Alsace, Huet in Vouvray and Chapoutier in the Rhône..." Read more of this article...

City Life issue 457 - 29 May / 13 June 2002
Richard James checks out Deli Republic... "Are the citizens of Altrincham ready for upheaval? No, how about a nice sandwich then?" Read on...


Marseille travel - City Life issue 452, 20 March 2002
"The EuroStar cut a January-grey, pastel-painted blur through the spacious rural canvass like an Impressionist on speed. It’s only really when you get to Paris – aside from the embarrassingly sluggish chug through Kent followed by 20 minute blackout – that it sinks in you’ve arrived in northern France, without the more customary touchdown. A quick change of stations from Gare du Nord to de Lyon, where we were confronted by a sexy silver and blue, wingless beast waiting to teleport us to the south. This awesome, double-decker TGV is one of a brand-new class that hurtles down the Mediterranean line opened last summer..." Read on...


Booth's of Stockport: City Life issue 448, 23 Jan - 7 Feb 2002
"The stretch of Heaton Moor Road running from the station to the Reform Club still retains some loose suburban village charm, with its succinct parade of shops, bank and pubs. And a rather good, blink-and-you’ll-miss-it wine merchant..." Read on...


City Centre wine walk & shopping in the Manchester area
From the City Life Food & Drink Guide 2002
"Les Délices de Champagne, upstairs @ Triangle/Corn Exchange, Hanging Ditch. Set yourself up by partaking in their ‘cake of the day and glass of house Champagne special’ (£5.50), but start before the 7pm curfew (5pm Sundays) at this posh French patisserie-cum-fine wine café..." Read on...

LOTS MORE WINE TASTING & TRAVEL FEATURES FROM 2002-2003 MIGHT FOLLOW AT SOME POINT (the ones below showing a link have been redone)...

Restaurant magazine
Launch issue October 2001
Australian wine continues to storm ahead in supermarkets and wine shops, although enthusiastic predictions of it overtaking France to secure pole position are perhaps premature. At the moment Oz doesn’t seem to be seriously threatening the stronghold of French wines in restaurants, reckoned to account for nearly half of all bottles opened, but that could easily change (and already has when considering the wine list in an average bar). If so, will we see yet more formulaic branded Chardonnay and Shiraz rather than higher quality, individual wines, or other unusual (but arguably less saleable) offerings such as dry Aussie Riesling, which can be ideal with Asian dishes, for example?
Read more of this article...

Restaurant magazine, 31 October 2001 issue
“I’d like a nice Chardonnay please.”
“We have Red Ridge in a frosted blue bottle or Windswept Gorge with a slick minimalist label.”
“Which is the best?”
“Well, they taste the same but the Windswept Gorge looks sharper.” Read more of this article...

Tunisia by taxi
First published in City Life September 2001
"We arrived at Monastir airport loaded with a double dose of self-satisfaction – the flight only cost £95, and we were now arrogantly leaving behind the package-tour herd scrambling for the reassuring comfort of waiting coaches. But also with a sense of trepidation: first time in Africa, into the late January night on your own. So bolstered by a travel guide we caught the Metro train just outside to Mahdia, the last stop down the coast about 40-50 km. The first peculiarity struck, for European eyes at least: no women to be seen..." Read on...

Swiss wines... www.therestaurantgame.com archive 2001
Hidden elegance
The Swiss have been keeping a bit hush-hush about their wines until quite recently – a tasting in London last year organised by the Exporters’ Association proved to be an eye-opener, and they exhibited at this year’s Restaurant Show. Images of mountains, snow and great lakes don’t perhaps automatically conjure up vineyards, but wine is made in similar environments elsewhere in the world, not to mention just across the borders in France and Italy. Read more of this article...

Pink paradise www.therestaurantgame.com archive September 2001
Historically sales of rosé wines in restaurants have been hampered by narrow-minded, outdated perceptions - sweet, wimpy, inferior red - bolstered by the high profile of certain brands and styles. Surely things have moved on, particularly as New World producers are delivering rosés bursting with vivid colour and juicy fruit?

Read more of this article...

PerSian wine!
Too good for City Life... August 2001 (another victim of ad over ed space).
“Why the Australians call the Syrah Shiraz isn’t clear – although the Iranian city of Shiraz is thought to have been the birthplace of the grape as long ago as 600BC…” (Oz Clarke’s Encyclopedia of Wine 1999 edition: more recent scientific research has now proved otherwise, by the way)..." Read on...

Stars of the Languedoc-Roussillon: a few notes written in August 2001 as mock-ups for a publisher...
1999 Les Hauts de Força Réal rouge, Côtes du Roussillon Villages (£10-15)
Producer: J-P Henriquès
Grape varieties: Mostly Syrah with Grenache and Mourvèdre.
Jean-Paul Henriquès’ beautiful 4 hectare property Força Réal is located near Millas perched high up in the Roussillon hills above Perpignan and offers staggering views towards the Mediterranean and, in the other direction, the Pyrenees and Spain beyond. Read more of this article...

Definitive Italian Wine Tasting www.therestaurantgame.com archive July 2001
The Chelsea Village Galleria at Stamford Bridge provided a powerfully green backdrop to the now annual ‘Definitive Italian Wine Tasting’ on 11th July. But all the action took place on white-clothed tables laden with bottles and thankfully in more than 90 minutes, as there were plenty of new wines and vintages to try. Producers and importers could only show mid-priced wines and upwards, meaning lower quality volume wines were excluded. Read more of this article...


Champagne trip, June 2001
At about an hour and a half’s drive from Paris, that ever so reluctant-to-leave capital city, Champagne is the nearest and easiest French wine region for us to visit... It’s also pretty, green, warm in the summer, suffused with rolling hills…and they make Champagne there; so lots of good reasons. Read more of this article...


Travel: Bordeaux in brief April 2001
I feel like a Château-tourist celebrity spotting as the grand and famous village names stroll serenely by through the coach window: Margaux, Saint-Julien, Pauillac, Saint-Estèphe… If you’re into wine and in particular Bordeaux red wine, a drive up the D2 road northwest of the city along the Gironde estuary offers a taste of the style, elegance and opulence, as you drool over some of these magnificent buildings and vineyards and dream of their produce caressing your palate or washing down some fine nosh. For these are France’s élite, the replacement aristocracy and that means top quality, sought-after and expensive. Read more of this article...


Portuguese pleasures: www.everywine.co.uk April 2001
Portugal has much to offer beyond Port, writes Richard James. Find out the low-down on the country's sun-drenched wines...
Portugal does indeed offer far more than Port. There are unfamiliar but intriguing local grapes, diverse wine-styles and warm people who actually seem to like the Brits. Portugal also offers a great range of wine-producing climates. Portuguese wine producers have benefited from grants given by the EU to modernise their wineries and improve their vineyards. So why aren’t we buying many of their wines? Is their exotic language a barrier? A fear of the unknown perhaps? Part of the problem lies in the fact that many British wine-drinkers are reluctant to explore beyond Port at Christmas and Mateus Rosé. Read more of this article...

Tutored tasting of CVNE and Contino old and rare Riojas by winemaker Jesús Madrazo Mateo. St. Stephen's Club London SW1, 21 March 2001. Originally appeared in the Circle of Wine Writers' Update.
"I was chuffed bordering on surprised at my apparent organisation surrounding three days of events from 20 – 22 March: train ticket from Manchester purchased sufficiently in advance to get the £20 fare, several tastings slotting neatly into place around the big Spanish affair including a tutored Italian on the Wednesday morning, if I/they got my/their skates on. Then the above, last minute-ish invitation landed in my inbox (I’ll resist any facetious speculation about second-tier bums-on-seats). I thought about it for perhaps 1.6 seconds – sorry ICE (Italian trade centre) but I guess I’m a tasting-slut. So time to squeeze in the Swiss first - “I’m afraid, sir, we’re going to have a problem…you can’t wear jeans upstairs,” informs the ‘bouncer’ at the Institute of Directors. Pity they didn’t mention that on the invitation. Still, there’s nothing like some time to kill in a wet and miserable Westminster to enhance your anticipation. On to St. Stephen's Club: looks a bit posh, I wonder if you can wear jeans..." Read more of this article...

Les Grandes Maisons d’Alsace
Tasting and lunch 26 February 2001, Le Gavroche London W1
“No bloody oaks…disgusting.” Hubert Trimbach set the tone nicely for this gathering of six high profile, family-owned Alsace Houses with representatives from each offering half-a-dozen or so (unoaked) white wines to taste and, of course, heart-felt commentary: Léon Beyer, Dopff au Moulin, Hugel & Fils, Kuentz Bas, Domaines Schlumberger and last but not least Trimbach. Price guide: A = £3-£5, B = £5-£7, C = £7-£10, D = £10-£15, E = £15-£20, F = +£20. (Notes on wines not necessarily typed in tasting order but as per booklet.) Read more of this article...

Wine to go with spicy food
www.virgin.net (now editorially defunct) food & drink 31/01/01
In the past beer (usually lager) was the automatic choice to drink with spicy food; the only method known to man of quenching that fiery thirst following consumption of a Vindaloo or similar `death by chilli` experience. There`s no denying cold German-style lager, cool, light but hoppy beers or even water are a safe bet: it`s asking a lot of a wine to tackle very hot food like this. But given the diversity and popularity of Asian cuisine and restaurants and the array of exotic ingredients involved, surely wine should be the natural partner? Read more of this article...

Fizz for less... cheap Champagne alternatives www.virgin.net
Food & drink 12/12/00
It's true that decent champagne can lift you up and take you to a better place, but unfortunately the price tag very soon brings you back down to earth with a thump. And generally speaking, with cheap champers, and shockingly even some high price brands, you get exactly what you pay for - rather too young, lean and acidic. Luckily nowadays it's easy enough to find alternatives, which still taste good and offer excellent value...
Read more of this article...

Unusual Christmas wines, spirits and liqueurs www.virgin.net
Food & drink 19/12/00
The festive season is upon us, and the Christmas gastronomic onslaught is about to begin. Some of us might feel the need to get a little merry at some point to cope with the sheer mind-boggling-ness (and some might say hell) of it all. If your relatives are shrieking in your ear, and you need to take the edge off things, why not sit back with a glass of something a bit less commonplace than your usual sweet sherry? We've got the info on the less used-and-abused Christmas spirits and liqueurs... Read more of this article...

Le Beaujolais Nouveau est arrivé! www.virgin.net
Food & drink 14/11/00
Guzzling gallons
Looking at the figures for the last two years, we don't seem to be that bothered nowadays about Beaujolais Nouveau - only 740,000 bottles came into the country in 1999 which was 12% less than the previous year. Sounds like quite a lot? Well, it's the wee-est of drams compared to our friends in Germany and Japan - they guzzled a whopping 10 and 6 million bottles respectively last November. Not including the French of course, who quaff most of their infantile red themselves. Read more of this article...

Home Magazine: Richard's wine column & wines of the month 1999 - 2000
"Enjoy a bit of retro chic browsing through over 200 tasting notes of my chosen wines of the month, including selections to go with the magazine's imaginative recipes. These follow or form part of the editorial: my monthly wine column in 'Home' for most of the period April 1999 to December 2000 (the missing months are lost in the mists of time, unless you're a hoarder like me and have got actual copies of those issues). Interesting to note, nearly ten years later, how things have changed since then: this page was rebuilt summer 2008 (although still needs a few finishing touches...)"
First ‘relaunch’ issue April 1999: "It would be difficult not to have noticed the extraordinary changes in the world of wine in the UK over the past few years: just walk the aisles in any supermarket and take in the bewildering array of labels, grape varieties and countries that assault the eye (and hopefully the taste buds). ‘World of wine’ are the right words too - few other countries have such diversity on sale as we do here..." Read on...

"Uncorked" 1998-2000
A selection of resurrected column inches published in City Life, Manchester (England as opposed to New England, that is). See above for more recent articles from the magazine and their food & drink guides, which have now also been restored on this page...