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

30 October 2012

South Africa part 2: "unusual" reds (well, some of them...)

Even the dog thinks the Shiraz
is sexy from www.cloof.co.za
Part one being South Africa: Pinot Noir posted last month (plus there's a load of archive stuff on this page), soon to be followed by the unmissable sequel: "Just when you thought it was safe blah blah, South Africa 3 - unusual whites (well, some of them...)."
Cutting rapidly to the chase, you'll find below an eclectic mix of ten recommended South African red blends and varietals, loosely "Mediterranean/Rhone" in make-up with a few Shiraz based cocktails plus some Portuguese & Italian varieties and a sort-of indigenous one, all sampled recently through rouge-tinged spectacles. There's perhaps a longer tradition (more European if you like) in South Africa of creating red blends (especially Bordeaux style mixes) rather than varietal wines, although things change of course and there are plenty of tasty examples of straight Shirazes, Pinotages, Cabernets etc. But if certain combinations work particularly well, and sometimes you need a good few (hundred) years of trial and error to suss it out, why change it.

2009 The Cloof Cellar Blend Darling (Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinotage, Shiraz; 15% alc.) - intriguing nose with baked volatile tones, rich and smoky with maturing meaty/leather edges vs spicy liquorice and herby minty dark fruits; concentrated with firm dry tannins layered with lovely 'sweet/savoury' fruit, powerful finish vs dense texture and complex flavours. 'Traditional' style red and good with it, drinking well now although should go on for a few years yet. £11.99 www.winesulike.co.uk, €12.99 O'Briens.
2009 Cloof Pinotage Darling (14.5%) - similarly rich smoky and dense style with solid framework vs lush ripe vs sour fruit, dark plums and dried fruits vs light red pepper tones, nice 'sweet' vs maturing savoury finish. £10.99 www.winesulike.co.uk
2010 The Cloof Very Sexy Shiraz Darling (14.5%) - quite sexy actually, yet another dense and chunky red from Cloof although this one is more youthful with very ripe blackberry and light spice rounded off with touches of coconut/vanilla oak, less firm on the finish but still has fair punch and depth of fruit. £11.99 www.winesulike.co.uk, €12.99 O'Briens.

2010 Leeuwenkuil Family Reserve Red, Coastal Region (mostly Shiraz + a splash each of  Mourvèdre, Grenache and Cinsaut; 14% alc) - fairly chocolate oaky on the nose vs rich dark and spicy backdrop, firm yet silky tannins with powerful finish balanced out by tasty ripe vs savoury fruit. UK £7-£10 New Generation Wines, US $14-$30, Eurozone €9-€15.

2009 Spice Route Chakalaka (Shiraz, Mourvèdre, Carignan, Petite Sirah, Grenache, Tannat; 14.5% alc) - love that name and quirky blend: hints of spicy oak topped with rich ripe wild fruits vs herby combo, grippy and textured mouth-feel countered by lovely lush dark vs savoury fruit, powerful but it works with long tasty finish. UK £20+ Raisin Social, US $50+, Eurozone €30+.

2008 Leopard's Leap Family Collection Shiraz/Mourvèdre/Viognier (13.5%) - mature savoury style with minty edges, a bit old perhaps but it's interesting with those nice developed characters. UK £7-£10 Raisin Social, US $14-$30, Eurozone €9-€15.

2010 Savanha Frieda's Vine Shiraz/Mourvèdre (14.5%) - 'modern' fruit-driven style with punchy yet tasty palate, finishing with more interesting savoury and spicy flavours with hints of leather and black olive, dry but rounded tannins. UK £7-£10 PLB, US $14-$30, Eurozone €9-€15.

2008 de Trafford Sijnn (Shiraz, Mourvèdre, Trincadeira, Touriga; 14% alc) - aromatic spicy minty nose, dark pruney fruit with peppery olive tones, soft tannins vs power, weight and lovely savoury fruit finish. Good stuff. UK Bibendum Wines.

2011 Howard Booysen Pegasus Cinsault (12.5%) - odd nose, moves on to perfumed sweet berry fruit, quite soft and easygoing with tasty delicate finish.

2009 Nederburg Ingenuity Red (Sangiovese, Barbera, Nebbiolo; 14.5% alc) - dried cherry and blackberry notes, rich extracted and a tad oak-heavy to start, although has nice underlying developing savoury fruit, concentrated and chunky too with long maturing finish; that oak calms down in the end lending rounder texture. UK £20+, US $50+, Eurozone €30+.

South Africa part 3: Chenin blanc, Viognier, Grenache blanc, Semillon...

29 October 2012

Rhône: Ventoux, Clos de Trias & Marrenon

Two Ventoux producers for the price of one in fact, no relation (other than I tasted their wines at the London Wine Fair in a special Grenache-themed room) but it seemed like a good idea to combine them into a duet of Ventoux-tastic-ness. This wine region lies in the Vaucluse département to the east of the River Rhone and Avignon nudging up against that eponymous and somewhat awesome mountain...

Clos de Trias (above, shadowed by you know what: www.closdetrias.com)
Founded in 2007 (although the vines go way back) by Norwegian Even A. Bakke, who spent 14 years in the California wine business, and his French wife, Trias is now 25 ha (62 acres) lying at the foot of Mount Ventoux. I guess the name comes from the geological term Triassic (stifle that yawn please!), which is the era the soils around these parts date from, apparently. Grape-growing here is biodynamic with the philosophy and vineyards in the process of switching over to this way of life for good, man. 2008 was a tricky vintage in the region, which required a fair amount of sorting in the field and winery to pick out the best grapes. 2007 was a more successful year, and their old-vine red sampled here was made from selected 60+ year-old parcels called Champ Paga, L'Aube, Le Jas and Les Grand Terres (sic.), undergoing "a long maceration on the skins" and using "minimal sulphur dioxide."

2008 Clos de Trias (75% Grenache, 15% Syrah, 8% Carignan, 2% Cinsault) - quite soft and 'light' (although still 14% alcohol) with enticing maturing aromas, has a bit of grip still vs nice 'sweet' fruit, developing tobacco/leather edges and a has wild herby side too; drinking well now. €4.50 ex-cellars.
2007 Clos de Trias vieilles vignes (96% Grenache, 4% Syrah; 14.5% alc.) - smoky maturing nose with liquorice vs tobacco edges, extracted firm and punchy palate vs lovely spicy 'sweet/savoury' fruit, big mouthful of flavour. €9.55 ex-cellars.

Marrenon
These guys are actually a 1200-grower strong co-operative set up over 40 years ago; the members' vineyards spread right across the Ventoux and Luberon wine regions with their winery, offices and posh-looking shop based in La Tour d’Aigues in the southeastern corner of the Vaucluse. So they obviously make a big range of wines, although, if this one is pretty typical, they deserve to be investigated further... www.marrenon.com.

2010 Ventoux Classique red (Grenache, Syrah) - vibrant ripe berry fruit, juicy 'sweet' and tasty palate with savoury and tobacco edges, quite elegant actually on the finish; very nice red.

27 October 2012

England: Furleigh Estate, Dorset

"I think we need to train these
solar leaf panels a bit higher!"

www.furleighestate.co.uk
Amid an ever increasing amount of talk about English sparkling wines and news of medals being won in international tasting competitions, Furleigh Estate was a new name for me until I tried this bottle of really rather good fizz. Another Champagne look-alike made from the same grapes, grown in sunny Dorset (well, perhaps 2012 was a challenging year as it was elsewhere for English and Welsh winemakers?), in the same traditional bottle-fermented and lees-aged way (their Classic Cuvée is left in bottle slowly ageing on the fine yeast lees for 15 months in fact, before being removed). The vineyards come to 85 rolling acres (34 hectares) across south-facing slopes surrounded by farmland, woods and lakes too in Salway Ash near Bridport, with well over half of that area planted with Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier for sparkling wine production. They also make a red wine, a few whites and other sparklers including a rosé. The 2009 Classic Cuvée costs £25 a bottle, which might seem a bit dear but is about the same price as a half-decent Champagne brand; it works out at £2.50 a bottle less though if you buy a case of six, so perhaps not a bad idea for Christmas and New Year quaffing. Vineyard tours and tastings are available too on Fridays and Saturdays: click on their web link underneath the photo to find out more.

Classic Cuvée 2009 (Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier; 12% alc.) - lovely fruity nose with complex toasted oat and floral oily notes, this has a very attractive combo of a little richness from those toasty yeasty bready flavours with rounded creamy texture vs crisp and refreshing bite and subtle fine bubbles lingering on the finish. Actually went surprisingly well with quite spicy Chinese and Thai king prawn dishes.

CLICK HERE FOR LATEST ON FURLEIGH.

25 October 2012

Rhône: Domaine de Mourchon, Séguret


Walter McKinlay and family bought Domaine de Mourchon and, at the time, its 17 hectares (42 acres) of old vines up on the stoney hillsides (at about 350 metres altitude) of the breathtakingly picturesque Les Dentelles de Montmirail in 1998. They immediately got to work on constructing a new winery, as the vine-land was previously owned by a co-op grower so there wasn't a cellar, in time for the following year's vintage. Being noticed by American wine critic Robert Parker, publisher of the Wine Advocate, among many others probably hasn't done them any harm, nor for the reputation of the relatively recent Côtes du Rhône Villages subzone of Séguret. This cute wee old village lies to the northeast of Avignon not far from Gigondas or Rasteau. The McKinlays also have a handsome-looking Provencal stone gite available for holiday rentals, standing right next to the cellar (handy for a little in situ sampling): see website link below. I actually went to the estate, on a day-tour of the lesser-known southern Rhone wilderness way back in 2003 (the year they purchased a few more vineyards in fact), and met Walter for the first time; and had the opportunity to catch up with him and taste his latest vintages and releases a few months ago at the London International Wine Fair. My thoughts back then (click here to read an article written at the time, scroll right down to the bottom almost) were probably on the lines of "quite good wines with much more potential," and trying them again nearly 10 years later confirmed that they do indeed merit the attention of our Rhone Valley tinged taste buds.
www.domainedemourchon.com

2011 La Source white Côtes du Rhône (35% Grenache blanc, 25% Roussanne, 15% Marsanne, 15% Viognier, 10% Clairette and Bourboulenc) - rich honeyed vs floral and mineral touches, full and rounded vs juicy and crisp, attractive style.
2011 Loubié rosé Séguret Côtes du Rhône Villages (60% Grenache, 40% Syrah from 40 year-old vines) - attractive creamy red fruits vs juicy and crisp mouth-feel, very quaffable rosé and quite elegant actually.
2010 Côtes du Rhône red (60% Grenache, 40% Syrah from 40 year-old vines) - nice fruity juicy spicy style, hints of black cherry and liquorice with a bit of grip vs attractive peppery fruit underneath. €6.25 cellar door.
2009 Tradition Séguret Côtes du Rhône Villages (65% Grenache, 25% Syrah, 10% Carignan from 40 year-old vines) - funky nose with rustic edges vs rich and dark side, pretty firm still vs lush mouth-feel and savoury flavours to finish.
2010 Grande Réserve Séguret Côtes du Rhône Villages (65% Grenache, 35% Syrah from 60 year-old vines) - closed up on the nose to start, leads on to a very concentrated palate with solid structure, firm vs lush vs spicy finish; serious wine, closes up again on the finish but very promising.
2009 Family Reserve Syrah Séguret Côtes du Rhône Villages (100% Syrah from 60 year-old vines) - pretty chocolate oaky to start with layered with thick texture of concentrated peppery black fruits, that oak blends in in the end thanks to its very rich vs solid framework. Wow.
2010 Family Reserve Grenache Séguret Côtes du Rhône Villages (100% Grenache from 60 year-old vines) - not much on the nose initially, moving on to lovely pure peppery Grenache fruit, 'sweet' and lush vs punchy and firm-textured, again very concentrated. Wow-er.

23 October 2012

Portugal: a couple of Ports of the moment

www.fonseca.pt
(Updated Feb 2013).
I suppose it's that time of year, when our thoughts start turning to Port and with it Portugal's stunningly landscaped Douro Valley vineyards, where these heady wines are created, and the pretty wee city of Porto, where most of the Port ageing cellars still watch over said river as it floods out into the Atlantic. Although it's a pity we don't tend to sample it all year round, as e.g. a chocolate partner or with soft fruit desserts or mature hard cheeses (but not necessarily Stilton: not convinced about how well they go together. Try it again and you'll see what I mean...). And why don't more Port wineries sell these in half-bottles (you can find some if you look hard enough), as 75cl is too much in one go unless sharing with a few like-minded big sweet tannic red quaffers. Admittedly, the two I've picked here should keep just fine for a week or two once open (but not until next Christmas though!). Here we go then:

2007 Graham's Late Bottled Vintage Port (about £13 Tesco and Asda, £10 on offer). Grape varieties: Touriga Nacional, Touriga Franca, Tinta Roriz, Tinta Barroca and others. Graham's, part of the mighty Symington Family Group, is perhaps more famous for its complex elegant aged Tawny Ports (10, 20, 30, 40 year-old even...), but this  one is a very nice example of this popular 'vintage' look-alike style, which is drinking well now although should soften out a little with a few months or more in bottle. Quite powerful and lush (2007 was a very good vintage) with its 20% alcohol coming through at first, it gets smoother and finer on the finish (especially after being open for a few days) showing an enticing mix of solid dark spicy sweet fruit and tannins set against lovely maturing savoury edges.
Fonseca Bin 27 Finest Reserve (£11.99 Morrison's, Tesco) - equally attractive chunky Port, probably made from a similar blend of varieties as above, this house is now owned by the Fladgate Partnership (Taylor's, Croft). This apparently historic blend (click on their web link under the photo above to discover the story behind it) is definitely a posh Ruby, towards LBV style with plenty of rich dark plum and liquorice, firm tannins nicely balancing out the sweetness and spicy finish with lingering meaty and tobacco notes.
Added Feb 2013: Taylor's 2007 Late Bottled Vintage Port (about £13-£15 Tesco, Asda etc.) - goes to show, in line with the Graham's above, that 2007 was a lovely vintage for this fruity vs structured style of Port. Rich and tasty with dark plums, liquorice and lightly baked / meaty / leather tones, chunky firm tannins vs lush sweet fruit vs oomph and warmth. Very nice with dark chocolate-coated dates and prunes, chocolate mints and blueberries too actually.

More Port articles and winery snapshots are HERE (e.g. Niepoort, Quevedo, Dona Matilde).

13 October 2012

Rhône: La Célestière, Châteauneuf-du-Pape

I couldn't find anything on their site (see link below photo, which I pinched from it) saying who owns La Célestière (I tasted the wines in London a few months ago and can't remember who was there pouring); but there might be a connection with quite well-known Chateau Dalmeran in Baux-de-Provence, as both ranges are sold in their on-line shop. Anyway, this 26-hectare property (65 acres), which has had some money spent on it by the looks, spreads over a few different parcels on the north, west and east sides of the Châteauneuf-du-Pape appellation, including a fair amount of 100+ year-old vines all farmed organically since 2010 (so another vintage to go before they get 'certified' and can call it "organic"). All their wines are created from mostly Grenache - I should hope so too - plus a splash of Mourvèdre and/or Syrah depending on which cuvée. I'll update this blurb when I find out where you can buy them.

La Célestière 2009 Tradition (15% alc.) - powerful nose with ripe juicy fruit and white pepper vs liquorice notes, same on the palate with punchy structured mouth-feel vs rich fruit then attractive bitter twist of tannin. €19
La Croze 2009 (selected vines planted around 1920) - lovely pure Grenache nose, big mouthful with grippy vs oily texture, powerful finish that closes up a little vs underlying concentration. Yum.
Les Domaines 2009 - coconut and vanilla oak tones, again it's big and concentrated with attractive liquorice and spice flavours; finishes a tad hot and bitter perhaps.

08 October 2012

Roussillon: Latour de France open-day 11 November

Sounds like a taste-tastic day out, where you can sample wines from and talk to 14 estate winemakers/owners (most of them organically inclined actually) in the picturesque setting of ye olde village of Latour de France on Sunday 11th November (it's not too far from Perpignan). €5 entry fee gets you a special tasting glass (you can keep it) and access to all these cellars; there's an evening meal with wine laid on too for €25, which you have to book in advance. More info on their Facebook page. The gig includes these wineries (highlighted means a link to profile on this blog): Domaine Tribouley, Domaine de Sabbat, Domaine Rivaton, Domaine Respaut, Domaine des Mathouans, Domaine Giocanti, Domaine Fabresse, Domaine Calimas, Domaine de Bila Haut (Michel Chapoutier), Domaine de la Balmière, Domaine de l'Ausseil and Clos du Rouge Gorge. Best done on foot or by bike or on horseback perhaps...

01 October 2012

Australian wine feature for LCN

This article was first published in the October 2012 edition of Licensed & Catering News (Northern Ireland trade publication).

"Australia is still holding on to the hearts, minds and purse strings of the wine buying public in the UK and Ireland, where Australian winemakers command about a quarter of both off-trade markets, although less in the on-trade. This is largely due to the long-term success of popular brands, easy-going fruit-laden styles and a seemingly laid-back approach to wine marketing and culture in general. The Australian wine industry is trying to move on from cliched images of “Aussie Chardy or Cab Sauv with a barbie” via a campaign (called A+ Australia) highlighting its more premium wines, varied and distinct wine subregions and lesser-known grape varieties. This 'new' direction has its critics in Australia, who think this strategy is too narrow and turns it back on the volume brands that made Aus wine famous. But, in a continuing climate of sharp price promotions in the supermarkets and stiff competition from other wine producing countries, where else can Australia go?

Petaluma's Hanlin Hill Vineyard
Clare Valley
Taking a quote from the catalogue at Wine Australia's big Dublin tasting (back in March) serves as a handy introduction to two white varieties, which deserve more attention and distribution: “Riesling has a bad reputation with wine drinkers, Semillon has no reputation!” The standard of Australian Riesling is, however, generally pretty high and it can deliver plenty of flavour and food-friendly satisfaction; but it's still not easy persuading consumers to buy a bottle. Certain regions stand out in particular for this once-scorned variety – e.g. Clare Valley, Adelaide Hills (both in South Australia) and Great Southern (Western Australia) - and wineries such as Grosset, Petaluma, Lehmann, Plantagenet, Mt Horricks and Leasingham. And they're making wines for anyone who likes their dry whites with real character, from zesty easier drinking now to serious styles destined for bottle-ageing and Riesling die-hards. The catch is, inevitably, price, as most of the ones mentioned range from around £8 to over £20 retail; so they'd fit more comfortably in an upmarket independent wine shop or on a restaurant list.

Coming back to reputation-free Semillon, there was no shortage of curiosity at a special tutored tasting of this varietal at the above-mentioned event, which was full of eager sommeliers, wine merchants and journalists. The dry whites (and one sweet) on show dated from vintages 2007 to 2000, a rare enough dimension, and demonstrated what remarkable wines can be made from 100% Semillon in Australia, especially in the Hunter and Barossa Valleys and by certain wineries that really have mastered a distinctive style. The problem is perhaps, when dry, it often makes a rather uncompromisingly 'steely' and subtle wine, austere even, which doesn't reveal much without a few years bottle ageing bringing out complex quirky flavours. This makes them a difficult sell without a little explanation or endorsement, but again aged Semillon is a great food-pairing wine. Its typical very crisp acidity comes from early picking to preserve this age-bestowing freshness, which helps the wine blossom in bottle and also gives lighter alcohol levels of around 11% to 12% (something consumers are beginning to look out for). The line-up included pretty famous and widely-stocked names too - Lehmann, McWilliams, Tyrrell and De Bortoli – and offer better value than some Rieslings on a similar quality level.

As for red wines, Australia has gained a strong following for its Shiraz/Syrah; and the current challenge is to better promote all their different regional styles. While there's something endlessly thrilling about those classic rich meaty Shirazes from the Barossa Valley (St. Hallett, Two Hands Wines, Yalumba, Lehmann) or McLaren Vale (Chateau Reynella, d'Arenberg, Mitolo, Wirra Wirra), there are also plenty of the more restrained peppery styles around from Australia's 'cooler' climate regions, sometimes blended with a splash of the aromatic white variety Viognier. Areas and wineries to look out for include Yarra Valley (Innocent Bystander, De Bortoli) and Heathcote (Greenstone) in Victoria, Adelaide Hills (Shaw & Smith), and Mount Barker (Plantagenet) and Frankland River (Ferngrove) in Western Australia.

There's also an exciting, and logical trend towards making 'Rhone' or 'Mediterranean' style red varietals and blends, with increasing interest in planting more Spanish, Italian and Portuguese varieties in hot regions. This isn't totally new of course, given that there's some 100+ year-old Shiraz and Grenache in Barossa and McLaren. Certain winemakers are getting to grips with Mourvèdre too, also known as Mataro or Monastrell, on its own or in a blend with Shiraz and Grenache; while others are experimenting with Tempranillo or Sangiovese. Tasty examples of some of these styles are produced by Turkey Flat, John Duval, Willunga 100 and Brown Brothers."

Richard Mark James

Lots more on Australian wine here.