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.

31 December 2013

S Africa, Italy, France, Chile: "whites of the mo" - Chenin, Fiano, Sauvignon...

Following in the red-tinted wake of my previous "New Year-y Italians of the mo" type posting, here are a few gratuitous and varied white recommendations sampled recently hailing from the deep Italian south (Puglia, Sicily), South Africa, Chile and France...
The Garden Route Chenin blanc 2013 Western Cape (13% abv) – the latest vintage of this popular favourite "round my way" gives you lively zesty yeast-lees edged style with 'sweeter' honeydew melon flavours coming through, has some weight (is perhaps a tad lighter than previous years though) vs crisp zingy finish making it a good seafood in a sauce white, e.g. mussels in garlic butter and white wine were a tasty match. A fiver on offer at Asda (which it often is, “usual” price is £8). For the real CB aficionados out there, Asda's 'Extra Special' Fairtrade Chenin and De Bos 'sur lie' Chenin are pretty good as well.
Carmen Stevens Angel's Reserve Chenin blanc 2013 Western Cape (14% abv) – closed up at first (I over-chilled it though), developing fairly rich honeyed flavours with yeasty/buttery touches, full-bodied and rounded/oily with a bit of oomph vs crisp bite on the finish. Nice style Chenin. Naked Wines £9.99 or £6.99 'Angel' price. Photo of Carmen pinched from their site...


Dominic Hentall Fiano 2012 Puglia, Italy (12.5% abv) – enticing apricot with spicy yellow flower notes, ripe and juicy with crisp dry bite and nutty flavours vs 'sweeter' fruit side, attractively light yet has a nice richer mouth-feel too with hints of pine/nutmeg (almost like a touch of spicy wood texture, although you wouldn't expect it probably?). Obviously a hit with Naked's customers as it's now "sold out"!
A couple of other southern Italian dry whites – from Sicily in fact – which are also worth mentioning and widely available: Inycon Pinot grigio - Grecanico 2012 and Tesco 'Finest' Vermentino 2012, both made by the very reliable Cantine Settesoli co-op.

Sancerre Villebois 2012 Loire Valley, France (Sauvignon Blanc) - nice classic style but softer, elegant and less acidic than some Sancerre, lots of moreish gooseberry and citrus fruit though showing good depth, tasty mouthwatering finish vs softer very approachable side. £11.49 @ Naked Wines (don't imagine anyone would pay the 'normal' £15.49 though).
Casas del Bosque Sauvignon Blanc Reserva 2012 Casablanca Valley, Chile - I've tried various vintages of their Sauvignon before but not recently, good to see they're keeping up a high standard. Really aromatic grapefruit, gooseberry and "white blackcurrant" (if you see what I mean...), lively refreshing and crisp with a softer ripe green fruit side too, quite intense finish and flavour. £8.50 - £10 independents.

30 December 2013

Italian "reds of the moment"

Featuring a couple of well-known names from northeastern Italy and a slightly more senior one from Tuscany (another Tuscan will follow too), all suitably red, full-flavoured and New Year-y...
Le Tobele Valpolicella Ripasso 2011 (13.5% abv) – 'volatile' balsamic notes on the nose, turns to very Italian morello cherry and almond aromas/flavours, floral and fruity with peppery edges; nice ripe cherry fruit with dry yet soft tannins vs fair acidity adding freshness, kirsch notes and perfumed crunchy fruit with attractive bite vs maturing savoury flavours. Nice 'sweet and sour' thing going on, fruity vs savoury balsamic, has good depth too. Went well with a creamy mushroom risotto. €10.99 Lidl Wine Cellar (Ireland, will confirm £ price in UK).
Amarone della Valpolicella Classico 2010 (15.5% abv) – the initial nose is a little heady/porty, chunky and austere when first opened too; turning to dried plum with balsamic meaty gravy notes even, thick tannins with a touch of oak texture/flavour, that alcohol's quite punchy vs lush cherry and olive fruit; it's still pretty firm powerful and 'porty' vs attractive sweet/savoury fruit. Quite good, the other dearer Amarone (links to note on that) Lidl 'wine cellar' has is better and finer (and dearer of course); this one's more in your face but is still attractive. Good with chocolate pudding. £15.99, €17.99
Casato dei Medici Riccardi 2008 Brunello di Montalcino (14% abv) – surprisingly herby/earthy tones at first (for its age, this went with airing though) vs mature smoky notes, dried fruits (morello/kirsch) with savoury 'cheesy' edges, balsamic and black pudding too! Smooth mature palate with dried cherries and meaty flavours, melted-in tannins although still has a bitter twist of grip and structure too, a bit of oomph vs balanced finish. Nice old-fashioned red, not 'top top' but reasonable quality and authentic style for £19.99 – Brunello can be mega expensive.

23 December 2013

Roussillon and Languedoc: "festive sweeties and reds, with or without chocolate" (part 2)

Further to these recent words of wisdom on my WineWriting.com blog: Spain v Australia: festive sweeties and reds, with or without chocolate (goes there naturally), which also includes a little insight into fine chocolate making and the different types... Here are some more "festive sweeties and reds, with or without chocolate," this time sourced from the Languedoc and the Roussillon. When talking about "wine with chocolate," many people - okay, wino people rather than normal people at least - think of rugged Roussillon country and its sometimes sublime red vins doux naturels or fortified sweet reds based on Grenache, especially Banyuls from the southeastern corner bordering Spain or Maury in the region's northern flank nudging up against the Corbières hills.

Those famous demijohns, slightly predictable target for a photo, outside at Mas Amiel: mostly empty as this type of traditional 'oxidative' ageing is now only used for a small proportion of their Vin Doux Naturel (VDN) production. Photo: Vi Erickson.
Mas Amiel is arguably the most famous name in the Maury area (with suitably celeb prices to match, you might be tempted to add) and particularly well known for its old vintages. We were treated to their 1980 (in magnum no less, a special millennium bottling aged for nearly 20 years in demijohns and large casks beforehand; 16.5% abv) at the 'wine with chocolate' tasting event featured in the post mentioned at the top of the page (follow that link for more info). I've tasted this vintage before in situ (goes to profile and notes on MA penned in 2007, 2009, 2010 and updated earlier this year), although not sure if it's exactly the same wine, as that 1980 had one of their regular 'Millésime' labels, implying vintage style i.e. aged for a relatively short time in cask and the rest in bottle. In any case, the 1980 "millennium" was delicious and a fine match for the Co Couture chocs in front of us, especially the chilli flavour actually. Browning in colour with intriguing meat gravy vs liquorice nose, rich and concentrated with lush mouth-feel vs nice bite and developing savoury flavours; still alive with complex long maturing finish. Yum. £85 magnum.
Also from Maury, made by the worth-visiting Vignerons de Maury co-op winery found in the village, comes their Cuvée Centenaire (specially brewed in 2010 to celebrate 100 years, obviously; 16% abv), which was quite orangey brown with 'volatile' red-Madeira notes and sweet dried fruits vs meaty mature cheesy palate; particularly good with the ginger chocolate. About £23. More of their wines are HERE (St-Bacchus Awards) and probably elsewhere on the blog too. Banyuls was well represented by one of its top VDN producers Domaine du Mas Blanc with their 2000 Vieilles Vignes label (old vines; 16.5% abv): oxidised intricate mature-cheesy nose, lush vs savoury palate with complex toffee and dried raspberry flavours, long smooth finish. The plain choc and sea salt flavoured one almost freshened up the wine, not so good with the ginger though funnily enough. £27 approx. More on DMB HERE.
Moving on to a few 'regular' Roussillon and Languedoc reds, not deliberately tasted with chocolate (but might have been unintentionally) in recent weeks. Firstly, a pair from Naked Wines. Benjamin Darnault's 2012 La Cuvée Réservée Cotes du Roussillon Villages (Grenache, Syrah; 14.5% abv, bottled in the Aude though?) is deep purple black in colour, a 'modern' style big fruity and spicy red; peppery blackberry with firm grip vs 'sweet' rounded palate, nice dry texture vs ripe berry fruit, liquorice and spice with punchy alcohol on its lively finish. Attractive good+ co-op level red, okay at £8.49 ('Angel' price) but not worth £11.49 ('normal': more here about Naked's pricing). Same could perhaps be said about their 2012 Le Petit Train Syrah (£8.25 or £10.99) made by Katie Jones, although this wine was apparently specially commissioned by Naked after Katie was sabotaged by some jealous thug, who broke in and poured away an entire vintage of her white wine. So, there's an "investment in people" type story behind it (as is Naked's self-acclaimed style generally). Anyway, it's a very nice red showing touches of sweet coconut oak layered with really ripe black cherry/olive even, soft fruity and rounded mouth-feel with a hint of herby spice vs a light bitter twist of tannins/acidity and blast of warmth. Kept well after opening too, turning softer with the oak less obvious and nice sweet black cherry/olive fruit vs light grip.
Finishing off in Saint-Chinian in the Languedoc back-lands, I've picked out just a few of my favourites from a trip last month, which were winners in a "Grand Cru selection" competition I was on the tasting panel for. CLICK HERE for my full-monty St-Chinian special supplement, which costs £3 (about €4/$4.50) as it's not viewable on this blog (emailed as a PDF). Features several leading estates (and places to eat and stay), including Domaines Canet Valette, Cambis, Jougla, Cazal Viel, La Madura, La Femme Allongée, Boissezon Guiraud, Milhau-Lacugue and more! In the meantime then...
Laurent Miquel Bardou 2008 (100% Syrah) – still quite toasty coconut with spicy dark fruit vs nice meaty edges, the oak melts into it adding a touch of chocolatey texture/flavour, nice tannins and concentration for a 2008; still quite young and structured with substance. Good stuff. €19
La Grange Léon D'une main à l'autre 2011 (Syrah, Carignan, Grenache) - herbal red pepper, liquorice and perfumed white pepper; quite lush with ripe berry fruit, soft and approachable with bit of weight, freshness and length. Nice now. €16

Domaine la Linquière 310 La Sentenelle 2011 - lovely wild garrigue notes (= reminds of heathland flora!) plus sweet liquorice vs peppery fruit, soft tasty and quite elegant finish. €18
Borie la Vitarèle Les Crès 2005 (Mourvèdre, Syrah) - savoury touches vs dark cherry, nice 'chalky' tannins with a touch of freshness, tight and elegant, still relatively young really, lovely savoury vs liquorice and spice finish. €18.50

Above prices are cellar door in France, so these are all towards dear wines although among the producers' top cuvées; or would be in the UK, Ireland or US once you slap on eye-watering taxes!

21 December 2013

Spain v Australia: festive sweeties and reds, with or without chocolate

Well, not exactly one against the other, but a way of introducing five very different wines from these two diverse wine-lands ranging from essentially dry red to sweeter to very very sweet, started as white ended up brownish. First off, an aged dry red from Penfolds, the 2006 vintage of their Bin 28 Shiraz (about £14 in the UK). This was one of a few stars sampled with different types of chocolate at a recent Northern Ireland Wine & Spirit Institute 'wine with chocolate' tasting, with Deirdre McCanny of Belfast chocolatier Co Couture (a tad more about chocolate making etc. follows the wine blurb). This particular Penfold's 'Bin number' has been going since 1959 apparently, and the 2006 wasn't really showing its age that much. Powerful spicy nose with eucalyptus tones even, sweet blackberry and maturing savoury notes, has a fair kick still vs attractive spice and richness vs meaty flavours and softening tannins. Nice with the 'plain' Madagascan chocolate and the 'smoked sea salt' flavoured one even (read on...); or have with the usual red meat suspects I'd imagine.


Moving on to the Rutherglen region in northeastern Victoria, which is famous for producing one-off sweet Madeirized style wines - deliberately oxidized by a special maturation process - fortified with alcohol (like Port and Sherry) and keeping hold of a large dose of natural sugar. Two different types are mentioned here, a 'Tawny' (the Portuguese won't like that) and a Muscat. Jen Pfeiffer is one of Naked Wines' bespoke winemakers, who's come up with a quirky little number called The Diamond 10 Year Old Rutherglen Tawny (19.8% abv). This showed cooked raisins and pecan nut on the nose, caramel fudge and toffee, oxidized Madeira notes but redder fruit, tangy toasted nuts vs sweet raisins vs punchy alcohol; quite balanced in the end despite all that going on (for a long time). £11.99 'Angel' price, £15.99 'normal' (more about their pricing here). I tasted this one at home recently (still am, a couple of mouthfuls at a time is enough, and it keeps for weeks) rather than at that choco event; try it with a selection of cheeses or mince pies.
Campbell's is a name almost synonymous with this particular style of sticky fortified wine, especially their legendary Rutherglen Muscat (17.5% abv - £13.99 Direct Wine Shipments and generally available in many specialist shops). Probably even sweeter than the tawny, with around 190 grams per litre residual sugar, this had a full-on cooked sultana and marmalade nose, very sweet and lush palate with treacly vs aromatic fruity flavours, the Muscat character does come through all that in the end lending a fruitier, dare I say 'fresher' side. The chilli chocolate worked well giving it a bit of bite; and similarly, the ginger choc also fought back! Was a bit weird with the sea salt one though.
Carrying on with the intense sticky theme, Sherry country in southwestern Spain is responsible for a variety of tasty styles of this fortified aged wine, from very dry (Fino, Manzanilla) to super sweet, such as Gonzalez Byass' extraordinary Matusalem (20.5% abv). Their press blurb describes it thus: "Matusalem is a premium cream sherry aged for 30 years in the Gonzalez Byass bodega in Jerez, Andalucia. Fine Oloroso sherry is blended with Pedro Ximenez (that's a variety not some bloke who works there, whose bunches are dried out lying on mats after picking, massively concentrating the natural sugar) and aged in American oak barrels where the flavours and aromas concentrate."
This is what I scribbled down after trying it a few times at home over a period of days with and without food (makes a nice dessert just on its own, or with dried fruit and nuts perhaps) - again good with mince pies, could be a substantial match for Christmas pudding or smooths the edges on blue and hard mature cheeses; and what about pouring some over vanilla ice cream too? Powerful 'volatile' Madeirized nose with cooked/oxidized and really toasted walnuts and molasses tinged with an almost extremely reduced wine/meat gravy edge! Caramelized soy sauce too vs mega dried fruit sultana/raisin cocktail, huge palate with the same array of flavours plus very nutty sweet walnut/pecan, nice kick/bite cuts through it a little, very intense tangy vs sweet finish. Wow, extreme wine or what. Tastes the same a few days later, another one that will keep for a week or three probably. Luckily comes in half-bottles - £19.99 from Ocado, Waitrose, Tesco, Majestic, Fortnum and Mason, Harvey Nichols, Cambridge Wines and other independents and sherry specialists.
Staying in Spain, I'll come back to an unusual slightly sweet Merlot from Priorat, found down the coast from Barcelona and inland a little on the hills, made by Joseph Puig called Dolc de Lluna 2006 (15% abv, £22.50 DWS). Nicely wacky mix of maturing meaty leather notes and dark vs savoury fruit, had a bit of grip still vs rounded mouth-feel with some sweetness and kick. Different for a Merlot. Again stood up well to the stronger flavoured chocolates even, ginger and chilli, as well as a nice match with the 'plain'.

Talking of that Co Couture chocolate, it seems like a good way of ending this post with a few facts and figures about making fine chocolate gleaned from Deirdre's introduction (hopefully accurate, as it was all scribbled down in a hurry). Cocoa beans are bigger than I'd imagined, although shrink when roasted turning them brown too, as are the pods, which resemble elongated coconut shells without the hair crossed with a shrivelled melon! There are three different varieties used for making choco: forastero, the biggest pod mainly grown in western Africa; Trinitario, a hybrid of the latter and Criollo that's smaller with rounder ends and more susceptible to weather and disease. Criollo is considered the finest, and there's a resurgence in growing this one, Deirdre said, although it's difficult to grow. There's no sugar in the beans but is in the pulp around them, so they're fermented together imparting more flavour into the beans. These are then dried and roasted.
We tasted three pieces of raw beans, all different with bitter vs sweet profile. It should have intensity and tannins but not particularly bitter; if a bean tastes heavily roasted, it means it's poor quality. The final roasted bean is about 50-50 cocoa solids and cocoa butter, which is pressed and separated. The butter is a fat, which does smell like cocoa-infused butter and melts in your hand. For dark choco, they then take 70% cocoa solids (any fine chocolate should be minimum 70%) and add 30% cocoa butter, sugar and vanilla (best fresh). There shouldn't be any other kind of fat, although you can add the useful soya lecithin nowadays. For milk chocolate, you need the cocoa solids blended with milk powder then the rest of the ingredients as above. And white chocolate is just cocoa butter and the rest without the cocoa solids. The solids are first refined to make a smooth paste with no particles. Typically, the darker the colour, the higher the amount of solids although this isn't always the case, e.g. from Madagascar, which can have lovely reddy brown hues.
Rubbing your thumb on the back of the chocolate helps release the aromas. Snap it - a nice 'clean' snap means it's high in cocoa butter. Let it melt in your mouth on your tongue to get more of the flavours. We tried four different types with various origins and styles, although it's not totally clear from my notes what they were each called, so I'll just say I was surprised how different they all looked and tasted (they were all 70% dark), and no real bitterness there either. There are essentially two production styles though, French and Belgian/Swiss (plus everyone else). The French like to taste the chocolate and use less sugar and more butter (better for cooking chocolate too for melting) than the Belgian/Swiss makers.

Look out for sort-of 'part 2' of sweetie wine and chocolate on my other FrenchMediterraneanWine.com blog (links to it, with a touch of Maury and Banyuls), plus more southern French 'reds of the mo' that have come my way from the Roussillon, Languedoc and St-Chinian in particular...

13 December 2013

Spain: Cava guide

Cava mini-guide
"Creative Catalan bubbles..."

"I'm not going to over-bore you with the full-monty geographical or technical stuff, as the Cava region is quite vast and extends beyond Catalunya actually (but there is some of that in it, a hint of winemaking talk and fascinating export stats)... This gradually expanding wee guide, originally published in 2008 and updated a few times a year since, is more about bringing your attention to a few lesser-known sparkling gems and hopefully also encouraging you to explore beyond Barcelona and the region's nice beaches and coastal towns, out into real Cava country... head for those green hills!" Includes wines from these featured stand-out Cava wineries: Llopart, Carles Andreu, Perelada, Parxet, Raimat, Bach, Lavernoya, Mont Àrac, Blancher, Parató, Loxarel, Enric Nadal, Vallformosa, Chozas Carrascal and many many more...
Updated August 2015 - buy this mini-guide for just £3 - click here for more info and to buy it with Paypal...

09 December 2013

Champagne & sparkling wines: festive fizz

Cava - Catalunya
Updated 11 December:
Conde de Caralt Rosado (Trepat, Monastrell, Garnacha) - lightly yeasty nose with milk chocolate biscuit edges, ripe red fruity palate with oily texture vs quite crisp and off-dry. DWS (Belfast) £9.25, Cases Wine Warehouse (Galway) €14.95
Enric Nadal (Torrelavit) 2007 Gran Reserva Brut Nature (Parellada, Macabeu, Xarel-lo, 12% abv) - rich toasted yeast and chocolate cake aromas, maturing nutty savoury flavours with still fresh and fizzy contrast, tangy finish with dry bite vs plenty of lush flavours. Yum. £15 / €25 James Nicholson
Juvé y Camps Brut Nature Gran Reserva 2009 (12%) - same trio of Catalan grapes as above, similar in style although a bit less rich and toasty perhaps, nice nutty honeyed flavours and crisp dry finish. Wasn't hugely fizzy, perhaps it didn't enjoy sitting in the warm duty free shop at Alicante airport and the flight home! €13.50
2010 Mas Miralda Rosado Vintage Brut (Monastrell, Trepat, Garnacha and Pinot Noir; 12%) - one of Asda's own label "extra special" range, nice and red fruity with light biscuit touches and frothy off dry finish. £6 on offer.
Loads more Cava HERE (links to intro to my 12-page mini-guide, now available for £2.50 or free to subscribers).

Prosecco - northeast Italy
La Jara organic rosé (grape variety = Glera, 10.5%) - attractively light and delicate, fruity rosé fizz with nice frothy lively mouth-feel and sweet vs crunchy red fruits, fairly crisp and medium-dry. Swig Wine £10.95 (9.95 if you buy 6).
Col de l'Utia 2012 Prosecco Superiore Valdobbiadene, Spumante Extra Dry (Prosecco grape, 11.5%) - similarly light and refreshing, has background yeasty biscuit notes and light almond and apple flavours, crisp and off-dry finish. Not massively exciting but a good example of elegant easy-drinking Prosecco. Naked Wines £10.99 (Angel's price: see here for more about that).

South Africa
Cape Fairtrade Sparkling Brut Rosé 2009 Du Toitskloof (12.5%) - good value with lots of flavour for the money: quite toasty with chocolate and aromatic ripe red fruits, rounded and easy-going vs fresh bite, nice style. The Co-operative £7.99


From facebook.com/DigbyFineEnglish
England - Sussex, Kent, Hampshire
Although made at this winery in West Sussex, the fruit is sourced from selected growers across southeastern England (not unlike how most Champagne houses operate) by winemaker Dermot Sugrue. Watch out for my in-depth supplement on English sparkling wines, including a fuller profile on Digby.
Digby Fine English 2009 Vintage Rosé Brut, Wiston Estate Winery (80% Pinot Noir, 20% Chardonnay; 12% abv) - Delicious mix of ripe strawberry/raspberry vs toasty and chocolate biscuit, lush rounded and fruity vs fresh acid structure, showing depth and class. Yum. £38-£40 from their on-line shop or at Selfridges, Vagabond Wines and Wine Pantry; which is fairly dear, obviously, but no more so than other similar quality English rosé sparklers or rosé Champers for that matter.
Digby 2009 Reserve Brut (two-thirds Chardonnay + the two Pinots; 12%) - Elegant mix of citrus vs buttery fruit vs yeasty oat biscuit flavours vs crisp and refreshing, quite tight and structured still with nice fruit and light toast. A tad drier and crisper than the rosé with apple and citrus vs yeasty notes, good stuff again with a touch of class, more vintage Champagne like. £31.49

Champagne - France
Louis Chaurey NV Brut (Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier; 12%) - tried this last year (goes there) on a similar "half price" deal at Marks & Spencer, and it's just as good this year too. Pretty classic non-vintage Champers with nice fizz, a bit of creamy body vs crisp refreshing bite vs yeasty oat cake flavours, quite long. Good for £16, I wouldn't pay £32 though.
Franck Bonville Prestige Grand Cru, Blanc de Blancs Brut (Chardonnay, 12.5% abv) - Made from 100% Chardy grapes from top-rated vineyards in the village of Avize; shows some real class with lovely creamy buttery fruit, delicate mouthwatering length, nice depth of flavour, rounded and toasted oat-y vs structured and quite serious food-demanding style. Marks & Spencer: £28 at the moment, usually £39.

Australia
McGuigan Black Label Premium Release Sparkling Shiraz (13.5%) - Just for fun and oddity factor, sparkling reds like this take a bit of getting used too (some won't), with lots of spicy ripe berry fruit, tannin and alcohol; has a more refreshing side though with ripe dark fruity finish. Try with chocolate desserts or mature cheeses. Wine World / Wine Flair £9.89

I've added / might add more good fizz to this post before the end of December. In the meantime, here are some links to even more fizzy posts HERE.

02 December 2013

New Zealand: TerraVin, Lay of the Land, Rod Easthope

TerraVin
TerraVin was acquired by a partnership of "Pinot enthusiasts," as their blurb puts it, in 2011 including "several British businessmen." They humbly describe themselves as a "boutique Marlborough winery with a dedicated focus on growing and making world-class hillside Pinot Noir and Sauvignon Blanc." My notes below would suggest they're on the right track by the way. This 29 hectare vineyard site was planted 10 years ago in "an isolated valley in the back of the Southern Wither Hills," and apparently was once an early Maori settlement prized for its sheltered location. The "gently sloping north-facing vineyard" runs from 130m to 200m elevation and enjoys a maritime micro-climate. Gordon Ritchie is winemaker here and keeps an eye on vineyards too.
TerraVin UK office: 020 8876 9656. Available from Clark Foyster Wines who sells to the London area on-trade and by the case. These posh eateries list them: Restaurant Gordon Ramsay, Chelsea; The Fat Duck, Heston Blumenthal; Marcus Wareing at the Berkeley, Knightsbridge; Pied a Terre; Hélène Darroze at The Connaught, Mayfair; Raymond Blanc's Le Manoir aux Quat'Saisons; Hotel TerraVina, Gerard Basset's place in the New Forest, Hants. Elsewhere: L’Atelier de Joel Robuchon, Paris; Jacob Hotel, Hamburg; Jean-Georges, Shanghai; Mandarin Oriental, Hong Kong; and also in Singapore, Japan, Malaysia, New York and Sydney. www.terravin.co.nz

2011 Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc (13% abv) - Some complex maturing notes adding a savoury touch - and "a portion is fermented in seasoned French oak barrels," according to the blurb, which probably partly explains these characters and its more rounded mouth-feel - to otherwise ripe greengage / gooseberry fruit, still quite lively (for a 2011) and intense with crisp acidity and green fruit vs that rounder and tasty savoury side. Good wine, better than, and different from, a lot of NZ Sauvignon... and dearer too at £12.75.
2011 Pinot Noir (13% abv) - made from "parcels of grapes from three low-yielding north-facing hillside vineyards in Marlborough's southern valleys," to be more precise. Quite complex developing nose, savoury and earthy vs 'sweet' dried red fruits, lightly toasted vanilla tones vs elegant perfumed floral characters and intriguing 'volatile' matured cheese edges. Quite silky and soft with a touch of freshness still vs weight, maturing and tasty 'sweet/savoury' fruit, elegant and delicious now actually yet with underlining subtle structure. Very good Pinot, seems fairly expensive at £21.75 although this isn't outrageous compared to other high-class NZ Pinots (link goes to PN report scribbled in May).


Lay of the Land
One of UK online specialist Naked Wine's 'Angel-funded projects' if you like, Lay of the Land was created by winemaker Mike Paterson (pic. above) who was "head winemaker for 10 years at a leading Marlborough winery..." as the story goes, before Naked and their customers helped him get his own thing off the ground, an understandably "beyond scary" prospect otherwise cash investment wise. This is apparently the thinking behind Naked Wines' pricing - Angels pay £20 a month, which you can spend any time (and presumably sits in Naked's bank account gathering interest in the meantime) getting "25% to 50% off" their 'normal' prices. Seems like a good idea perhaps, if you buy cases of exclusive-label wines fairly regularly, although, as I've said before, who would pay these 'normal' obviously inflated prices anyway? (Not unlike the big supermarkets' famous 'half-price' type offers). So it feels like you're paying them to buy wine at the price it's worth, although there's that added novelty factor of sort-of investing in new winemaking projects and 'part-owning' tailor-made wines...

2012 Ben Morven Farm Pinot Noir Marlborough (14% abv) - perfumed, quite sexy 'sweet/savoury' Pinot nose with lively berry and hints of chocolate/vanilla, lightly herbal side too (or 'reductive'? went away with air in any case) and intriguing 'volatile'/balsamic edges. Punchy palate vs fresh acidity too, bitter-sweet finish with a touch of grip vs silky perfumed 'sweet/savoury' fruit vs vanilla and coconut texture; smooth and "drink now" vs quite structured with oomph underneath, that vanilla oak coating is a tad 'sweet' perhaps but the wine has nice Pinot character and bite too. Second day: weirdly seems a bit more closed up and touch firmer and tighter perhaps vs lovely floral and spicy cherry fruit vs savoury earthy notes. Made using "organic wine-growing principles," which probably means it isn't 'officially' but is in philosophy and practice... Angels' price £12.99, 'normally' £18.99.
2012 Destination Sauvignon Blanc Marlborough (13%) - ripe gooseberry and asparagus with melon and grapefruit too, lively zingy and crisp still vs a rounder oilier side, similar fruit flavours as on the nose, 'chalky' acidity vs a bit of weight, quite concentrated and lively upfront style vs more elegant mouthwatering finish. Odd perhaps that they've shipped a 'premium' wine in bulk and bottled it in Germany. 'Normal' price £13.49, Angel £9.49.

Rod Easthope 2013 Pinot Gris Hawke's Bay (12% abv) - aromatic, almost Sauvignon/Semillon like nose and character to start, although has zingy Pinot Gris/Grigio style and flavour too with light crisp vs rounder off-dry palate; attractive quaffer with zesty 'chalky' and lightly peppery finish vs honeyed sweeter fruit. Nice but kinda dear - you can get similar Italian Pinot Grigio or simple Alsace Pinot Gris for less. Also bottled in Germany. £11.99 or £8.99 if you're a Naked Angel!


Much more on New Zealand HERE.

27 November 2013

Languedoc: Jean-Louis Denois, Roquetaillade

I posted comments and info back in April about Jean-Louis Denois' "no added sulphite" wines from his northern Roussillon vineyards HERE, including a little background on the man, how these wines came about and what attracted him to the St-Paul and Caudiès de Fenouillet area. I've since added a few new notes to that profile too on other wines sourced from these Agly valley plots, such as two vintages of his smart Saint Louis Syrah. This time, the spotlight focuses in on some of the sparkling, white and red wines that have helped build his south-of-France reputation, which come from his elevated 'Upper Aude valley' vineyards in the lost villages of Roquetaillade (called la Borde-Longue) and Magrie (la Métairie d’Alon) lying within the Limoux appellation (he doesn't label all of them as that though for various reasons). This is where Jean-Louis' Languedoc 'adventure' began, as the story goes...
Born into a long-established Champagne family, Jean Louis studied winemaking and business, then went to work for Boschendal in South Africa making 'Cap Classique' fizz. He also travelled around Australia, New Zealand and the US to take in what else was going on in the wider wine world. When he returned to France, he created a sparkling wine brand sourced from just outside the Champagne area that was big in the USA apparently. He bought his first Pinot Noir and Chardonnay vineyards in Limoux country in the late 1980s, followed by planting Champagne clones of Pinot in the early 90s to make fine sparkling wines. This expanding estate was to become the now relatively famous Domaine de l'Aigle, which was sold to Antonin Rodet and now belongs to the Gérard Bertrand group. This cooler spot, with some vineyards lying at over 300 metres above sea level, was also considered a good place for making later ripening finer styles of Cabernet (both) and Merlot; and are part of a total of "57 parcels," as Jean Louis describes his patchwork estate, including the aforementioned Roussillon sites. More @ www.jldenois.com.

Domaine de la Borde-Longue (Roquetaillade) – 'Haute Vallée de l'Aude'
2011 La Bourdette Cabernet Franc (13.5%) - nice 'sweet/savoury' fruit, berries with 'soy sauce' tones; dry and firm vs rounded too with a touch more obvious oak than the Syrah say. 2nd day – that oak has blended into the wine better, ripe rounded texture vs structured and 'fresh' tannins, well balanced and quite elegant with a little weight and light coconut grain. Also needs a bit longer to open up.
2010 La Bourdette Cabernet Sauvignon (14.5%) - enticing dark cassis and cherry with earthy liquorice notes vs maturing savoury vs coco oak edges, lovely concentrated fruit with light coco vs dark choc texture, sweet vs savoury too with a fair kick and dry vs supple tannins. Long balanced and quite elegant / classy despite that alcohol, tightens up with a touch of freshness, light dry bite and lingering dark liquorice vs savoury fruit. Lovely wine, drinking well now although should improve a little more. €12
2008 Reserve Merlot - a bit oaky to start (surprising after 5 years) although has nice smooth tannins, quite rich plum and chocolate flavours, dry vs rounded profile; was even okay with a Chinese pork dish. Turns more savoury after being open, showing liquorice and a wilder earthy fruit side, nice tannin texture and depth of fruit vs chocolate oak edges; more 'volatile' and oxidised after two days open (not surprisingly).

2006 Pinot Noir brut Vin Mousseux de Qualité élaboré en Méthode Traditionnelle' (12%). Intricate toasted nut and Fino notes on the nose, baked oats straw and honey vs floral red fruity mix, chocolate and bread tones too; rich toasty nutty and yeasty flavours, concentrated with fine tight acid structure still, fresh and dry vs all those lingering complex aged flavours, delicious and classy. Maturing vs still young, will keep longer yet it's lovely now; tastes like Vintage Bolly.
JLD Pinot Noir Chardonnay Brut (50-50, aged 2+ years on the lees, 'disgorged' Oct. 2012, 12.5% abv) - lovely elegant mousse and yeasty biscuit nose, rich vs elegant mouth-feel, tasty oat biscuit and toasty nutty flavours vs subtle crisp dry finish with mouthwatering bite. Yum, very elegant and drinkable. €11
Chardonnay Extra Brut - very fizzy, less toasty and dry maybe than the Pinot Chardy, fruitier and more honeyed with delicate biscuit honeysuckle and nutty tones; nice fruit with light yeast notes, quite crisp and delicate with a bit of roundness and 'sweet/savoury' oat flavours. €10

2009 Grande Cuvée Limoux rouge (65% Merlot + both Cabernets & Malbec, 14% abv) - chocolate and coconut tones vs maturing savoury fruit, prune liquorice and leather vs sweet berry and cassis. Quite lush with ripe dark fruit vs cedar notes, concentrated and powerful yet showing fairly fine balance, rounded chocolate texture vs dry bitter twist and a hint of freshness, ripe and maturing vs still lively and structured. Drinking well now - good with venison steak - but will keep too as it's quite big and firm still vs 'sweet' and rounded. 2nd day - a touch more rustic and savoury/meaty, oak is more integrated with nice ripe dark berry fruit, full-on yet rounded, good bite yet developing. €10
2010 Grande Cuvée Limoux blanc (Chardonnay, Chenin blanc, 12.8% abv) - quite oaky vs nice nutty and aniseed notes, rounded vs fresh with medium body, oily honeyed side vs crisper white peach and citrus vs nutty toasty oaty flavours. A few hours open: gets oilier and nuttier with appley crispness still vs ripe and rounded. €10
2010 Sainte Marie Limoux (single site Chardonnay, 400m altitude) - toastier and richer than the Grande Cuvée, coconut honey and oatmeal with light grainy texture vs nutty and rounded, quite concentrated with a little bite and exotic ripe fruit (pineapple, peach) vs dusty coconut oak and fairly big mouthful. Quite coconut oaky but has rich honeyed fruit and lees-y buttery depth with nutty development. €15

2012 Les Oliviers white Sud de France (blend of mostly Chardonnay plus a little Muscat from the Fenouillèdes and some Chenin from Roquetaillade; 11.8%, organic) - nice aromatic nose, floral and grapey vs peach and citrus, dry crisp and elegant palate with attractive simple tasty fruit and zesty 'chalky' finish. €7
More of his wines from the northern Roussillon HERE.

14 November 2013

Beers of the moment: Whitewater vs Whitechapel

Or Dobbin vs Porter, Kilkeel vs Kent, Ireland vs England if you like... Described as a "ruby porter style beer," which does pretty much sum up Clotworthy Dobbin (5.0% abv, £1.79 a bottle I think in Asda Northern Ireland stores and widely available elsewhere over here) brewed by the Whitewater Brewery found a little inland from Kilkeel in the southern Co. Down countryside. Not quite as rich and dark as a full-on stout but definitely in that malty 'porter' ilk, smoother perhaps too. Surprisingly nice with curry actually. I also like that short and sweet ingredient list - malt, barley, hops, water, yeast - i.e no unnecessary rubbish in it for a change. Whitewater produces a good range of various beer styles overall from Belfast Lager to this one to maltier still.

Well-known, and probably much larger Kent brewer Shepherd Neame makes ASDA's 'Extra Special' Whitechapel Porter Ale (5.2% abv, £1.80), which is lush and chocolatey with attractive bitter-sweet finish. More quaffable than say Guinness, and more interesting perhaps with a different array of flavours. Just about works with (dark) chocolate, this is a tasty slow-sipping by-the-radiator ale that would go well with winter stews.

12 November 2013

Champagne & Sparkling wine tasting Dec 3 Belfast

WineWriting.com Richard Mark James' wine blog: Champagne & Sparkling wine tasting Dec 3 Belfast: "Don't miss the bubbling-with-excitement Wine Education Service NI Champagne & Sparkling wine tutored tasting..." CLICK ABOVE to view details on my other blog. Will probably include a fine sparkling Limoux...

Champagne & Sparkling wine tasting Dec 3 Belfast

From www.champagne.fr
Don't miss the bubbling-with-excitement Wine Education Service NI Champagne & Sparkling wine tutored tasting evening, rolling out and upwards on Tuesday December 3 (7 to 9 pm) at the Ramada Encore in Belfast City Centre. Your fizzed up host RMJ will take you on "...a fizzy world tour through France with classic Champagne and other fine sparklers, then comparing with the ever popular Cava (something different and better than usual though...), Italian 'new kid on the block' Prosecco, passing through the southern hemisphere e.g. Australia, New Zealand, and ending up in England..." (you'll be surprised if you haven't tried top English fizz). Tickets are just £30 per person and can be booked via the link on this page: wine-education-service.co.uk/wine-tasting-belfast, where you'll also find the detailed program for the first half of next year. Or pay by PayPal using the button below (and for other tastings next year too). And if you're a regular user of Local Wine Events.com, you can get in touch with me from this page: www.localwineevents.com.


Select tasting:


Next year's scheduled WES NI courses and events include: Essential Wine Tasting five-week course and Grape to Glass one-day workshop (Feb 2014), Tour de France tasting (March), Wines of Italy Sat. workshop (April), Aus & New Zealand tasting (May) and Syrah/Shiraz tasting (June). More info: wine-education-service.co.uk/wine-tasting-belfast.

08 November 2013

More Roussillon winery updates

On these three "out there" one-man band estates (more or less):

Domaine des Balmettes (Cases-de-Pène) featuring Lucien "Lulu" Salani's (pic.) intense 2011 Les Figuiers Syrah...
Domaine Rivaton (Latour-de-France) with Fred Rivaton's Rage against the Machine white...
Domaine des Trois Orris (Tarérach) by Joep Graler - know anyone else who does a Chenanson aged in acacia and chestnut barrels?!

And "coming soonish" (okay, I've been saying that for two years), the Roussillon wild wine country touring guide. Updated, rewritten, restructured and repackaged; available in three formats (e-book, print-on-demand paperback and simple PDF doc). Just have to finish the damn thing first!

07 November 2013

Roussillon: Domaine Modat, Cassagnes

Overseen/run by father/son Henri and Philippe Modat, who are originally from the Roussillon and "came back to the old country and took over some old family vines," after various high-profile legal and business careers in Paris. The estate was thus established in 2007, which comes to 20-something hectares (50+acres) in the Cassagnes area (circled by the villages of Montner, Latour, Rasiguères and Bélesta) lying on a "200 to 300 metre altitude plateau." The main intro page on their website (goes there) doesn't mention some of the white varieties I was told are in the 'de-ci de-là' blend - maybe because they really are picked "from here and there," as the name implies, from the odd white vine mixed in with the reds - but does say that four ha of Grenache blanc, Viognier and Roussanne were planted in 2009. Anyway, the dominant grapes by far are Syrah and Carignan, some of the latter dating from 1905 and 1930. Under the guidance of vineyard manager Laurent Abet, they're in the process of converting over to organics, with all the usual 'green' practices and philosophy that involves. Their groovy eco-friendly cellar, fitted with solar panels supplying more than enough electricity to power the winery, they claim, was built in 2008, the year of the Modat family's maiden vintage.


From facebook.com/pages/Domaine-Modat
As suggested above, Philippe's wines have quirky personal, and rather cute, names with reds dominating the field; the ones profiled here are labelled under the Cotes du Roussillon Villages Caramany sub-appellation, which includes Cassagnes (don't ask). Hence 'comme avant' (“like before” or “in the old days"), 'sans plus attendre' (“without waiting any longer” or “without further ado” perhaps) and “the nicest one” or 'le plus joli'... These wines are available in the UK and Ireland from James Nicholson (= the second pair of prices in £ and € - the first € price quoted is cellar door or delivered in France). Going there: “Les Plas”, 66720 Cassagnes. Phone 04 68 54 39 14.

2010 comme avant (Grenache, Syrah, Carignan from some of the oldest vines bearing the best fruit; half of it aged in new oak for 16 months) - perfumed sweet liquorice with white pepper and wild flower notes, nice 'chalky' tannins and bite vs rounded texture, weight and power; subtle aromatic fruit on its very attractive finish. €12 cellar door. JN Wine £14.99 / €21.80

2010 sans plus attendre (70% Syrah, Grenache, Carignan) - a bit closed up and delicate even at first, tight 'fresh' tannins with a hint of oak grain, nice ripe berry fruit and spice; tightens up on its fairly elegant yet powerful finish (sounds like a contradiction to me, ed.). €14.50 cellar door. JN Wine £17.50 / €23.49
And this is what I said about the same wine the first time I tasted it in a different setting, while judging at this year's International Grenache Competition (Gold medal winner):
Sans plus attendre 2010 Côtes du Roussillon Villages Caramany - attractive white pepper, sweet cherry and liquorice; firm vs rounded with powerful yet balanced finished. 90

2009 le plus joli (2/3 Syrah, 1/3 Carignan, old vines in the highest sites) - pretty heavy on the coconut to start vs that lush dark fruit again, the oak lingers a little vs very structured and tight wine still for a 2009; attractive tannin texture though, would like to try it again when it's opened up more. Dear too at €38 cellar door.

2011 de-ci de-là white (Carignan blanc, Grenache blanc and gris, Macabeu; 5 months in oak) - toasty vs exotic peachy fruit, has a touch of freshness and 'salty' bite too vs rounder finish, a little elegance vs power and weight. €12 cellar door. JN Wine £14.99 / €21.80

05 November 2013

Argentina: Cabernet & Tempranillo (plus a sparkling wine)

"'Malbec from Argentina' is hogging the fashion limelight nowadays, and a good deal of this sizeable country's vineyard area on the simplest level; and Syrah has also now invaded the varietal catwalk here. But we shouldn't forget another better-known mainstay red variety, and often more successful in quality, consistency and style terms; good old Cabernet Sauvignon..."

Buy my full-works 12-page Argentina report for just £2.50 (less than $4 or €3.50) using the PayPal button below, including wines from and comments on: Zuccardi, Trapiche, Schroeder, Toso, Fournier, Bosca, Lurton, Alpamanta, Bousquet, Dona Paula, Catena, Andeluna; and Alta Vista, Salentein, Callia, Sophenia, La Riojana, Torino, Sta Anna, Trivento, Masi, Sta Julia, Viñalta, Las Moras also featured in recent articles on Malbec and Torrontés as well.
Use the PayPal below to pay by card or your own PP account, but you don't need one to do so, and I'll email the PDF file once I receive confirmation. This material isn't free2view any more!




General T&C referring to Paypal payments by bank/credit card and your privacy etc. can be found here.


05 October 2013

Roussillon: Domaine de l'Encantade, Trévillach

The view's not bad too, from www.encantade.com
Antonin and Laure Moisan describe themselves as making "natural wines" from organic "country" or "peasant" farming, in the old 'positive' sense of the word (paysanne in French) rather than in a nob-y condescending way, going back to how it used to be done growing fruit and veg as well as grapes and producing honey too. They started "four or five years ago" with some hillside vineyards lying at 500 metres above sea level, being fully converted to organics as we speak (his white vines already are 'certified'), in the back of north-central Roussillon beyond between Montalba-le-Chateau and Sournia, which were supplemented by a few plots purchased in early 2012. The wines were being made at not-so-far-away neighbour Trois Orris' cellar in Tarerach (click on that link to see profile and wines, which will be updated soon) while the finishing touches were put to their new winery/warehouse cum honey factory going operational end of last year. Antonin commented: "I've enough (fruit) now to start up my own label... The idea is to be able to make wine as naturally as possible using simple equipmentminimal electricity and healthy materials..." The results so far are promising with better things to come perhaps.


2012 Songe d'Auguste white (Macabeu, Muscat) - aromatic grapey peachy nose, juicy and zingy vs a touch of roundness too, nice style. €9
2012 Rosé (Carignan) - quite elegant and crisp with light red fruit flavours, dry crisp finish, nice enough rosé. €7
2011 Tram'Montagne (Syrah) - ripe dark black cherry with minty spicy notes, lively and rich with grippy 'chalky' tannins, tasty with tight long finish. €11
2012 Roc d'en Manas (I think? This was a new wine, and I can't read my scribbled notes too well, a barrel sample made from Grenache, Syrah, Carignan...) - Firmer drier mouth-feel vs subtle dark and peppery fruit; was a little closed up and awkward when I tried it (not a finished wine) but looks promising. €15

30 September 2013

Roussillon: Domaine La Bòria, Trilla

Stoned in the Fenouillèdes
from laboria.fr
Vincent Balansa set sail on this “participative estate” project – there are several 'partners' or 'investors' who also muck in in vineyard, winery and beyond apparently – in 2009 when some old co-op vineyards in the Trilla, Caramany and Trévillach area, due to be ripped up or abandoned as the local co-operative had sadly closed down, came up for sale as a take-it-or-leave-it opportunity. These time-resilient vines, among them some over one hundred years young, lie on varied chunky soils pretty commonly found in this neck of the woods (gneiss, granite, marble, marl anyone) at between 400 and 600 metres altitude, “the highest part of the (upper) Fenouillèdes,” or “the Limoux of the Roussillon” as Vincent puts it rhetorically. There are also a few disparate parcels in Prats de Sournia, Caudiès and Saint-Paul de Fenouillet, as is the fashion with these young energetic winemakers who obviously don't mind putting in the kilometre-age.

After a period of apprenticeship with an impressive collection of top domaine owners across the south - Christophe Peyrus at Clos Marie in Pic St-Loup, Claude Serra at Villa Serra in Minervois, Gérard Gauby of that eponymous property and Le Soula (review to follow) and with Hervé Bizeul at Clos des Fées in the Roussillon – Vincent felt he had enough experience and confidence to embark down the alternative rocky road to biodynamics. The idea: to make “living wines,” as has become a bit of a cliché but we'll forgive him in this instance, as the results so far are tasty enough for sure. Vincent calls it “country logic, or rather an attempt at updating it, 21st century version. We're not making up anything new but acknowledging what the old folks have passed on to us...” Kind of paying homage to them too as “the village's only remaining working vineyard / farm...” There's a lot more detail on Vincent's site - click on the link under the photo.

2010 Merci red (Syrah/Grenache from Caramany and Carignan/Cinsault from Trilla, SO2 only added at bottling) - perfumed sweet vs herby notes with ripe berries, wilder 'volatile' edges, finishing with a bit of bite and subtle length.
2009 Nova white (Macabeu, Vermentino from Trilla) - lightly toasty coconut vs aromatic ripe apricot fruit, textured/rounded yet still fresh, tasty finish with a light touch of oak grain.
2009 Nova red (Syrah, 100 year-old Carignan from Trilla) - lightly funky and 'volatile' vs ripe sweet wild flower/herb notes (garrigue), nice tannins and fresh bite too, again tasty with ripe vs crunchy fruit profile.

26 September 2013

Spain: a couple of Riojas of the moment

Further to A trio of Rioja posted a few months ago, and mucho mas outlined on the Spain archive page here, my terminal fascination with one of the world's favourite red wines continues featuring a couple of Riojas available in the UK in Co-op and Lidl stores (the ones equipped with their 'wine cellar' range, so not all of them). By coincidence, they're both 2008 vintage, which is 'officially' rated as 'very good' and with a touch of elegance too by my reckoning...

Soligamar Reserva 2008 Ortega Ezquerro (80% Tempranillo with Garnacha and Mazuelo from two 600 metre altitude vineyards, 24 months in new French oak; 14% abv) - smoky vanilla notes with sweet berry and cassis fruits, intricate maturing savoury touches vs still quite solid and firm, concentrated and rich vs nice dry texture, fairly big mouthful vs a certain freshness and elegance. The second day open saw more savoury, balsamic and 'cheesy' notes developing, smoother too with attractive sweet fruit/oak combo, still structured and alive as well. Very nice Rioja. £9.99 Lidl

Marqués de Válido Reserva 2008 Bodegas Muriel (Tempranillo, 13% abv) - similar in some ways to above with its smoked vanilla oak notes (although less oaky) and maturing sweet berry fruits, a touch lighter perhaps (maybe it doesn't have any Garnacha in it...) though has subtle concentration and balance, pretty classic style with mature savoury balsamic finish layered with sweet vs smoky fruit/oak. Surprisingly good with the chilli beef & veg stew thing I made (up as I went along), thanks to those generally soft tannins, smooth texture and sweet/smoky taste combo. Real bargain at the moment at the Co-op - £5.49 instead of 'usual' price of £10.99!

24 September 2013

Roussillon: Sylvain Respaut, Montner

Grape treading party from facebook.com/DomaineRespaut
Sylvain Respaut describes himself as an "Agly valley apiqueron," which, for those of you who can't find this word in their handy Collins Robert or Larousse dic, is naturally a play on two French words, "apiculteur" and "vigneron" i.e. beekeeper and winegrower combined. Since that's what he does: the honey farm (the Roussillon is also well-known for artisan honey production), called Cara'miel, is found near the village of Caramany in deepest Fenouillèdes country and was started in 2007 "with 200 hives mainly populated with a local bee variety called the 'black bee'." (If they're the same ones I'm thinking of, which I used to get buzzing around my lavender plant on my terrace when I lived in the region, they're enormous... Ed.) Organic farming was introduced in 2009, and Sylvain caught the grape bug in 2011 with the purchase of 4 ha of vines in the Montner area. More about bees, honey and his wines on caramiel.fr or check out his FB page link under the photo.
2011 was the first vintage, so we could see these wines developing more depth and character with time, hopefully, although they're attractive drinking now. Sylvain also makes a white called 'Zumo' from old Grenache gris in addition to the three wines I tasted, which are simply labelled as 'Vin de France' and subjected to, or rather not, 'natural' winemaking such as wild yeast fermentation etc.

2012 Tangerine (Chardonnay) - citrus and orange peel notes, quite crisp and 'mineral' on the palate vs nice peachy fruit.
2011 Plein Les Ceps (Grenache made by 'carbonic maceration') - fairly light and elegant for Grenache, perfumed fruit with a riper more liquorice side, soft and easygoing finish.
2011 Gorgorlou (Grenache and 100 year-old Carignan) - richer and funkier, chunky fruity palate, quite soft; again lacks a bit of depth but it's nice now. 

'Essential Wine Tasting' course Belfast Oct-Nov.

New dates: the next Wine Education Service NI Essential Wine Tasting course is now scheduled on Tuesday evenings from 15 October to 12 November 2013. More info on this five evening course here: wine-education-service.co.uk/introductory - cost £125 for 5 sessions: book here.

20 September 2013

Wines of South America tasting - Belfast 3 October

Wine Education Service NI event hosted by RMJ: Wines of South America tutored tasting on Thursday evening 3rd October. "We'll taste and talk about eight premium wines from 'el Sur Grande', focusing mainly on Chile and Argentina - featuring well- and lesser-known grape varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Carmenere, Malbec, Sauvignon Blanc and Torrontés. But we'll also be venturing into more uncharted waters such as sampling a big Tannat red from Uruguay..." At the Ramada Encore Hotel - St Anne's Square, Belfast. Tickets - £27.50 or Buy 2 for £50. More info and booking herePay by Paypal here.

16 September 2013

Argentina: Malbec


"Argentina and Malbec apparently go together like, erm, bucket and spade, Chablis and Chardonnay or Cahors and Malbec even, while I'm on the 'M' subject. Let's get the geeky stats stuff out of the way first off: almost one-third of the country's vineyard surface area is planted with Malbec, or 83,684 acres (about 34,000 hectares) to be precise, most of it in the Mendoza region (see winesofargentina.org for more info, where I slyly teleported the photo above from). There are only about 10,000 acres of this variety in Cahors, which claims to be its homeland although probably isn't but has been there for hundreds of years. It's been in Argentina since the mid 19th Century and was obviously a big hit, as they've now cornered the world market by far..."
To read this report on Malbec - plus recent articles on Cabernet, Tempranillo, Torrontés etc. - get the full-size special Argentina varietal supplement (and any of my other recent in-depth features), including all my recommended wines and wineries and the usual frank commentary! CLICK HERE to subscribe by PayPal for only £10 a year (approx $16 or €12) or buy it as a one-off special for £2.50!

Malbec crush, Cahors actually!

More Malbec (and Cabernet) from Argentina HERE and HERE.
Argentina whites: Torrontés report HERE.
More Argie reds here: Cabernet and Tempranillo...