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

24 December 2014

Spain: "wines of the mo"

Simply Garnacha Rosado Borsao (13.5% abv) - very reliable and fairly classic style of full-bodied dry Spanish rosé made by Bodegas Borsao in the Campo de Borja region in Aragón. Great value too: £4.69 Tesco.
Mas Miralda Cava Brut Vintage 2011 (11.5% abv) - another reliable favourite fizz with attractive mix of refreshingly frothy and light underlined by subtle yeasty / biscuity flavours, off-dry and easy-going. Asda £6
Finca Manzanos 'Coleccion Privada' 2005 Reserva Rioja (13.5% abv) - lovely mature Rioja style - although still on fine form for its age - with smoky sweet vs savoury fruit, maturing 'cheesy' notes and silky mouth-feel. M & S £13.99 - looks like the 05 is gone, although the current 2007 vintage on their site should be good too.
Special Reserve Dry Oloroso Sherry, Barbadillo (Palomino fino, 19% abv) - classic slightly oddball dark and lush sherry yet dry and tangy with layers of complex roast nut flavours from mellow ageing. Bargain: Tesco £6 50cl.

17 December 2014

WES NI: Belfast wine tastings update

A couple of new dates have been added to next year's Wine Education Service NI calendar; and, as a reminder (they make great gifts too - we can send a voucher!), here's the complete list of scheduled events so far with an updated Paypal button at the bottom:

'Essential Wine Tasting' 5-week course
Wednesday evenings 28 January to 25 February 2015
£125 including course manual, all wines for tasting and tuition.
Booking and details of this course can be found by following the links on this page:
www.wine-education-service.co.uk/wine-tasting-belfast

Wines of France Saturday 'workshop'
January 31
£90 including two-course lunch and course manual.
On this "Tour de France" wine tasting workshop, we'll take you on a guided tour of France's different wine producing regions and taste about a dozen wines, including classics from Bordeaux, Burgundy, Champagne, the Rhone valley, Loire Valley, Alsace and examples from 'the big south' too: Languedoc, Roussillon or Provence.
We'll also talk a little about tasting wine, who makes these wines and how, and what happens in their vineyards and winery that gives them different regional characters (grape varieties, climate, terrain, winemaking); as well as discussing some of the ideas, traditional and modern, that have shaped the French wine world.

'Classic Grape Varieties' tutored tasting
February 26 (Thursday) 7:00 - 9:00 PM
£27.50
Tasting of selected wines made from some of the world's "classic" grape varieties such as Chardonnay, Riesling or Sauvignon Blanc for whites and Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir or Syrah / Shiraz for reds. We'll taste and talk about three or four pairs of wines, with each pair made from the same variety but coming from two different regions / countries, to compare how climate and winemaking can change the style; or is it the grape that shines through most?!

'New Spain' tutored tasting
March 26 (Thursday) 7:00 - 9:00 PM
£27.50
"We'll taste and talk about classic reds from, for example, Rioja and Ribera del Duero; and also venture into lesser-known territory like (real) Sherry country, Galicia for whites and Catalonia, including some very good Cava no doubt!"

The venue for these events is the Ramada Encore Hotel near St. Anne's Square in the heart of 'the Cathedral quarter', Belfast city centre.
Wine Education Service NI does not sell wine - our informal wine tastings and classes are designed to be purely educational and fun of course; we source high quality representative wine samples from a variety of different retailers.
More info and booking on the WES Belfast webpage HERE.
Or book by debit/credit card or using your Paypal account with the button below - you can change the quantity on the payment page that opens (more about payments HERE):



Select event:


15 December 2014

France: ban on naughty wine names?

According to a recent post on punchy French wine business website Vitisphere.com (goes there, in French), more draconian proposals might be on the cards regarding wine labelling in France. A verging-on fascist state health body has suggested, in the name of "public health," that wine names using words like "pleasure" should be banned. While not condoning abusive alcohol consumption, FMW.com was wondering how stupid do politicians think we are? Wine is wine, and it's got booze in it, whatever poetic and/or marketing twist you adorn the bottle with. No doubt health ministers beyond France are watching this 'progress' with great interest too... Ho hum.

11 December 2014

Burgundy: Henri de Villamont, Discover the Origin, Chablis etc.

This triad of Burgundy snippets was picked from three different tastings held in Belfast and Dublin this year, to celebrate the impending migration of all things Burgundy from WineWriting.com over to this site, which will eventually become an all-French wine mecca (if I can be bothered).

Henri de Villamont
This estate winery and broker owns 10 hectares (25 acres) in the Savigny les Beaune area (plots in a few sites from 'village' appellation to Premier and Grand Cru); and they also produce wines from across the entire region from Chablis to Beaujolais, filling out a substantial range covering no less than 45 appellations overall, so the blurb says. Here are three I liked anyway. More @ www.hdv.fr.

2009 Pouilly Fuissé Les Grumes d'Or (Chardonnay) - toasty and buttery nose, attractive nutty savoury development vs still has a hint of fresh acidity underneath, lush finish with lingering nutty flavours.
2011 Meursault Les Clous - hazelnut tones, rich and toasty palate with concentrated buttery mouth-feel vs tight acidity and long finish. Good stuff.
2011 Savigny les Beaune 'Le Village' (monopoly site) - touch of coconut grain with 'volatile' sweet/savoury fruit aromas, relatively rich palate vs still tight and fresh though with structured finish. Nice delicate style, needed a little more time when I tried it.

"Discover the Origin"
This slightly unusual joint-promotional campaign combining a handful of well-known European wine and food regions and produce - Burgundy wines, Port and Douro valley wines, Parmigiano Reggiano cheese and Parma ham - just goes to show there can be harmony among EU member states! Especially when there's money coming from the big Euro pot to support it, presumably. In any case, it sounds like a good idea, although they don't appear to agree any longer since mysteriously the discovertheorigin.co.uk "site is now closed..." (obviously the budget didn't stretch to a sustained online presence). Here are my favourites and comments on a flight (expensive Air France of course) of Burgundy wines presented at a fancy tasting in Belfast, a few months ago now it has to be said. All the whites here are made from Chardonnay and reds from Pinot Noir, in that beautiful simplicity way that Burgundy does so well... Grape variety wise at least: it's just the myriad vineyard sites which are complicated!

White
Domaine Richard et Stéphane Martin 2012 Saint-Véran, Les Rochats (organic, aged in large vats, 13% abv) – attractive creamy nose with white peach fruit, aromatic and lightly buttery almost; quite soft palate with similar taste profile, fairly delicate with yeast-lees edges, has a touch of freshness although is soft and drinking well now. Like sunny Chablis. Good although not great value at £13 in the UK.
Domaine du Colombier 2012 Chablis Premier Cru, Vaucoupin (no oak, 13% abv) – toasty lees notes, a bit of sulphur dioxide (SO2) too; a touch fatter mouth-feel with nutty and creamy flavours vs a hint of steely bite and light yeasty tones, closes up on its tight and slightly awkward finish (when I tried it). Seemed to lack a bit of excitement at first, although it improved in the glass getting more buttery and that SO2/lees side dissipating. £15
Domaine Roux Père et Fils 2012 Saint-Aubin Premier Cru, Les Cortons (aged 18 months in barrel with 25% new oak, 13.5% abv) – toasted grainy notes vs hazelnut and buttered toast aromas, more full-on style on the palate with sweeter fruit and a lot more oak giving grainy vs buttery texture, weightier yet with crisp backdrop; quite chunky ripe and concentrated though to counter that oak, turning finer on the finish in the end with better balance of weight vs bite. £25
Domaine Maillard Père et Fils 2011 Corton Grand Cru (12-18 months barrel-fermented and aged with batonnage (lees stirring), 13% abv) – pretty toasted oaky start, fair punch in the mouth with toasty flavours then subtle hazelnut and lees, turning crisper and tighter on the finish; a little clunky perhaps with that toasted oak vs bitter twist, nice roasted hazelnut notes though and weight vs fairly steely combo; it's concentrated too but doesn't have great balance for this level, a bit over-made. £30
Red
Another wine from Domaine Maillard tasted elsewhere around the same time:
2011 Chorley-les-Beaune - showing subdued oak vs sweet berry vs meatier savoury notes; has a fair bit of grip vs lively yet savoury berry/cherry, concentrated towards rich even with coconut touches, turning firmer, fresher and more subtle on the finish; the tannins are a tad bitter perhaps but this had fair class. £20 DWS
Domaine Jean-Hugues et Ghislaine Goisot 2011 Bourgogne Côte d'Auxerre, La Ronce (open fermenters, 12 months ageing in 30% new oak) – aromatic cherry and redcurrant with wild strawberry/raspberry notes, has a smokier more rustic side too; fresh acidity and a touch of firmness, sweeter vs savoury side vs that fresh bite and bitter twist. Not bad, better with the Parma ham as a contrast, which was delicious, soft and savoury flavoured. £10-£12
Domaine Tupinier Bautista 2012 Mercurey Premier Cru, Le Clos du Roy (30% new oak) – a hint of sweet oak on the nose plus ripe cherry/berry and a smokier side; the oak is quite subtle, touch of bitterness and grip with some fresh bite too vs a bit of weight, turning slightly savoury vs dried red berry flavours; closes up with tighter finish, has good balance and a touch of class. £20
Domaine Brigitte Berthelemot 2010 Beaune Premier Cru, Les Grèves (“older vineyard,” 12 months in oak, 20% new) – maturing savoury side vs subdued oak vs firmer and bigger mouth-feel, more extracted too yet concentrated with nice sweet/savoury fruit, tightens up on the finish. Maybe it's a bit heavy-handed although has more substance and enticing maturing Pinot fruit, and did open up and soften with airing; good, could do better though for £20-£25.
Domaine Jacques Prieur 2009 Corton Grand Cru, Les Bressandes (21 months in cask) – showing a fair lick of toasted vanilla and coconut oak, quite big and extracted yet fairly rich and savoury vs dried red berry fruit with earthy edges; concentrated vs that toasted oak, a bigger mouthful of wine and again it's a little heavy-handed, but certainly has depth and style. c. £100
Palate-cleanser: 14 month matured Parmesan cheese – lovely and tangy and complex flavours, yum.

La Chablisienne: Chablis 'vertical'
Some more golden-hued notes that got temporarily 'filed away', this time from a Northern Ireland Wine & Spirit Institute tasting earlier in the year, focusing on five vintages of one of this impressive co-op winery's top wines. Their Chablis Les Vénérables vieilles vignes comes from old vine Chardonnay vineyards - averaging over 50 years with the youngest at least 40 - and is typically part-aged in cask (about 20% of the wine in two to three year-old barrels). You can read more about La Chablisienne and several other Chablis producers in my three-part Chablis supplement: click here to buy it.

2008 vintage (12.5% abv) - has taken on a touch of colour but not much for its age, developing lovely savoury and buttery notes with yeasty edges vs greener fruit hints, complex nose; creamy vs still very steely palate, maturing oaty flavours vs fairly green apple crispness underneath and hints of celery too, just opening up really and getting richer. Very nice classic 'tight' vintage style that "needed patience," as Robin Kinahan MW put it, "well-balanced despite high acidity..." £18
2009 (12.5% abv) - a tad deeper colour, softer and creamier nose and palate; more developed, fatter and more oxidised, buttery flavours vs just a touch of acidity but it's quite forward and drinking well. 2009 vintage was "very ripe with lower acid, nice now and won't keep." £15
2010 (12.5% abv) - quite deep hues, fairly ripe and exotic nose vs subtle greener side; very concentrated and lush with tasty oat flavours vs crisp and classy finish, fat vs tight and long. "Upfront yet structured, delicious now but will keep," Robin agreed. £19
2011 (12.5% abv) - more closed up, lighter style with nice light buttery vs peachy fruit hints, coming out of its shell with a bit of bite and 'chalky' mouth-feel; attractive although lacks the depth and class, better than I remember though (there are quite a few 2011s reviewed in my special Chablis report). Robin described this vintage as "lower acid... with a late summer..." £15
2012 (12.5% abv) - not much on the aroma front at first, tight and 'mineral' mouth-feel with fresh acidity supported by gently creamy texture and peach / apricot fruit; tightens up on its long finish, concentrated and well balanced, needs 1 to 2 years to open up. "Another cracking vintage," Robin said, "restrained and classic." Thanks to the "long sunny yet cool late summer and early autumn."
Finally, he filled us in a little on vintage 2013, which was "very difficult before and during flowering. It was wet up to vintage then very hot... Not bad but turning a bit ugly... 30% down (in volume): there won't be a sub £10 Chablis soon," Robin concluded.
Plus a couple of young Beaujolais reds worth mentioning...
Cave de Château des Loges 2013 Beaujolais Villages - very aromatic with delicious summer pudding fruits: banana, blackcurrant, black cherry and berries; juicy fruity palate with fair depth vs a light bitter twist, tasty classic style Beaujolais with crunchy vs sweet fruity finish. £8
Cave de Château Chénas 2013 Fleurie 'Coeur de Granit' - similar nose but with richer cassis and more violet aromas; more concentrated and extracted even with lovely ripe vs crunchy fruit, has a hint of grip and fresh acidity too; more serious wine with good depth of fruit, firmer and longer. Lovely. £12

28 November 2014

Côtes du Rhône mini-focus

Here's a Grenache and Syrah infused selection of various and varied southern Rhône Valley producers with some of their worth-mentioning winter-warming reds, which I've stumbled across over the last few months...
 From rasteau.com

Les Vignerons d'Estézargues
A mini-co-op winery formed by 10 growers in and around the village of Estézargues, where their cellar is located, which lies roughly between Avignon and the famous Pont du Gard viaduct (without mentioning the Romans). They favour a 'natural' winemaking approach apparently (who doesn't nowadays). These two cost about £10.95-£13.95 at Roberson's in London (so posh prices then); and the US importer is Jenny & François selections.
Les Galets 2012 Côtes du Rhône (Grenache, Carignan; organic, 13.5% abv) - perfumed nose, quite light texture (although not in alcohol) with tasty berry fruit finish.
Grés Saint-Vincent 2011 Côtes du Rhône Villages (Grenache, Syrah, Cinsault; organic, 14% abv) - similar profile perhaps although more concentrated, powerful and elegant too, paradoxically, with a light bitter twist of tannin.

Domaine Saint Etienne
Michel Coullomb's vineyards lie on rolling pebbley terrain around a little place called Montfrin, sitting pretty much smack in the middle of a crow-flies line between Nimes and Avignon (just in the Languedoc technically). Available from Leon Stolarski Fine Wines in the UK (£ price quoted) and Mitchell & Son in Dublin (€).
Perserose 2012 IGP Pays du Gard (Grenache, Syrah, Carignan; 14% abv) - easy-going red, nice sweet liquorice fruit plus a bit of oomph to finish. £7.75
Les Galets 2010 Côtes du Rhône Villages (2/3 Grenache, 1/3 Syrah; 13.5% abv) - attractive Grenache-dominant style showing white pepper and liquorice flavours, fairly concentrated too with balanced soft vs grippy mouth-feel. €17.99 Ireland
Cocagne 2011 Côtes du Rhône (Syrah, Grenache) - hints of toasted choco oak, lots of minty dark cherry fruit though, rich vs firm palate with concentrated finish; nice style. €18.50 cellar door.

Domaine de Mourchon
There's a short-and-sweet profile (scribbled a couple of years ago) of this quite exciting off-the-beaten track estate winery in wild Séguret country, owned by the McKinlay family, and some of their previously tasted vintages HERE. A trio of more recent releases are reviewed for your pleasure below. UK: the Wine Company (Colchester), Big Red Wine Co. (£ prices quoted). Good distribution in the US it seems: the two 'Villages' reds here are about $20+ and $25-$30.
La Source 2012 Côtes du Rhône white (Grenache blanc, Roussanne, Marsanne, Viognier, Clairette, Bourboulenc) - charming honeysuckle notes, yeast-lees and peachy fruit; quite rich and tasty with nice crisp touch too. £9.59
Tradition 2011 Séguret Côtes du Rhône Villages (Grenache, Syrah, Carignan) - enticing sweet liquorice and dark berry fruit, hints of spice and dry grip vs fairly soft and tasty finish. £10 (case price) to £13.99 a bottle.
Grande Reserve 2011 Séguret Côtes du Rhône Villages (Grenache, Syrah; older vines) - earthier and chunkier, punchy 15.5% alcohol layered with lots of lush dark fruit vs good bite too. Wow. £18.99

Cave de Rasteau

You'll find previous words on this fairly go-getting co-op HERE (about their sumptuous fortified red Vin Doux Naturel) that basically forms the backbone of the Rasteau village appellation, supplemented by a handful of very good independent estates (some of them are linked below); and HERE as well (note on the 2011 'Tradition'). Here's what I thought of two of their latest vintage releases.
Ortas 'Tradition' 2012 Rasteau (Grenache 70%, Syrah 20%, Mourvèdre 10%, 14.5% abv) - Deceptively fruity and soft at first, turning warmer and more powerful, plenty of tasty blackberry/cherry, damson and liquorice with earthy touches; a hint of dry grip vs sweet ripe fruit, spice and oomph to finish. Drinking nicely now. €7.90 cellar door, £9.95 Hercules Wine Warehouse (Kent, UK), €14.49 O'Brien's (Ireland).
'Prestige' 2010 Rasteau (Grenache 50%, Syrah 35%, Mourvèdre 15% from very stony hillside terraces, small proportion aged in oak; 14.5% abv) - rich ripe and earthy with liquorice and kirsch notes, peppery and minty too; concentrated, powerful, solid and grippy vs lush dark berry fruit with spicy edges; tightens up on the finish, still a bit young although drinking well with the right kind of food, e.g. Chinese roast duck actually. €18.49 O'Brien's, €10 cellar door.



Other Côtes du Rhône stuff elsewhere on this site you might like to glance at:

And there's a bit of 'blurb and bottles' from the northern Rhône as well lying craftily below this post (or click here:) Domaine Belle, Crozes-Hermitage.


22 November 2014

France: Champagne Dumangin

This quirky independent Champagne house was created and has been run by the Dumangin family since the 1880s. Quirky in that their Champagnes are much drier than most of the big brands and own-labels – the dosage levels (added to all traditional method fizz, except for 'Brut Nature' or 'Zero' styles, as a sweetener essentially) in the five I've reviewed below have from just 2 to 8 grams/litre residual sugar, whereas 10 to 12 or more is the norm for a so-called dry 'Brut'; and each dosage 'liquor' is lovingly “aged in perfumed oak casks,” which I'd never heard of before. The company also still does the 'riddling' by hand apparently - the process where the bottles of Champers undergoing second fermentation in bottle are slowly shaken and tilted upside-down, before the yeast sediment is 'disgorged' – which is generally done by mean machines called 'gyro-palettes' nowadays. More: www.champagne-dumangin.com photo: facebook.com/ChampagneDumangin.


La Cuvée 17 Brut (1/3 each Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier) - Lightly nutty and yeasty notes, elegant and crisp mouth-feel, pretty dry (this was the 'least' dry of the five actually) with subtle tasty finish.
L'Extra-Brut (50% Pinot Meunier, 25% each Chardonnay and Pinot Noir) – Very dry and mouthwatering with nutty and subtle yeast biscuit flavours, pretty intense and crisp finish but it works well. Like it although probably too dry for some.
Le Vintage 2004 Extra Brut (54% Chardonnay, 46% Pinot Noir) – A touch richer and fuller, more complex flavours, crisp long finish, well balanced; very nice stylish Champers.
Premium Blanc de Blancs 2006 Extra Brut (100% Chardonnay, single vineyard) – Enticing ageing characters vs still intense palate, concentrated and classy; lovely fizz.
Premium Rosé de Saignée 2008 Extra Brut (50% Pinot Meunier, 25% each Chardonnay and Pinot Noir) – unusual rosé sparkler, cidery notes mixed with understated floral / red fruit flavours.
Available from Yapp Brothers in the UK for £29-£39 per bottle, in Australia and quite widely distributed across the USA.

Italy: "wines of the moment"

A few late-autumn tips for looking beyond Pinot Grigio and Chianti (ok, there's one of these recommended here as well) on your local (UK) supermarket's Italian wine shelves, either posh own-labels at slightly higher price points (but often considerably less than for a fancy winery brand yet made by big names and of equivalent quality) or bottles you might overlook as they aren't familiar. In no particular order then...

Teroldego Vigneti delle Dolomiti IGT 2012 (12.5% abv) - Seeing more of this style of light to medium-bodied red around nowadays, made from the obscure and very northern Italian (Alpine almost) grape variety Teroldego. Attractive fruity spicy wine with a bit of character too. Tesco £7.99
Nero d'Avola Sicilia IGT 2011, Corte Ibla 'single estate' (14% abv) - quite serious and full-on, a lovely Sicilian red made from Nero d'Avola with big ripe dark fruit and fairly firm-textured palate too. M&S £12
Lugana DOC 2013, Tenuta Roveglia (variety: Trebbiano di Lugana, 12.5% abv) - I've been through a few vintages of this consistently tasty dry white with a touch of richness yet fresh and crisp too, from vineyards near Lake Garda just in Lombardy on the border with neighbouring Veneto. Asda £7 although now de-listed as I haven't seen it recently? Shame.
Barolo DOCG 2009, Cantine Ascheri Giacomo (Nebbiolo, 14% abv) - You can often pay more than this for Barolo and still be disappointed, this a very good example balancing meatiness and grip with nice maturing fruit. Tesco £14.99
Amarone della Valpolicella DOCG 2011, Cantina Valpantena (Corvina, Rondinella, 15%) - Similar comments on price/quality as above could apply, this very tasty blockbuster red has lush and spicy fruit, balsamic notes and full-on rounded vs grippy tannins. Enjoyable now with rich food, but it will probably get better if left alone for a couple of years. Sainsbury's £16.50
Chianti Riserva DOCG 2010, Piccini (Sangiovese, 13% abv) - Fairly straightforward wine but well-made (Piccini is a reliable producer), attractive and drink-now version of this popular Tuscan red. Asda £7
Grillo Terre Siciliane IGP 2013 (13% abv) - perhaps one of Sicily's most exciting white varieties, Grillo offers exotic ripe vs juicy fruit with body, a hint of honeyed spice and lightly tangy finish. M&S £7
Greco 2013 Sannio DOC, La Guardiense (13.5% abv) - another star southern Italian white grape from the Campania region, Greco also gives you rich fruit and honeysuckle notes with full-bodied mouth-feel then crisper finish. M&S £10
Notte Rossa Primitivo di Manduria DOP 2012, Cantine San Marzano (14% abv) - Primitivo is the same as, or closely related to, California's Zinfandel (yes, it's a black variety) and can produce some of the best reds in Puglia, especially good wineries in the Manduria zone like this delicious smoky vs dark Med red. M&S £10
Aglianico del Vulture DOC 2009 (14% abv) - Aglianico is another slightly obscure grape worth seeking out, and this example from the Basilicata region (in the deep south found between the two regions mentioned above) shows enticing liquorice and wild herb notes. The 2009 is looking a bit old now, so enjoy it this winter: on offer at Sainsbury's for £6.75 (usually £9).
Vermentino 2013 Tuscany (12%) - another new Italian white at Asda, give it a go for its floral character and elegant style; worth £6 on offer, although I wouldn't pay the "full" price (whatever that really is in any supermarket, with their deliberately confusing promotions and pricing policy, allegedly).

19 November 2014

Rhône: Domaine Belle, Crozes-Hermitage

With their new-ish winery built in the village of Larnage, this very northern Rhone Valley producer (mostly Syrah and Syrah...) has slowly expanded over the years to 25 hectares (62 acres) of different vineyard parcels spread around several villages in the Crozes, Hermitage and St. Joseph appellations. Philippe Belle has been running the show for over 10 years now, and helped his father Albert shape the piecemeal whole into a fully fledged estate winery in the 90s.
www.domainebelle.com or via specialist exporter A Wine to Try.

Les Pierrelles 2011 Crozes-Hermitage (100% Syrah from specific vineyards in the village areas of Pont d’Isère and Mercurol, aged for 14 months in barrels) - hints of spicy vanilla oak on a structured backdrop, the fruit was a little overrun by the wood at that time perhaps, but the wine's got nice depth and mouth weight; probably just needed more time to round out fully.
Hermitage 2011 red (100% Syrah from Tain l’Hermitage from the 'lieu-dit' les Murets, aged 2+ years in barrels - 70% new oak) - pretty oaky too with big extracted yet concentrated mouth-feel, alluring dark and spicy Syrah fruit underneath (black cherry, damson and white pepper...); still rather youthful I think, should turn out pretty good in a few years...

18 November 2014

Roussillon: Domaine Vial Magnères, Banyuls

It's that time of year perhaps when sometimes something a little stronger (fortified in the case of these aged "reds") and sweeter does the trick, and you can rely on the Roussillon region to come up with a Grenache-built blockbuster layered with complex flavours. Domaine Vial Magnères specialises in these, a small and very well-known family estate based in Banyuls-sur-mer, whose steep terraced old-vine plots rise up behind the town and neighbouring Port-Vendres, mostly making a good variety of these Banyuls styles including a white which, rumour has it, they were one of the first to produce. Bernard Sapéras has been in charge since the mid 1980s at this winery dating back to the 60s. More @ www.vialmagneres.fr where I copied the photo from.


Gaby Vial 8 year-old Banyuls (Grenache, organic; fortified to 15% abv) - enticing toffee and caramelised raspberry notes, lots of spiced liquorice too with complex baked red fruit and pecan nut combo on its yummy finish. Delicious. Dynamic Vines, London.
Another of their wines mentioned previously on this site:
Cuvée André Magnères 1996 Banyuls 'Grand Cru' - matched with "chocolate gianduja parfait with roasted pear and pecan, Banyuls syrup with pear and cardamom foam," (what?!) by 2007 Roussillon Dessert Trophy (click there for more info) winner Restaurant Gordon Ramsay.

Roussillon: Château Corneilla / Jonquères d'Oriola

Château de Corneilla aka Domaine Jonquères d'Oriola is another of those very old family wine estates you occasionally come across in the Roussillon (we're talking 15th century apparently). Now run by 30-something William who's continued shifting the focus a touch more towards making Côtes du Roussillon reds, although they still have a very good reputation for their traditional Vins Doux Naturels (VDN = fortified wines), such as the gracefully ageing Tuilé red (sort-of 'tawny' style) featured here. The Jonquères family owns two substantial vineyards around the historic village of Corneilla del Vercol, found a few kilometres south of Perpignan on the way to Saint Cyprien and Elne. Their site www.jonqueresdoriola.fr is "under construction."

Rivesaltes Tuilé 2000 (Grenache, fortified to 16% abv) - caramelised pecan nut and red fruit cocktail, quite tangy and "fresh" almost with a bit of a kick then lingering maturing meaty flavours. Alluring VDN style, try with chocolate, nutty desserts or mature hard cheeses. £13 Roberson Wine, London.
Côtes du Roussillon 2011 red (Carignan, Grenache, Syrah) - nice sweet berry and floral notes with tobacco edges, fresh bite still and light tannins on its attractive finish. £9.95 Roberson Wine.

15 November 2014

Italy: Nino Franco, Prosecco


This top-notch Prosecco winery isn't far off its 100th birthday and was established by Antonio Franco in Valdobbiadene, right in the beautiful heart of the 'original' production zone marked by often steep hillside vineyards at altitude (hence the snowy shot above), which has recently become a much smaller and more quality-focused sub-zone (Prosecco can be made pretty much anywhere in the Veneto region or virtually the entire northeastern corner of Italy it seems). Nino Franco then expanded the family operation and grandson Primo, who's been in charge for over 30 years, has boosted exports substantially - it shouldn't be too difficult to find their wines in your neck of the woods.
The three tasting-noted below are all made 100% from the Glera variety, the 'old' name for Prosecco which has been re-adopted especially in the Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore DOCG zone, to make a point of distinction presumably. They're all produced by the 'charmat', 'cuve close' or, less pretty sounding, 'tank' method, where the second fermentation and lees-ageing take place in a sealed vat, then the wine is cleverly bottled under pressure retaining the natural CO2 bubbles. Franco's sparkling wines just go to show that there's Prosecco and there's Prosecco...
These ones are available in the UK/Ireland from JN Wine, Wine Drop and Sommelier's Choice among others starting at £13.50-£14 (€23) up to £25-ish; or Wine.com and many other outlets in the US (from about $18). Photo copied from www.ninofranco.it.

Rustico NV - lively with lightly toasted almond and yeasty biscuit edges, quite intense fruity vs earthy flavours with long crisp vs toasty finish; very nice fizz.
Vigneto della Riva di San Floriano 2013 - more 'vinous' and concentrated, attractive fruity vs baked bread-y mix of flavours with intense bite and length, lingering oat biscuit notes vs fresh and 'salty'; stylish and elegant.
Grave di Stecca 2010 (old steep vineyard, longer lees ageing, only 7 gr/l residual sugar which is pretty dry) - quite rich and toasty with tangy nutty dry mouth-feel, more serious foodie fizz with lovely rounded vs crisp finish.

13 November 2014

Wine Education Service NI: tasting and workshop update

See post on my other site: WineWriting.com: WES NI tastings and workshop in Belfast: "Christmas wines tutored tasting December 4 (Thursday) 7:30 - 9:00 PM £35 including nibbles. Special 'Christmas themed'..."

10 November 2014

Wine Education Service NI: tastings and workshop in Belfast

"Christmas wines" tutored tasting
December 4 (Thursday) 7:30 - 9:00 PM
£35 including nibbles.
Special "Christmas themed" wine tasting to give you some festive wine tips, including Champagne and other fizz, Port and 'classic' reds and whites, accompanied by a few hot nibbles from the hotel restaurant. We'll also talk a little about who, where and how these wines are made, and what food they might match with best...

Wines of France Saturday 'workshop'
January 31 2015
£90 including two-course lunch and course manual.
On this "Tour de France" wine tasting workshop, we'll take you on a guided tour of France's different wine producing regions and taste about a dozen wines, including classics from Bordeaux, Burgundy, Champagne, the Rhone valley, Loire Valley, Alsace and examples from 'the big south' too: Languedoc, Roussillon or Provence.
We'll also talk a little about tasting wine, who makes these wines and how, and what happens in their vineyards and winery that gives them different regional characters (grape varieties, climate, terrain, winemaking); as well as discussing some of the ideas, traditional and modern, that have shaped the French wine world.

'Classic Grape Varieties' tutored tasting
February 26 2015 (Thursday) 7:30 - 9:00 PM
£27.50
Tasting of selected wines made from some of the world's "classic" grape varieties such as Chardonnay, Riesling or Sauvignon Blanc for whites and Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir or Syrah / Shiraz for reds. We'll taste and talk about three or four pairs of wines, with each pair made from the same variety but coming from two different regions / countries, to compare how climate and winemaking can change the style; or is it the grape that shines through most?!

The venue for these events is the Ramada Encore Hotel near St. Anne's Square in the heart of 'the Cathedral quarter', Belfast city centre.
Wine Education Service NI does not sell wine - our informal wine tastings and classes are designed to be purely educational and fun of course; we source high quality representative wine samples from a variety of different retailers.

More info and booking on the WES Belfast webpage HERE.
Or book using the PayPal buttons below (more about payments and subscribing HERE).


Select event:


30 October 2014

Languedoc: Special Supplement 2014

Now available as a 30-page glossy inserted into an even massive-r French wine e-magazine HERE: "a huge roller-coaster of a Languedoc special with sizzling pages" crammed with (occasionally rather critical) commentary, my top wine and value-for-money tips from across the region, winery profiles and latest insights on the Languedoc wine landscape and some of the people behind it (has that sold it for you?)...

Touring Languedoc vineyards in a 2CV: “it's so French.”
Featuring reports, opinions and hundreds of wine reviews from these regions:
Corbières and Boutenac (mostly 2011 to 2013 vintage reds, whites and rosés) - some of my particular favourites include 2 Anes, Lastours, Grand Caumont, Pech Latt, Maylandie, Villemajou, les Palais, Caraguilhes, Vieux Moulin, Montfin, Caves Rocbère, Clos Canos.
Minervois and La Livinière reds & whites (the whites more exciting actually) including Le Cazal, Calmel & Joseph, Sainte Leocadie, Vordy, la Siranière, Gérard Bertrand, Sainte-Eulalie, Pépusque, Villerambert-Julien, La Grave, d'Agel and profile on Château Cabezac.
La Clape whites: Mire l'Etang, Abbaye Monges, d'Anglès, Sarrat de Goundy, Ricardelle with a focus on Capitoul and Mas Soleilla.
Saint Chinian: winery profile Château Viranel plus Borie Vitarèle, Cazal Viel and Saint Cels.
Faugères: plenty to recommend here including Fenouillet, Près Lasses, Onésime, La Liquière, les Fusionels, Lorgeril, Cébène, Capitelles, Saint Antonin.
Crémant de Limoux: Taudou, Antech, Sieur d'Arques, Rosier, J.Laurens all offering class and value. And white & red: Anne Joyeuse, Mouscaillo, Rives Blanques.
Pézenas: one of the most promising new subzones including hot wines from Les Aurelles, Conte des Floris, Pech Rome, Villa Tempora, Belles Eaux, La Grange and profile on Château Condamine Bertrand.
Montpeyroux: d'Aupilhac, Chabanon, Divem.
Grès de Montpellier: Skalli, l'Engarran, Roquemale, Jeanjean, Tissot.
Picpoul de Pinet: Petit Roubié, Félines Jourdan, Lauriers, Vignerons Florensac, Château Pinet, Costières Pomerols.
Pays d'Oc and IGP: Mas Dames, Engelvin, Enfants Sauvages and winery profiles on Domaines Lys, Montrose and la Provenquière.
Plus: La Cité de Carcassonne, classic touristy cliché yet guaranteed to wow. A few words and recommendations for staying, eating and an alternative way of touring the area - yes, it's those much-talked-about convertible 2 CVs again (Vin4 Heures Wine Tours)...

Latest report now available (July 2015): LANGUEDOC SPECIAL SUPPLEMENT 2015

06 October 2014

Beer: Harviestoun, Scotland

A warmly welcome trip down memory lane lightened my weary path after a long day's (wine) tasting at the not-so-long-ago London Wine Fair (yes, there was beer there too). Back in another life in the hazy mid 80s, when I was president of the St. Andrews Uni Real Ale Society (without long hair or beard I hasten to add: more in the floppy fringed goth style actually), we organised a wee day trip to a small unheard-of independent (sorry, touchy word at the mo in a Scottish context) start-up 'brewery' lost somewhere in the hills near Dollar, Clackmannanshire. Not easy to find, and when we did, we weren't sure we were there, as it was just a shack in the middle of nowhere from memory. Harviestoun was dreamt up, set up and improvised together by Ken Brooker in 1983, who moved into his first 'proper' brewing premises three years later. Our group was so impressed with the tasty ale we sampled there that some serious lobbying was in order back in St. Andrews, resulting in one (the only?) of their brews being given a slot in the, at the time, fairly new student union bar.
Anyway, looking at their website, how times and things have changed (two lots of brew houses, a lot more people working for them, from one real ale to a whole range of cask, keg and bottled beers, and a sort-of couple of ownership switches later...). To the better, it would appear from this obviously innovative brewery's point of view and their now international customers.
So, there I was cruising past a series of crowded small tables among the show's "niche importer/retailer/producer" tasting area looking for something refreshing to finish the day's 'work' with; and I suddenly saw the Harviestoun Brewery name, garnished with a stack of unfamiliar-looking bottles, prompting the aforementioned vivid flashback. Well done guys, keep up the good work. 'Ola Dubh 18' bottle shot downloaded from www.harviestoun.com where you'll find tuns (ho ho) more info.

Schiehallion Craft Lager (4.8% abv) - refreshing crisp and citrus-y style, quite intense and tasty finish. Equivalent to about £1.88 per 500 ml bottle (you can buy different case sizes of their beers online - I've given an indicative bottle price here).
Broken Dial Amber Ale (4.5% abv) - pungent hoppy and yeasty nose with malty edges, sweeter palate but still nice and crisp, tight and tasty finish. £1.42 330 ml
Old Engine Oil Black Ale (6% abv) - dark and malty with chocolate and coffee notes vs nice bitter twist and bite; lovely Porter style. £1.58 330 ml
Ola Dubh 18 (aged in 18 year-old Highland Park barrels, 8% abv) - complex aromatic whisky-tinged nose, rich and dark palate with smoother stronger finish; very unusual, amazing beer. £6 330 ml


MORE BEER ON THIS SITE

Beers of the moment: Whitewater vs Whitechapel

Beer of the moment: Fischer

And more to follow no doubt...

02 October 2014

Languedoc: Château Cabezac, Minervois


This charming swanky 75 hectare estate hidden away outside the wee village of Bize-Minervois (between Capestang and Homps on the region's northern edge with the bottom tip of the Saint-Chinian appellation, if you get what I mean: or look at a map...) was bought by Gontran Dondain in 1997, who must have invested a good deal of time and wonga into restoring the property and vineyards. The newest developments are on-site apartments and spa complex to complement their hotel and seasonal restaurant (open May to end Sept). What self-respecting poshly renovated château in the Languedoc doesn't have this nowadays!
Some good wines being made here but their “top” reds are quite pricey, although 2009 wasn't perhaps the best vintage to judge them on (hot and dry, many of them are now looking a bit clunky and out of balance with austere tannins), so I look forward to tasting some more recent vintages in the future. More info @ www.chateaucabezac.com where I pinched the handsome photo from.

2013 Cuvée Alice white (Maccabeu, Vermentino, Roussanne, Grenache blanc; 14% abv) – touches of honey/banana and yeast-lees vs a crisp 'mineral' side, juicy and refreshing with some roundness too. €7.30 cellar door / £8.77 UK.
2012 Rosé (Syrah, Grenache; 13.5%) - nice red fruity vs creamy style, a hint of rounded mouth-feel vs crisper finish. €7.30 / £8.77
2011 La Tradition red (Carignan, Grenache, Syrah; 14.5%) - attractive sweet fruit with perfumed floral tones, crunchy berries vs riper liquorice etc. with powerful weighty finish. Nice style. £8.77
2009 Carinu (Carignan; 15%) - maturing savoury and smoky vs a tarter herbier side, power vs bite on the palate, still quite tannic with lingering meaty development; those tannins are a bit too “09” but it's an interesting red I suppose. €12.80 / £11.48
2009 Cuvée Arthur (Mourvèdre, Syrah, Grenache; 14.5%) - fairly oaky smoky and extracted with structured powerful mouth-feel, that oak lingers a little combined with oomph, savoury fruit and a bitter twist of tannin. One for sipping gently around the round table no doubt. €17.10 / £15.11
2009 Grande Cuvée Belvèze (Syrah, Mourvèdre, Grenache; 14.5%) - again showing plenty of dark chocolate oak with grippy punchy palate, better sweet fruit coming through vs similar bitter twist of tannins. €27.80 / £21.51

This is a preview snippet from my forthcoming 2014 Languedoc report - coming soon, honest!

29 August 2014

Languedoc: new "special supplement" coming soon

No, I haven't done a French-style August close-down but have been adding material to my WineWriting.com blog (click to read all about my latest Portuguese wine special for instance) among other (more constructive) things to do. Anyway, I'm now working on a hopefully substantial "special supplement" (for want of a better description) drawing on all things and people Languedoc tasted, seen and encountered over the course of the first half of this year: a trip to the region in April to the "Millésimes en Languedoc" showcase based in and around the City of Carcassonne (including some nice pics like the one I took below plus tips on eating, staying and alternative things to do, such as hiring or being driven around in a brightly coloured Citroen 2CV...), a tasting in Dublin and a couple of wine events in London.

"Mediaeval Disneyland France" aka la Cité de Carcassonne

23 August 2014

Portugal: Bairrada, Dão, Douro - new winery profiles and updates on Aliança, Portal and Romeu

Fully updated profiles on Quinta do Portal and Aliança Vinhos de Portugal with their latest ranges reviewed (including a Portal Vintage Port retrospective featuring vintages from 1995 to 2000...), can be found in my new special Portugal report (click there for more info and to buy for just £2.50 or free if you subscribe for £10 a year). Includes RMJ's complete run-down on these wineries and several new wines. There's also a summary on my Portugal archive page HERE (scroll down).

From quintadoromeu.com
Quinta do Romeu – Douro Valley
A taster:
"The Menéres family estate was established in 1874, and the company is now run by João Pedro Menéres, José Clemente Menéres and Manuel Menéres Sampaio... "... We do not use any chemicals in our farming,” their site goes on in that glib manner. Ahh! That's the one thing that annoys me most about organic producers..." The complete rant, profile, reviews of the tasty wines below and where to get them can be found in my new special Portugal report (click there for more info and to buy or subscribe).

2013 Rosé (Tinta Cão, Tinta Roriz, Touriga Nacional – tank sample at the time) – yeast-lees notes, nice gummy zippy mouth-feel with fresh and gentle red fruit finish. Expensive though (in the UK anyway): £10.99. €6.25 cellar door.
2011 Moinho do Gato red (Tinta Barroca, Touriga Nacional, Tinta Roriz) – attractive soft fruity style with peppery touches, has a bit of grip vs juicy fruit on the finish. £8.99, $15. €4.50 cellar door.
2010 Quinta do Romeu red (Touriga Nacional, Tinta Roriz, Sousão) – aromatic floral red/blue berry fruits, nice soft fruity palate with light tannins and fresh acidity too; very attractive red drinking now. £10.85, $19. €6.25 cellar door.
2010 Reserva red (“field blend picked and fermented together with some oak ageing,” mostly Touriga Nacional with Touriga Franca and Sousão) – touch of coco oak and more structured vs still plenty of that nice juicy fruit, firmer finish yet well rounded too. £14.99, $27. €10.50 cellar door.

16 August 2014

Portugal: Lisboa wine focus


"Stretching out to the north and west of energetic Lisbon, this big wine-producing region used to be called Estremadura... renaming it 'Lisboa' seems logical (captain) thereby closely associating location and identity with the Portuguese capital... The most common grape varieties planted here are, for reds, Aragonez or Aragonês aka Tinta Roriz (isn't that often the way just to add a little charismatic confusion, and the Spanish call it Tempranillo, Tinta Fina, Cencibel...), Touriga Nacional, Castelão and Touriga Franca, with expanding plantings of Syrah and other French varieties..."
Available as a special 20-page report with pics focusing on the exciting Lisboa wine region and featuring these ten wineries and my reviews of their ranges: Vale da Capucha - Quinta de São José, Sociedade Agricola Labrugeira – Vale das Areias, Quinta de Sant'Ana, Quinta do Monte d'Oiro, Quinta de Chocapalha, Marta Vine - Azulejo (Casa Santos Lima), Félix Rocha – Quinta da Ribeira, Quinta do Pinto, Companhia das Quintas - Quinta de Pancas.
Plus three extra winery profiles in different regions: Aliança Vinhos de Portugal - Bairrada, Dão. Douro Valley: Quinta do Portal (including a Vintage Port retrospective 1995 to 2000) and Quinta do Romeu (organic)...
And two bonus retro features: Niepoort Port 'masterclass' led by Dirk Niepoort including Garrafeira, Colheita and Vintage ports spanning a century back to 1912...
And my tasty Algarve & Tavira wine and food touring article...
All yours for a mere £2.50 - this special report is published in PDF format and emailed to you once I receive confirmation of payment from PayPal (pay by card or use your own PP account, although you don't need one to do so: select it in the drop-down menu).


Select:


"Vasco da Gama Bridge and Tagus River, Lisbon" - Photo by Jose Manuel from www.imagesofportugal.com.

MORE ON PORTUGAL HERE.

02 August 2014

Wine tastings and courses in Belfast Oct to Dec 2014

Follow this link to WineWriting.com for details: "Wine Education Service NI (that's me) evening wine tastings, five-week courses and one-day workshops scheduled from early October to early December in Belfast city centre are as follows..."

Wine tastings and courses in Belfast Oct to Dec 2014

Wine Education Service NI (that's me) evening wine tastings, five-week courses and one-day workshops scheduled from early October to early December in Belfast city centre are as follows:

Wines of Italy Saturday workshop
October 4 from 10:30 AM - 5:00 PM
Cost: £90 including 2-course lunch
"On our 'Wines of Italy' one-day workshop, we'll take you on a guided tour around several of this varied country's different wine producing regions and taste and talk about a dozen high quality wines. These will include classics from northern Italy, such as Piemonte and Veneto, central Italy such as Tuscany and Umbria, and the deep south e.g. Sicily, Sardinia or Puglia..."

Wines of South Africa tutored tasting
Thursday October 9, 7:30 PM - 9:00 PM
Cost: £27.50
"A mini tasting tour around the Cape wine-lands including popular varietals such as Pinotage, Shiraz and Chenin blanc, as well as some red and white blends highlighting the different winemaking styles, climate zones and terrain found in South Africa's diverse wine regions..."
More info and booking: wine-education-service.co.uk/wine-tasting-belfast or by Paypal - click on the button below.

Essential Wine Tasting five week course
Starts Wed October 29, 7:30 PM - 9:00 PM
Cost: £125
Five evening sessions on Wednesdays 29 October and 5, 12, 19, 26 November:
Tasting technique & classic grape varieties - Learn how to taste like a professional! Get to know some classic grape varieties.
Wine production & classic grape varieties - Learn what goes on in vineyards and wineries. Get to know more classic grape varieties.
The wines of France - Taste classic examples from Champagne, Burgundy, the Rhône Valley and Bordeaux.
The wines of other European countries - Taste stylish examples from Austria, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Portugal and Spain.
The wines of the New World - Taste signature wines from Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Chile, Argentina and California.
More info about this mini course can be found on our site: www.wine-education-service.co.uk/introductory. Book via the link on wine-education-service.co.uk/wine-tasting-belfast

Wines of Spain & Portugal tutored tasting
Thursday November 6, 7:30 PM - 9:00 PM
Cost: £27.50
"We'll taste and talk about a focused range of red, white, rosé and fortified wines selected to highlight the very different regions, grape varieties and wine styles found across the 'Iberian peninsular'. This will include well-known classics such as Rioja, the Douro Valley and Sherry but throwing in a few surprises too..."
More info and booking: wine-education-service.co.uk/wine-tasting-belfast or by Paypal - click on the button below.

"Christmas wines" tutored tasting
Thursday December 4, 7:30 PM - 9:00 PM
Cost: £35
"Christmas tasting" including Champagne and Port and some nibbles - more info to follow. Booking: wine-education-service.co.uk/wine-tasting-belfast or by Paypal - click on the button below.


Select tasting:



The venue for these events is the Ramada Encore Hotel near St. Anne's Square in the heart of 'the Cathedral quarter', Belfast city centre.
Wine Education Service NI does not sell wine - our informal wine tastings and classes are designed to be purely educational and fun of course; we source high quality representative wine samples from a variety of different retailers.