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.

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