Richard Mark James' wine & travel blog
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28 December 2015

South Africa: Pinotage revisited (part 2)


There's been an energy-saving spotlight on South African Pinotage on this blog with these two posts penned earlier in the year: South Africa: Cape Winemakers' Guild Auction (September) featuring a 'wow' Pinotage from legendary Kanonkop, and South Africa: Pinotage & Shiraz/Syrah (June) including over a dozen tasty Pinotages such as Spice Route, Kaapzicht, Darling Cellars, Boschendal, Brampton and Lutzville.
And so, as all good things sometimes have to come to an end, I'm closing off the year spicily with a couple of gracefully ageing older vintages from "small scale artisan grower-producers," as Russell Wallace put it, general manager of importer and online retailer Exel Wines based in Scotland. These two "premium Pinotage(s)... are the Pinotage that first convinced me that sometimes the grape was worth something!" he quipped. I wouldn't take that too lightly though, since his company lists no less than 57 Pinotage wines (Heinz eat your heart out) including red blends and rosé.
Aaldering is located in the Devon Valley in Stellenbosch, and Russell added "they keep trying to buy back" the 2007 vintage in the limelight below. The 2009 Welgegund comes from this 18th-century property's Wellington farm in the Western Cape, although it looks like they don't make Pinotage any more and Exel claims to have some of the last remaining stock of this vintage. So the 'rarity factor' helps partly explain the quite high prices of these two wines, although you could easily pay that much for comparable quality and maturity from elsewhere in the wine world. And there's a good reader deal now available - see discount codes at the bottom.

2007 Aaldering Pinotage (15% abv) - Still has a fair amount of coconut/vanilla oak on the nose but there's lots more too, liquorice and pepper with complex maturing dried raspberry and blackcurrant fruits, savoury vs minty as well. Powerful mouth-feel with nice and smooth tannins, coco vanilla notes and dried blackberry and spice; turning meaty and punchy but that 15% alc. blends in well to its soft and sweet/savoury texture vs light grip on the finish; concentrated with lingering flavours and power, drinking well but not going to fade away fast. Has none of those dry bitter tannins you can find with older Pinotage, showing fair class and depth with 'thick' but not tannic texture, smoky oak turning to sweet berry fruit and savoury flavours. Next day: 'cheesier' and meatier notes, more like good old Rioja but gutsier. £25.44
2009 Welgegund Pinotage (14% abv) - Complex nose, red pepper blackcurrant and mint/wild herbs with savoury maturing and liquorice tones; concentrated and lush vs crunchier fruit vs dark chocolate and cherry, more of those wild aromatic characters too with oomph and light bitter twist; attractive combo of soft and maturing vs structured and powerful. Good wine. £19.51 sale price.

Exel has set up a couple of reader discounts as follows:
Enter the code WineWriting (click there) to get 5% off across the site (on top of any sale prices and loyalty points with free shipping on 12 bottles or more).
Enter Pinotage for £5 off per bottle of the Welgegund and Aaldering wines only (follow those links). & French Med Wine is purely the media for this offer and isn't responsible for order processing etc.

26 December 2015

Pinot Noir: 'luv' wine

Lord Byron by Richard Westall
That's the Valentinesque PR angle that came with the bottle of Byron Pinot tasted-noted below, with an obvious nod to a certain hedonistic early-19th century poet; but it's true there's something seductive about good Pinot Noir. "Oh Mr. Byron, don't be such a big girl's blouse." *

Byron Pinot Noir 2013 Santa Barbara County, California - Aged for eight months in French oak, although it doesn't taste of it (phew: I hate oaky Pinot Noir). Quite delicate floral cherry/berry nose with balsamic edges, subtle silky palate with very Pinot sweet/savoury fruit characters, supple and drinking well now with a touch of rounding weight (13.5% abv) and fresh bite too. £14.95 from Slurp (UK).
Marlborough Pinot Noir 2013 New Zealand (13.5% abv) - Soft and sweet-fruited texture with ripe aromatic berries and savoury hints, a little fresh bite and weight on the otherwise silky finish. Quite good value Pinot: £8.48 Asda 'Extra Special' range.
Domaine Levert 2011 Mercurey, Burgundy (13% abv) - Pretty decent example of not-so-dear (although hardly a bargain) mature French Pinot, with attractive smoky 'cheesy' edges and sweet/savoury finish. Marks & Spencer £15.

Other sexy Pinots I've talked about recently (follow the links):
Secano Estate Pinot rosé Leyda Valley, Chile (Nov 2015).
De Bortoli Yarra Valley Pinots from Victoria, Aus (Oct 2015 - scroll down a bit) and Eileen Hardy, Dalrymple Vineyards and Tamar Ridge from Tasmania (June).
Paul Cluver Selection Pinot Noir and 'Ferricrete' from Elgin, South Africa (Sept & April 2015)
Fürst Pinot Noir Centgrafenberg Franken, Germany (Aug 2015)
Tindall Vineyard - Marlborough New Zealand (June 2015).

* Name that 80s/90s Brit comedy series?

23 December 2015

Grenache reds: Rhône and Roussillon, Rasteau and Amiel

Here's a diverse trio of 'black' Grenache (as the French call the variety) based winter warmers from the southern Rhône Valley and northern Roussillon, which are new releases or vintages from Cave de Rasteau and Mas Amiel (links to some previous words on and recommendations from those two wineries).

Wild boar lurking outside Mas Amiel's shop
Photo by Vi Erickson

2014 Rasteau Tradition (70% Grenache, 20% Syrah, 10% Mourvèdre and old-vine Carignan) - Actually quite soft and fruity with wild herb/peppery edges, chunky and rich mouth-feel with light bite to finish; a bit too quaffable for a 14% abv red, so food is advised! Cellar door €8.30. Hercules Wine Warehouse in England used to stock these wines, but there were none on their site when I looked. O'Briens off licences in Ireland.
2011 Rasteau Prestige (50 year-old vines: 50% Grenache, 35% Syrah, 15% Mourvèdre; part of the wine spent one year in oak, 14.5% abv) - Lush spicy black fruits with liquorice and wild herb/mint hints, big and rounded palate yet quite structured still although drinking well too. Yum, delicious hearty red. Cellar door €10.30. O'Briens.
2009 Mas Amiel Origine (sourced from three schist-y hillside plots: Grenache from a spot called Cabirou planted in 1914, Carignan from La Devèze planted in 1952 and young Syrah from the same vineyard; the latter two varieties were aged 14 months in large tuns, not fined or filtered; 14.5% abv) - Maturing meaty and leather edges layered with liquorice and sweet black cherry/berry, complex earthy wild herb notes as well; lush and full-on with savoury vs dark ripe and spicy fruit, punchy and grippy still yet rounded and maturing, dense and concentrated too with lingering liquorice and light bitter twist on the finish. Serious wine and serious price inevitably: cellar door €26.50, The Perfect Cellar (London) £30.

03 December 2015

Italy: Bottega Prosecco

Or perhaps 'all that glitters is not gold' (read on)... The Bottega winery is found in Bibano di Godega in the Veneto region, a crow-flight to the north of Venice and not far from the pretty town of Conegliano in the (otherwise rather vast) Prosecco zone's epicentre, where there's also a long tradition of making grappa (northern Italy's speciality grape-based spirit that often manages to combine finesse and head-banger). The cellars are housed in the expansive and handsomely renovated 19th century farm-buildings pictured above, and are stalked by 10 hectares of vineyards (25 acres) according to their blurb. The Bottega brand now encompasses additional wines from almost neighbouring Valpolicella and Montalcino in Tuscany following 'recent acquisitions'.
It isn't a small-scale operation either producing '10 million bottles' of fizz, meaning they must buy in grapes as well otherwise the 'math' doesn't add up? Bottega Gold Prosecco, which as you might have guessed comes dressed in a glitzy 24-carat bottle, is obviously an unashamedly gimmicky bit of celeb marketing; but you could see the appeal of having this sitting on your table in a trendy bar or Italian restaurant, and the wine itself is quite attractive although a couple of others in the range (without the Goldfinger touch) are better. Catalyst Brands is the UK agent where these bubblies retail for around £20-£25 a bottle, so they're pretty dear although there are a few festive offers flying around online retail sites at the moment. These Proseccos also come in all sorts of sizes from minis to massive, from jazzy to sober looking... More @

Vino Biologico Prosecco DOC 'Extra Dry' ('Quality Aromatic Sparkling Wine', organic, 11% abv) - Elderflower citrus and almond tones, attractively frothy with crisp-ish 'chalky' mouth-feel vs off- to medium-dry finish. Nice fizz although could do with just a little more character.
Fundum 'unfiltered' Prosecco Frizzante Treviso (crown cap, 11% abv) - Cloudy 'real cider' / 'Weizenbier' / 'ginger beer' reminiscent style with flowery grapey nose and yeasty backdrop, fairly dry with lingering yeasty biscuit flavours and crisp elegant finish. Tasty and different.
Il Vino dei Poeti Prosecco DOC Treviso Brut 2014 - Richer toastier and more 'serious' than the others and 'winier' too, quite dry and crisp with toasted nut and savoury biscuit flavours. Good.
Il Vino dei Poeti Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore DOCG 2014 'Extra Dry' (Varieties: Glera 85%, Glera Lunga 10%, Perera 5%; 11.5% abv) - Honeyed, almond biscuit and floral aromas, a touch of crisp bite and some depth of character on the palate; pity though it's not that dry (despite the confusing terminology used for sparkling wines) as those appealing complex flavours end up a tad sweeter and blander on the finish (there's about 17 grams/litre residual sugar in their 'Extra Dry').
Bottega Gold Brut Prosecco DOC Treviso - Enticingly frothy light and elegant, quite good with light floral almond and subtle yeast notes, crisp and refreshing style. Attractive and quaffable even if not exactly super exciting.

01 December 2015

WES NI wine tastings & courses in Belfast 2016

Vineyards overlooking Pinhao, Douro Valley
Saturday 30 January 2016: Spain and Portugal one-day workshop £90
Including at least a dozen wines tasted with your tutor, two-course lunch at the hotel and course manual - "We'll taste and talk about a selection of quality red, white, rosé and fortified wines highlighting the very different regions, grape varieties and wine styles found across the 'Iberian peninsular'. The spotlight will be on well-known 'classics' such as Rioja, Port​/Douro Valley and (real) Sherry​; but throwing in a few surprises too like Galici​a and Vinho Verde for dry whites, serious reds from Dao or the Alentejo and not forgetting the wine 'super-state' of Catalonia, home to some great reds, whites and Cava..." 10.45am to 4.45pm approx.

"Essential Wine Tasting" five-week course 2016 - £125 (£127.50 by card with Paypal)
Thursday evenings (7-8.45pm approx) February 4, 11, 18, 25 and March 3. Half-a-dozen wines tasted each session covering the whole wine world; course manual provided. Full details are on our website:

Saturday 27 February 2016 ​10.45am-​2pm​: "Off the beaten track" ​wine tasting and ​lunch £49
"Come and explore the less-explored, although just as exciting wine world with this morning tasting of about eight diverse high-quality wines from countries such as Lebanon, Austria, Hungary, Slovenia, Croatia or Greece and some English sparkling wine too. Includes a two-course lunch at the hotel afterwards."

Thursday 31 March 2016 7.00-8.45pm: Wines of Chile tasting £28.95
"​We'll go on a tasting tour up and down Chile's varied wine landscape trying six to eight wines (depending on numbers) including popular and lesser-known grape varieties, such as e.g. Sauvignon blanc, Chardonnay, Riesling, Cabernet, Merlot, Syrah/Shiraz, Pinot Noir or Carmenere..."

The venue for all these wine events is the Ramada Encore Hotel in Belfast's Cathedral Quarter. More info and online booking on the Wine Education Service site: (you have to sign in to Facebook). Or you can pay by card or your own Paypal account using the PP button below (you don't need an account to do this though). You can change the quantity of tickets on the secure web form:

Select event:

Click here for more about Paypal payments. WES terms & conditions apply, which will be sent with your invoice or emailed on request. 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.

30 November 2015

Languedoc 2015: "a fleshy vintage..."

I get lots of emails around this time of year crammed with lengthy serious vintage reports and piled high with photos of happy harvesters at work, handsome bunches of grapes, fermenting juice, winemakers sniffing it and barrels awaiting... Nadia and Cyril Bourgne at Domaine La Madura in Saint-Chinian have simply declared this year's wines from their neck of the Languedoc so comfortingly "fleshy," that the Madura team just couldn't resist stripping off in their new shiny winery. Full-bodied and tasty? There's something there for everyone! More on La Madura on this site HERE or

27 November 2015

Cahors: special supplement updated

I've updated my Cahors special supplement exploring one of south-west France's most exciting wine regions and 'home of Malbec,' as the PR slogan goes. This report has now expanded to nearly 20 pages of words, wines and photos including new profiles and my notes, views and reviews on/of these ten leading organic châteaux and wineries: Lacapelle-Cabanac, Chambert, Haut-Monplaisir, Le Clos d'un Jour, Cèdre, Mas del Périé, Cayrou, Tour de Miraval, Marjolière and Les Hauts d'Aglan.
This supplement costs just £3 (about $4.50/€4.20) and isn't viewable on the site - click on the 'buy now' button below to pay by card with Paypal, or use your own account although you don't need to set one up to do this. I'll email it to you once I receive payment confirmation. Click here for more about card payments, general 'terms & conditions' and 'your privacy'.
Photo: "150 to 200 year-old" cedar tree in front of curious round-tower outbuilding next to Château du Cayrou.

12 November 2015

Wine tastings & courses: Nov 15 to Mar 16 in Belfast

​​Thursday 26 November 7-8.45pm: Italian wines​ £28.95
​"​At​ ​this wines of Italy ​evening tasting​, we'll take you on a guided tour around several of this very​ varied country's wine producing regions ​by​ tasting and talking about ​a carefully selected range of​ tasty red and white​ wines. These will probably include classics from northern Italy, such as Piemonte and Veneto, central Italy such as Tuscany and Umbria, and the deep south e.g. Sicily, ​Campania,​ Puglia..."

Saturday 30 January 2016: Spain and Portugal one-day workshop £90
Including at least a dozen wines tasted with your tutor, two-course lunch at the hotel and course manual - "We'll taste and talk about a selection of quality red, white, rosé and fortified wines highlighting the very different regions, grape varieties and wine styles found across the 'Iberian peninsular'. The spotlight will be on well-known 'classics' such as Rioja, Port​/Douro Valley and (real) Sherry​; but throwing in a few surprises too like Galici​a and Vinho Verde for dry whites, serious reds from Dao or the Alentejo and not forgetting the wine 'super-state' of Catalonia, home to some great reds, whites and Cava..." 10.45am to 4.45pm approx.

"Essential Wine Tasting" five-week course 2016 - £125
Thursday evenings (7-8.45pm approx) February 4, 11, 18, 25 and March 3. Half-a-dozen wines tasted each session covering the whole wine world; course manual provided. Full details are on our website:

Saturday 27 February 2016 ​10.45am-​2pm​: "Off the beaten track" ​wine tasting and ​lunch £49
"Come and explore the less-explored, although just as exciting wine world with this morning tasting of about eight diverse high-quality wines from countries such as Lebanon, Austria, Hungary, Slovenia, Croatia or Greece and some English sparkling wine too. Includes a two-course lunch at the hotel afterwards."

Thursday 31 March 2016 7.00-8.45pm: Wines of Chile tasting £28.95
"​We'll go on a tasting tour up and down Chile's varied wine landscape trying six to eight wines (depending on numbers) including popular and lesser-known grape varieties, such as e.g. Sauvignon blanc, Chardonnay, Riesling, Cabernet, Merlot, Syrah/Shiraz, Pinot Noir or Carmenere..."

The venue for all these wine events is the Ramada Encore Hotel in Belfast's Cathedral Quarter. More info and online booking on our site: (you have to sign in to FB to view this page). Or you can pay by card or your own Paypal account using the PP button below (you don't need an account to do this though). You can change the quantity of tickets on the secure web form:

Select event:

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.

11 November 2015

Fund & FrenchMediterraneanWine with 'Contributor'

Google has launched a new website / blog funding scheme called Contributor, where readers can make a regular financial contribution to the publisher (that's me). Click on the logo below for more info:

10 November 2015

Spain: Canary Islands

Weird Lanzarote vine-scape
A shorter version of this piece was written for wine business website
Not many wine nations or regions can claim to have “60% to 70% of vines aged 100 or more years old,” according to Jonatan García, owner of the Suertes del Marqués winery who tutored a special Canary Islands' master-class at the Wines from Spain trade fair in Dublin (on 21 Sept). This stems from the Canaries' vineyards remaining free from the phylloxera louse so old un-grafted vines have been kept, a “much longer history than you think,” i.e. references dating back to at least the 16th century, and winemakers choosing to focus on nurturing their traditional and indigenous varieties. There are “over fifty” of these, García explained, “but there's been confusion over lots of different names often being the same variety.” The main grapes planted are, for whites, 'aromatic' or 'volcanic' Malvasía (Malmsey), Gual, Listán Blanco (= Palomino Fino), Vijariego Blanco, Albillo Criollo and Marmajuelo. And for reds: Listán Negro, Baboso Negro (= or close to Bastardo in Portugal), Tintilla (might be same as Graciano...) and Negramoll (= Tinta Negra).
Not surprisingly, to anyone who's been to or seen photos of these mystic islands, striking volcanic soils dominate yet the terrain and micro-climate can be very different from one to another, with high-altitude vineyards – running up to 1700 metres in parts of party-island Tenerife for instance – a key feature for retaining freshness in white varieties in particular. There are about 8400 hectares of producing vineyards spread across ten D.O appellations: one per island – El Hierro, La Palma, La Gomera, Gran Canaria, Lanzarote and Tenerife - with five D.O zones on the latter. Most of these have rather obscure local names, although there's a recent trend to labelling wines as the new catch-all D.O Las Islas Canarias ('no. 11') to make their provenance clearer to understand, Jaime Ansorena told me who works for the wine producers' association.
I actually thought the white wines marginally had the edge on the reds of the wines I tasted, which were sometimes let down by winemaking or fruit condition perhaps, even though there was obvious concentration and depth of character generally speaking. These wines and wineries stood out for me: (white) Bermejo Malvasía seco, Viñátigo Gual, Teneguía Malvasía dulce reserva, Paisaje de la Islas Malvasía & Marmajuelo, Vega Norte Albillo Criollo, Tajinaste, Caldera, Frontón de Oro; (rosé) Vega Norte rosado; (red) Tierra de Frontos Baboso Negro, Frontón de Oro Tintilla, Tajinaste Tinto Roble, Suertes del Marqués La Solana (see full reviews below).
Some of these wineries are already imported into the UK, especially the export-geared Suertes del Marqués, by specialists such as Indigo Wine, Maar Wine and Wine Direct, and are available in a handful of independents in the £15 to £30 range. So, there is an initial price hurdle for retailers and consumers to overcome, to say the least, even though some of the wines are pretty good. Similarly, García's Dublin importer Vinostito suggests RRPs of €26 and €30 in the Republic for two of his top wines. Searching around the web, there doesn't appear to be a shortage of distributors in the US either: David Bowler Wine in NYC for example.
Richard Mark James
Other resources:

Recommended whites

Tierra de Frontos 2014 (Listán Blanco and others from the south side of Tenerife) - Very upfront 'Sauvignon blanc' style, crisp green fruit vs attractive oilier side, quite concentrated actually (very old vines) with crisp aromatic finish; very nice.
Tajinaste 2014 (Listán Blanco grown in northern Tenerife) - Nutty 'mineral' and dry style, concentrated and quite intense with long zesty crisp finish. Very good.
Hoyos de Bandama Caldera blanco seco 2014 (Gran Canaria) - aromatic green fruit with nutty edges, quite intense and crisp vs a richer oilier side. Good.
Bermejo Malvasía seco 2014 (Lanzarote; Malmsey, 13% abv) - Yeast-lees edges on the nose, richer and rounder palate with banana and white peach vs crisp and steely, a touch of weight vs very dry bite. Shows fair depth and class, that slightly 'awkward' lees note lifted off with some airing. Good stuff.
El Borujo Los Loros 2014 (Tenerife: 40% Gual, 30% Marmajuelo & 30% Moscatel barrel-fermented, 13% abv) - Pretty yeasty to start, rich colour; very aromatic and peachy though with spicy apricot as well, softer and less intense than some of the others but a nice rounder white though.
Viñátigo Gual 2014 (Tenerife, 13% abv) - Aromatic mix reminiscent of Torrontés and Gruner Veltliner, perfumed floral and spicy turning more exotic with pineapple, fresh and crisp though with a bitter twist. Different, quite attractive although probably a little perfumed for some people.
Viñátigo Vijariego Blanco 2013 (Tenerife, barrel-fermented and 6 months lees stirring) - Richer nuttier and rounder style with creamy hazelnut flavours, turning savoury yet still fairly fresh; good and not too oaky.
Vega Norte Albillo Criollo 2014 (1000-1500 metres altitude on La Palma, 13.5% abv) - Different again, more delicate with Riesling / Pinot Blanc resonances, refreshing and subtle; very nice.
Tajinaste Paisaje de la Islas Malvasía/Marmajuelo 2013 (Tenerife, part oak-aged) - Rich and concentrated vs subtle aromatic notes, nutty and crisp with tasty long finish; also very good.
Teneguía Malvasía dulce reserva 2006 (La Palma, 18 months in French oak, 14.5% abv) - Made from '90% botrytis affected grapes' which "isn't that common; there's more humidity on La Palma," Jonatan expanded. Rich raisin and honey with orange flower edges, treacle/molasses notes are lifted by a pleasant citrus twist and a hint of freshness, concentrated raisin flavours linger vs a nice bitter twist and aged toasted nut tones too. €37 cellar door.


Vega Norte 2014 rosado (La Palma, 14.5% abv) - Deep rich colour, very fruity with creamy raspberry and strawberry flavours, rounded full-on and serious foodie rosé.
Frontón de Oro 2014 rosado (Gran Canaria; Listan Negro, Negro Legítima and Negramoll, 13% abv) - Fresh and fruity on the nose, gets creamier on the palate with red fruits, dry finish; nice style.


Tierra de Frontos Baboso Negro 2014 (Tenerife, 14.5% abv) - Lots of lively cassis and black cherry fruit, aromatic fruity and peppery with liquorice tones, a bit of punch and grip with nice tannins though.
Ignios Orígenes Baboso Negro 2013 (Tenerife; 11 months in French oak, unfiltered, 14.5% abv) - Smoky with perfumed cassis, punchy and grippy vs enticing ripe raisin and liquorice flavours with peppery edges, hints of dark bitter chocolate, pretty powerful but has plenty of lush dried fruit character and a touch of smoky oak, gets fruitier with airing; quite good actually. USA c. $40.
Frontón de Oro Tintilla 2013 (Gran Canaria; 4 months in oak, 14% abv) - Dark cherry liquorice and menthol too, peppery and earthy touches vs ripe dark and meaty fruit with a more perfumed finish and just a little grip. Different too.
Viñátigo Tintilla 2012 (Tenerife, 18 months in French oak) - Rich smoky nose with ripe resin and dark dried fruits, a tad 'funky'/rustic but it works with attractive sweet vs earthy vs meaty finish, soft tannins; drink now.
Tajinaste Tinto Roble 2013 (Tenerife; Listán Negro, 13.5% abv) - Ripe dark and smoky/'funky', more structured with supple 'chalky' tannins though vs lush dark and smoky 'tar' on the finish; nice sunny red.
Suertes del Marqués La Solana 2013 (100+ year-old Listán Negro from a 2.5 hectare northeast-facing vineyard on the Tenerife hills at 400-520 metres altitude; 12 months in French oak, unfiltered, 13.5% abv) - Dark and peppery with black cherry/berry fruit, spicy and vibrant mouthful with dry yet rounded tannins, nice weight with concentrated black fruit finish and peppery earthy rustic tones vs still firm and structured. Well-made, very attractive style.
Gutiérrez de Salamanca 2013 '1861' (Tenerife) - Touches of vanilla and coconut oak, nice texture though with grip vs sweet maturing fruit to finish.

04 November 2015

North & South America: 'wines of the moment'

2012 Catena Zapata 'High Mountain Vines' Malbec – Mendoza (13.5%) - Quite expensive but definitely a superior version of Malbec. £12.79 WineMark
2012 Viñalba Malbec-Syrah Bodegas Fabre – Patagonia (14.5% abv) - Very good value and fairly serious too. £8.98 Asda

2012 Tannat Bodega Garzón (14% abv) - Again fairly expensive but a good example of this solid characterful red. £12.99 The Vineyard (Belfast).

2014 Casablanca Valley Sauvignon Blanc Viña Errázuriz (13% abv) - Pretty classic Sauvignon style, more elegant too. £8 Sainsbury's “Taste the Difference.”
2014 Secano Estate Pinot Noir Rosé - Leyda Valley (13.5% abv) - One of my favourite rosés around: deep coloured, fruity and creamy, full-on and dry. £9 Marks & Spencer

2013 The Honourable Riesling Charles Smith – Washington State (12.5% abv) - Quite classy dry Riesling style, zingy and lime fruity. £12 Marks & Spencer
2012 Buena Vista Zinfandel – Sonoma County, California (13.5% abv) - Forget all those nasty sweet Zin rosés etc, this is the real deal: very red, rich and earthy. £13 Marks & Spencer

Australia: Gatt Wines

Owner Ray Gatt and his team - headed up by winemaker David Norman and vineyard guru Gil Rogers - are based in famous wine town Tanunda, South Australia; and the vineyards are found in the Eden and Barossa Valleys. Ray's 'High Eden' vines lie at around 500 metres altitude, one of the highest sites in the area I'm told, which suits Riesling well and nurtures a cooler climate style of Shiraz. On the red front, I focused on his Shirazes and Cabs at this particular tasting (in Dublin), as part of a themed approach to hundreds of bottles lined up; but Gatt does also make Grenache and Sangiovese sourced from their Barossa plantings, as well as new additions Tempranillo and Nebbiolo. The 2007s and 2008s featured below are probably their first vintage releases by the way: he bought Eden Springs vineyard in 2006 (established in 1972). Some of these wines are quite pricey, but Ray doesn't produce very much of certain old vine batches. I've indicated cellar door prices in Aus dollars: GBP retail would be about half this roughly, and € in Ireland about two-thirds. More @ (but not much: follow the link under the photo to a good article on Wine Titles' site).

Accent Pinot Gris 2014 Eden Valley (13.5% abv) - Honeyed juicy and spicy, lightly 'balsamic' too, attractive style with crisp-ish vs fatter texture. A$20
Accent Viognier 2014 Barossa Valley (13%) - Enticing pure peachy style, quite soft and juicy with a touch of bite and nice 'sweet' fruit. A$20
High Eden Riesling 2014 (11.5%) - Light and delicate with juicy citrus and zingy 'chalky' mouth-feel, crisp length although soft too. A$25
High Eden Sparkling Shiraz 2007 - Drier than many in this quirky style, showing savoury developed flavours livened up with fizz, attractive and different. A$25
Barossa Cabernet Sauvignon 2009 (14%) - Nice maturing cassis aromas and flavours, tasty sweet/savoury fruit with a little grip still, well-balanced and drinking now but has some power left in it. A$55
High Eden Cabernet Sauvignon 2012 - Leafy cassis notes leading to chunkier richer ripe berry fruit vs a touch of oak, nicely balanced though with rounded mouth-feel vs light grip and reasonably subtle overall. A$55
High Eden Shiraz 2009 (13.5%) - Delicious peppery herby black cherry nose, maturing savoury flavours too vs minty tones and lush dark fruit with a bit of grip on its long finish. Very nice. A$55
Barossa Shiraz 2008 - Meaty vs sweet fruit nose, tasty mature savoury notes vs dark cherry and spice, lingering touch of tannin; lovely balance though. A$55
Old Vine Barossa Shiraz 2010 - Fair amount of choco oak to start vs very rich dark and peppery fruit, concentrated / extracted, quite oaky still vs good depth and power, closes up on the finish. Time will tell... A$100

Australia: Riesling (again)

There's already a fair chunk of material devoted to the tantalising Riesling variety on this site and Aussie Riesling particularly, which is probably geeky bordering on obsessive. However, as the official Wine Australia blurb runs: "Australia has a rich history of Riesling production (dating back to 1838 in New South Wales apparently) which today comprises more than 4000 ha (nearly 10K acres) of plantings," making them number two in the world behind Germany Riesling-wise. It's also become clear over the years that certain regions suit the variety best, such as hillside vineyards in the Eden and Clare Valleys or Adelaide Hills in South Australia, or maritime influenced sites such as Great Southern in Western Aus or Tasmania. Their wine styles are usually dry and on the lighter alcohol side nowadays (a recent trend I think); and, as you'll see from my dozen or so reviews below, some of them are capable of taking on those lovely classic complex Riesling flavours with bottle age ('petrol-head' paradise). "Hey-up" bottle shot (think about it...) from

Gatt High Eden 2014 Eden Valley (11.5% abv) - Light and delicate with juicy citrus and zingy 'chalky' mouth-feel, crisp length although soft too.
St. John's Road Piece of Eden 2014 Eden Valley (12%) - More honeyed and richer oilier texture with ripe lime vs steely and 'chalky', quite intense.
Vickery Watervale 2014 Clare Valley (11.5%) - Zesty lime with 'mineral' tones, again delicate yet very zesty and crisp with subtle citrus finish.
Tim Adams 2013 Clare Valley (11.5%) - Developing oily notes with floral lime, fairly concentrated with crisp 'mineral' mouth-feel vs maturing flavours, elegant again.
Jim Barry The Florita 2013 Clare (12.5%) - Oily 'kerosene' notes vs tight acid structure still, lime flavours with zesty and 'chalky' finish; good stuff.
Thorn Clarke Mount Crawford 2012 Eden Valley (13%) - Delicate with 'kerosene', fuller maturing palate yet intense and crisp still, weightier then tight long finish.
Penfolds Bin 51 2012 Eden Valley (12.5%) - Limey and oily vs crisp and 'chalky', fresh with bitter twist vs maturing and rounded, fair depth.
McGuigan Shortlist 2012 Eden Valley (11.5%) - Lime and 'kerosene' edges, drinking well now although zesty and zingy too, less intense finish but nice delicate style.
De Bortoli Yarra Valley Reserve Release 2011 Victoria (11.5%) - Rich lime, quite concentrated with attractive lingering combo of 'chalky' 'mineral' zip vs oily maturing.
Howard Park Great Southern 2011 Western Australia - Intense mix of ripe lime, oily notes and piercing acidity, delicate yet concentrated. Stylish.
Pewsey Vale Contours 2009 Eden Valley (12.5%) - Developed rich and oily vs green lime fruit and zingy acidity still, definitely Riesling! Wow.
Peter Lehmann Wigan 2009 Eden Valley (11%) - Similar rich and oily vs green fruit characters, more floral though and honeyed too, slightly less 'mineral' perhaps, feels weighty for 11%, concentrated and classy.
Peter Lehmann Wigan 2006 Eden Valley (11.5%) - Aromatic 'kerosene' and honeyed lime, tasty and zingy palate, still structured even vs rich and oily, concentrated yet elegant; delicious wine.

More Australia: Cabernet Sauvignon.

22 October 2015

Australia: Cabernet Sauvignon

The Oz red fashion has perhaps shifted towards varieties such as Shiraz (Syrah) and Pinot Noir and Italian or Spanish grapes, as highlighted in a recent post on "the trend to also move away from the once overwhelming focus on French varietals seems to be growing." But when you taste Australia's premium Cabernet Sauvignons and blends, you're quickly reminded of how good some of them are. In fact, I'd argue that higher-priced reds (whites too actually) sourced from more specific regions or vineyards are this country's strength, rather than the big-production big-brand blends from much bigger areas (generalisation of course where you will always find exceptions), which are trying to compete with similar wines from say Chile, Argentina, South Africa, Spain or eastern Europe even. And it's the posher type of wine and price-bracket that Australia is aspiring to promote to consumers with so far limited success it seems.
For instance, I recently bought a bottle of De Bortoli's South East Aus (or was it Riverina region? Doesn't matter in any case) Cab-Merlot for £5 at Asda, which was very average for this long-established family producer who can and does make lovely wines (e.g. two of their Yarra Valley Pinots also featured below) and perhaps typical of a Bordeaux-blend from what I assume are large-scale irrigated and high-cropping vineyards. Those tell-tell characters of dilute flavour and odd combo of slightly herbaceous unripe notes yet 13.5% abv, as in plenty of sugar ripeness but not the skins/tannins? This could probably be said about other similar wines I'm sure, without wanting to single them out in particular. Anyway, to illustrate my point, here's a selection of 25 better-quality and some top Aussie Cabs and Cab blends (plus a couple of Pinots as mentioned) tasted earlier this year, priced from about €12 in Ireland (I sampled these in Dublin) or £8 in the UK right up to €275 or £200-£250 (depending on vintage) a bottle for Penfold's iconic Bin 707 for instance (pic. from All are 100% (or mostly) Cabernet Sauvignon (CS) unless specified...

Hardy's HRB 2007 Coonawarra (South Australia, SA) and Margaret River (Western Australia, WA) - Minty and ripe cassis nose, turning savoury vs still structured, quite concentrated with tasty finish. €25
McGuigan Black Label Reserve 2012 SA - Nice enough 'commercial' style with sweet vs savoury fruit, soft and mature vs a bit of grip, fairly easy and reasonably tasty though. €12-€15, £8-£9
Peter Lehmann Portrait 2009 Barossa SA - Sweet cassis with savoury edges, soft and silky mouth-feel with a touch of tannin, lovely sweet/savoury combo to finish. Good stuff. €17
Peter Lehmann Mentor 2009 Barossa SA - Similar but richer with delicious sweet/savoury profile, still firm and powerful palate vs lingering minty and dried cassis fruit with meaty edges, long finish. €37
d'Arenberg The High Trellis 2011 McLaren Vale SA - Minty blackcurrant with meaty edges, fair depth with chunky fruity palate and grip vs ripe finish. Nice wine. €16
d'Arenberg The Galvo Garage 2009 McLaren Vale SA: CS, Merlot (M), Cabernet Franc (CF), Petit Verdot (PV) - Enticing maturing savoury nose with ripe cassis, firm and punchy vs lush dark and spicy finish. More serious. €24
d'Arenberg The Coppermine Road 2009 (mostly CS + Merlot, Shiraz, Malbec) - Delicious maturing savoury vs lightly herby/minty, big and firm vs mature meaty vs dried cassis. Good.
Penfolds Bin 407 2011 SA - Tighter closed up style with cedar hints vs concentrated blackcurrant fruit, turning lusher on the finish yet still firm and structured; pretty classy red needing more time. €77
Penfolds Bin 707 2010 SA - Intense rich cassis, dark vs cedar-y with touches of coconut oak grain/flavour, very concentrated though with delicious fruit vs firm and closed up finish. Wow. €278
Katnook Estate Founder's Block 2011 Coonawarra SA - Maturing savoury nose with cassis, quite elegant style with tasty sweet/savoury finish and a bit of grip. €19
Katnook Estate Odyssey 2009 - Developing tobacco and wilder rustic edges vs chunky and grippy palate vs nice smoky savoury fruit on the finish. €65
Wynns The Sidings 2012 Coonawarra SA - Alluring dark cassis nose with meaty edges and minty herby tones, fairly soft mouth-feel and drinking nicely, well-balanced. €23
Wynns Johnstone Block 2004 Shiraz-Cabernet Coonawarra - Maturing aromas yet still very alive on the palate, nice silky texture and rich sweet/savoury fruit, long sexy finish. €40
Wynns Black Label 2007 - Enticing savoury cassis nose, smooth and mature vs structured and concentrated still, tasty meaty vs sweet fruit finish. €45
Wynns John Riddoch 2008 Coonawarra - Lovely intense ripe cassis and black cherry with minty vs savoury notes, closes up with firm and concentrated finish. Delicious red. c. €90
Parker Estate Coonawarra Series Coonawarra 2012 - Quite soft and mature with savoury vs sweet berry flavours, subtle finish with light grip too.
Parker Estate 95 Block Cabernet-Petit Verdot 2012 - Maturing with savoury vs minty flavour mix, attractive supple mouth-feel with a bit of structure underneath. £32
Parker Estate Terra Rossa 2012 - For the same age it's pretty structured and firm with dark vs crunchy cassis fruit, tight closed up finish needing more time. £22-£24
Parker Estate First Growth 2010 - Enticing maturing nose with sweet/savoury minty cassis vs meaty combo, grip and oomph on the finish but it's well-balanced and tasty too. £45-£55
Gatt Barossa Valley 2009 SA - Nice maturing cassis aromas and flavours, tasty sweet/savoury fruit with a little grip still, well-balanced and drinking now yet has a bit of power left. £23, €33
Gatt High Eden 2012 Eden Valley SA (vineyards at 500 metres altitude) - Leafy cassis notes leading to chunkier richer ripe berry fruit vs a touch of oak, nicely balanced though with rounded mouth-feel vs light grip and reasonably subtle overall. £23, €33
Leeuwin Estate Art Series 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon-Malbec, Margaret River WA - Delicious maturing savoury cassis with herb and mint edges, still structured and grippy layered with very tasty maturing Cab fruit, powerful and concentrated yet balanced. Yum.
Thorn-Clarke William Randell 2012 Eden Valley - Ripe cassis and meaty leather notes mingle giving way to a dark and lush vs crunchier profile, punchy (15% abv) vs good depth of fruit and nice sweet/dry texture. €53

Pinot Noir

De Bortoli Windy Peak 2013 Yarra Valley Victoria - Quite sexy floral perfumed cherry fruit, silky soft mouth-feel with light grip and tasty sweet/savoury fruit combo, fresh bite too. Good. €19
De Bortoli Yarra Valley Estate 2012 - Lovely delicate intricate Pinot nose, concentrated and classy with sweet/savoury fruit balancing rich vs elegant and grip vs silky, delicious fresh even and very long. €30 
Click here for my recent note on the Eileen Hardy Pinot from Tasmania.

15 October 2015 and FrenchMediterraneanWine merge

I'm merging and together, so everything will be in one place on one blog. I've already imported all posts from FMW to WW anyway, where all new material will now be published. I'll be sorting out the extra pages, photos, gadgets, sidebars etc. and tidying things up on design-wise. But FrenchMediterraneanWine won't disappear forever since I'm keeping the domain name; it will simply redirect you here when I've finished...

30 September 2015

France: Calvados - Roger Groult

Jean-Roger Groult (in fact) is the fifth generation, in inimitable French craft-booze production style, to make traditional Calva (in the local vernacular) at Clos de la Hurvanière; for instance, he still uses the 'double distillation au feu de bois' method, as it proudly says on the bottle (heated by wood fire). You'll find this family distillery in the smaller Pays d'Auge Calvados zone in a place called Saint-Cyr du Ronceray, to the south of Lisieux.
Calvados Pays d'Auge Réserve 3 ans - Obviously has a bit of a kick with 40% abv, but this delicious cider brandy is surprisingly smooth for three years ageing (his youngest one actually: there's 8, 12 and upwards) and is possibly one of the fruitiest Calvas I've tried, with lovely pure apple and real cider flavours resonating through the spirit.

The online price in France is €29 for 70cl, although I sampled a 50cl bottle. Their UK importer is Georges Barbier of London, and Majestic Wine Warehouses list his 12 year-old at £50 for 70cl. Widely exported across the rest of Europe, and Israel, but not to Ireland by the looks of it; and beyond, such as Bock Wine and Spirits in San Francisco, V.O.S. Selections in New York and Heavenly Spirits in Maine; Crimson Imports in Alberta or La QV in Montreal; also Japan, Thailand, Australia... More info @

South Africa: Cape Winemakers' Guild Auction

The 2015 Cape Winemakers' Guild Auction 'of rare Cape wines' (as the glossy brochure says) takes place this Saturday 3 October at Spier winery in Stellenbosch. This organisation represents 'South Africa's finest winemakers,' the blurb continues: looking down the list of names, you'd be hard-pressed to disagree though. "You have to be invited and voted in by the rest based on track record etc..." as member-winemaker Andrea Mullineux explained at a recent preview tasting in London.
The idea is that these winemakers create a specific small-batch wine 'exclusively for this auction' (some of them do end up being released commercially, or at least a different label based on the blend), which the proceeds of go towards funding the Guild's Development Trust 'to support social development through further education in the South African wine industry.' This includes accredited wine training courses, the Protégé Programme for 'cultivating, nurturing and empowering promising oenologists and viticulturists' and bursaries to university students. So, now you know, get your Rand at the ready. Here's my pick (17 wines) of a selection of this year's auction labels tasted a couple of weeks ago.

Graham Beck Non Plus Ultra Méthode Cap Classique 2008, Western Cape - Pieter Ferreira. 81% Chardonnay (some of it barrel-fermented), 19% Pinot Noir; 72 months lees-ageing, 6.7 gr/l residual sugar (RS), 11.66% abv. Lost its fizz quite quickly, nice complex toasty and rich aromas/flavours though vs dry and 'salty' tang, lacks a little zip in the end; classy fizz although has probably seen better days.

Kanonkop CWG Pinotage 2013, Simonsberg - Abrie Beeslaar. Old low-yielding bush vines; 18 months in barrel, 14.9% abv. Wild peppery nose with spicy alcohol tones and coconut/chocolate oak, fairly extracted but has good tannins and lots of peppery fruit, enticing mix of roasted red pepper vs that 'dark side'. Wow: still needs some time to come together and for the oak to melt in...
Kanonkop CWG Paul Sauer 2012, Simonsberg - Abrie Beeslaar. 70% Cabernet Sauvignon, 15% Merlot, 15% Cabernet Franc from 27 year-old vineyards picked very ripe; 24 months in new French oak, 13.9% abv. Quite firm and taut with crunchy cassis vs darker berry fruit, solid and fresh mouth-feel with subtle concentration, still fairly oaky yet has attractive texture with well-balanced mix of tannins/acid vs grain vs depth, very long; still youthful and structured, not too oaky in the end.
Rust en Vrede CWG Estate 2012, Stellenbosch - Coenie Snyman. 60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Syrah, 5% Merlot, 5% Petit Verdot; 22 months in barrel, 14.78% abv. Smoky maturing nose with cassis, black cherry and spicy red pepper notes; firm and fresh mouth-feel with quite supple tannins though and nice smoky sweet/savoury fruit finish. Good wine: powerful and concentrated but balanced; less 'austere' than the Paul Sauer.

Jordan Chardonnay Auction Selection 2014, Stellenbosch - Gary Jordan. From his Nine Yards Chardonnay vineyard; wild yeast fermentation, barrel-fermented 12 months, 13% abv. Riper citrus fruit with creamy toasty edges, a tad more oak but it's fairly lush with fuller texture, 'sweeter' fruit and buttery toast flavours vs a little bite. Very nice Chardy: different from the Cluver below and a bit more upfront.
Jordan Sophia 2012, Stellenbosch - Gary Jordan. 57% Cabernet Sauvignon, 29% Merlot, 14% Cabernet Franc from 'the best hillside vineyards'; 26 months in French oak, 14% abv. Red pepper and spicy cedar tones on the nose, firm vs lusher side with nice crunchy vs richer blackcurrant fruit, taut yet attractive tannins with fresh acidity too, subtle cedar/coconut grain, well-made and quite stylish.

Paul Cluver The Wagon Trail Chardonnay 2014, Elgin - Andries Burger. 100% Chardy 'selected from 27 year-old vineyards, the oldest on the property.' Barrel-fermented with one-third new wood, left on the lees for 9 months; 13.34% abv. Buttery and aromatic, light toast and coconut grain / spice vs lush and creamy with 'sweet' citrus fruit vs nice bite, lovely balance of rich vs crisp and lively.
Paul Cluver Auction Selection Pinot Noir 2013, Elgin - Andries Burger. From their 'highest lying Pinot Noir vineyards...'; 11 months in oak (only 25% new), 13.61% abv. Sexy Pinot nose with perfumed sweet/savoury notes, maturing savoury fruit vs attractive bite and freshness, elegance vs weight, concentrated and long with subtle spice tones. Lovely wine.

Hartenberg CWG Auction Shiraz 2013, Stellenbosch - Carl Schultz. From their 'two single vineyard Shiraz sites, Gravel Hill and Stork...'; 21 months in 50% new barriques, 14.54% abv. Peppery black cherry nose with a touch of coconut and vanilla, powerful vs lush dark and spicy fruit, still quite firm yet nicely textured tannins, punchy and peppery mouth-feel with sweet vs savoury fruit and some wilder edges too, the oak is well-balanced in the end. Good stuff.
Hartenberg CWG Auction Merlot 2013, Stellenbosch - Carl Schultz. 'Single vineyard parcel' - 20 months in new French and Romanian oak, 14.34% abv. Cedary with herbal red pepper notes, lusher plum fruit on the palate in the background vs still very firm structure and lingering leafy/cedar tones. A tad austere at the moment, but there is something 'classic' about it...

Savage Wines 'Follow the Line' 2013, Western Cape - Duncan Savage. One-third Cinsault, Grenache and Syrah 'sourced from a number of altitude and maritime vineyards around the Western Cape.' Made in clay amphora and large old oak tuns, 13% abv. Aromatic cherry and spice on the nose, a hint of 'funk' too; seems punchy although more peppery, quite soft tannins with savoury edges. Pretty good and a bit different.

Mullineux 'The Gris' Semillon 2014, Swartland - Andrea Mullineux. 100% Semillon Gris from 'a 56 year-old heritage dry-farmed vineyard grown on granite soils...' Natural barrel-fermentation, one year on lees without stirring; 12.66% abv. Lightly nutty/coconutty, creamy and exotic vs tight and closed up still, fine-grained texture vs 'sweet' fruit and weight vs 'salty' acid structure. Intriguing wine, could be good; probably needs a bit more time: did open up nicely over lunch actually.
Mullineux Trifecta Chenin Blanc 2013, Swartland - Andrea Mullineux. From 'our three best Swartland vineyards (schist, granite, quartz)...' Barrel-fermented 'naturally'; 13.68% abv. Lovely honeyed and nutty nose, creamy with savoury hazelnut, nice weight vs a fresher 'saltier' side, maturing roast nut flavours vs subtle balance. Very nice Chenin. Andrea expanded: "I wanted it to be more of a winemaker's wine than a terroir Chenin Blanc like our other one."

Boplaas Ouma Cloete Straw Wine 2013, Calitzdorp (Klein Karoo) - Carel Nel. 'Crafted from the most raisined sun-dried bunches of Viognier fermented in traditional lagars...' 183 gr/l RS, 10.7% abv. Marmalade and honey with dried apricot, very lush and sweet with fair bite and fresh cut.
Sijnn !uri 2014, Malgas (Breede River) - David Trafford. 55% Viognier, 35% Chenin Blanc and 10% Roussanne 'all barrel-fermented in French oak for 10 months, 50% new... natural yeast fermented and bottled unfiltered.' 14.56% abv. Pretty golden in colour, quite rich honeyed pineapple fruit and subtle toasted coconut notes, powerful with light oak grain and fairly luscious lingering exotic fruit (it's very dry though); well-handled winemaking touches.

Louis Nel 'A Thousand Kisses Deep' Sauvignon Blanc 2015, Stellenbosch - Louis Nel. Three months on lees; 13% abv. Very aromatic citrus and pear, softer SB style but lively and lees-y with nice ripe kiwi fruit and zesty 'chalky' mouth-feel, crisp and quite delicate finish; subtle depth though for a very 'approachable' wine. Must ask him where that name came from.
AA Badenhorst Family Wines 'Geel-Kapel' Muscat de Frontignan 2013, Swartland - Adi Badenhorst. From old vines in the Moutonshoek Valley (sounds like sheep's corner?); aged for 1.5 years in an old cask, not fined or filtered and no added sulphur dioxide; 13.63% abv. Quirky natural-leaning, although cleverly reined in, and dry style of Muscat: apricot and grape aromas mingle with quite volatile wilder-edged tones, turning nuttier with oxidising notes and a bit of oomph too vs very dry and crisp even, pretty intense finish and nicely textured as well. Adi must have added this bold comment at the bottom of the page: 'This wine will be ready for drinking in 10 years' time'!