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

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 @ www.calvados-groult.com.

South Africa: Cape Winemakers' Guild Auction

From www.capewinemakersguild.com
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'!

25 September 2015

France: 'Champagnes de Vignerons'

Vineyard on 'La Montagne de Reims'
"What's the difference then between Champagnes de Vignerons, wine-growers' Champagnes to coin a slightly clunky English translation, and the 'usual' kind we find around everywhere, i.e. big brands from big houses or own-labels from Champagne co-op wineries..?" Buy my special PDF report/e-magazine HERE including a dozen 'independent' Champagne houses for just £2.50 featuring many bubbly reviews of these tasty producers:
Côte des Bar region: Champagnes de Barfontarc, Jean-Jacques Lamoureux and de Lozey. Côte des Blancs region: Champagnes Paul Goerg, Gimonnet-Gonet and Legret et Fils. Montagne de Reims region: Champagnes Allouchery-Perseval, André Chemin and Pierre Trichet. Vallée de la Marne region: Champagnes Autréau–Lasnot, La Villesenière/Claude Michez and Maurice Delabaye et Fils.

05 September 2015

Spain: Ribera del Duero, Emilio Moro & Cepa 21

Valderramiro vineyard from www.facebook.com/EmilioMoroWinery
Based in Pesquera de Duero alongside other 'famous' names such as Vega Sicilia, Bodegas Emilio Moro was founded by current head José Moro's grandfather. Their vineyards are found on the western side of the Ribera del Duero D.O zone, “the highest appellation in Spain,” according to José. Here the terrain is characterised by chunky stones on top of chalk and clay soils, and the climate enjoys “an annual average temperature of 12.3 degrees centigrade.” These 'average' figures never sound very warm, but remember this region is a high-altitude plateau – some of Moro's vineyards run up to 900 metres above sea level (almost 3000 feet) – where often very hot summers are toned down by cool nights and cold winters. It's dry too with half as much rainfall as say Bordeaux.
José said the family “didn't uproot in the mid 20th century (implying others did), so we now have old vineyards and the best clone,” of the Tinto Fino variety, bedrock of Ribera reds, the “original and purest clone of Tempranillo he believes, which they've always taken selections from in the field to cultivate and propagate. Tinto Fino is marked by “looser bunches and smaller berries” than Tempranillo found elsewhere in Spain. They don't irrigate vineyards and “try to be as organic as possible although I don't want the label,” José added, and that “social responsibility” is an important part of his business philosophy while talking about water use and “supporting people.” More @ www.emiliomoro.com.

Finca Resalso 2013 (4 months in French & American oak) – The name comes from an old vineyard although this is made from their youngest vines (5 to 12 years old). Nice pure floral cherry and berry nose, attractive youthful fruit with a bit of oomph, quite soft and easy mouth-feel with fair weight though, drinking nicely now with its pure fruit and spice combo. €7.30
Emilio Moro 2011 (12 months in French & American oak) – From 12 to 25 year-old vineyards, 2011 is considered a “very good vintage.” Much deeper with intense black fruits, powerful and firm vs concentrated dark fruit, solid yet supple tannins, fair kick but lovely fruit with subtle oak backdrop. Tight long and powerful, needs more time to come together fully. €16.10
Cepa 21 2009 (12 months in French & American oak) – Selected fruit from their highest vineyards. More savoury and developed tobacco notes, lush and extracted but again with fine tannins, firm and fresh even vs weight and nice concentrated maturing fruit. Bigger more solid wine with tighter structure vs tasty maturing fruit and textured tannins. €15.30
Malabrigo 2010 (18 months in French oak, more new wood) – From certain plots on north-facing slopes, only 5000 bottles made. Dark and rich, fair amount of aromatic coconut and chocolate oak vs lush and concentrated, extracted yet supple and intense palate with tight bite and grip still vs lots of fruit, textured dry vs rounded tannins. Still showing a lot of oak but it's not OTT for this big wine that needs a few years to open up, very powerful but well made. €49
Malleolus de Valderramiro 2009 (long maceration, 18 months in new French oak) – 7000 bottles made from three plots planted in 1924, low yields. Maturing balsamic nose with lovely liquorice, cherry and chocolate notes vs savoury meaty flavours, concentrated and powerful with softer tannins and very subtle oak, drinking well but promises more with its dark vs meaty profile, again has nice dry vs sweet tannins. €86

Euro prices above are cellar door to give you an idea. UK importer is C and D Wines. In Ireland: 64 Wine, Black Pig Wines, Blackrock Cellar, Clontarf Wines, O'Briens, Redmond's of Ranelagh, Wicklow Wine Co. and various restaurants in Dublin. For importers in North America and worldwide - follow web link above.

04 September 2015

Spain: Sherry and Montilla; Fino, Manzanilla, Amontillado

I'll spare you the full-on editorial rant about how underrated proper dry Sherry is, and what a memorable wine and food moment it can be sitting outside a tapas bar in the southern Spanish evening sunshine sipping chilled Fino and nibbling on roast almonds and plump olives; as it's been said a thousand times before (1001 now - Ed.). So I'll cut to the chase with a dozen recommended Fino and Manzanilla (always dry) and dry Amontillado (comes in different guises but starts off dry) sherries, from mega brands to obscure special bottlings that make you go “wow” (flavour- and price-wise). Plus an aged dry style from the lesser-known Montilla region located 200+ km to the north-east of Jerez country not far from the beautiful city of Córdoba. All these wines are made from the Palomino grape variety except the latter made from Pedro Ximénez (used for rich sweet Sherries although the mainstay in Montilla for all styles).

"What is Palo Cortado?" video from www.bodegastradicion.es

Bodegas Barón Manzanilla Pasada Barón – Lively toasted almond notes, yeasty and intense vs rich and nutty vs dry and steely, delicious crisp finish. Yum. €20 Wines on the Green / Celtic Whiskey Shop Dublin, UK importer: Morgenrot Manchester.
Emilio Hidalgo El Tresillo 1874 Amontillado Viejo – Amazing aromas, pecan and caramel yet it's pretty dry and intense, concentrated 'extract' vs mouth-puckering 'salty' tang, very long finish. Superb. €70 as above, £70 Wine Bear, US c. $60 + tax.
Hidalgo La Gitana Manzanilla – Lighter than I remembered, delicate salty almond flavours and subtle tangy finish. Widely available.
Equipo Navazos La Bota de Fino Amontillado No. 45 Montilla (Pedro Ximénez) – Quite golden yet intense nutty straw profile, huge flavour vs crisp elegant and long. Wow. €47 as above; US: $66-$70 K&L Wines CA, the Spanish Table WA & CA; £38 Swig London.
Bodegas Tradición Palo Cortado 30 years old - More 'cooked' nose with walnut, intense mix of sweet 'n' sour, caramel vs salty, very long. Serious stuff. €85 as above, US c. $100 importer Valkyrie Selections, UK c. £70 Farr Vintners.
Gonzales Byass Tio Pepe Fino – Nice tangy yeasty almond notes, intense and nutty with crisp 'salty' finish. Widely available.
Alvaro Domecq La Janda Fino – Aromatic smoked almond flavours with almost sea salt edges, fresh light and dry with yeasty nutty finish. About €7-€10 in Europe.
Lustau La Ina Fino – Smoked almond tones, very intense and tasty with nice tangy length; very good for a huge brand. Widely available.
Fernando de Castilla Fino – Restrained nose, oilier style palate with smoked almond flavours, softer and less intense perhaps but still very tasty. £10.99 Virgin Wines.
Fernando de Castilla Fino En Rama - Aged 4-5 years and not fined or filtered. Quite elegant and more rounded, nuttier hazelnut notes, subtle intensity on the finish. UK £10+, US $22.
Delgado Zuleta Goya XL Manzanilla En Rama – Toasted almond, tangy and 'salty' with softer finish than some of the others, good though. UK £18-£19 UltraComida, Quintessentially Wine.
Other resources: WineSearcher.com, SherryNotes.com, jerez-xeres-sherry.blogspot.co.uk