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

26 December 2016

Spain: Cava and Rioja 'of the moment'

Arestel Cava Brut (11.5% abv) - Such a bargain considering this is surprisingly good for the money: there can only be about £1 in it to cover production and everybody's profit, once you take off UK VAT and excise duty! (Who would want to supply Lidl and try actually making money...) Nicely floral and almond-nutty with refreshing aftertaste. £4.49 Lidl.

Heretat El Padruell Cava Brut, Jaume Serra (Macabeu, Parellada, Xarel-lo; 11.5% abv) - A touch yeastier/toastier and 'oilier' yet similarly light and easy-going; nice start and end to Christmas day quaffing. £6 M&S (usually £8).

Marqués del Romeral Rioja Reserva 2010, Bodegas Age (Tempranillo, Graciano and Mazuelo; 13.5% abv) - Lovely 'traditional' style with deft mix of smoky vanilla oak (American and French, for two years) and sweet red berry fruit, turning savoury and more complex on its soft stylish finish. Great pre-Christmas offer price too at £8.50 (usually £13.50 apparently), although it's probably already gone back up to full price. Went well with Guinea fowl for Xmas lunch. Image copied from Marks & Spencer's site.

22 December 2016

France: Bordeaux and Burgundy 'of the moment'

Juicy Merlot @ www.chateausoleil.fr
Château Soleil Puisseguin-Saint-Emilion 2009 (80% Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon; 14.5% abv): lush, concentrated, powerful yet stylish with plump mouth-feel; alluring smoky vs ripe vs maturing gamey fruit, still quite solid though. Delicious now (roast duck/goose?) but you could leave it for a few more years. €15.99 special offer at Aldi Ireland.
Baron de Rothschild Haut-Médoc 2013 (Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot; 13.5% abv): decent example of Médoc style with fair depth of blackcurrant/plum fruit and subtle cedar-y oak, has a bit of grip but good fruit underneath. £14 Marks & Spencer.
Domaine Pierre de Préhy (Jean-Marc Brocard) Chablis 2012 (Chardonnay, 12.5% abv): mature and elegant with subtle layers of buttery nutty fruit and a hint of freshness still. Drinking well now. £15 Marks & Spencer.
Cave des Charmilles Moulin-à-Vent 2015 (Gamay, 13.5% abv): good value example of proper 'Beaujolais' but denser with lovely aromatic fruit and a touch of tannin too. £7.99 Lidl.
Domaine Louis Max Mercurey 2014 (Pinot Noir, 13% abv): from the Côte Chalonnaise area further south than the traditional Burgundy 'heartland'. Delicate perfumed Pinot style, soft texture and subtle long finish. Sometimes £15 on offer - usually £18 in Sainsbury's fine wine section.
Sauternes 'Taste the Difference' 2011 (Sémillon, Sauvignon blanc; 13.5% abv): the good thing about Sainsbury's premium own-label range is that they tell you who the producer is, Château Guiraud in this case, one of the top Sauternes estates. Plenty of that weird exotic vs spicy botrytis-rot thing going on, very sweet and lush dried apricot flavours with rich oily texture vs fresh acidity riding underneath. Have a small glass instead of pudding (you don't want to ask how much sugar there is in this wine, not added though), or pour a little over some plain ice cream. £11 half-bottle.

10 December 2016

Pinot Noir 'of the moment': Bubbly, Burgundy and Beyond

Cono Sur Sparkling Pinot Noir Rosé Brut (12% abv) - Bio Bio Valley, Chile. Stylish and elegant fizz with delicate sweet red berry fruit, enhanced by light yeast-lees tones and fairly crisp finish. £8 on offer at Tesco (usually £10) and other supermarkets.
Matua Pinot Noir 2014 (13% abv) - Marlborough, New Zealand. Reliably good Pinot combining fragrant 'sweet/sour' fruit and subtle oak. £9.98 Asda.
Palataia Pinot Noir Gerd Stepp 2014 (13.5% abv) - Pfalz, Germany. Stylish German red made by a former M&S buyer/winemaker, this oozes elegant Pinot charm with sweet/savoury berry fruits yet fairly weighty rounded mouth-feel and subtle oak. £11 M&S.
Domaine Sainte Rose Pinot Noir Blanc de Noir 2013, Méthode Traditionnelle sparkling (18 months yeast-lees ageing) - Languedoc, France. Attractive and pretty classy style fizz, showing structured and zesty mouth-feel layered with subtle yeast and toasted almond flavours. Like it. £15.99
Paul Mas Cuvée Secrète Pinot Noir, Méthode Traditionnelle NV – Languedoc, France. Red fizz: kinda like red Vinho Verde meets sparkling Shiraz! Different, goes well with cheese. Typical Mas experimenting as usual, and why not, it's the Languedoc after all.
Domaine Louis Max 2014 Mercurey (13% abv) - Côte Chalonnaise, Burgundy. Delicate perfumed Pinot style, soft texture and subtle long finish. £15 (usually £18) Sainsbury's.

23 November 2016

Germany: Riesling 'of the moment'

Leitz 2015 Rheingau Riesling trocken (12% abv) - Tasty and classy example of the well-made dry Riesling styles coming out of Germany nowadays (Leitz is particularly good at it): aromatic, zesty, crisp and 'chalky' countered by 'oily' lemon and lime notes. £8 Asda 'rollback' (usually £9.50 - photo copied from Asda's website).

Piles more recommended Rieslings on this blog: HERE (Gerd Stepp, Pfalz), HERE (Chile), HERE and HERE (Alsace), HERE (Charles Smith, Washington State), HERE (Australia), HERE and HERE (Austria), HERE (Germany Grosses Gewächs) and HERE (Tasmania)...

27 October 2016

Intriguing white blends 'of the moment' - Rhone Valley vs Austria!

Matthias Krön and Markus Bach from Groszer Wein, (c) Manfred Klimek

Don't be put off by the retro-flowery-wallpaper label and litre bottle size (something of a 'USP' perhaps to use the marketing babble), the new 2015 Csaterberg 'field blend' (to use the old speak) from quirky Austrian winery Groszer Wein is a delicious mix of appley/cider notes and aromatic greengage layered with ripe creamy nutty 'oxidised' edges, nice yeast-lees intensity, pretty concentrated and textured too with full-bodied (13.5% abv) and nutty almost savoury finish, yet lively and dry with a 'salty' tang. Went well with 'baked salmon in watercress sauce and asparagus' (ho hum, M&S should stock it maybe!).
I'm told Matthias Krön and Markus Bach at Groszer Wein (pic. above) have three hectares of vines here, 'located on the south-east side of the Klein-Csaterberg... a south-west extension of the Eisenberg' (hillside vineyard and now a separate sub-zone) in Austria's Südburgenland region. The blend is created from 30+ year-old Welschriesling, Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc, 'macerated for 24 hours,' hence the towards-'orange' colour and style, before pressing then 'fermented with wild yeasts in 500 litre barrels and in stainless steel.' So now you know the full story. It's expensive at £25 in the UK - apparently 'only 3000 bottles have been produced' - but this tasty white has got plenty of flavour and you get a big bottle to share! Available from Newcomer Wines in London. Previous words on Groszer Wein HERE.

Not remotely connected to the above but probably got opened around the same time (and I thought it would make a nice 'theme'), leading southern Rhone Valley estate Domaine Brusset has released their Cairanne blanc 2015 Côtes du Rhône Villages crafted from an equally intriguing blend of white varieties: Grenache Blanche (as they spell it on the back-label, although I thought Grenache is 'masculine' hence we usually say 'blanc'), Viognier and Roussanne, 30% of it fermented in oak with lees-stirring adding zestiness, nutty creaminess and texture without any obvious oaky flavours, surprisingly floral and elegant actually (13% abv); good stuff. About £12-£14 in the UK (Great Western Wine, Big Red Wine Co.); €16.50 Mitchell & Son Dublin; US: Adrian Chalk Selection (NY); Canada: Rogers & Company (Ontario).
Also tried their 2014 'vieilles vignes' Cairanne red, which, although concentrated and structured, was a bit overly firm and lacking charm (probably needs leaving for a couple of years to see what happens...).
Previous words on Domaine Brusset HERE.

26 October 2016

American 'reds of the moment' (North and South)

Ravenswood Lodi Old Vine Zinfandel 2014 (14.5% abv) - California, USA. Tasty reminder that Zinfandel is indeed a 'black' grape variety for making solid wild-edged red wines (as opposed to crap rosé), this is smoky and chewy with rich sunny fruit. Sainsbury's £10 (occasionally on offer at £8).
Marques de Casa Concha Syrah 2014 (14.5% abv) - D.O Buin, Maipo River, Chile. From 'a single vineyard at 500 metres above sea level' in the newly demarcated 'Buin' sub-region, this sexy Syrah spent 16 months in French oak barrels. Quite oaky when first opened - in fact it tasted better two days later - yet lush and concentrated with dark spicy fruit, firm but well-textured tannins. One of Concha y Toro's posh ranges: £9 on offer at Tesco, usually £12.
More Syrah from Chile HERE.
Finca La Celia Pioneer Malbec 2013 (14.5% abv) - Uco Valley, Mendoza, Argentina. More serious and more 'savoury' example of the slightly ubiquitous Malbec variety, fairly full-bodied and structured vs attractive maturing fruit. Winemark £9.99.
Another big brand widely available Malbec I've enjoyed recently: Trivento Malbec Reserva 2015. Despite the sometimes misleading 'Reserve' word (which too often just means 'oaky'), this one nicely brings spicy ripe fruit to the fore.

18 October 2016

Merlot pie



I've received many emails over the last couple of weeks with all the usual hyperbole, facts and figures, excitement and/or disappointment about this year's vintage in Europe, and France especially (a very general synopsis would be good but not that much of it). One very long (as is their style but with lots of nice photos too) newsletter did stand out though from Château la Tulipe de la Garde in Bordeaux, containing a tempting-looking recipe for Merlot pie (above, obviously) and several happy harvest workers chomping away. Read the full works and see all the pics here: www.slurp.nu/88/english.html (where I stole the image from).

02 October 2016

Wine Education Service Belfast tastings and courses: revised programme

Saturday 8 October 11am-2pm Italian wine tasting with lunch £50
STILL A FEW PLACES LEFT!
Eight premium Italian wines tasted from around one of the world's most diverse and exciting wine producing nations, from the far north to deep south and the well-known to obscure, followed by your choice of a main course from the hotel's bar menu. Molto bene!

Thursday 24 November 6.45-8.30pm Bordeaux & Burgundy wine tasting £36
Six sumptuous whites and reds savoured from arguably France's two most famous wine regions, showcasing some classy styles of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Merlot. Soak up the history, chateaux and vineyard names!

Saturday 4 February 2017 10.45am to 4.30pm 'New World' wines one-day workshop £90
Including lunch from the hotel's bar menu, course manual and at least a dozen high-quality classic-style wines tasted and discussed, which will be sourced from across the southern hemisphere wine-producing nations and North America.

Thursday 2 March 2017 6.45-8.30pm Syrah / Shiraz wine tasting £30
Six to eight (depending on numbers) different wines from around the world - France, Australia, Chile, South Africa etc. - all made from the world's most popular red grape variety. So why do the French say Syrah, the Aussies say Shiraz and others say both?!

Classic Grape Varieties five week course £150 (£155 by PayPal) - Thursday evenings 6th April, 13th April, 20th April, 27th April and 4th May 2017 from 6.45-8.30pm.
Your chance to become an expert wine taster! At each session, we'll taste three white and three red wines; each trio of wines will be made from the same grape variety and sourced from leading wine producers worldwide. Varieties covered in each session: Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, Sauvignon Blanc and Cabernet Sauvignon, Riesling and Merlot, Viognier and Syrah/Shiraz, Pinot Gris/Grigio and Tempranillo. Comprehensive course material also provided. It's a classic!

The venue for these events is the Ramada Encore Hotel in Belfast's Cathedral Quarter. More info and online booking via the Wine Education Service site (payment by bank transfer or cheque):
Facebook.com/WineEducationServiceNI (sign in to Facebook to view).
Or you can pay by card or your own PayPal account by clicking on the button below (you don't need a PP account to do this though: just click on 'pay as guest'). You can change the quantity of tickets on the secure web form:


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Click here for more about PayPal payments and your privacy. WES terms & conditions apply, which will be emailed with your invoice or can be viewed on this blog HERE. Wine Education Service NI does not sell wine - our wine tastings and classes are designed to be purely educational and informal while focusing on getting more enjoyment out of tasting wine; we source high quality representative samples from a variety of different retailers.

27 September 2016

Cahors: Combel La Serre, Haute-Serre, Mercuès

Château de Mercuès
These Cahors words & wines are an extract from the recently updated version of my French wine tasting & touring e-magazine (click there for more info) available as a Kindle e-book on Amazon or emailed as a monster PDF file.

Château Combel La Serre

Following on from what I've said recently about the Red Squirrel Wine company, their buyers have also been snooping around Cahors country in search of real Malbec; and obviously found some at Julien Ilbert’s winery Combel la Serre. There’s more about him and some of his previous vintages a little further on in this Cahors section (again, click above): I met him a few years ago in the region and was pretty impressed, thinking we’d be seeing more of him and his now 100% Malbec wines (even if they are a tad dear although so are the others reviewed here...).

Pur Fruit de Causse 2014 Cahors (no oak, 12.5% abv) - Alluring fruity 'funky' nose, very Malbec berry and spice style though; this one has light bite and grip. £14.99
Château Combel La Serre 2012 Cahors – Grippier and more textured wine than above showing good depth of enticing smoky fruit; very nice Malbec. £16.99

Château de Haute-Serre

There’s an in-depth profile of Georges Vigouroux‘s flashy estate winery and restaurant a few chapters further on, gleaned from a trip there (and rather good lunch it has to be said) a few years ago. Since replanting the hillside vineyards on this old property in the 1970s – 60 hectares surrounding the chateau - he’s injected even more money into Haute-Serre to make it a shining example of what can be done in Cahors (when you’re rich obviously). The wines are certainly impressive (even if sometimes a bit overly oaky in my view) and occasionally come up to ‘fine’ wine level, with a deliberate sense of recreating a Bordeaux-style ‘grand cru’ based on the region’s Malbec variety. In the UK, Oddbins have recently listed a couple of the range including their top red reviewed below and Lafleur de Haute Serre 2014 at £12.75.

Grand Vin Seigneur 2012 Malbec (13.5% abv) – Quite oaky still to start with coconut shavings on the nose, but it’s complex too with spicy herby damson, cassis and black cherry vs more savoury black olive even; very dense and purple colour still, dry coating of fine-textured tannins (posh oak probably), powerful yet well balanced with grip and fresh bite vs nice ‘sweet’/savoury fruit combo, concentrated long finish and classy with it despite that new oak coating. Second day: less oaky on the nose and smokier, very concentrated actually with dry vs fine coated tannins on the palate. Serious wine. £18.50 Oddbins.

Château de Mercuès

The asset-rich Georges Vigouroux & company also owns this magnificent property, a pukka posh 13th century castle (pic. top) with all the historical trimmings found to the north-west of the town of Cahors further up and overlooking the winding River Lot. He bought and had it transformed into a luxury 30‐room Relais & Châteaux hotel and restaurant in 1983, which is run by Bertrand-Gabriel Vigouroux along with 32 hectares (80 acres) of mostly Malbec vineyards. More info @ chateaudemercues.com where I copied the image from.

Le Vassal de Mercuès 2014 ‘Malbec de Cahors’ (90% Malbec, 8% Merlot, 2% Tannat; 13% abv) – Dense purple colour still, enticing blackcurrant and blueberry fruit with spicy earthy hints and a more savoury side too, concentrated palate with nice sweet vs sour fruit mix, firm textured with light bitter twist but the tannins have an attractive dry coating. Stylish red that should improve for a few years yet, and apparently this is the estate’s ‘second wine’. UK: £13 for the 2013 at Dulwich Vintners (who stock some older vintages of the Haute-Serre ‘Grand Vin’ above, part of one of the most serious Cahors’ ranges I’ve ever seen); The General Wine Co./Amazon £11.99/£11.39 on offer (vintage not specified). US: $13.99 Ball Square Fine Wines (MA) - vintage not specified; Sipping Serendipity Wine (WA) $16 for the 2009.

26 September 2016

More 'white grapes of the moment'

For 'serious' white wine fans out there, here are a few more, quirkier bottles worth trying made mostly from lesser-known grape varieties. Warning: this is a Pinot Grigio and Sauvignon Blanc FREE zone (no Chardonnay either, but, hey, I like Chardy)... Prices stated are all £UK.

Bodegas Hidalgo La Gitana Manzanilla - Sanlúcar de Barrameda, Spain (Palomino Fino, 15% abv). Classic very dry style sherry with intense yeasty notes, chamomile and apple too with tangy almond finish. £8 (50cl) Sainsbury's / widely available.

Domaine La Toupie 2014 ‘Fine Fleur’ - Roussillon, France (Grenache gris 49%, Grenache blanc 25%, Macabeu 25%, Carignan blanc 1%). Obviously that 1% white Carignan makes all the difference! Nicely aromatic and zesty with aniseed notes, then lightly ‘oily’ and nutty palate. £12.50 Joie de Vin.

Eschenhof Holzer 2014 'Haide' Roter Veltliner - Wagram, Austria. Despite its name, the RV variety isn't red (although does have a pink hue) and probably isn't related to Gruner Veltliner. Enticingly wild and yeasty nose vs creamy 'oily' notes, concentrated and rich vs steely bite; very nice and different too. £13.99 Red Squirrel Wine.

Marqués de Alella 2012 'Galactica' Pansa Blanca (= Xarello) - Catalonia, Spain. Nutty lightly oxidised and savoury nose yet still fresh and lively on the palate, very good unusual white although expensive (it's rare apparently). £21.99 Red Squirrel Wine.

Villa Maria 2014 Gewurztraminer - East Coast, New Zealand (13.5% abv). Surprisingly elegant with subtle hallmark 'Turkish delight' and lychee flavours, full bodied though yet with a lighter touch too. Drink now with Malaysian or Thai food (I did). £10.99 WineMark.

Alta Luna 2015 Gewurztraminer, CaVit - Trentino, Italy (13% abv). A little less in-ya-face and drier perhaps than most Alsace Gewurz, this is nevertheless still characteristically aromatic with rose water and peach, again quite elegant. M&S £9.

Chenin Blanc 2015, Adi Badenhorst - Swartland, South Africa (13.5% abv). Bargain compared to some of the wines reviewed here, considering the real mouthful of rich flavour you get for the money: honeyed melon fruit, 'oily' rounded and full-bodied with fresher side. Tesco Finest £6.

09 September 2016

French wine tasting & touring e-magazine updated

This substantial 'digital magazine' is an amalgam of pay-to-view supplements and guides originally written for this blog, with 15 pages of exclusive new material added in September 2016. Wine recommendations, winemaker profiles, regional mini-guides, travelling & eating tips, opinions and news from, extensively, the Languedoc with an extra in-depth Saint-Chinian report, and Cahors; plus Alsace (Grands Crus), Chablis wine touring and independent wine-growers' Champagne mini-guide.
Here's what's new since the last update: Languedoc ‘Outsiders’ and other new & updated winery profiles, featuring 17 producers from the Languedoc, Roussillon and southern Rhone valley:
Château Rives-Blanques, Limoux; Domaine Sainte Rose, Pays d’Oc; Château d’Anglès, La Clape; La Madura, Saint-Chinian; Domaine Turner Pageot, Pézenas; Domaine La Louvière, Malepère; Château de Panéry, Côtes du Rhône; Domaine Le Clos du Serre, Terrasses du Larzac; Domaine des Enfants, Côtes Catalanes; Domaine de Cébène, Faugères; Château Saint Jacques d’Albas, Minervois; Le Clos du Gravillas, Minervois/Côtes du Brian.
Plus: Domaine Jones, Fitou & Maury; Jourdan-L’Argentier, Sommières; Château Monfin, Corbières; Domaines Paul Mas, Languedoc; Domaine Bassac, Côtes de Thongue.
Languedoc & Roussillon: 10 recommended 2015 vintage white wines, and 10 hot 'reds of the moment' from Paul Mas, Costières Pomérols, Morin Langaran, Saint-Martin Garrigue, Dom Brial, Saint Hilaire, Mas Pont, Devoy Martine, Hecht & Bannier, Château Gaure, Château Lascaux; Gérard Bertrand, Mas Devèze, Château Bouis, Saint-Michel Clauses, Cave Roquebrun, Domaine Tholomies, Mas Gabinèle, Domaine d’Aupilhac, Mas Quernes and Domaine Mirabel.
And: the huge 'Cahors home of Malbec' section has been updated with the latest from two top estates: Château Combel La Serre and Château de Haute-Serre...

Click on the link below to buy this e-mag in your country's Amazon store (as a Kindle e-book - prices subject to exchange rate variations):
Amazon US ($2.99), Amazon UK (£2.24), France (€2.99), Canada ($3.80), Australia ($3.99), India (₹193), Germany (€2.99), Spain (€2.99), Italy (€2.99), Netherlands (€2.99), Japan (¥333), Brazil (R$9.66) and Mexico ($55.49).
Alternatively, this newly updated magazine is now available for just £2.50 as a whopping 141-page PDF file with photos by using the PayPal button below, to pay by card or your own PP account although you don't need one to buy it. I'll email the PDF to you once payment is received. Click here for more about card payments and general terms & conditions.



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18 August 2016

White grape varieties 'of the moment'

Updated 03.09.16 - see two wines added at the bottom (Oz Viognier and Chile Chardy)...

Workhorse Chenin Blanc 2015 Stellenbosch South Africa (13.5% abv): Made by Chenin maestro Ken Forrester for Marks & Spencer, this dry white shows a bit of class and character with honeyed melon vs yeasty tones, fairly rich yet has fresh finish too. £8.50

Mineralstein Riesling 2014 Gerd Stepp, Pfalz Germany (12% abv): Delicious and complex dry Riesling from a former M&S winemaker blended by them, this delivers very good quality for the money balancing elegance and quince/lime fruit. £10

Fiano 2015 Cantine Settesoli, Sicily (13.5%): Bargain zesty yet full-bodied Mediterranean white with double the flavour of most Pinot Grigio at £5. Tesco 'Finest'

From vignobles-lesgourgues.com
Château Loumelat Bordeaux 2015 Sauvignon blanc (12.5% abv): This estate, found in the Côtes de Blaye zone on the right side of the Gironde estuary directly north of Bordeaux city, apparently dates back to before the Revolution (cut off their heads then). Attractive example of good French Sauvignon with herbal grapefruit aromas and flavours, yeasty lively and refreshing but not too acidic; actually gets a little rounder and more interesting after being open for a day (in the fridge naturally). Very nice with king prawn, leek and Gruyère risotto. €16 Mitchell and Son Dublin; Castelnau Wine Agencies London.

Le Soleil Nantais 2015 Guilbaud Frères, Muscadet Sèvre et Maine 'sur lie' France (12% abv): It's been almost a year to the day (go for it) that I tried the 2014 of Guilbaud's standard-bearing Muscadet, as well as a couple of amazing older vintages (the brothers obviously really care about this once very popular although all too often lacklustre dry white). The 2015 is perhaps a little softer and less racy, although still with characteristic 'chalky' / 'salty' tang coupled with gala melon and subtle yeasty tones. €6.52 cellar door. UK: Portal, Dingwall & Norris aka Ivy Wines £10.56.

Pazo Torrequintans Albariño 2015 Rías Baixas Spain (12.5% abv): Aromatic honeysuckle and quince fruit with nice yeasty bite, dry crisp and 'chalky' texture with a smidge of enticing oily character too. Tesco £7

Zilzie Viognier 2016 Australia (14.5% abv) - Attractive mix of zesty and lively vs exotic and full-on; unusual to find a Viognier at this price that actually has some character and flavour! £4.85 Asda.

Santa Rita '120' Chardonnay 2015 Chile (13.5% abv) - Very nice unoaked Chardy style considering this must be made in vast quantities: ripe and peachy with a bit of oomph yet zesty too. Widely available e.g. €8 Tesco Ireland.

07 August 2016

Australia: 2005 vintage Semillon vs Shiraz

mountpleasantwines.com.au
According to well-known Aus wine writer and critic James Halliday's site winecompanion.com.au, 2005 was a very good vintage for both white wines in the Hunter Valley and red wines in McLaren. Rare too to find 10+ year-old Australian wines beyond the winery's own museum stock, so it's good to see that it's possible for us to get a taste of what 'proper' Aus wine can be like over here as well.

McWilliam's Mount Pleasant Elizabeth Semillon 2005 Hunter Valley (12% abv) - I've bought this wine for tastings a few times now and it certainly always gets a strong reaction, good or bad! Distinctly quirky, unoaked bottled-aged Aus classic style dry white, with strangely toasty oily notes (considering there's no wood involved in the winemaking) and rich nutty flavours, underlined by surprisingly fresh acidity / elegant 'greener' fruit tones. Winemark £10.29; Tesco used to list it too so you might still find the odd bottle lurking around. You can't buy good ten year-old white Burgundy for a tenner!

Songlines Shiraz 2005 McLaren Vale (14.5% abv) - Sourced from 'selected 40 to 110 year-old vines with low yields, hand pruned and picked.' Dense purple/black/brown colour shading, seductive old Northern Rhone style nose mixing white pepper and wild mint with sweet dark fruit and liquorice with savoury leather notes; still punchy on the palate with concentrated lush mouth-feel, meat gravy vs chocolate truffle and sweet plum flavours (!), a little tannin still and overall luscious texture. Delicious mature red although at its peak I'd say; not very 'Aus', in the popular perception, but that was probably the idea. Exel Wines: £22 on offer.

23 July 2016

Italy: Sicily, Puglia, Veneto, Trentino

Here's an easy-to-find pick of Italian 'wines of the moment', including a red and white pair each from the far south and far north...

Grillo 2015 Terre Siciliane IGP - Sicily (13% abv): Grillo is a fab and fairly rare white grape variety; well-made tasty examples like this one are quite rich and rounded with aromatic peach and apricot fruit, lightly spicy and zesty on the finish too. £7.50 Marks & Spencer.
'Vigna la cupa' 2013 Salice Salentino DOC Riserva - Puglia (13.5% abv): Made from the local Negroamaro variety, meaning 'bitter black', this sunny red has a wild mix of very ripe cherries, dark chocolate, liquorice and more savoury, earthy, rustic and tobacco notes; quite full-on and firm palate vs nice sweet/savoury finish. £6.99 Lidl.

Pinot Grigio 2015 Trentino DOC, CaVit - Trentino-Alto Adige (12.5% abv) - This juicy fragrant and nutty white shows there's more to PG if you look beyond the big brand offers. Asda £6.
Amarone della Valpolicella 2012 DOCG, Monteforte d'Alpone - Veneto (14.5% abv): Special occasion red - or why not push the boat out with posh BBQ food - crafted from dried grapes (a classic local blend of Corvina, Rondinella and Molinara) giving plenty of body and rich flavours. Asda £16 (sometimes on offer for a few quid less though).

10 July 2016

Chile: Syrah, Pinot Noir and other 'wines of the moment'

Misty Valle de Limarí from www.winesofchile.org

WHITE WINES

Casa Marín Lo Abarca Riesling 2015, San Antonio Valley (12.5% abv) - Delicate floral style with 'mineral' notes and subtle crisp white peach fruit. £10 Marks & Spencer.
Cono Sur Riesling Reserva Especial 2015, Bio Bio Valley (13.5% abv) - Oilier fuller style with more ripe lime vs zesty 'chalky' undertones, fair depth and class too. £9-£10 Tesco.
Caliterra Chardonnay Reserva 2015, Casablanca Valley (13.5% abv) - Tasty example of how to make a nice balanced style of Chardy, mixing juicy citrus fruit, yeasty/creamy notes and unobtrusive oak touches £7.29 WineMark.

PINOT NOIR

Secano Estate Rosé 2015, Leyda Valley (13% abv) - I had the previous vintage of this flavoursome rosé many times; and the new-in 2015, while not as full-on as its predecessor, is just as tasty in a more elegant way. £9.50 Marks & Spencer.
Secano Estate Maiten Vineyard Block 1 2014, Leyda Valley (14% abv) - Pretty classy Pinot with understated 'sweet/savoury' fruit, silky texture and well-integrated hints of oak. £13 Marks & Spencer, although I got it on offer making it much better value of course!
Morandé Reserva 2015, Casablanca Valley - Aromatic and silky with elegant cherry fruit, nice and fresh on the finish; good. Morandé is considered one of a small band of pioneers of Casablanca Pinot, hence the name of this second wine:
Morandé Pionero 2014 - More perfumed with lovely 'sweet/savoury' Pinot characters, elegant and fresh vs maturing and savoury to finish. Good too.

Darwin Vineyards 'Curis Valley' 2015, Curicó Valley - Nice and silky and soft with light cherry fruit, tasty elegant style Pinot.
Montgras Reserva 2015, Leyda Valley - More structured and fresher style with subtle oak hints, very nice silky Pinot Noir fruit on the palate though.
Errazuríz Estate Series 2014 - Tight and fresh mouth-feel to start, then revealing vibrant aromatic 'sweet/savoury' fruit, attractive style.
Errazuríz Aconcagua Costa 2014 - More structured and closed up, silky vs fresh palate, needs a bit more time to express itself?
Errazuríz Wild Ferment 2014, Casablanca Valley - Yeastier edges, aromatic cherry fruit as well with spicier and gutsier palate, although again still very Pinot in character with long intense finish.

SYRAH

I wrote this not-overly-complimentary piece about Syrah/Shiraz from Chile nearly five years ago; but things seem to have moved on in bucket-loads since then, proving the potential was definitely there, as there are now many very tasty examples lining the shelves. Interesting to note perhaps, for wine geeks at least, that all of the wines tipped below were labelled as Syrah not Shiraz, meaning winemakers in Chile have now defined their own style(s) of the world's most popular grape variety? Discuss in 200 words or less...

Tabalí Los Molles Reserva 2013 Limarí (14% abv) - Lush black cherry fruit, peppery and powerful yet has a fresher side too with sweet/savoury finish; and if there's any oak, it's not very obvious. £10 Marks & Spencer: on offer at £8 at the moment.
Raiz Gran Reserva 2013 Maule - Quite a lot of dark choc / spicy oak, but this has plenty of tasty black cherry fruit, nice rounded tannins with oomph and grip to finish, fairly concentrated too. Good Syrah style.
Indomita Gran Reserva 2015 Maipo - Oaky structured and concentrated although again has quite rich dark berry / cherry fruit; a little youthful and closed up but should be good.
Tirazis 2012 Casablanca - Herby peppery style with crunchy black cherry, pretty intense and firm still vs layers of tasty fruit; very different.
Cremaschi Furlotti Single Vineyard Maule 2014 - Again herby spicy black cherry fruit vs firm and dry, pretty intense finish, needs a few more months to round out.
Errazuríz Aconcagua Costa 2014 - Delicious white pepper and black cherry nose, concentrated yet elegant balanced palate; highly recommended Syrah.

OTHER REDS

Santa Rita Estates 'Lot 8' Carmenère 2012, Colchagua Valley (14% abv) - Chunky and concentrated, touches of vanilla/coconut oak layered with tasty sweet/sour fruit flavours. €13.99 Lidl Ireland / £60 case of 6 UK.
Errázuriz Max Reserva Cabernet Sauvignon 2013, Aconcagua Valley (14% abv) - 2011 was the last vintage I tried of this pretty serious Cabernet - click here to read about it - and this Erráz 2013 amply keeps up their standards for structured age-worthy yet also drinking well enough now Cab. £12.99 WineMark.

03 July 2016

Posh Chardonnay: California, South Africa, Australia

Kendall Jackson Vintner's Reserve Chardonnay 2014, California (13.5% abv) - This classy wholesome Chardy is "a winemaker’s blend of mountain, ridge, hillside and benchland (a long narrow valley without a river apparently) hand select grapes grown along California’s cool coastal appellations." (The Banke-Jackson family owns vineyards in Santa Barbara, Monterey, Sonoma, Napa and Mendocino counties in fact). Each 'lot' is then fermented separately and barrel-aged. Enticing mix of buttery oatmeal aromas and flavours, and not too toasty with it, and sunny citrus/peach fruit, nice full mouth-feel yet reasonably subtle and fresh. Quite dear, although on a level with good white Burgundy especially if you're splashing out for you-know-what day tomorrow: £15.95 Slurp.co.uk.

Grier Family Villiera Brut Natural Chardonnay 2010 'Methode Cap Classique'; Stellenbosch, South Africa (12% abv) - This stylish Champagne-esque fizz was treated to no less than 34 months yeast-lees ageing in the bottle and unusually has no added sugar (unlike typical so-called 'Brut' styles) or sulphur dioxide. Still surprisingly youthful at first with frothy, fresh and structured palate; then revealing delicate 'brioche', oatcake and roast hazelnut flavours vs crisp and dry finish. Marks & Spencer £12.

Robert Oatley Vineyards '6285' Chardonnay 2014; Margaret River, Western Australia (13% abv) - Tasty example of that little extra touch of style you can find in Western Oz, this showed a deft mix of ripe juicy fruit, creamy texture and subtle oak spice in the background. Marks & Spencer: again fairly dear at £13 (I bought it on offer though) but you should be reasonably impressed.

19 June 2016

Portugal: 'wines of the moment'

Quinta de la Rosa
Douro Valley

Quinta de Fafide Reserva 2013 (Tinta Roriz, Touriga Franca, Touriga Nacional, 14% abv) - Fairly serious and concentrated, towards 'modern style' red with ripe berries and spice, firm but nicely textured tannins with a touch of oak. Marks & Spencer £10.
Quevedo Late Bottled Vintage Port 2006 (Touriga Nacional 30%, Touriga Franca 25%, Tinta Roriz 15%, Tinto Cão 5%, Tinta Barroca 5%, other 20% from Quinta Vale d’Agodinho, Trovisca, Mós; bottled July 2011, 19.5% abv, 106 g/l residual sugar (RS)) - Tasty mix of chunky powerful vs savoury mature with sweet dried fruits vs light grip and oomph. £10 half-bottle, £13.50 75cl different vintage: Wine-Boutique, Naked Wines.
Quinta de la Rosa 2009 Vintage Port (mainly Touriga Nacional,Touriga Franca, Souzão and Tinta Roriz from their older dry-stone terraced vineyards; bottled June 2011; 20% abv, 91 g/l RS) - Still pretty dense and youthful, packed with sunny damson and black cherry fruit with savoury and smoky tobacco edges, rich and sweet but nicely toned by integrated tannin / kick of alcohol. Delicious now but will keep and improve for a good few years yet. JN Wine ships QR wines in Ireland (North & South). €15 half-bottle cellar door: more on that trip to Qta. de la Rosa HERE.

Lisboa

Vidigal 'Porta 6' red 2013 (Tinta Roriz, Castelão, Touriga Nacional; 13.5% abv) - Very nice mix of spicy dark berry fruit and a hint of oak, full bodied yet reasonably soft. Grange Wines Holywood £8.99.

Madeira

Blandy's 10 Year Old Verdelho 'medium-dry' (19% abv) - Expensive but full of complex aromas and flavours, seems fairly dry really with Brazil/hazelnut notes, rich yet tangy finish. Grange Wines Holywood £19.99 50cl.
Henriques & Henriques Full Rich Madeira (17% abv) - Good-value dark sweet style Madeira, full of Christmas pudding, raisin and baked walnut flavours. Pour some over simple vanilla ice cream. £7 Sainsbury's half-bottle.

09 June 2016

Spain: Sherry and Jamón Ibérico



This sherry-and-ham-pairing piece stems from a fascinating 'masterclass' held in Dublin by embassy export body Wines & Foods from Spain; the words, jamón and sherries will be just as tasty now as they were then. Presented by César Saldana, Director of the Vinos de Jerez governing association, and Mario Hiraldo, master-carver and general Jamón Ibérico expert, which is arguably Spain's finest cured ham delicacy. The scrummy photo above was downloaded from actualidadgastronomica.es where there's an article (in Spanish) about it; and this site is good too, in English: www.jamon.com/iberico.

To start with, here are a few comments about the four different, and equally delicious sherries (all made from 100% Palomino fino variety) that were picked to match the various cuts of mouth-meltingly succulent Ibérico...

La Guita Manzanilla Bodega Hijos de Rainera Pérez Martín (15% abv) - Quite fresh and light with pungent yeast and chamomile notes vs tangy roasted salted almond flavours, very dry and refreshing.
Tio Pepe Fino 'en rama' González Byass (15% abv) - An 'unfiltered' version of the popular fino brand, this was a tad darker than the above with more intense yeasty and nutty characters, yet more rounded and fuller too with long intense yeasty and crisp finish.
Antique Palo Cortado Fernando de Castilla (20% abv) - "Made in the oloroso way using fino wines," was how César described this more obscure sherry style. More oxidised nose with walnut and 'varnish', intense and toasty with lingering pecan nut flavours vs crisp dry and structured.
Don Zoilo Oloroso 12 Years Williams & Humbert (19% abv) - Less dark than the above actually ("They top the barrels right up," so less / slower oxidation), fierier nose with hazelnut/walnut and 'furniture polish'(!), promises to be sweet but it isn't, smooth and rounded mouth-feel vs tangy and concentrated. Lovely.

Without rehashing the entire sherry production process, I've summarised a few key points from what César explained relating to how these classic styles are made. Fino is fortified to 15% (alcohol by volume), as it was discovered to be the perfect strength for the flor (the natural yeast that grows on top of the wine giving it much of its character) to survive and continue developing. 17% abv (or higher) kills flor so this is only done for wines that are already darker in colour and then classified as oloroso. He continued: "Fino is only possible because it isn't static: the young wines give it nutrients to survive." These wines from the latest harvest are called sobretabla and are fed into the top level of criadera ageing barrels used in the solera maturation process, where the wines at different stages are periodically drawn off and 'down' one level. Solera comes from the word for 'floor', as the bottom row contains wines that are ready for bottling; a maximum of one-third of these are drawn off at a time. "The flor also consumes glycerol (naturally present in wine, it gives a rounder 'sweeter' feel) giving (fino and manzanilla) drier flavour," César added.

"Ibérico pigs only come from the south-west of Spain... Serrano (ham) is from a cross-breed of European pigs," Mario enlightened us proudly, since that's where he's from. He explained how free-range the rearing of these pigs is - for the best Jamón Ibérico de Bellota or acorn fed ham - by pointing to St. Stephen's Green across the road: "Two pigs would have that much space!" These magnificent animals can grow up to 180 kg in weight but with "very thin legs," feeding on (lots of) organic encina acorns - this variety of evergreen oak or holly oak acorn tastes a little like chestnuts and contains "74% oleic acid," (the predominant unsaturated fat in olive oil).
This is why "the fat (on the ham) is good quality, because of the healthy pigs and acorn acids," Mario continued. "There are less calories in 100 grams of Ibérico than a can of diet coke!" he joked; you can see his point though, for a man who says he eats some of this sensational ham "every day," he is indeed slim. "And Ibérico is never the same from one producer to another." The ham he carved for us that day had been maturing for three and a half years (only salt is added, no artificial preservatives like most other hams) - "It gets darker and more intense as you go up the leg," remembering it's hung upside-down. "The different shapes and marbling give different flavours," he added.
The first cut - called La Caña - is from the 'top', i.e. the lowest part of the upper leg where there's less salt (this slowly travels down, or rather up through the leg as it ages), which tasted soft and melt-in-the-mouth and seemed to match the Fino and Manzanilla well. The second - Babilla from the rump end - where the fat actually melts on your hand at room temperature - tasted more intense with chunkier texture. The Contramaza was delicious with the Oloroso, a sweeter meatier and 'fattier' cut but not fatty tasting; and the Maza or Jarrete is the thickest driest and meatiest piece. La Punta, the hip, is the most intensely flavoured and saltier with lovely mature cheese type aromas.
I checked the facts, spellings and which cut was which as best I could - any Ibérico experts reading this, feel free to correct me if not...

04 June 2016

English Wine Week and wine guide

From www.lymebaywinery.co.uk
To mark ‘English Wine Week’ 2016 (to 5th June), I’ve done the second comprehensive update this year to my English wine mini-guide to include a couple of new names on the English wine scene, small and so far quite hush-hush, and a couple of conspicuously missing big names: Exton Park Vineyard (Hampshire), Sixteen Ridges (Worcestershire & Herefordshire), Denbies Wine Estate (Surrey), Lyme Bay Winery (Devon). And, for the first time, broadened the reach to take in ‘still’ whites, rosés and reds (the focus had previously been just on 'traditional method' sparklers).
This latter wine 'offering' used to be dominated by several lesser-known and Germanic sounding grape varieties – and some of them can make good wine e.g. Bacchus, Ortega, Reichensteiner – but, while tasting on the English Wine Producers stand at the recent London Wine Trade fair (along with a lot of other people it has to be said), it became clear that there’s an increasing amount of good quality Chardonnay and Pinot Noir coming our way. Not surprising perhaps, when you read (see guide for details) that these two ‘Champagne’ varieties are now the most planted, especially across southern England for creating traditional method fizz. So it makes absolute sense to offer wine consumers recognisable non-sparkling styles too from very recognisable varieties, particularly as some of these are rather tasty in an English ‘Chablis style’ for Chardonnay and light aromatic ‘Burgundy style’, or not dissimilar to certain 'German style', Pinot Noir reds. The main problem is the usual UK wine production dilemma: relatively small quantities mean prices remain quite high.
I’ve updated some of the existing winery profiles in this guide as well, with new vintage releases and labels which have also been highlighted: e.g. Hattingley Valley (Hampshire), Hush Heath Estate Winery (Kent), Chapel Down Winery (Kent), Furleigh Estate (Dorset). Buy the full-works 20-page PDF magazine for £2.50 using the PayPal button below to pay by card or using your own account (select it in drop-down menu).


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More info on English Wine Week: englishwineproducers.co.uk.

24 May 2016

Wine Education Service NI: new dates added in Belfast

The fully updated programme of wine tastings, wine workshops and wine courses scheduled in Belfast from summer 2016 to spring 2017 is (drum roll)...

Friday 1 July 6.45-8.30pm Champagne & sparkling wine tasting £36
We'll sample and compare six top-notch bottles of fizz from around the wine cosmos, including well-known favourites such as Champagne, Cava, Prosecco, alongside a few eye-openers from the Southern Hemisphere like New Zealand, Australia or South Africa... Add some sparkle to your weekend!

Classic Grape Varieties five week course £150 (£155 by PayPal) - Thursdays 6th October, 13th October, 20th October, 27th October and 3rd November 2016 from 6.45-8.30pm.
Your chance to become an expert wine taster! At each session, we'll taste three white and three red wines; each trio of wines will be made from the same grape variety and sourced from leading wine producers worldwide. Varieties covered in each session: Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, Sauvignon Blanc and Cabernet Sauvignon, Riesling and Merlot, Viognier and Syrah/Shiraz, Pinot Gris/Grigio and Tempranillo. Comprehensive course material also provided. It's a classic!

Saturday 8 October 11am-2pm Italian wine tasting with lunch £50
Six to eight (depending on numbers) premium Italian wines tasted from around one of the world's most diverse and exciting wine producing nations, followed by your choice of a main course from the hotel's bar menu. Molto bene!

Thursday 24 November 6.45-8.30pm Bordeaux & Burgundy wine tasting £36
Six sumptuous whites and reds savoured from arguably France's two most famous wine regions, showcasing some classy styles of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Merlot. Soak up the history, chateaux and vineyard names!

Saturday 4 February 2017 10.45am to 4.30pm 'New World' wines one-day workshop £90
Including lunch from the hotel's bar menu, course manual and at least a dozen high-quality classic-style wines tasted and discussed, which will be sourced from across the southern hemisphere wine-producing nations and North America.

Thursday 2 March 2017 6.45-8.30pm Syrah / Shiraz wine tasting £30
Six to eight (depending on numbers) different red wines from around the world - France, Australia, Chile, South Africa... - all made from the world's most popular red grape variety. So why do the French say Syrah, the Aussies say Shiraz and others say both?!

Essential Wine Tasting five week course £125 (£129 by PayPal) - Thursday evenings 6th April, 13th April, 20th April, 27th April and 4th May 2017 from 6.45-8.30pm.
Six wines tasted each session covering the world's great wine regions and winemaking styles as well as some lesser-known examples. We'll also talk about tasting and ageing wine, how the different types of wine are made and what goes on in the vineyard as we go along, as well as many other general topics. Course manual included. Full details can be found on the WES site HERE.

The venue for these events is the Ramada Encore Hotel in Belfast's Cathedral Quarter. More info and online booking on the Wine Education Service site:
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Or you can pay by card or your own PayPal account by clicking on 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:



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Click here for more about PayPal payments and your privacy. WES terms & conditions apply, which will be emailed with your invoice or can be viewed on this blog HERE. Wine Education Service NI does not sell wine - our wine tastings and classes are designed to be purely educational and informal while focusing on getting more enjoyment out of tasting wine; we source high quality representative samples from a variety of different retailers.