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

06 December 2017

Pinot Noir: Australia, California, France, Hungary

Vineyard in Tasmania by Wine Australia

California
Scott Peterson ROX Pinot Noir 2015 Sonoma Coast - Silky smooth Pinot with plenty of aromatic 'sweet and savoury' fruit, touches of vanilla oak but not overdone, nice supple tannins and 'lightness' despite its big 14.5% abv weight. £19.99/£14.99 Naked Wines $29.99/$17.99.

Australia
Apparently Pinot Noir was among the very first varieties to be planted in Australia, but it was only really in the 1990s onwards that the variety gained momentum with the arrival of new clones and the planting of cooler sites. These two would be pretty typical of this.
Crittenden 'Peninsula' Pinot Noir 2016 Mornington Peninsula, Victoria - Lovely perfumed Pinot nose and palate, elegant but with intense 'sweet/savoury' fruit, quite powerful yet soft and silky with fresh acidity; very nice delicate pure style, fair class. £21.25 Fields, Morris, Verdin.
Stargazer Pinot Noir 2016 Tasmania - Planted in 2002 with a Swiss clone of Pinot (as you do). Light colour, closed up at first with herbal hints, turning to sweeter cherry fruit, fresh acidity and a touch of weightier texture on the palate, floral and tight finish; aromas develop with aeration. Good potential although dear @ £35, Enotria & Coe.

France
'Wild card' red Burgundy: you wouldn't expect anything too exciting from Burgundy for £5.99, but this Lidl special is easy-drinking and not bad at all:
Coteaux Bourguignons Pinot Noir 2015 (12.5% abv) - Fairly light with distinct cherry Pinot aromas and soft fruity palate.

Hungary
Another wild card, this time a rosé discovered and enjoyed more than once on holiday last summer:
Törley Pinot Noir Rosé Száraz (= dry) 2016 Etyek-Budai (12.5% abv) - Tasty juicy and crisp with aromatic red fruits and creamier finish. 699 HUF = about £2 or $2.65 (taxes on wine must be low in Hungary).

05 December 2017

Chardonnay: France, Australia, South Africa


Continuing the varietal 'wines of the moment' theme (last time it was Riesling), Chardonnay is having a minor resurrection or holding its own at least - once so fashionable then eclipsed by Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Grigio - which is a good thing as it's much more versatile style-wise than either of those two grape varieties (peachy, citrus, tropical, oaky, oatmeal, buttery, mineral, something for everyone...). According to Wine Australia: "Chardonnay is Australia's number one selling variety in the UK off-premise market," although admittedly "the best growth" is for "other whites," such as PG and SB... Here are three pairs of recommended Chardys from three countries in different styles and stores.

Burgundy

Macon-Villages 2016 Gonter Nivelon (12.5% abv) - One of their posher Christmas special bin selection, this is a lovely example mixing ripe juicy fruit with yeasty edges and freshness too. £7.99 Lidl UK.
La Manufacture Chablis 2015 Benjamin Laroche (12.5% abv) - Tasty classic style Chabbers with nice pure fruit and lightly creamy vs crisp finish. Naked Wines £19.99 UK / $29.99 US (without the Angels' discount).

South Africa

Bellingham Chardonnay 2015 Stellenbosch (13.5% abv) - Well-made barrel-fermented Chardy but not overtly oaky, with buttery hazelnut flavours, attractive palate weight and balanced finish. £11/£9 on offer Tesco.
Mount Rozier Peacock Chardonnay 2016 Western Cape (13.5% abv) - Very good-value un-oaked style with tropical fruit and refreshing bite £7 Sainsbury's.

Australia

Voyager Estate Chardonnay 2013 Margaret River, WA - Buttery and forward with light yeast-lees and toast, quite rich yet elegant, drinking well now. £21.99 Justerini & Brooks.
Luke Lambert Chardonnay 2016 Yarra Valley, Victoria - Wilder-edged and cider-y 'natural' style nose with pretty intense, crisp lees-y mouth-feel vs light buttery flavours. Different. £24 Indigo Wines.

Next up: Pinot Noir and Shiraz...

13 October 2017

Riesling: Australia, Chile, Germany, California

Gary Mills from jamsheed.com.au
It's been a while since this blog subjected viewers to an unbridled Riesling-fest - those who are that way included might like to click here for lots of Riesling-tinged links. So here's my pick of five £10+ bottles that effortlessly exude the variety's class and charm while all being subtly different, which were made in various regions of Australia, Chile, Germany and California respectively.

Jamsheed Le Blanc Plonk Riesling 2015 Upper Goulburn Valley Victoria - Made from old vine Riesling with natural ferment in large old tuns and left on the yeast-lees for eight months. Ripe oily and lees-tinged with quite rich peach fruit and wilder 'real cider' notes, concentrated mouth-feel and full of character. £17 Indigo Wines, London (follow the link under the photo to find out the importer in your country, his wines are well distributed around the world).
Grosset Polish Hill Riesling 2016 Clare Valley South Australia - Jeffrey Grosset's famous high-altitude Riesling, sourced from the eponymous hillside vineyard at 500 metres above sea level which I'm told is now organic, has also got fairly expensive nowadays. Lively 'chalky' style with attractive citrus and white peach, pretty intense and structured palate although not as austere as expected given its age and memories of previous vintages. Serious Riesling although it has been more exciting for the money? £32.99 Liberty Wines, London and Dublin.

Cono Sur Reserva Riesling Especial 2016 Bio Bio region (13% abv) - I've tried this lovely Riesling from the southern end of Chile's main wine-growing zones (although the north-south spread has been getting further apart over the years...) over a few previous vintages (the link in the top paragraph shows where), and it seems to be getting better. Nicely mixes up trademark Riesling delicacy with oily perfumed lime notes and fairly rounded yet fresh mouth-feel. Good with Indian vegetable dishes (Bombay spuds, veggie rice etc.), smoked salmon. £10.50 Tesco - £3 off at the moment too.

Gerd Stepp Riesling Trocken 2015 Pfalz (12.5% abv) - Stepp really has mastered making this kind of 'modern' dry German Riesling style, which comes from the warmer Pfalz region (the Palatinate in old fashioned English) - he also does a couple of delicious wines for M&S (again follow that link at the top) - producing a riper fruitier fuller wine yet with hallmark racy 'chalky' palate too. £17.99/£12.99 Naked Wines.

Richard Bruno Riesling 2015 Santa Lucia Highlands Monterey County - Not a region I'd heard of before - it's an AVA (American Viticultural Area) lying inland from the central coast - but obviously suits the Riesling variety well. Lots of aromatic citrus and peach with lightly oily edges and refreshing elegant finish.  £12.99/£9.49 Naked Wines.


05 October 2017

Spain, Catalonia: posh Cava

In light of recent independence-aspiring events in the region, there will probably be as many who are unhappy as are happy with the post title above placing Spain and Catalonia together on one line separated by nothing more than a simple comma. That's enough topical politics on WineWriting.com, which will remain neutral except to say that there really are some delicious examples of the classic Catalan fizz out there offering great value for money, especially if you pay a little more for better bottles such as Vintage or Brut Nature styles. Here are three worth talking about that have been sampled and enjoyed recently by RMJ and the tasting team (= willing partner), all of them with a refreshing 11.5% abv.

Mas Sardana Cava Brut Nature, Franck Massard - 50% Xarel.lo, 25% Macabeu, 25% Parellada; +12 months ageing on the lees, less than 2 gr/l residual sugar. Very tasty crisp and dry style (no added sugar in the dosage) with floral citrus nose vs hazelnut and toasted brioche notes. Naked Wines £13.49/£9.99, Great Western Wine £13.50, Wines Direct £13.49, the Fine Wine Company £76.89 x 6.

Freixenet 2015 Vintage Especial Cava Brut - Same varieties as above, this is supposedly made from a special selection of high altitude grown grapes. Subtle yeasty toasty aromas mix with ripe citrus and peach, fresh and lively finish. Serious bargain: £7.49 B&M Belfast.

Marques del Norte 2015 Vintage Cava Brut, Jaume Serra - Same grapes. A touch more aromatic and apply than the above, delicate and satisfying with light yeasty tones. Asda £7.48 / £6 on offer.

By the way, Tesco's and Mark's own-label non-vintage Cavas are both good value too, particularly Tesco's yellow label Cava Brut for £5.55 (also produced by Jaume Serra).
MUCH MORE POSH CAVA IN MY MINI-GUIDE HERE.

02 October 2017

Wine Education Service Belfast wine tasting courses 2017-2018


Updated December 2017.

Saturday 3 February 2018 - 'Grape to Glass' one-day workshop £90

Including lunch from the hotel's bar menu with wine, a comprehensive course manual and at least a dozen high-quality classic wines sampled and talked about in a relaxed atmosphere. This general introductory Saturday wine tasting workshop will feature 12 or more classic styles from around the world's best-known wine regions and grape varieties that exemplify where they are grown and how they are made. More info can be found on the WES site HERE. Runs 10.45 to 16.45 approx with lunch break.

Thursday 8 March 2018'International grape varieties' evening wine tasting £32.50

We'll pick three or four (depending on numbers) pairs of varietal wines made from popular grape varieties, each pair being the same variety but sourced from different wine regions. For example, comparing Sauvignon Blanc from the Northern and Southern Hemispheres, Aussie Shiraz vs French Syrah, German Riesling up against a surprising rival or two Pinot Noirs from contrasting vineyards. Runs 18.45 to 20.30 approx.

Essential Wine Tasting five-week course £125 (£129 by PayPal)
Thursday evenings April 5, 12, 19, 26 and 3 May 2018 from 6.45-8.30pm.

Six great wines tasted each session covering the world's famous wine regions, grape varieties and winemaking styles, as well as some lesser-known examples. We'll also talk about tasting, enjoying and keeping wine, how different types of wine are made and how climate and what goes on in the vineyard shape them as we go along each week, in addition to 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 via the Wine Education Service site (payment by bank transfer or cheque): Wine-Education-Service.co.uk/wine-tasting-belfast
Or log on to Facebook to view my page: Facebook.com/WineEducationServiceNI
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:


Select event:



Click here for more about PayPal payments and your privacy. WES terms and 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.

19 September 2017

Greece, Peloponnese: Moschofilero, Agiorgitiko, Troupis, Skouras and Tselepos

A recent purchase from Naked Wines (UK) made by Troupis Winery, called Fteri Moschofilero 2015 from the Mantinia area (the Moschofilero variety comes from here) in the PGI wine region of Arcadia (£11.99/£8.99), reminded me that I never did write anything about a holiday trip to the Peloponnese one year ago including a quick visit and tasting at Domaine Skouras near Argos. The Troupis Moschofilero is tasty and intriguing, nicely mixing up rich flavours and texture with a floral and almost 'salty' freshness, and is attractively light at 12% abv. My resurrected tasting notes reveal that Skouras' Salto Moschofilero is also sourced from Mantinia from hillside vineyards at 600 metres altitude and made by wild ferment, producing a refreshing elegant (11.5% abv) yet intense crisp white with zesty 'mineral' notes (€9.10 for the 2015). Other recommended whites from Skouras include: a very nice well-balanced barrel-fermented Chardonnay called Almyra (13.5% abv) from coastal vineyards near Corinth (€9.80 for 2015); and a lush exotic Viognier called Eclectique, grown at 300 metres near the ancient city of Argos (where you can find a good range of TVs and washing machines too, ho ho), which is a bit oaky but again has good bite (€21).


Export guy George Svanias (pic. in their tasting room) said the Skouras family started the winery in 1986 "as a garage operation before they bought vineyards." They then purchased vineyards mostly on the Nemea hills to the north of Argos but also some here around the new winery completed in 2004. George said they use the approx. 1000 barrels in the cellar three times, which are mostly French oak although they mature Syrah in American oak. "We do six months' minimum ageing for our reds, and the top wines get over 18 months (in barrel)," he explained. He told me they sell all their production at the moment, with key export markets like the US doing quite well (Diamond Importers in Chicago).
Over to their reds then. Saint George is made from 100% Agiorgitiko (the English translation of this common red grape variety in this region) grown at up to 650 metres in Nemea and Corinthia; the 2013 was fairly light and tasty with nice spicy fruit (€7.70). The Grande Cuvée Nemea Agiorgitiko (€14.60) comes from selected blocks at around 1000 metres above sea level; the 2013 showed smoky oak with concentrated firm palate yet silky tannins. The same vintage of Megas Oenos, a Agiorgitiko and Cabernet Sauvignon blend, was good and rich although a tad too oaky (€16.50). Skouras also produces a high-altitude, attractively deep-coloured rosé from 70% Agiorgitiko and 30% Moschofilero (€4.90).
A couple of other recommended Greek wines from my travels are: 2014 Agiorgitiko red from Nemea made by the well-known Tselepos winery (bought at Athens airport, I can't remember how much but reasonably priced); and a classic 2015 Chardonnay from landmark producer Domaine Hatzimichalis (picked up at a supermarket somewhere), not based in this region but in central Greece to the north-west of Athens.

04 August 2017

Italian wines @ Lidl

Lidl (UK) continues to be 'on a roll' (seeded bap, wholemeal or ciabatta more likely?) with another new batch of its special Italian wine buys now in store (the posher ones in the wooden bins), although some of these are bound to be available in Lidl Ireland stores too and elsewhere in Europe. Mind you, a slight mystery lingers a casa mia regarding one Lidl white from the Campania region enjoyed and reviewed a few weeks ago, Sassi del Mare Falanghina 2016, which we tried again recently although it was £1 more, had an extra 0.5% abv and appeared to be in a heavier bottle (from memory), but it just wasn't as good somehow? Or was it 'just a dream within a dream' (as the Propaganda song sort-of said)? In any case, here are a few more Italian whites and reds worth looking out for at Lidl, some of them commendably unusual and hard to find; hopefully you'll get the same wine as I did. And the 'message' here is spending more than a fiver, even towards ten, does reap rewards. Image copied from www.lidl.de, where you'll find better information on these wines if your German is up to it - you're lucky to even find them on their UK site!

Masseria Metrano Fiano 2016, Salento IGT Puglia (12.5% abv) - Fiano is another star white grape variety, more commonly found in and probably originates from Campania (or Sicily?), but obviously capable of great things 'over the other side' in Puglia (Apulia seems to be the 'English' term although looks like Latin to me). At £7.99, it's fairly dear for Lidl but definitely worth the money with plenty of depth of flavour and texture too, aromatic and rich yet elegant.
Corte Allodola Terre del Vulcano 2016, Soave Classico DOC (12.5% abv) - A good example of 'gets what you pay for', since this tasty zesty and quite intense Soave is £6.99, obviously a couple of quid or so dearer than the many often rather bland examples usually found on the lower shelves. Very nice with trout or salmon.
Musita Grillo 2016, Sicilia DOC (13% abv) - At least I think it was this one with the eye-catching white label and arty vine drawing rather than the slightly cheaper one they do, this one being £5.99. Delivers what you'd expect from this lovely Sicilian white grape, quite apricot-y and honeysuckle-edged flavours, and nice mouth-feel combining weight with freshness.
Vigna la Capa Riserva 2014, Brindisi DOP (13.5% abv) - Not sure what the correct UK price is, as I paid £5.99 since that's what it said on the shelf-ticket (bargain, serves them right for not checking), but it scanned at £7.99 (probably more likely given it costs €6.99 in Germany with their low taxes on wine?). Sumptuous southern red brimming with ripe dried fruits and liquorice, lightly smoky with fairly soft tannins and a bit of oomph. Good with grilled Angus burgers and organic wholewheat pasta filled with potato and porcini mushrooms (man), also bought in Lidl. Made from old-vine Negroamaro grapes (50 year-old vineyards translating from the label in my best Italian) from a smaller area of Puglia around the town of Brindisi.
Montejanu 2015 Cannonau di Sardegna DOP (13.5% abv) - Cannonau is actually what they call Grenache or Garnacha in Sardinia (linguistically mind-boggling as it is) and isn't so easy to find over here. Not the finest example perhaps, with its lightly rustic 'volatile' edges, but tasty enough summer quaffing red with sweet and spicy fruit. £5.99
Other Italian reds to look out for in Lidl, available on and off:
South: Ciro Classico Superiore Riserva (from Calabria). North: Teroldego Rotaliano Riserva (Trentino); Valpolicella Ripasso (the black label one).

09 July 2017

Summer 'wines of the mo': Languedoc, Campania, Western Cape, King Valley

James and Catherine Kinglake from domainebegude.com
Domaine Bégude Le Secret du Sud Gewurztraminer 2016 Pays d'Oc (13.5% abv) - The Gewurztraminer variety has obviously adapted well to this beautiful spot in the hills just north of Limoux (off the road to Carcassonne); this delicious example is full-bodied and rich-textured with the trademark rose water and lychee characters, tasty rounded and exotic yet has a little 'chalky' freshness on the palate too. Expensive although you wouldn't easily find a similar quality Gewurz from Alsace for much less. £11.99 The Vineyard, Ormeau Road, Belfast. Very nice with scallops and Clonakilty pudding starter at Graffiti restaurant across the road (BYO).
Sassi del Mare Falanghina 2016 Beneventano IGT (12.5% abv) - One of southern Italy's most seductive white grape varieties, this Falanghina, grown on the Campania region hills is ripe honeyed and 'oily' with apricot and hazelnut freshened by a lighter touch and bite on the finish. Bargain: £5.99 Lidl.
Sangiovese Rosé 2016 King Valley, Australia (13% abv) - Tasty full-flavoured rosé style from north-eastern Victoria balancing sweet red fruits, lightly creamy texture, quite weighty mouth-feel and zingy finish. Might be made by De Bortoli although Asda doesn't say who on the label: £8.98, one of their 'Extra Special' range.
Zalze Shiraz Mourvedre Viognier 2016 Western Cape (14.5% abv) - Powerful spicy yet quite soft red made by reliable SA winery Kleinzalze (I also like their Chenin blanc white) that would go well with al fresco food, BBQ etc. Ripe berry fruits and rounded palate with peppery aromatic hints. £7.48 Asda.

07 June 2017

New Zealand 'wines of the moment': Pinot Noir, Gewurz/Riesling and Chardy

Dom Maxwell The Bloom 2016 - An aromatic towards exotic yet zesty and quite dry blend of Riesling and Gewurztraminer from Waipara region (near the coast north of Christchurch on South Island). Went well with a mix of Indian dishes (especially tandoori fish) although not too spicy. £14.99 / £9.99 ? (currently out of stock) Naked Wines (you have to become an 'Angel' and invest £20 a month to get the special prices - check out their website for background on Naked's winemaker funding strategy).

Villa Maria Private Bin East Coast Chardonnay 2016 - Very reliable subtle Chardy with lightly buttery nutty side and underlying freshness. Widely available for about £10.

Coolwater Bay Pinot Noir 2014, Marlborough from Endeavour Vineyards - One of Sainsbury's 'Taste the Difference' labels, this is good value Pinot with nice perfumed fruit and silky texture. £10 (sometimes on offer at £8).

Lay of the Land Ben Morven Farm Pinot Noir 2015, Marlborough, made by Mike Paterson (pic. from www.nakedwines.com) - Tasty Pinot balancing elegance and easy-drinking style with a little depth and class: fragrant cherry fruit with fairly soft mouth-feel and fresh bite to finish. £18.99 / £12.99 (see comment above about Naked Wines' prices: these wines are probably available on their US site too).

10 May 2017

Wine Education Service NI tastings and courses autumn 2017

Updated June 2017
Château de La Ligne owned by Belfast businessman Terry Cross
From www.chateaudelaligne.com
Saturday 30 September 2017 - 'International grape varieties' one-day workshop £90
Including lunch from the hotel's bar menu, course manual and at least a dozen top-quality classic varietals tasted, compared and talked about... We'll pick half-a-dozen or so pairs of wines made from the world's most popular grapes, each pair being the same variety but sourced from different wine regions. For example, contrasting New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc vs Sancerre from the Loire Valley, Australian Shiraz vs Syrah from the Rhone Valley, German vs USA Riesling... Runs 10.45 to 16.45 approx with lunch break.

Essential Wine Tasting five-week course £125 (£129 by PayPal) - Thursday evenings October 5, 12, 19, 26 and 2 November 2017 from 6.45-8.30pm.
Six high-quality wines tasted each session covering the world's great wine regions, grape varieties and winemaking styles, as well as some lesser-known examples. We'll also talk about tasting, enjoying and keeping wine, how different types of wine are made and how climate and what goes on in the vineyard shape them as we go along each week, in addition to many other general topics. Course manual included. Full details can be found on the WES site HERE.

Thursday 30 November 2017 - 'Irish themed' wine tasting! £32.50
This evening tutored wine tasting (starts 18.45 to 20.30 approx.) will focus on six to eight wines (depending on numbers) with a link to Ireland, whether produced by a winemaker originally from Northern Ireland or an Irish-owned wine estate; such as Château de ​l​a Ligne​ in Bordeaux, Creu Celta​ in Catalonia or the Miquel family in the Languedoc...

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):
Wine-Education-Service.co.uk/wine-tasting-belfast or 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:




Select event:



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.

12 April 2017

Classic Australia?

This pick of Australian 'wines of the moment' might challenge your perception of what could be perceived as 'classic'. Or maybe not; but they do show there are plenty more interesting Aus wines out there, usually from lesser-known and more 'distinctive' sub-regions and/or using quirkier winemaking, that stand out from the shelf-filling brands (even if one of them is)... (Updated 22/04/17).

Limestone Coast Chardonnay 2015 'Exquisite Collection', South Australia (14% abv) - Makes a literally refreshing change to find an oak-free Oz Chardy, this one is nevertheless full-bodied and oily textured with lots of ripe citrus, peach and melon fruit, but nicely balanced and good value too. €8.69 Aldi Ireland / £5.79 UK.

Campbell's Rutherglen Muscat 'Liqueur Wine', Victoria (17.5% abv) - 'Classic' in some ways (and Rutherglen is a demarcated wine zone), as in a very old-fashioned time-honoured Oz style, but hardly in the sense that most people would recognise, it takes a little courage to try it (especially as the price will inevitably limit its appeal). Made from late-picked Muscat grapes and aged for many years in a 'solera' type cask-maturation process (blend of different years). This is a superbly luscious and complex dessert wine with raisins, cooked marmalade and tangy roast walnut/pecan nut flavours. Try with blue, unpasteurized matured or goats' cheeses, fresh black coffee or drizzle a bit over plain vanilla ice cream. £14.99 half-bottle Grange Wines, Holywood and other good wine shops. Photo from campbellswines.com.au.

Ringbolt Cabernet Sauvignon 2014 Peter Gambetta, Margaret River, Western Australia (14.5% abv) - Offers a fair bit of class and depth for the money, with more restrained blackcurrant and plum flavours, light coconut oak spice and nicely textured tannins. Tesco £10.

Frankland River Shiraz 2014 Ferngrove Vineyards, Western Australia (aged in French oak) - Closed up to start, fairly dense and textured, quite subtle actually but definitely with Shiraz-esque peppery fruit; needs a little air to open up and some BBQ-ed food maybe. £11 Marks & Spencer.

Jacob's Creek Sparkling Shiraz Dry Cuvée, South Eastern Australia - Fun frothy red, a bit strange at first if you've not tried it before but very nice in the end; off-dry finish I'd say. £10 Sainsbury's.

The Gum Vineyard Shiraz 2015 The Lane, Adelaide Hills, South Australia (aged in French oak) - Another more restrained style, spicy berry fruit with good depth and structured finish. Quite expensive although sometimes on offer: M&S £15.

Barossa Petit Verdot 2013 Chateau Tanunda, South Australia (13.5% abv, 18 months in French oak) - Deep coloured still for its age, spicy with ripe red pepper and cassis/damson followed by savoury and roast coffee hints, nice chunky texture yet maturing/softening too. Good with Cantonese duck in black pepper sauce. £10 M&S.

01 April 2017

South Africa: whites, pink fizz and reds to tantalize...

Here's a random selection of half-a-dozen higher-priced South African palate-tantalizers test-driven in recent times, which all show it's worth paying a little more for this country's wines as the quality and character factor appears to rise quickly in tandem. Without wanting to make generalisations, which is asking for trouble but I'm going to anyway, I think it's also better to buy South African wines bottled at source rather than those bottled in the UK or Germany for instance. While, in principle, bulk-shipping in tankers is a perfectly sound winemaking and distribution practice, given the advanced technology and know-how behind it nowadays; but this sort of wine is probably more processed with, for example, up to the maximum permitted levels of sulphites used to help preserve whites and rosés in particular. No doubt some angry wine business technician will disagree, but this is my experience from actually drinking some of those wines...


The 1812 Overture of South African reds, from kanonkop.co.za
Stellenrust Chenin Blanc 2016, Stellenbosch region (13.5% abv) - This famous and long-established winery (vineyards here dating from the late 17th century they say) is pretty good at a variety of Chenin styles. This one's ripe and rounded with exotic honeyed edges vs nice zesty citrus and yeast-lees notes on the finish. Good value for flavour. £7 (on offer)/£8 Sainsbury's.

Cornelia White 2015, Swartland region (Chenin blanc, Roussanne, Verdelho, Viognier; 13% abv) - Made by Adi Badenhorst, who's also a bit of a star for quirky white blends like this: attractive mix of oily texture, peach and apricot fruit with fresher spicier undertones and concentrated too. £10 Marks & Spencer.

Jan & Johan Old Vine Cinsault 2015, Paarl region (14% abv) - Tantalizing mix of lightly wild and perfumed berry fruits with fairly soft mouth-feel yet weight and roundness too. There's still a good deal of old vine Cinsault in parts of South Africa, like in southern France, although much of it has been pulled up. €8.99 Aldi Ireland.

Kanonkop Kadette 2015 Cape Blend, Stellenbosch region (about 50% Pinotage, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc; 14.5% abv) - This is their 'junior' red blend of these four varieties, which is something of a house specialty, offering lots of flavour and style for the money. Smoky red pepper notes mingle with blackcurrant, dark plum and spicy oak (14 months in French barrels); quite firm and structured still with power and concentration on the finish, nice texture and depth of fruit though. £8 (on offer)/£10 Sainsbury's.

Bellingham The Bernard Series Basket Press Syrah 2014, Stellenbosch region (14% abv) - Bellingham winery seems to be good at this sort of wine (also has 2% Viognier, all barrel-fermented together in open-top casks): touches of oak and solid and dense to start, but reveals lush dark spicy fruit with savoury edges; pretty classy red. £13 Sainsbury's.

Graham Beck The Rhona Brut Rosé NV, Méthode Cap Classique, Western Cape (Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Pinot Meunier; 12.5% abv) - Beck is up there among South Africa's finest fizz makers, this sumptuous Champagne-style rosé bubbly is rich toasty and yeasty with aromatic brioche and red berry notes, intense and stylish with fresh bite balancing it out nicely. Yum. £15 M&S (sometimes £12 on offer).

11 March 2017

Syrah-Shiraz 'wines of the moment'

Just to add a little substance and data to the usual geeky tasting notes accompanying a few recommended wines made from Syrah-Shiraz, let's start by confirming that the two myths about where the name Shiraz or Syrah came from are indeed just that. This grape variety apparently didn't come from the ancient city of Shiraz in Persia, now Iran, or from Syracuse in Sicily. Vine DNA profiling in the late 1990s pinpointed its origin to the Northern Rhone Valley, being a slightly strange natural crossing of a now virtually disappeared red variety called Dureza and the white variety Mondeuse Blanche, quite widely planted in France's Savoy region. Dureza isn't the same as Durif which is also known as Petite Sirah, which isn't Syrah but related to it being a crossing with another variety called Peloursin... 'Confused, you will be...'
Back to the present day, there are probably now at least 150,000 hectares (375,000 acres) of Syrah-Shiraz planted in the wine world: nearly 50% of it in France, mostly in the Languedoc & Roussillon (spiritual home Rhone Valley North isn't high up on the list actually), followed by Australia (about 40,000 ha) then Argentina, South Africa and the USA, but not necessarily in that order; with plantings increasing in Chile, Italy and Spain too. Historically, the Aussies have always called the variety Shiraz (or 'Sherarz' in the vernacular), although some of them have pretensions to Syrah, like winemakers elsewhere aiming to make a more French or 'European' style Shiraz. Or is that Syrah...
I lifted some of this information from wikipedia.org/wiki/Syrah who lifted it from The Oxford Companion to Wine and other sources listed at the bottom of that webpage.

France

Gabriel Meffre Saint-Joseph Les Chaponnes 2012, Northern Rhone Valley - Delicate and mature (2012 was a lighter vintage) with savoury edges. €15/£12 Supervalu.
Domaine de la Baume Syrah La Jeunesse 2015, Pays d'Oc, Languedoc - Good-value example of the un-oaked styles coming from southern France: black cherry/berry, peppery, weighty and firm-ish but drinking nicely now. €10/£8 Supervalu.
Domaine Bellavista Roméo 2016, Côtes Catalanes, Roussillon - a new wine, lively dark and spicy Syrah made without added sulphites.
Chateau de l'Ou L'Ove 2015, Roussillon - Very tasty Syrah with nice 'chalky' tannins vs spicy black cherry. Quite dear though, if it is €20 - the online shop on their site is a bit of a mess (shows reds but says whites...).
Clot de l'Oum Le Clot 2014, Côtes du Roussillon Villages Caramany ('majority Syrah' block selection at altitude) - Also a fairly serious price but a serious wine too, this has lovely aromatic minty black cherry with fresh and herbal vs ripe and rich profile, structured vs lots of fruit. €18.90 cellar door.

Italy

Tenuta Rapitala Syrah 2015, Sicily - Another attractive Med style with understated spicy blackberry fruit vs firm dry-coated texture. £9.99 The Wine Company, Ormeau Road Belfast.

Chile

Los Molles Syrah Reserva 2014 Tabalí Winery, Limarí Valley - Very dark inky colour, concentrated black and blue fruits, quite dense firm and fresh but nice roundness too, savoury black olive flavours on the finish. Very good. £11 Marks & Spencer.

USA

Boom Boom! Syrah 2014 Charles Smith Wines, Columbia Valley, Washington State (+ 3% Viognier) - A little more on the wilder side and well-handled with it, lovely smoky fruit, depth character and texture (cask-aged but no new oak). Aiming at Northern Rhone styling especially with that splash of Viognier (c.f. Côte Rotie). £15.99 The Vineyard, Ormeau Road Belfast.

South Africa

Bellingham 'The Bernard Series' Basket Press Syrah 2014, Stellenbosch - Bellingham winery seems to be good at this sort of wine (also has 2% Viognier, all barrel-fermented together in open-top casks): touches of oak and solid and dense to start, but reveals lush dark spicy fruit with savoury edges; pretty classy red. £12 Sainsbury's.

Australia

Frankland River Shiraz 2014 Ferngrove Vineyards, Western Australia (aged in French oak) - Closed up to start, again dense and textured, quite subtle actually but definitely with Shiraz-esque peppery fruit; needs a little air to open up and some BBQ-ed food maybe. £11 Marks & Spencer.
Jacob's Creek Sparkling Shiraz Dry Cuvée, South Eastern Australia - Fun frothy red, a bit strange at first if you've not tried it before but very nice in the end; off-dry finish I'd say. £10 Sainsbury's.
The Gum Vineyard Shiraz 2015 The Lane, Adelaide Hills, South Australia (aged in French oak) - Another more restrained style, spicy berry fruit with good depth and structured finish. Quite expensive although sometimes on offer: Marks & Spencer £15.

05 March 2017

France: Beaujolais Blanc

At a recent Soirée Beaujolais in Marseille (as you do), where there were mostly older vintages of red Cru Beaujolais wines (Fleurie, Moulin-à-Vent, Juliénas etc.) on tasting, it was white Beaujolais that stole the show for me (all made from Chardonnay). Some of the aged reds were interesting and tasty in a mature Burgundy kind of way, but there were too many over-oaked, over-extracted and charmless wines for my liking. Certain of the older white wines were outstanding in fact (e.g. 2010 vintage), showing how easily the best ones can age sublimely like good Chablis. Here are a few highlights...

Dominique Cornin
www.cornin.net
Domaine Dominique Cornin
Biodynamic estate based in Chaintré in the far south of Burgundy (pic. opposite).
Three vintages of their Beaujolais blanc: the 2010 was lovely and buttery, well balanced and classy; the 2008 (also a great vintage I believe) had similar buttery flavours, nuttier too and mature now; and their 2012 showing very nice 'Chablis styling' balancing creamy fruit and freshness.

Château de Lavernette
Lying to the west of Cornin in the little village of Leynes, this estate is owned by the De Boissieu family and is also certified organic and biodynamic.
Beaujolais blanc 1998 - very tasty white: buttery and oaty and still alive.
Beaujolais rouge 2001 (not sure which one, they make three reds from Gamay) - attractive mature Burgundy style.

Domaine Chasselay
Organic winery located in Châtillon d'Azergues, 25 km north-west of Lyon, run by Jean-Gilles, Christiane, Claire and Fabien Chasselay.
Beaujolais blanc 2012 - oakier style but tasty with nice oaty creamy notes vs fresh bite.

24 January 2017

Belfast wine tastings and courses: Wine Education Service NI dates 2017

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. STILL A FEW PLACES LEFT!

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? NEARLY SOLD OUT!

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!


Château de La Ligne owned by Belfast businessman Terry Cross
From www.chateaudelaligne.com

Saturday 13 May 2017 'International grape varieties' one-day workshop £90
Including lunch from the hotel's bar menu, course manual and at least a dozen high-quality classic varietals tasted, compared and talked about... We'll pick half-a-dozen or so pairs of wines made from the world's most popular grapes, each pair being the same variety but sourced from different wine regions: e.g. New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc vs Sancerre from France, Australian Shiraz vs Syrah from Chile or South Africa... Approx. 10.45 to 16.45 with lunch break. POSTPONED TO THE END OF SEPTEMBER - SEE MORE RECENT POST ABOVE.

NEW! Saturday 10 June 2017 'Irish themed' wine tasting £32.50
This Saturday morning wine tasting (10.45 to 12.30 approx. including tea/coffee) will focus on six to eight wines (depending on numbers) with a link to Ireland, whether produced by a winemaker originally from Northern Ireland or an Irish-owned wine estate... More details to follow...

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:





Select event:





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.

03 January 2017

Colheita Port: Cálem, Kopke, Barros, Burmester

Douro Valley vineyards by RMJ
Sogevinus is a sizeable brand-owning Port company (they claim to be the number one seller in Portugal) with four famous labels in their portfolio (as tasting-noted below): Cálem, Kopke, Barros and Burmester. They also specialise in the Colheita style, a traditional Vintage Tawny Port (from a single named year and aged for many years in cask depending on house style and philosophy) made in limited quantities that you don't see around so much in export markets. These seven vintages, spanning all four brands and from the youngest 2003 (that's a white Port too) back to 1961, were showcased at an esoteric tasting at this year's London Wine Fair tutored by entertaining wine maverick Joe Wadsack and Sogevinus' Tania B. Oliveira (a while ago now admittedly, but a few months are irrelevant to these ports time-wise...).
Tania told us that these wines were bottled two weeks before the event: "They are usually bottled on demand so are still in cask... Look out for the bottling date on each bottle. Some other houses bottle when they think it's ready." Grape varieties include the usual blend of Touriga Nacional, Touriga Franca, Tinta Roriz, Tinto Cão, Tinta Barroca, Tinta Amarela and others; except the second white wine obviously - rarer still as a Colheita - made from 'traditional Douro varieties' (as much detail as I could find anywhere online), which are all sourced from the various Quintas owned by each company. See www.sogevinus.com for more info.

Cálem 2000 Colheita - Still relatively red/brown/orange in colour, toffee/coffee and dried raspberry notes with caramelised pecan nut edges, sweet and fiery palate initially although still tastes young, complex flavours with lingering sweetness vs more balanced 'cut'; powerful and concentrated, surprisingly fruity lively and well-balanced though, will keep and improve for some years yet. About £32 in the UK - Amathus Drinks.

Kopke 2003 white Colheita - A hot vintage. Volatile 'furniture polish' tones, still surprisingly ester-y actually; more obvious wood texture layered with roast hazelnut and walnut notes, tangy and punchy with attractive mix of subtle vs full-on flavours / sweetness; very nice and different 'white' Port, could age it for longer. £45 approx. - Hayward Bros.

Barros 1996 Colheita - Not much less colour than the 2000, a tad lighter/browner perhaps. A touch more 'volatile' and toffee-ish on the nose although still showing attractive red fruits and petals; relatively soft and mature with sweet pecan nut flavours, less punchy and drinking nicely now. £23-£28 The Drink Shop, Strictly Wine, Wine Man, Wine Therapy, Wine Poole.

Burmester 1989 Colheita - Quite brown/orange with 'Madeira' edges, oxidised caramel and nut notes with a fiery palate rounded by white chocolate and cocoa flavours, fairly sweet despite the alcohol cut; tasty now, gets more complex on the lingering finish. USA: Wineworth Importers (WA).

Barros 1974 Colheita - The year of the Revolution, not declared as a 'Vintage' Port year. This does not look 15 years older than the above! Slightly redder even. Spicy alcohol and walnut on the nose with sweet raisin and aromatic ginger cake flavours, sweet palate with a kick but layered with complex oxidised characters, still very alive; very nice Port. £97-£98 Wine from Portugal, Portugal Vineyards. €91 Portuguese Wines Shop.

Cálem 1961 Colheita - A touch browner and lighter but not much. 'Volatile' with baked nutty and coffee tones, woody even; punchy sweet and concentrated mouth-feel, turning tangier and more complex with sweet dried berries, textured palate too with almost old malt whisky edges; long and tasty finish, still surprisingly 'young' really. £168-£190 Amathus Drinks, Portugal Vineyards.

Kopke 1966 Colheita - Deeper browner colour. Mahogany and dark roast coffee on the nose with caramel, concentrated with nutty coffee flavours, punchy still rounded by nice tangy vs sweet berry fruit, powerful finish adding freshness to the rich backdrop. Wow. £117.50-£130 Hennings Wine, Davy's. US: Wineworth Importers (WA).