"Buy my book about the Roussillon region on Amazon UK in colour paperback and eBook or black & white version, and Amazon USA: colour paperback and eBook or black & white. Also available in the US from Barnes & Noble in hardcover, paperback or eBook. For other countries, tap on the link below above the cover image." Richard Mark James

31 October 2011

Spain: Catalonia & Aragón

Here are four tasty "wines of the moment" worth looking out for, sourced from two almost neighbouring, dynamic regions in northeast Spain, which are newish releases from Spanish specialist importer Burridges of Arlington St. based in Sussex, England, who supplies wine shops throughout the UK and Ireland. Stockists for the Cava include Firth Wines, Thomas Panton, some branches of Spirited Wines and members of the Merchant Vintners consortium: such as S.H.Jones, Portland Wine, House of Townend, Wallaces, Wineservice, The Vineyard (IOM) and Tanners. Retail price is about £8-£10 a bottle. More info @ burridgewine.com.

Castell d'Olérdola - Cava
I first came across this good-value Cava label in supermarkets and wine shops when I lived up the coast a bit from Barcelona for nine months back in the not too dim and distant. They're already listed in my Cava mini-guide, so it was good to retry a couple from this range made by the well-known Castillo Perelada group. Both wines sampled here see around 12 months lees-ageing in bottle, although the Reserva is then matured in their cavernous cellars for up to two more years after 'disgorgement' (ejecting the yeast sediment). They also produce Kosher Cava too, by the way.
Rosado (Trepat, Monastrell; 11.5% alc.) - the first one is a rare red Catalan variety, the second is what the Spanish call Mourvèdre; then again, they can call this Med-est of reds what they like, it all came from Spain originally! Quite delicate rosé fizz with lightly toasty notes vs red fruit cocktail, rounded off-dry vs lively mouth-feel and finish.
Reserva (Macabeu, Xarel.lo, Parellada; 11.5%) - made from the three white Catalan staples: classier and drier, quite rich with oat biscuit flavours vs intense and crisp-ish. Nice quality fizz.

Bodegas Esteban Martín - Cariñena
This relatively small region lies east of Calatayud and west of Catalunya, and its vineyards are found on a dramatic plateau at 400 to 800m altitude making it a little cooler in summer (but still hot and dry) and pretty cold in winter. Established in 2003, Viñedos y Bodegas Esteban Martín is a modern family-run winery based in Alfamén smack in the middle of Cariñena, and is circled by a whopping 150 hectares (375 acres) of their own vines mixing Spanish and French varieties.
Vinem Crianza red 2008 (mostly old-vine Garnacha, Cabernet, Syrah, Merlot; 14% alc.) - touches of oak grain adding coco notes and texture, quite lush and plummy with sweet fruit vs savoury edges, chunky and powerful with well-balanced oak / tannins / alcohol vs attractive fruit.
Vinem red 2010 (Garnacha, Syrah; 13.5%) - peppery with black cherry and liquorice, soft fruity style vs a hint of dry grip and oomph, attractive easy-drinking red with some guts too.

25 October 2011

Spain: La Rioja Alta

There’s something sublimely seductive, enticingly delicate and just pure pleasure to taste and drink about this absolutely classic style of wonderful old-fashioned Rioja, which really blossoms and shines after 10+ years of age and quietly puts to shame some of those new-fangled, over-extracted, heavy-handed, monster reds coming out of other regions of Spain; or even Rioja too nowadays. La Rioja Alta winery is an undisputed master, whose cask-aged Reserva and Gran Reserva reds show a lightness of touch, sometimes only 12.5% alcohol yet bags of character and complex developing aromas/flavours. And, considering the quality and charming maturity you get for your money, they’re relatively good value as well compared to, say, expensive young Priorat, Bordeaux or California.
Mind you, La Rioja Alta isn’t just a perfectionist in this enduring and hopefully not disappearing style. With their Torre de Oña Reserva, they’ve succeeded in creating a more ‘modern’ Rioja with all the class of their better-known names such as 904 or Ardanza. These lovely reds are based on Tempranillo with a splash of other varieties (see below for details) sourced from different vineyards and districts of Rioja Alta - it's a subzone, the upper or higher bit, as well as the winery's name (they probably had it first otherwise I don't imagine they'd be allowed to use the term). Thank you for sharing these bottles, wise folk at Armit Wines, London, which are sold by numerous other wine shops and restaurants.

2007 Torre de Oña Reserva (Tempranillo, Mazuelo; 13.5% alc.) - oakier and chunkier than the others but with seductive smoky and lush mouth-feel / flavours, lots of black and red fruits with a splash of vanilla set on solid backdrop with fresh vs punchy finish, tasty and stylish too. £19
2004 Viña Arana Reserva (Tempranillo, Mazuelo; 13%) - ‘cheesy’ developing notes vs lovely sweet berry fruit, has a bit of grip and freshness with firmer tighter finish than the older wines; still a relative baby and very promising. £20
2001 Viña Ardanza Reserva Especial (Tempranillo, Garnacha; 13.5%) - the grapes are mostly sourced from their Ardanza estate in Fuenmayor. Beautiful classy nose, smoky maturing and ‘volatile’ with enticing sweet fruit, has a bit more oomph vs fresh bite and elegant savoury finish; the alcohol’s more obvious than on the others, but it adds to its more structured make-up and this is definitely still very good wine. £25
1998 Gran Reserva 904 (Tempranillo, Graciano; 12.5%) - browny red colour, delicious ‘cheesy’ vs sweet-fruit nose with dried berries and light touch of vanilla, complex maturing savoury flavours yet it’s still alive and fresh; brilliant classic trad style. £35
1997 Gran Reserva 904 (13%) - ‘cheesier’ still with dried fruit vs savoury silky palate, meaty vs sweet profile, elegant and tasty, ageing yet still alive with a hint of lingering acidity and long cheesy/meaty flavours. Superb. £35
More info @ riojalta.com

20 October 2011

Languedoc: vibrant variety of whites

Following on from my succinct yet poignant Roussillon: white wines post below this one, the general excitement surrounding quality, range of styles and now availability (in the UK anyway) of attractive whites also extends to the Languedoc, of course. So, here's right royal mix tasted and enjoyed in recent times including three lively Picpouls from the Thau Lagoon area, a few richer complex barrel-fermented/aged wines from the hills and a luscious Muscat with its toe tranquilly dipped in the Med. Mind you, there aren't any bargains among this lot; the least dear is an £8 one from M&S. The Languedoc does neatly churn out quite a lot of successful tasty varietals though, such as crowd-pleasing Chardy and increasingly good Viognier, it has to be said.
2010 Maison du Languedoc Picpoul de Pinet, JeanJean - nice juicy style from this ever-growing family wine group, with waxy honeyed notes then crisp vs fuller oilier finish. £10 D&D Wines International.
Lots more JeanJean here.
2010 L'Enfant Terrible Picpoul de Pinet, Domaine la Grangette - tighter and zingier, peachy fruit vs aromatic green fruits and melon, attractive length and style. £10.49 Hallgarten Druitt.
2010 Picpoul de Pinet Les Vignerons de Florensac (12%) - enticing yeast-lees notes on the nose, very steely and zesty mouth-feel with gala melon fruit, nice crisp 'chalky' bite too. £7.99 Marks & Spencer (100 stores).
More Picpoul de Pinet here - as you'll see, generally I wasn't hugely impressed by the 2010 vintage from this region, which usually makes some of my favourite unoaked dry whites in the Languedoc.
2010 Les Mûriers Coteaux du Languedoc, Mas Bruguière (Roussanne, Marsanne) – complex mix of tight and structured palate vs rich exotic fruit, subtle and quite unrevealing at the moment but very promising. £12.50 Yapp Brothers.
More Mas Bruguière wines and profile here.
2009 Les Aurièges vin de pays Haute Vallée de l'Orb, Domaine de Clovallon (Chardonnay, Viognier, Clairette, Petit Manseng) - quirky varietal melange produces a fairly exotic and lush wine, chunky texture vs 'mineral' bite, power vs a little freshness. Good stuff. £15.75 Terroir Languedoc. Note on their lovely Pinot Noir here.
2009 Cigalus pays d'Oc Gérard Bertrand (Chardonnay, Viognier, Sauvignon) - pretty rich toasty and creamy, concentrated and honeyed with punchy finish, quite classy though with good substance, bite and fruit vs still a bit toasty. Should develop well. £20 Bibendum.
More GB wines inc. vertical of Cigalus white.
2008 Pierres d'Argent Coteaux du Languedoc Chateau de Lascaux (Vermentino, Roussanne, Marsanne) - intricate maturing mealy buttery aromas & flavours vs crisp and 'mineral'. Lovely style, very good. £15 HG Wines.
2008 L'Incompris vdp d'Oc, Domaine du Mas Neuf / JeanJean (Muscat petits grains) - intense Muscat characters, sweet and punchy vs crisp underneath, delicious fruit pudding style. Grown on an amazingly isolated vineyard surrounded by pine forest sandwiched between the Med, nearby lagoons and a sheer limestone cliff face (the Massif de Gardiole). £25 D&D Wines.
2005 Virgile white vdp de l'Hérault Domaine Virgile Joly (Grenache blanc) - nutty Fino nose and palate, intense 'mineral' style with a bit of weight and roundness. Not everyone's cup of tea but it's still got hints of class. Expensive though at £27, Dudley & de Fleury Wines.
Click here for more Virgile Joly.

15 October 2011

Pinot Noir: Australia, Chile, France, New Zealand

Monthélie vineyards
This dual-hemisphere array of tasty Pinot was sampled and selected from a triad of recent tastings in London (Marks & Spencer, Wines of Chile, Armit), all going to show that Burgundy, home of Pinot if you like, really does have its work cut out nowadays. Although the Nuits St. Georges, Volnay or Corton-Bressandes scrutinized below were particularly good, French Pinot does sometimes lack a bit of obvious charm; whether because a certain wine just needs more time to open up or simply just isn't as good as it should be, given its high price and reputation of the producer, area or vineyard it comes from. That's not to say that the "New World" Pinots chosen here are more charming in the sense of more upfront, obvious or straightforward. Some of them are certainly pretty typical of the undoubted quality emerging from particular regions and winemakers, and most of them seem to effortlessly exude that seductive intricate PN "sweet/savoury" style, as I call it, cunningly abbreviated to "s/s" in my tasting notes.
Cooler climate wine regions such as Australia's Geelong (southwest of Melbourne) or New Zealand's Central Otago (centre-south of South Island); and the coastal areas of Limarí (a good trek north of Santiago), Casablanca or San Antonio (west of the capital) really are looking very exciting for Pinot in Chile (I'll try to avoid lapsing into those "difficult / fussy grape variety" clichés, oops too late...) By the way, that intriguing name of one of the Austin's wines has a distinctly Aus sense-of-humour tale attached to it; I copied this snippet off their London distributor's website, Armit Wines: "In a desire to produce an affordable, fruit-driven, immediate-drinking Pinot Noir, the Sixfootsix label was born in 2003. The quirky name derives from a Geelong folk-hero with a questionable criminal background, William Buckley, who was a giant of a man at six foot six inches tall..." So, there you have it; good Pinot is indeed a tall wine, rather than big, with fascinatingly sinister origins!
And another thing (updated a couple of days later)... A glass of 2010 "Pinot Noir" from the Languedoc ordered in a pub-restaurant yesterday (The Ivy House, Chalfont St. Giles: pretty good food actually with a touch of style) got me wondering about that "Pinot" scandal (goes to the story on Decanter.com) involving the Sieur d'Arques winery, other co-ops and merchant-vintners and Gallo (for one of their Red Bicyclette US range). Well, this one, made by the Foncalieu co-op winery group, was surprisingly deep-purple coloured with distinctive Merlot-esque aromas and quite chunky tannins. Allegedly vin de pays Pinot Noir, which it "obviously" was compared to all the others with real varietal character sampled here. Hmm... On the other hand, I've now (25/10) added a Languedoc Pinot at the bottom by Domaine de Clovallon that really does taste of Pinot and is quite stylish too, even if a touch pricey. You'll find more from this estate and more good PN from the region - especially Limoux - on my other blog frenchmediterraneanwine.com.


SixFootSix Pinot Noir 2008 Austin's Wines - Geelong, Victoria (14% alc.)
Maturing "sweet/savoury" nose, juicy vs dried cherry fruit with gamey edges, still lively vs drinking nicely too, quite long delicate finish. £12 Armit.
Austin's Pinot Noir 2009 - Geelong, Victoria (13% alc.)
Fairly gamey with quite rich dried Morello/Kirsch notes, again builds up to tasty and refreshing finish even vs lingering maturing side. Very good. £16.50 Armit.
More Oz Pinot here (then scroll down a bit).

New Zealand

Leah Pinot Noir 2008 Seresin - Marlborough (biodynamic)
Complex gamey vs towards herbal cassis notes, fair weight (14%) with hints of vanilla coco oak, although it does add texture; tasty "sweet/savoury" profile on the finish. £42 magnum, Armit.
Paper Road Pinot Noir rosé 2010 Borthwick Estate - Wairarapa (13%)
Lively and intense, very "s/s" PN style for a rosé with plenty of flavour, lush vs crisp combo, perhaps a tad tart in the end but quite a mouthful overall! £12 Armit.
Paper Road Pinot Noir 2009 Borthwick Estate - Wairarapa (14%)
Enticing Pinot nose, savoury vs sweet cherry, quite intense and stylish, again fresh vs weighty combo with fine length. £13 Armit.
Lobster Reef Pinot Noir 2009 - Marlborough (13.5%)
Very attractive easy-going style with bags of Pinot character, soft and silky with a touch of freshness still and sweet vs gamey fruit. Not hugely complex but who cares, especially at £7 on offer at Asda (usually £11).
Clocktower Pinot Noir 2009 Wither Hills - Wairau Valley, Marlborough (13.5%)
Appealing "s/s" aromas, ripe and silky then gamier on the palate, difficult not to like its style with a touch of dry texture and weight vs fresh acidity, maturing vs sweet fruit finish. £12 M&S (125 stores).
Earth's End Pinot Noir 2009 Mount Edward Wines - Central Otago (13.5%)
Again very seductive perfumed "s/s" profile, more intense and more oomph than above with lively acidity underneath, concentrated and tasty with structured mouth-feel still; attractive developing edges vs perfumed fruit, perhaps trying a bit too hard but it's impressive anyway. £16 M&S (120 stores).


Aconcagua Costa Pinot Noir 2010 Vina Arboleda - Aconcagua (14%)
A little closed up at first, subtle vs intense "sweet/savoury" Pinot character, quite commanding palate with concentrated tasty style and classy length / bite. £15+ New Generation Wines.
Reserva Pinot Noir 2010 Valdivieso - Casablanca (14%)
Nice perfumed "s/s" and cherry notes, fruity vs savoury with lively punchy mouth-feel, a touch of oak and attractive bite. £10-£15 Bibendum Wine.
Reserva Pinot Noir 2010 Vina Tabalí - Limarí (13.5%)
Lovely perfumed cherry tones, juicy and tasty with "s/s" edges, attractive sweet fruit and refreshing bite. £8-£10 Boutinot.
Reserva Especial Pinot Noir 2010 Vina Tabalí - Limarí (13.5%)
Smokier and edgier style, has a bit more grip and weight then fairly intense finish. £10-£15 Boutinot.
Talinay Pinot Noir 2009 Vina Tabalí - Limarí (14%)
Touches of oak, quite big mouthful with enticing perfumed "s/s" notes, a little tannin and fresh bite too, fair class overall. £15+ Boutinot.
More Tabalí here.
Lo Abarca Hills Vineyard Pinot Noir 2007 Casa Marin - San Antonio Valley (14.5%)
Delicate aromatic "s/s" nose, tangy vs sweet fruit palate with maturing tones, quite weighty but balanced alcohol, attractive and classy savoury vs perfumed finish. £15+ Mentzendorff & Co.
More Marín here.
Corralillo Pinot Noir 2010 Matetic Vineyards - San Antonio Valley (14.5%)
Rich cherry fruit with wilder edges, perfumed and intense; light grip and lively acidity vs a bit of oomph and concentrated. £14 Armit.
EQ Pinot Noir 2009 Matetic Vineyards - San Antonio Valley (14.5%)
Touch wilder and gamier still, more intense "s/s" profile too with sweet floral fruit, a little more oak textured but well-integrated, powerful and tasty finish. £18 Armit.
More Matetic here.
Tierra y Hombre Pinot Noir 2010 Viña Indomita (13.5%) - Casablanca Valley
Herby black cherry and cassis notes, perfumed and fruity, fairly intense with almost tart vs sweet fruit combo, not bad length too; very "modern" style but the PN still comes through nicely. £8 M&S (300 stores).
More sexy Pinot from Chile here: Viña Leyda.

France - Burgundy

Monthélie rouge 1er Cru Sur la Velle 2009 Leflaive (13.5%) - Côte de Beaune

A touch closed up, quite savoury and concentrated on the palate, a little clunky acidity/alcohol wise but it's fairly long and lingering. £35 Armit.
Nuits St. Georges 2008 Domaine Arnoux-Lachaux (13%) - Côte de Nuits
Perfumed vs savoury nose, more austere style vs maturing edges, nice dry vs sweet mouth-feel, tight and fresh still vs gamey elegant and long. Pretty classic. £29 Armit.
Mercurey 2009 Domaine de la Grangerie (13%) - Côte Chalonnaise
Very perfumed floral cherry and cassis aromas, quite intense and tangy vs "sweet/savoury" fruit, lively bite and elegant length vs attractive maturing profile. £13 M&S (from November in 175 stores).
Volnay 2009 Domaine Roux (13%) - Côte de Beaune
Savoury forward and ripe on the nose, tasty "s/s" combo with a touch of tannin lending texture vs fresh acidity; concentrated vs elegant, lovely tasty finish, still structured vs developing edges. Stylish. £20 M&S (from November in 150 stores).
Corton-Bressandes Grand Cru 2009 Domaine Antonin Guyon (13.5%) - Côte de Beaune
Enticing delicate nose, fragrant strawberry and cherry, maturing raisin-y notes; concentrated with subtle oak grain, dry vs fresh mouth-feel with long "s/s" flavours, floral vs gamey too, lovely finish and still very alive. Class, should be too: £50 M&S (50 stores).

France - Languedoc

2008 Les Pomarèdes Pinot Noir vin de pays d’Oc Domaine de Clovallon - further to my comments above on a case of Pinot fraud, this one’s definitely Pinot from this slightly off-the-wall estate in Bédarieux on the fringes of the Massif Central mountains. Succulent silky “sweet/savoury” style and attractive Pinot character, shows a touch of dry grip vs fresh acidity on the finish. Very good for Languedoc PN although kinda dear at £15.75 (Terroir Languedoc).

04 October 2011

Roussillon: 3 white wines

If you've been kind enough or bothered to read anything else Roussillon on this excitingly narrow-focused blog, you'll have noticed a slight enthusiasm for the sometimes superb white wines being made more and more often nowadays in the region. I tried these two below not so long ago, on the "South of France" stand at the London Wine Fair: both from well-known and well-regarded estates, very different in style, varietal make-up and with three years of age between them too (Ed: I've since added a third - scroll down).
Jean Gardiès' quite fine Clos des Vignes is crafted from Grenaches blanc and gris grown on an elevated (380m) vineyard in the Vingrau area, which were fermented and aged for 12 months in demi-muids barrels (600 litre size). It's sold in the UK by H2Vin Ltd. for about £17 retail, so it's no giveaway but has a bit of class, as I said.
Le Soula is joint-owned by Gérard Gauby and UK importer Richards Walford (their wines are handled by Peter Weygandt-Metzler in the US), and this nicely maturing white is made from a heady cocktail of Sauvignon blanc, Grenache blanc, Marsanne, Roussanne, Macabeu and Malvoisie; all grown at altitude on sites around St. Martin de Fenouillet, Feilluns and Le Vivier. It's also similarly grandiosely priced at £22.49: there's a list of UK retail and restaurant stockists on their website

Domaine Gardiès 2009 Clos des Vignes white Cotes du Roussillon - toasty notes layered with peachy hints, quite steely mouth-feel vs those toasty edges adding texture and flavour vs attractive exotic apricot fruit underneath.
More Gardiès' wines and profile here (written in 2007 after I went to the winery, and updated in 2011 and 2012).
Le Soula 2006 white vin de pays des Cotes Catalanes - enticing developing nose with quite rich hazelnut tones, roast nut flavours too and rounded mouth-feel; fairly intricate with mature vs still alive profile. 
Blurb on Le Soula to follow.

UPDATED 1st November: found this one at Marks & Spencer's recent press tasting, the latest release of a Collioure dry white I've tried previous vintages of made by the Cave de l'Abbé Rous co-op winery. Much improved I'd say - it was always too oaky before - although it appears to have gone up by £3 in two years, so is very overpriced. I'm not blaming M&S particularly, just the silly prices now attached to the apparently fashionable Collioure appellation!
2010 Cornet blanc (60% Grenache gris, 20% Grenache blanc, 20% Vermentino; 14% alc.) - lightly toasty tones with yeast-lees edges vs oilier and more exotic side, steelier crisper palate than previous vintages with a touch of oak grain underneath vs nice weight and oomph, finishing with ripe peachy fruit and oily texture vs attractive bitter twist. Well-made, good quality foodie white. £11.99 in 100 stores.

And a few sexy Languedoc whites, just to develop the "theme"!

03 October 2011

Portugal: Quinta da Falorca, Dão

This pretty 13 hectare estate lurks in the increasingly hot Dão region about 10 miles from the historic town of Viseu, lining the somewhat inclined banks of the Dão river itself. There are four Quintas or vineyards actually – Vale das Escadinhas (perhaps the best-known one), Barreiro, Esmoitada and Falorca – where vines are kept company by olive, nut and pine trees. I'm told Quinta Vale das Escadinhas goes back a long long way and was founded by the Costa Barros de Figueiredo family. More info @ qve.pt or on London wine merchant Armit's site, who had these flavoursome little Portuguese numbers at their recent tasting. Mind you, they're on the dear side though...

2010 rosé (Touriga Nacional, 13.5% alc.) - big fruity rosé style with boiled sweet notes, dried red fruits vs tangier redcurrant and Morello cherry edges; good but expensive. £12
2010 white (Encruzado and Malvasia, 13% alc.) - juicy with light yeast-lees notes, banana vs green fruit combo, bit of oomph too vs crisp, full tasty and long finish. £14
2004 Reserva red (Touriga Nacional, Tinta Roriz, Alfrocheiro Preto, Tinta Pinheira, Jaen; 14.5% alc.) - rich smoky black cherry, chocolate, liquorice and pepper aromas / flavours; chunky and grippy vs attractive dried fruits and complex smoky maturing finish. £20
2006 E-Falorca red (Touriga Nacional, Tinta Roriz, Alfrocheiro Preto, Tinta Pinheira, Jaen; 14.5%) - smoky nose with sweet dark berries vs herby peppery tones, punchy and firm vs developing nice sweet fruit edges vs still very lively. £11

Lots more Portugal here.

Heavy metal legends Motörhead release wine

The latest in a (too) long line of celeb wines "made" by pop / film stars etc., and by far the most interesting in terms of who whatever the wine actually tastes like (post a comment if you have), I spotted this on DECANTER.COM recently and thought it worth, erm, thrashing out here. Click on the link below to read the full story on Decanter's site, by ace (of spades) web editor Adam Lechmere: