"Buy my book about the Roussillon on Amazon UK in paperback or eBook or black & white version, and Amazon USA: paperback or 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 December 2012

Languedoc: Château La Roque update

The 2011 vintage is the first "officially" organic at this now quite famous Pic-Saint-Loup estate: click here to view profile (written a few years ago), those latest 2011 white, red and rosé wines sampled and reviewed, plus links to previous stuff featuring older vintages too...

A couple of Champagnes "of the moment" (and a classy Oz one...)

Updated Feb 2013.
"You may already have cracked open some Champers over Christmas with all the usual seasonal special offers floating around; and if you're looking for some last-minute New Year Eve's sparkling pleasure, here are a couple I've enjoyed recently, which are widely available in the UK (and Ireland for the first one). Mind you, there are some good deals on e.g. vintage Cava and other sparklers from around the globe too that look equally / more tempting perhaps (just don't buy the cheapest one as that's what you'll get). Or look to Australia for a touch of surprising class (see below)..."

Premier Cru Champagne Tesco Finest (12.5%) - made by leading co-op winery Union Champagne selected from their Premier Cru vineyards (classified as higher quality) with around 60% Chardonnay and 40% Pinot Noir, based on 2007 vintage wine although a non-vintage blend plus nearly one-third 'reserve' wines (small batches held back from other vintages and blended in to maintain the house style and quality). Quite fine fizz actually showing attractive aged toasted yeasty nutty aromas and flavours, nice fresh bite vs richer and rounder with bready cake-y notes on the finish. About £15 / €29, half-bottle on offer on-line for £9.99.

Champagne Louis Chaurey Brut M&S (12%) - fairly classy blend of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier resulting in an attractive subtle mix of lively and fruity vs toasted yeasty baked bread notes, not too dry (nor too sweet like some of them) but has nice crisp appley touches vs richer toastier oaty flavours. Good buy at £15 (supposedly half-price although I don't think I'd pay £30 for it), but this offer might well end today!

Added Feb 2013:
Croser Sparkling Wine 2007 Adelaide Hills, South Australia - came across a neglected note on this lovely wine sampled last year, one of Australia's finest sparklers (along with e.g. Pirie from Tasmania), which could be thrown up against the two Champers above and comfortably hold its own. A blend of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay with a fair amount of bottle age, this has toasty honeyed almond biscuit notes, quite rich on the palate vs crisp tight refreshing finish, classy and delicious. €20+ in Ireland (imported by Gilbeys in Dublin), $31.50 in Aus.

More Champagne & other sparkling wine HERE.

28 December 2012

Roussillon winery updates

I've finally updated several of my existing Roussillon winegrower profiles with latest vintages and news, including these hot estates (click on the highlighted link):
Domaine du Traginer, Banyuls-sur-mer (Jean-François Deu, pic. below, hard at it in the field, taken from www.traginer.fr).
Domaine Laguerre, St. Martin de Fenouillet (Eric & Corine Laguerre).
Olivier Pithon, Calce.
Domaine Puig-ParahÿPassa (Georges Puig).
Domaine Gardiès, Espira/Vingrau (Jean Gardiès).
Plus a few 'new' ones too: Ch. de Gaure, Dom. Joliette, Dom. Cayrol, Les Conques...

18 December 2012

Germany: St. Urbans-Hof, Mosel & Saar

2011 vintage Riesling tasting with Nik Weis

Owner - winemaker Nik Weis (right with cellar manager Rudi Hoffmann left) was in London back in the summer with his UK importer The Wine Barn to preview their 2011 vintage Rieslings from most of their middle-Mosel estate vineyards. These prized plots - some dramatically sloping up from the Mosel in picture-postcard paint-strokes (see photo of Piesporter Goldtröpfchen below), others rising more gently and flattening out a little - are found in six disparate sites with three of them on or near the Saar river (a tributary of the big 'M') up to 40 km away...

06 December 2012

Roussillon: Domaine Nivet-Galinier, Ponteilla

Domaine Nivet-Galinier

David, Lydie and son Boris Nivet tend seven hectares (17 acres) of treasured old vines (some of their Carignan has been around for over 100 years) - split into two distinctly different plots in the central Roussillon flatlands - taking a naturally laid-back grass-roots biodynamic farming view of life (they've been 'Demeter' certified since 2001). You'll find their vineyards, cellar and home off the back-road between Ponteilla and Le Soler in the heart of Les Aspres country, a few kilometres from Perpignan or Thuir (it's signposted). This unashamedly 'natural' approach results in quirky complex or elusive wines even that are perhaps a little on the wild side for some overly technical people. But their intense aged white wines, for instance, do last surprisingly well as testimony. The earthy Nivet-Galinier team sells most of their wines in France, but does export some to Japan too, I was told. These reds and whites were tasted with Boris and David at the Millésime Bio organic wine fair in Montpellier on two occasions, in 2010 and 2012. They also make some interesting cask-matured Rivesaltes Vins Doux Naturels as well as honey, growing spuds, milling maize...

2008 Macabeu white, Côtes Catalanes - attractive 'oxidative' style showing nutty vs honey and banana notes; quite rich mouth-feel actually vs appley and mineral bite, crisp length too. 89
2008 Macabeu tasted two years later: nutty 'Fino' tinged nose and palate, rich and intense vs dry and mineral, still alive and tasty. Wow, very good: see what I mean!
2008 Macabeu/Grenache gris white, Côtes Catalanes - similar although showing more yeast-lees notes and perhaps fuller too; rounded mouth-feel vs again has nice bite and length. 89
2005 Les Aspres Côtes du Roussillon (Carignan, Syrah, Grenache) - lovely maturing savoury tobacco-tinged nose with underlying 'sweet' liquorice; firm and peppery palate with dry coating of tannins vs lush dark fruit. 89+
2006 Les Aspres Côtes du Roussillon (Carignan, Syrah, Grenache) - smokier and more rustic ('bretty' even); 'inky' vs rich and dark with meaty undertones, pity about that 'farmyard' side, as it's got natural intensity. 86+
2006 Les Aspres two years later: 'soupy' rustic and lush, again it's intense with grip vs ripe maturing fruit, power and 'sweet/savoury' flavour combo on the finish; still quite structured actually vs more elegant maturing side.
2006 Côtes du Roussillon (similar blend with more Syrah) - spicier dark cherry aromas, same kind of lush liquorice and 'tar' styling; smoky but not too, grippy mouth-feel although quite well-balanced. 87+
2007 Les Aspres – has more vibrant fruit with meaty edges, (more) powerful and concentrated too with attractive solid vs 'sweet/savoury' finish. Good stuff.
2007 Côtes du Roussillon – a little baked on the nose vs enticing minty character too, has less substance than the above perhaps although still quite intense and long.

04 December 2012

Rhône: Ogier update, Côtes du Vivarais & Côtes du Rhône Villages

I knocked up a fairly detailed report on Ogier's turreted Châteauneuf-du-Pape operation back in July 2009 (you know what to do), including tasting a few vintages from their Clos de l'Oratoire estate and Les Chorégies, the 'special' cuvée they make as part of an opera-in-Orange sponsorship deal they're involved in. And I met their winemaker at another Rhone Valley property they own in summer 2010, called Notre Dame de Cousignac (goes to a feature on the southern Ardèche: scroll down to the Côtes du Vivarais section). Anyway, you'll find a mini-update below on the latest vintages of these Ardèche wines plus a rather good Côtes du Rhône Villages red. Ogier appears to have converted, or is in the process of, a substantial chunk of their Rhône Valley vineyards over to the organic way of things, which is, I believe, parent group Jeanjean's long-term strategy in the Languedoc and elsewhere too.

Notre Dame de Cousignac Côtes du Vivarais

2011 white (Marsanne, Clairette, Grenache blanc) - lively 'mineral' touches with aromatic cider notes vs more honeyed fruit too, zingy vs rounder texture to finish. Nice style.
2011 rosé (Grenache, Syrah, Cinsault) - hints of yeast lees characters with crisp bite on the palate vs fuller red fruity style. Good.
2010 red (Grenache, Syrah, Carignan) - lively berry fruits with spice and liquorice aromas/flavours, has a bit of grip and weight vs attractive spicy finish.

2010 Ogier Côtes du Rhône Villages - aromatic and spicy nose, 'sweet' fruit with meaty edges, peppery and punchy with nice grip and delicious fruit lingering. Very good.

More info @ www.ogier.fr

01 December 2012

Languedoc: Virgile Joly update, Saint-Saturnin

From domainevirgilejoly.com
There's a short and sweet profile blurb on Domaine Virgile Joly HERE along with some of his wines tasted in 2010 and 2011. What's new then, apart from the latest releases / revisiting certain vintages as reported below? Well, I see the area under vine has quickly grown up by five hectares (now around 37 acres in total) in the Saint-Saturnin area, an awfully quiet village found 30 or 40 km northwest of Montpellier (although I think I heard it now has a restaurant!). And all the vineyard stuff here continues full steam ahead organic grape-growing etc. wise with "natural" winemaking. These wines were sampled at this year's Millésime Bio show in Montpellier; and I've seen Virgile around at other events entertaining English speaking customers, so export is obviously important for him.

2011 blanc (Grenache blanc + 5% Roussanne) - attractive crisp green fruit with vibrant gooseberry, grapefruit and grape aromas vs rounder oilier weightier finish. Good.
2009 Saturne blanc (Grenache blanc) - enticing nutty oxidizing Fino notes with attractive crisp dry palate vs again a rounder finish. Another good white.
2009 rouge (Syrah, Grenache, Carignan) - nice cherry fruit with savoury edges, developing liquorice and tobacco notes too, dry grip vs sweet fruit, tasty and quite powerful too.
2007 Saturne rouge (Grenache, Syrah, Carignan, Cinsault) - I tried this a couple of years ago and concluded: "...unripe? reduced? Not sure..." And this time? That 'reductive' and/or herbaceous note was still there, cassis and red pepper; quite concentrated with rounded tannins, that awkward background character lingers although there's nice sweet fruit and structured grip too.
2006 Virgile rouge - some similar notes on the nose, attractive palate though with concentrated firm framework and dark vs crunchy fruit profile. Tightens up on the finish, needs time still. Very good in the end.

29 November 2012

Languedoc: Domaine Coston update, Terrasses du Larzac

You'll find my previous words of wisdom on this very much family affair - Joseph, Marie-Thérèse, Philippe and Jean-Marc Coston to be precise - and their generally pretty good range of wines on this page (notes posted 2006 and 2008). Wow, was that really four years already?! I caught up with Philippe or Jean-Marc (sorry, can't remember which one, they do look a little alike being, like erm, brothers...) earlier this year at Millésime Bio organic wine show in Montpellier (they have been bio since '99 actually) and tried their latest vintages, tasting-noted below. He took great relish in telling me they've recently replanted nine hectares (12 acres) of vine-land, which they acquired after the very high-profile failed Mondavi bid debacle to buy up the entire village area I think. Here we go...

2011 rosé (Mourvèdre, Carignan, Syrah) - clean and crisp style, quite taut zingy and steely finish. Nice with it though. €6 cellar door.
2010 Terrasses du Larzac red (Grenache, Syrah, Carignan, Mourvèdre) - enticing meaty edges with spicy minty wild herbs vs dark fruits, tight firm mouth-feel with subtle vs concentrated finish. Good stuff. €9
2009 Les Garigoles (Grenache, Syrah) - savoury vs rich mix, hints of oak grain on a dry solid palate, shows good balance of developing fruit, grip and weight on its still quite closed up finish. €16
2010 Les Garigoles (Grenache, Syrah) - richer and smokier than the 09, a tad more chocolate oak too but has more depth and structure, chewy savoury vs dark fruit finish with attractively textured tannins. Very good. €16

28 November 2012

Languedoc: Domaine de Roquemale, Grés de Montpellier

Valérie and Dominique Ibanez bought 11 ha (27 acres) of vines, some of them up to 60 years old, in the Roquemale valley (means something like "cursed rock," as the soils are indeed stoney around here) near Villeveyrac in the slightly schizophrenic Grés de Montpellier appellation (their vineyard lies to the west of the city, but the AOP area extends across to the other side of town too). There's a towards quirky mix of varieties planted here - Syrah, Grenache noir, gris and blanc; Cinsault, Alicante Bouschet, Mourvèdre, Viognier, Marsanne, Roussanne, Vermentino and some old-vine Servant (!?) - which have all been tended organically since 2008. The Ibanez's have also put a lot of work and €€ into doing up their sizeable old stone cellar in the village to combine mini-winery, tasting and sales area and a cosy room/apartment offering B&B. They hold 'open weekends' four times a year, if you're ever in the area and fancy a spot of tasting and vine gazing. All you need to know @ www.roquemale.com. I tasted these wines with Valérie at this year's Millésime Bio wine show.

2011 Les Cistes rosé (Cinsault, Syrah, Grenache) - attractive crisp and zingy style rosé with a touch of elegance too.
2011 Roq Blanc (Grenache gris and blanc, Viognier, Marsanne, Roussanne Vermentino) - tasty exotic fruit with peach and mango aromas and nice yeast-lees edges, steely gummy notes too on the palate vs enticing fatter texture, subtle and complex vs full and rounded; drinking well now.
2010 Les Grés red (mostly Syrah + Grenache, no oak) - seductive fruity spicy Syrah characters with minty peppery black cherry fruit vs dry grip, lovely lingering fruit.
2010 Lema (mostly Grenache + Syrah, 20% of it barrel-aged) - a little closed up at first with smoky oak undertones, concentrated and more extracted mouth-feel, grippy tight tannic structure; less obvious and fruity than above but has longer finish and will probably end up more interesting.
2010 Male (not the highly scented JPG aftershave, but mostly Syrah with 50% new oak) - not too oaky though with dense extracted black cherry and chocolate flavours, attractive grainy vs rounded tannins with powerful tight finish; needs a bit of time to open up.

23 November 2012

South Africa part 3: Chenin blanc, Viognier, Grenache blanc, Semillon...

This third blast of "blurb & bottles" in my recent South African mini-series - see Part 2: "unusual" reds (well, some of them) (posted October) and Part 1 Pinot Noir (September) if that grabs you - takes a brief look at a few tasty white wines. And especially perennial favourite Chenin blanc, which I've gone on about before (goes to SA archive page) and no doubt will do again. This French variety has a long track record in the Cape and can make a dazzling array of quality dry to sweet wine styles, including some very sound sparkling wines too; as long as it's not too mass produced, which usually ends up as rather bland and characterless. Viognier is, like in most wine regions outside of France, a relative parvenu in South Africa; and winemakers here are beginning to show us what they can do with this more exotic and powerful grape, as a varietal wine or blended with Chenin and/or others such as Grenache blanc. The latter Catalan / southern French variety is also featuring more and more in the Cape wine-lands and, logically, seems to suit South Africa's warm/hot climate zones well. This merry band of whites was tried and tested on different occasions this year, some of them at the London Wine Fair a few months ago and the rest at home or on wine courses I've been running.

Bellingham 2011 The Bernard Series Old Vine Chenin Blanc (14%) - tight and steely at first layered with a subtle creamier honeyed side, not very revealing when I tasted it (was too cold) but feels like it's got a bit of class underneath. £10-£20 UK, €15-€30 Eurozone (imported by DGB Europe) or $30-$50 USA.
Adi Badenhorst 2011 Secateurs Chenin Blanc, Swartland (14.5% alc) - lovely exotic honeyed character with cantaloupe melon fruit and oily rounded mouth-feel, fair weight too then steelier and spicier finish nicely counteracting its rich style. UK £9.75 James Nicholson (NI), £11.50 Swig (London). Older Badenhorst here.
Spier 2010 21 Gables Chenin Blanc (14%) - full-on Burgundy-esque buttery style with sweet fruit and creamy hazelnut flavours, nice weight and mouth-feel; good although could be Chardonnay! £10-£20 UK, €15-€30 Eurozone or $30-$50 USA.
Jean Daneel 2011 Chenin Blanc (14%) - quite rich and toasty with hazelnut undertones, dry and steely palate though with intense long finish; still tasting young needing a few months bottle age probably, but promising. £10-£20 UK, €15-€30 Eurozone or $30-$50 USA.
Ken Forrester 2011 Reserve Chenin Blanc (14%) - Mr. Forrester is 'the daddy' of Chenin blanc (and makes a few own-labels in the UK such as Tesco's Finest CB), and this example shows his usual class. Quite restrained tight and zesty to start vs a weightier honeyed side, crisp long finish; needs time too to come together and open up.
Villiera 2011 Traditional Barrel Fermented Chenin Blanc (13.3%) - aromatic juicy honey and melon with greengage edges, turning more buttery on the palate vs good bite and length; nice style. UK £7-£10 Crush Wines, US $14-$30, Eurozone €9-€15.
De Trafford Four V Chenin Blanc (14.68%) - fairly powerful stuff with rich honeyed fruit and texture, attractive nuttier finish too. £10-£20 UK, €15-€30 Eurozone or $30-$50 USA.
Beaumont 2011 Hope Marguerite Chenin Blanc (12.5%) - not showing much at first, gets fuller and rounder though with nutty flavours, a hint of sweetness too vs lively yeast-lees notes. £10-£20 UK, €15-€30 Eurozone or $30-$50 USA.
Stellenrust 2010 '46' Barrel Fermented Chenin Blanc (14%) - leesy nose, quite toasty and rich too with juicy honeyed melon fruit, nutty and crisp on the finish vs full and ripe. Another attractive style. UK: Bibendum Wines.
Bosman Family Vineyards 2010 Optenhorst Chenin Blanc (13.5%) - fairly lush with toasted hazelnut vs maturing savoury oaty notes, finishing with steely bite; attractive and quite classy. £10-£20 UK (Thierry's), €15-€30 Eurozone or $30-$50 USA.

Leeuwenkuil Family Reserve white 2011 (50% Chenin blanc, 20% Roussanne, 16% Grenache blanc, 10% Clairette blanche, 4% Verdelho; 13.5% alc.) - juicy honeyed and creamy with aromatic nutty side too, quite punchy vs very crisp (the acidity's a little hard actually) vs toasty rounded finish. Interesting though. UK £7-£10 New Generation Wines, US $14-$30, Eurozone €9-€15.
KWV 2010 The Mentor's Grenache Blanc (14.2%) - interesting quirky wine, big and punchy with enticing hazelnut vs herby notes, rounded and full-on vs crisper nutty finish. £10-£20 UK, €15-€30 Eurozone or $30-$50 USA.
Bellingham 2011 The Bernard Series Whole Bunch 'Grenache Blanc with Viognier' (14%) - rich and toasty with powerful palate, again has surprisingly tight and subtle finish after that full-on start; probably needs a bit of time to express itself. £10-£20 UK, €15-€30 Eurozone (imported by DGB Europe) or $30-$50 USA.
Bellingham 2011 The Bernard Series Hand-Picked Viognier (13.5%) - steelier more restrained style of Viognier with zesty lees notes vs lightly exotic aromatic fruit, tight and quite crisp finish vs touch of richness. £10-£20 UK, €15-€30 Eurozone (imported by DGB Europe) or $30-$50 USA.
Flagstone 2011 Word of Mouth Viognier (14.2%) - hints of floral apricot, again quite discreet at first yet powerful in the mouth; either a tad lacking or a little more elegant than is good for it?! UK £7-£10 Accolade Wines, US $14-$30, Eurozone €9-€15.
Escapades 2011 Semillon (14.5%) - a bit cold and closed up when I first tried it, develops toasty edges vs 'waxy' honeyed fruit, tight and fresh mouth-feel vs pretty full-on and rounded. Needs a few months?
Cloof 2010 The Very Vivacious Viognier, Darling (12.5%) - well, not very, but this is still an attractive lighter style of Viognier with floral peachy apricot notes and rounded easy-drinking palate. www.winesulike.co.uk £10.99

21 November 2012

Cahors: Malbec roadtrip part 1, Château Les Croisille - Château Combel La Serre - Château Tour de Miraval

Hostellerie Le Vert

Cahors: special wine touring report now available
You can get my special Cahors wine touring supplement as a PDF file, featuring all three parts of my Malbec road-trip trilogy posted on French Mediterranean Wine earlier this year, plus bonus winery profiles from this exciting region of south-west France (and any other recent in-depth features produced in this format). Yours condensed into a neat 20 page mini-mag PDF delivered by email: buy it for £3 - these specials are not free2view. Click on the title link above to find the PayPal buttons! UPDATED NOV. 2015: ten new organic wine estate profiles added.

This first tantalizing instalment reporting from once-upon-a-time a little downtrodden but now groovy again Cahors, in deepest southwest France ("home of Malbec" as it likes to dub itself, with a certain amount of justification...), features three dynamic estates: Château Les Croisille, Château Combel La Serre and Château Tour de Miraval. I met Germain Croisille and Julien Ilbert from the first two over dinner at Hotel Le Terminus (opposite Cahors town rail station) in their highly recommended restaurant Le Balandre (links to site), where we tasted, talked and ate well. And I encountered Evelyne Demeaux-Lévy (pic.) from Tour de Miraval the following day in similar circumstances 'across the table'...
Get the full report to read on - follow the link at the top for payment...

Watch out for my further adventures of 'desperately seeking Malbec' in Cahors; featuring Châteaux du Cayrou, Famaey, Métairie Grande du Théron, Latuc (links to Part 2); and in Part 3 here: Haute-Serre, La Caminade, Armandiere, La Capelle Cabanac, La Bérangeraie, Clos Troteligotte and Vino Valie/Les Bouysses among others. Plus more restaurant and wine travel tips...

13 November 2012

Wine courses and tastings in Belfast 2013

These wine tasting events and courses, which I'm planning to run in Belfast in the first half of next year, are now up on the Wine Education Service website (link takes you there); including our Classic Wines of Southern France course. So get booking now to have some fun in 2013 tasting and learning about wine... or buy one as an alternative Christmas gift for a wine loving friend or family member!

Essential Wine Tasting 5 week course £125 five sessions
Tuesday evenings Feb 5, 12, 19, 26 and March 5.
Tuesday evenings April 23, 30 and May 7, 14 and 21.
More details about this course here: wine-education-service.co.uk/introductory

Classic Wines of Southern France 5 week course £150 five sessions
Tuesday evenings March 12, 19, 26 and April 2 & 9.
More details about this course here: wine-education-service.co.uk/intermediate

Classic Grape Varieties 5 week course £150 five sessions
Tuesday evenings May 28 and June 4, 11, 18 and 25.
More details about this course here: wine-education-service.co.uk/intermediate

One-day workshops Saturdays £75 for the day including lunch (and wine).
Grape to Glass Feb 2
Wines of France April 6.
More details about these workshops here: wine-education-service.co.uk/workshop

Tutored tastings Thursday evenings
March 28 Classic Grape Varieties - £30
May 30 Wines of Spain - £30
June 27 Champagne & Sparkling Wines - £35
Book these three tastings with Paypal:

Select tasting:

Overview and booking for courses and one-day workshops on the WES Belfast web page HEREOr go back to the homepage from there for details of wine courses and tastings running in London, Manchester, Aberdeen and other UK cities.

Wine courses and tastings in Belfast 2013

These wine tasting events and courses, which I'm planning to run in Belfast in the first half of next year, are now up on the Wine Education Service website (link takes you there). So get booking now to have some fun in 2013 tasting and learning about wine... or buy one as an alternative Christmas gift for a wine loving friend or family member!

Essential Wine Tasting 5 week course £125 five sessions
Tuesday evenings Feb 5, 12, 19, 26 and March 5.
Tuesday evenings April 23, 30 and May 7, 14 and 21.
More details about this course here: wine-education-service.co.uk/introductory

Classic Wines of Southern France 5 week course £150 five sessions
Tuesday evenings March 12, 19, 26 and April 2 & 9.
More details about this course here: wine-education-service.co.uk/intermediate

Classic Grape Varieties 5 week course £150 five sessions
Tuesday evenings May 28 and June 4, 11, 18 and 25.
More details about this course here: wine-education-service.co.uk/intermediate

One-day workshops Saturdays £75 for the day including lunch (and wine).
Grape to Glass Feb 2
Wines of France April 6.
More details about these workshops here: wine-education-service.co.uk/workshop

Tutored tastings Thursday evenings
March 28 Classic Grape Varieties - £30
May 30 Wines of Spain - £30
June 27 Champagne & Sparkling Wines - £35
Book these three tastings with Paypal:

Select tasting:

Overview and booking for courses and one-day workshops on the WES Belfast web page HEREOr go back to the homepage from there for details of wine courses and tastings running in London, Manchester, Aberdeen and other UK cities.


YOU CAN NOW SUBSCRIBE (click there or on the Paypal button on the right) TO MY TWO WINE BLOGS USING PAYPAL FOR JUST £10 A YEAR (approx $17 or €12.50)! AND ADVERTISING HERE NOW ONLY COSTS £100 FOR 12 MONTHS (or equivalent in $/€). Go for it!

06 November 2012

Rioja: old and rare CVNE and Contino

I recently rediscovered and have just re-posted a rather nice Rioja blast from the past entitled "a tutored tasting of CVNE and Contino old and rare Riojas by winemaker Jesús Madrazo Mateo," (click there to view it) originally scribbled in 2001. Includes (at times slightly surreal) notes on elderly Viña Real and Imperial Gran Reserva reds and Contino Reservas with vintages going back to 1952. But quite a few from the best years of the 70s, 80s and 90s; as well as "an oddball finale" from 1939... Enjoy a little retro Rioja chic! Mind you, one or two of them were towards dodgy though.

05 November 2012

Rhône: Clos de Caveau, Vacqueyras

Bungener family
with all-singing all-dancing dog.
Henri Bungener has been running his 12-hectare (30 acre) vineyard organically since 1989, which is located all in one secluded sheltered spot up in the hills on the wild-side slopes of the Dentelles de Montmirail. You'll eventually find Clos de Caveau a couple of kilometres out of the little village of Vacqueyras (see closdecaveau.com for directions), which is about 25 miles north of Avignon and 15 miles east of Orange. And handily enough, they also own three different-sized holiday gites on or near the property if you fancy taking in a bit of fresh air and sunshine in the middle of Provencal nowhere. Henri's Vacqueyras reds are made from about two-thirds Grenache, one-third Syrah; and apparently are available in Switzerland, Germany, USA, UK, Belgium, Netherlands, Denmark, Sweden, Canada, China, Singapore, Taiwan and Japan. That's useful then!

2008 Fruit Sauvage (Grenache, Syrah) - perhaps a tad past it and lean but it does have hints of nice savoury vs 'sweet' fruit still lurking underneath. €6.30 ex-cellars.
2009 Carmin Brillant (Grenache, Syrah) - aromatic ripe fruity nose, very firm yet peppery and has good depth of fruit, a touch extracted though in the end perhaps. €8.70 ex-cellars.
2007 Lao Muse (Grenache, Syrah) - smoky notes with a hint of oak too, concentrated maturing fruit showing lovely 'sweet/savoury' style and peppery edges, firm and gutsy vs delicious fruit. €18 ex-cellars.

Chile: a couple of 'Carmeneres of the moment'

Juicy Carmenere
from en.wikipedia.org

There's a feature I wrote HERE on Chile's love/hate affair with Carmenere, or Carmenère to give it its French accent, told from leading winery De Martino's perspective about their trials, tribulations and eventual success with this quirky variety adopted more or less by accident. As that piece touches on, DNA tests in the early 1990s confirmed that much of what was believed to be Merlot was actually Carmenère, a once fairly common variety in Bordeaux before the phylloxera bug invasion destroyed vineyards in the 19th Century, but was never widely replanted. So, to cut a no doubt long story short, it ended up in Chile the following century when people brought over cuttings and seedlings of 'Merlot' presumably.

30 October 2012

South Africa part 2: "unusual" reds (well, some of them...)

Even the dog thinks the Shiraz
is sexy from www.cloof.co.za
Part one being South Africa: Pinot Noir posted last month (plus there's a load of archive stuff on this page), soon to be followed by the unmissable sequel: "Just when you thought it was safe blah blah, South Africa 3 - unusual whites (well, some of them...)."
Cutting rapidly to the chase, you'll find below an eclectic mix of ten recommended South African red blends and varietals, loosely "Mediterranean/Rhone" in make-up with a few Shiraz based cocktails plus some Portuguese & Italian varieties and a sort-of indigenous one, all sampled recently through rouge-tinged spectacles. There's perhaps a longer tradition (more European if you like) in South Africa of creating red blends (especially Bordeaux style mixes) rather than varietal wines, although things change of course and there are plenty of tasty examples of straight Shirazes, Pinotages, Cabernets etc. But if certain combinations work particularly well, and sometimes you need a good few (hundred) years of trial and error to suss it out, why change it.

2009 The Cloof Cellar Blend Darling (Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinotage, Shiraz; 15% alc.) - intriguing nose with baked volatile tones, rich and smoky with maturing meaty/leather edges vs spicy liquorice and herby minty dark fruits; concentrated with firm dry tannins layered with lovely 'sweet/savoury' fruit, powerful finish vs dense texture and complex flavours. 'Traditional' style red and good with it, drinking well now although should go on for a few years yet. £11.99 www.winesulike.co.uk, €12.99 O'Briens.
2009 Cloof Pinotage Darling (14.5%) - similarly rich smoky and dense style with solid framework vs lush ripe vs sour fruit, dark plums and dried fruits vs light red pepper tones, nice 'sweet' vs maturing savoury finish. £10.99 www.winesulike.co.uk
2010 The Cloof Very Sexy Shiraz Darling (14.5%) - quite sexy actually, yet another dense and chunky red from Cloof although this one is more youthful with very ripe blackberry and light spice rounded off with touches of coconut/vanilla oak, less firm on the finish but still has fair punch and depth of fruit. £11.99 www.winesulike.co.uk, €12.99 O'Briens.

2010 Leeuwenkuil Family Reserve Red, Coastal Region (mostly Shiraz + a splash each of  Mourvèdre, Grenache and Cinsaut; 14% alc) - fairly chocolate oaky on the nose vs rich dark and spicy backdrop, firm yet silky tannins with powerful finish balanced out by tasty ripe vs savoury fruit. UK £7-£10 New Generation Wines, US $14-$30, Eurozone €9-€15.

2009 Spice Route Chakalaka (Shiraz, Mourvèdre, Carignan, Petite Sirah, Grenache, Tannat; 14.5% alc) - love that name and quirky blend: hints of spicy oak topped with rich ripe wild fruits vs herby combo, grippy and textured mouth-feel countered by lovely lush dark vs savoury fruit, powerful but it works with long tasty finish. UK £20+ Raisin Social, US $50+, Eurozone €30+.

2008 Leopard's Leap Family Collection Shiraz/Mourvèdre/Viognier (13.5%) - mature savoury style with minty edges, a bit old perhaps but it's interesting with those nice developed characters. UK £7-£10 Raisin Social, US $14-$30, Eurozone €9-€15.

2010 Savanha Frieda's Vine Shiraz/Mourvèdre (14.5%) - 'modern' fruit-driven style with punchy yet tasty palate, finishing with more interesting savoury and spicy flavours with hints of leather and black olive, dry but rounded tannins. UK £7-£10 PLB, US $14-$30, Eurozone €9-€15.

2008 de Trafford Sijnn (Shiraz, Mourvèdre, Trincadeira, Touriga; 14% alc) - aromatic spicy minty nose, dark pruney fruit with peppery olive tones, soft tannins vs power, weight and lovely savoury fruit finish. Good stuff. UK Bibendum Wines.

2011 Howard Booysen Pegasus Cinsault (12.5%) - odd nose, moves on to perfumed sweet berry fruit, quite soft and easygoing with tasty delicate finish.

2009 Nederburg Ingenuity Red (Sangiovese, Barbera, Nebbiolo; 14.5% alc) - dried cherry and blackberry notes, rich extracted and a tad oak-heavy to start, although has nice underlying developing savoury fruit, concentrated and chunky too with long maturing finish; that oak calms down in the end lending rounder texture. UK £20+, US $50+, Eurozone €30+.

South Africa part 3: Chenin blanc, Viognier, Grenache blanc, Semillon...

29 October 2012

Rhône: Ventoux, Clos de Trias & Marrenon

Two Ventoux producers for the price of one in fact, no relation (other than I tasted their wines at the London Wine Fair in a special Grenache-themed room) but it seemed like a good idea to combine them into a duet of Ventoux-tastic-ness. This wine region lies in the Vaucluse département to the east of the River Rhone and Avignon nudging up against that eponymous and somewhat awesome mountain...

Clos de Trias (above, shadowed by you know what: www.closdetrias.com)
Founded in 2007 (although the vines go way back) by Norwegian Even A. Bakke, who spent 14 years in the California wine business, and his French wife, Trias is now 25 ha (62 acres) lying at the foot of Mount Ventoux. I guess the name comes from the geological term Triassic (stifle that yawn please!), which is the era the soils around these parts date from, apparently. Grape-growing here is biodynamic with the philosophy and vineyards in the process of switching over to this way of life for good, man. 2008 was a tricky vintage in the region, which required a fair amount of sorting in the field and winery to pick out the best grapes. 2007 was a more successful year, and their old-vine red sampled here was made from selected 60+ year-old parcels called Champ Paga, L'Aube, Le Jas and Les Grand Terres (sic.), undergoing "a long maceration on the skins" and using "minimal sulphur dioxide."

2008 Clos de Trias (75% Grenache, 15% Syrah, 8% Carignan, 2% Cinsault) - quite soft and 'light' (although still 14% alcohol) with enticing maturing aromas, has a bit of grip still vs nice 'sweet' fruit, developing tobacco/leather edges and a has wild herby side too; drinking well now. €4.50 ex-cellars.
2007 Clos de Trias vieilles vignes (96% Grenache, 4% Syrah; 14.5% alc.) - smoky maturing nose with liquorice vs tobacco edges, extracted firm and punchy palate vs lovely spicy 'sweet/savoury' fruit, big mouthful of flavour. €9.55 ex-cellars.

These guys are actually a 1200-grower strong co-operative set up over 40 years ago; the members' vineyards spread right across the Ventoux and Luberon wine regions with their winery, offices and posh-looking shop based in La Tour d’Aigues in the southeastern corner of the Vaucluse. So they obviously make a big range of wines, although, if this one is pretty typical, they deserve to be investigated further... www.marrenon.com.

2010 Ventoux Classique red (Grenache, Syrah) - vibrant ripe berry fruit, juicy 'sweet' and tasty palate with savoury and tobacco edges, quite elegant actually on the finish; very nice red.

27 October 2012

England: Furleigh Estate, Dorset

"I think we need to train these
solar leaf panels a bit higher!"

Amid an ever increasing amount of talk about English sparkling wines and news of medals being won in international tasting competitions, Furleigh Estate was a new name for me until I tried this bottle of really rather good fizz. Another Champagne look-alike made from the same grapes, grown in sunny Dorset (well, perhaps 2012 was a challenging year as it was elsewhere for English and Welsh winemakers?), in the same traditional bottle-fermented and lees-aged way (their Classic Cuvée is left in bottle slowly ageing on the fine yeast lees for 15 months in fact, before being removed). The vineyards come to 85 rolling acres (34 hectares) across south-facing slopes surrounded by farmland, woods and lakes too in Salway Ash near Bridport, with well over half of that area planted with Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier for sparkling wine production. They also make a red wine, a few whites and other sparklers including a rosé. The 2009 Classic Cuvée costs £25 a bottle, which might seem a bit dear but is about the same price as a half-decent Champagne brand; it works out at £2.50 a bottle less though if you buy a case of six, so perhaps not a bad idea for Christmas and New Year quaffing. Vineyard tours and tastings are available too on Fridays and Saturdays: click on their web link underneath the photo to find out more.

Classic Cuvée 2009 (Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier; 12% alc.) - lovely fruity nose with complex toasted oat and floral oily notes, this has a very attractive combo of a little richness from those toasty yeasty bready flavours with rounded creamy texture vs crisp and refreshing bite and subtle fine bubbles lingering on the finish. Actually went surprisingly well with quite spicy Chinese and Thai king prawn dishes.


25 October 2012

Rhône: Domaine de Mourchon, Séguret

Walter McKinlay and family bought Domaine de Mourchon and, at the time, its 17 hectares (42 acres) of old vines up on the stoney hillsides (at about 350 metres altitude) of the breathtakingly picturesque Les Dentelles de Montmirail in 1998. They immediately got to work on constructing a new winery, as the vine-land was previously owned by a co-op grower so there wasn't a cellar, in time for the following year's vintage. Being noticed by American wine critic Robert Parker, publisher of the Wine Advocate, among many others probably hasn't done them any harm, nor for the reputation of the relatively recent Côtes du Rhône Villages subzone of Séguret. This cute wee old village lies to the northeast of Avignon not far from Gigondas or Rasteau. The McKinlays also have a handsome-looking Provencal stone gite available for holiday rentals, standing right next to the cellar (handy for a little in situ sampling): see website link below. I actually went to the estate, on a day-tour of the lesser-known southern Rhone wilderness way back in 2003 (the year they purchased a few more vineyards in fact), and met Walter for the first time; and had the opportunity to catch up with him and taste his latest vintages and releases a few months ago at the London International Wine Fair. My thoughts back then (click here to read an article written at the time, scroll right down to the bottom almost) were probably on the lines of "quite good wines with much more potential," and trying them again nearly 10 years later confirmed that they do indeed merit the attention of our Rhone Valley tinged taste buds.

2011 La Source white Côtes du Rhône (35% Grenache blanc, 25% Roussanne, 15% Marsanne, 15% Viognier, 10% Clairette and Bourboulenc) - rich honeyed vs floral and mineral touches, full and rounded vs juicy and crisp, attractive style.
2011 Loubié rosé Séguret Côtes du Rhône Villages (60% Grenache, 40% Syrah from 40 year-old vines) - attractive creamy red fruits vs juicy and crisp mouth-feel, very quaffable rosé and quite elegant actually.
2010 Côtes du Rhône red (60% Grenache, 40% Syrah from 40 year-old vines) - nice fruity juicy spicy style, hints of black cherry and liquorice with a bit of grip vs attractive peppery fruit underneath. €6.25 cellar door.
2009 Tradition Séguret Côtes du Rhône Villages (65% Grenache, 25% Syrah, 10% Carignan from 40 year-old vines) - funky nose with rustic edges vs rich and dark side, pretty firm still vs lush mouth-feel and savoury flavours to finish.
2010 Grande Réserve Séguret Côtes du Rhône Villages (65% Grenache, 35% Syrah from 60 year-old vines) - closed up on the nose to start, leads on to a very concentrated palate with solid structure, firm vs lush vs spicy finish; serious wine, closes up again on the finish but very promising.
2009 Family Reserve Syrah Séguret Côtes du Rhône Villages (100% Syrah from 60 year-old vines) - pretty chocolate oaky to start with layered with thick texture of concentrated peppery black fruits, that oak blends in in the end thanks to its very rich vs solid framework. Wow.
2010 Family Reserve Grenache Séguret Côtes du Rhône Villages (100% Grenache from 60 year-old vines) - not much on the nose initially, moving on to lovely pure peppery Grenache fruit, 'sweet' and lush vs punchy and firm-textured, again very concentrated. Wow-er.

23 October 2012

Portugal: a couple of Ports of the moment

(Updated Feb 2013).
I suppose it's that time of year, when our thoughts start turning to Port and with it Portugal's stunningly landscaped Douro Valley vineyards, where these heady wines are created, and the pretty wee city of Porto, where most of the Port ageing cellars still watch over said river as it floods out into the Atlantic. Although it's a pity we don't tend to sample it all year round, as e.g. a chocolate partner or with soft fruit desserts or mature hard cheeses (but not necessarily Stilton: not convinced about how well they go together. Try it again and you'll see what I mean...). And why don't more Port wineries sell these in half-bottles (you can find some if you look hard enough), as 75cl is too much in one go unless sharing with a few like-minded big sweet tannic red quaffers. Admittedly, the two I've picked here should keep just fine for a week or two once open (but not until next Christmas though!). Here we go then:

2007 Graham's Late Bottled Vintage Port (about £13 Tesco and Asda, £10 on offer). Grape varieties: Touriga Nacional, Touriga Franca, Tinta Roriz, Tinta Barroca and others. Graham's, part of the mighty Symington Family Group, is perhaps more famous for its complex elegant aged Tawny Ports (10, 20, 30, 40 year-old even...), but this  one is a very nice example of this popular 'vintage' look-alike style, which is drinking well now although should soften out a little with a few months or more in bottle. Quite powerful and lush (2007 was a very good vintage) with its 20% alcohol coming through at first, it gets smoother and finer on the finish (especially after being open for a few days) showing an enticing mix of solid dark spicy sweet fruit and tannins set against lovely maturing savoury edges.
Fonseca Bin 27 Finest Reserve (£11.99 Morrison's, Tesco) - equally attractive chunky Port, probably made from a similar blend of varieties as above, this house is now owned by the Fladgate Partnership (Taylor's, Croft). This apparently historic blend (click on their web link under the photo above to discover the story behind it) is definitely a posh Ruby, towards LBV style with plenty of rich dark plum and liquorice, firm tannins nicely balancing out the sweetness and spicy finish with lingering meaty and tobacco notes.
Added Feb 2013: Taylor's 2007 Late Bottled Vintage Port (about £13-£15 Tesco, Asda etc.) - goes to show, in line with the Graham's above, that 2007 was a lovely vintage for this fruity vs structured style of Port. Rich and tasty with dark plums, liquorice and lightly baked / meaty / leather tones, chunky firm tannins vs lush sweet fruit vs oomph and warmth. Very nice with dark chocolate-coated dates and prunes, chocolate mints and blueberries too actually.

More Port articles and winery snapshots are HERE (e.g. Niepoort, Quevedo, Dona Matilde).


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