"Buy my book about the Roussillon 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

27 April 2013

New Zealand: Riesling, Pinot Gris, Gewurztraminer

New Zealand winemakers are well known for their lively expressive Sauvignon Blanc wines and Chardonnays too made in different styles (fresh & fruity, rich and toasty, somewhere in between...). So it makes sense that other 'aromatic' white varieties are coming to the fore in cool climate New Zealand wine country including Riesling, Pinot Gris (Grigio) and Gewurztraminer. Let's not get too excited though: they're still small fry in the vineyard scheme of things, as these three grapes combined amount to about the same area of Chardonnay overall - a bit over 3000 hectares - and are dwarfed by 20,000 ha of ubiquitous Sauvignon blanc. Maybe this is why the wines are quite expensive - you'll struggle to find one under £10 in the UK and €12 in Ireland - but the best are definitely worth a go (think Thai, Chinese or Indian food) and aren't completely in price cloud-cuckoo land when compared to similar quality from Alsace, Germany or Australia.
From forrest.co.nz
Among many fascinating stats in the New Zealand Winegrowers' 2012 Vineyard Register report, I noticed a few other 'aromatic' white varieties lurking around too, in relatively tiny quantities but there's obviously some experimentation going on, such as Albarino, Arneis, Gruner Veltliner, Muscat, Petit Manseng, Pinot Blanc, Verdelho... as well as slightly more substantial plantings of Viognier. Anyway, back to the focus of this piece: these dozen Rieslings, PGs and Gewurzes were mostly sampled at a recent NZ tasting in Dublin hence the € prices, although should be easy enough to find elsewhere in the world.


2011 Felton Road Bannockburn, Central Otago (9.5% abv) - wild lees edges and enticing oily 'kerosene' (!) notes, pretty sweet on the palate (60 g/l residual sugar or RS) underlined by nice fresh acidity, elegant and quite long. A little on the sweet side although does have attractive Riesling character. €18.50
2011 Esk Valley Marlborough (13%) - aromatic floral 'chalky' nose, fairly concentrated citrus fruits then more honeyed on the palate with some oily development vs crisp bite and a touch of roundness too (slightly off-dry style). Quite good, lacks a bit of character perhaps. €14.99
2011 Richmond Plains Nelson (organic, 12%) - developing oily honeyed characters vs quite intense lemon and lime fruit, crisper and 'chalkier' mouth-feel vs off-dry and fairly long finish. €14.75

Pinot Gris

2011 Forrest Wines Marlborough (13.5%) - quite complex maturing fruit showing spicy honeyed notes and ripe cantaloup melon, rounded medium-dry palate with exotic fruit vs still a little freshness riding underneath. £10.99 / €16.50 James Nicholson
2011 Amisfield Central Otago (14%) - quite rich and leesy, honeyed 'waxy' palate vs nutty  spicy and toasty edges even; rounded vs crisp profile, weighty and off-dry finish with refreshing bite too. Good stuff.
2011 Pasquale Hakataramea Valley (13.5%) - juicy and honeyed with fairly exotic sweet fruit, pineapple almost vs yeasty toasty nutty edges, a touch of oomph vs bitter twist on the finish. Nice start, ends up a little bitter though. €26
2011 Babich Marlborough (13.5%) - yeast lees notes and mix of guava and greengage, quite rich then tighter and crisper mouth-feel, fairly dry with light bitter twist. €12.99
2010 Bilancia Hawke's Bay - more golden in colour, oily honeyed developed nose with spice notes, has a bit of oomph vs bitter twist and dry bite, attractive lingering maturing fruit. €18.99


2011 Greystone Waipara Valley (14%) - lightly 'cheesy' vs lush sweet lychee and Turkish Delight, big mouthful of exotic fruit, medium dry with a hint of 'chalky' bite and bitter twist to finish. €20
2011 Te Mania Nelson (organic, 14.5%) - powerful lychee and pineapple aromas / flavours, has a little bite on the palate with lingering perfumed fruit, quite alcoholic although this helps cut through its medium dry/sweet side. €16.99
2010 Villa Maria Single Vineyard Ihumatao, Auckland (13.5%) - developing complex oily notes and pretty intense lychee, has good weight and finishes with a little bitter twist. €26.99
2009 Lawson's Dry Hills Marlborough (14%) - more restrained to start, although turns a bit confected with that Turkish delight, boiled sweets and lychee combo; finishing with a kick and medium dry. €22.50

To follow: New Zealand Pinot Noir focus. And on this blog previously:
Profile on Nobilo (May 2011)

24 April 2013

Southern Rhône: Domaine de Dionysos, Uchaux

Apparently this vineyard goes back to the 18th century, when the Farjon family left Marseille to escape the plague (rather than traffic or gangsters nowadays) and landed in Uchaux to the north of Orange. It was named 'Dionysos' in 1974 by Benjamin's grandfather, the latest generation to get stuck into the earth, in partnership with winegrower Dimitri Théodosiou who owns vineyards in the Visan area. The estate is now certified organic, and these two guys have recently turned their attentions to "working with biodynamics." Varieties planted are what you'd expect for this southern Rhône Valley region: Grenache, Syrah, Mourvèdre, Cinsault, "very old" Carignan and Viognier. Some of these wines are available in Ireland at Byrne hotels (three in Galway and one in Dublin) and Direct Wines/Laithwaite's in the UK (see £ below). Also sold "in the US and elsewhere in Europe" I was told: more @ domainededionysos.com.

2012 La Devèze Viognier - lovely perfumed honeyed apricot notes, juicy and rich palate with a bit of oomph (14% abv), attractive sunny style.
2012 La Devèze rosé Côtes du Rhône (Syrah, Grenache, Cinsault) - juicy red fruits with oily/nutty edges, lively cherry fruit with nice bite on the finish.
2011 La Devèze red Côtes du Rhône (Grenache, Syrah, Cinsault, Carignan) - delicious 'sweet' liquorice and spice, soft and tasty palate, lovely easy-going style. £9.99 for the 2010 at Laithwaite's.
2011 La Cigalette Cairanne (Grenache, Syrah, Mourvèdre mostly) - similar enticing Grenache-led profile with liquorice, ripe raspberry and peppery edges; more concentrated though with firmer mouth-feel and fairly powerful, but still drinking nicely now. £10.99 for the 2010 at Laithwaite's.
2012 Toute nue pour votre plaisir (Syrah with no added SO2 - nue meaning naked or bare) - lovely pure and spicy fruit, quite soft and layered with dark cherry Syrah fruit, bit of grip on the finish vs tasty and fruity.

16 April 2013

World Malbec Day

Further to this blurb just posted on FrenchMediterraneanWine.comIt's tomorrow folks, Wed 17 April, and I'll be busy at an Argentina tasting in Dublin sampling as many Malbecs as I can no doubt (report on that to follow after the event). This 'special Malbec happening' is the latest in a curious fashion for lesser-known grape varieties to cheekily book themselves into everyone's diary once a year (well, for wine geeks at least). As for my other southerly French blog, well, I wrote a mini-series of quite long pieces about a Malbec roadtrip around Cahors country not so long ago, so you could amuse yourself with those I suppose:
Cahors: Malbec roadtrip part1 Château Les Croisille - Château Combel La Serre - Château Tour de Miraval.
Cahors: Malbec roadtrip part 2 Châteaux du Cayrou, Famaey, Métairie Grande du Théron, Latuc.
CahorsMalbec roadtrip part 3 - Châteaux Haute-Serre, La Caminade, Armandière and more...

Back to Argentina, here's a fruity little "Malbec of the mo" tip to be going on with until my full report from said tasting sees the dark of night:
Viñalta Malbec 2012 Mendoza - attractive easy-going 'modern' fruity style with lots of lively berry fruits and spicy vs liquorice hints, soft and rounded palate with a little substance and grip just to finish it off. Marks & Spencer £7.49
Happy, erm, Malbec day then.

More Malbec from Argentina HERE.

World Malbec Day

It's tomorrow folks, Wed 17 April, and I'll be busy at an Argentina tasting in Dublin sampling as many Malbecs as I can no doubt (report on that to follow after the event on WineWriting.com). This 'special Malbec happening' is the latest in a curious fashion for lesser-known grape varieties to cheekily book themselves into everyone's diary once a year (well, for wine geeks at least). As for this southerly French blog, well, I wrote a mini-series of quite long pieces about a Malbec roadtrip around Cahors country not so long ago, so you could amuse yourself with those I suppose:
Cahors: Malbec roadtrip part1 Château Les Croisille - Château Combel La Serre - Château Tour de Miraval.
Cahors: Malbec roadtrip part 2 Châteaux du Cayrou, Famaey, Métairie Grande du Théron, Latuc.
Cahors: Malbec roadtrip part 3 - Châteaux Haute-Serre, La Caminade, Armandière, and more...

And here's a link to a "Malbec of the mo" from Argentina on my other blog:
www.winewriting.com/2013/04/world-malbec-day featuring Viñalta Malbec...
Happy, erm, Malbec day then.

Bordeaux: "under a tenner... mostly."

With the prices of top Bordeaux reds spiralling ever upwards (except for the 2012 vintage perhaps, which the trade and critics are expressing misgivings about quality-wise) making these wines for well-off investors only, it's nice to find a few tasty bottles for under a tenner - and one, the last red featured below, for £15 from M&S though it's very good. The first three tasting-noted here, a red white and rosé trio, are available from the fairly new on-line specialist www.bordeaux-undiscovered.co.uk, picked pretty much at random off their website which looks like it deserves closer inspection. The second two reds are part of Lidl's new upmarket "wine cellar" range (more of those to follow in a separate piece).

Château Ballan-Larquette 2011 Bordeaux blanc (50-50 Sauvignon blanc - Sémillon, 12.5% abv) - intense zesty green fruit, citrus and gooseberry vs oily honeyed rounded texture, quite concentrated with crisp and tasty fruity finish. Lovely dry white. £8.65 Bordeaux Undiscovered.
Château Ballan-Larquette 2011 Bordeaux Clairet (60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 40% Merlot; 13% abv) - rich vibrant colour and red fruit cocktail on the nose / palate vs oily creamy flavours and texture, fairly full-bodied with 'sweet' cherry / berry fruit vs crisp fresh bite on the finish. Serious foodie rosé. £8.45 Bordeaux Undiscovered.
Château Puyanché 2005 Cotes de Castillon (80% Merlot, 20% Cabernet Franc; 13.5% abv) - deep colour still for its age, fairly complex nose with developing savoury notes vs 'earthy' cassis and smoky peppery edges even; quite concentrated and lush vs herbal cedary undertones vs fairly meaty and dark, nice firm dry vs ripe tannin combo, thick textured with a bitter twist yet well-balanced. Tasty red with dried cassis fruit and maturing savoury flavours vs funkier 'inky' side; started to oxidize quite quickly a day after opening, so drink now I'd say. Good value at £9.40.
Puisseguin - Saint Emilion 2011, Leroy Chevalier (Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc; 13% abv) - a tad mean and firm perhaps (probably a symptom of this not spectacular vintage in the region), but otherwise not a bad example of a Merlot based 'Bordeaux right bank' red at a reasonable price, I suppose. £6.99 Lidl ("Wine Cellar" range so not all stores).
Saint Emilion Grand Cru 2010, Union de Producteurs de Saint Emilion (mostly Merlot, 14% abv) - quite big and blowsy actually showing ripe damson and black cherry/currant fruit layered with toasted coconut and vanilla oak, wilder smoky rustic notes too; chunky tannins and palate weight, quite extracted and dry yet has good depth of fruit vs lightly charred and 'rubbery' oak. The tannins and oak are a little clunky right now, but underneath it's surprisingly lush (2010 was a warm ripe vintage) with dark fruit and that wilder smoky side too. It did actually soften up a little after being open for two days, so 6-12 months in bottle certainly wouldn't do it any harm (if you can keep it that long). £9.99 Lidl ("Wine Cellar" range so not all stores).
Château Saint Paul 2010 Haut-Médoc (50% Cabernet Sauvignon, 48% Merlot, 2% Petit Verdot; 14% abv) - rich dark colour and full-on nose of cedary coconut oak vs ripe cassis and plum fruit, pretty serious structured wine with a subtle oak coating adding nice texture to its quite firm dry yet rounded tannins; concentrated and dense with lovely fruit actually, closes up on the finish. Sumptuous wine, drinking ok now (with steak or duck at least) but should keep and improve over a few years. The label's reminiscent of a top estate but I can't remember which one... Marks & Spencer £14.99.

Bordeaux: "under a tenner... mostly."

15 April 2013

South Africa: Grenache

As an enhanced little update to this peppery piece posted last October:
Here are a couple of Cape Grenache reds worth mentioning, discovered at the World Grenache Competition held in the south of France earlier this year... More on that here (overview), here (Roussillon & Chateauneuf), here (Sardinia), here (Spain) and here (Australia).

2012 Waverley Hills Grenache, Tulbagh region (13.5%) - aromatic floral liquorice and pepper on the nose, quite soft and tasty palate with attractive aromatic fruit, touch of tannin adds grip vs nice rounded mouth-feel. Silver Medal winner.
More on Waverley here (goes to South Africa archive page).

2011 Diemersdal Grenache, Durbanville valley (14%) - herby and peppery aromas, quite intense in the mouth with a touch of sweet oak, firm dry mouth-feel vs sweeter wild fruit on the finish.

Roussillon: Jean-Louis Denois, Saint Paul de Fenouillet


There's a lot of talk about "low or no sulphite" wines, and enough examples out there to remind us why most winemakers DON'T go down this more challenging route (sulphur dioxide and related additives are basically used as anti-bacterial agent, anti-oxidant and preservative). Jean-Louis Denois, perhaps better known for his pioneering still, and especially sparkling, Pinot Noir and Chardonnay wines from Limoux (links to other profile on these vineyards and wines) to the north over the 'border' in the Languedoc (as well as experimental plantings of Riesling and Gewurztraminer in the late 90s, deemed 'illegal' at the time by narrow-minded bureaucrats), takes a pretty rational scientific view of this approach while claiming "there's just no alternative." In 2006, he bought a couple of vineyard plots lost between Saint Paul de Fenouillet and Caudiés de Fenouillet, in the upper Agly valley in the far northwestern corner of the Roussillon, which, like all his vineyards, was converted to organics in 2009. But he began to question whether this was enough: "Producing organically is certainly good for the planet, environment, soils and our water; but shouldn't we go further? 'Sulphite free' is also good for our health." Vintage 2012 was the year of the big experiment...
Jean-Louis is convinced, logically enough, that the only way to make good 'stable' wines without adding sulphites is to get "perfect healthy grapes" by controlling yields and sorting them before and after picking; and, naturally, to make sure of "hygienic conditions in the cellar... critical to eliminate the risk of negative bacteria causing off-flavours sometimes observed in natural wines... Only this protocol is able to guarantee stability for this type of wine." He also stresses this is "very different to the idea of letting 'Nature do it alone'." Well, the proof is in the pudding, as that charmingly curious expression goes. And, yes, the wines are good and free from any obvious 'faults' you might possibly find in other 'natural' wines (especially if you're looking for them). They cost about €10-€11 a bottle in France. More info @ www.jldenois.com.

Mes Vignes de Saint Paul 2012 white (Chardonnay) - attractive floral and fresh, juicy and lively nose with nutty yeasty 'straw' like edges; richer honeyed side on the palate vs zingy appley flavours, crisp 'mineral' and dry with light elegant finish; quite long really for 12% alcohol, nice and mouth-watering making it very drinkable yet there's subtle concentration and character too. After a day or two open: does get more appley and nutty / oxidative yet was still juicy and refreshing with appealing sultana notes too.
Mes Vignes de Saint Paul 2012 red (Syrah, Merlot and Grenache) - not showing a lot of rich fruit flavour at first but again it's elegant and balanced (13.5% abv though) with nice textured dry vs silky tannins, subtle ripeness underneath vs enticing savoury edges; very drinkable now actually, you get more black cherry and blueberry fruit as it opens up with peppery, herby and even eucalyptus hints. After a day or two open: gets more savoury and developed (as you'd expect really) with attractive black olive notes too, yet still structured and reasonably fresh.

Some other wines sourced from Caudiès include:
2011 Saint Louis Syrah (9 months in cask, 14% abv) – light spicy coconut tones with rich damson black cherry and cassis, stewed apple and blackberry notes too vs a savoury and earthy wilder side; lush ripe fruit vs firm dry tannins although palate is rounded and smooth too, that spicy coco grain comes back, powerful and structured but balanced. Lingering dark fruit with subtle oak and tannin texture, lots of peppery vs ripe cherry/berry fruit edged with spicy earthy notes then grip and punch. Second day open – more savoury and rustic edged with liquorice flavours, concentrated and still powerful with sweet fruit and lovely dry/rounded tannins. Good stuff, needs a little more time in bottle perhaps although approachable now.
2007 Saint Louis Syrah pays d'Oc (14%) - a bit 'soupy' / volatile / wild edged, but it's lush and concentrated too, thick dry textured vs ripe and silky tannins, turning to black olive and meaty / leather. Big wine vs rounded and quite mature.
2012 Les Oliviers white Sud de France (blend of mostly Chardonnay plus a little Muscat from the Fenouillèdes and some Chenin from Roquetaillade; 11.8%, organic) - nice aromatic nose, floral and grapey vs peach and citrus, dry crisp and elegant palate with attractive simple tasty fruit and zesty 'chalky' finish. €7

More on JLD's Limoux wines etc. HERE.

13 April 2013

Wine Education Service NI courses & tastings update

April update: Le Tour de France one-day wine workshop has been rescheduled to Saturday 1st June: £80 for the day including lunch, about a dozen wines for tasting, course notes and tuition. More details about this and other workshops here: wine-education-service.co.uk/workshop

And don't forget the hot Wines of Southern France tutored tasting on Tuesday 30 April (£30 or £50 for two) - "Tasting and talking about 8 wines in all colours from across the 'big south' featuring classic styles from e.g. Bordeaux, Cahors, Languedoc, Roussillon, Provence and the southern Rhône Valley."
Full listing of wine tastings and courses running in Belfast city centre to end of June 2013 and on-line booking are here: www.wine-education-service.co.uk/wine-tasting-belfast
Or pay for evening tutored tastings by PayPal:

Select tasting:

06 April 2013

Wine Education Service NI courses & tastings update

Further to this Wine Education Service courses & tastings March update: "There are four Wine Education Service NI events scheduled in Belfast city centre over the next few weeks, tutored by RMJ..." Here's an April update:
Le Tour de France one-day wine workshop has been rescheduled to Saturday 1st June: £80 for the day including lunch, about a dozen wines for tasting, course notes and tuition. More details about this and other workshops here:
And don't forget the hot Wines of Southern France tutored tasting on Tuesday 30 April (£30 or £50 for two) - "Tasting and talking about 8 wines in all colours from across the 'big south' featuring classic styles from e.g. Bordeaux, Cahors, Languedoc, Roussillon, Provence and the southern Rhône Valley."
Full listing of wine tastings and courses running in Belfast to end of June 2013 and on-line booking are here: www.wine-education-service.co.uk/wine-tasting-belfast

Or pay for evening tutored tastings by PayPal:

Select tasting:

04 April 2013

"Chablis on foot" part 1: Chablis Wine Awards

Stop press: Chablis: special focus report now available
"You can now get a handy PDF supplement featuring all three parts of my recent Chablis wine touring mini-series (see below), plus bonus pieces on a Chablis Grand Cru tasting and spotlight on M&S Chablis penned last year (and any of my other recent in-depth features). The full-works twenty-page Chabbers report in lovely PDF format emailed to you when you subscribe for just £10 (about $16 or €12) a yearOR BUY IT FOR £2.50 (about €3 or $4) - snap it up quick with PayPal!" Click on title above to find the PP buttons...

As a gentle warm-up to more in-depth reflections and my pick of wines and wineries from a recent tour in and around Chablis land (including a day's cellar hopping on foot, as is easy to do in Chablis town), we'll whet our appetite for the region's distinctive, possibly unique even, take on the Chardonnay grape by featuring all 22 medal-winners from this year's Chablis Wine Awards, which we sampled at a tutored tasted on 4th March. So, for what it's worth (as the fanfare has already been heralded), this is what I thought of them, mostly 2011 vintage wines plus a trio of Grands Crus from the excellent 2010. More info @ chablis.fr. And many more words on the Chablis area (including hotel and restaurant tips), vineyards, vintages and some of the podium-topping producers cited below (Fèvre, Moreau, Chablisienne, Geoffroy, Droin, Long-Depaquit, Bordet...) have now been cunningly packaged into another two enticing instalments: Part 2 and Part 3...


From chablisgrandcru.com
Hectares more on Chablis HERE (goes to archive Burgundy page inc. Grand Cru tasting and links to the rest of my "Chablis on foot" series).

02 April 2013

Languedoc: Domaine de la Marfée, Montpellier

By coincidence (apologies in advance for the linguistic pun for those of you who do French), La Marfée is Francoise and Thierry Hasard's baby, a name I just chanced across on my other blog in a post about Alain and Isabelle Hasard's Les Champs de l'Abbaye estate in Burgundy. I've since found out that Alain and Thierry are indeed brothers, so it must have been vinous fate that I tasted both guys' wines at the same event. In any case, moving swiftly back to the Languedoc and more specifically a village called Murviel-lès-Montpellier found on the northwestern outskirts of said southern French city (next door to St. Georges d'Orques), where I met Thierry recently and sampled La Marfée range (at Millésime Bio organic wine show in fact), a name I sort-of knew but wasn't very familiar with his wines. These are sourced from several different plots around the village, which have been treated to the biodynamic way since 2003. Thierry decided to take this plunge after "a very convincing introductory training course by Pierre Masson," and says he notices the difference in vineyard and vine health and performance. More @ www.la-marfee.com where I copied this intriguing photo from:

Not making meringue but "dynamizing cow horn dung!"
2010 Frissons d'Ombelles white (mostly Roussanne + Chardonnay & Petit Manseng) - enticing yeast lees and toasty tones, seems quite concentrated then closes up on a tight finish; not very obvious at the moment or is there something missing? Overpriced at £15.50.
2010 Les Gamines (50% Mourvèdre + Syrah & Grenache) - aromatic fruit with rustic edges, rich dark palate with meaty and black cherry/olive flavours, tasty ripe dried black fruits developing savoury notes, attractive chunky mouth-feel yet the tannins are quite soft. Good stuff. £13.50 €20.45
2010 Della Francesca (mostly Mourvèdre) - again this is fairly supple and layered with concentrated dark cherry and raisin fruit vs a light bitter twist, meaty savoury flavours vs that 'sweet' fruit, nice balance and style in the end. £18
2010 Les Vignes qu'on abat (old vine Carignan) - rustic 'inky' aromas, concentrated though with lively fruit and good depth, nice fresh bite on the finish. £25
2010 Champs murmurés (Syrah, Mourvèdre) - spicier with lots of black cherry, again a light bitter twist of tannin (but not astringent) adds to its tasty long finish. £25
Some of these wines are available from Leon Stolarski in the UK (£ prices above) and Le Caveau in Kilkenny, Ireland (€).


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