"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

26 December 2016

Spain: Cava and Rioja 'of the moment'

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

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

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

22 December 2016

France: Bordeaux and Burgundy 'of the moment'

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

10 December 2016

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

Cono Sur Sparkling Pinot Noir Rosé Brut (12% abv) - Bio Bio Valley, Chile. Stylish and elegant fizz with delicate sweet red berry fruit, enhanced by light yeast-lees tones and fairly crisp finish. £8 on offer at Tesco (usually £10) and other supermarkets...

23 November 2016

Germany: Riesling 'of the moment'

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

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

27 October 2016

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

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

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

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

26 October 2016

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

Ravenswood Lodi Old Vine Zinfandel 2014 (14.5% abv) - California, USA. Tasty reminder that Zinfandel is indeed a 'black' grape variety for making solid wild-edged red wines (as opposed to crap rosé), this is smoky and chewy with rich sunny fruit. Sainsbury's £10 (occasionally on offer at £8).

18 October 2016

Merlot pie



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

02 October 2016

Wine Education Service Belfast tastings and courses: revised programme

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

27 September 2016

Cahors: Combel La Serre, Haute-Serre, Mercuès

Malbec crush

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

Château Combel La Serre

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

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

Château de Haute-Serre

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

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

Château de Mercuès

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

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

26 September 2016

More 'white grapes of the moment'

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

09 September 2016

French wine tasting & touring e-magazine updated


This substantial 'digital magazine' is an amalgam of pay-to-view supplements and guides originally written for this blog, with 15 pages of exclusive new material added in September 2016. Wine recommendations, winemaker profiles, regional mini-guides, travelling and eating tips, opinions and news from, extensively, the Languedoc with an extra in-depth Saint-Chinian report, and Cahors; plus Alsace (Grands Crus), Chablis wine touring and independent wine-growers' Champagne mini-guide.

18 August 2016

White grape varieties 'of the moment'

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

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

07 August 2016

Australia: 2005 vintage Semillon vs Shiraz

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

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

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

23 July 2016

Italy: Sicily, Puglia, Veneto, Trentino

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

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

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

10 July 2016

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

Misty Valle de Limarí from www.winesofchile.org

WHITE WINES

Casa Marín Lo Abarca Riesling 2015, San Antonio Valley (12.5% abv) - Delicate floral style with 'mineral' notes and subtle crisp white peach fruit. £10 Marks & Spencer.
Cono Sur Riesling Reserva Especial 2015, Bio Bio Valley (13.5% abv) - Oilier fuller style with more ripe lime vs zesty 'chalky' undertones, fair depth and class too. £9-£10 Tesco.

03 July 2016

Posh Chardonnay: California, South Africa, Australia

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

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

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

19 June 2016

Portugal: 'wines of the moment'

Quinta de la Rosa

Douro Valley

Quinta de Fafide Reserva 2013 (Tinta Roriz, Touriga Franca, Touriga Nacional, 14% abv) - Fairly serious and concentrated, towards 'modern style' red with ripe berries and spice, firm but nicely textured tannins with a touch of oak. Marks & Spencer £10...

09 June 2016

Spain: Sherry and Jamón Ibérico



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

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

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

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

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

04 June 2016

English Wine Week and wine guide

From www.lymebaywinery.co.uk

To mark ‘English Wine Week’ 2016 (to 5th June), I’ve done the second comprehensive update this year to my English wine mini-guide to include a couple of new names on the English wine scene, small and so far quite hush-hush, and a couple of conspicuously missing big names: Exton Park Vineyard (Hampshire), Sixteen Ridges (Worcestershire & Herefordshire), Denbies Wine Estate (Surrey), Lyme Bay Winery (Devon). And, for the first time, broadened the reach to take in ‘still’ whites, rosés and reds (the focus had previously been just on 'traditional method' sparklers).
This latter wine 'offering' used to be dominated by several lesser-known and Germanic sounding grape varieties – and some of them can make good wine e.g. Bacchus, Ortega, Reichensteiner – but, while tasting on the English Wine Producers stand at the recent London Wine Trade fair (along with a lot of other people it has to be said), it became clear that there’s an increasing amount of good quality Chardonnay and Pinot Noir coming our way. Not surprising perhaps, when you read (see guide for details) that these two ‘Champagne’ varieties are now the most planted, especially across southern England for creating traditional method fizz. So it makes absolute sense to offer wine consumers recognisable non-sparkling styles too from very recognisable varieties, particularly as some of these are rather tasty in an English ‘Chablis style’ for Chardonnay and light aromatic ‘Burgundy style’, or not dissimilar to certain 'German style', Pinot Noir reds. The main problem is the usual UK wine production dilemma: relatively small quantities mean prices remain quite high.
I’ve updated some of the existing winery profiles in this guide as well, with new vintage releases and labels which have also been highlighted: e.g. Hattingley Valley (Hampshire), Hush Heath Estate Winery (Kent), Chapel Down Winery (Kent), Furleigh Estate (Dorset). Buy the full-works 20-page PDF magazine for £1.99 using the PayPal button below to pay by card or using your own account (select it in drop-down menu).


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

24 May 2016

Wine Education Service NI: new dates added in Belfast

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

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

10 May 2016

France: 'wines of the moment'

Burgundy

Domaine Marguerite Dupasquier Rully blanc 2013 (13% abv) - I bought a few bottles of this over a year ago (click to see note made on International Chardonnay Day last May); this was the last one and what a revelation. Buttery and almost exotic with light toasty coconut edges, nicely rounded and creamy yet still has some fresh bite too. £10.50 Asda.

Champagne

P. Desroches Brut non-vintage (Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier, 12%) - Made by the Nicolas Feuillatte winery actually, this stylish well-made crowd-pleaser confirms that Marks & Spencer know what they're doing on the Champers front. Elegant yet toasty/yeasty, eminently drinkable at £14.50 on offer! It supposedly usually costs £29, but I wouldn't pay that for it. Funny how the other multiple grocers, including Tesco who was the worst offender, have stopped doing these so-called (and dishonest) half-price deals (which blatantly aren't), but Marks is still doing it on certain Champers labels anyway. Mustn't grumble ah.
Buy my Champagne e-supplement HERE.

Languedoc

Alain Grignon Carignan Sélection Vieilles Vignes 2013, Pays d'Hérault (12.5%) - Attractive example of the fashion for making varietal reds from old-vine Carignan, this is aromatic and quite soft with fairly intense berry fruit flavours. Dunne's €12.50/€9 on offer in the Republic/about £9-£10 in Belfast? (Most of Dunne's NI stores aren't licensed it appears).
Laurent Miquel Syrah 'special edition' 2014, Pays d'Oc (13%) - Lovely pure peppery black cherry fruit with a light bitter twist of tannin on the palate, plenty of sexy Syrah style but reasonably subtle with it. Dunne's €9 on offer.
Domaine Jones
Fitou 2014 (old vine Carignan, Grenache, Syrah from 15 small plots; 14.5%) - Concentrated (blue)berry fruit with uplifting crunchy vs sweet profile mix, lively spicy and powerful finish. £87-£95 case of 6 (depending on mix).
Blanc Barrique 2010 (Grenache gris, 13.5%) - The follow up vintage to apparently a 'by accident' barrel-aged white, made in limited quantities, this is quite oaky to start yet has delicious nutty oxidised and oily characters and rounded texture, unusual and tasty. £80 for 6.
Château l'Argentier E&F Jourdan Cinsault Vieilles Vignes 2014 (old vines) - Lovely aromatic sweet fruit, soft and oily palate although actually pretty concentrated with mature vs fresh finish. £14.99 Red Squirrel Wine.
Château Montfin Saint-Jacques 2014 Corbières blanc (Roussanne, Grenache blanc, organic) - Concentrated and intense dry white, zingy yeast-lees notes vs oily rounded mouth-feel, lovely wine. £90 for 6 Joie de Vin. More Montfin HERE.

More of the latest from the Jones', Argentier, Montfin and lots more besides from the Languedoc to follow as an update to my 'French wine tasting and touring' e-magazine (drawn from extensive tastings at the recent 'Outsiders' tasting in Dublin and at the London Wine Fair)...

Bordeaux and the South-West

Château Lassègue Saint-Emilion Grand Cru 2006 (Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, 13.5% abv) - This posh chateau is found lurking among some of the Saint-Emilion region's best vineyard sites, and is part of the Jackson Family Wines' group, "a collection of premium wineries owned privately by Barbara Banke and the Jackson family," the blurb says, probably better known for their West Coast US wines. Still dense and quite oaky for a ten year-old red, although with distinct brownish hints to its otherwise dark colour, it shows a classy mix of lush plummy fruit, maturing meaty notes and spicy nicely textured oak/tannin combo to finish. c. £25 a bottle - £152 for a case of 6 from closcru.com.
Domaine de la Maletie Monbazillac 2013 (Sémillon, Sauvignon blanc, 12.5%) - Bargain Sauternes replacement made in the same way but in Monbazillac on the Dordogne River in the Bergerac region. Delicious exotic apricot marmalade nose with spicy 'volatile' edges, lush and sweet but with nicely balanced freshness and lighter touch. £7.99 Lidl.
Combel la Serre 'Pur Fruit de Causse' 2014 Cahors (Malbec, 12.5%) - Alluring fruity 'funky' nose, very Malbec berry and spice style though with light bite and grip. £13.99 Red Squirrel Wine. Update on CLS to follow, and lots more Cahors HERE.

Alsace

JP Muller 2012 Riesling Engelberg Grand Cru (12.5%) - Pretty classy dry white at this price: classic developing Riesling nose with aromatic oily 'mineral' notes, similar maturing palate profile yet still quite concentrated with some fresh bite and elegant finish. €12.99/€9.99 on offer Lidl (Ireland).

08 May 2016

'Off the beaten track' wines of the moment

Henners Brut Reserve 2010 - East Sussex, England (Chardonnay, Pinot Noir; 12% abv) - Classy fizz: buy my English sparkling wine guide to find out more (which will be updated soon-ish following extensive tasting in London recently: fizz and still wines including a couple of new English vineyard names). £34.99 Virgin Wines, c. £180 for 6 Henners online shop...

24 April 2016

Spain: 'wines of the moment'

Catalonia
Vintage Cava 2011 Brut Nature Jaume Serra (Xarel.lo, Parellada, Macabeu, Chardonnay, 11.5% abv) - Attractive drink-now and dry version ('nature' here means zero added dosage) of the popular favourite, with oily roundness and a touch of style. Tesco 'finest' £7.
Marqués del Norte Vintage Cava Brut 2013 (11.5% abv) - Asda has been knocking out this own-label fizz at a ludicrous bargain £4! Also made by the Jaume Serra winery, less developed and fresher than above although more off-dry.
Frares Priorat 2014 (Garnacha, Carinena, 15% abv) - Tasty example of this often very expensive Catalan red from the hills behind Tarragona, full-on spicy liquorice with oomph and plenty of lush fruit. Marks & Spencer £13

Montilla – Moriles
Fresquito PX 2014 Perez Barquero (Pedro Ximenez, 14% abv) - Deliciously different dry white with the lively yeasty almond edges reminiscent of Fino Sherry, but a touch 'lighter' in style (despite that quite high alcohol). Marks & Spencer £9, on offer at £42 for 6 bottles online (late April).

Rioja
Marqués de Valido Reserva 2010 Bodegas Muriel (Tempranillo, 13% abv) - Always reliable Co-Op own-brand Rioja, not the greatest Reserva style around but has plenty of maturing charm and smoky smoothness for the price. £8.99
Perez Burton Tempranillo 2013 Telmo Rodriguez (14%) - A touch classier and more concentrated version from this well-known consultant winemaker. M & S £11.50.

Yecla - Murcia
Tapa Roja old vines Monastrell 2014 Bodegas del Mediterraneo (14.5% abv) - Same delicious unoaked style as the previous vintage featured on this blog a year ago (click there), layered with earthy dark fruit and black olive flavours. M & S £9/£7 on offer (late April).

Jerez/Sanlúcar de Barrameda - Andalusia
12 Year Old Oloroso Sherry Emilio Lustau (Palomino Fino, 20% abv) - Labelled as 'medium dry', but I think its inherent characteristic richness makes it taste less dry than it actually probably is. Towards stunning aged sherry for a bargain price, rich and baked walnut-y with complex lingering flavours. Sainsbury's 'taste the difference' £8 50cl.
La Gitana Manzanilla Bodegas Hidalgo (Palomino Fino, 15% abv) - Classic style dry and lively sherry with roasted salted almond notes and tangy finish. 50cl £8 Sainsbury's/widely available.

14 April 2016

Languedoc: Domaines Paul Mas, organic frog

LATEST UPDATE HERE (Sept. 2016)

You can't knock Domaines Paul Mas' boss Jean-Claude Mas for coming up with something new every year (at least) to taste and write about. His Arrogant Frog range appears to be doing well in export markets with a sense of humour - and the wines are mostly good too - which has now been boosted by a couple of organic labels too. Mas says this is part of an overall strategy, perhaps since buying the 30-hectare Mas des Tannes organic vineyard in Montagnac in the central Languedoc, across the road from their head office, winery and showcase restaurant/wine shop, which "has always been managed without any synthetic chemical products," the press blurb claims. Inspired by the 2015 vintage and "the outstanding quality of the fruit we picked... This year, we have been experimenting with low SO2 fermentation techniques and the results are convincing: the cuvées without sulphur taste far better than those to which sulphur has been used throughout the fermentation and they continue to develop in intensity,” Jean-Claude exuded.
So, I recently sampled five Mas wines positioned in this increasingly fashionable camp - whether they're worth the extra money for being organic or without added sulphites is another argument I suppose, one which will be decided by his regular wine punters. But this progressive winery is obviously trying to 'do the right thing' in terms of the environment and health. These were my favourites then...

Arrogant Frog Organic Chardonnay 2014 - 100% Chardonnay sourced from Limoux in the western Languedoc (vineyards farmed organically for 10 years), 20% of it fermented and aged for 3 months in American oak barrels, 13.5% abv. Tasty Chardy style, well made with subtle oak and yeast-lees notes complementing juicy vs sunny peachy fruit. £9.75 Vintage Roots.
Arrogant Frog Organic Ribet Rouge 'Rural' 2014 - 55% Cabernet Sauvignon / 45% Merlot, 25% of the blend aged for 3 months in new oak, 13.5% abv. Nice enough soft red, a bit too easy for the money though just because it's organic. £9.75 Vintage Roots.
Cuvée Secrète 2014 Merlot / Cabernet Franc - organic with no added sulphites, no oak, 14% abv. Quite serious red, chunky and concentrated with savoury/meaty edges, firm and spicy palate with cooked damson vs soy sauce flavours. Good stuff. £9.75 Vintage Roots.
Mas des Tannes Réserve Rouge 2014 - organic 55% Cabernet Sauvignon / 35% Grenache / 10% Mourvèdre, 6 months in French and American oak, 14% abv. Probably the best of these reds, richer spice and sweet berry fruit combo, structured yet rounded mouth-feel with good depth. Should improve over the next year or so. £12.95 Soho Wine Supply.

More about Jean-Claude Mas and his wines on this blog:

13 April 2016

New wine tasting events in Belfast

First of all, a quick reminder of the next tasting coming up in May:

Looney Tunes' Tasmanian Devil
downloaded from You Tube.

Thursday 19 May 6.45-8.30pm
'Island wines' tasting £28.95
This original tutored tasting will hop around from one island to another across the world taking in six to eight wines (depending on numbers), travelling from the Mediterranean (Corsica, Sardinia, Sicily, Greece...) to where the Indian Ocean meets the South Pacific (Tasmania, New Zealand...).

03 April 2016

2016 Wine Blog Awards


Submissions now being taken for 2016 awards

Feel free to nominate this blog WineWriting.com & French Mediterranean Wine in as many categories as you see fit before 15 April. Merci.
Follow this link: wineblogawards.org
Or via this post on my Google+ page: plus.google.com.

22 March 2016

English wine guide updated

The latest vintages - the delicious exuberant 2010 and finely 'structured' 2011 - of 'Champagne style' (they won't like me saying that, I can hear expensive-suited lawyers in Reims dictating a letter as I write...) sparkling wines from Henners Vineyard and Ridgeview Winery, both in East Sussex, have been added to my 15-page English Sparkling Wine PDF supplement, as well as some news on the 2015 harvest, burgeoning vineyard plantings and fizz production figures and other useful tit-bits of info. Buy it using the PayPal button below to pay by card or using your own account.

Henners 2010 Reserve and happy tasters in the background.



Click HERE for more about card payments, your privacy and terms and conditions. I will email the PDF supplement to you once I receive payment confirmation from PayPal. Enjoy.

12 March 2016

India - Grover Zampa

You may be tempted to think where don't they grow vines nowadays, but India appears to be shaping up into more than a pleasant surprise on the wine front. Kanwal Grover planted this company's first vineyard in 1992 with the help of certain prominent French wine consultants. Son Kapil expanded their plantings to a substantial 400 acre estate, or 162 hectares; and latest generation daughter Karishma studied oenology and viticulture at the famous University of California Davis.
Nashik in the Maharashtra region, lying north-east and a little inland of Mumbai, is considered the 'wine capital of India' and is where Grover's winery is based; they also own vineyards in another important production area in Karnataka, to the north-east of Bangalore in the Nandi Hills lurking in India's southern half, where grapes are grown at altitude as you probably guessed.
Grover Zampa's UK importer is Character Wines, where I copied the map from. More info on groverzampa.in, or check out this new book - 'the wines of India' by Peter Csizmadia-Honigh.

Grover Zampa Art Collection 2014 Sauvignon blanc – grassy green pepper notes then lively citrus fruits and zesty crisp finish. Good SB style. £10.99
Grover Zampa Art Collection 2014 Viognier – lightly exotic apricot fruit with zesty 'chalky' edges and fairly crisp mouth-feel, attractive easy-going style. £10.99
Grover Zampa VA 2013 Reserve Viognier (barrel-fermented) – richer texture and bigger mouthful, less Viognier character though and rather expensive. £15.99
Grover Zampa Art Collection 2014 Shiraz rosé – juicy 'gummy' palate with fruity ripe red berries, lively and crisp finish; nice dry rosé. £10.99
Grover Zampa Art Collection 2013 Cabernet/Shiraz – very ripe blackberry spice and dark chocolate on the nose (no oak though apparently), fairly punchy mouth-feel yet soft and smoky too with nice 'sweet/savoury' fruit vs light bitter twist on the finish. £10.99
Grover Zampa 2012 La Reserve (Cabernet Sauvignon) – quite spicy and punchy actually with cassis undertones, firmer palate with herby juicy blackcurrant fruit; could go well with lamb curry if not too spicy. £12.99
Grover Zampa VA 2013 Syrah/Cabernet Sauvignon/Viognier (oak aged) – spicy too and more structured although less firm with more 'substance', tight long and spicy finish. Could be good when it opens up a bit. £15.99 though.

03 March 2016

Lebanon: Heritage and Ksara


As a timely update to my substantial Lebanese wine and food page HERE, the latest vintages from the two widely exported wineries Château Heritage and Château Ksara are reviewed below. These also both feature in more detail in that archive material: from a trip to Lebanon in 2005 and tasted on other occasions since in 2008 and 2011.

Château Heritage
Run by the latest generation of the Touma family, who set up the present-day winery operation in 1997 - their history of owning vineyards mostly for distilling Arak goes back to the late 19th century though - in Kab-Elias in the high-altitude Bekaa Valley (1000 metres above sea level). They seem to specialise in holding back their top red wines for late release to mature them longer in bottle; and I didn't try their quirky fortified walnut liqueur on this occasion, but follow the Lebanon page link above (and scroll down) if that raises your curiosity (curious being the right word). UK importer = Lebanese Fine Foods & Wines. www.chateauheritage.com

Château Heritage 2008 'Château' (60% Syrah, 40% Cabernet Sauvignon; 12 months in French oak) - Touches of cedary coconut on the nose mingle with maturing notes and spicy black cherry fruit, quite punchy with a little grip still and attractive sweet/savoury fruit on the finish. Good. £11
Château Heritage 2008 'Family Reserve' (50% Syrah, 50% Cabernet Sauvignon; 12 months in American oak) - More coconut oak on the nose, more concentrated too with grippier mouth-feel; a tad extracted and oaky perhaps but has good depth vs structure. £12
Château Heritage 2012 'Plaisir du Vin' (50% Cabernet + Cinsault/Syrah; 6 months in French oak) - Aromatic cassis and liquorice aromas with a bit of vanilla oak adding sweetness and roundness, fairly soft and drinking nicely now. £6

Château Ksara
You'll see from my previous ramblings and musings about Ksara (follow the HERE link as mentioned above to my Lebanon archive page) that I've been disappointed with their wines in the past, but this time I seem to have been more impressed and liked a few of them in particular when tasting the whole range again. They claim to be "the country's oldest winery" - Jesuits bought the property (pic. top taken from their site) in the mid 19th century and planted more vineyards etc. - and it's been owned by a consortium backed by the Sara family since 1973 overseen by long-standing chairman Zafer Chaoui. www.chateauksara.com

2013 Chardonnay - Nutty and oaky touches enhanced by sweet citrus fruit and some freshness still too, drinking now. Nice Chardy but expensive at nearly £14 (unless that's a restaurant list price?).
2014 Gris de Gris rosé - Zingy and lively redcurrant and berry fruit, gets creamier on the palate vs zesty finish. Attractive mouthful and style. £9
2013 Le Prieuré red (Carignan, Cab Sauv, Mourvedre) - Ripe and 'resin-y' vs spicy / herby nose, firm fresh and structured mouth-feel vs a lusher side with perfumed fruit. Nice red. £8.15
2013 Reserve du Couvent red (Cab Sauv, Syrah, Cabernet Franc) - Leafy / cedary with cassis and black cherry, pretty firm palate vs powerful and concentrated. A tad 'extracted' but has good depth of fruit. £9
2012 Clos St Alphonse red (Syrah, Cab Sauv, Cab Franc) - Aromatic cassis and dark cherry with maturing savoury edges, 'crunchier' fruit and quite firm on the palate at first but finishing with a lusher softer texture, quite powerful and long too. Marks & Spencer does a good own-label version of this for £10.
2012 Cuvée IIIeme Millenaire (Cab Franc, Petit Verdot, Syrah) - Cedar and red pepper hints vs lush dark olive and cherry, better tannins and concentrated with enticing sweet/savoury fruit finish. Good. £24
2010 Le Souverain (50-50 Cab Franc-Arinarnoa (Petit Verdot/Merlot crossing apparently)) - Cedar and red pepper notes again, pretty dense extracted and firm mouth-feel with smoky oak but it's very concentrated; still surprisingly young although it is quite firm and oaky. £37


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