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

04 November 2018

Germany: Saale-Unstrut region (and more).

The Saale-Unstrut wine area lies in eastern Germany roughly between Leipzig and Erfurt along the banks of those two eponymous rivers: most of the vineyards are actually in the state of Saxony. Production here is small compared to Germany's other wine regions with less than 800 hectares of vines, often on steep terraced hillsides around the towns of Naumburg, Freyburg (see photos left and below) and Laucha for example. About a quarter of the various grape varieties planted are red, alongside a fair amount of Riesling, Weissburgunder (Pinot Blanc), Grauburgunder (Pinot Grigio), Silvaner, Muller-Thurgau et al. Here's half-a-dozen recommended bottles enjoyed on a recent stay in Naumburg (nice old town) and Berlin (awesome city).
Winzerhof Gussek 2017 Rosé trocken Gutswein (12.5% abv) - Blend of Spätburgunder (Pinot Noir), Portugieser and Blauer Zweigelt. By the way, "Germany is the world's third largest producer of Pinot Noir..." according to www.germanwines.de. Attractive crisp 'French style' rosé with light berry fruits and fresh finish. €8
2017 Blanc de Noirs (12% abv) from the same family winery in Naumburg - Dry white made from 100% Spätburgunder, giving a fairly complex nutty and yeast-lees edged wine underlined by crisp length. €9.50
Winzervereinigung Freyburg-Unstrut 2016 Dornfelder trocken (winemaker Kathleen Romberg, 12% abv) - Despite its very deep colour, this red made from the Dornfelder variety has supple mouth-feel with lots of enticing peppery wild fruit flavours. €5.99
Weingut Dr. Hage Traminer trocken Gutswein (12.5% abv) - Lovely aromatic off-dry white with floral lychee notes, quite rounded palate with subtle exotic fruit then fresher finish. €4.99
Rotkäppchen Sekt Rosé trocken (11% abv) - This sparkling winery is located in Freyburg in the Saale-Unstrut region, but the wine used as a base to the recipe comes from a much wider area (they produce big volumes I think, to keep up with the Germans' insatiable appetite for bubbly no doubt). Medium-dry really but nice crisp and refreshing acidity underlines this fruity and lightly yeasty rosé fizz. €3.99
Jochen Uebel 2016 Chardonnay trocken, Pfalz (13% abv) - This wine estate in the Pfalz region appears to make some good Chardonnay, this one is their unoaked version offering plenty of ripe citrus fruit enhanced by attractive buttery flavours and fresh bite. €8

There's a slideshow of more wine trail photos from this trip on my Wine Education Service Facebook page HERE.

14 October 2018

Belfast wine tastings and courses autumn 2018 to spring 2019

Updated November 2018:
The Wine Education Service NI (that's me) program of wine tasting courses starting this autumn is (drum roll)...
Saturday 2 February 2019 - France and Italy workshop.
Saturday 30 March 2019 - Grape to Glass workshop.
Thursday evenings 25 April to 23 May 2019 inclusive - Essential Wine Tasting five-week course.
Prices: £90 for a Saturday wine workshop including lunch, course manual, tasting samples (of at least a dozen diverse high-quality wines) and glass of wine with lunch and tuition. Runs 10.45 to 16.45 approx with breaks and lunch served in the room.
EWT 5-week course: £125 including tasting samples (six or so wines per session), course manual and tuition. Timing: 18.45 to 20.30 approx.
Wine tasting glasses supplied free for each event, although you're welcome to buy your own set (usually six in a box) and bring along. Unfortunately, WES NI does not keep a supply of tasting glasses for sale.
Venue: Lord Lucan Room, McHugh's bar & restaurant, 29-31 Queen's Square, Belfast BT1 3FG.
For further information and online booking, please visit the Wine Education Service website, send an email via the contact form on this blog or check out the WES NI Facebook page Facebook.com/WineEducationServiceNI.

Wine tutor RMJ tasting at Domaine Madeloc (Banyuls-sur-mer, France), pretending to be serious (slightly).

WES terms and conditions apply, which will be emailed with your invoice or can be viewed on this blog HERE. Over 18s only. Wine Education Service NI does not sell wine - our wine tastings and classes are designed to be purely educational and informal while focusing on getting more enjoyment out of tasting wine; we source high quality representative samples from a variety of different retailers.

31 July 2018

Madeira: Henriques & Henriques and D'Oliveiras

Henriques & Henriques wine cellar is found just up the hill in the touristy fishing village of Câmara de Lobos a few kilometres to the west of Funchal, which is one of the main grape-growing areas on the island. These mostly small blocks of vineyard are strung along dangerous terraces lying above miniature banana plantations and steep market gardens, and offer a spectacularly dramatic backdrop to the town whether approaching from the coastal path to the east or staggeringly winding and elevated cliff-edged roads to the west as you descend into its vast awesome natural amphitheatre.
The Henriques family were already longstanding landowners in this area supplying grapes to Madeira houses in Funchal before setting up their own cellar in 1850, Maria Aguiar informed me on a trip there last month. By 1925, the company was known as Henriques & Henriques named after the two brothers, Francisco Eduardo and João Joaquim, who expanded the business focusing on their own production and especially for export. Traditionally, the main markets were the UK and US, although Japan for example among others has now become very important. Germany continues to take the largest volume of Madeira wines, but this is mostly entry-level quality: H&H's three year old sweet wine is still the biggest seller in Europe. The last of the Henriques family involved in the business passed away without heirs in 1969 when it was bought out by the remaining partners.
In 1994, H&H moved location from Funchal to the new ageing cellar, offices and shop in Câmara de Lobos; and a modern winemaking facility was also built nearby at their Quinta Grande property which was replanted to become their principal vineyard covering ten hectares. This lies at 600-700 metres altitude where the micro-climate can be cool and misty, so the vines were trellised using contemporary techniques to create better canopy exposure. The minimum potential alcohol content of grapes only has to be nine percent (by volume) by law though (remembering that the final wines are fortified anyway), with picking taking place as early as mid August but sometimes lasting into October progressing from vineyards by the sea and working upwards to the high ground.
H&H doesn't grow the island's predominant (red) grape variety, Tinta Negra, at Quinta Grande, as it can easily be purchased from other growers; the focus here is on the so-called noble white varieties as well as the very rare Terrantez grape (maybe from northern Portugal originally). "We are the largest producer (relatively speaking), but there's very little left," Maria told me. "Some growers are replanting Terrantez because of its premium price." Hence why the winery only makes limited-edition gracefully matured wines from it.
Coming back to H&H's barrel cellar and tasting room in Câmara, the facility houses three storeys for cask ageing. Maria explained that, by removing the bottling plant and other winemaking equipment (now at Quinta Grande), they made room to be able to reassemble those traditional big tuns. They also have their own cooper and workshop there, which you don't see much nowadays, as "barrels are reused for decades so are cleaned and repaired here." At ground level, there are some standard stainless steel vats used for storing base wine and aged wines drawn from cask waiting to be bottled. I spotted three rows of new barrels as well belonging to whisk(e)y distillers sent here for "seasoning." For example, Jameson and Bushmills keep barrels here used for ageing Madeira which are then returned to Ireland (empty obviously).
Speaking in general taste and style terms, although some of the cheaper, less-aged Madeira wines can be perfectly okay, it's definitely worth paying more money for wines aged for ten (or more) years as this is when Madeira gets really interesting and of high quality. Tasting through the Henriques range exemplifies this well (see tasting notes below). By the way, high acidity levels are common in Madeira wines due to a unique combination of climate (never usually that hot, varying cloud cover etc.), volcanic terrain, traditionally-trellised vines (latada or pergola method) planted at altitude on terraces (there is very little 'flat' land on the island) and early picking.
This acid structure partly explains why the so-called dry wines do actually taste quite dry despite containing a relatively large amount of residual sugar (RS), shown here in more readily understandable grams per litre (g/l) rather than degrees Baumé used by Madeira winemakers. And inversely why very sweet wines often don't end up too sickly because of that acidic balance; oxidative ageing characters (the casks are heated in fact and not topped up while some of the contents evaporates) also influence your perception of sweetness and the taste of these wines - those tangy nutty notes in particular - as well as alcohol levels of 19 to 20% abv typical of them being fortified.
More @ www.henriquesehenriques.pt.
There's also some useful facts and figures on this site: www.madeirawine.nl.

Notes on a selection of Henriques & Henriques wines (unless specified, as in the varietal 'classics', the main grape variety is Tinta Negra):
Monte Seco - The story goes that this wine was created during the Second World War because of a shortage of dry Martini. Manzanilla-esque styling (such as toasted almond aromas) but weightier with a dry and refreshing palate. Tastes much drier than you'd expect with 25 g/l RS, as it's nice and tangy. Good value at €6.50 cellar door.
Rainwater (73 RS) - This 'medium-dry' wine apparently gets its name from someone famously describing Madeira 'as soft as rainwater.' Nuttier walnut tones, again tastes tangy vs sweet, attractive enough easy-going style.
Finest Dry 5 Year Old (51.5 RS) - Richer and more oxidised but definitely drier with roasted almond flavours, more complex and lingering finish. Attractive good-value wine.
Full Rich 3 Year Old (108 RS) - Much browner and sweeter with brown sugar and aged nutty characters, surprisingly well-balanced though.
Full Rich 5 Year Old (111 RS) - More 'madeirised' with caramel and molasses notes, fruitier though with big mouthful and length, more complicated flavours too.
1997 Single Harvest (aged in Bourbon barrels and bottled in 2004/5, 108 RS) - More vanilla and caramel on the nose, rounded and fairly punchy palate, rich although balanced finish despite the power and sweetness with a touch of grip and texture too. A warming Christmas pudding of a wine!
Sercial 10 Year Old Dry (55 RS) - Much fresher nose with citrus and apricot then concentrated tangy almonds on the palate, nice power vs cut, complex long finish. Lovely. €15.50 50cl.
Verdelho 15 Year Old (72 RS) - Candied orange, smoky too, very intense mouth-feel making it taste relatively dry actually, concentrated and rich vs tangy nutty smoky and elegant finish. Delicious too.
2000 Boal Colheita Single Harvest medium-sweet (96 RS) - Coffee and caramelised brown sugar aromas, very lush mouthful vs 'kick' and 'cut', tangy pecan nut flavours linger with warmth; very concentrated big wine, wow. Try with chocolate or coffee and walnut cake, proper vanilla ice cream.
Malvasia 20 Year Old (114 RS) - Very powerful nose with toasted cocoa bean tones, vanilla and treacle, very intense flavours, lingering roasted walnuts, powerful long finish, textured even with rich coating. Wow.
Terrantez 20 Year Old medium-dry (75 RS) - Made from this now rare variety, this is the youngest wine H&H makes from it. Orangey brown colour, very complex aromatic nose, spicy too with roasted almond and hazelnut, again very intense palate with salty tang almost, unusual and long finish with peppery and tangy vs sweetish yet almost bitter dry combo; delicious lingering finish. €53
1898 Solera Verdelho medium-dry (77 RS, bottled in 2008) - A solera (similar to the protracted cask ageing process used for sherry, where wines of different ages are slowly blended together from one level of barrels to another etc.) is normally stopped after ten years and the final wines bottled; this one is kept in cask. It doesn't really look any older than the other wines! Tangy and intense, oaky notes on a rich backdrop cut by unbelievably fresh acidity, very long complex and lingering flavours with an almost dry-tasting flourish. Tastes lively still.
1900 Solera Century Malmsey sweet (123 RS, bottled in 1999) - Deep brown with orangey edges, raisins molasses and candied citrus on the nose, super concentrated and rich but again with fresh cut and power running underneath; lasts forever. What can I say: daft to try and 'score' it or anything as futile!

Pereira D'Oliveira Vinhos is a well-respected 'century-old Madeira house' formed by the merger of five independent family producers and shippers founded between 1820 and 1949. Their pretty old cellar and tasting room (front of building above) is located in the centre of Funchal old town, just up a side street heading up from the Jesuit Church, where you can taste some of their basic range wines for free (charges apply for the dearer wines depending on what you want to try). At the top end, the cellar holds stocks of bottles of old vintages from about 2005 to 1850 (not every year obviously) as far as I could see when I went there last month. Here are a few quick notes then on three of their entry level qualities sampled in situ (all 19% abv):
D'Oliveiras Medium-dry (aged 3 years in cask) - Nice and nutty and smooth on the palate, neither too sweet nor too dry with attractive weight vs tangy finish.
D'Oliveiras Medium-sweet (aged 3 years in cask) - Richer and sweeter with more pecan nut and caramel flavours, has a little 'cut' although it's a bit cloying on its own. Would be nice with cake or ice cream.
D'Oliveiras 5 Year Old sweet - Sweet brown sugar flavours, seems fierier and punchier with roasted walnut and tangy notes, longer and more interesting finish in the end despite the amount of residual sugar.
I brought back a pack of four miniatures of D'Oliveiras' 15 Year Old Madeiras (€14), one of each style, which were on an altogether higher quality level overall. I preferred the Dry and Medium-Dry 15 Year Olds the best with their nutty tangy toasty complexity; the sweetest of this range is still good although correspondingly rich dark and sweet.

11 July 2018

Portugal: 'wines of the moment' (and restaurant tips in Funchal).

Or Portuguese 'holiday wines of the moment' since these recommendable bottles were sampled and enjoyed recently on the wonderful island of Madeira (separate piece on one or two Madeira cellars to follow...), enhanced by a few eating-out tips where some of them were discovered. These are all convincing examples of just how happening Portugal now is on several different levels: well-made flavoursome wines, across the red white and rosé spectrum, fantastic diversity including many excellent (although sometimes difficult to get your tongue around pronunciation-wise) indigenous grape varieties and, to crown off the clichés, often good value too! Even if some of the more sought-after or celebrity wine names have become surprisingly expensive in fact. Euro prices quoted are supermarket, cellar door or restaurant prices in and around Funchal.
The fairly famous Alentejo winery Esporão produces a very enjoyable, easy-going 'house wine' range called Monte Velho. This includes a chunky fruity 2017 red made from the Aragonez (the local name for Tempranillo), Trincadeira, Touriga Nacional and Syrah varieties (14% abv), offering soft texture and dark fruit with spicy liquorice flavours. The tasty 2017 white is a blend of Fernão Pires, Arinto and Perrum (= Palomino, the sherry grape), with its weighty 14.5% abv lending it nicely to fried fish or pork dishes say, but also has plenty of aromatic fruit, rich ripe-textured mouth-feel and zesty finish making it difficult to resist. (€4.99 / €2.90 half).
From the Alentejo region as well (where the winemaking scene has exploded over the last twenty years) comes Chaminé 2015 from Danish/American-owned wine estate Cortes de Cima, which is one of their good-value entry label reds shaped from 30% Aragonez, 30% Syrah, 20% Touriga Nacional, 10% Alicante Bouschet and 10% Trincadeira (I think they were among the first to plant Syrah here by the way). It costs about €5 in supermarkets in Portugal (€6.95 Madeira airport). Cortes de Cima's top wines are pretty dear nowadays too, although they do make a much broader range since planting more vineyards than when I went there about twenty years ago!
This pair from the Douro Valley (Port country although these wines aren't) is a well-distributed (worldwide) red and white from vineyards owned by the mighty Sogrape group: Casa Ferreirinha 2016 Esteva red (40% Tinta Roriz (another local name for Tempranillo), 35% Tinta Barroca, 15% Touriga Franca and 10% Touriga Nacional), which has light tannin countered by peppery fruit; and Casa Ferreirinha 2016 Planalto Reserva white (30% Viosinho, 15% Malvasia Fina, 15% Gouveio, 15% Arinto, 15% Códega, 5% Rabigato, 5% Moscatel), which has yeast-lees tones, is rounded with white peach flavours and a bit of zing. €6 or €7 for a half-bottle of each in a decent Brazilian-themed restaurant in São Martinho (a towards-trendy western suburb of Funchal) called Espettus.
Good, inexpensive, dry Vinho Verde isn't hard to find in Portugal and its islands: the 2017 Torre de Menagem (Alvarinho / Trajadura) made by Monção e Melgaço (12% abv) is a refreshing and aromatic example with zesty citrus and soft juicy finish (€3.79). Like other traditionally red-focused wine areas, the Dão region is now producing some lovely white wines as well, such as the zesty and concentrated 2017 Grão Vasco Branco from Quinta dos Carvalhais (39% Encruzado, 38% Malvasia Fina, 15% Bical, 8% Gouveio). €6 or €7 for a half-bottle in the highly recommended Five restaurant (also located on the very long Estrada Monumental main road on the way into Funchal): perfect with the Madeira speciality grilled black scabbard fish.
Also made in Dão region, and far from being 'traditional' although that is the 'official' method of producing this superb sparkling wine, is Raposeira 2010 Super Reserva Bruto (12.5% abv): classy fizz indeed with the toasty yeasty richness you'd expect from vintage Champagne or top Cava, a tad rounder on the palate perhaps with underlying freshness. Follows the Champagne 'tradition' too of using white and red grapes: Malvasia Fina and Tinta Roriz. Lovely mouthful for only €8.99 a bottle.
Finally (almost), here's a couple of unusual dry whites from the Lisbon area to look out for (one to the south and the other to the north): Vinhas de Pegóes 2017 Verdelho (the 'Madeira grape' if you like) from the Setúbal peninsula (13% abv), which is aromatic and oily textured with apricot tones and a bargain for under €5. And Bucellas Arinto 2017 from the Bucelas DOC region, made by Caves Velhas (12.5% abv), offering elderflower aromas and white peach, lees-y zesty and 'chalky' mouth-feel with crisp dry finish.

Inevitably, I should include a couple of Madeira wines here too (separate feature on two quite different wine cellars, H&H and D'Oliveiras, coming soon...): Henriques & Henriques' delicious 10 Year Old Sercial, which is one of the drier styles, has great balance of citrus and apricot hints layered with lots of tangy roasted almond flavours, powerful with refreshing cut, long and complex finish. €15.50 for 50cl.
As part of the Restaurante do Forte's very good 'special concept' menu (three dishes chosen from their a la carte plus amuse-bouche, sorbet, coffee and petits fours all served with different wines for €42.50 per head), you get a glass of rich 5 Year Old Malmsey with your dessert, which is pretty sweet but its toffeed toasted pecan flavours go nicely with their varied cheese selection (and probably the chocolate pudding as well). I forgot to note down the names of the other wines served with this menu, but it included a lively dry rose-scented Touriga Nacional rosé and a firm-ish peppery red from the Beiras region (Bairrada country), made mostly from the Baga variety (with some Cabernet I think?), that went down well with my confit of duck. Photo above: me outside the old São Tiago fort thinking of taking a ride in their Austin 12 (can be booked for a taxi ride to or from the restaurant, which is literally poised on the seafront on the eastern side of Funchal old town). More info: en.forte.restaurant.
Back in the São Martinho district near the Forum Madeira shopping centre, Ego's Café is also worth checking out for good simple Portuguese food served outside if you wish, best served with a refreshing Coral beer (brewed in Madeira)!

07 June 2018

France, Roussillon: white wines

This is one of a handful of mini-features on the 'French Catalan' region of the Roussillon - the Eastern Pyrenees is the official département name (Perpignan, Rivesaltes, Maury, Collioure, Banyuls-sur-mer, erm... the bit in the middle (called Les Aspres) and way out west/south-west to Font Romeu and skiing country...) - which are divided into simple 'best whites' and 'best reds' type hit lists (with a hint of commentary to set the scene), gleaned from a succinct tour and extensive tastings in situ last month in addition to a couple of trips last year. Another piece might be my pick of a rich variety of Vins Doux Naturels, those sweet fortified and often matured wines this region is traditionally perhaps better known for, from new-wave chunky youthful reds to sublime senior-citizen vintages of distinctly golden-brown-tinged cask-aged 'whites'. Finally, a fruity posting celebrating some of their delicious undiscovered rosés might also surface at some point... Take a look too at the previous post to this one, which is themed around the Grenache variety pitching some fine Australian reds against a tasty selection from Maury in the northern Roussillon (or click here).
This seems a more obvious way of highlighting my favourite wines and producers without delivering a wordy lesson (you'll have to buy my book on the Roussillon for that) on supposed appellation hierarchies and which ones are thus supposed to make the best wines. Like anywhere else, when you sample a large amount of wines in a concentrated time-frame (and blind-tasted for a good number of them), it's pretty clear that it comes down to individual quality producers at the end of the day rather than one area being better than another purely because it has say 'village' status, superior terroir or whatever.
Challenging vine-scape between Banyuls-sur-mer and Collioure: the old and the new.

Having said that and coming swiftly back to dry white wines, the Collioure region on the Spanish border (Med-side) is, generally, a great example of where a cru appellation (a, in principle, more tightly defined sub-zone based on more specific quality criteria) idea has actually translated well into the final 'product'. Created in 2003 for white wines, as opposed to red Collioure in 1971, it appears that winemakers made the most of taking their time to get it right in terms of varieties, sites and production techniques. I probably tasted half as many whites as reds from this area (covers demarcated vineyards between and behind Collioure, Port-Vendres, Banyuls-sur-mer and Cerbère) yet found a good deal more stand-out white wines to recommend. And surprise surprise, certain winegrowers have indeed been focusing on planting more, for instance, Grenache blanc and gris and Vermentino in recent years.
Admittedly, these Collioure whites can be on the dear side (cellar door price of sometimes €15 to €20 and up to €30 or more for top cuvées), although unfortunately production costs do play a brutal role in keeping prices up here - rough steep difficult to work vineyards and rather low yields (see photo above) - as well as arguably a drop of marketing chic naming the wines after that chi-chi upmarket seaside town. There are some excellent dry whites being made in the northern and central Roussillon as well, of course, but these are all labelled as Côtes du Roussillon blanc or IGP Côtes Catalanes (the latter usually because a wine is varietal or contains a variety not 'sanctioned' by appellation rules, and/or the winemaker isn't interested in these anyway) since there are no other village appellation zones for whites outside of Collioure. 

30 must-try dry whites...

Southern Roussillon

Cave de L'Abbé Rous 2017 Collioure Cuvée des Peintres (Grenache gris 60%, Grenache blanc 25%, Marsanne, Roussanne & Vermentino 15%; just part barrel-fermented) - Aromatic aniseed, crisp and yeast lees-y with elegant finish. Good value at c. €10.
Domaine Cazes Les Clos de Paulilles 2017 Collioure blanc (Grenache blanc 80%, Grenache gris 20%; 5 to 6 months ageing on lees, no oak) - Richer and more exotic than above vs subtle 'mineral' intensity. €18
Clos Saint Sébastien 2016 Collioure Inspiration Minérale (plot selection of old-vine Grenache gris and blanc, barrel fermented) - Buttery and concentrated vs underlying zesty texture and freshness, delicious although dear. €28
Domaine Madeloc 2016 Collioure Cuvée Trémadoc (Grenache gris, Roussanne, Vermentino; barrel fermented/aged up to 8 months) - Toasty buttery start but with aromatic lees and exotic fruit combo, tasty northern Rhone style.
2015 Collioure Cuvée Penya (barrel selection of Grenache gris and Vermentino) - Surprisingly not oakier even though 25% new barrels are used, fresh and lively underneath a textured lees-y palate with exotic fruit, powerful and long.
M. Chapoutier Domaine de Bila Haut 2016 Collioure Chrysopée (Grenache gris (90%) and blanc, barrel fermented/aged 6 months overall) - Oily and nutty textures and flavours vs crisp and lingering with light bitter twist. Celebrity price too: €54.
Domaine Augustin 2016 Collioure Adéodat (old vine Grenache gris/blanc, barrel fermented/aged 6 to 8 months) - Toasted tones too but this is rich and buttery with powerful finish. €26
Domaine de la Rectorie 2016 Collioure L'Argile (Grenache gris (90%) and blanc, barrel fermented with 8 months on the lees) - Classy white showing subtle balance between weight and delicacy. €24/£20
Domaine La Casa Blanca 2015 Collioure blanc (Grenache gris and blanc from north-facing slopes, 50-50 vat/cask) - Almond notes and intense tangy palate, almost dry Montilla-esque in style, lovely crisp vs powerful finish.
Domaine Traginer 2015 Collioure blanc (Grenache blanc and gris, Malvoisie, Vermentino) - Peachy and quite rich with yeast-lees depth and nutty edges, powerful finish; very nice. €22.50/$27
Consolation 2015 Côtes Catalanes Juliette (Roussanne, 6 months in barrels) - Rich and buttery but deftly handled with good balance. €16

Central Roussillon

Domaine Treloar 2015 and 2016 Côtes Catalanes La Terre Promise (Grenache gris, Macabeu, Carignan blanc; wild ferment and ageing in barrel, 10% new oak, for 6 to 9 months) - Creamy and nutty with aromatic aniseed notes, juicy ripe fruit and weighty mouth-feel with very nice long finish. €14/£17
Domaine Lauriga 2015 and 2016 Côtes du Roussillon Soleil blanc (Grenache blanc, Macabeu, 6 months in barrels) - Quite toasty to start, well made though with creamy lees and nicely balanced buttery vs aromatic aniseed and crisp profile. €13-€15/£13.50
Pierre Talayrach 2015 Côtes Catalanes Secret de Pierre (Muscat d'Alexandrie, 7 months in barrels) - Characteristically Muscat-y and orange notes but it's quite rich and rounded with light toast, creamy yet aromatic too; very different. €12.80
Domaine Lafage 2015 Côtes du Roussillon La Grande Cuvée blanc (Grenache gris, Macabeu) - Tasty mix of ripe and powerful with subtle oak and refreshing acidity; very good. €19.50/£19
Domaine Vaquer 2015 Côtes du Roussillon L'Exception blanc (Grenache blanc and gris, Macabeu, barrel-fermented/aged for a year) - 'Natural'-esque style with Fino and cider edges but very good with it, intense and long. c. €20

Northern Roussillon

Arnaud de Villeneuve 2017 Côtes Catalanes Chardonnay Réserve - A surprise and one of a handful of good Chardies I've tried from the region (some made by co-op wineries like this one too), this was very tasty with lively juicy yeast-lees characters and creamy mouth-feel. Expensive though: €35.
Domaine Pouderoux Lavista 2016 Lavista Collection (field blend of six varieties) - Enticingly juicy, aromatic and distinctive with lovely zesty finish. £12/$13
Domaine Cazes 2016 Côtes du Roussillon Ego blanc (Grenache blanc, Marsanne; unoaked) - Oily vs 'salty' profile mix, plenty of depth and character. €12
Domaine Gardiès 2016 Côtes du Roussillon Les Glaciaires (Roussanne, Grenache blanc, Macabeu) - Alluring mix of yeast-lees, freshness, aromatic and exotic fruit, long stylish finish. €16/£12.50/$20
Domaine Laguerre 2015 Côtes du Roussillon Le Ciste blanc (Marsanne, Roussanne, Grenache blanc, Vermentino) - Hints of coconut grain, concentrated yet with tight acid structure and exotic fruit underneath; fair length and class. €17/$17
Domaine Rombeau 2015 Côtes du Roussillon Andrea (Grenache blanc and gris, Marsanne) - Rombeau's white is consistently good and age-worthy too: ripe and buttery with peachy fruit but still crisp and alive.
La Coume du Roy 2015 Côtes Catalanes Désir (Macabeu, Grenache gris) - Appley and nutty, quite intense and concentrated with long nutty and crisp finish. €13/£15
Les Clos Perdus 2015 Côtes Catalanes L'Extreme blanc (Grenache blanc, gris and noir) - This varied-location estate includes one block (very old: planted in 1898!) near Mas Las Fredas between Maury and Tautavel, source of this lovely textured nutty wild-ferment (in barrel) white with aromatic appley and exotic fruit notes. Fairly dear though: €30/£25.
Domaine Pithon 2015 Maccabeu (block selection, barrel-fermented) - Intense white with well-balanced mix of lively 'mineral' notes and nice 'oily' backdrop; very good but expensive: €34.
Domaine de l'Ausseil 2015 La Palummella (Grenache blanc and gris, Macabeu) - Quirky skin-macerated style with 'real cider' notes but has lovely texture and very intense mouth-feel; wow, 'natural' man but good with it. €26/£22
Clos des Fées 2015 Côtes Catalanes Grenache blanc Vieilles Vignes (+10% Grenache gris, which is barrel-fermented; 5 to 8 months lees-ageing) - Bit of a classic combining juicy and exotic fruit with very good concentration. €18-€20/£18-£20
Gilles Troullier 2010 Côtes Catalanes L'Imprévue (old vine Grenache gris and blanc) - Very different with a little bottle age, lovely nutty appley notes combine with rich oily texture and depth. Delicious.

50 more to be tempted by...


Clos Saint Sébastien 2016 Collioure Empreintes
Cave de L'Abbé Rous 2016 Collioure Cornet & Cie
Domaine La Tour Vieille 2016 Collioure Les Canadells
Domaine Vial-Magnères 2016 and 2014 Collioure Le Petit Couscouril
Domaine du Grand Chene 2016 Côtes du Roussillon L'Edat
Mas Christine 2015 Côtes du Roussillon blanc
Coume del Mas 2015 Collioure Folio


Domaine Lafage 2017 Côtes du Roussillon Centenaire blanc
Château Nadal Hainaut 2017 Côtes Catalanes Chardonnay Prestige
Château Corneilla Vignobles Jonquères d’Oriola 2016 Côtes du Roussillon Cavalcade blanc
Domaine de la Meunière 2016 Côtes Catalanes Impromptu blanc
Domaine Trilles 2016 Côtes Catalanes Tio Tio 
Domaine de la Perdrix 2016 Côtes du Roussillon Joseph Sébastien Pons and 2015 Côtes du Roussillon Charakter.
Cap de Fouste 2016 Côtes Catalanes Taquin blanc
Domaine Boucabeille 2016 Les Terrasses de Régis Boucabeille
Mas Baux 2016 Côtes Catalanes Le Baux Blond
Maison Albera 2016 Côtes Catalanes Vermentino
Château de L'Ou 2015 Côtes Catalanes Infiniment blanc
Château Planères 2014 Côtes du Roussillon La Romanie blanc


Domaine Boudau 2017 Côtes du Roussillon Henri Boudau blanc
Domaine Sainte-Estelle (Serre Romani) 2017 Côtes du Roussillon blanc
Château de Jau 2017 Côtes du Roussillon blanc
Clos des Vins d'Amour 2017 Côtes du Roussillon Idylle
Domaine La Toupie 2017 Côtes du Roussillon Fine Fleur
Ninet de Pena 2017 Côtes Catalanes Muscat sec
Thunevin-Calvet 2017 Côtes Catalanes Constance blanc
Les Vignerons de Tautavel et Vingrau 2016 Côtes Catalanes Le Cirque
Domaine Mas Crémat 2016 Côtes du Roussillon La Yose
Domaine Cazes 2016 Côtes Catalanes Canon du Maréchal blanc
Domaine Singla 2016 Côtes Catalanes La Coste
Château Caladroy 2016 Côtes Catalanes Passion blanc
Mas Devèze 2016 Côtes Catalanes Macabeu
Domaine Gayda 2016 Pays d'Oc En Passant blanc (it's 70% Macabeu sourced from the Roussillon with 30% Viognier from Minervois made by a Languedoc-based winery, so why not 'let it in').
Domaine des Schistes 2015 Côtes du Roussillon Jasse d'n Bielh
Domaine de Besombes 2015 Côtes du Roussillon Léonie 1868
Domaine Piquemal 2015 Côtes du Roussillon Les Terres Grillées
Domaine Le Roc des Anges 2015 Côtes Catalanes Iglesia Vella
Domaine Pouderoux 2015 Roc de Plane
Mas Castello-Cachau Dubournais 2015 Côtes du Roussillon blanc
Dom Brial 2015 Côtes du Roussillon Mirade blanc Sélection Parcellaire
M. Chapoutier Domaine de Bila Haut 2015 Côtes du Roussillon blanc
Mas Janeil 2015 Côtes du Roussillon blanc
Domaine des Chenes 2014 Côtes Catalanes Les Olivettes
Domaine de l'Agly 2014 Côtes Catalanes Les Neiges d'Agly
Domaine Val de Ray 2014 Côtes du Roussillon Des Gouttes d'Or

01 May 2018

Sparkling wines from Chardonnay and Pinot: Italy, Australia, South Africa, France

A tad lengthy and random perhaps for a post title, especially since there's no Champagne included here; but this does feature an eclectic pick of contemporary 'traditional method' fizz (as in made the same way) based on those celebrity varieties. Just goes to show, in the unlikely event that you hadn't noticed, how well these grapes and the necessary know-how have exported in the right place and hands. It's also no surprise then to discover that some of the big Champagne brands invested in other places some time ago in fact - for instance, Moët et Chandon established sparkling production wineries in Argentina back in, unbelievably, 1959, Australia in 1986 and, the most recent India in 2014 among other countries (California, Brazil, China...). And recently as well, Taittinger started planting vineyards in Kent in England last year focusing on Chardy and Pinots Noir and Meunier.
Some of these tasty bubbles are one-offs by the way, particularly the two Lidl wines that could be special-parcel buys and not always available in all stores.

Barone dell' Isola Franciacorta Brut (12.5% abv): Chardonnay and Pinot Noir from northern Italy, bottle aged for 18 months on the yeast-lees. Pretty damn stylish actually with elegant toastiness, for those of you who thought Italy could only make frivolous or inoffensive bubbly. Good antidote to ubiquitous Prosecco. Lidl £9.99.
Crémant d'Alsace (12% abv) France: Okay, it's mostly shaped by Pinot Blanc, although this variety is a member of the same grape family apparently. Refreshing and very quaffable with subtle quality tones. Lidl £7.99.
Graham Beck The Rhona Brut Rosé NV, Western Cape South Africa (Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Pinot Meunier; 12.5% abv): Delicious and serious Marks & Spencer bubbly from one of South Africa's pioneers of the style. It's £15 a bottle but you'll be rather impressed.

Josef Chromy Tasmania Sparkling NV (62% Pinot Noir, 38% Chardonnay; 18 months lees-ageing): I'm told that three-quarters of Chardonnay grown on Tasmania is now destined for fizz production. Appley nutty aromatic with intense yeast-lees notes on the palate, crisp and fresh countered by rich toasted flavours. Classy. £25 Bibendum PLB.
Pirie Tasmania Sparkling NV (Chardonnay, Pinot Noir; blend of mostly 2012 vintage plus older wines, 20% of it barrel-fermented and aged 3.5 years on lees): Classic Pirie (a pioneer in Tas and for top bubbly too), superb 'Bolly-style' sparkler with lots of lush toasty flavours yet lovely fresh bite. Expensive but yummy: £34.
Brown Brothers King Valley (Victoria) NV (Pinot Noir Chardonnay, Pinot Meunier, 12.5% abv): Toasty and oily with oat-y edges, quite good fizz. €20 (in Ireland).
Jansz Tasmania Premium Cuvée (Chardy/PN, 12% abv): Another Tas classic style, very enjoyable (got the message yet about Tasmanian fizz). €33 Cassidy Wines, £15 to £20 UK.
Croser Non-Vintage Rosé, Adelaide Hills South Australia: a splash of red Pinot Noir wine is also blended into the 2/3 Pinot and 1/3 Chardy base; this has full-on 13.5% abv and 6.5 grams/litre residual sugar, which is about half the amount found in many European so-called Brut styles. In addition to their very tasty regular NV fizz, the famous Croser winery creates this sumptuous rosé with its toasty red fruit flavours and fine crisp balance. £17-£19.
House of Arras Grand Vintage Tasmania Chardonnay Pinot Noir 2008 (12.5% abv): Gorgeous baked brioche and toasted almond notes underpinned by fresh acidity and 'tight' very long finish; Tas 'vintage-Bolly' style! £35 Fine Wine Partners.

07 April 2018

Grenache / Garnacha: Australia, France (Roussillon), Spain (Catalonia).

Wine Australia says that Grenache 'was the most widely planted variety,' but the amount of Grenache crushed in Aus in 2012 was sadly one-fifth of the quantity harvested in 1979. Meaning somewhere along the line, Australian winemakers fell out of love with the grape, combined with the drop in demand for traditional fortified 'Port styles' based on the variety, which must have been removed in favour of Shiraz, for example among others, and/or very old vines died and weren't replaced.
The Australians also claim they have 'some of the oldest vine varietals in the world, red and white,' - in South Australia essentially where a successful quarantine policy has kept out the vine-destroying phylloxera louse, including some cherished Grenache in the McLaren Vale for instance. And Barossa is the 'only wine area where old vine has a legal definition,' which was ratified in a 2009 charter. Hence Barossa Old Vine means 35+ years, Survivor Vine 70+, Centenarian Vine 100+ and Ancestor Vine an incredible 125+ years old. Elsewhere in the so-called 'New World', the term 'heritage vines' seems to have existed in Sonoma, California for old vine Zinfandel reds for some time. The Aussie Grenache selection (pure and blends) praised below was tasted at recent events in Belfast and Dublin mostly, hence the mix of Sterling and Euro recommended retail prices.

Old vine Grenache near Banyuls-sur-mer, Roussillon

Rockford Moppa Springs 2013 Barossa Valley Grenache/Mataro/Shiraz (60/25/15) - This was a very dry vintage apparently. Sunny and rich with kirsch and 'tar' tones, punchy and firm mouth-feel with nice spice and weight, wilder earthier savoury characters on the finish. Expensive though @ £30.99 Negociants. Mataró is a port in Catalonia, Spain that gave its name to Mourvèdre/Monastrell in certain export destinations.
Thistledown Vagabond 2015 McLaren Vale Grenache - This is sourced from senior-citizen vines (80 years of age and counting) in a single vineyard (Blue Springs), and half of the Grenache was whole-bunch fermented. Lovely sweet Grenache nose, cherry liquorice and pepper, rustic and ripe palate with quite soft yet punchy finish. Good. £19.95 Alliance Wines.
John Duval Plexus 2014 Barossa Valley Shiraz Grenache Mourvèdre - Okay so this blend is only almost one third Grenache (with a majority of Shiraz and 20% Mourvèdre), but I like the contrast of oomph vs softness combined with distinct characters of all three varieties: minty black cherry, liquorice and black olive (really!). €36.99 Liberty Wines Ireland.
Yalumba The Strapper 2014 Barossa Grenache Shiraz Mourvèdre (13.5% abv) - Another successful GSM mix (despite the macho name) giving enticing sweet fruit and soft palate with spicy kirsch notes. Negociants €22.99.
D'Arenberg The Derelict Vineyard 2013 McLaren Vale Grenache (14.2% abv) - Attractive sweet cherry fruit with wilder edges, light bitter twist on the palate with power and concentration. Febvre Wines €29.
Grant Burge The Holy Trinity 2012 Barossa Grenache Shiraz Mourvèdre (14% abv) - This nod to Chateauneuf-du-Pape (the packaging isn't subtle with it either) also contains "a splash of Touriga," I was told (the Portuguese variety), and is indeed a delicious southern Rhone Valley style blend, offering peppery punch and concentrated ripe fruit. Fine Wine Partners £29.99.
Grant Burge '20 Year Old Tawny' Barossa Grenache Mataro Shiraz NV (19.5% abv) - '...' marks perhaps required to avoid being sued by Port people, this is however a very tasty fortified 'Tawny' style, rich and treacly with complex matured characters, powerful but not too punchy. Fine Wine Partners £39.99.
Willunga 100 McLaren Vale 2015 Grenache (14.5% abv) - Structured mouth-feel layered with lively spicy berry fruit. Liberty Ireland €19.99.
Willunga 100 The Hundred Blewitt Springs McLaren Vale 2015 Grenache (14.5% abv) - Quite silky and soft with ripe cherry fruit, powerful and concentrated yet balanced; lovely wine. Liberty Ireland €27.99.
McPherson La Vue 2017 Victoria Grenache Rosé (13.5% abv) - Lively and juicy with big fruity mouth-feel, tasty Oz rosé. Lanchester Wines €17.95.
Willunga 100 McLaren Vale 2016 Grenache Rosé (14% abv) - Big fruity off-dry style with rich yeast-lees edges, impressive mouthful! Liberty Ireland €19.99.

Garnacha / Grenache is the third largest planted grape variety in both Spain and France (facts stolen off the internet somewhere, probably Wikipedia who stole it from someone else). In Spain, much of it is found in the north-eastern corner between, and along, the Med coast and the Pyrenees (Garnacha is thought to have originated in Aragon). In France, it is grown right across the Mediterranean south and up into the southern Rhone Valley. In the Roussillon (or 'Eastern Pyrenees' or 'French Catalonia' if you like), there are around 6000 hectares of Grenache noir (the 'black' variety as the French say) planted, still making it the number one grape vine there although this position is now static or has slowly declined over the years; plus around 1200 ha of the 'white' versions (Grenache blanc and gris).
There are many delicious reds and recommendable producers centred on Grenache worth talking about in this region, but it seemed like a good idea, for some reason or other, to narrow the focus on the relatively new Maury Sec appellation in the northern Roussillon for this feature. With seven vintages under their belts - Maury sec, the dry red version made in the same area as their more famous sweet fortified wines, came into being from vintage 2011 - winemakers here are showing us what exciting things are being made from old-vine Grenache noir: the 'regulatory' minimum amount is at least 60% in the blend. There's much more about this in my new book on the Roussillon.

Prices quoted are cellar door in France.
Les Vignerons de Maury Tradition 2016 - Plush and excellent value based on unoaked Grenache (80%) and Carignan, which shows aromatic wild herb tones, concentrated dark kirsch fruit and firm tannin structure (16% abv!). €9
Domaine de la Préceptorie makes a trio of impressive Maury sec reds:
Copain Comme Cochon 2016 (means something like ‘thick as thieves’) is a majority Grenache with Carignan (15% abv) aged for up to ten months part in cask and the rest in vat; nice 'schist-y' tannin texture, dark choc and raspberry with subtle length. €12
Coume Marie 2014 - Has a similar varietal mix undergoing longer barrel ageing: serious, concentrated and structured red needing some time in bottle to open up.
Terres Nouvelles 2014 - A higher proportion of old-vine Carignan supplementing the Grenache noir and matured for two years in large old casks: also tightly structured and another good example of what we should be seeing more of from the Maury sec appellation.
Domaine Dernier Bastion Perles Noires 2015 (Grenache and Carignan, no oak, 15% abv) - Wild herbs and crunchy berries mixed with spicier darker fruit flavours, tight 'chalky' tannins, good depth. €12.50
Domaine Cazes Castell d’Agly 2015 (80% Grenache, 20% Carignan; 15.5% abv) - Fragrant unoaked style representing good value and offering peppery kirsch fruit and attractive ‘chalky’ tannins. It’s made at Mas de Lavail. €9
Les Vignerons de Tautavel/Vingrau Rocher des Buis 2014 (Grenache Syrah, 15% abv) - Savoury notes on top of liquorice cherry and spice, well textured tannins. €12
Domaine Fontanel 2014 - A wow-factor Maury sec built on majority Grenache (85%) with Mourvèdre and aged in vats for 12 months rather than cask, which is complex, extracted and concentrated with lots of aromatic dark berry fruit flavours, wild mint/herb tones and firm chunky yet lush mouth-feel. Described as "Priorat without wood" by a tasting colleague. €14
Domaine La Toupie Sur un Fil Rouge 2014 (15% abv) - Majors on Grenache (70%), as it should stylistically, with one-quarter Syrah and the rest Mourvèdre planted on 'poor schist and marl soils.' Winemaker Jérome 'deliberately blends grapes sourced from contrasting terrain and climate zones: very old Grenache vines on south-facing slopes around Tautavel, and Syrah and Mourvèdre from cooler elevated sites around Maury and Saint-Paul, all low-yielding.' This tasty concentrated red shows aromatic dark berry fruit with a savoury chocolate side, well-poised considering its powerful 15% abv and tautly textured tannins. €13.50
Domaine des Soulanes Bastoul Laffite 2013 ('Vieilles Vignes' 80% Grenache 20% Carignan, certified organic, 15% abv, 24 months in used barrels) - Dense concentrated and tightly structured with 'chalky' tannins, peppery wild herb edges and lots of dark cherry fruit, meaty savoury flavours too. €18
Mas Amiel also produces a variety of Maury sec reds from selected different vineyards (they have an extensive surface area to work from):
2014 Légende - Powerful, peppery yet well-balanced showing lovely Grenache fruit (80% mixed with 20% Carignan from the northern side of Cabirou planted in 1949).
2015 Alt. 433m - From La Croix d’En Rodrigues, the estate’s highest site, 'a field blend of old-vine Grenache and Lladoner Pelut on granite,' which is more aromatic with fine tannins.
2015 Vers le Nord - Apart from this block’s obvious north-facing nature, it comes from a two-hectare parcel called La Devèze, ‘old-vine black Grenache and Syrah (about 8%) at 160 metres on schist soils with sandstone, blueish limestone and clay.’ This delicious red really lets the pure spicy Grenache fruit and some kind of intense untamed French Mediterranean character shine through (wild herbs, menthol, violet, cassis...).
2015 Voyage en Météore - Another relatively new, pure and elegant Maury Sec block-selection that doesn’t go anywhere near a barrel, built mostly on Grenache with Carignan (and other ‘endemic varieties’ whatever that means) from “the coolest shaded spot,” according to winemaker Nicolas, "where red sandstone meets chalky schist."
Domaine Pouderoux 2014 Montpin - Sourced from 'the highest blocks of black schist,' since the inaugural 2011 vintage showing lovely Grenache (80% plus Carignan) style, peppery and intense with savoury yet dark kirsch fruit, also fairly soft and elegant.
Château Saint-Roch (Domaine Lafage) 2014 Kerbuccio - More structured and savoury than their Cotes du Roussillon Villages wines, needing a little longer in bottle to develop.
Mas de la Devèze 2015 - Shaped by two-thirds Grenache picked from marl and schist soils on the western side of the estate, and aged 12 months in barrel (some of them new): quite toasty when young, powerful and structured with lovely kirsch fruit.

Catalonia, Spain
There are many good wines shaped from Grenache or rather Garnacha from this part of Spain (for the time-being...) - the variety is spelt Garnatxa in Catalan by the way - but here are just two tasty examples bought and enjoyed within the last few months.
Franck Massard Bellesa Perfecta 2015 Priorat (Garnacha, Cariñena; 15% abv) - This delicious blockbuster red is packed full of lush ripe spicy fruit with liquorice, prune and peppery kirsch, enticing wild and savoury tones too, powerful mouthful of flavour with rounded tannins though. Naked Wines £19.99/£13.99
Jordi Miró 2016 Garnacha Blanca, Terra Alta (13.5% abv) - There is a white variety variant of Grenache (there's 15% Macabeu blended with it too), and this attractive example also comes from the high ground in the Terra Alta region neighbouring Priorat: zesty and aromatic with yeast-lees and exotic fruit tones, quite full-bodied and textured mouth-feel. M&S £9.50 (£7.50 on offer at the time).

19 February 2018

Roussillon photos (part 2): Les Aspres vineyards and winemakers

Elise and Jean-Baptiste Trilles
Domaine Trilles, Tresserre

Château Corneilla - Vignobles Jonquères d’Oriola
Corneilla del Vercol

Stéphane Batlle
Domaine de la Meunière, Trouillas...
And saucisse catalane for lunch....

Some of the remaining legendary 1974 Rivesaltes Ambré Vin Doux Naturel safely stored at Les Vignobles de Constance et du Terrassous' Fourques cellar.

16 February 2018

Roussillon photos (part 1): Banyuls-sur-mer vineyards and winemakers

Romuald Peronne

Domaine Clos Saint-Sébastien

Hervé Levano
Domaine de la Casa Blanca

Élise Gaillard
Domaine Madeloc

These neglected photos were taken on a trip last spring in and around Banyuls-sur-mer. If you were expecting some inspirational words about these winemakers, you'll have to wait until I finish my new book on the Roussillon! More pictures to follow...

15 February 2018

Hungary: Tokay, Hárslevelű, Furmint, Pinot Noir...

Why not start with Hungary's most famous wine creation, sweet Tokay, by launching into a couple of recommended ones tried or bought last late summer while on holiday. I finally opened the Royal Tokaji 'blue label' below recently (apparently called 'red label' in the States, as you would), which was savoured on a Saturday wine workshop event I just ran in Belfast and hence was the prompt for this overdue blog post...
Royal Tokaji Tokaji Aszú 5 Puttonyos 2013 (Furmint, Hárslevelű, Muscat; 11% abv, sugar 156 g/l, total acidity 7.9 g/l) - Delicious alluring classic style with lashings of honey, sultanas, marmalade, dried apricot, quince... Mesmerizing opulence and quirky spice, lush sweet and richly textured with beautiful underlying fresh acidity holding it together effortlessly. Drinking nicely now (try with blue cheese or plain ice cream and nuts say) but will definitely develop over many years in bottle. Full price was €25 at Budapest airport, although it was on offer at the time equating to about £15 for a 50cl bottle. Majestic Wine in the UK sells it for £24/£21.60 depending on quantity; and some Waitrose stores stock a handy 25cl size for £12.99.
Another very nice, slightly less sweet Tokaji Aszú to look out for is:
2012 Simkó 3 Puttonyos (so just three 'buckets' of botrytised grapes rather than five per whatever vat size) with an additional year's ageing adding oiliness and richness. 800 HUF (= £2.26/€2.57) per 100ml glass in the Pár Pendégló Panzió restaurant across the river in the pretty town of Sárospatak.

Due to history and borders shifting correspondingly, there's been a long tradition of making Tokaji wines in the far south-eastern corner of Slovakia too (the part right alongside the Hungarian region obviously in the far north-east on the border). The seven villages permitted to produce these wines in the Slovak Tokaj region are Bara, Čerhov, Černochov, Malá Tŕňa, Slovenské Nové Mesto, Viničky and Veľká Tŕňa (pic. above). We explored some pretty hillside vineyards around here on foot before buying an ice cream, as it was just too hot to taste wine! I did call in on one winery though, the Ostrožovič family who has a good name, but they were busy expecting a big coach party at any moment. There's more generic info here: www.winesofslovakia.com.
Realising that the demand for expensive super-sweet wines is limited and that they obviously have some excellent indigenous white grapes varieties (Furmint and Hárslevelű essentially), it's no surprise that Hungarian winemakers are now making some very good dry white wines too.
Here are a few names discovered in restaurants and supermarkets in Hungary:
Zempléni Tokaji Furmint Száraz (Száraz means dry)
A Ház Bora Tokaji Furmint Száraz
Tóth Zoltán Pincézete Tokaji Hárslevelű Száraz (this spicy aromatic variety can work well as a dry style). HUF 1200.
Simkó Hárslevelű Premium (this one was medium in style, good as a not too sweet dessert wine).
Gellért Hill 2016 Gruner Veltliner, Törley (12% abv) - great value zesty dry white based on Austria's signature grape. £5.60 Tesco.
Hungary is also a successful producer of sparkling wines, such as the BB label (Bárhol Bármikor) Száraz Sparkling, from the Balaton region, which is light (11.5% abv) and refreshing with nutty yeasty undertones; and is widely available in supermarkets there for about HUF 1100.
The art of making fruity dry rosés hasn't escaped Hungarian winemakers either, from the Pinot Noir grape especially or using a mix of local and other French varieties, such as...
Törley Pinot Noir Rosé Száraz 2016, Etyekand-Budai region (12.5% abv) - Tasty juicy and crisp with aromatic red fruits and creamier finish. 699 HUF = about £2 or $2.65 (taxes on wine must be low in Hungary).
Takler Pinot Noir Rozé 2016, Szekszárdi region (12.5% abv) - richer coloured and textured rosé with plenty of fruit. 360 HUF per 100ml glass in the Pár Pendégló Panzió restaurant in Sárospatak.
Takler Rosetta Cuvée Rosé, Szekszárdi (12.5% abv) - another good rosé from these guys, about 1000 HUF in supermarkets.
Siller Pinot Noir Rosé Száraz 2015 (12.5% abv) - similar style to above, very nice.
Sauska Villányi Rosé 2016 (12.5% abv) - quirky deep pink blend of Kékfrankos, Merlot, Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon and Pinot Noir!

05 February 2018

Cabernet & Merlot: France, Chile, Australia.

Updated February 2018
I've added a few more Cab-Mer, Mer-Cab (Sauvignon/Franc) or straight Cab Sauvs that are worth the typing and fit the theme; the first one in particular is very well-priced:
Château Tanunda 2016 'Basket Press' Barossa Cabernet-Merlot (15% abv) - This sumptuous blockbuster red, one of Sainsbury's 'Taste the Difference' label range, is made by one of South Australia's most famous and elderly wine estates (as opposed to Monty Python's similar-sounding Chateau Chunder which was destined for 'laying down and avoiding...'), and is packed with cassis, ripe damson and liquorice flavours but is multi-layered and 'meaty' too. Lots of taste for £10.
Balnaves 2011 Coonawarra Cabernet Sauvignon - Minty cassis and toasty with leather and prune tones too, all at once (!), soft and silky tannins on the palate with a bit of oomph on the finish. Yum. Liberty Wines Ireland €38.99.
Woodlands Wines 2013 Margaret River Cabernet Sauvignon - Cedar and spice notes yet rich and savoury as well, nice blackcurrant fruit turning meatier on the finish, still firm but 'sweet' tannins, very concentrated, lovely wine.

Saint-Emilion Grand Cru 2015 Union des Producteurs de Saint-Emilion (Merlot, Cabernet Franc; 13.5% abv) - This reasonably classy 'east-Bordeaux' red made by the obviously very competent local co-op winery has been consistently tasty over the years. Well balanced, plummy and fairly soft with cedar oak undertones and subtle textured finish. £12.99 / £10.99 on offer according to the Lidl UK website (although not in their Belfast stores!).
Château Haute Combe 2015 Côtes de Bourg France (Merlot, Malbec, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc; 14% abv) - Stylish example of a ripe plump Merlot-dominant Bordeaux style from the successful 2015 vintage, fruity and fairly soft with herbal edges and full-bodied mouth-feel. Mega-bargain discounted to under a fiver in Lidl! From one of Vignobles Bourdillas' properties I think.

El Recurso Vineyard 2016 'Block 18' Cabernet Sauvignon, Maipo Chile (13.5% abv) - One of their posher Finest labels, this was made by Cono Sur and shows class and concentration with ripe blackcurrant fruit and firm yet rounded texture. Currently not available in Tesco UK stores (?), it was about £12-13 but this was on offer for under ten; €18 in Tesco Ireland.

Wynns 2013 'Black Label' Coonawarra Cabernet Sauvignon, South Australia - Minty cassis notes with savoury and red pepper edges, pretty solid palate still with attractive rounded tannins, concentrated showing enticing mix of ripe, herby and meaty flavours with a touch of smoky oak. Lovely. £22 Bibendum PLB Group.
Yalumba 2013 'The Signature' Barossa Cabernet Shiraz, South Australia (52% Barossa Cab and 48% Shiraz with some fruit from neighbouring Eden) - Dark and extracted colour, dusty smoky punchy nose, rich toasty grainy texture but nice and fleshy with it, sweet vs savoury fruit, extracted yet controlled tannins, powerful 'old-fashioned' Oz red in a 'mini-Grange' style. Yum. £35 Negociants.

Map from www.cotes-de-bourg.com