"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. OR BUY IT DIRECT FROM ME (UK & EU only). Also available in the US from Barnes & Noble in hardcover, paperback or eBook. For other countries, tap on the link above the cover (below)." Richard Mark James

04 March 2015

Slovenia: wine & travel

Church on Lake Bled
"Slovenia isn't a large country, to state the obvious perhaps, and is one the most forested and mountainous states in Europe (relative to surface area), so not surprisingly there are only about 22,000 hectares (54,000 acres) of vines planted. Wine production is dominated by three-quarters of whites reflecting the country's geography, location and climate; and most of the often steep hillside vineyards lie on or close to its borders with four surrounding winemaking nations: Austria to the north, Hungary to the east, Italy to the west and Croatia to the south, roughly speaking. Logically then, many of Slovenia's wineries are found not too far away from the country's handsome, friendly and very walkable capital city Ljubljana (watch your spelling!), which is found in the middle more or less. There's plenty of history and beautiful architecture and countryside just made for exploring elsewhere too, and I've included a few, slightly cliched perhaps (e.g. Lake Bled above) but nevertheless must-do sightseeing places to go to, contemplate and eat in..."
Featuring these wineries: Marof, Joannes Protner, Bajnof, Ščurek, Bregar, Reja, Peršolja, Hlebec, Černe, Marjan Simčič and Goriška Brda Cellar. Plus touring and eating tips from the awesomely impossible Predjama Castle and über-busy yet stunning Lake Bled, to serene historic Base 20 and charming Ljubljana old town...
I've created a special 13-page PDF supplement including this new feature on Slovenia with a few of my photos, plus a previous wine and travel report on Croatia which is also stored here. Buy the PDF report emailed to you for just £1.99 with a debit/credit card or your own Paypal account (but you don't need one). Click on the 'does what it says' button (select it in the drop-down menu):


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23 February 2015

Languedoc: Terrasses du Larzac

I've talked about the now officially stand-alone subzone of the Terrasses du Larzac a few times before and reviewed/profiled certain producers here and their hearty, sometimes wild-side wines. I've also gone on about its slight misnomer and implied mountain-vineyards-ness, as some of them do indeed lie on the lower southern edges of Massif Central range, while others are, well, pretty flat really. Inevitably, perhaps, it's the same old problem when trying to create new smaller zones based on initially quite focused criteria; then everybody in the area wants in on it... Anyway, here's a bit of background reading for you then, in handy "click on this link" form:
Terrasses du Larzac and Saint-Guilhem-le-Désert (May 2012) with its neat summary of and opinions on this fledgling appellation, a touch of sightseeing info and tasty wines from these estates: Brunet, la Seranne, Les Conquetes, Familongue/Quinquarlet, La Traversée, Brousses, Alexandrin, Chemins de Carabote, Plan de l'Homme, Chimeres, Cres Ricards, Quernes, Clos du Serre, La Sauvageonne... As well as even more handy links to these producers in the area, and a little beyond its boundaries (this does seem to stretch the imagination a little too far): domaine la croix chaptal - domaine alain chabanon - domaine d'aupilhac - mas conscience - domaine coston - mas de daumas gassac - mas de l'ecriture - domaine virgile joly - domaine de malavieille - domaine saint andrieu - languedoc tasting reports 2009-2008 vintages.

The region must have become even more fashionable, since some of the Languedoc 'big boys' have moved in over the past few years and bought vineyard plots or already high-profile estates. The Gérard Bertrand group is one of them, which acquired Domaine La Sauvageonne three or four years ago (now cunningly repacked as "Château", although I don't remember much of a manor house type building in situ when I went there six years ago) up in the wilds of St-Jean-de-la-Blaquière (with real terraced vineyards) - click HERE, HERE and HERE to find out what I thought of the wines, before and after so to speak.

Jean-Claude Mas obviously got excited about these terraces too, as his expansionist Domaines Paul Mas (links to lots of other stuff about them) family operation snapped up Domaine des Crès Ricards in 2010. Even if "the vineyard is planted at an altitude of 60 metres," (watch out vertigo sufferers) it does lie at the foot of Mount Baudille and is covered in hardy pebbles apparently. This now-extended and varied 42-hectare estate - there's some Cab, Merlot, Chardy, Viognier etc. here in addition to the 'usual Med suspects' - is found near Saint André de Sangonis around the village of Ceyras. They've recently launched a new white called Esprit de Crès Ricards into the range too. More info: www.cresricards.com, London office: www.cotemaslondon.com, US site: www.paulmas.com

Château des Crès Ricards
Alexaume 2012 IGP Mont Baudille (Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah, Carignan; 14.5% abv) - nice ripe liquorice and wild herb nose with spicy cassis, dark berry and roasted red pepper edges; fairly smooth and easy palate with a touch of weight, rounded finish with a hint of richness and grip too. Attractive drink-now red. €8 cellar door, UK £8.50.
Stécia 2013 (“selected” Syrah, Grenache and Carignan, 14.5% abv) – sweet black cherry and liquorice with minty herbal edges, aromatic and powerful nose; lush mouth-feel with earthier tones underneath, enticing sweet/sour cassis/berry fruit vs developing liquorice, a touch of grip yet it's nicely rounded, powerful and fairly concentrated, bitter twist of tannin vs lush and spicy texture. Well balanced in the end, approachable yet has a bit of structure; good with steak pie and roast duck. €12.50 cellar door, UK: Cheers Wine Merchants £9.99.
Oenothera 2012 (“selected old-vine” Syrah and Grenache, 14.5% abv) – had a funny unripe? (doubt it with 14.5) red pepper/herby brambly smell that was still there after two days open – or is it reduced? (also seems unlikely with a barrel aged red). Certainly had an odd 'dirty' character, which was a shame as underneath there was rich black cherry, liquorice, mint and black olive; more concentrated and structured than the Stécia, although that distracting pungent brambly thing lingered... A second bottle was the same: is it reductive for an oak-aged wine and still there after being open for a few days? Or a not very nice unripe note? Would like to try another bottling or the next vintage... €17 cellar door, £13.20.


Sticking with the theme, another fairly hefty bottle came my way recently bearing a similarly hefty and familiar name: the Orliac family, who are well-known pioneers in the Pic Saint-Loup appellation lying a little to the (south)east of the Terrasses du Larzac. Marie Orliac and, paraphrasing her note, her brothers are making a wine in the stunningly set Buèges valley on their elevated (600+ metres, so now we're talking terrasses) property called Clos du Prieur. The family actually bought the vineyards back in 1999 but had to spend considerable time and effort restoring and replanting the hotchpotch of old-vine blocks and a wee cellar in the village. More @ www.closduprieur.fr including some scenic photos - I downloaded the one of Marie above.

Clos du Prieur 2012 Vignobles Orliac (Syrah 75%, Grenache 25%, Cinsault 5%; 13% abv) – attractive soft and elegant with ripe black fruits and pepper, tasty now actually with its sweet currant palate vs a touch of grip; well balanced and quite straightforward, a nice Languedoc red although not sure I'd pay €16 for it (cellar door). These UK importers list wines from Domaine de l'Hortus, the Orliac's PSL winery, but it doesn't look like anyone ships this one yet: Caves de Pyrène, Bancroft Wines, Berry Bros & Rudd; ditto Wines Direct in Ireland. $38.50 Réserve & Sélection Quebec.

By the way, if you happen to be in the area, or Montpeyroux just down the road to be precise, on Sunday 19 April, the village’s twenty-one wineries will be open to all for tasting, chat and sales presumably for their annual "Journée de Toutes Caves Ouvertes." More: montpeyroux-en-languedoc.com or www.montpeyroux-tco.fr

10 February 2015

Rhone "reds of the moment": Rasteau & Lirac

The large-flavoured 2010 is the latest vintage release of Cave de Rasteau's 'premium' red called 'Les Hauts du Village', which, even if you only do a soupçon of French, is indeed "what it says on the label," a selected 'GSM' blend sourced from old vines on certain high-ground sites around Rasteau. It also differs from their other reds being about one third each of these varieties, with a higher proportion of Mourvèdre as opposed to the usual majority Grenache set-up. You'll find more words about this exciting co-op winery (90 this year by the way) and their other wines HERE, HERE and HERE.
Rasteau Les Hauts du Village 2010 - Mourvèdre 35%, Grenache 35%, Syrah 30% (just the Syrah aged in cask for a year), 14.5% abv. Earthy punchy nose layered with blackberry, black cherry and black olive too, peppery with savoury edges; fairly serious tannins vs lush dark fruit and spicy punchy finish, dry bitter twist balanced by lovely fruit and nice maturing 'tobacco' notes. Wow. After two days open (my old favourite test for big reds): more savoury and black olive on the nose and palate with lingering sweet vs spicy liquorice fruit, the tannins were a little rounder too. Predictably it's one of their dearer wines: €14.40 cellar door, £15.95 Hercules Wine Warehouse (UK), €20.49 O'Brien's (Ireland), $29.99 The Wine Merchant Cincinnati, $20-22 (plus tax) Total Wine & More.

From vignobles-alain-jaume.com
Alain Jaume & Fils doesn't do the southern Rhone Valley lightly, since the family owns vineyards in Vacqueyras, Châteauneuf-du-Pape and Lirac with their winery base in Orange. It's the latter appellation I'm focusing on here, which sits waving at its grander neighbour over the other side of the Rhone and is decked out with the same old big stones and all that jazz. Clos de Sixte is an organically farmed vineyard located in this area and home to the rock n' roll 'GSM' blend I've reviewed below. Click on the web address under the photo for more info.
Lirac 2012 Domaine du Clos de Sixte (15% abv) - Grenache 50%, Syrah 35%, Mourvèdre 15%, and 30% of the wine is aged in cask for 14 months. Delicious bold red with bags of rich peppery black fruits and liquorice, a powerful mouthful yet concentrated and surprisingly balanced actually, fairly soft tannins and complex lingering sweet vs savoury flavours on its big finish. It's actually dearer than some CndPs, although stacks up well flavour-wise against serious examples from there: €13.20 cellar door, £17.50 Ellis Wharton, Wimbledon Wine (UK); €21.50 Mitchell & Sons (Dublin); $22-$28 B-21 Florida, MacArthur Beverages DC, Wine House CA, Total Wine & More and other stores around the US.

09 February 2015

France: whites of the moment (Chablis, Gewurz, Champers and sweeties).

Shrivelled grapes from www.jurancon-cauhape.com

Chablis 2014 L’Eglantière Jean Durup (Chardonnay, 12.5% abv): surprisingly soft and not too acidic for a Chablis that was probably only bottled recently; it was a bit awkward and closed up to start with, although has attractive citrus fruit on top of its 'mineral' structure, subtle concentration too then tight and crisp on the finish. Needs a few months in bottle to express itself but should be good. €11.75 cellar door, Thorman Hunt & Co. London, $15.99 K&L Wines California. Also available in Germany and the Netherlands...

06 February 2015

WES NI latest: wine tastings, courses and workshops in Belfast

'Classic Grape Varieties' tasting Thursday 26 February - now sold out!

'New Spain' tutored tasting - Thursday 26 March 7 to 9 pm - £27.50
"We'll taste and talk about classic reds from, for example, Rioja and Ribeira del Duero and also venture into lesser-known territory like (real) Sherry country, Galicia for whites and Catalonia, including some very good Cava no doubt!"

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