"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 photo (below right)." Richard Mark James

29 April 2015

Languedoc red

As a scene-setter to this first of several pieces drawn from a trip to the Languedoc region last week, here's a punchy post written for UK wine & spirit trade website Harpers.co.uk (goes there, published 28/4/15) about the Languedoc AOP, followed by my pick of the red wines on tasting from this appellation.
"Created in 2007 as an extension of, and ultimately to replace the old 'Coteaux du Languedoc' designation, the Languedoc AOC (becoming AOP from vintage 2014) covers wines from one or any of the other Languedoc named appellations following roughly the same production 'rules', although a little less restrictive. It differs from IGP (used to be Vin de Pays) mainly by the way the wines have to be a blend of at least two grape varieties, yet they have the cohesive edge of using the same single geographic moniker rather than a myriad of sometimes unrecognisable, even if pretty sounding, place names. So, eight years down the line, how successful has it been?
Languedoc AOP only accounts for 17% of the region's overall appellation-status output, which doesn't suggest a massive uptake from potentially thousands of producers, despite the obvious advantage of labelling a wine simply as 'Languedoc' helping consumers easily locate where it's from, especially in 'wines from everywhere' markets like ours. On a broader scale, and more positively, 185 million bottles of all AOC Languedoc wines were sold in the year 2013/14, and about one-third of this exported with the UK sitting in third place in value and volume behind China, Germany and Belgium.
Out of over 100 red and white Languedoc AOP wines tasted last week at the CIVL's (Languedoc wine trade federation) annual 'Terroirs et Millésimes' press showcase held in Montpellier, I singled out about 25 – more whites than reds actually – as exciting enough to make a note of. Assuming this was a representative selection (always the problem with these kind of line-up tastings, if some of the top producers don't put samples in), you have to question the rationale or end-result, if, it seems, many estates end up leaving all their best stuff to be classified as one of the various new subzone appellations within the Languedoc, such as Terrasses du Larzac, La Clape, Pic St Loup or Pézenas, which after all is logical enough; and their least exciting wines are released as AOP Languedoc. It could undermine the whole idea if consumers don't get too inspired by these wines either. But AOP Languedoc should be, and already is judging by some of the wines I liked, a good opportunity for the more progressive co-op wineries and large property owners / brokers to get listings for full-on fruity Med red, rosé and whites in the £4.99-£8.99 bracket, such as ones from Cave de L'Ormarine, Les Costières de Pomerols, Jeanjean or Calmel & Joseph that were in the blind line-up.
As for recent vintages, I didn't select many 2012s at all; my overall impression is that it isn't a very charming vintage, or at the very least isn't drinking well at the moment. 2013 is a very different animal, although I probably missed some good wines as they weren't very revealing at this stage but should blossom well (more fruit yet structured too). And 2014 is generally looking promising across reds, whites and rosés. Here are some other wineries worth looking out for, which are labelling wines as Languedoc AOP (with approx UK retail): Domaine le Nouveau Monde (two reds £7.50/£10), Domaine de Sainte Cécile du Parc (£10.99), Mas Belles Eaux (the red I picked wasn't good value though at over £20), Château de l'Engarran (£7.99), Château de Flaugergues (£7.50), Les Trois Puechs £6.99, Domaine Cammaous (£7.99); and whites from Domaine des Lauriers (£7.50), Clos Sorian (£8.69), Virgile Joly (£6.99) and Mas Saint Laurent (£6.99)..."
All rights Richard Mark James for Harpers Wine & Spirit.

Le Folia restaurant @ Château de Flaugergues
A dozen Languedoc AOP reds to look out for with my notes and cellar door prices (added afterwards as these were tasted blind):

Domaine le Nouveau Monde 2011 Estanquier (Syrah, Mourvèdre; 1 year in cask, not fined or filtered) - The first one with any charm in a long line-up: nice minty spice and aromatic fruit, fair depth vs firm tannins still with lingering menthol and black cherry flavours. €10

Domaine le Nouveau Monde 2012 Tradition (Syrah, Grenache, Mourvèdre; no oak) - Lots of aromatic minty spicy black cherry and liquorice, firm texture but has attractive 'chalky' tannins, extracted style but with solid Med fruit. €7.50
Domaine de Sainte Cécile du Parc 2011 Sonatina (Syrah, Cinsault, organic; mostly oak aged) - Quite chunky and firm but rich too, dark fruit vs hints of savoury development, powerful yet balanced in the end despite fair toasted oak. €15
Mas Belles Eaux 2012 Carmin (selected block of Syrah, 18 months in barrel) - Bit of oak on nose and palate and chunky tannins, nice fruit though underneath with lively spicy black cherry/berry, fairly full-on finish. Very expensive though at €35.
Les Costières de Pomerols 2013 Hugues de Beauvignac (Syrah, Mourvèdre; no oak) - Nice soft-ish Syrah dominant styling, chunky vs fruity mouth-feel with a bit of depth too, drinking well now. €10
Château de l'Engarran 2013 Sainte-Cécile (Syrah, Grenache, Carignan, Cinsault; no oak) - Nice minty vs funky black cherry thing on the nose, quite soft and easy with a tad of grip; good for the price (some of their other reds are dear). €9
Château de Flaugergues 2013 Les Comtes (GSM, no oak) - Quite firm, chunky and closed up; good substance though, chunky dark fruit vs tannins rounding out on the finish. Screwcapped so needs a little longer to soften up. €7.90
Les Trois Puechs 2013 Tradition (Syrah, Grenache; no oak) - Lovely spicy minty nose, firm but fruity with 'chalky' tannins; much more charm and character than many of the others. €6.50 good value.
Cave de L'Ormarine 2013 Château Cazalis de Fondouce (Grenache, Syrah; no oak) - Reasonable depth for an inexpensive wine, spicy vs dark vs savoury fruit profile, firm structured but not drying, nice minty finish and length. €5.05 great value.
Cave de L'Ormarine
2013 Château Fertillère (Grenache, Syrah; no oak) - Chunky black cherry/berry with liquorice notes and a meatier side too, grippy mouth-feel but has some roundness, quite big but tasty with it. €6.20
Domaine Cammaous 2013 Audace (Syrah, Grenache; no oak) - Extracted to start but finishes well, concentrated and powerful with lingering savoury notes and spice. €9
And a couple of other Languedoc AOC reds tried over dinner:
Domaine de Roquemale 2014 Les Terrasses (old-vine Cinsault, Grenache and Syrah; no oak) - aromatic black cherry with floral blueberry notes, attractive with quite soft tannins, "sweet 'n' savoury" fruit and fresh finish; nice style.
L'Emothion d'Encoste 2011 (Jeanjean family estate) - enticing herby and crunchy vs ripe fruit combo, quite tight still on the palate and elegant, then nice spicy fruity finish.

18 April 2015

Pinot Noir & Cabernet Sauvignon: 'reds of the moment'

A few words about a pair of Pinots and a couple of Cabernets, pitching the US against South Africa and Chile against Argentina, which I selected for a 'classic grape varieties' tasting held in Belfast a few weeks ago. All different and all good.

Primarius Pinot Noir 2011, Oregon USA (12% abv) - I was slightly apprehensive buying this Oregon red at this price (they're mostly dearer), but wasn't disappointed. Quite light and elegant style yet has plenty of attractive clear-cut Pinot character, aromatic red fruit notes vs a more 'mushroom-y' (!) side and background oak adding a little roundness, refreshing and tasty finish. Drink now. £8.99 Tesco

21 March 2015

Alsace: Grand Cru tasting by Olivier Humbrecht & Christophe Ehrhart

This latest slightly esoteric feature on Alsace is neatly stored HERE on a sizzling new page dedicated to the Alsace region:

"These are my notes and thoughts on a Circle of Wine Writers' tutored tasting (so forgive the sometimes nerdy detail weaved into the words) earnestly called "Beyond terroir - exploring the influences on Alsace wines." The audience was informed and entertained by two great speakers, who guided us through nearly a dozen ("this one goes up to 11" in fact) mostly delicious top wines: Olivier Humbrecht MW from Domaine Zind-Humbrecht and President of the Alsace Grand Cru association, and Christophe Ehrhart from Josmeyer and Vice-President of Alsace Grand Cru..."
My five favourite wines at a glance:
Domaine du Clos Saint Landelin Grand Cru Vorbourg Riesling 2012
Domaine Paul Blanck Grand Cru Schlossberg Riesling 2010
Gustave Lorentz Grand Cru Altenberg de Bergheim Riesling 2008
Josmeyer Grand Cru Brand Pinot Gris 2010
Hugel & Fils Vendange Tardive Gewurztraminer 2007
You can also buy this in-depth feature as a handy PDF supplement including other recent material on Alsace for just £2.50 (about €3.50 or $3.75). READ ON...

Olivier Humbrecht MW, left (from zindhumbrecht.fr)

15 March 2015

Austria: Riesling & Blaufränkisch

This Austrian "mini-focus" kicks off with four random wineries featuring seven tasty dry Rieslings, since it's perhaps too easy to forget there's more to Austria than Grüner Veltliner (which can also be very good for sure - click there for more). But there's often something rather distinctive, intense, stylish about Austria's take on the Riesling variety, especially for a R-addict like me. And I've rounded things off nicely with a look at a slightly quirky Blaufränkisch red from an all-together different corner of Austria called 'Eisenberg' (no connection with a certain ex-chemistry teacher and New Mexico...).

Müller - Kremstal region
The Müller family works 65 hectares of vineyards on slopes around Stift Göttweig and their home/winery in Krustetten (near Paudorf) along the Danube valley, about an hour's drive north-west of Vienna. Importers: Clada in Galway, Ireland (not on their site though); Austrian Wines Direct in Scotland and the Austrian Wine Company in England both list some of their wines. More @ www.weingutmueller.at.
2013 Riesling Neubergen - steely zippy and lees-y palate with oily lime fruit and texture, quite intense with 'mineral' acidity, good extract and 'chalky' finish. Nice Riesling. €8-€9
2013 Riesling Leiten Reserve - more perfumed, oily and yeast lees-y; rounder mouth-feel vs steely bite, more concentrated too with lovely extract vs crisp length. €12.50-€14

Weszeli - Kamptal
Partners Davis Weszeli and Rupert Summerer are based in the fairly famous wine town of Langenlois in the Kamptal region, which lies to the north of Kremstal on the other side of the river. Their variety of vineyard plots includes some top-rated 'Erste Lage' sites, or Premier Cru if you like. Imported by Newcomer Wines in London (£ price below); in the US: Savio Soares Selections (NY) and The Age of Riesling (CA). More @ www.weszeli.at.
2013 Riesling Loiserberg - "the highest vineyard in this area..." Rich and full, oily and honeyed vs 'chalky' 'mineral' touches, lots of flavour and class. €12-€13, £16.90
2011 Riesling Steinmassl Erste Lage - 'yeastier' and creamier style with developing oily and savoury notes vs crisp bite and extract, delicate yet concentrated wine. €29-€32
2011 Riesling Seeberg Erste Lage - again lees-edged complex nose, very concentrated with lime flavours vs oily texture and steely bite. Very tasty, serious Riesling (and price too). €36-€40

Malat - Kremstal
This wine estate and hotel is found in Palt not far from the town of Krems itself a mere stone's throw from the big blue DanubeQuite widely exported including, they claim, The Wine Monger in California (also not on their site though?). www.malat.at 
2012 Riesling Steinbühel Erste Lage - stony hillside vineyard. Lovely developing oily nose, concentrated with lime and greengage fruit vs honeyed notes, perfumed yet savoury too, nice long 'mineral' finish. €16-€18

Huber - Traistental
The Huber family have been winegrowers for over 200 years, and current winery head Markus has continued to carve out a good name for their estate. They're based in Reichersdorf in the Traistental region, which borders Kremstal on its eastern side, where they actually mostly produce Gruner Veltliner but have a good reputation for Riesling too. Markus makes and exports a fairly wide range from good-value funky brands to top single site wines. Importers: Thierry's Wine Services in England, Broadbent Selection in the US (Richmond VA). www.weingut-huber.at
2013 Red Dolomite Riesling - more "commercial" off-dry? style, softer certainly with attractive perfumed flowery fruit and crisp 'chalky' finish.

Groszer Wein - Eisenberg
Eisenberg ('iron mountain') is a slightly mystical elevated hill lying in the far south-eastern corner of Austria in the southern Burgenland, right on the Hungarian border, not too far away from Slovenia and apparently closer to Croatia than Vienna (its most northerly point at least). This spot forms the backbone of a fairly new appellation area, which has been built around the red Blaufränkisch variety. Owned and run by Markus Bach and Mathias Krön, who launched themselves into this "winemaking adventure out of madness and love of wine," roughly translating from their site, the Groszer Wein ("great wine" or "big" or "tall" wine perhaps?!) winery has 16 hectares dotted with old vines on hillside sites around Eisenberg. Imported by Newcomer Wines in London and quite widely available around the rest of Europe. USA: The Wine Monger (CA), although couldn't find the wines on their site. More info @ www.groszerwein.at.

2012 Blaufränkisch Vom Riegl (13.5% abv) - meaning "from the hill" in local dialect. Surprisingly balsamic and 'volatile'/wild-edged on the nose with light cider notes in that 'natural'-styled way, ripe plum and liquorice too with resin and herbal minty tones, rich and quite peppery/earthy with subtle coconut vs herby dark berry fruit; fairly concentrated rounded and powerful yet has fresh acidity adding bite against that nice sweet fruit. Surprisingly "Mediterranean" yet with lively Austrian acidity, touch of grip too vs Italian-esque dried fruit characters. I liked it more the second day it was open actually, attractive unusual red but quite dear (like most good Austrian wine is): €19.90 / £22.90 in the UK, although you do get a big litre bottle for that!

12 March 2015

WES Belfast update: wine tastings...

Details just posted on my other blog: WineWriting.com (follow this link), including a new evening event: Organic & 'natural' wines tutored tasting on Thursday April 30th...

WES Belfast update: wine tastings, courses and workshops

RMJ snorting Chardonnay @ the Ramada Encore.
LAST FEW PLACES'New Spain' 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!"


'Red is for wine, blood, revolution, colour... A time-warped slice of mystery, history, fantasy, crime, art, cinema and love...' Buy the e-book or paperback novel on Amazon.co.uk or Amazon.com. Click here to view the RED blog!