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English sparkling wine supplement

Date: Mon, Mar 10, 2014 Wine Tasting

I've put together a 10-page special supplement on English sparkling wines, which is fizzing over with great 'Champagne' lookalikes, and taste-alikes, from a dozen exciting English wine estates, vineyards, wineries and brands featuringDigby, Henners, Hush Heath, Jenkyn Place, Danebury, Gusbourne, Chapel Down, Bolney, Bluebell, Ridgeview, Knightor and Furleigh. Plus a few facts, figures and comments on where the English fizz industry is at... Available as a PDF mini-mag emailed to you for just £2.50 (about €3 or $4)-buyit with Paypal. Not free2view!

Or subscribeto both my blogs for just £10 a year(about €12 or $16) and get it FREE along with any other of my special supplements published in this format (Chablis, Cahors etc: see links at top of page)...

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"Wines of the mo" - Germany, S Africa, Spain, France, Portugal, Argentina

Date: Thu, Feb 20, 2014 Wine Tasting

My favourites - and many of the enthusiastic attendees - from around the globe tasted on a recent Saturday 'wine workshop' I ran in Belfast, which deserve a little more airing:

Germany, Mosel: Selbach-Oster Riesling Kabinett 2006 - lovely example of delicate yet characterful mature Riesling with all that intricate oily 'kerosene' thing going on, rounded medium-dry palate with a touch of lingering fresh acidity underneath still, elegant long finish. Plenty ofcomplexflavour for an unoaked white wine with 10.5% abv. James Nicholson list price about £14 I think (now sold out), although I got it in their sale for less than a tenner.

South Africa, Stellenbosch: Rustenberg RM Nicholson 2009(50% Cabernet Sauvignon, 40% Syrah, 5% Petit Verdot, 3% Cabernet Franc, 2% Malbec)- very attractive traditional style SA red blend with power and weight (14.5% abv), smoky with dark berry fruit richness, still structured and chunky with nice tannins though, lovely depth, concentration and balance. Will keep longer but enjoy it now with hearty winter food. James Nicholson list price £12.50, about 30% off in their sale.

Spain, Rioja: Campo Viejo Gran Reserva 2007(mostly Tempranillo) - considering CV is now a massive international brand, they still manage to produce good quality, classic style Reserva and Gran Reserva barrel-aged Rioja styles, this delivers very nicely with smooth maturing fruit and light vanilla edges. Sainsbury's £15.99, £11.99 on offer.

France, Champagne: Oudinot Brut Vintage 2005 - one of Marks & Spencer's long-standing co-op Champers labels, this is a fine example of a longer aged, vintage blanc de blancs style (100% Chardonnay); nice toasty yeasty richness, elegant poise and balance, crisp vs rounded and very tasty. Fair class. £30

Portugal, Douro Valley: Cockburn's Late Bottled Vintage Port 2008(20% abv) - I remember those jokey TV ads for Cockburn's going back a couple of decades (at least?) now probably, which kind of summed it up as good old reliable Port but not much more. Well, this was a pleasant surprise and a delicious style of LBV with plenty of rich black plum and spice, dense tannins vs alcohol vs subdued sweetness in the end and alluring smoky tobacco notes. "Nice." Good value too: Sainsbury's £12

Plus a forgotten about but still worth mentioning red from Argentina, tasted a couple of months ago:
Argentina, Valle de Uco, Mendoza: Melisa Malbec 2012 (13.5% abv) - nice aromatic violet and herby spicy elderberry nose with underlying darker black cherry and savoury notes, peppery crunchy cran/elderberry fruit vs riper cassis and cherry, quite soft tannins and a bit of oomph, sweet liquorice vs white peppery and wild herby, a bit of weight and grip vs fresh bite. Naked Wines £8.49 - apparently £10,000 of the money earned helped fund a study scholarship for winemaker Patricio Gougenheim's employees' children.

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Wine Education Service NI tastings and courses UPDATE

Date: Thu, Jan 23, 2014 Wine Tasting

Updated February 26

The wine-tastic WES NIcourses and tastings being poured over the next few months, at theRamada Encore in Belfast city centre and tutored by RMJ,are outlined below. All events run on Thursdays7 pm to 9 pm, apart from the Saturday workshop (doh!).
Essential Wine Tasting five-week course - 3 April to 1 May£125 per person. More details here:wine-education-service.co.uk/introductory
Tour de France tutored wine tasting - 27 March£25.
Australia and New Zealand tutored tasting - 8 May£25.
Wines of ItalySaturday workshop -31 May£90including two-course lunch. More info here:wine-education-service.co.uk/workshop
More details about the two evening events above and online booking:wine-education-service.co.uk/wine-tasting-belfast.You can also pay for these tastings by PayPal using the button below. If you're a regular user of Local Wine Events.com, you can get in touch with me from this page: www.localwineevents.com.

Select tasting:

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S Africa, Italy, France, Chile: "whites of the mo" - Chenin, Fiano, Sauvignon...

Date: Tue, Dec 31, 2013 Wine Tasting

Following in the red-tinted wake of my previous "New Year-y Italians of the mo" type posting, here are a few gratuitous and varied white recommendations sampled recently hailing from the deep Italian south (Puglia, Sicily), South Africa, Chile and France...
The Garden Route Chenin blanc 2013Western Cape (13% abv) – the latest vintage of this popular favourite "round my way" gives you lively zesty yeast-lees edged style with 'sweeter' honeydew melon flavours coming through, has some weight (is perhaps a tad lighter than previous years though) vs crisp zingy finish making it a good seafood in a sauce white, e.g.mussels in garlic butter and white wine were a tasty match. A fiver on offer at Asda (which it often is, “usual” price is £8). For the real CB aficionados out there, Asda's 'Extra Special' Fairtrade Chenin and De Bos 'sur lie' Chenin are pretty good as well.
Carmen Stevens Angel's Reserve Chenin blanc 2013Western Cape (14% abv) – closed up at first (I over-chilled it though), developing fairly rich honeyed flavours with yeasty/buttery touches, full-bodied and rounded/oily with a bit of oomph vs crisp bite on the finish. Nice style Chenin. Naked Wines £9.99 or £6.99 'Angel' price. Photo of Carmen pinched from their site...

Dominic Hentall Fiano 2012Puglia, Italy (12.5% abv) – enticing apricot with spicy yellow flower notes, ripe and juicy with crisp dry bite and nutty flavours vs 'sweeter' fruit side, attractively light yet has a nice richer mouth-feel too with hints of pine/nutmeg (almost like a touch of spicy wood texture, although you wouldn't expect it probably?). Obviously a hit with Naked's customers as it's now "sold out"!
A couple of other southern Italian dry whites – from Sicily in fact – which are also worth mentioning and widely available: Inycon Pinot grigio - Grecanico 2012 and Tesco 'Finest' Vermentino 2012, both made by the very reliable Cantine Settesoli co-op.

Sancerre Villebois 2012Loire Valley, France (Sauvignon Blanc)- nice classic style but softer, elegant and less acidic than some Sancerre, lots of moreish gooseberry and citrus fruit though showing good depth, tasty mouthwatering finish vs softer very approachable side. £11.49 @ Naked Wines (don't imagine anyone would pay the 'normal' £15.49 though).
Casas del Bosque Sauvignon Blanc Reserva 2012 Casablanca Valley, Chile - I've tried various vintages of their Sauvignon before but not recently, good to see they're keeping up a high standard. Really aromatic grapefruit, gooseberry and "white blackcurrant" (if you see what I mean...), lively refreshing and crisp with a softer ripe green fruit side too, quite intense finish and flavour. £8.50 - £10 independents.

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Italian "reds of the moment"

Date: Mon, Dec 30, 2013 Wine Tasting

Featuring a couple of well-known names from northeastern Italy and a slightly more senior one from Tuscany (another Tuscan will follow too), all suitably red, full-flavoured and New Year-y...
Le Tobele Valpolicella Ripasso 2011 (13.5% abv) – 'volatile' balsamic notes on the nose, turns to very Italian morello cherry and almond aromas/flavours, floral and fruity with peppery edges; nice ripe cherry fruit with dry yet soft tannins vs fair acidity adding freshness, kirsch notes and perfumed crunchy fruit with attractive bite vs maturing savoury flavours. Nice 'sweet and sour' thing going on, fruity vs savoury balsamic, has good depth too. Went well with a creamy mushroom risotto. €10.99 Lidl Wine Cellar (Ireland, will confirm £ price in UK).
Amarone della Valpolicella Classico 2010 (15.5% abv) – the initial nose is a little heady/porty, chunky and austere when first opened too; turning to dried plum with balsamic meaty gravy notes even, thick tannins with a touch of oak texture/flavour, that alcohol's quite punchy vs lush cherry and olive fruit; it's still pretty firm powerful and 'porty' vs attractive sweet/savoury fruit. Quite good, the other dearer Amarone (links to note on that) Lidl 'wine cellar' has is better and finer (and dearer of course); this one's more in your face but is still attractive. Good with chocolate pudding.£15.99, €17.99
Casato dei Medici Riccardi 2008 Brunello di Montalcino (14% abv) – surprisingly herby/earthy tones at first (for its age, this went with airing though) vs mature smoky notes, dried fruits (morello/kirsch) with savoury 'cheesy' edges, balsamic and black pudding too! Smooth mature palate with dried cherries and meaty flavours, melted-in tannins although still has a bitter twist of grip and structure too, a bit of oomph vs balanced finish. Nice old-fashioned red, not 'top top' but reasonable quality and authentic style for£19.99– Brunello can be mega expensive.

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Spain v Australia: festive sweeties and reds, with or without chocolate

Date: Sat, Dec 21, 2013 Wine Tasting

Well, not exactly one against the other, but a way of introducing five very different wines from these two diverse wine-lands ranging from essentially dry red to sweeter to very very sweet, started as white ended up brownish. First off, an aged dry red from Penfolds, the 2006 vintage of their Bin 28 Shiraz (about £14 in the UK). This was one of a few stars sampled with different types of chocolate at a recent Northern Ireland Wine & Spirit Institute 'wine with chocolate' tasting, with Deirdre McCanny of Belfast chocolatier Co Couture (a tad more about chocolate making etc. follows the wine blurb). This particular Penfold's 'Bin number' has been going since 1959 apparently, and the 2006 wasn't really showing its age that much. Powerful spicy nose with eucalyptus tones even, sweet blackberry and maturing savoury notes, has a fair kick still vs attractive spice and richness vs meaty flavours and softening tannins. Nice with the 'plain' Madagascan chocolate and the 'smoked sea salt' flavoured one even (read on...); or have with the usual red meat suspects I'd imagine.

Moving on to the Rutherglen region in northeastern Victoria, which is famous for producing one-off sweet Madeirized style wines - deliberately oxidized by a special maturation process - fortified with alcohol (like Port and Sherry) and keeping hold of a large dose of natural sugar. Two different types are mentioned here, a 'Tawny' (the Portuguese won't like that) and a Muscat. Jen Pfeiffer is one of Naked Wines' bespoke winemakers, who's come up with a quirky little number called The Diamond 10 Year Old Rutherglen Tawny (19.8% abv). This showed cooked raisins and pecan nut on the nose, caramel fudge and toffee, oxidized Madeira notes but redder fruit, tangy toasted nuts vs sweet raisins vs punchy alcohol; quite balanced in the end despite all that going on (for a long time). £11.99 'Angel' price, £15.99 'normal' (more about their pricing here). I tasted this one at home recently (still am, a couple of mouthfuls at a time is enough, and it keeps for weeks) rather than at that choco event; try it with a selection of cheeses or mince pies.
Campbell's is a name almost synonymous with this particular style of sticky fortified wine, especially their legendary Rutherglen Muscat (17.5% abv -£13.99 Direct Wine Shipments and generally available in many specialist shops). Probably even sweeter than the tawny, with around 190 grams per litre residual sugar, this had a full-on cooked sultana and marmalade nose, very sweet and lush palate with treacly vs aromatic fruity flavours, the Muscat character does come through all that in the end lending a fruitier, dare I say 'fresher' side. The chilli chocolate worked well giving it a bit of bite; and similarly, the ginger choc also fought back! Was a bit weird with the sea salt one though.
Carrying on with the intense sticky theme, Sherry country in southwestern Spain is responsible for a variety of tasty styles of this fortified aged wine, from very dry (Fino, Manzanilla) to super sweet, such as Gonzalez Byass' extraordinary Matusalem(20.5% abv). Their press blurb describes it thus: "Matusalem is a premium cream sherry aged for 30 years in the Gonzalez Byass bodega in Jerez, Andalucia. Fine Oloroso sherry is blended with Pedro Ximenez (that's a variety not some bloke who works there, whose bunches are dried out lying on mats after picking, massively concentrating the natural sugar) and aged in American oak barrels where the flavours and aromas concentrate."
This is what I scribbled down after trying it a few times at home over a period of days with and without food (makes a nice dessert just on its own, or with dried fruit and nuts perhaps) - again good with mince pies, could be a substantial match for Christmas pudding or smooths the edges on blue and hard mature cheeses; and what about pouring some over vanilla ice cream too? Powerful 'volatile' Madeirized nose with cooked/oxidized and really toasted walnuts and molasses tinged with an almost extremely reduced wine/meat gravy edge! Caramelized soy sauce too vs mega dried fruit sultana/raisin cocktail, huge palate with the same array of flavours plus very nutty sweet walnut/pecan, nice kick/bite cuts through it a little, very intense tangy vs sweet finish. Wow, extreme wine or what. Tastes the same a few days later, another one that will keep for a week or three probably. Luckily comes in half-bottles - £19.99 from Ocado, Waitrose, Tesco, Majestic, Fortnum and Mason, Harvey Nichols, Cambridge Wines and other independents and sherry specialists.
Staying in Spain, I'll come back to an unusual slightly sweet Merlot from Priorat, found down the coast from Barcelona and inland a little on the hills, made by Joseph Puig called Dolc de Lluna 2006 (15% abv, £22.50 DWS). Nicely wacky mix of maturing meaty leather notes and dark vs savoury fruit, had a bit of grip still vs rounded mouth-feel with some sweetness and kick. Different for a Merlot. Again stood up well to the stronger flavoured chocolates even, ginger and chilli, as well as a nice match with the 'plain'.

Talking of that Co Couture chocolate, it seems like a good way of ending this post with a few facts and figures about making fine chocolate gleaned fromDeirdre's introduction (hopefully accurate, as it was all scribbled down in a hurry). Cocoa beans are bigger than I'd imagined, although shrink when roasted turning them brown too, as are the pods, which resemble elongated coconut shells without the hair crossed with a shrivelled melon! There are three different varieties used for making choco:forastero, the biggest pod mainly grown in western Africa; Trinitario, a hybrid of the latter and Criollo that's smaller with rounder ends and more susceptible to weather and disease.Criollo is considered the finest, and there's a resurgence in growing this one,Deirdre said, although it's difficult to grow. There's no sugar in the beans but is in the pulp around them, so they're fermented together imparting more flavour into the beans. These are then dried and roasted.
We tasted three pieces of raw beans, all different with bitter vs sweet profile. It should have intensity and tannins but not particularly bitter; if a bean tastes heavily roasted, it means it's poor quality. The final roasted bean is about 50-50 cocoa solids and cocoa butter, which is pressed and separated. The butter is a fat, which does smell likecocoa-infusedbutter and melts in your hand. For dark choco, they then take 70% cocoa solids (any fine chocolate should be minimum 70%) and add 30% cocoa butter, sugar and vanilla (best fresh). There shouldn't be any other kind of fat, although you can add the useful soya lecithin nowadays. For milk chocolate, you need the cocoa solids blended with milk powder then the rest of the ingredients as above. And white chocolate is just cocoa butter and the rest without the cocoa solids. The solids are first refined to make a smooth paste with no particles. Typically, the darker the colour, the higher the amount of solids although this isn't always the case, e.g. from Madagascar, which can have lovely reddy brown hues.
Rubbing your thumb on the back of the chocolate helps release the aromas. Snap it - a nice 'clean' snap means it's high in cocoa butter. Let it melt in your mouth on your tongue to get more of the flavours. We tried four different types with various origins and styles, although it's not totally clear from my notes what they were each called, so I'll just say I was surprised how different they all looked and tasted (they were all 70% dark), and no real bitterness there either. There are essentially two production styles though, French and Belgian/Swiss (plus everyone else). The French like to taste the chocolate and use less sugar and more butter (better for cooking chocolate too for melting) than the Belgian/Swiss makers.

Look out for sort-of 'part 2' of sweetie wine and chocolate on my other FrenchMediterraneanWine.com blog (links to it, with a touch of Maury and Banyuls), plus more southern French 'reds of the mo' that have come my way from the Roussillon, Languedoc and St-Chinian in particular...

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Spain: Cava guide

Date: Fri, Dec 13, 2013 Wine Tasting

Cava mini-guide
"Creative Catalan bubbles..."

"I'm not going to bore you with the full-monty geographical or technical stuff, as the Cava region is quite vast and extends beyond Catalunya actually (but there is some of that in it, a hint of winemaking talk and fascinating export stats)... This gradually expanding wee guide, originally published in 2008 and updated a few times a year since, is more about bringing your attention to a few lesser-known sparkling gems and hopefully also encouraging you to explore beyond Barcelona and the region's nice beaches and coastal towns, out into real Cava country... head for those green hills!"Includes wines from these dozen stand-out Cava wineries: Llopart, Carles Andreu, Perelada, Parxet, Raimat, Bach, Lavernoya, Mont Àrac, Blancher, Parató,Loxarel,Enric Nadal and many many more...Last updated: December 2013.

SUBSCRIBETO MY BLOGS FOR JUST£10A YEAR (about $16/€12) TO GET THE 12-PAGE PDF (and growing) OF THIS GUIDE (plus any of my other recent specials in this format e.g. Chablis, Argentina), or BUY IT FOR £2.50on its own - it's NOT FREE2VIEW any more!Hit the chosenPayPal button below to pay by card or with your own PP account! More about subscribing, payments and general T&C by clicking on the highlighted 'subscribe' link.

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Champagne & sparkling wines: festive fizz

Date: Mon, Dec 9, 2013 Wine Tasting

Cava - Catalunya
Updated11 December:
Conde de Caralt Rosado(Trepat,Monastrell, Garnacha)- lightly yeasty nose with milk chocolate biscuit edges, ripe red fruity palate with oily texture vs quite crisp and off-dry. DWS (Belfast) £9.25, Cases Wine Warehouse (Galway) €14.95
Enric Nadal (Torrelavit) 2007 Gran ReservaBrut Nature (Parellada, Macabeu, Xarel-lo, 12% abv) - rich toasted yeast and chocolate cake aromas, maturing nutty savoury flavours with still fresh and fizzy contrast, tangy finish with dry bite vs plenty of lush flavours. Yum. £15 / €25 James Nicholson
Juvé y CampsBrut Nature Gran Reserva 2009(12%) - same trio of Catalan grapes as above, similar in style although a bit less rich and toasty perhaps, nice nutty honeyed flavours and crisp dry finish. Wasn't hugely fizzy, perhaps it didn't enjoy sitting in the warm duty free shop at Alicante airport and the flight home! €13.50
2010 Mas Miralda Rosado Vintage Brut (Monastrell, Trepat, Garnacha and Pinot Noir;12%) - one of Asda's own label "extra special" range, nice and red fruity with light biscuit touches and frothy off dry finish. £6 on offer.
Loads more Cava HERE(links to intro to my 12-page mini-guide, now available for £2.50 or free to subscribers).

Prosecco - northeast Italy
La Jara organic rosé(grape variety = Glera, 10.5%) - attractively light and delicate, fruity rosé fizz with nice frothy lively mouth-feel and sweet vs crunchy red fruits, fairly crisp and medium-dry. Swig Wine £10.95 (9.95 if you buy 6).
Col de l'Utia 2012 Prosecco Superiore Valdobbiadene, Spumante Extra Dry (Prosecco grape,11.5%) - similarly light and refreshing, has background yeasty biscuit notes and light almond and apple flavours, crisp and off-dry finish. Not massively exciting but a good example of elegant easy-drinking Prosecco. Naked Wines £10.99 (Angel's price: see here for more about that).

South Africa
Cape Fairtrade Sparkling Brut Rosé 2009Du Toitskloof (12.5%) - good value with lots of flavour for the money: quite toasty with chocolate and aromatic ripe red fruits, rounded and easy-going vs fresh bite, nice style. The Co-operative £7.99

England -Sussex, Kent, Hampshire
Although made at this winery in West Sussex, the fruit is sourced from selected growers across southeastern England (not unlike how most Champagne houses operate) by winemaker Dermot Sugrue. Watch out for my in-depth supplement on English sparkling wines coming soon on WW.com, including a fuller profile on Digby.
Digby Fine English 2009 Vintage Rosé Brut, Wiston Estate Winery (80% Pinot Noir, 20% Chardonnay; 12% abv) - Delicious mix of ripe strawberry/raspberry vs toasty and chocolate biscuit, lush rounded and fruity vs fresh acid structure, showing depth and class. Yum. £38-£40 fromtheir on-line shop or atSelfridges, Vagabond Wines and Wine Pantry; which is fairly dear, obviously, but no more so than other similar quality English rosé sparklers or rosé Champers for that matter.
Digby 2009 Reserve Brut (two-thirds Chardonnay+ the two Pinots; 12%) - Elegant mix of citrus vs buttery fruit vs yeasty oat biscuit flavours vs crisp and refreshing, quite tight and structured still with nice fruit and light toast. A tad drier and crisper than the rosé with apple and citrus vs yeasty notes, good stuff again with a touch of class, more vintage Champagne like. £31.49

Champagne - France
Louis Chaurey NV Brut (Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier; 12%) - tried this last year(goes there) on a similar"half price"deal at Marks & Spencer, and it's just as good this year too. Pretty classic non-vintage Champers with nice fizz, a bit of creamy body vs crisp refreshing bite vs yeasty oat cake flavours, quite long. Good for £16, I wouldn't pay £32 though.
Franck BonvillePrestige Grand Cru, Blanc de Blancs Brut (Chardonnay, 12.5% abv) - Made from100% Chardygrapes from top-rated vineyards in the village of Avize; shows some real class with lovely creamy buttery fruit, delicate mouthwatering length, nice depth of flavour, rounded and toasted oat-y vs structured and quite serious food-demanding style. Marks & Spencer: £28 at the moment, usually £39.

McGuigan Black Label Premium Release Sparkling Shiraz(13.5%) - Just for fun and oddity factor, sparkling reds like this take a bit of getting used too (some won't), with lots of spicy ripe berry fruit, tannin and alcohol; has a more refreshing side though with ripe dark fruity finish. Try with chocolate desserts or mature cheeses. Wine World / Wine Flair £9.89

I've added / might add more good fizz to this post before the end of December. In the meantime, here are some links to even more fizzy posts HERE.

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New Zealand: TerraVin, Lay of the Land, Rod Easthope

Date: Mon, Dec 2, 2013 Wine Tasting

TerraVin was acquired by a partnership of "Pinot enthusiasts," as their blurb puts it, in 2011 including "several British businessmen." They humbly describe themselves as a "boutique Marlborough winery with a dedicated focus on growing and making world-class hillside Pinot Noir and Sauvignon Blanc." My notes below would suggest they're on the right track by the way. This 29 hectare vineyard site was planted 10 years ago in "an isolated valley in the back of the Southern Wither Hills," and apparently was once an early Maori settlement prized for its sheltered location. The "gently sloping north-facing vineyard" runs from 130m to 200m elevation and enjoys a maritime micro-climate. Gordon Ritchie is winemaker here and keeps an eye on vineyards too.
TerraVin UK office: 020 8876 9656. Available from Clark Foyster Wines who sells to the London areaon-trade and by the case. These posh eateries list them: Restaurant Gordon Ramsay, Chelsea; The Fat Duck, Heston Blumenthal; Marcus Wareing at the Berkeley, Knightsbridge; Pied a Terre; Hélène Darroze at The Connaught, Mayfair; Raymond Blanc's Le Manoir aux Quat'Saisons;Hotel TerraVina, GerardBasset's place in the New Forest, Hants.Elsewhere: L’Atelier de Joel Robuchon, Paris; Jacob Hotel, Hamburg; Jean-Georges, Shanghai; Mandarin Oriental, Hong Kong; and also in Singapore, Japan, Malaysia, New York and Sydney.www.terravin.co.nz

2011 Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc (13% abv) - Some complex maturing notes adding a savoury touch - and "a portion is fermented in seasoned French oak barrels," according to the blurb, which probably partly explains these characters and its more rounded mouth-feel - to otherwise ripe greengage / gooseberry fruit, still quite lively (for a 2011) andintense with crisp acidity and green fruit vs that rounder and tasty savoury side. Good wine, better than, and different from, a lot of NZ Sauvignon... and dearer too at £12.75.
2011 Pinot Noir (13% abv) - made from "parcels of grapes from three low-yielding north-facing hillside vineyards in Marlborough's southern valleys," to be more precise. Quite complex developing nose, savoury and earthy vs 'sweet' dried red fruits, lightly toasted vanilla tones vs elegant perfumed floral characters and intriguing 'volatile' matured cheese edges. Quite silky and soft with a touch of freshness still vs weight, maturing and tasty 'sweet/savoury' fruit, elegant and delicious now actually yet with underlining subtle structure. Very good Pinot, seems fairly expensive at £21.75althoughthis isn't outrageous compared to other high-class NZ Pinots (link goes to PN report scribbled in May).

Lay of the Land
One of UK online specialist Naked Wine's 'Angel-funded projects' if you like, Lay of the Land was created by winemaker Mike Paterson (pic. above) who was "head winemaker for 10 years at a leading Marlborough winery..." as the story goes, before Naked and their customers helped him get his own thing off the ground, an understandably "beyond scary" prospect otherwise cash investment wise. This is apparently the thinking behind Naked Wines' pricing - Angels pay £20 a month, which you can spend any time (and presumably sits in Naked's bank account gathering interest in the meantime) getting "25% to 50% off" their 'normal' prices. Seems like a good idea perhaps, if you buy cases ofexclusive-labelwines fairlyregularly, although, as I've said before, who would pay these 'normal' obviously inflated prices anyway? (Not unlike the big supermarkets' famous 'half-price' type offers). So it feels like you're paying them to buy wine at the price it's worth, although there's that added novelty factor of sort-of investing in new winemaking projects and 'part-owning' tailor-made wines...

2012 Ben Morven Farm Pinot Noir Marlborough (14% abv) - perfumed, quite sexy 'sweet/savoury' Pinot nose with lively berry and hints of chocolate/vanilla, lightly herbal side too (or 'reductive'? went away with air in any case) and intriguing 'volatile'/balsamic edges. Punchy palate vs fresh acidity too, bitter-sweet finish with a touch of grip vs silky perfumed 'sweet/savoury' fruit vs vanilla and coconut texture; smooth and "drink now" vs quite structured with oomph underneath, that vanilla oak coating is a tad 'sweet' perhaps but the wine has nice Pinot character and bite too. Second day:weirdlyseems a bit moreclosed up andtouch firmer and tighter perhaps vs lovely floral and spicy cherry fruit vs savoury earthy notes. Made using "organic wine-growing principles," which probably means it isn't 'officially' but is in philosophy and practice... Angels' price £12.99, 'normally' £18.99.
2012 Destination Sauvignon Blanc Marlborough (13%) - ripe gooseberry and asparagus with melon and grapefruit too, lively zingy and crisp still vs a rounder oilier side, similar fruit flavours as on the nose, 'chalky' acidity vs a bit of weight, quite concentrated and lively upfront style vs more elegant mouthwatering finish. Odd perhaps that they've shipped a 'premium' wine in bulk and bottled it in Germany. 'Normal' price £13.49, Angel £9.49.

Rod Easthope 2013 Pinot Gris Hawke's Bay (12% abv) - aromatic, almost Sauvignon/Semillon like nose and character to start, although has zingy Pinot Gris/Grigio style and flavour too with light crisp vs rounder off-dry palate; attractive quaffer with zesty 'chalky' and lightly peppery finish vs honeyed sweeter fruit. Nice but kinda dear - you can get similar Italian Pinot Grigio or simple Alsace Pinot Gris for less. Also bottled in Germany. £11.99 or £8.99 if you're a Naked Angel!

Much more on New Zealand HERE.

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Beers of the moment: Whitewater vs Whitechapel

Date: Thu, Nov 14, 2013 Wine Tasting

Or Dobbin vs Porter, Kilkeel vs Kent, Ireland vs England if you like... Described as a "ruby porter style beer," which does pretty much sum up Clotworthy Dobbin (5.0% abv, £1.79 a bottle I thinkin AsdaNorthern Ireland storesand widely available elsewhere over here) brewed by theWhitewater Brewery found a littleinlandfrom Kilkeel in the southern Co. Down countryside. Not quite as rich and dark as afull-onstout but definitely in that malty 'porter' ilk, smoother perhaps too. Surprisingly nice with curry actually. I also like that short and sweet ingredient list - malt, barley, hops, water, yeast - i.e no unnecessary rubbish in it for a change. Whitewater produces a good range of various beer styles overall from Belfast Lager to this one to maltier still.

Well-known, and probably much larger Kent brewer Shepherd Neame makes ASDA's 'Extra Special' Whitechapel Porter Ale (5.2% abv, £1.80), which is lush and chocolatey with attractive bitter-sweetfinish. More quaffable than say Guinness, and more interesting perhaps with a different array of flavours. Just about works with (dark) chocolate, this is a tasty slow-sipping by-the-radiator ale that would go well with winter stews.

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Champagne & Sparkling wine tasting Dec 3 Belfast

Date: Tue, Nov 12, 2013 Wine Tasting

Don't miss the bubbling-with-excitement Wine Education Service NI Champagne & Sparkling wine tutored tasting evening, rolling out and upwards on Tuesday December 3 (7 to 9 pm) at the Ramada Encore in Belfast City Centre. Your fizzed up host RMJ will take you on "...afizzy world tour through France with classic Champagne and other fine sparklers, then comparing with the ever popular Cava (something different and better than usual though...), Italian 'new kid on the block' Prosecco, passing through the southern hemisphere e.g. Australia, New Zealand, and ending up in England..." (you'll be surprised if you haven't tried top English fizz). Tickets are just £30 per person and can be booked via the link on this page:wine-education-service.co.uk/wine-tasting-belfast, where you'll also find the detailed program for the first half of next year. Or pay by PayPal using the button below (and for other tastings next year too). And if you're a regular user of Local Wine Events.com, you can get in touch with me from this page:www.localwineevents.com.

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Next year's scheduled WES NI courses and events include: Essential Wine Tasting five-week course and Grape to Glass one-day workshop (Feb 2014), Tour de France tasting (March), Wines of Italy Sat. workshop (April), Aus & New Zealand tasting (May) and Syrah/Shiraz tasting (June). More info:wine-education-service.co.uk/wine-tasting-belfast.

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Argentina: Cabernet & Tempranillo (plus a sparkling wine)

Date: Tue, Nov 5, 2013 Wine Tasting

"'Malbec from Argentina' is hogging the fashion limelight nowadays, and a good deal of this sizeable country's vineyard area on the simplest level; and Syrah has also now invaded the varietal catwalk here. But we shouldn't forget another better-known mainstay red variety, and often more successful in quality, consistency and style terms; good old Cabernet Sauvignon..."

Subscribe for just £10 to read myfull-works12-page Argentina report (using the PayPal button below), including wines from and comments on: Zuccardi, Trapiche, Schroeder, Toso, Fournier, Bosca, Lurton, Alpamanta, Bousquet, Dona Paula, Catena, Andeluna; and Alta Vista, Salentein, Callia, Sophenia, La Riojana, Torino, Sta Anna, Trivento, Masi, Sta Julia, Viñalta, Las Moras also featured in recent articles on Malbec and Torrontés as well.
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Spain: a couple of Riojas of the moment

Date: Thu, Sep 26, 2013 Wine Tasting

Further toA trio of Riojaposted a few months ago, and mucho masoutlined on theSpain archive page here, my terminal fascination with one of the world's favourite red wines continues featuring a couple of Riojas available in the UK in Co-op and Lidl stores (the ones equipped with their 'wine cellar' range, so not all of them). By coincidence, they're both 2008 vintage, which is 'officially' rated as 'very good' and with a touch of elegance too by my reckoning...

Soligamar Reserva 2008 Ortega Ezquerro (80%Tempranillo with Garnacha and Mazuelo from two 600 metre altitude vineyards, 24 months in new French oak;14% abv) - smoky vanilla notes with sweet berry and cassis fruits, intricate maturing savoury touches vs still quite solid and firm, concentrated and rich vs nice dry texture, fairly big mouthful vs a certain freshness and elegance. The second day open saw more savoury, balsamic and 'cheesy' notes developing, smoother too with attractive sweet fruit/oak combo, still structured and alive as well. Very nice Rioja. £9.99 Lidl

Marqués de Válido Reserva2008Bodegas Muriel (Tempranillo, 13% abv) - similar in some ways to above with its smoked vanilla oak notes (although less oaky) and maturing sweet berry fruits, a touch lighter perhaps (maybe it doesn't have any Garnacha in it...) though has subtle concentration and balance, pretty classic style with mature savoury balsamic finish layered with sweet vs smoky fruit/oak. Surprisingly good with the chilli beef & veg stew thing I made (up as I went along), thanks to those generally soft tannins, smooth texture and sweet/smoky taste combo. Real bargain at the moment at the Co-op - £5.49 instead of 'usual' price of £10.99!

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'Essential Wine Tasting' course Belfast Oct-Nov.

Date: Tue, Sep 24, 2013 Wine Tasting

New dates: the next Wine Education Service NI Essential Wine Tasting course is now scheduled on Tuesday evenings from 15 October to 12 November 2013. More info on this five evening course here: wine-education-service.co.uk/introductory - cost £125 for 5 sessions: book here.

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