All posts filed under: Travel

Rioja Alavesa trip #2 – a photo diary

Here are some of my favourite moments from the trip to Rioja Alavesa on instagram. I was thrilled to catch up with the Vinisud team again.For more instagrams from beautiful Rioja Alavesa, check out: charliewines (Charlie Arturoala), rockinredblog (Michelle Williams) and thewinesleuth (Denise Medrano). This week I am in the Basque part of Rioja – #RiojaAlavesa. Driving from Bilbao, it’s higher and cooler here. Very cool to see the Cantabrian mountains, they protect the vines from the Atlantic winds. There is still the humidity – great for vines (but not so much for my hair!) ;-) #winelovers #winelife #RiojaAlavesa #basquecountry #basquewine A photo posted by Juel Mahoney (@winewomansong) on Jul 7, 2016 at 6:00am PDT A photo posted by Juel Mahoney (@winewomansong) on Jul 7, 2016 at 6:00am PDT Getting the “Vinisud” band back together – on tour of Rioja Alavesa with rock stars @rockinredblog and @thewinesleuth. Later today we are giving a presentation to 100 producers about social media and wine trends with @charliewines chairing the panel (we will also see some of his film – The Duel …

Rioja Alavesa trip #1 – Will Basque Rioja break away from Rioja?

My introduction to Rioja Alavesa went a little something like this: “We are going to visit Basque wine country!” wrote Charlie Arturaola, “We are going to Rioja.” “Are we going to Basque country or are we going to Rioja?” I tapped back. “Both!” When you think of Basque country, you may be forgiven for thinking of tingly white Txacoli poured from great heights in the bars of San Sebastian.  But there is a part of Rioja, near the Cantabrian mountains, that is also part of the Basque country. What did the Level 3 WSET book have to say about the Basque part of Rioja? “Rioja Alavesa is situated to the west of Logroño, on the north bank of the Ebro. Vineyards are planted up to 800 metres into the foothills of the Cantabrian Mountains. The soil is very chalky and the wines are perhaps the lightest of Rioja, but have the most finesse” (Wines and Spirits, Understanding Quality, WSET, 2012). And that’s it… Nothing about Vasco Pais, Euskadi, Basque Country. And about half as much information than for Rioja Alta and Rioja Baja.  And yet, you …

In Montpellier for Vinisud 2016

Last week I was at Vinisud 2016 in Montpellier for the Mediterranean wine trade fair. It was my first time at this event, and as far as locations go, you could not do better than tasting wines on the sunny coast of France in February. I was there as a Vinisud Ambassador, along with Charlie Arturaola (producer of the film, “The Ways of Wine” and other wine films), Denise Medrano (The Wine Sleuth), and Michelle Williams (Rocking Red Blog). The Ambassador team was a social media powerhouse, becoming a sounding board for the producers and presentations. In a single day, the TweetReach broke new records via the official #VINISUD2016 hashtag with nearly 1,500 twitter posts recorded. According to Sylvain Dadé of specialist agency SOWINE, which hosted the Vinisud Digital Hub, over the last two days of the show, 533,000 accounts were reached with 4.8 million prints. On Tuesday, we found #Vinisud2016 was trending on twitter alongside that other little event going on at the time, The Grammys (!).  Charlie, Denise and Michelle are true social media professionals at the top of their game; each of their presentations at …

The view from Paris: natural wine and the vegetable whisperer

This is my view. We are staying with a young sommelier friend. He moved to Paris from Copenhagen and now works at one of the grand dames of the natural wine bistro scene, Chateaubriand.  On the wall of his apartment in Oberkampf is an old chalkboard he was given by the guys at Verre Volé (67 Rue de Lancry, 75010 Paris) – one of the places where many wine people hung out a few years ago. Verre Volé also made an impact on me back in the early part of this decade: I remember turning up after they were closed so they gave me a few glasses and a bottle of Métras to sit by the Canal Saint-Martin while we waited for them to open again. “Natural wine only” lists are not a new phenomena. But what is happening in the new bistro scene in Paris (described as “bistronomie”) is not just about natural wine, but also about “natural food” and maybe, in the longer term, we may look back and see that it was even more than that – a coming together of a greater philosophy about the environment and …

3 terroirs in Saumur-Champigny you need to know

As the boat drifted away from the town of Saumur on a summer night, and I was drifting away in my thoughts at the end of the day (and, perhaps, from one too many glasses of red), I thought about the knotty notion of terroir. When does wine become more than just about thirst? The Loire is a vast collection of different terroirs following the Loire River from the centre of France to the Atlantic. We were in Saumur-Champigny AOC, in the centre of the Loire region. South-east of Angers, on the left bank of the river, and east of Coteaux du Layon and Anjou. The boat drifted to the point in the river where the Saumur region ended and where Touraine began. A winemaker pointed to the old stone stairs on the river bank. The stairs were divided down the middle. Although they joked about it, saying one side was for the people in Saumur and one was for Touraine – there were clearly still some healthy rivalries between the neighbours. The line where one region started and another ended was clear in the …

Les Grands Tablées du Saumur-Champigny 2015

Right now I am in Saumur for a two-day festival called Les Grands Tablées du Saumur-Champigny. Last time I was in Saumur, the constant rain kiboshed our plans to ride bicycles through the vineyards. That was the dream, anyway: a little exercise to go with the wine drinking. We did try. But the rain put a stop it – worst luck – and we ended up staying inside the local restaurants instead, drinking the 2014 vintage and tasting the local cheeses. Now I developed a serious taste for this refreshing red that is – pound for pound – one of the most versatile red wines out there, I am happy to be back in Saumur again to finally meet the winemakers and see the vineyards. The 2014 vintage is an exciting moment for Cabernet Franc in Saumur-Champigny. It’s worth celebrating, especially if it is pouring all night long. This year the event had a British theme (there were a lot of “British” bowler hats, which only made me look like droog A Clockwork Orange. Or maybe Mel and Kim). Was it just a gimmick? There is a deep connection with Britain in the area – this is …

What’s not to love about 2014 Loire wines

Wines from the Loire are not for everybody. Except for the super-refreshing sparkling wine, made in the same way as Champagne, that starts every meal we had on the long weekend staying in Saumur. Or the bright pink Pinot d’Aunis rosé everybody in town seemed to be drinking, from flat-capped pensioner to gangly teenagers, in the local pub off the busy Saturday morning market. Not everyone would think of a Saumur-Champigny red with a sirloin steak like they did at the local Argentine restaurant – it’s an elegant crisp red rather than the usual full-blown Malbec. That’s a shame because the wines are packed full of fruit, especially the reds. Loire wines seem to be polarised between the natural wine crowd who love to fetishise grapes (fair enough) and the rest who have to wade through a lot of bottles, but when finding the bottle, re-confirms its classic status. There is a lot to love about the 2014 vintage. The constant rain over the long weekend meant our original plan to cycle along the Loire river had to be cancelled. Instead, we visited an excellent local …

The Best Wine with Seafood

Thank god for social media because that’s how I recognised the Thomas “Braemore” Semillon on the menu at North Bondi Fish. This is the best wine with seafood I’ve had for a while. For people who know the usual drum beat of Australian wine, this particular Hunter Valley Semillon may be unrecognisable. The delicate and clean flavours can seem barely perceptible; but, this is what makes it work so well with the silky flesh of wood-fired Yamba prawns, creamy Moreton Bay bugs, fresh scallops or lobster linguine. The texture is a like for like. It’s as essential as a lemon cheek for seafood, and as decadent as stolen lunch hour at the beach. Taste it once and you want it again. In fact, we returned to the restaurant the next day to do just that. Brilliant. * Clever marketing can make you buy the first time but not the second time. Australian wine marketing has worked very well at the cheaper end of the wine market for a long time. Perhaps because it’s a land of long distances where messages …

Barossa Soul

Jet lag happens because a jet moves faster than the soul, said William Gibson in Pattern Recognition, “Souls can’t move that quickly, and are left behind, and must be awaited, upon arrival, like lost luggage.” One of the first things I do when I arrive in Australia is hit the local wine shops. Not only because I am looking for a distraction for my jet-lag, or perhaps, more accurately, a cure for it, but because I am always so happy to see a much bigger range of wines and styles than we see over here in the UK. Australian Savagnin, anyone? There were three – three! – in our local independent wine shop. Perhaps there is not a huge market here in the UK, but this grape from Jura must have seemed like a good idea when they planted the vines at least 10 years ago. It’s an exciting time here for new varieties. Tscharke Wines have an interesting Savagnin, called “Girl Talk” (more grrrl than girl), but it was their 2012 Tscharke Gnadenfrei Grenache that dropped us directly to our …

Lebanon Diary – From Beirut to Paris

Overlooking the electrical storm over Beirut from my hotel room*, the city is peaceful. The rain has forced me back to the hotel. It is peaceful on the streets and for a Saturday afternoon it looks too quiet. Most of the people on the streets are either army or kids playing soccer on the empty roads. Especially around the park where families of 24 army who have been kidnapped by IS last month are occupying to demand action. In the farmer’s market there was a stall for the excellent Domaine de Bargylus from Syria being served with oysters. It was scene that could have easily been from one of my weekends in London. Although I am not sure how the wine crossed over the mountains into Lebanon. The market is between the new “Souk” shopping centre area controversially built on the destroyed ancient souks of Beirut. And a striking old building that was once a Press that is now just a facade pock-marked with bullet holes. It is almost impossible to not talk about the politics when talking about …

Lebanon Diary – Day 2

What is Lebanese wine, especially from the Bekaa Valley? What is Lebanon? Everyone is still out drinking Arak at Domaine des Tourelles, but I wanted to come home and write it all down before I lose it in an aniseed haze. It is amazing what happens when you don’t have a phone. Your eyes become the camera. Today was the first day I saw the Bekaa Valley in the light. The two mountains that cradle the valley are Mount Lebanon (towards Beirut) and the Anti-Lebanon mountains which form a natural barrier with Syria. Breathe it in – the bright white and bare soils on the hill behind the wineries that look almost biblical. So barren in parts after 1000s of years of civilisation, it is hard to imagine them ever having the luxury of trees. We stopped at Chateau Ka first for breakfast. We had Knefe (sweet cheese with rose water and orange blossom syrup in a bread roll) and Mankouché (za’atar and sesame seeds on warm pitta bread) which we stuffed with cucumber, tomato and mint …

Lebanon Diary – Day 1

I am writing this in a hotel on the Road to Damascus. The actual road, which is called – wait for it, I am not joking – Damascus Road. I am on the “Frontiere Syrienne” and the town of Damascus is only ten minutes drive away. I feel though I will have a Damascene moment… any moment. I am here to taste some Lebanese wine. Je suis arrivé au Liban. لقد وصلت في لبنان Don’t the customs people give a good indication to a new country? If I ran a country I would put the customs staff on PR training. And taxi drivers, particularly those who hang out at the airport. Luckily we have a very nice chap called Tony who will drive us around and will be able to help me with my very (very) basic Arabic. The customs officials have been amusing, if not flirtatious. I was asked twice if I also had a Lebanese passport, which is the nicest welcome I have had in a while. Apart from holding up the group who were waiting patiently …

#bdx13 Doing it for the Kids

People are not afraid of a roundabout in Bordeaux. This is the first thing you must understand when you go there. The roads are circles within circles. Lately I have fielded questions from friends and family who are having children this year, “I would like to buy a case of wine for his/her birth year. What would you recommend from Bordeaux?” After a week in Bordeaux tasting the wines from the barrel, I would say there are only a handful of 2013 wines that will be acceptable to drink in 21 years. This is an early drinking vintage. 2013 is a very light vintage with red cherry berry fruits rather than the classic lead pencil/cassis/cedar notes. Also, I found in the lesser names this horrible manipulated taste –  residual sugar covering up the hole in the middle of it or harsh extracted tannins. No, they will never integrate. It is the seed stuck in the molar that you keep chewing. Drying, sharp and more shocking than hitting upon an unexpected anchovy on a juicy pizza. …

Bordeaux to Maroc

There was a lot of talk about Bordeaux before I left for holidays… Is en primeur 2013 on or not? On that hanging question, I left it all behind at Stanstead Airport for a week of mint tea and tagines in Marrakech. Of course, “getting away from it all” is not that simple. If only you could leave work behind sometimes, but when you work in the wine industry it seems to follow you around like your hand or foot. You try to get away but end up in some sort of Interzone only for it to arrive on the scene again like some Burroughs bug. Even in Marrakech, Bordeaux seemed to follow. It started with the Domaine de Sahari at the beautiful restaurant run by women called Al Fassia in the new town. We had to try the Cinsault (under the menu as a Vin Gris) and the red – a Carignan blend. Mysteriously, on the label it mentioned a “Bordeaux enologist” had some part to play in it. Later I found  it was owned …

2012 Burgundy vintage – the new normal?

I was reminded of Schumacher when I was in snowy Burgundy recently to taste the 2012 vintage.  The British economist wrote a book in 1973 called “Small is Beautiful:  A Study of Economics As If People Mattered”. Published during a chilly economic recession in Britain, the idea is that because man is small, ergo, small is beautiful. The central argument based on observing village life is that “bigger is not better”. “Wisdom demands a new orientation of science and technology towards the organic, the gentle, the non-violent, the elegant and beautiful.” In mossy caves, tasting from the barrels with pipettes held by the winemaker, there is something human (even humid, it was colder outside in the snow) about tasting in Burgundy cellars. The vintage is small. Again. And it is intensely beautiful. There are large negociants and domaines in Burgundy but at its best, Burgundy is a testament to the small. Each year there have been less and less barrels (Grivot, below). I was told by one domaine that the barrels along the wall were filled with water to ensure …

Brilliant Grillo

One of the most exciting things I saw in Marsala at the government’s nursery vineyards were the experiments that crossed native Sicilian varieties with ancient Georgian Saperavi. Anticipating environmental change in the next 10 years, it is a forward thinking approach by the oenologists (then again, wineries take at least a generation to develop). The vineyards are part of a desire to return to the local grapes, to understand their natural expression, rather look at others for a style. Or have a style foisted on them. So much of Sicilian history has been this story. It is an island where the conquerors have left their mark, even in the wines – for example, Zibibbo is Arabic for grape. The conquerers have been Greeks, Spanish, Arabs, Italian, and in the case of Marsala, the British. For the wine lover, the market forces of the supermarket and EU have too often conquered Sicilian wines. There was not much incentive other than to make cheap wines in co-operatives. Now we saw a different story. In West Sicily, there …

At Chateau Palmer #bdx12

This is what Bordeaux En Primeur week is like: it seems quite leisurely as we talk but it is really a quick yearly catch up on what has been happening since last time we met. This year CEO Thomas Duroux  stole us away from tasting Chateau Palmer to show us the new cellars. It is very interesting to hear how the yields must come down for organic viticulture, especially in Bordeaux – it is more humid down here than in Burgundy and needs constant labour-intensive (read: expensive) vigilance to keep away the mildew and pests so to keep the quality high. From original post for 2012 Bordeaux En Primeur week on Bibendum Times.

Australia Despatch: Notes from Sydney

Before I left London everyone warned me about the cost of a lime in Australia. What was everyone talking about? After the third person had mentioned it I found the story on the BBC website about the outrageous cost of the £1.50 lime (usually about 30p in London). Luckily for me the taste of lime is THE taste of Australia – I have never tasted lime in wines from anywhere else – it is in the Riesling but also in some other varieties I did not expect… Lime is a very cooling taste, so it works well for early evening drinks on hot days. When I visit Australia I like to try wines from regions that I do not see often in the UK. I often despair at the selection in the UK; as relevant to me as Paul Hogan or a Walkabout pub. It’s a formula that works but like any formula it is a bit dull. What is going on in Geelong or King Valley or Tasmania? That is what I was eager …

Awake in Turkey – Arcadia Vineyards in Thrace, #ewbc 2012

Zero  Is where the Real Fun starts.  There’s too much counting Everywhere else! – Hafiz, I heard God Laughing * Technology, as Max Frisch said, is the art of arranging the real so that we no longer notice it. In a hotel room in Instanbul, on the way home from the Digital Wine Communications Conference in Izmir, I can hear the call to prayer bouncing around the minarets across the city and I am wondering: what makes Turkish wine so distinctly Turkish? It was a question that I knew had no easy answers.

Go tell the volcano

Just a little note from Sicily as I was determined to have a holiday – visit friends, eat and drink without analyzing, and climb Mount Etna. But as this meal was so brilliant, and simple, it is worth a little post. It also made me think about wines on holidays in general. Why does a wine often not taste as spectacular at home as it does on holidays?

Beautiful Gestures in Campania

After paying for a ticket to see the Palace in Caserta I asked, why is the main entrance in darkness? To give you an idea of the opulence and amount of marble of this entrance, this is the same place that is used as stand-in for the Vatican in films and also used as a set for Star Wars. Yet when we arrived, we had to climb the marble stairs in darkness, reducing the grandest staircase I have ever seen to a hollow echo-chamber. The fabulous silk curtains were almost threadbare and sun-damaged, the walls cracked and scuffed.   Despite this neglect, every room overwhelmed, as if outdoing the previous room in their lavish praise to gold. My calves ached from the amount of walking on marble; it must have been kilometres.   There is also something of this forgotten glamour and grandness to the wines here. I tasted some true greats in Campania. They are unquestionably brilliant but… it is like talking on a radio in a power cut. And just as frustrating. It’s …

What haunts me

The irritation and resistance melted from Elisa’s face. “Oh, those are chrysanthemums, giant whites and yellows. I raise them every year, bigger than anybody around here. “Kind of a long-stemmed flower? Looks like a quick puff of colored smoke?” he asked. “That’s it. What a nice way to describe them.” “They smell kind of nasty till you get used to them,” he said. “It’s a good bitter smell,” she retorted, “not nasty at all.” He changed his tone quickly. “I like the smell myself.” – John Steinbeck, The Chrysanthemums It started before we even arrived in Burgundy. Way before that. On the road to Macon from Geneva. Like a shadow it kept showing up in the brightest of places. Our Sat-Nav must have been drunk, that’s the only way I can describe how it could possibly want to navigate us off the highway into the darkness. Into Jura. “I would love to take a quick detour to Jura,” I said, half-jesting as I knew all the great wines lay ahead of us in Burgundy. These …

Which Airline has the Best Economy Class Wine? The Results.

  Once upon a time, glamour ruled the air. Now in the highly competitive days of budget travel, having a drink on board is more about trying to remain as calm and comfortable as possible, a tool to block out the whole distressing experience until landing. Judging 15 airlines’ Economy wines, I was surprised to find a few Airlines managed cared to squeeze the last few drops of glamour left in the flying experience: the wine. But it is the very last drops. Without the aura of glamour, too often the reality is not pleasant: why even pour a NV Vin du Headache? Just suck the metal screwcap to get the last drops of a recognisable wine from something sharp and nasty and you pretty much have most experiences I have in Economy. For budget-strapped airlines, wine in Economy is chosen for everything other than what is in the glass: logistics, volume and price. Before the tasting, I cleared my mind of bad experience of on-board wines (don’t ask) and judged the 12 reds and …

Notes from Parma

Emilia-Romagna is strange. The train departure board could be a poster announcing a stadium tour of gastronomic rockstars – Parma, Bologna, Modena – and yet… as far as wine goes, the region is mostly known for its sweet fizzy Lambrusco… click here for more on Vinissima.net

The wine was Chambertin

I forget the name of the place; I forget the name of the girl; but the wine was Chambertin” – Hillaire Belloc Tasting Grand Cru Chambertin next to other wines is like seeing a film featuring Anouk Aimée after an all-day marathon of Friends. It has such a different affect on the senses it makes you wonder whether all winemakers are using the same key ingredients of grapes, soil, sky and cellar. The last time I tasted 2008 and 2009 Grand Cru Domaine Rossignol-Trapet they were in an embryonic En Primeur state in London; now the wines had formed a clear personality. Rossignol-Trapet’s Gevrey-Chambertin villages red was a go-to wine for me for a couple of years, so it was a thrill to meet Nicholas at the Domaine. 

Introducing Christophe Buisson

The RN74 road in Burgundy is like driving down a wine list. Great names, manicured vines; it is, to state the obvious, a place where vineyards have been have been held in loving trust for millennia. Generations of families and growers have worked the land; a place where growers are so well-known by winemakers business is done on a handshake (‘topler’). But it must be the perverse streak in me, despite having the privilege to taste many Grand Crus from great familes during my time there, one of my favourite wines was a red Saint-Romain from the relatively new winemaker, Christophe Buisson.