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Wine Guide

Malbec - The grape and its varietals

The Malbec grape was once common in France, a fact attested to by its hundreds of local names around the country. It's origin is in the south-west of France, where it was once a commonly added component to the Bordeaux blend. It's one of five grape varieties that are permitted under Bordeaux's appellation laws, but gradually it has been used less and less, giving way to Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc. It's principle use was to add colour and depth - it produces an very dark, almost inky wine. Perhaps its continuing relegation is due to the fact that this thin skinned grape needs considerably more sunshine to mature properly than the Cabernet or the Merlot, and consequently is a lot less reliable in average or poor years. More>>

Malolactic Fermentation - Wine acids and jargon

When you listen to wine buffs talk, there are phrases that get dropped casually into conversation that tend to result in a few knowing nods amongst the listeners. Like any good jargon its purpose is not so much to shine the light of understanding on the subject, but rather it's to separate the speaker from the common herd. More>>

Merlot - An Old World star in the New World

One of the rising stars of the past twenty years has been the Merlot grape. It's been around for a great deal longer than that, partnering the Cabernet Sauvignon for centuries in the Medoc for the classic claret and in the parish of Pomerol it's been the only grape, creating wonders such as Chateau Petrus and Chateau Ausone. The traditional view was the Merlot grape provided the adjectives like supple, velvety, round and voluptuous and when combined with the Cabernet Sauvignon grape you could add nouns like structure, complexity and austerity. More>>

More on Corks - Some alternatives to corks

It's a story that made a lasting impression on me. My father had met a wine-maker from Montalcino who made Brunello, one the greatest and most expensive Italian red wines. Enthused by the prospect of good wine he set off by car to buy some, a round trip of around 1,000 kilometres from our house. More>>

Muscat - The grape and its varietals

There is no doubt that some of you that are by now a little over-chardonnayed. Oaked or unoaked, a certain tiredness sets into the palate. You could argue that the effect must be psychological rather than physiological, since the Chardonnay grape produces wines as diverse as Corton Charlemagne and Chablis. None the less, even the act of asking a wine waiter for the Chardonnay, New World or otherwise, eventually palls. You find yourself wondering 'is there any other white wine that I can order?' More>>

New Varieties - How a white Cabernet Sauvignon was made

You've probably noticed that in the past few years the marketing people have decided that you want to buy your wine according to the variety of grape from which it was made. Once upon a time a wine label told you in big letters where the wine was made, now it tells you in big letters what grape it's made of. Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay labels are ubiquitous and other varieties are gaining their own following. But you may like to know how all this started. More>>

New Varieties - How a white Cabernet Sauvignon was made

You've probably noticed that in the past few years the marketing people have decided that you want to buy your wine according to the variety of grape from which it was made. More>>

New World Influences - Cross-fertilisation of ideas and techniques

Our increasingly global markets have had a transforming effect upon the ancient and, some might say, stuffy wine trade. It's a trade with a venerable history; wines were moved around the ancient world by boat, barge and cart allowing Britons to drink wines from Greece, Italy and Gaul. It was a pattern that remained unchanged for many centuries. More>>

New World Influences - Cross-fertilisation of ideas and techniques

Our increasingly global markets have had a transforming effect upon the ancient and, some might say, stuffy wine trade. It's a trade with a venerable history; wines were moved around the ancient world by boat, barge and cart allowing Britons to drink wines from Greece, Italy and Gaul. It was a pattern that remained unchanged for many centuries. More>>

New World Torres - Wines from California

Marimar Torres is the sort of wine-maker who can seduce you with her enthusiasm, charm and varied talents. The name 'Torres' is almost synonymous with wine-making in Catalonia, where the old-established family firm of Miguel Torres is, the company that brought you 'Coronas' and its variants. With more than three centuries of wine-making tradition behind her, Marimar is today the family's ambassador to the New World - her estate, bearing her name, is in California. Her brother Miguel now runs Bodegas Torres in Spain and in Argentina, making Torres the largest independent producer in Spain. More>>

New Year Bubbly - Three champagnes for the New Year party

It's the sporting tradition of today, Champagne for the winner. We've all seen Formula One drivers spraying the stuff all over the winners' podium, the pop and the spurt of spume is now indelibly associated in our minds with celebration More>>

New Zealand - Home of the Sauvignon Blanc

New Zealand may well be about as far away as you can get to from here and still be on this planet, but we do know a bit about it. It's full of sheep, it makes a fabulous backdrop for 'The Lord of the Rings' and it's almost certainly the best place on earth to grow the Sauvignon Blanc grape. More>>

Old Vines - New Tricks with old vines

Back in the late nineteen-eighties a curious phenomenon took place. Some forward looking French vineyard owners put aside their natural and instinctive chauvinism and invited some Australian wine-makers to France to show them the new and exciting Antipodean techniques. More>>

Old Vines - New ways to use the old

There's an old saying; 'wine is made in the vineyard, not in the winery'. Like all truisms it contains more than a little wisdom. Any wine that you make can only be as good as the quality of the grapes that you put into it. With modern technology there's an awful lot that can be done in the winery that wasn't available to wine-makers of old. More>>

Organic Wines Revisited -What 'organic' means

The word 'organic' is currently going through a metamorphosis. Once it applied to the chemistry of carbon-based life forms, but now it heralds a 'health benefit' when you find it on a label. I long ago discovered that the best foods are those with the least artificial additives, but when we come to wine a different set of problems are encountered. More>>

Organic Wine - What does it mean?

The word 'organic' is one that we can find increasingly on our food products and it's becoming more common on wine labels as well. Like most things, I suspect it's neither entirely good or entirely bad - its protagonists emphasise only the good, people like me will point out what they'd prefer you not to know. Let's be clear on one thing here; the word 'organic' is as much a marketing tool as any other sop to consumer demands. More>>

Penedes - Spanish wines from Penedes

It's one of those odd wine-facts. Spain has more land cultivated as vineyards than any other country in Europe, yet in terms of production of wine it comes third, after Italy and France. The reasons for this apparent paradox are many, but the principal ones are that many of Spain's vineyards are in mountainous regions with poor land, many of the vines are old and past their maximum yield, and many of the grapes grown are of low-yield varieties. More>>

Picnic Wines - Fresh and fruity wines for outdoors

For the last couple of weeks we've been planning the first picnic of the year. Thing is, you can't be in too much of a hurry. Last year we got it all planned, friends assembled, and set off for West Wicklow with the sun shining. By the time we arrived at the Piper Stones the heavens had opened and we ate the picnic somewhat uncomfortably in the car, gloomily surveying the unrelenting rain. There's a moral here; you have to wait until you're well into Spring. More>>

Pinotage - The South African Grape

Different grape varieties can make surprisingly different wines depending on where they are grown. Some varieties become entirely at home when they find a set of climactic circumstances that suits them, for example the Sauvignon Blanc, a wine that frequently makes undistinguished wines in Europe, makes some wonderful wines in New Zealand. More>>

Pinot Noir - The unexploited noble grape

It's tempting to believe that the all pervasive varietals on every shelf are the sum total of the great red grape varieties. You see lots of Cabernet Sauvignon, you see lots of Merlot, but Pinot Noir isn't often there as a varietal. Well, it is and it isn't. In France the system for labelling wine concentrates on the area it comes from, not on what grapes it's made from. More>>

Port - Some Late Bottled Vintages

Port is one of the world's great wines and its creation is one of man's most improbable achievements. The Douro river, which runs from Portugal's border with Spain through the mountains of the Serra do Marao to Oporto, has gouged deep canyons through the granite and slate, in places up to 2,000 feet deep. More>>

Prejudices - My personal wine bigotries

This week I've been thinking about how we build up our opinions on wines, or if you prefer, our prejudices. Over the years, travels through Greece have always left me puzzled: how can a country with the same Mediterranean climate and topography as southern Italy make food and wine that, to my palate at least, verge on the inedible and undrinkable? More>>

Prices - How much should you pay?

It's a question that's worth asking from time to time: how much should you pay for a bottle of wine? Like anything else, there's something to suit every wallet, from wines costing tens of thousands of pounds to wines for under a fiver. More>>

Provence - France's Riviera Wines

The south-eastern part of France that we know as Provence has had a very long history of wine making. Even before the Romans brought commercial viticulture to the area, Greek settlers had established some vineyards near the coast, so the Provencals can reasonably claim a three millennium tradition. The climate in Provence is unusually warm for its latitude. An isobar of average summer temperatures runs through central Spain, curves northwards to take in the coastal regions of Provence, and then dips southwards again to cross central Italy. This warmth has ensured that vines can easily fruit and ripen. More>>
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