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Wine Guide

Swiss Wines - Wines of the Valais

In the world's wine pages you don't find much written about Swiss wines. That's not because they don't make them, it's because they rarely leave the country. There are a few reasons for this: it's partly because the Swiss themselves drink a large proportion of their small production, but there's an economic reason as well. More>>

Tasting Wine - How to score out of twenty

How can you judge a wine? Like any commodity your demands of it vary according to circumstance. A wine chosen for a picnic on a beach is unlikely to be in the same style as one picked for a sumptuous dinner. Different expectations require different solutions. More>>

Terroir - How the land affects the vines

The French have a word, terroir, which finds its way into many an article of wine-speak. It means 'arable land', but in wine-speak it's used to mean the taste that manifests itself in a wine as the direct result of where it is grown - in other words its provenance. A wine's terroir, then, is rooted in where its began life. More>>

Terroir re-visited - Wines with a regional accent

A couple of years ago I wrote a piece about 'terroir', that wonderfully elusive French word that decorates many a wine writer's columns. You can think of 'terroir' as a wine's local neighbourhood and just as with people, some wines tend to show more of their neighbourhood than others. More>>

The Alsace - Good wines and great Rieslings

Wars followed by treaties have had a defining effect on the political geography of Europe. At the end of the first World War, Italy took over the Aosta Valley, a French-speaking enclave, that would have liked to remain French. It also took over the Sud Tyrol, a German-speaking area whose inhabitants were outraged at being made Italians. To balance this, Istria, which was always Italian, became part of the newly created Jugoslavia, much to their distress. Divisions like these - drawn on bits of paper - affect real people and real lives, and mostly it's to their annoyance. More>>

The Cost of Wine - Why we pay so much

One of Somerset Maugham's short stories starts off with this conversation. 'Do you like card tricks?' 'No, I hate them.' 'Then I'll just show you this one.' In the same vein, if you don't like maths or statistics bear with me. I'll make this painless, really I will. Anyway, you might like to know why you pay so much for your wine. More>>

The gift of Wine

As Christmas approaches relentlessly, you might find yourself succumbing to a growing senses of panic. I know I certainly do as I wrestle with that hardy perennial, what shall I get my loved ones for Christmas? If you find yourself in doubt as to what to buy, consider this; food and wine never goes down badly at Christmas time. Frankly I'd always prefer a bottle of wine as an afterthought to another pair of socks. More>>

The Languedoc - New wines from new plantings

Not so long ago the 'Languedoc' was synonymous with 'wine lake'. Huge quantities of wine were produced in this southern region of France, stretching from Perpignan to Nimes, and nearly all of it was deeply mediocre. There were historical reasons for this, in particular the planting in the nineteenth century of the plains with two grape varieties; the Alicante and the Aramon. On the clay and alluvial soils of the flatlands, once home to cereal production, these two varieties produced astonishing quantities of wine, up to 20,000 litres per hectare. The uplands soon followed suit and before long the wine lake of the Languedoc had become established. More>>

The Loire - Sancerre and Pouilly Fume

Before the Second World War Muscadet was a virtually unknown Vin De Pays. This might come as a surprise to many people, given its almost total ubiquity today. But this explosion in the popularity of Muscadet has had a knock-on effect; it has brought the many and varied wines of the Loire Valley to the attention of the wine-drinking world. More>>

The Midi - Wines from the south of France

The French call it the Midi, we call it the south. For some reason the English language never equated midday with south, as the French and Italians do. The southern strip of France, just inland of its Mediterranean shores, is where nearly one third of all French wine is made. This isn't the land of 'vignes nobles' of great appellations and famous names, but rather where the gros rouge, the vin ordinaire of the French workman's lunch is grown. This is where quantity has traditionally been more respected than quality. More>>

The Muscat Grape - A new style of Muscatel

The increasing use of varietals as a means of marketing wines has meant that the major grape varieties are almost common currency. There can be few these days who haven't heard of the Chardonnay grape or the Cabernet Sauvignon, and it's possible that many of those who have, might be wondering if they've taken over the wine producing world completely. Certainly these two varieties have colonised the globe from the Americas to the Antipodes, and in much of Europe are replacing other indigenous varieties. More>>

The O'Brien chain

The O'Brien chain of off-licenses is slowly beginning to cover the country. There are already twenty-two shops and this year should see the addition of another two, which means they're very much in the major league of wine and spirits retailers. More>>

The Piedmont - Italy's North-west

The Alps have always formed a physical barrier between France and Italy. Apart from the coast road along the Riviera there are only two other main routes from France into Italy, the Frejus tunnel from Modane and the tunnel under the Mont Blanc, or as Italians prefer to call it, the Monte Bianco. If you drive through the 14km long Frejus tunnel you arrive in Italy in high in the Alps, at the very uppermost reaches of the Piedmont. Keep driving downhill from here and you pass steep-roofed chalets covered with huge irregular slates, fairy-tale castles on rocky outcrops, and as you get further down into the valleys as you approach Turin, in its lower reaches, you'll find the first grapes. More>>

The Rhone Valley - From Condrieu to Avignon

The Roman writer Ovid commented that 'the vine benefits from proximity to a river', an observation that any grower will confirm. The great vineyards of Europe are all in symbiotic relationships with rivers and France is no exception to that rule. The Loire and the Rhone, the largest rivers of France, are also home to intense vine cultivation. Most of wines of the Loire are white and most of the wines of the Rhone are red, a function of the geography and climate of the two rivers. More>>

The Rhone Valley - Its geography and wines

When I was about fourteen my father sat me down in front of a bottle of Volnay and explained the principles of wine tasting. He told me that any well-made wine would display a first taste on contact with the palate, a second taste as the wine warms in the mouth, and finally an aftertaste once swallowed. More>>

The Riesling - In praise of a noble grape

There are times when I think a gap opens up between wine nerds like me and the rest of the world. Wine nerds take certain things for granted that the rest of the world doesn't necessarily believe. We think screw tops make an excellent closure for wines that will be drunk in less than a year. The consumer world remains to be convinced. We think that terroir is a far better guide to a wine's quality than a brand name. The consumer remains to be convinced. We nerds think that the Riesling grape makes wonderful wines and is a noble grape, the consumer thinks 'sweet German wine' and walks away in search of an oaked Chardonnay. More>>

The Right Temperature - Not too hot, not too cold

To chill or not? It's generally understood that you drink whites cold and reds warm, and broadly speaking that's true. Still, you can enjoy your wines much more if you take a closer look. It's essentially true that the colder you drink a wine the less of its flavours will be apparent. More>>

The Temperate Vine - Vine care and the weather

The vine is a temperate creature. What it likes best of all is the 'Goldilocks' zone, places where it's neither too hot nor too cold. If it finds itself too cold, the grapes don't ripen properly, and for wine-makers that's a disaster. Under-ripe grapes makes for thin, sour wine. More>>

The Valpolicella - The Amarone story

If you take the road from Verona and head north-west towards Lake Garda you'll come to the Valpolicella. It's a name that's known to wine-drinkers all over the world, but people with a long memory will have different expectations from those who are coming to its wines fresh. Thirty tears ago the Valpolicella was an area whose production was geared more to quantity than quality, although there were as ever notable exceptions. Today that history is all but forgotten, as once again good wines are being made here. More>>

The Veneto - Wines from the Veneto and the Corvina grape

Up in the North-east corner of Italy is the Veneto, a region that roughly approximates to the historical hinterland of the Republic of Venice. Some of Italy's best known wines come from this region: Prosecco, Amarone, Valpolicella, Soave and Bianco di Custoza. But the Veneto also produces a lot of wine, in some years even surpassing the Emilia-Romagna in the volume of its production. The Veneto has everything, not just quantity and quality, but diversity as well. This region produces not only red and white wine, but the amber coloured whites of Custoza, sparkling wines like Prosecco, hill wines, valley wines, dry wines and sweet wines and it makes more varietals than any other region in Italy. More>>

The Wine Shop, Donnybrook Fair

I first met Damian Sherlock on a trip to the Hospices de Beaune wine auction in 2002. At the time he was working with McCabes, but now he's the face behind the wine section of Donnybrook Fair. More>>

Tokay -The Hungarian star

There are people who want wine to be a mystery, in the sense that by shrouding it, it retains a magic that familiarity never brings. I don't hold with that; after all what is wine but an alcoholic drink that when consumed in sufficient quantities makes you drunk. Anthony Barton of Chateau Leoville has a similarly prosaic view. More>>

Tullamore Dew , Hennessy VS, Morgan's Spiced

I love the cold, sharp, dry days of winter. Waking to a glistening ground frost lit by the low rays of a rising sun, the gossamer traces of cobwebs glinting in the sun's rays, is one of my winter joys. Leaves that crunch underfoot, trees with a dusting of hoar frost, Jack Frost's tell-tale marks on the window panes, icicles hanging like stalactites – all these remind me that winter is in the fullness of its reign. More>>

Tuscan wines - From Chianti to Vernaccia

The wines of Tuscany range from the very ordinary to the truly sublime. In part this is because the area of Tuscany that has been delimited as wine-growing is large and very varying in climate and topography. Along the Tyrhennian coast from north of Rome to almost Livorno, inland past Florence right over to Arezzo, Tuscany is a large wine-producing part of Italy. More>>

Valdepeñas - Valdepeñas and La Mancha

Although Spain has more acreage under vine than France or Italy, it produces less wine than either, and until recently its only wines that were well-known internationally were Sherry and Rioja. This perception is changing quite rapidly, as other wine-producing areas of Spain have moved from generic wine production into quality wines, and they have been marketing them aggressively. More>>
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