A pair of elegant red wines

The other day I was fortunate enough to taste two very different wines. They were like chalk and cheese in many ways and yet I think they would appeal to the same sort of drinker.

One was a really classic wine, I know this term is overused, but the wine in question is a Cru Bourgeois Bordeaux that I have tasted on and off throughout my career and one that is much loved by the UK wine trade – Château Caronne Ste Gemme.

The harvest at Château Caronne Ste Gemme

Located just to the south of the commune of St Julien in the Haut-Médoc (number 3 on the map), Caronne Ste Gemme often has some of that famous village’s cedary style, which to many Brits is the quintessence of claret. Unlike the mass of estates further north, this property is on its own, but it occupies some impressively deep, superbly drained, gravel soils which help it to produce concentrated wines from its 45 hectares of vines that are made up of 60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 3% Petit Verdot and 37% Merlot. Continue reading

Rioja Crianza – some good & affordable wines

The view towards Logroño from the high ground of Rioja Alavesa

After my recent trip to Rioja I have been thinking quite a bit about Riojan wines. There is no doubt about it, Rioja can and does produce some excellent stuff, ranging from great, elegant and fine wines through to well made, everyday quaffers. There really is something for everyone in this great wine region.

Personally, for easy drinking I enjoy the ‘joven‘ wines, this translates as ‘young‘, but actually means that the wine has had little or no oak ageing – less than a Crianza gets anyway. Continue reading

My Last Hurrah in Virginia


The King's Arms Tavern

My very last visit in Virginia was nothing to do with wine, but was fascinating and important none the less, what is more even on a wine trip you need to get away from the stuff every now and again and see how people actually live. I was taken into Williamsburg which served as the capital of the Commonwealth of Virginia from 1698 until 1780 when Governor Thomas Jefferson moved it to Richmond to avoid the state government falling into the hands of advancing British troops.

One reason for it becoming the seat of government was that it was on high, well drained ground which was readily defensible against the natives and seems to have enjoyed a less humid and swampy climate than nearby low lying Jamestown, which was the first capital of Virginia.

In addition, in 1693 Reverend James Blair founded The College of William & Mary on this attractive and healthy site, then called Middle Plantation. So, when the government needed to find a temporary home when the Jamestown House of Burgesses burnt down, for the second time, they moved into the fine buildings of the college. They seemed to like it there and soon built a new capital just to the east of the college, and named it Williamsburg in honour of King William 111. Continue reading

Rioja Alavesa – a dramatic landscape

The dramatic landscape of this area provides an awe inspiring backdrop to any visits to the wineries of the area. It just cannot fail to impress, even if you are already familiar with it. What is more, it defines the place and explains the wines and their style.

The fact that Rioja Alavesa is a wine region that specializes in red wine at all is made possible by the mountains to the north, which protect the place from the extremes of the Basque weather. The whole area is a south facing apron clinging to the Cantabrian Mountains. This gives them excellent sun exposure – which can show up in pretty high alcohol levels, I tried one with 16.3%! The proximity of the mountains also ensures that they have lower rainfall than the other sub-regions of Rioja.


Rioja Alavesa map - click for a larger view


What is astonishing is quite how small this place is, half an hour will see you drive from one end of Rioja Alavesa to the other – provided that you don’t get lost on the windy roads, or stuck in the narrow streets of one of the pueblos.

The capital of Rioja Alavesa is Laguardia, but this town is only home to 2000 people and many of the other pueblos have populations measured in the low hundreds, apart from grape harvesting activity this is not a bustling place.

The two major towns are Laguardia and Labastida and their history is clear from their names. These are fortress towns built in the Middle Ages to protect the southern border of the Kingdom of Navarre from the Moors and Castille. Their history shows, they still look exactly like castles from a distance. All the pueblos have this fortified look to them and it is easy to imagine that time has stood still here.

The views looking south are really splendid and give a real feel of the landscape, the way the land falls away from the mountains to the Ebro river.

While the views to the north show the rugged inhospitable terrain that lies in wait for anyone going off to the rest of the Pais Vasco.

That is all I have time for today, so keep coming back for more.

– Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Home Thoughts from Abroad

The Basque Country is a beautiful place and very accessible from the UK. A quick flight to Bilbao is all you need to get to this slightly exotic and half familiar place.

Exotic, because this region is a part of Spain, the country of Picasso, Miro, Granada and Seville. However it is northern Spain, ‘green Spain’ and it is very different from most people’s view of the country which is clouded by direct, or indirect, experience of the costas. San Sebastian is quite grand and has more than a touch of the faded grandeur of Brighton, Eastbourne or Bournemouth. Perhaps, as it faces north and is foreign, Le Touquet or Deauville might be a better comparison?

The bars and coffee are much, much better though and as soon as you get into the narrow little streets of the old part, it is clear that you are in a Spanish city and that any comparison with anywhere else is superficial.

Waking up in San Sebastian was a delight and looking out across La Concha beach, which is right in the centre of the city, I was struck again by how varied Spain was. I know a lot of Spain, but this is very different.


La Concha beach



La Concha beach


My first winery visit was in Chacoli and again this was very unlike the Spain I know so well. The vineyards cover the most spectacular rolling hills and the scenery is very green and so unlike the countryside just an hour away to the south.

I will write it up properly another time, but here are some photographs of this extraordinary area. By the way, that path you see is the Pilgrim’s Way to Santiago.

Next stop Rioja Alavesa, so keep coming back, there will be more soon…

Pais Vasco here I come

vines growing on the slopes at Txakoli Talai Berri

I have long been fascinated by the Basque Country, how many other places can not only boast about using the oldest European language, but one that is related to no other? Basque is the last remaining pre-Indo-European language in Western Europe.

The Basque people have a vibrant history, a beautiful land, a prosperous present and a rich culture. It is widely considered to be the finest bit of Spain for gastronomy, both for swanky meals and tapas, called pintxos locally. It also produces some of the most thrilling wines in Spain today – which is really saying something as I consider Spain to be one of the most exciting wine producing countries in the world. Continue reading

V is for Viognier…and a lot more besides

Viognier vines at Veritas Vineyards in Virginia with the Blue Ridge in the background

Whilst contemplating wine I often think how remarkable it is that quite so many white grapes have names that begin with a ‘V’. Some of them may seem a tad obscure, but here is a list of all the ones that sprang to mind – with a few that I looked up:

Verdejo Tinto
Verdello – not the same as Verdelho, in case you were wondering.
Verduzzo (Friulano)
Vernaccia – in fact there are a few of these, all unrelated.
Vien de Nus
Villard Blanc
Villard Noir
Viosinho – sometimes called Veosinho Verdeal for good measure.
and finally the most famous of all – Viognier. Continue reading