Reviewed by Jim McMahon

Following on from our visit to Champagne we meandered through the towns and cities of France heading to our base in Brittany, a small village called Locquirec. The weather was magnificent: a little cool at night and warm during the day with abundant sunshine.

We visited many towns and villages including St Malo, where the Hotel Bristol Union for €85 ($122) per night including breakfast comes highly recommended, and Mont Saint-Michel while catching up with friends both French and English. We found that our French friends wanted to practise their English while we wanted to practise our French, but when it came to wine we found a common language.

The amount of wine we bought and sampled at prices well below what we see in Australia was simply amazing. I bought a mixed dozen of top French whites from various wineries in Alsace for €84 ($122) and a mixed dozen of French reds from French supermarket chain E. Leclerc in Rennes for €96 ($138), and what phenomenal wines they were. We think we’re on a good wicket here in Australia with wine prices, but wait until you visit France — you will feel you have died and gone to heaven. France has more than 200,000 vineyards and wineries compared to around 2400 here in Australia.

They do it so well, not just with wine but also with the food offerings in the supermarkets. They make our two big Australian food chains look very basic.

Many of the red wines we drank in France were cabernet-based. Queens Pinch, a Mudgee winery, has brought me back to enjoying this style. Here I offer you the 2012 Queens Pinch Cabernet Sauvignon — a lovely deep purple and pink rim and with a bouquet showing raspberry and blackberry fruits with hints of cinnamon and capsicum. The palate is nicely textured with opulent black fruit delivery with balanced oak/acid/tannin structure. This full-bodied wine displays length of palate which is soft combined with a generous mouth-feel (rrp $18.50). On closer inspection of my cellar, I have 251 bottles of cabernet!

Like many wineries around the country that are either sourcing fruit or buying parcels of land in various wine regions, Tyrrell’s has holdings in Heathcote, Victoria. Its first shiraz from this region was released in 1997.

The Tyrell’s Rufus Stone 2012 Heathcote Shiraz has characteristics that differ from Hunter shiraz which usually displays earthy, tarry, sweaty and leathery flavours. The Heathcote shiraz is more cool-climate as opposed to Hunter warm-climate. The colour is deep purple with a bright pink/crimson rim. The nose offers blackcurrant, blueberries and black peppery spice. These flavours flow down onto the palate with ripe, rich fruit which waxes the gums and displays texture, body and flavour. The wine is full-bodied with acid/tannin/oak in balance (rrp $25).

Another Hunter Valley property, Hungerford Hill, at Broke Road, Pokolbin, has come on in leaps and bounds over the past five years with new labels and above-par wines. It also sources grapes from outside the Hunter from such regions as Hilltops and Tumbarumba, both in NSW.

Winemaker Adrian Lockhart is producing some outstanding wines and one such wine is the Hungerford Hill 2013 Pinot Gris. Vivid straw yellow in colour with a slight grey which is indicative of much pinot gris, it has perfumed aromas of white pear, honey and rose petals. The palate has a nice mouth-feel, textural and creamy from the lees stirring while in barrel. The finish is fruit-driven with balanced acidity with length of palate. It’s my style of wine (rrp $27). If visiting this winery stay for lunch and dinner at its Muse Restaurant — the food and service is brilliant.

A couple of Kiwi wines to try from Nelson-based winery Kahurangi Estate, the Trout Valley 2011 Riesling and Trout Valley 2013 Sauvignon Blanc. The riesling is bright green straw in colour with lots of musky aromatics such as citrus, pineapple and passionfruit. The palate is refreshingly crisp and clean and brimming with acidity and tropical fruits by the bucket-load. The abundance of fruit flavours on the palate are penetrating and deliver a clean, dry crisp finish.

Also try the Trout Valley 2013 Sauvignon Blanc — a style for which the country is world-famous. This wine, from the temperate/oceanic climate region of Nelson, is more aromatic than the savvies one sees from the NZ Marlborough region. Light straw yellow in colour, the nose offers aromatic and herbaceous flavours with freshly cut grass, green capsicum and gooseberry notes. The palate is herbaceous with mouth-watering acidity combined with citrus, bush tomato and grapefruit flavours. The finish is dry with crisp acidity and plenty of palate length. Two very nice wines and ones you should try. Both retail for rrp $22.

The beautiful Blue Pyrenees region, situated around the town of Avoca, is a place I have fond memories of as my old friend, the late Colin Richardson, was the Fine Wines Director for many years for the then Remy Cointreau group. I spent many weekends in the nearby Chateau Remy retreat (now Blue Pyrenees Estate) on the property known as the Lake house with Colin and his wife Anne. Colin was a larger-than-life character who was passionate about the education of young people and did many wine master classes for me at both Gold Coast TAFE and Loftus TAFE. They even named a wine in his honour called The Richardson Merlot; I still have one bottle left of the ‘97.

Here I offer you the Blue Pyrenees Estate 2012 Merlot. Deep crimson in colour with a fading pink hue, the nose is showing ripe blackcurrant fruit. The palate is soft and generous with dark plummy, blackberry fruit with hints of spice. This medium-bodied wine finishes soft and silky with balanced acid/tannin/oak flavours (rrp $20).

Jim McMahon teaches hospitality at Sutherland TAFE.