I went to an excellent tasting at Vinexpo yesterday, showing the wines that French winemakers have made at their own estates in other parts of the world.

Over 13 different countries were represente, with wines such as Opus One from Napa, Chapoutier's wines in Australia and Portugal, Michel Laroche in Chile and South Africa, plus Francois Lurton, Bruno Prats, Louis Roederer.

I asked David Pearson, director of Opus One, whether he thought the idea of the tasting was sound - was there really such a thing as a French-influence wine?? His reply was, 'There are certainly cultural styles that impose themselves on the winemaker, and he or she inevitably brings things from their upbringing to their role, so yes I think there is an influence. It may be heresy in France, but I believe that there are things beyond the terroir that influence the quality of the wine, and the winemaker and his philosophy is very much one of those things.'

It was a fascinating tasting, and I wish I had managed to get round all of them, but was mainly concentrating on Portuguese wines for my Hong Kong article. However, did get round a few, a few tastings notes below:

Bodega Diam'Andes, Uco Valley 2007 (approx 40 euros)
Owned by the Bonnie family of Malartic Lagraviere in Pessac Leognon, this is 70% malbec, 25% cabernet sauvignon and 10% merlot. They have planted some syrah in the vineyard so expect to see some in the wine in the near future. Diam'Andes is part of the Clos de Los Siete project with Michel Rolland. Rich and smooth on the palate, with plenty of coffee and toasty oak. Good crunchy fruit, with the power of an Argentinian malbec, but some good restaint shown also. According to owner Severine Bonnie, they shipped out the same small trays used to harvest the grapes in Bordeaux, and many of the same vineyard practises are followed in the two estates.

Opus One, Napa 2005 ( www.opusonewinery.com )
As of this vintage, Opus One has been an entirely independent entity, although still owned by 50% Baroness Philippine de Rothschild and 50% Constellation Brands. What a pleasure to get to taste this wine; velvety, very intense fruit but with a rich mocha sweep through the mouth, with beautiful structure and length. Very impressive. 88% cabernet sauvignon, 10% merlot, 3% cabernet franc, 1% malbec. This year had a late harvest that finished on November 2nd, bringing full phenolic ripeness and depth to the fruit. Barrel aged 18 months in new French oak. It is of course always interesting to taste these 'icon' wines in a general lineup, but I think they can be quietly confident that they acquitted themselves well!

Francois Lurton, Quinta do Malho, Duoro 2007, www.francoislurton.com
Francois bought Quinta Beira Douro estate in 2006, set on the banks of the Duoro river and just 10 hectares of vines. This Quinta dp Malho has now been establishe at the same place but at a higher altitude, in middle terraced vineyards that has vines dating back to pre-phylloxerra. It uses unusual varieties such as Souzao, Tinta Amarela and Tinta Francisca - good spiciness to the wine, very well structured and intense, but nothing harsh about it, no let up in mid-palate.

Duas Quintas 2007, Duoro Red www.ramospinto.pt/
Quality collection of wines from the Ramos Pinto port house, that is today owned by Roederer hence the French connection, but run by an entirely Portuguese family, and same family that has been running the estate since its inception. They were among the very first to make still wines in the Duoro. This has Roriz 50%, touriga national /touriga franca 50%. A lovely tempranillo nose, quite high in alcohol so slightly unbalanced on the finish, but lovely sweet fruit in the mid-palate.

Ramos Pintos Collection 2006, Duoro
40% touriga nacional, 40% touriage franca, plus others. Better balance here, more weight of fruit, lovely depth and a very pretty wine. 14.5%ABV, but less intrusive than in the first wine, the alcohol sits very well against the fruit and the structure - an easy-drinking wine, but with punch.

Duas Quinats Reserva, Duoro 2005 (25 euros)
80% touriga nacional, 5% roriz, plus others. Evidently up the quality scale, lovely crisp fresh fruit, excellent structure and aromas, really a good wine and no harsh edges or difficult tannins. An excellent example of why the Duoro is rapidly gaining notoriety for its reds.

Ex Aequo, Domaine Bento and Chapoutier, Vinho Regional Estremadura 2006
A joint venture between Rhone legend Michel Chapoutier and Portuguese winemaker Domaine Jose Bento Dos Santos. The estate was apparantly a 'coup de coeur' for Michel Chapoutier, located just south of Lisbon towards the Altentejo. Chapoutier is of course a syrah lover, as his family has made syrah in the Rhone for over 200 years and he makes some of the best examples in France, all farmed biodynamically. This wine is 70% Syrah, with the balance made up by Touriga Nacional. Gorgeous and soft, very silky, a lighter structure than the Duoro reds not suprisingly, giving a gossamer structure, but with a core of juicy ripe blackberries and an excellent structure. This is the first year of their joint venture, and I'm looking forward to trying others.

Laroche Ė LíAvenir Grand Vin Pinotage 2006 (20 euros)
Famous for his Chablis, Laroche is now making very good wine in both Chile and South Africa. I tried an excellent 100% Chenin Blanc also from Stellenbosch, but am including this one review here because I have a very hard time finding pinotages that I like, so was genuinely surprised and happy to taste this wine. I usually find with the pinotage grape that the Ďearthyí (they say), Ďmedicinalí (I say) side of the grape dominates over the fruit, but they have worked this one sufficiently that it is very much the spicy, ripe black fruits that come through. Seriously good wine.

Quinta do Tedo AOC Duoro 2007 (14%), www.quintadotedo.com/
Won the Decanter Trophy under £10 northern Portugal trophy at the world wine awards, this is made by Vincent Bouchard of Bourchard Pere et Fils and was bought in 1992. 55% Touriga Nacional, 25% Tinta Roriz and 20% Touriga Franca. 12 months in 225-liter French oak barrels, 35% new oak and 65% 1-year old oak. Enjoyed all of his wines - they combined being very easy to drink with a real sense of personality, and presence. Use traditional lagars with foot-treading, malolactic in rotating steel tanks (40%) and in barrel (60%).

Quinta do Tedo Reserva, 2006
Only made in good years Ė after the initial nine months in barrel for all the wine, he decides on best barrels and keeps for further 13 months approx (two years in total). Lovely intensity, prunes, great length, mouth-watering crunchy fruit, very nice wine.

Quinta do Tedo, Gran Reserve 2005
No difference in ageing between Reserva and Gran Reserva, more the quality and intensity of the wine. No legislation governing the use of these words, but he selects the years that are richer and more intense to go into his Gran Reserve.