Perks of the job? Presenters Noelle and Bob enjoy the recommended wines!


Originally a Greek dish of course, using lambs that graze on the mountain, herbs that grow there too and tomatoes and aubergine from the vegetable patch at the back of the house – super! We have to find a wine that can complement all the elements: cinnamon isn’t so easy to match with wine, sweetish whites are best, but we have red meat. Tomato has acidity but sweetness too, so a white Rueda might do the trick – but hey, the meat is red!
Lamb and Rioja is often a match made in heaven, but Aubergine needs a white, perhaps Sauvignon Blanc! This recipe is a potential minefield – but  think I have the answer. The meat needs red wine, Tempranillo will do the trick, but not from Rioja. Try Cencibel (aka Tempranillo) from DO Valdepeñas – it’s lighter in the mouth and in flavour than Rioja wine so it should be a good foil for all the elements in this dish.
You can try a Valdepeñas Reserva, though I think a Crianza would be better.
However if you want to walk on the wild side and add chilli and chocolate, I’d go for a joven (young) Valdepeñas with no oak ageing. This would mean that you would have the benefits of Cencibel as above but with a greater fruit feel for the chocolate and a lighter, less tannic mouthfeel thus reducing the burning effect of the chilli.

First Published in Costa News Group, August 2010



Move over Oz Clarke!

Regular Cork Talk readers will perhaps remember last August and September when the column was full of the filming I was doing for Viva TV’s production, ‘Viva Vino’ (incidentally still being shown, with DVDs still available from me). Well I’m now also writing for ‘Living Spain’ a UK based magazine, which I’m sure several of you will have read when first thinking of re-locating to Spain.

 The magazine is designed to assist with property buying of course, but it also has many interesting articles about Spain, Spanish Culture, Travel etc, which in fact will be of interest to those of us who have already made the move as well as those thinking of doing the same. My remit is to write Travel/Wine articles. Hence a further visit to the stunningly beautiful Finca Casa Alarcón whose 900 hectare plot of land includes the small mountain range, Sierra del Cuchillo, and is home to their: stud farm; olive groves and olive press; sheep farm; and of course their vineyards and bodega with its first class restaurant above. It really is quite amazing!

 My contact Julia, star of the TV programme, has moved on but Javier now runs the Wine Tourism section of the business as well as being heavily involved in sales. He, along with Lucia the young Agricultural Engineer who oversees all things outdoors, met me at the stud farm where I became re-acquainted with some of the strikingly handsome and aristocratic Pure Bred Spanish stallions that are, of course, an integral part of the Stud Farm!

 My journey around the estate is documented in ‘Living Spain’, Spring 2011 edition but Cork Talk readers can now have an update about the super wines, including some new editions, that continue to be made under the guidance of Pascual, head winemaker. An already impressive portfolio of wines, just got better!

 Several years ago I tasted my first Spanish 100% Petit Verdot. Considered a French variety, it was used frequently in Bordeaux wines adding body, colour and a certain vegetal character along with dark forest fruits. However it was an inconvenient variety as its tendency to ripen late meant that growers were having to pick too early or risk ‘le deluge’ of late September and therefore diluted wines. It was grubbed up and largely ignored.

 I’m surprised that it didn’t find the perfect home in Spain earlier than happened, as late ripening is not a problem here because the sunshine hours are so much better than in France. I predicted therefore that it would become more and more prevalent on the Iberian peninsular. The intervening years have borne this out (I wish I’d asked for a betting quote at the time – it was, for me, an odds-on certainty!).

 Well I’m sticking my neck out again here by suggesting that Finca Casa Alarcón’s Nea 2008, is perhaps the best mono-varietal Petit-Verdot currently in Spain! It is an elegant and yet full-bodied, deeply flavoured wine which has clearly benefited from the unique location of the vineyards – the searing heat, dry winds and limited rainfall of the plains of La Mancha combine so well with the more humid Mediterranean climate and sea breezes that blow even this far inland.

 Eight months in French oak adds complexity, body and flavour to this black gold and the overall impression is one of pure pleasure. The wine will live on for five years, but it is drinking superbly now!

 Clearly Pascual is a devotee of Petit Verdot as he has now added it to the Casa Alarcón 2009 Rosado. I have to admit that I regret the passing of the charming 50cl bottle that contained their previous rosado and indeed its rose petal colour in favour of, respectively, a pleasingly same shaped, but now 75cl bottle, and a much darker rosado colour – more akin to previous wines in Spain termed Clarete, lighter than red but much darker than pink!

 The reason for the change in bottle is, I guess commercial, the reason for the change in colour is I’m sure because their previous 100% Syrah has now been joined by Petit Verdot. So, in truth, I wasn’t expecting to be over impressed with the new rosado. I was wrong.

 It has a wonderful full-frontal, rich and fruity nose which implores you to taste – and you won’t be let down by false promises. This is a rosado for your paella and for meat dishes too – girly, it’s not!

 I’m a big fan of Viognier, that French white wine variety whose striking apricot nose, when made in the northern reaches of the Rhone valley, really delights the palate. There are Australian Viognier wines that also manage this super flavour and aroma – indeed so fragrant is it that our Aussie friends often add it to their red Syrah wines for a further aroma dimension.

 Finca Casa Alarcón’s Viognier 2009 is a new wine to their portfolio – it has, as yet, as the vines are still young, a less pronounced fruit nose, but the magnolia flower and slight citrus notes can make up for this. It is a young wine to be enjoyed now.

 Finally the 2009 Chardonnay follows their 2008 vintage, which made quite a splash, in this column and elsewhere. Whilst the 2008 was Burgundy in style the new wine is a little more restrained. Hand harvesting and fermentation in new French oak with regular stirring of the lees (tiny yeast and fruit particles) have added a subtle creaminess to the finished product. A refreshing wine for aperitifs I think.

 P.S. Further articles by Colin Harkness can be read in Spain’s prestigious wine magazine, Vinos De España. Available in newsagents, it is now also sold in wine shops – ask your local bodega if they stock it! Plus don’t forget ‘Living Spain’ it’s a good read!

A good read, even if you've already moved to Spain!

First Seen in Costa News Group, August 2010



 I’m so pleased to be able to write this week about a bodega that is located in the area where the Costa del Sol News is so readily available. Wines from Bodegas Descalzos Viejos will be found in all good wine shops on the Costa del Sol, although they are of a limited production. My tip is shop early and if you find that they are sold out, be patient as there will soon be the next vintage available. The wines are good so I’m hoping that they are available in other areas covered by the Costa News Group!

 It’s an interesting story too! If you read last week’s article you may recall that I am now also writing for the UK based ‘Living Spain’ magazine which is primarily designed for people in the UK who are considering re-locating or buying a second home in Spain. However it also has considerable interest for those of us who’ve already done that. For example, at the time of writing, I’m just about to go on holiday to Portugal and have decided, on the strength of a Summer Edition ‘Living Spain’ article, to stop en route near Jabugo, home to the famous, top quality hams.

 Also today’s article is about a bodega of whom I’d previously heard nothing, that is until I read the Spring 2010 edition of ‘Living Spain’! A quick e-mail to said bodega, referring to the article I’d read, led to three sample wines arriving at my door recently, along with details of the fascinating story of how the bodega came about and indeed of the beautiful building in which is makes it’s wines.

 Good Spanish speakers will have worked out that the name, Descalzos Viejos essentially means the ‘old shoeless ones’! Historians amongst us will perhaps guess that this is a reference to Monks – and they’d be exactly right!

 It was in the early 16th Century, just after the Christian Re-Conquest that the Catholic Kings allowed the Trinitarian Order of Monks to establish a Monastery in the mountains around the famous Ronda, above the City of Málaga, now known to millions as the gateway (runway!) to the Costa Del Sol. The monks were shoeless and not so sprightly it seems! However, fit enough to plan and make beautiful gardens and build a Monastery.

 In some ways the stainless steel fermentation vats and oak casks sitting in the nave of the monastery with the two stunning, original saintly frescoes (re-claimed under many coats of  paints) looking down upon them, may seem a little incongruous. But, when you consider that winemaking was one of the functions of most monasteries since time immemorial, it is, I believe, entirely appropriate!

 Flavio and Francisco and their wives took over the building following hundreds of years of neglect. Their goal was to restore not only the monastery and turn it into a winery but also the gardens to plant the necessary vines. In 2000 they made their first wines and haven’t looked back since.

 Two of their wines register 87 and 89 Peñin points with their top two wines at 92 and 91 – now that’s a good start!

 Their Descalzos Viejos (DV) Chardonnay 2008 is looking seductively at me as I write and I’m sure I’ll soon succumb and pour another glass! It’s bright straw/gold in colour and on opening there is a lovely aroma of banana at first, but this changes in the glass to bring forward some citrus, apple and herby notes.

 Half of the must (juice) was fermented in stainless steel with the other half enjoying barrel fermentation. The two parts were then blended in barricas to rest there for a period of three months. It is this short time in oak that has made a perfectly fresh simple wine into a more complex and deeply flavoured Chardonnay that will be fine for aperitifs as well as to accompany fish and light meats.

 NV 2007 tinto is made with Merlot, Syrah and Garnacha. As you would imagine with this blend it is a highly coloured, fruity wine, good to enjoy with friends, but there is also a depth to the wine provided again by its resting for three months in oak.

 As with the Chardonnay the grapes are handpicked and placed in small 15kg baskets which are then stacked carefully on each other therefore avoiding crushing and the resultant uncontrolled fermentation. Most of the vineyards surround the property, with others still only a short distance away. Therefore the grapes arrive at the working end of the business quickly and in great shape.

 DV 2005 Tinto is one of the two flagships (Conarte is the other but the limited production of this wine meant that there was no sample for me – I’ll be working on that though!). Made with Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Petit Verdot with 12 months in French and American oak it’s a grown-up wine.

 The juice is left to macerate at a cool temperature with twice daily stirring of the skins and must together to extract colour, flavour and tannin and then fermented. Each variety is fermented separately and then blended together according to the winemaker’s preferences.

 The wine has a deep, seemingly brooding colour. The nose is one of dark jammy fruits, earthy, mineral notes, liquorice and some mountain herbs too. There’s a long, slightly bitter finish to accompany a hearty meaty dinner and the drinker is left to contemplate happily on the wine, the pleasant company, the dinner and how good it is to be alive!

 Colin Harkness also writes for Spain’s best wine magazine, ‘Vinos De España’. His remit is to expand and develop their English language section. His first article is in the current edition which is available in newsagents but also in wine shops – ask if your local bodega stocks it yet!