Wine Tourism

NB Photos will be added soon!


When I first emigrated, August 1997, I spent a couple of weeks acclimatising, finishing off the house (well, ‘the nice man’ did that part!), sorting the bank account etc – you’ve been there, I’m sure!


Then I decided to start to learn a little more about my adoptive country. An ideal way, it seemed to me, was to take a day trip or two, visiting other nearby areas with an English speaking guide. One such advertised trip included a bodega visit – clearly it was a sign!


The places we visited were interesting; the bodega visit, catalogued here some time ago, was an unmitigated disaster!


Another sign!


As wines were my thing and I was learning rudimentary Spanish, extra to wine-label-Spanish at which I was becoming quite adept, it seemed to me that I could develop an embryonic sector of the day trip business. It’s not true to say that it was me who started Spanish Wine Tourism, Enoturismo, but I was in the vanguard of a nascent movement which was about to become a vital, integral part of most bodegas’ revenue.


Over the intervening years I’ve visited many bodegas all over Spain, initially alone, as part of my research (if you’re going to start a business you have to do it professionally), and subsequently with groups ranging in number, from an exclusive five or six clients to a full coach load of 55. I’ve loved every minute of it!


And so have the bodegas! In the early days the idea was novel. Most bodegas hadn’t considered it at all. Some changes needed to be made – toilets were essential! A bespoke tasting room; decent, clean glasses; some bread, maybe some tapas; temperature control of the wines and the tasting room; etc. All crucial to wine tourists and, fortunately, hardly needing much investment at all.


Circumstances have dictated that, though I still take such trips, including Short Breaks of 3-5 days (if you join my e-mail list you’ll receive details via my regular, unobtrusive newsletters – details at the end of this article), I now organise far fewer than in those first halcyon days.


Things have moved on. The bodegas, seeing the potential of revenue from charging a per-person fee, as well as further income from post-visit sales, have developed their Enoturismo beyond recognition. You can taste aboard a river boat; above the vineyards in a hot-air balloon; on-board a horse drawn carriage; on a small gauge train; even in a boat on the Med, wines previously left on the seabed in sealed containers where the cool temperatures and gently rolling swell have (supposedly!) helped the evolution of the wine; and more.


Plus there is also the travel market with which to engage. Whilst there were none, that I can remember, 18 years ago, there are now bodegas which also have small, boutique hotels, Casas Rurales, charmingly built (new build and redevelopment projects) in the middle of the vineyards that surround the winery. (Indeed, there are some major, large (and expensive!) hotels owned by bodegas, usually in the more famous areas of production, like Rioja, Ribera del Duero and Cataluña).


Well, I’ve recently discovered (as regular readers  . . . . will know from last week’s article) a Casa Rural inland from Valencia in the DO Utiel-Requena region.


Pago de Tharsys, featured recently in this column, has a charming boutique hotel built alongside the old (early 19th century) finca, a sympathetic new build and redevelopment mixture, where we had the great pleasure of staying recently, as part of that ‘research’ mentioned above.


There are four double bedrooms with en-suite facilities plus a studio apartment, the whole accommodating up to 10 people. Rooms are well appointed, with views of the lake and its ducks and swans. There’s also a lounge area for all which has basic cooking facilities as well as a cava and wine stocked fridge from which clients can help themselves for a small sum. Here you’ll also find books and even a pool table!


It’s a great spot for a weekend or short break, either individually or with a group of friends and of course it’s ideal as a ‘base camp’ for further exploring – the ancient bodega (perhaps the oldest in Spain, dating back over 2,300 years); as well as, of course, other wineries in  the area – don’t forget DO Utiel-Requena makes some seriously good wines at reasonable prices too!


To add to the list of Enoturismo activities above, Pago de Tharsys also offers a unique Night Harvesting Event, la Vendimia Nocturna, in September where clients can experience the romance of assisting in the harvest during the cool of the night (which is also beneficial for the grapes and ultimately the wines). There follows a feast, eaten in the vineyard with plenty of wine, claro!


Those who book first (be warned, it’s very popular, with some places reserved a year in advance!) have the option of staying overnight too, which is a great advantage considering the hour, the wine and the Guadia! I believe this event is fully booked for the 2015 vendimia, but it may be something you might want to consider for next year?


There are also varied wine tasting events, seminars etc held at the finca and in the bodega’s oldest buildings, making for a very atmospheric link with the past. It’s a super place, and of course the cavas and wines are very good too.


Last week I dealt with most of the cava that we tasted on our recent visit – this week, I’ll start with the one remaining cava a very pretty rosado, then the still wines.


Millésime Rosé has the colour of poached salmon, a dish with which it would pair perfectly. Slightly darker hued than a Provencal rosé (see my controversial blog on Provencal Rosé at click Blog) it nevertheless capitalises on the current world wine demand for pale coloured rosado wines. In the glass it’s a delight.


It’s a Brut Reserva mage with Garnacha and has 24 months en rima, on its lees before disgorgement, giving the wine sufficient body and substance to accompany a range of foods, whilst retaining that joie de vivre, essential to all sparkling wines.


Unusually for this part of the Spanish wine map Pago de Tharsys also grows Albariño and Godello for its white wines. This wine is one of the results of the Vendimia Nocturna, it’s as fresh as you’d expect considering its cool harvest, with lovely white flower and stoned fruit aromas. In the mouth apricot and white peach come to the fore with a lovely finish. Fish and shellfish, of course, but also pair this wine with salads and chicken.


Pago de Tharsys Merlot 2010 has had 12 months in barrel. It costs about 13€ and will reward you with some delightful fig and damson flavours if you buy some to taste now, plus it also has a year or more to develop in  bottle in your cellar.


Nuestro Bobal is actually a blend, albeit that 85% is Bobal (the other 15% is Cabernet Franc). There’s a vegetal note to the wine, with some lovely black and red cherry flavours as well as a certain peppery sensation. There’s a slight toffee element from the oak and you’ll en joy the long, full, finish of this quite sensual wine.


Finally – a real rarity. So far this year, the best dessert wine I’ve tasted is the distinctive Pago de Tharsys Dulce Bronx white wine! It is so unique, with some citric orange peel on the nose as well as toffee apple notes with a passing candy floss aroma and taste. Hold it in your mouth and you’ll discern too some canned mixed fruit cocktail with exotic mango, papaya and lychee and a tinned peach finish. Remarkable wine made from the little known Bronx variety, originally Greek/Phoenician, but brought back to life in the labs of New York!


Contact Colin: and through his wine services website , where you can also subscribe to his newsletter (free of charge, of course) and therefore have first-hand and early news of the various wine events he organises, most of which are sold out very quickly! Colin is also on Facebook; Plus you can follow him on Twitter @colinonwine for the latest on the Spanish Wine scene!

Pago de Tharsys



Wine writers share something in common with archaeologists.

Egyptologists of old must have had a palpable sense of excitement as they prepared to open the tomb they had just discovered. What revealing artefacts were about to be unearthed to tell of a civilisation about which they were only just learning?

Modern-day enthusiasts patrolling stretches of land with their metal-detectors must experience as much of a surge of adrenalin as the rapidly quickening clicks registered on their machines when hovering above perhaps some treasure buried centuries, maybe millennia ago.

And the wine writer, invited to visit a bodega of which he/she knows next to nothing, certainly relishes the sense of anticipation, hoping for the undiscovered nectar of a Holy-Grail-of-a-wine. How much better for the writer if, unlike the archaeologists forced to rough it in tents in the dessert, the bodega in question also has a Casa Rural, a boutique hotel, right next to the cellars!

Such is the case at Pago de Tharsys in Requena, a bodega that makes DO Cava, DO Utiel-Requena still wines, a superb dessert wine without either designation, as well as a rather special other Sparkling Wine!

There is still evidence of Requena’s wealthy past as a border town responsible for collecting taxes as travellers and traders crossed from one kingdom to the other. Some fine houses and fincas can still be seen. However, after a period of decline, these properties are now in the hands of the captains of the new ‘industry’ – wine making!

Well, ‘new’ is rather inaccurate. There is currently a debate going on in Spain as to which area has been making wine for the longest time. A village near Requena    which boasts archaeological remains dating back to 300 years BC claims that the wine press, tools and even receipts/bills written on lead in an ancient script believes that they claim the title.

Indeed, the farmhouse which is part of Pago de Tharsys, has some history too, built as it was in 1808. Integrated into the design of the whole bodega premises this oldest part links perfectly with the newest, modern and state-of-the-art wine-making facility and is indicative of the bodega’s philosophy. The foundation of Pago de Tharsys wines is built on tradition (they still age their still red wines as long as they did many years ago) but with the added advantage of international wine-making experience, considerable and on-going investment as well as modern technology and thinking.

Sitting atop the whole building – finca, winery, cellars et al, is a wind-vane in the shape of cat. It’s a charming story!

Many bodegas in Spain have cats around the premises – it’s a cost effective way of keeping mice and even rats at bay. I’ve visited countless bodegas in Spain and have often seen cats, only once mice – and they were encouraged to be there as part of the  wine tour experience!

Now, in the winter bodegas can be very cold places, the more so when they are at altitude – Pago de Tharsys’s vinyards, which surround the bodega, are at 700 metres above sea level. Cats of course like nothing better (except chasing mice) than to laze around in the heat of the sunshine, but if there is no warmth from the sky they look for alternative sources.

Sometimes, in years gone by, for whatever reason, grape juice fermenting into wine in one particular barrel, may take far longer than normal, leading into winter, perhaps, when of course it’s cold outside and inside. You can imagine that the top of a barrel, warm because of the fermentation inside, a chemical reaction which produces heat as well as alcohol, would be an ideal place for a cat to snuggle down!

In those days it was often considered that the wine that took the longest to ferment was the best – ergo, it was the cat which chose the best wines!

Well Señor Vicente Garcia, founder and head winemaker of Pago de Tharsys, doesn’t rely on the cat, or the folklore – it’s his experience, along with that of his daughter, who made wine in the Medoc, and a third winemaker that results in the quality wines and Cavas made by this, one of the leading cava makers outside of Cataluña.

It’s the sparkling wines I’d like to begin with in this article – put simply, they are splendid, and more than just a match for many Cavas made in what many consider to be DO Cava’s natural home, Cataluña!

About 65% of their total production is Cava, the rest still wines, including the distinctive sweet wine mentioned earlier and their one non-cava sparkling wine, made in exactly the same way but using a grape variety indigenous to the area, but not permitted in the making of Cava, the Bobal variety.

We started though with the 2011  Blanc de Blanc Cava which is made with 100% Chardonnay. It’s priced at just over 13€, which for a Chardonnay cava is not expensive. It has a lightness on the first hit, with good aromas of peach as well as yeasty notes. On swallowing you’ll realise that, although fresh and clean, the wine has some body too – typical of Chardonnay, as well as a good length. A fizz that will be perfect as an aperitif but which also has the body to accompany food, including chicken, with which it would be perfectly paired.

Pago de Tharsys Reserva Brut 2011 has body – and some! The extra time spent ‘en rima’ gives it greater depth and richness. There’s Chardonnay here too,  but also with Macabeo giving rise to some refreshing apple notes. It’s a Brut Cava, but towards the slightly sweeter end of the residual sugar scale, giving it a faintly off-dry finish. A super Cava to have with Chinese and SE Asian food!

Finally, for this week, the sparkler that is not Cava. The Pago de Tharsys Blanc de Noir – the one made with the black grape, Bobal. I love this wine and the extra 10€ needed to buy it are worth it, and not just for its rarity (it’s a limited production wine). It has depth on the palate with fascinating black grape derived complexity. It’s big, yes, but it’s also elegant too.

Seek it out and you’ll find some faint, quite disant damson and black cherry on the nose as well as apple notes with bready aroma and flavour too. It’s a fascinating sparkling wine, part of a highly recommended portfolio!

Contact Colin: and on facebook, plus you can follow Colin on Twitter @colinonwine. Also, via, you can subscribe (gratis of course) to his newletter where you’ll see all his wine related events: tastings, bodega visits, Short Breaks etc.

Wine & Music Pairing

castaño logo


An exciting event to be held at Bodegas Castaño, DO Yecla. A classical (and contemporary) music/wine pairing evening!

The exact details are to be confirmed and all arrangements are being made by Bodegas Castaño. Mine will be a support role – the stars will be the excellent wines of Bodegas Castaño paired with the wonderful music of Dolce Divas (

The date is Saturday 26th September – for  more details watch this space (and/or join my e-mail list for regular updates re Spanish wine related events).


Vino de Pago Vera de Estenas




It’s inevitable, of course. For all of us, there are always going to be invitations to events that we’d dearly love to attend, but are unable so to do as there is a diary clash. Perhaps an invitation received only a few hours before, or maybe one, a wedding for example, that has been written in stone for a year! It’s frustrating.


We often have to juggle priorities, importance, obligations, time, even costs and ease along with what, privately, we’d actually rather do. A social minefield.


In fact there were two reasons, both wine orientated (what else?!), for my being unable to arrive at a rather special event in May of last year. An event attended by the local, regional and national press, one that I would not like to miss!


May is always busy, being right in the middle of my ‘season’, that time of the year when I am heavily involved in all manner of wine related events. Over one weekend I was judging the annual DO Yecla Wine Competition and attending the presentation evening, with an early start the final day as I was presenting a tasting in DO Bullas, a good drive further south.


Yep, you guessed it, the very weekend when I was invited to the launch of the first wine from Spain’s newly inaugurated Vino de Pago, Vera de Estenas, a triumph of toil, terroir, passion and know-how, for my friend Felix Martínez Roda! Blast! I really wanted to attend all three events, but committed myself in order of the receipt of the invitations, of course, and although, ordinarily the invitation to Felix’s prestigious event had been sent in time, the others had arrived first.

Subsequently, because of my absence from the celebration up in the 700 metres above sea level hills surrounding Requena, inland from Valencia, I have received a sample of  both the first wine to be made under the auspices of Vino de Pago Vera De Estenas and indeed the second. Both are outstanding!


Firstly though – what is a Vino de Pago? Well, for a start I haven’t tasted a Vino de Pago that wasn’t ‘exceptional’ – that’s the nature of the beast!


The comprehensive Spanish Wine guide, Guía Peñin defines VP wines as coming from “a single winery, and it is a status given to that winery on the grounds of unique micro-climate features and proven evidence of constant high quality over the years, with the goal to produce wines of sheer singularity.”


Wikipedia defines Vino de Pago as “  . . (sometimes also referred to as Denominación de Pago or DO Pago) is a classification for Spanish wine (similar to the French appellations) applied to individual vineyards or wine estates, unlike the Denominación de Origen (DO) or Denominación de Origen Calificada (DOCa) which is applied to an entire wine region. The Vino de Pago classification was introduced in 2003 by a decision in the Cortes Generales, the Spanish parliament, to help further improve the quality of Spanish wine.”


“The quality requirements for a Vino de Pago correspond to those for a DOCa wine, and wine estates that are classified as Vino de Pago are subject to separate requirements rather than those of the wine region where they are located. One of the requirements is that the estate may only use their own grapes for their wines.”

In fact Guía Peñin defines Vinos de Pago wineries as having the same status as Denominación de Origen, whereas Wikipedia above, elevates them to the top category, DOCa, Denominación de Origen Calificada. I side with the latter.

Over the years I’ve seen what goes into the eventual acknowledgement of VP status – huge effort, tireless energy, responsible and honest self-criticism, a foundation of good quality and a striving to improve year on year. Plus an adherence to super-strict rules and regulations, with both wines and bodega subject to announced and unannounced tastings/inspections. VP status is neither lightly given, nor easily retained!

When introduced, the new regulation met with particular interest in Castilla-La Mancha, where the first Vinos de Pago were created. Although never articulated, perhaps for fear of being ostracised, the VP concept, in this area of massive production, not always quality orientated (La Mancha is the largest wine producing area in Europe), was, I think, a god-send for those bodegas thus located which wanted to escape being tarred with the same also-ran wine brush.

The twelve years between have seen the status of Vino de Pago bodegas and wines elevated even further. It is no longer true to say that VPs are the result of making wine in an area where the general level is poor, with bodegas wishing to escape the bad publicity that can arise from such a fact. Felix’s bodega is situated within DO Utiel-Requena, whose quality level is high, with some outstanding bodegas. Indeed, Felix still makes fine wines categorised as DO Utiel-Requena, and he’s proud of it too!

The second wine that Felix produced under the Vino de Pago banner is a white wine. It’s no wonder that his first VP wine is red, coming, as it does, from an area long known for the quality of its reds. It’s also no wonder that Felix’s Chardonnay is elevated to VP standard. Remember the phrase above, “ . . proven evidence of constant high quality over the years . .”!

I’ve had the pleasure of tasting his Chardonnay fermented in barrel with a short ageing in oak too, for many years now. I’ve always enjoyed it (even when bottled years ago in those, for me, wholly inappropriate, Blue Nun style bottles!). I have a glass of his VP Viña Lidón Chardonnay 2014 in front of me now. It’s delicious!


Banana skin on the nose as soon as the wine is opened, soon evolving to freshly mashed banana aromas with a refreshing citrus zing and a nutty (blanched almonds) element too. On the palate there’s a delightful balance with classic Burgundian elegance and subtlety to the fore, with understated exotic New World fruit. Lovely!

Martínez Bermell Merlot 2013 is Vino de Pago Vera de Estenas’ first wine and will, I’m sure, be seen in years to come as a flagship of the area from whence it came, and indeed of the whole concept of Vinos de Pago. A careful crafting of elegance and subtlety, full flavour and lasting power; of violet and deeply dark rose petal fragrance with juicy plum and blackberry fruit; of earthy, undergrowth minerality with layered pleasure and complexity.


Contact Colin: and through his wine services website , where you can also subscribe to his newsletter (free of charge, of course) and therefore have first-hand and early news of the various wine events he organises, most of which are sold out very quickly! Plus you can also follow him on Twitter @colinonwine for the latest on the Spanish Wine scene!