These days Navarra’s stock is up, following some time in the vinous doldrums while nearby glamrock Rioja, stole all the headlines . .



Part of the Masaveu Bodegas Group, Bodegas Pagos de Araiz somehow popped into my e-mail in-tray recently. Intrigued by the wines they were promoting, I contacted them to find out more. A few days later, a very pale rosado and two dark red wines born in Denominación de Origen, Navarra, arrived, with accompanying information!

These days Navarra’s stock is up, following some time in the vinous doldrums while nearby glamrock Rioja, stole all the headlines. Driving from the Costa Blanca to Rioja the easiest route takes you through Navarra, the wine producing area with a history of making wine for king and court centuries ago. You’d be missing out if you simply drove on.

The saviour of modern Navarra wine is their ancient variety, Garnacha, oft mentioned in this column, the more so now that winemakers sensitive to its needs are giving it the attention it deserves. Nowadays, Garnacha is not seen merely as a cash cow, pile it high and sell it cheap variety and consequently it is responsible for some super reds.

However, black grape varieties are not responsible for red wine alone, of course, and the first Pagos de Araiz wine I tasted was their oh-so-pale rosado, quite a contrast in shades to their other rosé wine. Very pale pink wines are de rigeur right now so I’m sure it’s a marketing decision – but that doesn’t matter, it’s a good wine in its own right.

Now, if you like your rosado to be very dry, as I do, then this is for you. There’s a fresh acidity on the palate, following very pale pink rose petal aromas intermingling with soft red fruits. As I write, we are planning a fish and shellfish paella for Easter Sunday’s main meal – I wish I had some of this rosado left, as it would be a perfect match, cutting though the richness of the rice and pairing so well with the prawns and mussels!

We did enjoy it with a fish dish, mixed fish pie in fact, and it was just right – plus I really enjoyed it as an aperitif, even supplanting my usual sherry! Now that says a lot!

There were two reds, only one with Garnacha in the blend, though playing a lesser role, just 20%, in their Roble, moving over for Tempranillo (50%) and Merlot (30%). One of the wines selected to represent Navarra’s best wines of 2020, it fits snugly in that slightly oak aged ‘roble’ category.

Dark in the glass the fruit comes first to the nose, with initially only a passing reference to toasty notes coming from the American oak. The aroma develops as it breathes, there’s eucalyptus and some liquorice with blackberry fruit. On the palate, it’s the fruit that takes over while the wine warms the palate with its 14.5% abv. Then, as you swallow this silky wine gives a slightly robust reminder that this is a wine to enjoy on its own, yes, but also with some light and dark meat dishes. It’s BBQ wine for sure, finishing with a touch of bay leaf  and still that brambly fruit.

The Pagos de Araiz Crianza eschews the traditional Garnacha altogether, preferring instead the Spanish variety, Tempranillo (also traditional to Navarra), surrounded by French grapes, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Syrah – entente cordial, but across the Pyrenees! Call it what you like – it works.

There’s a brooding liquorice and slightly tarry nose when the bottle is first opened, then the oak in which it has been aged for just short of a year, makes its presence felt, adding some toast, coconut and vanilla to the perfume party. As the oxygen impacts the wine in the glass the aromas reassemble, with blackcurrant and some spicy blackberry coming to the fore – and staying there, to be joined by a very slight menthol aroma too.

The separate varieties were harvested individually, and kept apart during fermentation too. Then, again on their own, they were aged in either French or American oak, with the final blending before bottling. There were a few more months left in the cellars before release so that all the component parts could meld together. BBQ, yes, but also steaks, roast beef, roast leg of lamb and wild boar casseroles – yes, this will fit the bill!

NB my next Free Facebook Live Wine Tasting will be Wednesday 29th April, 6pm in Spain, 5pm UK. Care to join me? All you need to do is ‘friend’ me on Facebook and then seek me out at six!

Facebook: Colin Harkness  Twitter @colinonwine (next Wine Show, Sat 2nd May, 12 noon (Spain time)

Inspiring Wines from South West France!


Well, after 23 years writing mostly about Spanish wine, I have to admit that it was a total, though most welcome surprise to be acknowledged by the French, by having a wine named after me! Merci beaucoup, mes amis!

L’idiot, is a red wine from near Narbonne, South West France, made with Merlot, despite the comment of one of the main protagonists of the film, Sideways (referred to on the labels with appropriately placed asterisks!). In fact, the name of the wine actually refers to the character who makes the, less than pleasant, comment, about Merlot, one of the great grape varieties of France, and not about me at all! Not sure if this is a let down or a comfort!

There’s a hint of rebellion about the naming of the wine, as well as its making too. Maison Ventenac ( goes further though, the whole range of several of their wines are known collectively as Les Dissidents, and this makes them all the more attractive for me! The gloves are off, along with the blinkers – these wines don’t conform to the norms of the area, or to those of much of France in general. Most of us love a rascal. I know that when I was teaching I usually got on best with the likeable rogues. I’d like to meet this rebellious team one day, Stéphanie and Olivier Ramé – in the meantime, I’ll just enjoy their wines!

This really tasty, almost succulent wine is fermented in concrete tanks, using natural wild yeasts growing in the vineyard without the addition of sulphites. The cap that forms at the top of the tank, made from the Merlot skins is punched down in the first few days and the juice/wine underneath is pumped over the skins to ensure good extraction of colour, tannins and flavour in the finished product.

After fermentation there is a further maceration with the skins for ten days, followed by malolactic fermentation and three months ageing in concrete. When ready, the wine is then bottled with a light filtration.

A juicy, fruity wine with a little eucalyptus on the nose joining the blackberry and light plum fruit. Its slight ageing gives it some presence on the palate – if drinking this wine without any knowledge of it, it would pause conversation a moment or two as you reflect on it, wondering what it is and where from, rather like a song or a piece of music can stop you in your tracks.

When tasting three of Le Dissident range, I actually started with their Chardonnay, Carole. Again, I liked the seemingly self-critical, risqué opener on the label – ‘Another Chardonnay! Yes, but this one is different.’ I liked the wine as well, for exactly that reason.

The vineyards aren’t far from the Mediterranean and there’s a faint, and pleasant salinity to this fresh, citrus fruit wine, which also has a slight reference to some more exotic fruit, though understated, with a little minerality too. I really liked it – way different from the wonderful Burgundy whites, made of course, with the same variety.

And again, on the label, these likeable rogues have pointed out that some have asked why add some Gros Manseng grapes to the Chardonnay – their answer, simply – ‘Why not?’

Both varieties were harvested at night and then fermented in large, 300 hectolitres, stainless steel tanks, using carbonic maceration for a super-fruit finish. Good wine!

Finally, Le Paria 2019 is made with Grenache, in years gone by the workhorse of both French and Spanish vineyards but these days, being elevated to far higher things, simply by having some respect for a much abused variety. It’s a little lighter in colour, but don’t let that make you think it’s an inconsequential wine – it’s not!

And it’s certainly not the social outcast that the name suggests – this is no pariah, it deserves a place in your cellar for sure! It’s made in a similar way to L’idiot above and comes out as a lovely dark red fruit flavoured wine with presence too.

Really good winemaking at Maison Ventenac, resulting in super wines! I’m definitely in the market to taste their other offerings too!

PS My next radio programme is on Saturday 4th April 12:00 – 13:00 hrs (Spanish Time) – great music, wine chat and some surprises too! Twitter @colinonwine Facebook Colin

Some Amusing Wine Judging Tales!



Good Heavens – how nice to be appreciated! Since Part One of ‘On Being a Wine Judge’ I’ve received a good number of comments from friends, clients and readers who’ve wished me well, and this despite my assuring all that I wasn’t, honestly, playing the sympathy card! Thank you all!

Yes, my days as a Wine Judge are now behind me, because of some health issues, problems which, given the current pandemic, pale into insignificance. So, I’m being very positive, with various projects on the go or simply paused until we can get through this thing. I’ve moved on.

However, as I said in Part One, being a Wine Judge was such a blast and there are a number of stories I can tell about my experiences, as well as explaining a little about how it all happens. Hence, Part Two.

The previous article finished with me mentioning the minibus ride home from the International Wine & Spirits Competition judging HQ at the Dunsfold aerodrome where we chatted about the morning’s events and wines, of course. We also chatted about our friends and fellow judges – their comments, favourite wines etc, all very positive and supportive, as well as being funny and entertaining too.

On one occasion I mentioned that one of the most esteemed amongst had been my table partner that day. It was quite an honour to be in the same room as this chap, let alone be able to sit next to him, a world acknowledged expert and author of several books about his specialist wine subject as well as being a famed barrister, a QC no less!

Our friend, I should point out, also has what must be called a rather ‘far back’ accent – speaking exemplary Queen’s English in what, not only a dumb Northerner like me would call, a very posh accent indeed! And it was this accent that added to the weight of his comments about wine, and the humour he so often employed.

When asked by the Chair to comment about a particular wine, he had us all entertained for a few minutes telling us, and remember this was in his ‘frightfully far back’ accent, that ‘ the wine had reminded him rather of a Mills and Boon novel, where the main protagonist, a dreadful cad, had left the library in a terrible, blazing anger, having doled out a verbal battering to the beautiful, delicate heroine, leaving the reader with a appallingly bad taste in the mouth’ – or words to that effect! We couldn’t carry on for a few minutes as we were laughing so much! Brilliant!

However, another judge in the minibus had a tale to top that, about the same revered gentleman. Her experience was that once she’d been on the panel with our friend and, bearing in mind his accent and his QC status, when again asked to describe a wine and why he’d given it such a low score he’d said that it rather unfortunately had reminded him of the time he’d last sent a man to the gallows! Strewth – I told you being a wine judge was entertaining!

So, how did the judging actually take place?

Having arrived promptly for a 10:00 AM start were sent to one of the three IWSC’s three tasting rooms. There would be perhaps 6 to 9 of us, one of whom had been elected Chair. One who would have the ectra responsibility of working the computer to enter and compute the scores (never ever me, incidentally and thankfully!) and one who would be the phone link with the service rooms where the wines were kept in perfect conditions before being very professionally served to us panellists.

We would have pens, notepaper, instructions, a list of the wines which would give only details such as ‘Rioja, Tempranillo based, years 2015 – 2017’ for example, and the rules. To the side of each table there would be a spittoon for each judge – believe me no matter how great the wines, judging 60 – 80 of them meant you had to spit!

To start, we would be served two glasses of completely unrelated wines – so if judging on the Spanish Panel, as I almost exclusively did, we might be served a Muller Thurgau from Germany and a Californian Shiraz. We’d be asked to taste and score each, give the scores in and then discuss any disparities. The idea being to see if we were all ‘on the same page’ so to speak. The Chair had the final say and we were left to adjust our scoring with this in mind.

Wines would be served in ‘flights’ of perhaps four, even up to 20, all similar in style. Again, I can tell you, judging 20 Crianza Ribera del Duero all from the same year, for example, all displaying, at fist at least, very similar taste and aroma characteristics is not at all easy! There would be bread and water to freshen the palate and at the halftime break there would be sliced cucumber to freshen up even more.

Also, interestingly considering the generally accepted order in which wines should be tasted, we did it the ‘wrong way round’. We tasted reds first, then rosés, sparklers and whites, finally with red dessert wines coming before white ones. The reason – well, if tasting lots of white wines first the acidity can damage the palate a little, spoiling ability to judge further. Makes sense – and bear in mind the IWSC is one of the World’s three leading international wine competitions!

Please listen to tomorrow, Sat 4th April at 12:00 hrs – it’s my wine programme! I’m talking about demystifying some ‘wine talk’, I’ll be tasting a fortified wine as well as tasting and giving details of the fantastic Valley FM Wine of the Week, made by a local producer. Plus, as always, some really great music, including a local artist as well! Twitter @colinonwine Facebook Colin Harkness

Some reflections on being a Wine Judge – part one


Regretfully, I’ve just tendered my resignation from the Spanish Wine Judging Panel of the International Wine & Spirits Competition, the IWSC, held annually, now in London, having moved recently from Guildford. This would have been my 9th consecutive year in such a position, although ill health kept me from attending in 2019.

And it’s ill health at play again, forcing me to resign, not only from this, one of the world’s three most prestigious international wine competitions, but from all others too, international and national in Spain as well! To say I’m rather sad about it, is something of an understatement – and some! However, given the current pandemic, from which we are all suffering, I agree, of course, that there are far worse things in life! So, this is not a feeble attempt to play the sympathy card.

Rather, it is an opportunity to explain to Cork Talk readers, what it is to be a National and International Wine Judge, with examples from some of the highlights of my judging tenure. It’s been a blast!

I made my wine judging debut in 2011, in Galicia, North West Spain, and to be specific in the small, centuries old seaside town of Cambados, in the Denominación de Origen Rías Baixas. Readers will know, of course, that this DO is the natural home of that famous white wine grape variety, Albariño! It was, of course, this wonderful variety that we were going to be judging.

The organisers kindly acceded to my request for my lovely wife to come along for the ride too. Whilst my fellow judges and I were working, Claire was able to relax in the opulence of the Cambados Parador (highly recommended btw), where we were staying (expenses paid, I should add) and where, in one of the conference rooms, the judging took place.

Claire was also able to join us for the social activities built into the weekend – which included dining chez Michelin starred restaurants; a magnificent catamaran trip into the bay, tasting all the seafood dishes known to man, partnered, of course, by all the Rías Baixas Albariños know to man too; plus a glorious garden party where the medal winners were presented, to a huge gathering, including the President of the Comunidad and other politicians, as well as the glitterati of NW Spain!

My Spanish wasn’t so good in those days (it’s not brilliant now) and, although proud to be the first ever foreigner to be asked judge, it was something of a baptism of fire. However, the wine did the talking, far more eloquently than I managed! We were judging the 2010 vintage, and there was a large entry. Plus, of course, the number of Albariño wines we tasted on the catamaran and in the restaurants at lunches and dinner. All, of course, white Albariño. It was a truly wonderful experience – but I have to say, that by the time Sunday evening came, and we’d just arrived in nearby Santiago de Compostella, we probably could have killed for a glass of red!

I must have done something right as I was co-opted onto a Decanter Magazine panel later in the year, judging, as it happened the 2007 vintage of DO Rioja – red wines all! And being quoted a couple of times in that world famous magazine!

The following year I was invited to Guildford to ‘trial’ (now there’s an appropriate word!) as a judge for the IWSC. This was not so much of a step up in prestige, but more a mounting of the whole ladder! If I hadn’t passed the fairly stringent testing I would have been sent packing, back to Spain and relative anonymity, after kicking my heels for a few days waiting for the return flight I’d booked – perhaps too positively?

Fortunately I found myself sitting in one of the three judging rooms, with seven or eight fellow, though far more illustrious, and experienced judges, than me, the new kid on the panel, judging, as it happened Spanish as well as Portuguese wines.

I didn’t look back – until day!

Each of the times I judged in Guildford I was struck by how fortunate I was to be in the same room as such luminaries – Masters of Wine, Cape Wine Masters, Master Sommeliers, Wine Buyers for major supermarkets, Wine Makers, Winery Owners, Wine Media folk and so on! I was always nervous, the more so when, on occasion (too many occasions for my liking!) the computer happened to have selected me to read out my scores first, before the others on the panel. Imagine if I’d given a wine, say 64, and the others had rated it in the 80s and above! Firstly, you begin to doubt your ability, then it’s made worse by your being asked to justify your score, as opposed to those of your fellows! Strewth – it was a worry!

Fortunately there weren’t many times at all when there was such a disparity, and over the years I realised that this can in fact happen to all of us, even those above. Stressful though it was, I really enjoyed these sessions, as well as the chat over lunch afterwards, where the best wines that each panel had tasted were served to accompany the gourmet dishes bought in. The minibus journey back to Guildford (the actual judging rooms were about 25 minutes out of the town, in fact at the same aerodrome as was used by Jeremy Clarkson et al when filming Top Gear!) was always interesting as well.

We’d be perhaps 14 people, different nationalities, qualifications and experiences, but all with a passion for wine in common. I’m going to miss it!

I think I’ll make this Part One – of ‘On Being a Wine Judge’. There are few funny stories to tell, as well as the actually manner by which these judging sessions are conducted, sometimes including a member of the legal profession presiding over the event to ensure no foul play! click Members  Twitter @colinonwine

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