Masterclass DO Almansa


In the Ayuntamiento, Town Hall, of Almansa there’s an impressive tiled mural depicting the battle that occurred near the town in 1707 during the Spanish War of Succession. The Spanish won, thereby reclaiming the East of Spain from Archduke Charles of Austria.

Though not at all so bloody, the good people of Almansa have another battle on their hands at the moment – convincing the wine world that their wines can rub shoulders with those of the other more famous areas of production in this part of the Spanish peninsular. Bordering to the south the DOs of Jumilla and Yecla, and to the north Manchuela it is also somewhat in the shadow of DOs Alicante, Bullas, Utiel Requena and Valencia. Impressive neighbours indeed, but if the tasting I went to recently is anything to go by (and it must be as it was organised by the Consejo Regulador DO Almansa) then I donp’t think they have too much to worry about.

My annual visit to Alicante for the Verema Wine Tasting for Sector Professionals, although very good in 2018 (my article archived here‘), was even better this year. The organisers had also included three masterclasses as an extra attraction. I couldn’t make the third but I was pleased to be given a place for the DO Almansa tasting and later, the DO Somontano one (watch this space!).

There were seven Almansa wines to taste – 6 were reds, which wasn’t surprising, given that the DO is very much a red wine area. What was unexpected, to me at least, as I haven’t tasted an Almansa white for many a year, was the quality of the 100% Verdejo dry white from Bodegas Piqueras.

It’s a wild ferment wine, meaning that the yeasts used were indigenous, found in fact in the vineyard on the skins of the grapes. This is a good sign as it means that the wine is more natural. It was fermented in French oak were it also spent a few months resting and gaining some depth. A lovely, fresh fruity wine, with a touch of banana skin on the nose and a good bright finish. I’d buy this wine, for sure.

Sorrasca 2013 is a red wine from Bodega Rodríguez de Vera, using Petit Verdot, that French variety that really comes into its own when grown here in sunny Spain. The vineyards are 1,000 meters above sea level, giving the vine respite from the really scorching heat of this art of the world, which in turn gives a brightness to the finished wine with necessary acidity too. Balanced with blackberry fruit, a little stemmy too, with liquorice on the finish, and after 20 minutes a faint touch of coffee on the nose. Nice wine.

La Cueva del Chamán 2018 is a Monastrell roble wine, in that it has had a some time in oak, and because it’s a young wine it has a darker colour than the older wine above, in fact a touch purple. Plums with some vanilla from the oak. The vines are 50 years old, accounting for the relative richness of the wine. It’s a food wine for sure, at 15·5 abv, you’d need something with it!

Unfortunately the next wine on the list was slightly corked, so I can’t comment on it as it was faulty. It happens!

Almansa majors in Garnacha Tintorera, that unusual variety, aka Alicante Bouchet, whose flesh, unlike almost all other black grape varieties, is also coloured. You can therefore expect some dark, intense almost opaque wines from this variety. La Batalla (you can guess why!) also has Merlot, Cab Sauv, Syrah and Petit Verdot in the blend, making for a lovely fruit compote, with a slightly medicinal nose too.

My favourite red was the 100% Garnacha Tintorera, Tintoralba Ecológico 2016, from Bodegas Tintoralba. It opens with a touch of coconut from the oak (French and American) in which the wine has aged for a year, moving into fruit driven realms of plums and damsons with a little undergrowth too. It’s a big wine, needing food also, but has an element of gracefulness too.

My second favourite of this encouraging flight of wines was the 1860 Selección from Bodegas Cano. Coming from 45 years old Garnacha Tintorera vines, growing at 1,000 metres above sea level, the wine has presence in the mouth, with big bold bramble fruit and plum flavours. I thought the 18 months in oak might have been a tad too long though, causing me to put it in silver medal position – for me at any rate.

So, I recommend seeking our DO Almansa wines. Enjoy!

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Perhaps I was the only one wondering what magic would be afoot when the Show Chef brought out a solitary Magret de Pato and set it before the multitude packed into the ground floor of the DO Alicante offices recently? How was this possibly going to feed us all, or perhaps more to the point, how were we all going to pair the duck breast with the new wine we were there to celebrate?

The magnums of Vi De Sal 2016 adorned the room like the Crowns of so many Princes, left strategically for all to admire. Indeed, Vi De Sal is only bottled in magnums (that’s one and a half litres of wine in one bottle!) – clearly there was enough wine for the throng, but magret?

I’ve written a Cork Talk about Finca Collado before (archived here‘. I enjoyed their portfolio, so I was pleased to be invited to the launch of their brand new wine, Ví de Sal – a wine with a fascinating story, as I was about to find out.

I remember meeting Samuel Castello, son of the founder of Finca Collado, one hot morning over a coffee in Jalón. He gave me a couple of his wines to taste for the article above. We chatted about the bodega, its wines, philosophy – the project as a whole. It was all very interesting, the more so when he mentioned a special project, within a project (alluded to at the end of the above article). Their Head Winemaker was working on a new, very limited release wine which they were hoping to launch ‘soon’. The ‘soon’, wasn’t defined, despite my pressing, but it turns out it’s now – just 15 months after our chat!

As the gentle stream of people arriving at DO Alicante, not far from the Ayuntamiento, slowly turned into a river of journos, restaurateurs, hoteliers, wine merchants and the general glitterati of Alicante City, those of us who’d arrived early were able to advance on the wines served before the big event. These wines were also paired with exquisite gourmet tapas made by the Show Chef’s teams from Restaurante Miguel Angel, Villena.

We went straight for the Finca Collado Chardonnay/Moscatel 2018, a really refreshing white wine about which I’d waxed lyrical in my last article (though a different vintage, of course). Well, I’m happy to report that their high standard has been maintained. The Moscatel, picked earlier than is the norm in the Marina Alta area, lends a more floral character to the wine, that the grape/raison aromas that we are perhaps used to. The Chardonnay, which is about 60% of the blend and has had a little oak ageing, adds depth, plus a little tropical fruit too. It’s a lovely wine for drinking now, though Samuel suggests it will be even better in a few months time.

Finca Collado Syrah Monastrell 2017 is a wine for meaty food! A bold wine, with good fruit, some lively tannin and acidity and a combination of black pepper and olives with dark plums about to reach full ripeness.

Delit 2017, with its simple, effective label is a step up in quality. 100% Monastrell from old vines, fermented and aged in oak barrels of 300 litre capacity. Rich and rounded on the palate, it’s a full wine, but with finesse. Some mountain herbs along with Autumnal earthy notes and lovely damson fruit.

Ví De Sal, will only be made in exceptional years. This 2016 is the first, there won’t be a 2017, but there will be 2018! A magnum of this wine will cost you 70€, so it’s not cheap, but don’t forget that’s two bottle’s worth – and don’t forget also Christmas is coming! This wine will be so impressive for you and your Christmas Lunch/Dinner guests!

In the south of the Alicante region there are the mountains of the Sierra Salinas, here you’ll also find the Salinas lake. Finca Collado’s vineyards are situated here, about 500m above sea level. I mention sea level deliberately because, millions of years ago the whole area was under the sea! This has left a certain saltiness in the earth. Indeed, centuries ago there were salt mines here. And it’s this saline quality in the soils of the vineyards that contributes to a local phenomenon, which is responsible for the unique singularity of Ví De Sal.

Some years, according to rainfall and other climatic conditions the Monastrell vines in the vineyard specific to this wine reach the limit of their tolerance of the saline effect. They almost collapse, and in an effort to hold onto life their grapes are forced to dehydrate, in order to provide some desperately needed water for the plant. During this three day period the grapes are hastily harvested as the juice that is left is far more concentrated but they haven’t yet reached full maturation. The result of this is a rich must which retains a high acidity and expresses the terrior from which it came.

This translates into a minimal intervention wine that is high in alcohol (15%), rich on the palate but with alluring fresh acidity. The wine is fermented in large 600litre French oak barrels, with regular stirring to extract colour and flavour from the skins. It’s then aged in the same barrels for 12 months, adding depth and complexity, though the wine is so well made you can hardly detect the oak.

You’ll find rich plum/damson fruit, a reference to figs and liquorice with some dark chocolate on the finish. There’s thyme and eucalyptus on the nose and ig though it is, there is also an elegance to this wine.  Twitter @colinonwine

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Regular readers (thank you, you are much appreciated!) will know of my penchant for, and great interest in, the Sparkling Wines of Spain. Over the years Cork Talk has shared lots of bubbly bonhomie! Of course, when most of the sparkling wine consumers of the world think Spanish fizz, they think Cava. But nowadays, in fact over a few years now, it seems that particular bubble is bursting. It’s not at haemorrhaging level, yet, but I suspect it will be, and quite soon too!

You may remember an article I wrote a few years ago (archived here‘) about Pepe Raventos, a name synonymous with Cava since its inception, approaching 150 years ago, abandoning DO Cava! Pepe had apparently been discussing quality control with the Consejo Regulador, the ruling council, of the DO for some time, but getting nowhere. Drastic though it was, he decided to jump ship, with several commentators warning that it would be business suicide!

It wasn’t. His business is thriving, and neither was he the first to leave the DO, essentially for the same reason. Their common complaint was that there wasn’t a system in place where the cheap and nasty cava, priced at under 2€ and wholly unrepresentative of what cava is really all about, can be differentiated from the classy cava at approximately the 10€ and upwards price.

DO Cava at last took some notice (‘), but essentially, and in reality, when their plan came to fruition, they got it wrong. What they did was add an extra designation, the supposed pinnacle of the quality pyramid, where bodegas which satisfied their more stringent rules could be elevated to this top level. However some of the regulations failed to take into account those wineries that had always made excellent cava, but just not, for example, from one particular vineyard, as one of the new rules demanded. These bodegas were left therefore in the same position, in fact it could be argued that they were now in a worse situation!

There continued to be unrest, further representations to the Consejo Regulador were made, resulting in no concessions. Something had to be done – and it was. Corpinnat came into existence!

In 2018 news came of a new group, Corpinnat, which vowed to up the ante re the standard of Spanish Sparkling Wine, upholding the principles of fine wine making. Another set of rules was drawn up, agreed to by the six founding bodegas, which is now a 9 winery strong group, with famous, well respected names too: Gramona, Recaredo Llopart, Nadal, Sabaté I Coca, Torello, Can Feixes, Julia Bernet and Mas Candi.

There is a lengthy list of rules, which have to be satisfied should other bodegas think of joining – and there are ongoing discussions with wineries who are interested. Indeed, there is currently some discussion going on between DO Penedès and Corpinnat about the possibility of creating a whole new DO just for the Sparkling Wines of the Penedés area.

Note the date of disgorgement clearly displayed on the back label!

Perhaps the most important of the rules are: the minimum 18 months ‘en rima’, aging before disgorgement (this minimum in DO Cava is just 9 months), with further provision for sparkling wines to have been aged for over 30 months and for over 60 months; all members must be in the Penedès zone, thereby promoting the notion of a specific terroir; vineyards must be organic; all wines must be made on the premises of the bodega; the minimum price paid for grapes is set at 70cents/kilo, which is nearly double that in DO Cava; the date of disgorgement will be displayed on the back labels; manual harvesting; minimum of 75% of grapes harvested must be from land owned by the winery (or on long term lease); 90% of grapes must be indigenous varieties.

The above, compared with rules in cava production, are far more stringent, striving to ensure the best expression of Spanish Sparkling wine, to put it in its rightful place amongst the finest fizz of the world! The bodegas concerned are all highly respected with an enviable history of fine sparkling wine making. Great, so how does it all translate to the sparkling wine in your glass? Extremely well, is my view, having tasted three examples from two of the Corpinnat member bodegas, Torelló and Sabaté i Coca!

Please read next week’s Cork Talk for my thoughts on the Corpinnat Spanish Sparkling Wines I’ve tasted thus far. In short, they’re excellent, and if representative of what we can expect from this new Group, then I’ll certainly be looking for them in wine shops and in restaurants! Restaurateurs please note!

Spot the error here! Is this indicative of the possible consumer confusion that might now occur? Your comments most welcome!  Twitter  @colinonwine

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Private Wine Tasting with a group of visitors from Holland

I haven’t checked, I admit, but I’m pretty sure that my Private Wine Tastings, held in the comfort of clients’ own homes, aren’t listed in the lexicon of Dangerous Sports! So it was good to see the relief on Renata’s face when she realised that her birthday surprise wasn’t going to be a bungee jump, or paragliding, or indeed any of the other scary events that she’d been teased mercilessly about by her Dutch family, all on holiday over here in Moraira.

I’d been contacted by son-in-lay, Ben, about presenting a surprise tasting, we chatted about their budget requirements, styles of wine, and how many bottles! All was set – and we had a great time.

I recently wrote about another such wine tasting where, to start the corks popping, I presented first a sparkling wine. I often do this, it’s a great ice-breaker, it’s celebratory, and if you choose the right one it’s so tasty! Therefore I did it again, and if you looked quickly at the labels you’d see that last week’s and Renata’s fizz was made by the same winery, CastellRoig in Cataluña.

However, on closer inspection you’d see that last week we were using a Corpinnat Sparkling Wine (an article on Corpinnat here soon), this week, a Cava, Gran Reserva in fact. It’s a long, long story, but essentially CastellRoig has recently left the DO Cava, preferring to make their fizz under the Corpinnat banner. The Gran Reserva Cava was from the 2012 vintage, before the existence of the new company, Corpinnat.

Cava Josep Coca Gran Reserva, CastellRoig, is made with indigenous old vine Xarel.lo and Macabeo grapes, it has clearly enjoyed its four years ‘en rima’ where it has developed into an exquisite mouthful. The Brut Nature style might suggest to some that it could be a little too dry – not a bit of it! It’s so fresh on the palate despite its age. It’s rounded, complex, with some toasted almond notes and a pleasing herby floral fragrance. It fills the mouth and lasts for ever!

1583 Albariño de Fefiñanes (recently selected as the Wine of the Week by Tim Atkin MW) has peachy aromas and flavours, yellow peach for me. Bottled in May this year, this 2018 is 100% Albariño, fermented in French and aged for 3 months in barrel, where it is regularly stirred with its lees, and then a further 3 months in stainless steel temperature controlled vessels, waiting for bottling and release. Citrus notes, peach, very subtle oak. Drinking well now it’s a wine that, although white and Spanish, will age for another three years, to give even more.

Ben wanted a second white – what a choice I had to make. These days there are so many top class white wines made in Spain! I opted for a Verdejo from DO Rueda, and I’m pleased I did, as I was surprised to learn from all of my Dutch friends that nowadays this Spanish grape variety is well known and loved in Holland.

El Transistor 2018 is made by superstar winemaker, Telmo Rodriguez and attempts to give the perfect expression of the variety. Well, he doesn’t do a bad job! Grapes from 60 yrs old vines are fermented in different barrel sizes and aged in same for about 6 months, as well as cement deposits, to maintain freshness. Lime green shades in the glass, stone/slate mineral elements, gooseberry fruit and the inside of kiwi skin where it meets the flesh, with acidity, rounded, full on mouth, a real mouthful, fresh.

Our first red wine was a cracker – one of the most famous Ribera del Duero producers, Arzuaga wines have really made a name for themselves. Their PR/Publicity dept has done an exemplary job (I’m sure hugely expensive too), however, this is only going to work if the wine is of a top standard too! It is!

I chose, working on advice from Jose. Owner of Teulada’s excellent wine merchants, A Catarlo Todo, the 2016 Crianza, made with 95% Tempranillo (aka Tinto del País in Ribera del Duero) and just 5% Cabernet Sauvignon for some extra longevity, depth of flavour and complexity.

Most of the Tempranillo comes from the oldest on-site vineyards that Arzuaga controls, located at 920 metres above sea level, with a telling addition of some Tempranillo bought in from near Burgos where the vines are 100+ years old! It’s a super red wine, redolent of all we’d expect from an oak aged (16 months in American and French barricas) Spanish red. Gasps of admiration followed first sips!

Finally, as requested, we tasted another red wine, but oh so different – Dolç Mendoza is a dessert wine par excellence! Only made in exceptional years when the fruit on the vines is in perfect condition so that it can stay put until, perhaps 6 weeks after the rest of the Enrique Mendoza vineyards up near Villena, have been harvested.

Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Pinot Noir and Merlot make up the blend – after fermentation, this 15·5 abv sweet red wine is aged for ten months in oak. The result is a luscious wine, wonderful with chocolate desserts and summer pudding, but also with mature cheeses, including strong blue cheese! Splendid!

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