First in the series of wine tastings for small Groups from Sweden!


In September and October I’ll be presenting a series of wine tastings for small groups of Swedish people who are visiting Spain, combing various activities with the opportunity to experience a little Spanish culture, and some sunshine!


The Iberian peninsular, even if we take Portugal out of the equation, though still include the islands, is a rather large area, no? And, as Cork Talk readers know full well, there are many, many wine producing zones here in Spain.


It’s clear therefore that there is rather a large number of wines from which to choose. My job, although hugely enjoyable, is also tough! I like to include at least one wine from a world famous wine producing area. However, I also like to champion the cause of the smaller, less famous areas. Plus, I’m a great believer in promoting local wines too!


So, for the first groups at least (I’ll probably ring, or pop, as in cork, the changes as time goes on) I’ve chosen, for the ‘famous areas’ – Cava. I’m a great believer in Cava, as regular readers will know. For ‘smaller, less famous’ I’ve chosen DO Yecla, another favourite area of production for me, as well as DO Terra Alta, where there is some great winemaking going on the moment. And for ‘local’ I’ve actually chosen a white wine from DO Valencia and another red from DO Utiel-Requena.


I think it’s a good balance, and I’m hoping that the always very appreciative Swedish attendees will agree!

Our cava, is not just any cava! I’ve mentioned Premium Cavas in Cork Talk before – these are the Reserva and Gran Reserva cavas that, for me, distinguish Cava as one of the foremost sparkling wines of the world, always equalling Champagne in quality, and often beating it!


Cava producers, Canals i Munné have been mentioned here before too! Their Cava ‘Adn’ Brut Nature Gran Reserva, priced at well under 20€ is made with two of the classic cava varieties, Macabeo and Parellada, plus it has 30% Chardonnay in the blend. It really is a winning combination, and when you include aging on its lees ‘en rima’, for a lengthy 48 months (easily exceeding the minimum 30 months for Gran Rerervas!) – well you have something a little bit special!


For white wine, I’ve gone for a favourite of mine since its inception several years ago. Cullerot (meaning tadpole, in Valenciano you’ll know why when you see the label!). A super wine which is made with each variety (Chardonnay, Pedro Ximénez [yes, PX, of sherry fame, but as dry as you like here!], local variety Verdil and, linking nicely with the above, Macabeo) being fermented separately. Then, blending takes place and the almost finished wine is placed in huge, underground ‘tinajas’, clay amphorae, with its lees, for a further 6 months of ageing. You have to try it!


I’m a fan of rosado wines and Llumí Rosat from Celler Alimara, DO Terra Alta is a firm favourite. It’s made with 100% Garnacha grapes and is certain to make those who think rosé wine is just for girls, think again! Perfumed, yes, with raspberries, under-ripe strawberries, a touch of pomegranate and wisp of ripened cranberry; but also full and lasting on the palate. Excellent paella wine, by the way!


My great friends at Bodegas Castaño, DO Yecla, make a large range of wines, every one of them excellent value for money, from those retailing at under 3€ all the way through to their flagship wines that cost 30+€. I decided to go for the one which has consistently been given 90 points and above in the Robert Parker guides, since its first release, quite a few years ago now, when it earned 93 points out of 100. And this for a wine that still retails for under 7€!


Made with elderly Monastrell grapes the wine is placed in oak barricas, 80% French and the other 20% American (incidentally, it sells out every year in the USA!) for no more than six months. The lovely plum and damson fruit is to the fore, with some oak back-up for depth and added flavour and aromas.


The final wine will be from Bodegas Pigar, made by my pal, the slightly rebellious, Juan Piqueras up in the rolling, mountainous hills of Utiel-Requena. Here, the indigenous Bobal, queen of all she surveys, gives of its best, and Juan’s version is proud to be among the best that the area can offer. Cherries, light, dark and Picota are the fruits involved here, with some mountain herb notes, a little minerality and a depth of flavour that would surely make you think it cost twice as much!


First Swedish tasting tonight (as I write) – I can’t wait! Facebook Colin Harkness

Twitter @colinonwine

Amber (Orange) Wines – review of definitive work by Simon J. Woolf


After 21 years of writing Cork Talk (more on this soon!), I like to think, at least, that I may have made a positive contribution to the Spanish wine world. About 100,000 possible readers, at its height 150,000+, with more online, reading an average of approximately 800 words per article is, I think, not to be sneezed at!

I hope I’ve turned people on to the attractions of wines from Spain, imbuing, perhaps some, with a passion similar to mine. However, if, when I finally arrive at the great bodega in the sky, I am remembered for only two things, I hope it will be for my unerring support of Cava and, more recently, for starting the Orange Wine ball rolling, amongst expats as well as the wider community!

The reds of Spain have a history, a present and a future of great success, for sure. I’ve supported and praised them as well, of course, including highlighting lesser know areas of production. The whites have perhaps needed a little more promotion, which I’ve been happy to do, along with an increasing number of other writers, also charmed by their development. Rosado has always been popular in Spain, as well as with those from other countries now living here, or visiting often.

Amber or Orange Wine is the new kid on the block, but they’ve certainly, and easily won me over (please see click Articles and scroll down a little to my first article on Orange wines). I’m convinced that even in conservative Spain (wine world wise) we will see an extra category added to their wine lists, eventually, as Manuel would say!

However, my support of this ancient, though modern day phenomenon is but a tiny drop in an enormous qvevri of promotion and education, compared to the Amber Wine Ambassador, Simon J. Woolf, whose just published book, Amber Revolution (available here, I’ve greatly enjoyed reading. If you are looking for a Christmas Present for your wine loving partner (or for yourself, of course) this will be an excellent fit!

Of course, it defines Amber or Orange wines (both terms can be used, though I prefer the former, so there’s no confusion, as such wines are nothing to do with oranges!), how they are made, etc, and very interesting it is too. But this work is also like the history book we would all have loved to have read when we were younger. It gives you the big picture, whilst also going into such fine detail that the reader starts to develop a relationship with the modern day protagonists of this 6,000 years old (at least) craft. It engages with the struggles of the first ever Amber Wine makers, as well as those of this century’s exponents and today’s.

And struggles there have been!

Amber wines were first made, it is believed, in Georgia. Over millennia the practise spread, though mostly in other Eastern European states. Enter two world wars and the redrawing of borders, part of the spoils enjoyed by the victors! Consider also the rise of Communism in this area, its eventual fall, and the enduring Russia. Chapter titles such as ‘Destruction and Persecution’, give the reader and insight into what’s in store! Simon J. Woolf meticulously tells the history, from the broad perspective, as well as the personal, where, for example, after a NATO led bombing of an area, one of the 20th Century’s pioneering Amber Wine makers felt unable to speak to his friend and similarly passionate equivalent in a nearby country, for years.

However, this is far from a depressing book. It’s inspiring. Think about so many obstacles being eventually overcome, and read how they were. Indeed, the book’s front cover gives an idea as to its overall positivity, where it states, ‘How the World Learned to Love Orange Wine’! And, on the same subject look at the last, what quarter, of the book where you’ll see listed so many current practitioners in so many different countries and both of the world’s hemispheres!

The photography, by Ryan Opaz, is simultaneously stunning and evocative. We can ‘feel’ the frustration of Amber Wine makers whose hands were tied, perhaps literally in some cases, during the Communist era. I also felt the loss and devastation involved when looking at a black and white photo of Oslavia, destroyed in 1916 as Austro Hungarian and Italian forces battled it out. But we can also sense the anticipation as an Amber Wine is poured by the proud maker, for Simon to taste. We can connect with the ancient world through seemingly being able to touch the iconic qvevri, the huge clay pots, buried underground, in which fermentation so often takes place. And we can ‘smell’ the old oak barrels and foudres where Amber wines are also made and/or aged.

Plus, here’s the bonus. There are seven Spanish Amber Wine producers listed, and whose wines are described, here in Spain. In fact, when Pepe Mendoza’s soon to be released wine is on the market, there will be eight, three of them in the Valencia Community!

Amber Revolution is a great read, especially with a glass of Orange wine to hand! Facebook Colin Harkness Twitter @colinonwine

The Irony of Wine Glasses in France!


My lovely wife isn’t going to like this! A confirmed, committed Francophile who lived in several different parts of France, she won’t hear of any criticism of our neighbours, the French. And, following many visits with Claire-Marie guiding, I have to say that I’m also of a similar disposition.

The, perhaps incomparable, beauty of so many areas of France; the polite, courteousness of the people; the culture; the history; the architecture; the cuisine; and yes, of course, the wine – well who wouldn’t love la belle France?

And I’ve explained to her, that what’s following is for the benefit of the French – it’s criticism yes, but constructive, with a view to helping us all. But I’m walking a tightrope here – we’ll see how it turns out!

You have probably heard of the French Paradox, a phrase born of the 80s and defined thus by Wikipedia:

the apparently paradoxical epidemiological observation that French people have a relatively low incidenceof coronary heart disease (CHD), while having a diet relatively rich in saturated fats, in apparent contradiction to the widely held belief that the high consumption of such fats is a risk factor for CHD. The paradox is that if the thesis linking saturated fats to CHD is valid, the French ought to have a higher rate of CHD than comparable countries where the per capita consumption of such fats is lower.”

Well, our recent fantastic (bar one tiny, perhaps insignificant disappointment, darling, which I’m coming to here!) four week visit suggested to me, another French Paradox. For a country which purports to, and indeed certainly does, make excellent, often benchmark wines, there is a worrying scarcity in many restaurants (in fact all the ones we visited) of suitable wine glasses! There – I’ve said it! Now it’s time to hold my breath!

To me it’s fundamental – quality wine is best appreciated when it is served in suitable glasses. I was therefore surprised (and a tiny, weeny bit disappointed, honey!) when, absolutely invariably, the glass did nothing at all for the wine in the restaurants and bars we visited – and this includes Saint Emilion! Why?

Perhaps the worst example / no chance of swirling and sniffing using the glass!

Now, I know that one can go some way over the top when it comes to ‘suitable’ wine glasses. I was a touch cynical some years ago when invited to a wine tasting where, I was assured, I would be astonished at the difference Riedl glasses made to wine appreciation. Nevertheless I arrived with an open mind as well as an open notebook.

They were right – I was astonished, and indeed wrote about my conversion (to a point) in Cork Talk.

We started with a Chardonnay, Spanish I think, served in a conventional, good quality, tall, nicely shaped wine glass. Alongside it, the same wine but in a Riedl Chardonnay glass. The difference, for the better, when tasting from the Riedl glass compared to the other, was remarkable.

There were more examples to come, all ‘proving’ the same. However, the most marked difference was with the typical, and lovely Spanish ‘balloon’ brandy glass, where Riedl’s Cognac glass, which looked nothing like the balloon at all, was so much better, I wondered if some sleight of hand had been employed, a different brandy substituted! It hadn’t, and I became a believer – for sure.

There are of course problems with this, as I’m sure many of you are thinking. Surely we can’t all be expected to have a special set of glasses for Chardonnay, another for Cabernet Sauvignon, another for Albariño etc etc. And what about wines which are blends of different varieties?

However, Riedl, as well as other producers who have jumped on the glass-wagon, as you might expect, have this covered too. They all produce what can be referred to as ‘catch-all’ glasses, that is glasses in their range that will be suitable, for example, for most whites, most reds etc.

Well all this seems to have escaped the attention of many French restaurateurs – to my chagrin (see, I do try and speak French, Sugar!), and that of the chateaux whose wines are so lamentably let down!

When proper sized and shaped glasses are used, everyone’s a winner! Twitter @colinonwine Facebook Colin Harkness