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Christmas Present for Lovers of Spanish Wines!

THE WINES OF NORTHERN SPAIN

So, here’s me thinking I know a bit about Spanish wine (and I do, too), but my knowledge, expertise and experience over the last 21 years, practically pales into insignificance when compared with the latest book by my colleague and friend, Sara Jane Evans MW!

 

Put simply, ‘The Wines of Northern Spain’ by Sarah Jane Evans MW must now be considered the definitive, go-to reference work for the wines of half of this dynamic wine producing country – with her next book, no doubt the same for the other half, the south! If you, or your partner/friends have an interest in Spanish wines, this has to be a perfect Christmas Present! (www.infideas.com)

 

Approximately twenty years ago I had in my hands a contract to write an introductory book on the Wines of Spain. It was quite an accolade and I was keen to write a first reference book after so many articles. However, it was an opportunity I had to turn down – the sheer scale of the undertaking had me almost shaking with trepidation!

 

Since then, considering all the publications for which I’ve written, it must now be well over a million words, almost always, in praise of Spanish wines – describing them, their provenance, their producers et al. So, I’m now in an even better position to understand how huge and difficult such a project would be!

 

Sarah Jane Evans MW, is also aware of how vast an enterprise, having decided to write it in two different parts, however she didn’t baulk at the task, she just got on with it!

 

Of course, as a Master of Wine (MW), who specialises in Spanish wines, Sarah Jane Evans would be by far the better option as a writer for such a reference book, and this clearly comes out when reading it. It seems there is nothing that has been left out, and it’s clear that she writes from great knowledge and experience. And that’s not surprising!

 

The author is an award-winning wine writer, journalist and speaker at conferences worldwide. She co-Chairs the prestigious Decanter World Wine Awards; she qualified as an MW in 2006, and was presented with an award for the highest mark in the theory section of this exacting exam, and was subsequently appointed Chairman of the Institute of Masters of Wine!

 

With regard to her specialist subject, Spanish Wine, Sarah Jane Evans was made a member of the exceedingly prestigious Gran Orden de Caballeros de Vino in 2010, with a number of similarly impressive appointments to various Denominaciónes de Origen throughout Spain. A Spanish wine expert, she certainly is!

 

And one would need to be, in order to write this comprehensive book in such depth. However, this is certainly not just a factual reference book destined to gather dust on the library shelf. Sarah Jane’s writing skills, allied to her knowledge and personal experience of Spanish wines make, ‘The Wines of Northern Spain’, interspersed as it is with entertaining anecdotes and producer profiles, a thoroughly good read!

 

The book, as the title would suggest, deals with the wine producing areas of Northern Spain, defined here in practical terms as: drawing ‘a line from the Pyrenees to Aragón and Navarra, turning west to Rioja, Ribera del Duero, Castilla y León, and Galicia, also taking in Txakoli country, and Asturias’.

 

The early chapter, ‘Three Thousand Years of History’ gives a fascinating, historical perspective to these often ancient areas of production, and a useful backdrop to the areas and their wines as they are now. How interesting to know, for example, that the Phoenicians who were trading with Spain in about 1100 BC, bringing with them wine in amphorae, have left a legacy which has recently been revived here, where a number of bodegas are now using clay pots for fermentation and ageing wine!

 

The book also details early on the major grape varieties used in these areas of Northern Spain, some of which are familiar to readers, but some of which we know little, or nothing about. There are vine growers and winemakers in these areas who are engaged in an almost missionary quest to revive forgotten and almost extinct varieties, and the wines made from them are another reason why Sarah Jane declares, “Spain is the most exciting country in Europe for wine lovers, and one of the most exciting in the world.”

 

As the reader reads on he/she will find region, area and producer profiles (including climates, microclimates, soil types and altitudes), detailing wine making methods, varieties used and even some of the wines themselves. It’s a good read from cover to cover, and can then be used over and over again to dip into for reference purposes when readers are thinking of looking for new wine tastes and aromas and/or exploring the regions first hand.

 

Clearly, there is quality wine in the areas detailed in ‘The Wines of Northern Spain’, some of which readers will have tasted, however there are areas here that are less well known, whose wines are not so readily available on the Costas of Spain. We are therefore given an insight into what else there is to taste, which fits perfectly with Sarah Jane’s stated intention that readers should discover and taste these wines for themselves!

colin@colinharknessonwine.com  Twitter @colinonwine

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Introducing Swedish Visitors to the Wines of Spain

SWEDISH WINE TASTING SEASON CLOSES

It’s been an absolute pleasure presenting a season of wine tastings to small groups of Swedish visitors enjoying the activity holidays organised for them by Milagro Javea. However, all good things must come to an end – well for this season, that is!

 

Bookings are already being taken for dates organised this far for 2019 and I’m delighted to say my services have been retained.

 

As I said in the first article this season, when I’m presenting wine tastings with people who don’t live here in Spain, I like to introduce them to indigenous grape varieties as well as international ones. Also, I like to present wines from the famous areas of production, varying these each time, of course.

 

I’m also a great fan of wines made locally, believing in fact that is really is incumbent upon me to make sure that visitors are introduced to the delights of wines made, perhaps within even a thirty minute drive. Quite how it is that some visitors to Spain eat at McDonalds, when there is such a wealth of wonderful Spanish food here, is beyond me! Sure, you might not like it all, but at least try it! Well, we’re all different I suppose.

 

So, if thinking of the really famous areas of wine production, Rioja would come to mind of course. Ribera del Duero, Cava and, although we haven’t yet used them, Sherry, would all fit into the super-famous category. And when you consider that for me, starting a tasting (just as when thinking of an aperitif before dinner) with something sparkling, it’s no wonder that all our Swedish friends have been initiated into the world of Spanish fizz – in this case, of course, Cava!

 

We’ve enjoyed a number of the whole season, the latest, the one we used for the final tasting of the season was Bohigas Reseva Brut Nature (my favourite style of fizz, the driest). Made with a winning combination of the international Chardonnay as well as the Spanish Macabeo, for it’s acidity and green apple aromas and flavours along with Parellada, for a floral presence and some elegance too.

 

I feel it is very important to explain that there are different styles of Cava, as this can be quite confusing, and can result in people tasting really quite inappropriate, cheap cavas, in my opinion, unworthy of the name! So, we chose a Reserva, a style of cava that retains the important celebratory element whilst adding a different dimension for depth of flavour weight an presence, giving further pairing possibilities.

 

For our white wine, we chose an area which, in Spain, is certainly famous, but this fame isn’t universal – our Swedish friends, mostly, haven’t come across it. DO Rueda from whence came the Verdejo, the indigenous variety of the area, is a rags to riches story. Their local grape tends to oxidise far too easily and therefore didn’t generally give of its best.

 

New technology, huge investment and a lot of hard work and experimentation has pushed this variety into one of the best for white wines in Spain! I liked this one because it was one of the more subtle examples, rather than the in-you-face types that are pleasant, for one glass, but over-kill for another.

 

Our first red (I always like to have more red wines than the others, Spain, still being recognised as a red wine country first), was the flamboyantly labelled Mestizaje Bobal. In fact, although the name would suggest so, it isn’t a monovarietal. Garnacha and a little Syrah join the party, and the finished product is a lovely fruit-first red wine.

 

The vineyards are 800 metres above sea level – I’ve visited the bodega in February, and I can tell you, it’s freezing in the winter! More importantly, during the growing season there is a considerable drop in temperature at night and amongst other delights this adds a certain brilliance to the wine in the glass!

 

This wine is notable as well, because it isn’t consistent – and I mean this in a complimentary way! Whilst the blend this year is as above, it may not be next vintage, a fact of which I thoroughly approve. The final blend each year, in terms of percentages and varieties will vary – it will depend on how well the various varieties have fared that year. Wine is a product of nature, and shouldn’t therefore be interfered with too much!

 

So, our final wine of the 2018 Swedish season, was one that is made in a bodega a matter of just half an hour away from the font line villa in which we enjoyed the wines. Bodegas Enrique Mendoza, as many readers will (and indeed, should!) know, produces a series of wines of the highest DO Alicante order.

 

The choice, therefore, was actually quite difficult, but I settled on their Petit Verdot – such value for money, and the chance to show how well the variety can ripen in the Spanish Sun!

 

Roll on next season!

 

colin@colinharknessonwine.com  Twitter @colinonwine

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Caskadia – for International Wines in Spain

SOURCING CLASSICAL INTERNATIONAL WINES

When my UK wine friends and colleagues heard I was going to live in Spain 21 years ago they were delighted for me, of course. However, some did ring a note of caution, warning that I wasn’t going to be able to access international wines very easily. They were, and indeed, mostly still are, quite correct.

 

The truth is that it didn’t bother me. It was and still is true to say that in Spain we are so lucky to be able find such excellent Spanish wines, from so many different areas, using a large variety of grape varieties, that it wasn’t really worth the effort of trying to source international wines, nor the expense of so doing!

 

That said, when I do return to the UK and when I do travel to other countries, I don’t buy Spanish wines! I still have a thirst(!) for international wines and a hunger for more knowledge. Therefore I buy the wines of the country I’m in, and this certainly, these days, includes British wines, as well as tasting international wines sold in the UK, where there is such a huge choice.

 

I guess you could say I’m a touch ambivalent. On the one hand my love affair with Spanish wines continues; on the other I still love to taste wines from different countries, including their classic areas.

 

Enter  www.caskadia.es!

 

Based in Barcelona, with shipping throughout Spain, Caskadia was founded for people like me, and probably you, in mind. Rather than having to travel in order to taste international wines, from prominent wine producing areas like: Burgundy, Napa, Champagne, Rhone, Tuscany, Bordeaux, Jura, Veneto and others, we can have them delivered to our doors – by Caskadia! (They also have a long list of excellent Spanish wines including Castillo Ygay, Prado Enea, Vega Sicilia Único and so on!).

Founders Tom Symons and Arthur de Gaulejac (Tom with Wine & Spirits Education Trust qualifications and experience working at Bibendum in London; Arthur a qualified French Sommelier, whose CV includes working at Michelin starred restaurants) wanted to supply Spain’s top restaurants with wines that were essentially impossible to find here.

 

It’s a young business, only approaching it three year anniversary, but it has its eye on expansion! Continuing, of course, to supply the finest restaurants in Spain, it is now increasing its portfolio of private clients. And this is where we come in!

 

So, what of the wines? Well, Tom was kind enough to send me two examples – one from the hallowed ground of Burgundy, no less; the other from one of my favourite wine countries, Italy.

 

I opened the Italian wine first, and decanted it as Tom had said that it was a tad young at the moment, though he was expecting it to blossom over time. Dolcetto D’Alba is a Denominzione D’Origine Controllata (the Italian equivalent to Spain’s DO, Denominacón de Origen) and if Azienda Agricola from Bruno Giacosa is a representative example, then I’d like some more, please!

As advised it was still young, nicely balanced between fruit, acidity and tannin, just lacking some bottle age. The producer is, as Tom says, “legendary” so there is no doubt that it will develop, in the next year and probably still be at its best in three or four years too.

 

The Dolcetta variety juice was fermented in stainless steel and then aged further in tank for another six months. You’ll find pleasing floral notes blending very well with the dark cherry fruit for which the variety is known. A delight with cold meats, this wine will also be wonderful with pasta dishes, particularly those with a meat element. A good start!

 

Both the lovely Claire-Marie and I stopped and looked at each other when we first tasted the Clos du Moulin Aux Moines, Bourgogne Rouge Clos de la Perrière Monopole 2016 red Burgundy, of course! It’s been too many years since we made a vinous return to, surely one of the finest wine crafting areas in the world, and did we enjoy the elegance and charm of this wine!

Made with Pinot Noir from 50+ years old vines, now grown biodynamically, the wine has clearly enjoyed its 12 months in oak, which adds depth, a little complexity and suitability for pairing the wine with rabbit, pigeon (I just love pigeon in France!) and beef.

 

Well, those are just two from the list of many international, and Spanish wines on offer at Caskadia – I’ll be back!

The Wines of Bulgaria, Romania and Moldova’, by Master of Wine, Caroline Gilby

STARS RISING IN THE EAST!

No, not that star – these stars (plural) are the wine making countries of Eastern Europe: Bulgaria, Romania and Moldova.

 

I’m disappointed to have had to turn down my invitation to judge once again at the International Wine Competition Bucharest, Romania, next month, because of a clash in my diary. When there last year we worked hard judging in the morning, but the afternoons and evenings were taken up by tasting Eastern European wines and touring Romanian wineries.

 

For me it was the first time I had tasted Eastern European wines, apart from some rather dubious efforts in the 70s at the newly opened wine bar in Chester! Tasting such an array of wines, talking to their makers and to aficionados was the seed from which grew my great interest in wines from the East, which in fact have an ancient history, but only started recovering from the collective farming constrictions of the Communist era during the last 25 years or so.

 

I was delighted therefore to receive recently, a new book, ‘The Wines of Bulgaria, Romania and Moldova’, by Master of Wine, Caroline Gilby!

 

To say that this exceedingly well researched book is comprehensive, the definitive book on wines from these countries, doesn’t actually do it justice! It’s also a jolly good read! The photos are beautiful, inspiring the reader to visit; the facts are detailed, though presented in a very reader friendly manner; the history related is compelling (so much more so than History lessons, when I were a lad!); and, perhaps above all, it’s the human element that certainly captivated this reader!

 

One can almost feel the pain of the families whose lands are simply taken away from them as Communism cast a shadow over these countries, their fear and sense of hopelessness at losing the estates that had been in the families for generations. Their sense of desperation as they are forced to flee the country of their birth and then, years later when it was safe to return their feelings of ambivalence – elation at going home, but despondency when they see the neglected vineyards and encounter the bureaucracy in the way of their buying their land back!

 

Two World Wars had devastating affects, of course – millions died and countries were left in ruins. Thoughts of making fine wine couldn’t have been further from the minds of survivors, intent more on continuing to survive. But as one Moldovan gentleman, now producing wines, related there were worse times to come. Stalin had a policy of sending any land owners to Siberia – where many families simply died out! His grandfather was neglected when the rest were herded out of their homes, because he was in the vineyard at the time – most of his family never returned.

 

As a wine man, I was sad to read about how the dual mantras of mechanisation and mass production under the Communist regimes saw an increase in the volume of wine, but a dramatic decrease in quality. Corruption was rife and in order to survive one had to toe the communist line.

 

We read about how Russia banned the purchase of Moldovan wines, traditionally their largest and best market. This in far more modern times, 2006 to be precise, and for such spurious a reason as to cite danger from the pesticides used, when in fact, as the author points out, most growers were too poor to buy chemicals! It’s believed it was political, related to Moldovias ties with Ukraine!

 

Nevertheless, this is a very positive book. In each of the three countries, visionaries, often young winemakers, are intent on bringing back the fine wine traditions of the past, and improving them further. Investment from within as well as that from outside these countries has been bringing about a major sea change (Black Sea?) in the industry. A political will is also helping – though red tape still abounds!

 

Caroline Gilby MW has been visiting Bulgaria, Romania and Moldova for almost thirty years now, and has, as she states, been privileged to have been there when the quality wine making resurgence was just starting. She honestly says that there were times when she tasted dreadful wines in the early days, but hardly at all now, and also amazing wines which continue to please.

 

This is an inspirational book, dealing with all aspects of wine-making in these three countries and inciting us all to try the wines and visit the countries! In fact, I’m off to Romania later this month – to do just that!

 

The Wines of Bulgaria, Romania and Moldova by Caroline Gilby MW is available from www.infideas.com/books/wines-bulgaria-romania-moldova  – Christmas Present anyone?!