Black Chardonnay? Orange Wine? How Can This Be?


Bodegas Pigar, whose co-founder (recently, and with his father), Juan Piqueras, International Wine & Spirits Competition Gold Medal winning wine-maker (when working for another winery) crafts a Spanish Chardonnay, that I believe will become a benchmark for its style. He also makes a super Orange Wine – and yes, you are starting to hear more about this newly revived, but ancient (that’s 8,000 yrs!) method of making wine!

Let’s start with the Chardonnay. (Incidentally, I used to know a dog called Chardonnay, a beautiful Golden Retriever, named presumably after an Aussie Chardy, because of the colour! However, she perhaps might have been named after a Black Retriever – you’ll understand why soon!).

Juan’s Pigar Chardonnay 2017 isn’t in the style of such a richly coloured Aussie Chardonnay; nor is it like an opulent, oak first Californian one of a few decades ago. It isn’t a steely Chablis, or an elegant Burgundy. It makes its own mark – and all the better for it. However, its creation does owe something to an old style Burgundy!

Juan’s Chardonnay vines are but ten years old and grown in dry soil, yes, but it’s quite fertile too, which in some ways is the antithesis of modern fine wine making. The nutrients in the soil provoke lots of bunches, which is what Juan requires for this wine, as lots of bunches mean that the grapes remain very small and, crucially, ripen slowly. This, in turn, means that they maintain the exact level of acidity that he requires.

Now for the Burgundy bit: Black Chardonnay (presumably translated from the French?), is the name given to an old (perhaps 80yrs) method of wine-making, from Chardonnay’s natural home! The juice from the grapes is subjected to the oxygen that’s in the air, turning it almost black! However, soon the phenols that are in the must (juice), because of the crushing (note, crushing, not gentle pressing), start to feed on the oxygen, magically eradicating it and returning the chardonnay juice to its natural colour, before fermentation, using wild yeasts! Fascinating* – and completely new to me!

For extra texture, as well as a contribution to the flavour of the wine, this Chardonnay is left with its lees for six months, with stirring, resulting in a slight, very pleasing creaminess. However there is also the fresh, and refreshing acidity, which keeps the wine fully alive.

The result is an astonishingly good, Spanish Chardonnay!

Juan has also just marketed his Orange or Amber wine. Orange wines are made from white wine grape varieties, but with extended skin contact – as in red wine making. This long skin contact gives the wine an amber, or orange colour – but a lot more too! I’ve tasted several Orange Wines recently and I have to say, I’m a fan – though they are dividing commentators.

I actually think that they will eventually be accepted by most wine people, and ultimately most consumers as well. I hear, for example, that it’s common in Canada for Orange Wines to feature on restaurant wine lists, up there with whites, reds, rosés et al. Conservative minded Spain (wine-wise, that is, given the recent change in Prime Minister!) will take some convincing – but I’m predicting that it will happen!

If you’d like to try this ‘new’ style of wine, Pigar Orange Wine is available now. The generally accepted idea is that such wines do better when they are made from aromatic varieties – Moscatel is such a variety, of course, and prevalent in the Costa Blanca. It is used in Juan’s Orange Wine, but at only 10% it’s contribution has to be less than that of the other shareholder, Tardana, also known as Planta Nova.

This variety is rare, used mostly just in Utiel-Requena. Along with the Moscatel, it was kept in contact with the skins for 25 days and fermented in tinajas, earthenware amphorae, where it was aged for four months. I love it!

But how to describe it! It has a certain nutty aroma, there’s a sense of it being a little like a spirit in its mouthfeel and flavour and smell, with faint touches of very dry cider (the English type, served cloudy – though the wine is clear) and perhaps bruised apples and pears. Astounding – you have to try it!

Bodegas Pigar is a work in progress. Juan has established himself and his wines in the market place – however, he is not satisfied with just that. He’s just produced a Sparkling Wine, made with the very old and DO Utiel-Requena de-listed variety, Royal, by the Ancestral Method, which precedes the Champagne Method, now known as the Traditional Method. You can contact Juan Piqueras here

Private Villa Wine Tastings/Pairings = Something Different!

Hi Colin,
Many thanks for the professional, interesting, relaxed and fun wine tasting/food pairing you gave last week, the guests were overjoyed with the evening and the feedback has been excellent. It was an absolute pleasure working with you, I look forward to many more.
Best Wishes

DO Yecla Annual Wine Competition 2018


I was delighted to be invited, once again, to join the judging panel of the annual wines of DO Yecla competition, in fact my sixth invitation. For four of these competitions, including this year’s, I have been the only foreigner on the panel, which I take as a real compliment, for this is not just a parochial contest, akin to the village vegetable show, as was. The results of this competition reverberate around both of the world’s hemispheres, covering all of the continents.

An amazing 95% of Yecla’s wines are exported, to I don’t know how many different countries, and it’s clear that in these established markets, as well as those in their infancy, there is bound to be keen interest in the medal winners of 2018. However, it’s not all positive – for some inexplicable reason, a mere 5% of production is sold in Spain!

It’s not a problem for the bodegas, most of whom sell out of wine, on their foreign markets – it’s just that it’s a tad lamentable that Spaniards out of the area, just don’t appreciate the beauty of the products that my fellow judges and I enjoyed recently. Plus, of course, this means that ex-pats living in different parts of Spain do not have the chance to try them, as distributors don’t take up the option. Yecla wines rock – and if/when they become known in the rest of Spain, sales will inevitably soar – reaching the level of some of the more famous areas of wine production!

The Judging Director, Señor Adrián Martínez Cutillas, had decided that there were too many wines (approaching 80) entered this year for them all to be tasted by all 12 judges. Two panels were needed, one panel tasting all the white wines and rosados, whilst the other panel (mine, it so happened) tasted all the young reds. After the break, both panels tasted all the red wines which had been oak aged and placed in different categories: for example ‘Tinto Joven Madera 2017 & 2016’, Young Red With Some Oak Aging 2017 & 2016, and so on. Finally, we all tasted there three delightful, delicious Red Dessert wines!

The venerable, older wines were poured from decanters!

The Consejo Regulador offices are to be found on a modern industrial estate, outside of the bucolic, atmospheric town centre. It’s not pretty, but it’s perfectly practical. There is easy access, plenty of parking and, particularly wine tasting/judging-wise, it’s custom made and fit for purpose.

The tasting rooms are a few metres below ground level, naturally cooler therefore, but also supplied with the necessary wine chillers which keep the various styles of wine, all wrapped in aluminum foil to ensure that prying eyes (not that there ever are any!) do not learn of a certain wine’s provenance. It is, of course, a blind tasting, so that no favouritism can be shown.

When judging at the International Wine & Spirits Competition, as I do, we are given similar information to the above, i.e. category-wise, as well as general information about predominant grape varieties – e.g. Rioja Crianza, Tempranillo dominated etc. This isn’t to help the judges, it’s because we are also expected in that competition to consider typicity.

At the Certamen Vinos de DOP Yecla this information is not available. Therefore, whilst it’s very likely that the red wines we are tasting, for example, will have at least some Monastrell in them, it’s not certain, and there may well/probably will be others in the blend. For me it adds a little excitement – can I identify the varieties used?

The judging panel!

Judging starts at 10:00 hrs and continues – well, until it’s finished. This year we were in there, admittedly with a snack break, until 13:50 hrs – a long session. We then retired to lunch, where a some of the wine-makers, bodega owners and Consejo Regulador members joined us. If you are ever in Yecla – go for lunch at Bodegas Barahonda! It really is exceptional!

Eventually all, workers, owners, growers, their families etc, as well as the giltterati of the the Yecla Wine World, dressed to impress, of course, descend on a restaurant for the annual dinner, and the presentation of the prizes, as yet kept under lock and key! It really is quite atmospheric and, whilst all are friendly in this area of production, there is nevertheless an air of competition – it goes with the name, I guess!

On my table, for example, two ladies, owners of a winery making strictly vegan wines, were noticeably disappointed that their two Gold Medals of last year, were not repeated this time. Whereas, a lady and gent (my friends Catherine and Harald of Bodegas Boquera), who did not medal last year (in this competition) were delighted to learn that they had been awarded a Silver! And so it went on.

Medal & Prize Winners!

Space does not allow me to give details of all medals, but a special mention must be recorded for Bodegas Barahonda, whose representatives were called to the podium more frequently than any of the other bodegas. Enhorabuena (congratulations) to them as well as all who entered as I really believe that this year was one of the best, in terms of the overall standard. Plus, a huge thanks and congratulations to DOP Yecla, for my invitation and for their perfect, professional organisation! Hasta la proxima – espero!

BREAKING WINE NEWS: Thurs. 21st June at the exciting La La Land Piano Bar and Restaurant, Denia, a super Wine Pairing Dinner, 32:50€. Exceptional value for money! To reserve: or please call 629 388 159. Places limited!