First Published Costa News Group, May 2011

BODEGAS CASTA DIVA

THE JEWEL IN THE CROWN OF JALÓN VALLEY

PART ONE

Considering the proximity of where I live, to Parcent, home of Bodegas Casta

Reception and Bodegas Casta Diva, you'll be equally charmed by the wines!

 Diva (aka Bodegas Guttirez de la Vega), it really is remiss of me for delaying writing specifically about this groundbreaking bodega for so long! Consider me self-admonished!

 Furthermore, reflecting on the quality of the wine they make and the reputation they have earned over the years (including the patronage of the Spanish Royal Family!), I’ve thus been doing readers, and myself, a disservice. Consider me self-flagellated, even!

 So dressed in sack-cloth and with head bowed I recently knocked on their imposing oak doors. My visit was inspired by some information I received via the combined UK/Spain organisation, ICEX Wines from Spain, whose raison d’etre is to promote Spanish wine sales in UK.

 The article paid tribute to the new, subtly feminine influence of eldest daughter Violeta Gutteriez de la Vega who, following an unavoidable childhood and youth immersed in winemaking culture and tradition, continued her studies in the University of Bordeaux (is there a better place to learn the science of oenology?) as well as a further year’s course in Wine Tasting.

 Violeta and her father Felipe, the founder of the bodega back in the 70’s, make their wines side-by-side. And, as I’ve seen so many times before here in Spain, the alliance of tradition (and in this case particularly, considerable innovation from the older generation) with modern technology and the latest possible methods and theory makes for a winning combination.

 The reception area for occasional private wine tastings (watch this space!) complete with beautiful Valencian kitchen sits tranquilly above two levels below. The first of which, the business end, is where the hard work goes on – bottling, labelling, office-work keeping track on the world-wide sales, stainless steel fermentation, delivery preparation etc is, at various times of the year, a hive of activity.

 The level below is a huge cave hewn out of solid rock. The temperature is naturally controlled and is a constant cool throughout the year, being a dozen metres below the road surface. This is where the wines gradually take on age, maturing with time into the different styles of wines that the winemaking team requires.

Violeta Guttierez de la Vega, on the fast-track to winemaker fame!

Speaking of which – Violeta and I tasted a pair of white dessert style wines first: Casta Diva Costa Dorada 2010, and the second, Monte Diva 2010 is similar except that this had been fermented and aged for five months in French oak. The former has a delightful floral nose with a waft of honey. In the mouth it’s sweet but there is excellent acidity, making it fresh too.

 The latter, also made with 100% Moscatel was bottled only last week, both await labels! It’s richer on the nose promising a touch more honey but the floral notes remain along with an acid lift on the palate.

 Casta Diva’s Rojo y Negro 2005 is a different wine than the 2009 version, on which Violeta collaborated. The 2005, classified as a very good year, was fermented in 300 litre French barricas in which the wine stayed for a further 12 months. Black fruit, plums in particular with an element of minerality and mature tannin are the features of this lovely wine.

The 2009, also made from 100% Garnacha, is more delicate with cherries and other red fruits on the nose. It’s not mature yet but it has the makings of a super, elegant wine with a touch of liquorice on the finish.

 *Part two next week, including the wine of which a past King of Spain remarked that it should only be drunk on bended knee with head uncovered and bowed!

First Published Costa News Group, April 2011, *Plus* Breaking News Update, 1st May 2011

AN ODE TO ODDBINS

THE LAMENTABLE DEMISE OF THE

COMMON MAN’S WINE MERCHANTS

 Regular readers will have noticed over the fourteen years of Cork Talk that I have regularly mentioned, in glowing terms I might add, the wine merchants chain Oddbins. My introduction to the tutored study of wine was through Oddbins. My teacher, David Large, was manager of their largest shop in Liverpool. My first restaurant opened with Oddbins, Prenton, as suppliers, the second restaurant followed suit.

 Then some years later, having established a name for myself in the Spanish wine-world, I brokered a deal between Oddbins and a Spanish supplier. Yes, I have a happy feel-good connection with Oddbins that goes back over 20 years. It’s not surprising therefore that I read with some sadness recently that the company has gone into administration.

 Twenty million pounds worth of debts are, quite understandably, considered to be too heavy a handicap, the business is no longer viable. Over eight of those millions are owed to HMRC (Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs) and as the largest creditor it was them who finally pulled the plug, not the cork.

 Of course that leaves another twelve million owed to other parties – British Gas is a creditor for example but also a number of wineries all over the world may be owed payment for wine deliveries Oddbins received when it was trading. Pol Roger, the famous but relatively small Champagne House is out over 200,000 pounds and as their managing director Nick James says for a small company like theirs it’s a major blow which will have serious repercussions throughout the industry.

 The extremely disgruntled owner of the Sur de los Andes winery in Argentina has suggested that Oddbins was badly managed by its previous owners, Castel, and that this mismanagement continued with the current owner Simon Baile. Indeed ‘Disgusted of Argentina’ goes a step further claiming he has been fraudulently treated by Mr. Baile who ordered twice the usual stock before Christmas knowing that he would be unable to pay for the wine, but in fact selling it all!

 Staff at the shops are understandably unhappy too. The more so when it was revealed that one of the executives was given a five-figure redundancy pay off, just before the company went into administration. And the administrators are saying that it is unlikely that creditors will receive any more than 7·5 pence in the pound!

 For me it’s a real shame. Oddbins were the pioneers of making wine accessible to everyone. Extremely well-informed, jeans and tee-shirt clad shop assistants and managers smiled when they asked if they could help shoppers make their choices. Illuminating and often amusing tasting notes were quirkily written by each new wine.

 They didn’t try to sell you the most expensive wine, they assessed all your requirements and comments recommending the wine they honestly thought best suited you. Wine experts and novices alike were comfortable in Oddbins premises.

 Messrs. Manning and Smith from Deloittes have been appointed Joint Administrators and they are saying that there are buyers interested, but it’s unclear whether it will be bought as a going concern or if it will be bought in small portions.

 But there’s another danger lurking behind this sad demise. If Oddbins failure is indicative of a general malaise in the UK wine trade, outside that of the supermarkets, does it mean that there will be other smaller wine specialist shops going to the wall as well? And if so will this mean that we will be even more in the hands of the supermarkets who will be able to dictate what we drink in the UK? It’s a worry, but not here I’m glad to say – yet?

*Breaking News, 1st May 2011* 37 of Oddbins shops have just been sold as going concerns to EFB (European Food Brokers), whose owner, Raj Chatha, said ‘this will be a new dawn for Oddbins.’

Mr. Chatha also commented that he was pleased to have saved many of the jobs of Oddbins’ staff whose futures had looked precarious.

The drinks sector of EFB trades under the name of Whitalls Wines Limited and of his plans for the new shops Mr. Chatha also said, “Our focus over the coming weeks and months will be to replenish the stores with an exciting range at competitive prices.”

 PS There’s a super Duets Evening with Copas and Tapas happening at the beautiful Restaurante Ca Pepe, Moraira on Wednesday 4th May, organised by the musical Duo Dolce Divas (pianist Kirsty Glen will also be singing with Claire Post!). Duets will performed from their new repertoire as well as with the exceptional Baritone voice of Andy Headford. The price of this special innovative evening is only 20€; to reserve your places please e-mail info@dolcedivas.net ; or call me on 629 388 159.

First Published Costa News Group, April 2011

BODEGAS FARIÑA’S WINES REVISITED

 Last year, as usual, I received a large number of wine samples from producers keen on the wide publicity that a column in the Costa News Groups’ publications guarantees. Regular Cork Talk readers will thus have read about wines from many of the wide variety of areas of production in our adoptive country. I hope you agree that it’s good to experiment with different wine styles, grape varieties etc and I hope that you’ve found this column illuminating and ultimately, ‘tasty’!

 Some of the sample-supplying bodegas from last year had the presence of mind to include two examples of each of the wines they sent. My house is full of wine, so it’s not that I need an extra bottle or three to drink! The advantage of having two bottles of each wine is that it affords me the opportunity of examining the evolution of the wine over a roughly twelve month period.

 There is a useful, if not wholly scientific, trick to assessing how long a wine may keep before it starts to decline. If you try the same bottle of wine on successive nights you will be able to taste how it might develop over a longer period, when it is cellared and not open. The fast-track oxygen it takes onboard during this, say three day period, gives an idea as to its progress over time.

 But the many variables involved mean that there isn’t a hard and fast formula, for example three days good development equals three to five years of longevity if cellared – it doesn’t work! It’s best to keep bottles and taste again after time.

 So, those forward thinking bodegas, like Bodegas Fariña from DO Toro, have given me the chance to see how accurate were my opinions when I first tasted the wine. Plus, readers may like to further consider their purchase.

 Bodegas Fariña’s Tinto Cosecha 2009 is a joven (young) wine made to be enjoyed whilst still in its youth. The vaguely purple hue to the wine a year ago has no matured into a dark red colour. The mixture of light and dark red fruits on the nose and palate have morphed into dark forest fruits with a lick of liquorice and, even without wood, there is a depth of flavour that suggests a more expensive wine.

 The Gran Colegiata Tinto Roble 2008, as its name suggests, has had some oak ageing (4 months) and you’d expect therefore that such a wine would mature and become more complex, whilst retaining its juicy fruit content. Again this wine, one year on, has developed well with a slightly longer finish.

 Gran Colegiata Crianza 2006 Roble Frances has benefitted from its eleven months in the most subtle of all oaks. The rich Fariña trademark dark colour is enhanced by the concentrated nature of the wine. Dark brambly fruits have a lick of cinnamon and black pepper 12 months later and the finish is richer and longer.

 The Reserva 2001, like most of Fariña’s wines is made from 100% Tinta de Toro grapes (aka Tempranillo) but has had more exposure to oak, American in this case, as well as the obligatory extra ageing in bottle. My notes tell me that I thought the wine will mature a little further and then rest at level for a couple more years before maybe starting to slowly decline. Well it’s drinking very well still.

 Finally a wine that I have loved since I first tasted it, some years ago – their flagship Gran Colegiata Campus. The grapes for this limited production wine were hand-harvested from vines of 50-140 years of age and obviously treated with the greatest respect. I tasted the 2004 vintage a year ago and it just keeps improving!

First Published in Costa News SL, March 2011

BODEGAS DOMECQ

AN EMPIRE IN THE MAKING

I always knew that Domecq was a very large wine business, but it wasn’t until I was invited recently to a La Vinoteca, Calpe, wine tasting that I realised the huge scale of the empire that is Domecq Bodegas!

 You’ve heard of one of the best selling wine brands out of Australia, Jacobs Creek – well think again, this is actually owned by Domecq Bodegas. The fabulous Champagne Perrer-Jouët, including their iconic Grand Cuvée, Belle Epoque, is also a Domecq holding. La Rioja’s Campo Viejo is another.

 France’s aniseed-flavoured aperitif Pernod and Ricard; Castillo de Diablo from Chile; Graffigna from Argentina; and Montana from New Zealand; plus a plethora of bodegas in several different Spanish DOs and VdlTs all feature in this global enterprise’s portfolio! It’s really quite amazing!

A Triumvirate of Tasters @ La Vinoteca, Calpe

 I was asked to assist in the presentation from Domecq’s friendly representative in this region, Francisco Javier Góme, translating Javier’s eloquent Spanish descriptions of the areas of production, the bodegas concerned and of course the four wines we tasted.

 We tried firstly a white wine, which in fact was to be my favourite of the evening. I knew we couldn’t go wrong when, before we tasted, Javier explained that this wine is made from the indigenous Verdejo variety, with just a touch of Sauvignon Blanc – a winning combination for sure!

 Auro 2010 is like a professional photograph of flavour, encompassing all that’s good in the super wine making zone of Rueda. There are fine mountain herbs in the foreground amongst waving grasses moved by the gentle breeze. Wild asparagus mixes with green vegetal notes, particularly Italian peppers, amid pear and kiwi fruit – all brought into sharp focus by a fresh acidic lift of Sauvignon gooseberry.

 Castillo de Javier 100% Garnacha Rosado from DO Navarra was the second wine. Rice dishes are so popular in Spain of course and, depending on the ingredients, they are happy to be accompanied by several different styles of wine. However you’ll very often see Rosado as the Spaniards’ choice – this is because of the remarkable influence of the Saffron. This wine doesn’t have great deal on the nose, some of the expected raspberry fruit with some pleasing floral notes. But on the palate it opens up into a lovely dry, inexpensive prettily pink wine.

 CV De Campo Viejo is a new wine from the famous Campo Viejo stable. It’s designed for use only in the restaurant trade and for sale just in wine shops, not supermarkets. Indeed Cecilia, from La Vinoteca is the exclusive stockist of Domecq Bodegas wines in the Calpe area.

 Selected from several different parcelas in the Laguardia area the

Cecilia, owner of La Vinoteca, poses with the wines tasted.

 Tempranillo, Garnacha and Graciano grapes are fermented separately at a relatively cool temperature in order to preserve the fruit character. The wine is blended and aged in only French oak for 12 months with a further year in bottle. It was first released in January 2011 and we were amongst the first to taste this new wine.

 A little tannic at first, it’s best enjoyed with food. As the wine warms to the ambient temperature it gives off some more of its dark fruit and cinnamon aromas and develops further in the mouth finishing with plum, black cherry and vanilla.

 Finally Quinta de Tarsus is a classy wine in the making. Still a touch green with sturdy tannin and a sprightly acidity there is nevertheless sufficient fruit from the 100% Tinta del Pais (aka Tempranillo) grapes. It’s had 12 months in American and French oak, a third of which was new. Violet purple colours abound when poured and again this wine is good with meaty food.