First Published in Costa News Group, Jan. 2011

Hal & Jan seated and enjoying their wine at one of many tastings!



 The New Year didn’t start so well for us as we heard that our old friend and fellow wine writer and critic, Hal Harley, died on its second day. After the funeral, family, friends and the remaining members of the tasting panel we’d formed together, with Hal as one of the founders, met to toast him and celebrate his contribution to all our lives.

 Hal was a big man, in every positive sense of the word. At six feet six with matching frame it’s hard to believe that such a man was not expected to survive past his teens when, at his birth, doctors pronounced that he had a congenital heart disease. A life lived to the full into his sixties with his wife and two daughters, initially in the Midlands and subsequently in Spain, and here with the addition of a grandson, gives a lie to that prognosis.

 But to be fair to the doctors of the time as well as those of his two later sessions of ground-breaking open heart surgery, they hadn’t reckoned on Hal’s determination, or his thirst for life. Hal was a survivor and those of us who had the pleasure to know him also experienced how big he was in friendship and family love. He will be sorely missed!

 I first met Hal and his ever-supportive wife, Jan, at a restaurant in Javea where he was perusing the wine list that, unknown to him, I’d written. Before he knew who I was he mentioned that he was interested in Spanish wine, having recently emigrated from the UK to Spain, and was a keen reader of Cork Talk in an effort to learn more!

 This was the first of many, many occasions when the two of us, later supported by several others with similar interests, ‘went off on one’ about the nectar that we found in our adoptive country. Hal’s thirst for wine knowledge was never wholly sated by such willing cohorts as Pepe of La Parrilla, Javea; John of Pedregeur and maybe myself too – the only way to learn about wine is to taste it! And did we do so!

 We had countless professional style tasting sessions at each of our houses, as well as at La Parrilla, where the first hour’s tasting was taken very seriously with wines considered in depth, notes taken and observations recorded. This was duly followed by food (Hal’s speciality was an excellent Paella) and finally the official, obligatory, finishing of every wine on the table!

Hal became very knowledgeable, graduating to the level of wine writer and critic on the way, with very creditable performances in Spain’s Golden Nose Sommelier’s competition, aided and abetted by the incorrigible Pepe!

 Although not particularly religious Hal’s wine tastes were very catholic. We tasted together wines from all the main DOs (Denominaciónes de Origen, official wine producing areas) as well as many other wine making zones. He preferred reds, but was equally happy joining Jan in a quality white too, with a classy cava to start.

 Although an Enrique Mendoza and Fagus (DO Campo de Borja) devotee, perhaps Hal’s most favoured style of red was complex, deep coloured, multi-layered and full-flavoured as typified by those from Priorat. It is for this reason that I’ll be searching out a top Priorat this month to quietly sip by an open fire and reflect on an enduring friendship and a life well lived.

 Cheers Hal!

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