First published Costa News SL October 2011




 You have to hand it to the French. There’s many a maiden who can testify to the power of Gallic charm and persuasiveness, of course. But it’s not just the fair sex which has a history of being taken in by heavily accented French Lotharios.

 The wine buying consumers of the 60s/70s were desperate to drink Beaujolais Nouveaux following a Napoleon-scaled (I’m referring to his egotistical expansion plans, not his height!) advertising campaign which saw famous Thespians/Models/Celebs racing to bring back the first bottle direct from the vineyards of Beaujolais in: a vintage Rolls Royce, a Hot-Air Balloon (perhaps inflated by the instigator of the campaign!), an F1 racing car of the era, you name it!

 And the quality of the wine? Well, the French didn’t want it – say no more! The stuff that was shipped over to us ill-informed Brits was the dregs of the barrels, made from the last percentage of juice from over crushed grapes which had been ejected at the selection tables where only the finest Gamay grapes were chosen to make the super and at times, excellent, Beaujolais Villages and Beaujolais Cru wines.

 But Nouveaux and Cru did have one thing in common – they were made by the Carbonic Maceration method, a way of making wine invented and perfected by the French and producing, for Villages and Cru standard et least, a remarkably fresh, brightly-coloured, light-bodied, fruity style of wine, adored by the French themselves and by those Brits who weren’t taken in by the hype!

 Carbonic Maceration is where whole bunches are carefully placed into fermentation tanks so that the skin does not break and release juice. Carbon Dioxide is then pumped into the tank to expel oxygen and provide a different atmosphere in which the grapes macerate and where the still whole berries start to develop ethanol and various attractive flavour compounds. Fermentation then takes place but with the juice and grapes surrounded by Carbon Dioxide instead of oxygen. The result is a distinctive wine as described above.

 It’s not just France that uses this method, Spain is doing the same. A number of bodegas intent on keeping their heads above the rising tide of shrinking sales are looking for ways of maintaining, and hopefully expanding, their market share. In these days when lighter bodied, fruit-driven red wines are in vogue, Carbonic Maceration wines are seen as a beneficial addition to the bodegas’ portfolio.

 I’ve tasted lots here in Spain, all properly crafted and using grapes of the regions but for me, they mostly don’t reach the same pleasure levels as those made from the Gamay grape back in Beaujolais. Perhaps it’s a personal taste thing (though as an impartial and professional wine taster it shouldn’t be) or maybe it’s that the grape varieties used just are not as happy with the method as Gamay clearly is.

 However there are exceptions where winemakers have managed to produce wine in a similar style to good Beaujolais using the same, or maybe slightly adapted Carbonic Maceration method, but with a different spin provided by the variety used. I’ve tasted some good ones too.

 For me the best in Spain, by a distance, is Bodegas Fariña’s Primero, from the DO Toro, where Tinta de Toro is the variety used as it too seems content with this ‘foreign’ fermentation method. However, I need to add a rather odd codicil here.

 On the back of the Primero label they proudly proclaim that this wine is available in the November following the harvest in September, that’s just two months from vine to glass! It’s quite remarkable I know, but for me this is not the best time to drink Carbonic Maceration wine. I tasted Primero 2010 very early last year, I think in December. I liked it but it didn’t quite seem to be the finished article.

 In June this year I tasted another bottle, and wow, it’s lovely! As is said, the best Carbonic Maceration red wine in Spain!

 The wine has a combination of red and dark red fruits (loganberry with blackberry) which remain in the mouth long after the wine has been swallowed. This is the mark of a good wine, but usually one that has had some oak influence. This makes Primero all the more remarkable as it has seen no oak. It is simply the evolution in the bottle that gives it this rounded, full-flavoured and yet light-bodied taste, feel and length.

 And there’s another clue too – the 2010 vintage was excellent in most wine producing areas of Spain following a year of practically perfect growing and harvesting conditions. Obviously the grapes used for Primero 2010 were as good as it gets!

First Published Costa News Group, April 2011


 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 Group, May 2010



 There are many French wine producers who, if you catch them during a veracious moment, will tell you that it does not pay to keep your head in the sand in the competitive world of winemaking/marketing! Considerable market share was lost by chateaux that did just that as their inert, wholly inappropriate response to the influx of New World wines into Europe in the 80’s and 90’s. Some never recovered.

 In Spain it was a different story. Bodegas were happy to listen to new ideas, invest in modern technology and to blend these with their own winemaking tradition. It’s proven to be a winning mix. However as many bodegas did this there was a danger that the status quo, albeit now on a higher level, would remain the same. The trick was to become pro-active rather than re-active if bodegas wanted to move ahead of their national competitors.

Nicola seals the deal with an important export client!

In my time in wine (some twenty years now) I’ve not come across a more pro-active person than Nicola, of Bodegas Fariña. Formerly of Bodegas Bajoz (where she and the similarly young team completely turned around the fortunes of this cooperative bodega until, inexplicably, the owners did an about turn), Nicola went to Bodegas Fariña where she was given her head, and where she continues to enjoy such support.

 I received from Nicola several wines to taste in this new year and then was delighted to meet her again in Alimentaria, Barcelona. Over several wine tastes (incidentally, with her main distributor from India – demonstrating the strength of the export arm of Bodegas Fariña), we discussed the nature of the business, the wines we were tasting and of course the bodega’s plans for the future. She and Bodegas Fariña remain as forward thinking as ever and their increasing sales, both in the domestic market as well as in exports reveal how it is this attitude that will ensure progress during such troubled financial times.

 As long as the wines are good!

 Well have no fear, if you like your red wines to be darkly coloured, full of fruit character with wholly integrated oak and mineral notes too, this is where you should look.

 The first wine tasted, at home in my office (equipped with various tasting glasses, decanters, vacuvins and assorted wine tasting paraphernalia) was the fresh and fruity Primero 2009, which boasts being made from grapes that were on the vines in September and in the bottle just two months later – Toro Nouveaux!

 Beaujolais it’s not, however, and I mean that as a compliment. The French equivalent is made from the far lighter coloured and more delicately flavoured Gamay variety. Primero is made from Tinta de Toro (aka Tempranillo) – which, as the name implies (the blood of bulls!), is a deeper, darker and richer drop all together! And yet the carbonic maceration method by which it is made ensures that it is as fruity as you like – great start!

 Next we went for the Colegiata Tinto 2009 – same year, same varieties but not Carbonic Maceration. A different style of wine, fruity for sure, with violets on the nose but a little deeper, even without wood. The Gran Colegiata Tinto Roble 2008, as its name suggests, has had some oak ageing (4 months) but that’s not all – it’s made only from the free run juice, the best juice, obtained before major pressing. Taste this and compare it with most cheap supermarket wines, whose grapes have been crushed, not pressed, mercilessly!

 Gran Colegiata Crianza 2006 Roble Frances, has of course been aged in French Oak, in fact for 11 months. The trademark dark colour is enhanced by the concentrated nature of the wine. It’s spicy with elements of burnt wood on the nose and yet in the mouth it’s all fruit, dark and brambly. The Reserva 2001 also has 100% Tinta de Toro grapes but more time in wood, American, and in bottle too. It’s super winemaking as the often exuberant American oak (in-your-face, to put it in American parlance!) is tamed to be an integral, complementing element rather than ruling the roost.

 The Gran Colegiata Campus is their flagship wine. There’s a nice link between the ancient Roman name for Toro, Campus, and the fact that Spain’s oldest University, now situated in Salamanca actually originated in Toro, campus and all! The grapes are hand-harvested from 50 – 140(!) year old Tinta de Toro vines and then the selection table is used to sort only the best grapes for the final choice. Taste the wine and you’ll see that all this care is well worth it! A Costa News Top Ten wine, and deserving of the plaudit!

 So these are the Fariña wines tasted at home but what of those tasted in Barcelona? Well pro-active is the by-word – Spanish Sons is a brand made in co-operation with an American distributor. The play on the word ‘Sons’ is obvious in one sense, we all talk about the sunshine in Spain, but this is spelt the other way, meaning children, and the artistic label has silhouettes of the three generations that are behind the Fariña business. Made from 50% Tempranillo from the VdlT vineyards they operate and 50% Tinta de Toro from Toro.

 Ricardo Sanchez is another joint venture from their VdlT vineyards, but this time with a German distributor. Vineyards of 50 – 70 years of age produce the grapes, some of which are from Pie Franco vines, descendants of the philoxera-resistant vines of another age.

 If you have a look in Carrefour you’ll find Fariña wines and also in Mercadonna you’ll see the environment-friendly wines which use less glass and make less of a carbon footprint. All of the above is in the pro-active camp, as I said, but don’t expect Nicola or Bodegas Fariña to let the grass grow under feet. This bodega is at the forefront of innovation in DO Toro, all the time seeking to please the client, both with the quality of the wine and in the way they are made.