First Published in Costa News Group’s Four Titles!


 Of late I’ve been working as a wine consultant, advising and brokering deals between Spanish bodegas and wine buyers from different countries who wish to import Spanish wines to sell to their clients. (It’s an expanding part of my business, so if there are any readers interested in buying Spanish wines to sell on, then please contact me – I’m certain I’ll be able to help!).

 It’s not difficult swapping hats from wine writer and critic to wine consultant and broker – the rules are the same. As a wine writer I have to be both impartial and honest; the same applies when I am advising a client to buy or not to buy. So, no problem.

 But in wine writing there is a third principle which perhaps bends, but certainly doesn’t compromise these self-imposed regulations. Nobody wants to read bad news. Cork Talk readers want recommendations, not diatribes about disappointing wines; and bodegas don’t want me to bang on about any of their portfolio that aren’t up to scratch.

 So when I’m sent a raft of wines I taste them all with integrity and impartiality. The ones that are of good quality and above will receive a positive report; those that are not, simply don’t receive a mention. It’s a system that works. Nevertheless this rule can be bent as well!

 Most recently I’ve been trawling the more economic end of the market for would-be buyers where, I’m sad to say, there are more in the latter category above than in the former. Far more. In fact it’s been quite a shock to taste so many thin, acidic, harshly tannic, and fruitless wines!

 The lower end of the market has bottomed-out to a point horribly reminiscent of the dreadful cheap wines of Spain thirty years ago – and this from me, a keen and loyal supporter of Iberian wines!

 The best wines are made from the juice of first 50-60% of the gentle pressing of the grapes. There is more juice left, of course, so the grapes can be further pressed and indeed, ultimately crushed to death by relentless pressure to extract the very last drops and thus maximise output. These dreadful, sadly cynical, wines are made from the grapes of over-cropped vines which then suffer this overbearing crushing where the pips, too, make their tongue-furring contribution.  

 So what’s to be done? Well there is still, regrettably, a market for wines of this depressing standard (I was going to say ‘of this quality’, but that word shouldn’t be in the same sentence as some of the wines I’ve been tasting). There are those in this country and in the UK who will drink them because they are a cheap ticket to an alcohol trip. But those of us who may not be in the position to buy expensive wines, but who still want to enjoy flavour, must still be catered for.

 In the UK, a wine that wholesales here at say 1·50€ (the cheap end of the market), is going to retail at about 4·50 pounds after the importer’s transport, tax and duty costs plus a tiny profit. On the supermarket shelves in Britain you’ll see many wines from Chile, for example, at this sort of price. Taste them and you’ll find far more flavour and aroma pleasure than in the Spanish dross above.

 It’s true that the profit in wine is minimal, measured in cents at this lower end, and bodegas have to make a profit to survive. But if the reputation of Spanish wine isn’t going to be sullied for ever, I think that producers have to bite the bullet and lower their prices in the slightly higher level, up to about the mid-range (or why not across the board to stimulate sales throughout?) and accept less profit per bottle, but at least compete on flavour and price with other wine producing countries.

First Published in Grupo Costa News Feb 2011



Teulada's Centre of Wine Excellence!

In fact I’m referring to that corner of Teulada where stands: the wine merchants, A Catarlo Todo; the super Wine/Tapas Bar next door, Tapes Tapes; Plus, brand new, their Wine Accessories Shop, Diversus. Individually, each premises stand out for their very high standards; as a whole, this innovative Triumvirate can truly be defined a centre of excellence for all things Wine!

 I’ve known brothers José and Javi for many years now and am often found perusing their wines and sampling their original, often gourmet, tapas. So I was delighted to be asked to present their inaugural wine tasting with tapas to introduce the new concept to what turned out to be a full house. Seven wines were tasted with a series of tapas to universal acclaim by those who attended. It was an excellent start to the Valentine’s weekend!

 The first wine we tried was a Cava, Pupitre Brut, from the Cava Capital Sant Sadurni D’Anoia. I always like to start a tasting with a Cava – this super Spanish sparkler refreshes the palate and prepares the taster for the wines to come. But Pupitre, made with the three traditional grape varieties, Xarel.lo, Parellada and Macabeo has more to offer than just this. It’s not over expensive and I’d recommend you try it as an alternative to your usual fizz!

 White wine followed, in the form of Care Chardonnay – an unoaked Chardonnay from DO Cariñena, with the iconic flat-face modern art label. This wine demonstrates how Chardonnay can be all things to all men (and women!). It loves its own company but is happy also with oak, in abundance or with only a few months ageing.

 Care Chardonnay 2010 is grown at altitude – it’s more of an Old World,

A Catarlo Todo - an Aladin's Cave for wine enthusiasts!

 subtle Chardonnay than brash New World. Quite full on the palate and capable of another year’s ageing I think.

 Mo Rosado from Bodegas Sierra Salinas followed (yes I know you’ve read about this wine before, but no apologies, it’s good!) is made from the top Spanish variety Monastrell (don’t let anyone tell you it’s the Spanish name for the French grape, Mourvedre – it’s the other way around!), Cabernet Sauvignon and that start of Sierra Salinas, Garnacha Tintorera – the grape with the slightly pink coloured flesh.

 Our first red of the evening was Vierlas 2007 from Bodegas Guelnenzu of the Vino de la Tierra Ribera del Queiles wine producing area, which is in the Navarra DO zone, but is not DO Navarra. Nor does it want to be!

 Another example of how good wines from non DO areas can be! This 100% Syrah has had 6 months in American and French oak and is typical of Spain’s spin on the French variety, Syrah (aka Shiraz in the New World). When cultivated at altitude but with guaranteed sunshine this grape gives super fruit driven, slightly black pepper spiced dark cloured red wine.

 La Planta 2009 from Bodegas Arzuaga is slightly less opaque but still darkly coloured. It’s made from 100% Tempranillo in the glorious DO Ribera del Duero. Wines from this DO often seem to coax a touch more depth and opulence from Spain’s treasured Tempranillo (aka Tinto Fino in the Ribera del Duero DO).

 But with this particular wine, oh what a super nose – redolent of dark cherries, cinnamon, toffee apple and nutmeg! In the mouth it is a little short of the expectation following the aromas, a little lighter in mouthfeel than the fragrance suggests. But for it’s price it really is good!

 The final red wine, Albada 2002, is from DO Calatayud and blends Cabernet, Garnacha, Tempranillo and again, Syrah. It’s a Reserva with 13 months in French and American oak and even after three days open, kept cool, it remains an elegant, yet fully flavoured wine – I’m sipping it now!

 The final wine was a dessert wine, Zubiri, DO Navarra, which has taken South East Spain’s Moscatel and turned it into a completely different animal!

 NB Our next wine tasting wit classical music and gourmet dining will be on Friday 8th April at Hotel Marisol, Calpe – it promises to be an excellent evening! Please reserve on 629 388 159 –more details soon!




 Remember the dark days for Spanish wine when, not too long ago, the wine lists of even top quality restaurants often had perhaps 30-40 Rioja wines listed, plus a few others to make up the numbers? A sad reflection on the proprietors’ woeful lack of wine knowledge and respect for their clients, as well as for the talented winemakers from other parts of Spain.

 Thankfully most of these restaurant dinosaurs have either become extinct or have mended their ways to arrive, at last, in the 21st Century where Spanish wine making can be as good as it gets! There will still be a selection of Rioja wines on their lists of course and rightly so. They would be foolish to deny a public desperate to drink offerings from this, Spain’s most famous fine wine zone.                                    

But which one to choose? Well, like myself, you too may have had this quandary. Price can be a guide. Up to a point (and this point varies according to the depth your pocket) the more expensive the better the wine. However if there are several priced similarly which one should you select?

 Well if one of them is Roda – don’t waste further time, go for it! Bodegas Roda, established in 1987, makes consistently top Rioja wines. All of them earn 90+ points in the guides, their best (and scarily expensive) Cirsion, was given 96 for the 2007 vintage! They are the epitome of smooth. Full bodied and sensuous but wonderfully elegant with layers of flavour pleasure as you lazily get through the bottle. If you are looking for a Valentine’s wine for next year, this is the one!

 So, having set such high standards you’d expect Bodegas Roda’s venture into rival DO, Ribera Del Duero to produce similarly excellent wines. Corimbo 2008 is their first from the La Horra vineyards and I’m pleased to report that it does not let the side down!

 Recognising the fact that Tempranillo grows perfectly well in Ribera del Duero as well as in it’s spiritual home, La Rioja. Bodegas Roda set about establishing a new sister bodega, in an area they considered to be best for this noble grape variety. Bodegas La Horra was born and its first wine was sent to your correspondent to elicit my comment and of course to spread the word.

 I’m happy to do so as this is lovely fragrant wine which captures the depth and richness of taste is another fine ambassador for the mother company, as well as for the new bodega, of whom I’m certain we’ll be hearing more.

 The label is quite striking, the petals of a thistle stand out in blues, greys and lavender. It’s a deeply coloured wine with purple notes on the edge when held against a white background, indicating its youth. However the tannins are mature, nothing harsh in there at all, and the acidity and fruit levels along with an abv of 13·5% will ensure longevity of probably three – five years.

 It’s had a year in a mixture of French and American oak, the majority being in the more subtle French. Dark fruits are in the majority but there are lighter red fruit flavours too, perhaps cherry and loganberry. There’s a refreshing black pepper flavour as well as grown-up aromas of minerality and autumn leaves, with maybe a faint herbaceous note too.

 At present there are just two wines planned, Corimbo and an older brother as yet to face its curtain call. Clearly the Roda people know how to craft top red wines, so you can now refer to the Ribera del Dueros on the restaurant wines lists as well. I wonder if they’ve considered white wine, after all Rueda is just round the corner, and over the page!




 If you haven’t read part one you may like to log onto and click Cork Talk? Our summer holiday in Portugal this year taught me that it isn’t a bad idea to do as the Portuguese do!

 I wrote about Port, the eponymous fortified wine that is now world-famous – but I dealt only with red Port and I didn’t touch on the regular wines of this other Iberian country. Nor did I mention a perhaps little known, delicious secret! All will be revealed in this article plus a comment on nature, the environment and indeed the planet!

 All this for such a little cost – what a top newspaper this is!

 White Port, whilst not being classed as a secret, is certainly not widely known nor imbibed outside of this, the most westerly European country. No wonder considering Ernest Cockburn’s comment in the early 20th Century (yes that Cockburn!)  – ‘The first duty of Port is to be red!’ It’s a shame as White Port can be a super aperitif.

 Most White Port is quite sweet. It can be made from 30 different white grape varieties, Moscatel being on commonly used. Fermentation is arrested at roughly the same point as with Red Port, but grape spirit is usually used instead of brandy. It has to have aged for 2 years but ageing is almost always in stainless steel or epoxy lined cement tanks.

 However those which are aged in oak take on a different darker colour and lovely different taste nuances. Often such white ports are on the drier side. I had one a few years ago, Churchills I recall, and it was excellent.

 I wish we’d had more time in Portugal as I rediscovered there a fortified wine that I haven’t tasted for over 15 years and had mostly forgotten about! It’s something of a secret in that it is largely left undiscovered in the UK and in Spain, but in Portugal it rocks!

 Madeira is a small island administered by Portugal about 1,000km from Portugal and 750km from Africa. It’s also the name of a super wine whose history is fascinating and whose taste goes from the lovely to the sublime! I was put on the spot and asked to identify it, tasted blind in the wine merchants, Loja do Vinho. Set against a white port, which I did identify correctly, the Madeira was drier, with a faintly brownish colour. It struck a very pleasant chord, but no I couldn’t place it.

 In fact Madeira, which the Portuguese certainly do do not only when in Portugal but wherever they are in the world (Brazil is a big market) is a fascinating wine and subject and will therefore have a column to itself soon.

 So that moves us on to the regular wines of Portugal. Always in the shadow of their more illustrious bedfellow, Port, the wines of Portugal have in fact been in existence for far longer. Indeed it was from the wines of 16th Century Portugal that Port was first made. Records aren’t clear as to when Portugal first made wine but it is known that there existed a healthy wine trade between Portugal and England as long ago as the 12th Century!

 Clearly that’s long enough for the Portuguese to have developed some super wines and often using wholly indigenous varieties. I was recently chatting with Mariano, chief winemaker at Grupo Bodegas Castaño, who is somewhat in awe of the number of varieties that are Portuguese alone and not in fact grown anywhere else.

 Those of us who fear that the world’s wine will eventually be homogenous with only a few different varieties and with little to distinguish between the same varieties grown in different countries would

do well to move to Portugal. Here there has been little influence by the outside wine world, the ubiquitous Cabernet for example has made few inroads into Portuguese wine production. Why should it and it’s like, when Portugal is so rich in its own very individual vines that produce such aromatic and rich, deeply coloured wines?

 There are even vines growing in Portugal that have yet to be identified! But those which are doing very well with huge potential too are for example, for white wine: Alvarinho (yes, Albariño in Spain), Louriero, Fernao Pires and Arinto; and for reds: Touriga Nacional, Touriga Francesa, Baga, Castelao Frances and Tinta Roriz (aka Tempranillo).

 It’s a question of suck it and see! We tried quite a few in our 10 days there, reds and whites – it’s tough you know, researching wines for Cork Talk! We even tried an Espumante, a sparkling wine in the style of cava – Fita Azul Reserve Brut was refreshing but had little on the nose or palate, however.

 Plan Alto, Douro DO, Vinho Branco (white) Reserva 2009 was quite elegant on the palate if a little lacking in character; but Casal Da Coelheira 2009 from DO Ribatejo using Fernao Pires and Chardonnay was a super wine, though the packaging, I think, need further consideration. Vinho Verde Alvarinho 2009 has a super, inviting fruit laden nose, though on the palate it is a little thin. I think this would be my general criticism of the whites we tried – compared to similarly priced whites from Spain the Portuguese wines were a little thin, albeit pleasant, aromatic and refreshing.

 We tried several reds. I liked the youth and vitality of Marques De Borba 2009 from DO Alentejo; the added depth of Vinha Das Leres, DO Alentejano with it’s cool label; and the equal favourites – Vila real Douro DO Reserva 2007 whose indigenous grapes, several mentioned above, give the wine its deep colour and rich flavour. This wine shared first place with a wine that we brought home with us.

 Meia Pipa 2007 is readily available and doesn’t cost a lot of money but it is a super, deeply flavoured and coloured wine with some treacle and liquorice on the nose, subtle 12 months oaking and a medium long finish.