First Published in Costa News Group February 2012



Reading back I note that I was quite voluble with my praise of the white wines of  Bodegas Terras Gauda made in their homeland of DO Rías Baixas in Galicia, North West Spain. Well, having now tasted all their red wines, made in nearby DO Bierzo, I’m going to be equally complimentary – clearly this is a bodega to watch!

Mencía, indigenous to DO Bierzo, is a remarkable grape variety. It’s unique with a flavour and even, mouthfeel, like no other I’ve tasted. Its wines are deeply coloured and fruity and when made from older vines whose yield is low but whose grapes are the richer for it, the resulting nectar can be opulent and full flavoured, yet beguilingly elegant too. I always like to have a bottle or two in my cellar and because of its natural acidity it will also age well.

Pittacum 2007 is such a deeply coloured wine. It’s had 8 months in French and American oak after a month left in its fermentation vats where all the colour, flavour and tannin are concentrated. The 100% Mencía grapes were harvested by hand into small capacity crates and once at the winery the selection table was rigorously employed ensuring that only the best bunches were included.

Initially quite closed on the nose, the aromas soon start to develop – damson with notes of mint flavoured meaty gravy. On the palate bitter, dark chocolate blends sublimely with the damson and a curious, but attractive, aroma of old rope being untied. Its finish is mid to long, with a dark fruit liqueur chocolate end.

Its older brother, Pittacum Aurea 2007, is made from 100+ year old vines and again it’s a little closed at first. On the palate the first hit is juicy black plum and damson with acidity and mature tannin. During its first ten minutes it may seem a little lacking in depth to be able to develop further, but soon after, the wine comes alive.

Coffee and wooden barrel aromas mingle with damson fruit and, arriving late but making a significant and appreciated contribution, slatey mineral notes, with a certain earthiness too. It has a long, bold finish with dark fruits and cedar and mineral character. It has a well-earned 94 Peñin Points – making it one of the best Bierzo wines available! Decant before serving (if you don’t have a decanter [naughty, you should have!] pour it into the glass half an hour before you intend to drink it).

Perhaps my favourite, however, was the 92 pointer, Quinta Sardonia 2007, a VdlT Castilla y León, – just for the pure pleasure of drinking! It really is a super fruit-charged mouthful, and no wonder, considering the seven different varieties in the blend!

QS is made with Tinto Fino (aka Tempranillo), the lion’s share in fact making 52% of the blend, but aided and abetted by: Cabernet Sauvignon; Merlot; Syrah (only 5% but surely impacting significantly on the overall juciness of the finished product); Petit Verdot; Cabernet Franc (interesting this because, if Mencía shares any characteristics with another variety, it’s Cab. Franc); and finally Malbec! Now that’s a lot of wine in a single mouthful!

Its colour is a glorious dense and dark cherry, picota, red. On the nose there is an inviting, actually addicting intensity with cassis and mountain herbs to the fore. On the palate you’ll find ripe plums, a touch of black pepper with a hint of black olives too. There’s been oak ageing, 16 months in fact, but it’s been in subtle French oak and has been handled in an exemplary fashion with the vanilla input blending perfectly with  the wine, contributing to the final flavour in an integrated, graceful manner, rather like the double bass in an orchestra.

Indeed this symphonious, sexy wine is sensual in every way. Drinking perfectly now, it has the mature tannin, fruit content, acidity and alcohol (15%!) to age for another 3 – 5 years, but I doubt you’ll be able to keep your hands off it!

Published August 2011 in DO Rias Baixas News Bulletin



 8 de agosto de 2011.- Después de catar 60 marcas de Rías Baixas en dos días, los profesionales que integraron el panel de cata de la XXIII Cata Concurso Rías Baixas Albariño decidieron que los premios de esta edición recayesen la medalla de oro en la marca Pazo de Bouciña, de la adega Arousa de Bebidas; la medalla de plata en el Rías Baixas Albariño de Esencia Divina, Bodegas Gran Vinum y; la medalla de bronce en Bouza de Carril, de la bodega Bodega Bouza de Carril.

I was honoured to be one of the above 25 panelists (in fact the only foreign wine critic invited!) in this major wine tasting event where the best three Albariño wines of the 2010 vintage were determined!

Sitting on the panel as an equal with such luminaries as: Antonio Palacios (master wine maker, President of the Federacion Española de Asocianes de Enologos, and a member of the Palacios family, the most famous winemaking dynasty in Spain);

His young daughter Barbara, a fine winemaker in her own right, whose fledgling Barbarot Bodega, with its excellent Vino de Autor Rioja wine, would surely be voted Best Newcomer, if there was such a title in La Rioja;

Jesús Flores, doyen of Spanish wine writers and tasters, author of several acknowledged wine books and guides, in fact the Spanish equivalent of Hugh Johnson;

Pablo Amate, renowned national wine and food critic on radio and in various newspapers and magazines;

Cristino Álvarez, famed wine critic and writer who has attended over 20 of these catas over the last decades;

Plus many more, was of course a memorable experience, to say the least!

Thus, as a panelist, I played a part in deciding which Albariño wines were the best three of the 2010 vintage:

1st Place – Pazo de Bouciña, Gold Medal

2nd Place – Esencia Divina, Silver Medal

3rd Place – Bouza de Carril

The owners of the bodegas making these wines were delighted when the announcement was made in front of TV Cameras and hundreds of invitees including dignitries, politicians, celebrities and of course the judging panel!

My congratulations to the winners of course but also to all the others who make the excellent Albariño wines of Denominación de Origen Rias Baixas, Galicia.

Colin Harkness elevated to Judge on DO Rias Baixas Panel!


I have just heard this week that I have been selected as a Judge on the DO Rias Baixas Consejo Regulador’s Panel at the Prestigious Annual Cata-Concurso de Albariño which decides the best Albariño wines of the year!

This is a major honour as I am, I believe, the first foreigner to be asked to serve on this panel! Needless to say I accepted with alacrity and look forward to being in Galicia in August.

Many readers will know that Albariño is considered to be the best Spanish white wine grape variety and it is a particular favourite of mine.

My experiences up in Green Spain will of course be posted here!

First Published: Costa News SL, May 2011




The Albariño grape variety is as important to Denominación de Origen Rias Baixas as Messi is to Barcelona. This supremely aromatic grape variety ripens to reveal in its wines, lovely peach and apricot flavours, but with a refreshing acidity too.

Within Spain (and in Portugal where it’s known as Alvarinho) it’s always been appreciated as probably Spain’s best white wine variety, but it wasn’t until my colleagues, the ladies and gentlemen of the international press, started travelling to taste in situ that the wine world generally became aware of this noble variety. Twenty years ago demand started it’s now seemingly unending ascent up the graph, like the pulse rate of a Barça fan when Messi receives the ball.

The young folk who had forsaken the area through lack of jobs and prospects started returning to work the vineyards, and the lucky ones with the wherewithal bought land and planted Albariño. It seems it’s no coincidence that some Albariños have an unmistakeable golden hue (for example Bodega Martín Códax’s Gallaecia 2007 as discussed last week). Albariño is probably Galicia’s most prized asset, driving the economy as well as being enjoyed in every bar and restaurant in the area, by locals and tourists alike!

Originally a co-operative bodega with no great ambitions other than to produce good quality white wines, Bodega Martín Códax was founded in 1985 as the wave of Albariño was just building. They’ve been riding it at its crest ever since and I recently received several of their white wines, plus a really fun red from their outpost in DO Bierzo with perhaps the best label I’ve seen this year!

Martín Códax Lias Albariño 2007 is limited production wine made by keeping the must on its lees for 12 months, two of which were with ‘batonage’, stirring, which adds a creamy dimension to the wine without detracting from its innate freshness. This full-bodied and yet elegant wine is one for the dinner table, the more so if the dish to accompany it is perhaps some fresh fish in a slightly creamy sauce!

Martín Códax Organistrum Colleita 2008 is named after a medieval stringed instrument played by minstrels to entertain pilgrims on the route to Santiago de Compostela. From old design parchments an Organistrum was replicated by the bodega and is played at concerts in the building.

The wine is made with Albariño from a specific vineyard at only just over 100 metres above sea level where the grapes ripen fully and produce high alcohol wines, but again with an acid lift. Fermented initially in stainless steel, the wine then goes though a malolactic second fermentation in Allier French oak adding an extra depth of flavour. It is then transferred to steel again where it rests for a further seven months before bottling.

It is delicately perfumed wine with stoned fruit still, but a tiny almost imperceptible vanilla element too that just changes the flavour profile. I personally don’t subscribe to the view that Albariño gains a lot with age. I enjoyed the wine but would like to try one a year younger – given the chance!

It doesn’t surprise me that Martín Códax also operates in nearby DO Bierzo. This innovative bodega has shown that it is willing to try different styles of Albariño wines, successfully too, so why not make a red wine as well?

 I loved their Cuatro Pasos Mencía 2009 with the distinctive black label with four paw footprints in shiny red. It’s had a couple of months in oak for some added flavour and aroma but this is a wine that expresses the lovely damson and black cherry flavours of this rare variety. It’s a fun, serious wine – an enlighteningly happy combination!