Let’s Hear it for the Little Guys!


When watching sports (remember that?!), but supporting no particular team/competitor, many of us root for the underdog. The player/team with the lesser reputation, the one of whom we’ve never heard – yes, let’s give them some support.

So it was at Goodison Park, Liverpool, in 1966 when the largely unheard of North Korea were playing Portugal in the Football World Cup, Eusébio, Torres et al. Unbelievably, North Korea took the lead, and suddenly most of the crowd, of which I was a small part, was willing the little guys on, supporting their every move. ‘We’ lost, but what a game!

If sporty yourself, I’m sure you’ll remember similar situations in a number of different sports. Probably, like me, you’re the same today. It’s so exciting when someone wholly new to us aces a seed to win a round at Wimbledon; or sinks a put in the Open to beat the defending Champion; comes from half a lap behind to take the 1500 metres Olympic title from the athlete who surely had his/her name written on the trophy – and so on.

Well, my friends, it’s time to support the underdogs, the little guys in the wine world!

I can’t think of many businesses in Spain that have done well during this dreadful pandemic, a live scenario that is still playing out, but supermarkets haven’t done so badly! One of the few businesses that have been allowed to open throughout, they have, of course, suffered some extra costs. Staff have been taken on in order to police/assist customers; they’ve all had to have protective masks and gloves; checkouts have been fitted with extra protection for those seated, etc.

However, compared with profits during this time, such outgoings are small beer. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not knocking them. Supermarkets have fulfilled a vital role, they’ve done a brilliant job at keeping the nation in food, and at a risk to themselves too. It’s certainly appreciated. Imagine how these weeks would have been if, like in a war zone for example, it was dangerous to go out (as it has been here, though we’ve been dodging a virus not bullets and bombs), and there was no food available!

Plus, of course, those businesses that supply supermarkets have been doing reasonably well too, though any exports they’d been enjoying are likely to have largely petered out. This, of course, applies to the wine sector.

There are many large wine businesses that have been able to maintain at survival level, and above, simply by virtue of the fact that they are established supermarket suppliers. Yes, it’s true that such large concerns have lost out in the export trade, of course, so they haven’t been making extra profits, but they’ve been doing ok, particularly when statistics tell us that we’ve all been drinking more wine in lockdown times!

I’m speaking on behalf of the many far smaller bodegas, often family owned who progressed from making wine for home consumption only a couple of generations ago to making it on commercial basis nowadays. Their production is of course limited – they don’t have many hectares of land covered in vine, though often their vineyards are old, producing great quality wines from their richer grapes.

There’s no doubting their quality, but of course, they are unable to supply supermarkets because of their insatiable demand for high volume wines. The little guys make great wines, just not so much of it! Some of these small wineries have been able to develop some export trade, though this of course has dried up in recent weeks, though many are relying solely on the domestic trade. Sadly, this has also largely dried up too. The little guys are in trouble – and they need our help.

This is why I wholly support an initiative started by my friend Nicola Thornton, of the company Spanish Palate, of whom regular Cork Talk readers will have read on a number of occasions over the years. Spanish Palate is itself one of the small producers to whom I refer, but they have another important role as well – they are distributors of wines from a number of other small, family owned producers.

A very positive and proactive young lady, Nicola must nevertheless have noticed the dramatic downturn in the livelihoods of her winery owning friends whose sales are dwindling to below survival levels. So, she and her business partner have decided to do something about it! If you go to www.spanishpalate.es/Direct you’ll be able to see the wineries with whom she deals, their wines, and of course, those made by Spanish Palate themselves, You’ll also notice the ease by which you can buy whichever wines you select and have them delivered directly to your door, in fact for hard to believe excellent prices!

Over the years I’ve tried lots of the wines distributed by Spanish Palate, as well as those they make themselves. You won’t be disappointed, quite the reverse, in fact, and significantly, during these difficult times, you’ll be giving the little guys a very much needed helping hand!

NB my next Valley Vibes Wine Show will be on Sat. 6th June, 12 – 1pm, online here www.valleyfm.es and I’ll be tasting one of Spanish Palate’s wines too!

Twitter @colinonwine.com  Facebook Colin Harkness

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Please don’t forget my monthly Wine Show on www.valleyfm.es – it’s always the First Saturday of the Month, from 12:00 hrs – 13:00 hrs CET. You’ll find some great wines tasted on-air; top music; fun chat; and lotsa informal wine info! Hope you can join us soon!

Bodegas La Zorra


Whilst perfectly pleasant, the 8 Vírgenes, dry white wine from Bodegas La Zorra, wasn’t my favourite wine of the portfolio sent to me as long ago as last summer. But I couldn’t resist the title!

I received the wines via my friend Nicola, of Spanish Palate (www.spanishpalate.es), the expanding wine making and wine distributing company based in Toro. I’ve talked of Nicola and her team before, referencing the wines she and her business partner fashion themselves, as well as some of the wines that they distribute for other wineries here in Spain.

This bodega, La Zorra (meaning the Vixen), is one of the leading wineries in the DO Sierra de Salamanca (indeed the founding father of the DO), a Denominación de Origen that celebrates its 10 years anniversary in 2020. It’s a rather new DO and it’s banking on the variety Rufete, to help make its name.

My own view is that they’ll be successful in doing this, but perhaps by a rather different route than they’d at first thought? From my tasting, admittedly only from the produce of this one bodega, La Zorra, I think it may well be the Rufete Blanco that will be their best bet when seeking fame, and hopefully, fortune!

I may be a lone voice in the wilderness here. I certainly will be up in the Salamanca area, where Rufete Negro is so feted, but I felt that the red wines from the black grape weren’t as distinguished as the white that I tasted, which I thought outstanding!

That’s not to say that I didn’t like Bodegas La Zorra’s red Rufete, I did, though I preferred it when it was part of a blend, in fact with Spanish and International varieties. Perhaps, like a particular instrument in an orchestra when on its own, it really plays second fiddle to the orchestra as a whole?

La Novena Rufete Blanco, however really did give us a virtuoso performance! It’s a new variety to me, but one to which I’ll certainly be returning! Oddly enough it is also known locally by another name, Verdejo Serrano – confusing to those of us (in other words most readers of Cork Talk) who know Verdejo from DO Rueda. Rufete Bnco has a completely different set of aroma and flavour characteristics to the, perhaps, Sauvignon Blanc-esque, darling of DO Rueda!

The bunches are small, the grapes too, and tightly packed. Consequently there’s not much juice with which to play, but it’s rich, and this translates perfectly into the finished, structured wine. It has a fresh acidity, which keeps it lively on the palate, but there’s also a depth, a roundness with volume and presence, resulting from the older vines and also the fermenting in oak. A little papaya on the nose with pears and some pine forest too, and some blanched almond nutty character, as well as some herby notes.

The red wine Rufete monovarietal I liked most was the limited production Raro, whose nine moths in used French oak barrels have given it an extra dimension. It has a cherry-red colour, there’s a slight floral note on the nose and on the palate there are soft light red fruits, with perhaps cherry to the fore.

My favourite of the reds were the ones where Rufete is used in the blend. I’m a touch frustrated though, as I still can’t decide which, of the two I tasted, wins outright! La Vieja is a fine wine. Made with Rufete and happy to accept, for me, more than just a supporting role of Tempranillo and a little Granacha, with about 13 months in oak. It’s quite silky on the palate, with darker red fruits coming through, blackberry and dark cherry. Medium length finish, very satisfying!

It has to share the winner podium with the eponymous La Zorra, whose slightly less 11 months in French and American oak, give the wine a lighter mouth-feel, without diminishing its presence on the palate as well as after swallowing. A winning combination here of dark and lighter red fruits with a little spice thrown in from the barricas.

I’d also like to mention Bodegas La Zorra’s 100% Garnacha wines (known locally as Calabres – another new name to me!). La Moza and La Zorra Garnacha, are two more of the fine Garnacha wines coming out of Spain now – and old and sometimes abused variety, that is now being treated with respect, and responding to well.

I tasted also the Tempranillo/Rufete rosado, which I enjoyed with salmon one night and a mushroom based dish the next. Nice, easy drinking wine, which complemented each dish.

And finally, what of the Virgins, you might ask! Well, it’s a good refreshing white wine with good, not too harsh acidity, which we enjoyed as an aperitif over a couple of nights. It’s made with Rufete Blanco again, but also with Palomino and Moscatel. Other commentators, I see, have mentioned this wine’s compatibility with smoked fish dishes – so that’s what I’ll do when I next drink with eight virgins!

NB My next www.valleyfm.es radio prog is this coming Tuesday 4th Feb, when I’ll be talking Valentine’s Wines – as well as playing, Harry Chapin, Barbara Streisand and Neil Diamond, Rupert Holmes, Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell, Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel; Crista Burgh and Guy Cavell. From 5pm – 6pm Central European Tine – care to join me?

colin@colinharknessonwine.com  Twitter @colinonwine Facebook Colin Harkness www.colinharknessonwine.com

It’s a gamble, but I reckon Nicola Thornton, co-founder of Spanish Palate, the Spain based wine producer and négociant/distributor, is in the Tractor Ted generation! What leads me unequivocally to this conclusion – well, firstly she’s miles younger than me, and secondly Spanish Palate have named one of their smaller portfolios of wine, Mí Tractor Azul, My Blue Tractor. Classic TV influence!


Any readers who have student grandchildren (great grandchildren?!) studying Social Science and the like, who are stuck re their PhD Thesis? Well, I may have the answer here – pass it on!

Forget the generations so often referred to in the media these days (why?!) – you know, the Baby Boomers, Generation X, the Millennials, Generation Z (your grandchildren will be in one of the latter two). Popular belief is that we are defined by our generation category (I’m a Boomer, btw [this modern text abbreviation designed to make me look a ‘cool, Boomer!]), but, and here’s the PhD Thesis bit – I wonder if we are actually defined by the TV programmes we watched as children?

Who remembers ‘Watch With Mother’ and the ‘Flowerpot Men’ –  maturing(?) to ‘Blue Peter’, ‘My Favourite Martian’ and ‘Mr. Ed’? If you do, well you’re with me – Boomer through and through! However, if your go-to programme was ‘Tractor Ted’, well, you’re a lot younger – for a start, and likely to have a wholly different consumer profile.

It’s a gamble, but I reckon Nicola Thornton, co-founder of Spanish Palate, the Spain based wine producer and négociant/distributor, is in the Tractor Ted generation! What leads me unequivocally to this conclusion – well, firstly she’s miles younger than me, and secondly Spanish Palate have named one of their smaller portfolios of wine, Mí Tractor Azul, My Blue Tractor. Classic TV influence!

This of course, is all conjecture! So is my thought that Nicola and co are doing what so many other Spanish (and international) wine producers are doing – trying (and in this case, certainly succeeding) to engage with a younger generation of wine drinkers. These days youngsters who have reached the legal age to consume alcohol (that’s a strict 18 yrs here in Spain, with it being illegal to buy your 17 yrs old an alcoholic drink/share your wine in a restaurant, unlike in the UK), are able to enjoy such a wide diversity of drinks available to them. The result of this is that amongst the 18 – 25 yr olds wine consumption in recent years has been falling.

It’s a concern for producers, in fact a double whammy (this now old but still annoying phrase also identifies me firmly in the British Boomer!) – sales to this generation (Millennial/Gen Z, if you’re wondering!) have been decreasing, with the knock-on effect that it’s likely that when they reach middle age and older, they’ll buy less likely wine than those of us at that age now. It’s a worrying scenario that many, forward thinking wine producers are addressing right now. Spanish Palate (www.spanishpalate.es) is one such producer.

As yet there are but two Mí Tractor Azul wines in the portfolio (told you it was small!), but they certainly do what they set out to achieve and it wouldn’t surprise me if there were plans afoot to add to the range. The first I tasted was from Toro (you can see it here www.youtube.com/watch?v=5o6PlRrxL9I and listen to my thoughts about it).

It’s made, as you might expect, with the DO Toro favourite variety, Tinta de Toro, the local name for Tempranillo – the same variety, which has, with perhaps a century, and more, of growth here, developed some slightly different characteristics than Tempranillo from its original home, La Rioja.

Fruit First, and bags of it, is the mantra of this line of wines. However, that doesn’t mean grapes harvested from just young vines – Tractor Azul wines are made from vines that are a minimum of 40 years of age, grapes so mature that they are usually destined for Crianza and Reserva wines. Instead, the rich, gently pressed juice is fermented, and then bottled without any oak. You are therefore enjoying the purity of the intense fruit, with no other influence!

There are immediate black cherry notes on the nose, with some blackberry and a touch of its brambly undergrowth too. Although not aged in oak, the wine is easily rich enough to partner meaty dishes, though this isn’t at all necessary – enjoy it as a super fruit-charged vibrant wine, with your Generation Z grandchildren and their pals!

The other wine in the portfolio is Mí Tractor Azul Almansa. Readers may remember my recent article on the wines from Almansa (www.colinharknessonwine.com/articles/) – an impressive area of production, emerging from the shadows and this wine will help!

Grown for centuries in Almansa (and surrounding areas of production) Garnacha Tintorera (not to be confused, though it’s understandable, given the name, with Garnacha) is also known as Alicante Bouchet (again, confusing – we are talking Almansa here, not Alicante!). It’s quite a variety! One of the world’s very few grapes whose flesh is also coloured – in this case a pinky red, which, when macerated with the skins, gives very dark coloured reds, often of high alcohol.

Spontaneous fermentation using natural yeasts occurs in temperature controlled stainless steel tanks, with bottling soon after – a total absence of oak. Therefore we enjoy primary fruit flavours and aromas of dark berries with some herbal notes too. It’s very fruit orientated, full, with fresh, lively acidity – a wine for the sofa, watching re-runs of your favourite children’s TV programmes, perhaps! Ah, nostalgia’s not what it used to be!

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