I’m neither surprised nor disappointed that I can no longer lay claim to being the only foreigner to be invited to help judge the annual Denominación de Origen Yecla! When, as a British wine critic living in Spain, I was asked for the first time, several years ago now, I felt extremely honoured to be included in such a very parochial affair. I was flattered that my Spanish peers viewed my opinions on their wines to be valid and of some note.


Two years ago I was joined by another foreigner, Peer, Vice President of the Sommelier Association of Germany – an impressive title, and certainly a knowledgeable and experienced judge. Unfortunately, when he received his invitation this year, he’d already committed to another event and so wasn’t able to attend. However, when introduced/reintroduced to several of the judges the night before the competition in May this year, the name Martin, like my own, didn’t sound so Spanish!


Martin has worked all his life in the retail and wholesale wine business, originally in his family’s wine shop in Holland, and then, when he married the boss’ daughter, in another business, this time a wine distributorship, also in Holland. Martin is one of the buyers and as such travels a lot around Europe, often in the East, but also in Spain. Again, a knowledgeable and experienced judge and commentator.


The Consejo Regulador always spoils the judges during the two days of this event. When Arriving the night before we are given time to rest in our rooms or walk around Yecla until we all meet to go for dinner. This year the hotel (they rotate the hotels so that not just one has the business, which is typically caring – it’s a local community after all!) was a mere 30 metres from the restaurant, where we enjoyed several courses, accompanied by, of course, some fine Yecla wines.


The following morning we were collected by cars and taken for an 09:30 hrs start at the  Consejo Regulador’s HQ, their purpose built premises in the nearby industrial estate. Rectptions rooms sit atop the tasting cellar below, which was perfectly professionally laid out for a quite heavy (50+ wines) judging session, to last until about 13:30 hrs.


Then, and I have to admit, this is the part that I really love, we are taken to another restaurant to enjoy and excellent lunch, with wines that have won prizes, though we are not told which medals! Therefore lunch is accompanied by a host of top wines! It’s a lengthy affair and there is always lots of chat with fellow judges, but also with many of the bodega owners and winemakers.



This year, for example, I sat next to a charming ‘new’ winemaker, Ángela Castaño Lorenzo – yep, you spotted it, daughter of one of the three incumbents of the Bodegas Castaño family, who is now making wines along with Head  Winemaker, Mariano. It was also a pleasure to meet again winemakers, growers, bodega owners and Consejo Regulador officials whom I’ve come to know over the years.


Unfortunately, for me, I had to decline the annual invitation to attend the gala night (knee problems!), where one of the excellent Yecla restaurants is selected to put on a truly superb dinner, with Yecla wine (claro!), before the winners are announced and the prizes presented. I know from lots of such dinners before that there is always a palpable air of both excitement, and tension, at these affairs – for all in attendance, except for we judges, who are now entrenched in relax mode, having done our job!


The wines were judges in six different categories: White Wines 2015 & 2016; Rosado Wines 2015 & 2016; Unoaked Reds 2015 & 2016; Oaked Reds 2015 & 2016; Oakewd Reds 2014 and Earlier; Dessert Wines.


In the first category Bodegas Castaño won Gold and Silver, with Bodegas La Purísima taking the Bronze. For me, in this predominately red wine area, the whites of DOP Yecla increase in quality each year  – without exception they are fresh, clean and refreshing with fine aromas and good fruit.


In the rosado category the medalists were: Bodegas Evine and Bodegas Castaño, both receiving Gold; Bodegas Purísima took Silver; and Bodegas Castaño figured again, this time with Bronze.


The young unoaked reds had a lot of the judges lip-smacking and talking about the high quality this year when we’d stopped for a break during judging and medalled thus: Gold & Bronze – Bodegas La Casa de Las Especias (a new bodega in the area, and one, clearly, worthy of further investigation – watch this space!); Silver – both Bodegas La Purísima and Bodegas Castaño.


The oaked 2015 & 2016 category had a straight Gold for Bodegas Evine, Silver for Bodegas Castaño with their evocatively named ‘Nymphina’; and at last making their mark, Bodegas Barahonda with Bronze.


Many commentators consider Yecla to be all about aged red wines and it’s true that the medal winners here are outstanding wines that can hold their own against many of the best in Spain on quality alone, then, when you consider pricing and therefore value for money – well go buy ’em willya! However, it’s clear from the above categories that Yecla has many strings to its bow!


The oaked reds leading up to the 2014 vintage were all fantastic wines to my taste – Gold went to Bodegas Barahonda with their lovely Lualma; Silver and Bronze were won by Bodegas Castaño with their Santa and Casa Cisca, respectively.


The red dessert wine category astounds me each year – these wines are so good, not just with postres but also with cheeses. Gold: Bodegas Barahonda and Bodegas Castaño; Silver: La Purísima: This year, to  my surprise at least, the Bronze Medal was not awarded.


So, it’s clear wines from DOP Yecla are to be sought out!

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