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!

First Published Costa News Group, May 2011



There was a time when, if thinking white wine in Spain, one thought of nowhere else but Galicia and of no other grape variety but Albariño. Today this is not the case as there are also excellent white wines being made in DOs as diverse as Priorat, Rueda and Somontano for example; and using either indigenous varieties like Rueda’s Verdejo or foreigners like the ubiquitous Chardonnay in Somontano and the stunning Viognier from Bodegas Ribes from VdlT Mallorca.

Indeed some of these new classic white wines are made with all manner of blends and using various different methods. Check out Clos Mogador’s wonderful Nelin, made with the local Garnacha Blanca plus Viognier, Marsanne, Macabeo and even black grape Pinot Noir! Things are most definitely on the up and up for white wine producers in Spain as well as for we consumers who are lapping up the spoils to keep global warming at bay.

However that’s not to say we should forget Albariño from Galicia, and particularly from its spiritual home in the DO Rías Baixas – far from it! Rising to the challenge of these usurping new kids on the block Green Spain (so called, because it has the highest annual rainfall in the country) is now producing some of its best ever wines.

Some months ago I received a raft of white wines from Bodegas Martín Códax, a former co-operative winery, which is still one of the largest in the area, and is famed for its lovely straight Albariño wine but also for its innovative wines made from the same variety, but in oh so different styles. Tucked into the large case was a single red – another example of their forward thinking as they are now making quality red wine in nearby Bierzo, where the Mencia variety is king.

I’ve taken my time tasting these special wines and I’ve been really impressed, so much so that their Albariño Martín Códax will be the opening wine of a tasting I’m presenting in the UK in October. If you are looking for a starting position to taste some of the wines of this area, then there’s no better choice than here.

It has all the super stoned fruit attributes that you’d expect, perhaps from Viognier, with apricot, white and red peach notes but also there’s a Riesling-esque bracing acidity with floral aromas and lemon and lime touches. It’s this affinity with the noble French Riesling that has caused some commentators to suggest that Albariño is a rogue hybrid, morphed from original Riesling vines brought by pilgrim Monks who came to Santiago de Compostella. A romantic story dispelled, somewhat lamentably in by books (I’m a succour for romance), by men in white coats, but nevertheless helpful in describing the taste/aroma profile of this remarkable variety.

An undisputed fact is that Albariño has a thick skin which helps it keep out too much of that high rainfall and therefore keep in the rich flavours and aromas of the finished wine. This dampness and, in the cold temperatures that higher altitude vineyards bring, towards the end of the growing season, are conditions which simulate those of more northerly climes where Botrytis, or Noble Rot, can set in.

In exceptional years, 2007 for example, it has been possible to make a Botrytis influenced wine, bright gold coloured with a little extra residual sugar. Gallaecia 2007 Albariño is a unique wine, so vastly different from the above. It has grapefruit and citrus peel on the nose and a slightly bitter aftertaste, a little like grapefruit juice. My own feeling is that it is just going past its sell-by date, but I’d be fascinated to try the next vintage that they make using such grapes.

 So two wines, poles apart, from the same variety and the same bodega – and there’s plenty more between these opposite ends of the spectrum. More from Martín Códax next week.

First Published: Costa News Group SL, May 2011



Fellow tasters and Exhibitors at Sol Park's Annual Wine Tasting

I’m not sure if my friends, Michel and Yvon, owners of Sol Park, Moraira, will think this is a rather late report of their annual April wine tasting, or a very early advance notice of 2011’s event! No matter, I’m sure it will be happily received and I’m pleased to be able to, once again, write up this event in glowing terms.

The Sol Park Spring wine tastings started some eight years ago. My other commitments and the odd illness have prevented me from going to a few but I’ve attended most and now in May 2010 I’m looking forward to next year’s. I’m lucky as I go to many professional wine tastings, in Spain and also abroad. Most are huge affairs where a careful plan has to be conceived before you enter or you’ll simply get swamped as there’s so much to see and, of course, to taste.

Alimentaria in Barcelona is an example – I was there in March and I’m still writing articles about my experiences there, only breaking off now as I’m so embarrassed that I haven’t written about Sol Park’s yet. Small, cosy, charming and almost familial Sol Park is not Alimentaria – however for me it has as large an appeal.

As you would expect such a small local tasting attracts local exhibitors and I’m all in favour of this as we should celebrate that which is good in our own area. However the Sol Park wine tasting is not a village fete. Eleven areas of production from all over Spain were represented, essentially with one bodega from each. Thus the variety of wines for clients to taste was large as well as diverse.

As is often the case, time was pressing for me so I just had the chance to taste white wines on the only day I could visit – a shame as I heard lots of good comments about many of the reds and I have to say that some of them really looked the part. This may appear to be an odd comment, but these days packaging is an integral part of marketing in the wine industry – an attractive bottle sells the wine. The secret of course is to make sure that the quality of the book is reflected in its cover!

I started with cava – it’s the best way to prepare your palate for the tstes to come, whilst at the same time assessing the quality of the fizz. Capdevilla Pujol from Cavas Blancher both had an element of sweetness, despite them being Brut and Brut Nature respectively – an indication of very ripe fruit at harvest. From the same stable Seleccio Blanc was disappointing as I’d anticipated when I saw that it was 2008. I said that I thought it was losing its fruit as it was too old the exhibitor looked surprised defending the wine by telling me that it sells well.

I said it was a pity that he didn’t have the 2009 here for such a tasting and lo and behold he went to his car and produced a label-less bottle which was in fact the latest vintage. After chilling the difference between the two wines, both made with Macabeo and Parellada, underlines all that I have always said about most Spanish white wines – they have to be drunk young. I’d buy the 2009, but wouldn’t touch the 2008 – and I bet it’s this younger wine that stocks the chap’s fridge at home!

DO Rueda called me as it usually does and I tried Bodegas Alberto’s  Verdejo/Viura blend which at on 2·5 Euros was a real bargain; the 100% Verdejo was richer of course with green vegetal notes; the more expensive single varietal Verdejo (but at only 5·50 Euros, still a steal) was richer and longer on the palate; and their Verdejo FB (Fermented in Oak) was rich and deep with layers of green fruit and vegetal aromas and flavours.

The single varietal Airén from La Mancha’s Bodegas Lahoz was as good as I’ve tried of this La Mancha-wide ubiquitous variety with a lovely first hit on the palate. Their Sauvignon 2009 had understated grassy and herby notes on the first taste but secondary flavours of kiwi and gooseberry came though making it a jolly nice wine with their FB Sauvignon adding a touch of grapefruit too.

Normally considered the poor relation of the wine areas it abuts in Galicia, DO Ribeira is known for its light, pleasant but not so thought-provoking flavoursome white wines. So I was surprised to taste a 20 Euro bottle, Lagar Do Merens 2008, from Bodegas Alan  – a very good wine, but I think just a little too old. Their 2009 Godello was a bright and fruity as you would expect from this super variety which is not seen as often as it should be. Their 2006 FB was becoming past it – I’m in favour of using oak with some of these aromatic varieties but it doesn’t mean that the wine suddenly has great longevity. Drink FB whites no more than three years after the vintage, generally. Their Albariño was lovely and their 2007 Lagar Do Merens FB having had 5 months in oak was drinking well.

 I tasted more but space is limited – suffice to say I think that this tasting as always was enjoyed by all who attended over the two days, the more so as it is always free of charge! If you are in the Moraira area I’d contact Sol Park and ask to be placed on their mailing list – see you there next year!