First published in Costa News Group – September 2012




Medals that mean something!

Last week’s article dealt with the impartiality (or not?!) of wine magazines, finishing with a similar point regarding the same, with respect to Wine Competitions. PlanteAVino, the excellent and prestigious Spanish Wine Magazine was praised for its uncompromising attitude to honesty and transparency when reviewing sample wines that have been sent by producers. (Still available at click Cork Talk).

This week I’d like to sing the praises of one of the best respected international wine competitions for the same reasons. It’s a competition with which I’m involved and I’ve therefore seen it from within as well as from the wine consumer’s position. You may suspect a little bias, but honestly, I’m telling it like it is!  

Having been elevated to the Judges Panel of the prestigious International Wines and Spirits Competition earlier this year I was naturally delighted to be called upon to judge Spanish and Portuguese wines at the IWSC Headquarters near Guildford in April.

An extremely unprepossessing, long and low pre-fab building at the side of an airfield used by anything from Chinook Helicopters, micro-lites, RAF freight transport aircraft and Lear Jets doesn’t look like the nerve-centre of such a world renowned wine competition. Perhaps the more so when one learns that the often tongue-in-cheek Top Gear TV Programme with Jeremy Clarkson et al uses the airfield for its motor vehicle testing!

And yet once through the portals into the tranquil various lounges, offices and of course, tasting rooms, an ambience of almost academic professionalism envelopes visitor and official alike. I’ve never been to Oxbridge but I imagine the professors’ lounges to have a similar feel to them!

This feeling becomes even more pronounced when my fellow judges arrive – the eminent academics, authors and luminaries of the wine world, including several Masters of Wine and comprised of several different nationalities.

On edge as the new kid on the block, my nerves disappeared when the first raft of  ISO (International Standards Organisation) glasses, filled to a third of their capacity, were brought in and judging started in earnest. Tasting is done in silence and marks out of 100 are awarded by each of the individual judges who have been given no details of the wines that are being tasted.

Thus wines are tasted blind and marked solely on their merits with no preconceived ideas brought into  play. The average is calculated (I breathed a silent sigh of relief when most of my scores equated rather well with the group average!) and it’s only then that any discussion might take place – but still in ignorance of the wine details, which in fact are only learned months later when the results are published!

It’s the only wine competition which includes a chemical analysis of each wine, done by the chemist experts in another building. Plus, of interest to Costa News readers in particular. The competition was the brainchild of my friend, colleague and one time business partner Anton Massel, whose photo hangs in the lounge at HQ!

I have complete faith in the legitimacy of the IWSC’s awards – in the words of Welsh Rugby loving and celebrated Welsh comedian, Max Boyce, ‘I know, I was there!’

Plus I also know from a consumer’s viewpoint! I’ve just returned from a super three week holiday (with some wine work thrown in, claro!), spent mostly in Northern Portugal. Stunning locations in the beautiful lake district of the country surrounded by mountains, contrasting with the no less wonderful Atlantic coast – it’s a lovely country!

And it has a history of wine making that goes back thousands of years – don’t just think Port, though! Yes it’s a glorious drink that we certainly enjoyed whilst there, and still are doing so (including, and here’s a tip, White Port, chilled, or with tonic and ice!). But think also white, rosé and red still wines which have been increasing in popularity and indeed improving in quality over the last twenty years, to the point now where there is a huge choice of flavour and aroma packed wines.

And it’s that choice, if one isn’t familiar with wine names and producers that can be thoroughly bewildering when standing opposite the well stocked shelves of wine merchants and supermarkets – just how do you choose?

Well one answer is to look for the logos of the IWSC! Medal winning wineries are entitled to place a copy of the appropriate medal along with other IWSC promotional material if they wish. Of course many do so – what better accolade than to have won a medal in such a significant competition?

In a large supermarket one such wine stood out a red made with the varieties Touriga Nacional abd Castelao (super indigenous Portuguese varieties), and proudly sporting not only the IWSC Silver Medal but also with the Best in Class Bar. Cabeça de Toro Reserva 2008, DOC Dotejo thoroughly deserves the plaudits and at about 6€ it’s excellent value for money too!

So I recommend that when indecision strikes look out for the IWSC logos – I’m sure you won’t go wrong!

A Sign of Quality Wine ;

Cheese and Wine Presentation – in aid of Akira Animal Charity

Here’s one for your diary – Monday 29th October Nikki Luxford, the Costa Blanca News’ ace roving reporter, and I are joining forces for a Charity Cheese and Wine event in Jalón’s elegant Restaurante Salamandra, in support of the Animal Charity, Akira.

Five super wines will be tasted along with five different flavoursome cheeses – and I can’t wait!

There will also be a raffle with excellent wines as prizes, plus there will be some wine to buy, at discount prices!

Please try and make it if you can and help the abandoned and suffering animals whilst havinbg a great time yourselves!

First Published Costa News Group Sept. 2012



I’ve just been reading the latest edition of the Proensa Guide’s Wine Magazine, PlanetAVino, put simply it’s excellent! Simultaneously erudite, articulate, informative, contemporary and entertaining. It’s a pleasure to read, albeit something of a challenge if one’s Spanish isn’t fluent. (Available digitally in English, see:

But it’s the honesty that I like about it most. No sycophancy here! No bending over backwards to please influential bodegas. Wines are submitted for tasting by bodegas hoping for a good review, and they’ll obtain one, if the wine deserves it! If it doesn’t then the magazine will tell it like it is – and quite right too. Those wishing for a vinous version of the cash-for-questions philosophy need not apply!

I sometimes wonder if my own wine reviewing ideology needs updating. I taste hundreds, perhaps a thousand wines a year (I know, lucky so-and-so!). My thoughts about many, though not all, of them are recorded here in Cork Talk. The ones that don’t figure are those which, frankly, haven’t been worth mentioning, usually not because they are faulty (I occasionally mention a fault in a wine as it might be interesting to readers, but I always explain that a problem, such as a wine being corked, can happen to any bodega, and there’s almost always no fault attributable), but because they are poor/badly made wines.

I could write about such wines, including my critical tasting notes, but what’s the point? I imagine readers don’t want to hear about a poor wine. I hope that this explains why most of what you read (dear reader!) is complimentary. I write praising wines, when they deserve it, and I simply omit them when they don’t.

No-one likes to castigate a wine so PlanetAVino’s writers will honestly describe the wine in as gentle terms as possible, but give it the appropriate score out of 100. Fifty and below almost universally means that the wine is faulty and therefore cannot be properly tasted and therefore judged. Clearly therefore a wine that receives 59 or 61, for example, cannot be a particularly good offering. It’s not faulty but it’s right down there. It’s just poor quality wine.

By the same token a wine rated in the 70’s will clearly not be as good as one in the 80’s and so on. But, how many wines do we see in magazines with these lower marks? Practically none. Perhaps this is because they have adopted the same philosophy as me, recording only the better wines’ marks. I think not though.

I take the view that there is a certain pressure on magazine reviewers to talk-up the wines, and mark-up too! Advertising is a powerful tool for bodegas, and a big earner for magazines. Publications make their money from their advertisers, not their readers who pay a relatively tiny sum to buy the magazine/newspaper. Hundreds, thousands of Euros are needed to ‘buy’ a full page ad, for example. The bodegas are willing to pay it, well the better-off ones are, but this also gives them some power.

It’s a reciprocal thing – the bodegas need the magazines and vice versa. But which is the dog and which is the tail, and who’s wagging who?

A bodega can choose where they place their ads, there are several magazine/newspaper options. On the other hand, it’s true also that there are thousands of bodegas from which the magazines can earn their advertising revenue.

However, in these dreadful economic times where, to avoid going under, magazines are desperately clinging to their advertisers like a drowning man to his lifebelt, a bodega’s threat of withdrawing its advertising is power on an almost omnipotent scale! Can the editor allow the reviewers to be wholly candid in their criticisms if a bad review of a major advertiser’s wine might result in the bodega pulling the plug?

PlanetAVino operating under the auspices of the very well respected Guía Proensa, whose founder, Señor Andrés Proensa, is a major luminary in the Spanish wine world and is the reason why the publications are afforded so much respect, will have no truck with such potential threats, it seems.

So, if the above is true, can it also be said of wine competitions, particularly those sponsored/organised by wine magazines? The world’s wineries are charged per bottle for the wines they enter in the many competitions that are to be found in the wine world. The figure varies of course, but it isn’t usually too much of a burden for the entrants.

Neither is it too much of a concern for the competition organisers if a submitted wine is given a poor mark and the winery concerned decides not to enter so many wines next year. Or if the occasional winery decides not to enter at all in the future. It would be a tiny loss for the competition, nominal really, as there are many hundreds of other wineries and many thousands of wines entered.

However if the winery concerned is also a large sponsor and/or advertiser of/in the competition/magazine and their dissatisfaction results in them not only withdrawing their wines from future competitions, but also their sponsorship and advertising. Then that’s quite a different matter. Perhaps judges are put under some pressure as with the magazine reviewers, as above?

It’s also true that, with small wineries, there is perhaps a moral dilemma as well. Whilst the per bottle cost of entry isn’t significant for most wineries, for some it could be crippling. So is there also some pressure to mark a wine slightly higher than it should be in order to make the small winery happy, and, here comes the cynic in me, to ensure that they enter next year too?!

Contact Colin: ; please also visit: where you’ll see how Colin can help with any wine related requirement you may have! 

Dolce Divas for Sunday Lunch at The Olive Tree Restaurant, Moraira!

I can certainly vouch for the wine list at The Olive Tree restaurant, Moraira, as it was me who wrote it when Karen, the Olive Tree Restaurant founder, returned to take up their reins again in April 2012!

Of course I’ve eaten there many times, so I’m also equally confident about the cuisine – it’s exccellent!

Plus, of course, I know the beautiful the music of Dolce Divas: Claire Post, Soprano and Flute; and Kirsty Glen, Piano!

So put them all together and what have you got? – A fantastic Sunday Lunch on 7th October where Dolce Divas will be performing classical and contemporary music from 14:30 hrs onwards!

3 courses with half a bottle of wine for 18399€; or 2 courses with half a bottle of wine for 15·99€ – and wonderful music included, claro!

Please call The Olive Tree to reserve –  96 649 o655

Don’t delay though, it’s bound to be busy!