First Published Costa News Group, Jan 2013



Since I first heard that no less a name than Raventos i Blanc had become one of the most prestigious of the fraternity of Cava makers to withdraw from the DO, I’ve been contemplating my reaction. Raventos i Blanc is one of several Cava producers who have recently elected to disassociate themselves from the DO Cava, of which they have been members from its inception and indeed for generations.

I’m not wholly decided but broadly speaking I’m in favour of the move – albeit with some reservations, not least of which is the undoubted fact that there is going to be considerable consumer confusion. So this article is an attempt to walk readers through the reasons for the split and the probable outcomes.

Raventos i Blanc took pains to explain that there had been no falling out with DO Cava, no harsh words and no hard feelings on either side. But I don’t buy it! It’s clear that there has been a long period of posturing resulting in a stalemate that finally prompted the abandonment of what they, and other deserters, see as a sinking ship.

It has all come about because of a concern amongst producers of quality Cava that the original good name of the DO and its produce has been besmirched by the veritable tsunami of cheap Cavas that really don’t deserve the name!

It can’t have escaped your notice that every supermarket has been chock-full of Cava during this festive period. Christmas and New Year have passed but the Three Kings celebration is just around the corner so huge sales will no doubt continue. In fact over 50% of all Cava sold in a year in Spain is sold at this time – that’s millions of bottles, literally millions!

Many outlets have offered tempting discounts in an effort to drive sales further, some have slashed them to what surely must be the loss-leader level in the hope that those clutching their bargain Cava will also buy other products whilst in the store. Nothing wrong in that of course – it’s business.

But I’d ask you to consider for a moment how it is possible to slash the price of a bottle of Cava that retails for less than a couple of Euros anyway? But the lowest end of the price scale has also been subject to this discounting and needless to say, sales have rocketed.

It is the belief of the Cava Refuseniks that there has been an equal and opposite reaction in terms of the quality of the Cava at this lower end. Whilst sales have gone viral, quality has plummeted. And it’s not just at Christmas.

There are many Cavas that I honestly wouldn’t touch. I’m not being a Cava Snob and I’m certainly painfully aware of the current and long-running financial disaster that is Spain and the consequent need to tighten belts. But these ridiculously cheap Cavas are nothing like the real McCoy. There are bubbles and that is the limit of the similarity!

These cheap end, tasteless, anorexic Cavas offer the same inviting ‘explosion’ as the pressure inside the bottle pops the cork but it’s an open and shut case of flattery and deception, of breach of promise! However no litigation will follow. The producers have obeyed all the rules – the approved grapes have been grown in the right areas and so on. Thus they have every right to call their produce Cava and sell it at whatever price they like.

The problem that the quality minded producers see, and have no doubt brought up many times in discussions with the Consejo Regulador (Ruling Council) of the DO, is that there is no quality control. If you follow the rules you can call it Cava, no matter what it tastes like, or more accurately in this case, if it actually tastes of nothing! In this, the Denominación de Origen Cava is not alone, there are other Consejo Reguladores who have been similarly apathetic as the good name of a specific area of production has been gradually eroded by a river of second and third rate wine.

The rebel band of ex-Cava producers won’t be able to call their wines Cava having withdrawn, Cava interruptous style, from the DO before it’s too late, and further damage is done to their good name! So they’ll simply call it Spanish Sparkling Wine, or more likely in Spanish, Vino Espumoso.

But this will lead to further confusion – there is already Vino Espumoso in Spain. Several areas (watch this space soon!) have made sparkling wine for years, using the traditional method (aka the Champagne Method, though one isn’t allowed to put that on a label!), but with different grape varieties than those officially approved by DO Cava and of course in areas different than those where Cava can be made.

Some Cava makers, and consumers too, have poured scorn on these wines calling them ‘wannabe’ Cavas, dismissing them as cheap, uninspiring copies. But hold on – there will soon be Raventos i Blanc (et al) Spanish Sparkling Wine, and as they’ll be made by such well respected producers it will be impossible to laugh these off!

My guess is also that there will be an increased interest in Vinos Espumosos, Spanish Sparkling Wine, which as yet doesn’t have the same cache as Cava, but probably soon will have. This will be excellent news for the current Espumoso producers, albeit ironic, and perhaps to their collective chagrin, considering that after years in the shadow of Cava it will be Cava makers who will be responsible for shining the spotlight on their produce!

What does it all mean for you and me though? Well, there will still be top class, Champagne-equalling, and beating, Cava. Many famous names are staying put, perhaps feeling they have more chance of effecting beneficial change from within, now that the whistle has been blown.

But there will also be first rate Spanish Sparkling Wine, as there in fact always has been, though, until now, it’s never been given its due. Plus of course there will still be the frankly insipid under two Euros end of the Cava market.

So something of a minefield for the consumer? Well the answer is in an old homily – when it comes to Cava/Sparkling Wine, you get what you pay for! If it’s priced at the lowest end of the scale, that’s what it’s worth! It’s still true to say that in Spain, up to a point, and that point is determined by the depth of your pockets, the more you pay, the better the wine.

I have a simple answer which would have saved all this gnashing of teeth, though I’m sure that the refuseniks have already mooted it. Why not bring in quality control to the DO Cava and have two levels – Cava Superior, of course for the better quality Cavas, and simply Cava for the others? Works for me!

Contact Colin: and

First Published Costa News Group, Jan 2013



There isn’t much to thank La Crisis for, here in Spain. But you don’t want me to list, yet again, the financial problems that we have been having for so long now. So I’m going to focus instead on at least one good thing that has come about because of the economic downturn.

From a wine perspective it’s been a super time to be here in Spain. Firstly there continue to be some truly excellent offers re wine prices and special deals on multi-buys and, when we’re occasionally feeling flush, on cases too. I’m sure that you, also, have taken advantage of this tiny silver lining, edging, if not surrounding, the metaphoric grey clouds of recession! I know I have!

But that’s not all. There has, I think, been a general ‘tidying up’ where bodegas have realised that in such a competitive market, quality is all! Thus, in an effort to drive sales, the standard of even the cheaper end of the market has improved. It’s very difficult to find really poor wine in Spain nowadays – would that this had been so when I first came here!

So that’s another plus. But the one that perhaps encourages me the most is the fact that Spanish wine-makers are experimenting more and more. Different blends are being trialled; varieties new to Spain are being planted; innovative wine-making techniques are being tested; and even some old traditional practises are being brought back to life with terrific results! The upshot is a vast expansion of wines for you and me to try. 

The prestigious, though relatively young, Bodegas Baron De Ley of DOCa La Rioja is one such producer who continues with its tried, tested and loved traditional style wines but who is also experimenting. Baron de Ley’s Varietals range is a case in point, and a very tasty one at that!


Most Rioja wine has been made from a blend of the approved grape varieties of the DO – Tempranillo, the most used, Graciano, Mazuelo, Garnacha and Maturana amongst others – for decades. Tempranillo is likely to remain the basic building block of La Rioja with it taking the lion’s share of most blends but there has, over the last few years, been experimentation with the other varietals giving them more leading roles than bit parts.


Baron de Ley has taken it a step further though. They have produced a range of three mono-varietal wines, Tempranillo (of course, if it aint bust don’t fix it!) but also Graciano and the far less well known Maturana. I was lucky enough to receive this triumvirate of, up to now, experimental wines, and if my taste buds are anything to go by, this range will swiftly move from the merely experimental and be added permanently to the Baron de Ley portfolio.

Considering that the Spanish word for law is ‘Ley’ it’s entirely appropriate as well as being quite striking that the labels on these series of wines look a little like a legal document, duly sealed in wax! Standing in a group the wines are impressive.

Varietal Tempranillo 2010 – initially a quite vanilla perfume on the nose, very Rioja-esque and therefore keeping in touch with its roots. After ten minutes the vanilla became more integrated on the nose with some super soft red fruit coming through and a delightful, meaty (roast lamb, appropriately, considering that this dish seems almost synonymous with Rioja red wine!).


It’s pleasantly chewy with a good balance of dark and light red fruit, plums and loganberry. There’s also a slight earthy, farmyard aroma with a good balance of acidity and tannin as well as the good fruit presence. There’s a slight bitterness on the finish endearing this wine to roast lamb, claro, but also, considering its refreshing acidic style, to rich game dishes in order to cut through the richness. 

Varietal Graciano – there are two tongue-in-cheek schools of thought as to how the name Graciano originated: one suggests that Graciano comes from the Spanish word Gracia, grace or joy in English, suggesting an elegant, graceful wine; and the other, rather more derogatory suggestion, is that it comes from Rioja growers of old whose response when offered this variety to grow in their vineyards would say, Gracias no!

Baron de Ley’s Varietal Graciano 2009 lies securely in the former of those two possibilities. There are gentle violet aromas and jammy, brambly dark fruit flavours with a good tannin/acidity/fruit balance. It has an initial slightly thin taste and feel which rallies on the mid-palate. On the finish there are dark chocolate notes with a slightly more bitter finish overriding the fruit. Drink this wine with game and cured meats and maybe some mature cheeses.

Varietal Maturana 2010 – highly purple coloured, this wine came a very close second  (by a cork head!) to the Tempranillo. It’s strength is its fruit content. It’s rich and fruity in the mouth with balanced acidity and sweet tannins. There’s a very slight varietal characteristic green pepper aroma blending pleasantly with some smoky menthol and earthy minerality. There’s also a touch of Mocha and coffee on the nose with some liquorice in there too

Innovation is the key at the moment and here is an example where a trial results in a success and we consumers can enjoy a different style Rioja, and not have to pay too much for it!

PS If you’re interested in learning more about Spanish wine, and having a super and very tasty time doing so, then why not join my e-mail list so that you hear about the many wine tastings I present and bodega visits I organise. I also present private wine   tastings for groups which are always informative and great fun! And, why not go further and enjoy a wine appreciation course, tailored to your requirements – either individually or in small groups? Please contact me as below! and

First Published Costa News Group, Jan 2013



Our recent sojourn in the UK was great! We love to see family and old friends and of course we are always trying the wines that are commonly available in the land of our birth!

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – I believe the UK is the best country in the world to buy wine! The variety of styles and the exhaustive choice really are second to none. All the wine producing countries of the world sell their wares in the UK, plus of course, the English and Welsh also make wine themselves! It’s an Aladin’s Cave of a country!

There’s also the advantage of the UK being the country which boasts the greatest number of Masters of Wine (many of whom act as consultants for the wine buying retail outlets of Britain) as well as the large number of wine articles and Radio and TV programmes that are available. This again leads me to an oft repeated comment of mine that the British public are probably the best informed wine consumers in the world!

A fact that is far too slowly becoming recognised by Spanish wine retailers and restaurateurs whose very gradually slackening head-in-the-sand attitude has been a source of considerable frustration for this particular commentator over the sixteen years I’ve been banging my head against their brick walls of incredulous denial!

Fortunately, forward thinking bodegas (whose numbers have swelled dramatically over the last ten years) and at last some Spanish wine retailers (witness my final paragraph here, for example) have acknowledged that the British Euro (Euros spent in Spain by British residents and second home owners) makes a significant and positive contribution to their balance sheets, and are now actively targeting (in the nicest possible way!) UK ex-Pats with their promotional campaigns etc.

From this point of view things are improving in Spain, though there’s still a lot to catch up on when comparing this aspect of the wine trade to that in the UK. However where Spain fares far better than the UK is, judging by my latest visit, in the quality, the sheer pleasure of the taste and aromas of so many of the wines on sale for the prices being charged!

You will surely have noticed when last in Britain that the major supermarkets have a very broad selection of different wines, but when one considers their quality, the choice dramatically narrows. The more so when considering the price point and the large number of discounted wines.

When in UK supermarkets we are assailed by offers of wines, normally (we are led to believe!) in the, say, 6 – 8 pounds price bracket. These are offered at the ‘bargain’ price of about  5 – 7 pounds, corresponding to a discount of approximately 20% off their ‘normal’ price. The wines fly off the shelves and it seems almost everyone drinks them.

But are they happy with them? Well, given that price has to be king for most of us in these hard economic times, I’m sure that most people in the UK are either quite happy, or convince themselves to be so! However, considering that a wine that is discounted(!) to five pounds actually means that people are paying approximately 6·15€, we can taste the fact that they are really being ripped off!

For just over six Euros I can think of very many Spanish wines readily available here that will knock the socks off wines currently being sold in the UK in this price bracket! In Spain we lucky to be able to enjoy far richer, fruit driven and aromatic wines for that sort of figure, and if you trade up a couple of Euros, the difference is even more pronounced when compared, for example with the ‘special offer’ wines if they were sold at their ‘normal’ price!

Consider also that the duty on wine in the UK is approximately 1·5 pounds. Add that to the cost of transport from the country of origin (it’s a helluva way from Chile!); the cost of the bottle, cork/synthetic closure/screwcap, labels and foil, subtract this figure from the purchase price and see how much you are left with!

This paltry sum is of course the real value of the wine – no wonder so many of these ‘bargain’ wines are thin, insipid and wholly undistinguished.

But not all of them! I enjoyed several of the various different New Zealand Sauvignon Blancs I tasted; one of the Pinot Grigios, from South Africa, I think; and an excellent, remarkably inexpensive generic white Burgundy.

I was mostly disappointed with the reds. Last year I was bemoaning the glut of over-rich (to the point of being ‘sickly’!), powerful Chilean reds – how I missed them this year! There were very few, with Argentina and South Africa having much more shelf space this year, though the Maipo Chilean Merlot was good.

One Côtes du Rhône (chosen because of the IWSC medal sticker on the bottle – a sure mark of quality) was very good and I did very much enjoy one or two excellent Champagnes.

Over all though I’m so grateful to Señor Daniel Castaño of Bodegas Castaño, DO Yecla, who sent a case to our address in England – I guess he’s been to the UK recently and was worried that I wouldn’t be enjoying the wine available there!

Received, gratefully, after wine tasting at CAVA, Moraira, Jan 2013

Hi Beverly; Hi Hugh (or should that be High Hugh?),

(This generous comment has been sent by its authors, Mick and Ros, to the group’s organisers, Hugh and Beverly – as you might have guessed, Hugh is particularly tall!)

Many, many thanks for organising such a splendid evening at Cava. It certainly helped that we knew most of the lovely people there and, of course we assumed that the tapas would be superb. Colin is always a very safe pair of hands guaranteed to entertain and educate and he didn’t disappoint – despite his recent accident (aaaarh!). He really does wear his knowledge and experience lightly, doesn’t he? Anyway, great evening, lots of fun, excellent tapas and gorgeous wine – our sort of evening, really!

CAVA, Moraira's Gourmet Tapas/Wine Bar!

Lots of love, Mick (and Ros, of course) xx