The Christmas Wish List




Yes, I know, it seems a bit late in the day to me, too –  but this article, recommending wines to be served with the Christmas Dinner, available at best just six days before the big event, is a response to readers’  comments and requests!


A number of readers have said that in previous years my recommendations, published a few weeks in advance of Christmas, have been lost, along with the rest of  whichever of the Costa News Group’s four main English language newspapers they regularly purchase, before they’ve had the time to go and buy them! I guess that those who buy the papers (about 150,000 of us each week) don’t naturally think of referring to the internet ( click Cork Talk) where recent articles are all archived.


So if this is perfect timing for you, I’m pleased – if, it’s a little late, my apologies, but  blame the others, willya!


The opening celebratory/ice-breaking/aperitif/starter wine, at that rate, an almost  catch-all wine, just has to be a sparkler! But which one? A Cava from Cataluña, a Cava from one of the other zones permitted to make Cava, or a Spanish Sparkling Wine, other than Cava! What a wonderful, if difficult, choice!


This has been a very difficult decision for me to make – I love Spanish Sparkling Wine, in practically all its forms (almost all of the sweet styles, are not for me) and this year in particular I’ve tasted more than ever before. I’ve been lucky enough to try young, Reserva and Gran Reserva Cavas in the natural home of Cava, Cataluña; as well as those styles, but from outside of this zone.


I’ve also had great pleasure in tasting sparkling wine from Cataluña that is not, in fact Cava, as well as wonderful fizz from several different parts of Spain. Tough call – but in the end, for this Christmas 2014, I’ve gone for the sparkling wine that has delighted me more (albeit, marginally more) than all the others.


You are certain to impress your guests as well as yourself with Albet i Noya’s Brut Barrica 21 Reserva 3, Clàssic Penedés Sparkling Wine. It is simply stunning!


The Pinot Noir and Chardonnay (the mainstays of Champagne) which make up the cuvée have been fermented for three weeks in French (Alliers) oak which, on opening, gives rise to the tantalising initial aromas of caramel and butterscotch which quickly make room for the traditional panaderia Sparkling Wine aromas of brioche as well as Danish pastry notes, with a citrus and heady floral suggestion too.


On the palate the wine is rich, voluminous, weighty and yet, elegant and subtle. You’ll find a tight acidity which keeps the wine fresh even after its 36 months ageing on its lees, En Rima, in the depths of the cellars. This ageing, which in Cava terms would qualify it as a Gran Reserva (Clàssic Penedès has different regulations), ensures a depth and complexity that is not normally found in many Sparkling Wines.


The oldest vines harvested for this outstanding Sparkling Wine are not yet 25 years of age so we can expect even more opulence, complexity and depth in future vintages. With only 6 grams of residual sugar it’s one of the drier Bruts, and all the better for it. Perfectly crafted, wonderful fizz, which you can happily pair with many dishes, including meat!


I’m taking you back to Cataluña for my white wine selection, in fact to a much vaunted Cava producer, Canals & Munné. However, whilst I love their Cavas, I’m recommending one of their still wines this year.


The still wine production, red, rosado and white, is somewhat in the shadow of Canals & Munné’s world famous Cavas, but it shouldn’t be, as there are excellent wines within this portfolio.


My favourite of the still wines (though it was very close, with both this wine and one of their red wines achieving the same scores) was their Gran Blanc Princeps Xarel.lo Fermentado en Barrica 2013.


For me, Xarel.lo is the new Chardonnay. It’s everyone’s friend as it can be fresh and fruity, more citrus than Chardonnay-esque exotic, with white floral and nutty notes too. Plus, like Chardonnay, it can take on very different flavours and aromas when oak is used in its elaboration, as with this wine. Either way, you’ll have a wine that is aromatic, quite deeply, to deeply flavoured, rounded and rich, with elegance too.


It’s the depth of flavour and the elegance of this FB (fermented in barrel) wine that I find most enchanting – a style that I can just go on drinking until the bottle is finished! It’s also a style that will sit wonderfully well with starters and, for those who prefer white wine to red with their turkey, it will pair perfectly with the main event!


As you might imagine, this being a country where there are so many excellent red wines, there was a plethora of real quality wines from which to choose the red wine that I am recommending for Christmas Dinner 2014.


Ultimately I had to choose just one. Acusp 2012 is made with 100% Pinot Noir! Unfortunately one doesn’t have much of a chance to taste good, and above, Pinot Noir in Spain. In Burgundy, it’s wonderful – rich but always with great elegance. It needs a cold climate really. But, with the average 1,000 metres altitude at which the vines are situated and the high density planting of Bodegas Castell D’Encus’ (DO Costers del Segre) Pinot Noir vineyard, the aroma and flavour profiles required of this demanding variety can be emulated.


It has a lovely silk negligee feel, with ripe, but not over-ripe, strawberries on the palate slowly overcoming the earthy forest leaves aroma. It’s juicy in the mouth and the fruit makes a presence throughout, but there are layers of flavour and a depth of pleasure as well as thought provoking complexity. The personification of elegance, this wine has everything!


I’m going to Jerez, for my final choice, the wine to accompany Christmas Pudding/Cake/Mince Pies, though I’m not, this time at least, going to recommend a Sweet PX (Pedro Ximénez) Sherry. But it’s close.


Lustau East India Cream Sherry is mahogany coloured and is one of the finest examples of this sherry style, so popular in the UK. It’s made by blending aged sweet sherry, made with the PX, and equally aged dry Oloroso made from the Palomino variety, the most widely used grape in Jerez.


It is then returned to large wooden casks and kept in the hot and humid atmosphere of the ‘sacrista’, the cellar – in a successful attempt to replicate the conditions under which the sherry casks of the 16th Century would have been kept whilst lashed to the decks during its voyage from Spain to the Americas! The resulting wine has an extraordinary smooth, deep and complex character.


It’s sweet and rich with raison notes on the palate and nose and some coffee liqueur hints with a dash of caramel on the finish. A truly excellent finale to a wonderful feast!


Merry Christmas!


Don’t forget you can hear about all the wine related events I organise by simply being on my e-mail list – plus there are some exciting developments which will be read first by those on the list. There’s no charge, of course, and it’s so easy – just send me an e-mail and I’ll add your name and e-mail address!


Also don’t forget to regularly visit + you can follow me on Twitter @colinonwine

Tasting, ‘The Venue’ Gastro Bar, Moraira!

Hi Colin,
Thanks for a great presentation last night at the Venue.  My friends and I really enjoyed this.
Could you please add my email address to your list.
I would like arrange a wine tasting for about 20 guests at our home in Golden Valley next year with you, possibly in June or July.
Kind Regards,

Cava Dinner, Moraira, Costa Blanca



Señor Pere Bonet, El Presidente del Consejo Regulador, DO Cava, with Cava Dinner Presenter, Colin Harkness
Señor Pere Bonet, El Presidente del Consejo Regulador, DO Cava, with Cava Dinner Presenter, Colin Harkness

Whilst it is true that Claire and I spent our Wedding Night in Moraira’s elegant Hotel Swiss, this is not the eponymous marriage to which I refer. Perhaps it’s best that we keep that to ourselves, dear readers!


No, the maridaje I’m talking about here is one of a gastronomic nature – the pairing of different styles of Spain’s wonderful sparkling wine, Cava, with the varied dishes of a top class, four-course dinner in a highly rated restaurant, that of the Hotel Swiss.  And what a night it was!


I remember way, back during the dying embers of August when dining on a superb lunch in the beautiful 11th Century fortress that is home to Bodegas Segura Viudas, discussing, with my host ,the President of the Consejo Regulador, Denominación de Origen Cava, Señor Pere Bonet, the possibility of presenting a Cava orientated dinner. It was an honour to be asked to present such a dinner, albeit a little nerve-racking as the President was to be in attendance on the night in question!


I was very excited about the prospect – you see it’s the concept that I love, as well as the the protagonists, quality Cava and haute cuisine. I once went to such a dinner twenty-plus years ago, in fact in the UK, where the sparkling wine is question was a lesser one, it’s true – a French fizz, named Shampoo or something like that(!) and enjoying it immensely.


Like my fellow invitees on the night, it was a fascinating to learn that, whilst there can be no better celebratory drink than sparkling wine, celebration is not it’s only raison d’etre. When a balanced, full dinner is served with a well chosen Cava styles, the effect is something of a revelation. I felt it my duty to illustrate this to the full house who arrived in their finery, befitting such a venue!


But what do I mean by ‘the different Cava styles’?. Well, probably most of us buy Cava Brut, and probably the young versions of this classic ‘style’ of fizz. Such a sparkling wine is legally defined as having no more than 12gms of sugar/litre as well as having had a minimum of nine months ‘en rima’ before it is released on to the market.


‘En rima’ means the wine is left with its lees (the dead yeast that was added to the base wine in order to facilitate the second fermentation, that which creates carbon dioxide bubbles) whilst in the inverted bottle. So the different ‘styles’ of Cava are derived from variations on these themes – the amount of permitted grams of sugar and the length of time ‘en rima’. These variations result in Cavas of very different styles – that’s: flavours, aromas, body, depth, complexity and more.


When this is understood, it doesn’t take a degree in the science of food pairing to realise that these differing styles of Cava will therefore suit a variety of different dishes. And that’s exactly what we all enjoyed at Hotel Swiss, just at the end of November.

Revelers, reveling - at the Swiss Hotel, Moraira, where a super 4-course dinner was accompanied solely by different styles of Cava!
Revelers, reveling – at the Swiss Hotel, Moraira, where a super 4-course dinner was accompanied solely by different styles of Cava!

The first of the styles we tasted was a Joven (young) Brut Cava. Made from the three  most commonly used traditional grape varieties, Macabeo, Parellada and Xarel.lo, 33+% each. The wine delighted us all with its clean, refreshing acidity and its pairing with the amuse bouches and innovative first course of salad with jamón serrano, pear, lettuce leaves and baked cherry tomatoes plus dressing. A good start, and in fact for several tasters, their favourite of the four different styles we were to taste!


The Cava served with next course, a perfectly cooked and presented fillet of sea bass, upped the ante in terms of depth of flavour, whilst retaining that oh so important freshness, the foundation on which all styles of Cava should be based. The Reserva Cava we tasted here had, had two months longer than the 15 months minimum time spent on its lees (en rima) in order for it to qualify as a Reserva.


For many of us it was clear that we were experiencing a deeper, fuller and more complex sparkling wine with a greater mouthfeel and weight. The 50% Macabeo made it’s presence felt in terms of the required acidity and slight green apple aroma and flavour, whilst the 35% Parellada added elegance and an understated floral and slightly earthy nose. The Xarel.lo in the blend was just enough to ensure a full and long finish. I thought it excellent!


Having experienced a meat course served with a Gran Reserva Cava when in Cataluña, coincidentally on the opening day of the 2014 Cava harvest, I knew that such a style of Cava, in this case a Brut Nature, the driest possible style of sparkling wine with a maximum of only 3grams of sugar per litre, would manage the challenge set before it. This Cava took part in an elegant dance of flavours, body and richness, served as it was with Magret de Canard.


A Gran Reserva Cava has to have had a minimum of 36 months en rima – this weighty and yet noticeably elegant, full-flavoured and enticingly perfumed venerable Cava has enjoyed, rather regally in my view, an ageing of 45 months before its release. It’s a wine that, whilst complementing such a flavoursome dish, also needs to be savoured on its own. A wonderful Cava!


I’d like to acknowledge here the advice that my UK based colleague; Fiona Beckett of, gave me regarding the final pairing – dessert with a Brut Rosado Cava. A number of ideas were circulating my small brain but it was Fiona’s recommendation that we paired this wine with a cheesecake that focussed myself and the Head Chef of the Swiss Hotel.


Made with Trepat, Monastrell and Garnacha (all black grape varieties, of course) and having had a full 15 months en rima, this Cava has balanced freshness, fruit aromas and flavours as well as depth. Red cherries, raspberries and redcurrant, with a passing nod to pomegranate seeds, abound, complementing rather nicely the black forest fruits of the cheesecake. Lovely and pretty too!


And the prevalence of all the cavas we tasted on this rather special evening – well it’s actually a secret, that hasn’t been revealed to me either! The Consejo Regulador has generic examples of all the different styles of Cava (we’ve considered just four in this article – there are more) made specifically for them as a backbone to their promotional activities all over the world. Therefore advertising that which Cava generally can provide, rather than that which specific bodegas make.


So, now that you hopefully have a better understanding of Cava and all its possibilities you can seek out bodegas making the many styles of Cava whose wines suit you personally. And let’s face it – such research isn’t exactly a hardship! Enjoy!

Oh - and you'll need these!
Oh – and you’ll need these!

Contact Colin: & through his website as well as via Twitter @colinonwine .