Trouble In DO Valdeorras!



 I’m a worried man. Should I be? Am I overreacting? Is that how you spell ‘overreacting’, double ‘r’? See, I’m a nervous wrreck!

I’ve just heard that there is serious discontent in one of my favourite wine producing areas, DO Valdeorras, in Galicia, NW Spain. White wines made with the area’s indigenous grape variety, Godello, for me, easily rival those made with Albariño in neighbouring DO Rías Baixas.

I’ve been same so for years and have been most gratified during the last couple to see that my far more illustrious wine writing colleagues and Masters of Wine have concurred.

However, according to Decanter Magazine, the Chairman of the Consejo Regulador, the Regulating Council, has just resigned in a dispute about the grape harvest. Señor Luis Garcia Pando has accused some producers, particularly the co-operatives, of deliberately promoting higher yields than the maximum allowed by the DO.

The inference being that the more grapes produced the more wine will be made, but of a lesser quality. The extrapolation of this concern is that the good (in my view, excellent!) reputation of DO Valdeorras would be damaged.

Needless to say the producers concerned have strenuously denied this and, supported by the agricultural unions, they have forced a vote of ‘no confidence’ which in turn forced Señor Garcia to resign.

There seems to have been a technical argument used to support their case, as Señor Garcia had threatened to take the offending producers to court, which they argue is beyond his terms of reference. However the basic point, re over production damaging quality does not seem to have been addressed.

There has thus been a schism created between member bodegas: those who support Señor Garcia argue that they are concerned about the quality of wines produced in DO Valdeorras; those opposed deny the accusations saying also, “ . . . no-one would doubt the quality of Valdeorras, even with more grape production.”.

Both sides have an agenda. It seems to me that those who support the now ex-Chairman, Señor Garcia, have a wholly visible goal – to maintain the quality of DO Valdeorras wines. Whereas the agenda of those who oppose them is loosely hidden.

Growers, presumably members of the agricultural unions, are paid per kilo of grapes. More grapes, more money. And their tag-team partners, the co-operatives, want as many grapes as they can find in order to make as much wine as possible to sell to, an as yet, unsuspecting public.

The first steps on the slippery slope to a quality downgrade have already been made. It would appear that the naysayers have been hiding their heads, not in sand, but in the slate-strewn soils of DO Valedorras, and therefore not paying attention to what’s been happening in: DO Navarra, DO Binissalem-Majorca; DO Rueda, DO Cava, DO La Mancha, and the latest, DOCa La Rioja?

In all the above DOs there have been problems, mostly different from those facing DO Valdeorras, but some similar. All have resulted in bodegas, often famous names, abandoning their respective DOs (with the exception so far of DOCa La Rioja which has recently convened a meeting designed to placate the unhappy bodega(s?) concerned, the result of which is not yet known).

And the result of this small, sometimes larger (e.g. DO Cava) exodus from the DOs above? Well collateral damage has been done to the DOs and their faithful members. The ‘no smoke without fire’ proverb holds sway and consumers have been influenced. It’s been something of a PR disaster and even regional Governments have become involved with a view to damage limitation.

And what of those bodegas that have deserted the sinking(?) ship? Well, there has often been a very pro-active publicity campaign, where bodegas have diplomatically side-stepped awkward questions from the press, whose answers could have poured scorn on the Consejos Regulador concerned. Most have publicly been at pains not to criticise the DOs, preferring to promote their new and different status – though who knows what has been said behind the closed doors of the Consejos Regulador offices!

And finally, what of we consumers? Am I right to be worried? What are the portents of these small cracks in the solid fabric of several of the official wine producing areas of Spain? Will others follow suit in further zones? How will it affect you, and me? Will Spain eventually become ‘New World’ and abandon all the red tape, rules and regulations that simply don’t exist in countries such as USA, Australia, New Zealand etc? Is this the first chimes of the death knell for the structure of the Spanish wine world?

Well, we can still buy wines and sparkling wines from those bodegas which have left their respective DOs. Indeed, it could be argued that such wines will be better than they were when made under the auspices of the DO as the bodegas concerned will have to make that much more effort in order to re-establish themselves.

(It’s also interesting to note that some of these deserting bodegas have banded together and drawn up a set of new rules and regulations giving birth to a new ‘DO style’ area of production, which might dispense with my point above about going more ‘New World’, and which perhaps, in the future, will eventually have its own similar problems to those from which the current DOs are suffering! Once institutionalised  . . . !)

But what about the DOs from whence the deserters came? This is my worry. The bodegas which left, clearly had some problem with the DO, or the DO rules etc. These problems are not always clear and in fact may not affect us much?

However, in the case of DO Valdeorras, I am worried for sure. The growers’ spokesman’s apparent affirmation (he can’t mean it, surely?) that more grapes will not harm quality, just doesn’t stack up. Has this guy never heard of green pruning (where vines have some of their forming bunches pruned to ensure fewer, but richer, grapes per vine)? Is he not aware of the fact that grapes, used for certain wines, which are harvested from old, less productive vines is a selling point?

At this moment in time, I love the dry white wines made with Godello (and others) from DO Valdeorras, but I wonder how long my affair will last?

VIII Muestra de DO Bullas –

BULLAS DO LOGO vino-do-murcia-bullas

It’s an honour to be invited as a judge on the VIII Muestra de Bullas, the 8th annual DO Bullas Wine Competition! I’ve just received the programme for this two day event and I’m really looking forward to it: 2nd – 4th March 2015.

The event starts with a Tasting of DO Bullas Wines at the Mueso de Vino in Bullas where all competing Bodegas present their wares for the invitees to taste.

Next morning the Tasting Panel convenes at 10:00hrs for the competiton when all submitted wines will, of course, be tasted blind. Wines will be listed in various different categories – e.g. Young Red; Red Crianza; etc. All wines will be tasted and given scores by all the judges. These scores will then be collated and the winning wines in each of the categories will be known – but only to the members of the Consejo Regulador, the Regulating Committee.

There is a Gala Dinner in the evening at which the winners will be announced and the trophies presented.

As the only international judge to be invited, I’m especially honoured to be present and I’m really looking forward to it all!

BULLAS DO LOGO vino-do-murcia-bullas

Restaurant Wine Lists


I’m not sure if this should be categorised as a Blog, or is it more of a Rant? Perhaps it’s a sad lament, a plea from the heart or a cry of despondency? You decide!

We recently went to a restaurant not far from home, inland a little from the coast of SE Spain. We were glad to be able to reserve a table. The restaurant is very popular. We’ve been ‘on spec’ a few times, only to be turned away as it was full. Indeed, if you want a table from early Spring to late Autumn, you have to reserve, and well in advance too.

The restaurant was full when we arrived, apart from our table and one other, which in fact, remarkably, was left lonely for the rest of the night. We spotted a few faces we knew and judging by the languages we could hear being spoken, there were a number of different nationalities present. I’m not sure of the nationality of the owner, nor the staff, but the cuisine is international with a bias towards good quality meats.

I try not to eat too much meat and I like fish anyway. My choice was a touch limited – as I said, the restaurant is quite meat orientated and there was a good choice for carnivores.

I was a little disappointed with my meal, though Claire enjoyed hers, but that’s not what this Blog is about. The source of my real disappointment, nay, by despondency, lay between the pages of the notably undistinguished wine list. You might have guessed?

wine list JackFryWL

I’m not a wine snob – I can’t afford to be! I don’t seek out the most expensive wines on a list, expecting them to be the best (it is still true in Spain that, re wine, you get what you pay for: the cheaper the wine the less satisfactory – the more expensive, up to a point, the better the quality).

Almost invariably I look, first, at the House Wines – there are two reasons for this: firstly, the choice of house wine will determine, for me, the interest that the owners have in their wines; secondly, this is usually the more economic option!

I then look at the rest of the list. Again this can be for two different reasons: if I’m unimpressed with the house wines (and I’m sad to say that this is almost always the case, here, and a major contributing part of my despondency) I’d like to see what alternatives there are, within my budget; also I like to see if I can be tempted by some good quality wines, some variety.

The restaurant in question failed on both counts – poor house wine and limited, predictable choice on the ‘fine wine’ list. And this, without raising, what for me is a fundamental part of a restaurant, the concept of quality wines to pair with quality food.

Why despair, you may ask? Well, I do on three counts: firstly that the restaurant in question takes so little interest in its house wines. This particular red wine came onto the market probably about 10 years ago and to something of a fanfare too. For house wine, it was good – fruit orientated, decent length, enjoyable on its own and with meat dishes.

Demand started to exceed production. The bodega caved in and started compromising: asking each vine to go that extra mile and produce more grapes; planning new vineyards and harvesting grapes for wine before the vines were mature enough. You’ve seen it before. Most restaurant clients, saw the label, ‘knew’ it was the same wine and didn’t stop to consider the quality. Had they done so, they would have noticed that the wine didn’t go by any other name, but it didn’t smell as sweet!

The cynic might suggest that this was always the bodega’s plan. Launch a new wine, using established vines and limiting their yield, thus seducing consumers. Then gradually dumbing it down. Well, I don’t know which is true, but I do know that the wine is not as good as it was and should not have been in this restaurant.

Secondly, I despair because, I’m afraid to say that so many restaurant clients are prepared to accept, what for me is unacceptable house wine. The restaurants aren’t entirely at fault. If their clients drink the wine without comment, why should they bother seeking out better wines? Why possibly restrict their profits when there is apparently no need to do so?

Part of the blame lies with us – sad isn’t it?

And thirdly, I despair because of the obvious lack of thought regarding the ‘fine wine’ list. Number one thought – get a couple of Riojas on the list, they’ll sell! Of course there’s no debate about the quality of the Rioja, it’s the name that will sell the wine. But, of course, there is Rioja and there is Rioja. Does the restaurateur ever taste the wine before it goes onto the list?


 Oh, and Ribera del Duero, that’s quite popular now – bit expensive, though. I wonder if our suppliers have a cheap one? Number two thought?!

What about, for example, some quality from the DO in which the restaurant finds itself? Do the restaurateurs even know that, for example, in the Valencia region there are DO Valencia and DO Alicante wines that consistently score far higher marks in the wine guides than many Riojas?

And what about white wines? Well, Rioja sells well . . . . .! And, yes, Rueda, but let’s stock those Verdejo’s that use cultivated yeasts designed to enhance the aroma  profile of grapes which come from very high yielding, young vines which haven’t yet got the maturity to do it for themselves. But, no, I’m giving the restaratuers too much credit here – do they even know that?!

No, it’s more like – let’s choose one of the cheaper Rueda’s, one with Verdejo prominent on the label, yes, but blended with some characterless, young Viura! What about Rueda Sauvignon – no, bit pricey that!

Please, let’s all make an effort to kick out the poor house wines, let’s not accept the mundane. Let’s hassle the restaurateurs to put some effort into their lists and seek out good quality from established areas of production but also from lesser known ones, and certainly from local producers.

Tell them that we won’t accept wines that are made specifically for the restaurant trade in an effort to keep consumers ignorant of their mark-ups. Neither will we accept poor wines whose names are hidden from us because the bodegas have renamed the same wine, just to sell to the trade!

We are aware that the restaurant has to make a profit and that there will be a mark-up, so tempt us with wines that we know as well as wines of similar (and better) quality that we have yet to discover but which we can find in the wine shops.

Will this Blog/Rant/Plea/Lament make a difference? I doubt it – but it could!

I need a drink!

Colin Harkness Feb 2015

Twitter: @colinonwine

Youtube: Search Colin Harkness On Wine

Quantitative Easing – a Wine perspective!



No, my Economics ‘A’ Level of years ago (too many, don’t ask!) does not furnish me with the credentials to write anything at all meaningful about financial matters – as my bank manager will surely endorse! So, as we are constantly hearing at the moment that ‘Quantitative Easing’ is all the rage in the lands of the Euro, you may wonder why I have the audacity to head this week’s Cork Talk with such a title.


Well, my version of Quantitative Easing is entirely different and, I hope, makes far more enjoyable reading than that in the Financial Columns of Europe’s newspapers.


I remember, when a student so many years ago (I told you, don’t ask!) my fellow PE (Physical Education) types and I took part in far too many ‘quantitative easing’ sessions. These sessions might have come about after a certain sporting loss, or after the stress of exams (believe it or not, when I was at College our PE Department was in fact the best qualified, in terms of ‘O’ and ‘A’Levels). Although, it has to be said,  such sessions also manifested themselves simply because it was Wednesday (mid-week match day) or the weekend!


You’ve perhaps cottoned on now that the quantitative easing to which I refer was the, well let’s be honest, drinking sessions in which most other students indulged as well, and not just those bent on, eventually, becoming PE teaching pillars of society!


Now, before I’m castigated by those on the moral high-ground, I’m not, of course, advocating that we should ease our worries by engaging in quantitative drinking sessions. Not at all. Perhaps I should coin a word in it’s place, ‘qualtitative’ might fit the bill.


In other words, I think it’s safe to suggest that a glass of quality wine, or sparkling wine, can very often help us unwind. And it seems that statistics are on my side.


Returning to the ‘quantitative’ once again, but remembering the Disraeli quote:


“There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies and statistics.”


I am encouraged to see statistics, from many different quarters (which is why I don’t wholly go along with Benjamin) proving that wine consumption (yes, all right, responsible consumption!) in Europe, and indeed the World, is increasing.


For example, but without quoting the exact figure (largely because I’ve lost it!), Spain’s ‘en granel’ (bulk) wine exports have increased over the last year. Now that’s quantitative easing, and how, as ‘bulk’ means huge containers full of wine. Those in the Europe (and further afield) who require some Spanish sunshine in their wine are being satisfied.

Furthermore, the financial situation of many bodegas is thus being quantitatively eased. And make no mistake this has been crucial to the industry. During the crisis there have been many bodegas that have been close to going under and lots have joined forces under a conglomerate banner as a means of protection.


I’m also delighted to see that exports of bottled wines have also increased during the last two years. Also the number of different countries importing bottled wines from Spain has increased, as the Asian market, including the now major player, China, has opened up . I’ve seen that a number of Denominaciónes de Origen (DOs) have been quick to publicise the fact that their particular sales have increased in the domestic markets as well as internationally. For example one in three bottles of wine sold in Spain is from DO Rueda! So, some quantitative easing for sure.


But let’s return to my new word, qualtitative easing. I was pleased to read some statistics recently advising that it’s not just any bottled wine whose sales have been increasing. There has been a slow, but regular increase in the number of bottled wines sold in Spain and abroad that are priced in the mid-price range, and significantly, above that price.


Of course, the ‘mid-price range’ is a phrase open to interpretation. One man’s ‘cheap’ is another man’s mid-price; whilst a totally different man’s mid-price can also be another man’s ‘expensive’! However the point is that it’s quality wines that are enjoying a surge, albeit gradual, in popularity.


So it all bodes well for Spanish wine producers, and for consumers, of course.


So for quantitative easing you may like to consider the following few wines, which are I’m sure going to help with the stress of life, such as it is, here in Spain. There are of course many more!


Bodegas Vicente Gandía is local to the Valencia region, but nowadays also makes wines in several different DOs. I’ve recently discovered their aromatic and flavoursome DO Rueda Organic Verdejo. Priced at under 4€, it’s a clear pointer as to why it is that Rueda wines now have such a large market share.


You’ll find faint whiffs of Sauvignon-esque gooseberry fruit as well as fennel seeds on the nose and perhaps a little exotic kiwi with some green pepper spritz too. It’s fairly rich and there is just a touch of slatey minerality.


I first tasted Bodega Bajoz, DO Toro, wines 15 years ago, when we chose it for our second wine of the month for our small wine club of the time. I was impressed then, and I’m pleased to say that I still am.


The bodega is now under the new ownership of Bodegas Félix Solís, one of the ‘conglomerates’ referred to above, which has been acquiring bodegas to add to their DO portfolio. Made with Tinta de Toro (aka Tempranillo) the Bajoz Joven 2013 has a picota cherry nose and flavour with a little earthiness too. On the palate it’s really fruit driven and has a mid-length finish. Easy drinking but with some body too.


And for qualtitative easing, also just one red and one white from a huge choice that is available in Spain. Firstly, I’d recommend the Bodegas Castaño Detrás de la Casa 2011, DO Yecla. A wine made with Syrah harvested at optimum ripeness and aged for 12 months in a selection of three different types oif French oak.


The rich Syrah fruit is to the fore filling the mouth with damson and a touch of pepper spice. The blend of different oak has added some flavour, but greater complexity and depth, providing a long finish, and the resulting desire for another glass! Priced in that upper mid range(?!) at about 15€ – an excellent buy.


And the white? Try the lovely Pezas da Portela Fermentado en Barrica from Bodegas Valdesil, DO Valdeorras. This wonderfull white wine is made with Godello (remember the name of the variety, if you don’t already know it!) grown in slate strewn soils at altitude in Galicia.


It’s white  peaches and magnolia on the nose with a rich depth of creamy fruit on the palate and a little discreet oak on both nose and palate. One of my favourite Spanish whites! Priced at around 20€ – which is going towards the expensive, I know – but what a wine, and what a way to experience qualtitative easing!


PS There are just a few seats left for the Gourmet Tapas/Spanish Wine Pairing Evening at Vintage Gastro Bar & Restaurant, Albir. Vintage is owned and run by Dani Bowler who shot to fame on UK TV’s Masterchef Programme, and his precise and imaginative cooking is now enjoyed by all who visit his new restaurant. Proceeds from this event will also go to the:  Asociación Espanola contra el Cáncer (AECC)! Please contact Colin to reserve your places!


PPS Don’t forget to view my weekly YouTube videos on Spanish wines, accessories, news etc. Simply go to and search Colin Harkness On Wine.


Contact Colin: & please also visit for all the latest news on Spanish wines, bodega trips, tastings, wine/food pairings etc!