IWSC 2015 Blog

Day 2 Judging at the International Wine & Spirits Competition 2014.

I was delighted today to see that there were so many Vino de la Tierra (VdlT) wines entered in this year’s competition.

No longer the wannabe DOs of yesteryear these areas of Spanish Wine Production now have nothing to prove!

If you look in any Spanish Wine books of perhaps 15 years ago, certainly 20 yrs ago – you’ll see that VdlT was considered to be a class under the esteemed Denominaciónes de Origen. Quite good, but not quite good enough to make it to the top echelon!

In the pioneering intervening years this has all changed. There are some bodegas in recognised DOs, and indeed some DOs, who stubbornly still believe that only Denominaciónes de Origen make the real top wines of Spain they would do well to look at the French wine model of some years ago.

This head-in-the-sand mentality lost the French considerable market-share when New World wines started infiltrating Europe! The Spanish DOs had better not make the same mistake.

It is true, of course, that there are many excellent DO wines in Spain – but there is also poor quality, sometimes all the way down to dross! Wines which are legally correct in portraying the epithet ‘DO etc’ on their labels, as they adhere to all the rules (probably!), but which are really not at all representative of the quality that is required.

Consumers are slowly catching on, led, it has to be said, by the extranjeros, the foreigners living in Spain, like the British, Germans, Scandinavians etc who are not bound by machismo ethics or loyalty – we just want to drink good quality wines!

Often the extranjeros are also more clued up re wine appreciation as well, as there are many column inches (centimeters?), radio and TV programmes that include a wine element in their home countries.

Vino de la Tierra wines are filling that gap and I’m pleased to see that some of these wines will be winning highly prized IWSC medals in this year’s competition, which will ignite sales and spur on others in VdlT areas to continue to improve their wine-making skills and therefore the finished product, and to enter next year’s competition.

And tomorrow at the IWSC? Will the DOs fight back? Let’s see!

Muy bien!

IWSC 2015

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Day 1 of an on-going, almost live(!), blog about the INTERNATIONAL WINE & SPIRITS COMPETITION’S judging of Spanish Wines, April 2015.

The International Wine & Spirits Competition is the oldest international wine competition in the World. It’s also one of the three most prestigious. So, it’s an honour to be a part of the judging panel.

With me today were two Masters of Wine, one South African Cape Wine Master and two highly qualified Wine Tasters and Educators from Hong Kong! As devout Methodists I guess my parents would have been somewhat ambivalent about my being in such august company!

I can’t reveal any scores awarded or any comments made as we’ve all complied with the rule of secrecy and anyway, none of us knows which wines we tasted. All wines are asting served in a pre-poured, numbered tasting glass with the only information being their rough area of production and the predominate grape varieties used.

It’s serious stuff, as medals awarded in this competition sell wines, worldwide, so there is a duty of care to which all judges subscribe.

However, I can tell you that I was pleased with the standard and variety of wines tasted today. I was pleased also to see that each year wine producing areas previously shy of entering the IWSC are now prepared to do so. This can also mean that grape varieties rarely tasted and often not seen in the general market place can feel the warmth of the spotlight for once.

And of course the medal winners in this group will ensure that not only their wines will become well known but also the varieties with which they are made!

I was also delighted to share some quality wine time with other professionals. We all learn from each other and whilst, professionally serious of course, there is also a great sense of enjoyment and fun. We all share a common passion and we all have stories to tell.

So – talking in judicial terms, my verdict on this, the first day, was that it was both successful and hugely enjoyable. Bring on Day two!

IWSC – Judging Spanish Wines!

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On Monday I’m off for my annual trip to the UK to join the IWSC (International Wine & Spirits Competition) Spanish Panel judging wines from Spain.


There’s always an excellent entry from Spain and last year there were 6 Outstanding Golds awarded, as well as a plethora of Golds, Silvers and Bronzes!

It’s a tough life tasting all those wonderful wines – but . . . .

Rioja! Finca de los Arandinos

Restaurant, Finca de los Aranadinos - Boutique Hotel in the heart of La Rioja!
Restaurant, Finca de los Aranadinos – Boutique Hotel in the heart of La Rioja!





I first heard of Bodegas Finca de los Arandinos when I read an article by Sarah Jane Evans MW (Master of Wine), in the UK’s best wine magazine, Decanter. The essence of the article was that Sara Jane, Joint Chair of the Spanish Wine Panel of the magazine, was recommending 25 different Rioja wines that are currently on the shelves in UK wine shops.

I was delighted to see that I concurred with her views on several of the wines, as well as to see that there were wines listed that I did not know. I’ll be contacting a number of the bodegas concerned to find out more, and there was one that particularly caught my eye! A wine that hails from a bodega which also has a boutique hotel. Don’t you love wine research!

Finca de los Arandinos is an interesting new project. A new bodega, with modern buildings and state-of-the-art technology, but with more than a passing nod to tradition. It is perhaps correct to say that this bodega is at the forefront of ‘new age Rioja’. And this also means wine tourism.

The modernist boutique hotel is a delight to behold from the outside and from within. Indeed, the design inside, particularly in the bedrooms, is the work of the renowned designer David Delfin.

The wine that my colleague, Sara Jane Evans MW, included in her list of 25 was Malacapa 2013. It’s a ‘Joven’ wine, a young wine, with minimal (for Rioja) oak ageing and therefore wholly consistent with the bodega’s stated aims of bringing out the very best of each of the varieties used at Finca de los Arandinos.

FINCA ARANDINOS  malacapa_300x500

 95% of the blend is Rioja’s darling variety, now Spain’s most planted grape, Tempranillo, with just 5% Mazuelo thrown in too. Is this the most fruit orientated Rioja on the market? Well, if it’s not, it suerly is close!

On the nose there are both dark and red cherries which follow through onto the palate where, on the finish they are joined by a light liquorice flavour. But the most noticeable note with this wine is its juicy, chewy freshness – for lovers of pure fruit in wine, this has to be a top choice. (4€! incredible value from the on-line shop!!).

I mentioned that the winery is also aware of the great tradition that is Rioja and their Crianza pays homage to that history. Finca de los Arandinos 2011 Crianza, is everything that you would expect  – from a quality Crianza.

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 Many readers will know that a Crianza Rioja wine must have had a minimum of 12 months in oak (that’s twice the legal minimum for Spain) though many bodegas, in the past, at least, have considerably exceeded this minimum. Indeed, this wine has had more than the minimum time in oak, but only an extra month! So, another indication that this bodega, whilst following tradition, is intent on making sure that it’s the grapes’ juice, its fruit content that is to the fore.

Again the lion’s share is Tempranillo, but there is also 5% each of Mazuelo and Garnacha. Grapes are carefully selected in the vineyard and a blend is made from different plots. Once fermented ageing is 80% in French oak with 20% in American oak. The resultant wine is fruit first with extra depth of flavour and complexity added by the judicial use of oak. If you like a good Rioja Crianza, this is most definitely for you. (8€)

The final red wine, so far – there may be plans in the future to add to the portfolio – is called El Conjuro. It’s a limited production wine that has been given some red carpet treatment. The 2010 is made with Tempranillo again but this time Garnacha has a more prominent 15% of the blend. Fermentation takes place in French oak ‘foudres’ and it’s French oak in which malolactic fermentation takes please with a further 16 months ageing.

FINCA ARANDINOS conjuro_300x500

 But the wine is not ready for release yet. It stays in bottle in the depths of the cellar for a further year until the winemaker believes it is perfect for sale. However, that does not mean that it has be drunk immediately. El Conjuro has time on it’s – the 2010, tasted in early 2015, has a slight tannic grip still, indicating that there is still time for it do develop further.

It’s all about dark fruits, black cherries and blackberries, with earthy notes too, on the nose. In the mouth it is intense at first, opening up to be a subtle and elegant wine with a longer finish, leaving the taster more than satisfied with its lasting flavour and aroma. (14€)

I was pleased to see also, that Bodegas finca de los Arandinos makes a white wine as well. Eschewing the offer of the ‘new’ varieties now permitted in DOCa Rioja, this wine is made exclusively with old vineyard Viura, which has had the benefit of some time in oak. Indeed foudres are employed for its fermentation, after which is was put in French oak barrels for a further ten months, with regular ‘battonage’, stirring, with its lees.


 The result is a dry white wine with some floral notes on the nose, a touch of citrus and an endearing, if slightly understated, creaminess. (6€)

NB These wines can be bought on-line www.fincadelosarandinos.com, please note prices above.

So that’s some of the Finca de los Arandinos information – but, why take my word for it? You can join me, October, 26th – 30th, 2015, when I am taking a small group (24 max) to stay at their boutique hotel! For more details please contact me and visit my website.

Contact Colin: colin@colinharknessonwine.com and via www.colinharknessonwine.com as well as via Twitter @colinonwine. Please also note that you can view Colin’s wine videos www.youtube.com search Colin Harkness On Wine.