In October 2016 I wrote an article contrasting two vineyard philosophies – on the one hand, in a delightfully bucolic cameo, camels were being used in the harvest of one of the bodegas in the Canary Isles; on the other, worryingly(?) state-of-the-art and science fiction-like, in mainland Spain drones were being employed (you can read it archived here – please scroll down a short way to ‘Spain’s Dynamic Wine World’)


The bodega group in question, Matarromera, has added to their use of vineyard based sensors and satellite imaging, the strategic deployment of drones, before, and during their harvests. The drones have been programmed (don’t ask me how) to detect where vines are stressed, where grapes are diseased and when optimum ripeness has been achieved. That’s, vineyard by vineyard, and indeed each part of each vineyard (as ripening will occur at different rates, depending on aspect to the sun, wind etc.). We are talking precision farming here.


Now, I don’t want to be alarmist, but, watch out (particularly if you are a vineyard worker!), in a classic pincer movement robots are now in vineyards either side of Spain, in Portugal and in France, and coming this way, sin duda!

Corporate Naio Technologies – TED – VIGNE – Gaillac, France, le 18/10/2016 – Tien Tran –

At Château Clerc Milon, Pauillac, the work of the drones above is being performed, by TED, a prototype robot, guided by GPS, camera and laser! Plus, TED is also responsible for the more repetitive, mundane, and indeed menial travails of the vineyard worker.


Over to the west, in the vineyards of the Symington Estates of Portugal similar experiments are occurring, in partnership with the EU, I might add(!). It’s all on an experimental basis we are assured! Furthermore, management are vehement in stating that there will always be a place for manual work (and therefore human workers) in the production of top class wines!


And in what may appear as rather ironic, given the camel story above, these high tech experiments, we are told, ‘will lead to an acceleration of their move to organic and biodynamic principles’. Quite how, I can only guess!


During one of my 4k power-walks (a combination of physiotherapy following my 2nd knee replacement and a continued effort to combat some of the excesses of the festive season!) I recently stopped to chat with a chap working in a vineyard full of Moscatel vines. Like a gnarled and warped regiment standing to attention, as best they could, the vines looked older than the 15 – 20yrs I was told that they were.


The alleys between the rows looked like they had a swathe of frost retained after a chilly night, but in fact it was nitrogen crystals being sown by my new friend. On asking why, he told me that he was concerned that with such a lack of water the vines were suffering as if being slowly starved. The trunks of the vines were becoming thinner and this was an attempt to give them some nourishment, whilst waiting (hoping?) for the next rains. Global Warming/Climate Change is happening!


We chatted also about how he would normally expect these vines to live for 80+ years, producing fewer bunches of grapes as age takes its toll, but in fact increasing the quality of those that the vines do manage to manufacture. Whilst shrugging his shoulders in an apparent acceptance of the vines lot, it was clear that he was concerned that they might not make it to octogenarian status!


It is true that a vine needs to suffer a little to produce its best. However, there is, of course, a degree of tolerance above which it cannot go. I do hope that the generation that follows my friend, and indeed the one after, can still enjoy the wine, and the income, that these Moscatel vines are currently providing!


If so, I wonder if the wine will be made by robots, with drones providing aerial cover from above, untouched by human hand?


Contact Colin:  Twitter @colinonwine  Facebook Colin Harkness  Youtube Colin Harkness On Wine

Celler Alimara, DO Terra Alta


One of the things I like most about the new British owned and worked bodega Celler Alimara (, is their quite obvious ‘connection’ with the vineyards they work. I’m talking here of their laudable belief in the concept of ‘sustainable wine making’; the soils in which the vines grow; the microclimates involved; the long (that’s 2,000 years!) history of grape growing in the area; and the successful marriage of tradition with modern expertise – a winning formula oft referred to here in Cork Talk.

Another thing I like – their wines! And it’s in their, as yet, small portfolio that you can smell and taste the connection – their wines speak of their terroir as much as they speak of the varieties used.

This fledgling winery is owned by the wife/husband team of UC Davis and WSET educated, Ali and Andy McLeod, with significant input also from Andrew Halliwell, accomplished itinerant (that’s in five continents!) consultant wine-maker. The final team member is Celler Manager, Blanca Polop and together they made their first wines in 2016. I’ve tasted them all, and I’m predicting a big future for Celler Alimara in DO Terra Alta, which may be termed as something of a sleeping giant of a Denominación de Origen.

Celler Alimara have two levels – Llumí, easily accessible wines, representing quality without pretension and suitable for casual drinkers as well as experienced wine types; and El Senyal, small volume, handmade wines with both elegance and depth.

In the more economically priced range, Llumí, there are three wines – a white, a rosado and a red, using, respectively: Macabeo and Garnacha Blanca; Garnacha; Syrah and Tempranillo. If my maths is correct, none of these wines will cost you over 5€ – and believe me, this is a steal!

I first tasted the Llumí rosat (rosad in Catalan) – we were having a red lentil vegetarian dish that night and it seemed appropriate. I was quite right (see and hear it here, or just go to Youtube and search Colin Harkness On Wine)! A slightly under-ripe strawberry on the nose (not over-ripe which can sometimes mean a little too much residual sugar in a rosé wine), which follows onto the palate, to be joined by pomegranate and fully ripened cranberries. Will work very well with trout and salmon, fresh tuna too, rare/medium rare.

Llumí Blanc is a blend of Macabeo and Garnacha Blanca. Although Macabeo is widely grown in the rest of Spain, it’s natural home, along with Garnacha Blanca, can really be considered to be Cataluña. The two together work well – a faint green and crisp apple aroma, though a little more forthcoming on the palate, with a lemon freshness and some conference pears coming to join the party with a faint blanched almond reference too. I note also a stony mineral element on the finish – enhancing the overall effect, taking the taster to the vineyard.

The Syrah/Tempranillo combination in Llumí Negre makes this one the stand-out wine of a good threesome. It’s had 6 months in used oak barrels to add some structure and depth, with a marginal contribution to the taste, which is fundamentally about the ripe fruit, with a little earthiness too. Fuller than I expected from a 2016 wine, it crammed the mouth with flavour – indicating both fine vineyard management and top class winemaking, letting the fruit do most of the work!

I just loved El Senyal Blanc – a Garnacha Blanca monovarietal that has clearly enjoyed its six months with its lees in a large oak barrel (foudre)! A big white, with depth of flavour – that’s citrus fruit and banana, skin and fruit, with blanched almonds, and freshly rained upon grey slate and granite minerality! Shellfish, full flavoured fish with sauces too.

El Senyal Negre 2016, whilst drinking very well, is also, I believe, a work in progress – I’d love to taste this wine again in two years, and more! Each of the three varieties in the blend – Garnacha Negra, Garnacha Peluda and Cariñena – are fermented separately in stainless steel, then aged in oak barrels, 20% of which are new. The balance here is perfectly judged – the new oak makes a valuable contribution, but doesn’t steal the show. The older oak gives greater depth to the wine, as well as complexity. The dark brambly fruit is to the fore, with leafy undergrowth notes proving the direct link with the soils in which the 30 yr old vines are grown.

Contact Colin:  Facebook Colin Harkness  Twitter @colinonwine  Youtube Colin Harkness On Wine

From Oct. 2016 – background to Costa News Group article 19/01/18



Being as closely involved in the Spanish wine scene as I am, I receive a number of both, solicited, and unsolicited news-feeds, almost on a daily basis. This week I received two, from wholly different sources, which made me smile, whilst underlining a basic tenet of the Iberian wine industry.


More than once over the last, perhaps ten years, I’ve referred to certain bodegas whose wines have come on in leaps and bounds, attributing this to the happy (though, perhaps at times, prickly!) combination of generations of tradition and experience being successfully allied to modern and innovative ways. It’s a foolish young winemaker who dismisses all he’s (she’s) been taught by fathers and grandfathers because of what they’ve learned at college, as well as what they seen and practised on their various internships.


And, of course, it would be quite wrong for the older generations to scoff at ‘newfangled’ ideas. An alliance is surely the way forward and I’ve often tasted the successful results of such generational harmony.


The large concern, Matarromera, has this year used drones as an integral part of their harvesting planning! Whilst there are dreadfully sinister roles for drones, in the main (I hope) they can be a tremendous boost in many walks of life. One being agriculture.


Extra to their use of vineyard based sensors and satellite imaging this high tech, high quality, wine company has gone even more state-of-the-art. Drones have been deployed before and during the harvest. These amazing machines have been programmed (don’t ask me how) to detect where vines are stressed, where grapes are diseased and when optimum ripeness has been achieved. That’s, vineyard by vineyard, and indeed each part of each vineyard (as ripening will occur at different rates, depending on aspect to the sun, wind etc.). We are talking precision farming here.


Now contrast this, almost science fiction scenario, to another, bible-esque story, this time on one of Spain’s Canary Islands, Tenerife. I was delighted to see a photo of this year’s Tenerife harvest where camels were being deployed! Meandering at a tranquil pace between rows of vines were a number of camels, each with raffia style baskets strapped aside their humps being steadily laden with picked bunches of grapes!


Charming, yes, but also very practical. If winemakers want to eschew modern technology (well, not that modern, I’m talking tractors here!) and take a very organic,  bordering on biodynamic, stance, a camel needs less water than a horse, can negotiate  some terrains (e.g. volcanic sands) far better and can still provide very useful manure!


Drones and camels – each the antithesis of the other, and each working towards the same goal. I love it!


Also, I was interested to read my distinguished colleague, Andrew Jefford’s article in Decanter Magazine recently on his, encouraging, view of the new cava designation, Cava de Paraje Calificado (you heard it here first, several months ago, actually!). He quotes, as did I, Señor Per Bonet, President of the Consejo Regulador, DO Cava, saying that such cavas (not yet available) are to be considered the very top of the quality pyramid.


In fact, Mr Jefford, goes further. It is now understood that this category of cava now stands shoulder to shoulder with wines from DOCa Rioja and DOQ Priorat as a third area of production which has reached the absolute top in terms of quality. I’m delighted with this – I’ve been in on the story since I was invited to lunch with Señor Bonet in August  2014 and I’m so pleased to see that all their efforts have finally achieved their objective.

(You can read my June article here ttp://


Finally, a couple of news snippets which I’m sure will also interest readers. Two major players in Spanish wine have recently made interesting acquisitions which reflect both a  proactive view and a positive, bullish confidence to the national and international wine  market. Marqués de Riscal has recently bought the bodega building (though not, yet, the surrounding vines nor the brands) of Bodegas PradoRey in Rueda, having already done similarly with their Ribera del Duero bodega building. They need the extra space.


Also, the ever forward-thinking and in many ways a true flagship of the Spanish wine industry, Bodegas Torres, has just announced the construction of another bodega, in the Costers del Segre area, not that far from the Montserrat monastery where wine was first made by the thirsty monks in the 15th Century. I have no doubt that this is all part of their combating climate change strategy, where they are slowly developing high altitude vineyards.


Last, but not least, in this week’s newsy Cork Talk. Whilst, there is as yet only one Spanish Master of Wine, Señor Pedro Ballesteros, the gentleman in question is helping no less than ten aspirants to join him in this prestigious club, by tutoring them in the many skills they will need to equip them to take the extremely difficult exams. Our best to them all!

New Year’s Resolutions 2018!


I won’t be the only journalist thinking about New Year Resolutions right now (at the time of writing it’s a week before Christmas), I’m certain. I won’t be the only wine writer, either – but I’m happy to be doing so.

Although writing resolutions for myself, of course, I’m also writing with readers in mind too. Whilst I wouldn’t presume to make your resolutions for or you, NYRs are a personal thing, after all, I’m nevertheless not averse to hoping that readers might follow suit, to a degree at least?

Regulars will know that I’ve written more than a few words about Cava in recent years, perhaps more so in 2017, with the introduction of the concept of Premium Cava and, of course, the new top designation, Cava de Paraje Calificada. So, it’s understandable that I might include a reference to Spain’s excellent sparkling wine in the NYRs of 2018.

My resolution this year is to drink more Premium Cava. Generally speaking, Premium Cava refers to Cava that is made in the Reserva and Gran Reserva styles – in other words, cavas that have been aged on their lees for more than 15 months (the minimum for Reserva cava; Gran Reservas must have had 30 months minimum).

However, it’s not just those cavas labelled Reserva or Gran Reserva that we should be buying. And herein lies one of the problems with Cava – it’s sometimes a little nebulous. Joven cava must have had a minimum of 9 months ‘en rima’. You’ll know what that means by now, if a regular reader, if not, well, it means the bottle is virtually upside down, with the cava sitting atop the sediment, which is in fact the dead lees that were used to provoke the second fermentation.

Now, if you look at the above re Reserva and Gran  Reserva you’ll glean that this ‘en rima’ position is important regarding the quality of the cava – essentially, the more time ‘en rima’ the fuller, and better the cava. Not all producers want their cava to be full and complex – one of the basic requirements of sparkling wine is that it is celebratory and fresh. This is enough for millions of bottles, but some like to give a little more.

Well the Reservas and Gran Reservas are easy to identify, most of the time – it says so on the bottle, but this isn’t always the case. I’ve tasted and enjoyed cavas labelled as Reserva when in fact they’ve had 30+ months en rima. This puts them just into the Gran Reserva bracket, but it doesn’t say so on the label! Also, there are Gran Reserva cavas that have enjoyed far more than the minimum 30 months – I’ve tasted many that have more than 5 years ageing en rima!

At the other end of the scale there are cavas that are not labelled as Reserva or Gran Reserva that have had more than the minimum 15 months, and can therefore certainly be considered to be in the ‘Premium’ bracket! Confused? So am I! Therefore:

My second NYR is to write to DO Cava and ask that they work out a way of giving consumers all the information we need on the bottle – everyone’s a winner!

I’m going to continue to buy wines this year from areas of production that are off the beaten track. This means from Denominaciónes de Origen that are somewhat less famous than the Rioja, Ribera del Duero et al; and it also means areas that are not DO at all, Vino de la Tierra (VdlT), and others, leading into my buying wines that have no particular area of production on their label whatsoever. Witness, if you will my No.3 in the Tope Ten 2017 – ‘Juan Piernas’, from Bodegas Jorge Piernas, labelled simply Red Wine From Spain!

Finally, as I am limited space-wise these days, I will certainly be seeking out firstly dedicated wine shops to buy my wines – and I’d really like readers to do the same! It is true that, for example, Mas y Mas supermarkets have significantly upped the ante re their wine selection (after lots of badgering from me, perhaps?!), and this, I think applies to several of the chains.

However, whether these improved wines are looked after properly whilst they await their sales is another matter! And, of course, it’s pointless asking most supermarket staff for advice about their wines, they have neither the interest nor the training. Plus, you won’t see wines well beyond their ‘sell by/consume by’ dates in wine merchants – but I’m sure we’ll see this again in supermarkets.

So, there are a few New Year Resolutions to take into the new year – and beyond, please!

Happy New Year!