New Wave Rioja!


In August 2011, whilst serving on my first Spanish Wine Judging Panel (Denominación de Origen Rías Baixas Cata/Concurso), I was fortunate to meet and chat with one of the legends in this country’s winemaking fraternity, Antonio Palacios, no less, and his daughter Bárbera, herself a bourgeoning winemaker.

A few days later, I also met Merlot!

My article, following this meeting, archived here ( may make useful reading as background to today’s missive. You see, in a manner of speaking, Merlot has spawned a Puppi!

When I met her nearly eight years ago, Bárbara Palacios Lopez-Montenegro, had just made her first, personal, commercial wine. As you’ll read above (go on, it’s one of my favourite articles!) that wine, still being crafted today, is called Barbarot – a combination of Bárbera’s name and that of her gorgeous Golden Retriever, Merlot.

Barbarot, then as now, goes under the auspices of DOCa Rioja. Termed simply, a Cosecha wine, Bárbara wasn’t keen on following the Rioja recipe and making a Crianza, Reserva or Gran Reserva wine, where minimum lengths of time in oak are prescribed according to the style required. Eschewing the use of such handcuffs, Bárbara’s illustrious, yet charming and down to earth father, Antonio, described her wine as being a Vino d’Autor. In other words a wine, made according to how the enologo (winemaker), wants to make it.

Recently my esteemed colleague, Tim Atkin MW, visited Rioja to make an assessment of the famous area’s wines as they are right now. He made sure that he spent some time with Bárbara and, as can be seen on her Facebook page, she’s delighted with Tim’s marks and comments – for both her established wine Barbarot, and for Puppi Barbarot, the new puppy on the block!

In 1994 Bárbara’s famous father applied to the Rioja Consejo Regulador for permission to plant some experimental Merlot – a variety not normally permitted in DOCa Rioja. They’d hardly turn down a request from such a famous family, so Merlot was indeed planted. The site of the planting was crucial. Antonio Palacio had studied the soils of two vineyards that he owned and on analysis had determined that they were similar to those in Bordeaux – home, of course, to Merlot.

In an interesting French/Spanish alliance he determined to produce a wine made from one of France’s most famous varieties, and one of  Spain’s, Tempranillo. Meanwhile, his daughter, Bárbara, was learning the trade. Working the harvests and making wine in Bordeaux, Italy, California, New Zealand, Australia, Chile and Argentina Bárbara was honing her skills whilst developing her passion for making high quality wine.

On her return she was given the reigns of the new vineyards, now maturing nicely. The result, was the introduction of Barbarot, the latest vintage of which, Tim has just been given a whopping 95 points!

Recently, the vineyard has been extended, with new plantings and Bárbara has decided to therefore extend her portfolio, to two wines – not a huge number, but when the wines are this good, you don’t need more!

A bottle of Puppi Barbarot 2016 recently arrived at my door and after a resting period I had the pleasure of tasting the newcomer (wine needs a rest after travelling, it’s a little like ‘bottle shock’ where the wine which is perfectly good in barrel or tank, takes a slight step backwards on bottling, and needs a little rest before returning to its best).

Made again with Tempranillo and Merlot it’s enjoyed six months in two years old French oak. Such a time in oak would enable the wine to be described as a ‘roble’ wine, or semi-crianza (it couldn’t officially be a crianza in Rioja as, although the legal minimum time in Spain is indeed six months, Rioja insists on 12 months). However, sticking to her Vino d’Autor game plan, the wine has Cosecho only on the back label.

Here you’ll also see a description from Bábara telling consumers that this wine is inspired by her loyal dog and companion and represents the youth and joy of a puppy! And if that’s not enough charm, take a look at the front label, where you’ll see a ‘Merlot’ puppy running amongst the vines – it’s lovely!

So is the wine! The used oak adds depth without contributing greatly to the overall flavour – it’s a fruit first wine, as it’s meant to be. Some damson on the nose with a little ripe strawberry and a trug-full of red currant too, with some added herby notes for good measure!

Fresh, lively, vivacious – rather like a puppy! Oh, and Tim’s score – a very impressive 91 points! (

Twitter @colinonwine  Facebook Colin Harkness    



Anybody who’d been away from Alicante for a few years would have been pleasantly surprised if they’d returned, perhaps looking for the Number 48 at what used to be the Bus Station in November!

Come to think of it, ‘Old Bus Station Wines’, sounds rather like the name of an Australian winery, bringing forth images of a wide expanse of vines just outside the dilapidated, Walk About Town, where once Crocodile Dundee types waited to catch a bus to Far Away! But there were no foreign wines when I was invited to sample what was on display at the grand Verema Alicante Tasting!

Verema is a sort of catch-all wine community. Go to their website ( and you’ll find pages detailing wines they sell, Denominación de Origen details and info, forthcoming tastings, Videos, Guides, Wine Tourism and a plethora of other wine stuff! It’s a fascinating and most useful resource.

As a gentleman of the Press, (well, OK, gentleman, is going a bit far!), I was invited to attend, and having heard of the quality of the wines usually presented at these events I responded in the affirmative with some alacrity. I wasn’t disappointed!

The whole, quite compact area has been given an impressive make-over, with flowers, plants and walkways leading to the main building. It’s an excellent venue for presentations and the Verema staff were most professional and helpful. There was a wine glass to collect, which was mine to take home, having sampled, well, as many wines as Iliked. And I did like!

At such events I always find it best to have a plan, otherwise the eye can be distracted as you weave between the massed throng, in and out of the exhibitors’ tables. It’s easy to be overwhelmed. My usual plan is to start with the sparkling wines – there are a number of reasons why I take this approach. Fizz is usually a little lower in alcohol than still wines, which helps when there are some many more wines to taste! Also, I find that sparklers freshen and lift the palate, whilst, let’s be honest, putting one in a good mood also – ready for the onslaught to come!

I was pleasantly accosted by my friend based at Balmoral wines, the subject of a Cork Talk some years ago. Their winemaker there learned his trade in Champagne and has honed his skills in the Albacete area, here in Spain. Their Edone range of Sparkling Wines are exemplary, and well priced too! (

I was also taken by the whole range made at Montesquius (, which were again very well priced – from about 8€ up to about 20€, with a superb Magnum Gran Reserva Brut Nature, coming in at 50€ (remember, a magnum holds two bottles worth!). It has star quality in that it would look magnificent when unveiled at a dinner party, and would knock out your diners re its depth of quality!

I next visited Bodegas Muga, one of the great stalwarts of DOCa Rioja. Having tasted it in situ several times, I certainly could have been tempted by their Cava (yes, the Rioja area is one of those zones outside of Cataluña where Cava can be crafted), but I’d moved on to still wines by this time. I wanted to taste their white wine.

Made with Viura and Malvasia it’s still a jolly nice white. Their Rosado, quite Provencal in colour, is always a treat – the epitome of elegance. I was also keen to try again their Gran Reserva Prado de Enea – one of the reasons I moved to Spain all those years ago! I enjoyed it, yes, but thought it a little too oaky – not how I remembered it. However, it was certainly a delight to taste the Selección 2014 – firstly because it is such a gorgeous wine now, and potential to age so well; and secondly because we have a magnum of the 2004, the year of our daughter’s birth, biding its time until she turns 18 yrs old! Boy, I hope she doesn’t like wine then!

I expected to like Bodegas Martin Codax’s Organistrum, from DO Rías Baixas, and I certainly did. As you might expect, given the area of production, it’s made with Albariño, 100% in this case. This winery also makes fine quality red wines Galicia, but it’s true to say that it made its name with the whites.

Whilst the basic Martin Codax Albariño isn’t a bad intro to the variety at all, it’s really the finer white wines (yes, a little more expensive, but so worth it) that define the bodega. I have really enjoyed each that I’ve tried – and it’s not just Albariño that they put to such good use!

Well, there were plenty more, but space runs out, and anyway, I have to catch a bus!

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