One of the great things about Spanish wines is that there is almost always an interesting story – behind a particular wine, or portfolio of wines, the winemaker or the bodega itself. Sometimes, the story is about all of the above, and on many occasions the story starts in the past.

So, it was a multifaceted pleasure to visit the Gramona Sparkling Wine stand at the very recent, in fact, inaugural Barcelona Wine Week. Gramona is now part of the Corpinnat organisation but, having been founded in the 1850s, it has a long standing tradition of making fizz, mostly under the auspices of DO Cava.

I was lucky to visit at a time when family member, Leonard Gramona, was available to chat – an honour, and particularly interesting too, as he told me the story behind Gramona’s reputation for making top quality, long aged Sparkling Wine. And, although nothing like old enough to have been around then, it’s clear that the story has passed from one generation to the next!

1936 was, of course, a dreadful year for Spain. The Civil War was an awful time in so many ways and was then followed, of course, by the privations of the World War Two. A truly catastrophic period in history and a human tragedy, of course.

It was also an extremely worrying time for business generally, including the wine business. With no way of knowing what was going to happen, given the  number of players in the Spanish Civil War, but fearing the worst, the Gramona wine family took the courageous step of deciding to hide most of their production of Cava, from all of the factions which were likely to steal/destroy it. Readers perhaps know that a similar story took place, a few years later in the famous wine producing areas of France when Nazi Germany invaded.

It must have been an extremely stressful time for those who took this step – invaders don’t take kindly to being made a fool of, so who knows what punishments would have been  handed out if the Gramonas’ deception had been discovered! Fortunately for them (and nowadays, for us too!) it wasn’t and when they felt it safe to return to the hidden cellars they discovered that the fizz that had aged, untouched for at least four years, was of an outstanding quality! A concept was born!

Considering the above, it’s no surprise to learn that Gramona’s entry level sparkling wine, their best seller, has been aged for a grand 56 months (ok, I’ll do the maths for you – that’s over four and half years, biding its time in the now free to access cellars!). Made with Xarel.lo, Macabeo, Chardonnay and a tiny amount of Parellada, Gramona Brut Imperial retains that essential freshness that we all expect from fizz, but also has extra body and complexity, with more than just the beginnings of mature aroma and flavour profiles. An excellent start to the whole portfolio!

There’s another historical reference to the next wine I tasted, though it’s only the name that is taken from Roman times! III Lustros is a wine that has been aged for seven years – so long I can hardly work out the number of months, which is how fizz aging is usually noted! (Lustros means a period of five in Latin, and means that within this range there may be wines yet to come that have aged for 15 years!).

III Lustros is made with Xarel.lo and Macabeo, but is a Brut Nature, in fact the style of Spanish fizz that I like most. Again, it’s fresh, this time with a little more acidity, making it such a perfect match for canapés, seafood and check out oysters too!

This superb sparkling wine is made using not just organic farming, but also biodynamic principles – which, of course, take into consideration the sustainability of the soil, and the welfare of the creatures that live in it, for future generations. The bubbles are the finest, the elegance on the palate, in some ways defies its weight, though its presence in the mouth means it will be happy to be paired with light meats as well as fish, and shellfish, plus, it’s as long as you like on the finish. Superb!

Celler Batlle 2010 Brut, though at the lowest end of the residual sugar spectrum, has had more than 8 years resting on its lees, gaining maturity, complexity and different flavours and aromas. It’s at a venerable age and yet still speaks of its youth in its delightful freshness – a common trait with all Gramona wines, and a crucial element of all quality fizz.

You’ll find herbs on the nose, some mineral notes too along with ripe orchard fruits and a blanched nutty note, with some sprightly citrus whispers as well. It’s a taste and aroma sensation, allowing the taster to drift away on a magic carpet of pure pleasure. Yes, it will pair brilliantly with fish, shellfish, oysters again and whiter meats – chicken and turkey (if you feel like splashing out next Christmas . . . !), as well as pork, all with and without sauces.

But this stunning sparkling wine is just wonderful to drink on its own, with your best friends and family.

NB this article first appears in the morning of 14th February (you know where I’m going here!), there is time to nip out to a fine wine shop now, buy one of the Gramona range, chill it down during the day – and start your romantic Valentine’s night in real style! Twitter @colinonwine  Facebook Colin Harkness

Spare a thought for Spanish wine producers, post Brexit!


I’m writing this on the 1st February, 2020 (with apologies to Raquel, Features Editor of the Costa News Group – I’m submitting the article a little later than I should be!) – the day that the UK cut loose from the European Community, to sail a different, as yet uncertain course. Good luck to her, and all who sail in her!

Ok, colours to the mast time – I’m firmly pro-Remain, and continue to be so, now that all seems lost to many of us, believing, and hoping, that one day, perhaps in my lifetime, the UK will re-join the EU. However, I have friends who argue from the opposite side of the great Brexit divide. We disagree, but that doesn’t alter our friendships. ‘Discuss’ is a better word than ‘argue’!

So, in the spirit (that’s a better word – I need a strong drink!) of impartiality, I’d like readers this week to please put aside differences in ideology and consider the current difficulties of European winemakers, in general, and, of course, specifically those of Spain.

My tasting a Rioja Gran Reserva (Prado Enea, Bodegas Muga, if you are interested!) for the first time (there have been several subsequent occasions – it’s a wonderful wine!) many years ago wasn’t the main reason, but it certainly was a contributing factor to my eventual relocation to Spain. My thoughts were – if the Spanish make wine this good, I need to be closer! So, clearly I have a certain affinity with the Spanish wine sector – and of course, after 23 years of residence here, many friends in the business. Frankly, my heart bleeds for them!

I’ll come back to leaving the EU in a few paragraphs – you see there are other actual (rather than possible, re Europe, as we don’t really know yet what it’s going to be like) severe trading difficulties to consider as well. I was listening to the radio yesterday (31st Jan – that momentous day!) when I was delighted to hear my friend and wine colleague Pancho Campo being interviewed. Well, I say, ‘colleague’, but that certainly doesn’t mean I put myself at the same level, wine wise, as Pancho!

A Master of Wine (one of only about 340 MWs in the world at the time), Pancho Campo resigned from the Institute of Masters of Wine, to go on to many other different prestigious activities, one of which put him on friendly terms with the Obamas! Pancho is certainly well connected! And that includes with the wine world generally, as well as that of Spain, where he also lives, though travelling a lot.

Pancho was talking of a Spanish winemaker friend of his, who, after years of paper chasing and resulting sweat and tears, had finally broken into the notoriously difficult USA market to sell his wine. A container was loaded, full to the brim with his wines and ready to ship Stateside – until, at the last moment, the order was cancelled! The reason – President Trump’s 25% extra tariff on wine and foodstuff from Europe! A serious setback, perhaps disaster, to the friend in question – and of course, he isn’t the only one.

The USA is an extremely important market for Spanish wine, in fact ever since Miguel Torres packed lots of sample bottles and went knocking on doors decades ago, before any trade existed between the two countries! Those currently established in the market, will be very worried. Those hoping to enter, will probably have to give up! Even though Spanish wines offer amazing value for money, 25% just isn’t possible to absorb!

Another still developing, though already well established market, is that of Asia, specifically China! And of course we all know about the dreadful virus that is basically closing China to any further visits from prospective Spanish wine traders, and reciprocal visits to Spanish wine fairs, as well as restricting further growth in such an important sector.

Then, Brexit happens! But what does it all mean?

Well, as alluded to above, nobody really knows. There are a number of possible scenarios (oops, sorry, is that a European word?!), some of which were articulated by my wine friend, Andrew Halliwell. Prior to today, trade between Spain and the UK has been straightforward, easy. The general consensus seems to be that whatever happens, the change won’t make it any easier!

So that’s a possible/probable worry for Spanish (and all European producers), as it is likely that there will be more paperwork and more queues – the likelihood therefore is that smaller producers won’t make the necessary extra effort, as they have limited resources, certainly in terms of time! Plus, the cost of importing Spanish wines may increase. So, there is likely to be less choice of Spanish wines on UK shelves.

There are also possible problems re the exchange rate – a weakened pound will make Spanish wines more expensive, and the uncertainty is likely to weaken the pound, at least for a certain time. Of course, against that it may mean that wines from other non-European countries become more prevalent on the shelves as their produce might be more economically attractive. So an opportunity for the British to experience more easily, and less expensively, wines from different parts of the world. But, once established/further established, indeed, ingrained, in the British consumer buying psyche, as time goes on, it will be difficult to find future demand for Spanish wines in the UK.

There may also be a boost in sales of British wines in the UK – well that’s good for this nascent industry, but it will be to the cost of our European, and of course, Spanish friends. Yep, difficult times right now for the Spanish wine industry – please spare them a thought! Facebook Colin Harkness

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Bodegas La Zorra


Whilst perfectly pleasant, the 8 Vírgenes, dry white wine from Bodegas La Zorra, wasn’t my favourite wine of the portfolio sent to me as long ago as last summer. But I couldn’t resist the title!

I received the wines via my friend Nicola, of Spanish Palate (, the expanding wine making and wine distributing company based in Toro. I’ve talked of Nicola and her team before, referencing the wines she and her business partner fashion themselves, as well as some of the wines that they distribute for other wineries here in Spain.

This bodega, La Zorra (meaning the Vixen), is one of the leading wineries in the DO Sierra de Salamanca (indeed the founding father of the DO), a Denominación de Origen that celebrates its 10 years anniversary in 2020. It’s a rather new DO and it’s banking on the variety Rufete, to help make its name.

My own view is that they’ll be successful in doing this, but perhaps by a rather different route than they’d at first thought? From my tasting, admittedly only from the produce of this one bodega, La Zorra, I think it may well be the Rufete Blanco that will be their best bet when seeking fame, and hopefully, fortune!

I may be a lone voice in the wilderness here. I certainly will be up in the Salamanca area, where Rufete Negro is so feted, but I felt that the red wines from the black grape weren’t as distinguished as the white that I tasted, which I thought outstanding!

That’s not to say that I didn’t like Bodegas La Zorra’s red Rufete, I did, though I preferred it when it was part of a blend, in fact with Spanish and International varieties. Perhaps, like a particular instrument in an orchestra when on its own, it really plays second fiddle to the orchestra as a whole?

La Novena Rufete Blanco, however really did give us a virtuoso performance! It’s a new variety to me, but one to which I’ll certainly be returning! Oddly enough it is also known locally by another name, Verdejo Serrano – confusing to those of us (in other words most readers of Cork Talk) who know Verdejo from DO Rueda. Rufete Bnco has a completely different set of aroma and flavour characteristics to the, perhaps, Sauvignon Blanc-esque, darling of DO Rueda!

The bunches are small, the grapes too, and tightly packed. Consequently there’s not much juice with which to play, but it’s rich, and this translates perfectly into the finished, structured wine. It has a fresh acidity, which keeps it lively on the palate, but there’s also a depth, a roundness with volume and presence, resulting from the older vines and also the fermenting in oak. A little papaya on the nose with pears and some pine forest too, and some blanched almond nutty character, as well as some herby notes.

The red wine Rufete monovarietal I liked most was the limited production Raro, whose nine moths in used French oak barrels have given it an extra dimension. It has a cherry-red colour, there’s a slight floral note on the nose and on the palate there are soft light red fruits, with perhaps cherry to the fore.

My favourite of the reds were the ones where Rufete is used in the blend. I’m a touch frustrated though, as I still can’t decide which, of the two I tasted, wins outright! La Vieja is a fine wine. Made with Rufete and happy to accept, for me, more than just a supporting role of Tempranillo and a little Granacha, with about 13 months in oak. It’s quite silky on the palate, with darker red fruits coming through, blackberry and dark cherry. Medium length finish, very satisfying!

It has to share the winner podium with the eponymous La Zorra, whose slightly less 11 months in French and American oak, give the wine a lighter mouth-feel, without diminishing its presence on the palate as well as after swallowing. A winning combination here of dark and lighter red fruits with a little spice thrown in from the barricas.

I’d also like to mention Bodegas La Zorra’s 100% Garnacha wines (known locally as Calabres – another new name to me!). La Moza and La Zorra Garnacha, are two more of the fine Garnacha wines coming out of Spain now – and old and sometimes abused variety, that is now being treated with respect, and responding to well.

I tasted also the Tempranillo/Rufete rosado, which I enjoyed with salmon one night and a mushroom based dish the next. Nice, easy drinking wine, which complemented each dish.

And finally, what of the Virgins, you might ask! Well, it’s a good refreshing white wine with good, not too harsh acidity, which we enjoyed as an aperitif over a couple of nights. It’s made with Rufete Blanco again, but also with Palomino and Moscatel. Other commentators, I see, have mentioned this wine’s compatibility with smoked fish dishes – so that’s what I’ll do when I next drink with eight virgins!

NB My next radio prog is this coming Tuesday 4th Feb, when I’ll be talking Valentine’s Wines – as well as playing, Harry Chapin, Barbara Streisand and Neil Diamond, Rupert Holmes, Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell, Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel; Crista Burgh and Guy Cavell. From 5pm – 6pm Central European Tine – care to join me?  Twitter @colinonwine Facebook Colin Harkness

Llopart Sparkles!


When I first wrote about this winery, nearly four years ago, I titled it Cavas Llopart. My guess is that many readers will know why I give it a different title for this later article – yes, Llopart is one of the wineries which last year left DO Cava, to join the new enterprise, Corpinnat.

You’ll also know that I’ve written about the why and wherefore of the parting of the ways of another eight prestigious bodegas, so I don’t intend to do similarly here. Instead, I’m going to write about another of the impressive wineries to sign up for the Corpinnat logo. My first experience of Llopart in 2016 was a very positive one, so I was certain that when I was sent, before Christmas, a sample of their fizz, now termed simply ‘Spanish Sparkling Wine’, I wasn’t going to be disappointed.

Two reasons – it’s the same winery, making excellent products; plus it has passed all the stringent quality control tests set by the Corpinnat company. Easy!

Grapes have been grown on Llopart land since at least 1385 – a document has been discovered which proves this, but it wasn’t until 1857 that the Llopart family wine business actually started. Llopart was one of the first to produce Cava in the area and the 4th and 5th generation of the family are doing the same today, albeit by another name!

Llopart sparkling wines are very well known in the area of Cataluña but, as production is limited from this relatively small winery, they are not so well known in the rest of Spain, or indeed in the world. Only 15% of their production is exported, most of the rest is sold in Cataluña, often to the discerning restaurant trade. However, the quality of their products is such that they should be extremely well known – it’s outstanding fizz!

As part of my mission to find out more about Corpinnat and their portfolio of wineries and, of course, their products, I asked if any of the members would be prepared to send me a sample, so I could taste and write about it for readers. You’ve already read of others, so here is my opinion of Llopart’s offering.

Firstly – they didn’t mess about, wading in with a biggie, and without any fuss. Llopart Leopardi Brut Nature is one of their flagship sparklers. Like their whole range, it’s a limited production wine – there simply aren’t enough of the old vines that give of their best for this splendid fizz!

The Corpinnat group prefer to talk of their bare minimum ageing time of 18 months (twice as long as that of Cava, incidentally); and then of their sparkling wines of a minimum of 30 months; and then of 60 months plus! In ‘old money’, i.e. according to Cava rules, a Reserva must have had a minimum of 15 months ‘en rima’, ageing, and for Gran Reserva that is extended to 30, minimum.

In fact Lleopardi exceeds that minimum by another 18 months, meaning that this fine wine has been ageing in the caves beneath the winery for a minimum of four years! Effectively it’s therefore, to coin a phrase, Gran Gran Reserva! However, like all of the best fizzes, it retains that freshness and vitality of youth, despite its great age.

Made with 40% each of Macabeo and Xarel.lo, with a further 10% each of Parellada and Chardonnay, the wine enjoys the benefits that each variety brings to the blend. There’s a racing acidity, provided by the fresh green apple notes of the Macabeo; the Xarel.lo and Chardonnay combined give body and depth to the wine, a flavoursome fullness; and the Parellada adds, for me at least, some of the ripe pear notes that are often a part of Spanish sparkling wine character, with elegance and an understated floral note too.

The colour is a pale gold and the bubbles are fine, rising quickly to the top of the glass, breaking the surface just where your nose is waiting to take in the aromas of the above and, of course, the mature aromas associated with its age. I would simply love to enjoy this Llopart sparkling wine with oysters, with the salty spray of the seafood being calmed by the volume and complexity of the wine. Lovely, and no surprise!

Well done Llopart, please keep up the good work!

NB My next radio programme is Tuesday 4th Feb, 5pm – 6pm, talking Wines for Valentine’s!

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