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Your monthly wine article by Colin Harkness

WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT SHERRY!

Mostly misunderstood, often maligned and sometimes abused – Sherry is one of the greatest treasures of Spain!

However, Sherry remains largely undiscovered, languishing at the back of the drinks cabinet, indeed if it’s even present at all. This is largely because it is not quite understood. So, here is a simple guide to Sherry, hoping that, like myself, you will become an aficionado!

Firstly, there are different styles of Sherry. It can be: lean, salty and dry; medium bodied but still dry; rich but dry as well; medium sweet; and as sweet and rich as you like! Also most Sherry is fortified with wine spirit raising its alcohol content*.

Let’s start at Dry. Fino and Manzanilla (though this is not strictly a Sherry as it has its own DO, but is usually considered as a valued part of the Sherry spectrum). These wines are very pale in colour, the Finos can even look a little like water; Manzanilla has a little pale golden glow. They are the driest style of Sherry, traditionally drunk as an aperitif and with seafood tapas and starters. They are as refreshing as an Atlantic wave!

Note also that over the last few years an older style of Fino and Manzanilla (and sometimes, the next style, Amontillado) has been brought back into play. Fino En Rama and Manzanilla En Rama, are probably the best examples of this style. Translating roughly to ‘wild’ these wines have hardly been filtered and are thus fuller whilst retaining their very dry, saline freshness.

Next up is Amontillado – until recently my favourite (more on the change later!). This is a Sherry that starts off as if it’s going to be a Fino or Manzanilla ageing under a veil of yeast (flor) which develops on the surface of the liquid because of the deliberate gap that is left up to the top of the horizontal barrel. However, after a time this yeast disappears exposing the wine to oxygen. Therefore Amontillados enjoy both types of ageing, gaining a slightly oxidative flavour and becoming a more golden colour. It’s dry, richer and fuller than the previous styles. Try it with mushroom dishes, the wonderful dried tuna, mojama, chicken and turkey, as well as olives and dry-fried almonds.

Oloroso is a darker colour, browning nicely as it is aged with oxygen, the yeast layer not having appeared as wines destined to become Olorosos are fortified to a higher degree where yeast cannot survive**. These older wines remain dry, also full, and quite rich. A range of tapas will go so well with this style – olives, nuts, jamon and other dried meats etc.

Palo Cortado is the next style, definitely dry still, but perhaps a little richer with very slight touch of sweetness, depending on the producer. With greater complexity and depth Palo Cortado balances the aromas of Amontillado with the body and palate of Oloroso. It has a beautiful, inviting, golden brown colour and is a richer, yet perhaps more elegant alternative to pair with the above tapas.

Pale Cream is the first of the sweeter Sherries. Along with Cream Sherry and Medium Sherry these are the ones largely to blame for the misunderstanding of Sherry! Great Aunts and Grannies of yesteryear were largely responsible! A sweeter style suited them. They brought it out at Christmas, didn’t finish the bottle – so served it again next Christmas, without even finding it a place in the fridge! Needless to say, it was often served some way past its best!

These three Sherries are usually made from the same grape variety as the above, Palomino, but have had a little of the sweeter Pedro Ximénez or Moscatel varieties added to increase their sugar content. If you prefer Sherry to a cup of tea, these are the perfect pairing for cakes, scones, biscuits et al!

Finally, well almost finally, there are the Dulce, Sweet Sherries, made from the above PX and Moscatel, which have been left on the vines for longer than normal gaining more sugar. These are always a very dark mahogany colour, luscious and, yes, a little naughty! Such wines go well with cakes and many desserts, including simply pouring some over vanilla ice cream (sumptuous!). Plus, it can be enjoyed at the end of dinner instead of a dessert!

* In fact very recently there has been a change in the rules – not all wines under the Denominación de Origen have to be fortified now.

** Two years ago a new style of Sherry has been discovered, so new it has only provisionally been named, Raya Cortada, and there is hardly any available to buy yet. A long story, but against science, all previous knowledge and experience a few barrels that had been fortified to 18% abv (two degrees higher that the 16 degrees maximum!) developed, after four years a layer of yeast!

Colin Harkness is a member of the Circle of Wine Writers; a Wine Broadcaster; a Cruise Line Speaker; and an Author. He is a retired International Wine Judge; Features Journalist; Wine Writer and Critic.

OUR TRAVELS

A much-needed, well-chilled dry white wine in a lovely square off Las Ramblas, Barcelona prior to embarkation on the ferry to Civitavecchia – Rome’s port.

There’s not much positive I can say about our Grimaldi ferry crossing – except to say that it took us there safely, for which we are grateful, of course. Dreadfully disorganised, late leaving, even later arriving, it wasn’t a pleasant experience, causing us to make an unscheduled wild-camping overnight stop on our drive to Lago di Bracciano.

Rosanna and Claire, cooling off in the beautiful Lago di Bracciano.

Lake Bracciano is about an hour’s drive north of Rome – easy to get to from the port. It really is a lovely haven of tranquility. Who knew? I’ve always thought of ‘the lakes of Italy’ are those in the north; Lago di Garda, for example, as well as Lakes Como, Maggiori and others (in fact we are now in Verona, having spent a glorious time at Lake Garda), but no, there are more lakes in Italy and Bracciano is wonderful.

Pitch-perfect – Claire always is, of course, and here our camping pitch couldn’t have been bettered.

We were but a cork’s-pop away from the water, the ‘beach’ of which we had virtually to ourselves.

Another cork, popped – loving the life.

Claire, of course, had lessons to teach online and Rosanna had lessons to learn online as part of her assessments for her imminent GCSEs. Both agreed that teaching/learning in this location was far better than in a classroom! Apologies to teachers about to go back to school after the Summer Hols – we know we are incredibly lucky!

Whilst the lake is stunning, there’s not that much to do in the surrounding area and we knew we had to be at Toscana Campeggio, Montopoli, Tuscany for the beginning of July, so we left the lake and drove to one of the most famous parts of Italy. Toscana.

When we arrived our host, Wil, explained that there would be a delay in Claire singing. It seemed there was a problem with the lady who had the restaurant concession for the season, who wasn’t very (at all!) pro-active re business promotional ideas. Plus, we found that in fact, Wil, wasn’t really the autocratic manager we’d been led to believe, as he had a partner – the owners of the site. The start of some bad luck, as alluded to above.

The Euros were big at the time, so this caused a further delay, with Claire performing only once after about 10 days. However, we had a very important guest to welcome!

Christo – socially distanced and quarantined!

Wil told us that there was a new quarantine rule for arrivals from UK, so he kindly found us a posh cabin for Christo to stay for five days. We were able to eat with him, at a distance though, and unfortunately, he wasn’t able to watch the footy with us, nor attend Claire’s first performance!

Our lovely neighbour, Joan who’d flown in from New York to take residence in her bungalow, loved the gig so much she presented Claire with a beautiful display of flowers!

The performance was well attended, including our new friends: Joan, Kitch, Fleur, Robbie, Tony (Irish, remember him from earlier in the blog?), Alessandro, Wil and Derek, and well appreciated too!

Wil, Claire and I were trying to make another plan re her performances as the restaurant manager wasn’t really interested (why, we’ll never know). We hit upon the idea of a sort of fair, where local producers would bring their wares for people to taste, paying a small fee for entry, much in the French Marche Gourmand model, and to listen to Claire. There were some negotiations and arrangements to make between Wil, his partners and the local producers, but we were to discover that these weren’t as simple as they should have been.

Meanwhile, after quarantine, we wanted to take Rosanna and Christo to see a little more of the area – so Pisa was only a train journey away.

The Cathedral in Pisa next to the iconic tower!

Yes, there’s the leaning tower – but Pisa has lots more architectural beauty (that isn’t falling down!)!

This next photo is slightly out of order – please view after the next!!

Arriving at a beautiful, very professionally run campsite a short bus ride away from wonderful Siena!

Siena, is of course, a must-visit city in Tuscany and it proved to be every bit as magical as we’d anticipated.

The iconic Capella di Piazza – by night. Beautiful and atmospheric!

As you might have guessed, after all this sightseeing, and bearing in mind it had been a long time since – we decided to visit a winery, in fact just about 3km from the city. And, talking of ‘must-visit’ you really should add La Torre alle Tolfe to your bucket list!

Like a Chateau in France, or a Country House in the UK, Torre alle Tolfe is really beautiful!

There is an air of tranquillity which blends in so well with the surrounding area (the hamlet of Tolfe, the rolling vineyards, Cyprus trees and olive groves) and the immense history of the building which is gently staggering. With foundations built in the Etruscan period (that’s BC, guys!) one cannot help but be impressed.

We stayed in Campy, of course, but booked for breakfast in the hotel grounds, following a superb dinner the night before – which we enjoyed after our tour and tasting!

Add to this the charm of the current owner, Mania, who took us around the magnificent property; as well as that of Emily, who hosted our wine tasting; along with the quality of the wine they craft and the outstanding olive oil; their excellent restaurant; and their wonderful hotel – and you can understand how this may well equal paradise itself!

*Please note that La Torre alle Tolfe features in my www.valleyfm.es Wine Show this Saturday 4th September 12 – 13:00hrs (CET). Please also note their Autumn Olive Oil harvesting and tasting event, whose details you can find here: https://www.latorrealletolfe.com/

Unfortunately, Rosanna and Christopher had to return to the UK – Rosanna had a summer job to go to (her promised resto job in the campsite hadn’t worked out either!), making and serving ice creams, and Christo had to return to his studies (he’s one term away from completing his Masters Degree in Sports Journalism). There’s an airport at Pisa and, unknown to me really, a beach area too. So, it seemed that a couple of days there before their flight would be perfect.

Well, it wasn’t! To put it simply, our experience at the campsite at Lido di Pisa convinced us that: a) we prefer out of season camping on our travels; and b) we want to avoid seaside locations in Summer!

When the kids flew out, Rosanna having been with us since April, we were a little lost to start with, but our wedding anniversary was coming up soon, so we had something to celebrate.

Sometimes referred to as ‘Little Venice’, there is a beautiful area in Livorno, close to coastal Pisa, where there are a number of interconnecting canals.

We enjoyed watching some of the boats travelling out to the Med and back into the harbour, as well as having a lovely anniversary lunch in one of the canal-side restaurants, with a local white wine to boot!

A delightful day in Livorno!
Our lunch restaurant was just behind Claire’s left shoulder!

A little down as we were missing the kids, there wasn’t great news to come back to after our visit either. Phone messages and calls with Toscana Village Camping indicated to us that it was going to be a waste of time returning. The promise of Claire singing for the season wasn’t going to be delivered, which was disappointing, as well as something of a financial blow. However, we saw it as a sign – we obviously needed to move on.

The northern lakes of Italy weren’t that far away, it would be slightly cooler and an area that we’d intended to visit anyway. Claire wrote to a few campsites around the southwestern area of Lake Garda – short notice of course, but might they be interested in a couple of performances a week, in exchange for a free of charge pitch?

We packed up and left Pisa’s beaches (probably never to return!) and drove towards the mountains. Over night we received a reply – yes, please come and sing one night at the campsite where we can offer you a pitch, free of charge, and another night at our other site (a short Scoots ride away)! Brilliant – our good luck was bouncing back!

“Early morning yesterday, I was up before the dawn, Well I really have enjoyed my stay (not that much actually!), but I must be moving on!”

Well, that concludes Part Thirteen of our blog – we hope you enjoyed ‘travelling’ with us, and that you’ll be interested in catching up with us again very soon. As always, all comments are most welcome – please keep in touch this way! Best to e-mail: colinharkness53@gmail.com

Ciao for now!

M de ALEJANDRIA!

One and a half hectares of new Moscatel vines were planted on the different parcelas, each with its own differing soils – a quite remarkable feature of the land which adds to the singularity of the resulting wine.

A DREAM COME TRUE

When Cristína Rodriguez Vicente (www.mdealejandria.com) was a little girl their neighbour in the next finca, Crístina’s father’s best friend, used to bring for Christmas a bottle of the dessert wine that he made at home.

Made from the old Moscatel vines that surrounded his house, Crístina, who was allowed a little sip, thought it sweet nectar from the gods! Consequently, she would pester her Papi asking if he would also make some of said nectar, using the ancient vines that surrounded their finca as well.

“Well, yes, maybe. One day. We’ll see,” was the usual answer placating her – until the next Christmas, when she would make the same plea. For whatever reason the idea never came to fruition – that was until 2014, when, having inherited the land and built her own house next door, Crístina decided to try and make that little girl’s dream come true and in so doing, honour her father with her personal tribute to him.

Ok, nice idea, but it isn’t that easy – so, she set to work learning all she could about wine making. On advice she replanted, making sure that she was using the same Moscatel de Alejandria clone. Rather than the old bush vine cultivation, she decided to use trellising, with wooden posts, thinking of the environment as well, apart from one of the 7 different parcelas (plots) where bush vines were considered to be best, according to soils of the site.

One and a half hectares of new Moscatel vines were planted on the different parcelas, each with its own differing soils – a quite remarkable feature of the land which adds to the singularity of the resulting wine. If it had been pointed out to her when she’d been young, Crístina would perhaps have recognised these slight differences in the flavours coming from the grapes from each different area. She would also have noticed, as did I when I visited, the quite marked difference in the colours of the soils ranging from a deep terracotta to an almost chalky white.

Stored in her memory was that grape taste and part of her quest when making her wine, eventually to be called M de Alejandria, was to try and replicate that same flavour in her wines. Now that’s quite a big ask. Think about how wine writers describe the flavours, and aromas, in the wines they taste. Cabernet Sauvignon has the taste of blackcurrant; Sauvignon Blanc, gooseberry; Monastrell, plums; Bobal, black cherries, and so on – none of us ever writing that they taste of grapes!

Crístina needed the advice of others, one of whom was the legendary Daniel Belda of the eponymous Bodegas Daniel Belda, DO Valencia, a great supporter of indigenous grape varieties and, importantly, a believer in the quality that can come from carefully crafted wines made from Moscatel de Alejandria.

A very unusual, and innovative suggestion was made – why not try to make M de Alejandria in the Ice Wine style? Would this be a means of retaining that wonderful aroma and flavour in the wine, a way of forging a direct link from the vineyard to the glass?

Many readers will know that Ice Wine is championed particularly by producers in Canada and Germany, as well as some other countries where night time temperatures, as autumn starts to change into winter, are such that grapes left on the vine freeze. These frozen grapes are harvested and then pressed, ultimately producing some of the best sweet wines on the planet.

Nice idea – but hey, we are never going to get such temperatures in the Crístina’s L’Alberca vineyards, located as they are, just in the countryside on the outskirts of Teulada, Alicante! No worries – says Daniel, we’ll freeze them ourselves!

Harvesting at L’Alberca occurs, when the grapes are fully ripened, of course, and it occurs on a Thursday! Very early morning when it’s still dark, the pickers arrive and start their craft as soon as dawn sheds its first light on the vineyard. Bunches are placed carefully in small crates which are easily stacked without any grapes being crushed and then taken immediately to a refrigerated truck.

The grapes, already chilled after the night time, start to turn colder still. At the end of the day the now full lorry is driven in the cool of the night to Bodegas Daniel Belda and left to spend the weekend gradually cooling eventually to become frozen on the Monday or Tuesday – when, as you’ve guessed, they are pressed, with the resulting juice fermenting, without the addition of any cultivated yeasts.

Recreating thus, the conditions found in those far colder climes of Canada and Germany.

Well, it all sounds wonderful, doesn’t it – but what’s the wine like? What are those aroma and taste profiles like? Does it work?

Well, my answer is a resounding ‘Yes’! Crístina kindly invited me to her vineyards to see for myself the soils, the different parcelas, the vines fully laden with their wonderful crop of Moscatel de Alejandria grapes almost at full ripeness in early September. I was captivated by the whole project as well as by Crístina herself and her charming story, her passion for the wine they have created and her homage to her father.

As we toured each parcela I was encouraged to taste grapes from each site – there were very slight differences, yet all had a common floral fragrance and grapy taste. Furthermore, I left with a couple of kilos, despite my protestations that I was robbing her, and her clients, of perhaps a bottle of wine’s worth! Crístina suggested that I also freeze some of the grapes to be enjoyed eaten straight from the freezer, which I did, of course.

Plus, well obviously, we tasted her quite stunning M de Alejandria, under the shade of the veranda, specially designed to look exactly like one of the antique Riu Rao, used in the area a century and more ago, for drying Moscatel grapes!

The wine is sheer delight and when I tasted a grape, just harvested from a bunch, and compared it with the wine, it was incredible! Crístina has done exactly what she set out to do. There is a lovely fresh white blossom fragrance to the wine, mingling with raisony grape aromas as well. On the palate it’s sweet with fresh fruit of grapes to the fore, having also that crucial element for a dessert wine – a touch of acidity maintaining the freshness of the wine.

M de Alejandria is available in Michelin starred and other quality restaurants as well as in fine wine shops – and I highly recommend you invest in a bottle or two of this excellent wine, with a story behind it as well!

Twitter @colinonwine; Instagram colinharkness53; Facebook Colin Harkness

DENOMINACIÓN de ORIGEN ALICANTE

Wine has been part of the DNA of Alicante since the Phoenicians came trading their amphorae as long ago as 1,000 years BC.

DOP ALICANTE

Wine has been part of the DNA of Alicante since the Phoenicians came trading their amphorae as long ago as 1,000 years BC. They were followed by the Romans who set to work planting vineyards. The 16th and 17th Centuries saw a particularly booming trade – there was even a Royal Decree forbidding the import of foreign wines in an effort to promote Alicante wines still further.

Wine has been part of the fabric of everyday life for Alicantinos ever since. So it was no surprise that the wine makers of the time successfully applied for Denmoninación de Origin status in 1932. However, Alicante wines have had to climb something of a mountain in terms of national and international recognition – the fault, I am ashamed to say, of a generation or two of wine writers, before mine, I hasten to add.

Looking usually from afar, perhaps without even deigning to travel to Alicante, wine writers of previous generations would most likely dismiss the wines of this area, refusing to believe that in such a climate anything but sickly sweet whites and high alcohol bulk reds could be made. How wrong they were, and how right was one of the leading producers in DOP Alicante, Bodegas Enrique Mendoza, to convince them of their errors.

Following Mendoza’s pioneering work with green pruning, early harvesting, vineyard selection, et al, other producers followed suit with the result that today, DOP Alicante wines are acclaimed all over the world. And rightly so. There is such a diversity of wine styles, so many different aroma and taste profiles coming from such a variety of indigenous and imported grape varieties, grown in so many multifarious locations and soils! What’s not to like?!

Unfortunately, in common with all other wine making regions of the world DOP Alicante has not escaped the Covid 19 pandemic unscathed. Sales nationally have diminished by a very worrying 60%, with exports also dropping by 40%. Such losses cannot be sustained of course and member bodegas have had to make cuts.

However, with typical resilience and a sense of camaraderie DOP Alicante members and officials of the Consejo Regulador are not taking it lying down. Whilst no events per se can be organised right now (which is a blow, as this DO has always been dynamic in organising promotional events), there are other means by which the DO can promote their members’ wines.

When I visited the Headquarters recently there was also a national TV crew there filming the President of the DO chatting, about this year’s harvest, plans for the future etc – as indeed was I. Also they’ve already started a series of videos shared on social media using very high profile wine celebrities, including my friend and colleague Sarah Jane Evans MW. My contact, Eladio Martín, Gerente, DOP Alicante told me that Social Media was the way forward in doing the best job possible for the member bodegas – and they are certainly active on all the usual platforms.

Look, for example at Terreta del Món Wine Academy on their website (vinosalicantedop.org), where you’ll see their videos helping people new to wine regarding how to taste like the professionals as well as discourses on Alicante wines by the professionals themselves!

So, whilst there are of course difficulties considering the current restrictions and falling sales owing to the pandemic, there is a feeling of positivity and optimism – and, considering the following wines, I know exactly why! DOP Alicante wines rock!

Sein 2018, with the beautiful label, a copy of antique tiles, is made by Vinessens, using Monastrell and Syrah a blend that works so well. Picota cherry in colour with dark fruits on the nose as well as toasty oak notes from the French barrels in which the wine has aged for 12 months. Fresh acidity and active tannin with a good fruit presence mean that this wine can age some more in bottle.

There are liquorice notes on the palate, with mature dark fruit – black cherry and blackberry, as well as a touch of dark chocolate on the palate.

Arbui from Bodegas Alejandro is a monovarietal wine made with indigenous Monastrell grapes. The wine has clearly enjoyed its 15 months in French oak, gaining depth of flavour, longevity and some toasted coconut notes on first opening. It’s a fruit driven, juicy red wine with flavours of dark plum, blackberry fruit and foliage, with some earthy minerality.

There’s also a note of caramel coming from the barrica which adds to the wine’s charm. It’s a meaty and yet elegant wine – we thought it went very well with fajitas and chilli con carne which had just a touch of dark chocolate as an ingredient, allying itself with the dark chocolate finish so often found in Monastrell wines. I’d recommend decanting this 2017 wine so that it gives all that it has to give from the first glass onwards.

Our final wine (for now!) was the oldest – a fine 2013 vintage using Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Monastrell. Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate gave this wine 92 points out of 100, describing it as a ‘Mediterranean Bordeaux’, which, I think, is very apt.

There are dark forest notes on the nose with some mountain herbs, a little laurel with thyme and drying, crushed rosemary. Blackcurrant fruit aided by blackberry and damson plum come to the fore with just a touch of mint. On the palate there is a meaty note, onion and mushroom gravy, mingling nicely with the dark fruits. 21 months in oak gives complexity and length, allowing for some further ageing yet. I can imagine that this is going to be wonderful with duck breast, as well as with steak and meat casseroles.

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