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Introducing Swedish Visitors to the Wines of Spain

SWEDISH WINE TASTING SEASON CLOSES

It’s been an absolute pleasure presenting a season of wine tastings to small groups of Swedish visitors enjoying the activity holidays organised for them by Milagro Javea. However, all good things must come to an end – well for this season, that is!

 

Bookings are already being taken for dates organised this far for 2019 and I’m delighted to say my services have been retained.

 

As I said in the first article this season, when I’m presenting wine tastings with people who don’t live here in Spain, I like to introduce them to indigenous grape varieties as well as international ones. Also, I like to present wines from the famous areas of production, varying these each time, of course.

 

I’m also a great fan of wines made locally, believing in fact that is really is incumbent upon me to make sure that visitors are introduced to the delights of wines made, perhaps within even a thirty minute drive. Quite how it is that some visitors to Spain eat at McDonalds, when there is such a wealth of wonderful Spanish food here, is beyond me! Sure, you might not like it all, but at least try it! Well, we’re all different I suppose.

 

So, if thinking of the really famous areas of wine production, Rioja would come to mind of course. Ribera del Duero, Cava and, although we haven’t yet used them, Sherry, would all fit into the super-famous category. And when you consider that for me, starting a tasting (just as when thinking of an aperitif before dinner) with something sparkling, it’s no wonder that all our Swedish friends have been initiated into the world of Spanish fizz – in this case, of course, Cava!

 

We’ve enjoyed a number of the whole season, the latest, the one we used for the final tasting of the season was Bohigas Reseva Brut Nature (my favourite style of fizz, the driest). Made with a winning combination of the international Chardonnay as well as the Spanish Macabeo, for it’s acidity and green apple aromas and flavours along with Parellada, for a floral presence and some elegance too.

 

I feel it is very important to explain that there are different styles of Cava, as this can be quite confusing, and can result in people tasting really quite inappropriate, cheap cavas, in my opinion, unworthy of the name! So, we chose a Reserva, a style of cava that retains the important celebratory element whilst adding a different dimension for depth of flavour weight an presence, giving further pairing possibilities.

 

For our white wine, we chose an area which, in Spain, is certainly famous, but this fame isn’t universal – our Swedish friends, mostly, haven’t come across it. DO Rueda from whence came the Verdejo, the indigenous variety of the area, is a rags to riches story. Their local grape tends to oxidise far too easily and therefore didn’t generally give of its best.

 

New technology, huge investment and a lot of hard work and experimentation has pushed this variety into one of the best for white wines in Spain! I liked this one because it was one of the more subtle examples, rather than the in-you-face types that are pleasant, for one glass, but over-kill for another.

 

Our first red (I always like to have more red wines than the others, Spain, still being recognised as a red wine country first), was the flamboyantly labelled Mestizaje Bobal. In fact, although the name would suggest so, it isn’t a monovarietal. Garnacha and a little Syrah join the party, and the finished product is a lovely fruit-first red wine.

 

The vineyards are 800 metres above sea level – I’ve visited the bodega in February, and I can tell you, it’s freezing in the winter! More importantly, during the growing season there is a considerable drop in temperature at night and amongst other delights this adds a certain brilliance to the wine in the glass!

 

This wine is notable as well, because it isn’t consistent – and I mean this in a complimentary way! Whilst the blend this year is as above, it may not be next vintage, a fact of which I thoroughly approve. The final blend each year, in terms of percentages and varieties will vary – it will depend on how well the various varieties have fared that year. Wine is a product of nature, and shouldn’t therefore be interfered with too much!

 

So, our final wine of the 2018 Swedish season, was one that is made in a bodega a matter of just half an hour away from the font line villa in which we enjoyed the wines. Bodegas Enrique Mendoza, as many readers will (and indeed, should!) know, produces a series of wines of the highest DO Alicante order.

 

The choice, therefore, was actually quite difficult, but I settled on their Petit Verdot – such value for money, and the chance to show how well the variety can ripen in the Spanish Sun!

 

Roll on next season!

 

colin@colinharknessonwine.com  Twitter @colinonwine

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Caskadia – for International Wines in Spain

SOURCING CLASSICAL INTERNATIONAL WINES

When my UK wine friends and colleagues heard I was going to live in Spain 21 years ago they were delighted for me, of course. However, some did ring a note of caution, warning that I wasn’t going to be able to access international wines very easily. They were, and indeed, mostly still are, quite correct.

 

The truth is that it didn’t bother me. It was and still is true to say that in Spain we are so lucky to be able find such excellent Spanish wines, from so many different areas, using a large variety of grape varieties, that it wasn’t really worth the effort of trying to source international wines, nor the expense of so doing!

 

That said, when I do return to the UK and when I do travel to other countries, I don’t buy Spanish wines! I still have a thirst(!) for international wines and a hunger for more knowledge. Therefore I buy the wines of the country I’m in, and this certainly, these days, includes British wines, as well as tasting international wines sold in the UK, where there is such a huge choice.

 

I guess you could say I’m a touch ambivalent. On the one hand my love affair with Spanish wines continues; on the other I still love to taste wines from different countries, including their classic areas.

 

Enter  www.caskadia.es!

 

Based in Barcelona, with shipping throughout Spain, Caskadia was founded for people like me, and probably you, in mind. Rather than having to travel in order to taste international wines, from prominent wine producing areas like: Burgundy, Napa, Champagne, Rhone, Tuscany, Bordeaux, Jura, Veneto and others, we can have them delivered to our doors – by Caskadia! (They also have a long list of excellent Spanish wines including Castillo Ygay, Prado Enea, Vega Sicilia Único and so on!).

Founders Tom Symons and Arthur de Gaulejac (Tom with Wine & Spirits Education Trust qualifications and experience working at Bibendum in London; Arthur a qualified French Sommelier, whose CV includes working at Michelin starred restaurants) wanted to supply Spain’s top restaurants with wines that were essentially impossible to find here.

 

It’s a young business, only approaching it three year anniversary, but it has its eye on expansion! Continuing, of course, to supply the finest restaurants in Spain, it is now increasing its portfolio of private clients. And this is where we come in!

 

So, what of the wines? Well, Tom was kind enough to send me two examples – one from the hallowed ground of Burgundy, no less; the other from one of my favourite wine countries, Italy.

 

I opened the Italian wine first, and decanted it as Tom had said that it was a tad young at the moment, though he was expecting it to blossom over time. Dolcetto D’Alba is a Denominzione D’Origine Controllata (the Italian equivalent to Spain’s DO, Denominacón de Origen) and if Azienda Agricola from Bruno Giacosa is a representative example, then I’d like some more, please!

As advised it was still young, nicely balanced between fruit, acidity and tannin, just lacking some bottle age. The producer is, as Tom says, “legendary” so there is no doubt that it will develop, in the next year and probably still be at its best in three or four years too.

 

The Dolcetta variety juice was fermented in stainless steel and then aged further in tank for another six months. You’ll find pleasing floral notes blending very well with the dark cherry fruit for which the variety is known. A delight with cold meats, this wine will also be wonderful with pasta dishes, particularly those with a meat element. A good start!

 

Both the lovely Claire-Marie and I stopped and looked at each other when we first tasted the Clos du Moulin Aux Moines, Bourgogne Rouge Clos de la Perrière Monopole 2016 red Burgundy, of course! It’s been too many years since we made a vinous return to, surely one of the finest wine crafting areas in the world, and did we enjoy the elegance and charm of this wine!

Made with Pinot Noir from 50+ years old vines, now grown biodynamically, the wine has clearly enjoyed its 12 months in oak, which adds depth, a little complexity and suitability for pairing the wine with rabbit, pigeon (I just love pigeon in France!) and beef.

 

Well, those are just two from the list of many international, and Spanish wines on offer at Caskadia – I’ll be back!

The Wines of Bulgaria, Romania and Moldova’, by Master of Wine, Caroline Gilby

STARS RISING IN THE EAST!

No, not that star – these stars (plural) are the wine making countries of Eastern Europe: Bulgaria, Romania and Moldova.

 

I’m disappointed to have had to turn down my invitation to judge once again at the International Wine Competition Bucharest, Romania, next month, because of a clash in my diary. When there last year we worked hard judging in the morning, but the afternoons and evenings were taken up by tasting Eastern European wines and touring Romanian wineries.

 

For me it was the first time I had tasted Eastern European wines, apart from some rather dubious efforts in the 70s at the newly opened wine bar in Chester! Tasting such an array of wines, talking to their makers and to aficionados was the seed from which grew my great interest in wines from the East, which in fact have an ancient history, but only started recovering from the collective farming constrictions of the Communist era during the last 25 years or so.

 

I was delighted therefore to receive recently, a new book, ‘The Wines of Bulgaria, Romania and Moldova’, by Master of Wine, Caroline Gilby!

 

To say that this exceedingly well researched book is comprehensive, the definitive book on wines from these countries, doesn’t actually do it justice! It’s also a jolly good read! The photos are beautiful, inspiring the reader to visit; the facts are detailed, though presented in a very reader friendly manner; the history related is compelling (so much more so than History lessons, when I were a lad!); and, perhaps above all, it’s the human element that certainly captivated this reader!

 

One can almost feel the pain of the families whose lands are simply taken away from them as Communism cast a shadow over these countries, their fear and sense of hopelessness at losing the estates that had been in the families for generations. Their sense of desperation as they are forced to flee the country of their birth and then, years later when it was safe to return their feelings of ambivalence – elation at going home, but despondency when they see the neglected vineyards and encounter the bureaucracy in the way of their buying their land back!

 

Two World Wars had devastating affects, of course – millions died and countries were left in ruins. Thoughts of making fine wine couldn’t have been further from the minds of survivors, intent more on continuing to survive. But as one Moldovan gentleman, now producing wines, related there were worse times to come. Stalin had a policy of sending any land owners to Siberia – where many families simply died out! His grandfather was neglected when the rest were herded out of their homes, because he was in the vineyard at the time – most of his family never returned.

 

As a wine man, I was sad to read about how the dual mantras of mechanisation and mass production under the Communist regimes saw an increase in the volume of wine, but a dramatic decrease in quality. Corruption was rife and in order to survive one had to toe the communist line.

 

We read about how Russia banned the purchase of Moldovan wines, traditionally their largest and best market. This in far more modern times, 2006 to be precise, and for such spurious a reason as to cite danger from the pesticides used, when in fact, as the author points out, most growers were too poor to buy chemicals! It’s believed it was political, related to Moldovias ties with Ukraine!

 

Nevertheless, this is a very positive book. In each of the three countries, visionaries, often young winemakers, are intent on bringing back the fine wine traditions of the past, and improving them further. Investment from within as well as that from outside these countries has been bringing about a major sea change (Black Sea?) in the industry. A political will is also helping – though red tape still abounds!

 

Caroline Gilby MW has been visiting Bulgaria, Romania and Moldova for almost thirty years now, and has, as she states, been privileged to have been there when the quality wine making resurgence was just starting. She honestly says that there were times when she tasted dreadful wines in the early days, but hardly at all now, and also amazing wines which continue to please.

 

This is an inspirational book, dealing with all aspects of wine-making in these three countries and inciting us all to try the wines and visit the countries! In fact, I’m off to Romania later this month – to do just that!

 

The Wines of Bulgaria, Romania and Moldova by Caroline Gilby MW is available from www.infideas.com/books/wines-bulgaria-romania-moldova  – Christmas Present anyone?!

 

Bodegas Vins del Comtat

DO ALICANTE PUNCHING ABOVE ITS WEIGHT?

Well, these days, no, not at all! In this once unfashionable area of production it’s the perceived ‘weight’ that’s changed. Alicante is making wines of high quality, wines that can happily rub shoulders with those from the more famous and, still, more fashionable areas. However, this latter part is also changing – DO Alicante wines are being sought after nowadays, and rightly so!

 

One of the reasons for this upsurge in interest is the wine portfolio of Bodegas Vins del Comtat, out of the mountainous area surrounding Concentaina. I have tasted wines with owner and winemaker, David, a number of times over the years and have always been impressed – and after our recent joint presentation I can see (and taste, of course) that the winemaking is still well and truly on track. (http://www.vinsdelcomtat.com/en/)

 

The venue was La Parrila del Celler in Jabea Pueblo, founded and run, for 22 years now, by Jose Belles Monferrer, the amiable chef/patron known affectionately as Pepe. We get together occasionally to present a wine tasting lunch – five wines matched with five courses. They are lots of fun and usually fully subscribed – so David was delighted to see a full house recently, and to hear the very positive comments of the assembled tasters.

 

We started with Vins del Comtat Viognier. In 2006 David planted a number of experimental varieties – the one that adapted best to the conditions (extreme daytime growing season temperatures, cooling nights at 600-700 metres above sea level, Mediterranean sea breezes, and so on) was the Rhône Valley’s Viognier.

Responsible for some exquisite white wines in France it also has a fine, though shorter pedigree in Australia and I believe California – probably other areas too. Classic tasting notes nearly always refer to its marked apricot nose and flavour – it really is quite remarkable, dry as you like, but so fragrant!

 

Well, David’s version is more white nectarines and yellow peaches, with some mountain heather notes too. Really lovely dry white wine.

 

Our next wine was also Viognier, monovarietal, but this time fermented in lightly toasted oak and aged in barrel for just two months. Whilst the fruit element above is still there, it has changed dramatically, with some vanilla and a brief whiff of coconut too. Again, super wine – and what a start!

 

Vins del Comtat make a number of red wines – El Salze is not only a single estate vineyard, all its grapes come from a single parcela, within that estate. These are old vines producing fruit rich red wine from the Monastrell variety, with an individual personality. You’ll see the word ‘paraje’ on the label – regular readers will have seen this word before, related in Cork Talk to the new top level of Cava. It means the above, re the individual part of a single estate, and of course any association with such high end Cava can’t be a bad thing!

Plums on the nose and palate, dark colour and some mountain herbs – bay leaf and thyme, with a little dry undergrowth as well.

 

We were also fortunate to be able to taste the bodega’s flagship wine, MOntcabrer, 2015. Made with Cabernet Sauvignon this wine is very dark as it swirls around the glass from pouring. There is an immediate aroma of blackberry and blackcurrant again with the bodega’s signature earthiness.

There’s also some tar on the nose along with graphite notes and wood shavings from its 14 months in American and French oak. It’s big in the mouth and has a long and graceful finish. Christmas Lunch/Dinner wine – definitely a contender!

 

Finally a dessert wine – another white wine too, which is an indication of how good Spanish whites are these days; a tasting of five Spanish wines, three of them white!

A lovely wine, perhaps made even lovelier by the fact that the grapes are harvested from plots of land, not in Concentaina, but a matter of but a few kilometres from Javea! Moscatel, of course is the variety, and I really enjoyed it. Yes, there are typical Moscatel aromas of raisons and grapes, but these are overtaken, certainly on first whiff, by pink grapefruit notes, with some orange peel as well! Dessert wine, with refreshing acidity.

 

PS at the time of writing I have some places left for the ‘Wine By The Glass’ Concept Tasting with tapas at Flavors, near the Correos of Javea Old Town – Five International wines and 5€ to be used to try any other wine of your choice – all for just 20€! Please contact me to reserve.

 

colin@colinharknessonwine.com   Facebook Colin Harkness