Alimentaria Anecdotes Day Two

Alimentaria Anecdotes – continued, Day Two!

Well, Alimentaria, and the exhibitors present will be pleased with the second day of the large* wine/food fair held every two years in Barcelona. The number of visitors has increased from the first day and the aren look busy!

However, the * above will help keep feet on the ground! I’ve substituted the word ‘Huge’, used in the fist Anecdote, preferring instead the word – ‘large’. It seems to be related to the law of diminishing returns!

My blog yesterday was about how there were fewer exhibitors than in previous years – this has been highlighted again today by a further trip around the Intervin Hall today. Too much unused space (therefore revenue-less!) and too many extraneous stands which, really should be in the food halls. I wonder why.

Well, having asked others – it seems I got it right yesterday. It’s too expensive to exhibit and the demand for stands at Fenavin, the competition may well exceed the space available. A source said, “It’s [Alimentaria] dying!”, for these reasons.


But it’s certainly not all doom and gloom. VinorumThink – is an excellent innovation, as I said yesterday. High profile speakers are presenting tastings of high quality, and they are all organised very professionally. Plus, those exhibitors who have arrived are very pleased to talk and present their wares.

I went to two Vinorum presentations on Day Two. The first was ‘The Best Wines in Spain’ according to the Proensa Guide. This followed yesterday’s final presentation, which I also attended, with the same name –  but according to Guia Peñin! So who’s right?

Well, it’s not really like that – each publication has its highest pointers and the presenters selected 9 for us to taste – there could have been more, of course, and I think there had been a deliberate attempt to make sure that wines were not used in both tastings, despite their probably figuring in each guide. Sensible – and better for the tasters who attended both!

There was some controversy, in my book at least, re the Proensa tasting. I follow this guide, if not like the Bible, at least very closely. But I’d take issue with Señor Proensa’s declaration, for example, ‘To talk about natural wines means that all that we have tasted today are unnatural.’ And, for another example – ‘Bio-dynamic production is just a marketing argument.’

I also went to Victor de la Serna and Juancho Asenjo’s presentation ‘ The evolution of Spanish Wines’ – as perceived by their magazine El Mundo Vino. This was an excellent opportunity to taste super wines from various different locations – including, near to my base, Utiel-Requena and Alicante!

I also like to attend here the tastings organised by Cataluña – smaller, but alwyas interesting and well planned, with good speakers too.

Tomorrow the final day – with more reflections, more anecdotes!

Photos from all three days to follow! 

The Alimentaria Anecdotes

This biennial wine/food fair is always a must in the wino/foodie’s diary . . . . albeit that . . .




This biennial wine/food fair is always a must in the wino/foodie’s diary. I think this is my 7th time in Barcelona for this event and after the first day I’m pleased to say that I’m enjoying the experience as always. Albeit, that there seems to be a change afoot – although it could be a one-off?


I know the halcyon pre-la-crisis days (before the Spanish recession) are gone, maybe forever, but I have to say that the encouraging signs that Spain is coming out of that dreadful economic blight, as witnessed in my area of the Costa Blanca, where the phoenix-like real estate agents proliferate once again, are not so noticeable here.


The rise and rise of the popularity of artisan olive oils is evidenced by the noticeable increase in the number of stands devoted to them, in a marked contrast to the number of wine stands this year. Furthermore, in the Intervin Hall, where two years ago for example, not even in pre-la-crisis times, there have to be the fewest wine exhibitors I’ve seen, but the most wine related (sometimes tenuously) other stands offering for example, snacks etc to accompany wine, and boxes in which to place the bottles.


And if that’s not worrying enough (for the hosts) there are several areas where rough seating has been arranged, occupying spaces that should have been filled with wine exhibitors. In past years the exhibition area has been full to bursting with wineries all trying to tempt the press and, more importantly, buyers too.


Indeed I wrote one article several Alimentaria’s ago entitles ‘The Changing Face of Alimentaria’ – a reference to the increasing number of Chinese buyers who were being feted by all and sundry in their attempts to break into the, predicted burgeoning Asian market. The aisles were packed – today not so at all.


So what does it mean? That the quality of Spanish wine is on the wane? No – far from it. I’ve just returned from a José Peñin led tasting where impressive statistics were shown, indicating, nay, proving that the standard of Spanish wine is currently at an all time high.


So exactly what is the nature of the problem, perceived by me at least?


Is it perhaps the competition? Fenavin, another Biennial fair, held usually in Ciudad Real, where I was last year, seems to expand year on year – is this a reason for an apparent decline in numbers exhibiting in Alimentaria? Or, maybe it’s the prices charged by a perhaps slightly arrogant Alimentaria?


A new friend of mine, a ‘natural wine’ maker was asked if he’d like to exhibit at Alimentaria 2016n as poart if a group of similarly disposed winemakers. His reasons declining were firstly the cost, and, admittedly, the perceived public’s indifference to the notion of ‘natural wines’.


Or is the decline simply a matter of a gradual loss of Alimentaria’s magnetism – are fewer people drawn to the event?


I suspect it’s a combination of all the above. And maybe it’s just a one-off, perhaps a cyclical thing, with a bigger and better bounce-back in 2018?


Well, rather a minor-keyed intro to Alimentaria 2016 above – there are also lotsa good things about this year’s event too!


The ‘Vinorum Think’ concept, a new innovation this year, is excellent. I’ve been to two of the ‘cata’ (tasting) events so far and I’m planning on a few more too – as they’ve been excellent! Luminaries such as José Peñin (he of the Guide) and Guillermo Cruz, sommelier extraordinaire have presented exemplary catas with extraordinarily fine wines (e.g. a horizontal tasting of Rioja’s from the 2001 vintage; and a sample of the wines given top marks in the Peñin Guide 2016).


So, there’s plenty more to come here at Alimentaria 2016 – and another Anecdote later!

Cava for Christmas – a different spin!






At this time of year (for those coming late to my blog, it’s approaching Christmas 2015!) perhaps more than any other, I’m sure we are all considering our wine choices for Christmas.


I’m also sure that sparkling wine figures quite strongly in your deliberations! There are many different sparkling wines to choose from, of course. This also applies here in Spain, sparkling wine is not confined to just cava on the Iberian peninsular. Spanish fizz takes many forms – and there’s lots of quality, top quality too, that is not cava.


However, this blog is all about cava, though perhaps not the cava with which readers are conversant? Whilst presenting a recent Cava Dinner (I’d been asked to promote DO Cava by the Consejo Regulador – it wasn’t a difficult decision to accept, with delight, and not a little alacrity!) it came to my notice that there were many at the dinner who, if not in the dark regarding cava, were at least only in the twilight.


I’m sure that the assembled 85 people, the maximum that the Swiss Hotel Moraira wanted for this night, were in many ways representative of wine and sparkling wine drinking ex-pats in Spain, as well, I’m sure, as many Spaniards too. It made me think that now is the time to shed a little more light on the wonderful drink that is Cava!


A wholly unscientific straw-poll was taken on the night – a simple show of hands, but  nevertheless very revealing as arms reaching for the ceiling were practically unanimous. I asked if I was correct in presuming that most will go to wine shops and supermarkets during the festive period seeking simply a Brut Cava. Apparently I’d hit the cork on the head. There were some, like myself, who probably prefer a Brut Nature, or it that’s considered just a little too austere, an Extra Brut, but Brut was the most popular choice by a distance.


And that was that. A Brut cava please.


There were few who were thinking out of the case – who were looking for something more. In fact, I’d say that thoughts about the age of the cava does not enter most peoples’ minds. Generally, Brut is all that we look for, without realising that it’s almost certain that the Brut we come away with is a young cava. Well, those who attended the event will, I hope, now take a different view.


Don’t get me wrong here, I love a young sprightly, vivacious Brut – it does what you expect of it (not what it says on the can!) and hey, long may it do so! I think we all love the celebratory nature of such a cava. If there’s a wedding, a new baby, an exam result, a house move, a business success etc, the first thing we reach for is the fizz. Sparkling wine equals party time, so for Christmas it’s also the go-to drink. And that’s fine.


However, when we are thinking about that special Christmas Dinner and that elegant New Year’s Eve Dinner Party, we really should be thinking in depth, or rather, about depth, the depth of flavour that other styles of cava can offer.


Our recent Cava Dinner paired different styles of cava with different dishes, highlighting the fact that, whilst older cavas should still have that celebratory fizz, this is not their only raison d’etre. The alluring, wholly different aromas; the depth of multi-nuanced flavour; the weight on the palate; the length; and the texture of Reserva and Gran Reserva cavas sets them apart from their young cousins, adding immense extra value.


These are attributes on which dinner party hosts can capitalise. Those attending cannot fail to be impressed by these different styles of cava. If needed, take a moment of indulgence and ask guests to spare a few seconds’ thought about the cavas they are drinking and how they work with the various courses. I’m certain there will be nothing but approval!


Why? How does this sea-change come about, it’s still cava when all is said and done?


Well, aged cavas are made in the same way as young cavas, but more so! The minimum amount of time that a cava must spend on its lees (resting on the now dead yeast, which was used to provoke the second fermentation in the bottle) is nine months.


Sadly, millions of bottles of cava are sold on perhaps the first day of the 10th month, or so it seems! Presuming, of course, that all producers are obeying the law, these are the cavas which you will see at this time of year being offered for under (sometimes well under) two Euros! Don’t be tempted – these are nothing like representative of the quality that is available when buying cava!


Producers of ‘joven’, young, cavas of quality almost invariably leave their wines to age on their lees for longer than the minimum. This extra time adds depth of flavour to the wine with added mouth-feel and changing aromas – i.e. better quality.


Mostly, Reservas are the same, but more so. However, we are now moving up the quality scale. Often (though not always) the grapes used to make the base wine, that which will be bottled, eventually to morph into cava after the extra yeast is added and the bottle capped, are of a higher quality than those chosen for the young cavas.


A selection table can be employed where well trained and highly experienced staff watch over the conveyor belt like hawks, ready to swoop onto any bunches that have a number of damaged or insect attacked grapes. These are withdrawn and either used for younger style cavas, or pressed with the resulting juice being sold to other wine producers.


Thus the base wine for Reservas can often be of better quality to start with. Then there is the matter of time on lees. The minimum time spent ‘en rima’ where bottles are up-ended with the wine resting on the lees, which are gradually travelling down the bottle to its neck, is 15 months. Most Cava Reserva producers leave their wines like this for well over this minimum – and generally the longer left, the better the finished article.


These wines are something else – “Cava, but not as we know it!”. As my colleague, Master of Wine John Downes puts it, in his recent article for


With such wines you’ll find a pleasing extra texture on the palate, greater weight, but elegant too. They’ll retain the celebratory nature of the drink, whilst adding more for your money (though don’t worry about this extra charge, it’s not a dramatic hike, although those who compare a Reserva price with the under two Euro price, spat out above, will be in for some apoplexy, for sure!).


You may note aromas of white flowers and cider fragrance, rather than green apple from the Macabeo. You’ll find too the same patisserie notes often gleaned from Champagne along with a little earthiness. Plus there will be other nuances, depending on the grape varieties used, the traditional three Macabeo, Parellada and Xarel.lo, as well as other Spanish varieties less well known, plus the Champagne varieties, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.


So, the next step up, and whilst I do appreciate that these different styles are just that, and therefore shouldn’t really be judged against each other, for me the Gran Reservas are a different class.

reidel fizz glass

The minimum time ‘en rima’ (no extra charge for the Spanish lessons, by the way!) for Gran Reserva is 30 months, though almost all Gran Reservas are aged for well over the minimum – e.g. the generic Gran Reserva that was enjoyed by so many at the Cava Dinner, had been aged for 46 months.


The selection table can be employed to great effect here. The grapes for these fine wines are often sourced from the best vineyards where the vines are the oldest, the soils the most apt for each variety and the micro-climates and aspect to the sun are most favourable. Plus, the hawks are more demanding for these premium sparkling wines.


Gran Reservas can be matched with a host of meat driven dishes – we found an excellent ‘maridaje’, pairing (again, this is gratis!), with slow roast lamb and Port sautéed pears. And think of the festive birds you may be considering cooking this year – really this style of cava has to be a winner, enhancing an already special meal!


Look for that earthiness, with some citrus elements remaining. You’ll also find an endearing nuttiness too (think chestnut stuffing!) with a slight, sometimes more than slight, meatiness as well. The best (though to be honest I haven’t tasted a poor Gran Reserva cava) will have great presence on your palate, laced also with elegance and finesse. They will have the body to withstand and indeed complement the dinner and I’m sure you’ll be delighted with the comments your guests will make.


I’d suggest that you may like to serve a glass of Gran Reserva Cava as the first drink with the main course, and then perhaps revert to a well chosen red wine, which will, I’m sure, keep everyone happy!


I’d recommend therefore that from now on when thinking of cava, don’t be satisfied with just a standard or even a really good quality young Brut, choose, according the the menu (and this applies to apertifs and starters) from a selection of Reservas and Gran Reservas.


And if the wine shop doesn’t have them, ask them why not – as they are doing a dis-service to cava!


Colin Harkness

December 2015

La Vie En Rosé



rosé lots

     Well, no, actually – colour-wise, they’re all the same!


Let me firstly say that I am a keen fan of Provençal Rosé. During our very recent Provençal sojourn I tasted well into double figures of different wines and whilst I had my favourites, it’s true to say that I enjoyed them all.

There’s nothing quite like tasting iconic wines in situ. This year (summer 2015) there have been record temperatures to go along with a record number of sunshine hours. So much so that wine producers will be picking early this year as the grapes are reaching optimum maturity and ripeness at least a week earlier than has been normal for decades.

Indeed I know of one producer who has serious concerns about the survival of the new vines he has recently planted, because of the climate change and, of course, its attendant lack of rain. It’s all very well for the teeming tourists, but for farmers there are serious worries.

Now, a change of tack – but the course will revert back to the Rosés of Provence.

rosé 1

I was at a major wine tasting earlier this year where I was talking to a Spanish producer whose wine’s I’d just tasted. One of them was a very pale pink rose petal coloured rosado which I enjoyed. I asked him about the rather dramatic change in colour, considering the rosados that they have produced in the past, which I’ve also enjoyed.

As I expected he replied that this colour change was a response to the current world-wide demand for rosado wines made in the Provençal hue, the very pale pink that is so typical of rosé wines from Provence.

An interesting, similar experience occurred at another tasting this year where a producer was presenting the bodega’s first rosado of the same pale hue. It was ironic, for me, that there were far more negative comments about this wine than positive, from the Spanish tasters. In some respects Spanish consumers are a step behind what’s going on in the rest of the world, re wine. (Another example is Spain’s delay in embracing screw-top bottle closures).

rose 3

The pioneering bodega which had decided to launch this new (for Spain) shade of rosado was also responding to the international demand for oh-so-pale rosé. They sell all over the world and were not surprised that the wine wasn’t (as yet) popular in their area, and indeed in Spain in general. A profit in his own country . . . .

Today (2nd week of August 2015) I received my copy of what is for me Spain’s best wine magazine, PlanetAVino, whose largely pink front cover suggested that there was a major article about rosado wine inside, before the headline confirmed it. A sub-heading in the article itself reads: “Clarete, Rosado y ahora, Rosé” – (Clarete, the very darkly coloured style of Spanish rosado; Rosado, the various and many variations on the ‘pink’ theme; and now, Rosé – essentially referring to the very pale, Provence style rosés). ,

The article’s author, the owner-editor of the magazine (as well as the excellent Guía Proensa, Spanish Wine Guide), Señor Andrés Proensa is making the point that now in Spain there is a huge choice of rosado wines, in terms of grape varieties, of course, some of which include white wine grapes, as well as in colours.

rosé 4

And this is where our two tacks converge. There are many different grape varieties used for Provençal Rosé wines (this number is smaller than those for Spain, of course, as Provence is a relatively (to Spain as a whole) small area of production. However, though I’m no artist and cannot really note any infinitesimally slight change in shade, when it comes to the colour of Provençal Rosé, they are all the same!

On supermarket shelves there is a vast array of rosé wine in Provence – understandably, as in the towns and villages there are signs proudly claiming that they have a 2,600 year history of making such wines! But, in terms of colour – there’s practically no difference!

I’m sorry, mes amis, but as a spectacle, it’s boring!

rose 6

I just wonder if there is a producer in Provence who has the guts to break the mould, like the two Spanish producers mentioned earlier. A revolutionary who is prepared to take some flack, who wants to make rosé of the same undeniable quality as that which is made already, but, for heaven’s sake, rosé with some colour in its cheek!

I know – the answer is a rhetorical question: ‘Why change a winning team? If it aint bust, don’t fix it!’ Plus, of course, the evidence in the international market suggests that this pallid rosé is what the consumer demands. Our two Spanish pioneers (along with a few others who’ve also always made their rosado in this style, regardless of fashion) have decided to [join ’em] rather than try and [beat ’em]. So Provençal producers must have it right!

Well, let me leave you with a thought, alluded to already in the paragraph above – consumers are notoriously fickle. The international demand for pallid-pale coloured rosés is nought but a fashion. A mode that will reach its zenith and then, like colour in the wine, fade. As with many fashions it will come again, but for me, it’s variety as well as quality that counts.

This is where Spain (see above) wins out!

rosado lots

Colin Harkness

August 2015