As you may have read in the Costa News and indeed at the foot of Cork Talk, I’ve recently been to Galicia, North West Spain, invited as one of the 25 panellists charged with the task of judging which wine should be declared the best young Albariño of the 2010 vintage. I can tell you, that’s quite a challenge – Albariño wine is often referred to as the best white wine in Spain, and not without reason!

 Each year the sleepy seaside town of Cambados hosts the most prestigious wine fair in Spain. In Winter wild Atlantic storms can batter the coastline spewing out bedraggled gulls, glad to make land and lubber for a while, but in Summer, fresh breezes cool the air, whilst chilled white wine, made from the Albariño grape variety, refreshes the hordes of visitors who arrive for the first week of August to sample this wonderful wine.

 The Albariño Fiesta turned 59 this year and for the past 23 of those years the festival has, quite naturally, also hosted the Cata-Concurso, the competition that decides which of the many entries shall be given the medals as the top three of the latest vintage. The Consejo Regulador (regulating council) of the Denominación de Origen invited 25 of the best known professionals in the wine sector of Spain and they came from all points of the compass.

 I was flattered to be on an equal footing as such luminaries as: Antonio Palacios, President of the Federacion Española de Asociaciones de Enologos, and his daughter Barbara, of the most famous wine-making family in Spain (watch this space for good news from their hunting ground, La Rioja); Jesus Flores, doyen of Spanish wine writers and author of several wine books, and probably the best wine-taster in Spain – the Spanish equivalent of Hugh Johnson; Pablo Amate, El Pais food and wine writer and broadcaster on all that is gourmet in Spain; David Barco, President of the Sommeliers Association of Galicia; and Cristino Álvarez, one of the most prestigious Spanish food and wine journalists; and many more.

 I have to admit I was also delighted to be fêted along with the other panellists: being taken out to Michelin Starred restaurants; having a wonderful six-hour catamaran cruise including a seafood lunch, the like of which surely couldn’t be beaten; and of course a place of honour at both the procession and ceremony following the final tasting, and the superb gourmet lunch where the medal winners were announced. Who wouldn’t?!

 However, the two wine tasting and judging sessions were taken very seriously. The Consejo Regulador had narrowed down the very large entry to 64 wines, considered to be the best of the vintage. The panel was split into two, with each group privately tasting 32 wines over three sessions. The results were entered into a computer and 12 finalists were determined.

 On the Sunday morning the 25 judges met again as one group judging the final dozen. All the wines were in chillers to keep the wines at the correct temperature and these large professional standard wine coolers had been sealed overnight by the be-suited Notario (appointed to oversee proceedings and ensure that there was no cheating) who cut the seals each morning, signalling the start of the judging.

 And the winning wines? Well please read next week’s column where you’ll be able to learn the results and also a little more about Albariño, the gold from the hills of Galicia!

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