Colin Harkness elevated to Judge on DO Rias Baixas Panel!


I have just heard this week that I have been selected as a Judge on the DO Rias Baixas Consejo Regulador’s Panel at the Prestigious Annual Cata-Concurso de Albariño which decides the best Albariño wines of the year!

This is a major honour as I am, I believe, the first foreigner to be asked to serve on this panel! Needless to say I accepted with alacrity and look forward to being in Galicia in August.

Many readers will know that Albariño is considered to be the best Spanish white wine grape variety and it is a particular favourite of mine.

My experiences up in Green Spain will of course be posted here!

First Published: Costa News SL, May 2011




The Albariño grape variety is as important to Denominación de Origen Rias Baixas as Messi is to Barcelona. This supremely aromatic grape variety ripens to reveal in its wines, lovely peach and apricot flavours, but with a refreshing acidity too.

Within Spain (and in Portugal where it’s known as Alvarinho) it’s always been appreciated as probably Spain’s best white wine variety, but it wasn’t until my colleagues, the ladies and gentlemen of the international press, started travelling to taste in situ that the wine world generally became aware of this noble variety. Twenty years ago demand started it’s now seemingly unending ascent up the graph, like the pulse rate of a Barça fan when Messi receives the ball.

The young folk who had forsaken the area through lack of jobs and prospects started returning to work the vineyards, and the lucky ones with the wherewithal bought land and planted Albariño. It seems it’s no coincidence that some Albariños have an unmistakeable golden hue (for example Bodega Martín Códax’s Gallaecia 2007 as discussed last week). Albariño is probably Galicia’s most prized asset, driving the economy as well as being enjoyed in every bar and restaurant in the area, by locals and tourists alike!

Originally a co-operative bodega with no great ambitions other than to produce good quality white wines, Bodega Martín Códax was founded in 1985 as the wave of Albariño was just building. They’ve been riding it at its crest ever since and I recently received several of their white wines, plus a really fun red from their outpost in DO Bierzo with perhaps the best label I’ve seen this year!

Martín Códax Lias Albariño 2007 is limited production wine made by keeping the must on its lees for 12 months, two of which were with ‘batonage’, stirring, which adds a creamy dimension to the wine without detracting from its innate freshness. This full-bodied and yet elegant wine is one for the dinner table, the more so if the dish to accompany it is perhaps some fresh fish in a slightly creamy sauce!

Martín Códax Organistrum Colleita 2008 is named after a medieval stringed instrument played by minstrels to entertain pilgrims on the route to Santiago de Compostela. From old design parchments an Organistrum was replicated by the bodega and is played at concerts in the building.

The wine is made with Albariño from a specific vineyard at only just over 100 metres above sea level where the grapes ripen fully and produce high alcohol wines, but again with an acid lift. Fermented initially in stainless steel, the wine then goes though a malolactic second fermentation in Allier French oak adding an extra depth of flavour. It is then transferred to steel again where it rests for a further seven months before bottling.

It is delicately perfumed wine with stoned fruit still, but a tiny almost imperceptible vanilla element too that just changes the flavour profile. I personally don’t subscribe to the view that Albariño gains a lot with age. I enjoyed the wine but would like to try one a year younger – given the chance!

It doesn’t surprise me that Martín Códax also operates in nearby DO Bierzo. This innovative bodega has shown that it is willing to try different styles of Albariño wines, successfully too, so why not make a red wine as well?

 I loved their Cuatro Pasos Mencía 2009 with the distinctive black label with four paw footprints in shiny red. It’s had a couple of months in oak for some added flavour and aroma but this is a wine that expresses the lovely damson and black cherry flavours of this rare variety. It’s a fun, serious wine – an enlighteningly happy combination!

First Published Costa News Group, May 2011



There was a time when, if thinking white wine in Spain, one thought of nowhere else but Galicia and of no other grape variety but Albariño. Today this is not the case as there are also excellent white wines being made in DOs as diverse as Priorat, Rueda and Somontano for example; and using either indigenous varieties like Rueda’s Verdejo or foreigners like the ubiquitous Chardonnay in Somontano and the stunning Viognier from Bodegas Ribes from VdlT Mallorca.

Indeed some of these new classic white wines are made with all manner of blends and using various different methods. Check out Clos Mogador’s wonderful Nelin, made with the local Garnacha Blanca plus Viognier, Marsanne, Macabeo and even black grape Pinot Noir! Things are most definitely on the up and up for white wine producers in Spain as well as for we consumers who are lapping up the spoils to keep global warming at bay.

However that’s not to say we should forget Albariño from Galicia, and particularly from its spiritual home in the DO Rías Baixas – far from it! Rising to the challenge of these usurping new kids on the block Green Spain (so called, because it has the highest annual rainfall in the country) is now producing some of its best ever wines.

Some months ago I received a raft of white wines from Bodegas Martín Códax, a former co-operative winery, which is still one of the largest in the area, and is famed for its lovely straight Albariño wine but also for its innovative wines made from the same variety, but in oh so different styles. Tucked into the large case was a single red – another example of their forward thinking as they are now making quality red wine in nearby Bierzo, where the Mencia variety is king.

I’ve taken my time tasting these special wines and I’ve been really impressed, so much so that their Albariño Martín Códax will be the opening wine of a tasting I’m presenting in the UK in October. If you are looking for a starting position to taste some of the wines of this area, then there’s no better choice than here.

It has all the super stoned fruit attributes that you’d expect, perhaps from Viognier, with apricot, white and red peach notes but also there’s a Riesling-esque bracing acidity with floral aromas and lemon and lime touches. It’s this affinity with the noble French Riesling that has caused some commentators to suggest that Albariño is a rogue hybrid, morphed from original Riesling vines brought by pilgrim Monks who came to Santiago de Compostella. A romantic story dispelled, somewhat lamentably in by books (I’m a succour for romance), by men in white coats, but nevertheless helpful in describing the taste/aroma profile of this remarkable variety.

An undisputed fact is that Albariño has a thick skin which helps it keep out too much of that high rainfall and therefore keep in the rich flavours and aromas of the finished wine. This dampness and, in the cold temperatures that higher altitude vineyards bring, towards the end of the growing season, are conditions which simulate those of more northerly climes where Botrytis, or Noble Rot, can set in.

In exceptional years, 2007 for example, it has been possible to make a Botrytis influenced wine, bright gold coloured with a little extra residual sugar. Gallaecia 2007 Albariño is a unique wine, so vastly different from the above. It has grapefruit and citrus peel on the nose and a slightly bitter aftertaste, a little like grapefruit juice. My own feeling is that it is just going past its sell-by date, but I’d be fascinated to try the next vintage that they make using such grapes.

 So two wines, poles apart, from the same variety and the same bodega – and there’s plenty more between these opposite ends of the spectrum. More from Martín Códax next week.