First published Costa News SL October 2011




 You have to hand it to the French. There’s many a maiden who can testify to the power of Gallic charm and persuasiveness, of course. But it’s not just the fair sex which has a history of being taken in by heavily accented French Lotharios.

 The wine buying consumers of the 60s/70s were desperate to drink Beaujolais Nouveaux following a Napoleon-scaled (I’m referring to his egotistical expansion plans, not his height!) advertising campaign which saw famous Thespians/Models/Celebs racing to bring back the first bottle direct from the vineyards of Beaujolais in: a vintage Rolls Royce, a Hot-Air Balloon (perhaps inflated by the instigator of the campaign!), an F1 racing car of the era, you name it!

 And the quality of the wine? Well, the French didn’t want it – say no more! The stuff that was shipped over to us ill-informed Brits was the dregs of the barrels, made from the last percentage of juice from over crushed grapes which had been ejected at the selection tables where only the finest Gamay grapes were chosen to make the super and at times, excellent, Beaujolais Villages and Beaujolais Cru wines.

 But Nouveaux and Cru did have one thing in common – they were made by the Carbonic Maceration method, a way of making wine invented and perfected by the French and producing, for Villages and Cru standard et least, a remarkably fresh, brightly-coloured, light-bodied, fruity style of wine, adored by the French themselves and by those Brits who weren’t taken in by the hype!

 Carbonic Maceration is where whole bunches are carefully placed into fermentation tanks so that the skin does not break and release juice. Carbon Dioxide is then pumped into the tank to expel oxygen and provide a different atmosphere in which the grapes macerate and where the still whole berries start to develop ethanol and various attractive flavour compounds. Fermentation then takes place but with the juice and grapes surrounded by Carbon Dioxide instead of oxygen. The result is a distinctive wine as described above.

 It’s not just France that uses this method, Spain is doing the same. A number of bodegas intent on keeping their heads above the rising tide of shrinking sales are looking for ways of maintaining, and hopefully expanding, their market share. In these days when lighter bodied, fruit-driven red wines are in vogue, Carbonic Maceration wines are seen as a beneficial addition to the bodegas’ portfolio.

 I’ve tasted lots here in Spain, all properly crafted and using grapes of the regions but for me, they mostly don’t reach the same pleasure levels as those made from the Gamay grape back in Beaujolais. Perhaps it’s a personal taste thing (though as an impartial and professional wine taster it shouldn’t be) or maybe it’s that the grape varieties used just are not as happy with the method as Gamay clearly is.

 However there are exceptions where winemakers have managed to produce wine in a similar style to good Beaujolais using the same, or maybe slightly adapted Carbonic Maceration method, but with a different spin provided by the variety used. I’ve tasted some good ones too.

 For me the best in Spain, by a distance, is Bodegas Fariña’s Primero, from the DO Toro, where Tinta de Toro is the variety used as it too seems content with this ‘foreign’ fermentation method. However, I need to add a rather odd codicil here.

 On the back of the Primero label they proudly proclaim that this wine is available in the November following the harvest in September, that’s just two months from vine to glass! It’s quite remarkable I know, but for me this is not the best time to drink Carbonic Maceration wine. I tasted Primero 2010 very early last year, I think in December. I liked it but it didn’t quite seem to be the finished article.

 In June this year I tasted another bottle, and wow, it’s lovely! As is said, the best Carbonic Maceration red wine in Spain!

 The wine has a combination of red and dark red fruits (loganberry with blackberry) which remain in the mouth long after the wine has been swallowed. This is the mark of a good wine, but usually one that has had some oak influence. This makes Primero all the more remarkable as it has seen no oak. It is simply the evolution in the bottle that gives it this rounded, full-flavoured and yet light-bodied taste, feel and length.

 And there’s another clue too – the 2010 vintage was excellent in most wine producing areas of Spain following a year of practically perfect growing and harvesting conditions. Obviously the grapes used for Primero 2010 were as good as it gets!

First Published in Costa News Group, Jan. 2011

Hal & Jan seated and enjoying their wine at one of many tastings!



 The New Year didn’t start so well for us as we heard that our old friend and fellow wine writer and critic, Hal Harley, died on its second day. After the funeral, family, friends and the remaining members of the tasting panel we’d formed together, with Hal as one of the founders, met to toast him and celebrate his contribution to all our lives.

 Hal was a big man, in every positive sense of the word. At six feet six with matching frame it’s hard to believe that such a man was not expected to survive past his teens when, at his birth, doctors pronounced that he had a congenital heart disease. A life lived to the full into his sixties with his wife and two daughters, initially in the Midlands and subsequently in Spain, and here with the addition of a grandson, gives a lie to that prognosis.

 But to be fair to the doctors of the time as well as those of his two later sessions of ground-breaking open heart surgery, they hadn’t reckoned on Hal’s determination, or his thirst for life. Hal was a survivor and those of us who had the pleasure to know him also experienced how big he was in friendship and family love. He will be sorely missed!

 I first met Hal and his ever-supportive wife, Jan, at a restaurant in Javea where he was perusing the wine list that, unknown to him, I’d written. Before he knew who I was he mentioned that he was interested in Spanish wine, having recently emigrated from the UK to Spain, and was a keen reader of Cork Talk in an effort to learn more!

 This was the first of many, many occasions when the two of us, later supported by several others with similar interests, ‘went off on one’ about the nectar that we found in our adoptive country. Hal’s thirst for wine knowledge was never wholly sated by such willing cohorts as Pepe of La Parrilla, Javea; John of Pedregeur and maybe myself too – the only way to learn about wine is to taste it! And did we do so!

 We had countless professional style tasting sessions at each of our houses, as well as at La Parrilla, where the first hour’s tasting was taken very seriously with wines considered in depth, notes taken and observations recorded. This was duly followed by food (Hal’s speciality was an excellent Paella) and finally the official, obligatory, finishing of every wine on the table!

Hal became very knowledgeable, graduating to the level of wine writer and critic on the way, with very creditable performances in Spain’s Golden Nose Sommelier’s competition, aided and abetted by the incorrigible Pepe!

 Although not particularly religious Hal’s wine tastes were very catholic. We tasted together wines from all the main DOs (Denominaciónes de Origen, official wine producing areas) as well as many other wine making zones. He preferred reds, but was equally happy joining Jan in a quality white too, with a classy cava to start.

 Although an Enrique Mendoza and Fagus (DO Campo de Borja) devotee, perhaps Hal’s most favoured style of red was complex, deep coloured, multi-layered and full-flavoured as typified by those from Priorat. It is for this reason that I’ll be searching out a top Priorat this month to quietly sip by an open fire and reflect on an enduring friendship and a life well lived.

 Cheers Hal!




 Most wine books and experts agree that wine tasting should be in the order of white to red and dry to sweet. The first wine tasted at La Vinoteca, Calpe recently was Bodegas Sierra Cantabria Crianza 2006, their most economically priced red wine, followed by three further red wines, two of them weighty fellows, but ending with their Organza 2008 white wine. Unusual!

 The crianza was 98% Tempranillo with a tiny amount of Graciano blended in too. I found the wine only palatable at first, largely due to it being a little too chilled – a comment my fellow tasters also made. However as the wine both breathed and warmed there was a slight coconut aroma, coming from the French oak barrels, in which, along with American oak barrels too, it had aged for 14 months.

Sierra Cantabria Cuvee 2005, 22€, is made from vines of more than 30 years old which have been treated in an organic way in as much as no artificial fertilizers have been used in the vineyard. It was bottled without filtration and with only gravity to clarify the wine.

 It has a darker, more intense colour than the crianza, and is just showing some faint browning at the edges, indicating that it is ageing in bottle. On the nose there are earthy, undergrowth notes underpinning the dark fruit quality.

 Colección Privada 2007 retails at 40€. The vines for this wine are over 50 years of age, that’s old in La Rioja where vines are often grubbed up at 40! Harvesting was strictly by hand ensuring good quality bunches which were then subjected to the selection table test where any damaged or below par grapes were discarded. It enjoyed 18 months in oak, followed by further time in bottle in the cellars.

 This wine has the tannin and structure to age and indeed it will be better with more time under its belt, but for me it needed greater fruit content for it to age for much more than 5 -7 years. There are notes of herbs a touch of coffee and some spice as well as some floral perfume, but not a lot of fruit on the nose. A mineral, slatey element complemented the wine which will be super with food.

 El Puntido 2006 is five Euros more expensive. Opaque and very dark coloured this is a big wine made from old vines whose grapes have been examined on two sorting tables. It’s had 16months in French oak from which coffee tones mix with excellent dark and juicy blueberry and blackberry fruits. It was my favourite of the evening with a long finish helping to justify its price-tag and a wine to grace any dining table.

 So to the final wine, a Rioja white! This wine has been both fermented and aged in oak. The medium-high toasted French oak adds significantly, but not unfavourably, to the overall taste. When in barrel the wine was stirred with its lees twice a week adding a creaminess to the final taste. A pleasing fresh acidity cleaned the palate after the onslaught of the big reds.

 However freshening up the palate is not the aim of fine white wine and I’m afraid that in my opinion the reason why the white wine was enjoyed at the end of the tasting rather than at the beginning has more to do with the fact it was the best in terms of readiness to drink than it being the best order to serve it.