La Crisis is alive and well in Spain. Fuel, and just about everything else has gone up, whilst wages have remained the same and in some cases have actually dropped. Pharmacies have taken industrial action by closing for three days as they’ve not been paid by Regional Governments. Taxes have increased, the standard of living has fallen along with the Euro.

Spain’s low credit rating dithers. If we had any spare money there’s no point in saving as interest rates are at an all time low. Even the Royal Wedding feel-good factor has dissipated and M&S have reported poor Christmas sales figures!

And, just when you think it couldn’t get any worse, there is now a question mark about possible health benefits from drinking red wine!

It was in 2003 when Dr. William McCrae, of Swindon’s Great Western Hospital, hit the headlines after acknowledging that he had prescribed 2 glasses of red wine a day (in fact Chilean Cabernet Sauvignon!) to 400 cardiac patients. The bandwagon began to roll.

In 2005 an Oregan (USA) winery was given permission to include on their labels that their wines contained antioxidants.


In 2007 Resveratrol, a compound found in grape skins, the more so in those of black grapes, was proven again to be an antioxidant and was added to a pill used to help stop cancer.


In 2008 a US study found that Resveratrol can help fight diabetes and obesity.

In 2009 research, conducted in Spain and published in the journal ‘Heart’, under the authorship of Dr. Larraitz Arriola, found that the risk of coronary heart disease decreases as alcohol consumption increases! Although the team was quick to point out that benefits must be set against the dangers of over-consumption!

In July 2011 Resveratrol was championed as an antidote to the negative effects of a sedentary lifestyle, where it was also stressed that the benefits of exercise were undisputed and Resveratrol should not be seen as an alternative, but used by those who, perhaps because of injury or an office-bound lifestyle, were not able to jog, gym and swim!

A month later another study suggested that the same antioxidant, Resveratrol, could be used to treat life-threatening inflammations such as appendicitis and peritonitis.

We loved it didn’t we! Medical practitioners throughout centuries had always used wine as a medicine believing, correctly we learned, that there were health benefits from its consumption. Now we had the proof!

But hold on – in September 2011 a group of Australian scientists challenged previous findings that red wine helps prevent heart disease (I wonder if their next study will research tinnies!). Their report entitled, ‘Myth Busted – red wine no magic remedy for heart disease’, stated that any positive effects of alcohol in reducing cardiovascular disease have been hugely overestimated, concluding that the dangers of alcohol far outweigh any health benefit.

And now it has just been revealed that a doctor at the University of Connecticut (USA) has allegedly fabricated results and falsified data that suggested health benefits from red wine consumption!

Where will it all end? Well for me, in a moment, it will end in a glass of rich, red wine, because I love it (in moderation like everything, of course – our Grannies were right weren’t they?!) and not because I believe it will help fight the cause of my father’s extremely untimely death (at only 48 years of age) and that of two of his three brothers. Yes, you guessed it, heart attacks!

Contact Colin: or through his unique wine services website:  





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!





 (Part 3 of a short series about Vintae – to read parts one and two please visit click Cork Talk.)

 After several years of research and discussion the Vintae Group has decided to launch their ‘Proyecto Garnachas de España’ and I have been lucky enough to taste their first two wines of the five that will eventually be on the market. I can’t wait to taste the final three!

 Garnacha (aka Grenache, particularly in France, but also in other parts of the world) is in fact the most widely grown wine variety grown on the planet. As such it has, in some quarters, suffered some criticism – big cannot be beautiful. But Cork Talk readers know that whilst this can be the case, it doesn’t have to be. There are, for example, several huge wine producers in Spain who make very good to excellent wines without compromising on standards just because of the volume of their production.

 Sure, you can find poor quality Garnachas, but this, clearly, is the fault of the winemaking, the vineyard maintenance, or the vineyard’s situation (or all three) and not of the variety. Garnacha rocks! Taste the wine from Priorat, Tarragona and Montsant and tell me that Garnacha makes poor wines – no way!

 Vintae are in the vanguard of the Garnacha Appreciation Society and are quietly doing their bit to ensure that the reputation of this noble grape is restored to its rightful heights.

 I’ve recently returned from a fact finding and thoroughly enchanting visit to La Rioja where I was tutored in the difference that soil types can make to the finished wine product, taught by none other than Antonio Palacios of the most famous winemaking family in Spain! Please don’t tell me that ‘terroir’ is an airy-fairy concept invented by the French to try and better the New World wine invasion! Terroir and in particular, soil type, can make a huge difference.

 This is basically the nub of the Garnacha project. Vintae’s aim is to produce Garnacha in different locations in Spain, from La Rioja to Priorat, in very different soils, and of course, micro-climates. They hope to show how varied the aromas and flavours can be and indeed how well Garnacha is able to adapt to different conditions, different terroirs.

 Firstly I have to say that whoever designed the bottle label deserves an award. Harry Potter-esque the thick, gnarled ancient vine is shown above ground in perfect, green-leafed health, whilst below ground the suffering roots search metres deep for what little scraps of nourishment and water they can find. It pulls you towards the bottle like a J.K. Rowling spell.

 La Garnacha Salvaje del Moncayo is a wine made from 50 year old vines grown north of Zaragoza at abut 800 metres above sea level. The rocky soil lacks nourishment making the plant’s roots search deeply for nutrients. The rocks and stones afford excellent drainage as well as acting as heat conductors gradually releasing the sunshine of the day to warm the plant slightly during the night-time freezing temperatures of winter.

 And the resulting wine – super, fresh, fruit driven, but subtle too with dark and light red fruits mixing attractively with mineral notes and faint mountain herbs. There’s mature tannin and acidity but a roundness that calls for a second glass. Its light mouthfeel belies the 14·5% abv, making it a wine to be enjoyed as a rather special drink on its own or with food, perhaps game from the adjacent countryside.

 Whilst the above wine’s label shows a daylight view, La Garnacha Olvidada de Aragon pictures sunset above ground with the same long roots doing their job below the surface. This Garnacha comes from a little further south and east, in the area of Calatayud.

 Here the south-facing limestone soils offer a more mineral influence to the wine which comes from vines planted in 1940. There’s a touch of bay leaf on the nose along with earthy notes before the deep and dark fruits come through with integrated French oak (in which the wine matured for 10 months) adding to both the aroma and the taste.

 Mature, sweetish tannin, some acidity, mineral notes again and a final fruity thrust all combine on the finish of this deeply flavoured wine, a classic to serve with an excellent meat-based dinner.





 I used to like such little brain-teasing riddles when I was little – when is a door not a door; what gets wet, drying? etc. Well if you read last week’s article you’ll know that the answer to the title teaser is: when the white wine is made by Vintae.

 Fed up of mostly insipid and undistinguished white wine from Spain’s most famous winemaking area, La Rioja, the Vintae revolutionaries, not only decided to plant ‘foreign’ unapproved grapes, they even had the brazen temerity to call them Spanish White Geurrillas. Of course such wines will not carry the DOCa La Rioja seal of approval on their labels, but don’t worry, you won’t miss them on the bodega shelves – their distinctive label-design will attract you straight away!

 The cartoon characters dressed comically as would-be rebels may put off some serious wine lovers who might consider them gimmicky, perhaps designed to hide only average wine in the bottle.

 A wine writer must have an open mind and I tasted them without scepticism and was pleased I did. I feel it my duty to lend my weight to the revolutionary cause and reassure Mr. & Mrs. Serious Wine Lover suggesting that they put aside any misgivings about the label and enjoy the wine. Many certainly have, as I believe sales have multiplied. Consumers in fact are prepared to try the unusual and clearly are attracted to inventive labelling. The test of course is to see how many buy the wine again – the Spanish White Geurrillas have passed this test with flying colours as the wines are flying off the shelves.

 And no wonder. The new vintage, 2010, demonstrates that Vintae’s research has paid off. The likes of Albariño, Chardonnay, Viognier, Moscatel, Gewurztraminer, Verdejo, Sauvignon Blanc and Riesling are perfectly happy in the sites chosen specifically for them. And at last some aroma and depth of flavour seeps into the profile of white wines from the Rioja area!

 My friend Ana, responsible for press communication, kindly sent me some samples of the 2010 vintage and I continue to be impressed.

 Viognier Barrica, whose label boasts a medal bearing Revolutionary General complete with bushy moustache and corkscrew in place of the regimental swagger stick, is simply a super, deeply flavoured white wine. I’m a great fan of fragrant Viognier with its apricot and sometimes mango aromas. Here, judicious use of oak as added depth and extra taste without masking the primary fruit flavours nor its floral perfume. A wine to grace the dinner table when serving fish, light meats and salads.

 Albariño is of course native to Rias Baixas, Galicia (I recently served on the DO Rias Baixas Consejo Regulador Judging Panel) where it has made wonderful elegant, fragrant and peach/paraguayo flavoured wines for centuries. It’s not accustomed to the different soils of Rioja, but it clearly means to become so! This wine is lovely, flavoursome easy drinking wine with white flour aromas as well as stoned fruit on the palate.

 Riesling is perhaps the most noble of white grape varieties. Grown in Germany and Alsace it has bracing acidity and yet a richness too. With lime and lemon on the nose and the palate it can also sometimes have a slight petrol aroma too. Here, so far, the Riesling made by Vintae, is a work in progress, displaying already those citrus notes with some richness (a touch more so than last two years ago). A lovely aperitive, the best Riesling I’ve tasted in Spain.

 Gewurztraminer is another German variety which makes wonderful, aromatic and exotically flavoured white wine. Tropical fruits, notably lychees, but with some citrus acidity the Geurrilla Gewurz. is developing into a super wine to accompany some Chinese, Indonesian and Asian food.

 La Vinoteca in Calpe, Costa Blanca stocks these wines – I advise asking your local bodega to do the same!