First Published Costa News Group November 2011





It’s mid-November and I’m writing this in Granada, shivering under the majestic snow-topped Sierra Nevada, on my return from the rolling, chalky hills of sunny, 28ºC, Jerez. My cases are much heavier than when I left home – the reason, I’ve stocked up on what must be the most undervalued ‘wine’ in Spain and maybe the world!

Jerez (aka Xerés and Sherry, because it was misspelt by our forbears in times before the Bard was born, let alone before he’d picked up his celebrated quill, calling it Sack – but hey, a Sherry by any other name . . . ) is a very special wine, fortified by grape spirit to about 16 – 20% alc. The happy and up-for-it group I am with have of course tasted Sherry before. However, by their own admission, they would rarely think of ordering it in a bar as an aperitif, and probably never would have contemplated it as an accompaniment to dinner.

Well I’m delighted to say they may well think differently from now. You see, Sherry is not just about ancient Aunt Matilda’s Christmas tipple, bless her. Sherry comes in several different styles, thus lending itself to many varied dishes and I implore you to give it a go and become a born-again sherry sipper! This is the first of a duo of articles, written not long before Christmas, but to ask you to think above and beyond simply the festive season. Sherry rocks!

I was first at Grupo Estevéz’s elongated white painted premises, probably three, maybe four, years ago. I was invited to bring another group of disciples along to see how things are going, bearing in mind the

The Beautiful Reception Hall at Grupo Estvéz

latest challenges brought about by La Crisis. I’m very pleased to see that all continues as normal, as it has for centuries in this unique wine-making area.

The company as it is now only started in 1982 – a new kid on the block really. But they soon acquired for example the brand name Valdespino, which has been in operation since William’s time (no not the Prince, the Poet!), and continued a fine old tradition exporting around the (Globe, no, not the theatre, the world)!

It’s a beautiful place to visit. The tranquil setting (if you ignore the shopping centre that gradually creeps forward like lava burning land before it) is a delight. It’s not only home to tens of thousands of oak barrels holding some twenty five million bottle’s worth of sherry. It also is a stud for the stunningly beautiful black-caped Jerez horses whose stables we visited, as well as the the tack room and of course the wonderful antique carriages used on special occasions and for competition too.

Plus there’s an assortment of dogs (including Spanish speaking Jack Russells) left to roam and deal with any vermin daft enough to come sniffing for sherry! But that’s not all – there is a magnificent collection of antique furniture, particularly Long Case Clocks (Grandfather Clocks), as well as an art gallery – which would be worth the visit, without the sherry! In some ways it’s a living museum and all with a sense of history and quiet elegance.

We tasted seven different styles of wine – first up was Tio Mateo. It’s something of a cash cow as sales are wonderful – a dry slightly salty fino which we enjoyed with olives. Finos are super aperitif drinks very often used as such chez nous.

Then an Amontillado (remember that in its natural state Amontillado is

Two Fellow Tasters and the super Sherry!

dry and light brown in colour). Del Principe Amontillado Muy Viejo is 18·5 alc and was one of my favourites. We enjoyed it with some darkly coloured jamon.

Contrabandista Amontillado Valdespino has had a small amount of the naturally very sweet grape PX (Pedro Ximenez) added to the blend to make it a little more like the Amontillado’s found in the UK where, traditionally, there has been a demand for a sweeter style.

Solera 1842 Oloroso VOS was a star! Oloroso is also naturally dry – until doctored for the imagined (and often correctly) British palate. This dry 20 year old wine has a rich acidity and very dark colour from it’s slow oxygenation and a faint toffee nose.

The Pale Cream Sherry (now we’re getting into the Aunt Maude zone) is 17·5 % and has a whiff of sweet orange peel and fruit about it. Royal Cream Marqués de Real Tesoro would suit Maude down to the Zimmer and was accurately and delightfully described by group leader, Glennys. as being ‘quite custardy’.

Finally we moved onto the Pedro Ximenez (PX) 100% – a sherry that is a dessert in itself. It can also be enjoyed with rich fruit cake, Christmas Cake and, as it is often described (by me anyway) as liquid Christmas Pudding, you’ll love it with that final taste of our traditional Festive Food.

First Published Costa News SL, Sept. 2011



 The name Palacios commands immediate respect and admiration in the Wine World. Not just in Spain, but everywhere in the world where the humble grape, guided by man’s hand, makes the delicious nectar we call wine. However there are some wines that taste as if there has also been some divine intervention along the way.

 Witness, if you will, the stratospherically priced L’Ermita from DO Priorat and the, as yet less well known, but also stunning (and thankfully much more accessibly priced) X de T, from Rioja Alta. Each has the Palacios stamp. Each is a nectar fit for the gods! (Witness also Barbarot, DOCa La Rioja – but that’s next week’s article!).


Señor Antonio Palacios in the 1,000 year old Bodega

Two of my fellow judges in the recent Albariño Cata-Concurso in Galicia’s DO Rias Baixas (see click Cork Talk) were none other than Señor Antonio Palacios, Presidente of the Federacion Española de Asociaciones de Enologos, and his charming daughter Barbara, representing the next generation of gifted Palacios winemakers. Imagine how delighted I was to be able to spend some time with such an esteemed expert in wine making as Señor Palacios. Imagine too, my pleasure in accepting (with considerable alacrity, I can tell you!) his invitation to visit his vineyards, stay in the family house and taste some of his wines!

 There surely could not be a better teacher than Antonio Palacios, himself, in his younger days, a student of the fabled Professor Émile Peynaud, the most respected winemaker and wine educator of his generation. Add this to the Palacios family’s wealth of traditional wine-making knowledge and you have one of the best winemakers in the world! The opportunity to tap into this vast pool of learning, whilst also developing a friendship, was irresistible. A pilgrim of a different kind, though equally fervent, I turned right at Santiago de Compostella and headed east along the Camino de Santiago, firstly to Haro, La Rioja.

 Then we drove along charming country roads past beautiful coloured stone villages stopping just outside the village of Avalos at what must be the most fascinating and certainly the oldest bodega in Rioja, and probably in Spain. Entering the 16th Century Bodega (the exact date is impossible to determine, there are those who believe it to be 1,000 years old!) is like taking a giant step back into vinous history.

 Hewn out of solid rock, the same colour as those all around the area, but darkened with age and centuries of red wine-making, the temperature is naturally kept at a constant 14ºC all year round, perfect for making and storing wine. Two 600 litre Spanish oak barrels, reserved for the small but significant contribution of Merlot, are reposing in the dim light to the left; whilst the centre-piece is the 7,000 litre oak foudre where the Tempranillo that makes the lion’s share of X de T wine, pride of Antonio, will be soon fermenting the 2011 vintage.

 The two varieties are fermented separately after a long cold maceration (where the skins remain in contact with the juice to extract flavour, tannin and colour). The Tempranillo is eventually joined by the Merlot in the foudre where further, post-fermentation, maceration takes place. This addition fills the foudre, ridding it of oxygen.

 A longer drive took us then to Rioja Baja and the town of Alfaro where we were to stay with the Palacios family after a super dinner cooked by Antonio’s wife, Casilda (whose family, in days gone by owned the village of Avalos) and served with X de T 2004, the first vintage of this superb wine!

 X de T (named after the aristocratic owner of the ancient bodega, the Marques de Ximinez de Tejada, is a deeply coloured, perfectly structured and balanced, full and yet elegant red wine. A shining example of what extraordinarily good wine can be produced in the hallowed vineyards of La Rioja. A touch of minerality on the nose is joined by full fruit, mostly dark but with perhaps some soft red fruit nuances and a little spice and vanilla too. Fermented and aged in oak, one might expect the wood to dominate the fruit, but no, it’s a harmonious and perfectly balanced relationship. Mature tannin and a lick of acidity ensure that this wine has time on its side too





Readers will perhaps remember last week’s article about the sensational (in the perfect sense of the word) Cata-Concurso, Wine Competition, in Galicia where 25 professionals in the Spanish wine world were asked to judge the best young Albariño wine of the 2010 vintage. I was privileged to be one of the panellists and last week’s article describes some of the ‘trials and tribulations’ my fellow panellists and I had to face! (Still available at click Cork Talk).

 As you can see Pazo Da Bouciña, Adegas Arousa (Adega is the Galician word for Bodega) walked away with the Gold Medal. The Silver Medal was won by Esencia Divina, Bodegas Gran Vinum; and the Bronze went to Bouza de Carril, Adega Bouza de Carril. The local and national TV and press covered the winners ceremony whilst politicians, the glitterati, other dignitaries and of course, ourselves, the judges, enjoyed a sumptuous lunch. The fanfare and cheering bounced off the marquee walls in a cacophony of joyous noise as the tension of competition was finally released. They take their Albariño very seriously in Galicia!

 But what exactly is the nature of Albariño, the white wine most often lauded as the best available in Spain? Well, after tasting approaching a hundred examples over the three days we were there I think I can say, with some confidence, that I am now conversant with the many attributes of this noble grape variety!

 There has been, until recently, a rather romantic notion that the Albariño variety is in fact a hybrid, born originally of the great German grape, Riesling, which when planted by pilgrim Monks who had trekked along the Camino de Santiago had mysteriously morphed into a wholly (no pun intended!) different variety. The white-coated boffins have dispelled this rumour once and for all with DNA and goodness knows what tests. No matter, let’s talk about the grape how it is now and not worry about its provenance or family tree!

 It’s spiritual home is in DO Rias Baixas, where the mountainous inland area slopes down to the ocean. Wines made from Albariño grapes are dry, a glorious combination of fresh acidity, stoned fruit such as apricot, white peach and paraguayo with a delightfully delicate white flower (magnolia perhaps?) fragrance. The vineyards are unlike any others you’ll see in Spain. The vines are trained up and along pergolas high enough for the average Galician to walk under at harvest time (at 6’3” there’d be no summer job for me though!).

 The reason for the pergolas is because there is an awful lot of rain in Galicia (sometimes referred to as Green Spain!) and if the grapes were close to the ground they would take on too much water. Also, whilst there is rain there is are also high temperatures, making the atmosphere too humid. The tall pergolas allow a free flow of freshening air which also dries the grapes following the rain plus of course the leaves make a fine sombrero to protect the grapes from intense sunshine.

 Of course the wines we tasted were all young, bottled straight after fermentation and clarification, but there is a school of thought that suggests that this variety can also be aged, for short periods at least, in oak to add a little depth and further flavours, whilst not diminishing in any way the fruit impact, which would be a tragedy of course.

 There are adegas making examples of this style and I have really enjoyed the ones I’ve tried. There is also the possibility of barrel fermentation and ageing on the lees (the tiny particles of dead yeast and grape flesh) – the variety lends itself to several variations on a theme, all of which must be complimentary to the fruit, which is the glory of the variety.

 So Albariño wine is truly an excellent aperitif wine to be enjoyed whilst sipping with friends but it is also probably the perfect accompaniment to seafood, which magically is in abundance on this rugged but beautiful Atlantic coast. Lobsters, crab, oysters, langostines, prawns, cigales etc and the wonderful speciality, octopus, are all simply wonderful with Albariño!

 It’s true that wines made from this grape variety are usually more expensive than other whites, but believe me it’s worth the extra Euro or two!

 Contact Colin: and via his unique wine services website . If your group would like a bodega visit, a wine tasting, a wine appreciation course etc – please contact Colin, the English Voice of Spanish Wine.





Readers with long memories might recall two articles I wrote after my biennial visit to Spain’s greatest wine and food fair, Alimentaria 2010 (I’ll be there again in 2012 – watch this space!). They talked of ‘guerrilla warfare’ in La Rioja where Grupo Vintae prefers to use ‘foreign’ white wine grape varieties that they feel are perfectly suited to such vineyards, but which are not permitted by the ruling DOCa La Rioja Consejo Regulador.

 In recent months of horrific, rebellious unrest in several different parts of the world it would be tastelessly facile to continue the analogy – revolution and rebellion in Libya, Syria, Afghanistan et al is an altogether different matter, of course.

 Nevertheless there is change happening in La Rioja, that bastion of conservative tradition, where the old-guard is having to make way for revolutionary new-wave wines. The Vintae stand at Alimentaria 2010 was crowded to capacity for the launch of the so dubbed ‘Spanish White Geurrilla Wines’, a dramatic contrast to the Peñin presented traditional white Rioja tasting held at the same time, but feebly supported!

 It was the principal that first impressed me. With no axe to grind, just a genuine desire to tell it like it is, I have been something of a detractor of white Rioja over the years. Viura, the main grape variety used, has little or no character when grown in the hills of Rioja, in my view. It can be helped, to a degree, by barrel fermentation and/or some oak ageing. But not enough to make it a serious challenger to white wines from other areas – I never buy white Rioja!

 One or two years before the last Alimentaria there were signs that the old guard had finally turned a slightly sympathetic ear to those critics and, more pertinently, some Rioja producers who had been lobbying for change. Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and Verdejo were added to the list of permitted grapes, though it was declared that Viura must still make up over 50% of any blend, lest the ‘true Rioja character’ be lost!

 I was placated and looked forward to the results. Of course it takes time to develop a vineyard with new plantings so we couldn’t expect a sudden rush of new white Riojas. It takes time to change mind-sets too!

 In March 2010 there was only one Rioja bodega with whom I talked which was considering using, in this case Sauvignon Blanc, in its blend. It took plenty of time for Mrs. Thatcher’s Government to be defeated!

 It seems that Vintae, firstly wasn’t prepared to wait and, secondly, they required more anyway. Give them a small vineyard and they want a hectare! Varieties such as Riesling and Viognier were planted on sites whose soils and micro-climates had been strictly analysed (terroir, or terreno, the Spanish version of this all-singing-all-dancing French word that so perfectly describes a wines ‘place’!).

 Was I to be impressed by the wines as well as the idea? Well yes I was, in that at last there was some taste, some depth of flavour, some aroma, and plenty of potential coming from white wine from the Rioja area. The vineyards were yet young and would need time to develop, to consolidate, and I expected more next time I tried them.

 Nearly two years on it’s clear that Vintae’s research is paying off. The samples I recently received were all super, fragrant and flavoursome wines, exhibiting stronger varietal character notes as the vines become older. At the moment I can only imagine how good these wines will be in 10 and 20 more years when the new varieties will have adapted further to the site-specific terroir!

 Whetted your appetite? Well, next week I’ll tell you my tasting notes about these White Geurrillas plus a hint or two about another Vintae project, this time for red wines!