Christmas Present for Lovers of Spanish Wines!


So, here’s me thinking I know a bit about Spanish wine (and I do, too), but my knowledge, expertise and experience over the last 21 years, practically pales into insignificance when compared with the latest book by my colleague and friend, Sara Jane Evans MW!


Put simply, ‘The Wines of Northern Spain’ by Sarah Jane Evans MW must now be considered the definitive, go-to reference work for the wines of half of this dynamic wine producing country – with her next book, no doubt the same for the other half, the south! If you, or your partner/friends have an interest in Spanish wines, this has to be a perfect Christmas Present! (


Approximately twenty years ago I had in my hands a contract to write an introductory book on the Wines of Spain. It was quite an accolade and I was keen to write a first reference book after so many articles. However, it was an opportunity I had to turn down – the sheer scale of the undertaking had me almost shaking with trepidation!


Since then, considering all the publications for which I’ve written, it must now be well over a million words, almost always, in praise of Spanish wines – describing them, their provenance, their producers et al. So, I’m now in an even better position to understand how huge and difficult such a project would be!


Sarah Jane Evans MW, is also aware of how vast an enterprise, having decided to write it in two different parts, however she didn’t baulk at the task, she just got on with it!


Of course, as a Master of Wine (MW), who specialises in Spanish wines, Sarah Jane Evans would be by far the better option as a writer for such a reference book, and this clearly comes out when reading it. It seems there is nothing that has been left out, and it’s clear that she writes from great knowledge and experience. And that’s not surprising!


The author is an award-winning wine writer, journalist and speaker at conferences worldwide. She co-Chairs the prestigious Decanter World Wine Awards; she qualified as an MW in 2006, and was presented with an award for the highest mark in the theory section of this exacting exam, and was subsequently appointed Chairman of the Institute of Masters of Wine!


With regard to her specialist subject, Spanish Wine, Sarah Jane Evans was made a member of the exceedingly prestigious Gran Orden de Caballeros de Vino in 2010, with a number of similarly impressive appointments to various Denominaciónes de Origen throughout Spain. A Spanish wine expert, she certainly is!


And one would need to be, in order to write this comprehensive book in such depth. However, this is certainly not just a factual reference book destined to gather dust on the library shelf. Sarah Jane’s writing skills, allied to her knowledge and personal experience of Spanish wines make, ‘The Wines of Northern Spain’, interspersed as it is with entertaining anecdotes and producer profiles, a thoroughly good read!


The book, as the title would suggest, deals with the wine producing areas of Northern Spain, defined here in practical terms as: drawing ‘a line from the Pyrenees to Aragón and Navarra, turning west to Rioja, Ribera del Duero, Castilla y León, and Galicia, also taking in Txakoli country, and Asturias’.


The early chapter, ‘Three Thousand Years of History’ gives a fascinating, historical perspective to these often ancient areas of production, and a useful backdrop to the areas and their wines as they are now. How interesting to know, for example, that the Phoenicians who were trading with Spain in about 1100 BC, bringing with them wine in amphorae, have left a legacy which has recently been revived here, where a number of bodegas are now using clay pots for fermentation and ageing wine!


The book also details early on the major grape varieties used in these areas of Northern Spain, some of which are familiar to readers, but some of which we know little, or nothing about. There are vine growers and winemakers in these areas who are engaged in an almost missionary quest to revive forgotten and almost extinct varieties, and the wines made from them are another reason why Sarah Jane declares, “Spain is the most exciting country in Europe for wine lovers, and one of the most exciting in the world.”


As the reader reads on he/she will find region, area and producer profiles (including climates, microclimates, soil types and altitudes), detailing wine making methods, varieties used and even some of the wines themselves. It’s a good read from cover to cover, and can then be used over and over again to dip into for reference purposes when readers are thinking of looking for new wine tastes and aromas and/or exploring the regions first hand.


Clearly, there is quality wine in the areas detailed in ‘The Wines of Northern Spain’, some of which readers will have tasted, however there are areas here that are less well known, whose wines are not so readily available on the Costas of Spain. We are therefore given an insight into what else there is to taste, which fits perfectly with Sarah Jane’s stated intention that readers should discover and taste these wines for themselves!  Twitter @colinonwine

Facebook Colin Harkness




On Saturday 20th May, when I had just returned from judging in this year’s annual D.O. Yecla Wine Competition, my phone, in vibration and ring-tone mode, began a merry and sustained dance up and down my office desk.

I was receiving continuous Tweets and Facebook Messages which were using the hash-tag, #DiaMovimientoVinoDO, from the Denominaciónes de Origen (DOs), wine producing areas, all over Spain, including its islands. All showed smiling young, middle aged and older consumers downing what appeared to be copious amounts of their local DO wine: in the vineyards, at bodegas, in the grounds of the DOs’ Consejos Reguladores, at street parties, private parties and even BBQs!

Great – a celebration of wines made under the auspices of so many of the DOs of Spain, with a clear goal of promoting such wines. And why not?

However, as there were so many, and as it was obviously a concerted, coordinated almost choreographed effort, my untrained, but, sufficiently experienced, reporter’s nose started to, if not smell a rat, at least make me suspicious.

I made some notes on it at the time, with a view to revisiting when I’d have more time to research. Yesterday, a Tweet from one of the world’s best wine magazines, the UK based, Decanter, alerted followers like myself to the fact that there has just recently been approved a new regulation in that most conservative and famous area of Spanish wine production, DOCa. Rioja. My revisit couldn’t wait any longer!

I refer to the fact that it is now permitted to add the words ‘Single Estate’ to producers’ wine labels, should they, of course, be able to satisfy the accompanying rules, and prove that the wine has been made from grapes grown on just one estate. Some readers may be raising a bored eyebrow right now, uttering the word, ‘And?’

Granted, at first glance it doesn’t seem to have reached the Breaking News level, but those who are aware of a little of the background, i.e. regular, avid Cork Talk readers, will have picked up on the fact this is a clear DOCa. response to recent criticism from some consumers, yes, but mostly from producers within the DOCa.

Criticism, that culminated (though it’s not necessarily over yet!) in one of the most prestigious and famous Rioja producers opting to leave the DO. Bodegas Artadi, makers of the world famous El Pisón wine, one of the most expensive wines from Rioja, decided to go it alone!

Their argument is that currently (until now?) the rules do not allow any sense of place, of terroir, to be included on Rioja labels. The fact is that Rioja producers can source their grapes from anywhere within the DOCa. – that’s a large area, where there are many different soils, altitudes, micro-climates etc. The result, it is argued, is that we can only ever buy ‘general Rioja’.  And, the smaller producers complain, it unfairly favours the larger concerns!

As with any change there are those who herald it as a new beginning, a significant change – The DOCa. Rioja for example, whose representative is quoted in Decanter Magazine as saying, ‘It reconciles the interests of winemakers… as well as those of opinion leaders and end consumers who demanded more information on the label’.

However there are those within the DOCa who are concerned that it is too little too late and rather too akin to locking the stable door after the horse had bolted.

Respected commentators from outside of Spain also, it seems, see the move to allow such label changes, for example: ‘Crianza from a Single Estate’, (in line with the new concept being extra to the already existing labeling that relates to the amount of aging time in barrel and bottle), as being a move in the right direction, but with certain caveats too:

Tim Atkin MW: ‘ I think it’s a step in the right direction. But they are adding a roof before they have built the walls and the foundations.’

Sarah Jane Evans MW, expands: ‘This looks like a welcome development in principle. I am glad that the DO has proved it can move quickly.

It doesn’t guarantee that every single vineyard wine will be an excellent one, though. Some producers are expressing concern that there will just be lots more single vineyards and consumers won’t know what to choose.

There will also always be great wines that are blends across the region.

The singular viñedo wine may not necessarily be better – it is the top of a pyramid, but not the top of the only pyramid.

The village category would also be welcome. Serious consumers and collectors expect to find this in every fine wine region.

I welcome flexibility. There is a new generation of producers in Rioja, and it will be good to enable them to work within the DO.


So it would seem that, some dissenters apart, the Rioja change is welcome – though most are eagerly awaiting further changes. However the #DiaMovimientoVinoDO at the start of this week’s Cork Talk, was not simply about DOCa. Rioja.

There have been, and continue to be, rumblings of discontent in several other DOs of Spain and these will be discussed in newt week’s column, which asks – are DOs’ Days Numbered?!

My thanks to Jane Anson and to Decanter Magazine whose articles I researched before writing the above; also, of course, to Tim Atkin MW and Sarah Jane Evans MW who are always generous with their time when I ask for their advice and comments.

Contact Colin:  Twitter @colinonwine  Facebook Colin Harkness