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!





 What do you get if you cross a Spaniard with a German? Well, if the Spaniard is a highly respected consultant oenologist crafting an impressive portfolio medal winning wines; and the German is a Master of Viticulture, Winemaking, Wine tasting and Marketing with thirty years experience as a sommelier, chef and officially recognised gastronome, you end up with a wine making philosophy and a super end product!

 Bodegas Concepto Vinnó and Bodegas Úvula are the sister bodegas that grew from this philosophy. Pedro Cárcel from Requena and German born Miguel Matthes are our respective protagonists whose ideals ‘Vinos de España’ recently put to the test amidst the beautiful rolling hills and valleys of Requena, where La Communidad Valenciana abuts Castille La Mancha.

 After many years of listening to clients’ comments about their favourite styles and tastes in wine and then blending them with his own opinions, knowledge and philosophy, Miguel had a shrewd idea as to what the wine buying public enjoys in its wines. In the circles in which he moves it was a given that he would eventually meet a talented winemaker willing to take onboard his ideas and who shared his passion for the grapes and the vineyards from whence they came.

 You cannot make good wine from bad grapes and as it is Pedro who controls what goes on in many of Valencia’s vineyards, as well as sharing Miguel’s ideals, there was nobody better with whom to collaborate. A partnership was born.

 Bodegas Úvula makes Vino de la Mesa, Table Wine. But don’t let that confuse you – the fact that it has to be labelled as ‘Table Wine’ is certainly no reflection on its quality. Rather, it is confirmation of the company’s philosophy. Neither Miguel nor Pedro want to have their hands tied by the bureaucratic red-tape that governs all that bodegas do if they want to have the Denominación de Origen (D.O.) stamp of their labels.

 It is Miguel and Pedro’s desire to make their Úvula wines using the best grapes they can find from wherever they can be sourced – this may be a blend of grapes grown within, for example: DO Alicante, DO Valencia and DO Utiel-Requena. Also they want to use a blend of varieties that will best produce the aromas, flavours and styles they require. This may mean, for example: Bobal, Tempranillo, Cabernet Sauvignon and Petit Verdot.

 Such peripateticism is simply not permitted by the Consejos Reguladores (the DO Regulating Committees) therefore the wines of Bodegas Úvula cannot carry the epithet, Denominación de Origen – nor do Miguel and Pedro want it! New World wine making comes to Old World Spain!

 Bodegas Concepto Vinnó however abides by the rules and makes wines with the blessing of the DO Valencia, therefore they sport the DO’s official stamp. So have our wine partners compromised their beliefs and bowed under the pressure? No, it is simply that the different styled wines of this newer bodega, whose guiding goal is to produce the best possible reflection of the varieties of the region, happen to comply with all the regulations. So why not make a DO Valencia wine?

 The two wines in their small portfolio have dual common denominators – the indigenous Bobal variety and a fascinating use of several different types of oak for their ageing. The younger, vivacious Vinnó has Bobal flirtatiously cavorting with Monastrell, on a bed of French, Hungarian and Caucasian oak; whilst its slightly older sister’s bedfellows are Bobal and Merlot using French, Hungarian, Russian and Balkan oak casks.

 The vineyards we toured with Pedro and Miguel were a picture of health, despite baking temperatures. The Cabernet Franc, Bobal, Petit Verdot, Merlot and Tempranillo vines have roots that search for water, and what little nutritious material they can find, several metres below the parched surface soils. Irrigation is only used if the plants’ vigorous growth starts to wilt, and the vines, accustomed to suffering already, start to demonstrate that enough is enough!

 And what of the wines? Vinnó 2005 is a sturdy wine that has aged gracefully. It is drinking well now and will last still (though the 2007 will be released soon). There are dark fruits from the Monastrell and a touch of minerality from the Bobal, its three months in oak have added depth and a slight roasted coffee bean flavour on the finish. As with all their wines, decanting is recommended.

 Concepto 2005 has had two more months in oak. It’s a, deeper and  richer, well-structured wine with the Merlot adding more concentrated fruit as well as delicate floral, perhaps violet, notes. Sweet, soft tannins and a touch of spice, it’s drinking perfectly now but has the capacity to age a further one or two years.

 Úvula Coupage 2006 has had three months in two different French oaks as well as Caucasian, the varieties are Merlot, Tempranillo and Petit Verdot. The Tempranillo and Merlot take the lion’s share so as you can imagine this is a fruit-driven wine with the Petit Verdot adding herbaceous notes. A wine for drinking on its own or for pasta, cheeses and lighter meats.

 Úvula Selección 2005 blends Bobal, Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah, a delightful mix of dark fruits, earthy vegetal notes and spices complemented by integrated oak which adds depth, complexity and subtle toasty flavours. It’s a super wine, still very much alive and pleading to be eaten with game, and other full-flavoured meat dishes.

 Finally Úvula Plattum 2005. Only made in very good years this wine is a blend of Bobal, Cabernet, Petit Verdot and Syrah. It’s 14% abv and fills the palate but it has an elegance about it with flavours of dark fruits, black pepper as well as vegetal green pepper, and a touch of liquorice. Nine months in various different oaks have added complexity as well as subtle toasted flavour notes. The finish is a lengthy blend of brambly fruit with earthy notes which speak of its terroir.

 All wines available through parent company: