Who’d be a Winemaker

Q & A ON THE COSTA BLANCA!

Q: In a recent Cork Talk article, I posed the question “Who’d be a Winemaker?”

A: Jody, would!

An interesting (worrying?) aspect of the Internet is that press stories written at a certain time are electronically archived and can remain available for ever! However, as I’ve never written anything dodgy, this doesn’t worry me. In fact there have been times when it has worked to my advantage!

Several years ago I received an e-mail from Marimar Torres, sister of Miguel Torres (perhaps Spain’s leading wine figure) who runs the Californian arm of this wine-making dynasty. Somehow, Marimar had come across an article I’d written a few years previously, comparing the top Californian Torres wines with those of her brother in Spain. (You probably have read said article in one of your many Cork Talk Scrapbook Volumes!).

Her much valued effusive e-mail thanks were followed up with a more tangible thank you – a bottle each of her magnificent Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. The following year, the same, plus a signed copy of her published cookbook The Catalan Country Kitchen, to which I often refer to this day. Most generous, and most appreciated!

Over the years there have been other advantages of having my articles magically saved for eternity, including this year when I received an e-mail from Jody, a very successful Biochemist Businesswoman, who had been recommended to visit Peter Arnold’s bucolic bodega in Jalón, following her and her British husband, John’s purchase of a property on the Costa Blanca.

Many readers will know of Peter’s super wines and their lamentable loss, owing to Peter and family being forced to leave Spain after years of the Spanish paper-chase re official documentation for their produce. A sad and wholly avoidable story, indeed, and, allegedly, a worry for ex-pats who become more successful than their Spanish neighbours in the same business!

Jody and John didn’t know about this, until, like Marimar Torres above, they found an  archived Cork Talk article on the matter. You see, apart from wanting to taste Peter’s range of wines, they also wanted to ask his advice about making wine, for domestic consumption, here in Spain.

Eventually Jody, John and I met (typically, at a wine related event – read below for another similar event* soon!) and I was able to put them onto an alternative source of advice – Sue and Roger, of the beautiful Casa Rural, Finca Rustica, Benissa. Again, if you search your Scrapbook(!) you’ll find articles I’ve written about this lovely spot in the  mountains above Benissa, including two fine wine tastings there, at which were presented a couple of the wines that Sue and roger had made. Sue and Roger have been there, done it and know the successes and pitfalls!

Jody is a world renowned expert (www.limoce.com) on the environmental impact of the search for, and supply of, natural resources buried underground, and often under water too. John is captain of a ship which is involved in cross-ocean communication. They met when Jody was attached to the ship assessing environmental issues – a conflict of interests? Well, it doesn’t seem so as they are now together, and when not travelling internationally (which they do a lot!) they are looking to establish a vineyard at their property.

It’s a fascinating project and Cork Talk readers will be able to follow their progress.

They very kindly invited me to a BBQ at their house recently, also present were Sue and Roger – armed with a couple of their Vino de Pinos wines. Now, there’s  no conflict of interest either between Sue and Roger, who’ve been together for donkey’s years, living in various exotic locations all over the world. But, there is competition – whose rows of vines at Finca Rustica make the best wines?

Guess who was in the unenviable position of having to judge?

Before lunch, and following a lovely, elegant Reserva Cava charmingly named ‘Stars’, which enjoys a coupage of Xarel-lo, Macabeo and Parellada, we were presented with, in the Blue Corner a bottle of Sue’s lightly pressed Tempranillo 2013 red wine; and in the Red Corner, Roger’s Merlot 2014. Game on!

As both contestants would agree, the early wines of the Vino de Pinos range perhaps needed a little tweaking. Now, several years since I tasted the first, I can honestly say that we can consider them duly tweaked! But, which was to be crowned Champ – the Tempranillo or the Merlot?

Sue’s Tempranillo had a sulphur odour on opening. Sulphur is an essential part of wine-making. It is used to prolong the life of wine, to stop it going bad. If wine is to be stored in barrel, often the barrel is ‘cleaned’ with sulphur burning on what looks like a large match. It’s also added into the wine mix before bottling. It’s a delicate process: too much and its odour can penetrate and never leave the wine; to little, and the wine can spoil.

Sometimes there is a ‘drainy’ sort of smell when opening wine, this is the sulphur – allowing the wine to breathe, by decanting and swirling, will usually make the aroma dissipate. Such was the case with the Tempranillo. Approaching a brick red colour the wine looks bright and clear in the glass. There’s still a fresh acidity with some vegetal, tomato leaf aromas adding complexity to the dark blackberry fruit. Soft tannin makes the wine very approachable and there are hints of liquorice and tar on the finish.

Roger’s Merlot is a different wine, so in fact it wasn’t a like for like comparison (sitting on the fence?!). It’s not quite one year old yet and is as vivacious as you would expect. Enticing quite dark colour promises a good fruit filled mouthful, and you won’t be disappointed (plums and dark cherries). There’s still some tannin to mature and mellow, but this slight grip, gives the wine added impetus. There’s a quite long finish with refreshing acidity which lightens the perhaps 14·5º abv, plus a touch of bitterness as you swallow making the wine food-friendly as well.

Result – draw!

Our hosts then brought out Pazo de Señorans Albariño from DO Rías Baizas whose gentle floral aromas and white peach flavour charmed us all. This was followed by Sierra Cantabria rosado from Rioja, which has followed the current trend of being very pale pink, Provençal-esque in colour.

Gran Reserva Cava!
Gran Reserva Cava!

I could see Sue and roger’s expression pale whiter than the rosado when the first of the hosts’ reds was brought out. Was it fair to compare their wines with Don Miguel Mateu Gran Reserva 2004 from he Cava  bodega above, though this of course under the auspices of DO Empordá? Well, know it wasn’t as this is an outstanding wine, deeply flavoured and complex – but of course we weren’t meant to be comparing, the competition had finished!

Our penultimate wine, from the same stable was the very different Finca Espola 2010 whose Monastrell (unusual for so far north of Valencia), Syrah, Garnacha and Cabernet grow in stony soil which adds a  mineral note to the rich, dark fruit.

Finally, Bellum from Bodegas Señorio de Barahonda, DO Yecla, is an excellent red (Monastrell) dessert wine.

Gorgeous Red Dessert Wine!
Gorgeous Red Dessert Wine!

Jody and John are currently deciding which varieties to plant in their nascent vineyard – Tempranillo has the nod, I believe, with Monstrell and Syrah also being considered. More soon(ish, as it will be four years until their first wine!).

*Please contact me for details of the excellent Classical Music/Fine Wine/ Gourmet Dining event to be held at the Swiss Hotel, Moraira, Friday 2nd October. There are a few places left! colin@colinharknessonwine.com or  call 629 388 159

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