Karim Ghazanfar – Business Development Manager
When I passed the Wine and Spirit Education Trust (WSET) Level 3 Advanced Certificate with a distinction, I was also lucky enough to win the Group Codorníu Scholarship, which took me on a four-day study tour to Spain. The trip was hugely informative and definitely put my wine tasting skills, acquired through the WSET course, to the test.
The trip began by travelling to the Codorníu winery at San Sadurni in the Penedes region. Greeted by Vincent on our arrival, we were shown around the winery and the huge underground cellars. What struck me first was the scale of the operation and the fantastic modernist Catalan architecture designed by Josep Puig i Cadafalch.
Over 50million bottles of Cava are produced here every year from a mixture of locally grown grapes and grapes bought in from outside Penedes. The underground cellars stretch for 30 kilometers over 5 floors.
We were also shown many historical artifacts that have been used in the production of Codorníu’s. wines over the centuries. Barrels, racks, machines that cork bottles. All immaculately preserved. I really got the impression that Codorníu is truly proud of it’s history.
In the early afternoon we were invited to taste some of the Cavas from Codorníu. These included the Selección Raventos, Anna de Codorníu, Reina Maria Cristina, Jaume Codorníu and the Pinot Noir Rosé. I particularly enjoyed the biscuity nature and complexity of the Jaume Codorníu and thought it was a serious rival for many of the more expensive Champagnes.
Next we travelled to the stunning Scala Dei winery up in the hills of Priorat. At 500m above sea level and with vineyard site that reach over 800m, this place produces some seriously interesting wines. Made using Garnacha tinto and Carinena alongside some other international varieties, the wines were intensely coloured, complex and full bodied and different to anything I’ve tasted before.
The winery itself was stunning, in an idyllic setting surrounded by mountains. Inside couldn’t have been more different from Codorníu. Small, intimate and with a friendly feel, I was amazed to find out that Codorníu produces more wine in a day than Scala Dei does in a whole year.
After spending the night at Raimat Castle, we proceeded to the enormous Raimat winery in Costers Del Segre. This was our first chance to experience the vineyards themselves. I was taken aback by the scale and scope of the vineyards. We were taken to the top of a hill in the middle of all the plantations and all we could see was vine after vine. We were told that Raimat was constantly experimenting with grape varieties. Alongside the more typical Tempranillo, Garnacha and Macabeo, were plantings of Albariño (Raimat have recently made one of the 1st 100% Albariño from outside the Galicia region), Gaudello, Sylvaner and even Riesling! The attitude to experimentation in the vineyard was fascinating.
In the winery we were introduced to Olivia Porte, one of the winemakers at Raimat. After a tour of the mammoth winery, we tasted a selection of Raimat’s wines, including the delicious 100% Albariño, an elegant Burgundian style Chardonnay, a traditional style Tempranillo and a blockbusting Cabernet Sauvignon. The difference in style between the Tempranillo and the Cabernet Sauvignon was very noticeable. Olivia explained that the Cabernet Sauvignon was designed for the modern market and as thus is more fruit driven than the Tempranillo. Personally, I liked both equally!
We were then driven to the Bodegas Bilbainas winery in Haro in the Rioja Alta region, driving past other big name wineries such as Muga, La Rioja Alta and CVNE on the way. Once at the winery, we were taken out to 3 different vineyard sites, each of which is used to produce separate wines. The first thing that distinguished the vineyards of Rioja from those of Raimat was that the vines were trained (low, in the Goblet system with no wires). After seeing all the different soil types, we retired to the winery for a tour of the simply stunning building and cellars. Rochdale born Winemaker, Andrew Halliwell, showed us around the various fermenting and aging equipment and then invited us to taste several wines including La Vicalanda, Vina Zaco, Vicuana, Vina Paceta and the bodegas’ leading brand, Vina Pomal. The evolution in style was again easy to pick up. Andrew explained how they were now looking to produce a more “modern” style of Rioja (particularly for the export market). This is what Vina Zaco was designed for: on the palate it was sweeter and more concentrated, with a greater emphasis on primary fruit character. Personally my favourite was the Vina Pomal 2000 made in a more traditional style!
Our final winery trip was to the ultra modern Legaris in Ribera del Duero. The most striking feature of this place is the interior. From the outside it’s relatively unassuming, but from the inside it is modern, sleek and very stylish. Everything in the winery has been purpose built with efficiency in mind, and the various winemaking departments can be effortlessly viewed from a central corridor, making this the ideal winery for visitors.
At the tasting we tried 2 vintages of the Legaris Crianza and 2 of the Reserva (Legaris only produce these 2 wines!). The 2004 Reserva came out on top unanimously. 100%Tempranillo, it displayed red fruit, toasty vanilla oak and lingered on the palate for what seemed like an age.
Winning the Codorníu Scholarship was an ideal way to revise what I had learnt during my WSET Level 3 Advanced Certificate. It has increased my knowledge of Spanish wine, which will help me in my work at Majestic and build on our expertise as the UK’s biggest mixed case wine retailer.