Traveller's tale
Cleaning up in Ribera del Duero

In bad odour
27 August, 2008
One of the most pressing problems on wine trips is not a lack of sleep or of water (though both are hazards) , but a lack of adjectives. When the minibus pulls up to the château, domain or bodega, spilling its cargo of buyers and journalists, the hosts are eager to show off vineyards, cellars and perhaps even bottling lines. But what they want most is an assessment of their beloved wines.

One tour of Ribera del Duero was surprisingly bleak: the wines might have been rich, heady and warm, but the landscape was barren and freezing. We passed from bodega to bodega, gums (and fingertips) getting bluer .

What does one say about the sixth Tinto del Pais wine of the morning? Or the 16th? What does one say when the winemaker is standing 2m away , listening to your mumbled words translated by your chaperone? "Good tannins." "Nice colour." "Spicy." We got through all these, and more, many times before we reached our final destination on the day of our flight home.

We were late , cold , tired and hungry. But we were in the company of probably the most revered winemaker we had met all week. There were three top wines to sample, and an outside chance we would make the airport on time.

We tasted the final wine. It was good. It held together well. It was nicely balanced. We compared notes and ventured an appraisal. "This wine," we declared as a group, "is very ... harmonious." There was a pause while this opinion was translated, with some difficulty, for our august host. He eyed us suspiciously. He was clearly insulted. As people tend to be when they've just been informed by "experts" that their wine tastes of ammonia.

Graham Holter, former editor of Off Licence news

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