When the invite came through to help take part in the judging and blending of the new La Única project from Felix Solis I took a double take. The time and date was for an actual venue alongside other people, rather than sit in on a Zoom tasting. But when I nervously arrived at Camino in Kings Cross to take part there, as well as my fellow real life tasters, was a large screen with not just one Zoom tasting taking place, but five others simultaneously happening in China, Germany and Spain. Welcome to the new normal of virtual, and actual wine tastings. Here Richard Cochrane, head of Félix Solís in the UK, explains how La Única concept works and why it wanted to make it a global online event.
Full marks for Spain’s Félix Solís for not only hosting one of the first London post-lockdown wine tastings earlier this month, but combining it with events taking place at the same time – via Zoom – in three countries across two continents, as Richard Cochrane explains.
Introduction: Richard Siddle
Venturing out of your lockdown home for the first time was always going to be a shock to the system. But, let’s face it sitting on a train, or a tube, albeit with a face mask on, is a bit like riding a bike. You hardly forget how to do it. But it was still reassuring to arrive at Camino in Kings Cross, after tip toeing up the Victoria Line, to come across some friendly familiar faces.
For also braving the real world for the first time again to take part in the La Única blending session was: Richard Cochrane and Angus Clark, account director, of Felix Solis; Simon Jerrome, Matthew Clark’s wine buying director; Joe Fattorini of The Wine Show; wine consultant Philippa Carr MW; and Richard Bigg, founder of Camino, the Spanish restaurant group, who was also hosting the tasting at his Kings Cross venue.
But we were not alone. Appearing on a screen in front of us was a scene more reminiscent of the Eurovision Song Contest as different tasting panels appeared all busily swilling and spitting the wines in front of them. All beamed – yes, you guessed it – via Zoom so we could follow the deliberations taking place with other wine panels in China and Europe. Talk about ambitious.
Our task in hand was to taste through different flights of Tempranillo wines from each of the growing regions that Félix Solís look after. Eliminating and blending as we went, picking out which elements of the Rioja, Ribera del Duero and Toro wines we felt (or to be honest what ‘they’ felt) worked best with each other. Interestingly Philippa Carr picked up quickly how each of the panels were clearly looking for different things, with the UK jury more interested in the purity of the fruit, compared to the Spanish panels where structure and oak were more important.
It made for a fascinating and head scratching session. Sitting on the tube was the easy bit of the day. Getting your head back into the groove of nosing, tasting, assessing, and scoring wines was the harder challenge. But as this was a team tasting our scores were, mostly, within a few points of each other and considering all the wines had been pre-selected for their quality, they were all batting in the high 80s upwards.
Full credit to Richard Cochrane and Félix Solís for bringing us all out of hibernation and it was great to catch up and chew the fat with some mates and legends in the trade.
Richard Bigg said of the day: “I was honoured to host such a fascinating day and project, culminating in this remarkable and unique wine from three distinctly different expressions of the noble Tempranillo grape. Can’t wait to find out what made the final blend!”
It certainly was inspiring to take part in such an ambitious project, and see the level of detail and expertise this major brand owner and producer has when it comes to making, and presenting its wines. It will be fascinating to see which of our blends ends up being the one chosen for La Única 2020.
Here Richard Cochrane explains how the project came about and what the group wants to get out of it.
Can you explain the concept behind La Única and when was it introduced?
The original vision for La Única was to convey the greatest expression of the noble Tempranillo grape from Spain. This is achieved by harnessing the diversity, finesse, structure and intensity that the three prestigious growing regions of Rioja, Ribera del Duero and Toro have to offer. This unique wine combines the individual character from each outstanding parcels selected from across these key regions to create a single harmonious blend.
The creative spark for the project was conceived in 2011. Georg Saguer of Felix Solis Germany and Mariano Rinaldi Goni, a renowned Argentine artist, were both enjoying a glass of Condado de Oriza Reserva overlooking the beautiful region of Ribera del Duero. They both shared a desire to capture that moment of enjoyment by overlapping their passions for wine and art.
How do you decide which year to create a La Única blend?
La Única is the culmination of our best wines from a selection of consecutive vintages. A rigorous selection process begins in each of the three wineries by the respective winemakers, to determine which barrels and parcels show the greatest promise. Each of the wineries must be satisfied that they have produced wines of exceptional quality and expression from each region. From this shortlist of wine lots, a tasting panel assesses each wine to decide if they are worthy of becoming part of the La Única story.
How has the project grown over the years in terms of breath – number of bottles produced?
The focus has always been first and foremost on quality, staying true to the principle of La Única delivering the optimal expression of fine Spanish Tempranillo. From its tentative beginning, with only 600 bottles of the 1st Edition produced, the project has grown in stature and quality to this year’s 4th Edition which will be around 15,000 bottles.
Where is the wine sold and distributed?
La Única is distributed globally and is mainly supplied into restaurants, hotels, bars and selected premium retailers. The brand enjoys a particularly strong following in the UK, Germany, Spain, China and the US.
Can you explain the selection and judging process required to create La Única?
The initial selection phase is coordinated through strong collaboration between our wineries in Ribera del Duero, Toro and Rioja. Within this framework the winemakers each single out what they feel are the most promising barrels for La Única. At this early stage the winemakers shortlist as many wine lots as they think are appropriate. Each winemaker looks for characteristic expressions of the Tempranillo variety, also known locally as Tinta de Toro in Toro and Tinta del País in Ribera del Duero, that also accentuate the idiosyncratic regional styles in those wines.
An internal tasting panel at Felix Solis reviews each of the wines on its individual merits and to determine its suitability for inter-regional blending. In this critical second phase, the shortlist is pared down to a more manageable and focused selection.
At the third stage, a panel of global expert tasters is assembled to judge each wine and select the optimal components to create the final blend. Each wine is assessed and scored objectively before reaching a consensus on the trial blend compositions. From these trials, the panel chooses the final blend.
You embraced the new situation we are in by holding simultaneous tastings around the world. Can you outline how this worked and which countries were involved?
La Única’s enduring appeal is reflected in how strongly it’s been embraced by the global wine audience since its inception. Felix Solis exports to 120 countries around the world, so it was important for us to recognise the expectations and unique differences across our global markets and how this could shape the style of the 4th Edition. For this reason, we invited several leading customers, renowned wine experts and influencers to participate in an international tasting.
Six separate tasting panels were assembled with 3 located in Spain and one each in Germany, UK and China. The panels tasted simultaneously with each contributing their scores and judgments in live time. Video conferencing technology was used to coordinate the tasting from our winery in Ribera del Duero to enable participants to exchange views and opinions on the wines as the 4th Edition was created.
How did the judging work how did you select which wines went through to final blend?
The tasters individual scores each wine were recorded, which in turn contributed to the average score for each of the six tasting panel using a strict 100 points based system to assess each wine on its objective merits. These scores were submitted centrally to Ribera del Duero after each flight of wines were tasted. Through this triage or “Dragons Den” process, a smaller shortlist was composed which enabled the winemaking team to propose trial blends for composition and tasting. The final blend selection evolved through experimenting with several rounds of trial blends, acknowledging the role that different regions and barrels can play in creating the 4th Edition of La Unica.
What has been decided as the final blend?
The final blend selected will be confirmed upon release.
When will the wine be bottled/ released and how to get hold of a bottle if interested?
The 4th Edition will be released in September 2020 on allocation through our key partners in each country. Please contact us at https://felixsolisavantis.com/en/contact/ and we will make sure you know where you can find the 4th Edition of La Única.