Last Saturday’s Decanter Spain tasting in London featured good wines mainly from well known regions – Rioja, Priorat, and, perhaps most interestingly, whites from Rueda. By contrast, Andover Wine Friends’ monthly tasting took us on a vinous tour of Spain. Nine wines from nine different quality areas, showed both what some local grapes can do and a good number of modern blends. These wines were directly imported by one of our members from the excellently stocked Casa Serra in Palafrugell, Catalonia. And quite a voyage of discovery it proved.
The first surprise of the evening is what a good still wine the grapes which normally go into Cava can make. Macabeo, Parellada and Xarel-lo do not trip off the English tongue, but Ermita D’Espiells, Blanc Flor, Juvé y Camps, Penedès DO 2008, 11.5%, was clean, with a subtle nose and palate of apples, pears and flowers, with good refreshing acidity. Once you knew what it was you could spot the family likeness but there was more substance than in most Cava. This company (as I learnt at the Decanter tasting) had the honour of supplying the victorious Spanish World Cup winning team with its top Cava, on the footballers’ triumphant return from South Africa 2010. Perfectly drinkable but not up to the same standard was Ochoa Rosado de Lagrima, Navarra DO 2009, 13%, from the single vineyard: Finca El Bosque. This rosé, from a large company in Navarra, the rosé region of Spain, was a very modern creature, more Cabernet Sauvignon than Garnacha (Grenache). The former grape supplies the structure and the pleasantly tannic edge, the latter the ripe juiciness. A perfectly decent wine but perhaps it would be better with more Garnacha and less Cabernet – though it then would not have been the startling red-tinged pink which is no doubt one of its best features.
The seven reds we tried were a wonderfully mixed bunch. They all showed good, modern wine making but there were definitely two tribes – modern versions of local Spanish grape varieties and eclectic modern blends, mixing French and Spanish grapes. In this small sample, the former were more interesting – have you drunk Prieto Picudo or Mencia before? – the latter in general more polished, more rounded.
To start with the locals. Losada Vinos de Finca, Bierzo DO 2007, 14% comes from North West Spain and is made with the local Mencia grape, now becoming quite fashionable. It was quite a deep ruby red, with coconut and leather notes from a mixture of American and French oak. It was a bit like Cabernet Franc but without the currant leaf smell, brambly, followed by lively quite rustic tannins and moderate acidity. It would of course be much better with food. Also from North West Spain was Gordonzello, Peregrino, Tierra de Leon DO 2006 2006, 13.5%. The grape here is Prieto Picudo and the style Roble, ie the newer style of a short time in oak (three months on this occasion), placing the wine between the youthful Joven and Crianza. A browning ruby in colour, there was not much on the nose here but some good, strawberry jam and brambly fruit, but a drying finish. The surprise was a five year old wine in the Roble style – most wine in this style is intended to be drunk young, so perhaps this was just passed its best.
Some wines of course don’t belong neatly to either tribe. Luzon, Jumilla DO 2008, 14.5%, is made predominantly from Monastrell, the Spanish grape known across the border in Southern France as Mourvèdre. But along with the local grape comes 35% Syrah, nowadays a much travelled Rhône grape. Attractive fruit on the nose, blackberries and herbs, an excellent attack of pretty refined tannins on the palate, showing very good control of this traditionally very tannic variety. No doubt the sweetness of Syrah fruit contributes to the overall quality and drinkability of this big wine – 14.5% alcohol but in balance with the fruit. Similarly, a wine made from 100% Garnacha is both traditional on the one hand, but paradoxically modern on the other. Much Garnacha has been pulled up to be replaced with more fashionable grapes but now it is realised the wine from old vines can have real depth of character and quality. Atteca Old Vines, Jorge Ordoñez, Calatayud DO, 2008, 14% has rounded complex aromas of mulberry and blueberry, rich and perfumed. A far cry from the short-lived fruitiness of young Garnacha. In this group this was a star performer.
The final group of wines are thoroughly modern blends. I inevitably think of them as ‘Super Tuscans’, ie wines made in an international, fruit-forward style, intense in colour, with little reference to the historic grape varieties of the areas they come from. In fact all the reds in this tasting shared a deep colour, testament both to Spanish sunshine and modern wine making. Llavors, Josep Serra i Pla, Empordà DO 2008, 14% is a five way blend of Garnacha, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah. This wine really divided people, with some liking its sweet liquorice and fruity style, while others took against a slightly medicinal note and over-extraction of the fruit. Angosto Valencia DO 2008, 13.5% was another five-way cocktail, this time Syrah, Graciano, Petit Verdot, Garnacha and Merlot, two Spanish grapes, two Bordolais and one from the Rhône. It did say on the bottle that it might throw a sediment – so it did indeed, enough to form a very small brick! But if you are not put off by that you should enjoy the very sweet, ripe fruit, the rounded palate and well handled tannic finish, very good and potentially a real crowd pleaser. Finally, we tasted Sao Expressiu, Costers del Segre DO, 2006, 14.5%, which is just Garnacha and Cabernet Sauvignon but treated to a generous 14 months in French barriques. The result is a sophisticated and attractive combination of creamy oak and red berry fruit, a good depth of flavour with attractive bitterness, a silky palate and good persistence. Altogether a fine climax to this instructive tasting. Whether using their own grape varieties or those borrowed from their neighbours north of the Pyrenees, the byways of Spain are clearly worth exploring.