Critics’ Choice Spain

Vintage Cava

A timely offer from Winedirect gave a perfect theme for a fine wine supper: Critics’ Choice Spain, a half case of bottles of which had received good scores from Robert Parker, Jancis Robinson et al.  In the last twenty years of so, the track record of Spanish wine has changed markedly – from supplier of cheap bottles to some of the most exciting, innovative wines being produced in Europe.  Here was the chance to test this claim.  We started the evening with an extra bottle, Codorníu’s top Cava, Cuvée Reina M’Cristina Reserva Brut 2005 with its refined, structured lemon fruit and mineral edge, excellent attack on the palate and good length.  ‘The best Cava I have ever had’ was a common response. 

The three whites in the case were a good mix of the known and the unknown.  An Abariño of course as Spain’s top modern white variety, a white Rioja, unusual in that it was 100% Viura and a wine made of the Dona Blanca grape, which nobody had tasted before – unless it was in a white Port blend.  Pazo de Senorans, Rias Biaxas DO, Albariño 2011 comes from Galicia in Spain’s rainy, relatively cool, North West which receives a whopping 1520mm of rain a year and a lot of sunshine.  (In a three whitesmuch cooler climate, Andover in Hampshire which for climatic purposes in the drier eastern half of southern England gets 800mm a year.)  The thick skinned Abariño grape can stay disease free and in this example produce its classic peach and apricot notes, here with a bit of a green edge, medium plus in body and with excellent mouth feel.  The second wine was outstanding, made on the home estate of the top Spanish wine maker, Alvaro Palacios, a key figure in the new Spain.   Palacios learnt his trade at Ch. Petrus among other places so can’t be accused of a lack of ambition.  The grapes for this wine are grown in Rioja Baja, though the estate itself is at 550m above sea level which is higher than much of Rioja Alta. In Rioja’s privileged position, protected from the Atlantic rains by the Cantabrian mountains, the rain fall amounts to 480mm a year, while the Palacios estate is a a quarter down on this at a meagre 380mm.  Alvaro Palacios Remondo, Placet, Rioja DOC, 2008 is a miracle of top quality grapes and wine making, turning 100% Viura, normally known for its clean lines and lack of flavour, into a great glassful.   A touch of gold in the glass tells you that this has been in barrels.  White flowers, melon, ripe apples on the nose make for a subtle and substantial nose followed by a sumptuous, full-bodied, palate.  Our only regret drinking this wine is that it has the potential to develop for some years in the bottle.  For the third white, we returned to Galicia, if a warmer inland part of it, for Quinta da Muradella, Gorvia Blanco, Monterrei DO, 2006.  Monterrei is on the Portuguese border at around 450m of altitude with 700mm of rain a year.  Quite a neutral nose with a touch of oak and some good fruit notes at the end of the palate, peach, lemon and lime. They have worked really hard at this wine with cold maceration of the grapes for 48 hours, fermenting with natural yeasts and then lees-stirring in old 500 litre barrels. A well made wine with creamy notes from the oak but less of a ‘wow’ factor than the Viura. 

With the reds we broke with our custom and served the wines with quite a substantial starter – which was a good choice as these are big, assertive wines.  Alvaro Palacios was again a big hit with his less expensive second wine, Les Terrasses Velles Vynes, Priorat DOC, 2009 (£28) made from bought in fruit in now trendy Priorat.  It was Palacios who persuaded people that the steep terraces three redsof Priorat, between 70 and 700m in altitude, were worth working by hand to produce muscular, dark, high octane wines, loved by certain critics – and us. The rainfall here is not that different to dry Rioja but the temperatures certainly are – mean temperature in July (ie night and day) climbs from 20.3° C to 22° C.  This wine, paying homage to the aforementioned terraces, is made mainly from traditional varieties, 60% Cariñena, 30% Garnacha, further spiced up with small additions of Cabernet and Syrah.  A pronounced nose heralds a superb palate of red and black fruit and a vibrant, sumptuous palate, restrained in flavour profile while being impressive in weight.  The second red came from the new Spain’s other most important zone, Ribera del Duero. With 800m of altitude it still manages a July mean temperature of 21.4° C and  a scarce 410mm of annual rainfall, perfect, as it turns out, for producing concentrated versions of Tempranillo, Spain’s most important quality red indigenous variety.  Finca Villacreces, Ribera del Duero 2006 comes from grapes grown on mixed soils with excellent drainage – sand, gravel, shingle and quartz.  The resulting deep coloured liquid is then tamed (a bit) in new oak for 18 months. Even this six year old had vibrant, zippy acidity and tannins, making you wonder what it was like three years ago and how many years it will develop in the bottle if given a chance.  The grape blend here is 95% Tempranillo and just 5% Cabernet Sauvignon.  Great length on the palate, refined vanilla and cinnamon and black fruit, fully deserving of its 94 Parker points.  (We also drank a good value Ribera del Duero (unusual) over supper: Celeste, Crianza, Ribera del Duero, Torres, 2009 at £13.50.)  Thirdly among the reds, back to Rioja for Bodegas Roda, Roda 1, Rioja Reserva 2006 for suitable finale: sophisticated, concentrated fruit (strawberry and plum), fine, persistent velvety tannins and a very long finish.  From 100% Tempranillo from 30 year old vines, fermented in oak vats and matured in barriques, 50% of them new.  Remarkable concentration and subtlety. 

tale of two MuscatsBut the evening was not over – no fewer than three bonus wines, two in the now pretty rare Malaga ‘Mountain’ wine style. These wines were historically important, sweet wines made by semi-raisoning the Muscat fruit and then fermenting the resulting concentrated must. This results in a sweet wine with intense Muscat flavour – orange blossom, stone fruit, grapey. MR, Mountain Wine, Telmo Rodriguez, 2001 was the unoaked version, intense, sweet and in a good sense simple, while Molino Real 1999 was the oaked wine, with an added layer of complexity and texture, if less overt fruit character. Finally the unmistakeable inky sweet blackness of Pedro Ximenes, PX to its friends.  Also from semi-dried fruit, this time from PX grapes in the hot, arid southern tip of Spain, the wine being aged in PX 1982American oak. This example was far too good, with its luscious sweet intensity and rich, mouth-filling weight, to put on ice cream:  Don PX, Bodegas Toro Albalá, Gran Reserva 1982 – two half bottles so the opportunity to photograph the front and back labels together. 

Thanks to all who contributed the bonus bottles and food to this memorable tasting. It is clear that great things are going on in the Spanish wine scene.  

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2 Responses to “Critics’ Choice Spain”

  • Jay Schloemer:

    I just discovered your site and I enjoyed the article detailing your visit to Capezzana. I did have a glass of Monna Nera in my hand as I read the article, which I later learned was one of your suggestions to enhance the experience of exploring your website.

    I will come back to visit often, very enjoyable.


    Jay Schloemer

  • Good to see Andover getting a mention :o)

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