Category Archives: Spanish wine

The Meaning of Terroir

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The French use the word ‘terroir’ a lot when talking about wine.  There’s no exact translation in English but I usually think of it as meaning the combination of natural factors that affect how a vine will grow in a particular place and so how the wine made from its grapes will taste.  The local soil, slope of the land, exposure to the sun, shelter from the wind and climate are all clearly part of terroir but many would say the local traditions and customs of an area should be added to that list.  And, how about the variety or varieties of grapes used?  Are they part of terroir or not?  Who knows?

But terroir is not unique to France, even if the word is.  I recently opened a bottle of Tierras Coloradas Old Vines Carignan from the Montsant region, deep in the hills of Catalonia in North-East Spain (Waitrose, £9.99).  Montsant CarignanThis was clearly made with the Spanish equivalent of terroir in mind –why else would the back label highlight the particular soils of the Montsant region – red and yellow clay, slate and chalk – on which the grapes for this wine were grown?

And talking of the grapes, the old vine Carignan is also part of the tradition of the area (although there’s a nod to internationalism here in calling them by their more common French name, Carignan, rather than their usual local alias, Mazuela).

The wine itself is a rugged, earthy red with attractive violet aromas and deep, intense flavours of cooked plums and dried fruits.  But, did I taste the terroir in the wine?  Well, it’s clearly from somewhere warm (14% alcohol and the cooked and dried flavours) and almost certainly from somewhere quite traditional in style.  So, there are certainly some links to its place of origin but, I have to confess that, tasted blind, I doubt whether I’d be able to identify it specifically as a wine from Montsant, but it’s quite delicious and excellent value for money nevertheless.

 

Spain’s Hidden Corners

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In my view, Spain is one of the most exciting wine countries in the world today.  Wherever you look, you’ll find dedicated and innovative winemakers working with an array of high quality local grapes.  And it’s not just in the traditional areas – Rioja and sherry – that you find delicious wines.   I recently ran a course at Bristol’s Stoke Lodge Centre concentrating on Spain’s ‘Hidden Corners’ – some of the lesser-known regions and grapes – where you can find wines that are not just very drinkable but, because they are not well-known, they are also great value. 

The bottles I found for the group to taste provoked plenty of discussion – and some very diverse views; indeed, when I invited votes for favourite wines of the day, 11 of the 12 wines attracted at least 1 vote.  But, there were 2 clear winners:

ruedaSan Antolin’s Rueda (Waitrose, £8.99) comes from the Upper Duero Valley in western Spain where vineyards are planted more than 600 metres (1800 feet) above sea level.  The altitude means cool nights, even in summer, which help to retain precious acidity in the Verdejo grapes from which this wine is made, while the heat of the day results in perfect ripening and a succulent, rich but refreshing white wine.  Fine for drinking on its own but even better with some fish in a creamy sauce that reflects the character of the wine beautifully.  I’ve enjoyed this Rueda over a number of years and it was an unsurprising winner.

tempranillo-gran-reservaThe close runner up, however, was, perhaps, a little less predictable.  Not, I hasten to add, due to any lack of quality in the wine, but, I might have expected that the soft, mellow, cooked fruit and spice flavours of an 8 year old red that had spent 2 of those years in old oak casks wouldn’t have had such wide appeal.  Happily, I was wrong and Anciano’s Tempranillo Gran Reserva 2008 landed in a well-deserved 2nd place.  Had this wine been from Rioja rather than from the deeply unfashionable Valdepeñas area south of Madrid, it would certainly have been at least double the £8.99 I paid for it in Waitrose.  A bargain, indeed!

And bargains are what you can expect if you explore ‘Hidden Corners’.  You just have to know where to look.

From Galicia to Marlborough

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Take a high quality grape variety native to Galicia in North West Spain, plant it in Marlborough in New Zealand and what do you get?  A delicious surprise!

stanley-alborinoOr, so I found when I tasted Stanley Estates Alboriño (Waitrose, £14.99) recently.  It has a similar character to examples from its home region: quite rich and mouth-coating but with lovely freshness and aromas and flavours of pink grapefruit, apple and peach.  Just a touch off-dry, this would be an excellent match for a fish dish in a creamy sauce, some pan-seared scallops or, thinking of the grape’s Spanish origins, perhaps a paella.

Until now, Alboriño wasn’t a grape I associated with New Zealand – in fact, Stanley Estates claim that they were the first to plant it there and their first vintage from it was only produced in 2012.  But the location was clearly a good choice; both Galicia and Marlborough’s Awatere Valley have relatively cool climates and, with the aromatic Sauvignon Blanc thriving so well in Marlborough, then why not Alboriño?  Except that no-one, apart from Stanley Estates, thought of it.

Stanley is a new name to me – although, perhaps, it shouldn’t be: after completing Horticulture degrees at Bath University, just a few miles down the road from here in Bristol, the owners, Bridget Ennals and Steve Pellett travelled the world for a few years before putting down roots – and vine roots! – in their present base in Marlborough.  Within 2 years of their first bottling, they had won the award for Best International Sauvignon Blanc at the 2011 London International Wine Challenge – a variety they still produce alongside some Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris, Alboriño and another little-known variety that I must look out for, the northern Italian native, Lagrein.

I’m always happy to see some of the lesser-known grapes that were previously restricted to quite a small area, finding their way to new locations, especially when such high quality varieties as Alboriño land in what appears to be perfect conditions for it to thrive and show its best.

 

 

Rioja: Grape, Brand or Region?

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Rioja CrianzaWhat is Rioja?  Certainly, a famous name but, despite its popularity, some are clearly confused about it.  In fact, I’ve been asked the same question twice in just the last few weeks – and both times, a wrong answer was suggested to me. 

So, let me put the record straight: Rioja is not a grape variety.  Nor is it a brand name (although some would argue that, given its familiarity, it’s close to becoming one).  It’s actually a legally defined wine region in northern Spain stretching out on both banks of the River Ebro famous mainly for red wines (although some rosé and white is also made).  The main grape for the reds is Tempranillo although, in many of the wines, some Garnacha (also known as Grenache) and other minor local varieties are blended in.

The one thing both questioners knew (or thought they knew) about Rioja is that it’s quite oaky.  Well, yes, it can be – but it isn’t always.  Look at the label.  If you see ‘Gran Reserva’, it will certainly have a distinct oak flavour, having spent at least 2 years in barrel.  The word ‘Reserva’ alone (without the ‘Gran’) or bottles labelled ‘Crianza’ will only have had half that time in barrel and so will have more emphasis on the fruit, less on the oak.  And, if none of these words appear, the wine may never have seen oak at all – or just briefly.

A perfect example of a wine with just a subtle hint of nutty oak is Arienzo de Marques de Riscal Crianza (Great Western Wine, £10.95).  Nicely mellow, with delicious, vibrant red fruits, this is really well-balanced and harmonious.  Easy drinking either on its own or, even better, with some lamb or a hard cheese. 

If you’re still confused about Rioja, try this bottle as a most enjoyable lesson 1!  And, even if you’re not, it’s well worth tasting anyway!

Telmo Rodriguez – A Name to Follow

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Al MuvedreAl-Muvedre (Waitrose, £8.99) is a wine you could easily take a quick look at and put back on the supermarket shelf. The label shows it comes from Alicante – not a great start – a region best known for supplying cheap ‘plonk’ to undemanding tourists visiting the Spanish ‘Costas’. And many will not immediately recognise the local name of the grape variety, Monastrell, although its more common names, Mourvèdre (think of Bandol from the south of France) or Mataro, might make you take a little more interest. But the words on the label that attracted me are those of the brilliant and prolific winemaker, Telmo Rodriguez.

After studying in Bordeaux and serving his apprenticeship working with some of the top growers in the Rhône, Rodriguez returned to his native Spain to Remelluri, his family’s wine estate in Rioja. This was only to be a brief stop although, as a result of his work there, the property continues to enjoy a much improved reputation. But his real aim was to set up on his own and pursue his passion for rediscovering Spain’s forgotten wine regions and native grape varieties.

My first taste of one of his wines was several years ago when I bought a bottle of MR Mountain Wine, a wonderful sweet muscat from Malaga (still available from the Wine Society, £11.95) and I have followed his progress ever since through wines from Navarre, Rueda and Galicia, as well as Rioja, of course.

But back to the Al-Muvedre. Typical of a Rodriguez wine, he has concentrated on expressing the character of the local grapes and the local area. He has chosen old vines trained in the traditional way as small bushes, picked by hand and fermented in concrete and stainless steel tanks. There’s no oak here so that the fruit can speak for itself and it shows with the delightful juicy plum and damson flavours coming through perfectly.

Telmo Rodriguez is undoubtedly a master of his craft and, unlike many famous names, his wines (or some of them) are readily available in supermarkets at everyday prices. His is definitely a name to look out for.

 

 

Tasting Galician Wines

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Galicia, in the far north-west of Spain, is one of that country’s most interesting wine regions. But, if you’re not familiar with their wines – and, sadly, many in Britain are not – you need to forget any existing thoughts about Spanish wine. Galicia is different! Its climate is Atlantic-influenced which means that it is wetter, cooler and more fertile than areas of Spain further inland or those facing the Mediterranean. And it grows a clutch of grape varieties rarely seen elsewhere.

As you might guess, I love their wines – and not just since a really enjoyable visit my wife and I made there a couple of years ago. So I was particularly pleased that the Bristol Tasting Circle’s latest monthly event featured wines from Galicia (plus an intruder from Castille y Leon, just over the regional border!) presented by a long-standing friend of the Circle, Raj Soni of local independent wine merchant RS Wines.

BTC Galicia tastingTypical of the world’s cooler grape growing regions, Galicia makes more white than red. Paso de Marinan uses Godello in a blend with other local varieties to produce a wine with good body and lovely tropical fruit flavours (£9), while Crego e Monaguillo’s 100% Godello (£10) is fresh and clean with hints of mandarins on the palate. The one Galician variety that may be familiar to some (particularly Bristol Wine Blog readers) is Alboriño and Pazo de Barantes (£13) make an excellent example: quite rich and fragrantly perfumed, this wine has length, complexity and is simply delightful to drink.

But Galicia makes reds, too, mainly using the local Mencia grape. It gives soft, gently spicy wines – my wife said cumin – and the stand-out for me was the delicately smoky, barrel aged bottle from Joaquin Rebolledo (£15), who is so superstitious that he labelled his 2013 vintage as ‘2012+1’!

For more details of the wines, you can contact RS Wines on www.rswines.co.uk. Or, if tastings like this one appeal, just email the Bristol Tasting Circle secretary, Judith Tyler on judith.tyler@talktalk.net – new members are always welcome.

 

A Shy and Reticent Wine?

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The English are often described as ‘reserved’ people: shy, reticent, not very forthcoming.  But the word ‘reserve’ can have other meanings: I can reserve a table at a restaurant or set a reserve – a minimum sale price – at an auction, for example. But what does it mean to wine lovers?

Look along the shelves of your local supermarket or wine merchant and you’ll notice that Reserve (or a local variant such as Reserva or Riserva) is one of the words most commonly found on the labels.  So, does it mean that the wine is shy, reticent and not very forthcoming?  Unfortunately not!  But, what it does mean (if anything) varies a lot, depending on where the wine comes from.

Things are clearest in Spain.  Spanish wine tasting (2)There, Reserva denotes a red wine that has been aged for at least 3 years before being released for sale, at least one year of which must have been in oak barrels.  For whites and rosés, the figure is 2 years (6 months in barrel).  The requirements for Gran Reservas are longer: for reds, 5 years (2 in oak barrel), for whites and rosés, 4 years (6 months in barrel).

Across the border in Portugal, the rules for their Reserva are much less specific, simply requiring the wine to be from a ‘good’ vintage (how do you define that?) with an alcohol level at least ½% above the regional minimum (which varies from place to place).

Italy’s equivalent is Riserva.

41 SelvapianaThis also varies from place to place – as do most things in Italy; it, too, denotes a certain minimum ageing, usually at least a year, although, for Barolo, it is as long as 5 years!  Often, higher alcoholic strength and other requirements are also included in the local rules.

And that’s as far as the regulated use of these terms goes.  Anywhere else and the word has no official meaning.  It might be used to suggest that the wine is of a higher quality, as in the French ‘Réserve du Patron’ or terms like Estate Reserve or Reserve Selection, or has seen some oak ageing, but, outside Spain, Portugal and Italy, none of this is guaranteed.

To my mind, we ought to reserve (sorry!) the use of the word to those places where it does have a legal meaning, but I’m not going to make a fuss about it because I’m English and too reserved!