A Bargain Red from Spain

Spain has more land planted with vines than any other country in the world and, wherever you look, you will find unique local grape varieties and interesting and different wine styles.  From the sherry region in Andalucia in the south, to Galicia in the north-west with its crisp, fragrant Albariños to the famous reds of Rioja and Ribero del Duero.

But this blog concerns Catalonia (Cataluña to the locals) in the north-east of the country; a region with its own language and culture and a diverse and characterful range of wines that would take a lifetime to explore fully.  The region’s most famous wine, Cava, is one that many consumers may not even associate with Spain, let alone this one region; it has become a generic name for those looking for a cheap and cheerful alternative to Champagne.  If only they looked a little further (and paid a little more) they would find some attractive, distinctive Cavas that stand as quality sparkling wines in their own right.  

And, although large producers such as Torres dominate the Catalonian wine scene, it’s also a region where smaller growers can thrive, particularly in the hilly, inland areas.  Priorat is, perhaps, the best example of this with talented, artisan producers exploiting its rugged terrain and centuries-old vines to create remarkably intense and focussed wines.  Inevitably, wine prices there have rocketed and Terra Alta, hidden away in the hills to the west, is a better choice for value. 

Dardell’s organic red (Majestic, £8.99) is a robust mix of mainly Garnacha Tinta (known more commonly as Grenache) with some Syrah giving a rich, spicy full-flavoured wine with delicious dried-fruit flavours and a savoury, smoky finish.  I opened and decanted it an hour or so before drinking to allow it to develop all the flavours and aromas and was pleased I did.  It also needs generously flavoured food to show its best (a warming venison casserole was our choice).

I began by highlighting the wealth of different wines from Spain; by buying a bottle from one of that country’s hidden corners, I found not only a delicious wine but also a real bargain.

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Nelson: Small but Diverse

My wife and I loved New Zealand wines even before we were lucky enough to visit there a few years ago.  Of course, we dropped in at a few vineyards as part of our sightseeing (and enjoyed plenty of tasting!).  But New Zealand is a larger country than many in the UK realise and, although we managed to get to several of the more famous wine regions, Nelson, in the far north-west corner of the South Island, is one we missed.  That is a shame because, even though it’s one of the smallest of the regions and dwarfed by Marlborough, its better-known neighbour to the east, its warm, maritime-influenced climate and poor, stony soils are ideal for vine growing.  And, despite its size, it’s home to as diverse an array of different grape varieties as you’ll find anywhere in New Zealand. 

One local company, Waimea Estates, alone, grow, at least 9 different varieties and Majestic Wines often have a selection of their bottles in stock.  I’ve particularly enjoyed their Sauvignon Blanc and Gruner Veltliner in the past so, when I saw the same firm’s Albariño on the shelf recently (£10.99), it was an obvious buy.

Albariño is a white variety native to Galicia in north-west Spain and to Portugal (where it is known as Alvarinho) and it’s only in the last decade or so that it has started to be planted more widely.  That’s a trend I hope will continue. Waimea’s example is beautifully clean and fresh with lovely floral aromas, peach and melon flavours and a long, attractive finish.  Drink it as an aperitif or team it, as the Galicians and Portuguese would, with grilled sardines, but it’s more versatile than that and I’m sure it would work well with a wide range of fish dishes.

I can only remember tasting one bottle of Albariño from New Zealand previously – an equally delicious example from Stanley Estates in Marlborough – but this quality variety clearly thrives in the conditions there and I’m looking forward to it becoming a common sight in vineyards across the country.

A Spanish Rarity

I love seeking out wines from less well-known areas or from rarely seen grape varieties.  Inevitably, not all turn out to be good – perhaps that’s why they’ve been ignored – but often you can find interesting and different flavours.  And, because these wines are hard to sell because no-one recognises the names on the label, prices can sometimes offer excellent value, too.

You can find these unusual bottles from all over the wine world. 

Take the Clos Lojen Bobal from the Manchuela region of Spain that I picked up in Corks of Cotham recently (£15).  Bobal is actually Spain’s 2nd most widely planted red grape variety after Tempranillo but, despite that, it still counts as a rarity as you don’t see it on our shelves very often.  I’ve only tasted it a few times before and certainly not for some time.  And, as for DO (Spain’s equivalent of Appellation Contrôlée) Manchuela, I had to check my Wine Atlas to confirm that it’s inland from Valencia on the eastern edge of Spain’s high central plateau with many vineyards above 800 m (2500 ft) above sea level.

I also did some research on Clos Lojen, again a producer I hadn’t heard of, but, it seems, clearly one with high ambitions.  The vines on the estate are up to 90 years old, giving the wines the kind of intensity you only find with true old vines; some are even still planted on their own root stocks and all are farmed biodynamically (the super-organic regime I’ve commented on previously).  The owner has spent time working with Telmo Rodríguez, one of Spain’s star winemakers and shares his ethos of ‘letting the wine make itself’, using only natural processes and minimal intervention.

And the result of all this?  A lovely, food-friendly, fresh, clean red with attractive dried fruit flavours, a hint of warm spice – my wife thought cardamon – some very subtle woody notes from brief ageing in large old oak barrels and a long savoury finish.  Try it with grilled lamb chops.  Delicious!