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:
San 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.
The 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.
“Which are your favourites of the wines you’ve tasted today?” is a question I frequently ask at the end of a wine course or tasting that I’ve run. The result is normally very close, often with 2 or 3 of the wines tying for the most popular. That isn’t surprising; tastes vary enormously with everyone having their own particular preferences. And those preferences will be reflected in how they vote, which is why it is rare for one wine to have a clear win.
So, on the few occasions when it does happen, the winner must be quite special and have wide appeal – not always the same thing. Such a wine emerged from a recent day course on the Wines of the Americas that I ran at Bristol’s Stoke Lodge Centre. From a dozen wines from such diverse countries as the USA, Chile, Argentina, Mexico, Uruguay and Brazil, Tabali’s Encantado Reserva Viognier from Chile’s Limari Valley (Waitrose, £9.99) was not just a clear winner – it secured more than twice as many votes as any of the other wines we tasted.
Although I can’t remember such a decisive result before, I wasn’t surprised this wine was popular; I’ve opened it on a number of occasions previously. It has really appealing floral and citrus aromas which carry through onto a rich, just off-dry palate balanced by good, clean acidity and with flavours of ginger and apricot. A lovely wine: complex, fruity and characterful.
It is only in the last 20 years or so that the Limari Valley has started to concentrate on quality wines – previously much of the production there was distilled into pisco, the local brandy – and Viognier is hardly a mainstream grape for the area but Tabali’s site, just 20 miles from the Pacific Ocean with its cooling influences, is clearly well suited to this tricky but high quality variety. Perhaps we’ll see wider plantings there in future.
And, looking to the future, a date for your diary: on Saturday 7th March my next course at Stoke Lodge will be on ‘The Hidden Corners of Spain’. We’ll focus on wines from some of that country’s less well-known regions and grapes. Places are still available but booking is essential: www.bristolcourses.com or 0117 903 8844.
Have you ever thought how many of the main wine regions of Europe are close to rivers? The Rhone, Mosel and Douro Rivers are all so closely linked to wine that they have wine regions named after them. The Loire has vineyards along more than half of its length, the Rhine features in a number of German regional wine names and Bordeaux, Burgundy and Rioja all have rivers running through or close to them – the Garonne and Dordogne, Saone and Ebro, respectively. And there are many others.
This is no coincidence: rivers affect climate, they can excavate deep valleys with steep sides ideal for vineyards, they provide water for irrigation and, in centuries past when road transport was difficult, they provided the easiest way to transport heavy cargoes such as wine. In these and so many other ways rivers have been helpful either to grape growing (and so to winemaking) or, perhaps, more importantly, in ensuring that a particular wine can reach its market.
And it’s this fascinating subject – “The Wine Rivers of Europe” – that I’ve chosen for a series of talks I’m running at Bristol’s Stoke Lodge Centre this autumn.
Each week, I’ll concentrate on a particular river and we’ll talk about (and taste, of course!) the wines that can be found along its length. Provisionally, the talks will comprise the Loire, Rhine, Danube, Rhone and Douro. They will run for 5 consecutive Wednesday evenings from 7pm to 9pm starting 2nd November. The cost for the whole series is £60 plus a share of the cost of the wines tasted (which will be limited to a maximum of £8 per person per week). Booking is essential as places will be very limited and can be made online at www.bristolcourses.com or by phone on 0117 903 8844.
If this doesn’t appeal or you can’t make the dates, have a look at the same website for some of the one day Saturday courses I’ll be running at Stoke Lodge during the first half of 2017. Hope to meet some of you there!