In Rioja for instance the first proper estate was not created until the 1970s – with the arrival of the great Contino.
Elsewhere you have Vega-Sicilia of course, but it has been much more normal in Spain to blend the grapes from different vineyards together and to create a brand – more akin to the negociant concept than that of the domaine.
Of course that has changed a little over the years as the focus has turned more and more to quality rather than quantity. The winemaker generally has greater control over the quality of the fruit, what grows where and how it is treated, if the wine is an estate rather than a brand – or so the theory goes.
One man who passionately believes in the estate concept is Carlos Falcó Marqués de Griñón, whose Dominio de Valdepusa produces magnificent wines near Toldeo, in Spain. Carlos by his example and his passion has been able to help drive up the quality of Spanish wines in recent decades and is a prime mover in the development of the excellent wines coming out of Spain today – he really can be thought of as something of a Spanish Robert Mondavi.
In 2000 he and some like minded fellow producers of single estate wines founded an association to defend and promote the estate concept, or pago in Spanish. At first all the members of their little group were in Castille and it was called the Grandes Pagos de Castilla. So numerous were the requests to join and the successful applicants were spread so wide geographically, that by 2003 the group had been renamed Grandes Pagos de España and today it has 21 members and a waiting list of applicants spread throughout Spain.
You can see Carlos talking about the Grandes Pagos de España here:
Carlos was over in London last week to talk about his wines as well as the wines of other members of the group. He and Charles Metcalf presented an exciting tasting produced by estates that are members of the Grandes Pagos de España.
For me the standout wines were:
Albariño Selección Finca Monte Alto 2008
D.O. Rias Baixas, Galicia
100% Albariño – 9 months lees ageing.
This wine from a high mountain vineyard had a deeper colour than many an Albriño.
The nose was rich rather aromatic with honey and nuts, clean citrus and a saline note.
In the mouth it was quite textured with a good mouthfeel balanced by nice acidity and a mineral seam together with that saline quality returning from the nose.
All in all a lovely dry wine with good intensity on the finish with a soft, rich orange twist – presumably as a consequence of 9 months ageing on the lees. This would be lovely with a simply cooked bit of fish – 90 points.
The red wines were served pretty cold for the British taste, I like red wine served cooler than most people, but these were actually cold and did not suit all the wines, it left some of them hard and harsh instead of softening them.
Marqués de Griñón ‘AAA’ 2004 (from magnum)
D.O. Dominio de Valdepusa, Toledo
100% Graciano – 30 months in French oak barrels.
This wine is a selection of whatever they think is best from the estate in a specific year, so the cuvée can vary enormously. In 2004 they chose to make a pure Graciano.
The colour was an intense, opaque deep cassis. the nose offered rich aromas of red and black fruit together with soil and mineral notes, violets, peppery and smoky touches and fragrantly smoky, singed meat.
This is a big mouthful of wine, rich and deeply fruity with plums and cassis balanced by an underlying savoury, dry spice and smoky character.
It was silky, but still had quite tight fine grain tannins that gave the whole a refined and elegant finish even though there is plenty of oak. My favourite wine of the tasting, I would love to try it with some duck – 96 points.
Not far behind was:
Pago de Vallegracía Hipperia 2005
Bodegas Pago de Vallegracía, Vino de la Tierra de Castilla
47% Merlot, 46% Cabernet Sauvignon, 5% Petit Verdot & 2 % Cabernet Franc – 22 months in French oak barrels.
At first glance this estate appears to make simply Vino de la Tierra, Vin de Pays, in the Toledo mountains to the south and east of Madrid. However, when you taste the wine you quickly realise there is nothing simple here.
Hipperia is the top wine from the estate and it is very accomplished indeed.
The colour was deep and even with no hint of ageing yet.
The nose was richly fragrant with deep red cherry and some gamey, savoury notes,
The palate was juicy with lovely fresh fruit and a soft, creamy, ripe texture that made it very drinkable and enjoyable.
So smooth are the tannins that it even tasted good served at a frankly cold temperature, in the Spanish style.
This is a wine that I would love to partner with a selection of Spanish hams and sausages and some good crusty bread – 95 points.
Then came a wine dear to my heart:
Enrique Mendoza Santa Rosa 2004
Bodegas Enrique Mendoza, D.O. Alicante
70% Cabernet Sauvignon, 15% Merlot & 15% Syrah – 17 months in new French oak barrels.
A lot of my family live in the Alicante region and I know it well. The local wines have improved enormously over the last decade and in no small measure that is down to the example of Enrique Mendoza. He produces the very best Moscatel from the region at Alfas del Pi, not far from Benidorm and creates some amazingly good reds inland near the Jumilla border – mainly, but not exclusively from international grapes.
The nose was quite spicy and fragrant with oak and pepper notes as well as a meaty, savoury element.
The texture was silky with smoky fine grain tannins, the mid-palate was fresh before some harder tannins broke through giving a deep smoky and spicy character.
This was very good, but still very tight and it needs time. However the cold temperature did not suit this wine and emphasised the hardness in the tannins at the moment – 90 points.
I actually slightly prefer their Enrique Mendoza Peñon de Ifach Reserva.
Aalto PS 2006
Bodegas Aalto, D.O. Ribera del Duero
100% old vine Tinto Fino – 30 months in new French oak.
I have long loved good wines from Ribera del Duero, the trouble is so many of the wines that I can afford to drink give no idea of how good this region’s wines can be – this does.
The colour was a deep, opaque cassis liqueur.
The nose was rich and smoky with ripe, sweet fruit and attractive oak spice.
The palate was supple, smooth and concentrated with lots of bacon-like smokiness and fine grain tannins. Strangely there was a hard edge of tannins to this wine, but they were balanced and not aggressive, so this just made it elegant and gave it structure.
It was very firm and does need time, but it carries its 30 months in new oak very well indeed – 95 points.
Maurodos San Roman 2006
Bodegas Maurodos, D.O. Toro
100% Tinta de Toro – 24 months in French & American oak barrels.
Toro is a great unsung hero of a wine region and deserves to be more widely appreciated in my opinion. Both Waitrose and Marks & Spencer stock excellent red Toros that sell for £6.99 and deliver a huge amount of wine for that money. Toro can also dazzle at the top end of course, Vega-Sicilia’s Pintia estate produces great wine and now this from another Ribera del Duero star, Bodegas Mauro:
A deep and intense blackberry colour.
The texture was lush and silky with a clean, fresh character. There was spice and liquorice and supple black fruit in abundance.
All in all it was delicious, very drinkable and not trying too hard to wow me, it just did wow me. Even the big grippy tannins on the finish were fine in context, but time or food will tame those – 92 points.
Abadía Retuerta Petit Verdot 2006
Bodegas Abadía Retuerta, Vino de la Tierra de Castilla y León
100% Petit Verdot – 24 months in new Allier French oak barrels.
A beautiful colour, opaque plums and cassis.
Fragrant sweet fruit nose with delicate spice and smoky ham notes.
The palate was smooth and supple with soft and juicy fruit making it immediately approachable. The mid-palate was more savoury with some smoky fine grain tannins.
This was utterly, utterly delicious with beautifully balanced oak and fruit and tannins making it very elegant and very drinkable indeed – 94 points.
This was a terrific tasting, that really showed some of what Spain can achieve these days – I just wish we could have drunk them with a great Spanish meal, I am sure that even more of the wines would have stood out under those conditions.