Wine of the Week 40 – a southern Spanish sensation

As some of you who read these pages regularly will be aware, I love Spanish wine. I think Spain is a great wine producing country that makes exciting wines in all styles. In truth I think Spain is underappreciated given the quality and value that it produces. It pains me that so many people still just think, if it’s Spanish it must be Rioja. Spain is so much more than just Rioja – great wine region though Rioja is and much as I love good Rioja wines.

I really enjoy introducing drinkers to new regions of Spain, as the wines always seem to go down well and it is always fun seeing someone taste and enjoy a wine for the first time – and often it isn’t only just a new wine, but new region and grape variety too!

Well the other day I showed a red that summed up exactly why I find Spain so exciting. It was a lovely, warming Winter wine that is so delicious to drink and such great value that I made it my Wine of the Week.

Wine map of Spain – click for a larger view – non watermarked PDF versions are available by agreement

Wine map of Spain – click for a larger view – non watermarked PDF versions are available by agreement

mas-delmera-monastrell-reserva2008 Mas Delmera Monastrell Reserva
Bodegas Mas Delmera
D.O. Jumilla
Albacete, Spain
Historically the Spanish wines that became famous were all from the north where it is cooler and the conditions less wild. In the south the weather is so hot and the land so wild and rugged that in the past it was very hard to make good wine – the exception is Sherry of course which was fortified in order to preserve it. Other wines did not have the advantage of being fortified, so did not keep as well and were generally considered to be less fine than the wines from the north, especially Rioja. I well remember tasting a Jumilla red in the early 1970s, I was very young so my palate would not have been used to red wine at all, but it was foul. Even my father poured it away, and he drinks anything!

Jumilla is a hot region of southern Spain, midway between the city of Murcia and Albacete in Castilla-La Mancha – the wine region (Denominación de Origen / D.O.) straddles the border. In the past the wines tasted dirty and stewed, because the wineries were filthy places and bacteria got into the wine. It didn’t help that in this region of Spain they used to ferment in clay tinajas – these are often erroneously called amphorae and are making something of a comeback, especially in Chile and for natural wine. In Spain these were huge jars, usually buried in the ground and they were impossible to clean properly, so the bacteria in them would have made the wine unstable. The upshot of these problems, and many others, was that by the mid 1970s Jumilla was on its knees as a wine region, with only the locals drinking the wines. Clean, bright, fresh wine was freely available in Spain, usually from Rioja and Penedès – take a bow Miguel Torres, so consumers were put of the hot, brackish, stewed and often murky wine of Jumilla. In fact such were the region’s woes that it was only created as a D.O. in 1996, once the region’s potentially bright future had been glimpsed.

And what a bright future it is. Producers have worked so hard, replacing the aged tinajas with clean stainless steel tanks and making sure the wineries are so clean you could eat your dinner off the floor. The fermentations can now take place at low temperatures, so the wines are fresher and brighter and the clean winemaking ensures they stay vibrant and fruity too. What’s more the growers have worked hard too, by finding sheltered and high, cool places to plant the vines so that the grapes do not turn to raisins in the fierce sun. By doing this they turn the heat to their advantage. The place is so arid that the vines barely grow to any height above ground, but put down very deep roots below ground. This means the vine produces a tiny crop of concentrated, flavoursome grapes, so the finished wines are rich and full-flavoured.

Monastrell vines growing in Jumilla. Photo courtesy of Bodegas Juan Gil.

Monastrell vines growing in Jumilla. Photo courtesy of Bodegas Juan Gil.

Harvesting Monastrell vines in Jumilla. Photo courtesy of Bodegas Juan Gil.

Harvesting Monastrell vines in Jumilla. Photo courtesy of Bodegas Juan Gil.

For me the key Jumilla producer is Bodegas Juan Gil who makes a dazzling range of wines with bright, vibrant fruit backed up by an elegant structure that makes them a real delight – do try some of them if you get the chance, UK stockist information is here, US here, but there are other producers too, as my Wine of the Week shows. 

This wine is made by the wonderful Pamela Geddes, who is a Brit with long experience of making wine in Spain. The blend is 90% Monastrell, which the French call Mourvèdre and the Aussies call Mataro, and there is 10% Tempranillo too, which spends 3 months in oak just to firm up the wine and give it a bit more elegance.

The colour shows it age with a little garnet around the edge, but is mainly a dark, opaque ruby.
The nose betrays the heat of Jumilla, you can smell hot rocks, wild herbs and rich, ripe fruit; blackberry, blueberry, rich strawberry and some deep plum too. The palate is full-bodied and very smooth, with loads of fruit, it has some age now so it isn’t the bright fruit of youth, but the broader flavours of older wine, plums and prunes as well as blackberry. There is some earthiness and leather from the ageing too, as well as some caramel, mocha and espresso from the touch of oak. All in all a lovely crowd pleaser of a wine, smooth, full-flavoured, full-bodied and with some nice maturity on it too, grab it while you can – 87/100 points.

 Available in the UK for £10.50 a bottle from Great Western Wine.

If you have never tasted a wine from Spain’s deep south, then this is a perfect place to start. You will really enjoy them if wines from the Rhône are your thing, or if you like Malbec, or Shiraz, or just good red wines. This delicious red wine would be perfect with roast lamb, a rich casserole or even a comforting shepherd’s pie or a burger.

Wine of the Week 29 – my bargain red of the year?

Whilst struggling with what to serve the thirsty masses at Christmas I have been considering all sorts of wines at prices varying from the highish to the high, when I was given this wine to try. It strikes me as excellent red that a lot of people would enjoy and yet it hardly breaks the bank, so will enable me to to relax if I have to open yet another bottle.

Wine map of Spain – click for a larger view – non watermarked PDF versions are available by agreement

Wine map of Spain, Toro is North West of Madrid on the Duero River – click for a larger view – non watermarked PDF versions are available by agreement

It come from Toro, which is an excellent region in Castilla y León which makes big, tannic wines from the local Tinta do Toro grape. This is actually Tempranillo, but it has evolved separately over time to produce wines that generally have a less savoury character, more red fruit and less earthiness than their Rioja cousins. However, they often have somewhat rustic tannins, that I think hold the region back from becoming one of Spain’s really great source’s of wines. The patches of brilliance here are from people who manage the tannins well to produce supple and concentrated wines. Well this wine does and what’s more does it at a very low price, so I have made it my Wine of the Week:

The bodega in 1997, I loved the lettering going over the roller door! This building is now a museum.

The bodega in 1997, I loved the lettering going over the roller door! This building is now a museum.

Tulga Toro Crianza2011 Tulga Crianza
D.O. Toro
Bodegas Pagos del Rey
Morales de Toro
Castilla y León, Spain
Nowadays this bodega is part of the dynamic multi-regional producer Felix Solis / Pagos del Rey, but I visited it nearly twenty years ago when it was the local cooperative cellars of Morales de Toro, a small town outside Toro itself. They made – and continue to make – the splendid Bajoz wines and their cheaper Moralinos de Toro was for a long time the house red of Winetrack, my wine company.

It was an amazing place to visit, slightly grubby and messy in a way that just would not happen today – that old winery is now a wine museum in fact. They shared a forecourt with a café too, but the wines they produced – and continue to produce – were astonishing for the money. They have got even better over the years and deserve to be more popular than they are, as does Toro as a region.

Toro's Roman Bridge from the town.

Toro’s Roman Bridge from the town.

Toro town is a very attractive place on a cliff overlooking the Duero River. The town is dominated by the Collegiate church of Santa María la Mayor and one of the famous features is the Roman Bridge across the river. I was thrilled when I was last there to look out of my hotel window, which was quite high up and to see a stork flying along below me.

This wine is a Crianza, which means it has been aged in oak either a barrel – 225/228 litres or something bigger – for at least 6 months. This wine claims to have been aged in new American and French oak barrels and the garnet colour shows the oak influence, as does the vanilla and spice aroma. The nose is slightly funky too with rich, brambly fruit for sure, but also a wild, earthy, mushroomy character, this is certainly because of brett, which normally I don’t like at all, but in this instance the sweaty, animal character sort of suits it, like it does with Château Musar or a lot of Châteuneuf-du-Pape.
The palate is rich, rounded and even a little creamy, with spices and chocolate as well as, ripe juicy plum, black cherry and blackberry fruit. The tannins are very well managed, being smooth and supple and there’s some freshness too, making the wine very drinkable indeed. What’s more, there is nothing bland about it, it might not be the most complex wine in the world, but it is full of character – 86/100 points – I have awarded it high marks for value.

Available in the UK from Lidl  £5.49 per bottle – possibly the bargain of the year!

With quality like this coming through at such a good price, we are going to have to get used to wines from Lidl being taken a bit more seriously than they were in the past, just like we are with Aldi who also offer some excellent wines at great prices.

So, if Spanish wine to you is only Rioja, then do try this. The country has so much more to offer than most people realise, as the whole country is covered in fascinating wine regions that deserve wider appreciation.

Tempranillo Day – Celebrating the Tempting Tempranillo

Tempranillo & Mazuelo vines at Contino in Rioja Alavesa

I cannot claim to have a favourite grape, let alone one that I drink to the exclusion of all others. I find the less trodden wine paths to be so fascinating that I simply cannot resist lesser known grapes – Carmenère, Zweigelt, St Laurent, Grenache Gris, Nascetta, Romorantin and the like all speak to me and demand their attention. I am never professionally happier or more excited than when experiencing a new grape variety for the first time.

A fine Riesling would probably be my desert island wine of choice as I never seem to tire of that beguiling grape, but for the rest I enjoy a wide spectrum of grapes with very different characters. Regular readers will know though that my passion for all things Spanish often breaks through and trumps my affection for wines from other places, so I think that if push comes to shove Tempranillo might well be my favoured red wine grape – unless I happen to be in a particular Cabernet, Pinot or Syrah sort of mood.

Very different conditions for old vine Tempranillo / Tinto del País in Castilla y León

And why am I so fond of Tempranillo? Well I cannot give you a neat answer to that really, but it speaks to me. Unlike the classic French grapes, which are only grown in specific areas of the country, Tempranillo is used all over Spain and so produces a wide range of wine styles and yet they often seem to be attractive wines to me – the well made examples anyway. Even at quite low price points Tempranillo can be enjoyable to drink.

Tinto Fino in Ribera del Duero

As someone who celebrates diversity in wine it pains me that the differences are being ironed out. Many marketeers seem to believe that wine should be simplified for the UK consumer, even if they have to stretch the truth to do so. Nowadays you are more likely to find Tempranillo on a Spanish wine label from whatever region it hails when to my mind they should have used the old local name: Cencibel in Valdepeñas, Tinto Fino in Ribera del Duero, Tinto del País in Cigales, Tinta de Toro in Toro and the poetic Ull De Llebre in Cataluña. What’s more many people believe these grapes have evolved apart and so are now only very closely related rather than being absolutely identical to Tempranillo – not least the great Carlos Falco, Marqués de Griñon.

Tempranillo and olives in Utiel-Requña

It is Tempranillo’s fame as the main grape of Rioja that brings it to most people’s attention, but given Rioja’s popularity it always amazes me how few people grow Tempranillo outside Spain. It has become a dominant grape in Portugal – where it is called Tinto Roriz and Aragonez depending on where you are. There is even some grown in the south of France and I have tasted some from Virginia and Texas and even had one from Peru the other day, but Tempranillo has not yet become a true international grape. The plantings outside Europe remain small and relatively inconsequential, except in Argentina, but even there it is treated as an everyday grape rather than being given the star treatment it deserves. Surely Tempranillo is capable of challenging for Malbec‘s Argentinean throne?

Tempranillo in the softer Tuscan landscape

Perhaps it is this very diversity that I like about Tempranillo? That sense of never knowing quite what you are going to get. As with Bertie Bott’s Every Flavour Beans there is no one flavour to Tempranillo. Some people taste black fruit and some red, some regions produce dry savoury wines from it while other areas make richly fruity examples. Some wine makers craft bright, modern Tempranillos that celebrate fruit and liveliness, while many winemakers stick to the traditional silky, oaky style that made the grape famous in the first place.

Although most famous as the principal grape of red Rioja, Tempranillo – and its near relatives – is also responsible for an array of lovely wines from across Spain and in my opinion it deserves to be as celebrated as much more famous and widely used grape varieties. Which is why I made sure that I tasted some on 8th November which just happened to be International Tempranillo Day:

Wine map of Spain – click for a larger view – non watermarked PDF versions are available by agreement

2011 Beronia Tempranillo Rosado
Bodegas Beronia, Ollauri, Rioja Alta, D.O.Ca Rioja
100% Tempranillo 

The colour is a vivid strawberry juice hue, but it looks like real fruit rather than a confection. The nose is fresh, floral and gently fruity while the palate is dry, rich-ish, crisp-ish, nicely balanced  and very nice to drink with almost anything. It won’t win any prizes for complexity, but will make lots of people happy. Spain makes very good rosé, but why isn’t Tempranillo used for more of them? Personally I think it is much more suitable than the more normal Garnacha – 86/100 points

Around £9.00 a bottle in the UK from Ocado.

2010 Beronia Tempranillo Elaboración Especial
Bodegas Beronia, Ollauri, Rioja Alta, D.O.Ca Rioja
100% Tempranillo (in Rioja it is traditionally blended with Garnacha and others to make the wines fruitier) aged 8 months in new American Oak barrels.

Deep opaque plummy-black colour.
The nose is fragrant and enticing with spice, vanilla and a touch of mocha.
Pretty full-bodied for Rioja (which despite its reputation is rarely more than medium-bodied) with rich sweet black plummy fruit, fragrant vanilla and dried fruit notes too. The palate is round, rich and succulent with rich cherry on the the end of the mid palate together with a touch of fruit cake and a light dusting of cocoa and coffee and a lovely sinewy texture of gentle tannins and oak. This is a terrific wine to drink and enjoy without thinking about too much. The soft, fruity and modern side of Tempranillo and Rioja it scores high for pleasure and sheer drinkability – 88/100 points

Around £12.00 a bottle in the UK from Ocado.

2008 Matarromera Crianza
Bodega Matarromera, Valbuena de Duero, D.O. Ribera del Duero
100% Tinto Fino / Tempranillo aged 12 months in mixture of French &  American Oak barrels.

Matarromera were only founded in 1988, but they are in the heartland of Ribera del Duero and are right up there in quality with some of the much more famous producers of this great wine region which needs to be better known in the UK.
Intense aromas of plum, cocoa together with smoky, cedary spices.
The palate was sumptuous, soft and succulent at first with rich plum fruit and other mixed dark fresh and stewed fruit with fig and black cherry. The oak is very tasty indeed, coconut, vanilla, cocoa and coffee with some spice too. the tannins give a lovely fine grain texture which is so wrapped up in ripe fruit that’s there is no astringency. This is a big, but still medium bodied and dry wine and although the fruit is ripe it is not sweet at all. A beautifully balanced and concentrated wine that is hugely enjoyable and quite delicious. Not yet as complex as it will become – it needs time to develop, but it is really delicious and extremely pleasurable already and has much to offer for a long time to come – 91/100 points

Around £25.00 a bottle in the UK from Harvey Nichols.

2010 Finca Constancia Tempranillo Parcela 23
Bodegas Gonzalez Byass, Otero, Toledo, Vino de la Tierra de Castilla
Special single parcel bottling of 100% Tempranillo aged 6 months in mixture of new French &  American Oak barrels.

Better known for Sherry, in 2006 Gonzalez Byass created this stunning modern estate in a part of Spain that seems at first glance to be a backwater for wine. However it is in the Sierra de Gredos, renowned for old vine Garnacha and the area is also home to Carlos Falco’s great Dominio de Valdepusa which produces some of Spain’s greatest wines in this seemingly unlikely place.
This will also make many friends as it is a very user friendly, winter warmer kind of wine. The nose really shows that new oak, smoky, toasty and very vanilla and coconut like those marshmallow sweets rolled in coconut! There was rich, stewed blackberry and plum fruit too as well as a dash of spice. The palate was at the top end of medium bodied with ripe plums, sweeter strawberry fruit, rich cherry and a touch herbs as you get in Chianti and all along this sweet vanilla, smooth, leathery oak giving a touch of toffee too. This is one to drink relatively soon and it is a bargain, so gets high marks from me for value – 88/100 points

Around £10.99 a bottle in the UK from the Oxford Wine Company.

There is no doubt that the Ribera del Duero was the finest of these, so do try it if you can, but all the wines showed well and reminded me how fond I am of wines made from Tempranillo and its relatives and the good news is we can drink them whenever we like, not just on International Tempranillo Day.

A week with Torres

I recently spent a week on the Miguel Torres Wine Course in Vilafranca del Penedès and Barcelona, so thought I should pull my thoughts together and tell you about the experience.

One of the highlights was meeting Miguel A Torres, he really is a giant figure in the wine business. Perhaps as my early experiences of wine were all in Spain he looms larger to me than my British counterparts, but I well remember my first taste of Viña Esmerelda and being astonished by how very different it was from anything else in Spain – still broadly true.

It is impossible to exaggerate Torres’s influence on Spanish wine. He helped introduce all sorts of modern techniques that we all now take for granted – stainless steel tanks, cold fermentation and the use of international grapes were all either introduced by him or helped on their way by him. It is impossible to be sure as he is genuinely very modest and  seemed to always deny being the first at anything, saying that someone else did it before him. However, I have noticed that the genuinely successful are often not the first to do something, but are usually the first to perfect it – which would be very Torres. Continue reading