Wine of the Week 43 – an excitingly different Spanish style

Many drinker’s knowledge and experience of Spanish wines revolves almost entirely around Rioja, which is a great shame as there is so very much more to enjoy and experience from this wonderful country.

I love Rioja, it is a great wine region that produces many world class wines. However, Spain is brimming over with other exciting wine regions that all produce fascinating wines that are well worth drinking. What’s more many of them are made in a completely different style from Rioja and are often made from different grape varieties too.

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

One region that would repay trying is Bierzo. It’s just in Castilla y León, or Old Castille, but looks and feels more Galician and Celtic than the rest of the province and indeed it was a part of Galicia until the 18th Century. It joins on to the Galician wine region of Valdeorras and has much in common with it. The geography, climate and landscape are very similar and so they use the same grape varieties, Godello for white wines and Mencía for reds. Recently I tasted a really delicious and drinkable Mencía from Bierzo and so I made it my Wine of the Week.

An ordinary night out in Bierzo

An ordinary night out in Bierzo with the late John Radford.

Las Médulas

Las Médulas, a World Heritage Site in Bierzo that was once the most important gold mine in the Roman Empire.

Bierzo2013 Mencía Luna Beberide
D.O. Bierzo
Bodegas Luna Beberide
Cacabelos, Léon
Castilla y León, Spain

100% Mencía and unoaked, this could not be more different from Rioja if it tried. Alejandro Luna is the owner and winemaker at this wonderful little estate. He is a local boy who travelled all over Spain learning his craft before he returned home to the far north west of Castille. Some of his vines are well over 60 years old and are grown high up – between 600 and 750 metres above sea level – on south facing slopes. This means they have good sun exposure to make them ripe, but are protected from the Atlantic rains, while the cooler air at that altitude retains the grape’s natural freshness and acidity, the conditions are so cool actually that he can also grow some Riesling and Pinot Noir. All the farming is organic with no pesticides or herbicides used. Harvesting is all done by hand and the wine is unfiltered.

VIÑAS-CABALLO-1

Ploughing the old fashioned way at Bodegas Luna Beberide, see how high they are and how wild the landscape is. Photo courtesy of the winery.

The colour is an attractive, opaque, yet bright violet purple.
The nose gives off lovely lifted aromas of blackberry, sugar plums, cherry and violets together with a little liquorice spice and earthy minerality.
The palate is soft, round, juicy and lively with freshness balancing the rich dark fruit. Mulled wine flavours together with  Blueberry, bilberry and blackberry dominate together with cherry stones and light, supple tannins. It is light to medium bodied with lots and lots of character. A hugely enjoyable wine that should appeal to Syrah / Shiraz lovers as well as Burgundy and Beaujolais drinkers – 90/100 points.

A very food friendly wine that is perfect with pastas, pizzas and lighter meat dishes and is soft enough to drink without food too.

Available in the UK for around £10 a bottle from Devinos and Grey’s Fine Foods.
Available in the US through Grapes of Spain and these stockists here.

If you have never tried a Bierzo, or Mencía as it is grown in other regions, then this fruity and supple example might be a very good place to start. Alejandro Luna also makes more high end wines and I will tell you about some of those another day.

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.

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

The Diversity of Spain – hidden gems & old friends

The other day I presented a tasting to Thanet Wine Appreciation Society, I called it the Hidden Gems of Spain, because I had dug deep to find interesting and great quality wines from as wide a range of Spanish wine regions as I could.

I really like going to address Thanet as the meetings are so large – there were 120 people there, most wine societies have 30-50. It was great fun and they seemed to really enjoy the wines on show. More satisfyingly the tasting introduced many of them to wines, regions and grapes they had never tried before.

I have a sort of theory that many UK consumers expect all Spanish wine to look and taste like Rioja, so – much as I love Rioja – I enjoy showing wines that are as different from Rioja as they can be, in order to show the great diversity of wine produced in Spain.

At first the wine society were unsure if they wanted a Spanish tasting, as they had one last year. However, I won them round when I explained that I could make it an annual event and never repeat myself and made sure that I showed nothing at all from the same regions as the previous year’s tasting.

In truth my problem was not what to show, but what not to show – I only had six wines plus an aperitif. It is hard to give an overview of how exciting Spain is in seven wines, so I kept pencilling wines in and then crossing them off the list again.

For the whites, surely I had to include a Godello from Valedeorras or Monterrei, a Malvasia from Arribes or Toro or an Alella? Sadly Verdejo from Rueda was out as they had tasted one last year. Continue reading