We had the second instalment of our Wine Club last week – what a rowdy bunch! I think having the very good excuse of drinking lots of wine for ‘educational purposes’ provoked a little too much excitement in some folk! Chosen topic of the night was Spanish wines; we decided to leave out Rioja because, let’s face it, everyone drinks Rioja and Spain has so much else to offer. It is a country that has a very traditional history of wine making but which is gradually starting to accept more modern styles and techniques. Although known for its reds, it produces some outstanding whites and sparkling wines which are now appearing more and more on the international market. The whites went down a storm actually with the Ribera del Duero winning out as the clear favourite among the reds…
Cava is big business in Spain. Over the last couple of decades it has suffered from a bad reputation due to the poor quality product that was often produced. These days there are some really really good Cavas around and they always offer good value for money. Unlike Prosecco they are made using the same method as Champagne and so are often much more similar stylistically. You will often be able to pick out the slightly biscuity notes and even honeyed aromas that you may associate with a much more expensive bottle of Champagne. The key difference, aside from where it comes from, is the grape varieties – Macabeo, Parellada and Xarel-Lo. The Codorniu Brut is excellent value, very easy going in style with subtle hints of citrus and apples.
Verdejo is sometimes described as Spain’s answer to Sauvignon Blanc; honestly I quite often prefer it. Although dry and with fresh acidity it is much softer than Sauvignon Blanc and with a fuller body. These are great wines to drink by themselves due to this approachable nature and display flavours of stone fruits, pears and minerals.
A few years ago it was almost impossible to get hold of Albarino. It’s a fantastic grape and widely grown in Galicia but local demand is high and few producers made enough for it to be worth exporting. Martin Codax makes fantastic wine and if you’re ever in that part of the world they are very hospitable towards visitors at the winery. I spent a few days here in 2008 helping with the vintage (grape picking in the sunshine) and it was just brilliant. In terms of style, Albarino is not a million miles away from Viognier; crisp and fresh on the palate but with a real aromatic character of stone fruits and ripe apples. This is a perfect match with the local dishes which mainly revolve around seafood and shellfish.
Bierzo is being recognised more and more as a quality wine region producing wines from the little know Mencia grape. Honestly I was a little disappointed with this wine. When made well wines from Bierzo can display fantastic depth of flavour and character but sadly this is exactly what this wine lacked. It was perfectly pleasant with lots of upfront fruit and plummy flavours, but that was about it. The alcohol stood out too much and for the £9.99 it cost me I thought it was overpriced.
Ribera del Duero is a region that is seriously giving Rioja a run for its money. It has the same rules as Rioja regarding the different styles (Crianza, Reserva, Gran Reserva) and uses the same grape variety – Tempranillo. The high altitude of this region, combined with the warm days and cool nights, mean that the wines produced have fantastic fruit concentration without giving away any of the aromatic complexities that make them the success story they are. As I said – this was the star of the night; dark fruit and dark chocolate are complemented by a smooth texture and upfront yet silky tannins. This will be delicious with barbecued or flame grilled red meat.
This was the interesting one of the night for me. I had to hunt around a bit to find a Priorat but it was definitely worth the effort. Priorat as a region produces some truly outstanding wines and its reputation has continued to grow over the last decade or so. The principal grape varieties tend to be Carinena and Garnacha but some international varieties are also often used. Although it was a little young it nonetheless displayed fantastic complexity; the initial cherry fruit opened up and gave way to a slightly more dried fruit / raisiny character. Its length and complexity were worthy of its £18.99 price point – a lot of money I know but this is the kind of wine you buy as a treat. A great option for an Easter Sunday lunch for example – perfect with spring lamb!