It has been, unusually, two weeks since I’ve posted an article. This has largely been down to my trip to Switzerland, which I’ll be writing about soon. I apologise if you therefore end up being bombarded with articles this week. But first I’m going to write, not before time, about one of the best tastings of the year so far, Viñateros – Spanish winemakers at Tate Modern’s new extension on London’s South Bank.
This particular group of producers, and their seven importers, all share a belief that wine is made in the vineyard. Some of the producers below are pretty well known to those who have an interest in contemporary Spanish wine, whilst others may be new to some readers. Not all of them make “natural wine”, but they all have a profound respect for their land. Many, indeed, follow a path which is so far fairly rare in Spain – a focus on, and promotion of, individual vineyard sites. Vineyard classification has become a real cause among many forward thinking Spanish producers, so this tasting was timely in showing off what some can achieve with unique and individual parcels.
What else did we learn from this tasting? It won’t surprise many that Garnacha provided significant evidence of its rebirth as a wine of scent, restraint and elegance – against all odds after its Parker-era incarnation as a large blob of jam on toast. It may also be of no surprise that the whites really shone. Spanish white wine has come of age, even though the world at large may not yet realise it. The whites performed really well across the board.
There are more than a dozen producers I want to highlight, just under fifty percent of those showing last Tuesday. In fact, there were few, if any, producers not deserving of a mention. I hope that by not spending too much time on each of them, I can avoid making this article tedious. But I know that means not doing true justice to those I write about, not to mention those I don’t. I didn’t even taste the Cavas.
Although the tasting was indeed a great success, I will say that the room (in the new extension to Tate Modern) was quite small, very crowded, and pretty hot. It took more stamina than usual, not just to taste the wines, but to force a path through to each table. If anything could be improved upon for next time, it might be to give the producers a bit more space.
A bit of a superstar to start with, then. With As Sortes from both 2015 and 2012, plus the new O Soro on show, you’d be right in thinking I was in heaven. But remember, those wines really do need ageing if you want to drink them at their complex best. However, despite being warned off by those who wish to keep it a secret, do not discount Rafael’s Louro. This is not As Sortes to be sure, but it’s half the price. The 2015 is classy and fresh, and well worth investing in…for drinking, that is, not for profit. Rafael Palacios is imported by Indigo Wine.
Envínate produces wines from several regions, and I did taste and enjoy some of their other offerings (my favourite being the Albahra 2015 from Almansa). But they are probably best known for their wines from Tenerife, one of the Canary Islands with its dark volcanic rock and ground hugging vines. Táganan comes in Blanco and Tinto, the 2015 Blanco being a blend which tastes of spicy apple and ginger with a lovely finish. The red (2014) has plump dark cherry with a bit of funk on the nose, the palate being full of juicy fruit. Only a touch more expensive is Benje, a 2015 parcel at 100 metres’ altitude, smooth but with a lick of tannin. Contact Indigo Wine for details.
Fedellos do Couto
A less well known producer, perhaps, but we are staying on the Atlantic, this time in Galicia and Ribeira Sacra. These wines all undergo forty day (approx) macerations, quite long but with no heavy handling. Everything is done in small batches, with gentle pressing.
Conasbrancas 2015 is a co-planted field blend based on old vine Godello aged six months in old wood. This showed very well. There were three reds, in ascending order of price. Cortezada (also 2015) is young vine Mencia which sees 12 months in old wood, but is still fruity. It’s lighter and easier than Lomba dos Ares 2014, which is quite funky and very grippy (it might need to soften a bit). Top of the range is a lovely wine, very possibly one of the best Bastardas I’ve drunk. Pale, with a gentle softness (2014). This is yet another Indigo import.
Daniel is no new name to readers of my Blog. He’s something special, a top winemaker and a really thoughtful human being. His pure Garnachas/Grenache from Méntrida/Cebreros (Castilla y Léon) are some of the most lovely being made in Spain right now. Daniel was showing three of his more expensive wines: Cantos del Diablo 2014 from a one hectare plot at 800m on granite; El Reventón 2013 from slate/quartz; and Las Iruelas 2014 from a 1ha site on slate with red clay. These magnificent wines, all in need of time, show clear terroir differentiation.
Dani’s other treat was his 2015 Uvas de la Ira (ie The Grapes of Wrath). Like Palacios’ Louro, this is a village wine made from 4.5 hectares of Garnacha on granite, which costs significantly less than the tiny single parcel bottlings. There’s more upfront fruit, and again, it’s a relative bargain for anyone wanting to dip a toe into this producer’s world. Indigo Wine is the importer.
This is a joint venture between Fernando Garcia and Daniel Landi, this time imported by Les Caves de Pyrene. There’s a full range, again, all red, which follows a rough trajectory from what they like to call “village wine” up to their Grand Cru equivalents (with prices to match…almost). La Bruja de Rozas (2015) starts the range. I’ve already had a bottle of the 2015 this year. It’s a Viños de Madrid, from Rozas de Puerto Real, Garnacha grown at 850 metres on granite. Dark, concentrated, great value. I slightly preferred it to Mataborricos Tinto 2014, but that could merely have been familiarity.
Las Rozas 2014 is the “premier cru”. Grenache grown at 900m on granite, it is beautiful and ethereal. Perhaps the value sweet spot. Crunchy fruit, the epitome of “new Garnacha” freshness. Drink in three to five years, perhaps. The two “grand crus” are Tumba del Rey Moro and Las Umbrias. Both were shown in the 2014 vintage. The former is a half hectare plot at 1,100 metres on granite. Stunning, quite pale and packed with Cherry fruit. Las Umbrias is of a similar size, grown just 100 metres lower, on a bed of granite with red clay. This is the more restrained of the two right now, but seems to have enormous potential. Both are very fine wines.
This lovely Rioja producer is based in San Vicente, in the Alavesa sub-region. At the very end of last year I tasted my first of their wines, a delicious morello cherry, unoaked, Jarrarte Tinto Joven 2015. 14.5% but light on its feet. Six wines were presented on Tuesday, three red and three white. A Graciano “Grano a Grano” 2012 is the most expensive, dark purple, almost black, with a violet nose. Jarrarte 2010 was less oaky but still youthful, and an interesting zero sulphur 2014 cuvée of Guardaviñas was dark and leggy, complex, concentrated and tannic.
Good as the reds are, it is the whites which are a revelation here. They presented three varietal wines. Viura 2012 is beautifully pure and fresh, but has grip. Malvasia 2015 is oak fermented, and the nose is wonderful, complex, with lots going on. A Garnacha Blanca 2015 has less on the nose, yet the palate is very intense, white flowers, citrus and herbs. These are some of the best new white wines from the Rioja region I’ve tried in a long while. Abel Mendoza’s UK Agent is Alliance Wine.
I’m grateful to my friend and Spanish wine aficionado Charles Taylor for having introduced me to this grower, and indeed to the tasty Sumoll grape, a couple of years ago. They are a small family producer, based at Torrelavit in the Alt Penedès (where Alt has no negative connotations, thank goodness!), northwest of Barcelona. They have an interesting philosophy. The vines are dry farmed, untilled and unfertilised. They believe that austerity of this kind forces the vine both to adapt to, and to fully express, the terroir.
Two whites to begin with. Rupestris 2015 is a blend of Xarel-lo, Xarel-lo Vermell, Malvasia and Macabeo, beautifully refreshing with medium body. Then there’s a pure Xarel-lo (2013) from old vines. Despite the extra time in bottle this is zippy with a fresh prickle on the tongue, very good.
Then three reds. Sus Scrofa is from 2016, cheap, 12.5% alcohol, crunchy fruit with lots of glugging pleasure. Collita Roja is the wine I know best, 100% Sumoll. I still have one bottle left of this 2012, which is even more fresh than the previous red wine, albeit with a bit more alcohol, giving it weight. Negre Franc 2011 is mainly Cabernet Franc, with some Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. It’s a wine traditionalists will be more at home with than the vibrant, fruity, Sumoll bottlings, with big fruit and tannins to go with it. Yet it is distinctive, with a haunting nose, and classy length. Brought in by Indigo Wine.
It always pays to talk to people at tastings like this. I asked Jo at Indigo for one recommendation to try and she pushed me towards this Priorat producer, who I’d never tried before. Good call, thank you!
There are two very good whites here. A Carignan (Cariñena) Blanco, Planetes 2014 was a really tasty starter, much more complex than I expected. But Selma de Nin 2011 is even more complex. This is a blend of Roussanne, Marsanne, Chenin and Parellada. You are going to pay over £40 retail for this in the UK, but it’s one of the most complex biodynamic whites I tasted, and well worth it.
There were two vintages of Planetes red, 2013 and 2014. The former is 70% Garnacha/30% Cariñena fermented with stems and aged in 3,000 litre foudres. Rich, with a tannic grip. The 2014 is just 40% Garnacha with 60% Cariñena. It’s a touch darker with a concentrated nose of red and dark fruits, pretty grippy. The top of the range red is called Nit de Nin. The blend is similar to the Planetes but the vines are very old, up to 100 years. 2013 and 2014 were on show. Massive wines with the structure born out of the schist for which the region is so well known, but with equally massive potential to age. And I certainly suggest giving them the respect they deserve.
As almost an afterthought there was another red, Garnacha made in amphora under the Planetes label. The nose reminded me a little of COS (from Sicily), that earthiness with a touch of dust. Very attractive, and I’m glad I spotted it.
Terroir Al Límit
Indigo seem to be importing a lot of wines getting mentioned here. I promise they didn’t pay me. But obviously I’m going to mention this particular Priorat producer. The project was originally a joint venture between Dominik Hubre and South African star winemaker, Eben Sadie. Sadie has moved on, but the wines are still world class. I won’t mention them all, but the reds are very mineral and concentrated. The fabulous (and fabulously expensive) Les Maynes was shown in the 2014 vintage. It’s kind of off the chart for me. Yet you can enjoy Terroir Històric for a whole lot less, normal money in fact (although the 2015 was presented in a 3 litre bottle here). It has a terrific nose, is smooth and relatively low in perceived acidity.
The Terroir Històric Blanco is very fresh, whereas by contrast Terra de Cuques 2014 is a singular white with a nose which reminded me of mustard, a more complex proposition for the adventurous. Needless to say, these famous wines are highly sought after, but once again, the tasting proved that the supposedly lesser offerings from producers like this are well worth trying – it’s not all about the stratospheric prices for fine wines which would benefit from a decade or more in a dark cellar.
Suertes del Marqués
A producer I hold a great deal of affection for, Suertes has been part of my life for almost as long as I can remember, although in truth they’ve only been making wine from Tenerife’s Valle de Orotava since 2006. The first introduction I had was through 7 Fuentes. The 2014 is palish and juicy, a great introduction to the range, and to Listàn Negra and Tintilla, two of the island’s autochthonous grape varieties.
Solana (2014 here) is a step up, 100% Listàn Negro spending 12 months in neutral oak. A bit more colour, fruit and acidity balanced in a lively red. El Ciruelo 2014 is a parcel of old vine Listàn, just over 2,500 bottles made. There’s just more going on here, especially on the nose. Softer than La Solana, yet more complex. Los Pasitos is a tiny plot, just a quarter of a hectare at between 400-450 metres altitude, planted on clay over volcanic rock with the rare Baboso Negro variety. Worth seeking out, this has a very particular smokiness, a unique style.
The entry level white, Trenzado, is blended from several varieties (though largely Listàn Blanco) from plots all over the estate. Nevertheless, some vines are up to 150 years old, and quality is pretty special for a wine at this level. There’s a fresh high note to the nose and the wine has a simple but very exciting tangy flavour. Vidonia (2015) is increasingly one of my favourite Spanish whites. It’s not silly money (around £25 UK retail), it tastes rather like Meursault (it’s not just me, others have agreed), yet it is 100% lowly Listàn again, blended from four parcels where the vine age is around 130 years old. Polished and complex with citrus and buttery nuts. A serious recommendation for anyone who’s not tried it. But then again, if you see the Trenzado in magnum…Indigo yet again.
Whilst Tenerife’s wines are positively of the moment, the wines of Mallorca have probably been knocking around in the UK for a while longer, and M&S were even selling one, from the larger producer, Macià Batle, a while ago. 4 Kilos are in a slightly different league. In order of increasing cost, 12 Volts (2015) is in some ways a bruiser, blending local varieties Callet and Fogoneu with Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah and Merlot, all aged for 9 months in a mix of old oak barrels and foudre. 4 Kilos (2014) is 100% Callet grown on red soils. It sees 14 months in new oak, has a high toned nose with structure to age, and a powerful concentration at this stage. Grimalt Caballero is mainly Callet, seeing 14 months in 600 litre French oak. About 1,000 bottles are usually made. I find these wines quite powerful for my taste, yet they are not overly alcoholic, and there’s no doubting their class. Oh, seems like Indigo import these, again…
Okay, you don’t want to read about EN yet again, and in any event the wines on taste here are all wines I’ve written about several times. The two sparklers are very good, and I seem to have a preference for the slightly less expensive Extra Brut Xarel-lo 2013 at the moment, over the Chardonnay Reserva (currently 2012).
Florpower was represented by the 2010/MMX cuvée, Bota No 44. This I didn’t taste there, but it is green gold, quince on the nose with a nice citrus palate, and holding up very well. I’m scraping the last few bottles of this and the 53 “Mas Allà” out of the cellar this year, wishing I’d bought more. Bota 67 (“Mas Acà), which is a 2014 (MMXIV) bottling, has interestingly moved to screwcap.
You might notice a 2015 Florpower in the photo below. Rather unfortunately this was empty when I got to the stand. I understand from Jesús that this will probably be bottled and shipped in the summer, the bottle here being a sample. I was sorry to have missed out on a taste, but I’ll be sure to buy some as I’ve not missed a Florpower yet.
The 2014 Navazos-Niepoort Blanco was on show too. This is drinking superbly right now, but don’t be too greedy. It will age well. I bought a few magnums, if you find any, I’d do likewise.
Equipo Navazos are imported by Alliance Wine. I was hoping to try some of the PX Solera 1918 from Ximénez-Spínola on the same table, but it had all been snaffled. Instead, Phoebe from Alliance kindly poured me a crazy wine as compensation. It was from Bodegas El Lagarto and was their Luby Albarin 2014. Actually, the fruit here is good, very pure. There’s a mineral texture too (okay, soil-to-glass transfer is not possible, say the scientists, but this sure tastes like it was grown on limestone over volcanic rock to me, just coincidence and auto-suggestion I suppose). But there’s also something a little wild and on the edge. Fascinating. Suitable for vegans too (but don’t take one to Vegas!).
A few more wines demand a brief mention. Look out for the wines of Loxarel from Penedès. They are imported by Carte Blanche. I tasted several cuvées, but an unusual Amphores Xarel-lo 2015 stood out. It sees five weeks in amphora, and it was nice and fresh, but with a bitter finish.
Indigo’s Zárate showed a spectacular Rías Baixas Albariño called Carralcoba (2015). It’s made from 70 to 100-y-o vines and they produce about 2,500 bottles of it. One of the whites of the day. Sadly my photo is too blurred to post.
Pagos de Villavendimia showed a bottle without a label. It turned out to be a very oxidative style of Verdejo from a blend of vintages in a solera begun in 1948. Right on the edge, old school, a real pleasure to try, and great to see this sort of thing being made as a labour of love (ask Carte Blanche).
Telmo Rodrígues was showing a selection of his own wines, and those of the family Rioja house, Remelluri. This great man has done more, perhaps, than anyone to promote terroir and the single vineyard movement in Spain. In keeping with my plugging of the Spanish whites, his fresh and peppery Valdeorras, Branco de Santa Cruz 2013, is very good value. Remelluri Blanco 2013 is somewhat more expensive, but it has a line of fresh acidity balancing the body, presence and nascent complexity which used to be seen all too rarely in the region’s white wines. No wonder, there’s a host of varieties in the blend (including Viognier and Chardonnay if my memory serves me), but you may pay up to £50 or more for the pleasure.
There are still plenty of domaines I’ve not mentioned – Coto de Gomariz, Dominio do Bibei, and Bodega Mustiguillo come to mind. But I think I’ll leave it at that. I hope that the sheer breadth and depth of the quality on show comes through. A couple of years ago, I don’t think I’d have envisaged that I’d find Spain quite so exciting. The world of wine is becoming far too wide when it comes to in-depth research of the drinking kind.