España Especiales (Les Caves de Pyrene tasting event)
A recent tasting of some of the Spanish wines on offer at Les Caves de Pyrene, and the opportunity to meet some of the growers and winemakers, really reminded me what and exciting and often under-valued region of the wine world Spain really is.
Spain’s has more area of land under vine than any other nation in the world, and is the third largest producer, behind only France followed by Italy. This difference in planted area versus production comes down to the very low yields of the old vines, which are usually planted on dry, infertile soil. The low yields are a good indicator of the quality on offer in this sun-drenched region, where summer temperatures regularly reach 40C.
Although there are over 400 grape varieties planted in Spain, many consumers only really recognise Tempranillo from Rioja or Ribero del Duero, and maybe Garnacha from Catalonia in the north-west. It’s such a shame that when you scour the supermarket shelves, all you get to choose from are a number of beautifully packaged but ultimately disappointing quality Riojas. I also have a hunch that most UK consumers don’t realise that Rioja is a region of Spain and not a grape variety.
Spain has a similar classification to France’s Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée (AOC), called the Denominación de Origen (DO) system. There are 69 regions which qualify for the status, only three which have been awarded the Denominación de Origen Calificada (DOCa ) status for a consistent track record for quality. These three areas, Rioja, Ribera del Duero and Priorat, are mainly recognised for their red wines, although Rioja does produce some fantastic wines, predominantly using the Viura grape.
It is the white wines of Spain that have earned a permanent place in my collection – I hate to be without an Albarino from Rias Baixas or a Verdejo from Rueda – sometimes nothing else will do. Crisp, fresh and acidic; everything I’m look for in a white wine. The tasting arranged by Les Caves reiterated this fact, and also introduced me to some new and unexpected wines and regions. Below are a round-up of my favourite producers at the event:
Bodegas Terras Gauda, Rias Baixas
From the O Rosal subzone of southern Rias Baixas near the border of northern Portugal, Terras Gauda makes wines from the region’s most famous grape Albariño, and also introduced me to the delights that Caiño Blanco has to offer.
Terras Gauda Albarino Abadia de San Campio 2012 (£10.35)
100% Albarino. Bright and (sea) breezy with sweet apple, lemons and delightful saline finish.
Terras Gauda “O Rasal” 2012 (£11.60)
85% Albarino, 15% Caino Blanco. The Caino certainly adds some richness to the wine but without detracting from the citrus and slightly peachy freshness. Super finish and astonishing value.
Terras Gauda “La Mar” 2011 (£18.60)
100% Caino Blanc. Caino must is without doubt the hidden gem of Rias Baixas. Citrus fruit, sea breeze freshness and delicious minerality… A great alternative to Chablis. And I love Chablis!
Bodegas Bernabe Navarro, Alicante
The white wines are made from Merseguera and Moscatel grapes and had the most thrilling streak of acidity and bright citrus flavours. The only other wines I have tasted that come close to this are the juicy Rieslings of Western Australia. The domain is certified organic and fermented only with indigenous yeasts.
Bodegas Bernabe Navarro El Caro Moscatel 2010 (£11.50)
Lime, clementine, brilliant acidity and just a touch of heather honey.
Bodegas Bernabe Navarro Vina de Simon 2011 (£11.50)
Made from Merseguera grapes – never heard of it either! Tropical and citrus fruit and amazing acidity, As close to grown up lemon & lime cordial as you’re ever likely to find. I’d love a bottle of this on a hot beach in Alicante!
Bodega Godeval, Valdeorras
Valderros is a small DO in Galicia and these wines are deliciously complex and beautifully balanced, made from low yielding Godello vines.
Godega Godeval 2012 (£9.50)
100% Godello. Peachy and rich with the merest hint of sweet honey. So juicy and fresh with crisp apple and lemon – move over Sauvignon Blanc.
Godeval Cepas Velhas 2011 £13.60)
100% Godello. This wine is made from the old vines and is reminiscent of its younger sibling but more elegant and refined. The fruit and bright acidity is there but the balance is delightful. Lovely stuff.
Cava Recaredo, Penedes
Sparkling wines made in the mothode tradtitionale. The Xarel.lo, Macabeu and Parellada grapes all come from organically and occasionally biodynamically farmed vineyards.
Brut Nature Gran Reserva 2007 (£17.60)
Lovely pear nose with baked apples and a hint of bread and spices. Delightfully elegant and bright acidity.
“Brut de Brut” Brut Nature Gran Reserva 2004 (£27.95)
Peaches and pastry aromas that is a real delight. A whole host of fruit on the palate from pear to apple and peaches, a touch of lees and a long, dry finish.
Reserva Particular 2003 (un-priced!)
A souped up version of the Gran Reservas from 102 months on the lees. Baked apples and peaches with delightful patisserie finish. Real class in a glass.
Loxarel Mitjans, Penedes
The farming of the Xarel.lo grapes is organic and a horse is used to till the vineyards. The Gran Reserva was mind-blowing and my favourite wine of the entre tasting.
Xarel.lo Amfora 2012 (£9.75)
I think this is the first still white I’ve drunk made from the Xarel.lo grape… It won’t be the last! Delicious balance of freshness and florality with apples, pears and white blossom. God long finish too.
Gran Reserva 109 2002 (£44.25)
Made using the method traditionale, using 95% Xarel.lo grapes… But isn’t disgorged so the lees remain in the bottle. It’s fresh, it’s fragrant and it’s floral. The balance of peach, apple and pastry is like the most delicious French patisserie. I want some of this for Xmas.
Hacienda Grimon, Rioja Alta
My favourite red wines of the tasting came from the Vale de Jubera in the Rioja Alta region. Organically farmed vineyards, primarily made Tempranillo with a little Graciana & Garnacha.
Rioja Crianza 2010 (£8.50)
Velvety smooth texture with strawberries, red currants and vanilla cream. You can’t ask for anything more from a young-ish Rioja, especially for this price.
Rioja Reserva 2009 (£13.85)
Deeper and more concentrated than the Crianza but still with the same red fruit but with some darker, more intense spice from the extra barrel age. Very smooth and extremely drinkable now, but will be even better in a couple of years.