Spanish producers have recently invested in making wine that combines modern skills and technology with traditional tastes. Spain has great wine and great values, especially from regions that have been under the radar here in the US, and once these regions are more recognized for the quality that they offer, you can expect their notoriety and demand to grow. Since Spain is 3rd in world production, there is certainly a lot of juice to choose from.
I have never met a winemaker or an importer who did not think his wine was unique, delicious and a good value, even though (to be truthful) not all are. Furthermore, just because a wine is "industrial" does not make it bad, and for that matter, just because a wine is "handmade" does not make it excellent. Even if a wine is good it does not guarantee that importers and consumers will flock to your door, since there is so much wine available from around the world and not nearly enough mouths to drink it all.
I was recently asked by Juan Suarez, Senior Partner of Spanish Wine Research, to present a selection of wines from some of the most productive Spanish wine regions that are under represented in the US market and have a lot to offer, both in variety and value. Most of the wine buying public knows Rioja, and perhaps Ribera del Duero, but fewer are familiar with La Mancha, Toro, and Rias Baixas. It is from these 4 regions where the presented wines were from.
A small, but select group of importers tasted through 11 wines, going by region and winery, with others in each winery’s line available after the formal presentation. There were about 30 wines, total. Hopefully you’ll find the following interesting as well as a diverse introduction to some areas and products you may not be familiar with. My thanks go to Jayne Rockmill, who made the arrangements at Socarrat Nolita, where the event was held, and to Juan Saurez who was present to represent the wineries.
Located in Galicia, northwest Spain, where steep fjord-like cliffs meet the Atlantic, and rain and mist prevail, is the land of Albarino. The vines are trellised high on pérgolas to promote air circulation and prevent rot. This is the varietal that is used extensively for vino verde in Portugal, but these wines are far more serious. The Pilgrimage Trail to Santiago (where the bones of St. James are alleged to be) traverses the region.
This winery is located near the mouth of a river Umia in an area that was controlled by the Celts in the IV and V century BC., hence the name, which means “military encampment of the Celts.” Twenty growers comprise the properties in the coop. There is a bridge over the river, where sunsets are beautiful, which is shown as their logo. Fish, especially shellfish pair well with these wines. Being on the coast, they are experimenting with things like aging bottles of wine in the ocean.
2011 Vina Heridium:
Grapes from vines 5-15 years old. As you know, crisp acidity is the hallmark of Albarinos , but this wine also has a nice touch of fruit to it. All stainless vessels used throughout production.
2011 Castrocelta :
Classic citrus acidity. Perfect for oysters.
2011 Castrocelta Selección:
Selected from 5 of the properties, Grape selection is followed by cold Carbonic maceration, using dry ice. Natural aging on lees in stainless steel tanks and oak barrels follows fermentation. A unique process.
La Mancha is located on the central maseta, south of Madrid. About 50% of the wine produced in Spain is produced in La Mancha and the surrounding Castilla region, and 8% of worldwide production comes from the area. The weather is extreme, with very hot days and cool nights, because of the altitude (about 850 meters). These extremes allow the grapes to ripen fully but maintain their acidity and fruit. Rainfall is very limited and no irrigation is allowed by the DO. Rather than planting on hills or hillsides most of the planting is done on the flats. The location, sandy soil, and weather is protective of many pests, so it lends itself to organic farming.
One of the most commonly planted grape varieties here is Airen, most of which is turned into brandy that's shipped all over Europe and used to fortify wines almost everywhere. Some of the wines being made in La Mancha have this variety included in their blends, which is becoming more common by inventive producers.
Coop located near Toledo, in the northwest part of DO. This group of growers has recently turned to making wine under their own label, rather than go the bulk route, which had sustained them for decades. They are one of 3 producers located in the town of Villanueva de Alcardete.
NV Brut Riserva
36 months on lees, 70% Airen, 30% Macabeo ( aka Viura)
Very different from Penedes cava, which is made from Macabeo as well as Perellada and Xarel-lo as the predomínate base wines. Also typical cava usually spends 9 -12 months on lees. Other Sparklers here, including Brut Gold, with edible gold flecks, and an organic Natura Brut. Sparklers here are referred to as CUEVA, using the traditional method of secondary fermentation.
2011 Natura Red, Joven:
85% Tempranillo, 15% Petit Verdot
ORGANIC product, and an interesting blend for Spain, you will see this P. Verdot addition often from this region. There are several other Natura wines in the portfolio. The quality of the Natura line was impressive, including a Chardonnay/Airen that was very Burgundian.
2009 “Sommelier” Crianza:
100% Tempranillo (aka Cencibel in La Mancha)
American oak, typical wood for Spain, this entry-level wine showed extremely well.
Bodegas Jesus Recuero
this family winery is outside the DO La Mancha, so their wines are vino de la tierra, or “autor” wines. There are no restrictions as to age or variety. They are experimenting with reviving old varieties, like Moravia and tinto de Madrid.
2011 Sigilo Tempranillo Joven:
Less than six months in Wood.
Youthful, new world style.
2007 Terra SiGillata, GR (“Gran Reserva “/ vino de la tierra Castilla)
18 months in combo of French and American oak. Ungrafted Tempranillo, Syrah and Pinot Noir: again an interesting combination. Another favorite of mine.
Located about 80 miles north of Madrid near the origins of the Duero, at about 800 meters elevation, this DO shares the same rules for designations as Rioja, but the soul of La Mancha. Gnarled old vines, growing on rough and rocky mesas and low hills with only one fourth the area and production of Rioja, this is the home of Vega Sicilia and Pesquera.
Bodegas Benito Rodrigo
Family owned vineyard, vines are 15-100 years old. Elevation of 900 M ; temp ranges from 40C summer day to -18 C Winter. 45cm. of rainfall per year.
12 Tablas Reserva:
100% Tinto del Pais ( Tempranillo Clone)
20 days maceration at 25C, Aged 12 months in combo of Fr and Am oak, as required by DO . Cocoa spice nose, long finish.
Located above the northern bank of the Duero river , 100 miles west of Ribera del Duero DO, and midway along the Duero to the Portugese border. Being at lower elevation, night temperatures are warmer than R del Duero, resulting in more reliable ripening. Production here tends to be small producers, but some big players, like LV Moet/Hennessy and Vega Sicilia have recently purchased land here.
This winery had 6 wines here, including a joven and a verdejo. They use maderas, 12,000L barrel box, extensively reducing surface exposure to the wood, and reinforcing the youthful vitality of the wine.
The winery is modern in construction, but old fashioned in its approach to wine making. Located a few meters above the Banks of the Duero, the vineyard produces only 3000 kg of fruit per hectare, with15 under ownership and another 80 under management.
2004 Valbusenda Reserva:
100% Tinto del Toro (aka Tempranillo)
36 hours of cold maceration in stainless, followed buy 20 days fermentation, followed by malolactic in barrel box, and finally 18 months in barriques, mixed Fr. And American oak. 25,000 btl. production.
2008 Cepas Viejas (vines are all over 50 yrs) :
100% Tinto del Toro.
Fruit is chilled, destemmed without crushing, then goes into 12,000L French oak barrel box (madera) where it ferments for 20-25 days. Aging in French barrels of different sizes for up to 20 months, is followed by blending and bottling.
24,000 btl. production, vines are very low yield. This wine was paired with a strong soft cheese and was met by lots of nodding heads.