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  • Spanish talent blends in with the world's wines
  • Spanish talent blends in with the world's wines
  • Spanish talent blends in with the world's wines
  • Spanish talent blends in with the world's wines
1. The winemakers with Pedro Ballesteros MW (right) and UEC’s president Fernando Gurucharri (left). 2, 3 y 4. The wines tasted. Photos: Amaya Cervera.

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Spanish talent blends in with the world's wines

Amaya Cervera | December 29th, 2015

I was very lucky to attend a fun-filled tasting hosted by the Spanish Tasters Association (UEC) and conducted by Pedro Ballesteros MW in Madrid a few days ago featuring wines made abroad by Spanish winemakers and/or companies. Such an original theme and the diversity of wines showcased are a lovely exception to our usual all-Spanish focus. 

For centuries, Phoenicians, Romans, religious orders, St. James Way, British wine merchants and French négociants brought their wine influences to Spain but, as Pedro Ballesteros MW remarked, the country is now able to export homegrown winemaking talent and has companies with the means to establish themselves in wine regions worldwide. No doubt globalization and knowledge exchange are here to stay. From Sweden to Virginia in the US, across Chile and Argentina to Hungary, France or Portugal, tracking the Spanish influence on this tasting was anything but boring.

Exotic Sweden

Solaris 2014 was the weirdest wine by far because it was a first for most of us there, Pedro Ballesteros MW included. Challenging wine growing limits, usually marked on the 50th parallel north, the vineyard is located on the island of Öland, on the 57th parallel, considered to be the sunniest spot in Sweden. The project was set up in 2003 by Ingrid and Gunnar Dalhnerg and had to fight EU bureaucracy given that no planting rights had ever been established for Nordic countries – subsequently Sweden was assigned 100 hectares. They tested up to 40 short ripening cycle varieties from which they ultimately chose eight. The white wine we tasted was made from Solaris. According to Wine Grapes, this is a crossing between Merzling and the hybrid Geisenheim 649 created in the 1970s and authorized in Germany in 2004.

After trying all sorts of techniques including malolactic fermentation and deacidification, Spanish winemaker Daniel Barrio discovered that non-interference worked best. Given the very high levels of acidity, some residual sugar is present, just as it occurs in white German wines, although alcohol levels reach 13%. Pale greenish colour. Floral, herb and grapey aromas. Light-bodied with a marked citrus palate, residual sugar and piercing acidity. We have been unable to find any retailers selling this wine, not even Wine Searcher. 

Freixenet’s domaine in Champagne

Pedro Bonet, communications manager at Freixenet and president of Cava’s Regulatory Board, introduced the rosé Henri Abelé La Sourire de Reims 2007 served from magnum. Founded in 1757, Henri Abelé was purchased by Freixenet in 1985. One of the oldest houses in Champagne, it proudly pioneered the process known as riddling (remuage) together with Veuve Cliquot and the disgorgement technique that freezes the neck of the bottle. Pedro Bonet himself was in charge of winemaking from 1986 to 2007. Pinot Noir bunches sourced from Ricey are macerated. The magnum-sized bottle added freshness. Salmon-pink colour. Fine nose with dry petals, grilled bread and aniseed aromas. This is a dry, well-defined, intense wine with lots of red fruit and a pleasant bitterness on the finish. Around €80 for a 75cl bottle.

A Spanish woman in charge of a French château  

Paz Espejo, who started her wine career at Rioja’s Remelluri, is in charge of Château Lanessan since August 2009. The Bouteiller family, owners since 1793, decided to rely on an outsider to revitalize this beautiful domaine in Haut-Médoc boasting 45 hectares of vineyards surrounded by forests. There’s a lovely old link between Lanessan and Spain. Jean Pineau, chef de cave in the 19th century, was hired by local authorities in Rioja Alavesa to teach Bordeaux techniques but he stayed to manage the early vintages of Marqués de Riscal for its owner Camilo Hurtado de Amézaga. We tasted the Château’s first wine, Château Lanessan 2011. Medium ruby colour. Clean nose with classic undergrowth, blackcurrant aromas. Medium bodied with firm acidity pushing flavours to an earthy, slightly tannic finish. From €13.80 via Wine Searcher.

Torres brings back Chile’s indigenous grapes

The Torres family set up a winery in Chile in 1970. Miguel Torres Maczassek described the country as a wine paradise found between two cool landmarks: the Pacific Ocean and the Andes mountains. Miguel Torres himself managed the winery from 2010 until September 2012 when he succeeded his father as general manager of the Torres empire. We tasted Cordillera Carignan 2011 made from indigenous grapes planted on a 17-hectare vineyard in Maule. Carignan seems to have been introduced in the country in the 1930s to add colour to local grape País. This Carignan, though, feels very different to what we get in Spain. “Temperature variations block the degradation of acids,” says Miguel Torres Jr. The winery is part of a group of producers called Vigno which was set up to champion old-vine dry farmed Carignan from Maule. Deep purple colour. Aromatic nose reminiscent of citrus fruit, lavender and black pepper. Definitely lighter than Spanish Carignan reds with blackberries and bramble notes. From €17.72 via  Wine Searcher.

Blending grapes from two continents 

David Pagan Castaño comes from a long-established family of wine growers and wine producers based in Yecla, in south-eastern Spain. After working at the family winery and gaining experience with various producers both in the Old and New World, he is now technical director at Potomac Winery in Virginia. Pedro Ballesteros MW couldn’t help bringing up the unsuccessful efforts of Thomas Jefferson, arguably the world’s first wine geek, to grow vines in his Virginia properties. David could not attend the tasting and unfortunately the wine I was served was tainted, but the story of his Vino Camino is worth telling. The Spanish grapes used in the wine travel across the ocean to be crushed in Virgina. It is a blend of 80% Monastrell from Yecla and 20% Cabernet Franc from Virginia, a variety that has adapted well to the Potomac vineyards. For David, this wine is good summary of his own life. From $29.99 at the winery’s online store.

Black fruit explosion from Portugal

Born in Tui (Galicia), Susana Esteban has been working in Portugal since 2002 —you can tell by her relatively strong Portuguese accent when she speaks Spanish. She worked as winemaker at Quinta de Cotto and Quinta do Crasto in the Douro region before moving to Alentejo where she consults for several producers and manages her own project. Her red Procura 2013 (only 5,100 bottles produced, from €29.50 via Wine Searcher) was one of my favourite wines. It is a blend of Alicante Bouschet grown on schist soils near Évora and an old plot with numerous grape varieties in the village of Portalegre, within the Serra de Mamede natural park, almost 80 kilometres away. Deep purple colour. Powerful, fresh nose, packed with black fruit (wild berries, bramble) and spices (black pepper). Powerful, somehow tannic, yet fresh and delicious with Alicante Bouschet’s wild, overwhelming fruit awakening the senses.  

More from Portugal, this time by Raúl Pérez

Red Portuguese wines shone bright at the tasting. I was a little disappointed that, due to a last minute change, Raúl Perez’s South African red (the one he makes with Eben Sadie) was replaced by his Portuguese alliance with Dirk Niepoort. Raúl was unable to attend the tasting but I must say that despite his sometimes irregular wines, he has the ability to dazzle wine lovers with refined expressions of the numerous regions where he works. His Ultreia Douro 2011, a complex blend of Tinta Amarela, Tinta Barroca, Touriga Franca and Touriga Nacional, among others, spoke loud and clear. Deep ruby colour. Fine and aromatic with crispy red fruit notes and a light leather touch. The wine fermented with stems thus showed herbaceous notes, but they were nicely integrated. This is a savoury, fresh, expressive, long red with pleasant texture. From €31.50 at El Sumiller or via Wine Searcher.

High altitude Malbec by Ortega Fournier

Driven by his wine passion, José Manuel Ortega Fournier left his job at Spain’s Banco de Santander to set up a group with wineries in Argentina, Chile and Spain (Ribera del Duero). Argentina was his first venture and the one who introduced him to the wine business. Vineyards are located in the Uco valley, one of Mendoza’s highest areas boasting big temperature variations between night and day. José Manuel’s sister, Natalia Ortega, who is also involved in the project, introduced their top brand O. Fournier Malbec 2007. Dark purple colour. Powerful, dark, mineral nose showing very ripe fruit, liquorice and inky aromas. Despite the high alcohol, this wine has balance, a pleasant texture and good consistency. From €52.90 at Bodeboca and €59 via Wine Searcher.

Codorníu’s stake in Argentina

Located in Luján de Cuyo (Mendoza) at 1,050m high, this is Codorníu’s seventh wine project. Accordingly it was called Séptima (literally 7th). The estate covers 185 hectares with 153 of them in full production. Marketing manager Víctor Sánchez recalled Codorníu’s long established links with Argentina —one of the oldest cellars in their modernist Sant Sadurni’s facilities was called Buenos Aires. They presented Séptima Gran Reserva 2012, a blend of 50% Malbec, 38% Cabernet Sauvignon and 12% Tannat. There were some similarities with O. Fournier’s Malbec, notably the dark fruit and inky character, with Séptima displaying a stronger spicy note (black and green pepper). Despite the alcohol (almost 15%), it retained some freshness; its pleasant texture adds some finesse. From €18.95 at Celler de Gelida and via Wine Searcher.

A happy ending with a 6 Puttonyos Tokaj from Vega Sicilia

We finished the tasting with a lovely sweet aftertaste provided by a striking Tokaji. In 1993 Vega Sicilia bought Oremus, a major producer in the Hungarian region of Tokaj where outstanding sweet wines are made from grapes affected by noble rot. Wine journalist Luis García, who spoke on behalf of the winery, emphasized the high percentage of Furmint grapes as a distinctive attribute of Oremus’ sweet wines. The Oremus 6 Puttonyos 2000 we tasted offers the highest level of sweetness only behind the very rare Eszencia. 6 Puttonyos stands for the six baskets of grapes, each of them containing 25 kilos of botrytized (aszú) berries, which are used for a single barrel. Gold amber colour. Very complex nose with raisins, honey, stone fruit and citrus aromas (tangerine, orange). Really concentrated on the palate showcasing wonderful citrus acidity (tangerine again) and lots of stone fruit notes. Really vibrant and well-defined with a very long finish. From €65.50  for 37.5 cl. at Celler de Gelida. Other options via Wine Searcher.

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