Barcelona has this week been at the centre of the Spanish wine scene thanks to Alimentaria food and wine fair and its large wine hall Intervin. For some years now, producers and distributors have been taking advantage of this massive concentration of wine professionals to organize interesting side events which are usually referred to as off-Alimentaria. On this edition, the trend to hold al-ternative events has kept the pace and reached an all-time high.
The fun colourful note comes from groups of small producers who have started to join forces to afford the fees of big fairs like Alimentaria or Fenavin. Their stands tend to be casual and imaginative such as Inkordia’s, with bright purple balloons and barrels acting as tables, or Roca Madre’s, with pictures of James Bond, Queen Elisabeth and Julio Iglesias as stage props.
The solid program of tastings, presentations and round tables on this year’s programme was an inviting proposition to encourage professionals to visit the exhibition hall over the four-day fair. Vinorum Think featured leading Spanish wine experts writing for an international audience such as Pedro Ballesteros MW (Decanter), who hosted an inaugural dinner at gorgeous Monvínic wine bar, Luis Gutiérrez (The Wine Advocate) and Ferran Centelles (JancisRobinson.com). On the panel were also writers of wine guides and wine magazines in Spain: José Peñín and Carlos González from Guía Peñín, Pilar Molestina from El País’ wine guide, Andrés Proensa, who writes his own guide, Juan Fernández Cuesta from ABC newspaper plus Víctor de la Serna and Juancho Asenjo representing elmundovino.com.
The following is an account of what Yolanda Ortiz de Arri and I could manage to cover in the four very busy days we were in Barcelona. Much to our regret and given the sheer amount of on- and off-site activities, it was impossible to cover all the events, even if we worked separately most of the time.
The imposing Llotja de Mar, near the stores owned by Quim Vila in Agullers Street, held the ninth edition of Spain’s most popular wine tasting competition. There, 130 couples —10 more than last year, given the huge demand— fought to guess origin, varieties, vintage and brand of the seven wines in each qualifying round and take home the €20,000 top prize which was finally won by Rafael Salas and José Antonio Díaz. These pair of wine-loving engineers working for oil multinational Repsol have been tasting for over 20 years at La Ruta del Vino in Santander. Perhaps, as last year winner Philippe Cesco noted, the reason lies on the “good methodology” followed at the tastings he regularly holds with the winners and Jean Marcos Nuñez, his partner last year.
The second prize, worth €7,000, went to the winners of the 2008 edition: sommelier Rafael Sabadí and David Martínez, who teaches at a catering school. The €3,000 of the third prize were claimed by computer engineer Jaime Fernández, better known as his Twitter alias Jimmy Bubbles and Santiago Rivas, the man behind the irreverent and refreshing #instacatas video tastings by Colectivo Decantado.
Many trade professionals —Pilar Cavero (sommelier), Luis Gutiérrez (wine critic at The Wine Advocate), Eulogio Pomares and Jonatan García (producers at Bodega Zárate in Rías Baixas and Suertes del Marqués in Tenerife, respectively) o Armando Guerra (sherry expert)— and wine enthusiasts didn’t make it to the final. Jesús Barquín, from Equipo Navazos, is a regular in the finals but victory eluded him one more year. Myself and my partner, @dr_tannin, were not very successful on the Tasting in Pairs. We did get it right on a couple of things, though: taking part and having fun. Y.O.A.
The members of this small group of producers proved that, as well as being able to make wines with soul and authenticity, they know how to throw a party too.
Brothers Arturo and Kike De Miguel (Artuke), Tom Puyaubert (Exopto), Eva Óscar Alegre and Eva Valgañón (Alegre&Valgañón), Bárbara Palacios (Barbarot), Bryan MacRobert (Laventura), Sandra Bravo (Sierra de Toloño) and Olivier Rivière, who had literally just landed from Japan, were overwhelmed by the interest of the trade and public to join their party at trendy Fábrica Moritz in Barcelona.
The format —self-service and without a tasting sheet on site— was refreshingly unusual, with their wines alongside each other and organized by origin —Rioja, village, vineyard and plot. All of the producers were at hand, but aware that it was late in the evening and people just wanted to enjoy the wine, the Iberico ham and the live music played by The Bonnie and Clyde Revue. An unaffected, fresh approach in tune with the style of this bunch of producers who are determined to show that there is room in Rioja for different ways and styles of making wines. Y.O.A.
This is probably Alimentaria’s most crowded, well-known side event. Organized by wine retailer, importer and distributor Vila Viniteca, its portfolio of producers both from Spain and the rest of the world is really impressive. All the important names are here: famous, original and innovative producers on one side of the table; sommeliers, wine journalists, wine geeks on the other. The wide spaces of the Llotja de Mar in Barcelona’s port area fill up quickly. Producers run out of their most sought-after bottles or have a plan to open them at a specific time. It’s crowded —move away to spit and you may find it difficult to regain your spot on many producers’ tables.
We plan our day to try new or hard to find wines so we head to the tables of natural producer Cosmic Vinyaters and Espelt in Empordà who have brought some Cariñena Blanca and Garnatxa Roja wines. Fresh and fruity Sol i Vent is Espelt’s entry level red and their wonderful old vine Carignan, with an intriguing international (FraCatanglish?) sentence on its labels: “Très Old Vinyes”.
Norrell Robertson MW (El Escocés Volante) from Calatayud undoubtedly takes the prize for the most striking wine name. Manda Huevos (Norrell, how would you translate that without using swear words?) is a fine and expressive Garnacha, in contrast with the fruit purity and juiciness of La Dama2012 (Domaine Lupier) grown under the Atlantic influence of San Martín de Unx in Navarra’s Baja Montaña.
If we had to give an award to the most original labels, it would go to Máquina y Tabla, a multi-regional project in Castilla y León led by Oriol Illa and Susana Pastor, which describe the struggle between human beings and nature. We particularly enjoyed their Verdejo from Rueda and their Gredos Garnacha. This wide region is a hotbed for new producers like Prieto Pariente, the new generation of well-known Rueda producer José Pariente, who have also settled in Castilla y León.
We tried many excellent wines, but two that attracted our attention were the new no-sulfur added reds of Abel Mendoza and Finca Allende, two Rioja heavyweights. Both mirror the different styles of their respective producers, but both feature fruit as their central element although Miguel Ángel de Gregorio (Finca Allende) has chosen to state the sell-by date on the label. We also enjoyed the powerful and personal reds made by Jorge Monzón in La Aguilera (Ribera del Duero) as part of his Dominio del Águila project. That was our “Música del Vi”, but we are sure there are as many journeys and experiences as the number of people in the event. A.C.
This year, one of the most special off-site events failed to take place: the 12 authors and their wines that Carles Esteva usually hosts at his traditional Catalan manor house in Can Ràfols dels Caus. He is favorably recovering from a stroke he suffered a few months ago but he didn’t feel like hosting such a large party so he decided to invite his closest distributors and importers to show them his new winery, which has been excavated in the rock. We will write about it shortly.
Esteva’s range covers a personal universe of varieties and winemaking styles from cal-careous soils in the Garraf mountains. I particularly enjoyed Gran Caus Blanco 2013, a good example of Xarel.lo’s class, blended here with Chenin Blanc, and its ability to age in bottle despite it being raised in stainless steel tanks and without any lees work. A more complex example is Xarel.lo Pairal 2006, a barrel-aged wine with mellow hydrocarbon notes, smooth texture and a delicate final with the estate’s trademark calcareous nuances. Ten years seems to be the right aging time for this wine, sourced from one of the oldest vineyards in the estate.
Sumoll 2013 boasts surprising finesse, leaving behind the usually rustic character of the variety. It is juicy, fresh and primary. A fine wine is also their 30 Aniversario, a Cabernet Franc 100% with perfect ripeness and silky texture.
Not far from there, in Sant Sadurní d’Anoia, Raventós i Blanc held a dinner for the press, clients and importers. I was delighted to be able to visit Clos del Serral, the old Xarel.lo vineyards which are the source of some of their best cavas and wines. The hosts invited us to take part in a blind tasting where two of the estate’s wines (De la Finca and their new blanc de noirs Textures de Pedra) where mixed with several grower champagnes, all of them made from Chardonnay.
Manuel Raventós’ speech was specially touching. He announced everyone that the legendary 500-year-old oak tree crowning the estate had not flourished this spring, as sign that he took as an invitation to change. His idea of leading an appellation focused on the production of quality sparkling wines in Conca del Riu Anoia is still intact, (it remains to be seen whether this name will hold if it finally becomes a new sub zone within the DO Penedès) although he acknowledged that it requires effort and patience and that he might not get to witness it. A.C.
This was a testimony that with little money, some energy and a good working relationship among producers, interesting events can be held within the city. Producers Fredi Torres and Marc Lecha, with the support of online store Gourmet Hunters and distributors Barcelona Vinos and Cuvée 3000, managed to bring together in a luminous and intimate gallery 21 offbeat, emerging producers who represent the potential and talent of many young people making wine across Spain.
For the third year, Catalan group Terra de Garnatxes held a party at the night-club of trendy hotel Omm focused on the most Mediterranean of grapes. The place was busy and dark, with 20-odd producers, mostly from Catalonia, presenting their wines to trade members and general public. René Barbier was busy serving his top wine Espectacle until it was sold out, as was the case with the wines of Scala Dei. We particularly enjoyed the mineralogy and freshness of Masdeu Scala Dei 2012 and Finca La Genuina, an old vine Garnacha, and La Personal, a spicy and smooth old vine Garnacha Peluda. These two are both made by Edetària in Terra Alta. Y.O.A.
On April 26, we heard the sad news of the death at 61 of Manuel Lozano, winemaker at Bodegas Lustau, so César Saldaña, director of the Sherry Regulatory Body, and Jesús Barquín, from Equipo Navazos, started their tasting of Sherry legends with a 1-minute silence and a touching final ovation to this flor and solera veteran by everyone in the busy room.
After this small tribute, we travelled through Sherry Country with 13 wines representing the diversity of styles of these great wines which are back on the radar of many professionals and enthusiasts.
One hour felt short to enjoy so many great wines but we adored the Williams & Humbert Fino 2009, which brings back the old vintage tradition and displays an attractive oxidative edge gained after years of resting. The new spring saca of Solear en Rama, Lustau’s amontillado VORS, the finesse of the two Palos Cortados by Bodegas Arfe and Fernando de Castilla or the contrast between the power of Urium Oloroso VORS and the elegant restraint of Hidalgo La Gitana Oloroso vintage 1986. by Hidalgo from Sanlúcar. The revival of Sherry exists and the region must take advantage of this renewed interest —it certainly has plenty of heavy artillery to conquer millions of palates. Y.O.A.
On April 27 we attended the tasting and conference led by Fernando Martínez de Toda and Antonio Palacios about the potential of Spanish wines and terroir.
Fernando Martínez de Toda, viticulture professor at the University of La Rioja, gave an overview of Spain’s vineyards and championed bush vines both in practical terms (better exposition and photosynthesis) and in terms of the country’s heritage. The figures he presented were shocking: the grapes of only 1% of Spain’s land under vine are paid at €1.5/Kg, while barely 10% of the land is planted with quality vines (100,000Ha, grapes paid at €0.80/Kg.) and the rest (€0.5/Kg) is basic viticulture.
Sustainability must be understood as economic viability, he argued, as quality grapes can only be obtained with fair grape prices. According to Martínez de Toda, the strengths of Spain’s vineyards are the large extensions of vineyard, climate diversity and the range of grape varieties.
Antonio Palacios recommended growth and innovation to fight against recession al-though he also commented on the scandalously low prices of the country’s wines against competitors such as France. We mistake the process with the product, he said, and added that decisions must be taken with consumers’ needs in mind, hence the crucial importance of studying consumers’ preferences. A.C.
Despite our unwavering passion, both Yolanda and I are still human so we couldn’t make it to interesting shows such as Magnificat, a full-day event with tastings and conferences by domestic and international producers organized by distributor Primeras Marcas and producer Juve y Camps in Sant Sadurní d’Anoia. We also missed side shows organized by Gramona and Recaredo; the Mujeres del Vino tasting at Fábrica Moritz with 22 female producers and winemakers from Catalonia and beyond; and distributor Oriol Pérez de Tudela’s Terroir Breakfast held at la Taula de Vi de San Benet in the city's Born quarter. He paired oysters, clotxa (a traditional peasant dish) and wild boar meat dishes, made by 1-Michelin starred Manairó restaurant, with the terroirs of wines such as Camí de la Font, Mesies Garnatxa Blanca and Gatzara Trepat. We’ll try to be there in 2018!