Although Ferrol is not in any of the main wine regions of Galicia, this coastal city north of A Coruña has developed a taste for fine wines. It is no surprise that Fevino, the biennial wine fair held there, is playing a leading role in Galicia, particularly after promoter Fernando Yáñez changed the programme in 2015 to host more producers, exciting tastings and master classes and launched the Guardianes del Vino awards to attract leading wine professionals to this northwestern corner of Galicia.
I was deeply honoured to be named Guardián del Vino this year alongside great wine professionals like CSIC researcher Mar Vilanova, producers Raúl Pérez and Vicente Cebrián-Sagarriga (Marqués de Murrieta), journalist and producer Víctor de la Serna (Finca Sandoval) and glass manufacturer Riedel. We weren’t given diplomas or statuettes; instead, we all got to wear a green cloak evoking the colours of the Galician landscape. In a way, it was like carrying on our shoulders the responsibility of serving as wine guardians. At Spanish Wine Lover, we will certainly continue to do that and we will aim to publish interesting pieces about the Spanish wine scene.
Fevino’s star tasting featured eight wines rated with 100 points by Luis Gutiérrez, The Wine Advocate’s reviewer for Spain. He was named Guardián del Vino at the last edition of Fevino.
The wines included an old Cvne Viña Real 1959, a bottle of the rare Parreno 2001, made by R. López de Heredia for Spanish cultural magazine Matador, Barbadillo’s extremely old Reliquia Palo Cortado and another old vintage PX from Toro Albalá in Montilla-Moriles. Together with Murrieta’s white Castillo Ygay 1986, the tasting was a great opportunity to assess the limits of wine ageing be it in barrel (statically or under the solera system) or bottle.
It was really exciting to try these wines alongside each other. As you may imagine, the 100 points turned these bottles into rare items driving their prices to record levels. Fevino charged attendants €120 and benefited from the ensuing expectation. Other interesting tastings included a mini-vertical of Tilenus Pieros and Ultreia conducted by maverick Bierzo producer Raúl Pérez (€60), whites with a capacity for ageing from Galicia (€40) and wines made with the white grape Albarín (€25), a rising star in Galicia and Castilla y León that is also known as Raposo, Branco Legítimo or Branca do País.
The 100-point tasting started with a bang: Barbadillo Palo Cortado Reliquia. Winemaker Montse Molina explained that it comes from a solera with 120 casks bought at a time when there was an interest to store this style of wines in Sanlúcar’s traditional bodegas. “There are eight criaderas, but we only use the two oldest, each with nine casks, ” said Molina. “We release 40 bottles from a single cask and use the rest of the wine to refill the others”.
Beyond the complexity and depth found in old sherry, I was surprised by its saline character, so typical of Sanlúcar, and the fact that its was not as extreme as other very old wines on the palate -its velvety, voluptuous texture made it much more drinkable and approachable. Not many wines can fill the palate in the way this Palo Cortado does and deliver such an amazing, almost eternal finish. After checking that wine store Lavinia in Madrid sells it for €1,385 a bottle, all those who attended the tasting can feel very fortunate.
Following this bomb, Castillo Ygay Gran Reserva Especial 1986 held up its head very well. Marqués de Murrieta has only released its Gran Reserva Especial white 13 times in its more than 150 years of history, so this wine arouse high expectations when it was released in 2016. It’s almost unbelievable that after 252 months in barrel and 67 months in concrete vats the wine feels so young and vibrant with a lively acidity adding definition and length. Compared to the first time I tasted it, the finish was slightly more sapid and chalky.
Murrieta has always maintained that all its wines are 100% pure vintages. It was standard practice for this winery to release the same wine at different stages of ageing. In fact, the 1986 vintage was first bottled in 1992 and released in 1995. It seems that 1998 could be the next vintage to become a Gran Reserva Especial white. The winery is focusing on this category to add value to its top red and whites, both in terms of extended ageing and price (the 1986 can be found for around €495 in online wine stores such as Vinissimus or Bodeboca). 8,125 bottles were made.
Viña Real Gran Reserva 1959 has aged tremendously gracefully. It is a benchmark wine to compare with other old Riojas. The first sniff before swirling the glass delivered liquor cherry. Aromas then ranged from mint and spices to old furniture and cinder, but the best of all was its finesse, the amazing balance and silky texture. Fermentation took place in a small winery that Cvne used to own in Elciego. Apart from Tempranillo from Rioja Alavesa, we wondered whether there was some Garnacha in the blend as it was common at the time with Burgundy-shaped bottles. Luis Gutiérrez estimated around 30% Garnacha and white grapes.
Among the younger wines, Rumbo al Norte 2016 , an outstanding Garnacha grown on granite soils in Sierra de Gredos (Central Spain), brought us back to the 21st century with its minerality and captivating aromatics. Displaying a firm structure and great potential behind the apparent lightness of the style, it lagged behind the rest of the wines in terms of its optimum drink date. The wine was sold for around €125 to €175 in Spain but it is almost imposible to find now. 1,271 bottles and 30 magnums were filled.
Las Beatas 2015 was also relatively young. This red is the result of Telmo Rodríguez’s and Pablo Eguzkiza’s obsession to recover traditional vineyards. Grapes are sourced from ancient terraces in a secluded area in Labastida (Rioja Alavesa) where vines were the only possible crop. Telmo himself explained how they recovered an 8,000 m² plot and expanded it to 1.9 hectares. They grafted cuttings in the surrounding terraces to replicate the same field blend with almost 10 different grape varieties. It took them 15 years to release the wine. 2015, the fifth vintage so far, was aged in 1,200-litre foudres in an old winery in Ollauri where they have tried to replicate the winemaking techniques of the past.
The levels of depth and energy in this wine are really impressive. Despite its gentleness and delicacy, the wine has enough tension to be aged. It can be described as modern Rioja, but it retains elegance and finesse, the area’s benchmark attributes. The 2015 vintage retails at a whopping €1,036 at Grau Online, a considerable increase from the €130 it used to cost when it was first released. It is sad that high scores leave these wonderful bottles out of reach of wine lovers as only the wealthiest consumers can afford them regardless of their taste for wine.
The idea of elegance is slightly different in Ribera del Duero. Despite being one of the most restrained wines in the appellation, Pingus 2012 displayed the region’s distinctive structure, volume and ripeness. Luis Gutiérrez explained that his score was the result of several key changes in the 2012 vintage that added great definition to the wine, notably the demise of new oak and lower sulphur content with sulfites added only prior to bottling. This vintage, which included 45% of whole bunches, stands out for its texture and a fresh herbal background. I’m positive that this wine will develop beautifully in bottle. If you are interesting in getting hold of one, Aporvino sells the wine for around €900.
The last wine in the tasting was an exuberant vintage PX from Toro Albalá. Don PX Convento Selección 1946 spent 65 years in casks before filling 13,200 bottles (find this wine for €265.50 at Vinissimus). Less concentrated and thick than other old PX, the texture is nevertheless impressive. Its amazingly complex aromatics extend beyond raisiny aromas.
We also had the opportunity to taste two wines that are part of the collection of art and culture magazine Matador. Selected by Telmo Rodríguez and named after the artist and his painting, the wines try to be as unique and special as the magazine itself.
One of Luis Gutiérrez's eight 100-point wines tasted at Fevino, Parreno 2001, accompanied the release of the 2018 Matador magazine. It is a selection of barrels from López de Heredia which were intended for Tondonia Gran Reserva. The wine was bottled in December 2017 following 17 years of barrel ageing. This fresh and original blend with 80% Tempranillo and 20% Graciano kept changing in the glass. Intriguing and captivating, it was one of my favourites given its sheer texture (the slow, natural decantation in barrels has a very particular effect on how the wines are perceived on the palate), an umami-like character and beautifully integrated acidity. No longer available, it was sold on release for around €100. 3,000 bottles and 100 magnums were filled.
Some of us were lucky to taste a second “Matador” wine following another recommendation by Luis Gutiérrez during the awards dinner. Arroyo 2016 is a white wine made by José Luis Mateo (Quinta de Muradella) in Monterrei. The blend includes many different indigenous grapes described on the label as “Dona Blanca, Bastardo Rubio, Torrontés, Godello Antiguo and Verdello Louro fermented and aged in foudre”. Grapes are sourced from very old plots with schist soils on the border with Portugal. I cannot think of a better example for consumers to understand minerality in a wine. There is hardly any fruit in this wine; what we find instead are marked notes of stones and saltiness, yet its finesse and balance make it wonderful and approachable. Sold for €60 at La Fábrica, is a tremendous bargain compared with the previous wines. And this is one for the cellar too.
2015: Peter Sisseck (Dominio de Pingus), Emilio Rojo, Quim Vila (Vila Viniteca), José Peñín (Guía Peñín), Josep Roca (El Celler de Can Roca) and Grupo Nove.
2017: Luis Gutiérrez (The Wine Advocate), Álvaro Palacios, Marisol Bueno (Pazo Señorans), Guía Michelin, Museo Vivanco de la Cultura del Vino and Escuela de Hostelería de la Armada.