Participants at last June’s MW Symposium held in Logroño had the chance to try a remarkable variety of Spanish wines. Domestic wines featured in three out of five tastings on the programme: the one held before the welcome dinner at the city’s bullring, “The New Spain” hosted by Sarah Jane Evans MW where young producers from all over the country poured some off-the-beaten-track wines, and “Inspirational Spain”, a tasting conducted by Pedro Ballesteros MW with some of the country’s top names.
Other Spanish wines were available to try at the Masters of winemaking tasting (wines made by MWs), on the various dinners offered by Rioja bodegas and on the gala dinner hosted by Marqués de Riscal featuring wines of members of the Foundation for the Culture of Wine, the symposium’s main sponsor.
We have asked five MWs from different countries with varying approaches to wine to what extent the days spent in Logroño changed their perception of Spanish wines, what surprised them the most and what wines or grape varieties particularly surprised them. There is a short profile of each MW at the end of the piece.
David Forer MW: To be honest, the symposium did not change my perception, it just solidified my opinion and thoughts of Spanish wine. Tasting wines like López de Heredia and ancient PXs from Bodegas Toro Albalá made it clear to me how amazing the traditional wines of Spain can be. And we had a fantastic tasting that showed the strength and diversity of the "New Spain", wines from regions that were new to most of us, or from varieties few of us had ever tasted made by winemakers talented and dedicated to their craft. Such passion they all had!
Alex Hunt MW: By opening my eyes to new regions and confirming that the stylistic trends I have been wishing for years are now starting to gather pace.
Eugene Mlynczyk MW: There is a great diversity in Spain's regions and in their wines. I was already aware of this to some extent, but a few of the tastings during the Symposium, including the unusual varieties and styles tasting, opened my mind even further to this changing wines playing field in Spain.
Kenichi Ohashi MW: The trend to make single-vineyard wines reflecting the personality of individual vineyards. I think this is really exciting!
Madeleine Stenwreth MW: I was blown away by the “The discovery tasting”. Sarah-Jane and Pedro did an incredible job in putting this together. An outstanding eye-opener to each and every one of us there. The inspirational Spain seminar led by Pedro was one of the most emotional tastings I have ever experienced. The people, their stories, their passion was one thing. But the way they supported our Institute and this seminar with these beautiful cellar-treasures was almost too good to be true.
David Forer MW: The diversity of styles was quite surprising. Outside Spain, wine lovers view Spanish wines as generally being stronger in character and tasting like they are from a warm climate. But, for example, the wines of Bierzo can have such elegance, and the wines of the Canary Islands can have a disarming acidity, and the wines of the Basque Country can be so light and fun. Spain is a land of great diversity!
Alex Hunt MW: The growing evidence that the macho style favoured by many critics of the 1990s and 2000s is being challenged. Extraction, concentration, oak dominance and oxidation are in retreat, and the idea that a wine needs to be “very important” to justify a high price is being replaced by the goal of being very beautiful. This is good for drinkers and good for business – refreshing wines encourage people to enjoy a second glass!
Eugene Mlynczyk MW: I wouldn't say surprises, but rather confirmations, of the potential quality and age ability of many Spanish wine styles. The best of the sparking Cavas, top quality Sherries, in addition to several Rioja reds and whites, were personal highlights for me. I think more Spanish people should drink their own wines from Jerez nationwide!
Kenichi Ohashi MW: It’s great to see traditional red wines with extended ageing still present in the market.
Madeleine Stenwreth MW: There are so many varieties and wine growing sub-regions that I had never heard of and which showed such great promise in their highly diverse yet always charismatic expressions!
David Forer MW: I continue to be amazed by the wines of the Canary Islands. From such a southern latitude, grown almost alongside bananas and coffee, it's crazy to think such good quality wines could come from there.
Alex Hunt MW: Yes – the beautiful Bierzo of Raúl Perez, the freshness and precision of wines from less well-known areas like Asturias, Arlanza, Salamanca, Manchuela, even Tenerife. There also seems to be a positive evolution in the styles of Priorat and Navarra, at least as represented here. And the Viña Tondonia Rosado 2008 was a revelation – so complex and delicate, completely belying its age and winemaking.
Eugene Mlynczyk MW: Delighted to find some really fresh reds from Galicia, the other wines I already mentioned from Rioja including top notch whites, and very well-balanced reds from the southeast and central regions. Those were some discoveries for me. And perhaps I can't say it enough, but I am a champion of the complex, elegant wines of Jerez.
Kenichi Ohashi MW: Talking about classic Rioja, in addition to Tondonia, I enjoyed very much the wines from Cvne (Viña Real, Imperial, Contino) and Remelluri. I also found many great wines at the tasting hosted by Sarah Jane.
Madeleine Stenwreth MW: Yes… Some varieties that I had never heard of such as Mandó, Manto Negro, Brancellao, Baboso Negro, Albarín Blanco, Albarín Negro, Carrasquín… And DOPs as Cangas, Arlanza, Ycoden-Daute-Isora. I just love the way Garnacha shows off in the right hands, styles so fresh and fragrant with great integrity from high altitude sites in Priorat, Navarra, Sierra de Gredos, Valdejalón, Calatayud... The whites of Rioja have come so far, and I have great hopes to see more producers focusing on bringing Viura to the next level. I tasted some world-class examples as in Añadas Frías & Anteportelatina from Pujanza. Very impressed with the quality of the wines from Tenerife and my first ever wine tasted from La Palma. I constantly get emotionally connected with the wines from Ribeira Sacra, Monterrei and Bierzo. They serve as benchmarks for some of the greatest terroir expressions in Spain.
MADELEINE STENWRETH ON RIOJA
I have always felt sorry for Rioja having been stuck in “the longer time in oak the better the wine” image and blending away individuality to reach a brand/house style rather than having had the possibility to express the uniqueness and character of individual vineyard sites. This has not been beneficial for the image of the region when it comes to competing with the leading terroir-driven wines of the world. I am very pleased to see that these necessary changes are finally taking place in Rioja and I am convinced that this will help to boost the excitement. It´s about time that Rioja speaks the language of its outstanding terroir expressions. Just imagine when generalizing descriptors such as “dill and sweet vanilla oak” are not used anymore to identify Rioja in a blind tasting but instead replaced by descriptors relating to the expression of place.
David Forer MW: I think it's very difficult to explain to export markets how diverse the styles of wines can be from Spain. With such a long history of wine making and exporting of wine, consumers abroad are used to certain styles of wine being associated with Spain. Many traditional (and often big) producers want to focus on the "old" Spain, while many more innovative (and often small) producers want to focus on the "new" Spain. It would be great if producers and DOs could work together to explain to the world how great and diverse the wines of Spain are.
Alex Hunt MW: In the UK at least, it is a combination of association with low prices, too many boring wines, historical obsession with Rioja to the exclusion of all else, and the fact the market is saturated!
Eugene Mlynczyk MW: Projecting one face and one message, in amongst the diversity of styles, and to ask for more than just the perception of great value compared to France or Italy. Spain needs to stand on her own footing with a clear national message.
Kenichi Ohashi MW: To establish a reputation for terroir. For example, Yarra Valley is very famous in the Japanese market, but Aragón is not. It’s important to establish regional recognition.
Madeleine Stenwreth MW: Many producers need to encourage the growers of the many extraordinary vineyards across Spain through paying them a premium price for the grapes so that they can see long term sustainability in continuing to care for these vineyards. Spain has been missing out on delivering enough excitement in the segment between good value wines at low price and highly priced prestige labels. This gap could easily be filled with charismatic wines of these hugely diverse origins and styles, still at good value. This approach is however highly dependent on the powers of a forward-thinking and innovative generic body to spread all this energetic wine excitement.
Producers should dare to benchmark themselves against the best terroir-driven wines of the world to inspire each other to believe in what can be achieved. Many Spanish producers need to boost their self confidence, believe in their vineyards and allow them to speak about the place instead of falling for the temptation of creating wines to match short-lived trends dictated by specific markets.
David Forer MW was born in England, raised in Canada and developed a passion for wine in San Francisco. After moving to Barcelona a few months ago he is becoming more and more interested in Spanish wines. He is currently involved in design, consulting and teaching.
Alex Hunt MW works as group wine buyer for Berkmann Wine Cellars, the UK's leading independent agent/wholesaler. He has also contributed to different wine magazines and for a long time wrote a column for www.jancisrobinson.com.
Eugene Mlynczyk MW. With a substantial training in arts, Canadian-born Mlynczyk chose wine as his profession. He works as Luxury Portfolio Manager at Arterra Wines Canada (formerly Constellation Brands) and co-directs the WSET Diploma programme in Toronto.
Kenichi Ohashi MW. The first and sole Japanese Master of Wine, Ohashi is also a sake expert holding the Master of Sake title. The third generation at the family distribution company Yamajin Co., Ltd., he runs his own consultant company (Red Bridge Co., Ltd.) which among other services, provides marketing support in the Japanese marketplace.
Madeleine Stenwreth MW owns a wine consultancy company in Sweden. She is also a wine educator, a frequent speaker at seminars and a judge in different wine competitions. She has previously worked as quality & product development manager for a leading Nordic wine importing group, as a wine buyer for Systembolaget and as marketing manager for Wines of South Africa.