It’s not easy to pick just one bottle among the hundreds of good-quality wines being produced now in Spain. That’s why sometimes the perspective of the person who makes a recommendation and the reasons behind their choice can be as interesting as the wine in itself. Is it just a matter of style or do personal feelings come into it too?
There is a certain degree of morbid curiosity in asking well-known producers, usually associated to specific styles and regions, to choose a wine that has not been made by them or have no commercial interest in it. We are deeply grateful to María José López de Heredia, Juan Carlos López de Lacalle, Juan Manuel Hidalgo, Verónica Ortega, Sara Pérez, Peter Sisseck, Pepe Raventós and Mireia Torres (listed in alphabetic order) for sharing their choices with SWL readers.
The final list includes two sparkling wines, a Fino from Sherry country, three whites and three reds that do not hail from classical red wine regions in Spain, plus the wide array of styles served at the López de Heredia household on Christmas.
Despite the numerous differences between our sherries and the wines of Penedès in Catalonia, I also find many similarities. That’s why I have chosen Recaredo Reserva Particular 2005 —in my humble opinion, it brings together all the features that distinguish the wines of Recaredo and particularly their cavas; every single sip of this wine is pure joy.
The Mediterranean climate and limestone soils of Penedès share many similarities with our albarizas. You can feel the warmth of the sun and the ripeness of Macabeo and Xarel.lo in this wine —such sensations are not too far away from our own Palomino. If you add Recaredo’s extended aging, in line with the finest sherries, you get tremendous depth and character. I love the style of this bone dry sparkling wine with extraordinary volume, unctuousness and freshness.
The wine displays a clean, bright pale lemon colour with tiny elegant bubbles. On the nose we find perfectly ripe fruit and Mediterranean scrubland aromas. The palate is subtle and fresh with finely integrated bubbles and vinous notes that add volume. This is a dense, mineral Cava with good persistence and a pleasant finish. A truly great wine.
A member of the 5th generation, Juan Manuel Hidalgo has been working at the family winery for more than 20 years. A leading Sherry producer, Emilio Hidalgo pioneered old mature Fino, a style of wine with amazing complexity.
My most beloved wine and food memory on Christmas Day is of our dear late father (may his soul rest in peace) raising a glass "to our suppliers”, friends with whom we exchanged products and to whom we have been and will always be grateful. Therefore, at Christmas I could only recommend wines from friends.
I really enjoy sharing the aperitif with the whole family on Christmas Day, so I always make sure that there’s plenty to choose from: Vermut Reserva from Martínez Lacuesta, plenty of bubbles from friends like Raventós i Blanc, Recaredo, Juvé y Camps or Gramona. I never forget Manzanilla Pastrana from our beloved Hidalgo family to which I add an Amontillado by Barbadillo -we were superbly hosted by them recently- and a Fino from the Alvear family in Montilla. I’m sorry I cannot come up with just one wine. I would even add a cider for those who are not too fond of wine.
In terms of reds, we are very lucky to have many great wines in Spain in a myriad of styles. Also from friends, Vega Sicilia is a must on any special occasion and I will add another red from our neighbour Roda. I really enjoy any of the Garnachas made by the guys behind Comando G in Gredos and Frontonio, made by our very good friend Fernando Mora MW. His wines are amazing and I’m sure they will surprise anyone who hasn’t tasted them yet.
María José López de Heredia is the fifth generation behind R. López de Heredia Viña Tondonia, Rioja’s most traditional winery. As indomitable as her own wines, she has gracefully ignored our request to choose a single bottle because she thinks wine consumption in Spain must be encouraged. “Life must be painfully slow for all those people [non-drinkers]”, she says.
Although sparkling wines are now enjoyed all year round, those of us with gray hair -or no hair at all- still associate the Christmas season with wines that have done a magical, second fermentation in bottle. These are wines that remind us of poignant memories and make us relive warm moments spent with family.
This Christmas I encourage you to indulge in a terroir-driven, single-vineyard sparkling wine. Grapes for Pepe Raventós’ Mas del Serral 2007 are sourced from a 1.92Ha plot planted with Xarel.lo and Bastardo Negro; the wine is later aged with its lees for 100 months. I can still feel the thrill when I first tasted this wine with Pepe. It is full of passion and respect: the land was inherited from Pepe’s ancestors and grape growing traditions have been carefully preserved.
There’s a marked minerality given the abundance of sea fossils in the soils, a distinctive feature in Conca del Ríu Anoia. Deep gold in colour, the mousse is fine but gentle. The nose is fresh, mineral and complex -even joyful. Soft on the palate, it has great length and persistence as befits a great wine. A perfect choice to start the New Year with my best wishes for peace and freedom.
Find this wine from €143 via Wine Searcher.
Juan Carlos López de Lacalle is the driving force behind Artadi and its subsequent expansion to Navarra (Artazu) and Alicante (El Sequé). It is now almost two years since he decided to leave the Rioja appellation.
My Christmas choice is white although it’s really hard to pick just one wine. That’s why I suggest two whites made in different styles and from different wine regions. They are made by Ester Nin in Priorat (Catalonia) and Maite Sánchez in Méntrida (Central Spain).
Selma in Tarragona was the hometown of Ester Nin’s family, a village that was abandoned. Making a wine from a vineyard in Selma evoques the romantic idea of recovering the past. Located at an elevation of 750m, the area is perfect for fresh, focussed wines full of purity, tension and minerality. An unusual blend of Roussanne, Marsanne, Parellada and Chenin Blanc aged in barrel, this is a firm, fine white that is perfect for Christmas meals. It has such a distinctive character that it has been mistaken with wines from colder areas like the Loire when tasted blind.
Selma stands in marked contrast with the natural creaminess of Arrayán Albillo Real. Made from a white variety recovered in Central Spain, I think that my good friend Maite Sánchez has achieved a deep understanding of this grape. She works with very old vineyards located in Almorox (Toledo), at the foot of the Gredos mountains, on distinctive sandy soils that add finesse to the wine. Barrel-aged for seven months, this is a complex, balanced and really well-made white.
Verónica Ortega was born in Cádiz, in southern Spain, but settled down in Bierzo in 2010 after having trained with Álvaro Palacios and legendary French producers Domaine de la Romanée-Conti in Burgundy and Domaine Laurent-Combier in the Rhône. She is a rising star among the new generation of Spanish producers.
Christmas is usually the time to drink old, mature wines that I have stored for a long time -I just love their complexity. In spite of this, glimpses of complexity can also be found in relatively young wines that offer more than just fruit. I must say that I avoid any expectations when I taste. On Wednesdays, we usually organize a meal at the winery for our team and we like to try three or four wines blind. The wines I have chosen today did not only stand out in these tastings; I was deeply touched by both of them. Interestingly, I have never tasted them together, but I cannot think of them separately and they keep coming to my mind as superb wines to share and enjoy.
Although they are both very different in style and are made by different people in distant places, they both transmit sensibility and courage. I have known Vicky Torres from La Palma for a long time and I am very fond of her whites. I had a bottle of Negramoll that I was reluctant to open, but it was served at our blind tastings and the whole team was deeply impressed with the wine. Since that day, I think of Vicky as a red wine producer too. I haven’t met Julia Casado, but I felt exactly the same when I tasted La Cañada del Terreno, a terrific Monastrell from Bullas. Perhaps these are not your customary Christmas wines, but I have picked them for their ability to thrill and surprise.
Sara Pérez divides her time between Mas Martinet, the family winery set up by his father Josep Lluis Pérez, one of Priorat’s legendary pioneers, and the wines she makes with her husband René Barbier Jr. in Priorat and Montsant (Venus La Universal). Sara has also consulted for leading producers in their respective wine regions like Celler del Roure and Mustiguillo in Valencia or Dominio do Bibei in Ribeira Sacra. She is a staunch defender of vine heritage and organic wine growing.
I love the work of Bodegas Frontonio, a small producer from Aragón. There are three main reasons why I like this wine so much and I think it is a great choice for Christmas.
First of all, because it involves the recovery of an area with great potential which, like my area, it has also been neglected. Secondly because I think that Spain needs more red wines with less extraction that are capable of showing this kind of elegance. Garnacha is versatile enough to produce wines in the style of a southern Rhone. It also combines elegance with a certain amount of tannins leaving room for wines to be aged as it is done by producers like Bartolo Mascarello in Barolo or Roumier in Burgundy. And the third reason is that this is a wine that favours low-intervention.
As a winemaker, my main goal is that wine tastes very good while retaining typicity. But if you are able to achieve this without interfering, it is like climbing mounts Everest or K2 without oxygen. This is the most important thing I have learned during my two stays with Pierre Overnoy in Jura.
Pepe Raventós is the third generation behind Raventós i Blanc and the 21st working the family vineyards where he now applies biodynamics. He has recently released a range of natural wines under the brand Can Sumoi and his very own wines featuring his name.
This is one of the wines that best epitomize a very particular style of Fino that is no longer mainstream. Aged using Sherry’s traditional solera system for nine to ten years on average, it really feels very far away from the minimum two-year ageing period established for this category by the Consejo Regulador.
Extended aging allows the wine to develop beautifully over time. It is a big contrast with modern Finos that are not aged at all (people use the local expression “remontarse” to describe this flaw) because the stabilization and clarification processes modern finos go through remove much of its substance. Drunk just after their release, these young Finos surely taste fresh and nice, but they would not endure the passing of time.
Inocente Valdespino’s main virtue is its complexity, obtained from extended ageing that results in long-lived Finos. Moreover, the high availability of the wine and its extremely competitive price ensures that all aficionados can enjoy it. I find this wine really inspiring.
Peter Sisseck has been living in Spain since the 1990s. Creator of the legendary Pingus in Ribera del Duero, this Dane works as a consultant for Clos D'Agon in Catalonia and is a partner at Château Rocheyron in Saint-Émilion (Bordeaux) with Silvio Denz, one of its owners. Last year he started to work in Jerez with Carlos del Río, owner of Hacienda Monasterio, the producer that brought him to Spain and where he still works as consultant.
I have known Irene Alemany and Laurent Corrió from Alemany i Corrió for many years now. They are an affectionate, genuine couple who conveys authenticity and do a really great job in Penedès. They met years ago in Burgundy while studying Oenology and since then they have passionately devoted themselves to winemaking. Additionally, they are involved in the fight against cancer and regularly raise funds for Hospital Vall d'Hebron in Barcelona with their wine Microscopi.
They settled down in 1999 in Penedès, where Irene hails from, to produce their own wines from a small, artisan winery where they pay attention to every minute detail. They favor a reductive style of wines as they don’t clarify or filter -they do a great job and try to express the terroir of their eight hectares of vineyards.
Principia Mathematica is a single-vineyard white made in DO Penedès. Grapes are sourced from a 30-year-old Xarel.lo plot located in Sant Pere de Molanta (Alt Penedès). The wine is directly pressed and fermented in new 228-litre and 700-litre French oak barrels. Two-thirds of the wine is aged in those barrels and the rest goes into stainless steel tanks.
The nose is powerful and fragrant, with citrus nuances, a touch of fennel and light nutmeg and toasted notes from the barrel aging. The wine’s great acidity acts as a real backbone with citrus fruit, spices and a voluptuous texture ending in a long, elegant finish.