Over the first four months of life of our site and thanks to a great team of contributors we at SWL have tried to bring Spanish wines closer to wine enthusiasts around the world. Our last article in 2014 highlights the wines that have moved us most among those tasted throughout the year. Although not necessarily the best, they either exhibit an impressive character that makes them stand out from the rest or offer exceptional value for money; these wines go beyond quality and arouse emotions.
It isn’t by chance that most of us have been inspired by Jerez, classic Rioja vintages, Grenache from different areas, recovered grape varieties or regions working their way towards finesse.
Many thanks to all SWL contributors for sharing these highly personal choices.
La Rioja Alta Gran Reserva 890 Selección Especial 2001 Red, Rioja. The highest expression of a classical red in the best vintage. This is what perfection would taste like -a score of 100 out of 100 in modern terms. Balanced, deep, complex, finely built and long. This wine will be iconic and will keep Rioja’s flag high for at least the next 50 years.
Toro Albalá Don PX Convento 1946 Sweet, Montilla-Moriles. This 68-year-old wine oozes fruit, energy, flamenco singing mystique and a black light that only the most in-tense sun can bring. Whether it is a miracle of nature or a human feat, this wine just brings utter joy and pleasure.
Having a Parker score of 100, this wine is really hard to find. It can be purchased in Europe at El Sumiller (€195) or Vila Viniteca (€195) where large-format bottles are also available. Other countries via Wine Searcher.
Bernabeleva Cantocuerdas Albillo 2013 White, Vinos de Madrid. This wine comes from a grape variety and a region that are rousing from their lethargy to turn into a standard-bearer for quality Spanish wine. A deeply original white, it evokes mountains, heat and cold, hard lives and precious fruits. Discreet as its Castilian origins befit and subtly great. A wine that sets high expectations and will be surely followed by finer versions. Do not miss it while you can- it is still inexpensive.
Alma de Valdeguerra Off-dry 2013, Vinos de Madrid. Made by Bodega Vinos y Aceites Laguna in Villaconejos (Madrid). This young fruity wine is made from Malvar, a minority grape which was recovered in 1995 by the Madrid government. It is very easy to drink and shows a good balance between aromas, acidity, sugar and carbonic. Fermentation is stopped. It comes from the Valdeguerra area, with a great wine production tradition that is threatened by urban development. This wine pleases most palates and offers unbeatable value for money.
Viña Bosconia Reserva 2004, Red, Rioja. A red wine made by López de Heredia (Haro), with over 125 years of history and al-ways managed by the same family. I hadn’t tasted Viña Bosconia for a few years, but I found it to be balanced, with aging notes but fresh and clearly fruity, showing its Tem-pranillo character. Its colour is more intense than its brothers at the winery or other Rioja classics. With a lower price tag than Viña Tondonia, it is a very interesting wine to look out for.
Find this wine in Europe at Vinissumus (€17,50).
Peña el Gato Garnacha 2012, Red, Rioja. Made by Juan Carlos Sancha in Baños de Rio Tobía (La Rioja), this wine ferments in 500-litre French oak barrels and is aged for 13 months. It is a highly personal red, com-ing for very old Garnacha vines and shows fruity aromas, with the typical acidity found in Atlantic Garnachas and well integrated oak. A very interesting wine at an affordable price which will please winelovers in search of something special.
Find this wine at Barcelona Vinos (€13,92).
Inocente Fino Grupo Estévez, Jerez. It is neither a new wine nor a special bottling, but this fino is a great reminder of the immense value that Jerez is able to offer, even at entry level and beyond its oldest relics. This fino perfectly reflects both the complexity of flor aging and the character of the local terroir -the distinctive albariza soil found on the Macharnudo vineyard. Offering an unbeatable value at less than €10 a bottle, Inocente Fino is intense, elegant, deep, saline and with a hint of chalk as a reminder of its origins.
Aires de Garbet 2012 Red, Castillo Perelada, Empodà-Costa Brava. This choice is the result of an emotive experience during my visit to the vineyard where Aires de Garbet is produced. Planted on schist soils and overlooking the sea, the scent of rosemary and other Mediterranean herbs dominates this spot near the French border. These aromas are transmitted onto the wine, as I could discover the following day.
This Grenache also highlights a new era for the variety in Spain. In fact, I could have included almost a dozen Grenache-based wines in this list, all of them combining a seductive and savoury palate with depth and a distinctive freshness and acidity, the latter coming from the best placed vineyards. No doubt Grenache deserves a place of pride among Spanish great reds.
Find this wine in Europe at Vinissimus (€38.25).
Castillo Ygay Gran Reserva Especial 1980 Mágnum Red, Rioja. I tasted this wine with Vicente Cebrián-Sagarriga when I visited the newly revamped and spectacular Marqués de Murrieta winery last September. This vintage was bottled 10 years ago mostly in magnum. It offers everything you could expect from a classic rioja -complex aromas such as dried figs, quince, cinnamon, fine leather and dusty notes, as well as smoothness on the palate. Additionally, it is extremely juicy and long with hints of raspberry on the finish and a constant evolution in the glass. Time can indeed enhance the greatness of certain wines.
Garnachas from Sierra de Gredos. 2014 has been my personal year of multi-coloured Grenache. Red, white and grey. From Méntrida, Madrid, Cebreros, Empordà, Priorat, Campo de Borja… However, if I had to pick just one, this year, it would be Gredos. Wines that are not pursuing concentration, but delicacy in the palate and power in the expression. Character. I think the future (and fortunately, The Present!) of Spanish wines lies in controlling ripeness in order to limit alcohol levels and gaining acidity and freshness. This is why I enjoy these Garnachas so much and never get tired of them. Some names:
Jiménez Landi Piélago 2010 Red, Méntrida. I like the Syrah component adding spice and violets. It reminds me of the freshest styles of Crozes-Hermitage.
Bernabeleva. Navaherreros 2011 Red, Vinos de Madrid. I just don’t get tired of this wine: smooth, fresh and aromatic herb nuances.
Lustau East India Solera, Sherry. I’ve lost count of how many bottles of this wine I have opened in different tastings. The first time I used it for a pairing exercise was to match a dessert in a Christmas menu at Le Cordon Bleu Madrid. It was a Madagascar Vanilla ice-cream, wrapped in crispy merengue and covered with chestnut puré spaghetti… Oh my! Did we like it! The blend of Oloroso and Pedro Ximénez is out-standing. It reaches a perfect level of sweetness, coupled with an incredible complexity and long, long, long flavours… After that master class, I have never stopped using this wine to talk about the combination of sweet wines and desserts and it never lets me down. Specially, when it’s just the two of us, a good film and a piece of good dark chocolate.
Mature Albariños. Pazo Barrantes 1989, 1994, 1996, 2000, 2011, 2012, 2013, Rías Baixas. We drink Albariño too young! We don’t give it enough time to develop its full potential, because we drink it too early. From here, I encourage everyone to cellar a few bottles of the current vintage to prove that Rías Baixas Albariño has an enormous ageing potential. During my collaboration with the winery, I had the chance to taste several jaw-dropping vintages of Pazo Barrantes. Nine wines between 1989 and 2013. But we don’t need to go as far back as 1989 to realize this. One just has to taste 2010 to check how Albariño gains in harmony and roundness and obviously in complexity: ripe stone fruit, dry apricot, beeswax, pain d’epices, smokiness… These are some of my notes for Barrantes 1989, but check out 2010: Freshness, ripe fruit, balsamic and mineral. Long and intense. Incredibly fresh. Not bad, ain’t it?
Despite its popularity or the rise of other native grapes in Spain, nothing can beat a ripe Tempranillo. It can be fruity and light, but it can also produce legendary wines suitable for long aging when it comes from old vines, expresses terroir without letting oak take over or is planted at high altitude to compensate for its inclination to ripe early. Even areas known for robust wines such as Ribera del Duero are in the midst of change with wineries choosing to make elegant wines with delicate tannins that express the aromas and flavors of their terroir.
Altos del Terral Crianza 2010 Red, Ribera del Duero. What I like best about this Tempranillo is the experience of delving into the La Horra parcels to unhurriedly model the deep tannins and aromas found in the area’s old vineyards. Isabel Palomar has man-aged to transfer the sandy loam soils onto her more modest wines to obtain a local Tinta del País (Tempranillo) wine that is fresh and full of scrub and red fruit aromas. It is an intriguing wine with marked acidity given that the vines are planted at 900 metres above sea level. It can be enjoyed now but it would be a shame not to let it rest for a few years.
Dominio del Águila 2010 Red, DO Ribera del Duero. Jorge Monzón likes to be known as a vigneron, but he has developed a very refined nose after his stints at Vega Sicilia and Arzuaga. Along with partner Isabel Rodero, an architect who has fallen prey to the vineyard, they cultivate 50 hectares of very old organic Tinta del País vines at La Aguilera, in the northern province of Burgos. Their dream is to make great village wines in stone lagares (vats) where grapes are trodden in the traditional way, mixing biodynamic preparations with valerian and herbs to work the land. This Tempranillo is blended with drops of Bobal, Garnacha and Blanca del País, like the traditional wines in the area, and shows forest floor aromas, fresh herbs and wild raspberry notes despite being aged in small oak vats and bottle for 30 months. In fact, some of Jorge’s favorite wines are the old Janus by Pesquera or the first Gran Reserva by Valsotillo.
Sherry wines. I have learnt a lot about wine while studying for the WSET 2 and 3 exams this year. I think it was during all those hours spent learning about distant regions and tasting reds and whites from around the world that I realized how little attention I had paid to sherry despite it being at my doorstep. A fascinating and educational trip to the Sherry Triangle put an end to such injustice and made me fall in love with these wines, perhaps “the most distinctive contribution to come out of Spain in winemaking terms”, as Jancis Robinson says.
I find it difficult to choose just one wine among the variety of sherry styles available - they are all versatile and easy to pair with all kinds of food. But as I have to stick to one, I choose Gabriela Oro, a manzanilla en rama (unfiltered) coming from the Balbaína vineyard in Jerez but aged for 9-10 years in old casks at Sánchez Ayala in Sanlucar. Gold in colour, it displays intense and persistent aromas of biological aging. It is saline, complex and expressive on the palate and delicious to drink as an aperitif along with a small plate of olives or paired with some clams or an oven-cooked sea bream.
Hard to find as Sánchez Ayala trades mostly as almacenista, selling to other wineries. It is available at the winery’s shop in Sanlúcar (€15), at selected bars in Seville and Málaga and in the UK, through importer Les Caves de Pyrenne (€30). Equipo Navazos also selects its Botas de Manzanilla 42 and 55 from this winery, which can be bought at El Sumiller (€19.35) and Bodeboca (€22).
Phinca Abejera 2011 Red, DSG Vineyards, Rioja. Behind this project is David Sampedro, one of the rising stars in Rioja, who farms his vineyards using biodynamic techniques. In this blend he includes Tempranillo, Graciano (40% each) and a touch of Garnacha and Viura (10% each) coming from a west-facing plot with limestone soils. The result is an extremely original and complex wine with an appealing nose, pungent rosemary aromas and plenty of liveliness on the palate.
Bastión de la Luna 2012 Red, Forjas do Salnés, Rias Baixas. The new trend among consumers towards fresher, less extracted wines fits perfectly with the style of reds being produced in many Galician regions such as Ribeira Sacra, Valdeorras or Rias Baixas, traditionally associated with whites. Bastión de la Luna is a fresh, fruity red made from old vines of Caíño, Espadeiro and Loureiro native varieties. Clearly Atlantic and mineral, it is unpretentious and elegant and represents great value for money. It is made in a small family winery but under the eyes of well-known winemaker Raúl Pérez.
Vega Sicilia Único Gran Reserva 2004 Red, Ribera del Duero. Everyone is aware of the great quality found in Vega Sicilia’s wines, Spain’s leading and most renowned producer. This recent vintage is no exception: great aging potential, elegant and complex. If you just happen to drink the wine along with the winery’s staff at a US event commemorating its 150 years of history… it really is something else.
Pesquera Janus Gran Reserva 2003 Red, Ribera del Duero. A classic in the history of Spanish wine, Alejandro Fernández managed, once again, to produce an outstanding wine in a challenging vintage. Intensely perfumed, with spicy and smoky notes, fresh and complex. The great thing here is that this bottle had been resting for about eight months with barely 100ml of wine -the rest had been taken out with a Coravin.
Cvne Viña Real Reserva 1981 Red, Rioja. I went to San Sebastian last October on a work trip. I wanted to make a good impression on two Americans traveling with me so I took them to Rekondo for lunch. We ordered some wine from his extensive list, but owner Txomin, a great guy, brought us a bottle of this wine. We were exhausted and couldn’t finish it, but we savored it over the next couple of days - it was even more delicious at every sip.