Spain’s Diversity Uncorked (Sort of)
By David Lawrason, with notes from John Szabo MS
Spanish wine continues to surprise, challenge and often delight both the palate and the pocket book. In May I spent a week in the Catalonia region, first in Priorat then in Penedès and Barcelona with its umpteen thousand restaurants. I had expected to be wowed by Priorat (about which I will write in depth soon) but I had not expected to be so impressed by the range, diversity and quality of the sparklers, whites (in particular) and reds emerging from other Catalan DOs (appellations) like Conca de Barbera, Costers del Segre and Terra Alta. And to think that such diversity, and such greatly improved winemaking, is being replicated in regions large and small from the Mediterranean to the Atlantic, and south into the centre of the country as well.
This VINTAGES release aims to showcase Spain’s regional and varietal diversity, and provides some decent value wines en route, if no stunning “must buy values”. But I would love to see more specialized regional releases from Spain. When was the last time VINTAGES mounted a feature solely on “France”, or “Italy”? Never! Spain’s regions need to be embraced the same way as Tuscany or Bordeaux or the Southern Rhône. And it certainly has enough regional diversity to provide several features over several months.
I have heard from two reputable sources that VINTAGES put out “a call” for Spanish wine submissions and received about 1,400 applications (on paper). Less than 50 were actually sampled, and only 15 were purchased (that’s just over 1%). The first shocker is that so many Spanish wineries want access to the LCBO/Ontario market; the second is just how ridiculously limited VINTAGES offerings are, with no other available retail venues for the wines. (See last month’s rant about Canadian wine for the reason why).
So yes, Spain is a brave new world for wine exploration and if you are curious you should seriously consider travelling there to grasp its vinous depth. Never mind that it is one of the most historically rich countries in the world. And that the food is fantastic as well, reaching far beyond stereotypes of paella, jamon and tapas.
This week John and I offer our recommendations from the Spanish release, while Sara vacations and tastes in the south of France. We also offer other white wine finds. Next week John leads off with chardonnays coming to VINTAGES and the International Cool Climate Chardonnay Celebration July 17-19. We have a handful of seats remaining on the WineAlign bus to the Grand Tasting & Dinner on July 18. John Szabo will be joining the group for dinner, so you can compare tasting notes at the al fresco feast.
Spanish Cavas and Whites
Juvé & Camps 2011 Cinta Purpura Reserva Brut Cava, Penedès, Spain ($18.95)
David Lawrason – Fine character and complexity here from one of the most highly regarded producers of Penedès. It is aged 24 months on its lees before release. It shows a generous, complex nose of baked peach, hazelnut and dried flowers with a touch of lees. Nicely fresh but has some substance as well.
John Szabo – Another terrific Cava, on the more mature, richer side of the spectrum, for use at the table rather than aperitif hour.
Gramona 2006 Iii Lustros Gran Reserva Brut Nature Cava, Penedès, Spain ($49.95)
John Szabo – This was a brave listing by the LCBO, a $50 wine in a category that rarely exceeds $20. The wine, however, is absolutely superb. This has all of the class and complexity of great traditional method sparkling wine, crafted in artisanal fashion by Jaume and Xavier Gramona, the fifth generation of a family business established in 1881. If you thought Cava was trapped in the cheap and cheerful bubbly category, this will change your mind.
Finca Las Caraballas 2013 Verdejo,Vino de la Tierra de Castilla y Leon, Spain ($16.95)
David Lawrason – This is an organically produced, fairly deeply coloured young Verdejo. Not from Rueda but is made in the proximity. It is almost overripe with yellow plum jam/raisiny fruit, fennel, nut shell and waxiness. Quite full bodied, very smooth, with great flavour depth.
John Szabo – This will be a polarizing wine, already golden amber and clearly made in a highly oxidative style. But forget the standard paradigms. Is the wine good? On that score, the wine succeeds. This is like a juicy, overripe mango that has fallen from the tree, sprinkled with sea salt and a squeeze of lemon and tangerine. For the price, it’s worth the punt to expand your horizons.
Alta Alella 2014 Pansa Blanca, Catalunya, Spain ($14.95)
David Lawrason – Pansa Blanca is a local name for the xarel-lo grape, one of three used in Cava. This still wine version is produced by Alta Allela, a leading organic producer. It is very brightly made – no organic funk here. Expect fairly reserved, almost overripe yellow plum, mild fresh mint and spice.
Spanish Reds & Fortified
Cune 2010 Reserva, Rioja ($23.95)
John Szabo – Traditional Rioja is one of the great wines of the world, and CVNE (Compañía Vinícola del Norte de España), a grand old Bodega in the heart of Haro in the Rioja Alta, is one of the protagonists. Since 1879 they’ve been crafting wines like this Reserva, finely balanced, mid-weight, firm, nicely chiseled. Although drinkable now, this will be much better in 2-4 years, or hold until the mid ’20s without issue.
David Lawrason – This is quite refined, well balanced young Rioja from a classic, traditional producer. The nose shows fairly generous, soft aromas of cherry, vanillin, cedar and burlap/earthiness. It’s mid-weight, fairly tender yet generous.
Bodegas Ochoa 2007 Reserva, Navarra ($24.95)
David Lawrason – This single vineyard tempranillo-cabernet-merlot blend has an engaging, very lifted nose of rosemary/mint, blackcurrant with meaty notes and some soya character. It’s mid-weight, elegant, dense and lifted with vibrant acidity.
Peña 2010 Roble Crianza, Ribera del Duero, Spain ($21.95)
John Szabo – A mid-weight, balanced, lively, saliva-inducing tempranillo, with light, dusty tannins and firm acids. This works nicely on a gastronomic level.
Maetierra Dominum 2007 Quatro Pagos, Rioja ($19.95)
David Lawrason – This is a ‘vino do pago’ or estate wine, assembled from four separately vinified sites (quarto pagos) belonging to a winery called Maetierra Dominum. It’s based on tempranillo; a mature Rioja showing lifted meaty, smoky, spicy and dark cherry notes. It’s medium-full bodied and quite dense, with some liveliness and further ageing potential.
Tomàs Cusiné 2013 Llebre, Costers del Segre ($15.95)
David Lawrason – This is a fresh young tempranillo (called llebre in Catalan) from an inland region of Catalonia. It has a lifted, spicy, peppery almost Rhonish nose with violets and generous wood spice. It’s quite soft, a touch sweet with some warmth (14% alc) and generosity.
Chapillon Siendra 2011, Calatayud ($14.95)
David Lawrason – This is from Bodegas Langa, the oldest and largest family winery in the interior, high altitude region of Calatayud. It is 80% old vine garnacha spiced with cabernet, merlot and syrah. The nose is almost sweet with violet/pansy florality, chocolate and ripe plummy/blackberry fruit. It’s open-knit, dense, soft and a bit sweet.
Gonzalez Byass Del Duque Vors Amontillado, Vinum Optimum Rare Signatum, Jerez, ($38.95)
John Szabo – Terrific to see this back on our shelves, an outstanding old Amontillado, one of my favourites from the excellent Gonzalez-Byass range. VORS means a minimum of 30 years of age, and the first whiff is “like opening the door of an antique shop” according to capataz Antonio Flores, in a fireworks display of complexity. The palate is explosive, powerful, yet still suave and smooth, with tremendous length. Needless to say, value is off the charts.
Other International Whites
Salomon-Undhof 2013 Kremser Tor Grüner Veltliner, Alte Reben, Kremstal, Austria ($21.95)
David Lawrason – From a classic Kremstal-based producer dating back over 200 years, this is a bright, rich and quite fruity young grüner – a bit softer than some, but it has polish and freshness. Expect gentle aromas of yellow pear/plum fruit. It is great to find this quality at the $20 mark.
John Szabo – If you like wines with a sense of place, you can’t go wrong with this genuine old vine beauty. I love the substance without excessive ripeness, and at 13.5% declared, this hits a fine balance. Give it another year in the bottle to really come together.
Domaine Des Baumard 2011 Clos de Saint Yves Savennières, Loire, France ($34.95)
John Szabo – For some inexplicable reason, the top wines of Savennières have never achieved the prices of other great whites from around the world, but they surely should be counted among them. This is ultra-classic chenin blanc with its honest, wet hay, barley, wheat cracker, and honey flavours, very generous texturally but shapely and firm, but more importantly, chock-full of sapid, salty mineral character. It’s the sort of timeless wine you can enjoy now or in a decade, or more. Best 2015-2026.
Tawse Sketches Of Niagara 2013 Riesling, Niagara Peninsula ($17.95)
David Lawrason – For several years now Tawse Sketches Riesling has been punching above its weight. Not in terms of complexity and structure, but in delivering effortless, super bright, balanced, sippable riesling with textbook fruit, florals and just enough minerality. The excellent 2013 white vintage in Niagara adds to its cachet. A great buy under $20.
Gerovassiliou 2014 Malagousia Vieilles Vignes, IGP Epanomi, Macedonia, Greece ($23.95)
John Szabo – I reckon you might as well have your introduction to this variety from the man who literally rescued it from near oblivion in the 1970s. Gerovassiliou is still the reference for Malagousia in Greece (and thus the world), and his 2014, a full, rich, fleshy, abundantly fruity wine, drinks like top end viognier.
Reinhold Haart 2013 Haart To Heart Piesport Riesling, Mosel ($19.95)
John Szabo – A terrific Mosel riesling to buy by the case, from one of the great producers in Piesport. I’d swear there is some declassified “GG” (Grosses Gewächs, or grand cru) blended in here.
And that’s a wrap for this edition. WineAlign has set new readership records in recent weeks, during a traditionally slower season. We thank you for your continued support and enthusiasm. We hope you are enjoying some down time during our not-yet-too-hot summer.
From VINTAGES July 11th, 2015
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