Spain and Thanksgiving
by John Szabo MS, with notes from David Lawrason and Sara d’Amato
John Szabo, MS
This week, the WineAlign Crü takes a look at VINTAGES’ first serious crack at raising the profile, and average price, of Spanish wines in Ontario, with a handful of top buys and multiple “triple alignments” between us. And since Thanksgiving is around the corner, we’ve also assembled our favorites from the October 3rd release, laid out in handy menu format; just plug and play.
Welcome Back, Spain
Consider for a moment some of Spain’s contributions to world culture. The country is a mecca for students of architecture, offering an encyclopaedic range from Frank Gehry’s landmark Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, to Antonio Gaudi’s magnificent designs in Barcelona, the spellbinding high Renaissance masterpiece El Escorial near Madrid by Juan Bautista de Toledo, the serene beauty of the Moorish magnum opus Alhambra Palace in Granada, the radical juxtaposition of Islam and gothic Catholicism in Córdoba’s Mezquita, countless medieval churches and monasteries, and even one of the old world’s best-preserved Roman aqueducts in Segovia.
The world’s first novel was penned here – Cervantes’ El ingenioso hidalgo don Quijote de la Mancha, while the international molecular gastronomy movement had its genesis in a small restaurant called elBulli in the hamlet of Roses overlooking the Costa Brava in Catalonia, inspiring a wave of culinary exploration both domestically and internationally. And where would we be with jamón Ibérico, hands-down the world’s best, or those tasty little charred padrón peppers that seem to be popping up on restaurant menus across Ontario, or Marcona almonds or hard Spanish sheep’s cheese in all of it’s kaleidoscopic variety? I haven’t even touched the legions of painters, dancers, filmmakers, musicians….
But what of Spanish wine? Spain of course produces wine, quite a lot of it in fact. The country has more acreage under vine than any other on the planet, and its production history stretches back to the earliest days of trade in the Mediterranean. So why is it you know so much about Spain, but so little about Spanish wine?
For one, Spain was a very latecomer on the international wine scene, having slept through a good part of the 20th century for various, mostly political reasons. It wasn’t until the end of the 20th century that Spanish wine awoke from its 19th century slumber. Alejandro Fernandez and his Tinto Pesquera from Ribera del Duero started to turn heads in the mid-1980s. René Barbier, Álvaro Palacios and their band of radical friends wagered on the immense potential of remote Priorat in the early 1990s, where Carthusian monks had been drawing precious drops from withered old vines clinging to bare rock for centuries in quasi secrecy. Their long odds came in, and they won large.
Soon after, bagpipe-playing vignadores in northern “Green” Spain, more familiar looking to Gaels then Andalucíans, realized that they had a treasure in their aromatic albariño grown in the misty maritime hillsides of Rias Baixas. Their neighbours in Bierzo likewise awoke at the turn of the millennium to find that nobody had replanted a vine for the last century, leaving vast tracks of ancient bush vine mencía for the current generation to exploit, capable of producing Spain’s most elegant reds.
The alarm reverberated throughout the country like the peeling of church bells on Sunday morning. The ripples eventually reached even the sleepiest regions like Calatayud, Campo de Borja and Cariñena, where there, too, they found acre upon acre of ancient hills covered in bonsai-like old garnacha vines, inexpensive to transform into a rich and heady style of wine that the world wants more and more of. The old classics like Rioja and Sherry were compelled to dust off their images and start producing better wines. Viticulture has never been sharper, and terroirs better understood in Rioja then they are today, and their brief, rebound fling with thick and soupy internationalized wines has more or less ended, sagely returning to the marvellously mid-weight, vibrant and savoury, eminently age-worthy reds for which the region is so well suited. And sherry gains new converts every day, at least among smart drinkers who know where to lay down their money to get the most singular and complex drinking experience for the least outlay.
All of these developments, and many more, have been simmering away in Spain for a couple of decades now, but admittedly, you would have been hard-pressed to know it living in Ontario. Few of the exciting wines were imported, and little promotion was done. But, it seems the pot has finally come to a boil.
Last night, Wines from Spain and LCBO-Vintages held the first significant tasting of Spanish wines in Toronto in longer than I can remember. A pre-tasting seminar sold out in short order, and some 350 people crowded into the Roundhouse to sample the wares of nearly three-dozen producers covering a fine cross-section of the industry. Just the week before, the LCBO launched a Spanish Specialty Store, the third in the laudable “Products of the World” initiative (read David’s report about it, and we’re planning a full review of the Spanish selection, triple the previous number of products available). And to line up everything neatly, the October 3rd VINTAGES release features a collection of Spanish wines.
What’s different from previous Spanish releases is the evident effort to shift consumers up-market; the average price of the featured wines is about $30. And while Spain has plenty of excellent wines in the sub-$20 range, those few extra dollars allow you tap into some of the more regionally distinctive and representative wines – the stuff that makes a country unique – as you’ll see in the category-leading Terras Gauda Rias Baixas or the comfortingly classic Viña Real Rioja Gran Reserva. It also permits exploration of some innovative curiosities that aren’t just weird but also wonderful, like the pure Rufete from Bodegas Bhilar, one of the most memorable discoveries at last night’s event.
Let’s hope this is the beginning of a more regular and representative selection of what Spain has to offer, so Ontarians can add wine to the list of Spain’s world culture contribution.
Speaking of Sherry
Love sherry? Or think you might? Check out the Canadian premier screening of Sherry and The Mystery of Palo Cortado, this Sunday October 4th, part of the Eatable Film Festival in Toronto (drinking sherry and eating pintxos is part of the deal). Go all in and have dinner at Bar Isabel after the screening with a crazy collection of sherries presented by winery principals.
Buyers Guide for October 3rd 2015: Spain
Terras Gauda 2013 O Rosal Blanco, Rías Baixas, Spain ($24.95)
David Lawrason – When I first visited this region I remember being so impressed by examples that combined dancing, exotic fragrance and freshness with grounded structured and great depth. This is one of those wines, the best albarino of the year, giving full expression to the grape and the maritime terroir of Galicia.
Sara d’Amato – The O Rosal Blanco is blended from native varieties of albariño, loureira, and caiño blanco and fermented with wild yeast. This complex and highly pleasurable white is perfect for pairing with Thanksgiving fare although I plan to enjoy it all on its own.
John Szabo – Terras Gauda has been a Rias Baixas reference for me for many years now, and this O Rosal (sub-regional designation) may just be the finest yet. A splash of Loureiro adds additional aromatics to albariño’s impressive floral-fruity range, while caiño blanco chisels and tightens the palate with its stony wash. I love the salty taste, too, like the Atlantic mist-infused air of Galicia.
Viña Real 2008 Gran Reserva, Rioja, Spain ($36.95)
John Szabo – Here’s a lovely, succulent, deliciously savoury Rioja, salty and infinitely drinkable. Unlike most in the traditional camp (in which this wine can be included as well), this is not dripping in spicy American oak flavour, but finds a balance between fruit, wood, and developed spicy-earthy character. Length is excellent, too. Drink or hold a dozen years without concern.
David Lawrason – Grand indeed! This traditional Rioja is so elegant, tidy, refined and surprisingly youthful – with subtle floral notes among cherry fruit and fine oak vanillin. Great weave and finesse, and still able to age. Predict peak about 2020.
Sara d’Amato – Opulent and modern with velvety tannins, this Gran Reserva is a standout from other Riojas in this release. Offering the characteristic concentration and ageability of a wine at this level with only a hint of maturity. A cooler weather wine best enjoyed with hearty stews or braised red meats.
Marqués De Cáceres 2009 Reserva, Rioja, Spain ($24.95)
John Szabo – Firm, succulent, juicy, genuinely savoury and saline Rioja from the ever-reliable Marqués de Cáceres, this has firmness and cut, mouth-salivating acids and marked minerality. I’d tuck this away for another 3+ years for maximum enjoyment, or hold another decade.
Bodegas Bhilar 2011 Phinca Encanto Rufete, Sierra de Francia, Spain ($32.95)
David Lawrason – This is incorrectly indicated as a Rioja in Vintages catalogue (the winery is based in Rioja but the fruit is from a less well known region in central-northwest Spain). It is a delicious and fascinating wine. Winemaker David Sampedro Gil (“DSG” is its brand) is a young gun from a 5th generation of vintners who is on mission is recover indigenous varieties. Rufete is an early-ripening, well-under-the-radar red grape centred in the Duero/Douro region of Spain/Portugal. It is all tangy cranberry (making it a great Thanksgiving turkey pick as well).
Sara d’Amato – A rather unusual find, this 100% Rufete (also known as tinta pinheira in Portugal) is a real stunner. Although my reference for this a wine such as this is quite low, the grape is known for producing wine with high acids and tannins and thus with great ageing potential. This example is immensely compelling offering verve and intensity with a complex array of flavours from clove and plum to kirsch and violets.
John Szabo – Damned if this isn’t both intriguing, and high quality. I can’t say classic rufete (can anyone?) nor even classic Spanish style, but fans of sharper, mid-weight reds – think nebbiolo, or cool climate syrah or pinot noir – will get into this. Tannins are still a bit burly, but there’s enough weight and density to envision future harmony, after 2017 or so I’d speculate. An exciting find.
Baron de Ley 2008 Gran Reserva, Rioja, Spain ($29.95)
Sara d’Amato – Because a Gran Reserva must be held back for at least five years, older releases such as this 2008 are not uncommon. This traditional version from a reliable producer delivers great intensity and power for the price. Still quite youthfully rugged, the wine deserves time in a decanter or another 2-3 years tucked away before it can be optimally enjoyed.
Buyers’ Guide For October 3rd 2015: Thanksgiving dinner
Bubbles to start
Jansz Premium Cuvée Tasmania, Australia ($26.95)
John Szabo – Along with Ontario, and Crémant de Bourgogne, Tasmania should be on your list of sources for fine value, traditional method sparkling. Jansz is among the most reliable (and regularly available) names in Ontario, a bright, lively and fresh version. I like the vibrant citrus-orange zest and freshly baked white bread aromatics, and the well-measured crisp-dry-balanced palate. Fine length, too.
White & Rosé
2013 Bründlmayer Kamptaler Terrassen Grüner Veltliner Dac Kamptal, Austria ($24.95)
John Szabo – A terrific, arch-classic grüner from Bründlemayer, at once fleshy and lean, richly flavoured but sharply defined and stony. This hits the mark, with expansive finish and broad flavour range, a perfect segue from aperitif into first course.
2014 Coffin Ridge Bone Dry Riesling VQA Ontario Canada ($17.00)
John Szabo – The best yet from young Coffin Ridge Crisp, this is bone dry (as advertised), lime-flavoured Riesling, uncompromising, reminiscent of the Clare Valley in Australia (a good reference). Ready to crack open your taste buds.
Angels Gate 2010 Mountainview Chardonnay, Beamsville Bench, Niagara, Ontario, Canada ($19.95)
Sara d’Amato – I was pleasantly surprised by the outstanding value this Beamsville Bench chardonnay delivers with appealing viscosity, great concentration of fruit and very good length of finish. The oak is a tad showy but also seductive and integrated. A rich offering that will prove a decadent addition to a Thanksgiving feast.
Seresin 2012 Chardonnay, Marlborough, New Zealand ($24.95)
David Lawrason – This profound, complex chardonnay has the stuffing to match the big bird and all its stuffing. In fact flavour-wise it is not dissimilar, with buttered asparagus, corn, tobacco, nutmeg and barley sugar. It is biodynamically farmed, giving it great energy and depth.
Gassier 2014 Sables d’Azur Rosé, Côtes De Provence, Provence, France ($15.95)
Sara d’Amato – We don’t often see a rosé featured this late in the year but it is a welcome addition to this week’s release. Just in time for Thanksgiving, this style of wine makes a versatile pairing for fish, poultry, pork or as a pre-dinner sipper. Well-priced, from a reliable house and offering a dry, crisp palate with a pleasant salinity and notes of lavender and savory herbes de Provence.
Herdade do Sobroso 2013 Sobro Red, Alentejano, Portugal ($14.95)
David Lawrason – I was just about finished a large tasting when along came this lively, smooth and juicy wine packed with sour red fruit, herbs and spices. It was invigorating and pleasant, and just the right weight for a turkey dinner. Then I looked at the price. If your table will be including extended family and friends this year, you can afford three or four bottles of this one.
Stephane Aviron 2012 Vieilles Vignes Morgon Côte du Py, Beaujolais, France ($19.95)
John Szabo – Here’s a terrific cru Beaujolais, firm, meaty, substantially flavoured with an authentic and natural twist. Oenologists may dither about the touch of volatile acidity, but for me, it lifts the earth into the floral sphere and extends the back end. This is no carbonic fruity style, but traditional, old school, worldly gamay with legs to run another half dozen years or more. It’s the cranberry sauce on your Thanksgiving turkey.
Cave Spring 2013 Cabernet Franc, Niagara Escarpment, Ontario ($19.95)
David Lawrason – I hunted through this large release for a great Thanksgiving turkey pinot noir, but couldn’t find one rating highly that was ready to drink. But this charming, lighter weight, pure and well-balanced cab franc will do the trick. Cave Spring is known for riesling but its reds are impressing of late.
Castello Di Volpaia 2012 Riserva Chianti Classico, Tuscany, Italy ($41.95)
John Szabo – This is great vintage for Volpaia – maturing beautifully now – high-toned, floral, savoury and herbal, arch-classic Chianti Classico with elegance, depth and staying power on the palate. Drinking now, or with any Thanksgiving dinner up until the early ‘20s.
Le Vieux Donjon 2013 Châteauneuf-Du-Pape, Rhône, France ($58.95)
John Szabo – If you’re going big, you might as well go really big with this dense and rich, full, fat, sweet and savoury, generously proportioned yet finely tuned CdC – it has the full package. A top vintage for Vieux Donjon. Decant an hour ahead of dinner at least.
Tenuta San Vincenti 2011 Gran Selezione Chianti Classico, Tuscany, Italy ($54.95)
Sara d’Amato – The “Gran Selezione” is a relatively new qualitative rank representing the peak of the pyramid and about 10% of the Chianti Classico produced. This mid-weight red is no lightweight when it comes to flavour and impact. It is wildly complex and its tannins are supple enough for immediate drinking pleasure.
Domaine La Tour Vieille Reserva Banyuls, Roussillon, France ($29.95)
David Lawrason – We see so little Banyuls that it’s almost a must for the curious. It’s a deep amber-brown, fortified ‘vin doux naturel’ with a lifted nose of prunes, walnuts, molasses, and a touch of earthy oxidation. It’s medium-full bodied, sweet, well balanced yet nicely dry and dusty. A wine for meditation after dinner, or with nut and dried fruit based desserts.
That’s all for this week. See you over the next bottle.
John Szabo MS
From VINTAGES Oct 3rd, 2015
Szabo’s Smart Buys
Sara’s Sommelier Selections
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