Learning Spanish and Winter Whites
By John Szabo MS with notes from David Lawrason and Sara d’Amato
¿Hablas español? Either way, you’ll probably learn a few new words in this report, which covers the Spanish feature of the January 24th VINTAGES release. Although Spain may not be able to claim as many indigenous grapes as, say, neighboring Portugal or Italy, there’s a lot more to the country than just tempranillo and garnacha (as good as they can be). There’s a fine collection of oddities and uncommon varieties alongside the classics in the release, one of the most interesting Spanish features I can recall. So if you’re not sure what a graciano is, or if prieto picudo has yet to pass your lips, or if verdejo sounds just kinky enough to give it a go, read on. We’ve assembled ten Spanish wines for your consideration, with some alignment from the winealign crü as well as some solo recos where the love was not universal. So polish up your glass and your Spanish vocabulary and join us for a little fiesta a la española.
This week we’ve also included our top white picks from the release – I’ve called them “Winter Whites”, a marvelously vague theme that allowed us to include pretty much everything we enjoyed. Next week David will follow up with the top kit from South America and the rest of the best reds.
Buyers’ Guide to Spain
Duquesa De Valladolid 2013 Verdejo, Rueda, Spain ($13.95)
David Lawrason – Great value in a spiffy, polished white from a grape variety now fully risen to stardom in this appellation near the River Duero where calcareous soils paint the arid landscape a greyish tone. Is verdejo Spain’s best white grape? That’s a tussle with albariño, but I find verdejo more consistently hitting excitement.
Baron De Ley 2010 Varietales Graciano, DOCa Rioja, Spain ($21.95)
John Szabo – Graciano is a low-yielding, colour and aroma-packed variety happily making a comeback in Spain, mainly in Rioja and neighbouring Navarra. This example is crafted in the traditional style by traditionalist Baron de Ley, with a significant dose of American-oak/toasted coconut and damp cedar flavour alongside zesty-fresh red berry fruit. I bet once you’ve had a sip, you’ll want more.
Finca Los Alijares 2009 Graciano, Vino de la Tierra de Castilla, Spain ($17.95)
John Szabo – This version of graciano is a little further out there, with a wonderfully evolved, spicy, wild range of aromatics. Pure resinous bay leaf/ laurel tree, wet balsa wood, fresh earth and leather lead off, while the palate is pleasantly tart-astringent with a decidedly Old World texture that would be best served with some salt, fat and protein to soften. At the price it’s well worth the detour for some horizon expanding.
David Lawrason – Considered too beefy and rustic to go solo graciano is primarily a blender in Rioja. This departure certainly has heft, with solid acidity and buzz-saw tannin – I like the energy. Somewhat Priorat-like in the structure.
Abelis 2011 Carthago William Selection Crianza, DO Toro, Spain ($23.95)
John Szabo – Toro is downriver from Ribera Del Duero and thus warmer, where tempranillo takes on a riper profile. This is a particularly ambitious version from 45 year-old vines tipping in at 15.5% alcohol with an abundance of oak flavour, which will impress fans of big and bold at the price. Think higher-end Napa cabernet, for example.
David Lawrason – I spent 48 fascinating hours in Toro a few years ago, and was moved by the arid, powerful and picturesque landscape, and the way that power and ruggedness translated to its tempranillo-based reds. The biggest red of the Spanish feature, but proportioned at the same time.
Dominio Dos Tares 2011 Estay Prieto Picudo, Vino de la Tierra de Castilla y León, Spain ($15.95)
John Szabo – Prieto Picudo is another rare red variety of central north-western Spain, somewhere, say, between mencía and tempranillo in style, which is to say naturally high in acid with relatively light tannins. This is a fine and savoury-juicy example, well balanced fleshy and fully satisfying for the money with broad appeal and terrific length, too.
David Lawrason – Another day, another new grape variety. Prieto picudo is a dark skinned grape localized near Leon in northwest Spain. This is a substantial red for the money; wearing a bit too much oak for some perhaps, but offering very good sense of richness and density, especially at $15.95.
Bikandi 2001 Vendimia Seleccionada Reserva, DOCa Rioja Spain ($26.95)
John Szabo – Here’s a fine value for those into mature wines but who don’t want to cellar them for a dozen years. Bikandi has done that for you in this mature, savoury, zesty, old school style Rioja, complete with cinnamon and cedar-tinged oak notes. I like the succulence and juiciness here – this is fine Rioja for current enjoyment, though no rush to dink it, either.
Sara d’Amato – Bright, vibrant and distinctive with still grippy tannins, this surprisingly youthful Rioja delivers an abundance of pleasure with many years ahead. Aged for a whopping 54 months in oak – first in new American barrels for optimum softening followed by a long period in French oak for developing harmony of flavours.
Casa Castillo 2011 El Molar, DO Jumilla Spain ($17.95)
John Szabo – A heart-warming, heady, 100% grenache from southern Spain, with a generous 15% alcohol, for those cold winter nights.
Macho Man 2012 Monastrell, DO Jumilla Spain ($18.95)
John Szabo – I honestly never thought I would ever recommend a wine called “Macho Man”. But I feel ok about it, since it’s not entirely true to its name. It’s rather more of a light-mid-weight man, freshly shaved, sprightly, with even a slightly tender side. In fact, it’s really not very macho at all. If the silly name and label still make you uncomfortable, ask that guy loitering outside the LCBO to buy it for you and just put a bag over it, or decant and quickly discard the bottle in your neighbour’s recycling bin.
Señorío De Sarría 2009 Viñedo No.8 Mazuelo Crianza, Navarra, Spain ($17.95)
David Lawrason – From a grand agricultural estate in the Pyrenees foothills comes a mazuelo (alias carignan) with a firm, rustic, almost hard-ass ambiance. Some true grit here; I would like to see it age even further. I like its drive.
Sueño 2011 Tempranillo, Ribera Del Júcar, Spain, ($18.95)
Sara d’Amato – Low cropped, 50-year old vines are used to produce this absolutely sensual tempranillo. Ribera del Jucar is one of Spain’s youngest DOs and tends to produce tempranillo with a remarkable degree of refinement and perfumed aromatics such as this great value.
Vinessens 2011 Sein, Alicante, Spain, ($17.95)
Sara d’Amato – This southeastern coastal region is home to some great value monastrell (aka mourvèdre) grown on its loose, sandy soils. This monastrell/syrah blend shows considerable purity of fruit, freshness and an enticing peppery quality.
Buyers’ Guide to Winter Whites
Bachelder 2012 Bourgogne Chardonnay, AC Burgundy, France ($35.95)
John Szabo – A wine crafted in the typical Bachelder style, with evolved flavours from long elevage, yet retaining a good dose of fruit. Honeyed-wet stone flavours lead the profile, ample and mouth filing, with really quite exceptional length and depth overall. This is one of the more concentrated Bourgogne Blancs I’ve tasted from the typically light 2012 vintage.
Vignerons De Buxy 2010 Les Chaniots Montagny 1er Cru, AC Burgundy, France ($25.95)
John Szabo– A fine value from the Côte Châlonnaise from the reliable co-op of Buxy, savoury and succulent. The quality of the 2010 vintage shines here in spades, a year of balanced, minerally wines with genuine power and depth. A great entry point for classic Bourgogne fans.
Domaine Chatelaine 2013 Les Vignes De Saint-Laurent-l’Abbaye, AC Pouilly Fumé, France ($21.95)
John Szabo – The 12th generation now runs the family domaine, and this wine hails from an old Abbey vineyard planted since the 12th century. It’s a crisp, elegant, mineral and highly representative bottle of Pouilly-Fumé.
Porcupine Ridge 2014 Sauvignon Blanc, WO Western Cape, South Africa ($13.95)
John Szabo – A tidy value here from Marc Kent (of Boekenhootskloof in Franshhoek) unmistakably South African with its wet hay and iodine flavours, and with depth, weight and complexity easily beyond the asking price.
Rosehall Run 2013 Hungry Point Unoaked Chardonnay, Prince Edward County, Ontario ($19.95)
David Lawrason – Hungry Point is the new name for the Cuvee County tier of estate grown wines at Rosehall Run. The entire area that juts into Lake Ontario was once called Hungry Point because its windswept stony soils were so poor for growing traditional food crops. Vines, on the other hand, thrive. The cooler vintage and absence of muffling oak have ignited the fruit here – all kinds of County energy and surprising depth of flavour.
Anselmann 2012 Edesheimer Ordensgut Weissburgunder Kabinett Trocken, Pfalz, Germany ($13.95)
David Lawrason – When travelling Germany two years ago I was most surprised and taken not by riesling, or pinot noir, but by weissburgunder, alias pinot blanc. It inspired me to focus much more attention on this grape from various parts of the world, and I continue to be impressed. This is a slim but intense example bursting with flavour, and excellent length. $13.95, are you kidding me?
Château De Jurque 2012 Fantaisie Jurançon Sec, Southwest France, ($19.95)
Sara d’Amato – Produced on steep slopes of the foothills of the Pyrenees, this dry Jurancon is a typical blend of gros and petit manseng. Jurançon wines are reputed to have powers of virility, in fact, advertisers have long used the motto: “Manseng means Jurançon means Sex” – best to tuck this vibrant, earthy treat away for Valentine’s Day.
Kellerei St. Magdalena 2013 Pinot Grigio, Südtirol Alto Adige, Italy, ($16.95)
Sara d’Amato – This ethereal beauty is not your typical, indistinct pinot grigio but one which offers a lofty texture, crunchy salinity, lush peach and floral notes and punctuated by a hint of delicate bergamot. Pretty, compelling and head-turning.
Imako 2013 Vino Majestic Temjanika, Republic Of Macedonia ($13.95)
Sara d’Amato – In the weird and wonderful category, this inexpensive delight is worth a try for the adventurous. The temjanika grape is a local clone of muscat blanc a petit grains common in the south of France. This very floral example is slightly off-dry with notes of tangerine, licorice and meringue – it should prove a delight with soft, creamy cheeses.
Touring Tuscany & Piedmont
Consider joining me next October in Tuscany and Piedmont for an insider’s deluxe gastronomy tour via Indus Travel. Only fluffy, unlumpy pillows and high thread count sheets, plus daily diet of white truffles, cooking classes, 5-star relaxation and of course, plenty of wine tastings. It will be memorable. Details: http://www.indus.travel/tour/tuscany-and-barolo-with-john-szabo
John Szabo MS
From VINTAGES January 24th, 2015:
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