Why stop at ‘R’? An A-Z of Spanish Wines
By Steve McNeill, Trainee Manager of Majestic Wine Amersham
Many of us know and love the land of tapas, cava, sangria, summer holidays and FC Barcelona. The delights of this diverse and welcoming country have long been admired by us Brits. But how far do we look beyond Rioja when choosing Spanish wines?
Spain was already a major wine-producing region for the Romans at the height of the Empire and is now home to some of the world’s greatest modern-day wine producing regions. So it should come as no surprise that there’s a lot more than just Rioja to discover.
From the cooler, damper reaches of Rias Baixas near the Portuguese border – home to the beautifully aromatic Albarino grape, to Priorato, south west of Barcelona – land of gutsy, intense reds, Spanish wine really does have something for every palate.
Spanish vintage, French roots
Needless to say, an evening with a glass or two of Rioja will always be one of life’s great pleasures. The region began serious wine production when the merchants of Bordeaux sought out new vineyards after the Phylloxera pest had decimated their own. Tempranillo is the principle Rioja grape, often blended with Garnacha (known as Grenache in France) to add different characteristics to the wine.
Spanish wines are classified according to how long they have spent ageing. In Rioja, ageing requirements are slightly longer than that of the rest of the country and subject to a legal minimum. Crianza, Reserva and Gran Reserva must be aged for two, three and five years respectively, including a minimum of one year in oak (two for Gran Reserva). As to what difference it makes, you’ll have to see for yourself!
Rioja ‘Single Vineyard’ 2008, Ramon Bilbao
£8.99 £8.74 or £6.99 when you buy 2 bottles
An intense blend of Tempranillo and Garnacha, this wine is packed with red cherry flavours and subtle vanilla. A great-value single vineyard Rioja.
Rioja Crianza 2007, Viña Pomal
£9.99 £9.49 or £7.59 when you buy 2 bottles
Vina Pomal is one of Rioja’s oldest estates and produces some excellent wines. Their Crianza is no exception, showing black fruit and chocolate on the nose with toasty oak and vanilla on the palate. No wonder Vina Pomal was reputed to be one of Winston Churchill’s favourites!
Rioja Reserva ‘Dos Maderas’ 2006, Beronia New!
£12.49 or £9.99 when you buy 2 bottles
‘Dos Maderos’ literally means ‘two woods’ and this Reserva has spent 18 months in a mixture of both French and American oak. This welcome new addition to Majestic shows cinnamon and clove on the nose followed by ripe fruits and sweet tannins on the palate.
Rioja Reserva 2006, Marqués de Riscal
£14.99 £13.74 or £10.99 when you buy 2 bottles
The most talked about Rioja in the Amersham store, this full-bodied, deep wine shows lashings of vanilla and toasted oak from esteemed producer Marqués de Riscal. There’s many a reason this is well-regarded, so if you haven’t tried it yet…
Rioja Reserva 2007, Muga
£17.49 or £13.99 when you buy 2 bottles
This beautifully-aged Reserva shows a nose dominated by blackberry and a palate of sweet spice and ripe tannins. It will improve over the next few years, but if you are as impatient as I am, it’s perfect now with marinated lamb and other roasted meats.
Rioja Gran Reserva 2001, Bodegas Muriel
£13.99 £12.49 or £9.99 when you buy 2 bottles
From Bodegas Muriel comes this Gran Reserva at a real bargain price. Sweet spices and vanilla lead to mature fruits, tobacco and hints of leather – some of the fantastic flavours that this wine has developed. Great value.
Rioja Blanco, Barrel Fermented 2009, Marqués de Cáceres
£9.99 £8.74 or £6.99 when you buy 2 bottles
Produced from the Malvasia and Viura grapes, pear and citrus flavours are complemented by a richer character produced by lees ageing, where the wine is left on the ‘fine lees’ (expired yeast cells). The resulting full-bodied white Rioja goes perfectly with all manner of seafood.
Go beyond Rioja and there are some real treasures to be found. Improved techniques and quality control are bearing impressive fruit.
Señorio Don Pedro de la Vega Gran Reserva 2001, Valencia
£7.49 or £5.99 when you buy 2 bottles
Regional Info: After significant recent investment, Valencia is starting to produce some great value wines of vastly improved quality.
Tasting Note: This Gran Reserva has seen 24 months in oak and a further 36 in the bottle to create a mature wine full of chocolate and leather. Produced from Grenache and Tempranillo, the grapes are harvested from Valencian vineyards up to 600m above sea level.
Lamatum Crianza 2008, Ribera del Duero New!
£8.74 or £6.99 when you buy 2 bottles
Regional Info: The Ribera Del Duero region produces some of Spain’s most prestigious red wines. High altitudes and limestone-rich soils mean the Tempranillo grape grows here with thicker skins than in Rioja. This produces wines that are deeper in colour, slightly more full-bodied and often intensely concentrated.
Tasting Note: Dark cherry in colour, this elegant Crianza shows the perfect balance between fruit and oak to produce a well-structured wine.
‘El Chaparral de Vega Sindoa’ Old Vine Garnacha 2009, Navarra
£9.99 or £7.99 when you buy 2 bottles
Regional Info: Navarra lies downstream from Rioja. Traditionally a major rosé producing region, Navarra’s main focus is now on red wine.
Tasting Note: Garnacha is a quick-ripening grape variety and this wine is produced from bush vines that are between 70 and 100 years old. A fruit-driven wine, intense raspberry and blackberry on the nose follow through on the palate with soft tannin and a hint of dark chocolate. Great with a ribeye steak or juicy BBQ meats.
Papa Luna 2009, Calatayud
£9.99 or £7.99 when you buy 2 bottles
Regional Info: Calatayud lies south of the River Ebro that separates Rioja and Navarra where Garnacha dominates the reddish-brown soils.
Tasting Note: A blend of Garnacha, Mazuelo, Monastrell and Syrah, this interesting wine brings black cherry and raspberry on the nose followed by herbs, vanilla and subtle black pepper on the palate. At its best with full-flavoured dishes like coq au vin or moussaka.
Albariño Martin Codax 2010, Rias Baixas
£11.99 or £9.59 when you buy 2 bottles
Regional Info: Like an unopened treasure chest at the bottom of the ocean, if you haven’t tried Albarino yet, this should be your next stop.
Tasting Note: Produced in the damp northwest of the country near the northern border with Portugal, this light and refreshing wine is packed with peaches and has a mouthwatering acidity. A great seafood match or simply a summer slurper!
Pétalos Bierzo 2009, Descendientes de J. Palacios
£15.99 or £12.79 when you buy 2 bottles
Regional Info: Inland to the east of Rias Baixas in the Castilla y Leon area lies Bierzo. Mountains offer a little more protection for growers here although the climate is still fairly cool. Recent improvements to production methods have resulted in some outstanding wines with great fruit concentration and complexity.
Tasting Note: Produced from the Mencia grape, this complex wine shows blackcurrant and cherry on the nose followed by a savoury finish. Excellent with lamb and all manner of charcuterie, this wine is worth taking the plunge for.
Prices valid until 31 October 2011.