Wine Review: Mesquida Mora ‘Sincronia’ 2016

Bodega Mesquida Mora ‘Sincronia’ 2016

*tasting note at the bottom

**Part of the ‘Spanish Value Experiment

So, time to kick off the ‘Spanish value experiment’. As I’m storing the wines on the floor of my already crowded ‘study’, they’re being picked at complete random like some sort of arcade game for alcoholics. First up is a brightly labelled blend, Sincronia 2016, from Mallorca which since 2007 has had it’s own ‘vino de la tierra’ status, presumably an appellation for anyone who wants to branch out and use different varieties and methods to those approved for DO Binissalem and DO Pla I Llevant. Most of the world knows Mallorca as a beautiful, tranquil holiday destination with a strong connection to neighbouring Catalunya, and as a gastronomic paradise for seafood lovers; wine production is comparatively in the shadows. Truth be told, outside of celebrated wineries such as 4 Kilos, Anima Negra and Miquel Gelabert, I am quite ignorant myself so a very good choice to start with!

Bodega Mesquida is a winery whose products I’ve certainly seen before (the labels really are very bright), but can’t remember ever having had the opportunity to taste them. Like many smaller land owners in Spain, their family has been growing grapes and making some level of wine for about as long as anyone can remember, but until very recently it was humbly made stuff, mostly designed to quench the thirst of local farmers during the warm, Mediterranean summers. Then, an often encountered story; a younger generation took over and started to change direction. Barbara and Jaume, the 4th generation of the Mesquida family, have been running the estate since 2004 aiming to improve both the quality and their environmental footprint, with over 6 years of biodynamic viticulture under their belts. There’s an encouraging amount of indigenous grape varieties in their portfolio (Callet, Mantonegro, Premsal etc), which even when blended with international grapes seem to take the dominant role.

Tasting Note

Mantonegro, Callet, Shiraz, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon in decreasing proportions. Biodynamically farmed and aged for 4 months in French oak. 14% ABV.

Blends of many varieties, whilst offering the wine-maker many different options, do run the risk of muddling and tasting generic, particularly at lower price points. I’m happy to say that isn’t the case here!

A lovely bright, ruby colour and full of interest on the nose. Ripe black cherries, red berries, damson and licorice are prominent with a gentle suggestion of oak ageing and soft floral notes; very Mediterranean, and even more so on the palate where the juicy, plump, violet-tinged fruit takes over completely. Refreshing and balanced. No real fireworks but at this price point you wouldn’t expect there to be, yet I would very happily order a glass of this anytime. 89Pts.

Purchased from Vinissimus for €9.95

A Spanish Wine ‘Value for Money’ Experiment

After a few years of organising wine tastings and meeting people from across the world who have an interest in Spanish wine, there remains a constant theme to how people view wines produced here: they’re good value for money. This isn’t always a view the Spanish wine industry is thrilled about, but one that it finds hard to shake. Is it true, though? I had a think about it and realised that I can’t actually be sure. This is partly due to my decision to drink as broadly as possible, but also due to the fact I rarely drink wines that would be considered “Good value” by your average consumer. Simply put, as I’ve been trying to wrap my head (and lips) around the framework for a global industry within a few years, it’s meant that pretty much all my income has gone towards that goal. Benchmark wines often carry hefty price tags, although there’s certainly been a bit of irresponsible cherry-picking along the way, and normally only expensive wines make it to the shores of Barcelona from distant lands. For example, you can get a decently made bottle of New Zealand Pinot Noir in the UK for a little above £10; good luck in Barcelona for less than €20-25.

Well, as fate would have it I’m now in an excellent position to investigate this further. Namely:

I appear to have ran out of money.

I no longer have to prepare for international tasting exams (famous last words)

I’ve always wanted to explore the idea (perceived wisdoms should be tested where-ever possible)

Well, it’s not like I’m going to suddenly stop drinking, is it?

So with that in mind, I winced at the remaining funds in my bank account and started to plot how to go about it. It might sound obvious at first, but there are a few issues to be taken into account. First and most importantly, where is the line drawn for ‘good value’? This has been discussed a few times and ultimately, it depends on your own finances. In my local bodega, I can remember more than a few times when potential customers have left in a huff because there’s no bottled wine for less than €4 available. On the other end, I’ve seen people goggling at €100+ wines in Monvinic that are ‘good value’ because they’re less than ½ the going market rate. Like most things in life, it’s all relative. The next decisions are mainly based around red/white/styles/quantity etc. This is a lot easier as, despite the relatively affordable wines I’d be looking at, there’s still only so many I can afford and so they balance out quite naturally against the budget.

The one criteria that I hadn’t previously considered was variety. Given we’re talking about value here, are we talking about value amongst the better known appellations of Spain, or as a general rule? When it comes to vinous powerhouses like Rioja, there are wines available at every price point and in a variety of styles. Would the same be true of someone popping into their local bodega in a small village in Andalucia? Given that my own Spanish drinking experience tends to hover around the same 10-15 appellations, it also seemed like a good opportunity to stretch my own taste buds and become better acquainted with wine from Ucles, Arribes, Menorca and Pla I Llevant. After a lot of thinking under the influence of an ill-advised 11pm coffee, I came up with the following list of rules for the experiment:

No bottle can have a retail value of more than €10 (I pulled the number out of the air. It’s arbitrary but feels about right)

Each wine must be red (easier to compare within a single style)

Each wine must come from a different region, ideally from a new (at least to me) producer or at least a wine within a portfolio I know, that I haven’t yet tried.

Where possible, opt for indigenous grape varieties over international

2 hours later, and I’ve ordered what is perhaps the most sensible wine order I’ve ever placed; at least in terms of cost per bottle if not in terms of quantity. 24 bottles of Spanish red wine, from 24 different regions and producers, each under €10 a bottle; €7.90 a bottle on average. They’ll all be drank over the coming 2 months, and I’ll post a detailed tasting note per wine as I go. Who knows if I’ll actually end up with a semblance of an answer to whether Spain really does offer good QPR at lower price points. It’ll be a valuable experience either way, I’m more likely to be able to pay my rent and it’s a great excuse to re-explore some of the ‘lesser’ wines of the country, as well as digging into regions to which I rarely, if ever, venture. Stay tuned for more, and for anyone who’s curious as to exactly what I’ll be drinking, the wines are below:

Wine Region (DO, VdlT, etc) Price (€)
Alquez 2015 Calatayud 9,20
Finca La Estacada 12 Meses 2015 Ucles 6,90
Parotet Vermell 2016 Valencia 6,90
Benito Santos Joven 2015 Monterrei 8,20
Torremayor 2014 Extremadura 8,45
Calderona Crianza 2010 Cigales 7,95
Abadengo Roble 2014 Arribes 7,30
Merluzo Tinto 2016 Menorca 9,50
Botijo Rojo Garnacha 2015 Valdejalon 9,40
Gordo 2014 Yecla 9,50
Blau Marí 2016 Tarragona 6,30
Can Rich Yviça 2016 Ibiza 7,80
El Aprendiz 2014 Tierra de Leon 8,95
Guelbenzu Vierlas 2015 Ribera del Queiles 5,70
Sincronia Negre 2016 Mallorca 9,95
Son Caló Negre 2016 Pla I Llevant 7,15
Tres al Cuadrado 2014 Vino de Espana 7,95
Finca Antigua Crianza Único 2012 La Mancha 7,15
Bajondillo 2016 Mentrida 7,50
Gaba Do Xil Mencía 2015 Valdeorras 8,35
Abadal Franc 2016 Pla de Bages 7,80
Dos Marías Roble 2015 Binissalem-Mallorca 7,25
Quadis Crianza 2014 Cadiz 7,60
Clos Lojen 2016 Manchuela 6,90

Wine Review: Bodega Torres ‘Fransola’ 2014

Bodega Torres ‘Fransola’ 2014

*tasting note at the bottom

Tasting and reviewing a wine from Bodega Torres is an interesting practice in 2018. Despite being highly acclaimed within the industry, ‘Brand of the Year 2017‘ no less, they’re the biggest producer of quality wine in Spain and ‘big is bad’ is still a fashionable opinion to have. In fact, I remember sitting down to a dinner last year in Pla and having the sommelier wax lyrical about a wine made from ‘forgotten, indigenous Catalan grape varieties’ that a local producer was doing his utmost to reclaim. I asked if this was in anyway related to the ongoing project that Bodega Torres first put into motion in the 1980’s, doing the same but on a much larger scale and at great cost to themselves. I suspect he didn’t actually know, but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t quietly enjoy his grimace and how his response suddenly had a edge to it; “No, nothing like Torres”. I think, along with rejecting the incredibly oxidised wine he’d gone to some length to explain, I may have inadvertently ruined his night.

Bodega Torres were created in 1870 and remain one of the worlds largest, family ran wineries. They’re founding members of the Primum Familiae Vini and have whilst based in Vilafranca del Penedes, also have sizeable estates in other parts of Spain, Chile and California. They produce a huge range of products, including a great deal of Spanish Brandy, and their success in volume is down to the huge quantities of well made, generic products that unfortunately also come to taint consumer perception of the brand; success at the bottom makes success at the top very difficult. Their investment into research and development over the years has yielded results that benefit Spanish oenology as a whole, whether it be the aforementioned vine nurseries, pioneering controlled fermentations, barrique ageing or being strong proponents of organic viticulture since 1975.

What a lot of people don’t realise about Torres is that there’s also a premium range of wines created from single estates around Catalunya. Mas la Plana is still the best Spanish Cabernet Sauvignon I’ve had the pleasure of trying, and Grans Muralles is a direct result of the work put into recovering indigenous varieties. I haven’t gotten around to trying them all yet, largely due to the high cost of many of them, but I found myself with a bottle of Fransola (they were giving them out at a shop… in exchange for money…) and an afternoon to dig into it.

Tasting Note

90% Sauvignon Blanc and 10% Parellada from the ‘Fransola’ estate, a high altitude vineyard within DO Penedes. Fermented 50% in stainless steel and 50% in a mixture of French and American oak, before 8 months barrel ageing. 27,000 bottles produced. 14% ABV. 

Making a wine using an aromatic grape variety and any amount of new oak is always a tricky proposition, as even a small miscalculation on the length of ageing or toasting level can easily overwhelm and obscure the delicate aromas of the grape. In America, oaked Sauvignon Blanc is known as ‘Fume Blanc’ and is a standard style for the better wines of Pessac-Leognan and Graves in Bordeaux. Still, I’ve experienced far more difficult wines than vinous victories, so I opened the bottle with some trepidation.

A lovely lemon colour with the green reflections that is often typical of young Sauvignon Blanc. Then on the nose; wow. Hugely aromatic, with a bit of a power struggle going on between the fruit and the oak, with the fruit just edging it ; ripe lime, peach, pear and the herbaceous, crushed-nettle character of Sauvignon Blanc layered over toast, smoke and a touch of vanilla. This falls into balance a few minutes after opening and unlike many of these wines, I found myself coming back to smell it again and again. Rich and fresh on the palate, with the same lovely, unusual combination of zesty citrus fruit, herbs and toasted wood. Whilst lacking the elegance and finesse of some of the best white Bordeaux’s, this is very convincing and frankly, a delicious bottle of wine that has the richness to stand up to more substantial foods, and the acidity to remain refreshing and moreish. I’ll be getting another! 91Pts.

Purchased from Bodega Maestrazgo for 22 euros.

Wine Review: Les Clos Perdus ‘Prioundo’ 2013

Les Clos Perdus ‘Prioundo’ 2013

Corbieres

*tasting note at the bottom

I’ve never really been that excited about the wines from the south of France. It’s not that there isn’t good wine here, far from it, it’s just that Catalunya has remarkably similar soils, climates, grape varieties and well… wine, as a result. I imagine if I lived in Beaune, Pinot Noir and Chardonnay would loose a little allure as well. Still, thanks to slightly laxer appellation laws, as well as much lower land costs, a good few international wine-makers have been tempted to set up here. Domaine Treloar and Domaine of the Bee are two of the better producers I’ve had the pleasure of trying, but I suspect that dotted in amongst the inevitable co-operatives are more gems waiting to be discovered.

Case in point; Paul Old from Australia and Hugo Stewart and their 15 year old project; Les Clos Perdus. Inspired by a trip to the Languedoc in 2002, they purchased a small 1.5 hectare plot of land in Corbieres and started to make wine. Neither Paul or Hugo are old hands at wine-making, so it was very much a learning-as-you-go process and yet 15 years later, their project has expanded to 20 hectares across 5 very different climates in Corbieres, all either organically or biodynamically cultivated and each made into a separate wine. This approach strikes a cord with me; there’s something quite lovely about the innocence of ‘just having a go’ and making it work. I also like that, whilst very much a minimal intervention style project, there’s no silly marketing or obnoxious labels. Just good, well made wines with a clear sense of place and importantly, well priced!

A friend told me to try these 6 months ago and I wish I had. Well, better late than never and I decided to get my Les Clos Perdus experience underway with a Grenache dominated blend by the name of ‘Prioundo’.

Tasting Note

80% Grenache and 20% Cinsault from a single plot of 1.5 hectares, 150m above sea level. 20% whole-bunch in the fermentation, spontaneously fermented in stainless steel and left to sit on its lees for 9 months. Bottled without fining and only light filtering, only 4,800 bottles produced. 14.5% ABV.

Unoaked Grenache, when done correctly, can be such a lovely wine. Whilst the current fashion for this style seems to be focused around Madrid and the Sierra Grados mountains in Spain, this is a considerably better wine than most I’ve tried from Spain (Some notable exceptions from DO Montsant)

Light ruby in colour with a lovely, fruity and mineral nose. Sour cherries and red currants, earth, orange peel and dried herbs; so Mediterranean and so Grenache! The same bright, tangy flavours carry through to the palate, complete with slightly firm tannins and a surprising amount of freshness, considering the high alcohol level. No sign of any unnecessary heat, however, and the finish is long and dry. Considering the tiny production of this wine, the minimal intervention, labour intensive style of production and quality, the price is incredibly appealing. A delicious wine of which I will buy at least another couple to share with friends! 91Pts.

Purchased from Magatzem Escola for €13

Wine Review: Suertes del Marques ‘La Solana’ 2014

Suertes del Marques ‘La Solana’ 2014

100% Listan Negro

Tasting note at the bottom

One of the inescapable facts of learning about wine is that you simply can’t know it all; it’s simply too vast and fragmented an industry. Likewise, you can’t possibly taste every region to the same level of depth, and as a result, most professionals end up specialising. One of the areas I have neglected somewhat over the past few years are the Canary Islands; 7 small islands hovering off the western coast of Morocco in the Atlantic Ocean, yet still an autonomous region of Spain. With it now being the fashion to explore indigenous, preferably old-vine, grape varieties, the wines from these shores have suddenly become very popular indeed. Neither phylloxera nor French varieties settled here and the result is a smattering of hidden treasures; typically volcanic slopes, littered with Listan Negro, Malvasia and Negramoll. Whilst I’ve enjoyed tasting some of these wines in passing at events, I’ve never sat down and become acquainted with a bottle over a day or two, so I opted for ‘La Solana’, a single vineyard, 100% Listan Negro wine from the leading producer of Tenerife, Suertes del Marques.

Suertes del Marques are located in a north-central part of Tenerife, known as DO Valle de la Orotava (See here for upcoming, forward-thinking changes to the 5 appellations that make up the wine scene in Tenerife). A relatively recent producer, founded in 2006 by Jonathan Garcia Lima, they’ve since rose to fame with their pure, mineral inflected wines, typically made in a minimal intervention style. Clearly influenced by Burgundy, their wines are organised by ‘village’ wines and single vineyards, the latter of which are fermented in open-topped concrete vats and aged in 500L neutral oak barrels, whereas the ‘village’ wines tend to be produced in stainless steel.

The most interesting factor in all this though, are the vines themselves. Phylloxera never settled in Canary Islands (It is generally discouraged by volcanic soils) and as a result, the average vine age is incredibly high, often well over 100 years old. In DO Valle de la Orotava, they’re also trained in a remarkable system known as ‘El Cordon Trenzado’, literally ‘The Braided Coil’, which historically allowed for polyculture in the vineyards. The interwoven wines can be moved from side-to-side, allowing for potato crops to thrive underneath, and make for a unique sight. I’ve never seen anything quite like it. The recent ‘discovery’ of the potential here shouldn’t come as a surprise; it comes off the back of other such discoveries in Priorat, Swartland, Etna and many others. For producers willing to put in the effort of making and selling these wines, there is an eager market waiting for them!

Tenerife Vines
Credit to Robert Ranero for this excellent photo of the Cordon Trenzado training system

Tasting Note

100% Listan Negro from vines aged between 80-150 years old, from the La Solana vineyard. Fermented with ambient yeast (no mention of whole bunch or destemmed) in open-topped concrete containers, then malolactive conversion and ageing in 500L, old oak barrels for 14 months. Unfiltered. 13.5% ABV.

Pale ruby in colour, and not immediately pleasant on the nose! There’s a bit of sulphur/reduction that needs to blow off, so decanting is definitely recommended. Once it does, though, there’s a lovely mixture of fresh damsons, dried herbs, undergrowth and a rocky sort of minerality. Very fresh on the palate, with a real raciness to the acidity and quite firm tannins, with a sour plum character and the same clean, mineral sensation on the finish. This is very much my kind of regular-drinking wine; refreshing, clean and very pure fruited, although I can see it not being everyone’s cup of tea due to the lean structure and initial reduction. It’ll likely be softer and more approachable in a few years time, and there’s a clear connection to the sort of new-wave wine-making sweeping across north-western Spain at the moment. 90Pts.

Purchased from Magatzem Escola for €16

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