Barcelona Wine Tasting: The Wines of Australia

Last week we drank our way around the two islands of New Zealand, so it made a lot of sense to journey to their closest neighbour a week later and discover the wines of Australia. A quick look at the map, however, is enough to know that the wines are likely to be enormously different regardless of whether or not they’re in the same part of the world. Australia is roughly the same size of the USA and the majority of the population quite sensibly don’t live in the centre, where the unbearable heat and lack of water drives people towards the coast. Unsurprisingly, the majority of quality wine is to be found in much the same areas and the Australian wine-market has proven itself perhaps the most adaptable to change in the world, having reinvented itself many times over. Today it is the 6th largest producer in the world and commands respect at all price points.

Historically viticulture started in the 19th century in Australia, with the first records dating back to 1791. Between 1820 and 1840, viticulture became firmly established across the southern half of Australia, all driven by cuttings brought from Europe as Australia has no native vines to speak of. The industry boomed and sank like much of the rest of the world as phylloxera, mildews and two World Wars took their toll on the wine industry, and Australian wine as we know it today really began in the 1950’s. Australia was an early adopter of stainless steel fermentation tanks and as technology became more prevalent, the production of fortified wines decreased and dry wine started to grow in importance and volume. High yielding, poor quality grapes were pulled up and replanted, mainly with the three grapes we most commonly associated with Australia today; Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay, which account for almost 60% of the total production at present.

Where these grapes are grown, however, and the styles of wine they produce are very much related to where they’re grown, exaggerated by the sheer size of the country. There is a rough north/south split in terms of climate, with the northern half of Australia being more akin to a tropical climate and the south being a lot drier, with an early Autumn and long, hot days. The proximity to the Pacific Ocean and Tasman sea makes an obvious difference, although due to the mass of land this isn’t as pronounced as in other areas of the world. Whilst the majority of Australian bulk wine is grown the Riverlands and Riverina, most new projects are now seeking out cooler climates either at altitude, or closer to the ocean to help off-set the heat and gain more balance in the resulting wines.

In terms of wine-making, Australia is often considered to be the most modern in style with an incredibly scientific approach to vinification. Most wineries, even medium-sized ones, have their own laboratories instead of relying on third party companies, and is equipped with a broad array of modern technology such as computer-controlled crushing equipment, fermentation tanks, rotofermenters and usually quite a lot of new oak. This modernity transfers to the philosophy of wine-making as well, with a very different approach to some of the common ‘faults’ of wine-making, with an almost zero tolerance approach to brettanomyces, volatile acidity and so on. This is in direct contrast with some of the most famous wine-regions in Europe, where a little bit of these compounds is often considered favourable to the style. Do you like that smell of petroleum in aged Riesling? I personally do and it was one of the first ‘oh wow’ moments I had in wine. According to Jim Barry, by comparison, it’s a fault and should be avoided.

With such a broad climatic diversity and a modern approach to wine-making, it probably doesn’t come as much of a surprise that Australia is making every style under the (incredibly hot) sun. The most typical style of Australian wine, from entry level to no-expenses-spared premium expressions, are made using Syrah and typically entitled “Shiraz”. It’s grown in nearly every region, providing a vast diversity of differing styles, price points and ageability. Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot are in second and third position respectively, with the former producing some outstanding wines in Margaret River in Western Australia. Pinot Noir is also an important red grape, being used for both sparkling wine and premium red wines, typically planted in the cooler regions of Tasmania, Yarra Valley and Mornington Peninsula. For white wines, Chardonnay rules in terms of volume and some truly top quality expressions are made throughout the country. The pendulum of fashion tends to drag the style from one extreme to another, although some of the wines I’ve tried over the past year seem to be settling in a happy medium. Both Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon are grown in some quantity although typically vinified and sold as separate varieties rather than blended, with Semillon achieving a unique, smoky characteristic in the Hunter Valley, especially as it ages. Riesling is likely the other most important white variety, with some incredibly pure, zesty expressions hailing from Clare Valley, Eden Valley and Tasmania.

With such a broad diversity of wines to cover, we decided to keep it simple this week and cover the basics, using high quality wines from regions across the country. In the future, we’ll definitely organise more tastings to explore the individual areas of Australia in more depth. Until then, here at the 6 wines we drank!

Jasper Hill Georgia’s Paddock Riesling 2013. Jasper Hill is the leading producer in Heathcote, a relatively new producer in the cooler Victoria region of Australia. Very much in the style of wines from the Northern Rhone, the wines here are made in an old-fashioned format, with little to no irrigation in their granitic vineyards and a minimalistic approach to wine-making including very low levels of sulphur. Although some excellent Shiraz and Nebbiolo is made here, we’ve gone for their excellent Riesling with a few years of bottle age. Subtly floral with lots of citrus fruits, slightly herbal characteristics and just the sandlightest hint of honey. There’s a lot stored away here and I’d happily keep it for another 5-10 years and see how this develops!

De Bortoli Villages Chardonnay 2012. De Bortoli are better known for their inexpensive, bulk wines produced in Riverina but they have a few quality wines, such as this Chardonnay, mainly produced in the much cooler Yarra Valley. Stephen Webber, the wine-maker, has made a clear move away from excessive use of oak in his wines to allow the cooler-climate fruit to really shine. This bottling of Chardonnay is a great example of this. Whilst there is certainly some French oak influence with a smoky, savoury character, the fresh lime and green fruits come bursting through. Some lees stirring is evident with a yeasty character and overall, this is an inexpensive, truly tasty Chardonnay that I suspect would give some more expensive Burgundies a run for their money!

Xanadu Cabernet Sauvignon 2011. Our only wine from western Australia, hailing from the Margaret river. Xanadu was originally founded in 1977 by Dr John Lagan and was one of the first pioneers of the region. It has since been incorporated into the Rathbone Group where it has joined the likes of Yering Station and Mount Langi Ghiran. The resultant change in quality, including vineyard and winery improvements, has resulted in some truly excellent, modern wines that are now being recognised throughout the world. This blend of 90% Cabernet Sauvignon, 7% Malbec and 3% Petit Verdot is a beautifully structured wine bursting with cassis, ripe plums and eucalyptus. 14 months in 40% new French oak results adds a smoky-but-sweet background note, resulting in a delicious, accessible wine.

Penfolds Bin 28 Kalimna Shiraz 2012. Probably the most iconic producer in the entire of Australia, Penfolds have been leading the charge since the 1950’s although the first vineyards were planted in 1844 by Dr Christopher Rawson Penfold. Better known for Grange, the pinnacle of their production, Penfolds have a broad range usually using fruit from multiple different regions to create wines that are defined by wine-making rather than any individual region or vineyard. Kalimna Shiraz is made from a variety of vineyards with the hot, ripe Barossa Valley usually well represented and obvious in the dark, ripe brambly fruit profile. Penfolds have always been famous for their continued use of American oak and it’s true here, with 12 months ageing contributing notes of sweet vanilla and bitter chocolate to the wine. Still quite young and closed, this should unfurl into something delicious over the coming 5 years although it’s approachable now with a reasonable decant.

Chapoutier Tournon Shays Flat Vineyard 2012. It took a bit longer than you might expect for Northern Rhone producers to realise the potential of Australia and start investing here, but make it they did. Chapoutier, one of the leading lights of the Northern Rhone, has made a sizeable investment here and now produces some of the most delicious wines coming out of Victoria, produced from vineyards purchased in 2009. The wine is somewhere between Australia and the Northern Rhone, with lots of ripe black, brambly fruit, black pepper, dried violets and the gorgeous smoked meat character so prevalent in good, moderate-climate Syrah. A really beautiful combination of two styles and one of my favourite Syrahs for a reasonable price.

Chris Ringland Marvel Shiraz 2010. Chris Ringland is an Australian wine-maker famous for making wines with absolutely enormous concentration, depth and flavour. For those who like big Spanish wines, you might be familiar with Clio and El Nido from Jumilla, which Chris has a big hand in as part of the Juan Gil project. His Australian wines follow a similar principle; incredibly old, unirrigated vines which are then fermented in open oak vats and aged for between 1-3 years, in a combination of French and American oak.

Maestrazgo Wine Club Newsletter – Edition 16 – April 2017

March: Assuming there haven’t been any Spring frosts that have already caused the vigneron to panic, this will be a time of rapid growth in the vineyard, not only in the vine but all indigenous plants or cover crops as well. In most vineyards this will be a good time to start spraying plants against various insects and diseases, as well as considering some extra nutrients for the soil as the vine will typically outstrip its available resources, especially on soils with poor fertility. Weed control is paramount at this stage as well, so as not to deprive the vines of the nutrients it so badly needs at this time. It has to be said, this is typically a beautiful time to visit the vineyards as the land is alive with the activity of farmers, and the emerging green shoots are beautiful to look at!

Hello Wine Lovers! Welcome to the 16th Edition of Maestrazgo Wine Club and another month of wine tasting in Barcelona. This month we’re going to be doing three, separate international tastings including a blind tasting on international red varieties, as well as tastings on both Australia and New Zealand, two New World countries I adore for both their style and quality (if not the price of their wines!). Fortunately, I’ve been planning these tastings for a while now and I’m excited to show you exactly what both countries can offer the vinous world.

Events: Maestrazgo Wine Club:

6th April – International Wine Tasting: Blind Tasting of Red Varietals – 10 places available – 30 euros p/p

13th April – International Wine Tasting: The Wines of New Zealand – 10 places available – 30 euros p/p

20th April – International Wine Tasting: The Wines of Australia – 10 places available – 30 euros p/p

Articles: I probably spend too much of my time reading online articles about wine. However, as a result I can find and select a choice few to share – here are my three favourites from last month!

  1. ‘The Evolution of American Oak’ by Kelli White – I know, I know. It’s not exactly the sort of topic to set your pulse soaring but bear with me; it’s definitely the best article I’ve read this month. It’s a comprehensive view of the usage of American oak in wine, from the history, to the chemical structures and imparted flavours, to the cultural perceptions and uses in wine-making. Comprehensive and a thoroughly enjoyable read. Fantastic stuff. https://www.guildsomm.com/stay_current/features/b/kelli-white/posts/american-oak

  2. ‘Newer, better wine critics you should be reading’ by Ron Washam. It sounds like a serious title; don’t worry, it isn’t. Ron Washam is the king of wine comedy and the only reason I don’t share an article he writes every single month, is that most of them are laden with ‘in’ jokes. To be honest, so is this one but the points he makes about the extreme views of the wine world are quite in line with my feelings as well; whether you only drink wines that have scored a certain amount of points, or whether you only drink ‘natural’ wine, you’re in exactly the same boat. http://hosemasterofwine.blogspot.com.es/2017/03/newer-better-wine-critics-you-should-be.html

  3. ‘Rioja in the 21st Century’ by Amaya Cervera. Spanish Wine Lover have been doing a terrific job recently in their blog and this is no different. As we’ve explored a few times in our tastings, DOC Rioja is becoming an increasingly complicated region to understand with a lack of specific appellation laws forcing top quality producers to label their wines otherwise, as well as an outdated system of ageing requirements that gives little to no indication of quality. Enter: Spanish Wine Lover. Strongly recommended for all Spanish wine lovers! http://www.spanishwinelover.com/learn-238-rioja-in-the-21st-century-styles-and-categories-of-wine

Wine of the month: I’m constantly on the look-out for wines of real quality and value; most commonly you’ll find me drinking in the 6-25 euro range:

Domenech Vidal – Cultivare 2013

Cultivare 2013 by Domenech Vidal is one of the best Xarel.lo still wines I’ve had the pleasure of tasting. At 11.5% alcohol it should be quite gentle but there is a lot of flavour here, disguised in an incredibly elegant wine. There’s a lovely combination of ripe apples, honey and freshly cut grass on the flavour profile and sweet tarragon spice on the finish; if it weren’t so soft on the palate, I’d call Albariño if given this to blind-taste! A delicious wine; almost a shame only a little over 2000 bottles were made! Bodega Maestrazgo currently have a few bottles left but due to the very limited production, don’t expect them to hang around for too long! (I believe they’re currently serving it by the glass as well!)

Wine Facts

Some fun and interesting facts about the world of wine. Terminology, myths and FAQs; as science becomes more ingrained in our industry, we discover new and exciting realities every day!

How do I know how long to age a wine for?” – The truth is that there is no hard and fast approach to determining this. Ageing wine depends on a lot of factors; grape variety, climate, tannin levels, acidity levels, time spent in oak, storage conditions and so on. However, as a general rule of thumb: 95% of the wines you purchase and particularly anything from a supermarket are generally unsuitable for ageing. The second consideration is “Why am I ageing this wine in the first place?” and it’s a fair question to ask, because a lot of wines are perfect for drinking at the age you purchase them. As with all things in wine it is a question of style, and some people prefer their wines young, vibrant and powerful over older, elegant and complex. It’s always worth experimenting but if in doubt, open it up and find out! Apart from a delicious drink, you’ll also have your answer for future bottles.

How long will my wine last for once opened?”Once a wine has been opened, it is vulnerable to its biggest enemy; oxygen. In particular, within wine are a host of tiny particles and bacteria, one of which is known as acetic bacteria. Acetic bacteria will use oxygen as a catalyst to turn wine into acetic acid – for all intents and purposes, this is vinegar. I personally never keep a bottle of wine open for longer than 3 days, although if you have a vacuum pump you may get another day out of it. It’s important to always store open wine in a fridge, as cooler temperatures slow down all chemical reactions, including the one that is slowly turning your beloved wine to vinegar! Frugality and personal taste are of course, big variables here.

‘Red or Black Fruits?’ – This is a really tricky one as we all taste in a slightly different way. In terms of enjoying a wine, it really makes no difference. However, in terms of blind tasting the difference between correctly identifying whether the fruit profile in the wine is red or black, can really give you an indication of which grape variety this wine is, where it might be grown. It takes a lot of practice to nail it down, and my only suggestion here is to keep sniffing, tasting and benchmarking those smells and tastes in your head. Use some typical examples – Grenache tends to smell quite strongly of strawberries to the majority of people – and work from there.

Social Media

These newsletters only come out once a month and there is a limit on space for content. If you use Social Media and want to keep up with regular wine updates and occasional rambles, feel free to connect with me on any of the following platforms.

Blog: winecuentista.com

Facebook: Wine Cuentista

Twitter: @Wine_Cuentista

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That’s it for this months newsletter. I hope you enjoyed it and please, if you have any suggestions or things you would like to see get in touch! Either respond to me here or email to fintankerr@winecuentista.com I can’t wait to see you all soon for more wine, food and good company. 🙂

Fintan Kerr

Barcelona Wine Tasting: International Blind Tasting

Wine tasting picture

It’s no secret that I’m a big fan of blind tasting and I’d go as far to say I consider it to be the single best exercise from a studying perspective, as it requires you to pool together your ability to taste with your factual knowledge and come to a realistic, educated conclusion about what’s in your glass. For the wine professional, blind tasting is most useful for the purpose of removing bias. After all, as human beings we’re essentially the product of our own experiences and our view of the world is largely defined by that, meaning that it’s incredibly hard to be truly objective about…well…anything, really. Now, fortunately wine isn’t something that divides opinion in the same way that politics and religion do, but I still hear quite a lot of regular commentary showcasing clear and obvious bias one way or the other. Common examples include:

I don’t like Chardonnay, it’s just too oaky for me”

I find Spanish wines to be overly extracted and alcoholic”

Xarel.lo seems to be pretty limited in terms of its quality potential”Confession: This one was me last year and I’ve since eaten my words several times over, although I’ve still yet to be convinced of it’s consistency at a high level. Time will tell and perhaps I’ll be eating this statement as well!

You get the idea. I even have a friend who regularly disparages New World wines as a general category; you know, those 7 or 8 enormous countries that regularly produce top quality wine from 3 different continents across hundreds of individual regions, often with many decades of wine-making under their belts. You’ll find people who only drink wines from certain regions; the British are notorious Francophiles, for example, and I’ve met wine drinkers in London who rarely venture outside of Bordeaux, Burgundy and the Rhone, although market forces are slowly squeezing all but the wealthiest of drinkers out of that particular corner of the vinous world. There have been several examples where even respected wine critics struggle to be objective when faced with a famous label, potentially a wine fetching hundreds of even thousands of euros a bottle, with even the vocabulary used to describe the wines changing to suit the occasion.

Enter; blind tasting. Stripped of the knowledge of what’s in your glass, the drinker has to rely on their own ability to taste and conclude about the level of quality themselves. No falling back on theoretical knowledge here; that Chave Hermitage should taste quite spectacular considering the €200+ price label assigned to it, but does it really? There’s only one way to find out. Put it amongst a group of other Syrahs from around the world, in a bottle with no label and get tasting. Now granted, this does require a taster of some experience and skill, with a quality matrix for determining how good the product is. Even then there are individual factors that could throw the results one way or the other but it’s the closest thing to an objective assessment as possible and an awful lot better than being invited to a beautiful Chateaux, being treated like royalty and then pretending that you can still be objective about the €100 glass of wine in front of you. “I’m 90 points on that!”

Hermitage

The real trick is to differentiate between your system for objective quality, and what you personally enjoy in a bottle of wine. As everyone in the world enjoys food and wine in a different way, having a critic say “I enjoyed drinking this” holds as much merit as me telling you that I’d prefer to not have to pay exorbitant fees for the pleasure of being self employed; precisely nothing other than my subjective opinion on a subject close to my heart. So, when a respected critic blind tastes a wine and assigns a score to it, it should be a reflection of the objective quality of the wine, usually judged along the lines of BLIC, and not a reference to style and/or preference. Obviously that means you need to read the tasting note that goes along with it rather than just blindly following numbers, as a 99 point Grand Cru Burgundy is no good to someone who wants something luscious, soft and accessible.

With that in mind, I decided to try and introduce this concept to Maestrazgo Wine Club as part of our monthly, international blind wine tasting. The tasting was themed around 3 pairs of wines, each made with the same grape variety (100%) but of different quality levels. For each wine, I was curious to know which one people thought was their favourite and also which one they thought was objectively a better wine. Now in hindsight, this was probably a little too much considering we rarely practice any sort of analytical tasting and it takes a certain amount of confidence to say “This wine is clearly not as good as the other, but I prefer it anyway”. Still, a fun tasting and of course we did the more enjoyable part of blind tasting as well; which grape is it made from, which country/region and so on. The wines we tasted are below and keep your eyes peeled for more blind tastings in the future (there will definitely be one in April!).

Pair 1: Girlan Chardonnay 2015 (Alto Adige, Italy) vs Hamilton Russel Vineyards Chardonnay 2015 (Walker Bay, South Africa)

Our first two blind wines of the evening and we decided to compare two Chardonnays from different parts of the world and at different quality levels; Girlan 2015 and Hamilton Russel 2015. Girlan is a lovely, affordable Chardonnay from Cantina Kellerei, a small co-operative based in Alto-Adige, northern Italy. The quality of the fruit is lovely and malolactic fermentation has softened its profile. No oak has been used resulting in a lighter, fruitier style of Chardonnay. Despite the fact that most people recognised it was the lesser of the two in quality, it was preferred stylistically by 4/10! By comparison the Hamilton Russel Vineyards Chardonnay is a very different wine, with obvious but well integrated oak characteristics, masses of ripe stone and citrus fruit and a really vibrant concentration of flavour. Narrowly the most popular wine but most people could tell it was the better quality wine, simply based on the intensity, complexity and finish. Next up; the reds! #wine #winetasting #italy #southafrica #bcninspira #bcn #barcelona #barcelonagram #instagood #instadaily #photooftheday #photo #winelover #winelovers #winetime #wineoclock #chardonnay #whitewine #vino #vinoblanco #blindtasting #fun #wineoftheday

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Pair 2: Telmo Rodriguez Gazur 2013 (Ribera del Duero, Spain) vs Amaren 60 Reserva 2008 (Rioja, Spain)

These were our second two blind wines of our blind tasting, and a little trickier to choose between them as not only is the quality gap smaller than the preceding Chardonnays, but one of the wines is significantly older making for an extra variable to determine and account for. Both wines are 100% Tempranillo with Amaren 60 Reserva 2008 hailing from DOC Rioja and Gazur 2013 from DO Ribera del Duero. Gazur 2013 had come recommended by Madrid Uncorked and so I ordered a few bottles to try it out; no argument from me, lovely, sappy and fresh Tempranillo from Telmo Rodriguez. Telmo is something of a Tempranillo guru in Spain, focusing on small plots of older bush-vines and fermenting in a variety of vessels including older oak, cement and concrete. A good wine and great QPR at 8 euros; I can't wait to showcase his top wines next month as part of our tasting on Spanish Wine Producers! Amaren 60 Reserva 2008 is a very different beast; soft, round, aromatic and absolutely delicious. From a bodega owned by Luis Canas, Amaren 60 Reserva 2008 is produced from 60 year old vines, fermented in large oak vats and aged for a further 18 months in French oak barrels. The result is a stunning, modern style of Rioja that would be a crowd-pleaser around the world and is already drinking wonderfully. Despite the high quality of both wines, 8/10 people preferred the Amaren with 9/10 judging it to be of a higher quality. At around 30 euros a bottle, it isn't the cheapest option but to my mind, well worth a mini-splurge! #wine #winetasting #barcelona #bcn #barcelonainspira #barcelonagram #photo #photooftheday #instagood #instadaily #winelover #winelovers #winetime #wineoclock #tempranillo #vino #vinotinto #spain #rioja #riberadelduero #wineoftheday #delicious #blindtasting

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Part 3: Produttori del Barbaresco Langhe Nebbiolo 2015 (Piedmont, Italy) vs Marco Abbona Barolo 2011 (Barolo, Italy)

Our final two blind wines of the evening brought us back to Italy, this time to Piedmont to compare different styles of Nebbiolo from the larger appellation of the Langhe, named after the hills north and south of Alba, to the smaller, more prestigous appellation of Barolo within it. First up was Produttori del Barbaresco Langhe Nebbiolo 2015. Produttori del Barbaresco are a wonderful co-operative hailing back to 1958 and currently owned by 50 growers in the region. It's a forward-thinking production focused almost exclusively on high quality Barbaresco, and that in conjunction with an excellent vintage in 2015 makes for excellent quality Nebbiolo at very affordable prices. Vibrant red fruit, florality and crisp, unobtrusive tannins; a steal for 12 euros! Going up against this was Marziano Barolo 2011, a top quality producer easily recognised by the beautiful labels depicting local birds and other wildlife. Made in a traditional style including a slow, 36 month ageing in large oak barrels, this was a powerhouse of a Barolo. 2011 was a notoriously warm vintage and the 15% alcohol was uncharacteristic of the style. Still a lovely wine but I'd like to try this again from a cooler vintage. Preference was split 50/50 on this one with the majority recognising the pedigree of the Barolo. By far the most difficult pair of the evening! Already looking forward to next months blind tasting on international red varieties 🙂 #wine #winetasting #barcelona #bcn #barcelonagram #barcelonainspira #winetime #winelovers #winelover #wineoclock #blindtasting #italy #piedmont #barolo #nebbiolo #instagood #instadaily #photo #photooftheday #vino #vinotinto #wineoclock

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Interviewed by: People on the Grid

February has been a tough month so far; I have two exams on the same day on the 8th March, one on the world of Sparkling Wines and one on the world of Spirits. Two very different subjects, each requiring a lot of study that’s absorbing all my time, hence why I’ve been very slow with my blog over the past two weeks! However, I did have the opportunity to sit down for an hour with Katrina from People On the Grid, a lovely project to connect the community of Barcelona, and briefly discuss my local wine tasting group; Maestrazgo Wine Club.

For the same reason that this blog has been neglected, we’re only organising a single tasting this month which is completely booked out. However, in the coming months expect a flurry of exciting tastings including themed blind tastings, international tastings on Tuscany, New Zealand, Alsace and more, as well as some tastings to discover the truly great wine producers of Spain, as we dig deeper into specific regions. As always, the newsletter for the following month will be up on the 1st March but if you’d like to know more, make sure you join the group for information on our tastings and check out the short video below and the full interview on podcast just above it! 🙂

Barcelona Wine Tasting: The Lesser Known Regions of Spain

Header - Manchuela

Spain is a vast, wine producing country; the third largest in the world, in fact. With more acres dedicated to viticulture than any other country on the planet, and leading the way in exports by volume, you might expect the wine-drinking world to be quite familiar with the vinous offerings from our corner of it. However, not only is this not the case but even within the major cities of Spain itself, the wines you’ll find in many bars and restaurants tend to centre around some of the largest, best known regions in the country. This makes complete sense from a commercial perspective but it is a little sad that some perfectly good wine is passing us by untasted, simply because the wines have such a limited market here.

The other factor to consider is that some regions simply don’t produce a great deal of quality wine, hence their respective obscurity. The reason that DO Ribera del Duero, DOQ Priorat and DOC Rioja are amongst the most prestigous regions within the country is their ability to produce reasonably large quantities of good quality wine, year after year. This is a problem for producers who do make excellent quality wine in the lesser known regions, as it’s considerably more difficult to be heard when the label on your bottle says “DO Cigales” instead of “DO Ribera del Duero”. The same is of course true for other wine producing countries as well, just ask any producer in the south of France or Italy, eastern Germany or even some of the lesser known regions of California, South Africa and Argentina. This week, we’re going to focus on five wines from the lesser celebrated regions of Spain and well… celebrate them!

 

Marko White

DO Bizkaiko Txakolina (Basque Country). When it comes to cooler climate white wines in Spain, Rias Baixas, Rueda and Ribeiro tend to dominate proceedings. However, in 1994 DO Bizkaiko Txakolina was created in the Basque Country, in the very north of Spain. Whilst still considerably warmer than most of northern Europe, this is a chilly, wild part of the country by Spanish standards and so it comes as no surprise that the majority of the production here is white; a perfect pairing with the local seafood. White wines tend to be produced from Hondarribi Zuri ,with some 80% of all plantings, supported by a mixture of Petit Manseng, Gros Manseng, Folle Blanche and other international varieties. The wine we’ll be tasting is Marko 2015 by Oxer Bastegieta, a family winery better known for their small production of high quality wines in Rioja under the label “Oxer Wines”. Crisp, clean and very acidic; DO Bizkaiko Txakolina in a glass!

Vara y Pulgar 2012

VdlT Cadiz (Andalucia). If you haven’t come across ‘VdlT’ before, it simply means ‘Vino de la Tierra’ and is a step down from DO in the appellation pyramid, coming from a broader geographical zone with laxer regulations when it comes to the production of wine. VdlT Cadiz was originally created to take advantage of the surplus of Sherry grapes, in order to make light, dry wines for the local markets of Jerez, Sanlucar and Puerto de Santa Maria. There are, however, one or two very brave and amibitious producers using older, almost extinct grape varieties in tiny quantities, such as the Compañia de Vinos del Atlantico, a project set up in 2002 to showcase these sorts of wines from across 18 lesser known regions of Spain. Vagar y Pulgar 2012 is such a wine, made from the exceedingly rare Tintilla grape variety, considered to be a mutation of the medium-bodied, floral Graciano from Rioja. Whilst they didn’t make it into our tasting, Barbazul are also a good producer of this variety, blending it together with French varieties for a rounder profile.

 

Finca Sandoval 2010

DO Manchuela (La Mancha). This is a great example of a wine producing region that should be doing better than it currently is. Whilst located inside the enormous DO La Mancha, having separated in 1982, it has considerably more rainfall, cooler winds, greater concentrations of limestone in the soil and opportunities to grow at altitude; basically, there’s no reason why top quality wine can’t be made here. Like most of Spain, the cooperative structure is vitally important and that might be holding proceedings back a little in terms of innovation and risk taking, whilst producing a large quantity of young, fresh wines for the local market. To showcase the potential here, we’ve gone for Finca Sandoval 2010, produced by the Finca Sandoval estate. Famously created by veteran Spanish journalist, Victor de la Serna, in 1998, it takes a more modern approach to the appellation. Blending the native Monastrell and Bobal together with a healthy dollop of Syrah and then ageing it in new oak for 11 months for the stabilisation of colour, addition of flavour and some extra tannin brings this style into a new, modern era without overwhelming the flavour of the grapes themselves. Delicious stuff.

 

Terrer d'Aubert

DO Tarragona (Catalunya). With the creation of DO Montsant, DO Tarragona has very much sank back into the production of young and easy red wines, some interesting sweet and rancio wines from Garnacha and produces a surprising amount of white grapes which head to Sant Sadurni d’Anoia to be turned into the most basic expressions of Cava. This anonymity does no favours for the region and so it’s left for quality-minded producers to make their own success and hopefully, put DO Tarragona back on the map. Vinyes del Terrer is such a producer, and we’ve chosen their Terrer d’Aubert 2010 to showcase it; an unusual blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Garnacha, aged for 14 months in 5,000 litre French barrels for a long, slow ageing with minimal oak flavour. Fresh and clean, dominated by black fruits, graphite and floral notes; are we drinking young Bordeaux here or Spanish Cabernet Sauvignon? I’ll let you be the judge.

Traslanzas

DO Cigales (Castilla y Leon). DO Cigales is a large but relatively unknown wine producing region, not far from the considerably more illustrious DO Ribera del Duero. Historically important for producing stunning rosé wines, it has now turned its attention to replicating the success of its neighbours by focusing on Tempranillo as a grape variety for red wine production and indeed, has not only the same limestone bedrock as the rest of its competitors but also large, ‘pudding stone’ rocks that lie on the surface of the vineyards reflecting the suns heat. Bodegas Traslanzas are one of the more celebrated producers in the area and their signature wine is a beautiful expression of Tempranillo, with lower alcohol (13.5%) and enormous amounts of freshness, even after 8 years of age. Telmo Rodriguez, famous wine-maker and terroir-guru, claims that the soils of this area are absolutely perfect for Tempranillo production but the truth, as always, is in the glass.

Whilst there are many, many more areas, wines and producers to discover, I’m very much looking forward to sharing some of these lesser known areas in this weeks tasting. There are, at the time of writing, still three spots available so if you’re interesting in attending, it will be on Thursday 19th at 19:00, 25 euros per person. If you’re interested in a spot, please contact me at fintankerr@winecuentista.com for payment options.

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