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14 February 2007

Spain: Rioja free zone!

That's probably a good way of making sure I don't get invited to Rioja. Not that I have anything against them - far from it, there are some outstanding wineries in the region making lovely wines. But, when faced with an enormous amount of bottles up for tasting at the Wines from Spain annual bash in London (Feb 2007), I decided to shun Spain's best known area in search of a few different things. Something newer or sexier perhaps. So in this report, you'll find around 25 red and rosé wines - or rather rosado, or rosat from Catalonia - made mostly from the Garnacha, Monastrell and Tempranillo varieties (with a few French grapes thrown in) coming from regions such as Toro, Jumilla, Yecla, Alicante, Ribera del Duero, Campo de Borja, Navarra and Terra Alta. For more info, the link on each of these headings takes you to the relevant bit on Wines from Spain's website.
Click here to discover lots more Spain on this site.

This very up-and-coming region is found to the west of Ribera del Duero in Castilla and Leon (click on each of the dark blue region titles in caps for more info on Wines from Spain's website). Winemakers are doing exciting things with Tinta de Toro, the local name for Tempranillo, and so far charging reasonable prices for the results.
2004 Cañus Verus, Viñas Viejas (Tinta de Toro = Tempranillo) - vanilla and cedar notes backed up by ripe plummy fruit, grip and power to finish. £8-£10 87
2005 T Rosado (Tempranillo Garnacha) - creamy redcurrant and raspberry aromas, quite chunky and weighty (13.5%) with a touch of tannin v fresh length. £5 85
Quinta el Refugio
2005 Tinto (Tempranillo) - more serious wine (but not price), lightly rustic fruit v very firm build, yet rounded on the finish too. £5-£6 89-91
2004 Vetus (Tempranillo Cabernet Sauvignon) - quite extracted and dry tannins but again has lush dark fruit and power on the finish. £10-£15 89

I like wines from Jumilla (located in Murcia in the southeast), especially those based on the region's wonderful Monastrell grape variety. Another area once known for bulk wine, there are many new wineries worth checking out. The fact that Torres has bought vineyards here must say something about potential quality.
Bodegas Juan Gil
2006 Monastrell - nice juicy ripe black cherry and olive notes, light tannins and savoury finish. £5-£6 87-89
2004 Silver Label Monastrell - more extracted and leathery, liquorice fruit v firm framework, tangy black olive finish. £8-£10 90
Casa de la Ermita
2004 Monasterio de Santa Ana (Monastrell) - black cherry and olive with meaty herbal tones, the 14%+ alcohol is quite noticeable but the wine has character. £5 85-87
2001 Reserva (Monastrell Cabernet Syrah) - savoury black olive and ripe black cherry with liquorice edges; nice texture and weight, firm v rich fruit. £12 90+

Neighbouring Rioja in north-eastern Spain, Basque-side, Navarra seems to have established its own identity with often successful red blends of Bordeaux and Spanish varieties, as well as some of the country's best rosados. Wineries need to watch any excessive penchant on the style and price front!
Bodega 1877
2002 Altoro
crianza (Merlot Cabernet Sauvignon) - smoky plum with vanilla undertones, maturing ripe fruit v solid grip. £6-£8 89
Bodegas Ochoa
2005 Lágrima Rosado (Garnacha Cabernet Sauvignon) - delicate fruit, quite tight and fresh v good balance of weight and crunchy red fruits. £8 87
Bodegas Otazu
2000 Altar (Cabernet Sauvignon Tempranillo Merlot) - spicy oak on a quite rich and extracted palate, shows concentration and grip with attractive maturing fruit underneath. £21 88-90
Bodegas Iñaki Nuñez
2003 Pago de Cirsus, Selección de Familia (Tempranillo Cabernet Sauvignon Merlot) - new wood v rich yet elegant fruit, chunky modern blackberry with a touch of finesse too. Good but £35? 89+

Ribera del Duero
Hailed as one of the most exciting regions along with Priorat, Ribera's almost cult status has lead to sometimes very high prices and over-the-top winemaking (see Valtravieso's VT below for an example of an impressive competition wine, although not the most exaggerated by any stretch). Having said that, there are many superb wines with controlled extraction and oak usage at more reasonable prices, as you can see below.
Bodegas Ismael Arroyo
2004 Mesoneros de Castilla roble (Tinto Fino = Tempranillo) - big yet elegant wine showing dark fruit and dry tannins v fair alcohol and fresh bite; good concentration and balance, value too (for this expensive region). £6-£8 92+?
2001 Valsotillo Reserva (Tempranillo) - more farmyard and meaty soup in tone and texture, maturing savoury fruit v firm yet rounded framework. £15+ 89-91
Pago de los Capellanes
2005 Tinto roble (Tempranillo Cabernet Sauvignon Merlot) - juicier with cassis and plum notes, very firm and powerful balanced by lovely fruit. £10-£15 90-92
2003 El Nogal (Tempranillo) - smoky leather aromas with meaty prune undertones, vanilla oak backdrop with power and extracted tannins. Wow but a little unbalanced. £15+ 89
Bodegas Valtravieso
2005 Dominio de Nogara
(Tempranillo Cabernet Sauvignon Merlot) - ripe perfumed black cherry with light leather notes, firm tight mouth-feel with fresh elegant style too. £8 87-89
2004 VT
Vendimia Seleccionada (Tempranillo Cabernet Sauvignon Merlot) - broody nose leads to rich extracted palate, very firm and dry with ripe fruit and oak roundness. Impressive to taste but difficult to drink? £38 87
Bodegas Félix Callejo
2003 Selección Familia
(Tempranillo) - a bit strange: perfumed vanilla v meaty aromas; big and grippy, quite extracted but it works somehow. £20 87
Cillar de Silos
2003 Torre Silo (Tempranillo) - nice chunky fruit with background oak, savoury development v grip and length. £25 89-91

Catalonia's most famous, highish-altitude region needs little introduction (click on the title to zoom to the WFS website); and for some reason, I only tasted one wine whose winery provenance is also a bit of a mystery...
2004 Osmin
- rich chunky fruit and texture, quite oaky but not too much. 88-90

This small region adjoins Jumilla in Murcia province and similarly is fast becoming a source of delicious good-value Mediterranean reds.
Bodega Castano
2002 Pozuelo crianza (Monastrell Cabernet Sauvignon Tempranillo) - smoky earthy nose with ripe creamy fruit, attractive grip and elegant length. £6-£8 87-89

Campo de Borja
Head south from Navarra into Aragon and you'll find this still obscure wine area, where Garnacha in particular appears to be shaping their promising future. I haven't tried many wines from here but Borsao below is a pretty reliable name.
2005 Tres Picos Garnacha - spicy oak v rich ripe fruit, nice dry grip on the perhaps a bit too oaky finish. 85-87

Located not far from Valencia, Alicante also has large plantings of yummy Monastrell; although I appear to have picked one of the dearest wines from this talented and otherwise good-value region!
Bodegas Sierra Salinas
2003 Mira Salinas (Monastrell Garnacha Cabernet Sauvignon) - quite tight and firm mouth-feel with vibrant black olive and liquorice fruit, powerful finish. £15+ 89

Terra Alta
One of Catalonia's least known areas, in contrast, found to the west of Priorat. Traditional and French varieties seem to work well together, and this region has one or two very good co-operatives who offer rich 'modern' Med reds at affordable prices.
Celler Pinol
2005 Sacra Natura (Cariñena Tempranillo Syrah Cabernet, organic) - meaty chunky wine with grip and power (14%), nice dark fruit in the background. £10 87-89

Conca de Barberà
This region poised above Tarragona (west of Barcelona) came to the limelight quite a few years ago but still doesn't exactly trip off the tongue. However, it's home to one of Torres' flagship estate wines that incorporates obscure local varieties making a comeback.
2001 Grans Muralles (Monastrell Garnacha Garró Samsó Cariñena) - Garró and Samsó are old lost Catalan varieties that Torres has resurrected. Smoky complex nose with 'sweet' and savoury mix, grip power and length on the palate. £45 88-90

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