Tasting the Obscure Spain

Once a month I attend a tasting with a few fellow wine lovers. We normally decide on some sort of loose theme, I say loose as the theme is usually followed by the words ‘or not’, giving rise to some pretty weird and wonderful stuff. We primarily do this to keep our blind tasting skills up to speed but we don’t treat it all too seriously. Last Monday the theme was “Obscure Spain (or not)” which can mean anything as the variety of wines from Spain is impressive. We had a pretty varied bunch, but before starting we have to master the process of putting the wines in some sort of order. You’d think this would be pretty straightforward but usually the group descends into chaos resulting in a completely random set of numbers and letters. Despite this it usually turns out reasonably accurate at the end.

To kick off we had a white Rioja, the Marques de Murrieta Capellanía 2005 (Berry Bros – £19). Produced from 50 year old Viura vines from the Ygay estate it spends 18 months on new French oak. This not only gives the wine its nutty, gingery characteristics but also makes it feel slightly grippy on the palate. It’s a special wine, very complex, particularly the aromas and it has a very long finish. Not one for the easy drinking crowd but a great food wine.

The second white, the Mas d’en Compte Priorat 2007 (Spirited Wines – £23), had a slightly deeper golden colour. A toasty, vanilla nose with a greenish edge. I wrote down guava but cardamom was mentioned as well. It was a rich, full-bodied wine with a spicy flavour but showed very little fruit character. The acidity comes in late and it finishes clean. Overall we felt this wine had a bit too much oak and it really overpowered what fruit there was. We did wonder if we perhaps had a bottle that was slightly out of condition as it gets rave reviews otherwise. The dominant variety is Grenache (60%) and I normally really like the soft floral style of white Grenache but the oak spoiled it for me.

Our first red wine was the Vina del Perdon Gran Reserva 2001 from Navarra (Waitrose – £9.49). This wine had most of us confused over where it was from and even what grape variety it was made of. It had some Rioja-like characters, clearly owing to the 3 years in a combination of French and American oak, but it felt altogether lighter in style. It had quite a bit of acidity and freshness. Most of us had put its vintage somewhere around 05/06. As it turned out it was a more international blend of Cabernet Franc, Merlot and Graciano, the latter being the only grape also used in Rioja. The nose had the more developed aromas of tobacco leaf and something that reminded me of tree bark as well as dried cherries. A dry, spicy wine on the palate with cherry and plum flavours. Refreshing without being simple.

Next up was the wildcard, a Tempranillo from Argentina. The Zuccardi Q Tempranillo 2008 (Cross Stobs Wine – £16) uses the main variety from Rioja but puts a decidedly new world twist on this. Sweet vanilla, chocolate, cherry and chilli. Explosive fruit on the palate, tasting of summer pudding and chocolate. Not for the faint-hearted as it is alcoholic and extracted and very impressive. Likened to a very modern style of Ribera del Duero this was the odd one out.

Then we came to a very big treat with the Pintia 2006 from Toro (Berry Bros – £42). Made from 100% Tempranillo, known locally as Tinta de Toro it spent a year in new French and American oak barrels. This is a hugely tannic wine, even after 5 years. It has a dark, meaty nose, chocolate, coffee, black olives were all mentioned as were dark cherries. On the palate it was the tannins that really stood out. They were screaming for food. Fortunately we had some cheese and Jamon Iberico to come to our aid. Dry, intense, dark and brooding. Dark plum, chocolate and those tannins, this wine feels like it will live forever. Keep it for now or decant it a few hours before drinking and have it with a nice joint of meat to get the best from it.

Our final wine of the night was a sweet wine, the Alta Alella, Dolç Blanc 2008. The grapes (a blend of Cava variety Xarel-Lo, blended with Viognier and Chardonnay) were grown about 2km from the sea near Barcelona. Aromas of lemon curd and honey, with a slight mineral edge, followed through on the palate, which is rich but not hugely sweet. There is a pithy, rind-like bitterness that balances well with the sweetness making it feel beautifully balanced. The grapes are picked and then frozen (in freezers), producing something like an artificial ice wine as I doubt the temperature would ever get low enough there to make the proper stuff. Pretty much for local consumption and this bottle was brought back from Barcelona so I don’t expect to find it in the UK. If anything this may well wine the prize of most obscure wine of the night.