From Value to World-Class – Celebrating 30 Years of Spanish Wines in USA
I’m sure that any proud oenophile and wine aficionado is acutely aware of the high class, delicious Spanish wines. Considering that Spain has the biggest planted area under vines in the world, and that wines had been made there for thousand of years, it is a no-brainer that Spanish wines are so well known and well recognized. Right? Well, the interesting fact is that for many casual wine drinkers, Spanish wines are still largely unknown. And, to top it of, you also need to understand that measly 30 years back, the only way to talk about Spanish wines, at least in the US, was by presenting them strictly as “value wines”.
30 years doesn’t sound like a lot – but the notion of time is relative, it fully depends on what is happening during that time. Wines from Spain mission was established in New York in 1984 to increase awareness of the Spanish wines in USA. Spanish quality control system, D.O., was established in 1986. Modern Priorat wines started in 1989. The pace of success and recognition only accelerated from there, with Parker awarding 100 points ratings to 5 Spanish wines in 2007 and Rioja named “Wine Region of the Year” by the Wine Enthusiast magazine in 2007. In 2012 Ribera del Duero became Wine Enthusiast magazine’s “Wine Region of the Year” and 2004 Cune Imperial Gram Reserva became Wine Spectator’s wine of the year in 2013.
To celebrate all the success of the Spanish wines in the USA, Wines from Spain recently conducted special tasting event in New York, called “Spain’s Great Match – wine food design”. The tasting consisted of a number of seminars and traditional walk-around tasting which included both wine and the food. The seminars were hard to get into, I only managed to attend one out of 4 (there rest was sold out almost before they were offered) – but boy, what a seminar it was!
The seminar was led by the wine educator Steve Olson, who was one of the early proponents of the Spanish wines and who was instrumental in helping Spanish wines to gain market recognition in the US.
We started tasting from the toast of NV Freixenet Cordón Negro DO Cava, which was surprisingly (yes, please pardon my inner snob) nice, with some toasty notes and good mousse. It turns out that Freixenet was one of the very first importers of the Spanish wines in US, starting from 1974.
Next we had two beautiful whites:
2012 Bodegas Fillaboa Selección Finca Monte Alto Albariño DO Rias Baixas ($30) – Single vineyard, hand-harvested and sorted, made to age. Beautiful complex nose, white fruit, herbal nose. On the palate – pronounced minerality and acidity, literally devoid of fruit – will be interesting to see how this wine will evolve. Extremely long finish. Needs food.
2012 Rafael Palaciós As Sortes Valdeorras DO ($30, 100% Godello) – beautiful nose, white fruit, spices, a good Burgundy-rivaling complexity. On the palate -great acidity, white fruit, perfect balance – excellent texture, minerality and finish. The wine was double decanted before serving.
And then there were [spectacular] reds. All the red wines with the exception of 1984 were double-decanted to help them open up.
1984 Bodegas Alejandro Fernandez Tinto Pesquera DO Ribera del Duero ($30/current release, 100% Tempranillo) – 1984 was very unusual year – grapes were harvested in December(!). Nose – wow! Everything you want in the red wine – cedar box, red fruit, spice cabinet – warm, inviting. Palate – young, astringent, with very present tannins, blackberries – outstanding wine.
2010 Bodegas Muga Reserva Especial DOCa Rioja ($40) – Beautiful, warm nose, complex, touch of rhubarb, ripe fruit. Dry, perfect acidity, blackberries, restrained, great balance, dust on the palate, firm structure.
2005 Descendientes de José Palacio Corullón San Martin, Bierzo DO ($75, 100% Mencia) – this wine was produced for the first time in 1998 at the biodynamically farmed estate. Production is tiny, about 120 cases. Ripe fruit on the nose, eucalyptus, herbs. On the palate – firm structure, great minerality and acidity, spices, great depth, textural dust.
2007 Pago Marqués de Griñon Emeritus, DO Dominio de Valdepusa ($75, 66% Cabernet Sauvignon, 17% Syrah, 17% Petite Verdot) – wow! Amazing – would beat any California Cabernet. Green bell pepper, touch of cassis, great concentration, firm structure, great balance. Drinkability: 9
2004 Bodegas Mauduros San Román, Toro DO ($150, 100% Ink of Toro) – baking spices, concentrated dark fruit, tar, hazelnut. On the palate – delicious, complex, starts from sweetness and evolves almost to astringency. General Tempranillo traits with tremendous concentration.
2005 Clos Terrasses Clos Erasmus Priorat DOCa (~$1,000 for 2005 vintage, about $300 current vintage, 85% Garnacha, 15% Syrah, 100 points Parker) – elegant, open nose, sage, cherries, incredible palate, sweet fruit, spices, blackberries, blueberries, tight frame, impeccable balance, just beautiful. Drinkability: 9
Williams & Humbert Jalifa Amontillado VORS Jerez DO ($35) – this wine is about 50 years old. Very complex nose with anchovy, almonds, hazelnuts. Wow – incredible complexity on the palate – leather, spices, truffle oil – wow! Craves food – and will work with variety of foods.
To say that this was a great tasting would be an understatement – I also like the fact that the wines were selected to showcase major regions and capabilities of the Spanish winemaking.
Yes, this was one and only seminar I was able to attend – but the tasting continued with the extravaganza of other Spanish wines and food. One interesting observation from the tasting was the fact that most of the big name in Spanish wines were absent in the tasting itself – La Rioja Alta, Cvne, Lopez de Heredia, Vega Sicilia, none of the great Grenache wines, like Alto Moncayo, Bodegas Gil – the list can go on and on – none of them were represented. Yes, I understand that for the most part the tasting is run through the distributors and not directly by the wineries, but still. This was the only peculiar observation I made.
And here are two more interesting observations for you (here interesting = positive). First, Godello is coming! Godello is a white grape, indigenous to Spain, which is capable of producing Chardonnay-comparable wines. There were a lot of Godello wines presented at the tasting, most of them of a very good quality. I can definitely say that Godello is squarely joining the ranks of Albariño, Viura and Verdejo, the best known Spanish white grapes. You should definitely look for Godello wines in the store if you want to try something unique and different.
And the second point: in the “inexpensive wines” category, Spain clearly kicks butt! Some of the wines priced at $10 or less were simply outstanding, but even outside of that price range, it is almost impossible to beat Spanish wines in the QPR category.
Before we we will talk about the wines, a few words about the food. There was a lot of delicious Spanish food presented at the event. First of all, there was cheese. For anyone who likes Spanish cheese, that was simply a heaven – lots of different Manchego, Iberico and other cheeses – different age, different pasteurization – a lot more options than you can find at the average store. There were also anchovy, called boquerones in Spain – white boquerones were simply delicious (yes, of course it is a personal opinion). And there was lots of tapas, masterfully prepared right in front of the desiring crowd. The tapas were made periodically, and every time that process would create a crowd of people, all hoping not to miss the new and interesting dish. Food at this event definitely commanded as much attention as the wine had. Here are a few pictures, just to attest to what I just said.
And of course, for what it worth, here are the notes from the rest of the tasting. I have to say that the tasting was organized in a bit of a strange way. My major complaint was the fact that there was no reasonable handout of any sort, so taking any notes of essence was simply impossible. Also the whole tasting was not logically organized, with packets of regional wines mixed with individual wineries and also distributors – the was no system of any sort, which made the overall tasting experience frustrating rather than productive. Anyway, below are my notes, in the usual tasting style, using “+” signs. You will not see any “+” wines, “++” only if really deserve mentioning, so most of the wines should be above “++”. On a positive side, I picked up again a few grapes, which I will mention in the notes. Here we go:
2005 Agricultura y Bodega Renacimento de Olivares Rento, Ribera del Duero ($55) – ++-|, overextracted
2011 Alejandro Fernández Tinto Pesquera, Ribera del Duero ($40) – +++, excellent
2009 Bodega Matarromera Matarromera Crianza, Ribera del Duero ($30) – +++, restrained, nice, ready
2011 Bodegas Emilio Moro Ribera del Duero ($25) – +++, delicious, round
2010 Condado de Haza, Ribera del Duero ($28) – +++, beautiful
2011 Legaris Crianza, Ribera del Duero ($27) – ++-|, not ready
2010 Bodegas Reyes Teofilo Reyes Crianza, Ribera del Duero DO ($31.50) – +++
2013 Bodegas Marqués de Vizhoja Torre La Moreira Albariño, Rias Baixas DO ($19.99) – ++
2012 Condes de Albarei Albariño, Rias Baixas DO ($15) – ++-|, nice, clean
2013 Adegas Morgadio Albariño, Risa Baixas DO ($22) – +++-|, wow! fruit, great! delicious!
2009 Bodega Prado Rey PR3 Barricas Verdejo Rueda DO ($22) – ++-|
2013 Bodegas Angel Rodriguez Martinsancho Verdejo Rueda DO ($22) – +++
NV Finca Hispana Fino DO Montilla Moriles ($8.99)- +++, unbeatable QPR!
2013 Finca Hispana Xarel.lo DO Penedés ($8.99)- +++, unbeatable QPR!
NV Finca Hispana Cava Brut Imperial Reserva Cava DO ($14.99)- +++
2013 Vitivinícola do Ribeiro Viña Costeira Ribeiro DO – +++, clean!
2013 Moure Vinos Artesans Moure Tradicion Blanco, DO Ribeira Sacra ($40) – ++-|
2013 Nivarius Rioja DOCa ($24.99, Tempranillo Blanco and Viura) – ++-| new grape!
2011 Quinta de Muradella Alanda Blanco, DO Monterrei ($35, 30% Dona Blanca, 30% Treixadura, 30% Verdello, 10% Monstruosa de Monterrei) – ++-|, new grapes!
2013 Bodegas Nivarius Nivei Rioja DOCa ($11.99) – ++-|
2011 Losada Vinos de Finca Bierzo DO ($22) – +++, great!
2013 2013 Finca Hispana Garnacha Terra Alta DO ($8.99)- +++, unbeatable QPR
2009 Martinez Lacuesta Crianza, Rioja DOCa ($17.50) – +++
2005 Bodega de Sarria Reserva, Navarra DO ($16.95) – +++
2011 Terra de Falanis Muac! DO Montsant ($16.95) – +++, delicious, spicy!
2012 Pagos Los Balancines Crash, VT Extremadura ($10.50) – ++, mnice!
2012 Moure Vinos Artesans Moure Tradicion Barrica, DO Ribeira Sacra ($29, Merenzao) – ++-| new grape!
Here we are, my friends – a delicious Spanish wine experience with many personal discoveries (like Marqués de Griñon Emeritus – you have to taste it believe it) and the new grapes. Let me finish this post with the question – are the Spanish wines part of your regular “wine lifestyle”? Do you look at the Spanish wines only as a source of value, or do you consider them world-class and the best hidden secret of the wine world? Let me know and cheers!