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Rare and Beautiful

Wine Regions of SpainIf you read this blog even on a semi-regular basis, you probably noticed that I’m a sucker for the obscure grapes. So let me just proclaim it in the simple and direct way – I love rare grapes. The more obscure, the lesser known the grape, the better it is.

What I like about rare grapes is a complete mystery in the glass. As the grape is unknown, nothing gets in the way of perceiving it exactly for what and how it is. The closest thing to this experience is a blind tasting, but even then you have some knowledge for what you might be tasting, so instead of been focused on just what is in the glass in front of you, your brain is also trying to place it into some potential brackets, fit it into something familiar – but not in case of the unknown and rare grape. Tasting the unknown grape is an open book without any restrictions – you can write there whatever you want.

In addition to the mystery element, I have to say that most of of my “rare grape” encounters so far were quite pleasant. Of course there were some wines I didn’t care for, but still, the majority were interesting and thought provoking. If anything, my only gripe with the rare grapes is that the respective wines are equally rare – the production is usually very small, and even smaller quantities are imported (for sure in U.S.), which makes those wines very hard to find.

Now you understand that when I was asked if I would be interested to participate in the virtual tasting of rare Spanish grapes, I enthusiastically said “yes, of course!”. I’m a big fun of the Spanish wines in general, and now the rare grapes? That doubles the fun on the spot!

The wines arrived, and then the day of the tasting. The tasting was done in the virtual format, with Lucas Payà presenting over the ustream TV, and all the bloggers and media asking questions through the social media channels (Twitter, primarily). Lucas Payà is a well known figure in the wine industry – particularly, he worked for 5 years as head sommelier for acclaimed chef Ferran Adrià’s elBulli, and he was definitely a wealth of knowledge on the subject of Spain’s lesser known wine regions and rare grapes.  I will not be trying to recite here an hour long presentation – if you have a bit of time, the recording is available here. Instead, I will give you my thoughts and tasting notes on the 8 excellent wines we had an opportunity to taste.

Here we go:

2014 Baron de Ley Rioja White (12% ABV, SRP $10.99, 90% Viura, 10% Malvasia) – out of 123,000 acres of vineyards in Rioja, less than 10% is planted with white grapes (11,000 acres), so it is given that white Rioja wines are rare. This wine was simple and well quaffable.
C: pale straw
N: touch of the candied fruit, white peach, expressive
P: intense fresh white fruit, good acidity, short finish
V: dangerous wine, too easy to drink 7+

2013 A Coroa Godello Valdeorras DO (13.5% ABV, SRP $23, 100% Godello) – Valdeorras region is located in Galicia, and it is a part of so called Green Spain – a territory with wet and cool climate. Godello grape was nearly extinct with only 400 vines remaining in 1980. Today Godello is starting to compete with Albariño in popularity, and it is capable of a great depth of expression.
C: light yellow
N: white stone fruit, touch of vanilla, spices
P: fresh, light white fruit, lemon, grapefruit, clean
V: good, 7/7+, finish is a bit sweet

2013 Raventós i Blanc Silencis Xarel-lo Penedes DO (12% ABV, SRP $21, 100% Xarel-lo) – Penedes region is best known for its sparkling wines, Cava, and Raventós is the oldest producer of Cava. Xarel-lo, difficult to pronounce grape (listen to it here), is one of the main components of Cava, but increasingly it is bottled as a dry still wine, and I would say it is  worth seeking.
C: light straw, almost invisible
N: hazelnut, vanilla, touch of tropical fruit
P: creamy, intense, plump, green apple, good acidity, reach
V: 8-

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2013 Guímaro Tinto Ribeira Sacra DO (13% ABV, SRP $18, 100% Mencía) – Ribeira Sacra is another region classified as Green Spain (cool and wet), and this is second region focused on the indigenous Spanish grape called Mencía. The first region is Bierzo, where Mencía makes powerful, concentrated reds. Here in Ribeira Sacra, Mencía shows totally different, with the emphasis on fresh, fruity profile.
C: garnet red
N: bright, fresh fruit, gamay-like
P: beautiful! Pepper, dark fruit, touch of smokiness, earthy, bright, delicious
V: 8-

2013 Suertes del Marques 7 Fuentes Valle de la Orotava DO Tenerife (Canary Islands) (13% ABV, $22, blend of Listán Negro, Tintilla) – Canary Islands, and Tenerife in particular, have a lot of unique climatic zones – and unique grapes. The two grapes used in production of this wine – Listán Negro and Tintilla – are the new grapes for me, adding up to the count. The volcanic soil influence is spectacular, and this wine is a treat for any wine geek.
C: ruby red
N: smoke, mushrooms, forest, dark intensity
P: smoke, forest floor, campfire, spice, beautiful
V: 8

2012 Bodegas Margón Pricum Primeur Tierra de León DO (13.5% ABV, SRP $28, 100% Prieto Picudo) – another indigenous grape, Prieto Picudo, coming from the vineyards which are 60  – 100 years old. Truly special wine, definitely worth seeking.
C: dark garnet red
N: slightly vegetative, touch of plums, earthy, unusual, chocolate
P: texture, velvety, silky, good dark fruit, very round
V: 8, excellent

2012 Navaherreros Garnacha de Bernabeleva Viños de Madrid DO (15% ABV, SRP $25, blend of Garnacha, small quantities of Albillo, Macabeo) – Garnacha is definitely not a rare grape in Spain, but here it has yet a different expression compare to Priorat or Borsao. The grapes for this wine come from the 40 – 80 years old vineyards, and the wine itself is a perfect rendition of Garnacha.
C: bright garnet red
N: dark chocolate, fruit, open, nice, touch of blueberries
P: dark chocolate, good acidity, good fruit, clean and excellent
V: 8, excellent

Lustau Palo Cortado Península Jerez (19% ABV, SRP $22, 100% Palomino Fino) – Sherry (Jerez) is grossly under-appreciated wine as a category, which allows wine aficionados to enjoy unique taste without having to spend a fortune.
C: dark golden yellow
N: mint, herbs, caramel, hazelnuts
P: perfectly balanced, touch of salinity and expressive acidity, begging for some aged cheese
V: 8-

There you have it, my friends – a unique experience of the rare grapes and regions, and beautiful wines which I would be happy to drink every day. Are you familiar with any of these wines, grapes or regions? When presented with an opportunity to try the new and unknown grape, would you gladly go for it, or would you ask for Pinot Noir instead? Comment away! Cheers!

  1. July 11, 2015 at 12:45 pm

    What fun, I don’t think I have tasted wine made from rare grapes and admit I know very little about it. I am fascinated by this and would love to try.

    • talkavino
      July 13, 2015 at 12:31 pm

      Thanks, Suzanne. Some of these wines should be available, but unfortunately, not all of them…

  2. July 11, 2015 at 5:57 pm

    i’ll try the new wine every time – if there is one on offer – although more often than not in restaurants the standard wines are on offer and nothing too rare but as you know I love discovering wines

  3. July 11, 2015 at 6:00 pm

    PS just did a little search – the 2012 Bodegas Margón Pricum Primeur Tierra de León DO sells for 8.95 Euros in spain online (around 12 dollars..) definitely worth seeking out if you can get it at that price

    • talkavino
      July 13, 2015 at 12:30 pm

      I’m sure the wine it cheaper at the source 🙂 Besides, it is pretty much not available in US anyway…

      • July 13, 2015 at 12:36 pm

        amazing you cannot get everything in the US

  4. July 13, 2015 at 3:54 am

    I bought a bottle of 2012 Navaherreros Garnacha de Bernabeleva after you posted the wine on Twitter. Looking forward to trying it. Cheers!

    • talkavino
      July 13, 2015 at 12:32 pm

      I remember you mentioned that. Curious to hear your opinion.

  5. July 13, 2015 at 8:48 pm

    Great list! I’ve had a few but not in enough quantities to come to conclusions. Love Spanish wines though.

    • talkavino
      July 14, 2015 at 8:33 am

      Thanks – I didn’t come up with it, but I was definitely glad to participate in the tasting 🙂

  6. July 14, 2015 at 3:02 pm

    Yummy! I love that “expressive” is one of your descriptors. 🙂

    • talkavino
      July 14, 2015 at 10:54 pm

      well, why not? The wine can be muted or subtle, but it can be also expressive. I’m not a big fun of using impressively sounding, but very obscure descriptors which are hard to relate to (how about some salmonberry?) – I prefer to use simple and easy terms…

      • July 15, 2015 at 7:48 am

        One day I’m going to find my way to you, just so I can taste wine with you. (and of course food) I love your descriptors-food and wine! 🙂

  7. July 19, 2015 at 5:17 am

    I like original authentic wines, wines with character that I find much more interesting than mass-produced stuff (which can be tasty, but becomes boring). Unusual grapes help a lot. Although even chardonnay can have a lot of character from an interesting producer and an interesting terroir. Some of the grapes you mention are not rare from a Spanish perspective (like Viura and Xarel.lo), although I could not say I know them well.

    • talkavino
      July 20, 2015 at 10:43 am

      I agree that Chardonnay (or any other mainstream grape) might be unique and different depending where it comes from. Yes, Viura and Xarel-lo are well known, however, in US you can find may be 1 bottle of Viura in one wine store out of 5. And while Xarel-lo is one of the major components in the Cava, it is practically non-existent in the form of the varietal still wine. I should’ve done better job explaining the rationale of my post.

      • July 20, 2015 at 2:24 pm

        It is great that you inspire your readers to try something new. It is certainly true that one’s location also has a big influence on what is rare. I recently talked to someone online who had never heard of Muscadet, which in the Netherlands you can find in every supermarket. You certainly have a point, because I don’t think I’ve tasted more than 1 or 2 varietals from either Viura or Xarel.lo. I’m more aware of Italian rare varieties like erbaluce, gaglioppo, ruchè, coda di volpe, uva di troia, lacrima di morro d’alba, timorasso, etc. I don’t think arneis could be considered rare, although I doubt whether even 1 wine store out of 5 would carry it in the US.

        • talkavino
          July 20, 2015 at 2:47 pm

          I didn’t do the research regarding Arneis, of course, but there is a difference in the Italian whites (in general) versus the Spanish whites. Spain, with the rare exception of Albariño, is known for its red wines. Italy is extremely well known for both white and red, it is #1 in its wine import to US, and people often look for alternatives to Pinot Grigio, which would give Arneis a bit more marketshare versus Viura. But not by a lot 🙂

  8. July 20, 2015 at 5:35 am

    I’m intrigued by this virtual tasting Anatoli… keen to have a look at the link to the recording tomorrow when I have a spare moment. Interesting to read about these unusual grapes and your thoughts on tasting them all. I’ll always jump at the chance of trying something new in the world of wine! 🙂

    • talkavino
      July 20, 2015 at 10:39 am

      There so many discoveries we can make in the world of wine….

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