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Spain’s Great Match, 2021 Edition

November 21, 2021 4 comments

Spanish wines are some of my most favorite wines in the world.

Spain’s Great Match event in New York is one of my most favorites wine events of the year, always offering an opportunity to discover something new.

And I had not been to New York City in the past 18 months – lots of good reasons to be excited, would you agree?

For the second time in a row, Spain’s Great Match event was held at Mercado Little Spain, a Mecca of Spanish cuisine in one of New York’s hottest new neighborhoods, Hudson Yards. I was able to attend the walk-around tasting and two of the seminars, so here I want to share my impressions.

Before we get to the event, just a few facts about Spain’s wine industry. Spain has the biggest grape planting area in the world – more than 2.9 million acres. Spain today (2021) is the second-largest wine producer in the world after Italy. There are more than 600 grape varieties grown in Spain (only about 20 are used to produce the majority of the wines though). Spain has more than 130 defined wine-growing areas.

Now, let me share my observations.

First, Spanish wines are popular. Duh? I can’t argue – I’m starting with the most banal conclusion, but let me explain. Spanish wines were always regarded as the best-kept secret among wine professionals – whatever the general public likes to drink is fine, but the wine professionals would most often resort to the Spanish wines to share amongst themselves and with friends. I don’t know how many people attended the consumer portion of the event in the evening, but the trade event was incredibly busy, also with a significant number of MS and MW in the audience – I never saw these many Masters of Wine and Master Sommeliers attending this event. It might be just me not seeing it before, or it might be a testament to the growing popularity of Spanish wines. I think this popularity is also reflected in the increased prices of the Spanish wines – don’t know if supply issues are muddying things up, but otherwise, it seems that the prices are inching higher.

The trend of “internationalization”. Spanish Rioja and Ribera del Duero wines, the keystones of Tempranillo expression, always had its unique taste profile, driven by well-integrated tannins, minerality, and spicy undertones. This character was largely defined by the use of American oak which was traditional in Rioja. I didn’t taste each and every Rioja wine presented at the event, but based on what I managed to taste, it seems that there is a shift towards using the French oak, which completely changes the presentation of the wine, leading with grippy, mouth-drying tannins which completely lock the front of your mouth for a few minutes after the sip. Barolo used to be like that, and it became much better with tannins lately. Now Rioja is offering this internationally indistinguishable style which becomes borderline boring. If I want to drink a grippy powerful wine, I got plenty of choices outside of Rioja – I understand that this might be a trend with young wine drinkers, but it will be very difficult to maintain individuality and build a following if you are simply “one of many similar ones”.

Where did the Godello go? I saw a very little presence of Godello wines, which was surprising. I always thought that this white grape has an excellent future – this might still be the case, but this was not obvious with 3 whites ruling the show – Rioja Blanco, Albariño, and Verdejo Rueda.

Jerez is absolutely delightful. My love of Jerez is back, and the wines we tasted during the seminar (more details forthcoming) were simply superb.

Don’t forget Spanish bubbles. I tasted a bunch of Cavas, and none of them were mediocre. Fresh, clean, approachable, and reasonably priced – great QPR wines for every day.

Now, here are the wines I tasted during the event (with the exception of the seminar wines). Everything which is mentioned below was well drinkable, and the specific favorites are marked (bold) as such.

2020 Santiago Ruiz Santiago Ruiz D.O. Rias Baixas ($25)
2017 Bodegas LAN Rioja Crianza D.O.Ca. Rioja ($18) – probably my favorite from the Bodegas LAN selection. The most approachable and balanced from this group.
2015 Bodegas LAN Rioja Reserva D.O.Ca. Rioja ($24)
2017 Bodegas LAN D-12 D.O.Ca. Rioja ($25) – single vineyard
2017 Bodegas LAN Xtreme 2017 D.O.Ca. Rioja ($25)
2015 Bodegas LAN Viña Lanaciano D.O.Ca. Rioja ($30)
2018 Bodegas LAN Edicion Limitada D.O.Ca. Rioja ($55)
2015 Bodegas LAN Culmen D.O.Ca. Rioja ($70)

2016 Vins el Cep Gelida Brut Gran Reserva D.O. Cava ($20)
NV Bodegas Llopart Brut Reserva Rosé Corpinnat ($28)
2020 Bodegas Vatán Nisia Las Suertes D.O. Rueda ($32)
2018 Bodegas La Caña Navia D.O. Rias Baixas ($32)
2019 Bodegas Avancia Mencía Old Vines D.O. Valdeorras ($35)
2018 Bodegas Breca Garnacha D.O. Calatayud ($16) – clean, simple
2018 Bodegas Vatán Tritón Tinta de Toro D.O. Toro ($20)
2018 Bodegas Vatán Tinta de Toro D.O. Toro ($45)

2018 Bodegas Muga Flor de Muga Blanco D.O.Ca. Rioja ($50) – my favorite wine white of the event – clean, round, fresh, elegant
2014 Bodegas Muga Prado Enea Gran Reserva D.O.Ca. Rioja ($100) – surprisingly ready to drink
2011 Bodegas Sierra Cantabria Gran Reserva D.O.Ca. Rioja ($40)
2014 Bodegas Alvear Alvear Fino en Rama D.O. Montilla Moriles ($22) – outstanding. It is very rare to find dry sherry made from 100% Pedro Ximenes grapes.
2016 Sierra Salinas Mira Salinas D.O. Alicante ($18, Monastrell) – Elegant, fresh, perfect acidity
2016 Ramirez de la Piscina Ramirez de la Piscina Reserva D.O.Ca. Rioja ($22)

2018 Rafael Cañizares Bodegas Volver Tempranillo Single Vineyards D.O. La Mancha ($20)
2020 Rafael Cañizares Bodegas Volver Paso A Paso Tempranillo Tierra De Castilla ($35) – excellent, elegant, open

All three were excellent:
2013 Agustí Torelló Mata Cava Agustí Torelló Mata Brut Nature Gran Reserva D.O. Cava ($26)
2017 Agustí Torelló Mata Cava Agustí Torelló Mata Brut Reserva D.O. Cava ($21)
2011 Agustí Torelló Mata | Cava Kripta Brut Nature Gran Reserva D.O. Cava ($85) – unique and different, would make a perfect geeky present

2019 Bodegas San Valero S.Coop Cabeza Casa D.O. Cariñena ($11, Garnacha) – elegant, round, excellent QPR
2018 Bodegas San Valero Celebrities Syrah D.O. Cariñena ($11)
MV Bodegas San Valero 801 D.O. Cariñena ($20, blend of 2014 Cabernety Sauvignon, 2015 Merlot, 2016 Syrah) – very good, unusual, multi-vintage
2019 Bodegas San Valero Particular Garnacha D.O. Cariñena ($12)

Now, the seminars. The Jerez seminar was superb, offering lots and lots of knowledge about the fascinating world of sherries. Three white grapes – Palomino Fino, Pedro Ximenez, and Moscatel – are behind the tremendous range of wines, all with unique characters and tastes ranging from absolutely bone dry (sugar content less than 5 g/l) to the syrup level with more than 300 grams of sugar per liter. Another fascinating element of Sherry is the Solera production method, where the resulting wine might technically have trace amounts of 200+ years old wines. Lots and lots of care and attention go into the Sherry production. During the “Spotlight on Sherry” seminar, led by incomparable César Saldaña, General Director of the Jerez Control Board, we learned a lot about sherries and tasted through the outstanding flight of 8 wines (with the exception of the last 2 which I didn’t enjoy that much).

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Here are my notes regarding the 8 wines we tasted:

Bodegas Hidalgo Manzanilla La Gitana
4 years Solera
Almonds, hazelnut, sage, brioche
Crisp, dry, fresh, hazelnut, pecorino cheese, sapidity, dusty palate
Excellent, perfect aperitif, and perfect for food

2021 Tio Pepe Fino Tio Pepe en Rama-Saca
Unique and different, blend of selection of 82 butts of Tio Pepe Solera
Bottled unfiltered
Beautiful floral nose,
Crisp, clean, elegant, mostly lemon and 0 sugar, chalky note – typical for this type of wine.
Great complexity, elegant

Valdespino Jerez Fino Ynocente
Single Vineyard in Pago Macharnudo
50 years old Palomino Fino vines
Fermented in cask
10 years Solera, Criaderras Solera
Very elegant, apples, lemon
Chalk, lemon, sapidity, 0 sugar

Williams Humber Amontillado Don Zoilo
Solera 12 years
Biologically aged until the full absence of flor
Butterscotch!
Crisp, fresh, herbaceous

Lustau Almagenista Oloroso Pata de Gallina
Almagenista: Juan Garcia Jarana
38 casks, aged on average 15 years
Butterscotch, caramel
Crisp acidity, sapidity, great complexity, hazelnut

Osborne Palo Cortado Capuchin VORS
Solera was founded in 1790! Potentially, there were traces of 230 years old wine!
5 criaderas
Average age 30 years
Tobacco, mint, basil
Pepper, tobacco, caramel, complex, long finish.
Superb

Bodegas Tradicion Cream Tradicion VOS
Blend of 30 years Oloroso (70%), 6 years old Pedro Ximénez (30%)
Average age 25 years
Dry fruit
Concentrated sugar, not great.

Barbadillo Pedro Ximénez la Chila
Solera system average 5 years
Amazing nose – raisins, figs,
Pure liquid raisins on the palate. I would like more acidity.

 


Finally, I attended the seminar called “Essential Spain in 8 Glasses”, presented by Laura Williamson, MS, and Evan Goldstein, MS.

If the country is the second-largest wine producer in the world, cultivating about 600 different grape varieties, is it even fathomable to present such a complex wine world in the format of 8 wines? While it is not easy, you can get reasonably close. I think the presenters made a good effort by including Cava, Albariño, Verdejo, Mencia, Rioja, Priorat, Garnacha, and Ribera del Duero.

2012 Pere Ventura Gran Vintage Brut Paraje Clasificada Cava DO ($55)
Yeasty nose, fresh dough
Crisp, yeasty, yeasty, yeasty, yeasty – not my wine

2020 Condes de Albarei Albariño ($16)
Tropical fruit nose
Acidic, Whitestone fruit, crisp, simple

2020 Bodegas Ordoñez Nisa Verdejo Old World Rueda ($32)
Intense nose with a hint of freshly cut grass, flowers
Rich, caramel component, overdone

2015 Ole Imports a-Portela Mencia ($29)
Very nice nose, fresh, open, fresh berries
Beautiful herbal/gamey component, but then very bitter on the palate – whole cluster not done right?

2014 Imperial Gran Reserva Rioja ($85)
Outstanding. Delicious all around.

2017 Clos Martinet Priorat (65% Grenache, 20% Syrah, 10% Carignan, 4% Merlot, 1% Cabernet Sauvignon)
Smoke, roasted notes
Red and black fruit, perfect balance, great acidity, a touch of chocolate

2018 Also Moncayo VERATON ($35, Garnacha)
Plums, cherries,
Good acidity, fresh, cherries, crisp, great finesse

2018 Pago de Carraovejas Ribera Duero ($39)
Chalk, a hint of cherries,
Cherries, dark concentrated fruit, restrained. Very nice.

Last but not least – there was food! The food was carried around in all the different forms – I didn’t have much time to enjoy it, so I was mostly grabbing pieces of Jamon and Manchego between the tastings – these are the pictures I will leave you with.

This concludes my report. Have you had any Spanish wine discoveries as of late? What are your thoughts about the new wines and new styles?

Spain’s Great Match 2019 – A Mixed Bag?

October 17, 2019 Leave a comment

I love Spanish wines.

Anyone who reads this blog for a while is aware of this. Spanish wines have a special place in my heart, as even today they are some of the best-kept secrets in the wine world, allowing those in the know to enjoy amazing wines still at reasonable prices (some of the best QPRs around).

For many years I had been attending Spanish Wine Tasting in New York, called Spain’s Great Match. I usually attend the early morning seminar, and then go for the walk-around tasting – here you can find my reports from 2014 and 2017 events.

The seminars at Spain’s Great Match are meant to showcase some of the best and interesting Spanish wines. 2014 event was an absolute stand out in this regard, as this was a special event celebrating 30 years of Spanish wines in the USA. The wines served in that seminar were way beyond amazing.

The 2017 seminar was also quite good – maybe not as good as 2014, but still, very, very good. Now, before I will report on the 2019 event, let me talk a bit about the setting.

Mercado Little Spain

The event took place in one of the trendiest New York neighborhoods, Hudson Yards, at the recently opened Mercado Little Spain. Mercado Little Spain is conceptually similar to the Eataly, with the space filled with all possible produce, food and drink options which you would otherwise find…yes, in Spain. So the setting itself was outstanding, creating the right atmosphere to enjoy Spanish wines as they should be.

Now, let’s talk about the seminar, which was called “Vinos de Vanguardia: Wines on the Cutting Edge”.

Vinos de Vanguardia tasting

Vinos de Vanguardia tasting

Vinos de Vanguardia tasting

Vinos de Vanguardia tasting

As you can tell from the name, the idea was to present a unique and different side of Spanish wines. Yes, I get it – Spanish wines might be relegated by “ordinary”, “predictable”, and “same all, same all”, and the seminar was designed to break that myth and to show the forward-thinking of the Spanish winemakers.

I don’t discriminate against any type of wines – natural, low intervention, “orange”, unoaked, unfiltered, canned, boxed, all is good. I’m willing to try absolutely anything – at least one time. When I taste the wine, I trust my palate, and that sip will be simply binary – I will either like the wine, or not. Yes, temperature, air, of course – I’m willing to give literally an unlimited amount of time to the wine to show itself properly – but at some point, the wine has to deliver what it is supposed to deliver – a pleasure. That’s all I’m looking for in wine – pleasure.

I’m sure the wines in the seminar were hand-selected to represent the avant-garde thinking of the Spanish winemakers. However, for me, only 3 wines out of 8 delivered that pleasure, and two out of those leftover 5 were not only boring, but they were also off-putting. I rarely call wines “bad”, I typically say that the wines are “not for me”. So these 2 wines were truly not for me – here are the notes:

2018 Can Sumoi Xarel-lo DO Penedès (100% Xarel-lo)
Golden
Great acidity, sour apples, an unusual ting of a fermenting fruit
Mostly acidity, a bit violent to my taste. Fresh lemon acidity, devoid of any sweetness. The bitter-sour finish lingered. It might be a food wine, but I would definitely prefer a Muscadet if I really look for food-friendly acidity.
Natural wine, the panel was talking about a sense of place and so on, but one can relate to that only if one is visiting, and without that “place” connection the wine was … well, you got my point

2018 Tajinaste Blanco DO Islas Canarias (90% Listán Blanco, 10% Albillo)
Golden color
Fresh grass, underripe white plums, distant hint of a grapefruit
Fresh acidity, Meyer lemon. Unfortunately, boring.

2018 A Coroa Godello DO Valdeorras (100% Godello)
Golden color
Whitestone fruit, a touch of lemon
Good acidity, distant hint of buttery notes, but this was mostly it – the acidity. This wine might well be improved with time, judging by the acidity, but at the moment, boring.

2016 Enrique Mendoza La Tremenda DO Alicante (100% Monastrell)
Garnet
Beautiful intense nose of fresh berries, a touch of iodine
Tannins-forward, tannins mostly take over the wine, some fruit present. Not great.

2018 Bodegas Ponce Clos Lojén DO Manchuria (100% Bobal)
Dark garnet
Touch of roasted meat, violet, very inviting floral aromatics
Beautiful pepper note, fresh berries, medium body, open, inviting, short finish. First good wine in the tasting.

2016 Marañones 30.000 Maravedies DO Vinos de Madrid (90% Garnacha, 10% Morate/Syrah)
Ruby
Hay and cherries, light
Tart, tannins forward, mouth-puckering, cherry pits on the back end. Maybe a food wine, and maybe it will improve with time. Ok wine for now.

2015 Alberto Orte Atlántida VT de Cádiz (100% Tintilla)
Dark ruby/garnet
Beautiful open inviting nose – sage, ripe plumes, thyme, lavender – one of the most herbs-driven aromas I ever experienced
Beautiful palate, herbs with a complex interplay, fresh berries, delicious. Second excellent wine in the tasting.

2015 Guímaro Finca Meixeman DO Ribeira Sacra (100% Mencía)
Garnet
Mostly closed, a touch of cherries, hint of currant leaves
The beautiful playful palate, crunchy wild blueberries, lots of herbs, medium body, medium+ finish. Also one of the best in the tasting.

As you can tell, Bobal, Tintilla, and Mencía were excellent wines which I really enjoyed – and all these wines are uniquely Spanish. When it comes to Spanish wines, you don’t need to try too hard – Spain offers lots of unique and delicious wines – but oh well, this was fine anyway.

Right after the seminar, we went back to the main floor, which was all converted into the walk-around wine tasting space. Spanish food was carried around, from famous Jamón to Manchego cheese to Spanish omelet to Potatas Bravas and more. I have to say that Gazpacho was my favorite bite without a doubt, but overall, there was no shortage of food.

Mercado Little Spain

Spanish Cheeses at Mercado Little Spain

Mercado Little Spain

Spain's Great Match 2019

I have to honestly say that in my 5 years of attending these “Spain’s Great Match” events, the “big guns” never showed up in the tasting – I don’t mean Pingus, Clos Mogador or Vega Sicilia, but even more accessible staples such as La Rioja Alta, Lopez de Heredia, Emilio Moro, Alto Moncayo and many others never made an appearance outside of occasional representation in the seminars. This year’s event was not an exception, with really minor representations of the better-known wines. Don’t get me wrong, there were plenty of excellent wines available, but been a bit spoiled (sorry), I just made a quick round, mostly looking to taste the new vintages of the wines I already knew, so I’m not going to inundate you with a long list of my wine recommendations.

In no particular order, here are the wines I tasted and liked:

Sparkling and white:

2017 Martinsancho Bodegas y Viñedos Martinsancho Rueda DO ($15) – this is one of the best Rueda wines, and it is a lot of wine for the money
2016 CUNE Monopole Classico Rioja DOCa ($27) – deliciously complex, oak-aged white Rioja
NV Anna de Codorníu Brut Rosé Cava DO ($15) – an excellent glass of bubbly for any occasion
NV Segura Viudas Reserva Heredad Penedes DO ($30) – this wine never disappoints, and a beautiful bottle makes it a perfect gift

Red:

2016 Viña Real Crianza Rioja DOCa ($16)
2014 CUNE Reserva Rioja DOCa ($29)
2012 CUNE Gran Reserva Rioja DOCa ($39)
2012 CUNE Imperial Gran Reserva Rioja DOCa ($80)
2016 Teofilo Reyes Crianza Ribera Del Duero DO ($37)
2018 Bodegas Divina Proporcion 24 Mozas Toro DO ($16) – a nice rendition of powerful Toro Tempranillo, good value
2010 Bodegas Martinez Lacuesta Reserva Rioja DOCa ($38)
2014 Bodegas Sonsiera Pagos de la Sonsiera Rioja DOCa ($38)
2016 Bodegas Valderiz Ribera Del Duero DO ($25)
2014 Boada Campo de Bueyes Crianza Ribera Del Duero DO ($15) – might be my favorite wine from the whole tasting. Approachable, round, delicious. Great value.

In terms of price versus quality, or the QPR as we like to call it, Spain still remains unbeatable, and it still remains more of a secret for a casual wine lover. Well, I guess it is all better for us – those who discovered the secret already.

What was your favorite Spanish wine discovery as of late?

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