“It couldn’t happen in Spain,” Luis GutiÃ©rrez, a great Spanish wine writer, assured me late last month as he walked through one of London’s Royal Horticultural Halls filled with Spanish wine producers. .
We were at a tasting advertised as “ViÃ±ateros – a Spanish wine revolution â. Most unusual, there was a real buzz about it. Indeed, there was a sense of excitement, energizing jaded participants in the UK wine trade, which I haven’t felt since the biennial New Wave South Africa tastings in September.
Simon Farr, one of London’s most thoughtful wine merchants, approached me, inspected the premises and observed: âI would just like to relaunch Bibendum Wine. There are so many great wines to choose from these days.
Fernando Mora, wine master and wine producer from Aragon, echoed GutiÃ©rrez, explaining that in Spain, competing wine distributors would not dream of cooperating in an event in which the best wines of their competitors would be presented. to their best customers.
Yet here is the crÃ¨me de la crÃ¨me of Spanish wines, imported into the UK by no less than 14 different importers. And, above all, strict criteria were imposed on the type of wines that were poured on the tables arranged around the room.
We didn’t have any of the high volume brands (and in fact relatively few wines from the flagship red wine regions of Rioja and Ribera del Duero). To be presented at the event, the wines had to be made by the company that grew the grapes (much less common than you might think), and preference was given to indigenous grape varieties. Producers had to commit to the health of their vineyards by following, at the very least, sustainable agricultural practices and preferably organic or biodynamic protocols.
There were also rules for making wine. The winemaker must have been more interested in expressing the vineyard than in applying fanciful and intrusive winemaking techniques (there was very little new oak on display). Fermentations had to be initiated by local yeasts rather than purchased, and only the “judicious” use of additives – usually minimal additions of preservative sulfur dioxide – was allowed.
British Indigo wine importers got the initial idea and approached other importers. The importers then proposed the producers they wished to see included in the ViÃ±ateros. Their names were submitted for approval to Madrid-based Amaya Cervera of the bilingual SpanishWineLover website and she had the power to decide whether they qualified as one of the best in their area. Some were rejected, but 76 producers passed the ranking and brought themselves and their wines to London.
Lots of generic wine tastings take place in Lindley Hall at RHS, but this one looked rather different. There were no large banners or flashy point-of-sale accessories. Instead, everything looked rather rustic. There was no costume in sight. This was a very different snapshot of Spanish wine, much of it on local soil and often unknown but native grapes.
Official statistics show a country disproportionately dependent on Tempranillo, the dominant grape of Rioja and Ribera del Duero. But at Lindley Hall, we were presented with evidence of a new wave of producers, often on a small scale, who are unearthing forgotten local varieties and picking up the ways of those who cultivated and made wine before the advent of the End of the World. Twentieth century. agrochemicals and technology adoption. We have heard tasters describe wines as âelegant,â âpretty,â âfine-grainedâ – words that would have been unthinkable a decade ago.
There is a newfound confidence in what Spain, and Spain alone, can offer to today’s wine lover. Presentation of a masterclass devoted to the emblematic wines of this movement – including a superb pale red worthy of aging clarity de Ribera del Duero – GutiÃ©rrez explained: âBefore, we were looking towards France. The hardest thing to overcome was our old inferiority complex.
Not surprisingly for such a large country, there are huge variations between different regions. The humid, green northwest may offer wines that least match Spain’s image as a hot, dry country.
The AlbariÃ±o grape, the source of so many fresh Atlantic white wines from the RÃas Baixas coastal region, is Galicia’s best-known wine emissary. But like ViÃ±ateros shown, this is only part of the story. The grapes responsible for Vinho Verde – mainly Loureira, Treixadura and CaiÃ±o Blanco – on the MiÃ±o River are also grown in the RÃas Baixas. Whites made from the Godello grape can be even more serious and durable than AlbariÃ±o, especially the best from the Valdeorras region.
There are also fascinating, usually aromatic and appetizing reds from this corner of Spain, made from grape varieties such as MouratÃ³n (also known as Juan GarcÃa), Merenzao (called Trousseau in the Jura) and, above all, the MencÃa. The latter is the signature grape of the Bierzo region, just outside Galicia, which is on the rise, thanks to a rich heritage of very old vines, particularly favorable land and a group of small producers. dedicated.
The excitement of the Spanish wine scene is more linked to the terroir than to the grape varieties. It is about presenting the unique qualities of a particular combination of soil and plants. It is a question of adapting what happens in the cellar to individual requirements, which often amounts to ignoring those of official appellations, in particular those which require prolonged aging in oak barrels. (Spain still lives with the legacy of a belief that the best wines are those that last the longest in barrels.) A considerable proportion of wines exposed to ViÃ±ateros was therefore sold simply as spain wine without more specific geographic indices.
I tasted my first Canary Islands wine in 2004, but there were four top producers in ViÃ±ateros. There were also three that presented evidence of the revolution finally affecting the land of sherry in Andalusia, where stasis is replaced by single vineyard wines and lighter whites, unlike sherry, with no added alcohol.
The future looks bright for the new Spanish wave.
Some great Spanish wines of the new wave
- Borja PÃ©rez Viticultor, VidueÃ±os, Artifice, 2017 Canary Islands Â£ 18.08
- Dominio do Bibei, Lapola 2017 Ribeira Sacra Â£ 24.50
- Barco del Corneta, Parajes del Infierno La Silleria 2017 (White) Vino de la Tierra Castilla y LeÃ³n â¬ 34.10 Indigo wine
- Dominio del Ãguila Blanco 2015 Vino de EspaÃ±a (White) Â£ 59.80 Hedonism, Apostle Bottle
- 4 Monos Viticultores, Tierra de Luna, 2017 Wines of Madrid Â£ 19.18
- Bodegas Bernabeleva, Navaherreros Garnacha 2017 Wines from Madrid Â£ 19.49 Hay Wines, Herefordshire
- Guimaro, Camino Real 2017 Ribeira Sacra â¬ 21.90 Les Caves de PyrÃ¨ne
- Domaines Lupier, El Terroir 2015 Navarre â¬ 22.95 Berry Bros & Rudd
- Daniel Landi, Las Uvas de la Ira 2018 MÃ©ntrida Â£ 26 The laughing heart, the Islington sampler
- Dominio del guila, Picaro del Ãguila Clarete 2016 Ribera del Duero Â£ 27.50 Hedonism, Vagabond
- Remelluri Reserva 2012 Rioja Around Â£ 35 Noble Green, forest wines, apostle of the bottle, hedonism
- Casa Castillo, Las Gravas 2017 Jumilla Â£ 37.60 Indigo Wine
- Castro Ventosa, Valtuille Rapolao 2015 Bierzo Â£ 41 Indigo wine
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