Wines of Northern Spain
April 2014 saw us hosting our 'Exploration Series' wine tasting featuring the wines of Northern Spain - from the stormy Atlantic, unusually green and lush "Green Spain", across the high plateaus and dry hills to the balmy Mediterranean. While the wines of Rioja are the most famous wine exports from Spain, there is much more to taste.
As in France, the wines of Spain are classified by their region rather than by their grape. There are 65 different 'DO' (Denominación de Origen). While Spain has the largest amount of land area growing grape vines, it is actually only the third higest crop grown after cereals and olives.
Our tasting events in-store featured 9 different wines from across Northern Spain, starting with a sparkling Cava, an array of white wines from the North-West, the bright and juicy 'Garnacha' of Campo de Borja, the earthy and spicy wines made from Tempranillo and the brooding complexity of Priorat.
Cava from Penedes
The first wine in the lineup was the Pares Balta Cava, an organic wine from the region of Penedes. This region is a narrow strip of land about halfway between Barcelona and Tarragona.
This Cava was grown on vineyards first planted in the 18th century from a blend of Parellada, Macabeo and Xaral.lo grapes. "Cava" translates to "Cave" or "Cellar" - historically made in the same way to French Champagne (and called the same until relatively recently). The Pares Balta is crisp, toasty on the nose with zesty citrus, pear and apple flavours.
Verdejo from Rueda
Next onto the region of Castille y Leon, specifically the Rueda which is a white wine region around the River Duero (which incidentally becomes the Douro River when it flows into Portugal, where Port wines are made). Verdejo is the main grape, where the hot continental climate has made grape harvest a challenge as the juice tended to quickly oxidise in the midday heat. The solution was superb in it's simplicity- most of the grapes are now picked at night.
The Menganito Verdejo is grown in sandy soil filled with pebbles, on un-grafted vines many of which are over 100 years old. A fresh wine, crisp acidity balanced with bright citrus and minerality and melon flavours. Spains answer to Sauvignon Blanc perhaps?
Food Match: This wine was matched with pan fried prawns then poached in white wine.
Albarino from Rias Biaxas
On to the region of Rias Biaxas, in the province of Galicia on the North Western Corner - often lashed by harsh wind and rain from the Atlantic. Even the brightest summers are only 2.5 months long (sound familiar??) when even white grapes can struggle to achieve full ripeness in a wet year. Often grafted to pergolas to allow the air to flow onto the grapes to prevent rot.
The Sin Palabras Albariño is made from small green thick skinned grape that is resistant to fungus (important in a damp climate) and ripens early. It is naturally low yielding, making it expensive to produce but produces lovely wines of complexity and flavour. Racy yet delicate in the mouth, with lots of white peach and grapefruit flavours.
Food Match: Seafood is traditional pairing with Albarino but we also matched it with roasted piquillo peppers stuffed with crab and potato. The Albarino can stand up well to spicy flavours including Thai and Indian cuisine.
Godello from Valdeorras
The last white of the lineup is from the Valdeorras region - meaning 'Valley of Gold' due to the discovery of gold by the Romans.
The Telmo Rodriguez Godello is grown on an ancient vineyard abandoned some 200 years ago, and since restored to action. The Godello is fermented in steel, but spends time on lees to build power and texture, leaving a wine with a fat oily palate, with rich flavours of pear, melon, with lemon and chalky and herb notes.
Food Match: The richness of the Godello was matched to Tortilla Espanola - a potato, egg, onion, and herb stack that is traditional in Spain.
Garnachas from Campo de Borja
Our first red of the lineup is a crowd-pleaser and tremendous value for money- Garnacha (or Grenache as its known in the rest of the world) blended with Tempranillo from the region of Campo de Borja. The Coto de Hayas Crianza is brimming with dark juicy blackberry, plum and vanilla with a warming spicy finish.
By comparison, the Coto de Hayas Fagusis made from 100% Grenache from an excellent vintage (2009) from extremely low-yielding vines aged in new French Oak. Very balanced but concentrated fruit, brightly perfumed with vanilla, cherry, toast and coffee. Powerful palate with classic juicy dark Grenache fruit with full oak tannins, will age very gracefully for the patient.
Food Match: The Garnachas matched well with the Cocido Montanes (a mountain stew from Cantabria) slow cooked with Chorizo, smoky bacon, white beans, onions, tomato, white wine, capsicum, and herbs.
The Serrano ham is also a nice match to Garnacha.
Carignan & Grenache from Priorat
Priorat produces some Spain's most expensive and prestigeous wines, a wine region that barely existed 15 years ago but cutting edge in technology and viticulture.
The Acustic Celler Ritme is a blend of 70% Carignan and 30% Grenache, with tiny yields of 0.3 tons per acre. A very complex wine with red and black fruits, savoury liquorice and meaty notes and persistent spice with a long finish of raspberry, black plum and cola .
Food Match: Serrano ham and manchego cheese.
Tempranillo from Rioja
No tour of Northern Spain wines would be complete without stopping in on Rioja - the most famous of wine regions in the country for 200 years. Named for the 'River Oja' it produces mostly red wines and predominantly Tempranillo.
While there is no such thing as a "typical Rioja" the Carlos Serres Reserva from 2005 exhibits much of what there is to love about wines from the region. Aged for 24 months in both French and American oak and showing its extended aging with ripe black fruit, vanilla and cinnamon with a deep mineral core, velvety smooth with a long savoury finish.
Tempranillo from Ribera del Duero
We finish our tour in Ribera del Duero, a region that sits atop an elevated plateau with a short growing season featuring big swings in temperature from day to night- this means bright fruit flavour but also retaining a fresh acidity to keep the wines in balance.
The Cillar de Silos Crianza from 2009 made from 100% Tempranillo made from a legendary vintage - hot and dry - leading to very healthy and high quality fruit. This vintage was aged for 13 months in oak with a great equilibrium between oak, fruit, and spice. Powerful yet poised, pure fruit flavours with undertones of cedar with a finish of sweet spice and toffee.
Food Match: Both of the Tempranillos were matched with mushrooms sauted in garlic oil, roast lamb, and Manchego cheese. They also matched well with the Mountain stew.