The tasting season is almost finished for this year, with the Christmas craziness forcing us into the more immediate business of keeping our customers actually supplied. But we lately reached a happy conclusion to our year’s work with Bob Campbell MW, who came to the end of his “Wine Glass Tours” of Europe with a nice visit to Spain. The usual good humour and audience banter took us on Bob’s journey through select regions and styles of this most ancient wine culture.
Spanish whites are not as overlooked these days, but the two on offer revealed the lusher style now made by modern producers. From the portfolio of the pan-regional dynamo Jorge Ordonez, the sheer fruit richness and definition was loved by some but left others feeling they’d left Spain for somewhere in the New World.
The reds were more in line with expectation, but as we climbed the range to the top Tempranillo from Ribera del Duero and Rioja, the discussion was still around modernity versus tradition – or in this case, fruit versus oak.
A show of hands rated the La Rioja Alta Gran Reserva ‘904’ the wine of the night. Predictably, perhaps, since it was the highest price point and the most aged (2007 vintage). The heavily traditional use of American oak result in a palate behaviour very different to many premium wines of today. Some tasters were rapturously transported by its savoury layering – to these people the $95 price seemed incredibly low, which is often said of Rioja. But even the most cautious had to admit the 904 conveyed a magnificence that was sensual as well as deeply cultural – a case of winemaking style becoming all but part of ‘terroir’.
Avancia ‘Cuvee de O’ Godello 2016 – 33.99 per bottle
A very complete and full-fruited nose of ripe tree fruits and citrus with yeast, herbs and flowers, and a touch of minerality. The palate delivers the same flavours in a rounded fruit-bowl, with nice clarity and depth along with some complexing nuance of bready yeast. It is slightly rounder in style than some, perhaps, with a touch of warmth that underpins the palate and carries ripe flavours to the finish. A great quality wine that uses modern technique to highlight the breadth and richness of which Godello is capable.
La Cana Albarino 2016 – $33.99 per bottle
A more focused minerality with an oily and almost petrol note, set against lush fruit notes of apricot, citrus and well as other stone and tropical fruit. An almost candied fruit ripeness on the palate is contrasted and enlivened by fresh, racing acidity that finishes with steely lemon pith and remains in tension till the end with a lingering sweetness of fresh-cut fruit. A vibrant and distinctive wine of palpable quality.
Artadi ‘Pasos de San Martin’ Garnacha (Grenache) 2013 – $44.99 (now 2015 vintage)
Ripe red and black fruit have a lovely brightness but also a restraint, a kind of semi-gloss aura of ripe fruit that almost polishes over the depth of bready, dusty exotic spice that exudes a charming whiff of peach. Silky drive on the palate unfolds gentle but dense flavours of fruit, from red to black just like the nose, which fills the mouth and softens the dusting of fine tannins toward the nicely warming, lingering finish. Modern but very sophisticated and fine-tuned, this Artadi is simply delicious.
Artadi ‘El Seque’ Monastrell (Mourvedre) 2014 – $49.99 per bottle
Rich aromas of cassis and darkish fruits are ripe and clean, but have a meaty and gamey undertone along with a slight perfume (again) of floral white fruit. A more layered and progressive palate than the Garnacha – the attack is slow and elegant before emerging sweetness brings penetrating and powerful dark fruit on the mid-palate, which is then boxed in again by the acid and tannin structure toward a warm, reflective, granular finish. A bold and distinctive Monastrell with charisma and power, probably best after a couple of years.
Callejo Ribera Del Duero Crianza 2013 – $33.99 (now 2014 vintage)
Aromas of ripe fruits have a direct and slurpy, jam-like richness on the nose, from bright and slightly herbal redcurrant to deep plum and darker notes. Oak forms a less obvious depth on the nose but reverses this on the palate to almost dominate fruit. Fulsome texture and body means the elements don’t battle but augment each other. Power consolidates toward the end as the fruits from the nose gain real weight and presence toward an impressively long, big and integrated finish of firm oaky and tannins wrapped in dark fruit. A dramatic and compelling wine in which direct ripe fruit and powerful oak ultimately resolve themselves into a delicious sense of scale, quality and power.
Contino Rioja Reserva 2011 – $69.99 per bottle
Traditional Rioja territory now — a characterful and savoury nose in which aging has embedded the wood notes into those of red berry compote, tomato leaf and earthy tobacco. Characters are less fresh and more cooked-down by process, but palpably harmonious and classical with concentrated fruit forming a deep foundation. The wine evolves in a super elegant way, with red fruit and tamarillo/tobacco from the nose taking time to broaden through a long, complex and perfectly structured mid-palate, that finally tapers into fine powdery tannins and subtle toasty nuance. Deceptively powerful fruit and wood appears composed and medium-bodied thanks to exceptional balance and integration. Arguably the wine of the night, for more conservative or Bordeaux palates perhaps.
La Rioja Alta Rioja Gran Reserva ‘904’ 2007 – $94.99 per bottle
Ripe red fruit, tobacco, rusty earth, petrol/oil, coconut and vanilla all register intensely while somehow feeling of-a-piece and in perfect harmony on the nose. The palate is simply the silky and elegant support of the same characters, carrying them through a long development that manages to anchor an almost ethereal aura of openness into a definite sense of freshness, grip and drive on the palate. The paradoxical finish tastes slightly of ashtray but is also vinous, fresh and just gripping enough, while also nuanced by the charming fruit that lies at the still-youthful core of this supremely savoury and complex red. Stately tradition with real X factor – the inescapable wine of the night.
Lustau East India Solera Sherry – $36.99 per bottle
Raisins and dried fruits wrap up a core of citrus pith on the nose, detailed by dusty nut-shell and earthy, exotic spices (cinnamon, nutmeg). A sweet raisin attack on the palate comes with deep complexity of spicy nut notes, which carry with nice freshness to a long, open, complex and evocative finish. A classic digestif and a lot of flavour for the price.