Tuesday, 16 March 2010

Wines from Spain Trade Fair

Last week was something of a Spanish affair. After the Caballeros dinner at the Dorchester on Tuesday came the annual Wines from Spain trade fair on Thursday, where I bumped into a number of the Caballeros minus their red robes.

A staggering 1,500 wines were on show. I made it my mission to taste as many of them as humanly possible in two hours. After the tasting I was ushered into a car with blacked out windows and driven to Devonshire Terrace in the über trendy (and canopied) Devonshire Square for the Wines of Navarra press supper.

The restaurant was buzzing with wine hacks from the tasting. We got to enjoy a spread of Navarra wines and delicious tapas including golf ball-sized cod croquettes and juicy pork belly. Here are my top 10 wines of the day...

Bodegas Gerardo Méndez, Albariño do Ferreiro, Rías Baixas, 2008
This 100% Albariño from Galicia's quality DO is painstakingly made from grapes from eight different vineyard sites. All eight are separately vinified and aged on the lees for six months. The wine showed superb purity and elegance, with a stone fruit nose of peach and apricot wrapped around ribbons of honeysuckle. Bone dry with bags of texture, the palate is honeyed, rich and round, with a steely mineral core and persistent notes of lemon, apple and lime. Classy stuff.

Celler Joan Sangenís, Mas d'en Compte Barrel-Fermented Blanco, Priorat, 2007
Made from 60% Garnacha Blanca and barrel-fermented for two weeks on the skins, the nose is an enticing and complex mix of honeyed pear and apple, pineapple, cocoa and apricot. Full and buttery on the palate, with toasty mineral notes, hints of sweet vanilla and a concentrated, rich texture of fleshy peach, it had wonderful balance and lingering length. A fascinating find.

Equipo Navazos, Navazos-Niepoort, Sherry, 2008
Without a doubt the most curious wine of the tasting. It wasn't even in the catalogue – I got a tip off from Peter McCombie to try it. Only 4,500 bottles are being released. Made in collaboration with Dirk Niepoort from 100% Palomino Fino, it is fermented in butt and aged without fortification under a layer of flor for five months. Rediscovering the roots of Jerez with an unfortified white, it had a salty Fino nose that mixed with fresh notes of melon and green apple. The palate was equally fresh with a nutty finish. Sherry, but not as you know it...

Bodegas Naia, Naiades, Rueda, 2007
My wine of the night from the Caballeros dinner, I couldn't resist trying this 100% Verdejo again as it's so sensational. On the nose I got creamy toffee, caramelized white peaches, and poached pears dipped in honey. The rich, creamy palate is as velvety as it gets, with slightly nutty aromas and honeysuckle soaring from the glass. Toasty, full-bodied, and wonderfully rounded, it's utterly delicious, and not dissimilar to some of my favourite white Burgundies.

Bodegas Chivite, Colección 125 Reserva, Navarra, 2005
Being a huge Chardonnay fan, I was excited about trying this. Already won over by the retro font on the label, the wine didn't disappoint. Aged for 10 months in French oak, the nose was rich, creamy and enticing with notes of hazelnut, brioche and freshly baked bread. The palate was voluptuous and decadent, fresh and well structured, with a long, rounded, toasty finish. Divine – I needed intervention.

Cortijo los Aguilares, Pinot Noir, Sierras de Malaga, 2008
Based in the beautiful hilltop town of Ronda, the vineyard shares space on the estate with free roaming Iberian black pigs. Planted in 2000, the vines are still incredibly young, but are showing great potential. Made from 100% Pinot Noir, the wine had lovely aromatic, earthy strawberry fruit on the nose and great structure on the palate. Subtle, soft and rounded, it was quite lovely. A Pinot with promise!

Jean León, Cabernet Sauvignon Gran Reserva, Penedes, 2000
A legendary figure in the world of Spanish wine, before tending the vines Jean León opened La Scala restaurant in Hollywood with James Dean. Returning to his native Penedes in 1963, León used cuttings from Lafite to develop his signature Cabs. The 2000 vintage has a dense black fruit nose that mixes with enticing smokey, meaty aromas. Velvety on the palate, with grippy tannins and a robust body, it showed wonderful complexity – sweet herbal aromas danced with the liquorice on the finish. One for laying down.

Torres, Perpetual, Priorat, 2006
A homage to the monks of the courageous Carthusian order who arrived in Priorat in 1095 and began cultivating the vines, the wine is a blend of Garnacha from 50-year-old vines and Cariñena from 80-year-old vines from steeply-sloped licorella soils. So dark it was almost opaque, it had a beautifully dense, complex character of black cherries, sweet plums, liquorice and tar. Grippy, rich and mouthfilling with a chocolatey, spicy edge, it's drinking well now, but will be even better in a few years.

Marqués de Murrieta, Castillo Ygay Gran Reserva, Rioja, 1978
Tasting this was a real treat. The wine spent a remarkable 18 years in barrel before bottling, and has retained an attractive brick red colour. It had a delicious savoury nose of game, spice, tea and tobacco, along with the ever-present red fruit and soft leather core. The mature fruit had a slightly wild, savage character. Smooth and elegant on the palate, it showed remarkable vibrancy for its years. Worth the wait!

Bodegas Hidalgo, Palo Cortado Wellington VORS NV, Sherry
I'm a Sherry nut, so it doesn't take much to get me excited, especially if it's a Palo Cortado. This fine example from Javier Hidalgo, who was watching my reaction from the side of the stand, had a lovely rich nose of roasted almonds and caramel. The palate was round and plush, with sweet and savoury notes of toasted nuts and toffee. The tangy, salty thread, gave the wine a zing in its tail. Lively, long, lovely.

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