Author: Martyn Rolph
The onset of autumn heralds our yearly team tasting trip to Spain. Led by our Spain Buyer, Simon Field MW, it is the sheer variety of styles we encounter that always excites, while the special combination of quality, value and ageing potential of many of these wines ensures I tend to encourage my clients to consider Spanish purchases at every opportunity.
Our visit always begins in the sleepy town of Haro, home to many of the greatest names of Rioja: Viña Tondonia, Muga, La Rioja Alta, C.V.N.E. and Contino are all located here. ‘Traditional’ is a word used to describe a number of these bodegas – who prefer to barrel-age for extended periods in oak, often American in origin, allowing the vanilla notes to ally with clove and sweet spices to form an integral part of the wines.
La Rioja Alta adopts a similarly classical approach with its flagship Gran Reserva wines, the 904 and 890, spending up to six years in barrel – and another five in bottle – prior to release. These remarkable wines are cast loose approaching maturity but can age for decades to come.
Bodegas Muga, C.V.N.E. and, in particular, Contino meanwhile adopt a more forward-looking approach, having opted to use a proportion of French oak. There the wines remain true to the flavours one would expect but the choice of wood allows for more precision and focus upon fruit. Whichever style you seek (and all have a place within my cellar) these wines should not be ignored. Our tasting trip revealed the quality of the 2009 and 2010 vintages that will make their début this year, and also confirmed the immense quality of the 2001, 2004 and 2005 vintages.
There is also another side to Rioja developing, with Bodegas Roda, Artadi, Remelluri, Allende and Contador having all begun to focus upon terroir-driven wines. These are wine estates that our team enjoys introducing to customers as they offer something unexpected. The Remelluri visit was one of the most interesting of our trip: as at Artadi, the wines are an expression of the individual vineyard sites and it is fascinating to see the differences in style.
A visit to the impressive Marqués de Murrieta rounded off our tour of Rioja, where the Castillo Ygay Gran Reserva didn’t disappoint. A sizeable drive relocated us to the region of Ribera del Duero, that other great wine-producing area of Spain, where our destinations included Cillar de Silos, the mighty Vega Sicilia, Pago de los Capellanes, Pesquera and Hacienda Monasterio. As the climate here is hotter the resulting wines are richer, more linear and direct – I cannot speak highly enough of them.
Our five-day tour completed, we had sampled over 200 wines and took detailed tasting notes on each. Trips such as this are invaluable in allowing us to correctly serve and guide our customers. Our Spanish offer is now broader than ever and so navigating between the wines is crucial. My fine wine colleagues and I are always on hand to assist, and happy to offer our recommendations as required.
My friends and family are quick to assume these trips are in fact just ‘jolly’ expeditions, although I maintain they are less glamorous than most presume, and we do actually work very hard…
Our annual offer Spain 2014: The Golden Route launches tomorrow, Friday 17th October.