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Spanish portfolio tasting

by Tom Cannavan, 03/00

Alexander Wines is a Scottish wine agency which handles an extensive portfolio of top quality producers, both New World and Old. This was a trade-only tasting of their extensive Spanish list, with many of the producers in town to show their wines. The tasting was followed by lunch in Glasgow's excellent seafood restaurant, Gamba, which was a great opportunity to re-sample a couple of the wines on show with some food.

The 20-odd wines that I tasted offered a wonderful view of the changing face of Spanish wine: the old guard and the new young bucks. At one extreme we had the wonderful finale performance of the rustic, characterful Masía Barril of Priorato. The 80 year old Barrils have finally sold their beloved winery to a modern concern who will keep the ancient vines, but will renew every bit of the ancient equipment no doubt: the old cement tanks will be replaced by glittering rows of temperature-controlled stainless steel. The Barrils just let their grapes get on with it, oxidising and developing wild and characterful personalities as they fermented up to 16 degrees and more. The new owners will soon put a stop to all that. At the other extreme we had several examples of the fresh and tasty, but relatively anonymous cool-fermentation whites of Rueda, made from Sauvignon Blanc or by blending it with aromatic local varieties. Alexander Wine: 0141 882 0039

White

Cuevas de Castilla (Rueda) "Con Class" Sauvignon Blanc 1999 - £6.00
Very attractive nose. Some nice herbaceousness, lots of crunchy gooseberry and tropical fruit. Crisp on the palate with lots of zippy citrus acidity. Lovely stuff in an "international" commercial style that could give many New World Sauvignons a run for their money.

Cuevas de Castilla (Rueda) "Con Class" Barrel-Fermented Verdejo 1994 - £7.50
Distinctive nose of herbs, nuts and spice. A nettle and hay-like character. Palate has cool melon and pear fruit, some creamy oak and spice, medium-body and a nice clean, fresh finish. Nice food wine - with some Chorizo sausage maybe....

Marqués de Riscal (Rueda) Rueda Blanco 1999 - £6.35
This has that highly aromatic, pear-drop, boiled-sweet character that is the hallmark of these ultra-cool fermentation, "technical" white wines. The palate has crisp gooseberry and fresh lemon flavours, medium body and a clean, pure finish.

Marqués de Riscal (Rueda) Sauvignon Blanc 1999 - £7.25
The nose is quite restrained with some leafy, herbal, nettle and grapefruit emerging. The palate is lean, clean and showing restrained white fruits and just a hint of something more tropical. Refreshing acidity into the moderately long finish.

Marqués de Alella (Alella) Clássico 1999 - £6.75
From coastal vineyards just south of Barcelona. This has orchard fruits on the nose, a touch of oak and a palate of cool lemon and lime. Nice.

Marqués de Alella (Alella) Allier 1997 - £15.00
From the rather old fashioned look and flute bottle you would never guess this was a 100% Chardonnay. The French oak is apparent on the nose giving a toasty edge to quite vegetal, savoury green bean and apple fruit. The palate is chewy and cleanly fruited, with medium weight and a little oaky creaminess rounding it out. Good finish. An interesting style.

Paraxet (Alella) - Cava Gran Reserva Brut 1995 - £9.00
Very nutty, oxidised and herbaceous. Lots of buttery fruit, but a slightly odd nose old told. Palate has a mass of flavour, loads of yeasty, nutty nuances, walnuts, peach and some melon. A lot of character. Good.

Red

Pamela Geddes (Yecla) "La Pamelita" Sparkling Red - £11.25
Geddes is actually a fellow Scot who studied biochemistry at the University of Strathclyde before becoming a true flying winemaker. She makes this wine in Yecla, in the south-east corner of Spain. The nose has very creamy cherry and red berry fruit with lots of raspberry punching through. The palate is good: very fruity with a touch of chocolate depth and a nice long finish, the mousse persisting and creating a very luxurious mouthfeel. The best sparkling red I've tried.

Bodegas Guelbenzú (Navarra) Blue Label 1996 - £7.25
Lots of very fresh fruit aromas. A stack of black cherry, plum and damson. Palate has good tannins that create a fine chewy density with the dark, savoury fruit. Excellent.

Bodegas Guelbenzúú (Navarra) "Evo" 1996 - £12.50
This has a gorgeous nose. Sweet menthol, blackcurrant and mint aromas. A real cassis ripeness. Palate is smooth-textured and medium-bodied. It is clean with bags of ripe fruit and a sheen of oak. This is another very "international" style of wine, but it, like the 1995 I tasted recently is very good.

Bodegas Guelbenzú (Navarra) "Lautus" 1996 - £22.50
The top wine of the Bodega. Fantastic nose. Loads of sweet American oak layered over deep, smoky berry fruit. There are nuances of cigar-box, violets and mint. Palate has a raft of drying tannins but again a great depth of sweetness and fruit. Very, very nice wine in a balanced, serious and age-worthy style.

Marqués de Riscal (Rioja) Rosado 1999 - £7.25
This rosé has Tempranillo and the white Viura in the blend. Fresh, confected boiled-sweet nose. Nice fruit showing trhough - rose-hips and cherries. Palate is very fresh and clean, maybe lacking a little fruit and a bit alcoholic.

Marqués de Riscal (Rioja) Tinto Reserva 1995 - £10.00
Classic Rioja nose with leather, cherry and tobacco, cream and herbs. A lovely vanillin overlay. Palate is balanced and has plenty of plummy fruit with a firm mineral streak and good acidity. It finishes long and spicy.

Marqués de Riscal (Rioja) Tinto Gran Reserva 1991 - £17.00
Big, sour, plummy fruit on the nose. Prominent vanillin oak. On the palate a terrific sweetness of spicy plum and prune fruit, some bittersweet red cherry. Nicely balanced and drinking well now.

Marqués de Riscal (Rioja) Barón de Chirél 1995 - £35.00
Again a great creamy sweetness on the nose. Big and savoury aromas. Fruit is quite subdued on the palate: it is beautifully poised and understated, but there's a sense of balance to this medium-bodied wine, fine tannins and great length. Needs time.

Marqués de Riscal (Rioja) Barón de Chirél 1988 - £35.00
Really deep, charry oak aromas of coffee-bean and bittersweet chocolate. The palate shares that finely balanced, yet rich, ripe character. The fruit is darkly hued and this savoury, structured wine still needs time to shed some tannins as plenty of fruit is holding in there.

Rottlán I Torra (Priorato) Reserva 1995 - £9.00
Tobacco, smoke and sweet and sour cherry fruit dominate the nose. The palate is much more subdued. There doesn't seem to be a lot to this in the mouth. Difficult.

Rottlán I Torra (Priorato) "Amadís" 1996 - £22.00
This wine is an unholy blend of Grenache and Carignan with 15% of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah and Pinot Noir in the mix. It has a very elegant profile with a sheen of creamy oak and lots of sweet, smoky fruit. The palate has an earthy, tobacco character as well as quite refined cherry and blackberry fruit. Good length. Classy.

Masía Barril (Priorato) Clásico 1994 - £12.00
Lightish nose with toffee and creamy berry nose. This has a terrific sourness with rubbery, slightly volatile notes, dark chocolate and cherry fruit. Gorgeous. Big, rustic style - not barnyardy or dirty, but loads of chunky fruit character. Brilliant and distinctive.

Masía Barril (Priorato) Típico 1991 - £10.50
Extraordinarily concentrated nose of prunes and (somehow) crushed beetles. Inky and deep on the palate this has more slightly stewed pruny fruit and good tannins and acidity, though possibly a little disjointed.

Scala Dei (Priorato) Cartoixa 1996 - £27.00
This is another wine with toasty, charry French oak dominating the nose, layering mocha-coffee nuances onto bright berryish fruit. The palate has good fruit: cherry and a liquorice edge, also firm, chunky tannins and balanced acidity. This is an interesting style - much more refined than the Masía Barril, yet still a hint of exotic wildness. Needs a year or two to come together.

Bodegas Toro Albala (Montilla-Moriles) Don PX Dulce Gran Reserva Sherry 1972 - £10.50 (37.5cl)

There was a fine range of Sherries on show, but I only tried this wine. A lovely PX with a tawny colour and wonderful viscosity. The nose is relatively light for a PX with a gorgeous bouquet of raisins and walnut, with an orange note. On the palate deliciously sweet but with good acidity that roughens it nicely. Not cloying, it has a little freshness about it despite the weight of caramelised toffee and sweet rum-soaked raisins. Yum.