It’s almost like Spain doesn’t exist.
Here in Australia we bow down at the feet of the best French and Italian red wines, willingly forking out mega dollars for Burgundy and wads of cash for Barolo. Yet the fine wines of Spain – which command just as high prices and are just as glorious – seem to be an afterthought.
You could perhaps argue that it is a result of Spain’s revival being only a recent thing. Or that to many importers, Spain has been a source of value rather than glory. But it still doesn’t answer the question of exactly why Spain seems a step behind.
Anyway, for an idea what we’re missing out, here are six truly glorious wines that I had over lunch at Sydney’s flame-loving fine diner Firedoor (which I like more every time I eat there) recently.
Scott Wasley, founder of import business The Spanish Inquisition brought this serious collection along to lunch, and even though I wasn’t intending to drink anything, my glass kept emptying…
Telmo Rodriguez Las Beatas Rioja 2013
Exceptional wine. Perhaps the most finely detailed, expressive Rioja I’ve ever had and smashes the stereotypes in every way. Sourced from a single, 1.9ha vineyard terraced old vineyard it is a field blend of Tempranillo, Graciano, Garnacha, Garnacha Blanca and more, matured for 15 months in large oak. Bright and beautiful with this arresting cherry licorice nose, it’s only mid weight but with this underlying sense of contained power. the elegance such that you’d be forgiven for calling this as Pinot. Or Blaufrankisch even. But there’s this deeper, darker spine through the middle that marks this as ‘not Burgundy’, with all these layers to it. Fennel, raspberry. Coal dust. Every whiff is a new aroma. What a sublime, multi layered delight, all capped off with fine, real tannins. Exceptional. Best drinking: Now to whenever you like. I enjoyed it now. 19/20, 96/100. 13.5%, circa $450 in Australia. Would I buy it? I can’t afford it. Please buy me some.
Descendientes de Jose Palacios Moncerbal Mencia 2015
Want an example of what good Mencia tastes like? Look no further. From a small plot of 100-year-old vines on the Moncerbal hillside. Fermented in small open wooden vats and spends 14 months in new French barriques. Smoky and slightly closed, it’s the texture of this red that brings you back, with the dark, smoky and bitter edged blackberry palate a deep and dark delight – such a contrast to the more aromatic, lighter Mencia styles seen elsewhere, and complete with rather firm and pithy, bitter tannins. There’s an honesty to this wine which is surprising given the new oak, a nod to the sheer intensity of the thing. Ultimately a delicious wine, even if it’s just a little too firm to finish. Best drinking: Now to eight years plus. 17.8/20, 92/100+. 14%, circa $229 in Australia. Would I buy it? A tasty wine but hard to justify the dollars.
Alvaro Palacios Las Lamas 2015
By contrast this is a beautifully fragrant, red cherry wine – a flipside to the Mencia coin. 85% Mencia, 11% white grapes and 4% other red grapes sourced from parcels around Bierzo. Beautiful red fruit is the star here, with a mid weight palate that gains power as it goes along. If anything, this looked more like the Rioja than the Mencia above, with this elegant and fragrant style, the palate backed by slightly sour fruit and lovely bitter tannins. A wine of beauty. Lithe, no oak, balanced acidity. It’s so juicy but a wine still shaped by tannins. An absolute delight. Best drinking: Good now and will drink for a decade easily. But I like it now. 18.7/20, 95/100. 14%, circa $280. Would I buy it? I can’t afford it also. But I’ll drink yours.
Dominio de Pingus Flor de Pingus 2015
The second label to Pingus, and effectively a third wine when you count Amelia. An icon of Ribera del Duero, with ridiculously low yields from old vine Tempranillo delivering polished Spanish wine. I’ve always struggled with the oak on Pingus though, as it seems to mask that old vine fruit. Indeed this Flor de Pingus is very much in that vein. Super smooth and super oak-rich, it has clearly seen plenty of time in high class wood, but that’s pretty much the only flavour. A molten, black fruited, coffee edged red that, in honesty, could come from nearly anywhere on the globe. What marks it as high quality is the perfectly rich, moccha palate driven by a cosseting textural richness like melted chocolate. Really classy modern wine, but maybe lacks a little personality. Best drinking: Now to twenty years. 17.8/20, 92/100+. 14.5%, Circa $250. Would I buy it? I’ll drink it but I wouldn’t pay the dollars.
Dominio de Pingus Pingus 2015
By contrast to the Flor de Pingus, this has an extra level of definition and intensity to make it convincing. The style here is very much in the vein of modern classed growth Bordeaux, with a richness of oak and texture backed up by tannins and weight. Variety perhaps plays second fiddle to the winemakers art (just like right bank Bordeaux), but there is more than enough personality to make for a great drink. Black Forest cake, vanilla bean, blackberries and with a vein of anise and coal dust too, then all backed by powdery tannins. A bold, richly textured, statement of a wine in every way, with layers of complexity underneath. A Penfolds drinkers Spanish red. Personally this style does not move me, and that oak is too dominant, covering up terroir in the process. But I can appreciate the density and perfect texture. Best drinking: Interesting to open now but the best years are some way away. Will live for 20+ years too. 18.5/20, 94/100+. 14.5%, $1500-2500+ if you can get it. Would I buy it? Nope. I’d like a glass of yours in a decade, however.
Alvaro Palacios ‘Vi de Vila Gratallops’ 2015
Vibrant Garnacha-dominant (plus 15% Samso and a little white) Priorat that showcases the beauty of style. Maybe not profound but there is a vibrant, plum and cranberry rolled in anise varietall character here that is beautiful, with minimal oak a smooth palate and then fine bitter tannins. Need’s more intensity perhaps but high quality. Best drinking: Good now and for ten years easy. 17.8/20, 92/100. 14.5%, $130ish. Would I buy it? Nice drink but not quite justifiable for the dollars (given that you can get similar quality old vine Australian Grenache blends for a fraction of the dollars).
Alvaro Palacios Finca Dofi Priorat 2015
From the Finca Dofi Vineyard, planted in 1991, it’s Garnacha with a little Samso, matured in new French oak. A delicious expression of Priorat Garnacha with beautiful red fruit and with a smoky edge. Oak seems to fold into this wonderfully, and with a withering seam of dark fruit for compexity, the palate savoury and dark in contrast to the bright nose. Delicious Garnacha. 18/20, 93/100. 14.5%, $250. Would I buy it? I’d drink it but too expensive for mine. See above.