By Rose Murray Brown MW Published in The Scotsman 21 March 2020
Spain is one of Europe’s most dynamic wine countries today with a revolution in quality winemaking across regions.
It is also host to a fascinating array of unusual grapes being revived including Merseguera, Hondarrabi Zuri and Godello for whites to Bobal, Mencia and Sumoll for reds – try out our favourite bargains.
Rias Baixas: ALBANTA ALBARINO SOBRE LIAS 2018 Bodegas Alto de Torona (13%) ***STAR VALUE***
The Albarino grape is now the height of fashion, but I find some cheaper examples can be a bit insipid. This example from Horacio Araujo’s hillside plots in Tomino in the Rosal subzone of Rias Baixas just on the Portuguese border is an outstandingly good value example with rich pure fruit notes, vibrant freshness and delicious rich creamy palate from 6 months lees ageing.
Monterrei: WINEMAKER SERIES GODELLO 2018 (13%)
£9.99/£11.99 Majestic Wine
One of the best value examples of Godello I have tasted, made by winemaker Katia Alvarez at the large Martin Codax in Galicia in north west Spain. This grape was on the verge of extinction in the 1970s, but thanks to the Godello Revival project there are now over 1000 hectares in Spain. Its distinctive minerally whites are now back in fashion. Initially crisp dry and vibrant, it has underlying honey and citrus notes and a creamy palate typical of the grape.
Castilla: MAS QUERIDO FIELD BLEND 2018 Jesus del Perdon (11.5%)
£6.99/£7.99 Majestic Wine
I did not know quite what to expect tastewise from this field blend, which is a random mix of different grapes grown in the same vineyard and co-fermented – it is a trendy new fad for an ancient approach to winemaking being revived worldwide. Mas Querido, ‘most beloved’ is from by a gigantic La Mancha co-op and the grape mix is a jumble of Macabeo, Airen, Sauvignon Blanc, Moscatel, PX, Albillo and Merseguera. It is distinctively grapey and floral on the nose, lemony, fresh, dry – with a fascinating layer of different flavours from pithy orange peel to cinnamon.
Bizkaiko: ‘MARKO’ BIZKAIKO TXAKOLINA 2014 (12.5%) ***STAR BUY***
£13.99 Raeburn Wines
This intriguing Chacoli is made by Oxer Bastegieta in the village of Kortezubi Urdaibai in northern Spain’s Basque country. The local Hondarrabi Zuri grapes are picked late and lees aged post fermentation. With bottle age this has developed into a fascinating pale gold dry white with delicious honeyed lychees nose, apple and melon fruits, just a hint of oxidation, ginger, spice fresh acid with an oily texture. Intriguing wine to serve with scallops.
Valencia: MESTIZAJE BLANCO 2018 Bodegas Mustiguillo (13.5%)
£15.50 Berry Bros & Rudd
From little-known almost extinct Merseguera grape, with a little help from 23% Viognier and 11% Malvasia in the blend. In the past this grape was used to make rancio-style and sweet wines, which are not out of fashion. Yet Toni Sarrion of Mustiguillo, who grows Merseguera at 900 metres altitude to retain its acidity, has made a beautifully elegant blend showing floral and tropical fruit bouquet, herby notes, zesty citrus fruits, honeyed creamy palate with a bitter almond twist to the finish.
Jerez: EXCEPTIONAL HARVEST PX 2017 Ximenez-Spinola (12.5%)
£22.99 Luvians, Cupar & St Andrews; Fine Wine Musselburgh; Noble Green Wines; The Whisky Exchange
Made from late-harvested Pedro Ximenez grapes left on the vine. Winemaker Antonio Zarzana at Ximenez-Spinola winery just outside Jerez in Andalusia works solely with the tricky thin-skinned PX grape and has made a very successful unfortified dry white using American oak maturation. With unique figgy aromas, natural sweetness with fresh acid and a lovely creamy texture.
Navarra: GRACIANO 2017 Vina Zorzal (13.5%)
£8.50 The Wine Society www.thewinesociety.com
The ancient Graciano grape is one of the unsung heros of Spain – and with its ability to tolerate drought and extreme heat we will definitely see more of it in the future. One of the best value Spanish examples is from brothers Inaki and Xani Sanz who grow it in Ombatillo in Corella in southern Navarra. Gutsy, spicy, savoury, fresh high acidity with a delicious mulberry and plum fruit palate and spicy finish. A big powerful red for your money.
Catalunya: AUTOCTON VINYES VELLES CELLER 2015 (13.5%) ***STAR BUY***
£15.95 Lea & Sandeman www.leaandsandeman.co.uk
Autocton means local indigenous – and here the native Sumoll grape is highlighted from old vineyards in the south of Montsant on the border of Penedes and Taragona.. Here blended with Ull de Llebre (the well-known Tempranillo) grapes. I loved its sappy dark fruits, herby notes, zippy acid and peppery finish – it reminded me a little of a spicy Pinot Noir or even Gaglioppo.
Toro: EL PICARO 2019 Bodegas Matsu (14.5%)
£8.99/£9.99 Majestic Wine
Very eye-catching label with real life photo of vinegrowers – who after all are the most important people and often get forgotten by big wineries. This 100% Tinta de Toro (Toro region’s name for Tempranillo) is made from 50-70 yr old vines, fermented in concrete and aged for just a short time in new French oak. Toro region’s reds can be brutally powerful and austere. This is quite subtle for Toro with liquorice notes, dark chocolate, savoury and spicy.
Utiel-Requena: TORO LOCO ORGANIC RED 2018 (12.5%) ***STAR VALUE***
70% Bobal, 20% Tempranillo, 10% Cabernet Sauvignon
There are several wines with similar Toro Loco labels in Aldi, so make sure you pick this Organic Red – which is superb value. A soft easy going take on the usually austere and tannic Bobal grape – helped with 25% Tempranillo and 5% Cabernet Sauvignon in the blend. For under a fiver, it has crunchy fruits, soft smooth and easy going.
Ribeira Sacra: ALMANOVA 2018 AlmaDasDonas (13%)
£12.95 Drinkmonger Edinburgh & Pitlochry
Mencia, northwest Spain’s popular red grape, is like a Spanish equivalent to Pinot Noir with its pale colour, light bright raspberry fruits and smooth soft tannins. Made by a small winery, AlmaDasDonas, with just four hectares on incredibly steep ancient C12 granite and slate terraces right on the banks of the River Sil near Lugo.
Utiel-Requena: SOLO TINTO 2017 Bodegas Aranleon (14%)
£9.50 The Wine Society www.thewinesociety.com
Utiel-Requena in southeast Spain is known for its awkward Bobal grape, which can make quite rustic reds with austere tannins. This is one of the more interesting and approachable examples, although there are certainly dry tannins present. With 20% Syrah in the blend, it has an enticing smoky leathery nose, tobacco hints, baked fruit flavours with an attractive smoky spicy edge from 11 months in French oak.
Watch this space! Rose Murray Brown MW will be hosting Online Interactive Wine Tastings via Zoom www.rosemurraybrown.com