Manzanilla and the Sherry Triangle

As we enter the weekend of International Sherry Week, I continued the festivities last night by taking a step outside the city of Jerez to enjoy a Manzanilla from the town of Sanlúcar de Barrameda.  Sherry can only be made in the the so-called ‘sherry triangle’, comprising the towns of Jerez de la Frontera, Sanlúcar de Barrameda and El Puerto de Santa María, in the southwestern tip of Spain.  A legal designation is given to these wines and it is protected in the same way as Champagne.

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The ‘Sherry-Triangle’ in the southwestern corner of the Cadiz province, Andalucía

 

 

However, within the sherry triangle, Manzanilla has its own designation and can only be produced in the town of Sanlúcar.  In every way Manzanilla is the seperated-at-birth twin of the Finos I discussed earlier in the week.  The same palomino grapes, from the same vineyard areas, are vinified and fortified in the same manner as those destined to be Fino.

The key difference is the location of the ageing cellars and bodegas.  The sherry houses of Jerez, 25km inland, experience extreme summers which can see the flor thin or even die off in the heat.  The town of Sanlúcar, located on the Atlantic coast catches more moderating oceanic breezes.  In this cooler environment a thicker, more stable layer of flor develops on the surface of the wineprotecting it from oxidative effects, producing the lightest, freshest style of sherry.  The name ‘manzanilla’ means little apple, which is a local name for a fresh fragrant chamomile tea; these are two of the more common flavours found in these wines.

la-goya

Delgado Zuleta La Goya Manzanilla

The La Goya Manzanilla above comes from one of the oldest bodegas in Sanlúcar; Delgado Zuleta.  It’s a light straw colour in the glass, with typical green apple and chamomile notes on the nose, supported by a mild yeasty and almond character.  It is light, fresh and bone-dry on the palate.  Lemons, green apples and chamomile are married with a lovely light touch of bread dough before a long finish that brings forward a touch of pleasant salinity.

Availability: Imported by the Spanish wine specialists, Vinos Tito, and is available in most good independent wine shops at about €11/37.5cl bottle.

 The Irish Wino’s Verdict: This wine is aged slightly longer than the minimum required, so gets lovely complex notes.  Offers terrific value for money and is the perfect accompaniment to fish and chips or sushi.

 

On The Second Day of Sherry Week Jerez Gave to Me…

enrama

To celebrate the official start of Sherry Week last night I enjoyed another glass of Palomino fino.  Again it was from bodega González Byass, and once again it goes by the name Tio Pepe.  In fact it even comes from some of the same barrels as the wine I reviewed yesterday.  But before you stop reading and worry that I’ve been celebrating sherry week with a little too much ‘enthusiasm’ there is one key difference; indicated by the words ‘En Rama’ on the label.

Translating as ‘raw’ this essentially means that the wine is bottled with minimal filtration and clarification.  Most finos are heavily filtered to remove any bits of yeast and sediments that build up in the barrels, giving a light floral wine.  But this process also strips away some of the raw flavour.  Fino En Rama  receives only a light filtration, to remove the largest particles, before bottling.  It is as close as possible to tasting the wine straight out of the oak barrel without making a trip to Jerez (although I do highly recommend every budding sherry enthusiast make a pilgrimage to that city).

But there is more to the wine than simply saving on a bit of filter paper in the winery.  The wine for the En Rama bottling comes from carefully chosen casks of Palomino in the bodega.  As I mentioned yesterday, a layer of yeast (flor) grows on top of the wine inside the two-thirds full casks.  In some barrels the exact strains of yeasts present will differ slightly, providing subtle flavour nuances; in others the layer will grow faster and thicker, influencing the extent of oxidation.  Hence each barrel will have its own unique character and flavour profile.  As these casks are never completely emptied of their wines in any given bottling, the Master Blender will know which individual barrels tend to develop the more complex characteristics.

When the stocks are simply blended together for Tio Pepe, this variation is lost giving the end product a consistency from year to year; the better wines compensating for those that are less complex.  However, in the last 8-9 years there has been a trend among sherry bodegas to keep back the very best wines from carefully selected casks and release this superior quality wine in its raw form.  Now the release of the En Rama wines are some of the most eagerly anticipated events in the sherry-lover’s calendar.

So, what’s the difference I hear you ask?  Well, firstly the price; the En Rama version is about twice the price of the regular Tio Pepe.  But it is also fantastically more complex than the regular wine.  In a side-by-side comparison the En Rama version is like the Tio Pepe on steroids.  In the glass it is a much deeper gold (unsurprising as it is not as heavily filtered).  All of those lovely almond and mealy green apples on the nose are still there, but amplified and exaggerated.  The soft floral and chamomile character of the regular Tio Pepe is relegated, whilst the yeasty bread note comes to the fore.  On the palate it has a richer mouth feel and the almonds are joined with hazelnuts and a pleasant salinity on the long finish.  But despite this fuller form of Tio Pepe there is no denying its origin, boasting an elegance that begs for another glass; it is beautifully balanced and is the perfect accompaniment to a meatier fish plate or sushi.

Availability: Alas this is not an easy wine to find, but most good independent wine shops will stock at least one brand of fino En Rama.  The excellent Lustau Fino En Rama  is on special in Mitchell and Sons during Sherry week and The Corkscrew on Chatham St usually have some stock.

These wines tend to be released twice each year- in Spring* and Autumn- and as they are not stabilised through filtration should be drunk young.

The Irish Wino’s Verdict: This is a wonderful and complex wine.  Although more expensive than the regular Tio Pepe, the En Rama is a very different beast and should be seen as the premium product that it is.  For the very limited production available it still offers very good value for money and well worth hunting down.

 

* The wine I reviewed was the Spring 2016 bottling.

On The First Day of Sherry Week Jerez Gave to Me…

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Today sees the start of Sherry Week- a global celebration of that most underrated (in Ireland at least) and quintessentially Spanish wine; showcasing the history, culture and creation of sherry.  Once Spain’s most important wine export, sherry is in the middle of a true renaissance.  If you think it’s purely the preserve of elderly female Downton Abbey characters, take another look at the wine lists of some of the trendiest restaurants across the globe, where a good sherry offering is essential.  And it’s no surprise, as these are hugely versatile, food-friendly wines.

If you want to get involved in sherry week, find a full offering of events in Ireland over on The Vine Inspiration blog, run by the passionate and knowledgeable sherry educator, Paddy Murphy. For those of you not on The Emerald Isle, you can get a comprehensive list of events in your area on the Sherry Week website.

One event that everyone can join is the online tasting with the Master Blender of González Byass, Antonio Flores.  On Thursday 10th November he will be giving a tutored tasting of Tio Pepe.  Find details here.  Last night I started celebrations early with a bottle of this delicious fino.

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Tio Pepe Palomino Fino, González Byass

Being on the market since the mid-19th century, even confirmed sherry lovers often overlook this wine in favour of more fashionable brands.  However, it remains one of the best-value mass produced wines of the world.

As with all sherry finos, the Palomino grapes for this wine come from the vineyards around the city of Jerez in the south west corner of Andalucía in Spain. Only the finest first press grape juice (must) is used, from which this style of sherry gets its name (fino= fine in Spanish).  The must is fermented like any other wine before the addition of alcohol to bring it to 15% abv.  This fortified wine is then aged for an average of four years in large old oak casks that are two-thirds filled.  During this time a layer of yeast (flor) grows on top of the wine, protecting it from too much oxidation and preserving its freshness.

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A two-thirds filled cask of Palomino Fino under its protective layer of flor, Bodegas Lustau, Jerez

This wine could not be further from the perceived sweet and cloying reputation sherry has attracted.  It is light, floral and bone dry.  On the nose it is full of aged green apple, chamomile and an attractive almond and bready note.  In the mouth it is crisp, fresh, dry and balanced, offering up those promised green apples and almonds.  The alcohol (15-15.5%) is well balanced and gives it a lovely warming touch on the long finish that offers a touch of saline minerality.

This wine should be served well chilled and is perfect as an aperitif or with fresh shellfish.  Once opened keep in the fridge and drink within a week.  Tio Pepe is available from most off-licences, supermarkets and wine shops for around €16 for 750ml.

 The Irish Wino’s Verdict: This is not the most serious or complex sherry I will try this week, but it is fabulously consistent, excellent value and tremendously food-friendly. 

 The Irish Wino’s Tip: This wine should be drunk young and fresh, so check the back label for the bottling date.  If it was bottled over a year ago, leave it on the shelf.  Independent wine shops and better off-licences should have younger, fresher stock. 

Lidl Christmas Wines

Once viewed with a certain degree of skepticism, the German discounters have fundamentally changed our supermarket habits.  Not only because one can buy scuba-diving equipment and a welding torch along with their groceries, but because Lidl and Aldi bring a practical efficiency to shopping-small ranges of good quality products at a consistent and competitive price.  Their wine range is no different, where the quality is constantly improving in an attempt to entice the well-heeled through their doors.

Their bare-bones approach means they don’t offer the service knowledge or rare, niche wines offered by an independent wine specialist, but their unrivaled buying power means they can offer superb value at the budget end.  Over these next two posts I will recommend some of the best value wines offered by Lidl and Aldi.

Lidl White Wines

Cimarosa New Zealand Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2014 (€8.79)

For the past number of years New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc has been on the crest of a wave that doesn’t look likely to break any time soon.  Consequently, the prices have steadily increased and it is hard to find good wines under €15.  This example from Lidl is a great bargain at €8.79.  On the nose it has the typical cooler Sauvignon Blanc notes of freshly cut grass and green vegetables.  On the palate it offers a touch of passion fruit, with a lovely acidity and weight of mouth feel.  This is a lovely wine at an extremely competitive price.

Engelberg JP Muller Alsace Grand Cru AOP Riesling 2012 (€12.99)

To some the second white will be a little from left-field; a fantastic introduction to Alsace Riesling.  The Alsace Grand Cru appellation designates the prime vineyards and (theoretically) best wines within the greater Alsace region, which borders Germany in east France.  Strict quality criteria, such as grape yields and minimum ripeness levels, have to be met to qualify for the designation.  Many consumers are
wary of buying Riesling, uncertain of whether it will be sweet or dry, but it is a wonderfully adaptable, aromatic grape that should be explored and most Alsatian wines are dry (sweet wines will have Vendange Tardive or Sélection de Grains Nobles on the label).

This wine is dry with an enticing smokey minerality, offering soft white and tropical fruit on top of red grapefruit flavours.  There is a hint of floral and a lovely rich mouth feel with a satisfyingly long finish of pear and lime.  A delicious wine that will reward the adventurous!

There are a number of other budget wines worth an honourable mention;

Cimarosa Australian Chardonnay/Colombard 2014 (€6.49),

Cimarosa Californian Chardonnay 2013 (€6.49),

Macon-Villages AOP 2014 (€9.99),

Roessslin Alsace Riesling AOP (€9.99).

Lidl Red Wines

Baturrica Gran Reserva Tarragona DO 2007 (€7.99)

The first red is from Catalunya in northern Spain.  Made from a blend of Tempranillo (Ull de Llebre in Catalan) and Cabernet Sauvignon grapes, it is aged for 2 years in oak before bottling, before being cellared for at least three years to integrate the oak and smooth out the tannins.  This long oaking and ageing process produces a complex, full-bodied wine with big notes of vanilla and toast alongside more balsamic and meaty flavours.  However, like any good Gran Reserva there is also more than its fair share of red berries and blackcurrant fruits present that belies the fact it is 8 years old.  A big bold and rich wine similar to a Gran Reseva Rioja, but without the same price tag.

Chateau Sigognac Medoc AOP Cru Bourgeois 2010 (€12.99)

This Bordeaux is a lovely alternative to the Spanish bruiser above.  2010 was a great vintage in Bordeaux and this wine shows all the complexity and finesse one would expect.  Loads of black berried fruits and hint of smoke and spice, this wine has great body and good round tannins.  It finishes with a rich and long length of blackcurrants and pepper.  Delicious claret.

 

Lidl Sweet Wine

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Vidal Pillitteri Estates Canadian Icewine

 

Vidal Pillitteri Estates Canadian Icewine, 20cl (€18.00)

Icewine is one of the most fascianting methods of wine production.  The grapes (usually Riesling) are left on the vine until winter begins.  Only when the temperature reaches – C, and the grapes freeze through, are they hand picked (usually at night).  The grapes are pressed immediately, leaving behind the frozen water and releasing a small quantity of juice- intense with concentrated sugars, acids, flavours and aromas- that is slowly fermented.  Because of the lost water weight, it takes roughly ten times the quantity of grapes to make an icewine compared to a regular dry wine.  Due to these demanding production methods, icewines can be prohibitively expensive, but the Lidl example is fabulous value, despite the small bottle size.  A little glass will go a long way.

Coming from the Niagara region of Canada this complex wine has terrific apricot, honey, peach and pineapple flavours.  It’s sweetness is tempered by high acidity, leaving your mouth feeling fresh, with the long lingering kiss of honeyed fruits.  Enjoy a small glass of this with dessert.

Wines of the Week- O’Briens Fine Wine Sale

The beginning of December sees the calm before the Christmas storm for drinks retailers.  Many offer enticing discounts in an effort to lure in the early shoppers; so it’s a great time for savvy consumers to pick up a few bargains.  Today sees the beginning of O’Briens Off Licence Fine Wine Sale, with over fifty of their premium wines getting discounted by up to 40%.  Over the coming weeks I will do a post about the best bargain Christmas Cracker wines in each major retailer, but today is all about that special Christmas Day dinner wine.

The key to matching wines with Christmas dinner is not so much the meat served, but the accompanying sauce.  If you lean towards a rich red wine gravy and cranberry sauce over your turkey and ham, match it with a wine of similar stature, such as an Amarone.  These are big bruiser reds from the north-east of Italy, made by partially drying the Corvina and Rondinella grapes; a method known as appassimento.  Raisining the grapes concentrates their flavour and richness before fermenting them into a rich, dry, powerful (and high alcohol!) wine.

Due to the long, expensive production process, these wines are never cheap but there are a number of great quality Amarone wines included in the Fine Wine sale.  At €24.99 (down from €34.99), the Rizzardi 3 Cru Amarone 2010 offers terrific value and is a great introduction to the Amarone style.  However, if your budget can stretch to the Musella Amarone Riserva 2009, you will be well rewarded.  At €40 (from €52) this is a big outlay for one bottle of wine and may not be to everyone’s taste.  But if you like a highly concentrated wine with massive body and lashings of deep, dark fruit, balanced with a rich elegance you will not do better than this superb wine.

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Castillo Ygay

Sticking with big reds, the Spanish are represented in the sale by one of Rioja’s great houses: Marqués de Murrieta.  Founded in 1822, this is one of the stalwarts of the Rioja region and continues to make wines in the classic style; expect plenty of oak ageing and complexity from time in the bottle.  The daddy of the Bodega is Castillo Ygay Gran Reserva 2005.  Made from Tempranillo and Mazuelo grapes from their premium 80-year-old La Plana vineyard, this wine is left in predominantly American oak barrels for over 2 years, before ageing in bottle.  It is full of cherry and bramble fruits, toasty and complex, with a long spicy finish; still surprisingly youthful for a 10-year-old wine. Delicious.

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Gran Reserva

However, as their flagship wine, the Castillo Ygay is still €63.75 (from €85) in the Fine Wine Sale.  As this falls well outside most of our budgets, you can pick up the excellent Marqués de Murrieta Gran Reserva 2007 for a more reasonable €24.99 (usually €34.99).  This offers a very similar palate to its illustrious older-brother without the price tag.  With deep, rich black and red bramble fruits; spice, vanilla and toast from the oak barrels.  As the world moves in the direction of more fruit-driven, fresher red wines, I remain a huge fan of well-made classic Rioja Gran Reserva and this is a big, classic Rioja at its best.

Capellanía

Capellanía

Although not in the Fine Wine sale, I would like to give an honourable mention to Marqués de Murrieta’s Cappelanía; a classic oak-aged white Rioja.  With roughly 18 months in wood (depending on vintage) these wines are a rare gem as the wine world becomes more homogenised.  Although they will certainly not be to everyone’s taste, these wines offer notes of over-ripe pear, Christmas spice, toast and vanilla alongside a distinct fino sherry-character from the intentional slow oxidation.  These white wines age extremely well and there are a few vintages to be found around Dublin for the intrepid Bacchant.  The 2010 is currently available in O’Briens and the 2005 is available from Sweeney’s on the Finglas Rd.

kirwan

The pick of the French is Chateau Kirwan 2012: reduced by €26 (from €65 to €39).  This elegant Cabernet-dominated Margaux offers rich black fruits and a spicy finish; although drinking very well now, it would be even better if put away for next year.

The O’Briens Fine Wine sale ends Sunday and store limits apply, so be quick. Happy Drinking. HB.

Spanish Tastings to Lift the November Gloom

With the deepening evenings looming over us, October and November offer some great wine events to cheer up even the most passionate Bacchant!

Rhône Wine Week runs from 2nd-8th November, with some terrific events around the country. Check out the full schedule on their website or Jean Smullen’s Wine Diary. The highlight of the week is the Ely Big Rhône tasting; read about last year’s mayhem over at Frankly Wines.

logo-isw-enFor the Iberophiles amongst you, lamenting the end of the World Tapas Day celebrations, fret not; there are two terrific events to brighten up your gloomy November evenings. First up is International Sherry Week, where Dublin celebrations are centred on Stanley’s Wine bar. For the full list of events, get yourself over to recently-qualified sherry educator Paddy Murphy’s Vineinspiration.

Then on Wednesday 11thNovember Spain Uncorked offers the exciting opportunity to try some of the best wines Spain has to offer, in the fabulous surrounds of the Smock Alley theatre in Dublin city. Over 40 bodegas will represent the wines of Ribera del Duero and Rueda. Although geographically close, these two regions offer contrasting styles. The brooding, powerful Tempranillo reds from the former; crisp, refreshing Verdejo whites from the latter. Ribera del Duero was the first wine region I visited (read here) and remains one of my favourite wine styles, so don’t miss this wonderful event. Limited amount of tickets still available at Eventbrite.

Sun, Sea and Sierras de Málaga

This article first appeared in wineplus.ie- Ireland’s biggest online wine magazine. For your FREE monthly magazine: subscribe@wineplus.ie.

IC Compuesta Global (ALTA) CRDDOO

Although Málaga is now better known for its sun and beach holidays, it is one of the oldest wine regions in Spain: tracing its viticultural history back to the Greek colonisation of the Mediterranean around 600 BC. Production continued through later antiquity with the Romans, who struck imperial coins dedicated to wine in the region. Even through heavy taxation by successive Islamic empires the Malagueños persisted with wine production.

 

1st century Roman coins. Originally named Acinipo (Land of Vines) these coins were found near Ronda

1st century Roman coins. Originally named Acinipo (Land of Vines) these coins were found near Ronda

Following the reconquest of Andalucía by the Catholic monarchy, Málaga saw a surge in demand for their fortified wines aboard the grand Spanish ships of exploration. Their wines were also fashionable in the British Empire and eclipsed those of Jerez. Catherine the Great was so impressed with them that they were exempt from Russian taxation.

Then in the nineteenth century phylloxera struck and wiped out most of the vineyards across the region. Vineyards were replaced by olive and almond groves and any recovery was further inhibited as consumers moved away from sweet, fortified wines, towards drier, fresher whites. By the mid-twentieth century production was limited to small pockets in the east of the region and most of those grapes were used to create bulk sweet wines of little character.

Despite the fall in popularity, a number of producers persevered with quality wines from old vines. This caught the attention of wine makers from the north of Spain, who found abandoned old vineyards with terrific potential. Through investment and modern production techniques the region has seen a leap in quality in recent years. Alongside the traditional sweet wines are delicate dry whites and surprisingly elegant reds. For the intrepid wine traveller, Málaga offers a perfect opportunity to explore a dynamic region, searching for its identity on the world stage.

DO and Sub-Regions:

The production zones for Málaga wines covers most of that administrative region of Andalucía in southern Spain. Unsurprisingly this vast area has significant climactic and soil variations, so Málaga’s wine regions are sub-divided in to the five areas shown on the map. The most exciting sub-regions are Serranía de Ronda in the far west and Axarquía in the east.

Málaga and Sierras de Málaga production zones

Málaga and Sierras de Málaga production zones

There are two Denominación de Origen (production zones) for Málaga wines; confusingly these cover the exact same geographical area. It is the style of wine that determines which DO covers it.

IC Principal Malaga (ALTA) CRDDOOIC Principal Sierras (ALTA) CRDDOO

• Set up in 1933, DO Málaga covers the area’s traditional sweet wine production, made solely from the white grapes Pedro Ximénez and Moscatel.

• DO Sierras de Málaga was set up in 2001 to cover the newly rediscovered potential for dry wines. These can be produced from either red or white grapes.

Ronda
The area around the stunning town of Ronda is steeped in viticulture; and is one of the oldest wine regions on the Iberian peninsula. The Romans called the region Acinipo, Land of the Vines, revealing the importance of wine to the local economy. But in the nineteenth century, after two and a half millennia of uninterrupted wine production, Ronda was one of the first regions in Spain struck by phylloxera. Within a few years wine production, which once totalled over 13,000 ha of land, was wiped out.

 
Only in the past 35 years have vines made a return to the area with the help of huge investment; today there are over twenty wineries. Ronda has a continental climate; hot, dry summers and very cold, wet winters. The heat of the growing season is tempered by an altitude of 750-1,000 metres, giving a diurnal swing that can see days in excess of 40°C followed by 15-20°C nights. The calcareous rocks and quartzite sand allow the roots to bury deep in to the soil to find water. All of these factors allow winemakers to experiment with grapes and produce dry red and white wines with a surprising freshness and acidity.

When & Where to Stay:
Ronda is a stunning town, attracting millions of visitors each year, so avoid the sweltering peak summer months and visit mid-week in April/May or September/October.
Due to its popularity, there is no end of accommodation options on the websites listed below. However, one hotel that must be on your bucket list is Parador de Ronda. This luxury state-run hotel is expensive for Spain, but boasts jaw-dropping vistas over the Ronda gorge.
www.parador-de-ronda.es

Ronda Gorge with Parador de Ronda on left

Ronda Gorge with Parador de Ronda on left

 

Further Information:
Ronda Wines: www.ruta-vinos-ronda.com
Ronda Tourism Information: www.turismoderonda.es

Bodega Cortijo Los Aguilares
Set within an estate of over 800 ha of oak and wild pata negra pigs, this bodega is owned by a Burgundy-loving businessman from northern Spain. He tasked head winemaker, Bibi García, with the difficult job of producing Pinot Noir in this hot, southern climate. Thanks to heavy investment and avoiding any pesticides or herbicides, they won Gold in the 2008 and 2010 Mundial du Pinot Noir in Switzerland. As well as this pet project, they produce fine Petit Verdot-led wines of great freshness and pure fruit. Innovation is important on the stunning Cortijo Los Aguilares estate and each year new pockets of land are planted with international and indigenous varieties to see what vines best express the terroir.
When I asked Bibi why she moved from the premium Priorat DO to Ronda she simply replied that ‘history is here to be made’.
www.cortijolosaguilares.com

Axarquía

Located an hour and half drive north of Malaga, the villages of Sayalonga and Sedella are the heart of fine wine in eastern Málaga. Production is largely focused on sweet wines, but there are a growing number of wineries producing superb quality dry wines from old, indigenous vines.

Suggested Bodegas:
Vinos Telmo Rodríguez
Telmo Rodríguez was a well-known wine producer from northern Spain before turning his attention to Málaga. Setting up in an old traditional winery, Telmo uses the traditional method of drying Moscatel grapes in the sun on paseros (large straw mats), raisining and concentrating the flavours of the grape whilst retaining acidity. These are then pressed on capachas (smaller straw mats) by pneumatic press and aged in oak to produce outstanding luscious wines.

www.telmorodriguez.com

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Old pneumatic press gives low yields of excellent quality fruit

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The grapes are dried outside to partly raisin. Only perfect quality fruit will be laid out by hand.

Bodegas Bentomiz
Set up by a Dutch couple after their construction business collapsed, Bodegas Bentomiz recently opened a brand new winery. Designed in the Bauhaus style and finished in slate to match the local rock, this tasteful building boasts state-of-the-art equipment, producing beautifully complex naturally sweet and dry wines from 80-100 year old vines.
Any trip to Málaga has to include lunch in this winery. With a commanding view over the Mediterranean and surrounding mountain peaks, you can enjoy stunning dishes of local produce designed by renowned Málaga chef, Juan Quintanilla, paired with their stunning wines.

www.bodegabentomiz.com


Where to Stay:
The tranquil villages in the hills above Velez-Málaga boast traditional rural Andalucían white-washed houses. They are stunning to visit, but have little infrastructure for tourism. I suggest staying nearer the coast and driving up to the hills. Nerja is one of the prettiest coastal towns and is only a 25 minute drive from Sayalonga.

 

If you would rather work a city break in to your wine holiday, then Málaga city is a great choice. Small and compact, with plenty of beautiful restaurants and tapas bars, it is steeped in the history of Andalucía. Take a day to visit the Alcazaba, an Islamic fort built on the hills behind the city, and the adjacent Roman theatre. Then stroll through the Old Town, taking in the cathedral before visiting the Wine Museum located nearby. If you have the time I highly recommend the Museum of Glass and Crystal; a surprising gem located in a stunning old traditional Málagan house.

 

How to Get There:
Both Aer Lingus and Ryanair fly regularly from Dublin to Málaga airport year round and from Shannon and Cork airports during the summer.
Despite their proximity to the busy Costa del Sol, the vineyards are not easily accessible by public transport, so you will need to hire a car to explore any of the wine regions. The best value I found is Málagacar- excellent rates and no hidden refuelling fee. Shuttle bus runs from Terminal 1. You must book in advance.
www.malagacar.com

Further Information:
Consejo Regulador Málaga wines: www.vinomalaga.com
Málaga Tourism: www.malagaturismo.com, www.andalucia.org

 

Priorat- Part II. Clos Mogador

 

Celler Clos Mogador

Celler Clos Mogador

 

Although the phrase ‘living legend’ is often flung about with the hyperbolic abandon of wedding confetti, it is genuinely hard to find a more apt title for René Barbier.  Few wine regions in the world owe its success to one winemaker more than Priorat does to the founder of Celler Clos Mogador.

Despite the Agricultural Ministry recognising it as having potential in 1932, a combination of phylloxera in the 19th century and political upheaval through the 20th saw most Priorat vineyards abandoned and the area heavily depopulated.

Coming from a long line of winemakers, René Barbier arrived in Priorat in the late 1970’s when the region was producing little more than bulk jug wine for the Barcelona market.  Determined that it had huge quality potential, René convinced seven* other winemakers to experiment on this parched, baked llicorella (local slate) soil.  These early pioneers formed a winery producing one wine from their collective grapes, but released under their respective names.

Their powerful wines quickly gained international attention for the concentration, minerality and purity of fruit.  They went on to become some of the best known wines in Spain: l’Ermita, Clos de l’Obac and Clos Mogador.  Old, abandoned vineyards were snapped up as investment poured in to Priorat, tripling the area of land under vine in 35 years.

This oenology revolution culminated in 2000 when Priorat was awarded DOQ status by the Catalan government; one of only two Spanish regions (Rioja the other) to achieve this premium accolade.

Despite his global recognition in the wine world, René Barbier is an immediately hospitable, approachable and likeable gent.  On a recent visit to the Clos Mogador winery he gave me a private tour of his vineyards in an old Mitsubishi 4×4.  He told me in his dulcet, deliberate manner (so even my elementary Spanish could keep up) that Clos Mogador was the first wine awarded Vi de Finca staus, recognising it as a single vineyard wine of unique character.  Using no pesticides or herbicides these steep terraced vineyards are teeming with insects, wild flowers and grasses; the oldest vines producing as little as 250g of exceptionally concentrated fruit per year.

 

 

Back in the winery I was entrusted to the next generation of Barbier winemakers, René IV, whose perfect English gave my miniscule Spanish a welcome break!  Working with his father for over 20 years, René Jr is as affable in manner and as he is passionate in winemaking.  Unwilling to simply grasp his famous sire’s coattails, René Jr is continuing to innovate with his wines, both in Priorat and neighbouring Montsant; full-bodied whites, ageworthy rosé, natural wines, and the use of large local amphorae are just part of his experimentation.

Drawn to wine styles of unique character- sherry, aged Rieslings, Tokaji- René makes a lot of wines that wouldn’t have mass market appeal.  Instead he makes the wines he likes to make and drink; a fortunate luxury when your name is René Barbier!  Luckily for us he is incredibly talented at what he does.  A morning (and well in to the afternoon!) spent trying his wines shows his impressive range of winemaking skills.  Each wine unique and crafted with consummate skill; the Barbier family, synonymous with quality, is in very capable hands to continue their impressive legacy of innovation.

 

* Although we now refer to them as the Big 5, René Jnr assured me there were originally 8!

Sunny Saturday Reds

The forecast says today is set to reach 20 degrees across parts of our fair isle (cue thunderstorms and egg on my face!). So if you plan on taking advantage of our 24-hour window of summer with a BBQ, here are a few suggestions to match your grub.

O’Briens have a fantastic summer sale at the moment, so if you’re in the mood for a juicy BBQ steak I recommend these two great reds. The first is from my favourite red wine region in Spain, Ribera del Duero, by one of its top producers, Torres.  Celeste Crianza is a staple on Miguel Torres’ lunch table at his private Mas Rabell restaurant; if it is good enough for him, surely it’s good enough for us mere mortals!

Torres Celeste, Ribera del Duero.  O'Briens: WAS €21.99. NOW €17.99

Torres Celeste, Ribera del Duero.
O’Briens: WAS €21.99. NOW €17.99

Unlike the over-oaked behemoths that we sometimes find in northern Spain, this Tempranillo is full-bodied but fresh, delivering juicy blackberry fruit and a long peppery finish.  This is a great price for a terrific wine; I was in Catalunya last week and it was the same price in the supermarket there.  Considering Ireland’s scandalous wine taxation I would consider this a bargain.

Porta 6, Lisboa. O Briens: WAS: €12.99. NOW €9.99

Porta 6, Lisboa. O Briens: WAS: €12.99. NOW €9.99

For something a little lighter on the pocket and the palate is Porta 6, from Portugal.  A blend of Tempranillo (called Tinta Roriz in Portugal) and local varieties, this offers plenty of warm forest fruits and floral notes.  Like the Celeste above it has lovely freshness and acidity to balance the weighty tannins and spicy finish.  Excellent value and worth grabbing a few bottles at this price.

Travelling in Toro DO

This article first appeared in wineplus.ie- Ireland’s biggest online wine magazine. For your FREE monthly magazine: subscribe@wineplus.ie.

 

Toro

Sitting high on the central plateau of Spain, north-west of Madrid, Toro has a viticultural heritage dating back over two millennia when the Greeks spread vines across the Mediterranean. The modern DO is named after the largest town in the region and spreads across the gently undulating boundary of the Zamora and Valladolid provinces, at an altitude of 620m to 750m.

Roman bridge over Rio Duero as seen from Toro

Roman bridge over Rio Duero as seen from Toro

This region is steeped in the history of Spain. Its important strategic location, straddling the banks of the Duero River saw it play a key role in the Christian reconquest of Spain, subsequent wars of succession and later Napoleonic wars. Toro boasted the court of kings, the capital of the province and its strong wines filled the holds of the Spanish ships that conquered the New World. When phylloxera devastated most of the vineyards of Europe, Toro’s dry, sandy soil inhibited the spread of the louse and its wines were in huge demand in France.

Throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, however, Toro was overshadowed by its more prestigious near-neighbours, both politically and vinous. Zamora became the political capital of the province while nearby Ribera del Duero became the benchmark for the red wines of Castilla y León. Today Toro peacefully sits atop its promontory quietly surveying the surrounding fertile plains, its skyline dominated by the Romanesque tower-domes of the twelfth century Collegiate church of Santa María la Mayor.

Declared a Conjunto Histórico town, Toro is the biggest in the region and has the best options for eating and accommodation so should be the base for a wine trip. Getting there by public transport is difficult and unreliable, so I suggest flying to Madrid and renting a car from there. Toro is only a two hour drive on very good roads. Once you get to the region, you will certainly need a car to visit the diffuse wineries, as public transport is non-existent.

Wines
For much of the last century Toro produced too many overly extracted, heavily-oaked, rustic wines of little interest. Wine that was once coveted by Kings was brought low by lack of investment and antiquated winery techniques. Toro DO was founded in 1987 with only four members.

However, the potential was obvious for many to see. The region’s extreme continental climate is tempered by high altitude and the presence of the Duero River, creating a diurnal range (temperature difference between day and night) that keeps freshness during the dry, hot growing season. The local clone of Tempranillo, Tinta de Toro, is a thick-skinned, early-ripening variant that offers ageworthy, powerful wines.

This attracted investors from nearby wine regions, including Vega Sicilia and Marcus Eguren. Modern techniques were married to ancient vines to create wines of unique character and complexity that has attracted much attention from wine critics. The influential Robert Parker gave Bodega Numanthia’s wine, Termanthia 2004, a perfect 100 pts.

Where to Visit
The future for Toro wine looks bright, so now is the time to visit this wonderful region and explore its welcoming bodegas. There are over fifty wineries in the region now, but many have not yet fully embraced wine tourism, so make sure you book ahead to avoid disappointment and ensure a guide in English if required.

NUMANTHIA Bodega Numanthia helped put Toro back on the wine map and should be included in any wine tour. Representing the tenacity of the Tinta de Toro grape in this inhospitable region, the winery is named after a Spanish town that refused to submit to Roman occupation for a century. Sold by the Eguren family to the premium LVMH group, it boasts a new state of the art winery and some of the best wines in Toro. Bookings must be made in advance. http://www.numanthia.com

bodegatesoFollowing the sale of Numanthia, Marcus Eguren set up Teso La Monja in the nearby hills. This is a stunning classical winery built around a wide colonnaded patio of local stone that is well worth a visit.  Tours need to be booked in advance. http://www.sierracantabria.com

logo Dominio del Bendito As good as the wines are in these premium wineries, they are not the reason I love wine tourism in more remote areas. To really experience the passion for terroir and the true potential for the wines of Toro, I recommend you organise a visit to Dominio del Bendito. Founded by a young passionate, eccentric Frenchman, Antony Terryn, Dominio del Bendito is a small production garage winery located in the centre of Toro in an old monastery. Having worked in many of the premium wine regions in the world, Antony bought a number of plots of old vines and settled in Toro.

The tour was an impromptu trip up to his ancient vineyards in his old 3-door Peugeot hatchback. Surrounded by rock and soil samples, we were serenaded by the potential of Toro wines. Back in the rustic winery we were treated to wines that were anything but rustic. Powerful and fresh with jammy forest fruits, these wines typify what modern Toro can offer. I highly recommend you get in contact before commencing your trip. http://www.bodegadominiodelbendito.com

Where to Stay
Although only recently opening up to foreign tourism in the last few years, Toro offers good quality accommodation to suit any budget.

Hotel Juan II is good value and offers spectacular views over the valley floor as well as the storks nesting in the nearby towers of the Collegiate church of Santa María la Mayor. Make sure you request a room with a balcony to fully appreciate this little gem. http://www.hotelesentoro.es

For those on a tighter budget Hotel Zaravencia is basic but clean and comfortable and overlooks Plaza Mayor in the centre of the town. http://www.hotelzaravencia.com

Valbusenda Wine and Spa Resort

Valbusenda Wine and Spa Resort

If you are looking for something more luxurious, the five-star Valbusenda Hotel Bodega & Spa is 9 kilometres outside the town. Although quite isolated, Valbusenda offers absolute luxury in its deluxe rooms and spa, as well as unrivalled dining room views over the local valley floor. Enjoy breakfast while watching birds of prey hovering over the golden, sun bathed landscape. http://www.valbusenda.com

Where to Eat
Why not do as the Spanish and go on a tapas and wine trail? Begin in Plaza Mayor and continue towards the clock tower. There are plenty of good quality local bars that open until late. But remember the siesta, as most close during the middle of the day.

For something a bit more substantial, enjoy good quality, local fare on the patio of Hotel Juan II with its views across the plains below.  Or with a terrific wine list and a Gin and Tonic only setting you back €5, come for a perfect sundowner after a busy day on the wine trail.

Patio Hotel Juan II with view of Rio Duero

Patio Hotel Juan II with view of Rio Duero

 

Information
A list of all wineries can be found on Toro DO website:
http://www.dotoro.com
Toro Local Government:
Plaza Mayor 1, Toro
http://www.toroayto.es
TORO DO Quick Facts
GRAPES:
Red (majority)/Rose: Tinta de Toro (Tempranillo), small amount of Garnacha
White: Malvasia and Verdejo
WINERIES: 54
PRODUCTION: 12,147,920 litres/yr
SOIL: Limestone/ Stony Alluvial

 

Wines to Try