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.

tio-pepe

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 Premium French Wine Launch

A couple of times a year the giant German discounter, Lidl, offer a Premium French Wine range, where you can grab some terrific value top-end wines from some of the best French wine regions.  Today, 22nd February, sees their latest offering; but be quick- quantities are limited.  Below are my best value picks.

Ernest Wein Alsace Pinot Blanc AOP Pfaffenheim 2014, €9.99

n=5600975Coming from the Alsace region, located on the French side of the German-Franco border, this wine is made from the Pinot family of grapes (despite the varietal label name, they are often a blend).  It has a lovely weight on the palate and a refreshing citrus zip of preserved lemons; alongside stone and white fruits like peaches and pears on the long, satisfying finish.

The Irish Wino’s Verdict: Gets my nod for best value wine here.  Ready for drinking now, but maybe squirrel a bottle or two away in case we are blessed with a couple of sunny days this year; perfect for barbecued fish or chicken.

 

Roesslin Alsace Riesling AOP 2014, €9.99

n=5600981As with the Pinot Blanc above, this wine has a lovely weight in the mouth, but offers much more citrus fruits- fresh lemons, limes and bramley apples.  It also has a complexity to it: white fruits, fragrant flowers and some slatey minerality.

The Irish Wino’s Verdict: This is a great value Riesling- fresh, fruity and fragrant.  Will match the same foods as the Pinot Blanc above, but would also stand up to a mild curry or shish.

 

Chablis AOP 2014, €12.99

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This is terrific value Chablis AOP; it hints at the attributes of top-end Chablis, but at a fraction of the price.  As with all Chablis, it is made from the Chardonnay grape (don’t tell that ABC* friend of yours!) and offers steely minerality alongside mouth-watering granny smith apples.  With wonderful acidity and a long length, this is terrific value.

The Irish Wino’s Verdict: It is difficult to find good quality Chablis at a reasonable price but this wine certainly ticks both those boxes.  Complex and elegant: a very good value wine.  This is an excellent food wine and would be a perfect match for shellfish- mussels in a white wine sauce or oysters.

*ABC= Anything But Chardonnay.  A popular, but grossly unfair designation towards a grape that produces some of the finest white wines in the world: white Burgundy and Champagne for a start.

 

Citadelle Ducyprès Blaye Côtes de Bordeaux AOP 2014, €9.99

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Although Bordeaux is better known for its high quality red wines, it does produce some fabulous wines from white grapes- both sweet and dry.  This wine is bone dry and comes from the northeastern Blaye Côtes de Bordeaux region.  The main grape is Sauvignon Blanc, so offers a crisp herbaceous, grassy character and high acidity; but there is also a nice roundness to the body and more than a touch of peach and spice, suggesting a splash of Semillon (the most important grape in the sweet Sauternes wines).

The Irish Wino’s Verdict: An interesting alternative to all the New World Sauvignon Blancs that are so popular right now- Bordeaux is where the grape originated and this wine proves it can still make some very fine, affordable examples.  Enjoy with any dish dominated by a rich white sauce: fish in parsley sauce, or a true carbonara.

 

Château Quattre Cahors AOP 2009, €12.99

n=5603567Whilst we’re on grape origin stories, this wine from Cahors is a blend dominated by the Malbec grape.  Although now better known for the powerful wines coming out of Argentina, Malbec originates in the southwest of France and was an important part of the Bordeaux blend until a severe frost there killed most of the vines in the mid-20th century.  However, the nearby Cahors region persevered with the grape (although usually calling it Auxerrois or Côt) to produce solid, tannic wines with an intense bouquet.

This wine is from the excellent 2009 vintage.  It has rich, heavy black fruits- blackberry and ripe cherries- as well as a nicely integrated bit of vanilla, spice and toast from the oak ageing.  The 7 years ageing have given it some savoury meaty and balsamic notes.  Big tannins come from the touch of Tannat grape in the final blend.

The Irish Wino’s Verdict: Forget silky elegance- this is a big and bold, hearty wine.  The high tannin and fruit will match perfectly with a big juicy steak or succulent leg of lamb.  Although it is already 7 years old, this wine could easily age that long again and accentuate the more savoury elements.  Very good value for such an aged wine.

 

Château de Carles Fronsac AOP 2008, €17.99

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The little-known Fronsac appellation is a small region bordering SaintÉmilion in Bordeaux.  It uses a similar blend of grapes to its more illustrious neighbour, but often offers superb value.  This Merlot-dominated wine is still fresh and fruity, despite its age, but does show hints of its 8 years: forest floor bouquet and a balsamic touch alongside silky tannins that have smoothed out with age.

The Irish Wino’s Verdict: This is an elegant, silky smooth wine.  8 years of ageing has given it a wonderful complexity and it is drinking perfectly now.  It is rare to find a Bordeaux of this age and quality under €20.

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 I

 

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After returning home from an unforgettable Catalan wine trip last week, the holiday hangover (figurative and literal) has dissipated just enough to thank a few great people who made this trip possible.

We started the trip in the daddy of Catalan wine regions- Priorat DOQ.  One of only two premium-tier wine regions in Spain (alongside Rioja DOCa), this is a rugged, parched landscape, with steep, low-yielding vineyardsGarnacha and Cariñena (Grenache and Carignan to you Francophiles) make up the bulk of the production.  These are powerful wines with deep forest fruits and a minerality that comes from the slate and quartz soil, known locally as llicorella.  Generally high in alcohol, don’t plan on doing much for the rest of the day if you have a couple of glasses during the siesta!

Many thanks must go to Patrick Webb of Coast to Coast wines.  Together with his partner Anna, we spent our first day visiting fantastic wineries across Priorat.

The highlight was a trip out to Celler Burgos Porta– a remote organic winery, set in a steep valley, run by the indefatigable Salvador.  If you want to check your fitness level, try trekking around a Priorat vineyard in 30 degree heat after this guy! Still, the fantastic Mas Sinén 2008 at the end makes the effort that much more worthwhile!

Later in the day we spent an exhilarating, if bum-numbing, hour and a half travelling through Juan José Escoda’s (Jou) Prior Pons vineyards in his trusty, well-travelled ‘office’ (an old 4×4 stacked with files and rock samples!).  Growing on steep hillsides around the town of Vilella Alta, this unforgiving terrain is constantly threatened with drought; when we were there in June, they had not had any rain for over six weeks.  This low rainfall means the fruit gets great concentration of flavours, but the yield per plant can be as low as 300g in older vines, one-fifth that of neighbouring Penedès!  This is a key contributing factor why many Priorat wines can seem expensive compared to other Spanish regions.

Prior Pons’ Planets is available in O’Briens Off-Licences nationwide and offers a good value introduction to Priorat DOQ.  Well worth a try.

Check out the blog next Friday, when I’ll post about a morning spent with two generations of one of the biggest names in Priorat- René Barbier of Clos Mogador.  Until then, sláinte and enjoy the weekend.

HB.

M&S Bin End

Ireland has the highest rates of wine taxation in Europe.  Any bottle of wine, regardless of quality or final price is subject to excise duty of €3.19.  This tax is also subject to VAT at the standard rate of 23%, effectively making a bottle of wine €3.92, going straight to the government coffers, just for entering the country.  Every facet of wine making must then be added to this price, which is also subject to 23% VAT.

To retail a bottle of wine in Ireland for €5, taxation will account for an eye-watering €4.34!  This is why I have never recommended a bottle under €5.  Until today.

Marks and Spencer Grenache Noir 2013. Was €9.80. Now €4.90.

Marks and Spencer Grenache Noir 2013. Was €9.80. Now €4.90.

Shopping in Marks and Spencer in Liffey Valley yesterday, I spotted their Grenache Noir from the Rhône Valley was reduced from €9.80 to €6.40.  Deciding it was worth a punt at that price I popped one in my basket.  When I got to the till I smugly found it was reduced further- to €4.90.  Surely it was worth that?

I’m glad to say it was.  A blend of Grenache and Syrah, it is a simple, easy-drinking, every day wine with nice red and black fruit and a touch of spice.  The finish is a bit short, but better than many wines twice the price.  And although you won’t mistake this for a top Rhône wine, you won’t find another wine as good for this price.

I presume Marks and Spencer are discontinuing this wine, so at €4.90 it won’t last long.

Rating: DECENT 2.8/5

Value: EXCELLENT 5/5

Emilio Moro

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

emilio-moroJosé Moro looks like the archetypal traditional Spanish winemaker. With his salt-and-pepper hair swept to the side and a face that could have been hewn from the rock of the meseta, he is a man whose very heritage is tied to the vineyard. However, there is a lot more than just tradition to the current head of Bodegas Emilio Moro, as Wine+ recently found out.

There are few names more synonymous with Ribera del Duero than that of Emilio Moro, whose family tradition in winemaking stretches back over 120 years. It was José’s grandfather, Don Emilio, who founded Bodegas Emilio Moro with a focus on selecting the best individual vines in the vineyard and grafting these on the next generation to produce the purest expression in the winery. This clonal selection is now common place, but in Don Emilio’s day it was cutting edge winemaking.

The efforts of his forefathers is not lost on José, who readily appreciates their commitment, ‘when you perceive this from childhood, this care, this sacrifice, you retain a warm feeling of pride in family’. The result of their dedication and hard work is the Tinto Fino clone; the purest expression of Tempranillo, claims José. But a good grape is nothing without terroir and in Ribera del Duero, this small, thick-skinned grape is perfectly married to the conditions. It is here, situated high on the Spanish plateau, with its extreme continental climate, varied soils and influence of the meandering Duero river that Tinto Fino produces some of Spain’s best quality, longest-lived and powerful wines.

But it is not only by looking to the past that the Moro family is driven forward. When asked about the philosophy of the winery, José answers in his deep, heavily-accented deliberate manner that it is ‘necessary to establish a balanced triangle on three fundamental pillars: Tradition, Innovation and Social Responsibility’.

The traditions of the family run deep, with José eschewing the practice of blending his beloved Tinto Fino grape with the Bordeaux varieties allowed in the DO. Instead he strives to retain pure varietal character in all of his wines. Each of these wines is supported by the other two pillars of José’s philosophy. Through their socially responsible vineyard techniques they refuse to use fertilisers with heavy metals, avoid irrigation and harvest grapes by hand to ensure they are in the best condition when they reach the winery. Bodegas Emilio Moro firmly believe the quality of their wines is directly related to their commitment to sustaining the land.

José knits together this commitment to Tradtion and Innovation seemlessly, ‘I learned everything from my father and grandfather but of course we have many universities to study modern techniques. In associaiton with the University of Valladolid we have developed GPS systems to look at many aspects of our vineyards’. This system allows José to identify problems with individual vines in the vineyard and address any deficiencies in the plant. Targeting individual vines reduces the need to interfere with the development of healthy plants.

Cepa 21, Ribera del Duero.

Cepa 21, Ribera del Duero.

In 2007 José’s core philosophies came to fruition when the family opened Bodegas Cepa 21. Located outside the town of Peñafiel on 50 hectares, this brand new winery complements and enhances the landscape. Two years ago I arrived at the winery door without an appointment. Instead of turning me away, I was warmly welcomed like an old friend by enthusiastic staff and given a private tour of their state of the art facility. We tasted their beautiful wines in the intimate tasting room overlooking the ageing cellar; accompanied by the sweet and sour scent of younger vintages patiently ageing in oak.

Not content to simply replicate what they were doing at Emilio Moro, José and his team carefully selected old-vine clones of Tinto Fino for planting on the cooler, north facing vineyards of Cepa 21. José explains their philisophy. ‘We chose north facing slopes, less hours of sunshine. The growing cycle is longer; this produces totally different aromas- more freshness, a high aroma’. This attention to detail produces an elegant range of wines with lovely freshness and aroma, very different to those produced at Emilio Moro.

However, José doesn’t like to call these modern wines. Instead he refers to them as a different expression of the same fruit, ‘I do not like to use traditional versus modern but prefer to talk about the different terroirs that produce different wines’. As at Emilio Moro, these wines are aged in a mix of French and American oak and abandon the traditional terms of Reserva and Gran Reserva. This gives the winemakers freedom to innovate with ageing terms.

Cepa 21 creates innovative wines that encapsulate José Moro’s core philosophies- Traditional Tinto Fino clones used by the family for decades married to the very best innovative vineyard and winery practices, and a firm focus on a respect for the land and enviornment that produce the unique conditions of the Duero valley.

And all this effort and attention to detail is certainly worth it. Today José’s wines are stocked in fifty countries on five continents, regularly winning awards and top marks from critics. His family owns almost 170 acres in one of the most exciting and beautiful wine regions in the world and his company is growing at about 15% per year. As well as this, Bodegas Emilio Moro just became the first visually impaired accessible winery in Castilla y Léon, carrying on from labelling their wines in braille, and also run a successful charitable foundation. The future looks very bright for the Moro family.

‘Wine is an art. If you know how to listen it speaks to you… It is like a living being that you have to understand, look after and care for.’
-Don Emilio Moro.

Spanish Wine Tour Part I- Ribera del Duero

RiberaDelDueroLogo

 

I love travelling around Spain.  Having travelled from India to Australia, USA to Africa, I maintain that Spain would be my first choice location to emigrate to.  Not only is it a country full of fabulously friendly people, brilliant food and a rich history and culture, the landscape is hugely varied too.  From the sun-kissed beaches of southern Andalucia, to the wet, Atlantic-influenced northern area of Galicia.  From the sparsely populated plains of the interior Mesa, to the vibrant, populous cities, it offers the very best of Europe in many ways.  It has a gastronomic menu as rich as the French, the varied beauty of Italy, it is as warm and welcoming as the west of Ireland and even does a banking and unemployment crisis better than the Greeks!  But most importantly, for me anyway, is the fact it makes amongst the best wines in the world.

The first time I did a wine tour in Spain was during a diving holiday in Lanzarote.  My girlfriend and I rented a car for a day and explored the island’s interior, making unplanned stops at any bodegas that were open and willing to let us try their wines.  Admittedly there weren’t that many- it was a Sunday and in rural Spain it’s hard to find anything open.  However, the few that were open for business were beautifully romantic and a pleasant change from the bustling bars down at the coast.  Although I wasn’t hooked on Lanzarote wines, I was hooked on the romanticism of a wine holiday, so began planning our next holiday as soon as we arrived home.

 

Peñafiel.

Traveling with my girlfriend, we decided early that we wanted to stay in relatively rural areas and see the real Spain, so chose to visit the neighbouring wine regions of Ribera del Duero and Toro, north of Madrid.  So in late May we picked up a car in the fabulous Andalucian city of Córdoba and drove the ten hours north to the little town of Peñafiel, in the Valladolid province.  Sitting high on the Mesa that dominates central Spain, Valladolid enjoys hot, dry summers and very cold winters.
Only when we arrived at the lovely Hotel Pesquera at the end of May, it was extremely cold.  The locals had pulled their winter jackets out of storage and looked like they were heading off on a skiing holiday.  We, on the other hand, had come from Andalucia and only had tee shirts and shorts.  Not wanting to have come all this way to eat hotel food, we layered on every stitch of clothing we had and, ludicrously attired, headed in to town for dinner.  We were pretty much dressed like the Michelin man on holidays for four days!

View of Peñafiel from the castle walls.

View of Peñafiel from the castle walls.

 

Peñafiel is picture book pretty, with narrow, meandering, cobbled streets flanked by red-tiled wooden buildings.  An old farming community, the town is beginning to see an increase in tourism, bringing with it the first green buds of commercial prosperity.  Above the town the impressive, sleek figure of Peñafiel Castle dominates the landscape.  Long and narrow, it sits like a grounded ship on the summit of the mountain, a reminder of the troubled history of Medieval Spain.  Nowadays the castle is an impressive tourist attraction, offering guided tours with unrivalled views of the valley as well as an interesting Wine Museum.

Long and narrow, Peñafiel Castle is suitably known as The Ark.

Long and narrow, Peñafiel Castle is suitably known as The Ark.

 

That first night we had dinner in Plaza del Coso, the traditional bullfighting and fiesta square of the town.  For less than €20 we each had two glasses of fine wine and more local sausage and morcilla than we could possibly finish. This is a trend throughout rural Spain- small, local tapas bars charging very reasonable prices for fabulous local food and drink. Just ask a local and you will be enthusiastically told the best local eateries.

 

But even in a small town like Peñafiel, the Spanish offer quality dining options too. Not to be missed is Molino De Palacios, a converted windmill, straddling the Duratón River. This is a rustic, traditional restuarant, serving wild meats of rabbit, deer and bird, cooked over a vast open fire in the middle of the restaurant. The cavernous interior is cosy and comfortable, the bare stone walls wonderfully adorned with old milling and farming equipment. Although not cheap, the menu is fantastic and varied, the wine list offering the very best Ribera del Duero can offer, and the owners and staff could not be friendlier or more helpful. Just as with much of this rural area of Spain, everyone protests they don’t have a word of English, but each time I pitifully tried my pigeon Spanish, it seemed to give locals the confidence to converse perfectly in English. But even attempting a few words in Spanish is gratefully appreciated and you will get a lot of helpful local information for your effort.

 

Plaza del Coso with the castle in the background.

Plaza del Coso with the castle in the background.

 

Wineries.

The Rio Duero. An unremarkable river that gives rise to some of the greatest wines in the world.

The Rio Duero. An unremarkable river that gives rise to some of the greatest wines in the world.

As nice as the town and food are, there really was only one reason we chose Ribera del Duero- the wine.  As mentioned, the area is located on the high plateau that dominates central and northern Spain, and this is vital for the production of fine wines.  Whilst summer days can touch 40 C, the high altitude sees a big drop in night temperatures, allowing the grapes cool down and stabilise without baking.  This diurnal temperature difference is vital to the production of good fruit in many hot wine making regions around the world.  Named for the Duero river that runs from central Spain to the Atlantic coast in Portugal (where it becomes the Douro), Ribera del Duero produces some of the best wines in Spain outside the top DOCa classification enjoyed by Rioja and Priorat.  Vineyards located on the sides of the steep valleys, with poor soil and good drainage, tend to produce the best wines.  However, Vega Sicilia, Spain’s most famous wine, is produced in the far west of the region on relatively flat land with arid, sandy soil.  As well as Vega Sicilia, which is very difficult to get access to, there are many other fine wineries amongst the 267 bodegas that make up Ribera del Duero.  Amongst these are Protos and the Emilio Moro-owned Bodegas Cepa 21.

 

Cepa 21, Ribera del Duero.

Cepa 21, Ribera del Duero.

Bodegas Cepa 21.

Although there were no tours of Bodegas Emilio Moro available for the dates we were in the region, we were kindly directed to their brand new winery, Bodegas Cepa 21, where we got a private tour of their facility.

Aging cellar as seen from tasting room, Cepa 21.

Aging cellar as seen from tasting room, Cepa 21.

Set on 124 acres, the winery solely grows Tinto Fino (Tempranillo) to produce three main wines, of which their premier wine, Malabrigo, limited to 5,000 bottles, is the pick.  Aged in American oak, it is powerful, but rounded with the classic strong Tinto Fino flavours of cherry and spice; spectacularly good.  You can try their wines at the winery in the impressive tasting room overlooking the cavernous aging cellar, as the rustic smell of oak barrels and sweet aging wine fills the room.   Also worth noting is their restaurant that has fantastic views of the surrounding valley thanks to the floor-to-ceiling windows.  Arriving first thing in the morning, we didn’t get a chance to eat there, but the menu looked very inviting.  The details of tours can be found on their site, http://www.cepa21.com/en/wine-tourism and although our lovely guide, Carrol, had excellent English, you should give plenty of notice if you want to ensure a tour in English.

Entrance to Bodegas Comenge.

Entrance to Bodegas Comenge.

There are dozens of other bodegas worth visiting in the area, from the luxurious hotel and spa of Bodegas Arzuaga Navarro to the smaller, brand new facility of Comenge Bodegas Y Viñedos, with its unrivaled views of the beautiful Curiel de Duero valley.  Complete with an abandoned medieval fortress, you get the impression that this was an area that has been fought over for centuries, with its defensible craggy peaks and verdant valley floor.  With an organic farming philosophy, Comenge produce the wonderful Don Miguel wine; made with 90% Tempranillo, 10% Cabernet Sauvignon, this blend is fast becoming a firm favourite in Ribera del Duero and the 2010 was awarded a Silver Medal at this year’s Decanter World Wine Awards (meanwhile their basic wine, Comenge 2009, nicked a Gold).

Entrance to old winery, Protos, Peñafiel.

Entrance to old winery, Protos, Peñafiel.

Protos Bodegas Ribera Duero De Peñafiel.

From the spectacular and modern, to the rustic and quaint, you could spend a year visiting the bodegas of Ribera del Duero without getting bored.  However, if you could only visit one, it would have to be Protos, the first modern commercial winery in Ribera del Duero, and the winery that gave the whole region its name. Taking its own motto, Ser Primo (Be The First), very much to heart, Protos does everything on a scale way beyond what is possible elsewhere in the region.  Entering the winery through the grand old gates, you find yourself in a cool, dimly lit, atmospheric old greeting room hewn from the rock face.  The tour then winds through 2km of storage and aging tunnels that burrow under the mountainside, before emerging in the vast, bright new winery on the opposite side of the road.  Costing over €15 million to build, this is by far the most impressive, if not most characterful, winery in Peñafiel.

New, cliamte coltrolled aging room in the new winery.

Climate-controlled aging room in the new winery.

2km of aging tunnels wind under the mountainside of  Peñafiel.

2km of aging tunnels wind under the mountainside of Peñafiel.

 

 

 

 

Between the two wineries, Protos can store up to 14,000 casks and a further 3 million bottles for aging.  This is wine production on a vast scale, buying their grapes from co-operatives from all corners of the region.  At this scale it can be assumed that quality has to be sacrificed to simply process the 1 million kg of grapes that passes through it each year, but that’s not the case, as we found out at the tasting at the end of the tour.  All of their wines are classic Tinto Fino varietals, but the Finca El Grajo was the star of the show- so much so I flew home with three bottles at the expense of a few tees and shorts!  Produced by the fruit of low-yielding, 70-year-old vines, the wine is all about spicy freshness, earthiness and sweet red fruit.  But their other wines are no slouches either- this year their Reserva and Crianza both won Silver Medals in the DWWA and consistently score well in the Peñín Guide to Spanish Wine.  At the end of the tasting you are free to take away a nice souvenir glass.  Don’t bother- the first time I tried to wash wine it exploded in my hand and nearly took my pinky off!  Not surprised they’re giving them away!

 

Protos was the last bodegas on this leg of our tour.  From here we travelled to the neighbouring region of Toro, the home of the 100 Parker Point Termanthia.  But there is much more to this rising star of Spanish wine than the score of one well-heeled American, but that will have to wait for Part II.