Se­duc­tive Spain

A re­cent tast­ing trip proved an epiphany for James Suck­ling, re­mind­ing him that spain’s top reds hold their own against the best in the world

Hong Kong Tatler - - Wine -

bout a month ago I en­joyed a seven-day tast­ing tour through Spain. It was an in­cred­i­bly ex­cit­ing voy­age into the tra­di­tion and ex­cel­lence of the coun­try’s wine­mak­ing cul­ture. The trip re­newed my en­thu­si­asm for Spain and its wines, which I tasted ex­ten­sively dur­ing vis­its in the 1980s and early 1990s.

Winer­ies such as Pin­gus are truly at the top of the game, mak­ing reds that com­pete with the best in the world. It’s the La Tâche of Spain. It was awe-in­spir­ing to be in the Rib­era del Duero re­gion and taste a ver­ti­cal of 10 vin­tages of the tem­pranillo-based red. I will pub­lish my tast­ing notes next month.

I had so many epipha­nies in Spain, along with ev­ery­day mo­ments of en­joy­ment, such as the typ­i­cal break­fast of toasted bread cov­ered in flavour­ful gar­lic and tomato sauce, and a hearty piece of meat or dried cod with a glass of young Rioja for lunch or din­ner. It was mag­i­cal one morn­ing walk­ing through the stony soils of Toro, north­west of Madrid, vis­it­ing a num­ber of an­cient vine­yards. The man­ager showed such de­tailed knowl­edge in de­scrib­ing the unique­ness of each vine in the var­i­ous parcels. And it was won­der­ful roam­ing once more through the dark and damp cel­lars of López de Here­dia in Haro, north­ern Spain, and ex­pe­ri­enc­ing the dis­tinc­tive smells of wine, mould, dust and old wood.

I can re­call that smell now as clearly as when I first vis­ited the Rioja win­ery in 1983. And I can al­most taste the re­fined, del­i­cate and sweet fruit char­ac­ter of the 1958 and 1964 vin­tages of Mar­qués de Ris­cal that I tasted. This is what great Rioja tastes like, un­der­lin­ing the fact that old great Rioja can re­sem­ble old great Bur­gundy. And it sells for a frac­tion of the price.

Tast­ing firm and steely reds from the hill­sides sur­round­ing Madrid a month ago was equally mem­o­rable. Most were made from gar­nacha, or gre­nache, and I loved their vivid­ness and bright, drink­able style. There was some­thing so hon­est and real about them.

Per­haps more than any­thing, re­al­ness is what strikes me about Spain. I was afraid at the be­gin­ning of the trip that I would find too many of the jammy, high-oc­tane wines pop­u­lar about 10 years ago. This style was par­tic­u­larly ad­mired by US wine critic Robert Parker, but most of the wines lost their Span­ish and lo­cal char­ac­ter through overex­trac­tion, high al­co­hol con­tent and ex­cess wood. I was thank­ful that I found very few of these be­he­moths of the past; I re­ally don’t like them, and fewer and fewer peo­ple do, even the wine­mak­ers them­selves.

In­stead, I found gen­uine wines that showed the true char­ac­ter of their ori­gins, whether they were from ter­raced vine­yards in the best ar­eas of the Rioja or dry vine­yards on a mesa in Toro. Spain now, as in the past, pro­vides wines that are beau­ti­ful ac­com­pa­ni­ments to any meal due to their bal­ance, rich­ness and fresh­ness. The wines age won­der­fully and have a track record as good or bet­ter than the out­put of most wine-pro­duc­ing coun­tries. I will re­turn to Spain at least once a year to taste the best, so stay tuned.

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