Ter­roir to the Fore

While the best-known re­gions of spain make com­pelling wines, there are ex­cel­lent rea­sons to look else­where, writes James Suck­ling

Hong Kong Tatler - - Life -

spent sev­eral weeks in Spain last sum­mer tast­ing nearly 800 wines, the sec­ond year I have de­voted sub­stan­tial re­sources to learn­ing more about the coun­try’s best wines. Lesser­known ap­pel­la­tions are re­ally chang­ing the game. As re­gions like Gali­cia and the Ca­nary Is­lands em­brace their unique styles, they’re quickly tak­ing cen­tre stage.

In par­tic­u­lar, the reds from Gali­cia and the Ca­nary Is­lands are dy­namic, em­pha­sis­ing ter­roir and of­fer­ing op­ti­mum drink­a­bil­ity and struc­ture for both early drink­ing and age­ing. Tra­di­tional re­gions such as Rioja and the Rib­era del Duero con­tinue to make com­pelling wines, though some pro­duc­ers still make over-con­cen­trated, black wines. These wine­mak­ers, along with the heav­ily com­mer­cialised ones, are go­ing to miss the new fu­ture for Spain in the global mar­ket.

My favourite re­gion from the tast­ing was Gali­cia, though it didn’t pro­duce the high­estscor­ing wines. The area sits in the north­west like a cap on Por­tu­gal. Rather than the sun-drenched Mediter­ranean con­di­tions and high sum­mer tem­per­a­tures ex­pe­ri­enced in much of Spain, Gali­cia’s climate is At­lantic, marked by cool sum­mers and rainy win­ters. This gives the wines a nat­u­ral ten­sion of racy tan­nins and bold acid­ity that fo­cuses the unique fruit char­ac­ters.

“In both our whites and reds, we are look­ing to ex­press what our mi­cro­cli­mates and soils of­fer,” says one of the re­gion’s leading pro­duc­ers, Eu­lo­gio Po­mares, the owner of Zarate. “We like the nat­u­ral ten­sion and fresh­ness that we find in our wines. But I also like fresh wine, so, in a way, I try to en­hance this in my wines,” says the wine­maker, who also pro­duces in Ribeira Sacra.

As for the Ca­naries, I was par­tic­u­larly struck by the wines of Tener­ife, the largest of the is­lands. Pro­duc­ers like En­ví­nate and Suertes del Mar­qués have a way with beau­ti­ful del­i­cacy and bal­ance marked by a black pumice char­ac­ter de­rived from the vol­canic soils. Most of the wines are blends of a nearend­less list of lo­cal grape va­ri­eties. Dur­ing the tast­ings, we couldn’t help but think of the is­land’s amaz­ing ter­roirs and the unique in­flu­ence of the sur­round­ing At­lantic.

This is only the be­gin­ning, ac­cord­ing to Jonatan Gar­cía Lima, the owner of one of Tener­ife’s pi­o­neer­ing winer­ies, Oro­tava. “These vine­yards have been here for 500 years. What we have done is fine-tuned the wine­mak­ing and taken bet­ter care of the vine­yards. The re­sults speak for them­selves.”

At the end of the trip, Ribeira Sacra proved to be the most ex­cit­ing re­gion for reds, which had a stony, min­eral char­ac­ter with bright and lin­ear acid and tan­nins that gave them ex­treme drink­a­bil­ity and fresh­ness. They were com­plex and evoca­tive, wines we wanted to keep drink­ing. The sin­gle 100-pointer was a Gran Reserva Castillo Ygay made mostly of viura har­vested in 1986 from a very old vine­yard. It was kept in wood for 21 years, with the fi­nal six years of age­ing in ce­ment. A truly ex­cep­tional, dis­tinct, ter­roir­driven wine and prob­a­bly one of the great­est white wines from Spain and the world.

“The fu­ture in Spain is not in­dus­trial wines that don’t re­flect the ter­roir and unique­ness of their re­spec­tive re­gions,” said Telmo Ro­driguez of the winer­ies Remel­luri and Com­pañia de Vi­nos de Telmo Ro­driguez. “We must make and pro­mote ar­ti­sanal wines that em­pha­sise great re­gions and vine­yards.”

I agree whole­heart­edly.

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