This voyage of discovery across Spain’s lesser known northern territories revealed an array of lighter wine styles and intriguing flavours, as Christelle Guibert reports
A TASTinG of a relatively new region for quality red wines was always going to make a fascinating read, and our experts found it both an eye-opener and a learning curve. Green Spain along its north Atlantic coast covers a variety of climates and, as expected, our judges found incredible diversity. Pedro Ballesteros Torres MW admitted: ‘They are not established wines yet, and as a result we have learned a lot about the different styles and various grape varieties. i would recommend them to wine lovers who have a thirst for adventure.’
Christine Parkinson was struck by how clearly apparent the Atlantic influence was in the wines: ‘So many of them had a real delicacy, perfume and a crisp acidity with a freshness and much lower alcohol level than we are used to.’ Adding some context, Sarah Jane Evans MW remarked: ‘The image of Spanish reds is of the big, powerful styles from the likes of Ribera del Duero or Priorat, and perhaps there’s not the pride or belief in lighter styles, being so different to the rest of Spain. But i think that’s due for a re-evaluation.’
from the eight different denominacións represented here, Ribeiro stood out as the best for its beautiful floral characters combined with high and fresh acidity and a saline mouthfeel. Across the different styles and varieties, Parkinson praised the notes of violet, rose petal or rosehip that kept popping up. Ballesteros Torres felt grape varieties played an important part: ‘While Mencía is an identity for Valdeorras, Ribeira Sacra and Monterrei, there is very little interest in it in Ribeiro or Rías Baixas, where it gives wines that are poorly defined or even vulgar.’ for Evans, Rías Baixas was very mixed: ‘Half of it was very good, but the rest wasn’t.’ Parkinson agreed: ‘i expected a lot from Mencía, but it was generally among the more disappointing wines of the tasting, apart from Valdeorras, where there was a bit
more weight, more body and perhaps a bit less Atlantic influence.’ it’s the other varieties – Albarello, Brancellao, ferrol, Pedral and Sousón – unknown to most, including our expert panel, that impressed our judges. The panel felt that these are wines made for local consumption and to enjoy on a sunny day with local food.
Evans raised a good point: ‘Lots of producers are essentially small businesses, and some are in regions where the whites are more important than the reds – notably Rías Baixas – so they are going to have to find a way to bring themselves to international markets.’
Slightly chilling many of these red wines could be a good option, Parkinson suggested: ‘This is something that perhaps not enough people have dialled into, and here we have a whole range of wines that will drink just beautifully if they are served from the fridge.’
The panel did find the winemaking to be of a very high standard, Evans and Parkinson noting a lot of appealing unoaked wines, or judiciously used oak. But Ballesteros Torres was in slight disagreement: ‘for some of the non-Mencía wines, the nice fruit and lively balance were affected by a clumsy use of oak barrels or leaving hard tannins and unnecessary aromas.’
The panel concluded that those delicious fruity and crisp reds could be a great alternative to Beaujolais, Dolcetto or even Loire Cabernet franc on restaurant wine lists. The outstanding Ribeira Sacra wine from the Merenzao grape was even compared to a refined red from the fashionable french region of Jura.
‘I would recommend these reds to wine lovers with a thirst for adventure’ Pedro Ballesteros Torres MW