Opinion

Spanish Treats from O’Briens

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Here are a few of my favourite Spanish wines available at O’Briens – and until 17th August they are on sale with 20% or more off, so it’s a great time to snap them up!

Martín Códax Rías Baixas Albariño 2013 (12.5%, €17.95 down to €14.36 at O’Briens)

21089-Martin-Codax-Albarino j

The fresh one: Named after a literary hero from Galicia in northwest Spain, this wine also uses the celebrated local grape Albariño.  While some examples can be a little too tart for my taste, several months of ageing on the lees before bottling and a few years’ rest make this wonderfully round, though still fruity and refreshing.  Expect citrus and soft stone fruit notes.

Marqués de Murrieta Rioja Capellanía 2010 (13.5%, €24.95 down to €19.96 at O’Briens)

15WSP010-Capellania j

The Marmite one: this is generally a love or loathe type of wine due to the deliberate introduction of some oxygen during the winemaking process – i.e. giving it a slight “Sherry” taste.  It’s how traditional style white Rioja is made – and to be honest I’m all for it as technically better modern examples are often a bit dull.  I also tasted a 2005 vintage recently and it was still going strong, so don’t be in a hurry to drink it!

Torres Ribero del Duero Crianza Celeste 2012 (14.0%, €21.95 down to €17.56 at O’Briens)

Celeste

The regular one: Although it’s fairly well distributed, this is a classy wine that always delivers – it’s a regular tipple for me.  It’s made from Tempranillo which is of course the mainstay of red Rioja, but the hotter days and cooler nights of the Ribero del Duero give the local variant a thicker skin and hence the wine has more colour and flavour – dark berries with a pinch of spice!

Monte Real Rioja Gran Reserva 2007 (14.0%, €30.45 down to €24.36 at O’Briens)

13WSP007-Monte-Real-Gran-Reserva j

The surprising one: This wine was one of the stand outs for me at the O’Briens Spring Wine Fair.  When it comes to Rioja I don’t usually go for a Gran Reserva as they can be woody and dried out from too much time in oak, but this was a revelation.  30 months in American oak followed by 3 years in bottle have set it up superbly.  The strawberry fruit is so, so soft with vanilla on the side, and a slight smoky edge to the wine.  The oak is definitely noticeable but it’s now well integrated.  A fabulous wine!

Marques de Murrieta Castillo De Ygay Gran Reserva Especial 2007 (14.0%, €85.00 down to €68.00 at O’Briens)

Castillo Ygay j

The no-expense spared one: Yes, this is an expensive wine, but it is counted among the best in Spain, so if you’re splashing out then why not?  It’s a blend of 86% Tempranillo and 14% Mazuelo (a.k.a. Carignan) matured in oak for 28 months.  It tastes pretty damned amazing, but it’s still a baby – put a couple of bottles away for a special occasion in a few years time!

Opinion

Miguel Torres Santa Digna Gewurztraminer Central Valley 2005

Miguel Torres Santa Digna Gewurztraminer 2005
Miguel Torres Santa Digna Gewürztraminer 2005

I’ll cut to the chase: this is the best Chilean white wine I have ever tasted

A friend recently opened a random bottle of white wine which happened to be a Chilean Gewürz*, not the most common combination.  On closer inspection of the label it was a ten year old Chilean Gewurz*!  Fearing something old, possibly oxidised or just out of condition, a few sips revealed something wonderful: a well made, maturing, but far-from-over-the-hill, delicious white wine.

One of my mantras on wine is that most of us drink wine too young – particularly white wine – and this wine only serves to reinforce it.

Miguel Torres Chile is an offshoot from the Spanish Torres family who have been producing wine since the 19th Century.  From the website:

Miguel A. Torres decided to begin the Chilean project on the advice of Alejandro Parot, a Chilean friend and classmate from his studies in Dijon (France).

Winemaking is ultra-clean and intended to have minimal impact on the finished wine:

  • No skin contact
  • No oak ageing
  • Bottled five months after picking

Notes on the latest vintage state that it is “an ideal match for shellfish (particularly oysters) and most fish dishes”.  Without doing extensive vertical tastings I can’t argue against that, but I actually think the 2005 is far more versatile than the above suggests – quite possibly as a result of bottle ageing.

There’s texture and much more body than expected for a white.  Acidity is still present but perfectly counterbalanced by the modest residual sugar (7.5g/L).  The exotic tropical fruits of youth are now a little more subtle but still present and correct.

For Alsace fans such as myself, this wine was a revelation.  Tasted blind, I wouldn’t have been shocked to hear it was from a big name Grand Cru producer such as Zind-Humbrecht.

I now need to work out how to collect more vintages of it…

*Note: in Germany Gewürztraminer has an umlaut, in Alsace they leave it off.  I’ve tried to randomly represent both parties in this article.  I’d like to think of myself as an equal opportunities speller.

Tasting Events

Parallel Lines – Torres Mas La Plana 40th Vintage

For those familiar with a little of the recent history of wine, this description of a wine’s genesis may sound somewhat familiar:

  1. It was first made by a “Black Sheep” working at a wine producer founded in the 19th century
  2. Its creator aimed to create an equivalent in terms of quality and longevity to Bordeaux’s First Growths
  3. It was a new style of wine for the period, with a focus on quality and using newer oak
  4. The wine was named after a small rural building
  5. The head of the winery didn’t approve of the new wine so it wasn’t released at first
  6. It was initially a blend but then tended towards being a varietal
  7. The name of the wine changed a little over the years
  8. The wine is the winery’s flagship, even if it is now not necessarily the most expensive its portfolio

So were you thinking of Penfolds Grange?

I wouldn’t blame you – Max Schubert’s experimental creation of 1951 certainly matches the description, though another also fits the bill from closer to (my) home – Torres Mas La Plana (MLP).

Mas La Plana
Mas La Plana

The original home of Torres is Penedès in Catalonia, and although remaining family owned they have grown to be the largest producer in Spain.  Outposts in Chile and California have grown their presence in the New World.  Continental climate means hot days but cool nights which allow the vines to rest, so acidity is retained and the resulting fruit does not have a confected quality.

And as for point 2 above?  Under its previous moniker of Gran Coronas Black Label in 1970 Mas La Plana won the Gault-Millau wine olympiad in Paris, with higher marks than top Bordeaux such as Chateau Latour or Chateau Haut-Brion.

Evolution in winemaking and style

When the vineyard was first planted in 1970 there was a little Tempranillo and Grenache along side the Cabernet Sauvignon.  The majority of the Penedès region is still planted with white grapes for Cava, though of course they fall under their own separate DO.

In 1981 yields were reduced, mainly by abandoning the use of nitrogen based fertiliser, and cluster thinning (“vendange vert” in French).  Maceration time was extended up to four weeks and American oak was complemented by French oak.  The proportion of French to American was gradually increased so that the latter was absent by 1990.

40th Vintage Celebration Tasting At Brookwood Restaurant

John Wilson (Irish Times), Liam Campbell (Irish Independent), Frankie Cook (Frankly Wines)
John Wilson (Irish Times), Liam Campbell (Irish Independent), yours truly, all deep in comtemplation

1981 (from Magnum)

This was a surprise addition to the tasting.  The Irish importers Findlaters had found a magnum from way back in 1981 in their treasure cave, but weren’t sure of its condition until it was opened on the morning of the tasting.  Even the Torres winery don’t have any 1981 left in magnum so we were very privileged to taste it.

It was beautiful!

Obviously, being a magnum meant that it had developed more slowly than a standard 75cl bottle would over the same time.  In my opinion it was right at its peak – still plenty of fruit, though more dried than fresh.  This could have kept for several more years, but was perfect there and then.

1989

Gran Coronas Mas La Plana 1989
Gran Coronas Mas La Plana 1989

Even just by looking at the bottle you can notice a few salient things about this era of Mas La Plana.  Firstly, the vineyard name was a sub-brand, Gran Coronas was the principal brand.  Nowadays, Gran Coronas is the next step down from MLP; in vintages where the fruit is not considered good enough to make MLP the grapes are blended in as a component of the Gran Coronas.

Secondly, the term Gran Reserva appears at the bottom of the label.  The criteria in Penedes are not quite as strict as in Rioja or Ribera del Duero, but there is still a considerable minimum period of ageing in oak barrels.  Gran Reserva used to be very important as a signifier of quality, but it also denotes a woodier style – and nowadays Mas La Plana is more about the fruit than the wood, so the term is not used.

Finally, the alcohol – only 12.5%!  Compare this with the 2010 vintage’s stated 14.5% and the evolution of style over time is very apparent.  Some of this is down to the actual heat in each year, as more sunlight energy is turned into sugar by photosynthesis. Some is also down to the yeast used – if commercial rather than ambient strains are used this can give a significant boost to alcohol levels.  And of course, picking the grapes at a high level of ripeness in a particular year also gives more alcohol.

2005

Toni Batet from Torres
Toni Batet from Torres

2005 is widely regarded as an excellent vintage in Bordeaux, but was also good in Catalonia.  This was my favourite of the current millennium vintages – still loads of blackcurrant and blackberry primary fruit but already some interesting cedar and tobacco notes.  The 2005 is in full bloom but has the structure to last until the end of this decade at least.

The charming Toni Batet from Torres (pictured) explained that sorting tables are used to ensure only the best grapes go into Mas La Plana, and if the vintage isn’t deemed good enough then the grapes from the vineyard go into Gran Coronas.

2008 & 2009

Vertical tasting of Torres Mas La Plana
Vertical tasting of Torres Mas La Plana

For me these two vintages were quite similar – and being so close together that’s understandable.  It just shows that there aren’t bad wines made nowadays – at this level of quality, anyway.

2010

Mas La Plana 2010
Mas La Plana 2010

And so to the 40th Vintage itself.  This is such a baby, but amazingly already drinkable.  It deserves to be laid down for another five years at least, but if I had to drink it now then decanting for a couple of hours would help it open out and soften the bold tannins.

Conclusions?

For all the apparent similarities with the Grange story, Mas La Plana is its own wine and a worthy flagship for Torres.  My personal preferences on grapes place Cabernet Sauvignon at the top of my red wine rankings (don’t say that too fast!), so it’s a winner in my book.  And for a flagship wine, it’s not stupidly expensive, under €50 in Ireland compared to five times that (or more) for Grange.

Get some today and drink it when it’s ready!