Shelflife Special Tasting: Spain

Checking the quality of the tempranillo
Checking the quality of the tempranillo

Helen Coburn draws our attention to the best Spanish wines currently available on the market.



22 November 2010

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A couple of years ago, some Spanish tastings were leaving you with the feeling that Spain had lost the run of itself. It had acquired a reputation for good value, especially at mid to entry point, and it seemed that producers had responded to that by pushing up prices – thus eroding the great price quality ratio that had drawn consumers in the first place. In short, Spain was showing some of the traits of the Irish tiger and like the Irish tiger, it was pulled up short. In 2009 Spanish wine sales declined by around 8%. It wasn’t alone in that – virtually all wine producing nations saw a sharp fall and Spain’s wasn’t the sharpest.

Just the same, there was one interesting fact. A single Spanish region managed to increase its exports against the background of economic horrors. That was Rueda. And why? Well, it might just have something to do with the fact that the region was still offering well priced whites, made from verdejo and sauvignon blanc, which looked like very good value when compared with wines in similar styles even from new world producers.

Value is back

The lesson was learned. This year, the Spaniards held a major wine tasting in Dublin and the news was that good value is back. On the whole, there were slim pickings at rock bottom entry point, but starting at around €9 there were several wines over delivering on price and at around €11 to €13 there were some very good wines indeed.

The most important red grape is tempranillo, and, under various names, it’s grown virtually everywhere in Spain. Its wine has the biological characteristic of being resistant to oxidation even in the presence of low acidity; that’s a very useful thing even in northern regions such as Rioja or Somontano but it’s even better on the warmer plains of La Mancha or, further south, in regions like Valdepenas. Airen is the traditional workhorse white but in many areas it’s being supplanted by more interesting varieties such as viura, verdejo, chardonnay and some lesser known but excellent indigenous grapes such as godello. There was plenty of opportunity to explore these at the fair – in fact, there was so much on offer that the event could well have sustained two days – and also to look at some of the red alternatives to tempranillo, such as monastrell (mourvedre) and mencia.

Good for Christmas

Spain is always a useful standby on the shelf over the Christmas period – the reds are perfect for turkey and game and the whites, including fino sherry, are great aperitifs. For this tasting, we’ve focused on the value factor but there are some treats too. Interestingly, decent whites appeared at an earlier price point than the best reds; that’s reflected in our selection.

Good Value Whites

Gran Feudo Rose 2009 (Ampersand €8.99). This used to be a bit heavy going but it’s now much cleaner and fresher; this vintage has deliciously juicy strawberry fruit and it’s very good value.

Raimat Abadia Blanco 2006 (Barry Fitzwilliam €11.49). From Costers del Segre, this is tasty, slightly fat wine with exotic fruit notes but still decent balancing acidity. It’s a blend which includes albarino and is good value for what you get, especially when you compare it with the trendy albarinos of Rias Baixas.

Recorba Rueda  2009 (Classic Drinks €9.99). Exactly what we were talking about – lovely crisp Rueda with decent concentration at a keen price. This one’s a blend of verdejo (it’s got to be 50% in Rueda) with viura.

Marques de Riscal Rueda 2009 (Findlater €10). Fresh, with lovely green fruit and decent value. Riscal also do a varietal Sauvignon Blanc.

Torres San Valentin 2008 (Findlater €9.99). Easy going fruity stuff, which feels very slightly off dry; good with chicken or would work with foie gras and pates.

Val de Vid 2009 (Searson €11.50). A bit pricier but still delivering on cost, this has decent concentration and would be perfect for fish.

wine3Lanzos Blance 2009 (Approach Trade €9.99). From sauvignon blanc and viura, this has streaks of gooseberry fruit with a hint of creamy asparagus – unsurprisingly, great with salads and salmon mayonnaise.

El Codal Blanco 2009 (Approach Trade €10.50). Characterful, slightly succulent, wine from muscat and local varieties parellada and xarel-o.

Montesierra Somontano Blanco 2009 (Vinostito €9). From chardonnay and macabeo (viura), this has a touch of succulent exotic fruit which gives it some added weight. Very good value and there’s a tasty rosé for the same money.

Good Value Reds

Gran Feudo Edicion Tempranillo 2008 (Ampersand €8.99). Very drinkable, with soft berry fruit and slightly smoky character.
Principe de Viana Crianza 2006 (Febvre €13.50). I’ve always loved this wine, with its slightly austere fruit yet well defined black currant and plum flavours. For its elegance, it delivers well on price; perfect with all meats.

Borsao Campo de Borja 2008 (Searson €9.25). From one of Spain’s best value regions comes this plummy garancha; great for the price.

La Cruz Tempranillo Syrah 2007 (Approach Trade €9.99). Soft, easy warm fruit make this an ideal winter fireside wine.

Marques de la Concordia Rioja Reserva (United Wine Merchants €9.99). The easy drinking Cosecha in this range is the perfect party wine at the special price of €7.99 but the Reserva is well worth the trade up of just two euro more. It’s rioja with a modern touch, with lots of ripe and juicy blackcurrant and plum and a soft lick of spice. Great fireside tipple for the festive season and perfect for duck, beef and game and a steal at this price.

wine4Torres Celeste Ribera del Duero 2007(Findlater €14.99). A special price for December and rather festive starry label, make this a good Christmas bet. It’s tasty and well balanced, too. There’s also a decent Torres Rioja, Ibericos, which will be on promo to off-licences at an RRP of €10.99 (Findlater).

Zuazo Gaston Crianza Rioja 2006 (Classic Drinks €12.99). There’s a cheaper Joven (young) wine in this range but it’s worth the extra couple of euro for this one; firm, clean fruit make it a good value food wine.

Olvena Crianza Somontano 2005 (Findlater €12.99). There’s a decent blended red in this range for around a tenner, but the elegance of this slightly leafy cabernet would make it a perfect Christmas wine.

Campo Viejo Crianza 2006 (Irish Distillers €9.90). Good value with soft plum fruits laced with spice and coconut. The Reserva at €12.90 is also worth the trade up.

Museum Crianza 2004 (Mackenway €14). A tempranillo from Cigales region, there’s decently concentrated berry and plum fruit – a good turkey wine.


Faustina V Reserva Tinto Rioja 2004 (Gleeson €15.99). A treat which also delivers really well on price – traditional notes of soft coconut and spice slide into soft strawberry and plum fruits – very moreish!

ConcordiaCoto de Imaz Reserva Rioja 2004 (Mackenway €16.50). Again, lovely, traditional hints of spice and coconut, along with well defined plum and berry fruit.

Marques de Caceres Reserva Rioja 2004 (Cassidy €22). This is amongst many Riojas now made with French rather than American oak and it shows in the style. Nevertheless, it’s an elegant wine, good enough for a special dinner party. The Crianza 2006 also delivers well on price.

Conde de Valdemar Reserva Rioja 2004 (Febvre €21). Classy stuff, again in somewhat French style, and well concentrated.
San Roman Toro 2003 (Approach Trade €35). From tinta de toro (tempranillo) this is an ideal gift wine, with solid fruit and firm structure.

Davila Rias Baixas Blanco 2008 (Mackenway €21.30). A white from the classic albarino region but with local varieties treixadura and louriero blended with the main act. Notes of tropical with citrus fruit; perfect present for adventurous albarino fans.



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