ShelfLife Special tasting: Sparkling Spain

The Marques de Caceres vineyard In Rioja, Spain [Photographs courtesy of Marques de Caceres]
The Marques de Caceres vineyard In Rioja, Spain [Photographs courtesy of Marques de Caceres]

18 October 2012

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A few years ago, there was a danger that some Spanish winemakers were pricing themselves out of entry and mid markets. A lot of producers had begun to release international styles, with alcohol as high as their price tags, and often not worth the money charged. Some makers in emerging wine areas, such as Toro and Yecla, had let early export success go to their heads and begun to charge premium prices for wine which was only averagely good or characterful.

Change was noticeable at Dublin’s Spanish wine fair in 2011, and this year prices softened further, bringing Spain back into the value stakes. An impressive tasting of sparkling Cavas showed remarkable quality for a wine which costs significantly less than Champagne. In several cases, it was just as good as its more prestigious rival. Bubble fans who tend to think of Cava as old fashioned, and even slightly earthy, should try some of these bottlings. It helps that a lot of makers have also revisited their packaging in recent years, with some very classy labels in evidence – ideal for special entertaining.

But it wasn’t just sparklers which sparkled. White wines from Spain have become cleaner, fresh and more flavoursome. I jib at the wholesale abandonment of oaked white Rioja and I hope drinkers will soon see the merit of some judicious barrel treatment being applied to high quality viura based wine. But for your average white, there’s been a huge improvement, as winemakers avoid over-oaking or allowing too much oxidation in wines which should be drunk young.

Spanish reds have always impressed and here the main risk is to allow excessive use of French oak to overlay the hearty, plummy character of some of the wines. Makers will say, of course, that the elegance of French oak is what drinkers want nowadays and, of course, to a high degree, they are right. But I still think there is a lovely synergy between judiciously used American oak and Spain’s tempranillo grape, not just in Rioja but, perhaps even more, in warmer areas such as Valdepenas.

And so to tasting (prices are retail):


Joan Raventos Brut Nature nv. (Mitchells €13.99). If there’s a better value sparkler on the Irish market I’ve yet to find it. Light aromas of baked bread lead to a palate with green apple fruit, fine acidity, subtle hints of yeast and a far longer finish than you’d expect for the price. One to bookmark for the festive season.

Rimarts Brut Nature Gran Reserva 2008 (Clada Wines €21.95). Elegantly evolved nose with soft yeasty notes, leading to green fruit flavours, a touch of nuts, decent acidity and very good length. For complexity and sophistication, it over-delivers on price.

Sumarroca Cuve Gran Reserva 2008 (Approach Trade €20). A little less evolved than the previous bottle and should be able to carry some more age. Very long, with fine acidity, citrus and green fruit and a faint earthy hint. Perhaps a little more traditional than the Rimarts, it could develop nicely over the next few years.

MVSA Brut nv (Classic Drinks €16.99). Another more traditional style – but still clean and fresh. There’s an elusive mineral note beneath the tasty apple and pear flavours and this would be an excellent sparkler to drink with food.

Codorniu Pinot Noir Rose nv (Barry Fitzwilliam €15.99). Pink sparklers are often more festive than thrilling but this is decent stuff, with clean berry flavours and bubbles that last well; delivers nicely on its price.


Marques de Caceres Antea Barrel Fermented Rioja Blanco 2010 (Cassidy €12.99). Some traditionalists consider Caceres Rioja too elegant and French in style, but few will fault this tasty wine, its citrus fruit rounded out with light toasty notes and gentle spice. Very good value at this money, too.

Esperanza Verdejo Rueda 2011 (Febvre €12). Clean, nicely concentrated green fruit and light aromatics. Lovers of chenin blanc would enjoy this.

Enate Chardonnay Somontano 2010 (Febvre €15.95). Somontano is one of those areas where prices are sometimes pitched just a little too high; this decent, fruity chardonnay just about gets away with it. Nice concentration makes it perfect for turkey or pork roasts.

Marques de Riscal Verdejo Rueda 2011 (Findlater €12). Zesty green fruits with a touch of richness contributed by the addition of a little viura to the verdejo; sound value for money.

Badajo Rueda 2011 (Vinostito €11). Decent value again, with a nice layer of richness to its green apple flavours.


Beronia Crianza Rioja 2008 (Barry & Fitzwilliam €11). A lot of big house crianza can be a bit routine but this is worth the money, with tasty plum flavours and soft vanilla notes.

Marques de Caceres Reserva 2005 (Casssidy €23). Nicely aged with still fresh plum and blackcurrant fruit; it may show its French influence but this vintage is as elegant and consistent as ever.

Zuazo Gaston Crianza Rioja 2007 (Classic Drinks €13). Very good value, with soft yet concentrated plum fruit and warming spice. Perfect winter wine with game or turkey roasts.

Tilenus Roble Bierzo 2007 (Celtic Whiskey €13.99). Country wine at its best – savoury, warm and gently fruity. Great for rabbit or chicken casserole.

Conde de Valdemar Gran Reserva Rioja (Febvre €19). Soft, spicy notes make this quite a traditional expression. Plum and berry flavours in decent concentration; perfect with red meats.

Marques de Murrieta Reserva 2006 (Gleeson €23). Smooth spice and elegantly evolved plum fruits make this a classy treat for the festive season.

Ebeia Ribera del Duero 2009 (Gleeson €13). Purists might dub this wine just a little overripe but its velvety red fruits create a tasty winter warmer, ideal with meat pies or casserole.




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