Bodega Castro Martin Rias Baixas Albariño Sobre Lias 2010

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Bodega Castro Martin Rias Baixas Albariño Sobre Lias 2010

Bodega Castro Martin Rias Baixas Albariño Sobre Lias 2010

It’s still winter here, but I’ve had a few nice whites over the last weeks and I’m trying to sort through them.  This one in particular I had by the glass some time ago and revisited this week because the tasting note I took the first time was incomplete.  So, second time lucky with this Bodega Castro Martin Rias Baixas Albariño Sobre Lias 2010.

I look forward to getting back to Spain.  I’ve been to visit almost ten times, but all the trips were when I was living in London and more interested in whisky, and as such I’ve not done any wine tourism.  Now though, I could easily spend a summer there, starting in Rias Baixas in the northwest and winding my way through the country until I ended up in the far south in Jerez.

Speaking of starting in Rias Baixas, this is not the first time this blog has been there, though it was all the way back in February that I wrote about Bodegas Eidosela.  As I mentioned then, it is a region in that bit of Spain directly north of Portugal, on the coast, and plantings are dominated by Albariño.  Five other white grapes and six red grapes are also permitted, though combined they make up less than 10% of vines.

The climate is maritime with an abundance of rain.  Disease pressure is generally high in the vineyard, and overhead trellises or pergolas were traditionally used to allow airflow, though rows of Geneva double curtain are more commonplace now.  Soils are granitic, though some of the five sub-zones have alluvial soils as well, particularly in river valleys.

Bodegas Castro Martin is a family run producer that traces its roots back to 1887, though the current winery was established in 1982 by Domingo Martin-Morales, five years before the Rias Baixas DO was created.  The winery itself is largely gravity fed, spread across three floors, and is claimed to be the first in the region to make use of stainless steel tanks.  Since 1993, the business  has been in the hands of Angela Martin.  She was joined by English wine buyer Andrew McCarthy who apparently arrived in 2001 hoping to find some Albariño and ended up marrying Angela as well.

Bodegas Castro Martin produces four wines made exclusively from Albariño, though as expressions of different sub-zones and terroirs.  This wine is from the coolest of those sub-zones, Val do Salnés, with vines planted in sandy soil over granite and quartz.  The grapes are hand harvested into baskets, and then hand sorted at the winery.  After the fermentation in stainless steel, there is 5-6 months of lees contact.

Albariño is a thick skinned and aromatic white grape, known for producing good levels of acid, alcohol and flavour.  It is an important grape in Vinho Verde, and while in Rias Baixas it is sometimes found in a blend, more commonly of late it is bottled as a varietal.  It’s found a following among winemakers in Australia, though that is a story for later this week.

In the glass, this wine is clear and bright, with a pale lemon green colour and slow legs.  It’s clean on the nose with medium minus intensity, developing, and with notes of custard, grapefruit, pear, and blossom.  On the palate it’s dry, with high acidity, medium body, medium plus alcohol, medium plus intensity, and medium length.  There are notes of green apple, quince, grapefruit, pear, and some herbs – coriander / cilantro I think.

This wine is strongly acidic, but not in a bad way so much. It is a bit shy on the nose, but on the palate it has a very pleasing flavour profile.  I’m happy to call this good, and given that I had it by the glass it might be even better with a bottle known to be fresh.

Bodegas Borsao Macabeo 2009

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Bodegas Borsao Macabeo 2009

Bodegas Borsao Macabeo 2009

I buy wine in a number of different places – very nice wine merchants, small specialist importers, and cellar doors.  Every now and again though I pop into one of the big box retailers, and typically it’s because I’m after something that I know the others don’t stock.  On the last such visit, I was after a Pinotage (which I’ll review after I get around to drinking it), which is nigh impossible to find at my regular suppliers. While I was there, I came across this bottle of Bodegas Borsao Macabeo 2009.

There are two reasons I couldn’t resist this wine, and the first is the obvious one – it’s a Macabeo, which I have not has as a varietal wine for the purposes of my century.  (The second reason at the end.)

I have had Macabeo before, and if you’ve ever drunk Cava, there’s a pretty good chance you have as well.  It’s the most widely planted white grape of northern Spain, though known as Viura in Rioja, and possibly in Rudea based on how it was represented in the Basa I had in February.  It buds late, which means it is less prone to frost damage, though it can overproduce with large berries without a great deal of flavour.  Early picking can counter big, bland grapes, though at the risk of not having aromatic ripeness.  Within Rioja it is used to make both varietal wines and blends with the traditional Garnacha Blanc and Malvasia, Maturana Blanca, Tempranillo Blanco (new one for me), and Turruntés, and the international Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc.  In the sparkling wine Cava it is blended with Xarel-lo and Parellada, as well as Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.

If another grape toward my century wasn’t enough, this wine comes from a region, a DO in fact, that is new to me, Campo de Borja.  It’s in the Aragón province, due south of Navarra, and therefore somewhat southeast of Rioja.  The climate is arid continental, though with a cold winter wind from the Atlantic known locally as cierzo.  The soil is limestone and clay with a significant iron component.  The geography is dominated by the mountain massif Moncayo, and vineyards occupy heights between 350 and 750 metres.  Garnacha constitutes more than half of plantings, with Tempranillo, Cabernet, Syrah and Merlot rounding out the top five grapes.  Macabeo is the most popular white variety, with much smaller portions of Moscatel and Chardonnay being the other whites grown.

Bodegas Borsao traces its origins back to 1958 when the Cooperative of Borja was founded.  In 2001 it combined with the cooperatives of Pozuelo and Tabuenca, utilizing the resources of all three under a single brand.  Their constituents number 620 growers across 2,430 HA.  As you would expect for the region, Garnacha constitutes the bulk of their production – 70% – with a number of other permitted reds making up most of the remainder.  Macabeo comprises just a tiny sliver of production with 40 HA planted.  Their winery is extremely modern, and their wines produced with the export market in mind.

In the glass this wine is clear and bright, with a pale lemon green colour and quick, thin legs when swirled.  On the nose it’s clean and developing with medium minus intensity, and notes of candied pear, quince and lemon-lime.  On the palate it’s dry with medium acidity, medium minus flavour intensity, medium minus body, and medium minus alcohol. It tastes of a lime drink that has a bit too much water and not enough lime.  There’s a little of the quince and pear from the nose, along with a savoury, almost salty flavour that I can’t quite place, but it’s all a bit feint.  It has a short length with a Gatorade finish.

This is an acceptable wine.  The flavours were restrained, to use polite phrasing, and the texture was very watery.  The flavours were marginally complex, but it did not linger on the palate.  However, when served cold it was refreshing, and it was certainly not unpleasant.  Faced with a choice of drinking nothing (or worse, water) or drinking this wine, I was happy to drink this wine.  Given another option, I likely would have taken it, but there was absolutely nothing wrong with this wine in terms of faults or unpleasantness, therefore I stand by the acceptable assessment.

However, this brings me to the second reaons I had to buy this wine.  This is the least expensive wine I have ever bought, with or without a label.  I don’t normally have much to say about the price of the wines I review, but this one cost less than $5.00 Australian.  For a fiver if it was bad I could tip it out after making a note and move on to something else.  But it wasn’t bad – it was just fine, and given that it cost next to nothing, I have no complaints.  In fact, if there’s a newer vintage when the weather heats up down here I’ll likely buy it again (provided I’m through with this 100 varietals quest).

Artadi Artazuri Rosada Garnacha 2010

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Artazuri Garnacha 2010

Artazuri Garnacha 2010

Since most people visiting this site are from the Northern Hemisphere, a quick update about how things are going Down Under:  it’s getting cold.  I dug out some cashmere earlier this week and expect to be wrapped in some form of the same for the next five months.  And sadly, that means this Artadi Artazuri Rosada Garnacha 2010 is likely the last rosé you’ll see on these pages for a while.

Just to decode the name, Artadi is the producer, Artazuri is the name of this line of their wines from around Artazu in Navarra, Spain, Rosada is the Spanish term for what is known as rosé in English, and Garnacha is another name for the grape that is more commonly called Grenache in English.

Working backwards from that, this is the first varietal Grenache/Garnacha in this blog, which seems like a bit of an oversight.  Then again, I didn’t have a straight Shiraz/Syrah until this week, and I live within spitting distance of Barossa.  I do like Grenache, and while these days I’d probably put a half dozen other red varieties ahead of it on my list of wines I like, I first encountered it in a red Châteauneuf-du-Pape and it’s held a special place in my heart ever since.  I remember being at a tasting of barrel samples which were almost exclusively Shiraz and coming across a winemaker who was offering Grenache instead.  I was so impressed I ended up buying a case of his wines at auction the next day.

I did mention Grenache when I wrote about Télégramme but it was before the exam and my brain was so much of a muddle that I didn’t cover the basics.  If you just say “Grenache” you’re generally talking about the red grape of that name, but in fact it’s a family of grapes like Pinot, so there are actually three grapes: Grenache Noir, Grenache Gris and Grenache Blanc.  Its origin is not entirely clear – both Spain and France have claims, and it continues to be popular in both countries, as well as throughout the New World.  It is made into varietal wines, but at least as often found as part of a blend, be it in Rioja with Tempranillo, in the southern Rhône with dozens of blending partners, or in Australia with Shiraz and Mourvèdre.

It buds early and ripens somewhat late, requiring a long growing season.  Fortunately, it does well in warm, dry areas where it can get just that.  The downside for some though is that over such a long ripening period the sugar levels, and resulting alcohol levels, can easily top 15%, particularly with the use of efficient cultivated yeasts.  As with so many grapes, control of cropping levels can result in better quality wine.  With thin, relatively pale skins, it often produces somewhat pale wine, though older vines, like the hundred year old vines in Barossa, can produce very concentrated and deeply coloured wines.  The vines themselves are noteworthy in that they’re more upright and solid than most, and so are both suited to bush vines and able to withstand strong winds such as the Mistral of the Rhône.

While I’ve covered a few rosé wines in the past, I’m not sure I’ve addressed any of the winemaking required to produce such a wine.  Most juice from grapes is clear, and so white wine is typically produced from juice that is pressed, and then separated from the skins, thus remaining close to colourless.  Red wine is made from juice that is still in contact with the skins, often but not always crushed, and the juice becomes coloured through contact with the skins.  Rosé is typically made with red grapes which are crushed and kept in contact with their skins for some short amount of time, depending on the desired colour.  Then typically the grapes and skins are pressed, with the resulting pink juice being fermented into wine.  In some cases, such as with this wine, a method known as saignée is employed where some amount of pink juice is drawn off to be made into rosé while the remaining must (grape juice and skins) is made into red wine with a higher ratio of skins to juice, resulting in more concentrated colour and tannins.

Navarra is a region in the northeast of Spain where the country narrows toward the border with France.  The climate is influenced by both the Atlantic Ocean (Bay of Biscay in fact) and the Mediterranean Sea.  The summers are hot and dry, while the winters are cold and humid.  Grenache, or Garnacha as it is locally known, is the dominant grape, though plantings of Tempranillo are on the rise.  Some white wines are produced though they account for less than a tenth of production, with red and rosé wine being the norm.  The soil is reddish brown limestone and calcareous clay which is generally considered very poor as far as normal fertility considerations go, though for those who prefer to see vines suffer, it’s ideal for growing grapes.

Artadi Viñedos & Vinos is a modern producer making wine in a number of regions of northern Spain.  They produce two Grenache based red wines in addition to this rosé in Navarra, two primarily Monastrell wines in Alicante, and a handful of reds in Rioja including a single vineyard wine.  Founded in 1985, they are a mix of traditional, organic vineyard management with modern winemaking.  They began production in Navarra in 1996 and have a mix of low yielding, 70 to 90 year old, free standing, head-pruned vines and 5-15 year old trellised vines.  They use no chemical presicides or herbicides, nor do they irrigate.

This wine is a lovely colour – a medium plus pink, tending toward orange-red, with slow thin legs when swirled.  On the nose it’s strawberry and cranberry, with medium minus intensity and at a youthful stage of development.  On the palate it has notes of red fruit and cummin spice, some honeycomb, with a bit of peach and lime.  It is dry with medium acidity, no real tannins, medium intensity, medium minus length, medium alcohol, and medium body.

This is a good wine.  It’s certainly fun, from the lovely colour to the delicious complexity of fruit flavours.  The peach notes caught me off guard but in a good way.  It’s a shame I won’t be looking for another rosé for some time to come most likely, but I do keep telling myself that a summer spent drinking my way across Spain would be a summer well spent.

Ulacia Getariako Txakolina 2010

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Ulacia Getariako Txakolina 2010

Ulacia Getariako Txakolina 2010

The other day I was saying something silly about how interesting varieties of grape don’t jump out as me as much anymore because at this point I’ve tried all the most commonly encountered wines?  That just makes it all the more special when something unusual does come my way, even if it does mean I’m writing about my fourth Spanish white while Germany is still neglected.

Today I am writing about the Ulacia Getariako Txakolina Blanco 2010.  It’s a wine from the Getaria in the Basque Country of northern Spain, just west of San Sebastian, and it is charming.  (I’ll be using the Basque terms/spelling as much as possible, unless otherwise indicated.)  Wine here has a recorded history going back 1000 years, though the area under vines is less than a tenth of the 1,000 HA that it was pre-phylloxera.  Getaria is a fishing village on the Bay of Biscay, with Getariako Txakolina being the DO for the vine growing area around it.  The region as a whole is maritime with a considerable Atlantic influence, though the vines are planted in the hills surrounding it, often on the southeast facing, often steep, unterraced slopes for maximum sunshine and some protection from sea breezes.  The winters are mild and summers cool, with 1,500 – 1,600 mm of rain per year, the highest of any Spanish wine region.  The soils are largely clay, covered with sand.

Txakolina is a style of wine, spelled Chacolí in Castilian, traditional to the Basque region.  It’s typically white, low in alcohol, and somewhat sparkling, very much akin to Portugal’s Vinho Verde.  In addition to being made in Getariako, there are several other DOs in the vicinity that have their own take on it, sometimes with different permitted contributing grapes.  It’s typically fermented slowly under refrigeration, and bottled with some effervescence.

Getariako Txakolina label on neck

Getariako Txakolina label on neck

For all Txakolina, the primary grapes used are Hondarribi Zuri (white) and Hondarribi Beltza (red), which are, as you might expect, two versions of the same  grape.  For Getariako Txakolina the required blend is 95% Zuri and 5% Beltza, though in Arabako Txakolina Gross Manseng, Petit Manseng, and Petit Corbu are permitted in small amounts, while in Bizkaiko Txakolina, a portion of Folle Blanche may be used.  Rosé and red wines are also made in these regions, though in much smaller quantities and largely for local consumption.  Hondarribi Zuri and Hondarribi Beltza are largely found only in this region and I have not been able to find any record of it being cultivated outside of Spain.  Also, it’s a tough grape to spell – it’s apparently Hondarribi, Hondarrabi or Ondarrabi depending on where you are even within Basque Country.  Vines are typically trellised, to make the most of the breezes in the often damp conditions, and to shelter the grapes from hail.

This wine is made by a family run winery, Nicolas Ulacia e Hijos, which produces roughly 6,000 cases per year, largely for local consumption.  The two grape varieties are vinified separately under refrigeration, blended and then bottled quickly enough that residual CO2 is retained in the bottle, which is sealed with a cork.  I’m coming up a bit short on detail for this producer as I cannot find a website for them – I’ll update this post if/when I do.

In the glass, it was difficult to determine colour as I was in a dimly lit restaurant when I had this, but I would put it at pale lemon with a bit of green.  The nose was floral, smelling of blossom, with some grapey notes.  It was youthful, but not particularly intense.  The palate was of lime, and very zesty as a result of both good acidity and the bubbles which were more prominent that what I’ve read online would have led me to expect.  The body was light, and there was almost a hint of sweetness, but I don’t think it was down to residual sugar – more likely just the freshness.

This is a very good wine for what it is – young and meant to be drunk you, refreshing, and inexpensive despite having come to the far side of the world from a small producer.  I’ve seen the term “fun” used to describe Txakolina wines and I think this wine absolutely hits the mark.  It’s also worth noting this was a 2010 and most sources recommend drinking the wine within a year, so it was almost certainly better still this time last year.  In any case, I’m very glad to have been able to try it, and look forward to perhaps spending a summer drinking my way around Spain.

Telmo Rodríguez Basa Blanco Rueda 2010

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Telmo Rodríguez Basa Blanco Rueda 2010

Telmo Rodríguez Basa Blanco Rueda 2010

Today it’s a lovely wine I’ve had by the glass a few time in the last month, and which has never failed to please, the Telmo Rodríguez Basa Blanco Rueda 2010.  This is my third Spanish white in this blog, and I put it down to the time of year.  It’s hottest in this part of the world right about now, and while I do love a bit beefy Chardonnay, it’s at times like these that I look for a white that’s a bit lighter.  This one absolutely fits the bill.

It hails from Rueda, which is in the northwest quadrant of Spain, though closer to Madrid at the center than to the coast.  Rueda traditionally is exclusively a white wine region, historically making a fortified wine in the style of Sherry.  In 1980 though it was awarded Denominación de Origen status in recognition of a huge shift from exclusively Palomino-based fortified wines to also producing a table wine based largely on Verdejo, Viura (Macabeo), and Sauvignon Blanc.  Rueda DO must be at least 50% Verdejo, or a Sauvignon Blanc varietal, while Rueda Superior must be at least 85% Verdejo.  Red and rosé wines are now also permitted within their own DO rules, in the form of Tempranillo, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Garnacha (Grenache).

The region as a whole is at 700-800 metres elevation, and is generally composed of flat highlands.  The climate is considered continental, with long, cold winters and hot, dry summers.  Even during the summer, the evenings get very cool, with high diurnal temperature variation, allowing ripening during the days but preserving acidity in the evening.  Traditionally, levees were built around vines to collect water which were then half-buried to preserve moisture, though that practice has largely been replaced by more modern water management techniques.

The soils are sandy and stony, with more gravel in the better areas.  Limestone outcroppings can be found throughout the region, in particular with clay along the river Duero which cuts through the north of the region.

This wine is a blend of 85% Verdejo, 12% Viura and 3% Sauvignon Blanc.  I’m sure I’ll have varietal Viuras and Sauvignon Blancs aplenty at some point, so today it’s all about Verdejo.  First off, it is apparently not the same as Verdelho, which is a bit confusing for me as I just figured it was a Spanish/Portuguese spelling difference.  In fact, I’m hard pressed to find any evidence of it being grown anywhere in the world other than Spain, and really within Spain its home is certainly Rueda.  It’s an aromatic white, though prone to oxidation under traditional winemaking, which is one of the reasons it was used in oxidatively handled fortified wines rather than in table wine.  However, now with such modern techniques of picking at night and temperature controlled fermentation (and refrigeration of the grapes/must/wine in general) it is possible to make it into wine that retains the fresh, aromatic characters.

Telmo Rodríguez is a celebrated Spanish winemaker of great renown.  The company he runs, along with his partner Pablo Eguzkiza, was founded in 1994 with the intention of making great wine from native Spanish varieties.  In addition to this wine in Rueda, he makes another which is 100% Verdejo, but that is just the tip of the iceberg.  His company makes 20 wines across nine different regions of Spain, covering the entire country.  Production ranges from 3,252 bottles of Pegaso Garnacha in Castilla y León to this Basa of which I drank one of 600,000 bottles.

I can’t get my head around what 600,000 bottles would look like, all in one place, 50,000 cases doesn’t help.  781 pallets is still too many to imagine.  However, I think many winemakers would be lucky to be able to make one bottle of wine as lovely as this one.

It’s pale lemon in the glass, with fresh pear on the nose, with some lemon and honey to back it up.  On the palate it has crisp, but not overly zingy, acidity.  It has a medium body, and medium length, and the palate absolutely matches the nose with a pear finish.  It’s bright enough to cut through spicy food without burning through your gums if you drink it without food.  It’s not overly complex, but nor is it overly pretentious or expensive.  A great summer drop, but probably not one to cellar.

The pin in the map is the company address, which unfortunately is not so close to where this wine is made, but given that they make wine throughout Spain in so many different regions, it’s at least in the right country.

Navazos Niepoort Vino Blanco 2009

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Navazos Niepoort Vino Blanco 2009

Navazos Niepoort Vino Blanco 2009

Now this is an interesting wine.  I was looking for a Spanish white and my local merchant, seeing the bottle of Arbois I was buying, suggested that if I liked oxidatively handled whites, I should give this one a try.  I wanted to tell him that it wasn’t that I was a fan of Arbois – rather that I’d never tried it and so didn’t know what I thought of it.  Likewise, I just wrote about a Niepoort wine the other week, and with so many producers out there, I try not to give any one too much love.  However, this is somewhat unique and I’m glad I took him up on his offer.

I’ve done some digging, but just looking at the bottle it’s a bit difficult to discern what it is.  We have two names on the label, Navazos and Niepoort.  Equipo Navazos is a Spanish Sherry négociant, which in this case means they buy casks of Sherry and bottle them under their own label.  I don’t know the Sherry side of the trade very well, but apparently they operate at the high end.  Dirk Niepoort is a more familiar name from Portugal, both for Port and as a Douro Boy.  Below the names reads “Vino Blanco” which is Spanish for white wine.  Under that though it says “Engarrafado em 2010″ which means bottled in 2010, but not in Spanish, in Portuguese.  Also, the wine is 13% ABV.  So, we have a trans-Iberian bottle of wine, but not obviously fortified, with the names of a Spanish négociant of Sherry and a Portuguese maker of Port and still wines.  Curiouser and curiouser.

What we have here, Navazos Niepoort Vino Blanco 2009 , as far as I can tell, is a bit of an experiment.  And since I pledged to work through the grapes, region, producer, drink format, I’ll start with the grape, Palomino.  It is a white grape of Spain, primarily known for its use in the production of Sherry.  It’s known for doing well in warm to hot, dry climates, with high yields, low acidity, and generally low alcohol.  It is used to make table wines, though none spring to mind, and few are on the international market.  Where it’s been exported from Spain as a vine, it’s largely been used to make fortified wine, such as in South Australia.  It should be noted though, that while I’ve started with the grape, apparently Navazos Niepoort started with musts, or grape juice.  This is not uncommon – depending on the type of business they run, a négociant can buy in grapes, must, or wine in varying stages of readiness to drink.  I’m speculating, but my guess at the partnership is that Navazos handled sourcing the must and then sales/distribution side of the equation, while Niepoort actually made the wine.

So region is tricky here, in that I’m not sure where this wine is made or strictly where it’s from, other than Spain.  The notes say the must is sourced from “a historic albariza vineyard”, and then references the 2009 vintage in the Sherry District.  Albariza is the white  marl soil of the Jerez, and Sherry is essentially an Anglicization of Jerez, so we’re pretty safe placing this somewhere in the south of Spain, in the vicinity of Jerez de la Frontera.  If you search for that city on Google Maps and zoom in a bit on satellite view, you can see the albariza as the white patches.  While I wasn’t able to recall them both when I faced my fortified wine exam, there are two other soil types, tajón which is calcareous and barro which has more clay.  The climate is warm to hot during the growing season, though mitigated by proximity to the ocean.  Winters are mild but damp.

Producers – I wrote about Niepoort when I discussed his Douro wine last week, so it’s time for a bit about Equipo Navazos.  As I mentioned, the company is a Sherry négociant with a numbered line of fortified wines running the complete range of Sherry, from Fino and Manzanilla to Amontillado and Pedro Ximénez.  They’re quite dear, but from what I understand worth every penny.  I know earlier I said that I didn’t know them as a company, but actually on a recent stop at a Spanish restaurant, I had a glass of sherry or two that were both numbered and expensive, and now having just checked the wine list of the restaurant, they in fact were their La Bota de Manzanilla No 22 and La Bota de Fino No 18 ‘Macharnudo Alto‘.  I love the Internet – I hardly have to remember a thing when I’m online.  That said, I also love writing this blog, because the chances of me remembering Equipo Navazos next time has exponentially increased.

Between producer and the actual wine in the glass, I’m going to insert a special section today on winemaking, because this wine warrants it.  So Sherry is known today as a fortified wine.  It’s made as a still wine, fortified up to between 15% and 22% ABV, stored in untopped barrels under a flor, or protective layer of surface yeast, and if they are aged, most are fractionally blended in a solera system over the course of years prior to bottling.  Details of the above vary greatly depending on the style of Sherry.  While it may seems odd to be outlining Sherry production for a wine which is not Sherry, according to the official notes, this wine is essentially a retro style of making Sherry.  They cite a document from 1801 which suggest the addition of spirit for fortification was only required of wines that were not top quality.  Therefore, the wine we have here is essentially Sherry of a style that can be traced back over 200 years.  Palomino grapes/musts from albariza soil, fermented in oak with naturally occuring yeast, aged for ten months under flor, and then bottled without fermentation.

Right, so in the glass it’s a fairly pale but distinctly gold and clear.  That is, slightly darker than the industry standard New World white wine shade.  The nose has some apple, possibly bruised, and a bit of pear.  There’s also some honeycomb – that is, not pure honey smell, but with a waxy edge.  There’s a hint of varnish as well, which may be the oxidative handling.  I’m not, however, getting any nuttiness.  On the palate it’s rich and savoury, with more apple and a combination of toasted bread and salt – like someone left a pretzel in the oven for a bit too long.  (I like both pretzels and salt, so I say that as a quality rather than a fault.)  There is some lack of acidity, but I think I’ve been trained to this flavour profile by Sherry so as not to miss it.  Jancis warms in the Palomino entry in OCW that it can produce “rather flabby, vapid table wines” but I think this is an exception to that.  It is intensely flavourful and has a very good length.  That said, I can imagine the flavour profile might not be to everyone’s liking, so it may not be the next big thing.  However, if it is your thing, I recommend it as worth tracking down.  It looks as though they’re already selling the 2010, their third go at this experiment, so I’m hoping it will continue for years to come.

Bodegas Eidosela Rías Baixas Arbastrum 2010

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Bodegas Eidosela Rías Baixas Arbastrum 2010

Bodegas Eidosela Rías Baixas Arbastrum 2010

While I was busy neglecting Portugal, I barely noticed that I hadn’t paid Spain much attention either.  I’ve written up two different wines from Rioja, both red, but Spain has a great deal to offer in red, white, rosé still wine, not to mention fortified and sparkling wine.

Todays wine is not red, nor is it from Rioja.  Instead we have Bodegas Eidosela Rías Baixas Arbastrum 2010.  Like many, possibly most, Spanish wines, this is a blend of grapes, with Albariño dominating, and with Loureira and Treixadura rounding out the mix.  At some point I’ll formalize how I write about wine, so that I don’t miss out on something I’d like to cover, but for today I’ll go with grapes, region, producer, and then finally the wine itself.

So grapes - Albariño is a fairly trendy variety these days.  It was the dominant grape in the Vinho Verde of earlier this week under the name Alvarinho, and it’s made something of a beachhead in a few places in the New World, such as the USA and Australia.  It’s thick skinned, aromatic, and can produce good levels of acid, alcohol and flavour, and as such can certainly stand alone as a varietal wine.  I’m not brilliant at identifying varieties, but when I encounter Albariño I usually pick up orange or mandarin blossom. It’s a bit like  Torrontés in that way, but a much more common wine to encounter blind.  Loureira  (sometimes known as Loureiro) and Treixadura are the lesser grapes in the mix, both aromatic, though rarely bottled as varietals, and without as much international cultivation outside of Spain and Portugal.  I’ve not had either as a varietal, so I’m not sure what they contribute to the blend.

Region - Rías Baixas is in northwestern Spain, in the bit that sticks out over northern Portugal.  Known best for it’s dry whites, it has a maritime climate that sees more than its share of rain as well as a granite-based soil.  Twelve grape varieties are permitted, including six which are red, but like this wine, the area is dominated by Albariño with Loureira and Treixadura being the next two most important grapes.

Producer – I know little about Bodegas Eidosela, but they appear to be a very modern, fair sized winery – 600,000 litres capacity.  Founded as a co-operative in 2003 by seven growers, it’s grown to 60 members, with holdings of 45ha.  It produces this blend as well as two other wines, each 100% Albariño.

This wine itself is pale – far from water, but such a different white from the Jura of yesterday.  It has an intense floral nose, with heady blossom, orange and lime.  The palate is fairly intense, with lime and mandarin citrus, but on the finish it’s not pure fruit but rather the oil you get out of orange peel.  Sweet and sour, but delicious.

Muga Reserva Rioja 2006

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Muga Reserva Rioja 2006

Muga Reserva Rioja 2006

Another day at the library, but somehow not nearly as productive as the past few days.  I think it’s that all the grapes are pretty well noted, and just not quite memorized and I’m having a hard time moving on to the next bit of study.  The WSET Diploma Unit 3 Exam is just days away, so now is the time for real cramming, and I’m certainly feeling the pressure, but at the same time it’s so easy to do other things and to get distracted.

I still have half-bottles of everything we tasted a couple of nights ago, and had intended to write up proper notes for the inexpensive Burgundy, the Beaujolais Villages and the Barola, but rather than tasting the same wines yet again, we had a bottle of the Muga Reserva Rioja 2006 with dinner and I’ll write about that instead.  The other wines may have improved over the last couple of days or they may be worse for wear, but I’d rather taste something a bit more like what I’m likely to encounter under exam conditions.

So Rioja – easily the best known Spanish wine region, though I think many people would be hard pressed to put it on a map.  Then again, I was the same way with Bordeaux for a very long time.  It’s in the north, roughly in the middle, but set back from the coast by about an hour and a half’s drive.  If you have a leisurely start in the morning in Bilbao, you can have a fine lunch in Rioja without any trouble.

Red wines of Rioja may be made from four grapes – Tempranillo, Garnacha (Grenache), Mazuelo (Carignan) and Graciano.  Tempranillo is the most widely planted by far, and most red Riojas are blends dominated by it.  The back label on this bottle puts the blend as 70% Tempranillo, 20% Garnacha, and the remaining 10% a combination of Mazuelo and Graciano.  Also to use the term reserva, a wine must be released three years after vintage, with at least one year in oak.  This wine had two years in a mix of French and American oak.

The use of oak is one of the ways to spot a Rioja, in that classically it can show signs of oxidative maturation.  Essentially, barrels let in some amount of oxygen and that interacts with the wine.  Corks in bottles do as well, to a lesser degree.  So often for Riojas you’ll get secondary characteristics earlier than you might with other wines, including a browning of the wine slightly.

Unfortunately for a novice, this wine shows little of that.  While there’s a bit of dried fruit and spiciness, I would not say this has had particularly oxidative maturation.  The colour still bright for a five year old wine, and it’s showing no signs of too much air getting to it.

Appearance

Clear and  bright, medium-plus garnet, with quick legs.

Nose

Clean and developing, with medium intensity of sweet spice, vanilla, dried strawberries and tart plums.

Palate

Dry, medium acidity, medium body, medium tannins, medium-plus alcohol, medium-plus flavour intensity of strawberries, vanilla, pomegranate, and black pepper with a spicy finish.  Medium length.

Conclusions

This is a good quality wine.  There’s nothing out of place with regards to balance – the intensity and alcohol are somewhat more prominent than the acidity or tannins, but I think that’s just a stylistic decision that works well.  I would have liked more complexity – the flavours were intense enough, but I struggled to identify specific descriptors.  Still, the flavour profile was pleasant if somewhat simplistic.  The length was adequate – neither long nor short.

So I’m guessing this is the new style.  Much of the course material, for Spain in particular, describes regions having a traditional, sometimes rustic, way of making wine, which usually involves old wooden fermentation vessels and hot ferments, as well as either no time in barrel or no new oak.  Then they also mention a new style, which is much more modern, with stainless steel, temperature control, much more exacting in terms of technique, and quite often new oak.  I’m thinking this is relatively newer in style, in that it’s fresh and clean, though lacking slightly in character.  I know it’s a Reserva, but I’m sure Muga has one or two wines in their portfolio that are a step or two above it in quality.  All in all, a good wine.

Viña Arana Reserva Rioja 2001

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Colour and type: ,
Main Variety:
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 Viña Arana Reserva Rioja 2001

Viña Arana Reserva Rioja 2001

Today’s assignment is to read through the past examiners’ reports, which go back covering about a dozen incarnations of the exam I’ll take in January.  There are three main points to this exercise.  First, the questions are included, and exam questions tend to have a way of being recycled.  For the sparkling wine section, one of the questions on the exam (cremants)  I took had been asked just a few years prior.  Second, example answers from students are given, both good and bad, so it’s nice to have an idea of what you’re expected to know and even how much they’d like you to be able to write in the time allotted.  Third, the comments from the examiners, usually along the lines of how disappointed they were that students weren’t able to specify such and such are very helpful indeed.  If you get a repeated question and the examiners were keen that students mention say the amount of rainfall for a region in question, it really pays to make sure you include it.

However, I still have some ways to go.  I’ve downloaded all the reports, and quickly gone through them and pulled out the questions as well as the pass rates for each.  The next step (other than obviously reading them all in great detail) is to go through and pull out keywords.  For instance, Tannat and Malbec came up as varieties three times, while Furmint, Torrontés,  and Pinotage came up a couple of times each.  Maipo Valley, Walker Bay and Casablanca Valley each had a couple of questions. AWRI and UC Davis each had a question.  That’s not to say that I’ll only study things that have been on past exams, but rather I’ll be sure to have some reasonably pat answers should those turn up again before I start to commit to memory the properties of Malaga Blanc, a popular table grape in Thailand, but also used to make wine there.  (And of course having said that, Malaga Blanc is not taking up valuable space in my memory that really should contain something more useful.)

When I wasn’t studying, I was out having lunch around the corner, and with it some wine.  The wine for today is Viña Arana Reserva 2001, a red blend from Rioja DOC in northern Spain made by La Rioja Alta group.  The nearest I’ve been to Rioja is Bilbao, and it was before I was especially interested in wine, so I have no firsthand knowledge of the region or this producer.  Red Riojas are typically Tempranillo dominated blends, and this one is no exception with Tempranillo making up 95% and Mazuelo (which I know better as Carignan) making up the remaining 5%.  As a Reserva, this wine would have spent a minimum of a year in oak and not been released until it was three years old.  In fact, this particular wine was in American oak for three years.

I typically enjoy wines that can age more when it’s been cellared for at least a few years, and when I have an opportunity to have some that’s a decade or more old, I generally look upon it as something of a special treat.  As such, I was really looking forward to this wine.  It showed promise, in that it was garnet in the glass, going a bit brown toward the rim, but with lively flavour on the nose.  The palate was soft, with dried fruit and a number of developed characters, but somehow it just didn’t live up to my hopes.  With so many wines being made in a “drink now” style, I always expect something special from a wine that’s been put away for a decade, and while this delivered just what I expected from a Rioja, there wasn’t anything overly special about it.  Nothing wrong with it, mind you, but I think I would have enjoyed it more without the expectations I had when I ordered it.  But here’s the note.

Appearance

Clear and bright, with a medium garnet colour going brown toward the rim.  Slow legs.

Nose

Clean, with medium intensity, fully developed.  Dried red fruit, potpourri spices, orange peel, tobacco, and bitter chocolate.

Palate

Dry, with medium acidity, medium intensity, medium-minus velvety tannins, medium alchohol, and medium body.  The palate had chocolate, tobacco, dried red fruit from cherries to cranberries, with some vanilla.  The length was medium with a chocolate/cranberry finish.

Conclusion

I thought this was a good quality wine, despite wishing it would turn out to be very good.  It was certainly balanced, with mediums almost across the board, but in that it lacked intensity.  There was a fair amount of complexity, in terms of fruit, spice and developed notes, but they were all slightly faded.  It was as though any freshness had gone, taking most of its intensity with it, which showed in its length of only medium.

It was, however, a very typical Rioja Reserva, from the brick to brown colour in the glass and the dried fruit and American oak on the nose and palate.  I’d be pleased to find this on an exam as I don’t think I’d have any trouble picking it.  At $80.00 in a restaurant it’s not what I would term a value wine, and I expected a bit more from it.

Readiness to drink – I think it should be drunk now and will decline given more time.  The tannins are so soft already that they need no more time, and the intensity is likely to dwindle.