Buyers’ Guide to VINTAGES – July 8, 2017

Spanish Wine Guide & The Best of the Rest
By Sara d’Amato with notes from the team

Sara d'Amato

Sara d’Amato

Spain is hot, and not just figuratively. The country is undergoing an extreme heat wave and drought on the heels of an already tumultuous start the growing season. Frost throughout the country, to varying degrees has stunted the growth of many sites and reduced yields in some areas as much as 50-90%. If the heat doesn’t abate soon, there could be little to come from the 2017 vintage. Thankfully, there is still a great deal on offer from prior vintages, which are plentifully featured in this weekend’s VINTAGES release.

On the flip side, other wine consuming regions in Europe and the UK are on the search for refreshing rosés earlier than the norm to relieve their own, neighboring heat waves. Here in Ontario, the rain clouds are finally allowing the sun to shine and summer is no longer on the horizon. This is perfect season for consuming Spain’s abundant fresh, fruity rosés and chilled fino Sherries.

Spanish Wine Styles

Although the country produces a vast array of wines, most of them can be broken down into two categories: young fruity and fresh, and aged and complex. Look to terms such as Joven and Crianza to indicate youth and little to no oak while terms such as Reserva and Gran Reserva to reflect wines with more barrel age and greater complexity. This is only the tip of the iceberg, however, as Spain boasts some of the world’s most innovative wine producers who are responsible for the quickly changing landscape of wine.

Many of Spain’s wine styles are intrinsically linked to the varied geography of individual regions. Northern regions and those that butt up against the cooler, wetter northern Portugal are responsible for fresh, vibrant and aromatic whites such as the albarino and godello of Rias Baixas or the fizzy Txakolina around Bilbao, near the French border. In contrast are the powerful monastrells (aka mourvèdre) of the harsh, arid land of Jumilla, just inland from the Mediterranean coast. The coastal, relatively high altitude and thus cool region of Catalonia is known for the production of fresh and frothy Cava. The country’s best-known reds, mid-weight and based on Tempranillo, are rooted in Rioja, Ribera del Duero and Toro, warmer climates, continental and quite dry. The king of Spain, Tempranillo, is responsible for about 20% of vines planted in Spain.

Garnacha (known as grenache in France) is responsible for much of Spain’s well-loved, fruity rosés of deeper colour than those of its northern cousins. A great deal of garnacha comes from Spain’s northeastern regions: Navarra, Aragón, Catalunya (Priorat) and regions surrounding Madrid. In fact, the colour of this rather thin-skinned variety is often strikingly dark when it originates from these Spanish regions. High in alcohol, low in tannins and offering an abundance of sweet red fruit, garnacha is easy to love and is best drunk immediately. A slight chill will tame the heat from alcohol and give the wine summery freshness. Some of the best garnacha comes from vines that are a century or more old and have good mid-term ageing potential.

Further south you’ll find the remarkable Canary Islands which are quickly becoming a hot spot for volcanic wines. The volcanic ash atop the ground acts as mulch for the organically poor but mineral rich soils that produce wines that are rustic, grippy and often stony. In order to combat the terrific wind of the island, vines are planted low to the ground, often in holes encircled by simple stone walls that look like lunar surface craters.

Don’t be Afraid of Sherry 

You may have noticed that for some time now, du-jour restaurants offer growing collections of Sherry, particularly of dry, Fino Sherry both on their wine lists as well as featuring these wines on tasting menus. Somms are generally with-it much more quickly than we critics and consumers and are much more likely to look to the past for inspiration. A lack of understanding seems to be the largest contributing factor for the lack of uptake in consumer excitement over these wines that are of terrific value. If you search for Sherries we have reviewed at WineAlign, you’ll notice that the price/rating ratios are often through the roof.

In preparation for your foray into Fino Sherry, chill it down to about 7-10 degrees Celsius for optimum appreciation. If you don’t finish a bottle, don’t keep it for more than about a week in the fridge or else you’ll wonder what you loved in the first place. Most first-time Fino tasters enjoy these crisp wines best with food such as green olives, salted almonds, aged cheeses or grilled fish and seafood. You don’t need a specially designed Sherry glass; in fact, larger stems such as those designed for riesling or even a basic white wine glass are preferable. The complexity of these oxygen-deprived Sherries deserves a larger bowl. If Fino designated sherry is unavailable, try a Manzanilla, very similar in style to Fino but produced in the neighbouring coastal village of Sanlucar de Barrameda. The sherry is subject to a unique type of “flor” that is distinctive enough to garner it an exclusive appellation.

Non-oxygen deprived sherries are also worthy of your attention and include, at the extreme end, the lush PX (Pedro Ximenez) that offers flavours of molasses and sweet dates on its viscous palate. Oloroso sherry, often dry, dark, rich and full-bodied, spends little time ageing under a blanket of “flor” and thus is more oxidative in nature. Amontillado falls somewhere between Fino and Oloroso, lighter in colour than an Oloroso and is usually a product of a wine destined for Fino that formed an inadequate layer of flor that peters out. Without further ado, here are our top finds from Spain and beyond.

Buyer’s Guide VINTAGES July 8th

Sherry and Fortified

Valdespino Fino Inocente Sherry, Jerez, Spain ($25.95)
Sara d’Amato – A frequent VINTAGES find, and thankfully so, the Valdespino Fino not only rhymes but offers a wealth of complexity for the price. Floral and elegant with just a hint of orange peel, lightly nutty and with a satisfying, salty crunch on the palate.…

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