Destination Spain (Via the LCBO)

by David Lawrason

This feature was commissioned by Wines from Spain

There is an awesome viognier/macabeo white blend from Costers Del Segre region in Catalonia. There is an exciting mencia red from the obscure Monterrei in Galicia. There is a killer value cab-merlot from Somontano, a very fine Priorat from Catalonia and drop dead gorgeous old vine Rioja.

All this from a singular tasting that was one of the most intriguing ever held at the WineAlign World Headquarters in Etobicoke – an eclectic selection from familiar and more esoteric corners of Spain. The styles varied, the grapes varied, the prices varied. And for once we were able to say “now available at the LCBO” for each and every bottle.

Not everywhere at the LCBO mind you, but at the Spanish Destination Store collection housed within the large LCBO at Royal York and Bloor Street West, also in Etobicoke. (The store is directly opposite the eastern entrance of the Royal York subway station on Grenview Rd, and very handy.)

Spanish Destination Store Collection

If you are not familiar with this Destination Collection Store concept, about three years ago the LCBO began rolling out a program where a large selection of wines from single countries are focused at one location. If you haven’t heard of this its because the LCBO – in its mysteriously aloof way – does virtually no marketing of its “Destination Collection Stores”. You have to live in the area to discover them, and as I frequent this store I have become a regular.

The Destination store “Exclusive” wines are sourced from the consignment stocks of wine importers, and are not available to LCBO General List or Vintages programs (but these wines are also in the section). So many are less well known, and most are “new” to the Ontario market. Indeed the agents are using the program to field trial new wines, often in small batches. Once sold out they may not reappear.

For consumers this is both a good thing and a problem. It’s exciting for those who are adventurous and willing to research and explore new wines. It’s frustrating for those left standing in front of The Spanish Wall and don’t know what to try. This problem is magnified by the fact the wines are not shelved in any kind of sub-regional or style grouping (except for the sparkling Cavas being in one section).

In my well-ordered view of the wine world, all the Riojas should be together, the Ribera del Duero’s together, and the Priorats… etc., etc. And each section could have a card with a map and general description of the style of wine.  Instead we have those little LCBO cards saying “Suzie’s pick” or “Fred likes this one”, or perhaps an inflated points rating from an obscure European writer.

A little education would help Spain a lot, because despite its long history and third place ranking in terms of global production, Spain is one of the least well-known wine producing countries in the world.

It is also one of the most dynamic and fascinating, with dozens of small appellations (DOs) in which improved winemaking is lifting local grape varieties and wineries out of obscurity. So it is very much worth exploring, and further, because so many regions are relatively “new” they have not achieved much market status or high price points. So there are plenty of deals to be had.

What follows are picks by our team of critics who sat down with 32 wines from the Destination store. Spain provided the funds to buy the wines. WineAlign, not its critics, purchased a random selection. And as always our critics weigh in with their picks.

We have arranged them by style and/or region to help with that education process.


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Sparkling (Cava) & Whites

Aymar Ice Classic Penedes Extra Dry Reserva 2013, Penedes  ($24.10)               
David Lawrason – Unusual and effective, this pale copper coloured cava has a generous, complex and intriguing nose of hay, dried strawberry, fried onion and slightly toasty character. It is medium weight, firm, solid and dry with a blush of strawberry fruit sweetness.       

Celista Tierra Blanco 2016, Costers Del Segre, Catalonia  ($14.50)
Michael Godel – The combination of utter freshness and finding it in an inexpensive Spanish white wine is a thing of joy. Everything about this is just a bit unusual; where it’s from, the unlikely combination of varietals and the price.
David Lawrason – Massive value for $15, this is very effective, unusual blend of 70% viognier and 30% macabeo, a local variety in northern Spain. The nose is in bloom with tropical pineapple/apricot, white pepper spice, herbal notes.  It is medium-full bodied, quite intense, firm and flavourful.
John Szabo – Tough to beat for sheer value, this international-indigenous blend of 70% viognier and 30% macabeo is an amazingly flinty-smoky, concentrated white. Carafing before serving recommended.

Tamaral Verdejo 2018, Rueda ($18.90)
Michael Godel – Verdejo can be overly fruity and floral and while it can never escape those traits it can also be fresh, crisp and crunchy, as here. Just a terrific apéritif white also useful for sweet shrimp of simple to complex preparations.

 

Northwest Reds (Mencia grape)

Benito Santos Mencia 2017, Monterrei, Galicia ($21.10)          
John Szabo – Most of Spain’s mencía comes from neighboring Bierzo, though this one from Monterrei delivers a lovely, open, floral, classic profile of fresh black fruit and lilacs, engaging and lively. I could happily drink this anytime, with a light chill.
Michael Godel – Emerging star of a grape from a lesser known appellation equals true discovery. This represents the Spanish Destination Store in a nutshell. And it’s a bloody delicious in the freshest possible way.
David Lawrason – Mencia is a very fine and sturdy red grape doing good things in northwestern Spain. Monterrei is a small obscure appellation in Galicia near the border with Portugal. This has a lifted and nuanced nose of cranberry, raspberry, fine fresh herbs and spices, with some mineral tone. It is medium weight, taut, tensile and juicy.

Luis Peique Mencia 2012, Bierzo ($78.10)         
John Szabo – And just to remind you that Spain can easily compete at the highest levels of quality, splurge on this exceptional wine, Peique’s top end 2012 mencía from nearly century-old vines on the valley floor of the Bierzo ‘bowl’. It’s a marvel of depth and complexity, in a sophisticated and elegant, classy style. Drink or hold into the early ’30s. 
David Lawrason – This expensive Spanish red that still plays in the value game thanks to its hugely impressive quality. This has a superb nose with elevated blackcurrant, mint, fine oak vanillin and spice, fresh cedar. It is full bodied, dense with riveting acidity, warmth and tension. Minerality as well. Very powerful high toned and structured.  Wow!!!
Michael Godel – The flagship family wine in El Bierzo is an absolute stunner. Tempranillo may hold the baton for making the most iconic Spanish reds but do not overlook mencia from Bierzo. This from Peique will last 15-25 years.

 

Northern Central (Tempranillo & Cabernet)

Luberri Joven Tinto Tempranillo 2017, Rioja ($20.75)
John Szabo –
Just when you thought you understood Rioja and ‘typical’ tempranillo, here’s a young and fruity, paradigm shifter. Nary a sign of cedar, coconut or sandalwood here, just a juicy palate brimming with ripe-fresh black fruit and violet florals.  Chill lightly and enjoy an essence of the grape, not the wood ageing of traditional Rioja.

Luberri Biga Crianza 2015, Rioja ($25.30)
David Lawrason – This is a relatively mellow, easy going Rioja texturally but there is good energy to the aromas and flavours, with perfectly ripened raspberry jam fruit, fresh herbs, licorice/caraway spice, vanillin and some earthiness on the nose. The acidity is very good, firm tannin, the length is excellent. Tasted October 2019.

Luberri Cepas Viejas V De Pago 2015, Rioja ($81.20)                  
David Lawrason – This is 100% old vine tempranillo, with a very impressive, rich and lifted and complex nose. It is full bodied, dense yet lively with great acidity, enveloping warmth and fine tannin. Very focused, with excellent to outstanding length.

 

Altos De Inurrieta Reserva 2015, Navarra  ($25.45)        
David Lawrason – Greener, cooler higher altitude Navara borders Rioja, with less traditional varieties dominating. With a cabernet base this very deep, dark red has rich almost luxurious nose of blackberry jam, vanilla, some coffee and mint . It is full bodied, supple, very dense with real intensity and depth.

Enate Tapas 2016, Somontano ($13.60)
David Lawrason – A snappy, easy going,  just structured enough tempranillo from a modern producer in the northern region of Somontano. Lifted, juicy and complex aromas of sour cherry/raspberry fruit with meaty, herbal and vanillin note. Very good value!    

Alonso Del Yerro Paydos 2014, Toro ($29.95)
David Lawrason – The hot but high altitude Toro appellation in north central Spain always make very high energy, full bodied reds with what I call internal combustion. Very complex, energetic and profound in its way, with sour cherry/plum, meaty notes, herbs, roasted garlic and subtle wood.

 

Northeast (Garnacha)

Convey 2016, Priorat ($23.65)
David Lawrason – Great value Priorat in a slightly lighter more accessible style, which is a good thing in a region where power and density are par for the course. The nose shows intense red plum, berry, herbal/garrigue, and well rendered oak spice. It is full bodied with energy, minerality and firm tannin.
John Szabo – Most of the top wines from Priorat have reached high double or even triple digit prices, but here’s one that got happily left behind the euphoric rise. It’s dense and concentrated in the usual regional fashion, but not heavy, or overly extracted. It represents the region nicely.
Michael Godel – Emerging star of a grape from a lesser known appellation equals true discovery. This represents the Spanish Destination Store in a nutshell. And it’s a bloody delicious in the freshest possible way.

Trossos Tros Negre 2013, Montsant ($87.50)
David Lawrason – Pricy but wow! This is playing in the big leagues quality wise. Collectors take note.  It has a very fragrant. Very complex. It is full bodied, elegant, warm and rich with fine tannin and real minerality.  Powerful, excellent to outstanding length.  

 

Southeast (Bobal, Garnacha)

Ladron De Lunas Crianza Bobal 2015, Utiel-Requena ($18.55)
John Szabo –
One of a growing number of new wave Spanish wines from the deep southeast of Spain near Alicante, where over 50,000ha of mostly very old bobal vines provide a huge resource for quality wines at good prices. Bobal is a rather deeply coloured, sturdy grape, though this example also features crunchy acids and a minty freshness.
Michael Godel – The time is ripe and it is now to discover bobal. Like zinfandel without overbearing fruit, heat, too much spice or alcohol. A wine that goes all in, with a bit of rusticity and authenticity.

Bodega Joaquin Fernandes Finca Los Frutales Garnacha 2014, Sierras De Malaga ($46.10)
Michael Godel – If nothing else a sip of this incredible food wine in garnacha clothing brings me back to Ronda, one of the great places to visit in all of Spain. That and the high energy, ripping acids style overtop juicy and crunchy red fruit.

 

Other Destination Store Exclusives Reviewed on WineAlign

Alta Alella Capisgrany Cava Brut Nature 2016, Penedes

Gran Caus Rosat 2016, Penedes

Terraprima Negre 2014, Penedes  

Mascaradas Serie Modernas Tradiciones Red 2016, Castilla Y Leon

Luberri Seis De Luberri Media Crianza 2016, Rioja

Luberri Monje Amestoy Reserva 2014, Rioja

Puente Del Ea Eridano Reserva Seleccion Especial 2014, Rioja

Hilvan Crianza 2015, Rioja

Sao Del Coster Pim Pam Poom 2017, Priorat

¡Salud!

This feature was commissioned by Wines from Spain. As a regular feature, WineAlign tastes wines submitted by a single winery or region. Our writers independently, as always, taste, review and rate the wines – good, bad and indifferent, and those reviews are posted on WineAlign. We then independently recommend wines to appear in the winery profile. Wineries, wine agents, and regional associations pay for this service. Ads for some wines may appear at the same time, but the decision on which wines to put forward in our report, and its content, is entirely up to WineAlign.