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.…
John Szabo – One of my favorite finos, Valdespino’s Inocente has complexity and depth well above the mean, one of the last bodegas to ferment wild in cask. Better flavour intensity and depth at this price you will be hard pressed to find. Length is also extraordinary.

Lustau East India Solera Sherry, (500ml), Jerez, Spain ($23.95)
John Szabo – Complex to say the least, burnished by time, full of salted caramel and dried fruits and roasted nuts – this is a tour de flavour. Sweetness is balanced by umami and salty tastes.
Sara d’Amato – A love at first sip style of sherry that even novice tasters will widely enjoy. A blend of an aged dry Oloroso sherry and a sweet PX style that are further matured in cask. Concentrated but not heavy with sweetness that is delightfully balanced by freshness.

Valdespino Fino Inocente SherryLustau East India Solera SherryGonzalez Byass La Copa Vermouth

Gonzalez Byass La Copa Vermouth, Jerez, Spain ($21.95)
John Szabo – Jesus y Maria – what an explosive nose! This exceptional Spanish vermouth from González Byass is superbly complex, redolent of both fresh and dried orange/citrus peel, cinnamon and clove, and all manner of North African and exotic eastern spices, and, and… There’s too much going on here to fully describe. This is surely one of the most intense aromatic experiences I can remember (and pleasant). The palate is sweet but not heavy, just dripping with flavour, nutmeg, loads of clove, medicinal in the right way. I’d sip it on the rocks, but if using in a cocktail be aware that a little will go a very long way.
Michael Godel – The four aromatic tenets of orange, wormwood, clove and cinnamon add up to something that just smells so good. This is where Vermouth and the finest smelling Christmas Cake get together to change the world. It’s wild how it launched with great sugar cane sweetness, and then the roasted nuts, rock salinity and tannic aridity at the finish are all just a factor of combined brilliance. On its own or in the best scented Negroni you can conjure makes no difference, either way.

Spanish Red, White and Rosado

Barón de Ley 2016 Rosado, Rioja, Spain ($14.95)
Sara d’Amato – One of my favourite rosés of the international group in this release and also the least expensive. Dry, fruity, clean, deeply coloured and made from a blend of tempranillo and garnacha.

Follas Novas Albariño 2015, Do Rias Baixas, Spain ($19.95)
John Szabo – A fruity, almost late harvest style albariño, with aromatics shifting into the honey-floral spectrum, with more than a nod to riesling stylistically. The palate is firm and citrusy, light-mid-weight, and with solid length.
Michael Godel – Follas Novas delivers ideal albariño attitude and quality, beginning with a granite-mineral nose that ushers noticeably ripe fruit on a platter. The citrus comes flitting across the palate like flying birds darting this way and that, creating this picture of pure pleasure. Finally it is Minho River proximate acidity that seals the deal and yet the ideals of tang and sourness never add up to intrude. Fine, tidy and well-developed example accomplished with ease.

Barón De Ley Rosado 2016Follas Novas Albariño 2015Finca Villacreces Pruno 2015

Finca Villacreces 2015 Pruno, Ribera Del Duero, Spain ($21.95)
Sara d’Amato – A small artisanal producer that has been singled out as of late for its high quality, value oriented offerings. A blend of 90% tempranillo with a touch of cabernet sauvignon, aged in older oak barrels. Youthful and fruity, brimming with violets and licorice, giving the wine an almost garnacha-like character.

Lan 2008 Gran Reserva, Rioja, Spain ($34.95)
Sara d’Amato – An aged and complex offering from Lan that never fails to disappoint. If you like fine Burgundy, this is a wine for you that offers the quality of a much more expensive find.
Michael Godel – Lan’s Gran Reserva (or any for that matter) needed all of these nine plus years to settle the great wood allotted the firm and tense vintage fruit. The level of intensity runs high and this ranges wide to please many different palates, from ropey-acidity intense to wood-sheathed, cakey. A plethora of fruit and a gregarious amount of personality.
John Szabo – A lovely vintage for Lan’s gran reserva, generously proportioned but balanced, full and savoury, yet still holding on to significant fruit. Wood spice lights up the excellent length finish. A classy and complete ensemble all in all; drink or hold into the mid or late ’20s. Best 2017-2027.

Piñol Ludovicus 2013 Tinto, Terra Alta, Spain ($17.95)
Sara d’Amato – Old vines at high elevations characterize the wines of Terra Alta in Spain’s northeastern quadrant, adjacent to Priorat. A garnacha of exceptional value and one that has aged astonishingly well.

Lan Gran Reserva 2008Piñol Ludovicus Tinto 2013Torres Salmos 2014

Torres 2014 Salmos DOCa Priorat (31.95)
John Szabo – Another fine vintage for Torres’ Priorat, one of the better values in the appellation each year. The 2014 has the customary density and richness, ripeness without excess, and well-measured wood, alongside abundant dark fruit and savoury-earthy-scorched earth character. Very good to excellent length. I’d leave this in the cellar for another 2-3 years at least to see more development. Best 2019-2026.

Descendientes De J. Palacios 2015 Pétalos, Bierzo, Spain ($24.95)
John Szabo – Pétalos is a consistently fine and concentrated example of Bierzo from one of the region’s top producers, with considerable complexity and depth for the money. The ’15 is particularly deep and generously proportioned (14% alcohol declared), with excellent length. This is mencia to a tee, blended from dozens of parcels throughout the appellation. Best 2017-2025.
Michael Godel – Palacios takes the Bierzo style and amplifies its finer aspects. It does not modernize more than this. The fruit is dark, ripe, fleshy and beautiful. It needs to be firm to counteract all this which it manages with great style though I’d even say that more would be better. Really chewy, fruit-driven mencia for more than the geeks. Everyone is invited to this Bierzo party.
Sara d’Amato – A consumer (and critic!) favourite, Palacios’ 2015 Pétalos is in top form. It exhibits a lush sensuality but no heaviness and compelling notes of blueberry, violets, licorice and sandalwood. Modern and dynamic.

Descendientes De J. Palacios Pétalos 2015Pago De Valdoneje Mencia 2015

Pago de Valdoneje 2015 Mencía, Bierzo, Spain ($14.95)
Sara d’Amato – When produced well, Mencía has the ability to blossom when it ages, revealing many colours and holding on to fresh fruit for a great deal of time. Fortunately, it is not as expensive as tempranillo but is often more aromatic. It has less structure than the Spanish star but it can offer surprising complexity. This slightly mature find is opening up beautifully and is table-ready.
Michael Godel – Like many of the great firm, juicy and fleshy red grapes found on the western side of the European continent this mencia is at its young, ripe, simple, bushy, ropy and furry finest. Chill it well, throw some protein bites on the BBQ and enjoy the fresh and grippy fruit before you open up the more expensive and designer label, main summer events. This exceptional value is highly recommended.
John Szabo – A bright, zesty and juicy-fruity unwooded mencia, which brings to mind northern Italian barbera. This is a fine carafe wine to drink with a chill in the backyard around the BBQ. But in addition to being nicely priced, it also has depth and length above the mean for the price category.

Global Finds

Wither Hills 2015 Sauvignon Blanc, Marlborough, South Island ($19.95)
David Lawrason – Despite the intensity of Marlborough sauvignon, there are various flavour hues. This personal favourite sports big fruit with lifted  passion fruit, orange, lime and diced green peppers. It is very bright and texturally polished with a hint of sweetness rounding against the high acidity and warmth.

Vasse Felix Filius Chardonnay 2016, Margaret River, Western Australia ($24.95)
Michael Godel – Same price and highly credible follow-up is what we can all hope to taste and make comment to the great winemakers of this world so kudos to Virginia Willcock’s of Vasse Felix for doling out another eminently drinkable Filius. Still holds the Australian cool-climate chardonnay candle from the Margaret River though it’s a touch fleshier, riper and creamier in 2016. The combination of salt and stony-mineral adds up to grip and the tightness means some air is needed. A mess of grilled langoustines would also work.

Wither Hills Sauvignon Blanc 2015Vasse Felix Filius Chardonnay 2016Velenosi Villa Angela Pecorino 2015La Cadierenne Cuvée Grande Tradition Bandol Rosé 2016

Velenosi 2015 Villa Angela Pecorino, Offida, Marche, Italy ($15.95)
David Lawrason – Italy’s lesser know whites remain a great source of value. This is a fine example of pecorino from a leading producer of Adriatic Italy. It is a mid weight, fairly substantial yet fresh dry white with complex aromas of lemon, wax, honeysuckle and vague bready notes.
Sara d’Amato – A crunchy little number showing off pecorino’s floral character quite distinctively. A fresh summer find with character and vibrancy that won’t break the bank.

La Cadierenne 2016 Cuvée Grande Tradition Bandol Rosé, Provence, France ($21.95)
Sara d’Amato – Bandol Rosé is a terribly rare find on the VINTAGES shelves and thankfully, this example from La Cadierenne shows off the appellation’s renown, deeper and more complex style very well. Elegant but not wispy or dilute with a distinct salty note and plenty of local wildflower aromas.

Bastide Miraflors 2015 Syrah et vieilles vignes de Grenache, Côtes Catalanes, Languedoc-Roussillon, France ($19.95)
Sara d’Amato – An unmistakably peppery syrah that can only be the result of careful maturation control in the vineyard. Floral, spicy and wonderfully compelling, the syrah is well-balanced by the red berry appeal of a good dose of grenache. Chill down slightly to tame the heat.

Bastide Miraflors Syrah & vieilles vignes de GrenacheChateau Ste. Michelle Cabernet Sauvignon 2015Cave De Roquebrun Granges Des Combes 2015

Chateau Ste. Michelle 2015 Cabernet Sauvignon, Columbia Valley, Washington, USA ($20.95)
Sara d’Amato – A round, supple cabernet that offers a great deal of aromatic intrigue. Well-priced, judiciously oaked and offering early accessibility. Eye-catching but classic packaging for the 50th anniversary release.

Cave de Roquebrun 2015 La Grange Des Combes Saint-Chinian-Roquebrun, Languedoc-Roussillon, France ($18.95)
David Lawrason – John Szabo listed this among his recommendations last week, but I had to flag it as well. Lovey aromatics here, and considerable depth for under $20. It has a very impressive nose of black pepper, campfire embers and plum/prune fruit. It is smooth, generous and quite rich. Will drink very easily around the summer BBQ or into the fall with richer meals.

Giant Steps 2015 Pinot Noir, Yarra Valley, Victoria, Australia ($30.95)
David Lawrason – This is solid and well-priced pinot from an excellent producer. It is fairly pale but intense with lifted aromas of cran-raspberry fruit menthol, light wood smoke, and intriguing spice. It’s juicy and sour edged, with excellent flavour depth.

Giant Steps Pinot Noir 2015Majella Coonawarra Cabernet Sauvignon 2013Réva Barolo 2012

Majella 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon, Coonawarra, South Australia ($32.95)
David Lawrason – Another fine cabernet from Coonawarra – helping solidify my impression that Coonawarra ranks as perhaps the best pure cabernet region on the planet. It explodes on the nose with blackcurrant/cassis, menthol, fresh herbs, pepper and oak vanillin. It is full-bodied, dense, very streamlined with very well integrated acidity and fine tannin. Drinkable now, but will age ten years.

Réva 2012 Barolo, Piedmont, Italy ($59.95)
Sara d’Amato – For the collector on your list, this beautifully packaged Barolo offers an absorbing and complex array of flavours that are only beginning to blossom. Saline, new leather, anise and botanicals leap from the glass and offer tremendous depth on the palate.


Sara d’Amato

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Szabo’s Smart Buys
Lawrason’s Take
Sara’s Sommelier Selection
Michael’s Mix

New Release and VINTAGES Preview


Wither Hills Sauvignon Blanc 2015