My diary is currently filled with tasting requests for one country above all others….Spain!
Why Spain, you may ask. Well, no country does value for money quite like Spain - and no one likes a bargain more than us Brits - so you can’t go wrong – or can you?
The answer is an emphatic yes, particularly if you don’t know what you are doing, as there are problems at all levels of the market.
Quality is key, and, to put it mildly, this is extremely variable.
Lets take the top end first. Spain’s great wines have earned their reputation over generations with wines like Vina Tondonia and Vega Sicilia commanding prices seldom seen outside Bordeaux and Burgundy. Then there are the uber trendy areas like Priorat and Ribera del Duero, where prices can be eyewateringly stratospheric. But if what I have seen recently is to be tasted to be believed then trading on the reputation of your DO can be a dangerous thing.
Some growers are too insular and guilty of producing under-wined oak, masking some creakily dusty dry fruit, while others fall victim to the internationalist desire for massive over extraction in the rush to Pomerolisation and Parker points. Treacle plus alcohol plus oak just has to be good. And if you are swapping American for French then you need a big return on your investment.
And what to do with that sea of turbid Tempranillo, which has overtaken the boring Airen as the most planted grape in Spain. Why give it a retro looking label that smacks of seriousness, wrap it in gold wire, give it the name of some phoney bodega and Roberto is your uncle.
At the bottom end of the market things get very murky showing some disturbing trends such as carbonic maceration to disguise a lack of fruit and blending of Crianza wines into base Joven to hide a lack of character, resulting in a kind of dull soup sprinkled with oak croutons and increasingly high levels of oxidation.
So what do you do? Well, in a nutshell, you need a good guide or a good book.
The wines of the ‘New Spain’, as it is sometimes called, are VERY exciting and this is where the country’s growing reputation begins. Galicia, Euskadi, Bierzo, Ribeira Sacra, Ribero, Somontano, Montsant and Valdeorras are producing great wines from lesser known grape varieties like Albarino, Loureiro, Triexadura and Godello for whites, and Mencia, Bobal, Samso and grippy Merencao for reds.
And we shouldn’t overlook the islands where some great value can be had from grapes such as Listan Blanco and Negro from Tenerife as well as Prensal and Callet from Mallorca.
Get out more!