James Halliday’s visit, another wine critic was recently in town promoting his latest wine guide. This time it was José Peñin from Spain. José has over 30 years experience in wine journalism. He is sometimes called the Robert Parker of Spain and was awarded the Jury Special Prize for the best wine guide in the 2007 Gourmand Book Prizes. The Peñin Guide to Spanish Wine 2011 features more than 13,000 wines of which over 8,000 were sampled by a team of four tasters.
It was frustrating having to talk to José via an interpreter who only had minimal wine knowledge, as complex questions and answers were often lost. I know I could have got a lot more insightful opinions if I could have spoken to him directly—I should have learnt my Spanish better! Nevertheless, I can just about profile his general thoughts on Spanish wines.
Like most experts, José believes in terroir. Spain’s various wine regions are capable of producing widely differing wine styles thanks to differences in climate, soil and altitude. But it is always important to choose the right grape varieties. Tempranillo may be the flagship grape of Spain, but in hot, dry Priorat it will not produce the same great wine it does in Rioja. The south should concentrate on Garnacha (Grenache), Monastrell (Mourvèdre) and Cariñena (Carignan). He also disputes the notion that high alcohol is a consequence of global warming, asserting that Priorat wines have always been 14.5% alcohol or above. Instead, he emphasises the significance of high altitude vineyards. The high altitude counterbalances the high temperatures, allowing grapes to ripen slowly and fully without accumulating too much sugar. Hmm. I agree with most of this but wonder how many will accept his view about global warming. Or maybe something was lost in translation?
Asked about his favourite wine, José says he is still exploring. Regardless of the grape, the region or the price, good wine must have personality. He has certainly stuck to this philosophy when tasting the wines for the Peñin Guide. And for the Great Spanish Wine tasting in Hong Kong he was accompanied by 26 wineries that had scored 90 points or above. Most are small to medium size wineries with vines of great age, some over 100 years old. The wines are concentrated and expressive and definitely have personality.
One last comment from José: when he is with family and friends, it doesn’t matter what wine he is drinking—it is the company that matters.
My favourites at the tasting were:
Domaines Lupier La Dama 2008: 100% Grenache from Navarra. Concentrated and expressive.
Paco & Lola 2010: 100% Albariño grapes from Rias Baixas. Intense aroma, fresh and lively.
Vinyes Domenech Teixar 2007: 100% Grenache from Montasant. Powerful, spicy and round tannins.