Friday 18 November 2011

Spain, more than just Tempranillo

Spain has been quite active in Hong Kong lately. Less than a month after José Peñin’s visit to promote his Peñin Guide to Spanish Wine 2011, the Spanish were back in town for the first Grand Tasting of Top Wines from Spain, led by the President of the Rioja DOCa Regulatory Board, Victor Pascual, with whom I had an interesting discussion.

Victor emphasised that Tempranillo is now recognised as one of the world's noble grapes and in recent years has been the most widely planted variety in a number of countries. He said Tempranillo’s personality is closely linked to the territory in which it is grown, and it reaches its fullest expression in Rioja. Moreover, oak, whether American or French, new or old, is an integral part of Rioja, giving wines from the region their individual characters. Rioja wine is balanced in terms of alcohol level, acidity, body and structure. Its easy-to-drink character is a safe choice for consumers and matches a wide range of cuisines. If Tempranillo is the national grape of Spain, then Rioja must surely be the national wine.

Great as Tempranillo and Rioja may be, one should not forget other Spanish varieties and regions. Grenache (Garnacha) and Carignan (Mazuela) are the silent partners of Rioja, giving the wine a fruitier profile, brighter colour and higher acidity. Grenache and Carignan are also the stars in Southern Spain where it is too hot for Tempranillo. Priorat gives them their fullest expression as most grapes come from old vines.

I always think Spanish white wine is under-rated. Albarino from Rias Baixas has pleasant, non-pungent aromas, good acidity and texture and is versatile enough to pair well with many medium intensity dishes.

Of course we should not forget Sherry. It has never been a big thing in Hong Kong but I particular like the lighter Fino and Manzanilla styles, which are great aperitifs and refreshing after a whole day of wine tasting. In London a few sherry tapas bars have sprung up, serving only sherry. I would love it if there was a similar bar in Hong Kong in the near future.

Last but not least, a good quality Cava is always an alternative to Champagne. At Wine Future, I tasted a very good one, Segura Viudas Reserva Heredad with up to four years on lees, and was told that it was retailing at Watson’s Wine for only $198! Stock up quick, before they increase the price.

I only tried wines from three producers at this tasting. Big tastings like this are more like social events. It took me two hours to walk from one end of the room to the other and I was exhausted from talking, not tasting. Anyway, the wine that stood out was Pago de los Capellanes Parcela ‘El Nogal’ 2005, 100% Tempranillo from Ribera del Duero. It is vibrant, concentrated, with a long length but not heavy. Available from Ponti Wine Cellars.

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