WHISTLE STOP TOUR OF SPAIN.

Grandes Pagos de Espana.

 

As the world’s winemakers look to single vineyard wines to mark them out from the crowd, a trip through southern Spain with the Grandes Pagos de Espana took one-up-manship to a different level. Grab your passport and join me on this whistlestop tour.

The Grandes Pagos de Espana are an association of top Spanish single wine estates, “equivalent to the Grand Crus of Bordeaux and Burgundy”, according to President Carlos Falco. There are 30 member estates spread throughout Spain from Rioja in the north to Jerez in the south; you can check them all out at www.grandespagos.com. Look out for the black square logo on the back label. That said, I think the logo’s too small and should include “Single Estates of Spain” below “Grandes Pagos de Espana” to better explain the concept to the global consumer.

We flew into Madrid and then took a smooth 3 hour plus train journey south to Jerez – the train is a great way of seeing Spain by the way. We were welcomed by the Sherry Bodega of Valdespino and under the 30 degree sun walked the legendary white chalk (Albariza) Macharnudo vineyards before exploring their cathedral-like cellars, tasting wines that ranged from Fino (bone dry and nutty) to sweet, honeyed Moscatel. Crack open a bottle of Valdespino Don Gonzalo Dry Olorosso as an aperitif when your guests arrive this weekend.

A short drive from Jerez found us at Finca Moncloa where winemaker Jose Manuel Pinedo is passionate about blending classic varieties with traditional Tempranillo. Finca Moncloa is an attractive blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Merlot and Tempranillo.

From Jerez we drove east across the mountains to Ronda, the incredible white walled town that straddles its famous deep rock gorge; the wines from the region surprised me bigtime. After a barrel tasting in Los Aguilares’ cool winery we enjoyed their refreshing crushed strawberry (Tempranillo and Petit Verdot) Rosado 2014 in the vineyards under a 300 year old oak. At lunch we opened Aguilares’ acclaimed Tadeo 2012 (100% Petit Verdot) and Pago El Espino (Petit Verdot, Tempranillo and Merlot). Aguilares’ Pinot Noir surprised me – how is it possible to make such a balanced wine from this most flirtatious of grapes in such a hot climate? Crisp and controlled, this red fruit beauty was an eye opener.

Then it was back to Madrid for a night on the town before an early start and the high speed train heading south-east to Albacete; we were there by 11.00 to be whisked off to Finca (Estate) Elez near El Bonillo, a small, deserted village in La Mancha. In the heart of Spain and the middle of nowhere at over 1000 metres above sea level, the daytime summer temperatures climb to 40 degrees plus; evidently no worries to the Tempranillo, Merlot, Syrah and Chardonnay vines. ‘MM’ Escana barrel-aged Syrah 2007 showed well, the Escana Syrah 2013 even better. In case you’re wondering, ‘MM’ is the owner of the estate, the famous Spanish actor Manuel Manzaneque.

A drive across the dry plains of La Mancha saw us in Bobal (grape) territory. At Finca Sandoval, a Bobal, Syrah and Monistrell (aka Mouvedre) blend grown on limestone soils in the cool 2013 vintage produced a crisp, tannin edged blackberry red of note.

An hour’s drive east saw us at Bodega Mustiguillo near Utiel, just 90 kilometres from Valencia where Bobal is still king. Some of their vines date back to 1919; these knurled vines, each yielding just three bunches produce dense, tannic wines. Tannin plays a big part in Bobal wines, so they’re excellent with food … Mustiguillo’s Quincha Corrall 2012 caught the eye – that’s if you can stretch to an £50 price tag. If £18 sounds better, pull the cork on Mustiguillo’s Finca Calvestra.

At Mustiguillo I discovered a new white grape variety called Merseguera. I don’t think Chardonnay will be losing too much sleep but it’s well worth a try.

A 300 kilometre car dash back to Madrid, the ‘plane to London Gatwick and home to 13 degrees; how to lose 20 degrees in just 2 hours! Happily I didn’t lose the memories of an amazing country and some wonderful wines all linked by the Grandes Pagos de Espana label.