MY WINES OF THE WEEK.

ALL SPANISH …. ALL RED!

‘Just back from Spain. When I first saw the itinerary I winced … Spain’s a big place but the Grandes Pagos de Espana had done their homework; our travels worked like clockwork. The Grandes Pagos de Espana are an association of top 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. I think the logo’s far too small but hey, they won’t listen to me. Whilst I’m on my soap box can I suggest that the logo should explain a lot more; Adding “Single Estates of Spain” below “Grandes Pagos de Espana” would go a long way in helping us consumers.

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 their legendary white chalk (Albariza) Macharnudo vineyards before exploring their cathedral-like bodegas, tasting wines that ranged from Fino (bone dry and nutty) to sweet, honeyed Moscatel. Crack open a bottle of Valdespino Don Gonzalo Dry Olorosso (£16.95, www.leaandsandeman.co.uk) as an aperitif when your guests arrive … ‘great start to any get-together!

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 (£13.99, Ocado) is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Merlot and Tempranillo whilst Finca Moncloa ‘11 Barrels’ 2008, £28.99, www.oxfordwine.co.uk) is a blend of Cab. and Syrah aged in French and American oak barrels – my choice with next week’s Sunday roast. 

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 tasting from several  barrels in Los Aguilares’ cool winery we enjoyed their refreshing crushed strawberry (Tempranillo and Petit Verdot) Rosado 2014 (rose to you and me) 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); £11.90 and £21 respectively at www.georgesbarbier.co.uk, 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 middle of nowhere at over 1000 metres above sea level, the daytime summer temperatures climb to 40 degrees; evidently no worries to the Tempranillo, Merlot, Syrah and Chardonnay vines. ‘MM’ Escana barrel-aged Syrah 2007 impressed me although the Escana Syrah 2013 would be even better. Unfortunately it’s not due to be released for years. Pity, I think they should release Escana sooner but hey, what do I know! 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.

A smoother 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 only 3 bunches produce dense, tannic wines. Tannin (that’s the stuff from the skins that puckers your mouth) plays a big part in Bobal wines, so they’re excellent with food … Mustiguillo’s Quincha Corrall 2012 went really well with the local beef – if you can stretch to a £55 price tag (www.bbr.com) that is. If £18.95 sounds better, pull the cork on Mustiguillo’s Finca Calvestra, also at Berry Bros.

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 trying – good for those mellow moments at the end of the meal I thought.

A 300 kilometre dash back to Madrid, the ‘plane to 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, good food and some wonderful wines.