Argument suggests that the cradle of wine civilization, borne of Levant and of Mesopotamia should rightfully translate to talk of global influence and relevance as emanating from Greece and the Middle East. Not so much. The epicentre lies further west. A commonality shared by the modern romantic, European wine-producing nations is a mojo modus constructed of the most complex declensions. The language of the big three, France, Italy and Spain, inflects in case and number, the benchmark for fine and designed wine.
Spain’s vinous history stretches about as far back as that of its Western European neighbours and though it so often plays kissing cousin, Spanish winemakers do not pussyfoot in producing superannuated yet contemporary wine. My tastings over the previous two years of western (Latin) Europe’s 2009 and 2010 vintages have somewhat and hopefully only temporarily soured my palate for beloved southern Rhônes, especially from the village of Châteauneuf-du-Pape. Up until a year ago I would have put CdP up against any global comparatives for quality and value in the $30-50 range. So many current examples, especially those 2010′s, are hot, over-extracted and completely out of balance. That feeling is also coming out of Piedmont (in particular from a virus of cheap, under $35, traipsing and awkwardly ambling Barolo), but also newly endemic in a hyperbolic convoy of flamboyant and trashy-sexy Tuscan IGT and Brunello. This, sniff, from my first wine love.
Winemakers in Spain (and zooming in more specifically) from Ribera del Duero, Rioja and Montsant are more careful not to fall into modish vinification traps like sugar and spice wood splintering (France) or terroir-void, vinous compost (Italy). They are masters of their wine technique domains, in control of reductive aromas and in deft touch with acidification. Don’t misunderstand me. France and Italy are blessed with brilliant wines and winemakers. Conversely, there are plenty of examples out there these days in high-octane, alcohol elevated, barrel age-leveraging in ultra-modern Spanish wine. There are also wine making superstars. Red and white wine heroes. Matias Calleja, Juan Carlos Vizcarra, Maria Barúa, Luisa Freire and Alvaro Palacios all achieve Iberian nirvana by striking a balance between old and new world, antediluvian and 21st century, all the while making large quantities of commercially successful wine.
Bodegas Beronia talks of their “commitment to quality wine that expresses the personality of theterroir.” Their goal? “A philosophy based on respect for the environment and an ability to adapt to new market trends, maintaining the essence of Rioja.” Matías Calleja defines it: ”We combine art technology with traditional methods of production.”
According to their Ontario agent, Woodman Wines and Spirits, “if anyone embodies the promise and spirit of “The New Spain”, it is Alvaro Palacios.” It has not been much more than 20 years since he took control of the esteemed empire built by his father, Jose Palacios Remondo, but Alvaro Palacios has already become one of Spain’s most famous and well-respected winemakers.
Here are 10 perfect Spanish wines to pour, ponder and debate the popularity vs. quality discussion and to open the door to ancient, state of the art Spanish wine.
Alvaro Palacios Camins del Priorat 2011 (216291, $22.95) is composed from 50 per cent Samsó (Carinena), 40 per cent Garnacha and a 10 per cent split between Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah. A child of young vines, ready to roll Spanish charmer with a mingling floral nose, in barberry and bursting blueberry. Outlined by notes of pencil and charcoal. Timely acidity helps ease the heavy alcohol with some essential balancing grace. Stealth, arid ride through calcareous rock, deciduous oak and viburnum. There is something historical here, crafted yet serious. 91
Lan Gran Reserva 2005 (928622, $27.95) and its makers may now just be a cog in the Sogrape empire but it continues to do its own thing. Has that evolution I look for in Rioja. The slightest oxidative note, heaps of herbs and the umami of salty clashes with smokey Jamon. Rioja expressive of one love and one heart. Caught bobbing, dancing and wailing right in its wheelhouse, giving everything it’s made of, no holds barred and no questions asked. “Is there a place for the hopeless sinner?” Yes, in a glass of a weathered, leathery and just flat out real as it gets red Rioja. 92 @BodegasLan
Bodegas Vizcarra JC Vizcarra 2010 (214650, $28.95) while 100 per cent Tempranillo could understandably be confused for Bordeaux or Châteauneuf-du-Pape. Wood driven to be sure, shrouded in tobacco, vanilla, coconut and the prevailing, hedonistic attributes of the Left Bank or the Rhône. Bounding in berries and liqueur with a hit of phite. JC works because it comes together by adhering to Tempranillo’s early ripening, Cabernet-like, savoury chain of command. Compliments all around to an under $30 powerful yet beauteous Ribera, all out contempo, flaunting and billowing gorgeous. Wow times ten for flavour, if a bit too much of a good thing. 91 @DrinkRibera
Bodegas Beronia, Patria Restaurant, July 18, 2013
Beronia Viura 2012 (Coming to VINTAGES January 18th, 2014 – 190801, $14.95) exsufflates super ripe, fresh picked pear and emollient herbiage in pure, angled control. One hundred per cent, quick macerated and cold stabilized Viura of aromatics locked in tight. A pour that leads to a starburst of flavour. Complexity reaches the sea in an underlying tide of salinity. 89
Beronia Tempranillo 2010 (LCBO, 243055, $11.65) is a warm, tempered, six months in Sherry cask-driven “one-half Crianza” but not classified as such. Specifically crafted for the North American market, the oak is the protagonist, while the Tempranillo lies in macerated cherry state. At $12 it’s a no-brainer, crafted by a conscientious and forward-thinking vintner. 86
Beronia Crianza 2009 (Consignment, $16.95, Barque Smokehouse) offers more terroir and less barrel interference, in pursuit of a fruit/tension equilibrium. Redolent as if berries, cherries and plums were on the crush pad, with a touch of modernity as a result of both new and used barrels. Classic style (1970′s) Rioja, a five to seven-year wine. 89
Beronia Gran Reserva 1973 is both the dawn of a first vintage pathfinder and fountain of youth. Fast forward from the pre-disco vintage to ubiquitous 90′s soul-searching structure and know it was clearly there with untested confidence back in the beginning. Earth, Spanish bramble and aged expertly in barrel, you can ”tie a yellow ribbon ’round the ole oak tree” with this genesis of Rioja. Tempranillo, Graciano, Mazuelo and five per cent Viura. Twenty minutes in the glass and still so alive. Old school with the proviso to entertain. 93
Beronia Gran Reserva 1982 is highly evolved, gone milky, breaking down as by proteolytic enzyme. A study in caramel, fruit removed, out of tension, past. A second bottle not tasted was purportedly sound, though not corroborated. NR
Beronia Gran Reserva 1994 spent 34 months in new and used barrels. The bridge from past to future, definitive for Rioja in every pertinent way. Fragrant in licorice, iron and bigarreau cherry. American oak to see a 2020 future in shag, snuff, tea and forest compost. 94
Beronia Gran Reserva 2006 (VINTAGES, Release date TBD – 940965, $34.95) is so youthful it actually gives me bubble gum and dark black cherry from just a swirl. American vanillin oak and terrible tannins in a frightfully tough to assess wine Calleja says “will maintain this intensity for four to six years.” Oh, and then “will continue to evolve for 20-25 more,” slowly modulating as a result of its natural acidity. Judgment currently reserved though the future looks extremely promising. 92
Good to go!