First Published Costa News Group June 2010

BODEGAS MIGUEL TORRES

A WELCOME RETURN TO THE WINES OF ONE OF SPAIN’S MOST PRESTIGIOUS BODEGAS!

I haven’t written about the wines of Bodega Miguel Torres for a couple of years now. I promise you this is not a knee-jerk reaction to the criticism I received once accusing me of being in the pay of Señor Torres, so complimentary was I about his wines. A serious wine critic must be impartial and I know that I am, and was being so when I was heaping praise on this bodega which in some ways may be considered more of a Spanish Institution rather than just a winery.

Bodegas Miguel Torres survived the dreadful troubles of the Spanish War (including heartbreaking vandalism of the building and the barricas which housed its super wines) and the subsequent depression here in Spain, whilst establishing a practically unheard of export trade, particularly in the USA.

Bodegas Miguel Torres is a shining example of how big can be beautiful – and this bodega isn’t just large, it’s huge! It now makes wines in several different areas of Spain, not only in its own backyard of Penedés, as well as in other countries, including Chile and the USA, where the current Miguel’s sister, Marimar Torres makes world class wines, specialising in Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.

You can imagine my delight therefore, when I was in Barcelona earlier this year, to be able to enjoy a tasting with Mireia Torres, Miguel’s daughter! This elegant, erudite, almost aristocratic and yet very charming young lady – certainly knows her wines and indeed, understandably has an unshakeable belief in them. Mireia has not only grown up with Torres wines but has of course studied wine too. Like many in the Torres wine portfolio, it’s an unbeatable blend!

Manso de Velasco 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon is their best wine from Chile. The vineyard from which the grapes were handpicked is 100 years old, the must (juice) has a lengthy maceration and stainless steel fermentation is followed by a year in French Oak. It’s a wine that speaks of super-mature, opulent fruit, subtle oak and bags of sunshine tempered by adequate acidity gained from higher altitude. NB as it’s from Southern Hemisphere Chile it’s roughly 6 months more advanced in its development than a European wine of the same vintage.

Perpetual 2007 is from Priorat and again is their flagship offering from this wonderful wine area where the steep mountainsides which are home to the vineyards are difficult to work but are so well drained. Also whilst the soils contain little nutritious material to feed the vines they are nevertheless full of minerals that make such an impact on the wines.

The vines for Perpetual are an average of 55 years of age. It’s a small production and the wines have a marked minerality with very dark fruit combining with spices, liquorice and some black pepper and for me just the faintest hint of the spray one might sniff when cutting a dark green pepper. It’s a big wine in the mouth (15·5% abv) and enough fruit, acidity and tannin to develop for 10 more years!

The high alcohol content surprised me. Torres is not known for abundance of alcohol (except maybe in their brandies!) and yet this is an unusually high abv (alcohol by volume). Mireia explained that over the last years all their wines are coming in with a higher abv – a natural result of climate change. There is more sunshine, higher temperatures and this results in more sugar in the grape – it’s the sugar that is converted to alcohol!

It’s a problem that is occurring to such an extent in Australia that some areas can no longer make good wine as the phenolic development of the skins (a crucial part of winemaking) is not keeping apace with the sugar development of the juice. Typically, for such a broad thinking bodega, Miguel Torres boffins are on the case with plans to make sure that this does not happen here.

For example their blends will be changing with more of the naturally lower alcohol varieties being in used to lower the overall abv. Plantings will be at higher altitudes, more leaf coverage will be encouraged and different rootstocks will be considered.

Mas Borras 2007 is 100% Pinot Noir – a notoriously difficult variety to perfect, but one that will reward the grower’s patience with some masterly wines. Grown in Penedés at about 500 meters above sea level in a specific vineyard whose soils and aspect to the sun have been carefully considered for this variety, the wine has acidity and tannin aplenty at the moment but with a lovely rich depth of fruit, again some liquorice and minerality too. Nine months in one and two year old oak and time in bottle in the cellar finish the wine. It’s a Torres classic!

Finally, for this tasting at least, we tried the wine that perhaps made Miguel Torres famous – Mas La Plana. The 2006 vintage is 100% Cabernet Sauvignon, there was a dreadful downpour during the normal harvest time, but these grapes were harvested afterwards when drying winds had done a perfect job in making sure that the grapes arrived at the winery in perfect shape.

The juice was in contact with the skins for 4 weeks to extract all the colour, flavour and tannin that are required to build a wine to last of perhaps 20 years! At the moment dark fruits come from the depths of this wine, with noticeable tannin and some minerality but it is not the finished product. This wine is one to buy now and bury in your cellar for say another 5 years and then to taste and plan when you will imbibe the rest of the case. It’s going to be a wonderful wine!

Bodegas Aragonesas, DO Campo de Borja

BODEGAS ARAGONESAS, DO CAMPO DE BORJA

MAN SHALL NOT LIVE BY FAGUS ALONE!

 Avid readers (so that’s Claire, my brother and my Aunty Joyce, I guess) may remember my December article ‘The Costa News Top Ten’. This annual article is gaining interest and, dare I say, fame and influence each year. For me it’s very difficult to write as I have to squeeze into just 10 places the best Spanish wines I have tasted for Cork Talk during the year.

 You can imagine the difficulty as there are so many wonderful exclusively Spanish wines from which to choose. It end’s up with me having to split the points I award to each wine, by decimal point to reach a final top ten conclusion and even then there are usually two who share a place, 3= for example, as it is just impossible to decide between them.

 As is my custom, when the list is finally completed and awaiting publication in all four titles of the Costa News Group, I send it also to those bodegas who have made it into the Top Ten. Whilst I’m not saying that this is the major ‘prize’ that such bodegas receive each year it is nevertheless important recognition to them as it is often the English speaking public, i.e. Costa News readers, who are buying their wines here in Spain.

 I often receive letters of acknowledgement and thanks. In the case of Bodegas Aragonesas, DO Campo De Borja, a leading light in the DO that sadly seems to be overshadowed in many consumers’ blinkered minds by the perhaps more illustrious and certainly more famous DOs that surround it (La Rioja, Navarra and Cariñena), I received further samples too!

 Our friends John and Mary have long been admirers of Bodegas Aragonesas’ perhaps most famous wine, Fagus de Coto de Hayas. Indeed it is this wine that causes John, a confessed Cabernet Sauvignon aficionado and dedicated fan, to stray away from his favoured variety and appreciate (equally?) the charm of Garnacha – the variety responsible for this super wine (90 points in Vinos de España’s excellent Gold Guide; and 91 points in Peñin).

 In November 2009 we went to their house for a top tasting which included Fagus and made me re-consider the placing for that year’s Top Ten. Fagus made it, with 92·5 Costa News Points, in 5th place.

 Luis Maza, Commercial Director of Bodegas Aragonesas sent me 4 wines to sample so it was only fair to repay the compliment and invite John and Mary too. Of course hangers-on(!) Hal & Jan, Ron, Jean & Eileen(!) got wind of it and suddenly we had a quorum!

 The first wine was the Coto de Hayas Roble 2008 made from a blend of Tempranillo and Cabernet Sauvignon and with the benefit of 3 months in new American Oak. Each variety is harvested and fermented separately and subsequently blended together for the oak and ageing. For the purposes of this tasting the wine was the entry level – a considerable step up from many entry levels for sure. Good fruit, some noticeable acidity and tannin which mellowed during the evening and in fact was very laid-back the next day when I enjoyed the wine even more. Decant the wine and it will be instantly ready!

 Coto de Hayas 2008 Garnacha Centenaria is the sort of wine that will convert any slave to Cabernet! This wine, as the name implies, is made from Garnacha vines of more than a hundred years of age, vines planted in the 19th Century! The low consequently low yield is harvested by hand and there follows a long maceration where the rich juice takes on colour, tannins, acidity and flavour – bags of it!

 Must (juice) from vines of this age should be handled with care – oak ageing is good, but it has to be subtle and not too long. French oak and three months only seems to be perfect as this wine is excellent. On the nose it’s full of rich dark, brambly fruit initially which with some time in the glass develops into a rich well-toasted coffee bean aroma too. In the mouth the richness fills the senses as well as the palate and there is a long finish as well.

 Coto de Hayas 2005 Reserva is made from Garnacha too, 40 years old this time and with characteristic dark fruit aromas and flavours. However it’s relative youth allows the winemaker to be a little more generous with the oak. It’s had 15 months in French and American oak plus of course time in bottle maturing in the heart of the bodega until the time for its release onto the market.

 The rich, mature fruit handles the oak perfectly and the two combine to give depth of flavour and a lasting finish. There’s the brambly blackberry fruit with some toasted vanilla from the American oak and some leather notes from the French with a slight dark chocolate note as you swallow. Lovely.

 Well the above proves that man shall not live by Fagus alone – but if you had to, it drink only Fagus it wouldn’t be a bad option! Fagus de Coto de Hayas 2006 certainly deserves its place in the Costa News Top Ten, and in your cellar.

BODEGAS DEL PALACIO DE LOS

FRONTAURA Y VICTORIA,

DO TORO & DO RIBERA DEL DUERO

During the current economic, crisis which continues to bite here in Spain, we’ve been tending to dine out rather less frequently than in previous, more stable years – you’re perhaps the same? So a restaurant meal is more of an occasion than just a meal out. Much to the chagrin of those with whom we dine, I’m always the last to order – the wine list takes precedence over the menu for me.

I always consider the House Wines – sadly though I’m often disappointed. There are still plenty of restaurants who see house wines as no more than a cash cow, rather than a statement about the quality of the establishment into which the client has just walked. Twas never thus in my restaurants.

So I find myself perusing the fine wines list whilst those about me are navigating through the straits of starters and main courses. I look first of all for the number of DOs represented – I’m almost totally deflated if I see a full page of Rioja’s with but a few other areas mentioned as an after thought. Less so, but it still happens I’m afraid (clearly such restaurants need to visit www.colinharknessonwine.com to see how I can help them!). Whatever happened to diversity in a country so rich in different wine styles and top quality wines?

Recently I’ve started searching for the DO Toro section, eschewing the more glamorous areas of production, looking for top quality but without the top price tag. DO Toro will deliver! I’ve really come to love the wines from this North Western outpost of Spain, almost adjacent to Portugal, whose deeply coloured wines combine power with elegance, speaking so eloquently of their terroir with a heady blend of minerality, dark red fruit and subtle oak.

When I find the wines of Bodegas Palacio de los Frontaura y Victoria listed (sadly this is not often enough though) I know I have found my choice. I love all the wines I have tried from this bodega and that includes the recent addition to their portfolio, a wine made in nearby Ribera el Duero which will no doubt be appearing on the appropriate page soon.

I first came across this bodega when I received a press release some years ago from Virginia of their PR Dept. My comment that, whilst it was interesting to receive the news I really needed some samples too, was heeded and some bottles speedily winged their way to me. I was delighted with the standard as they acted as more than worthy ambassadors for the area from whence they came.

Recently I received some more:

Vega Murillo is young, their entry level wine from 100 % Tinta de Toro. There’s no oak with this wine, and it doesn’t need it either. It’s fresh and fruit driven and is a wine to enjoy with friends. Sure you can drink it with food, but it doesn’t need it – if you like a young wine but one with some depth and character, try this, it knocks sports of many that try but fail to fulfil that role. The Worl Cup is still on – drink it as you enjoy the festival of football!

Dominio de Valdelacasa Cosecha 2006 is made from 100% Tinta de Tora (aka Tempranillo) selected from vineyards whose kilos per hectare rate is low ensuring richer grapes at harvest time. Macerated for 22 days to extract deep colour and plenty of flavour from the skins and then fermented in temperature controlled stainless steel the wine is dark in colour with subtle oak influences. It’s enjoyed 6 months, mostly in French oak but with a lovely vanilla American oak lick too.

There’s a touch of pencil lead and shavings on the nose but with dark red, intense fruit compote, notes too ensuring that the wood complements rather than dictates the taste.

Frontaura Crianza 2005 is made from old vines. Stainless steel maceration and fermentation again, though this time a lengthier stay in exclusively French oak. When the cork pops the room is filled almost instantaneously with that wonderful aroma with which those of us who have toured bodega cellars are so pleasantly conversant.

The vineyards are about 700 metres above sea level, intense summer sunshine is tempered by far cooler night time temperatures allowing the grapes to ripen fully and yet to retain crucial acidity. It’s all about rich, mature dark fruits, laced together with complementary oak giving off a touch of liquorice with leather notes and a slight dark chocolate and well toasted Columbian coffee bean finish. I love this wine!

And so to Nexus, the new wine and indeed the first in a planned range of Ribera del Duero wines whose attractive purple label and foil have already won it some design awards. It’s the Crianza 2005 made from veteran Tempranillo grapes but the style is vivacious with fruit to the fore and a balancing oak presence which lets you know that whilst it is easy drinking it’s also a serious wine, with depth and subtlety too. It’s a sensual, very feminine wine and one that the ladies will certainly enjoy, not just because of its quite stunning presentation but because of its elegance. This wine is a certain winner and I for one cannot wait to taste the others when they come on stream.

First Published in Costa News Group, May 2010

BODEGAS FARIÑA

THE MOST PRO-ACTIVE BODEGA IN D.O. TORO?

 There are many French wine producers who, if you catch them during a veracious moment, will tell you that it does not pay to keep your head in the sand in the competitive world of winemaking/marketing! Considerable market share was lost by chateaux that did just that as their inert, wholly inappropriate response to the influx of New World wines into Europe in the 80’s and 90’s. Some never recovered.

 In Spain it was a different story. Bodegas were happy to listen to new ideas, invest in modern technology and to blend these with their own winemaking tradition. It’s proven to be a winning mix. However as many bodegas did this there was a danger that the status quo, albeit now on a higher level, would remain the same. The trick was to become pro-active rather than re-active if bodegas wanted to move ahead of their national competitors.

Nicola seals the deal with an important export client!

In my time in wine (some twenty years now) I’ve not come across a more pro-active person than Nicola, of Bodegas Fariña. Formerly of Bodegas Bajoz (where she and the similarly young team completely turned around the fortunes of this cooperative bodega until, inexplicably, the owners did an about turn), Nicola went to Bodegas Fariña where she was given her head, and where she continues to enjoy such support.

 I received from Nicola several wines to taste in this new year and then was delighted to meet her again in Alimentaria, Barcelona. Over several wine tastes (incidentally, with her main distributor from India – demonstrating the strength of the export arm of Bodegas Fariña), we discussed the nature of the business, the wines we were tasting and of course the bodega’s plans for the future. She and Bodegas Fariña remain as forward thinking as ever and their increasing sales, both in the domestic market as well as in exports reveal how it is this attitude that will ensure progress during such troubled financial times.

 As long as the wines are good!

 Well have no fear, if you like your red wines to be darkly coloured, full of fruit character with wholly integrated oak and mineral notes too, this is where you should look.

 The first wine tasted, at home in my office (equipped with various tasting glasses, decanters, vacuvins and assorted wine tasting paraphernalia) was the fresh and fruity Primero 2009, which boasts being made from grapes that were on the vines in September and in the bottle just two months later – Toro Nouveaux!

 Beaujolais it’s not, however, and I mean that as a compliment. The French equivalent is made from the far lighter coloured and more delicately flavoured Gamay variety. Primero is made from Tinta de Toro (aka Tempranillo) – which, as the name implies (the blood of bulls!), is a deeper, darker and richer drop all together! And yet the carbonic maceration method by which it is made ensures that it is as fruity as you like – great start!

 Next we went for the Colegiata Tinto 2009 – same year, same varieties but not Carbonic Maceration. A different style of wine, fruity for sure, with violets on the nose but a little deeper, even without wood. The Gran Colegiata Tinto Roble 2008, as its name suggests, has had some oak ageing (4 months) but that’s not all – it’s made only from the free run juice, the best juice, obtained before major pressing. Taste this and compare it with most cheap supermarket wines, whose grapes have been crushed, not pressed, mercilessly!

 Gran Colegiata Crianza 2006 Roble Frances, has of course been aged in French Oak, in fact for 11 months. The trademark dark colour is enhanced by the concentrated nature of the wine. It’s spicy with elements of burnt wood on the nose and yet in the mouth it’s all fruit, dark and brambly. The Reserva 2001 also has 100% Tinta de Toro grapes but more time in wood, American, and in bottle too. It’s super winemaking as the often exuberant American oak (in-your-face, to put it in American parlance!) is tamed to be an integral, complementing element rather than ruling the roost.

 The Gran Colegiata Campus is their flagship wine. There’s a nice link between the ancient Roman name for Toro, Campus, and the fact that Spain’s oldest University, now situated in Salamanca actually originated in Toro, campus and all! The grapes are hand-harvested from 50 – 140(!) year old Tinta de Toro vines and then the selection table is used to sort only the best grapes for the final choice. Taste the wine and you’ll see that all this care is well worth it! A Costa News Top Ten wine, and deserving of the plaudit!

 So these are the Fariña wines tasted at home but what of those tasted in Barcelona? Well pro-active is the by-word – Spanish Sons is a brand made in co-operation with an American distributor. The play on the word ‘Sons’ is obvious in one sense, we all talk about the sunshine in Spain, but this is spelt the other way, meaning children, and the artistic label has silhouettes of the three generations that are behind the Fariña business. Made from 50% Tempranillo from the VdlT vineyards they operate and 50% Tinta de Toro from Toro.

 Ricardo Sanchez is another joint venture from their VdlT vineyards, but this time with a German distributor. Vineyards of 50 – 70 years of age produce the grapes, some of which are from Pie Franco vines, descendants of the philoxera-resistant vines of another age.

 If you have a look in Carrefour you’ll find Fariña wines and also in Mercadonna you’ll see the environment-friendly wines which use less glass and make less of a carbon footprint. All of the above is in the pro-active camp, as I said, but don’t expect Nicola or Bodegas Fariña to let the grass grow under feet. This bodega is at the forefront of innovation in DO Toro, all the time seeking to please the client, both with the quality of the wine and in the way they are made.