This week’s Cork Talk is the concluding half of a short two part series featuring the best Spanish wines entered in the International Wine and Spirits Competition 2014.

This year the Spanish Panel of the IWSC awarded six of these medals of honour! It was fascinating for me to hear that three of these truly excellent wines were in fact Sherries; two were Riojas; and one was a sparkling wine – not Cava, though, a wine about which I have written in this column. A sparkling wine from DO Rías Baixas, and the subject of last week’s article!

So Spain’s old guard stands firm, but a new kid on the block makes its mark too, and maybe opens doors for other enterprising young winemakers to challenge tradition and in so doing up the ante in terms of the quality of Spanish wines. How lucky we are to live here at such a dynamic wine-time!

Cork Talk, this week is about the remaining five of these demonstrably six excellent wines.

As mentioned last week, DO La Rioja has been going through a period of significant change. Traditional wines have had to move over to allow more modern styles some shelf space. These newer, Vino d’Autor, wines shouldn’t be seen as usurpers, there’s room enough for both types. And it’s we consumers who are benefiting – the challenge of the contemporary wines has caused a shake-up in any bodegas that were sitting on their laurels.

El Meson Rioja Gran Reserva 2004 from Bodegas El Coto, part of the Grupo Baron de Ley empire, is copybook Rioja Gran Reserva. Combining presence with subtlety, power with sensuality, the taster is seduced from the moment the cork is pulled. There’s a note of sweet light red fruit with a raison undercurrent as well as a hint of darker bramble fruit too.

FAMILY MOON + Gold Outstanding IWSC 2014 128

It’s a fully rounded, delightful wine that should be served deferentially at dinner when there is time to savour the flavour and discuss the complexity. Still alive, with and matured tannins and the necessary acidity, it is slowly ageing, but oh so gracefully!

Also from Rioja’s hallowed Gran Reserva range comes Bodegas Ramon Bilbao’s Gran Reserva 2006 – but it’s a wholly different animal! To qualify for Gran Reserva status a wine has to have undergone a minimum of two years in oak and a further three in bottle before it can be legally released onto the market. In reality though, this time in the quiet dark of the bodega’s cellars is often longer than the prescribed minimum.

It is of course the responsibility of the Head Winemaker to decide when the wine should be brought into the light, taking into account the vintage from whence the wine came and, of course, its development over time. It’s clear to me that this slightly younger wine than the above is now at its height in terms of sheer pleasure, and indeed it has some years left to develop further and give perhaps even more.

In the glass it’s brick red giving a clue as to its age. On the nose you’ll find tantalising earthy soft red fruit aromas – sniff out loganberry and raspberry with perhaps some not quite ripe strawberry acidity to keep the wine fresh! You’ll also find some herbs, understated rosemary, slightly more prominent thyme underpinned with enveloping bay leaf and some smoky oak.

But it’s on the palate where the wine really excels (as if the above wasn’t quite enough!) it’s delicate and yet full with lasting fruit flavours kept alive by a refreshing acidic lick and a long, long finish. Wow, I loved this wine!

Sherry. What does it mean to you? (Watch this space in the weeks to come and you’ll be able to learn a little more about sherry and some interesting and very tasty developments in Spain’s oldest wine making region.). Well, if it means your Grandmother’s Christmas tipple – please, think again. Jerez, the correct name, has also been, and continues to go, through a period of change. Jerez is being sexed up – and I’m all in favour!

It’s not surprising, therefore, to see that the remaining three IWSC Gold Outstanding medals were all given to the fortified wines of Jerez!

Manzanilla is a style of Sherry that I particularly enjoy. Almost water coloured it’s as fresh as sea-spray and it has that slightly salty flavour too. As such it makes just about the best aperitif there is! Sip it with pan-fried, lightly salted almonds, Manchego curado and finely sliced jamon Serrano – delicious.

Bodegas Williams and Humbert make Marks and Spencer’s Manzanilla and it’s this wine that, having won Silver at the IWSC last year, has stepped up to the top rung of the quality ladder.

Now, according to what one reads and hears on the news, M&S aren’t doing anything like as well as they were when, for example, I left the UK nearly twenty years ago. However, this isn’t the case with the drinks arm of their business.

Year on year M&S’ wine selections and indeed their ‘own brand’ wines are given medals and plaudits. This Manzanilla is one of the reasons why! It’s complex and intense whilst retaining a youthful exuberance. Restaurants must love it as it brings an almost immediate desire to eat something! Use it thus, as suggested, with aperitifs but also think about drinking this sherry with fish dishes as well. Salty with a touch of spice – spend just 6·99 pounds(!) and buy it when you next go to the UK!

Amontillado is often thought of as a slightly sweet sherry – it’s been made that way for the British market for years, allegedly to satisfy the British sweet tooth! However, in its natural state this full, orange/brown coloured sherry is dry, and much the better for it.  Again we’ll go to the cellars of Williams and Humbert for our next winner. That’s two Gold Outstandings from the same stable – I’ll bet there’s been some toasting going on there since the results were announced!

Williams and Humbert’s Colección 12 Yrs Old is a deeply flavoured, full bodied sherry that is pure pleasure to sip on its own. Mature, complex and intense it still manages to be elegant in its power. It’s tangy with a nuttiness that makes you long for almonds and walnuts, strong cheeses, a selection of cold meats and even with seafood too.

Finally the last IWSC Gold Outstanding medal was awarded to a venerable sherry, one that has seen off a minimum of thirty harvests and yet is as bright as they come. It’s a different style, a Palo Cortado – a rare wine that magically changed course when it was developing as a Fino or an Amontillado (sometime early 80s!!), taking on a deep tan and developing a very slightly medium sweet nuance, though sweet, it’s not, nor medium!

There are some dried fruits on the nose of Harvey’s Very Old Palo Cortado, mature raisons soaked in brandy too. It’s nutty, pecan nuts with hazelnuts and a ripe fullness, with an intense depth and subtle layers of flavours as you descend ever more deeply into its welcome. I enjoyed it with mixed nuts and raisons, a digestive too, but also with good quality jamón a both hard and creamy strong sheeses– it’s adaptable, and it’s also perfectly happy to be savoured on its own!

As it’s Harvey’s it’s also available in the UK, though it comes from a limited production – so snap it up, as soon as you see it!

Contact Colin: and though his wine services website, as well as via Twitter @colinonwine

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