First Published Costa News Group July 2012

A BRACE OF WINES FROM BODEGAS VALEDSIL

DO VALDEORRAS

The white wines of Bodegas Valdesil, Denominación de Origen Valdeorras, are, in my view, approaching legendary status. Their wines have figured more than once in the Costa News Top Ten wines of the year and for me the best white at last October’s Guía Peñin Los Mejores Vinos de España tasting in Madrid was not their highest scoring white, Naiades FB from Bodegas Naia, DO Rueda, but Valdesil’s Pedrouzas Magnum 2008, from Bodegas Valdesil!

I first tasted their white wines eight years ago in Barcelona at the Alimentaria Wine and Food fair. They are made exclusively for the Godello grape variety, a variety that for me can give as much pleasure, as many enticing aromas and as many deep, fruit-driven and complex flavour nuances as the illustrious Albariño from near neighbours, DO Rias Baixas. In fact I believe that, as far as the global wine world is concerned, this is a sleeping giant of a variety just waiting to be properly discovered!

I was delighted therefore to receive not only news of their new mono-varietal Montenovo 2011, but also a sample bottle. Then, only a matter of a couple of weeks later, another bottle was delivered by courier, but this time it wasn’t white wine!

In exceptional years this bodega, which has fairly extensive vineyards in North West Spain’s beautiful Galicia region, uses its Mencia vines to make a fine red wine too. My guess is that the red wines of Bodegas Valdesil will soon share the pantheon alongside their established white wines. You really should check them out!

The white Montenovo 2011 has, on the nose and along with super fruit-laden and floral perfumes, the typical characteristic of wines made from grapes grown in the slate infused soils of DO Valdeorras – minerality. Popular with wine writers and connoisseurs, this characteristic brings added value (fortunately not subject to extra tax – as yet!) to wines that display super fruit and floral aromas and tastes.

To state that minerality in wines comes from the soils in which the wines grow is only part of the answer. It’s true that vines growing in slate/stone/granite/seashell littered soil will pick up and pass on their mineral aromas and even flavours to the wine, but minerality is more than this. The climate and micro-climate will also lend a hand. In fact the French word ‘Terroir’ sums it all up – minerality comes from the terroir. Such wines define place, they speak eloquently of their roots, in every sense of the word.

Montenovo 2011 is their youngest wine, made from grapes harvested from the youngest vineyards which are planted in soils with an abundance of black slate. It’s a super-fresh wine with the minerality already mentioned but also some wonderful fruit flavours and aromas too. Look for white stoned fruit here, delicate white peach and apricots with that faint pink blush on creamy white skin. You’ll also find floral aromas, white rose petals, as well as distant herby notes too.

If you are looking for an introduction to the white wines of DO Valdeorras this will  be perfect. Then, when you would like to delve further into the various Godello styles, e.g. FB (fermented en barrica) and oak aged wines, stay with Bodegas Valdeorras and simply enjoy!

So a success story for the white wines of this area, but what of the new kid on the block, their red wine made from that oh-so singular Mencia variety? Well it’s as you were – Valderroa Carballo 2009 is a lovely red wine that personifies that of which this variety is capable when grown in its spiritual home, Galicia.

The slate-strewn vineyards are amongst the highest in the mountainous region of DO Valdeorras with an Atlantic influence and a long ‘hang time’, growing and ripening season, with quite dramatic differences between night and daytime temperatures – all advantageous for the production of quality wines.

The hand-harvested grapes are gently pressed to release their juice and the subsequent young wine is then aged in 500 litre oak barricas which have been previously used to age their top white wines.

The resulting almost uniquely coloured red wine has the mineral notes already referred to but also dark cherry flavours with forest fruits on the nose plus very subtle oak influence. It’s not primarily a wine for meaty stews and steaks, more for smoked meats, lightly coloured meats – chicken and pork, charcuterie and some cheeses.

Contact Colin: colin@colinharknessonwine.com and through his unique wine services website: www.colinharknessonwine.com . Fancy a private wine tasting for you and your friends, a bodega visit, a wine/food matching evening? – Colin’s your man!

WHITE RIOJA – PART TWO

BODEGAS FINCA MANZANOS & BODEGAS FAUSTINO

BOLDLY GO WHERE OTHERS FEAR TO TREAD!

Please note Part 1 is available at: www.costa-news.com click Cork Talk.

In 2007 the powers that be in the Denominación de Origen Calificada La Rioja gave permission for three extra grape varieties to be used in blends of White Rioja. I presume that this was because of some lobbying from bodegas and perhaps growers, so it’s a surprise to me that thus far there have only been two bodegas who have produced a wine using, in fact one, of the newly accepted varieties – Chardonnay.

Indeed, when questioned about the apparent lack of interest in using the new varieties some of the grandees of traditional Rioja poured scorn over the idea in the first place, one actually said that Rioja is a red wine area, adding a metaphoric exclamation mark to make the point!

Quite a slap in the face for those excellent and traditional Rioja houses who do make wonderful red Riojas but have also made acclaimed white Rioja, and for many years too – Bodegas Lopez de Heredia’s Viña Tondonia Blanco Gran Reserva for example!

However there is a point, if a little hidden, in the controversial comment he made. In commercial terms, i.e. in volume of sales it could be concluded that Rioja is really just about red wines. I’m not sure of the exact figure, but it’s not far off to say that only 5% of total sales of Rioja wines are of their whites.

Of course statistics are tricky chaps (remember Reginald Perry’s brother-in-law?!). To get the whole picture one needs to look at the total production – red wines vastly exceed white wine production, so it’s clear that there will be more red wine sold, by virtue of the fact that there’s more of it!

But that’s not all. Readers will probably have guessed that I’ve nailed my colours to the mast already – and they are white as well as red. But white with a difference, whites that are enjoying the added dimensions afforded by the ‘new’ white wine grape varieties. And I’m not alone!

I asked one of my all time favourite wine writers, an acknowledged wine expert, Tim Atkin MW (Master of Wine), for his comments about the introduction of the ‘new’ white wine grape varieties who said,

I’m basically in favour of this. Viura is a fairly bland grape (except when it’s aged for a while in oak) and needs friends. I like Malvasia, but allowing other grapes as part of the blend will make white Rioja more interesting. I’m against varietals (who needs another Chardonnay?), but if other varieties are restricted to no more than 50% of the blend, I think this could work. I’m a big fan of the Remelluri white.

Who buys white Rioja here in Spain? Very few of us! I’m sure most white Rioja is bought by distributors who put it on their corporate lists, aimed primarily at restaurants and bars. And why? Well because to the uninitiated (in other words the sad people who don’t read Cork Talk[!]), the fact that it is Rioja, the internationally most famous wine-making area of Spain, will mean that it will sell – no matter how disappointing it may be. I wonder how many of those who are persuaded to buy it because of its name, actually buy a second bottle!

It is my belief that once more bodegas start to use the ‘new’ varieties, Chardonnay, Sauvignon and Verdejo, blended according to the rules with a maximum of 49%, the rest being traditional varieties, sales of white Rioja will gradually start to rise. Everyone’s a winner – the bodegas who will improve cash-flow (most of the ‘new’ wines will be sold immediately after bottling as joven, young, wines without any crianza) and increase profits; and consumers, myself for sure, will be able to buy white Rioja with more personality, flavour and aroma than is usually the case (though, in deference to my colleague, John Radford, not always).

I think it was Bodegas Finca Manzanares which was the first Rioja bodega to release a white using Viura and newly permitted Chardonnay. An e-mail resulted in a quick sample bottle and I guess I’m one of the first Brits living in Spain who has tasted the new style wine. I don’t have a bottle of their 100% Viura, from previous years so I can’t do a direct comparison, but one thing wine writers must have is a good memory and it’s for sure that this wine has a little more than your average white Rioja, courtesy of Chardonnay.

Typical warm climate, southern hemisphere Chardonnay notes of exotic fruit are very understated, if in fact present at all. There’s only 25% Chardonnay in the blend and its presence is more of a subtle French style. There’s an added roundness to the wine, a greater depth and a longer finish. On the nose, perhaps the faintest whiff of banana and butter.

Readers will have heard of Bodega Faustino, well they are also pioneers in this field as their new Faustino V Blanco has 25% Chardonnay blended with Viura as well.

The frosted glass of the bottle hides a lovely lime green with golden shades alluringly visible when poured into the glass. The colour alone will draw you to this wine. But pause to sniff over the rim and, provided it’s not served too cold (a temptation in this heat, I know, but one that’s best avoided if you want to appreciate fully a wine’s fragrance), you may just get a reminder of under-ripe pineapple and/or a recollection of a white peach, or better still a Spanish Paraguyo.

In the mouth it’s quite full, yet fresh and clean, again with a slight buttery note and this time a slightly bitter nuance on the equally long finish, making it a fine accompaniment to fish, seafood, salads and white meats.

Let’s hope we see more ‘new style’ White Riojas, sharing shelf-space with their traditional siblings!

Contact Colin: colin@colinharknessonwine.com and through www.colinharknessonwine.com – fancy a private: wine tasting/appreciation course/bodega visit etc – Colin’s your man!

First Published Costa News Group July 2012

Q. WHEN IS WHITE RIOJA, NOT WHITE RIOJA –

AS WE KNOW IT?

A. When it includes one or more of the ‘newly’ permitted grape varieties: Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and Verdejo.

The esteemed wine-world famous writer, broadcaster and luminary John Radford and I have had something of a friendly disagreement, on-going through the internet, since I served on the Decanter Magazine Spanish Panel, jointly chaired by John, last November.

He, and it has to be said, most of my eminent fellow panellists believe that white Rioja is best left alone. They, and it seems, many of the producers in La Rioja, are having no truck with the potential usurpers, preferring their wines to continue to be made with the traditional varieties, mostly Viura but also Malvasia and Garnacha Blanca.

Indeed, when I raised the issue as a discussion point during my time in the UK this year on the Judging Panel of the International Wines and Spirits Competition, again most of my learned fellow judges, several of whom were Masters of Wine, were sceptical. Well, I may be one of only a few a voices in the wilderness, but I take a different view.

It was as long ago as 2007 when the ruling body in La Rioja, the Consejo Regulador, decided to allow the addition of the aforementioned varieties to the list of permitted grapes for use in blends of white Rioja. In an understandable, and in my view, wholly laudable, effort to ensure that the quintessential character of white Rioja was not totally lost, they stipulated that traditional varieties must still be used (therefore it will not be possible, for example, to make a mono-varietal Rioja Chardonnay) and that the new varieties could only form a maximum of 49% of the blend.

Nevertheless the door to greater variety in white Rioja aromas and flavours was left open. However, most of the producers have, it seems, been rather underwhelmed by this move as, to this day, there are I believe, only two bodegas who have bitten the bullet and gone for a blend, both in fact using Chardonnay, and even then hedging their bets by staying with just 25% of the blend.

In discussion with John Radford, and on reading his internet answers to my comments as well as his article in Decanter’s May edition, he points out a few exceptional white Riojas that have kept to the traditional varieties. It would appear that his point is that if white Rioja can be this good, why change it?

Well, although I haven’t yet tasted all the wines to which he refers (though I surely will) they are made either with Viura only (aka Macabeo), or a blend of the traditional Garnacha Blanca and Malvasia or have had some input from oak – be it FB (fermented in barrel), or aged in wood, or both. My question is why? Why is it necessary, apparently, for white Rioja wines made with Viura to have some help, be it from other varieties or from oak?

My answer has in fact been said, as well, by one of the brothers running one of the most famous Rioja houses, Bodegas Muga (although it must be admitted that they haven’t yet used any of the Sauvignon Blanc from their ‘experimental vineyard’ in their white wines) – Juan Muga believes, “Viura needs a little help.”

Do we say the same thing of Spanish grapes, Albariño or Verdejo, for example? And do we suggest that international varieties Chardonnay and Sauvignon need oak ageing, or some other form of assistance? No, we don’t. It’s true that Chardonnay, and Sauvignon can be successfully oaked. Same too with Albariño (check out Bodegas Fefiñanes!) and Verdejo (Bodegas Bornos and others). But these varieties, when left entirely on their own, also make wonderfully flavoured wines with character and super aromas too. Can the same thing be said of Viura? Well maybe, but not often, in my view.

So what’s wrong with the addition sometimes of more characterful varieties, from Spain as well as international varieties? The precedent is already established, white Rioja can be a blend of traditional varieties as we’ve seen above, so why not increase the number of varieties that can be used?

Indeed, one of the wines recommended by John Radford is the stunning Remelluri 2006, which lists, by a quirk of historical precedence, the normally prohibited aromatic and characterful varieties: Viognier, Chardonnay, Rousanne, Marsanne, Sauvignon and Moscatel as well as Garnacha Blanca!These varieties make a significant, positive contribution to the aroma and flavour profiles of Remulleri’s wine – as will Chardonnay, Sauvignon and Verdejo to regular white Rioja. And this will be achieved not at the cost of Viura, but will be complementary to it.

My guess is that there is a fear of homogeneity. I agree that it will be a poorer wine world if all we ever have to drink is Chardonnay, for example. But the rules as they are now in Rioja will ensure that this will not happen as traditional varieties will always have the lion’s share of the blend. Plus there is nothing to stop producers continuing with traditional varieties, with and without oak.

But let’s also look at this from a commercial viewpoint. Yes let’s, but next week as I’m running out of column space!

Contact Colin: colin@colinharknessonwine.com and through his unique wine services website: www.colinharknessonwine.com . Fancy a private: wine tasting/wine appreciation course/bodega visit? Contact Colin – for this and more!  

Gratefully Received after Javea Cheese and Wine Tasting!

Dear Colin
Thank you (and Claire) so much for a brilliant evening on the 25 July 2012.
The wine and cheese tastings were so interesting. Everything went like clockwork.
Your organisation and style of presentation was perfect for an audience of mixed wine/cheese knowledge.
It shows the appeal of this type of event as nobody declined the invitation.
Feed back from our guests afterwards suggest they all thoroughly enjoyed it and many are still talking about it (and even practicing the little wine tasting skills they learned).
So thank you again for a great evening and for one of the highlights of Sandra’s “big birthday” week.
Very best wishes to you both
Sandra and John Field