Monday, 15 August 2011

Spain - Exciting times

Posted by Giles Burke-Gaffney, Buying Director

I completed my annual 5 day 1000k+ road trip to Spain recently to taste the newly released wines, mostly 2008, with a sneak preview of what delights 2009 and 2010 have to offer, aswell. Apart from leaving me sick to the back teeth of my hire car, the trip made me feel incredibly upbeat about Spain's credentials as a source of high quality wine. The country is still suffering from terrible economic turmoil but its broad group of fine wine producers should be well placed to shift their emphasis from a faltering home market to export. It is incredibly rare for wine-producing countries to be known for producing both top quality and great value wines, usually a place is labelled as one or the other. Spain, however, carries off both to remarkably great effect. This is due to a generation of rigorous growers who are re-discovering their traditions, saving indigenous grape varieties and making wine with passion and attention to detail.

Whilst producers within Rioja continue to raise their qualitative bar to even greater heights, with growers such as the Egurens of Sierra Cantabria focusing their efforts on single vineyards of the low-yielding Tempranillo Peludo clone, Spain can increasingly offer more than just Rioja - be it Garnacha and Carinena from Priorat; Tinta del Toro from Toro; Old vine Verdejo from southern Rueda; Tinto Fino from Ribera del Duero; or top notch Albarino or Godello from Rias Baixas. Additionally there are now an increasing number of re-envigorated wine regions offering great wines that offer as good a "bang for buck" as anywhere in the world, places such as Jumilla, Manchuela, Yecla and Campo de Borja. However for me the most interesting new place that my recent forays unearthed was a Catalan wine region an hour south of Priorat called Terra Alta. A high altitude of 400 metres above sea, proximity to the Mediterranean, wonderful chalk limestone and sand soils (a cross-section of which is pictured above) and some old vines, all make for first class wine. Even better it is still a relative unknown on export markets and in trying to carve itself a global reputation, Terra Alta offers excellent value, too. The only shame is that the region relies on a very small group of quality producers, most of the land still being dominated by small growers selling to the cooperative.

So to the Country's wine-producing merits of quality and value, you can add diversity. Vinously, at least, these are exciting times for Spain. It feels like there is still so much more to come.