Eat & Drink Spain was back with a bang this year with 900 wines from 240 producers representing 60 DOs. David Kermode attended the London event and picks a fascinating selection that will work particularly well in premium on-trade – from old vine Tempranillo in Ribera del Duero, a new, high altitude Rioja from the envelope-pushing Ramón Bilbao, to a Brut Nature biodynamic sparkler that is a blend of Xarel-lo, Sumoll and the little-seen grape, Bastard Negre.
“A serious food wine, the perfect aperitif for a balmy summer’s evening, it’s the thinking man’s crack cocaine,” writes Kermode.
Spain boasts the largest area planted to vines in the world, and is the third largest wine-producing country to be imported into the UK. The pandemic caused a fall in total exports in 2020, but last year they rebounded to their highest level in 20 years, in terms of value, and Spanish wine continues to perform well in the UK. This much was plain to see at June’s bustling Eat & Drink Spain tasting event.
Spain must be the largest country to hold a generic, rather than region-specific, annual trade tasting so the numbers alone made for impressive reading, even before you got to the wines. With almost 900 wines on show, from 240 producers, representing 60 DOs (Denominación de Origen) presented by 48 exhibitors… it is little wonder that Wines from Spain decided to go digital with its chunky tasting booklet, which also made a preview and pre-selection possible. For each of us scanning the QR code at the entrance, there was probably a tree somewhere heaving a leafy sigh of relief, even if the whole thing proved a little draining for the battery of an ageing iphone.
Because of Covid-19 this was the first Eat & Drink Spain tasting in two years so the London showcase, which came a week after the Glasgow edition, was hosted at the Royal Horticultural Society’s Lindley Hall, a glass-roofed exhibition space built more than a hundred years ago to host exhibitions of botanic art. A regular venue for tastings, these days the artistry tends to come in a glass.
With virtual tasting at home during the pandemic there was, naturally, a more limited selection on offer by post, so an invite to this year’s event proved to be irresistible and, as a result, the venue was bustling. Aside from the aforementioned hundreds of wines and bevvy of producers there were a couple of fully-subscribed masterclasses, from Masters of Wine Sarah-Jane Evans and Sam Caporn which, all told, was a combination too good to miss.
There was also a spotlight on the increasing share of organic and biodynamic offerings, alongside a welcome focus on Spanish white wines, still underrated and often underrepresented on wine lists, and an impressive showing of sparkling wines, many of which were notable for their incredible value for money.
“After the disruption experienced since 2019, it was great to be back together … the excitement was palpable,” said Fernando Muñoz, UK Director for Foods and Wines from Spain. “Time didn’t stand still for our wineries and so much innovation has taken place. The 2022 Annual Tasting was the perfect showcase for the incredible variety, quality and versatility of modern Spanish winemaking.”
Here are the 10 wines that really stood out:
Conde Valdemar Finca Alto Cantabria Espumoso, 2017, RRP £60.
I love my Spanish sparklers, but this was a first for me, from Bodegas Conde Valdemar in Rioja. 100% Viura, planted on an 8.6 hectare plot in 1975, now a ‘Viñedo Singular’, a site of singular distinction. A delicate nose of citrus zest, peach skin and jasmine, supported by blanched hazelnut and buttery brioche leads the delicate charge. The mousse is exquisitely fine, the palate smooth and seductive with a delicious puff pastry character from 40 months on lees, while the finish is long, subtly saline and, above all, classy. (Imported by Berkmann Wine Cellars).
Juvé & Camps Singular Gran Reserva Brut Nature, 2016, RRP £19
Juvé & Camps makes wonderful wines that, like most Cava, punch above their respective price points. This Brut Nature, made exclusively from Xarel-lo, offers the chilly thrill you’d expect but also has generosity and depth, with its beguiling nose of wild flowers, fennel frond and lemon shortbread, delicate beads of fresh, creamy citrus and impressive textural breadth. (Imported by Bibendum).
Raventós i Blanc, Textures de Pedra, 2016, RRP £42
From an historic house, founded in the 15th century, which took the decision to leave the Cava DO in 2012 to establish its own appellation, Conca del Riu Anoia, this Brut Nature biodynamic sparkler is a blend of Xarel-lo, Sumoll and Bastard Negre, an indigenous variety brought back from the brink. Fig leaf, wild honey, Parmesan rind and toasted hazelnuts. There’s a fine mousse and delicious creamy mouthfeel, with a charming, faintly cheesy, leesiness. (Imported by Liberty Wines).
CVNE Monopole Clasico, Blanco Seco, 2018 RRP £27
A blast from the past, an historical wine from CVNE, blending Viura with a small percentage of Manzanilla Sherry, aged for eight months in barrel. The result is dry, fascinating and fabulous, with waxy citrus, nuttiness and a sublime texture that combines both those elements. A serious food wine, the perfect aperitif for a balmy summer’s evening, it’s the thinking man’s crack cocaine. (Imported by Hatch Mansfield).
Pazo Señorans, Albariño, 2021, RRP £20
Albariño has hit the big time, with consumer recognition meaning demand now threatens to outstrip supply. Sadly, it has resulted in some sub-standard examples, but not this one. Aromatic and enticing, there’s a windy walk’s worth of sea breeze salinity, complemented by delicate orange blossom and fleshy stone fruit. Powerful and poised, it lingers effortlessly and certainly warrants its punchier price point. (Imported by Alliance Wines).
Lagar De Cervera, Albariño, 2021, RRP £15
From an estate that’s headed by Rioja Alta’s technical director Julio Sáenz, this is super fresh and elegant, with a blast of sea spray, juicy nectarine and crunchy green apple, balanced by zingy acidity. (Imported by Armit Wines).
Castillo Perelada, Només Garnatxa Blanca, 2021, RRP £13
With a name that means ‘nothing else’, Només is 100% Garnacha Blanca, created to showcase the variety from its origin, in Catalunya. Delicate white flowers and lemon zest lead into a wine that’s refreshingly pure, with freshness of wet slate and an understated complexity that gently envelops the mid-palate. A really polished wine for the price. (Imported by Alliance Wine).
Dominio do Bibei, Lalama, Ribeira Sacra 2018, RRP £26
From Javier Dominguez, widely acknowledged as the driving force behind the re-emergence of Ribeira Sacra in Galicia’s east. A vibrant blend of 90% Mencía and 10% Brancellao, Mouratón, Sousón and Garnacha, from vines between 20 and 100 years old, perfumed and herby, with juicy red berries and cherries and crunchy peppercorn. (Imported by Liberty Wines).
Ramón Bilbao Viñedos de Altura 2018 RRP £17.50
A blend of Tempranillo and Garnacha that pulls together different plots that share a unifying factor: altitude. Violets and bright berries on the nose, the fruit is tangy and the sweet spice well integrated. Old meets new, as it tends to very successfully with the ever-innovative Ramón Bilbao. (Imported by Enotria & Coe).
Finca Los Hoyales, Cruz de Alba, 2016 RRP £65
From old Tempranillo vines, planted in the 1950s on a plateau in Ribera del Duero, at 750 metres, from a producer that has been biodynamic since 2008. Brooding foraged blackberries, red plum, cloves and cedar spice intermingle in this sensuous wine that has vibrancy, structure, elegance and deliciousness in equal measures. (Imported by Enotria & Coe).