Spanish white wines are worth any serious wine buyer’s attention and so it proved when Geoffrey Dean tasted through a range of eight new premium whites that included four single varietals – Godello, Verdejo, Albariño and Chardonnay – and four blends. From a range of the country’s wine regions, the tasting was part of the Spanish Wine Academy, the three year-old initiative from Haro-based producer Ramón Bilbao, that is attempting to educate trade and consumers alike about the quality and range that can be found in the country.
The Spanish white wines tasted comes from some of Spain’s leading estates including Chivite, Pago de los Capellanes, Abadía Retuerta, Mar de Frades and Ramón Bilbao.
The first trade event in the UK for the new Spanish Wine Academy – a Zoom tasting in late April – served to underline the wonderful diversity and quality of Spanish white wines that are available through Enotria&Coe. The London-based distributor set up the tasting with Rioja producer, Ramón Bilbao, who themselves created the Spanish Wine Academy in 2018.
Ramón Bilbao’s head winemaker, Rodolfo Bastida, and Enotria’s buyer for Spain and Latin America, Peter Wallbridge, himself a former winemaker, talked tasters through eight premium but very different wines whose RRP ranged from £18.95 to £43. Four were single varietals – Godello, Verdejo, Albariño and Chardonnay – while four were blends.
‘O Luar de Sil’ 2017, Pago de los Capellanes, DO Valdeorras
A very special texture to this wine – round and full – which is interesting as it saw no oak whatsoever. This texture comes from the three months spent on the lees, whose mannoproteins proffer mouthfeel and temper any fatty oiliness. Valdeorras’ slatey and granitic soils lead to minerality and complexity not always found in the rest of Galicia, while the fact the DO is not as close to the ocean as somewhere like Rias Baixas is why it does not necessarily get the same salinity. “Rounder and fatter than Albariño, Godello has the ability to get very high alcohol, “ Wallbridge said, “so the key to top Godello is finding that balance between ripening the grape’s thick skins and having too much alcohol. This producer manages to do that very well.” (O Luar de Sil is the Galician winery owned and run by Ribera del Duero’s Pago de los Capellanes). 13.5% abv, RRP £27.50
‘Limite Norte’ 2017, Ramón Bilbao, DO Rioja
A 50:50 blend of Tempranillo Blanco and Maturana Blanca from the village of Cuzcurrita, at an altitude of 450m with an extreme continental climate that preserves freshness. Good body and mouthfeel from the Tempranillo Blanco, while the latter offers acidity and aromas of citrus and white blossom. The first vintage of this wine to come to the UK. Picked at the same time from a 5h vineyard that lost half its grapes to frost in 2017, the two varietals were co-fermented in concrete vats after a cold maceration. Half the wine was then aged on the lees in 2,500l amphorae, and the other half in 600l demi-muid barrels. Blending then took place before the final product spent another 12 months in 225l French barriques. Really complex and very long, this is superb. “We are very happy with the results of this wine, which is very special for us, ” Bastida said. “The purity of these amphorae, which were made by a specialist producer in Italy, is incredible.” 13% abv, RRP £19.95
Edición Limitada Lías 2018, Ramón Bilbao, DO Rueda, Castilla y León
Citrus and cut grass notes from this beguiling Verdejo, which was grown on poor, gravel soils at 700-800m. Although fermented in stainless steel, the wine was racked with its lees into concrete vats and foudres before being aged in new French (50%) and Hungarian (50%) oak, where it spent eight months. “Hungarian oak offers flavours of nuts, while the French gives more butter and toasted bread,” Bastida said. Lovely texture and volume in the mouth. 13% abv, RRP £18.85
Ulterior Parcela No 7&9 2017, Bodegas Verum, DO Castilla-La Mancha
This blend of Albillo Real (85%) and Albillo Mayor (15%) possesses both salinity and minerality, and is exceptionally complex with brioche and dried apricot notes. Made by Elias Lopez Montero, king of Airén winemakers, the idea of this project (this being only the second vintage is to counter climate change in superhot La Mancha. The two Albillo grapes are both late-ripening and are not affected by the intense summer heat. “The two varieties complement each other, and are aged in a mix of old oak and amphorae” Wallbridge revealed. “7 and 9 are different plots, and the blend makes a thought-provoking very good wine, unlike the Albillo in Ribera which is uninteresting.” 13% abv, RRP £19.95
Finca Valiñas 2016, Mar de Frades, DO Rias Baixas
World-class Albariño from 45-year old vines on granite and sandy soils in the Salnes Valley. If the soils are the secret to this wine, some very interesting vinification leads to highly fragrant wine. It is also incredibly complex and long, and with an ultra low pH of 3.0, has the acidity for potential ageing of ten years or more. The Ganimede production technique is employed, where an inverted cone is inserted in the interior of a stainless steel tank, allowing carbon dioxide to enter and prevent oxidation. Then, small quantities of CO2 are injected to facilitate elegant aromas. Three years in contact with the lees gives a creamy character, while salinity comes from salt-bearing winds off the ocean. 13% abv, RRP £29.50
Massipa 2018, Scala Dei, DO Priorat
A really unique Spanish blend of Garnacha Blanca (70%) and Chenin Blanc (30%) from a single vineyard planted in 1974 on red clay at 650m. Both varieties were harvested at the same time and co-vinified in concrete tanks, where they were aged for three months on the lees and then in old 1200l foudres for a year. “Who had the genius idea to plant Chenin Blanc?” Wallbridge wondered. “Grenache Blanc can be flabby but the Chenin gives it backbone.” Wild yeasts help provide what is remarkable complexity, as well as fabulous length. At the same time, this is one of the most elegant white wines in Spain. 14% abv, RRP £29.50
Le Domaine 2018, Abadía Retuerta, DO Castilla y León
Another brilliant blend, this time of Sauvignon Blanc (60%) and Verdejo (40%) from one of Spain’s top bodegas. Sandy and pebbly soils ensure almost perfect ripening of each crop, with grapes being subject to a 30-minute pre-fermentation maceration before pressing and final cold settling for 24 hours. After a cool fermentation, maturation took place in 100% new French oak for four to six months. As a result, the wine has notable structure. Vibrant acidity will ensure long ageing potential for the wine with the prospect of it getting better and better. It is already a delight to drink, being complex and very long. 13.5% abv, RRP £43
Colección 125, 2017, Chivite, DO Navarra
One of Spain’s great Chardonnays from a noble estate with a rich history dating back to the 17th century. The Colección grapes come from a single plot known as “Las Mercedes”, planted on a north-facing clay-loam slope with an altitude of 450-600m. The location as well as gradual ripening, good acid retention and ideal sugar levels, helps produce high quality expressive fruit. Only the best quality free-run must is used, with fermentation and ageing for 12 months on the lees being in 225l new French barriques. Elegant, rich and with refreshing acidity, this classic, complex wine will cellar for many years. Too tempting now for many. 14% ab, RRP £29.50