With first rate masterclasses spread across three months, the new-look Wines From Spain annual tasting has been an unqualified success, writes Justin Keay. Despite the restrictions in it being virtual-only this year, the event did a great job of unlocking just some of what this diverse wine-producing country has to offer. It was the Green Spain masterclass from Sarah Jane Evans MW, however, which really showed a completely unexpected side to Spanish wine. Keay picks his favourites as well as Top 10 wines from the Importers Highlights tasting.
By holding so many events, and spreading them over several months, Wines From Spain kept Spanish wine, its producers and regions, in the trade spotlight in the best possible way.
What a difference a pandemic makes.
The last time I attended the annual Wines from Spain tasting, it was in the glorious Sky Garden in London’s iconic “walkie-talkie” building. Being 2019, there was lots of walkie around the various stands, tasting the wines and looking down at the spectacular views. Also lots of talkie with the producers in, what I recall as, one of the year’s best organised tastings.
Last year, with Covid-19 casting its ghastly shadow, the tasting scheduled for spring was deferred to September before being cancelled altogether as the pandemic persisted.
This year, Wines from Spain has gone virtual, so again not much on the walkie or talkie front, but thanks to excellent organisational efforts, lots of tasting. With the support of Otaria Communications, Wines from Spain launched its Digital Events Programme on March 29, with eight masterclasses held over April, May and June. According to a spokesperson, they had over 19,000 digital catalogue page views whilst over 1000 people registered for events. Meanwhile, over 4000 samples were sent out, everything from Albariño and Airen to Viura, Verdejo and Xarello in those 50cl glass bottles that have become so familiar in the trade (am I the only one who feels they should be a bit bigger?).
OK, Wines from Spain didn’t show all the country’s recognised 87 red and 80 white varieties, but lesser known regions like Bierzo and Islas Canarias got a look in alongside the inevitable Rias Baixas and Rioja, with oft-ignored or under-appreciated varieties like Bobal and Maturana Tinta being offered alongside familiar Albariño, Tempranillo and Garnacha. Considering the aim was to spread awareness of Spanish wine amongst consumers, restauranteurs and importers, this online venture – almost certainly the largest and most ambitious in the UK trade since the Covid plague kicked in – has been a big success.
“Working digitally enabled us to properly analyse visitors’ engagement. From page views, website analytics and online platforms’ usage, it’s been obvious that our trade audience is savvy. Early data suggests visitors did quite a bit of research before signing up for digital tastings and ordering samples. It was also great to see that visitors overwhelmingly placed targeted, well-researched samples orders and didn’t order wine for the sake of ordering,” said a Wines from Spain spokesperson.
Although interest was naturally strong in established producers, there was also big interest in the less obvious ones.
“Big names from classic regions did very well overall but so did producers who are less well-known but focused on quality wines from up-and-coming as well as established DOs. In terms of wine styles, bodegas who champion Spanish varietals such as Bobal or Mencía have had good take up. We also noted a real interest in whites from indigenous varieties, especially when used to produce unusual white blends. We also noticed a marked interest in old vine reds,” said the Wines from Spain spokesperson.
The jewels in the crown were the masterclasses, held by the likes of consultant and ex-Hakkasan’s Christine Parkinson (“Six Spanish Wines for success on your list”), a fascinating tour of Spanish Garnacha by Norrel Robertson and, to come, Tim Atkin on (what else) Tempranillo. Alongside these were two DIY Digital tastings, focused on Spanish exporters wanting to access the UK market and importers already distributing here.
How Green Spain delivered
For me the stand-out event was ‘Green Spain’, a predominantly white wine tour of the Basque Country Txakoli, Galicia (Rias Baixas and Ribeiro) and Bierzo (Mencia) presented by Sarah Jane Evans MW.
Evans took us around an alternative Spain, very different from what the average consumer expects or gets, with some wonderful discoveries. Starting with coastal Txakoli – home to some of Europe’s most glorious seafood – she showed the Akarregi Txiki Txakoli 2019 (Moreno), a delicious spritzy take on the Basque varieties Hondarabbi Zuri and Hondarabbi Beltza, with incredible acidity (2.8-3.1 ph). Good value at around £16 retail from one of Txakoli’s best regarded producers.
Next up two very different Albariños, the Lagar da Condesa 2020 from Gill Family Estates and the Pazo Barrantes Albariño 2018, the former showing the fresher, drier side of DO Rias Baixas (although the wine is part-fermented in stainless steel and part in oak), the latter a more rounded style, grown in 40-year-old vines and more alcohol (13.5% versus 12.5%). Both very appealing, but very distinctive.
Barely stopping to finish our seafood platters and dusting off the sand (I wish), we were onto Ribeiro, not a region particularly well known here but in fact a DO that dates back to pre-Civil War days, 1933, with a long heritage and grape varieties it shares with neighbouring Portugal (including Treixadura/Trajedura, Albariño/Alvarinho and Loureiro). Again, two very different single vineyard wines from two very different producers, from Adega Manuel Formigo the crisp, lime and grapefruit-charged Teira X 2019 and from Gallina de Piel, the remarkable Manar dos Seixas 2018, (Liberty Wines) a rich, full bodied evolving wine showing lots of character. Very age-worthy.
To round off, the only red was from Bierzo, a Mencia-dominant blend made by Descendientes de J. Palacios, the Petalos (Petals) 2019. Biodynamically made on schist and clay soils before seeing light oak, this medium weight wine was lovely, crisp and fresh but showing lots of energy and red fruit.
In showing a completely unexpected side to Spain, the ‘Green Spain’ masterclass – and indeed the other masterclasses – did a great virtual job of unlocking some of what this diverse wine-producing country has to offer.
So too did the other technology weapon in Wines From Spain’s armoury – namely the QR code on every sample bottle. Scanning each one took you straight to detailed information about the wines, the producers, with opportunities to leave notes, courtesy of Bottlebooks. To my mind this played a big role in the success of the tasting: OK, it’s not as good as chatting with the producer at a real stand, but getting so much information just by using your phone to scan a code is – for this usually techno-phobic writer – a thing of wonder.
And using it showed me there were lots of well-priced stand-outs in the DIY Importers Highlights tasting, in particular. Like these 10.
Keay’s Top 10 Wines from the Importers Highlights tasting:
Bodega Gorosti, Flysch Txakoli, DO Getariako Txakolina, 2019
Wonderfully fresh, dynamic Basque wine from a newish producer with old family roots in the Txakoli region. Winery located almost bang on the coastline, resulting in a delicious salinity that stays with you.
Marques de Murietta, Capellania, 2016
White Rioja is having a bit of a moment right now and this delicious rounded 100% Viura wine shows just why. Not cheap at around £40 retail but fantastically nuanced with amazing depth and length. Really shows what can be done with this variety, by a famous Rioja house. (Maisons Marques et Domaines)
Struggling Vines, Phinca Hapa Blanco, 2018
Another great white Rioja, this time Viura (82%) mixed with Malvasia Blanca and White Grenache. This almost orange wine is made by an American couple Melanie and David Hickman who’ve made it their admirable business to rescue old vines and make delicious organic, sustainable and biodynamic wine. This is quite fascinating – rounded orange and apricot fruit, and a long, long finish. Unique, actually. And worth every penny of its £27.50 price tag. (Moreno)
Bocins, Priorat Blanco, 2019
White Priorat is usually a blend of White Grenache and Viognier and here this really works well, to produce a rounded, long textured wine. Well priced at around £23. (Moreno)
Familia Torres, Perpetual, 2016
A wonderful old vine (80 years) blend of Carignan and Grenache from steep rocky mountains in Priorat. Very distinct and moreish. (Fells)
Alvaro Palacios, Les Terrasses Velles Vinyes, 2017
This old vine blend of Garnacha and Carinena is wonderful, powerful, fruit driven but nuanced, showing what old vines and Priorat are capable of. Around £37 a bottle but worth every penny. (Bancroft)
Alta Pavina, Citius Pinot Noir, 2016
A balanced and attractive Pinot from Castilla y Leon, the largest wine region in Spain and Tempranillo’s home turf. Heavy and robust but proof Spain can do good Pinot.
Dominio Fournier, Reserva, 2014
This is a huge but lovely warm and well-balanced Tinta del Pais from Ribera del Duero made by a long established producer acquired two years ago by Gonzalez Byass with the avowed aim of making the best wines in the region. This wine shows they have a good start behind them.
Bodega del Abad, Abad Dom Bueno, Mencía, 2019
A medium bodied but appealing take on the increasingly trendy variety. Red and dark berry fruit, good acidity.
Bodegas Altolandon Mil, Historias Bobal, 2019
Pretty full on, this is a really well made but hefty wine reflecting the heat of Valencia’s Utiel-Requena region. This is sold by Selfridges, no less – it will be interesting to see how it develops over time.
Next year, God willing, Wines From Spain will hold its 2022 tasting physically again, maybe even in the Sky Garden. And there is a smaller physical tasting at 1 Great George Street in London on June 22 and 23. But it can look back on its virtual 2021 with some pride. By holding so many events, and spreading them over several months, Wines From Spain kept Spanish wine, its producers and regions, in the trade spotlight in the best possible way.
And that’s no mean achievement.
To register for the 2021 Wines from Spain Annual Tasting ‘Live’ go to: Online Registration (smartreg.co.uk)