Eat Spain, Drink Spain is an initiative of Wines of Spain and is touring the UK throughout the Autumn giving sommeliers an opportunity to taste-test 116 of the very best wines in all categories. Victor Smart was there to see what all the fuss was about and to reminisce about holidays past.
Some of the highlight wines from Eat Spain, Drink Spain, 2016
Brits seem to be mad for Spanish food and wines at the moment.
Eateries with jamón ibérico and manzanilla sherry are popping up in profusion in cities like London and Manchester. To the hipster element, one suspects, Spanish means cool whereas French might mean fussy.
It is certainly true that to many British palates, Spanish food and wine means excellence in strong tastes – aged hams, sherries, peppery olive oils, and full-blooded reds.
And maybe Spanish producers do harbour some lingering fear that they don’t quite have the finesse of their neighbours across the Pyrenees. If so, Wines from Spain’s 2016 awards has set about dispelling their worries.
This year, under the chair of Tim Atkin MW, the tasting panel has chosen 116 Spanish wines to showcase at Eat Spain, Drink Spain events in Birmingham, Edinburgh, Leeds, London and Manchester. In London, Wines from Spain hosted the event at Ibérica, and the other events run through the Autumn, check the link for further details.
The restaurant is one of eight UK branches the company has in the UK. Being housed in one of the new office blocks in Victoria Street could be a recipe for being rather soulless. But much effort has gone to avoid this; the unisex loos, for example, are decorated from ceiling to floor in traditional tiles with high-up cisterns and old-fashioned chains to pull (enough about the toilets Victor – ed.)
In spite of the early hour the tasting is busy, and on arrival I head straight for the fortified wines. As you do.
A recent trip to Seville has left me with a lasting admiration for these, especially in their dry incarnation. For me the dry fortifieds served chilled are a really refreshing, grown-up drink with a memorable clean taste makes you want to catch the first flight back to Spain.
Both wines are D.O. Jerez-Xérès-Sherry. For me the first has the edge over its rival taste-wise and at around £17 is a third cheaper.
The sweet fortifieds were not so miraculous in my mind. The winner of the group is Capricho By Camilo Castilla, a worthy enough choice at £20. But some of the wines delivered what, to my palate, felt like a rush of pure sugar, Don PX Dulce de Pasas at £25 being the worst offender. Doubtless I am missing something.
Moving on to the sparkling wine category, there are just seven on offer; Martí & Serdà‘s masía D’Or at around £9 a bottle bagged the title of Best Value Cava. The rosado wines were even more poorly represented with just three making the cut.
However, with more than a hundred wines still to go and boards of bread, olive oil, cheeses and ham being carried out much savouring lay ahead.
Among the still reds it is gratifying to see an own-brander from Waitrose, Bordegas Borsao costing just £4.99, given a chance to compete on even terms with more illustrious rivals. Costing twice that, but still a bargain, is Enrique Mendoza‘s Le Tremenda Monastrell 2014 that offers a burst of blackcurrant, powerful and luscious, that makes it hugely quaffable.
But the judges have rightly bestowed the laurels on two joint winners, both from the same winery as it happens – Contino Reserva 2010 and Contino Viña del Olivo, the former going for £20 and the latter for £60. (See here for an interview with the winemaker Jesus Madroza.
Among the still whites, I recognised some old friends. A couple of bottles of Paco & Lola 2015 came back in my suitcase after my last trip to the Iberian Peninsula (although I found it virtually the same price here as there at around £17).
But the title of Best Premium Wine has been awarded to the Bodegas Naia’s Naiades 2012. At £20 a bottle, this strikingly good value white offers wonderful citrus flavours of kiwi and grapefruit following through to a superbly elegant finish. The abv is 13.5 and the grape Verdejo. Bringing both subtlety and delicacy.
As I depart I muse that the Eat Spain, Drink Spain slogan very cleverly gets you salivating over both two elements, wines and food, simultaneously.
And I realise that there must be aficionados of the jamón who are every bit as passionate, discerning and fickle as aficionados of the wines.
A full list of the winners of Eat Spain, Drink Spain can be found here.