Spain

Tue 07 Feb 2017

Staff Choice: Spanish Innovation At Its Best

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Whenever I speak to Spain buyer Pierre Mansour about his latest finds, his excitement is obvious. The country really is a hotbed of value right now.

What’s more, the 2015 vintage has been a generous and successful one, resulting in a procession of affordable luxuries reaching our cellars in recent months.

Where to start exploring? David Connor from our Cellar Showroom had little hesitation in recommending this under-£9 garnacha, which has already received plaudits from Decanter Magazine, Tim Atkin MW and, most importantly, many fellow Society members.

Laderas del Tietar

You can find a full archive of Staff Choices on our website here.

Laderas del Tiétar Garnacha, Gredos 2015

I have to say I have real passion for Spanish wines and this grenache – hailing from a small region north of Madrid high in the Gredos mountains – is a great example.

The grapes come from old low-yielding old bush vines grown in the Gredos mountain range near Madrid, and it’s this combination of high altitude and low yields that gives the wine a freshness and vitality that will raise a smile and have you reaching for a second glass. For me it was the perfect antidote to the more esoteric wines we tend to drink over the Christmas period and certainly punches above its weight.

As for what I would drink it with… well, when one of the winemakers was asked the same question at our Spanish tasting last year he simply replied, ‘whatever you like’!

David Connor
The Cellar Showroom

£8.50 – Bottle
£102 – Case of 12
View Wine Details

Categories : Spain
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Last week Tim Sykes gave us the latest from the 2016 Bordeaux harvest, and earlier this week Jo Locke MW followed with news of a small but very exciting Muscadet crop.

Today I’d like to share these wonderful photos from Viña Zorzal in Navarra, Spain, which give a flavour of how things are going at this forward-thinking bodega.

The Sanz family has 70 hectares of vines, some of which – including the graciano and garnacha used for the Zorzal range we buy – are over 35 years old. Brothers Xabi and Iñaki, who oversee sales and winemaking respectively, have injected a new lease of life into Zorzal. Xabi was in touch with me this week- he says the 2016 fruit is excellent quality.

I’ll report back once I’ve tasted the wines in 2017.

Pierre Mansour
Society Buyer

Categories : Spain
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They say that every dog has its day.

Well, a quick browse of the web will quickly reveal that not just every dog but pretty much everything else has its day also!

For instance, did you know that September alone plays host to International One-Hit Wonder Day, Teddy Bear Day, Love Note Day (aww) and – my personal favourite – International Red Panda day (it’s the 21st for those who were wondering)?

So why should we even bat an eyelid at International Grenache Day?

International Grenache Day, or IGD, is on the third Friday in September (presumably it lost out on the first and second Friday slots to International Bring Your Manners To Work Day and those troublesome teddy bears I mentioned earlier). Why should we care?

Well, here’s what the team behind IGD have to say:

Why should you care about grenache, one of the most widely planted and least known red grapes in the world? Because you love wine; because you are bored with merlots and pinot noirs; because you are fascinated with pairing just the right wine with your foods; because you have an insatiable curiosity for the finer things in life; because your mother always said you should learn something new every day.

Maybe they have a point! It does offer the opportunity (or should that be excuse?) to try a whole load of different wines made from grenache. This is certainly something not to be sniffed at – if you’ll excuse the pun: given that grenache is so widely planted it’s still relatively low key compared to the cabernets and pinots of the wine world.

Harvesting perfectly ripe garnacha in SpainHarvesting perfectly ripe garnacha in Spain

Pretty much all the major wine regions produce some decent single-varietal or grenache-blended wines. If trying to stick a pin in its spiritual home, most would aim for France’s southern Rhône valley, where it plays a big part in the wines of Châteauneuf-du-Pape. Spain would likely be another popular choice: here garnacha, as it is known here, can produce exceptional everyday wines and provide an important ingredient in Rioja wines.

But there’s plenty of choice globally when looking for grenache. Its popularity with winemakers looks set to grow, mainly due to global warming, as it has an ability to thrive in dry, hot climates and is fairly drought resistant.

Its ability to work well in blends is simultaneously its strong suite and its Achilles heel, sometimes suffering from sharing the limelight with better-known varieties.

That’s not to say that there aren’t some cracking single-varietal wines available (check out this beauty made from old vines by specialist Domaines Lupier in Spain, for instance); but grenache’s ability to contribute to a blend is where, for many, its true genius lies.

Enrique and Elisa from Domaines Lupier tasting old-vine garnacha from the vine to check for ripeness and quality.Enrique and Elisa from Domaines Lupier tasting old-vine garnacha from the vine to check for ripeness and quality.

So what does grenache add to a blend? I asked our Buying Team for their thoughts and the recurring themes were juiciness and generosity of fruit, strawberry and raspberry flavours, and a sweet, ripe character. On its own, grenache can deliver quite high levels of alcohol, so blending it with other lower-alcohol varieties can be useful in providing balance in a wine. As Rhône buyer Marcel Orford-Williams put it:

‘At its simplest grenache makes round, heartwarming wines. At its best it has real majesty.’

Whether in a blend or pure and unadulterated, we therefore feel that grenache is a grape worth exploring. So if you’re not in the mood for International Teddy Bear Day, do consider raising a glass of grenache on Friday!

We guarantee it will provide more pleasure than International One Hit Wonder Day!

Gareth Park
Marketing Campaign Manager

Ideas for celebrating International Grenache Day:

• Indulge in some vinotherapy by covering yourself in crushed grenache grapes and honey. Very good for the skin apparently.

The International Grenache Case features six delicious under-£10 grenache wines selected by our buyers, and is available for £48 (including UK delivery).

Go to The Society’s Cellar Showroom in Stevenage where all the wines featured in this case will be available to taste free of charge on Friday 16th September.

Join in the conversation on social media: use the #GrenacheDay hashtag to share any grenache highlights and see what others are enjoying.

Enjoy some delicious grenache wines!

Categories : France, Rhône, Spain
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Fri 29 Apr 2016

Sauvignon Blanc… With a Twist

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I could have sworn I saw a swallow earlier this week; and with the onset of darkness now retreating to past 8 o’clock I feel I can dare to dream of more temperate times to come. Indeed, in The Cellar Showroom this week I have noticed a marked shift towards white wine purchases. Society members appear to share my optimism.

For me, no grape screams spring and summer like sauvignon blanc. Fresh, herbaceous, citric, tropical… the styles from around the world all seem to have an affinity to the time of year when hats and scarves can be mothballed.

Healthy sauvignon blanc grapes.Healthy sauvignon blanc grapes.

Lovely as these wines are, though…

Recently I have been particularly taken with a number of sauvignon blanc blends.

Adding another grape or two to sauvignon blanc can temper the variety’s natural acidity and can complement sauvignon’s flavour profile with a splash of something different.

Four Sauvignons With a Twist

Domaine du Salvard's Cheverny employs a splash of chardonnay to add depthDomaine du Salvard’s Cheverny employs a splash of chardonnay to add depth
• Member favourite Duo Des Mers, Sauvignon-Viognier Vin de France 2015 (£5.95) benefits from the fattening and softening influence of the viognier grape’s texture, whilst also bringing the characteristic apricot and peach aromas to the wine.

•Another popular French choice, Cheverny, Domaine du Salvard 2015 (£7.95), employs 10-15% chardonnay in the blend to give greater breadth and depth, but without masking the herbaceous scents of the sauvignon.

Bleasdale Langhorne Crossing Verdelho-Sauvignon 2015 (£6.95) combines sauvignon blanc with another spring-and-summer variety: the vibrant verdelho, which introduces pleasant pear-like notes and tropical tones to the blend.

• In Spain, moscatel can add its floral aromatics and bring a more table-grape dimension to the fruit character, as is the case in Saleta Moscatel-Sauvignon Blanc 2015 (£5.95). This wine has excellent balance, with the sauvignon blanc moderating any of moscatel’s sweetness with its crisp acidity and ensuring the wine remains dry.

I don’t want to tempt fate but I shall be putting all of the above in the chiller in anticipation of the appropriate weather.

If not, I may just have to turn the thermostat up.

Conrad Braganza
The Cellar Showroom

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Thu 31 Dec 2015

Rioja Harvest 2015: Sights and Sounds

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Read part one here, which includes news from Viña Amézola and Bodegas Palacio.

Laguardía at sunset with the granite slopes of the Cantabrian mountains behind - the point at which the Alevasa vineyards stopLaguardía at sunset with the granite slopes of the Cantabrian mountains behind – the point at which the Alevasa vineyards stop

While they are used to dramatic temperature differences in Rioja, such heat as we experienced during our visit in October was not usual.

How had this affected the vintage?
You might assume that the winemakers we visited would be ecstatic about an early vintage of ripe healthy grapes. Yes, it’s fair to say that there were plenty of smiles on faces – but these are wines that are crafted for the long haul and the winemaking men and women behind them are a pragmatic lot… and these were early days.

María José of López de Heredía told us, ‘we don’t like to judge our harvest straight away. Our grandmother told us you must always wait until after the second fermentation’ (that is the malolactic fermentation – you can read more about that in our series of winemaking articles.)

The general feeling is pretty positive though: the summer was continuously hot and dry and the tempranillo grape – the main constituent of Rioja – was picked in good health and full ripeness. Small grapes (the result of evaporation caused by the heat) may result in lower quantities, however.

María said that having a mix of grapes gives Rioja producers a distinct advantage and that in 2015 at López de Heredía they will reduce the amount of garnacha they use (a variety that tends towards high alcohol levels) and will increase the amount of graciano and mazuelo, two grapes that give highish acidity to the wine. In the face of a changing climate these grapes might become more important, she suggested.

The railway quarter in Haro
López de Heredía, together with La Rioja Alta, Muga and several other well-known names, are all in Haro’s historic railway station quarter. Here the harvest was still in full flow, with tractors trundling in and out of their impossibly picturesque wineries.

The view from Haro town of the historic railway station quarter, where so many famous bodegas are based in a tiny areaThe view from Haro town of the historic railway station quarter, where so many famous bodegas are based in a tiny area

Of all of these, López de Heredía’s is the most surreally romantic.

López de Heredía López de Heredía

López de Heredía

Grapes are brought in to the winery in poplar wood crates in the way that they have been for centuries. The technique hasn’t been retained for any reasons of sentimentality; María tells us that they have discovered that the unusual shape of the crates and the poplar wood from which they are made are ideal for their wines. ‘The wood harbours the indigenous yeasts that we want for fermentation. We have experimented with other methods over the year, but we have come to realise that our predecessors knew what they were doing!’

Across the road at Bodegas Muga, we were treated to the full spectacle of the harvest being brought in. Trucks were unloading and grapes weighed and analysed (15% of grapes come from a network of small family growers as was traditional in Rioja); an optical sorting machine ensured only the best berries made it through to be made into wine, and the barrels were being made and toasted to just the right levels in Muga’s own cooperage. Muga is one of the few wineries in the world whose barrels and casks are made by their own coopers.

La Rioja Alta – ageing the wine and the effects of climate change
The other bodega we visited in the station quarter was La Rioja Alta – home of our Exhibition Rioja Reserva. Here, too we were treated to a tour of the cellars but the wines are not made here (fermentation, bottling and labelling all now takes place at Labastida a new winery some five minutes away).

José Féliz racking our Exhibition Reserva RiojaJosé Féliz racking our Exhibition Reserva Rioja
So no sights and sounds of vintage here, just the row upon row of barrels gently ageing and La Rioja Alta’s classically styled reservas and gran reservas are given considerable ageing and are only released when fully ready. For example, the gran reservas are aged for on average 11 years (the minimum is five) – five or six years in barrel and at least five in bottle.

What sets the wines apart from other traditional producers and the reason we chose them for our Exhibition wine is that their wines still retain vigour and feel alive. This is attributed partly to the skilled job of racking the wine (moving it from one barrel to the next to remove sediment and clean the barrel). At La Rioja Alta this is done traditionally and it is only after five years’ training that a new cellar hand will be allowed to do this skilled job on their own.

The rackers get to know their barrels intimately and notice when things aren’t quite right. Interestingly our guide told us that they usually rack every six months but climate change is having an effect on this part of the winemaking process too. They are starting to notice as humidity levels have dropped slightly the wine is maturing more quickly, the pores in the wood presumably widening ever so slightly. Now they check the barrels more often and top up the barrels every month.

Brave new world at Viña Real
On our last day in the region and in complete contrast to the wonderful historic cobwebby cellars of López de Heredia, we found ourselves witnessing state-of-the-art winemaking in Viña Real’s purpose-built winery dug into the hillside in the Rioja Alavesa. Designed by Bordeaux’s Philippe Mazières, the architecture is as stunning as it is practical, the winery looking like a vast barrel on top of the hillside.

Viña Rea

The operation is vast here and highly ergonomic. Tunnels carved out of the hillside were built by the same company that constructed the underground system in Bilbão and took three years to make and were a considerable investment for the company. 25 thousand barrels and three million bottles are housed here, but only nine people are employed.

But the most impressive aspect of this circular bodega is the vat room where the design allows for the vast fermentation vats to be filled automatically using a robotic crane. Gravity alone is used to move the grapes and juice around the bodega avoiding the need for any pumping which has a negative effect on quality.

Grapes for Viña Real wines are hand-harvested then sorted by both a visual inspection and automated hoppers before falling into mini stainless-steel vats which are then slowly hoisted by a crane and moved around the circular fermentation hall by a huge electronic arm. We were lucky enough to see this in action.

You can watch the process in this short but noisy video!

Joanna Goodman
News Editor

• If you’re interested in buying wines from the Rioja region, including those from some of the bodegas mentioned above, visit our website.

• There’s more on the effects of climate change and its influence (or not) on rising alcohol levels in wine in our article by Caroline Gilby MW here.

Categories : Spain
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Wed 30 Dec 2015

Rioja Harvest 2015: In The Thick of It

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2015 was the earliest vintage on record in Rioja and inadvertently we were there to capture some of the hustle and bustle of harvest time.

On a recent study tour of Rioja, timed to take place just before the vintage, we found ourselves instead, right in the middle of the harvest – the earliest on record and three weeks earlier than usual.

Grapes in transit (not to one of our bodegas!)Grapes in transit (not to one of our bodegas!)
Harvest is usually the busiest time of year for wineries and not the best time to visit, generally. But it is an ill wind that doesn’t blow some good and for us it was a fantastic opportunity to see for ourselves what actually happens when the grapes come in.

Visit a winery at just about any other time of the year and you’ll be struck by how empty it is. You’ll be lucky if you see another person as you are shown around vast echo-y galleries with serried ranks of tanks and barrels, perhaps with a bit of pumping over or racking going on if you’re lucky. It always makes me think that being a winemaker must be quite a lonely profession!

But seeing a winery in full flood (as it were) is to see it in its true colours, in full operational mode. All those things you’ve heard about or read in textbooks are happening before your eyes, and the wonderful thing about Rioja in particular, is there is such as contrast between the old, highly traditional and the bright, shiny new.

Tempranillo grapes arriving in good health at AmézolaTempranillo grapes arriving in good health at Amézola
The whole region is in action and it’s quite exciting. In Rioja grapes are quite often brought some distances to the wineries and the roads are busy with tractors and trailors trundling back and forth with their load of grapes. Special road signs are put out to warn motorists of slow-moving grape carriers.

Extreme weather
At Viña Amézola, sisters Cristina and María said that normally they would start harvesting around 6th October. This year, they had pretty much finished by 1st October; the last of the grapes were coming in while we were there (theirs is only one of three bodegas in Rioja who don’t buy in any grapes) and Amézola were breathing a sigh of relief. Just up the road, some bodegas had lost their entire crop, and even the vines themselves, the result of freak, highly localised hail storms in August.

Tasting the new wine
Arriving at the bodega when we did provided another unforeseen opportunity – the chance to taste wine straight from vat just before fermentation had started (when the grape juice is referred to as ‘must’ and still tastes sweet), at a day old and then at two days old. It was fascinating to taste the work of the yeast on the juice in progress.

Tasting the new wine from the 2015 vintage at Viña AmézolaTasting the new wine from the 2015 vintage at Viña Amézola

During our winery visits, we couldn’t help but remark upon the bundles of sticks that were often seen amongst the vats of fermenting wine. Apparently these are placed into the vats as a way of filtering the wine. Fresh reeds are harvested each year and from specific plots of trees; a traditional method that I for one had not come across anywhere else.

Bunches of reeds used to help filter the wineBunches of reeds used to help filter the wine

Bodegas Palacio, home of The Society’s Rioja Crianza, had already finished picking bringing everything in (from some 500 different plots) in a record 10 days. Every single vat in its vast cellar was full. Winemaker Roberto Rodriguez looked pretty exhausted when we arrived at the bodega on the outskirts of picture-postcard perfect Laguardía at early evening.

Feel the fermentation! The dense CO2-laden air and hum of the ventilating fans made the process of fermentation palpable.Feel the fermentation! The dense CO2-laden air and hum of the ventilating fans made the process of fermentation palpable.
Opening up the enormous gates of the winery we were hit by a new sensation… enormous fans, resembling those you see on jumbo jets, were circulating the CO2-laden air. The noise and the lack of oxygen were quite overpowering. Roberto was anxious to check that we were all ok and that nobody had asthma – it is not unusual for people to suffocate in wineries and removing the CO2 safely is a challenge in the winemaking process.

Feeling a little light headed, we were taken to Roberto’s control centre. Looking like something out of a James Bond film, the array of dials and computer screens enable Roberto to monitor what is happening in every single vat, from temperature control to alcohol levels, wine densities, pumping over, micro-oxygenation etc. It makes it sound simple, as though with the press of a button all can be viewed and controlled, but clearly, there’s a lot more to it than that!

…back to talk of the weather
The medieval hill-top town of Laguardía is in the Rioja Alavesa region which produces grapes that according to Roberto are ‘the soul of Rioja.’ From the town you can look out over the surrounding vineyards and appreciate why this might be so. South-facing and protected by the Cantabrian mountain range, the unique soils and cool nights all contribute to producing grapes with finesse and crucially, the vital acidity that’s required to allow Rioja to age.

We were all too aware of this large diurnal temperature variation. In the day the temperature had got up to 28°C, now that the sun had gone down and we were taking an evening stroll around Laguardía we were all freezing.

These are just the conditions that the tempranillo grape loves.

Joanna Goodman
News Editor

Read part 2 here, including reports from López de Heredía, Muga, La Rioja Alta and Viña Real.

• If you’re interested in buying wines from the Rioja region, including those from some of the bodegas mentioned above, visit our website.

• There’s more on the effects of climate change and its influence (or not) on rising alcohol levels in wine in our article by Caroline Gilby MW here.

Categories : Spain
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Thu 15 Oct 2015

Sherry: A Damascene Conversion

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David Mitchell, digital insights manager and a keen wine student, is seduced during a special staff tasting here at Society HQ in Stevenage with Beltran Domecq…

‘The most undervalued, dynamic and complex wine I have ever come across’

Our tasting with Beltran Domecq in full swing...Our tasting with Beltran Domecq in full swing…
To be completely honest, I have always seen sherry either to be mouth-puckeringly dry and bitter or teeth-achingly sweet and only really to gather dust at the back of a sideboard ready for the visit of an aged aunt.

I can now say that after this tasting this cannot be further from the truth!

What have I been missing over all these years!
The tasting started with a general history of sherry and how it has been made for more than 3,000 years; indeed the Romans made mention of it. It was known as ‘Sherry Sack’ in the UK – ‘Sack’ is believed to be a corruption of the Spanish name for drawing the wine from the bottom of the complex solera ageing system.

The soil that the main grape – palomino – is grown in is known as ‘albariza’, which has a high chalk content to help retain the high rainfall in the vineyards for the very hot summers. The palomino grape is used for the dry styles of sherry, whereas Pedro Ximenez (PX) and moscatel grapes are mainly used for the sweeter styles and used in blending.

I found it amazing that so many styles can be made from the palamino grape alone; depending on how the base wine (known as mosto) was aged through the solera system, and how the flor (yeast covering the top of the wine) developed over time.

A layer of flor yeast over ageing sherryA layer of flor yeast over ageing sherry

The first few sherries that were tried were fino, the driest style. These wines are aged under floating flor yeast, meaning that they develop ‘biological’ flavours rather than oxidative flavours as would usually happen in oak barrels. This gives finos a relatively light character with floral aromas and flavours of green apples, as well as a light nutty character of salted almond.

Manzanilla is a fino, but from around the port of Sanlúcar de Barrameda: the close proximity to the sea gives a much more pungent and intense flavour than a fino further inland. However, both gave very fresh flavours – great with tapas!

An aged fino was also tried, which had an average of between 6-8 years, and there was a slight increase in some of the oxidative flavours and slightly more woody and oaky notes due to a longer period of time in contact with the oak.

One thing to note is that the older the sherry is aged for, the more concentrated the flavours and alcohol. This is due to the fact that there is a 3-4% reduction in the overall volume of the wine where water evaporates from the oak barrels but retains the alcohol. This means that the alcoholic % increase over time but also brings added complexity.

The next few sherries tried were amontillados. These were selected fino barrels which had lost the flor layer part way through the aging process and were then fortified. Arguably these wines had the best of both worlds: they possess a fresh initial flavour but with the additional complexities of nutty flavours, mainly of hazelnuts. We tried a medium-dry blend which had the initial hit of sweetness much like a port, but then some of the vanilla characters from the oak barrels and a hazelnut finish.

A Palo Cortado was also tried. This is a sherry which was destined to become a fino or amontillado but then loses its protective layer of flor and starts to age as an oloroso (see below) and then fortified to stop the wine spoiling. This doesn’t happen that often, making this style relatively rare. The wine still had notes of fresh apples but with a light oxidative character and was both elegant and full-bodied.

We then tasted some olorosos: sherries which have no flor protection and so age oxidatively. These have a much darker colour and an intense, nutty aroma. You can definitely sense that these are fortified wines: they are much fuller with a much longer finish and have more of a hazelnut flavour rather than almond as found in the fino.

A sherry soleraA sherry solera
A medium-sweet oloroso blend had some additional notes of raisin on the nose; this would be due to part of the blend being made up from the Pedro Ximenez grape to give the additional sweetness. This sherry had an initially sweet hit, much like a port, but then evolves into the characteristic hazelnut flavours of an oloroso with a fantastic long finish. This went down especially well with those present.

A 30-year-old oloroso was fantastically complex with the nutty character, very concentrated flavours and an amazingly long finish. At £21 per bottle, the price worked out on average at 70p per year, considering the whole solera in which the wine was aged would be 40-50 years. This is fantastic value for this level of ageing!

The last sherry we tried was a 30-year-old Pedro Ximenez, one of the sweetest of all wines with intense raisin flavours, along with notes of figs, dates, caramel and fudge. Despite its sweetness and fullness, the wine was still in balance and very enjoyable.

I hope the above shows that that there will be a style of sherry to suit everyone!

In summary…

Types of sherry and their flavours:

Fino sherry is the lightest and freshest tasting with flavours of apples and almonds.
Manzanilla is a more intense version which is fuller in style.

Palo Cortado is the most elegant and intense version of fino-derived styles, with fantastic freshness.

Amontillado has the initial freshness of a fino but also has the added complexity and nutty character of an oloroso – a great ‘best of both’ sherry style.

Oloroso has a more intense nose with added aromatics and colour, and the flavours lean towards hazelnuts rather than almonds with a long finish – a joy to drink and savour.

Pedro Ximenez is very sweet and used in blends to increase the sweetness, on its own it gives flavours of raisins, figs and caramel.

A few other tips…

The longer a sherry is aged for, the more intense and complex it becomes. There is also a slight increase in alcohol due to water evaporation; however, this adds additional flavour concentration.

Treat lighter sherries much like you would a white wine: it should be served chilled and be used within a week or so. Other Sherries such as oloroso will last slightly longer once opened, but should be consumed fairly soon after opening – not stuck in the back of a cupboard!

Sherry is very good value for money considering its long ageing and complex nature, not to mention the joy of trying so many different styles.

• Most importantly, perhaps – treat sherry as a wine! Use a normal wine glass and enjoy the aromatic notes and flavours that develop in the glass.

No other wine give so much complexity and enjoyment for the price – find as many opportunities to enjoy sherry as you can!

Some suggestions to try:
• Light but intense – Alegria Manzanilla (£7.95)
• Still light but with added nutty complexity and a whisper of sweetness – Romate Maribel A Selection of Amontillado Medium Dry (£8.50)
• Slightly sweet but with complex nutty flavours and amazingly long finish – The Society’s Exhibition Mature Medium Sweet Oloroso Blend (£11.95)

David Mitchell
Digital Insights Manager

Categories : Fortified, Sherry, Spain
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… seems to be the lot of this underrated grape.

But I have had a long-time love affair with wines made from this underrated grape: Rioja, Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Minervois, Banyuls, Gigondas, Priorat, all contain grenache (garnacha in Spain) and therein lies the reason, I feel, for the lack of due deference paid to this most versatile grape.  An important player in the assemblage of these well-known wines, its name rarely appears on the label, leading to its position of relative obscurity and under-appreciated status.

Grenache - always the bridesmaid, never the brideGrenache – always the bridesmaid, never the bride

Other grapes that can command the spotlight, chardonnay, syrah to name two, are practically brands in themselves. But poor old grenache remains under the radar.

But this is a grape that can produce rosés, reds at all levels, and even sweet wines that can take on chocolate; not to mention the white mutations of grenache blanc and gris that produce a range of full-bodied whites which are now becoming more widely appreciated.

Well it’s time to put things right and this Friday 18th September, grenache gets to have its share of the limelight as it is International Grenache Day – a day where the grape can be celebrated by showcasing wines where grenache not only dominates but rules. My kind of wines!

If you’re looking for a place to start your love affair or reacquaint yourself with the glories of grenache then these would be my recommendations:

From Navarra in northern Spain, there’s Señorio de Sarria Rosado, Navarra 2014, a smooth and fruity rosado to try with marinated anchovies. A good insight into the grape in its white form would be the round and refreshing Grenache Blanc from Domaine du BoscDomaine Jones in Tuchan, close to the border with Roussillon, produces a full and herby grenache gris perfect for aperitifs or robust fish stews. Her ample red (Domaine Jones, Côtes Catalanes Grenache 2013)

Mrs, and now Mr Jones, in Katie's old-vine vineyard below QueribusMrs, and now Mr Jones, in Katie’s old-vine vineyard below Quéribus

from old grenache vines in the shadow of Cathar stronghold, Château de Quéribus, is overflowing with luscious fruit; a winter warmer to delay the central heating switch on as the nights close in.

For a lighter fragrant style which demonstrates grenache or garnacha’s versatility why not give Salvaje del Moncayo Garnacha 2014 a try? It’s made by self-confessed garnacha nut, Raul Acha whose parents’ ancient garnacha vines in Rioja inspired him to seek out interesting parcels to vinify across Spain. Both reds would suit hearty fare and serving the latter cellar cool introduces an appealing freshness, one of the hallmarks of good grenache or garnacha which also deserves to be better understood.So whatever you choose, let’s afford grenache the acclaim it deserves as the headliner and not just a support act.

Conrad Braganza
The Cellar Showroom

The wines mentioned above will all be open to taste in The Cellar Showroom on International Grenache Day this Friday 18th September. If you are in the area, do call in and try them.

Read more about the grenache grape in our online guide here.

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Tue 28 Jul 2015

An Iberian Summer: Whites For Warmer Weather

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The arrival of summer heralds the chance to do many pleasurable things, one being the opportunity to sip a chilled glass of wine in the garden as the swallows and swifts swoop.

It used to be a relatively easy choice for my white: something sauvignon blanc based, whether the mineral freshness of the Loire, the tropical fruit of New Zealand or the perfumed examples from Bordeaux.

Anselmo Mendes' Muros Antigos and Pazo de Villarei's Albariño offer delicious summer drinkingAnselmo Mendes’ Muros Antigos and Pazo de Villarei’s Albariño offer delicious summer drinking
However, recently I have found that more wines now jockey for position of summer sipper and none more so than those of Spain and Portugal.

Albariño led this charge and now is firm favourite; not just for a bowl of whitebait but a worthy tipple in the warmer weather with its citrus backbone allowing the delicate fruit to brought to the fore, such as Pazo de Villarei 2014 (£8.50).

My interest in Iberia only intensified on a recent trip to northern Spain. I was able to see first-hand how a modern approach, assisted by investment in technology, concentrating on cooler areas and allowing the Atlantic freshness to prevail had helped expose the latent charm of indigenous grapes and has brought the wines of Iberia to the attention of those like myself, seeking lively thirst-quenching wines with well-defined fruit and an aromatic touch.

The current Summer Whites from Spain and Portugal offer mirrors my newfound interest in these wines and showcases many favourites.

Spain’s Gaba do Xil Godello Valdeorras 2014 (£8.75) offers up a clean cut of unoaked freshness tempered by a roundness on the palate typical of the godello grape. Add to this the invigorating peachiness of Finca Lallana (£7.50), a certified 100% organic verdejo which I was fortunate to witness being blended.

With a surname like Braganza you might expect leanings to Portuguese whites. Vinho verdes, as the name alludes to (‘green wine’), used to deliver freshness but sometimes in an unripe fashion. However, times have changed: try Anselmo Mendes’ ‘Muros Antigos’ Loureiro (£7.95) or Soalheiro’s Alvarino (£14.50), which still provide a bright background but with a floral fragrance that raises the wine – both are great for grilled mackerel.

For an easy drinker try Quinta da Espiga, Lisboa 2014 (£6.50) which uses a smidgen of sauvignon blanc and a host of indigenous grapes to create a zesty, lower-alcohol wine that makes a great lunchtime drink. Another favourite is Alvaro Castro Dão Branco 2014 (£7.95), which introduces a contemporary take on the Dão style.

Lastly, Spain’s Ermita del Conde Albillo, Vino de la Tierra de Castilla y León 2013 (£10.95) and Portugal’s popular Adega de Pegões Colheita Seleccionada, Setúbal 2014 (£6.75) reveal how Iberia can deliver wines with a difference (the former offering beguiling fruit underpinned by subtle spice from oak, the latter a smooth full-flavoured white), both offering culinary companionship aplenty.

Hopefully the above illustrates Iberia’s credentials for good summer whites.

All we need now is a good summer…!

Conrad Braganza
The Cellar Showroom

Categories : Other Europe, Portugal, Spain
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I love an underdog. It’s very much an English thing, I guess – that built-in desire to root for that which offers the path of most resistance. A few years ago in Portugal this trait surfaced quite prominently.

I had heard The Society’s buyer for Portugal, Jo Locke MW, complain for about the fifth time that morning how underrated Portuguese whites were in comparison to their Spanish counterparts and how they didn’t get the recognition that they deserved.

Iberian WhitesWe’d soon see about that! A plan was hatched to put the whites of Portugal toe to toe with their Spanish cousins.

I must admit that while it seemed like a great idea standing in a Portuguese vineyard bathed in sunshine, when back in Society HQ on a damp, grey Stevenage morning the sales figures for the two regions looked all a bit one-sided.

Spanish whites outsell those from Portugal in volume and value. it could be the biggest mismatch since Frank Bruno vs Chuck Gardner back in 1987.

Perhaps a little market research might be in order.

One great thing about working at The Society is that there is never a shortage of people willing to try wine, at the pop of a cork or twist of a screwcap they are heading towards you, glass in hand and a glint in the eye.

I figured that a quick Spanish albariño vs Portuguese alvarihno blind tasting would be a good starting point: the same grape and a similar bottle shape (an important point when you want the wine judged on what’s in the glass rather that what they have deduced is in the glass!). With both wines bagged and with strict instructions not to cheat, staff put a tally mark on a piece of paper next to each bottle.

The end result was very close: Portugal by a nose!

However, the main result of this impromptu blind tasting was the realisation that I was approaching this all wrong. Why did there have to be a winner or loser here? Without wishing to sound like a primary school teacher on sports day, surely they were all winners here?

The truth of the matter is the both regions produce great-value, refreshing wines with a style all of their own; and after speaking with Jo and Pierre (Mansour, Society buyer for Spain), who were busy selecting wines from their respective regions, I realised that they felt the same – although they’d reached this conclusion a long time ago and with considerably less fuss!

So here we have it: summer whites from Spain and Portugal. Vibrant fresh and individual wines, and all the better for losing my original ‘battle of the bottles’ slant.

I hope if you regularly drink Spanish whites that you’ll tiptoe over the border to try some Portuguese examples; or if you thought heavily oaked white Rioja is all that Spain has to offer you’ll take another look and see just how far these amazingly bright and fresh wines have come.

Either way, I hope that you’ll see how both regions can make a fine addition to any wine rack this summer… but if you did have a favourite I’d love to know!

Gareth Park
Marketing Campaign Manager

View the full Iberian Whites offer here

Categories : Other Europe, Portugal, Spain
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