A few weeks ago, I was talking to Raul Quemada, the winemaker at Bodegas Portia – the new Faustino enterprise in Ribera del Duero – and happened to ask whether he used Spanish oak on any of the Portia wines. After setting me straight that they used 100% French oak, he added that ‘Spanish oak is for making furniture’ in the way that suggests this is a regular joke among cellarhands in the bars of Aranda de Duero.
But someone does think Spanish oak is worth putting wine in – whether for marketing purposes or a genuine concern for flavour – because I recently tasted two wines that proudly state it on their label.
The two were by Toro producer Arco de Guia; both wines were from 2008: one was a sort of ‘roble’ and the other more a kind of ‘crianza’, although the outward difference between the two wines can only be discerned by the eagle eye (one has ‘12 on the label, the other ’06 – presumably the months spent in the oak of their motherland) or a close examination of the barcode. And if you’re counting on the supermarket staff to get the bottles lined up correctly on the shelves so you don’t pick up the €20 bottle when you wanted the €7 wine, or vice versa, prepare yourself to be upset at the till.
Nonetheless, seduced by the swanky label and keen-as-a-geek to taste the difference I got stuck in.
The Arco de Guia Armonia ’06 (months?) had a slight stink you get in lower-end Toro (a kind of vegetal pong, almost as if the yeast has had to sweat during ferment) but ignoring this, you get attractive berry and currant fruit with a decent helping of chocolate and vanilla from the oak. The impression on the palate wasn’t too bad with very nice fruit but it does seem well over-oaked. Now, if you like your wines oaky, this is a very decent wine (although at that price level I might prefer to recommend Castillo de Monte la Reina’s 2007 roble, which again has more than enough oak, but none of the stink).
But then the Arco de Guia Armonia ’12 had to merit its added value. Which it did. Very dark (colour and nose) with a ‘brooding’ fruit quality I love, it smelled of plump and smoky forest fruits with a hint of spice. Followed by a lovely mouthfeel and good fruit I fairly gulped it down. Again, the ‘roble Español’ seemed to come through and amplify the Toro tannins but the overall effect was like licking a berry compote off an old wood table. This was a definite step up although my one criticism would be that it was a bit short on the finish.
Although the latter wine was certainly more suave, in both cases I left the wines wondering how much tannin (of which Toro wines naturally have a great deal) was due to the fruit and how much was down to the ‘furniture’.