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How do Spanish Sweet and Fortified Wines Size Up on an International Scale?

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One of the things I was trying to get a feel for, at this year’s Vinoble, was how Spanish sweet and fortified wines compared to those from the rest of the world. I was not very good at asking about prices, so I’m afraid I don’t really have a view on the value-for-money, but I was pretty good at having a taste.

It struck me that, as far as quality is concerned, spanish sweet and fortified wines have as wide a variety in quality as any other countries, or regions, and the best of these can easily hold their own against the highly touted from elsewhere. For me, at the top of the pile is definitely sherry. Some of the carefully aged and cared for sherries are more than world class. Perhaps they don’t command the same prices as some other iconic sweet and fortified wines, but they are just as complex, elegant and engaging.

Since these were recommended to me by sherry and wine writing legend, Julian Jeffs, I have to mention the newly released Harveys VORS range. I tried two of these (Palo Cortado and PX) at the London Wine Fair the week before Vinoble, where three had been awarded Gold (two best in class) and one Silver (best in class) at the IWSC 2008. At Vinoble, I tried the other two, the Amontillado and Oloroso. Beautiful wines, which all tell long, complex and interesting stories.

There were several Añada (vintage) sherries around at Vinoble as well. I went to a tasting given by Mauricio Gonzalez-Gordon from Gonzalez Byass where we enjoyed two Palo Cortados from 1978 and 1986 and also a blend of Oloroso añadas from every decade of the last century called, Millenium. The 1986 was a bit young and raw, but the other two were absolutely wonderful.

Jane Ward, Export Manager at Lustau, who recently released their 1990 Añada Oloroso, feels añadas could spark renewed interest in sherry in general. The Lustau 1990 Añada is a sweet Oloroso, but similar to their 1989 Añada the nose gives no clue to this. Their añada is also an unusual sherry because fermentation is arrested with alcohol, in the same way Port is made, leaving a sweet sherry made only from Palomino grapes (traditionally Pedro Ximnenez is use to sweeten Oloroso sherries). Others see Añadas as a bit of a gamble, as it is possible to produce much better quality wines from a solera, certainly Beltran Domecq, Winemaker at Harveys, does not see any potential in Añadas for them. However Beltran believes that the area of grape production is very important and at all the vineyards under his control (nearly 1500ha) he has implemented Integrated Production (IP). This holistic, sustainable system means, amongst other things, minimum chemical usage in a very targeted fashion. For Beltran IP is definitely the way forward for cleaner, better quality sherries.

Although sherry sales in general are dropping off significantly, sales at the top end remain healthy. Jane Ward believes this phenomenon is being driven by gastronomy. Foodies are no longer seeing sherries simply as aperitifs and digestifs, but are starting to pair sherry with food, which is where many of sherries work best in any case. There is still potential in
this area for the sherry houses and also something which Jane believes might be worth considering is bottling sherries from specific “pagos” within the sherry zone. A “pago” is a homogenous (soils, microclimate) group of vineyards within the zone and each pago produces wines with distinct characteristics.

Some other interesting spanish “finds” at Vinoble:

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From the misty mountainsides of the Basque country sweet, late harvest (vendimia tardía) Itsas Mendi wines made from Hondarrabi Zuri. A grape native to the area usually used to produce dry, light, refreshing Txakoli wine, so this is something unusual. The production is very small, and their sweet wines get better every season. They are laying some down each year to see how the wine develops in bottle. I tried their 2005 and 2006 wines.

Bodegas Mozaga 75 from DO Lanzarote. The the moon-like landscape of Lanzarote is not the easiest environment for grape production. Hollows in the volcanic ash are made to plant each vine, this way the roots can reach down to the soil below and a small wall is built around the hollow to protect the vine from the wind. The Mozaga 75 was made in 1975 and then spent 20 years ageing away quietly in 500l American oak butts. In 1995 some wine was drawn off the barrels and bottled, and every year since this has happened, the barrels being refilled with a similar, younger wine. Basically a version of the solera system.

Bodegas Bentomiz. This producer was a find for me, but it turns out Ryan already knows them and their wines very well. They very carefully and under difficult conditions (steep mountain sides) make a beautiful version of what the victorians called “Mountain Wine” – Sweet Malaga. They are not far from Jerez, so I will definitely be taking a drive to visit them sometime soon.

Manuel Aragón
Vendimia Tardía 2001. Now this was a bit of an experiment, it’s made in Chiclana from Sauvignon Blanc grapes, which is a very unusual variety for the area. Almost all wines in Chiclana are Moscatel, which leads me onto my next group of wines.

Atlantic Moscatel. Theses are fortified sweet Moscatel de Alejandría wines made along the coast of Cadiz province, mainly around the towns of Chiclana and Chipiona. The grapes are usually left to raisinate directly on the soil in specially prepared areas (the dust and sand the grapes collect along the way influence the character of the wine) and then the wines produced are aged in a solera system. I went to a tutored tasting where we tried 7
examples of Atlantic Moscatel. I was surprised at the quality and complexity of some of them.

Reymos Espumoso de Moscatel. A sparkling wine made from Moscatel in Valencia. Along the lines of Asti Spumante and very drinkable. I think this must be the only wine like this made in Spain. They market it as “Flare” in the US.

Customer service is definitely not one of Spain’s strengths, and I think the “take it or leave it” attitude prevails a lot of the time, that’s if you are lucky enough to get your call returned or a reply to your email. So one winemaker I was intrigued by for their fresh, go-gettem, whatever-the-client-wants attitude was Bodegas Murviedro. They are not exactly artesanal producers and only take orders by the container, but their two wines a 100% Moscatel and a rosado made with Moscatel and 25% Garnacha were clean, straightforward and easy drinking and probably excellent value. The two wines were presented in two different ways for different markets. One bright and clear, the other frosted rhine bottle and pastel colours.

Some other non-spanish things which caught my eye.

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Greece was the “guest” country at Vinoble this year. I tried an interesting wine made on Santorini and also from Samos. I had no idea Greece made such good sweet wines.

Cadillac: This is small Appellation Contrôlée just near the better known Sauternes. I enjoyed trying wines from Château La Bertrande very much, and was surprised at how good they were.

The Canadian producers were out in force this year. Last Vinoble, I believe there were only a few producers; while this year, I counted 11 different producers with at least two wines, of which were mostly Ice Wines. Whilst trying the Colio Estate Vidal Icewine 2002, their representative shared how the positive response received (read new markets and more sales) at last year’s Vinoble, brought forth a wave of new interest this year.

Two last things:

Canadian Apple Ice Wine (Cidre de Glace). OK, not made from grapes, but this was pretty spectacular stuff. I tried three of these produced by La Face Cachée de la Pomme and was bowled over a bit. The owners, retired Ad agency executives were definitely the coolest people at the fair. They were also very friendly.

Arrope: This is a traditional product in this part of Andalucía. It is a reduced grape must, thick, dark, gloopy and very sweet with grapey, raisiny, caramel and coffee flavours. Similar products are made all around the Mediterranean. Traditionally produced at home during the grape harvest, the local Co-operative AECOVI have started producing and bottling Arrope. Most of their grapes are produced using Integrated Production. I’m told it works with sweet and savoury dishes. They gave me a bottle of the stuff to experiment with and I can already say it goes excellently with very salty goats’ cheese.

Tasting Notes:

Harveys

Harveys VORS Palo Cortado
Dark amber, tawny colour. Gold lights.
Pronounced nose, sweet, expensive furniture, bees wax.
In the mouth, furniture wood, rather oak than mahogany, meaty, savoury.
Complex, evolving and long.

Harveys VORS Amontillado
Note lost sorry!

Harveys VORS Oloroso

Note lost sorry!

Harveys VORS PX (tasted at LIWF)
Very dark colour, almost black with brown rim. Stains the glass. Complex
raisin and caramel nose. Sweet, full and intense in the mouth, raisins,
balanced, almost salty.
Long finish.

Gonzalez Byass

Gonzalez Byass Añada Palo Cortado 1978
Light, delicate nose. Aldehyde.
Very complex evolving mouth, mahogany, oloroso. Very long.

Gonzalez Byass Añada Palo Cortado 1986
Young, delicate nose of varnish and green almonds.
Green almond mouth, tart and drying. Long.

Gonzalez Byass Millenium
Coupage of Añada Olorosos from 1902, 1917, 1923, 1935, 1946, 1957, 1962,
1977, 1983 and 1992.
Medium copper colour with a greenish rim. Tears.
Old furniture, cedar wood, nuts and almonds on the nose.
Big clean mouth, old furniture again, tobacco, spices.
Hugely complex, constantly evolving and revealing new flavours.
Very long finish which seemed to have citrus, even lemon zest!

Emilio-Lustau

Lustau 1990 Añada Oloroso
Dark brown colour.
Nutty and mahogany furniture on the nose.
Sweet, round and complex in the mouth, dried fruits, dates.

Itsas Mendi

Itsas Mendi Vendimia Tardía 2006
Straw coloured with a greenish tinge.
Floral nose with petrol, similar in the mouth.

Itsas Mendi Vendimia Tardía 2005
Similar straw colour to the 2006, green lights.
Nose sweeter and more floral and less mineral than 2005.
Floral and citrus flavours.

Bodegas Mozaga

Bodegas Mozaga 75
Shiny, dark gold almost tawny colour.
Pronounced orange peel on the nose.
Same in the mouth with bitter, orange pith notes, and spices, cloves. Long
finish.

Bodegas Bentomiz

Bodegas Bentomiz Aryanas Naturalmente Dulce 2006
Golden colour.
Pronounced floral, fruity nose with mineral notes.
Fruity, ripe pear flavours, minerality.

Bodegas Bentomiz Aryanas 2005 Terruno Pizarroso
Golden colour. Floral, vanilla and banana peel aromas.
Dried fruit, apricot flavours.


Bodegas Manuel Aragón

Manuel Aragón Vendimia Tardía 2001
Amber colour with a touch of brown
On the nose green, vegetal, olive oil, turpentine perhaps mango.
Sweet, light body, mineral, grease, balanced, drying to a long finish.

Atlantic Moscatels

Coop. Católico Agrícola de Chipiona – Mosto 2007
Straw colour, gold lights. Clean muscat, citric, floral nose. Sweet, fresh,
citric flavours.

AECOVI – Moscatel dulce de Chiclana
Gold colour, white rim. Honey, brown sugar and orange nose. Honey, lemon and
confectioned.

Cesar Florido – Moscatel Pasas
Tawny colour, gold lights.
Pronounced, spicy and dried fruit nose.
Sweet, full bodied, balanced, dried fruit. Long finish.

Unión de Viticultores Chiclaneros – Moscatel Don Matias

Dark brown, reddish lights. Floral nose, dried fruit, roasted coconut.
Sweet, balanced, coconut flavours, sweet asian spices. Thai curry?

Coop. Católico Agrícola de Chipiona – Moscatel Pasas
Tawny with greenish lights. Sultana and orange marmalade nose.
Orange marmalade, demarara sugar, dried figs in the mouth. Sweet but
balanced. Long finish.

Barbadillo – Moscatel Laura
Tawny, pale almost clear rim.
Pronounced, oxidised, oloroso notes on the nose.
Not that sweet. Big complex flavours, nutty, woody. Long dry finish.

Valdespino – Moscatel Toneles (20 year old)
Very dark brown, stains the glass.
Rich woody, coffee oxidised sherry-like nose.
Sugar 365g, but balanced, almost light bodied.
Complex flavours, salty dutch licorice (drop), coffee, bitter orange
marmalade, dried figs.
Very long, lingering finish.

Ane Cooperative

Reymos Espumoso de Moscatel (Flare in the US)
Pale straw colour, small delicate bubbles.
Muscat nose, floral and light.
Off-dry, light and balanced, floral rose flavours.

Bodegas Murviedro

Bodegas Murviedro Estrella
Pale, shiny straw colour. Sweet, floral nose.
Sweet, floral Muscat flavour, balanced.

Bodegas Murviedro Estrella Rosada
Pink colour.
Floral nose, with more complexity than the white.
Sweet, straightforward, floral and balanced.

Greece

San Torini 2004
Tawny with a touch of pink.
Sweet, spicy nose, incense.
In the mouth, sweet, balanced, a bit of tannin and dried fruits.

Samos Co-operative Vin Doux
Golden colour. Muscat nose, rosewater and melon.
Sweet but balanced, citrus flavours.

Samos Co-operative Nectar
Tawny colour, Muscat nose with sultanas.
Sultanas and citrus mouth.

Château La Bertrande

Château La Bertrande 2001 Cadillac
Clear pale yellow colour with a touch of green in the rim.
Honey on the nose, some stalky green aromas.
Honey in the mouth with mineral flavours.

Colio Estate Vidal Icewine 2002

Note lost sorry!

La Face Cachée de la Pomme

I tried the Neige 2006, Neige Éternelle 2004 and Frimas 2006
Did not take notes, but they were definitely made from apple, sweet,
balanced. The Frimas had confectioned, cooked apple (with skin on) flavours.

Cheers,

Justin

  • AllAboutAlavesa

    Justin, Thanks for all the information from Vinoble, I was supposed to attend this year but unfortunately couldn't make it. After hearing your description of the setting of the event in your previous blog and the interesting finds from this one, I will be sure to attend next year. Salud!

  • RichardA

    I am a big fan of Canadian Apple Ice Wine! It is especially great in the fall, with an apple dessert.

  • http://www.prgrisley.com AllAboutAlavesa

    Justin,
    Thanks for all the information from Vinoble, I was supposed to attend this year but unfortunately couldn’t make it. After hearing your description of the setting of the event in your previous blog and the interesting finds from this one, I will be sure to attend next year. Salud!

  • http://www.passionatefoodie.blogspot.com RichardA

    I am a big fan of Canadian Apple Ice Wine! It is especially great in the fall, with an apple dessert.

  • Justin

    Thanks for the comments, hope to see you at the next Vinoble AllAboutAlavesa and I can understand why you're a fan of apple ice wine RICHARDA. It's great stuff!

  • Justin

    Thanks for the comments, hope to see you at the next Vinoble AllAboutAlavesa and I can understand why you’re a fan of apple ice wine RICHARDA. It’s great stuff!

  • http://www.sweetrockincense.com Incense Powder

    Tawny with a little bit of a pink color. Sweet spicy incense, and a little bit of tannin and dried fruits. There you have it. Yum