Several years ago top wine writer Ch’ng Poh Tiong wrote a piece in his Decanter magazine column that basically said that you could (perhaps ‘should’) judge the quality of a wine by how much of it you drank. If your glass was emptied relatively quickly (the abuse of alcohol is dangerous for your health, enjoy wine moderately), you could be pretty sure it was a good – maybe a great wine. If you struggled to finish a glass, something was obviously not right.
It’s obvious, right? But it’s an approach I like. It’s an approach to rating and drinking wines that works (and yes, it works for tasting – i.e. spitting out – wines too) and is immediately quantifiable.
So I used it with two Prieto Picudos from Tierra de Leon, that quasi-unknown region that, for people outside Spain, sits between the Galician mountains and the Castillan plain (where the rain, apparently, mainly stays). Both wines are from the same producer, Gordonzello – a very big winery in region – the first a 2008 Tinto called Peregrino Mil100 (the label sports the Leonese lion, commemorating 1,100 years since the foundation of the Kingdom of León), the second a 2007 Crianza: Peregrino 14 (the fourteen stands for 14 months in barrel). (Photo Credit: Rob Warde)
Some winos will sometimes be heard to tell a captive audience that Mencia is Spain’s Pinot Noir. Which is rubbish. Spain’s Cabernet Franc, perhaps. I’d controversially say it’s more like Spain’s Merlot but neither grape comes out well from that comparison so we should probably leave Mencia out of it. What I’m getting it is that Prieto has far more claim to be Spain’s Pinot – much more natural acidity, smaller berries (shaped almost like a tiny rugby ball), and just as difficult to manage. Where León’s Prieto can trump Burgundy’s Pinot is in vine age. Yes, in some small, dust-blown areas almost forgotten by humanity, there are vines older than your mum. Some people – stubborn old viticulturalists and dutiful co-operatives (some of whose bunker-grey, brutalist buildings were designed, it seems, by the love child of Albert Speer and Konstantin Melnikov) still harvest this almost unknown grape. It is a shame that, as economic issues start to bite into the expanding market for Spanish wines abroad, Prieto Picudo will unlikely follow on from Mencia’s successful introduction to the likes of the US market.
But, as ever, I digress.
It’s clear, from Poh Tiong’s method, that I preferred the Peregrino 14 Crianza. If Prieto is like Pinot, use of oak is judicious and the Mil100 is just too oaky right now to be anything like a pleasure to drink. If you like your wine to smell like the aftermath of a forest fire, by all means get yourself a case. You’ll have to deal with the mighty oak tannins on the finish too. Which is a shame because both wines have pretty darned decent fruit (after a day open, the Mil100 certainly shows it on the palate, but the oak still takes over on the finish). Will the oak ever soften out? I don’t know. My instinct is that it won’t, but I would (for once) sincerely hope to be proved wrong in 20 years’ time. The Peregrino 14 Crianza is much more amiable. It’s vintage wasn’t great (2007 was not good for much of Spain) and it is definitely quite funky on the nose. The best way I can describe the palate is to imagine a bloody steak dropped onto straw and the whole wicker/wagyu mass put into a blender and strained. I apologise to vegetarians but it tastes like bloody steak and barn floor. Which I quite like.
On the Poh Tiong scoring chart, Peregrino 14 beats Mil100 by seven glasses.
Gordonzello, Peregrino, Mil100, Prieto Picudo Tinto, 2008
Very smoky woody nose when first poured. This dissipates a little with time and shows a classy, perfumed French oak, spices and red fruit nose. There is more wood on the palate although after a day of being open, it was showing some nice, juicy fruit (which suggests that if you have this wine and open it today, you should decant it). The finish is dominated by the oak and their tannins, which is a shame because within all the ‘classy’ oak is some really nice fruit that should be allowed to compete. I hope against my cynicism that it will.
Gordonzello, Peregrino 14, Prieto Picudo Crianza, 2007
Also has some oaky aromas but this comes with nice hints of cherry and red fruits and some funky, rustic Prieto notes. On the palate: nice, supple fruit with gentle weight and a good, cherry fruit finish. On first opening, the oak seems a little heavy-handed but give it some time and air and the fruit starts to sing. Yes, this is a funky style of Prieto that is meaty and whiffy but it’s also juicy and drinkable.