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Rare Iberian Discoveries: Old Vintages from Unknown Regions at a Low Price

I don’t want to encourage wine buying in supermarkets but this will have to be an exception. Two days ago, I stood in front of the serried ranks of bottles on the shelves and, avoiding the usual suspects, went to the end of the aisle where the ‘lesser’ appellations are. This was a supermarket in Zamora (Spain) and Toro – of course – dominated the selection, but, down towards the tawny Ports, were the odds and ends that one can find in any supermarket in Europe. Unheard-of appellations, unheard-of wines, unheard-of grapes, blends, producers, the lot.

Now, as most wine lovers will know to their cost, unusual wines in supermarkets rarely repay the risk and the money (albeit small change). When I put the 2001 Mencia Reserva Las Medulas from Bierzo (made by the worryingly-named Vinos de Leon) into the shopping basket I had little hopes. Old wine and supermarkets don’t mix (as many a wine buyer in France will tell you). Furthermore, I have an irrational dislike of shiny labels that have photographs on them. Call me a fool for that and I wouldn’t be able to argue.

But it was actually really rather good. After a lot of Tempranillo, after a lot of New World-style wines, after a lot of fruit, after all the blockbusters we often get given, this was something different. Yes, there was a hint of Brett, but it didn’t obscure the fruit; yes, the wine was getting tired, but it was still enjoyable; yes, it was a relatively light style but it was refreshing. I will admit that it wasn’t exceptionally complex – but then, for example, how many Riojas on supermarket shelves are? When you consider I paid €4.95 – yes, you read that correctly – for the bottle, you can’t argue (as a consumer at least) against it. It was an absolute joy.

There are obviously going to be questions about a wine of that age going for such a low price (Are they having difficulty selling it? Are the growers and viticulturalists getting a good deal?). There should also be questions of storage: How long has it been (a) in tank before being bottled, (b) in bottle before being shipped, (c) in warehouses before getting to the shelf and (d) on the shelf until being sold. Additionally, I feel I must get a second or third bottle to see how much bottle variation there is (I strongly suspect there might be some). Nonetheless, where little-known but up-and-coming regions are selling decently-made, old vintages for a low price and in a style that makes a refreshing change to a lot of blockbusters out there, I can’t commend this enough. I just hope the guy at the end of the chain is getting a good deal (I suspect he isn’t).

As an aside, Las Medulas is the name of a range of hills in Bierzo, bordering Galicia, where the Romans mined for gold using a system of sluices (highly impressive unless you happened to be doing the work!). It is now a spectacular UNESCO world heritage site and well worth a visit.

Vinos de Leon, Las Medulas, Bierzo Reserva, 2001 (Mencia)
Developed, Bretty (but not overly) nose with the odd whiff of cow-pat all underlined by nice, cherry fruit. On the palate: nice with decent fruit weight, and good freshness – it would be interesting to put this blind next to a couple of Rioja Gran Reservas. Light, developed, interesting although not very complex for €4.95 you can’t really go wrong. Very decent

Cheers,

Oliver Styles

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