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Where Should Spanish Wineries Invest their Money -Their Wines or Their Wineries?

As a rule, I do not believe wine writers should encourage companies to spend vast sums of money on building wineries. While it is evident that people cannot help but be swayed by gimmicks like heavy bottles, expensive machinery, labour-intensive winemaking techniques, famous architects and impressive postcodes, if we believe wine writers should cut through all this (this also means we should cut through its reverse – any attempt to make a winery more rustic, idyllic and down-at-heel), then the object of our focus should be the wine.

I said two weeks ago that, in the case of large wine groups like Bodegas Faustino, their job is to produce good, solid wines that represent their region. These wines should also be on sale at a fraction of the cost of their betters (supermarché oblige).

Faustino seem to have done this with Portia, their winery in Ribera del Duero. If I was picky, I would say we could expect the wines to be cheaper (indeed, Portia is the latin for ‘gift’), but the range starts at a thoroughly respectable (for Ribera del Duero) £8-9.99 for the ‘second wine’, Ebeia. Extrapolate from that the prices of the Portia and Portia Prima, the top wine, and we’re talking about relatively well-priced wines from a relatively expensive – and fashionable region.

The wines are, just as importantly, good examples of their region. All show very decent structure (good, firm tannins and nice, fresh, acidity). They might lack the depth of fruit you might see in their more famous counterparts, but I think a certain austerity does not undo these wines, especially not with the kind of food we were given with them: lamb and blood sausage!

But – and there is a but – should we praise Portia for building a walloping, massive, space-age complex designed by Sir Norman Foster and costing more than money than Croesus ever dreamed of? The building is big, impressive and imposing – walking into it is a bit like walking under a massive version of Darth Vader’s helmet and into the reception area of the Death Star.

Yes, Spain attracts these architectural fantasies (and who am I to deny this deservedly fashionable country its follies?); yes, with my cellarhand’s eyes, it’s very well designed; yes, I understand it will also be a visitor centre; but I cannot help thinking that this amount of money should not be spent on building a winery. I’m willing to accept that I’m being a luddite, but if the wines I tasted in Aranda del Duero were all made prior to the move to this new, sci-fi edifice, what is the need for it?

Ebeia, Ribera del Duero, 2009

Very dark, broody fruit with violet notes; light and bright young fruit on the palate (but that might have been helped by the morcilla – blood sausage). When tasted, this had only been in bottle for two months. The initial aspect on the palate was what seemed to be an almost total lack of fruit. But after about 30 minutes, the fruit came through.

Portia, Ribera del Duero, 2006

Floral nose, hint of talc and some nice fruit. There’s a lovely freshness to this wine on the palate. Great structure – perhaps a little hard – but a good example of what Ribera should deliver.

I tasted this again a few days later and while it definitely lacks dimension (there should, one suspects, be a bit more going on in the wine), it still remains a good, standard, Ribera wine:

Nice, dark, fruity nose – still a touch of basic, young fruit in there but this is not unattractive. Nice, soft arrival on the palate and good mouthfeel. Nice spice and fruit. Very good structure (if the tannins aren’t a bit hard) and decent-ish length. Again, the price of this has to be borne in mind when making an assessment of its overall quality. In terms of the wider Ribera del Duero selection, it’s not good enough. In terms of price, it’s very good.

Portia Prima, Ribera del Duero, 2007

This is the top wine. Very curranty with dark, beautiful black fruit on the nose. On the palate this had a lovely structure, with a fair whack of fruit and pretty tannins. On the finish this wine also showed a very slim, structured style. You might also expect a bit more dimension from this wine but, to be honest, how much one should expect from this wine depends a lot on the competition it has in its price band.


Oliver Styles

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