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2009 José Peñin Tasting: Should Spanish Wine Producers Push Their Latest Vintage?

Evey year, as well as releasing his guide to the wines of Spain, José Peñin puts on a tasting of the top wines (those that got 94 points or more) in Madrid. Like so many tastings of this type (large room, producers behind tables, indecipherable layout, and too many people) the pointers for those attending remains the same: turn up early (to avoid the hordes), taste all the best stuff first (before it runs out), know what you want to taste (this prevents you from running about like a mouse trying to find cheese in a behavioural science experiment) and avoid any woman ostentatiously dressed (her perfume will lay any subtle aromas to waste like napalm over lemongrass) – I don’t wish to be sexist but I rarely seem to get many outrageous aftershave aromas from the men.

In any case, the tasting was as tastings are: a few interesting discoveries, a few impressive wines, a bit of mediocrity and a couple of shockers. Now, I know what you’re thinking – how can there be shocking or mediocre wines at a 94-points-or-more tasting? Well, the tasting booklet with which we were issued gives the tables and the wines of those tables that got the points. Unfortunately producers seem to be given artistic license as to what they bring. Some, like Contador or Remírez de Ganuza, had what was advertised; others, like Dominio de Bibei, had some of what was published and some not – the white (La Pena) was the 2007 vintage, not the 2006 that got the points; some had more than what was advertised (Pazo de Señorans) and some less (Vega-Sicilia and Pintia).

But that’s the nature of the game I suppose. I don’t necessarily like it but I understand that some producers have to try to sell the latest vintage. Trying to do that under the banner of a high-scoring previous vintage seems, to me, to be more harmful than beneficial. To give one instance, Dominio de Bibei’s La Pena, Ribeira Sacra, 2007, is not in any way a 94-point wine, and it does it a disservice to place it in such a tasting.

But here are the highlights (in semi-alphabetical order and with tasting notes lifted directly from my tasting book – there was no time to be ‘verbose’, which should please friends of Cameron Hughes Wine who objected to my last post on those grounds):

Bodega Contador, Rioja

Given its price (a ridiculous €200+ a bottle), I’m not going to laud the top wine – Contador – although I will admit it was very impressive. No, my favourite of the table was La Cuerva del Contador, Rioja, 2008. – Nose: Sweet, supple, red cherry fruit, touch of oak. Palate: soft, rounded, young, great structure – tannins a touch strong. It would be great at dinner but still costs a fair penny.

Bodegas Vega-Sicilia, Ribera del Duero

Before I recommend a wine from this table, I’d like to make a point: given the nature of some of the highest-scoring red wines in Spain (generally quite big, with impressive oak and fruit-tannin structure, very fruity and juicy, etc.), the Unico 2000, Vega’s top wine, is none of that (advanced, developed, spicy, soft, gentle, nicely structured, but relatively slim). And yet it will score very highly in most wine reviews (Peñen gave it 95). Surely, some of the world’s high-profile wine tasters must shift the goalposts when it comes to Unico? Anyway, I really liked their Pintia, Toro, 2008 Nose: touch of sweet fruit, spicy, deep and heathery. Palate: very dry but with nice, spicy fruit and chewy tannins. It wont be released for another couple of years but hopefully that should give that dryness time to melt away a bit.

Clos Mogador, Priorat

Winemaker and boss Réné Barbier is a big teddy bear. Bearded, relatively short, with a great smile and a rustic edge, he’s one of those men you just feel an urge to hug spontaneously. But he’s no buffoon. His wines are always impressive. My wine of the table was the second wine of Mogador, Manyetes, Priorat, 2006 (75% Carignan, 25% Grenache). Nose: spicy, dark, black and red fruits. Palate: Gorgeous mouthfeel and a lovely structure. It was a lovely wine (although the 2005, which was advertised, got the 94 points). My companions preferred their Solertia for easy-drinking now, which I wouldn’t argue with.

Marqués de Murrieta, Rioja

Straight into it: Marqués de Murrieta, Rioja Reserva, 2005 Nose: really lovely, spicy and perfumed. Palate: nice, relatively slim, spicy, great structure and long. A really nice wine.

Mas Martinet, Priorat

I have absolutely no recollection of this stand but I wrote FAB in capital letters next to the tasting note. Els Escurçons, Priorat, 2007 Nose: lovely, dark, brooding [a word copyrighted to Serena Sutcliffe MW] fruit. Palate: spicy, ripe, lovely mouthfeel, lovely acidity, with structure and juicy tannins.

Terroir Al Limit, Priorat

I tasted the wines from these guys last year and I think they’re pretty great. Last year, the guy behind the table (it was a different event but similar format) was affable, talkative and very friendly. This year, it was a different chap and the only reason I can give for the cold indifference received is that he thought we had some long-standing enmity but couldn’t do anything about it in a social situation. But the wines are brilliant. I’m unconvinced by their white, the Torroja, Priorat, 2008 – I basically thought it was ‘ok’. But the reds are a delight, and so different to other big-hitters – a slimmer, Burgundian style to all the other brawny boys. The red Torroja and Arbossar (both 2008) have this amazing aroma of raspberry sours. I could recommend any of them, including the 95-point (and unfortunately named) Les Tosses, Priorat, 2007. But if I had to pick one, it would be the Dits del Terra, Priorat, 2008 Nose: lovely, perfumed, red fruit. Palate: lovely structure, sweet, with great freshness. They are all pretty pricey, however.

No trip to Madrid would be complete without a visit to Taberna Laredo which boasts possibly the only Champagne and Burgundy-freak sommelier in the country (although he was generous enough to give us a 1991 Priorat blind – in his words ‘Priorat before it became Priorat’ – and although I have no tasting note, the only comparable wine would be a well-aged Barolo: slim, perfumed, with good tannins and lively acidity). The food was pretty good too!

Oliver Styles

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