Friday, August 22, 2008

Galician (and one oaky Bierzo) Tasting with The Group

Last night it was my turn to host our PM Dub tasting group and it will probably not come as a surprise that I chose to feature Spanish wines. As with many other tasting groups, we usually taste double blind, i.e. brown bagging each bottle, so that we do not know the region(s) or producers.

I chose to feature wines from Albariño and Mencia grapes, mainly because I do not believe that the group has had such a tasting, at least not during my tenure. The idea was to remind the group, with its typically Francophilian and occasionally italophilian wine geek tendencies, that Spanish wines are not all about fruity values to entice new world palates, or overoaked, over-priced wines from Ribera del Duero, Rioja and Priorat. And that there is more Spanish wine of interest to the well–informed, long tested wine palate than Lopez de Heredia, sherry and the occasional txakoli. That being said, there are more obscure wines from folks like Can Rafols (Penedes) I could have included, but the great northwest seemed to be calling, so Rias Baixas and Ribera Sacra it would be.

The Whites (in reverse order of group preference):

2006 Quinta do Couselo Turonia Albariño

Unusual for the O Rosal subzone, this is a 100% Albariño (usually Treixadura and Loureiro are in the mix). The wine was corked.

2005 Bodegas Pablo Padin Granbazar 'Ambar' Albariño

This relatively large producer (40,000 cases) located in the largest production zone of of Rias Baixas, Val do Salnes, generally makes good stuff. Their 'ambar' bottling is the nicest one they produce. People at first were put off by the funky aromas, but then warmed up a little to this wine. It echoes my experience with this wine a few months ago - at first I found it to be an over the hill, partially maderized bottle of albariño, going a little bit sweet and without any vibrancy. Over a period of several days in the fridge the wine opened up to show bright yellow stone fruit flavors with a streak of mineral. Same thing last night as the wine improved markedly in the glass.

2005 Lusco do Miño Pazo Pineiro Albariño
At first I really enjoyed this wine. The intensity and dripping ripe character were speaking to me. Almost like apricot preserves and tinned mandarins, but fully dry and with good balancing acidity. You can tell that this is from well situated, very old vines. While tasty, it was definitely a show wine, more front to mid-palate flavors, not much mineral, and a bit over the top for casual drinking. And at over $40, there is a whole lot in Rias Baixas that I think would show more typicity and work much better with a meal.

2006 Do Ferreiro Albariño
From the same subzone (Condado do Tea) as Lusco, this was the group favorite and mine as well. I'm not surprised. Small production, organic farming, indigenous yeasts. Not that they are the only ones in Rias Baixas doing this, but somehow they consistently produce some of the best albariño out there, year after year. It is always the albariño that, with its floral/herbal aromatic streak, smoky minerality and overall sense of poise, most brings to mind certain characteristics of German Riesling.

Overall, people thought these wines ok but were not particularly enthused. One taster commented on a green vegetal component he caught in three of the four wines. A few others thought that we were tasting a flight of sauvignon blanc. Clearly, however, only one wine seemed to truly pass muster with this discriminating group of palates.

Better luck, perhaps, with the reds (least favored to most favored):

2004 Dominio de Tares 'Exaltos' Bierzo
Oak juice, courtesy of aging in Missouri, Allier and Nevers oak. I went back to this wine the day after the tasting, and it still showed meaty, but muddled. There was a not entirely unappealing bloody, iron, meat like quality here that definitely brought to mind the arid Castilla y Leon countryside (as well as the region's meat and potatoes inspired cookery).

2006 D. Ventura 'Pena do Lobo' Ribeira Sacra
Red fruited and fairly one-dimensional. This could have just as easily been a Cotes du Rhone Village. Similarly put together, with a disappointing lack of acidity.

2006 D. Ventura 'Viña Caneiro' Ribeira Sacra
More dark fruit and spice on this offering, from higher elevated vineyards composed largely of 'pizzarra' or slate. While it shows more complexity, there is still a liveliness that is just lacking in this as well as the other Ventura wine.

2005 Algueira Ribeira Sacra
Ahh, now this is what I'm talking about. This must be why so many experts are hyping Ribeira Sacra as the next big thing in spanish wine producing regions. Very pretty blue fruits on the nose, with a tense interplay between fruit and acidity, subtle oak spice and slate minerality, on the palate. More finessed, higher toned, and classier wine. A unanimous (I think) wine of the flight.

Mostly everyone enjoyed the red flight more than the whites. Someone mentioned an appealing bloody quality (yes, 'bloody,' can be appealing in the realm of wine descriptors) that showed in all of them. Another taster mentioned a granite inflected mineral stamp - keen tasting on her part as all of these wines came from either granite or slate.

So did these wines truly impress? Will Albariño and Mencia make occasional appearances alongside cru beaujolais, Bourgueil, Menetou Salon Rouge and Langhe Nebbiolo on the tables of my fellow group members? Perhaps. The fact remains, however, that even I have far fewer Spanish wines in my cellar relative to Muscadet, Chinon, German Riesling, and others. My most recent splurge was for two bottles of '05 Edmund Vatan Sancerre, not '05 Pazo Pineiro albariño. So I need to be convinced as well. Four years ago, Spanish wines used to be the bee's knees for my younger palate. Now, not so much. The good news, however, is that Spain is diverse, dynamic and still learning. Given some time, I'm confident that there will still be plenty of wine for the masses, as well as more intriguing stuff for the geeks who demand a bit more authenticity and challenging, regionally specific flavors.

1 comment:

Gerry Dawes said...

Do Ferreiro is from the same subzone as Lusco (Condado do Tea), it is from Val do Salnes and Meaño, the township where it is located, is home to a number of the best artesano producers.