When I was about three years old, my parents went to Spain for three weeks. I remember being entranced by the idea that they were in a completely foreign place and tremendously excited by the thought of what gifts they might bring back. I remember getting a postcard of a woman in a flamenco dress and the dress had been entirely covered in multi-coloured satin stitch and I thought it was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen. When they got back, the only present I clearly remember getting is a pink dress with exquisite embroidery down the front which I absolutely adored and considered to be the most exotic thing in the world.
For years afterwards this trip was talked about (they would not go overseas again for a good 10 years) and anecdotes were lovingly told and re-told. How their travelling companions ate 70-year old cured ham and became seriously ill (well… what did they expect?). How the sangria went down like water but kicked like a mule. How my dad danced on the tables (my dad?????) with his tie around his head. And for years afterwards whenever we drove anywhere in the car with my dad I would beg him to play his 8-track tape featuring the song "Y Viva España" so that I could sing enthusiastically along. (I also sang along phonetically but totally nonsensically to his Edith Piaff casettes… but we won’t go there now!!). So you could say that despite never having set foot in the country, I have a long and happy relationship with Spain, and I was understandably excited about Vinography‘s theme of Spanish reds for the second edition of Lenn from Lenndevours‘ brainchild, the Worldwide Wine Blogging Wednesday.
Since coming to London I have discovered the joys of Rioja. Having lived in a wine-producing country most of my life (and a country where the exchange rate makes wine imports prohibitive), I had not drunk much other than South African wines and getting to grips with foreign wines was a steep learning curve! But some wines I found instantly acessible – wines from Australia and New Zealand (of course, being fellow-southern hemisphere producers!), Cote du Rhone wines from France and Spanish Riojas. So the obvious choice for the WWBW2 would have been a nice Rioja – and I was pretty sure we had a bottle stashed away somewhere in our surprisingly large understairs wine collection. I was planning to get some chorizo and olives and make either a cold platter with breads and dips, or a paella/risotto hybrid, depending on the weather and my mood.
But as they say the best laid plans of mice and men (and bloggers) oft go awry, so nothing really turned out as planned! For a start Greg, a friend of mine from Australia, is staying with us this week and one way or another I never got round to shopping for chorizo and good olives, so that idea was quickly shelved. We all got home quite late last night and my cooking strategy was more along the lines of "what’s in the fridge/freezer/cupboard?" than relying any sort of advance planning. While Greg and I were rustling up a dinner of cod fillets in a sun-dried tomato pesto and almond crust with rosemary roast potatoes and green beans (recipe and pic to follow in the next post!), Nick went rooting about in the wine collection – and came up with a total of, erm, one bottle of Spanish red!! Don’t know if we drank the rest or just dreamed them, but there you have it – decision made!
The wine was the rather grand sounding 1996 Señorio de los Llanos Gran Riserva , from Valdepeñas which (as far as I can ascertain) is near La Mancha south of Madrid, approximately in the centre of the country. From the wine label I also ascertained that the alcohol content was 12,5%, quite respectable for a European wine, and that the grape variety was Tempranillo. Unlike New World wines, the tradition in Europe is not to mention the grape variety on the bottle – just as you are highly unlikely to see the word Chardonnay on a Chablis bottle, the grape variety was not immediately apparent on this bottle. However, hidden on the tiny back label, was a reference to Tempranillo – but only on the Spanish label, not the English. Go figure… The Tempranillo grape is indigenous to Spain and is widely grown in both Spain and Portugal. The word “Tempranillo” is derived from “Temprano”, the Spanish word for “early”, referring to the fact that this grape ripens sooner than the other traditional varietals in Spain. Just to confuse matters, Tempranillo is not the only name by which this grape variety is known – depending on where you are it could also be called Cencibel (in La Mancha and Valdepeñas); Ull de Llebre (or "eye of the hare" in Catalonia); Tinto Fino (in Ribera del Duero); or Tinta Roriz (in the Douro region of Portugal where it is a principal component of Port). Tempranillo is probably best known as the principal ingredient of Rioja, in which it is blended with Garnacha Tinta, Mazuelo and Graciano before being aged in oak barrels – which brings me to my last piece of label trivia. The term "Gran Riserva" on the label is an indication of how long the wine has been aged prior to release (as I learned from the fascinating and comprehensive English-Spanish wine glossary). To be classified as Gran Riserva, a wine has to be aged for a minimum period of five years prior to its release, of which 2 years has to be in oak casks and 3 in the bottle – so my bottle of the 1996 vintage could not have hit the shelves before 2001/2002, as up to that point it was still being aged! There are also criteria for labelling wines as Crianza or Riserva – you can see them here
OK, so enough of all this trivia I hear you say, how did it taste?? In a nutshell? Bloody marvellous.
The colour was quite light but a lovely shade of garnet, showing the slight brick-red colour of age around the edges. The natural cork was in fine condition and there was no sediment.
The nose was very attractive – lots of jammy fruit – I would say blackberry or plum jam with some vanilla spice notes. Nick said it reminded him of an old-style "made-to-age" cabernet sauvignon.
The palate was just lovely – jammy and rounded. I got the same jammy notes on the palate as I had got on the nose, together with a spiciness (cloves??). The finish was reasonably long but without much fruit – all the fruit was up front. The style of wine is relatively light but it has a surprising amount of body and still enough tannin to justify keeping it for another year or so, but I would say the 1996 is drinking perfectly now. All the hard egdes have been rounded and all the elements blend into a lovely balanced, complex whole. It paired exceptionally well with the fish in its tomato pesto crust, but I would hesitate to serve this with a less robust seafood dish. Overall I would rate the wine 16/20.
If you want to get yourself some, the current vintage (1998) is available for a very reasonable £5.49 at Majestic. And if you’re interested, the wine is also vegan/vegetarian friendly! So nobody has any excuse not to buy it!