• Alexander Smith

Is Spain turning a corner?

Unfortunately, most Spanish wine in distribution in Quebec, is lacking a sense of place, feels too hot, oaky, or just plain dull.

But why has Spain struggled so much? It is a question which needs a book not a post. However many wine regions in Spain were quite poor 50 years ago, and hence making quality wine was very challenging, and traditions as we know are difficult to change. Now let me introduce you to my new Spanish hero: Alvaro Palacios. Alvaro found his love of wine at a young age, however after dropping out of school, his father sent him to Bordeaux and Petrus to learn from the best. That is where he saw and tasted the great wines of Bordeaux. Upon his return to Spain he noticed even though the wines of Spain were similar in the way they were produced, they lacked the precision and fine details of that in France. In 1989, at just 25 years old he setup camp in Priorat which is where he has been ever since. When his father died in 2000 he took over his brothers winery in Rioja and is also producing wine in another unsung region of Spain; Bierzo. These three regions showcase three completely different styles of Spanish wine.

Moving from west to east and the first region is Bierzo. Bierzo is a region that faces the Atlantic and is home of Mencía, a local grape that is grown on steep slopes. Moving east and on to to the big and sometimes boring region of Rioja. Most wine from Rioja is grown in either Rioja Alta or Rioja Alavesa, little wine is solely grown in Rioja Oriental (Baja). Rioja Oriental is often used as a blending partner and according to the great Wikipedia: "Unlike the typically pale Rioja wine, Oriental wines are very deeply coloured and can be highly alcoholic with some wines at 18% alcohol by volume. They typically do not have much acidity or aroma and are generally used as blending components with wines from other parts of the Rioja." To add to this Rioja Oriental is the windiest, driest and hottest out of the three sub-regions of Rioja, yet that is where Alvaro has his family's vineyard. Those seen in Oriental are are usually laughed at by their neighbours, yet this has not discouraged Alvaro who is producing wines which easily equal the quality grown in the neighbouring sub-regions, if not excel. Finally Priorat, which is his home and where he produces wines which are true to their terroir with personality, freshness and wonderful complexity, he is the leader in this region. Priorat is composed of steep slopes which meet at the sea, the soil is majority slate (locally known as llicorella). The grapes are mainly Garnacha and Cariñena, aged in large oak vats. For around $67 their Gratallops offers a snapshot of the region and never disappoints. If you can afford it the L'Ermita ($1,500) it is one of the top wines of Spain if not the world (from what I have read!)

I had more or less given up on Spain, yet Alvaro Palacios has got me excited about Spanish wine again. He is one of those producers I would fly around the world to meet, hear his story and taste his wines. Below are my thoughts on his selection, and if like me you had given up on Spanish wines, I believe Alvaro Palacios will bring you back:

Alvaro Palacios Priorat Gratallops 2018 - 93+

This is a fantastic representation of Priorat and will certainly go down as one of my wines of the year from Spain. The nose is spectacular and has aromas of dark plums, blackcurrants, wild berries, thyme, fennel, crushed violets and spice. The palate was rich, lush, and full-bodied with dark crushed berry fruit, wild herbs and dusty earth, along with smooth and finely integrated tannins, a mineral strike leads to an electric and slightly spicy finish. Drink this now and over the next 5-8 years. This is farmed Biodynamically. 93+

Palacios Remondo La Montesa 2017 - 91 points

Just a Crianza from Rioja which usually means expect to be disappointed. But nope, for once I am impressed by a Crianza. This does not show too much oak nor is it unbalanced. This has ripe dark cherries, raspberries, strawberries, violets and anise. The palate is surprisingly delicate and even though this is a medium-bodied Crianza with a lush and creamy mid-palate, well-integrated tannins, buckets of fresh berry fruit, licorice, orange peel, bubblegum, and a medium finish. Easy and fun to drink! Nice to taste a Garnacha from Spain instead of just oak from Spain

Palacios Remondo Rioja La Vendimia 2018 - 90 points

2018 was a cooler year in Rioja and I feel this helps bring out a certain brightness in the wine. This is a blend of Garnacha and Tempranillo. The nose was quite perfumed with red berry fruit, wild herbs, licorice and White Pepper. The palate was bright, lush and juicy with spicy berry fruit, a little stemmy with bright acidity and a spicy lingering finish. I really enjoyed this and for less than $20 this makes me re-think Rioja's

Palacios Remondo Rioja Plácet Valtomelloso - 90 points

This 100% Viura from Rioja, 33 year old vines has a distinct citrus, seashell, sea salt and mandarin peel. The palate was fresh, refreshing and nearly Melon in texture with a round saline texture, citrus and mandarins, the finish was medium in length with an oily texture. I would have easily mistaken this for a Melon or Albarino not a Viura, a hit with the critics.

Spain is turning a corner and I believe there are other superstars hiding within one of the oldest growing wine regions in the world. Do you have any recommendations of your favourite Spanish wines?

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