España …the word alone conjures up images of family summer holidays, Flamenco dancers, and as much Toblerone as you can possibly squeeze into one overhead storage compartment. However, maybe Spain has more to offer than holidays for Johnny Vegas, stereotypical Sangria and the increasingly familiar (yet superb) Rioja.

In order to open my eyes, ears and mouth to the hidden wonders of Spanish life (most importantly wine), myself and a few dear souls attended a wine tasting evening, suitably entitled “Beyond Rioja”. Hosted by Richard and Tim, the owners of independent wine merchants Worth Brothers, (not just marketing, they are actually brothers), situated in their private underground cellar in the fine city of Lichfield, Staffordshire. On offer, 9 tasting wines for £7.50 (a bargain for two hours of jollity) plus a few special deals are available if you decide to keep the festivities going and purchase a couple of the featured bottles.

The evening opened with a Classic Fino Sherry, produced by “Fernando de Castilla” an award winning Bodega (Spanish winery) from Jerez in Andalusia; Sherry’s spiritual home. Within recent years, Sherry has become slightly more in vogue with the wine avant-guard. It would still be fair to say that this temperamental juice may just be the wine equivalent of Marmite… or Coldplay, ironically all three are loved by your Grandma. After a generous pour, the glass fills with a bright crystal clear liquid. The first dip of the nose identified an intriguing creamy toffee and nut combination, which temporally altered my perceptions of Nan’s old favourite late night tipple. Conversely, my youthful taste buds (a slight oxymoron having just turned 26) didn’t relish the intense almond beginnings which seemed to increase in intensity with every gulp. Fino (which translates to fine) is renowned for its clarity and dryness which is in abundance here. An energetic, thick, nutty, essence combined with mature fruit flavour sadly didn’t appeal to my habitually sweeter inclinations when it comes to all things fortified. However, if partnered with an eclectic mix of tapas, olives or a suitable bite to eat it may reveal it’s true potential.

Nonetheless, Richard and Tim offer two key tips to get the best out of your Fino. For the best results, ensure that you drink it straight from a fridge, a nice and cool 7-9 degrees. Also, contrary to popular belief, Sherry needs to be fresh and drank within a week of opening to guarantee the true quality. So, throw away the bottle which appears every other Christmas when it’s your turn to host the in-laws. If you’re a Sherry aficionado, fancy a drop of mature fortified wine or just to see what Spain has to offer, for a tenner, why not give it a whirl?

It was then time to exhibit the variety and legitimacy of Spanish whites. The first tipple was K-Naia from the high altitude region of Rueda and the second, a Chardonnay from Somontano. Both of these were grand examples of Spain’s white offerings. However, these two vanished from memory quicker than last year’s XFactor winner, from the first taste of the Albarino (Ahl-bah-REE-nyoh), Bodegas Martin Codax 2008 from the un-stereotypically green Galixian region of Rias Baizas.

Situated in the north-west of the country, Rias Baizas is home to surprisingly green, luscious steep slopes and a changeable Atlantic climate, idyllic for Albarino. These low yield grapes actually originate from humble beginnings in the garden of the next door neighbour, Portugal and are recognised to be the long lost cousin of the fruity Riesling. Intensive development has brought the region of Rias Baizas increased sales along with domestic and international acclaim, making Albarino a true Spanish citizen.

 

Under the nose, this glass is as thrilling as a cold winter weekend away in Hull, just an earthy, damp, semi ripen apple, mineral scent which bores your nostrils. So it’s a good job we didn’t drink it with our noses. The sooner you give it a few customary swirls and finally taste the stuff you can see what all the fuss is about. A modern tasting fruity goblet of goodness, harbouring apricots, peaches, grapefruit, pears… in fact more fruity than Mark Fowler’s lunch box. A greenish-yellow colour hosts a mildly acidic tang with a refreshing medium-to-dry finish completes the mouthful which adds balance to the initial sweetness, a refreshing breakaway from over oaked Chardonnay.

Gastronomic suggestions range from full fish dishes to the predictable Paella, creamy or spicy Asian chicken. It’s more of an all-rounder than Ian “Beefy” Botham. A bottle of handpicked, eco friendly fruity grapes which you can sip as an aperitif or quaff with some meaty tuna steaks, howzthat for £10.75.

 

 

As the evening wore on, the merriment increased (possibly due to the lack of encouragement for spittoon usage) we delved into Spain’s forte; powerful, fruity, more-ish reds. Honourable mentions go to a juicy Monastrell from the modest area of Jumilla, which hosts a dark cherry class of spice, coffee and plum, along with a hearty 15% alcohol level… luckily I didn’t have anything to do the next morning! Also on offer, a creamy La Mancha blend with 90% Tempranillo with Merlot and Cabinet Sauvignon with an intriguing odour of creamy vanilla and Werther’s Original. Before I started having flashbacks of old men in a wooden armchairs, the scent of strong black fruits, leather and Ye Olde Sweet Shoppe liquorice came to my rescue. Both of thess flavoursome glasses possess reasonable levels of tannins (that dry and puckery feeling), so if you’re not used to your fuller bodied reds, get the Nurofen ready.

Despite the fine efforts of La Mancha and the underappreciated Jumilia, the evening ended on a bigger high than the Beatles had in India, with the Ribera del Duero from the Bodegas Caballero Mendoza 2004. This family owned vineyard is situated high on the banks of the Duero River, which is considered to be one of the world’s four great wine rivers in the world, amongst the Rhone, Rhine and Loire.  Similarities to the unassailable Rioja are obvious, however, it’s the subtle disparities which makes Ribera del Duero alluring, such as the use of 100% Tempranillo, (locally known as Tinto del Pais) instead of the commonly blended Rioja. Wine has been grown and consumed by the Duero since Julius Caesar’s flip flops marched on the area centuries ago. However, it wasn’t until 2008 that the region received bleated appreciation and was awarded DO status, (Denominación de Origen Protegida) which is awarded to the mainstream quality-wine regions of Spain.

A cunningly crafted goblet of ruby red and plum goodness meets you at the rim, large thick tears of elation trickle down the side of the glass, indicating substantial alcohol content. The smell carries you straight to an authentic Spanish village square, light floral and herb scents accompany the expected black fruits, figs and olives. The palate hosts a celebration of full bodied black fruity freshness with a slender oaky undertone from the 12 months retreat in American oak barrels, smooth ripe tannins present light spice and a bit of oomph when ultimately swallowed. The class of 2004 is recognised for being a superior vintage, so if you see a bottle glistening which is from the Milla de Oro (Golden Mile) and stretches throughout the Ribera del Duero region, snap it up and save it for a sundrenched day as this bottle will stay fresh and is at its peak well after twenty years (similar to a few of us).

 

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Two hours of tasting the offerings “beyond Rioja” illustrated the depth and quality of this wine superpower. All of the featured wines have become particular tipples of choice with a tasting trip even planned to the Jumilla region. All of these wines have distinct flavour and masses of personality, even the Sherry which I shall endeavour to taste again. A great way to discover and widen your knowledge and taste, so if you’re in the Lichfield area, or even if not, see if your local merchant is hosting such an occasion! An enjoyable night, good wine, good people and good heavens I should spit more next time…

Phil Bailey – Wine Punks.

 

Links:

The Worth Brothers Website: http://www.worthbrothers.co.uk/

Worth Brother Twitter: http://twitter.com/#!/worthbrothers