Spanish Reds – six great examples
The Wines From Spain 2021 virtual event had no shortage of red wines. So following on from the previous article on Spanish whites is a companion piece in the same format about six great Spanish dry reds.
As with the whites, there are no sweet, fortified or sparkling wines included. In addition, such is the dominance and renown of Rioja that some readers might reasonably argue that all six examples should or could come from there. However, that would be to ignore the wealth and diversity of other Spanish red wines and sell them short. Rioja has a world-class reputation with good reason, but red wines from different parts of Spain deserve recognition. Hence for this article, there’s no Rioja. Maybe that’s like dropping your star centre forward and lining up with a false nine? So it goes.
Below are those six Spanish reds, with an interactive clickable map to show their locations.
My six great Spanish reds
Luis Moya Tortosa (LMT) Wines, Masusta, DO Navarra, 2017. 14.5%
Grape Variety: Garnacha
Background: Long associated with rosé, Navarra is making wines of exceptional value, especially with Garnacha. Yet much old Garnacha was abandoned. Luis Moya Tortosa looks for plots of old and abandoned vines to make organic and biodynamic artisanal wines. The Grenache for Masusta is from 70-year-old vines in a 1.4-hectare vineyard which is now certified biodynamic by Demeter. It’s at Carcar, near the border with Rioja. LMT has no winery; instead, he rents out winery space, making Mususta at the organic Bodegas Escalera. Grenache is hand-harvested, de-stemmed, and fermented with native yeasts in stainless steel. Ageing is for twelve months in oak barrels and demijohns. Meanwhile, the use of Sulphur is minimal. There were 3,800 bottles in 2016 and just 2,400 in 2017 – I assume the vines suffered from the dramatic spring frosts in that year.
Tasting Note: Masusta is a rich and concentrated wine. Indeed, the stated alcohol is 14.5%. Probably rounded down, yet this level of alcohol is never intrusive because of the balance with the other components. A deep garnet colour, Masusta shows cherry, cedar, herb and balsamic aromas. The wine has softened, with just a little drying tannin left to resolve. Despite the alcohol, there’s also plenty of mouthwatering acidity accompanying a mass of ripe plummy fruit before a long spicy farewell. Once open in the glass, the dark fruit resolves into dried and fresh plums. Despite “natural” winemaking credentials, there is a welcome absence of funk. Best decanted before serving, Masusta is a fantastic value wine that’s Roast lamb heaven!
Importer: Moreno Wines
UK availability: The Brighton Wine Company, £16.25
Chozas Carrascal, Las Ocho, Vino de Pago (VP), 2017. 14%
Grape Varieties: Bobal, Monastrell, Garnacha, Tempranillo, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Syrah and Merlot
Background: Chozas Carrascal is in Utiel-Requena (think València) but has the right to be classed as a VP – a Vino de Pago. VP is a prestigious single-vineyard appellation used to identify the highest quality in some lesser-known regions. Farming is organic, and the vineyards are at high altitude. Las Ocho means “the eight”, referring to the eight different grape varieties in the blend. Indeed, blending is the norm here, so I suspect the exact grape ratios will change according to the harvest year. This one probably has a significant Grenache component. Each variety is fermented separately in modern conical cement tanks. 75% of the wine is matured for 14 months in French oak barriques, while 25% stays in cement tanks.
Tasting Note: A deep ruby-garnet colour. Aromas reminiscent of Cherry Tune sweets (good); bright red cherries plus a little menthol/herbal note. A smooth, seamless blend with no sharp edges. Softened silky tannins, good balance with red berry and blackberry fruit, acidity and alcohol. Some subtle wood effects add complexity: a little toast, plus hints of coffee and cocoa, some black pepper. Suave and complex, with more yet to come. Try Beef Bourgignon, Game, hearty stews.
Importer: C&D Wines
UK availability: Ultracomida £19.95
Bodegas Altolandon, Mil Historias, Bobal, DO Manchuela, 2019. 14%
Grape Variety: Bobal
Background: My love of Bobal is well known, and Manchuela, which borders Utiel-Requena, has plenty of it. Bodegas Altolandon is also one of the leading lights in Manchuela; it’s at high altitude and certified organic. They employ French oak and clay amphorae too. Mil Historias Bobal is grown at 1,100 metres altitude, and the vines are 40 years old. They have vinified it in stainless steel with natural yeasts then aged it for four months in 225-litre French barriques (second and third use). There’s no filtering and minimal sulphur. The name means “a thousand stories”.
Tasting Note: Plenty of typical Bobal hallmarks here; vivacity and energy, purplish colour, cherry fruit. The nose is generous, giving up cherries and berries, with hints of violets. The palate is all about vibrant fruit, with something herbaceous, possibly rosemary. Tannins are supportive, with black peppercorns marking the finish. Bobal is one of Spain’s best-kept secrets. If you haven’t tried Bobal yet, then why not start here? With plenty of lively character, this is excellent value for this level of quality! Barbecued food, from chargrilled chicken to steaks.
Importer: Alliance Wine
Familia Torres, Purgatori, DO Costers del Segre, 2017. 14.5%
Grape Varieties: 50% Cariñena, 30% Garnacha, 20% Syrah
Background: Surely every wine lover is familiar with the Familia? Torres is “the world’s most admired wine brand” in 2021*. In 1770, monks from the nearby Abbey of Montserrat settled in the southwest of Costers del Segre. Perhaps it was as a penance, as this area is renowned for its harsh continental climate, hence the name Purgatori. However, such conditions are ideal for vines, whether white or red, native or international.
In 2017 Purgatori had more Cariñena with reduced Syrah – probably due to an arid summer reducing Syrah yields. However, the wines’ fundamental profile is unchanged. Fermentation is in stainless steel; then ageing is in French oak barrels (40% new) for 15-18 months.
Tasting Note: Dark cherry red with purple tones. Lifted aromas of violets and cassis, opening up to reveal garrigue herbs and a little smoke. Concentration on the palate but no aggression, with a smooth, creamy texture and fruits of the forest flavours. Persistent finish with a hint of cocoa and graphite appearing. The wines ability to deal with new oak is remarkable; it adds subtlety rather than clumsy vanilla flavours. Purgatori is a relatively new venture from Torres and is yet another hit, being up there with the best reds from Costers del Segre and an attractive price ticket as well. Drink anytime over the next ten years, try it with Moussaka, as this wine is ideal with lamb and aubergines.
Priorato de Razamonde, Alter, Ribeiro Tinto, DO Ribiero, 2018. 13%
Grape Varieties: 60% Sousón, 40% Brancellao
Background: Galicia might have found fame with its beautiful whites, but the reds are now making waves too, often with obscure local grape varieties. Such is the case with Priorato de Razamonde, a family-run estate with 20 hectares of vines, primarily native whites, so Sousón is only 0.57 ha, and Brancellao is but 0.45 ha. Sousón probably originates in nearby northern Portugal and is also known as Vinhão, Sousão and Espadeiro. It brings deep colour and acidity to the blend. Brancellao has similar origins and again a wealth of synonyms such as Albarello and Pilongo. It contributes the alcohol and aromatics. The wine is made in stainless steel and then aged for six months in large old barrels.
Tasting Note: Alter deserves a little patience, as being a young wine, it’s slow to open and reveal itself, so decanting encourages the process. It also means that this wine might show less well at tasting events where powerful wines tend to dominate. Pour it and wait ten minutes, and there’s heaps of pleasure to be had. It’s lighter in the body than many but soft and approachable with a good level of acidity, unobtrusive tannins and fruit in the redcurrant/cherry spectrum. As it opens, remarkable aromas appear, reminiscent of treacle toffee, with liquorice on the palate.
Plenty of energy and a savoury edge on the finish makes for a refreshing food partner. Spanish sausages of all persuasions come to mind, as does a big plate of Spanish charcuterie. Furthermore, it’s a good match for Korean Bao buns full of pulled pork or kimchi.
Importer: Liberty Wines
UK availability: Vinoteca £16.50
Dominio do Bibei, “Lalama”, DO Ribeira Sacra, 2016. 13.5%
Grape Varieties: 90% Mencía; 10% as a field-blend of Brancellao, Mouratón, Sousón, Garnacha
Background: We met Dominio do Bibei with their Treiexadura white wine called Lalume in the Spanish Whites article. Consequently, their Biodynamic red called Lalama is just as impressive. Mencia is the dominant partner, with the remainder being a field blend where different vines are planted together – a rare and old practice – with some vines being 100 years old. Fermentation took place using indigenous yeasts in 2,500, 3,500 and 4,500-litre wooden tanks. The wine then spent 15 months in 300-litre old oak barrels.
Tasting Note: Garnet coloured, the aromas show a floral and menthol complexity. The balance is exquisite, with just enough acidity, fruit, tannin and alcohol. It makes it feel almost weightless in the mouth, super-elegant. The fruit is in the plum/dark cherry and red berry spectrum, with a subtle savoury and stony mineral undertow adding to a long finish. Food: charcuterie, duck breast, game birds. How about Pastrami? Sometimes you encounter a wine that’s so delicious and distinctive that it makes you want to immediately pack a bag, travel to where it’s from and learn more. It’s one of those wines and an early contender for my Wine of the Year. ‘Nuff said.
Importer: Liberty Wines
UK availability includes: Noel Young £21.95
Due to the pandemic, Wines From Spain 2021 was a virtual event this year**. Hence this article has six carefully chosen samples to showcase Spanish dry red wines. To conclude, these six are all Campeones, come strongly recommended, and are available in the UK.
Spanish reds – there’s life beyond Rioja, you know. (I’ll write a new Rioja article in future, promise).
And if you’d like to read my companion piece on Spanish Whites, it’s here.
*As voted for by the readers of Drinks International in February 2021.
**Stop-press: a post-lockdown live London trade event has just been announced for 22 & 23 June 2021 – so if you are going, do seek these wines out!