THE other night, we were eating Spanish so it was appropriate to drink Spanish - at least for the reds. Spanish wines have long been well known, chiefly through the Spanish house of Torres. They were indeed as easily available as French wines, especially the Rioja in their flask-shaped round-bottom bottles in wicker baskets. We used to try those wines - they were easily available, inexpensive, and if you did not like the wine, you simply poured it into the sink and used the bottle as a flower vase!
RIESLING SCHLOSSBERG GRAND CRU, CUVEE STE CATHERINE 1998, DOMAINE WEINBACH
Brilliant golden colour, 18 carats worth! Soft rich fruity aromas of very ripe fruit - ripe apples and pears - very characteristic of an old white. But no keroseney aromas. Sweet entry on palate, good volume and density of wine, with a fine acidic spine of freshness in the background. Very complex, also very elusive when you try and track down the aromas and flavours. But a beautiful wine.
Should this have been drunk earlier? Yes it could have been, preferably at eight to 10 years of age, when it would have been at its vigorous peak. At 16 years, it has mellowed, becoming a vinous elder statesman! It gained in complexity, but lost a little of its sharpness.
This wine went very well with the first two courses: cod fish bechamel and Spanish omelette with potato and onion - two very characteristically Spanish dishes.
VALBUENA 2003, BODEGA VEGA SICILIA
Deep red centre becoming progressively more and more brownish going out towards the edge. A very fine almost delicate bouquet of ripe berry fruit, tinted with hints of lime; medium-bodied, filling the mouth with a delicious-tasting, full-flavoured liquid packed with ripe fruit, lovely acidity. Well balanced, and good smooth follow-through. Thoroughly enjoyable, very satisfying.
Valbuena is released earlier than Vega, after five years maturing in cask. As seen in this bottle, it is already beautifully ready to drink, and has the additional advantage of being much cheaper.
MAS LA PLANA 2002, MIGUEL TORRES
Opaque black-red from centre to rim; a rich intense nose of very ripe berry fruit, with hints of cedar wood in the background. Very rich, intensely concentrated taste, thick dense texture, perfectly ripe fruit, great freshness and finishing smooth and long. One could taste the Cabernet Sauvignon flavour in the background coming through on the palate, dense and smooth. Very very good indeed. And very characteristic of this label.
This wine was (and still is) Torres' flagship wine. It was originally labelled Torres Black Label, and then underwent two changes. The first change was to Gran Coronas Mas La Plana, and this was later shortened to Mas La Plana. It was with this wine that Torres shot to fame. The Torres Black Label 1970 won the blind tasting of Cabernet Sauvignons in Gault and Millau's Wine Olympics in 1979, beating Chateau Latour 1970 into second place. That triumph put Torres and Black Label firmly on the world map. The wine is 100 per cent Cabernet Sauvignon today, aged in 100 per cent new American oak for 21 months. This 2002 edition fully fulfilled all expectations. Twelve years old, still youthful, it will go on a further 20 years. The slight touch of softness around the edges, the additional richness and softness identified it as non-Bordeaux.
One final and very important advantage that it has over Chateau Latour: Mas La Plana 2002's average price today is 39 euros (S$68). Chateau Latour 2002 is around 495 euros. One case of Mas La Plana to one bottle of Chateau Latour. No contest - perhaps!
L'ERMITA 2000, ALVARO PALACIOS
Eighty per cent Garnacha, 16 per cent Cabernet Sauvignon, 4 per cent Carinena. Fifteen months in French oak.
This was very, very good. Black-red opaque colour, with a soft full, almost voluptuous nose of very ripe, very fresh berry fruit, hints of ripe plums, and coffee in the background. Very complex intriguing aromas, full of ripe fruit aromas. On the palate, a very big and very dense wine, very ripe fruit, with flavours of plums, cherries, liquorice and black coffee; well balanced with thick richness nicely counterbalanced by very good freshness. This balance and the good freshness with smooth thick texture and complexity made it very enjoyable. I was very impressed by the great freshness, considering how the whole wine was so thick, so dense, so rich and so powerful. In a way, it was rather like the Mas La Plana, but much more complex and richer.
L'Ermita comes from 100-year-old vines grown in a small single vineyard, north-east facing, on a hillside in Gratallops. One of Spain's most expensive and most famous wines, belonging in the modern generation of Spanish wines which are seriously challenging French wines.
These four wines are the kind of wines that I like. They are well-made, coming as they do from four of the finest wine producers; they have beautiful seductive aromas and they are very enjoyable in the mouth and after swallowing, making you reach out for another mouthful.
Are they available, are they expensive? The first three are not. The last one is. But more importantly, are they available currently? Domaine Weinbach's Rieslings should not be difficult to find, if not here then certainly in England. The bottle described here was bought at the Domaine in May 2000. Weinbach do cellar-door sales but that would mean a trip to Alsace, and it would be mainly the current vintages.
Incidentally, the red wines were great with the Spanish roast suckling pig!
Footnote: Bodega Vega Sicilia's distributor is Vinum Fine Wines. Bodega Palacios is distributed locally by WineAsia.