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Diary-of-Axel-Ritenis Fine Wine GUIDE

Spanish Wine and Sherry-Connoisseur’s Guide

Written by Aksel Ritenis

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“How to get a handle on Spanish wine and culture in double quick time”

Its funny how most people associate Spanish wine with Reds” and the barrel aged Rioja or the Sherry produced from the palomino grape on the chalky terroir of Jerez with the African winds blowing across it, yet Spain is now on the world wine map for a huge range of exquisite white and red wines that have captivated the imagination of the wine world and have the potential to challenge your gustatory perceptions and turn You into a Spanophile!

The white wines “seduce the palate with finesse” for anyone who is tired of new world Chardonnay or NZ Sauvignon Blanc. I often delight in the pleasure of tasting the fantastic Spanish whites, the Albarino grape grown in Rias Baixa, (in Galicia on the Atlantic) not far from the legendary Santa Compostile (where the famous walk ends up), fabulous with Seafood, or the brilliant Godello grape, not to mention the Verdello of Rueda or even Rioja whites.

In the Penedes (near Barcelona) and Sonoma they even do a fabulous job with Moscato, Gewurtztraminer Riesling and Sauvignon Blanc, not to mention Macabeo and Parellada, which are famously blended into the Spanish sparkling wine CAVA.

One of my all-time favourite white wines is Martin Codax Albarino from the Rias Baixas near the Atlantic coast and I still remember a fabulous trip to this fabulous winery in Galicia near the coast and visits to the local seafood restaurants.

I need to caution readers, however, that it is pretty much “useless to drink Spanish wines without also partaking of Spanish gastronomy”. To drink a Rioja without a slice of jamon or Tio Pepe FINO Sherry without some olives or garlic salt almonds or pickled anchovies is to deprive oneself of the “total experience”.

The thing that I find so fascinating about Spanish wine is that it’s either “all in or not at all!”

In actual fact, it only takes a small investment of time and money to understand “Spanish wine and cuisine”. A weekend in Barcelona or Madrid doing 4 or 5 Tapas Bars and a few restaurants is a good start!

Failing that, perhaps consider spending some time doing a Tapas & Wine Bar crawl in Your city of choice! Any city with cosmopolitan pretensions now has a choice of Tapas & Wine bars as the Spanish wine and food boom continues.

It is easy to experiment with Spanish wine and Tapas too, in some cases a tinto crianza may go better than a white!

Jamon-Iberico-Factory Spain-Gastro_5 La-Reina-Isabel

Naturally the whites such as Albarino or Godello are great with most Seafood or are superb as Aperitif.

Or try a dry Rose, a superb aperitif, they make some of the best! And in fact they “make a mockery of New World Roses” which are all “raspberry Lollypop style wines” without the bracing and harmonious balance required of a great Rose.

You can also try a method champenoise CAVA (some have Chardonnay in the blend which adds richness and brioche type characteristics) which is a versatile drink and then You are almost ready to try a superb tempranillo based Spanish red!

Of course RIOJA is smooth and silky, although a CRIANZA will be fresher and more lively whilst the Reservas tend to be more complex and with greater structure.

Currently my favourite Spanish Reds are the Ribeira del Dueros from TINTO FINO with explosive mid palate flavours and minerality on the finish. Delicious! Eat a slice of Jamon with the Reds and You will understand why the flavours intermingle and complement each other.

These wines have had a big impact internationally and provide a fabulous and exciting alternative to New World Shiraz or Cabernet as they are just so drinkable!

Spain-Gastro_2 Spain-Gastro_4 Spain-Gastro

Winemaking Regions

Interestingly, Spain is the third greatest winemaking country in the world. In the central part of Spain (around Madrid) the climate is the hottest and here they produce millions of litres of sometimes variable wine but amongst this wine are fabulous Rioja red wines. In the north of Spain, the best wines of the year are produced. The velvety red wines are meaty; a great impression of the oaky vanilla structure “framing the fruit”.

Rioja wine, made by top producers will be a mature wine with a ruby colour, often with an orange or brown tawny notes (characteristic of an older wine), with a bouquet of aromatic tobacco, cedar, smoky oak tree and ripe fruit, because the wine has been matured in a barrel long before bottling. Older wines tend to be silky smooth from the ageing process.

Another important region is Penedes in Catalonia (not far from Barcelona and the coast giving temperate sea breezes). The leading winery of this region is Torres, where numerous commercially successful red wines are produced, using the most typical species of grapes of Spain. Among the highest quality Torres wines Cabernet Sauvignon Black Label Grand Coronas should be mentioned. It has a rich bouquet of plums, vanilla (often also liquorice) and fragrant violets.

The Spanish sparkling wine Cava is produced from indigenous varieties Macabeo, Parellada and X-arello, according to the “méthode champenoise,” which means that wine is fermented for the second time in the bottle.

One of the impressive new winemaking regions is Navarra. The region is located to the north from Rioja and here Cabernet Sauvignon and Tempranillo are grown and blended together more, also incorporating Garnacha into a fabulous seamless wine such as the Bodegas Chivite Grand Fuedo. In Navarra, wines with rich fruitiness are made; they are matured in oak barrels to obtain a complex structure. These wines have attracted considerable attention. Stylish rosé wines are also produced in Navarra.

Ribera del Duero – the wines of the Duero River are popular not only in Portugal, but also in Spain. This region is located in northwest Spain, not far from Rioja region. Vineyards here are subject to quite merciless changes of the temperature. The most famous wine is the legendary red wine Vega Sicilia derived from Tempranillo and Cabernet Sauvignon grapes, and it can be put down for more than twelve years.

Rueda is located to the southwest from Madrid. A quite qualitative dry white wine, corresponding to the price, is produced there. It is made of Verdejo grapes and a little Sauvignon Blanc grapes. It is fresh and crisp.

Valencia is better known for its sweet dessert wine Muscatel del Valensia.

Whilst in the 70s and 80s Spanish red wines, were matured in oak barrels for long periods with a considerable taste of the vanillan oak. Knowing this you will understand why wines are matured for 7-8 years in huge barrels of oak (usually from America) in Spanish wineries, called bodegas. Thus, wines obtain a saturated colour and an explicitly sweet vanilla taste.

White wines are fresh and fruity; they are not insipid and oxidised (influence of the oxygen).

In the south, dessert and fortified (sherry) wines are produced.

grapes Santiago-de-Compostila-and-Rias-baxeas Spain-Gastro_3

There are 40 winemaking regions in Spain where the quality of wine is ensured by a similar system as that of France – DO (Denominación de origen), determining the origins of the wine, the species of grapes, production methods and the way of maturation.

In Spain, a stage of a higher quality is used as well, namely DOC (Denominación de origen calificada), similar to the Italian system of wine quality, and it refers only to the region of Rioja.

Table wines are classified as vino de mesa, and basically they are simple and uninteresting wines.

In the world market Spanish mainly export wines of the DO class. It is worth knowing that Crianza wine is more or less matured for two years and a part of it is matured in oak barrels, but reserva is matured for three years and for one year – in a barrel. Gran reserva is matured for five years, two years of them – in an oak barrel.

Red wines are dominated by Tempranillo, but now there is Carignan and other red wines.

If French Cabernet wines remind of black berries, green pepper, chocolate and tobacco, then Spanish Tempranillo gives a wine with a fruity bouquet reminding of meat and skin aromas, with a little taste of plums and vanilla. It ensures rich wines with a good structure and acidity, flavour and colour. Raspberry and black forest berries can also be noted in the bouquet.

But Spanish winemakers began also to grow the classical French species of grapes such as Cabernet Sauvignon for blending and improving their wines.

The other Red wine varieties are Carinen, Garnacha, Merlot.

Tempranillo grapes go ideally together with Garnacha grapes, but the species is individual enough to get a good wine of them only.

White Grape Varieties

Albarino, Chardonnay, Macabeo, Malvasia, Palomino(used for sherry), Parellada (used for almost all the sparkling wines), Pedro-Ximenez, Riesling, Sauvignon, Torrontes, Verdejo, Xarel-lo and Moscatel should be mentioned. Unfortunately, in the conditions of Spain, only few of these species have managed to prove that they can give more than a wine with a neutral taste. Possibly, the best of them is Albarino, particularly if the wine is made in a winery of a high level in Galicia. This wine has an excellent aroma, similar to that of French Condrieu. As to the taste, the wine is softer, not so explicit and intensive. At best it is soft, refreshing and aromatic. Highly successful Spanish white wines are several Chardonnay and Torrontes wines, however, only if they are produced in Galicia. Then they are aromatic with the taste and aroma of fruit and a pleasant aftertaste.

Connoisseur’s Guide” to Spanish Wine and Sherry

OK so here is my Dozen so “let’s cheat a little bit”, because frankly it’s so damn hard to select only 12 bottles from the fantastic samples that I received from Australia’s leading Spanish wine importers who really are a credit to the wine business.

So I am going to suggest that You at least try some Fino Sherry at some stage, it is a great experience, or taste some at one of the fabulous new Tapa bars springing up in Sydney or Melbourne. Better still go in to a tapas Bar and share some sherry with friends, go through a range of sherries so that You appreciate the difference between the Fino, Amontillado and Palo Cortado and finally the “fruit bomb” liquid Christmas pudding Pedro Ximenez.



TIO PEPE Bodegas Gonzalez Byass D.O. Jerez – Xérès – Sherry 100% Palamino

Star bright, pale golden colour. Elegant and distinctive, with fresh bread and almond aromas. The palate is full bodied, crisp and very dry, with a complex long finish. Tio Pepe should be served well chilled in a wine glass, with a recommended serve of 100ml. Perfect with canapés and tapas. Asian food, seafood and all fish based dishes. Try it with caviar, oysters, anchovies or tuna carpaccio


Pazo Barrantes RIAS BAIXAS 2011

This wine has a full nose with developed apricot and peachy notes mixed with ripe apple. It has a well-balanced palate; the acidity is crisp without being sharp. Fruits are soft and ripe with a dominant apricot character. The wine has excellent mouthfeel as well as noteworthy purity. It will evolve gracefully over the next years.



Martin Sancho Verdejo 2009

100% Organic Verdejo – no Sauvignon Blanc!
As always, this lovely Verdejo is very fresh and racy with floral, spicy aromatics (we regularly hear comparisons with Riesling & Sauvignon on the nose) and yet is also textural and fleshy in the mouth!



Conde de Valdemar Rioja Blanco 2008

Perhaps this is another first for Rioja – a barrel-fermented Viura. Viura is a common Spanish synonym for macabeo, northern Spain’s most planted white grape variety, the dominant white variety in Rioja. A rich golden colour, this single vineyard Viura blends a touch of vanilla with tropical fruit notes on both nose and palate. Fabulous aperitif and great with seafood.


Martin Codax Albarino 2009 Bodegas Martin Codax D.O. Rias Baixas 12% Alc.

This wine is made from 100 % Albarino. With an attractive green/yellow straw colour with ripe lemon nuances, this wine stands out for its special intensity and elegance. Aromas reminiscent of white flowers, with a perfume of pear and lemon. Flavours of white peach and apple fill the mouth, with a touch of acid producing a tight long tangy floral finish. Ideal food matching is with Seafood, seafood and more seafood.



Telmo Rodriguez MR “Gaba do Xil” D.O. Valdeorras

‘Gaba do Xil’ Godello is Telmo Rodriguez’ entry to Godello wines – a typically fresh, modern unwooded style, suited to a range of lighter, summery foods and the Aussie mood. There’s a hint of lanolin and wax as usual for Godello, but lemon-melon-pear are the main flavours, particularly canned pear. Texture is slinky creamy with mineral and a nip of fresh acid at the finish.

Telmo Rodriquez Molino Real
MR Moscatel D.O.

There are also tiny, tiny volumes available of MR’s big brother, the Molino Real Moscatel (MR is short for Molino Real). This is the most concentrated old vine fruit, and has swallowed 20 months in new French barriques. The fruit is so good that the wood is virtually undetectable, save for an extra dimension of spicy, savoury structure tucked into the fruit richness. This is a cult wine, on very strict allocation in Australia. In Spain, it is invariably awarded best sweet wine in the nation and ranks among the finest, most revered of all wines in Spain. I was not disappointed by my tasting of this wine and endorse the tasting notes.



2011 Capçanes ‘Mas Donis’ Rosat de Garnacha, Monstant screwcap, new vintage (organic)

Red fruit, smoky black tea and geranium drive a savoury, restrained nose. Expressive palate with some glycerol, but dry, with fruit tannin and earthy acidity. Nicely framed rosehip and wild roses and maraschino cherry.


Pittacum ‘Tres Obispos’ Rosado de Mencia, D.O. Bierzo

‘Tres Obispos’ (Three Bishops) is the name of a hill close to the Pittacum vineyards. Grown in cold clay soils, which promote delicacy, freshness and acidity, this is a lovely Rosado: a brilliant rose-pink to look at and very, very dry (1.5 grams/litre residual). The nose is charming with dry, delicate rose petal, raspberry and a touch of fennel. The palate has shiny red fruits, tons of juicy cherry, edged with liquorice. It has nice succulence in mid-palate with a tight, light dry finish, snapping with acid and varietal herbs at finish. A Rosado of great line in the mouth.




Marqués de Murrieta
Reserva Tempranillo Blend Tempranillo Blend 2006

This wine is produced by one of the most highly regarded Rioja producers. “These are the Riojas from which dreams are made.” Think leather chesterfields, smoked meats and cigar-box. Opened with an almost Tokay-like aromatic of raisins, tea leaf and orange peel, but freshened up to reveal strawberries and darker fruits, spice, cedar and vanilla. It’s medium bodied but full of flavour – grabs your interest immediately – well balanced, with silky tannin, sweet fruit, crisp acidity and layers of savoury complexity. Length and satisfaction delivered softly, but certainly. Delicious!


RODA 2007 RESERVA (Rioja)

This wine is clear, purple with ruby red rim, medium viscosity. Hints of Oak, cedar, leather, strawberries, but can almost be mistaken for a new world wine. Clean, medium intensity in the mouth , aromas of black and red currants, cinnamon cloves, vanilla, blueberries. Dry, medium body, tannins and acidity with good complexity, nice velvety character, but lacks a long finish.



Bodegas Martin CodaxCuatro Pasos” Mencia D.O. Bierzo

This wine 100% Mencia and has 14% Alc. It is aged 2 Months in French and American oak. A young wine with a morello cherry red colour with subtle violet reflects. Earthy cherry, with a kind of swirling blend of spice, floral notes, fine oak treatment, a bit of funky bacon and some coffee. The palate shows more blueberry and a touch of plum, with a core of cherry fruit. Nice length with a minerally finish. A little heat closes things out. Combines well with Roast or stewed meats, small game, carpaccio, cured meats, pastas, pates and goats cheese.


Conde de Valdemar Crianza 2005,
Drunk at Wildfire

Spanish Denominazione laws dictate that a crianza is a wine aged one year in both oak and bottle prior to release. This one is 90 percent tempranillo and 10 percent mazuelo, a blending grape also known as carignane that gives the finished product color and capacity for aging. This particular wine spent three years in the cellar before release, giving the wine added complexity. It has great acidity with aromas of cherries and red plums. On the palate, the plums are present, but so too are Forestberries A juicy wine that goes well with practically any meat dishes but superbly well with grilled Fish. That’s right, forget about the tired old combinations .The Spanish drink red wine with Fish or Paella dishes all the time. A real bargain for such a tasty red.


Conde de Valdemar Gran Reserva 1984, Drunk at Wildfire
A meaty blend of tempranillo (80 percent) and mazuelo (20 percent), this one spent 30 months in French and American oak. This wine is a blend of fruit from two distinct regions, giving it greater complexity than its 2004 counterpart. Gorgeous in the glass, the deep garnet wine has both herbal and vanilla notes. It has an enticing silky texture and lots of cherries and plums on a lengthy finish. This paired beautifully with the Roast meats and grilled sausage on offer at Wildfire restaurant. Pair with roasted meats or a hearty venison stew.


Bodegas Beronia Reserva Region: D.O. Rioja
90% Tempranillo, 6% Mazuelo, 4% Garnacha
Alcohol: 13.5%

This wine is aged 18 months in French and American oak. Intense red garnet colour with ocher hints. Intense and profound on the nose with aromas of forest fruits, cranberry and redcurrant. Slight touches of sweetness and cinnamon. Smooth and elegant in the mouth with a good balance between the red fruits and spices. Has a long finish. The perfect match for red meat and game.


Bodegas Ramon Bilbao Crianza Red D.O Rioja

100% Tempranillo
This wine is aged for 14 months in American Oak. Bright, deep, cherry-red in appearance. Intense aromas of ripe black berries to the nose, accompanied with balsamic touches which are reminiscent of coconut and liquorice. Fresh and pleasant in the mouth with a noticeable texture forest fruits and a hint of smokiness.


Monastrell, Tempranillo, Cabernet Sauvignon.
Intense and full purple red colour (40%): La Pinosa Estate conveys structure and concentration, while sturdy tannins provide length to the finish. (40%): Herrada del Tollo Estate ads structure, elegance and a longer finish to this premium blend. (20%): La Pinosa Estate. Its delicate aroma imparts superb finesse and balance to this blend. It has an expressive aroma, richness in fruit, blackberries, modern fruit driven. The palate has good structure, mouth filling, powerful, black fruit from Monastrell, juicy and refreshing Tempranillo with spiciness. The wines are elaborated separately, these three varieties come together to shape a well-structured, concentrated and intensely aromatic.


Torres Gran Coronas Cabernet Sauvignon 2005 D.O. Penedes

Ever since its early days this wine has offered jammy aromas over a toasty background and elegant density. It was over 40 years ago that we started to experiment with varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon, until we achieved a perfect balance by blending 85% Cabernet Sauvignon and 15% Tempranillo. The resulting wine was more intense than any produced up to then, so it needed ageing for a year in oak casks. In a short time it became one of the family’s best wines, therefore it was given the name Gran Coronas. Perfect with cured meats, paellas and vegetable rice dishes, as well as meat and game recipes or when finishing off a meal with cheeses. Serve at 17ºC. Perfect with cured meats, paellas and vegetable.



Torres IBERICOS Crianza 2007

Deep red cherry colour. On the nose it reveals notes of black ripened fruits and spicy aromas (cocoa and nutmeg) from the wood. Silky entrance in the mouth with pleasant tannins. Long and spicy aftertaste. Ibericos takes its name from the Iberian Peninsula, a land of lonely oaks and ancient vineyards. This noble wine from the Torres family, made with the tempranillo varietal, is aged for 12 months in oak barrels and for a long time in the bottle. Thus, the wine speaks to us of the land it comes from and its origins with aromas of forest fruits and spices. On the palate, it speaks to us of the passing of time, smooth, elegant and long. Serve between 14-16ºC. Owing to the tannic and fruity characteristics, this wine pairs well with a great variety of meat dishes including roasts.



Callejo Tempranillo Cuatro Meses en Barrica 2008 D.O. Ribeira del DueroAll of the wines produced by Felix Callejo are 100%, estate grown Tempranillo from vines that are a minimum of 25 years of age. This is an excellent introduction to the Callejo style, aged for 4 months in French and American oak (as the name suggests). Pulpy, fresh and pure. “Callejo’s 2008 Cuatro Meses en Barrica is 100% estate-grown Tempranillo aged for 4 months in French and American oak. Dark ruby-coloured, it proffers an alluring nose of lavender, spice box, mineral and black cherry. Sweetly-fruited, smooth-textured, and savoury, this nicely balanced, layered effort will deliver pleasure over the next 6 years.”


2010 D.O Ribeira del Duero

Celeste, the Torres family’s first Ribera del Duero was born on the heights of Spain’s central plate. Celeste is an opulent wine brimming with fruit, body and colour. Intense blackberry colour. Spicy and intense nose with liquorice and black pepper hints on a base of well ripened fruits (blackberry and cherry). On the palate, very fruity at first with ripened tannins, also persistent and full-bodied. Serve between 16-17 ºC. This wine pairs well with a great variety of meat dishes including roasts and small game.




Embruix Val de Lach 2005 D.O. Priorat
Only careful cultivation, well-managed micro production, vinification differentiated by variety and estate using low-volume tanks, and above all the miracle worked by the Priorat region on both the native varieties and on Merlot, Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon grapes can explain the splendid result: “Embruix”, Catalan for bewitching. Immediately agreeable, but with a repertoire of powerful gustatory and olfactory refinements, this is a wine that “satisfies the connoisseur”.



La Miranda de Secastilla, Bodegas Viñas del Vero DO Somontano
100% Garnache
8 months in French oak.
This wine is produced from Grenache and is aged 8 months in oak. The wine has a deep ruby-like colour with violet highlights. On the nose it shows ripe and intensely concentrated blackberry fruit laced with sweet oak. Supple, sumptuous and round, a lithe mouthful of spicy cherry and plum flavours that remain succulent right through the long, fine-grained finish. This is a very satisfying Grenache as it is not too heavy or clums as they sometimes are and had a pleasant mouthfeel and exhibits some finesse!


Romate Pedro Ximénez ‘Cardenal Cisneros’
Raisiny, prune juice, chocolate dates—rich, sweet, viscous, spice and through-line, gentle grip to off dry finish.

Written by Axel Ritenis
Wine Correspondent

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Aksel Ritenis

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