Editor’s Note: While Carl is out recovering from a surgery to repair an aortic dissection we’ve asked some of his good friends to fill in with their wise words on wine in his absence. Today’s blog is another from guest blogger Tom Welsh, general manager and partner at Tapastrie restaurant in downtown South Bend, Indiana.
Earlier this week, I had the pleasure of doing a presentation and tasting on a few lesser-known Spanish wine types and regions to the Notre Dame Law Students’ Wine Club. I thought I’d share that information with you here today. I wish I could share the wines with you as well! (Shameless plug: But they are all available at Tapastrie!)
We tasted two white wines and two reds along with a selection of delicious Spanish tapas plates. The whites were Albariño and Verdejo. The reds were Mencía and a red blend from Priorat, which was chosen not for the grapes, but for the uniqueness of the region.
Albariño produces a delicious, light bodied, high acid wine with citrus and sometimes even a saline component. They are a perfect match for seafood and shellfish but are very easy to drink on their own. It’s a great summer wine. Albariño wines can age for a few years but are generally best consumed while young. The style is akin to Sauvignon Blanc, but without the grassy/herbal notes.
Albariño’s home is in Galicia in the northwest corner of Spain on the Atlantic coast. It is also prevalent south of the border in Portugal’s Vinho Verde region, where it is known as Alvarinho. The sub-region of Rias Baixas (“rhee-yus by-shus”) is where the best quality Albariño wines are made and the Martín Códax 2016 Albariño, which we tasted, comes from.
Verdejo is a lesser known grape variety and is grown primarily in the Rueda region of western-central Spain, part of the greater Castilla y León region. It is southwest of Galicia. Verdejo wines are more complex and can age very well.
In the first few years they are bright, acidic and fruity, also a bit like Sauvignon Blanc, with lime, sweet lemon, grapefruit and grass. Over time the texture becomes heavier and the fruit flavors turn to apricot and peach and some of the bitterness of their pits. Nutty flavors also come in and the wine deepens in color. These are very versatile wines with food and when young, are great to drink alone too. The wine we tasted, the Bodegas Martinsancho Verdejo 2014, was very good!
Mencía is a little known grape outside of Spain and not grown all over the country, but is finally starting to get the attention it deserves. It produces lively, medium bodied, acidic wines that are stylistically (body and fruit, not so much flavor) somewhere between Pinot Noir and Merlot, depending on where they are grown. Mencía is only grown in three small areas of northwestern Spain: Bierzo, Valldeoras and Ribeira Sacra.
While Bierzo and Ribeira Sacra are very close geographically, their Mencía wines have a different character due to the different topography and elevations of their locations. The Mencía wines from Bierzo tend to be earthier with darker fruit…closer to Merlot on that scale…while those from Ribeira Sacra are lighter with red fruits…closer in style to Pinot Noir. I have yet to taste a Mencia wine from Valdeorras but I presume they are as delicious as those from the other two areas. I highly recommend checking them out. The wine we tasted with the group was the Petalos ‘Descendientes de J. Palacios’ 2015. This cuvee is in honor of the father and grandfather of Alvero and Rivardo Palacios, who began making wines in Bierzo around the time of his death.
Last on our list, we tasted a wine from Priorat. This is a very small region in Catalonia, in eastern Spain, south of Barcelona. It is the top of a hill, the rest of which is DOC Montsant. Priorat is one of only two (the other is Rioja) regions to hold the highest DOCa status. This is because of its very hot, dry climate and especially its nutrient poor soil, composed of quartz and slate. This is known as “Llicorella” (Catalan for slate).
Priorat reds (white wines are made here but are a very small percentage) are blends of usually two or more of Garnacha (Grenache), Cariñena (Carignan), Syrah, Merlot and/or Cabernet Sauvignon, in that order of predominance. These wines are intense and pungent, with aromas of black fruit, cassis, hot wet slate, iron, molasses, spices; the aroma and similar flavors go on and on. Due to the rocky soil, the vines have to work extra hard for water and nutrients, which makes for the intensity and concentration they have. There are not many world-class Grenache based wines, but along with Chateauneuf-du-Pape in southern France and Sine Qua Non in California, Priorat is one.
In the 12th century the Carthusian monks established a monastery called Priorato dei Scala Dei (Priory of the ladder to God) and planted the vineyards which still surround the ruins of the monastery (replanted hence, of course). The wine our group tasted was from a winery bearing that name: Cellars Scala Dei ‘Prior.’ It is made up of 54% Grenache, 29% Cabernet Sauvignon, 15% Carignan and 2% Syrah.
Like any wine-producing country, but especially the “Old World” areas, their regional differences make them worlds unto themselves. Exploring them is a fascinating pursuit. Thanks for joining me on parts of the journey!
Calendar of Events
- March 3rd – National Mulled Wine Day
- April 17th – International Malbec Day
- May 4th – International Sauvignon Blanc Day
- May 9th – National Moscato Day
- May 21st – National Chardonnay Day
- May 25th – National Wine Day
- June 11th – National Rosé Wine Day