Wines Take Flight
I am standing in Lavinia (click here), Madrid's leading wine retail complex. It is stunning. Not only are some 2,000 Spanish wines on display along with a huge foreign contingent, but there is also a gourmet restaurant on the mezzanine. I am here trying to track down one of the best Spanish reds I have ever tasted. I discovered it at series of special tastings held at Madrid Fusion IV, an enormous international gastronomy conference that takes place every two years.
SPAIN'S MOST EXPENSIVE WINE
The wine in question is called 2003 Pingus. I tasted it along with 28 other red contenders the previous day. It's a sublime effort made from gnarled, extremely old, Tempranillo vines grown in a tiny vineyard in the hot Ribera del Duero region. While first released in 1995, it is produced in miniscule amounts (400 cases or so in good years) by youthful, Danish, owner-winemaker Peter Sissek. Despite its tender age, it was rich, harmonious and loaded with wonderful ripe plums and smoke-tinged cherrywood flavours followed up by a supple, lingering, chocolate finish. Pure elegance! One taste and "ping" went the strings of my heart.
I ask the store clerk for the 2003 but am informed that Lavina only stocks 1998, 1999 and 2000. The 2003 isn't available yet. "How much for the older vintages?" I ask. The answer: 920, 935 and 970 Euros respectively. I make the mistake of asking for how many bottles. "One" is the icy answer. This adds up to $1,288 for a bottle of the cheapest, which is just a tad out of my range. "We have its sibling, 2003 Flor de Pingus, which goes for only 80E" volunteers the salesperson. Regaining composure, I give him my card and ask him to email me when the 2003 hits the shelf.
GOING FAST: "VINEYARD" OWNERSHIP
While making my retreat, another salesperson who happens to be clutching a vinestock, invites me to become a vineyard owner. Well almost, I can buy one of a limited 800 vineyard "lots" on offer at vineyard complex belonging to energetic Catalan chef Ferrán Adriŕ, owner of the world-famous el Bulli restaurant near Barcelona. In addition to "Fast Good" his new chain of fast food restaurants, he is also selling 20-vine "lots" from Bodega de Cal Celdoni to prospective wine lovers. In a nutshell, what you really get is title to 20 plants for up to 25 years.
The cost is 3,580 E ($5,012 or $250.60 per vine) plus a $35 monthly fee (for maintenance, etc). This gets you seven 6-packs annually complete with your own custom labels. Of course, you can choose the type of vines you want and even visit your "vineyard" with your friends for photo ops. You can also stay in the soon-to-be-converted ancient castle and enjoy catered "el Bulli" cuisine. That's about $10 a bottle, plus the investment up front. By Pingus standards, what a deal!
SPAIN'S WINE REVOLUTION
While one might have been tempted to think that the emergence of Vega Sicilia back in the 1980's was just an aberration, it really was only the beginning of the Spanish wine revolution. Who could have thought that Spanish reds would challenge the likes of Chateau Petrus? Is it just by chance that names - one in Latin (Petrus), the other in Danish (Pingus) - both mean "Peter"? Happily I can report that there still are a wide variety of high quality Spanish wines out there that can still be had for a song.
Indeed, it seems that well-priced Spanish wines are be popping up everywhere. The current red wine of choice on KLM business class, for instance, comes from Bodegas Castańo has quickly become the quality leader in the newly rediscovered appellation of Yecla. Ditto for KLM's first glass of bubbly, which isn't Champagne (reserved for later), but the everyday Codorniu Brut Classico (503490). At $11.95 here in Ontario, it outperforms some of its much pricier French cousins. In fact, at the Madrid Fusion's comparative Cava tasting, two were clear winners: a wonderful, ripe, lemon-melon flavoured Freixenet Reserve Real at $19.60 (all prices are retail in Spain) and the rather toasty Gran Codorniu Brut at $26.60.
NEW WELL-PRICED SPANISH DISCOVERIES
Best buys from the award-winning "young white wines with pedigree" Madrid Fusion tasting included a deliciously juicy 2004 Silencis de Chardonnay (click here) from the Penedes region at only $8.40. Ditto for an excellent, also ready to drink Finca La Colina 2004 Sauvignon Blanc (click here) from Rueda at $7. Another winner at the same price was a yummy, barrel fermented Palacio de la Vega 2004 Chardonnay (click here).
For pink wine fans, Senorio de Chozas 2004 Rosado (click here), which is made from Prieto Picudo grapes grown in the region of Tierra de Leon, impressed at only $4.20. A head-turning tasty red Tempranillo called Agora Fermentado en Barrica 2004 (click here) from a new Valdepenas winery called Bodegas Aruspide was only $8.40.
TODAY AT VINTAGES
Closer to home, in today's Vintages release try a deliciously fruity red from the renowned house of Miguel Torres. San Valentín' 2004 Garnacha (673541) at $13.95 is a perfect Valentine's Day pleaser. You can count on lots of spicy, plumy, black cherry flavours with a zesty, vanilla-tinged finish.
Another wine worth investigating is Bodegas Beronia 2001 Tempranillo (723643), which was recently released for $15.95 at Vintages. The words "Elaboración Especial" on the label refers to the fact that this red was actually fermented in oak barrels in a manner akin to a barrel fermented Chardonnay. The vanilla-mocha nose is followed up by fairly juicy, ripe plum flavours and a gently cedary, coconut-tinged finish.
Those wanting to discover the joys and new heights of Spanish wines should reserve a ticket for the Spanish tasting at the Arcadian Court next Wednesday, February 8. For $65 you will be able to taste 52 selections (click here to see), many of which will be appearing in the February 18th Vintages release. There are a number of showstoppers, including 2001 Allende a stunning Rioja that is going for a modest $28.95.
GET ALL VINTAGES REVIEWS TODAY
Detailed tasting notes on today's Vintage's release (click here for our free, fully-linked summary) and the upcoming February 18 Vintages release, including my summarized buying guides, can be obtained TODAY by becoming a Supporter of the not-for-profit Food & Beverage Testing Institute of Canada (FBTI). As a National Post reader you will receive a $20 discount (click here).
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