Take out your agenda because the Spanish Food and Wine Week is back this fall from October 4-10. If Covid allows, I plan to host a series of wine dinners and lunches at some of my favorite places including Solas in Dingle, Mustard Seed in Ballingarry and Burren Storehouse in Lisdoonvarna. There will be nationwide tastings and events, all focused on the joys of wine from Spain, which accounts for around 15% of Irish wine sales – only Chile sells more wine here than Spain.
My picks this week are all from Spain with a juicy new sulfur-free red boon at O’Briens and two of Spain’s best white grape varieties: Verdejo and Xarel-lo.
Verdejo is the great grape from Rueda just 70 minutes northwest of Madrid. Most Verdejo are drunk early and it’s Spain’s most popular white wine, but there are a few producers who take it seriously. However, I recommend one here which is closest to white Burgundy Spain (unfortunately the price is also similar as no expense is spared). Rueda is also one of the few places in Europe with pre-phylloxera vines because the Verdejo planted on sandy soils around Segovia is immune to the troublesome little Yankee aphid.
Xarel-lo is the best white grape from Penedès and is commonly used in the best Cava and Corpinnat (the first row of Penedès sparkling wines) where it is generally associated with Parellada and Macabeo. DNA analysis suggests that Macabeo and Xarel-lo are closely related, but as is often the case, the two grapes produce quite different wines with Xarel-lo creamy and complex and Macabeo rather neutral in comparison. Macabeo is known as Viura in La Rioja and sometimes goes through royal treatment there with oak fermentation and aging that can turn it into a complex wine worthy of aging.
I have tasted examples of 40 and 50 year old white Rioja and they are fascinating but it takes a lot of patience. The easiest to find is Marqués de Murrieta Capellanía (O’Brien has the new vintage at € 23.95 this month – € 1 less than normal), which I will review another time.
O’Briens has a Spanish sale this month and has other Spanish whites that I love including Alma Godello and Lagar de Costa Albariño all reduced. If you want to try the ultimate in white Rioja, the Castillo Ygay 1986 Blanco drops from € 450 to € 360, saving € 90 – a perfect 35-year-old gift!
This organic wine is new in the O’Briens range and reduced by € 14 in their sale of Spanish wines. Jumilla is near Alicante so this uses the local Monastrell (Mourvèdre) grape. It’s fruity, juicy and sweet with aromas of blackberry and ripe black fruit and sweet on the palate. If you think it’s too hot to drink red wine, this will also work well served chilled – at 10 ° C for example.
This Verdejo is reduced by € 15 this month, which makes it particularly interesting considering its quality. Lively aromas of lemon and sweet apple with a touch of anise and fennel – fruity, textured and crunchy with a touch of bitter lemon on the finish. Alberto’s winery also makes the traditional style of rancio Rueda Dorado (much like Oloroso), but unfortunately it is not imported by O’Briens.
It’s been a while since I’ve introduced Albet i Noya, one of Spain’s oldest organic producers. Their sparkle is excellent; their reds are juicy; and their whites are textured and crunchy. Made from 100% Xarel-lo with lots of creamy pear and herbal aromas, sweet apple and on the palate with a pleasant tangy freshness on the finish.
Sandy and stony soils near the historic city of Segovia and named after the witch and feminist icon from Greek mythology. It’s gorgeous and one of the most expressive Verdejos I’ve tasted – with aromas of ripe pear, lemon oil and fennel and a rich, layered palate offering fruity but crunchy flavors of lemon and pear and a long finish.
New to the Jean Leon range which belongs to the Torres family – their other grape varieties are also worth trying. The Xarel-lo single varietal is almost always a treat and it is a prime example with aromas of fennel, pear and herbs and a hint of spice – textured and full bodied with a creamy texture and refreshing crisp acidity.
This producer was a highlight when I visited Rueda in 2018, so I’m delighted to see that he’s still imported (by Solera Wines). This is Rueda’s answer to fine Burgundy: fermented and aged on lees in barrels – aromatic, textured and toasted vanilla, bright citrus and apples, complex and layered with classic endive bitterness on the finish. The second wine ‘Apollonia’ (25 €) is also to taste.
Hope Brewery in Kilbarrick in Dublin turns five this year and remains one of our most creative and interesting craft breweries. For their anniversary this year, they relaunched one of their limited edition beers made with Norwegian Kviek yeast, oatmeal and oat milk and dry hopped with Mosaic hops.
This pours a pleasant hazy gold color with aromas of peaches and cream with hints of tangerine and grapefruit. On the palate it has a pleasant creamy fullness with a noticeable orange zest, sweet malt flavors and good hop bitterness on the finish with a lingering hint of super split ice cream.