Helen’s blog

Thoughts and tastings from Helen Savage, wine writer.

Archive for the ‘Spain’ Category

Abadal – Picapoll and other delights

Friday, March 11th, 2011

The region of Pla des Bages in the hills west of Barcelona produces grapes for the Cava industry. Very good table wines are made by the largest bodega in the DO, Masies d’Avinyó, under a number of brand names, especially Abadal. Some of these are now being imported to the UK by the excellent Ilkley-based Martinez Wine, whose director Jonathan Cocker first tasted them while on holiday in the region last year and made contact with the winery.

Jonathan brought Abadal’s French, Montpellier-trained chief winemaker Laurent Collio to Newcastle to show six of his wines, partnered by a succession of tasty tapas at Spanish restaurant El Torero.

I never find it too easy to judge wines accurately when it’s late in the evening and I’m a bit tired – and in competition with a riot of (rather good) food smells, but I was impressed by the range and by Laurent himself and thought it would be a shame not to jot down a few notes. I apologise if my tasting notes may be a bit below par.

We tasted two dry whites. The first Abadal Blanc 2010 (rrp £8.76) is an easy-drinking blend of Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and Picapoll. It works well in a fairly light, fruity way – with suggestions of grapefruit and peach and then a slightly mineral finish. The second white is a pure Picapoll 2010 (£9.49) and is very good indeed: citrus fruit, pear and a hint of jasmine-like perfume combine with a strongly mineral, lingering finish. It is unoaked, from fifty year-old vines.

Abadal own around twenty hectares of Picapoll out of a total of around 150 hectares. Laurent insists that it is not the Picpoul of Languedoc, but a distinct variety, particular to Spanish Catalonia of which only forty hectares remain. There is, he says, also a black-skinned clone. He has crafted a super-cuvée, also unoaked from the best parcels and sometimes including a little old-vines Maccabeo, sold as ‘Nuat.’ Jonathan has tasted it and waxes suitably lyrical. I would love to taste it.

The red wines, though all very good indeed, are a little less remarkable if only because they rely on international varieties, planted in the mid-1980s when such things were all the rage in Catalonia thanks to the high-profile success of Miguel Torres and others with Cabernet and friends. The high altitude of the vineyards, up to 600 metres is the key to their freshness and focus.

A blend of 60% Cabernet Franc and 40% Tempranillo 20099 (price not available), given just four months ageing in oak, is soft and savoury with stalky, plummy fruit and a hint of tomato and burnt raspberry jam.

Abadal 5 Merlot 2006 (£13.99) is made from five different clones, gleaned from Bordeaux, Italy and California. Their vegetative cycle varies by up ten days. Laurent says that the Bordeaux clones are best. The wine is aged in oak, 25% new – roughly 80% French and 20% American, though they also use Slovenian and Hungarian oak. It’s big, deep and rich with the aroma of roasted coffee, then sweetly ripe tannins and more acidity than I had expected.

Abadal 3.9 Reserva 2007 (£16.99) is 85% Cabernet Sauvignon with 15% Syrah, aged fourteen months in 85% new oak. The malo is done in cask. Big, spicy and chocolaty with layers of black fruit, it’s rich, soft (surprisingly so) and savoury. The oak is well integrated.

Abadal Selecció 2006 (£23.99) is a blend of 40% each of Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon with 20% Syrah, aged in 100% new French oak for sixteen months. Deep and still young, it has a silky texture with lots of spicy black fruit. It seems fresher and more focussed than the 3.9 Reserva, though is still quite savoury.

Laurent is also experimenting with the local black-skinned Sumoll and believes it to be very promising. And if I heard him right, he’s also excited by a variety called Mando – completely new to me. The significant point, however, is that local varieties may have a lot to offer as the Picapoll clearly shows.

Beronia Gran Reserva: 1973 to 2001

Friday, November 19th, 2010

Bodegas Beronia was founded in 1973 and makes wine mainly from grapes grown in Rioja Alta. It was bought by Gonzalez Byass in 1982. I posted notes on some of their wines on October 21 and, as promised, here are my notes on their top wines – a remarkable flight of Gran Reservas shown in London by chief winemaker, Matias Celleja on 29 September. More information on the estate can also be found my  article in today’s Journal.


2001 Gran Reserva

Deep and young with good, tight, plummy, spicy fruit, with hints of coffee and chocolate. Soft at first then quite grippy with fine, lingering tannins and a touch of minerality.

1995 Gran Reserva (a dry, cold winter and a short vegetative cycle of 192 days and harvest 6 days earlier than expected, nevertheless rated ‘Excellent’ by the Consejo Regulador)

More evolved colour. A big, almost meaty nose, then rich, powerful and savoury in the mouth, with soft, ripe tannins.

1994 Gran Reserva (A vegetative cycle of 195 days. A  ‘slight inbalance between sugar levels and phenolic ripeness’ was restored by September rains. rated ‘Excellent’)

Quite deep, with big, rich, raisiny fruit with red fruits and spice in the mouth: focused and concentrated with a good structure – juicy acidity and slightly dusty tannins.

1987 Gran Reserva (Classed ‘Very Good’ – a more normal 200 day vegetative cycle and a slight reduction volume because of frosts in May after a cold winter)

Now quite garnet at the rim. The oak shows through rather – dusty and spicy. Quite a gentle wine with high acidity and rather drying fruit.

1985 Gran Reserva (Rated ‘Excellent’ – a hot, dry vintage following a 198 day vegetative cycle)

A similar colour, perhaps a shade deeper. a gentle, raisiny nose with the flavour of cherries in alcohol – sweet and a bit jammy. Just a shade rustic, but a very nice drink.

1982 Gran Reserva (a ‘practically perfect’ growing cycle – the best vintage of the 80s, giving wines of structure, balance and elegance)

A lovely old garnet. A gentle, balanced aroma of slightly fading red fruits and subtle spice. Still sweet, long and fine with good acidity.  A super wine that seems younger and finer than 1987!

1981 Gran Reserva (a cold, wet winter, early spring and a long, mild season – a growing cycle of 228 days)

Deeper than 82. Perfumed (dried flowers), less fruit and more spice than 82. Still a little chewy with quite high acidity. tannins now beginning to dry and becoming just a little astringent. It would show better with food.

1978 Gran Reserva (Classed ‘Very Good’, but more successful than that in Beronia’s vineyards)

Garnet. Nose a wee bit volatile and fading – old raspberry jam. Still quite sweet, but not without elegance and definitely still worth drinking.

1973 Gran Reserva (Cold, dry winter, a relatively short growing cycle and a hot, dry vintage)

A lovely old garnet. A sweet aroma of chocolate and coffee, less volatile than the 78. A bit tart and drying (a dry finish), but certainly alive and kicking.

Gonzalez Byass – but not sherry

Thursday, October 21st, 2010

Gonzalez Byass, famous for their fine sherries, have assembled an impressive portfolio of wine estates from other parts of Spain. Here are notes on wines from three of them.

The Gonzales family bought top quality Cava producer, Vilarnau in 1982. The wines are very good indeed – as they ought to be at prices well above the average for Cava.

Vilarnau Brut Nature (rrp £9.99). A blend of Macabeo, Parellada and Chardonnay, with 24 months age and just 3 g/l sugar: fine and yeasty with considerable complexity on the nose, fresh and dry in the mouth with a bready finish.

Vilarnau Brut (rrp £9.99) – a similar blend but a dosage of 10 g/l and 12 months aging: more floral and fruity, and though still yeasty, it has a soft, slightly earthy flavour.

Vilarnau Gran Reserva Brut Vintage 2006 (rrp £16.99) – the same three grapes, with 26 months aging and again, just 3 g/l sugar: lovely and delicate, creamy and long with almost peachy fruit.

Vilarnau Demi-Sec (rrp £9.99) – a blens of Parellada and Macabeo with 30 g/l dosage is a big wine with lemon curd-like fruit, soft and slightly earthy.

Vilarnau Brut Rosado (rrp £9.99) – a blend of Trepat and Pinot Noir, aged for 12 months is extremely attractive – a big, full-bodied, soft fizz with abundant flavours of red fruit.

Albert de Vilarnau Chardonnay Brut Nature (rrp £25) includes a fair dollop of Pinot Noir and is aged for 36 months. Big and fruity, it’s stylish and buttery, with good freshness, length and minerality.

Albert de Vilarnau Barrel Fermented Chardonnay (rrp £25) includes some Macabeo and Parellada. Very big and rich, with lemony fruit, it’s powerful, complex, slightly earthy and nuanced by creamy oak.

Vinas de Vero, the Somontano winery bought in 2008, has been a pioneer in this exciting region in the Pyrenean foothills.  There is a wide range of grape varieties and of wines, but I was especially struck by two:

La Miranda de Secastilla Garnacha Blanca 2009 (rrp £9.99) is big and spicy, with peachy fruit and a soft, fruity flavour with a a mineral finish.

Secastilla Old Vines Garnacha 2005 (rrp 19.99) is a real discovery. It is complex and long with  great depth of spicy red and black fruit aromas, with very ripe juicy red fruit in the mouth. I like it very much.

Bodegas Beronia, founded in 1973 became  part of the Gonzalez portfolio since 1982. I recently tasted and much enjoyed their rosado and was keen to try other wines in an extensive an innovative range of Rioja. I also hope that they will soon prove a little easier to find.

Beronia Viura 2009 (rrp £7.99). A fresh, clean, quite soft but appley dry white, with a spicy finish.

Beronia Crianza 2007 (rrp £8.99). Nicely done – balanced with plenty of juicy, plummy fruit and good integration of oak.

Beronia Reserva 2005 (rrp£12.99). Good freshness – an elegant wine, with plummy, slightly raisined fruit.

Beronia Reserva 2005 (rrp£12.99). Quite eveloved and spicy, richer, softer and more chocolatey than the 05.

Beronia Colleccion Viura Frementado in Barrica 2007 (rrp £10.99) – 5 months in oak. Rich, buttery dry white, with crisper acidity than the simple 09 – a surprise.

Beronia Colleccion Graciano 2007 (rrp £12.49). Quite vinous and chunky; big and grippy with plummy fruit. A bit rustic.  A bit of a disappointment.

Beronia Colleccion Tempranillo Elaboracion Especial 2008 (rrp £10.99). Utterly true to the variety, with spicy, plummy fruit and though soft, quite chewy.

Beronia Colleccion Mazuelo Reserva 2004 (rrp £17.99). Open and rich, with lots of raisiny fruit – powerful, strong, herby and a little earthy.

Beronia IIIAC 2004 (rrp £65) 15 months in French, Hungarian and US oak, a blend of Tempranillo, Graciano and Mazuelo. Deep and spicy wih plummy fruit – huge in the mouth, oaky, soft, and I couldn’t help feeling a tiny bit stewed.

The most remarkable wines from Bodegas Beronia are their Gran Reservas – a style that is far less popular than it used to be, but when as done as well as it under the skillful guidance of Matias Calleja, who treated us to a brilliant master class/tasting with vintages of Gran Reserva from 2001 back to 1973. I’ll report on this separately, soon – probably in The Journal.