'Rising Stars' – Spanish Wine Tasting

Like football, the wine-tasting season is back in full swing. Today Spain, tomorrow, the Adelaide Hills. I do hope everyone planning to organise an event this year poked their head through the door of The Great Room at The Shelbourne during the Spain ‘Rising Stars’ tasting, which was simply the best-organised tasting in the history of ever. The comprehensive catalogue, sent to wine writers by post ahead of the event, contained prices (retail, hooray!) and stockists. Better yet, when I got there the tables and by-and-large the wines on them were laid out in catalogue order.

Factor in plenty of room, masses of spittoons, a constantly refreshed supply of water and nibbles – sensibly, just water biscuits and Spanish artisan cheeses, matching the seriousness of the event and you have a tasting to be reckoned with. To put the membrillo on the queso there was an early doors hour-and-a-half ‘quiet’ period reserved for the wine press. Could probably have done with at least two-and-a-half as unfortunately I didn’t have time to get round to the half dozen or so tables at the back which were reserved for wineries seeking representation here.

Anyhow, take a bow and several encores, the Embassy of Spain and event co-ordinator Justine Adam.

Billed as ‘rising stars’ the spotlight was on the regions we’ve come to call ‘the New Spain’ thanks to John Radford’s seminal book. That said, the purist could assert that, in particular, Penedes, Rias Baixas and Ribera del Duero are more ‘risen’ than ‘rising’.

Quality wasn’t quite a given but, generally, wine lovers can be confident that buying into Spanish wine will provide both interesting drinking and value for money. Here are just a few of the many I liked. Paco & Lola’s gorgeous Rias Baixas albarino 2008 (€14.99) was, I thought, the nicest of the many examples of this grape variety on show. Affectionately known as ‘Spotty Bottle’ it should stick out a mile on the shelves of The Celtic Whiskey Shop, Superquinn and some independents. CWS also had some fine sherries from Hidalgo, including a PX.

Quintessential Wines of Drogheda had many interesting wines on their stand, including those of Bodegas Naia from Rueda. The K-Naia Verdeho, with its refreshing minerality is well worth the €14.75 ask (Quintessential, Power & Smullen). The barrel aged Naides 2007 (€31.50) was an absolute gem and I’d rather drink it than many a PC Chablis. La Rousse’s Prius de Morana Rueda 2007 was a steal (Fallon & Byrne; The Storehouse, Naas) at the €10 ask.

On the Approach Trade stand I found another likeable verdeho, this one laced with viura and sauv B also, called Basa 2008 (€13.95). Ace winemaker Telmo Rodriguez’s name on a bottle is usually a guarantee of quality. I’m a big fan of Dehesa Gago 2007, a balanced and beautiful red from Toro (€13.50, stockists nationwide). The big brother, Gago Crianza 2006 (€23.25) was absolutely ace. Approach Trade who import them also bring in Alvaro Palacios’ Les Terrasses 2005 (€31.35), which I waxed lyrical over when I wrote about Priorato in the Sunday Independent earlier this year.

Clada Group had a vibrant red from Toro, Eternum Viti (ho, ho) 2006 (€14.95, Woodberry’s Galway & The Corkscrew, Dublin). Also a big ripsnorting bugger from Ribera del Duero called Neo Sentido.

A lot of Rioja on Barry & Fitzwilliam’s table. I did like the 3 Ribera del Dueros from Bodegas O.Fournier. The entry level, curiously named Urban Oak (€14.99) represented value for money. Pago del Oro 2006 (€14.99, Classic Drinks, independents) a cheerful, uncomplicated red from Toro. Classic had an unusual red wine, Pittacum 2005 (€16.95) featuring the little-known Mencia grape, big mouthfeel balanced by just the right touch of acidity.

Finally, if it’s organic wine you’re after, look no further than Mary Pawle from Kenmare (www.marypawlewines.com), who’s been doing organic longer than most or maybe any. I couldn’t separate Albet y Noya’s 3Macabeus 2008 and Lignum Negre 2007 for quality.The ’07 is drinking better as of now. Both represent heroic value for money. Wine of the show? The utterly absorbing Clio 2006 (Quintessential Wines, Power & Smullen). But at €44.95 I won’t be drinking much of it, alas!

There were many more that impressed but the fingers are dropping off me; might add more later.