Iberian Invasion

photos by Alister Robertson

date: Monday 16 April 2012

I’ve been really lucky recently to be involved in a few excellent wine tastings. I don’t always get these written up (posts tend to be long and hard work!) but I’m going to try to get better with that – if only so everyone can feel jealous about some of the lovely stuff I’ve been able to try!

Last Monday Sommeliers Australia organised an Iberian Invasion tasting, hosted by Mark Reginato and Stephen Pannell. We tasted a selection of red and white wines from the Iberian peninsula (that’s Spain and Portugal), as well as a few of Stephen’s wines that have some Spanish influence. It was a great opportunity to try some less well known grape varieties too.

Of the whites, my favourite was the Bodegas Maranones Picarana Albillo 2010 (link only useful if you read Spanish). While it wasn’t massively pronounced on the nose, the palate had a lot more to say. The wine had lovely weight and notes of butter and vanilla from some time spent in new oak. It really reminded me of bread and butter pudding, with a slightly nutty character. Stephen Pannell commented that this wine isn’t a typical Albillo and that they are usually a bit fresher (so a bit more fruit, a bit more acidity), a bit more floral and without the weight or oiliness we saw in this wine. Typical or not, I’d be more than happy to drink this wine and seek out other examples of the grape.

I didn’t take the time to note which of the reds was my favourite but certain wines provoked a bit of discussion. The Bodegas y Vinedos Ponce La Casilla Bobal 2009 proved divisive (I’ve had this wine before and liked it – you can buy it from East End Cellars). There was something slightly green on the nose, along with plenty of dark fruit and on the palate it was all about some lovely juicy black cherries, accompanied by a bit of chocolate. The tannins were certainly there, and grippy to boot, but not mouth puckering and it was all rounded out by good acidity. Personally, I can’t imagine what’s not to like!

The other really interesting wine was one brought along by Mark. The Quinta da Mata Maceda Douro 2003 is a Portuguese blend (from vineyard level upwards – the vines are coplanted and the wine is cofermented) which is fermented in old Port barrels. The wine was really not my cup of tea, at all. It smelled like Port and tasted (to me) like a combination of Port and a red wine that was old and possibly oxidised. You could definitely see the influence of the Port barrels on the finished product and I’m only sorry I can’t find some decent information on the internet to point you towards for further details.

The real highlight of the tasting, for me, was listening to Stephen Pannell. He was a guest panelist when I participated in the Lorenzo Galli Scholarship last year so I knew what I was in for: he speaks incredibly quickly and says what’s on his mind. He calls everything how he sees it. Last Monday he made some great points about marketing, wine making, cork, what sells in Australia, and personal preference.

He made the very salient point that everyone has different taste in music and this is something that is generally embraced. However, within the wine industry, there seems to be a real drive to creating wines that will be universally liked, wines that create consensus rather than discussion.

As usual, it was an excellent afternoon.

Sommeliers Australia‘s SA branch runs a number of tastings throughout the year and many have tickets available to non members. To check out other past events, read Wines of Sicily and Madeira Madness.

Madeira Madness

Blandy's 1964 Malmsey by Alister Robertson

Yesterday I attended my first Sommeliers Australia event, Madeira Madness.  I wasn’t really sure what to expect, but was hoping for a fairly structured, tutored tasting – and that is exactly what I got.

Between 20 and 30 people congregated upstairs at Est Pizzeria on East Terrace for a session led by James Godfrey and Phil Reedman MW.    James is a Senior Winemaker at Treasury Wine Estates with plenty of experience making fortifieds in Australia and Phil runs his own consulting company.  Phil had just returned from the UK where he had sourced some of our tasting samples.

We began with an overview of Madeira – both the island and the wine – and started on the tasting quite promptly.  The four ‘noble’* Madeiran grape varieties are Sercial, Verdelho, Boal (or Bual) and Malmsey.  This is also the order of increasing sweetness.  So don’t think about what your grandma used to have stashed in the cupboard:  a Sercial Madeira is almost bone dry!

The tasting started with four (one of each of the above grapes) non vintage Madeiras from Henriques & Henriques.  My favourite was the Sercial – absolutely ideal aperitif material.  Not overly complex – think raisins, caramel, sweet and hot spices, and finishing with some definite nut characteristics (for me, that was hazelnut).  The really standout thing in this wine was some really really high acidity.  It really cleared the palate and allowed the individual flavours to shine.

We then tasted some older wines – the oldest being a 1964 Blandy’s Malmsey and the youngest being a 1988 D’Oliveira Colheita Terrantez.  These wines were all considerably more complex than the first four – so there was a lot of discussion and a lot of note taking!  My personal favourite was the 1981 D’Oliveira Colheita Verdelho which had a real coffee, caramel and fruit cake nose but tasted quite different.  The searing acidity was still there but it had an almost salty taste to it, while finishing richly.  The closest I could come to was salted caramel, but when James mentioned crushed pineapple that, for me, hit the nail on the head!

I was struck by how much citrus I spotted in the wines – my notes are peppered with fresh lemon, fresh lime, and lots of references to preserved lemon.

It was a great couple of hours – not only did we taste some amazing wines (and I doubt I’ll ever be in a room with 9 Madeiras again!) but having Phil and James there was very instructional.  There can’t be too many people in Australia with such a solid knowledge of Madeira and fortifieds and it was fab to have them pointing out things that were both typical and atypical.  Definitely an afternoon for wine geeks!

Thanks to Ali for the photo – follow him on twitter!


*In wine speak, ‘noble’ varieties are those grape varieties which produce wines of quality – typically we’re talking about greater complexity and length, and often things like potential for ageing.  This frequently translates into a slightly higher priced product!