This presentation was held at the Westbury Hotel in London with an expert trio comprising the suave Enrique Valero from the Executive Committee of the Grandes Pagos de España, the enthusiastic food and wine writer Victor De La Serna with Sarah Jane Evans MW at the helm, steering us effortlessly through high quality white and red single estate wines.
The name of the association of highlights 29 single unique estates, rather than mere wineries, emphasising the striving for quality here. Pago is the old Spanish word for estate or tract of land, with the ‘grandes’ denoting the special respect in which they are held, rather than size. The organisation started life at the turn of the century in Castilla in central Spain. Today it covers estates from all over Spain. It is not a shared commercial organisation, rather they defend and promote wines that demonstrate terroir and the quality that Spain can produce. They do share technical information.
Grandes Pagos lies outside Spain’s classification system and should not be confused with the country’s Vino de Pago DO category of wines that started in 2003 and which sits at the apex of the classification system, above the DOCa of Rioja and Priorat’s DOQ. Some of the estates are both Grandes Pagos and Vino de Pago, but not all.
The 22 wines available to taste had been set out by production region within Spain – “a circular journey through Spain”. This was to emphasise that Spain is capable of making high quality, exceptional single vineyard wines linked to the different terroirs throughout the country. The message was that Spanish wine is much more than generic supermarket wines. Indeed, to be a member, these wines have to have at least 5 years’ recognisable international prestige in the wine world. They included the likes of Gramona Cava, Valdespino in Jerez with a single vineyard Sherry (a wine style usually believed to rely almost entirely on the solera production method with little thought given to the vineyard provenance of its Palomino grapes), Mas Dois from the North East, to Aalto in Ribera del Duero. We heard about the influence of the proximity of the Atlantic, Mediterranean, rivers, mountain ranges and the of varied soils. Oak ,where used, might be French, American or, in the case of Cans Ràfols dels Caus 2011 Xarel-lo, chestnut.
The grape varieties in the wines were both traditional Spanish and international, again demonstrating the ability of Spanish wine to extend beyond its traditional varieties. Whether you think that Spain should extend to international varieties or not is up for debate. The peachy Fillaboa 2014 Albariño from Rias Baixas on the coast and the magnolia flowers of the Belondrade y Lurton 2014 oaked Verdejo from inland sat well with the soft honeyed 2012 oaked Chardonnay from Navarra’s Chivite Family Estate. Among the reds, Cabernet Sauvignon brushed shoulders with Tempranillo in Pago de Calzadilla 2007 (which has its own DO in central Spain), aged in traditional American oak barrels. The Cabernet brought freshness to the red fruits from the Tempranillo and filled out the mid palate. Tempranillo of course was well represented; we also saw old vine Garnacha, Carignan, Bobal, Syrah and Monastrell.
Being prestigious and well recognised comes at a price, though perhaps at a lower price for well thought of wines from other countries. While enjoying some of the Grandes Pagos wines will need a generous budget or deep pockets, the upside is that these estates should create a halo effect in other wines across Spain, giving them a quality level to aspire to. I will certainly think more broadly when I consider Spanish wines, a sense I also gathered visiting several regions over the last few months. The tasting concluded with a comment along the lines of ‘we don’t hear enough about Spanish quality wines’, well Grandes Pagos de España is banging the drum.
Links grandespagos.com, @SJEvans, thedrinksbusiness.com
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