I went to this wine tasting to see if I could find something interesting for the seminar on Spain wines that I am conducting on December. I came back home with some good impressions. I jot them down here for future reference.

Before I begin, just one note: the event was divided in two sections, one for Italian wines and the other for Spanish wines (around 25-30 wines each). First, I was guided to the Italian section by the staff because, you know, I am Italian.
So here is a friendly reminder: just because I come from Italy, it doesn’t mean that I am interested only in Italian wines. In fact I was there for Spain. Probably many of my fellow citizens do not mind about this, but I find it a bit annoying. Am I supposed to know only about Italian wines?
Anyway I was promptly brought to the Spanish hall as soon as I stated my intentions.

The guest stars of the event were brother and sister Gonzalo and Mariasun Saenz de Samaniego from Ostatu, who were there showing their wines. This medium sized producer (around 30 hectares) hails from Rioja Alavesa, Basque Country and operates since the 1970s, when the parents of the actual owners started making and marketing their own wines. The peculiar name means “inn” in Basque and refers to the fact that the present winery building was actually a inn in the past. There are also two other brothers working in the business, Ernesto and Iñigo.
Gonzalo does not speak English, so I was talking in Italian and he was replying in Spanish. We had almost no problem in understanding each other, Bacchus bless our common Latin heritage 😀

I have already talked about the quite peculiar punching down method used by this bodega.
As for the wines I found the differences between the Tinto (Joven) 2017, the red Crianza 2014 and the red Reserva 2012 very interesting and educational, with a clear progression in complexity and weight. The tinto is made by 100% carbonic maceration and the typical aromas of this process stands out very clear on the nose and palate, reminding a young red Côtes du Rhône.
Ostatu also makes four different single vineyards wine: Selecciòn de Ostatu (coming from the windiest plot of the estate), Lore de Ostatu (white, from the coolest plot), Laderas de Ostatu (the highest) and Gloria de Ostatu (the oldest). It is interesting to notice that these cuvées are quite old, with their first vintage dating back respectively to 1996, 2009, 2005 and 2000. Clearly the trend toward singular expressions of Rioja terroir is older than commonly thought. (1)
Of these four I could taste only Laderas 2011 and Gloria 2008: they are both very good, but I especially like the first, a nicely balanced combination of red fruit, light meat and stones. Oak (13-14 months in new barriques & 500 L tonneaux) is perceivable, but the vanilla is not overwhelming, thanks to the solid structure of the base wine. A 3% Viura, complementing the 97% Tempranillo, contributes to uplift its powerful profile. Gloria is darker, with aromas of ripe red fruits all the way up to blackberries, iron, coffee, toast. Despite its 11 years of age this should be aged more, or at least decanted, as the nose is deep, but still closed at the moment. A slightly alcoholic warmth in the throat is my only complain about it.

There were also other wines to try, from other producers.
Emendis Cabrò Blanco NV (DO Penedès), made from Xarel-lo has been a nice surprise. I don’t remember if I had ever tried a 100% wine from this variety, but the nose reminded me of Riesling, no jokes: petrol-like minerality, green fruit, citrus, hints of white flowers. It is light in the mouth and lower in acidity, but the steely flavor persists in the aftertaste. Maybe not the perfect alternative to our favorite German grape varieties, but a wine showing some personality.
I was much less convinced by the Vindius Godello 2014 by Vinos Guerra: I have heard about this grape as one of the promising “new” whites of Spain, but to me this is a bit too generic and light in intensity, both in aromas (stone fruits, white flowers) and texture.
The wines from Manuel Formigo betray the producer geographical proximity with Portugal (DO Ribeiro, in Galicia): the white Formigo 2017 is a complex blend made by Treixadura, Palomino Fino, Godello, Torrontés, Albariño and Loureira. It has the scent some whites from southern Italy, ripe apples, jasmine, honeysuckle. Good acidity and light body, worth its price (around 2000 yen).

Of the three rosados on show my favorite was VA Rosado 100% Syrah rosé from Aljibes (ailing from La Mancha): a power recalling the rosé from Salento, intense and soft aromas red fruits and at the same time a crisp acidity making it fresher than most of the whites. I am partial toward this kind of open and expressive rosés, but I can’t help considering this probably the best wine of the tasting, in terms of price vs quality.
From this same producer, the eponymous red Aljibes 2015 is also very interesting, a Bordeaux inspired blend of Merlot 35%, Cabernet Sauvignon 35% and Cabernet Franc 30%, powerful but well balanced. The fruit, black, is expressive, but not overripe, and the wine is uplifted by smoke, toast, herbs and spices. A very well made example of his genre and at a very competitive price (2,500 yen list price).
I will keep an eye on this producer.

Another red that I liked was the Trebòn Tinto 2015 from Adega de Pinguela, an unusual blend of 50% Mencia, 30% Brancellao and 20% Sousòn from Valdeorras. Like the Aljibes this costs less than 3,000 yen, but offers red fruits (cranberry, raspberry, a touch of blueberry) enlightened by minty hints and discrete oak flavor (a light toast). The palate is balanced, pleasantly grippy, structured, but it also features a nice acidity.

Talking about Mencìa, this grape is sometimes defined like the “Pinot Noir” of Spain, but the ones I had didn’t really seem than “Pinot Noir-ish” to me. The 100% cuvées, Baloiro Reserva 2009 by Luzdivina Amigo, Vindius Mencìa 2016 by Vinos Guerra and Palacio de Canedo Reserva 2011 by Prada a Tope, were much more substantial than Pinot Noir.
Palacio de Canedo is very good, characterised by dark fruit and vanilla, but also complex and savoury (iron, earth, smoke and meat); the Vindius Mencìa is much simpler, jammy and mainly geared toward daily consumption; Baloiro is almost as good as Palacio de Canedo, a bit less fresh, but full and savory, with some well defined red ripe fruits along with a herbal touch and a chocolatey finish.

In conclusion

The tasting was not exactly “big”, but it had some interesting wines. The reds were better and the best ones offered great balance between power and acidity on one hand, and harmony between fruitiness and savouriness on the other, plus a skillful use of oak. As a bonus, some also showed an inviting minty freshness preventing them to become too heavy.
The whites were generally less convincing and a bit too low in acidity, except Formigo.
The rosés were too few to express an informed opinion on this kind of wines as a whole, but the 100% Syrah was great and I heartily recommend it.

Getting to talk with Gonzalo and Mariasùn, trying single vineyards from Rioja Alavesa, having wines from varieties not usually seen on shelves (Mencìa, Xarel-lo, Godello) were all very interesting experiences. And as I said the average quality is pretty satisfying.
There is still a lot to learn from Spain, but sadly not many events of this kind compared to other Countries, Italy and France above all.
I hope to see more of them in the future.

(1) However notice that these are not proper “Singular Vineyard wines” (Viñedos Singulares): this category has been approved only recently (2017) in Rioja and has further requirements like yields, vine age, vineyard registration.