2016 Celler Aixalà Alcait Pardelasses Priorat

Pardelasses, for the donkeys it seems and this ass thought this 50/50 blend of Garnatxa and Samsó close to the one of the most enthralling drinks so far this year. Despite opening a bit sulphur stinky, a quick decant revealed dark balsamic cherries, a beguiling scent of sweet smoky pimenton, olé, and liquorice earthiness. There’s also kirsch, morello cherries and a finish where that sweet smoked paprika taste pops up again. Like a lot of great red wine, there’s an incredible freshness and a paradoxically firm but soft textured end gently brushing things clean to a mouthwatering conclusion. A very special expression of grape growing and place. Just as good on the second day. Samsó or Carignan as it’s better known can be so special in old vines and low yields. So soft and luscious. This old donkey is smitten by Priorat now.

14.50%. Cork. Another from The Spanish Acquisition’s wonderful mystery packs.

96 points.

Lot 5/2017 Celler Aixalà Alcait DeStrankis Priorat

There’s no clear vintage year on the label apart from lot 5/2017 in small print tucked away on one side. So, 2017? A little research on the importer’s website says 2017 and the fact that Destrankis is a Catalan term for assets that were hidden from the Franco dictatorship. Ah, hence the bottle hidden under the coat on the label. Opens cleanly, lots of dried cherry skin, ethyl acetate balsamic, sweet roasting pan juices and a richness of fresh red fruit. Grapes left to ripen until they just started to shrivel a bit. Instead of dried fruit cake flavours, there’s still an extraordinary sweet swell of fresh ripe berries and then the thing that perhaps marks Garnatxa and Samsó (or Carignan) from Priorat, a smooth wall of polished rocky tannin and acidity. An amazing expression of grapes and place. Finally it’s dawned on me why there’s all the fuss about Priorat. Delicious ripeness that seems to glide on such a fine bedrock of the local llicorella stone. Paradoxically soft rocks? The blend’s 80% Grenache and 20% Carignan, beautiful wine.

14.50% alcohol. Cork. Enormous thanks to the importers, The Spanish Acquisition, for offering mystery six packs for $90 and included this and another Celler Aixalà Alcait bottle with RRPs well north of $60. Really hope they keep their heads above the dreadful Covid financial waters. Saludos.

93 points.

2017 Bodegas La Purisima Estio Blanco

Spain has some of the most convivial bars for a delicious crawl but frustratingly for a wine lover, some have a limited wine selection by the glass. Try finding a fresh copa of Manzanilla outside Andalucia or anything elsewhere apart from the ubiquitous Tempranillo or Verdejo, Spain’s answer to Sauvignon Blanc. Or perhaps it’s my prejudice about grapes beginning with a V? Oops, Macabeo’s name in Rioja is Viura, perhaps we can stick to the former to maintain the unreasonableness? This example of Macabeo is from the hills of Yecla, 150kms inland from the beaches around Alicante where it’s probably drunk by the tanker load. An interesting but recently a less loved variety, here it doesn’t shout too much but shows low key but complex smells of chamomile, green apple, olive, and sort of plasticine. Widens out nicely in the mouth and then tails off, leaving a good pithy grip and firm but fair mineral acidity, tinged with a breath of oxidising sun burnt skins like a warm sea breeze. Could be enjoyed without paying too much attention but enough going on for those seeking a taste of an authentic Mediterranean grape.

12% alcohol. Screwcap, yes. $21.

88 points but a decent bonus for a cleverly made, properly authentic to region drink.

2018 Félix Solis Caliza Gran Seleccíon Tempranillo

Spain’s certainly a place for great value. This is apparently hand picked, turned into wine, bottled and put on the shelf at Dan Murphy’s for a measly $10 or $9.50 in a mixed six, incredible. Clean whole berry ferment smells on opening. Medium weight flavours of sweet strawberry and toffee which I particularly like in Tempranillo. An admission, the telltale cola character is not an easy one to spot for me but lots of tasters say it’s unmistakable. There’s a good flow of flavour and some satisfying ripe acidity and firm tannin which is something recognisably good about Tempranillo. Yes, satisfying indeed. Thank Bacchus, the continuing importance of wine at the Spanish table keeps prices traditionally low despite beer now being the most popular social drink. Not sure I’d like to work in those sun blasted La Mancha vines for what they pay. Happy to enjoy the result though when it’s this delicious.

13.5% alcohol. Diam. $9.50 for good grapes, no artifice and real wine.

89 points.

2017 Península Viticultores Vino de Montaña

Old vine Grenache from vineyards in the mountains near Madrid blended with a couple of obscurities in Rufete and Piñuela. The Jancis grape bible says Rufete is Portuguese in origin but has no entry for Piñuela, so it remains mysterious. Having spent time in Madrid and surrounds seeking out these mountain versions, it’s fair to say it was hard to find one that really scratched that Grenache as altitude Pinot itch. Sadly a bottle of Commando G has proven too elusive. It’s therefore a nice surprise to find a well priced, clean and fresh example. Just medium weight and increasingly delicious after a few hours airing, there’s tart cherry, a touch of almost musky incense and that sensation of licking a lump of granite. It’s already been pointed out a few times this might be a silly thing to do but I can’t think of a better explanation. Structurally there’s some fine pixel tannin and ripe but mouth watering acidity. Mountain wine! A little more mid mouth fruit weight and the bargain would be a steal. Some good olive oily Spaniard in the works food, mucho bueno.

14.5% alcohol but it doesn’t show. Diam I think. $26 but it can be found for as little as $20.

92 points but a strong shout for style and place.

2016 Viña Olabarri Rioja Blanco

From the variety Viura which being Spanish is of course a local name for something else, in this case Jancis says Macabeo, the Cava stalwart, and suggests widely underestimated too. This version is firmly modern in its winemaking and a long way from the oxidised, old oaky, traditional blancos. Full and creamy textured with aromas of chamomile, yellow peaches and apricot jam. Odd how often Spanish whites seem to evoke that sleep and wee inducing flower, not necessarily always compatible effects. Terrific balance of full rich fruit and pulpy grape skin acidity. Such a sunny disposition with a firm true handshake. Another fascinating voyage into the amazing territory of Mediterranean varieties or just an easily delicious glass of wine too. Getting on the email list for the wittily named Melbourne importer, The Spanish Acquisition, led to a mystery bin end clearance of six bottles for $60. Happy this turned up as Rioja Blanco wouldn’t usually register on the buying radar.

12.50% alcohol. Looks like a Nomacorc sugarcane polymer cork alternative. $10!

91 points.

2016 Bodegas Ladairo Monterrei

Mainly Mencía with a bit of Arúxa which is yet another Spanish alternative name for Tempranillo. From a region in furthest south Galicia near the Portuguese border, this is a delicious joven style, unaffected by barrels. Opens up straightaway with bright whole berry ferment scents of cherry and blueberry. Over time a distinct wet rock, er…mineral fume backs up the clean crunchy fruit. Just medium weight the flavours keep up the sparkling crystal fruit and rock theme all pulled along on fine pumice tannin and fresh but ripe acidity. If you hadn’t seen the label, a good guess would be a good savoury cru Beaujolais but not quite right as there’s a sense of rugged Galician river valleys about this. Fanciful no doubt but there’s something about good wine that makes geography more interesting than it was at school.

13% alcohol. Cork. Bargain from our local importer’s bin end sale, cheers Spanish Acquisition!

92 points.

2017 La Vinyeta Llavors Empordà

An odd blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Samsó or Carignan. Llavors means some thing like then or formerly in Catalan it seems. The ‘then’ referenced was September 2017 and the referendum for Catalan independence. Two years on and there are crowds again massing on the streets of Barcelona and Girona. Choosing the local granite kitchen splash back as a background makes my eyes go a bit funny and the 2017 pro independence crowd photo on the label hard to see, oh well, perhaps the Madrid government would approve? The wine’s a typical Empordà mix of sweet ripe dark berry and chocolate fruit gripped firmly by those iron and granite tannins. Touch of oak seasons nicely. Clean and well made without losing the sense of place or it’s rustic grunt. On the basis of a brief flirtation involving two bottles, La Vinyeta could be a producer to pursue further if you’re lucky enough to find yourself Catalunya bound.

14.50% alcohol. Cork. 12 euro worth of value.

90 points.

2017 Raúl Pérez La Clave Bierzo

Recommended by La Cuvée de la Plaça in genteel but rebellious Girona. Again a smoky, perfumed and red fruited Mencia. Treads a narrow path between fresh tartness and ripe sweetness, keeping its balance all the way to a crisp and flavorful end. The main impression is clean and richly ripe but there’s a rocky cut. When in Spain it’s hard to ignore this star of a variety. Tempranillo’s quietly interesting neighbour.

14% alcohol. Cork. 11 euros for another bargain.

93 points.

2015 Casar de Burbia Bierzo

From the shelves of a large Carrefour supermarket in Madrid from a good ripe vintage and just under 10 euros, alright, go on then. Opens cleanly with bright dark red fruit, smoke, spice and a dash of mocha. Delicious swell of even ripeness gives width and sweet tannins drag long on buried acidity. Sort of has the class of a sculptured Franc from a famous right bank. Warm for Mencia and just maybe shows the way summers are getting hotter and longer across Europe? Certainly this lacks the marked tart tang of some cooler mountain Mencia. Nonetheless still gently warm and ripe and extreme value. Did it satisfy the craving for a wild mountain adventure, not sure.

14% alcohol. Cork. 9.95 euros of great value.

93 points like it says on the bottle.