Investigating the wines of Iberia

When we think of Iberia, wine lovers generally think of Spain and Portugal. In fact, a small portion of southwestern France and the tiny British Overseas Territory of Gibraltar are also technically part of the Iberian Peninsula.

Isolated from easy land access to the rest of Europe for most of recorded history by the mass of the Pyrenees mountains, Spain and Portugal were both ‘discovered’ by Greek and – later – Roman explorers voyaging under sail across the Mediterranean and around what we know today as the Strait of Gibraltar.

Bacalhôa JP Azeitao Setúbal (292979) $12 blends 47 per cent Castelão, 40 per cent Aragonez and 13 per cent Syrah into a Vibrant colour, dominantly fruity aromas with nuances specifically of wild berries, strawberries and wild cherries. On the palate the flavours are identical, integrated with a soft tannic structure.

The Iberian Peninsula has been inhabited for at least 1.2 million years. Ancient remains have been found in the Atapuerca Mountains in northern Spain – the winemaking regions known in modern times as Burgos, Castile and Leon.

Calcada Vinho Verde (275719) $16.99 is produced from a blend of the traditional Loureiro, Arinto, Azal and Trajadura grapes.  Fresh apple and pear flavours slide into guava, pineapple and mango, giving this ever so slightly sparkling white wine interesting undercurrents.

Wine has been made in Portugal since at least 2000 B.C. when the Tartessians planted vines in the Sado and Tagus river valleys. Greek and Roman explorers brought new varieties of vines and their own winemaking cultures.

Thousands of years later, fortified sweet Port wines were devised. Although tradition would have it otherwise, Port was not created by British sailors by spiking the wine with brandy to avoid spoilage during the long voyage north.

More accurately, British importers could be credited for recognizing that a smooth, already fortified wine that would appeal to English palates, would coincidentally survive the trip to London.

Not all Port is red – or even tawny! Sassy and sweet Taylor Fladgate Fine White Port (164129) $19.59 is a blend of Arinto, Boal (Semillon), Codega, Esgana Cão, Folgasão, Gouveio, Viosinho and Rabigato varieties. Barrel-aged, it is actually honey gold – not white. Honey, almonds and vanilla notes make this a tasty sipper.

Although there is evidence of grapes growing in Spain in the Tertiary geologic period more than 2 million years ago, winemaking is thought to have begun with the arrival of the Phoenicians who founded the trading post of Cádiz around 1100 BC.

From Jumilla – one of the fastest rising regions in modern Spanish winemaking – Pasico Monastrell Shiraz (536664) $10.99 blends Monastrell (aka Mourvèdre) and Shiraz (aka Syrah) grapes into a mouth-filling red that oozes black cherry and plum fruit that just keeps coming on before sliding into sage and savoury spices. This would be perfect with New York steak!

The origins of Verdejo remain cloaked in mystery; most likely it is indigenous to Castilla y Leon, although it has also been suggested that it arrived via southern Spain from North Africa in the 11th Century. It seems that the variety was forgotten about for hundreds of years, and was most recently revived in the 1980s by Rioja producer Marques de Riscal.

From their own vineyards in Serrada and La Seca, planted on poor, gravelly, sandy and brownish-grey soils producing moderate yields of superb quality grapes, Marques de Caceres Verdejo (862607) $16.49 has a fragrant bouquet of wild flowers, bright grapefruit and green apple notes with a sprinkling of rain washed rocky minerality.

Not to be outdone by the Portuguese, Spanish winemakers began making fortified Sherry in a complicated ‘solera’ system in and around the city of Jerez in southwestern Spain. A solera system is comprised of several “solera rows” stacked on top of each other. Each row is made up of many barrels. Wine moves from the top most row to the bottom most row before being bottled over the period of several years.

La Gitana Manzanilla En Rama (339457) $35.25 is a Sherry that ages for five years in a solera dating back to the 19th century. It’s a fine wine with notes of iodine and seaweed, generous acidity and a gentle structure. Bracing and aromatic, with complex flavours of walnuts, hazelnuts, lemon rind and a salty tanginess in this underappreciated marvel.


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