Spotlight on Spain: Alejandro Fernandez Condado de Haza 2005
My next spotlight looks at a land with many histories, many traditions, many personalities and a flare for the confluence of modernity and tradition. It is also a land I will be visiting in about a month: Spain. I hope that this spotlight will serve to explore both the famous and not-so-famous regions of Spain, hopefully highlighting some of its lesser known D.O.’s and culminating in an in-the-flesh experience when I head there in person.
For me, Spain offers so much for the wine lover that one could spend a lifetime exploring the grapes and styles of Spain’s amazingly diverse wines. Spain also offers some of the best values in the wine world today. Forget Argentina and Chile – Spain is where you can get wines with flare, personality, depth, profundity, and litheness all for an excellent price.
The grapes for today’s wine were grown in Spain’s Ribera del Duero – the river valley that becomes the Douro in Portugal (the famous land of port). Ribera del Duero never used to be known for quality wine. Amazingly, in the last 20 years the region has completely reinvented itself, led by the venerable Vega Sicilia (see my profile of this famous estate), who set out to prove the region could make wines comparable to the best in France. While Vega Sicilia’s initial plan was to plant the French variety Cabernet Sauvignon, they discovered that it was in fact the indigenous variety Tempranillo that produced the greatest quality wines. Aging the wines for a long time in oak led to Vega Sicilia’s very distinct style.
However, other than Vega Sicilia, Ribera del Duero did not get much of any recognition until the producer of today’s wine sprung onto the scene: Alejandro Fernandez. Fernandez’s Tinto Pesquera was the first winery to make high quality Ribera del Duero wines that were not aged for a long time before release and which were a fraction of the cost of Vega Sicilia’s masterpieces. I think it is fair to say that Fernandez revolutionized the image of Ribera del Duero by focusing on quality. Even as the reputation of the region rose and fell (of course corresponding with grape prices), Fernandez never compromised on quality. This is a lesson for all B.C. wine makers who try to make wine for a certain palate at a certain price – throughout all the fluctuations and fortunes of Ribera del Duero, it was Fernandez’s focus on quality both in the vineyard and in wine making practices that allowed him to survive for so long. And now? Well Fernandez is one of the most respected names in Spain.
Today’s wine is from Fernandez’ “second” project Condado de Haza – with the quotation marks indicating that this winery is not producing wines of lesser quality than Pesquera – instead just a different style.
But before the wine, a little bit about the region. Ribera del Duero is actually a high elevation region, and as such, producers can have difficulty ripening grapes. This is somewhat contrary to Spain’s image as a warm climate region with easy ripening, and it might be hard to believe given the intense fruit of most Ribera del Duero wines. This intensity arises from two things. First, the climate is such that while days can reach temperatures of 40 degrees Celsius, it also has very cool nights that shut down the grapes’ metabolism. This allows the grapes to gain in fruit during the day, but also ensures that the vines and leaves don’t suck up all the nutrients at night, meaning all the soil’s minerals go directly into the grapes. Second, the high altitude deprives the vines of oxygen and increases the thickness of the grape skins, with a concomitant increase in tannin and intensity.
Moving to the wine, this had a bold nose, lots of rich cherry, strawberry and blackberry. There is a charred meat component along with smoke and earth. I thought this was extremely expressive and also very interesting. For a wine of this price, the aromatics are outstanding. The palate showed a lot of youth, and I would like to see this wine with more bottle age. That said, I got tons of fruit, but also huge tannins – earth, char, dust and oak round out this extremely complex wine. Personality? Check. Approachability and ageability? Yes. Affordable? Absolutely. One of the best basic Crianzas in Spain. This is exactly why Spain is such a formidable presence in the world of wine. If only more North Americans would embrace the wines and increase the selection available – it is but a fraction of what is being produced today.
Very Good+ to Excellent
$35 at BCLDB or Kitsilano Wine Cellars