Tasting and Matching: Iberian Peninsula

02 March 2016

Spain and Portugal are making some of the best – and best-priced – wines in the world at the moment. Clinton Cawood calls in a selection from both and presents them to a team of sommeliers to find out which bottles should be firmly on your radar

To see them on a map, you’d think that Spain and Portugal’s wine production would resemble each other much more than they do. In reality, they vary in countless ways, not least in their use of grape varieties.

Being rising stars in the UK on-trade is something that they do both have in common, however, with their indigenous offerings over-delivering on the wine lists of a range of venues, at a range of prices. They’ve been one of the hottest tickets at the Sommelier Wine Awards for the last few years, too.

How it works
We asked UK agents to each submit two wines of their choice for this tasting, provided each wine was from either Spain or Portugal, was made up of at least 70% indigenous varieties, and priced between £8 and £15 ex-VAT. Wines were evaluated blind, with tasters aware of each wine’s country of origin, and price. Each was scored out of 20, taking value for money into account. Scores were then collated to obtain a percentage score. All prices listed are ex-VAT trade.

To get a handle on just what the Iberian Peninsula has to offer at the moment, we asked UK merchants to each select just two indigenous wines from these two countries, to be evaluated by a team of UK sommeliers.

The results exceeded expectations, with tasters finding a range of well-made, high-quality and good-value wines, with freshness and food-friendliness.

Yoel Abarbanel, The Ledbury; Clinton Cawood, Imbibe; Emily Harman, VinaLupa; Paweł Kłusek, Coq d’Argent; Gaëlle Laforest, ImbibeAndre Luis Martins, Seven Park Place, St James’s Hotel and Club; Gustavo Medina, The Tate Group; Antonio Pasantes, PJ’s Bar & Grill

Portuguese White Results

74 Pinhal da Torre, Quinta do Alqueve Fernão Pires 2012, Ribatejo
‘Fleshy stone fruit and light tropical fruit, with lifted citrus notes. Some grip on the palate, with more tropical fruit and zesty acidity. Unusual and excellent,’ CC. ‘Super-fresh, with tons of pineapple and green pears. A clean and straightforward wine,’ GM.
£8, Justerini & Brooks, 020 7493 6174

68 Kopke Douro Branco 2014
‘Fresh and fruity, with appealing pear notes. Some waxiness mid-palate, combined with a light nectarine note. Juicy, with good acidity, nice texture, and all at a great price,’ CC. ‘Pear and citrus aromas, plus floral characteristics, all with quite a light body,’ ALM.
£8.60, Hayward Bros, 020 7237 0576

65 Cottas Douro White 2011
‘Apple and lemongrass aromas. Nice texture on the palate, stone fruit and a touch of vanilla,’ GM. ‘Citrus on the nose and earthiness on the palate,’ ALM.
£8.95, Castelnau Wine Agencies, 020 7751 2490

 Spanish White Results

83 Fillaboa Albariño 2014, Rías Baixas
‘Herbal aromas, with zesty lemon and grapefruit. The palate has nice weight and texture, with well-integrated acidity,’ EH. ‘Fruity and floral, with a tingle on the tongue. A very crisp wine, with lots of tropical fruit – passion fruit, specifically. Great as an aperitif or with oysters,’ GM.
£9.48, González Byass UK, 01707 274790

80 Bodega Goianea, Bat Gara Txakoli Uno 2014, Arabako Txakolina
‘Perfumed, with light floral notes, and a citrus/white spice character. This leads to an elegant and mineral finish,’ ALM. ‘Notes of fresh herbs, peach and white pepper, leading to a long finish. This would pair well with creamy fish or poultry dishes,’ GM.
£8.82, Matthew Clark, 0344 822 3910

78 Bodegas Zugober, Belezos Blanco Fermentado en Barrica 2012, Rioja
‘A toasty, savoury note to start, with roasted pineapple. The palate is light, lean and elegant, with unripe stone fruit and a hint of oak,’ CC. ‘Distinguished, and definitely a food wine. Not unlike Riesling, this would balance nicely against a bit of spice,’ AP.
£9.79, Corney & Barrow, 020 7265 2430

77 Godelia Selección 2013, Bierzo
‘Fresh notes of grass and gooseberry, leading to a palate with great acidity and complexity of fruit, packed with tropical and peach notes,’ GM. ‘An unctuous texture, which retains amazingly fresh acidity: ideal for food,’ CC.
£13.30, Moreno Wines, 020 7289 9952

76 Morgadío Albariño 2014, Rías Baixas
‘Light, lean and elegant, with some soft lemon-juice acidity. Really composed, with some nectarine fruit at its core,’ CC. ‘A super refreshing wine, with white peach and lemon zest, racy acidity, and a mineral, almost salty note. Would be great with oysters!’ EH.
£10.45, VinumTerra, 020 8891 6010

74 Mar de Frades Albariño 2014, Rías Baixas
‘Some interesting exotic fruit like lychee leading to a pithy, concise finish. Interesting without being over the top,’ CC. ‘A touch of minerality on the finish, with good acidity. Definitely a crowd-pleaser,’ PK.
£12.50, Zamora International, 07802 834533

69 Hiruzta Berezia 2014, Getariako Txakolina
‘Delicious and well balanced, though maybe a bit pricey,’ GM. ‘Beeswax and spice aromas. Textured palate, with good acidity. Great for winter dishes,’ EH.
£14.15, Hallgarten Druitt & Novum Wines, 01582 722538

68 Raventós i Blanc, Silencis 2013, Penedès
‘Green apple, floral and herbal notes. Mineral and intense, with high acidity,’ ALM. ‘The palate is lively, with intense fruit, yet stays straight to the point,’ YA.
£10.85, Fields, Morris & Verdin, 020 7819 0360

65 Bodegas Comenge, Verdejo 2013, Rueda
‘Floral, with herbal notes and a very elegant finish,’ ALM. ‘Fresh palate, with minerality against a citrus backbone. Good match for spicy ceviche,’ GL.
£8.10, Eurowines, 0870 162 1420

61 Finca Montepedroso Verdejo 2014, Rueda
‘Stone fruit to start. Upfront minerality, with a steely finish,’ GL. ‘Green apples with a herbal character, leading to a crisp apple and apricot palate,’ ALM.
£8.85, Berkmann Wine Cellars, 020 7609 4711

Portuguese Red Results

80 Niepoort Clos du Crappe 2013, Douro
‘Carbonic character on the nose, this explodes with a clean fruit bouquet. Light and joyful. Serve chilled on a hot summer’s day,’ PK. ‘Appealing funky notes at first, leading to a lifted palate filled with cranberry and sour cherry,’ CC.
£15, Theatre of Wine, 020 8858 6363

79 Cottas Tinto 2011, Douro
‘Cherry and spice aromas lead to an elegant body, with a fresh, floral character. Finishes with some beautiful fruit character,’ ALM. ‘With its black cherry notes, this would be equally good on its own or with some game,’ AP.
£8.95, Castelnau Wine Agencies, 020 7751 2490

78 Kopke Douro Tinto 2012
‘Baked red fruit aromas with sweet spices. Mineral, complex fruit on the palate, along with some tannin,’ ALM. ‘Cranberries and redcurrants, as well as a touch of spice. The palate is clean, with blackcurrant notes and medium tannins. A nice wine for the price,’ EH.
£8.60, Hayward Bros, 020 7237 0576 

78 João M Barbosa, Lapa dos Gaivões 2012, Alentejo
‘Light, baked raspberry notes lead to a light body, with fresh red fruit character, and some mineral notes on the finish,’ ALM. ‘Rich yet light, this has the warmth you’d expect from Mediterranean countries. The palate is easy, silky, and quite rich – and all for £8!’ YA.
£8, ABS Wine Agencies, 01780 755810

78 Cedro do Noval 2010, Douro
‘Cherry and raspberry, along with a eucalyptus note on the nose. An equally fresh palate, with ripe fruit and a light oak note in the background,’ GL. ‘This is a gastronomic wine. The fruit is powerful but not overcharged. You can feel the concentration and extraction, which gives not only weight but complexity,’ YA.
£12.53, González Byass, 01707 274790

75 Casa Ferreirinha Papa Figos 2013, Douro
‘Very lively, but rich too, with lots of red fruit and a slight meatiness. Refreshing, with a soft mouthfeel that makes you want to taste more. A good by-the-glass option,’ YA. ‘Fresh strawberry and sweet spice on the palate, as well as cassis, culminating in an elegant finish,’ ALM.
£8.57, SH Jones, 01295 251177

75 Altano Quinta do Ataíde Reserva 2011, Douro
‘Intense jammy red fruit with underlying floral aromas. Red cherries and oaked smokiness follow, with a rich body and a mineral finish,’ ALM. ‘Rich and chocolatey, with a good, juicy mouthfeel. Long and integrated, and a great choice for a simple steak,’ YA.
£9.06, John E Fells & Sons, 01442 870900

74 Herdade do Peso Trinca Bolotas 2013, Alentejo
‘Wild strawberry and blackberry leaf on the nose, leading to a tart fruit palate with a mineral element,’ GL. ‘Spicy raspberry aromas and fresh herbal notes lead to an elegant body. A great wine by the glass,’ ALM.
£8.57, Vin Neuf, 01789 261747

73 Quinta de Chocapalha Tinto 2010, Estremadura
‘Very concentrated nose, with lots of black fruit. The palate may not be the epitome of elegance, but it’s sweet and powerful,’ YA. ‘Smoky oak to start, leading to sour cherry and plum on the palate, along with some sweet spice,’ GL.
£9.96, Corney & Barrow, 020 7265 2430

70 Herdade do Mouchão, Ponte das Canas 2011, Alentejo
‘Intense nose of black fruit, eucalyptus and vanilla. A full-bodied wine, with sweet spice. Rich and robust, but balanced,’ EH. ‘A food-focused wine that would be great with red meat or partridge,’ GM.
£10.60, ABS Wine Agencies, 01780 755810

Spanish Red Results

88 Tierra Fuerte Graciano 2011, Méntrida
‘Elegant, refined and very delicious. The palate has nice clarity of flavour, with fine tannins and fresh acidity. A lovely match for jamón or game,’ EH. ‘Aromas of herbs and fruit, with nice tannin, plus red and black fruit on the palate. Good concentration. A very pleasant wine,’ GM.
£9.69, Matthew Clark, 0344 822 3910

83 Ramón Bilbao Edición Limitada 2012, Rioja
‘Opens with cherry and blackcurrant fruit, plus lighter floral notes. The palate is clean, with fresh acidity and a bittersweet finish. Good value,’ EH. ‘Tons of thyme and rosemary, with great fruit concentration, a good tannin core and a clean finish. A great glass of wine!’ GM.
£8.65, Zamora International, 07802 834533

83 Portal del Montsant Santbru 2010
‘Rich and full, like a fruity espresso, with berry and cocoa notes. The palate’s full and juicy, with a serious backbone,’ CC. ‘Powerful and complex nose of leather and herbs. Good concentration, great extraction and a long finish,’ GM.
£11.50, Red Squirrel Wine, 020 3490 1210

82 Inspiración Valdemar Las Canteras 2010, Rioja
‘Coffee and chocolate notes combine with deep blueberry and blackberry fruit, lifted by some juicy acidity. Accessible and light on its feet,’ CC. ‘The power of this wine has been softened by a bit of ageing. It’s still very concentrated, but manages to be lively and long,’ YA.
£13.80, Berkmann Wine Cellars, 020 7609 4711

81 Comenge 2010, Ribera del Duero
‘Herbal and floral on the nose, with light green olive notes too. A strawberry palate, with elegant tannins and a fresh finish,’ ALM. ‘Interesting juiciness and meatiness on the nose, with spice that enhances the fruit. Good concentration, but with long-lasting elegance,’ YA.
£12.75, Eurowines, 0870 162 1420

81 Finca Egomei, Egomei 2011, Rioja
‘Earthy, with a juicy redcurrant note. Grippy tannins add a nice dimension, with good balance and freshness, but powerful too,’ GL. ‘Light red fruit meets peppermint-like notes on the nose, with the same on the palate, plus redcurrant and some very appealing acidity,’ CC.
£13.01, TVB Wines, 020 3697 1263

79 Viñas del Jaro, Jaros Tinto 2013, Ribera del Duero
‘The mouthfeel is lively and vibrant, with nice balance between freshness and oakiness. A big wine, with some spiciness,’ YA. ‘Aromatic, with red cherry, strawberry and spice. Bright palate with a touch of vanilla on the finish. Would be great with pigeon,’ EH.
£12.50, Moreno Wines, 020 7289 9952

79 Moli dels Capellans Trepat Negra 2012, Conca de Barbera
‘Meat, blood, roses, earth and wood fire – a complex wine! Yet it’s still refined, with a lovely pure and clean mouthfeel. A good choice for a bar that wants to go further, or a restaurant for a pairing flight,’ YA. ‘For the Pinot drinker who enjoys Spain,’ EH.
£14, Hallgarten Druitt & Novum Wines, 01582 722538

78 Cune Viña Real Reserva 2010, Rioja
‘Ripe strawberry aromas, plus some violet. A fresh, elegant finish, with some tannin giving personality to the wine,’ ALM. ‘Nicely balanced, with blackberry and vanilla, plus powdery tannins. Vibrant fruit and an elegant finish; it could handle some robust dishes,’ EH.
£10.76, Hatch Mansfield, 01344 871800

77 Vodegas Pingón, Carramimbre Crianza 2011, Ribera del Duero
‘Notes of tobacco and leather lead to a palate with grippy tannins, but balanced with a core of red and black fruit,’ GM. ‘A fragrant nose of cranberry and redcurrant, with a touch of rose. Cherry and plum on the palate, with cinnamon spice, pepper and freshness,’ GL.
£10.71, Amathus Drinks, 020 8951 9840

76 Vinyes de l’Albà Sumoll 2014, Catalunya
‘Crushed red berries and dried rose petal aromas. Slight reduction gives depth. The palate is refreshing, with lively acidity,’ YA. ‘Vibrant, with distinct red berry fruit on nose and palate. Some significant tannin too,’ CC.
£8.39, Red Squirrel Wine, 020 3490 1210

76 Carmelo Rodero Crianza 2012, Ribera del Duero
‘Powerful, with peppery spice and a touch of chocolate. Wide, rich and soft; great for a by-the-glass selection,’ YA. ‘Fresh and juicy, with ripe cassis and cherry notes, leading to sweet spice, coconut and some dark chocolate,’ GL.
£12.58, McKinley Vintners, 020 7928 7300

74 Bodegas Ochoa, 8A Mil Gracias 2012, Navarra
‘Strawberry notes lead to a touch of leather, and a tobacco note too. Freshness on the palate, with good length and persistence,’ YA. ‘Raspberry and vegetal notes combine with light spices, leading to intense raspberry fruit on the palate,’ ALM.
£8.01, Amathus Drinks, 020 8951 9840

74 Cune Reserva 2011, Rioja
‘Rich and powerful on the nose, but the mouthfeel is elegant, with a touch of nice tannin and some good acidity. A mid-level wine for a classy list, and perfect with game,’ YA. ‘Nicely balanced between good tannin and red fruit notes. Good match for lamb,’ AP.
£11.95, Hatch Mansfield, 01344 871800

72 Burgo Viejo, Palacio de Primavera Crianza 2012, Rioja
‘Restrained red fruit to start. Some savoury notes join on the palate, giving this real poise. Gamey and spicy. Excellent,’ CC. ‘Oak is king here, but with precise fruit to support. Great balance. Well worth a place on a modern list,’ YA.
£8, VinumTerra, 020 8891 6010

71 Bodegas Valdelacierva Crianza 2011, Rioja
‘Baked apple and cinnamon aromas, with plum on the palate, some sweet spice and a fresh herbal finish,’ ALM. ‘Good value for money, with great tannins, good acidity, some delicate cherry fruit and a long finish,’ GM.
£8.15, McKinley Vintners, 020 7928 7300

69 Bodegas Martínez Palacios Reserva 2006, Rioja
‘Intense and concentrated, with an elegant mouthfeel and freshness,’ YA. ‘Vanilla, red fruit and earth on the nose. The flavours are nicely complex,’ EH.
£9.46, TVB Wines, 020 3697 1263

68 Lan Reserva 2008, Rioja
‘Blackcurrant and light vanilla notes lead to a palate with red and black fruit, high acidity and some spice,’ EH. ‘Clean and fruit-driven; an approachable wine,’ PK.
£11.53, Sogrape UK, 01865 263308

68 Domaines Lupier, El Terroir 2010, Navarra
‘Fennel and red fruit aromas. The palate has super acidity, a liquorice note and a slight saltiness,’ GM. ‘Olive aromas. Dark plum on the palate, with rich oak smokiness,’ ALM.
£13.25, Fields, Morris & Verdin, 020 7819 0360

64 Sierra Cantabria Crianza 2011, Rioja
‘Leather and cigar notes plus ripe red fruit. Enough weight to stand up to lamb dishes, with the acidity to handle fatty meat,’ CC. ‘Abundant red fruit and smooth tannins,’ AP.
£9, Justerini & Brooks, 020 7493 6174

Panel Comments

‘The fruit and concentration was more focused in the Portuguese reds here, a difference that’s particularly evident when tasting Tempranillos and Garnachas, which are balanced between spiciness and elegance. Overall,I’d list the wines here that weren’t marked with tons of oak and sweet fruit, and came in under £10.’
Yoel Abarbanel, The Ledbury

‘It was the consistency of quality that was really impressive here, along with an overall suitability to restaurant wine lists. One after another we encountered fresh, gastronomic wines, from both Spain and Portugal, and yet both were able to retain their own individual characters. If I had to compare, I’d have to go with the Portuguese selection as the more vibrant and exciting, but only by a small margin.’
Clinton Cawood, Imbibe

‘In the last year I’ve tasted both newly imported Portuguese wine and the new-wave wines of Spain, and I find them both very exciting countries to watch. I really enjoyed this line up. I enjoyed the purity and freshness in general, and found most of the wines to be well balanced and varietal. Portugal was probably a little more consistent overall.’
Emily Harman, Vinalupa

‘UK wine drinkers know their Rioja, but there is still an inadequate notion of the wines of Portugal. I found the Portuguese wines to be more liberated – I mean less mainstream – with the great dose of freshness, and without that evident American oak that is almost a
blueprint of Spanish wines. In general, wines from both countries present good value for money.’
Paweł Kłusek, Coq d’Argent

‘What I found most interesting about this line-up was the diversity in the wines, from delicate and herbal reds to more powerful, juicy wines; but they all showed fantastic freshness. Some might be a little far from what customers expect from these regions, but with these prices and a good food match, there’ll be a place for them at the table.’
Gaëlle Laforest, Imbibe

‘The white wines from both countries were fresh, with elegant acidity, not to mention great personality. The reds had great fruit and body, overall, as well as great balance. These were summery wines, with intense attitudes.’
Andre Luis Martins, Seven Park Place, St James's Hotel and Club

‘Portugal and Spain are currently Europe’s most exciting wine-producing countries. I think one of the many factors is the wealth of indigenous varieties. Prices for both countries were fair. At £10 there were wines that are easy to list by the glass, and promote for food matching, while at £15 you got more fruit, with distinguished and balanced flavour.’
Gustavo Medina, The Tate Group

‘With the Spanish wines I found that even within the same grape variety, like Albariño, they could be very different, which would allow them to be paired with a variety of dishes. If I was looking for something more unique, there were plenty of surprises within the Portuguese selection, and in particular the wines from the Douro, which almost tasted like a good-value Bordeaux alternative.’
Antonio Pasantes, PJ's Bar & Grill

- This price range (£8-£15) was definitely the sweet spot for the Iberian Peninsula, which produced really impressive scores in this tasting. The overall average was 74.9%, with Spain and Portugal neck and neck, earning average scores of 75.1% and 74%, respectively.

- Portugal showed more consistency overall. While it didn’t quite achieve the high-80s scores that Spain managed, it only scored as low as 65%, compared to Spain’s lowest score of 61%.

- Prices weren’t necessarily a predictor of success in this flight, with the top few wines in each category seldom going over the £10 mark.

- Agents may have submitted fewer Portuguese contenders than Spanish, but the country was well represented, considering Spain’s much larger production.

- The white wines from both countries ran the gamut of flavours, from lean, mineral and herbal to big, with fleshy tropical fruit – and without any complaints from the panel about overuse of oak.

- The Portuguese reds were mostly characterised by their lighter red fruit notes, as well as spice and minerality. The Spanish equivalents drifted more frequently into darker fruit territory, often showing a savoury note that gave them food-friendliness.

Many thanks to the team at PJ’s Bar and Grill for hosting the tasting and for all of their help on the day.

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