Friday, 5 August 2011

Spain: sun, sea and...sherry

Jerez, pronounced Haireth, is a vibrant white town shimmering in the heat of the plains of El Andalus and epitomizes all things that conjure up the earthy image of the heart of Spain. It is here that you find The Royal Equestrian School of Art with its magnificent Lipizzaner “dancing” war horses. As if this was not reason enough to travel to Jerez de la Frontera it is here too that you can tour (and taste) at the Sherry bodegas from the ancient to the modern state of the art.

After the incredible spectacle and emotions engendered by the skill and beauty of the Andalusian dressage, and the historical knowledge gained from the tour of the bodegas, escape up to the bars of the “mountain”-top Arcos de la Frontera. Here watch the soaring birds of prey silhouetted again the pink sky as the sun sinks and join the locals for jamòn, cheese and wine to contemplate the simple wonders of the world.

Alternatively, go to your local wine merchant or supermarket and buy a little bit of Spanish magic to warm the cockles of your heart as you shiver around the coals of your British barbeque. Here are our suggestions to tempt you to explore Spanish wines, beyond the realms of Rioja:

Verd Albera 2010, Celler Marti Fabra - £7.95 from The Wine Society, £11.99 from the Vineking (Reigate, Weybridge and Horley)
A bunch of French interlopers (Grenache blanc, Muscat, Grenache gris and Chardonnay) have tiptoed across the border to the far northern Spanish region of Empordà. That cocktail of varieties makes for interesting texture and a fresh, herbal quality – but it has enough weight of fruit to avoid being too skinny.

Gran Tesoro Garnacha 2010, Bodegas Borsao, Campo de Borja - £4.29 at Tesco
This is consistently one of Spain's most reliably good value wines. It's rather rustically built, but has plenty of dark fruit, with a rasp of tannin and 13.5% alcohol. Fine and dandy for a mid-week night in – with food.

Altos de la Guardia Reserva 2005 Altos de Rioja - £12.50 Laithwaites Wine
OK, OK, here's a Rioja to keep you happy. Plenty of juicy berry fruits with a tomato leaf edge which combine to provide plenty of refreshment. Very decent Rioja for the price.

Monasterio de Santa Cruz 2010 Artiga & Fustel, Tarragona £6.99 Laithwaites Wine
Mostly Monastrell (aka Mourvèdre in France) with 20% of Rioja's hallmark variety, Tempranillo. This shows how much wine you can get for your money when you look beyond the big name regions. Masses of dark, blueberry and blackberry fruit and inky, peppery spice.

Tinto Figuero 4 Roble 2009 Viñedos y Bodegas García Figuero, Ribera del Duero - £12.99 Old Butcher's Wine Cellar (Cookham, Berkshire)
The cult status of wines like Vega Sicilia has helped to haul up prices in Ribera del Duero, so this wine represents good value for the region. Very attractive black fruit aromas lead onto a palate of sweet n' sour fruit and softish tannins. Not a shouty wine, but a satisfying one to unwind with.

Lest we forget....sherry
It's not fashionable, it's not new – but none the worse for that.

One of the problems people have with sherry is that they don't quite view it as wine. And yes, it is fortified, but the lightest, driest sherries, Fino and Manzanilla, will be 15% alcohol – hardly more than a new world Sauvignon Blanc.