Monster waves of Spanish fruit: Grandes Pagos de Espana wine tasing in Beijing

By Jim Boyce

Beijing saw an afternoon of Tempranillo, Albarino and breaded pork puffs as 25 Spanish vintners gathered last Monday in the Peninsula Hotel to present their single-estate wines. Oh, I forgot to mention the tipsy teeming masses. There were tipsy teeming masses. I include myself among them.

The event was organized by the Embassy of Spain for the Grandes Pagos de Espana. A few thoughts about it…

1. Wineries were split into four regions, with one region in each corner of the room. The event booklet corresponded to this, thus it listed a “winery number 2” for northeast Spain (in one corner), a “winery number 2” for north Spain (in another corner), and so on.

A sound idea in theory that did not work as well in practice. People would approach a table, see a “2” on it, flip through the booklet to the nearest “2”, and ask for the wine listed. They would then be told, “This is a different winery 2”.

Was there a learning curve, that is, did they eventually get used to checking wines by region? It seemed like many people struggled with this to the end. Even in the tasting’s waning moments, I heard the frustrated asking, “Which number 2?”

Does that make it a bad idea? Not at all. Simply adding page numbers to the booklet would have helped a great deal.

2. Sparkling wines aged for four to ten years on lees — the sediment that includes yeast residual and more — and made with grapes native to Spain? The first table I visited, for winery Recaredo in northeast Spain, turned out to be my favorite.

There is sparkling wine that is mostly dominated by bubbles and there is wine that happens to sparkle. The wines from Recaredo are the latter. The two I tried include Macabeu and Xarel-lo grapes: The 2004 was aged for 79 months, is limited to 20,000 bottles and costs ~19 euros in Spain, while the 2002 was aged 103 months, saw only 5,740 bottles made and is pricier — the latter had a pleasant walnut skin smell, a tight, mild and complex body, and some nuttiness on the finish. Very nice stuff.

(By the way, maybe the sparkling and white wines could go at the front of the room next time, so people try them before the heavy reds.)

3. I felt like a surfer riding a monster wave of fruit when I tasted the Chivete Arinzano 2004: I found it fresh, full and in-your-face, rather than syrupy and cloying, as I expected might happen with so much fruit. It is 65 percent Tempranillo and 35 percent Merlot and hails from northeast Spain.

The Chivete Coleccion 125 Reserva 2006, at the same table, is no slouch, either, and is available at 10 euros for export. ASC used to distribute it in China. Seems like a good one for someone else to pick up.

4. There was a lot going on besides wine tasting. There were attempts at food and wine pairings, a contest for people to vote for their favorite bottle, and commentary from Jeannie Cho-Lee, based in Hong Kong and a “Master of Wine” — I guess inviting Spain-based Pancho Campo for such event is now out of the question.

Cho-Lee found out what many do at these things: less than half of the attendees attempt to pay attention to what you are saying, and attempt is the key word since they often can’t hear due to the people beside them droning on about a new handbag on the market, whether or not the nearby women in the red dress is “hot”, or recent Barcelona football news.

Anyway, at one point in the afternoon, Cho-Lee took the microphone and -– with the buzz in the room making it seem as though we were being hailed from a distant shore — told us, “For the breaded pork puffs, I was recommending people go to the south and central regions of Spain.”

My thought: there’s food!? I saw a few waiters with trays of nibbles weaving among several hundred guzzlers. That later led to this conversation with a friend:

  • Me:  “I didn’t get any of the pork puffs.”
  • Him: “I saw them there.”
  • Me: “I remember having a spring roll.”
  • Him: “I had a spring roll and a dumpling.”
  • Me: “Neither of us had any pork puffs.”
  • Him: “No.”

At least for us, the breaded pork puff / Spanish wine pairing dilemma remains unresolved.

5. Even so, I did find one perfect food pairing, due to what I considered to one of the day’s more intriguing wines, the Manual Manzaneque Especial Chardonnay 2007. This one smelled like slightly burned toast. Thus, bring out the butter (drum roll).

Interestingly, an acquaintance thought this wine had a “weird fish flavor” and then explained he has three categories for “weird” wine: “Wet dog, fish flavor and Robitusson.” Hmm. I didn’t pick up any fish flavor — unless fish now tastes like vanilla — and was happy to try such a special wine.

6. Although I didn’t make it to every table, I enjoyed most of the wine I tried and felt these operations were blessed with good fruit. A few other wines tried and liked:

  • Marques de Grinon Emeritus 2007 (Cabernet Sauvignon, Petite Verdot, Syrah). As Dorian Tang of ASC noted, the Petite Verdot made this one special. Smoky, with some mocha smells, a big but controlled body — good.
  • Mustiguillo Quincha Corral 2009:  Made from Bobal grapes, this one is ripe and juicy, with lots of vanilla / oak influence. Another “surfer in a monster wave” experience.
  • Also, Mauro VS 2007 (Tempranillo), Finca Valpiedra 2007 (Tempranillo, Gracian, Maturana Tinto) and Enrique Mendoza Reserva Santa Rosa 2006 (Cabernet Sauvignon, Shiraz, Merlot).

Overall, a good day and kudos to the organizers for trying to cover so much – a tasting organized by regions, a vote for the most popular bottle, food and wine pairings, and so on. Yes, it overwhelmed some people and was lost on others, but so it goes with such a diverse crowd. On one hand, there were people familiar with these wines and with native Spanish grapes that most people have never heard of. On the other hand, I heard comments such as “Which is the most expensive wine? I want that one” and, about a Cava, “Why are there bubbles in this wine?” It’s all part of the fun…

Here are the wineries listed in the booklet:

Northest Spain
Maurodos / Aalto / Mauro / Abadia Retuerta / Alonso Del Yerro / Luna Beberide / Fillaboa

Central Spain
Dehesa Del Carrizal / Manuel Manzaneque / Pago De Vallegarcia / Pagos Marques De Grinon / Pago Calzadilla

Northeast Spain
Can Rafols Dels Caus / Cervoles / Mas Doix / Finca Valpiedra / Vinas Del Vero/ Gramona / Recaredo / Chivite-Granja De Legardeta

Southeast and Southwest Spain
Enrique Mendoza / Mustiguillo /Finca Sandoval / Valdespino

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