Iberian Delights

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A good many years ago, while wandering aimlessly in the streets of South London, I found myself in a small and dimly-lit wine-shop which could have come out of a Dickens novel. I noticed some bottles of Spanish Rioja, so I bought one. We tend to think of Rioja as big oaky red wines, but some white is also made. And this was one of them. The wine came from a company called CVNE which it transpired, stood for Compania Vinicola del Norte de España. The tall elegant bottle had the word “Monopole” printed across the label and displayed a surprisingly ancient vintage year. But I later discovered that the wine was still superb, full yet refreshing with a lovely aroma of white fruit and wild herbs. The next day I returned to the shop and bought the remaining bottles. Perhaps I was being a bit selfish, but the price was absurdly low and I could never resist a bargain. I was consoled by the fact that the bottles were covered in dust and must have been there for months. Probably no one else would have bought them.

We see very little Spanish wine in Thailand but I’ve noticed two well-known brands of Rioja in various places, Marques de Riscal and Marqués de Murrieta. These two companies both make excellent, reliable wines so if you enjoy generous fruity reds, you’ll probably enjoy them.

Castell del Remei Gotim Blanc 2013 (white), Spain

This is an interesting wine which is an equal blend of Sauvignon Blanc and Macabeo. Of course, you’ll be familiar with Sauvignon Blanc but the name Macabeo might be a bit of a mystery. It’s a white grape that grows on either side of the Pyrenees and it’s cultivated all over Catalonia, which lies up in the top right-hand corner of Spain. Castell del Remei is in Lleida, a couple of hours’ drive east of Barcelona and the winery dates back to 1780, the first year when vines were planted on the estate. By the end of the nineteenth century, Castell del Remei had become the largest quality wine producer in Catalonia.

Castell del Remei, Catalonia (Photo: Joan Carles Hinojosa)Castell del Remei, Catalonia (Photo: Joan Carles Hinojosa)

This wine is bright gold with greenish reflections and has an intense flowery aroma of white fruit, pineapple, mango and citrus with a faint hint of fennel and green apples. It has a light refreshing taste with plenty of fruit and it’s smooth, crisp and dry with a long finish. There’s a dash of acidity but quite a bit less than I expected. As far as I am concerned, this is good news. I enjoy acidity in white wine because it adds freshness and zest, but some New Zealand Sauvignons are so acidic you wonder whether your teeth are going to dissolve. This wine is beautifully balanced and the Macabeo in the blend brings a pleasingly smooth texture.

This attractive, easy-to-drink wine would make an exciting apéritif but it would also be a good partner for salads, cream soups, rice dishes or light Thai meals. You can taste this wine at the Sofitel Bangkok and it will evidently be on sale in Pattaya soon. The bottle price is in the region of Bt. 1,200 – 2,200 depending on the hotel or restaurant. This wine is certainly worth watching out for. That is, if you don’t mind a preposition at the end of a sentence.

Amoras Reserva 2009 (red), Portugal

If Spanish wines are rare in Thailand, Portuguese wines are even rarer with the exception of the ubiquitous Mateus Rosé, once described as “the bottle that launched a thousand lamp-shades”. This wine is from Casa Santos Lima, an old family company that’s been in business for many generations. The vineyards are based about thirty miles north of Lisbon in a hilly rural region where the tradition of wine making is centuries old. In the clay and limestone soils, dinosaur bones have evidently been found. Apatosaurus alenquerensis, since you asked.

The wine is a very dark red with a purplish hue and flecks of orange, which usually indicate that the wine is starting to show its age. But then so am I, so I can hardly complain. It has an incredibly rich and sensuous aroma of black fruit, dry herbs, a dash of pepper and an array of quite complex background aromas. But you need to give the wine a bit of time to recover because it’s been stuck in a bottle for five years. This is a big, full-bodied wine with a smooth and silky texture yet there’s a feeling of authority there. It’s a dry wine, not as dry as dinosaur bones but dry all the same. It has loads of fruit on the palate and a satisfying foundation of tannin.

It’s actually quite an easy drinker, but within a year or so I’d guess it will start to decline. Incidentally, in 2012 this wine was awarded a Gold Medal at the Berlin Wine Trophy. It’s not available in the shops yet but you can taste it by the glass on Bangkok Airways international flights. I’m told that it’s also on sale at the Lobster Pot restaurant on Pattaya’s Walking Street if you don’t feel like making an international journey. The cost will be somewhere between Bt. 1000 and Bt. 2000 for a bottle.

Touriga Nacional is not, as you might assume, the name of Portugal’s National Cycling Club, but the country’s national grape. It’s used in this wine and also employed in the making of Port. Interestingly, over a hundred varieties of grapes are permitted for Port production, although only five or six are normally used. Touriga Nacional ages well; it brings floral complexity to the aroma and provides a decent foundation of tannin. The wine also contains a proportion of Castelão, another local grape which brings extra fruit to the taste. This grape has dozens of synonyms including the rather pretty Periquita (which means “parakeet” in Portuguese) and the rather less lovely Bastardo Castico, the meaning of which I shall let you ruminate on for yourself.