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Friday, 15 October 2010

Flamenco sketches: Vega Oliveras, 2007 - Castilla, Spain

A few years ago, on a holiday in an apartment in Spain, we generally found one bottle of wine wasn't quite enough but two was usually a bit too much, so there would generally be a bit of yesterday's re-corked wine to finish off before opening something new from the local supermarket.

I don't remember exactly what drank or we ate with it, but manchego and jamon ibereco seem to have figured prominently. The wines themselves, all from the local supermarket, rarely cost more than a few Euros, were generally reds, often Tempranillo (but usually by another name, as it has many synonyms), generally from "value" areas (i.e. places you've never heard of) and yet included a few riservas and even gran riservas (both requiring a minimum amount of time in oak and bottle before release).

Spanish wines underwent something of a quiet revolution around the turn of the millennium, going from a robust heavily-oaked, aggressively tannic style to something still distinctly mouth-filling, but much more fruit driven; this was due partly to the impact of more modern winemaking techniques and the influence of flying winemakers which did a lot to improve quality without generally causing the inherent Spanish character to be lost.

The wines we drank then were generally from around that period and my overriding memory of them is lots of dark cherry fruit backed up by smooth, mouthfilling tannins; however, almost invariably, we found the wine from the previous evening had improved dramatically with 24 hours' airing, becoming much more open and perfumed, with a longer, smoother finish and more complexity. Not bad for the leftovers of a bottle of supermarket plonk, we thought.

So, opening up this bottle of Laithwaite's Tempranillo from La Mancha (a swathe of inland Spain historically churning out plonk, but now becoming capable of something a bit more sophisticated - sort of Spain's Languedoc), I wondered whether I would be taken back to those early Spanish reds. The wine is the first of the "discovery" case I bought some time ago, so I was expecting something reasonably impressive, as these are (presumably) intended to be the wines that inspire you to carry on with the direct debit commitment of having a case delivered once a quarter.

On opening it was unmistakably a classic Tempranillo - dark cherry fruit on the nose, plenty of vanilla from oak aging with hints of eucalyptus and spice. On the palate, however, it was less impressive - more cherry fruit and smooth tannins, but somehow a bit thin, with plenty of acid and tannin on the finish that had me mentally noting it as a "food wine" and deciding to pop it in the decanting jug to see if a bit of air would open things up.

We were having roast duck for which oaked Tempranillo is the next best match after Pinot Noir. After an hour or so in the decanting jug, it had become more perfumed and balanced, and it was definitely improved by the duck, but still felt a little thin. It was more of the same when re-corked and served the following day when with an stew of chicken, tomatoes and rosemary - more perfumed and balanced, but still lacking in texture. Laithwaites describe this wine as a silky, easy red full of soft berry fruit - that's true enough, I guess, but ultimately it was rather disappointing.

Links

Laithwaites - http://www.laithwaites.co.uk/

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