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Decanter Spain & Portugal Fine Wine Encounter – upcoming highlights

On Saturday 29 February more than 140 producers from Spain and Portugal will be gathering at The Landmark Hotel for Decanter's next event. In the lead up to this greatly anticipated tasting, we interview Sarah Ahmed about the masterclass she is hosting and Decanter's Julie Sheppard about the wines she is most looking forward to tasting.

Our Spain and Portugal experts share their upcoming highlights…

Interview: Sarah Ahmed, wine writer and DWWA regional chair for Portugal

In the ‘Rare Museum Wines from Portuguese Icons’ masterclass that you’ll be hosting, what can the audience expect to discover?

This is an extraordinary opportunity to taste historic and modern classics, side by side, showcasing Portugal’s native grapes, terroir, winemaking traditions and the evolution of the country’s wines. The vintages are stellar. I’m deeply thrilled and touched in equal measure that the producers have so very generously unlocked their cellars to share wines which I have felt privileged to taste over the years. So the audience can expect to compare and contrast some of the best wines in Portugal.

Are there any real rarities in the selection? 

Made in tiny amounts, some of the wines do not even find their way out of Portugal. The Buçaco Tinto Reservado 2011 barely escapes the walls of the Buçaco Palace Hotel where it is has been made! Why not, when it means the hotel’s restaurant can still list vintages dating back to the 1940s. Similarly, Caves São João’s cellar bursts at the seams with old vintages that Alberto and Luís Costa didn’t like to sell – ‘it was as if they were their children,’ said Alberto’s daughter. We will taste the 1975 – the oldest of the dry wines.

What is the oldest vintage you’ll be showcasing?

Kopke, fittingly the oldest Port house, has fielded the oldest vintage – a 1966 Colheita Tawny Port – a personal favourite of mine from an outstanding Tawny Port producer in an outstanding year. Bottled in December 2019, this work of time has spent over 50 years concentrating in barrel and is spectacularly complex. Blandy’s Malmsey Madeira 1981, by contrast, has spent a ‘mere’ 37 years in barrel. This seventh generation, family-owned producer harvests the lion’s share of the island’s Malmsey so, naturally, Malmseys – Madeira’s richest, sweetest wines – are a signature strength.

Do you have one favourite wine you’ll be showcasing?

All of the wines that I’ve carefully selected for this masterclass are favourites. I have chosen to compare and contrast historic and modern classics from the Douro and Alentejo which, consistently producing among Portugal’s best wines, typically share the spoils at Decanter World Wine Awards. Slumbering giants have been disturbed from their cellars especially. Come hear them roar!

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Interview: Julie Sheppard, Decanter regional editor for Spain and Portugal

 What are you most looking forward to about the event?

The Decanter Masterclasses and Discovery Theatres, which are a brilliant opportunity to learn more about particular wineries, regions or wine styles. Priorat is a fascinating area of northeastern Spain with its extreme viticulture and unique licorella soils, so I’ll be looking forward to tasting a range of wines from the region, specially chosen by Pedro Ballesteros Torres MW in his Masterclass: The New Classification of DOQ Priorat. In contrast, Sarah Jane Evans MW has put together a diverse selection of wines from Galicia on Spain’s northwest coast – a region whose star is certainly the rise at the moment. Her Discovering Galicia session in the Discovery Theatre will feature bottles from Rías Baixas, Valdeorras, Monterrei, Ribeiro and Ribeira Sacra – it should be an eye–opening tasting for anyone who isn’t familiar with the region.

What is your advice to anyone who hasn’t been to a Decanter event before?

Pace yourself! There are a lot of wines to taste and producers to meet, so it’s tempting to rush to the first room and get stuck in straightaway. I’d advise taking a little time when you arrive to look through the catalogue and make a note of any producers or wines that are high on your wish list. Then visit those tables first to make sure you don’t miss out on your favourites or any new discoveries. It’s always worth booking a place at a Masterclass or Discovery Theatre, as this will give you a chance to take a more in-depth look at particular wines. Finally, at large professional tastings I prefer to try red wines first, then white, to avoid palate fatigue – but every taster has their own method!

Can you give us the inside track on which producers to make a beeline for?

As usual, we are spoilt for choice. However, some of my favourite Rioja producers will be exhibiting this year, including Bodegas Roda, Remírez de Ganuza, Bodegas Muga and La Rioja Alta. I also enjoy Marco Abella’s Priorat wines and I’ll be visiting Bodegas Volver, which is a champion of Spain’s indigenous grape varieties, to try its organic wines from Alicante.

 If you had to pick your top five wines, which ones would they be?

Some of the wines on my hit-list include Bodegas Roda’s Roda I, Rioja 2012 and Remírez de Ganuza’s Viña Coqueta Rioja Reserva 2009. I’m a huge Sherry fan, so I’ll look forward to trying The Wine Society’s Sánchez Romate, Amontillado Olvidado. And for the whites, I love fresh Albariños from Rías Baixas – particularly Mar de  Frades and Martín Códax – while Pere Ventura’s Gran Vintage Parade Calificado Can Bas 2014 is a great single-vineyard Cava.

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