Pedro Ballesteros Torres MW picks out 10 wines to create the perfect Spanish wine cellar for £800.
Focus on the classics
The first step, as with all the best cellars, is to pick classic wines that can improve over years and decades. This is the arena of aged red Rioja and Ribera del Duero. The wines are ready to drink on release, but develop unique complexity with long bottle ageing. The best Riojas from the 1920s and earlier are still in great shape, beating famous French names in blind tastings. With Ribera the time scope is shorter – some 15 to 30 years, except for the long-lived Vega Sicilia.
Second, while Spain is justly famous for releasing aged wines, in the late 1980s a new generation of reds – usually from single vineyards – with shorter oak ageing, more concentration and riper fruit, started to appear. Made to express the terroir of the vineyards, they need cellaring in bottle by the consumer to reach their full potential.
With this newer generation it isn’t easy to state ageing potential accurately without the evidence of many previous years. The best advice is to try them after buying, and again after three to five years in the cellar, and to continue opening bottles for as long as possible. This category consists of great wines from Toro, Priorat, Montsant, Bierzo, Gredos and other rediscovered regions, as well as singlevineyard wines from Rioja and Ribera.
The third category includes wines to drink in the next five years, full of fruit and juice. You will find them all over Spain, from Galicia south to Jumilla and Utiel-Requena, and from Catalunya west to the Portuguese border. There are new young producers with exciting, original wines appearing each year.
It is really important to keep track of the rapid changes in the Spanish wine scene. The best way is to attend specialist tastings. Some of the independent retailers listed as stockists in our recommendations on the following pages will also be able to advise. Don’t forget sommeliers: bars and restaurants which proclaim a specialist interest in wine are offering much more adventurous and fascinating choices from Spain.
In the absence of any other good advice, follow the producer’s name rather than geographical indications or the grape variety (blends are important in Spain). This may seem surprising but in general, classic producers are very reliable and most have a wide range of wines at all price levels. La Rioja Alta, for instance, appears in our £800 mixed case list with its 890 Gran Reserva, but it could have appeared again in the £300-a-case list with its Ardanza or Arana Reservas.