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The wines of Enate, Somontano Spain

Viñedos y Crianzas del Alto Aragón SA, Ctra de Barbastro a Naval, KM 9.200, 22314 Salas Bajas (Huesca), Spain Tel: +34 974 302 323

Somontano, in the foothills of the Pyrenees, is one of the less well known wine regions of Spain, whose emergence onto the international wine scene has largely been led by two quality-minded wineries, Enate and Viñas del Vero. Having recently been impressed by Enate's Barrique-fermented Chardonnay, I was pleased to get the chance to try a fuller selection of their range, introduced by Jesus Artajona, who comes across as sincere and friendly, and who is also a real hoot. I made the mistake of asking to try his 'basic' Chardonnay. 'Basic?', he exclaimed, feigning utter contempt. 'We don't have any 'basic' wines!' After a while he forgave me, and talked me through his range. Overall, I was really impressed. I found the quality to be good across the board, with the whites particularly impressive. Considering this winery is just seven years old, it is one to watch for the future. Another attractive facet of this operation is it's association with reputed local artists, whose work is featured each bottle label, and every year the flagship red wine is named after one of them.

234 Chardonnay 1998
The wine I made the mistake of calling the 'basic' Chardonnay is actually a single-vineyard Chardonnay that is unoaked and doesn't go through malolactic fermentation. This is fresh, tasty and mineral-laced, with good concentration. Good stuff.

Barrique fermented Chardonnay 1996
Fermented in French oak, goes through malolactic fermentation and battonage. This is savoury, mineral-laden and carries its considerable new oak well, with good concentration and a nice texture. Very good. Jesus says that this is reputed to be Spain's best Chardonnay (the cynic in me thinks that is a bit like saying 'France's best cricketer'!). It is certainly very good, and a bargain too (retails at about £9 in the UK).

Rosado 1998
This is a bright but very pale pink. On the palate it is extremely lively, with fresh acidity and a slight tingling pettilance. Lovely picnic wine.

Cosecha Tinto 1998
Jesus admits that this is a commodity wine, made in large quantities to slate the thirsts of restaurant diners who are not looking for anything too complex. He says that he thinks that most people are what he calls 'sensorial illiterates', and don't think too hard about what they put in their mouths. The wine itself is an unoaked blend of Tempranillo and Merlot and is bright purple, lively, herbaceous-tinged and primary fruit-driven. It would be quite nice chilled.

Cabernet Merlot 1997
A 50/50 blend. This is a vivid bright purple, with a herby nose. On the palate it is fresh, fruity and quite light, with a medium structure. OK.

Tempranillo/Cabernet Sauvignon Crianza 1996
Again, this wine is bright purple and quite fruity, but the American oak it has seen has added some spicy structure. Like the Cabernet Merlot, it is clean but perhaps a bit simple. OK.

Cabernet Sauvignon Reserva 1994
Moving into more serious territory, this wine has had longer in oak. Quite light in colour, there is a slightly funky nose, and some detectable oak on the palate. Good but not attention-grabbing. I would like to try this again in a more relaxed setting, because I suspect it may have more to show.

Chillada Reserva 1994
This is the flagship, attention-getter wine, of which only 7000 or so bottles are produced each year. From what I gather, each year the wine is named after a different artist. The 1994 release is a dense red/puple colour with a brick red rim. It is a rich, herby, exotic wine with a medicinal note to it. Dense, mineral laden and strongly structured, this is super stuff. Apparently, this sells out on release.

Enate also make a Gewurztraminer, but only in small quantities, so this wasn't available for tasting. However, they plan to step production of this up substantially as it has proved very popular. Watch this space...

UK agent: House of Hallgarten

(Tasted November 1999)