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Tasting notes of Spanish wines

(Prices and stockists in the UK are listed in brackets; as a rough guide £1 = US$1.60. Date of tasting is indicated at the end of each note as month/year)

An old Tempranillo vine in Rioja

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And also: Blog entries on Spain

Castro de Valtuille Joven 2006 Bierzo, Spain
Very deep coloured. Fresh, sweet dark fruit nose with a fascinating herby edge. The palate is intense and rich with lovely density if ripe yet fresh fruit. Vivid, intense, lovely and a bargain. 92/100 (£8.95 Genesis Wines) 02/08

Codorniu Reina Ma Cristina 2006 Cava, Spain
Distinctly Cava in style, with a herby, lemony, fruity nose. The palate is crisp, herby and tangy with some citrussy notes and a distinctive citrus/grapefruit pith character. Not trying to be Champagne, this is a serious, quite complex expression of Cava. 90/100 (£17.99 Majestic)  11/08

Parxet Titiana Chardonnay NV Cava, Spain
What happens when you ditch the traditional Cava grape varieties and use Champagne? This. It has a broad, toasty, slightly nutty nose with rich fruit and notes of apple, pear and peach. The palate is warm, fruity and nutt with a smooth, sophisticated character. Very stylish and broad, and like a ripe, rich expression of Champagne, yet a little softer. 90/100 (£10.99 Moreno) 11/08

Sao del Coster Terram Priorat 2005
14% alcohol. Almost Italian in style, with a hint of the Douro, too. This is a superb expression of Priorat that really needs time. It is dark, with a gravelly, spicy, minerally nose showing taut, tarry plum, blackberry and raspberry fruit. The palate is fresh, focused and savoury with youthful fruit and good acidity. There's firm structure with spicy tannins and a bit of earthiness that reminds me a bit of a top Chianti. Real potential here, if you are patient: could be a 20 year wine.
92/100 11/08

Pléyades Shiraz 2007 Cariñena, Spain
From Terrai Viñedos y Crianzas, this has to be one of the wine bargains of the year. It shows lovely bright, slightly meaty, almost floral dark fruits, which have some appealing sweetness and purity, but also some meaty, spicy, black pepper savouriness. The purity of fruit and the tension between the sweet ripe characters and the darker, more savoury ones keep my interest here: it’s a wine that I enjoy drinking. Delicious stuff, and I can see why this won a gold medal at the Decanter Wine Awards (to be honest, I think it’s more of a Bronze/Silver, which still makes it great value for money). It also toys a little with reduction, and I like it all the more for this. I’d be very happy to have this as my house red, in these tight economic times. 88/100 (£4.98 Asda) 10/08

Spanish Steps Mencia 2007 Bierzo, Spain
From northwest Spain, this varietal Mencia (known as Jaen in Portugal) really delivers. Deep coloured, it has a lovely vibrant, pure nose of summer fruits with a plummy edge. Fruit dominates, but there’s nice definition here. The palate is juicy and ripe with lovely bright blackberry and damson character, as well as fresh acidity. Pure and primary, this is a delicious wine for current drinking. Brilliant value at a suggested retail price of £5.99, and I’m really surprised that this hasn’t got any major listings yet. 88/100 (£5.99 Oakley Wine Agencies, 01787 220070) 09/08

Torres 'Perpetual' Salmos 2005 Priorat, Spain
Old vine Carignan and Grenache from steeply sloped schistous (licorella) soils, with 16 months in French oak, weighing in at 15% alcohol. This is quite delicious, although it currently shows itself in a ripe, 'modern', slightly oaky style (although there's certainly enough fruit here to stand up to the oak). Beautifully dense, quite complex black fruit character at its core, with ripeness yet freshness. There's a floral, mineral lift to the nose, as well as some oak spice, and the palate is dense and quite structured, with a chocolatey, spicy edge to the forward fruit. The tannins lurking under the fruit suggest that this is a wine with a good deal of evolution ahead of it. It's rich, likeable and a bit oaky now, but with a few years in bottle I reckon it will hit a point of beautiful balance. It's one of those wines you can drink very happily now, but wish you'd waited a few years before popping the cork. Serious. 93/100 (£17.99 Fareham Wine Cellar) 11/08

Ordonez Seleccion Especial No 1 2006 Malaga, Spain
Aromatic with lovely complex orange, tea and herb notes on the nose. Viscous, grapey palate with sweet fruitiness but also a lovely expressive character. 91/100 09/08

Stork's Tower 'Triunfo' Verdejo Sauvignon Blanc 2007 Vino de la Tierra de Castilla y Leon, Spain
A really interesting wine. It's barrel fermented, but rather than being an oaky monster, this is complex, fresh and minerally. The nose shows tight nutty, herby, citrus pith aromas that are joined on the palate by complex grassy, herbal, citrussy notes. There's good concentration, but the overall effect is one of a very fresh, focused, minerally wine with nice textural elements and good acidity, rather than something 'big'. There's a hint of tangerine on the finish, too. Highly food compatible, with potential for further development. 90/100 (expected retail will be c. £14 in the UK) 09/08

Naia Verdejo 2007 Rueda, Spain
Crisp, minerally, complex and elegant, with an aromatic nose of grapefruit and lemon that leads to a palate where there's crisp yet rich textured spicy apple, pear and citrus fruit. Beautifully balanced and quite complex. Drink now. 91/100 (£10.99 Indigo Wine [the agent in the UK], Harrods, The Vineyard [Dorking], Christopher Piper) 08/08

Ochoa Graciano & Garnacha 2005 Navarra, Spain
A beautiful, fruit-forward red wine made with Grenache combined with the highly regarded but now rare Rioja grape Graciano. Deep coloured, the dominant feature here is vibrant, juicy, sweet raspberry and dark cherry fruit with very little oak impact and a spicy, tangy finish. This is a stylish, modern red wine of real appeal, for current drinking (it's sealed with a purple coloured synthetic cork). 89/100 (£7.99 Taurus Wines, Christopher Piper, Bentley's, Arthur Rackhams) 08/08

Macia Batle Crianza 2005 Binissalem, Mallorca, Spain
Sweet, seductive ripe fruity nose with some savoury, spicy, tarry notes. Quite sophisticated in a warm, ripe style. The palate is sweetly fruited but has bold, earthy, spicy notes, too. Nicely savoury, finishing long and earthy. A complex wine that should evolve nicely for the next three years or so. 90/100 (£10.99 Noel Young, The Vineyard Dorking, Thomas Panton, Corks of Cotham) 08/08

Jorge Ordonez & Co Malaga Seleccion Especial No 1 2006
Made from Moscatel grapes dried on the vine. Light yellow in colour, this has a beautifully fresh aromatic nose of citrus oil, grapes and mandarins. The palate is super sweet and quite viscous, but with lovely bright spicy orange fruit and good acid providing a perfect counterpoint. Deliciously fresh, and quite complex for a young wine, this is tremendously easy to drink. 92/100 (£12.99 per half, Indigo Wines, Lay & Wheeler, The Vineking) 07/08

Jimenez-Landi 'Pielago' 2006 Mentrida, Toledo, Spain
Beautifully packaged in a deeply punted Burgundy-shaped bottle, this is an ambitious new-wave Spanish red. The nose shows a bit of alcoholic heat, as well as a slightly baked, caramelly edge, along with lush, pure, sweet raspberry and blackberry fruit. The palate is warm and a little jammy, but with a nice spicy definition to the lush fruit. There's a lot going for this wine - the concentrated sweet, ripe fruit, and the attractive spiciness, as well as the fact that any oak is well in the background. But it has just a little too much 'warmth' to it to justify a higher score. New world in style, which I guess is understandable given the fact that it's very much a warm climate wine, made in a modern way. I'd like to see them aim for more freshness, without losing the concentration. 90/100 (£20 Handford Wines) 07/08

Fortnum & Mason Amontillado VORS
This is a 40 year old wine but it has so much vitality. It has a massively complex nose of citrus peel, smoke and old furniture, that’s fresh and fruity but also very rich. The palate is dry, tangy and mouthfilling with lovely length and complexity. ‘It’s almost hypnotic in its power and strength, with a salty character, tar, caramel and dried figgy fruits’, says Tim. This unctuous wine is great with food, particularly nuts and smoked fish. ‘It’s a wine to be discussed and enjoyed with company’, says Tim. ‘There’s so much to get into, you need the helping hand of education to enjoy it.’ (£18.50/half bottle) 95/100 06/08

Fortnum & Mason Oloroso VORS
This has a richer, nuttier nose than the Amontillado, with some caramel and fudge. ‘There’s a layer of richness that is almost like Christmas cake’, points out Tim. The palate is soft, rich and broad-textured. Smooth, complex and nutty with woody, slightly earthy notes. The finish is intense and almost eternal: you can still taste it minutes later. ‘The thing I love about it is that despite its age, there is still some fruit here with a broad array of secondary flavours, such as smoky bacon, burnt toffee, leather and tobacco’, says Tim. ‘It’s as if you have a magnifying glass: all these flavours come into such focus.’ It’s a wine that is luscious and sumptuous on the palate, yet it is bone dry. How would you use a wine like this? ‘The dream partner is top air-dried Spanish ham’, reckons Tim, ‘but one can be versatile with it: it’s lovely with a big rich beef stew, great with cheese, and works brilliantly as a digestif’. As with all these sherries, a little goes a long way, and you can keep an open bottle for a long time, so even though it isn’t cheap, a bottle can provide a lot of pleasure over many evenings. (£18.50/half bottle) 94/100 06/08

Fortnum & Mason Pedro Ximénez VOS
This is mind-blowing stuff. It’s a concentrated brown/black colour with a consistency of used engine oil. The super-sweet aromatic nose is raisiny, yet fresh at the same time. The palate is thick, viscous and incredibly sweet, while remaining quite pure and even a little elegant. ‘This is impossibly unctuous with huge intensity’, remarks Tim. ‘It’s so intense and opulent’. He reckons it works bizarrely well with blue cheese and also works well with chocolate. ‘It’s a pudding in its own right: you almost need a spoon to drink it’. (£19.50 half/bottle). 93/100 06/08

Lagunilla Reserva Rioja 2003 Spain
A rich, warm style of Rioja with a nice combination of sweet fruit and sweet spicy oak, together with soft, contoured tannins. There’s a bit of tarry, charred edginess, too, which adds a savoury bite to what would otherwise be rather a tame wine. This is one for lovers of the traditional Rioja style. 86/100 (£9.99 Sainsbury, Morrisons) 06/08

Burgans Albarino 2006 Rias Baixas, Spain
A classic Albarino with a subtly floral, lemony nose and a palate that displays grapefruit and citrus pith character. It's fresh and quite precise, but with good depth of flavour. Stylish. 89/100 (£8.99 Oddbins) 05/08.

Castillo Labastida Aniversario Rioja 2004
From the Cosecheros de Labastida Co-op, made for Laithwaites. Very deep red/purple colour. Ripe, sweet fruit on the nose which is quite lush, and has a hint of vanilla. The palate is dense and fruit-driven with some ripe, spicy fruit and a bit of tannic structure. It's nice to find this density of fruit and a relative lack of obvious oak in a Rioja. Modern but balanced. 88/100 (£7.06 Laithwaites) 03/08

Monasterio de Santa Cruz Tarragona 2005
Deep red colour. Ripe sweet berryish fruit here with a nice supple quality and a cherry freshness. This is a delicious fruit-driven style that's ripe and approachable with just a hint of spicy seriousness. Well made. 86/100 (£6.55 Laithwaites) 03/08

Marques de la Concordia Tempranillo 2005 Rioja
Deep coloured. Savoury, spicy, slightly earthy and midweight, with a drying finish. Attractive drinkable wine. 84/100 (£5.99 Tesco, Oddbins) 03/08

Bodegas Navajas Vega del Rio Rioja Crianza 2003
Light, bright and quite attractive with red berry fruits, backed up by some earthy, spicy depth. Not profound, but savoury and bright. 83/100 (£5.99 Morrisons) 03/08

Vina Herminia Excelsus 2005 Rioja
Mid-red colour. Complex sweet, ripe cherry and red berry fruit nose is quite perfumed and harmonious. The palate is sweet and round with smooth, elegant, subtly spicy fruit. It seems to have a fair bit of Grenache character (Garnacha makes 45% of the blend). Not a big wine, but really expressive without that overpowering oak influence so often found in Rioja: this spends less than a year in oak, and is better for it. Impressive. 89/100 (£9.99 Oddbins)  03/08

Baron de Ley 7 Viñas 2001 Rioja, Spain
Made from all seven grapes that are grown in the Rioja region, this is aged for three years in barrels before a further year in larger foudres. There’s some sweet coconut and vanilla oak on the nose, but this is less apparent after the wine has been open for a while. The palate shows a combination of sweet oaky notes with some fresh cherry and berry fruit to form a rather harmonious, well mannered whole. I’m usually not a huge fan of the ‘traditional’ Rioja style because I reckon the wine spends just a bit too long in wood for its own good, but there’s no denying that this is an attractive, accessible, mellow sort of wine that’s evolving quite nicely. 88/100 (£16.99 Tesco) 12/07

Terras Gauda Albariño 'O Rosal' 2006, Rias Baixas
This is utterly brilliant. It has a beautifully precise aromatic nose with perfumed, slightly herby, ripe melon and lemony fruit. The palate is deliciously fresh with light, subtly grapefruity citrussy fruit along with some richer ripe melon notes. Great balance here to create a thrilling white wine that’s a perfect match for seafood dishes. 92/100 (Les Caves de Pyrene) 12/07

Successiores de Benito Santos Igrexario de Saìar Albariño 2004 Rias Baixas, Spain
Wonderfully fresh, precise and full nose with some citrussy notes. The palate is fresh and bright with a pithy, citrussy character and some nice minerally complexity. A lovely wine. 90/100 06/07

Waitrose Cerro de la Mesa Rioja Crianza 2004 Spain
In partnership with Cune. Quite fresh and a bit minerally with nicely defined red berry fruits, together with just a hint of vanilla oak. The result is a fresh, rather understated, elegant mid-bodied red with nice freshness and acidity. This will likely age well over the next few years, but is already drinking quite nicely. It won’t turn heads, but it’s very rewarding, food-friendly drinking. 88/100 (Waitrose) 09/07

Dinastía Vivanco Crianza 2002 Rioja, Spain
Distinctive 18th Century bottle shape. There's a sweet oaky vanilla overlay to the cherryish fruit on the nose. The palate is quite sweet with oak and fruit, and has a savoury edge. Accessible rather old fashioned style. 83/100 (£8.11 Bibendum) 11/06

Campo Eliseo 2003 Toro, Spain
This high-end Toro is made by Jacques & Francois Lurton and Michel and Dany Rolland. It has a sweet elegant nose of ripe red fruits with a subtle liqueur-like edge. Modern and classy, with hints of chocolate and vanilla. The palate shows some dry, smooth tannic structure  and elegant chocolate and vanilla-laced red fruits. The 15.5% alcohol is well hidden and is just detectable at the back of the palate with a trace of bitterness. A supple, elegant, smooth red wine; well mannered, like a polite bouncer—you suspect this is a big wine that has been tamed! Elegant, yes, but it lacks a little bit in the way of personality. Very good/excelleny 90/100 (rrp £34.95) 03/06  

Viñas del Vero Gewurztraminer 2005 Somontano, Spain
Spain isn’t well known for its white wines – it’s the reds that tend to get all the attention. But here’s a really nice one that’s a bit off the beaten track. It has a floral, grapey nose with a touch of lime. The palate is rich and quite fat with pretty, grapey fruit and nice balancing lemony crispness. With great balance, this is an ideal wine for modern fusion cuisine. Very good+ 89/100 (£7 Tanners, Stanton Wine Co, Cambridge Wine Merchants) 04/06

Txomín Etxaníz Getaria 2005 Getariako Txakolina, Spain
Another Spanish white, this time from Basque country in the north west. This has a very bright limey nose with a green herbal hint. The palate is vivid and bright with a fresh, lively character. Precise and interesting. Very good/excellent 90/100 (£10.50 D Byrne, Martinez, Hedley Wright) 04/06

Cenit Tinto 2003 Vino de la Tierra de Zamora, Spain
This ambitious new Spanish red wine is made from old vine Tempranillo, some of which are pre-phylloxera and thus ungrafted. Nose is rather alcohol dominated but shows sweet ripe cherry and berry fruit. The palate is sweetly fruited and ripe with nice elegance and some spicy tannins. It’s a classy wine: seductive and sweet with good concentration. Could do with just a touch less oak and alcohol. In the USA this retails for about US$45; not available in the UK yet. Very good/excellent 92/100 06/06

Pazo Serantellos Albariño 2004 Rias Baixas, Spain
Lovely full crisp fruity nose, with some sweetness and a hint of lime. On the palate there’s a lovely marriage of richer, almost peachy fruit with minerally, lemony freshness. Very good/excellent 90/100
(£6.99 Tesco) 02/06

Sainsbury’s Albariño 2005 Rias Baixas, Spain
Made by Lagar de Fornelos. Bright, focused, limey spicy fruit on the nose. Nicely crisp, but rich at the same time. The palate is full flavoured, warmly fruited and has just a hint of nuttiness under the almost overwhelming citrussy freshness. Assertive and complex. Very good+ 89/100 (£6.99 Sainsbury) 01/07

Torres Fransola 2004 Penedès, Spain
A really lovely Sauvignon Blanc combining richness and freshness. It has a bright, fruity, grassy nose with a bit of tropical fruit richness. This leads to a palate that shows the green pepper grassiness of Sauvignon fleshed out with some richness from a bit of oak, but the oak is subtle enough that it’s hard to spot in the context of this rounded, crisply fruited wine.
Stylish. Very good/excelleny 92/100 (£12.49 Oddbins) 05/06

Torres Gran Sangredetoro 2001 Penedes, Spain
A blend of Garnacha and Cariñena with a touch of Syrah. Quite sweet red and black fruits nose. The palate has nice plummy blackberry fruit with a savoury, spicy edge. Quite chewy and dense, with nice earthy undertones. Very good+ 87/100 10/05

Fuentespina Tempranillo Roble 2003 Ribera del Duero, Spain
A warm, satisfying ripe spicy wine with generous fruit backed up by spicy oak. Nice juicy freshness and a tannic bite that stops it getting too sweet.  Very good+ 86/100 (£7.49 Majestic) 12/05

Cellar del Roure Les Alcausses 2002 Valencia, Spain
Fresh, savoury minerally nose with dark fruits. The palate has distinctive earthy, savoury, spicy character with more prominent than the dark fruits. An appealing midweight savoury wine with a nice minerally character. Very good+ 87/100 (£9.99 Define, Luvians, Wine Buffs, Oxford Wine Co, Portland Wine Cellars ) 10/05

Veigadares Alabrino 2002 Rias Baixas, Spain
This is a bit wacky, but it’s lovely. Quite deep coloured, it has a lovely luscious tropical fruit nose with a subtle green herby edge. Really full, unusual and appealing. Vivid concentrated fruit on the palate with a bold tropical richness. A striking rich wine with a sweet spicy finish. Very good/excellent 93/100 (£12.98 Corney & Barrow) 07/05

Torres de Casta Rosé 2005 Catalunya, Spain
Deep pink/red colour.
Lovely summer fruits palate with just a hint of sweetness. Brilliant balance here: smooth but not confected. Lovely fruit quality and perfect for a summer lunch. Very good+ 86/100 06/06

Codorníu Pinot Noir Brut Cava Rosé NV, Spain
A lovely salmon pink colour, this has a minerally, slightly reductive nose that’s fresh and savoury. The palate shows lovely fresh, bright strawberry fruit with a subtle herbiness. It’s really appealing. 87/100 (£7.99 Majestic) 10/07

Bodegas Rodera-Villa Pago de los Capellanes 2002 Ribera del Duero, Spain
This blend of Tempranillo with a bit of Cabernet and Merlot has only seen oak for three months, and it’s all the better for it. It has a savoury, expressive berry fruit nose and the palate shows lovely chewy, spicy savoury fruit. Expressive and well balanced this has lots of character, and by Ribero del Duero standards, it’s positively cheap. Very good/excellent 92/100 (Berry Bros & Rudd £9.95) 05/04

Hidalgo Oloroso Viejo Sherry, Spain
Fantastic complex evolved nose which is sweet and savoury, nutty and complex, like a really good Madeira. The nutty, tangy palate is fantastically complex with a very long, rich finish. Brilliant. Very good/excellent 94/100 (£45 Waitrose) 10/05

Capafons-Osso Sirsell Priorat 2003 Spain
A blend of Garnacha, Mazuelo, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon. Deep coloured. Wonderfully sweet raspberry and blackcurrant fruit nose with hints of chocolate and ginger. The palate has a savoury, spicy structure under the smooth fruit, with a bit of tannic bite. Otherwise, this is an alluring, ripe, forward wine and it will be interesting to see how it develops. Very good+ 89/100 (£13.95 H&H Bancroft Wines) 11/05

Casa Castillo Las Gravas 2001 Jumilla, Spain
A blend of 50% Monastrell (Mourvèdre), 20% Cabernet and 30% Syrah, aged for 16 months in French oak. A good deep colour, this has a nice sweetly fruited nose with a lovely minerally, spicy depth and notes of herbs and dried leaves. The palate is quite soft with a good concentration of southern spiced fruit and some old leather notes. A lovely expressive, terroir-driven red. Very good/excellent 92/100 (£14 Winos Wine Shop Oldham, Off the Vine West Wickham, Ultracomida deli Narbeth) 10/05

Viñas del Vero Secastilla 2003 Somantano, Spain
This is a beautiful red wine: expressive, modern yet good. It's made from old vine Grenache at 700 metres altitude. It has a wonderfully perfumed nose of sweet liqueur-like raspberry fruit with beguiling herby tobacco notes in the background. Very pure. The palate shows a good concentration of smooth red fruits with a substantial yet elegant tannic structure. The oak provides merely a supporting role and is well integrated. Lovely freshness to the fruit, with good acidity. Almost profound. Very good/excellent 93/100 (£16, see wine-searcher) 10/05

Bodega Lan Rioja Reserva 1998 Spain
Quite a subtle elegant style of Rioja showing a gravelly, spicy, tarry edge to the dark fruits. Midweight palate with a nice expressive earthy character. A nice well balanced food wine that’s reminiscent of a good Bordeaux and which is ageing quite nicely. Very good+ 87/100 (£10.25 H&H Bancroft Wines) 11/05

Capçanes Mas Donís 2002 Montsant, Spain
Slightly plonky edge to the spicy, gently herby nose, but there’s some minerally depth here. The palate is juicy and spicy with good fruit. Tasty if not profound. Very good 84/100 (£6.95 Lay & Wheeler) 12/03  

Albet y Noya Lignum Blanco 2004 Penedes, Spain
This is a successful marriage of Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay, two grape varieties that don’t normally go to well together. It’s quite aromatic, with a combination of rich tropical fruit with some fresh grassy sauvignon character. It’s a satisfying all-purpose white wine. Very good+ 87/100 (£6.98 Asda) 03/05

Asda Cava Brut NV  
So you’re throwing a party where fizz is called for, and because of the thirsty guests you don’t feel the need to spend a fortune on a posh Champagne. But at the same time you don’t want your guests to gag on the wine, or suspect you of being cheap. Well this tasty Cava could be just what you are looking for: it’s surprisingly sophisticated for the price, with nice savoury richness and refreshing tart acidity. Toast and lemon flavours dominate. Very good 83/100 (Asda £3.72) 10/05

Torres Gran Vina Sol Chardonnay 2004 Penedès, Spain
Rounded, appealing honeyed, gently spicy nose. The palate is rounded with a lovely freshness to the smooth, slightly melony fruit. There’s a hint of oak but it’s in the background. A sophisticated wine with lovely weight and balance. Very good/excellent 90/100 05/05

Torneo Valdepenas Reserva 2000 Spain
Last week I moaned about how the Spanish kill so many of their red wines by ageing them for too long in oak barrels. Well this is a traditional Spanish red that’s spent ages in oak, but has survived the process pretty well. And the sweet vanilla and coconut flavours it has picked up mean that it matches well with spicy foods. Warm and accessible, this is super smooth with sweetness and spiciness from the oak. Very good+ 85/100 (£4.99 Waitrose) 06/05

Tio Pepe Palomino Fino Extra Dry Sherry
A brilliant wine for very little money. Let’s face it, Sherry is wildly unfashionable still, despite efforts from all quarters to get punters to change their minds. But this Fino style is versatile, fresh and food compatible, and with only 15% alcohol it isn’t any more intoxicating than many new world table wines. This is a complex, nutty wine with a bracing, marine-like freshness and good acidity. The mid-palate is kind of flat, but this is the sherry style. It’s got lovely freshness, so keep it well chilled and drink it within a few days of opening. Very good/excellent 90/100 (Tesco £4.22/half, £7.06/full bottle) 06/05

Millennium Dolç 2002 Terra Alta, Catalunya, Spain
Xavier Clua’s amazing sweet Garnacha was harvested on 7th November, put into barriques on 30 December and bottled in April 2004. Just three barriques of this oddity were made, and it is remarkable stuff. It has a vivid, spicy, sweet nose with a distinctive aroma of smooth blackcurrant jam. It’s remarkably rich and pure. On the palate it is vivid, bold and spicy with a great conentration of sweet blackcurrants and blackberries, with a tannic, spicy backbone. Good acidity provides focus. This is a profound effort: quirky, but utterly delicious. Excellent 95/100 (£19.99 Cadman Fine Wines) 04/05

Millenium 2001 Terra Alta, Catalunya, Spain
Xavier Clua Coma’s red wine shows a rich, almost lush spicy nose of dark fruits with a tarry, oaky overlay. It is very sweet and forward but with a more serious minerally note underneath. The palate shows sweet, spicy, slightly stewed ripe fruits, which hides a fairly stern tannic structure but ripe tannins. May evolve in very interesting ways: this is modern but interesting. Very good/excellent 92/100 (£18.99) 03/05

Pingus 1997 Ribero de Duero, Spain
Quite a savoury, spicy nose with taut berry fruits and a smoky edge. There’s a slightly baked edge to the red fruits on the elegant, spicy palate, which makes me wonder about the storage conditions. Firm tannins. Chewy, spicy and complex with great density. Needs time. Very good/excellent 93/100 05/04  

Telmo Rodriguez Dehesa Gago 2003 Toro, Spain
Telmo Rodriquez i one of Spain’s most talented winemakers, and his wines are uniformly very good, and excellent value to boot. This Toro is deep coloured and has a dense, rich, tarry spicy nose with forward, fresh black fruits dominating. The palate is soft and rich with a spicy, minerally character to the fruit. Dense and satisfying. Very good/excellent 91/100 (£7.29 Adnams, www.adnams.co.uk) 09/04

Marqués de Riscal Rueda Blanco 2003 Rueda, Spain
Ah, Rueda. Spain is really red wine country, but Rueda is the source of some fantastic whites, of which this is a good example. Lovely aromatic, open grassy nose with lots of bright fruit. The palate is rounded and soft textured with lots of appeal. A delicious white wine. Very good+ 88/100 (Majestic £5.99) 09/04

‘Vineyard X’ Spanish Garnacha 2003 Campo de Borja, Spain
This is a delicious cheapie, offering lovely vivid, juicy, spicy red fruits. Expressive and full flavoured, this shows how good cheap Grenache can sometimes be. Very good+ 88/100 (Thresher £4.99) 09/04

Alvaro Palacios Les Terrasses 2002 Priorato, Spain
Priorat doesn’t come cheap, but Alvaro Palacios Terrasses is a good introduction to the region. The 2002 is fantastic. It has a taut, spicy nose with lovely ripe fruit that’s sweet, liqouricey and earthy. This leads to a rich, open palate with spicy, earthy fruit and great length and elegance. Modern but classy. Very good/excellent 92/100 (£14.69 Corney & Barrow, www.corbar.co.uk)  09/04

José Delgado Lejal Manzanilla Tapada NV
Nutty and distinctive with some rounded character on the palate. Tangy finish, with a hint of toffee. Nice but not completely fresh. Manzanilla needs to be drunk as young as possible. Very good+ 88/100 03/04

Primitiu de Bellmunt 2000 Priorat, Spain
Quite an evolved, baked, earthy spicy nose, which is tight and dusty. The palate is savoury and very spicy with a rather bitter, drying finish. Nice earthy, spicy character, but I wonder whether this is showing as well as it can. Very good+ 88/100 (£27.49 Cadman Fine Eines) 03/05

Salia de Finca Sandoval 2002 Manchuela, Spain
This is the second wine of Spanish journalist Victor de la Serna's Finca Sandoval. Beautifully packaged, this is a blend of Monastrell and Syrah. Nice deep colour. Tight, savoury, slightly spicy nose is a bit unyielding and short of fruit. Palate is firm, savoury and very spicy with a slightly stewed mouthfeel and good acidity. Drunk two days after purchase, suspect some heat damage. (£11 Haynes, Hanson & Clark) 09/04

Torres Sangre de Toro 2003 Catalunya, Spain
Savoury, taut spicy nose. The palate shows structured savoury, spicy red fruits with some earthy depth and good acidity. A bold, structured wine that is quite satisfying and deep but needs food. Palate is drying a little. Very good+ 86/100 (£5.49 widely available)  09/04

Barbadillo Sticky Toffee Pudding Wine NV, Jerez, Spain
This is a sweet Pedro Ximenez sherry, cleverly packaged to appeal to a broad audience. It is a bit of a beast of a wine – liquid Christmas pudding, if you like. Sweet, open grapey nose with herb and caramel depth leads to a toffee and raisin palate that’s viscous and hugely sweet. A lovely wine. Very good/excellent 90/100 (£6.49 50 cl, Sainsbury) 10/04

Montegaredo Tinto ‘Roble’ 2000 Ribero del Duero, Spain
Quite a beguiling nose with lovely vivid fruit coupled with smoky, slightly tarry oak notes together with just a hint of vanilla. It’s really well balanced and quite elegant. The palate shows a lovely savoury character with dark fruits, good acidity and smooth yet firm tannins. It’s quite traditional in style but the intensity of fruit stands up well to the oak (presumably a mix of new and old American oak, but this is just a guess). Spicy, tarry finish. You’d probably guess this as Spanish in a blind tasting because of the oak, but it is very well done. Very good/excellent 90/100 (£10.95 Lay & Wheeler) 12/03

Al Muvedre Tinto Joven 2002 Alicante, Spain
Telmo Rodriguez (who makes Dehesa Gago, among many other wines) has sourced this elegantly packaged wine from old terraced Monastrell (aka Mourvèdre) vines in the Alicante region in the south of Spain. It’s quite full flavoured, but sits firmly in the genre of easy quaffer, with clean, vivid juicy black fruits. There’s an attractive spiciness to the finish and after a while a nice herby character emerges, but the best thing is that unlike many cheap Spanish wines the fruit hasn’t been smothered in coconutty American oak. Great for the price. Very good+ 86/100 (£4.99 Adnams) 02/04

Gonzalez Byass Amontillado ‘La Concha’ Medium Dry, Jerez, Spain
Rich, nutty, savoury nose with burnt edges and raisiny notes. The palate is medium dry with some sweetness and nice nutty flavours. Good acidity and some complexity. Very good+ 87 (Tesco £6) 06/03

Alvaro Palacios Les Terrasses 2000 Priorat
Sweet dark fruits on the nose with a liquoricey, herby edge. Midweight, spicy herby palate shows some minerality. It opens out to reveal rich raspberry fruit with some ripe, herby complexity after a while. Smooth yet firm tannins. Not a big wine but quite an expressive and elegant one which may well develop over the next few years. Very good/excellent (£11.99 Majestic) 03/03   

Palacio de Bornos Verdejo 2002 Rueda, Spain
Lovely fresh grassy Sauvignon-like wine with lots of flavour. Clean crisp and savoury, this is brilliant for the price. Very good+ 88/100 (Waitrose £4.99) 05/03

Torres Vina Esmerelda 2002 Penedès, Spain
This screwcapped wine comes in a tall Germanic-style bottle. Its pretty, floral, grapey nose hints at sweetness, but the palate is clean and crisp with lemony, grapefruit character. Very fresh and fruity, quite light in style and food friendly. Very good (£5.99 widely available) 03/03

Lustau ‘Solera Reserva’ Rich Old Oloroso Sherry
A blend of Oloroso and Pedro Ximénez sherries, this is deep brown colour with orange tints. It has a sweet, quite alcoholic nose with notes of vanilla, toffee and caramel. The palate is quite rich and raisiny; viscous and quite syrupy. This actually improves after a couple of days. An attractive sweet style of sherry. Very good+ (£8.49 Oddbins) 01/03

Viña Fuerte Garnacha 2001, Catalayud, Spain
Made from 40 year old bush vines. Lovely rich juicy berry fruit dominates, with a sweet character and a spicy finish. Attractive commercial style. Good/very good (£3.99 Waitrose) 10/02

Monasterio de Santa Ana Monastrell 2001, Jumilla, Spain
Old-vine Mourvèdre (known in Spain as Monastrell) aged for three months in French and American oak barrels. Deep coloured. Brooding ripe liquoricey fruit on nose; chunky ripe fruit on the palate with a sweet spicy character. Modern and well made for the price. Very good (£4.99 Waitrose) 10/02

Marqués de Pagollanao 1999 Cigales, Spain
Appealing open herbal nose has some sweetness. Slightly old fashioned? Midweight palate has herby character and some southern spices. Unusual wine. Very good (£5.99 Waitrose) 10/02

Abadia Retuerta Rívola 2000, Castilla y Leon, Spain
A blend of Tempranillo and Cabernet Sauvignon. Very restrained on the nose, which is a little closed. The palate is herby and full with some well judged oaking and taut fruit. Not showing too well at the moment. Very good (£7.99 Waitrose) 10/02

Finca Sobreño Crianza 1999 Toro, Spain
100% Tempranillo (known here as Tinto de Toro), barrel aged for 6 months in American oak. Sweet herbal edge to the tarry, liqouricey fruit on the nose. Chewy, chunky palate shows a good concentration of slightly sweet, herby fruit with a spicy finish. A vivid wine that’s quite impressive. (£6.99 Waitrose) 10/02 

Celler de Capçanes Mas Collet 2000 Monsant, Spain
A blend of Grenache, Tempranillo, Carignan and Cabernet Sauvignon aged for 9 months in a mixture of French and American barrels. The nose displays ripe black fruits with some sweet tarry notes. The palate is well judged with dense fruit, firm tannins and some spicy oak. It’s a nicely balanced wine that avoids being jammy or confected while succeeding in being modern and rich. Very good/excellent (£5.99 Waitrose) 10/02

Mas Igneus FA206 2000, Priorat, Spain
70% Garnacha, 20% Cariñena, 7% Cabernet Sauvignon and 3% Syrah, aged in 2 year old barrels for 6 months. Classy label. There's an intriguing herbal, mineralic twist to the richly fruited nose. The palate displays dense fruit with good acidity and a chalky, mineralic edge. Nicely poised and classically styled, capturing some of the Priorat 'terroir' character. Very good/excellent (£9.99
Waitrose) 10/02 

Cosme Palacio y Hermanos Rioja 1998, Spain
Fading rim. Herbal edge to the nose. The palate is a bit light but well balanced and nicely poised. Doesn’t show any of that old-fashioned American oak character which many Riojas at this price display, which is a good thing. Very good (£6.99 Waitrose) 10/02

Muga Rioja Reserva Seleccion Especial 1996, Spain
Impressive. As well as the usual Tempranillo, there’s 20% Grenache and 10% in total of Mazuelo and Graciano, with long ageing in new oak barriques. Lovely sweet ripe nose with deep brooding herbal complexity and a hint of coconut and spice. The palate is well balanced with more sweet herbal fruit character. Drinking very well now in quite a traditional style. Very good/excellent (£15.99
Waitrose) 10/02

Raimat Tempranillo 1998 Costers del Segre, Spain
Striking vivid fruit on the nose. The palate displays dense, rich, herb-tinged fruit with good acid and structure. Spicy, oaky finish: a crowd pleaser. Very good+ (£6.99
Waitrose) 10/02

Vega de Castilla 1999 Ribera del Duero, Spain
Slightly faded colour. Open, spicy, herbal nose. The slightly old fashioned palate is herby and spicy, with rather faded fruit. Nicely savoury. Very good (£6.49
Waitrose) 10/02

Marqués de Griñón Dominio de Valdepusa Syrah 2000 Vino de Mesa Toledo, Spain
The Syrah vines at the 42 ha Valdepusa estate were 9 years old in the 2000 vintage, and modern vineyard technology such as drip irrigation, Smart-Dyson trellising and partial root zone drying has helped fashion a wine of sheer brilliance, albeit in a very modern style. Inky red/black colour, there's huge rush of juicy, ripe, sweet raspberry and blackcurrant fruit. Pure and intense. The palate shows lovely intense, thick ripe fruit with liquoricey complexity, good acidity and huge concentration. Stunningly modern but brilliant with it. My only slight criticism is that the 15% alcohol makes it taste a tiny bit hot. Very good/excellent (£12.99
Waitrose) 10/02   

Viñas del Vero Chardonnay 1999 Somantano, Spain
Crisp, fresh nose with elegant tropical fruit and lemon on the nose, slightly spoiled by a touch of tinned pea character. There’s a touch of spicy oak on the fresh palate, which shows good natural acidity. Quite respectable for the price. (£4.99 Oddbins) 06/02

Señorio de Las Llanos Gran Reserva 1996 Valdepeñas
Sweet caramel and coconut nose. The coconutty oak is almost overpowering on the palate. Odd. OK (£4.99 Majestic) 10/02

Torres Sangredotoro 2001 Catalunya
Appealing nose with juicy berry fruit and a nice savoury edge. Lovely spicy, forward palate has enough savoury character to add interest. A lovely cheapie. Very good+ (£5.49 buy 2 save £1 = £4.99 Majestic) 10/02

CVNE Rioja Reserva 1998
Nice herbal complexity to the slightly sweet, cocunut-edged fruit on the nose. Chunky, herbal-edged palate with some coconut, spice and vanilla from the oak. Appealing, archetypal Rioja. Very good+ (£9.99 buy any two CVNE wines save 20% = £7.99 Majestic) 10/02

CVNE Vina Real Rioja Reserva 1998
Sweet herbs and spice notes add complexity to the open nose. The palate is savoury with chunky, spicy fruit and good acidity. Showing some early signs of evolution. Tasty. Very good+ (£12.99 buy any two CVNE wines save 20% = £9.99 Majestic) 10/02

CVNE Imperial Rioja Reserva 1998
Really striking coconutty, nutty nose with forward sweet herbal fruit character. The palate is quite structured and chewy with good acidity. A striking wine in a traditional style. Very good+ (£14.99 buy any two CVNE wines save 20% = £11.99 Majestic) 10/02

CVNE Vina Real Rioja Gran Reserva 1995
Evolving nicely with some sweet herbal complexity on the nose. The structured palate shows spicy fruit and good acidity. Still some way to go here but attractive now, nonetheless. Very good+ (£17.99 buy any two CVNE wines save 20% = £14.39 Majestic) 10/02

CVNE Imperial Rioja Gran Reserva 1994
A big, traditional-styled wine for keeping. Taut herbal fruit on the nose leads to a firmly structured palate with dense savoury character and firm tannins. Needs time to open out. Very good+ (£18.99 buy any two CVNE wines save 20% = £15.19 Majestic) 10/02

Tres Olmos Verdejo  Bodegas Gaciarevalo 2001, Rueda, Spain
From a family run Bodega with 40 ha in the middle of Rueda, one of Spain's leading white wine regions. This shows a wonderfully bright aromatic nose with appealing lemony fruit. With a pronounced herbal edge there's lots of fruit here and good acidity. Brilliant for the price. Very good/excellent (£5.95 Berry Bros) 04/02

Torres Fransola 1999, Penedes
This is a single vineyard Sauvignon Blanc, half of which is barrel fermented. Quite a deep colour. On the nose the herby, grassy fruit combines well with the oak, although the overall effect is a tiny bit clumsy. The palate is concentrated, rich and full flavoured with a slightly caramelly edge. Interesting, but might have been better a year ago, and I much prefer the 2000. Very good+ (£9.95 Bentalls) 05/02

Xavier Clua Coma ‘Vindemia’ 1998 DO Terra Alta
This is an ambitious blend of 20% Chardonnay, 80% Garnacha Blanca, fermented in new French oak. Deep golden colour, this has a remarkable savoury nose: tight, spicy and caramelly with lifted acidity and a part-oxidised sherry-like edge. The tight palate is very savoury with good acidity keeping things fresh. An interesting food wine that works well in an unusual, old-fashioned style. Very good/excellent 05/02

Alvaro Palacio ‘Les Terrasses’ 1998, Priorat
Lifted, liquoricey nose with ripe herby redcurrant fruit. The palate ripe, rich herby fruit with an almost lush edge to it. Dry spicy tannins on the finish. A very attractive modern wine that still reflects its origins, at least in part. Very good/excellent 05/02

Rotllan Torra ‘Amadis’ 1997, Priorat
This winery was founded in 1984 by Jordi Rotllan Torra, and ‘Amadis’ is made from 100 year old vines producing a measly 10 hl/ha. It’s extreme stuff. The nose shows very forward smoky, rubbery ripe berry fruit with a complex roasted edge. The palate shows good acidity and a savoury, roasted, toasty character. Savoury, spicy and minerally. Very rich; odd but nice. Very good/excellent 05/02

Alíon 1997, Ribera del Duero
Wonderful complex nose with meaty, rich spicy berry fruit and a smoky lift. The palate is rich, tannic and spicy with a delicious leathery/herby character. This is a wonderfully expressive wine drinking very well now. Excellent 05/02

Hacienda Monasterio 1998, Ribera del Duero
A blend of Tempranillo and Cabernet Savignon, made by Peter Sisseck. On the nose an appealing herbal, animal character underpins the ripe fruit: quite rich. The palate is broad and spicy, with more animal character and some sweet fruit. Quite Rhôney. Very good/excellent 05/02

Pesquera Reserva 1996, Ribera del Duero
The smoky, roasted mineralic nose displays brooding berry fruit: we are drinking this before its time. Dense, ripe, almost meaty palate with a savoury edge and drying tannins. Dry and spicy, this is a lovely savoury wine. Very good/excellent 05/02

Abadia Retuerta 1996, Sardon de Duero
Very open sweet herbal nose with a leathery, liquoricey edge. Good density of herb-tinged fruit on the palate with an attractive spiciness and a rather modern sheen. It’s drinking very well now. Very good/excellent 05/02

Finca Valpiedra 1996 Rioja
This single-vineyard Rioja from Martinez Bujanda is very appealing in a rather Southern Rhône style. The lovely complex nose is slightly meaty, with a spicy, leathery character. Midweight palate is herby and earthy with black fruits and a savoury caramel-tinged edge. Good acidity. Very good/excellent 05/02

Bodegas Bilbainas Vina Pomal Reserva 1996, Rioja
Sweet caramelly edge to the nose. Palate is medium-bodied with a cinnamon spice tinge. Quite rounded and spicy but with good acidity and balance. Very traditional style, and may age into an archetypal traditional Rioja. Very good+ 05/02

Concavins Clos Montblanc Masia Las Comes Premium 1999 Conca de Barbera
An ambitious Cabernet/Merlot blend. Quite an elegant nose of spicy, mineralic blackcurrant fruit. Savoury, chalky, mineralic palate. Brilliant balance here: a very Bordeaux style, with a leafy edge. Very good/excellent 05/02  

1997 Alión, Ribera del Duero, Spain
Owned by Vega Sicilia, Alión is a separate estate making Tempranillo-based wines in a slightly different style to its illustrious parent. And this is a superb wine from a year that's supposed not to have been very successful in 1997. Quite deep coloured, there's a compelling mineral edge to the deeply fruited, almost meaty nose. It has a superb, richly liquoricey palate with a great density of berry fruit combining well with the oak. There's a savoury, meaty, earthy edge and it's quite tight knit and brooding. Excellent (£19.95 La Vigneronne, Peter Watkins, Noel Young) 02/02

Primitiu de Bellmunt 1999 Priorat, Spain
(tasted blind, note as written) Dense, vivid red/purple colour. Sweet, ripe nose with a savoury liquoricey edge: quite concentrated and substantial. Very modern, dense palate which is hugely concentrated and not too overdone, with a medicinal edge and some complex herby notes. There’s plenty of spicy oak here (American?) with ripe red berry fruit prominent. Quite classy. Reminds me of a Ridge Zinfandel. Very good/excellent (cost approx £30) 11/01  

Finca Valpiedra Rioja Reserva 1995, Spain
This is Martinez Bujanda’s single-vineyard Rioja. The idea of single vineyard or estate wines is slowly catching on in Rioja, and I suspect it’s the way forward for quality wines. As yet, it’s still quite rare. This is a deep red/black colour and has a striking, slightly volatile nose with deep spicy tarry fruit and a sweet caramel edge. The palate is quite complex and intensely savoury, showing a good concentration of sweet fruit. This has a firm, spicy tannic structure and displays leathery/herby notes. There’s a hint of gaminess in the background. Unusual stuff: quite challenging but nicely complex. Very good/excellent  (Oddbins £17.99) 1/02

Torres Fransola 2000, Penedès, Spain
90% Sauvignon Blanc and 10% Parellada, 50% of which is barrel fermented in new American oak. The striking nose is intense and fresh, with grassy, gooseberry fruit and a rounded, spicy edge. The palate is concentrated and rich-textured, with a crisp, high-acid grassy character and some herby, spicy complexity. Quite rounded. It works brilliantly: the lean, savoury fruit combines well with the integrated oak.  Excellent (£12.95 La Vigneronne, Portland Wine, Hailsham Cellars, Laymont & Shaw) 02/02

Condado de Haza 1998 Ribero del Duero, Spain
A good, deep red/black colour this wine has an appealing, savoury, almost cheesy character to the nose, which may be from a touch of brettanomyces. The palate shows quite firm tannins, and the American oak doesn't stick out too much, although it does contribute some dryness. Quite structured and less stinky on the second day, this is quite an interesting wine, but it fails to really hit the spot for me. Very good+ (£11.99 Oddbins) 02/02

Paza de Señorans Albarino 2000, Rias Baixas, Spain
(Tasted blind, note as written) Lightly aromatic nose is subtle, with delicate bread and mineral notes. Opens out after a while to show some lemony/herbal character. The palate is light bodied and a touch neutral. Dry and mineralic with good acidity. Touch of spice? Definitely cool climate old world. Could even be an Alsace Pinot Blanc. Might be something odd, like a Picpoul de Pinet. Not a great wine, but delicate. Very good (£10, Handford) 11/01

Torres Vina Sol 2001, Penedès, Spain
Made from the Parellada grape, this food-friendly white wine is a brilliant example of commercial wine making. The fresh, lemony nose has an attractive aromatic floral twist. It's almost Sauvignon-like. The palate is crisp and slightly spritzy, with nice taut fruit. High acidity provides a lovely foil for Chinese food, believe it or not. Try to get the most recent vintage (2001) if possible; it's fresher and zippier than the 2000. Very good+ (Majestic, Tesco £4.49) 02/02

Mas Collet 1999, Celler de Capçanes, Tarragona, Spain
A blend of Grenache, Carignan, Cabernet Sauvignon and Tempranillo from this new-wave producer. It's deep coloured with an attractive liquoricey, ripe nose showing sweet blackcurrant fruit. Fruity palate with firm tannins and a spicy edge. The savoury, high-acid edge balances the sweet fruit nicely. Really delicious stuff in a modern style. Very good+ (£6.99 Majestic) 11/01

Palacio de Bornos 2000 Rueda, Spain
A blend of 90% Verdejo and 10% Viura. Delightful crisp, aromatic nose with a grassy character. Nicely textured, rounded palate has a touch of boiled sweets about it and some herbiness. Dry finish. Refreshing stuff, but not quite in the same league as the Rueda Superiore from the same producer that I raved about a while back. Very good (£4.49 Waitrose) 10/01

Finca Aguilanda Jumilla 1999, Spain
(Tasted blind, note as written) A deep red/purple colour, the nose is slightly muted, showing a bit of sweet fruit, some smoky notes and a mineralic edge. The palate is quite concentrated, with liquoricey fruit, caramel notes, a bit of wood influence and drying tannins. A rich wine with a savoury edge, this is quite hard to place: it is not top notch, more like an everyday drinker tarted up quite nicely. Old worldy. Very good 08/00

Martin Sancho Verdejo Superior 2000, Rueda
Clean, crisp rounded nose with some 'boiled sweets' character and an aromatic, floral edge. Good concentration on the broad-textured palate, which shows some ripe, peachy notes and a spicy finish. There's a touch of Viognier-like character here. Attractive stuff. Very good+ (Reserva y Cata, c. £5) 08/01

Palacio de Bornos Rueda Superior 2000, Spain
A blend of 90% Verdejo and 10% Viura, this is a lovely, aromatic, full-flavoured white wine: it’s a bit like a cross between a Sauvignon and a Viognier in character. There are notes of elderflower on the grassy, herby nose. The fresh, clean, full flavoured palate is crisp and attractive. No trace of oak. Very good/excellent (about £5, Reserva y Cata) 08/01

Vina Bajoz Cano 2000, Toro, Spain
This juicy red wine, a blend of 90% Grenache and 10% Tempranillo, is a lovely modern-styled glugger. Ripe, slightly confected berry fruit on the nose, and a nice savoury balance on the palate. A vivid wine. Very good (£4.31 Bibendum) 11/01

Casa de la Ermita Jumilla 1999, Spain
An ambitious, modern wine from the Jumilla region, where the key grape is Monastrell (known elsewhere as Mourvèdre; there's also some Merlot, Syrah, Cabernet and Tempranillo in the blend). It's a deep red/black colour, and shows lush fruit with a herby, spicy edge and a touch of liquorice. A rich, impressive wine in a modern style. Very good (£6.99 Majestic) 10/01

Pago de Carraovejas Crianzo 1998, Ribera del Duero, Spain
A blend of Tempranillo (75%) and Cabernet Sauvignon (25%) given the new oak treatment. There's sweet berry fruit on the attractive, ripe (almost lush) nose, with a caramel-like edge. Nicely balanced herbal fruit on the palate, jostling with firm acidity and spicy new oak. Quite oaky, but very attractive. Very good+ (£10.99, reduced from £13.49 Majestic) 10/01

Marqués de Murrieta Castillo Ygay Gran Reserva Especial 1989, Rioja, Spain
(Tasted blind, note as written.) Immediately I'm hit by an attractive nose of herbs and spice, with a slightly nervous quality: there's a little bit of volatile acidity here. The palate is also spicy, with notes of caramel, tar and black cherry fruit. There's high acidity, and the tannins are evident in the dry, spicy finish. Super stuff; very southern. Very good/excellent 06/01

Torres Mas La Plana Cabernet Sauvignon 1995, Penedès, Spain
As a wine that has enjoyed an elevated status over the years, I thought this showed pretty poorly considering its price tag. Note as written, tasted blind. Red/black colour with a fading brickish rim. Enticing sweet, ripe blackcurrant fruit on the nose with notes of leather and tea. The palate is ripe, but it is beginning to dry out a bit: there's some spicy oak, a touch of caramel and a touch of complexity. Finishes with firm tannins and some minerally notes. I thought this was a new world Cabernet with some bottle age. Very good+ (UK agent John E. Fells, retail about £25) 04/01

Torres Milmanda Chardonnay 1999, Penedès, Spain
The nose is attractive, fresh, savoury and bready. The palate shows toasty oak with lean, bready, citrus-laced fruit and some buttery notes. It's wrapped up in high acidity and there's some real complexity here, but the oaking is perhaps a little to prominent. Blind, I wasn't sure where this young Chardonnay was from: it could have been a classy South African, or even a heavily wooded Burgundy. I never even thought of Spain. Very good/excellent (UK agent John E. Fells, retail about £25) 04/01

Muga Rioja Blanco 2000 
Barrel fermented in new oak. Open, rounded, nutty nose with strong vanilla notes. The palate is rich and intense, with lemony acidity that offsets the nutty richness from the oak. Impressive, savoury white. Very good+ (£6.99 Majestic) 09/01

Marqués de Murrieta Reserva Especial Blanco Rioja 1995 
This is an odd, old fashioned wine. It’s a full goldedn colour and has a striking nose of lemon and butterscotch, with some nutty elements and a rounded, herbal character. It seems to be oxidised and has a bit of volatile acidity, too. The bold, full flavoured palate has firm acidity and is savoury and intense. Unusual stuff, and may appeal to some. Very good (£8.49 Majestic) 09/01

Marqués de Riscal Rueda Blanco 2000 
The bright, fresh, grassy nose is quite intense and Sauvignon-like. The full, rounded palate is quite full textured, and has a herbal quality. Tasty stuff. Very good+ (£5.49 Majestic) 09/01

Sierra de Siles Tempranillo, Arva Vitis, Vino de la Tierra de Castilla, 1998 
There’s a pronounced medicinal edge to the distinctive, pure raspberry fruit on the nose. The palate shows rich, pure fruit and some tannin. It’s bold, delicious, full flavoured and very modern. Very good+ (£4.69 Majestic) 09/01

Abadia Retuerta Primacia 1999 Castilla y León  
Deep coloured, this has a distinctive, intense nose of ripe fruit with a chocolatey/herby edge. Quite rich on the palate, with an attractive herbal quality and more ripe fruit. Very modern, this is tasty stuff – in fact, it quite reminds me of a rich Chilean Cabernet in style. Very good+ (£5.99 Majestic) 09/01

Viña Arisabel Rioja Joven 2000 
A deep red/purple colour this has a modern nose showing cherryish fruit. The palate is brightly fruited (cherry, raspberry); appealing in a Beaujolais-like style. Good/very good (£3.49 Majestic) 09/01

Berberana Rioja Reserva 1996 
Deep red/purple colour with a brick red rim. The evolved nose shows herby fruit character (strawberry, red fruits). The palate is rich, with some chewy tannins and reasonable complexity. Nice stuff; the American oak isn’t too prominent. Very good (£7.99 Majestic) 09/01

Berberana Tempranillo 1999 
Modern fruity stuff, with attractive cherry/herbal character and good acidity. Good/very good (£3.99 Majestic) 09/01

Muga Prado Enea Gran Reserva Rioja 1991  
The colour is fading a little at the rim, but this is still quite a deep coloured wine. It has a complex nose of leather, tea leaf, herbs and old wooden boxes. The palate is rich and evolved, and just beginning to dry out a little. However, this is an impressive, complex wine that is drinking beautifully now. Very good/excellent (£19.99 Majestic) 09/01

Finca Allende Rioja 1996
A new-wave wine from Rioja, made from 100% Tempranillo aged in French oak barrels (as opposed to the American oak normally used here). It's a lovely rich olive- and herb-laced wine with ripe, concentrated sweet fruit and a soft texture. Tasted blind, I'd probably have put this in the southern Rhône; it is full of herby interest but avoids the trap of being too rustic or overoaked. Very good/excellent 05/01

Marques de Murrieta Castillo Ygay Rioja Gran Reserva Especial 1989
It may be some 12 years old, but this wine is really just a baby. Deep coloured, it has firm, drying tannins and lots of oak, but there's a nice core of mineralic fruit. With good concentration and complexity, this should have a good future ahead of it, but for now there's too much drying tannin from the extended wood ageing to make this an enjoyable drink. Very good 03/01

Chandon Brut Methode Traditionelle Cava
The classy label doesn't make the origin of this Spanish fizz at all obvious. Founded in 1987, the Spanish outpost of Moët et Chandon have decided (quite wisely, I suspect) not to try to fight the rather cheap and nasty image that Cava has, and instead sell this as a pseudo-French Champagne-look-alike product. A blend of the local Macabeu and Parellada grapes, it is pale coloured with a rather coarse mousse, and the palate is dry with yeasty flavours and a touch of grapiness. Quite subtle and well balanced, but with no real complexity, this is a good all-purpose fizz for occasions when finesse isn't called for. Better than most Cava I've had. 05/01

Castell del Remei Gotim Bru 1998, Costres del Segre, Spain
A blend of Tempranillo, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon from Catalonia, this is a wine of great up-front appeal. The seductive nose of sweet raspberry and blackcurrant fruit leads to a palate of sweet fruit and American oak, backed up by firm, drying tannins. Lovely modern-styled stuff. (About £6.50, independent wine merchants and Bringmywine.com) Very good+ 2/01

Hidalgo Pedro Ximenez Viejo, Jerez, Spain
If you've not tried a Pedro Ximenez sherry before, then you'll find this wine quite surprising. It is a rich, viscous, syrupy, raisined nectar that explodes in the mouth with rich, incredibly sweet Christmas-cake like flavours. This one shows good complexity and a slightly spirity edge. It's a one-glass wine; drink the whole bottle and you'd be as sick as a dog. Very good + (Majestic £8.99) 1/01

Michel Couvreur Pedro Jiménes, NV
This is an odd one. It’s Pedro Ximenez from Jerez in Spain, made by a whisky producer at his whisky ageing cellar in Bouxe-lès-Beaune, Burgundy (the cask was matured, with regular topping up, for 18 years). After making this wine, the same cask was used to mature a newly distilled whisky. The wine itself is a syrupy brown goo that tastes like liquidised raisins. It is extremely sweet, with a soft texture and huge concentration. I find this style just a bit too much: although I appreciated a couple of sips, I didn’t find myself going back for more. Perhaps this would be better with a touch more acidity? 1/01

Vega Sindoa Chardonnay 1999, Navarra, Spain
A barrel-fermented Chardonnay with a nice, full toasty nose. It is sophisticated, nutty, characterful stuff with great balance and character. Very good+ (Adnams £6.95) 11/00

Bagordi Rioja Blanco 1999, Spain
An organic producer from Rioja whose wines I've previously been impressed by. This has a seductive, rich nose: rounded and sweet, with honey, vanilla and coconut which carry through to the dry palate. An unusual, complex white that really impresses. Very good+ (Adnams £5.95) 11/00

Bagordi Rioja 1998, Spain
Impressive, fresh young Rioja with a sweetly fruited nose showing caramel and vanilla notes. On the palate this is bright and fairly tannic, with bags of character. Another interesting but unusual wine. Very good+ (Adnams £7.30) 11/00

Bagordi Graciano 1998, Rioja, Spain
Graciano is a grape that's now rare in Rioja because of its low yields, not the quality of wine it produces. This is a lovely dark purple colour with a complex, cherryish nose. On the palate there is tart raspberry fruit and firm tannins. It's nice stuff, with high acidity. Very good (Adnams £8.75) 11/00

Abadía Retuerta 1996, Sardon de Duero, Vina de Mesa de Castillo y Leon
A blend of 65% Tempranillo, 30% Cabernet Sauvignon and 5% Merlot, from the 54 vineyards on this relatively new estate. A deep purple/black colour, this has an arresting and unusual nose of sweet cherry and plum fruit, with a rubbery, herby, licqouricey edge. It's concentrated and richly fruited on the palate, with a pleasant bitter edge and spicy tannins. There's also a herbaceous streak. Really interesting and quite unusual, with a heavy winemaking imprint. Very good. (Unwins £10.99, reduced to £6.99) 11/00

'Aurora' Manzanilla, Pedro Romero, Jerez, Spain
Extreme, marine-like nose of piercing, salty, nutty aromas. Complex and fresh on the palate. Delicious, but a little over the top if you are not used to the style. Very good+ (Adnams £6.95) 11/00

Adnams Fino, Pale Dry
Attractive nose with a salty, nutty character. Great balance and freshness on the palate. Good food compatibility. Very good+ (Adnams £5.95) 11/00

Adnams Amontillado, Pale Medium Dry
Soft and rich with a touch of residual sugar. Nice stuff. Very good, if not all that authentic. (Adnams £5.95) 11/00

Oloroso Secco 'El Alamo', Pedro Romero
Muted nose with a dry, bitter palate and some nutty richness. Good. (Adnams £7.95) 11/00

Arva Vitis Tempranillo 1998, La Mancha
From a new winery in the vast, central La Mancha region of Spain, this sees 4 months in new American oak. It’s a deep purple colour, with ripe, sweet berry fruit. Tasty; a good, modern-styled glugger. Good+ (Majestic £4.99) 10/00

Finca Lasendal 1999 Celler de Capçanes, Tarragona
Bright cherry red, with an odd nose and palate displaying herbal-tinged fruit. A bit simple and one-dimensional. OK (Majestic £4.99) 10/00

Mas Collet 1998 Celler de Capçanes, Tarragona
A blend of 50% Garnacha, 20% Carinena and lesser proportions of Cabernet, Merlot and Tempranillo. Reasonably tannic with a bit of character, but otherwise a bit unmemorable. Good+ (Majestic £5.99) 10/00

Costers del Gravet 1998, Celler de Capçanes, Tarragona
This is better! Deep red/black colour. Sweet ripe nose, with some toasty oak. This is a concentrated, tannic wine with noticeable new oak. May have a promising future ahead of it. Very good + (Majestic £8.99) 10/00

Señorio de Los Llanos Gran Reserva 1994, Valdepeñas
Fading a little in colour, this is an evolved red wine in an old-fashioned style, showing lots of oak and a drying-out palate. OK (Majestic £5.49) 10/00

Bodegas Marco Real Merlot Crianza 1996, Navarra
A full red wine showing some mature character, with pleasant structure. It's not too woody. Good. (Majestic £5.49) 10/00

Marqués de Riscal Tempranillo 1999, Castilla y León
A varietal Tempranillo. Purple coloured, this is a forward, modern-styled red with a nose of sweet berry fruit and soft tannins. Good+ (Majestic £6.99) 10/00

Marqués de Riscal Rioja Gran Reserva 1994
70% Tempranillo and 10% Graciano, plus lesser proportions of other grapes. This is an impressive Gran Reserva in the old fashioned mould. Deep red colour, beginning to lighten. Good concentration, with a sophisticated, complex palate underlain by a tannic, mineralic streak. Bone dry finish from the extended barrel ageing. Very good+ (Majestic £19.99) 10/00

Marqués de Riscal Baron de Chirel Reserva 1995
Deep red/black colour. Another concentrated, deep wine with a full, ripe nose, firm tannins and rich red berry fruit. Impressive stuff, but with an overly dry finish for my tastes. Very good. (Majestic £23.99) 10/00

Miguel Merino Rioja Reserva 1994
First release from this Rioja Alta producer. Mostly Tempranillo, with 20 months ageing in new American oak. Deep red/purple colour with great concentration. Dense and tannic on the palate. Nicely balanced and quite classy, with well intergrated oak and a dry finish. Very good+ 10/00

Vinas del Vero Chardonnay 1999, Somontano, Spain
A fresh, spritzy, lean Chardonnay, with an attractive, smoky, flinty, mineral nose. Balanced and very attractive for an inexpensive Chardonnay. Very good. (Oddbins £4.99) 10/00

Muja Blanco 1999, Rioja
Toasty oak nose and lean acidic fruit work surprisingly well together: this is a savoury wine with some complexity. Good/very good. (Majestic £6.99) 10/00

Albariño Martin Codax 1999, Rias Baixas
I'm usually a big fan of Albariño, but this was a little bit of a let down -- perhaps an off vintage? Spicy nose and a high-acid palate, lacking the usual rich flavour and exotic floral notes of better examples. Good. (Majestic £6.99) 10/00

Marques de Murrieta Blanco, Reserva Especial Capellania 1995, Rioja
Startling stuff! One of the world's most unusual and distinctive wines, you'll either love this or hate it. Killer acidity and pungent oxidative character make this a fierce white wine, only to be tackled with appropriate food. Very good (Majestic £8.49) 10/00

Dehesa Gago Chamerlot 1998, Toro, Spain
Deep purple/black colour. Initially closed on the nose, after a bit of air this opens up to reveal smoky, intense burnt fruit and wet stones. On the palate there is lovely Tempranillo fruit: initially bright and fruity, but later it is more smoky, mineralic, meaty and has moderately firm tannins. The structure is provided by both the tannins and the acidity, in much the same way as is common in many wines from the Northern Rhône. This is a complex, earthy, wild wine. Very good. (£6.50 Noel Young) 11/99

Dehesa Gago Chamerlot Toro 1998, Spain
A varietal Tempranillo, this is a richly flavoured wine with a pronounced herbal character. There are dark fruits on the palate with a taut underlying mineral character. The fruit combines well with the herbal earthiness to make a wine that is rich and satisfying, if a little rustic. (£6.99 Majestic) 7/00

Sainsburys Jumilla NV, Spain
Merlot/Monastrell (aka Mourvedre) blend, crafted by Portuguese-based Peter Bright.Rich, meaty red with some real character and soft oak influence. Good cheapie. 7/00

Sainsburys Navarra NV, Spain
Another cheap and cheerful red, this is a blend of Tempranillo and Cabernet Sauvignon, showing attractive cherry and plum fruit, combined with peppery notes and some tannic structure. Good plonk. 7/00

La Rioja Alta Gran Reserva 904, Rioja 1989
Initially the nose and palate was completely dominated by a shedful of vanilla and coconutty American oak. In fact, I was prepared to write this wine off as completely over-oaked on its initial showing. However, after a while in the glass the wine opens up to show deep, complex fruit and minerals, with great concentration and soft texture. It is still oaky (for my taste), but otherwise there is plenty of interest here. (£19.99, Waitrose) 9/99

Dominio de Valdepusa Cab Sauvignon 1996, Marques de Grinon
A savoury, herbal cabernet with ripe fruit and a strong tannic structure hiding underneath. The rich herby, minty notes and the warm climate influence make this hard to call as a cabernet -- I would have guessed southern French. I'd rate it as thoughtful but not great, and I really can't even begin to speculate on its ageing curve. In truth, I was actually a little disappointed by this wine, although this probably says more about my inflated expectations than the quality of what was in the bottle. (£8.99 Tesco) 9/99

Enate Estate Chardonnay 1996, Somontano
Really impressed by this Spanish Chardonnay. A yellow/gold colour, it is lean and savoury, with an enticing smoky nose, mineral-laden palate and harmonious toasty French oak. This is backed up with firm acidity. There is a lot going on here: all in all, it is complex and very Burgundian in character, and thoroughly recommended. (£8.99 Oddbins) 10/99

Lustau Solera Reserva Moscatel Superior Emilin, Jerez
Deep brown, raisined and sweet. This is excellent stuff, but I prefer the Pedro Ximenez grape for this style. (£6.99 half, Fortnum & Mason) 3/99

Berberana Carta de Oro Crianza, Rioja, 1995
80% Tempranillo, 20% Garnacha. 18 months in American oak. Very light cherry colour. There is not much to this soft but bland wine. Not much fruit, just a bit of coconutty/vanillin oak: poor.  2/99

Ochoa Tempranillo 1995, Navarra
Rich red colour. Pronounced nose and full palate of well judged oak, minerals and strawberry/blackcurrant fruit. There is a slight herbaceousness but it is not unpleasant, and there are assertive tannins. Well put together, the only criticism is that the fruit is a little lacking in intensity to match the tannins. (£7.99 Bottoms Up) 2/99

Abadia Retuerta Rivola 1996, Sardon del Duero, Spain
Vino de Mesa de Castilla y Leon
Soft, chocolatey wine with herbaceous notes, blackcurrants, spice and a bit of vanilla. Very easy drinking, and incredibly smooth texture. Distnctive and good.  (£6.99 Victoria Wine) 2/99