We were quite the merry band. Forty or so Spectator readers — many of them veterans of our fabled Spectator Winemaker Lunches and graduates of our equally celebrated Spectator Wine School — joined me for a bespoke wine tasting at Majestic’s St. John’s Wood store last week. One impressively hardy soul polished his drinking boots especially well and joined us for the Seresin Estate Winemaker Lunch the following day too. Excellent work!
We tasted almost 50 wines, all Spanish, and our six favourites are herewith offered to fellow readers at generously discounted prices. All wines were tasted blind. That’s to say the bottles were completely covered to obscure any hint of provenance and each wine was marked entirely on merit, not on how jolly the label was nor how fine the vintage was deemed to be. There were 16 whites, one rosé and 28 reds, along with some very tasty Spanish-themed canapés. Joanne Gunn and Jack Merrylees from Majestic totted up scores under strict Electoral Commission rules and these are the six that came top.
Albariño is extremely trendy and the 2018 Martín Códax Albariño (1) is the staple of many a restaurant and bar. Produced in Rías Baixas in Spain’s far north-west, it’s one of the best-known examples and extremely drinkable. Fermented in stainless steel, it’s fresh and lively with hints of pears, pear drops and a touch of citrus. £9.89 down from the Majestic ‘Mix Six’ price of £10.99 and single bottle price of £13.49.
The 2018 Winemaker Series Godello (2) hails from the same winery and went down a treat. Produced by Katia Álvarez (one of Spain’s top ten women winemakers, according to the Drinks Business), it’s made from 100 per cent Godello. It might be a touch short on the finish but it more than makes up for this by being delightfully peachy, creamy and refreshing in the mouth. £8.49 down from £9.99/£11.99.
The 2018 Duque de Cantos Rioja (3) is a cheap ’n’ cheerful red made from 85 per cent Tempranillo and 15 per cent Garnacha. Nobody would accuse it of having depth or complexity, it’s true, but your fellow readers lapped it up, basking in its simplicity and sour/bitter cherry freshness. I’d serve it sloshed into simple jugs alongside a shirt-popping barbecue. £5.69 down from £5.99/£7.99. The 2011 Viña Alarde Rioja Gran Reserva (4) got high marks all round for its soft, spicy cherry/vanilla notes. It’s a cracker at this price, made from 100 per cent Tempranillo and — as befits a Gran Reserva — rested in vat for 12 months before ageing for three years in oak and three further years in bottle. £8.79 down from £9.99/£11.99.
The 2012 Heredad de Baroja Rioja Reserva (5) was one of my picks of the evening. Aged for three years, it’s produced from 100 per cent Tempranillo from a fine vintage and top vineyard sites. I loved its soft, sweet, mellow, slightly smoky fruit and its long finish. There’s tannin here for sure, but not so that you’d notice if you knocked it back alongside some hearty grub. £12.74 down from £14.99/£16.99.
Finally, the hit of the night and (no surprise) the priciest too, the 2011 Lay & Wheeler Rioja Gran Reserva (6). Produced by La Rioja Alta for Lay & Wheeler (part of the Majestic group), it’s rich and imposing. There’s sweet, spicy, ripe fruit and a long, smooth finish. It’s what mature Rioja is all about. £22.50 down from £25/£30.
The mixed case has two bottles of each wine and the mixed reds case has three bottles of each red. Delivery, as ever, is free.