After a monumental, liver-challenging but heart-lifting and even tear-inducing 12-hour lunch with Fuzzy, Nigel and co, we’re back with a bang. We drank, we danced and we hiccoughed our happy way home as if Covid and the long, spirit-sapping lockdowns had never happened.
And so, jabbed and double-jabbed, drinks in hand, here we are strolling on the sunlit foothills of Mount Hope. Everything is possible and normality is just around the corner. Hurrah! Indeed, let me present to you my reworking of that beloved acronym SNAFU: Situation Normal All Fabulously Uplifting.
The sun is out, the birds are singing and it’s hard, even for a grumpy pessimist/realist like me, not to feel happy and excited. And even if longed-for trips abroad are off the agenda, we can still travel vicariously. Last time we were in Italy and this week we’re heading to Spain with a glorious, generously discounted selection of wines from Rioja, Ribera del Duero and Rías Baixas, courtesy of Armit Wines and mighty La Rioja Alta.
Established in Haro in 1890, La Rioja Alta is one of the great names of Spanish winemaking and remains owned and run by the descendants of its five founding families. The company operates across Spain and was one of the first to see the potential for fine Albariño and, having bought up vineyards in the grape’s heartland of Rías Baixas in the 1980s, is one of the largest landowners in the region. Their 2020 Lagar de Cervera Albariño (1) is spot on. Indeed, it’s something of a cult wine to Galicians. It’s ideal for easy summer drinking, being light, lively, fresh, lemony and zesty with a keen acidity. There is just enough depth too, though, to give real satisfaction and the finish is long and elegant. £13.33 down from £16.00.
The 2015 Aster Ribera del Duero Crianza (2) is made from 100 per cent Tinta del País (as Tempranillo is known here in Burgos), fermented in tank and aged for 22 months in French oak. It’s a striking example of how fine the wines of Ribera del Duero are and what great value. Rich, deep, profound, with intense dark hedgerow fruit, damsons and plums and with plenty of spice, herbs and liquorice on the finish, I found it completely irresistible. £17.91 down from £22.36.
The 2016 Viña Alberdi Rioja Reserva (3) is similarly seductive. Made from old vine (40 years plus) Tempranillo drawn from three high-ish altitude vineyards around Labastida in Rioja Alavesa, the wine has great freshness and is crammed full of ripe and sour cherries, blackberries and plums, with teasing background whispers of vanilla and spice. It’s astounding value. £16.75 down from £19.97.
I bigged up the 2014 Rioja Alta Arana Rioja Gran Reserva (4) mightily in Spectator Life last year, stating it to be ‘one of the most outrageously enjoyable wines I’ve had in months’. Well, my opinion hasn’t changed one jot, for it’s stunning. As I explained, it’s made from 94 per cent Tempranillo and 6 per cent Graciano, aged for three years in oak and two in bottle before being released. The extra months in bottle has simply brought the sweet, ripe fruit into sharper focus and given the silky tannins and long finish even greater balance. It’s a fabulous wine. £26.60 down from £35.00.
The 2011 Rioja Alta 904 Rioja Gran Reserva (5) is also nigh on perfect, with gorgeous, come-hither aromas and rich, silky, concentrated plum/prune and cherry fruit and a long savoury finish. The great wine critic James Suckling gave it a cool 96/100 score and little wonder. It certainly knocks spots off similarly priced Bordeaux and Burgundy and should be in the crosshairs of every fine wine lover. £40.00 down from £45.66.
The mixed dozen has four bottles each of wines 1-3 and the Gran Reserva Box has three bottles each of wines 4 and 5. Delivery, as ever, is free.