Wines from the Spanish Academy

The Spanish Wine Academy is an initiative by the Rioja producer Ramón Bilbao. It offers a range of online educational resources covering wine in general, and Spanish wine in particular. Just before Christmas 2023 an online tasting was organised for UK wine professionals, where the wines below were tasted along with their winemakers.

Ramón Bilbao is part of the Zamora Company, a Spanish group of wineries led by Ramón Bilbao, but including Mar de Frades from Rias Baixas and Cruz de Alba from Ribera del Duero. Winemakers from each of these companies presented their wines, along with those of Ramón Bilbao’s Rueda outpost and their single vineyard specialist label, Bodegas Lalomba. It was billed as a ‘tasting journey’, and indeed, the differing terroirs, altitudes and proximity to the coast of just these five northern wine estates provided plenty of diversity.

Climatically, the vineyards of Rías Baixas are very different, in the cool Atlantic influenced extreme west of the country. Rioja sees some Atlantic influence from its north, while Rueda and Ribera del Duero are more firmly Continental in their climate influence. The wines, including several single vineyard and more experimental examples, where of a very high standard here.

White and Sparkling Wines

(2023) Sparkling Albarino is still something of a rarity, but this is a fine example that suggests we should see more. Bone dry with its zero dosage, there's an oyster shell character on the nose, apple and a little hint of nuttiness. The palate has searing acidity, again the saline character unmissable. A little ripeness to the mid-palate fruit hints at peach. Most enjoyable. Multibuy price £26.55.
(2023) An Albariño from a single vineyard and, unusualy, cellared for several years prior to release, including six months on the lees. It's a wine with a more sultry aspect than many from this appellation, that extended ageing adding a creaminess to the yellow apple fruit, a fine sense of wet river pebbles and delicate floral notes adding definite class. In the mouth quite broad, concentrated and relatively powerful. There's a core of juicy oranges and lemons citrus, but some nuttiness and broader, fuller appeal through the mid-palate too. A beautiful wine. £28.80 on Multi-buy.  
(2023) A 50/50 blend of Maturana Blanca and Tempranillo Blanco from vineyards planted at altitude at Rioja's north-easternmost limit, planted on shallow gravel soils. Lightly baked apple pie aromas, pastry and orchard fruits combining. There is a definite creaminess and suggestion of weight here. In the mouth not to far removed from the Mar de Frades in overall, general style, with concentration and texture to spare, oak-ageing adding extra buttery roundness and a faint touch spice, but the finish braced by a lick of salty salinity. £15.75 on Multibuy, but note price and stockist is for the 2017 vintage at time of review.    
(2023) An unusual high-end Verdejo, given eight months of lees ageing in barrel. A buttery, golden-tinged wine, the almond and creaminess of the lees tames the sometimes over-exuberant aromatics of the variety. In the mouth some of that vivacious character comes through, but again this is a dry, mineral- and fruit skins-driven style that is more serious than many, finishing with real grip - a touch of tannin and good acid grip. Multibuy price £15.97.  
(2023) Mostly Albariño planted in 2000, but blended with Godello, Loureiro and Caíño Blanco, this is a new single-estate wine set for release in 2024. It comes from vineyards in Salnes and spent one year on the lees, then a further two maturing in small steel and concrete vats, still on the lees with regular stirring. The aromatics hint at exotic tropical fruits, but such a distinct saline mineral character too. There's a hint of breadiness from that lees work. Hints of pineapple and lychee compound that tropical character, with a sweep of lemon and grapefruit that gives a bone dry finish, tangy and pithy, but some orange peel character too. Not available in the UK at time of review.

Red Wines

(2023) An organic certified Ribera del Duero. 100% Tempranillo from a vineyard planted in 1963, it was fermented with indigenous yeast and spent 20 months in French oak barrels, 1/3 new. Dark and glossy in colour, the nose is deply hued too, with plum and clove, liquorice and spicy fruitcake aromas. In the mouth it is a powerful, full-bodied wine with fairly massive tannins and dry extract, despite five years of softening time. This is a wine with some elegance too, that is just beginning to show through, a vinous, cherry and briar note in there beneath all that extract. I'd decant or give this another few years when it might well merit a point or two more. Multibuy £24.75, but note price and stockist is for the 2017 vintage at time of review.  
(2023) A biodynamic wine from vines planted in 1958 in Ribera del Duero's 'golden mile' (home to Vega-Sicilia, etc.). Fermentation was in new French-oak casks, where it aged for 22 months and rested a further 10 months after bottling. There's a definite smokiness and sense of polish to the aromatics here, but quite tightly wound and not too expressive at this stage. It's a big, structured and powerful wine, the tannins and dry extract coating the mouth with an inky, dark layer. Slightly ungiving at present, there are just hints of sweet, ripe fruit notes, but plenty of biting damson-skin dry acidity also adds to a bittersweet and quite chewy character. Another that I would want to decant or cellar in the hope it would ease out slightly. Multibuy £67.50.
(2023) Second tasting of this in fairly quick succession. 100% high altitude Garnacha made in a combination of concrete tanks, amphorae and 600-litre French oak barrels, blended and aged a further eight months in 225-litre French casks. This expresses a svelte, floral-touched creaminess on the nose. Really quite a pretty red wine, the creamy but subtle oak not masking the buoyant red and black fruit flavours. Nicely balanced, the finish has smooth tannins and a good level of acidity, just a little coffee and spice, and balsamic edge, all showing through, perhaps even a little more chocolaty plushness than on my previous tasting.  
(2023) a project begun in 1999 to bottle an expression of Tempranillo from a single, high-altitude vineyard of 85 year-old vines. Matured for 24 months in 100% French oak barrels. Very dark and dense, the sonorous nose beguils with violet and kirsch lift over very classy French oak. Fabulous nose as exotic spices and tobacco join the plush black fruit the lies beneath, with a wisp of smokiness. The oak is possibly a little too toasty and charry at present, suggesting this needs time to me, because beneath, all of that structure and fruit concentration is there. Elegant cherry-bright acids and slick tannins do balance in a wine that is hedonistic, without going OTT. I'd approach again after decanting or more ageing - or with a chunk of serious protein. Multibuy price £42.75.
(2023) From a single vineyard at 650m elevation this is an ultra-selection of the best fruit, fermented with indigenous yeasts. It spent 14 months in 500-litre French oak barrels, before finishing in concrete vats for a further eight months. There's a real buoyancy about this aromatically, with potpourri florals and spices running into zippy red fruit, the oak much less imposing than in the Mirto for example. In the mouth there is a creamy gloss of polished oak, and it's a wine in a very sprightly style; it's not without concentration and a residual whack of tannin and oak spice underpinning, but the acidity is crisp and the fruit stays in that red spectrum. Multibuy price £99.
(2023) The blend is Tempranillo (80%) and Garnacha (20%), the wine fermented with indigenous yeasts. There's a painstaking elevage, with long maceration then gentle pressing into a combination of second use, 225-litre French oak barrels and new Hungarian oak casks. After 16 months the wine remains in concrete vats for a further 22 months. Exquisite nose; so refined with pencil-shaving nuances and old polished wood, a wreath of gentle smoke and a deep seam of black fruits. In the mouth the tannins here have been burnished to a firm, but elegant sheen and the acidity and crisp nature of the blackcurranty fruit gives this liveliness and sophistication. This one is approachable now with food, but will cellar for 10 years easily. Beautifully composed. Multibuy price £99.

Visit the Spanish Wine Academy website.

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