The magic of Spain in a bottle


I took little satisfaction in watching Barcelona give Man Utd a lesson in football in the Champions League final last weekend – apart from the Spanish maestros conjuring up one of the best performances I’ve ever seen. 

As a fan of flowing football it’s always great to see the game played in such a dazzling fashion, even if it was an English team that lost 3-1 on home soil. 

On Monday I had another great Spanish experience – and it was just as magic as watching Barcelona striker Lionel Messi’s spectacular winning goal at Wembley. 

I was hosting a tasting for 15 keen local wine fans at $95 a head. What was the wine made from, I hear you ask – tiger sweat? Ironically, the previous week I cancelled a tasting due to lack of interest that was just $10 a head. There’s a lesson in there somewhere. 

There were six wines tasted culminating in Vega Sicilia Unico, the papá (daddy) of Spanish wine and priced at $700 a bottle. The other wines were from around the globe, all full-bodied and pricey reds in a similar style. 

Vega Sicilia has been made since 1918 so has plenty of pedigree. It’s always been expensive, rare and much sought-after. It gained immediate attention in Europe, winning multiple wine shows. You won’t find it near a wine competition these days. 

The most amazing thing about the wine is that it spends a minimum of seven years in oak barrels. The 1970 vintage spent 16 years maturing, the 1989 took 14 years! 

It goes from brand new American oak, which imparts the most flavour, to older and older oak and then eventually to large wooden casks. It then spends three years in bottle before release. 

The current available vintage is 1999, which is the wine we tasted. It spent seven years “muscularisng” in the barrel (their term, not mine). 

The grape variety is Tempranillo which tends to have juicy black fruit, earth and grilled meat notes –with the American oak adding espresso and vanilla characters. There’s also a small amount of Cabernet Sauvignon in there. 

The wine itself was extremely impressive as one of the biggest yet most elegant, sweet fruited and generous wines I have ever tasted. 

The length (a real test of quality) went on and on with real presence on the palate. It was ready to drink but will age for a long time. Wines at this level should pack a punch without being over-extracted, or to put it another way – iron fist, velvet glove. Balance is the key and in this case the fruit, tannin, oak and alcohol were in perfect harmony. 

If you want to get acquainted with Spanish wine here’s one that won’t require you to take a second job, now available in New Zealand, and a great introduction. 

It’s Telmo Rodriguez LZ Rodriguez, from the classic Rioja region. I love this style of red which has no oak (which keeps the price down and the wine fresh. I wish Hawkes Bay did more of that), very simple yet sweet-fruited, rich and ripe. It has black cherry, earth, smoke and soft, juicy tannins.

See more at Paul Tudgay’s Wine Down site