Spain may not grab the wine headlines as much as France or Italy, but for quality and variety at the all-important £8-25 level, its richly varied wines more than hold their own. And this was plain for all to see at the Wines from Spain Tasting, co-hosted by SquareMeal, last Thursday night.
With London’s bright lights twinkling below us, the vast Sky Garden atop the Walkie Talkie exuded the kind of feel-good glamour that seemed entirely appropriate for a country keen to tell the world about its wines and how good they are. So what marks Spanish wines out? The diversity of styles, grape varietals and terroirs, for a start, but also the energy that a new generation of winemakers is introducing and the modern winemaking techniques being used, even by the traditionalists.
And what a show they laid on. Following a glass of zingy fizz at the Cava Bar and a sip or two of crisp, palate-awakening Fino and Manzanilla sherry, we began our Spanish wine journey, hopping between tables set up with the wines of countless regions, styles and varietals.
Hands up those who know Galicia? It’s in the north west of Spain where the Atlantic breezes make it perfect for growing white grapes. And it has become the spiritual home to so many of the fresher white varietals like Albariño and Godello, both of which can make a strong case for being your go-to white this summer.
Also showing well were the fruity rosés and the vibrant Verdejos of Rueda and equally fresh Txakolís from the Basque Country – a style that was new to us.
Like a familiar easy-chair the wines of Rioja never cease to appeal for their soft, mainly medium-bodied, gently wooded sweetness and elegant tannins – these days produced in both traditional aged style and modern, more fruit-forward style. Meanwhile, neighbouring Ribera del Duero and Priorat, in the east, deliver delicious, concentrated flavour and structure in equal measure.
Tempranillo and Garnacha were present in myriad different guises across Spain’s regions, always expressive but never the same. But beyond these most famous of Spanish grapes, it didn’t take long to discover other red varieties, such as Graciano, Mencía and Bobal. All worth discovering.
With this viticultural richness, it’s not surprising that Spain’s gastronomy is powering forward at the same time. Sky Garden’s in-house caterers, Rhubarb, did a great job at providing tasty Spanish small plates. Chorizo, chicken and squid paella matched a dish of caramelised Montenebro goat’s cheese, piperade and a chickpea and aubergine salsa for flavour, while Spanish beans with a soft-poached quail egg found its perfect partner in a beautiful 2017 Trossos Sants from Alfredo Arribas which was a gently oaked white Grenache that tasted much like Puligny-Montrachet but at half the price.
Ibérico ham from top quality producer 5J was carved by the team from José Pizarro. Brindisa presented Spanish olives and bacalao, serving their signature tapas Gordial olives with orange, and marinated in olive oil and brandada de bacalao. And a chef team from Hispania presented a selection of fine Spanish cheeses. Manchego is a strong hard cheese that loves the sweet fruit in so many of Spain’s whites.
It was an evening to remember. An evening that reminded us what a great city London is to look at, but also one that brought us a big step closer to a country whose wines are a delicious balance between adventurous innovation and a healthy respect for tradition.
For more of the best Spanish food and wine, have a look at our list of London’s Best Spanish Restaurants