Collecting on a budget – Iberia

cellar of old bottles of Rioja from GettyImages-ManuelVelasco

Spain and Portugal offer particularly rich pickings for anyone looking for less expensive wines worth ageing. A shorter version of this article is published by the Financial Times. See this Guide to collecting on a budget.

Some Spanish wine producers have the delightful, and rare, habit of releasing their wines only when they are starting to be ready to drink. This is especially true in Spain’s prime fine-wine region Rioja with the practice most common among the longest-established producers such as CVNE, La Rioja Alta, López de Heredia, Marqués de Riscal and Marqués de Murrieta. Such patience is so much friendlier towards those in a hurry than, say, the Bordeaux practice (currently ongoing with the 2023s) of expecting consumers to pay for wine when it is still maturing in barrel.

But wine lovers will be rewarded if they are prepared to age these Riojas, and especially those released a bit earlier, even further in bottle. The best Reservas and Gran Reservas can continue to evolve and improve for decades after release. One of the most revelatory tastings of my life was one in 2011 of red Riojas from vintages 1982 back to 1945 and whites, mainly the famous Viña Tondonia, from 1973 back to 1939. The wines were glorious and still very much alive. Since then the number of white Riojas worth cellaring has grown considerably.

The rash of new Rioja producers, many nowadays producing geographically specific bottlings rather than blends, tend to release their wines earlier than the historic bodegas, for obvious financial reasons. But many of them are making very exciting wines that are well worth ageing. See, especially, Ferran’s series on ‘secret’ Riojas.

Spain’s more recently fashionable fine-wine regions Ribera del Duero and Priorat also produce many a wine worth ageing, as witness respectively Vega Sicilia and Álvaro Palacios’s L’Ermita, but these are not for the budget-conscious. The cheapest Riberas tend to be blended to match a price for mass retailers but the Psi bottlings of Peter Sisseck, whose top wine Pingus put Ribera on the map for serious wine collectors towards the end of the last century, are made with just as much care as his Pingus. They are blends of the produce of old vines in the region and the Psi project is designed, admirably, to keep them in the ground.

However, while it is still relatively undiscovered, the new appellation Arlanza just north of Ribera consistently offers better value for Tempranillo-based wines that really benefit from ageing. (Ferran will be profiling Arlanza soonish.)

Montsant just outside the Priorat appellation also tends to be better value than its more famous neighbour. Our Spanish specialist Ferran Centelles particularly recommends the Montsants of ‘super-top producers such as Vinyes Domenech or Joan d’Anguera’. He also describes the full-bodied reds based on the Monastrell grape such as those from Alicante, Almansa, Bullas, Jumilla, Manchuela, Valencia and Yecla as having ‘latent promise, but only a few can compete with Bandol’.

The Cabernet-based reds of Catalonia/Catalunya can be aged just as long as their counterparts from Bordeaux but the far north-east of Spain can also field some whites worth ageing that are based on the local Xarello grape variety. Like Arlanza, this is another under-appreciated category of ageworthy wines.

It is becoming slightly more common, however, to age the best dry whites of Galicia’s Rías Baixas based on Albariño grapes grown in the Salnés subregion and made in a Chablis-like style. I suspect most reds from this cool, Atlantic-influenced north-west corner of Spain need not be aged very long, however, although the best reds from Bierzo to Galicia’s immediate east are an exception.

I love the new, fragrant, often transparent reds based on Garnacha grapes that are emerging from all over Spain but I would not recommend the lightest of them for long-term ageing either.

Portugal’s wine country may be less familiar than Spain’s – and it’s also less extensive – but there are so many well-priced cellar candidates to be found there, both red and white.

The northerly wine regions of the Douro, Dão and Bairrada have already demonstrated that they can make very fine, ageworthy reds. Reds from port country, the spectacular Douro Valley, have had time to prove that the valley’s rich mix of old vines of a vast array of locally adapted grape varieties can yield really exciting table wines that are worth ageing. (It is notable that both of the two major port groups, Symington Family Estates and now The Fladgate Partnership – Taylor’s et al – are serious players in the table-wine game.) But the whites are now also of serious interest – especially since Douro producers have identified the best spots for making refreshing whites, generally higher sites.

The Encruzado grape variety of Dão can perform the same trick. It so clearly makes substantial wines with much the same structure as a white burgundy that similarly deserve careful ageing in barrel before long ageing in bottle – in your cellar perhaps? I’m also a great fan of Portugal’s pale-skinned Arinto grape, originally from the revived historic wine region of Bucelas just north of Lisbon, whose wines can have a wonderful spine and appetising citrus flavour.

Anyone who has tasted young wines from Bairrada’s characteristic grape varieties – Baga for reds and Bical for whites – will realise that these are wines that positively have to be aged for their acidity and astringency to be tamed, but producers such as Luis Pato, his daughter Filipa Pato, Sidónia de Sousa and Quinta das Bágeiras long ago proved that it can be worth the wait.

On the edge of the Bairrada region is the most extraordinary proof of this: the ornate landmark that is the Bussaco Palace Hotel maintains its own cellar of exceptionally ancient Buçaco wines made from blends of Bairrada and Dão grapes that are labelled as just Vinho de Mesa or Vinho Tinto rather than anything more geographically specific.

The more southerly wine region of the Alentejo is also now producing ageworthy reds to join the longstanding cellar treasure Mouchão. Producers such as Susana Esteban have caught the eye of our Portuguese specialist on, fellow Master of Wine Julia Harding, because of the emerging quality of Alentejo whites.

Julia is so assiduous a taster that I have fewer opportunities to taste Portuguese wine than I would like but she points out that some Portuguese reds not obviously made for the cellar do actually age incredibly well. The first examples to come to her mind are Quinta do Vallado’s entry-level wine and the wines of Valle Pradinhos (unfortunately not imported into the UK) in Trás-os-Montes way upriver – almost in Spain.

Both Spain and Portugal produce some of the world’s most famous fortified wines, notably sherry and port respectively, but many more, including Madeira (virtually immortal) from the Portuguese island of the same name in the middle of the Atlantic. To these should be added Portugal’s Carcavelos and Moscatel de Setúbal. Most of these are bottled when they have been softened by long ageing in cask and are ready to drink so don’t need to be cellared.

The obvious exception, however, is vintage port, and similar bottle-aged, as opposed to wood-aged, ports from lesser vintages carrying a quinta (wine farm) name on the label. These are the wine world’s most obvious candidates for hiding away in a cellar. Insiders wouldn’t consider opening a bottle of vintage port that was less than 20 years old. The quality of vintage port is higher than it has even been, and some single-quinta 2022s have just been released. Perfect for godchildren born in that year?

Iberian bargains worth keeping

Spanish whites

Palacio de Fefiñanes Albariño 2021 Rías Baixas 12.5%
£21.99 Waitrose

Pepe Raventós, Vinya del Noguer Xarello 2022 Penedès 12.5%
£36 Shrine to the Vine (soon; they’re still on the 2021)

Spanish reds

Tomàs Cusiné, Vilosell 2021 Costers del Segre 14.5%
£11.95 The Wine Society

Artuke, Pies Negros Crianza 2020 Rioja 14%
£13.62 Justerini & Brooks, £16.40 VINVM, £19.50 Lea & Sandeman

Cérvoles, Colors 2021 Costers del Segre 14.5%
£16.99 Cressis Wines

Sierra de Toloño 2020 Rioja 13.5%
£17.95 Lea & Sandeman

La Rioja Alta, Viña Alberdi Reserva 2019 Rioja 14%
£19.99 Waitrose

4 Monos Viticultores, Tierra de Luna 2018 Vinos de Madrid 13%
£21.41 Justerini & Brooks

Joan d’Anguera, Altaroses 2020 Montsant 14%
£25.10 Theatre of Wine

Raúl Pérez La Vizcaína de Vinos, La Poulosa Lomas de Valtuille 2020 Bierzo 13.5%
£25.50 VINVM

Finca Allende 2014 Rioja 13.5%
£25.49 N D John and many other stockists

Contino, Reserva 2018 Rioja 14%
£25.99 Waitrose

Venus la Universal 2018 Montsant 14.5%
£37.40 Justerini & Brooks

La Rioja Alta, Viña Ardanza Selección Especial Reserva 2010 Rioja 13.5%
£39 92 or More

Portuguese whites

Quinta do Escudial 2022 Dão 13%
£10.95 The Wine Society

Textura, Pura 2021 Dão 12.5%
£33.41 Justerini & Brooks

Portuguese reds

Quinta do Vallado 2021 Douro 13.5%
£13.15 VINVM, £16.45 Frazier’s Wine Merchants and N D John Wine Merchants

Wine & Soul, Pintas 2019 Douro 14.5%
£59.62 Corney & Barrow

Photo by Manuel Velasco via Getty Images.

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