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Tasting 17 Spanish supermarket wines: the good, the bad and the ugly

Written by Thomas Power | 29th November 2018 |

Category: Journal, Knowledge, Spain

Spanish wine tasting

With the 2018 festive party season nearly upon us, so comes the terrible possibility of a Secret Santa obligation, or a neighbour’s party with a suspiciously rag-tag collection of wines on the kitchen counter, or even the heavy pouring relatives for whom the ‘good stuff’ remains under lock and key.

Here at Pura we decided to ride to the rescue by tasting a selection of 17 Spanish wines from UK supermarkets. We stuck to supermarkets because there is a chance that you, dear reader, will have access to these wines. And it’s also how most people buy their wines but please do try out your local independent wine merchant if you have one, they should really be able to surprise and delight you with hidden gems.

Caveat emptor: of our seven brave volunteers, literally none are experts in any sense. We did rest all bottles upright for 24 hours, we did open them around five hours ahead of time and we poured through an aerator device. We also used a spittoon, so all of the wines got equal treatment, good or bad.

Here we list the wines, good, bad and ugly in order of their popularity. Our favourites are at the bottom, there was a remarkable confluence of opinion around our ‘best’ and ‘worst’ wines, much more difference of opinion mid-table.

It is also important to know that nobody was aware of the price of any of these wines when tasting so there should be no pricing psychology effect.

Viña Araya, Gran Reserva 2009.

spain-wine-vina-araya-2009Region: Utiel Requena | Grape: Cariñena | Sainsubury’s | £5

Light in colour, browning around the edges indicative of its advanced years. Light in body, it could prove to be enjoyable if personality free, however you then get the unpleasant smell. If this turns up to your party, shut the door. Cooking wine at best.

Pura Aventura Rating

2/10

Baron del Cega, Gran Reserva 2012.

spain-wine-baron-del-cega-2012Region: Valdepeñas | Grape: Tempranillo | Lidl | £4.99

Don’t let the wire mesh and generally good presentation of this bottle fool you into thinking this is worth keeping you company into the wee small hours. From the central Spanish, table wine producing region of Valdepeñas, this wine looks the part. Rich red colour, strawberry, cherry, blackcurrant on the nose (it’s 100% tempranillo) but then you drink it and it’s tannic, weedy and unpleasant. All frill and… I’m sorry but this one is going home alone.

Pura Aventura Rating

3/10

Carta Roja, Crianza 2015.

spain-wine-carta-roja-crianza-2015Region: Jumilla | Grape: Monastrell, Syrah | Sainsbury’s | £4,85

I secretly had high hopes for this one… Jumilla is a tiny region near Alicante (which produces some fantastic, unusual wines). The wine is also a blend (of Monastrell and Syrah) and the blended wines we tasted generally stood out. Sadly not in this case, a frankly chemically nose wasn’t improved on tasting. Some compared it to drinking an ashtray. For most, that’s not a great compliment so this is probably a wine that’s going to be asked to stand outside on the patio, in the cold, all night.

Pura Aventura Rating

3/10

Carta Roja, Grand Reservada 2011.

spain-wine-carta-roja-gran-reservada-2011Region: Jumilla | Grapes: Monastrell | Sainsbury’s | £5.50

We tasted these two far apart from one another so the fact that they have ended up in about the same position on the leader board is telling. This is the older, single varietal sibling of the crianza. This one has wire on the bottle, waste of perfectly good wire I’d say. In its defence, it’s not that the wine is unpleasant, it’s just that person you meet at the party and then immediately forget their name, indeed the fact that you have ever met them at all. Not that this is a bad wine, it’s just that there’s nothing to hold on to or really engage with.

Pura Aventura Rating

4/10

Club Privado, Baron de Ley, Cosecha 2016.

spain-wine-baron-de-ley-2016Region: Rioja | Grape: Tempranillo | Waitrose | £10.99

The Baron de Ley winery produces some good wines. This isn’t one of them. I’m not sure why a cosecha is being retailed at £11 in any case. In case you aren’t sure, the region of La Rioja supervises the production of wines bearing the La Rioja stamp. A gran reserva must have been aged for at least five years, of which two are in oak barrels, down to a crianza which must be two years old with a year in the barrel minimum. A bottle, such as this, labelled with cosecha (meaning harvest) is telling you that the grapes were picked. Which is good, otherwise how would you fit a big vine and dangling grapes into a bottle? It also tells you that the grapes were grown and picked in La Rioja, which is a lovely place for a grape to grow. What this bottle’s label is telling you, by omission, is that the grape juice wasn’t considered worthy of using up valuable barrel space to age properly.

Sorry to bang on about this but in my experience, if you told a Spaniard that you had splashed €13 on a bottle of table wine, they would (rightly) look at you as if you had two heads. This wine produced my favourite quote of the evening: “Oh! This smells of my feet!” To be fair, it smells worse than it tastes but given that it tastes young and dumb, that’s damning with faint praise. The wine is not offensive but it is sitting in a corner on its own.

Pura Aventura Rating

4/10

Taste the Difference, Priorat, 2016.

spain-wine-taste-the-difference-priorat-2016Region: Priorat | Grape: Tempranillo | Sainsbury’s | £10

Priorat is a fantastic wine region near the Mediterranean coast south of Barcelona, north of Valencia. Up and inland a bit, it’s got really slate-rich volcanic soil which makes for some fabulous, bold red wines. Honestly, some of the least known yet finest wines. A good Priorat is a beautiful thing. And this wine, in previous vintages, has been just that. Sadly, whilst the 2016 is smooth enough on the nose, it failed to impress in any way shape or form. For me it is reminiscent of Chris Rea’s ‘Driving Home for Christmas’, bland and yet utterly infuriating at the same time. How dare you be a Christmas song which is so middle of the road? How dare you be a Priorat and yet so dull?

Pura Aventura Rating

5/10

Cop de Ma, Priorat, 2017.

spain-wine-cop-de-ma-2017Region: Priorat | Grapes: Syrah, Grenache, Carignan | Co-op | £13

See above for my feelings about Priorat wines. So again, high hopes for this one – plus, it’s got a cool and funkly label. It was only on opening it and being presented with its vibrant, bright colour that I noticed the youth of this wine. In all honesty, for £13 a bottle, you would expect someone to have left this stuff to mature a long while. Maybe it will be amazing in five year’s time but that sort of insight is well above our pay grade. For now, it’s got a slightly perfumed nose, soapy even. It’s peppery on the palate, in a good way, but ultimately leaves a funny taste on the tongue. It’s the reasonably amusing neighbour who tells an off-colour joke and then walks off leaving you to wonder ‘why?’

Pura Aventura Rating

6/10

Cune, Rioja Crianza, 2014.

spain-wine-cune-crianza-2014Region: Rioja | Grape: Tempranillo | Waitrose, or Majestic | £10

CVNE is one of the classic producers of La Rioja, right there in the heart of the great names in the town of Haro: Muga, Roda, Todonia (the latter being arguably the ultimate expression of classic, oaky wines of the region). Cune wines are at the same table but not really in the same league. Saying that, they are good, reliable, consistent and competent wines. This is no exception. Lightly oaky on the nose, pleasant taste. Not too racy.

Pura Aventura Rating

6/10

Antiguo, Barrel Aged Red, 2013.

spain-wine-antiguo-2013Region: Spain | Grape: Tempranillo | Aldi | £5.99

A surprising one this because it could so easily be Spanish infuriator. Not from any specific region, presumably this is simply a blend of all the leftovers from around the country. Spain’s answer to Tassenberg if you know your cheap Russian roulette South African wines. With 18 months in barrel, it’s actually sweet, oaky and smooth on the tongue reasonably well structured, easy to drink.

Pura Aventura Rating

6/10

 Espartero, Gran Reserva 2011.

spain-wine-espartero-2009Region: Rioja | Grapes: Tempranillo, Graciano, Garnacha | Asda | £11.48

This one is so full of itself, it comes in a golden box. And it does look pretty in the glass, a rich deep colour. On the nose it is soft, rounded and oaky. On tasting though, it’s bland. This wine is a good-looker but ultimately vain and empty headed. I should say that this one came home with me and got a bit better the next day.

Pura Aventura Rating

6/10

Beefsteak Club, Old Vine Tempranillo, 2017.

spain-wine-beefsteak-club-2017Region: Castilla | Grape: Tempranillo | Waitrose | £8.99

Another wine from the mass-producing vineyards of the Spanish central plains. The tempranillo gives it a strong blackcurrant nose, fruity, subtly perfumed. Tasting it and it is sweet, almost like sangria or Tinto Verano. It’s a summery easy drinker. Which is probably what it’s jolly packaging is telling you – this one is for outdoors, alongside goats cheese salad, with walnuts.

Pura Aventura Rating

6/10

Viña Arnaiz, 2016.

spain-wine-vina-arnaiz-2016Region: Ribera del Duero | Grapes: Tempranillo, Tinta del Pais | Co-op | £9

Ribera del Duero is the region next to La Rioja, around Burgos to the north of Madrid. It produces the very finest of Spain’s reds (see if you can find Vega Sicilia on a wine list and admire the zeros). This wine has a lovely plum colour, it’s rich and soft. Delicate and smooth but not exactly earth shattering. This wine can hang around at the party but don’t too close.

Pura Aventura Rating

7/10

Marques de Carrion, Reserva 2014.

spain-wine-marques-de-carrion-2014Region: Rioja | Grapes: Mazuelo, Graciano, Tempranillo | Aldi | £7.99

This one is wonderfully leathery and dark, suggestions of a cigar in an oak panelled room. There’s almost no fruit on the nose, much more oaky. This is actually a very decent example of a traditional Rioja wine. A reserva wine has to have spent at least a year in oak barrels and at least two years in bottle, with this wine that age shows, in a good way.

Pura Aventura Rating

7/10

Taste the Difference, Sierra de Andía, 2015.

spain-wine-taste-the-difference-sierra-de-andia-2015Region: Navarra | Grapes: Tempranillo, Graciano, Garnacha | Sainsbury’s | £6

Navarra, the region to the east of La Rioja around the city of Pamplona, produces some delightful wines. The rules of this D.O. allow wineries to grow lots and lots of different grape varietals so they can be really quite interesting wines – go explore! Saying that, this particular wine is a blend of three classics: Garnacha, Graciano & Tempranillo. But it’s well done, a lovely deep plum colour. On the nose, blueberries and vanilla. On tasting, it is smooth, warm, huggable. Pull up a chair in front of a fire and pour a glass.

Pura Aventura Rating

7.5/10

Beronia, Reserva 2013.

spain-wine-beronia-2013Region: Rioja | Grapes: Tempranillo, Mazuelo, Graciano | Waitrose | £10,85

Coming into our top three now and we are back into La Rioja with this eminently elegant, classic and classy affair. As you would expect, heavy on the blackcurrant but also with that note of wet straw and oak. This really is a belter. It’s usually more expensive than the price above, I think there’s a special offer on which makes is great value.

Pura Aventura Rating

8/10

Heredad del Rey, 2016.

spain-wine-heredad-del-rey-2016Region: Yecla | Grapes: Monastrell, Syrah | Waitrose | £7.99

I had to Google this tiny D.O., it’s just above Jumilla, near Alicante. Which pleases me because it reinforces my thinking that the region around Alicante is doing some great things with wine at great prices. It’s another blend, this time of Monastrell and Syrah. There was almost universal approval for this wine on the nose: “Woody, like a forest walk.” We got a strong sense of walking home through the woods. It’s an embodiment of a welcoming home in winter. A lovely wine.

Pura Aventura Rating

8.5/10

Gran Bajoz, Viñas Viejas, 2014.

spain-wine-gran-bajoz-2014Region: Toro | Grape:
Grapes: Tinta de toro, Tempranillo | Asda | £7.28

This is a beast of a wine. Everyone in the room took a step back when this one was poured. A beast of a thing, huge character and presence in the glass. And yet, what a delight in the glass. It’s like a lumberjack doing macramé, surprising and delightful. The hot days and cool nights of Toro (off to the north-west of Madrid) combined with the old vines (viñas viejas) really work: low yield vines, great intensity of flavour. This was a universal hit.

Pura Aventura Rating

9/10

That’s all for this year. We’d love to hear your thoughts on our choices. Enjoy, responsibly of course!

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