Tradition and terroir: the new reign in Spain is producing great results

21 July 2018

9:00 AM

21 July 2018

9:00 AM

The Kingdom of Spain always sends outstanding ambassadors to the Court of St James, none more so than the appropriately named Santiago de Mora–Figueroa, Marqués de Tamarón, who was en poste when José María Aznar was the Spanish premier. Santiago is also a highly regarded poet, and he has a further advantage. He looks like a Grandee of Spain as painted by Velázquez or Goya. So during one of his recent visits, a good audience assembled to hear him.

There was an obvious agenda: Catalonia, the closely fought left/right conflict in Spanish politics, and Spanish attitudes to Brexit.

We took wit and charm for granted, while awaiting enlightenment and controversy. We waited in vain. All diplomats need to be able to play the forward defensive stroke but no one has ever deployed that essentially negative tactic more stylishly than Santiago. He said nothing that could have embarrassed the current ambassador or the Spanish government. Indeed, he said nothing at all. It was masterly.

The Tamarón family still owns the castle at Arcos de la Frontera, which they captured from the Moors during the Reconquista. The evening’s chairman, Ignacio Peyró of the Instituto Cervantes (Spain’s equivalent of the British Council) also has links with the Reconquista. His family come from León, that ancient mountain kingdom which kept Spanishness alive under the Visigoths and the Umayyads, and which is on the pilgrim route to Compostela. In some places, León has a bleak landscape: baking rock below, a pitiless sun above. This has bred a wiry race of men, accustomed to adversity. Formidable fighters, they are easier to manage on the battlefield than on the parade ground. But there is also good agriculture, including viniculture.

Ignacio Peyró’s family have an interest in Losada, a fascinating winery near Bierzo, a village not far from Compostela, and the centre of an ancient wine-growing region. Like the rest of Spanish wine-making, it has benefited from the economic modernisation that began under Franco but has gained momentum in recent decades: the EU has been good for Spain.

Like a lot of the best new wine-makers, those in charge of Losada believe in the strengths of terroir and tradition, based on the Mencía grape, which had been cultivated since the Middle Ages. The chief vigneron, Amancio Fernández, has no desire to work anywhere else: no other aim than to make the best possible wine in his native village.

He and the other new owners began with an innovation. Other wineries in the region had sought out slate slopes, in the expectation that this would enhance their wines’ minerality. They were no doubt thinking of the limestone slopes of Burgundy and the glorious grapes which they produce. Losada went for old plots of Mencía that had been forgotten or abandoned. Frequently, these were on clay soil. But there has been no loss of structure. I tasted the Pájaro Rojo, which was a sound table wine, but also the Losada and the Altos de Losada. Both of those had spent nine or ten months in French oak barrels: neither was over-oaked.

The Altos has complexity and had a satisfyingly long finish. I drank the ’15, which benefits from some old vines which Losada has put back into commission. It was just about ready but has plenty more to say for itself. It will keep for at least a decade. At Losada, they are happy to insist that they are still studying their craft and working out how to raise their game. With the Altos, I think that they already have. I had recently introduced Ignacio to haggis. He had enjoyed it, naturally.

We agreed that the Losada wines would be a fine accompaniment: León rampant.

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