Spanish Wines

When I had the bar, one of the favourites with my customers was the Albali Reserva. Rich and fruity with sufficient tannis to give it a bit of strength, but soft enough to drink glass after glass! Albali wines are readily aailable in supermarkets here and I even found a bottle of Reserva when I was in Holland - I had to get it to have a taste of home! I find their wines ood value for money and reliable, so a good buy to have with your evening meal - or even just a plate of goat's cheese. Here is some information on the winery and how they make their wines.

To reach the town of Valdepeñas you will pass through the vast windmill-dotted plains of La Mancha, so familiar from Don Quixote stories. Here, The Félix Solís HQ was established in the 1970's, and has been continually modernised and expanded since.
Home of UK favourite Viña Albali, this is a winery on a massive scale. With a vinification capacity of over 180 million litres per vintage, and a bottling capacity of 120,000 bottles per hour, it is one of the biggest wineries in the world. The advantage brought about by economy of scale is obvious here, with fantastically streamlined production facilities, and state of the art climate-controlled warehousing all on site.

Valdepeñas can trace grape-growing and winemaking back to Roman times, centred on the town of Acinippo, which translates as "grape seed". In the 15th century records show a new importance for the area, when Spain moved its capital to the city of Madrid, just to the north. The area is vast, covered in a reddish chalky soil, and enjoys a continental climate with summers often touching 40C. It is also an arid area, with little disease, and where irrigation of the vineyards is rare. In this harsh land, old, bush-trained vines perform best.
Viña Albali and the popular Los Molinos brand - also made here - rely on a combination of estate and contract-grown fruit. The estate vineyards for Viña Albali cover 340 hectares, mostly of Tempranillo (in this region known as Cencibel), Garnacha and Cabernet Sauvignon. 85% is on unirrigated bush vines. Another 180 hectares is farmed for the Los Molinos label, and there is an experimental vineyard where everything from Shiraz and Merlot, to Gewürtztraminer and Pedro Ximinez, is grown and vinified in a research programme.
Nowhere is the scale of this operation better demonstrated than in the barrel cellars. New-world producers can opt to use oak chips, staves and a battery of technology to recreate the effect of barrel ageing. But here, within the strict code of the Denominación de Origen, the investment is enormous, with unthinkable mountains of barriques filling the air with a luscious sweetness as one enters the massive cellars.
70,000 barriques lie in temperature and humidity-controlled cellars, where they age for up to five years in the case of the Gran Reservas. The majority of the oak is American, though the percentage of new oak has been toned down over recent years.

The wines of Viña Albali - Tempranillo-based and aged in American oak - have always been compared to those of Rioja. Though this pains Félix Solís Ramos slightly when mentioned yet again, he and Albali winemaker Antolín Gonzáles explain that, like most of Rioja's best estates, they have concentrated in recent years on reducing the more obvious influence of American oak with its dominant coconut and vanilla flavours. They now work hard to retain more vibrancy of fruit, through changes to barrel and ageing regimes in the cellar, and working in the vineyards to ensure ripeness and concentration.
To "over-deliver" is the rather clichéd ambition of many wine producers, but Viña Albali really seems to achieve this holy grail. In a global market, they compete head-on with the unfettered New World and its access to almost unlimited vineyard plantings, oak chips and all the paraphernalia of modern mass-market wine. But this modern-thinking producer compensates by making the best of the region's traditions, sharpened with a cutting edge of technology.

When one remembers that Viña Albali's wines - readily accessible on supermarket shelves, with even the Gran Reserva costing an "everyday" price - are the product of glorious old vines and the slow, time and cash-expensive process of long barrel ageing, the achievement is even more remarkable.

The Solís family has battled to keep their company moving forward, ploughing profits back into constant modernisation. Their success in gaining and maintaining a competitive advantage for their traditional wines in a tough world market is one for which wine lovers everywhere can be grateful.
Some wine terms explained:

Crianza Generically this is used to describe any wine that has been aged. Vino de Crianza is the term for a Quality Wine that has been subject to a specific ageing period in wood or in bottle. In order to be classified as a crianza tinto, wine must spend at least 24 months in a cask or bottle, of which at least 12 months should be in oak casks. For blanco and rosado wines the ageing period is 12 months minimum, with at least six months spent in oak casks.

Reserva Wine subject to a specific ageing period in wood or in bottle. In order to be classified as a reserva tinto, wine must spend at least 36 months in a cask or bottle, of which at least 12 months should be in oak casks. For blanco and rosado wines the ageing period is 24 months minimum, with at least six months spent in oak casks.

Gran Reserva In order to be classified as a gran reserva, a tinto wine must be aged for at least 24 months in oak casks and for at least another 36 months in the bottle. For blanco and rosado wines, the minimum period is 48 months in casks and bottles, at least six of which must take place in casks made of oak.


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