Had a whirlwind trip to Madrid yesterday. Caught the early morning AVE (Spanish high speed train) and pulled into Madrid within 3 hours – amazing. Quick walk through the beautiful Parque de El Ritero, met with new MW Andreas Kubach, hopped in a cab to the giant tasting Salon Penin, met the other new Spanish MW Fernando Mora, hopped in another cab to have lunch with my friends Eric and Jenni, then ended up at the whole purpose of the trip – a formal presentation and tasting by the Grandes Pagos de España!
Three winery reps, with the organization’s PR rep, were there to give us a lowdown on what the Grandes Pagos is and guide us through a tasting of 15 wines from their classification.
The organization is striving to identify and form a group of what they consider the Grand Crus of Spain. And they are doing this outside the bounds of governmental wine regulation. It’s kind of complicated. A winery may produce wine from a vineyard that they consider Grand Cru, or Grandes Pagos. But not all the grapes from that vineyard need to go into the Grandes Pagos. And similarly, not all the wine from the winery becomes Grandes Pagos. The closest similarity I can find is to the classification structure of Burgundy. A producer with grapes in a Grand Cru vineyard does not have to put all of that juice into a bottle labeled Grand Cru (though they usually do!) – they can declassify if they want. The difference here is that it’s not a governmental rule on what land is high enough standard, and that it’s not limited to one region. Or even a specific region. If you find a plot of land in Spain that you think would make great wine, then you could submit it for consideration as a Grandes Pagos, even if it doesn’t lie with any D.O. of Spain!
They want a diversity of regions and varieties and styles in their membership. And I think they have achieved it.
There is not an emphasis on tradition, as evidenced by the 100% Petit Verdot and 100% Viognier wines presented. But when questioned on whether or not tradition is important, the producers responsed that it’s an upward road to not have tradition as a marketing tool.
Nor was there emphasis on typicity, as shown by the barrel aged Verdejo. And an Albariño with 1 year on fine lees.
It seems that on one side they are encouraging more unusual or unique wines and not wines that would be viewed as Spanish, but at the same time they are also emphasizing the best of Spain which could or could not be a traditional expression. This is in alignment with their stated emphasis on finding the best examples of terroir driven wines from Spain. It’s important to note that they are not really concerned about the price. An excellent $25 Ribera (as seen below) is included in the Grandes Pagos as is a $50 Cava (Gramona)
I had a couple of favorite wines. The first was the 2013 Ribera de Duero from Alonso Del Yerro …
2013 was a cool vintage for Ribera, and many producers struggled. But the warmth and ripeness of a typical Ribera vintage was toned down in this wine, allowing for more complexity, less sweet tannins, and a broadness on the palate that I found quite lovely.
I’m a big Albariño fan, and am more used to the more aromatic, bright, youthful style that the grape is usually made into. But this was a great, albeit more unique, Albariño! Broader mouthfeel without being sweet, a result of the time on lees. A more muted nose aromatically but seemingly more serious. I’d love to see this wine after another 3-4 years in the cellar!
The winemaker, Isabel Salgado, told us that she has another Albariño that she bottles after 6 years (!!) on the lees. Wow, I’d love to try that some day!
All in all, a fantastic presentation and tasting by the Grandes Pagos de España! I loved learning more about the organization and their goal of identifying the best terroirs and wines of Spain. They’re onto something here and I’m going to enjoy following their progress over the coming years, and of course will also be looking for wines labelled Grandes Pagos!