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Wine.

Byline: By Helen Savage

No matter how much they enjoy their work, the best winemakers are never happy. They always want to make better wine.

That's the philosophy at Bodegas Tamaral, a superbly-equipped winery in Spain's prestigious Ribera del Duero, which opened its clear doors for the first time in April 1997.

Unlike many big Spanish wineries Tamaral doesn't buy in grapes grown by other people. Instead it bought 60 hectares of established vineyards, with vines up to 50 years old, in the best part of the region, on high-altitude sites up to 900 metres above sea level.

Cool night-time temperatures ensure that the grapes mature slowly enough to develop wonderfully complex flavours.

Tamaral only grows one grape variety ( Tinto Fino, alias Tinta del Pais, but far better known (especially in Rioja) as Tempranillo. Three different reds wines are made from it, an easy drinking, fruity `Roble', which has been aged in oak barrels for just four months, a `Crianza', aged in oak for 12 months and a `Reserva', aged for 18 months.

I've just had the pleasure of sampling the new vintages of each with Tamaral's export manager, Iciar Rivero Gay, when she visited the North-East last week in the company of Oliver Ojikutu, the owner of Spanish Spirit, the only stockist of Tamaral in the region.

I much enjoyed the older wines, but these new ones are even more impressive. Tamaral has already won lots of awards, but as Iciar says: "These are only an incentive for us to keep on improving."

The delicious Roble 2003 is my wine of the week because it's such great value for money, but the 2001 Crianza (pounds 9.99) is also a terrific buy, with a fragrant plum and red fruits smell with just a little spicy vanillin from the oak and then a dry, lingering plummy taste in which fruit, oak and the grape tannins are perfectly in proportion.

In comparison, the 1999 Crianza (also pounds 9.99), although very good indeed, seems chunkier and lacks the extra finesse of the younger wine. What's made the difference? One factor, Iciar says, is the higher proportion of fine-grained French oak barrels now used rather than the vanillin-rich more open-pored American oak barricas traditionally used in Spain.

And unlike many Spanish bodegas, Tamaral only uses its casks for four years. It's attention to detail that makes the difference. There's also a superb, 1998 Reserva (pounds 12.49) ( a rich, complex wine with a multi-layered taste and smell.

Spanish Spirit has other new treasures to explore. In particular, I warmly recommend Veiga Serantes Albari-o 2004 (pounds 8.99) an exotic-smelling dry white from Rias Baixas in Galicia, the far north-west of Spain along the border with Portugal, where the cooler, damper Atlantic weather allows the native Albari-o grape to develop a great depth of flavour whilst retaining a refreshing delicacy.

It has a spicy peach smell with a hint of almonds and white pepper and a flavour that's both soft but reminiscent of ripe green apples, with a perfumed aftertaste. If you've never tried Albari-o before, don't hesitate to catch up with this. It's a heaven-sent partner for all kinds of seafood.

Another fine new vintage at Spanish Spirit is the deep red 2001 Crianza from Toro's Villa Narcisa (pounds 7.99). With its intense morello and black cherry fruit and chewy texture it's hard to believe it comes from the same grape variety as the Tamaral wines ( but that's the difference `terroir' makes ( the key ingredient that also makes the best Spanish and French wines endlessly fascinating.

Spanish Spirit has a shop at Earl's Court, Low Prudhoe Industrial Estate, Northumberland, open Thursday, Friday and Saturday, 11.30am-5.30pm. Alternatively, phone (01661) 853768 or visit www.spanishspirit.com

Wine of the Week

Tamaral Roble 2003, Spanish Spirit, pounds 6.99. Deep red, with the smell of ripe plums, cream and Parma violets, followed by a rich, plummy but satisfyingly chewy taste. Try it with spicy chorizo, or a tomato-based pasta dish.
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Publication:The Journal (Newcastle, England)
Date:Sep 30, 2005
Words:668
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