Why the French Pilgrims Were Wrong to Refuse to Drink Spanish Wine. (Wine Club)
Scruton, Roger, New Statesman (1996)
Think of Spanish wine and promptly there comes to mind the peculiar forward taste of the Tempranillo grape, blazing with life but coated with a creamy vanilla mask like the face of a flamenco dancer. Such is the standard Rioja; but even if the combination of oak and Tempranillo works in that uniquely favoured region, this should not be a reason for thinking that it will work elsewhere.
It doesn't work, for example, in the Valdepenas, where "Gran Reserva" may often connote an overdose of flaky make-up, like a stale duenna making mouths in the glass. Nor should it blind us to the fact that there are Spanish wines -- and some of the very best--which either blend the Tempranillo with more northern varieties, or avoid it entirely. This we learn from Corney & Barrow's stunning selection, offered through the Wine Club.
These wines are not cheap, but their price is more than matched by their quality. The most interesting is the Bierzo, planted in ancient vineyards along the pilgrims' route to Santiago de Compostela and made from the Mencia grape. This is the wine that the French pilgrims would never drink, bringing with them instead their own supplies of Madiran from the other side of the Pyrenees. Readers of this column may recall the praise that I once lavished on Madiran. I do not retract my former judgement. Nevertheless, Corney & Barrow's Bierzo, expertly made by Descendientes de J Palacios (Alvaro and his nephew Ricardo Perez Palacios), shows that those French pilgrims were wrong to prefer their Tannat grape to the rich and subtle Mencia. Bierzo is grown on chalky foothills so steep that they must be worked by donkey: maybe it was the lingering aroma of equine suffering that caused Sam the Horse to refuse his share. The slopes act as suntraps, producing a deep ruby wine that is both strong and clean -- the perfect acco mpaniment to our indigenous pate.
The Sunday Hill Farm pate, incidentally, is easy to make. De-vein the liver and liquidise it in the mixer. Take an equivalent weight of belly, without the skin but with all the fat, and mash it in the mixer to a creamy paste. Rub the liver and the belly together in a deep pie dish (not possible without using your bare hands), add a crushed clove of garlic, two tablespoons of salt, a glass of gin, herbs, nutmeg, red or green peppercorns, and lots of black pepper. …