From Rioja to Leeds with love – an extraordinary red, a delicious rose and a Montrachet taste-alike

22 Mar

Leeds may seem an odd place to discover a range of beautiful and unusual Spanish wines, but there is a link between the city of muck and brass and Luis Alegre of Rioja.   That’s the local importer who has introduced this maverick winemaker to The Foundry, an award-winning wine bar in the canal-side  complex which has extended and revitalised the city’s dining and entertainment scene.

I was impressed enough that The Foundry offered  Cotes de Provence rose by the glass – always, for me, the perfect aperitif, even far from the Med on a bitterly cold day – but Phil Richardson, Foundry co-owner who clearly knows his bottles, suggested I try Alegre’s rosado instead.  It was crisp, dry and delicious, in spite of being a pale strawberry colour which doesn’t, for me, hold a light to the golden pink of Cotes de Provence.  It did, however, remind me that we’ve never been disappointed yet by a rose sipped in Spain.

The wine, made by one of the young Turks who is changing the face of Rioja as we know it,  went down a treat with chef Shaun Davies’s white onion and Stilton soup, and had enough body to stand up to my thick, beautifully-seared veal chop, the shade of whose rare middle it exactly matched.  But Richardson had other ideas, pouring me a glass of Alegre’s Koden 2010 – and that’s where the wow factor really kicked in.

The strange name is apparently an Aztec term to describe a woman in her prime, and that was certainly true of this blend of this far from classic tempranillo aged in new French oak for six months.  What you get is a marriage of sumptuousness and elegant restraint in a rich ruby package which seems astonishing value at £6.25 a glass.

The Koden was a fabulous match for the earthiness of the ceps and other wild mushrooms garnishing the chop and the rich marsala cream sauce, and I would happily have left with only two great new wines to tell you about.  But Phil insisted I take home a bottle of the Alegre white Rioja 2011 to see if I agreed it resembled an old-fashioned French Burgundy.

I had my doubts that a concoction of 90 per cent Viura and 10 per cent Malvasia grapes could in any way approximate 100 per cent Chardonnay; indeed, the first tentative sip brought sour apples to mind.   But how the wine changed with food; it does indeed become reminiscent of a Montrachet, which may be a lot to do with the nine months it spends in oak from the Troncais forest.    This unusual wine won’t be for everyone, but it’s worth a fiver a glass to investigate when you’re in Leeds and want to try wine and food Michelin has recommended for six years running.

As for Alegre, you can’t miss the winery if you happen to be in the Rioja Alavesa, where it’s one of two very distinct and futuristic buildings on the horizon.   The one by Frank Gehry which looks like a mini-Guggenheim Bilbao belongs to Marques de Riscal, the makers of much more traditional Rioja.    The circular one on the hill resembling a flying saucer is Alegre’s


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