A look at some enjoyable Spanish wines.
By Louis Marmon
Gazette Newspapers March 15, 2006
Spain has more than 50 official wine-producing regions where 60-plus different grapes are used to make red, white and sparkling wines. Until recently, Spanish winemakers were in a rut, confined by their adherence to ancient methods and antiquated equipment. But an infusion of capital and a new breed of winemaker have invigorated the industry, resulting in a large number of flavorful dynamic wines.
The primary red varietal is Tempranillo, also called Tinta Fina, Tinta del Pais and a host of other names. Often blended with other grapes, it is the basic building block for the wines of the best-known Spanish wine regions including Rioja, Ribera del Duero and Penedes. Tempranillo is firm-bodied and has concentrated, spicy flavors with occasional leather notes. The second most popular varietal, Grenache, is fruitier, with characteristic cranberry, strawberry and cherry flavors that become deeper plum and black cherry when grown in warmer regions.
The Spanish love oak with their red wines. ‘‘Crianza” wines are aged for a year in oak barrels, then held another two years before release. ‘‘Reserva” are aged for four years, including at least one year in oak barrels, while ‘‘Gran Reserva” are aged two years in oak barrels and not released until six years after harvest.
The principal white grape, Albarino, is grown almost nowhere else in the world. Rarely blended, it is light bodied and fruity with crisp acidity and mineral notes that make it very food-friendly. Think shellfish, pasta or chicken. The other major white varietals include Viura, grown in the Rioja region, and Verdejo, grown near Madrid in the Rueda region. These tend to be lighter and less complex than Albarino but are still refreshing and pair well with salads and other light summer fare. Spanish whites are intended for drinking within a few years of release.
Priorat Mas dels Frares 2003 ($14) is a great starting point for Spanish red wines. Value-priced, it features rich spice and floral aromas with berry and cherry flavors on a firm structure. Another value-priced example from the same region is Scala Dei Priorat Negre 2003 ($15) that has plum and spice flavors with a great finish. More complex is Mas de Subira Priorat Morlanda Crianza 2001 ($48), with deep black cherry, licorice and coffee flavors and an excellent finish.
From the Rioja region try Montecillo Rioja Gran Reserva 1996 ($23), with spicy blackberry and plum flavors, and Cune Rioja Imperial Reserva 1998 ($35), a firm-bodied wine with spicy black cherry notes. A value-priced example from the same winery is Cune Rioja Vina Real Crianza 2002 ($19), which is lighter in style with cherry and berry flavors. Another very good bottle is the berry and cherry-flavored Palacios Rioja Herencia Remondo La Montesa 2003 ($17) that also has cinnamon and floral notes.
Other recommendations include Segura Viudas Tempranillo Penedes Mas D’Aranyo Reserva 2001 ($15), with plum and chocolate flavors, and Osborne Ribera del Duero del Cid Crianza 2000 ($20) that has spicy cherry, berry and vanilla notes. With your next steak, consider opening the full-bodied Merum Monastrell Jumilla 2004 ($10) or the black cherry and anise-flavored Rioja Lealtanza Crianza 2001 ($20)
Some good Spanish white wines are the pear and citrus-flavored Pazo de Barrantes Albarino Rias Baixas 2004 ($16) and La Val Albarino Rias Baixas Orballo 2004 ($17), which has grapefruit and slight mineral notes. Aura Reuda Verdejo 2004 ($18) is dry with green apple flavors while Segura Viudas Xarel-lo Penedes Creu de Lavit 2003 ($15) has citrus and vanilla flavors.