The reign of Spain
Rioja and beyond: discovering Spanish wine
Uncorked by David Marglin
Right now, Spanish wine (along with Chilean wine) is the next big thing. And if
you're like me, you've heard a lot about these bottles, but you haven't tried
many. Well, now I'm raving about Spanish wine, and though there's a lot out
there to steer clear of, there is also an abundance that is super-affordable
and of exceptional quality.
Wineries in Spain are known as bodegas, which means, roughly, a storehouse for
wine, or a small shop that sells wine. Elsewhere, it's common for wine
producers to grow their own grapes; in Spain, more often than not, independent
growers sell grapes to the bodegas, which make and sell the wine. In Rioja,
Spain's best-known winegrowing region, only a handful of bodegas claim to be
self-sufficient in terms of both growing grapes and making wine; according to
one estimate, bodegas own around 8 percent of the planted vines in the area.
When most people think of Spanish wine, they think of Rioja. The wine's image
has been that of a fairly heavy,
wood-aged red; but nowadays many Riojas
and more approachable, and hence can be enjoyed with less aging.
All the rage right now are crianzas, three-year-old Riojas made primarily with
the tempranillo grape (Spain's finest red grape), and aged for at least one
year in oak barrels. They're popular for good reason -- their versatility means
you can drink a crianza with pizza or chicken. And though they can be a tad
they pack plenty of juicy
flavor, more than enough to cut through a lot
of spicy foods and even tomato-based sauces. I'm particularly fond of Sierra
Cantabria, a lush wine that smells of figs and drinks like pear juice, with an
appealing, lively wood flavor that lingers pleasantly in the mouth. (Riojas
aged longer are labeled as Riservas and Gran Riservas, and are accordingly more
Rioja may be a good place to start, but there are many other Spanish wines
worth drinking. And given how exceptionally good 1994 was ("the perfect year"
for Spanish winemakers, said Bodega Breton's winemaker, Miguel Angel de
Gregorio Sanchez), it's hard to go wrong with any wine from that year. Many
1994s will need more time in the bottle to mellow, but a number of the better
wines were built for speed, ready to roll down your throat right now.
Besides Rioja, the hottest wines come from the next region over to the west,
the Ribera del Duero, right now the most interesting Spanish region for red.
These wines are stunning, less oaky
and with more fruit up front. Good Ribera
del Dueros include the renowned Tinto Pesquera and Balbas Tinto Reserva.
Another Ribera del Duero wine, Teofilo Reyes from Bodegas Reyes, was
mind-boggling in 1994, and young and untamed in 1995 -- but alas, according to
Lindy Campbell of M.R.R. Traders, which owns Merchants Wine and Spirits and
imports a lot of Spanish wines, a whole shipment of the 1995 was lost at sea
when a huge wave lopped off the front of the ship carrying it. So if you see
any (and Bauer Wines on Newbury may have some left at $24.99 a bottle), just
grab it. Then see Titanic and think about the power of the sea.
When it comes to white wines, I am rather underwhelmed by Rioja's offerings,
finding them too thick and musty, with lemony overtones and a cloying feel in
the mouth. The Spanish white-wine grape to look for is albariño; Burgans
may be the label most readily available ($10.99 at Merchants, Bauer, Brookline
Liquor Mart, the Wine Cask -- who isn't selling this wine?). One of my friends,
though he doesn't usually like white wines all that much, commented, "How can
you not like this? It's most excellent!" So go get some, and serve it with a
paella, oysters, or even a nice Bertucci's pizza. This is a seafood wine,
though, and it definitely belongs in Boston.
**1/2 Bodegas Sierra Cantabria Crianza 1994 ($10.99, Bauer Wines,
Boston; Merchants Wine and Spirits, Boston)
The best $11 bottle of wine I've had this year. Just superb. Lightly oaky,
with plenty of blackberry flavors showing through its burnt-caramel
*** Bodegas Reyes Ribera del Duero Teofilo Reyes 1995 ($24.99, Bauer)
Although the 1994 was significantly better, the '95 will come into its own.
With huge tannins
and tons of ripe fruit bursting out at the seams, this is a
massive and concentrated red wine that shoots sparks of cherry.
*** Conde de Valdemar 1990 Rioja Gran Riserva ($19.99 , not yet
I bought a bottle of this in New York; though the 1989 is available at
Merchants, I prefer the 1990, with its deep ruby-red color and flavors of fig
and black currants, plus a ton of oak. Lively on the mouth, this wine will
overwhelm anything that ain't meat, so serve it alone or with some serious
heavy sauces. A powerhouse. It rules.
** Bodegas de Vilarino-Cambados Burgans Albariño 1996 ($9.99,
This wine has an almost banana-ish taste to it, with lot of zest and lemon.
Don't be put off by its pétillant (faintly
sparkling) qualities, because
that hint of CO2 keeps the wine fresh.
*** Pazo De Barrentes Albariño 1996 ($17.99, Bauer)
A smooth and silky wine, with enticing vanilla and honey accents and a crisp
finish. A hint of pétillance gives it good bite. A winner!
David Marglin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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