With the 2011 Wine Festival coming up the last week of the month, I thought I would focus the next few blogs on the wines from this year’s “host” country — Spain! Today, a quick review of some of the more popular red grapes, the styles of wine they make, and examples you can purchase in government liquor stores.
For many people, Rioja is the wine that first comes to mind when you mention “Spanish wine” — and for good reason, as wine has been made there for hundreds of years. Red Rioja is made mainly from the Tempranillo grape, supported by Garnacha and a number of other grapes as well. In terms of style, it really depends on how long it is aged before release and how much of that time is spent in oak. Spain classifies its red wines as Crianza (2 years old/6 months in oak), Reserva (3 years/1 year in oak) or Gran Reserva (5 years/18 months in oak).
You can probably guess the difference in style…the longer the time in oak, the woodier the wines are. Crianzas tend to have a lot of fresh cherry flavours, usually lightly dusted with vanilla (from the oak), herbs and earth. I tend to like Reservas the best, as the best ones have enough fruit to balance the extra time in wood. And they age over 5 – 10 years in the bottle, they develop wonderful complexity of flavours. Gran Reservas — the few I have tasted — are not really my style; too much oak, not enough fruit and they can get pretty dried out. For a great example of a Rioja from a good vintage, try the 2005 Rioja Reserva from Marques de Riscal. At $28 it isn’t cheap, but is a full-bodied example of Rioja that will easily age for 8 – 10 years.
Tempranillo is also the main grape in the Ribera del Duero and Penedes regions where it can make quite different style wines. A great example out of the former is Pesquera which is often a dead ringer for a California Cabernet Sauvignon, with lovely vanilla coated black currants and just a touch of herbs. Try the 2006 Pesquera Crianza for about $33…another candidate for the cellar or great with a steak today.
The second major grape you see is Garnacha, and it can offer great values. Unfortunately, for me, the oaked style it is made in just doesn’t work. The wonderful dried cherry fruit you see from Chateauneuf du Papes or Cotes du Rhones (where it is called Grenache) gets quite woody in Spain. But if you like that style, try the 2007 Las Rocas for $18…Parker loves it and perennially gives it 90 points.
Finally, a less well known grape — but one that often offers the best value — is Monastrell. From the up and coming Levant region, you can often find them for under $15…and they are really fruity, with just a touch of earth and little or no wood. The best example is the one by Castano, which at under $10 is a steal; it tastes like a $20 wine!
That gives you a good start on the reds. Next week, a look at the whites and some of the fortified wines!