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Iberian Reds

Tawny Port, Quinta de Ventozelo
Linda Foxworth

Stop in any wine shop in Reno, and you will find a selection of red wines from the Iberian Peninsula. Both Spain and Portugal use many indigenous grapes, and often blend their red wines rather than bottle single varietals. But like other countries in Europe, each region favors particular grapes.

The two most famous regions of Spain for red wine are Rioja and Priorat, both DOC's, the highest designation of quality in Spain. Both Rioja and Priorat blend most of their red wines, but the grapes their blends feature are quite different.

Priorat is on the eastern side of Spain, near the Mediterranean. Its warm weather is conducive to the growth of the Garnacha grape, a grape that is, also grown in southern France where it is known as Grenache, and on the island of Sardinia in Italy where it is known as Cannonau. The warm climate creates a grape that is high in sugar which means a wine that is high in alcohol. The warm weather also makes the grape low in acidity. And Garnacha is not known for its tannins. What it is known for is an array of flavors and aromas from red fruits to red flowers to nuts. A good Garnacha can present many interesting, sometimes surprising aromas.

Whispering Vines has La Cartuja Priorat, 2011 for $14.99. It is a blend of 70% Garnacha and 30% Carinana. The flavors are of creamy cherries, marzipan, rose water, and coffee. It has a full body, medium tannins and a great balance.

Travelling west through Spain, we come upon Rioja along the Ebro River. Rioja is known for its Tempranillo grapes, often presenting aromas of leather, not terribly fruit forward, but with good acidity. But like other regions in Spain, most wines are made from a blend of grapes.

Total Wine has a Bodegas de la Margesa Valserrano Crianza, 2009 for $14.99. It is 90% Tempranillo and 10% Mazuelo which is a synonym for Carinana, known as Carignan in France. While they share a common grape, the Priorat and Rioja are very different blends. The Rioja is well oaked and offers aromas of cedar, vanilla, leather and red fruit. Its crisp acidity is what makes this wine so food friendly. It goes especially well with chorizo.

Continuing west, we find ourselves in Portugal, home of the famed fortified Port wines. Fortified wines have grape-based alcohol added to them, originally to make them better able to withstand travel. The fortification can take place after the wine is completely fermented which will create a dry fortified wine. Or the fortification can take place during fermentation which will kill the yeast, leaving residual sugar in the wine. The later process, known as mutage, is how Port wines are made. They are a full-bodied, rich, sweet dessert wine that are heavenly on a cold winter night.

Quinta de Ventozelo is available at Total Wine for $29.99. It is made from a blend of indigenous, red grapes, Touriga Nacional, Touriga Franca, and Tinta Roriz (aka Tempranillo.) Tawny in color and well aged in oak, this non-vintage port has flavors of nuts, carmel, and raisins, and is terrific with pumpkin pie.

Not everyone likes the sweetness or heft of a fortified dessert wine. Portugal, also makes a still wine from those same Port grapes, offering the rich flavors without the residual sugar and high alcohol.

Callabriga is from Dao, a region just south of Douro. Made from a blend of Touriga Nacional, Tinta Roriz and Alfocheiro Preto, it has flavors of blackberry, plum and raisins with strong tannins and great balance. It is available at Total Wine for $15.99

If you are curious about Iberian reds, but haven't, yet, tried them, these wines are a good introduction. If you have tried some Iberians and like them, you will enjoy these wines. They are all good examples of their respective regions.

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