The Spanish believe that wine must always be served with food. Makes sense, because their wines all tend to be deep and rich and full of flavor and make great complements to flavorful dishes.
The Spanish use mainly grape varieties grown exclusively in their own country - in landscapes and weather conditions with all the diversity of several countries. From high mountains to flat, dry desert-like lands, from rainy winters to summer droughts and poor, gravelly soils, Spanish winemakers have a plethora of opportunities to grow hardy, intensely flavored grapes.
As a result, Spain's many different regions produce their own individual style of wines. Many DO regions (Denominación de Origen) dictate strict procedures for making wines and foodstuffs in that area before they can be labeled with that DO. The DO may refer to where the wine is made and may also prescribe things like the types of grapes and the manufacturing process that can be used.
In recent times, some Spanish producers who believe such strict regulation is unnecessary to produce fine quality, are labeling their wines as vino de la tierra.
Recent tastings lead me to recommend a few Spanish wines as definitely worth drinking. These first are part of the Codorniu Raventos and Aveniu brands (their motto: "Making world class wines that express terroir"). Codorniu makes wines in Spain, Napa Valley and Argentina. www.codorniu.com/en Most of these wines should be available at Binny’s.
From Bodegas Bilbainas
Vina Zaco 2011, matured nine months in both French and American oak, is a Rioja wine made of 100% Tempranillo grapes. It offers up flavors of fresh red berries with notes of licorice and spice. Vina Pomal 2010, ages 20 months in French oak, is 100% Tempranillo grown in stony soils that tend to make the fruit complex and concentrated. The grapes are hand de-stemmed and then further selected for quality.
From Scala Dei (Latin for Ladder to God)
Located in Priorat in Catalonia, this winery tends to blend many different grapes to make higher-alcohol wines (14 and 15%). New oak gives wines more body; one- or two-year-old oak for the more supple Garnachas. Garnatxa Sol-Agrilo-Calcaire 2007 **** If you ever find it (it's not even listed on their website), this is worth trying. Look for more of their excellent wines here.
From Artesa Vineyards & Winery in Carneros
A California vineyard, Artesa offers a couple of wines I fell in love with. First, their Estate Reserve Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2010. At ~$40 this is a 5-star wine you might be willing to spend the extra on. It's made with 100% cabernet sauvignon grapes, hand-sorted for fermentation in small temperature-controlled tanks. The main flavor is chocolate-covered cherries (oh, my!). The winemaker, Mark Beringer, is the great, great grandson of Beringer Vineyards co-founder. He grew up in the industry and says the volcanic soils in Artesa's vineyards are high in iron and give this wine its distinctive fruit flavor.
Second, the Estate Reserve Napa Valley Chardonnay 2012. At 15.2% alcohol, this powerful white wine is made with 100% Chardonnay grapes grown at high altitudes in gravelly soils. At $49 it's another one you might be happy to spend the extra on. See more at www.artesawinery.com/.
From Gran Codorniu
The Gran Codorniu Gran Reserva Pinot Noir 2007 is a real standout. And it’s a bubbly – known as cava in Spain! Grown from 100% Pinot Noir grapes, this D.O. Cava - Penedes has the minerally touch typical of licorella soils and the delicate bubbles of wines made with the traditional champagne process. It's a sparkling white wine (blanc de noirs) made from traditional red Pinot Noir grapes. Read more about it here.
Their Chardonnay 2013 has the crispness of a Pilot Grigio and the richness of a Chardonnay. The 100% Chardonnay grape harvest ripened during a mild September after a high-temperature, dry summer that yielded intense flavor and "free expression of terroir." Definitely 4-star. Part of the Aveniu brand, read more.
I liked the Septima Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, grown in the Agrelo, Lujan de Cuyo region of Spain. Reasonably priced at $9, you almost can't miss with this one. Their Septima Gran Reserva 2010 was nice, too (a mix of Malbec, Cab, and Tannat grapes). Aged 24 months (18 in oak, 6 in the bottle), at $39 it's a special occasion wine. Check them out at www.bodegaseptima.com/.
Calling importers and distributors!
I was surprised to learn recently there are dozens of delicious Spanish wines you still can't buy here in U.S. Many of the eminently worthy Spanish wines listed below are still looking for representation here. So if you're an importer/distributor, opportunity knocks!
At an event put on by the Spain-U.S. Chamber of Commerce, we got to hear the story of wines from Castilla y Leon from Arrend Bakker, master from the Sommelier Society of New York. Bakker lived in Spain, married a Spanish woman, became a sommelier when he moved to the U.S. in 2005, and now you can find him at www.thespanishwinespecialist.com.
Notable things he mentioned about Spanish wines: 1) their low-price-to-high-quality ratio, 2) Spain is third in the world after France and Italy in its production of wines, and 3) Spain itself is like a mini-continent with dramatically different weather and terroirs. "The west is like England," he said, "the south is desert, the north has variable temperatures, and the east is very mild." There are 69 different DOs in Spain. Typical grapes include Tempranillo and Garnacha, with some Mencia, Verdejo, and Rioja.
From Bodega Valdrinal S.L.
This winery, based in Madrid, has a wonderful collection of wines that aren't yet available in Chicago (though they sell 50% of their production at home and 50% in other countries like China). Most of their wines are made with 100% Tempranillo grapes and prices range from a low of $15 to a top rate of $45, with several in between. I particularly liked the Valdrinal 6 2012, the Valdrinal Crianza 2010 and the Valdrinal Reserva 2007. Review them at www.valdrinal.com/.
From Pagos de Matanegra
Pagos calls itself a wine-growing "project." Its vineyards are on south-facing slopes that protect them from harsh winters. They say they focus on three things: quality, quality and quality. They only make three wines, and I have to say I really loved them. Matanegra Vendimia Seleccionada 2010 (5 stars!), Matanegra Crianza2009 (4 stars) and Matanegra Media Crianza2012 (3 stars). Connect with them at www.abadioadeacon.comwww.pagosdematanegra.es/.
From Monte La Reina
Another group of delicious wines, but these guys are selling a million and a half bottles in countries around the world - a couple of them coming soon to Chicago. A few standouts (all gold, silver and bronze medal winners) included: Vendimia Seleccionada (VS) 2005, Crianza (CMLR) 2009 and Castillo Monte la Reina Ferm barrica 2009. Visit them at www.abadioadeacon.comwww.montelareina.es/.
From Bodegas Gordonzello
All these wines are made with the unusual grapes native to the area - and thus express themselves in ways that are surprising and delightful. All but one are made with a single type of grape and all go extremely well with food. My favorite was their white Peregrino Albarin 2013 (100% Albarin grapes). The other grapes include Prieto Picudo and Verdejo, and their Inicio Young Red 2013 is blended with Prieto Picudo and Tempranillo. Learn more at www.gordonzello.com/.
From Bodega Vina Vilano
All their wines are made from 100% Tempranillo grapes, and yet all are unique and have won various awards around the world. Two worth noting are Vina Vilano 2013, a dry rosé with a fruitier taste than most of the dry rosés from Provence, and Terra Incognita 2009, aged 22 months in French oak, which may contribute to its dense, smooth feeling in your mouth. Visit them at www.vinavilano.com/english/index.cfm
From Abadia de Acon S.L.
These fine wines are looking for U.S. representation. A few notable wines, all 100% Tempranillo: Acon Tinto Roble 2012 - goes great with Spanish Manchego cheese and olives; Acon Tinto Crianza 2009 (gold medal winner); Acon Tinto Reserva 2007 (delicious - let it breathe!); and Acon Tinto Seleccion 2005 and 2007 - goes great with chocolate and dessert. View more at www.abadioadeacon.com/.
From Pinna Fidelis
A lot of the wines here were better after breathing for a while. My favorite from this winery was their Pinna Fidelis 2013. It's young wine made with 100% Verdejo grapes and it was delicious. See more at www.pinnafidelis.com/.
If you seriously want to learn about wines, check out the book, Windows on the World Complete Wine Course, by Kevin Zraly. The author was the wine guy at the Windows on the World restaurant (in the Twin Towers) from 1976 until September 11, 2001. He updates this book every year, and it's still the largest selling wine book in the world.