“Show me your favorite $10.00 bottle of wine.”
I get that question all the time at the store. The customer always expects me to lead him to the domestic section, thinking imported wines are too expensive. I surprise him by taking him to the Old World section, because I truly think the best wines in that price range come from France, Italy, and especially Spain. If I can get him to raise the ante to $12.00, he can do really well.
Spain offers an opportunity to sample some varietals in their pure form that are often blended in other countries. Not only do you get nice wines for really great prices, but you expand your knowledge of the vast number of grapes that are made into the wines we love to drink.
Garnacha, known as Grenache everywhere else, originated in Spain. It is now grown extensively in southern France and in Australia, where it is often blended with Syrah and Mourvedre, and also in Sardinia, where it is known as Cannonau. Grenache is medium to full-bodied and has spicy berry flavors. It tends toward low acidity because it does best in hot climates due to its long ripening time. Wines from this grape can be found for ridiculous prices. Garnacha de Fuego is an outstanding example for only $9.99. It has huge berry, currant, and blackberry flavors. Honoro Vera, recognized by its artsy label, is a nicely balanced mouthful of spice and blueberry-blackberry fruit, again for $9.99.
Monastrell is another grape commonly grown in southern France, especially in the Languedoc and Cotes du Rhone, the U.S., and Australia (where it is often called Metaro). It is usually known as Mourvedre outside of Spain. It is the “M” of the GSM blends from the U.S. and Australia, and is also usually blended with these grapes in France as well. In Spain, where again the grape is believed to have its origins, the varietal often stands on its own. At the turn of the century, Monastrell was the fourth most planted grape in Spain, but it is slowly being replaced by international varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon. It is still the only grape, or at least the major one, found in the reds from the D.O.s of Jumilla and Yecla. The wines are big, with dark fruit, earthy, and savory flavors, and usually moderately tannic. One of my personal favorites is Tarima, recognized by the large passion flower on the label. It is 100% Monastrell from Jumilla and is a very big wine filled with flavors of blue and black fruits, chocolate, and licorice. It is priced at $11.99, so buy as much as you can. Another good example is Wrongo Dongo, which to me sounds like it should come from Australia. Another wine from Jumilla, it is almost, but not quite, entirely Monastrell. It is a big fruit-forward wine with lots of blackberry and blueberry flavors in a spicy background. It is a great barbeque wine and costs a mere $10.99.Rioja, found in northern Spain, is perhaps Spain’s best known growing region. Here, Tempranillo is the king of the varietals, with Garnacha, Graciano, and Mazuelo (Carignan) also in the mix. Although some of the wines made here can be very expensive, yet another Spanish varietal can be sampled for very little money. Castillo Montebuena is 100% Tempranillo. It is typical of this varietal—medium-bodied, with a bouquet of spicy vanilla and cherries and a palate of cherry and raspberry fruit. It is full flavored and has a persistent pleasant finish, a bargain at $11.99. And don’t miss Martin Codax Ergo Rioja. Primarily Tempranillo with a bit of Graciano thrown in, it is vibrant ruby in color with decadent aromas of ripe fruit and flowers integrated with the vanilla and toast of oak. The wine is medium-bodied, elegant, and rather complex, with flavors of cherries, currants, coconut and fresh raspberries. The finish is surprisingly lingering for a wine priced at $11.99.
Ratings by various wine periodicals tend to drive wine sales. Customers come in looking for wines rated in the 90s from Wine Spectator or The Wine Advocate. I’m not going to get into my opinions of the value of wine ratings. If you’re curious, come into the store and find me when I have some time to expound. At any rate, Robert Parker (The Wine Advocate) recently reviewed Spain. Clearly he was in a very generous mood, because he gave high ratings to these very inexpensive wines—Tarima 90 points, Garnacha de Fuego 92, and the more expensive wines in the mid to high 90s. As a result, these wines have been flying off the shelves. This is a true case of “if you snooze you lose,” so come in and check out these wines.