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Viva España!

Saturday, January 26, 2013   by: Vin Greco

Last week’s Vintages release featuring Spanish wines has prompted me to take a look at the country and its wines, especially as they often go unnoticed despite their quality and value.

Grapes have been grown for wine in Spain for over 3,000 years, likely ever since the Phoenicians out of Carthage in North Africa first sailed across the Strait of Gibraltar. 

This was at a time when Rome, if there even was a Rome, would have been just a village.

Since then, even with ups and downs including the conquest of Iberia by the teetotaling armies of Islam, the devastation vines by Phylloxera - a vine-sucking louse from North America - and the ravages of the Spanish Civil War, wine has been an integral part of Spanish life and culture.

The best table wines will be found in the more northerly third of the country, and much of what is available to us is red.

The most famous region is La Rioja (“Ree –oh-ha”), just below Basque country and the Iberian mountains.

If you Google “WinesfromSpain” you can navigate to locate all the areas I’m mentioning.

While Spain is be relatively under-represented in the LCBO, there are still several red wines from Rioja on our shelves.

 Most are primarily Tempranillo, the great red wine grape of Spain. 

On the regular list, Viña Zaco Tempranillo 2009, $14.95, has received good reviews. 

In addition to “fruit” descriptors, writers have noted “weathered wood” and “dried earth”, which strikes a chord with me. 

I have long felt that Tempranillo from La Rioja carries summer on the palate, with a certain sunny dustiness, pleasurable in itself, but crying out for cured meats and cheeses or even fruit.

The Faustino VII 2010 Tempranillo, $12.95, is marketed as the LCBO’s “Winter Wine” with the typical flavour profile mentioned above. 

Ironically, having singled it out as their winter wine, the LCBO goes on to say it is perfect for the barbeque.  Be brave.

With Rioja, you will generally find “Crianza” or “Reserva” on the label. 

Both must be aged in wood for at least a year. Usually older, more neutral barrels are used which won’t provide more tannin or vanillins to the wine. 

Then the wine must be aged, either in tank or in bottle, a further year for Crianza and two years for Reserva prior to release. 

There are a few Crianzas in the $15-16 range. 

In Vintages, the 2008 Lan Crianza, $15.95, follows the acclaimed 2006 edition which made #44 in the Wine Spectator’s “Top 100” two years ago. 

The calibre should be similar. 

From the regular list, Marques de Caceres 2008 Crianza, $15.95, has the typical profile – dried fruit, leather, cedarwood.  It is supple and well-balanced… and it is being de-listed.

If they don’t sell, they leave. 

The Montecillo Crianza 2008, $14.95, and the Campo Viejo Crianza 2008, $14.45 offer more of the same: dried cherry, spice, and a smooth finish.

With  Reservas, the extra aging pushes up the price, and so the fine Muga 2008 Rioja Reserva, a Vintages Essential, comes in at $23.95. 

With age, the flavour profile in Rioja wines gets darker, and so instead of bright cherry, it is dark cherry (less acidity?), and blackberry. 

Muga’s tasting notes mention prunes, stewed apple and mulled wine on the aftertaste. 

They believe the wine is evolving, and so changes in complexity and integration will be noticeable over the next two years.

The Regular List Campo Viejo Reserva 2007, $17.95, took gold at a Spanish competition and a bronze –still an accomplishment - at the International Wine and Spirits Competition in London. 

The LCBO suggests serving this wine with roast lamb and rosemary.

One blended wine in Vintages from Rioja, Bozeto de Exopto 2010, $14.95, stands out. 

At the start, there’s an emphasis on the fruit from the Garnacha in the blend, and then it become savoury, thanks to the Tempranillo. 

It is good, and gets better, given a chance to breathe.

Located in the northeast corner of Spain, bordering on the Mediterranean, is Catalonia.

The most celebrated producer is Torres in the Penedes region south of Barcelona. 

While Tempranillo is still prominent, we also find Cabernet Sauvignon featured in some of the wines. 

The 2009 Infinite, $13, is 15% Cabernet Sauvignon. 

This give some backbone to the wine, which has good fruit and a long (infinite??) finish. 

The Gran Coronas 2008, $18.95, a Vintages Essential, is 100% Cabernet Sauvignon.

It is full flavoured with red and black fruit dominating and should drink well for the next 5 years.

Below Catalonia, Almansa lies in the northeast corner of Castile-La Mancha. 

Castillo de Almansa Tempranillo will soon be $1 off at $10.95. 

It is a steady best buy. 

In Vintages, from the same region, Sarada Selección 2009, $15.95, a blend of Garnacha, Tintorera and Monastrell, has power and complexity and depth.

Move inland from Catalonia and we find ourselves in Aragon.

Two wines based on Garnacha  - Grenache in France - both reveal a sweet core of fruit. 

The Centenario Garnacha from Conde de Hoya, $17, suggests cherry, vanilla and cola before firming up on a pleasantly dry finish. 

This, along with the Las Rocas, $14.65, would be good choices for those who like fruit-driven Aussie Shiraz.

Also from Aragon, Beso de Vino Selección, $9.95, is a good bet. 

It combines Syrah with the Garnacha in a wine that is drier from the start. I sense some sour plum at first, but it quickly resolves into a pleasingly robust and balanced wine.  

Much of the wine made in the south of Spain is fortified, such as Sherry. 

However, in the upper corner of Murcia, good red wines are being made from Monastrell, known as Mourvèdre in France. 

Apparently some French winemakers moved down to the area after the devastation of vines in France by Phylloxera in the late 19th century. 

Castano has two wines on the regular list. 

Hecula 2009, $11.80 and La Casona de Castano Old Vine Monastrell 2011, $8.95. 

Both are excellent values, but tasting notes conflict. 

The LCBO places Hecula in its Medium Bodied and Fruity category and La Casona in its Full-Bodied and Firm file. 

Yet, the former has been described as gutsy, the latter as juicy. 

Despite the pedigree, La Casona may be the better bet.

Finally, from the Ribera del Duero north of Madrid, I must mention the Pesquera Crianza 2009 and Reserva 2009. 

They are $26.95 and $39.95 respectively.

These prices are quite fair on the world market. 

Wine Guru Robert Parker Jr. compared Pesquera to Chateau Petrus, the astonishing red from Pomerol in Bordeaux. 

Considering that the average price today for Chateau Petrus 2008 is over $2,800 a bottle, $40 bucks might be a deal.

These are elegant wines with beautiful layered flavours and polished long finishes.

There are a number of other good reds in limited supply in Vintages. 

Check with the Wine Consultant for good advice.

For lovers of aromatic white wines, Torres Viña Esmeralda in Vintages is a good match for Asian cuisine.

It is composed of Muscat of Alexandria and Gewurztraminer.

Clear floral notes and gentle spice lead, and a gentle acidity brings it to a close. 

At the Station Mall store, there are a few bottles of Menade Verdejo 2010, $14, from Rueda near the northeastern tip of Portugal. 

One grower resisted Franco’s demand that they rip out 200 year old Verdejo vines and replace them with Chardonnay, and so we are able to enjoy this wine with its refreshing individuality. 

I think this is a wine for seafood.

The other option for white Spanish wine is Cava, the inexpensive champagne-style bubbly. 

Refer to my New Year’s Eve column for some suggestions.

I want to remind you of the wine-tasting at the Art Gallery of Algoma on February 8. 

$50 includes the wine and hors d’oeuvres, and a charitable receipt will be provided. 

One of the wines we will serve is Pruno, the wine of the month for January which sold out in the first week. 

Parker scored it 94.

The vineyards are located next to Vega Sicilia, arguably Spain’s greatest red, whose wines sell for more than $100. 

The evening should be a treat. 

Call the Gallery Shop at 705 949 9067 to reserve.

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