I have thought for a very long time the best bangs for your buck at all price levels – yep all of them, from one through six figures are to be found in Spain. The problem for most wine drinkers is their main grapes are rather obscure. No one much grows albarino or tempranillo over here. (They should, but that is another story.)
At the lower end of the spectrum, where the consumer is most conservative (imagine an accountant, prodding the bottle with his finger and saying suspiciously “What IS that?”) The Spanish have added more popular grapes as encouragement. Tempranillo remains the backbone of the wine, but every other grape under the sun is being tried as a blend.
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Let us start by contradicting my opening line with an Argentinian blend, Fuzion Malbec Tempranillo. Fuzion is an unrepentantly crowd pleasing winery and this wine goes a long way to explaining the Fuzion juggernaut.
It has that cheery berry flavour malbec drinkers of which cannot get enough, with a sniff of vanilla and caramel in the bouquet. So far, so unexpected. But the Tempranillo seems to have added some character, a bit of spine to the mix. At this price, even those drinkers most wedded to their familiar wine labels and Quickbooks should find the wine worth a try.
More interesting is the Plaza Marques Tempranillo Merlot Gran Reserva. If you are curious about the effects of aging this is a great place to start. It is an eight year old wine and it is beginning to show around the edges with a hint of tawny, as the wine fades with time.
The bouquet is more chocolatey and earthy than fruity, although the sweet fruity core of the tempranillo is immediately apparent on the tongue. There is a bit of oak apparent, but very little, and the finish is slightly sweet, with lingering menthol flavours just behind that earth. As a port lover (tempranillo, AKA tinto roriz is a main port grape) I find this wine extremely appealing. It should also appeal strongly to shiraz lovers.
Seleccion 12 is another old wine from Luzon, a Jumilla district way down in Catalan area, but there is very little hint of aging at the edge of the glass. Like all the Luzon wines this is a New World style wine, thick and chewy, viscous with the intensity of a heavy metal band. The blend is monastrell (AKA mourvedre, mataro), with cabernet sauvignon, tempranillo, and merlot to lighten the brawny character of the mourvedre.
This is a really good wine, with an absolutely fascinating bouquet of herbs and licorice, leading you into a psychedelic palate with flashes of a half dozen fruits, some herbs, and the kind of solid structure that will allow the wine to age at least another five years but makes for very pleasant drinking now.
Or then there is Elias Mora, a wine from the opposite corner of the country up near the Portuguese border. Theoretically this wine is made from Tinta de Toro (Toro being the appellation). Apparently Tinta de Toro is yet another synonym for Tempranillo.
I have absolutely no idea where I got this bottle, which may mean it arrived as a sample. (Alternatively it could have been bought in one of those shopping expeditions in furrin climes like Ontario or BC.) Regardless of point of origin, I loved this wine. It was a great representative of the Spanish ability to walk a median point between New and Old world styles.
More viscous than say an old Rioja, it was fruit driven with some tremendous aromas of licorice, berries and a slightly smoky-earthy bouquet. The palate was acceptably smooth with tame-ish tannins, but I had lunch with cheap salami and expensive cheese with this wine (i.e. very fatty) and it cut through them like a knife. Best of all the wine had a long finish. A word of advice however: it is unfiltered and the last glass of the bottle will be a little gritty unless you decant.
Red Guitar is an inexpensive wine that I drink all year around. It is the most traditional blend here, with the other great Spanish grape garnacha. For all the labeling and pricing, it is a genuine wine, with a surprisingly sophisticated palate.
Like the Plaza Marques the berry flavours predominate but the wine is bone dry and tremendously balanced, something you do not really expect at this price. My only complaint is the finish seemed a tad short.
Solaz is an old campaigner in a new label by Osborne, the famous sherry house. Their blend is tempranillo cabernet sauvignon. The wine is quite soft, racked into submission with a lot of Spanish oak I expect. Certainly the caramel and vanilla flavours are immediately apparent.
It is quite a drinkable wine, but it seemed a bit lacking in character. I would accept a glass if you offered it, but it would not be my first pick in the Spanish section.
Verano is a new label here with an easy to spot mosaic sunburst on the label. Their blend is again tempranillo and cabernet, presumably cabernet sauvignon. The oaking is not as obvious as Solaz, but the smells of vanilla and caramel were still there. The tannins are quite a bit harder too.
If you can afford it, the best buys here are the Plaza Marques and the Seleccion 12, and if you can find it Elias Mora. (Let me know if you do find it. Be nice to buy more.) They are very different temperament however and you will need to drink both on different occasions. If I were a starving student I would live on Red Guitar.
Plaza Marques Tempranillo Merlot Gran Reserva, Spain, 2005. $18 ****
Seleccion 12, Monastrell Cabernet Sauvignon, Tempranillo, Merlot, Spain, 2007. $17 ****
Tinta de Toro, Elias Mora, Spain, 2010. $15 ****
Red Guitar, Tempranillo Garnacha, Spain, 2009. $12.99 ****
Fuzion Malbec Tempranillo Reserva, Argentina, 2011. $12.24 ****
Verano Tempranillo Cabernet, Spain, 2011. $14.99 ***
Solaz Tempranillo Cabernet, Bodegas Osborne, Spain, 2010. $13.50 ***
James Romanow writes about Wine and all things Boozy for the Spectator Tribune. Follow him @drbooze
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