Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Great Spanish Wine You May Not Be Drinking

Tempranillo. Albarino. Verdejo.

If you are living in the US, and are just getting started on Spanish wines like me, these are most likely the wines that you are drinking. In general, I have tended to like the white varietals (Albarino and Verdejo) more than the reds, which may just be a result of not drinking enough of those wines, or drinking not very good examples.

But the other day I had a fantastic wine that made me think there was a world of Spanish reds that I'm not yet finding easily in the stores: the 2003 Bodega Inurrieta Norte ($12.99, Rosso Wine Shop). And it wasn't made from tempranillo, but from a blend of cabernet sauvignon and merlot. This was a rich, smoky wine, with a deep inky crimson color and inviting aromas of spices, flowers, and rich red and black berries. Bodega Inurrieta makes their wine in the Navarra region, which has both warm Mediterranean and cooler Atlantic influences. These different influences help the grapes to develop their full potential without over-ripeness. The flavors of cassis, clove, and cedar were equally rich and inviting and lingered in your mouth, making it a pleasure to drink glass after beautiful glass. And you could do just that because the wine had 13.5% alc/vol despite its rich and flavorful profile. What most impressed me, however, was the wine's superb balance, since the acidity that gave the wine structure was perfectly paired with the fruit and the oak. Excellent QPR.

I drank this wine at a terrific restaurant in London that specializes in tapas and small plates called The Salt Yard. If you are in the UK for whatever reason, try out this restaurant located in Bloomsbury near the British Museum and the University. Great food, great service, and a great location combined to make it a very nice place to spend an evening with friends. I couldn't decide between 2 Spanish wines and our server let me taste each (this is fantastic, and I wish more places offered this service). Both were great, but we picked the Inurrieta which arrived at our table at the perfect cool cellar temperature (just lovely on a warm summer night when you plan on eating a fair amount of chorizo!). It cost around 18 BPS (roughly $35) which is amazing considering wine markups, how good this wine was, and the unbelievably weak dollar.

I found only one wine merchant in the US who carries this wine, and happily they're right around the corner in beautiful Glendale: the Rosso Wine Shop. I've not been there, but they will be at the top of my shopping list later this summer since they specialize in everyday wines from Italy, Spain (check out their list of Spanish offerings here), France, and California. And at $12.99 a bottle, this Bodega Inurrieta "Norte" certainly qualifies as an everyday wine bargain. If you've found a great Spanish red--whether a tempranillo or some other varietal--let us know in the comments below because I'd certainly like to try a wider range.


Anonymous said...

hi doc - I can't fault the Spanish folks for wanting to try other varietals (we're total sluts about that here in California, after all.) But they have so many wonderful native varietals to share with the world... a Cab-Merlot from Spain just makes me feel kinda sad...

Dr. Debs said...

Can't argue with you on the great varietal range of Spanish wines. But I am just not enjoying their tempranillo as much as I expected to. However, I just went out and got a red made with Mencia, and will be looking for some more red varietals to try, too.

cgomezmoreno said...

Hi, I'm a first time poster. But as a Spaniard (living in the US) I feel like I have to leave my 2 cents.
Too bad you guys haven't ejoyed much your Tempranillos. I love them but I grew up with them. I see it close to a good Sangiovese. Good acidity, lots of cherry, finishes spicy, very food friendly, and also flexible. You have from the very traditional and VERY oaky (American oak at that) to the newer style (can you say New World in the Old World?) that is riper and darker. So you may have to ask around and try different producers until you find your style.
Affordable wines that I've recently had are (I'm not discovering anything new here, these should be widely available):
Castaño Hecula from the region of Yecla. Monastrell (aka Mouverdre) baby!
Castaño Solanera, Yecla, is their top cuvée. Slightly over $10.
Juan Gil, Jumilla. Another Monastrell stunner! Slightly over $10.
Capcanes Mas Donis from Montsant. This is a baby-Priorat. Excellent!
Pablo Menguante Garnacha from Calatayud. Organic from old vine grenache. I buy it for $7.
Dehesa de Rubiales Alaia from La Mancha. Super smoky Tempranillo!
Ercavio Roble, Mas que vinos from La Mancha. Perennial value Tempranillo.
Petalos de Palacios, from Bierzo. A great quality Mencia even if it's $20.
Onix, Priorat. The cheapest Priorat you can find. Entry level but still very mineral as it should be.

Dr. Debs said...

Welcome cgomezmoreno! You can come by and post on blog whenever you want. Those are great suggestions, and as you say there are different styles of tempranillo and I've wondered if I'm just not drinking widely enough or talking to knowledgeable enough sales people. The ones I've had have been very flat without the acidity and spice you mention here. However, I just bought a mencia from Bierzo, and a Solanera Yecla, and Capcanes is in my cellar. Gotta get my hands on that Onix. Thanks for giving me the recs to take my knowledge of Spanish reds to the next level. Hope to see you again, soon!

Anonymous said...

Next Wednesday I plan to host a tasting featuring Spanish Tempranillos representing Ribero del Duero, Toro, and Rioja - two bottles from each region. It will be my first foray into rating and comparing this Spanish varietal.

It's about time! Up 'til now I've only checked out lone labels - and even liked some of 'em. If there's any left, I might >hic< compare against El Jefe Brand, which waits patiently for me at the edge of my emotional dance floor.

I'll be sure to share the group's findings, Doc.

Anonymous said...

El Jefe, Don't feel bad about Cab/Merlot blends, these are old grapes that were brought here long ago and have been used for centuries to make wine in Spain. Blame the french, they brought them when Phylloxera hit France, and they came stumbling over the Pyrenees looking for places to make wine sans bugs! SO while I love the native varietals here, I think that if you asked some of the old vines in Rioja about their history in spain they might say that their starting to feel like locals!

Dr. Debs said...

Thanks, Russ, for the heads up about your taste-off. Can't wait for the results. And thanks, too, to Ryan for clearing that up before I'd done too much research. I was surprised to find how much cabernet and merlot were actually planted in Spain. Good to know, but I do have a Mencia from Bierzo for the June tasting that I will get to this weekend!

Dr. Debs said...

Oops, forgot to post my research findings on Navarra:

"Demands for Spain's wines by the English and the French led to improvements in the viticultural processes in Navarra, as well as surrounding regions. When the vineyards of Bordeaux became infected first by oidium, and then, twenty years later, in the 1870's, infested with phylloxera, winegrowing regions of the North of Spain underwent experimentation with viticultural processing and barrel aging. The results of this experimentation led to the wines of Navarra we enjoy today. Unlike Rioja, Navarra has considerable plantings of French varietals such as: Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Chardonnay, and Sauvignon Blanc. The area's most fertile soil, rich in alluvial silt, is set south of Pamplona, between the cities of Puente la Reina and Sanguesa."

From (