Sunday, May 17, 2009

Something Spanish

I'll readily admit to cribbing the idea for this column from a recent tasting by Brian Scott from Vintner Select. His spread of Spanish wines was wonderful, but it was this quote that really got me thinking:

"The great thing about Spain is that it's one of the few places left in Europe where there are basically no rules for winemaking. France and Italy have really strict regulations on how the wine must be made, what grapes are used, and so on. In Spain, it's basically anything goes, and the wines are better for it."

For much of Spain's winemaking history, Spanish wine wasn't all that popular beyond the borders of Spain. There were a couple of regions that were known for decent wine -- Rioja and Ribera del Duero -- but the majority of the country made heavily oxidized and sweet sherries and Malaga. Sparkling wine, mostly made from cava, started being produced in the late 1800's -- but for much of the 20th century, political and economic unrest prevented widespread progress in the Spanish wine world.

A wave of modernization in winemaking techniques swept the country in the late 1970's and early 1980's, creating a surge in both quantity and quality of wines. By the end of the 1990's, Spain's wine producing regions were cranking out impressive amounts of quality wine. At present, in my opinion, it's very difficult to top Spain for quality and value.

Spanish wines run the gamut -- from the sparkling cava to the rich smokiness of an aged Rioja, you can basically find a wine for any occasion. This follows logically, considering the breadth of delicious Spanish cuisine. Following are a few of the wines Brian showed at his recent tasting. I think you'll enjoy them all:

Vinedos de El Seque 2007 Alicante -- The Alicante region is in the Southeastern corner of Spain, just south of Valencia on the Mediterranean. This region was known historically for sweet dessert wines made from Muscatel, but "modern" reds have begun to take off in the last couple of decades, and this is a great entry into the market. This wine is made largely from the Monastrell grape, known to most of the rest of the world as Mourvedre. This wine has some definite French influence. (If you've had reds from Provence, you'll see what I mean right away.) The nose is full of raspberries and smoke. The palate has a very fruit-forward flavor, but there's an undertone of that "Old World funkiness" that makes it a nice pairing with meats and grilled food. It held up nicely both with some spicy beef & mushroom fajitas with criolla salsa as well as with dark chocolate. $11-13.

Espelt "Vailet" 2008 Emporda -- Emporda is a province in the northeast of Catalonia, near Barcelona. Emporda is nestled right up against the Pyrrenees and is just across the border from the Roussillon in France, where similar grapes are grown. This Spanish blend is 60% Garnacha Blanco and 40% Macabeo. It has a floral nose with sort of a "beachy" undertone. The flavor reminded me of a Spanish twist on Gruner Veltliner. It's very crisp and minerally on the tongue. Tart flavors of pineapple with a really notable flinty flavor stand out. The finish is crisp with more mineral character. We tried this this with a challenging pairing -- a salad of baby greens, garlic greens, fennel, and cucumbers with Spanish anchovies and a red wine vinaigrette. The wine's acidity sliced through the oily, pungent flavors, allowing the fruit and the minerality of the wine to pleasantly emerge and easily complement. Wonderful balance with a meal like this. Also $11-13.

Vilosell 2006 Segre Red Wine -- This wine is the perfect example of Brian's "Spanish experimentation." This wine, from a small, more inland region in Catalonia, is 50% Tempranillo, with the rest a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Garnacha, and Syrah. Very few places outside of California would even try putting together a blend like this. It's fruit-forward, to be certain, with lots of cherry and blackberry scents on the nose. Those scents are mirrored on the palate, along with a leathery undertone that begs for grilled food. The finish is long, with lingering fruit and firm tannins. The night I uncorked this, I was coming home from an exhausting day at work and an even more exhausting swim at the Y. I couldn't think of anything to make for dinner, so I got a couple of "steaks from the case" to grill, sautéed some mushrooms with a leftover leek, grilled some thick sliced tomatoes and polenta cakes and called it done. This wine went about as well as anything I could have come up with. This nuzzles right up to (and might exceed by a bit) the $15 mark, but it's certainly worth it.

Also, many thanks in advance to Brian for offering the Sweet Partner in Crime and I the opportunity to attend Vintner Select's 20th Anniversary Celebration at their headquarters in Mason. We're looking forward to seeing the "mothership" for many of the wines that we enjoy. When I'm shopping in any of the wine stores I frequent and I'm wondering about a bottle of wine, if I see that it's been imported by Vintner Select, I can rest easy in the knowledge that it's going to be a very decent bottle. I'll have a full report on this event coming soon...

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