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What To Drink Now: Wine of Spain…Beyond Rioja

Morlanda Vineyards in Priorat

When I was first learning about and drinking wine I remember trying a Tempranillo from Rioja and thinking that was the wine of Spain. Yes, rather naive, like someone from Spain thinking all wine from the U.S. came from Napa, but at the time wine from Rioja was popular and easy to find, more so than some of the other regions in the country. Now, after years of tasting and enjoying wine from throughout the diverse wine regions of Spain I have learned that great Spanish wine reaches beyond that first glass of Rioja I enjoyed.

Winemakers from throughout Spain have recently been in town to meet with members of the wine trade to taste selections from Spain’s increasingly popular Priorat, Ribera Del Duero, Monstant, Penedes, La Mancha and Jerez regions. I was an invited guest to a few tastings.  I also had a chance to visit the Priorat region on my recent media visit to the country.  Here are some to look for if you are in the mood for a great Spanish wine.

Over lunch on the patio of Saint Ann importer Steve Miles and several of his winemakers from throughout Spain described the  interest and excitement that fuels them in the production of their mineral rich white wines and their fruit forward and often earthy reds, as well as a few high end sherries from Bodegas Tradicion in Jerez.

Acoustic Cellars Winemaker Albert Jane

Acoustic Cellars is making interesting wines from Montsant,  the region just surrounding Priorat on the north-eastern edge of the country, where winemaker/proprietor Albert Jane makes wine that push the boundaries of what the region typically produces.  His “unplugged” attitude and ideas have led him to create mineral rich, balanced wine from vines ranging from 25 – 100+ years old.  The Acoustic Blanc blends indigenous white grapes from the region for a citrus and mineral filled wine crafted from Garnacha Blanc, Macabeo, Garnacha Gris and Pansal.  The Acustic Auditori is 100% Garnacha from hand harvested estate fruit and aged 12 months in French oak.  Cherry, strawberry and red licorice fill the palate with herbal notes of fresh rosemary and sage with touches of sweet baking spice.  I tried the 2009, which was good now but will benefit from a few years of aging.

For sherry lovers Bodegas Tradicion proudly produces all of their sherries in house without fining or filtering, maintaining the best flavor for their sherries.  All are aged a minimum of 20 years, with most aged around 40.  Their Palo Cortado is 100% Palomino Fino and aged 41+ years.  An incredibly dry and slightly salty sherry on the palate, but with aromas of sweet orange peel, toasted nuts and spice.  A delicious aperitif served with hard, aged cheese, roasted almonds and salty ham.

Ribera del Duero takes the Tempranillo grape to a new level with their aged Reserva and Gran Reserva wines.  Located north of Madrid in the Duero River Valley with high elevations (averaging 2500-2800 feet above sea level), creating very hot summers, cold winters, with temperatures averaging 100 degrees during the day in the summer, while dipping to 50 degrees at night.  Ideal growing conditions.  Though their Joven or Cosecha wines are light, fruit forward and juicy without much age or use of oak are good palate pleasers for sipping on their own, the real stars of the region come from the wines aged 3+ years.  The Reserva wines are aged at least 3 years with a minimum of one year in the barrel; Gran Reserva wines are only made when the grapes for that year show outstanding quality, and are aged a minimum of five years, two years minimum in barrel. These are the wines that show the structure, complexity and balance that define great red from Ribera del Duero. At a tasting held by Drink Ribera, Drink Spain I tried several wines that are currently available in the area, as well as a few looking for distribution.

For those with distribution and available in Dallas the Vega Sicilia Unico Gran Reserva 2000 blew my socks off.   92% Tempranillo with 8% Cabernet Sauvignon blended in to add a bit of depth to the wine filled with spice, black fruit and black licorice and cigar notes. Well balanced, interesting and bold, a wine with personality and ready to be enjoyed.

Another option, and a little more reasonably priced, was found with the Valduero 2005 Reserva, 100% Tempranillo aged 30 months in barrel then 18 months in bottle. Filled with red cherry, leather and coffee with layers of earthiness and herbal notes this is a good food wine that will pair with anything from grilled steaks to roast lamb with herbs to charcuterie.

A wine looking for an importer and distributor was Vitivinicola de Valbuena for their CarMe wine.  A small family owned winery established on the grounds of the family farmhouse in Valbuena de Duero, with the fruit for their 30,000 bottle production coming from their estate.  Their Joven is very young, fruit forward and juicy.  A wine to show the range of Tempranillo with youthful notes meant to be enjoyed just after bottling, good for pairing with grilled pizza and light salads.

The wine of Priorat continues to show wine lovers how great Garnacha and Cariñena grown in poor, dry soil with stressed vines fighting for nutrients and water can be.
I recently visited Morlanda winery, a part of the Heredad Collection of wines under the Ferrer family portfolio, tasting their small production wines from the barrel, the tank and in the bottle.  Barrel tasting is always so interesting because you can get a general sense of how the wine will end up as the fruit profile will be there, and you are able to really understand the effects barrel aging often has on the wine, adding flavors and aromas of spice, toast, chocolate, etc.  Morlanda only produces wine from vines grown on their estate from grapes indigenous to the region as well as a few red Bordeaux varietals.

Barrel tasting with Morlanda Winemaker Judit Llop

The barrel tasting showed how ripe and delicious the fruit for their Morlanda wine is; but it couldn’t beat the wine in the bottle after full barrel aging and resting 6 months in the bottle.  A blend of 50% Garnacha and 50% Cariñena, this wine is dense, complex and balanced with expressive blackberry, licorice, mocha, espresso and subtle earthiness with a smooth and enjoyable finish.