The Zestos Old Vine Garnacha, a Spanish red, remains one of the world’s great wine values
One of the hallmarks of a great wine, regardless of price, is consistency – does it offer quality and value every vintage, while remaining true to its terroir and varietal? Which is exactly what the Spanish Zestos Old Vine Garnacha does.
Look for red fruit (cherry? berries?), but it’s not too jammy, which can be a problem with garnacha. There’s even a trace of minerality, and the bit of oak that seems to lurking in the background should fade as the wine ages. In this, it’s lively and juicy and everything I hope for in great $10 wine. But what else we expect from an importer as brilliant as Ole Imports?
The Zestos will complement almost any kind of food, tapas or otherwise. And you could even chill it a bit, and it would be fine its own on a lazy weekend afternoon. Highly recommended, and almost certain to appear in the 2020 $10 Hall of Fame – and it’s a candidate for the 2020 Cheap Wine of the Year.
The Cellers Unio Clos de Nit shows why Spanish wine offers the best value in the world
Don’t let the age of of the Cellers Unio Clos de Nit discourage you. First, it’s Spanish, and it’s made to hold up. Second, it’s from a top-notch importer, another sign the wine will age well. Third, there are more current vintages, and all should be enjoyable.
That the wine was so terroir driven shouldn’t have surprised me, since it’s Spanish and from the Montsant region in Catalonia, where terroir remains important. Given that the samples I’ve been tasting for the past three or four months have been just the opposite, I’ve come to expect the worst. But the Cellers Unio Close de Nit was nothing like that. It has an earthy, almost plummy aroma, followed by garnacha’s red fruit jamminess and a soft but pleasing finish.
This is summer cookout and barbecue wine, as well as something to keep around the house when you want a glass of red. Highly recommended, and a candidate for the 2019 $10 Hall of Fame.
The Sangre de Toro garnacha is a red wine for hot weather, and delivers more than $7 worth of value
One of the cheap wines everyone drank in those long ago days before the blog was the Sangre de Toro Spanish red blend, which came with a little plastic bull. I must have had hundreds of the bulls.
I haven’t seen the red blend in years, though the producer’s website says it’s still around. Instead, what’s showing up on store shelves near me is the Sangre de Toro garnacha ($7, purchased, 13.5%), a red wine made with the garnacha grape. And I was pleasantly surprised by what I tasted:
• Varietally correct, which means soft berry fruit, but not too ripe or jelly-like, a common garnacha problem. There was even a bit of spice and enough freshness to balance the fruit.
• Regionally correct. It tasted like a Spanish wine, and not a wine made in Spain to please the infamous U.S. wine palate. This may have been the most pleasantly surprising part.
• A minimum of post-modern winemaking. Other than a bit of fake oak on the back (the tasting notes call it “licorice”), the wine didn’t taste manipulated or worked over to make it something it wasn’t.
Frankly, I didn’t expect to enjoy the Sangre de Toro garnacha as much as I did. But it was $7 worth of wine, if not more, as well as the the kind of red wine that works perfectly in Dallas when it’s 100 degrees in the middle of July. I chilled it for about 20 minutes in the fridge, and drank it with sloppy Joes and cole slaw. What more could I ask for in the middle of the week?
The Muga Rioja Reserva ($26, purchased, 14%) may be $40 worth of wine if it came from France or California. But given that Muga is a top-flight producer, that’s not surprising; its wines, whether the $12 rose or its most expensive reds, consistently deliver more value and quality than they cost.
This is a surprisingly traditional Rioja given that garnacha is blended with tempranillo, as well as the 14 percent alcohol – very high for this style of wine. That means tart cherry fruit; layers of flavor, including green herbs, a smokiness that hangs around the edges and just the faintest note of oak. There is also the more common black pepper and orange peel. The garnacha adds richness to the wine, and it’s not as rustic as other vintages.
The Muga Rioja Reserva should age for at least a decade. As it does, the layers will become noticeable and more of a whole, while the flavors will become more full. Highly recommended; pair this with any grilled or roasted dinner, whether beef or chicken.
The Barcelona Garnacha is another $10 Spanish wine that is better than we have any reason to expect
I am now officially embarrassed by my enthusiasm for Spanish wine. I have run out of adjectives, run out of praise, run out of explanations for a wine like the Barcelona Garnacha – made by one more producer no one has ever heard in an equally anonymous region – can deliver so much value.
And when so many other wines can’t, don’t, and have no interest in doing so.
The wine is made with garnacha and tempranillo, which means the former lends its telltale cherry fruit, some berries, and a certain richness, while the latter contributes its spice and acidity – and well as the good sense tempranillo can bring to wine when it’s done correctly. Open this for pizza, spaghetti and meatballs, or just because you want a cheap, quality red wine.
Highly recommended, and a candidate for the 2018 $10 Hall of Fame. And, in one of those weird things that happens in wine, it was made by Russell Smith, once the winemaker at Texas’ Becker Vineyards (which I didn’t know when I bought the wine). Go figure.
One of the Wine Curmudgeon’s battle cries is varietally correct — that is, does the wine taste like the grapes it came from, or has winemaking been used to make it taste a certain way? The latter approach, though useful in making certain kinds of cheap wine, is ultimately not very satisfying. The best wines, of whatever price, should be varietally correct.
Which is why the Zestos garnacha ($10, purchased, 13.5%) is so stunning. I rarely quote from producer websites, but this says it all, including the exclamation point: “This tremendous quality wine is made from old vine Garnacha and it sells for a song!” No less than Robert Parker — yes, that Robert Parker — calls the Zestos “a staggering value.” If Parker and I agree on quality and value, it’s time to buy a case and reserve a spot in the 2015 $10 Hall of Fame.
So what makes the Zestos so impressive? It combines the best parts of garnacha, its fresh and juicy red fruit, with the qualities added by using grapes from old vines, most 40 to 50 years old. That means rich, concentrated fruitiness (dark cherries?), an almost oak-like depth, though there is no oak, and layers of flavor rarely found in $10 wines. The tannins are soft, as they should be, and the finish is chalky, befitting the terroir.
All this is impressive enough. But the Zestos does it with normal alcohol; other wines with these attributes need to be 15 percent or more to taste this way. Hence, you can drink a bottle with dinner and not pass out. That Parker likes a wine that hasn’t been Parkerized is the Wine Curmudgeon’s holiday gift to his readers.
This is the second of two parts discussing why Spanish wine may be the best value in the world today. Part I, an overview of why Spain offers so much value, is here.
If wine drinkers know Spanish wine, it’s tempranillo from Rijoa or Ribera del Duero. Older wine drinker might know Spanish sherry, while the hipsters know garnacha and the Winestream Media-hyped wines from the Priorat. In this, it’s as if nothing has happened in Spain over the past 20 years.
Nothing could be further from the truth. Spanish wine — red, white, pink, and bubbly — is better than ever. Cava, the Spanish sparkling, has received most of the attention, but it’s not alone in the Spanish wine renaissance. The whites, including viura, verdejo, and albarino, can be spectacular for as little as $10. The reds, always excellent from the best regions, have improved dramatically regardless of where they’re from. Aldi’s $5 Vina Decana tempranillo (which, sadly, appears to be gone) is from Utiel-Requena, about as little known as a Spanish wine region gets.
These wines, tasted over the past six months, will get you started in understanding what’s going on in Spain. But they’re just a sample, and I could have listed a dozen more. The lesson? Don’t be afraid to strike out on your own. It will be hard to go wrong.
• Muga Rosado 2013 ($10, purchased, 13%): One of the best roses in the world, always fresh and delicious. This vintage has tart strawberry fruit. As one CellarTracker user wrote: “My fifth bottle this summer,” which seems about as good a recommendation as possible.
• deAlto Amo Blanco 2012 ($10, purchased, 13%): My tasting notes for this white, made mostly with viura, quibble about crispness and whether it’s too floral. How much have the Spanish spoiled me that I’m looking for things to complain about ?
• Columna R as Baixas 2011 ($10, purchased, 12.5%): This white, made with albarino, is another excellent example of the quality wine that Ole Imports brings to the U.S. Still fresh, despite being an older vintage, with a really interesting, almost baking spice middle.
• Cune Crianza 2010 ($15, purchased, 13.5%): Yes, this red from Rioja, a tempranillo blend, is three times better than the Decana, which means it’s close to spectacular. Deep, rich cherry fruit, a hint of bitter orange, layered oak, and a full, complete finish. Highly recommended.
• Evodia 2013 ($10, sample, 14.5%): This red, made with garnacha, is a hipster wine that the rest of us can enjoy. The last time I tasted it, it was 15 percent alcohol and still drinkable; this vintage, with lots of cherry fruit, good weight, and some black pepper, is even better. I’m always surprised I like it as much as I do.
• Val de Vid Verdejo 2010 ($10, purchased, 12.5%): Yes, the vintage is correct, and how a white wine that costs $10 and is this old can be this delicious is beyond me. Has white pepper and a sort of pear fruit that could also be lime without the citrus, plus a longish finish.