The Zestos Blanco demonstrates that $10 wine is not incompatible with subtlety and sophistication
One of the things that Big Wine strives for is consistency from vintage to vintage, so that the wine tastes exactly the same regardless of the year the grapes were picked. This can be an advantage, so you won’t be surprised if a harvest is off in some way.
Zestos is a Spanish label from the always dependable Ole Imports, and it has just three wines – a red, rose, and this white. And if that wasn’t un-Big Wine enough, it’s made with the malvar grape, about as geeky as Spanish grapes get. The Ole notes say malvar is somewhere between chardonnay and sauvignon blanc; given how different those grapes are, you can tell how difficult it is to describe.
This vintage, while still clean and fresh, is heavier than the 2015, so it’s not for porch sipping. It needs food – Thanksgiving would do quite nicely, but any roast poultry (or even salmon) would work. It’s also not as tart as 2015, which means less lemon fruit but more of something like kiwi.
Highly recommended, and just not because it’s so odd. The Zestos Blanco demonstrates that $10 wine can be just as subtle, sophisticated, and interesting as bottles that cost twice as much.
That’s the thought behind this year’s gift suggestions, culled from interviews with retailers and consumers as well as the countless news releases I get during the holiday season. The trend this year? More wine and less accessories, with consumers deciding that gadgets aren’t as enjoyable in 2016 as a quality bottle of wine.
This year’s gift ideas:
• Chablis for the California chardonnay drinker who wants something different. Chablis, chardonnay from Burgundy in France, doesn’t have any oak. That means a more austere and more minerally wine, in contrast to the richer and more buttery California chardonnays. One possibility: Jean-Pierre Grossot Chablis, about as much of a steal as a $20 wine can be.
• Trade up a cabernet sauvignon drinker who wants something more complex. The Faust, from Napa Valley, is the sort of $50 wine I wish I got to taste more often. It’s firmly rooted in Napa, made in a decidedly New World style, but it also shows that quality wine is about more than just flashy fruit.
• Something different for the wine geek. Look for top-notch wine made with odd grapes – an Italian refosco, for instance, a Spanish malvar, or a Hungarian Tokaj. Each can cost as little as $10.
• Koval rye whiskey, because the WC does not live by wine alone. I’ve been a rye drinker since the bad old days, when all you could find was what we fondly called Old Overcoat. The craft spirits boom has changed that, and the Koval ($50) is rye that is more than a bourbon knockoff, something spicy and intriguing.
• Malvar produces a white wine that is not quite chardonnay, not quite sauvignon blanc, and not quite viognier. That means tart green apple and stone fruit flavors, and even a little white pepper.
• The Zestos Blanco comes from the area around Madrid, which even in Spain isn’t highly regarded for wine. Hence, another reason not to charge a premium for it.
• My favorite cheap wine importer, Ole Imports, brings the wine to the U.S., and regular visitors know how many terrific wines Ole handles. Like the Zestos rose. And the Zestos garnacha.
Highly recommended, and a candidate for the 2017 $10 Hall of Fame. Chill this, and pair it with salad Nicoise, grilled fish or shrimp, and even chicken fried steak. And, given the grape, the wine is better with food.
Mata’s passion for Spanish wine is famous, and his palate is exceptional. Which is why I trust Ole implicitly. Otherwise, a wine like the Zestos would raise all sorts of red flags. It’s a white wine from a region in Spain best known for red wine, and the red wine doesn’t have all that great a reputation. Its color is different, sort of off-yellow, and it’s made with a grape, the malvar, that is obscure even for those of us who appreciate obscure. Malvar, grown only in that part of Spain, is not even listed in the incredibly comprehensive Winegrape Glossary.
My faith, not surprisingly, was rewarded. The Zestos ($10, purchased) is unique, though it had some similarity to the Gascon wines I like, including a little white grapiness. It is simple, but definitely Spanish in style — less fruit than the Gascon wines (some lemon, maybe) with a stone fruit pit kind of finish. One tasting note described the finish as bitter almonds, and that works, too.
Drink this chilled on its own or with a any week night dinner that calls for white wine. It’s a candidate for the 2013 $10 Hall of Fame, and is highly recommended. Just don’t expect it to taste like something you’ve tried before.
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