This vintage of the Spanish Azul y Garanza tempranillo isn’t as interesting as the past couple, but still delivers quality and value
This is the fourth vintage I’ve tasted of the Azul y Garanaza tempranillo, a Spanish red. And each year has been different from the others. That’s incredibly refreshing in our post-modern, all wine must taste alike world.
This time, the Azul y Garanza tempranillo ($13/1 liter, purchased, 14.1%) is a little more rustic and tannic than past vintages, with less cherry fruit. In this, it’s about the opposite of the first vintage I tasted, the 2016, which was softer and fruitier than I normally like. The Azul probably isn’t Hall of Fame quality this time, like the 2017 and 2018. But, like the 2016, it is perfectly enjoyable to drink.
And it remains a fine value, and not just because it’s a liter, with the extra glass and a half of wine. (And, in four vintages, this is the fourth different price I’ve paid – all bought from stores in Texas).
One other thing: Don’t worry about the 14.1 percent alcohol, which is likely a little sleight of hand to get around the 25 percent Trump wine tariff, which applies to Spanish and French wines less than 14 percent. This “adjustment” is happening quite a bit, and it really doesn’t affect the quality of the wine.
In other words, buy a bottle of the LAN Rioja Crianza ($12, purchased, 13.5%) and enjoy it for Father’s Day. It’s a step up from something like Aldi’s La Cornada – better grape quality and even a bit of oak. In this, it’s classic crianza from Spain’s Rioja region, the entry level wine made with tempranillo. Look for cinnamon, maybe something orangeish in the aroma, red cherry and berry fruit, and nary a tannin out of place. And the oak doesn’t get in the way, actually adding to the whole.
Highly recommended, and almost certain to appear in the 2021 Hall of Fame. Pair this with almost anything on the grill, be it sausage, burgers, chicken, or pizza.
$10 delivers a terrific Spanish red in the Flaco tempranillo
The Wine Curmudgeon has been derelict in his cheap wine duty. I have not reviewed the Flaco tempranillo for a couple of vintages, and it has only been featured twice in the blog’s history. Please forgive me, cheap wine gods.
The Flaco tempranillo ($10, purchased, 13%) should be reviewed – and praised – with each vintage. That’s because it offers Spanish and varietal character every time, and for a fraction of what more expensive Spanish reds cost.
The 2018 is a little fresher and not as heavy as previous vintages. Look for the typical tempranillo aromas, like orange-ish flowers. The berry fruit is not quite sweet, and there is a little spice mixed in there somewhere to round it out, as well as just enough in the way of tannins to support all that fruit.
Highly recommended, and a candidate for the 2021 $10 Hall of Fame. Drink this with almost anything beef or pork, and it would complement roast chicken as well.
• El Circo Volatinero 2018 ($10, purchased, 13.5%): Spanish red made with tempranillo that doesn’t taste especially Spanish or much like tempranillo. It’s bland and boring – dare I say, “Smooth?” Imported by Seaview Imports
• El Terrano Verdejo 2017 ($8, purchased, 13.5%): Another cheap white wine from Whole Foods that isn’t worth even the little it costs. Spanish, but thin and watery lemon fruit, and not much else. Imported by Pacific Highway Wines & Spirits
• Flora & Stone Gewürztraminer NV ($5, purchased, 12%): Aldi private label California white that tastes like gewurtzraminer, but also tastes like it has been sweetened to please a focus group. It mostly tastes like wine, but it could have been so much more enjoyable.
The Cune Rioja, from Spain’s CVNE, is a tempranillo blend that will bring joy to anyone who loves quality cheap wine
CVNE’s Cune Rioja brings joy to my tired and worn out brain whenever I see it on the shelf. And these days, when the future of quality cheap wine is very much in doubt, that’s something to depend on.
The Cune Rioja ($11, purchased, 13.5%) is a Spanish red wine from the Rioja region, mostly made with tempranillo. CVNE is a large Spanish producer that has been around for 140 years, and its wines still taste as they should and still offer quality and value for less than $15. Crianza is the simplest of the Rioja wines, but still well made.
This vintage of the Cune Rioja is a little rounder and fuller than the 2014 – the cherry fruit isn’t quite as tart and the wine isn’t quite as earthy. But there is some baking spice and a hint of orange peel, Rijoa’s calling card. And it will pair with almost anything that isn’t in a cream sauce. As I wrote in my notes: “As it should be. One of the world’s great cheap wine values.” What more do we need these days?
The Wine Curmudgeon pairs wine with some of his favorite recipes in this occasional feature. This edition: three wines with perhaps the most classic of all dishes, roast chicken.
When I taught wine to culinary students, they always asked what my favorite dinner was — no doubt expecting some over-complicated, over-sauced French haute cuisine adventure to pair with $300 wine. My answer always surprised them: Roast chicken served with a simple pan sauce, green noodles, a green salad with a mustardy vinaigrette, and crusty French bread.
Because when it’s a top quality chicken and the skin is brown and crisp, what else do you need but terrific cheap wine?
The catch, of course, is finding an affordable quality chicken. Most supermarket chickens don’t have any flavor to begin with, and they’ve often been frozen and defrosted and frozen again as they go through the supply chain. Hence, the meat gets almost crumbly after it’s cooked. Find a chicken that has avoided that, usually at a specialty grocer, and you’ll be stunned at the difference.
The other key: Finding the best roasting method. I’ve tried almost all of them, including smothering the skin with gobs of butter, roasting in a rack, and stuffing the cavity with lemons and herbs. But nothing seems to work as well as Jacques Pepin’s Chicken Roti. It’s simple and direct and delicious. You brown the chicken on each side in a hot oven, and then finish the bird on its back, basting with the pan juices occasionally. Yes, it can cause an undue amount of smoke in the kitchen, and flipping the chicken during roasting takes some getting used to. But it’s well worth the effort
• Zestos Old Vine Rosado 2018 ($10, purchased, 12%): This Spanish pink is one of the world’s great cheap roses — bright and fresh and almost minerally, but with more fruit than a Provencal rose (strawberry?). Highly recommended. Imported by Ole & Obrigado
• La Cornada Crianza 2015 ($5, purchased, 13%): I bought this Spanish temprnaillo at Aldi in February, and it was enjoyable. I’ve since bought a half-dozen more, and it keeps improving with age — more Spanish in style, less oaky, and cherry fruit that stays in the background. There’s even a little earth.
The Dominio de Eguren Protocolo Tinto is cheap Spanish tempranillo the way it should be
The Spanish wine regions around Madrid aren’t famous, unless someone is sneering about the tanker cars of cheap red wine produced there every year. Let them sneer, because they’re missing out on terrific cheap wine like the Protocolo.
In fact, one reason why Spanish tempranillo is among the best red wine values in the world is that regions like Castilla-La Mancha do more than make tanker cars of cheap red wine. Much of it is cheap wine the way it should be – varietally correct and following the style of the country, simple but not insulting. And, since producers in these regions can do cheap so well, it holds down the price of better quality tempranillos from Rioja and Ribera.
The Protocolo ($9, purchased, 13.5%) is everything one hopes for in a cheap Spanish tempranillo — soft tannins, just enough acidity to show that it’s red wine, and ripe but not too ripe berry fruit. Plus, it has flavors at the beginning, the middle and the end (a sort of rustic earthiness), just like more expensive wines.
Highly recommended, and a candidate for both the 2020 Hall of Fame and the Cheap Wine of the Year. Drink this with almost any spring and summer barbecue, and then keep drinking it the rest of the year.