The Wine Curmudgeon has been tasting a lot of post-modern Spanish wine lately, the kind made to appeal to the American palate and the Winestream Media. That means they have as much as 1 1/2 points more alcohol and lots of sweet red fruit. The wines are sound (my new favorite wine term), but just don ?t taste particularly Spanish. There ?s nothing really wrong with this, as long as you understand what ?s going on.
The El Coto ($11, purchased, 12.5%) , on the other hand, will never be confused with one of those wines. It ?s about as Spanish as they come ? red wine from the Rioja region made with tempranillo, a very funky, classic mushroom/forest floor aroma, and a fair of amount of oak on the finish that shows up as vanilla. And don ?t worry about it being an older current vintage, since that ?s not unusual for Rioja.
What makes this wine even more enjoyable is that it ?s not old-fashioned in technique. There is lots and lots of bright cherry fruit, all in balance and all quite pleasant. And, since it ?s Rioja, it will pair with everything from roast chicken to meatier fish to grilled beef to Spanish cheese.
If this isn ?t quite a $10 Hall of Fame wine, it ?s a reminder that old-fashioned doesn ?t always mean out of date.
? La Vieille Ferme Blanc 2011 ($8, purchased): Hugely disappointing vintage from the French white that is a long-time blog favorite. Big-time banana fruit, which not only isn't pleasant, but shows a change in winemaking to softer and more sweetish approach.
? Rodney Strong Sauvignon Blanc 2010 ($13.50, sample): Always dependable and value-driven California white. Look for melon and California grassiness, thought not quite as citrusy as other west coast sauvignon blancs.
During our #winechat discussion last week, one of the questions I got was how regional wine producers could make it easier for Americans to drink wine that wasn't called chardonnay, cabernet, and merlot. Many regional wines are made with grapes most consumers aren't familiar with, like blanc du bois, viognier and tempranillo; hence, they're reluctant to try them.
My suggestion: Don't call the wines by their varietal name, which too many wineries feel compelled to do for reasons I've never been able to figure out. Call them something fun or interesting or inventive.
Case in point is the El Posadero ($10, purchased), a tempranillo blend that is more or less the Spanish equivalent of U.S. regional wine. It comes from a less respected region around Madrid, and not the better known tempranillo appellations of Rioja or Ribera del Duero. This means the wine starts out with an image problem, especially for U.S. consumers. Calling it El Posadero goes a long way towards fixing that. Even if you don't know what El Posadero means (innkeeper, actually, and there's a picture of an inn on the label), it sounds Spanish and intriguing.
And it's a pretty nifty wine, too. The El Posadero is blended with syrah, but doesn't have as much fruit as I thought it would (and is actually a little old-fashioned in spirit). Look for an almost spicy wine with some cherry fruit and lots of acidity — practically sour cherry tart. It needs food, like smoked chicken or beef, but that's part of the appeal of the wine.
The Wine Curmudgeon loves Rioja. The Spanish red, produced in the northern region of Rioja and made mostly with tempranillo, is food friendly, classy, and a tremendous value. One can buy Gran Reserva, the best made of the three levels of Rioja, for pennies on the dollar compared to similar quality wines from the world’s other top wine regions. And $10 Riojas are almost always equally as excellent values.
The Beronia ($28, purchased) is a more modern style of Rijoa, which means it’s bit higher in alcohol and has fresher, more forward fruit. It’s still the classic cherry that Rioja is known for, but a lot more noticeable. And modern though it may be, it still smells like a Rioja (I’d say funky; the correct winespeak is probably spicy or earthy) and it posseses the lively acidity and well-integrated oak that these wines are famous for.
One of the favorite moments in my wine career was a lunch in a small town in Rioja, with a bottle of Crianza (the basic level of Rioja), roast baby lamb and canned white asparagus. I can still taste the way the lamb and the wine went together, and it makes me smile whenever I think about it.
And a tip o’ the Curmudgeon’s fedora to Laurie Daniel, who judged with me at last week’s Dallas Morning News-TexSom competition, and donated this bottle to the cause because she didn’t want to cram it in her luggage. Much appreciated, Laurie.
Reviews of wines that don ?t need their own post, but are worth noting for one reason or another. Look for it on the final Friday of each month (Thursday this month because of the holiday).
? Stone Hill Vignoles 2009 ($16, sample): Lots of pineapple, but not all that sweet with a long peach pit finish. An excellent example of what can be done with this hybrid grape from one of Missouri’s top producers.
? Souverain Sauvignon Blanc 2009 ($14, sample): This wine is one of the reasons why I love wine, and it has nothing to do with whether I “liked” it or not. The Souverain is done in a style I don’t usually care for, oaked sauvignon blanc, but it’s so well done that I can appreciate what it offers and recommend it.
? Spy Valley Sauvignon Blanc 2009 ($18, purchased): More wonderfullness from what may be the best sauvignon blanc in the world. Look for even less citrus and more tropical fruit than usual, which is saying something since Spy Valley is among the least citrus-y of the New Zealand sauvignon blancs.
? Bodegas Iranzo Vertus 2003 ($15, sample): Tempranillo from a less well-known part of Spain, and well worth the effort. More fresh cherry fruit than a Rijoa, lots of bright Spanish acidity and even a bit of herb tucked in. Highly recommended.