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Sketches of Wine of Spain

Wednesday, October 14th, 2009

One of my favorite jazz albums of all time is Miles Davis's Sketches of Spain.  While I think it's just good jazz, some critics have focused on the fact that it's "something other than jazz" because it's not as improvisational as many other albums.  Davis, when confronted with this charge, responded simply: "It's music, and I like it."


Which is why I like Spanish wines.  The best Spanish wines I've had are things of grace and dark beauty, simultaneously of the slowly-setting sun and the full voluptuous moon.  Spanish wines, though very often complex, are still wines, and I like them.  They are some of the most accessible on the market.


But alas, people are now tuned into Spanish wines, and what was once a peninsula full of bulls, jamón ibérico, and excellent bargains is still full of bulls and ham but prices have been climbing.  Luckily, they're still relatively affordable and offer great quality to price ratios.


You will be able to find a number of great Spanish wines at Addy Bassin's MacArthur Beverages (4877 MacArthur Blvd in Georgetown, near the Mt. Vernon Campus).  This is an amazing wine store with very knowledgeable reps; however, it's pretty out of the way unless you have a car or are willing to take a taxi.  I managed to go there in a ZipCar I had rented for my (only) OCI call-back.  While I thought I'd pick up only a bottle or two, I ended up picking up a full case of some excellent, excellent wines-most of them Spanish.


What do you do when you have seven bottles of great Spanish wine and need to recoup your monetary losses?  Host a wine tasting.  In this instance, the Nota Bene was represented by Jill Meeks, Kate Mereand, and Terry Schoone-Jongen.  We were joined by a few other friends and auxiliaries in our pursuit of oenological knowledge.


There were three whites, followed by four reds.  The four reds were further separated into two from Rioja and two from Ribera del Duero; each pair consisted of one each representing the "New World" and "Old World" styles of the respective region.


First up was the 2007 Finca Viña Mein "Viña Mein" white blend.  This white is from the Ribeiro appellation on the Galician coast of Spain and consists of a Mötley Crüe of grapes: predominantly Treixadura with Godello, Loureira, Lado, Torrontés, and Albariño.  It had a very light, pale color and a nose that hinted of citrus and peach.  It featured a light to medium body and had a bit of a plasticine finish.  This wasn't exactly unpleasant, however; as Terry pointed out, the finish was "a little warm-[it] lingers like that Cranberries song."  The Viña Mein scored an average of 80 (ouch!) and clocks in at $17.99.


The next was one I had been looking forward to for a long time: the 1999 R. Lopez de Heredia "Viña Gravoñia" Rioja blanco crianza, made from the Viura grape.  Lopez de Heredia is as traditional a winemaker as you'll find anywhere.  Although a rising trend in Rioja and, indeed, the rest of the world, is to release wines sooner (because holding onto wine is an expensive proposition), Lopez de Heredia not only adheres to but exceeds the requirements imposed by the traditional rules whereby wines must be aged in barrel and then in bottle for a certain number of years before being released.  For instance, a crianza must be aged for at least two years, at least one of which must be spent in oak.  The Viña Gravoñia crianza spent not one but four years in oak, followed by six years in the bottle.  And all this is for a white wine!


The color was a gorgeous burnt straw color, with a slight honeyed nose.  It tasted of almond and butterscotch, with a hint of oxidation that displayed itself as a sharpness on the finish.  It was the oxidation that had me worried: oxidation is the norm in older white wines and can be a turn-off for many people.  However, the Viña Gravoñia was the favorite white of the evening and the second-favorite wine overall, garnering a score of 89.  It is an outstanding, idiosyncratic wine, and one that is available for about $25.99.


The last white, 2008 Jorge Ordoñez "Botani" Sierras de Málaga Moscatel Seco, made from the Moscatel (muscat) grape, was a refreshing, light, and straightforward wine.  Someone compared its color to a "sparkly gold wedding ring" and said its nose was "sweet and confident, like a green jacket."  (Thanks, Bill McGonigle!)  It was rated at 83 and is $18.99.


Now on to the reds!


Our first stop was at Rioja, which is perhaps the most famous of the Spanish appellations.  Going back to Lopez de Heredia, we had a bottle of the 1999 "Viña Tondoñia" reserva which was made from 75% Tempranillo, 15% Garnacho, and 10% Mazuelo and Graciano.  This was aged for five and a half years in oak and the remainder of the time in bottle.  Being of the traditional Old World style, however, this was not oaky or over-the-top-in fact, it was lean, restrained, and light.  Its pepper, herbs, and acid actually reminded me of a nice Burgundy.  People had fun with this one, comparing its color to "vampire blood" and its nose to "cinnamon and pink peppercorn."  They gave it an 85; it is $41.99.


Continuing through Rioja we had the 2006 Artadi "Viñas de Gain", which did not adhere to the traditional Rioja age classification system (note the much younger age).  100% Tempranillo, this was much darker than the Viña Tondoñia and very spicy and deep.  Its oak characteristics were more pronounced, under which the tasters found "old boysenberries" and "leather."  It was rated 84 and costs a cool $34.99.


The final two wines were from the Ribera del Duero, which is perhaps my favorite region of Spain.  The wines here remind me of dusty, dry riverbeds, which is a good thing for me, at least.  We first had an Old World-style Ribera del Duero-the 2005 Alejandro Fernandez "Tinto Pesquera" crianza, composed of 100% Tinto Fino (Tempranillo)-which is one of my standbys.  "Deep and sanguine," one taster wrote, "Is this going to beat me up?"  It featured black cherry, vanilla, and fantastic tannins.  Although I loved it, at least one or two people thought it was too intense.  "I am going into a diabetic coma," declared a participant, "this is so sweet."  We rated it 87 and costs about $34.00.


Finally, we came to the final wine of the evening, a New World-style Ribera del Duero beast vinified from 100% Tinto Fino: the 2006 Finca Torremilanos "Cyclo".  Apparently one of the most popular and newer Spanish wines in the market, the Cyclo was round, sweet, and higher tannins than the Tinto Pesquera.  It was crazy oaky, but people loved it.  It is a very masculine wine, with dried berries and rosemary.  It would go very well with lamb.  People gave this one a 90, making it the highest-scored wine of the evening.  It was also the most expensive wine at $44.99.


All in all, these wines were all very good and approachable.  You could easily purchase any of these wines for any number of occasions, and they offer high quality for a reasonable price.  They might not be music, but I like them.