Spanish Wines Come of Age, Offering Great Summer Bargains

With growth in global wine sales waning, Spanish wine makers have introduced better quality and more attractive pricing to woo customers.

Increasingly sophisticated wine drinkers are becoming better versed in varietals like tempranillo, garnacha and verdejo from regions like Galicia, Valencia, Catalonia and Aragon.

Spain’s sparkling cavas are gaining on Italy’s proseccos, and the popularity of tapas bars outside Spain has led to a new interest in the fizzy, low alcohol Basque wine called txakoli. Still, Spanish white wines have not achieved critical parity with the country’s reds.

At the new Spanish brasserie Manzanilla in New York, where a rose txakoli is poured by the glass, “a good chunk of our guests tell me they know little or nothing about Spanish wine,” says the restaurant’s wine director, Rick Pitcher, who stocks about 125 Spanish wines. “I then generally point them to lighter wines with high acid that are more versatile with our food, because there is so much sharing of dishes comprised of seafood and meats. For the reds I favor the wines from cooler climates like Galicia.”

Spanish wines also offer an array of older vintages that give perspective to how well these wines age. That’s quite a change from 20 years ago, when so many Spanish wines consisted of blends of various vintages.

Summer Suggestions

Here are several Spanish red wines I’ve been enjoying recently and plan to drink through spring and summer.

Luis Canas Crianza 2008 ($15)

A red crianza from Rioja must spend at least 12 months in oak and not be sold until its third year, which allows for mellowing before release. Five percent garnacha added to 95 percent tempranillo with a spark of bright fruit helps balance the tannins, while the acids that make this Rioja Alavesa wine wholly pleasurable to drink with anything on the grill this summer.

Vinedos Valderiz Ribera del Duero ($34)

Bodegas y Valderiz’s Esteban family prides itself on its commitment to ecological and biodynamic processes. Their Juegabolos vineyard has a complex soil structure with a limestone bottom. It gives their Barricas Seleccionada 2006 estate wine, made from 100 percent tempranillo, a rich minerality.

Today it costs $34, down from $75 a bottle a couple of years ago. For something bolder, though with a little less finesse, the 2004 Valderiz Ribera del Duero is a real delight, so good with pork and beef, and a good buy for such a well-balanced a red wine of its age.

Bodegas J.C. Conde Vivir Vinos de Fabula Vivir 2007 ($14)

On the first sip, this Ribera del Duero from 100 percent tempranillo doesn’t reveal much, and the acids are weak. But for $14 and at 14 percent alcohol, it is the kind of wine you pack into a picnic basket with a loaf of country bread, cold chicken and cole slaw. The vines date back as much as 60 years in the Burgos district, and the wine is aged 10 months in tanks.

Alta Banderas A10 Crianza 2008 ($16)

A wine that reveals many layers of dark cherry and toasted caramel notes, it spent more than 16 months in French and American oak. At 14 percent alcohol the taste is rich without being cloying.

Dominio de Atauta 2008 ($34)

This tempranillo is not filtered, which explains the dark color, rustic style and excellent acidity to cut through the durable tannins, for which the tempranillo grape is justly admired. It has a great deal of ripe berries, and surprisingly, after only four years, needs decanting because a lot of sediment has gathered in the bottle.

Xavier Flouret Pavo Real Crianza 2005 ($20)

Winemaker Nuria Pena Albillo has given this winery from the 1920s a boost in reputation, but you’ll have to be patient. I found the 2005 still very tannic and not yet giving up its mellow fruit. The label says it should be drunk “now and up to 10 years,” and I’d suggest waiting the full decade for this wine to mature.

It’s high alcohol (14.5 percent), and is made in a style typical among young Spanish winemakers aiming to compete with the big reds from California and South America.

(John Mariani writes about wine for Muse, the arts and culture section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.)

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