Value from Spain
Psst! Want to keep up with the trend-setters? Lissen up ...
When I interviewed several of the top sommeliers in my home town recently for a magazine story about hot local trends in restaurant wine, just about all of them said the same thing: Knowledgeable folks looking for really good wine at really good prices these days will browse the wine list in search of goodies from Spain.
"The days of ordering an expensive Bordeaux without thinking about it are gone," said Neil Wellinghurst, owner and wine expert at Wellinghurst's Steak House and Judge Roy Bean's in Louisville. "For value, generally speaking, you have to leave France and California." He's recommending the wines of Spain, and quite a few of his peers at other wine-savvy local eateries say the same.
This news will come as no surprise to Wine Advisor readers, as I report regularly on good Spanish values whenever I find them. At this point, Spanish wine seems to fall into two distinct categories: A few oversize reds from Rioja, Ribera del Duero and Priorat have been "discovered" by the critic Robert M. Parker Jr. or Wine Spectator and have moved into the nosebleed price range. But just about everything else from Spain - which, by the way, is the world's third-largest wine producer after France and Italy - remains affordable, and much of it is first-rate.
Today's tasting underscores this theme. A perennial favorite, it comes from Calatayud ("Cah-lah-tah-yood"), just about as undiscovered a Spanish wine region as any, located in the arid hills of Aragon, northeast of Madrid and south of Rioja, where Garnacha (Grenache) is the favored grape and the wines are robust and peppery. It's a great value for $8, and I've seen it advertised online for even less. My tasting report follows.
(The article about restaurant wine trends isn't yet online, by the way, but if you're in or around the Louisville area, it's in the print edition of Louisville Magazine's annual Dining & Entertaining Guide, just out this week and widely available on local news stands.)
Viña Alarba 2001 Calatayud ($7.99)
Subtitled "Old Vines Grenache" in English, this wine is said to be made from 40-year-old vines. Clear dark ruby in color, it shows surprising reddish-orange sparks when held up to a bright light. Full cherry-berry fruit aromas add pleasant hints of spice and orange peel. Ripe, tart and softly astringent in the mouth, the flavor is focused on fresh berries, with snappy acidity and an intriguing interplay of something that seems like both spicy white and fragrant black pepper in the finish. It bears a stylistic resemblance to Grenache-based wines of the Southern Rhone in France, but boasts a Spanish accent all its own. U.S. importer: Jorge Ordoñez; distributed by Cutting Edge Selections of Cincinnati and other regional sources. (Sept. 4, 2003)
FOOD MATCH: It would go well with just about any hearty red-meat or poultry dish. The wine's fruit and aromatic spice made it an unusually good match with the robust soy, garlic and anise flavors of the Filipino chicken-and-pork adobo featured in the Wine Advisor FoodLetter on Sept. 3.
VALUE: One of my top wine values of the year to date.
WHEN TO DRINK: Although it's a modest wine not meant for cellaring, its body, structure and varietal composition suggest a wine that could evolve with time. At this price, it wouldn't require much of an investment to give it a try.
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Friday, Sept. 5, 2003