What's a Guelbenzu?
The appropriate response to "Guelbenzu," in case you were wondering, is not "gesundheit!" but "Yum!"
Pronouncing it "Gwell-ben-zoo" comes close enough to place your order for this delicious red Spanish wine, produced by a historic winery in the Navarra region that's been in the hands of the Guelbenzu family since 1843. Well-known in the 1800s (when Navarra exported a huge amount of wine to phylloxera-stricken France), the property in the Queiles River valley fell into disuse for a century until the Guelbenzu descendants brought it back to life during the 1980s.
I'm focusing on this wine today because it's a good example of a market niche that's growing rapidly in interest: Affordable but excellent wines from Spain that tend to fly below the radar screen of many wine critics and publications because they come from regions that aren't sought-after or well-known.
Navarra, an arid region in Basque country on the flanks of the Pyrenees, lies just north of the better-known Rioja region. The most popular grape there nowadays is Garnacha (the Spanish word for Grenache), but Tempranillo - the grape of Rioja and Ribera del Duero - also thrives.
Guelbenzu turns Tempranillo into a modern blend, internationalizing the wine by mixing Tempranillo with Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot in proportions that vary from year to year. The 2000 vintage featured today contains 40 percent each of Tempranillo and Cabernet with 20 percent Merlot; it's aged for a year in oak barrels, but the producer holds oak flavors in restraint by using a combination of two-, three- and four-year-old casks rather than new oak, which can impart more obvious wood flavors to wine.
Coincidentally, in the process of interviewing local sommeliers for another story, I was intrigued to learn how consistently these restaurant-wine experts are recommending Spanish wines from less-known regions. Navarra, Jumilla (featured in the July 2 Wine Advisor), La Mancha, Valencia and Terra Alta come up again and again for reds; Rias Baixas and Valdeorras for whites, just to name a few.
I'll be looking at Spain regularly in my quest for affordable wines that rate as bargains for quality and value. Stay tuned!
Guelbenzu 2000 "Azul" Ribera del Queiles ($10.99)
Very dark ruby in color, this Spanish red offers appealing cherry-compote aromas that blend fresh black fruit, vanilla and spice. Ripe and juicy flavors follow the nose, tart-sweet black cherries with bright, snappy acidity to keep it in balance. Oak is present as a spicy note but doesn't dominate, and soft, barely perceptible tannins add an attractive textural dimension. A blend of Tempranillo, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. U.S. importer: Classical Wines from Spain, Seattle. (July 12, 2003)
FOOD MATCH: The wine's fresh and forward fruit makes it a fine companion with pork chops simply sauteed with lots of garlic.
VALUE: Excellent value in the $10 range.
WHEN TO DRINK: Delicious now, and intended for immediate consumption. Still, its structure and balance suggest that it could hold up well for several years. At this affordable price, it would be worth putting a few away as a tasty experiment.
WEB LINK: The winery Website is online in Spanish, English, French and German. For the English-language entry page, click to
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Last Week's Wine Advisor Index
The Wine Advisor's daily edition is usually distributed on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays (and, for those who subscribe, the FoodLetter on Thursdays). Here's the index to last week's columns:
Primitivo or Zinfandel? (July 11, 2003)
Wine-shipping barriers under attack (July 9, 2003)
Exploring Southern Italy (July 7, 2003)
Complete 30 Second Wine Advisor archive:
Wine Advisor FoodLetter: Caprese revisited, and a useful link (July 10, 2003)
Wine Advisor Foodletter archive:
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Monday, July 14, 2003