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The road less taken in Southern Italy
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WT101: Rioja, plus
Ranked third in the world after Italy and France for the title of top wine producer and actually leading in vineyard acreage, Spain may also outpace the competition as the source of wine value.
With the limited exception of a relative handful of pricey "cult" reds from Rioja, Ribera del Duero and Priorat, Spain pours out a river of affordable, amiable red, white and pink wines that offer good drinkability and admirable value, remaining good bargains even in a weak-dollar era.
For this month's topic in our Wine Tasting 101 Forum, let's explore two key Spanish wine regions. Rioja, the historic wine region in Northern Spain's Basque country, near the Pyrenees; and Castilla y Leon, a broad term for the wide upland plain that extends from Rioja south and west to the outskirts of Madrid and to Spain's border with Portugal, a geographical region that includes such wine-producing areas as Ribera del Duero, Rueda and Toro.
Rioja, on the banks of the Ebro river, is subdivided into Rioja Alta, Rioja Baja and Rioja Alaversa. A little white Rioja is made, but red is the dominant style and Tempranillo is the dominant grape. In recent times, like many other European wine regions, Rioja has seen a growing gap between "traditional" producers and "modernists" who experiment with innovative wine-making processes and blends. We'll hope to explore these differences in more detail during February.
Tempranillo is primary, too, in Ribera del Duero, although - as befits the region's size - there's a diverse collection of grapes and wines throughout Castilla y Leon.
It's my pleasure to introduce my friend Joe Perry, a Boston-based wine lover and Rioja enthusiast, as guest host of Wine Tasting 101 for the month. Joe will participate regularly in the forum, offering tasting notes and responding to questions and comments about these regions and their wines. He has already begun a couple of active topics, which you're welcome to read and join in:
Joe introduces himself and the topic in "February, Spanish Wine Month,"
He provides a good, concise overview of Rioja, including an extensive wine-shopping list, in "Rioja: Searching for the end of the rainbow,"
As always, I've selected a couple of "benchmark" wines for the month, for those who wish to calibrate their palates, and compare tasting notes, with the same wines.
From Rioja, Faustino V 1998 Rioja Reserva ($16.99) from Bodegas Faustino, a major producer that's said to be Spain's largest exporter of Rioja wines.
From Castilla y Leon, an excellent value, low-end wine that I featured in the June 30, 2004 Wine Advisor, Osborne 2001 "Solaz" Vino de la Tierra de Castilla ($7.69).
My tasting note on the Faustino V is below. My report on the Osborne "Solaz" is online at
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Faustino V 1998 Rioja Reserva ($16.99)
This is a clear, dark reddish-purple wine, blackish in the glass. Black-cherry and brown-spice aromas add a whiff of oaky vanillins; swirling the glass brings up perfumed notes and a heightened sense of alcohol. Flavors follow the nose, rather light-bodied and tart, but there's plenty of crisp, spicy black fruit. It's a straightforward Rioja, not overly complex, but I wouldn't bet against it evolving with cellar time. Crisp acidic snap makes it a good food wine. U.S. importer: Palm Bay Imports, Boca Raton, Fla. (Feb. 6, 2005)
FOOD MATCH: It made a fine match with hearty buffalo-meat cheeseburgers lightly seasoned with Tex-Mex spices.
VALUE: The mid-teens is an appropriate range for a mass-market Rioja reserva. More sought-after labels will go for substantially more.
WHEN TO DRINK: Rioja reserva is built to last, and even this relatively simple rendition should last for years in a good cellar. It's ready to enjoy now, though, so there's no need to wait.
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Tuscan Sun Sweepstakes
To enter, visit The California Wine Club's website at www.cawineclub.com. In addition if you join The California Wine Club's International Selections, you'll be entered again. Plus, each time you send a gift of the International Selections you'll be entered again!
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This week on WineLoversPage.com
Here are links to some of our recently published articles that I think you'll enjoy:
Wood on Wine: African-Americans and Wine
Bucko's Wine Reports: Winter Releases
QPRwines: Where wine quality and price relate
Wine Lovers' Discussion Group: The magnet effect
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:
Wine from ... India? (Feb. 4, 2004)
Offbeat grapes and wines: Sagrantino (Feb. 2, 2004)
What's up with French wine? (Jan. 31, 2004)
Complete 30 Second Wine Advisor archive:
Wine Advisor FoodLetter: Duck pasta (Feb. 3, 2004)
Wine Advisor Foodletter archive:
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Monday, Feb. 7, 2005