I, and the fellow wine enthusiasts I know, seem to have wandered from country to country in the process of discovering wines. We have familiar territories and sometimes work up the courage to explore new lands.
I grew up tasting French wines first and, later, Californian ones.
In the 60s, when I was a child in Montréal, the province of Quebec was the largest purchaser of French wines in the world and, so, was first in line to select wines to be sold in Québec.
The result was that even the modestly priced French wines that I tasted, as a child, were pretty decent.
By the mid 70s, my family was living in the States and drinking Gallo Brothers and the better Robert Mondavi Vineyard wines, just as California wines were hitting the world stage.
The turning point was a wine-tasting, hosted in France, to celebrate the American bicentennial.
To the shock of the French, both the California reds and whites outstripped their French counterparts. I recently saw a terrific film called Bottle Shock that retells a true story. It’s out on DVD and well worth the rental.
In any event, over the past five years or so I have become increasingly fond of Spanish wines and have found them to be both interesting and adventuresome in taste as well as being very reasonably priced.
Several years ago, Wine Spectator magazine listed a Spanish red in the top three of their top-100 wines for the year. The other two were a French and a Californian wine, each priced in the hundreds of dollars US for a single bottle.
The Spanish wine that was third was less than $30.
Two that I heartily recommend, if you would like to get a very good introduction to modern Spanish wines, would be the 2005 Hécula Monastrell from Bodegas Castaño ($17.30) and the Osborne’s 2005 Solaz ($14.10).
Bodegas Osborne is the famed Sherry house, started by the Englishman, Thomas Osborne Mann, that began exporting Spanish Sherry to England in the 1770s. Look for the silhouette of the bull on the label.
Osborne has followed the example of the Italians of Tuscany, who, 25 years ago, began to mix their local and ancient Sangiovese Italian grapes with French Bordeaux grapes like Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon.
The result was a superlative new type of Italian blended wine known as a “Super Tuscan” that has received broad acclaim from around the world.
Osborne has taken their wonderful, peppery Spanish Tempranillo grapes and has mixed their juice with French Cabernet Sauvignon grapes to produce an interesting and complex red that may be one of the best $14 wines you can find in the the local liquor store.
It’s fruity, but not sweet, with a nice burst of red fruit notes and a decent bouquet and finish. I’d serve it with roasted meats, including chicken, and I also like it with a cured ham like prosciutto. The label also suggests it would go with pasta, which I also imagine would be a good accompaniment.
The 2005 Hécula Monastrell is another excellent example of a moderately priced Spanish wine. Bodegas Castaño, which makes this, is a father and sons’ operation in the Yecla region of Spain.
They recognized that their primary asset was a vineyard full of old-vine Monastrell grapes. This traditional Spanish grape yields tannic, intensely flavoured wine that is made using modern winemaking techniques and ageing the wine in oak barrels.
The result is a tannic, rich and powerful wine that stands up well to a grilled steak and is an interesting and inexpensive alternative to a French Bordeau or California Cab.
As well, I have tried several other Bodegas Castaño wines, including a very interesting Port-styled dessert wine that they make. I would be inclined to buy a bottle of just about anything that carries their distinctive “C” in the navy-blue, square logo.
These two wines are very different examples of what Spain is producing today and you may find you like one and not the other. But they both show that Spain is producing an increasing range of excellent, interesting and well-priced wines, leveraging their traditional Spanish grapes and applying modern winemaking approaches.
Give them a try …