Hippo Manchester
December 15, 2005

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Wine: Olé! to a week in wine

When winter hits, turn to sunny Spain

The old Three Dog Night song goes “Oh, I never been to Spain, but I kinda like the music.” Well I’ve never been Spain, but I love their wine.

Most of what I know about Spain comes from the movies. For Whom the Bell Tolls, El Cid and Man of La Mancha are my favorites. We all know the story of Ferdinand and Isabella. We’re also relatively familiar with The Inquisition and the Spanish-American and Spanish Civil Wars. Spanish influences are greatly felt in the popular and healthy Mediterranean cuisine that’s sweeping restaurants worldwide. The films of Pedro Almodovar give us a look at the modern, cosmopolitan Spain. And in the last few years the wines of Spain have gained a newfound respectability and popularity among wine enthusiasts.

Much of our modern wine taste comes from the British. They were the ones who enjoyed the great clarets of Bordeaux since the Middle Ages. Traditionally, Spanish wine has meant one thing: sherry, a fortified wine from southwestern Spain. This slightly salty, nutty-flavored drink is a great aperitif and pairs well with Mediterranean-style appetizers.

I always order a glass of Fino, either a Manzanilla or Amontillado, before a Spanish meal.

Though Spain has produced excellent sherries for centuries, it’s just coming into its own with table wines.

Four hot wine regions of Spain are Rioja, Ribera del Duero, Penedes and Calatayud. Each has seen massive infusions of capital investment, which have resulted in an increase in the consistency and quality of the wine. Rioja is by far the best known and most available. Made from blends of tempranillo and grenache, a Rioja is a dense sturdy wine that speaks of wood and leather — think Spanish furniture. Roasted meats, stews and sharp cheeses are a Rioja’s friends.

Ribera del Duero produces lighter, more merlot-style wines because they use a variant of the tempranillo grape called tinto fino. This wine has much more structure and is comparable to a Bordeaux or a Californian meritage. Pair this one with lamb, grilled chicken or roast pork.

Penedes produces great sparkling wines, called cavas (because they’re aged in caves), and is home to the Torres vineyard, which produces world-class wines from cabernet sauvignon, chardonnay and pinot noir grapes as well as the traditional local varietals.

Calatayud is a low-rent wine district where the Spanish equivalent of French Garagistes have taken up the trade and are producing good quality wines with nontraditional grapes at value-based prices.

Now, let’s say Olé to this week’s wine selections.

• 1994 Rigau Ros Grand Reserve

From the Emporda/Costa Brava region. Plum tones with cherry flavors. Tannic. A great wine for its price. $16.99.

• 1999 Emilio Moro Ribera del Duero

Big currant and blackberry jam overtones, with a touch of sweetness and port flavors. $19.99.

• 1997 Tionio Ribera del Duero

Fruity with jam-like flavors; cassis, currant, blackberry, grape and plum. A little tannic but age should reduce that. $22.99.

• 1997 Dionus

From Bajo Aragon region. Sixty-two percent cabernet, 20 percent merlot, 12 percent syrah and 6 percent garnacha—wonderfully fruity with currants, cherries and blackberries but no tannins.  $34.59.

• 1997 Marques de Vargas Private Reserve Rioja

Tastes of a perfectly aged brandied cherry sauce for the world’s best duck. $49.99.

• 1995 Miserere Priorat

Too bad I tasted this one the same night I tasted the Marques de Vargas Private Reserve. Well aged like a good Barolo. Highly floral bouquet. $26.49.

• 2001 Vina del Val  Ribera del Duero

Young and soda pop-y but still a great wine full of power. $8.99.

• 2001 Vega Sindoa

Seventy percent tempranillo and 30 percent merlot from the Navarra region. Low tannins and some fruit. $14.99.