Any large-scale Spanish wine tasting will of course focus on expressions of these grapes and their brethren -- Pedro Ximenez, Verdejo -- but tucked in between the paved roads, you'll also find a few terrific ways to get lost in the woods.
Here are some of the intriguing left turns I came across at the Great Match 2011, and intend to revisit someday soon.
Photo courtesy prgrisleyco via Flickr/CC
White Tempranillo is a strange creature, indeed, and necessarily rare, this is the only example of it in Europe. Obviously a traditionally red variety, this Tempranillo comes from an anomaly in the vineyards of Murillo de Rio Leza, where a vine mutation led to albino grapes. Rather than discard the oddity, winemaker Juan Carlos Sancha began cultivating it, eventually turning it into the world's first Tempranillo Blanco. The 2010 Ad Libitium isn't the most complex white, but is worth sampling for the novelty. It opens with a hit of citrus peel and wet stone on the nose, with refreshing acidity and notes of white flowers and pear.
Varietal GracianoColeccion Vivanco Graciano 2006, DOCa Rioja
Dinastia Vivanco isn't the first to bottle Graciano on its own, but the grape is nonetheless best known as a blending companion. It's one of four varietal wines, along with Mazuelo (Carignan), Tempranillo, and Garnacha, which culminate in DV’s Coleccion Vivanco "4 Varietales,” a Tempranillo-heavy blend meant to showcase each grape in harmony. Even sampling the blend, I was most moved by the Graciano note, and was sent right back to its 100% expression with its intense nose of black fruit and cocoa. On the palate, it's beautifully balanced and shot through with crushed violet, blackberry and woodsy chocolate.
MenciaAbad Dom Bueno Mencia 2008, Bodegas del Abad, DO Bierzo
Vinedos y Bodegas Pittacum 2005
Tasting the Abad Dom Bueno for the first time, I overheard at least two conversations about the persistent, sad state of Mencia. "There's just so much that can go wrong," explained one importer, lamenting how frequently the varietal gives up a medicinal, cheap candy sheen. But what happens when Mencia goes right? This bottle in particular shows that Mencia, from old vines and made by thoughtful hands, is a great crisp red alternative when you want something vibrant and cheerful (and cheap). Great acidity, notes of ancient slate and friendly, chatty black fruit and baking spice.
Val de Sil Montenovo Godello 2005
Abad Dom Bueno Godello 2006
Like Mencia, Godello is native to Bierzo, a region north of Portugal on the western edge of the Douro River Valley. This is an area new to quality wine making, and as such, Godello has long been in the shadow of Albariño, the wildly popular white grape from nearby Rías Biaxas. Let’s bring it into the light. Godello’s clean, country minerality (think river pebbles) and soft pear and lemon aromas make it one of the best crowd-pleasing $10 bottle you can get your hands on. You’ll hear that it’s great for summer. I say you crack it open with all of your autumn oysters and octopus.
TxakoliTxomin Etxaniz Txakoli 2006
Txakoli has made everybody and their brother's roundup of "exotic alternatives" over the past few years, though it's certainly no closer to becoming a routine selection. Perhaps it's the spelling and pronunciation (chock-oh-lee), the provenance, or just the delightful fizz, but it never fails to surprise me all over again. This particular bottle, produced by the Chueca family, comes from one of Spain's smallest appellations. It is packed with spritzy green apple and grapefruit, with just a glimmer of residual sugar. If you've got non-wine drinking relatives on the docket for Thanksgiving, give them this with a slice of lemon meringue. Conversation will ensue.