5 Ways to Get Lost in Spain

Surprises from the Great Match, 2011

 


When we talk about Spanish wine, we talk about Tempranillo, Garnacha and Albariño, the heavy-hitters that make up some of the world's most profound and engaging (and on the other hand, cheerful and accessible) bottles.

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

Ad Libitum Tempranillo Blanco 2010 - Juan Carlos Sancha, DOC Rioja

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 Graciano 

Coleccion 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. 

Mencia

Abad 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.

Godello
 

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. 

 

Txakoli

Txomin 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.


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Comments

  • Although I spend on average 4 weeks in Spain each Summer and fancy myself as a bitof a guru on Spanish wine (!), I've only come across 1out of your 5!
    Great article-well done!

    Feb 03, 2012 at 3:43 PM


  • Snooth User: FedericoE
    1032146 8

    Except for the white Tempranillo I have try all of those mentioned and have been singing their praises for year, I'm glad somebody else agrees.

    Feb 04, 2012 at 12:36 PM


  • Snooth User: Wine Pine
    1033250 0

    I love Tempranillo. I wasn't aware of the vine mutation. Thank goodness that Juan Carlos took the risk of cultivating it, or else we would never have it!

    Patrick
    http://www.winepine.com

    Feb 06, 2012 at 12:08 AM


  • Godello sounds really interesting, perhaps Bierzo is like Montsant is to Priorat? Like the "River Pebbles" description!

    Liz
    http://www.vi-vino.co.uk

    Feb 06, 2012 at 6:55 AM


  • The Basqes pour Txakoli from a large height and into ordinary glasses rather than wineglasses. It seems a little disrespectful, but they show you how if you dont do it!
    The White wines of Northern Spain are lovely. We liked a wine from Vina Mein described as Ribeiro, and your godello and vaguely remember trincadeira?. Also obscure but liked were Pansa Blanca white variety in Marques de Alella brand wine, and Castillo de San Diego down in Andalucia, made from a sherry variety by Barbadillo but very much a wine great with fish.
    Usual rule applies, if youve not heard of it give it a go.....

    Feb 07, 2012 at 7:23 AM


  • I have been studing the 66 regions of Spain over the past months and have fallen in love with the Txakoli wines! I can't wait for the summer parties and bring something fun and exciting that is not too common, nor too expensive.

    Feb 13, 2012 at 7:28 PM


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