Garnacha from Spain has emerged as one of today's great values in red wine. Much of the fruit responsible for the proliferation of new bottlings has come from old vineyards that until recently were used to produce bulk wine, or to supply a family’s vinous needs. It is thrilling to have so many old vineyards saved and in producing quality wine these days, but what is even more exciting are the wines.
Can you get really good wine for $10? Wine that would appeal to wine geeks and novice alike?
Well the answer is yes. And no!
In general these wines are remarkable deals, though there is a divide between what wine geeks might like and what novices might like. Fortunately Garancha can produce both sets of characteristics, though rarely in the same wine. Garnacha is generally recognized for producing fragrant, red fruited wine that are fairly big in the mouth, if rarely chewy and dense. In a hot climate rich perfumes of candied strawberry are often framed with floral and slightly herbal accents, as was the case with many of these wines. But some of these examples, sourced from throughout Spain, were decidedly different. While most of the wines were pure Garancha, a few were blends, which is not unusual for Grenache, and is particularly common in old vine vineyards.
The differences between the range of wines sampled below though did not arise from their blends, and to a large extent not even their terroir. Instead many of these wines are styled to meet a perceived demand in the market, and the truth is that at these price point style may not be the most important factor. These wines, as a group, are really good, and offer incredible value but even those that don't represent the peak of quality manage to find impressively large audiences.
Compare the Borsao, for example, with the Honoro Vera, which I overpaid for at $11, and the difference is night and day. The Borso is much more popular and has to satisfy a huge supply, the soft white underbelly of the wine business. Become successful and quality has to suffer. And as far as I can tell suffer it did. The Borsao used to be a decent wine, and today it still garners sky high scores, though one has to wonder how many reviewers have purchased their samples from retail store shelves as I have done.
I’m not here today to go too far off the reservation and start bashing the industry and will satisfy myself instead with pointing out the top wines of this tasting. Wines like the ridiculously pure, vibrant and zesty 2012 Herencia Altes ($11), the aforementioned Honor Vera ($11), and the sophisticated and nuanced Las Pizarras ($8). Each captures a different take on Garnacha, which just shows the breadth of style the grape is capable of. And each does it at a price that makes these wines some of the greatest values in the marketplace. I’m going to be doing tastings like this twice a month this year and frankly i will be surprised if i find wines that offer this sort of QPR with an regularity. Value is not simply dependant on price, it also has to take in to account appeal, and these wines are the very definition of broad appeal.
As is the case with fine wines, these wines will change from year to year, but sadly, as is the case with the Borsao, I expect the biggest changes in the future not to come from vintage variation, but rather from the expansion of production. These wines will either become incrementally more expensive as their quality is recognized, or will be produced in greater volumes to meet demand. Neither outcome is a perfect result for thier current customer base. We are living in a golden age for wine, and will probably look back on these days with fondness and envy in a decade, as each generation tends to do. the main difference? Previous generations look back fondly at the cheap wines of their youth but forget how poor the quality was. We, my friends will look back and think, damn we were the lucky ones!
One last note, I actually stuck a $20 wine here in the line-up to help gauge the quality of the rest of the wine. Actually, no I didn’t. I bought it by mistake thinking the label said $9.99 when in fact I missed the 1 that made it $19.99! It was in the case I assembled so I included it anyway, not discovering my mistake until after tasting the wines. Depending on how you look at it, it either sadly underdelivered, or many other wines fortuitously overdelivered. In any case it fell comfortably in the middle of the pack, reinforcing once again the tenuous relationship price generally has with quality when it comes to wine.