I seem to be on a bit of a Spanish kick lately. I’m not sure what it is. Perhaps it is my nostalgic associations with the country. Back in the day, I did an oh-so-cliché third year abroad in Salamanca, a small Spanish town halfway between Madrid and the Spanish border with Portugal. I lived in an apartment inhabited by 6 other international students, who after 5 months of cohabitation became my friends for life. Miguel de Cervantes, the author of the infamous Don Quixote, is rumoured to have studied at the Universidad de Salamanca (it was so long ago, no one knows for sure), where I took Spanish literature courses in classrooms three times older than Canada itself. In a country where businesses close for a siesta for anywhere from 1 to 3 hours in the afternoon, where tapas are a way of life, and where most families don’t even start thinking about dinner before 9 p.m., I spent way too much time stressing out about classes and coursework. If only someone had told me that the marks on year-abroad courses were pass/fail!
Despite remaining seriously studious in the land that parties until dawn, I still managed to partake in the student nightlife. At the ripe old age of 21, I still wasn’t drinking a whole lot of wine, at least not the good stuff. I do remember perusing the wine aisles of the Carrefour when it was my turn to do the weekly grocery shopping (the roommates took turns with these sorts of tasks) and choosing among the vast selection of 2-euro bottles or 5-euro tetra packs of wine. In our household, the tetra pack wine was usually used to make calimocho, a specialty of the Salamanca student body, which consisted of taking a 2 L bottle and filling it with 1 L of red wine and 1 L of coca cola. Not my finest drink choice, but I did what I had to do to adapt to the student customs. We would then grab our 2-L bottles of calimocho and take to the streets to hit up a botellón, a nighttime outdoor gathering wherein groups of people drink their swill in public squares and other ridiculously beautiful backdrops that I (shockingly) did not seem to admire, appreciate, or even notice at the time.
All this to say that I have a soft spot for Spain and its wine, even though while I was there I’m pretty sure I never tasted anything as good as the wines below, otherwise I’m sure I wouldn’t have been cutting it with pop.
So without further ado, here are a few recent bottles from Vintages, all under $16, that have been enjoyed in our household lately (and drunk straight up) and that make me yearn to go back to España, mi bella España.
Marín 2010 Old Vine Garnacha ($12.75)
I have extolled the virtues of the garnacha grape in the past. In fact it was one of the first wines I reviewed here on Wining with Mel. I love its gorgeous dark ruby red hue. When you first pour this wine into the glass, it smells like boozy berry, but after ten minutes it opens up a bit more to reveal dark cherry, and 20 minutes after that it totally mellows and shows the original dark berry but also cedar, licorice, and spicy black pepper. When you taste it, the aromas all translate onto the palate. It is also initially slightly chewy, indicating a wine that offers great aging potential due to its tannins. As a result, this wine could be cellared for another few years. But if you get thirsty in the meantime, pair this with grilled meats or something fatty to offset those tannins and bring out the wine’s fruity qualities. There are still a few bottles of this one lingering at the LCBO, so grab a few bottles while you can! At that price, it’s a steal.
Abad Dom Bueno – Mencía 2008 ($15.95)
This wine was very popular with everyone I forced to try it. [Sidenote: yes, I force wines I like on people. It’s hard being friends with me.] It is made from the mencía grape, which is only grown in the Iberian Peninsula (i.e. Spain and Portugal). For those interested in learning more about the grape, I will defer to an amazingly informative to Wine Folly page.
This yummy wine boasts black fruit, cedar, vanilla, leather, and a bit of earth. That’s something I really like about Spanish wines: they do the fruit thing really well but there’s always an undertone of earthly characteristics to keep the wine grounded and balanced. They also have great acidity, which, in addition to giving the wine complexity, makes your mouth water for more. Acidity also makes Spanish wines incredibly food friendly.
This particular wine, whose grapes were picked 8 years ago, has clearly been aged, and its vanilla flavours show that it sat in oak barrels for a time. Oak also imparts tannins, but this wine’s medium tannins are smoothly integrated. That said, I would still recommend letting it sit for a while before serving it, to allow it to breathe.
Check your local LCBO for this one soon – stocks are running low.
Viña Olabarri – Rioja crianza 2011 ($14.95)
At 5 years old, this was the baby of these wines. As I’ve mentioned, Spanish wines tend to have great aging potential. This wine is a crianza, which, as you will recall from this post, means it has been aged for at least a year in oak, and another year in the bottle. Despite its relatively short aging time (or perhaps because of it), this is a big wine that shows off black cherry, prune, licorice, sweet spice, alcohol at first and a bit of earthiness. Like the others, it is a beautiful deep ruby red. It’s got a bit of spice on the palate, which plays off nicely with steak. Can you tell I love pairing big Spanish reds with steak?
¡Buen vino! / Happy wining!
P.S. If you are in the Toronto area and love Spanish wines, consider going to the Spain in Wine event at the AGO: http://foodswinesfromspaincanada.com/2016/08/dont-miss-it-spain-is-wine/