When I think of wines, everything seems to be intellectually connected to the Old and New World. The overall enjoyment of wine and dining seems more rewarding when I think this way, and more often, there is a deeper appreciation by just being mindful of these venerable but still evolving and fascinating relationships. Spanish wines continue to intrigue me in the same way the food of Spain has a nice place in my memory where treasured experiences are stored.
With more land under vine than any other country in the world, Spain, the first to bring European wines into the New World, is a great sleeping wine giant. In recent years, a great deal of money and passion has been poured in the Spanish wine industry which boasts a vast array of wines from sparkling Cava to regal Sherry to Rioja Gran Reserva. The most important red wine producing regions are Rioja, Ribera del Duero and Navarra in the north and Priorat and Penedes in the northeast. My interest as we enter the new year is Rioja.
Conde de Valdemar Inspiraci 2005 is a wine that captures the innovative and modern character of Rioja: something bright and fresh comes together, subtly accented by the taste and aromas of ripe black fruits. Each new year promises adventures heretofore unknown and few experiences will be more invigorating than pairing this wine with the majestic Spanish hamIbico. The wine may be easier to obtain than the ham, but like all things genuinely gourmet, it’s worth the effort.
Marqu de Riscal Rioja Reserva 2004 is made from Tempranillo and Graciano grapes from the old vineyards surrounding the romantic Torrea estate, where the fabled Marqu de Riscal winery is located. The soil is the classic clay limestone of Rioja Alavesa, which has historically provided quality wines. This wine is more modern in character, that is, it has appeal to the American palette and is ready for uncorking now. Like many other wines from Spain, it is affordable but not cheap.
Sweet Grass Dairy, an award-winning artisan cheese producer in Thomasville, Georgia, located near the bucolic Florida border keeps me opening Rioja wines prompted by the incomparable Asher Blue, a raw cow’s milk blue cheese. With the characteristic blue veins, this delight has a rich, robust flavor that pairs well with the stellar Campo Viejo Gran Reserva, a great Rioja wine overflowing with character. The dark ruby-colored wine is primarily Tempranillo balanced out with Garnacha, Mazuela, and Graciano. It is aged for one year in oak vats followed by three years in new French oak followed by three more years in bottle prior to release. When uncorked, it urges a plate blue cheese
There are seven main red grape varieties officially recognized in Rioja – Tempranillo, Garnacha, Graziano and Mezuela. Tempranillo is the most famous of these varieties and one of the most celebrated in the world. Renowned for complexity and versatility of flavor, it is the bedrock of Rioja’s reputation. It also grows and develops with aging. Although they’re not allowed to be added to Rioja’s as yet, some “bodegas” (wine houses) have begun experimenting with Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon vines displaying a willingness to adapt and develop the best of the Old World into the New. Stay tuned
January and February seem suited for red wines. Whites from Spain have a prominent place and will be showcased just as the daffodils first appear.
HAPPY NEW YEAR!
Doc Lawrence is a veteran food and wine journalist based in Atlanta and Fort Lauderdale. Doc Lawrence writes and lectures regularly about subjects in which he is a recognized and acknowledged expert – wine and food, theater, travel and cultural tourism, visual art and music. His works have earned praise from many editors and publishers.
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