I spent two weeks in Spain last October and sampled over 20 different wine labels. Previously my understanding of Spain could be summed up in only one word: Rioja. After my sojourn I returned home confused, as one is apt to do upon encountering a vastly more complex wine world than previously imagined. My only general impression from those two weeks was that they seemed to be easing up on their love affair with American Oak, previously prominent in their wines. I needed to know more. Thus emerged my 2010 New Year’s Resolution: to discover Spain in wine.

My first endeavor in this project has been a Ribera del Duoro tasting I suggested to a wine group that meets at George Heron’s house. When in Spain I learned that Spaniards consider this region to produce their highest quality product. And so we sampled 7 bottles, mostly Crianza, one Reserva which, as luck would have it, had “Duoro” on the label but was actually Portugese (05 Quinta do Vallado). This latter one did not change things much. Same river, same climate, some miles across the border. It fit in well with the others.

Most wines were in the $30 range,except for one (06 Urban, $ 15). Vintages were 04-06, mostly 05. Common denominators were: high extactionv fruit, high alcohol, a lot of acidity and tannin in mid and late-palate, and variable oak, some French some American. They were “big” wines. Some had “off” features such as excessive tannin or bitterness. All featured a “rough” mid palate. In sum they did not seem worth $30 per bottle.

I wondered if we were tasting them too young. The next day I decanted one (05 Matarromera Crianza, $ 26) for around 90 minutes and tried it with chicken parmesan & polenta. Before decanting the wine was similar to what I described above; afterwards however it did mellow some, and its acidity and tannin went well with the food.

Larry of Wine Wizard’s did an even greater experiment with a bottle not from Duoro, but La Mancha that I had brought to a Friday night tasting. It was called Volver, was 100% Tempranillo ($14), and received unanimous bad reviews from the tasters. He kept the bottle and tried it for several days afterwards. He reported that it finally “opened” on Wednesday, five full days later, and tasted good. How many of you would be bold enough to expose a wine to air for 5 days before consuming it?

These early tastings leave me with the thought that there is more to these wines than a mere first impression. We need more experience with a wider variety both horizontally across the appellations of Spain, and vertically through aging some. A country as wine crazed as Spain would not declare a region to be their best without just cause. It is up to us to persist and discover what’s good in them .

Stay tuned! I will report more on the subject as I gain what seems to be an acquired taste.

M. Senegor

P.S. For those unfamiliar with Spanish labels, there are 3 categories of quality. From lowest to higest these are: Crianza, Reserva, and Gran Reserva. Easy enough! The grapes are either all Tempranillo, or Tempranillo with a small amount of Cabarnet or Merlot mixed in.

M. Senegor