Traveling is great, and tasting wines where they are made shows them off as the makers intended. But we only live in one place, most of us. Which leads to bringing back wines from travels. Or recapturing slivers of those moments.
Being left alone
My regular dinner companion is leaving for Prague and Yerevan in two days.
While this appears to have nothing to do with wine, it does determine what wines we drink when she returns.
Upon return from Spain
When she came back from Spain, there was talk only of Spanish wine—the cheap, delicious liquid served in pitchers at every street-side cafe and restaurant. Wines that we’ll never taste here, for those were truly local wines: made locally with whatever grapes grow around there, vinified with local traditions, specifically for the food the locals ate, drank young, kept in barrels only until poured out, bottled if need be, and definitely gone just as the next season is ready. Ie. the perfect wine for the food served at a little cafe on Calle Lo Que Sea.
These wines might never even get into a bottle, much less be exported. Nor will any other joint serve anything quite like Jorge’s Vat #1 Tino, vintage—last fall.
Nor, with whatever wine we do find, will we be eating slivers of Jorge’s Jamon Iberico, nor sampling his family’s recipe for rice and game Velazquez’s just-picked vegetables, while we’re sitting in a quaint cafe, nestled in some side street of Madrid.
We’re in Manhattan, eating whatever I cook, with our local-ish ingredients from The Garden of Eden Farmer’s Market, or the Union Square Green Market. And, we’ll eat it one floor up, overlooking the same buildings and street crammed with yellow cabs and delivery trucks as always.
Recreating her taste experience will be, well, impossible.
Yet, we’ll seek the wines sipped in Prague and Yerevan. Just as we sought the Spanish wines she had tasted in Madrid and Bilbao.
Can’t step into the same river twice
But, if stepping in the same river twice is impossible, why bother trying?
To have new adventures. Because that different river you step in might be just as much fun as the first. Or, perhaps even be better.
We won’t ever find the exact wine, those exact tastes, but disappointment need not be expected.
Jorge’s Vat #1 Rojo will never be served here, and it wouldn’t taste the same anyway, because, one, it has would have been bottled, shipped and aged, and two, we’re in a Manhattan apartment, not a Bilbao or Madrid café, and well, just about everything is different.
Yet, knowing it’s impossible makes the quest the whole fun: Getting it close, a near miss, or maybe something better in one way or another.
It’s the getting there, and the wandering through, not the checkmark on the list. Just as stepping off the airplane and into Spain wasn’t what thrilled, but rather all the gems of memory, of the scents, sights, and tastes gathered along the way.
This in mind, we began our quest for her Spanish wines in a local bodega with an educated guess—as to what that wine might possibly be close. We had looked up the local appellations, then searched for what had been imported. We opened a few bottles and kept track of everything we tasted—some good wines, some poor wines, and some excellent. We began our gathering of memories, of scents, sights, tastes, here, in an apartment on 25th Street, looking down at the traffic and at the changing light playing on the buildings across the street.
We never found those wines for her. Course, we never could have, exactly. We did, though, build ourselves a new adventure, finding a few gems along the way.
And, even if I’ve never even seen a Czech or Armenian wine in New York, we can still have our adventures when she returns.
After all, this apartment still has a view, and the food still tastes good. And, the wine? Found by us to flavor the gathering of new memories, of scents, sights, and tastes along the way.
A different river? So what? We’ll have just as much fun finding new gems.
Five wines under $20 †
Inexpensive wines make up the bulk of most people’s wine drinking. But affordable doesn’t have to mean boring. Bonus—not only are these wines guilt-free for the budget, but they match everyday fare better than more expensive wines. Here for Cabernet Franc the other Cabernet.
†(Prices are what I paid retail in Manhattan, circa 2003. Current, local prices may vary.)
I’m sticking with Ribera del Duero, DO. For my money, it’s the most consistently good red wine region in Spain. Priorato is expensive, and frankly, in one recent tasting, only one of the ten I tried inspired me at all. And, Rioja, the other region with the higher DOC classification, is unpredictable, disappointing as often as it pleases. Ribera del Duero is mostly Tempranillo (Tinta del País), probably the best native red wine grape in Spain. It frequently reminds me of a softer version of Cabernet Sauvignon—good fruit balanced with fine tannins—a grape with which it is often blended.
Unfortunately, Ribera del Duero wine tends not to be cheap. Most bottles I could find were over $20. So, for this column, I chose a very inexpensive wine, using the same grapes (a blend of Tempranillo and Cabernet Sauvignon), to balance the prices out. A wine found frequently in my house since I discovered it.
In Spain, the amount of time a wine is aged, both in barrel and in bottle, before release is important and marked on the label as Crianza, Reserva, or Gran Reserva. Those wines without any aging are called Joven, or “Young”, and are recognized as such for having no age listed at all. Each of these classifications has specific legal meaning. I enjoy comparing the same wine with different amounts of wood and age. This can lead to some surprising discoveries: some wine just do better young, others older. No blanket statement of “Grand Reserva is always better” can be made.
The first three wines are just such an experiment. We found these wines excellent, and something we’ll drink often. At press, these wines don’t have complete US coverage, but a major distributor is looking at picking them up. They’re worth the search. I included one wine over $20 for comparison’s sake. Enjoy.
Ribera del Duero
Ruby towards plumb in color with solid legs.
Thick nose with a touch of smoked meat which blows off after a couple of minutes, leaving berry fruit and cherry tart. Pleasing.
A nice, lighter Ribera Del Duero—in the Pinot Noir style. It starts with a bright burst of fruits, that moves into tart acids mid-palate and then into fine, soft tannins. Pleasing tart finish with layers of cherry and a touch of berry fruit. Long finish.
An easy wine to like. Sip it or have it with food. In fact, with food (pâte de champagne), it opens in complexity and is even more impressive.
Ribera del Duero
Greatland Importers Importers
Garnet in color with brick edges. Thick legs.
Opens up with fruit in the nose—cherries and red fruit. A light spice from the time spent on wood appears here, as well as a touch of red fruit tart.
Then, it impresses in the attack. Simply pleasing, with a medium richness and nice spiciness, shot through with cedar notes. Mid-palate, it comes on as ripe red fruit and cherries, then moves into fine tannins, on a long, pleasing finish with red fruit and cedar notes.
Simply a nice wine, especially for those that like wood notes. It can be sipped but likes food. Smoked sausages. Spanish hams.
Ribera del Duero
Yes, well above the price range, but here for a vertical comparison.
Still ruby-colored but moving to garnet. Distinctly brown at edges. Thick legs, with ruby highlights.
Cherry nose, with spicy-wood notes. Soft. It opens up nicely with a few minutes in the glass.
Lush attack. Smooth. Soft red fruit in a medium body. Then acids take over. Gets quite tart. But, finishes with cooked fruit, spices, and soft tannins, relegating the acids to a subsidiary role. It feels almost out of balance mid-palate but comes around nicely into a long, smooth, and intriguing finish.
This wine cries out for food: Red meats with sauces. Shows more complexity with time in the glass. My favorite of the three, especially for a nice dinner. Let it breathe for about 10 minutes. The added complexity is worth the wait.
Candado de Haza
Ribera Del Duero
Classical Wines from Spain Importer
Plumb to garnet, with slight separation on the meniscus (a clear band along the edges).
The nose is ripe red berries, with cherry and hints of cedar. Attractive and pleasing.
The attack is soft, but it opens into big, but fine tannins, with cherries and blackberries. Medium to full-bodied. Moves into a tart finish, with lovely structure, and a long finish with touches of those cherries and blackberries. Loves food, especially red meats, but also well sauced white meats. A food wine that can be sipped, given some time in the glass. By Spanish wine star Alejandro Fernández. A fave of mine.
Bodegas Peñalba López
Ribera Del Duero
Langdon Shiverick Importers
Garnet with brick-brown edges. This wine is showing its age, but this was a particularly good year in Ribera del Duero. I was slightly worried the fruit would be long gone, but interesting spice and candied fruit notes rose out of the glass as I poured it.
The nose is full of spice (allspice, and nutmeg), with that candied fruits, like a mincemeat pie. Some cedar and old barn-wood notes over super-ripe berries. The palate shows little fruit up front, as expected. It comes on with full acids and cedar over a medium body. Then fruitcake flavors play with the wood notes. Medium finish, with more of that cedar spiciness, and bitter almonds. Dark fruit makes its presence known under this. Extra-fine tannins.
Quite an interesting wine, but very much about the wood. Will show well with complexly spiced or sauced dishes. In fact, needs some food. But, nothing too aggressively flavored, or the wine will vanish.
Vino de la Tierra de Castilla
WJ Deutch and Sons, Importers
A country wine, of the same level as vin de pays in France. From a hot region, similar to The Midi in southern France. Inexpensive and good enough to drink every day.
Garnet with brick, brown edges. It’s almost too old at three years. Solid legs, with bright cranberry highlights.
The nose is simple and straight forward. Cherries and cherry tart. There is a suggestion of berries and a touch of cedar spice and licorice.
The palate is similar. Simple red fruit upfront with a medium body. The solid structure of fine tannins and good acidity. The fruit is slightly dilute on the finish, probably due to the age, but solid acids keep the finish going for some time. Some slight cherry on the finish.
A go-to wine. Easy to drink, but with enough acids to go with simple, everyday food. Hard to beat at this price. But, look for a younger vintage. The fruit is brighter and more forward.
New wines Tasted Fresh for Your Perusal
My kinda Chardonnay. Pale Goldenrod, a fair number of slow legs all around the glass, somewhat viscous. The bouquet flows out of the glass: creme brulee, vanilla, rich, tasty notes, and lemon curd. This is a round, full-bodied wine, creamy with firm acidity, lemon, and peach notes late—long vanilla cream and caramel finish—solid acidity all the way through: 4.5 of 5 🍷. Classic pairings are Pork, Poultry, Rich fish (salmon, tuna and the like, but not mackerel), vegetarian dishes, as long as they have the flavor to stand up to this.
Frankly, I was not sure what to make of it. Not a fruit bomb, not boozy cool aide—yet not a well structured, big wine, not so much wrong or bad, just not right. Deep plum color w/clear meniscus—many, long fat legs around the glass, fairly viscous, speaking to the 13.5% ABV. Fusty nose_a bit hot but didn’t give much up except some earthiness and resinous herbs. Big, unctuous, mouth-coating red—moderate acidity—tannins hid until the finish and are rather fine. Very smooth, fruit also hides until late—juicy. 2.5 of 5 🍷. Need big flavors to stand up to this monster: roasts, game in sauce, blue cheese, offal, stuff with herbs, like thyme and rosemary.
Deep plum with many slow legs around the glass mod viscosity. Distinct brown on the meniscus. Fruity nose, red fruit, and dark berries, very forward touch of forest floor very attractive. A touch hot, with a faint attack. Light body, firm acidity, and very fine tannins with some berry fruit underpinnings. Long, mellow finish, that leans a tad bitter with earthy notes: 3.5 of 5 🍷. This can work with simple dishes of Beef, Pasta, Poultry, especially with mushrooms. Nothing too assertive, or the wine will get blown out. From Weingut Iby-Lehrer (Auf Deutsch, but available)
A solid wine with food. Bright, light goldenrod, with slow starting legs: pick up after initial sheeting. Moderate viscosity. Pear-citrusy nose—bright, with a touch of minerals, a hint of petrol near the end, subtle. Mouth coating initial attack, quite tart, with lemon hard candy feel. Mid-palate, there’s some exotic fruit that lingers around the edges, before moving into a long, zippy finish—I’d buy it again: 3.5 of 5🍷. To pair this, think pork, poultry, cured meats, shellfish, and spicy dishes—Mexican or Asian. Feinherb is an unofficial classification in German winemaking, indicating off-dry, see here.