Valdepenas, Spain; known to locals as the Val-de-penas or "The Valley of Rocks". The imagery isn't particularly hospitable. But then, this region has never been gentle... to people or to vines.
Surrounded by the better known, and much larger, region of Castilla-la-Mancha which was made famous by Don Quixote amongst others, I can almost imagine the Don... riding through these sun-baked valleys on his quest. Being a learned man, he would have known that this region had roots. These people had history; with some castles dating back to the 6th, 7th, 8th century BC. Yes, a castle, someone's home at one point - and it's 3000 years old (or thereabouts).
But these castles housed more then just people. For people in this region drink wine; always have and always will. They drink wine with lunch, with dinner, before dinner, after dinner, before bed and perhaps for a midnight snack. Not to say that they're drunks! But different cultures have different habits and to some people, the thought of lunch without wine is just silly. Just silly.
Archaeological sites have revealed wine production here, also dating back to a thousand years before Jesus was born. A drop in the bucket (or barrel, pardon-the-pun) when one compares it to wine-making in the areas surrounding the Black Sea (which have been dated to seven thousand years ago and older). However, when I look at wine-making in the New World - in BC let's say, and one hundred years ago there were only the roughest sort of vines, the barest-type of production, and three hundred years ago Europeans were being sighted for the first time ever sailing their galleons up the coast. Well, then 3000 years of viticulture takes on a degree of intensity!
And today in Valdepenas, the fierce sun blazes on soil, vine and man as it has for millennia. And the people struggle under the sun, working the limestone-rich subsoil, and harvesting Tempranillo. This varietal has plantings not only throughout Spain, but Portugal as well and is responsible for adding depth and dimension to some of the greatest red wines of the region. Even the New World is getting in on the action with wineries in California, South America and even one or two in BC taking a chance.
These two wines from Bodegas Navalon are absolutely entry-level priced examples of what Tempranillo is capable of, and yet deliver something more then entry-level quality. Remembering that BC has the second-highest liquor tax in the world (thank-you Sweden for being more expensive), these two wines come in at $12.99 and $15.99 respectively. In the UK you can pick them up at just about any major grocery store/wine outlet for about £8.99 or even less. For me, when I purchase a wine in that price-range, I'm just hoping that it's balanced and not much else. But in Spain, because these wines state that they are Gran Reserva, then they must be aged a minimum of 5 years: 2 in cask, 3 in bottle.
This is the difference. This is what pushes the quality of these wines from average to lovely, from "nice" to "Oh my!". Discover for yourself why sommeliers the world over are enjoying Spanish wines more then ever before...
Anciano Gran Reserva 2005
aged 7 years
*NO NEED TO DECANT/AERATE
- visual: clear; deep garnet core to slight cherry rim/some signs of age/oxidization
- nose: clean; medium+ intense and developing aromas that show both the brightness and freshness of youth through cherry blossoms and fresh red berries (raspberries/strawberries/blueberries) but also the more developed nuances of worn leather, drying dark berries... complimented by a generous array of graphite tones and wild savory herbs
- palate: clean; dry, medium+ cranberry acid, medium+ chalky tannin, medium- body, medium alcohol (13% ABV), medium intense flavors that do a solid job of keeping up with the aromas; the wine shows more age on the palate then the nose as the flavors are more of the dried blueberry/Saskatoon nature, layered with that graphite edge and rounded out with the scrub-brush/herbs. Good balance and structure, short length
- conclusion: whilst it will last for a few more years, this wine is at it's peak and should be enjoyed now. It should be noted that for those not used to "funky" Old World aromas, a quick run through the aerator or a 15 minute decant (just leave the bottle open) will do much to dispel what may be not-to-everyone's-liking
- FOOD PAIRING: "when in Rome..." and so I paired this cheerful red with grilled chorizo and caramelized sweet onions, capsicum bell peppers and fresh basil; grainy Dijon dipping sauce. The wine loved the bit of fat, hint of spice, and bold fresh garden flavors!
Anciano Gran Reserva 2002
aged 10 years
*PREVIOUS VINTAGES SCORED 90 POINTS BY ROBERT PARKER
*NO NEED TO DECANT/AERATE
- visual: clear; full garnet core to slight cherry rim/only light signs of aging
- nose: clean; medium+ developing aromas of cherry blossoms and dark rose, warm cherry compote, fresh thyme from the garden, graphite edges and a slight peppery finish
- palate: clean; dry, medium+ tart raspberry acid, medium chewy/meaty tannin, medium- body, medium alcohol (13% ABV), medium+ intense and developing flavors that mimic well the aromas; generous darker fruit tones give way to a well-placed minerality that cleanses the palate. The end is dark roses drying in my kitchen where I hang the Summer herbs. Good balance and very good structure with medium- length
- conclusion: also at it's peak, this wine will last for several years but is best consumed within the next 18-24 months
- FOOD PAIRING: a lighter though robust wine, this needed nothing other then the fireplace, a Sunday evening, and a good movie :) ... if I had paired food, it would have been something like grilled lamb burger with peppercorn-cherry relish, smoked garlic aioli for the frites
IMPORTER IN CANADA: www.DiamondEstates.ca
As always, I welcome your comments and questions - here, or on Twitter @AStudentofWine
CINCIN~!!! SLAINTE~!!! CHEERS~!!!