Used to be (a matter of months ago) when I would turn my nose at the thought of drinking a Spanish red wine. Talking about preconceived notions. But you see this not completely uneducated notion came from several botched attempts at embracing Spain’s leading red wine: Rioja. Far too often (were talking over 50 percent here) I would plonk down my €10-15, open the bottle, and be treated to big brassy reds, sure, but wines that were bathed vanilla and other unsavory oaky undertones for months, nigh years. Have these wine makers no restraint? Why not allow the featured grapes– in the case of Rioja wines, mainly Tempranillo– to at least feature in the flavor profile? So I swore off Spanish wines altogether.
Recently I’ve given the country a second chance. And I’m very pleased to have plowed past my ignorance to discover extremely pleasing Spanish reds in both the usual places (Rioja and Ribera del Duero) but increasingly I’ve been exploring far lesser known Spanish varietals, whose appellation names send me straight to the enthusiast’s bible: Jancis and Robinson’s most excellent “Wine Atlas of the World” to reconnoiter approximate location and characteristics.
When it comes to wine I am the definition of a punter, a charming Anglo / Irish term generally referring to the average Joe in the stands. In other words, I’m the farthest thing from a wine critic. My palette extends little beyond… “I like that. Its so… fruity.” Of course more recently I’ve learned to rephrase the observation with authority. “This wine is very fruit forward.” All this to say, I’m merely here to share enthusiasm, and point in the general direction to wines that may have gone overlooked.
That said, I will now alert you to two Spanish varietals worth seeking out, if for no other reason than to provide contrast to your favorite Syrah or Merlot. The first wine is Bodega Manium, from the Bierzo DO, which is located in th Castilla Y Lyon region (roughly South of Rioja and North of Madrid). What I know of this region, the Iberian plateau of Central Spain, comes from having traversed it twice by car. My cursory understanding would summarize it to be a vast semi-arid plateau that’s prone to extremes, with hot days and cool nights, sweltering summers, cold winters, and occasionally frosty September nights. It also a region with a wonderfully rich cultural heritage and long history of wine production. Among the red wines, the Tempranilo grape features prominently, but the real star is the indigenous Mencia grape.
And the wine I’m drinking tonight is a Crianza, means it has spent at least one year in oak. True to form, the Manium is made from 100 percent Mencia, a grape my local wine vendor described as “Pinot Noir on steroids.” I really liked this wine. Though its big and fruity, and certainly well oaken, but not so much so as to mask the unique flavor of the Mencia grape. Just as my favorite wine shop vendor alerted, there is some minerality here that I like. You can taste a hint of the earthy soil from which it came. People who like big, brassy Rioja wines will find something here to enjoy. But if you’re like me, looking for characters other than big bold fruit, an vanilla, you’ll probably also enjoy this wine. Priced at €15, it provides provides decent value for money.
Tomorrow I will provide a quick writeup about the other featured Spanish red: the Buma Barrica, from the Monstant DO, down near Barcelona. Stay tuned.