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Wine Review: Spanish winemakers learn to balance quality, pricing

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When wines are spoken about in general conversation, the wines in question would usually be French or Californian. However, many other countries produce good wines that are often left in the shadows.

Among those rarely talked about are the wines of Spain, and there is a good reason for that. Up to the beginning of the last century, Spanish wines were poor quality and many were downright rotten.

In the 1860s, when the Great Wine Blight hit France, Spain was still unaffected and many of the French grape growers headed south, settling in the northern part of Spain at the foothills of the Pyrenees mountains. These expatriate French vintners began to make wine from local grapes with the techniques they used to make their wine of old in France. What they produced was, at best, poor.

Many of these vintners had brought cuttings from their former home and were waiting until those vines matured. However, the damage had been done and wines from Spain were looked on as weak imitations of the real thing. Additionally, the Spanish cost of living was much lower than the other wine-producing countries, so their prices were much lower, giving the impression of an inferior product.

Time and modern winemaking has changed all of that. Spain now produces some world-class wines, both from their native grapes and the vines brought over by the French. Today, the only problem that still remains is the question of price. Again, due to the cost of living and manufacturing, Spanish wines are still in the very affordable price range and, if I may put my head on the chopping block, they offer excellent quality for the money. I have picked out several that I feel are worthy of your interest.

Bodegas Castillo de Monjardin 2017 Pinot Noir ($12)
Putting a pinot noir in front of me is like waving a red flag in front of a bull; not a good move. I am very critical of this variety. The Bodegas Castillo de Monjardin Pinot Noir comes from a country that's not very well known for growing this variety. This pinot noir displays all of the classical flavors and substance one would expect, while retaining its Spanish characteristics by displaying that earthy element that marks it as definitely coming from Spain. The flavor is powerful, and the wine is enjoyable. It can accompany a broad spectrum of foods and is certainly worth more than its very reasonable price.

Bodegas Inurrieta Mimao Garnacha ($12)
This truly Spanish wine has been made from garnacha grapes, or as they are known in France and California, grenache. Garnacha produces wines with high concentrations of fruit, tannin and acids. Its flavors are most typically currant, cherry and raisin, and its aromas are of black pepper, menthol and licorice. This very well made wine also has a long and complex finish. It will be a sure hit when served with almost any Spanish fare, such as tapas as well as some of the more highly seasoned Italian dishes and, of course, all of the Mexican foods.

Bodegas Nekeas Vega Sindoa Barrel Fermented Chardonnay ($12)
The operative phrase in this name is barrel fermented. It represents a traditional and more costly way of producing a chardonnay. As you might expect, there will be oak in this wine, and there is, but in refined amounts that does not overpower or eliminate the true chardonnay flavors and aromas but rather enhances them. This wine is heavy with the aroma of pear, apple, apricot and pineapple, with notes of spice, cinnamon and clove in the background. These fruit aromas carry over to the taste, where they are intertwined with the oak and vanilla and end in a fruity creamy mouth feel. The wine is a great buy for the quality offered.

Wine columnist Bennet Bodenstein can be reached at frojhe1@att.net.

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