Wine Party: Spanish Reds

Skip the Forest, Focus on a Few of the Most Typical Trees, and You May Finally Feel Comfortable in the Fabulous Jungle of Spanish Red Wines

You could try the really top-of-the-heap, critical darlings of all of Spain, and see how they fit into the rainbow of reds you've already tasted. By doing this you will understand the real difference between Spanish wines and German or Australian ones; that the stars in the Spanish sky are different than the ones you're used to. That they're not trying to be Babe Ruth, they're trying to be a mountain, if you know what I mean. Happily, unlike the wines of anywhere else on earth, some of the best-reviewed wines in all of Spain are priced in the mere double digits.


Flor de Pingus, Dominio de Pingus, Ribera de Duero, 2001, $50

The entire Spanish wine revolution could, perhaps, be traced to a Bordeaux-influenced Dane, Peter Sisseck, who, in 1996, showed a wine made with 60-year-old Tempranillo grapes, a wine about which a famous wine critic, Robert Parker, said some famously complimentary things. Thus began a land rush and stampede of importers, and here we are. Pingus, the cult wine that started this all, is too rich for our blood. But Flor de Pingus, the second-most-prestigious wine from the winery, usually retails around $50 (though you can often find it on sale for less). It's a Tempranillo wine offering a bouquet of barnyards, coffee, chocolate, saddle leather, currants, cedar, raspberries, and rich, wet earth. In the mouth it's deeply plummy and layered, thickly knit, and the overall impression it leaves is of a profoundly intense gentility. Tasting it, I felt like I learned an invaluable lesson about the grace Tempranillo is capable of achieving. Although interestingly, everyone I tasted with preferred the good Riojas, finding the Flor de Pingus show-offy--power and spice over grace.


Roda II, Bodegas Roda, Rioja, Reserva, 1998, $50-ish

Another sister to a dizzyingly priced Spanish cult wine (called Cirsion), Roda II is probably one of the best Riojas you can easily buy. The 1998 is 73 percent Tempranillo and 27 percent Grenache, all from vines more than 30 years old, aged for 16 months in French oak, 60 percent of which is new, after which it spent 20 months in bottle. I was impressed with the nose of caramelized meat, roasted eggplant, and cinnamon raspberry pie that wafted from the glass. It was balanced by a delicate, pretty body with just enough sweetness to lilt on the palate--a truly elegant little song.

The Roda II was, to my surprise, the hands-down hit of our tasting, with everyone jockeying to grab a full glass of it once they were freed from constraints of small tasting portions and spitting. I had imagined that everyone would go for the more international style Flor de Pingus, but I guess after all that tasting of Grenache, and a firsthand examination of the benefits, subtleties, broadness, and finesse you get from the classic Spanish blend, everyone had learned to appreciate Spanish wines on their own terms. Heavens! That was quick!


You now know more about Spanish wines than 99.9 percent of your fellow Americans. You know whether you like Tempranillo, Grenache, Rioja, or what. If a sommelier asks you what you like in a Spanish wine, you should be authoritatively be able to tell her you like more leathery and oaky wines, or fruitier and softer ones. You'll know whether the various Spanish cheapies people keep pressing on you at parties are indeed any good, or just cheap. If you go forward in your life drinking Spanish wines, they'll all fit into a framework you understand. You will, in short, understand Spanish reds just like a very, very old Spaniard.

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