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Spanish Wine Recommendations, Part 1 – Wines under $20

March 24, 2015 23 comments

List, list, list – who doesn’t like to make lists? Especially the lists of your favorites, where you basically regurgitate something familiar, and you can happily stumble on each and every entry, basking in the happy memories for a moment or three. Yep. That’s the wine list I’m talking about, people. Nope, not the restaurant wine list (that one more often than not is only a source of frustration) – the list of your favorite wines it is.

A short while ago, I was asked by one of the readers for some Spanish wine recommendations. Spanish wines as a group are probably my most favorite, so I happily engaged in the e-mail conversations. After few e-mail exchanges, I got the idea – how about I would simply create a list – a list of Spanish wines I would gladly recommend? Yep, I liked the idea, hence the post which I’m presenting to you.

Before we start, let me clarify a few things. First, I will split this list into the 3 parts – wines under $20, wines from $20 to $50, and the last one will be from $50 onward, with no limitations – no, Spanish wines can’t really compete with Petrus or DRC, but there are some wines there which would clearly require an expense account or lots and lots of passion. Another important note is that I will bring to your attention particular wines from the particular wineries – but for the most cases, without specifying the particular vintages – I tried absolute majority of recommended wines throughout the years, and wines had been always consistent, hence they are on the list. Ahh, and one more thing – I will not be trying to make balanced recommendation – the wines will be heavily skewed towards the reds – sorry about it. Okay, let’s get to it.

While I promised to focus on the reds, I have a few perennial favorites among Spanish whites which I have to mention.

White  Wines:

Bodegas La Cana Albariño – the wine is more round than a typical Albariño, with lesser acidity, but it is nevertheless delicious. Typically around $15.

Botani Moscatel Seco DO Sierras de Malaga – incredible aromatics followed by the dry, perfectly balanced body. One of my favorite summer wines. Around $16

Bodegas Angel Rodriguez Martinsancho Verdejo Rueda – might be the best Verdejo in Spain from a small artisan producer. Wonderfully complex. Around $16

Red Wines:

Let’s start with Rioja. Believe it or not, but good Rioja is hard to find in this price category, so here are few names which I know are consistent:

Bodegas LAN Rioja – one of the best values in Rioja, typically at $12 or less. Consistent, round, balanced. Not going to blow your mind – but not going to disappoint either. A perfect party wine too – often available in magnums.

CVNE Vina Real Rioja Crianza – outstanding introductory level Rioja from one of the best Rioja producers. Once you try it, you wouldn’t want to drink anything else. Typically around $15.

Grupo Olarra Bodegas Ondarre Reserva Rioja – soft and round, with nice brightness and acidity. A great introduction into the Rioja wines. Around $15.

Continuing with Tempranillo, here are a few more recommendations:

Bodegas Emilio Moro Ribera del Duero DO – Ribera del Duero is a source of powerful, clean 100% Tempranillo wines – but there are practically none available for under $20. Emilio Moro is a happy exception at around $18. Layered wine with broad shoulders. Great introduction into the Ribera del Duero region.

Viña Mayor Reserva Ribera del Duero DO – another excellent Tempranillo rendition from Ribera del Duero – dark, concentrated and polished. Can be found under $20.

Bodegas Ochoa Tempranillo Crianza Navarra – Tempranillo is the most planted red grape in Spain, so of course the wines are made everywhere. This wine is an excellent rendition of Tempranillo – round, polished, with nice fruit and traditional tobacco notes. Around $16.

Bodegas Volver Volver Red Wine DO La Mancha – another Tempranillo rendition, this one simply bursting with raw power. Powerful, brooding, very muscular wine – which is a great pleasure to drink at the same time. Around $16.

Here comes another darling of the Spanish red wine grapes – Garnacha, a.k.a. Grenache in the rest of the world.

Bodegas Borsao Tres Picos Garnacha DO Campo de Borja – one of the best red wines you can buy overall for $12. Simple and delicious.

Alvaro Palacios Camins del Priorat, Priorat DOCa – okay, this is a Garnacha blend, but considering that this wine comes from Priorat, one of the most exclusive winemaking regions in Spain, you should hardly complain. An excellent introduction into the region – dialed back red fruit and mineral complexity. Around $15.

And the last from the best known traditional Spanish varietals – Monastrell, a.k.a. Mourevdre in the rest of the world.

Bodegas Luzón Luzón Red Wine, DO Jumilla – simple, fruity, approachable, and nicely balanced. Almost an exception in this list at about $10.

Bodegas Carchelo Carchelo “C” Red Wine, DO Jumilla – a blend of Monastrell, Tempranillo and Cabernet Sauvignon. After my first encounter with this wine I coined the term “dangerous wine” (or at least I think this was the wine) – what makes this wine dangerous is the fact that after the very first sip you can’t stop until the bottle is empty. Perfect balance of fruit and power. Around $15.

Torres Atrium Merlot, Penedes – as a fun fact, did you know that Torres is the biggest wine producer in Spain? Well, this might not be a fair recommendation, but still. I had this wine only once, but it was extremely memorable. The recommendation might be not fair as I’m not sure you can get it in the store – in Connecticut, it reserved for the restaurants only. I had it in Florida in a restaurant for $26, and if you will be able to buy it in the store, it would be around $12. If you can find it anywhere – go for it, as the wine is simply stunning, with or without taking the price into account.

Before we part, one more note. Outside of well-known grape varieties, such as Tempranillo, Garnacha and Monastrell, don’t be afraid to take the risk with lesser known Spanish varietals in the under $20 range. Look for the white wines made from Godello, or the reds made from Mencia, Bobal, Trepat and the others – there is a good chance you will not be disappointed.

And we are done! I was not trying to give you a comprehensive list – theses are all my favorites, you can just print this post and go to your local wine store, if you feel inclined, and then we can compare notes. The next post will cover wines in the $20 – $50 range – there are lots of treats there, my mouth starts watering as soon as I start thinking about those.

To be continued…

More Than 20 under $20

March 14, 2014 12 comments

A few days ago I was challenged to create a list of 20 wines under $20 which I can recommend. I generally shy away from this type of exercise, due to many reasons – I buy a lot of exotic wines (rare grapes, natural wines, old wines, etc.), and I also have my specific way of buying the wines (mailing lists, WTSO, Last Bottle, BinEnds, closeouts at my local store), so there is a good chance that my recommendations will be useless for majority of the people. But then I thought – no, I can actually do it. In my oenophile years, I accumulated a number of safe choices – I might not be buying those wines myself all that often, but nevertheless, there is a number of wines I tasted throughout the years, and they are consistently good, vintage into a vintage, and they are under $20. One problem though –  there is no way this list can be limited by 20 wines. If you have seen any of my Top Dozen Wines of the Year lists, you know that they include not the dozen, but rather a two dozens and then some. So 20 under $20 simply sounds good, but then More Than 20 under $20 probably sounds even better, right?
Okay, without further ado, here is my list of More Than 20 under $20. Just to make it clear, this is how the list is built:

1. The wines are generic and widely available, can be found at many wine stores. As much as I love Fiction by Filed Recordings, which is generally under $20, the wine is almost impossible to find and thus will not make it into this list.

2. To the best of my knowledge, the wines are priced under $20, at most of the regular wine stores and/or supermarkets – yes, if you will buy the same wine at the convenience store in Vegas or a pharmacy in Miami, you might pay a lot more than $20, and sorry, I can’t help you with that.

3. Private label wines are not included, even if they are great and under $20 – sorry Trader Joe’s, Costco and Stew Leonard’s.

4. The list is not sorted, not rated and not prioritized in any way. These are all solid wines, vintage into a vintage – thus vintage is not specified either. I will provide brief descriptions as to why I like the wine – or may be no description at all. Also, some recommendations are general group recommendations, not for a specific wine.

5. The list is organized into Sparkling, White, Red and Dessert. I honestly wanted to include some Rosé, but quickly realized that I will not be able to do that.

Here we go.

Sparkling wines:

Saint-Hilaire Blanquette de Limoux, France – one of my all time favorite French sparkling wine. Dry, pleasant, refreshing. Typically around $11.99, unbeatable QPR at that price.

Domaine Chandon Blanc de Noirs, California – just love the depth of expression on this wine.

Domaine Ste Michelle Blanc de Blancs Columbia Valley, Washington – perfectly refreshing and outstanding value at around $10

Mionetto Prosecco, Italy – not the most mind-boggling sparkler, but very consistent and very reasonably priced.

Segura Viudas Brut Cava, Spain – both white and Rosé versions are very good, with great QPR. Sometimes, you might even get lucky, and find their flagship Segura Viudas Brut Reserva Heredad Cava, but this wine generally is a touch out of our range at around $22 (but still worth it).

White wines:

Honig Sauvignon Blanc Napa Valley – a perfect example of Sauvignon Blanc from California, very delicious, and one of the most reasonably priced California Sauvignon Blanc on the market.

Sauvignon Blanc, New Zealand – yes, I know it is a broad recommendation – but NZ Sauvignon Blanc is generally priced well under $20, and it is generally hard to go wrong with any of them – as long as you like grapefruit notes in your bright and invigorating wine.

Sauvignon Blanc, Chile – another general recommendation, yes – but again, it is hard to go wrong with Chilean Sauvignon Blanc, as long as you prefer a bit more lemon/gooseberry profile as opposed to grapefruit profile.

Muscadet de Sèvre et Maine, France – one more broad category recommendation – these wines are extremely food friendly, generally very well priced and will keep you refreshed with their cutting-through acidity. Look for the words “Sur Lie” on the label for the added complexity.

Botani Moscatel Seco, Malaga DO, Spain – every time I taste this wine, it puts a smile on my face. Delicious, with perfect QPR.

Bodegas Shaya Shaya Verdejo Old Vines Rueda, Spain – perfect Chardonnay-rivaling complexity, delicious wine.  Excellent QPR. If you are in a mood to splurge (at around $26), try its older brother – Shaya Habis.

St. Urbans-hof Riesling, Mosel, Germany – I like this producer, with many wines reasonably priced under $15, widely available and generally well balanced in terms of sweetness and acidity.

Red wines:

Bogle Vineyards Petite Sirah, California – generally at around $11.99, this wine is literally impossible to beat in the QPR – dense and powerful, well balanced and round. Pretty much full Bogle product line is good and well priced, but Petite Sirah is a standout. Also, for a bit more money, but still under $20 ($17.99 or so) , try Bogle Phantom – big and decadent, with lots of ripe fruit, but still well balanced.

The Magnificent Wine Co. “House Wine” Red, Columbia Valley, Washington – nice, simple and consistent, very quaffable, vintage to a vintage.

Louis M. Martini Cabernet Sauvignon Sonoma County – finding good Cabernet Sauvignon under $20 is a serious challenge, I’m glad Louis M. Martini consistently delivers.

Georges Duboeuf Beaujolais Nouveau, France – yes, you read it right, I actually recommend Beaujolais Nouveau – Georges Duboeuf Beaujolais Nouveau gets better and better every year – and sports great QPR.

E. Guigal Côtes-du-Rhône Red, France – E. Guigal makes lots of great wines, this Côtes-du-Rhône not been an exception

Delas Côtes-du-Rhône Red, France – same as the previous wine, Delas is a great producer and these wines are very consistent

Catena Zapata “Catena” Malbec, Mendoza, Argentina – soft, simple, easy to drink – also a versatile choice at the restaurant

Bodegas Volver Tempranillo La Mancha, Spain – power and delight. ‘Nuf said, go try for yourself.

Bodegas Carchelo Carchelo “C” Jumilla, Spain – exuberant and exciting.

Bodegas Borsao Garnacha Tres Picos, Spain – one of the best expressions of Grenache at the great QPR.

Bodegas Lan Rioja Crianza, Spain – consistently good Rioja, bright and cheerful. Once you try it, you can’t believe how little you paid for what you got.

Castello Di Monsanto Chianti Colli Senesi Monrosso, Italy – it is actually pretty difficult to find mainstream Italian wines to recommend in the under $20 range – Monsanto Chianti is a good exception – excellent, supple and round wine at a great price.

Cono Sur Pinot Noir, Chile – simple, but surprisingly classic Pinot Noir, Chilean or not.

Dessert wines:

Sandeman Founders Reserve Porto – a classic.

Late Harvest Wines, Australia – yes, a wide category, but generally very inexpensive and delicious

Late Harvest Wines, South Africa – same as above

That’s all I have for today for you in this group of more than 20 under $20. Of course there are hundreds and hundreds of wines under $20, which are consistently good – but you have to draw the line somewhere. What are your favorite wines under $20? What do you think of the wine sin my list? Cheers!

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