The Best New Wines from Spain, Part 2

As my tasting notes in this issue illustrate, there are myriad Spanish wines for under $12—even under $8—that deliver vibrant fruit, impressive balance, and often startling complexity compared to similarly priced wines from anywhere else. And these are rarely cynically made wines designed in response to market trends or based on the usual international suspects—chardonnay, cabernet sauvignon and merlot. These incredible bargains are made possible by a felicitous combination of factors: A mostly warm, dry climate in which rot is rare outside the cooler and damper northwest regions. A low incidence of pesky critters that wear down and eventually kill vines, which has allowed for the survival of a high percentage of old vines of the native varieties grenache (garnacha) and mourvèdre (monastrell). A growing number of ambitious and increasingly worldly winemakers. Lots of cheap vineyard land, including much that was virtually useless before temperature-controlled winemaking facilities made it possible to bottle fresh wines from hot areas. And a tireless group of American importers whose idea of a good time seems to be to deliver outrageously tasty wines at the lowest possible price—often in spirited competition with one another.

And those are the wines that you’ll see dominating this article. But rest assured: consumers with fat wallets will also find plenty of no-expense-spared, fancy-oak wines from infinitesimal crop loads that will help lighten your load. Some of these wines are even deserving of their high prices.

As I noted in the last issue, 2006 marks the third consecutive year of above-average to outstanding quality across Spain. Comparing my impressions of high-end 2004s to my notes for their 2005 siblings, I find that most wines from the more recent vintage possess more clarity and energy than the 2004s—and not just because they’re a year younger. The other side of the coin is that 2004 appears to have produced riper and more powerful wines, often with greater concentration, but for the most part without the roasted or pruney qualities that characterize so many 2003s. Both 2004 and 2005 are impressive, even great, vintages, and I’d hate to be forced to choose one over the other. At this early stage 2006 looks to be a solid, above-average year for red wines across the country. And I implore fans of nervy, pure white wines to seek out the increasingly available Txakolis from 2006: they are addictive.