The Best New Wines from Spain, Part 2

Our second installment of new Spanish releases, like last issue’s coverage, is chock full of remarkable bargains at all price points. Even with the dollar just off its lows against the Euro I cannot think of a single region in the world that offers as much bang for the wine buck as Spain. This is mostly attributable to the fact that Spain is rich in old vines, with most of these vineyards situated in regions that offer virtually care-free growing conditions (Yecla and Jumilla notably) and planted to user-friendly varieties such as garnacha (grenache). Usually made in an exuberant, fruit-forward, low-tannin style, these wines are typically bottled early and shipped to market within a year of the harvest. They do not require extended or even mid-term cellaring to express their charms. Indeed, the vast majority of Spain’s under-$15 wines are made to be drunk on release, although giving them a few years of bottle aging usually does no harm, as el cheapo bottles from 2001 and the late 1990s have shown.

At the upper end, I found a lot to like from the regions that are noted for producing Spain’s most complex wines: Rioja, Ribera del Duero and Priorat. There are also plenty of noteworthy wines at the high end coming out of previously obscure (for Americans) regions such as Bierzo. While the best wines are not inexpensive, when I look at the prices commanded by big- and even not-so-big-name Bordeaux, Burgundy and Napa Valley wines, I have to admit that most of these bottles look like bargains. That is, if you can accept the concept that any wine selling for more than $50 a bottle can ever really be considered a good value.

Also exciting are the more serious bottlings being produced from regions that have mostly been known for making cheap and cheerful wines but that boast well-situated vineyards and ancient vines. It will be interesting to see how high-end boutique wines from Calatayud, Jumilla, La Mancha and Campo de Borja, often made by famous wineries or winemakers from more lauded regions, will be accepted by a market that has been trained to think that only the marquee regions are allowed to command over $20 a bottle, or much more, in the competitive American marketplace. The quality of these wines can be impressive, and what I am seeing bodes well for the future. But I get a nagging sense of déjà-vu as I consider the pain that producers in Australia and Chile are currently experiencing as they try to convince the world that there is more going on in their cellars than industrial production of high-volume, low-price guzzling wine.