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Value Vino

Value Vino: Sipping Spain

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The Spanish economy is in the tank these days. A little mercy wine buying accordingly might be in order — and the notion may be an easier sell than a recent suggestion to do the same for Greece. We can, at least, come closer to pronouncing the names of Spanish wines. And we have a history of buying red wines from Rioja, sherries from Jerez, cava from producers near Barcelona … even if we don't really know exactly where these places are located.

But recently, American buyers have been presented with a plethora of place names that seem to have truly come out of nowhere. Ever heard of a Denominación de Origen called Somontano? Me neither, but we all soon will if more wines appear on the order of Pico de Aneto, a 2010 tempranillo-parraleta from the Somontano D.O.C. Somontano is located in mountainous terrain between Barcelona and Pamplona (Aneto is actually the name of a mountain range), and this wine is crafted from old-vine tempranillo (75 percent) and a local grape called parraleta the winemakers were "determined to preserve." Good thing they did, for it gives a lot of lusty body to this blend that initially shows dusty cherry and cassis on the nose, then offers up an almost-chewy, cedary fruit package that actually gives "fruit bomb" a good name. The tannins may not be totally resolved, but the long finish emphasizes the wine's good bones ($14, mas o menos).

Only a little less obscure to most of us is the Campo de Borja D.O.C — yes, named after the infamous Borgias who held sway in this region near Aragon, about half way from Barcelona to the Bilbao of Guggenheim and Gehry fame. The 2009 Tres Picos Borsao Garnacha has been attracting the attention of the wine press, its above 90-point ratings impressive for a price of around $13. I wouldn't go quite so far, but this is admittedly a big wine that wears its 14.5 percent alcohol well and offers a little leather, along with blackberry, blueberry, black cherry … the usual dark fruit suspects associated with old-vine Grenache, in this case from low-yielding, also mountainous, vineyards.

The Ribera del Duero, a D.O.C. that folks paying attention have actually heard of, is located halfway between Madrid and Bilbao. At somewhere around $16, the 2009 Sincero Ribera del Duero is a little pricier than the two previous wines — in part, perhaps, because its provenance is more familiar. And in part because it's an extremely sophisticated wine that's perhaps temporarily a little reticent in the manner of a young woman still in the charge of her duenna. The nose was closed at first, though it opened up with time into a bouquet of slightly jammy berry with a touch of herbaceousness. The body was surprisingly supple, with well-integrated tannins, and, contrary to expectations, the wine seemed to gain in integrated acidity as it warmed. Hence, don't chill this one, but do try with, say, rabbit in a mushroom sauce — Easter notwithstanding.

Veteran food, wine, and spirits writer Ron Bechtol has been a Current contributor since 1993 and is the local editor of the Fearless Critic restaurant guide to San Antonio.

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