Saturday, January 18, 2014

Iberian Stunners

By Liza B. Zimmerman 

Many of us have long been tongue-tied trying to pronounce the great red grape varietals that go into Port: try saying Touriga Francesa five times fast. However, most of us never needed to since they were always blended in Port. These days Portugal’s Douro Valley is beginning to produce some stunning, dry red wines from these grapes and some of them are made from single varietals.

When I worked for an importer in Seattle almost a decade ago, most consumers were too afraid to try these amazing wines. I bet it was a combination of not knowing where they were produced, and their glorious history, and not quite knowing how to ask for them. When we bottled a single-varietal Syrah from the same producer, and put “SYRAH” on the label in big letters, it flew off the shelves. And suddenly, previously timid Seattleites started buying lots of dry, beautiful reds from the Douro. 

A decade ago these wines were less expensive than today, but many are still great values. The main red varietals in Port are Tinta Barroca, Tinta Cão, Tinta Roriz (which is Tempranillo), Touriga Francesa, and Touriga Nacional. Few besides Touriga Nacional are found on their own. The great producers are mostly still making them as field blends, just like Ports, and will laugh at you if you ask them to break down the percentages of different grapes that they contain. The two wines on the list at DrinkUpNY from the region are both blends and priced between $8.99 for the Doural Red and $11.99 for the Esteva. Both of these, like many from the region, also tend be very balanced and relatively low-alcohol for hot climate reds, coming in at 12.5 to 13 percent alcohol by volume. 

The Dão region, in north-central Portugal is another area to watch that is producing some good-value, well-priced wines from some of these grapes. And the great winemaker Luis Pato is producing some beautiful wines from the Baga grape in the Bairrada region, which is famous for its pork. 

The Grapes in Spain
Spain has gotten the bulk of the attention in the Iberian varietals game. Many of the country’s distinguished reds are made from the beloved Tempranillo grape. Spain’s wines have also been more widely exported and they have been brilliant marketers.

Rioja has long been home to classic Old World and now evolving red styles. Wines, such as La Rioja Alta "Vina Ardanza" Reserva 2004, made from Tempranillo with a touch of Grenache to soften the mix will age for some time and is still  a relative bargain. Trendy regions like the Priorat are also making some stunning, intense reds. Alvaro Palacios is one of the regions iconic winemakers and his "Camins del Priorat" Priorat 2012  and  "Les Terrasses" Priorat 2009 will stand up to intense flavors and big foods. 

The Navarra region, often known for its charming and affordable rosés, is also making some lovely Tempranillo-based reds at great price points. Bodega Inurrieta “Sur” 2006 is a luscious and accessible wine and a great bargain for $12.99. I have tasted through all this producer’s varietals at a wine show in Germany and one is better than another. I promise. 

California is also making some stunning wines from these varietals and the Tempranillo Wine Producers and Amigos Society has been hosting a great tasting featuring them in San Francisco for several years. The bulk of producers are from California, with a sprinkling or Oregon and Washington thrown in. Some of my favorites are Pierce Vineyards. I adore their Cosecheiro which is a blend based on Tempranillo. Another favorite is Bokisch’s Touriga Nacional, a well-balanced stunner from the up-and-coming region of Lodi. 

Cheers from DrinkUpNY!

Liza Zimmerman has been writing and consulting about wine and food for two decades. She is principal of the San Francisco-based Liza the Wine Chick wine writing, education and consulting firm. She has worked on staff and freelance at national magazines such as Wine Enthusiast, The Magazine of La Cucina Italiana, Wine Spectator, Where SF and the Examiner. She currently contributes to Cheers, Wine Business Monthly and the Examiner, among others. 

Zimmerman focuses on demystifying wine and transforming it into a tool for business and networking for companies all over the country. Past clients include Genentech, Roche and IBM. 

She has visited all the world’s major wine regions and is one of select few in the U.S. to hold the Diploma of Wine & Spirits (D.W.S.), the three-year precursor to the Master of Wine.

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