by J.K. Whelehan

Drinking a 1914 and 1925 Spanish Rioja recently reminded me once again of the potential not alone of this region, but also of other emerging areas. While the 1925 was disappointing (a reminder to check regional vintage ratings), the 1914 sung. As an anniversary gift, it’s worth noting, many of these wines have the pedigree to age gracefully at a fraction of the price of their Bordeaux counterparts— if you can find them!

Apart from Sherry, Rioja historically has been the best known of the Spanish wine regions. This is due in part to a few innovative producers who took their lead from Bordeaux, transplanting their knowledge and know-how, in particular the use of oak barrels, which imparted to the wines a sweet vanilla character that has become the hallmark of the region. Having raised the flag in the 1850s, Rioja established and maintained its place on the world stage as the rest of Spain languished.

This has all changed, and changed utterly—Spanish wine has undergone a revolution in the last decade or so and now offers some great values from emerging areas such as Madrid. Ever heard of its wines? To spotlight, take Puerta de Alcalá  (¥1,942) from Vinos Jeromín. Packaged in heavy bottles and made from Tempranillo grapes in a clean, ripe, modern style, the current release is the 2004 vintage versus New World wines of 2008/9.   This means the tannins from the oak and the grapes have had time to round out, giving a harmonious and balanced wine without the necessity or cost of cellaring.

Its white counterpart, Puerta del Sol, made from Malavar, is also capable of aging. The wine offers a challenge to Chardonnay—fermented in new oak barrels, it warrants a serious wine glass. Comparatively speaking a little more expensive at ¥2,310, it is worth it. Other areas to watch out for include Campo de Borja (in particular Garnacha) and Tierra de Castilla. But don’t forget, as the Spanish proverb goes, “for wine to taste like wine, it should be drunk with a friend.”

J.K. Whelehan is a Tokyo-based wine expert and writer, as well as co-author of the best-selling book Japanese Dishes for Wine Lovers, published by Kodansha and available from Amazon.

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Spanish Wine