In the last couple decades, the US market has grabbed ahold of Spanish wines. Starting with the most-grown grapes, which include Tempranillo, Grenache, Verdejo, and Albariño. You would think that these grapes came into existence in the normal way of propagating two different varietals by crossing to produce a new grape. This is no different than when Sauvignon Blanc was crossed with Cabernet Franc to produce Cabernet Sauvignon.
There is another kind of propagation called intravarietal variability, where the offspring’s DNA is the same as the parent (singular), but it fires off different expressions. The results are changes in color, behavior, response to stimulus, and disease sensitivity. Any of these factors may also be the result of the species trying to survive.
This week at City Vino, we have the opportunity to review two different Grenaches; Grenacha Tinta (Grenache Noir), and its white mutation, Garnacha Blanca—also known as Grenache Blanc. This white varietal originated in northern Spain, but was popularized in southern France, and in smaller amounts, is found in the United States. The characteristics are rich in “green notes,” with aromas of citrus notes, including Asian pear, green apple, unripe mango, and lime zest, with floral notes of honeysuckle and herbal notes of fenugreek or coriander.
The first wine this week is 2019 Laurent Miguel Solas from Languedoc-Roussillon. This is from a series of wines that celebrate the bond between the French-Irish couple, Laurent and Neasa Miquel. Solas is French for “pleasure” and Irish for “light.” The grapes are grown on calcareous, clay soil, in the foothills of the Pyrenees. They are hand-harvested during the night, to protect the grapes from the warmth of the sun and preserve fresh fruit flavors. Wine is allowed to mature “sur-lie” (on the lees), to add extra flavor and body. Characteristics: pale yellow or straw in color, with brilliant aromas of white wildflowers, green apple, herbs, and citrus with hints of grapefruit, and minerals. The palate follows with Asian pear, stone fruit, lightly baked apple with Carmel-brioche blend. This is a dry, fruity, medium- to full-bodied wine, with a mild acidic finish.
The counter part is 2020 Bodegas Alto Moncayo Veraton, from the Campo de Borja region, which is made from Grenacha Tinto. This wine hails from the foothills of the El Moncayo, the highest point in the Iberian Mountain Range, where they enjoy a continental climate, with hot summers and cold winters. The region still holds a high elevation that contributes to a large diurnal change between day and night temperatures. This helps the wine hold acidity. A cold wind, called the Cierzo, blows through from the north, which further moderates temperatures, leading to a slower ripening.
The winemaker searched out small vineyards that had old vines that ranged from 30- to 50-year-old vines, planted in calcareous, iron-rich, clay, gravely, and stony soils. The wine exhibits deep purple in color with aromas of violets, with red cherry, leather, mushroom, and herbal notes of thyme, and oregano. On the palate is a multi-dimensional experience with lavender, strawberry, black cherry, blackberry-blueberry bramble, oak, vanilla, marzipan, dark chocolate, leather, and earth, with faint notes of black pepper, granite, cassis, eucalyptus. The tannins are well integrated, and more flavors open up with a bit of time in the glass. This would make a wonderful partner to lamb, beef stew or grilled vegetables with mushrooms.
Chances are that you have probably heard of and enjoyed Tempranillo as a red wine, but unless you are a super Spanish wine geek, you have probably never heard of Tempranillo Blanco. It is a white mutation of the black-skinned red wine varietal. Sharing 97.8 percent of its DNA with Tempranillo, it bears little resemblance. It was just discovered in 1988 in Rioja, and currently, that is the only region to grow it. In the glass, the wine is fruit-forward, with distinct tree and tropical fruits, including banana and citrus, accompanied by delicate floral characteristics. The wines are ready to drink upon release, but their high acidity also makes them ageable.
This week we are tasting the 2021 Bodegas Ontañón Edition Limitada Tempranillo Blanco, from Rioja. It has a light yellow color with a touch of green reflection. As characteristic for this varietal, you will find intense tropical fruit aromas of pineapple and banana, with hints of white flowers. The palate has a great balance of acidity and tropical fruit flavors with a lengthy finish. This would be an excellent pairing for many foods, but especially with anything that comes from the sea.
The last wine we will be reviewing is a Verdejo, which may be a little lesser known. It is only grown in the Rueda region of Spain. Verdejo makes subtle-yet-intriguing white wines. Often compared to Sauvignon Blanc with flavors of lime, Meyer lemon, grapefruit, grass, fennel, and citrus blossom. Unlike most whites, Verdejo can continue to improve over several years of bottle-aging. It is a great alternative to Sauvignon Blanc and Pino Grigio.
The City Vino example this week is the 2021 Caballito de Mar Verdejo, Rueda. Bodega Cuatro Rayas is the premier winery in the DO Rueda region and is a leading producer. Turning some of their priorities to the environment and supporting the local rural population, they have recently expanded production to the DO Ribera del Duero and DOC Rioja. This wine has characteristics that include dark straw color, followed up on the palate with notes of pear, quince and lemon curd. You might get hints of lavender and herbs in the finish.