A Bargain Red from Spain

Spain has more land planted with vines than any other country in the world and, wherever you look, you will find unique local grape varieties and interesting and different wine styles.  From the sherry region in Andalucia in the south, to Galicia in the north-west with its crisp, fragrant Albariños to the famous reds of Rioja and Ribero del Duero.

But this blog concerns Catalonia (Cataluña to the locals) in the north-east of the country; a region with its own language and culture and a diverse and characterful range of wines that would take a lifetime to explore fully.  The region’s most famous wine, Cava, is one that many consumers may not even associate with Spain, let alone this one region; it has become a generic name for those looking for a cheap and cheerful alternative to Champagne.  If only they looked a little further (and paid a little more) they would find some attractive, distinctive Cavas that stand as quality sparkling wines in their own right.  

And, although large producers such as Torres dominate the Catalonian wine scene, it’s also a region where smaller growers can thrive, particularly in the hilly, inland areas.  Priorat is, perhaps, the best example of this with talented, artisan producers exploiting its rugged terrain and centuries-old vines to create remarkably intense and focussed wines.  Inevitably, wine prices there have rocketed and Terra Alta, hidden away in the hills to the west, is a better choice for value. 

Dardell’s organic red (Majestic, £8.99) is a robust mix of mainly Garnacha Tinta (known more commonly as Grenache) with some Syrah giving a rich, spicy full-flavoured wine with delicious dried-fruit flavours and a savoury, smoky finish.  I opened and decanted it an hour or so before drinking to allow it to develop all the flavours and aromas and was pleased I did.  It also needs generously flavoured food to show its best (a warming venison casserole was our choice).

I began by highlighting the wealth of different wines from Spain; by buying a bottle from one of that country’s hidden corners, I found not only a delicious wine but also a real bargain.

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A Versatile Red

I was chatting to a friend about Italian wines when my wife called over to me ‘don’t forget to mention those lovely Sardinian whites’.  I agreed and duly passed on the recommendation for the island’s very drinkable and often good value Vermentino-based wines.

I must have still had Sardinia on my mind when I was choosing a wine to drink with dinner that night as I picked Isola’s Cannonau di Sardegna (Novel Wines, £13.99) out of our wine rack. 

For those not familiar with the name ‘Cannonau’, it’s the islanders’ name for the grape more commonly known as Grenache – part of the blend in Côtes du Rhône and Châteauneuf du Pape or the ‘G’ in Australia’s GSMs.  (It’s also called Garnacha in Rioja and generally in the Spanish-speaking world).

Whatever you call it, this one was a delicious, silky smooth unoaked medium-bodied red full of attractive black fruit flavours.  I tasted damsons and plums together with some peppery spice and even hints of chocolate (which may have been a nudge to what was to follow).  The finish was medium length and the tannins very soft and restrained.  It worked really well with a game casserole made from a mixture of pheasant, partridge, venison and who knows what else from our local butcher.

But the wine had a surprise for me.  As I often do, I left a little in my glass after dinner to sip throughout the evening.  When it came to coffee time, my wife and I split a bar of bitter chocolate and I tried the wine again.  I found the chocolate bringing out some lovely cherry fruit in the wine that I hadn’t noticed earlier.  I know some reds do go well with dark chocolate (Argentinian Malbecs, for example) but I wasn’t expecting this pairing to be so successful.

Which just proves that food and wine matching is far from an exact science; some of the most unlikely combinations can sometimes deliver the most pleasant of surprises.