It takes patience, along with something else that’s in short supply these days, to ease a red wine into maturity and that’s adequate storage.
Exactly no one in my acquaintance has a storage locker, much less a cellar, combining the low light, gentle humidity and steady, cool temperature to coax complexity from your favored bottles. Wine storage systems are pricey, generally reserved for “occasion” wines.
So, most wine growers have responded with a flood of fruity, low acid wines for immediate gratification (along with immediate sale and profit), with nuance enough to mature in your car on the way home from the wine shop.
The Spanish Cellar
Not Spain. In just one of her unique wine customs, Spain delays the sale of wine, allowing time to mature in vast cellars and arrive at your table with optimum flavor and texture just in time for dinner.
Look for labeling terms below to choose between a friendly drink for tailgating or a statuesque beauty for your finest steak. Requirements vary slightly throughout Spain; these definitions apply to the red wines of the Rioja region:
For an Easy, Delicious Quaff
Rioja (pronounced ree-OH-hah): Young, vintage-dated wine; generally based on Spain’s noble grape, Tempranillo, priced about $10 in retail shops. Serve as a red wine cocktail and complement to casual dishes, as well as for Sangria, mulled wine, stews and soups.
Crianza (cree-AHN-thah): A minimum of 1 year in barrel (traditionally, American oak) followed by bottle aging, with total ageing of 24 months. Crianza provides easy complexity at an easy price. Serve as a rich cocktail and complement to grilled veggies and seafood, poultry and meats, including savory, ethnic dishes such as Korean barbeque. Available at The Chopping Block.
Rioja Crianza, Bodegas Obalo: A contemporary Rioja, combining international and traditional techniques in vineyards ranging from 40 to 90 years of age. Hand-harvested with each parcel fermented separately. Aged in French oak barrels (a departure from traditional American oak) for 14 months. Velvety palate and savory flavors of ripe berries, meat and brown spice. An ideal pairing with flavorful meats, poultry and vegetables, wild mushrooms and rich cheese. An irresistible accompaniment to The Chopping Block classes including A Night in Spain and Food and Wine of Spain (TONIGHT!); call ahead to have the wine waiting for you or order on arrival. $23.50 per bottle.
For Affordable Elegance
Reserva: A minimum of 12 months in barrel with total maturation of at least 36. (Note the difference in spelling from Italian Riserva.) Priced under-$20, this is where I put my money for affordable complexity. When traditionally aged in American oak, Reserva expresses herbal qualities, excellent to pair with meats and rich poultry prepared with green herbs, especially lamb and pork.
Gran Reserva: Winemakers select their finest grapes for Gran Reserva, often ageing wines beyond the required 2 years in barrel and 3 in bottle. Generally priced under-$50, Gran Reserva can offer seductive complexity including savory (mushroom, truffle), fruit (raspberry, plum), smoke (cigar, campfire), leather and earth, along with silky texture. However, caveat emptor. With advanced age, the wines are vulnerable to less-than-pristine shipping and retail storage. Purchase from a trusted merchant or at the winery only.
The Wine Lands of Spain
To explore Spain’s unique wine traditions, as well as her profound impact on American wine growing – including Argentina, Chile and California – join me on Monday, November 25 for The Wine Lands of Spain at The Chopping Block Lincoln Square) at 7pm. This seated seminar includes tasting of six classic Spanish wines and complementary noshes.