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Writing this wine blog is becoming an experience full of pleasant surprises. Among them is being literally showered with presents from friends, mostly in the form of new wines you absolutely have to try. Of the countless gifts received these past weeks of holidays I want to single out three wines, that surprisingly went very well with the books I was reading at the time I drank them. May be pairing wine and books should be the new-new thing.

The three wines came from generous friends who prefer to remain anonymous. They are the kind of people who always live up to the WInston Churchill’s standard about giving, “we make a life by what we give”.

The first one was Morlanda vi de Guarda 2005, a wine from Priorat that seduced me like a good novel. I was actually reading those days with enormous pleasure Louis Auchincloss’ “The education of Oscar Fairfax” (another gift from a friend!) and I found that a similar complexity and sophistication was present in the wine and in the fantastic description of the New York ruling class in the XX century.

The second wine came from a modest and little know winery in Villabuena de Álava, Hermanos Frias del Val, who makes an original Rioja with personality without straying from tradition. It remind me of another great book I had just received, “Madrid en 20 barras” (Madrid in 20 tapas bars), of Armero ediciones, a wonderful new addition to their series of “20 magníficos” that selects and comments with wit and intelligence the best restaurants and places to eat in Madrid.

The third wine I remember well from these past weeks is Viña La Grajera, a new ecological wine made by the government of La Rioja itself, that was sent to me right before Christmas. It went very well with my re-reading of Boris Akunin’s Russian novels, a great pleasure I indulge in when I retreat to La Coruña. La Grajera is a profound and somewhat eccentric wine, just like the main character of Akunin’s stories, the police officer Erast Fandorin. Next time you open a new wine perhaps you can ask yourself, what book does it taste like or can I combine it with?

by Guest Contributor Fernando Vigón

Life always has its up and downs. The downside started a few days ago when Blanca got home after work:
“Fernando, have you ever heard of Montecastro y Llanahermosa?” she asked.
Her ominous tone of voice made me felt uncomfortable, as I tried to read between the lines.
“No, I haven’t. What is up with it?” I answered.
“You haven’t! Oh, it is not big deal, just a 15 € wine, rated 93 by Parker. I guess your value-for-nothing wine hunting skills seem to be a bit rusty”.
That was below the belt I thought. Luckily enough the up side was just round the corner: “By the way, I left two bottles in the kitchen. We can taste one for dinner”

And so we did and the Montecastro y Llanahermosa 2005, D.O. Ribera de Duero, a blend of 95% Tempranillo, 2% Merlot and 2% Cabernet Sauvignon turned out to be a superb wine, dark ruby, explosive nose of blackberries, with elegant mineral and woody touches. Persistent in mouth, very well integrated tannins, it possesses the right balance between power and elegancy……and of course a bargain.

Ashamed by my poor show of weakness I decided to go on another bargain hunting tour and as usual the results were amazing:

The first prey was the Hecula 2005 Bodegas Castaño, 100 % Monastrell, a terrific example of Yecla, the tiny D.O. in Murcia just 4.000 Ha. located in the barren inland part of Murcia with a strong emphasis on young powerful wines based on Monastrell. With a knock out price of 9 €, deep ruby purple coloured, a sweet nose of blackberry jam and sweet, full bodied exceptionally concentrated in mouth, it is perfect to be drunk now and over the next 5 to 7 years.

The next one was a blockbuster: Nita 2006, Meritxell Palleja, 10 €, D.O. Priorat. 45 % Grenache, 35 % Cariñena, 15 % Cabernet Sauvignon, 5 % Syrah. Very bright cherry, the wine has ripe blackberry and dried herb scented nose, medium to full body it shows the mineral richness hallmark of the Priorat “terroir”.

I must admit I have a certain fondness for el Bierzo and its wines and the Ultreia Saint Jacques 2006, Raul Pérez, D.O. will be from now on my shopping list. The fact that the price is 6 $ does nothing to do with it. With a dense dark ruby colour, highly expressive, owns an stunning level of fruit, it is a simple and yet delicious wine, perhaps lacking complexity but making it up for it with a overall sense of elegance and fruity finish.

I am looking forward to talking to you again about my summer holydays wine shopping. In the meantime, please enjoy these wines.

by Guest Contributor Fernando Vigón

Alvaro Palacios is one of the most outstanding personalities in the Spanish wine milieu. Back in the eighties he was the youngest wine maker of the group that started the Priorat revolution. His blockbusters then include Les Terrasses, Finca Dolfí, L’Ermita and Corullon. His mark has always been working with native grapes like grenache, mencia, graciano, and mazuelo.

Luckily for all of us, Alvaro worked also in El Bierzo and Rioja in the late nineties. I had the opportunity of tasting some of his second generation wines during Christmas.

To my mind Petalos de Bierzo 2006, Descendientes de J. Palacios, D.O. El Bierz, was the best of them. 100 % mencia (reportedly a 50-80 year old vine). Aged for 6 months in French oak, it is a knock out wine for a price of only 17 euros. Opaque ruby and purple coloured. It reveals an astonishing breath of minerals and raspberry. Medium bodied, round in mouth, powerful, fruity and well balanced. A bit too early to drink, in two years time it should explode.
From El Bierzo I also strongly advice you to have a go at the Dominio de Tares Cepas Viejas, 100 % mencia and Pitacum Aurea Roble 100% mencia , of course without forgetting Alvaro’s master piece Villa de Corullon, 100 % mencia.

Then we have Alvaro in La Rioja: Finca La Montesa 2003 Bodegas Palacio Remondo, D.O. Rioja. Aged for 12 months in French and American oaks. An unusual blend of 40% grenache, 45 % tempranillo, 5% mazuelo and 10% graciano it shows a medium to dark ruby coloured with a purple edge , a very elegant aroma: fresh fruit, cacao (well, others tasters dixit), round in mouth with pure and long finish, but it lacks the complexity you always look for in Alvaro Palacio.

I enjoyed however very much the Propiedad 2005, Bodegas Palacio Remondo, D. O. La Rioja. A blend of 60 % grenache and 40 % tempranillo. Aged for 14 months in mostly French oak. Deep ruby-cherry coloured with scents of ripe fruit and hints of toasty oak. On the palate it is a delicious medium to full bodied wine, powerful and moderately tannic. It can be drank now as well as over the next decade.

All the wines were magnum bottled and it is well worth remembering that 2003 was very good in La Rioja, 2005 excellent in la Rioja and 2006 was also excellent in El Bierzo. In any case, I vote for spending more time (and money) in El Bierzo.

Yesterday I went to a wine tasting of Spanish wines in Luxembourg. It was a group of close to 12 persons of different nationalities tasting Spanish wines. What was remarkable for all of us was how different all these wines were. The great majority were made with tempranillo grapes but the different wine making methods and the regions in which the wines were made really translated into diversity. And it was a fascinating diversity, capable of fitting the most disparate tastes. Never did I saw such a diverse set of opinions: one would love a wine that another one would criticize just to see the positions reversed regading the following wine. I understood how much these Spanish wines reflected the diversity of tastes that one can find in the wine world. And this is a good thing.

Let me talk you about my favourite three and how much they reflect the diversity I mentioned. The first was Petalos (Bierzo, 2005), a wine of the new Spain. An emerging wine region and a wine made for the new world. While tasting I mentioned that this would be a wine to please Robert Parker, just to hear the Sommelier tell me that it had indeed obtained 93 points from Parker (what an investment at the low price it sells…). It is powerful but immediate. Rich, opulent but elegant at the same time. The second was Clos de Berenguer (Priorat, 2004). This is the new old Spain. A wine region that has become famous in recent years but whose wines still appeal to the old fashioned Spanish wines. Plenty of tannins but of high quality. Made to last and to impress. It is old Spain in a new bottle. The third was a classic (Baron de Ley, Gran Reserva 1998, Rioja). This is old Spain at its purest and highest form. It’s an aristocratic wine, full of complexity and elegance and yet not afraid to announce its presence. A wine with layers of history to tell. In these three wines I found the Spain of today with all its diversity but also with all this diversity has in common.