Juan Carlos Sancha Ad Libitum Monastel 2012

Part of a mixed bag of wines recently purchased from Eurocentric. This wine is made from Monastel de Rioja which, as far as I can make out, is a native variety of Rioja planted in relatively small quantities and allowed as part of the region’s red wines only as of 2007 (according to this press release, anyway). Juan Carlos Sancha has grown these Riojan bundles of joy organically which, as we know, must mean the wine is good. Promisingly, it’s sealed under Diam; of late, anything not sealed under cork instantly lowers my level of anxiety.

Colour is quite striking – deep red, dense, serious. Aromatically, the wine is fairly challenging, as it expresses a particular note that reads to me as slightly swampy. I must admit, it’s not an appealing aroma to me; for the purpose of description, it’s similar to the faux-bretty smell that Mataro sometimes gives off; that is, savoury, meaty and altogether angular. With air, I’m making more sense of this note in the context of the aroma as a whole, which is richly fruited and dark, with a hint of coffee grounds bringing up the rear.

The palate is satisfyingly flavoursome, and one could never accuse this wine of lacking intensity. At the same time, there’s an ease to its expression that belies its dark, serious flavour profile, and I rather like the tension between these two things. Black cherries, dark chocolate and mulch collide with a net of tannin that descends through the mid-palate. This is firmly structured, to be sure, yet it’s not without balance. It’s simply a big wine. Fresh fruit drives through the after palate even as tannin constricts its expression somewhat and keeps it in line. A decent finish rounds things off, as does a lick of vanilla.

There’s a lot to like here and the wine is nothing if not characterful. Might go down well with lovers of “big red wines” who are open to some different flavour profiles.

Bodegas Juan Carlos Sancha
Price: $A39.95
Closure: Diam
Source: Retail

Equipo Navazos La Bota de Manzanilla 42

The art of preceding a meal with fortified wine is need of revival.

To be fair, I don’t often drink fino sherry, but every time I do, I feel I ought to indulge more often. This wine was served in the context of a tasting and placed against an Australian fino from Seppeltsfield. Although the local wine was flavoursome and refreshing, this is on quite another level.

Overtly complex, this is a wine of outstanding finesse in the context of a wine style that can be fairly pungent. Classic aromas of nuts and sea spray combine with notes that are so far from table wine they seem to reside in alien terrain — this is the pleasure of fino styles and for those with a taste for these wines (like me) there’s simply no substitute.

In the mouth, tremendous verve and impact. It’s not a heavy wine and moves through the palate with good articulation, fanning its flavours across the tongue with precision. There are a great many things going on in terms of flavour profile, a mix of aldehydic and fresh points that recalls avant garde fragrance as much as wine. As good an aperitif as this would make, it also screams for food that might match its piquancy.

Excellent wine.

Equipo Navazos
Price: $A67
Closure: Cork
Source: Sample

Adegas Castro Brey SiN PalaBRAS 2011

Another standout Albariño from Rias Baixas. It’s worth pointing out how often I came across wines of exceptional value while in Galicia; this, for example, goes for a modest €16.50 on the wine list of moderately swanky O Beiro Vinoteca in Santiago de Compostela. A bargain at that price, let alone whatever it must go for at retail.

This fresh beauty has seen some time on lees but no oak. The nose is crisp yet full, with fresh melon fruit, fragrantly ripe flowers, almonds and spice. It’s not a sharp aroma but it shows nuance and vivacity. What I like about the palate is the way it combines fullness of body, a reasonably complex texture and flavours that are both worked and fresh. In particular, an almond meal note through the after palate is a nice segue from melon fruit that fills the mid-palate, so the wine’s narrative moves from fresh to warm down its line. Good intensity, good length and flavours that show real coherence.

I wish I could drink a few more bottles of this.

Adegas Castro Brey
Price: €16.50 (wine list)
Closure: Cork
Source: Retail

Martín Códax Organistrum 2010

When in Galicia recently, I made an effort to taste as many Albariños as I could, particularly those from the Rias Baixas sub-region. In tasting through these wines, I was interested to note the diversity of styles applied to the variety, with many houses having a simply made wine followed by one or more labels with more winemaking input, in particular techniques like barrel fermentation and extended lees contact. Although some such wines I tried had lost their varietal definition, I was pleasantly surprised by how well Albariño can stand up to a fair bit of manipulation and still retain its flavour, structure and impact.

This wine, made by the ubiquitous Martín Códax co-operative, sees a period of oak ageing and lees stirring before it is finished off in stainless steel. Compared to a simply made Albariño, this has immediately evident yet measured barrel-derived aromas akin to vanilla and almond. As one might imagine, these mesh superbly with fruit-driven notes of melon and stonefruit. The aroma is highly expressive and well balanced, with a lovely rich vibe.

In the mouth, predictably full and round, owing to both variety and winemaking. Its flavours are quite complex; more vanilla, nuts and stonefruit; with texture becoming a dominant feature through the after palate. It’s reasonably, if not overwhelmingly, concentrated. Rather than all-out impact, though, this wine is about rich flavours that lend the wine a luscious, generous feel without heaviness. Nicely judged in the winery, and quite delicious to drink.

Martín Códax
Price: €24 (wine list)
Closure: Cork
Source: Retail

Tesco Finest Viña Mara Rioja Gran Reserva 2004

By far the best of my UK supermarket selections over the past couple of weeks. Marketed under the Tesco Finest label, this is in fact made by Baron de Ley.

Immediately complex aroma, with dark, meaty fruit meshing well with an array of oak- and bottle age-derived notes. I find the integration of aromas especially exciting, and I do think styles like these, with more extensive age built into their élevage in barrel and bottle, present a different view of old red wine. There’s a mellowness here, combined with still-robust fruit, that is so attractive.

In the mouth, rich and full bodied, placing liquerous red and black fruits on the tongue along with leather and spice. Flavours are intense and generous, perhaps a little blurry too, but quite delicious. The middle palate shows a good deal of freshness, thanks in part to good acid, although it’s at this point the wine’s flavours come apart a bit, oak especially feeling a bit obvious. The after palate and finish are more about old red wine flavours, delicious if you like them (I do). Mouthfeel is a highlight, being firm yet sensual at the same time.

Good wine, great value.

Tesco Finest (but really Baron de Ley)
Price: £14.99
Closure: Cork
Source: Retail

Baron Amarillo Rioja Reserva 2006

I was underwhelmed by two recently tasted, fairly pricey Costco-procured wines, so thought for my next adventure into supermarketland I’d try Aldi, another import into the UK. At £5.99, this Rioja Reserva was the most expensive wine on offer at the Chester-le-Street branch of this brutally efficient supermarket chain.

While not a £50 wine in disguise, this drinks very well and in most respects was more enjoyable than either Costco wine. The aroma is settled and integrated, with calm notes of spice, strawberry, vanilla oak, savoury fruits and some bacon fat. It is expressive and well balanced, showing enough complexity to satisfy without being overtly challenging.

More of the same on the palate, showing a very clean flavour profile and firm acid. The interplay of sweet and savoury is especially enjoyable here, with fruit pulling in both directions, playing out primarily on the middle palate. Despite the interest in its fruit, it’s not a fruit-forward wine, and there’s pleasing restraint in all respects here. The downside of this is an intensity of flavour that could be greater. Other flavours, including a nice snapped twig note, continue on to a finish that is lightly touched by fine tannins.

For the price, this is quite excellent and a wine I’d be happy to buy again.

Baron Amarillo
Price: £5.99
Closure: Cork
Source: Retail

Marqués de Murrieta Reserva 2006

I attended a satisfying dinner on Friday evening where the wines were wide ranging and the table’s reactions diverse. I was interested to note the styles that appealed in such a setting. They were invariably forward and aromatic, with fruit flavours that were clearer and more readily identifiable. No surprise there, but I was left wondering about quieter wines that don’t offer such immediate gratification but which can, when contemplated solo, provide tremendous pleasure.

This is one such wine. Not an exalted label by any means, but it’s a whole lot of good things — expressively aromatic, well fruited, evenly structured. Yet it lacks a hook, something immediate and excitable, which would make me fear for its fate in a large line-up of wines. No matter; tonight, it’s the only wine on my table and I’m pleased to consider it at length.

The aroma shows definite tertiary characters which gives a mellow gloss to underlying fruit aromas. Dark berries and some snapped twig swirl at its base, while a range of other smells build on each other. It shares a gene with the sort of exotically spiced blend that might be encountered in a tea house. Here, spice is a link between fruit, oak and bottle age.

In the mouth, a sensuous wine; its structure caresses the tongue as dense fruit coasts above. The weight of its flavours edges on ponderous but detail and definition are sufficient to keep the wine from cloying. I especially like the integration of flavours, from dark berry to aromatic orange peel to leather; this ultimately tastes like a single, complex note. Structure is present, with acid in particular carrying the wine’s movement. The after palate is relaxed and the finish decent.

$30 is a bit extravagant for regular drinking, but if I had the means, my quaffing wines would be like this: humble, quiet and perfectly formed.

Marqués de Murrieta
Price: $A30
Closure: Cork
Source: Retail

Torre Oria Cava Brut NV

God only knows why I’m suddenly drinking what are essentially holiday party wines – cheap sparklers that most folks should enjoy – but what the heck, why not, right? This is another inexpensive sparkling wine that’d probably work best served to friends and family around the winter holidays. It’s a fairly pale yellow and appears to be somewhat bubblier than most sparkling wines, which makes it look incredibly appealing in the glass. The nose is subdued, offering up white sage, honey, and Meyer lemon, but the taste of the stuff is all smooth white flowers, clover honey, and gentle acidity (to me, much less than is usual in cava).Fun, nothing too challenging, and just sweet enough to be acceptable to basically everyone, this would be another great choice for your next holiday party. Yes, there are better sparkling wines out there, but they cost at least four bucks more than this one does, so get out there and get drinking!Torre Oria
Price: $9
Closure: Cork

Los Bayos Mencia Roble 8 Meses 2006

The worst thing about your partner being away on a business trip is simple: you find yourself staring at your cellar unable to decide what to do. Should I drink anything? Surely not – a bottle is entirely too much for one person. All of the good wines you have seem a shame to drink by yourself; everything else you still really want to share no matter how bad it is, if only to get some feedback from a friend before talking much about the wine.I ran by the two least inconvenient wine stores near my office on the way home from work this evening just to see how things are going. It doesn’t look good: no customers, lots of empty shelves, and some immoderate deep discounting is definitely going on. Petaluma chardonnay for US$13? Yes, you can has. Green Point still wines? Only six bucks! It’s crazy.Anyhow! On to tonight’s wine, a cheap Spanish red from Bierzo. I first drank Bierzo wines at a ridiculous dinner club in Madrid, lounging on white pillows with a bunch of friends watching Spaniards dance a quasi-tango to music from an Uruguayan songwriter. This wine is typical: a nearly black red, very youthful, with a rich, fruity, sulphur-camphor nose suggesting simple pleasures, memories of eating too many cherries and getting a tummyache.There’s also an attractive yeastiness here, probably for no reason other than inexpensive winemaking, coupled with a sort of dill pickle, medicinal, clove-y note. My apologies: that sounds kind of gross, but honestly, it’s good. The first thing you notice when you drink some is a full-on tannic assault right up front, unexpected and with a slight prickliness to the after edge of the attack. The midpalate is not as fruity as you’d expect, tending more towards leather (fruit- and otherwise) and spice, with a gentle rolloff at the end into a creamy, cherry-vanilla finish. Lively acidity is also in play, however, so nothing comes off as easy or simple.Ultimately this is a pretty damn good wine for the money: there’s plenty of interest here, far more than (say) critter wines would give you for the same amount of money. Cherries, acidity, spice, full-on tannins that bow out quickly, and a gentle finish make this eminently drinkable, at least for me; add charcuterie or a well-grilled steak and this would really sing.Los Bayos
Price: $7
Closure: Cork

Navarro López Tierracalar Tempranillo 2006

It seems to me the turf war at the lower end of the wine market is, in a lot of ways, more interesting than any perceived battle of the premiums. Burgundy is no substitute for Central Otago Pinot; I’ll take both, thanks very much. If I take a more functional view of wine, though, one wine becomes more or less interchangeable with others of a similar style and price. Hence the availability of large numbers of inexpensive red and white wines the variety and region of which is of less import than, say, price point or style. On this view, I might easily substitute a local flavoursome red for a similarly priced import, so long as it meets my broad requirements of a tasty red wine.

This Spanish Tempranillo has me questioning what it might take for local red wine drinkers to switch en masse to an imported product. Certainly, the horse has bolted when it comes to white wine, New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc having captured the palate (and wallet) of many an Australian consumer. This wine (and others like it) is in some ways a parallel case study — it’s just different enough, just cheap enough and just bland enough to represent an attractive alternative to a lot of local wines. 
None of which is meant as a compliment in particular. In fact, I wasn’t going to write this up as I am finding it quite uninspiring. But then, so are many wines at the $A15-20 mark, so it’s no failure of this wine in particular. The nose is moderately aromatic, showing woody spices alongside red dried fruits and a hint of cured meats. Quite easygoing, with just enough of a twist to raise an eyebrow and differentiate itself from the mainstream of mid-priced fruit bombs. The palate is very much more of the same, and to its credit is quite perfectly balanced for immediate consumption. Tasty sour red fruits and rough vanilla oak run the length of the tongue. And, well, not much else, really. A bit of meaty complexity, perhaps, and a pleasingly textured mouthfeel that is the highlight of the wine for me. Reasonable finish. Again, it’s only one step away from the generic mainstream of value-oriented industrial red wine, but that discernible step means a lot in this context.
Whether I’d personally choose this over a local wine of similar price is a moot point; the fact is, this is a real alternative and one I cannot fault as an everyday drinking wine. At $A12 or so, it would fly off the shelves.

Navarro López
Price: $A16.15
Closure: Cork