Author mug By The Glass

Kevin Toyama

Wednesday, May 12, 2004

Spain is stepping up
with good wine values

the famous Paris tasting of 1976 put American wines on the map. Young wine writer Steven Spurrier gathered a line-up of the finest Bordeaux against the upstarts of Napa Valley. The panel of judges voted the chardonnays and cabernets of California above their French counterparts.

A similar victory occurred for Spain with a tasting in 1979, when the Torres family winery's Gran Coronas Reserva Cabernet Sauvignon Black Label of 1970 was entered into a tasting against some of Bordeaux's finest -- including Chateau Latour -- and the Spanish wine won!

Led by Miguel Torres, the Torres family winery has been around for more than 300 years.

The renaissance -- or modern rise of Spain's wine industry -- began in 1975 after the fall of Gen. Francisco Franco's regime. This opened the doors to free-thinking and the development of an international wine community.

I visited Spain recently to research the foods and wines to be served at the May 23 Hawaii Uncorked event, "Rapsodie Espagnole." As I rolled through the Spanish countryside, the realization that Spain has a tremendous amount of land devoted to vineyards was resounding.

Everywhere, grape vines and olive trees. All the wineries were modern, sparklingly clean, and produced wines of amazing quality and terrior (a French term for sense of place), or personality. There were so many to choose from, but here are a few of my new favorites:

Bodegas Jalon, Vina Alarba, Old Vines is a Grenache-based red produced east of Madrid in Calatayud. For the price, it is a big, chewy red with loads black cherry, cedar, gravel, herb and spice for only $6.59. It is a fabulous everyday wine that truly exemplifies the value and quality of the country.

Not too distant from Vina Alarba, Bodegas Borsao from the sleepy town of Campo de Borja is an exuberant blend of grenache and tempranillo. The 2,400-foot elevation of the vineyard and the cold winds that whip through produce a balanced everyday red with bright cherry and plum flavors that is the real deal at only $6.59.

From the region of Rueda, the Vila Sila, Naia is a white barrel-fermented blend of verdejo and viura grapes with refreshing grapefruit and gooseberry flavors. It is stunning with fresh shellfish or seafood and only $10.19.

Last but not least, Finca Luzon, Altos de Luzon is a mourvedre, cabernet sauvignon and tempranillo blend from the South-easterly town of Jumilla. Besides having the finest Hotel (Hotel Luzon) in the area, this little region is my favorite. Luzon's wines are rich in flavor and character, with bold black cherries, a dollop of kirsch, black fruits, herbs (more like the garrigue of French wines) and a hint of pepper and spice. At only $19.89, it's a great wine.

Reflecting on my travels through Spain -- the culture, cuisine and fantastic wines -- it's exciting to think of the tremendous value and awesome potential of what I experienced. I somehow get the feeling that the best is yet to come.

Kevin Toyama is manager of the Beretania R. Field Wine Co. This column is a weekly lesson in wine pairing written by a rotating panel of wine professionals.

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