Winemakers in the most famous regions of Spain and Italy have gone pro in the practicum of wine that speaks loud and clear. If there is a downside it is the blurring of lines and overlapping of circles, where regions set far apart show similar, if near identical characteristics in their wines. How does this happen? How can winemaking trump terroir?
The simple answer is wood. Barrel usage is a global affair, with wineries scouring oak forests the world over to age their wine. French oak is most used and whether you make wine in central Italy or northern Spain, the oak you employ may result in more than just the commonality of wood. If your processes are tied by similar or even identical ties, your wines may taste eerily like one another, if not outright like kissing cousins.
Despite the oligopoly of technique and the lack of winemaking individuality gone viral in this generation, there are three things that continue to work in favour of regional character. The first is obvious. Soil. Or, more importantly, the components, the rocks and minerals that fleck the earth. Secondly, attitude. Call it conceit if you like but when a winemaker has the guts to make wines we like to call grippy, you can’t help but stand up and take notice. Third and so important to the consumer, is price. Spending $15-30 on wines from the most historic locales such as Burgundy and Bordeaux is almost always nonsensical and a waste. No where else in the world offers grip, pomp and pride like Spain and Italy and in that go to mid-price range.
A pentavalent and benevolent group fits this requiem for commercial gain. Rioja, Ribera del Duero and Priorat from Spain. Chianti and Abruzzo in Italy. A Venn diagram of commonality can be agglomerated from their proclivities. It is in these fab five Old World wine regions where a twain of ancient and state of the art collide. Here are seven gripping wines from Spain and Italy.
Ribera Del Duero
The history: Located in north-central Spain, on a plateau, 90 minutes from Madrid. Ribera, or “river bank,” extends from both sides of the Duero. The Denominación de Origen (D.O.) of Ribera del Duero dates back to 1982.
The lowdown: Highest average elevation in Europe for growing red wine grapes. Summers are hot, winters are cold, rainfall is minimal. Lower vineyards are alluvial with sand and reddish clay. Higher ones built of limestone, marl and chalk. Tempranillo in the main grape. Finest recent vintages include 2004, 2009 and 2012.
Oh the shaken, modern humanity. Nothing shocking here, this 100 per cent Tempranillo parfait of silky chocolate, mixed berries, vanilla and wood chips. Finds parity in biting red cherry flavour. Though it may as well be any ambiguous, heterogeneous or hermaphroditic $30 IGT, its price puts it at the front of the line. Fun to drink, high-toned, textured and structured, though its origins are not at once obvious. Will evolve felicitously for five to seven years. 89 Tasted December 2013 @DrinkRibera
Amid a sea of Spanish reds, this Ribera stands alone as the most modern on the table. Dusty, trenchant dark chocolate, mocha crema, thick, syrupy, rehydrated plum fruit. Accented by both white and black pepper, anise and a late lash of astringent tannin. Abrasive as a pleading Waits croon, this Crianza is “better than a cup of gold. See only a chocolate Jesus can satisfy my soul.” Another Ribera with qualities akin to present day, Sangiovese dominated Chianti Classico. Immaculate confection. 89 Tasted December 2013 @EuroVinatage
Typically modern version with just the right amount of age. Interesting to see nearly 10 year-old Ribera, with so much obvious oak and modernity retain its fruit lushness and presence after such a chunk of time could have stripped away its freshness. Candied violets and pansy, peppery nasturtium and marble slab, rocky road ice cream. Oak nearly integrated but persistent in chalky texture. Confounding bareback ride on a wild 100 per cent Tempranillo horse that bucks as if Bordeaux or Rhône varieties would seem to bolster the whole. 90 Tasted December 2013
The history: Central Italy, stretching from the heart of the Apennines to the Adriatic Sea.
The lowdown: Mostly mountainous and wild terrain. The four DOC produced in Abruzzo are the Contro Guerra, Trebbiano d’Abruzzo, Montepulciano d’Abruzzo and Montepulciano d’Abruzzo Colline Teramane. Montepulciano is the most planted red variety. Finest recent vintages include 2006, 2009 and 2010.
Winemaker superstar to be Francesco Cirelli does what more should do. Age organic grapes of purity and pristine quality in clay Amphore. The natural empathy and wisdom of crop rotation (for more than just grapevines) drives the logic and proportion of Cirelli’s wines. This Md’A smirks and balks at thoughts of it as entry-level, though it concedes to the moniker ’poster child’. From 15 year-old vines set in sandy clay soils near Atri in the Colline Teramane zone. The fruit is like raspberry felt, lifted, spritely, gregarious and inviting. The wine never plunges into bitterness, nor does it depend on any crutch to remain upright and weightless. 90 Tasted September 2013 and January 2014 @TheLivingVine
The history: In central Tuscany. The two Chianti zones, Denominazione di origine controllata (DOC) and Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita (DOCG), produce the largest volume of DOC/G wines in Italy.
The lowdown: Chainti Classico must have a minimum 80 per cent Sangiovese, the main variety of the region. Other indigenous grapes include Canaiolo and Colorino, bur Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot are also used. Soils vary from marl of layered sandstone, to chalk and clay, blue-grey sandstone and clay-limestone. Finest recent vintages include 2006, 2007 and 2011.
Heather meadow Sangiovese, emotive of old school Chianti Classico aromas, notably tea, new leather and sour cherry. Texturally succulent and lush, like mini-modern Sangiovese Grosso. Nearly syrupy and 90′s-styled by a heavy-handed, wood-soaked guilty conscience. The kind of CC to “waste away the weekend with perfect regard for how cavalier we used to be.” 89 Tasted December 2013 @ChiantiClassico @ProfileWineGrp
The history: In Catalunya, northeast Spain. The most recent regulations of the DOQ were defined in 2006.
The lowdown: Dominated by hillside vineyards with poor soils, the dark slate called Licorella and low-fielding old vines. Garnacha and Carinena are the most planted, but also international varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Syrah. Finest recent vintages include 2004, 2009 and 2012.
Clearly contemporary, voluptuous Garnacha blend, in symmetry with foil Carinena, In support are small amounts of Cabernet Sauvignon (10 per cent), Merlot (five) and Syrah (five). Chalk, grain and chocolate intensity, scents of dusty mulberry, menthol tobacco, eucalyptus and licorice. Works its international styling to great effect, if a bit heavy, woody and hollow up the middle. Lags just behind the stellar 2008 and yet this ’09 will have many a follower. Just a bit more structure would make it a prize. 89 Tasted December 2013
The history: In northern Spain, on both sides of the River Ebro. The oldest Designation of Origin in Spain (DOCA), established in 1926.
The lowdown: Confluence of Atlantic and Mediterranean climates, with soils ranging from chalky-clay, to ferrous-clay and alluvial. Tempranillo is the most planted (red) grape. Finest recent vintages include 2005, 2005, 2010 and 2011.
The animal that is an ’04 Rioja Reserva is a VINTAGES darling. Here is yet another example in a long line-up spread out over several months of releases. 2004 palate fatigue should certainly have set in but for this youthful yet learned Ontañón. The dichotomy is not lost with much wood to be nosed though it’s neither abstruse nor resinous. More like a smoking cedar plank beneath the rendering weight of a slow-roasting porcine slab. Tangy cherry, sour plum and really stretched length. Mineral finish. Brillo Tempranillo with a touch of Graciano. 91 Tasted December 2013 @TandemSelection
Good to go!