Wines of Spain

Wines of Spain, a trade group, recently hosted a tasting in Austin of Rioja wines.

Wines of Spain, a trade group, recently put together a fascinating tasting of Rioja wines from 10 different bodegas. Rioja is in the north-central part of Spain and is world-renowned for its red wines, frequently made with the Tempranillo grape. Spanish wines are not big sellers locally. As word gets out, though, the combination of superb value and suitability to spicy foods should make them a winner in Austin. Currently, two stores tie for the largest selection of Spanish wines in town. Grapevine Market and Central Market both carry over 100 Spanish wines in all price ranges. Other quality wine stores carry approximately 10-20 Spanish wines. The restaurants in town with the largest concentration of Spanish wines are Malaga and Tocai. In both cases, Spanish wines are their most popular offerings.

Unlike the majority of other wine-growing areas, Rioja winemakers tend to keep their wines in the caves until they are ready to drink. Consequently, a 10-year-old wine might be the current release. Case in point: Our favorite of the Wines of Spain tasting was the '89 Ramon Bilbao Gran Reserva (usually $24) for its big, assertive flavor. Rioja also offers several outstanding Rosés, especially wonderful during warm weather. Our choice in this category was the Faustino V Rosado (about $11). This 100% Tempranillo wine was fruity but bone dry: perfect food wine. Finally, Bodegas Martinez Bujanda showed a delicious and complex bottle of white, the 1997 Conde de Valdemar Fermentado en Barrica (around $12). It would be an exceptional remedy for those of you suffering Chardonnay burnout.

This gracious tasting was accompanied by some truly superb food. Stewart Scruggs from Brio Vista brought a Spanish takeoff on Coq au Vin and a startling veal sausage with smoked duck that was a beautiful match with the Ramon Bilbao Gran Reserva. Michael Villim from Mirabelle concocted a Moroccan barbecue quail with roasted red pepper salad and manchego cheese that matched beautifully with the Conde de Valdemar. Jeffrey's dish was sea scallops on chorizo cornbread with tomato lobster sauce. The violet nose of the 1995 Marques de Riscal Reserva matched the cumin in the dish in a quite friendly way. Pride of place, however, went to San Antonio chef Mark Bliss from Silo. His pan-roasted sea bass on saffron risotto with calamari and white truffle sweet pea sauce matched flawlessly with the Faustino Rosada. We can still taste it!

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    Brio Vista and Mirabelle recently received an Award of Excellence from The Wine Spectator. See how well they fare on the elusive marriage between their menus and their wine lists.

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Rioja, Rioja, bodegas, Wines of Spain, Malaga, Tocai

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