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Spanish Wines and the 16th Annual Texas Hill Country Wine & Food Festival

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Spanish wines are just beginning to get the general respect they deserve here in the U.S. Why it has taken so long is probably due to marketing problems. I can assure you that it isn't an issue of quality or price. The average Spanish red wine packs incredible value and intense flavor. Their wines should be especially welcome to our Texas taste buds since they are born and bottled in a comparable climate and in similar soil. In fact, we can't understand why more Texas wineries aren't using Spanish grapes in their products. But more about that anon.

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Probably the best native grape in Spain is the Tempranillo. It's a robust red grape that produces a big, rich wine with intense blackberry flavors and the ability to live a long time in the bottle. Which is good, because the Spanish people prefer their wine to have some age. They also believe that the winemaker (instead of the consumer) should bear the cost of storing the wine while it's aging. For that reason, Spanish wines are released to the marketplace at an older age than their California counterparts.

At least one winemaker in Texas is heeding the clarion call of Tempranillo. Jim Johnson at Alamosa Wine Cellars is a big believer in it. Why? "Well, it is a warm weather varietal that comes from a similar climate," he says. "Unlike the French red grapes [Cabernet, Pinot Noir, Merlot], Tempranillo gives rich red colors and good acids even when the weather is really hot." Johnson also likes using the grape because its native Rioja is covered with limestone, just like the Texas Hill Country. His 1999 version is called El Guapo ("the handsome one") and features a picture of a horny toad. Jim calls the juxtaposition of handsome and horny toad "a study in irony." Apparently, the TCU folks don't think it ironic at all. The alums seem to be buying up all of Alamosa's small production of just 50 cases. He hopes to raise production to 300 cases next year.

If you want to get in on the Tempranillo action, you're in luck. This year, a number of Spanish Wineries (and Alamosa Wine Cellars) will be coming to the Festival to show off their products. One of the most popular events, year in and year out, is the Friday night "Stars Across Texas" event, and this is a great opportunity to taste Tempranillo from several Spanish producers. In addition, 11 Texas wineries and 11 California wineries will be pouring their product. Even better, over 40 of Texas' top chefs will be serving up some very special food. All for $75. For those of you who would really like to immerse yourselves in the topic, check out the Spanish Wine Seminar on Saturday at the Four Seasons Hotel. Seven of Spain's best wine houses will discuss and pour their wines for $35.

Exceptional Spanish Wines Represented at the Festival:
Bodegas Montecillo Rioja Reserva
Bodegas Breton Rioja Lorinon Reserva
Marques de Cáceres Rioja Gran Reserva
Bodegas Alejandro Fernandez Ribera del Duero Pesquera Crianza
Marques de Grinon Rioja Colección Personal Riserva
Torres Penedès Gran Sangre de Toro Reserva
Note: Spain had a run of excellent vintages in 1994/1995/1996

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