Sunday, February 21, 2010

Barato: Spanish for "barato".

Let's say you're a cheapskate with no money. Take, for example, me. Have I ever used dish soap as shampoo? Maybe that's why I have no hair anymore. But, when there, it did have the pleasing aroma of antibacterial orange.

Okay, I'm kidding. But, like so many others who take pleasure in tucking into the "finer things" (wine, for example), circumstances haven't gotten any easier. There are tons of blawgers out there doing posts about "wines under $10/20", etc. Yeah, you can find great wine on a Natural Light budget. Sometimes, it requires a little extra snooping, and it never hurts to have expert sites out in cyberspace where you can gain insight into some of the regions that provide the most value. Which begs the question: what are you doing here?

Ah, self-effacing humor. It's become sort of a theme.

Anyway, if you haven't checked out any wines from Spain (some notable regions that would be printed on the labels are Rioja, Ribera Del Duero, Priorato, Navarra, etc.), you may be missing out on some of the best QPR (quality-price ratio) juice on the market. Granted, there is some pricey stuff from the above-mentioned regions, but the country is heavy loaded with values.

Beyond the fact that Spain has (relatively) recently made incredible strides in quality wine production, thus spurring more efforts in the realms of marketing and exporting (including aggressive price points to break into new markets), some of the production laws create incredible deals.

Take this Miles Standish-looking fella here. This is a bottle of Rioja. But, not just any Rioja. This is a bottle of tinto (red wine, in this case, made from mostly Tempranillo grapes and perhaps some Garnacha) Rioja Gran Reserva. Spain, like France and Italy, employs an appellation system, called the Denominación de Origen, or "DO". This system governs the viticultural and vinicultural aspects of the winemaking process.

Baby Steps: While there are DO/DOCa aging requirements in all of Spain, Rioja has its own system. Bottles- both red and white- will be labeled either Rioja, Crianza, Reserva, or Gran Reserva:

Rioja (commonly referred to as "vino joven", or "young wine"): no bottling or aging requirements. Wines are made to be sold within the first 1 or 2 years of production.

Rioja Crianza: Minimum 12 months aging in oak barrel, and another 6 months in the bottle, to be released in the 3rd year.

Rioja Reserva: Minimum 12 months aging in oak barrel, and minimum 2 years in bottle (they are not to be released until their 4th year).

Rioja Gran Reserva: Minimum 2 years in oak, then 3 more in the bottle. They are to be released in their 6th year.

So, what you get with these wines is a bunch of aging (which costs money to do) at a price point of those that don't get this heartwarming brand of fuzzy T.L.C. Take, for example, my wine. It had lost much grip of tannin, had very smooth, integrated flavors of fruit, earth, and oak...everything mingling together in perfect balance. Gone was a lot of the deep purple color seen in a younger wine, leaving a pretty, light ruby hue. Oh, and I forgot to mention: this was a 1996. Given was an opportunity to taste a wine from a not-terrible vintage with 14 years of age on it. What would you pay for this in France? $100? $200? Well, you're not going to pay $200. Or $100. You're not going to pay $90, or $80 (how's my Ron Popeil impersonation going so far?). The price of this wine? $29. Incredible value, and this is a brand that can be easily found and enjoyed.

And to many, $29 is not a reasonable price. You can get a Crianza or Reserva around $10-15. There are also some exciting non-DO wines (table wines without the stringent production laws) that are fantastic, and steals as well.

So, if you're wanting to keep knocking back great juice, but don't want to fork out the dough, do as your friendly neighborhood wino does: give Spain a try. Give the expensive California Cab a night off and go with something from the Iberian peninsula. Then, take the extra cash and buy some real shampoo. You may salvage your coif, unlike me.
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