Monday, January 10, 2011

Wines I'm Drinking: Six Inexpensive Wines from Spain (Jan. 2011)

Trader Joe's has quite a few inexpensive Spanish wines at the moment. I wanted to know if any of them are good values, so I picked six to taste blind. There were two stand-outs--one costing a mere $3.99, the other only $4.99. These are not great wines by any means, but they're solid everyday wines at very attractive prices. The wines I tasted were all made from Tempranillo or Garnacha (the local name for Grenache), or from a blend of the two grapes. With one exception--a Rioja wine--they were from Calatayud, Carineña, or Yecla, all south and east of Rioja (Yecla considerably to the south). The wines were very young, all from 2009, with one exception (2008). The most expensive was only $5.99. Brief tasting notes follow.
  • 2008 Condesa de Sarabella Calatayud Garnacha
  • 2009 La Granja 360 Cariñena Tempranillo/Garnacha
  • 2009 La Granja 360 Cariñena Tempranillo
  • 2009 Marques de Montaña Calatayud Garnacha
  • 2009 Bodegas Darien "Darien" Rioja Tempranillo
  • 2009 Terrenal Yecla Tempranillo
2008 Condesa de Sarabella Calatayud Garnacha
According to the labels, this wine and the following three were all made by the same producer, despite the different brand names. They are quite different wines, however. The Condesa de Sarabella was a medium red with a hint of garnet in it, the palest of the six wines. It had an attractive nose, suggestive of cranberries and vanilla and under-ripe plums. Later it began to suggest something smoky along with coffee, and roasted grain. Later still, the nose began to shift in the direction of leather. On the palate, the wine was rather tart, but not unappealing, although there wasn't a lot of fruit apparent at first. Despite some grainy tannins on the mid-palate, the wine overall seemed light, short, and tart. With a little time, it gained more balance. While it remained rather too sour for my taste, it at least gained some redeeming fruitiness and a little more structure after sitting for about an hour. Acceptable everyday wine and not the worst of the lot (initially this seemed fairly interesting, but over time some of the other wines opened enough to eclipse my initial impressions of this one; see below), but I probably wouldn't buy this again. Reasonably priced at $4.99 at Trader Joe's Santa Rosa.

2009 La Granja 360 Cariñena Tempranillo/Garnacha
This was my favorite wine of the group initially, by a small margin (at first, all the wines seemed rather disappointingly thin and sour), but this really improved as it got some air. By the end of the tasting (and tasting the wines again the following day), it had blossomed, acquiring tasty black cherry flavors and a depth not at first apparent. The wine was a comparatively deep blackish purple-red. It had some floral scents and hints of vanilla at first, but was less fruity on the nose than the wine above, and, although  there were some nice coffee, chocolate, and plum notes soon afterward, the wine seemed quite closed at first. Tasting the wine, it had a bright, fruity attack, and there were some attractive coffee flavors on a moderately long, slightly astringent finish. The La Granja Tempranillo/Garnacha had noticeably more body than the above wine. Again, this wine changed most dramatically with air and time in the glass. In the end, I thought it the best of the group. Light and a trifle tart, but not without some complexity. Recommended for everyday drinking. If you buy it, consider keeping a few bottles back for a couple of years. If you drink it now, decant it and let it sit at least an hour or so before you try it. Look for the bi-colored (red and black) zebra on the label. (Don't ask me.)  $4.99 at Trader Joe's.

2009 La Granja 360 Cariñena Tempranillo
Much the same as the above wine in terms of color, but rather more distant on the nose than either of the first two wines. A hint of cucumbers, perhaps? Tannic, masked fruit on the palate. Seems short, thin, and tart. Not very interesting. Slightly astringent finish. With time, the wine gained a little fruity sweetness, but ultimately seemed unacceptably light. Not recommended. This wine has a pig on the label. (Don't ask me.) $3.99 at Trader Joe's.

2009 Marques de Montaña Calatayud Garnacha
A medium to deep purple-red, this wine was fairly nondescript on the nose, but what I did detect was different from any of the other wines. The initial impression was cola, but there were also light vanilla and wood scents and something vaguely suggestive of citrus. The wine was light and quite tart on the palate, with no real grip. It was rather short and had a slightly bitter finish. Although it gained a bit of presence with some time and air exposure, it remained quite tart and seemingly insubstantial even after standing open for several hours. Not recommended. $4.99 at Trader Joe's.

2009 Bodegas Darien "Darien" Rioja Tempranillo
A medium to deep purple-red, with light berry scents on the nose. Again, quite closed at first, although there were some suggestions of wood and vanilla. Despite the rather distant nose, the wine had markedly more fruitiness on the nose than either of the above two wines, with hints of cola and chocolate as well. Moderate length with light, fine-grained tannins. With a little time and air exposure, this wine began to show some earthiness. Something about it put me in mind of roots and fresh soil. Later there were hints of chocolate. Overall, not a bad wine. Quite acceptable for everyday drinking. Although this is the most expensive of the six wines, at $5.99, it's not overpriced. Like some of the other wines in this group, I suspect this would repay a bit of cellaring, but I preferred both the La Granja 360 Tempranillo/Garnacha and the following wine.

2009 Terrenal Yecla Tempranillo
A medium-dark red with considerably less purple in it than most of the other wines. Light, floral scents. There was something perfumed about the nose. There were hints of paper, wood, and white pepper. Overall, the nose was fairly closed, but it opened up appreciably with time. Initially, the wine had some rather woody flavors, suggesting something medicinal—which is not to say unattractive. Moderate to good length and with more fruity sweetness and less acidity than most of the other wines in this group. In other words, this had rather more balance. Over time, the balance seemed to improve further, with the tannins becoming more forward, giving the wine noticeably more grip than it had at first. I enjoyed this one from the outset, and it continued to improve. Ultimately, it was my second-favorite wine of the evening. It has a rather more European flavor profile than many American wine consumers are likely to find attractive, I suspect—the tannins are more prominent, the fruit more subtle and less ripe than a typical California wine, for example—but this had a poise lacking in most of the others. Recommended for everyday drinking. Again, however, I highly recommend decanting this wine or cellaring it for a bit or it's likely to seem rather hard and ungenerous. Give it time. All of the six wines were markedly better after air exposure, lending support to the notion that inexpensive wines often benefit most from decanting. A very good value at only $3.99 at Trader Joe's.


  1. Drank the La Granja 360 and was impressed. Best $5 wine I've ever had, that's for sure!! :)

  2. The Terrenal Tempranillo at Trader Joe's rocks. It's $3.99 and is worth twice the price. There is a Terrenal Cab also from Yecla at the same price it is also very good. It's great when you find a good wine that doesn't break the bank.


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