Good sips for the money

There are inexpensive wines in the world that tend to be fruity and one-dimensional.

And there are expensive wines in the world that are fruit-driven with spices and other flavors and textures and a nuance that gently morphs and evolves with each taste. But they are expensive. What I look for in a wine is something that has structure and taste and over-delivers for the price. Price- to-value ratio is a subjective scale in my mind that I employ to determine if the current wine in my glass is worth pursuing again. I recently dined in Manhattan with winemaker Clara Canals of Campo Viejo winery in the Rioja region in north central Spain, whose wines could be the best in the world, on a price-to-value ratio.  

Canals is one of three women winemakers at Campo Viejo. She was oenologically educated in Montpellier, France, and has worked in wineries all over the globe but decided her native Spain was her home and nearby Rioja would be her base. Campo Viejo is a mega-producer with a recently constructed, environmentally friendly, carbon- neutral winery that has a massive, underground oak-barrel aging room. Campo Viejo encourages visitors to tour the facility and offers tours seven days a week. It owns more than 300 hectares (740 acres) of vines and has contracts with other wineries to buy their grapes. Campo Viejo produces more than 25 million bottles annually and has won many prestigious awards for its wines. It is a bit unusual for a producer of this many bottles to have just a few styles. The winery offers two sparkling Cavas, one white wine, one still (non-sparkling) Rosé and maybe five reds. This approach allows the winery to focus and concentrate on a particular style for each particular wine.

Clara wanted to spotlight its wines with a progressive tapas experience, in which we would visit three tapas restaurants, each pairing wine-friendly tapas to a couple of the wines. We met in the Chelsea area of Manhattan’s Lower West Side. First, we tasted two Cavas, which are Spanish sparkling wines made in the traditional method, like Champagne. The Cava Brut Reserva is made from three Spanish grapes, Xarello, Parellada and Macabeu, and is deliciously dry and fragrant with bright citrusy flavors that have an energetic effervescence. The Cava Rosé is a beautiful, vibrant, celebratory and saturated orange-pink color, tasting of strawberries and lemon and fun. These wines made everyone smile for two reasons: The taste profile and structure compared favorably to noteworthy sparkling wines of the world and the price. These wines can be found in the United States for under $16 and $13 respectively. It wouldn’t have been surprising to find wines of this caliber at two or three times that price. 

We then progressed to another tapas restaurant a few blocks away, where we tasted a pure Tempranillo and a pure Garnacha, also known outside of Spain as Grenache. Both of these wines showed pleasing dark fruit, tempered by flavors of licorice, finely ground black pepper and spice, integrated into the wine by several months of oak aging. These wines are balanced and lovely with depth and structure and don’t disappoint, from first sip to last drop. And both are easy to find, close to home, for under $10. What?

At our third stop, we were presented with Campo Viejo’s Reserva and Gran Reserva. Spain is a country where the Reserva and Gran Reserva designations actually mean something. Regional rules exist for time-aging minimums and juried blind tastings in order to use these titles. Both wines are crafted using 85 percent Tempranillo, 10 percent Graciano and 5 percent Mazuelo. The Reserva is oak barrel-aged for 18 months, then bottled and allowed, or required by law, to rest for flavor integration in the cellar. The Gran Reserva sits in barrels for 24 months and then in bottles for three years before release. The taste profile showed dark cherry, plums, hints of leather, cinnamon, licorice and spice. There are balanced tannins for mouthfeel, texture and depth. These two wines can be found for around $22 and $13.  

For the quality of the fruit, the time spent in oak, the additional years spent in the bottle for self-actualizing, these wines are crazy overachievers. Here’s an idea. Instead of bringing one more semi expensive bottle to an event, grab all six for under $85. You will be a hero. 

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