Penin Guides Spanish Palette

For college basketball fans, March means the NCAA tournament, a.k.a. March Madness, and people fill out their brackets in hopes of winning their respective pools. The basketball drama can be too much, even for the most fanatic zealots. For people in the food and wine industry, March signifies tasting month. Importers showcase new acquisitions and latest releases, often enticing the wine makers themselves to pour their wines with a personal touch.

Often the tastings are scheduled during the same day, and you end up doing two, sometimes three per day. As with the tourney, there are so many games to view, and many more wines to choose from. Prudence and absolute diligence is the only measure to protect your palate and senses from overkill.

Such was the case on March 18th, when the Penin Guide to Spanish wines held an event showcasing their recommendations for the best wines of 2009, as well as the best values. The tasting was held at the American Museum of Natural History, displaying over 60 wines with their respective importers and wine representatives.

The Penin Guide has long been a respected resource for Spanish wine professionals, and strives to be the foremost authority on the Spanish wine industry. The Penin team reviews over 8,000 wines per year and use a 100 point system similar to that introduced by Robert Parker.

Starting with a selection of 32 of the best wines, the strategy for choosing which ones to taste proved difficult. Cava was the first choice, and Gramona was pouring their Imperial Gran Reserva Brut 2004 from Catalunya. The classic xare-lo, macabeo, chardonnay blend was elegant, refined, and medium bodied, an excellent alternative to any vintage champagne. La Rioja Alta, one of my favorite old school producers, poured the 1997 gran reserva 904, which showed its power and aging potential rather than any subtlety or readiness. The next table was manned by Marques de Murrieta, a family owned winery for over 150 years who have been one of the benchmarks for classic Rioja wines. The 2004 reserva needed a few more years, but the 2000 seemed to be hitting its stride. The wine of the tasting had to be their special cuvee, the Dalmau 2004. This wine exhibited such grace, power, and finesse – the finish lasted over 20 seconds. The suggested retail price of $165. is actually a bargain for a wine of such class.

Nearby were a few selections from Tempranillo, mainly the Clio, a Bodegas El Nido masterpiece, elevating monastrell to new heights. Also present and drinking well was the old vine phenomenon of Atteca from Calatayud, where the vines are from 85 to 150 years old. The Atteca Armas showed great maturity and style. Many of the wines such as Pingus, Aurus, Cintino graciano, and Corullon displayed their aging potential, confirming that in fastening wines in a more modern style the winemakers are still cognizant of tradition, allowing for natural development in the bottle over time.

There were only a few whites, but all were showing well. Leading the way was a godello from A Coroa, an elegant, silky white proving once again that godello is the great white grape of Spain. Then came the Gorrondona, a txakoli from the Basque country, a wine that celebrates a revolutionary spirit. At hand was an oaked txakoli, well integrated and unusual for its depth. Doniene Gorrondona also produces a red txakoli, earthy and delicious in its own right. The Castell del Remei Oda Blanc from the Costers del Segre showed how atypical some of the Spanish whites can be.

Overall, the winemaking was of superior quality, with style varying from old world to new, to something in between. Several of these wines offered value in terms of cost, especially the 25 or so from the “New Values” category. Look for them at your local wine shop, pop in a Vicky Cristina Barcelona DVD and enjoy.