The Best New Wines from Spain, Part 2

The most pleasant surprise of my tastings of Spanish wine this year has been my finding so many delicious, well-balanced wines from the often-derided 2006 vintage. The majority of wines from Rioja, Ribera del Duero and Priorat in the market now come from this cool, sometimes rainy vintage, and the best producers have made wines that are fruit-forward and relatively low in alcohol, with mostly gentle tannins and snappy acidity. No, 2006 isn't a match to 2005 for ageability, but I would not call that a criticism: simply stash your 2005s and drink your 2006s. For immediate consumption and enjoyment over the next three to five years there are dozens of outstanding choices available right now.

On the other hand, I tasted some late-released wines from the much-vaunted 2004 vintage that are showing signs of dullness, with overripe characteristics that give the wines a clumsiness, especially compared to the more energetic 2005s. An obsession with ripeness, weight and richness above all is fraught with danger, as proven by any number of hot vintages in other regions (2003 in much of Europe, 1990 in Burgundy, and 2000 and 1997 in the Piedmont come to mind). The key to a wine's graceful evolution is concentration and balance, and a number of 2004 Reserva bottlings I tasted this year, while impressive for power and richness, appear headed for early graves. I suggest that readers with stashes of 2004 reds from Spain, and 2003s for that matter, dig in and take a look at the evolution of those bottles: many of them are likely drinking at or near their best right now. This is by no means to paint the 2004 vintage as a disappointment: overall, it’s an excellent vintage and the top wines will be very long-lived.

For flat-out value there is no country that can compete with Spain right now. I have a hard time thinking of a close second. There are wines coming out of Jumilla, Campo de Borja and Calatayud that offer more satisfaction than bottles costing four or five times as much as those from famous regions around the world. On the white wine front, Spain must now be counted as one of the best sources of fresh, racy bottlings in the world. (How things have changed in just the last 10 or 15 years!) Your wine dollar goes an awfully long way with the better wines from the cool Rueda and Rías Baixas regions and, happily, most of these wines are being made without much in the way of oak influence—if any. The quality of Cava continues to rise as well: we’ll provide bonus coverage of these aggressively priced sparkling wines this fall, in time for the holiday season.