Evening in Spain with Eight Open Bottles : Tempranillo & Paella Wine Dinner
We regularly get together for a wine dinner with four couples. Dinners are both educational and entertaining; who wouldn’t have fun with eight open bottles of wine? The hosts choose either a wine theme or a food theme, I pick the wines, and the other courses are split up. We have enjoyed the opportunity to taste a range of wines at one sitting with food to match … and unmatched company!
This time we learned about wines made from the Tempranillo grape. The best known Tempranillo grapes come from the Rioja DOC, so we tasted traditional wines from Rioja, a modern “cult” Rioja, a classic Ribera del Duero (separate DOC not far from Rioja) and an American interpretation. Dinner was a wonderful paella, a very nice pairing for our wines.
Spanish Wine Grades
Spaniards are very fond of oak aging their wines, with their better wines spending more time in oak. Spanish wines are held until they are ready to drink, so you might see older Spanish wines on your local shop shelf compared to wines from other countries; a nice benefit! There are specific grades on the label which designate minimum time in oak and in bottle before release:
- Rioja (no additional qualifier) – no aging requirements, a few months in oak or none
- Crianza – 12 months in oak, 12 months in bottle
- Reserva – 12 in oak, 24 in bottle, often held longer before releasing for sale
- Gran Reserva – 24 in oak, 36 in bottle, only in the best years, held by winery for years before release if needed
- Traditional – Less fruit, more earth, American oak
- Modern – Fruit forward, bolder, richer, ripe, French & American oak
We find it useful to have tasting markers to help identify aromas and flavors when we are learning about a wine. Here’s what I brought for our Tempranillo tasting.
- forest floor duff, herbs, vanilla bean
- tobacco, chocolate, raisins
- cedar shavings, cinnamon stick, cherry jam
- leather (late add after the photo)
We always start with a sparkling wine; a great way to start any party, large or small. One of our members has troubles with red wines, so we always include at least one white in our evening
- Castillo Perelada Brut Reserva Cava – Macabeo (40%), Xarel-lo (30%), Parellada (30%). 15 months in bottle before disgorging. 11.5% abv. A surprisingly nice sparkling wine, especially for the price! Nice bubbles, crisp apples on the nose with a nice rich mouthfeel. A touch of sweetness but definitely not sweet. A great deal for $11.
- Muga (white) Rioja – 13% abv. Steely, light, crisp and dry. Acidity was there but not as much as a Sauvignon Blanc in comparison. We agreed this would be a nice choice for a summer meal. A little light for December in Minnesota, but enjoyable. $13.
- Montebuena Rioja 2009 – 13.5% abv. $9
- Cune Rioja Crianza 2008 – appears to be 100% Tempranillo 13% abv $12
- Cune Imperial Reserva Rioja 2004 – “mostly Tempranillo” 13.5% abv $40
- Roda Reserva Rioja (Reserva) 2004 – unfiltered 81% Tempranillo, 14% Graciano, 5% Garnacha 14% abv $36
- Tinto Pesquera Ribera del Duero (Crianza) 2007 – 14% abv $32
- Gramercy Cellars Tempranillo “Inigo Montoya” 2009 Walla Walla Valley – 13.5% abv $42
We always have small bites for our wine tasting; these were all from Spain:
- Cana de Capra – Surface ripened goat’s milk log, similar to French Bucheron but I like this one better. Wonderful with the quince paste, below.
- Mahon – Firm aged cow’s milk cheese. The rind is rubbed in olive oil and salt during curing. The first of the cheeses to be finished off
- Roncal Artisano – Hard sheep’s milk cheese
- Valdeon – Blue cheese from a combination of cow and goat milks, wrapped in sycamore leaves and cave aged. We love this blue cheese.
- Serrano ham – A favorite thin sliced ham, a bit earthier than prosciutto
- Arbequina olives – I love these olives, flavorful but the small size makes them a bit of a pain
- Sevillane con limon – Lemon and hot peppers in with the olives. Don’t ever serve these with red wines! I knew they were a risk. Sometimes you learn about wine pairing when you hit a really bad one.
- Marcona Almonds – Very crunchy, a little oily from being fried. These were very popular and were finished off before dinner.
- Quince Paste – An unfamiliar fruit for Americans; the fruit flavor is somewhere between and apple and a pair. As a jam, it is really tasty and wonderful especially on the goat cheese.
Tempranillo – Our Impressions
To start the evening, we taste through the wines and pay attention to the look, smell, and flavor of each one. Tempranillo was new for everyone in our group. We worked our way through the Rioja’s from simpler to complex, then to alternate versions: modern, Ribera del Duero, American. There were some common themes and a definite progression.
- Aroma – Red cherries and raisins (even simultaneously), herbal, caramel
- Flavor – Medium body for red wine, red fruits in the flavor
Progressions & Differences
- As we ascended through the traditional Rioja’s, we found stronger herbal aromas and flavors, and more tannins.
- The Roda (modern) had an earthy / barnyard aroma early on, gathering mixed feelings from the group (I loved it). Herbs were more in the background. Mild tannins in the finish.
- The Pesquera (Ribera del Duero) had a very strong herbal component, even discernable as oregano. It was the most tannic of all the wines and had a smoky component.
- The Gramercy (American) was pretty earthy / barny and very smoky. It seemed a little riper than many of the other wines, although none of these wines would be considered plush by California standards.
- The nicer wines all had aromas that encouraged us to smell, and to continue to enjoy the aroma of the wine.
While the party continued, Bruce concentrated on the paella.
I always watch to see which wines are finished off first, it’s a pretty good indication of the overall feeling from the group. The Roda and the Gramercy Cellars were the first two to go. A little while later we finished the Pesquera and the Cune Reserva. Several people found the Crianza to be a bit too tart for their taste, so it seemed to languish a bit. Sometimes the least expensive wine gets ignored. I went back to it several times at dinner and while it wasn’t showy, it was a very nice companion to the paella. Usually at a wine dinner like this there are wines that are universally enjoyed and one or two that the group doesn’t really embrace. Tonight, we agreed that every single one of these wines would be welcome at the dinner table. I think we made a few converts tonight!
Key Sources for Our Dinner
- Drink This: Wine made Simple is a great intro to wine and guide for hosting wine tasting dinners such as this one. Dara Moskowitz Grumdahl is a witty and entertaining writer, and this book is never stuffy, always fun and entertaining. Our party tonight comes straight out of the Tempranillo chapter.
- Solo Vino – If you live in the Twin Cities and have an interest in Spanish wines, Solo Vino is your shop. Chuck Kanski and all his staff are experts in many European wine areas, but they have a special love for Spain. Most of the wines from our evening came from Solo Vino.
- Surdyk’s Cheese Shop – very broad selection of cheeses, olives, charcuterie. Our cheese course came from Surdyk’s.
- Gramercy Cellars – We’re big fans of Washington wines, and Gramercy Cellars is right at the top of our list. They’re not distributed in Minnesota, but it’s very easy to order wine from their website.