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Randall Murray: Take a tour through the reds of the Iberian Peninsula
Randall Murray
Randall Murray is a Gainesville-area resident. Have a question about wine? He can be contacted at murrwine@aol.com. His column publishes monthly.

Mention the Iberian Peninsula and folks immediately think of Spain and Portugal, but they are not the only tenants. A sliver of southern France and the tiny-tot principality of Andorra share the turf.

But for wine lovers only the two first-mentioned nations matter.

Spain is the second-largest wine producer in the world. Portugal comes in at No. 11. Each produces some stellar wines of all styles and price points. Spain long has been recognized for the quality and value of its vineyard products. Portugal has enjoyed its reputation for producing sweet dessert wines called port, also known as porto. 

But the Portuguese have been putting on a serious marketing effort in the past few years hyping their red and white table wines.

Today, in the first of a two-part column, we’ll take a trip around the Iberian Peninsula, starting with Spain. Portugal gets the spotlight in the next segment Wednesday, Aug. 7.

Rioja is Spain’s best-known wine-making region. Located in north central Spain, Rioja historically was regarded for its big, rousing red wines, primarily from the king of Spanish red wine grapes, tempranillo.

Wine of the month

Artezin Zinfandel 2017 

The wine: Dry, full-bodied red table wine.

The grapes: 85% zinfandel, 15% petite sirah.

The source: Mendocino County, California.

The verdict: I read recently the zinfandel grape has been traced to Croatia. I don’t care; I still regard the noble zin as America’s red wine grape. And the Artezin edition is a paradigm of how good these wines can be. It is structured beautifully, with soft tannins to give it a mild mouth feel, and enough spiciness to shout out “It’s a zin!” Kudos to wine maker Randle Johnson for the blend of old vine zinfandel grapes with that touch of petite sirah to give the wine a boost. This is one of the nicest zins I’ve sipped in a long time. The magazine Wine Enthusiast gave it a 92 score. It is a very good value and should round out with another two-three years in the bottle.

The price: About $18.

Today, however, Rioja cranks out not only terrific reds, but whites, roses and sparkling wines, too. But first, how do you pronounce Rioja? It’s Ree-O-ha, with the emphasis on the O. I also pronounce it “wonderful,” but that’s a personal bias.

Today we look at three fine reds. Warning: These wines have some age on them, and may be hard to find. Best bet will be with a specialty (read “large”) wine store. First is the Faustino I Gran Reserva Barrel Select from the 2009 vintage. This wine honors third-generation owner of Grupo Faustino, Don Julio Faustino, and was released in celebration of his 75th birthday. “Gran Reserva” is Spain’s highest quality designator. This is a world-class wine, with an astonishing resume.

It’s a blend of Tempranillo, Graciano and Mazuelo grapes from 35-year-old vines in high-altitude vineyards in Rioja Alavesa, one of Rioja’s three zones. The wine was aged in a mix of French and American oak barrels for more than two years, then bottle aged for an additional four years. Dusty tannins and dark fruit flavors and aromas highlight this elegant offering. Plan on decanting — or at least aerating — the Faustino before serving. I’m suggesting the first glass be enjoyed by itself sans food. That way the aromas, flavors and textures will hit you — gently, of course — full on. Price: About $36.

I had to blink twice when I looked at the next bottle, covered in gaudy red cloth. That’s “gaudy” as in “ostentatiously showy,” not as in Antoni Gaudi, the famed Spanish architect. It’s Siglo Reserva 2014, a blend of tempranillo and garnacha, that’s sort of a little brother to the faustino. It’s aged in French and American oak for two years and given a one-year nap in glass.

Produced by Bodegas Manzanos the Siglo, although five years old, is lively and rich. Bright red in hue, it gives off oaky-vanilla aromas, with flavors of coffee and red fruit in a medium-bodied wine. Hint: Aerate this one, too.

I would serve this bold red with strong cheeses and a table full of meaty tapas offerings, but no seafood, thank you. Price: About $16.

Last, but far from least, is the Marques De Caceres Reserva 2011. This producer is well-known for its sensibly priced, well-made table wines. This one stands well above the usual offerings.

The blend is tempranillo, garnacha and graciano. The fruit comes from two Rioja zones, Rioja Alta and Rioja Alavesa, and the wine is aged in a mix of new and previously used oak barrels. Of the three reds, this has the brightest ruby red color, and is the softest in the mouth, thanks to malolactic fermentation in stainless steel. Price: About $22.

In Rioja, reserva wines are produced only in the best vintages. Gran reservas are even more rare.

This trio represents great quality and terrific value.