Wine Time with Aaron the Wine Guy

Hello Prince Albert! Spain is one of the world’s oldest wine-producing regions and the amount of single varietals and blends you can find on the shelf is always inspiring when I’m looking for something new to sip on. I especially love their blended whites which can significantly vary from region to region. If you’ve managed to get a good understanding of French wines and wanted to take a new direction with your wine experiences, definitely consider trying the huge variety of delicious whites and reds from Spain.

Most wine enthusiasts who are familiar with the wines of Spain will recognize the names Rioja and Castillo de Almansa. These two regions make up a large portion of the wines available for purchase in PA with Castillo de Almansa being the biggest producer of bulk wines in the country (Spain). The wines I picked this week are from Almansa: an easternmost area in Castilla la Mancha (subregion of Castillo de Almansa). This region gained DO (Denominacion de Origen) status in 1966 and has been producing wine since the 16th century!

Like France, the regions of Spain have wine designations and laws with specific rules and regulations regarding permittable grape varietals, yields, quality control and marketing. This is to protect and ensure the quality and image of Spanish wines around the world. In order to state that the wine is from the Almansa DO, winemakers can only include certain grapes. In the case of Almansa, these red grapes are Monastrell (most common), Garnacha Tintorera, Tempranillo, Cab Sauv and Syrah. For whites, only Chardonnay, Sauv Blanc, Verdejo, Moscatel or Menudo can be utilized in blends.

The climate of Almansa is considered extreme with plenty of hot, arid weather and a relatively low amount of rainfall per year (an average of less than 14 inches). Since the moisture levels can be quite low during the growing season, the type of soil used to grow the grapes is extremely important. Most of the soil in Almansa is rocky with poor nutritional elements but it does contain a saving grace which is that it is primarily composed of limestone. This geographical feature allows the soil to hold water more easily, thus allowing the grapes just enough H20 to survive.

Even though Almansa is near the Mediterranean ocean, it doesn’t receive a lot of relief from the heat; instead, wine producers tend to plant their vineyards at higher altitudes (around 750 meters above sea level) to alleviate the pressure on their grapes. The vineyards of producers that decide not to plant at higher altitudes can produce some amazingly full and fruity wines but too much sunlight can create flabby characteristics in the final product which is where mass-produced wines enter the scene.

For the price, the wines of Venta la Vega are simple but easy to drink. They are great to sip on with company around since you don’t have to put too much thought into tasting and dissecting the flavor profiles. One sip is enough to know if you like them or not. That being said, wise and creative food choices will greatly enhance your enjoyment of these types of wines. I really enjoyed both the red and white, and while neither was very complex, they make up for it by being approachable.

One final note: Sauv Blanc often develops tropical fruit notes (guava, passion fruit) when grown in hot regions, but this wine is still grassy. Why is that? The profile was kept cool and crisp by planting at higher altitudes which kept the growing temperatures much lower, and it was also blended with Verdejo. Interesting how viticulture and blending works! Here are my wine picks of the week!     

Adaras Lluvia by Venta la Vega 2022: (DO Almansa, Spain). Dry white, medium lemon color. The nose of this Verdejo/Sauv Blanc blend opens with grassy citrus, green pepper, fresh garden, white pepper, subtle flowers and mineral rock. The intensity drops slightly on the taste with mellow flavors of lemon peel/fruit, grassy crisp greens, limestone mineral/wet rock and an overall round, medium-plus bodied mouthfeel. At the end of the initial flavors on the mid-palate comes a zing of medium-plus acidity which is joined with a twist of white pepper and florals. The finish is long and tingly, leaving traces of vegetable stalks, asparagus stems and fresh greens. There is a surprising amount of body in the wine which is reflected in the alcohol content as well. Will pair well with simple seafood dishes like whitefish (walleye/halibut), scallops, vegetable dishes or white pasta sauces like Alfredo or carbonara. I was hoping for a bit more intensity and acidity which is why the score drops slightly. Good! $21, 13% ABV

Adaras Calizo by Venta la Vega 2021: (DO Almansa, Spain). Dry to off-dry red, medium ruby color. Aromas of simple, red fruits (strawberry, raspberry, pomegranate) waft from the medium-intense nose as well as hints of earthy currants and light cocoa. The taste of this red is immediately smooth and fruity with a soft, velvety texture and warm, easy-going fruit flavors of red cherry, strawberry and red currants. Some of the mellow character is due to the medium acidity which doesn’t overwhelm the fruit. The concentration of flavors (depth) is high, but the overall intensity of the wine sits around medium. The mid-palate is simple and pleasant, transitioning quickly into a medium-length finish of earthy cocoa, plant stems and a touch of tangy pepper. Medium tannins are delightful as they stick to the tongue but don’t dry out the mouth while also leaving a satisfying waxy or creamy texture on the tastebuds and cheeks/teeth. Pair with simple meat dishes like braised short ribs, pan seared meatballs with a dollop of crème fraiche, juicy cheeseburgers from the grill or sizzling steak bites. Super-approachable wine perfectly suited for time on the deck with friends and food. Good! $21, 13.5% ABV     

Cheers and thanks for reading!