Tag Archives: Spain


Cost: Average price $6.99

Where buy now: Everywhere, if you hit a great sale, this baby can get as low as $5!

Grapes: 100% Tempranillo

Region: La Mancha, Spain

Vintage: 2009


So, I was in a conundrum last Friday night. A friend, we’ll call him “Matt” (because that’s his name) was coming over and insisted he pick up some wine en route. Yes! Unexpected wine donation! Predictably, though, I was then asked, “Well, what should I get?”.

Ugh, that all-important question. Where do I even start? “What store are you hitting?” “What’s your price range?” “Are you going for quality, quantity, or both?” “What other wines are we going to follow up with?” I hemmed and hawed. I sighed and stammered. [Awkward!] Decisive wine selection is a crucial skill, as trying to come up with _the_ perfect_wine_ inevitably leads to disappointment.  If only there was a simple, inexpensive, yet gratifying wine, ideal for most any situation.

Well, I’ve found it.

Let me introduce you to one of THE best inexpensive red wines out there: Protocolo Red. An unassuming Spanish table wine, this is a quintessential “Skank” (but only in good ways- not in a “you need me to stick a Q-tip _where_?!?!” kind of way), and often my ace in the hole. [Oooh, poor choice of wording, there.]

I first bought Protocolo Red from Solo Vino years ago. Short on cash, and with 3 other bottles already in tow, I saw this baby for $6 and swiped it up. My expectations were low, but after one sip, I knew I’d found a winner. Was this just the mystique of low expectations at work? I saw it again and again at different stores and bought it, again and again. This wasn’t just a fleeting fancy, nor a coincidence. This is typically one of the bottles I grab when money is tight, or if I just want “one more bottle”.

This wine is very easy to drink, a solid table wine that can be paired with many types of foods. Like so many of my favorite reds, this one sports a dark cherry fruit redolence, a little earth, a bit of oak. With it’s mild-medium finish and pleasant amount of dryness, it isn’t trying to be anything other than what it is, which is key.

What makes this wine so inexpensive? I did some digging (well, I went to my human wine encyclopedia, Jason). Check out what he and his compadres are doing: http://www.thewinecompany.net/The Wine Co He informed me that a major reason we are seeing consistently delicious Spanish wines with an affordable price tag is because they have more vineyard acreage than any other country. Protocolo hails from the dry highlands of Central Spain, known as La Mancha. Surprisingly, this small region produces more wine than the entire country of Australia! However, Spain isn’t number one in wine production, or even number two- those top spots go to France, then Italy. This is because the old vines in Spain produce less fruit, and therefore, lend themselves to higher quality wine. This page explains it well: http://www.wineanorak.com/struggle.htm/Wine Anorak

Are you seeing a pattern here? I am: Win/Win!

“He likes it! Hey Mikey!” By gosh, the kid dug it and that made me grin. (Perhaps I shouldn’t call him a kid, as he’s only slightly younger, and recently referred to himself as a “grown-ass man”.) I’m tickled he is digging on wine right now, and knew Protocolo would serve as a proper gateway vino.

Castaño Monastrell

Cost: Average price $9.99

Where buy now: The Wine Thief for $8.99

Grapes: 100% Monastrell

Region: Yecla, Spain

Vintage: 2010

Castaño Monastrell

What do you think of when you lust for the golden green of Spring? That’s right- BBQ. You can be anyone/thing: carnivorous being, gluten-free, vegan, Atkins dieter, you name it. As long as a fire is sounding off Pavlov’s dogs, you’ve got yourself something.

A BBQ is an event, it’s a reason to gather, nay, _the_ reason to gather, and likely the oldest meaningful reason.

Grilling is so fun! I love grilling vegetables. Eggplant, zucchini, onions, peppers, mushrooms- line ’em up! Lamb chops seasoned with salt, pepper and rosemary- head ’em up! Smoke some chicken, perhaps? We use whiskey barrel chips, soaked in water, then surrendered to the fire. Oh, let’s not forget about the quintessential American standard, the almighty hamburger – ride ’em in! Sure, have it your way: angus burger, kobe beef burger, turkey burger, bison burger, ostrich burger. Or hell, I love me a black bean burger! To blow your mind, my old pal Jer grills huge portabellas, slathers on the BBQ sauce, then slaps it on a bun. (Ooooohhhh. *Ahem* Are we still talking about BBQ?) Or, the mother of all things grilled & smoked, RIBS! Oh, sweet Sally Struthers, they’re good. All I can say is thank goodness Ted Cook’s isn’t in my neighborhood because within 48 hours, I’d be relegated to wearing a moo moo.

Simply stating that eating and drinking wine is complementary is almost missing the point. I get transformed, truly. My husband has caught me doing what he refers to as “the happy food dance”. Mid bite to final swallow, I’ll sit and bob my head back and forth, sometimes even humming. It’s like I’m possessed by the Adephagia http://www.goddessaday.com/greek/adephagia/Adephagia poltergeist. I’d rather be “big boned” and indulge in this stupor, than face an alternative.

Do you know what I ended up pairing with the red of the week? A Spanish Monastrell and… BBQ chips. Yep, dinner du jour. If it hasn’t yet occurred to you, let me enlighten: I was Homer Simpson in a former life.

This is a bottle off the “under 10” section at The Wine Thief. It’s a Spanish wine (surprise, surprise) but it is decidedly not Rioja. This one is a Monastrell (Spanish for Mourvedre). It’s a popular grape, second only to Garnacha in Spain. I’m not going to dive into the history, but will encourage you to: http://www.i-winereview.com/NonReportTastings/0910montastrellSelections.php/Monastrell

Lately, I’ve been chatting up Rioja’s value. Many of the best bang-for-buck wines are going to continue to come out of Spain, according to my sources. A departure from my beloved Rioja region, which is North Central Spain, I moved Southeast to the Yecla region. These wines are gaining in popularity as the wine making continues to improve. The Monastrell grape is a thick, black skinned fruit and they are finicky little buggers. They grow in very hot climates so the trick is letting them grow and stress enough, then cultivating them quickly before they go bad. The wine these grapes produce can really vary, mostly depending on seasonal temperatures.

The Castaño Monastrell is dark rich red in color, not as dark as the Graciano http://www.thesavvylush.com/red-wine-of-the-week-|-red-wine-reviews/rio-madre-rioja.html/Rio Madre (or as full bodied). However, this wine has character. I’m declaring this “The Spanish Zin”- sans the jamminess, but with lively juiciness. It reeks of dark berry, earth and smoke. Like a Zinfandel, it has more tannins in the flavor, which my husband refers to as “stank”. The finish isn’t long, but it teases you with a bit of spicy sweetness. This wine, like a Zin, is begging you to drink with some smoky BBQ. Or, in my case, the sad-clown snack of BBQ Pop Chips (which are surprisingly delicious, especially with this wine).

Buy up a bunch because you’ll swill this guy all Summer long! It’s so easy-breezy, drink-it-on-a-Tuesday night while catching up on your new favorite TV series or on the patio with the family. It’s going to give you an interesting and fun twist to the Rioja (Garnacha, Tempranillos, etc.) you’ve already been enjoying at a great price.

Blaze away, you golden green cowpoke, you.

Rio Madre Rioja

Cost: Average price $10.99

Where buy now: Solo Vino, Sorella Wines & Spirits Sale has it for $8.97

Grapes: 100% Graciano

Region: Rioja, Spain

Vintage: 2011

Rio Madre

Last Friday, we ordered pizza from my fave, Crescent Moon Bakery. I’m an unabashed homer and love Northeast Minneapolis, so naturally I have these guys on speed dial.

“Hello, may I get your phone number?”


“Oh, yes, it’s you! You like it spicy.”

For real- that’s how the conversation starts. It’s true, I like it spicy. We get two pies, both “Afghani style”, which is football shaped and served with a side of chutney. Their version of chutney is filled with cilantro, garlic, spices and vinegar (plus other ingredients that they won’t devulge, even to a regular). We ask for extra because, hey, I’d bathe in the stuff, but for the havoc on my “down there” parts. The House Special contains some onions, peppers and the ever-so-ubiquitous, “Afghani beef”. The Chef Special includes roasted eggplant and other veggies. It’s all just incredible.

Recently, I stopped in to Solo Vino for one of their Friday tastings. I just love the vibe of this shop. With it’s wooden floors and wine racks, it feels homey and neighborhoody, just the way I like it. Upon walking in, you’d think a little party was being thrown. Folks chatting, people perusing the shelves with dogs in tow, many sampling the goods, so-to-speak. Before I know it, I’m swept in as one of their own (the Cathedral Hill neighborhoody folk). Let me tell you, if I weren’t such a homer for NE, this would be my ‘hood(y).

Enter Chuck. He’s Solo Vino’s owner and one crazy cat. He has such a vitality and mirth to his persona, it’s easy to see why everyone’s guard is down whilst in his shop (and why some locals consider it their second home).

I asked him, “What’s sexy right now, what do you love?” Without skipping a beat, he told me Riojas are some of the best tasting, best value wine being made right now. He took me straight to this, Rio Madre, and explained it was 100% Graciano. His staff soon concurred how much they like this particular Rioja. A few minutes later, Chuck announced he was to leave for a yoga class, which prompted a few patrons to do their best triangle, warrior or revolving half moon pose. Chuck didn’t show off his yoga moves but I could imagine catching him practicing his downward-facing dog while sipping a glass of vino.

Back to me stuffing my face with delicious Afghani pizza. I popped open the Rioja because I had a hunch it would go well with the spicy pizza. I was not only correct, I was right on the money with this pairing. I just love it when I open a bottle and the aromas waft out like a wine genie slithering out to grant your wish. Swirl this bad boy around as scents of ripe blackberry, cherry and pepper notes smack you like a Colonel’s white glove challenging you to a duel. (All this slapping, slithering, smacking and swirling- I’m actually blushing thinking about how much I enjoyed this wine!)

The Rio Madre did just that, likely because it’s made of 100% Graciano grapes. What’s the big deal? Rioja red (tinto) wines typically use four types of grapes: most notably, Tempranillo and Garnacha grapes and less common, Mazuela and Graciano grapes. Like the Pinot Noir of Spain, Gracianos produce the lowest yield of any grape in Rioja. [I think I read something like 1%.] The soil and weather conditions have to be “just right”. Thankfully, all this patience and time invested to get it “just right” leaves us with a silky, stupid good wine.

Rioja Reds are often a Tempranillo and Garnacha blend, a higher yield and better value. The “nicer” bottles blend in Graciano grapes. The Graciano adds a bold fragrance and flavor that is outstanding. But this, this gorgeous, dark beauty is 100% Graciano. All Graciano and it won’t break the bank? More, please.

This wine is superlative: plush, it’s got bite, it’s got fruit, dreamy nose – it’s the whole damned package. I see why Chuck gravitated toward Rio Madre so quickly when I asked for a sexy bottle.