Simply Spain 

From "Must-See-TV" to "elegant," simple Spanish reds delight.

Maybe someday the law of averages will prove me wrong — and I happily acknowledge I've got many wines yet to taste — but lately I've found that choosing low-priced Spanish wines is a fail-safe strategy for maximizing value. Sure, these wines are a bit harder to find than South American or Australian bargains, but our tastings featuring imports from most other wine-soaked countries include a dud just as often as not. We've been far luckier with Spanish wines, and the country also is responsible for one of our favorite bargain whites: the Marqués de Cáceres White Rioja ($4.99 at Trader Joe's). This week we tasted Spanish red blends: three simple great values made mostly of Garnacha (known as Grenache everywhere but Spain) from the northeast Aragón region and the Tierra de Castilla region south of Madrid.

First, the 2006 Borsao Red Wine ($5.49), made of 75 percent Garnacha and 25 percent Tempranillo, from the up-and-coming Campo de Borja appellation. Last year, we raved about the 2005 vintage, saying it "oozed cherries," with a definite sweetness to the taste and a delicate, floral aroma. Reviews were mixed this year among three tasters hailing from the eastern Tri-State area right here in the US (returning tasters from New York and New Jersey, and yours truly from Connecticut). While no one could deny the Borsao's burst of berry, none of us gave it a first-place ranking. "Jamberrylicious," said our taster from New York, while New Jersey found it lacking in flavor overall, yet with a pucker-inducing quality to the finish. I, too, found it tart but light, and we all agreed it might be good with a steak.

"A Must-See TV wine" was our consensus about the 2006 Tapeña Garnacha ($9.99), which is imported by cheap sparkling-wine producer Freixenet. New Jersey liked the fresh aroma and light fruity taste in this blend that's almost all Garnacha, with just five percent Tempranillo. I was strangely drawn to the Tapeña despite a first impression of grape Popsicle, and thought that it became more interesting after a little "breathing" in the glass. All three Tri-State gals agreed this was a good TV-on-the-sofa wine, but I also imagined its lightness and fruit pairing well with a picnic.

The most elegant wine in our tasting — and the one I'd recommend if you want a bargain that could pass for something pricier at a dinner party — was the 2005 Castillo de Daroca Garnacha-Syrah ($6.99) from Calatayud, an area known for its plentiful peach trees. Certainly this wine's classic European-style label helps its cause, but even tasting it blind we found this one complex — peppery and very tannic, striking us as an obvious companion for rich cheeses, meats, or a spicy pasta sauce. "A friend to arrabiata," noted New York, who chose this wine as her favorite.

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