FrontRunners: From The Robb Cellar

Despite an equally long history fermenting the fruits of the vine, Spain’s wine-producing regions have only just begun to attain the kind of prestige that neighboring France’s appellations have enjoyed for generations. In fact, until recent decades, Rioja was the only region in the country to attract much attention from connoisseurs, many of whom appreciate its Burgundy-like reds made from the Tempranillo grape. Today, Spain’s popularity among wine lovers has begun to soar, as regions such as Priorato turn out some of Europe’s most fascinating blends, combining Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Tempranillo, and Cariñena. This breed of “super-Spaniards,” however, originated not in Priorato, but in Ribera del Duero, a sun-baked region in the north. Here, in 1864, in the castle-strewn countryside that inspired Cervantes’ Don Quixote, Don Eloy Lecanda Chaves planted cuttings from Bordeaux. These cuttings became the basis for Vega Sicilia, Spain’s most sought-after (and most costly) wine. The Reserva Especial—of which no more than 500 cases per year are made—combines three to five vintages that have aged for up to 30 years. Those not sufficiently fortunate to receive an allocation of this oenological grail can acquire a bottle of Alion, a distinctly modern wine made by the owners of Vega Sicilia. The Alion Cosecha 2001 is aged in new oak and is made entirely of Tinto Fino, a variety of Tempranillo that has adapted to the harsher climate. A powerful berry aroma greets the nose, as do more subtle scents of toasted bread and clay. On the palate, the tannins are robust but well integrated, softened by rich cassis and plum, leather and smoke. ($75) europvin.com

It is not by happenstance that tequila-speak often resembles that of brandy and Cognac. Añejo varieties—aged in oak barrels and served up in large snifters—are deservedly admired for their ability to punctuate the end of an evening with style. Less praised but perhaps more highly prized among agave aficionados, however, are the blancos, which lack woody influences. It is within these clear-as-water varieties that the herbal essences of the blue tequila plant are at their purest. Worthy of savoring neat as an aperitif is the recently reintroduced Los Azulejos Blanco Tequila.  The spirit, which is double distilled and aged only two months in steel, opens to a snappy bouquet of anise, dill, and asparagus, with traces of smoldering embers and ash. The taste is smooth, zesty, and vegetal, with a hint of sweetness followed by a long finish laced with pepper. Serve chilled. ($50) tequilalosazulejos.com

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