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When Francis Bacon remarked that “the good things which belong to prosperity are to be wished, but the good things that belong to adversity are to be admired,” he might have agreed that recent vintages of Spanish wine fall into the latter category. Spaniards know adversity. Drought is a persistent problem. Winters are enduring and cold. Summers are blisteringly hot. In much of the country the economy is bleak. And grape yields are low. Although long regarded as a wine-producing country of mediocre, oxidized red wines, Spain is now finding itself heralded as a treasure trove of sumptuous, yet surprisingly inexpensive, vintages. Some Spanish wines are being described as a “wealth of fruit and concentration” by none other than influential wine advocate Robert M. Parker Jr. In Washington, D.C., Bob Lutz from Bell’s Wine Shoppe on M Street offered this about Spanish wine: “Compared to some of the 2000s I’ve tasted in Bordeaux in March, I wouldn’t put them in the same league, but in value give me a break. And, [the Spanish wines are] more consistent than the French.” Indeed, you may do a double take when you note that many of the noteworthy Spanish wines available on the East Coast range from $6 to $30. The Tempranillo grape, the spunky character in most of these wines, is thick-skinned and produces deep-red, long-lasting wines. The grape doesn’t have a distinctive flavor profile, so it’s the perfect foundation for a blend. Fred Lutz, Bob’s brother, noted at a recent tasting, “What is happening — as [is happening] in Northern Italy — is they are introducing Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon to goose up the Tempranillo.” The producers are also relying on juicier fleshy grapes like Garnacha Tinta (Grenache) and Cari�ena (Carignan) to offer the stuffing and vitality to these wines. The region of Ribera del Duero boasts Abadia Retuerta, which has vineyards on an abbey’s estate bordering the Duero River. Located south and west of the best-known Spanish wine region, Rioja, Ribera del Duero relies heavily on Tempranillo (called Tinto Fino there) and American oak barrels and produces a riper and more complex wine style than Rioja. Abadia Retuerta, which is flourishing with a $20 million investment from the Swiss pharmaceutical company Novartis, has been a stunning success with its table wine Rivola, the result of state-of-the art winemaking technology and an accomplished winemaking team. The producers in Priorat, a small, inhospitable wine region that since the 12th century has been growing grapes in poor stony soils of quartz and slate called llicorella, are producing blockbuster wines. The Garnacha and Cari�ena vines grow on steep rocky slopes and give out small clusters that result in concentrated fruit and unbelievably delicious table wines. These wines are made to be enjoyed with food. I stumbled upon a delightful Spanish cheese called “Drunken Goat Cheese” or Queso de Murcia al Vino ($13 per pound). Traditionally, it has been made by shepherds in the hard and unfriendly terrain of Murcia from the milk of the Murcian goat. The goats feed off intensely scented wild thyme, oregano, rosemary, and other hardy plants, each contributing to the flavor of the milk. The cheese is easy to spot because of its purple rind — the result of being submerged in a regional red wine rinse. The texture is creamy, and the taste is pleasantly acidic, like fresh lemons. My other find was the Campo de Montalban ($8 per pound), made from cow’s, goat’s and sheep’s milk. The cheese is denser, but also alluringly fresh and with subtle aromas. Try some of these recommendations and gain an appreciation of the richness that can come from humble circumstances: � Borsao 2000, Campo de Borja ($6). A blend of 75 percent Garnacha and 25 percent Tempranillo, this medium-bodied wine has wonderfully clean and concentrated, jammy raspberry fruit flavors, a silky texture and a satisfying pepper finish. � Vega Sindoa 2000, Navarra ($6). This is a blend of 70 percent Tempranillo and 30 percent Merlot. The dark cherry aroma and flavor is intense and the quality of the fruit is remarkable. This is a full and rich, yet balanced, wine with integrated acids. � Abadia Retuerta R�vola, Sardon de Duero 1999 ($10). The 40 percent Cabernet blended with 60 percent Tempranillo results in a brilliant garnet gem of a wine, with a rich smoky bouquet, plum and spice. This wine can be cellared for the next four to five years because of its wonderful structure. � �nix 2000, Priorat ($8.50). The vineyards located 100 miles southwest of Barcelona produce this blend of Garnacha and Cari�ena. The deep-purple-hued wine shows great concentration and flavors of plums and black cherries, and oak and cedar, lavender and pepper. Elisabeth Frater is at work on “Breaking Away to Virginia and Maryland Wineries,” the first book in a “Washington Weekends” series to be published by Capital Books Inc. Got a wine recommendation for her? E-mail her at [email protected]

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