We drove about twenty minutes from Bodegas Alonso Cuesta, in the small Spanish town of La Torre de Esteban Hambrán, to vineyards in the media alta -- middle elevations -- on winding dirt roads surrounded by lush green countryside where we understand hunting deer and other game goes hand-in-hand with tending vineyards. It was winter then, when lonely rows of clipped vines stretch down the gently sloping hills on into the horizon. Here at Bodegas Arrayán winery in Spain's Méntrida wine region, we walk from barrel to barrel, tank to tank, stopping at each to sample the now-aging vintages first of a white grape called Albillo, then of Garnacha, Syrah, Merlot, and Petit Verdot.
I wrote of the grapes in this wonderful region several months ago:
Further reading: Our first take on Spain's excellent, compelling Méntrida wine region
Our guide, Carlos, asks us how we'd compare Méntrida's Petit Verdot to others we've had. The wine in our glass here is more fruit forward with blackberries and rich vanilla creaminess than the more mineral-driven examples we'd find at home in Virginia, cooler and more delicate than those in California that sometimes feel very hot. I swirled a bit in my glass and looked out at the countryside. What a beautiful place this is, where between Arrayán and Alonso Cuesta we spent one of our favorite days in our entire years-long experience in wine. Beautiful place. Wonderful people. Lovely wine.
Place and people can't be exported, but happily, we've found winemaker Maite Sánchez's wine on the list at Taberna la Carmencita restaurant in Madrid, and further afield in wine shops and on distributor lists in the the United States. Our impression is that these folks are dedicated not only to the cause of making richly textured and nuanced wine, but also of sharing that wine with the world. We enjoyed them so much we ordered a bottle of 2010 Arrayán Syrah with our lamb at dinner the evening following our visit. This wine is findable, and we recommend you do so.
Further reading: Our current picks for great food, wine, atmosphere in Madrid, Spain
2010 Arrayán Syrah
We found bottle on the menu at Taberna La Carmencita in Madrid the evening after our visit. It was a bit tight when we first pulled the cork, so definitely give it some time to open up. The nose throws up black fruits that lean towards dark cherry, with a bit of sweeter stone fruit, pomegranate, a touch of grassiness, and then -- after about forty minutes -- raisin, dried plum, and deer jerky. It possesses a cooling quality that does not necessarily match the expectations that the alcohol in the nose created. Though soft and gentle, we can feel the tannins coating our mouth. Vanilla cream qualities accompanied an experience that was overall very fruit forward and juicy, particularly in the finish. Highly versatile, you can drink this alone or paired with big meat (we opted for traditionally prepared lamb).
2014 La Suerte de Arrayán Garnacha
Made from the small region's signature grape, this wine is lighter in color and not nearly as deep purple than what one might expect from a Garnacha. The nose leaps out of the glass with a unique herbaciousness -- oregano, to be specific -- creamy strawberry, and a bit of cocoa powder. It's delightfully smooth in the mouth, with lovely strawberry and raspberry notes, a creamy texture, and nice spiciness. There are some definite Pinot Noir qualities at play here that really distinguish this from Garnachas grown elsewhere in Spain. This was a really lovely bottle that we'll certainly seek out again.
2014 Arrayán Selección
A blend of of 30% Syrah, 30% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Merlot, and 10% Petit Verdot is not something that one commonly finds in Spain, this wine is quite a unique fusion of the variety of grapes grown here in Méntrida... notably, without any Garnacha. It develops a lovely nose after about thirty minutes of air, a fruit medley dominated by ripe raspberries and gentle spice. Cranberry was present earlier on at first opening, but they've mellowed slightly as a bit of mint and nutmeg have entered the complex scene. Velvety, but with some mild tannin in the mid-palate, we found that notes of black tea mingled fruits that are far more subdued in the mouth than they were in the nose. A bit of plum asserts itself in the end, and the mint persists throughout.