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Two of a Kind

September 6, 2009

Hopefully my fellow local food writer Celina Ottaway is not too sore about when I disagree with her opinions.  She can’t be that sore with me, since I haven’t been de-friended on Facebook.

We sat down a while ago and talked food, and it was almost comical how different our tastes were, despite having a lot of other things in common.  So my disagreement with some of her reviews cannot come as much of a surprise to her.

Although recently I found something else on which we agree (I vaguely remember there was a second thing, but it is escaping me at the moment).  And in the most unlikely of places: cheap wine.  And when I say cheap, I mean very cheap.

About six months ago, she wrote a post about a five dollar red wine, followed by another post on a white wine at the same price by the same producer.

Since then, these wines have been on my list of things to try.
It’s a long list.  And I’m a busy man.  So cut me some slack.

Just to step back a bit, I appreciate fine wine but I really appreciate finding good wine values.  These do not always go hand in hand.  The low bar says that a wine needs to be interesting and have character.  As the price tag on the bottle goes up, so does the bar.

I feel it is important to be brave, and try new and unfamiliar things.  Not to be held back by snobbery.  But if you know what to look for do not have to kiss that many toads before you find your prince or princess or what-have-you.  You can read a bit more about it here.

The wines Celina turned me onto are from René Barbier.  They are from Spain, and specifically from Catalonia.

To put these wines into some geographical context, Catalonia is a region in northeastern Spain that shares its northern border with France.  Its eastern border is the Mediterranean sea, and its capital is Barcelona.  Sounds like a nice place to be from.

The red was a blend of merlot and tempranillo.  And I enjoyed how it was both fruity and earthy at the same time.  It was a perfectly lovely everyday red for drinking, and given the blend of grapes and light use of oak it would also make a good candidate for braising a beef stew.

The white was zesty and loaded with tart citrus.  I also picked up a little tropical fruit and Mrs. Fussy thought she tasted a hint of peaches.  It also turns out that it’s made from grapes you probably never heard of before.  30% Parellada, 30% Macabeo, and here’s the kicker, 40% Xarel-lo (I believe the X is pronounced as a soft S and the accent is on the second syllable).

If you are anything like me, and enjoy trying the lesser-known varietals of grapes, this is a wine for you.  Although actually the blend isn’t dissimilar from what is traditionally used in Spanish sparkling wine.  So if you’ve had Cava, you’ve likely had the Xarel-lo grape before.  However, unlike the Mediterranean White, many Cavas are also blended with a judicious quantity of Chardonnay.

See, now I’ve gone and just bored everyone.

Let me try and get back on track.  If you leave the Mediterranean White out overnight, and try and drink what’s left in the bottle the next day, the tart limey citrus will have morphed into a bit of bitter grapefruit peel.  Or at least it did for me.  So when you open that bottle, drink up.

And look out for that off note should you order this wine by the glass.

The red Mrs. Fussy and I finished in one sitting, so I can’t tell you what happens the next day.  Besides waking up in need of coffee.

In the future, should we get a Trader Joe’s in the Capital District that actually has a wine aisle (or an adjacent wine store, as they have in some cities) you may be able to do better than these for the money.  But until then, these two cheap wines get the fussy seal of approval.

Thank you, Celina.

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