Wine of the Week

Altozano—a Spanish Star at a Winning Price


Last week’s column featured Secastilla, a wine from Viñas del Vero, González Byass’s property in Spain’s Somontano region. This week’s Wine of the Week, the Altozano Tempranillo & Cabernet Sauvignon 2009 ($10) from Finca Constancia, represents a second, very different thrust in the family-owned company’s effort to diversify away from their core business of Sherry.

In contrast to Viñas del Vero, which produces wines from old vines, everything about Finca Constancia is brand new—from the stunning, modernistic winery to the experimental nature of the viticulture and winemaking.

INEXPENSIVE ACREAGE

Finca Constancia is 47 kilometers south of Toledo, close to the La Mancha appellation but not part of it. Arid and hot, this is old wine country, but it has never been quality wine country, and this was much of the appeal for González Byass.

The lack of appellation designation—the wine is a simple Vino de la Tierra, a table wine—means that the land was far cheaper than in an established region, and Finca Constancia could afford to buy sufficient acreage so as not to be dependent on local growers, as it would be in, say, Rioja.

In addition, it would not be bound by strict appellation rules as to which grapes it could, and could not, grow.

Felipe González-Gordon Terry, president of González Byass USA, explained to me: “So with all that in mind we bought land, 250 hectares, in the province of Toledo, and we planted different varietals. Because we were new to the area, we wanted to learn our way, learn what would be more suitable for the wines we had in mind. So we planted both Spanish and international varieties, and we planted at different density levels. We designed the winery in a way that could take in each different plot individually, because we wanted to figure out what would make the best possible wine.”

EXPERIMENT IN DIVERSITY

In 2000 the company planted 200 hectares of a wide selection of varietals: Tempranillo, Garnacha, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot, Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Verdejo, and Syrah—making it, in essence, one large winemaking experiment. There are now 79 separate blocks planted with different root stocks and different clones, because what the winemaker, Beatriz Paniagua, is looking for is complexity from blending different combinations of these diverse wines.

And based on an extensive tasting I had during a recent visit, it’s an experiment that’s working out extremely well. The most successful wines are the entry-level Altozano range, my favorite being the Tempranillo/Cab blend. It glows with juicy fruit flavors and sings with an intensity, even grandeur, belied only by its rock-bottom price.

This is an astounding wine for just $10—restaurants could easily sell it for $10 a glass, make good money, and please their customers at the same time. A perfectly balanced acidity is gently wrapped in an envelope of ripe fruits and silky tannins. It’s not particularly Spanish, but for the price, it’s a superstar, a wine that would certainly outperform in a blind tasting.

So kudos to Finca Constancia for the imagination to execute such a daring project—and the talents of Beatriz for realizing it so successfully.

To find this wine near you, try Wine Searcher.

When to Drink: Now and for the next couple of years
Breathing/Decanting: Half an hour breathing really helps
Food Pairing: Chicken, pork, pasta, milder cheeses
Grapes: 50% Tempranillo, 50% Cabernet Savignon
Appellation: Vino de la Tierra de Castilla
Region: Castilla
Country: Spain
Price: $10
Availability: Moderate
Website: www.gonzalezbyass.com
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Nick_passmore
Nick Passmore is an independent wine writer and consultant based in New York. For five years he contributed a widely read monthly wine column to Forbes.com, in addition to which his work has appeared in such publications as Forbes, Discover, Town & Country, the Robb Report, Wine Enthusiast, Saveur, Sky, and Golf Connoisseur. He is currently artisanal editor for Four Seasons magazine and contributes a twice monthly column to BusinessWeek.com. He is also a judge at the annual Critics’ Challenge wine competition.

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