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Christopher S. Miller

HELLO, MY NAME IS Chris. I am a wine-aholic. I am not recovering, and don’t plan to any time soon. I try to taste two to three different wines a day, but would prefer to taste more—maybe ten. Take note of the term “taste,” which is very different from “drink.” The most I can drink is two glasses a day, which is more than enough for anybody; after all, wine is about tasting. If you don’t already get that, don’t worry, this column will guide you through the wines coming from the many diverse regions, grapes and producers throughout the world to lead you (hopefully) to a more enriched level of appreciation and fun. But if nothing else, all this information will make you look smart and worldly at your business functions.


As Sangria is the Recipe of the Month, I thought Spain should be this month’s wine region to focus on. Sangria was first created in Northern Spain as a refreshing fruit drink made from red wine. Usually, either Claret, an old name for a red Bordeaux wine, or Rioja, one of the great regions of Europe in Northern Spain known for red wines, were used (though Rioja makes whites and rosés as well).


Traditionally, the preferred white wine of Spain was Sherry; until very recently the Spanish mostly consumed red wines with their meals. However, since about the 1970’s there has been a growing white wine industry (mostly in the cooler regions of Northern Spain). Part of this trend coincides with the ability of producers to use such technology as refrigeration to keep the young wines fresh during fermentation and later during the aging process. Prior to this wonderful technology, most white wines were either oxidized or fortified, a style of wine still popular among some “old world” Brits and your typical Mad Dog 50 or Thunderbird drinker.


Today, Spain has several wonderful white wine regions: Rías Baixas, Rueda, Penedés, Chacolí (Txakolina in Basque), Navarra and even the vaunted Rioja to name a few. Some of these regions also make very fine Rosados (Rosés) from red varieties.


Both Rías Baixas and the Txakoli’s are located in the Galicia (Green Spain) part of the country. This is the northern coast where the Atlantic Ocean plays an important roll in the climates. Both regions produce similar styled wines, but from different grapes. The Rías Baixas is allowed to use several grape varieties but the best are from the Albariño grape. This grape may have some relation to Riesling and the flavor does have a subtle Reisling character combined with notes of citrus and herbs.


Using my specialized tasting method (note the sidebar), I tasted several wines blind. The 2004 Viña Nora Rías Baixas ($15), from the Val do Salnes sub-region, is very pale in color with green highlights. The aromas are of ripe lemon and lime, with a touch of floral notes and a bit of lemon verbina. The palate is rich and full but finishes clean with a warmness and alcohol note, though the finish is a bit cloying toward the end. Rating: Above Average Rías Baixas; valued at a (-1).


I had never had a white wine from the Toro region (just east of Ribera del Duoro), and the 2004 Marques del Villa Malvasia ($8) may be the first Spanish Malvasia I have ever had, so I relied on my experience with the Dry Muscat and Italian Malvasia when tasting and assessing it. This wine is also quite pale, with some hints of green, the aromas of citrus, grass, apple skin, lime skin and a more pronounced floral note; it has a grassy note reminiscent of Sauvignon Blanc, too. The palate is full of ripe (almost sweet) fruit, yet has beautiful balance and acidity, and a lovely lingering finish. Rating: Very Good Malvasia (especially from Spain); valued at (+1).


The last wine I had was a beautiful, crisp, clean wine from the Basque region of Txakoli (pronounced Chocoli). The 2004 Itsas Mendi Txakoli ($21) may be hard to pronounce but it is lovely to imbibe. Again it’s very pale with hints of green, aromas of subtle green apple and citrus with a touch of spice and herbs (maybe tarragon or thyme). My tasting note has “mmm tasty in it,” so I think I liked it. The palate is bright and very refreshing, the balance is charming with a medium to fullish weight, but a crisp finish nonetheless. Rating: Very Good Txakoli (or even Rías Baixas); valued at (-1).


Christopher S. Miller, Court of MS Advanced Sommelier and formerly the ‘McSnobbelier.


Value Your Wine


Currently I am reading a book about the famous wine critic Robert Parker, Jr. Due to this I have put some thought into how I rate wines for myself and how that compares to Robert Parker’s 100-point rating system. While the 100-point system is easy for Americans (given our schooling), I feel it does not address the most important aspect of evaluating wine: value! So I’d like to make my personal rating system public. This is a system I developed to help me wade through large trade tastings that have as many as 1200 wines set for professional evaluation during two afternoons.


If you need points, this is a seven point system with some verbiage to help establish quality and value of each wine. The seven points reflect value and are -3, -2, -1, even, +1, +2, +3, which represent the dollar value of the wine. If a wine costs $10 (retail) but tastes like a $15 wine, the score would be +1; tastes like a $20 wine, the score would be +2; tastes like a $30 wine, the score would be +3. Use the opposite theory to figure out how I would use the negative numbers. The numbers will be accompanied by the following terms to help with the rating: Stunning (95+), Outstanding (90+), Very Good (85+), Above Average (80+), Average (75+), Fair (65+), and of course Not So