When I first started enjoying wines, I didn’t know much about them. Usually, I chose a wine based on its price — under $7.99/bottle — and then just returned to those wines I liked the best.
This was a good way to taste a wide variety of wines, not all of them good, without being influenced by where they were produced, what kind of grapes they were made out of, and what other people thought about them.
One wine I kept returning to again and again was Las Rocas. This wine is unusual because it is made completely from granache, a grape that almost nobody else uses as its primary varietal. That’s because granache tastes differently when it is grown anywhere else in the world except for a mountainous area about 55 miles north of Madrid.
But in this region — known as Calatayud — the grapes take on a wonderfully balanced fruity flavor that makes a delicious, highly drinkable wine that has strong flavors of cherry (like pinot noir) but with a distinct underlying vegetal flavor (like zinfandel).
In other words, perfect for my palate!
It was only later while researching Las Rocas did I learn that the wine is produced from grapes grown in rocky, moutainous terrain on vines more than 50 years old in vineyards that are at a much higher elevation than most wine-growing regions — up to 3,500 feet. The name “Las Rocas” means “the rocks” in English.
This causes the grape plants to be exposed to a lot of direct sunlight, resulting in thicker than normal skins on the grapes. The winemakers soak the grapes in water for several days before beginning fermentation.
Then the wine then undergoes a second fermentation, called malolactic fermentation, in which the malic acid in the young wine is affected by specific bacteria and converted into lactic acid and carbon dioxide. This gives some wines a lush, buttery texture and flavor.
The wine is then aged for six months in slightly toasted French and American oak barrels, which adds a touch of vanilla flavor to the finished wine.
The result is a really decadent Spanish wine that explodes with fruit flavor but never overwhelms the palate. It has a higher than normal alcohol content — 14.1% — which can sometimes cause wines to be harsh, but Las Rocas goes down smooth and easy.
It’s a great accompaniment to any kind of beef, lamb or other dish because it can stand up and even complement strong, protein-rich flavors.
When I first started buying Las Rocas more than a decade ago, it was at or below my self-imposed price ceiling of $7.99/bottle. But when I came across it again recently the price had increased to $10.99.
This put me in something of a dilemma: Should I break my rule and spend the extra money on a wine I know I love or should I stick to my policy of trying a wide variety of inexpensive wines, hoping occasionally to come across a really great one.
I guess I’m getting older because I chose the less adventurous but more satisfying path.
Las Rocas is one of the few wines that I would disregard my own rule and spend a little more to buy because I just enjoy it so much. Check it out if you get the chance. You won’t be disappointed.