During the current economic, crisis which continues to bite here in Spain, we’ve been tending to dine out rather less frequently than in previous, more stable years – you’re perhaps the same? So a restaurant meal is more of an occasion than just a meal out. Much to the chagrin of those with whom we dine, I’m always the last to order – the wine list takes precedence over the menu for me.

I always consider the House Wines – sadly though I’m often disappointed. There are still plenty of restaurants who see house wines as no more than a cash cow, rather than a statement about the quality of the establishment into which the client has just walked. Twas never thus in my restaurants.

So I find myself perusing the fine wines list whilst those about me are navigating through the straits of starters and main courses. I look first of all for the number of DOs represented – I’m almost totally deflated if I see a full page of Rioja’s with but a few other areas mentioned as an after thought. Less so, but it still happens I’m afraid (clearly such restaurants need to visit to see how I can help them!). Whatever happened to diversity in a country so rich in different wine styles and top quality wines?

Recently I’ve started searching for the DO Toro section, eschewing the more glamorous areas of production, looking for top quality but without the top price tag. DO Toro will deliver! I’ve really come to love the wines from this North Western outpost of Spain, almost adjacent to Portugal, whose deeply coloured wines combine power with elegance, speaking so eloquently of their terroir with a heady blend of minerality, dark red fruit and subtle oak.

When I find the wines of Bodegas Palacio de los Frontaura y Victoria listed (sadly this is not often enough though) I know I have found my choice. I love all the wines I have tried from this bodega and that includes the recent addition to their portfolio, a wine made in nearby Ribera el Duero which will no doubt be appearing on the appropriate page soon.

I first came across this bodega when I received a press release some years ago from Virginia of their PR Dept. My comment that, whilst it was interesting to receive the news I really needed some samples too, was heeded and some bottles speedily winged their way to me. I was delighted with the standard as they acted as more than worthy ambassadors for the area from whence they came.

Recently I received some more:

Vega Murillo is young, their entry level wine from 100 % Tinta de Toro. There’s no oak with this wine, and it doesn’t need it either. It’s fresh and fruit driven and is a wine to enjoy with friends. Sure you can drink it with food, but it doesn’t need it – if you like a young wine but one with some depth and character, try this, it knocks sports of many that try but fail to fulfil that role. The Worl Cup is still on – drink it as you enjoy the festival of football!

Dominio de Valdelacasa Cosecha 2006 is made from 100% Tinta de Tora (aka Tempranillo) selected from vineyards whose kilos per hectare rate is low ensuring richer grapes at harvest time. Macerated for 22 days to extract deep colour and plenty of flavour from the skins and then fermented in temperature controlled stainless steel the wine is dark in colour with subtle oak influences. It’s enjoyed 6 months, mostly in French oak but with a lovely vanilla American oak lick too.

There’s a touch of pencil lead and shavings on the nose but with dark red, intense fruit compote, notes too ensuring that the wood complements rather than dictates the taste.

Frontaura Crianza 2005 is made from old vines. Stainless steel maceration and fermentation again, though this time a lengthier stay in exclusively French oak. When the cork pops the room is filled almost instantaneously with that wonderful aroma with which those of us who have toured bodega cellars are so pleasantly conversant.

The vineyards are about 700 metres above sea level, intense summer sunshine is tempered by far cooler night time temperatures allowing the grapes to ripen fully and yet to retain crucial acidity. It’s all about rich, mature dark fruits, laced together with complementary oak giving off a touch of liquorice with leather notes and a slight dark chocolate and well toasted Columbian coffee bean finish. I love this wine!

And so to Nexus, the new wine and indeed the first in a planned range of Ribera del Duero wines whose attractive purple label and foil have already won it some design awards. It’s the Crianza 2005 made from veteran Tempranillo grapes but the style is vivacious with fruit to the fore and a balancing oak presence which lets you know that whilst it is easy drinking it’s also a serious wine, with depth and subtlety too. It’s a sensual, very feminine wine and one that the ladies will certainly enjoy, not just because of its quite stunning presentation but because of its elegance. This wine is a certain winner and I for one cannot wait to taste the others when they come on stream.

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