A Spanish wine that’s simply ‘Malvar-lous’

By Celia Strong

Yep, Malvar-lous! And don’t go guessing that I might be wine tasting while I’m wine writing. How could anyone think that a word like that meant there was any alcohol involved? And, certainly not with me!  But, Malvar-lous it is. For our wine this week, anyhow. And, just imagine what my good old spell checker is doing too! I’ll probably have to give him a glass or two before this is all finished. Really! That’s just too much.

But this nice new wine is from Spain and, really, it is Malvar-lous. (I figure I have to keep using that word  so you will remember the name more easily.) Let’s learn about Spanish wines, and a new grape variety.

Our trip this week takes us to a Spanish region that we have not visited before — the DO (Denominación de Origen) known as Vinos de Madrid, declared in 1990. Despite all the things that Madrid is known for, being a great wine region is not one of them. But, for us, this is a good thing.  Not being known as a great wine region can also mean not expensive wines. Yay! This area is located as close to the center of the country as you can get. It covers 54 municipalities and has three sub-zones (Arganda, Navalcarnero, and San Martin) that each make different types of wines.

Historically, ancient Romans probably introduced grape growing and winemaking here, just like they did in the rest of the Iberian peninsula.  I say probably because the documented evidence of wine in the Madrid area comes from the 13th century, much later than most other areas’ first records of it. The record, though, is a legal document regarding a dispute between some monks and a local feudal lord over the ownership of a vineyard.  There are about 650 acres of vines in the DO, and 90 percent of them are grown organically. For some, in the wine business and not, this DO is quickly becoming a little gem of a region — good wines at lower than normal costs.

Going back to the three sub-zones, quickly, the Arganda makes red wines out of Tempranillo with a few others and white wines from Airén and Malvar and some others. This is the largest sub-zone and has about 50 percent of the DO’s vineyards. It also has 26 of the municipalities. Its soil is clay and lime over a granite subsoil. Of the three sub-zones, this one gets the least rainfall. The Navalcarnero makes red wines from Garnacha (Spanish for Grenache) and others and white wine from Airén and others. (Airén is a popular white variety in Spain, we just don’t see much of it.) This area has only 15 percent of the total vines in the DO, and its soil is rich and dark but low in nutrients. The third sub-zone, San Martin, also grows Garnacha for red wines and Albilo for whites. There are 35 percent of the vines here and they get the most rainfall because of their location in the mountains. All of this is part of what makes our wine what it is, but, no, there will not be a test next week.

Now, I have to wonder if we picked up on the name of our grape in any of those sub-zones. If we did, Malvar-lous!  It is the white variety Malvar. An obscure one for sure. It is grown mostly in the Vinos de Madrid DO, with nearly 6,200 acres planted by the end of the 20th century. Some research says that Malvar is indigenous to this area. The majority of its vines are at higher altitudes, up to 2,000 feet, because it seems to grow better there. Better acids and more flavors do make for better wines.

The wines from Malvar tend to be medium bodied, not the weight of Chardonnay and not as light as Pinot Grigio. The grapes require a relatively long growing season, so they are better suited to Mediterranean climates. These wines tend to have full aromatics and good acidity.

Our wine, finally, is Zestos Malvar. The name “zestos” means basket in English. When you try this wine, you will see that the label is a drawing of vineyard workers, years ago, carrying harvested grapes in large baskets on their backs, taking them to a winery. The grapes for this Malvar wine are organically grown, although you won’t find that tidbit on the label, and their vines are, on average, 35 years old. (They were planted in 1974.) The grapes are macerated for 12 hours  and, then, fermented at a cool 50 degrees Fahrenheit for 20 days, half in stainless steel and half in cement tanks. The stainless steel lets the wine retain the stone fruit flavors of the grape, and doesn’t add any others, and the cement tanks allow for the softest process of micro-oxygenation — fancy words for “keep the acidity fresher.”

The harvest of the current vintage took place during the first week in October, two weeks earlier than normal, but late by European standards. This wine has peach, nectarine and orange scents. Its flavors include, beyond the peach and nectarine, lemon zest, blanched almonds and lychée nuts. It is smooth and broad textured in your mouth, with a great acidity that keeps you sipping and sipping.

And Zestos Malvar is great with food, too. A tasting at the Zestos winery included a salad with watermelon, avocado, cucumber and almonds, mixed with herbs and spices.  And, then, grilled chicken breasts that were marinated in lemon juice, garlic, parsley and pimentos.  With fried potatoes. Sounds to me like we need to get our shopping baskets (zestos) and get ready for dinner.

Just in case you have one red wine die-hard drinker at your dinner, go ahead and try the Zestos Garnacha. It’s 100 percent Garnacha from vines that are 40 to 50 years old. And, while the Malvar is from the Arganda sub-zone of the Vinos de Madrid DO, the red wine grapes are from the San Martin sub-zone. This wine is juicy in your mouth with dark red fruit flavors. An easy drinking red, the Zestos Garnacha will also pair well with pizza, quesadillas, sausages, and, my absolute favorite, Machego cheese. Malvar-lous!

Of these two wines, only 1,500 cases of Malvar are made each year, and 30,000 of the Garnacha. Obviously, we have to, quickly, try them. The Malvar especially. Need to be sure they send enough of those cases to South Carolina. And, as I mentioned earlier, it can be done fairly easily because they are so well priced. With both of them at $8.99 a bottle, we can buy an extra bottle so we don’t run out. Or so we can drink it.  Or give the spell checker his glass. Absolutely Malvar-lous wines!  Enjoy.

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