The Times tasting panel met recently for a blind tasting of Spanish wines widely available at Los Angeles area retailers for $13 and less. Joining me on the panel were Food editor Leslie Brenner, Food columnist Russ Parsons and Randy Kemner, owner of the Wine Country in Signal Hill. The good news is there were plenty of simple but pleasing wines in this value category, as well as some surprisingly delightful wines that cost as little as $4.
Our favorite white wine among the Albariños, Verdejos and regional blends was the 2003 Protocolo, which retails for about $6. The best of the reds, which included Garnachas, Tempranillos and blends, was the 2003 Las Rocas de San Alejandro, an old-vines Garnacha that sells for about $10.
Wines are listed in order of the panel's preference.
2003 Protocolo. A blend from Dominio de Eguren in Tierra de Castilla, imported by Jorge Ordoñez. A well-balanced, earthy wine with intriguing aromas of lemon and olive oil, a bit of complexity and a melony finish. At Liquid Wine & Spirits in Chatsworth, (818) 709-5019, and Mission Wines in South Pasadena, (626) 403-9463, about $6.
2004 Con Class. A white wine blend from Rueda, imported by Eric Solomon's European Cellars. Sauvignon Blanc-like, with bracing acid, peach nectar and herbal flavors and aromas of fresh hay. Simple and pleasant. At Mel & Rose Wine and Spirits in West Hollywood, (323) 655-5557, and Wine Country in Signal Hill, (562) 597-8303, about $9.
2004 Rocaberdi. A blend (80% Macabeo, 20% Xarel-lo) from Catalonia, via Beaune Imports. A touch of oak dampens the tart grapefruit and peach aromas in this fun and likable blend. Nicely structured with crisp, bracing acids. At Wine Country, about $8.
2004 Naia. Imported by Jorge Ordoñez, this bracing Verdejo from Rueda offers citrus aromas and flavors of freshly cut grass and sweet lime. At Mel & Rose Wine and Spirits and Mission Wines, about $11.
2004 Floresta. A blend (55% Macabeo, 45% Chardonnay) from Empordá-Costa Brava, imported by Beaune Imports. Peach and apricot aromas, with pleasant creamy apricot and tangerine flavors. At Liquid Wine and Spirits and the Wine Country, about $10.
2004 Burgáns Albariño. From Rías Baixas, imported by Eric Solomon. Floral aromas, with a touch of turpentine, this wine has an off-putting vanilla- extract taste and an unpleasant finish. At Mel & Rose Wine and Spirits and Wine Country, about $10.
2004 Vionta Albariño. With off-putting milk-chocolate aromas, this wine was badly oxidized. At Wine Hotel in L.A., (323) 937-9463, about $13.
2003 Las Rocas de San Alejandro Viñas Viejas Garnacha. From old vines in Calatayud, imported by Eric Solomon. This wine, with its eucalyptus and herbal aromas and notes of tobacco and leather, has some character and complexity. At Mission Wines, about $10.
2004 Tres Picos Borsao Garnacha. From Campo de Borja, imported by Jorge Ordoñez. Sweet, smoky nose with flavors of black cherry and spices, this wine would pair well with charcuterie. At the Duke of Bourbon in Canoga Park, (818) 341-1234; Liquid Wine & Spirits; and Wine House in West L.A., (310) 479-3731, about $12.
2004 Mano a Mano. From La Mancha, imported by Jorge Ordoñez. This juicy Tempranillo has ripe berry and cassis aromas, black cherry flavors and a pleasant finish with some length. At Joan's on Third in Los Angeles, (323) 655-2285, and Mission Wines, about $9.
2004 Abrazo del Toro. A blend (80% Garnacha, 20% Tempranillo) from Cariñena. A young, drinkable wine with charming cherry aromas. At Trader Joe's stores, about $4.
2004 Wrongo Dongo. A blend from Jumilla, imported by Jorge Ordoñez. This one-note green peppery wine has off-aromas. At Mission Wines and Duke of Bourbon, about $7.
2004 La Nunciatura Tempranillo. From La Tierra de Castilla. Odd chocolate and grape aromas mar the simple, undistinguished flavors that follow. At Trader Joe's, about $4.
2004 Coto de Hayas Garnacha Centenaria. From Campo de Borja. Sweet grapey aromas with an off-putting chemical note, a heavy dose of oak on the palate. Available at Mel & Rose Wine and Spirits and Wine House, about $11.
2004 Tikalo Albaliza. A pleasant yet undistinguished blend (65% Tempranillo, 35% Garnacha) from Tierra de Castilla, imported by Eric Solomon. Purple grape aromas with a funky leather flavor. At Wine House and Mel & Rose Wine and Spirits, about $6.
2001 Estola Reserva. The panel disagreed on this blend from Bodegas Ayuso in La Mancha , with curious licorice and menthol aromas. One panelist found it to be like an acceptable fruity jug wine; another called it "watery and bad at the same time." At Trader Joe's, about $5.
2003 Veroleón. A blend (70% Garnacha, 30% Merlot) from Navarra. The bottle we opened was so badly oxidized it was undrinkable. At Trader Joe's, about $5.
-- Corie Brown