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Silky northern white and red wines from La Mancha

Spain has been the culinary story of the past decade. Led by the avant-garde creations of super-chef Ferran Adria of El Bulli in Catalonia, new Spanish cuisine has captured the attention of formidable toques everywhere, from Mario Batali of New York to Heston Blumenthal of England to Grant Achatz of Chicago to Chris McDonald and Claudio Aprile of Toronto. Even tapas, the humble snack plates dispensed in bars from Barcelona to Burnaby, are the new chic staple of cutting-edge restaurateurs everywhere.

Putting it in Olympic terms, Spain owns the podium.

The wines have been a tad slower in generating news. Exports were in fact down last year and prices for Spanish wine collapsed, albeit in a recessionary year.

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Maybe it's because Spain's classic red grapes, tempranillo, garnacha and monastrell, trip less mellifluously off the non-Spanish tongue than such global - which is to say French - varieties as chardonnay and pinot noir. Maybe it's because great Spanish wine at competitive prices has always been there.

But there has been a stylistic revolution taking place in Spain too. Once fairly described as rustic, many of the wines have taken on a fresher profile. And there are new, brilliant offerings from young producers.

There's a glimpse of that revolution in several of the gems on offer in today's Spanish focus at Ontario Vintages stores. The prices, too, are amazing. Most of the reds taste great on their own but would go better with a hunk of red meat.

Perhaps the most striking value is a tempranillo from the trendy Ribera del Duero region. Vinedos Neo Vivir Vivir 2007 ($12.95, product No. 162693) is made from the concentrated fruit of 20-to-60-year-old vines. If you appreciate the savoury overtones of classic reds from the southern Rhône Valley of France, you'll probably love this wine, with its hints of lavender and wild herbs, silky-soft texture and opulent dark-skinned fruit.

My favourite red of the lot, though, is not much more expensive. La Cova Dels Vins Ombra Barrica 2006 ($16.95, No. 132589) is a blend of garnacha, carinena and cabernet sauvignon and mixes notes of maraschino cherry, raspberry, herbs and spice in perfect balance with crisp acidity and soft tannins.

My bronze medal for red the lineup would go to Artazuri Garnacha 2008 ($13.95, No. 80812). It gets into offbeat territory for a Spanish wine, with a candied-fruit flavour reminiscent of wine gums, lifted by seductive notes of herbs, flowers and licorice.

More expensive but worth the money is Latria 2006 from the Montsant appellation ($18.95, No. 155424). A blend of garnacha and carignan, it's full-bodied and luscious, with notes of plum and spicy oak.

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I also loved the roasted-coffee-bean quality of Casa Castillo Monastrell 2008 ($13.95, No. 165621), carried on a silky yet juicy frame right through to the almost-sweet finish.

In a modern, fruit-forward style that should appeal to fans of New World reds is Gladium Tempranillo Crianza 2006 ($15.95, No. 162677). Notes of dark berries and chocolate underpin this full-bodied, inky-dark red from La Mancha, which could benefit from decanting to soften its slightly rough, firm tannins.

Fans of Argentine malbec should appreciate the slightly rugged profile of Sabor Real Toro 2006 ($13.95, No. 172932), another very decent value. Solid grip from acidity and tannins underpin this tempranillo, which has a smoky quality and a rich, dark-skinned-fruit core.

Among whites, don't miss Leira Albarino 2008 from the northwest Rias Baixas district ($16.95, No. 115816). Light-bodied and relatively soft for a Rias Baixas, it's silky and has notes of sweet lemon and mineral.

My domestic pick of the week is a white from Niagara, Tawse Riesling Wismer Vineyard 2008 ($22 through www.vinifera.com or 416-924-4004). It's slightly off-dry with a silky frame, sweet lemon core and pleasantly chalky texture.

Picks of the week

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The deal A tempranillo from the trendy Ribera del Duero region, Vinedos Neo Vivir Vivir 2007 ($12.95, product No. 162693) is made from the concentrated fruit of 20- to 60-year-old vines.

The splurge My favourite of the lot is La Cova Dels Vins Ombra Barrica 2006 ($16.95, No. 132589), a blend of garnacha, carinena and cabernet sauvignon that mixes notes of maraschino cherry, raspberry, herbs and spice.

The domestic A white from Niagara, Tawse Riesling Wismer Vineyard 2008 ($22, available direct from Ontario Agent Vinifera Wine Services, www.vinifera.com, 416-924-4004). is slightly off-dry, with a silky frame, sweet lemon core and pleasantly chalky texture.

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