Featured Wine: Cigales Tempranillo


A good glass of wine is dependant on so many things. Quite apart from the bottle’s inherent “quality,” there’s mood, temperature, and exposure to air – to name but three variables that affected my experience with a Spanish Tempranillo the other week.

I picked up the inexpensive La Legua from Le Du’s wine store in Manhattan on my last visit. The night before Easter, at my Inlaws’, fresh in on the train from NYC, though pretty damn tired after two long nights in the city, I opened it up, poured myself a glass and… nothing. It didn’t say much to me other than that it was non-aromatic, very dry and maybe too hot. I’m usually referring to alcohol content when I talk about heat in wine, but it occurred to me that after a day in a backpack on a train, the wine had also been served a little too warm.

The next night, back home in the ‘skills, I stuck it in the fridge for ten minutes before trying again over dinner. It was like opening a different wine. There was some strawberry and black cherry fruit on hand that were eerily reminiscent of a Californian Pinot Noir, some of the earthy leathery textures that I always enjoy in a good rustic red, and yet it was soft and juicy on palate. Though there was no real tannin to speak of, the wine had a puckering finish. Perhaps not a medal winner, but for a $10-$12 bottle? Delicious.

La Legua from Cigales near Ribera del Duero: Dark and mysterious on first inspection, opens up to strangers with patience.

So what had changed? Possibly, my mood. I slept well Saturday night, walked the boardwalk with Noel in the morning, enjoyed Easter Sunday lunch with nieces and nephews; people said I was looking good, and I guess I believed them. Definitely, the temperature. People often destroy red wines by serving them at “modern” room temperature – mid-70s Farenheit – rather than the “old-fashioned” room temperature that sufficed for our ancestors, about ten degrees cooler. The difference is palpable: red wine served too warm lacks aroma, flavor, delicacy; sometimes all you can taste is the alcohol. A few minutes in the fridge makes a world of difference to a red wine that’s been sitting near your heating all day; try it some time.

Finally, exposure to air. Once I did some research on La Legua I was fascinated to find that a couple of other reviewers (here and here) had reached the same conclusion: this wine benefits greatly from contact with oxygen. It’s something you might anticipate from a pricy young wine built for cellaring: decanting speeds up the ageing process slightly, opens it up a little to the elements. But inexpensive young wines like this don’t usually undergo the same transformation.

La Legua is from Cigales, just north of Spain’s highly-rated and over-priced Ribera del Duero region, where Tempranillo rules as Tinto Fina. Dry summers, extreme temperature swings, and very little irrigation may explain the 25-year old vineyards’ grapes’ initial harshness; the individual parcel vinification and short-term tank ageing may explain the fruit and flavor that finally won over. Perhaps we should credit wine-maker Adolfo Gonzales Lazaro for packing so much delayed punch into the bottle. Or maybe La Legua is just an anomaly.

But next time you’re disappointed by a wine, give it – and yourself – 24 hours to come around. You may have just had an uncomfortable first date. And you might just be ready now to fall in love.

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November 2021