“It has a hint of water in it,” said the young man as we raised our glasses in a toast. “It has a plainness.” My dinner companion was all of 8 years old and happened to be my younger son, who was drinking his usual glass of water, straight up, from a yellow plastic cup and having a nice laugh with his brother at my expense.
Having a father who is a wine critic, you won’t be surprised to learn, is a license to parody the job by the children, who like to poke fun at the rituals and the language of wine, which I really don’t mind at all. It keeps me focused on clarity and simplicity and on keeping this column down to earth, which I have attempted to do for the last five and a half years.
What prompted this recent episode, at a rare weekday family dinner, was my enthusiasm for the evening’s wine, a thoroughly satisfying Spanish red that was just perfect for a seared sirloin steak. Any number of bigger, more robust reds would have matched well because steak is almost made for these wines. The reason the combination works so well is that the meat, though full flavored, is also straightforward, without a lot of added tastes that might clash with wines that have a lot of their own stuff going on.
For me a rule of thumb is the bigger and more complex and layered the wines, such as those brawny California cabernet sauvignons or cab blends, Australian shirazes or so-called super Tuscans from Italy, the more simple the food. Which brings me to that Spanish wine I enjoyed the other night.
It was the 2004 “Portal Roble” from Bodegas Vinos Pinol in the Terra Alta region of northeastern Spain. This $14 wine, which hardly calls attention to itself with its almost plain-white label, is unusually complex and interesting for the price and reminded me that Spain still offers some of the best wine values.
Its dimension comes from the fact that it is an unusual blend of five varieties — cabernet sauvignon, merlot, tempranillo, syrah and garnacha — that combine to produce intense tastes of dark berry and plum and notes of sage, spice and chocolate, all with an overlay of toasted oak. With all of this, you can see how simple juicy steak or lamb would be just about the perfect food companion.
The wine is imported by Olé Imports of Manhasset, N.Y., which is run by a couple of young wine entrepreneurs and has grown substantially in the last few years, largely by bringing in good wines and good values from emerging and unheralded regions of Spain, including Terra Alta. With this one, they’ve found another winner.
Edward Deitch’s wine column appears Wednesdays. He is the recipient of the 2007 James Beard Foundation Journalism Award for Best Multimedia Writing. He welcomes comments from readers. Write to him at