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Article updated: 5/9/2012 11:21 AM

Exploring the wines of Grandes Pagos de Espana

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By Mary Ross

The international wine lexicon is full of terms with the general meaning of "special growing site."

In Germany, it's "gewachs;" in Spain it's "pago." France has several such terms: "climat" and "lieu-dit" are sites that are unofficially recognized for quality; "cru" is a site with its designation ratified by French law.

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Ross' choice

"Emeritus" Marques de Grinon
Pago Dominio Valdepusa, Castile; La Mancha, Spain
2005

• Suggested retail and availability: $65 at fine wine shops (distributed by Winebow, Chicago)

An expansive nose of ripe berries introduces a velvety palate with layers of fruit, meat, mocha and damp earth flavors and long, mouthwatering palate, expressing a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah and Petit Verdot. Serve with full, flavorful dishes such as game meats and birds (venison, duck, etc.) or a rich Mexican mole. Proprietor Carlos Falco pioneers modern viticulture on this 13th century property, which is not only a Grande Pago, but also the first single estate in Spain to be awarded its own Denominación de Origen by the Spanish government and European Union.

In 2000, Spanish producers began a movement to officially recognize Spain's most advantageous growing sites; in 2003, this association was named Grandes Pagos de Espana.

The association may be new, but the land it represents is rooted in Spain's history.

"Spanish growers have known these special slopes, special exposures, special soils for a thousand years and more," explains Grandes Pagos chairman Carlos Falco.

But in the mid-1800s, Spain's wine industry turned away from single vineyard wines that emphasized individuality (and sometimes greatness), choosing instead the consistency (and sometimes dullness) promised by multi-vineyard blends.

"Only after the isolationism of (former ruler Fransico) Franco, within the past 40 years, have single vineyard estates thrived," says Falco, counting his own property, Marques de Grinon, among those thriving.

Currently, only 24 vineyards throughout Spain have achieved Grandes Pagos recognition; for a complete list, visit grandespagos.com. About half of these are available in the suburbs and pair brilliantly will grilled meats. My favorites from a recent tasting are listed below (along with local distributors to aid your retailer).

Bodegas Fillaboa "Seleccion Finca Montealto:" While grown throughout the world, the white Albarino grape only achieves rich, juicy brilliance in Spain's northeast Rias Baixas region. This 100 percent Albarino offers round apricot and peach-like texture and flavor balanced by bright acidity. An elegant cocktail and complement to lighter dishes, including sushi. ($18, Southern Wine and Spirits)

Bodegas E. Mendoza "Enrique Mendoza Reserva Santa Rosa:" An 18-month rest in new Allier oak barrels refines the hard edges of this Cabernet, Merlot and Shiraz blend into alluring flavors of mountain herbs and berries with fine, mouthwatering tannin. Food complements include filet mignon, duck breast or grilled Portobello mushrooms. ($24, Winebow)

Propiedad de Arinzano "Gran Vino de Arinzano:" Delicate aromas of mountain herbs, lilacs and dry earth introduce a silken palate with expanding, elegant flavors. Serve with manchego cheese, rack of lamb, game birds and the regional Navarran vegetable stew, menestra de tudela. ($75, The ENYE Group)

Abadia Retuerta "Pago Negralada:" The fragrance of lilacs and ripe berries introduce echoing flavors of berries, mocha, licorice and allspice and a long, caressing palate. This 100 percent Tempranillo is perfect for the pork stews, roasts and cured sausages made famous by its region, Castilla y Leon. ($74, Tenzing; Wirtz Beverage Group)

Alonso del Yerro "Maria:" Graceful entry evolves to a firm, provocative palate of pepper, saturated black fruits, tobacco and mocha. 100 percent Tempranillo for the richest pork, poultry and vegetarian dishes and red meats. ($56, Garnacha Wines)

Bodegas y Vinedos Maurodos "San Roman:" An erupting palate of tobacco, forest berries and mocha with firm, vibrant tannins that yearn for internationally-inspired grills of meat, poultry or vegetables. ($29, Fine Vines)

• Advanced Sommelier and Certified Wine Educator Mary Ross lives in Chicago. Write her at food@dailyherald.com.

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