Wine Review: 2010 Zestos Vinos de Madrid Blanco

20 07 2011

Malvar! You can't really see it in this picture, but the neck of the bottle says "Ole 'No Brainer' NB". Randomest neck foil ever?

Time to venture into the obscure!  Aside from being the first wine I’ve ever had out of an orange-tinted bottle, tonight’s vino is also the first wine I’ve ever had made from the Malvar grape.  Raise your hands if you’ve ever heard of “Malvar” before.  If your hand is currently resting on your lap, or if it’s up in the air but you’re lying through your teeth, you’re not alone:  even my most reference-y wine books had never heard of it.  The New Wine Lover’s Companion by Ron and Sharon Herbst is literally a dictionary of wine knowledge, but “Malvar” doesn’t show up in it.  Oz Clarke’s Grapes & Wines is a 300+ page book ONLY about the various different grape varietals, hundreds of them listed in alphabetical order, and “Malvar” is nowhere to be found.  In Jancis Robinson’s The Oxford Companion to Wine, which is a monolithic 800-page wine encyclopedia and probably the most famous wine reference book in the world, “Malvar” gets less than 30 words of attention:  “Malvar, white grape commonly grown around Madrid producing slightly rustic wines but with more body and personality than the ubiquitous Airen.”  Wow, thanks.  Basically, we’re on our own for this one.

The reason I bought this unheard-0f wine in the first place is partly because it’s cheap ($17) and I’m on a budget, and partly because I was told it’s a rare example of a white wine that features discernable levels of tannin.  As discussed previously on PnP, tannin usually comes from the skins, stems and seeds of grapes, and it’s usually only noticeable in red wines because they’re the only ones that are fermented with the grape skins (and occasionally stems) in contact with the juice, which allows the tannins to leach into the resulting wine.  White wine is fermented after the juice is already separated from the skins, so it is usually tannin-free…but not this one, apparently.

Producers, take note: what's the downside in putting detailed info like this on your labels? I can't think of one. Do it!

The back label of the Zestos Blanco smartly assumes that nobody knows anything about Malvar and contains a fantastic amount of information explaining what to expect from it:  “It possesses the bright flavors of a Sauvignon Blanc and the body of an unoaked Chardonnay.”  It’s grown just southeast of Madrid; while Spain is not at all known for its white wines due to extremely hot growing seasons throughout most of the country, the conditions in this area have one saving grace:  elevation.  The Zestos is grown at over 2,100 feet above sea level, which means cooler average temperatures and big swings between daytime and nighttime temperature, both of which help preserve acidity and prevent over-accelerated ripening.

I admit that I thought this wine was going to suck.  A cheap white wine from Madrid made from a grape no one had ever heard of?  Not a lockdown choice for your summer house wine.  But right from the start I was pleasantly surprised:  the Zestos was a delicate, pale transparent golden colour and had a hugely aromatic nose full of tropical fruits like pineapple, grapefruit and mango.  The back label’s Sauvignon Blanc comparison loomed large as I took a sniff, as the crispness and tanginess of the aromas and the fruit profile they displayed took me right to that grape.  As soon as the wine hit my tongue, though, it became clear that this was a whole different animal:  it had a very un-Sauv-Blanc-like medium-full body and round, creamy texture, which stood in stark contrast to its racy acidity and sharp flavours, a virtual oxymoron in a glass.  The citrus and tropical fruit party continued on the palate, very tutti-frutti with hints of coconut, but kept sharp by a slight steely note.  However, these flavours started to hollow out in the midpalate and didn’t quite carry over strongly to the finish, such that the nose on this wine seemed to promise more than the body delivered.  More disappointingly, I wasn’t assaulted by a swarm of white tannin as advertised.  There was nothing really resembling the tannin levels in a standard red (not that I should have expected that), although there was a distinct chalkiness to the wine’s texture, especially on the finish, which I wouldn’t have chalked up (wow, that was a bad unintentional pun) to tannin if I wasn’t looking out for it.

Cork Rating: -1/10 (PnP's first fake cork, and totally blank to boot. This makes me irrationally angry.)

Despite the downer end to the last paragraph, I thought the Zestos was quite solid overall, and it vastly exceeded my expectations.  If you were going to spend $15 on your next bottle of Kim Crawford or Oyster Bay SB anyway, why not spend the same amount of money, try a wine that’s still basically in your palate’s wheelhouse, and give yourself the bragging privileges of being one of only a handful of people on this continent to have sipped a glass of Malvar?  NZ Sauvignon Blanc is starting to be played out; maybe Malvar is the future.

86 points

$15 to $20 CDN

[Wine Jargon Notes:
midpalate/finish when you taste a wine, the initial taste impression you get is called the attack; the final taste impression as and after you swallow is the finish; everything in between is the midpalate.]

P.S.  If indeed NZ Sauvignon Blanc is starting to hit its zenith, maybe the Kiwi replacement to this recent mainstay on the international wine scene is already being produced.  I had a brief lesson tonight on the small but burgeoning New Zealand Riesling production industry from one of its trailblazers, Forrest Wines, who currently makes 10 different Rieslings in NZ, most grown right in the SB heartland region of Marlborough.  As a staunch Riesling disciple, I find this both fascinating and awesome, and I’m going to try and grab a Forrest Riesling for further review on PnP shortly.  They’re available in Calgary at Highlander Wine & Spirits.



One response

20 07 2011

Unfamiliar with the wine but I assume this is a great one! Thanks for posting this one! Great job! Cheers!


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