Welcome to Shelf Stars, The Growler’s cheap wine column in which we discover the best under-$15 bottles in town. This edition of Shelf Stars is brought to you with underwriting support from Central Avenue Liquors.
Is it a coincidence that many words with multiple B’s are used to describe fun and cheerful things? Bubbles. Baubles. Bobbers. Babbling babies. And in the world of Spanish wine, bobal.
Bobal is the second-most planted red grape in all of Spain, but you might have missed it completely when scanning the lower shelves of the Spanish aisle in a wine store. There you’ll find low-end versions of Rioja, the wine that shows off the fierce richness of the tempranillo grape, or inky and tannic bottlings of monastrell (the Juan Gil version is a favorite of mine), but mostly, dozens upon dozens of garnachas, a grape that’s rather low in acid and not shy to wallop you with the flavor of alcohol from start to finish.
Bobal is the antidote to all those dark and ponderous Spanish reds. It’s light-to-medium bodied, closer to pinot noir and barbera (hey, more B’s!), with a lovely acidic texture and bright fruit flavors. It makes an excellent match for pork chops with grilled vegetables, or perhaps it’s even better as the second bottle that keeps your friends chatting at the table after the dinner plates have been cleared away.
One bobal I’ve been drinking all quarantine long (seriously, I’ve bought a bottle every Sunday since April) is the Bodegas Nodus En La Parra Tinto ($12). It has a light burgundy color and tastes like an explosion of juicy red raspberries and violet blossoms. It’s a luscious and giving flavor without being overbearing, and some mild earthy tannin gives it just the right amount of balance.
A newer-to-me bottle I’ve enjoyed lately is the Bobal Estenas ($10) which comes from Utiel-Requena, the district in the province of Valencia that is the spiritual home of the bobal grape. It’s full of bombastic black cherry fruit with a cocoa nib earthiness in the background. It has rich and enveloping flavors, but the tannin is incredibly soft. It’s a versatile wine that I’ll be purchasing by the case to take out anytime a random red is on order.
Bobal doesn’t have the name recognition as Rioja or garnacha, so if you see one on the shelves, the wine buyer has it on for a good reason. Take a chance on any bobal you come across—I have and I’ve not yet been disappointed.
For Those That Like: Black cherry Kool-aid, pomegranate juice, rum punch.
ABV: Usually in the “not messing around” range of 13–15%
Price Range: $10–15
Find It: Among the Rioja and garnacha of the Spanish aisle.
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