Peñín Guide In Hand

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Spanish wine critic José Peñín unveiled his Peñín Guide to Spanish Wine 2009 yesterday at a wine tasting held at the American Museum of Natural History. We had a quick tête-à-tête with the critic over a glass of vino or 30.

You've often been compared to Robert Parker for your use of the 100-point system. Is there a concern among wine drinkers your country, as there is in ours, that winemakers are tailoring their wines to your tastes, as many winemakers here do to Parker's tastes?

Yes, but it's different. In the United States, the mainstream consumer is so influenced by Parker's ratings that the wine that has been tailored to Parker is, in fact, tailored to the average consumer. In Spain, some winemakers try to touch on my taste but these are very niche winemakers. My education and background are different to Mr. Parker's. He has a French education, he loves Burgundy and Bordeaux. I am influenced by Spanish wine. I have tried every region.

What can the points system not convey about a wine?

The point system cannot communicate the idea behind the wine, the philosophy of the winemaker. What really worries me is that the mainstream consumer will just focus on the critic's point of view, beyond the style of winemaking, beyond their own criteria. The critic should help the average consumer to choose what he really wants. Like a guide.

Should Americans still consider Spanish wine a low-cost option?
Spain has many styles of wine and many types of wine. But, no, Spanish wines should no longer be considered to be in the competitive-price category.

That's too bad. Still, we managed to find a deal or two among the newcomers at the tasting. The 2007 A Coroa is made from an aromatic white grape called Godello. We'd definitely shell out $20 for a bottle of this floral, romantic wine. At around the same price, the 2005 Petit Grealó, a red blend aged in steel, had a brilliantly pure expression of black fruit. The spicy, mocha-nosed Marqués de Valdueza 2006 was impressive, but a little rich for our blood at $40 a pop. The light body and eucalyptus notes of the 2007 Stratvs Crianza made our heart beat fast, but is a tough sell at $50+.

The best deal in Spanish vino? Sherry. The fortified wine has made a major comeback in the last couple of years. A straw-colored off-dry Tio Pepe Manzanilla retails at 18 bucks and is the best-selling brand in the world, but managed to earn a hefty 93-point score from Peñín. Guess some of the critic's tastes are in line with those of common folk, after all. In this case, at least, the people have it right.

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