Illustration by Sushrut Royyuru

Week 1: A red wine… from Alicante?

Source: Ben Owen

Tarima Monastrell Alicante 2019, Bodegas Volver , £7 as tested (Mix 6, inc. free delivery)

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.


I can sense your growing disbelief. When given a column for short, succinct, and reassuringly light-hearted reviews on the wines that will make a perfect accompaniment to the lockdown weekends, I dedicate my first piece to a variety quite literally nobody has heard of.

Even the viticultural experts at large would probably raise a perplexed eyebrow. For all its popularity amongst twenty-something Brits, Tarima’s region of origin barely – if at all – registers a blip on most major wine maps. The Monastrell grape is an important addition to many French wines under its better-known guise « Mouvèdre », but a rare choice in Spain where Tempranillos and Garnachas tend to dominate the reds. Whilst dramatic, the bottle design gives away very little in terms of what to actually expect from the liquid lurking within.

And if all this was not enough to raise suspicion, after a few glasses, even the label begins to resemble a Coronavirus pathogen.

A promising start, then.

But as I take yet another sip, those trifling details fade into irrelevance. If you, like me, are a fan of the deep, expressive, and well-balanced offerings from the Rhône valley, then Tarima is rare and strange for an entirely different reason. It is one of those very few blends I can recommend without hesitation.

Pour into a traditional wine glass, give it a mildly self-important swill, and you will be rewarded with an array of light floral notes plus the faintest hint of allspice. The sophistication continues when you resolve to taste it: the immediacy of raspberries and cranberries is followed by the full-bodied richness that one would expect from vineyards basked in so much Mediterranean sun. And as the sensory experience draws to a close, a lingering touch of fresh apricot primes your taste buds for the following sip. If there ever were a wine that yearns for the rooftop terrace of a holiday villa, its dark tannins and ruby hues melting into the faded afterglow of a foreign sunset, then Tarima would be the one. Combine with the big flavours of a Paella or other hearty meat dish, and even the seasoned wine drinker will struggle to repress the smirk of satisfaction pulling at the corners of their mouth.

Don’t take the word of a humble Oxford student, though. The leading Spanish critic Guía Peñín awarded the bottle an outstanding score of 90, so you can rest assured that you (and your hard-earnt money) are in very safe hands.

All this for a promotional price just shy of £7 a bottle?

Make the most of Alicante’s present-day obscurity. A wine with this character and quality should easily fetch twice as much – and even then, I would still be content to pay.

Ben Owen

A contributor to The Oxford Blue since its inception, Ben’s pieces explore topics as diverse as travel, literature, politics, and wine. His translation work has also helped foreign journalists share their ideas in the English language.