Every December, my wife and I join our friend Roberta for a holiday lunch, always at a San Francisco restaurant that's new to us. This year, we chose Zaré at Fly Trap, where chef Hoss Zaré has turned around a fading San Francisco landmark with the effusive flavors of his Persian cuisine.
Sommelier Chris Blanchard recently joined Zaré after working at Redd in Napa Valley, and has diligently put together a compact list of interesting wines, many of which are less than $50. Studying the list, I asked Roberta, "So, what do you want to drink? Red or white?" Looking over the menu, we saw lots of hearty stuff like grilled sardines, grilled baby octopus and calamari salad, braised duck legs with candied citrus and braised lamb shank with preserved lime and a Persian pickle potpourri called torshi. Our friend said she wanted a light red.
I spotted a couple of likely candidates, including a familiar WillaKenzie Pinot Noir from Oregon and a Mas Grand Plagniol Syrah from Costière de Nîmes from France. Just then Blanchard stopped by, and I explained our quest.
"Actually, I'd go with a young Spanish red," he said, and indicated Señorio de P. Peciña Joven Rioja Alta 2007, listed at $30. "I'm really liking this one. I can open a fresh bottle and bring you a taste." He set out one-ounce pours for all of us. I liked the wine immediately. Strawberry, cherry and licorice aromas jumped out of the glass. The silky, polished texture impressed me, as did the clarity of the flavors. It had none of the Kool-Aid character or prickle found in some Jovens (very young Rioja wines), and just a hint of leather at the edge. It fit the bill perfectly.
We drank it as an apéritif, with the seafood and the braises, and it kept its character intact through it all. It even got smoother and fruitier as the bottle diminished. Non-blind, I'd rate it 87 points.
The wine was new to me, and I couldn't find it in our database when I checked later. I learned that it's a blend of 95 percent Tempranillo, the rest Graciano and Garnacha, fermented and aged entirely in stainless steel, hence the rip-roaring fruit. I have had good luck with young, fresh styles of inexpensive Spanish reds—especially when you get good advice on them.