We admit it: We're suckers for a pretty face. When the high-design label and near psychedelic foil of the 2008 Carchelo from Spain's Bodegas Carchelo (about $10 to $12 at big-box stores and wine-savvy markets) jumped at us from a specialty grocer's shelf, we fell hard for it and had to have a taste. What's behind a come-hither look isn't always what we hope for, of course, but in this case the wine proved to be as seductive as its packaging.
The deep red, smoky, sultry Carchelo is a blend of monastrell (a.k.a., mourvedre; 40 percent), tempranillo (40 percent) and cabernet sauvignon from the winemaker's vineyards in the high, arid growing region near Jumilla. The grapes grown on these rocky soils tend to be intense.
The 2008 opens with a modest bouquet of black currant and warm spice that only hints at the powerful flavors that break over the tongue at first sip. Dark fruits are very much to the fore, but there's not a trace of sweetness to be found. Raspberry, cherry, a little cassis, more warm spice and a sheen of burnished leather combine with well-developed tannins to produce a velvety mouth feel with a muscular, no-nonsense edge. The finish, on which a note of bitter chocolate is introduced, is not especially long, but it is satisfying.
This assertive wine, which will benefit from opening a half-hour or so before pouring, would go nicely, mano a mano, with tapas heavy on the chorizo and smoked paprika.
By Colette and John Bancroft. She is the Times' book editor, and he is a freelance writer specializing in food, wine and travel.