Here’s a challenge for all of you out there in internet land…try something new! ‘You’ll never know if you don’t try,’ is applicable here. I’m reminded of it myself when evening after evening I consume some of my favorite wines [brews, and ciders] from France & Italy…I know, France & Italy, as if anything matters outside of those two countries ;-)…& then I taste something that is either soo completely different or really good from neither of those two countries. It’s shocking actually how ‘settled’ we can become in our habits, particularly in what we consume.
When I stepped on the plane to Spain at the end of February, I thought to myself that I would much rather be flying to France or Italy (maybe the Piemonte again). While on the plane less than a week later, I wondered to myself, “When can I come back?” What happened? I was familiar with Spanish wines before through my tasting and studying of them, in fact I had even been to Spain before (Catalunya, although I was not there ona wine trip). The trip proved to me how good Spanish wines actually are. I came to understand that previously I didn’t really understand the wines of Spain, despite all my tastings of & studying of Spanish wines, as well as my previous visit.
Wine has personality, and the wines of Ribera del Duero, Cigales, Toro, and Bierzo (all the wine producing regions I went to) are full of their own unique personality. This is the direct result of those regions’ terroir. Yes, I’m using that word that us old-worlders love so much…terroir. The word invokes everything that is the result of one unique place (soil, climate, geopolitics, flora and fauna, and more) and while I won’t give you a full definition of what the word means, I can tell you that all those places are different. One shouldn’t expect these wines to taste the same. Stop thinking of Mr Parker with his gobs of jammy fruit, a mouth full of splinters from the overuse of oak, or suffering a massive headache the next morning because the wine you consumed the night before was basically a bottle of fortified wine…you get where I’m going, at least I hope you do. Overuse of fruit and oak make a wine unrecognizable, like someone who puts on way to much makeup (‘putting on the maquillage’ as Neil Rosenthal would say), robbing it of personality. One shouldn’t expect them to taste like other old-world wines (i.e. France, Italy, Germany, basically all of Europe) or like those of South America. Lastly, the wines of Spain differ greatly from each other and not all of them are made from Tempranillo or Garnacha, & even those that are express themselves differently. Why? Because of terroir! But terroir…sigh…is not all that matters!
Food! One should taste them with food. Seriously, folks, your wine before the meal should go with an appetizer (what we French call an ‘entree’) or an amuse bouche. The Italians do it all the time & so do the Spanish. Anytime I was served a glass in Spain it was also served with food. Food matters because the best wines are always made with food in mind. Remember that, wine is not a beverage! OK, I’ve stepped off of my soapbox and am taking a deep breath. Food, like wine, is also the result of culture (another variable that makes up ‘terroir’)
The wines of Catalunya (Priorat, Montsant, Penedes, etc…) are far different from those of the Duero River valley and those of Galicia because of culture. From Celtic Galicia to Mediterranean Catalunya, from ‘Moorish’ Andalusia to ‘Barren’ Castilla (whether Old or New), the cultures vary greatly and this matters…greatly! Ribera del Duero is in the heart of Old Castile, a place marked by the Reconquista & the home of Castilian Spanish, and this has a great impact on their culture. Bierzo shares more with neighboring Galicia, than with the rest of Castilla y Leon (the region which it is part of politically). Galicia professes a Celtic culture and the people speak a language akin to Portuguese. These people are attached to the sea, rather than their Castilian neighbors who are attached to their native Mesetas. In wine, culture matters (see my previous blog on the Piemonte if you need a reminder)!
I left having seen its vineyards, having spent time with its people, having consumed its food…having experienced its culture in full! I knew the wines of Spain before my trip, but I came to understand Spanish wine intimately during my trip. I understand, not everyone has the opportunity to just go to Spain, or wherever, but I challenge you to try something new and when you do try to look it at from a number of different angles. It’s good for you! Sante!