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Mas Blanch I Jove and the art of wine

August 23, 2014 4:05 pm - Posted by Tracy in Drink

The isolated DO of Costers del Segre is the most westerly of the Catalonian DOs. Here, a small handful of wineries cultivate a scant 300 hectares of vines where there are more olives grown than grapes. The area’s high elevation – higher than that of Priorat – means that the cooler climate forces growers to pick at the end of October with the harvest occasionally lasting until late November/early December, depending upon the year. Sometimes, there is snow on the ground by then.

Among the few wineries operating in the region is Mas Blanch I Jove. Although this husband and wife team both come from farming families, they initially chose to start an iron company in 1975, which proved to be quite successful. But, despite their financial success, the family led a simple life, remaining close to home, never going anywhere. Then, in 1984, the family won an all-expense paid trip to London that forever changed them; it opened up their eyes to travel. They starting traveling from that point forward and have been to China, India and Canada among other destinations.

Yet in spite of expanding their horizons geographically, they have returned to their farming heritage with the launch of the Mas Blanch I Jove winery in 2006. The 750 acre estate is given over to olives more than grapes, but the small production (35,000 bottles annually) has meant that the family can stay focused. Starting with pre-phylloxera, ungrafted vines found in the area, they were able to take the cuttings and propagate them on rootstock for use in their organic vineyard, which is primarily planted to indigenous varieties. However, Cabernet Sauvignon, which they do have, while not indigenous, has been planted in the area since 1920.

Their Saó portfolio of wines, which they explained is named for the word that means the optimum conditions in the soil, includes the Saó Blanc (a white blend of Macabeo and Garnacha), Saó Rosé (Syrah and Garnacha) and three reds – Petit Saó (Tempranillo, Garnacha and Cabernet Sauvignon), Saó Abrivat (also Tempranillo, Garnacha and Cabernet Sauvignon, but from older vines) and Saó Expressiu (Garnacha and Cabernet Sauvignon).

The family has also been able to merge their twin passions of wine and art. Since their iron business still continues to provide a generous income, they are able to use funds from the winery to support “starving artists.” Having noticed that artists make very little money in pursuit of their dreams, they commission local artists each year. Accordingly, a walk through their vineyard is almost like walking through a sculpture garden since various sculptures are scattered throughout the estate. This passion for art extends to the wine’s labels, which are not only beautiful on the front, but also include interesting quotes on the back.

While the parents continue to work daily in the iron business, it is their children that have taken the lead at the winery. Specifically, daughter Sara has chosen to pursue winemaking as her career and looks forward to building her future in the family winery.


Wine in China

July 5, 2014 8:29 pm - Posted by Jody in Drink

China is on every wine producer, distributor and lover’s mind. It has and will continue to change the world of wine. Frankly China wine will continue to be a huge story in the years to come and this is a region that the Editors of Wine Portfolio have long focused on. Why? Because we love opening up new consumers to the world of wine. And so we are proud to present this exhaustive report of wine in the Middle Kingdom.

Recent years have seen substantial growth in Chinese grape wine market. From 2001 to 2012, the grape wine output in China had shown an upward trend with the CAGR of 16.5%. However, the 18th CPC National Congress called on the restriction of spending by central government bodies on official overseas visits, official vehicles, and official hospitality, “six bans”, and alcohol prohibition in the military, leading to the slowdown of growth or even decline in China grape wine market. In 2013, the output and consumption of grape wine in China went down by 4.7% year-on-year and 13.7% year-on-year, respectively.

By region, the consumption in China grape wine market varies a lot in terms of development. For now, China’s southeast coastal regions, including Shanghai, Guangdong, Fujian and Zhejiang where are economically developed, have achieved provincial-level market scale valuing RMB1-3 billion, city-level market scale valuing RMB100 million, and county-level market scale valuing RMB10 million. However, in the north and the vast central and western regions, the grape wine consumption is still at a stage of market incubation, with the exception of such cities as Beijing and Chengdu.

Due to the restriction of weather and geographical conditions, the grape wine production in China demonstrates higher regional concentration. In China, there are just three provinces and municipalities seeing the annual grape wine output of 100 million liters or more. Among these, the largest grape wine producers come to Shandong (the Bohai Bay area) and Jilin (Tonghua), with the combined output in 2013 amounting to 712 million liters or 64% of the national total. In Shandong, Chardonnay, Carbernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Carignane are major grape wine varities. Also, planting bases of homegrown grape wine producers like CHANGYU, Great Wall and Dynasty are located in Shandong.

With China’s accession into the WTO, China’s import tariff on grape wine was reduced from 65% to 14%, bringing a large inrush of foreign wines into the Chinese market. In 2012, the wine import volume of China reported 394 million liters, equivalent to 2.4 folds of the figure in 2008. In 2013, the Ministry of Commerce launched anti-dumping and anti-subsidy investigations on made-in-EU wines. Together with the impact brought by the government call to restrict the spending by the central government bodies on official overseas visits, official vehicles, and official hospitality, China’s total import volume of grape wine witnessed a year-on-year decline of 4.5%. In 2013, China’s import volume of bottled wine accounted for 74% of the total, with France as the major import origin.

China grape wine industry is to enter into a stage for structural adjustment after 2013 (for instance, de-stocking targeting wine dealers, grape wine producers’ orientation to low-and medium-end market), in order to pop the market bubble for a comeback to the right track. It is estimated that the CAGR of grape wine consumption in China between 2013 and 2016 will post 9.7%.



There’s no place like Rhone

June 27, 2014 3:06 pm - Posted by Tracy in Drink, Learn

Situated in southern France, the Rhone Valley is among France’s most important wine regions, producing more quality (AOC) wine than any other with the exception of Bordeaux. Covering a large area (the region runs 125 miles long), the Rhone produces a wide range of wine styles from full-bodied, aromatic whites and deep-colored roses to powerful reds.

Among the best known appellations in the region is Chateauneuf-du-Pape, named for the Pope’s castle when the papacy was centered in Avignon. Producers of Chateauneuf-du-Pape are permitted to select from 13 different grape varieties, with the reds mostly focused on Grenache, Syrah, Mourvedre and, to a lesser extent, Cinsault. Although not as well known (since they account for only 5% of production within the AOC), the white Chateauneuf-du-Pape wines are also produced from a blend of varieties, notably Grenache Blanc and Clairette.

This diverse selection of grape varieties is partially attributed to Joseph Ducos, a local winegrower who was instrumental in replanting the area’s vineyards in the wake of phylloxera. Ducos was owner of Château La Nerthe, one of the region’s oldest estates (dating to the 12th century).

Situated within the heart of the Chateauneuf-du-Pape appellation, wine production at Château La Nerthe has been documented since 1560. Originally under the aegis of the Tulle de Villefranche family, Ducos purchased Chateau La Nerthe in 1870. Since 1985, the property has been owned by the Richard family and it is presently managed by Christian Voeux. The Chateau’s vineyards are 40 years old, on average, and have been certified as organic since 1998.

Chateau La Nerthe produces four wines: Chateauneuf-du-Pape Blanc, Chateauneuf-du-Pape Rouge, Clos de Beauvenir and Cuvée des Cadettes, the latter being a name first used by Joseph Ducos and revived in 1986.

Chateau La Nerthe Clos de Beauvenir Chateauneuf du Pape 2010, Rhone Valley, France, $130.00
A beautiful blend of Roussanne, Clairette (along with a bit of white Grenache and Bourboulenc), this small special cuvee is produced from a small (2.5 ha) single vineyard. Fermented in used barrels, with 8-9 months on the lees, the wine is dry with medium+ acidity and full body; aromas and flavors of waxy, peach, floral, musk, oak linger in the wine’s long length. Chateau La Nerthe has been certified organic since 1998. Previous vintages of this wine could easily age 10-12 years, but with a shift to fermenting a percentage of the wine in oak (in addition to aging it in oak), it is expected that the wine can age for 15 years.

Chateau La Nerthe Châteauneuf-du-Pape Rouge 2010, Rhone Valley, France, $48.00
With a majority of the blend given over to Grenache Noir, the wine is rounded out with Syrah, Mourvedre and Cinsault and aged in a combination of oak barrels, casks and wooden vats. The oak is well integrated on both the nose and palate, offering notes of vanilla, wood and spice, along with black cherry, smoke and leather. Beautiful and complex, this wine can certainly age for a decade or more.


Dessert Wine and Food Pairings from De Bortoli Winery

April 10, 2014 10:18 am - Posted by Jody in Drink

Delicious combinations fit for a luxurious hamper


De Bortoli Wines is a well known private wine company that’s been run by three generations of De Bortolis. It was first established in 1928 by Vittorio and Giuseppina De Bortoli, and then expanded by their son Deen. After his passing his children maintained the company’s premium status with their iconic Noble One dessert wines and prominent wines from Yarra Valley.

The core values of this family business involve “a culture of hard work, generosity of spirit and of sharing good food, good wine and good times with family and friends”. What better way to share great memories with loved ones than by gifting them with wine and dessert?

Below are just a few ideas on how to pair De Bortoli dessert wine with the most decadent desserts, resulting in hampers rich in sweet and tasty goodness.

Noble One Botrytis Semillon 2010

Desserts like stilton cheese, pear and almond tart, and a peach trifle can very well enhance the citrus and butterscotch flavors of Noble One. The wine could also be packaged with a pannetone since it also seems to be a recommended pairing; however it also appears to be an unpopular and also unforgiving dessert. It might be best to stick with the cheese or tarts.

The Hermits Hill Botrytis Semillon 2008

According to The Atlanta Wine Guy, Marks and Spencer’s wine expert Chris Murphy once said that when picking the right wine, “it’s certainly not about paying more money; it’s about a tangible difference in quality and discovering something new”. This budget friendly yet excellent tasting wine is best paired with fruit tarts, cream puffs, and blue cheeses. An assortment of desserts could really make the gift basket that much more luxurious.

De Bortoli Sauternes Botrytis Semillon 1983

From the family’s vintage collection, this wine has earned multiple awards from the early 1980s to the early 1990s. A truly remarkable wine, it boasts the essence of honey and marzipan. An orange soufflé packaged with this Sauternes would complete a gift basket with light and sweet flavors.




One Minute Wine – Bordeaux (Yes they do whites)

March 21, 2014 10:21 am - Posted by Jody in Drink
One Minute Wine: White Bordeaux (via Wall Street Journal Digital Network)

Bordeaux is more famous for its lush red wines but few realize that the region also produces dry, crisp, floral white wine. Wine columnist Will Lyons tracks down one of the top white wine producing estates and unearths their latest project.


Matua celebrates 40 years of New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc

March 11, 2014 5:17 pm - Posted by Tracy in Drink

Courtesty of Matua

Sure, New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc is hot right now; the NZ section in your neighborhood retailer is lousy with them and nearly anyone making wine in New Zealand these days has at least one in their line-up. But, despite its pre-eminence in today’s market, this grape variety has only been grown by the Kiwis for a few decades.

In fact, this popular grape owes a debt of gratitude to brothers Bill and Ross Spence for its Southern Hemisphere fame. The visionary duo first planted the variety in Auckland on the North Island in 1969 as a result of Ross’ studies at the University of Fresno, CA. Their first commercial production of Sauvignon Blanc was in 1974.

After studying viticulture from two separate hemispheric points of view – Ross in California and Bill at Massey University in New Zealand – the two brothers eventually established Matua Vineyard in 1973 in a tin shed on the North Island in West Auckland. From there, they went on to purchase land in Gisborne, Hawke’s Bay and Marlborough, eventually establishing their largest vineyard holdings in Marlborough.

While the first set of Sauvignon Blanc vines were susceptible to disease and didn’t prove to be agriculturally viable, the Spence brothers went on to identify better suited clones and eventually identified the best material from which to plant a larger Sauvignon Blanc vineyard in 1978. By then, Matua had developed a solid reputation for its Sauvignon Blanc and other wines, winning numerous awards and acclaim.

In 2000, the Matua company was sold to Beringer-Blass Wine Estates, but the brothers remain actively involved with the venture. While Nikolai St George became Senior Winemaker as a result of the sale, Bill took on the role of Ambassador and Vintrepreneur.

I had the wonderful opportunity to meet Bill at a recent press dinner held in New York. Tromping through snow piles and trying to maneuver around knee-deep, lake-size puddles at every street corner, I made my way to The Musket Room. Prior to the invitation, I had never heard of this restaurant, but I won’t soon forget its delicious New Zealand-inspired cuisine.

We started off with Matua’s signature Sauvignon Blanc, produced with a blend of fruit from the three valleys in Marlborough. As a result of this blending, the wine is very well balanced, with a good dose of fruit, herbs and minerality. At Bill’s recommendation, I had the foie gras appetizer, which was a lovely match for the lively acidity of the wine. The main course was accompanied by a Pinot Noir, also from Marlborough. The earthy aromas and flavors, coupled with beautiful red fruit, were a perfect complement to my venison.

Although Matua doesn’t produce a dessert-style wine, Bill graciously ordered the Vinoptima Late Harvest Gewurztraminer from Gisborne for us all to enjoy with dessert; a sweet ending to a lovely meal.

Describing them as “porch wines,” Spence encourages consumers to open these wines and enjoy them with whatever they wish to eat or simply on their own – no need to pontificate on aromas or flavors or worry about pairing principles.

Both wines, which are part of the Matua Regional Range, feature newly redesigned labels. With their vibrant turquoise blue backgrounds and a Maori symbol called a Ta Moko created especially for Matua, which means “head of the family” in the Maori language, the new labels speak equally to the heritage and future of Matua and its wines.


MMMM Malbec

March 3, 2014 3:12 pm - Posted by Jody in Drink
One-Minute Wine: Argentinian Malbec (via Wall Street Journal Digital Network)

Malbec is what Argentina does best. WSJ’s wine columnist Will Lyons explores the flavors of this soft, generous grape variety and reviews Achaval Ferrer which makes wine from some of the country’s oldest vines.


Beer is the Thing in Denmark

February 28, 2014 3:35 pm - Posted by Jody in Drink

Wine Moves Aside as Gourmet Beer Steals the Spotlight at Copenhagen’s Top Restaurants

By: The Culture-ist

mik bar Wine Moves Aside as Gourmet Beer Steals the Spotlight at Copenhagens Top Restaurants

Can a five-star meal be enjoyed just as well with a glass of beer as it can with wine? According to Danish contract brewery Mikkeller, a well-crafted beer is perfectly suited to upmarket dining

 By Jane Graham

Stig Mansfeldt and Mikkel Bjergsø of Danish brewery Mikkeller have a mission. They believe beer has great potential as an accompaniment to gourmet food and hope to change people’s perceptions of it as something to be swilled down as quickly as possible into something to be savored.

To illustrate this, Mikkeller has teamed up with a number of Copenhagen’s top restaurants to create a handful of exclusive, complimentary gourmet beers ““ including one for Noma, the Copenhagen restaurant voted world’s best restaurant for the third consecutive year at the 2012 San Pellegrinio Awards.

mikkeller founder mikkel bjergso 242x300 Wine Moves Aside as Gourmet Beer Steals the Spotlight at Copenhagens Top RestaurantsNoma Novel

“It never quite sat well with me that Noma, with its focus exclusively on Scandinavian produce, should compromise with French grapes,” Stig explains. Noma cooks were therefore invited to a tasting at Mikkeller’s bar in the vibrant Vesterbro district of Copenhagen, shortly after its opening in 2010.

One thing led to another, and Mikkeller’s Mikkel Bjergsø teamed up with a sommelier to create an exclusive Noma beer. They opted for a smooth, Belgian strong ale with a malty body and a hint of hops; unusual for this type of beer, but something of a Mikkeller trademark.

The beer, “˜Noma Novel’, is often served as an aperitif in a thin champagne glass.

Beer vs. Wine

With Copenhagen’s top gourmet restaurants considered as among the world’s best, they’re also known for being open to new ideas and innovation ““ and thus the perfect places to change perceptions of beer.

When Henrik Yde, owner of luxury Thai restaurant Kiin Kiin in Copenhagen’s Norrebro district, held the concept dinner, “˜Beer versus wine’, Mikkeller was asked to provide the beer. Guests were introduced to a glass of beer and wine with each course, and had to choose which they preferred.

“We actually won a few rounds,” recalls Stig.

“Yde then had to acknowledge that even in the world of gourmet food, where wine has always been king, there might be something about beer. Our “˜Kiin Kiin’ beer is a spiced pilsner that complements Asian food and is spiced with lemongrass.”

Qualities of greatness

One of Mikkel’s favorite restaurants is Mielcke & Hurtigkarl, in the Copenhagen suburb of Frederiksberg, and it was here that a partnership began based on Mikkel’s status as a restaurant regular.

“˜Mielke & Hurtigkarl’ is perhaps the most refined beer Mikkeller has produced to date, and like Noma Novel – a Belgian strong ale, but one that has been aged in barrels from one of the world’s finest wines, the French Sauterne Chateau d’Yquem. This brings hints of oak, fruitiness and both sweet and sour touches to the beer, comparable to great wines.

When asked what qualities are needed to make a Michelin star beer, Stig Mansfeldt turns the question around: “What does a wine possess to become a Michelin star wine? Reputation?”

28. Beer Geek Brunch Weasel 142x300 Wine Moves Aside as Gourmet Beer Steals the Spotlight at Copenhagens Top Restaurants

“The perception of beer in general has to change,” says Stig. “Most people don’t know there are other styles of beer than a boring lager, but when the reputation and knowledge of beers gets stronger, I can foresee some excellent beers in world class restaurants.”Stig’s top beers to enjoy with a meal

When it comes to starters, Stig favors a beer produced by spontaneous fermentation, an unusual process that gives the beer a distinctive flavor, and one used traditionally in Belgium.

“A hoppy pilsner, a guezue or a lambic can do very well with light dishes, starters and fish. Spontaneously fermented beers often have a refreshing sourness comparable to a good white wine.”

To follow, “I could always drink a full-bodied hoppy IPA with meat,” recommends Stig. “For desserts, I think a particularly heavy stout complements very well. For example, Mikkeller’s Beer Geek Brunch, an oatmeal coffee stout made with Vietnamese kopi luwak (an exotic type of coffee made from the bean droppings of wild weasels), is excellent with chocolate, cakes and cheese.”

About Jane Graham

British by birth, Jane Graham has travelled around much of Europe and some other places too. Settled in Denmark, she advises and writes for a number of travel guides and blogs regularly for NileGuide. More food enthusiast than foodie, she lives just outside Copenhagen with her partner and four children, freelancing as writer and translator.

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This article, Wine Moves Aside as Gourmet Beer Steals the Spotlight at Copenhagen’s Top Restaurants, is syndicated from The Cultureist and is posted here with permission.

Jody’s WTF E09:

February 26, 2014 7:43 pm - Posted by Jody in Behind The Scenes, Drink, Eat, Learn, Travel

Join us for more WTF every Wednesday at 7:30PM


Say Sí to Spanish Wines

February 24, 2014 9:29 am - Posted by Jody in Drink

Via The Cultureist. By: The Culture-ist

IMG 2933 1024x1000 Feature: Decanted and Decoded: Spanish Wine in a Nutshell

By: Shawn Moksvold

Inside a corner bar in the town of Aranjuez, 50 kilometers south of Madrid, Spain, there is often a round, stocky man with calloused hands and a deep laugh, standing next to his bald friend, a glass of wine held tightly in his hand.   He owns 1500 chickens, he tells us, and is the provider of most of the eggs in the restaurants and markets of this sparsely populated area. He forces us to sample the homemade tortilla made from the eggs of his superior hens.  It does seem to taste better, in the same way that pie tastes better after you’ve been told it was made with love and whole garden ingredients and the labor of a grandmother’s hands.  I nod in approval, and realize that I am talking to a walking anachronism, the antithesis of the faceless, standardized mass production of food in the 21st century. I suspect there is a wealth of local and practical knowledge behind his wrinkled face and blood-shot eyes.  I decide to pick his brain.

“We’re out here looking for some vineyards or wine cellars,” I ask. “Something that is characteristic of the area, you know, to take some photos and…”

“No idea,” he says.  ”What do you think of the tortilla? My eggs are in them.”

His bald friend overhears our conversation, offers his help, and gets out his cell phone. While he talks, he holds up an index finger, a signal for us to wait for some great news. After a short conversation, he hangs up the phone and scribbles an address and phone number on a napkin.

“Speak to this man,” he says, pointing to the napkin. “Tell him you talked to me.”

We recognize that he is proud of his insider information, and we suspect this special invitation isn’t entirely necessary, but we are grateful nonetheless and thank him, stuffing down the rest of the tortilla made of those fresh eggs from happy chickens.

We continue to drive south, deeper into the arid countryside, and arrive in La Guardia, a sad, little town that is the kind of place that people move to the big city to get away from, especially in hard financial times.  Strangely, there are bustling groups of people on the move, cars and pedestrians, but the life of the town seems to have been drained, recently and ruthlessly.  Between the windblown poplar trees, there are broken windows and abandoned warehouses, construction projects that ran out of money, and a closed car dealership sprayed with bad graffiti. Everywhere there are subtle reminders of the economic crisis that has been a shot in the gut to Spain’s financial health.

But somewhere there is wine.

IMG 3099 222x300 Feature: Decanted and Decoded: Spanish Wine in a Nutshell

It is a daunting task to grasp the complexity of Spanish wine as a whole.  In fact, to the casual wine drinker, the sheer variety of grape-derived alcohol available at a simple Spanish cafe is just plain intimidating.  But everyone has a particular taste, and with a rudimentary bag of background knowledge, open-mindedness, and a healthy attitude of cultural exploration, there is a rich, deeply engrained part of the Spanish soul waiting to be discovered.  And as my pendulum of taste swings between pretentious wine snob and simple barfly, I have found the Iberian Peninsula an apt locale to develop my viticultural interests. In general, wine has served me well most often as a complement to food and a catalyst for conversation, but also as a medical relaxant, a surrogate girlfriend, and at times, a simple vice.Anyone who rubs shoulders with the Spanish, late into the night, whether in Madrid or elsewhere, undoubtedly will have heard certain terms thrown around by their Spanish friends with the confidence of a Sotheby’s auctioneer selling a Fabergé egg. Tempranillo, rosado, albariño, semi-dulce, crianza, reserva, roble or rioja. And then there’s joven, brut, verdejo and cava. Having a glass of wine is a particular pleasure in Spain, and the Spanish take it seriously. Sometimes the local resident will know the ins and outs of what they are saying, what they are drinking, and other times they won’t. But they always seem to create a sense of curiosity in the mind of the outsider. They somehow expertly allude to the complexity and quality of their wine, without being provincial or snobbish about it. For good reason, they are proud but modest, in my opinion often too modest. But don’t be mistaken, if given the opportunity, a Spaniard will overload you with more than you would ever want to know about wine, whether it be accurate information or not.

After driving through the dusty roundabouts in La Guardia, we find a pretty line of trees that leads to The Martúe Winery House, a vineyard set amidst sparse and practical landscaping and the familiar rows of grapevines on rich, red soil.  Soon we are talking wine with Pablo Ranilla Rodríguez, the agricultural director, and he leads us on an impromptu tour of the facilities.

“The hardest part of the whole process,” he says, “is not working the machines or the monitoring the delicate aging, or the bottling and shipping. It’s not even the marketing. We always struggle to get the right grape. And it’s different every year.”

It is not difficult to see, here in the arid terrain of Castilla-La Mancha, that weather can be both an adversary and a savior, a harsh, unpredictable natural force that is out of the control of human hands. Fluctuations in precipitation, temperature, and the duration of seasons all have a direct influence on what pours out of the bottle and onto your dinner table or street side bar. I suspect the “right grape” carries with it connotations of complexity that I may never understand, so I’ll leave the technicalities to the experts.

In general, as with other wines throughout the world, probably the most important distinction between one Spanish wine and another should not be drawn from price, but from the region in which it grew up. The Denominación de Origen (DO) system is a classification ensuring the quality of wines that are made in Spain; it is governed by the Instituto de Denominaciones de Origen (INDO), under the umbrella of the Spanish Ministry of Agriculture.  Cured hams like jamón Iberico, cheeses and olive oil often use the same system of quality guarantee in Spain. There is another, more exclusive classification called Denominación de Origen Calificada (DOC), although there are, for now, only a few wines that enjoy this status. Wines that do not fall under either of these designations are called vinos de la tierra (or table wine). As the purposefully generic label suggests, they are of lesser quality and price, but consumed by many a happy drinker, including me. The denomination of origin is printed on the label of every bottle of wine you see at the store, and it is a logical place to start when looking for a wine to suit your taste.

IMG 2588 223x300 Feature: Decanted and Decoded: Spanish Wine in a Nutshell

In Spain, geographical regions have distinct landscapes and weather, which produce a variety of tastes and styles. The range of terrain in the Iberian Peninsula is truly impressive. In the northwest, the rocky and green, rain-soaked coasts and rivers of Galicia and Asturias produce great white wines (D.O. Rias Baixas and Rueda) that complement the famous seafood that comes from there. In the semi-arid, mountainous northern interior, where there are hot, dry summers and bitter winters, you will find some of the best wines in the world, most notably the dry reds, with their wonderful tannic characteristics (Rioja, Ribera del Duero, and Navarra). Down in the dry south, near Cadiz, the long-respected Sherries are born (Jérez and Manzanilla). In the southern interior there are more wonderful dry red wines that are growing in popularity (Valdepeñas). And in the northeast region, in Catalonia, there are the famous sparkling wines, which are popular in the United States, and also reds and whites that rival any in Europe (Cava, Penedés, Priorat). Even in the outlying islands of Spain, in the Canaries and the Balerics, there are ten distinct regions of wine production. Overall, the Spanish Department of Agriculture has designated 67 denominations of origin, which means that there are almost 70 areas, listed by law, where wine is produced in accordance to provincial restrictions.  But since the 1960′s the most popular and consistent wine-producing regions in Spain have been Rioja, Penedés, Valdepeñas and Rueda. Ribera del Duero is a particular example of a wine that has gained new respect mostly due to recent investment in experienced wine makers and innovative aging techniques. Look for one of these regions on your next bottle of Spanish wine, and you’ll be heading in the right direction.There are also some basic terms that are applicable to almost any wine in Spain, whether they are red or white. These tell of the age of a bottle of wine and carry clear implications of the manner in which it was produced.

Joven is a humble, non-challenging label, and it means “young” and typically describes a wine that is best suited for immediate consumption. Historically, of course, wine has been meant to sit for long periods of time in wooden barrels, aging and developing complexity and character. These wines don’t get the chance to grow old. They are simple and perfect to share with that date you are not quite ready to impress. They are usually economically priced, and easy to drink for the novice. Given the qualifications I’ve just listed, it should be said that I’ve consumed a lot of this kind of wine.

Crianza is a term that describes a wine that has adhered more closely to standards of quality processing. It has been aged in those oaken barrels everyone knows about, but still has spent most of its time in the bottle.

Reserva tells us that the wine has been aged in oaken barrels for at least a year, and another year or more having been spent in the bottle. Now is when we can start talking about pairing it with foods without sounding completely pretentious. It has characteristics and particular flavors, perhaps those that only a sommelier would be able to express in words, or care about, but those that are there nonetheless.

Gran Reserva is naturally the next step in quality. These wines have been aged for at least five years, two years of which are spent in oak barrels, and at least three years in the bottle. Although these wines are supposed to be the height of quality in Spanish wines, there is a chance that you will find them too harsh, and with a very “oaky” taste (I actually prefer this woody, oaky taste in wine, but then I also sometimes inexplicably ate dirt when I was a child).

Roble literally means “oak” in Spanish. Wood from oak trees has been used to make wine barrels for hundreds of years all over the world. In Spain, this term is often displayed on the wine bottle to accentuate or highlight the use of these oaken barrels in their aging. Most often, roble will indicate a young wine that has spent at least some time in an oak barrel, and it is often confusingly mentioned as a way to differentiate it from Rioja (Rioja obviously having been aged in oak as well), the latter usually being of higher quality.  Ironically, if the oak in the barrel is new, without the soaked-in wine of an experienced barrel, the wine can have an overpowering, artificial woody taste, like some sort of flavor additive.

Consistent with the characteristics of wine in general, patience and maturity are essential.  Some wine makers actually add oak wood chips in the later stages of their wine processing to give it the initial impression of quality and proper aging, which reminds me of what fast food corporations have done to the American diet.  It is fake and contrived. In the spirit of remaining slander-free, these wines will remain unmentioned.

IMG 3096 300x224 Feature: Decanted and Decoded: Spanish Wine in a Nutshell

Pablo leads us downstairs to a dimly lit place where the oak barrels are kept.  The temperature drops a few degrees and there is a wonderful smell of wine-soaked wood and fermenting fruit sugars.  The place is impeccable and clean, the concrete floors are swept and perfectly placed barrels are lined up with particular attention to order, a simple clipboard hanging from each different group.  To me, this is the stage of wine making that leaves the strongest impression. It is where fruit and wood work together over time not to putrefy or degrade, but to age and mature into a consumable part of culture much more relevant to the soul than any TV show or electronic gadget. In the corner of the cellar there is a table with a white cloth over it, a giant candle at the center, and several bottles of wine stashed on shelves nearby.  The area looks used and experienced, like an old worn chair.“This is where we, shall we say, try the wine,” Pablo says, with a smile.  It seems a perfect scene for an intimate party, surrounded by a few hundred oak barrels and seven or eight close friends.  I shudder to think of the damage I could do at this table.  He explains to us that each of the different lines of barrels in the room contains wine of different qualities, vintages and grape species.  I’m surprised to learn of the variety that Martúe produces. Included are standards like Tempranillo, but also those not particularly known as Spanish grapes: Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Malbec, and Chardonnay.  I am getting very thirsty.

Naturally, implications of age are an advantage for wine. Terms like viejo and añejo bring to mind concepts like wisdom, age and maturity, and they look good on a label. But I suspect that often these are merely words that act as marketing tools, technically only a concise statement that the wine is at least three years old, aged for varying periods of time in either a bottle or barrel. Fino is a word commonly found on labels of bottles. It may create the impression of exclusivity and quality, but is only a is a term used to describe a specific kind of sherry in which the yeast is left to ferment freely on the surface of the wine, creating a delicious, and particular taste.

It is important to understand the difference between the type of grape a wine uses and the particular manner in which a wine is produced. Pablo explains to us that Martúe Bodegas utilize many different types of grape to produce their impressive range of wines. At this point, his passion for the business begins to overtake his initial attempt to remain within the limits of the layman, and he launches into an informative lecture on viticulture, undoubtedly difficult for me to follow in English, much less in his esoteric Spanish. Standing in the dark cellar, amidst oak barrels, I listen and try to absorb as much as I can, knowing that most of what he is saying is probably very important.

Perhaps the most well known type of grape used in Spanish wine making is Tempranillo, but there are others, like Albariño, GracianoGarnachaMazuelo, and Verdejo. Colloquially, a particular wine is often known for what makes it special. This is often a source of confusion.  When ordered at a restaurant or at a bar, some wines go by the type of grape itself (Albariño, Tempranillo) others use the region in which they were made (Ribera, Rioja or Cava).  Still others are mentioned according to the method of aging (Roble). So it is possible to be asked, in the hum of a crowded Madrid bar, if you’d like either a Roble or Rioja, and the hurried bar tender probably won’t have the time or inclination to explain to you the difference or why they aren’t really relatedBut as any observant traveler knows, local customs, labels and jargon often do not follow logic or reason, but rather find the easiest path to common use.  In other words, you’ve just got to roll with it.

The season is over at the Martúe Winery, or at least the harvesting. Today, there are now only two or three workers, in overalls and rubber boots, spraying down equipment and writing down figures on clipboards.  The wine sits in barrels, bottles and boxes, in various stages of development.  Now, the bottles that are ready to be sent away are stacked on palates.  I am curious where it’s all going and I ask Pablo to whom he sells his wine.

“Thirty percent of our wine is sold overseas,” Pablo says.  He looks at me with the eyes of a salesman about to launch into a pitch.  ”We’d love to break into the California market, give Napa some competition.” I smile, aware that I am in one of those strange, passing moments that a foreigner has when a there is a clarification of one’s own identity. It can only happen in an unfamiliar place, when someone looks at you and suddenly you are a manifestation of your home culture, as if momentarily a microcosm of another world.  I am a representation, a projection of where I come from.  This is why I travel.  When Pablo seems to associate me, strangely, with wine making in California, I remain silent and nod my head in a pathetic display of posturing.

There is much to be learned about wine in many settings, and here I have taken a mere cursory look at a complex and important part of Spanish lifestyle. Seeing a small vineyard first-hand has brought the whole process to life, more than in any book, magazine or documentary. And in the recent economic recession that seems to have enveloped all of Europe, Spain has suffered tremendously. But this country has at least one economic muscle that simply needs to be flexed. In the business of making and selling wine there seems to be a sleeping giant in Spain, whether on the Meseta plateau or near the green coast of Galicia, and it is one of pride and immense potential.  And as I find myself digging deeper into the culture of food and drink in this country, I suspect I have a lot of work to do, as does Spain itself.

Special thanks to Pablo at Bodegas Martúe for taking the time out of his day to show us around and open up the world of wine making to us. For more information on Bodegas Martúe La Guardia S.A., visit: or

Photos by: Shawn Moksvold

shawn1 Feature: Decanted and Decoded: Spanish Wine in a NutshellAbout the Writer:

Shawn Moksvold is a freelance writer with particular interests in travel, food and wine, and Spanish culture.  He graduated with a BA in Creative Writing and Linguistics at Northern Arizona University, and currently teaches English to elementary school children. He writes for his blog, A Casual Notebook, and currently lives in Madrid, Spain.

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This article, Feature: Decanted and Decoded: Spanish Wine in a Nutshell, is syndicated from The Cultureist and is posted here with permission.