The Iberian Mainland

Spain: 21 November – 29 November 2010

Continuing with the help of Catavino, the Iberian Peninsula experts, we entered the realm of the most widely planted wine producing nation in the world: Spain. Though low yields and wide spacing rows for dry-climate vine survival results in Spain being the 3rd largest producer of wine in the world from its vineyards. Sounds like quality production to us, or as the Spanish say, ‘elaboration’ (‘production’ sounds quite unromantic to the Spanish when talking about their wine, so the use of the word elaboration is as important as Tapas are when entertaining thoughts ‘enologico!’).

Gabriella Opaz from Catavino set us up once more with a team uncovering for us four of the most interesting wine regions of the country. Starting in Jerez in the south we discovered the home of the fortified wine ‘Sherry.’ Continuing on eastward bound we explored two wine regions in Catalonia. We started off with the help of Nico James (from nicojames.es), an upbeat wineblogger and wine importer who knows everything about his nearby Penedès, and the Sparkling Cavas they have grown world famous for! We then continued to Priorat, or the ‘Parker Points Promised Land,’ as we like to call it, for we never seemed to see such a concentrated aggregate of high-scoring, chart-rocking wineries as here. We were guided by Rachel Ritchie (from rachelritchie.com), an English Priorat guide whose second nature is history and languages. Having lived there many years with her husband Gerard (who also helped us immensely and shared with us the just-as-important olive-oil elaboration of the region), she knew the Priorat like the back of her hand, and we must advise everyone worldwide to discover this pristine gem of a wine-land with Rachel, just read more below! Moving North we then came to our last stop elaborating arguably the most famous wine of Spain: Rioja. With the help of Virginia Borges from Exquisiteando.com which offers a new style of wine tours, we discovered what ‘La Rioja’ was all about. We were lucky to discover Rioja through her, as she shared with us her love of Riojan wine and culture, her curious mind offering her unique Rioja experience, with clear passion passion passion!

As we rounded off our visits of the regions of Spain we began understanding just what it was Gabriella and her husband Ryan had worked so hard with Catavino to have people see. They came to Spain finding the most incredible and diverse wines in the world, but couldn’t seem to find the resources to educate themselves on it. With Catavino they created a comprehensive, educational website on Spanish and Portuguese wines, food, culture, and travel. Our trip had the benefit of their back road experience, and we were able to discover some of the best and most delicious wines to showcase for our charity auction! Thank you! And as the auction moves forward, we are happy to say that a fifth wine region of Spain will be shared, the Somontano!

Jerez…

Jerez is the home of Sherry, that world famous fortified wine. Made predominantly from the Palomino grape, the wine is left to age in barrel in the presence of a native yeast known as ‘flor,’ causing a distinct taste of Sherry. Aging for 10, 20, 30, 40, years and beyond, older Sherries can attain a distinct nut flavor with highlights of caramel, which has made the drink so popular!

Gonzalez Byass: Started in 1845 by two families and now in the 5th generation, the winery is a small town in-of-itself, complete with a cooperage, distillation facility, vineyard blocks and beautiful Spanish avenues. Sherry’s have a bit different winemaking process than normal wine, with older barrels being the best. Gonzalez Byass happens to have some over 300 years old! The icon of the winery is ‘TioPepe,’ which the world has grown to see as a symbol of Sherry. Making many other wines though we are happy to have one of their most special, the ‘Noe,’ a 40 year old Sherry made from Pedro Ximener grapes!

Penedèz (also known as the ‘Cavas’)…

Named after the underground cellars where the wines undergo a second fermentation in bottle, ‘Cavas’ are made with the same traditional method as Champagne from France, and in fact, used to be known as ‘Champaña.’ The primary grapes used are the white grapes of Macabeo, Parellada and Xarel•lo, and with the warm climate of the region, the sparkling wines are characterized as being less acidic and more fruity than Champagne, ready to be enjoyed at a younger age. Though the word ‘Cava’ can be used by several other regions in Spain to denote their sparkling wines, about 95% of Cavas come from Catalonia, with the largest producers housed there!

Freixenet: Founded in 1920 and now in its 3rd generation of the family, Freixenet has become one of the most widely known Cavas worldwide, accounting for 80% of Spain’s Cavas export! They are one step ahead of the rest by growing and sustaining their own yeast cultures, ensuring the same quality in each bottle! While visiting we noticed a tour of children also viewing part of the winery, a school outing of little Catalans learning about their heritage and culture! We had a great tour ourselves and were left with a wonderful feeling and newfound understanding and appreciation of Cavas! Thank you!

Raventos I Blanc: Founded in 1986, Raventos I Blanc has gained renown as a quality Cava producer, with great vineyards! Pictured above are such vineyards, as old as they are thick, and we had a great tour from the winemaker. Here we learned that aging the wine longer with the yeast in the bottle results in smoother taste and smaller bubbles!

Juvey Camps: Started in 1796 Juvey Camps has been a long standing wine ‘elaborator’ of Spain! With the corks of the Cavas sealed with a special clamp giving a signature bottle top look, their bottles are not mistakable! As you can see we had a great tasting!

Priorat…

Priorat sits snugly alongside Rioja as one of the only two wine regions of Spain qualifying for the DOCa, the highest level from a wine region according to Spanish wine regulations. Geographically though, the two are quite distinct. Priorat is characterized by its slate rock soils, with slate rock slabs often used as vine row ends to hold up the trellising! It also doesn’t support much water accumulation, with vine roots having to search quite deep for water, nutrition, and minerals. This helps though in anchoring the plants during the strong winds and storms which are common in the area. The ‘Clos’-led quality revolution of the 1990s in Priorat, focusing on much smaller wineries with very high quality, has resulted in an expansion of vineyard surface and a world-famous notoriety. All older vineyards though are made of Garnacha Tinta (AKA Grenache), the traditional grape growing varietal of the region, with newer varieties including Garnacha Peluda, Cariñena, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Syrah. Yields are low, quality high, and it’s become a Catalan wine niche force to be reckoned with!

Clos Figueres: Pictured above with winemaker Jaume Pujol Boixens and Eduard, the son of Rachel Ritchie from Priorat Wine Guides. The winery’s vines were planted on a region previously unused, ensuring a un-spoilt wine!

Mas Roig: We had a great tour with Inka, who took us around the cooperative winery. Made by a group of dedicated growers who united together, the facilities also deal with nuts grown in the region, and olive oil, creating an all-in-one Catalan culture hub!

Venus la Universal: We are pictured above with Rene on their beautiful property, who with his wife also own and operate Mas Martinet winery (see below). Together, the couple are known for their experimental spirit, and true belief and passion for their wines!

Nit de Nin: Pictured above with the master-mind of Nit-de-Nin winery, which is a small Biodynamic practice started in 2003, which produces only 1200 bottles! This winery also happed to win some of the most prestigious awards (including 100 points from Robert Parker), clearly things only possible with the tender-love-and-care given to small quantity production!

Cellar Burgos Porta: Organic certified, come here to find what true belief is for the preservation of the Natural. Mr. Burgos (pictured above) was born in the area and always pushed the region towards greener agriculture. His newest vine plantings are to be cultivated with horses! Even while starting his business he went to the Triodos Bank for a loan, because of their sustainable practices! A great winery with great passion, all reflected in every drop, this is the quintessential of what a passionate, small winery is all about!

Capafons-Osso: A Father-and-Son business, who also believes in organic practice and natural wine tastes. Climb up to their hill-top vineyards and you will find natural wild Asparagus, Vanilla, Thyme, and Rosemary growing everywhere, aromas the team claim are imparted in the wine, adding to their unique terroir!

Vinyes Dominich: We joined owner Juan right after his winemaker and he were blending their wines. We had the great fortune of tasting the many blends they had created, looking for the best one! Garnache from three different vineyards and Carinira, the outcome will be fantastic. Started in 2002, the vineyards are also organically managed!

Mas Martinet: Started in 2000, they have been organic since the start, claiming that ‘even bugs, birds, and bees fall in love.’ To ensure native yeasts start the fermenting, half barrels are placed in the vineyard when the time is right to start. Pictured above is the fantastic view of 600m high vineyards overlooking the Priorat region!

Rioja…

Perhaps one of the most famous wine regions in the world, the Rioja wine district encompasses the regions of Rioja, with parts of Basque, Navarre, and Álva. The wines are characterized by a distinct effect of oak aging, infusing the wines with soft vanilla flavors. Most wines are required to stay 2 years in barrel, ensuring wines labeled Riojan will have this similar characteristic. The wines are also aged in bottle several years before release, between 4 to 8 years, to ensure a proper harmonizing of the components of the wine. In the past, it was even common to age for 15 to 20 years before releasing! The most common grape grown is Tempranillo, perhaps the symbolic grape varietal of Spain, and international tourism is starting to rise, though still 80% is Spanish. Our Guides Exquisideando worked to prepare the wineries for international visitors, and to increase the welcome of those from abroad!

Muga: Started in 1932, a cooper on-sight produces 70% of their barrels! They are currently experimenting with Russian, Hungarian, and Armenian oaks! Of Spain’s 8 most famous barrel makers, one is working for Muga, ensuring that the perhaps most critical component of a Riojan wine, the barrel, is carefully looked after!

Heredad Ugarte: Here we saw what wine tourism could be in the Rioja, with a restaurant and view-catching hotel suite available at the winery. Also focused on quality, their wine is made by fermenting the grape whole, without crushing!

Marques de Vargas: Started in 1989, Marques de Vargas now owns three different wineries. They ‘elaborate’ a wine made completely of Russian oak, and with surveys of the same wine aged in Russian vs American/French oak, they found that women seemed to prefer the Russian oak aged wines! They also make their wine without filters, which they believe keeps wines healthy properties there.

Dinastia Vivanco: We met here with the most friendly and entertaining Rioja PR personality, Robert, pictured above. The winery itself houses a large and one of the most complete museums of winemaking which we have ever seen, dedicated to spreading the knowledge of winemaking. It’s even Unesco awarded as the best wine museum of the world! On the premises you can also find ‘Baccus’s Garden, harboring 222 varietals from around the world!

Roda: We met with winemaker Bega, and had a fantastic tour. Founded in 1987, the winery has been producing top wines of Rioja, thanks to a team including three women winemakers. A great photo exhibition awaits the visitor who comes to Roda!

Cune: Pictured above with Beatrice, Cune winery was founded in 1878 and is now in the 5th generation of the family! We had a great tour and tasting and are very grateful for the fantastic donation!

Somontano…

Somontano translates from Latin to ‘beneath the mountain,’ which might perfectly describe the geographical area these wines come from, nestled in the foothills of the Pyrenees mountains which separate Spain from France. We were contacted by Irius winery after our trip and unfortunately were unable to visit the region, but Irius kindly offered a magnificent donation of wines ranking top in many wine guides. Irius itself is a special winery knowing that good wines come from a good start, and have focused on the vines quality, with low yields, tall trellises, larger foliating surfaces of the leaves, and nighttime harvests in line with their philosophies! We owe many thanks to Somontano for their generous contribution and enthusiasm for the project!

Thanks!

~Anja and Georges

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