Kelly J. Hayes: WineInk
Aspen Times Weekly
I had a dream the other night about a place I have been but don’t really know.
Perhaps it was the sublime, slippery, paper thin slices of Jamon Iberico de Bellota (a Spanish ham) I had purchased and eaten earlier that afternoon. At $161 a pound, paper-thin was all I could afford. Or maybe it was the 2006 Palacios Petalos del Bierzo that I had consumed later that evening. At $16.99 it was as much a bargain as the ham was an indulgence. Whatever it was, I was haunted” no, consumed ” by images of Spain.
If you love wine, inevitably you want to travel to the places where wine is made. A trip to Bordeaux becomes a potential pilgrimage, a journey to Walla Walla tops the to-do list, a visit to Margaret River turns into a longed-for adventure.
For me, today’s wish list begins and ends with Spain.
I have been there a couple of times but have spent most of my time in the big cities of Madrid and Barcelona. Nowadays, the venture I have in mind is a road trip that would take me to all of the great winemaking regions of this rich and diverse land that is blessed with, as the saying goes, location, location, location.
Spain is paradoxically an “old world” wine country with a history of winemaking that goes back centuries, and a “new world” wine country, thanks to the quirks of modern history and the efforts of some of the most innovative young wine makers on the planet. Under the repressive regime of Francisco Franco, which lasted from 1939 until he died in 1975, the Spanish wine industry languished. But in the subsequent decades, it has flourished as the country has become the third leading producer of wine in the world. And it’s not just quantity, but the quality and breadth of the wines produced in Spain that make it perhaps the most exciting place for great wine today.
My ideal trip would start on the northeastern coast, just north of Barcelona, with a visit to Penedes region, home to the Torres family that began working in the local vineyards three centuries ago and today have a far-flung empire that includes a Sonoma County winery as well as a facility in Chile.
I would also go to the Jean Leon property. Leon, a Spaniard who emigrated to California, turned his success in a Beverly Hills restaurant called La Scala into a great wine bodega. Leon bravely planted French varietals like Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Chardonnay in the Catalonian region, where they had previously been untried.
I would next go to Rioja and take in the architecture and sample the wines of the modern bodegas (the word the Spanish use for wineries or places where wine is sold) that have been erected in recent years by the likes of Marquis de Riscal, who commissioned architect Frank Gehry to design one of the world’s most unique winery buildings. I would taste the Tempranillo wines that define the region.
From there the journey would be south to Ribera del Duero, home to the iconic Vega Sicilia where the wines, dominated by Tempranillo with Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Malbec, lie for months in oak to age as the world wine market waits. I would seek out the wines that Peter Sisseck, the Danish winemaker who produces Domino de Pingus, a highly prized biodynamic Tempranillo, as well as a second label called Flor de Pingus.
After heading down the Duero River to Toro I would set my sights on Bierzo, a relatively new region in the northwestern corner of Spain that has exploded in recent years as winemaker Alvaro Palacios, another superstar winemaker in the new Spain, has invested heavily in an indigenous grape called Mencia. These wines are some of the most interesting red wines that I have tasted recently.
If it were summer time I might just end my trip on the northern Atlantic Coast of Spain in Galicia, in a wine region called Rias Baixas (pronounced Re-ahs By-shahs) where the best wines are white. Here the Albarino grape, a thick-skinned, aromatic varietal is most widely planted and produced. After a hot summer’s journey though the heart of Spanish wine country, the sea breezes, the local seafood and shellfish, and a crisp glass of a slightly sparkling 2007 Martin Codax Albarino would be mighty refreshing.
After all, a fellow can dream.
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