Spanish Wine and more…

Spanish Wine

 

Spain is one of the top three producers of wine in the world…a wine giant.  Wine has always been integral to Spanish culture. Yet Spain is no doubt going through a wine crisis both economically and culturally.

Spanish wine has never been better and generally represents great quality for value, yet there is excess production and consumption in Spain itself is on the decline.

Wine is becoming fashionable in Spain, but this has not always been the case.  Though it’s an integral part of the traditional culture, there has been a tendency until recently to take it for granted.  The norm is to drink what’s local or what’s available, the wine you grew up with!  Curiosity about better wines and wines from other areas is a relatively new phenomena.  It’s an exciting time as many Spaniards are becoming more adventurous about their wine choices.

The flip side of this is that there has never been less interest in wine among young people as they turn more to other sources of alcohol.  Though Spaniards are drinking better quality wine, they are drinking less of it every year. Many worry that the idea of wine as an integral part of a Spanish meal is being lost as people turn to soda and other drinks.  Cultural programs are underway to introduce young people to wine as part of Spain cultural and gastronomic heritage.

The most well known wine areas, Rioja, Ribera de Duero, and Priorat, continue to offer some of the worlds top wines.  Prices have risen but there are still good values to be found.  Though each region has some common regional character, there is great diversity in wine styles within each region due to factors in terroir, grape variety and especially wine-making.

A really exciting change in Spanish wine in the last decade or so has been the rise of dozens of new regional stars, often offering tremendous value for money.  So many favorites:  Bierzo, Toro, Montsant, Valdeorras, Rueda, Madrid, Campo de Borja, Calatayud, Sierras de Malaga…and many more!  Not to mention the great wines being made outside the appellation category under the lesser Vino de la Tierra category, especially in Castilla Leon and La Mancha.  These well-priced wines can sometimes put appellation wines to shame.

One of the most dramatic changes in the last decades has been in the quality of the white wines in Spain.  The introduction of modern technology in the 80′s and 90′s converted flabby and often oxidized whites to fresh, attractive ones.  Spaniards are acustomed to fresh, aromativc whites with no oak aging adn this is still what you normally be served.

We are currently undergoing the second revolution in Spanish whites as top Spanish winemakers search out the best sites to produce grapes capable of making world class whites, with and without oak.  There have been many missteps and over-oaked, flabby wines can still result…but some quite outstanding whites have also been produced.  some of the most exciting wine projects in Spain right now are showcasing white wines.

Spain became first became famous for its’ traditional  red Riojas, wines that show Tempranillo at its most elegant.  The best ones offer elegant cherry fruit, fresh acidity, and a smooth, silky mouth with vanilla and tobacco aromas from long aging in older American oak barrels.  These are easy wines to drink, age beautifully and very food friendly.

These wines became unfashionable over the years and the new Riojas are very different, as are many of the modern reds from the other regions of Spain.  The new reds are higher in alcohol, bold in fruit and oak, intense wines.  The good ones are very attractive, show well, and suit many modern palates but can be exhausting to drink and are not always very food-friendly.

Though it looked for a while that the traditional Rioja styles’ led by the Gran Reserva category, would become extinct there has been a new resurgence in popularity among aficionados.

Another positive trend in diversity has been as some young enologists towards a different style of wine, a terroir wine, where wine-making is at pains to respect the character in the fruit.  The wines that result are very different than the above wines and vary greatly depending on the region and grape variety.

We mustn’t forget some of the other great Spanish wines categories:

Fresh, fruity, dry, cheap rosé wines and delightful cava,the good value sparkling wine alternative.

Undervalued, complex, surprising sherries, that come in 12 different styles and are wonderfully food friendly.

Though Spain is a hot, arid country it is also the European country with the highest mean altitude after Switzerland.  The potential for wine diversity is enormous….much of that potential remains to be exploited.

Despite it’s current troubles, Spain’s wine exports have performed better than its European neighbors during these crisis years.  If some of the problems facing the industry can be addressed, Spain’s wine future could be very rosy indeed.

For a more detailed look at Spanish wine check the Spanish Wine In Brief section.

 

Spanish Food

 

Led by Ferran Adria, Jose Andres, and many others, top level Spanish chefs have finally gained well-deserved recognition for Spanish gastronomy.

In the ten years I lived in Spain, the restaurant scene in Madrid changed dramatically, with a dynamic renewal of the best traditional cuisine and some fantastic innovation and fusion.

Madrid remains one of the best, most inexpensive places to get some great food and wine in Europe, but now there is so much more variety.

It still strikes me though, the gap between the public face of Spanish cuisine and the everyday reality in the average Spanish house or even the more basic restaurant.

Daily Spanish food is based on some pretty basic principles, like many cultures’ food.  But perhaps even more simple than many….take a fresh ingredient and cook it simply, preserving the natural flavor.

There are few herbs and even fewer spices.  Garlic, salt and parsley….spend a few years in Spain and you will crave chilies and rosemary and pepper!

One of the great Spanish techniques is the plancha, which is a healthy, delicious way to cook things. It allows the Spanish desire to highlight the ingredient with little or no embellishment.

Another great mainstay of the home cook is the Plato de cuchara or legume stew.  There are tons of regional variations and they are all delicious…most are variations on a theme of legumes and vegetables with some cut of cured pork for flavoring.

The salad in Spain is delicious, simple, flavorful, with not too many additions or variations. Always with a simple dressing of good olive oil, vinegar and salt.

All these things and more are delicious…but this is offset by a plainness and lack of variety at times at home and in the more basic restaurant establishments.  There are, of course, wonderful innovation both in some home and everyday restaurants,  But spicy, strong or exotic favors are still not widely appreciated, so it can be limited.  Sauces are viewed suspiciously as a way to hide inferior ingredients and are frowned upon!

Some regions are known for more complex cuisine than others, Catalonia and Basque country stand out, but at their heart, and in most households, they remain very simple.

My mother in law is a fantastic traditional basque cook.  Everything she makes is delicious, but there will never be a new dish or new flavors in in her repertoire.  A lot of repetition in the end.

My clients, after a long trip in Spain, often commented, how they loved the tapas/restaurant culture, but found it relatively boring after a while. It was only at the gastronomic “temples” did they find the innovation and excitement they craved

All this is changing as new gourmet sensibilities rapidly emerge in Spain, and there is so much to savor appreciate and preserve in traditional Spanish cuisine. When you are away from it and saturated with our excessive gastronomic variety, you crave that simple culinary perspective!

But it is interesting to realize that the food that Spain is gaining such renown for is not the food that is eaten or liked by most spaniards. You could say that to some extent about every country, but I found the gap much greater in Spain then either in France or in the US.

For more on Spanish food, stay tuned to my blog!

 

Spanish Wine and Food

 

 

The idea of matching is slowly coming of age in Spain but is not a part of traditional culture and is still largely limited to a few top restaurants, and some new concept eateries and bars.

There are still relatively few sommeliers in restaurants and restaurant staff are not generally knowledgeable about wine. The downside is that you are generally on your own and may even be wary of staff recommendations…the upside is that the markup of wine in restaurants in Spain is very reasonable.

The basic concept of matching in Spanish culture remains to drink a wine you like with some food you like…and that wine is usually red, preferably Rioja, no matter the food!

A few exceptions:

Albarino , the Galician white wine, is the one exception to the red rule and is frequently chosen to match with shellfish.

Rueda, another popular white, is frequently ordered with tapas, before a meal.

In the south, there is some appreciation of dry sherry as an aperitif wine with tapas

Times are changing and gourmet wine aficionados are springing up around Spain, as are restaurants and bars that cater to them.  But it takes a long time to change the basic culture…..

The big Spanish reds that have come to dominate the market can be a challenge to match with many everyday foods, but if you scratch the surface, you can find delightful food wines!  From the unoaked whites that still are the norm, through food-friendly sparkling wines and canvas, to the matching star family of wines that is sherry…a wealth of choices!  Even some reds are becoming more food friendly as new trends evolve and older traditional styles get renewed respect.