Monday, May 31, 2010

A Dose of Anecdotal Realism for your Memorial Day

I'm going to go way off topic here, at least for this blog. It's not off topic given the holiday.

I just finished up a facebook chat with my friend who's doing a tour in Iraq. He sounds ok. Just OK. As in he is coping with his situation but he is not well. Yes, he chose to serve, knowing full well that there was a strong possibility he would end up in Iraq. Either way, it does not change the fact that the situation sucks. It sucks that we invaded Iraq for no good reason other than some good old-fashioned regime change. It sucks that we are still there. It sucks that we continue to send men and women to places such as Iraq and Afghanistan in the name of democracy and freedom. And, as it relates to one of my best friends, it sucks that he is not stationed somewhere nicer like, I don't know, a base in Germany, perhaps.

So while it is traditional to remember the contribution of soldiers in wars and conflicts in our country's storied past, I'd like to propose a different type of observance. Talk to someone on active duty in the service. Learn about their routine, how their lives change during their time of service as well as how they will likely change afterwards. Then be grateful that there are people who choose to serve their country, regardless of whether or not you agree with that position or the military position taken by your government. Because you know that, along with 99.5% of the populace, there is no way you would join the armed forces.

I hope that everyone is enjoying their burgers and hot dogs today somewhere warm and sunny, but not too hot.

Back to regular programming tomorrow.

Monday, May 24, 2010

JO GO TO SPAIN - Part 4.3 - Laureano Serre's vineyards

One last thing about the visit casa Laureano Serres. During the last post I did not get into his various vineyards for a reason. If you look at the sketch above, it's all spelled out for you. His friend Joan and I were joking and busting his chops a bit when he pulled this out, "Que profesional!" But the truth is, though, this sketch is far more interesting and to the point, far more indicative of someone who is involved in his winemaking on all levels, than any glossy catalogue someone could pay to produce. Better for the environment, as well.


Laureano Serres, Joan Ramon Escoda and I tasted/drank 25 wines. No we did not empty 25 bottles. Yes, we did drink on occasion and did not spit every time we tasted.

Tasting a new wine (well, an interesting and tasty new wine) can be exciting. A producer line-up of largely unfamiliar wines is both exciting and a thorough education - not to mention a terrific introduction to a vineyard(s), to a certain facet of a grape varietal, perhaps to a winemaking philosophy, and of course to the winemaker overseeing the whole process. That fateful Saturday evening in Pinell de Brai served as an introduction to Laureano Serre's Mendall winery, to Joan Ramon Escoda's Celler Escoda Sanahuja and on the whole to the Spanish natural wine community.

Though I wish I had a transcript of the tasting, which was conducted primarily in castellano, with some interjections in catalan and even a smattering of english, all I have is my notes, which may be lacking in detail or accuracy; I encourage anyone who is more familiar with these wines than I am to comment and share your thoughts or feel free to correct any errors in factual information here. Sometimes, when a whole new world is introduced to you in short order, impressions are not fully recorded, facts may not always be 100% straight.

2008 Mendall Vinyes Arrancades

Peculiar wine from unusual circumstances. Mildew was rampant in Laureano's prized 100 year old macabeu vineyard. He chose not to treat it. As a result, the maturation process lasted a long time. Many leaves fell off. Finally, by late October, the grapes were picked and produced this orange-ish colored wine. Intense, mineral, funky, natty aromas and an exotic flavor profile that suggest an orange wine though there was no extended skin maceration whatsoever. A unique wine for sure.

2007 Mendall Vinyes Arrancades

Has 10% garnatxa blanca. This was done in a flor style. As Laureano did not top off his tanks, a flor somehow developed and he went with it. Just like with the mildew in the aforementioned Arrancades (sensing a theme here, yet?) Delicious wine, slightly salty and like a sous voile savagnin with more fruitiness due to the different varietal and mediterranean climate.

2006 Mendall Vinyes Arrencades

This one has a little garnatxa blanca as well as colombard. Though less expressive on the nose, it has more acid on the palate. Less mouth coating and more linear. Good.

2005 Mendall Garnatxa Blanca

If I recall correctly this wine was opened nearly a week ago? Laureano said that initially it showed very oxidatively and then dramatically opened and freshened up. There was indeed great acidity and freshness on this wine.

2005 Mendall 5 anys i 1 dia

This wine was in stainless steel tanks for five years. Untouched. 11 mg total sulphur, 11.2% alcohol, garnatxa and macabeu. Winemaking on the fringe? Yes, perhaps, but a whole lot more interesting than a bottle of over-sulphured viura, over yeasted albariño, or fruity fruity verdejo. I hope the Spain nay sayers are paying attention....

2009 Mendall L'Abeurador

Fresh fruit on the nose. Compared to the last wine this is rather straight ahead and clean. Intense fruit, a bit of hazlenut on the finish. 2 dias maceration on skins here. This may be the easiest to like of all the whites we were to taste.

2008 Mendall Terme de Guia

Macabeu, garnatxa blanca, colombard. Raisins and orchard fresh apples on the nose. Fresher flavors on the palate than the nose.

2009 Mendall Terme de Guia (1.5l)

A colder fermentation was used on this bottling. Tasty, less intense character with more acid.

2008 Mendall L'Abeurador

Back to this bottling, the 08 vintage. A warmer fermentation was employed. This tasted fresh and bright.

A wine from Laureano's friend and fellow natural winemaker Joan Ramon Escudo...

2007 Celler Escoda Sanahuja Els Bassots Conca de Barbera

Chenin Blanc. One of those wines that you can smell will assault your gums and teeth with acid (in a good way). A bit reductive, but mineral as hell and delicious. Joan described this best by calling it "un gin tonic natural." Agreed.

2009 Mendall Cara Bonica

A play on the word spanish word for carbonic maceration. Cute label of a 'cara bonica' drawn by Laureano's daughter. Rich, sweet, fresh fruit. Warm climate generosity of fruit expression, but with freshness. This is cab, merlot and cariñena with a one week carbonic maceration.

2007 Mendall Cara Bonica

A bit less fresh. Still pleasant to drink, but comparably heavy and missing the delicious primary quality of the '09.

2009 Mendall Finca Espartal

This is primarily garnatxa with a bit of cariñena, all fermented with carbonic maceration. Red fruits, skins and pits aromas of berries and plums are all here. My tasting notes after this simply read: "vino de amor."

2008 Mendall La Terme de Guia

Notes very skimpy. Here they are: "Carignan. 14%. Acid."

2007 Celler Escoda Sanahuja "La Llopetra" Conca de Barbera

PN from calcareous soils. One year in barrica (2-3 years average age). Dark fruits on the nose, a bit reductive similar to Joan's white. Acid and tart cherry/plum fruit stand out on the palate. This wine is completely sans soufre (8mg/l total sulphites). Once again, I am taken aback both by the incredible acidity and austerity of this wine, as well as by how well it takes to oak aging. Similar to Joan's chenin blanc, this is serious natural wine, well made and not for casual sipping.

2006 Naranjuez Pinot Negra Vino de Mesa

12.5% pinot noir from Granada - what? 950 meters above sea level, these grapes were harvested on September 18th. The character is intense, sauvage, and serious, with good acid. Not cheap at around $45, but interesting for sure.

2006 Celler Escoda Sanahuja Les Paradetes Conca de Barbera

50% garnacha, 25% cariñena, 25% sumoll (100 yr old). 12-13 months in oak, 25% new. Juicy, fresh berry with good acid.

2009 Vamos? Vamos!

Only 190 magnums of this collabo between Joan and Laureano were bottled. Egged on by Thierry Puzelat, the two joined forces by combining their cariñena (Laureano) with merlot and cab franc (Joan) in a fresh, delicious drink me now bottle. My TN reads, "Wow!" so it has to be good, right?

2009 Cariñena (component from Vamos? Vamos! blend)

This is the funky, berry part of the equation!

2005 Emidio Pepe Montepulciano

Closed, tough dark fruit. Sulphur, particularly notable in this natural set. I told Laureano not to open this but he just felt compelled (perhaps because he saw me eyeballing it earlier on?) It might have even been a magnum - I don't remember. Damn, infanticide....

2006 Barranco Oscuro "Rubaiyat"

Another one from Granada. Acid! Berry y muy brutal. Somehow this smelled sort of like a white wine (?) All syrah, I believe.

2004 Barranco Oscuro

No notes. I do remember this one being very tough to taste and get a read on.

Yes! "R" Blanc

Fun wine. Another flor style, dubbed yes for a one line email that importer José Pastor allegedly sent to Laureano regarding this wine: "Yes!"

2008 Mendall Mal de Sofre

This was opened a week ago. It was oxidized and showed a most unusual resemblance to Cynar, the Italian artichoke bitter. Laureano proceeded to tell me a story about Cynar in a Quentin Tarantino movie, I really do not remember more details than that.

And so ends this installment of the trip dialogue. If anyone has read through all of that nonsense and is still here then I must thank you for truly being a good sport. Tasting notes, at least those for public consumption, generally suck. That having been said, a tasting like this seemed best described in tasting note format.

Next up: The big, the boutique, the gravity fed, and the pumped/sterile filtered in Rioja.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010


In my recent post about Vega de Ribes/Ancestral, I posted a correction regarding sulphur in the wines. Here's the link to the post, where you will see the correction at bottom.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

JOE GO TO SPAIN - Part 4 - Yes! There is (good) natural wine in Spain

As recently as eight years ago, if you were to head to Spain in search of a natural wine scene, you would have been hard pressed to find one. It is around this time that a Catalan IT guy with a strong desire to cultivate vines and to produce wine from them started experimenting with old vine macabeu, carefully tending vineyards and making wine from them in a way that could be called hands off, no frills, and in today's context of modern, technically correct yet cookie cutter winemaking, more than slightly out of place. Nonetheless, Laureano Serres continued in his pursuit of the ideal, without a like-minded community of vignerons to consult for support or ideas about his winemaking. What began as a hobby, a two day a week pursuit, steadily grew into something ever more important and time consuming. Now Laureano is just about a full-time wine grower, producing a wide range of very tiny productions, selling in Spanish shops as well as restaurants such as michelin three star El Celler de Can Roca. He even exports some wine to France, represented by another well respected, accomplished vigneron in Thierry Puzelat.

Within those eight years, a community of eight natural winemakers has formed the Productores de Vinos Naturales. There have been two natural wine fairs in Barcelona, the most recent one a huge success, with over 1500 attendees tasting not only Spanish natural wines, but some important examples from France and Italy as well. Laureano has attended the important fairs in France and Italy, and now, unlike the early years where he gleaned information from the internet and French publications, he has a network of like-minded Spanish winemaking colleagues with whom he is in regular contact.

One of those colleagues is his good friend Joan Ramon Escoda, who also makes sans soufre (sin sulfuroso, en español) wines in the Conca de Barbera D.O. in Catalunya. Like Laureano, he is convinced that natural wines, produced from very carefully tended vineyards and with no added sulphur, can be amongst the most delicious and expressive of all. Unlike Laureano, Joan studied oenology for more than a semester, and was a paid member of the winemaking team at other wineries, including Penedes based Jean Leon (equally famous for its cabernet sauvignon as for its celebrity owner, 1950's LA restaurateur Jean Leon). He also made wine at the well respected Can Rafols dels Caus in the Garraf sub-zone of Penedes.

Joan joined us for a mega "cata" of 25 wines, some of which were made by him, others by Laureano, and a few others by another member of the PVN making wines in Granada, in some of the most highly elevated vineyards in Europe.

One crazy Catalan winemaker who produces flor wines from Macabeu (amongst other oddities), another slightly less crazy Catalan winemaker who produces one of the most mineral and acid driven Chenin Blanc based wines that you are likely to taste from anywhere, and a crazy, intrepid foreigner trying to take it all in, talk wine en Castellano, and not get too lost by the occasional Catalan rattled back and forth between the crazies. It had all the makings of an epic tasting.

Next: The tasting, as best as I can transcribe from my notes....

Friday, May 14, 2010

LO NATURAL hits España

No time for part 4 to go up this week, it seems. But I really look forward to writing it, quite possibly more than any other post I have written to date. Let me explain why.

I drove through the Catalunyan countryside, passing through pueblo after pueblo, crossing the Ebro and finally meeting one Laureano Serres at his house and winery in El Pinell de Brai. What followed was something of an introduction to the small, but fervent group of vignerons in Spain who are a part of the growing natural wine community. By now, you know the deal: careful, passionate attention in the vineyards with minimal treatments; fermentation with native yeasts, minimal to no sulphur added, and nothing else added for that matter.

Shortly after arriving, one of Laureano's best friends, Joan Ramon Escoda, another vigneron making wines in the Conca de Barbera D.O. about 30 minutes to the north, stopped by. What followed was a very extensive tasting, discussion, and sharing of thoughts and ideas about wine the likes of which I had seldom experienced. It was a heavy experience (as it turns out, 'heavy' has been appropriated into the Spanish language, pronounced with a jota, so, 'jevi'). Anyway, as I heard about the development of this tight community of 8 vignerons geared more towards natural winemaking in Spain, I learned about how it came together, Thierry Puzelat's advisory role, and most importantly I sensed the excitement and passion of these guys. It was contagious, and maybe even planted another seed somewhere in my head that perhaps I need to be out there growing vines and making wine some day.

So, that having been said, the full report will be found in part four of JOE GO TO SPAIN next week. I look forward to sharing what is undoubtedly one of the most rewarding winery visits and tastings I have yet to experience.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

JOE GO TO SPAIN: Part 3 - Brut Nature and Chestnut aged Xarel-lo in Sant Pere de Ribes

Rafael Sala is an opinionated man. A partner of the Vega de Ribes winery, located in the Garraf national forest area just several miles from the Mediterranean, Rafael meets me in Vilafranca de Penedes to drive me to his house and few hectares of xarel-lo vineyards. It does not take long for him to notice the wire trained xarel-lo vines from the road, thus beginning a continuous commentary on all that is wrong about winemaking in the Penedes.

"These vines are all wrong. Goblets are best here, and everyone wants to train their vines en espaldera, like they do in France."

According to Rafael, this Mediterranean influenced, warm sunny region in Spain should not imitate some of its neighbors to the north, most notably Champagne and Bordeaux, likely role models for both the styles of wine made (sparkling wine and cabernet based blends, respectively) as well as for a model of proven commercial success.

"Many parts of France do not get that much sun and warmth. So it makes sense that they train the vines in a way to maximize sunlight. Here, we get plenty of sun; the vines should be low to the ground. We have the perfect climate and soils for grapes in Penedes, we have hardly any work to do at all to produce beautiful fruit. Yet people mess it up."

How do they mess it up? Rafael cites various no-no's: irrigation, trellising, harvesting unripe fruit, chaptalizing. It's a littany of practices so common in the wine world, particularly in regions such as Napa, Penedes, Bordeaux and Champagne, all large regions with a high capacity of production, captive markets and large commercial opportunities. On the contrary, Rafael's 60 year old xarel-lo vines are all en vaso, Spanish for goblet or bush vines. This fruit will go into the Vega de Ribes Clar de Castenyar Xarel-lo. The vineyards were still verdant, with a natural cover of indigenous plants, weeds and herbs growing everywhere. Rafael mentioned that he will cut these back a bit, but that there is no need to do much else. A plant knows exactly what it needs to do to survive, Rafael points out, so why intervene during the growing season?

Once the fruit is mature and ready to be harvested, Rafael believes in bringing the grapes into the cellar well chilled, and maintaining these cold temperatures throughout the fermentation process. Fermentation takes place in used barrels of chestnut coming from Galician forests, and then the wine is cold stabilized in stainless steel before resting a bit longer and bottling. Given the organic bent of his viticulture and his positions on wine, I expected Rafael to be a big fan of natural wines, and sympathetic to some of these positions. Surprisingly, though, he does not seem too loyal to these concepts. Regarding yeast, he says that they experiment with both cultivated and indigenous fermentations, and do not notice much of a difference between the two. And as far as sulphur, he reckons that there are 15 mg/l free sulphites, perhaps 60 mg/l total - perhaps a bit lower than the norm but too high to be amongst the "vin naturel" set.

We then go inside his house to taste a few vintages of the Clar de Castenyer. 2006 is still a pale straw yellow, with almond paste, golden delicious apples and white fruit aromas leading to a palate showing just a trace of an oxidative quality. Fresh stone fruit flavors are more prominent than the nutty oxidative ones. 2007 is more intense, with ripe fruit, some red fruit sneaking in. Though it tastes riper than it's 12.5% alcohol, the flavors are strong though nicely balanced. 2008 seems to lie somewhere between the 2006 and 2007, showing qualities of both. So yes, good xarel-lo, from older vines which are allowed to produce fully mature fruit, appears to age nicely.

After this mini vertical, Rafael, his wife and I head to his partner Enric's house, a structure dating back to the 1400's, with its most recent major renovation taking place in the early 19th century. Here there are some additional xarel-lo vines (curiously, trelised) which go into the Ancestrale Brut, as well as sauvignon blanc, sumoll and a rare type of malvasia known as malvasia de sitges, which they believe came from original malvasia cuttings brought over from Turkey in the middle ages. These grapes go into their methode ancestrale sparkling malvasia.

We head to Cal Xim for a typical Catalan lunch. Pan amb tomaquet, marinated anchovies and a terrific assortment of olives open the meal. We then dig into a tortilla, followed by simply grilled fish, turbot in my case. Crisp skin, moist flesh inside, and nothing other than some capers, lemon and sea salt on top made this a welcome, fresh, satisfying entree. In the land of chorizo, jamón iberico, tortillas, flavorless bread and atún topped iceberg lettuce salads, the
freshness and vibrancy of this meal was well timed and thoroughly enjoyed. Throughout the meal, Rafael was keen to show his Ancestrale sparkling wines. Both of these are fermented in the methode ancestrale, though the secondary fermentation finishes in bottle. Unlike what he dislikes in his cava, there is no chaptalization, no liqueur de tirage, no liquer de expedition: these are true brut nature wines. Though given the ripeness of the fruit, they are really generous and do not taste nearly as dry as many other Brut nature cavas out there. Both the brut and brut rosé wines are quite good. The rosé in particular, with the intensely flavored, spicy, indigenous sumoll grape contributing to the flavor profile, is very interesting. Rafael likes to boast that the technical director of Freixenet is a huge fan of his sparkling wines, especially the sparkling Malvasia. In his mind, he's got something up his sleeve, a sparkler that is much tastier, more natural, and healthier than anything else being produced elsewhere in Penedes.

"If you're going to do something," says Rafael, the former technology consultant, with a bit of a glimmer in his eyes and a friendly competitive air, "do it well."

*CORRECTION: Rafael has informed me that the TOTAL sulphites in his wines are typically around 15 mg. The free sulphites are 0.

Up next: Further south and inland in Catalunya, vigneron and natural wine proponent Laureano Serres Montagut, of Bodegas Mendall, complains of high sulphur in Rafael's xarel-lo, claims that drinking txakoli might kill you.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

JOE GO TO SPAIN: Part 2 - in Cava country at Raventos i Blanc

In Spain's most developed and wealthy region, Catalunya, Sant Sadurni d'Anoia has got to be one of its most prosperous towns. A short 30 minute drive from Barcelona, the region of Alt Penedes and the village of Sant Sadurni are the home base of Cava production. It is also a popular destination for Spaniards and foreigners alike for a taste of wine tourism close to the big city; what Napa Valley is to San Francisco, Penedes is to Barcelona.

Cava is big business. Ever see a black frosted glass bottle of Freixenet at any celebratory reception you have attended? A gold label bottle of Cristalino in your local corner store? A selection of cava by the glass at any number of restaurants you have visited? In other words, much like lemonade, cava was a popular drink and it still is (thank you, Guru). There is no shortage of inexpensive juice being fermented and re-fermented in bottle, to be packaged, marketed and sold by any number of larger companies and co-operatives. Competition is fierce, particularly in the ever popular $10 and under segment. Some wineries prefer to not enter into that game, opting instead to make a better quality range of wines which they can sell more based on the quality of the wine and unique story of the winery.

Raventos i Blanc posseses a unique story as well as quality wine, produced from their own organically grown grapes. I will not go into an extended history of the Raventos family, which is tied into that of the Codorniu family, producers of one of the world's mega brands in cava. If you want such a history, I would go to Catavino for the full account. The short version is that, in 1986 Josep Maria Raventos i Blanc and his son Manuel, after owning the original Codornium vineyard holdings and selling off the fruit, created a winery specializing in estate grown and bottled cavas. In fact, the Raventos winery directly faces that of Codorniu across the street.

Josep Maria Raventos i Blanc, the son of current president Manuel Raventos, and grandson of the winery's founder, also Josep Maria, is relaxed and welcoming. Gesturing towards the handsome offices and interior of the visitor center, he says "My father was in to all of this - it is beautiful and I understand why he wanted this, but what I would like to do now is invest even more in the vineyards." We hop in his older Land Rover and tour the property, and it does become apparent that Josep is truly interested in viticulture, continuing to work to understand the unique quality of his family's vineyard holdings and the indigenous vines which compose the cava blend: macabeo (viura elsewhere in Spain), parellada and xarel-lo. He is humble, pointing to what he calls his first mistake: a young pinot noir vineyard. He says that its growth cycle is too rapid for proper maturation in this Mediterranean climate. Much more interesting in his mind are the older vines of xarel-lo - a grape you will see planted all over Penedes - and parellada, characterized by the reddish tone in its leaves. Pointing to an older xarel-lo vine which had toppled over, he quickly props it up against a stake and kicks some dirt over it to balance it. Then he calls over his vineyard manager, currently driving around a small tour group from Florida and Puerto Rico, to discuss his concerns about the site. The vines which Josep, his family and crew cultivates are either trained en espaldera (trelissed) or lie simply en vaso, without any training whatsoever. Generally the latter is for older vines and the former for younger vines, though there are some older vines with an espaldera salvaje, a more home-made, rustic looking approach to training a vine.

A few features of the vineyards. They cover about 90 hectares. They are typically calcareous clay, more clay on the lower lying ones and more calcareous on the more highly elevated ones, with a large amount of stones from pebble to mini-boulder size. There are some sites which are more sandy, and some which are loamy. A planted cover crop is employed between rows, consisting largely of barley, which will typically dry up and be plowed away by mid May or so. No herbicides or pesticides are ever used, the only treatments being sulphur as necessary to prevent oidium and mildew. Josep's grandfather commissioned a lake to be built in the midst of the vineyards and forest area, to add to the biodiversity of the property.

Josep drops me off back at the winery, compliments me on my backpack ("que chulo, tio"), lets his childhood friend and US export manager Francesc know that he wants a bag like that next time he visits San Francisco, and is off. Francesc and I lunch on some tortilla, iberico, and habas catalanes, paired with the 2002 Raventos i Blanc Manuel Raventos. It's really good, still primary and youthful. He points out the late 19th century furniture and shares some cool historical documents, we take a few goofy photo's and then are off for a quick tour of the well designed, modern gravity flow winery.

We then headed back to the tasting room to taste some wines, focusing on still wines with which I have only a passing familiarity:

2005 Raventos i Blanc Gran Reserva de la Finca Cava

Still a light-medium straw yellow color. Toast, apple and citrus aromas lead to a very bright, focused palate. Good toast, depth of flavor and buoyant acidity. Really tasty and well balanced. This wine sees four years of aging on the lees and is composed of 40% xarel-lo, 25% parellada, 10% chardonnay and 5% pinot noir.

2009 Silencis Penedes

100% xarel-lo. Fresh apples and pears, some yellow skinned fruit and melon on the nose. Similar flavors on the palate, with decent concentration and a soft texture explained by some battonage to stir up the lees (do not recall for how long).

2009 Perfum di Vi Blanc Penedes

50% Muscat, 50% macabeo. Floral, jasmine inflected nose. Some white peach and lychee as well. Same on the palate, which has around 9g residual sugar but finishes cleanly. This would be good on a warm sunny day or with a Chinese stir fry.

2009 La Rosa de Raventos i Blanc Penedes

50% merlot, 50% pinot noir. Though it does include a healthy dollop of Josep's mistakenly planted pinot noir, this is not bad as far as inexpensive rosés are concerned. It's a pale, medium pink color and has some fresh strawberry fruit on the palate. Much more finesse and drinkability than many other Penedes rosés, which can be a tad bit coarse and heavy given their reliance on cab and merlot.

Thank you very much to Josep and Francesc for sharing your time and putting this together on relatively short notice - much appreciated. Francesc, hope that the vulcan cooperates and you get back to Barcelona soon. And Josep, next time you visit San Francisco I will point you in the direction of a good bike shop to find that Ortlieb mochila.

Next up: Why cava sucks and what people need to do to change it, according to Rafael Sala at Vega de Ribes

Monday, May 10, 2010

JOE GO TO SPAIN: Part 1 - How does a food and wine trade mission work?

I pondered this very question in the time leading up to my recent trip to Spain. As well as several others: How many stateside colleagues would be present? How many producers would I be meeting with, and would any of them have decent product to sell? Who pays for all of this? Besides the round trip ticket and hotel accomodations for 4 nights, would the time spent be worthwhile?

As it turns out, we were 10 Americans, a few importer reps, a few distributor reps, and a few retailers, spanning the continental United States from Philadelphia to Seattle. I met with 6 producers a day for two days, inside a room at the Chamber of Commerce in Terrassa. Many of us met with the same producers, sort of what I imagine speed dating to be like except the participants are wine producers/export directors/brokers on one hand and importers/distributor reps and retailers on the other. And instead of 5 minutes we generally had an hour per appointment.

From what I understand, such missions are paid for by the local chamber with some significant subsidies from the regional (in this case the Catalunyan) government as well as the EU. If I heard correctly, each winery representative needs to pay 80 euros to participate, along with 50 euros for each meeting. So to schedule a full day's worth of meetings would run about 380 euros or approximately $500 US. Not exactly cheap, but I suppose worth the cost if a good importer is found and a lasting business relationship forged.

And the wines? If you're thinking to yourself, that if you need to go and spend money to find yourself an importer, your wines probably are not very good or interesting, then in most cases you would be correct. That having been said, there is always a need for commercial wines, available in commercial quantities, which are drinkable and relatively inexpensive. I came here seeking cava, and now I have at least a couple of possibilities to work with. Additionally, there were some hand made wines, produced in smaller quantities, which were quite good. One producer boasted some terrific pansal blanca (a variation of the xarel-lo grape grown in the Alella D.O, north of Barcelona.) Usually xarel-lo is picked green and way underripe for cava and even white wine production, though this wine was round, harmonious, mouthfilling and full of delicious fruit, with a silken texture. It reminded me of Chenin. This same producer made a red wine from an indigenous Catalunyan varietal called sumoll. It was intensely dark fruited and wild, while still retaining its acidity in the warm Mediterranean climate. Might be a good bet for production in California.

Also, a Priorat producer neighboring Clos Erasmus and Val Llach had wines to sell that were actually priced reasonably, not overoaked, and produced from organically cultivated grapes.

So yes, some new discoveries were made, and the time spent in Terrassa was worthwhile.

Next up: Cava history and cava production at Raventos i Blanc.

Sunday, May 9, 2010


For some reason, I found myself referencing this classic scene from one of TV's most popular series last night.


Friday, May 7, 2010

Your Boy is Back!

Sorry to be quoting M. Shawn Carter. But it's true. I'm back, ready to report on the big Spain adventure of Spring 2010. I was going to put together a hasty "Best of" list, but no time for even that this morning. You can look forward to todo el reportaje next week. Until then, que os paseis bien.

Un saludo,

Josep 'Pep' Manekin