For the past few columns I’ve been focusing on my renewed infatuation, and building appreciation, for the wines coming into the United States from Spain.
I recently attended a celebration of the wine, food and design of all things Spanish, sponsored by the Wines From Spain trade organization. I enjoyed new (for me) wines in the walk-around session and expanded my knowledge of regions, terroirs and producers in several seminar settings. Repeatedly, I was impressed with the quality – and value – of so many of the wines now arriving on our shores.
From conversations with winemakers I deduced that a number of old-line traditional producers are reaching out to producers in other wine-producing countries in order to learn new techniques for the vineyard and the winery.
But I was most impressed with the younger generation, who have stepped into the mud- and wine-stained shoes of their parents to manage family-run wineries in existence for three, four, sometimes five generations. They are expanding their knowledge through formal wine education and by utilizing modern technology. Much of this is attributable to the formation of the European Union. Through generous financial funding and cooperative communication, Spain has emerged from a poor, economically challenged country (notwithstanding the continuing impact of the Great Recession) into an influential economic force. In turn, wine production and, by extension, wine consumers, have benefited greatly.
With this as a backdrop, I decided to reprise a series I penned more than 10 years ago on these pages.
There are many Spanish wines available, but many are represented by small wineries, or small importers or small distributors. Therefore, a number of my favorites may not be available in your local wine shop. Fear not. With this virtual tour series as a reference, you will be able to find fine representations from each featured region. And when you do, let me know; I’m always seeking new experiences and my next favorite wine.
On to our virtual tour.
Long stretches of white sand beach, historic towns emblematic of local seafarers, unique cultural architecture, modern cities with sophisticated nightlife and fabulous local wines not readily available elsewhere.
Does this sound like the French Riviera? The Italian Riviera? Provence? California’s Central Coast? Yes, it does – and the Spanish Mediterranean Coast.
This week’s virtual tour takes us along Spain’s eastern coast, beginning in the south along the Playa del Sol beaches, northward through the port city of Alicante, the sophisticated culture and architecture of Valencia, the rich history and architecture of Barcelona and the popular beaches along the Costa Brava in the northern extreme of the region, at the foothills of the Pyrenees. This vast stretch has something for everyone, including seekers of unique wines previously unavailable to American consumers.
The Mediterranean Coast wine region encompasses the largest number of Spain’s official wine regions – 13 of the 69 classifications. We will be exploring the wines of four major areas: Alicante, Jumilla, Valencia, Priorat/Monstant and Penedès.
Our tour this week takes us to the southeastern port cities of Alicante and Valencia. Although separated by hundreds of miles of idyllic coastline, they share the same commercialized wine-production history. Since the 19th century these sister cities were known for mass production wines exported to the rest of Europe for bottlings of cheap, nondescript wines – similar to the California bulk wine business. (Think Carlo Rossi in the 1960s, still vibrant into the 21st century.)
In the 1990s the local producers decided to experiment with grapes that might be suitable to the local terroir – sandy to clay-like soil, temperate climate and cooling sea breezes. The result: newly introduced artisanal wines from Monastrell, Garnacha and Moscatel grapes, with a smattering of Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon. Although not yet as popular as wines from other regions, there are quite a few worth seeking out.
As we continue our virtual tour through the Mediterranean Coast, our next stops will explore the Spanish wine regions garnering high praise in the United States.
Nick Antonaccio is a 40-year Pleasantville resident. For over 25 years he has conducted wine tastings and lectures. Nick is a member of the Wine Media Guild of wine writers. He also offers personalized wine tastings and wine travel services. Nick’s credo: continuous experimenting results in instinctive behavior. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @sharingwine.