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A Pitch for “Iberian Wines” – Not that Spain or Portugal will care to listen

Iberian MapWhen we started Catavino.net, we knew that our desire to explore would never relegate us to one region entirely, as we have always loved to discover new cultures through their wines. Having fell in love with Portugal, during our first visit in 2003, we knew that limiting ourselves to Spain was both illogical and short sighted. Hence we created an “Iberian Wine” website, a term few people were familiar with, or fully comprehended, prior to Catavino’s creation.

I remember the first time I used the term “Iberian wines” in a tasting among a group of Spaniards who stared at me blankly and said, “We have Iberian ham, but there is no such thing as an Iberian wine.” Ponder that for a moment.

Soon thereafter, friends and family expressed a deep desire to share our journey with us. The most obvious solution, other than booking a ticket to Spain, was to seek out the wines we were drinking in order to contribute to the converation. However, this resulted in another hard truth rearing its ugly head: people don’t know what Iberia is! This was perfectly exemplified when a friend had walked into a wine shop in Saint Paul, MN, that specializes in “Spanish and Portuguese Wines”, and ask if they had any fun wines from Iberia. The sales clerk responded that “no, they didn’t carry any Iberian wines”. Granted, I can’t say I blame her. Unless you’ve read Michener you might now know about Iberia either. If you want to know more about the origin and history of the “Iberian peninsula” then I highly suggest reading the Wikipedia entry on Iberia. Very interesting.

Iberian wine is a a valid category. Iberian wine encompasses a unique set of characteristics that when viewed as a whole, makes more sense than when viewed as Spain and Portugal. Take these points:

  • Grapes – We share several varieties: Aragonez=Tempranillo=Tinto Roriz=Ull de Llebre=Tinto de Toro=about a thousand more names. Jaen=Mencia, Alvarinho=Albarino and these are just the tip of the iceberg. Grape varieties have been shared and exchanged for centuries across these borders and studying them in this context can help one to better understand a grapes potential and diversity.
  • Regions – Nature sees no boundaries. Vinho Verde butts up against Rias Baixas, and many of the same grapes are grown in each area, not to mention that their climates are very similar! So if you want to learn about Albarino in Spain, make sure to also learn about it in Portugal. Extremadura butts up against the Alentejo, both hot regions that can produce intense reds, full of body and bravado. Which leads me to…
  • Terroir – Iberia is a Peninsula. It has thousands of unique regions and climates, but it does tend to experience similar trends. Droughts tend to effect both regions at the same time. Phylloxera hit both countries around the same decade. Both industries suffered at the hands of nasty dictators. And the Moors offered both Spain and Portugal with viticutural techniques whose practices and lessons can still be seen today.
  • Winemakers – There are winemaking projects all over Spain and Portugal that have ties to both countries. Including new ones that take and blend wines from both countries.

Why does it matter? Truthfully, to the majority of you, it shouldn’t matter, but on a geographical, philosophical, policital and marketing level, it’s a conversion worthy to having. Just imagine if both countries worked together to promote their wine as ONE, despite the fact that there is a better chance of pigs flying (after recovering from the flu, of course) before that happens. They could:

  1. differentiate Iberian wines from the rest of Europe. They are VERY different and have more in common with each other than any other place in Europe.
  2. share trade promotions where styles are highlighted in new and interesting ways: The Douro Wine – From Soria to Porto or the Sherry, Port and Madeira Fortified Tour!
  3. fund research to learn more about their unique grapes, rather than bicker over who owns what grapes. By the end of the day, they are Iberian grapes, not Spanish or Portuguese. Let’s work together to learn more about how they evolved to become what they are today.
  4. cross border DO’s! A beaucratic nightmare, I give you, but an idea that could lead to better practices and stronger regional identities.
  5. do something different! In life, those who stand apart tend to be the ones who get noticed. This would show that in a golbal economy, and 2.0 world, wine is a substance that knows no borders does truly does have a sense of place. That place in my head is called Iberia.

I know I’m an foreigner, an expat, someone without the cultural baggage that prevents this idea from becoming a reality, but there is logic to my madness.

I also know that I’m not going to convince Portugal or Spain to adopt this idea, but I would be interested in wine lovers, and educators, to consider the idea when talking about the wines of Iberia. Think about it, and let us know what you think.

Cheers,

Ryan Opaz

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  • http://quentinsadler.wordpress.com/ Quentin Sadler

    Hi GabriellaI quite agree! Iberia is a place that happens to contain more than 1 country, so if you can have Iberian ham, surely you can have Iberian wine?Have a look here and read about a terrific wine made in Spain from Portuguese Touriga Nacional grapes, it was one of the stars of the show?http://quentinsadler.wordpress.com/2009/05/09/l…Great post, thanks, Quentin

  • http://www.catavino.net/ Gabriella Opaz

    Hey Quentin! That was actually Ryan who wrote this piece, but I couldn't agree more. I think that if Spain and Portugal want to do something different, and rather innovative, why not market themselves as one! They are clearly in a unique geographical situation, when plenty of commonalities, that could absolutely aid them in their combined efforts. It's a worthwhile proposal.

  • Nick Oakley

    Great blog. When you mention Iberia to a Portuguese they are indignant. 'But we are Lusitania, you know?' is the standard response -which is fair enoughBut there's a lot to be said about working together, and there are some projects now involving co-operations between winemakers of both countries. There is a wine DADOS (of 2) that is causing a stir in the Douro right now. It's a partnership between Javier Rodriguez (Spanish) and a Portuguese wine maker (forgive me for not knowing the name). Maybe worth a taste on the catavino site?

  • Andrea

    Ryan, Awesome post, of course I couldn't agree more with your “mad” ideas. Both countries in this Iberian Peninsula are suffering major economic woes and instead of everyone working together to get out of the red, stubborn politicians continue to bicker and do what they want. I know I'm just a foreigner and expat as well but after living here over a year, I too am tired like many of the natives I know, of the ongoing ridiculous bureaucracy of things when there are so many opportunities for marketing and promoting the wonderful natural resources of the land, wine especially! Adding to Quentin, I just read an article in a Portuguese wine magazine praising Iberian ham so hopefully others will follow suit in the near future! Meanwhile I'll continue to do what I can and will be waiting to see those (flu free) pigs fly one day! ;)

  • http://insiderioja.wordpress.com/ Tom Perry

    Hi Ryan,Interesting post! To support your idea, there were several wine tastings several years ago highlighting the wines from the Duero/Douro but sadly, I haven't heard anything about this recently. I know from having attended Essencia do Vinho that there's a lot of interest in Spanish wines in northern Portugal, but haven't detected the same interest in Portuguese wines on our side of the border. Sad! I think a lot more people should be reading Catavino!

  • Ben

    There's a lot to like about this idea. But I fear that it might exacerbate the current perception among geographically-impaired consumers that Portugal is somehow part of Spain (Even wine shops often group Portuguese wines under “Spain”) This is no small matter, since being different might be the most valuable asset the Portuguese brand has. Portugal has many unique grape varieties, which sets it apart in today’s market. As you say, the similarities are there, but the differences are not trivial ones from a consumer’s perspective. Even when tempranillo (by another name) is used in Portugal, it’s usually in a very different style and blended with grapes that are not found in Spain. My favorite Portuguese grape, Touriga Nacional, is not used in Spain at all.I’m just a wine consumer, but it seems to me that good marketing might argue for the current Portugal/Spain distinction.

  • http://www.catavino.net Ryan Opaz

    Your right there are good arguments for separation too, though a highbred of the two might be best in the end. Working together does not mean that you have to lose your unique identities, or at least I would argue that it shouldn't.Also there is Touriga in Spain, lot's of people playing with it, here's one example: http://prgrisley.com/tag/touriga-nacional/