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Spanish Wine Night at Sam’s in Chicago

Much ink has been spilled touting Spain’s rise to fame as being one of the foremost wine producing regions in the world next to Argentina and Chili, but when you live in the country for which you have dedicated your livelihood to promote, it is difficult to truly get the inside perspective as to what is going through people’s heads and palates. I feel fortunate to have had my first encounter last night as to what the American market is truly saying about Spanish wine. In one concise and succinct word, Spanish wine is a “treasure”.

Over 300 people marked their calendars in excited anticipation of attending Spanish Wine Night, sponsored by Wines of Spain and hosted by Sams Wine in downtown Chicago last night. Eager Spanish enthusiasts smelled, sipped and bantered over the two hundred Spanish wines served with aged Manchego Cheese, Chorizo, Serrano Ham and Matiz Piquillo Peppers, while distributors and importers shared the depth of their knowledge explaining regional demarcations, characteristics of Spanish grape varietals, the modernization of winemaking practices and food and wine pairings.

The most intriguing factor for me was the impact the representative had upon the individuals tasting their wines when they said “and above all, the family who owns this Bodega are some of the kindest and most generous people I have ever met”. Imagine the mist and longing I saw in people’s eyes as they allowed their imaginations to carry them into Spain where they hear the hollow clicking sounds of Flamenco dancing, feel the spray of the Mediterranean coast or see the colorful geometric works of art of Gaudi or Dali. It is one thing to equate a wine with history and culture, but it is entirely different animal to equate a wine with passion, care and tenderness. And if we take note from the people attending Spanish Wine Night, there is no doubt that Spain is a lure that has effortlessly hooked the American masses.

However, upon leaving the tasting and climbing into my cab last night, I smiled to myself remembering how every wine that was touted as being a “stellar” wine based on the international wine gurus such as Robert Parker and Wine Spectator, flaunted this number by taping it directly to the table in front of the bottle. Sure, this is typical wine tasting protocol, but it led me to wonder how knowledgeable consumers are when purchasing a bottle of Spanish wine. I posed this question to Angel Aguilar, the wine consultant for Sams, who explained that 10 years ago their Spanish wine section was reserved to a few Rioja and Ribera del Duero wines; whereas now, their customers are asking by name for wines ranging everywhere from Galicia to Jumilla and back again. Granted, Rioja and Ribera del Duero still take the lead in both familiarity and consumption, as exemplified at the Tasting from Bodegas such as Muga, Marques de Riscal, Domecq Marques de Arienzo and Marques de Caceres from Rioja and Bodegas Pesquera and Real Sitio de Ventosilla from Ribera del Duero; but it seems that Americans want to expand both their knowledge and their palate. Why would I make such a bold statement? Consider the other DOs featured such as Campo de Borja, Calatayud, Montilla Moriles, Jumilla, Navarra and Galicia. With price for value ratios remaining well above French and Italian wines, it is of no surprise that if you choose to have a BYOB gathering at your home, you could easily anticipate a fantastic bottle of Cava from Catalunya or an Albarino from the Penedes. However, it may be of equal interest to you to know that smaller and less well known regions like DO Campo de Borja, Calatayud, Montilla Moriles and Jumilla were also featured.

The unfortunate news from a pronounced Sherry lover is that Sherry has a long ways to climb before Americans acquire a taste for the nutty and dry wines from Jerez. Although famous producers like Tio Pepe are well-known throughout the American public, there still hasn’t been a pull to appreciate the wine that pairs incredibly well with savory Spanish olives or sharp Manchego cheese.

In summary, I couldn’t have been more pleased with the event itself. The representatives were both knowledgeable and passionate about their wines, Sams put on a fantastic event and I walked away with the distinct impression that Exporters are having a hay day selling Spanish wines to the American public. And if I’m not mistaken, it seems that the exploration of the complex and exotic flavors of Spanish wine is far from diminishing any time soon.

Gabriella Opaz

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