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Spanish Wines are Perfect American Palate Wines and Here’s the Proof!

Glass of sherry and a sunset

Recently, everyone seems to be saying that wine is becoming too international, too over oaked and too easy to drink while still in its youth. I hear their whines across the net, the shiny magazine pages, and the crackle of the podcasts, that wines aren’t lasting the test of time? Why, they say, can’t they stick to old traditions and make wines that will last forever? Vinography emphasized this point a few days ago in their post about Decanter’s ridiculous article on the demise of “garagiste” wines. Read Alders’ take on it, if you want, but the article instead of really saying anything important to me, sparked an idea in my head. One of the reasons that people are poo-pooing the Garagistes is their supposed lack of endurance as they try to compete with classic wines who reach 50 years before maturing. While I’m reading the post, the question I ask myself is this, “did they taste good when people bought them?” It’s a reasonable enough question, but having been – and admittedly I still am to some degree, a hoarder of Bordeaux so as to age it nice and long for my retirement (yeah right, but I need to dream), I really wonder why they need to age in order to be considered great? Why is it that we feel truly “outstanding” and 100pt wine needs to last longer than the human lifespan?

Enter the Spanish with their crazy ideas. When it comes to Spanish wine, the goal is to sell the wine in a state that allows for immediate consumption. In the old days, this meant aging the wine at the bodega in barrel and in bottle, sometimes beyond a point of drinkablity, so that when it finally lands at the consumers table, the wine would not need air, more time in bottle, or a wine degree to figure out if one liked it or not. No, the Spanish figured if the customer did not like the wine when they sipped it from their glass, purron or bota bag, than the winemaker had failed in his duty as Bacchus’s spokesperson.

Today, Spanish wineries consciously ensure there mission statement to both quality and immediate consumption by picking riper fruit, less maceration on the lees, micro-oxidization, and I’m sure a few other tricks that no one will fully admit to. Does this bother me? Nope, not at all, and nor should it bother you. You can rest assured knowing that when you reach for a Spanish wine, 9 times out of 10, the wine will be fruit forward (great considering that grapes are fruit) and pleasant to enjoy. Additionally, this information holds true for most price points too. Even some of the most expensive wines in Spain hold to this philosophy, which means that with a few exceptions, your Spanish wines are ready, right now. Yes, for those of you “geeks” out there who have tried old wines from Spain that have developed and changed any wine will – some more than others. Regardless of aging, the wines will most likely taste pretty damn good right out of the bottle.

Like anything in life, there are always exceptions, and it was one of these exceptions that actually prompted this article. On a recent trip to the Alicante, I tasted some wines that did not fall into Spanish wines being capable of immediate consumption. Upon tasting the wines of Heretat de Cesilia in the region of Alicante, I was asked by the winemaker what I thought of his wines. My first response, and most honest was, “These wines are not Spanish but French”. To which he and the other people at the tasting replied, “We know.” Their wines were gorgeous and elegant with a wound up core of rich spice fruit and minerals that made me weak in the knees, but these wines also needed time, 5-10 years for the best of them. And although, they were incredible and ethereal wines, I found them no better than their more approachable Spanish counterparts. This is not the typical Spanish style of making wine. The winemaker, being French, had created wines that were made to age and not drink upon purchase. This is an idea that most Spaniards would never be able to even consider, resulting in Heretat de Cesilia’s inability to gain much ground in the Spanish market. Spaniards are used to traditional Spanish wine – enjoyable upon opening with their next tapa of paella, botifarra or slice of jamon.

I mentioned in previous articles my disillusionment with Jay Miller and Mark Squires ratings of Iberian wines. It was Mark Squires who said that he could not give a wine a high rating if it could not go the distance. To this, I laugh! 100pt Manzanilla? 100pt Cava? 100pt Alicante Monastrell? Let’s be clear, if you don’t drink these wines soon, you might miss out on their brilliance. If those of you in the blog-o-sphere are really getting fed up with the 100pt scale, subjective ratings and super palates, then join in my laughter at the thought of age equaling brilliance.

The caveat is that I’ve had a 100yr old port, 60 year old sauternes, a 20 year old cabernet, and a 30 year old reisling, and have loved them all for very different reasons. The reisling was a little “dried out”, but it was from my birth year 1975. The Sauternes were from a friend’s father who never had the chance to taste it before he passed away, and they were absolutely divine! The 100yr old port was drunk in the living room of the original Quinta de Noval estate among descendents of the owner many generations remove. The many Cabernets I have tasted over the past 20+ years are usually accompanied by steaks, friends and scotch, which has been perfect. So I do know that old wines can be divine, but I’ve also had sherry from the barrel while standing in a cobweb laced cellar in the south of Spain that tasted more delicate and intriguing than anything I have ever known. I have had Port wine from the barrel with a winemaker over looking the Douro Valley overlooking an incredible view with the sweet taste of fermentation clinging to my lips. I have sipped Cava with my wife while watching the sunset over Montserrat, still so fresh and alive that the bubble seemed to lift us both a few inches off the ground as the sun fell behind the world.

I would not give up any of those experiences, and I wouldn’t rate one over the other. They all we’re 100pt wines. Robert Parker says this of 100pt wines:

An extraordinary wine of profound and complex character displaying all the attributes expected of a classic wine of its variety. Wines of the caliber are worth a special effort to find, purchase, and consume.

I understand he is only rating the wine, but regardless of type of wine, the moment will always be more important.

If the Garagistes are “dead” because the wines don’t last, well then I say phooey! Here in Iberia, some of our greatest wines have lasted many lifetimes. In fact, we still drink Madeiras from Thomas Jefferson’s cellar.

I need to go now, I think I hear a bottle of sherry calling my name and I wouldn’t want to let it get to old now, would I?

Cheers,

Ryan Opaz

  • bbennett

    Ryan, Great article. Why don't you tell us what you REALLY think? :-) BB

  • bbennett

    Ryan,

    Great article. Why don’t you tell us what you REALLY think? :-)

    BB

  • RichardA

    Sherry is definitely under rated in most places. It does not get much publicity but there are some excellent sherries out there. I am very much a sherry novice but am learning.

  • Cornell

    Really enjoyed the post – to define quality by age is limiting and excludes (as you mention) many – in fact probably most great wines…if you define great as something you enjoy. Why shouldn't we hold in as high regard the winery that is able to produce a "great" wine that should be opened as soon as it is available as the winery that creates one that will last for many years. No reason…time to change….

  • Cornell

    Really enjoyed the post – to define quality by age is limiting and excludes (as you mention) many – in fact probably most great wines…if you define great as something you enjoy. Why shouldn’t we hold in as high regard the winery that is able to produce a “great” wine that should be opened as soon as it is available as the winery that creates one that will last for many years. No reason…time to change….

  • Gabriella

    I love this post. I really do, but I need to play the devil's advocate here (like all good wives do) and say that although I agree wholeheartedly with Ryan, I would also have to highlight the importance of cellared wines from a cultural standpoint. In an age of immediate gratification seen in fast food (golden arches), fast coffee (triple shot mocha, no chocolate, decaf in a cup the size of Texas) and fast communication (where your TV, phone, microwave and refrigerator can all communicate with NASA), we are losing the idea of time. Yes, Spain has aged its wines for you, so you can open immediately upon purchase, and rest assured you will most likely enjoy a fabulous drink, there is something to said about looking at a bottle of wine over the next 20 years knowing that you need to be patient. Patience is leaving our world by the second, and we are all missing out on what it means to knead and bake bread, watch an oak tree grow and enjoy each and every minute of your wine developing and evolving in your cellar. It means you've stood the test of time, desperately wanting to pop that cork, but holding back in an effort to taste it in its prime. I´ll admit that I am worried about time, fearing that we are all becoming too stressed, too fast-paced and too focused on the future. Spanish wines are fantastic. We should celebrate their ability to be drank immediately and appreciate the fact that they generally don't need to be cellared. I just don't want see younger generations supporting one side of the spectrum and not the other. Both sides have their benefits and need to both appreciated and respected for their beauty. As we move into an age of screw caps and box wines (not denying the quality element here), I want to make sure there is one voice out there supporting the art of patience.

  • http://www.catavino.net Gabriella

    I love this post. I really do, but I need to play the devil’s advocate here (like all good wives do) and say that although I agree wholeheartedly with Ryan, I would also have to highlight the importance of cellared wines from a cultural standpoint. In an age of immediate gratification seen in fast food (golden arches), fast coffee (triple shot mocha, no chocolate, decaf in a cup the size of Texas) and fast communication (where your TV, phone, microwave and refrigerator can all communicate with NASA), we are losing the idea of time. Yes, Spain has aged its wines for you, so you can open immediately upon purchase, and rest assured you will most likely enjoy a fabulous drink, there is something to said about looking at a bottle of wine over the next 20 years knowing that you need to be patient. Patience is leaving our world by the second, and we are all missing out on what it means to knead and bake bread, watch an oak tree grow and enjoy each and every minute of your wine developing and evolving in your cellar. It means you’ve stood the test of time, desperately wanting to pop that cork, but holding back in an effort to taste it in its prime.

    I´ll admit that I am worried about time, fearing that we are all becoming too stressed, too fast-paced and too focused on the future. Spanish wines are fantastic. We should celebrate their ability to be drank immediately and appreciate the fact that they generally don’t need to be cellared. I just don’t want see younger generations supporting one side of the spectrum and not the other. Both sides have their benefits and need to both appreciated and respected for their beauty. As we move into an age of screw caps and box wines (not denying the quality element here), I want to make sure there is one voice out there supporting the art of patience.

  • Gabriella

    Allow me to clarify my comment a bit. I recognize that Ryan was only making it clear that 100 point wines can be immediate consumption wines as well as they can be cellared wines. My intention was only to make the additional comment that as we shift our attention to the quality of immediate consumption wines, we shouldn't lose site of why cellared wines are important. For me, it is not the posh tradition or the reputation that follows cellared wines, but rather the value of time, patience and adoration.

  • bbennett

    Gabriella, I agree with your comment regarding the value of cellaring wine (or closeting it in my case). Ryan's post didn't lead me to believe that he is against cellaring wines. His own cellar would dispell that notion. Not only that, but I think Ryan is also making the comment that the wine tasting experience extends beyond the sterile confines of a rating guide and the smell, sip, swirl and spit routine required to taste through a batch of wines. Where is the fun in that? Ok, there is some fun in that, but it pales next to the opportunity to pair that routine (change spit to swallow and savor) with an inviting environment containing food and friends. Finally, your perspective on the culture of instant gratification is right on. It's just another indicator of society slowly losing control, or Western society for sure. Just don't blame the Spanish wine makers! :-) Bill

  • Gabriella

    I completely agree Bill, leading me to my second comment. It is not the Spanish winemakers I am blaming in the least, it is my fear that as we all begin to see the value of immediate consumption wines, I fear the typical trend of swinging the opposing side. What this means is that as an idea becomes trendy, we tend to overvalue and exhaust it. I think I need to write a post on my thought. Allow me to detour from comments and into the blog! Thanks for you comment Bill!

  • http://www.catavino.net Gabriella

    Allow me to clarify my comment a bit. I recognize that Ryan was only making it clear that 100 point wines can be immediate consumption wines as well as they can be cellared wines. My intention was only to make the additional comment that as we shift our attention to the quality of immediate consumption wines, we shouldn’t lose site of why cellared wines are important. For me, it is not the posh tradition or the reputation that follows cellared wines, but rather the value of time, patience and adoration.

  • bbennett

    Gabriella,

    I agree with your comment regarding the value of cellaring wine (or closeting it in my case). Ryan’s post didn’t lead me to believe that he is against cellaring wines. His own cellar would dispell that notion.

    Not only that, but I think Ryan is also making the comment that the wine tasting experience extends beyond the sterile confines of a rating guide and the smell, sip, swirl and spit routine required to taste through a batch of wines. Where is the fun in that? Ok, there is some fun in that, but it pales next to the opportunity to pair that routine (change spit to swallow and savor) with an inviting environment containing food and friends.

    Finally, your perspective on the culture of instant gratification is right on. It’s just another indicator of society slowly losing control, or Western society for sure. Just don’t blame the Spanish wine makers! :-)

    Bill

  • http://www.catavino.net Gabriella

    I completely agree Bill, leading me to my second comment. It is not the Spanish winemakers I am blaming in the least, it is my fear that as we all begin to see the value of immediate consumption wines, I fear the typical trend of swinging the opposing side. What this means is that as an idea becomes trendy, we tend to overvalue and exhaust it. I think I need to write a post on my thought. Allow me to detour from comments and into the blog!

    Thanks for you comment Bill!

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