Editor’s Note: Last week, we asked London food and wine blogger, Rachel McCormack, if she would be interested in revisiting her previous residence of Spain by attending the Wines of Spain (ICEX) trade tasting in London. With her sweet Scottish brogue, Rachel wholeheartedly accepted. Thanks so much Rachel for providing us your take of not only the tasting, but the current state of the Spanish wine trade in London.
When I was a child, I used to love Spain. I’d been on holiday three years in a row to the small town of Pollenca in Mallorca and I’d come home and rave about how much I loved it – the food, the language, and the people. Generally, I was met with blank stares. Everyone who was “anyone” knew that Spain was simply a greasy, cheap, sunny holiday destination and that anyone with any pretensions to culture, cuisine and sophistication went to France.
In the intervening too many years to count, British people have taken a far more enlightened approach. They have discovered the joys of proper Spanish food in Spain. Castellers from the province of Tarragona have created human towers in the middle of Regent Street, showing that Spain is so much more than flamenco and bullfighting. Spain is now being mentioned, in increasingly loud whispers, as the New France – the new lifestyle fantasy for food and drink. Benidorm has been replaced by Barcelona, chips with chorizo and beaches with boquerones and we are all now desperate to know about Spain, drink its wine, eat its food and generally enjoy ourselves.
Knowing how much monetary value there is in selling us Brits a good lifestyle, Wines from Spain held an evening of tapas and wine tasting after its trade tasting last Thursday at London’s (It’s always London my dears) Old Billingsgate. 375 people paid Â£20 to go and sample wine from over 23 exhibitors and eat some tapas/amuse bouche from the capitals best Spanish restaurants. Young men in suits hummed and had the restaurants El Faro’s deconstructed pa amb tomaquet which was a glass of tomato water with olive oil and some breadcrumbs. It was delicious and the suits then decided to brave the cod brandada with piquillo pepper sauce, although a couple of them were disappointed at the lack of alcohol content in either.
The executive chef at Iberica London seemed to stand around like a spare wheel as his lack of English meant that he couldn’t actually talk to anyone. His head chef, on the other hand, made up some delightful pinchos of mojama on rosemary sponge. Jose Pizarro from Brindisa had a Tardis-like bag of prawns to put on top of piquillo peppers – the beautiful presentation lasting an entire second before being shoved into another attendee’s mouth.
The wine exhibitors included the big names of Spanish Rioja (the Catalan giant Torres was noticeable by its absence) – Faustino, Marques de Caceres, Marques de Riscal. There were also several wine merchants with their Spanish range – the majority of which was Rioja. One of which poured Enate from Somontano, though I learned that selling Rioja was considerably easier than selling Spanish wines in the UK from other regions. This was further exemplified by the group of tasters surrounding said table while asking exclusively for Riojas: failing to demonstrate any level of enthusiasm for the Enate. And unfortunately, this same “Rioja” mantra was repeated throughout the evening. At a push, they would also try Ribero del Duero, but it seemed more forced than desired. It was obvious they were simply searching for heavy reds.
Most of the wines at the tasting are available all over the UK in supermarkets – two or three of which I found yesterday in a tiny Co-Op. Looking at Spanish white, rose and cava I realized that they must be bought almost unconsciously by consumers as “Spanish wine”. Whether it’s the grape variety, the label, or the weekly supermarket special, consumers have overcome historical trends. Today, although Britain has moved on from greasy, cheap Spain, they have instead caught Riojitis.
If you’re in London, have you moved on to explore wines from various other Spanish regions? And if so, what regions have caught your fancy and why?