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Vino Joven: Contrasting Cultural Views on Young Quality Wine

Every year in late November, Vila Viniteca sponsors a festival of vino joven (new wine) in the streets of Barcelona. This is always a great chance to taste this year’s wines, harvested just a few months prior and ready to drink. A couple friends and I arrived to Santa Maria del Mar a little after 5 o’clock, paid four Euros for a wine glass and a paper cone full of pasta, and were ready to hit the narrow streets of the Barrio de la Ribera for a little vino and whatever food the local merchants were dishing out. We knew enough to get there early; by 7:00 the hordes of noisy revelers would make any leisurely talks with the winemakers all but impossible.

Our first stop was the table Rioja Alavesa winemaker Artadi. Over a glass of their vino joven, which turned out to be one of my three favorites, I started chatting with their rep about the topic of world-wide icon Beaujolais nouveau. “[We use] carbonic maceration, exactly the same method [as the French do], but the Spanish wines are just much better. The difference is the grape; Spanish Tempranillo is just better than Beaujolais’s gamay.” “Beaujolais is like water after a few months”, whereas vino joven are good for a year or two, and has more flavor in the first place. We agreed that Beaujolais is world class marketing genius and name recognition; “Le Beaujolais nouveau est arrive” is the best wine slogan ever. When I asked if anyone in Spain had ever experimented with Gamay, he just looked offended.

A very fruity guilty-pleasure vino joven from Bodegas Ostatu was an equal favorite of mine. It didn’t take much encouragement for Gonzalo Saenz to join the Beaujolais bashing. (It was clear that there was a kind of underlying frustration.) “Spanish Tempranillo is smoother, with less acid. And it doesn’t taste like chewing gum.” Ouch! Gonzalo then explained that “(vino joven) is a old family tradition in the Rioja Alaves where the vast majority of vino joven comes from. But less and less is being made since it requires a lot of manual labor…it is still drunk a lot in the Basque country, especially around Bilbao, but rarely in Barcelona.” Breaking into the Barcelona market was a second general fixation. There were theories for all tastes about why this wasn’t happening. Gonzalo claimed that “vino joven is hard to get used to, an acquired taste” which seemed a little strange since these young reds are usually considered the easiest drinking of the reds and a “transition wine” new wine drinkers. Daniel
Fortunyo of Sierra Cantabria blamed “Barcelona restaurants who serve it much too warm. It has to be drunk cold.”

The last of my top three was from the west of Spain in Toro. “Fariña el primero” from Bodegas Fariña was getting a lot of buzz from the increasingly buzzed crowd. “Don’t miss it. It is usually among the finalists at the early Primer competition in Madrid.” We finally found their table and made our way through the crowd. The wine (again 100% Tempranillo) was very nice indeed: big fruit in the nose, big fruit and long on the palette. (And superb with a Catalan butifarra sandwich.) . Over the noise I learned that Farina is the only Toro bodega which makes “primero”, as they call vino joven.

Later, as inevitably happens at Spanish festivals, theories about this and that started to fly. Rafel, the spokesperson from Cooperativa del Masroig in Montsant expounded his: that November young-wine festivals are related to the Catalan tradition of “la matanca del porc” (the killing of the pig). He cited a 17th century Dutch painting showing a bunch of drunk Spaniards surrounded by pigs as evidence. Well, in any case, they now have a wine label featuring pigs and knives.

Well, vino joven is what it is. In my opinion, it works great when you are hanging out with friends; talking about various topics; and eating sausages, pizza or burgers. And let’s not forget background noise, such as in a crowded tapas bar or an annual mega Barcelona block party. I personally can hardly imagine drinking vino joven sitting down. And it’s certainly not for a romantic candle-lit meal.

If you find yourself in Barcelona about this time next year, check it out. But get there early unless you have a good tolerance for chaos.

Cheers,

Michael Oudyn