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

Iberian MapThe first time I used the term “Iberian wines” among a group Spaniards in Madrid, a gentleman turned towards me and blankly stated, “We have Iberian ham, but there is no such thing as an Iberian wine.” 

Needless to say, this term wasn’t very common back in 2005 when we started Catavino.net.  There was Spanish wine. There was Portuguese wine. The two, however, would never merge.

We felt differently.

We saw Spain and Portugal for its common historical, cultural and agricultural heritage. They shared more than cured ham. They shared common cured meats, spices, grapes and more. For us, it was a natural progression to share their success and commonalities as a whole, which helped us launch the first Iberian wine website. 

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 conversation. 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. 

Iberian wine is 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 including Aragonez (Tempranillo), Tinto Roriz (Ull de Llebre), 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 grape’s 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 affect 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 viticultural 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, political and marketing level, it’s a conversation worthy of 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 bureaucratic 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 global economy, and 2.0 world, wine is a substance that knows no borders and truly does have a sense of place. That place in my head is called Iberia.

I know I’m a 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.

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