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Wine and Prejudice: Spanish Wine dismissed on JamesSuckling.com

Editor’s Note: In a recent blog post about Spanish wines on James Suckling‘s website/blog, the Danish Barcelona resident, Marie von Ahm wrote an article that seemed to show a lack of understanding about modern Spanish wines. We invite you to read for context prior to continuing with this article.

Catavino’s excited to announce our newest contributor, well-known Spanish wine journalist and taster, Antonio Casado, who has provided us a very comprehensive response to Maria’s rather perplexing article.

The first time I met Marie von Ahm was in Madrid of last summer at an Italian tasting she organized alongside Gambero Rosso. She is a lovely and perfectly all-right person, but the fact they had named the event “Boutique Italian Wineries” made me uneasy right from the start, for I have never been much of a “fashionite” and I believe wine should steer well away from that sort of label. In any case, the quality of the wines were above average, and I thoroughly enjoyed the experience. Now, a year later, Barcelona resident Marie is back with a guest post on James Suckling’s blog titled “The New Elegant Spain”, which I think is a perfect example of the ultimate and most vacuous trait of the global wine industry. Simply put, a producer bottles their wine, hires a top PR consultant to help them appear in every fancy magazine and web page available; and suddenly, it becomes a “trendy” product without –in many cases– having ever been tasted, or adequately tasted, by trained palates. The result, in my opinion, is that the product is devoid of any true quality or passion, which should be the most basic element in any winemaking or wine writing.

I have several objections to this seemingly nice and “elegant” blog post that is part of a contemporary marketing trend that I call “shop-window fallacy”, packaging and showcasing only the latest trendy fads. Firstly, in wine writing, the star should always be the wine, not the writer, and Marie fails at that when she appears to dismiss every Spanish wine whose taste and character do not suit her palate.

“I have never been a great fan of Spanish wines. Most have been too heavy, flabby and jammy for my taste, but I must say that things are changing. Guess I need to seriously reconsider my opinion of Spanish wines. I have been tasting many extraordinarily good wines in the last half year, wines very different from the style that always made me chose something more “northern” with my dinner, if possible.”

Where do I start? Top Cava producers, the likes of Recaredo, Gramona, Castell Sant Antoni, Raventós I Blanc and both Torellós have turned my head many times in the last decade for their exceptional quality, and Marie, living just 50 kilometers from them, has somehow not been able to fathom their potential. Are their wines also flabby, when even with longer ageing time they manage to show true freshness and greatness? Is it “flab” or is it “fad” you mean? We’ve got the sun, we’ve got heat, but “flabby” should not be the word.

The article’s second sin is prejudice. I simply cannot accept her accusation of “heavy-flabby-jamminess”. Given that we are a Southern country, we are fully aware that we stray to the hot side of things (hellish, at times), and winemakers have understood the role of acidity in a way our “northern” colleagues, who battle (and ‘correct’) for ripeness, have not. There will always be examples of overripe wines in Spain, just as there are plenty of these occurring across the Pyrenees and around the world.

Thirdly, Marie von Ahm, in her tepid attempt to describe the relevance of some contemporary Spanish winemaking prowess, dismisses the whole of traditional winemaking in some of Spain’s most significant regions.

What has she been drinking all this time? Is it “flabby” the best word to describe the amazing freshness and fruit-driven brilliance of Spain’s own “northern” wines, such as the Txakolis from the Basque Country or the Albariños from Rias Baixas, the latter capable of showing a lively nature and quality even after long spells on-the-lees?

And even out of that Cantabric lineage, von Ahm has forgotten the great Godellos from Monterrei and Valdeorras, the whites from Rueda (a recent discovery, Codonal Vinum Nobile, an old-vine verdejo of true terroir and singularity) or the rosé jewels from Tierra de León, made from prieto picudo and simply the best rosé examples this side of the Pyrenees. Even in the South, Huerta de Albalá is achieving a great level of quality in red and rosé wines in the province of Cádiz!! And Ronda has managed great red renderings right in the highlands of Málaga (i.e. altitude! possibly the only one thing I agree of the whole discourse).

I hope you understand by now that “elegant” is a seven-letter word that gives me the creeps every time it is mentioned, just as “old vines” does. The real wines of Spain, though, seem to have no room in Marie von Ahm’s view of the country. I don’t mean that the wines she is mentioned are bad, but the mere “listing” or “roll call” of them the way she’s done cannot convey the passion and true commitment of many fine producers that are left in the shadows. Nor do I mean that she should list them all in a 500 word narrative, but neither should she dismiss them. I have been tasting almost 3,000 Spanish wines a year for the last decade, and I can assure you there is little or no flabbiness in the majority of them. Instead, a few minor wines became “trendy” when they were pushed into the limelight by PR specialists.

This isn’t even a “new wave of winemakers”, either. Mariano García has been at it for a long time. He spent the first 30 years of his career making wines for Vega Sicilia, and founded Mauro winery back in 1980! As for Raül Bobet, even Marie presents him as a “long-serving technical director” for Torres. So much much for her claim to novelty for “the new elegant Spain”.

Understanding wine is definitely a matter of perspective: there is voodoo and there is acupuncture. The first one is designed to inflict pain upon you (and not only to your soul) and the second one is designed to cure you. Marie has attempted with her writing to achieve the second, but has only managed to realize the first one.

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