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What Did I Learn from My Spanish Wine Certification Course?

Jesus Bernard _ The Wine Academy of Spain

In the beginning of June, when our eyes were all glazed from dreams of days spent lounging along the coast, drinking a glass of cava, Catavino announced an opportunity for 8 bloggers across the USA to attend a Certified Spanish Wine Course for free. Taught by the Wine Academy of Spain, this 3 day course was an incredible opportunity for any wine lover to receive a crash course in Spanish wine by learning about: its vast indigenous grapes; its numerous and varied wine appellations; its eclectic styles ranging from bone dry to sweet, dark purple to pale yellow in color, and heavily structured to light and fresh in the mouth; its long and dramatic history, its delicious and ample gastronomy, and of course, its culture.

Having had 7 out of the 8 bloggers attend the course, we felt it was high time to provide you with their feedback. What is provided below is either taken from an article posted on their site, or from email correspondences we’ve had with them throughout the summer.

Please take a moment and look through these thoughtful and insightful articles. The amount of knowledge and feedback taken from their individual courses not only give you an idea as to whether this course should be penciled into your calendar for next year, but also provide you with some knowledge about Spanish wine that you may not have known prior.

Again, we’d like to thank The Wine Academy of Spain for providing this fabulous opportunity to these 8 bloggers, and for each of the bloggers for taking the time to report on their findings!

Chicago, IL (July 6-8): Erica Green of Bottle of Wine

“Knowing the history and culture of a region plays an important role in understanding why and how wine is made in certain regions. For example, white wines made in Rías Baixas pair wonderfully with the seafood from the region.”

Erica not only wrote three articles (1, 2, 3) on the course, providing a play by play report, but she also wrote several regional pieces as well. Of key interest to me was her new found appreciation for sherry wine. Having had very little experience with it prior, Erica learned how to savor sherry on a much deeper level, as a result of learning about both about the importance of quality and diversity in this particular style of wine.

Seattle, Washington (August 3-6): Mike Veseth of Wine Economist

“Wines from Spain have many strengths that go beyond their obvious quality in the glass. Spanish food and culture are hot and Spain is a popular tourist destination, factors that can be leveraged in the marketplace. Intangible cultural factors have always helped sell Italian wines, so it is not unreasonable to think that Spain will benefit from them as well.”

In Mikes wrap-up article, he addresses an issue that I’ve heard a thousand times over, there is a challenge to sell a wine with from a foreign location made with unpronounceable grapes. And as much as I agree with Mike, it’s a viewpoint that irks me only because I feel as consumers we allow ourselves to be conditioned by certain marketing campaigns, and rarely take responsibility for our learning. That said, his article is chock full of insights as to why he feels Spanish wine can both succeed and fail in the international market.

Portland, OR (August 7-10): Pamela Heiligenthal of Enobytes

“The Spanish Wine Educators course is a definite must for any wine professional. It’s intensive and in-depth covering all regions of Spain including Andalusia. It’s the sort of class professionals are looking for in an advanced course — I highly recommend it for anyone wanting to learn more about Spain’s wine industry, culture and gastronomy.”

Pamela’s summary article on Spanish wine is hand’s down one of our favorites at Catavino, for several reasons. The first being that her writing style is both witty and educational, allowing the reader to walk away feeling just a wee bit enlightened on the subject without being overwhelmed. Secondarily, she points out 10 things you should know about Spanish wine, conveying the knowledge she learned in the course for us – a fabulous gift! Lastly, she provides us incentives to experiment with Spanish wine, pushing us past our reptilian side of the brain that repeats, “I only drink Rioja” to embrace a wider range of styles and flavors.

San Francisco, CA (August 13-15): Kevin Hogan of The Spanish Table

“A good chunk of the participants at the San Francisco seminar seemed to have found out about it through you [Catavino.net]. Interestingly (and this speaks to the technologically diverse times we all live in right now) there was no mention of the relationship between social media, internet marketing (or other ‘techie’ topics so near and dear to many of us) and the sharing of information and enthusiasm about Spanish wines. I think the future versions of this course will benefit from increased focus on the availability of wine information on the internet as well as added exposure on-line for the tour itself. You guys had the right idea to get people talking/blogging about the tour. The next step should be to get organizations, not just individuals, sharing the ‘good news’ (so to speak) about The Wine Academy. Get the sponsors involved in promoting the tour through their own networks. Get local companies like The Spanish Table (and wine retailers in other regions) involved in the promotion as well.”

This particular comment was emailed to us from Kevin, and we couldn’t agree with him more. Teamwork is the key to promotion, and the more we can get organizations, wineries and governments working in tandem to promote the country and its wines, the easier it will be to raise the excitement and the awareness. But this is a slow and deliberate process in Iberia, and one that will take time to catch on. To read more about Kevin’s experience, go here.

San Diego, CA (August 17-19): Neil Maiers of Wine Expedition

“Spanish Wine Master/Professor Esteban Cabezas delivered the course with an urgency and my pen was flying across my notebook as I furiously took notes. It became apparent pretty quickly that he had a reason to speak so fast…. there are A LOT of Spanish wine regions, wine grapes, wineries etc. and he could have kept talking for a week, let alone 3 days. It was nearly overwhelming, and at one point I wondered to myself, “…do they do anything else in Spain besides make wine?”

To answer Neil’s question, yes, incredible cured ham and olive oil. Oh, and then we must also highlight the incredible range of fresh produce, amazing gastronomy, vast and and diverse landscapes and wonderful people. But otherwise, you’re right, Spain’s got nothing 😉

To read more from Neil, head over to his summary article.

Cleveland, OH (August 20-22): Ryan Reichert of Oe-no-phile

“I enjoyed exploring wines from regions that I had no previous experience with, and getting an “inside” look at the wine industry from the teachers we had. The wines – for the most part – were all superb. Just this past Sunday I applied much of my experience to conduct a Spanish wine tasting with my French Language Meet-up group here in Cleveland. The response was overwhelmingly positive. One person noted that normally at wine tastings he really enjoys one or two wines, and dislikes the others, but that out of the 12 we sampled he enjoyed all of them.

Clearly Ryan is hooked on Spanish wines, and we couldn’t be more pleased. To read more on his accounts, head over here.

Washinton DC (August 24-26): Allison Aitken of A Glass After Work

“The best part of the class was what felt like an immersion into each region we were studying. Most units started with a video giving an overview not only of the wine, but also of the culture, the food, and the general lifestyle of the particular area. As a class, we then went through the slides, discussing the unique climate, soil, and viticulture techniques. All of this preparation helped when it came time for the tasting because experiencing the wine felt like putting together all of the pieces of a puzzle. We tasted a decent number of wines from each region in order to fully experience what made that wine different from wines made in other regions. By tasting 5 wines from Priorat, for example, it’s easier to learn the regional characteristic that can be expected when drinking a Priorat. Plus, having just covered information on the traditions and the cuisine from the area, food pairing ideas were easy to discuss.” Photo of Jesus Bernard was taken by Allison (A Glass After Work)

Like Ryan, Allison put her learning into action by hosting a Spanish wine and food tasting for 10 of her closest mates. And not suprisingly, they too were bowled over with the amount of diversity and quality Spain has to offer. Beyond her general impressions, you can also take a peak at some of the wines from Aragon and Navarra she found intriguing.

New York, NY (October 7-9): Katie Pizzuto of Gonzo Gastronomy

There was, however, one thing that it actually pained me to learn. It turns out that my absolute favorite Rioja winery—R. Lopez de Heredia—is scoffed at by many Spaniard wine drinkers. Apparently, the winery’s “old world” mojo doesn’t cut it with the masses, who want something less funky and earthy, and something more fruity and floral. They poo-poo Lopez’ use of old barrels (including some huge ones that have been around almost 100 years) and their “no chemicals, no pesticides, no chaptalization, no machines, hand-racking, aged-for-at-least-sixty-months-in-cask” policies. They also don’t much like the fact that the wines then spend several years in a bottle under a thick veil of mold and cobwebs either, despite the fact that keeping the bottles amongst the mold seems to prevent insect damage to the corks and preserve humidity. I was seriously bummed to hear that Lopez has become the butt of many a joke, exchanged over tapas or a fino, but then I guess that leaves more for me, so grab your fruit-forward wines, my Iberian compadres, and leave me the Lopez.

We’ll be joining you with a glass from our humble abode in Barcelona!!


Gabriella Opaz

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