Monday, March 1, 2010

Wines of Spain Seminar - Doug Frost

I have been stalking Doug Frost for a number of years now for a number of different reasons. First, he is the most knowledgeable wine "geek" I know. "In 1991 he passed the rigorous Master Sommelier examination and two years later became America’s eighth Master of Wine. He was the second person in history to complete both exams and sixteen years later he is still one of only three people in the world to have achieved both these remarkable distinctions." He knows his stuff. Second, he cares about non-traditional wine grapes, whether grown in the United States or elsewhere. Ask him about Norton. Third, he's a champion of Riesling. Fourth, we share a common philosophy to find the most value wine in the most unique regions. Fifth, he overseas the Jefferson Cup. And finally, after spending an hour listening to him lecture, you want to spend more time conversing over a glass of beer.

For this year's South Beach Wine Festival he volunteered to lecture on Spanish wines and drew a large audience for a Sunday morning. Even colleague Dr. Barry Gump took leave from Florida International University's School of Hospitality booth to attend. Frost had selected ten wines for us to sample neatly placed at each setting. He immediately instructed us to start sipping and not to wait for him to describe the wines. He wanted us to gain our own impression before "tainting" it with his. We started with two Cava sparkling wines and found that the region is the world's largest producer of methodoise champagne wines. The first was light and acidic, the second fuller and dryer - and made from mostly Pinot Noir.

That the wine was made from a traditional Rhone grape was a surprise which led Frost into a soliloquy on what leads to a great wine. It starts with finding a grape that takes the longest time to reach maturity. For instance Chardonnay in the Central Valley of California reach maturity in July - and then lose flavor as the grapes sit on the vine for two more months until harvested. Yet Chardonnay grown in cooler Napa and Burgundy mature much closer to harvest. In the case of the Freixenet Elyssia Pinot Noir Cava, Pinot Noir grows quite well in Penedas.

The same holds for Albarino grown in Galacia - and the region is too cool to make wines with "pinch". Thus in Galacia, the grow Albarino - as well as some indigenous grapes we tasted a few weeks back at the Washington D.C. Wine Festival. Frost informed us of an interesting aspect of the Galacian culture - which is Scottish. Over 2,000 years ago the region's descendants immigrated to the area. Interesting. The Morgadio Albarino 2008, DO Rias Baixas wine was light, but with refreshing acidity - a perfect match for South Beach. Next was a completely different wine style, a full bodied Viognier that was smooth and silky - one of my favorites: Pago de Vallegarcia Viognier. This wine was just as good as one made in the Rhone or even Virginia.

Another factor lengthening the growing season is the presence of temperature variations during the course of a day. Spain is the third most mountainous country in Europe - following Switzerland and Albania. Grapes planted on the slides of slopes benefit from sunshine during the day and then a sharp plummet in temperatures in the evening. The Bierzo region benefits from this variation and we tasted a nice Pazo de Arribi Mencia. This wine had the most objections from the audience when Frost asked who didn't like it. He usually started with objections since its more likely if someone likes a wine, they are not sure why - its just pleasant to them. Whereas if some doesn't care for a wine - they know immediately. For many, this wine was too earthy, minty, and quite a tart change from the first group of wines.

Our first Rioja wine was the Bodegas Breton, Dominio de Conte Reserva 2004 - a fuller wine and even more acidic and tart than the previous. The cool Rioja nights produce more acidic wines. We moved on to a Tempranillo, the Bodegas y Vinedos Fernandez Rivera, Dehes La Granja 2003 from the Castilla y Leon region. Another favorite followed, the Pango de Vallegarcia Syrah from Castilla la Mancha. Like the Viognier, this wine is made for the international market and tastes more like a California wine than an old world wine. The Castilla la Mancha is a warmer region that produces riper grapes. The biggest wine was the final red, the Mrlanda Crianca 2004 from Prirat. This grenache wine is less acidic than the other reds and is currently a trendy wine region.

The final wine was a muscat dessert wine, the Bodegas Gutierrex de la Vega, Casta Diva Cosecha Miel 2008, DO Alicante. Get used to the long names for Spanish wines. This was a nicely done dessert wine, tart and cleansing - not sugary.

While the FIU student volunteers cleared the room for the next seminar, I re-sampled the wines again. For someone who thought they generally preferred old world styled earthy wines, it was surprising that once again I preferred the two wines developed for the international market - the Viognier and Syrah. But the other wines are worth purchasing as well and we will continue to investigate wines from Galicia, Bierzo, Rioja, and Priorat. Thanks Doug for another informative and entertaining lecture. Hope to see you back next year.
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