"We're just talkin' about the future, forget about the past…"

by Katie Pizzuto on October 13, 2009

in Uncategorized

sherrytasting“In Spain, we often joke that there are 2 plights we can thank Americans for,” he said when asked about changing wine styles in Spain, “phylloxera and Robert Parker—and the second one is more dangerous.” The classroom broke out into a loud chuckle, because when you’re spending 3 intensive days trying to remember things like the gazillion different names they have for the tempranillo grape, believe me, a little interjected sense of humor can go a long way. By the time I got to lunch on the third day, I was pretty sure everything within a 40-foot radius of me smelled like sherry, including the exhaust fumes being spat from New York City’s buses. But who the hell was I to complain? There are worse things in this world than an 8-Cava tasting for breakfast, 8 Catalonian wines as a pre-lunch aperitif and 7 Riojas for an afternoon snack. Alright, technically I could complain about the 4 clunkers they poured from La Mancha, but nobody’s perfect.

Thanks to the generosity of the peeps at Catavino, I got the opportunity to take a 3-day certification course in Spanish wine and Sherry in New York City, taught by the Wine Academy of Spain—on the house. Considering it was a seminar I was eager to take but couldn’t afford, I nearly danced a jig when they offered me a blogger scholarship to attend it. I’m not sure how I can ever repay that gesture, but my first-born is up for grabs if that will square us in any way.

Given our less-than-stellar economy, Americans are looking to Spain more than ever for great wine values, and so this wine seminar served as a sort of traveling ministry, educating its future disciples. Over the course of those 3 days, I sniffed, sipped and spit nearly 70 wines, and despite the fact that when I got home all I wanted was a cold beer, I realized that the more I know, the more I understand how little I know. And because I’m not one to keep my thoughts to myself, plan on a few cool future posts about Spanish wines—yes, Virginia, there is more to Spain than Rioja, Ribera, Rias Baixas and Priorat. And thank God there’s more to Cava than Freixenet.

I had no idea, for instance, that the region of Galicia has inheritance laws just like Burgundy. When the patriarch of a vineyard dies, the property must be equally divided amongst all his children instead of going to the eldest, which makes for very tiny patches of independently owned vineyards as the years pass. I also didn’t know that you’ll hardly find a Spaniard drinking Sherry outside of Andalucia (the region where it’s made), or that a 4-pointed star on a Cava cork means it was made in the traditional Champenoise method. And despite the fact that the region of Castilla/La Mancha is the largest area under vine, finding a wine I enjoy from there has proven more than difficult.

Photo by Ryan Opaz

Photo by Ryan Opaz

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.

{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Linsey October 13, 2009

nice article Katie

i wish someone would invite me to a chocolate tasting weekend … just as long as i dont have to spit the chocolate out like you ‘technically’ should do with wine


Did you do much spitting out?


2 Katie Pizzuto October 13, 2009

OMG, I definitely spit…otherwise never would’ve made it home each day! The only sips I swallowed were a really nice Rioja and Ribera they poured, so that’s a total of about 2 sips that didn’t get spit out!


3 The Wine Commonsewer October 13, 2009

Great article, sounds like a wonderful experience. Too bad about Lopez.

Besides Parker and .P, there was one other thing that Europe got from America. Disease resistant hybrid American rootstock, without which there would be no wine industry anywhere in Europe (or California for that matter).

I just can’t spit, which means, besides having Betty Ford on speed dial, I don’t make much of a wine taster. In fairness to moi, however, my tasting ability doesn’t decline all that much as the night progresses. If you serve me the under-the-sink wine cuz you think I’m in the bag, I’ll know it. 🙂 That’s about the only thing Me and Jesus have in common.


4 Katie Pizzuto October 14, 2009

Yeah, I was seriously bummed to hear the general opinion of Lopez, but seriously, more for me…ever had a bottle, Mike?

We definitely saved their industry with our rootstock, but I guess they wouldn’t have needed saving if we hadn’t given them the bloody louse to begin with, LOL!

You’re made of iron, dude, I had a case of sensory overload by the end of each day. Between the volatiles going up my nose from sniffing so intently, etc. my head felt like Humpty Dumpty after the fall. Didn’t wanna see the inside of a wine glass, which is why I just wanted a really good beer each night 🙂

Still waiting on the test results.


5 castello October 14, 2009

I also am too new world for the Lopez. I drank one bottle with my rommie and we thought it was weak and not fruity enough. I was hoping it was a slightly off bottle but now I hear I’m not the only one. I’m saving the other bottle for the proper food or my palate to evolve. What would you eat with it? Or maybe I should send it to you shrink wrapped in polystyrene. Just kidding.


6 Katie Pizzuto October 14, 2009

That’s what makes wine so subjective, Ed! Curious what vintage the bottle was that you had, though?! I tend to have wines like this alongside an earthy dish like mushroom risotto or such. Because it’s not a powerhouse, you also don’t wanna overwhelm it with anything too spicy or to “big” for lack of a better word 🙂


7 castello October 14, 2009

It’ is a 2001. Is that a good year? Is it too young?


8 Katie Pizzuto October 14, 2009

2001 was a fantastic year for Rioja…fantastic. But yeah, IMBO it’s just at the very beginning of it’s drinking curve. I’d cellar that baby for a few years before trying again, and it’ll most likely reward you for it.


9 castello October 15, 2009

Ok, then I’ll let it rest for a couple years.


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