Spanish wines still not major factors in American market
May 30, 2001
Spanish winemakers have tried for years to get their toe in American wine lovers doors, but with only minor success. That's a shame, actually, because there are some lovely wines made in that country. Not many, you understand, but some.
My introduction to Spanish wines came in the early 1970s, when a fellow wine lover gave me a bottle from a now long-forgotten bodega, encased with something akin to a fine mesh chicken wire.
I remember the bottle's physical characteristics better than I remember the wine. The label was busy describing what was inside and along with the wire it was truly imposing.
The wine itself was red with a light flavor, not much depth and almost no finish. When you swallowed, it was gone. The word "finish" refers to the after-taste of wine. The flavor of a great wine lingers in the mouth for some minutes after it is consumed. Inexpensive wines of lower quality disappear quickly.
But since that time there has been an upgrade in Spanish wine-making techniques. As they have upgraded, their products have improved, but most Americans still haven't learned about it, judging by demand and sales.
One of Spain's problems during the 1970s is they were producing bulk wine designed for either blending or for the $2 to $3 per bottle market. When that is your goal, you are not likely to put your name on the label in an effort to convince the consumer that your wine represents quality and is worth the price.
In recent years, the trend has begun to turn the other way and while you need to be picky when selecting the wines of Spain there are some worthy of recommendation.
First a couple of definitions. You'll see "bodega" on most of the bottles. That merely means "wine cellar." In other words, the winery which produced what is in the bottle.
A "Reserva" is a red wine that was aged in an oak barrel for at least a year and in the bottle for two more. White "Reserva" wine is only barrel aged for six months. Taking the best Spanish wines from their key district, Rioja, only 7 percent are reservas. There are red "Grand Reservas," too. They have been aged for a minimum of two years in oak and three years in the bottle. White "Grand Reservas" must be aged four years but only six months of it needs to be in oak. Only 5 percent of the wines from Spain are Grand Reservas.
The country's best wines are produced in the Rioja area. Wine making has been in the area's history since 200 B.C. They are heavily over-oaked, too much so for many wine affectionados. An exception is the wines of Marques de Caceres. This producer is one of the few who have made an impact on the American market. Their wines are more Bordeaux style than Spanish and their distribution system in our country is so good that I cannot think of an upper level retail wine outlock that does not carry Marques de Caceres in inventory. It is a pleasant wine at an affordable price, a combination which is quite popular. It is available in a regular bottling, a reserva and also a grand reserva. Obviously, the price will vary greatly.
While their red and white wines are good but rarely great, there is one wine from Spain that sets the world's standards. It is their sherry and it can be stunning. It is made in a range from pale dry with a color like a fine Chardonnay to the great Pedro Ximenez, thick, sweet and with color like old motor oil. Look for wines made by Lustau. His wines are of unbelievable quality at very reasonable prices and they come in half bottles as well. But when you buy sherry be aware that California and other winemakers have produced wines they label as "Sherry." It is not the same. Not for a minute. Either buy the real thing or forget it.
The Mississippi distributor of many outstanding wines from Spain has asked to conduct one of our monthly tastings in order to demonstrate the quality of their wines. We have agreed. It will probably be the focal point of the July or August tasting.
The June tasting features the wines of Australia and will be conducted by Patrick O'Byrne from Tasmania/ Australia. He is the Ambassador of the Australian Premium Wine Collection and will be coming to America on June. One of his stops will be Meridian June 14. More about that next week.
Stan Torgerson, a long-time Meridian resident, has written a wine column for several years.