Dining Reviews

Palate-Stretching 101

food featA wine education with Soif’s experts

As a veteran of many weekend wine “seminars” at Soif, I have to confess that I’ve never known less (going in) and learned more (coming out) than I did last week at the Spanish Wine Tasting with ace rep Brian Greenwood. These are classy, casual events and it’s hard to imagine having this much flavor fun anywhere for $20.

Sure, I knew a tempranillo from a sherry, but that’s about where my Spanish wine intel ended—until, that is, Greenwood brought out a large map of Spain and Alyssa Twelker and John Locke (wine pros of Soif) started pouring the first of six wines representing the three heavyweight regions of Spanish viticulture, and the tasting began. Iconic wine regions, distinctive samples, and a knowledgeable tour guide made this a delicious two hours of neural expansion.

We were, as Locke promised, about to savor wines of Spain’s three major domains. From the “new school” house of Buil & Giné (fun to say out loud) we began with a fresh and mineral-driven white Verdejo from Rueda graced with a light 12.5 alcohol and a pleasantly salty mouthfeel.

This new winery is devoted to the “modern style” using grapes from a high plateau region of northwestern Spain. What this means—and how it translates into the taste— is that the wine is made in new oak barrels that are used for only three years before being discarded. The accessible modern style surfaced again in a robust crianza, “entry-level wine,” according to Greenwood, aged for one year in oak, and bottled for only one year before release. The smoky, leathery blend of Cabernet and Syrah showed plenty of fruit and mineral, underscored by a large photo of rocky, slate soil—the very earth of the Priorat vineyard in question—displayed by our speaker.  So now we were all beginning to sense the intrigue of Spanish wines. And the plot thickened when we met a wine made from Pérez Pascuas, an intense Tempranillo from the Ribera del Duero region. This winery won the 2013 Wine & Spirits “Winery of the Year” award, and I was soon to taste why. After a break for bread, cheese, and marcona almonds we entered more complex territory with three highly individual wines from the honored house of Lopez de Heredia. Founded in the late 19th century, this estate has a serious crush on “very old school” techniques. We sampled three wines, the youngest of which was harvested eight years ago. How is this possible? Greenwood explained that tradition in Spain involves aging wines in oak for many years, and then keeping the wine in bottles for many years more. “They’re ready to drink when you purchase them,” the rep told us, “because the winery has done the work for you.” Much of the fabulously complex flavor notes came from another tradition—reusing the old barrels, some of which were 120 years old!—and never cleaning the tanks. “That’s why you’ll find a range of flavors in these wines you just can’t get in California.” And this amount of oxidation means that the wines we sampled, such as a sensational 2002 Reserva Rioja, can actually last for 80 years. A distinct sherry-esque quality infused the wine made from Tempranillo “for elegance,” garnacha “for body” and small amounts of Mazuelo and Graciano “for acidity and color.” Stunning wine, this last one, loaded with cherries, orange and bay leaves.

Check out Soif’s website for more upcoming wine-tasting events. It’s a terrific way to spend a Sunday afternoon

Christina Waters was born in Santa Cruz and raised all over the world (thanks to an Air Force dad), with real-world training in journalism, painting, music, woodworking, winetasting, trail running, reiki, organic gardening, and teaching. She has a PhD in Philosophy, teaches in the Arts at UCSC and sings with the UCSC Concert Choir.

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