Spanish wine

You are currently browsing articles tagged Spanish wine.

Yesterday morning at breakfast, Eva said, “Would you like to meet Gwyneth Paltrow?”

What a silly question.

So in the afternoon we drove out of Barcelona and wandered around a warehouse district along the waterfront until we found the building where Paltrow was filming a commercial for Freixenet. The cava producer is famous for their elaborate television commercials which air in Spain over Christmas every year. In fact, the Spaniards look forward each year to viewing the new ads. Paul Newman shot a Freixenet Christmas commercial in 1989, Meg Ryan did the 1997 ad, and other stars have included Penelope Cruz, Antonio Banderas, Kim Basinger, and, back in 1981, Gene Kelly. Quite a line-up.

Anyway, they were doing a new Christmas commercial with Gwyneth Paltrow and Ángel Corella, the astonishing Spanish dancer (and current artistic director for Barcelona Ballet), and we were invited to watch.

After spending most of the afternoon watching them shoot the commercial, here’s what I can tell you: It’s boring (in three hours they may have shot 5 seconds of the commercial); and Gwyneth is very beautiful (Ángel didn’t make an appearance while we were there). During a break, she came over, shook my hand, and said, “Hi.” I said hi back and commented on her dress. She said, “Oh, thanks.” That was about the extent of our conversation (I kind of doubt that she and Chris Martin will be sending me a Christmas card this year, but you never know).

If you take a look at the complete commercial, below, what we watched being filmed was the snippet about 30 seconds in to the commercial where Gwyneth is surrounded by a bevy of beautiful women in shimmering gold gowns raising up glasses of cava. By the way, there wasn’t really any sparkling wine in the glasses. They were the sort of glasses you buy as joke gifts that have the liquid sealed inside with plastic tops. So not only can’t you drink them, but they also never spill. A good thing while shooting a commercial for sparkling wine over and over and….

Tags: , ,

Spanish vermouth

In Catalan, when you feel like going out for tapas, you say, “Fer el vermut.” The precise translation is “Go for vermouth,” perhaps because in Spain you never get a drink without also getting a bite of food. The two go hand in hand. And although the drink of choice at most tapas bars these days is a glass of wine, sherry and vermouth are also very popular.

We don’t think much about vermouth in the States. We might put a drop or two of dry vermouth in a martini or half a shot of sweet vermouth in a Manhattan, but that’s about it. Almost no one drinks it straight. Which is a shame. Because if you’ve ever had a first-rate vermouth, it’s a wonderful aperitif, as I’ve discovered, and an ideal beverage with most tapas.

Almost every region in Spain has their own special vermouth. Yesterday after visiting a couple of wineries in Priorat and Montsant, Eva and I stopped for lunch at the Celler de L’Aspic restaurant in the tiny little town of Falset. I was just about to order a glass of wine at the bar when I spotted the bottle of Falset Vermut. It was so unlike any other vermouth I’ve ever had; light orange in color with a nose of honey and orange and some complex herbal notes—perhaps lavendar?

It was so delicious I bought a bottle to bring home with me. Now if I can just resist drinking it before we leave.

Tags: ,

The Pazo Baion, now a winery, was once owned by a Spanish druglord.

Every once in awhile while driving through the Galician countryside, you see some enormous stone mansion that looks like something out of Downton Abbey. They are called pazos in the Galician language (yes, they have their own language up here) and were built as country manors by ostentatious Spaniards who made a fortune in the New World and then came home to show off their wealth. We visited one, called Pazo Baión, that is now a winery and event center.

Pazo Baión was built by Adolph Fojo, an emigrant who made his wealth in the U.S., back in the 1920s. It was then purchased in the 80s by the notorious drug dealer, Oubiña Laureano, and his wife, Esther Lago, before being seized by the Spanish government in 1995. After that, the 287 acres of prime Albariño vineyards were leased by Vionta which is owned by the massive Spanish winemaker Freixenet. After years of legal wrangling (when Spain tried to sell the property in 2007, the daughters of Oubiña Laureano claimed that the palace was part of their inheritance following the death of their mother, who died in a car crash), the pazo and the vineyards were sold to Condes de Albarei, a wine collective, in June, 2008 for a little over 15 million euros.

Originally, Freixenet was determined to continue producing Vionta wines from the estate, but the new owners have decided that the entire property needs to go into rehab to cleanse itself of its drug connection. The pazo is now the centerpiece of an effort to increase wine tourism in the Rias Baixas region.

Tags: ,

Eva pouring the Ribera del Duero wines of Valdubon.Photo by David Lansing.

The Ribera del Duero wine region is an odd bird. In 1864, an intrepid Spaniard with a very long name—Don Eloy Lecanda y Cháves—decided to start a winery in this very isolated section of Spain. The area he chose was well over 2,300 feet above sea level, way up in the mountains where it was very cold and the grape-growing season was very short. Not exactly someplace you or I would pick to start a winery. But his bodega, Vega Sicilia, did surprisingly well. In fact, through most of the twentieth century, Vega Sicilia was the most expensive wine made in all of Spain. Go figure.

But here’s the really odd thing: Nobody else opened a bodega in Ribera del Duero. Until 1972 when another guy, named Alejandro Fernández, decided to give it a go. Things did not go well for Fernández. By 1983, he was ready to throw in the towel. Except that just happened to be the year wine critic Robert Parker came to Spain and raved about Fernández’s wine and the Ribera del Duero in general. A legendary wine region was made.

Now there are any number of wineries in the region, many of which have opened up in the last ten years. Their signature grape is Tinto Fino, the region’s version of Tempranillo, which loves the cool nights and warm days.

Eva and I stopped in at one of the newer wineries, Valdubon, and did a tasting with the winemaker, Javier Aladro. The character of wines from this region are all determined by the weather, Javier told me. “Sometimes our summers are too hot. Sometimes we have a very hard winter and too much rain. When we have a less-than-ripe vintage, the wines can be pretty abrasive. On the other hand, the great vintages are, well, great.”

Ten years ago, Javier said, there were maybe a hundred wineries in Ribera. “Now there are over 250. I don’t know how they all stay in business.”

We sampled some of Javier’s wines while eating a simple lunch of bread, cheese, sausages, and olives. “We must not forget,” said Javier, offering me a plate of food, “that wine is a drink to accompany a dish. In Spain, we never drink wine without eating—even when we are just sampling.”

I like that idea. And I liked Javier’s Valdubon wines.

Tags: ,