I apologise for the long gap spanning between the last two posts; a fortnight in the world of blogging is kind of an eternity, I know. I thought I'd fill you in on what I've been doing, aside from spending large parts of this weekend immensely humbled by a smacking from the dueling glove of inconvenient illness. Having now triumphed I can reflect on the past week of wonder. In my last post I was remarking on the unbearable generosity of Champagne Bollinger in their thorough hospitality during our visit to Paris and Ay. Today I must say the same for a champagne house to which I have long been beholden.
Pol Roger, of Epernay is a producer of Champagne which taught me for the first time that I actually enjoyed fizzy wine. Without the sex-appeal of Bollinger (being of course the fizz of James Bond), Pol often slips comparatively under the radar, yet, it is truly a great champagne. I am definitely looking forward to the 2002 with massive anticipation! So before I get on with this post, I must give a hearty thanks to Pol Roger for their hospitality and their encouragement over the years in the competition they've hosted. They are the company which has stoked my passion for wine, and the reason I have devoted much time over the past year along with my colleagues on the tasting team. The end result was a well-earned victory against our friends (and usual victors) at Edinburgh. Thank you Pol!
Now, onto my topic of the day. I am often banging on about my passion for the wines of the south of France and from the lesser-known regions of places like Bergerac, Jura and the Languedoc-Rousillon. I believe that they offer the drinker an affordable, unrestrained and classic example of French wine that is delightfully unaware of itself, and is just simply good wine to drink. I thought to myself this past week, if this principle applies to France, with Bordeaux and Burgundy being the prohibitively expensive regions for wine, why then could it not apply to other countries? The most famous wine-producing regions in countries like Australia and South Africa (I.E. Barossa and Stellenbosch) produce not only the finest examples of their nations wine, but also the cheapest bin-enders. What I am looking for is a European equivalent... A country with a famous heartland, or two, and a patchwork of under-appreciated regional gems.
I found it in Spain. With a region bearing so sonorous a name as Rioja, inseparable as it is from wine, many drinkers barely think of Spanish wine as being anything but Rioja. Granted, there are emerging regions and wines from Catalunya and Galicia are being recognised for their own unique qualities, but there are so many small regions to look to for interesting, exciting wines.
Jumilla, with it's old fashioned approach to the grape Monastrell (pron. monastrey) produces a deep inky black and tannic expression which is somewhat reminiscent of Bandol in Provence. True enough, in this country of misleading grape synonyms, Monastrell and Mourvedre, of Bandol fame is one and the same grape. Some believe that the grape originated in this region of Spain, where it has been widely planted for over 400 years. Two wins in particular have frequently crossed my radar form this region, the popular 'Las Hermanas' with it's 70-30 blend of Monastrell and Syrah is incredibly easy to enjoy, and more recently the Luzon Verde Organic varietal Monastrell. The latter is more interesting for me, to see a quality example of Monastrell acting on it's own outside of France. Both, as a regional wine should be, are pretty darn cheap for the quality of the wine.
Further north, in the uplands around the towns of Zamora and Toro, is the wine region named for the latter. A rapidly expanding wine town, Toro is to Rioja what Bergerac is to Bordeaux. Perhaps less restrained, less elegant, but it's full-blooded wines are instantly appealing, bold expressions of the Tinto de Toro grape (local Tempranillo). Though slightly more expensive than some of the cheaper Rioja wines, the delights of Toro wine are tough to match if you're looking for a big, warming red to go with some northern Spanish dishes like Wild Boar or mutton.
There are countless wine regions dotted around Spain, and to list them all and do them justice would require a well thought-out and carefully planned book or series of books. Just to name a few, there is always Navarra, Somontano, Valencia and so many more which offer great wines that have not yet found their way in quantity onto our shelves. I can only hope that they do. What I see is that eventually the regional wines of Spain will follow the regional French wines in becoming interesting, carefully made alternatives to the big names we already know.