Friday, December 30, 2011

Why corks are popping once more - - The Guardian

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(Click on the line above, includes a slide show on cork.)

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 "Cork-makers are feeling buoyant as the wine industry turns away from screw-top bottles and back to traditional corks."   - - The Guardian


Carlos de Jesus of Amorim in Portugal explains the process of preparing cork
that will be made in natural cork wine stoppers.
Photo by Gerry Dawes©2010 / contact gerrydawes@aol.com for publication rights.
(Note: the photos in this blog post were not a part of The Guardian article.)



"Corks are on the way back, as 70% of winemakers favour them over screw-tops or plastic stoppers.

Forget screw-caps, the old-fashioned cork is making a comeback. This week, as the wine industry gathers at Vinexpo, the world's biggest wine fair in Bordeaux, traditional cork-makers are feeling buoyant.

"Today, 70% of winemakers have chosen cork over screw-caps or plastic wine stoppers," says Carlos de Jesus, head of communication at Amorim, the world's biggest cork producer.

So why the sudden comeback? Are consumers increasingly associating screw-caps with cheap wine? 
Not according to Valérie Hamon, of the wine retailer Nicolas. Light summer wines are still preferred in screw-cap bottles and, she argues, "cork doesn't always mean quality".

Nonetheless, winemakers from South Africa to California are making the switch back from screw-caps to cork.

Proof, according to De Jesus, that cork is back and here to stay."

Origin information:
The Guardian


Gerry Dawes gerrydawes@aol.com

Premio Nacional de Gastronómia 2003 (Spanish National Gastronomy Award)

Food Arts Silver Spoon Award December 2009

Gallery of Chefs & Food Personalities: Portraits by Gerry Dawes

Web Pages:

Gerry Dawes's Spain: An Insider's Guide to Spanish Food, Wine, Culture and Travel

Adventures in Spanish Taste: Insider's Food, Wine, Cultural and Photographic Travel in Spain

The Traveling Gastronomer: A Celebration of Food, Wine, Life, Photography & Quixotic Musings




Thursday, December 29, 2011

LA Times: Some France makers of wine go natural, and fight the system

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"Many natural winemakers have been ejected from the French regulatory system; others leave because they believe certification methods reward low-standard industrially and chemically produced wine."

By Devorah Lauter, Los Angeles Times


"Standing by the wood-burning oven in their kitchen, Claire Cousin rips apart the frame around a photo of her husband, Olivier, kneeling beside Romeo, the lazy draft horse he uses to plow his small vineyard in France's Anjou region.

Preoccupied, his hand on his beard, the real Olivier sits at the large kitchen table musing over several open bottles of wine. "Yeah, get rid of the frame," he says, without looking.


Claire hangs the unbound portrait back on the cluttered wall. They both approve.


PHOTOS: French wine industry battle


Olivier Cousin, 51, doesn't like being boxed in. He calls himself a
paysan, or a small farmer, the sort seen before tractors and industrialized farming pushed so many off the fields.

"I'm for freedom," he says. "We got rid of our kings awhile ago. We cut their heads off."


Cousin is fighting a raft of battles: Against the system. Against chemicals. Modern technology. Money, as in, the need for it. And against the idea of putting sugar and other additives in wine.


More concretely, he is in a legal battle with the French authorities who regulate winemaking. Although the issue appears to be about wine labeling, it really is about
terroir, the land, or the identity it gives to fruit, as well as its people. . ."

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Remembering the Great Donn Pohren: Spain, Flamenco & Adventures in Taste: The Wines and Folk Food of Spain



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11/07/2007 08:35AM
Contributed by: WMC_News_Dept.

Madrid, Spain - American writer and well-known Flamencologist Donn Pohren died in Las Rozas [a Madrid suburb] on November 5, 2007. His wife, Luisa Maravillas provided a brief statement: "I regret to inform you all that Donn passed away the 5th of November, during the night. Sometime in the near future I intend to organize a gathering of friends and aficionados in Las Rozas."

Donn Pohren was regarded as one of the leading experts in Flamenco in the English language and wrote several influential books about the subject. "Donn Pohren's book was the first thing I bought when arriving in Andalucía, before I even knew how much my life would be involved with and changed by flamenco. It helped me understand a lot that was to come," says British expatriate Kate Edbrooke, who runs a recording studio in Granada and has produced several Flamenco recordings by local artists.


The Significance of Flamencologist Donn Pohren
and His Impact on Spanish Wine & Food
Que descansa en una juerga de “pura ma're” with a copita in front of him
and Diego del Gastor playing alongside him.
 
Copyright by Gerry Dawes, Montebello, NY November 07, 2007.


In 1972, Donn Pohren, a Minneapolis-born American who lived in Spain for decades and was the world's greatest foreign expert on flamenco, published his idiosyncratic underground classic, Adventures in Taste: The Wines and Folk Food of Spain. I was living in southern Spain when I first encountered Pohrens's book (privately printed in Spain) soon after it was published and it had a profound effect on me. In the early years, I never traveled without it. At first, I merely wanted to have some of the wine and food experiences that he had described. Soon, I was having new experiences of my own, experiences that would eventually lead to my becoming a widely published writer on Spanish wine and food and a recognized authority in the field.

Pohren wandered around the Iberian Peninsula in the 1960s exploring the nooks and crannies of Spain's 4,000,000 acres of vineyard lands, the largest acreage of any country in the world. He would pop into a village bar, ask for a glass of the local vino, then casually ask who made the best wine in town. On many occasions, Pohren would soon find himself being offered several samples as one vintner after another vied to show this foreigner that his wine was the best in the village. In his book, Pohren described encounter after encounter with artisan winemakers who were making excellent wines, many of which were unknown to the outside world in those days.

However, many of the wines Pohren described were wines whose charm soon faded if anyone tried to transport them beyond the boundaries of their home region. The winemaking techniques were often primitive. In many places the grapes were still crushed by treading, then fermented in open stone or cement vats, and aged in less than meticulously cared for barrels. The result was a flawed wine, which often tasted good with the local food, but was simply not stable enough to "travel" and was not the stuff to thrill sophisticated wine connoisseurs. Still, Don Pohren swore by the inherent quality of many of these Spanish wines and he was right.

His experiences have always been in the back of my mind and have served me well on numerous occasions, such as an encounter on my first trip to then unknown Priorat in 1988. Firmly in Pohren's shoes, I entered an old-fashioned, untidy cellar, where I was given a flawed wine to taste, but the underlying base wine was clearly very good. I judged the prospects for this region to be so promising that I came back wrote the first major article about the potential of Priorat. Alvaro Palacios and crew arrived the next year and began to make history. Recently, in Ribeira Sacra, I have run into some flawed wines (less so every year), just as a did in Priorat nearly twenty years earlier. Tasting "underneath" the sometimes inexperienced wine making techniques, I found enormous potential. I know Donn would have as well.

What Pohren tasted in those wines while researching his book forty years ago was the materia prima (raw material; grapes, soil and climate), the exceptional juice from grapes which often came from old vines, whose average yield of wine per acre of vines was less than half that allowed by the best appellations of Burgundy and Bordeaux.  Even backward winemaking techniques couldn't keep the underlying quality from showing through; Pohren's Spanish wines were diamonds in the rough.

In the years since Donn Pohren wrote his book, exciting things have happened which promise an incredible future for both Spain's traditional wines and those of emerging wine regions. Spain's nearly four decades-old democracy has been the catalyst for a modern renaissance in fashion, art, literature, cinema, and gastronomy and it has ushered in a technological revolution in wine making as well. A key element in this was Spain's acceptance in 1992 as a member of the European Economic Community, the Common Market (now the European Union), which posed a special challenge to Spanish wine producers: compete on a quality level with the other wines of Europe or enter the over-saturated European wine "lake", and be lost in the crowd.

Fortunately, Spain opted for quality. Many forward looking people in the Spanish wine trade began to see Spain's entry into the European Union as both a new challenge and a new opportunity for their wines. These challenges and opportunities would require a reassessment of their positions in both the domestic and export markets, an upgrading of their winemaking technology, and consistent quality in their wines. Emile Peynaud, Alexis Lichine, and other consultants were brought in from France to advise winemakers in the Rioja, Ribera del Duero, and Rueda. The best enologists from Rioja, Penedes, and Navarra traveled to other regions share their expertise. Young Spanish winemakers trained in Bordeaux, Burgundy, and at the University of California - Davis. Miguel Torres Riera, the maestro of Catalan winemaking, and Jose Peñin, Spain's foremost wine authority, wrote important books about Spain's future in the wine world. New wine books, periodicals, and gourmet journals proliferated. Seminars, international wine symposiums, and wine competitions began to be conducted on a regular basis. And, importantly, wine clubs and societies were formed as an increasingly affluent and growing middle class in Spain began to appreciate the wines of its own country.

During the past two decades, investments in new wine making technology (especially in the area of fermentation control), better barrels, experiments with new grape varietals, and the replanting of vineyards in some areas have begun to have a geometric effect on the overall quality level of Spanish wines. This progress in winemaking technique in Spain would not in itself account for such a dramatic effect–in fact, it is now often a detriment to authenticity--if it were not for the fact that Spain is a splendid natural vineyard endowed with many areas whose grape varietals have become perfectly acclimated over centuries to the micro-climate and soil in which they grow. 


All that was needed in many cases were winemakers dedicated to quality and the technology to achieve it. The grapes produced in the best wine areas of Spain–Rioja, Jerez, Cataluna, Ribera del Duero, Navarra, Rueda, and in many up and coming regions–have shown they are capable of producing wines which can stand alongside the best of France, Italy, and California. The Tempranillo of the Rioja and Ribera del Duero, for example, is coming to be recognized as a grape which can produce wines to rival those made from Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, or Pinot Noir.

The established, classic wine regions of Spain like Rioja and Jerez, while refining the techniques and polishing the skills which made them famous, also created exciting new areas of interest with small estates like Remelluri and Contino in Rioja and the emergence of such high-quality wines as the almacenista sherries of Emilio Lustau and the late harvest Navarra moscatels from Julián Chivite, Ochoa and Viña Aliaga. Other areas whose wines were once underground legends in Spain, like those described by Donn Pohren, but whose viticulture was based on tiny artisan producers and ill-equipped cooperatives, began to realize their potential for making great wines.

Ribera del Duero, home of Vega Sicilia, Pesquera, Mauro, and Viña Pedrosa; Navarra, the producer of perhaps the world's finest rosés; Priorato (Cataluna) and Toro (Castilla-Leon), whose rich, concentrated, blockbuster red wines have drawn international attention; Rueda, a surprising white wine region; and Rías Baixas, whose Albariños now count the U.S. as its most important export market, are just the most visible of the emerging wine regions capable of making first rate wine from native grapes. There are many more to come. 


Previously unknown regions–not many of which unknown to Donn Pohren–such as Bierzo, Ribeiro, Ribeira Sacra, Valdeorras and Monterrei, along with Jumilla and many others–have either jumped onto the world wine stage or are just in the wings awaiting their call to stardom. Producers like Miguel Torres in Penedes, Julián Chivite in Navarra, Carlos Falcó at Dominio de Valdepusa and Codorniu's Raimat estate, just to name a few examples, have achieved new heights with foreign varietals, though even the best examples often fall short of the intriguing, delicious, uniquely Spanish wines made from indigenous varieties–the kinds of wines that Donn Pohren loved.

Embedded in me like a memory chip is the spirit of Donn Pohren and his book. Following his example, I still ferret out little known producers and drive many kilometers out-of-the-way just to eat a dish in a little-known regional restaurant and, like Don, look beyond rusticity (or fancy trappings in some places) to find the core of something that is undeniably wonderful and unique to Spain. Only adventurers and indefatigable travelers can do what Donn Pohren did. I can attest to how indefatigable and adventurous he was from averaging six trips a year to Spain (eight per year in the past five years).

Without Don Pohren’s book (and to a great degree, James A. Michener’s Iberia) I may have never caught the spirit of the Spanish road that has sustained me now for more than 40 years. For that I owe Donn a now unredeemable debt of gratitude and so do people such as Steve Metzler, who built a great and exemplary Spanish wine importing company, Classical Wines, based on his Pohren-inspired wine travels. Because of Donn, Metzler was inspired to find not only Pesquera and make Alejandro Fernandez's wine world famous, he even met his wife, Almudena. Neither of us saw Don Pohren as much as we would have liked to over the years, but fortunately several years ago in Madrid, I had an opportunity to let Donn know just how much his work meant to me and to the many who carry Spain in their hearts.

I will miss the fact that Donn is no longer with us in body, but he will never die in the spirits and hearts of those who followed his incredible Quixotesque passion for Spain, flamenco, Spanish wine and traditional food and all things Spanish. (Quixote may have been a dreamer, but not a madman; those windmills he was tilting at were brought from the low countries and represented the domination of the foreign House of Austria, a powerful, inquisition wielding force that crushed those who dissented like Don Quixote after his encounter with the windmill sails.)


Donn Pohren was a dreamer and he may have seemed like a madman when he lived his life like a candle in the wind during his awesome flamenco juerga years, but to me Donn Pohren was a profound inspiration and he always will be. Vaya con Dios, Don Donn. I will raise a copita to you often in my journeys. I can see the angels lining up now for a juerga--a Spanish wine, food and flamenco party--the likes of which even heaven hasn’t seen.

The End

Gerry Dawes©2008
gerrydawes@aol.com

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Pulpo a la Gallega (Gal: Polbo a la Galega), Octopus Galician Style, is Enjoyed All Over Spain. Pulpo is a Great Match with the Ribeiro Wines of Manuel Formigo

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Polbo (pulpo, or octopus) is so highly estemed in Galicia that monuments such as this public water source 
in the village at Vilanova de Arosa (Pontevedra) is dedicated to Galician women cooking octopus. 
Photo by Gerry Dawes©2011 / gerrydawes@aol.com.

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Perhaps with the exception of lacón con grelos (a dish made with grelos, turnip or parsnip greens, pork shoulder, chorizo, potatoes and Spanish pimentón) and caldo gallego (a stew of pork, beef and or chicken with chorizo and/or bacon; turnip greens, collard greens or green cabbage; white beans and potatoes), pulpo a la gallega (polbo a la galega in Galcian) is the most ubiquitous dish in Galicia.  Although it is a dish now served in many parts of Spain, the Gallegos never seem to get enough of it.


Pulpo that has been steamed, at a restaurant in Ribadavia in the Ribeiro wine district. 
Photo by Gerry Dawes©2011 / gerrydawes@aol.com.

Octopus is usually frozen to tenderize it--sometimes it is pounded--then boiled until tender in a stock pot or, in Galician fiestas, in large metal kettles. The steamed octopus is then cut with kitchen shears with bit-sized pieces, placed on a plate (best on the now forbidden [in restaurants, at least] round wooden plates, as served at fiestas; the wooden plates absorb some of the water, instead of allowing it to pool up below the octopus as on a normal plate. After the octopus is plated, it is dressed with Spanish extra virgin olive oil, Spanish pimentón (paprika) and sea salt, speared with toothpicks and served with good Galician bread. Sometimes steamed potatoes, another adored Galician staple are served with the pulpo.

Steamed polbo a la galega (pulpo a la gallega; octopus Gallician style) dressed with olive oil, Spanish pimentón (paprika) and sea salt, though no prohibited by the health authorities, best served on a wooden plate, which absorbs excess water.  At Bar Pintos, Cambados (Pontevedra), Galicia. 
Photo by Gerry Dawes©2011 / gerrydawes@aol.com.

It is claimed that the best octopus cooks are women from the inland towns of Carballiño and Ribadavia in the province of Ourense.  Since the best polbo a la galega supposedly comes from frozen octopus, this is not as unreasonable as it sounds, even though these towns are at least an hour from the nearest seacoast.  One Sunday morning in the center of Ribadavia, which has an exceptional old Jewish quarter (14th-16th centuries), I encountered a woman in front of a bar preparing polbo a la galega (see photos in slide show).


Galician woman outside a restaurant in Ribadavia (Ourense), Galicia, preparing steamed polbo a la galega (pulpo a la gallega; octopus Gallician style) dressed with olive oil, Spanish pimentón (paprika) and sea salt. 
Photo by Gerry Dawes©2011 / gerrydawes@aol.com.

Another day, I was invited by my friend Manuel Formigo de la Fuente, who makes an exceptional Ribeiro wine in nearby Beade, to a special polbo a la galega day at a restaurant in Ribadavia.  The was a wait to get into the restaurant even though this dish can be found in almost any tapas bar or traditional restaurant in Galicia on any given day. 

Photo by Gerry Dawes©2011 / gerrydawes@aol.com.


Slide show, Octopus.  
(Double click on images to enlarge.)
_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
About Gerry Dawes   

Gerry Dawes was awarded Spain's prestigious Premio Nacional de Gastronomía (National Gastronomy Award) in 2003. He writes and speaks frequently on Spanish wine and gastronomy and leads gastronomy, wine and cultural tours to Spain. He was a finalist for the 2001 James Beard Foundation's Journalism Award for Best Magazine Writing on Wine, won The Cava Institute's First Prize for Journalism for his article on cava in 2004, was awarded the CineGourLand “Cinéfilos y Gourmets” (Cinephiles & Gourmets) prize in 2009 in Getxo (Vizcaya) and received the 2009 Association of Food Journalists Second Prize for Best Food Feature in a Magazine for his Food Arts article, a retrospective piece about Catalan star chef, Ferran Adrià. 

 
video
Trailer for a proposed reality television series  
on wine, gastronomy, culture and travel in Spain.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Comments of The Spanish Artisan Wine Group's Gerry Dawes from the Blogger the (z) infidel

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Aged Traditional Rioja: A Journey Into the Past & the Rioja Traditional/Modern Divide

by on

". . .Rioja has been a hot button location in the wine world, where the divide between traditionally made wines and modern styled wines has been widely debated.  I don’t pull any punches with where my heart lies.  It’s with traditional Rioja and it always will be.  And I am not alone.  In fact, I have come across a couple great stories concerning traditional Rioja lately.  The first is a great interview with Gerry Dawes by my friend Tom at Inside RiojaGerry Dawes is a no B.S. kind of guy, and his interview is a great read.  This is a guy who is been in the wine business for many years and has dealt in some of the world’s greatest wines and he rates López de Heredia 1947 Viña Bosconia as the greatest wine he has ever tasted!. . ."

Thursday, December 8, 2011

"Some men are born out of their due place." The Moon and Sixpence, W. Somerset Maugham


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Manzanilla at sunset on Bajo de Guía beach at Sanlúcar de Barrameda, my spiritual home.


"I have an idea that some men are born out of their due place. Accident has cast them amid certain surroundings, but they have always a nostalgia for a home they know not. They are strangers in their birthplace, and the leafy lanes they have known from childhood or the populous streets in which they have played, remain but a place of passage. They may spend their whole lives aliens among their kindred and remain aloof among the only scenes they have ever known."
Peregrino (pilgrim) & Irmandinho (Brother) de la Irmandade de Vinhos Galegos 
(Brotherhood of Galician Wines), Santiago de Compostela. (Self portrait.)


"Perhaps it is this sense of strangeness that sends men far and wide in the search for something permanent, to which they may attach themselves. Perhaps some deeprooted atavism urges the wanderer back to lands which his ancestors left in the dim beginnings of history."

At Pena das Donas, Ribeira Sacra in the morning light.  
Photograph by Basilio Izquierdo, former winemaker at CVNE.)


Sometimes a man hits upon a place to which he mysteriously feels that he belongs. Here is the home he sought, and he will settle amid scenes that he has never seen among men he has never known, as though they were familiar to him from his birth. Here at last he finds rest." - - The Moon and Sixpence, W. Somerset Maugham (who spent time in Spain in his youth and wrote extensively about it.)

With the Bodegueros Artesanos, Val do Salnés, Rías Baixas, Galicia, producers of natural, native yeast, own-clone, terruño-laced, spoofulation-free Albariños of character, style, grace, balance, charm and breed. The taste of their unique wines is driven by individuality, not what "the market is asking for." They make some of the most intriguing and best white wines of Spain.

__________________________________________________________________________________
 
About Gerry Dawes
   
Gerry Dawes was awarded Spain's prestigious Premio Nacional de Gastronomía (National Gastronomy Award) in 2003. He writes and speaks frequently on Spanish wine and gastronomy and leads gastronomy, wine and cultural tours to Spain. He was a finalist for the 2001 James Beard Foundation's Journalism Award for Best Magazine Writing on Wine, won The Cava Institute's First Prize for Journalism for his article on cava in 2004, was awarded the CineGourLand “Cinéfilos y Gourmets” (Cinephiles & Gourmets) prize in 2009 in Getxo (Vizcaya) and received the 2009 Association of Food Journalists Second Prize for Best Food Feature in a Magazine for his Food Arts article, a retrospective piece about Catalan star chef, Ferran Adrià. 


". . .That we were the first to introduce American readers to Ferran Adrià in 1997 and have ever since continued to bring you a blow-by-blow narrative of Spain's riveting ferment is chiefly due to our Spanish correspondent, Gerry "Mr. Spain" Dawes, the messianic wine and food journalist raised in Southern Illinois and possessor of a self-accumulated doctorate in the Spanish table. Gerry once again brings us up to the very minute. . ." - - Michael & Ariane Batterberry, Editor-in-Chief/Publisher and Founding Editor/Publisher, Food Arts, October 2009. 


video
Trailer for a proposed reality television series on wine, gastronomy, culture and travel in Spain.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

The Magnificent Seven: The Ribeira Sacra Producers of The Spanish Artisan Wine Group

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Jorge Carneros and Emmanuel Dupuy D'Angeac tasting Viña Cazoga in the winery in Ribeira Sacra. Carnero means ram, so a ram's head is on the label of  Jorge's wines.  He has a bed stashed in a big barrel that was formerly used to make Viña Cazoga.   Jorge sometimes sleeps in the barrel during the harvest. Photo by Gerry Dawes©2011 / gerrydawes@aol.com

Recently someone asked “Which Ribeira Sacra wine is The Spanish Artisan Wine Group bringing into the U.S.?

We will be not be bringing in just one winery from La Ribeira Sacra, but SEVEN (and possibly eight) bodegas! We love La Ribeira Sacra and its small artisan producers.  We believe it is somewhat like Burgundy's mix of small estate producers and somewhat akin to the Loire Valley as well, but the grapesare not Chardonnay or Pinot Noir as in the case of Burgundy,  but the native red Mencía grape is very reminiscent of the Loire's Cabernet Franc.  And Godello? Well, many of the best Godellos can take on the majority of Chardonnays out there these days.


Click here to read the rest of the story and 

Friday, September 16, 2011

The Spanish Artisan Wine Group & Amorim Corks; A Cork Briefing from Amorim Cork Producers, Portugal


* * * * *
 Why Cork Stoppers in Bottles of Our 
Spanish Artisan Wine Group Wines Matter


Tubes of cork destined to become wine stoppers at Amorim in Portugal.
All photos by Gerry Dawes©2010. Contact gerrydawes@aol.com for publication rights.


Will All Be Using Specially Selected Amorim Portuguese Corks
In Our Bottles Within Two Years of Being Selected Into the Group

We Will Guarantee Our Wines Against "Cork-taint" 100% 

And We Will Say So on Our Labels!


Carlos de Jesus of Amorim in Portugal explains the process of preparing cork 
that will be made in natural cork wine stoppers. 
All photos by Gerry Dawes©2010. Contact gerrydawes@aol.com for publication rights.

Cork Briefing
Courtesy of Amorim (Click)



Slide show of Amorim cork production.
(Double click on images for enlarged version in Picasa; 
click on "slideshow" in the upper left-hand corner, then hit F11 for a full screen show.)


Alentejo:

Portugal’s Cork Country

The Alentejo is a mystical place of gliding plains, sudden mountains, and the largest cork forests in the world. The Alentejo’s Cork Country is a lightly populated region with open horizons where the rhythm of life follows the rhythm of regional songs. And this fertile land produces more than half of the world's total cork supply.



Cork harvesting at Amorim in Portugal's Alentejo region. 
All photos by Gerry Dawes©2010. Contact gerrydawes@aol.com 

Saturday, August 6, 2011

God and Men (Godello and Mencía) in Ribeira Sacra: Winemaking in Spain's Most Exciting Wine Region for Terroir-Driven Wines


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Chef Michael Chiarello, Bottega, Napa Valley, with José Manuel Rodríguez, President of the D.O. Ribeira Sacra and producer of The Spanish Artisan Wine Group wine, Décima, in José Manuel's precipitously steep Ribeira Sacra vineyards on the Sil River.  Photo by Gerry Dawes ©2011. gerrydawes@aol.com.
* * * * *
Article by Gerry Dawes
(First published in The Wine News, Fall 2009)

Over the past few years, La Ribeira Sacra, a barely accessible, exquisitely rural wine region in northwestern Spain's mountainous Galicia (some 350 miles northwest of Madrid), has begun to show the most exciting potential I have encountered in more than 40 years of traveling the wine roads of Spain. Here God and men, using primarily godello for white wines and mencía for reds, are creating such irresistibly delicious, enticing, often profound wines that the Ribeira Sacra is rapidly becoming one of the most compelling wine regions on earth. In the bargain, Ribeira Sacra just may be the most strikingly beautiful wine region in the world with its terraced vineyards of dry farmed, old vines indigenous grapes that plunge precipitously hundreds of feet down the slopes of the majestic damned-up canyons of the Minho river, meandering from the north and defining the western zone, and the Sil, flowing from the east and marking the southern tier. Ribeira Sacra is one of only two areas in Spain--the other is Priorat--that practice "heroic viticulture," the laborious care and harvesting of vineyards from such steeply inclined terraces.

(Slide show on Ribera Sacra.)


Gerry Dawes can be reached at gerrydawes@aol.com; Alternate e-mail (use only if your e-mail to AOL is rejected): gerrydawes@gmail.com


Thursday, August 4, 2011

Travels on the Food & Wine Roads of Spain with Spanish Artisan Wine Group Creator Gerry Dawes

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(Note the wineries shown in this video are not members of The Spanish Artisan Wine Group.)

"In his nearly thirty years of wandering the back roads of Spain," Gerry Dawes has built up a much stronger bank of experiences than I had to rely on when I started writing Iberia...His adventures far exceeded mine in both width and depth..." -- James A. Michener, author of Iberia: Spanish Travels and Reflections
* * * * *
video
Leading a group, including Chef Terrance Brennan of New York City
on a week-long culinary, wine and cultural adventure in Valencia and Alicante.

* * * * *
"Gerry has an extraordinary knowledge of Spain, not just the cuisine and wine but the geography (little tapas bars on tiny streets in villages up in the mountains), history, culture and people. One of the highlights of the trip for me was not a 3-star Michelin meal, but a lunch at a winery. Gerry, of course, knew the winemaker, and we dined in a large beautiful room with floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking the vineyard. We ate simply: tomato salad, jamón ibérico, great bread and olive oil, baby lamb chops grilled over grape vines cuttings (exquisite), ewes’ milk cheese and, of course, great wine. What was special about this was the people, who invited us into their home with warmth and genuine hospitality, their alegría de vida (joie de vivre). I don’t speak Spanish but didn’t have too, we communicated through food, wine, banter, laughter and facial expressions." - - Terrance Brennan, Chef, cookbook author, creator-owner of New York’s Picholine and Artisanal restaurants. Brennan rates this trip, which predates the film pilot, as one of the top two gastronomic experiences of his life.

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Alternate e-mails (use only if your e-mail to AOL is rejected): http://gerrydawes@gmail.com/

Phone: 914-414-6982
Teléfono movíl (during stays in España): (011 34) 670 67 39 34

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Carlos Aliaga and the Wines of Viña Aliaga at Another Great Lunch at El Crucero, Corella (Navarra


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Pochas at El Crucero.

____________________________________________________________________________


About Gerry Dawes  


Gerry Dawes was awarded Spain's prestigious Premio Nacional de Gastronomía (National Gastronomy Award) in 2003. He writes and speaks frequently on Spanish wine and gastronomy and leads gastronomy, wine and cultural tours to Spain. He was a finalist for the 2001 James Beard Foundation's Journalism Award for Best Magazine Writing on Wine, won The Cava Institute's First Prize for Journalism for his article on cava in 2004, was awarded the CineGourLand “Cinéfilos y Gourmets” (Cinephiles & Gourmets) prize in 2009 in Getxo (Vizcaya) and received the 2009 Association of Food Journalists Second Prize for Best Food Feature in a Magazine for his Food Arts article, a retrospective piece about Catalan star chef, Ferran Adrià. 


". . .That we were the first to introduce American readers to Ferran Adrià in 1997 and have ever since continued to bring you a blow-by-blow narrative of Spain's riveting ferment is chiefly due to our Spanish correspondent, Gerry "Mr. Spain" Dawes, the messianic wine and food journalist raised in Southern Illinois and possessor of a self-accumulated doctorate in the Spanish table. Gerry once again brings us up to the very minute. . ." - - Michael & Ariane Batterberry, Editor-in-Chief/Publisher and Founding Editor/Publisher, Food Arts, October 2009. 
 


video
Mr. Dawes is currently working on a reality television series 
on wine, gastronomy, culture and travel in Spain.




Saturday, July 30, 2011

God and Men (Godello and Mencía) in Ribeira Sacra: Winemaking in Spain's Most Exciting Wine Region for Terroir-Driven Wines


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José Manuel Rodríguez, Consejo Regulador de La Ribera Sacra President (and producer of his own Décima wines) and a visitor on a tour of Spain to visit members of The Spanish Artisan Wine Group, at vineyard overlooking the Sil River.  Photo by Gerry Dawes ©2011. gerrydawes@aol.com.
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Article by Gerry Dawes
(First published in The Wine News, Fall 2009)

Over the past few years, La Ribeira Sacra, a barely accessible, exquisitely rural wine region in northwestern Spain's mountainous Galicia (some 350 miles northwest of Madrid), has begun to show the most exciting potential I have encountered in more than 40 years of traveling the wine roads of Spain. Here God and men, using primarily godello for white wines and mencía for reds, are creating such irresistibly delicious, enticing, often profound wines that the Ribeira Sacra is rapidly becoming one of the most compelling wine regions on earth. In the bargain, Ribeira Sacra just may be the most strikingly beautiful wine region in the world with its terraced vineyards of dry farmed, old vines indigenous grapes that plunge precipitously hundreds of feet down the slopes of the majestic damned-up canyons of the Minho river, meandering from the north and defining the western zone, and the Sil, flowing from the east and marking the southern tier. Ribeira Sacra is one of only two areas in Spain--the other is Priorat--that practice "heroic viticulture," the laborious care and harvesting of vineyards from such steeply inclined terraces.

(Slide show on Ribera Sacra.)

Although lost in time until recently, Ribeira Sacra has been making wine since the Roman occupation (and possibly longer). In just the past five years, the region has awakened from its centuries-long backwater slumber and appears poised to make a major and possibly long term impact on the Spanish wine world--including becoming a major moderating force for a wine culture that has allowed itself to become obsessed with a predilection for overblown, overripe, overly alcoholic, inky monster style wines. At last a Spanish region has emerged whose terruño (terroir) can rival the ethereal, sublime qualities of the great French Atlantic-climate influenced, terroir-driven wines such as red and white Burgundies and the cabernet franc-laced reds of the Loire Valley.

Stephen Metzler, President of Classical Wines (Seattle, WA; www.classicalwines.com), who represents Ribeira Sacra's Adegas Cachín (Peza do Rei and Finca Millara) says, "My view of Ribeira Sacra is as a Northern European terroir whose wines have structure and acidity, so the pursuit of extract hereBbut not overripeness--is advisable. It is the opposite of most of Spain, where they need seek acidity to provide support for their fleshiness."

However, Roger Kugler, former wine director of New York's Sula and Boqueria and a Spanish wine specialist, does not agree about "the pursuit of extract." He says, "There is a tendency to over-extract some of these Ribeira Sacra reds at the moment, but I think that will pass as the winemakers catch up with the trend against such over-extracted wines which is now gaining ground all over the world."

More than any other place in Spain, the wines of Ribeira Sacra are being produced by people trying to get it right in the vineyards rather than manipulating the juice once it is in the cellars. Dominio do Bibei owner Javier Domínguez told me in March at his winery, "We began by working the vineyards, cutting yields and getting them into the right conditions to make good wine."

Ribeira Sacra winemaking indeed often seems to be a dramatic departure from the practices that have been characteristic for the past fifteen years of the rest of Spain, where winemakers have too often relied on overripe fruit, which produces fat, jammy wines with high alcohol content and low acidity. And winemaker-driven cellar techniques such as extended macerations, barrel fermentation, battonage (stirring of the lees), barrel toasting and extended aging of new oak have been used to achieve a formulaic flavor profile designed impress wine critics. In fact, Ribera Sacra red wines, when produced without cellar gimmicks may be the longed-for antidote to some of the more grotesque types of wines that have characterized Spanish winemaking for the past fifteen years. In August, while drinking his Lalama 2003 with me at New York's Boqueria Soho tapas restaurant, Javier Domínguez made a statement that many fine wine lovers and Spain aficionados fervently hope is true, "I think we are beginning to see a group of people in Ribera Sacra trying to make wines with a stamp of authenticity. I believe this is totally contrary to what has been going on in the rest of Spain for many years, over-ripeness, over-extraction, over-oaking, too much alcohol, etc."

The tiered slate and/or granite bancales, or terraces, some dating to the Roman occupation nearly 2,000 years ago, have a great deal to do with why Ribeira Sacra wines can be so profoundly terroir-driven, intriguing and delicious. The old vines, which are driven deeply into the fractured stone of the terraced hillsides, impart a marked minerality to the wines, depending upon the stone composition, which can range from mostly granite in Chantada and a granite-slate mix in Ribeiras do Minho in the west to Amandi, where the terrances are mostly slate, to some slate-and-granite in Ribeiras do Sil and slate- or schist-laced clay in Quiroga-Bibei.

The inclines of most Ribeira Sacra's vineyards are usually from 30 per cent to 80 per cent but, in some cases, Denominación de Origen (DO) Regulatory Council President José Manuel Rodríguez says is "even steeper at 100 per cent or more!" (Germany's famous Bernkasteler Doktor vineyard in the Mosel is on a 100 per cent incline.) The steepness of Ribeira Sacra's riverside slopes allows graduated harvesting because of the differences in altitude, which can vary as much as 500 to 600 feet from top to bottom in the same vineyard area, with the earliest ripening vines being in the lower, therefore warmest, rows nearest the river. The vendimia (harvest) continues for ten to fifteen days until the uppermost vines are picked. The climate varies from the more direct Atlantic weather influences in the western Minho, which receives some 35.5 inches of rain annually, while the more southern and eastern Sil areas only get 20 to 27.5 inches per year. The Minho's median temperature is 56 degrees Fahrenheit, while the Sil is one degree warmer, but can reach temperatures of 95 to 100 degrees at midday in summer.

The grapes in the old vineyards of Ribera Sacra are often field blends of mencía or godello mixed with little-known ancient Galician red varieties. The Ribeira Sacra Regulatory Council has decreed that the "preferred" varieties for red wines are mencía, brancellao and merenzao, but also authorized and tolerated are caiño tinto, mouratón (also called negrada), sousón and the inky garnacha tintorera (gradually being eliminated as an authorized variety) and the seldom-encountered tempranillo (so widely grown in the rest of Spain). The preferred white wine varieties are the predominant godello, plus albariño, dona blanca, loureira, torrontés and treixadura.

Many Ribeira Sacra wines already have a clear identity: Their persistent terruño (Spanish for terroir) minerality is more readily evident here than in any other region in Spain, including Catalunya's Priorat, whose wines' inherent minerality is often obscured by new oak. Many Ribeira Sacra red wines exhibit the haunting, slate-driven, graphite flavors that characterize the best Priorat wines (whose pre-dominant varieties are garnacha tinta and cariñena), but Ribeira Sacra's qualities are derived from distinctly different grapes, primarily mencía, often blended with small percentages of the other unique indigenous varieties. And, because Ribeira Sacra's grapes are grown in a cooler Atlantic-influenced climate rather than a hot Mediterranean one, the wines achieve lively fresh fruit flavors from grapes that almost never attain over-ripeness.

Some Ribiera Sacra wines still offer unique, rustic country flavors from a bygone era. But, each year Ribeira Sacra wines have become increasingly sophisticated, often without totally losing that charming rustic touch, which imparts a authentic sense of place that is considered a virtue, rather than a flaw, by many admirers of these wines. The reds are usually quite delicious with a depth of ripe, juicy red and black currant, red berry and/or pomegranate-like fruit, that haunting minerality and moderate 11.5 to 13 per cent alcohol levels, all integrated beautifully and balanced by a fine acidity. Plus, the wines are often un-oaked or so judiciously oaked that the wood doesn't become a pre-dominant or even noticeable factor. All of these factors contribute to making these wines eminently drinkable, exquisitely well balanced and seamless in the best examples, which gives them an exceptional affinity with a wide range of foods.

White wines, made predominantly from godello, comprise less than seven per cent of Ribeira Sacra's production, but some also show exceptional promise. There are also some delicious blends of godello with albariño, treixadura and other native Galician white varieties. One wine in particular, Pena das Donas Almalarga Godello from 80-to-100 year-old vines, stands out and shows the potential of Ribeira Sacra whites. Almalarga has all the complexity and minerality of a fine white Burgundy such as a Puligny-Montrachet, but with the marvelous godello grape and mixed granitic-slate mineral flavors, instead of chardonnay from calcareous soils. Thus far, Pena das Donas has not resorted to the current vogue in Spanish white winemaking--fermentation in new oak barrels and frequent battonage--both of which can obliterate the lovely fruit and haunting mineral tones that are so enticing in this wine.

Over the past decade, I had seen glimpses of excellent potential in Antonio Lombardia's Pena Das Donas, José Manuel Rodríguez's Décima, Javier Seoane's Pradio, Primitivo Lareu's Sabatelivs, Dr. José María Prieto's Regoa and even such rustic wines as Viña Cazoga, Cividade and Os Cipreses. And, in restaurants elsewhere in Galicia, I have often ordered wines from some of the region's larger wineries--Vía Romana (Chantada), Abadia da Cova (Ribeiras do Minho), Rectoral de Amandi (Amandi), Ponte de Boga (Ribeiras do Sil) and Val de Quiroga (Quiroga-Bibei)--which produce very drinkable, inexpensive wines, primarily for Galician consumption. In March at the Chantada wine fair, I encountered several little-known, but very promising wines: Diego de Lemos, Pincelo, Quinta de Albarada, and Terras Bendaña. And, at lunch at Chantada professor's small "hobby" bodega in the middle of vineyards overlooking the Minho, we drank an unlabeled red wine that was gorgeously rich with only 12 per cent alcohol! At the Castro Caldelas wine fair in July, I tasted Adegas Costoya (Alodio and Thémera), Peza do Rei and Chao do Couso (Alcouce and Soutollo), all available in the U. S., and several more such as Sollio, Adega Vella, Bellaleira, Viña Pederneira and Solaina worthy of consideration.

In the past few years, several winemakers from outside the region--Bierzo's Raúl Pérez (several wineries; see below) and Gregory Pérez (Regina Viarum), Priorat's husband-and-wife team René Barbier, Jr. and Sara Pérez (Dominio do Bibei), Rías Baixas maestro Gerardo Méndez (D. Ventura) and Dominique Roujou de Boubee (Ponte da Boga), a French consulting enologist living near Barcelona, have all appeared to help refine Ribeira Sacra wines. And, just this year, significant articles about Ribeira Sacra's wines and winemakers have appeared in The New York Times, Gentleman's Quarterly and The Wine Advocate, which is having an explosive effect. Even in today's market, in which elmundovino.com, one of Spain's leading wine websites, reported this summer that Spanish wine exports were down by a staggering $55,000,000 and Catalunyas INCAVI (Cava Institute) is reporting the equivalent of nearly 19,000,000 bottles of unsold wine, Riberia Sacra wines sales are up 35 per cent in the past year, according to Regulatory Council President José Manuel Rodríguez.

Recently, some very promising, even exceptional wines (see Tasting Bar)--some made by these carpet bagging winemakers, have appeared in the American market. Gerardo Méndez, the owner-winemaker of top-rated Rías Baixas Do Ferreiro Albariños, advises Ramón Losada on his D. Ventura Viña do Burato, Pena do Lobo and Viña Caniero, three truly superb, very reasonably-priced red wines from an organically farmed vineyard in Ribeiras do Minho and two more in Amandi. The wines, from organically farmed grapes fermented with native yeasts, are among the most fruity, balanced, terroir-driven and gloriously delicious wines in Spain, yet none rises above 13 per cent alcohol, and they are un-oaked. Also in Ribeiras do Minho, from sharply inclined vineyards overlooking the Sil River (the Minho, Sil and Bibei meet nearby), Antonio Lombardia and his partners at the Pena Das Donas produce Almalarga Godello, one of the greatest white wines I have tasted in Spain, along with a first-rate Mencía, Verdes Matas.

Javier Domínguez, a native Galician, is the owner (with his wife, Maria) and artistic inspiration behind the striking Domino do Bibei hidden in the tortuous mountains of the Quiroga-Bibei area. Domínguez hired Priorat husband wife team, Sara Pérez (Clos Martinet) and René Barbier Jr. (Clos Mogador), to consult on his critically acclaimed wines, the godello-based Lapena and three reds, Lapola, Lacima and Lalama. Domínguez also employs local in-house talent--Suso Prieto Pérez and Laura Lorenzo Domínguez--who diligently manage the vineyards and monitor the development of the wines. Moving steadily away from overly long macerations and avoiding a surfeit of new oak, they are using upright, epoxy-lined cement ovals and larger wooden tanks for their wines.
When I visited Domino do Bibei in 2009, Domínguez told me, "Even if I don't make any money for ten years, what concerns me more is making the greatest wine possible from these grapes and this land." One of his wines, approved as "experimental" by the DO, is Lalama, a blend of mouratón and garnacha tintorera (an inky grape reminiscent of Alicante bouschet), with no mencía. Domínguez is also very enthusiastic about the propects for his brancellao, a grape which he says "produces pretty light-colored, elegant red wines that remind me of Burgundy."

Raúl Pérez, a diminutive 38-year old, is the quintessential flying winemaker, who "flies" around northwestern Spain in a Mini-Cooper, making or consulting on more than a dozen wines. Pérez began making wines--now critically acclaimed--from his family's vineyards in his native Bierzo. He also makes several wines in neighboring Galicia's Monterrei, Rías Baixas and Ribeira Sacra, including Fernando González's Algueira, Chao Do Couso (Alcouce, Soutollo), Guímaro and El Pecado, which in Spain was first sold as Guímaro Barrica (barrel aged). El Pecado, which recently received an astronomical score from a famous American wine newsletter, is described as 100 per cent mencía, but is actually 85 per cent mencía with 10 per cent caiño tinto and 5 per cent brancellao, with the two latter grapes imparting a rustic, exotic touch.

Pérez told me, "soy enólogo de viña" ( I am a vineyard enologist), but it could easily be said that he is also enologist de prensa (meaning either a wine press or a printing press).  Recently, Pérez has received some serious press attention from major European and American publications and his fame has skyrocketed. Pérez does believe that great wine begins in the vineyards and he prefers barrels to be four-to-five years old with no discernible toasting, since believes charring adversely affects the taste of the wines. Pérez's wines can be quite good and his rise to fame has helped spotlight the region, but his individualistic winemaking approach seems more about making denomination of origen "Raúlista" wines rather than exemplary representatives of any one region.

The Ribeira Sacra is divided into five subzonas which, because of climate, soil differences and vineyard orientation can produce wines that are markedly different in character, so much so that DO President Rodríguez says, "There might as well be 20 different DOs." From northwest to southeast, the subzones are Chantada, whose magical vineyards line the Minho in northwestern Ribeira Sacra; Ribeiras do Minho, with awesomely beautiful vineyard sites south of Chantada; Amandi, with strikingly steep vineyards in the center of the region whose southern boundary is the Sil River; Ribeiras do Sil, running south of the Sil from Minho in the west along the deep Sil canyons to Castro Caldelas; and Quiroga-Bibei, in whose eastern zone around Quiroga there are some non-terraced vineyards, but along the Sil and Bibei rivers in the southeastern reaches are some more majestic, steep, terraced vineyards.

Dominio do Bibei's Javier Dominguez, told me, "One thing I like about the Ribeira Sacra is the differences between the subzonas. For instance, the wines of Chantada are much more fruity. The wines of Bibei, where I have my vines and bodega, have much more minerality and the fruit is not as exuberant. I am not fond of wines with pronounced fruit, what I prefer are the mineral components."

Roger Kugler, also a fan of wines with mineral terruño, says "many Ribeira Sacra red wines are showstoppers. Because the steep vineyards and slate soils of Ribeira Sacra produce mencía with a deeper minerality and richness than can be found in Bierzo, for instance, and the region has been called the next Priorat, for good reason."

It is important to understand that Ribeira Sacra wines are unique originals that should be judged on their singularly distinctive merits. Even though the wines naturally may exhibit certain characteristics reminiscent of Burgundy, the Loire or Priorat and a few producers seem to be trying to imitate some of those styles, Ribeira Sacra wines are usually quite unique. Because of the region's historic isolation, indigenous grape varieties and climate, the style and provenance of these wines may take some getting used to because they are indeed a river of wine unto themselves, a wine river well worth exploring in depth.

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About Gerry Dawes


Gerry Dawes was awarded Spain's prestigious Premio Nacional de Gastronomía (National Gastronomy Award) in 2003. He writes and speaks frequently on Spanish wine and gastronomy and leads gastronomy, wine and cultural tours to Spain. He was a finalist for the 2001 James Beard Foundation's Journalism Award for Best Magazine Writing on Wine, won The Cava Institute's First Prize for Journalism for his article on cava in 2004, was awarded the CineGourLand “Cinéfilos y Gourmets” (Cinephiles & Gourmets) prize in 2009 in Getxo (Vizcaya) and received the 2009 Association of Food Journalists Second Prize for Best Food Feature in a Magazine for his Food Arts article, a retrospective piece about Catalan star chef, Ferran Adrià.

In December, 2009, Dawes was awarded the Food Arts Silver Spoon Award in a profile written by José Andrés.

". . .That we were the first to introduce American readers to Ferran Adrià in 1997 and have ever since continued to bring you a blow-by-blow narrative of Spain's riveting ferment is chiefly due to our Spanish correspondent, Gerry "Mr. Spain" Dawes, the messianic wine and food journalist raised in Southern Illinois and possessor of a self-accumulated doctorate in the Spanish table. Gerry once again brings us up to the very minute. . ." - - Michael & Ariane Batterberry, Editor-in-Chief/Publisher and Founding Editor/Publisher, Food Arts, October 2009. 


video
Mr. Dawes is currently working on a reality television series
on wine, gastronomy, culture and travel in Spain.