Still on vacation the weekend winos enjoyed a week in Spain split between Madrid and Barcelona. Half the group had not been to Spain before and were looking forward to the adventure. We were also lucky to have some seasoned travelers, fluent in Spanish, who quickly helped us find our way around. It was still very hot in September so the refreshing citrus and fruit sangria (red and white wine) and Cava (sparkling wine) were the most popular choices in our frequent stops between museums, churches and parks. Freixenet which many of us recognize in the US as the “black bottle bubbly” Cordon Negro is a family owned company that today is the world leader in méthode champenoise sparkling wines. As is the case with many wines, the beauty of visiting the country of origin is that you have the opportunity to taste the different varieties which are not exported to the US. Cava, in contrast to Vinos de Pago where the location is very strict, is produced in several of the 17 Autonomous Wine Communities of Spain. In Madrid, the iron-and-glass Mercado de San Miguel, just outside Plaza Major, gave us ample opportunity for tastings. What a great concept, a market by day where locals shop for vegetables, fruits, olives, meat and fish, turns into a tapas, wine and beer destination at night. Pinkelton & Wine at the Mercado became one of our favorite destinations.
It was at dinner time in Madrid, that the Ribera Del Duero vs. Rioja debate started. A few of the winos had read a lot about Spanish wine, but the majority were happy to ask the server for their recommendation and when it came to red wines, we found that many had strong opinions about Rioja and Ribera wines. We were a large enough group that we had the opportunity to taste many wines from these different regions. Ribera del Duero, north of Madrid, is from the autonomous community of Castile and Leon, a producer of high quality red wines primarily from the Tempranilo grape. The wines are aged in oak and that comes through in the profile with some blackberry and licorice overtones; darker in color but not heavy, it paired well with meats. The men winos consistently preferred Ribera. On the other hand, the lady winos were drawn towards the Rioja wines, from La Rioja, also based on the Temperanillo grape, aged in oak. Lighter in color, with strawberry and cherry overtones and a touch of vanilla, we found ourselves drinking the Riojas with most everything we ate.
On our last day in Barcelona we stumbled upon Vila Viniteca as we were walking around the Barri Gòtic. What a great find! The store has been around since 1932 and was stocked with thousands of different Spanish wines and cavas with some Italian and French wines sprinkled in. Our plane did not leave till late in the day, so we had time for a few more tastings. That is where we discovered the Marques de Grinon 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon from Dominio de Valdepusa, the first estate to receive Vinos de Pagos status, reserved for estates that consistently produce high-quality wines. Not inexpensive, deep red in color with a profile of spices and red berries, this wine was without a doubt the best we had in Spain. It tasted like a great California cabernet – maybe we were ready to head back home.