Starting the Day Off Right…With Cava

The second day of The Wine Academy of Spain’s Spanish wine course couldn’t have started any better. We spent the early part of the morning learning about Cava, and how can you have a bad day when it begins with bubbly?

Cava is second in the world for sparkling wine sales, and like Champagne (number 1 in the world for sales), it is made using the traditional method. However, while the method for making the sparkling wine may be the same, the grape varieties and the climate of the growing region for Cava are very different. Traditionally, Cava is made with 50% Macabeo (crisp, fresh acid), 30% Xarel-lo (elegance, body, structure), and 20% Parellada (creamy, soft body and delicate aromas) grapes. The climate in Spain is also significantly warmer than the climate in the Champagne region of France. On a very basic level, the Cavas we tasted were much brighter and fruitier than many Champagnes I’ve had, although both have toasty, yeasty characteristics that come from using the traditional method.

Tasting #1 on Day 2

3.5 Corks

Freixenet Cordon Rosado Brut (winery, snooth)
50% Garnacha & 50% Monastrell
Medium pink with a lot of persistent bubbles
Strawberry, raspberry, toast
A touch of creaminess and almost floral finish in the mouth
Very refreshing, good acidity with a slight sweetness

4 Corks

Juvé y Camps Brut Rosé Pinot Noir (winery, snooth)
Medium salmon
Bright red fruits, ripe strawberries, and toast
Very dry and creamy with a slightly bitter finish

Tasting #2 on Day 2

3 Corks

Gramonae III Lustros Gran Reserva (winery, snooth)
50% Macabeo, 40% Xarel-lo, 10% Chardonnay
Pale gold with small bubbles
Cream, buttered toasted, baked apples, caramel, pears on the nose
Apples, pears, bitter herbs in the mouth
Burbon-esque quality
Very different and very complex
Not my style, but good quality

4 Corks

Freixenet Cordon Negro Brut (winery, snooth)
Pale gold with small persistent bubbles
Granny smith apples, pears, toast, yeast, and a touch of herb
Light body, lime-like acid and a long, lingering, yeasty finish

Segura Viudas Brut Reserva (winery, snooth)
Pale-to-medium liquid gold with lots and lots of bubbles
Green apples, toast, yeast, touch of basil
In the mouth, the balance between the fruit and toast flavors is very refreshing
Light-to-medium body, very dry, high acidity

4.5 Corks

Aria Estate Segura Viudas Brut Nature (winery, snooth)
60% Macabeo, 20% Xarel-lo, 20% Parellada
Pale straw color with small, persistent bubbles
Green apples and rosemary with a touch of apricots, toast, and yeast on the nose
Apples, nectarine, and toast in the mouth
Creamy full body, but not aggressive

2004 Juvé Reserva de la Familia Brut Nature (winery, snooth)
33.3% Macabeo, 33.3% Xarel-lo, 33.3% Parellada
Medium lemon, flirting with gold
Sourdough bread, apples, touch of oak, sherry-like finish
Medium body and good acidity
Isn’t crisp, but is still beautiful.

*According to Jesus, this is one of the most traditional brands of Cava. The company uses slightly oxidized wines for dossage, which creates a flavor that shouldn’t be confused with the wine being “cooked.” Jesus said that this is a favorite of “old men in Spain.”

From left to right:

Aria Estate Segura Viudas Brut Nature 2004 Juvé Reserva de la Familia Brut Nature, Gramonae III Lustros Gran Reserva

Castilla y León and Ribera del Duero in the Evening

The first day of The Wine Academy of Spain’s Spanish wine course ended with a comprehensive look at Castilla y León. For more than an hour, we watched videos, discussed the climate and soil types, learned about the white and red grape varieties, and talked about various food pairing options that match both the wine and the culture of the area.

There are 6 major regions of Castilla y León, all of which make wines that are worth a second look. Whether it’s the reds from Ribera del Duero, from Toro, from Bierzo, and from Arlanza; the rosé from Cigales, or the whites from Rueda, this region of Spain is one for the wine world to notice. Admittedly, wines from Rueda, which are made from the Verdejo grape, emerged as one of my new favorite types of wine, so expect to see more in the future. These wines were reminiscent of a Sauvignon Blanc, but with a little more body and very strong acidity.

Tasting #4 on Day 1

Castilla y León

The Whites

3.5 Corks

2008 Analiva Pagos del Rey (snooth) from Rueda
Pale lemon gold
Pronounced grapefruit and lemon zest, plus grass, white pepper, and granny smith apples
Lime-like acid, very dry, medium body, long finish

4.5 Corks

2008 Shaya Old Vine Verdejo (snooth) from Rueda
Very pale lemon
Fresh cut green grass, grapefruit—overall, very light on the nose
Bright lemon and grapefruit, green apple, wet stone, minerals—overall, very rich in the mouth

The Reds

3 Corks

2006 Segundo Motivo (winery) from Toro
100% Tempranillo
Deep ruby with big legs
Black plums, smoke, cedar, earth, dust—almost dried out
Medium tannins and acid

2007 El Arte de Vivir (winery, snooth) from Ribera del Duero
100% Tempranillo
Deep ruby with flecks of purple
A little closed on the nose, so could have used decanting
Leather, raspberries, and violets on the nose
Sour cherries in the mouth
A little rough, not elegant, but enjoyable

3.5 Corks

2006 Tercer Motivo (winery) from Bierzo
100% Mencia
Very deep purple with big legs
Cherry, blackberry, mint, rosemary, and licorice
Fruity, but not complex
Medium tannins and acidity
A little different

2005 Condado de Oriza Crianza (snooth)
Very purple
Strong red fruit aromas—strawberry and raspberry—with a touch of white pepper
Big strong tannins and high acidity
Would pair well with lamb chops

Tasting #5 on Day 1
Ribera del Duero

2 Corks

2003 Valdubón Crianza (winery, snooth)
100% Tempranillo
Nice ruby color with garnet rim
Raspberries, strawberries, white pepper, and smoke
Medium tannins and acidity
Short finish—it just falls off a cliff

2003 Valdubón Reserva (winery, snooth)
100% Tempranillo
Ruby with garnet rim
Paprika, spices, and strawberries
Medium tannins and acidity
Something funny on the finish
Missing personality

3.5 Corks

2004 Honoris de Valdubón (winery, snooth)
100% Tempranillo
Deep purple with flecks of ruby
Vanilla and cherry
Strong tannins and high acidity
Long finish
Could definitely spend some time aging and will likely be beautiful in a few years
Pairing with heavily flavored meat might make it less aggressive

4.5 Corks

2005 Neo (winery)
Deep purple
Smoke, cedar, blackcurrant, blackberries, and touch of leather
Flavors border on jammy
Medium tannins, high acidity, surprisingly light in body

…and that was the end of Day 1 of my Spanish wine course!

Jumilla in the Afternoon

After studying Rías Baixas in the afternoon of the first day of The Wine Academy of Spain’s Spanish wine course, we covered the overarching area of Galicia, which Rías Baixas is part of, and The Basque Country. We didn’t taste any additional wines from this region and there weren’t any videos on the area, so we rushed through the slides on this unit fairly quickly.

After Galicia & the Basque Country, we learned about the mostly red wine region of Murcia. Jesus Bernard, our faculty member from The Wine Academy of Spain, explained that the most dominant red grape of the region is Monastrell (also known as Mourvèdre). However, 2 out of the 3 wines we tasted were actually blends with Monastrell. Overall, while the wines we tasted from this region were good, they tasted less distinctly “Spanish” and more “international.” The lack of Spanish character in the wines was surprising, as we spent a significant amount of time talking about them. That said, Robert Parker’s rating for the last wine in our tasting line-up—the 2006 El Nido—probably contributed to the length of the discussion.

Tasting #3
(all were from Jumilla)

3 Corks

2006 El Nido (snooth)
70% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Monastrell
Inky purple with a violet rim
Licorice, cocoa powder, coffee, blueberry, blackberry, and vanilla
Very “hot,” sharp acid, silky tannins
The nose didn’t match the taste, as it made me think there would be more…while the wine is about average, at over $100, for me, the quality doesn’t match the price point.

4 Corks

2005 Casa de la Ermita Crianza (winery, snooth)
40% Monastrell, 25% Tempranillo, 20% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 15% Petit Verdot
Light-to-medium ruby with flecks of purple
Ripe strawberries, spices, and a touch of black fruit on the nose
Red and black fruits, with a dusty, earthy finish when the fruits fade; hint of vanilla
A little “warm” with lower acidity and soft tannins

4.5 Corks

2004 Casa de la Ermita Petit Verdot (winery, snooth)
Medium-to-dark ruby
Dried rose petals, pencil shavings, cedar, game, and meat
Very high acidity, strong tannins
Very different, but really enjoyable.

Rías Baixas After Lunch

After lunch on Day 1 of The Wine Academy of Spain’s course at Jaleo in the Crystal City, our instructor, Jesus Bernard dove head first into the Rías Baixas region of Spain. The area is known for its seafood-friendly white wines, particularly those made from the Albariño grape. The wines are often very fragrant and fruity, particularly on the nose, with a touch of salinity in the mouth. Jesus mentioned that the 2008 was a particularly good year for Rías Baixas but if you can’t find a 2008, you should still do well with a bottle from 2007.

Tasting #2 on Day 1
Rías Baixas

2.5 Corks

2007 Vionta Albariño (winery, snooth)
100% Albariño
Light-to-medium gold with a touch of bubbles
Caramel, baked pineapple, mango, and white blossoms on the nose
More mineral, less fruit with strong salty flavors in the mouth
Soft, medium body
Missing the refreshing aspects of a great Albariño

4 Corks

2008 Burgans Albariño from Bodegas Martin Codax (winery, snooth)
100% Albariño

Medium lemon color with a watery rim
Peach, nectarine, mandarin orange, pineapple, mango, eucalyptus, basil, and white blossoms on the nose
Lime, lemon, white blossoms, and minerals with a hint of salt in the mouth
Lime-like acidity, light body

2007 Santiago Ruiz (winery, snooth)
70% Albariño
, 20% Loueiro, 10% Treixadura
Pale gold
Pineapple, nectarine, white flowers, something herbaceous, and a touch of almond on the nose
Very briny and minerally in the mouth, like licking a wet stone
Also flavors of flowers, nectarines, apricots, and lime
Nice body and complexity, plus a long finish

4.5 Corks

2007 Fillaboa (snooth)
Medium gold color with a lot of little bubbles
Apricots, nectarines, peaches, granny smith apples, and a touch of honey on the nose
Stone fruits with a lot of salinity and minerality in the mouth
Lime-like acid, with a long finish that has a touch of pleasant bitterness on the end

Aragón & Navarra In the Morning

The first day of The Wine Academy of Spain’s course at Jaleo in the Crystal City started nice an early on Monday morning. Registration began at 8am, and by 9am, we were well on our way to learning about the Spanish Wine Market. We started with a 10-minute video that gave an overview of Spain before delving in the history of Spain and how it affected the development of the wine market. Whether it was during the time of the Romans (when wine thrived), the Barbarians (when winemaking came to a halt), the Visigoths (when winemaking made a comeback), the Muslims (when cultivation expanded, but winemaking itself slowed), or the Reconquest (when the religious community took over winemaking), each period of Spanish history noticeably impacted the winemaking culture of the country.

After covering the history, an in-depth look at the Spanish import/export market began. It should be no surprise that the amount of wine that is imported is fairly small. It also may be no surprise to some that Cava is the largest Spanish wine export, with Rioja and Sherry following close behind. But, did you know that the USA is the third largest importer of Spanish wines?

Once we finished looking at the Spanish wine market, we covered Aragón and Navarra…and then dove right into our first tasting.

Tasting #1

3 Corks

2004 Barón de
Magaña (winery, snooth) from Navarra
40% Cabernet Sauvignon, 40% Merlot, 40% Tempranillo

Deep ruby color
Red plums, black currant, violets, and smokiness

Strong tannins, medium-to-full body, medium-to-long finish

4 Corks

2006 Magna Calcheta (winery) from Navarra
Vibrant deep purple with a ruby rim
Lots of fruit—Cherry, blackberry, fennel, smoke, vanilla, and a touch of spiciness
Good tannins, medium acid

4.5 Corks
2003 Viñas del Vero Gran Vos Reserva (winery, snooth) from Somantano (in Aragón)
Medium ruby with a garnet rim
Rose, black pepper, raspberry, strawberry, and perfume on the nose
Red Fruits, cedar, and spice in the mouth
Firm, but not aggressive tannins, nice complexity

2004 Secastilla Somantano (winery, snooth) from Somantano (in Aragón)
100% Garnacha
Purple with ruby flecks
Strawberry, cherry, white pepper, and something floral on the nose
Very ripe red fruits and mineral finish in the mouth
Soft tannins, medium-to-high acidity, medium body

2006 Alto Moncayo Garnacha (snooth) from Campo de Borja (in Aragón)
100% Garnacha
Very purple
Oak, chocolate, coffee, vanilla, white pepper, nutmeg, and cherries on the nose
Fruity up front and oaky on the back in the mouth…reminiscent of a Zinfandel
Good tannins, high acidity