Spain Comes To DC In A Fantastic Wine Course

As you may recall, faculty from The Wine Academy of Spain spent the summer travelling around the USA conducting a 3-day course on Spanish and Andalusia wines, and Ryan and Gabriella Opaz from CataVino offered to cover the tuition expenses for a wine blogger in each city that The Wine Academy visited. I was fortunate enough to win one of these scholarships, so, on August 24-26, instead of going back to work after spending a week in the Outer Banks of North Carolina, I headed to Jaleo in the Crystal City neighborhood of Arlington, VA. There were about 30 people in the class, which was taught by The Wine Academy faculty members Jesus Bernard and David Denton.

The Wine Academy was created by Spain’s only Master of Wine, Pancho Campo, and uses a similar approach to wine tasting as the Wine & Spirit Education Trust (WSET). Having taken the WSET intermediate and advanced courses, it was nice having a little familiarity with the style before starting the class. However, it was definitely not necessary to have that background. During the first 2 days of the course, we covered on regular wine and Cava, while on the third day, we focused on fortified wines before finishing with an exam that including blind tasting 8 wines and taking a multiple choice test.

Several weeks before the course, participants were provided with a link to .pdf files of the slides that would be used during class. It was nice having the information ahead of time, although I admit that I should have studied it more carefully beforehand, as trying to absorb all of the information that we covered in such a short period of time felt a little overwhelming. The class was almost entirely wine professionals, many of whom had at least some familiarity with Spanish wines, so their experiences may have been different, but for the other oenophile and me, while I learned a lot at the time, I find that I’m still going over my notes weeks later in order to really remember the nitty-gritty details.

The best part of the class was what felt like an immersion into each region we were studying. Most units started with a video giving an overview not only of the wine, but also of the culture, the food, and the general lifestyle of the particular area. As a class, we then went through the slides, discussing the unique climate, soil, and viticulture techniques. All of this preparation helped when it came time for the tasting because experiencing the wine felt like putting together all of the pieces of a puzzle. We tasted a decent number of wines from each region in order to fully experience what made that wine different from wines made in other regions. By tasting 5 wines from Priorat, for example, it’s easier to learn the regional characteristic that can be expected when drinking a Priorat. Plus, having just covered information on the traditions and the cuisine from the area, food pairing ideas were easy to discuss.

Jesus did a phenomenal job choosing wines that were good representations of each region. He methodically walked us through each wine as we tasted it. It was particularly interesting to have him explain the differences in taste between a Tempranillo from La Rioja and Ribera del Duero, an explanation that I was thankful for when it came to the blind tasting part of the exam.

While I was at the class, I spent some time updating Facebook and Twitter, describing what we were tasting in class. The Facebook updates lead to a discussion with work colleagues about having an office Spanish wine tasting to celebrate/mourn the end of our summer hours and the start of our end-of-the-year crunch period. As I don’t work in the wine industry, everyone was very excited. So, a week after finishing the Spanish wine course, I lead 10 of my colleagues through a tasting of 6 Spanish wines (2 sparkling, 2 whites, and 2 reds)…and they loved it. We paired the wines with Spanish cheeses and chorizo, as well as some honeydew wrapped in Serrano. We talked about how easy it was to find Spanish wine, particularly in the DC area, as we not only have some great general wine shops, but also have a dedicated Spanish wine store upstairs at the Jaleo in Crystal City. In fact, having met Carlos Olatre, the Manager at Jaleo, during the wine class, I went back there to buy the wine for the tasting, and he did an amazing job helping me pick the wines.

Overall, both the class and the tasting were huge successes. If you like wine and are interested in Spanish wine education, when The Wine Academy of Spain comes back to the USA in 2010 for next year’s education series, I highly recommend taking the course. While I was fortunate enough not to pay for my tuition, if I had, it would have been money well spent. I learned more than I expected in such a short period of time, tasted amazing (and a few not so amazing wines), and gained a whole new appreciation for Spain and its wine.

A special thank you to Ryan and Gabriella from CataVino for covering my attendance costs and to Jesus and David from The Wine Academy of Spain for making it such an educational, fun, and memorable experience.

My tasting notes and pictures will follow shortly.

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