February 9, 2018
On the Vine: Spanish history in a tasting glass
By John Schreiner
The 39 Spanish wineries at the Vancouver International Wine Festival this year (February 24 to March 4) include Bodegas Alvear, one of the oldest wineries in Europe still owned by the founding family. Fernando Gimenez Alvear, the current president, traces his predecessors back to Diego de Alvear, who founded the winery in 1729 in Montilla, south of Cordobá.
Alvear is noteworthy for its history as well as for its wines. One of the founder’s heirs, Don Diego de Alvear, initially pursued a 25-year military career in what was then the Spanish colony of Argentina, before taking over the winery. The ship bringing his wife and children back to Spain was sunk by the British. Remarkably, he remarried to an Englishwoman. The children from that marriage inherited Bodegas Alvear. He also apparently left an illegitimate son behind in Argentina, who took part in the successful uprising against Spain.
The winery still has some wine from 1830, the year of Don Diego’s death, bottled as Pedro Ximénez Solera 1830. The solera method involves a tier of barrels or vats from numerous vintages; the oldest barrel is always refreshed as some of its wine moves down the tier into a blend. By now, the volume of 1830 is minuscule, but the resulting blend is an exceptionally rich, sweet wine. At the wine festival, Alvear is pouring a Solera 1927.
Pedro Ximénez is the major grape variety in the southern Spanish province of Andalusia (where Alvear’s vineyards are located). Jancis Robinson writes that the variety is used “mainly for some of the darkest, stickiest wines made anywhere.” Quite remarkably, Alvear technical director Bernardo Lucena makes a complete line of wines with this grape, from dry rosé to fino sherry-style and rich, tawny amontillado. The latter are cellared in bulbous concrete tanks called tinajas, unique to Andalusia .
The raisiny rich wines, with alcohols over 15 per cent, are achieved by drying the grapes on mats in the sun. “It is,” Alvear explains, “the best way of bringing the intense Andalusian summer to your table.” Exactly what is needed in the middle of a Vancouver winter.
Spain and Portugal are the theme regions at this year’s Vancouver International Wine Festival; for more info, visit vanwinefest.ca.
Four to try
Baronia Del Montsant CIMS Del Montsant 2012 ($14.99)
This red is from a fine wine region in Catalonia. It has aromas and flavours of chocolate, licorice and black cherry, with an earthy note on the finish. 90/100
Gonzalez Byass Tio Pepe Fino Extra Dry ($21.99)
This classic dry sherry, often paired with olives and almonds, sets up the palate before dinner. The wine’s singular nutty aroma and flavour, called the rancio character, comes from prolonged oxidative aging in barrel. 90/100
Muga Rioja Riserve 2013 ($27.99)
Rioja is Spain’s best-known region for table wines. The spicy vanilla and orange peel notes come from the Rioja tradition of extended barrel aging; yet the bright red currant and cherry flavours come through on the finish. 90/100
Píxide Tempranillo 2013 ($18.99)
This red is from the Ribera Del Duero, a Spanish wine region notable for full-bodied reds. This is a bold, ripe wine with aromas and flavours of black cherry, licorice, vanilla and cedar. 91/100
The word on Spanish food and wine
Once a glossy magazine jammed with content, Food & Wines from Spain converted several years ago to an online newsletter. A recent edition had a profile of Bodegas Juan Gil, a family-owned winery founded 101 years ago, and one of the Spanish wineries at the Vancouver International Wine Festival. Previous issues ranged over topics including olive oil, chorizo recipes and pairing food with the Spanish sparkling wine known as cava. This excellent newsletter is free at foodswinesfromspain.com.