By Celia Strong
Oh, boy! Another trip. Another lesson. Another wine. If I didn’t know better, I could think we just keep drinking. But, I know better. We, actually, keep tasting (not the same thing as drinking) and learning. Every week is a little adventure. With a bonus. And the bonus may be different for each one of us. But, that’s OK. Why? Because the great thing about wine is that we each get to have our own favorites. Our very own. So everyone’s bonus is different. And special for each one of us. Sometimes it’s a bigger bonus. Because we really love the wine one week. Sometimes, it may not be our new favorite wine, but we know a new wine and can use it when the occasion comes up for its type of flavors. All we can be sure of is we are learning together and having fun together. And that is what wine is all about! So, this week, we get to visit Spain. Some of my favorite wines come from this country, so I’m pretty excited.
Our region of “study” takes us to Valencia. Valencia is a city, with a wonderful food repertoire, and an official DO (Denominació d’Origen) for Spanish wines. Of course, thankfully, we have to look at both. The wine history in Valencia dates back to Neolithic times. The excavation of grave sites helped archeologists document how truly old the history of wine here is. Valencia is a port city, so the shipping of wine out to the rest of the world made it important. Today, Valencia is Spain’s third largest city and its largest wine exporting site. It is only in the last few centuries, though, that wine exporting has played a major role in the city’s economy. Grapes have been grown in Valencia for thousands of years. Ancient writers, including Marcial and Juvenal, mentioned Valencian wines. Arnau de Vilanova, a native of the city, wrote a book about wine (Liber de Vinis) in the thirteenth century. Today, many of the Valancian wineries produce wines for exporting.
The Valencia DO is located very close to the eastern coast of Spain. Actually, this DO is divided into two separate zones. On a map of Spanish wine regions, it appears as two separate plots. Not touching each other at all. Around the city of Valencia is one of the most fertile belts of soil in the country. As usual, the pieces and parts of this region are based on their different soils. The subsoils vary from fluvial type at lower altitudes to sandier soil at intermediate altitudes and limestone at higher altitudes. All permeable soils so drainage for the vineyards is not an issue. The vineyards closer to the Mediterranean coast have milder, more Mediterranean climates. Duh! And the inland vineyards have a more continental climate. There can be up to a thirty degree temperature variation on a daily basis. Some of the vineyard areas can be arid, so drip irrigation is used sometimes. Hail and high winds, especially in higher elevations, can cause problems for some growers. The Valencia DO aging regulations are somewhat different than in the rest of Spain. A wine labeled “crianza” is aged only three months in casks. “Reserva” wines are aged in wood for a minimum of six months. And, “gran reserva” are aged for nine months. Some winemakers opt to use the longer, national standards, though. The main varieties in Valencia wines are mesequera, malvasia, tempranillo, monastrell and moscatel. (The first two are whites, the last three are reds.)
The food of this region is particularly interesting. And varied. Due to its location – close to the sea and the mountains – we should all be able to find things we like here. Paella is number one. There is a lot of rice grown here, so, of course, Spain’s famous rice dish is important. Versions vary from meat based (sausage, rabbit, poultry) to seafood to combinations of it all. They also make “Fidou,” a noodle based version of paella. And lots of garlic is used too. Yum. And, loads and loads of different kinds of seafood. Sardines, hake, red mullet, mackerel, mussels, shrimp, octopus. Fresh, smoked and salted. And, let’s not forget the saffron. A delicious smoky earthy flavor.
Now, on to our wine. The El Sierro Tempranillo/Cabernet Sauvignon. It seems that not much Tempranillo was planted in the Valencia DO. Until El Sierro winemaker, Joaquin Galvez, started using it. (We need to remember the great wines that Tempranillo can make in Rioja and some other, mostly northern, regions of Spain.) “Sierro” in Spanish means “saw,” but it refers to a ridge of hills in the area. Not any actual saw. (You can get a buzz from this saw, but it’s not a buzz saw. No, I did not just say that!) And, it was this area’s elevation for vineyards that Galvez thought would make good Tempranillo wines. El Sierro’s Tempranillo grapes are planted at one thousand to almost three thousand feet above sea level. At these altitudes, this variety ripens slowly and develops terrific aromatics and rich fruit flavors. About eighty percent of the wine is Tempranillo. Cabernet Sauvignon makes up the remainder of the blend. This grape gives the wine structure and a longer finish. The finished wine is deep ruby color. Very nice! It has red and black fruit aromas and flavors – dark cherries, raspberries and blackberries. Hints of vanilla and baking spices come from the Tempranillo and the barrel aging. The tannins are soft and leave a lovely lingering finish in your mouth. Like a lot of our favorite wines, it leaves you wanting another sip. And another glass. Nice, too! (Brings a new meaning to “buzz?” Nope, just the same as always.)
So, buzz or not, we have a delicious new wine. And, looking at the list of Valencian food, how close is that to our summer food? Seafood. Rice. Garlic and saffron. Seems we have had another good trip and tasting. And found ourselves another nice wine. For $9.99. Oops. Bonus time! Another great wine! Enjoy.