A Philosophical Passion for Wine

Jun 16, 2010

A finger of grapevine
and a beam of sunlight
point to the spot
where my heart is
Federico García Lorca - "Granada 1850"

 This morning I went to do some lab work for an upcoming physical. Some blood was taken but I had to fast  for at least twelve hours beforehand. Basically, all I could really have was water.

Now water is great, don't get me wrong. When you're lacking, when you've been sweating after a workout at the gym or been cooped up in a dry office, cubically contained, drinking too much coffee, water is perfect. 

But I have to say, with a smirk of genuine honesty, wine is always perfect. Last night, I would have had a glass or two but I had to follow my doctor's instructions. And you know, maybe I'm a little grumpy  today because I haven't had my wine. 

I often wonder about the nature of addiction and the idea of a surrogate. The alcoholic is told  to treat his  or her addiction like a disease. In recovery he or she must reflect on the reasons why they turned to alcohol. Is there a hole inside? Why do they choose whiskey or beer to fulfill them; what is or maybe better yet, who is replaced by the drinking? Is the alcoholic mourning a loss in childhood or the misery of a failed relationship? Instead of getting past the missed opportunity or healing the nameless wound, the drink is the surrogate, misleading the addict, letting them think they are healing their reality by escaping. The drink is the blinding distraction.

Certainly, there are other addictions: gambling, drugs, sex etc... 

I'm wondering, is wine my addiction? Where is the line between passion and addiction? Can such a line be safely drawn? Is passion a form of dependence? Can wine be a distraction, misleading the imbiber?

I can get through a day without wine. Sure. No problem. But can a musician or music lover get through a day without music and still be in a good mood? Listening to Beethoven's late piano sonatas or the softy, husky melancholy of a Ray Lamontagne song can, depending on your tastes, bring the spirit up after a long, wearied day. 

I love wine and music equally. Music is wine, wine is music. Music isn't an addiction, no but it can be a necessity for some of us. And as for wine, a glass of day is fine; great for health apparently.

For myself, I definitely look forward to a glass, probably more than others. I love the bouquet and flavours of different wines, - the teasing richness of a robust Rioja or the verdant but chilled charm of a Chenin from Vouvray. When I treat myself, I move past the Champagnes, past the Bordeaux and Burgundies to the Mosel and Rheinhessen Rieslings: I prefer Prüm to an overpriced bubbly or a mediocre Médoc (because you have to spend a lot to get something good in France's most famous wine regions). 

It's not an addiction. It is reverence. It's a means of creating beauty, letting it flood the moment.

Even though the wine consumer doesn't produce the wine, doesn't grow the grapes, he or she is a creator of the moment. By taking a glass we are involved in a tradition that has gone on for thousands of years. To borrow from the late Mircea Eliade, famous mythologist and philosopher, we are  in some way participating in the hierophany, the sacred space that is the eternal realm of tradition and ritual.

The profane involves linear time and is opposite the sacred. Profane time is daily time, historical, made up of dates continuously succeeding each other, one moment dissolving the next, one event replacing the previous.  It is the time of work, bureaucracy, governments, backyards, bars - social, polical and otherwise. By re-enacting the gods, their myths, an individual in an archaic tribe could find himself stepping into the illo tempore, the time before.

This is why the Greeks and later the Christians associated the resurrection god with the vine. By drinking Dionysus or Christ, the worshiper took the god within. Both gods were born in unique and miraculous circumstances (Dionysus was sewn into Zeus's calf following his mother's death by lightning; Mary was a virgin) and both performed miracles. Both were sacrificed and experienced equally grueling deaths. 

The nature of the vine represents the sacred nature of life.

Life is born. It is nothing short of a miracle that in the vastness of the universe, this Earth exists and supports life. Trees are green in the summer, mountains rise, oceans fall against their shore lines, wildlife floods the wilderness, in the air, on the ground and in the sea. 

But life is not long and death haunts all our horizons. The vine produces beautiful fruit just as we produce children, works of art, accomplishing various daily tasks like gardening, carpentry - even conversation and the relationships founded on them are a production of our hidden divinity. 

When we die the vine is like us and we are like the vine. We have struggled to bring something out of the nothing, bringing purpose to the naked canvas of existence. We have our religions, our myths, our deities, desires, duties, morals and responsibilities but they are all created by us. Our dying is our dormancy. Dionysus and Christ both die but they are resurrected. 

We drink this hope that we too won't end with our last breaths. We drink a glass of wine because it is more than just a beverage. Hope is beauty and we desire it. 

There are so many things we see with our eyes, hear with our ears, touch with our hands, smell with our noises but taste is by far the most intimate. The Mona Lisa smiles at us but we are distant from her. The scent of the flower belongs in the liminal realm of space and petals while the music of Beethoven haunts our ears. Wine flows in us, it meets us. It is intimate like a lover's long awaited kiss. This is the intoxication.

Wine is our consolation. At the end of our profane hours, when we need to step back from the parade, the often hopeless journey that is life, wine brings us a comfort. Sipping a wine is either done in silence or with others. Just as we can enjoy our solitude, sitting with a book we can drink wine in whatever company so long as it is kind. When we can't have what we want, when the one we love is not going to love us or the passing face is not going to stop on the street, their beauty leaving the moment broken in two, wine is there to sew up the wake of the unfulfilled. 

This is what wine represents to me but maybe to others. This is my passion and this is how I feel.


More South Africa: The Story of Delheim

Jun 15, 2010

In my previous blog, I wrote about the history of South Africa touching on soccer and the story of the first vines, the Dutch, the British and apartheid. Today, I'm going to focus on a particular winery with ties to Germany: Delheim.

TWO LIVES: VAN RIEBEECK AND SPATZ                      Jan van Riebeeck (1619-1677)
Vines have been growing in South Africa since the 17th century. For many, Jan van Riebeeck, a Dutch surgeon is often considered the founding father of the country's wine industry. He was in no way a viticulturist, or a winemaking pioneer, simply a doctor looking for a way to reduce the risk of scurvy for sailors on long sea journeys between Europe and Asia. By planting vines, he hoped to create a cure for the men stopping over in the nearby ports along the Western Cape. 

Like the Dutch doctor, Michael 'Spatz' Sperling was not a trained winemaker. Born and raised in what is now western Poland, Spatz fled to South Africa in 1951 at the age of 21. He was tired of the starvation years following the war and needed a change of scenery. Working on the communist state-run farms had fortunately kept him close to food and he often stole potatoes to get through the harsh winter months. 

In South Africa, he went to work for his aunt and uncle. Hans Otto and Deli Hoheisen owned a 494-acre farm on Simonsberg Mountain just outside of Stellenbosch (both the mountain and city are named after Simon van der Stel, the colony's first 17th century governor). Spatz's relatives produced a variety of products including a bit of wine. The name Delheim is actually named after Spatz's aunt - 'Deli's home'.

If you were to go back in time, back to the late 17th century, you would fine a home on the southwestern slopes of Simonsberg Mountain. Inside the humble dwelling lived a Dutch East India Company servant. When ships were spotted arriving in Table Bay, the servant would fire a cannon, the third in a relay. From there, it was up to locals of Cape Town to welcome the new arrivals and offer their wares or defend their city.  

The land passed through different hands, eventually a series of parcels forming the vineyard owned by the Hoheisen family. Before Spatz arrived, his aunt and uncle had a humble and basic set-up for wine making: a basket and continuous press, hand pumps and filter.

Now, the young emrigrée Spatz knew nothing about wine but as luck would have it, he became a student of traveling German wine experts who came to South Africa to teach the locals. Eager to learn, he absorbed what he could during the 1960s and made many mistakes at Delheim. One story goes that he was trying to impress a group of German tourists with a sweet-wine he had made. One of them remarked, "Spatz er ist noch dreck!" (The wine is really shitty...).

But Spatz was determined and improved the wine, calling it Spatzendreck. The name has a double meaning. Sperling is sparrow in German and Spatz is the diminutive. So it means both Spatz's 'shit' or 'Little Sparrow's Shit'. (Fondly enough, in 1979 Decanter awarded Sperling the 'worst label of the year' for the winery's label of a bird defecating into a wine barrel.)

In 1959, Spatz entered Delheim's wines into the South African Wine Show in nearby Paar, winning a trophy for his Palomino in the best Dry White Table Wine category.

During the 1970s fellow wine producers, Franz Malan of Simonsig Estate, Niel Joubert of Spier winery and Spatz came together to work on promoting wine tourism in South Africa. Malan had been to Europe and returned impressed by the wine routes he had seen in France. With little support from  both KWV and local road engineers, the three handed out maps showing tourists how to get to the participating wineries. First came the students from Stellenbosch University followed by their parents.

Eventually, the Stellenbosch wine route took off (today it is sponsored by American Express) and in 1976 Spatz with the help of his Dutch-born wife, Vera, opened up the Vintner's Cheese Lunch Restaurant to cater to the arriving tourists. Serving home-made food to compliment their wines, the establishment became popular and complimented the available wine and cellar tours.

Delheim is still operating today with Spatz as vintner and his son, Victor as viticulturist and general farm manager.
For soccer and wine fans, Delheim is featuring a venue to view the World Cup soccer matches.

In the LCBO, look out for Delheim 2006 Simonsberg Cabernet Sauvignon (on sale $13.40 in the Vintages section). A bouquet of red currant and green pepper; equally seductive on the palate with a smoky kiss of dark fruit. 

Robinson, Jancis, The Oxford Companion to Wine. Oxford Univ. Press, Oxford, 2003.
Taber, George M. In Search of Bacchus: Wanderings in the Wonderful World of Wine Tourism. Scribner, New York, 2009. 


Soccer, Wine and South Africa

Jun 11, 2010

Today marks the beginning of FIFA World Cup 2010. In Johannesburg, the competition opened between the host country South Africa and Mexico. It was an exciting match with Mexico favoured to win but the South African footballers had their game together and scored early in the second half. Shortly after Blanco came on the field, Rafael Marquez tied it up for Mexico and the final score sat at 1-1. 

I watched the game at my father's place this morning and though I'm not the biggest soccer fan in the world I had the chills when Siphiwe Tshabalala scored the first goal of the game and the crowd in Johannesberg howled with excitement. It wasn't quite noon but I sipped some wine and smiled for the boys, for the country of yellow and green.

I also realized today how complex and beautiful soccer can be. When I was young, I enjoyed hockey and football but the arts became my favoured past time. I hardly watch North American sports but I found myself captivated by today's game. 

Soccer is a continuous game. The pauses are brief, the action is on-going. True, there are some slow points , a few dull turn-arounds, but like any good novel or film, the gradual shift in tempo from the moderate to the fast can be exhilarating. The best plays come off orchestrated, dramatic and timely as if they were composed in the balance of passes, headers and honed strikes. 

Like a good wine, soccer is about finesse and finish and today's game satisfied me in a way wine typically does. The two are linked in their ability to banish care and unite the world. 

This is the first time South Africa has ever held the World Cup. The euphoria there must be intoxicating. The rich and the poor, the black and white, once segregated by apartheid are all celebrating today's game. In the world of soccer, the fans are united by their team and nation. 

It amazes me the link between the sport and the seductive beverage of civilization. Wine first came to the country in the wake of Dutch exploration. Jan van Riebeeck, the first governor of the Cape colony planted the first vines using varieties sourced from France, Germany and Spain. It was Riebeeck's belief that the crews of Portuguese and Spanish vessels had less incidence of scurvy because of wine consumption. After a failed first effort, the governor reported success on February 2, 1659 in a famous diary entry: "Today, praise be to God, wine was made for the first time from Cape grapes."

In 1657 Riebeeck decided that employees of the Dutch East India Company should be freed of their duties and given land in order to get more agricultural output out of the newly discovered land. This decision was ultimately shadowed by the institution of slavery. Dutch ships carried enslaved men, women and children from the coastal areas of eastern African and Mozambique to the colony.

Simon van der Stel replaced van Riebeeck as governor in 1679 and established South Africa's second city, Stellenbosch (named after himself - 'the forest of Stel'). In the 1680s, French Protestants known as Huguenots fled their homeland, escaping religious persecution. Many came from Provence and brought their winemaking skills to a new settlement further inland aptly named Franschhoek (Dutch for 'French Corner'). By the end of the century, with the help of the new settlers, Van der Stel developed Constania, the first major winery just south of Cape Town. 

The British took over South Africa in 1795 but slavery didn't end until 1834. The troubles between races continued but on the bright side the British were able to open trade for the country.  Vines increased from 13 million to 55 million with 4.5 million liters produced annually. Vin de Constance, a sweet white wine made from Muscast de Frontignan grapes became the prized drink of Jane Austen, Frederich the Great and Napoleon who requested a bottle on his death bed.

There were other troubles fermenting. The climate of South Africa proved to be too ideal for grape growing and overproduction lead many growers and winemakers to bankruptcy. To save the industry, the KWV (Ko-operatiewe Wijnbouwers Vereniging van Zuid-Africa Beperkt) formed to restrict and regulate the type and quantity of grapes grown and set prices.

The KWV has often been compared to the centralized control of Soviet Russia (it was nicknamed the KGB). Quantity became more important than quality and growers planted and harvest high-yielding varieties.

In 1948, the tension between races came to a head and strict rules of racial separation were put in place. Civil Rights were revoked and everyone was put into racial categories - whites, black, mulattoes, Asian and Indians. Afrikaners, descendents of the first Dutch settlers, the men and women who first planted the vines and kept domestic and farm slaves were the criminals behind apartheid policy.

Wine amongst other South African products were boycotted around the world. Riled apartheid protesters smashed shop windows in Amsterdam where South African wines were sold.

Nelson Mandela couldn't be at today's game due to the tragic death of his great-grandaughter in a car accident, said to be caused by a drunk driver. For many football fans he was there in spirit, many of whom are crediting him for bringing the World Cup to South Africa.

In 1995, it was Mandela who helped ease race relations in the rugby World Cup. Black and white cheered on the Springboks and today, the racial divide was once again blurred following Tshabalala's goal. 

South African wine is no longer boycotted and enjoys a place at many tables around the world. Recently, Shiraz became the latest showstopping varietal.

Today I'm going to recommend South African wine. Pick up any bottle you like. History is taking place in South Africa and why not take the spirit of the country in by lifting a glass. Wine, like soccer is for everyone (well... maybe not youngsters... they'll have to wait) but drink responsibly.  


Taber, George M. In Search of Bacchus: Wanderings in the Wonderful World of Wine Tourism. Scribner, New York, 2009.


Viognier: From Condrieu to California

Jun 8, 2010

The humid weather has passed by in Niagara. There were a few days last week where it felt like I was stepping outside into a pre-heated oven. 

Thankfully, today the air is cool, the skies are mainly blue with patches of clouds but chances are, the humidity has just gone to sleep for awhile. Like the creature in the horror film and Arnold in his Terminator role, it  will most likely 'be back'.

Strangely, I found myself drinking a lot of full-bodied red wines on those hot, sickly sticky days (I know, I know...). Now it's a bit cooler and I'm in the mood for a chilled white. (Go figure...)

Having worked in wine retail over the past few years, there are two main white grapes with names that are continuously mispronounced. Gewürztraminer being the first and Viognier the second (Riesling, a sometimes minor third). 

I've often heard 'gewoorz-trainer' or 'gewuzz-tra-miner' and 'vagner' or 'veeyog-near'. It's understandable. For those first stepping into the vast universe that is wine, the European varieties can make you scratch your head and pray your pronunciation is the closest. 

First things first, vee-YON-yay. Viognier. Pretty easy. (And of course - ge-VERZ-tra-meaner.)

The Viognier variety is grown in the Rhône Valley, with its famous home in Condrieu, a white-only AOC amongst a river landscape of Syrah soaked slopes.

According to Roger Scruton in his fresh, philosophical wine treatise, I Drink Therefore I Am (tipping his hat  towards Monty Pythone), Viognier was imported to the site from Dalmatia (modern day Croatia) in 281.  Emperor Vespasian had first torn out the Rhône vineyards after a local rebellion. Emperor Probus subsequently saw things differently and believed that if good wine could be produced, there would be no need for the people to rebel. The Viognier grape would keep everyone cool, calm and happy (and hopefully intoxicated).

Unfortunately, over the years, vinegrowers have learned it is a difficult variety to manage and keep happy. Viognier is prone to disease, especially powdery mildew and apparently buds before early spring frosts. In 1965, there were only 8 hectares of Viognier grown in Condrieu.

Things have picked up. In the 1980s nurserymen saw an increase in demand for cuttings.  In the south of the France, especially the Languedoc region, Viognier takes up about 1,540 hectares. Today, Condrieu has about 98 hectares (242 acres) with plantings showing up just outside the designated  Rhône AOC  at 2,360 ha.

Typically, whites that garner a high price tag can be aged. Think of Riesling from the Mosel-Saar-Ruher and the Chardonnay-based Burgundies of the Côte de Beaune. 

Not so with Condrieu. The Viognier-based wines are expensive and high in-demand but are meant to be consumed as soon as the new vintage is available. Viognier doesn't go the distance the way Chardonnay or Riesling can.

Within the AOC is France's smallest wine appellations, Château Grillet. The vines here are grown on dangerous steep slopes; the best grapes sourced from low-yielding old vines. The wines are aged in oak barrel for 24 months. Despite all the effort, the region produces little over 10,000 bottles a year.

North of Condrieu lies the Côte-Rôtie ('Roasted Slope'), the most northern AOC of the Rhône Valley. Only red wines are produced. The Syrahs, however, can be blended with up to 20% Viognier, the white variety adding body, elegance and delicate spice to the burly reds. 

Beyond the northern Rhône, Viognier blends well with Roussane, Marsanne, Grenache Blanc and Rolle in the southern stretch of the Valley.

In the New World, the Aussies have looked to the French for inspiration blending their Shiraz with Viognier in such regions as McLaren Vale and the Barossa.

In California, Viognier's volume is turned up and the stone fruit and flower we find so soft and delicate in France becomes plumper on the palate - the wines are also juicier with ripe apricots, sun-soaked peaches and fat melons. Cline puts out a big pineapple-punchy Viognier while Calera's offering has honeyed notes of honesuckle and white flower - a little more Old World in style. (Also check out Treana's Central Coast White, a blend of Viognier and Marsanne from their Mer Soleil Vineyard.)

Of all the states, Virginia is fast becoming synonymous with world class Viognier. Horton Vineyards of Orange County is leading the pack of up-and-coming wineries. The state first saw vineyards planted in the early 1600s but many succumbed to the numerous pests and diseases of the United States. Today Viognier, amongst Petit Verdot, Petit Manseng and Touriga Nacional are giving the Eastern state a chance to shine.

Both Condrieu and California Viognier can be quite pricey. If you're looking for some cheap and fun cool alternatives to the modern classics, check out Cono Sur's Viognier at $9.95. Baron-Rothschild's Introductory line Viognier is also easy on the wallet at $10.95.

Today at the LCBO I picked up the Domaine de Vedilhan 2008 Viognier from the Vin de Pays D'Oc (on sale at $10.40). The estate is close to Narbonne in the Languedoc where the grape has risen in popularity.

This is signature Viognier with apricot, peach and white flowers with a hint of pear and cucumber. Ideal as an apéritif, something to sip while you're making dinner. Some critics say the variety is hard to pair with food but I think Viognier is perfect with an Hawaiian pizza generously topped with golden pineapples.  

For additional fun, pair the wine with fish and chips and a long summer sunset.  

Lukacs, Paul, The Great Wines of America. W&W Norton Company, New York, 2005.
MacNeil, Karen, The Wine Bible. Workman Publishing Company Inc. New York, 2001
 Robinson, Jancis, The Oxford Companion to Wine. Oxford Univ. Press, Oxford, 2003.
Scruton, Roger, I Drink Therefore I Am. Continuum International, New York, 2009.



Bobal: Big, Beefy and Ideal for BBQ Season

Jun 7, 2010

Tempranillo, Garnacha and Monastrell are the three typical red varieties you find in the wines of Rioja, Navarra and Jumilla. 

Cava is a blend of Macebeo, Xarel-lo and Parellada. 

Jerez relies on Palomino or Pedro Ximénez to make the fortified wines of Andalusia. 

Verdejo is to Rueda what Albariño is to Rias Biaxas - both champion grapes of cooler, northern "Green Spain".

But look out, there's another beautiful grape to keep your eye out for. 

For many years, Bobal was the go-to grape when Spanish winemakers wanted to add body to their hefty reds. It was little more than a workhorse grape, vastly under-appreciated - much like a Hollywood script doctor.
In recent years, the grape has revealed itself to be a stronger blending partner with the likes of Tempranillo and Garnacha. As a varietal wine, it has excellent aging potential especially in such DOs as Utiel-Requena and Valencia in the Levant. And unlike Monastrell, it has better acidity retention making for refreshing reds with structured tannins.

Established just little over a decade ago, this small family-owned bodega  located 100km west of Valencia  sits on 80 hectares of mostly Bobal grapes. Thus far, the Sarrión clan has refused to join the DO Utiel-Requena and their wines tend to fall under the designation of Vino de la Tierra el Terrerazo.

Mustiguillo has been highly praised, named one of the top twenty new wineries in  Food & Wine Magazine's annual Wine Issue (Oct. 2004). 

Their 2002 Finca Terrarazo was made from a blend of sixty-five percent Bobal, twenty percent Tempranillo and fifteen percent Cabernet Sauvignon with seventeen months in French oak barrels. The 2005 was rated 92 points by The Wine Advocates' Jay Miller and 91 points by Josh Reynolds of International Wine Cellar.

If you want value, Mustiguillo's "Mestizaje" is the wine to grab for your BBQ dinners this summer. The 2005 was given 89 points by Jay Miller but the recent 2007 vintage received 90 points by the same critic.

Like the Finca Terrarazo, the wine is primarily Bobal (70% in this case) with Garnacha, Syrah, Tempranillo, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon thrown in for good measure and complexity. Oak and barrel-aged (6 months) the wine delivers heady red fruit, licorice, blueberry, brown sugar and a spicy black pepper finish. Ideal with steak and other flame-broiled fair.

MOVE OVER MALBEC - Last year Malbec was the go-to wine for backyard BBQ season. Let's make Bobal the new beef-friendly buddy.

Mustiguillo's "Mestizaje" is available in the Vintages section at your local LCBO for $16.95.

Jeffs, Julian, The Wines of Spain. Mitchell Beazley, London, 2006.
Radford, John, The New Spain. Mitchell Beazley, London, 2007. 
Robinson, Jancis, The Oxford Companion to Wine. Oxford Univ. Press, Oxford, 2003.



The Other 'Ribera' - Ribera del Júcar and the Lands of the Meseta

Jun 2, 2010

"In a place in La Mancha... of which I do not remember the name..."
- Miguel Cervantes, Don Quixote

The land of the Meseta, of Madrid and New Castile is the land of high central plains. It is the heart of Spain, decked with flat landscapes of red soil and stubby vines. In the distance, the sunburnt circle of mountains  gives one the feeling of immense isolation and wonder.

The windmills here aren't giants, no, they are short and their sails fly fast in the winter months when the plain's winds rush with a solemn howl over the landscape, creating Spain's lowest temperatures (-22 degrees Celcius). 

Following the Reconquista, Madrid became the capital. The city stood as far away from the coast as possible, central and also out of the greedy reaches of the regal but older kingdoms. Castile, Aragon, Navarre and Catalonia had longed scrapped and  squabbled with each other - Madrid would be free but  also become the new bureaucracy of the recently liberated 'Spain'. 

Hands down, La Mancha makes the most wine in the Meseta. These are the value wines you find on the supermarket shelves of Europe and in the cheap wine section of the LCBO. They are big and fruity and simply fun to drink. Just look for Tempranillos from Vino de la Tierra de Castilla.

Valdepeñas, or 'Valley of the Stones' lies just south of La Mancha and produces some excellent Reservas and Gran Reservas. The area's history goes back to the Romans but many believe it was the monks of 12th century Burgundy who first brought Cencibel (aka Tempranillo) here. In the twentieth century, it was often considered the "Poor Man's Rioja" but as we find in the Twenty-First century, the wines can stand up to the best of North-Central Spain.

Almansa is considered 'the forefinger' of Castilla-La Mancha and could well have been assigned to the DO's (Denominación de Origin) of Valencia and the Levant. But politics is politics and borders fall where men lie but one thing's for sure, culturally, the region is more northern than Mediterranean. If anything, the one great common factor it has with its more eastern neighbors is the vast planting of Monastrell which dominates half the vineyards.

And there's also Manchuela, second-largest in size after massive La Mancha. The main grape here is Bobal which accounts for around 70% of the vineyard. 

In the world of wine, we remember the big names: Bordeaux, Burgundy, Tuscany, Rioja, Jerez, Barossa, Marlborough, Mosel-Saar-Ruher, Napa, etc...etc...

Even in Spain-loving wine circles, the word 'Ribera' is often followed by 'del Duero' and we think of the robust, passionate and heady wines of the north. We think of Vega Sicilia's famous dark wines that can age for decades. 

There are other Ribera's, however. There's Ribeira Sacra in Galicia; Ribera del Andarax in Andalusia and Ribera del Guadiana in Extremadura in western Spain on the River Guadiana. 

In the Meseta, we find Ribera del Júcar fiendishly sandwiched between La Mancha and Manchuela. The D.O. lies in the province of Cuenca and surrounds seven small villages. 

There is more of a Mediterranean climate at work and it's not as harsh as the heated plains of La Mancha. It also rains more in Ribera del Júcar than in the land of Don Quixoite's  monstrous windmills: 20% percent higher to be exact. This means the vines don't have to dig down so deep to find water. 

The soils of La Mancha are red-brown sand and clay while in Júcar you'll notice outcrops of marl and limestone. This makes a difference as well. La Mancha, as I mentioned produces busty, brawny reds but here, although the wines are also big there is a seductive, perfumed quality which makes the reds intoxicating even before you sip them. 

The main grape varieties include Cencibel, Cabernet Sauvignon, Bobal, Merlot and Syrah.

La Mancha and Castilla are all about value. The same goes for Ribera del Júcar. 

The 2006 Casa de Illana Bobal/Tempranillo/Syrah blend offers the wine lover a gorgeous red without the hefty price tag. On the nose you'll notice perfumed black pepper and blueberries. An earthy spice seems to float and flower in the glass. Take a sip and the dark fruit will rush over your palate along with hints of smoke and dashes of baking spice. A lovely, delicate wine and only $12.95 at the LCBO in your Vintages section.

Radford, John, The New Spain. Mitchell Beazley, London, 2007.



About This Blog

My focus is mainly on wine culture, history and education. I love the stories behind wine - the people, places and the regional personalities of the wine-countries around the world.

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