September 2015 Wine & Cheese Club: Spain’s Mediterranean Side

September 2015 Wine & Cheese Club: Spain’s Mediterranean Side

In our corner of the world, Spanish wine is practically synonymous with the region of Rioja and its star grape, Tempranillo. However, wine club being what it is, we’re straying from the beaten path to explore two very worthy (but lesser-known) regions: Priorat and Yecla. Many small, designated wine regions dot the Mediterranean side of Spain. Unique soil, the Mediterranean climate, and little rainfall are ideal for grape growing. In the past, much of this area focused on simple wines of low quality for everyday consumption by the locals. In the past 20 years or so, great efforts have been made to revitalize the area and allow the wines to live up to their full potential. There are hundreds (and even thousands) of years of wine making tradition here, but only recently are they really starting to make history!

Cheers…or as they say in Basque country, “aclamacions!

-Chris & Megan

Bodegas Castaño Hecula, 2012
100% Monastrell

Monastrell is grown around the world, best known in France’s Rhone Valley by the name Mouvedré. Almost everywhere else it is used as a minor blending grape, but in Spain’s Yecla region it is the star of many rich, supple reds. There’s blueberry and perhaps black raspberry, and a bit of white pepper too. It softens and deepens nicely after some time in the glass.

Yecla is one of the very smallest wine regions in Spain, but its history with wine is deep. Remnant of Phoenician wine pottery dating from the 1st century have been found here. This wine’s name, Hecula, is what the Romans called Yecla (they were big fans of these wines too). Like much of the rest of Spain, their foray into internationally recognized fine wine is relatively new, but by many accounts it is the up-and-coming region to watch. Bodegas Castaño, who makes this wine, is considered the the leader in the region’s rise in status.

Cheese Pairing: Valdeon
This bold and spicy blue is made from seasonally blended milk of goats and cows that graze the Picos de Europa Mountains in Castilla y Leon. Valdeon makes a pretty package with its powdery white rind and dense veining peeking out behind a protective layer of sycamore leaves. It’s a hearty blue with a balance of salt and spice that loves fresh fruit and strong red wine. Paired with the Hecula, the wine’s tannins cut through the cheese’s fatty creaminess, while the salt and spice of the cheese play off the wine’s rich fruit, and also bring out a smokiness. A bold cheese for a bold wine.

Red/Red Club only: Black Slate Priorat 2012
Grenache, Carignan

Priorat is not a universally-known wine region, but their wines are incredible! The secret is in the soil- a dark-brown slate called “llicorella” that sparkles with quartzite (it’s pictured on the wine label). Shielded by the Sierra de Montsant, this craggy region receives less than 16 inches of rain each year, and is just 100 miles down the coast from Barcelona.

Unlike many big reds, this wine was aged in a combination of concrete vats, large wooden foudres, and second-use French Oak. These are all very unassertive oaking practices, allowing the fruit and mineral to take the spotlight. Much like the dark slate it grows in, there’s a dark, rich minerality to it that we adore. If wine points are your thing, know that this vintage received 93 points from Wine Advocate!

The property has been in the winemaker’s family since 1814, but their claim to fine winemaking is more brief. Since the beginning, the wine was sold in bulk to the rest of the village for everyday consumption. In 1996, after winemaker Joan Sangenís earned a degree in oenology, the worthiest old vines were resuscitated, new ones planted, and Celler Cal Pla was born. The vines used to make this wine are between 60 and 80 years old.

A note on wine nomenclature: In Spain, notable producers from designated areas can affix a DOC label to their wine (Denominación de Origen Calificada). Priorat has earned this same level of distinction, but choose to designate their wines as DOQ for “Denominació d’Origen Qualificada.” The difference? In this fiercely independent region they insist on using the Catalan term instead of the Spanish. Both DOC and DOQ are akin to France’s AOC designations, such as Bordeaux, and Italy’s DOGC, like Chianti Classico. Ahh…the never ending rabbit hole of wine trivia!

Cheese Pairing: Idiazabel
Idiazabal is a smoked cheese made from the raw milk of Latxa or Carranza sheep. It is one of the area’s best-known products and, as such, its name is protected by a Board of Denomination of Origin, just like the wines featured this month. This cheese originated in the high mountain pastures of the region, where it was made by the nomadic shepherds. For the duration of the summer the shepherds would move their sheep up the mountain to graze on the lush, new grass. During this time they would also milk the sheep and make cheese in their mountain huts, storing the cheeses in the rafters to mature. By the end of September, with the advancing bad weather, the shepherds, sheep and cheeses all returned to the lower slopes, by which time the cheeses were ready for sale and had developed a distinctly smoky flavor from having been stored near the fires in the huts all summer long. After production, cheeses are matured for one month before being smoked using Beech or Hawthorne, which imparts a piquant flavor. Cheeses are then matured further before being sold.

The particular breed of sheep used gives Idiazabal an exceptionally rich, fatty milk, resulting in a buttery mouth-feel and an intriguing gamy character.Together with the cheese, the wine retained all its aromas of blackberry, plum, and slate; the cheese seemed creamier and smoother in the company of the wine.

White/Red Wine Club Only: Mas d’en Compte, Priorat Blanco 2012
Garnatxa Blanca, Picapoll Blanca, Xarel-lo*

We simply don’t see very much wine from Priorat in these parts, but we wish we did! Even more rare is a white wine from Priorat, like you have here. It shares some characteristics with white wines from the Southern Rhône (warm climate blends with rich, round tones). However, there is certainly some Spanish personality injected into this wine- starting with its distinctively rich, gilded hue. The assertive oaky tones remind us of toast or the crust of crème brulee, and arise from 6 months of aging in a combination of French and American oak.

The property has been in the winemaker’s family since 1814, but their claim to fine winemaking is more brief. Originally, the wine was sold in bulk to the rest of the village for everyday consumption. In 1996, after winemaker Joan Sangenís earned a degree in oenology, the worthiest old vines were resuscitated, new ones planted, and Celler Cal Pla was born. The vines used to make this wine are between 20 and 80 years old.

A note on wine nomenclature: In Spain, notable producers from designated areas can affix a DOC label to their wine (Denominación de Origen Calificada). Priorat has earned this same level of distinction, but choose to designate their wines as DOQ for “Denominació d’Origen Qualificada.” The difference? In this fiercely independent region they insist on using the Catalan term instead of the Spanish. Both DOC and DOQ are akin to France’s AOC designations, such as Bordeaux, and Italy’s DOGC, like Chianti Classico. Ahh…the never ending rabbit hole of wine trivia!

*The grape Xarel-lo is unique to the Catalan region, and is one of three varietals used to make Cava. This is a rare instance in which we see it blended in a still wine.

Cheese Pairing: Cacio de Roma
This creamy, semisoft sheep’s milk cheese is made in the countryside of Rome and aged about one month. Known as a “caciotta” for its small form, Cacio de Roma is a classic cheese from Italy with a very full, flavorful taste. The traditional vehicle for Cacio di Roma cheese is in the pasta dish Cacio e Pepe, that famous, most simple Roman meal that gets its flavor from two things: cheese (cacio), and copious amounts of cracked black pepper (pepe).

It’s very grassy and herbaceous, qualities that tamed the oakiness of the wine and brought its fruit flavors to the forefront.

Leave a Reply