The Wines of Northern Spain, by Sarah Jane Evans MW

So, here’s me thinking I know a bit about Spanish wine (and I do too), but my knowledge, expertise and experience over the last 21 years, practically pales into insignificance when compared with the latest book by my colleague and friend, Sara Jane Evans MW!

Put simply, ‘The Wines of Northern Spain’ by Sarah Jane Evans MW must now be considered the definitive, go-to reference work for the wines of half of this dynamic wine producing country – with her next book, no doubt the same for the other half, the south! If you, or your partner/friends have an interest in Spanish wines, this has to be a perfect Christmas Present! (www.infideas.com)

Approximately twenty years ago I had in my hands a contract to write an introductory book on the Wines of Spain. It was quite an accolade and I was keen to write a first reference book after so many articles. However, it was an opportunity I had to turn down – the sheer scale of the undertaking had me almost shaking with trepidation!

Since then, considering all the publications for which I’ve written, it must now be well over a million words, almost always, in praise of Spanish wines – describing them, their provenance, their producers et al. So, I’m now in an even better position to understand how huge and difficult such a project would be!

Sarah Jane Evans MW, is also aware of how vast an enterprise, having decided to write it in two different parts, however she didn’t baulk at the task, she just got on with it!

Of course, as a Master of Wine (MW), who specialises in Spanish wines, Sarah Jane Evans would be by far the better option as a writer for such a reference book, and this clearly comes out when reading it. It seems there is nothing that has been left out, and it’s clear that she writes from great knowledge and experience. And that’s not surprising!

The author is an award-winning wine writer, journalist and speaker at conferences worldwide. She co-Chairs the prestigious Decanter World Wine Awards; she qualified as an MW in 2006, and was presented with an award for the highest mark in the theory section of this exacting exam, and was subsequently appointed Chairman of the Institute of Masters of Wine!

With regard to her specialist subject, Spanish Wine, Sarah Jane Evans was made a member of the exceedingly prestigious Gran Orden de Caballeros de Vino in 2010, with a number of similarly impressive appointments to various Denominaciónes de Origen throughout Spain. A Spanish wine expert, she certainly is!

And one would need to be, in order to write this comprehensive book in such depth. However, this is certainly not just a factual reference book destined to gather dust on the library shelf. Sarah Jane’s writing skills, allied to her knowledge and personal experience of Spanish wines make, ‘The Wines of Northern Spain’, interspersed as it is with entertaining anecdotes and producer profiles, a thoroughly good read!

The book, as the title would suggest, deals with the wine producing areas of Northern Spain, defined here in practical terms as: drawing ‘a line from the Pyrenees to Aragón and Navarra, turning west to Rioja, Ribera del Duero, Castilla y León, and Galicia, also taking in Txakoli country, and Asturias’.

The early chapter, ‘Three Thousand Years of History’ gives a fascinating, historical perspective to these often ancient areas of production, and a useful backdrop to the areas and their wines as they are now. How interesting to know, for example, that the Phoenicians who were trading with Spain in about 1100 BC, bringing with them wine in amphorae, have left a legacy which has recently been revived here, where a number of bodegas are now using clay pots for fermentation and ageing wine!

The book also details early on the major grape varieties used in these areas of Northern Spain, some of which are familiar to readers, but some of which we know little, or nothing about. There are vine growers and winemakers in these areas who are engaged in an almost missionary quest to revive forgotten and almost extinct varieties, and the wines made from them are another reason why Sarah Jane declares, “Spain is the most exciting country in Europe for wine lovers, and one of the most exciting in the world.”

As the reader reads on he/she will find region, area and producer profiles (including climates, microclimates, soil types and altitudes), detailing wine making methods, varieties used and even some of the wines themselves. It’s a good read from cover to cover, and can then be used over and over again to dip into for reference purposes when readers are thinking of looking for new wine tastes and aromas and/or exploring the regions first hand.     

Clearly, there is quality wine in the areas detailed in ‘The Wines of Northern Spain’, some of which readers will have tasted, however there are areas here that are less well known, whose wines are not so readily available on the Costas of Spain. We are therefore given an insight into what else there is to taste, which fits perfectly with Sarah Jane’s stated intention that readers should discover and taste these wines for themselves! colin@colinharknessonwine.com

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