MUDDY BOOTS AND WINE
The French have been making a significant contribution to the wine world for centuries. Nowadays there are wonderful wines from many parts of the world, of course (Spain included, seguro) but there are many who still use top Bordeaux and Burgundy as yardsticks by which all others are measured.
French has also been prominent in the development of the English language. Since the Norman Conquest and the consequent influx of the French Nobility, French has impacted on English. This is true of ‘wine language’ too. Think of the wonderful, seemingly catch-all word ‘terroir’, meaning all external influences on a vineyard – the soil, micro-climate et al (French comes from Latin, be fair!). Think also of the French word Négociant, which, in reality, is more of a concept than just a simple word.
Wikipedia defines a ‘Négociant’ as ‘. . the French term for a wine merchant who assembles the produce of smaller growers and winemakers and sells the result under its own name. Négociants buy everything from grapes, to grape must, to wines in various states of completion. In the case of grapes or must, the Négociant performs virtually all the winemaking.
There’s many a fortune been made by ‘savvy’ French Négociants over the years. Historically mostly men, but in more recent times, women too, who have the wine-making know-how, the wherewithal and, indeed, the wine appreciation and business nose to be able predict (and sometimes lead) market demands.
In Spain, the concept as well as the personnel, are not so well known. Enter Nicola Thornton, her business partner, wine-maker Álvaro Martín, and their joint venture ‘Spanish Palate’ (www.spanishpalate.net). They’re not the only Negociants successfully working in Spain, nor the first, but I’m not sure that there are many more successful!
Spanish Palate sells wine from a number of specially selected bodegas, in various different zones of Spain – regular readers will know of several of their wines, having been showcased here in Cork Talk, since the company’s inception, perhaps four years ago. However, they also have a portfolio of wines made in boutique bodegas in six different areas of Spain, from the famous area of, for example DOCa Rioja, to the hardly known area of DOP Almansa.
The Botas de Barro (Muddy Boots) range of wines are made by Álvaro and Nicola in partnership with the bodegas in question, just like the French Négociants of yesteryear. In their opening spiel, Nicola writes about the number of muddy boots that have walked the vineyards for generations whilst their owners have toiled in all weathers. There’s a certain, comforting continuity abut this project, which is sure to bring the associated bodegas to a new level of prominence.
And I don’t think I’m alone in this prediction – recently I had the pleasure of presenting the full range of six wines at a Musical Dinner with Paired Wines and beautiful music from www.clairemarie.es. A perfect fit!
Although there is a certain suggested order in which wines should be tasted, at an event such as this, it’s fine to walk on the wild side a little. Meaty and vegetarian starters were paired with two Spanish Palate reds, the fish course that followed, with the only white in the range, and so on. Unusual, I grant you, but it worked.
Nicola first started her wine journey in Toro. Appointed as Export Director at one DOP Toro bodega, the company was bought, the philosophy changed and, out of the blue, and never more timely, she was headhunted by the well established and excellent Bodegas Fariña, nearby. It’s a long story, written in Cork Talk before, but I mention now as it is perhaps a natural development that Nicola, having decided to branch out on her own, after so many highly successful and loyal years, should start her Négociant business working in tandem with a small producer in the same area.
So, I wanted to start our presentation with a wine from DOP Toro too. This wine is made from very old vines, 80 – 100 years of age. It’s had ten months in oak, five in French and five in American. It’s an expressive wine with some dark brambly fruit and maybe a trace of liquorice. It went very well with the selection of dried meats, and on the night, was the equal favourite of the tasting.
The Botas de Barro Ribera del Duero is made from centenary vines – and there aren’t many of those in this ever more popular area of production! This is what would be called a ‘Roble’ wine, some oak influence, but not much. There’s a lovely aroma of Granny’s blackcurrant jam, though without the sugar. We had this wine with vegetarian cocas and small flavoursome sausages.
Our next course was Lubina, Sea Bass, and it’s here that we tried the only white wine in the portfolio (I’m going to ask Nocola if it might be possible to find a willing bodega in DO Valdeorras – I think a 100% Godello would be good to add to this range!). Rueda is the area, so you can guess the variety – Verdejo, of course. Aromatic, claro, with a little cream on the nose and certainly a creamy texture, following its three months of lees ageing.
Our vinous tour of Spain then took us to DOCa Rioja – where we tasted a 100% Tempranillo, not so common in this area famous for this variety, as it’s often blended with others in Rioja. Twelve months in oak and a further year in bottle qualifies it for Crianza status, though there’s no mention of this on the label – part of a modern trend. Dark cherries along with typical strawberry notes, and a sturdy backbone to let you know it’s a serious wine!
Monastrell from 60 year old vines in DO Jumilla went rather nicely with the Spanish beef steak and was typically (for Monastrell) a lovely juicy mouthful of plums and damsons. I’d like to taste this particular wine in a year’s time, when I think it will have developed a little more.
Finally, with a cheese course, and then, as a surprise from the restaurant, with some chocolate bizcocho, our other most preferred wine o the night – coming from the largely (until now) unheralded DOP Almansa, made with this distinct variety, Garnacha Tintorera, whose flesh is also a soft red colour, giving rise to an intensely dark coloured red wine. It’s had just four months in oak to give is some extra character and, well, it’s lovely!