Wine production is nothing new in Spain — it has been produced on the Iberian peninsula for more than 3,000 years. The most planted grape variety in the world is a native Spanish grape called airen, and Spain is the third largest wine producer in the world. With such a varied climate almost all grape varieties can be successfully grown in Spain. There are more than 400 grape varieties planted there comprising of international varieties such as chardonnay and cabernet sauvignon as well as hundreds of native varieties such as tempranillo and verdejo. Unfortunately most people no little more about Spanish wine than rioja or sherry.
Things are changing; Spain is hot right now! Under the Franco dictatorship from 1939 to 1975, the Spanish wine industry languished. Spain had become know for producing low quality, rustic and inexpensive red wines and fortifieds. Many vineyards were in tatters and wineries were old and lacked modern equipment. In the years after Franco Spanish society flourished. Investment poured into the wine industry and there was a new lease of life. It would have been easy for winemakers to replant new vineyards full of popular varieties like chardonnay, cabernet and syrah, which could be easily sold on the export market. While this did happen to some vineyards, for the most part the proud Spanish set about re-inventing and nurturing native varieties like monastrell, tempranillo, mencia, bobal, verdejo and albariño.
This dedication to native Spanish grapes has paid off. Winemakers experimented like crazy to see what could be achieved with their autochthonous varieties. They worked in the vineyards, in the bodegas, tried different types of oak and fermentations; they were not restrained by tradition but rather seeking to create a new world order. Like the crucible that has been Spanish gastronomy over the last 15 years, Spanish wine has been breaking conventional rules and boundaries. The results have been impressive.
The rustic old-fashioned image is dead. Spanish wines are now truly avant garde. Every style imaginable is produced from unique varieties that create equally special wines. These wines are breaking new ground and are no longer restrained like Spanish food once was. Modern Spanish wines belong with all the great cuisines of the world. The new wine world order is here and it’s time to get acquainted with modern vino. Vamos!
Castaño Hecula Monastrell 2014
The Castaño family have been one of the leading pioneers of the revival of the monastrell (mourvedre) grape in southern Spain. Due to perseverance, dedication and generations of knowledge, they have been responsible for the variety’s recognition in export markets. They have turned monastrell from what was once regarded as a blending grape into a proud standalone variety. The 2014 Hecula Monastrell is just this. Bold and powerful with intense black and blue fruit flavours, pepper, cloves and spice, and a long, long smooth finish. A very impressive wine that can easily outclass many wines triple its price. Regularly scoring above 90 points from Robert Parker, it’s time to stock up the cellar with this little beauty.
Jim Cawood is a trained sommelier and is also man-at-the-helm of Saigon restaurant, Lubu