La Mancha - Don Quixote country (Photo: Jebulon)
Did you know that Spain produces more wine than most other countries of the
world? Every year, they churn out over three million tons of the stuff. Only
Italy and France manage to beat them in the wine production stakes. But
where does it all go? Certainly not very much of it gets to Thailand, that’s
for sure. In 2012, almost 50 percent of the wine made in Spain went to
Germany, Great Britain, the USA and France. Even China managed to get its
hands on about 4 percent of the total. But the number of Spanish wines
available here in Thailand can probably be counted on the fingers of one
Anyway, here are two Spanish wines worth seeking out. They’re both from the
region known as Castilla, which occupies a huge area in the middle of Spain.
Officially known as Castilla-La Mancha since 1978, it’s one of the most
sparsely populated of Spain’s autonomous regions. The capital is the fine
old city of Toledo with its two thousand years of history. During the
Renaissance, Toledo became one of the most important artistic centres in
Spain and the city’s outstanding fifteenth and sixteenth century
architecture have brought it the status of a World Heritage Site.
South of Toledo lies the largest plain in the Iberian Peninsula - La Mancha.
It’s a massive, wind-swept place over 1,500 feet above sea level; yet it’s a
potent symbol of Spanish culture with its vineyards, sunflowers, mushrooms,
olive groves and of course, windmills. For this is the land of Don Quixote,
the dotty hero created by the sixteenth century Spanish novelist, Miguel de
Cervantes. And you’ll remember that the Castilla region was the scene of
many historical battles between Christians and Muslims during the Middle
In parts of this high, hot and arid plain, the Airén grape thrives. If Spain
had a National White Grape, it would probably be the Airén (i-REHN). It’s
been around at least since the fifteenth century and today, in terms of
planted area it’s the world’s Number One white grape. If you’ve never heard
of it, this is probably because it grows nowhere else.
Castillo del Moro Airén-Sauvignon Blanc 2011 (white),
Spain (Bt. 449 @ Wine Connection)
This wine is a very pale gold; a couple of shades lighter and it
would be transparent.
It has an attractive, delicate floral aroma with pineapple and gooseberries
up front and hints of fresh oranges. You may also notice that fresh grassy
smell that tends to come with Sauvignon Blanc. The wine is very smooth on
the palate but has a pleasing tang of apple-like acidity. It doesn’t have
the toe-curling bitterness of some Sauvignons, and I can only assume that
the Airén in the blend has successfully softened Sauvignon’s characteristic
Nevertheless, it’s a light and refreshing wine, ample fruit on the palate
and an attractive lingering finish with delicate hints of grapefruit. The
wine is dry, but it’s not in the dinosaur bones class because there’s just a
hint of sweetness to the taste. In many ways, this is a real charmer - an
unassuming crisp wine that is a delight to drink. At just 12% alcohol
content, it would make a lovely apéritif or you could enjoy it with seafood
and salads. Perfect I’d say, for summer evening drinking.
Castillo del Moro Tempranillo-Syrah 2011 (red), Spain (Bt.
449 @ Wine Connection)
Spain’s National Red Grape would surely be the black,
thick-skinned Tempranillo (tem-prah-NEE-yoh), which finds its greatest
expression in wines of Rioja. Blended with Syrah (or Shiraz, as it’s
sometimes known) this is a very dark, purplish red wine with a lovely
delicate and slightly floral aroma of red fruit. There’s a delightful whiff
of fresh raspberries, wax crayons, herbs and spices. The aromas are
surprisingly interesting for a wine of this price and I felt I was actually
sniffing something rather more expensive. There’s plenty of ripe, red fruit
on the palate and the wine has a pleasantly soft mouth-feel, with virtually
no acidity and just the hint of ripe tannins in the background.
Tempranillo tends to dominate both the aroma and the taste, so you’ll
probably pick up flavours of raspberry, cherry and blackberry. It’s rather
an elegant wine; light and dry with dash of spice and a long peppery finish
that probably comes from the Shiraz in the blend. At 13% alcohol, it would
make a charming and unobtrusive partner for many dishes. The makers
recommend drinking it with tapas (which course, could be virtually anything)
red meats and pasta.
As an experiment and in keeping with the Spanish theme, I tried pairing it
with a home-made Spanish-style pizza, topped with Spanish Chorizo from
Pamplona, some Spanish ham and even Spanish olives and capers. Honestly, I
just hope you appreciate the trouble I go to on your behalf. It’s not
everyone who would make the effort of cooking a pizza at the end of a hot
and exhausting day.
The wine proved an excellent partner and if you get a chance to try these
delightful Spanish wines, do give them a try. Oh yes, the pizza. My natural
and rather charming modesty prevents me from admitting that the pizza was
perfection itself. Even the dogs agreed.