Getting Time To Get Your Brosé On

France, Portugal, Rosés, Spain, Uncategorized, USA


So the marketing guys and girls have come out with this term “Brosé”. It’s where rosé wines are starting to get guzzled by blokes as well as lasses.   More power to it I reckon, I’m a rosé lover and proud! But why is it something that people still feel like they need to hush up? Why do my mates give me a right old barracking if I ever pick some of the pink?

#NWTW Week 26: Rosado From Spain (Part Two)

New Wine This Week, Rosés, Spain

Flags - Spain

Well it’s official everyone.  We are exactly half way through 2014 with NWTW Week 26.  As Ant has said earlier, my shameless shift of last week to Cava to coincide with my weekend in Barcelona has not stopped us from sticking to Spain this week.  We’re going to leave it a fairly open one this week and just offer up the idea of Spanish rosé (rosado in Spanish).

Notes on Northern Spain #5: What Have I Missed?

Reds, Spain, Sparkling, Whites

So on the back of a what was a top weekend away with the mates for my stag, I’ve hopefully thrown out a few thoughts for the next visit to the wine shop. Northern Spain is a fantastic wine producer. What have we spoken about? Well there’s:

 – The famous hills of Rioja

 – The rosés of Navarre

– The big reds of the Duero

 – And the crisp whites of the Rias Baixas

It’s just my point of view, but if you’re going to try Spanish wine for the first few times, I think checking those examples out will give you a great start. But that’s not the end of it by a long shot.

I missed one of the most famous exports of Spain; Cava. This is made over in the North East on the way over to Catalunya. It’s made from a mix of local and not so local grapes, but the big distinction here is that it’s made in the same way, with the same techniques as Champagne. So I decided to leave talking about it until I do a post on those methods. But I think the things you need to know about Cava is that it’s usually a much cheaper, yet still premium alternative to Champagne. But mind your eye, drinking too much will seriously dry your mouth out, and you get that morning feeling of wearing a sock on your tongue.

If you can't be bothered spending £50 on a bottle of  Champagne, £20 for a really good Cava makes more sense!

If you can’t be bothered spending £50 on a bottle of Champagne, £20 for a really good Cava makes more sense!

I also missed out the soon-to-be Catalonia super power that is Priorat. This is a really hilly area, and so wine production is really expensive, cos you’ve got to tend and harvest the grapes all by hand. For that reason most vineyards were left alone in the 1980s, with producers unable to make any money out of what they were producing. Better techniques and a new breed of wine growers have led to another great area for deep coloured reds, mostly made from Garnacha and Cabernet Sauvignon. It’s hot round here, but with the slopes it makes it a great place to grow wine. Definitely one to watch out for.

The slopes of Priorat, not the easiest harvest to be fair

The slopes of Priorat, not the easiest harvest to be fair

I suppose other than that, all I want to highlight before we knock this one on the head is the food culture. If you’re a bit of a foodie, Spain feels like a small piece of heaven sent down just for you to enjoy. And a lot like Italy, most of the wines here were traditionally made to pair with the local food. Foodies will love Spanish food, and that means they’ll love Spanish wine.

So it’s adios to Spain for a little bit as I move on to a couple of other topics. But don’t let that stop you from trying them out.


Notes on Northern Spain #3: One For The Heavy Red Drinkers

Reds, Spain

I love drinking Port. I first starting drinking it at the last hockey match before christmas, in the in-goal half time team talk. To be fair, that was probably the old supermarket’s value own brand, but luckily over the years I’ve managed to try lots of different examples, and I’ve really loved them. If you’ve never had port, the styles do tend to vary a bit, but roughly speaking (the ones i’ve had anyway) are really fruity, spicy, and a hint of sweetness throughout.

The jammy fruit comes from grapes on the roasting hot slopes of the spectacularly beautiful Duoro valley, the river which hits the Atlantic in the city of Porto, where the drink gets its name from. And there’s lots of different grapes that go into the blends. Those grapes get grown all the way down the valley, all the way into Spain, here called the Duero…which is what we’re going to have a quick chat about.

Follow the river East from Portugal, you'll find it

Follow the river East from Portugal, you’ll find it

Over in Spain they get processed in the normal way of wine, producing some of the biggest reds in Spain, with all the deep fruit and spiciness you’d expect from the valley. Tempranillo works so well because it’s roasting hot during the day, but the vines are planted up high in the valleys, meaning it’s relatively cold at night. So ripening is rarely a problem, so you get great fruit flavours. Tempranillo, along with other grapes in a similar vein, produce slightly more colour pigments in their skins, so naturally you get darker wine too.

This is the style that wine makers are going for. We spoke last time that Navarre are trying to copy the Rioja style. Well rather cleverly, in my view anyway, the Ribero Del Duero producers are looking to make the distinction. So heavier, fuller, younger drinking wines. So good with those beef pintxos we were eating a couple of weeks back.

The other very important thing from the drinkers’ point of view is that these wines, from a marketing point of view, are still playing second fiddle to the more famous wines from Spain. That means the value for money on offer is right up there with the best in the country.

Gorgeous looking place, but not great if you're not sure if you've left the gas on and need to go back and check!

Gorgeous looking place, but not great if you’re not sure if you’ve left the gas on and need to go back and check!

Up in the northern hemisphere, we’re heading into winter. The first snows are hitting the UK this week apparently (cue mass confusion and closed airports!). Not a bad time to have a few bottles of Duero reds in the cellar.

See you through til spring.


Notes on Northern Spain ♯2: Every Rosé Has A Thorn

Rosés, Spain

Navarre is Rioja’s next door neighbour. It has a history of making rosés from the Garnacha grape we spoke about last time. Problem for years was that there wasn’t all that much care and attention paid, they were a bit too alcoholic and often too oxidised.

Remember where Rioja is?  Now look a bit to the right...

Remember where Rioja is? Now look a bit to the right…

What do I mean by that? Well, believe it or not, it is possible to have too much alcohol in the wine! I know, I was shocked when I found that out too! But all the components of the wine, the acidity, the body, the flavours, and the alcohol all jumble together in the glass to give you what I suppose you could call the real “taste” of the wine. If one of those is relatively higher than it should be, then it becomes obvious and what people in the wine world call “unbalanced”. With alcohol it gives a burning feeling at the back of the throat, which tends to take away from the enjoyment.

Wines become too oxidized mostly due to lack of care in the production. The wine has plenty of components that will react with oxygen and give rather funky tastes. If you think about what happens when you leave a glass of wine on the table over night, you come back in the morning and what does it smell like? Vinegarish, right? Well that can happen to the wine at any time in its life after (and even during) fermentation. Usually wine makers use techniques like airtight tanks, pumping over nitrogen gas, and sulphur treatments to stop the oxygen attacking the freshness. But those techniques weren’t always available. So in a place like Navarre you had oxidised wines with too much alcohol. Drinkable, but not exactly outstanding.

So what they did was turn and look at Rioja (arguably Spain’s first major red wine global success) and thought “we could do that?!” Tempranillo was the new grape of choice, and Rioja style blends were all the rage. With all the move towards red wine production, general production techniques got better and better, and that spread to all styles of wine from the area. Including the historically average Garnacha based rosè.

Now I’ve got nothing against reds from Navarre, but given they try to copy the Rioja style, then you might as well just drink Rioja. I’m sure someone will tell me that’s bollocks, and I’m more than up for having that opinion changed. But for me, when I think of Navarre, I think the improved rosé, and I love it!

It must have taken a long time to come up with that marketing!

It must have taken a long time to come up with that marketing!

So there we were. 8 lads on my stag do, and the first drinks of the day were ordered in. 7 beers and a rosé. I didn’t care, they were great. Earlier harvesting has meant Garnacha used for rosé keeps its acidity and doesn’t have as much time to develop the sugars. So the freshness is there, and the alcohol is back to manageable levels. So what you get now is fresh, fruity (red fruit), and well balanced wines.

If you like your rosés, you’ve got to give Navarre a go.


El Calmio Downo!

Reds, Rosés, Spain, Sparkling, Whites


The Trip To San Sebastian

In terms of languages, I’d like to think I buck the usual stereotype of the Brit abroad. Like most, I did a bit of French and German when I was at school, so can fudge my way through there. My parents have a little place in northern Italy, so again, I’ve picked up enough to get by. And I managed to (somehow) find a beautiful Norwegian girl who puts up with me, so off to evening classes it was for me. I’m not trying to brag here, I don’t speak any of them fluently (I struggle enough with English!), but at least I don’t feel like a complete tool when I go to the aforementioned countries.

Anyone notice the glaring error yet? The two most spoken languages in the world are Spanish and Chinese (well Mandarin if you’re going to be picky). I tried a bit of Mandarin during my postgrad year in Edinburgh with my classmates, but my inability to get the accent right was a problem. When it comes to Spanish, other than “La Bamba” and “Xabi Alonso” I’m struggling.

So as much as I was looking forward to my stag do in San Sebastian, I was getting a bit funny about not being able to make myself understood. Luckily enough, if you’re British and you’re going abroad with a group of mates, chances are someone’s shitter than you are. Now this particular mate shall go unnamed, but I think he deserves special mention. His pissed belief that people will understand him if he put “-o” at the end of his words was bordering on genius. So when he went to break up the mother of all cat-fights at 5am on the way home from the club, he waded in, arms aloft, reassuring smirk on. “Hey girls, El Calmio Downo!” Only bloody well worked and all!

Cat fights and awful language skills aside, what a few days! San Sebastian is phenomenal. The pintxos bar culture is a God-send to any foodie out there. And the selection of wine from northern Spain is a great entry point to anyone, like me, who isn’t all that travelled in this wonderful region of Europe.

I took this one week ago with a raging hangover! Nice, huh?

I took this one week ago with a raging hangover! Nice, huh?

So are you ready for pub quiz fact of the day? Pintxos are small snacks available in bars in the Basque country. They’re roughly related to tapas, but usually held together with a skewer (pintxo is basque for “spike”). There are well over a hundred Pintxos bars in a tiny area in San Sebastian, and the night is just literally stumbling from one bar to the next to taste the next offerings.

It was as amazing as it looks!

It was as amazing as it looks!

Highlights for me were A Fuego Negro, La Cuchera De San Telmo, Gandarias, and the quite phenomenal Zeruko (coming to New York City in the near future). If you love your food, it’s amazing, you must go!

Charcoal smoked cod, with avacado crisp, and a cucumber shot, coming to a Big Apple near you

Charcoal smoked cod, with avacado crisp, and a cucumber shot, coming to a Big Apple near you

But what am I doing? This isn’t a food blog?! The night started each day with a trip to the only bar we could all remember the location of in the cold light of day. 8 of us, so 7 San Miguel, and one glass of Rosado from Navarre. Yes that was me. Well you see I’ve given up drinking lager and bitter, and unless there are very exceptional circumstances (all will become clear shortly) cider too. So you’re in northern Spain, some of the best rosé in the world available to you at every bar, what do you expect me to start the night with?

Northern Spain is the spiritual home of a grape called Garnacha (Grenache elsewhere in the world). It’s a fat grape, with lots of sugars, but thin skins. So you don’t get much colour or tannin (extracted from skins), but you get plenty of body and red fruit flavour (from the sugars in the pulp). Northern Spain is a massive producer of full bodied rosé. My mates might have been taking the piss, but they could go whistle for all I cared.

Next we head into the Old Town and hit the first Pintxos bar of the night. The drink of choice was, as ever, left in the dubious hands of the head barman on the first night. Pleased to say, he didn’t disappoint. I met most of the lads that were out there with me at uni in the West Country, an area of the UK famous for its magnificent cider. So when we found out that the Basque Country is Spain’s cider drinking nirvana, well what could we do?

They have a fantastic way of pouring this stuff though. It’s done with a thin but steady stream of Sagardo (cider), dropped into the glass from a great height to get plenty of oxygen in there, and give it a slight natural fizz. We all had a go, to varying degrees of success that got even more varied as more booze flowed. But a great laugh, and a great spectacle.

He's doing a lot better than I did!

He’s doing a lot better than I did!

From there we cracked onto the red wine. San Sebastian is a handful of kilometres from the northern border of the Rioja region. The main red grape in Spain is Tempranillo, which is often used with Garnacha in blends as they complement each other. Tempranillo is lighter in body, but has the colour and tannin that Garnacha doesn’t. But carefully handled and aged, the tannins can be controlled, and 100% Tempranillo wines can be fantastically smooth, with spicy red fruit flavours. We weren’t going to miss out.

It wasn't just  the focus on the camera that was getting blurred!

It wasn’t just the focus on the camera that was getting blurred!

Just before the nights (invariably) descended into chaos, there was just time to step the red wine up a notch. My favourite area in Iberia is the Duoro valley, mostly famous as the home of port production, as the Duoro flows through Spain and hits the Atlantic through the Portuguese city of Oporto. In recent times though, this warm, hilly, and majestic looking area has begun to produce outstanding red wines, mostly very full bodied (the heat and the choice of grape contribute). Our tipple of choice centred around a grape known as Tinto Fino. This is actually a very close relation of Tempranillo, but with slightly fatter skins, so adding darker colour to heavier bodies, giving it that subtle but distinctive difference to its brother from Rioja. We were drinking this stuff in Gandarias with some amazing flank beef Pintxos. I can close my eyes now and remember it all.

…Tinto Fino….with the flank steak…hmmmmm

…Tinto Fino….with the flank steak…hmmmmm

Sadly for me the same can’t be said for the whole weekend. It was my stag do after all. However I’d love to thank all the lads who made the massive effort to come out to be there with me. Was awesome fun. I’d also like to thank the staff at San Sebastian Food for looking after us, and lending us various items for my costume, they’re washed and in the post back to the office I swear!

Right, probably time to go before I say too much.

Waiter! El check-o por favor!