Thursday, February 7, 2008

Drinking wine at 11:30 am

When I was told about the seminar and tasting for wines from the autonomous community of the Kingdom of Navarra (Wikipedia seems to want to spell it "Navarre," but I'm going with the spelling in the press material I got) in Spain, I imagined the seminar to be simply an informational seminar. I didn't think they'd really make us drink that early in the morning. However when we arrived at the conference room in the W Hotel for the seminar I noticed the desks were set up with two rows of glasses. And it was 11 am.

I gingerly squeeze into a seat, bumping into some of the glasses set on the table behind me, making them clink ominously. Once I sat down, I tried to not fidget too much lest I knock over the glasses in front of me that were clinking away at any movement I made. At one point I was very tempted to make the glasses "sing" to see if they were crystal, but I managed to reign myself in. Luckily, I didn't break any wine glasses, though I witnessed others breaking some glasses later on in the seminar

Being both unfamiliar with wine as well or wines from Navarra for that matter I hunkered down to take some serious notes.

Ana Laguna, wine export specialist and principal educator and lecturer for The Navarra Wine School, explained how wine making in the region went back to the Roman occupation. The are is also along the pilgrimage route "The Way of Saint James," making it an important location for the Christian world, which meant monastaries and monks continued the winery tradition by wetting up their vineyards.

Also, Ana pointed out that diverse wines are able to be cultivated thanks to the diverse climates and conditions within the small area located in northern Spain. Besides the traditional Garnacha (French, Grenache) and Tempranillo varities, I also learned that there are wines also made from imported varieties, such as Cabernet Sauvignon or Merlot.

Fun fact about Denominación de Origen(DO)in the Kingdom of Navarra. Did you know that there are two DOs within Navarra? Besides the eponymous Navarra DO, Rioja is also a DO within the region.

Not all winemakers in Navarra have to submit to the DO, but there are certain qualifications and designations that can only come from submitting to certain set regulations depending on the region the DO looks over.

For example, vino de pago or estate wines have to meet criteria that includes climate and soil conditions of a plot it grew in with a bunch of quality control. The tricky business is that while "vino de pago" is a DO certification, some wines can use the designation "pago de..." which is just a market name and has nothing to do any sort of qualifications.

All in all, we got to taste 14 different wines with whites, rosado (rosés), reds and a moscatel at the end. I'd been to wine tastings before, but hadn't done serious side-by-side comparisons like that. A Sauvignon Blanc punched me in the face with ti's very floral and fruity scent, while a Garnacha rosé had a nice rosy almost light vermillion color. And there were a lot of full-bodied reds that had smells like tobacco and chocolate and raisins. Ana said that the rosado wines were popular in the summer, when it gets too hot for reds and pairs well with vegetables from Navarra (it seems the region has great pride for its vegetables) such as piquillo peppers or white asparagus.

Another new thing I got to try out was Pacharan. Ana mentioned that the digestif liqueur made by soaking sloe berries in anisette is popular throughout Spain with restaurants serving a small glass at the end of a meal as a thank you. Some serving it in new ways such as ice cream. I managed to score sample-sized bottles of two pacharans that have each been macerated for different lengths of time. I'm tempted to run to a bartender with them, make them have a sip, and let me know if they'd mix something with it. I need to see if I can make that happen.

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