This morning at 11am on KXAS-TV/NBC DFW I’ll share a little bit about the wines of Gonzalez Byass, the Spanish company perhaps best known for their exquisite Sherry wines, like their uber-popular Tio Pepe dry Palomino Sherry, an ideal aperitif especially when sipped with almonds and olives. I recently traveled through Spain as a guest of Gonzalez Byass, visiting a few of their premium wineries, experiencing the country flavors through the eyes of three of their dynamic winemakers. A link to the segment is here.
We live in a time of social media influencers, celebrity chefs and rock star winemakers. They travel the world, maybe practicing their craft a bit while doing tv shows or wine events around the world. That is why when you meet a group of winemakers that are so passionate about their craft, and so tied to the roots of the vines of their wines, it is unique and inspiring.
Traveling through Spain’s northern regions visiting the Gonzalez Byass wineries, including Beronia, Vilarnau, Blecua, Vinas Del Vero, and Secastilla. Though each tells their individual story, there’s a universal feeling of authenticity in every breath that exudes from their winemakers. This passion comes through in the character of these wines, as each soul is a part of these soils.
It is impossible not to smile when you are in the presence of Eva Plazas Torne, enologist for Vilarnau Cava in Spain’s sparkling home, Penedes. With a radiance that shines from within. Eva was raised in the small Penedes village of Sant Sadurní d’Anoia, six minutes from the winery. She started working as a girl at Vilarnau, beginning in the cellar then laboratory, now enologist for the traditional method sparkling producer that has roots that date to the 12th century when the first vines were planted in these soils.
Though she has the knowledge and ability to go anywhere, as her education includes a degree in Technical Agricultural Engineering at the UPC University, a Master in Viticulture and Enology, and a Master in Wine Marketing & Communication at the International University of Catalonia, she has stayed close to home, as the roots of the region are ingrained in her.
Catalonia shines through each of the Vilarnau wines. With a focus on artisan winemaking from both non-traditional and ultra-traditional varieties, Vilarnau has set the standard for premium Cava from Spain. They were the first in the region to plant the classic Champagne variety, Pinot Noir, while also reviving the little-used indigenous variety, Subirat Parent.
While everything to create the bubbles is done in the traditional method with the 2nd fermentation occurring in the bottle, they have also revived traditional techniques like aging in chestnut wood and first fermentation in clay pots. Blending Pinot Noir and Garnacha, Vilarnau Reserva Rose Cava leaps from the glass with vibrant notes of strawberry, red cherry, and wild rose, with a delicate palate of red berries and vanilla cream.
Like Eva, Winemaker Jose Ferrer’s boots are tied to the soils of Somontano. Walking with Ferrer through the high elevation La Miranda Vineyard of Secastilla in the far north region in the foothills of the Pyranese, listening to him talk about his upbringing in those majestic mountains, understanding the importance of place in his life and the life of his wines, you taste his dedication.
A member of the Grandes Pagos de Espana, the organically-farmed vineyard is home to some of the oldest Garnacha vines in northern Spain, many almost 100-years-old, grown in rocky soils surrounded by almond, olive, and fig trees, sitting at the perfect spot melding Mediterranean and Atlantic climates.
The age of the vines directly affects the wine that is produced. With small berries, highly concentrated fruit delivers small amounts of juice, but that juice is rich, structured and complex with texture and an elevated character. The height of the vineyards, along with the steep slopes of the terraced rows of vines, ensures the concentrated fruit maintains a freshness, keeping the Secastilla wine delicate, balanced and utterly delicious with gorgeous earthy minerality, leather, and licorice notes.
The culinary scene in Spain has been at the forefront of the world for decades. From countryside paella, made traditionally with chicken and rabbit, to casual pintxos and tapas, like a simple plate of Iberico Jamon, to molecular, highly designed dishes crafted from the minds of culinary artists like Ferran and Albert Adria, and the youngest Spanish Michelin star recipient, Chef Jordi Cruz, the story-filled gastronomy is infused with Spanish flavors.
Spain’s Basque Country is the world’s modern gastronomic capital, highlighting traditional flavors through whimsical present-day interpretations. San Sebastian is a city built on the characteristics of the sea and the land, with fresh seafood, lamb, grass-fed beef and of course, plate after plate of Jamon.
It is also a city built on friendships paired with delicious food and wine, with hundreds of gastronomic societies established throughout San Sebastian, entertaining friends and family for elaborate lunches and dinners. Born out of the movement of people from rural farmlands to the city, looking for ways to join together in fellowship, over a meal with great wine.
These gastronomic societies offer members a place to entertain, many hidden under the streets of the city, with guests descending down to basement level kitchens and dining rooms outfitted with the essentials. Everyone shares olive oil, seasonings, wine, beer, and spirits within the society, members then bring their goods and create flavorful masterpieces for family and friends.
In 1973 Rioja’s Beronia Wines started this way, with a group of friends who were members of a Txoko, or the gastronomic society, coming together to make their own wine they could enjoy during these celebratory meals with friends. Always a fan of classic Riojan style Tempranillo, they chose high elevation alto rioja for the home, purchasing their rocky, sand filled estate in the foothills of the Pyrenees.
In the early 1980s, Gonzalez Byass purchased the winery leaving the friends a small percentage allowing them to come to the winery and enjoy a tasting or a Txoko meal with their friends and family.
Winemaker Matias Calleja joined Beronia shortly after the sale and has then transformed the wines of Beronia to create a new style of Rioja, breaking old world barriers to craft luscious, age-worthy wines.
Born in the village of Ollauri, home of Beronia in La Rioja Alta, Matias has developed the unique style of Beronia that is unlike many in the region, aging his wines in both American and French oak. This technique gives an elegance to the fleshy, luscious wines with freshness, spiciness, and age-ability.