This time last year, as we were in the midst of Covid confusion, with the world shutting down, and feeling the isolation of living on an island knowing that at least for the foreseeable future I wasn’t going anywhere, I decided to take on a new adventure. I went back to school. Well, I sort of went back to school.
About 17 years ago, when I started Dallas Uncorked, I decided the only way to toast, celebrate, and educate our members about wine to have credibility in the field, was to become a Sommelier. So I went back to school and became a Certified Sommelier. Then, several years after I became the wine writer for D Magazine, I wanted to stay fresh and “in the know,” so I trained and became a Certified Specialist of Wine.
These are just two of the many accolades wine professionals can achieve, stepping stones into the vast array of advanced educational options available in the field. So, last May I began the training for a new certification, to become a Spanish Wine Scholar.
And yes, over the past year, I have had so many people ask me, “Why Spain?”
Why not Spain! Spain is incredible, Spain is beautiful, Spain is affordable, and believe it or not, many of the international varieties we may think come from other countries, can thank Spain for their roots, including Mourvedre or Spain’s Monastrell, Grenache or Spain’s Garnacha, Grenache Blanc or Spains Garnacha Blanca, Carignan or Spain’s Carinena.
I thought I would be a step ahead with a good basic understanding of the wines and the country, having had the opportunity to travel throughout much of the northern half of Spain over the years on wine trips. Little did I know. Spain has so much more to offer than I had imagined and so many more varieties, wines, regions, mountain ranges, styles, and history than I expected.
After taking an intensive Zoom classroom course last summer I had big expectations of studying for a few months and testing last fall. Then life got in the way, and I found myself a month ago with one month remaining on the time available to test. So, I once again went back to school over the past month, diving deep into the study materials, tasting the wines of Spain, listening to the audio recordings of my class, constantly sharing more information than Gary had ever wanted to know about Spain over our evening conversations, hoping that the combination of all would lock the information into my brain.
A little over a week ago, I tested, and the results have just arrived. I am thrilled to share I have become a Spanish Wine Scholar, passing with Highest Honors. To celebrate, we are enjoying a few of the finest from the country.
Bubbles are appropriate every day, and even more so on very special occasions like this one. A few years ago Cataluyna’s Cava DO created a new designation for their premium sparklers, Cava de Paraje Calificado. Crafted in the traditional method from the classic Spanish varieties of Macabeo, Xarel-lo, and Parellada, from vines grown in with a distinct terroir, aged a minimum of 36 months en triage (on the lees/yeast in the bottle) and only crafted in the Brut, Extra Brut, or Brut Nature styles. This exceptional Cava is synonymous with superior quality.
Hand-crafted, minimal-production, Can Sala, carefully selects 100 percent estate-grown Xarel-lo and Parellada, much of which is from 75+-year-old low-yielding vines, for their Cavas de Paraje Calificado. The wine pays homage to the history of the Ferrer Sala family who launched the Freixenet Cava wines over 100 years ago. Each bottle of Can Sala Gran Reserva ($70) ages a minimum of seven years, before each is hand riddled, disgorged, corked, and inspected to ensure the quality of each bottle is superb. With zero dosage the Brut Nature wine allows the essence of the place and the fruit to speak through the wine, revealing fragrant aromas of marzipan, lemon blossom, and lime leaf, followed by fresh citrus, quince, ripe fig, and brioche. The finish lingers with a nutty note, lifted by the fresh, clean, well-balanced nature of wine.
The Priorat region of Spain in Cataluyna is one of only two Denominació d’Origen Qualificada (DOQ) regions in the country, signifying an area of exceptional quality and distinction. (The other is Rioja DOCa, the remaining regions in the country are known as a DO or Denominació d’Origen.) The soils of the Priorat are the key to their incredible Garnacha Tinta and Carinena based wines. The area is characterized by its unique terroir of shale, slate, and quartz soil known as llicorella. The well-draining llicorella gives the wines of Priorat an intense minerality. Grapes are grown on steep terraced and unterraced slopes, called costers, up to a 95% grade up to 2100 feet above sea level. These terraces and costers create the ideal environment for capturing heat, sunlight, and water. Wines of the Priorat are dense, concentrated, earthy, and inky. The blend of Garnacha, giving red fruit notes, with Carinena, helping tame the alcohol levels of the high-alcohol Garnacha, ensuring well-rounded wine results.
PERINET Priorat DOQ ($75) blends Garnacha with Carinena, along with Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon (two varieties that have seen increased plantings in recent years attributed to how well they produce in the terroir.) Aged for 15 months in French oak, and then bottled aged for several years until the winemaker is ready to release the selection (the current release is 2016), the textured wine is highly-structured and complex, melding dried herb and tobacco with crushed stone, graphite, dark cherry, and a touch of wildflowers. Balanced and bold, yet also approachable with a note of freshness wrapped with chewy tannins. Pair with a grilled ribeye, or braised lamb or short ribs.