By Rick Riozza

Typically at this time, the Vino Voice Column joins in the fanfare with the world famous annual Palm Springs International Film Festival, now in its 28th year and on-going through January 16th.  And we’ve done so by offering movie and wine pairing suggestions.

When we established this movie/wine matchings, it was pretty much a hypothetical concept where we were listing great bottles of wine at a whim to accompany guests at the theatre show.  These days, most movie houses indeed offer wines by the glass: it’s become a real phenomenon!—and the Vino Voice is proud to list this endeavor in its résumé.   

You recall we matched some festival films to particular wines because of some serious or crazed connection to one another.  And we’ve had our fun—perhaps at your expense; fortunately a couple of years ago, I pretty much promised to put any more ideas to a restful sleep.  (For you insomniacs, you can check out the craft involved, online in the CV Weekly archives, Vino Voice January articles of the past.)

For this 2017 celluloid celebration, it’s difficult to forego at least one fun association, so why not remain in the movie mix by launching into perchance an interesting wine discussion prompted by what the  movie title and story feeds us—and perhaps causes us even to thirst.   

As I perused the large list of cinema entries, I just couldn’t get past one that shouts out for some big wine associations: Viva España! Check out the trailer to this beautiful artistic piece: www.psfilmfest.org/2017-ps-film-festival/films/j-beyond-flamenco

J: Beyond Flamenco, Annenberg and Palm Canyon Theaters“Using a minimal yet elegant black-box setting, legendary Spanish filmmaker Carlos Saura brings to life the origins and stylistic variations of the Jota, a rich, sensual waltz born in 18th-century Aragon, with equally sumptuous regional variations across Spain and its former colonies.  Throughout the last four decades Saura has interspersed dramatic features with nonfiction music films, including Tango, Fados and the recent Flamenco, Flamenco. His films don’t just preserve these deeply rooted musical forms, but assert their dazzling vitality.” (Film notes provided by psfilmfest.org.)

In a recent wine atlas book, the author said it was easier to map the movements in a beehive than to sum up the recent wine trends in Spain!  Spain has more vineyard land than any other country on earth.

And speaking of earth, a good 90% of all España’s vineyards lie at altitudes higher than any major French wine region, and, at Mediterranean latitudes, where grapes can and do thrive.  And now the country’s wine is enjoying a surge in international popularity, especially here in the States, as new vino lovers are coming ‘round to the gusto of Spain.

Bodegas”—a Spanish word that we Southern Californian’s are used to seeing at restaurants and the like, refers to anywhere wine is made, stored, or sold.  Traditionally bodegas were places where wine was aged.  And did the Spanish age their wine or what! 

I remember purchasing a case of the famous La Alta Rioja.  It was in the late ‘80s, and their 1976 vintage was just released!  That was the thing about Spanish wine back then: their custom was to release the wine when it was ready to drink—they aged it for you in their barrels for so many years.  For the less than stellar wine produced, one pretty much had to have a taste for wood.

But for the many aged Tempranillo/Rioja wines from established bodegas, the wine was wonderful.  No longer prominent in the mix, the oak was simply a soft cushion in the background allowing for an elegant, rich, and smooth texture and great flavors of black cherries, plums, raspberries, strawberries, earth, leather, spices, cassis, chocolate, cinnamon, sage, smoke, tobacco, and violets!

As you would expect in the brave new world of wine, there is a new wave of Spanish wine makers that are following the “French-style” of barrel ageing for much less time and getting the bottles on shelf  much quicker.  Certainly the flavor profile is fresher and a bit more intense on the fruit while (hopefully) maintaining all of the above-listed aromas and savors of the grape.

For the old-school types, Spanish wine regulations provide for the categories of Reserva and Gran Reserva, devised specifically to honor extended oak ageing.  But truth be told, new generations tend to value intensity over antiquity.  And so it goes.

Spanish wines have always been a bargain in the U.S.  That case of 12 year old La Alta Rioja I mentioned above only cost me back then, around $12 a bottle!!  And prices continually are the lowest as compared to any other European nation. 

The subject of Spanish wine would probably take an entire college semester.  So, let’s just remind everyone of just three of the grape varietals that pretty much most enthusiasts know—or at least, heard of.

The Tempranillo grape, the predominant in Rioja, is an early ripening grape.  Temprano in Spanish means “early”.  The reputation of the region was made in the 19th century when Bordeaux négociants came down to buck-up their own blends when their wines were insipid.  Indeed, even today, a wonderfully aged Rioja can match wonderful Bordeaux.

Oftentimes, we’ll see the blending of the Garnacha grape in a Rioja wine.  Sometimes pronounced “Gar-NAKKA” by the locals, this is the same grape you know as Grenache.  Southern Rhône fans love this grape and its robust flavor profile along with yet another recognized French-named grape: Mourvédre, known in Spain as Monastrell, which is a principal grape throughout the country. 

We’ll catch-up on some delicious Spanish reds for the season soon.  Until then, see you at the movies.  Cheers!

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