Expatica’s blogger, Sal DeTraglia, comes from a long line of great wine drinkers. And now that’s he’s in Spain, he’s finally drinking some great wine.
I come from a long line of great wine drinkers. This should not, however, be confused with coming from a long line of drinkers of great wine.
My paternal grandfather made home-made wine in the basement of his New York home. According to family archives, it tasted better in a salad bowl than in a wine glass.
My maternal grandfather attributes his longevity (ninety years old and counting!) to a lifetime of jug-wine consumption. That, and managing not to get blown up during World War II.
Passion for Spanish wine
My parents inherited the old geezers’ passion for wine, and mercifully raised the bar on quality. They refuse to drink any wines poured from a bottle with a screw-off cap.
But I, alas, have outdone them all. That’s because I am living in Spain — a land of outrageously good wines at outrageously low prices.
According to several websites that I consulted, Spain is the world’s third largest wine producer—trailing only Italy and France, respectively. I feel somewhat responsible for this achievement. Supply is, after all, driven by demand — and I contribute a helluva lot of demand to our domestic wine industry. If I should move to another country, Spain might quickly drop to fifth place.
My first brush with Spanish wines after moving here did little to realign those passions. Where did that first brush occur? At Spain’s many “menus del dia” (i.e., those ultra-cheap, three-course lunches that nearly every Spanish bar and restaurant offers during the workweek).This wasn’t always the case with me. When I moved to Spain six years ago, I was a confirmed beer drinker. My greatest passion was Belgian ales…with the surprisingly excellent US microbrews coming in second, and British Real Ales (bless you, CAMRA!) a close third. I wore this as a badge of honor. I was proud to be a connoisseur of fine beers, and rejected the perceived pretentiousness of the world’s wine drinkers.
I was delighted to find that a half-liter of wine — and in some cases, an *entire* bottle — is included within the price of each menu del día. And I was even more delighted to find that I could drink this wine during lunch without fear of being branded a degenerate — as would surely be the case in the US. My delight evaporated when I tasted those wines, however, because they generally came in one of two categories—vinegary and overpoweringly vinegary.
On the bright side, at least I learned that the vinegar flavor could be tempered by drinking the wine ice cold. If only Grandpa had known this little trick.
The approach to Spanish wine
But my attitude toward Spanish wines quickly changed when I ventured out of the bargain lunch sphere into the retail one. There was a small wine shop in the neighborhood in which I lived in Barcelona. In a small room at the back of the shop, the proprietor — a man whom I credit for showing me “the light” about wine…and whom I discredit for revealing himself to be a pathetic, drunken ass shortly thereafter — operated a tiny, hidden bar for “select” customers. This bar featured a small, ever-changing list of wines by the glass — each of which was hand-selected for its excellent price/quality ratio. It was as brilliant a marketing gimmick as it was an educational experience.
In tasting glass after glass — many of which the proprietor was too drunk to remember when tallying my bill at night’s end — I was able to explore (and finally appreciate!) the depth and quality of Spain’s vast offering of wines and wine regions.
The exploration continues to this day — although I have, by this point, developed some strong preferences. My favorite wines at the moment are from the region known as D.O. (Denominación de Origen) Toro — which produces a growing selection of big, strong, deep purple wines at ridiculously low prices. I am also deeply in love with the wines from D.O. Somontano, D.O. Costers del Segre and of course…my local D.O. LaMancha.
Apparently, I’m not the only one who believes that Spain’s wines are world-class bargains. At least once per month, some friend or co-worker from the US forwards me an article from the New York Times, Washington Post, Chicago Tribune or other publication in which the food critic or wine editor gushes about his latest “find” from Spain. If only they knew that I’m buying the same wines locally for 25-50% less.
If there’s a downside to Spain’s outstanding-yet-cheap wines, it’s that they are so…so…outstanding-yet-cheap. When I lived in the US, at least I could rely on my own tendencies as a world-class cheapskate to keep my wine consumption under control. A reasonably good bottle from Napa or Sonoma costs at least USD 10 in the US…and that hurts! But here…I can—with a little bit of research—buy a fantastic bottle of Spanish wine (for example, Finca La Estacada joven) for under €4.
€4!!! That’s less than a bottle of Night Train, for God’s sake!
So…what’s my incentive to moderate? Some people may say “health reasons”…but I’m not convinced. If you want to debate this point further, however, then go talk to my ninety-year-old grandfather.