Wednesday, 16 June 2010

World Cup Wines. Day Six. Spain vs Switzerland

The last of the first round of group matches sees Spain, world renowned for Rioja, play Switzerland, world renowned for the cuckoo clock.

Every country - indeed many an individual region within the Old World winemaking countries - has its own wine style. For Spain, this is mature red wine. Red wine that has been allowed to age in its own time in serried ranks of oak barrels beneath the winery. Wine that is made and then left. For years. 

Yes, I know about modern Spain and the modern trend for modern young juicy fruitful easy-gluggers, but to me that's just not Spain. Traditionally and historically Spanish winemakers have used regional grape varieties to create a number of variations on a age-old theme. A theme exemplified by traditional Rioja. Rioja with vanilla, with leather, with dark and spicy overripe red fruit. Red wine that is really quite brown. At the top of the quality tree Rioja Gran Reserva is aged four years or more in oak, Ribera del Duero gets better with the passing years and even cultish young pretender Priorat shouldn't be touched until it's had five years ageing.

But you can find everyday, affordable representations of this brown red style in wine merchants and on supermarkets shelves - even in corner shops - across the UK. You'll recognise the bottles, they're wrapped in a gold wire cage. 

Nowadays it's an affectation , something to attract your attention, a bit of nice window dressing.  Historically it was a quality guarantee - proof that the contents were as the bottle left the winery, to stop crafty restaurateurs refilling expensive Rioja bottles with cheaper stuff then passing it off as Gran Reserva.

Today you'll even see the golden cages on wines from supposed lesser regions like Valdepeñas on the central plain of La Mancha or Calatayud in Aragón - but the wines are still typical. Names like Anciano, Vina Albali, Castillo de Montearagon, Palacio del Conde and Conde Galiana spring to mind but the key is the combination of age, six or seven years plus, and wire, and brown red wine. Like Rioja, many are also based around the Tempranillo grape.

Everybody loves the Swiss. Roger Federer. What a player. Renée Zellweger?

Anyway, the Swiss have all our money so we have to be nice about them. Even if they're very secretive. You've got to ask yourself what are they hiding? 

Well, for starters, their wine. Switzerland borders Austria, France, Germany, Italy and Liechtenstein and they make wine in several styles that mirror the winemaking of their neighbours Austria, France, Germany, Italy and Lichtenstein. Guess which is best? French style, probably. 

But you don't see huge amounts outside the borders of Switzerland - not least because it's relatively expensive for the rest of us, but also the volume doesn't justify much export. Of course it does find its way onto international restaurant and merchant wine lists, not least for a) its novelty value and b) to attract wealthy Swiss clientele. 

Chasselas is the white grape the Swiss call their own but they also create quite extraordinarily flavoursome whites from much more unusual local grape varieties like Humagne Blanc, Arvine and Amigne. Cave La Madeleine and Germanier-Balavaud are the award-winning wineries for whites while Gantenbein is the name on a good label of Switzerland's take on Pinot Noir.

Forget modern Spain with its Euro 2008 success. When we're talking about the old-fashioned, traditional, historical Spain, we're talking about a football team that always promised much and always failed to deliver. 

No wonder the Swiss won.

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