At the shop, we have always had a well-rounded, diverse Spanish selection, and of more recently, dove into the diverse and delicious offerings from Portugal.
There is little argument that the big three wine regions in the world are France, Italy, and Spain, not necessarily in that order. However, the average wine consumer seems to take a bit more pause before diving into the neighbor of Italy and France.
Take our first stop at Raventos I Blanc, just south of Barcelona. If you have been to the shop, and you love bubbles, then we most likely spoke to this producer. One of the longest documented wine growing traditions in the world. The family farm where the wines are produced has been in the family since 1497! Walking the vineyards with vineyard manager Antonio, or a quick conversation with Pepe Raventos, who is the twenty-first generation of the family, the same philosophy oozed out both of them; man and land work equally together to produce extraordinary juice!
If I must pick the gold star of the journey, Portugal received multiple. The short flight from Madrid ended in nothing short of jaw dropping visuals of a landscape which these eyes have never witnessed. Tiny mountains, connected by bridges and separated by the endless Douro River. Breathtaking! And the people did not disappoint. If you ever need a lesson in gratitude, appreciation, pride, and gratefulness, spend time in Portugal and talk to the locals. But first let us talk about Jeff Davis who is the founder of JD Selections; a wine importing company that only works with Portuguese wines. Or as I nicknamed him, “The Peid Piper '' of Portuguese wines. A gentleman who spent his First Act grinding in the financial world until he came face to face with his ah-ha moment amongst the people, land, food and drink of Portugal. Or maybe it is his Portuguese wife? Either way, eventually, he moved his family to Portugal so he can, well, simply stated, become “Portuguese”.
Best of Both Worlds
It is a bit difficult to answer the question which has been proposed to me many times since my return. “What was your favorite part of the trip?” To me, it’s like asking Charlie what his favorite part of his tour of Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory was. Each car ride ended in a space that was unique and spoke to the people who were within their four walls and beyond. Since my first trip to Napa with Tony in 2001, the feeling of romance takes over your soul once you take your first step into a vineyard. The smells. The feel of the soil on your feet. The sunshine brings life to the vine. A feeling of connection. A feeling of purity. A feeling of home. But like in all things we experience; one is not quite like the other. And that is what makes each bottle we consume a story within itself. What I took away from this trip was the underlying constant deep sense of pride of their past. Those who walked the land before them. And the incredible desire to assure that many more will walk that land after them.
David & Melanie: Bodegas Bhilar
David and Melanie who own Bodegas Bhilar. A husband-and-wife duo that I fell in love with when I was blessed to meet them very shortly after we opened the shop. Melanie is absolutely the Yin to David’s Yang. David, who grew up in the land on which he now produces wine, is by far, one of the most passionate individuals about preserving the land to how it always was. A man who is built in tradition with a forward-thinking vision, for example, purchasing plots at higher elevations, and using some of the land, not for planting vines, but to build an ecosystem to harvest honey, plant more Cyprus trees, and flowers. If you think that Rioja is all aged, oak driven, big wines, you are highly mistaken. Bodegas Bhilar is founded on freshness, minerality and a truthful representation of the grapes produced on his land throughout all his bottlings.
Joana Santiago: Quinta del Santiago
We were blessed to meet the firecracker winemaker at Quinta del Santiago; Joana Santiago. A youthful lady who came back to run the family vineyard on the request of her Grandma. Joana is making some of the most brilliant Vinho Verde and Alvarinho. Aged. Complex. Rich, but with slurpy acidity.
Susana Lopes, second generation steward who moved back to the Douro per her fathers begging and pleading to take over the land. The winery is about as old school as you can get, as the winery is housed in a century old barn. Break bread with Susana in town and feel the respect, energy, and love for this force of a woman!!! A tiny GIANT!
Pedro Coelho: Pormenor Vinhos
The rebel Pedro Coelho who is the owner of Pormenor Vinhos. His first vintage was in 2013 with the goal of breaking the bounds of tradition. Talking to Pedro over a five-course meal in the mountains of the Douro Valley was spiritual. A man who, as the prior mentioned ladies have demonstrated, unapologetically to do it his way with no room for explanation. His wines are fresh, mineral driven with the right amount of fruit forwardness. He is true to the spirit of Portugal, while not following the trends of the international world.
Shop the Portugal & Spain Flights
As we have always spoken to in the shop, we choose wines not for their commercial success and following, rather for the place which they come from. The history that it has grown from. And the people who have dedicated their lives to continuing their family traditions with a sense of purpose and relevance. Possibly, the hesitation with making Spain more relevant in everyday consumption is the unfamiliarity with a good amount of the native varietals. Viura? Monastrall? Macabeo? And Portugal, I mean, let us all agree that our comfort level with grapes such as Encruzado, Jaen, Touriga National, Tinta Barroca, and the other 250 native varietals is overwhelming. But remember, these are countries that have been producing wine for hundreds and hundreds of years. And truthfully, have only gotten better with each new vintage. It is time for each of us to open our minds and palates to these two unbelievable regions.
The trip only confirmed that we are doing the right thing by pushing these two similar, yet deeply unique, wine regions of the world. There was something mystical walking through the vineyards side by side with the owners and winemakers that made me feel a bit guilty for not being more of an ambassador for their history, culture, and amazing juice. Nevertheless, we move forward, and have decided to utilize the May flight platform to showcase some of the producers and gems that shined most brightly for me. Think of May as a homage to, not only the people who work the vineyards, but to all who represent the culture of Spain and Portugal. And of course, I have deep gratitude for our distribution partners, Select Sellars!