Diary of a Winelover: Spain at the 9th International Symposium of Masters of Wine
The 9th International Symposium of Masters of Wine, held at the Rioja Forum from June 14 to 16, brought to Logroño a large number of leading influencers from the world of wine, known as Masters of Wine. The congress featured a wide-ranging program in which Spain was present every day, and was attended by over 400 people, moving approximately 5,000 bottles –not counting dinners outside the premises– and around 20,000 glasses of wine. Mind-boggling figures indeed!
Text: Almudena Martín Rueda/®ICEX.
Day 1 – Spain hosts a great event
Reception day, a day for finding familiar faces, finally being able to match the faces with household names, a welcome event enlivened by the wines of González Byass, and followed by the first talk. The show started with a bang, with a roundtable of three sommeliers who set out to share with the audience what it is that consumers in the world's restaurants are looking for. This is a tough question, and naturally there are different points of view. So what we learned is that there's no exclusive recipe –each venue is unique and must offer a wine list that's adapted to its customers needs.
The daily tasting offered a chance to discover hundreds of wines created and produced by MW from around the world, of course with the presence of our most recent Spanish Masters of Wine: Andreas Kubach MW, who presented the wines from Península Vinicultores, and Fernando Mora MW, Bodegas Cuevas de Arom and Bodegas Frontonio. Not to mention the wines produced in Spain by Norrel Robertson MW and Ed Adams MW.
We also had the opportunity to taste the Australian wines made with our native varieties of Monastrell – although there they call it Mataró– in Barossa Valley and the Mencía and Tempranillo wines in Adelaide Hills.
From there we headed for the dinner organized by ICEX-Wines From Spain, featuring wines from over 20 Spanish wineries and a menu prepared by Venta Moncalvillo. To put the visitors in the picture, Francisco Javier Garzón, CEO of ICEX, outlined Spain's place in the world of wine (leading exporter in volume, the largest vineyard in the world, the third largest producer) and its intention of enhancing the image of Spanish wines by increasing the price levels of the wines it exports. The talk was very well received by the audience, as who better to appreciate quality and understand business possibilities than the Masters of Wine?
Day 2 – The world around us
The day began early as there was so much to cover in just a few days. After an interesting talk on wine-producing families and how to survive the generational change –an extremely timely subject in the Spanish wine sector where there are numerous wineries in this situation– it was time for the serious talks to begin, with "The secret life of microbes". This phrase by Dr Laura Catena will stay with me: "If we want to preserve the nature and traditions behind wine we need to understand the microbes that play an essential role in the livelihood and flavor of wine and vineyards around the world".
We're all aware of their influence, but we still don't know how. A whole world to investigate and which may change much of our perception. Neil Hadley MW told me later in an informal conversation that one of the aims of the Master of Wine program is to try and find answers to these questions in the world of wine. This talk made it abundantly clear that there are still many whys (and whats and hows) to be resolved before we can fully understand an age-old product like wine.
The daily tasting –guided this time– was a first encounter with wines produced in new wine-producing regions like Japan, China and the United Kingdom.
The first session of the afternoon covered a much more commonplace and less novel question, but one that is nonetheless extremely important for the wine sector. This is the issue of fraud and falsifications in a sector in which a large part of its sales are based on the prestige of a name and a region. Everyone in the audience was left with a somewhat bittersweet taste. Although there are ways to identify fraud, there are not always consequences.
The evening ended by covering the issue of our now abundantly obvious climate change, and the actions we can take from the world of wine. These interesting talks see the care of our biodiversity as the only way to recover (and note the verb –it's no longer a matter of maintaining but of recovering) soils and environments that have been overexploited and unified.
To end the day, all the symposium participants were taken in buses for dinner in various wineries within the Rioja qualified designation of origin (DOCa). Companies like Muga, Faustino, Macán, Bodegas Palacio, Marqués de Murrieta, wineries included under the Rioja ‘n Roll brand, Remírez de Ganuza, Bodegas Murua and Bodegas Montecillo, did everything within their means to ensure everyone had a wonderful time after such an intense day.
Day 3 – Spain in the central part of the day
First thing in the morning, José Luis Lapuente, General Manager of the Rioja DOCa, explained the changes that have taken place in this designation in recent years. The new requirements for the Reserva category, the new indications on the labels, so long demanded (subzones, villages, single vineyards), and the incorporation of sparkling wine production within the DOCa Rioja, were all discussed in a very enlightening talk.
Although it seems unlikely, a talk on the biosphere of the vine and on how to treat this plant from different approaches proved unexpectedly thrilling. After this detailed analysis of vine roots and pruning, we then headed for the New Spain walk-in tasting, a selection of 31 Spanish wineries by Sarah Jane Evans MW and Pedro Ballesteros MW, with wines from varieties grown in remote parts of the Spanish wine map that were probably unfamiliar to many of the participants.
These very special wines were brought to us by Suertes del Marqués (DO Valle de la Orotava), Sabinares (DO Arlanza), Comando G Viticultores (DO Vinos de Madrid), Coto de Gomariz (DO Ribeiro), Zárate (DO Rias Baixas), Doniene Gorrondona (DO Bizkaiko Txakolina), Leyenda del Páramo (PGI Castilla y León), Rafael Palacios (DO Valdeorras), Primitivo Quiles (Fondillón de Alicante), Sedella (Sierras de Málaga), and Bodega Vidas (DOP Cangas), among others.
In the afternoon there were two talks on opposing worlds, both of great significance for wineries: how to adapt a business to today's changing times; and its technical counterpart, which explored oxidation in wine production. And this is the most interesting thing about the Masters of Wine –in a single congress they are able to combine aspects which might sometimes seem to be two opposing facets of a winery, when in fact they should always go hand-in-hand: production and marketing.
The day ended with a spectacular gala dinner prepared by Marqués de Riscal, with a menu designed by Francis Paniego accompanied by wines from the members of the Wine Culture Foundation, and which concluded with the surprise opening of a Marqués de Riscal 1955 for the 450 diners present.
Day 4 – Pure inspiration
The morning of the last day of the congress once again featured Spain, when Pedro Ballesteros MW presented a selection of wines that he calls "Inspirational Spain", and explained: “A great wine happens when a great terroir meets inspiration”. Great icons of Spanish wine like Enoteca 2002 (Gramona), Viña Tondonia Rosado Reserva 2008 (R. López de Heredia), Pingus 2015 (Dominio de Pingus), Único 2006 (Vega Sicilia), Ultreia 2014 (Raúl Pérez), La Faraona 2015 (Descendientes de J. Palacios) and Don PX Convento Selección 1931 (Toro Albalá) delighted all those present. It is unlikely we will ever again see a tasting of this calibre for –let's not forget– 400 people.
The symposium ended with the announcement that the city of Adelaide, Australia, will take over from Logroño in four years' time. It has been Spain's privilege to host this event for specialists from all over the world and which –as I was repeatedly assured– has changed their perception of Spanish wines. Now it only remains for the MWs to spread the word.