What a difference a little marketing & the word FREE can do.
I attended the Murcia region of Spain’s wine education event at Astor Center 2 days ago, followed by an intimate lunch at 81, a restaurant on 81st St in Manhattan yesterday. The events were set up by the same gentleman who set up the tasting I attended for Rioja wines (also at the Astor Center) about a month ago. The Murcia event, like the Rioja event, was free of charge, but the Murcia event seemed to have been advertised to the general public as opposed to the Rioja event which was more of an industry only event. Well, the marketing & cost (FREE) led this event to be PACKED full of…well, lets say packed full of people who like free wine!
I believe I speak for many a wine judge when I say evaluating wine under such circumstances is quite challenging. In the past, when writing about such events for newspapers/magazines, i have felt a lot of pressure to tune out all the “noise” and focus on the wines so that I could properly assess the wines for those who would be reading the article. I have since learned not to fight the crowds, rather to simply make the best of the situation.
Upon arriving I tasted a few of the wines and made modest notes. I then attended one of the sessions. These sessions can be helpful to some, but although I truly love the classroom at Astor I find that listening to a (clearly biased & paid) moderator tell me what to look for in a certain wine is more detrimental than helpful. I can understand how others might appreciate the suggestions of what aroma or flavor profile the wine possesses, but for me at this stage it simply becomes a case of power of suggestion that prevents me from testing myself and properly assessing the wine.
So I proceeded to make my way back to the main hall. I attempted to speak with some of the winemakers as I was trying their wines but many of them spoke a broken English at best and sadly my Spanish leaves a LOT to be desired. One smart solution to this was offered when a winery had their local distributor alongside them to help with communication. But unfortunately, many of these wineries are here looking for distribution (or an importer) and have no local rep.
Overall I found the wines to be simple, artificial tasting and possibly over-oaked. I suspected that since many of the wines falling into this category were destined to be sub $15 (and many sub $10) wines that maybe the artificial oaky-ness I was picking up on was due to oak staves, chips or powders. But I was assured that since Murcia is a DOC (Denomination of Origin) it is mandated that it must use ONLY oak barrels for aging (time periods vary). While discussing the wines with some individuals yesterday however one of the people theorized that the lower level wines are put in (heavy flavor imparting) new oak barrels prior to the premium wines as to absorb much of the overpowering oak influence. And after a few months the wine is then transfered out of these barrels so the premium wines can be transfered in and not overly influenced by the NEW OAK.
The one standout I found at the event was at a table that only had one wine. This winery, Bodega Monastrell made a 100% Monastrell (AKA Mataro’) wine known as “Chaveo”. The 2005 Chaveo had a deep ruby/purple color, with aromas of fresh berries, dark chocolate and subtle toastiness. The wine was full bodied with rich gripping tannins and a nice round structure. I enjoyed the wine as well as the warmth of the winemaker – a man whose warmth was obvious but whose words were a mystery as I could not understand his Spanish.
As to yesterdays event at 81, it was an invitation only event for industry professionals. A very nice event at the classy 81 hotel/restaurant, they began by passing tapas commonly found in the Murcia region such as dried mullet Roe and salt cured Tuna. I thought the tuna was quite nice but a little strange with the wines. There were about 6 bottles of wine opened up during this pre-lunch stage. All the wines seemed to be at more of a premium level and included the aforementioned Chaveo.
I enjoyed speaking with some of my colleagues but had to leave before lunch for an appointment. Lunch was a 4 course meal, each course serves with a wine from the region.
Of interest is that the Murcia region, in addition to cultivating the popular Monastrell, had wines made with Cabernet Sauvignon and is increasing its plantings of Syrah and Petit Verdot, two varietals that are apparently doing well there. Happens to be that I tried a Petit Verdot that I did not care for, but that may have just been that it did not live up to an Israeli Petit Verdot I recently tried.
All in all though 2 great events. Keep up the great work John!
Happy weekend Wine Tasting!