One of the joys of June for wine lovers in Aspen has been the return each year of the Wines from Spain tent at the annual Food & Wine Classic. While we won’t see them there this month, don’t worry, they will be back once again Sept. 10-12 at the rescheduled Classic to celebrate what would be their 29th year in Aspen, had it not been for the pandemic interruption in 2020.
Believed to be the longest continuously running participating sponsor pouring wines at the Classic, Wines from Spain’s impact at the event has exploded since their first appearance in 1992. That first year there was just a single table with a few wines.
“If I recall correctly that first year we shared a tent with Italy and Singapore,” laughed Katrin Naelapaa, who is now director of Wines From Spain. That is the arm of the Spanish Institute for Foreign Trade (Instituto Español de Comercio Exterior, ICEX) created to promote Spanish wines. Today Wines from Spain is known in Aspen for devoting an entire tent to one of the world’s most interesting and exciting wine regions, the only nation to do so.
The Spanish tent has become a must-stop for tasters who, over the years, have become more and more familiar with the names of Spain’s diverse wine regions – Priorat, Ribera del Duero and Rioja, to name a few. They bring their glasses to sample the wines made from Tempranillo, Albariño and Garnacha grapes, again, just to name a few.
And always, a long line forms as patrons hunger for the thin translucent slices of the world’s finest ham, the Jamon Iberico. Cut just so from the bone of the grain-fed cerdo negro (black pig) that’s raised in the southwestern corner of Spain, the ham melts like butter in the mouth. There are also regional cheeses from all around Spain for sample. And Javier Gonzalez-Bringas from Tempranillo restaurant in Basalt brings along his paella pan to help satiate the crowds.
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A BOOMING MARKET
“When I first suggested to my boss at the time that it would be a good venue for us I thought he would tell me I was crazy” Naelapaa, remembers, “But each year we just grew and it got bigger.”
And, not coincidentally, so too did Spain’s awareness and market share within the U.S.
“There has been steady growth in Spanish wine sales in the U.S. over the last 20 years with a bit of a hiccup in 2019 due to tariff restrictions,” Naelapaa explained of the Spanish wine market. And, of course, 2020 saw an early drop as a result of the pandemic halting the hospitality and tourism sectors. But it rebounded due to online sales towards the end of the year. “We saw a huge jump in online sales and the first four months of this year (have) been very strong.”
There are about 4,300 wineries in Spain, 75% of which export their wares. Spanish wine production represents a quarter percent of the total wine produced in the EU, ranking third after Italy and France.
For the September Classic, the Wines from Spain activation will be about half the size that it has been in the past, with the number of exhibitor tables cut from 22 to 11 or 12 as the entire event is downsized by about 50%.
“We’re just happy to have an opportunity to do even that,” said Naelapaa and, putting the best face on it, she noted: “It will be nice to be here in a smaller way for a change.”
It’s a take many who are planning this year’s events share.
Wines from Spain’s participation at the Classic is built on the premise that it is one of the most impactful events in the world of food and wine.
“First, while it’s a consumer event it is also a great trade event. There are media and influencers and presenters who we all want to see and reach,”Naelapaa said. “Walk a square mile and you’ll see many people who might not see in any other part of the year.”
“Then, our producers love it. We have individual winemakers from Spain as well as importers who represent and pour many wines and we never have any trouble filling the space” she laughed, “Everyone wants to come to Aspen.”
And finally there are the educational opportunities. “We usually have a chance to work with presenters who give great seminars on Spain.” This year Alpana Singh — wine writer, television host, restaurateur and sommelier — will present a seminar focusing on Spanish wines.
Wines From Spain has also become a “local” over the last two decades as they have presented Aspen-themed events surrounding the Classic. Their “unofficial-official” kickoff party has been one of the hottest tickets on the Thursday night before the Classic, Though they will not host the party this fall, plans are to renew it in June of next year.
They will however continue their tradition in September of providing wines and hosting a speaker for the Aspen Chamber Resort Association luncheon before the Classic. This year the presenter will be Katie Button who in 2015 opened her Cúrate Spanish tapas bar in Ashville, North Carolina and promptly was named a “Best New Chef” by Food & Wine magazine. Before Cúrate, Button cheffed for Spanish legends José Andrés, and Ferran Adrià.
TEMPRANILLO’S SPANISH LIST
If you are jonesing for some Spanish wines this June, you are in luck because you live in the Roaring Fork Valley.
The aforementioned Javier Gonzalez-Bringas has one of the best Spanish wine lists in America at his restaurant Tempranillo in downtown Basalt. The list includes a complete selection of wines from a variety of regions and represents the grapes that are the best of the many varieties that make Spain so special.
The reds include Tempranillo, Garnacha, and Monastrell and the whites are represented by Albariño from Galicia, Palomino, Airen, and Macabeo; and the three cava grapes Parellada, Xarel·lo, and Macabeo. The wines of two of my favorite producers — Alvaro Palacios and Raúl Pérez — are represented and the big dogs, including Vega-Sicilia, are all there.
While we may have to wait until September to again walk the tents and sip with our friends at Wines from Spain, it is easy to indulge in some great wines from Spain on the shaded patio of Tempranillo in downtown Basalt.