Week IV, December 2, 3, 4, 2010
Volvoreta, a family-run winery (www.vinovolvoreta.com), is about a 15-minute drive from the center of Zamora. It falls within the protection of D.O. Toro and sources Tinta de Toro grapes, which are basically Tempranillos that grow on D.O. Toro soil, hence the name. In 2008, Robert Parker awarded Volvoreta Probus 91 points pushing the vintage into the excellent category (90-95 points). Mr. Parker is like the Anna Wintour of the wine industry. Just as Ms. Wintour wields her magic, haute-couture wand launching careers with the abracadabra of a Vogue fashion spread, Mr. Parker can make a winery’s whole vintage disappear off the shelf with one excellent awarding. He is the head honcho you have probably never heard of. I assume because I only just heard of him recently. In Spain he does not do the reviews himself. That position belongs to his wino-in-crime Jay Miller. More on him later.
Maria and her father, Antonio, carefully selected and numbered 8,000 bottles of the Protus. They gave us a tour of the 15 hectares of vineyard surrounding the small winery. The family manages the ecological zone very carefully while still employing modern technology. The University of Barcelona has taken a special interest in studying the ecological vines from this plot. Among other things, they have tested for and verified elevated levels of antioxidants than those found in traditional red wine. Right away we notice the unusual amount of grapes still on the vine just after harvest. Antonio and Maria emphasize the floral and fauna necessary to sustain the life cycle of an ecological vineyard. The grapes that are not up to snuff (below) are left on the vine because this is the only food that the birds in the area have to eat. Without this fruit, the birds would leave and not eat the vine-destroying bugs and pests that creep into the vineyard in the spring and summer.
Wine tourism on two wheels
After our chilly walk through the country, we went back to taste some wines. Unfortunately we did not get to try the Probus, but we were treated to the Volvoreta by Maria. It is true to what D.O. Toro is all about: beautiful, deep violet color; rich, dark berry flavors, slightly fruity with a serious (possibly coffee?) finish that will linger in your mouth. We were also treated to the local Zamoran chorizo, extra virgin olive oil, country bread and Volvoreta’s own grape jam. They really spoiled us. It was heaven.
International Wine Tasting Day (sorry for the blurriness)
Plate of grape jam licked clean
As we wandered around the area, I could feel my curiosity creeping up. I wondered about Spanish and European certifications for organic products. Why did I not see more of them in Spain? How differently were these types of products handled than in the states? As an Oregonian, I know a bit about organic and ecological. As a Portlander who grew up in the restaurant business, I could tell you a thing or two about the food and drink scene. Though I think IFC’s Portlandia in the clip titled “Is it Local?” nailed it. Check out below to get a brief (albeit slightly extreme) primer of what we are dealing with.
When I can afford it, I prefer to buy organic and support Colin and his chicken friend’s plight to run around freely in the sun eating indigenous hazelnuts and getting drunk on sheep’s milk. Alas, at half the price, I am more likely to buy his caged-in cousins. But now that I live in Spain, I rarely have to make that choice as I am normally limited to one choice of chicken by teeny tiny “supermercados” around my house. At about a fifth the size of their American counterparts, they are not so super really. These stores–or Elderly Leisure Centers as I call them because of the roaming elderly that meet to chat and wait for the latest bargains to be posted–are devoid of most of the processed food that exists in the States, leaving the consumer with food that needs to be prepared. The dried garbanzo beans are to be soaked, the fresh fish salt and peppered, the oranges squeezed. All of this takes time. That’s why Spaniards, especially outside the big cities of Madrid and Barcelona, go home in the afternoon for lunch. The fish cannot cook itself!
But things are changing. Spain currently has the third-highest rate of childhood obesity in the world and processed foods are indeed swelling the aisles at the Americanized supermercados on the outskirts of town. Still here in Spain the Slow Food movement is nowhere to be found (because is that not the answer to all our inorganic problems?). Is that because here they already practice slow food–uncapitalized and without a movement? Maybe it will take many more years of fast food consumption to reach an apex when the public health alarm bell sounds and people start looking for an alternate lifestyle–all capitalized and with movement. Maybe not. I have taken many road trips in Spain and it is difficult to find any food after 10 p.m. Why? Because the kitchen is closed; what other time are they supposed to make the gazpacho for the following day?
Europeans have a long history with the land on which they grow food. They are proud of their products and vehemently protect them. For example, Parmigano-Regiano cheese can only be called such if it comes from one of the clearly defined regions Emilia-Romagna and Mantova in Italy. If it is produced one degree to the north or west, it legally cannot be called Parmigano-Regiano. The impostor is known by its pseudonym Parmesan. The real McCoy is registered as a protected designation of origin at the EU cheese headquarters in Brussels. It sounds absurd but if the purpose is to preserve the traditional methods of producing whatever product is in question, I say send out the product police. Parmesan from the Szechuan province does not have the same ring to it anyway.
Soy Partidaria de Parmigiano
I do find some comfort in knowing that Colin may have grown up on a smaller farm as industrial farming is not as common in Spain. Still, in a country that kills bulls for sport, I cannot expect too much. Next time maybe I will look for pollo de corral in support of my free-range friends. Now while I go to learn more about organic farming in Spain, please, have a glass of Volvoreta.