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Posted: Friday, July 18 2008. 11:50

Spain’s Food & Wine Fairs: A Perpetual Feast

Trujillo's May cheese fair is a wonderful fiesta for cheese lovers.  All one has to do is show up, make your way to the Plaza on foot, purchase some tickets and enjoy a superb range of artisan cheeses, the majority of which are from Spain and neighboring Portugal. The local Extremaduran cheese such as the ewe's milk Torta de la Serena, Torta del Casar and Tortita de Barros, along with Trujillo's own goats' milk cheese Ibores, are superb and among the best cheeses in Spain.

Cheese stand at Trujillo's Feria del Queso.


Premios Zarcillo, Peñafiel (Valladolid)

Following on the heels of those events was Castilla y León’s most important wine judging event, Premios Zarcillo, in which wineries from this large region’s denominaciones de origen, which includes Ribera del Duero, Rueda, Toro, Bierzo and Cigales, vie for the coveted Zarcillo de Oro top prizes in each category. The judges—a distinguished group of Spanish and international tasters—labors for several days tasting hundreds of wines from the region (and beyond; there are wines from other Spanish wine regions and foreign countries) in an unforgettable setting in the heart of the Ribera del Duero at the 14th-century Castillo de Peñafiel, one of Spain’s most spectacular castles and now the Museum of Wine.

After the Premios Zarcillo, Fenavin (Fería Nacional del Vino), Spain’s biggest annual trade fair dedicated solely to wine, takes place the second week in May in Cuidad Real. Fenavin has more than 1,000 exclusively Spanish bodegas exhibiting in seven pavilions and some 2,500 wine buyers and importers scour the exhibition spaces for four days seeking new treasures for their portfolios. This fair also features some of the best wine seminars in Spain with top experts from the around the world and Spanish experts who are only a short AVE high-speed train ride away from Madrid.

Fenavin, Spain's Largest Wine Fair, Cuidad Real

Vinoble: Tasting in the former Mezquita of the Alcazar in Jerez de la Frontera

Another bi-annual fair, and one of the most rewarding, is The Vinoble International Noble Wines Exhibition, is held every two years at the end of May in Jerez de la Frontera. In 2008, it will be staged from May 25 through May 28. It is the only wine fair dedicated exclusively to fortified, dessert, and naturally produced sweet wines, not just from Spain, which has a much overlooked vibrant production of luscious wine in this genre, but from around the world. The setting for Vinoble is Jerez’s beautifully renovated 12th-century Arabic Alcazar fortress, which dates from the Almohade epoch of the Moorish occupation of Spain. The site is spectacular with wine tasting stands occupying the gardens of the Alcazar, and wine tastings such as a Château D'Yquem retrospective and a palo cortado Sherries presentation are held in the complex's former mezquita (mosque) and tasting pavilions in the Renaissance Palace of Villavicencio, which was built within the walls of the fortress in the 17th and 18th centuries. More than 100 noble wine producing areas for from fortified and sweet wines from around the world show their best labels at Vinoble.

Xosé Posada, Presidente of the Irmandade de Vinhos Galegos (Brotherhood of Galician Wines) & Irmandade Member Gerry Dawes at La Festa de Albarinho in Cambados

But, at Vinoble, as might be expected, it is the host country, Spain, which shows the most extensive variety of high quality sweet and fortified wines. Local Sherry bodegas bring out a broad range of high quality fortified wines--finos, manzanillas, olorosos, amontillados, creams, pale creams, moscatels and Pedro Ximénez sweet wines, as do bodegas from nearby Andalucian wine regions such as Montilla-Moriles (Cordoba) with a range of finos, amontillados, olorosos and Pedro Ximénez; the Condado de Huelva with fortified Sherry-like wines, including delicious orange essence-flavored ones; and Málaga, which showed some exceptional moscatels. Cataluña was represented by sweet wines from Penedès and Priorat; Valencia by sweet mistela moscatels; Navarra by late harvest moscatels and vinos rancios; Alicante by moscatels and fondillones; Jumilla by late harvest Monastrell-based wines; and Rueda, Rías Baixas and Yecla by late harvest entries.Only in Jerez at Vinoble can wine professionals and aficionados alike find such a broad range of high quality "Noble" wines. Even one day at Vinoble is an education into this relatively little-known, magical world of late harvest, fortified, botrytisized, dessert and dry wines such as manzanilla, fino and amontillado Sherries. Touring the Spanish stands in May 2006, I was able to taste an amazing array of wines that underscored the importance of this emerging genre of exceptional wines from all around Spain.

Do Ferreiro Cepas Velhas Albariño & Nécoras (Crabs) from the Rías of Galicia, from which comes some of the world's greatest shellfish.

All these food and wine fairs take place before June, but there is more. On the first weekend in August, there is the lively Fiesta de Albariño (no permanent website) in Cambados, a charming Galician seaside town in the Val do Salnés region of Spain’s top white wine producing area, Rías Baixas. This region is where a wide range of producers make most of the excellent Albariños that are so food-friendly to modern (and traditional) cuisines have taken American wine lists by storm. Scores of the Val do Salnés region’s best Albariños are available for tasting at open-air stands along an esplanade outside the Parador de Cambados. Top wine journalists (and one American, this writer) taste wines for two days to select the top Albariños each year.

Asociación de Bodegueros Artesanos Emblem

Those who think they might not get enough Albariño at Cambados can show up a week earlier for wonderful, little-known, country Albariño wine fair in Meaño, where more than a dozen small wineries from the Asociación de Bodegueros Artesanos, led by Francisco Dovalo of Cabaleiro do Val, stages a weekend showing of their artisan wines, along with Galician bagpipe music and culinary specialties such as pulpo a la gallega (octopus steamed or grilled and sprinkled with Spanish olive oil, superb Spanish pimentón [paprika] and sea salt) and local shellfish, which is some of the best in the world.

 

With Francisco 'Paco' Dovalo, Presidente of the Asociación de Bodegueros Artesanoss Artesanos at their Albariño wine fair in Meaño.

I have gone to all the events described in the past two years and was privileged to be invited to speak at several of them. I could have kept on going to any number of Spanish harvest wine fairs in September, October and November, when the great chefs conference, Lo Mejor de la Gastronómía, takes place in San Sebastián, and the excellent IberWine, billed the Salón Internacional de Vino (a biannual event devoted to Spanish and Portuguese wines that alternates between Madrid, Portugal and the U.S.), but even a marathon Spanish wine geek like me needs a respite sometimes. Still, I can’t wait for the next round to start each year. --The end--

About the author

Gerry Dawes was awarded Spain's prestigious Premio Nacional de Gastronomía (National Gastronomy Award) in 2003. He writes and speaks frequently on Spanish wine and gastronomy and leads gastronomy, wine and cultural tours to Spain. He was a finalist for the 2001 James Beard Foundation's Journalism Award for Best Magazine Writing on Wine.

Mr. Dawes is currently working on a reality television series on wine, gastronomy, culture and travel in Spain.

Gerry Dawes can be reached at gerrydawes@aol.com Alternate e-mails (use only if your e-mail to AOL is rejected): gerrydawes@optonline.net  or gerrydawes@hotmail.com

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