24 June 2008

A Taste of My Favorite Spanish Importers: Olé!

I was very privileged this summer to participate in a national trade tasting with my favorite Spanish importer, Olé. This is just the kind of thing I live for in my business—a small group sitting around a table and tasting a new slew of wines about to be brought into the country before anyone else has a chance to see them.

I have to mention that before I went to the show, I made a little time to explore the city of Chicago, home base for the event. Since I only had a little time, I decided to do the architectural boat tour of the city. I highly recommend this to anyone traveling there, as it was interesting, informative, and different. I also took a walk down the magnificent mile and took in a couple of art galleries. I did eat at 2 nice restaurants during the trip but the company I was with far overshadowed any memory of where or what I ate. But I digress; back to the main event:

The setup itself was simple—a long banquet table with a projection screen at the end for the lineup of guest speakers who had flown in from Spain. 15! winemakers and other representatives of some of the best peddlers of vino from the home country were there to teach us about their new vintages and different labels they are making. The table was, of course, covered in wine glasses, spit buckets, and water bottles.

But the perfection in the simplicity of the tasting was the size of the group; there were only 25 people invited to taste and take notes during the 6-hour event. What a joy to have Carmen from Etim fill my glass; to have David Sampedro from Bodegas Diaz Bravo chat with me about the new vintage of Cortijo; to get a hug from my friend Juanjo from Vinos Pinol. It is a completely different experience to be up close and personal with our heroes and their creations, instead of the normal trade show, which is littered with hundreds of wines and just as many bodies.

And what beauties! I found several new favorites in the mix: Avan wines from Ribero del Duero, 100% Tempranillo that shows what the grape is all about; Dignus from Vina Magana, home of the best Merlot in Spain; Pelta, one of the best inexpensive reds I've seen in a while; plus many more old faves that I've grown to love.

For me, the best part about the whole process was being able to place an order afterwards to bring some of my favorites from this tasting down to my little store here in Georgia. We deal specifically in smaller production wines, so the trick is to get them early on, while they are available, and advance showings are more than a little helpful to me in my buying.

So why am I writing about this now? While the show is still fresh in my mind 2 months later, the real reason that it was brought to the forefront of my memory is because the new Robert Parker Spanish book has just been released. My good friends, Patrick Mata and Alberto Orte of Olé imports have done it again! They are plastered all over the new reviews with stellar ratings—no surprise to anyone who has tasted a few of the wines from their lineup.

I do have to say, as someone who constantly tastes wines and picks them out, it is always a very justifying experience when good scores are given to wines I happen to like a great deal. For instance, we had a Txakolina in September's wine club from Berroia, which garnered 90 points out of 100. Hey, it's not just me! We've already chosen several new wines for the fall that got rave reviews.

At Shiraz, we have a lot of wines from this fantastic importer to choose from—and lots more down the pipeline soon, as my orders from the special tasting are still arriving this fall and winter. If you are in Athens or elsewhere in Georgia, I encourage you to come see us for some of our favorites. If you're too far away to visit the shop, call 1-888-ole-vino for the coolest thing to hit the wine sales industry in years—call the number, pick a wine, and the system will give you its description. It is a great way to find out more about great wines, and to use the only sense we don't use when we taste—our ears.