Banff Springs Hotel Plays Host to Spain (November 2, 2000)
For the past ten years, Peter Blattmann, food and beverage director
at the Banff Springs Hotel in Alberta, has put together a gastronomic
festival that has become the mecca for "foodies" and
wine lovers from across Canada and the US.
Each year the wine and cuisine of a single country or region
are celebrated over a weekend of seminars, tastings, and meals.
In the past, Germany, South Africa, Italy, and California have
been feted. This year it was Spain, the country with the largest
surface of vines in the world.
The 600-odd participants at this diet-challenging event (October
27-29) were exposed to every style of wine Spain produces - including
sherry, cava (champagne method sparkling wines), brandy, white,
rosé, and red wines. All of this with the spectacular backdrop
of the Rocky Mountains.
Twenty wineries sent their representatives to Banff along with
their wines, cheeses, olive oils, and foodstuffs that were featured
in tutored tastings, informal cocktail party events, and trade
tastings and then partnered with regional menus for the lunches
On hand to serve sherry straight from the cask was an Andalusian
venenciador, Miguel Gutierrez Rodriguez. Using a metre-long rod
with a silver cup at the end, he dipped into the cask and poured
a fino sherry into a fistful of glasses from a dramatic height
without spilling a drop. (Guests who tried to emulate his performance
wore most of the sherry on their shoes and jackets.).
The presence of the venenciador perhaps sums up Spanish pride
in their gastronomic history which makes little concession to
contemporary fads. Spain, unlike other wine regions, has not rushed
headlong into Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon. Producers rely
on their traditional grape varieties, usually as blends. And they
have resisted the New World's siren call for varietal labelling:
they name their wines not by the grape type but after the bodega
(winery) or vineyard where the wine is produced, as they do in
Bordeaux and Burgundy. Which is not surprising, since it was French
producers, escaping the scourge of phylloxera that laid waste
the vineyards of France in the 1880s, who crossed the border and
created new wineries in Rioja and Penedes.
Spain is best known for its red wines, but can you name the
variety that accounts for some 60 per cent of the total red grape
If you said Cencibel, Tinto Fino, Tinta deToro, Tinto del Pais
or Ull de Llebre you'd be correct because they are all synonyms,
depending in which region of Spain they grow, for the noble Tempranillo.
Believed to have originated in Burgundy, Tempranillo is similar
to Pinot Noir in the way it grows and in its strawberry/blackberry-like
Tempranillo comes from the Spanish "temprano," meaning
early, which refers to its propensity to ripen early. Traditionally,
particularly in Spain's most famous region, Rioja, Tempranillo
was blended with two other red varieties, Graciano and Garnacha,
and aged in American oak. Today you are also likely to find it
as 100 per cent Tempranillo or blended with Cabernet Sauvignon
and aged in the more expensive French oak or a combination of
French and American.
Two wines I tasted among dozens really summed up the style and
direction of Spanish red wines: Torres Grans Muralles 1997 and
Marques de Caceres Gaudium Gran Vino 1994.
Miguel Torres in Penedes has produced a Rhône-style wine
using five or six traditional Catalan varieties to produce a beautifully
poised wine, inky, black fruits and chocolate on the palate.
Marques de Caceres Gaudium uses the three Rioja varieties from
90-year-old vines and ages them 18 months in French oak. The result
is a deeply coloured, elegant wine with a rich blackcurrant flavour
that lingers on the palate.
Both these wines cost $70 to $80 in Canada.
The sense of modernism in the wines doesn't come from making
fruit-driven New World wines but from better vineyard management
and cellar technique using traditional grapes. Today's Spanish
reds are more deeply coloured (better extract) and smell less
of the coconut (American oak) that used to be their trademark
After ten years of running the Banff event, Peter Blattmann
is retiring, but he'll be back in 2002 with a new food and wine
concept for the hotel. The emphasis will be on the high end with
verticals of Chateau Petrus, caviar tasting, and a Macallan single
malt tasting in addition to the meals, seminars and cooking demonstrations.
For information, call the Banff Springs Hotel, (403) 762-6831.