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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 and dinners.

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 production?

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 flavour.

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 bouquet.

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.




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