Wines From Spain recently spoke with Mike DeSimone and Jeff Jenssen, also known as the World Wine Guys, who are wine, spirits, food, and travel writers, educators, television presenters, and hosts. In discussion of their most recent book, Red Wine (co-written with Kevin Zraly) Mike and Jeff recall their beginnings in wine, the inspiration for this new book, and their favorite local pairings while at their second home in Nerja, Spain.
Read our full interview below.
Jeff: I worked as a waiter throughout high school, college and grad school, and became exposed to wine as both a waiter and bartender towards the end of my schooling. At one restaurant that I worked at in Chicago, I sold more wine than any of the other waiters, and was asked to take over as “Wine Steward.” I already had a love for wine, but my career in wine was born.
Mike: I have always been a food lover—even when I was in high school and college I cooked a lot at home, and always wanted to eat in nice restaurants. Wine is the obvious accompaniment to food, so I began drinking wine with meals at an early age. When Jeff and I met 20 years ago, our first trip together was a bike tour through Burgundy, and from that time on I have been to countless wine regions all over the world.
We both think that Spain’s bounty of indigenous grapes that are relatively easy to pronounce and wonderful to drink make it a wine lover’s paradise. In addition to the country’s “signature” red grape, Tempranillo, which is grown all over Spain, there are varieties and styles to appeal to all wine drinkers. And unlike other European nations whose best wines come with stratospheric price tags, the majority of Spain’s wines offer amazing quality for the price. One of the best things about Spanish wine is that you do not have to make a large investment to discover the wines of Spain or to stock your cellar. As opposed to other traditional European wine producing countries whose prices offer sticker shock to the uninitiated, Spanish wines are downright inexpensive. In fact, while choosing our recommended wines in from Spain we had to do a lot of narrowing down in the “Bargain” and “Value” categories, while in many cases we were hard pressed to come up with even a handful of Spanish wines in the “Splurge” section.
Many wine books tell the story of wine geographically—they begin with the country or region of origin and then discuss the wines and producers. We decided to use the grapes as the starting point and then frame the story by variety or style. A lot of wine drinkers are familiar with only a handful of grapes; in terms of red varieties, most Americans are probably familiar with Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir, Merlot, Syrah, Sangiovese, and Tempranillo. In the case of the last two, they may know Sangiovese only via a region such as Chianti, or Tempranillo from Rioja or Ribera del Duero rather than by the varietal name.
Depending on the reader’s level of knowledge the takeaway will be different. For consumers who love wine but don’t have a lot of knowledge we hope that reading Red Wine will help them to explore more grapes and regions and to expand their palates. One helpful tool is the recommended list of wine in each section, with individual choices from the two of us and our co-author Kevin Zraly. Recommendations are made at four different price levels from “Bargain” to “Splurge.” Another is the wine pairing guide in each chapter, which offers suggested foods for a particular grape or style. For readers who are further along their wine journey, Red Wine is a very useful reference guide. It offers information on where certain varieties originated and where they are widely grown today, and also introduces lesser-known grapes and wines to people whose expertise may be narrow, especially if they specialize in wine from one country or just a handful of regions.
Let’s start by stating the obvious: We love all the Spanish grapes and the wines that are made from them. Red Wine includes chapters on Cariñena (also called Carignan and Mazuelo), Garnacha (Grenache), Mission (the grape that Spanish explorers first brought to the New World), Monastrell (Mourvedre), and Tempranillo. In the “Styles & Blends” section we have a chapter on Rioja. Although the wines of Rioja are mainly made from Tempranillo, we thought it was important to do a breakout chapter on the region because many people do not know if Rioja is a place or a grape. We also mention grapes that originated elsewhere but are now grown in Spain, such as Alicante Bouschet, Blaufränkisch, Cabernet Franc, Marselan, Petit Verdot, Pinot Noir and Syrah. In the case of Cariñena, Garnacha and Monastrell, it’s important to note that although these grapes may be better known throughout the world by their French names, we chose to use the Spanish names because they are believed to have originated in Spain.
We have a home in Nerja, Spain, which is in Malaga province in Andalucia. Although the Malaga DO and Sierras de Malaga DO (Denominacion de Origen) are better known for sweet wines made from Moscatel and Pedro Ximenez, there are many excellent dry wines coming from the region made from international grapes such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir and even Blaufränkisch. From the area around Ronda, we especially like the wines coming out of Bodega F. Schatz, Cortijo Los Aguilares and Doña Felisa.
Although we wrote the book on Red Wine, we are thrilled to see the continued popularity of white Spanish varieties like Albariño, Verdejo, and Godello. We also hope to see more of other whites from Spain, such as the wines of Ribeiro, which are mainly made with Treixadura.
There is a specialty in Ronda called pan tostada which is made with small pieces of white bread (a quarter of a slice of bread) which are deep fried and then topped with a sliver of jamon Serrano and a fried quail egg. We serve it as an appetizer, paired with a cold glass of Manzanilla Sherry. The bitter almond notes and salinity of the Sherry are perfect with the texture and saltiness of this amazing local specialty.
Considering that we recommend over 1,200 red wines in the book, it’s almost impossible to narrow it down to one. However, before either one of us sat down with Red Wine, we would turn to the “Recommended Wines” box in one of the Spanish grape chapters such as Cariñena, Garnacha, Monastrell, Tempranillo or Rioja, pick out something from the “Value” column, and head to the local wine shop to buy a bottle.
You know that this is an impossible question to answer. Between the Tempranillo and Rioja chapters in Red Wine we recommend over 75 different Tempranillos. So let’s just say that we love Tempranillo for its gorgeous taste profile of blackberry, black cherry, pomegranate, baking spices and tobacco and also its incredible price to quality ratio.