Raising teens and Spanish wine
Snapshot number one, with wine: Six sleepy friends around my back yard dinner table, wilted yet celebratory after nine months of schlepping our three eighth graders to the local high school for geometry on weekday mornings. At 6:50 am. (Looking back I wonder. Were we nuts, worshiping at the alter of academic advancement for our 13-year-olds?)
Snapshot number two, with wine: Six satisfied friends around my back yard dinner table, perky yet wistful after schlepping our three college sophomores to their various places of higher learning around the country. (Maybe not so crazy, after all, peeling our young teens out of bed those long-ago winter morns, as perhaps our sleepy sacrifice helped their minds to present beauty grow.)
Growing up, raising. These terms the French use, referring to that delicate period during the winemaking process when young wine is in the barrel; a worrisome period demanding utmost surveillance with (hopefully) minimum intervention as the precious juice undergoes that magical transformation we Americans call ageing.
Around my back yard dinner table on this late summer cicada buzzing evening, each cork pop releases a genie squeezing out, swirling above, freeing our past parent-worried selves. Do I hear a faint “I told you so?” Well, I guess genies don’t talk. But those spirits watched over our three, now grown. The strengthening genie of improv, the harboring genie of science, the tromboning genie of music.
So here we sit, and visit, and uncork as those three genies float away. Six spiritual winemakers, with sturdy staves that encircled our young as they struggled and bubbled and raised. We freely added a pinch of this, a touch of that, to each other’s barrel over the years. An open ear, a calculus tutorial, a cup of sugar, a whiff of oxygen. After raising the 1995 vintage together, we raise our glasses to six friendships.
Because, as I’m fond of saying, why should kids have all the fun?
This evening we’re surely having fun, traveling and talking through three bottles of Spanish wine uncorked in honor of one couple’s return from a sabbatical year in Germany and the other couple’s spring break voyage to meet them in lusty southern Spain. The joys of foot-looosened-ness once the wine’s been bottled.
Tonight’s wines represent two of Spain’s many wine growing regions. The first bottles come from La Rioja, a horizontal sliver of sloping terrain south of the Pyrenees mountain range that separates France and Spain. Rioja is Spain’s main wine producing area, with enduring ties to Bordeaux, a few hours north. In fact, when I was in wine school at the University of Bordeaux, a sweet Spanish man, Javier, commuted twice a week from his Rioja home to study in the hallowed halls of the Faculty of Wine and Wine Sciences. Javier is a generous soul and thanks to him, I learned about the grapes that flourish in Rioja: tempranillo, garnacia, graciano and mazuelo.
Pure music, those grapey names. If Rioja red wine were a flamenco dancer, Tempranillo would be the backbone and muscles, Garnacia the firm round flesh, Graciano the sweet perfume, Mazuelo the spicy scarlet lipstick. And those are the general proportions in a traditional Rioja red blend: about 60% Tempranillo, 20% Garnacia with the rest a mélange of Graciano and/or Mazuelo.
After swirling and sipping, the six wine travelers around my backyard table gave two thumbs up to both red Riojas. The first, Hacienda Lopez de Haro Crianza Rioja 2008, was $13.99 at Binny's Beverage Depot. Inky purple with ruby reflections, it smelled of dusky cherries and was fresh on the tongue with robust, smooth tannins giving nice structure without dryness. Slight black olive spice stayed long after this nicely balanced wine had slid down my throat. The second, Dominio de Ugarte Riserva 2008, purchased at Vinic Wine Co for around $20, was the friendly country cousin, with a huge, faintly grassy aroma, followed by a full candied red fruit taste with hints of leather.
But our third bottle, from the dark horse Ribera del Duero, offered a most mouthwatering surprise finale to the evening. The Duero River runs through this lesser-known wine region, located a couple hours drive north of Madrid in the flattish northern plateau of Castile and Leon. In terms of quality and renown, Ribera del Duero has gained traction over the past few years for increasingly complex, elegant red wines made from northern Spain’s star Tempranillo grape (called Tinto Fino in the Ribera del Duero area).
After the big Rioja reds, the Bodegas Federico Tinto Ribera del Duero 2008 surprised us with perky taste and secondary hints of (choose one) leather/coffee/sea sponge. By now, we were waxing poetic. Yet ultimately, the six friends around my table agreed we all tasted sweet-tart red fruit, like pie cherries or red currents, lingering pleasantly once we’d swallowed.
This new favorite from Ribera del Duero was also purchased at Vinic Wine Co., a charming neighborhood storefront in my town helmed by the erudite, super-sympatico Sandeep, who comes highly recommended by many of my friends as their personal wine therapist. (Especially when suffering from “we’re going to our French friend’s house for dinner tonight and we told him we’d bring wine!” anxiety.)
And so we come to snapshot number three, with (empty) wine bottles: Midnight around my backyard table, candles sputtering, conversation flowing. Six friends with three college sophomores in our hearts. Happy.
Proof wine’s not the only thing that improves with age.
P.S. After a summer break, my wine friends, The Weekly Drink is back. But sans stylish banner photos by web designer Marc (of the 1995 vintage) who has returned to college. Have a wonderful sophomore year, dear son.