For winemakers in the Southern Hemisphere (specifically in South Africa, South America, Australia and New Zealand), February is a very important month — just before the harvest in March, half a year or more before harvest time in the Northern Hemisphere.

For wine lovers, February is a good time to be near where the two halves meet. Going somewhere such as Andalusia, Malaga or Costa Brava in midwinter to savor the sunshine and, of course, wine is a sensible option.

No less sensible is trying the Marques de Caceres Gran Reserva 1989, a richly berry-flavored, discreetly oaked Rioja wine (a Spanish gran reserva must spend two years in the cask). This is the product of a fine maker. I introduced it to a large club where I chaired the wine committee, and for a few years it became the club’s best seller. Attendees at my recent wine seminar went into raptures about this wine, as they should, and I implore you to go straight out and get some yourself. Try it with various medium-hard and hard cheeses, such as Spanish manchego, and with dark sausage.

This week, I’ll be in Spain for several days. Stay tuned for a Spanish wine update centering on some of the excellent wines of the highly respected Cordoniu, imported to Japan by Mercian.

Though I never go through importers to arrange my winery visits, I do salute the enlightened and inspired cooperation of many wine-world people, marketing boards, etc., in various wine-producing countries such as Germany, Australia, Slovenia and Spain. They’re tops.

Let’s toast each in turn with one of their fine wines: a bone-dry Franconian Mueller-Thurgau (Germany), a crisp, dry Gruener Veltliner with hints of citrus (Austria), a fruity soft merlot (eastern Slovenia), and a rich, full cabernet sauvignon (Penedes, Spain). This is an interesting lineup. The first two go well with sushi and the second two with red meat, full-flavored cheese and sausage. They’re also nice on their own. Note that cabernet sauvignon, although not indigenous to Spain, is one of its successful international grapes, together with merlot, chardonnay and others.

Since Spain’s Cordoniu will be featured soon in this column, let’s have a background review of Spanish wine. Earlier I mentioned an ’89 gran reserva, a wonderful wine even though not among the greatest recent Rioja vintages (’82, ’94 and ’95). Faustino I Gran Reserva is another to remember, made from tempranillo, mazuelo and graciano grapes. Rioja gran reservas tend to age very well, for 20 years or longer. And don’t forget white Rioja, traditionally made from the viura and malvasia grapes. A cask-aged, pale gold and smoky wine, it’s unusual and interesting.

Spain has numerous whites and reds. They require a lot of study, but it’s fun, like Spain itself and its people. If shopping at a supermarket in Spain, one of the mass-market whites you’ll see is montilla, a good value tipple. By far the most exciting Spanish white I’ve ever had is the exhilarating, exciting, altogether different albarino, grown in Spain’s northwest and unique in its grassy, apple-fruited way. Don’t miss this one.

Catalonia, the home of Cordoniu, is wine country par excellence. Not the least of Catalonia’s virtues is cava, one of the world’s greatest sparkling wines. Cordoniu, among others, makes very good ones (tasting report coming soon). Try brut cava with sushi and sashimi.

And have some tapas with any Spanish wine handy. Everything works, right? Wrong. But you’ll learn what works with what, and that’s fun.


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