A Spanish Selection for 'Jaguar'

Sep 12th, 2010 Jayne Pearce ,

In the second of our book / wine combo eves we decided to add a bit of Spanish spice to a home-grown Belizean non-fictional piece of work.


The book in question is ‘Jaguar’ by the renowned American Zoologist Alan Rabinowitz. Since publishing his experiences with the jaguars and the people of Belize in 1986, Alan set up the charity Panthera for the protection of wild cats around the world and it has an active Facebook page. I’m sure Dr Rabinowitz would be thrilled to know his experiences were being discussed and washed down with a Spanish selection right here on Belizean soil in Ambergris Caye. Ok, we might not be in hard core Cockscomb basin on the mainland, but it’s the same diverse Belize we know and love  - and with an incredible view of the Caribbean.

Anyway, onto the wine. We started off the evening with some unavoidable fizz and the added bonus of having a birthday girl amongst us (Happy Birthday Kate!). Being a Spanish theme it had to be Cava but the only bottle I could get my hands on was the ubiquitous Freixenet (NV), Parellada grape, Penedes, (US$18 equiv at Belizean prices) pronounced ‘fresh-eh-net.’ Personally, my appreciation for this dark and mysterious (mysterious as that black, empty bottle was always a surprise) bottle extends way back to my Uni days with friends where we always seemed to be celebrating something whether it was in a remote village in Guatemala or London. Cheers to that! Just like the Big Mac, I don’t think this style has changed at all - light and intensely fresh. This particular sparkling wine is the brut (extra dry) and, being a moderately light style with only 11.5% alcohol it is very easy-drinking either with almonds or just on its own. The beauty of Freizenet is that it does what it says on the bottle - no more, no less. I have yet to taste a faulty one and yes, yes, I’ve drunk quite a few over the years. The downside is its lack of depth. If I had to accuse the trusted Freixenet of something it would be its shallowness. The Parellada grape goes some way towards giving it a distinctive edge on all of those New World sparkling chardonnays, so my criticism ends here.

Next up came the interesting and very rewarding Protos Verdejo 2008 from the Ruedo region (US$25 equiv). In this case, the verdejo grape has created a straw coloured white wine with hints of green in appearance. The unusual but intoxicating aroma evokes slightly stewed lemons, apples and pineapple with a hint of grass and gooseberry. The gooseberry could be due to the small proportion of Sauvignon Blanc permitted into the blend. The fruits follow through on the palate combining with a slate dryness creating a concoction of tropical meets mineral. A very rewarding wine with a lingering length that’s best matched with fish and vegetable-based dishes. Go on, give it a go.

We followed the Rueda Verdejo with the Rosado-raspberry hues of the Marques de Caceres, Tempranillo, 2009, Rioja (US$17 equiv). The Tempranillo is coupled with 20% Garnacha to finish it off and give it a little complexity. A red current and raspberry bouquet follows through on the palate with a slight herbaceous feel to break up some of the residual sugar. That said, the view was that it could have done with less of the residual and more of the raspberry for a balance of sugar to fruit. Residual sugar (left over sugar after the yeasts have died during the fermentation) in a wine is a somewhat subjective decision made at the hands of the winemaker. If the winery was seeking an easy-drinking albeit slightly fuller bodied rose to couple with some heavier herbed or slightly spiced Southern Mediterranean chicken and pork dishes then fine. Otherwise I would avoid drinking this as an afternoon aperitif as I would other typical roses. It would need some food at least to soak up all that 13.5 % alcohol as well as avoid a sugar rush.

Next we skipped merrily onto the reds and began with the Finca Antigua, Merlot, 2005, La Mancha (US$25 equiv). Having had 5 years give or take to mature it was definitely ready for drinking as the cherry red hues were just beginning to tire and go ‘rusty’. That said the aromas and the flavours were still evident with a more developed vegetable and warm spice on both the nose and palate. I did feel the 13.5% alcohol preyed heavily on the remaining fruit with a lack of grip from the tannins to keep it all together. The good acidity would make it a good bet with a tomato-based lamb or beef casserole.

Finally, the Protos Joven Roblo, Tempranillo, 2007, Ribera Del Duero (US$28 equiv) slipped down nicely along with some of Helda’s homemade birthday cake. This was a classic example of entry-level tempranillo with the American oak ageing evident both on the nose and on the palate. This particular wine has only had the minimum 6 months in oak and 6 months maturation in the bottle before market release. That said, the distinctive vanilla from the oak was evident along with the red and dark fruits and a hint of spice. With a bit more time those spicey notes will begin to dominate. A classic tempranillo would go very well with many of the well known Spanish dishes such as chorizo and would wash down a chunk of manchego cheese very nicely. I am a big fan of the traditional Ribera Del Duero / Rioja tempranillos partly because it’s an excuse to cook a slow roasted lamb with rosemary and all of the trimmings. Delicious.

The evening’s food and wine indulgences contrasted heavily with the raw subject of the book, however. Alan’s ultimately successful struggle to establish and educate all things jaguar in Belize is indeed (excuse pun) food for thought. He has shown that it is possible to make a difference and give the wild cats the protection they need.

Read the previous post: Italian wine meets Swedish crime thriller in Belize

Read the next post: Chile-con-Karma