Spain is a nation whose wine scene is dominated by just a couple of handfuls of regions mostly dotted fairly close to the northern and eastern coasts – from Rias Baixas eastward to Bierzo then to the Riojas, then on to the Catalan appellations of Priorat and Penedes, then souuthward to Jumilla and and Yecla. Sure, there are lots of other wine zones tucked into interior the valleys and plains, but “the edges” of the Spain’s wine world inarguably dominate its viticultural face to the outside world.
Well, this evening’s wine is from another “edge” of sorts, and the name of its region – Extremadura – clearly indicates this status, but this edge is one that is pretty far from the sea and in reality marks the border with the border with the Alentejo region of Portugal, deep in the southwestern quadrant of the Iberian peninsula. To say that this part of Spain is off the beaten track is a pretty big understatement. Though the area contains the fairly large city of Badjoz, and selected slices of the countryside possesses a certain austere beauty, Extremadura is largely dusty, hellaciously hot and arid and largely devoid of greenery. When it comes to tourism, the Costa Brava, the Basque coast and the Andalusian seaside it’s not.
But, with all of this isolation and lack of commerce comes some little perks, and this wine is one. Now just for sake of clarity, there is precious little truly “fine” wine made in Extrmedura – hell, there isn’t much wine made here at all due to the area’s seriously harsh climate. But in any such place, there are always a few fascinating extremophilic denizens, and the white Beba grape is one such example.
There is some indication that Beba (which in this bottling is known by one of its numerous alias “Evas de Los Santos”) may originate in neighboring Andalusia, but precious little if any plantings remain there today. Now As I alluded to above, Beba is not Chardonnay, it’s not Reisling, and it’s not Fiano. No, Beba is a variety that directly reflects its rustic and unpretentious origins: bright, fruity and direct, which makes it a perfect companion to Extremadura’s simple, genuine and homespun cuisine that is heavy on pork and legumes and which maintains a generally elemental character overall.
So in keeping with this set of facts, I made a very Extremaduran first course called migas (literally “crumbs”) which is little more than a very humble peasant dish that is invariably based on small scraps of stale bread fried in olive oil with lots of sliced garlic, and the pimenton to which I added a couple of chopped hard-boiled eggs and lots of parsley. For the main course, I made medallions of pork tenderloin oven-glazed with orange juice, onion, fennel seed and oregano with a side dish of chick peas stewed with yellow grape tomatoes.
Vegas Altas Extremadura Evas de los Santos NV
Bright, golden color. Lightly aromatic and pleasant, slightly oxidized nose of apricot, peach nectar, lemon zest, honey, hay and powdered ginger. In the mouth the wine is medium-bodied with a fairly rich mouthfeel that is nicely balanced by a fresh acidity that reveals flavors of yellow cherry, lime, green melon, cocoa butter and vanilla bean. Clean, bitterish quinine finish.