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36. Gerry Dawes's Spain: An Insider's Guide to Spanish Food, Wine, Culture and Travel

"My good friend Gerry Dawes, the unbridled Spanish food and wine enthusiast cum expert whose writing, photography, and countless crisscrossings of the peninsula have done the most to introduce Americans—and especially American food professionals—to my country's culinary life. . .” - - Chef-restaurateur-humanitarian José Andrés, Nobel Peace Prize Nominee and Oscar Presenter 2019; Chef-partner of Mercado Little Spain at Hudson Yards, New York 2019


World Wine Crisis, Part One: La Bobal Y Other Stories About Wine: A Film by Zev Robinson (With a modern-day Grapes of Wrath social commentary)

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On Wednesday night, November 4, at the Gabarron Foundation carriage house space on E. 38th Street in Manhattan, I  saw a remarkable film, La Bobal Y Otras Historias del Vino by Zev Robinson, ostensibly on the Bobal grape in La Comunitat Valenciana's Utiel Requena region.  

I went expecting to learn more about the this thick-skinned, dark purple wine-producing grape, but was astounded instead by the film's back story, the "Other Stories of Wine," in which many long time grape growers with a passion for their land are facing the very sad prospect of losing everything.  Many of the scenes tug at the heart strings and, just a little over a year into what more and more looks like a Depression, things will probably only get worse. 

La Bobal is a modern day Grapes of Wrath-like social commentary that is ostensibly about the Bobal grape, but more about  how the people who grow that grape--once used for blending to make bulk wines for northern Europe--can no longer afford to grow grapes and are trying to make a silk purse out of a sow's ear.  

In Zev Robinson's film, there is lots of talk about converting to produce "quality" wines from the big, thick-skinned grape Bobal, a grape that was used to provide alcohol and color for train tankloads of bulk wines that were shipped from La Grao, the port of Valencia, where large warehouses that once held huge quantities of wine awaiting shipment were recently covered into hangars to house the sailing vessels that competed in the last edition of the America's Cup. 

There were many memorable scenes in La Bobal, which I will report more on later when I have a chance to go back over the film (Zev gave me a copy).  One of the most striking statements was made by a grape grower who was talking about being paid more money for high alcohol content potential in their grapes, less for lower potential. The irony is that no one mentioned that this high alcohol incentive is still being done at a time when people are rebelling against heavy wines with high alcohol.

Utiel-Requena, 90% of which is planted in Bobal, has some 35,000 hectares of this grape (more than double the amount of land under vine in Navarra, for instance, and almost double that of the Ribera del Duero).  Apart from producing oceans of bulk wine for years, the region made (and still does make) some delicious Bobal-based rosados at 12% and, during the last decade they have gone to phasing out bulk wines and making more of the modern vino tinto blends, some with Bobal, but many with Tempranillo, Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah, which puts them in a massive competitive pool of similar wines made by bodegas from all over Spain, many of which have struggled and are now struggling even more to find buyers.

Bruno Murciano, Spain's sommelier of the year in 2008, who is from this region, is shown lamenting the fact that per capita consumption has fallen dramatically and people are drinking more beer and internationally marketed drinks like Coca-Cola when they used to come into his parent's bar-restaurante and have a glass of wine.

The very sincere sounding Bruno Murciano is the same young man chosen by Pancho Campo as the head sommelier at Parker's Garnacha tasting in La Rioja at WinePast-Aragón 1899* on November 12 & 13, where only two Rioja wines were put in after immense pressure on Campo and tractor brigades are being organized for a grape price protest invasion on Logroño (and are being planned for Madrid from not just Rioja, but other regions around Spain), milliones of kilos of grapes were left on the ground during this harvest and many farmers are facing ruin.   

I hasten to add that Burno Murciano is not to blame for this Garnacha fiasco in La Rioja, but the irony of Murciano's poignant lament about the diminution of per capita sales of wine in Spain as scenes of his family's modest restaurant in Utiel-Requena are shown in the film is notable.

*(What some wags, including this one, are calling Pancho Campo's WineFuture-Rioja 2009 conference, whose most celebrated tasting will be conducting featuring Garnacha wines, several of which come from Aragón and Catalunya none of which were programmed to be from La Rioja, which is famous for Tempranillo-based wines.)

Robinson filmed Pancho Campo's presentation at Fenavin this year, in which he told the attendees that Spain needed to conolidate efforts more like Constellation has (and by extension the big boys who support his "Spanish wine education" diploma mills and conferences) and at one point suggests that wine is missing  an opportunity for selling wine in places like Burger King.

Pancho Campo's Wine Future presentation (in Spanish), pt 2 from Zev Robinson on Vimeo.

With the worldwide Grapes of Wrath catastrophe that is descending on the wine world everywhere from Australia to Spain, we now see the long term effects not just of the economy, but of Parkerista style wines and government-subsidized programs to produce and sell wines that there was no real market for in the first place.  

For every flaming egoistic wine producer, who used the money made in some other profession to make himself or herself into a Helen Turley-esque wine star--in Europe usually with govt subsidies--and who thought it was sexy to make wine and now is finding his "hobby" and social climbing tool too expensive, we will now see yet another farmer forced from his land, land that many of them have farmed all their lives through thick and thin. 

Zev Robinson's social documentary brings home the plight of some of these grape farmers repeatedly. In my opinion, the film is about 30 minutes too long (but do not let that deter you from seeing it, because it is so worthwhile) and should be cut to fit the one-hour documentary time frame favored by public television and cable channels.  Nevertheless, this film is a must for those who have an interest in wine and social commentary.  I very highly recommend it.
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After spending part of this year traveling in Galicia and drinking delicious Ribeira Sacra wines that seldom top 13.5% (and often have 12.5-13% alcohol), I find it harder and harder to even taste the travesties that Parker and Jay Milller and the Numanthia-Pingus-Clos Erasmus lovers of the world think are real wine. This style of wines, in my humble opinion (I sold top-end wines to the best restaurants of  New York for twenty years), has caused a per capita drop in wines, since the higher the alcohol, the less wine consumed. 

High alcohol wines cut into by the glass sales, restaurant wine sales where second bottle sales are lower because of powerhouse wine styles and even in home consumption, where even this veteran wine man often finds that he and his companion have left a third of a bottle of such wines undrunk, something we never experienced when tasting and drinking over dinner the wines of Ribeira Sacra, which average around 13% (with many at 12%-12.5%).

Ribeira Sacra Tasting Notes by Gerry Dawes©2009

BTW, Ribeira Sacra sales are up 35% this year in this down market.

About Gerry Dawes

Gerry Dawes was awarded Spain's prestigious Premio Nacional de Gastronomía (National Gastronomy Award) in 2003. He writes and speaks frequently on Spanish wine and gastronomy and leads gastronomy, wine and cultural tours to Spain. He was a finalist for the 2001 James Beard Foundation's Journalism Award for Best Magazine Writing on Wine, won The Cava Institute's First Prize for Journalism for his article on cava in 2004, was awarded the CineGourLand prize in 2009 and received the Association of Food Journalists 2009 Second Prize for Best Food Feature in a Magazine for his Food Arts article, a retrospective piece about Catalan star chef, Ferran Adrià.

Mr. Dawes is currently working on a reality television

series on wine, gastronomy, culture and travel in Spain.

Experience Spain With Gerry Dawes: Culinary Trips to Spain & Travel Consulting on Spain
Gerry Dawes can be reached at; Alternate e-mail (use only if your e-mail to AOL is rejected):


  1. incredibly insightful post about what is truly going on. my opinion - it's not just Bobal, not just Spain, that are converting quality into what they think sells, i.e. higher alcohol. shame.

  2. Thanks very much, Linds, for looking in on my blog and leaving a comment. This is the first of series on the World Wine Crisis and how it affects Spain in particular.

    Regards, Gerry


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