I started in the wine business with wine from Spain. I had set up a new business in an import company owned by a pair of friends to import the only whiskey made in Wales. We never got to the whiskey since another friend suggested I import wine from Spain. I said fine, as long as he rounded up some good wine.
We launched the wine at a tasting held by the Spanish Embassy in Washington at the lovely old “Panamerican” building now part of the OAS. We got the samples on the very day of the tasting. In fact I had to go into the bonded warehouse at Dulles airport to put special labels on each bottle.
We didn’t try the wine until just before the show. I lined up the 12 different wine samples and went down the line tasting them with quick shots. I stopped at one and said put this one out front. It was a smash hit at the tasting.
I then made a huge mistake. I ordered a whole container of just that wine in two versions, Crianza and Gran Reserva. I was later informed that no one orders a whole container of one wine. At least not a first order.
The mistake turned even more ominous. The container went from Spain to England to Norfolk, Virginia in the heat of April-May. It went by barge from Norfolk to Baltimore where I had our warehouse. It sat on the docks for two days before being stored in the warehouse. In all probability the wine had been “cooked.”
I went to the warehouse where I was admitted into the bonded area, since I had not officially imported the wine. I stared at the boxes with what could have been 9000 bottles of vinager. I selected a bottle at random and with trembling hand pulled the cork. I poured the wine into a cup with even more trembling hands. Then with great effort I raised the cup to my mouth and took a sip. Eureka! It was wonderful.
We quickly sold the 9000 bottles and ordered more. We then began to add other wines from Spain and further abroad. But nothing ever lived up to that first order, even the same wine from the same vintage.
That Christmas an article appeared in the “Washingtonian” magazine on wines to look for in the coming year. Behind the print was a picture of a bottle of my first wine. We were the hit of the year.
I took a big risk in my first selection, the wine came from the least prestigious region of Spain and had never been imported into the USA. But it had been bought for the King of Spain’s personal wine celler, so I knew it was good. In fact, all of our wines were new to the US market and I took risks on all of them. It turned out that I am good at this since eight out of ten of my selections were winners.
What a discovery. I had always let my wife select wines when we went out to dinner or for the house. And here I was selecting wines to import.
From that first experience I learned that Spanish wine offers the best price to quality ratio of any wine. In other words, at a given price a Spanish wine will be better than that from anywhere else. Of course, tastes are different and no matter how good the wine, it must be to your taste.
Next - my picks of Spanish wines.