Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Wrapping Things Up in Cuba

One of my favourite pastimes, when abroad, is to visit markets and see what is available when shopping locally. While in Havana, I wandered across a large supermarket and naturally took a look inside. There wasn't much chance that I'd ever confuse it with a Whole Foods or a Capers but the mercado seemed to be pretty well stocked. Very few of the brands were recognizable but the basic products were extensive - to the point that there was even a freezer section of frozen turkeys. The prices even seemed to be fairly comparable to those at home - with the big exception that those prices are hardly comparable when your monthly salary is only a fraction of the wages back home. Some things aren't really all that relative after all.

I did find a little booze section though and, in amongst all the rum and liquors, there were some wines - mostly European or Chilean. No Australian, South African or Canadian wines were to be found and there were definitely no American bottles on the shelves. There was one little section of Cuban wines though. The thought of Cuban wine had never really crossed my mind; so, this was pleasantly unexpected. Given the exorbitant price of wine back in Vancouver, the fairly standard price of around $5 for these Cuban wines didn't lend itself to great hopes for the wines being sold. I really had no choice in the matter though. I had to get one.

On a shelf a little further along, I found another Cuban wine that was twice the price of the other bottles. Same winery but twice the price. For $10, it seemed a gimme to go for the "reserve" bottle. And why not open it at the first chance? After all, I don't think I'll take it home with me. If I'm only allowed one bottle, it might as well be a aged Rum. As luck would have it, the return trip from Havana arrived at the resort in Varadero right around dinner time.

687. 2005 Castillo del Wajay Tinta Reserva (Cuba)

Wine isn't all that incorporated into Cuban culture. General consensus is that it's just too expensive for the average Cuban. A Cuban-made wine is even more foreign. When I asked the waiter to open the bottle of Cuban wine that I'd found, he questioned whether we seriously wanted to drink it. In the last decade, however, it turns out that there have been two joint ventures created to set up vineyards and wineries in the Caribbean nation. One venture involves Spanish backers and experts, the other, Italian. At first, the wines were made with imported juice and I gather many of the cheaper wines are still produced that way. There are wines now, though, that are being made with grapes only grown on the island.

It's not easy finding out much about the companies or the wines, but Castillo del Wajay is one of the brands produced by Bodegas del Caribe - the venture involving Spanish interests - and its wines feature all Cuban fruit. The story goes that the partners brought in approximately 20 varietals to grow in test vineyards and they feel that they've identified several grapes that can successfully acclimatize to Caribbean conditions.

I'm not sure if I should be surprised or not, given the Spanish involvement in the winery, but the Tinta Reserva is primarily made of Tempranillo. What's more, I've had far worse wines than this. Maybe it was just the low expectations for a Cuban wine, but I found it quite palatable. It was perhaps a bit fruitier than most Spanish Tempranillos I'm used to, but there was a nice, basic structure and I'd have no problem trying it again if I ever saw a bottle for sale back home. Who'd a thunk it?

The next wine was all about location. I had to have at least one bottle next to the Caribbean. No chance of a romantic little sunset sip with Boo on this trip. So, I grabbed my sis, Vixen, my Dad and Vixen's gal pal, Lola, and we hit the beach. Not exactly the sunniest of occasions, but with this crowd, the wine wouldn't last long anyhow.

688. 2009 Strut Risque Rose (VQA Okanagan)

Obviously, this was one of the bottles that I'd brought along with me. The chances of finding an Okanagan wine for sale in Cuba is pretty far-fetched I'd say. I didn't even grab this wine because it was anything extraordinary; I just figured a Rose might come in handy on a Caribbean afternoon. Indeed, I can't say that I'd fall for the obvious marketing ploys behind this wine. "The Wine with Legs" bit might appeal to Vixen though. Rather, this was the bottle that I won at the Pink Broom curling bonspiel for being named Miss Congeniality. Pink Wine. Pink Broom. I'm sure you get it.

Made with Gamay Noir, Riesling, Viognier and Sauvignon Blanc grapes, there's a fair bit of fruit going on here. There was still enough acidity to make it a reasonable sip though. It's okay for drinking at the beach. I might stick to the Cuban Tempranillo when it comes to dinner though.

Speaking of dinner, we were scheduled to dine in the French restaurant tonight. So, I grabbed another of the bottles that I'd brought along. In fact, I grabbed this bottle while passing through the Duty Free shops at the Toronto Airport. We don't see much in the way of Ontario wines in BC, so I thought this might be a great chance to grab one. Not that duty-free shops necessarily have the best wines available.

689. 2009 Trius Merlot (VQA Niagra Peninsula)

Although I've seen this winery name in various Canadian wine magazines, I know nothing about it. I grabbed it at the Airport precisely for that reason. The other wines were the big names that even have Okanagan counterparts. Although it is associated with Hillebrand winery, I believe Trius is strictly situated in Ontario. Trius' claim to fame appears to be its Bordeaux blends and its sparkling wine but they have a line of straight varietal wines as well.

At under $20, it was a decent enough wine, but my guess is that this doesn't represent the best that Ontario has to offer. I don't know that I'd grab a bottle if it showed up on BC shelves. Not when compared to BC Merlots. Between our glasses and some of the cousins that paid a visit from the neighbouring table, the bottle didn't last long though. We needed to ask for more wine from the waitress. Surprisingly, she even left the bottle with us at the table. So, I was able to get a shot and find out a little bit of info for the blog.

690. Senorio de la Antigua Tinto (Cuba)

Unfortunately, the emphasis has to be on "a little bit of info" with this wine. I couldn't find much reference at all to the winery, even after the fact. I see that the wine is "made for" Bodegas del Caribe, the same company that makes the Cuban grown wine we tasted last night, but I think this may be one of the wines that is made from imported juice. The back label says that the varietals used are Mencia, Prieto Picudo and Garnacha (Grenache). I couldn't find any reference to any of these grapes being successfully grown on the island.

No matter. We actually thought this wine was rather enjoyable. In fact, most of us preferred it to the Ontario Merlot. Not something that Ontario winemakers would likely want to hear. No doubt they'd just blame it on BC prejudice against Ontario wines.

So, after havin'a bit of a "wine free" trip to Havana (pardon the pun), I've made up a bit for it with four quick wines. Only one more day in Cuba though - and that may just have to be a mojito by the pool kind of day.

No comments:

Post a Comment