Monday, July 9, 2018

Silk & Spice

Silk & Spice is a Portuguese red blend marketed by Sogrape Evaton USA, a wine company that now represents eighteen labels in America, most of which are Portuguese in origin.  Historically Sogrape is perhaps best known for bringing us Mateus Rose, a cultural touchstone on college campuses fifty years ago which was really much better than we gave it credit for at the time.

According to the back label "Silk & Spice" is a metaphor for the wine's smooth juiciness which they claim must ascertain its origins in the indigenous grapes of Portugal.  While I can't exactly validate that pitch, I can appreciate the inference.  The wine is a Touriga Nacional blend that goes through a malolactic fermentation followed by six months in American oak which can kind of account for its description.  I can also report that after tasting it out here the wine has sold very well.  It is noticeably less dry than the Aveleda wines tasted here on Thursday.

Silk & Spice, again according to the back label, honors the brave Portuguese seamen of the fifteenth century who ventured into the unknown to discover new seagoing trade routes to the east, returning with silk from China and spices (nutmeg, cinnamon, and pepper) from the Spice Islands.  The front label, by the way, is a fifteenth century map of the Bay of Bengal, complete with distortions reflecting what the explorers didn't know at the time.

Actually the very idea of labeling a Portuguese product with a map of the Indian Ocean is a little confusing and after hearing more than a few comments on the unusual wine label, I decided to bone up on my fifteenth century history.  Here's what I learned:

Portugal reached the Spice Islands, now the Maluku Islands of Indonesia, in 1512.  A year later in 1513 they reached China.  Spain and Portugal were on the vanguard of ocean seafaring back then with the English, Dutch and others decades behind them.  That alone may justify the label.  They're proud.

Here are a few significant dates: In 1498 Vasco da Gama was the first to round the African Cape and make it to India.  Christopher Columbus was sponsored by Portugal to go exploring in 1492 and ended up somewhere.  I forget what he discovered.  Then in 1522 Magellan circumnavigated the globe.  Unfortunately he didn't personally make it all the way around but he still deserves the credit.

How did Portugal achieve its early seafaring success?  They created the Caravel sailing ships which were smaller, lighter, and better handling than those that were the standard of the time.  How did they do that?  They copied the fishing boats of the time!  Honestly!  Leave it to the working guys to show up the brainiacs!

So was this the beginning of international trade and maybe, globalization?  Not hardly.  Evidence exists of an international spice trade going back to 3,000 BC.  North African Arabs were usually the beneficiaries of the spices then.  Unfortunately, the current religious conflicts between the Muslims and Christians in Indonesia have their origins in the period we're discussing here.

If we have now shed enough light on our made up wine label controversy then let's conclude by saying Silk & Spice shows best on the dinner table with pork chops, beef stew, stroganoff, lasagna, and barbecue. 

Cherie Rubio offers us a tasting of California wines this Thursday after 5pm and Jean Arnold shows us his Oregon wines on Saturday starting at 1pm.  Please join us for these.

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