Bringing the Flavors of Spain

Jul 1, 2024 | Businesses, Communities, Events, Walton & Beyond

Weigh in picture of winning redfish

Jim Shirley Enterprises takes an overseas field trip to expand their wine expertise

By Wendy O. Dixon

Nationally recognized restaurateur Chef Jim Shirley and his team are continually expanding and refining the restaurant group’s food and wine offerings. Shirley’s restaurants have won numerous awards for their wine selections, including the coveted Wine Spectator Award of Excellence. Just announced by Wine Spectator for 2024, The Bay and Farm & Fire on Highway 331, as well as Great Southern Café and 87 Central Wine Bar in Seaside, are named among the Wine Spectator Restaurant Awards recipients.

Landscape from Spain Tour

Invited by the Grupo Piérola of winemakers, the team visited the Piérola collection of four wineries in Rioja, Spain, the fine wine capital of the region.

The group of 11 included general managers, executive chefs, and three top selling servers.

“We had a remarkable time,” says Madison Shirley, vice president of Chef Jim Shirley Enterprises. “It was a life changing experience.”

The team spent the week learning about the vineyard’s wine-making process and what makes their wines unique. “We learned about wine, food and hospitality practices in Spain,” Madison says. “It is always fascinating to learn how different cultures experience wine, and how the Spanish embrace it.”  

Training at winery on site in Spain.

Each of the three wineries they visited has its own unique ecological and cultural properties. One of them, FyA, is quite close to Lagroño, where they source massive handmade clay jars from master potters to finish the wine in instead of barrels. Another, Bodegas Fernández de Piérola, is located far into the mountains and uses its sustainable practices to benefit the surrounding community directly. “Being able to see the diverse environments is interesting and engaging,” Madison says. “We learned about the unique properties the vineyards have to create rich and vibrant varietals of wines.” 

While Americans might be more familiar with wineries that plant grape vines in dark brown loamy soil mixed with clay and salt, Spanish wines from the Rioja region often use clay exclusively. The group studied this while they visited Traslascuestas Winery, two hours north of Madrid. “It leads to a dry environment, which is chemically different to work with,” Madison says. “You might think vines couldn’t grow there, but this technique has led to centuries of successful and delicious wine developed over time.” 

Image depicting: Rioja region often use clay exclusively.

A crucial part of the team’s wine education was learning how younger and older grapes differ in characteristics. “We had the pleasure to examine vines that were 130 years old, some that were 75 years old, 50 and 30 years old, to see the difference between them,” Madison adds, “noting the impact of how aging changes the profiles.”

Spain is well-known for producing deep, heavy reds made of the Tempranillo grape, often referred to as Spain’s “noble grape,” which resembles the Cabernet Sauvignon and Sangiovese grapes, without the heavy tannins. “It has also become famous for its Tempranillo Blanco,” Madison explains. “It was the result of a genetic error in which their Tempranillo vines were creating a white grape instead of red. Owner Carlos Bujanda Fdez. de Piérola found the error and made a pivotal decision, ripping all new vines and replanting these white grapes. As a result, it adds a flush of diversity that caters to not just the red drinker, but also the white drinker, with a fruitiness that is more on the citrus side, making a beautiful hybrid.”

Group photo of Jim Shirley Enterprise team training on site in Spain.

These Spanish wineries also have sparkling wine, and Bodegas Fernández de Piérola has a particularly exceptional one made of 50% Tempranillo Blanco and 50% Viura grapes. This style has a secondary fermentation done in a bottle, where it ages for 18 months “en rima,” or horizontally, which creates that delightful natural carbonation.

If you’d like to experience any of the wines loved by this team of now-Spanish wine experts, visit any of Shirley’s sit-down restaurants, including Farm & Fire, The Bay, 87 Central Wine Bar and Great Southern Café in Seaside. 

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