Wine lovers like to wax poetic about “tasting history” when drinking an old wine, as if the warmth of that long-ago summer can be felt and a memory, or an historical event, conjured from the glass. Such history lessons are rare and expensive.
But tonight I tasted the early history of wine in the Americas – a sparkling wine from Chile made entirely with País – the Mission grape brought by the Spanish Conquistadores when they colonized the New World in the 1500s.
As I write this, I have just one or two sips left in my glass, so I’ll start with the tasting note before getting to the history lesson. The Santa Digna Estelado Rosé non-vintage sparkling wine is part of the Miguel Torres portfolio in Chile (again, the Spanish influence). On Wine-searcher.com, it retails for about $19. My sample came from Dreyfus Ashby, the New York-based importer. The wine tastes like a really good grapefruit soda, without the sweetness – it’s fruity, citrusy, bright and refreshing. I think of it as a very good Cava rosé. It would make a nice Valentines Day sparkler for budget-minded lovers. Although I’ve enjoyed Santa Digna wines before, I was expecting more of a novelty wine with this sparkling País. So already, we have a winner.
But this is more than crossing a wine off your list of grapes to join the century club. For the history lesson, I turned to Jancis Robinson’s Wine Grapes, her recent tome that has become the ampelographical bible of our times. Here I quickly learned that País is not just Mission, but that both are actually names for Listán Prieto, a grape that was thought to have been lost to its native Spain due to phylloxera. Recent DNA testing demonstrated that Listán Prieto is in fact the grape that was taken to Mexico in the 1540s by Franciscan priests, who called it Misión, and to Chile and Argentina at about the same time by Spanish Conquistadores, who called it Uva Negra, or black grape. The name was later changed to País, or country in Chile, while the Argentines rechristened it Criolla Chica, or Creole girl – suggesting a whole ‘nother story altogether.
At the same time as its journey to South America and Mexico, the grape arrived in the Canary Islands, where it was called Moscatel Negro. And then in 1629, the grape made its way into what is now the United States, in the Rio Grande Valley of southern New Mexico.
The Torres of Chile website has more details about the wine, which is Fair Trade certified. A portion of the profits goes to help improve the living conditions of winery workers in Chile.
So much to learn from a glass and a book.
(Santa Digna Estelado Rosé sparkling wine is distributed in Washington, Maryland and Virginia by Elite Wines, and sells for about $19 retail. It can be found at Cleveland Park Wine and Spirits in the District; Annebeth’s in Annapolis in Maryland; and in Virginia at the Grateful Red in Arlington and Whole Foods Market locations in Alexandria, Charlottesville, Richmond and Tyson’s Corner.)