“They have nice wine in Asturias,” I casually commented to a friend from Madrid.
“What do you mean?” He laughed. “They don’t have any wine in Asturias.”
Just as the green valleys and rolling rivers of proud Asturias are little known outside of Spain, the wine produced on verdant Asturian slopes is a secret to many Spanish. Asturias in northern Spain is simply not known for its wine.
And yet there have been vineyards on the wild and rugged hills of Cangas del Narcea since Roman times. As is so often the case it was a religious order that was responsible for the development of the wine industry in the area. The wine flowed in Asturias for centuries until the growth of the mining and steel industries in the mid 20th century contributed to the depopulation of rural areas and the tradition of wine production in Asturias died out to the extent that the rest of Spain simply forgot wine was ever produced there.
In the last decade or so there has been a movement to breathe new life into the industry by modernising bodegas, encouraging training initiatives and re-introducing vines to the land. The result is the re-emergance of good Asturian wines.
Within Spain, Asturian wines sometimes have a reputation as being only fit for consumption in the home – a dig that it’s not of good enough quality to be sold elsewhere. It’s a viewpoint borne of ignorance. Wine from Cangas del Narcea is extremely quaffable with a robust, earthy body that offers a perfect match for the often hearty Asturian cuisine.
I’m no wine expert but the Cangas del Narcea red wines seemed the ideal dance partner for much of the local fare I enjoyed in Asturias, especially the meaty dishes where the strong-bodied wine had exactly the right personality for bringing out the flavours of succulent pork and beef fillets without being overpowered in the process. In restaurants such as Tierra Astur in Oviedo, a more delicate, lighter vino would have been left shivering tastelessly in the corner when faced with the mountains of grilled meats and the rustic fabada bean and meat stews that are diners’ favourites.
The vignerons of Asturias have a long way to go to before their wines are recognised for the obvious qualities and anyone visiting Asturias could help their cause by ordering Asturian wine with their meals. Anyway, it makes sense to eat local, drink local if you want a fully rounded Asturian dining experience.