Wine

Miami-based importer focuses on ancient grape varietals

You might say the midlife crisis of a Hispanic marketing and advertising executive brought a new category of wine to South Florida and a growing list of areas around the country.

“I was getting close to 50 and I was an empty-nester, and my wife and I wanted to do something more purposeful and nostalgic,” said Martin Cerda, now 51.

Today, from his Miami-based company, Cerda, Llanos y Cía., he is importing and distributing a new line of wines under a concept called “New Spain.”

He is bringing in Spanish wines whose roots go as far back as Roman — even Phoenician — times but that are new to many American palates. The wines, 47 of them so far, feature ancient grapes such as prensal, manto negro and xarello, now vinified to go with modern cuisines.

“We select wines that are fruit-forward, light on oak or un-oaked, dry on the palate without being too tannic,” Cerda said. “We are foodies and strong advocates of pairing wine with food for emerging cuisines including Thai, Peruvian and the new Spanish cooking from Catalonia or the Basque Region.”

Wines from the white prensal grape, with its tangy citrus flavors, are just right for Peruvian ceviche, in which seafood is cured in lemon juice or vinegar, he says. He says his wines are served at chef Gaston Acurio’s Peruvian restaurant La Mar in the Mandarin Oriental in Miami.

Cerda argues that the Spanish grape garnacha, with its light body and sweet red fruit, is better suited to the American palate than the Rioja grape tempranillo, with its heavier, darker fruit flavors.

New Spain wines can go with established cuisines, as well, he says. His Bodegas Ribas “Sió” Red Wine, with its opulent black fruit flavors, is excellent with a traditional charcoaled New York strip steak, he says.

In his new endeavor, Cerda is going back to his roots. Both of his grandfathers grew up on the Mediterranean island of Mallorca, the 250-square-mile island 200 miles off the Spanish coast. One was a winemaker, the other a coffee seller.

“Pollenca, the little town where they grew up, was founded by Romans who grew grapes. In excavations, they have found amphorae (ancient clay wine vessels) they used to carry wine on ships.”

Several of the wineries Cerda represents also are helping revive ancient varieties, including the inky red grape sumoll in Penedes, most of which had been torn out and replaced as too temperamental.

Cerda’s coffee-seller grandfather later moved to Cuba, where his importing company was seized by the Castro regime in 1960.

Cerda values the heritage. “I’m using the knowledge from being born into a wine-making family and a life-long passion for wine,” he said.

Born in New York City, Cerda lived in Mallorca for two years before coming to South Florida in 1971. In Miami, he helped create marketing campaigns for Coors Light, Coca-Cola and other brands, becoming an expert in marketing to Hispanics.

So far, Cerda’s wines are available at Total Wine & More’s 24 Florida stores, Wine Watch in Fort Lauderdale and a dozen others. Distribution soon will begin in Georgia.

“Some of our wines are also available in the Northeast and Midwest,” he said. He hopes eventually to cover much of the United States.

Cerda makes yearly trips to Spain, where he helps select wines from boutique vineyards so far numbering 27, in Mallorca, Penedes, Montsant and other regions.

“We seek wineries that are family-owned, winemaker-led, small production and leaders in the use of native varietals,” he said.

New Spain wines are “not hip, cool, funky or trendy,” Cerda says, but are “natural, often artisanal.” Often, they’re made in the organic or biodynamic manner hearkening back 200 years — if for no reason other than that the young winemakers can’t afford chemical fertilizer.

And while his wineries take the wines seriously, they also seek to inject a friendly atmosphere of whimsy through wine names like “Plic, plic, plic.” The drawing on the label explains it, showing man sitting in a downpour while the rain plic, plic, plics on his umbrella.

“We want to demystify wine,” he said.

HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

▪ 2013 HMR Mont Rubí White Wine DO Penedes, Spain (100 percent xarello): aromas of herbs and flowers, flavors of ripe pears, full-bodied, won Best in Glass Silver Medal at the 2015 VeritageMiami competition; $21.

▪ 2013 “Plic, Plic, Plic” Red Wine DO Montsant, Terra de Falanis, Felanitx-Mallorca, Spain (50 percent garnacha, 50 percent cariñena): aromas and flavors of black cherries and dark chocolate, long, mineral-tinged finish, won Best in Glass Gold Medal at 2015 VeritageMiami; $15.

▪ 2013 Miquel Oliver Vinyes i Bodegues “Son Caló Blanc,” Pià I Llevant, Spain (100 percent prensal): crisp and light and lively, aromas and flavors of white peaches and herbs; $17.

RECOMMENDED

▪ 2014 “La Florida” Blanco Joven White Wine, by Covinca-Longares, DO Cariñena, Zaragoza, Spain (100 percent macabeo): light, lively and crisp, with honeyed aromas and lemon/lime flavors; $9.

▪ 2012 Bodega Ribas “Sió” Blanc White Wine, Vi de la Terra Majorca, Spain (prensal, chenin blanc, viognier): straw yellow hue, aromas and flavors of white flowers and citrus, fruity and dry, mineral finish; $28.

▪ 2014 Rosa Negra Rosé, by Covinca-Longares, DOP Cariñena, Spain (50 percent garnacha, 50 percent tempranillo): light and crisp and dry, with tart strawberry and raspberry flavors; $9.

▪ 2012 Bodegas Ribas “Sió” Red Wine, Vi de la Terra Majorca, Spain (50 percent manto negro, 25 percent cabernet sauvignon, 15 percent syrah, 10 percent merlot): ripe black plum and clove aromas and flavors, full-bodied and smooth, opulent, ripe tannins; $36.

▪ 2013 4 Kilos Winery “12 Volts” Red Wine, Vi de la Terra Majorca, Spain (callet, fogoneu, syrah, cabernet sauvignon, merlot): floral aromas, flavors of black raspberries, black pepper and dark chocolate, crisp and fruity; $33.

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