I have the fortune that some of my friends compete among themselves to be the best hosts in Madrid. They mix wine, fun and friendship in wondrous ways. Some days ago, we were summoned to a dinner in a beautiful home where we drank Alión, the revered wine from Ribera del Duero (the 2015 Magnum bottles had just been put on the market). We started them like an skater carefully steps into a frozen lake, little by little, until she knows the new ice is firm. Twenty minutes later she can do flips, jumps and combinations. As the conversation became lighter and fast paced, each of us was able to predict with equal passion and certainty the results of the upcoming general election in Spain. More importantly, our highly divergent views did not matter, because we were all united in reverence of both Alión and our hosts. No other Ribera mixes elegance, depth and equilibrium in a similar way. María my wife includes Alión in the category of Stratocaster wines, her own heaven for the very best wines: https://iberians.wordpress.com/2010/09/24/stratocaster-wines

“Je vous écoute”, just like Emmanuele Macron keeps saying these days. I have received countless requests and messages from friends asking me to write again in this blog. As we approach the end of December with its many special nights and festivities, the pressure is growing. Could you recommend the perfect wine to celebrate many good things? My friends are like that. I always listen to you -and I never pretend that I listen.

Thanks my summer diaries, I can tell you right away about two extraordinary wines.

(Summer nights are perfect to try new things. You don’t look at your watch and next day you can wake up late and say “I have nothing to do and all day to do it”. Thank you Irwin for teaching me this important truth).

The first wine is Abadia de Retuerta Le Domaine, made with Sauvignon Blanc grapes and a bit of verdejo by the mavericks of Abadía Retuerta in Sarón del Duero (35 euros). It is the best white I have encountered in decades, strong and complex, with a touch of pineaple and the colour of old gold.

The second wine is Lindes de Remelluri 2011 (12 euros) from the old monastery grounds of Toloño in Rioja. A very soft, silky & smooth red, incredibly well priced.

More recently, my friend Benjamin -when it comes to understanding life and food, he is the one- has invited me to discover two treasures. The first one is Dominio del Pidio 2016 (50 euros), a very special white created by Oscar Aragón in Quintana del Pidio, Burgos, with the little known Albillo grape. This is an amazing Atlantic wine, full of dreams.

The other great introduction has been to Galia 2016 Villages (30 euros), a garage red invented by Jerome Bougnaud, well know for his splendid work in many projects in Spain, like this one with the Regajal winery. Galia is a red wine of striking personality. It is made with garnacha and tempranillo grapes that come from small and very selected parcels along the banks of the Duero river. I was surprised by this wonderful invention, so attractive that it deserves to become in no time a revered tradition.

My friends always tell me that I live mostly to enjoy the summer. It is possibly true, nothing brings me closer to happiness than these careless weeks spent between Galicia and Mallorca. The combination of loved ones, sun, sea, free time and zero duties does it.

This year during my Galicia days I discovered a young wine from Toro, Termes 2014, from Bodegas Numanthia, 19 euros. There was a hint of mint and balsamic herbs in its bouquet and I even tasted wonderful forest fruits as I drank it. Perhaps I was too much under the soothing influence of long walks along the Ulla river, protected from the sun by black and green shades, an exposure that opens your imagination. But the experience of Termes stayed with me.

A few days later in Mallorca we organized a small dinner party. The excuse was the Chopin piano festival, that takes place every Sunday of August in the long corridor of La Cartuja. Antonio and Nely, dear friends from Barcelona, brought me exactly this same Toro wine, a wonderful coincidence. I tasted it with the anticipation of mixing Atlantic memories with the scents of a Mediterranean night.

To quote from Dickens, we have finally left behind the winter of despair and we begin to enjoy the spring of hope. In this transition -we had everything before us, we had nothing before us-, I have been able to try some very good wines. I found two of them in Angelita, a restaurant next to the Gran Vía in Madrid, where the owners offer over half-glasses from 100 open bottles to pair with excellent food. The advice provided by the waiters is usually very sharp and that is how I encountered Casas de Enriba and Vive la Vida.

Casas de Enriba 2016 (35 euros) is a rare Valdeorras wine created by Laura Lorenzo in almost vertical small parcels next to the Bibei river, in the Ribeira Sacra. This holy wine is made with mencia and godello grapes. Serious and rustic, it has a perfect combination of mineral and flower overtones. Vert hard to find, a very limited production, do not miss it.

Vive la vida 2015 (19 euros), from Bodegas Vidas, is also an artisan wine from Cangas, at the heart of Asturias, made with local grapes (albarín negro, mencía…), and 12.5% alcohol content. An avant garde Atlantic wine, superb and charming, light and fruity.

Last but not least, during a great weekend in La Vera, the Southern mountainside of Gredos, I rediscovered an old friend from Toro. San Román (19 euros) is probably one of the best and most elegant red wines in Spain today. It is sophisticaded and refined, deep and self-contained. After a long walk in the Vera hills, we tried it in a Magnum 2014 format, which makes it even better. Spring was barely announced in the still cold countryside. San Román was one of the few telling signs.

I have had the temptation of retreating home these past winter months. I was able to resist it and still go out in good company, cruising the streets of La Coruña and Madrid. During these brave forays I tried two Rioja wines that I would like to bring to your attention.

The first one is Oinoz Crianza 2014, by Carlos Moro. He has chosen a mythical area of North Rioja, San Vicente de la Sonsierra, to create his new wines. This well-known vigneron of Matarromera in Ribera del Duero is now offering us an outstanding crianza, refined and interesting, as a good guest should be (12 euros).

The second one is Lan a Mano 2012, a very special member of the big family of LAN wines, from Fuenmayor, right next to the Ebro river. Grapes for this limited edition wine are hand-picked and carefully crafted by artisans. Lan a Mano is both elegant and deep. A very good companion to look in the eye and slow down the quick passing of time (29 euros).

These past months have felt like a long journey in the desert. Too many trips, too much work. Along the way I found several oasis, like the fertile moments of getting together with friends. The wines we tried will also give you a place of refuge.

At a dinner party chez nous we opened a very special Albariño from Palacio de Fefiñanes, a Magnum bottle of Armas de Lanzos (110 euros) and very much enjoyed it. This limited edition of 1000 liters has been aged and nurtured like the best Reservas in the world. We discovered a fabulous white with history and conversation.

I also brought a red from Navarre to a more informal friends’ gathering, called Deyo Castillo de Monjardín Merlot de Autor. In spite of the grandiose name, it is very affordable and reconnects you with the civility of the Merlot grape (9,5 euros).

Yesterday, at Estado Puro, the tapas bar of Paco Roncero in Madrid, probably the best in town, we ordered Las Retamas de Regajal (9,2 euros). This young red from Aranjuez, Madrid, beautifully made with Cabernet, Syrah and Tempranillo grapes, added laughter and joy to our table.

María’s sweet nostalgia of Galicia (“morriña”) is part of our annual return to Madrid in September. Luckily, this time as we arrived, we received a present from a friend that has helped her find some pleasure in homesickness. Fernando Bonilla sent us a huge box with the best potato chips from La Coruña, called Bonilla a la vista, http://www.bonillaalavista.com. Since 1932, his family owned company uniquely uses sea salt and olive oil to make the best chips in the world according to connoisseurs. We have opened the Bonilla treasure and have tried it with two wines that also have reconnected us with the sea and the good life of Nortwest Spain.

The first one, Salterio, is a white from Cambados, a light and salty Albariño (6 euros) that brough us back to the one of the best days of this summer, sailing in the Ria de Arosa. The second one, La Clave 2013, from Bierzo, León (10 euros) is a rustic, expressive and happy red, created by wine maverick Raul Pérez. He is well known for experimenting and pushing the limits of wine-making in many regions. But like Maria, he always has the yearning to go back to his roots and trade time for space.

Majorca had such a profound effect on Rubén Darío that he wrote there some of his best poetry. For instance, he imagined in the bay of Palma the sails of Ulysses’ boat “moved by a breath of flowers and salt”. We have just returned from his gold island, where we have enjoyed gardens and sea in equal proportion. We found a similar balance of beauty and life in three wines we tasted.

The first one was Martue Chardonnay 2016, a fresh and inviting white from the Martue wineries in Toledo (7 euros), just like a summer night in Valldemossa. The next discovery was Medianias Suertes del Marqués, an outstanding Orotava red from the Canary Islands, a mineral wine grown in volcanic soil (16 euros). Believe it or not, it arrived to our table all the way from China. Our newphews who live in Shanghai had chosen it carefully and brought it back to our family reunion. I imagine this is what Phileas Fogg would have done if he had found an excellent wine in his 80 day trip around the world.

The last day we were in Mallorca we had dinner with an old friend, ÁN/2, from the Anima Negra wineries in Fellanitx. This incredible wine is made with Mallorca’s grapes, callet, mantonegro y fogoneu and sells for 15 euros. ÁN/2 made our conversation in the garden at night lighter and deeper, a phenomenon of friendship that only souls like Rubén Dario could describe in a few words.

Yesterday we spent the day in the Sil region, South East of Galicia. We went on a boat trip in the cannon-like river and admired the vineyards planted almost vertically on the sides. Growing wine in the Sil river is a revered tradition that dates from Roman times and was continued by XIIth century monks. This passion to grow in impossible places, blessed by a micro-climate, is well alive today. Many of the incredibly steep vineyards we saw are family owned and wine is made only for family consumption. Owners get to their properties by boat. In the old days, the wine was actually made next to the water in tiny wineries. We learnt all of these on board, while tasting a Mencia grape wine made by the family of our skipper, very good. It got us ready to visit Algueira, one of the best wineries of the Ribeira Sacra region, http://www.adegaalgueira.com. We had lunch surrounded by oak and chesnut trees and tried two reds.

The first one was Madialeva, alive and talkative, a successful experiment with Grenache grapes. Then we drank Carravel, a fresh and profound wine, made with the local Mencia grape. This wine connected us with the green sea of beauty we had just sailed by. We talked after lunch with the founder of Algueira, Fernando, proud of his 17 years of hard work and passionate endeavour, now internationally recognized. After listening to him, I made a mental note to try soon his new whites.

by Luís Barreto Xavier, Guest Editor

For twenty seven years, a group of friends from college times (Colégio Pio XII, in Lisbon), gathers by the river Douro, during winter season, to celebrate friendship, discuss future plans, and, of course, taste and drink Douro and Port wines. This “Confraria” has had the privilege to learn from some of the new Douro visionaries (Dirk Niepoort being the most prominent) and visit unforgettable Quintas (Vale Mão, Vallado, Noval, Nápoles, Portal, to name but a few).

This January, we were received by Jorge Serôdio Borges and Sandra Tavares da Silva, part of the small group of winemakers who, in the last two decades, have managed to create reds (and later also whites) able to compete with the best in both the old and new world. Their generation inherited tradition, since the Douro valley is home of Port for centuries, with dozens of autochthonous grapes and exceptionally varied terroirs, and made a revolution out of it. There was not red wines at Douro in most of the twentieth century, if you forget about farmers’ and cooperatives’ very poor “garrafão” wines, or Barca Velha, the Portuguese Vega Sicilia, then made at the Quinta do Vale Meão. From tradition, Sandra and Jorge took very old vines with numerous local grapes. But they decided to make table wines instead of fortified ones. Their first essay was Pintas 2001, a concentrated, full-bodied, alcoholic, dark and fruity wine, like a punch in the stomach of Douro traditionalists. It received instant fame and recognition. Through the years, Pintas has been ranked consistently among Portugal’s best wines.

After visiting the cellars at Vale de Mendiz and the Pintas very old vine, we were taken to the paradisiacal Quinta da Manoella, inherited by Jorge Tavares and now producing also amazing wines. The highlights of the visit were the friendly and welcoming reception by our hosts, the beautiful sunshine of a winter Saturday in the stunning mountain landscape, and, certainly not the least, the recent 2014 vintages of Pintas and Quinta da Manoella Vinhas Velhas we had for lunch.

While still very young, these wines show lots of character, complexity and balance. Our informal tasting panel found Quinta da Manoella VV 2014 to be dense, rich, complex (it is made of around 20 different grapes from old vines), subtle and elegant. Pintas 2014 is superlative, sophisticated, noble and delicious. It is no wonder that the Q.M. was awarded the Prémio de Excelência by Revista de Vinhos. Pintas 2014 was the winner of the blind tasting of 195 select Portuguese wines by the Swedish blogger and sommelier Andreas Larsson (blindtasted.com). Entirely deserved was the prize awarded a month ago to Jorge Serôdio Borges at the annual gala of Revista de Vinhos: Winemaker of the Year.

It makes me happy to see the success of nice and decent people, with the vision of creating excellent wines that express the potential of a region and its grapes and terroir, without any concession to shortcut strategies, rather developing a culture of sharing with fellow winemakers and new friends the secrets of renovating the tradition.