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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.

After some months of bleak winter I am happy to report that Spring is almost here and that I have found some fantastic wines to write about.

Miguel Maduro visited us and we went to La Bomba, one of the best restaurant in Madrid these days. Unpretentious, perfect cooking, with a great story behind it: the French investment banker who decides to quit, become a chef and open his own bistrot. To honor Portuguese-Spanish friendship, we drank El Castro de Valtuille Mencía Joven 2012, a happy red wine, 100% Mencia grape, that sells for 9 euros, hard to top that.

Life without friends is like life in a desert island, said the Spanish writer Baltasar Gracián. To make sure we did not feel like Robison Crusoe, we have organized some gatherings at home lately. In one of them we were introduced to the new Peter Maurer Pinot Noir 2014, a very Southern wine, from Cadiz. So far it is very a small production, an experiment. But it is so well made -smooth, fruity-, that we hope it becomes soon an important name in the blessed Jerez region.

Another friend brought to our soirées dansantes two wines he likes, Xristo Cru, Douro 2013 and Albamar 2015, Albariño.

Well, Xristo Cru turned out to be the ultimate red wine to drink, a creature of Luis Seabra. This Portuguese wiseman quited his job at a revered Porto winery to do his thing, very close to terroir, with minimal intervention. He works in very old vineyards in the Cima Corgo area, circa 80 years. This red with only 12.5 % alcohol content is so outstanding that transports you to wine paradise, a subtle, elegant and long-lasting experience. I have looked around for it afterwards in Madrid shops and sells for 35 euros, in this case a well justified price.

Albamar 2015 is a new-new Albariño, made by the Alba family -not the ones you are thinking. These Albas are based near the Atlantic, at the mouth of river Umia. They own a small vineyard, where the son Luis Alba, known as Xurxo, is starting a revolution. He moved to wine making after losing his job. His secret is the passionate way he looks after the grapes, the vineyards -20 to 30 years old- and the soil,in ways never experimented by his parents, who started the project. Xurso is always as friendly as possible to Nature, almost in a moving way. His wine is pure Atlantic, with the right acidity and fruit tempered by the seaside. Albamar sells for around 10 euros.

I hope you can try some these wines while you welcome Spring. Come, walk beside me.

Last November we went to Porto for a family weekend, a special trip we had planned for a long time. It was fun to share a room the four of us, visit the city, walk along the Douro and practice a bit of Portuguese. Santi actually chose to read in this language the new Harry Potter book he bought at the wondrous Lello libray. Blanca made everyone smile, mixing words in Galician and Portuguese and spreading around her sunshine.

On Saturday, we had dinner at a small place near the water. The owner chatted a bit with us and I asked him to recommend  a red from the region that he particularly liked. This is how we discovered Quinta do Pessegueiro Aluze 2010, a fantastic wine at an amazing price, 12 euros, created by Roger Zannier Domaines. This Pessegueiro (“Peaches”) was more fruity and fresh than other Douros we tried that weekend. Back in Madrid I ordered a case for a dinner party with some of our best friends. After trying it we all agreed to plan a trip to Porto soon.

 

October and November have been hectic months, too much travel and work have taken me away from the serene and lazy space of this blog. But thanks to some friends’ presents, I have been able to try three new wines that are now my favorites to celebrate Christmas and New Year.

Juan Gil 18 months 2013 is a Jumilla creature that reconciles you with life, sweet and joyful, lie the Mediterranean sea. It is made with Monastrell, Cabernet Sauvignon and Shiraz grapes (www.bodegasjuangil.com).

Enrique Mendoza Pinot Noir 2011 is a great discovery, a most refined, delicious and smooth red from Alicante, very easy to drink (www.bodegasmendoza.com). I tried it with salted chocolate, also marvelous as a dessert wine.

Pago de Valdoneje Viñas Viejas 2014 is made with Mencia grapes of centennary vineyards in the Bierzo region, one of the most interesting wine places in Spain. It is both fresh and deep, a fantastic wine for long conversations in front of the fireplace. (www.vinosvaltuille.com).

I was born on a summer night, fifty years ago. By coincidence, a few days before celebrating my birthday, I tried Marques de Griñon Vendimia Noctura 2012. This is a white wine that is made with grapes harvested at night. Following the wisdom of the French enologue Émile Peynaud, the Griñón family chooses the best possible moment to start the wine making process, when the grapes are in great physical condition and the night temperature is soothing. Well, you can tell that it is a wine born to be enjoyed, a Rueda Verdejo with more personality and charm that the usual ones. It is not only storytelling -I was born on a summer night…

I had many other moments of celebration around my 50th birthday. At a wonderful dinner in the magical coast of Deia, Majorca, some friends introduced us to Macán Clásico 2011, a super red from Rioja, so smooth that I first thought it was a Ribera. Back in Galicia, we drank Obalo crianza, a fantastic discovery of an every day Rioja (8 euros), thanks to the recommendation of El Ensanche, a restaurant and wine place in La Coruña well worth visiting.

To understand what it means to turn 50, I re-read a fantastic essay written by my friend Javier Gomá: “when you have already encounter the bitterness of life but you know very well how to direct your energies”. His advice is to re-discover forms of idealism, to keep alive enthusiasm for the good things ahead and to avoid becoming blasé or cynical about everything. Wine tasting and writing are clearly among the activities that I intend to pursue further in that spirit of healthy naivety.

We have been lucky this year: rays of sun and glorious weather have blessed so far our lunches and dinners in Monterroso and La Coruña, two of our favorite spots in the island of Galicia.

In mid-June we gathered friends to enjoy a day together in the countryside. Some of them had ben our hosts in Egypt. To reconnect with our Nile trips we took a walk along the ultra-cool first milles of the Ulla river. Then we went back to María’s family house in Monterroso and tried D-12 Lan 2012, recently invented by the Lan vignerons of Fuenmayor in La Rioja,www.bodegaslan.com. “D-12” is the name of their favorite tank or crate where they nurse this marvelous creature, incredibly balanced, with a very interesting and long finish. For 12 euros, it is hard to find a better new-new Rioja.

In early July I came back with more friends to the island, this time to La Coruña. We drank Casal de Armán 2015, a white Ribeiro, at the famous family-owned Lois tavern, siting outside on a cool night. I love the revolution that is taking place in this part of Orense, mixing Treixadura grapes with Godello and Albariño ones. Casal de Armán is a very full, intense, rich white wine that connects you with the best dreams of summer. It sells for 11 euros.

At the beginning of August I bought a wine called “Rayos Uva” (UV rays) just because I liked the hip bottle design and thought it was a very appropiate name for a midsummer wine. I did not realize I was picking a true Stratocaster wine, according to María’s appreciation (see “Stratocaster wines”, https://iberians.wordpress.com/2010/09/24/stratocaster-wines/).

Rayos Uva 2015 comes from Rioja, but it is really a garage wine, 50% tempranillo grapes and 50% graciano grapes, full of personality, wonderful to drink and affordable (11 euros). It has been invented by Olivier Riviere, who has moved from Bourdeaux to develop wines in the regions of Navarre, Arlanza (Burgos) and Rioja. He happily preaches “the new world in the old world”. We toasted with his UV rays to family and to more summer days like these. Just like Mark Twain’s beseech, “Warm summer sun / Shine kindly here.”

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