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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.

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.

 

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