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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.

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.

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 have been fascinated lately by the ideas of Denis Dubourdieu on wine. I came across them in an interview published some months ago, that I highly recommend: http://www.finanzas.com/xl-semanal/ella-el/20130127/denis-dubourdieu-espana-volver-4599.html

For those of you who do not read Spanish, or do not feel like doing a bit of research on him, Dubordieu is a celebrated Bordeaux vigneron and Oenology Professor. In the interview he was asked about wines in my country. Before answering he put forward his vision: “We need to create wines to drink, not to impress or get high points in a wine tasting event, where wines are just tasted and spit out. We need to think about those who will drink the wine (…) and find again the path of subtleness, adopt a certain minimalism in our wine making techniques and bring back to our wines delicacy and elegance in their purity.”

Yesterday I had the opportunity of drinking two Spanish wines who probably fit very well the Dubordieu ideal. The first one was an Albariño III Año from the winery of Bodegas Palacio de Fefiñanes, that had been aged thirty months, beautifully presented. Fefiñanes was the first one ever to bottle this wine. Since the XVII century, and now with Juan Figueroa at the helm, it remains true to a spirit of simplicity and wisdom. Fefiñanes knows how to let the wine express itself instead of playing around with it.

The second wine was Dominio de Tares Cepas Viejas 2008, from Bierzo, not far away from my beloved Galicia, made with Mencía grapes (and at amazing price of 13 euros). As you smelled and drank it, you could inmediatly connect it with the same vision of more subtle wines, less concentrated, never loud.

Duborbieu deserves to have many followers. In the interview that inspired me he advises wine lovers first of all to find happiness in life if you want to enjoy wine (not the other way around), since wine is part of our communion with nature. An openness to find pleasure in the world’s beauty will then lead you to subtle wines.

In every corner of Spain today you can find excellent wines, and this is good and bad news. The downside is that too often you are expected to drink only the local wine and praise it as if it was the soccer team where your seven year old son plays.I have decided to resist this chauvinistic trend and this summer I have tried new wines making sure first that they did not come from the region where I was enjoying my holidays.

In Galicia I drank “El Médico”, a wine from El Bierzo, León, that was a marvelous surprise. This is a top wine made with modest and yet delicate “prieto picudo” grapes (“tight and pointy” grapes?), used for many years to make a simple, non pretentious and almost anonymous wine, sometimes mixed with mencia grapes. “El Médico” lives up to its name (“the doctor”). We drank it during a summer lunch in Monterroso, Lugo, and its healing power accompanied us afterwards during a soothing walk along the Ulla river.

In Mallorca I have tried Joaquín Rebolledo’s Mencia 2010, a young and inexpensive wine from Valdeorras, Orense. This wine is a wonderful example of passion and dedication to the Mencia grape. We tasted it in almost total darkness, sitting under a pomegranate tree in the scented garden planted by my sister Mónica. The wine resisted well competition from other wondrous aromas of the carthusian summer night.

by Guest Contributor Fernando Vigón

Life always has its up and downs. The downside started a few days ago when Blanca got home after work:
“Fernando, have you ever heard of Montecastro y Llanahermosa?” she asked.
Her ominous tone of voice made me felt uncomfortable, as I tried to read between the lines.
“No, I haven’t. What is up with it?” I answered.
“You haven’t! Oh, it is not big deal, just a 15 € wine, rated 93 by Parker. I guess your value-for-nothing wine hunting skills seem to be a bit rusty”.
That was below the belt I thought. Luckily enough the up side was just round the corner: “By the way, I left two bottles in the kitchen. We can taste one for dinner”

And so we did and the Montecastro y Llanahermosa 2005, D.O. Ribera de Duero, a blend of 95% Tempranillo, 2% Merlot and 2% Cabernet Sauvignon turned out to be a superb wine, dark ruby, explosive nose of blackberries, with elegant mineral and woody touches. Persistent in mouth, very well integrated tannins, it possesses the right balance between power and elegancy……and of course a bargain.

Ashamed by my poor show of weakness I decided to go on another bargain hunting tour and as usual the results were amazing:

The first prey was the Hecula 2005 Bodegas Castaño, 100 % Monastrell, a terrific example of Yecla, the tiny D.O. in Murcia just 4.000 Ha. located in the barren inland part of Murcia with a strong emphasis on young powerful wines based on Monastrell. With a knock out price of 9 €, deep ruby purple coloured, a sweet nose of blackberry jam and sweet, full bodied exceptionally concentrated in mouth, it is perfect to be drunk now and over the next 5 to 7 years.

The next one was a blockbuster: Nita 2006, Meritxell Palleja, 10 €, D.O. Priorat. 45 % Grenache, 35 % Cariñena, 15 % Cabernet Sauvignon, 5 % Syrah. Very bright cherry, the wine has ripe blackberry and dried herb scented nose, medium to full body it shows the mineral richness hallmark of the Priorat “terroir”.

I must admit I have a certain fondness for el Bierzo and its wines and the Ultreia Saint Jacques 2006, Raul Pérez, D.O. will be from now on my shopping list. The fact that the price is 6 $ does nothing to do with it. With a dense dark ruby colour, highly expressive, owns an stunning level of fruit, it is a simple and yet delicious wine, perhaps lacking complexity but making it up for it with a overall sense of elegance and fruity finish.

I am looking forward to talking to you again about my summer holydays wine shopping. In the meantime, please enjoy these wines.

by Guest Contributor Fernando Vigón

Alvaro Palacios is one of the most outstanding personalities in the Spanish wine milieu. Back in the eighties he was the youngest wine maker of the group that started the Priorat revolution. His blockbusters then include Les Terrasses, Finca Dolfí, L’Ermita and Corullon. His mark has always been working with native grapes like grenache, mencia, graciano, and mazuelo.

Luckily for all of us, Alvaro worked also in El Bierzo and Rioja in the late nineties. I had the opportunity of tasting some of his second generation wines during Christmas.

To my mind Petalos de Bierzo 2006, Descendientes de J. Palacios, D.O. El Bierz, was the best of them. 100 % mencia (reportedly a 50-80 year old vine). Aged for 6 months in French oak, it is a knock out wine for a price of only 17 euros. Opaque ruby and purple coloured. It reveals an astonishing breath of minerals and raspberry. Medium bodied, round in mouth, powerful, fruity and well balanced. A bit too early to drink, in two years time it should explode.
From El Bierzo I also strongly advice you to have a go at the Dominio de Tares Cepas Viejas, 100 % mencia and Pitacum Aurea Roble 100% mencia , of course without forgetting Alvaro’s master piece Villa de Corullon, 100 % mencia.

Then we have Alvaro in La Rioja: Finca La Montesa 2003 Bodegas Palacio Remondo, D.O. Rioja. Aged for 12 months in French and American oaks. An unusual blend of 40% grenache, 45 % tempranillo, 5% mazuelo and 10% graciano it shows a medium to dark ruby coloured with a purple edge , a very elegant aroma: fresh fruit, cacao (well, others tasters dixit), round in mouth with pure and long finish, but it lacks the complexity you always look for in Alvaro Palacio.

I enjoyed however very much the Propiedad 2005, Bodegas Palacio Remondo, D. O. La Rioja. A blend of 60 % grenache and 40 % tempranillo. Aged for 14 months in mostly French oak. Deep ruby-cherry coloured with scents of ripe fruit and hints of toasty oak. On the palate it is a delicious medium to full bodied wine, powerful and moderately tannic. It can be drank now as well as over the next decade.

All the wines were magnum bottled and it is well worth remembering that 2003 was very good in La Rioja, 2005 excellent in la Rioja and 2006 was also excellent in El Bierzo. In any case, I vote for spending more time (and money) in El Bierzo.

Yesterday I went to a wine tasting of Spanish wines in Luxembourg. It was a group of close to 12 persons of different nationalities tasting Spanish wines. What was remarkable for all of us was how different all these wines were. The great majority were made with tempranillo grapes but the different wine making methods and the regions in which the wines were made really translated into diversity. And it was a fascinating diversity, capable of fitting the most disparate tastes. Never did I saw such a diverse set of opinions: one would love a wine that another one would criticize just to see the positions reversed regading the following wine. I understood how much these Spanish wines reflected the diversity of tastes that one can find in the wine world. And this is a good thing.

Let me talk you about my favourite three and how much they reflect the diversity I mentioned. The first was Petalos (Bierzo, 2005), a wine of the new Spain. An emerging wine region and a wine made for the new world. While tasting I mentioned that this would be a wine to please Robert Parker, just to hear the Sommelier tell me that it had indeed obtained 93 points from Parker (what an investment at the low price it sells…). It is powerful but immediate. Rich, opulent but elegant at the same time. The second was Clos de Berenguer (Priorat, 2004). This is the new old Spain. A wine region that has become famous in recent years but whose wines still appeal to the old fashioned Spanish wines. Plenty of tannins but of high quality. Made to last and to impress. It is old Spain in a new bottle. The third was a classic (Baron de Ley, Gran Reserva 1998, Rioja). This is old Spain at its purest and highest form. It’s an aristocratic wine, full of complexity and elegance and yet not afraid to announce its presence. A wine with layers of history to tell. In these three wines I found the Spain of today with all its diversity but also with all this diversity has in common.

The question came out of the blue while enjoying a glass of wine at Barolo (Príncipe de Vergara 211, Madrid, http://www.enotecabarolo.com)

Maria hinted “The Jumilla’s Altos de Luzan”. A 13 € bottle of blended 50% monastrel, 25% cabernet sauvignon and 25% tempranillo. “And we will have some money left for tapas” she added. A purpled coloured wine with a dominant new oak and fruity aroma, overall equilibrium in mouth and persistent tannin nicely integrated. It was really a good start.

“What about Dominio de Tares Cepas Viejas?” suggested Ignacio. I couldn’t agree more. A Bierzo made red wine (100% mencia), 12 € a bottle, medium to dark ruby, powerful fruity aroma, round and mouth filling and a hint of coffee in the finish. And still   enough money left to have a tapa.  A good buy.

“I rather go for Casa Castillo” said Blanca. “Well, things are looking up”, I thought. This estate bottle blend from Jumilla of 90% monastrel and 10% cabernet sauvignon is a dark ruby wine with sweet American oak scented nose, long in mouth. It must be tasted to be believed and for 9 €, real value for your money.

“What would you say to Baltasar Gracian, Grenache, Viñas Viejas (Calatayud)” I ventured to suggest. Dark intense cherry, depth scent with the Grenache thick, full bodied and superbly concentrated, with a straight forward and pleasant finish. For only 4, 5 €, a bargain.

“Not bad, not bad” Blanca answered me back,” but have you heard of Finca La Estacada?” Oh, come on, that was below the belt, a 3, 5 € bottle 100 % tempranillo coming from Cuenca (Vinos de la Tierra de Castilla). Bright cherry, fruity scent, strong and dry tannins, perhaps a bit toughs but with a future. A terrific bargain

“Can you beat it?” Pressed me Blanca again. Well, actually I could. For 2.2 € you can buy the Lavinia cosechero a medium bodied wine, with mild acidity, smooth berry taste. A superb every day wine. An unbeatable bargain. (Lavinia, José Ortega y Gasset 16, Madrid, http://www.lavinia.es)

To wind up my gossiping, it’s up to you to work out the answer to the question.

by guest contributor Fernando Vigón

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