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by Guest Editor Pablo Echenique

“Mamma, quel vino è generoso!”. Such are the words, highlighted by a worrying tremolo of violins, that begin Turiddu’s pathetic farewell to his mother before he is assassinated in one of the most breathtaking finales in the history of opera. Like in Mascagni’s Cavalleria Rusticana, wine has a constant presence in the art of musical theatre. “Je suis le vin!” cry the spirits that surround Hoffmann, that charming and romantic boozer, in one of his dreams of love in Offenbach’s Les Contes d’Hoffman. Not to speak of the legendary toast (Libbiamo!) in the opening party in Verdi’s La Traviata. A bottle of “vin di Spagna” is opened by the evil Scarpia in his Roman dinner with Floria Tosca. Rioja’s Viña Tondonia, a classic, would have been a perfect companion for such a solemn event.

I am sure that Wagner must have drunk many bottles of Riesling white wine when he wrote the music for such a painful love story as the one in Tristan und Isolde, in my opinion, the finest and most beautiful piece of music ever created. Moreover, “Oremus”, Vega Sicilia’s Tokaj wine, the Hungarian capriccio of the best Spanish cellar, could have brought relief to the old German maestro in his nights of despair and insomnia.

Wine and music are two passions often combined by bon vivants. I’m thinking in particular of a couple or three good friends of mine. The other night, one of them invited me to Madrid’s Teatro Real to see the spectacular production of Giordano’s Andrea Chenier. After the show we had dinner in a fine new Italian restaurant near the theatre. Certainly, the best pizza in town. We ordered a Sicilian Nero d’Avola. Not bad. Still, I kept thinking about those surprising new wines called “Habla” (a weird name for a wine) number 1, 2 and 3. Produced in the region of Extremadura, they are another confirmation of the fact that, actually, there is life beyond Rioja and Ribera del Duero. Cool design of the bottles and a reminiscence of the legendary “Nº 5” to name the jewel of the crown (in the case of Chanel’s legendary Eau de Parfum). Habla 1 is produced with Cavernet Sauvignon grapes; Habla 2 comes from Tempranillo, whereas number 3 (my favourite) is a Syrah wine. Do yourself a favour and try them. This morning I “youtubed” Plácido’s incredible 1981 performance of “Come un bel di di maggio” (from Andrea Chenier). I definitely owe Placido a good bottle of “Habla”.

by Guest Editor Pablo Echenique

Every month of January I like to hop on my car and get away for a couple of days, by myself, to any place where nobody knows me and, ideally, where there is no network for cell phones, Blackberrys and “other irritating gadgets” (according to a brilliant sign I once read in a small and quiet London hotel, asking clients to turn off such gadgets).

Last January I had the chance of visiting a new and cool Spanish architecture landmark, the new Marqués de Riscal cellars in Elciego (Alava’s Rioja), designed by the eccentric Frank O. Gehry clearly following Bilbao Guggenheim Museum’s traces. I was not lucky enough to go for a swim in the “vinotherapie” spa (the place also includes a hotel), but I experienced a cool sensation when I first saw those impossible purplish titanium structures right in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by small hills and wine stocks.

This cellar is a good example of a new trend followed by some wine makers. Just like every city in Spain seems to be willing to have its flashing architecture symbol no matter its cost and final use, certain wine producers (and not just new labels such as Cepa 21 in Ribera del Duero) are spending fortunes in hiring superstars to design impressive buildings. Read the rest of this entry »

by Guest Contributor Pablo Echenique

At home, the ritual is repeated year after year when getting everything set for New Year’s eve celebration dinner. I like to accompany my father down to the cellar to choose the wine. Considering that my mother is a true gourmet when she finds the time and the occasion to cook, we must be very careful in our selection.

A professional optimist like myself always believes that “the best is yet to come”. This is why we chose Vega Sicilia’s “Tinto Valbuena” to start the feared year 9th of our century. In times of crisis the best is to grow strong and enjoy life.

Valbuena is the second label of the aforementioned legendary cellar (named after, Valbuena de Duero, Valladolid, home of Spain’s and, arguably the world’s best wines).

Everything has been written and said about the supreme quality of the wines produced at Vega Sicilia. Apparently, somebody asked once the British Prime Minister, Sir Winston S. Churchill which had been the best wine he had tasted in his life. “A superb Italian wine called Vega Sicilia”, he replied. The anecdote (“si non è vera è ben trovata”) perfectly illustrates a fact: the Italians sell their wines and other pleasures much better than we Spaniards do.

Valbuena is just a gift of God. The colour, the taste, the bottle, everything. Serving the wines of Vega Sicilia is like preparing the wine for Mass on Sundays! A liturgy of its own.

Well, the year has been emotionally intense. Such is life, nobody said it was easy… The important thing is that we had a great start. We hope that many Valbuenas will be on the way throughout this year. I like number 9. We shall never surrender, Sir Winston Churchill!

by Guest Contributor Fernando Vigón

It would be hardly an exaggeration to say that it is sheer madness to try to set rules for food and wine pairing. But after an excellent dinner and the stillness of this Saturday night, let me have a go at it.

Unlike pairing wine and friends- the one I enjoy the most and perform the best- food and wine pairing is a highly subjective, controversial, time consuming and inexact process. But on the other hand, it is an exciting, fascinating, challenging task and like wines, is lively, unpredictable and rewarding.

Even though there’s considerable room for manoeuvre and expression of your own personality, let me state my set of rules when choosing wines to match a dinner:

By way of introduction “wine shouldn’t overpower food and neither should the other way around”. Decide which one is top and then act accordingly. Sophisticated wines, such as Calvario, Finca Allende, D.O. Rioja, goes hand in hand with unsophisticated but powerful dishes such as cocido madrileño or the outstanding pote aranes.

Conventional wisdom says that regional proximity and geographic location is a pass word for matching. Regional foods and wines, having developed together over time, should offer natural affinity for each other. e.g. fabada and sidra. Huge mistake, pair fabada ALWAYS with Grenache –not necessarily Priorat-. For instance, Baltasar Gracian Cepas Viejas, D.O. Calatayud, or Alto Moncayo, D.O. Campo de Borja, are terrific choices. What is more and still in Asturias, taste Cabrales cheese with a port, perhaps the luxurious Burmester Vintage 1997 or the humble Royal Oporto 1999 –only 30 €- a simple but delicious pairing. The English knew what they were doing.

It is beyond all doubt that “Red Wine with Red Meat, White Wine with White Meat” is a better rule that the old one about “red whine & meat” and “white one & fish”. Read the rest of this entry »

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.

by Guest Contributor Pablo Echenique

Winter is certainly a good season to recall past summers and to make plans for the next one. I believe that happy memories play a very important role in contributing to build what I would call the “mood of happiness”. One of the good memories that always comes to my mind when I think about summer holidays is the gorgeous wine aperitifs that me and my family (in the broadest sense of the word) share in the garden of what it used to be our grandparents summer house in the south of Galicia, facing the Cíes islands, a place of breathtaking beauty that, in my opinion, offers the best sunsets that can be seen on Earth.

Summers in northern Spain are quite different from the Spanish cliché of sun and sangria. Still, we in the rias baixas (the southern coast of Galicia) are lucky enough to enjoy sunny days in which we spend mornings in the beach and dedicate the afternoon to other activities. The routine remains unchanged throughout the month of August. At around three o’clock p.m. we all gather around Aunt Margot’s porch table (now that grandparents have unfortunately passed away and the place includes four summer homes) and, still wet from our sea swims, enjoy different Spanish white wines, always served very cold, together with some Galician gastronomy pleasures.

As we travel from Madrid, we always stop by at Palacio de Bornos, a cellar belonging to the Rueda region (Old Castille), and buy plenty of bottles of its renown “Verdejo Vendimia Seleccionada”. Borno’s verdejo, an affordable wine that sometimes looks yellow-coloured and sometimes seems green (perhaps after having three or four glasses), is obtained from vineyards that are over 80 years old. Verdejo is the name of an original grape from Rueda. This wine is just the perfect companion to our long and fruitful family discussions about all the good things and the bad things in life. Also a necessary step before the after lunch outdoors siesta. There is no doubt that, if the wine aperitif is followed by a glass or two of Arzuaga (one of my favourite red wines, from Ribera del Duero, about which I promise to post a comment very soon), then the siesta is much more enjoyable. Sometimes I am even able to hear in my dreams the prodigious Galician bagpipes played by Carlos Núñez, the virtuoso Celtic musician that was born and lives in Vigo.

by Guest Contributor Fernando Vigón

I took the advantage of a recent long week-end in Huesca to carry out a comprehensive tasting of one most of the exciting vineyards in the Spanish wine landscape, Enate.

Born in 1991 under Nozaleda’s brother’s businesslike mindset Enate is today the spearhead of Somontano, ten years ago an unknown local area in northern Aragon (Huesca) and now one of the coolest D.O. in Spain. Its blending largely based on French grapes, cabernet, merlot, chardonnay…… has made quite a name for itself. Its image carefully crafted, don’t dare to miss the labels, high workmanship and a product range with the right balance between top and value-for- money wines turned the emerging superstar vineyard into an impressive success.

I am very keen on the ENATE CABERNET SAUVIGNON-MERLOT, 6 €, Cabernet Sauvignon 50%, Merlot 50% and not only due to its price. Purple cherry, an aroma of ripe dark fruits, blackcurrant, blackberry, maybe with a hint of vanilla and green herbs. Powerful and flavoursome in mouth. Firm and tannic finish. A real bargain.

In the same price bracket you must not fail to try the ENATE CRIANZA, 9 €, Tempranillo 70%, Cabernet Sauvignon 30%. Matured for nine months in oak and 18 months in bottle. It is made in international style, with sweet black currant, and berry fruit with toasty oak? Ripe, dense, medium to full bodied. It will drink well for over 5 to 7 years.

I am not going to elaborate on the ENATE MERLOT-MERLOT, 21€, 100% Merlot. To my mind the best merlot in Spain nowadays, I wrote about it in this blog last spring.

I have a soft spot for Enate’s flagship the RESERVA ESPECIAL 96, 65 € -yes, in spite of the price- , a blending of Cabernet Sauvignon 55%, Merlot 45%. Matured for 18 months in French oak barrels and 24 months in bottle before released for sale. A classic, it shows a dark ruby colour and sweet oaky scents mingled with jammy raspberry, perhaps a touch of coffee and floral scent (according to my wife). Dense, superbly concentrated, with elegant tannins and nicely integrated wood. A knock out.

How do you top that?

Read the rest of this entry »

I received so many and so sharp criticism on my first contribution to “Iberians on wine” (high prices, low quality, lousy wines) that this time I decided to pay a visit to my regular suppliers -Siguero, Barolo, Lavinia- and at the same time do the wine shopping for my summer holydays in Asturias. I don’t know yet what I enjoyed the most: the time I spent choosing the wines -there were quite a few people wine-hunting, we chatted and street talked quite a bit – or tasting the wines later in Asturias.

To my mind the choice was a knock out. I should start telling you about Etim Selección Syrah D. O. Montsant 2002 – 100% Syrah (15,5 €). It is a wine of a saturated purple colour, spectacularly crammed with fruit, full bodied, roundness and richness in mouth, moderates tannin with a future, perhaps a hint of tobacco. Top notch. (For the record: 5 to 8 people on average took part with me on the wine-tasting, and these notes are a summary of different opinions, it goes without saying that I never find tobacco, leather, chocolate and all that stuff in wine. )

Let us then go to Manto Negro 2003 Casa Padrina, Benissalem, Majorca, a superb blend of Manto Negro, Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot (8,2 €). Medium deep ruby, light nose with an aroma of spicy oak. Medium to full bodied, Flavorful in mouth, blackberry and blueberry fruitiness, smoky oak in the background? In two or three years it will be superb.

I also enjoyed Arrayan Syrah 2002 T, D.O. Mentrida- 100% Syrah. Read the rest of this entry »

What grape do you like best?

Who hasn’t being asked this question?

More than once, isn’t it?

Personally, I think that the more wine I taste, the more I enjoy changing grapes, wines, yes even white ones, D.O.C., countries…… but on second thoughts, I cannot help thinking I have a marked preference for Merlot.
Smooth and mellow wine Merlot is perhaps the most accessible red wine for newcomers in the world of wine. Very good red-wine grape, a key player in the Bordeaux blend, more recently grown and produced as a varietal by itself, especially in California, Spain, Australia, Chile, Argentina, Italy….. you name it.

Most of the best Spanish merlot are medium bodied, with nice silky texture, black-cherry and herbal flavours are typical, great mouth feeling, fruity upfront: raspberry, currants and other red fruit. Long finish.

Merlot can be powerfully tannic and will benefit from bottle age. It is mainly grown in Cataluña, Somontano, but you can also find it in Alicante, Murcia, and yes even in Ribera de Duero.

Well, what about my favourite ones:

To start with we have Enate Merlot-Merlot (100% Merlot). Somontano. The most structured of the four merlots I tasted. It is a medium to full bodied wine with notes of lingering finish. Black and purple colour. Terrific fruit intensity. Excellent taste of dark fruits, herbal flavours and a hint of smoked wood. Full and savoury in mouth. Long velvety finish. It is fabulous with a mushroom risotto or a roast beef. Aftertaste shows an explosion of the fruits. Honestly and sincerely the Spanish Merlot I enjoyed most. Read the rest of this entry »

by Guest Contributor Pablo Echenique

“El que resiste, gana”. Such was the motto that the Spanish literature Nobel Prize winner, the late Camilo José Cela chose as ex libris to stamp in all his books. He who resists, shall win, as it would be said in English. I have borrowed it as a particular motto for myself. Perhaps because of my day-to-day work in a quite demanding Madrid law firm. The other Friday, after a long and busy week, I got out of the office and decided that I deserved to drink a good bottle of wine. I headed to a quite unknown street in Madrid that is home to three first class stores that sell three things any man adores, wine, cigars and classic films of all times, calle Hernani.

When I entered the wine shop, I could notice that Camilín, the owner (I suppose that he has nothing to do with Mr. Cela), stared at me probably thinking that I really needed a break. After a few minutes of conversation I asked him about the famous “Parker List” and the Spanish wines included in such a list. He quickly named the five wines awarded with 100 points, as if he was reciting the “Our Father”. Of all five, a name called my attention “Termanthia”, a wine from Toro (a region in the old Castille, province of Zamora). I decided to save the €100 for some romantic occasion next summer but he introduced me to Termanthia’s younger brother “Numanthia”. The price of the bottle, € 29, was more friendly for a budget wine drinker like me, so I did not hesitate to buy it. Read the rest of this entry »