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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.

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.

I have found near my office a cheese shop that I particularly like, called Queseria Cultivo, http://www.queseriacultivo.com. They only sell cheeses made by artisans from all parts of Spain, each one with a story and a human face. This idea of a creating network of fromageres, proud of their names and of what they do, and no longer part of a production chain, got me thinking about some of the last wines I have encountered.

We have tried recently Lagar do Cervera 2014 with friends. We celebrated its green and yellow colors and enjoyed it greatly with seafood and conversation. María loved it, also because she knew and admired the original owners of this albariño wine from the Rosal terroir, her preferred “coin perdu” of Galician wineries.

A friend brought me that same day a bottle of De Raiz 2013, a new ecological red wine from Vejer de la Frontera, Cadiz, made by Peter Maurer in association with his father and other vignerons. De Raiz combines syrah, merlot and petit verdot grapes and is wonderfully easy to drink, a young creature that has already learnt to turn its own complexity into elegance.

I also got a very special bottle from another very good friend who came to our next dinner party, Señorio de Sarria, Reserva especial 2010, a serious wine from Puente la Reina (right in the Camino de Santiago, near Pamplona). It is one of the best cabernet sauvignon one can find in Spain, so well made it has got me interested again in wine from Navarre.

Two weeks ago I went for dinner to Meating, the restaurant where Sonia Vendrel acts as sommelier. She always offers great wine recommendations, while she pretends she knows not so much as her clients. That day she was not there, but knowing we were coming she had left for us a fantastic wine, Forlong Assemblage 2013, made with merlot, syrah and tintilla de Rota grapes. Forlong is another ecological red wine from Cadiz, created  by Rocío Áspera y Alejandro Narváez not far away from Puerto de Santa María and Jérez. They are two very young local entrepreneurs who already know a lot about wines and storytelling -a great cow with mustache and tie stands out in the well designed blue label.

Lisbon is the perfect city to start a new year. For a few days we have nested by the estuary of the Tagus River, next to the Port of Bom Sucesso. We have watched the sun rise and set, the sail boats come and go and communed with the infinity of the ocean. We also saw very good friends, took long walks, even did a bit of sailing. At the Belcanto restaurant we had an outstanding experience and became enchanted with the art of Jose Avillez, chef and entrepreneur, http://www.joseavillez.pt/en. Our host, Domingos Cruz, gave us two Pessoa books he has recently edited (check our his great literary and philanthropic initiative in http://www.tellastory.pt). In one of them, a collection of poems entitled “No matter what we dream”, I found the best dedication for the New Year:

We pass and dream. Earth smiles. Virtue is rare.
Age, duty, gods weigh on our conscious bliss.
Hope for the best and for the worst prepare.
The sum of purposed wisdom speaks in this.

The best wine we tried in our Lisbon trip was Valado Reserva, a living proof that Earth smiles, http://www.quintadovallado.com/vinhos/en/. Some years ago my co-editor Miguel wrote a magnificent comment in this blog of what he thought of this “Super-Douro”. His tale of seduction and velvet applies still today. With the same enthusiasm, I can add nothing else:

“We started with the Vallado Reserva 2003. This is to start almost in heaven. Vallado wines keep having the greatest ratings you can imagine but they still don’t have that much buzz around them. The reason? Well, is it perhaps because they are not that expensive?… I sure hope they continue that way. The 2003 was powerful but extremely elegant. It came dressed in velvet and it was the first time I fell in love that night.” (iberians.wordpress.com/2007/03/13/12/)

Back in Madrid, we have celebrated this weekend María’s birthday (“Twenty-five? what a ridiculous age to be. Nobody is twenty-five any more…”) with two wines we particularly like, Ramón Bilbao edición limitada 2011 and Albariño de Fefiñanes III año.

In the case of Ramón Bilbao, I revere the transformation that has taken place in this Rioja winery. For 11 euros, this “special edition” crianza is an incredible surprise, like some streets in Lisbon that open to the sea. Today, a Sunday without watches, we have tried Fefiñanes III año (meaning “aged for three years”), a very different Albariño wine that our friend Juan Figueroa makes and recently sent us. From the design of the bottle to the colour, bouquet and taste of the wine, this golden treasure deserves to be called a “Super-Rias Baixas”. Like a good conversation in a Galician home, the wine suggests, makes detours and asks questions that do not really need answers. It tells many different stories and embraces the passage of time with fantastic grace.
(www.fefinanes.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.

One of the things I admire about Peter Sisseck, the creator of Pingus, is his self-definition as “a lazy wine-maker”. A lot of us rush trough life, doing many things and doing them fast, too infuenced by ideas of overproduction and so called efficiency. Hence we miss a lot of very good things related to contemplation, siesta and walking on the slow lane. Not this summer and not when it comes to my writing about wine! I am unshamed to have been these past weeks a lazy wine-blogger. I have forgotten to look at the watch. Days have been long and nights have become part of my freedom. Nevertheless, I have found very good wines to comment in the last couple of months and finally here is my somewhat lazy recollection of them.

I begun my summer in Washington DC. The day I arrived my friend Franz Drees invited me to dinner in his house. I was walking in M Street, Georgetown when I got his call and I went into a local wine shop, Potomac wines and spirits, looking for a Spanish wine to bring to the party. I was happy to find a very broad selection of new and old Spanish wines, much better than during my years in Boston, in the early nineties, when the Spanish wine section consisted of two second rate Riojas and some not very moving “Mediterranean” wines. I decided to get two bottles of Viña Izadi, a beautiful and smooth young Rioja that has never let me down, as elegant as, well, as my favorite Washington writer, Christopher Buckley. Read the rest of this entry »

Yesterday the editors of Iberians on wine had dinner at the fantastic restaurant Pablo Gallego, in La Coruña, Galicia. Pablo is a star among the new generation of daring Galician chefs and firmly believes in enhancing local fare with cosmopolitan creativity.

We solved the usual what to drink dilemma white or red by drinking… both. Miguel Álvaro de Campos, founding editor of Iberians on wine, ordered the high end Albariño Terras Gauda 2005 to go with the seafood salad and clams with mushrooms in green sauce (heaven, I am in heaven…).

I then asked for a Remelluri reserva 2001, a modernized Rioja that made me feel like I was carefully driving an old Jaguar through the hilly roads of Alava in a shiny winter morning.

www.terrasgauda.com

www.remelluri.com

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