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I have the fortune that some of my friends compete among themselves to be the best hosts in Madrid. They mix wine, fun and friendship in wondrous ways. Some days ago, we were summoned to a dinner in a beautiful home where we drank Alión, the revered wine from Ribera del Duero (the 2015 Magnum bottles had just been put on the market). We started them like an skater carefully steps into a frozen lake, little by little, until she knows the new ice is firm. Twenty minutes later she can do flips, jumps and combinations. As the conversation became lighter and fast paced, each of us was able to predict with equal passion and certainty the results of the upcoming general election in Spain. More importantly, our highly divergent views did not matter, because we were all united in reverence of both Alión and our hosts. No other Ribera mixes elegance, depth and equilibrium in a similar way. María my wife includes Alión in the category of Stratocaster wines, her own heaven for the very best wines:

I have always admired the way Peter Sisseck invented his wine persona. The creator of the super expensive wine Pingus in Ribera del Duero called himself a “lazy winemaker”. From the start he surrounded himself in mistery. His first years of wine making he could not attend demand and people ended up queuing up to buy his small production. Very soon he became a legend. The proof of the pudding in in the eating and in his case the strategy of “storytelling” clearly worked.

After almighty Pingus, Sisseck went on to create Flor de Pingus. Recently he has put on the market “PSI”, for 28 euros, which I have just tried and enjoyed a lot. PSI is not his Armani Jeans version of the Pingus upmarket family, it is a different creature. PSI 2009 turned out to be a fantastic Ribera del Duero wine, young and fresh, direct and cool. We tried it in Luzy Bombón, the Catalan restaurant with the best view of life in Castellana that serves as a natural reserve for the benefit of the Madrid fauna and flora.

Whenever I have doubts about a wine, I ask Maria, my wife to taste it. She never fails to come up with an insightful and original comment. Often I call for her help a few minutes before our guests come to our house, when we are busy with the last details. I beg her to try the wine and only after she has given it a green light I go ahead and serve it.

During the summer I started to note down which wines she really likes and why. I have decided to call them Stratocaster wines. The reason is that Maria is crazy about Mark Knopfler and his Fender Stratocaster, a double-cutaway electric guitar, with an extended top horn for balance while standing. Invented in 1954, it is both a great music instrument and a revered piece of industrial design. The wines that María thinks are great have the wide range of tones of the Stratocaster guitar and usually are also very well built.

Convento de San Francisco was the first Stratocaster wine we tasted this summer. This Ribera was so smooth and powerful that when you tasted it you could almost hear the trebly sound with a high top end and bell-like harmonics of the famous guitar. Next was El Puntido 2004, from the Sierra Cantabria artists, a serious wine that opens up slowly and displays a signature personality, like that of a guitar player who finds in his Strat the right frequencies to be heard above the other 20 band members. Finally, we discovered Montecastro, another fantastic Ribera, with a sultans of swing type of liveliness.

Different Strats wines taste different, but since this summer I have started to listen more carefully to my senses, just like Maria and Mark Knopfler do when they taste or play the guitar.

This summer I have taught my two year son some of the most important words in Spanish. It has been a lot of fun and also a big moment for a proud father. One day, as I was repeating to him “vino tinto” and then “vino blanco”, Santiago added with his perfect logic “y vino azul!” (and blue wine). We all laughed but later I discovered that his little creative mind was offering me a new wondrous concept: “blue wine”, which of course meant the wine I love to drink in the summer, when I alternate time by the pool with time by the sea. So here is my short list of 2009 “blue wines”, with an invitation now that summer is gone to remember and comment which were your blue ones.

I drank at the beginning of summer Pago de Capellanes, a Ribera del Duero that I had neglected before. I found it smooth and intense like a Madrid summer sunset, when you wacht it from the hills that overlook El Pardo. Then in Majorca I tried Gago 2006, a strong wine from Toro that you can almost chew. It went very well not only with pork, but with the night smells of the village of Deia, bouganvilles and sea breeze. Last but not least, and also while in Majorca I had 12 volts, a new wine from the island. In spite of its electrifying name, 12 volts is full of serenity. It had a great blackberry touch that threw me back to my childhood, when we spend summer afternoons picking up these fruits in the small mountain next to of our summer house in Valldemosa, in order to make home-made blue jam.

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

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 Pablo Echenique

To be honest, not very long ago when I heard anyone saying that a wine was “elegant” I could not help laughing. To me, such an adjective had always made me think about Coco Chanel, Armani, the London shirt-makers, Sinatra and the Prince of Wales and, of course, about my dad, but never about wine.

Tinto Arzuaga changed my mind. I first had it as the perfect companion to a “lechazo” (roasted baby lamb) in Lerma’s relatively new Ojeda restaurant (the Burgos temple now has a branch in the ducal town).

Arzuaga is the short name for the wines created by “Bodegas Arzuaga-Navarro”, owned by Florentino Arzuaga that is, in fact, the father of Spanish fashion star designer Amaya Arzuaga. According to their web site, their cellar is quite young (as young as born in the early nineties). This is hard to believe, given the great quality of its wines.

Tinto Arzuaga crianza 2003 (I just can imagine what the “reserva” and the “gran reserva” have to offer) has a beautiful dark cherry colour. Wild berries are definitely there; also a pleasant smoked wood remembrance. It is definitely elegant. When you drink it, I would not say like my friend José Areilza that “one feels like driving an old Jaguar in a cold winter morning through the hills of Álava”; but perhaps it is like “feeling a silk curtain going down your throat” or even like “listening to the prelude of “Tristan und Isolde” coming out of an old and cherished gramophone”.

Now, every time that I pass by Amaya’s trendy fashion store in Madrid, I immediately can smell those berries and I think about the Duero, a river that crosses old Castille and dies in the north of Portugal, that is becoming, more than ever, a great reference for wine lovers.

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 »

I have recently tried three magnificent wines and by coincidence they all had Roman sounding names: Malleolus, Summa Varietalis and Tagonius. It was a brave act, because in my very one-sided perspective, I don’t like the Spanish trend of giving Latin names to wine: Romani ite domum!

I admit that a Latin name has a universal ring to it and that Romans loved wine from all of the Iberian peninsula -we don´t know how good it was but they certainly enjoyed it a lot. And yet this return to Latin inevitably reminds me of the surreal names in Asterix comics or in a Monthy Pyton movie. I cannot help smiling when I see some of the new wine names. (“All right, but apart from sanitation, medicine, education, wine, public order, irrigation, roads, the fresh-water system and public health, what have the Romans ever done for us?)

In any case, “in vino veritas”: I would drink again any of these three wines, even if they had Skimo-sounding names! Although each of them deserves careful individual attention, let me summarize in this post how much I enjoyed them.

Malleolus is the top wine of Emilio Moro´s vineyards in Ribera del Duero. It is a light, smooth and balanced wine, so elegant that it went well even with the famous dish of seafood and “acelgas” (bot chard?) that attracts me to La Bodeguilla restaurant in La Coruña. In a shop you can find it for 30 euros, a price well justified.

Summa Varietalis is the creature of Xandra Falcó, daughter of the Marqués de Griñón, the visionary winemaker. Like her father, she is an innovator and shares a similar passion for refined, interesting, out of the box wines. Summa belongs to the Dominio de Valdepusa school in Toledo, but it stands out in this fantastic microcosmos. It is a wine that combines beautifully the three grapes that have grown so well in South Castilla- cabernet sauvignon, shyraz and petit verdot- and surprises you with many nuanced flavors while you drink it. We had a bottle from 2003 it at a recent dinner while discussing the fate and future of World Bank President Paul Wolfowitz. The wine helped us become mellow, joyful and even merciful. At around 20 euros, it is still a great buy.

Tagonius is a top Madrid red, clearly connected with the wine revolution of La Mancha. It is a strong, full bodied wine, very direct and exhuberant. It sells at 10 euros per bottle. I very much admire the way this tempranillo-based wine combines fantastic fruit and wooden flavours.

This week I tried for the first time Valsardo Reserva Superior 1999. It made a fantastic impression on me and had no secondary effects. Let me explain this. Wine is an intoxicant, created to give lots of pleasure, but its ingestion can cause (depending on the person drinking and the amount) some negative consequences.

Valsardo is made in such a way that you can enjoy fully an outstanding Ribera del Duero, drink quite a bit and feel great inmediatly afterwards. This is a “healing wine”, I decided, as Eduardo and Alfonso López de la Osa, introduced me to it at Iroco restaurant, in Madrid. My friends are respectively husband and son of Paloma Escribano, owner and creator of Valsardo. The vineyard is located in Peñafiel, Valladolid, underneath the famous castle. Paloma´s family has been making wine in the region probably since Roman times. She decided to renew the tradition by going both back to the past and way forward into the future. She has obtained highly “natural” wines, with almost zero sulphites and without a high alcohol content (alcohol is the other way to conserve wine), but at the same time she has invested a lot on technology, analysis, laboratory work and quality of the process.

Valsardo wines can still be difficult to find in Spanish wine shops, so the best option is their website, A few hours after you drink it, my bet is that you will be singing along with Van Morrison:

Here I am again
Back on the corner again
Back where I belong
Where I’ve always been
Everything the same
It don’t ever change
I’m back on the corner again
In the healing game