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I was born on a summer night, fifty years ago. By coincidence, a few days before celebrating my birthday, I tried Marques de Griñon Vendimia Noctura 2012. This is a white wine that is made with grapes harvested at night. Following the wisdom of the French enologue Émile Peynaud, the Griñón family chooses the best possible moment to start the wine making process, when the grapes are in great physical condition and the night temperature is soothing. Well, you can tell that it is a wine born to be enjoyed, a Rueda Verdejo with more personality and charm that the usual ones. It is not only storytelling -I was born on a summer night…

I had many other moments of celebration around my 50th birthday. At a wonderful dinner in the magical coast of Deia, Majorca, some friends introduced us to Macán Clásico 2011, a super red from Rioja, so smooth that I first thought it was a Ribera. Back in Galicia, we drank Obalo crianza, a fantastic discovery of an every day Rioja (8 euros), thanks to the recommendation of El Ensanche, a restaurant and wine place in La Coruña well worth visiting.

To understand what it means to turn 50, I re-read a fantastic essay written by my friend Javier Gomá: “when you have already encounter the bitterness of life but you know very well how to direct your energies”. His advice is to re-discover forms of idealism, to keep alive enthusiasm for the good things ahead and to avoid becoming blasé or cynical about everything. Wine tasting and writing are clearly among the activities that I intend to pursue further in that spirit of healthy naivety.

We have been lucky this year: rays of sun and glorious weather have blessed so far our lunches and dinners in Monterroso and La Coruña, two of our favorite spots in the island of Galicia.

In mid-June we gathered friends to enjoy a day together in the countryside. Some of them had ben our hosts in Egypt. To reconnect with our Nile trips we took a walk along the ultra-cool first milles of the Ulla river. Then we went back to María’s family house in Monterroso and tried D-12 Lan 2012, recently invented by the Lan vignerons of Fuenmayor in La Rioja,www.bodegaslan.com. “D-12” is the name of their favorite tank or crate where they nurse this marvelous creature, incredibly balanced, with a very interesting and long finish. For 12 euros, it is hard to find a better new-new Rioja.

In early July I came back with more friends to the island, this time to La Coruña. We drank Casal de Armán 2015, a white Ribeiro, at the famous family-owned Lois tavern, siting outside on a cool night. I love the revolution that is taking place in this part of Orense, mixing Treixadura grapes with Godello and Albariño ones. Casal de Armán is a very full, intense, rich white wine that connects you with the best dreams of summer. It sells for 11 euros.

At the beginning of August I bought a wine called “Rayos Uva” (UV rays) just because I liked the hip bottle design and thought it was a very appropiate name for a midsummer wine. I did not realize I was picking a true Stratocaster wine, according to María’s appreciation (see “Stratocaster wines”, https://iberians.wordpress.com/2010/09/24/stratocaster-wines/).

Rayos Uva 2015 comes from Rioja, but it is really a garage wine, 50% tempranillo grapes and 50% graciano grapes, full of personality, wonderful to drink and affordable (11 euros). It has been invented by Olivier Riviere, who has moved from Bourdeaux to develop wines in the regions of Navarre, Arlanza (Burgos) and Rioja. He happily preaches “the new world in the old world”. We toasted with his UV rays to family and to more summer days like these. Just like Mark Twain’s beseech, “Warm summer sun / Shine kindly here.”

I have been away from this blog a bit too long, but for a very good reason: I was busy preparing the book “Iberians on wine”, that contains a selection of the blog in the last ten years.

For those readers who want to have it all, access to this blog AND the book, you can now order it here: http://www.blurb.es/b/6820630-iberians-on-wine

I have to say the book looks and reads great thanks to the cover illustration by artist Diego Mora-Figueroa and the devoted editing of María Bárcena, Javier Varela, Marta Enrile and John Hamilton.

Yesterday some good friends came to Museo ABC to drink a glass of wine (thank you Luis Valentín, of Valenciso for your wondrous red and white!) and to listen to wine mavericks Gonzalo Verdera and Benjamin Lana talk about some of the themes of the book.

They both stressed the importance of time in wine-making and wine drinking. Benjamin even quoted a verse from my favorite poet, T.S. Eliot, “only through time time is conquered” (Burnt Norton, Four Quartets). Well, two wines I have recently tasted come to my mind as very good examples of patient and loving invention of new wines.

The first one is Finca Valdepoleo, a red from Pujanza, in Rioja, a winery that has done very well since it was started in 1998. After the success of Pujanza and Pujanza Norte, it made a lot of sense to step back and think of all the lessons learnt. Among other new-new Pujanza wines, Valdepoleo was created, using the name of the estate where the grapes comes from. It is very refined, fruity and subtle, and sells at a great price, 20 euros. We were lucky to drink it at a dinner party at home without looking at our watches or i-phones.

The second wine is Lagar do Merens, a white from Ribeiro of limited production, priced at 15 euros. It caught me by surprise while having a long dinner with Benjamin and Gonzalo at Alabaster, the great Galician restaurant in Madrid. Lagar do Merens comes from Castrelo do Miño in Orense. The vigneron, Jose Merens, has recuperated a run down winery to connect the old and the new. Lagar de Merens stands out as a wine with a strong personality, fun to drink and with a very long finish. When you try it, make sure you live up to Eliot’s urging, “only in time can the moment in the rose-garden (…) be remembered”.

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)

Summer brings more time to find new wines and enjoy them. Before this one is officially over, let me share with you how wonderful it was to taste this year’s Valenciso Rosado. This rosé is a very short production that the Valenciso mavericks usually present around May. It has the best dark pink colour I have ever seen in a wine and it reminds you of fruit for desert in a picnic when you were a child (www.valenciso.com)

I was also very happy to drink Dinastia Vivanco, a 2010 crianza (8 euros), with my father during our days in Valldemossa, Majorca. My father is very exigent with wines -much less with his sons- and made a nod of appreciation when I brought this Rioja to the table, set out in the garden, next to lemon trees. Back in Galicia, I took with me to María’s family house in Monterroso, Lugo, a case of Tobía crianza 2010 (around 12 euros per bottle). This is an amazing Rioja, as subtle and unstoppable as a conversation between Galician natives about how to get from one place to another. Tobía resists well the comparison with this never ending exchange and can be drunk with the same pleasure of those who seek or imagine new paths and different routes.

Paco Garcia is not a typical Rioja wine. It is the standard bearer of a new generation that has arrived full of passion and imagination. The project is directed by the very young couple Juan Bautista García and Ana Fernández, and pays tribute to two “Pacos García” in the family, Juan Bautista’s father and a lost brother. Since 2008, this wine stands out as as an attractive experiment to lure the young who no longer drink wine back into Western civilization. I tried first Number 6, a wine that does not need profound thoughts to be truly enjoyed, at an incredible price of 5 euros per bottle. Today we drank the Crianza, around 12 euros, an exceptional work of art, seductive and more in touch with its own feelings.

Fruit, fun, friendship, love, excess, folly, all of these concepts want to be expressed by Paco Garcia. Do not be deterred by the somewhat strange X ray hand print in the label (a tribute to Paco father). This wine is a must and in spite of the party noises it wants to create, is faithful to the endless possibilities of roots. Paco Garcia, from the humble village of Murillo del Rio Leza, southwest of Logroño, is probably the best combination I have found lately of a garage experiment and serious determination to exalt the terroir.

http://www.bodegaspacogarcia.com

Abel Mendoza is one of the most innovative and dedicated vignerons in Rioja. He works with his wife in the village of San Vicente de la Sonsierra, already a legendary place for new-new things in the blessed region. They are true artisans of taste. I have tried three of their wines thanks to the recommendation of my friend Benjamin Lana, who prefers to remain anonymous.

I started with their youngest one, called Jarrarte Joven (5 euros), a 2011 wine which turned upside down my usually low expectations on carbonic maceration. It was like a glimpse of the summer, full of optimism and encompassing very different sentiments. A morning walk on the beach.

The second one, Jarrarte Crianza 2008 (circa 16 euros), is an outstanding wine at an incredible price, more like hiking with your best friends on a mountain all day long while picking strawberries.

Finally, I tried their top wine, called Abel Mendoza Selección Personal 2009 (33 euros). It is a perfect wine, delicate, profound, engaging, a wine to start a long conversation at the end of a day, a fireside chat that could go on forever.

Three splendid wines in one haiku:

sweet strawberry
laughing, dancing in my mouth
come soon summer season

I have tried recently three wines that share two common traits: greatness, combined with a bad name. How come wine makers (or vignerons, if you prefer) sometimes choose names without thinking twice about how well they will sound and what will they evoke? Our words are our worlds, as Philip Allot wrote, or in a close to home version, we live in the words we use, Octavio Paz dixit.

Here are the three wonderful wines that caught my attention in spite of their names.

The first one is Predicador (“Preacher”, translated into English), a fantastic new Rioja, around 18 euros, so well made that even the ugly label with a hat from a cowboy B-movie should not deter you from triying it.

The second one is El Regajal (around 15 euros), from the Madrid region, a successful experiment, made out of four different grapes (tempranillo, cabernet, shyra and merlot, from a beautiful Aranjuez vineyard that is also a butterfly natural reserve. In this case the label improves the harsh sounding name of “regajal”: with an expresionist drawing of a butterfly, inspired long ago by Diego Mora-Figueroa, artist and friend.

The third wine is Eolo, from Navarre, a modest wine (around 4 euros, can you beat that?) that in spite of this silly name (Eolo is the god of wind, a tacky name with no connection to the wine) is worth trying, a very good coupage of Cabernet, Garnache, Merlot, Tempranillo and Merlot.

Some of you have suggested I write a follow up on my last post “Pairing wines and books”, this time on pairing wine and poetry. Others have asked me for recommendations of wines to celebrate St. Valentine’s Day. I am learning not to ignore a la Mubarak the wishes of my constituency, so here are some musings about both topics.

Luckily, I have come across three wines lately that you could serve to enjoy dinner aux chandeliers with a loved one. Each of them is so attractive that can be described through the work of my favorite poets.

The first one is Viña Ardanza reserva 2001, a classic Rioja that I had not drank in ages and that in 20011 has the most beautiful red color that can be imagined. It is so delicate that it reminded me of William Blake’s famous poem, “Love’s secret”, where he describes why love cannot, should not, be communicated, “Never seek to tell thy love / Love that never told can be/ For the gentle wind does move/ Silently, invisibly”.

The second wine is Jorge Ordoñez’s Volver 2008, from Castilla la Mancha, young and impetuous, like the passions full of demands and despair that John Hegley describes in his poems. In spite of its Almodovar name, Volver is a wine worth trying, that seduces you from the very first moment you taste it: “You stepped into the café / then you sat next to me/ I’d just ordered breakfast/ and you were my cup of tea (…) You said you painted portraits/ and you’d like a go at mine/ you said come up to my studio/ and be my turpentine”.

The third wine is Chivite Merlot Ecológico 2007, a new wine from this well-established winery in Navarre, made according to high ecological standards. Merlot is one of the grapes that always reminds me of why I love wine. Chivite has created a wine out of this world, delicate, pure, and worthwhile. It is one of those wines that you can remember with the verse “one hour was sunlit”, from Ezra Pound’s poem “Erat Hora”:

“Thank you, whatever comes”. And then she turned
And, as the ray of sun on hanging flowers
Went swiftly from me. Nay, whatever comes
One hour was sunlit and the most high gods
May not make boast of any better thing
Than to have watched that hour as it passed.

Writing this wine blog is becoming an experience full of pleasant surprises. Among them is being literally showered with presents from friends, mostly in the form of new wines you absolutely have to try. Of the countless gifts received these past weeks of holidays I want to single out three wines, that surprisingly went very well with the books I was reading at the time I drank them. May be pairing wine and books should be the new-new thing.

The three wines came from generous friends who prefer to remain anonymous. They are the kind of people who always live up to the WInston Churchill’s standard about giving, “we make a life by what we give”.

The first one was Morlanda vi de Guarda 2005, a wine from Priorat that seduced me like a good novel. I was actually reading those days with enormous pleasure Louis Auchincloss’ “The education of Oscar Fairfax” (another gift from a friend!) and I found that a similar complexity and sophistication was present in the wine and in the fantastic description of the New York ruling class in the XX century.

The second wine came from a modest and little know winery in Villabuena de Álava, Hermanos Frias del Val, who makes an original Rioja with personality without straying from tradition. It remind me of another great book I had just received, “Madrid en 20 barras” (Madrid in 20 tapas bars), of Armero ediciones, a wonderful new addition to their series of “20 magníficos” that selects and comments with wit and intelligence the best restaurants and places to eat in Madrid.

The third wine I remember well from these past weeks is Viña La Grajera, a new ecological wine made by the government of La Rioja itself, that was sent to me right before Christmas. It went very well with my re-reading of Boris Akunin’s Russian novels, a great pleasure I indulge in when I retreat to La Coruña. La Grajera is a profound and somewhat eccentric wine, just like the main character of Akunin’s stories, the police officer Erast Fandorin. Next time you open a new wine perhaps you can ask yourself, what book does it taste like or can I combine it with?

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