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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?

by Guest Editor Pablo Echenique

In these cold days of economic nightmares and political mediocrity many people really struggles to reach the end of the month without having to organize a garage sale at home to be able to survive.

Apparently, nowadays Spanish sovereign bonds are not exactly the international investor’s cup of tea. Probably this is due to the disastrous political and economic track record of our Government. Some brave decisions in the field of social rights are only a shining light in a quite dark global scenario. This notwithstanding, we still believe in the good shape of some world-class Spanish banks and companies that will keep us up and running. We also believe, of course, in our excellent wines. I have always thought that, in comparison with, for example, French or Italian wines, the Spanish offer the best value for money.

Becquer, a “vino de autor” coming from Rioja’s Bodegas Escudero (since 1852) is just an incredible example. I like to bring different wines to the family luncheon held every Saturday at my parents house. The other day we drank a bottle from the 2007 Becquer vintage. A jewel for less than 9 euros, it meets all the characteristics of a good wine and it has a powerful spicy bouquet of prunes and berries. Ideal to fight the crisis and to cheer-up. Just like certain tunes of those miraculous musical brothers named Rufus and Martha Wainwright, pure art against the difficulties of every-day life.

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.

I love Rioja in June. You wake up early, jump on your bike and soon you are exploring narrow dirt roads, surrounded by vineyards, as you go up and down the hills. From time to time you look into the horizon and admire the mountain ranges that protect this blessed region. This weekend I felt like a Tolkien hobbit that after a long journey returns to the Shire, where he comes from, and enjoys everything he finds there, as if the old things had become new. From bike rides to wine tasting, everything felt like a novelty. Perhaps la Rioja brings you back to childhood days, when you never got tired of watching the same things and life was about discovery. I tasted four wines that I had already drank before, but everyone of them was different and surprising. I tried first a classic, Viña Real crianza 2006, that had the same strong personality that the impressive and elegant new building that houses these traditional vignerons from Bilbao. It was great to taste in the morning, when your senses are so awake. Then we tried one of my favourite reds, Monte Real Reserva 2004, from Bodegas Riojanas, the Meca of Rioja that we had visited some hours before. This wine spoke to us about things extremely well made for centuries, but also about the excitement of new times. We also visited the small new Valenciso winery, a beautiful and austere building. Luis Valentín, co-author of this amazing wine story, explained with precise but passionate words his project. When we tasted the very different and outstanding 2002 and 2004 Valenciso Reservas, I felt like I never wanted to end my bike ride in the Shire.

Some weeks ago I was able to escape from the bleak winter of Madrid to the coast of Tunisia. During the trip I became acquainted with Angus Lordie, a portrait painter from Edinburgh. He is a direct guy, ascetic looking, with a deep voice, much in favor of whisky grants for poets and academics like himself. We did not drink any wine together but had some good conversations about politics, art and Scotland. He also chatted quite a bit about dogs with my wife. He pointed out that nowadays Edinburgh is full of wine bars, a development he welcomed as long as he was allowed in them with his dog Cyril.

When I returned home, I tried a couple of new wines that I thought Angus would like, even though he is not (yet) a wine person. Portraiture has its risks, but let me try to sketch both of these wines. The first one is Sierra Cantabria Cuvée 2005, a wine made by the Eguren family in Rioja. It is both modern and ancient, complex and pleasant. For a price of 15 euros, I do not think you can find a comparable red in Spain.

The second one is Almirez 2007, also a new-new thing of the Eguren clan, creators of the amazing Numanthia and Termanthia wines in the Toro region. Almirez is a younger brother who needs to be decanted and then surprises you with its own distinctive elegance. Each of these two wines would be a good model for Angus Lordie, painter of souls.

By Miguel and José, Co-Editors

Our co-founder Miguel Álvaro de Campos is about to retire to his country estate in Alentejo and he has decided that he will no longer write about wine, from now on he will only enjoy it. Apparently all he wants to do is write verses, albeit inspired by wine. We wish him all the best in his new form of poetry… We are deeply grateful to him for his support launching this blog and for some of the most memorable posts ever published (“Dating the Super Douros”, “Bairrada: wines for life, and not simply for a one night love affair”). On his advice, Iberians on wine is proud to announce that Miguel Poiares Maduro will take his place as Editor. Miguel needs no introduction to Portuguese readers (not just chefs and vignerons), and he is also well known to any European law connoisseur (his love for wine and European law are not necessarily related even if that’s a topic we might research in more depth in the future). To welcome him into this brotherhood, we tasted together this week two splendid Riojas, Oscar Tobía 2004 and Finca Valpiedra 2004. They both share tremendous elegance and yet they are very different. Oscar Tobía evokes the story of the local boy who works hard until he makes it locally and then his descendants become gentry. But it remains a wine that tastes locally. It is faithful to its origins and hopes the world will embrace it. It deserves so. It is elegant in a very Coco Chanel way, who understood this virtue as refusal. Finca Valpiedra is exotic and cosmopolitan, eventhough its combination of species reminds you of the best Rioja tradition, its elegance is therefore more Yves Saint Laurenesque, “forgetting what you are wearing”. Both wines have somehow followed T. S. Eliot dictum that one travels around the world just to go back to the place where one started and know it for the first time. Just like our blog and its journey from Miguel to Miguel!

I have recently tried two Rioja wines, both from 2006, Monte Real of Bodegas Riojanas and Vallobera by Javier San Pedro. They were both amazing, each in its own distinctive way. To use a Chinese metaphor, Monte Real was the Yang and Vallobera the Yin. And of course both wines come from the very same part of Rioja, following the Tao principle of complementarity of opossing forces.

Monte Real Crianza 2006 is one of the best buys in the region, a serious young wine full of tradition, light and capable of bringing you closer to heaven, very Yang like. Rioja Vallobera is femenine, misterious, seductive, down-to-earth wine, a Yin experience all the way. Two different friends have introduced me to each of these wines and I am looking forward to a single conversation with both of them, very Tao like, different wines but only movements and transformations of form.

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 »

This week I had the chance of spending time in Seville. Thanks to the hospitality of friends that are true aficionados and know everything about the fiesta, I watched a very good bullfight from the best seats in the ring, those of the Real Maestranza. Before, my friend had introduced me to the complexities of bullfighting today, in a memorable lunch where we drank Contino Reserva 1998, a Rioja I have already written about with passion before.

As I enjoyed the company and the wine, I was told that most bulls in Spain today, with some exceptions, are bred so they can endure a full corrida, running and dancing along. They are supossed to engage in the fight beyond the initial moments. The animals are expected to be somewhat predictable and fully participate in a ritual that experts compare to opera or ballet, a sort of dialogue that can be full of beauty. Some bullfitghters have oficio (technical expertise) others (yet only a few of them) have personality and class. But most of the matadors do not want bulls that create terror and awe and are thus difficult to understand. Well, the wine we drank had exactly the qualities of the perfect bull that most bullfighters demand today. It not only shows strength when you taste it, but it keeps on displaying its noble qualities until the end of the meal, so you can have a long conversation with it and with your friends. It’s then up to you to talk with more than oficio, the somewhat boring knowledge of facts and tricks.

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