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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 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.

May is a good time to escape for a long weekend to the islands of Ibiza and Formentera. We were very lucky to be invited the first day by great friends to one of the most beautiful houses and gardens there, in the mountains near Es Cubells. From this high altitude oasis different capes and bays could be seen, one after the other. In just an hour the colours of the sea and the sky changed and caused even more amazement on us. It was hard to believe we were a few kilometers away from extreme night adventures and the most curious forms of beach life. Afterwards, we had dinner at Can Pau, a traditional Catalan restauran. I asked for Can Rich Selección, a red wine from San Antonio, in the West of the island, not knowing what to expect. It was the right move, the wine was smooth, flowery and easy to drink. We toasted to friendship in front of one of the burning fires that kept the farmhouse warm.

The second wine we discovered in this getaway is called Ophiusa, the Greek name of Formentera, a different red. We sat down for lunch overlooking the white beach of Es Pujols. Maria, from the hotel where we were staying, explained proudly that she used to work at this winery. They are better known for a stronger red, Cap de Barbaria. Ophiusa is the young brother, made with cabernet, merlot, fogoneu and monastrell grapes, and dressed in a beautiful pale blue label. The sun warmed it up in our glasses and soon it was outstanding. We tasted a bit of the sea in its opulent silence.

Last Thursday I tasted for the first time Quinta do Crasto Reserva Old Vines 2010, a wine I loved. It comes from an old vineyard planted in a picturesque hill next to Douro River, in the North of Portugal. The name “Castro” derives from a Roman garrison built in the same place. Since 1615 great wine has been made there, according to the classification of the Marquis of Pombal, the enlightened prime minister. One of my favorites architects, Eduardo Souto Moura, Pritzker Prize 2011, has built an “infinity” swimming pool in the house of the eco-friendly wine maker, with a magic view of the river from the top (check out the views at http://www.quintadocrasto.pt).

The wine lives up to this magical setting. It fills your nose, mouth and senses of diverse and complex stories, with an elegance reserved to those who find the right balance between attempting to make history and being part of Nature. At a price of 25 euros, it is one of the best buys today in Portugal.

The occasion to try Quinta do Crasto was very special, a wondrous dinner at the end of the Aspen Seminar last week. For six days I was privileged to be part of a small group that gathered in Aspen, Colorado, to think and reflect about the good society. The method used was a text-based dialogue, searching for human values and allowing each of us to think more deeply about our own leadership challenges. This is a wonderful tradition of The Aspen Institute, started in 1950. Our group shared ideas, insights and experiences, in conversation with Plato, Aristotle, Rousseau, Simone de Beauvoir or Martin Luther King, with Paul Gaffney and Lynne Waldera as wise and fun moderators.

The night we tried the Quinta do Castro wine, we had just performed our own version of the play “Antigone” and there was excitement, joy and a true appreciation for each other. Drinking Quinta do Castro was part of our coming together as a group of friends, now forever called The Eleveners. Like the growers of this Douro wine, we celebrated humanity and the art of living better lives.

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.

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 spent last week in Istambul, the best city in the world to enjoy the winter light, take long walks and nourish the spirit. The downside is that I did not try out a new Spanish wine in our New Year’s celebration. Yet near one of the superb restaurants we visited we found a shop with a great sign that read “Merry crisis”. This of course got me thinking about my favorites Spanish wines around or under 10 euros.

The usual suspects are probably well known to you, La Estacada, Martue and Grego, all of them new creations from the South Castilla region, provocative and cheap.

I should add to this list three more wines, fist La Montesa, from Herencia Remondo, that never fails to surprise and please me, a wine full of life and promise like the Bosphorus in contrast to the dusty old city -Pamuk dixit. My second choice is Martinez Lacuesta crianza, a Rioja that has resurrected and that is light and delicious -choose your own Oriental comparison. Third, Semele, 2005, a Ribera del Duero that is sometimes hard to find and that I enjoyed like any Istambul insider sips his apple tea.

One of the things I really liked about my new house was the wine cave in the basement, underneath the stairs, a fantastic cozy space to collect and store wine… until heavy rain came to Madrid. My basement was flooded and the wine bottles I kept there got too much humidity -nothing I could do to save them. So much for years of collecting special wine bottles! Tragedy? I am triying to look at the bright side and I am enjoying the thrill of starting over. Here are the three wines I have chosen to re-start, just in case you need ideas to do so:

My friend and benefactor Juan Jimenez Laiglesia, the best Antitrust lawyer in Spain, came to the rescue actually withouth knowing I had lost it all. Some weeks ago he offered me a case of Contino Selección Especial 2004. This is a wine that sings, a top Rioja well looked after by a few families that stands out for its delicacy and smoothness.

The second addition to my born again wine cave -now in a very different location- comes from Portugal. I had the chance to teach in Lisbon for a few days and I bought some bottles of “Cortes de Cima Shyrah 2003”, from Vidigueira, Alentejo. Shyrah is one of my favorite grapes. This Southern Portugal wine is full of sunshine. I am just enjoying it until my friend Miguel Alvaro de Campos, co editor of Iberians on wine, who introduced me to the Cortes de Cima wines some time ago enlightens us with his comments.

Last but not least I have added to my new-new wine cave some bottles from Guitian, Godello, a miracle Galician white wine from Valdeorras. This has been a suggestion of another friend, the historian and policy wonk Charles Powell, who raves about it. I drank it for the first time yesterday with my father -he of course knew about this wine since its inception in 1992, it is very hard to surprise him. Guitian was the perfect wine to taste in the garden before lunch, in a beautiful autumn day. Guitian has the same yellowish colour of some fallen leaves and yet is lively and its wit never dies, like a good after dinner conversation.

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