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”.

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.

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

Some of my friends accuse me of not really being yet a sophisticated wine creature, because I am still more of a red wine than a white wine personae. They are my friends and I am not going to change them, just because they are wrong. They will be happy, however, to drink with me this coming Christmas a great white wine. My holiday wine is called “Trossos Sants 2011” (which can be translated “Bits and Saints”), from the south of the Montsant region, in Cataluña. We have to thank wine maverick and architect Alfredo Arribas for his invention, that combines white Grenache grapes from old vineyards, with a touch of grey Grenache ones. Alfredo has moved away from the concept of winery into the magical idea of “wine series”, preaching the good news from his collection of “unique terroirs”, selected one by one (that is where the “Trossos” name comes from). A very serious and classic wine, that transforms fruit into a living thing and can evolve beautifully in the bottle for years. At a very affordable price of 16 euros, the horrible postmodern label should not deter you.
http://www.portaldelpriorat.com

I have spent some wonderful days in Lisbon. Last night, I went back to Praça do Comércio, the amazing square where the Royal Palace was, right next to the water. I walked around after a warm October day and had dinner at the Chefe Cordeiro restaurant, right under the arches, almost touching the Tagus river and Atlantic infinity.

I tried two very good wines with an assortment of Portuguese chouriços and a rice with lobster cooked with somewhat hot spices. The first wine was Marques dos Vales 2011, from Algarve, a “blanc de noir” (a white which should be red), made with Castelao grapes. Even if the name is a fake one (there is no such nobility title), it is one of the most transparent and delicate wines I have ever tasted. I have been told it sells at less than 10 euros. It reminded me of apples and had a long finish, like Portugal’s never ending conversation with its past. The second wine was a red-red, called Quinta do Gradil 2010, made with cabernet sauvingnon and tinta roriz grapes near Lisbon. It is a very elegant wine, that went very well with the imperial majesty of the square, painted in royal yellow.

Pairing red wine and Japanese cuisine is not an easy task. But I have discovered a new red that lets you enjoy the best Japanese dishes and even enhances the experience. It is called “La Bruja Avería”. I drank the 2012 vintage at Miyama, Castellana 45, Madrid, a restaurant on its way to becoming the top Asian in the city.

La Bruja Avería is a name hard to translate (a witch in an accident? all suggestions are welcome!), taken from a muppet TV show in the eighties. The wine is 100% Grenache, beautifully made and tastes like roses. It comes from a Madrid winery, created by some Garnache lovers, called Comando G (no translation needed). It is presented in a fun bottle, which can be of one of four or five different colours, depending on your luck, or witchcraft.

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.

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

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