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.”

Thanks to the suggestion of my friend Bill, I decided to try the new reds from the island of Tenerife. He mentioned Canary wines while we were in Ronda, Málaga. Apparently, his wine tasting group of friends in Cape Cod, Massachusetts, had discovered some very good ones. A great example of the sunny side of our interconnected and global lives.

By chance, I had to travel to Tenerife a couple of weeks later and his recommendation stayed with me. Well, I am now grateful, since I have discovered Calius 2012, of the Valle de Güímar area in East Tenerife. Made with local grapes, it is an amazing wine, intense, mineral and with a very long finish. It sells for about 13 euros.

I have read in the Calius webpage that the US founding fathers in Philadelphia toasted with a wine from the Canary Islands after signing the Declaration of Independence in 1776, a clear step in the pursuit of happiness. I just hope their wine was as good as Calius, a red that calls forth Mark Knopfler’s song “Sailing to Philadelphia” and his homage to pioneers and natural beauty:

Now hold your head up, Mason
See America lies there
The morning tide has raised
The capes of Delaware
Come up and feel the sun
A new morning has begun

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.

I have found near my office a cheese shop that I particularly like, called Queseria Cultivo, http://www.queseriacultivo.com. They only sell cheeses made by artisans from all parts of Spain, each one with a story and a human face. This idea of a creating network of fromageres, proud of their names and of what they do, and no longer part of a production chain, got me thinking about some of the last wines I have encountered.

We have tried recently Lagar do Cervera 2014 with friends. We celebrated its green and yellow colors and enjoyed it greatly with seafood and conversation. María loved it, also because she knew and admired the original owners of this albariño wine from the Rosal terroir, her preferred “coin perdu” of Galician wineries.

A friend brought me that same day a bottle of De Raiz 2013, a new ecological red wine from Vejer de la Frontera, Cadiz, made by Peter Maurer in association with his father and other vignerons. De Raiz combines syrah, merlot and petit verdot grapes and is wonderfully easy to drink, a young creature that has already learnt to turn its own complexity into elegance.

I also got a very special bottle from another very good friend who came to our next dinner party, Señorio de Sarria, Reserva especial 2010, a serious wine from Puente la Reina (right in the Camino de Santiago, near Pamplona). It is one of the best cabernet sauvignon one can find in Spain, so well made it has got me interested again in wine from Navarre.

Two weeks ago I went for dinner to Meating, the restaurant where Sonia Vendrel acts as sommelier. She always offers great wine recommendations, while she pretends she knows not so much as her clients. That day she was not there, but knowing we were coming she had left for us a fantastic wine, Forlong Assemblage 2013, made with merlot, syrah and tintilla de Rota grapes. Forlong is another ecological red wine from Cadiz, created  by Rocío Áspera y Alejandro Narváez not far away from Puerto de Santa María and Jérez. They are two very young local entrepreneurs who already know a lot about wines and storytelling -a great cow with mustache and tie stands out in the well designed blue label.

Two wines made me long for Spring last week. In Barcelona it happened in Mon Vinic, the eccentric restaurant that offers 3000 different wines. Just the visit to the cellar was worth the night, a space with amazing lighting and architecture, an art gallery in itself. After some deliberation with my dear friends Antonio and Nely, we chose Las Gravas 2012 as the main wine for our dinner. This is a red from the Jumilla region, beautifully made by Casa Castillo with Monastrell grapes and also some Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon. When I walked around the city the next day the smell of pine trees and the sea breeze brought me back to this perfect Murcia wine, full of Mediterranean wisdom.

During the weekend we tried Ramón do Casar 2013, a white from Ribeiro, made with albariño, treixadura and godello grapes. It was the end of a perfect family day in the region of La Vera, a unique countryside south of the Gredos mountains. We were seating around the fireplace in Bocaloso, the estate of our wondrous hosts Fidel and Lydia. Bocaloso can be roughly translated as “The Tavern of the Bear”, probably because bears picked the overripe fruits of strawberry trees (“madroños”) in those fields and they made them tipsy. Well, our modest white wine from Castrelo do Miño proved to be very subtle, perfect with goat cheese and good conversation. I want to come back soon to La Vera, the Spanish region with the most famous Spring. When the cherry trees blossom there you experience E.E. Cummings’ powerful image: “flowers pick themselves”.

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.

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.