Tasting in Valladolid, Spain April 1, 2016

The suitcases came rolling out, plopping onto the baggage carrousel, disheveled, having just barely survived a trip across the Atlantic, some obviously more manhandled than others. Sad, but necessary, reminders of coach travel.

Of all the times I’d crossed the Pond, I had never lost a piece of luggage to Lost Luggage purgatory. I had a sneaking suspicion that this time I would not be so lucky. My connecting flight from Amsterdam to Madrid had me running through Schiphol and I just knew that the baggage crew could not have as much hustle as I did.

I was right.

As the kind man at the KLM desk handed me a complimentary overnight case from the airliner, I explained that I was not missing my toothbrush, but a case of wine I had hand picked for a tasting later that day in another Spanish town. “Compliments of KLM!” he reassured me. “We deliver your package later. How many zippers?!” “-No, no zippers, it is a box with wine and I need it for an event in Valladolid in a few hours,” I tried to clarify. He jotted down my hotel address in Madrid and he actually air high-fived me and yelled out ‘No zippers!’ as I slinked away. He said the box would be delivered on the next flight from Amsterdam via the airliner’s concierge service directly at my hotel. I thought that was pretty first-class service for a girl who had just flown economy. He must have been confused.

He was.

The package did not arrive at said time, zippers or no zippers. I went back to the aiport. It did arrive on the next flight. I grabbed that box, inspected the contents and ran out to get my ride to Valladolid. My tasting was delayed by over two hours, starting at close to 11 p.m. on Friday, April 1, but I thought ‘well, in Spain things start late’. My host and the attendees were very gracious and understood my plight as I tore off the TSA inspection stickers. I had carefully selected the wines I wanted to bring to my winemaker friends in Spain. Check out the list below:

Argyle 2011 Knudsen Vineyard Brut Artisan Series

Argyle 2011 Brut Rose Artisan Series

Argyle 2013 Nuthouse Pinot Noir Eola-Amity Hills

Adelsheim 2013 Ribbon Springs Pinot Noir

Bergstrom 2013 Old Stones Oregon Chardonnay Willamette Valley AVA

The Eyrie Vineyards 2013 Oregon Pinot Noir

The Eyrie Vineyards 2014 Oregon Pinot Gris Dundee Hills

Adelsheim 2013 Calkins Lane Pinot Noir

Adelsheim 2014 Caitlin’s Reserve Chardonnay

Ayres 2014 Lewis Rogers Lane Ribbon Ridge Estate Pinot Noir

Ayres 2014 Oregon Red Wine

They were somewhat shocked by the price of the bottles, but the favorites seemed to be the Adelsheim Calkin’s Lane and the Argyle Nuthouse. Oregon Pinot is much lighter in body than the wines that the attendees were used to in Spain. Tempranillo is medium to full bodied. I think KLM did well to further a small group of Spaniard’s appreciation for Oregon pinot noir, pinor gris and sparkling wine. I hope to bring a bigger selection for distribution in the future.

Thank you to Julio and Majuelos Singulares for your patience and in helping organize the event. I look forward to a larger venue next time to accommodate those who were not able to attend. ¡Muchísimas gracias!

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A partial line-up and the damage done

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Enjoying a single vineyard Adelsheim Vineyards

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Group shot of tasting in Valladolid, Spain

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Savory Syrah and Weighty Whites in Hermitage, St.-Joseph, Cornas and St.-Péray

By Saturday morning at 10 a.m. the temperature had reached 90° in Tournon-sur-Rhône. In our hot stupor we fumbled around looking for iced coffee and something substantial to eat. Croissants were located and we scooted down the road to Mauves in less than five minutes to meet with Domaine Coursodon.
Mauves is a small town with one church, one bar, one boulangerie and one charcuterie shop. The wine from the area had been called Vins de Mauves until the Jesuits changed the name to the current Saint-Joseph in the 17th century. The syrah produced here is opulent, spicy and arguably more elegant than its inky neighbor Cornas. This AOC, established in 1956, is a long, narrow stretch of 1,082 hectares that connects Saint-Péray and Cornas to the south with Condrieu and Côte-Rôtie in the north.
Noemi Coursodon could only offer us a taste of their St.-Joseph Silice as they were sold out of everything else. Her brother Jérome is winemaker. She showed us the steep granitic slopes above Mauves where they pick their 50+ years grapes. Their Silice was deep garnet with notes of dark berries and plum and the telltale signs of a terroir-driven syrah: peppery aromatics, power and elegance; very dry. We chatted about her upcoming nuptials for which she was quite nervous. It was looking more and more like the uncharacteristically early harvest could mean that the winery would be in full production mode at the same time she needed it for the reception. I wished her all the best as she sent us on our way to Domaine Bernard Gripa.
Mauves, AOC Saint-Joseph
¨Ésta es una peña!¨Miguel said as we drove in. A peña is an old, usually abandoned, locale in the villages in Spain where young people go after hours to drink and socialize for free. Alas Monsieur Bernard´s wines were not free. In fact, they were more expensive than the other places we visited. As we approached, three finely dressed men in brightly colored salmon and blue pressed trousers were arranging cases of Gripa wine in a car trunk. They were from Paris, Belgium and the south of France, respectively. One said that I must try the Saint-Péray Les Figuiers. I took note.
Monsieur Gripa, a soft-spoken man, could finally inquire as to our presence when the last salmon trouser man shuffled out. Miguel was already poking around in places where he shouldn´t, imposing camera in tow with its wide strap slapping about. We made the international wine tasting gesture and Gripa escorted us downstairs, not yet sure about Miguel. With ever step, the temperature decreased 3°. Ten paces later we stepped into the cool dampness of serious old-school winemaking. The light was dim, the smell musty and the atmosphere damp.
Monsieur Gripa and I

Monsieur Gripa and I

Gripa peered at us from behind his thick glasses now less cautious and more entertained. I could tell we were not his usual clientele. Miguel certainly was not I thought, as camera flashes suddenly ricocheted from the wet stony walls. I could hear him cursing himself ´No flash! No flash!´as he struggled with the len´s settings. Meanwhile, back at the barrique, Gripa slides me a glass. There were giant thumb prints and stains in the glass that could only have come from a Parisian in bright trousers. It did not matter. Gripa tasted with me, which I always appreciate. He scribbled figures on the back of my tasting notes. 60,000 bottles are produced annually. The family has farmed the land for six generations, but only vinified their own wine since 1974. The head winemaker is now his son, Fabrice.
The Photographer

The Photographer

Sure enough, I walked away with the Saint Péray and enjoyed it over lunch with country pate and salmon quiche. It had a racy acidity to match the wide, round ripe stone fruit and plenty of granitic minerality to go around. Very rich and full-bodied. A serious find from a man in serious pink pants. I too would have filled my trunk with this wine.
Later that night we had reservations at Comako restaurant in Tournon. We walked in and sure enough Monsieur Gripa was there just sitting down to eat with his wife. We told the server that we´d drink what he´s having. It was a Domaine des Remizières Cuvee Christophe White (Crozes-Hermitage), rich and viscous, high alcohol and acid with huge stone fruit and melon.
There is a very different culture in Spain surrounding winemaking than in the northern Rhône. Excluding the small, traditional winemakers in Spain, the Spanish wineries strive to be big and glamorous and sell relatively inexpensive wine (less than €8 ex-cellar). Here in this corner of the world, the wineries were peñas and you´d be hard-pressed to find a bottle of wine for less than €18 ex-cellar.
So where are all the Bernard Gripas of the world? I guess you really have to go looking for them. And bring a glass.

Tasted at Vineum, Tain l’Hermitage on August 8, 2015: 

Maison Paul Jaboulet Aîné 2011 Grenache Blanc and Clairette (Chateauneuf-du-Pape) 14.5% abv. Thick legs and a medium lemon color. Bouquet of lemon, oak, soft honeydew with vanilla ice cream. On the palate it is full bodied with medium plus acidity, waxy, textured like a finely woven silk scarf.

Maison Paul Jaboulet Aîné 2013 Domaine de Grands Amandiers Viognier (Condrieu) 14% abv is described by Guillaume as fresh, to be enjoyed young (less than two years) and with goat cheese. It was vinified in stainless steel and been untouched by oak. This is obviously a more modern winemaking style employed to highlight the freshness and roundness of the viognier fruit. It is barely a medium yellow with orange hues. At first whiff it smells oddly like a college dorm room with strong floral notes of dandelion and sticky marijuana. There is also some savory richness that I could only describe as duck or guinea fowl fat. Too much country pate in the air perhaps. There as an even minerality throughout the wine and a medium acidity. Enters sweet and smooth and coats the palate.

Maison Paul Jaboulet Aîné 2012 Le Chavalier de Sterimberg Marsanne and Roussanne (Hermitage) 13.5% abv can be drunk young but will keep for 10 years and over time will develop notes of nuts and honey. The wine was vinified in cement and clarified with egg before it spent eight months in 15% new oak and 85% second cycle barrels and then goes through élevage. It is a medium yellow color with green glints. Bouquet is ripe yellow and orange citrus, peach with a lot of structure and minerality. Acidity is medium.

Maison Paul Jaboulet Aîné 2007 Domaine Raymond Roure Syrah (Croze-Hermitage) 13% abv from hilly part of Crozes. Medium garnet with with orange glints. Brick. Bouquet of berry, kernel, cranberry, cinnamon, warm sweet baking spices and slight vegetal like tinned tomatoes. On the palate cherry and pomegranate. 12 months in oak. Will improve over 10 years. Only 3.5 hectares of vines between 40-60 years old on very steep granitic south facing slope. Purchased from the Roure family in 1996. Monsieur Roure was the plot’s prolific winemaker for many years and so the Jaboulet house, upon purchasing the plot decided not to mess with a good thing and retained the original name.

Maison Paul Jaboulet Aîné 2010 Domaine de la Croix du Vigne Syrah (Saint-Joseph) 13.5% abv is a deep ruby with dark berry, savoury, kernel, baking spices, oregano, crackling BBQ sauce, skewers with fat drippings into open flame, opulent and lush. High acid with sweet velvety tannins.

Maison Paul Jaboulet Aîné 2010 Domaine des Pierrelles Syrah [(Côte-Rôtie, (Côte Blonde)] 13.5% is a medium garnet syrah so elegant in its weight and finesse that it reminded me more of a Sonoma Pinot. There was red cherry fruit tightly interwoven with kirsch, fresh prune, tinned tomatoes, fatty protein, savory spice and fire and campfire smoke.

Route through the Northern Rhône Valley

It would not be a European getaway without an airport under construction, a hot walk across the tarmac and a surprise extra baggage charge from a “low-cost” airliner. And yet our trip down the northern Rhône Valley had to have some beginning, so hot and now over budget it would be.

As most young couples depart for sandy beaches or to sweat the night away dancing in clubs, Miguel dutifully loaded our camera while I printed off PDFs of Rhône crus and we headed to the stifling heat of a landlocked valley. Even the vignerons were mostly out of town as I discovered when trying to book cave visits. We checked into our first Airbnb rental in Condrieu and greeted our hosts, a lovely middle-aged French couple  that seemed more accustomed to having a slightly older, French crowd stay in their flat. “So, how many other Americans and Spanish have you hosted?” I asked inquisitively. She gave a polite pause and eyed her husband to see if he might jog her memory. “One American, maybe, and no, no Spanish.” “That’s right! Normally we go to the beach!” my Spaniard quipped.

With Condrieu at our backs

We spent our first day on a wild goose chase looking for viognier. We found it first in its raw, unfermented form hanging on the vines above Condrieu where the vines enjoy granitic (high acidity) and arzelle (stone fruit-forwardness) soils. The gradient is extremely steep, reaching 60° in some places. We were just 10 km south of the medieval town of Vienne and a 40-minute drive from downtown Lyon. From here we could see the river Rhone winding down toward Valence and on to Arles where it would empty into the Med.

By 8 p.m. the sun was nearly down and we were scrambling to find a place to eat.  We found the only still-open possibility in a bar of questionable business practices. Several men came to greet others sitting on the terrace before passing around the back, returning minutes later and departing. Eyes burned into me as I went inside asking which viognier they had by the glass. She offered something out of box. Miguel, seeking a beer with lemon (beer on tap with a splash of lemon Kas or Fanta or Spanish caña con limón), was handed a bottle of beer, a bottle of Orangina and a glass. Bottoms up!

Miguel's comment: "Why don't they make some new signs?!"

Our first stop the next day was to Domaine Yves Cuilleron in Chavanay, recommended and organized by our Airbnb friends in Condrieu. We were invited to taste by Axel, a fresh-faced graduate who had recently been to Hong Kong and knew the proprietors of Bodegas Resalte in Peñafiel. Though I struggled to make the connection between the two facts because he kept pouring these outstanding incarnations of the viognier and marsanne grapes that were causing me to lose my mind. The 2014 “La Petite Cote” was pale yellow viognier with some yellowing from nine months in oak. Showed notes of light oak, glycerol, very expressive, honeydew melon, and peach.

AOC Saint-Joseph 2014 “Le Lombard” 13% abv was nine months in oak, marsanne 100%, dried white flowers, and waxy with tangy stone fruit (white peach) and bitter almond on the palate. The AOC Saint-Joseph 2014 rousanne “Saint Pierre”  glycerol, thick tears, dried potpourri, not fruit forward, very dry. Crozes-Hermitage is a new cuvee for them this year. It is their first white Crozes. “Les Rousses” is more perfumed than above with more yellow hints and medium acidity.The 2013 “Les Chaillets”  13.5% was a rich yellow with gold glints, an aroma of fresh pineapple with macerated apples, and candied lemon peel palate. The 2011 “Vertige”, from a single plot in Vernon, spent 18 months in oak, and had vegetal aromas layered with fresh stone fruit, paint, turpentine, day lilies, and a complex, rich, and powerful texture with a long finish that included damp straw/hay.

Next we tried the 2014 “Ayguets” Doux 13% abv made from botrytized grapes and smelled of orange peel and honey. Three passes through the vineyard take place. It was same style as a Sauternes but more floral and lots of wet straw. 2012 ripa sinistra from the IGP Collines Rhodaniennes is a local wine that the Romans pulled out ages ago. They are hoping that in 10 years or so they can develop their own AOC. 18 months in oak with notes of blueberry, boysenberry, toast, and kernel with silky tannins though very dry.

Menu. We thought we ordered beef and got fish! Beautiful lunch nonetheless.

For lunch we drove back up the D386 to Bistrot de Serine in Ampuis, the heart of Côte-Rôtie and wilted under the shaded terraces next to Chapoutier and Guigal plots. Here you eat local with the locals but with some worldly combinations like a citrus ceviche of local whitefish. Highly recommended. A fine wine list and by-the-glass selection.

For Condrieu, the 2015 vintage will be hot like 2003, but quantity is low and there is more concentration. In 1970 the Condrieu AOC was close to dying out and had to be built up again. AOC currently has 178 hectares of vineyard planted.

Tomorrow more and better, as they say in Spain. And, we are going to Hermitage to Maison Paul Jaboulet Aîné and on to Airbnb adventures in Cornas and Saint-Peray.

What I Learned at Vinexpo in Bordeaux

It has been hard to keep my head on straight lately. I’ve been a blocked blogger, avoiding my WordPress account. It remains unclear whether I live in Portland or Valladolid and seems more and more that time will have to be carefully split between both. It also remains unclear if I am a wine importer or a student of wine. My studies for WSET Level 4 are starting in August and my first Davis Winemaking Certificate class will begin in September. I have also initiated a series of video tastings that we’ll broadcast across our small companies’ platforms both in Europe and the U.S. Yikes.

So, I took a step away from the commitment pressure cooker and accepted a quick trip up to Bordeaux for Vinexpo. If you are even a semi-serious student of wine, your first trip to Bordeaux is like traveling to Mecca. Suddenly all the villages that appeared on one side or another of flashcards are jumping off denizens tongues like eating a puffed gourgères, consuming consonants and caressing vowels as they go. You think you know the grape makeup of a bottle of Sauternes until you hear it described by a Sauternais winemaker and then you go did he say sauvignon blanc or its time for lunch? Oh, moos-koo-de, and here I always thought it was mus-ka-tel.

Our guide at Château Filhot told us that none of the wineries in Sauternes were built with subterranean cellars because of the sandy soils. In addition, to protect the fermenting and aging wines from overheating in the late-afternoon sun, the walls on the west side of Sauternes’ wineries are built thicker than the east-facing walls. The harvest consists of up to six passes through the vineyard when trained workers skillfully comb through bunches looking for the perfectly botrytised grapes. An average harvest will only yield 10-20 hectoliters making Sauternes a very costly beverage before it even starts fermenting. I picked up two 375 ml 2009s; one for drinking with my Dad the next time I see him and one to cellar.

We stayed in a village 40 miles south of Bordeaux called Villandraut, near Bazas. It was typically French picturesque, enough to make Amelie swoon. I went running early the first morning past the castle in anticipation of the butter croissants and canelets I’d be ingesting uncontrollably. I stepped out and realized through the heavy humid air why grapes can grow botrytis here, in the heart of Sauternes wine country. It also smelled quite different than Spain; less bleach and sandalwood cologne, more rosewater and dairy -all that butter for my croissants.

There are striking resemblances between a people and their wines. I noticed this immediately after crossing over the border into France. These are generalizations of course, and putting diplomacy aside, Spanish wines tend to be heavy handed with bold strokes of fruit and oak, a reflection of their strong will and animated character. I found the French wines I tasted to be more perfumed with finesse and elegance and most of the wine happening in the nose rather than on the palate. Maybe this is why Vega Sicilia has had so much success in incorporating a bit of cabernet sauvignon into its tempranillo blends and why now Alvaro Palacios’ perfumed wines are dominating lists across the U.S.

Their temples to wine, the châteaux, are legendary and aristocratic. Miguel suggested we try to sneak into the Château Margaux/Wine Spectator opening of a new wing of the winery. Thankfully I had left my waiter’s black and whites at home. So we drove on as the black-tie crowd arrived. It was too late to make any winery visits, so we admired the famed houses as we wound around Cantenac and Pauillac.

A few short notes…

Domaine Jean-Claude Courtault from the parishes in and around Chablis: Lignorelles, Beines, Fyé and Villy. Possess 18 hectares in total and pick 6,000-7,000 plants per hectare. Older vines avg. age 35-years-old. Petit Chablis 2014 barrel sample. Sampled with hand-shucked oysters. Pale lemon color. Fresh, high minerality.

Chablis Les Venerables 2010. Medium lemon color. Straw, meadow, alfalfa on the nose.

Manoir du Capucin Lovely proprietor Chloé Bayon allowed to taste through her selections. She is a member of the Femmes et Vins de Bourgonge orgnazition that seems to seek to promote female winemakers in the region. She was equal parts charm and ambition and eager to talk about her climats Clos de la Maison and Aux Morlays. Mâcon Solutré Pouilly “Délices” 2014 was fresh, lots of juicy white stone fruit, easy drinking, €5-€10. Pouilly Fuissé “Sensations” 2014 shows nice richness, viscosity and green apple and unripe melon on the palate. Medium acidity. Pouilly Fuissé Aux Morlays 2012 showed roundness, rich complexity and structure, open, straw, caramel, rose, and apricot on the nose and palate.

Brune el Blonde de Vidal-Fleury (Côte-Rôtie) 2010 showed black cherry, dried oregano and a smattering of savory notes like smoked meats.

Cave de Tain L’Hermitage La Grace (Croze-Hermitage) 2013 from winemaker Murielle Chardin-Frouin showed big and strong on the nose of crushed red flower petals, more savory and a bit of stinkiness (SO2 blow off?)

Rocca Maura Terra Encestra (Lirac) 2012 by winemaker Emmanuelle Daverat Perkins showed some oak with vanilla notes on the nose, a deep purple color, warm, but soft, round tannin. Reminded me of a Priorat.

Rocca Maura Terra Encestra (Lirac) 2013 showed more heat than warmth, wonderful smokiness and smoked charcuterie.

 

 

Porto, Portugal

It is hard to think about imbibing at the start of the new year. Pockets are lighter, or empty, and your body is saying, “More, really?” As people with jobs that don’t include tasting wine and developing recipes embark resolutely on new diets and workout regimens, those working in the food and wine industry typically spend these first few weeks of the year thinking about what will be the next big thing in the coming year.

I took advantage of a long weekend and hopped over to Porto to see what is new in port wine. Safe to say that not much has changed in two hundred and fifty years. The legend goes that a wine merchant from Liverpool sent his sons in 1678 to Portugal in search of wine. They stumbled upon a monastery above the Douro river in the village of Lamego. Here monks added brandy to the wine during fermentation rather than after. Previously, traders stabilized the wine with a spirit before shipment to London. The early importers realized that not only was the wine preserved from spoilage in transit, but it tasted better than traditional table wine.

All port boats for tourists

Old port boats for tourists to admire only. Are not in use.

Port is a fascinating beverage that takes a rustic version of brandy, called aquardente in Portuguese, and adds it to the must, killing the yeasts and thereby arresting the fermentation. Sugar remains and is balanced by tannin, alcohol and a range of aromas in ruby to vintage ports. This tannin and alcohol along with a decent acidity, make vintage ports some of the longest lived wines in the world. Ferreira has a vintage port from 1815 that was recently auctioned. As Stephan, our Ferreira guide, said, “You only invite your best friends over that night…and vintage port should be consumed within 48 hours.”

The wine used to make port comes from the Douro Valley. D.O.C. Douro is one of the oldest quality regions anywhere in the world having been established in 1756, just five years after the establishment of the first Port winery Ferreira, which we visited. Yields in the Douro are among the lowest in the world with just 500 to 750 g per vine or 1.5 kg from newer, 20 years or more vines. The most common grapes are touriga nacional, tinta barroca, touriga franca, tinta roriz, and tinto cão for red port and gouveio, malvasia and viosinho for white port.

Tour at Ferreira port cave

Tour at Ferreira port cave

The grapes are grown upstream, east of Porto in the valley where their flavor phenols develop rich berry character the further east you go and the more extreme the climate becomes. At the Spanish border, temperatures regularly exceed 35°F in the summer. Many ports are then sent downstream to age in the caves across the river from Porto in an enclave called Vila Nova de Gaia, where all the port lodges can be found. On a beautiful albeit cold January morning, it was a nice place to be. After all, Wine Spectator gave the 2014 Wine of the Year title to Dow’s vintage port 2011.

Harvest in Rioja Alavesa, Lunch at Marqués de Riscal

D.O. Rioja is strewn across three out of 17 of Spain’s Autonomous Communities: La Rioja, the Basque Country, and Navarra. Since the inceptions of the regulating board of D.O. Rioja in 1925 there have been very few, if any, changes made to the three distinct viticultural areas that are known as the following three sub-regions: Rioja Alta, Rioja Baja, and the protagonist to this post, the Rioja Alavesa. The Alavesa is the smallest of the three in terms of land under vine, some 12,934 hectares. The Alavesa belongs to the Basque Country’s Álava county and when criss crossing the D.O. Rioja, you will often pass through the Basque Country into La Rioja and back again without realizing.

Historically, the wine from different corners of the D.O. has been blended to make a common Rioja wine that is medium bodied with medium tannin, red and black berry fruit aromas, decent acidity, and the most salient trait, oak and more oak, usually from American forests therefore explaining the high toast, coconut, and vanilla notes on the nose.

Vineyards changing colors on road to Elciego, Spain

Vineyards changing colors on road to Elciego, Spain

As Rioja wines have gained international recognition over the years there has been a more accelerated movement toward single-vineyard bottlings. Bodegueros of the Alavesa are leading this because vineyards are already divided into small plots, often terraced as they move up the hill toward the base of the Cantabrian Mountains. The soils are poor calcareous clay that have good water retention but poor drainage. This may have worked against the growers this season as there were heavy rains in the second half of harvest that did not let up and so pickers had grapes with lower fruit concentrations. These soils are good at maintaining a constant low temperature, which can be a double-edged sword. If the fruit cannot ripen by the end of the season, the harvest is in trouble. Assuming the fruit ripens “on time”, then the acidity levels will usually be high.

Vine density is low due to reduced nutrients in the soil. The continental climate is heavily influenced by the Atlantic fronts that bring a lot of moisture, though the most severe weather is blocked by the Cantabrian Mountains. Alavesa has many superb wineries producing the fulliest-bodied versions of tempranillo. Other red varieties permitted in the D.O. are garnacha, graciano, mazuelo and maturana tinta.

Harvest in Rioja Alta

The 2014 growing season in La Rioja has been a good one. The harvest has not. It rained in the spring when it was required. The sun shone properly all through the summer and into the early fall. Sugar and acid takes were on par, even exceptional in Rioja Alta. Then the rains came and they would not leave. Being left with no alternative, grapes arrived at the wineries with water on the skins and in the pulp, leaving them bloated and with fewer concentrations of sugar and flavor.

I followed several wineries through the last days of the harvest and while spirits were high when the final trip was made to the winery to drop the grape load, the winemakers are proceeding with trepidation. They won’t know for a few weeks exactly how the harvest complications have affected the crop. I visited Elvillar, Laguardia, El Ciego, Ábalos, San Vicente de Sonsierra, Briones, and, of course, Haro. I found some great wines for export. I also explored the local gastronomy. Below is a short collage of some highlights.

Godello, Hake, Ibérico, and Arzak

Sounds like a nice combination, doesn’t it? Several years ago, when I was first becoming familiar with Spanish wines, I serendipitously ended up at a weekend winery event in a beautiful middle-of-nowhere place tucked into the mountain above Sil valley in Valdeorras, Galicia in northwestern Spain.

I was at ValdeSil winery in Portela, a small enclave above O Barco known for its world-class godello elaborations. Galicia is more often than not synonymous with albariño that strikes that wonderful balance of acidity, alcohol (around 13.5% abv, rather high for a white wine) and rich mouthfeel of peach and honeysuckle. But while albariño is fruit and acidity, godello is minerality and structure with plenty of finesse and delicate mouthfuls of sea air.

Pezas da Portela, ValdeSil winery, Valdeorras, Spain. The ValdeSil winery is one of the most prominent godello (as well as an outstanding mencía) producers.

Pezas da Portela, ValdeSil, Valdeorras, Spain. The ValdeSil winery is one of the most prominent godello (as well as an outstanding mencía) producers.

When we slept at the family house I remember how refreshing the air was compared to the city. It was warm during the day and cold at night, even in summer. The moisture in the old stone buildings crept out in the form of mist when the sun shone and mixed with the faint ocean smells coming down the valley; it was the same way the wine went down, tasting like the place smelled.

pezas back label

Family progenitor José Ramón Goyoso planted godello in 1885 and the current project now counts on 11 distinct ‘pezas’ on mostly slate slopes.

Wine paired: Pezas da Portela, godello, Valdesil, Vilamartin de ValdeorrasHand-picked in 20 kg crates and hand sorted. A short skin-contact maceration. Six months in new oak. No malolactic fermentation. 14% abv. Straw-yellow color, popcorn kernel, ripe green fruit, marine salinity, good acidity, long finish.

I prepared this recipe at home. It is inspired by Juan Mari Arzak of the eponymous Michelin, three-star restaurant. Fresh hake, clams and a few small prawns in a frothy salsa verde with a crispy bellota ham slice over potatoes went beautifully with the salinity of the godello and the acidity and complexity on the long finish.

Hake on sale

Hake on sale

The fishmonger showing the freshness of fish according to the brillance of the red interior.

The fishmonger showing the freshness of fish according to the brillance of the red interior.

Hake preparation at fish market

Expert hake preparation at fish market by total Daniel Boulud lookalike.

Cooking level: Easy with a little finesse

Time: Prep: 20 minutes

Cooking: 30 minutes (or slightly more if you wanted a thicker, more reduced sauce and/or you choose to make a basic fish stock from spine and head)

For this recipe, you will need:

-For the hake in sauce-

4 200g loins of steaky white fish with skin. This recipe calls for merluza (hake), but cod or halibut would work great as well

4 cloves of garlic

2 heaping spoonfuls of italian flat-leaf parsley, chopped

12 spoonfuls of extra virgin olive oil

1 glass of cold water

salt

-For the sautéed clams and vinaigrette-

250g of fresh (not 24-hour!) clams

4 spoonfuls of extra virgin olive oil

spoonful of onion, finely chopped

2 spoonfuls of cider vinegar

1 small dried cayenne chili pepper

-For the hake in sauce-

Clean the loins, better with a cloth. Season them. Put a pan on the stovetop wide enough to fit all the loins. Crowding a pan is the worst for even cooking. Simmer garlic, parsley and oil. Before the garlic starts to brown add the hake loins skin side up. Add glass of water (for this I diverted from Arzak version and ladled in a previously made fish stock from spine and head. It made the sauce less translucent, but possibly more flavorful and more body.). Keep cooking for about 3 minutes (depending on desired thickness), shaking the pan to pick up the sauce. Then turn over the loins and continue cooking for another 3 minutes. Season. Before dishing you should make sure that the sauce is well blended, if not, take the spines off the head (if you did not make optional fish stock), moving the pan sauce and reducing on med-high heat. I diverted from Arzak’s recipes one last time and squeezed one half of a lemon in the pan and then used a stick blender to make the sauce smoother (after I had added fish stock and let it reduce for 20 minutes).

Hake in sauteed garlic and parsley before adding fish broth.

Hake in sautéed garlic and parsley before adding fish stock.

ladling stock

Ladling fish stock into pan of sautéed garlic and fish juices

Stick blending the sauce with fish stock (not part of Arzak's plan

Stick blending the sauce with fish stock (not part of Arzak’s plan). The stick emulsified it into a whiter sauce than I wanted, but it was frothy and well mixed. Salsa blanca anyone?

-For the sautéed clams and vinaigrette-

Take a bowl, a couple of hours before, and place the clams in salted water to loosen sand trapped in clams. Rinse well. Put a pan with olive oil and the pepper (ground between your fingers) over high heat. Check clams and saute pan moving well. As soon as they open, remove them. Make a vinaigrette with olive oil , vinegar, fresh garlic, onion and salt. Raise heat briefly, but do not boil. Remove the shells of clams (I kept a few on) and season your meat with the warm vinaigrette.

Parsley and ground cayenne pepper in olive oil

Parsley and ground cayenne pepper in olive oil

–For the ham crisp and ham ‘dust’-

Cut the ham into thin slices . Put them on a tray and enter the oven at 200 C degrees for 10 minutes ( until very crispy and toasted ). Then crush one slice in a mortar and pestle or spice grinder until reduced to fine powder. We broke the other toasted slice into pieces and used as garnish. It looks very professional and is actually quite easy.

Two slices San Jamón bellota ham laid out carefully on oven tray

Two slices San Jamón bellota ham laid out carefully on oven tray

Results of ham after being between two sheet pans at 300 F for 10 minutes

Results of ham after being between two sheet pans at 350F/175C for 10 minutes

It was not included in Arzak’s recipe, but I also added some slow-cooked potatoes that we first fried in olive oil for about 3 minutes each side on medium-high heat, and then added the rest of the fish stock and cooked on a low simmer until fork-tender. Do not let boil as the potatoes will break up.

Potatoes frying in extra virgin olive oil

Potatoes frying in extra virgin olive oil

The dish can be prepared in a full meal portion or in a smaller, tapas-style size.

Tapa of hake with clams in salsa verde and crisp bellota ham

Tapa of hake with clams in salsa verde and crisp bellota ham and ham dust

Hake on blue plate

Hake on blue plate. Prawns were added last minute as a gift from the fishmonger.

Vivan los novios!

I’d say I am now an expert in Spanish weddings. I can tell you how long the ceremony will last (50 minutes) and what will be chanted to the bride and groom throughout the meal (que se besen, que se besen; vivan los novios – Vivan!) and, at least in this part of Spain, what to expect on the menu (ham and lechazo). I just got back from my fourth wedding weekend of the year. We flew to Portland for the first wedding, but the final three have been here in Spain. Boy, do the Spaniards know how to throw down.

It is more common for Spanish wedding receptions to be held in a hotel or restaurant rather than a catered affair in an outdoor tent or winery. They are elaborate and very long. At 3 p.m. we were bused to a hotel in Benavente and started with an apertitif in the garden where a professional was carving and plating  jamón ibérico in perfect geometric shapes. What a day!

Congratulations to Raquel and Fran. Qué la vida solo os traiga felicidad! Con mucho cariño, vivan los novios!

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Welcome wagon. Sangria, beer, orange soda, two cocktails: one with rum and the other with tequila

Welcome wagon. Sangria, beer, orange soda, two cocktails: one with rum and the other with tequila

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This makes me not miss catering.

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Manchego, fresh white anchovy, green olive. So good I couldn’t even get a picture of a full plate.

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Crepe-sicles with blue cheese mousse and walnut, a side of gold rings (my hand not shown).

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Blood sausage morcilla on vol-au-vent, spoons of slow-cooked pork gizzard. All that slow cooking couldn’t turn that gizzard into gold.

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Super pre-lunch, pre-wine selfie for my Mom

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Let the four-hour meal begin.

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My cigala almost crawled off the plate. Sweet and wonderful.

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Roasted hake with potatoes, clams, and pine nuts

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Between fish and meat: a lovely mojito palate cleanser. Menos mal. We were so thirsty.

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Suckling lamb slow cooked in a wood-fired oven. A big Castilla treat.

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A Fariña down! Not my doing.

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Very gooey, so-so dessert. The ice cream was good though.

And they keep going!

And they keep going!

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After-dinner treat

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Spanish James Bond

A route through Ribera del Duero’

As I work through my WSET Advanced book, my stack of notecards grows. Alsace now has 17 cards as vinification did not want to fit on the same card as viticulture. The grapes on the slopes are handled so differently than the ones grown on the plain! And Gerwurztraminer (without ‘umlaut‘, we are in France for god’s sake) could not possibly blend with Riesling–it is too spicy! too oily! It has so much to say; it needs its own card!

I slogged through Bordeaux – 48 cards high. It was very tedious and unfair reading about the 1855 classification without having ever tried even a Fifth Growth. Then I come to find out the châteaux, rather than the parcel, are classified yet the actual lands are always in flux. I think it also felt like a slog because it feels a bit superficial: the vintage charts, the scores, the Classification, the fakes…Still, I can’t wait to try one.

I turned the page and suddenly we had moved from Bordeaux to Burgundy and I close my eyes and imagine Pinot Noir so gorgeous, so perfect that it makes your toes tingle and your heart flutter as only exceptionally prepared food or wine can do (Krispy Kremes when the hot light is on are also toe tinglers). I’ve just received my red Burgundy tasting invite to Berry Brothers & Rudd in London next month, which I am very much looking forward to. We have a certain kindred spirit in Oregon with those in Burgundy because we make Pinot Noir in much the same climate and with the same attitude as in France. Many Burgundian winemakers have established satellite wineries in the Willamette Valley. Others come to help or advise during harvest. I love that in Burgundy there are 100 appellations of origin to Bordeaux’ 60 and with only a third of the area under vine. But that’s not all: most lieux dits vineyard sites have several owners producing different wines.

I thought I might clear my head from so much studying by heading out on my bike through the vineyards of Ribera del Duero. It is helpful to put the place to the names, letting the notecards come alive in some way. It is a pity, but even though I live right in Valladolid, which borders Ribera, Cigales, and Rueda (with Toro and Rioja not far), I don’t know all the wineries. Everyone knows Vega Sicilia and Pesquera, but there are so many more. We are at nearly 800m here in Valladolid and Ribera and endure some brutal weather with extreme hot and cold. They sometimes have to deal with frost in the spring and early fall. Though it is looking like a near-perfect, muy bueno harvest. You can see the chalky soils in the photos. So much white along the rolling hills.  Ribera del Duero means riverbank along the river Duero, and that’s exactly where we went.

Following the River Duero

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My favorite, Dehesa de los Canónigos

Monastery, San Bernardo

Vineyard, Bodegas Valbuena de Duero

Church, Pesquera del Duero

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Entering Pesquera de Duero

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With my ‘photographer’, his uncle, and his cousin

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Just your average Roman bridge over the Duero river

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Leaving Dehesa de los Canónigos

The chalky soils, leaving Dehesa de los Canónigos

Bodegas Emilio Moro

Bodegas Emilio Moro

Emilio Moro tasting room

Emilio Moro tasting room. Epic wines – yes, epic

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We discovered some garage wine in Pesquera–not for sale unfortunately. Love the paella pans in the background.

Hand-picked, hand-carried

Hand-picked, hand-carried

Crates of tempranillo

Crates of tinto fino

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Garage wine garden

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The making of garage wine

Garage wine in the destemmer/press

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Pulpo al gallego

Lunch of pulpo and lechazo is served