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Archive for May, 2013

The Spanish Odyssey Part 2 .. The Road to Valencia

May 30th, 2013

Last week I left you in a vineyard in Rioja with a French wine maker called Tom. The story continues with Tom and his never-ending tour of his little plots of old vines. He has tiny little fields ( as an Irishman might call them ) scattered around where Rioja Alta meets Rioja Alavesa. If you recall last week, many regard this border to be the best place to make Rioja.

Anyway, as much as I like looking at old bush vines, after the fourth of fifth vineyard in a row, it gets kind of old and bear in mind this was about seven o clock in the evening and we had been on the road since early morning. As he turned off another bohreen I said there had better be a tapas bar at the end of this field. He said there was and I didn’t appreciate his sarcasm. My own was at least warranted.

The Tapas Bar on top of a Vineyard

However to my great delight Tom drove up a dirt road and onto the top of a hill and parks in the middle of a vineyard with spectacular views. He opens up the boot and takes out a cooler bag with white wine, chorizo, cheese and bread. The glasses were clinked and myself, Tom and Sancho ( the other importer I referred to in the last article ) were staring out into the late evening sun, all of us wishing we were there with someone else.

Its a tough life ...

Its a tough life ...

Of course the person I would have preferred to share it with was my wife and I can only hope and assume the others were thinking the same ( their wives, not mine). Anyway, it was a view and setting wasted on three men in their very late thirties. In lieu of the romance, we took to the drink – as men often do. As we watched the sun set, the white wine turned to red, and the second bottle of red appeared magically through the mist. Like I said, it was all very romantic.

Football & Wine

I’d like to say the night ended there and we went back to our hotel to catch up on emails and all the admin that goes with owning a business. Alas, winemaker Tom insisted we visit his town, a lively little spot called Logroño. First port of call was a bar to watch the Barcelona match ( the Real fans cheered when they were stuffed ), followed by a wine bar to taste Tom’s wines in more ‘traditional’ surroundings and just when I thought I was getting away, a late night bar was found just to finish me off.

Lately I have been known to wax lyrical about The Forge CrossFit gym and some would say I might get a little boring talking about it. Anyway, the fear of boring people is not something I worry too much about, so at about 2am and after the late bar, I ended up talking about the gym and showing my accomplices what a burpee was.

A Burpee in Rioja

The miracle was that I didn’t smash my face into the Spanish ground. I am sure there is CCTV footage of this in central Logroño, which is a great little town I would highly recommend you visit. If you want to know what a burpee is then I suggest you call to The Forge. You might be sorry you asked though.

Post burpee, we found a taxi and suffice to say the early start the next morning was put off for a few hours and it was only on checking out of the hotel did we realise that Sancho had lost his iPhone and his wallet. For some miraculous reason I was feeling fresh as a daisy and Mike was sick as a small hospital.

One thing I should stress about this trip is the hospitality of the people we met was immense and they genuinely were delighted to show us around their family wineries. However bad we are having it in Ireland, and we are having it bad, the Spanish face a far worse scenario. I drove from Barcelona across through Zaragoza past Madrid and onto Valencia and the lack of trucks on the road was palpable. The unemployment rate for under 26s is in near the 45% bracket.

We had another meeting in Rioja with a potential new supplier and rather than squeeze him into this article, such is his tale and such are his wines, that he deserves his own article ( if and when we cut a deal for the wines ). With Rioja in our mirror we headed on a longish drive to Medina, which is in Rueda country, home of one of the most popular Spanish white wine styles.

Rioja ... Alavasa

Rioja ... Alavasa

Campo de Medina

For those of you who like Sauvignon Blanc, I can recommend this often cheaper variety which is made up of Verdejo, Sauvignon or a blend of the two. Another long and boozy lunch ensued and then a vineyard tour with Ivan. Ivan was very generous with his time but luckily he had to go to Madrid that night so we were able to have a quiet beer in the hotel and catch up on all the sleep we lost the next day. Some days the cards fall for you.

Don Quixote gets to La Mancha

An early start got us on the road from Medina past Madrid and into La Mancha. Don Quixote was home and in the famous old town of Noblejas to meet with the charming Bienvenido Muñoz Pollo, who heads up the family winery Bodegas Muñoz. This is one of the cheapest regions in Spain ( and Europe ) to make wines and in the right hands can produce some great value wines that punch well above their weight.

La Mancha at last

La Mancha at last

For those of you who want to test the theory, I’m glad to say that the wines are here already and start around the €10 mark. As I type we have some open in the shop. Do call in to say Hola and try these great little wines. If its value you are after, then our final destination offers that and a bit of style to boot.

Valencia in the rain

Some of you will already be familiar with our Valencian wines from Bodegas Antonio Arráez. We arrived into the vineyard about an hour outside of Valencia city and another long boozy lunch with a fantastic indoor barbeque. This was an old style roadhouse restaurant and it stays open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. It was a very cool spot and the T-bone steaks were beyond huge.

A BBQ in Valencia

A BBQ in Valencia

We went on to the winery, which holds a fascinating story. Toni is in his early 30s and has transferred the family business from a bulk wine operation into something modern, young and marketable. The wines are great too and have been huge hits for us since we starting bringing them in last year. The very cheap price and ease of drinkability helps immensely.

Families in old villages around Valencia and Rioja traditionally would have made their own wine in every house. In Arraez, they have transformed the old wine vats and cellars into a museum and social setting. You can book it for groups and spend a night in a wine vat. I wonder if Bulmers could do something similar? Anyway, after the tour we were due to spend our last night in Valencia, 1 hour away. A nice big motorway to take us there.

Great in theory but the drive was among the worst I have every experienced. The rain that fell was biblical and with 3 and 4 lanes of speeding traffic it was hit and miss for a while. We couldn’t see more than a foot in front of us and all the trucks we never saw during the week suddenly came out to play. The speed we were forced into was criminal and I was very glad not to be driving but being a passenger was hairy enough. We passed 3 accidents on the way to central Valencia and boy were we happy to find our hotel.

A Valencia tapas night with Octopus and other exotic foods ended the social side of our trip. There was a lot of business and it just so happened that a lot of it was socially structured. Don’t blame me – blame the Spanish and their sensible approach to life.

A whole lot of kilometres

A whole lot of kilometres

A Long Road

A long drive the next day to Barcelona airport brought us full circle on our 2,200km Don Quixote wine adventure. A bumpy flight to Cork and a tired drive back to Clonmel brought a very fruitful trip through the wine regions of Spain to an end. Some of the wines are already here and there are more to come. I would encourage you to try Spanish wines as it offers diversity, quality but also great value for money. Don Quixote has left the building.

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For anyone who would like more information and can’t make it into the shop, please feel free to contact me at info@rednosewine.com

“Life is much too short to drink bad wine”

Don Quixote reincarnated – A Spanish Odyssey Part 1

May 3rd, 2013

A great work of literature is a wonderful thing, and always a pleasure when you get to visit where one was set, or to possibly re-enact it, in as much as modern life allows. Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra wrote about Alonso Quijano and his fantasied alter ego Don Quixote, the wandering knight.

winetrip-Spain-

Last week I became Don Quixote and with a fellow wine importer in tow to play the part of Sancho Panza ( Don Quixote’s travel companion ), we flew into Barcelona to do a 2,200KM wine trip through Spain. We would end up in La Mancha but not quite yet. This article will be in two parts and will document a journey through cold, sunny and rainy Spain.

Our flight from Cork landed on Sunday into Barcelona airport and the Spanish equivalent of Sky Sports messed up our plans to watch Barcelona play football that night ( the game was moved ). So we drove directly from the airport in our rented Volkswagon and with the aid of our trusty GPS ( who is called Margaret ) towards Pamplona, the city of the bulls.

Pamplona is Basque country and is also in the region called Navarra. It is a busy stop for pilgrims on the Camino de Santiago de Compostela. For those not in the know, this is the way of St James, an ancient pilgrimage from France to Compostela on the West coast of Northern Spain. Pamplona is also known for the running of the bulls and was made famous by another well known literary figure, Ernest Hemingway.

Hemingway's Hotel Pamplona

Hemingway's Hotel Pamplona

When we eventually reached Pamplona and our hotel, we raced the sunset in order to try get a beer in the famous Plaza del Castillo. It was a race well run, but the sun beat us and we instead found ourselves inside Café Iruña, made famous in Hemingway’s first big book, “The Sun Also Rises”. Now, with the well-earned cold beer in hand after the four-hour drive, the series subject of tomorrow’s journey could be discussed.

Where Ernest had a tipple

Where Ernest had a tipple

I won’t bore you with tales of a very strange Tapas ( or Pintxos ) bar we ate in. Suffice to say we had to eat our starters on one table and our main courses at another. The waiter was as confused as we were but the average wine quenched our thirst and we suffered on for our art.

The next morning we headed into the countryside, for you do not find too many vines in big towns and cities. The Navarra wine region lies between Rioja and the French border to the northeast. The foothills of the Pyrenees descend towards Navarra from the north and the Ebro River runs up from the south into Rioja to the west. The region can be broken into 5 different wine locations, Valdizarba, Tierra Estella and Baja Montana to the north. Ribera Alta in the middle and Ribera Baja in the south.

A Bodegas in Navarra

A Bodegas in Navarra

One of our most popular wines comes from Navarra, Pago de Cirsus. It is from the Ribera Baja in the south. We were rummaging around in the north west and came across a couple of great estates. I can’t say too much now as they may be following my blog ( illusions of grandeur ) and my bargaining position would not be strengthened by then knowing I was interested. It’s a bit like being a teenager again. “Does she like me?” “Yes, she does”. “But does she Like Like me?”

We also came across a wine fountain in Navarra. It is beside a very famous monastery in Ayegui on the Camino. Right beside the path that the pilgrims walk is a fountain that has two taps. One serves wine and one serves water. It is free to pilgrims and we were told that in high season, they go through 3,000 litres of wine a month, which is 4,000 bottles or nearly 7 pallets of wine. So if you find yourself on The Way of St James, you know where to get a free drink.

The Wine Fountain on the Camino de Santiago

The Wine Fountain on the Camino de Santiago

We headed south to Pago de Cirsus and saw their spectacular castle ( man made by the film producer owner ). It is all part of a luxury hotel complex nestled among the vines. Its kind of in the middle of nowhere and boasts a very well regarded restaurant which we had to refuse lunch in (Sancho Panza has not forgiven me yet ). The fancy digs kind of goes against the price point of the wines which are definitely among the best value wines we sell.

Pago-de-Cirsus

Onwards and westwards we went, towards the medieval village of Lagardia in the Rioja Alavesa. There are three regions in Rioja, Alta, Baja and Alavesa. All have very different characteristics and Alavesa is widely believed to be the best, but some of the winemakers argued that the best region is where Alavesa borders the Alta.

Such is the importance of Rioja in the wine selling world that we were scheduled for two nights here and we had meetings set up with existing and potential new suppliers. One of these new winemakers ( who we have been courting for a while ) told is the best French wine is made in Rioja. This refers to the fact that is was the French who came here after phylloxera had wiped out the majority of French vines in the middle of the 19th century.

among-the-Rioja-vines

The wine business was of course well established in Rioja, but the French introduced oak which is a big component of Rioja wines today. The classical definition talks about Joven, Roble, Crianza, Reserva and Gran Reserva wines. These are all determined by how much time the spend in oak and also how much time they spend in bottle before being released. The more oak, the more money in general terms, but Gran Reservas are in many cases over oaked, in my opinion.

What is interesting to see is that many of the new generation like to experiment outside the official rules, and thus making much more interesting wines. A French wine maker called Tom Puyaubert is one who is very experimental. He make the Exopto wines that we have been selling for about six months. I love when winemakers experiment. It makes for much more interesting wines.

The black teeth in a Rioja sunset

The black teeth in a Rioja sunset

While this has been a whirlwind tour of Don Quixote and Sancho Panza’s wine adventure, I will continue in Part 2 and recant tales of a crazy winemaker in Rioja, a hilltop sunset vineyard picnic, a list wallet and phone as well as a very scary drive into Valencia in the worst rain I have ever seen. Hasta Luego Amigos.

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