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A Wine Lover's Diary, Part 293 (May 31, 2010)

Thursday, May 20: Today I fly to Paris to join the group who are touring northern Spain with me. Moira Sagansky called my room at 4:15 am to make sure I was awake. A car to Heathrow and the flight to Paris. Met up with Deborah and the group at Charles de Gaulle airport. We fly to Bilbao at 12:55 pm to begin the tour.

An uneventful flight from Paris to Bilbao and the hour-long bus ride into San Sebastian, except Vaughan and Maria's luggage did not arrive from Vancouver. The bus for the 32 of us takes an hour to drive from the airport. The Hotel Maria Christina is very majestic and comfortable. Our room (with a huge marbled bathroom) overlooks the sea. Deborah and I sleep for an hour or so and then prepare to join the group downstairs for a glass of cava and then walk to a restaurant for dinner.

 
Anchovy seller, San Sebastian market

We are dining at Bodegon Alejandro at Fermin Calbeton 4. I have chosen Gran Quinta Dari Crianza 2006, a Tinta di Toro (clone of Tempranillo) from Rioja Alevesa. The set meal starts with a glass of asparagus consommé, followed by cold marinated anchovies lasagna and vegetables ratatouille with gazpacho cream, then baby tomato stuffed with roast squid on a bed of black rice with cuttlefish and Carranza cheese sauce. Next, Grilled hake with potatoes and iodized mussel juice. Main course: glazed Iberian veal cheek served on a potato and bacon terrine with warm roasted red pepper jus (the only disappointing dish in the entire meal). Desserts: French toast soaked in fresh cream and egg yolk, with cheese ice cream (and orange rind – fabulous dish), and slightly spicy peach gnocchi with coconut ice cream and vanilla juice. Got to bed around midnight.

Friday, May 21: Slept till 9:15 am! Dashed down to breakfast. We're meant to leave for a walking tour of San Sebastian guided by Gabriella, an American who has lived here for 20 years. San Sebastian is a beautiful seaside city of 183,000 people. Visited the underground market, bought some olive oil.

Back to the hotel to change before driving up into the hills above San Sebastian to lunch at a Michelin 3 Star restaurant, Akelarre, one of three in Spain. On the way up in the bus Gabriella told us about a Spanish sport called grass-cutting where two teams have to clear similar size fields of grass using scythes. Apparently the spectators wager on this.

 
Foie gras dish at Akelarre

At Akelarre, Chef Pedro Subijano prepared a magnificent meal. The amuse bouche was glazed Iberico ham on a crusty biscuit with a single anchovy served in a sardine can. The staff put on the table what looked like a box of chocolates but each is a savoury, one-bite portion of zurrukutuna, black pudding roll, chips "Palvoron," mackerel burger and little pig. The first wine was Condessa Eylo Verdejo 2009, which accompanied porous of foie gras and toasted peanut bread. The foie gras was in pellet form and also infused into a bread-like, crumbly substance. Next dish: wild mushrooms and "egg pasta" – strands of white and yellow egg that looked like pasta with wild mushrooms sautéed in ham fat. Next, poached hake with goose barnacles, olive oil pearls and arugula. This was served with Remerulli 2005. The main dish was roasted lamb loin in live coal (the latter being red pepper that were battered in flour coloured with squid ink and fried to look like burnt logs). Finally, rhubarb sorbet with chocolate brownies and bonbons – chocolates and tiny chocolate meringues.

 
Gordon Pape on the terrace
 
Pouring wine outside a tapas bar
 
Cathy Pauwels's pick-up (Doug Macmillan)

Back to the hotel, where Gordon Pape and I visited a couple of wine shops to pick up bottles for tomorrow evening's small party on his terrace overlooking the river. He and I sat and chatted on the terrace over a glass of Muga Rosè 2009.

Instead of dinner we tour the tapas bars in the old city. We begin at a bar next door to the restaurant where we ate last night, commencing with skewered grilled shrimps on a slice of bead with a young, fizzy white wine that is traditionally poured from a great height to aerate it, Ganeta Gabariato y Kalina 2009. Then a bottle of Anta Banderas a 4 2008 from Ribera del Duero. It is traditional to throw your used paper napkins on the floor, and the secret of finding a good tapas bar is to see the floor littered with paper. Several more bars follow, where we taste the specialty of each bar – grilled green pepper, ham, braised veal cheek, grilled mushrooms and egg yolk, orzo, blood sausage ravioli, anchovies, battered blood sausage, sweetbreads in ham and almond capuccino and mussels in a creamy foam. The wines: Eric Solomon Laurel 2007 from Priorat, Palacios Remondo Placet 2007, Marquis de Irun Blanco 2009, Pazo Senorans Albarino 2009. Cathy Pauwels demonstrated her strength by picking up other people's husbands, literally: hoisting both Gordon Pape and Doug MacMillan (both large gentlemen) off the ground. We ended the evening at the Whiskey Museum, where we had a glass of Edradour 10 Year Old. Danced to the piano music and got home at 1:30 am.


San Sebastian's whisky bar

 
Grilled prawns at Etxebarri

Saturday, May 22: Slept till 10:30 am, when Cathy Pauwels phoned to see if Deborah wanted to go shopping. Took our bus to a famous one-star grill restaurant near Bilbao called Etxebarri in a village in the hills at Axpe. The menu was prepared on a series of charcoal grills.

Marinated anchovy

Homemade chorizo

Smoked goat's milk butter

Grilled Palamos prawns

Grilled oyster, wakame

Grilled baby octopus, ink sauce

Grilled egg yolk, St. George mushrooms

Grilled whole turbot

Grilled Galician beef chop, garden salad

Elderflower granite

Wild blueberry infusion, fresh cheese ice cream

Grilled strawberries, pain perdu, smoked ice cream.

A magnificent meal, particularly the beef. I ordered Duo Davide Albarino 2008 (Albarino with Godello) and Roda Reserva 2005 from Rioja. The meal took four hours and we didn't get back to the hotel until 7 pm. Gordon Pape invited us to his suite on the fifth floor for wine and cheese. Ten of us had made a booking at another one-star restaurant called Kototxa near the San Sebastian church in the old city. I ordered Nieve Pie Francis Verdejo 2009 and a Contino 2005. Deborah and I shared calamari ravioli and I ordered suckling pig; Deborah, pigeon.

 
Stephen Pauwels enters the Guggenheim
 
Deborah with Jeff Koons's floral dog at the Guggenheim

Sunday, May 23: Kept awake most of the night by revelers in the square below. We leave this morning at 9:30 for Bilbao, en route for Rioja. It's an hour drive. We tour the Guggenheim Museum, a guided tour (amazing), and then take the rapid transit into the old city to find a place for lunch. We spot a restaurant with white table clothes out on the pedestrian street and decide to eat there. Gorbea – a big mistake. The food is less than mediocre but eight of us managed to consume three bottles of Palacio de la Vega Rosado 2008, a Navarra rosé.

Back on the bus to Rioja, a drive of about an hour and a half to Laguardia. We check in to Hotel Villa de Laguardia. We are dining at a restaurant in the town with Maria José Lopez de Heredia, the director general of Lopez de Heredia Vina Tondonia (who has graciously donated the wines for tonight) and Tom Perry, a marketing and PR consultant for Rioja wines, an American who has lived in Spain for thirty-six years. We dine in a private room in Restaurante Marixa. The panoramic window overlooks the valley with the mountains behind. Tom Perry introduces us to Rioja and then Maria José tells us the history of her family winery, now 133 years old. Her great-grandfather, who was Chilean, founded the winery. She told us that the history books are wrong – that it wasn't mainly Bordeaux vintners who came to the region in the 1850s to escape phylloxera. Ninety-five per cent of the emigrants were from Alsace and in those days Rioja was a white wine region. And that the term tinto (for red wines) actually referred to the practice of adding some red wine to white, which would be taxed at a much lower level than white (tinto = tinted).


Tasting in the cellar of Villa Laguardia Hotel

 
An amazing white wine

We finally begin tasting. Lopez de Heredia Vina Tondonia Blanco Reserva 1991 (gorgeous wine with caramel, lemon and barley sugar flavours, great acidity). With this were served – by a single, very busy  waiter – croquettes followed by a leek and prawn flan. Next wine, Lopez de Heredia Vina Tondonia Reserva 2000 (peppery, dried rose petals, cherry and licorice flavours). This was served with a confit of cod in orange sauce and also accompanied the following dish, oxtail timbale in red wine and Iberian ham sauce. Next wine, Lopez de Heredia Vina Bosconia Reserva 2002 (deeper colour, fuller and denser with a sweet raspberry flavour). Instead of dessert, which would have worked better with the next wine, we are served warm puff pastry stuffed with marzipan, concentrated red wine and cinnamon. The star of the evening: Lopez de Heredia Vina Tondonia Blanco Reserva 1971 (a beautifully balanced and mellow wine, seamless flavours of strawberry and sandalwood). "This is still a baby for us," says Maria José.

After dinner, walked briefly around the old town of Laguardia before bed.

Monday, May 24: Bad night, kept awake by the sound of mating frogs. After breakfast we take the bus into Haro to visit Muga. Following a tour of the cellars and the cooperage we settle into the tasting room. In the centre is a huge round table that seats 17 with a lazy Susan in the middle. Gordon Thorne put his video camera on it and let it revolve while filming. The tasting: Muga Blanco 2009, Muga Rosé (the red and white grapes for rosé in this region are co-fermented), Muga Reserva 2006, Muga Seleccion Especial Reserva 2005. Then plates of food are put on the table: white asparagus, ham loin, tortilla, chorizo in a blanket.


A round table (lazy Susan) tasting at Muga


A venerable red at Muga
 
Gordon rests at Muga


A square in Haro, Rioja Alavesa

After a long and riotous lunch we take the bus into the old part of Haro and walk around before visiting C.V.N.E., where we taste Cune Monopole Blanco 2009, a fresh white wine made from 100% Viura which the company has been making since 1915, and Cune Imperial Reserva 2004.

 
Vega Sicilia Unico 1994

Back to the hotel for a short rest before a tasting of Vega-Sicilia wines conducted by Puri Mancebo in the basement cellar of the hotel. Puri had driven three hours from Ribera del Duero to do the tasting. Tomorrow morning she leaves for a meeting in Bordeaux. Down there we tasted Oremus Tokaji Mandolas 2006 (a delicious dry Tokaji from a property Vega Sicilia owns in Hungary), Pintia 2006 (from Toro, a big bruiser of a wine) and Alion 2006 from Ribera del Duero (great wine). At dinner we had a further three wines – Vega-Sicilia Valbueno No. 5 2005, Vega-Sicilia Unico 1999, Vega-Sicilia Unico 1994 and, with dessert, Oremus Aszu 5-Puttonyos 2000. The menu: salad with marinated salmon, sautéed mushrooms with egg yolk and potato sticks, a mix of cooked vegetables ( beans, peas, French bean, cauliflower and broccoli), then roast suckling pig. For dessert, panacotta with strawberry coulis.

Tuesday, May 25: This morning a short drive to Elciego to visit Marques de Riscal. The most eye-catching feature of this beautiful property is the Gehry-designed hotel with its ribbon-like swathes of titanium and stainless steel in red, gold and silver – the colours of the wine, Riscal's capsule and the gold wire mesh of the bottle.

We tour the facility with its impressive barrel cellar stacked six high, watch a video in Spanish with English subtitles and gawk at the library cellar with bottles going back to 1860. Then to the modern tasting room for a tasting of three wines that are available in the Ontario market: Marques de Riscal Rueda Verdejo 2009, Marques de Riscal Rueda Tempranillo 2007 and Marques de Riscal Rioja Reserva 2005.

 
150th Anniversary bottling of Marques de Riscal
 
Another great bottle of wine

Lunch in the Gehry hotel. Impressed by the red toilet paper in the bathroom. Food is excellent here. The winery has kindly donated the wines for our lunch: Marques de Riscal Limousin Verdejo 2008 (an oak aged wine, nicely balanced, dry with lively acidity, peach and lemon flavours with vanilla oak) and Marques de Riscal Rioja Reserva 150th Anniversary Bottling 2001 (richly extracted, sweet strawberry, sandalwood and chocolate flavours with a lilac note). The menu: cheese terrine square with sesame, our croquettes, white asparagus, monkfish with clams and "Boletus edulis" (porcini) mushrooms, and fish sauce, meat balls with black truffle over Parmentier of potatoes and fresh cheesecake with raspberries.

Back at the hotel by 4 pm in time to get ready for a tasting of Marques de Marietta wines in the hotel's cellar. The winery is currently under construction so we couldn't visit but Miryam Ochoa kindly brought the wines to us.

Marques de Murrieta Capellania White Reserva 2005: very fresh with spicy, lemony and white peach flavours, great length with a nutty finish. Will age well.

Marques de Murrieta Rioja Reserva 2001: ruby colour; sandalwood, strawberry and raspberry flavours, sweet fruit with lively acidity; great mouth feel and balance.

Marques de Murrieta Castillo Ygay Gran Reserva Especial 2001: ruby colour; strawberry, ripe plum and mint flavours; very elegant and seamless – a gorgeous wine.

Dalmau Reserva 2005 (a blend of 92% Tempranillo, 4% Cabernet Sauvignon, 4% Graciano): intense, concentrated spicy sweet black fruits with blackberry and almond flavours – more international in style.

 
A gift to Miryam Ochoa for the Murrieta tasting

As a thank you to Miryam I presented her with a pair of Vancouver Winter Olympics red mitts.

Some of our group elected to go into Logrono to tour the tapas bars, but Deborah and I wanted a little quiet time, so we walked into the old town of Laguardia with Gordon Pape. We had been recommended a tapas bar called Entreviñas y Olivos at Cuatro Cantones 12, which turned out to be an old stone house with an olive press. We had a glass of anonymous wine and chorizo and cheese on a slice of bread. We were joined by Janet and Lynn and wandered over to Hotel Castillo El Collado. Deborah and I didn't feel like a full meal so we went in search of another tapas bar. We were admiring a small maquette on the wall of a house (a seated man reading a newspaper) when the artist, Juanjo Sanpedro, arrived at his door. He invited us in to see his work. He had illustrated a book about Rioja with his water colours and one of his abstract paintings hung in the lobby of our hotel. We finished the evening at El Bodegon, a small tapas bar where we had another anonymous red with ham and manchego.


Artist Juanjo Sanpedro outside his house with Deborah

Wednesday, May 26: This morning we leave for Barcelona, a six-hour bus journey. We break the journey at Lleida to visit Raimat. Here we are toured around the old winery, visiting the "cemetery" where they display old wines that the cellar master deems no longer fit for sale. Then into the modern tasting room built into the side of a hill with vines planted on the roof. We are greeted with a Raimat Extra Brut Blanc de Blancs – a very tasty sparkling wine that cannot be called a cava since it's not made from the prescribed grapes, Xarel·lo, Macabeo and Paralleda. We have a tapas lunch and then a tasting conducted by the Australian winemaker, Mark Nairn, of Raimat Vina 24 Albernio 2009, Raimat Abadia Blanc de Blancs 2009 (Albarino and Chardonnay), Raimat Vina 43 Tempranillo 2006 and Raimat Abadia Cabernet Sauvignon Tempranillo 2007. Martin Malivoire kindly purchases four bottles of the sparkling wine for us to have on the bus; we consume it out of plastic beer glasses.


Raimat's new wine centre

 
Gaudí's Sagrada Familia church, Barcelona

We arrive at our hotel, Condes de Barcelona, at 5:30 pm. Actually there are two Condes on opposite corners of Passeig de Garcia. I walk a few blocks to check out the Gaudi buildings and then join the group on the eighth floor across the street in the Altaire Terrace Bar for a welcome to Barcelona drink, Colet Extra Brut Blanc de Blancs. In fact, our group of 30 manage to polish of seven bottles of this enjoyable bubbly before heading off for dinner.

Stephen and Cathy Pauwels and Deborah and I take a cab to Gresca Restaurant at Provença, 230. It seats 28 people and is noisy but the food is terrific. I order an artichoke, ham and cheese salad, which is delicious, followed by sweetbreads, beautifully cooked (crisp and crunch on the outside and soft in the middle). The accompanying wine is Alvaro Palacios Les Terraces 2007 from Priorat (a little young but improved with decanting).


The entrance to Güell Park, Barcelona

 
Güell Park's buttressed walkway

Thursday, May 27: Today, a tour of Barcelona by bus, spent some time walking around the Parc Güell (where Nick got lost for half an hour) and ending up at the food market. We're ravenous and sit down at the counter of an open restaurant, pointing to what other diners have in front of them. They must have one price for the locals and another for tourists because a plate of seafood salad, a plate of grilled calamari, warm green peppers and a glass of white wine for the two of us comes to 39 euros. Last night Gordon Pape told me that the tapas restaurant where he ate with four others came to 25 euros each, including two bottles of wine.

 
The Artal family in their Cinc Sentits restaurant

Gordon and I go shopping at Il Corte Ingles, a great department store, before we all meet to walk over to Cinc Sentits, a small restaurant owned by the Artal family, who lived in Oakville, Ontario, for many years – the mother, Roser, her son, the chef Jordi, and daughter, Amelia. We are entertaining Miguel Torres, whose winery we will visit tomorrow.

We start with Tapas: Marcona almonds, white truffle and cheese sticks, house marinated "Gorbal" olives stuffed with pimento and an intriguing shot glass of maple syrup, chilled cream, cava sabayon and rock salt.

First course: foie gras "Coca" – crisp pastry, candied sugar crust covered with chive "arrope," served with Christofell Erben Riesling Auslese Urziger Würzgarten 2007.

Second course: pan-seared scallop on a bed of Jerusalem artichoke and onion, with Torres Fransola Sauvignon Blanc 2008.

Third course: wild Mediterranean sea bass "fideua" noodles and aioli, with Can Bonastre Maurel Chardonnay 2007 from Penedes.

Fourth course: Iberian suckling pig, crisp and succulent, apple in two textures and "ratfia," with Torres Mas La Plana Cabernet Sauvignon 2004.

Desserts: citrus "snow," lemon ice cream, lime rocks yuzu form, followed by chocolate with bread, olive oil and salt "Grand Cru" 67%, olive oil ice cream, shattered cocoa and macadamias, served with Garnatxa de L'Emporda Masia Pairal Can Carreras.

Friday, May 28: The bus takes us to Vila Franca del Penedes, a 45-minute drive into the hills above Barcelona, to visit the Torres winery. After watching a video on the history of the family we walk through the tunnel of aromas – the four smells of the season (burning of the vine cuttings in winter, the smell of flowers in the spring, and the freshly made wine in the fall). Then we take a "train" through the cellars, where there are more video presentations on screens as you drive through. We are shown the winemaking process and then take the bus to Mas Rabell, where we do a tasting and have lunch.

The wines tasted:

  • Torres Gran Viña Sol 2008
  • Torres Viña Esmeralda 2009
  • Torres Coronas 2007
  • Torres Ibericos 2006 (from Rioja, 100% Tempranillo)
  • Torres Santa Digna "Reserva" Cabernet Sauvignon 2007 (from Chile)
  • Torres Samos 2007 (a blend of Garnacha Tinta, Syrah and Mazuelo from Priorat)
  • Torres Mas La Plana Cabernet Sauvignon 2005
 
Miguel Torres

Miguel Torres joins us halfway through the tasting and at the end, as the group heads in for lunch, he invites me to taste the 2005, 2006, 2007 Mas La Plana and the first bottling of Santa Digna Empedrado Merlot 2009 from his Chilean property.

At lunch we are served blind a new product, Torres Natureo Sin 2009, a dry Muscat that has been de-alcoholised to 0.5 per cent. The menu: grilled vegetable timbal with pesto sauce, served with Santa Digna Sauvignon Blanc 2009, followed by rooster from Penedes with nuts, served with Torres Gran Coronas 2005 and Torres Celeste 2006. Dessert: Catalan creamy mousse with cinnamon ice cream, with Torres Moscatel Floralis (a kind of Pineau de Charentes).

Returned to Barcelona and Deborah hit the shoe shops. Dinner is in our hotel at Lasarte operated by Martin Berasategui, who used to own the Bodegon Alejandro in San Sebastian, where we ate the first night of the tour. It's the tasting menu, which begins with a glass of Colet Tradicional Extra Brut. Caramelized "mille-feuilles" of green apple, foie gras and smoked eel, served with Abadol Sobre Lias Verdejo 2008 from Castilla y Léon, followed by a plate of apple and root vegetables marinated in acid, crisp, cream, ice cream and mustard "sandwich." Then sea bream with vegetable and citric purée. The main course: veal filet with Iberian carpaccio and creamy mashed potatoes, served with López Cristóbal Roble 2009 from Ribera del Duero. Desserts: cocoa crumbs with yoghurt ice cream, bitter strawberry, lemon grass and passion fruit soup followed by chocolate soufflé with Tahiti vanilla ice cream and petits fours.

Saturday, May 29: Many of the group decided not to join us for a visit to Sitges, a charming coastal town 45 minutes south of Barcelona. Nine of us walked along the promenade and through the narrow pedestrian streets with interesting shops. Stopped for lunch at a seafront restaurant called Santa Maria, where we ate paella marinera and consumed two bottles of Muga Rosado 2008.


A ham shop in Sitges


Paella in Sitges

 
Martin Malivoire and Moira Sagansky show off their new shirts

At 7:30 pm the entire group assembled on the terrace of the hotel for a farewell drink (Colet Extra Brut Blanc de Blancs) and tapas.

Ten of us took cabs to Passadìs del Pep, a traditional fish restaurant in the port area (Pla de Palau, 2). Awaiting us were two bottles chilling in an ice bucket, Juves y Camps Reserva Brut. I asked for the wine list but the waiter said they only had white or red. What was the white? Either Chardonnay or Albarino. I ordered the latter, which turned out to be Pazo Senorans Albarino 2009. Then the food started to arrive, ham and bread smeared with fresh tomato and olive oil, followed by plates of mussels. Sea snails, deep-fried whitebait, shrimps in butter, grilled green peppers, squid risotto, prawns and scampi. At the end of the meal, bottles of eau-de-vie and fruit brandies appeared on the table. I had a glass of Castillo Perellada Marc. Taxied back to the hotel. In bed just after midnight. Called for an alarm call at 6:45 am.

Sunday, May 30: The bus leaves for the airport at 8 am, a twenty-minute drive. Our flight to Paris leaves at 10:25 am but the line-up at the check in is enormous. It's the first day of a national holiday and the airport is packed. It takes us an hour to get through. Our connection in Paris to Toronto is tight and we have to be guided through the airport to make the flight. Get back around 5 pm to Toronto, where the weather is hotter than in Spain. Altogether a memorable trip.

 

 

 

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