Category Archives: Spanish Wines

THE EPICENTER OF WINE CULTURE IN MÀLAGA, SPAIN

I went to Los Patios de Beatas on Calle Beatas the other evening to check out the wine scene there. It was recommended by Kelly Kannisto of Tannin Trail Tours (LINK) (LINK TO PREVIOUS POST), when I contacted him about recommendations for wine experiences in Màlaga.

Although Màlaga is a wine region, the wines made here are generally sweet. The great dry wines of Spain are made elsewhere.

Los Patios de Beatas is a combination restaurant, tapas bar, wine tasting room, wine retailer, and event location. It is beautifully appointed, has indoor and outdoor seating, and a good selection of wines, almost all from Spain, on sale. Since being in Màlaga, we have had some difficulty finding a good wine shop.

I looked around the space a bit, and asked if I could do a tasting. Àngel, the head waiter told me to sit anywhere in the tasting room/tapas bar area. He and Christina made sure that I was well attended to, even though there were other customers – the exterior seating was full. The main restaurant is staffed separately.

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There is a Enoteca Machine that dispenses wines and keeps them at temperature. The wine list had over 15 tintos (reds) and half a dozen blancos (whites) available by the glass. Eight of the reds were in the Enoteca. I started with a 2005 Tilenos Pagos de Posada, 100% Mencia from D.O. Bierzo (LINK) in northwestern Spain. This wine has a great minerality with hints of dark fruit, chocolate, and leather. Very nice. It retails for 33€ or about $36. Another great value from Spain.

Next, I tried a 2009 Alma de Luzon, Monastrell blend of 70% Monastrell, 20% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 10% Syrah. This wine is from D.O. Jumilla (LINK), in southern Spain not far from Valencia, where the Monastrell Grape is very popular. This wine was rich and chewy, with medium tannins and a smooth finish. It retails for 36€ or about $39.

Next, Àngel brought four bottles to the table – all chilled. Three were Sherry, and one was a local Màlaga sweet wine. There were two sweet Sherries and one dry Sherry from D.O. Jerez (LINK) (LINK TO PREVIOUS POST), where Dorianne and I visited last year. I tasted these side by side while waiting for my tapas to arrive.

The Màlaga sweet wine, a Trajinero (LINK), made from 100% Pedro Ximénez grapes and fortified, was semi-sweet, with a nutty flavor and a nice smooth finish. The stand-out was the Fernando de Castilla Antique Oloroso Jerez Sherry (LINK), probably the best dry Sherry I have ever tasted. Over 20 years in the barrel (they rotate Sherries through a series of barrels so that each vintage is similar – taking some out, leaving some in, and adding the more recent vintage), this wine was smooth, with traces of coconut, vanilla and pear. Really special. This wine retails for 22€, or about $24 per 500ml bottle.

Then, my two tapa arrived. The first, a cod in a sauce that include coconut milk, was an amazing sensation of flavor. The second, pork belly, slow cooked and then the fat removed and a slice of pork chorizo inserted, accompanied by fennel and an apple puree. Amazing! The kitchen here is wonderfully creative and executes that creativity beautifully.

To accompany those, Àngel suggested a 2008 Mauro “Sin D.O.” from Castilla y Leon, made from 88% Tempranillo and 12% Syrah. The wine was a decent pairing with the cod (the coconut made it tricky), but perfect for the pork belly.

Then, to round of a great experience, Àngel brought out two local digestifs. They retail for about 7€ for a ½ bottle. Both were nice, if not exceptional.

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My tab for the whole thing was 50€. I know that a couple of things were comped. One of the more expensive evenings I’ve had in Màlaga, but a bargain anywhere outside of Spain.

So if you find yourself in Màlaga, find Los Patios de Beatas and have a great wine experience. I was solo on this trip, as Dorianne is out of town – so I will be taking her there when she returns.

As always, your comments on all things Spanish and/or wine are welcome.

 

Copyright 2016 – Jim Lockard

SPANISH WINE IN ANDALUCIA’S RONDA

Dorianne and I are staying in Málaga and Granada for six weeks. The other day, we took a tour of the beautiful white town, Ronda. We were going to go there anyway, but found a local tour company that combines your tour of the town with stops at two local wineries. All in all, a very nice day.

Southern Spain’s Andalucía region is an expansive area the borders the Mediterranean Sea on the south and east, Portugal on the west, and central Spain on the north. It includes cities like Seville, Granada, Málaga, Cordoba, Cadiz, and a host of other smaller towns and villages. The topography and climate are very much like southern California – warm and dry inland, slightly cooler and more humid near the sea. It is the home of millions of olive trees – and, where you can grow olives, you can usually grow grapes.

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Andalucian Valley

The wines of Andalucia are often sweet and/or fortified, such as the famous Sherry wines of the area around Jerez (LINK). Málaga is also known for sweet red wines (vino tinto dulce). But elsewhere, small producers are making dry wines out of unexpected varietals in the midst of olive country.

Our first stop was at Bodega Joaquín Fernández (LINK), just 3km north of Ronda. The bodega is located on a sloped property, and there are five hectares under cultivation, with an additional hectare about a mile away. They produce about 5,000 cases per year. Also, there is a rental unit where you can stay right at the vineyard.

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Moises Fernandez

Our tour was led by Moises Fernández, the son of the owner. He gave a very thorough tour of the vineyard and winemaking operation, with great detail on their organic processes. Only red varietals are grown at the bodega – Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot (pronounced Mer-LOT here), Syrah (pronounced SEE-rak), and Garnacha.  A white wine and a rosé (Rosado) made from Merlot are signature wines here along with some red blends.

All wines are fermented in large stainless steel tanks – a fermentation for alcohol, and then a malolactic fermentation. The wines are then stored in oak barrelsFrench and American, for periods from 3 months to two years. This is regulated by the local D.O. Malaga Hills/Mountain. Another regulation is that Tempranillo, the most popular red wine grape of Spain, cannot be grown here. That is why local wine makers rely on Bordeaux and Rhône varietals. In keeping with their organic philosophy, then do not use foils on their wine bottles. Instead, they seal them with a thin coating of beeswax.

Of interest, they have been experimenting with storing bottled wine under water. Here is a sample.

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After the tour, we had a tasting and tapas in the bodega’s outdoor tasting room that overlooks the vines. We tasted all of the wines produced – six in total. Dorianne and I were both impressed with the craftsmanship here – the wines were uniformly well-balanced, and all were very enjoyable. Two favorites were the 2015 Blanco de Uva Tinta – a white Merlot, and the 2014 Garnacha, a blend of 90% Garnacha & 10% Cabernet Sauvignon. Their wines sell in the 11€ to 15€ range – great values.

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The line up – note the beeswax seals.

Next, we had a couple of hours to tour Ronda – a beautiful city bisected by a river canyon that runs about 300 feet deep or more. If you visit Andalucía, Ronda should be on your list of places to visit. But back to the wine.

Our second stop would include lunch. We were driven a few kilometers out of town to a small bodega called Bodega Garcia Hildago, a small producer – about 1,000 cases annually. Here, we received a tour by Miguel Hildago, the owner and then a four-course lunch with some of his wines. His wife is an amazing cook, but she was away for the day, so he served the food that she had prepared earlier at a table on the patio of their beautiful home.

Miguel grows the same varietals as Bodega Joaquín Fernández, on about 2 hectares on his property. A few of his wines are in local restaurants, but otherwise, you have to visit the bodega to enjoy them. He makes four wines using organic techniques in his vineyard.

We particularly enjoyed his 2014 Zabel de Alcobazin, a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Syrah. It was rich, full bodied, and had a nice hint of minerality to it. There was a good tannin structure, so it should age well. It sells for 14€.

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Our tour company, Tannin Trail (LINK), offered a great experience. The van was comfortable (only two couples on the tour, which may have been a factor), the guide, Kelly, who originates from South Africa and has lived in Spain for eight years, was very knowledgeable about the local viniculture and the wines of the region, and the two bodega stops were interesting and fun. The tour company is in the process of expanding their operations to the Rioja Region as well, and have been re-branding from Trippy Vines to Tannin Trail during that time. Their Tripadvisor.com ratings are also excellent (LINK).

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It was good to get out and visit some of the wine makers who are making dry wines in this area of mostly sweet wine production. To be sure, Andalucía has a lot to offer.

 

Copyright 2016 – Jim Lockard

THE BERKELEY WINE SCENE – A GLIMPSE

I was in Berkeley, CA for a week on business and I did a bit of exploration of the wine scene here. This is not my first time here, and I have blogged about Berkeley before (LINK).

The big news here is the possible scandal associated with the Premier Cru Wine Store bankruptcy (LINK). You can read about that if you wish. Of course, the great Kermit Lynch is here with his legendary wine shop (LINK) – I visited there in May. There are a lot of very good restaurants here with wine lists of varying length, breath an depth.

The wine highlight of this trip was two visits to Vintage Berkeley (LINK) a wine shop on College Avenue in the Elmwood neighborhood (I was staying nearby). The owners of Vintage Berkeley also own Solano Cellars Wines.

The shop on College Avenue has a focus on wines of the world priced under $30. There is a “back room” with more pricey bottles. I saw a lot of wine labels that were new to me, and a few that I recognized. Most of the latter were in the back room.

There is usually a wine tasting going on, and on my first visit, the proprietors were offering a couple of French wines from the Rhône Valley. There were about eight customers tasting and shopping. I had a good conversation with several of the customers and the staff. I was told that there would be a winemaker tasting of Clos Saron wines on Saturday.

On Saturday evening, I returned and met Gideon Beinstock, the winemaker for Clos Saron, which is located in Yuba County, California, in the northern section of the Sierra Foothills AVA. The total production of Clos Saron is 800 cases, so don’t be looking for these at your local supermarket. They are currently re-planting some of their vines, so they are only bottling estate Pinot Noirs, three of them. The rest of their wines are sourced elsewhere. Here is the list from the tasting, which is most of the wines that they produce:

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I found the Cinsaults and the Carignans to be very interesting wines. The Cinsault vines were planted in 1885 and the Carignan vines in 1900. The blends that featured these wines were well-structured with relatively high acid and moderate tanins. They should age well and are interesting on a number of levels.

I was not a big fan of any of the Pinots, but to be fair, they are all young. Perhaps with a few years in the bottle, they will soften a bit. There was too much acidity for my taste, although each did have a distinctive nose and flavor range.

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Gideon Bienstock

I bought a nice bottle of Terra Sanctus Priorat Blend from Catalunya and went home. The wine was excellent – well balanced, just short of chewy, with a nice viscosity and dark fruit and notes of minerality. I know I only scratched the surface of the Berkeley wine scene on this trip – but I will return!2016-01-17 17.53.02

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The Tub at Vintage Berkeley Wine Shop

IN CATALONIA – A WINE REGION FULL OF LIFE

Dorianne and I are in Sitges, Spain this week, which is a beach town south of Barcelona. Just east and slightly inland from Barcelona is the Penedès DO Wine Region, home to a variety of wines, including Cavas, the sparkling wines of Spain. More about cavas in later posts. This concerns our visit to Bodegas Torres (LINK), in Villafranca del Penedès, one of the largest wine makers in Spain.

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The Penedès DO Wine Region

Bodegas Torres is truly a huge operation with a storied history and wine production all over the world (LINK). The Penedès Winery is a state of the art facility producing wine and brandy and is located next to the family home. It is roughly on the level of a Mondavi or a Gallo-sized operation, to give you an idea. The wine tour (which we were given alone with a guide, Archie, a young man from England) includes a tram and Universal Theme Park-like effects, which were inspired, we learned, by a family visit to Universal Studios in Los Angeles. So this is not your boutique winery.

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That being said, the company is taking strong steps at environmental sustainability (LINK), including recycling, energy and land conservation, increased organic and biodynamic farming practices, and the like. The tour highlights many of these practices, which the company obviously sees as a good way to market their wines. I agree with them.

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Reservoir used to clean equipment – water is recycled through the artificial wetlands.
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Sand dome over a reserve cellar to provide insulation
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Pheremone capsule to keep flies from laying eggs in the grapes

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The winery facility in Penedès processes millions of bottles of wine annually. It has the look and feel of a place that has the resources to create whatever the owners want – the buildings are nicely appointed, the vineyards well tended, the equipment is in excellent condition, plus there are very nice touches for the customer at every turn. There are about a dozen wines and several brandies produced here. Our tasting after the tour was limited to five wines from three regions in Spain. Archie our guide, has been with the company for about a year and is working toward wine certifications in England. His plan is to work in the wine industry. He showed a great deal of knowledge about the entire process, and he was able to answer most of our questions. The tour would be an excellent introduction for someone new to wine production, and we learned a thing or two as well.

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Barrel Storage Cellar
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Bottle Aging Facility
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Our guide, Archie, describing pruning techniques.

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As to the tasting – the wines we tried – two whites (blancos) and four reds (tintos), were all well-crafted and balanced wines. We tasted across several of the labels of the winery – (there are dozens). The blancos, were a 2013 Jean Leon Chardonnay from Penedès DO, and a 2013 Torres Fransola Sauvignon Blanc. The Chardonnay was 50% oak barrel aged and 50% stainless steel. It was similar to the increasingly popular style of Chardonnay from California, which is less buttery and powerful. The wine was refined and nice on the nose and in the mouth. Very good. The Sauvignon Blanc was more in the French style – smooth and elegant. The wine did not jump out at you with citrus or grassy notes like New Zealand Sauvignon Blancs; rather it seduced you a bit – this wine would be amazing with shellfish, we both agreed.

The four tintos were also all well-structured and balanced wines. They included a 2012 Torres Altos Ibericos Crianza Rioja, a Tempranillo with good character. Moderate tanins and acid make this wine good for drinking alone or with food, such as barbecue or some wonderful Iberico Jamon. The second tinto, a 2012 Torres Celeste Crianza from  Ribera del Duero DO, a Tinto Fino (the name for Tempranillo in that region). This wine was more fruity and had lower tanin – but was clearly well-crafted. Very nice. Next, we moved on to the two higher-end wines in the tasting. A 2012 Torres Salmos a blend of Cariñena (60%) Garnacha Tinta (20%) and Syrah (20%) grapes from the Priorat DO. I have really enjoyed just about every Priorat wine that I have tasted, and this one was no different. A very dark, rich color, fruity and spicy on the nose, and bold fruit-forward in the mouth, very thick (but not unpleasantly so) mouthfeel and a long, silky finish. I really love this wine. Finally, we go to the 2010 Mas la Plana Cabernet Sauvignon from the Penedès DO. This wine brings a greater complexity with some mushroom on the nose and hints of minerality just behind the fruit. Good tanins and acidity balance on the tongue and the finish is smooth and elegant. I liked this just a tiny bit less than the Salmos. The latter two wines should age beautifully. You can research more details at the Torres links above. This may not be the winery visit and tour for everyone – it is a very large facility and run like one. But it does give good insights into the Spanish Wine Industry. There are a number of smaller wineries in the region as well.

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The Tasting Room at Torres
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The Blancos (whites)
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The Tintos (reds)
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Dorianne, Jim and Archie after the tasting.

WINE, TAPAS AND FLAMENCO IN SEVILLE!

Yesterday, Dorianne and I stopped into Taberna del Volapié (LINK) for lunch (around 3pm). We had a very nice meal of tapas and wine. The waiter told us that there was a free Flamenco (LINK) show that evening at 9pm. We decided to go later on.

We arrived at the Taberna at about 8:15 pm and noticed that all of the tables were either filled with customers or had “reserved” cards on them. Our waiter from lunch came up to us and we said that we had come for the show, but we did not know that we had to reserve a table. After some very rapid Spanish conversation with someone behind the bar, we were escorted to a table right up front, the reserved card was removed, and we were all set!

We ordered a bottle of 2013 Protos Roble, from Ribera del Duero (LINK), a wine that we have had before on our trip (in fact, I had two glasses with lunch). At 14€ (about $15) a bottle, it is quite a bargain.

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2013 Portos Robles Tinto

We had several tapas dishes – see the photos – and the show began.

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Iberico Jamon (ham)
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Patatas Bravas – fried potatoes with spiced sauce – each place makes this in a slightly different way.
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Tuna loin with tomatoes.

We each had a glass of Solera 1847 Cream Sherry to close out the evening – a sweet wine, it is reminiscent of a late harvest or a tawny port wine.

And then, FLAMENCO!

This group of three – guitarist, vocalist and percussionist (via clapping) and dancer – were the most accomplished team we have seen yet in Spain. Here are some photos and a video.

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MORE TAPAS, MORE WINE – SEVILLE

Another night out for tapas and wine – after a visit to the medical clinic for me today. I was washing a wine glass last night (IKEA brand) and it shattered, lacerating my hand. So I got a brief tour of the Spanish health care system. Overall, I give it a B+, as compared to a D+ for the US system.

Anyway, we went to a nearby wine bar, La Bodega, at Plaza Alfalfa in Sevilla. They have a much more wine-oriented approach to tapas and wine than a taberna or a tapas bar. We ordered a Ribero del Duero Tinto – a 2013 Protos Ribero Duero Tempranillo (100%) for 15 euros per bottle. Really.

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We had the following tapas – tortillitas camarones (mini shrimp cakes), jamon croquettas (ham croquettes), queso (sheep cheese), arroz con verduras (rice with vegetables), plus a basket of bread and crackers, and the bottle of wine for 24.40 euros. Really.

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The wine was very good – fruit and mineral on the nose, a nice balance of acidity and tannin, with a smooth finish.

Another successful outing in Sevilla!