Wine Tour From Barcelona

This article first appeared in wineplus.ie- Ireland’s biggest online wine magazine. For your FREE monthly magazine: subscribe@wineplus.ie.

Newlogolandscape

As the third most visited city in Europe last year, Barcelona needs no introduction; in 2014 over 7 million people enjoyed the modernist architecture of Gaudí set amongst the old world charm of this thriving city. There are sufficient guide books espousing the grandeur of the architecture and dark histories of the gothic Born to satisfy the most ardent culture vulture: but Barcelona also offers a myriad of opportunities for the enthusiastic wine traveller.

If you are planning a wine holiday from the city, start off on the right foot and base yourself in the wine-themed Praktik Vinoteca. This hotel offers tastings and events during the week that will keep any wine lover satisfied. It is located a short walk from the elegant Passeig de Gràcia, where you will find La Vinoteca Torres. This beautiful restaurant and wine bar offers every Torres wine by the glass, as well as some classic, rare vintages.

However, Barcelona’s Ace Card for the dedicated wine traveller is its proximity to some of the best wine regions in the world. Catalunya boasts ten Denominaciones de Origen, as well as being the traditional home of Cava. Take a break from the city to discover some of the best wines in Spain.

Penedès & Cava DO’sDO-PENEDES
Right on Barcelona’s doorstep is the premium wine region of Penedès. The main town is Vilafranca del Penedès, which is served by the local train service. This bustling town is well worth a visit and is the closest to the Torres family’s impressive winery. Book ahead at reserves@torres.es and they will arrange bus transfer out to their immaculate winery where you can enjoy a tour of the vineyards in a solar-powered train. Well worth the trip.

Penedès can also boast the best quality sparkling wine in the country. Cava is produced using the same laborious, slow method that produces Champagne; and the best can compete with their illustrious French counterparts.

DO CAVA

Although Cava can be produced across Spain, its traditional heart beats in the small town of Sant Sadurní d’Anoia. A 45 minute train journey from Barcelona, Cava cellars jostle for space amongst the tapas bars and restaurants of this vibrant town.

Cava Cellars to Visit
Codorníu: Located a short walk from the town centre, this is the oldest winery in Spain, dating back to the sixteenth century. In 1872 Codorníu began making the first Cava and are still the second largest producer. From the cathedral-esque modernist visitor centre, to the endless miles of ageing tunnels dug 30 metres into the rock below the winery, the scale of Codorníu is jaw-dropping. http://www.codorniu .com

P1090318Recaredo: Inspired by the premium Champagne houses, Recaredo is meticulous about quality. Practicing extended lees ageing, biodynamic viticulture, and hand remuage and disgorgement, they produce some of the finest sparkling wine in Spain from local and international grape varieties. This small family business is a wonderfully intimate winery set in the centre of Sant Sadurní d’Anoia. http://www.recaredo.com

Further information can be found at http://www.turismesantsadurni.com

Priotat DOQ
The jewel in Catalunya’s viticultural crown, Priorat is one of only two regions in Spain (the other being Rioja) to achieve the premium DOC/DOQ classification. This arid, remote region is a relative newcomer to the world of fine wines, but has quickly garnered a reputation for its powerful, rich reds, grown on the unique llicorella soils.

Despite the popularity of the wines, Priorat’s mountainous isolation has seen a slow uptake in tourists, offering the intrepid wine traveller a glimpse of unspoilt, rural Catalunya. Although there is a public transport system, it is infrequent and unreliable; instead rent a car and drive the two hours from Barcelona.

The remote, sleepy white villages are the perfect antidote to the bustle of the city, so why not stay a couple of nights in the picturesque village of Gratallops. The wonderful family-run Hotel Cal Llop offers terrific views across some of the finest vineyards in Spain.

Wineries to Visit
Torres Priorat: As Torres looks to expand its family business in to each of the quality wine regions of Spain, it was inevitable they would build a winery in Priorat. Perched above the tiny town of El Loar, Torres’ modern winery offers samples of their complex, powerful wines from the tasting room that boasts unparalleled views across the vineyard-strewn Priorat landscape.

Burgos Porta: On a smaller scale is the boutique winery of Burgos Porta. Only accessible by a narrow, steep dirt goat track through the hills, this isolated winery is a terrific example of biodynamic viticulture. Their winemaking philosophy is simple; work hard to respect the grapes in the vineyard and the wine will need minimal intervention in the winery. I appreciated how difficult that must be as I struggled up the unforgiving, steep terraced vineyards in the June heat to drink from one of the precious natural wells. It’s all worth it when you taste their superb wines in the splendid isolation of the old converted winery. http://www.massinen.com

Further information and a full list of wineries can be found at http://www.prioratdoq.org

These regions only scratch the surface of Catalunya’s wine offering, so on your return to Barcelona try out your new found knowledge with a trip around some of the city’s local wine bars, of which there are plenty. Not to be missed is the tiny, atmospheric Zim bar. With irregular opening hours and room for no more than 10 people, it is a hidden gem in Barcelona. For dessert, head to El Diset in the Born district for one of their local sweet wines and a Catalan cheeseboard.

Four To Try

12WSP016
Planets de Prior Pons Priorat DOQ 2010. O’Briens €21.99
Dominated by Cariñena and Garnatxa (Grenache- see grape of the month) from old vines, this wine comes from a small Priorat producer. A deep violet colour, it has terrific overripe red berries, liquorice and floral notes, held together by the classic llicorella minerality before a long peppery finish.

Morlanda Blanc Viticultors Del Priorat DOQ 2013. Cases Wine Warehouse €19.95
Although the region is better known for its powerful reds, Priorat also produces fantastic, complex white wines. Made from Garnatxa Blanca (White Grenache) and Macabeo this wine is aged in oak to give it a full body and more than a hint of toast and coconut over orange peel and ripe pineapple. This will not be to everyone’s taste, but a fabulously unusual and well made wine.
Rimats Gran Reserva
Rimarts Gran Reserva 40 Brut Natur. Redmond’s of Ranelagh €27.95
Made using the traditional Cava grapes of Xarel.lo, Macabeu and Parellada, as well as a dash of Chardonnay, this wine is aged 40 months on the lees to give rich pastry and almond alongside fresh citrus and floral notes. With its fine bead of bubbles, this is very dry and a terrific food wine; match with a goat cheese and strawberry salad, or fresh oysters.

Single Estate Vintage Blanc de Blanc Cava 2010. Marks & Spencer €23.50
For the Champagne lover looking for something different, this vintage Cava is single estate Chardonnay sourced from top producer Segura Viudas. Elegant, with a creamy mousse, ripe lemon, fresh herbs and a touch of stone fruit.

Sun, Sea and Sierras de Málaga

This article first appeared in wineplus.ie- Ireland’s biggest online wine magazine. For your FREE monthly magazine: subscribe@wineplus.ie.

IC Compuesta Global (ALTA) CRDDOO

Although Málaga is now better known for its sun and beach holidays, it is one of the oldest wine regions in Spain: tracing its viticultural history back to the Greek colonisation of the Mediterranean around 600 BC. Production continued through later antiquity with the Romans, who struck imperial coins dedicated to wine in the region. Even through heavy taxation by successive Islamic empires the Malagueños persisted with wine production.

 

1st century Roman coins. Originally named Acinipo (Land of Vines) these coins were found near Ronda

1st century Roman coins. Originally named Acinipo (Land of Vines) these coins were found near Ronda

Following the reconquest of Andalucía by the Catholic monarchy, Málaga saw a surge in demand for their fortified wines aboard the grand Spanish ships of exploration. Their wines were also fashionable in the British Empire and eclipsed those of Jerez. Catherine the Great was so impressed with them that they were exempt from Russian taxation.

Then in the nineteenth century phylloxera struck and wiped out most of the vineyards across the region. Vineyards were replaced by olive and almond groves and any recovery was further inhibited as consumers moved away from sweet, fortified wines, towards drier, fresher whites. By the mid-twentieth century production was limited to small pockets in the east of the region and most of those grapes were used to create bulk sweet wines of little character.

Despite the fall in popularity, a number of producers persevered with quality wines from old vines. This caught the attention of wine makers from the north of Spain, who found abandoned old vineyards with terrific potential. Through investment and modern production techniques the region has seen a leap in quality in recent years. Alongside the traditional sweet wines are delicate dry whites and surprisingly elegant reds. For the intrepid wine traveller, Málaga offers a perfect opportunity to explore a dynamic region, searching for its identity on the world stage.

DO and Sub-Regions:

The production zones for Málaga wines covers most of that administrative region of Andalucía in southern Spain. Unsurprisingly this vast area has significant climactic and soil variations, so Málaga’s wine regions are sub-divided in to the five areas shown on the map. The most exciting sub-regions are Serranía de Ronda in the far west and Axarquía in the east.

Málaga and Sierras de Málaga production zones

Málaga and Sierras de Málaga production zones

There are two Denominación de Origen (production zones) for Málaga wines; confusingly these cover the exact same geographical area. It is the style of wine that determines which DO covers it.

IC Principal Malaga (ALTA) CRDDOOIC Principal Sierras (ALTA) CRDDOO

• Set up in 1933, DO Málaga covers the area’s traditional sweet wine production, made solely from the white grapes Pedro Ximénez and Moscatel.

• DO Sierras de Málaga was set up in 2001 to cover the newly rediscovered potential for dry wines. These can be produced from either red or white grapes.

Ronda
The area around the stunning town of Ronda is steeped in viticulture; and is one of the oldest wine regions on the Iberian peninsula. The Romans called the region Acinipo, Land of the Vines, revealing the importance of wine to the local economy. But in the nineteenth century, after two and a half millennia of uninterrupted wine production, Ronda was one of the first regions in Spain struck by phylloxera. Within a few years wine production, which once totalled over 13,000 ha of land, was wiped out.

 
Only in the past 35 years have vines made a return to the area with the help of huge investment; today there are over twenty wineries. Ronda has a continental climate; hot, dry summers and very cold, wet winters. The heat of the growing season is tempered by an altitude of 750-1,000 metres, giving a diurnal swing that can see days in excess of 40°C followed by 15-20°C nights. The calcareous rocks and quartzite sand allow the roots to bury deep in to the soil to find water. All of these factors allow winemakers to experiment with grapes and produce dry red and white wines with a surprising freshness and acidity.

When & Where to Stay:
Ronda is a stunning town, attracting millions of visitors each year, so avoid the sweltering peak summer months and visit mid-week in April/May or September/October.
Due to its popularity, there is no end of accommodation options on the websites listed below. However, one hotel that must be on your bucket list is Parador de Ronda. This luxury state-run hotel is expensive for Spain, but boasts jaw-dropping vistas over the Ronda gorge.
www.parador-de-ronda.es

Ronda Gorge with Parador de Ronda on left

Ronda Gorge with Parador de Ronda on left

 

Further Information:
Ronda Wines: www.ruta-vinos-ronda.com
Ronda Tourism Information: www.turismoderonda.es

Bodega Cortijo Los Aguilares
Set within an estate of over 800 ha of oak and wild pata negra pigs, this bodega is owned by a Burgundy-loving businessman from northern Spain. He tasked head winemaker, Bibi García, with the difficult job of producing Pinot Noir in this hot, southern climate. Thanks to heavy investment and avoiding any pesticides or herbicides, they won Gold in the 2008 and 2010 Mundial du Pinot Noir in Switzerland. As well as this pet project, they produce fine Petit Verdot-led wines of great freshness and pure fruit. Innovation is important on the stunning Cortijo Los Aguilares estate and each year new pockets of land are planted with international and indigenous varieties to see what vines best express the terroir.
When I asked Bibi why she moved from the premium Priorat DO to Ronda she simply replied that ‘history is here to be made’.
www.cortijolosaguilares.com

Axarquía

Located an hour and half drive north of Malaga, the villages of Sayalonga and Sedella are the heart of fine wine in eastern Málaga. Production is largely focused on sweet wines, but there are a growing number of wineries producing superb quality dry wines from old, indigenous vines.

Suggested Bodegas:
Vinos Telmo Rodríguez
Telmo Rodríguez was a well-known wine producer from northern Spain before turning his attention to Málaga. Setting up in an old traditional winery, Telmo uses the traditional method of drying Moscatel grapes in the sun on paseros (large straw mats), raisining and concentrating the flavours of the grape whilst retaining acidity. These are then pressed on capachas (smaller straw mats) by pneumatic press and aged in oak to produce outstanding luscious wines.

www.telmorodriguez.com

P1080677

Old pneumatic press gives low yields of excellent quality fruit

P1080681

The grapes are dried outside to partly raisin. Only perfect quality fruit will be laid out by hand.

Bodegas Bentomiz
Set up by a Dutch couple after their construction business collapsed, Bodegas Bentomiz recently opened a brand new winery. Designed in the Bauhaus style and finished in slate to match the local rock, this tasteful building boasts state-of-the-art equipment, producing beautifully complex naturally sweet and dry wines from 80-100 year old vines.
Any trip to Málaga has to include lunch in this winery. With a commanding view over the Mediterranean and surrounding mountain peaks, you can enjoy stunning dishes of local produce designed by renowned Málaga chef, Juan Quintanilla, paired with their stunning wines.

www.bodegabentomiz.com


Where to Stay:
The tranquil villages in the hills above Velez-Málaga boast traditional rural Andalucían white-washed houses. They are stunning to visit, but have little infrastructure for tourism. I suggest staying nearer the coast and driving up to the hills. Nerja is one of the prettiest coastal towns and is only a 25 minute drive from Sayalonga.

 

If you would rather work a city break in to your wine holiday, then Málaga city is a great choice. Small and compact, with plenty of beautiful restaurants and tapas bars, it is steeped in the history of Andalucía. Take a day to visit the Alcazaba, an Islamic fort built on the hills behind the city, and the adjacent Roman theatre. Then stroll through the Old Town, taking in the cathedral before visiting the Wine Museum located nearby. If you have the time I highly recommend the Museum of Glass and Crystal; a surprising gem located in a stunning old traditional Málagan house.

 

How to Get There:
Both Aer Lingus and Ryanair fly regularly from Dublin to Málaga airport year round and from Shannon and Cork airports during the summer.
Despite their proximity to the busy Costa del Sol, the vineyards are not easily accessible by public transport, so you will need to hire a car to explore any of the wine regions. The best value I found is Málagacar- excellent rates and no hidden refuelling fee. Shuttle bus runs from Terminal 1. You must book in advance.
www.malagacar.com

Further Information:
Consejo Regulador Málaga wines: www.vinomalaga.com
Málaga Tourism: www.malagaturismo.com, www.andalucia.org

 

Priorat- Part II. Clos Mogador

 

Celler Clos Mogador

Celler Clos Mogador

 

Although the phrase ‘living legend’ is often flung about with the hyperbolic abandon of wedding confetti, it is genuinely hard to find a more apt title for René Barbier.  Few wine regions in the world owe its success to one winemaker more than Priorat does to the founder of Celler Clos Mogador.

Despite the Agricultural Ministry recognising it as having potential in 1932, a combination of phylloxera in the 19th century and political upheaval through the 20th saw most Priorat vineyards abandoned and the area heavily depopulated.

Coming from a long line of winemakers, René Barbier arrived in Priorat in the late 1970’s when the region was producing little more than bulk jug wine for the Barcelona market.  Determined that it had huge quality potential, René convinced seven* other winemakers to experiment on this parched, baked llicorella (local slate) soil.  These early pioneers formed a winery producing one wine from their collective grapes, but released under their respective names.

Their powerful wines quickly gained international attention for the concentration, minerality and purity of fruit.  They went on to become some of the best known wines in Spain: l’Ermita, Clos de l’Obac and Clos Mogador.  Old, abandoned vineyards were snapped up as investment poured in to Priorat, tripling the area of land under vine in 35 years.

This oenology revolution culminated in 2000 when Priorat was awarded DOQ status by the Catalan government; one of only two Spanish regions (Rioja the other) to achieve this premium accolade.

Despite his global recognition in the wine world, René Barbier is an immediately hospitable, approachable and likeable gent.  On a recent visit to the Clos Mogador winery he gave me a private tour of his vineyards in an old Mitsubishi 4×4.  He told me in his dulcet, deliberate manner (so even my elementary Spanish could keep up) that Clos Mogador was the first wine awarded Vi de Finca staus, recognising it as a single vineyard wine of unique character.  Using no pesticides or herbicides these steep terraced vineyards are teeming with insects, wild flowers and grasses; the oldest vines producing as little as 250g of exceptionally concentrated fruit per year.

 

 

Back in the winery I was entrusted to the next generation of Barbier winemakers, René IV, whose perfect English gave my miniscule Spanish a welcome break!  Working with his father for over 20 years, René Jr is as affable in manner and as he is passionate in winemaking.  Unwilling to simply grasp his famous sire’s coattails, René Jr is continuing to innovate with his wines, both in Priorat and neighbouring Montsant; full-bodied whites, ageworthy rosé, natural wines, and the use of large local amphorae are just part of his experimentation.

Drawn to wine styles of unique character- sherry, aged Rieslings, Tokaji- René makes a lot of wines that wouldn’t have mass market appeal.  Instead he makes the wines he likes to make and drink; a fortunate luxury when your name is René Barbier!  Luckily for us he is incredibly talented at what he does.  A morning (and well in to the afternoon!) spent trying his wines shows his impressive range of winemaking skills.  Each wine unique and crafted with consummate skill; the Barbier family, synonymous with quality, is in very capable hands to continue their impressive legacy of innovation.

 

* Although we now refer to them as the Big 5, René Jnr assured me there were originally 8!

Priorat- Part I

 

priorat

After returning home from an unforgettable Catalan wine trip last week, the holiday hangover (figurative and literal) has dissipated just enough to thank a few great people who made this trip possible.

We started the trip in the daddy of Catalan wine regions- Priorat DOQ.  One of only two premium-tier wine regions in Spain (alongside Rioja DOCa), this is a rugged, parched landscape, with steep, low-yielding vineyardsGarnacha and Cariñena (Grenache and Carignan to you Francophiles) make up the bulk of the production.  These are powerful wines with deep forest fruits and a minerality that comes from the slate and quartz soil, known locally as llicorella.  Generally high in alcohol, don’t plan on doing much for the rest of the day if you have a couple of glasses during the siesta!

Many thanks must go to Patrick Webb of Coast to Coast wines.  Together with his partner Anna, we spent our first day visiting fantastic wineries across Priorat.

The highlight was a trip out to Celler Burgos Porta– a remote organic winery, set in a steep valley, run by the indefatigable Salvador.  If you want to check your fitness level, try trekking around a Priorat vineyard in 30 degree heat after this guy! Still, the fantastic Mas Sinén 2008 at the end makes the effort that much more worthwhile!

Later in the day we spent an exhilarating, if bum-numbing, hour and a half travelling through Juan José Escoda’s (Jou) Prior Pons vineyards in his trusty, well-travelled ‘office’ (an old 4×4 stacked with files and rock samples!).  Growing on steep hillsides around the town of Vilella Alta, this unforgiving terrain is constantly threatened with drought; when we were there in June, they had not had any rain for over six weeks.  This low rainfall means the fruit gets great concentration of flavours, but the yield per plant can be as low as 300g in older vines, one-fifth that of neighbouring Penedès!  This is a key contributing factor why many Priorat wines can seem expensive compared to other Spanish regions.

Prior Pons’ Planets is available in O’Briens Off-Licences nationwide and offers a good value introduction to Priorat DOQ.  Well worth a try.

Check out the blog next Friday, when I’ll post about a morning spent with two generations of one of the biggest names in Priorat- René Barbier of Clos Mogador.  Until then, sláinte and enjoy the weekend.

HB.

Sunny Saturday Reds

The forecast says today is set to reach 20 degrees across parts of our fair isle (cue thunderstorms and egg on my face!). So if you plan on taking advantage of our 24-hour window of summer with a BBQ, here are a few suggestions to match your grub.

O’Briens have a fantastic summer sale at the moment, so if you’re in the mood for a juicy BBQ steak I recommend these two great reds. The first is from my favourite red wine region in Spain, Ribera del Duero, by one of its top producers, Torres.  Celeste Crianza is a staple on Miguel Torres’ lunch table at his private Mas Rabell restaurant; if it is good enough for him, surely it’s good enough for us mere mortals!

Torres Celeste, Ribera del Duero.  O'Briens: WAS €21.99. NOW €17.99

Torres Celeste, Ribera del Duero.
O’Briens: WAS €21.99. NOW €17.99

Unlike the over-oaked behemoths that we sometimes find in northern Spain, this Tempranillo is full-bodied but fresh, delivering juicy blackberry fruit and a long peppery finish.  This is a great price for a terrific wine; I was in Catalunya last week and it was the same price in the supermarket there.  Considering Ireland’s scandalous wine taxation I would consider this a bargain.

Porta 6, Lisboa. O Briens: WAS: €12.99. NOW €9.99

Porta 6, Lisboa. O Briens: WAS: €12.99. NOW €9.99

For something a little lighter on the pocket and the palate is Porta 6, from Portugal.  A blend of Tempranillo (called Tinta Roriz in Portugal) and local varieties, this offers plenty of warm forest fruits and floral notes.  Like the Celeste above it has lovely freshness and acidity to balance the weighty tannins and spicy finish.  Excellent value and worth grabbing a few bottles at this price.

Travel to the Home of Sherry- Jerez de la Frontera

This article first appeared in wineplus.ie- Ireland’s biggest online wine magazine. For your FREE monthly magazine: subscribe@wineplus.ie.

Sherry tends to get a bad name: often regarded as little more than that dusty bottle of sweet wine residing in the back of a drinks cabinet, only seeing the light of day to offer a favoured spinster aunt a drink at Christmas. But there is so much more to these styles of wines, which is slowly being rediscovered, not least their wonderful ability to pair with food.

However, even for sherry lovers, the city that sired this famous drink is often overlooked. Situated on the western tip of the provice of Cadiz, Jerez has played an important role in the political and social development of Andalucia for centuries.

Inhabited since the Neolithic, the area we now know as Jerez was an important city for successive empires. From the Romans to the Almohads, the city was fortified and lavished for centuries, until the reconquest by Catholic Spain in the thirteenth century. With the expulsion of the Islamic caliphate, Jerez prospered as a trading city, particularly after the founding of the New World.

Throughout this turbulent history Jerezanos continued to make wines. Introduced by the Phoenicians as early as 1100 BC, viticulture continued through Muslim rule. The stability of Jerez’s fortified wines meant they could survive the long voyages of Columbus and Magellan. The wines became hugely popular in Britain and were exported across the sprawling British Empire, leading many entrepreneurial Englishmen to the south of Spain to found wineries that retain their name to this day.

In 1894 phylloxera devastated the vineyards of Jerez. Many small producers were wiped out and vineyards were abandoned across the sherry triangle, leaving only the best producers. Recovery was slow and the wines fell out of favour for much of the twentieth century. Currently sherry is seeing a small revival in fortunes, but these unique wines are still some of the best value, food-friendly wines in the world. Perhaps that old spinster aunt was on to something after all!

When to Visit

Old Jerez Vendimia Poster (1949)

Jerez Vendimia poster (1949)

Although there are no bad times to visit this wonderful, historic city, the busy and scorching hot summer is probably not ideal for Irish skin tones! Instead try to coincide your trip with one of the many festivals either side of the summer months to really appreciate the Andalucian fiesta atmosphere.

The biggest of these are the Vendimia in September, to celebrate the grape harvest, the Feria del Caballo in early May and Holy Week, which is designated a Spanish Fiesta of National Interest. If you are interested in MotoGP, Jerez has hosted a round of the World Championship since 1987.

Find a full list of festivals here.

Where to Stay
lafondaThere are plenty of accommodation options to suit any budget around the city, but one little gem is La Fonda Barranco. Located just outside the centre of the city, this little guest house is a converted merchant’s house, built around a central atrium. Breakfast is served on the rooftop with an unrivalled view of the cathedral and is substantial enough to set you up for a day of sherry tasting. Tip: request a room with natural light as the interior rooms are very dark.

A little more central, located on the Plaza Rafael Rivero, is the beautiful Palacio Garvey Hotel, set in an old renovated townhouse.

Bodegas to Visit

Gonzalez Byass, Bodegas Tio Pepe: This is the best known and largest bodega in Jerez and no trip would be complete without a visit. Situated beside the cathedral, tours begin with a train ride around the grounds and run all day.

70e6e8277ae916c9a6ddc1123956153e Bodega Fundador Pedro Domecq: One of the oldest sherry houses in Jerez, Fundador Domecq is a combination of three different brands, including Harvey’s. This is a wonderful, intimate tour through their cavernous ageing rooms. I recommend you pay the extra to taste the stunning VORS Palo Cortado and Olorosso.

Most bodegas offer guided tours and all are well worth visiting. Pick a few and work them in to a leisurely stroll around this wonderful city. Turismo Jerez provides a full list of bodegas and contact details.

What to Do
Alongside the wonderful bodegas that dot Jerez, the city offers a wealth of history and architecture that can rival any in Andalucia. To trace the depth of Jerez history, don’t miss the newly renovated Museo Arquelogico on Plaza Mercado.

The Alcazar, situated behind the Cathedral, is the cultural and festival heart of the city. This twelfth century building is one of the few remaining examples of Almohade architecture in Spain. Spend a lazy afternoon wandering amongst the ancient orchards within the fortified walls before taking in the spectacular views from the Obscura.

If the Alcazar represents the cultural heritage of Jerez, the Cathedral is the religious heart. The flying buttresses and cavernous dome of this baroque building dominate the skyline of the city, whilst inside is a fascinating museum well worth the modest entrance fee.

Less well-known, but no less impressive, is the Church of San Miguel on Plaza San Miguel outside the original city walls. Lavished with art and statuary by local merchants, this fifteenth century church boasts a magnificent altar that took over 50 years to complete. Well worth the €2 entrance fee. Note that opening times can be irregular, so early morning is the best time to visit.

To get out of the city, take one of the many tours or local buses to the other towns that make up the Sherry Triangle- El Puerto de Santa Maria or Salucar de Barrameda.

If you have a car, take the time to drive up to Bodegas Luis Perez outside the city. Making dry wines in the heat of Andalucia, this stunning bodega has unrivalled views of the valleys below. Don’t miss their Tintilla aged in amphorae under the sea!

Where to Eat
Jerez has no end of good eateries to fill the belly after a long day of sherry tasting. From tapas to fine dining, there are plenty of options to suit any budget.

Not to be missed is Albores; situated on a wide cobbled street just off the main square. It offers an extensive wine list (dozens of sherry by the glass) and a modern take on tapas dining. Arrive early or book a table in advance, as it is very popular with locals and tourists alike.

Also worth noting is Reino De Leon Gastrobar, located on Calle Latorre behind the Ayuntamiento building. It offers a good wine list and well-crafted menu at very reasonable prices.

Wash down your dinner with a glass of fino in nearby Tabanco El Pasaje. This renowned little tabanco doesn’t look like much from the outside, but the crowd will spill on to the streets to hear a favoured flamenco artist, while your bar tab is marked in chalk on the counter!

Note that the Jerezanos traditional take on flamenco rarely includes dancing. To get a full flamenco show with dancers, catch one of the impressive shows at Tablao Flamenco Puro Arte. Also drop in to the small El Tabanco Mariñiguez for great value, delicious sherries. Check their Facebook page for upcoming events.

How to Get There
Ryanair have discontinued their Dublin to Jerez route, however both Aer Lingus and Ryanair fly regularly to Málaga from Dublin and Cork airports year round and add Shannon to their summer schedule.  Ryanair also fly an irregular route from Dublin to Seville.

From Málaga the easiest option is to rent a car and take the excellent Autopista del Mediterráneo straight to Jerez in about 2.5 hrs.

For very competitive rates, book with Malaga Car.

However, unlike many wine regions, a car is not necessary in Jerez, as most of the bodegas are concentrated within walking distance of the city centre. The buses and trains that connect Málaga to Jerez are neither convenient nor direct. The best option is the train that leaves from Málaga’s Maria Zambrano station, which is linked to the airport by the local rail service. Note that the only train to Jerez is via Sevilla, so takes about 4 hrs. Renfe run the regional trains in Spain.

Further Information

Tourist Information: http://www.turismojerez.com, http://www.cadizturismo.com

Consejo Regulador: http://www.sherry.org

Ayuntamiento de Jerez: http://www.jerez.es

 

A Day To Celebrate

gay flag

Over the past few years it has been rare that Ireland finds itself in the international news for positive reasons, but today is certainly one of them.  The first country to offer the electorate a vote over same sex marriage and looking likely to be the first country to pass that vote.  And by a landslide no less.  There seems to be a real positivity in the air, enhanced by the beautiful May sunshine: almost as rare as a positive Irish news story.  So, what better way to enjoy this beautiful and historic day than a barbeque with a few good Sauvignon Blancs from the O’Briens wine promotion?

 

Mionetto Vivo. WAS €17.99. NOW €14.99.

Mionetto Vivo. WAS €17.99. NOW €14.99.

Ok, this is cheating slightly, as Sauvignon Blanc only makes up a tiny part of this blend, but how better to kick things off than with a bottle of fizz?  Relatively light in alcohol (10.5%), this is made in the Extra-Dry style, meaning it has a little residual sugar sweetness.  Alongside this touch of sweetness is a lovely rich body with hints of pear and stone fruits.  This is a little more expensive than some other Prosecco (more fizz pressure=more tax!) but well worth it for this celebratory day.  Complex and easy drinking, this will pair up with plenty of foods- oysters or buffalo mozzarella aperitifs spring to mind.

O’ Briens Off-Licences: Was €17.99. Now €14.99.

 

Châtelain Desjacques Sauvignon Blanc. WAS €14.99. NOW €9.99.

Châtelain Desjacques Sauvignon Blanc. WAS €14.99. NOW €9.99.

This is a lovely dry, classic Sauvignon Blanc from the Loire Valley.  Dry with lovely high acidity, and fresh citrus fruits, enjoy this chilled with chicken or cheese dishes.  This is great value for under a tenner.  Excellent value for a good barbeque wine.

O’ Briens Off-Licences: Was €14.99. Now €9.99.

 

Ara Pathway Sauvignon Blanc. WAS €15.49. NOW €12.99.

Ara Pathway Sauvignon Blanc. WAS €15.49. NOW €12.99.

If you prefer a bolder, fruitier style Sauvignon Blanc, the Ara Pathway from the extremely popular Marlborough region in New Zealand is certainly worth a look.  It is very aromatic with notes of cut grass and herbs, peaches and passion fruit.  It also has a lovely stony minerality adding some lovely complexity.  This is an extremely easy drinking wine and would go great with grilled white meats straight off the barbecue.

These are just a few good value suggestions to try on this historic day.  But whatever you do, enjoy your weekend and appreciate what the people of Ireland have achieved.

Happy Drinking.

HB.

Travelling in Toro DO

This article first appeared in wineplus.ie- Ireland’s biggest online wine magazine. For your FREE monthly magazine: subscribe@wineplus.ie.

 

Toro

Sitting high on the central plateau of Spain, north-west of Madrid, Toro has a viticultural heritage dating back over two millennia when the Greeks spread vines across the Mediterranean. The modern DO is named after the largest town in the region and spreads across the gently undulating boundary of the Zamora and Valladolid provinces, at an altitude of 620m to 750m.

Roman bridge over Rio Duero as seen from Toro

Roman bridge over Rio Duero as seen from Toro

This region is steeped in the history of Spain. Its important strategic location, straddling the banks of the Duero River saw it play a key role in the Christian reconquest of Spain, subsequent wars of succession and later Napoleonic wars. Toro boasted the court of kings, the capital of the province and its strong wines filled the holds of the Spanish ships that conquered the New World. When phylloxera devastated most of the vineyards of Europe, Toro’s dry, sandy soil inhibited the spread of the louse and its wines were in huge demand in France.

Throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, however, Toro was overshadowed by its more prestigious near-neighbours, both politically and vinous. Zamora became the political capital of the province while nearby Ribera del Duero became the benchmark for the red wines of Castilla y León. Today Toro peacefully sits atop its promontory quietly surveying the surrounding fertile plains, its skyline dominated by the Romanesque tower-domes of the twelfth century Collegiate church of Santa María la Mayor.

Declared a Conjunto Histórico town, Toro is the biggest in the region and has the best options for eating and accommodation so should be the base for a wine trip. Getting there by public transport is difficult and unreliable, so I suggest flying to Madrid and renting a car from there. Toro is only a two hour drive on very good roads. Once you get to the region, you will certainly need a car to visit the diffuse wineries, as public transport is non-existent.

Wines
For much of the last century Toro produced too many overly extracted, heavily-oaked, rustic wines of little interest. Wine that was once coveted by Kings was brought low by lack of investment and antiquated winery techniques. Toro DO was founded in 1987 with only four members.

However, the potential was obvious for many to see. The region’s extreme continental climate is tempered by high altitude and the presence of the Duero River, creating a diurnal range (temperature difference between day and night) that keeps freshness during the dry, hot growing season. The local clone of Tempranillo, Tinta de Toro, is a thick-skinned, early-ripening variant that offers ageworthy, powerful wines.

This attracted investors from nearby wine regions, including Vega Sicilia and Marcus Eguren. Modern techniques were married to ancient vines to create wines of unique character and complexity that has attracted much attention from wine critics. The influential Robert Parker gave Bodega Numanthia’s wine, Termanthia 2004, a perfect 100 pts.

Where to Visit
The future for Toro wine looks bright, so now is the time to visit this wonderful region and explore its welcoming bodegas. There are over fifty wineries in the region now, but many have not yet fully embraced wine tourism, so make sure you book ahead to avoid disappointment and ensure a guide in English if required.

NUMANTHIA Bodega Numanthia helped put Toro back on the wine map and should be included in any wine tour. Representing the tenacity of the Tinta de Toro grape in this inhospitable region, the winery is named after a Spanish town that refused to submit to Roman occupation for a century. Sold by the Eguren family to the premium LVMH group, it boasts a new state of the art winery and some of the best wines in Toro. Bookings must be made in advance. http://www.numanthia.com

bodegatesoFollowing the sale of Numanthia, Marcus Eguren set up Teso La Monja in the nearby hills. This is a stunning classical winery built around a wide colonnaded patio of local stone that is well worth a visit.  Tours need to be booked in advance. http://www.sierracantabria.com

logo Dominio del Bendito As good as the wines are in these premium wineries, they are not the reason I love wine tourism in more remote areas. To really experience the passion for terroir and the true potential for the wines of Toro, I recommend you organise a visit to Dominio del Bendito. Founded by a young passionate, eccentric Frenchman, Antony Terryn, Dominio del Bendito is a small production garage winery located in the centre of Toro in an old monastery. Having worked in many of the premium wine regions in the world, Antony bought a number of plots of old vines and settled in Toro.

The tour was an impromptu trip up to his ancient vineyards in his old 3-door Peugeot hatchback. Surrounded by rock and soil samples, we were serenaded by the potential of Toro wines. Back in the rustic winery we were treated to wines that were anything but rustic. Powerful and fresh with jammy forest fruits, these wines typify what modern Toro can offer. I highly recommend you get in contact before commencing your trip. http://www.bodegadominiodelbendito.com

Where to Stay
Although only recently opening up to foreign tourism in the last few years, Toro offers good quality accommodation to suit any budget.

Hotel Juan II is good value and offers spectacular views over the valley floor as well as the storks nesting in the nearby towers of the Collegiate church of Santa María la Mayor. Make sure you request a room with a balcony to fully appreciate this little gem. http://www.hotelesentoro.es

For those on a tighter budget Hotel Zaravencia is basic but clean and comfortable and overlooks Plaza Mayor in the centre of the town. http://www.hotelzaravencia.com

Valbusenda Wine and Spa Resort

Valbusenda Wine and Spa Resort

If you are looking for something more luxurious, the five-star Valbusenda Hotel Bodega & Spa is 9 kilometres outside the town. Although quite isolated, Valbusenda offers absolute luxury in its deluxe rooms and spa, as well as unrivalled dining room views over the local valley floor. Enjoy breakfast while watching birds of prey hovering over the golden, sun bathed landscape. http://www.valbusenda.com

Where to Eat
Why not do as the Spanish and go on a tapas and wine trail? Begin in Plaza Mayor and continue towards the clock tower. There are plenty of good quality local bars that open until late. But remember the siesta, as most close during the middle of the day.

For something a bit more substantial, enjoy good quality, local fare on the patio of Hotel Juan II with its views across the plains below.  Or with a terrific wine list and a Gin and Tonic only setting you back €5, come for a perfect sundowner after a busy day on the wine trail.

Patio Hotel Juan II with view of Rio Duero

Patio Hotel Juan II with view of Rio Duero

 

Information
A list of all wineries can be found on Toro DO website:
http://www.dotoro.com
Toro Local Government:
Plaza Mayor 1, Toro
http://www.toroayto.es
TORO DO Quick Facts
GRAPES:
Red (majority)/Rose: Tinta de Toro (Tempranillo), small amount of Garnacha
White: Malvasia and Verdejo
WINERIES: 54
PRODUCTION: 12,147,920 litres/yr
SOIL: Limestone/ Stony Alluvial

 

Wines to Try

 

 

 

 

M&S Bin End

Ireland has the highest rates of wine taxation in Europe.  Any bottle of wine, regardless of quality or final price is subject to excise duty of €3.19.  This tax is also subject to VAT at the standard rate of 23%, effectively making a bottle of wine €3.92, going straight to the government coffers, just for entering the country.  Every facet of wine making must then be added to this price, which is also subject to 23% VAT.

To retail a bottle of wine in Ireland for €5, taxation will account for an eye-watering €4.34!  This is why I have never recommended a bottle under €5.  Until today.

Marks and Spencer Grenache Noir 2013. Was €9.80. Now €4.90.

Marks and Spencer Grenache Noir 2013. Was €9.80. Now €4.90.

Shopping in Marks and Spencer in Liffey Valley yesterday, I spotted their Grenache Noir from the Rhône Valley was reduced from €9.80 to €6.40.  Deciding it was worth a punt at that price I popped one in my basket.  When I got to the till I smugly found it was reduced further- to €4.90.  Surely it was worth that?

I’m glad to say it was.  A blend of Grenache and Syrah, it is a simple, easy-drinking, every day wine with nice red and black fruit and a touch of spice.  The finish is a bit short, but better than many wines twice the price.  And although you won’t mistake this for a top Rhône wine, you won’t find another wine as good for this price.

I presume Marks and Spencer are discontinuing this wine, so at €4.90 it won’t last long.

Rating: DECENT 2.8/5

Value: EXCELLENT 5/5

Emilio Moro

This article first appeared in wineplus.ie- Ireland’s biggest online wine magazine. For your FREE monthly magazine: subscribe@wineplus.ie.

emilio-moroJosé Moro looks like the archetypal traditional Spanish winemaker. With his salt-and-pepper hair swept to the side and a face that could have been hewn from the rock of the meseta, he is a man whose very heritage is tied to the vineyard. However, there is a lot more than just tradition to the current head of Bodegas Emilio Moro, as Wine+ recently found out.

There are few names more synonymous with Ribera del Duero than that of Emilio Moro, whose family tradition in winemaking stretches back over 120 years. It was José’s grandfather, Don Emilio, who founded Bodegas Emilio Moro with a focus on selecting the best individual vines in the vineyard and grafting these on the next generation to produce the purest expression in the winery. This clonal selection is now common place, but in Don Emilio’s day it was cutting edge winemaking.

The efforts of his forefathers is not lost on José, who readily appreciates their commitment, ‘when you perceive this from childhood, this care, this sacrifice, you retain a warm feeling of pride in family’. The result of their dedication and hard work is the Tinto Fino clone; the purest expression of Tempranillo, claims José. But a good grape is nothing without terroir and in Ribera del Duero, this small, thick-skinned grape is perfectly married to the conditions. It is here, situated high on the Spanish plateau, with its extreme continental climate, varied soils and influence of the meandering Duero river that Tinto Fino produces some of Spain’s best quality, longest-lived and powerful wines.

But it is not only by looking to the past that the Moro family is driven forward. When asked about the philosophy of the winery, José answers in his deep, heavily-accented deliberate manner that it is ‘necessary to establish a balanced triangle on three fundamental pillars: Tradition, Innovation and Social Responsibility’.

The traditions of the family run deep, with José eschewing the practice of blending his beloved Tinto Fino grape with the Bordeaux varieties allowed in the DO. Instead he strives to retain pure varietal character in all of his wines. Each of these wines is supported by the other two pillars of José’s philosophy. Through their socially responsible vineyard techniques they refuse to use fertilisers with heavy metals, avoid irrigation and harvest grapes by hand to ensure they are in the best condition when they reach the winery. Bodegas Emilio Moro firmly believe the quality of their wines is directly related to their commitment to sustaining the land.

José knits together this commitment to Tradtion and Innovation seemlessly, ‘I learned everything from my father and grandfather but of course we have many universities to study modern techniques. In associaiton with the University of Valladolid we have developed GPS systems to look at many aspects of our vineyards’. This system allows José to identify problems with individual vines in the vineyard and address any deficiencies in the plant. Targeting individual vines reduces the need to interfere with the development of healthy plants.

Cepa 21, Ribera del Duero.

Cepa 21, Ribera del Duero.

In 2007 José’s core philosophies came to fruition when the family opened Bodegas Cepa 21. Located outside the town of Peñafiel on 50 hectares, this brand new winery complements and enhances the landscape. Two years ago I arrived at the winery door without an appointment. Instead of turning me away, I was warmly welcomed like an old friend by enthusiastic staff and given a private tour of their state of the art facility. We tasted their beautiful wines in the intimate tasting room overlooking the ageing cellar; accompanied by the sweet and sour scent of younger vintages patiently ageing in oak.

Not content to simply replicate what they were doing at Emilio Moro, José and his team carefully selected old-vine clones of Tinto Fino for planting on the cooler, north facing vineyards of Cepa 21. José explains their philisophy. ‘We chose north facing slopes, less hours of sunshine. The growing cycle is longer; this produces totally different aromas- more freshness, a high aroma’. This attention to detail produces an elegant range of wines with lovely freshness and aroma, very different to those produced at Emilio Moro.

However, José doesn’t like to call these modern wines. Instead he refers to them as a different expression of the same fruit, ‘I do not like to use traditional versus modern but prefer to talk about the different terroirs that produce different wines’. As at Emilio Moro, these wines are aged in a mix of French and American oak and abandon the traditional terms of Reserva and Gran Reserva. This gives the winemakers freedom to innovate with ageing terms.

Cepa 21 creates innovative wines that encapsulate José Moro’s core philosophies- Traditional Tinto Fino clones used by the family for decades married to the very best innovative vineyard and winery practices, and a firm focus on a respect for the land and enviornment that produce the unique conditions of the Duero valley.

And all this effort and attention to detail is certainly worth it. Today José’s wines are stocked in fifty countries on five continents, regularly winning awards and top marks from critics. His family owns almost 170 acres in one of the most exciting and beautiful wine regions in the world and his company is growing at about 15% per year. As well as this, Bodegas Emilio Moro just became the first visually impaired accessible winery in Castilla y Léon, carrying on from labelling their wines in braille, and also run a successful charitable foundation. The future looks very bright for the Moro family.

‘Wine is an art. If you know how to listen it speaks to you… It is like a living being that you have to understand, look after and care for.’
-Don Emilio Moro.