A’Barra and the wonderful world of Valerio Carrera

If the past is a foreign country, at A’Barra you can travel the world.

I went back last night and yet again was treated to an astonishing line up of historic wines: Valdespino Jerez Seco, Viva la Pepa manzanilla (Romate), Fino Macharnudo (also Romate), a Very Pale (Alvear), JR (Bodegas Montulia), Priorato Dom Juan Forte (De Muller), the 2017 cosecha (Ximenez Spinola), Royal Ambrosiante Palo Cortado (Sandeman) and la Bota 81 de Gin (Equipo Navazos).

To be quite honest it was almost too much to take in at once. I am not a great note taker and even less when having dinner, but there were some vivid contrasts: the salted caramel of the Jerez Seco, the pure elegance of the Viva la Pepa, the refined sapidity of the Fino Macharnudo, the piercing, spirity volatile acidity of the Montulia. There were also some common themes: beautiful clarity, colour, and temperature. They were, in summary, top wines, beautifully presented.

What is clear is that there is a world of wines that I have yet to explore: different names and styles, lost bodegas and brands. It is also clear that if you want to explore that world A’Barra is one of the places you can do so. Before going to A’Barra a couple of weeks ago I probably had only had a dozen really old bottles. Fifteen days later I have lost count …

Many many thanks again and many congratulations to Valerio and the guys – really enjoyed last night and will be back again soon!

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A’Barra

A fantastic dinner last night at the “gastronomic bar” of A’Barra, where you can dine at a counter while some friendly chefs whip up a really high quality, high flavour and high fun menu, all the while sipping down an imaginative set of pairings by one of Madrid’s very top sommeliers.

You know it is going to be a good night when you are offered as an aperitivo la Bota 70 de Manzanilla Pasada de Equipo Navazos – an absolutely splendid start that, but only just the start. After aperitivos and safely ensconced at the bar the menu took off with Alvear’s Asunción oloroso – just that hint of sweetness making it a really accesible – then a juicy, herbal Assyrtiko, interloping from across the med, a marvellous Fondillón from Alicante and progressing up the coast, a chunky Aureo Añejo Seco from Tarragona.

By this stage I could contain myself no longer and went off piste because I had been told repeatedly that Valerio Carrera, the sommelier in charge here, was a bit of a legend. But even so I wasn’t prepared for the quality of what happened next, with some absolutely exceptional wines: a 1950s manzanilla Jarana from Lustau, a 1920s bottle of Fino Carta Blanca by Agustin Blázquez, a lovely old Romate oloroso and a really fine, elegant old Pukka medium dry, again by Blázquez.

I am going to give it a go in the coming days but it is not going to be easy to put into words the quality of these wines. And not just the wines, but the service, which was perfection. Opened in advance and handled with exquisite care these wines were crystal clear and had no hint of age, reduction or dustiness on the nose. They were impeccable and ready to sing out their considerable qualities. Absolutely outstanding, magical stuff from a sommelier with a superb collection and even better skills.

And oh yes, there was also a dinner. Which was cracking, from start to finish, in a great atmosphere. The bar is a wonderful setting, allowing you to chat with fellow diners, and the food and the wine beg to be discussed. There were lots of smiles and even a fair bit of laughter. As enjoyable a dinner as I have had in a long time and one that I hope to repeat very soon.

Perfect. I can’t wait to go back.

 

 

The flock again

A growing obsession with these perfect little bottles, packed to the brim with zingy, zesty manzanilla (pasada) and emblazoned with beautiful creatures of fur and feather.

This was the pioneer in the en rama stakes, and in the seasonal saca stakes – they started these in 1999 (my little collection representa only four and a half of the nineteen years of sacas). More importantly it is one of the very top manzanillas around: full of character, ageworthy and subtly different as each season comes along.

Looking forward to the 20th anniversary celebrations next year (hint)!

Salcombe Gin “Finisterre”

If you are going to have lunch with some top finos you need something really dry as an aperitif and here you go. A dry martini made up of a gin made by Salcombe in Devon and aged in a former fino bota shipped over by Bodegas Tradicion and a decent splash of fino from the same chaps.

When it comes to dry martinis I have very classic tastes but this fragrant, woody and saline version is very suppable indeed. Great stuff.

Precede Miraflores 2013

Complete with a good size section of the great barrier reef …

This is another under-rated palomino, even among the fans, probably because there was so little of it (and I have drunk an unseemly number of the 700 bottles) and maybe also because of its enjoyable fruity concentration and profile. Rich baked savory pineapple flavours with saline heat and a long fresh/hot/fruity finish.

This was my last bottle and I am missing it already!

Lustau 3 en rama 2018

These were very generously sent to me by Lustau but be not afraid: this largesse will not affect the low standards of professionalism and objectivity for which the blog is barely known.

It is a terrific gift to receive. The 3 en rama set is a great idea by Lustau: three selected en rama wines from each of the three centres of el marco: Sanlucar (manzanilla), Jerez de la Frontera (Fino), and El Puerto de Santa Maria (Fino del Puerto). The wines are distinct and, in my limited experience, a good introduction to the characteristics of biological wines from the three centres.

The Manzanilla de Sanlucar de Barremeda is all fresh green slightly salty apples on the nose and the start of the palate, a nice bite of zing then again a fresh, apply finish. Very inviting indeed.

The Fino de Jerez de la Frontera is slightly more serious, more tangy vegetable than apple and a more intense, peppery zing. It seems to have more metals in the minerals more weight and a metallic tang on the finish.

The Fino del Puerto de Santa Maria is my favourite every year and yet again it stands out. It has a brilliant nose of sweet rockpools and is as complex on the palate – with sweet and herbal touches and a zingy, fresh finish. Really a top, top class fino.

Desencaja

Desencaja is a brilliant restaurant, a bit of a hidden gem but with a lot of faithful customers. It is famed for its game during the season but just high quality at any time of year: a really top class chef – a chef’s chef so they tell me -, some fun presentations, an interesting and fairly priced wine list and a really friendly crew. One of the things I like about it is the choice of menus – you don’t have to go super big to put yourself in their hands.

And the sherry list is not at all shabby. Unusually for me, I have all the information: 21 wines by the glass covering all possible bases and another 13 by the bottle, some of which are pretty special and, well, I already said they were fairly priced …

No doubt about it, this is one for my list.