Cork, Bilbao

A brief visit to an absolutely cracking wine bar in Bilbao – the legendary Cork, which was already a temple for sherry lovers when this blog was in short trousers and, despite the proliferation of competition since, has a selection of wines of the highest class. It is not often I go to a place these days where I am keen to try more than a couple of sherries, but here they had no less than eight that seemed to leap off the shelf.

A real quality line up, starting with Encrucijado 2014, the Manzanilla de Añada 2012 5/11, the original, 2015 saca of La Maruja Manzanilla Pasada, el Amontillado 3/10 by Alexander Jules, el Amontillado Olvidado by Sanchez Romate, oloroso VORS by Piñero, oloroso El Cerro, and an old bottle of the the now out-of-catalogue Medium from Barbadillo (gorgeous with gorgonzola). A really pleasing line up of wines and perfect restoration for a palate dulled by a long, hard day at the mill with only coffee and water for company.

Even better, they were accompanied by an equally varied and almost equally tasty lineup of very pleasant pintxos. Even even better, all that was accompanied by pairing advice and all around friendly chat of Jonathan, owner, enthusiast and gentleman.

There is no doubt that Cork is deserving of a place in the “must visit” category of winebars for sherry fans and winelovers in general. No sooner had I started on my little sherry flight than I found myself wishing I had started with some of the bubbles in the ice box, could find space for the trousseau staring me in the face or the other corkers lurking in the background.

Fantastic evening in a fantastic wine bar. I will be back!

Descubrir el Jerez with Los Generosos in La Canibal (aforo completo)

This blog often gets pelters for focussing on small production wines that are unavailable to 99% of readers, but to celebrate this year’s sherry week I am branching out into publishing events that you won’t be able to participate in either.

It is a pity because it is a cracking event, aimed at introducing the wines of Jerez to a wider audience, featuring a really nice selection of the different styles provided by the producers and Consejo Regulador, each of which will be spoken to by one of the Generosos, a club dedicated to drinking and the exaltation of drinking sherry wines of which I am proud to be a member, and in the convivial surroundings of La Canibal.

Such a good event, in fact, that it was already full (50+ signups) even before we had the poster ready. If by any chance you have already signed up I look forward to seeing you there!

Pandorga 2016

Apricots on the nose, bright acidity and a palate of pure apricot jam with a rich, sugary finish.

Pandorga, by Cota 45, is a single vineyard, vintage 100% pedro ximenez from Jerez that is unlike most pedro ximenez you may have tasted. Young and fresh, the grapes have had some sun-drying but not to the point of becoming raisins and the resulting wine is more opulent in fruit on the one hand and (slightly) less loaded with sugar on the other.

And like many of the wines from Cota 45 there is some fascinating wine making going on beneath the surface. Whereas many pedro ximenez wines are made in a way that minimizes the difference between vintages (more sun-drying in cooler vintages, less in warm ones), this wine is prepared in a “procyclical” way. As such, the relatively cool 2014 was given less sub drying, the much warmer 2015 much more, and this something in between. As a result you get three very different wines: just as an indication the 2014 had 12 degrees of alcohol, the 2015 had so little -5% – it couldn’t legally be called a wine, and this one has 11,5%.

Wines that express the varietal and shout out the vintage. And superb wines too!

Socaire 2017

One of the great Cadiz wines, this, a palomino with a touch of class about it, with as much silk as steel and as much flavour as aromatics. Coming back to it once again after a while without (probably last seen at Easter) what strikes me is how balanced it is – how the fruit, bota effects and saline sizzle combine so nicely that you can hardly make out the gaps. A top class wine, no question.

La Fleur 2015 in Zalamero Taberna

It has been a very intense time at work in recent weeks and the first casualties of the tight deadlines are the restaurants that are farthest from the office. As a result I haven’t been to Zalamero nearly as much as I would like. Good food, good wine, good people, nice hatstand, it is one of my very favourite spots.

So it was a double pleasure to get there for a Sunday supper a couple of weekends ago with my esteemed colleague Ruben of SherryNotes (and WhiskyNotes). We had a really cracking dinner, featuring really excellent roast chicken croquettes, mackerel, squid and lamb chops. And we had a really cracking wine too.

La Fleur is a 100% palomino from the folks (Rocio and Alejandro) at Forlong – a young couple of proper winemakers that make a full range of subtly different palominos (and the occasional interloper), all of them class wines and all of them showing off the many qualities of this tragically overlooked grape.

La Fleur is a case in point – has just a touch of flor, and maybe as a result seems a little more floral and sweeter on the nose than many palominos – in some ways bringing it closer to the wines from Jura. Like any palomino it is fresh and juicy on the palate, but again the fruits you find there are more exotic than you might expect – I really associate this wine with sweet apple pies and pastries, and those aromas were still there in this bottle, but over time notes of pineapple came through. And then the back end has plenty of oomph, with a saline finish – a kind of reverse mullet that is party at the front and business at the back.

A lovely wine and perfect for a lovely dinner and occasion.

Elkano

Felt obliged to write something about what was nearly a religious experience this summer up on the basque coast near Sebastian: Elkano in Getaria.

On the night we didn’t even have any sherry, preferring to stick to more local brews, but they had a superb list – including the De la Riva blanco macharnudo and many others, so sherry lovers should feel no qualms about going. And indeed even if they didn’t and whatever qualms you may have you should go anyway.

You may have heard or read about Elkano and its famous rodaballo (turbot), grilled on the coals outside the restaurant. You may even, given the appearance recently of ever fancier grill restaurants all over Spain and further afield, have had other exceptional rodaballos or similar fishes that have been mentioned in the same breath. In my case I had even been to Cataria, Elkano’s sister restaurant down in Cadiz, where I had had the best fish that I had ever been served in my life.

But even then I honestly never imagined how absolutely superb this meal was going to turn out to be. Everything was good – the lobster cooked two ways, the hake cheeks three, and the other little fish that came and went – but the turbot was just out of this world. What was staggering was not simply how rich, how juicy, and how perfectly white and fluffy/flakey the fish was, but the sheer range of flavours and consistencies, all of them expertly pointed out by the resident genius Aitor Arregi.

I can still remember how the guys down in Cataria were full of life, literally bouncing around in their excitement as they explained the fish to us. By comparison, Aitor was a man of few words but maximum information. A priest in the temple of the turbot rather than a ringmaster, no frills added and none needed.

Really exceptional and one of those very rare meals you will remember for your whole life. Turbots never tasted that like before and may never do so again.

Marqués de Rodil in Huerto de Carabaña

I wrote a few days ago about my discovery of the Huerto de Carabaña bistro in Madrid. Not one of Madrid’s fanciest locales but very enjoyable, in particular the wine service, and in particular when the wine service includes a wine like this.

Marqués de Rodil is sold as a palo cortado, probably the most “commercial” category of sherry around and if you want to know where your wine comes from one of the trickiest. Some makers profess to being mystified as to how it is made (which tells you everything you need to know about the veracity of the marketing involved). In reality, you most often find it is an oloroso made from first press, fine mostos, or base wine that had a fair bit of biological ageing to begin with (something which is more common than you may think) or even just an oloroso that tasted especially “fine” in the casks.

Be that as it may, palo cortados can indeed be absolutely cracking wines. Full in flavour but light on their feet, they can combine the best of all worlds, with a little more elegance than an oloroso and a little more spark than an amontillado.

This one certainly does, it is a beautiful wine.  Clear as a bell in consistency and with a lovely copper/gold colour to it. This one was from a freshly opened bottle and had a lovely fragrant nose: nutty toffee steeped in brandy. Then on the palate it was sharp to start, a dry, serious palate of toffee, nuts and heat and a long, flavourful finish.

Really enjoyable wine and no wonder they are big sellers.