La Panesa – January 2020

A brand new bottle of this marvellous wine, the pinnacle of bottle ageing. A full 15 years under the flor (on average, a lot longer in the case of some of its contents) and after six weeks or so in the bottle as fresh as a daisy.

The archetypal fino with a nose full of nuts, yeast and minerals and a superb full, solid palate – like a great opera tenor no woolly vibrato here. Full in flavour but elegant in profile – a really fantastic wine.

And in the background maestro David Villalon selecting cheeses from the unequalled board at Angelita Madrid. Two legends in one lunchtime.

Kaleja

The writer has had a few sensational lunches over the years but some are more sensationaler than others. The most sensational of them all was probably the one I had just under six weeks ago in Kaleja in Malaga.

January is a tricky old month – a combination of hangover and start all over, with added paperwork, and anything you can do to boost morale is too little. And it struck me that if you can’t see a bit of daylight between the clouds overhead then it is time to go and seek out the sun. So spotting a gap in the deadlines I availed myself of the convenient high speed train provided at vast expense to the public purse and shimmied down to Malaga. And I wasn’t just after a bit of winter sun, I was on a mission to have a look at this new venture by legends’ legend Dani Carnero and a crew featuring none other than my good mate Juanito, an absolutely top bloke and seriously talented sommelier in the making.

First impressions were bang on the money. It was January 15, bleak midwinter you might think, but not in Malaga. In Malaga the street was full of people in shorts, drinking beers on terraces and generally enjoying life in a way that is utterly inconsistent with any reasonable definition of the term “winter”. Not only that, but the stroll down from the station to the resto is a lovely one – a beautiful, underrated city this, and if you know where you are going you can pass by the traditional market, Picasso’s house and a few other assorted sights on your way. Timing is also perfect – get a train at a reasonable hour from Madrid, wander over and there is just time for a refreshing caña on the terrace before you get down to business.

But get down to business one must get and there, in the shadow of the castle in an alleyway off the famous view of the walls, is the restaurant itself. And it is the business.

I am not your man if you are after descriptions of interior decoration but this place is elegant. The staff, the uniforms, the layout, the furniture, the understated homage to the barbecue coals on display. But the best of all is the kitchen, because the kitchen has a bar – a minimalist stone surface with subtle lighting and an unbeatable view – because a few lucky diners can sit and enjoy a menu that Dani and the crew are literally making before their eyes.

I was one such lucky diner, and doubly lucky because I was allowed to sit there with all my friends (yep, it was just me). Now I have always found it very relaxing to watch others work, and this would have been a very relaxing time had they not been constantly interrupting my contemplation with new wines and dishes.

And what wines they were. You can see them above, and if you have been following this blog for any length of time you don’t need me to tell you that it was what is known as a festival. Absolute gems from start to finish and all the way through: so much so that the Barajuela Fino almost merged with the crowd. Really a consistently high standard and some excellent, innovative choices, but never straying far from the traditional wines of Andalucia, surely the best wines for this cooking 8 times of every 10. I am not saying this was a standard pairing menu – I gave Juanito instructions not to spare the ponies – but even then the pain at the end was more than reasonable – and in fact the list was very faily priced. In short, even a far better blog than this one will find it easy to enjoy the liquid assortment. For me it was just incredible.

And what dishes they were too. Dani Carnero is known as a man for the stews – pride of place in the kitchen is a traditional Andalucian cooking fire surrounded by bubbling pots – but the word “stew” just does not do justice to a recital like this one. I took the standard menu of fourteen dishes with just a couple of extras that Dani talked me into and looking back it is really hard to argue with any of them. If I had to pick any out as especially good they would be the berza, the magic beans in magically cheesy sauce, the ajoblanco, the rice, the roasted peppers, the hare, the callos de bacalao, the mackerel, the squid, the lentils  … (let’s face it, I couldn’t really pick any out). The bread was crunchy and fleshy, the butter was flavourful. See if you can find fault with it because I could not.

In summary: three hours of absolute treat after absolute treat, in the best possible surroundings.

Because the space you are in is congenial – beautifully decorated in the quietest possible street in central Malaga, but the best of all is that you are surrounded by the absolute salt of the earth. Juanito is a friend and a known great bloke, and I had also had good reports of Dani Carnero, but nothing could have prepared me for the welcome I received down there. It was like dropping into your mate’s house, inviting yourself into the kitchen and having him or her whip you up a world class menu and soak you in world class wines while you chew the cud and generally set the world to rights. (He knows his onions too, your man there.)

A truly memorable experience in a world class restaurant that surely must now go on to conquer the world. I have never been one for real estate investments but if you could buy the land under the seats at that bar in the kitchen I reckon you would be golden.

Many thanks to Juanito, Dani and the whole team and my sincere congratulations. I cannot wait to get back to that stool at the bar for another go but will always remember my first visit.

Cuatro Palmas – 2012 edition

This was a gift given to me by wonderful friends and I am mortified that I have opened it without being able to share it with them.

But on the other hand I have them in mind as I drink this excellent wine. A superb example of an old amontillado, this is so fine on the nose, so saline and sharp, and so elegant of profile, with maybe just a fanned out tail like a fiery saline shuttlecock.

Beautiful work from Antonio Flores and the team at Gonzalez Byass back in 2012. Which I now remember is the year I met my friends – and my woe is compounded.

A wonderful wine to finish in instalments …

 

Atlántida Blanco 2016

Your correspondent had this for the first time a while ago now (a year?) at a cracking lunch in Zalamero Taberna and another fun lunch with the same person inspired me to have a second dip.

It is a wine by Compañias de Vino del Atlantico, your man Alberto Orte, who has by now built up a bit of an empire spanning the Spanish peninsula but is beloved of this parish for his wines in the region of Jerez.

He has a nice little tintilla that goes by the name of vara y pulgar – a nice reference to pruning for the gardener’s world crowd – and some really top class finos and upwards, but this is a Vijariego blanco.

Yes indeed, one of your good old Vijariegos – one of the 119 varieties around in Jerez pre-phyloxera and apparently resuscitated to good effect here. It has had 12 months or more in oak and it is a bomb of flavour alright – the extra year in the bottle has brought it on even more compared to my first meeting with it.

They compared it to white burgundy and it has that feel of a broad on the beam chardonnay but with more sharp edges to it – real devil in there, almost as if it was one of these volcanic Canary wines. And of course none of the lime cordial of a chardonnay – here you have an altogether more grapefruity undertow.

Full flavour and full on. Would be fascinating to see how this develops over the years.

Solear en rama – Saca de Primavera 2018 – the Gullheaded Tern

Have a big collection of these little bottles and am strongly considering a bit of a clear out – if I could find time to see them all away at once I would but I will likely have to pick them off in some small groups. Not yet, though, because this was one that I had two of so could tuck into, without any guilt and with a massive dollop of pleasure.

It really is one of the top wines from Sanlucar, from Jerez, from anywhere. Has that musky haybale aroma and overlying, underlying flavour, sea breeze and almonds, stinging salinity on the lips, and after nearly two years in the bottle (bit less) this one has a nice touch of oxidation – almost raisiny to begin with.

Really love these. Maybe will have to hold onto them after all – can always buy a bigger house …

Lunch with Pepe Blandino and the wines of Bodegas Tradición

A traditional Spanish lunch

Bodegas Tradicion were founded in 1998 but the majority of the superb wines they sell are even older. So old, in fact, that their enologist once told me that they have the opposite problem to many wineries in Jerez. Rather than seeking to make their wines seem ever older more concentrated or extreme, the challenge is to how to keep the wines fresh and balanced.

I can confirm that they achieve exactly that after yet another fantastic lunch featuring their wines in Taberna Palo Cortado earlier this week. We tasted the full range – from a really cracking saca of the fino from last November (just delicious) to a little bottle of incredibly potent very old amontillado and everything in between, and they were just superb from start to finish. (We didn’t have time for the cream or a cigar, but the occasion merited just that kind of finish.)

And of course it was no ordinary lunch. A lot of the credit for the consistent excellence of the wines is due to a fantastic team in the cellar lead by Pepe Blandino, capataz de bodega and one of the top cellermen in the business, so it was both a pleasure and an honour to be able to share a table and taste the wines with the man himself.

Autumn 19 – a superb saca from a long line of top finos

First up was that fino, and it was a belter. A magnum of the autumn saca for 2019 it was singing, with a lovely, only slightly bitter almond nose and a nice rounded palate – zingy on the front and fresh on the finish. Really excellent fino and a high class start.

Palo cortado de añada, 1998

But it was only just the start. Next up was the 1998 palo cortado de añada. A really fine, quite serious bitter almond nose and then an even more pronounced roundedness to the palate. Surprisingly balanced wine – older añada wines can often be quite spirity but here the acidity was in a nice proportion. Very nice, elegant wine.

Vintage and vintager: Olorosos de Añada 1970 and 1975

Then we kicked on in style with two beautiful, contrasting olorosos. The 1970, fine, dry and sharp, with sawdust on the nose and a regal, rapier old palate, and the 1975, with its brighter chestnut colour, juicier, more spirity nose and slightly chunkier oloroso palate. Two absolute beauties and another demonstration of the difference a few years can make (even if we can’t be sure we are comparing the same vineyards).

The full monty, and the fuller monty

After the olorosos, the amontillados. First up, the superb amontillado VORS – one of the best in its class and a gem of a wine, with a zingy start, elegant flavourful profile and a long but fresh finish. Really lovely in its own right, but on this occasion slightly outmuscled by the small bottle to its right – the amontillado viejisimo.

The viejisimo is worthy of all the praise that has been heaped upon its slender shoulders. It is incredibly potent and concentrated while maintaining that balance and elegance that seems to be the bodega’s trademark. Flavours that go all the way from nutty caramel to burnt barrel, chocolate and tobacco and seem to elegantly fade over an eternity. Too good, too special a wine for the likes of me or a lunch like this – the kind of wine that deserves an afternoon to itself.

And after that we tucked into some callos and garbanzos with the quite excellent VORS oloroso and palo cortado, which in any other company might themselves have been the highlight. On this occasion there was a suggestion of after the Lord Mayor’s show – how can you follow an act like the viejisimo – and in fact after that awesome amontillado even the venerable wines on the table tasted a bit like mostos.

And there it came to an end, a fantastic lunch in great company and with a really unbelievable selection of wines. Many many thanks once again to all at Bodegas Tradicion and to our hosts at Taberna Palo Cortado for an inspiring day.

Cuatrogatos Winefest 2020

Roll up roll up and get your tickets for the top wine event of the year – the Cuatrogatos Winefest, on February 15 in Hotel Puerto Sherry, from 11:00 to 20:00.

More indie wine makers than you can poke a stick at and all the top new talents from the sherry region. Get in at cuatrogatoswineclub.com