Lunch with Bodegas Tradicion in Taberna Palo Cortado

It is one thing to have an overdose of gainful employment and a backlog of posts, but it is quite another thing to fail to acknowledge an absolutely cracking lunch like the one I had with the guys from Tradición in Palo Cortado at the end of June.

We kicked off with a “martini” made with Salcombe gin and fino and there were bubbles and a superlative Amontillado to finish, but the stars of the lunch for me were the finos that came in between. First and foremost a bottle of the May 2013 saca of the Tradición fino, a little bottle of the fino bottled for Mugaritz and a magnum of the November 2017.

Really fascinating to see that 2013 again. The only other time I had tried it was at a superb vertical tasting of all the sacas at Reserva y Cata in Madrid in November 2016 and even then I remember the complexity and additional dimension it had. A year and a half longer in the bottle and there was caramel softness to it, and a bitter almond and butter feel to the flavours. Really fascinating and almost enough to make me want to keep a bottle for a few years (if it were not for the ease with which the November 2017 were slipping down). One day I will invest in a cellar that is far enough out of reach to protect the wines from erosion.

For the time being all you can do is give thanks that wines like these are being made year after a year and at such a high level. It certainly makes for a brilliant lunch.

 

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Manzanilla Pasada Los 48 de Garcia de Velasco

This is a very coveted little bottle of wine amongst aficionados: a label that disappeared long ago but the guys talk of down there in hushed tones, and if you know a little bit about the area you will have seen the surname “Garcia de Velasco” in a few different famous family trees. It was somehow acquired by a good friend and brought to a fantastic lunch this summer in Cataria.

To be honest, the lunch might have been too much fun, because with all the laughter and, let’s be honest, other wines, I neither took notes nor have as clear a recollection of this as I would like. What I do remember was a wine whose minerals had almost precipitated into chalk particles and whose fruit had turned to musty, incense like spices. Still an elegant sup with a very light start and a mouth watering finish and flavourful but dry as a bone in the middle. As so often happens, I found myself wishing I had met this bottle 20 years ago.

Legendary stuff and you can still see why.

 

 

Two true Camborios

A glass of Camborio is always welcome, and getting your hands on two special bottles in quick succession is fortune indeed. It helps if you hang around in the right places (and el Corral de la Moreria is, for the record, the right place).

Here we have a Fino Camborio from the 1970s when the solera was owned by Terry, one of a series of superb older wines that we had at dinner before the summer. Hard to know how the fino made back then would have compared to the modern versions – there have been a few changes since then – but although the forty years or so in the bottle had taken away the fierce zing, softened it around the edges and thinned it out a little, to me it seemed familiar, and the aromas and flavours of yeast, roasted, bitter almonds and salt and pepper were all there. A classic old fino ageing gracefully.

Maybe not a fair comparison but only a day or so earlier and in the same select spot I was able to tuck into probably my favourite iteration of this great wine (so far): the en rama bottling of May 2017. The same rich colour and those same flavours but much more expressive in the aromatics of the nose, in the impact of the salinity, the intensity of the flavour and the length and sizzle of the salt and pepper finish.

Two lovely wines and a fascinating comparison (and call me ageist if you like, but give me the modern classic any day of the week).

Manzanilla Viva la Pepa, de los 50

A sip of something fine, elegant, mellow, dry and just slightly peppery, like the refined idea of a manzanilla, or maybe the idea of a refined manzanilla.

It really was a beautiful thing to drink, and even if some of the other wines we had during a fantastic dinner at A’Barra may have had more complexity, the purity and elegance of this, and the clarity with which it was presented was truly memorable. This kind of thing is usually is a long way from my personal preference (I tend to enjoy a punchy, corpulent older than average fino or manzanilla pasada) but I would drink this any day of the week and what a testament to the skill of the sommelier and his staff.

Magical stuff. Viva la Pepa!

Solear en rama Spring 2015 in Corral de la Moreria

After three years in the bottle this little beauty is like a day old child – nothing wrong with this at all.

It was one of several really top wines that the marvellous David Ayuso opened for us at the lunchtime party to celebrate Juan Manuel del Rey’s big prize: Premio Nacional de la Gastronomia for best service (sala). It couldn’t have been more deserved – this is without fail one of the happiest of happy places – and it was a fantastic occasion, with Juan Manuel calling the whole team up on stage to a ringing ovation, superb finger food by the star chef David Garcia, “mucho arte” from Perrete, Bocadillo and the boys and girls, a bravura performance by Juan Andres Maya and a really joyful finale with Blanca del Rey herself. A chance to celebrate wine, food, music and dancing, and all before

Maybe it was the happy occasion, the music or the three earlier glasses but for whatever reason this struck me as as good a manzanilla as I have had in a long time. As aromatic, zingy and juicy as any that I can remember, and very expressive of those salty, peppery bitter salad flavours.

Absolutely top stuff. Congratulations once again to the crew at Corral de la Moreria … and the crew at Barbadillo!

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!

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.