The 7 i(T) Gastrolab

A couple of weeks ago I had one of the very best meals I can remember in the intriguingly monikered 7 i(T) Gastrolab .

The Gastrolab is the creation of two of the brightest lights of the Madrid restaurant scene: Narciso Bermejo and Xabi Guitart, and the evolution of their project of the last two years, the 7 Islands Craft Bar.

The driving force behind it is Narciso Bermejo, one of the most impressive, most original individuals around. Trained as a chef but a genius with a cocktail shaker (or stirrer, or any other implement) and almost more importantly one of the most uncompromisingly thoughtful and innovative guys you could hope to meet, an unstoppable force striving to bring balance to the insane business of bars and restaurants. In only a few years he has been behind several top class, highly original projects, including Macera, the 7 Islands Craft Bar, Nada365 and now the Gastrolab.

For his part, Xabi Guitart is a phenomenally talented young chef who despite his tender years has experience in kitchens of the stature of Lera, Kabuki, and Diverxo and now, with nearly two years of his own creations under his belt, has really come into his own. It sounds like a cliché but there was a real maturity to the menu he gave us the other night, with dishes that were superbly executed and in equal parts delicious and surprising, and a clear leap forward even from the high standards of the last two years.

I will not discuss the individual dishes because the guys want the menus to be surprising, but I can tell you it is a really nicely constructed menu with the dishes bound together with arguments that were consistent and appealing – again no spoilers but this was no rag tag or allsorts. There are in fact two menus: a short menu at €45 and a long one at €75, and both are outstanding value, as good as anything you will find in Madrid for a ticket way below the average.

It wouldn’t be fair not to mention the third member of the team. Luis, another young chef, with experience in Copenhagen’s Geranium and until recently Xabi’s right hand man in the kitchen, but working here in the front of house as sommelier and maitre, with an engaging, friendly enthusiasm and a pretty handy wine list at his disposal. The wine list has a cracking variety of wines and some really nice stuff on it (some quality sherries as you can see, but also some top class bubbles and some lovely wines from all over Europe). It resolves one of the only weaknesses of the 7 Islas Craft Bar, and allows them to offer some nice, original pairings, which were excellent on the night.

There is no doubt that the 7i(T) Gastrolab is a phenomenon, but sadly it is only a temporary one: until the end of this month in fact. After that, Narciso at least will be striking out for a new project, although I believe that Xabi and Luis hope to stay on at the 7 Islas in one guise or another and, who knows, if enough of us get in there in the next couple of weeks …

So it is time to bring and end to dry January, veganuary, or any other atonement you may be planning for your festive excesses. Please take my advice and get yourselves a table before the chance has gone. You will not regret it.




La Corte de Pelayo, Oviedo

Your correspondent has been enjoying a much needed break travelling across the North of Spain, greatly enjoying the local hostelry along the way. And despite some big names, none have impressed me more than Restaurante La Corte de Pelayo, here in Oviedo.

It was recommended by a reliable trencherman and good friend as having a “good list of generosos” and if anything he sold them short – it is a superb list, of generosos (and wines of every kind) and once Hector, co-owner and Jefe de Sala spotted our interest, he revealed that that superb list only scratched the surface.

The restaurant itself is beautifully located and right up this blogger’s alley style-wise – friendly and unfussy but classy and elegant – and the food too was a great balance of hearty Asturian fare with a touch of class. We had two grand prix level dishes – fabada (ranked 4th in the world in 2019) and cachopo (the all Asturias champion) – and with no disrespect to the cider we have been swigging away the wines here were the perfect accompaniment.

Superb stuff and many many thanks for a cracking lunch.

La Bota 68 de Fino – Macharnudo Alto

This is the fino from Macharnudo Alto by Equipo Navazos that is a near relation of the all time classic Inocente by Valdespino and a comparison of the two – particularly if you could get a bottling of Inocente from the same date – would be very interesting.

Every time I try this wine I am reminded of the tremendous impact it had on me when I first tried it in January 2017 – it had such amazing zip and pizzazz and seemed to jump out of the glass at me. Since then I have found that it mellowed in July 2017, was hanging on in November 2017 and this time, in February 2019 had become fine and mellow to an extent that was unrecognizable from its original vigour. (It had also changed color noticeably, something I also noted in November 2017.

Of course the three later bottles might not have been stored in identical circumstances, the latter ones may even have been open a few days and these are living wines – you can never guarantee that they age the same way. But despite that all my experiences tend to point me to the conclusion that the explosive aromatics and flavour profile when first released – when you could accurately have described this wine as Inocente on steroids – are not sustained over the years in the bottle. In fact you get the impression that the wine is almost exhausted by all that early exertion – something I have never come across in an Inocente. (I will have to search one out with a December 2016 bottling to see if I am right.)

This wine is still a lovely drop: sweet, floral and herbal nose, soft palate with yeast, nuts and bitter almonds, and a fresh, mouth watering finish. But it is hard not to hanker after that younger, more effervescent incarnation.

Por debajo de la flor

Me han dicho que eso de escribir un blog sobre vinos que forman parte de la historia, patrimonio y cultura de España esta muy bien, y que se entiende porque lo hago en ingles, pero por otro lado seria un guiño al personal que vive en el antes aludido territorio traducir los posts de forma que se pueden leer en cristiano. (Estoy resumiendo un poco, porque me lo han dicho de una forma muy insistente, con muchos argumentos y no poca persuasion.)

Y la verdad es que tenían razón. No porque me puede traer mas lectores, o porque permitiría mi (muy querida) suegra seguir mis movimientos, sino por respeto a los aficionados españoles de undertheflor.

Mas de la mitad de los lectores accedan al blog desde este maravilloso pais y dentro de poco “celebraremos” el cuarto aniversario del blog, pero en todo este tiempo no he tenido la minima consideración con los castellano-hablantes (por no hablar de la gente de Jerez y Sanlucar).

De hecho, por si escribir en ingles fuera poco, he utilizado en todo momento un verbeaje de lo mas rebuscado, imposibilitando el trabajo del traductor automático mas asiduo. Esparto grass es poco, soy consciente.

Pero, por favor, no me lo tomáis mal. No es que no os quiero. Después de 16 años, 11 meses y 22 dias Madrid ya es la ciudad donde mas tiempo he pasado en mi vida (y los mejores tiempos ademas) y sois muchos los amigos que he hecho a través de este blog.

El mundo del vino, y especialmente del vino de Jerez, es una cosa muy especial, pero sobre todo por la gente que tiene dentro. Muchas gracias a todos por compartir tantas cosas conmigo. No me salen tan fácilmente los chistes en español pero vaya, lo intentaremos de vez en cuando.

Three years under the flor – a birthday wish

Back on the Costa where this blog was born three years ago now and it has been another fun year. More than 900 posts , thousands of hits and visitors and the rest (from over 120 countries, not including Iceland), some enjoyable lunches, sneaky glasses, fascinating tastings and riotous dinners, but most importantly, a few pennies are starting to drop and I am beginning to think I am getting a handle on what is what where these wines are concerned.

The first thing I learned is the incredible range of wines that can be achieved in the cellar: whether through concentration, oxidation, reduction and barrel and biological aging, blending with sweet wines and in soleras at variable speeds, all with the benefit of timescales that shame other regions, there is a sense of possibility that is quite amazing.

But the second thing you discover is that those possibilities bring great responsibilities, and mean great discipline is needed. With so many dimensions it is all too easy for your wine to end up unbalanced and misshapen, and if you get it just slightly wrong for thirty years you will finish up quite a long way off the path.

And the third thing you learn is that the biggest mistake that has been made is one of the most common, and it has been made for a lot longer than thirty years. Simply, that many bodegas have forgotten that underneath all those effects there should be a wine, a wine with a personality given it by vine, vineyard, and vintage. Too many of the wines in the region are being made with high yield, low concentration, low personality palomino clones that could and indeed are sourced from anywhere across the region. They are often still delicious – crisp, mineral, punchy and full of yeasty or caramel goodness – but they could be so much more.

Because once you have discovered the unique personality that palomino can have when produced with low yields, in different vineyards and in different vintages it is impossible to forget and difficult to go back. The resulting wines not only have added dimensions, they are unique. However majestic the bodega, however great the skill of the capataz, bigger bodegas can be built and techniques can be copied, but vines, vineyards and vintages cannot be replicated.

Don’t get me wrong, I never say no to a glass from one of the great soleras (and the Solear above was absolutely delicious at sundown yesterday), but if this blog gets a birthday wish it would be for the region as a whole to rediscover the miracles of its vines, vineyards and vintages. (And if I were allowed a second wish, it would be for the great “gurus” of terroir and vine to finally give el marco de Jerez the credit it deserves.)


The best of 2017 undertheflor

fe1ee6d3-cff7-4e87-b5d7-fd75e640185cOther blogs may post their “best of” at the end of December or beginning of January but that is not how we do things at this address: January 20 works for me. There is a risk of course that a full three weeks into 2018 people might be less tolerant to my bragging and crowing on about what an awesome year I had last year but frankly I have the post mainly written now so I might as well go ahead.

January: lessons in terroir with the Pitijopos 

The first highlight of the year was the night in January when we took a lesson in the terroir of Sanlúcar with Volume II of the Pitijopos. There is no better demonstration of the relevance of terroir in el marco than these six bottle sets and I firmly believe that it is an issue that is central to the future if el marco is going to be considered a serious wine region. If only all educational experiences were as much fun as this.

February: Wine and fun at the Cuatrogatos Wine Fest

February was all about the he Cuatrogatos Wine Fest an absolutely cracking day and night down in el Puerto de Santa Maria with the genial Federico Ferrer and his band of artisan winemaker friends. Like a salon but in the bowels of a bull ring, with wines that are a lot more interesting than the average, Cadiz-style street food and an awful lot of laughter. This year’s is on February 24 and is a must-attend for anyone seriously into fun and wine (in that order).

March: epic tastings, visitors from the other place and going blind

March was the month of epic tastings. First, we witnessed the full extent of Chiclana Power: with the great, criminally unrecognized Primitivo Collantes in Enoteca Barolo. Then that was followed by the true history of Palo Cortados according to Ramiro Ibañez in, fittingly enough, Taberna Palo Cortado. Two nights when copious notes were taken, notes which in other hands might have been used to write up an interesting post or two. I really learned a lot in those two tastings and if you get the chance to listen to these guys I highly recommend it.

In addition, I also had the pleasure of meeting Erik and Laura Burgess, the couple behind We took a leisurely crawl from Territorio Era to La Malaje, via Angelita and la Venencia (we never made it to La Fisna) and tried a fair few interesting wines along the way: Manu from la Malaje finishing us off with some cracking old Montilla Moriles and even a bottle of Cordobese bubbles!

And as if that wasn’t enough, the month ended on a high with a cracking day at the Cata por Parejas by Vila Viniteca. I really need to drink more 2002 Salon, no doubt, but in general it really brought home how much fun blind tasting can be. I can’t make it this year but will probably train anyway!

April: the big three and the big one

April was again all about tastings but this time the three really big beasts among current enologists: a sensational dinner with Eduardo Ojeda of Valdespino/La Guita/Estevez (and Equipo Navazos) in Lavinia; getting to meet Jose Maria Quirós of Bodegas Tradición (and the legendary Agustin Blázquez) in Taberna Palo Cortado and, finally, Antonio Flores of Gonzalez Byass with his array of Palos Cortados de Añada. An honour to meet any one of them and to meet all three in one month was almost too much to take in.

And then the month ended with an all too brief visit from another of my blogging heroes: Ruben of SherryNotes featuring a signature cracking lunch at Territorio Era and what was shaping to be a pretty handy bar crawl until Mrs Undertheflor intervened and called me home!

May the force be with you

No big ticket events in May but there was one of those little moments that make the blog – indeed life – worthwhile. On a trip with friends and our families (imagine a scene involving double digits of small kids) a fella was allowed a few minutes to escape from the Guggenheim Museum for some delicious tidbits and a refreshing glass or two of the good stuff courtesy of the very kind folk in Nerua Bilbao, which may just about have the perfect wine list. Forever in their debt!

June: Alvear, bubbles and Bez

June began with a quite exceptional lunch with Alvear at which we tried their range of spectacular wines – some of the best wines tasted all year – and at the end of the month we had a cracking tasting of the natural wines of Alba Viticultores in Wine Attack, Madrid’s leading natural wine specialists, including key discussions and demonstration of mancunian poetry in motion from the early 1990s and a lot of laughs. (There is another link here.)

July: Mucho, mucho arte

In July probably the highlight of the whole year was an almost unbelievable night in Corral de la Morería. Not just because of the wines that we had – although they were absolutely epic – but the dinner, the incredible show, the atmosphere. It will live long in the memory and I am almost afraid to go back.

September: soleras cincuentanarias

In September the UEC hosted a great tasting of wines from one of the other big guns of the “other place”, the Soleras Cincuentenarias (and one Centenaria) by Perez Barquero. Again the wines were outstanding but for me the most memorable moment was the description of where the “palo cortados” come from: “we select the botas of oloroso that have the right profile”. All very mysterious.

October: Barajuelismo

The highlight of October was the night of the Barajuelas with Willy Perez in Palo Cortado. Truly exceptional wines – the long awaited Oloroso la Barajuela 2013 and a sneak preview of what promises to be an epic Fino la Barajuela 2014 – and a fascinating explanation given by the man himself, including a moving account of his “noches de fuego” that has Oscar winning movie clip written all over it.

November: Florpower and the Weight of History

November was enlivened considerably by an impromptu Florpower Friday lunch, at which we tried the famous series by Equipo Navazos and a few other things and had a blast, but the highlight was probably a cracking dinner with Vila Viniteca and friends to celebrate the 10th anniversary of an earlier anniversary or something. Always great to hear from winemakers, but Telmo Rodriguez’s thoughts on Spanish wine’s “historic places” had me realizing that they had forgotten the most important of them all …

December: Paola Medina in Taberna Palo Cortado

An early moment of joy in December was a lunch in Lakasa with la Barajuela. If you know Lakasa at all you will imagine how well we ate that day, and when you add a bottle (and a half) of Fino La Barajuela and a good friend well, there was singing and all sorts. (Apart from anything else it was a pleasure to see the reaction of a good friend from outside my little world of sherry nerds really enthusing about that special wine.)

But the highlight of the month was a tasting by Paola Medina in the new Taberna Palo Cortado at which we heard about and more importantly tasted more from her awesome colección añadas, alongside some very nice wines from the Don Zoilo range. (And hats off to Taberna Palo Cortado, who in the course of one year hosted tastings by all the top stars of the “new Jerez”: Ramiro, Willy, Primi and Paola.)

Bloody hell what a year that was!

120 up

120 up

The part of the wordpress app I love best is the map above showing the countries from which the blog has been accessed, and it is a thrill any time I see a flag I don’t recognize in the daily visits. Today, Laos joined the mighty commonwealth of undertheflor visiting nations and we welcome them with open arms.

And to all you countries that still appear as blanks above: come, friends!