Cataria

It is easy to be carried away after a lunch as good as the one we had today at Cataria.

There were some really top wines flowing, great friends all around the table and a fella was enjoying himself, but even so I am pretty sure the superb sardines, oysters, langostines and gambas rojas, squid, baby squid, corvinata, bucinegro and anenome (and the cheesecake) were as good as I have had. I certainly can’t remember anything like it. And even if I have been on the outside of physical produce of this quality, cooked and prepared with this skill, I certainly have never enjoyed ingesting aquatic protein as much as I did today.

The quality really was outstanding: textures, flavours and aromas that will live long in the memory. Carlos Hernandez and Edu Perez, the crack chef and top man bossing the grill are clearly names to remember. But the presentation and explanations of menu and dishes were even better.

It is by no means unique these days for chefs to come over and explain the dishes, but I have never seen a menu explained and presented like it was today. Fleetingly I felt like I understood the season of the langostine, the cycle of the tides, the breeding patterns of the squid and the best neighbourhoods for anenomes. Sapidity, intensity, muscle, age: no dimension was left unexplained. It was a lot to take in and I wish I had recorded it, not least for the infectious enthusiasm with which Carlos Hernandez dropped his knowledge on us.

And it really enhanced the meal. I have written before about how a little knowledge can increase the pleasure and this was one of the clearest examples I can remember. For the first time I knew how to compare my langostine and my gamba roja, my corvinata and my bucinegro, or what to look for in my squid or anenome. And not just the anenome: I will never throw a fish head away again (even if I couldn’t find any divine presence in the tiny eye bones).

I will write another post about the wines we had: suffice it to say that sherry lovers need have no worries about the liquid accompaniment.

For now, just my sincere congratulations to Carlos, Edu, the team and the sealife around Sancti Petri. It was really outstanding today and will live long in the memory.

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Triciclo

It has been far too long since my last visit to Triciclo but I was reminded of it these last few days by the good people of twitter as one of a select handful of top class watering holes (together with La Malaje, Lakasa and Ponzano 12, beloved of this parish) still open amidst the August shutdown. And it was great to go back because a couple of fellas and I had a top, top lunch.

I cannot tell you in any detail about the wine list: I did at one point ask about it but it was one of those lunches where there were more laughs than notes taken, and to be honest it is almost miraculous that there are photos.

All I can tell you is that they certainly have the right stuff to hand: we started with none other than El Muelle de Olaso and that was one of no less than three unfortified palominos on offer, together with the epic UBE Miraflores (which we had later) and another whose name escapes me. In fact strictly speaking they have two more unfortified palominos: the Barajuela Fino from 2014 and even the Oloroso.

Absolutely joyous wines which were the perfect foil to some superb fresh, summer dishes. A lot of imagination in the menu and really fun stuff, and all the tomatoes, ceviches and seaweed could almost have been chosen to accompany the wines of the South. And as for the cheesecake …

Fantastic lunch and great to see my favourite wines strutting it on this kind of stage. Will have to come back after the holidays and have a look at the winelist!

Cambridge Wine Merchants

Popped into Cambridge Wine Merchants (Kings Parade) this week and I have to say I thought it was top class.

For a start they had a cracking range of sherries. The above photo doesn’t really do it full justice – they had a few (five or six) shelves worth – maybe eight to a hundred references – and very nicely chosen stuff, a really full selection of Barbadillo, Hidalgo-La Gitana, Williams & Humbert, Gonzalez Byass and Equipo Navazos and a few really top end bottles dotted around. Really cracking selection – different to the wines we usually see in Madrid too.

And you could also sense a lot of enthusiasm from the guys in the store. Helpful notes on the wines, when they saw me lurking in the corner they were over and full of advice and when I came to pay there were appreciative comments – you literally cannot do more to sell wine than these lads do.

And all this was just one of their stores – and not even the mothership. Really great stuff – I strongly advise UK based sherry fans to check out their website or even better, go and have a nosey at one of the stores. Cheers fellas!

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!

La Bota de Gin 81 – “Bota NO”

A while go there was speculation that sherry might be the “new gin and tonic” on the back of slightly optimistic hopes that people would start ordering bottles of fino instead of the currently fashionable goldfish bowls full of gin, tonic, and assorted fruits, nuts, berries, seeds, gumdrops etc. The region would certainly have taken the sales figures and let’s be honest, can there be an easier way to make money in the drinks business? Of course it proved to be hype: summer came and the goldfish bowls continued to dominate the tabletops.

If you can’t beat them you might as well join them, a number of the big groups already have gins in their portfolios and more recently we are even starting to see high end efforts where in addition to selling the gins the boys from Jerez are also leaving their mark. Just a few weeks ago I was supping on a martini made of fino sherry and Salcombe “Finisterre” gin aged in fino barrels by Bodegas Tradición, and now this, by Equipo Navazos.

According to their typically excellent ficha it is a London dry gin that has spent no less than four years in a fino cask. I am no expert on gins by any means but this certainly has an air of fino about it: nice almonds and sea breeze on the nose. On the palate I am not going to pretend I can pick much out, but once mixed with a tonic you again get the benefit of those aromatics: very pleasant stuff (if you like that sort of thing).

It is a logical step if you think about it: it is getting hard to find a wine region where they aren’t ageing the wine in an old sherry bota (including in Jerez itself of course), they have been ageing whiskies and brandies this way for years and recently you have started to see rums and the like. Also, while the flavours and aromas of gin and sherries may appear to be polar opposites, they are both dry and have that bite of saline bitterness. Apparently Equipo Navazos filled a few other casks too – including casks used to house all manner of sherries and brandies – so this may only be the first of a number of “numbers” dedicated to the ruin.

Great stuff and made for a nice gin and tonic at the end of a brilliant dinner in A’Barra. Even so, on balance I probably still prefer the bota’s original contents …

 

Los dos ma’res again

Another crack at these, this time at the bar of Angelita. They are two wines sourced from the same solera (none other than the Solear en Rama) but at opposite ends of the building (the famous Arboledilla bodega), the idea being to demonstrate the effects on the wine of the microclimates within the building itself due to the different prevailing winds (poniente the sea breeze, levante the land breeze). (By the way the “two ma’res” reference is to a cracking joke by Primitivo Collantes which would take so long to explain it would lose its spontaneity.)

Big difference in colour, open a little while and the difference between the two seems to have yawned wider. The Poniente finer and sleeker, the Levante more boisterous. I bitterly regret not trying to find a contemporaneous saca of the Solear en Rama itself to complete the comparisons.

Nevertheless it is a fantastic little bottling and fascinating for any self respecting sherry nerd (and if you are reading this, well I suppose there is no guarantee of self respect but …). Brilliant stuff and a recent prize for Barbadillo as “most innovative bodega” is well earned imho.

 

Fino M Antonio de la Riva

Not my first glass of this or even my second but the first one I have had time to savour and write about. An old school, older fino from Balbaina Alta with a bit south of 10 years under the flor.

I first tried it back in February at the Cuatrogatos Wine Fest where it was a touch overshadowed by its magnificent big brothers the Oloroso and Moscatel but this is a class wine in its own right.

The colour is a beautiful, appetising rich old gold that puts you in mind of oxidation. The nose is also cracking: haystacks and rich roasted almonds, a really savoury nose. Then on the palate you get that classic combination of zingy salinity and roasted to bitter almond – a deep savoury flavour turning bitter at the end before a sizzling saline finish.

Really tasty, classy fino (and you can try it yourself at the bar of Angelita).