On the Trail

On the Trail in Madrid

Joe Manekin

Three things I have (re)learned over the past twenty-four hours in Spain (in chronological order from early Sunday morning to late Sunday night/early Monday am):

1.) Rita Hayworth absolutely dominates the screen in Gilda, and I can see why older Spaniards love this film.

2.) Wine trip or not, if you’re not sleep deprived at any point during your stay in Madrid, you’re doing it wrong.

3.) The French, much of the time, get it absolutely right.

These are the takeaways that come to mind after a full day of hanging out with suppliers on a beautiful, sunny, warm, but not-yet-scorching late spring Sunday in Madrid. Last night may have been minimal (2-3 hours?) sleep, and the prior night a similar amount of plane dozing, but that is exactly the ideal state for Madrid! If you are game, then the buzzing capital of Europe’s most sleep-deprived country has nothing but a warm, slightly boozy, spirited embrace for you. If you are generally a well enough rested home body such as myself, you need to throw that notion out the window when visiting Spain, and particularly when spending time in Madrid.

Let’s get to the re-cap. My first appointment of the day was with our newest Spanish DI supplier, Bryan MacDonald of Laventura. Bryan grew up in South Africa, where he and his family cultivate organic vineyards and a small winery in Swartland (look out for these wines as we will be bringing them in soon as well). These days, however, most of Bryan’s time is spent in Logroño, Rioja, where he lives with his wife – she too makes wine for a living, but at a much larger winery than Bryan’s. The combination of Bryan’s devotion to organic farming and his great love of European, cooler climate wines, along with his wife’s local background and connections, have combined to create what is in my mind unequivocally the most impressive new winery in the region, particularly for fans of great white Riojas. Laventura’s business model is to source organic fruit from great vineyards, combined with the slow buying of small parcels from legacy old vine vineyards that have been organically farmed. Bryan then endeavors to bring to market the kind of tense, structured, age-worthy wines that—in his mind—Rioja is capable of producing  but often times does not. Where Laventura differentiates itself further is not only in the vineyard sourcing, but also in the winemaking process. Large portions of whole clusters are used in the red wines for their ability to lower alcohol and contribute structure and tension to the wine, all of which in Bryan’s opinion will enable a long life in bottle. For the ageing, 600 liter barrels are favored for their more subtle influence on the fruit, though even larger foudres will be slowly incorporated into the winery for the same reason.

We tasted 2015 samples, all recently bottled, of the Viura and cement egg fermented, three weeks skin macerated Malvasia. For reds, we tasted 2015 Garnacha and 2015 Tempranillo, which will be bottled separately from this vintage on. There is no better illustration of what each grape brings to a Rioja blend in terms of analytical and flavor profile, and I cannot wait for us to be working with both. That said, we have a bit left of the 2014 Laventura Rioja, which is a blend of his Tempranillo and Garnacha. It is delicious, tense, and just beginning to open up after some initial tightness in the bottle. Like a great, traditional Barolo (a comparison I had not thought of, but which Bryan mentioned during our meeting) these wines may require a bit of time but you will be rewarded with the most original red wines currently available in Rioja. As for the whites, we just received in the 2014 Laventura Viura. Once tasted, no degree of waxing is sufficient to proclaim how great Bryan’s whites are. Imagine Ygay Blanco or Tondonia Blanco, released younger, but with every bit as much acidity, intrigue and  aging potential. Or, if you so choose, imagine a chiseled, classically styled Meursault.  Bryan’s Viura is a consistently mind blowing $20 bottle of white wine. Serious and not facile, for this wine a healthy appreciation of acidity is required!

After tasting with Bryan it was off to the oldest restaurant not only in Spain, but in the western world, as noted by the Guinness Book of World Records (and Anthony Bourdain, and certainly countless other food personalities as well), Botín, founded in 1725.  Here I would link up with our very first Spanish direct import partner and good friend, Miguel Merino.

We actually did our brief tasting in the Pinkleton Wine Bar, a spot in the always popular Mercado de San Miguel, I would definitely join the droves of tourists, including many Spaniards, to enjoy this great spot for food shopping and dining. We tasted the 2011 Vitola (supple, forward, an affordable introduction to Miguel’s higher tiered wines) and the 2010 Reserva (great vintage, with more structure from fruit concentration, tannin, and oak ageing; delicious now in its youth but definitely one that will age gracefully for a while). We took this Reserva with us to Botin, for a traditional lunch of lamb leg roasted in a wood burning oven, preceded by croquetas - a delicious, low fat preparation of breaded and fried béchamel mixed with cubed jamon. We were then treated to a tour of the restaurant’s kitchen and old wine cellar, courtesy of our server Carlos Merino (no relation to Miguel!) who, with 10 years of service under his belt, proudly stated that he is amongst the more junior staff at this venerable locals’ and tourist favorite. Given my tenure of slightly more than 10 years, I suppose I could say the same of myself at K&L!

Miguel must have read Driscoll's post about Clyde’s travel stamina and felt like he had to show me the way; after this not so light lunch and a few bottles of wine, he suggested that we grab a drink prior to his 6:15 PM train back to Logrono.

“Miguel,” I asked, “we just had a beautiful lunch with some fine wines, a few glasses of generously comped VOS PX sherry, and a café cortado, what should we drink? Beer, or gin and tonics?”

The answer did not surprise me in the slightest: “Hombre,” Miguel uttered in his slightly gravelly, ex-smoker baritone, “tiene que ser un gin tonic.”

-Joe Manekin