ALL FOR A GOOD CAUSE…

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The Cantabrian Sea in Spain covers a huge area from the Basque Country bordering France, heading west through Cantabria, Asturias and finally Galicia, where it collides head on with the Atlantic Ocean at beautiful Estaca de Bares. In the English speaking world we loosely refer to this sea as the Bay of Biscay, an English rendering of the Basque word Bizkaia or Vizcaya in Spanish. The artesanal fishing fleets along this coast specialise in line-caught Hake, Bonito or Albacore Tuna and more famously, Anchoa or Anchovy. Long considered by Spaniards to be one of the great gourmet dishes in Spain, the anchovies are filleted and then preserved in three ways, en salazón (salt), ahumadas (smoked) or in extra virgin olive oil. They are only slightly salty, quite firm texture wise (the Spanish use the wonderful word terse), and index-finger sized, nothing at all like the tiny, wormlike, swig of a salt cellar things you find strewn on pizzas, at least in the UK. Product transformation or sobado is done entirely by hand, hence the rather elevated price, a 180gr can or jar will cost around 20 to 30€ or more. Now on to the good cause bit. A Cantabrian company by the name of Cantabria En Tu Boca (Cantabria In Your Mouth) has come up with a unique way of easing the burden on those suffering from the consequences of the economic crisis that has been blighting the country over the last few years. Their recruitment policy is centred exclusively on people over 50 who are currently out of work and have had their benefits curtailed. In addition, 100% of the company’s profits are channelled into the same cause. Right now this service is totally unique in Europe in that nobody is offering top quality, own-brand gourmet products to the public in such a charitable way. They also plan to start similar ventures abroad once they establish a decent online presence. So who knows? Solidarity via fabulous gourmet foods from Cantabria could be happening in your town pretty soon. Round of applause. You can learn more about them here: wwww.cantabriaentuboca.net

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Emilio Rojo – one of Spain’s most sought after white wines.

Emilio Rojo in his vineyard.  Adapted from an article by Xurxo Lobato/Omayra Lista published by El País on July 1st 2013. I have taken a few liberties with the translation.     

“La crisis no da en el blanco” – this headline, and quite a cryptic one for El País, a Spanish newspaper, can mean two things – that the economic crisis is not hitting the target, whatever the target is, or that the economic hecatomb gripping the country for the last four years or so is not really affecting the sales of white wine, at least not the one that Emilio Rojo makes.
Emilio Rojo’s D.O. Ribeiro wine is extremely sought after around the world. Around 5,000-6,000 bottles are sold long before they’re ready to be launched onto the market. The key to this enviable success is a ‘policy of cutbacks’ wisely applied to his vines: reducing production in order to obtain an optimum quality wine. The scarcity of the wine stimulates the obsession of the high end consumer intent on getting his or her hands on a bottle or two. Loyal customers have included the arch-famous El Bulli, Arzak and the King Juan Carlos I of Spain. Emilio Rojo diehards won’t even be able to taste it this year as the 2012 vintage won’t be available for purchase till next year. Not content with making just a great, great wine, he wants it to ‘grow up’, to ‘purge itself of the sins of youth’ during its time in the cellar.
Freeing oneself from the ‘dictatorship of time’, i.e. the local consumer preference for drinking white wines young, is a serious challenge for Galician winemakers. Casting aside oak barrel ageing, ‘sur lies’ fermentation and ‘bâtonnage’ seems to be the direction Galician white wine making will take in the future. In fact, notable D.O. Rías Baixas wineries such as Pazo de Señoráns, Pazo de Fefiñanes and Martín Codax already apply this process to their wines.
‘Lies’, or lees in English, are the yeasts responsible for alcoholic fermentation. They undergo a decomposition process in the bottom of the fermentation vats. In layman’s terms, these yeast deposits have to be stirred (bâtonnage) from time to time so they release a series of compounds which will improve the characteristics of the wine. According Galician wine guru Luís Paadín, “The yeasts reduce the oxygen level, thereby preventing oxidation so the wine keeps much longer”. The goal is that the wine holds up well in the bottle and can be consumed beyond three years, at the same time improving the bouquet and achieving a wine with more body. Every ten days, Emilio stirs the lees with a chestnut wood stick so that they settle evenly and create an infusion, conveying their rich properties to the wine. “A period of sixteen months sur lies enhances the wine giving it the character of a Vino de Pago or single estate/cru wine”, Emilio Rojo explains.
It’s the finishing touch inside the winery of a ribeiro that has been pampered right from its time on the vine. On an Atlantic climate, east facing slope, Emilio Rojo’s vines are almost as scarcely populated as the nearby deserted village of Ibedo, which is just the way he likes it, low on fruit but high on flavour. With his worn, calloused hands, this former telecommunications engineer, a combination of farmer and delicate wine whisperer, thins out branches, snipping away at bunches to obtain better grapes. He could easily make 10.000 litres of standard quality wine but prefers to sacrifice quantity for quality. “I’m a perfectionist, not an elitist”, he states. The rest is an alchemic blend of native grape varietals: treixadura – around 65% – with loureiro, lado and albariño. It’s a success formula that has this ribeiro rubbing shoulders with the most famous white wines in the world. A wine that’s served not only in the best restaurants in Spain (and that’s saying a hell of a lot), but also in the finest eateries of the USA, Japan, the UK and Denmark.
Paradoxically, the combination of shrewd ‘cutbacks’ in the vineyard and a captive export market have enabled this ingenious winemaker to ride out the storm currently battering many of his compatriots.

Xurxo Lobato from Galicia is one of Spain’s premier photo-journalists. You can view his work here: http://www.xurxolobato.es
                                                                                                                                

Demencia, Alzeimer and Pyjama

20121127_020Nacho León is a visionary. His Demencia de Autor wine is fast gaining devotees around the world, yet the guy works out of a rented warehouse near Villafranca del Bierzo. People have been making wine here in El Bierzo since Roman times and more or less continually since the 9th century. It’s the last stop before the Camino de Santiago climbs tortuously into the Galician mountains. Ailing, weather beaten, God-fearing pilgrims passed through the 12th century ‘Pardoning Gate’ here in order to receive absolution from the local priest before continuing on the most arduous stage of the journey, conscious of the fact that between Villafranca and Compostela, death, either from exposure to the elements, wolves or brigands, could come tracking them down at any moment.  I’m convinced the telluric energy and power of the land, coupled with its ancient traditions, are transmitted through the earth and into the vines here. I’m digressing. A visit to Demencia de Autor a couple of weeks back fulfilled a dream and this man is a dream seller, a wine whisperer even, according to my friend Shannon. Pyjama, he told me, was the stuff of dreams… the way we walk around the house in our pyjamas and dressing gowns, those intimate family moments, not a care in the world, very typical of the people round here, El Bierzo. An intimate wine you’d love to share with the family, that’s the concept behind it, he mused. Who could possibly disagree? Alzeimer, a solidarity wine launched a month or so ago, is a fabulous gesture. At 20.00EUR a bottle, the proceeds go to the Asociación de Familiares de Alzeimer, a Spanish charity set up to help families cope with this devastating condition. And finally, Demencia de Autor. Why the name? Nacho believes the word Demencia is associated with the improbable, a slight mental disorder, but full of ingenuity and brilliance. That’s what our wine is about, he enthuses.  It’s a young project, created and developed by young people who have one thing in common, they all love wine madly. We’re all demented then. I’ll be going back to El Bierzo in July, with or without my pyjamas and dressing gown.

http://www.debierzo.com/  http://www.demenciawine.com/

Restaurante Acio – Santiago de Compostela.

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Meet Iago Castrillón and Eva Pizarro, joint owners of Restaurante Acio in Santiago de Compostela, winners of the 1st prize in the “Revelation Restaurant” category at the prestigious gastro show Madrid Fusion 2013. The jury, made up of more than forty representatives from the Spanish gastronomic press, placed their votes in absolute secrecy. This year, for the first time, 2nd and 3rd prizes were awarded to Abadía Retuerta of Valladolid and Apicius of Valencia respectively. Congratulations are order.

Adrian: How did it all begin for you at Restaurante Acio?

Eva: We’ve always worked at high-end restaurants. While on holiday in Italy once, a dining experience we had one evening had a huge impact on us. The cook was working alone in the kitchen, calmly preparing dishes. Lamb was roasting slowly in the fireplace. Dinner that night was fabulous, most of all because the cook himself came out of the kitchen to serve us a few of the dishes he’d prepared.

Iago: It changed our perspective a little and we started thinking about having our own restaurant, for the both of us where we’d cook the food ourselves, provide a calm, unhurried service and actually enjoy doing something we like… away from haute cuisine where you have predetermined roles and a brutal pace of work. So this idea gradually began to take form till it became Acio, our restaurant, where little by little we’ve built a reputation for our cooking, unhurriedly, at our own pace, maintaining our philosophy.  The awards and recognition came later, which came as a real boost enabling us to keep doing what we were already doing, without going crazy in the process. 

Iago, tell us something about your experiences as a chef in Madrid and London and why they were so important to you in terms of your current success.

My time at these restaurants provided me with the basis of the cooking I’m developing today at Acio.  At each restaurant, in each city, in each place I’ve spent time in, I’ve tried to absorb trends, ways of doing things, and of course, learn from the great chefs I’ve had the privilege of being trained by.

Adrian: A lot has been said in recent years about the concept of time and space, championed by people like René Redzepi, owner of NOMA in Copenhagen, until very recently the Nº1 restaurant in the world. What’s your opinion on these particular trends?

Iago: In the last few years it seems as if every restaurant has had to identify itself with one particular trend, or alternatively differentiate itself from that trend in order to have some kind of identity. I think that as chefs each of us has his or her own vision of cooking and he or she translates that vision into a set of ideas or trends that people will either identify themselves with or not. 

Adrian: How do you select the ingredients you use in your cooking?

Eva: The essence of our cooking is based on Galician produce. Galicia is a magnificent, natural pantry of high quality food products.  Iago goes to the Plaza de Abastos every day, the great market in Santiago de Compostela, and selects the ingredients he’ll use in his kitchen, placing great emphasis on seasonal items.  

Iago: Having said that, we don’t rule out the idea of fusion so you’ll find Japanese products, for example, adapted to our dishes, rice dishes…

Adrian: How important are the local farmers when supplying your restaurant?

Iago: They’re the ones who guarantee the supply of seasonal products, the freshest ones, the ones that are in their prime.  In order to achieve that, it has to be a two-way thing. You have to tell the producer what type of product you’re looking for and get him involved in your ‘cause’ so he comes up with the goods.

Adrian: Eva, what’s your opinion on natural wines?

Eva: Natural wine is wine made from the natural grape, neither adding nor removing anything from that grape. The net result will be a true reflection of the land the wine was ‘born in’. Using that definition of natural wine as a starting point and the commitment to environmentally sound growing methods, respect for the environment itself, the grower as the ‘author’, authenticity and singularity… I believe it’s the future of wine if we want unique wines that represent the terroir that produces them. In short, if we want wines to inspire and excite us.

Adrian: Do you have any one day of the week reserved for ‘special sessions’ as in other vanguard restaurants?

Eva: We don’t set aside a specific day of the week, but we do organize wine tastings, winery presentations and wine pairing dinners. It’s something extra that our customers enjoy and appreciate.  

Adrian: Since the closure of El Bulli, the world of what some people call ‘molecular cooking’ has evolved substantially. Where does Acio situate itself amid all this change, new trends etc?

Iago:  We do what we do, our cooking, the way we like it, the one we believe in. We don’t follow any kind of trend, we simply do what we think is best in any given moment. This means that at times you do traditional recipes that happen to sit comfortably on the menu with the very latest gastronomic techniques.

Adrian: On one occasion, Ferrán Adrià was asked if he ever ate ‘normally’.  What are your favorite ‘everyday’ dishes?

Iago: I love my mother’s cooking, traditional Galician cooking, with its slowly cooked stews: el cocido gallego, with ‘all the splendor of the pig’, los callos… Traditional, home cooked food, made with all the love and affection of our mothers.  

Adrian: Do you ever get customers that simply don’t ‘get’ your cooking, however much you try to explain it to them?

Eva: Normally the people that come to Acio already know something about us and our cooking. They know it’s a safe bet, a sure thing, though a very personal one. They tend to go with the flow and allow us to show them what we can do.

Adrian: Do you see yourselves opening a restaurant outside Galicia or Spain?

Iago: You never know. Right now, it’s ‘poco a poco’, the way we always wanted it to be. Taking short steps, but positive ones.

Of Sea Lamprey, risk premiums and toxic banking…

With the opening of the Galician Sea-Lamprey Season 2013 just around the corner on January 15th, I thought it only right and fitting that I talked to Nito Calviño of Casa Calviño in As Neves (Pontevedra), one of the ‘consecrated temples’ of Sea-Lamprey cuisine on Galicia’s River Miño. I have to admit that the first time I went to Casa Calviño I wasn’t exactly sure what I was letting myself in for. I was doing some research for a gastronomic piece which was later published in Living Spain Magazine, at the time the definitive journal on Spain and all things Spanish.

The very idea of tucking into what is essentially a parasitical fish with a hideous blood-sucking mouth, cooked Bordelaise style, i.e. in its own blood, albeit with the addition of red wine and some distinctly medieval spicing, seemed a little daunting. Little did I know at the time I would be transformed overnight into a total Sea-Lamprey nut, compelled to seek her out (she’s grammatically feminine in Spanish) at least three times a season, which runs from the beginning of January to the end of April.

As Neves is a pretty little village nestling in the hills that overlook the majestic River Miño and Portugal, it was in this idyllic setting that Casa Calviño’s host Nito Calviño spared me a few minutes to talk about his passion for Petromyzon Marinus or Sea Lamprey.

Adrian McManus: What are your expectations for the coming season, taking into the critically low water levels of last season and the bleak economic situation right now in Spain?

Nito Calviño: In spite of last year’s poor catches, the prospects for the coming 2013 season are looking very good, due mainly to all the rainfall we’ve had so far this month. The ban on the extraction of sand from the river bottom, introduced in 1999, has also gone a long way in improving annual catches. Given the fact that lamprey and other species lay their eggs in the sand, dredging and extraction had a catastrophic effect on their reproduction cycles. Regarding the grim economic situation the country finds itself in, we sincerely hope our clients will grasp the opportunity to come and enjoy a dish that can only be eaten for the first four months of the year. As front of house manager of the restaurant, I can assure you we’ll rise to the occasion and strive to ensure our prices are competitive.

AM: Casa Calviño has a long history. Where did it all begin for you?

NC: Casa Calviño was founded in 1935. I actually belong to the third generation of this family business. In 1935 it was a ‘tasca’ or simple village bar where my grandfather sold the typical tapas of the day and the local Rubiós wine, which of course is very well known today and absolutely perfect for pairing with lamprey. The second generation began to specialise more exclusively in the lamprey area and during the 1980s the business really took off with the house undergoing considerable structural change, but also introducing the necessary culinary developments along the way.

AM: Apart from the classic Bordelaise style, featuring freshly caught Sea-Lamprey, how else do you serve it?

NC: Basically, we prepare lamprey in three different ways: Firstly, in the classic Bordelaise style i.e.  braising it in its own blood in an earthenware dish, served with boiled rice and crutons. Secondly, we offer stuffed and rolled lamprey, which contains good cured ham, hard-boiled egg and ‘piquillo’ peppers. Finally, there’s smoked lamprey which we grill ‘a la brasa’ or over charcoal and wood.

AM: What wines pair well with Sea-Lamprey?

NC: As I mentioned previously, the local Rubiós wine, a young, fruity red and made from a local grape variety is highly recommended as is the excellent Mencía red from the Ribeira Sacra appellation located upstream from us.

AM: Are there any other house specialities you serve if fear and loathing of ‘the beast’ gets the better of your customers?

NC: One of the most popular dishes is our ‘cabrito lechal’ or roast suckling goat which we serve either roasted or in the form of fried ribs that we call ‘costilletas’. You can also order our other house special ‘callos’, a classic, spicy stew made with tripe, chickpeas, shin of beef and homemade chorizoFor fish lovers our menu also features locally caught produce from the Galician rías or estuaries and some of the best veal and beef in Spain.  

AM: Well it goes without saying that you’ll be seeing me quite soon, so I’d just like to wish you all, and especially Doña Maruxa, the ‘jefa’ and heart and soul of the operation, a very happy Christmas and New Year. Is there anything you’d like to add?

NC: Only that the lamprey season will begin on January 1st and run through to the 30th of April and that we look forward to seeing our friends, old and new. Have a very happy Christmas and a better 2013.

 

THE SACRED RIVER SHORE


Winemaking in Galicia has long been associated with the tart, fruity white wines from the Ribeiro, Valdeorras and Rias Baixas appellations. Until very recently, Spanish and foreign tourists alike could be seen ordering classic Spanish reds such as Rioja in the region’s bars and restaurants, whilst snootily turning their noses up when recommended a Galician red. Thankfully, situations like this are now being consigned to the past, largely due to the heroic efforts of a number of pioneering individuals from the Ribeira Sacra, a wine producing area situated near the small agricultural town of Chantada, known as the Heart of Galicia.

VERTIGO TO GO

Loosely translated, Ribeira Sacra means something like sacred shore or sacred river bank. The River Miño, as it winds its way east from Ourense, cuts an ever deepening
gorge into the countryside. Oak, pine and chestnut forested slopes, dotted with precariously perched dwellings and the odd Romanesque church, plunge right down to the water line, and it’s on these vertigo-inducing slopes, on tiny granite terraces known as bancadas, that the local grape variety and flagship of the appellation Mencía is grown. In places the vertiente, or slope, is so steep that the only way to ‘evacuate’ the grapes was by boat, traditionally a flat bottomed, rectangular wooden vessel. Today that work is done by conveyor belts.

The area has long been synonymous with the grape. During Roman times, wines from Amandi, today one of the appellation’s five sub-zones, were regularly shipped to Rome to be served at the emperor’s table, along with that other great Miño delicacy, Slamprey. By the middle ages, the upper Miño began to attract monastic communities who carried on the tradition of planting vines and producing wines to be sold to the inns and hospices along the nearby Camino de Santiago.

FISH FARM PUMPS

After breakfast, we were met by the Deputy Mayor of the town of Chantada, Ildefonso Piñeiro, a dead-ringer for Robert de Niro. As our first port of call, he took us to a small vineyard belonging to his father-in-law. This was where we were able to catch the first of many stunning panoramic views of the Ribeira Sacra. Along the route he told us of the friendly rivalry that had always existed between the ribeiraos, vineyard owners, on both sides of the river. Tongue-in-cheek insults would fly between paperos, or papists on the Chantada side and rabudos (rabbis) on the Saviñao side. A typical case of back-breaking work made a little more bearble with a some cross-river verbal jousting, he confided.

ROMAN ROADS

After a few minutes meandering up and down twisting lanes, we pulled up at the gates of Adegas Vía Romana, a beautiful stone building dating back to the 16th century. The owner-director José Luís Méndez Rojo warmly greeted us, ushering us inside for a tour of the grape reception area, fermentation tanks, labelling and bottling facility, and the wonderful salon with its jaw-dropping views of the Miño. Juan Luis’s approach to wine making is firmly rooted in the pursuit of quality
over quantity, a constant of all the wineries I was to visit throughout the trip. This guarantee of quality is achieved by an exhaustive poda en verde, or pruning of the fruit before it reaches maturity, manual selection of the grapes and,
somewhat bizarrely, the use of fish-farm pumps to protect the seeds during fermentation. Damaged or bruised seeds can cause an unwanted, mouth-puckering astringency in the wine, so fish-farm pumps were evidently a wise investment for this innovative wine maker. The rest, he told us, was down to the six months of
absolute peace and tranquility the wine spends in a strictly controlled environment. About 10%of his production of Via Romana Mencía and Via Romana Selección Añada 1999 goes abroad, mainly to the USA, but more recently to Japan and Russia, with new markets being explored all the time.

A RIGHTFUL PLACE

Next on the route was Bodega Pincelo. Though the family has been making wine since the 1840s, in 1985 Bodega Pincelo became the first legally constituted winery in the province of Lugo, a crucial step in the 1993 founding of the appellation D.O. Ribeira Sacra. The owner Alfonso Regal Teijeiro said that there was still some way to go on the road to D.O. Ribeira Sacra earning its rightful place among the prime movers of the Spanish wine scene. Statistics still show that many of his paisanos or countrymen in Galicia, when ordering red wine, order Rioja instead of Ribeira Sacra Mencía. Alfonso specialises in Viño Artesano, or artisanal wine, and Pincelo, Viña Portotide and the oak-aged Pincelo 1985 are three fine examples of the genre. With an ever keen eye on the future, Bodega Pincelo is now dedicating around six hectares of its vines to the experimental production of Viños Ecolóxicos, or organic red and white wines.

QUAFFING AND NIBBLING

It was soon time to move on again and the next stop was Adegas Lareu, another family winery run by the eminently hospitable Primitivo Lareu. To describe his place as lovely would be to do it a gross injustice. The setting for this charming winery is a beautiful 18th century granite farmhouse, surrounded by huge, gnarled chestnut trees and lush fields. Our genial host showed us into the traditional Adega de Garda or storage winery, now a wine-museum, with its trodden earth floor and doors oriented to the east and tiny aperture on the west wall allowing for ventilation and a shaft of light. An ancient wooden estruxadora or wine press sat on one side, and two or three huge cubas or storage casks on the other. A couple of pellexos or animals skins, used centuries ago to transport wine, completed the display. The rest of the evening was spent quaffing his excellent Sabatelius Branco white, Sabatelius Mencía and Sabatelius Carballo , an oak-aged red, whilst nibbling away on some memorable home-made smoked chorizo. Unfortunately, all good things must to come to an end, and after some fond farewells, we set out for our last but definitely not least port of call, Adegas Moure on the enigmatically named Cabo do Mundo or Cape of the World.

THE SACRED RIVER SHORE

Cabo do Mundo means the Edge of the World. The course of the Miño here takes a dramatic 180º turn and Adegas Moure, clearly defying the laws of gravity, surveys all this awe-inspiring beauty, totally confident in the knowledge that there must be very few vineyards on this Earth that can compete with them in terms of the sheer drama of the setting. If that wasn’t enough, they’re also sweeping up award after award on the international wine circuit, with medal-snatching vinos like Abadía da Cova, Mencía Barrica, Fuga and an excellent Albariño that recently scored an impressive 90 points in Wine & Spirit Magazine, putting the wind up Rías Baixas, no doubt.

TIME HONOURED TRADITION AND INNOVATION

Evaristo Rodríguez López, Vice-President of the D.O. Ribeira Sacra and our contact at Adegas Moure echoed the words of the other wine makers we met along this most sacred of river shores. He said, “Our vineyards that descend so steeply along the Ribeira Sacra, are hundreds of years old. We’re absolutely determined to preserve our time-honoured traditions, all the things that make our wine unique, but at the same time we’re looking forward, constantly striving for the highest possible quality, investing in the latest technology and innovation and of course, focusing our efforts exclusively on improving our wine with each new vintage.” If seeing and tasting is believing, then this appellation has every reason to be justifiably proud of its wines, so the next time you’re in Spain, make sure it’s a Ribeira Sacra Mencía, you’ll be instantly smitten.

SPRING 2009