Stepping lightly along the edge of a deep ravine…

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…which has been my comfort zone in tinto terms given that in recent years I’ve rarely ventured beyond the sacred gorge of the Ribeira Sacra and the great holy cauldron of El Bierzo. Till last night. Whilst having dinner with some lovely friends who live in Galicia’s version of Tolkien’s Middangeard, an enchanted wild wood on the fringes of the Fragas de Eume, near Miño in Galicia, I was introduced to a seductive coupage by the name of Cartema. The winery is located in the Montes de Alamín, province of Toledo and part of the D.O. Méntrida appellation. The landscape is rolling hills dotted with ancient oaks. After carrying out exhaustive soil checks, they decided on Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah procured from the finest Bordeaux nurseries and the native Tempranillo which prosper well in the sandy soil known here as ‘suelos de aluvión’. Set up to process around 20,000kg of fruit, they have an ageing room with just twenty French oak barriques. Vinification of the three varieties is done separately, always with their respective native yeasts and strictly controlled fermentation temperature. Once the alcholic fermention is done, the wine is then transferred to the barriques for malolactic fermentation. After that the wine racked, leaving a fine layer of lees in the barrique. Once the wine has gone through ‘the necessary ageing period’, the winemaker decides on the final blend percentages. The wine we drank last night was Cartema Crianza 2007, ruby red with violet tinges. In the nose it’s spicy, with hints of rosemary, thyme and liquorish and rich red fruit. In the mouth it’s medium bodied, silky, slightly glycerine with the fruit standing out and delicate vanilla notes indicating complete harmony with the wood. This is a great wine. Open it and stick it in the fridge for fifteen minutes before serving it and ignore the dullards that scream sacrilege at the mere suggestion. 

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VEIGA SERANTES – HONORIO NOYA

A talk with Honorio Noya, our contact at Veiga Serantes, an excellent winery from Galicia’s Rías Baixas appellation and located in the Salnés Valley town of Barrantes. Tell me about Veiga Serantes and your role in its wine. Veiga Serantes is a small family winery, housed in a lovely, modern building that blends in perfectly with its surroundings, set in the very heart of the Salnés Valley (Rías Baixas), near the village of Barrantes. The Serantes family have been growing grapes and making wines for many generations, and it is this tradition and knowhow that the winery strives to reflect in its winemaking today. By paying special attention to our viticulture, it is our belief that in order to make a good, natural wine one needs the best possible grapes. The whole process, from the vineyard to market place is carried out by three people; Luis and Rafael Serantes and me. I am involved in the whole process, from helping out during pruning, canopy management and grape harvesting, through to winemaking, bottling, packaging and sales and marketing. In doing this, I can keep an eye on every stage of the process, thus acquiring a sound knowledge of the wines we make. What are the main characteristics of your wine? Our wines, Veiga Serantes and Veiga Serantes Selection, are wines that reflect the native grape variety Albariño, highly aromatic with citrus and stone fruit at the very front, and white flowers such as orange blossom on the second level, with clear mineral notes from the granite based soils of our vineyards. In the mouth it reveals a touch of lively acidity from the microclimate of the Rías Baixas region. Our wines are well assembled, round and balanced due to the fact that we take the time for them to become well integrated, this also makes them longer lasting, so they can be enjoyed even 7 to 10 years later. What kind of consumers are you aiming your product at? Our wines are mainly aimed at ‘mature’ wine drinkers, by this I mean people that drink wine regularly, people who know their stuff and are looking for wines with a typicité that truly reflects the special characteristics of the region they come from. What about exports? At this very moment we are exporting 30% of our wines, with the main markets being USA and Puerto Rico, among others like UK, China and Switzerland. What about product innovation at Veiga Serantes? Regarding winemaking we prefer to stick to the traditional old style methods, happy with the wine we have been making for many years now. So innovation at Veiga Serantes is more on the packaging and labeling side, always striving to communicate the philosophy of the winery in this particular area. What is your opinion of so-called vanguard wine making? It’s a big world out there with lots of countries and every country with its own different market segments, with plenty of wine expectations, which means there’s room for lots of different styles of wines. Personally speaking, I much prefer wines that reflect the true character of a region, wine with a clear identity. However, as a wine lover I also like to try something different, something that might surprise me and even please me, from time to time. So in short, I’m very glad that there are winemakers out there making wines in this challenging, innovative way. There are different occasions to enjoy different styles of wine. Contact: http://www.veigaserantes.com

THE GREAT WHITE WONDER

The leafy Paseo de la Calzada in Cambados is the setting for one of Spain’s longest running gastronomic fairs. About to celebrate its 58th year, the Fiesta de Albariño draws huge crowds of up to 300,000 people, from presidents and their entourages, to glitterati from the world of television, film and literature. Things get underway with the ceremony of investiture of the new knights and dames of the Capitulo Serenisimo do Viño Albariño, the Most Serene Order of Albariño Wine. The inductees take part in a solemn procession, receiving their distinctions from the Grand Master of the Order, Don Manuel Fraga Iribarne, and the coveted bronze, silver and gold medals for best wine of the year are awarded at the ‘Xantar dos Cabaleiros’, a grand knights ‘banquet held in the gardens of the beautiful Pazo Torrado. The fiesta itself, a hedonistic affair, rages well into the early hours, with jovial ‘peñas’, or revellers dressed in their distinctive t-shirts, loud-hailers in hand, rally their troops along the Paseo de la Calzada. A walk through the Paseo will reveal stand after stand of producers selling Albariño by the glass or bottle. Other stands sell local delicacies such as Empanada de Xoubas or sardine pie, Queso Tetilla, local cheese famously or infamously shaped like a female breast. The most popular stall by far is the one serving Pulpo á Feira, or octopus to the party, as it’s sometimes amusingly translated. The pulpeira or octopus lady deftly snips pieces of the tentacled beast onto a wooden plate, on goes the coarse sea salt, a dusting of pimentón picante or hot paprika and a quick drizzle of olive oil and that’s it. Devastatingly simple. On Rua Sabugueiro you’ll find the charming Pazo de la Capitana, built by a family who served in the Spanish colonial government in Cuba. An imposing gateway leads through to a beautiful stone courtyard with a fountain, overhead vines, centuries old boxwood trees and an immense granite horreo or rat-proof granary. The Argentinian manager Pilar proudly informed us that there’s mounting genetic evidence that proves beyond reasonable doubt that the Albariño grape is an species native to Galicia and not brought from the Rhineland by Cluniac monks in the middle ages as was originally thought. The guest rooms here are truly lovely and their excellent Albariño is bottled and cased on site. For the real jewel of Cambados one must head for the wonderfully aristocratic Pazo de Fefiñanes. This awe inspiring building dating from the 17th century also doubles as a winery where you can taste (by appointment) the excellent Pazo de Fefiñanes Albariño and other wine related products such as licor café, aguardiente de hierbas and aguardiente tostado. Aguardiente is the potent liquor distilled from the skins of the grapes after pressing. The whole square and its adjacent buildings at one time belonged to just one individual, Don Juan Sarmiento Valladares, advisor to Phillip II. The town was originally divided into three separate areas, the aristocratic Villa de Fefiñanes, the Villa de Cambados, where the petty nobility lived, and the Villa de Santo Tomé, humble abode of the town’s fishermen and their families. The former aristocratic villa today is given over to a myriad of bars, cafés and restaurants offering traditional Galician tapeo and several Cambados institutions that specialise in seafood harvested from the Ria de Arousa. The competition between them is stiff, so the quality is exceptionally high. Some marisquerias or seafood restaurants to look out for are A Posta do Sol, Ribadomar and Dos Islas. Rua Hospital is probably one of the most picturesque streets in town. Lined with beautiful granite houses with stone staircases leading up to cute green doors and pretty flower boxes, it’s wonderful place to take a stroll after lunch. The Continental Café below the michelin star rated restaurant Yayo Daporta is the perfect spot to unwind with a café con hielo or iced coffee after lunch. This is the place to get your bearings as it will be the place you’ll probably end up in around midnight. The streets that run parallel to Rua Hospital is the zona de marcha, or place to go pubbing after dinner. Pubs will start to fill up around 12.30 onwards, so just take your pick if you still have energy after a hard day on the Albariño and one of Spain finest celebrations of food and drink.

BAIONA – TALES OF TASCAS

Baiona has one major claim to fame in European history. In 1493 its citizens were the first in Europe to hear the news of the discovery of a New World, or at least a new trade route to the East Indies, as it was then believed to be. Every March the town holds a grand mediaeval knees-up called the Fiesta de la Arribada which celebrates this momentous event. You will see a
replica of navigator Alonso Pinzon’s ship La Pinta docked in the harbour. The ship brought back a cargo of strange new foodstuffs such as tomatoes, potatoes, avocadoes, chocolate, maize, and of course, tobacco. Armed with two maps from the friendly tourist office, I made my way along the sea front and headed for the Pazo de Mendoza hotel on the sea-front. This is one of the entrances to the casco viejo or old town. I grabbed a terrace table there, ordered a café solo and started to plan my route. The town is actually quite small and all the action is concentrated on c/ Ventura Misa which runs more or less parallel to the sea front. In fact, no sooner are you in this street than the touts from a nearby restaurant are desparately trying to lure you into their clutches. Call me bloody-minded, but this for me, is good enough reason to give the place a seriously wide berth. Admittedly, the ‘aquarium’ in the window had some pretty portly cigalas, or Norwegian lobsters, all strategically sitting up on large oval platter, but it was the sunken eyes of the besugo, or red sea bream that convinced me that the place wasn’t for me. Never trusta besugo with sunken eyes and hollow jowls. I pressed on, giving the smarmy tout a woefully unconvincing ‘no thanks I’ve already had lunch’. It was 12.30 and indeed time for me to be to movin’ on. Twenty or thirty yards ahead I spotted a group of elderly gentleman standing round two old barrels, a sure-fire sign of a good watering-hole. If the old boys are outside on a cloudy, though not terribly cold day in March, it means that the place is heaving inside, and heaving inside usually spells decent wine and decent pinchos. I’d arrived at the wonderfully atmospheric O Refuxio D’Anton. As I fought my way through the doorway I was greeted by a seriously listing-to-portside retired fisherman, his steely blue eyes met mine. After a few nanoseconds of deluded recognition, his wizened Yarmouth luggerman’s mouth uttered the time-honoured scatological rejection of his maker, me cago en Dios!, a curse which would have had him incarcerated for blasphemy 30 or 40 years ago. Now this is just my kind of place, literally falling down around your ears. A nicotine stained plywood board sealed off the kitchen from prying eyes. In front of that there were a few tables and chairs for sit down tapas. The scrummy aroma of zorza (spicy pork) and xoubiñas (baby sardines) wafted across the bar and cloudy, acidy pais blanco white wine was being poured from large white jugs into little white porcelain bowls. There was a gum-staining red version for those with slightly more sophisticated palates. I shouted my choice to the barmaid and for a pincho I was offered huevos rellenos, or stuffed eggs, empanada de bonito casera, or homemade tuna pie, and of course, tortilla de patatas which the lady assured me had been made with ghuevos de casa or eggs from her own hens, with the characteristic throat-clearing pronunciation of the G common to Galician coastal towns. The place was absolutely deafening. Two or three rowdy fishermen were shouting each other down in one corner, whilst a large group of pijos, or toffs up from Madrid for the weekend, were gleefully roughing it in the other. I downed the contents of my cunca or porcelain bowl, paid my 50 cents to the grinning barmaid and headed out into the streets, heading for another joint. Sadly, tascas like this are on the endangered species list so check the place out before it’s too late, if it isn’t already.