The team sheet looked every bit as reassuringly familiar as it did ominous – Fiscali, Magnum, Wardy, Raw, Leechy, myself and a returning Vestier. Sadly Dusty and Boycey could not quite manage it this year. So the “Magnificent Seven” were “ready” for a vinous and gastronomic challenge backed up by with washbags packed with every conceivable tonic for abuse of the stomach and liver. For the full retrospective of the four previous “editions” please see the links below.
For some pure stats (got to love a few numbers) the Thursday to Sunday trip took in a wide ranging brief of 79 specifically different wines from 50 different producers – spread across the globe but with a deliberate and obvious focus on our host destination – Spain – and specifically Ribera de Duero. There were some differences from previous trips, the biggest amongst them – we were only doing two visits where normally it is 5, 6 or 7. With special thanks to “Magnum” for setting up the second one – what visits they were!
So let’s get going – Raw and I actually had a little head start in London on the Wednesday night where, Chez Hargrove, we enjoyed Meursault Clos du Cromin 2015 from Olivier Leflaive followed by Brunello di Montalcino 2012 by Il Poggione. Two wines from producers we hadn’t visited on a previous trip but from regions we most certainly had! The Meursault had a good toasty note and the zippy-ness of youth. The Brunello is one I like, it needs a bit of time for the whiff of oak to pass but once it has off we went and it drank very well with our Pizza!
Meanwhile in the Cotswolds Fiscali, Magnum & Wardy saw off two bottles of Crystallum Pinot Noir 2016 over a pub supper and reported good things. With the warm-ups done everyone assembled the next morning to board the “Oxford – Valladolid” express. The sense of eager anticipation was palpable. With security checks done and a cheeky upgrade secured we boarded the plane – but then didn’t get going immediately as the IT department decided the plane needed to be turned off and on again. We managed to fill this gap with Champagne. Every year on the trip we look for new firsts…this time the biggest first was the sheer size of day 1. The inflight sustenance is below, the first two of which had disappeared before take off.
Dom Perignon 1999 – delicious, mellow yet good, so refined, will age well but so good now.
Dom Ruinart Blanc de Blancs 2002 – a shade richer than the DP which I didn’t necessarily expect. Persistent and very good.
Dom Ruinart Blanc de Blancs NV Half – bright fresh and just as you’d expect.
Blanc de Noirs Brut 1er Cru NV, Clement Perseval – This is totally new to me, savoury yet rich with a sightly oxidative style, a sherried edge. Possibly more of a food Champagne but good.
Dom Ruinart Rose NV Half – Job done.
Villa Antinori Bianco 2016, IGP Half – Wardy, a brand ambassador for “Rennie” is not the biggest Champagne man so moved onto this white. Crisp and fresh. A link to last years trip.
This took us through the flight, on landing we were very efficiently whisked through to our driver Alfredo (who Wardy thought was called Alfonso). The look of fellow travellers as all the bottles (everyone had been briefed to drink a magnum but most brought far more) were unloaded was quite something.
Having assumed the 3:3:1 formation in the wagon with Vestier in charge of diplomatic relations in the front (Ward in the back for the same reason) we set off to Dominio de Pingus. I have known Peter Sisseck for over 15 years and his wines for as long as I have been in the trade, nearly 20 years now, but I have got to know him much more these last 5 years. The primary reason we did this trip centered around visiting Peter. To visit Pingus was something I had always wanted to do. The story of Peter’s arrival in Ribera via his native Denmark and then Bordeaux (where he is now working again, since 2010, at Chateau Rocheyron) is well told. You don’t become (i.e. “win”) the Winemakers’ winemaker of the year award without deserving it.
We arrived after the 45 minute drive and were greeted by Peter who gave us a full tour of the lab and winery. It is a very stylish and simple set up, everything having its place but absolutely no sense of style over substance. We tasted 8 wines in the cellar, with gorgeous ham to accompany.
Psi 2016 – Juicy, primary fruited with a little black pepper, feels age worthy but will “hit the ground running”. Amazing to think this is the 10th vintage of this wine. A little more info here.
Flor de Pingus 2016 – Whilst I am more than a little biased I have always loved Flor de Pingus. This is lovely, juicy deep fruit with great grip, a serious wine.
Pingus 2016 – A real volume of tannin with the fruit. A special wine this. A cherry fruit lift to the end. Complete and very exciting.
Psi 2017 – Juicy, poised, purple fruit, mellow grip, will drinking really well from the off and probably best before the Psi 2016.
Flor de Pingus 2017 – A real lush feel to the fruit but also a good proper structure.
Pingus 2017 – So very primary, large, dark cherry and damson fruit, bold with richness. Serious.
Flor de Pingus 2015 – This is bottled now, the structure is superb, bottling might have momentarily mellowed the fruit a tad but this is all about texture and balance, delicious.
Pingus 2015 – So deep and full, latent with power but super fine texture to match the darker fruit. Demands time.
I hope the pictures do this justice, a great tasting in a cracking environment. From the cellars and offices we jumped in the car and went for Lunch at the Farm, a truly beautiful spot. Standing on the veranda with the sun out and a gentle breeze it was the only place to be. A delicious magnum of Blanc de Blancs Grand Cru Reserve Brut from Champagne de Souza in Avize got us going. I loved it, complex, fully bio-dynamic notes of yeastiness. With a little more time before lunch another magnum met its fate – Estate Riesling Kabinett 2011 from JJ Prum was exactly as you’d expect, precise but open and fruited, just off dry.
We made our way through to the lunch which was masterminded by Anne. The gorgeous white asparagus, which we were to sample again, was paired with a couple of bottles of Chevalier-Montrachet Grand Cru 2006 from Domaine Leflaive. These were both rich and full, possibly more Batard or Meursault than Chevalier in style. With some brilliant lamb we then settled into the reds – all three served from magnum very generously by Peter.
The first of these was a youthful but appreciably drinkable Flor de Pingus 2012 with nicely soft dark fruits and a lift to it. Pingus 2008 is a wine I have not had since tasting a barrel sample back in 2009. There is a great depth to this wine, it is already drinking enjoyable but has a long way to go. It is in the second gear of development, still fruited, the texture is so moreish. Pingus 2004 is a legend of the Spanish wine scene. This is one of those wines that taste and drink so well in youth but that you know will last almost forever. The silky tannins matched with good acidity but most importantly a sumptuous fruit character. Helping to serve the wines I had a battle on may hands making the distribution of these wines last such was the demand. I had a brief interlude to help Magnum regain some paperwork from the pool cover! Then a couple of bottles of Climens 2013 were a very find ending to a relaxed and wonderfully fun lunch, much laughter, simple food done well and special wines. A tour of the farm followed lunch.
I think Alfredo was delighted that it was only a brief drive to our accommodation, a very smart, enjoyable and amazing value spot called Monasterio de Valbuena – rather different from our Hotel for the following two nights but more of that later.
A very dangerous hours break meant some of the team had a snooze…always dangerous. Rousing the team for dinner was challenging in some cases, less so for those who just left their door open! Those that rose fastest were to enjoy a magnum of Empreinte Brut 1er Cru from Champagne Geoffroy which helped refresh the spirits with a toasty richness and vigour.
Dinner, ten minutes down the road, was at Vinoteca Restaurant – Abadia Retuerta L´Domaine home to Spain’s top rated hotel. Peter and Anne met us again for Dinner which was both kind and brave of them. Peter, who has recently got involved in the world of sherry, very sensibly suggested a bottle of Fino from Lustau. Vigorously fresh and tangily salted. The starters – hams and anchovies – were superb. Batard-Montrachet Grand Cru 2013 from Domaine Leflaive in magnum was up next. Showing real 2013 focus, possibly a little lean at this early stage but very classy. The last of the whites was Donnhoff Felsenburg 2011 from magnum. It would possibly have been fun to have had this alongside the Prum 2011 Magnum from lunch but these wines are so refreshingly moreish that this worked very well as a further palate refresher and boy did we need that!
Red wine now and straight to a very good bottle of Psi 2014 – starting to drink really nicely, fully fruited, damsons and dark cherry. From Ribera we briefly ventured to Rioja and Lopez de Heredia and specifically Tondonia 2004, this was lovely, gentle and harmonious. Being on site at Abadia Retuerta it seemed only right to have one of the wines, we went for Abadia Retuerta 2001, the vintage being a fine one for the region. It was rich with a slightly iron flavoured core. As a pre-cursor to the following day we then had Valbuena 2008 from Vega Sicilia followed by a couple of bottles of the Valbuena 2007. The 2008 was good, quite classically proportioned, however, the 2007 pipped it with a vibrant character, really pretty special. The food had been excellent and the conversation just wonderful.
We had one last bottle to sample and it was possibly the most different, in fact definitely the most different of the whole trip – Don PX Convento Seleccion 1946 by Montilla-Moriles – this is the ultimate demerera hit! Unctuous yet bold with a great texture. A wee bit special.
What a day – 5 vintages of Pingus in the same day is the rarest of the rare. Bravo Peter and Anne.
The start to Friday was both late and a shade delicate, especially for Fiscali who had seen fit to “open” a bottle of rose when he got back to his room. Nothing much was planned for the morning. We took in what I believe is our first museum visit of a trip, to the wine museum in the castle at Penafiel. As we started to make our way to our day’s wine estate visit the team called for Coffee/Coca-Cola break in the town. Wardy saw this as a chance to take on the “Fruity”…
From here it was 15 minutes down the road and from the ridiculous to the Sublime. Magnum had managed to arrange, via a member of the wine press, an amazing visit to one of the most iconic estates in Spain – Vega Sicilia. I was there merely as one of the gang as I don’t work directly with the estate.
We were met on arrival by Gonzalo Iturriaga the Technical director who gave us a run down of the various estates: Vega-Sicilia about which more in a moment. Alion – which we had just driven past en route to Vega and which released its first vintage in 1991. Pintia – In the Toro region that first released in 2001. Macan in Rioja that started with the 2009. Tokaj-Oremus in Hungary.
Over the next two hours Gonzalo took us around Vega and explained every element of the estate from the vineyard to the winemaking, the onsite cooperage and on to cellars. It was a fairly mind-blowing display of attention detail in all things. The visit I think is best portrayed through pictures:
After this amazing tour around, made all the more brilliant by the fact that there was a major party to prepare for the following day, we went to the dinning room for a luncheon that was to prove quite a treat. With everybody well and truly “back in the game” we sipped a delightful, toasty and balanced, magnum of Bollinger RD 2002 in presidential surroundings with delicious hams as we waited to be joined by the main man – Pablo Álvarez. As we then made it to the wonderful table for lunch we managed to execute a table plan that worked for us with Wardy flanked by “Mum” and “Dad”. What followed was a tremendous 2 hour feast of the regions food and the estates wines. We started with a wine that is both a favourite of Pablo’s and a wine known well to the tourists – Corton-Charlemagne Grand Cru 2010 from Bonneau du Martray in magnum. This is superb right now but has miles to go. Driven, fresh but with a latent power both sweet and savoury and with a precise and balanced frame of oak. This was splendid with the asparagus.
On to red and Pintia 2013 which impressed me greatly, rich in cool damson-like fruit with a chalk and moreish texture, I went back to it several times. To pair alongside it we had another 2013 in Valbuena 2013 – more intense as you’d expect but with no loss of freshness and drive, the first of several Valbuena vintages we were to cram into the following 36 hours or so. As some delicious Lamb appeared it was “Vega-time”. Three different renditions.
Vega Sicilia Unico 2006 – A rich wine with a very regal feel, bold but not heavy, saturated but with lift, in second gear and no more, all about the future.
Vega Sicilia Unico 1996 – I just loved this, perfect balance. Savoury and serious yet sweet enough and not demanding. Just the sort of wine I’d love to own. Also the very type of wine that 5 years ago (a comment on me not this wine five years ago) I would be saying “try a bottle now but keep” that now I would say start to drink, no rush but start.
Vega Sicilia Unico 1965 – The next bottle was served as blind in terms of vintage, it was a very generous act to have shown one of our numbers birth year wine. Something I have only done once before with the man in question – the other being Romanee-Conti 1965. The Vega 1965 had a little tar, some tea a real tertiary feel, a little mushroom water also. A delicate delight.
We were not done yet – Tokaji Aszy 5 Puttonyos 2008 from Oremus combined perfectly with the pudding and then, just as things couldn’t get better out came the cigars! A enjoyed my Partagas Serie E No2 greatly, some other members were more vulgar and went for the Behikes…
It really had been a simply incredible 5 hours – combined with Pingus the day before it had simply been a both unique and fabulous two days. We had committed to Pablo that we would give the list at Rekondo a good “going over” after our ride to San Sebastian…
Thank you Gonzalo and thank you Pablo!
A long drive, with lots of music, has become something of a theme on these trips – there was no need in Burgundy or Piedmont as things are compact, in relative terms. But in the Rhone, Tuscany and now Spain the scale of things is larger. We made our way to drop our bags at the “glamorous” hotel, more about that later, then it was straight to Rekondo. We now said good bye to Alfredo who had done us proud and certainly enjoyed the music. I am not sure he quite knew what to do with the Sloe Gin I gave him but I am sure he’s worked it out by now. Rekondo has been on my “to do” list for some time now. Mr Magnum and Wardy new it well…It is the sort of restaurant, and list, that lays down the very sort of challenge this group embraces…onwards!
So, having been sensibly, placed in the private room Mr Magnum set about quenching the thirst and removing any lingering cigar aromas with a double brace of Spanish whites. After a brief exchange in which the phrase “we didn’t come to Rekondo to drink water” was said in a delicately pointed manner the whites arrived.
Ossian 2014 & Belondrade Y Lurton 2015 – were up first. The Ossian had nice fresh fruit and a good structure. The Belondrade is a wine I have seen endlessly in shops and in fashionable restaurants about the place which always makes me a little cynical. No need with this. Really excellent, fresh, zippy with sweetness too, I was really impressed. With the “aperitif” whites done it was now time for some “food whites”. Rioja Blanco 2011 from Remirez de Ganuza & Que Bonito Cacaraeba 2015 from Benjamin Romeo did the job. I had never had a Remirez de Ganuza in anything other than red before. It was possibly the least obviously good of the whites but I feel slightly that this is because it was the most different, sherried, oxidative, savoury and saline. To have had it as the only white would probably have worked well. The Que Bonito was very good. I know the style as I use to work with the wines and have a couple of bottles of the 2011 left. This was big and bold and quite rich but with a lovely balancing sweetness. We all liked it a lot.
At this stage there were some strategy debates as we looked for a theme and tried to have a coherent selection – we got there nicely with Bordeaux taking a grip. The food, pics below, was really very good, the wine list gets all the glory to a degree but I was very impressed.
So now we were onto red and the first thing we wanted to “tick off” was some Alion for a few reasons the main of which was that we hadn’t had it at lunch. We spotted the 1991 on the list, the first vintage as mentioned above, but it was sold out so we went with the 1992. Alion 1992 was really very good, nice mellow maturity, a little bit of blood but good darker fruit too, a nice selection. Whilst on the Vega theme we had Vega Sicilia Reserva Especial (1996/98/01) – this had a really menthol feel but it improved with air, possibly we should have ordered it as soon as we arrived and given it the air it deserves. On this showing the Unico that we had earlier was more true and more special.
Now some Bordeaux. La Mission Haut-Brion 1983 was really very good indeed. Soy with lush fruit, at a very good maturity and balance, very proper with just enough extrovert character. The Montrose 1988 was just the other side of the tracks in so much as it lacked the sweetness but had a superb masculinity, my notes say “totally correct”. Trotanoy 1996 followed and showed well given that 1996 is far more left-bank/Cabernet orientated than merlot. The wine is still youthful now.
Having spoken to the sommelier about the best way to take in a wine from 1968, a couple of our team’s birth years, we plumbed for Cune Vina Real 1968. I wasn’t that surprised that he suggested this as I have heard good things about these. The wine was elegantly balanced on the palate with a definite caramel edge to the initial nose, I really liked this. Refined.
Back to Bordeaux from here as Vestier was looking more comfortable than ever, this is his zone. The Canon 1985 was right bank maturity personified. Mellow degraded fruit and a good dash of cheesecloth with medium weight. The counterbalance was Brane-Cantenac 1982 which was far more feral and farmyardy. Raw then decided he would fire a shot, something that has been known to cause angst amongst his fellow dinners as he goes searching for Patagonia Gamay with bottle age. On this occasion he did well. Ermitage L’Ermite 1997 from Chapoutier, who we visited in the Rhone, was his choice. It was a wee bit cool and could have done with time in the glass or decanter to open out but was a nice glass with some bruised fruit and a stoney mineral character underneath. We ended the meal, and a superb Vinous day, with Rieussec 1982 which slightly divided the crowd, a few of us finding it too much of a caramel and marmalade set up and others liking the decadence. It had been a hell of a meal. An intimate room, good food great wine and some top quality photobombing from Fiscali.
After dinner we had a look around the cellars – what a set up it is!
Saturday morning has normally seen a visit but with Rioja over an hour away and THE annual lunch to prepare for we decided on a late start and a wander around San Sebastian. What we didn’t necessarily factor in was that the weather was more Bognor in November than Northern Spain in May. With the team in two parts one went to borrow umbrellas and buy a pac-a-mac (or two) whilst Magnum, Wardy and I popped to the Cigar shop. Wardy managed to wind-up the owner but using his usual volume, charm and “drive” worked his way back into the good books.
Having got a sense for San Sebastian but without seeing it at its best we went back to the hotel for “Champagne on the terrace”. This sounds glamorous but when I tell you that our Hotel was more a Motel and that the location was “industrial estate meets ring-road” chic you can probably only imagine it.
The Champagnes however, were a “good” step above this level! It was a 2004 drink off with Dom Perignon 2004 vs Salon 2004. Actually it wasn’t necessarily supposed to be a competition, so different are the styles here. The Salon seemed to dominate on this occasion. Both are good the Salon just has the refinement now.
With Alfredo gone it was time to call to taxis and head to Kaia-Kaipe in Getaria. We could have selected any of the 3 star spots in and around San Sebastian but this lunch requires a few things: A great host who gets the idea, a great wine list in breadth and depth, a good setting, a good spot for the picture of the line up and a real sense of fun. The food is important but more for its simplicity and ability to keep coming! Both Magnum and Wardy were very clear (and 100% correct) that this was the spot we needed. Igor and his team did us proud!
Magnum went straight to work on the list after Igor had sensibly put us at large table in the corner. Two whites were selected Pazo Senorans 2009 followed by a magnum of As Sortes 2015. The Senorans is an aged Albarino, a rare beast, we enjoyed it, a drier texture and good complexity. The magnum was a real star. I had seen the wine several times and always been intrigued. This had lots of fruit but was not fruity per se. Lovely textured and ripeness, good weight, it didn’t last long. The sense of excitement was palpable, we new we had a good few, four or five, hours before we lost one member for the rest of the trip. Vestier had a plane to catch, and Leechy, for a few hours, as he was escaping to Bilbao and the European Rugby Final clash between his beloved Leinster and Racing 92. He though promised to return. Despite what I said above I must mention the food here. The vast majority is done on the grill and the ingredients are superb. It was a delicious meal. The Turbot should be on everyones ‘dishes to eat” list.
Now to two classical French regions for the next two wines. Chablis Montee de Tonnere 1er Cru 2012 from Raveneau and Silex 2013 from Dageneau. Surprisingly I found the Raveneau a tad underwhelming, I think it may just be in an in between stage, not still young but not yet showing the secondary savoury mineral notes. The Dageneau, by contrast, was a real treat and surpassed my expectations, a lovely moreish texture and a mellowed, almost non varietal, character, great now.
Having not had any Alion at the brilliant lunch (we did have it at dinner mind!) the day before we sought to correct this at the first opportunity and also to make sure there was some “volume” to hand that we could revisit as we went. Alion 2013 in from magnum was joined by Pintia 2012, also in magnum. Whilst both these wines are youthful there is no doubt that they are delicious now. The Pintia has a broader fruit and developed less over the time in decanter, the Alion was tighter initially but then the breeding came out as did the refinement, it was pretty special.
As conversation flowed and other tables turned their heads a little more often we headed towards some mature wines and Rioja specifically. Vina Abina Reserve 1981 from Bodegas Riojanes was the first of two 1981s we would have. Not a vintage famed in much of the rest of Europe it did well in Rioja. There was balance, some decayed fruit and a real sense of iron. Next we had some theatre as Igor went to grab his tongs (Port Tongs as they are usually referred to) for the Berberana 1964 Cosecha Especial. I wish this blog would support video as I would attach it here. The whole restaurant cheered when the neck finally agreed to give up the struggle. The wine was still bright with a very clear combination of strawberry fruit and pepper, I think it was Igor’s last bottle. A real treat.
Magnum and Fiscali could be seen plotting at the other end of the table, I was on “dad” duties at the other end but growing more suspicious by the second. Three wines then appeared blind – except we were told they were all on vintage. They were serves in the order below. My, by now very brief, notes, in order, say – “Superb – could be DRC”, “Love it – quite high notes” & “Herbal notes, savoury too on the note, sweeter palate”. I was pleased with my assessment though I can’t remember what I said for the vintage.
Gevrey-Chambertin 1er Cru Clos Saint Jacques 2006 from Domaine Rousseau
Charmes-Chambertin Grand Cru 2006 also from Domaine Rouseau
Fonsalette 2006 by “Team” Rayas
The table next to us changed and more “conversation” flowed. Vestier then decided to go to the opposite end of the price range with the list as “splashed out” a daring 34€ for the group on a bottle of Conde de Valdemar Gran Reserva 1981. It was good, a little outclassed but correct. We now lost Leechy to his Rugby quest but not before he ordered a bottle of Valbuena 2011 and a glass for his 50 minute Taxi journey. Unsurprisingly he reported good things. He did though have to swap out the glass for a plastic one as below…such dedication to the cause is the very thing we expect.
One thing I had not realised was that the Vegas Sicilia magnums have an artists label as Mouton does. Our next magnum was Vega Sicilia Unico 2002 as sported by Igor below. I have to say it was mighty impressive, a long life ahead but a stellar wine now, rich yet balanced, savoury yet fruited…very classy. Even at this late stage it fitted very well.
Vestier had now gone, tear in eye, and as we were down to just five. We clearly needed a bottle of Port – Quinta do Noval Colheita 2000 – it was to be. I love good Tawny Port and this is just that, mellow with a little caramel and a tangy finish, lovely. Magnum now had his extravagantly tactical head on and, as last year, decided we need a refresher. Krug 1996 was the choice. Rich, vinous with bracing acidity and a savoury texture and finish, a wine to wallow in. With many photos taken and thank-you’s said we headed back to San Sebastian.
Five of us meant two taxis – the first one sped off with Fiscali, Magnum and myself in situ. We headed back to the hotel for a brief rest. Taxi two with Wardy and Raw aboard went straight into town, no rest taken. How things were going to go from here was highly debatable!
After a snooze of almost exactly the wrong length the core of the party, now down to three, met in the lobby for a reviving magnum of Dom Ruinart Blanc de Blancs 2002 which we had last enjoyed at our AGM back in October. It was reviving us as we tried to locate Wardy and Raw over the phone and waited for news of Leechy’s return leg. Off into town we went to sample a few of the famous Pintxos bars.
I can’t remember the names of the bars but at the first we found we sampled the joys of the Foie Gras above with a glass each of the house white (a first for the trip!) – there was a slight angle to the glass of house white as it served to facilitate us in keeping “at” the magnum of Champagne! Leechy returned more than happy with his European win and we ordered a bottle of the Proelio Crianza 2016 which slipped down a treat with the food. We then managed to locate Raw and Wardy who were doing some “work” by helping a band of Americans drink their Vega Reserva Especial…we promptly lost track of them again…Raw and Wardy that is…
One last Pintxos bar was required and it felt only right to end with a bottle each from the tremendous visits we had done on Thursday and Friday. So Flor de Pingus 2013 & Valbuena 2012 it was. There were a lot of laughs but by this point no tasting notes!!
The following morning, the bodies (and internal organs) a little sluggish, we made it to San Sebastian airpot for the return flight, as ever a much more mellow journey than the way out. What a few days it had been. I get a distinct impression that San Sebastian may be called on to receive us again in the future. Either when we “do” Rioja or when we head south from Bordeaux…
Sincere thanks to Peter, Anne and Paula at Pingus, Pablo and Gonzalo at Vega Sicilia. Back at C&B I must thank Tanya for her organisational prowess. The same goes for Natasha at Team Fiscali.
And so we must set an AGM date chaps…thank you all – its very much a team game!!