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The Grapevine

  • Wine and Cheese

    A match made in heaven?

    Everyone loves wine and cheese don’t they? Does anyone really care about which wine with which cheese?  Think again – how many of you have had a glass of good red spoilt by the impact of drinking it with a smelly, well matured soft, or blue cheese?  I reckon a few of you. Cheese and wine can be a heavenly match, but only if you follow a few simple guidelines.

    Taste, smells and flavours are all about balance; it’s no different with wine. Over or under-season a dish, and it’s a pale reflection of the triumph that it could have been.  Sip a glass of delicious, crisp white wine, then have a bite of chocolate and go back to the wine – I can guarantee that it will now taste sour and acid; go on, try it to prove my point!

    With cheese, just like wine, there is a plethora of styles, but all with radically different flavours, from salty, tangy goats cheese, through nutty, creamy cheddar, to sweet yet salty blue.  On the basis of all of the above, it’s logical that you need different wines to suit different cheeses, without becoming too obsessive about the whole process.  I’ve always hated red wine with soft cheeses such as brie, as they give the wine a metallic taste – far better with a soft, creamy Chardonnay. But tradition has always put red wine with cheese. Throw tradition out of the window.

    I put this theory to the test in a recent wine and cheese pairing exercise. Bath wine merchant Great Western Wine have teamed up with local cheese supplier Pong Cheese to bring together this classic partnership, to the extent that, from next week, there will be a bespoke cheese fridge in their shop with a range of 8 cheeses supplied exclusively for them - weekend wine and cheese shopping sorted.

    My job was to match the cheese to the wine –tough job, I know. Here are my favourite matches, following a few simple rules:

    Goats Cheese

    Bosworth Leaf Goats cheese – the textbook match for goats cheese is Sauvignon blanc, both of which originated in the Loire valley and are natural partners. New Zealand Sauvignon blanc can be too aggressive, so I picked a vibrant, zesty, wild herb-dusted one from the south of Chile, Las Cenizas Laberinto Sauvignon blanc 2015 (£15.50), which picks up the tangy, salty, mouthwatering flavours in the cheese.

    Creamy brie-style – Perl Wen, an unctuous, gooey delight from Wales, worked magically well with Mas Sardana Cava Brut Nature NV (£13.50), bringing out the creamy, nutty character in both. Fizz and cheese? Why not. Another option would be classic Chablis.

    Washed rind cheeses - Lincolnshire Poacher – this is a nutty, fragrant, relatively mild cheese, not dissimilar to Comte – I loved this with the fresh, vibrant style of Souson Ailala 2015 (£13.95), a deliciously fresh, juicy red from Galicia in north west Spain, with no oak, just a riot of red fruit flavours – spot on.

    Cheddar

    Westcombe cheddar – avoid big, tannic reds with hard cheeses, and let softer, spicier reds coax out the very best of the flavours in both, in this case Domaine de la Janasse Cotes du Rhone 2015 (£12.50), a rich, silky red, full of blackberry fruit and oozing charm.

    Matching Pong Pecorino Toscana was a delectable discovery – for traditionalists, go with a classic, but lighter style, Tuscan red, such as Morellino di Scansano 2014 (£14.95); but, with the cheese’s granular texture, and powerful, salty, sweet character, we had a eureka moment and tried it with the dry, but delicately aromatic Patricius, Tokaji Dry Furmint 2015 (£12.75) — a flawless alliance.

    Blue Cheese

    Port is always a safe bet, but my tip would be to go for a honeyed dessert wine – sweet, complimentary, but lighter in style.  Sauternes is great, but it was the seductive Italian sweet range which took top billing.

    First up Perl Las Blue, a mild, creamy welsh blue which snuggled up cosily to the honeyed, dried apricot-stashed, Anselmi I Capitelli 2015 (37.5cl £18.50) from northern Italy, whilst the powerful, yet meltingly tender, sweet, creamy Mountain Gorgonzola, formed a blissful marriage with its Italian compatriot Fattoria dei Barbi Vin Santo 2009 (37.5cl £17.95), the most classic of all Italian dessert wines.

    And finally, onto Cropwell Bishop stilton - melt-in-the-mouth, and remarkably delicate with a tangy bite – another blue cheese charmed by the irresistible attraction of a luscious Italian, this time a sweet red, Bertani Recioto Valpolicella 2012 (50cl £23), a mellifluous nectar, of dried raisins, cherries, dark chocolate, candied lemons and spice, at a temperate 13% alcohol, which coaxed out every inch of character from this Nottinghamshire delight whilst parading its own glories simultaneously.

    Wine and cheese matching – join the adventure.

    By Angela Mount

  • Stylus Vinyl

    April: What's in the box...

    Our friends at Stylus Vinyl, who send out monthly subscription boxes of classic albums on vinyl paired with a great bottle of wine chosen by us, have nailed it once again.

    April sees Stylus’ first live album and champions everything that is great about the rawness of live music. Johnny Cash’s Live at Folsom Prison is the perfect example of that rawness. Cash brought the joy of music to the downtrodden, the unwanted of society and turned it into a number one hit.

    To pair with Cash’s slow and deeply melodic voice we have the Trapiche Estacion Bonarda | £11.95. Crushed blueberries and violets take the lead whilst soft vanilla spice, bitter chocolate and sweet liquorice dance in the background. There is depth, complexity and structure to this wine, with soft, supporting tannins, which provide a bold yet velvety structure.

    Both wine and voice have a crooning quality to them, an effortless rhythm that lingers with you long after they are finished. There is a seductive, calming tone to both music and wine, despite the key messages in both.

  • The Team's Tasting Selections

    The latest flight of 8 wines has been launched today – and what's more its now completetly FREE! Come on by the Great Western Wine shop in Bath to sample our American Aces - all available to purchase in our Up to 25% off wines of USA promo >

    Col Solare, Col Solare 2012

    Producer: Chateau Ste Michelle, USA

    was £60.00 | now £50.00

    Sample price: FREE

     

    Indian Wells Cabernet Sauvignon 2013

    Producer: Chateau Ste Michelle, USA

    was £19.50 | now £17.50

    Sample price: FREE

    Artemis Cabernet Sauvignon 2014

    Producer: Stag's Leap Wine Cellars, USA

    was £42.50 | now £37.50

    Sample price: FREE

     

    Omero Pinot Noir Ribbon Ridge 2012

    Producer: Omero, USA

    was £34.50 | now £29.95

    Sample price: FREE

     

    Canoe Ridge Chardonnay 2014

    Producer: Chateau Ste Michelle, USA

    was £22.00 | now £19.50

    Sample price: FREE

     

    Karia Chardonnay 2015

    Producer: Stag's Leap Wine Cellars, USA

    was £32.50 | now £27.00

    Sample price: FREE

     

    Eroica Riesling 2014

    Producer: Chateau Ste Michelle, USA

    was £23.50 | now £19.95

    Sample price: FREE

     

    Man O' War Ironclad 2010

    Producer: Man O' War, NZ

    was £29.50 | now £24.50

    Sample price: FREE

  • World Malbec Day

    Why is Malbec World Day celebrated on 17th April?

    The origin of Malbec can be found in the southwest of France. Here they’ve been cultivating the grape and making wines with the appellation of Cahors since the days of the Roman Empire. During the Middle Ages, this wine grew in popularity, and this has only increased in modern times.

    Malbec arrived in Argentina in 1853 in the hands of Michel Aimé Pouget, a French agronomist who was hired by Domingo Faustino Sarmiento to carry out the management of the Agricultural Quinta de Mendoza.

    Modelled on France, the initiative proposed adding new grape varieties as a means to enhancing the national wine industry. On 17th April, 1853, with the support of the governor of Mendoza, a project was presented to the Provincial Legislature, with a view to establishing a Quinta Normal and Agricultural School. This project was approved by the House of Representatives on 6th September that year.

    In the late nineteenth century, with the help of Italian and French immigrants, the wine industry grew exponentially and with it, Malbec, which quickly adapted to the various terroirs, and developed with even better results than in its region of origin. Over time, and with a lot of hard work, Malbec emerged as the flagship grape of Argentina.

    For Wines of Argentina, 17th April was not only a symbol of the transformation of Argentina's wine industry, but also the starting point for the development of this grape, an emblem the country worldwide.

    According to Wines of Argentine, “Malbec is not just a wine. It is a fruit that generates work, individuality, culture and development. Each bottle is a declaration of what sets Argentina apart. Each bottle speaks of the hands, the dexterity and the soul of our men. This varietal expresses a way of doing things, a way of life; it involves technique, originality and passion. The deepest wines are born of the deepest longings of their peoples, those who reside in the heart. Malbec is the heart of our industry and continues to be our global ambassador.”

    It’s common knowledge that a glass of Malbec is perfectly accompanied by a hearty steak, but did you know the versatilty of this soulful wine extends far beyond red meat. To celebrate Malbec World Day, we bring you two surprising recipes to pair with Malbec... 

    Veggies + Malbec

     

    Porcini Mushroom Pasta

    1 cup dried porcini mushrooms soaked in 1 ½ cups of hot water for 1 hour
    400 gr pappardelle or fettucini (the egg-based varieties are best)
    2 garlic clove
    1 tbsp butter
    2 tbsp olive oil
    1 cup heavy cream
    1/2 cup red wine
    2 tbsp grated Parmesan
    3 tbsp chopped Italian parsley
    salt and pepper to taste

    Bring some water to the boil and then pour it over your dried porcini mushrooms. This will make them nice and tender and bring out the full flavour of the mushrooms. Let them sit for at least an hour.

    Time cooking your pasta to be ready at the same time the sauce is – you’ll add it to the pan that you're making the sauce to saute together when it's ready. Put the water on to boil for the pasta, then get started on the sauce.

    Once the porcini mushrooms have soaked, drain them and save the water. In a deep sauce pan drizzle some olive oil and heat on medium. Crush the garlic and sauté with the butter and olive oil until fragrant. Add the red wine and let the liquid absorb. Then add the porcini mushroom water and simmer on medium heat for about 10 minutes. Now you can add the pasta to boiling water.

    Once the pasta is in the water, stir the cream into the porcini mushroom sauce and add your salt and pepper. Let it simmer and thicken until the pasta is cooked. Drain the pasta and rinse delicately in cold water to stop the cooking process. Now add the pasta to the sauce and toss or fold the pasta into the porcini mushroom sauce.

    Sprinkle with the Italian parsley and freshly grated Parmesan to serve.

    Chocolate + Malbec

     

    Dark Chocolate and Malbec Ice Cream

    160g dark chocolate (90% cocoa solids)
    300ml double cream
    1/2 can condensed milk (approx~198ml)
    400ml of Malbec

    In a saucepan reduce the 400ml of Malbec on a medium heat until there's approximately 6-8 tbsps left, then set it aside to cool down.

    Break the dark chocolate up and melt it until it's runny and smooth. You can do this however you want, in a glass bowl over a saucepan of boiling water or in the microwave.

    In a large bowl, whisk together the double cream and condensed milk until you reach stiff peaks. Then fold in the chocolate and the reduced Malbec until it's all mixed in.

    Pour the mixture into a 500ml freezable container, you can buy disposable pots online, use a tupperware box or just pour it into a cake tin a la moi. Make sure you cover the ice cream with a lid or tightly wrap it in clingfilm, then put it in the freezer for 6 hours.

    Before you serve the ice cream take it out of the freezer for about 15 minutes to loosen up.

    Receive up to 20% off all Malbec in celebration of Malbec World Day | ends midnight Monday 17th April >

  • The Team's Tasting Selections

    The latest flight of 8 wines has been launched today – and what's more its now completetly FREE! Come on by the Great Western Wine shop in Bath to sample these beauties from Southern Italy and Islands.

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

    Ken Forrester                       Planeta                                   Planeta Eruzione
    Dirty Little Secret                 Cometa 2015                           1614 Carricante
    £59.50                                   was £25.00 | now £20.50            was £19.95 | now £18.50

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

    Planeta Eruzione 1614          Planeta                                 Taurasi Vigna
    Nerello Mascalese                Burdese                                Macchia dei Goti
    was £21.50 | now £19.00         was £23.50 | now £21.00          was £32.00 | now £28.00

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

    Santadi,                                 Papale Oro
    Terre Brune 2012                   Varvaglione 2013
    was £38.00 | now £35.00          was £19.95 | now £18.50

  • When wine meets chocolate

    "Its a tough job, but someones got to do it" is the phrase that sprung to mind when I set off on a quest to find out whether wine and chocolate could live together. Easter is looming and that means chocolate, and lots of it, so it seemed the right time to put this to the test.

    Can the two co-exist? I'm delighted to say that the answer is yes, but choose with care. Just like wine there is great chocolate, but there is pretty horrible, gloopy muck, full of greasy cocoa butter, and not much else too - if that's what rocks your boat, I'd stick with a cup of tea to accompany it.

    There is a world of exciting, artisan-crafted chocolate out there - from all over the world. I recently co-hosted a wine and chocolate pairing evening, with Spencer Hyman, who is as passionate about chocolate as I am about wine, and has set up an online subscription business for true choc lovers called Cocoa Runners. He and his team whizz around the world sniffing out the best bean producers and also the best chocolate-makers; his range is vast, encompassing chocolate bars from Brooklyn to Budapest, Cleethorpes to Saigon.

    For wine, it's all about the grape, the soil, and how you make it; with chocolate it's pretty much the same, which is why Great Western Wine have teamed up with Cocoa Runners to stock a wide range of chocolates, matched with specific wines. The chocolate range is broad, ranging from the darkest, most intense and highest cocoa content bars, to fudgy, creamy and unctuous milk varieties.

    So what works? The old adage is that you need to drink something sweeter than the chocolate itself - easily done, but a bit predictable. After an exhaustive and extensive afternoon of wine and chocolate-matching (I did say it was a tough job), here are my recommendations for you to enjoy the ultimate in indulgences - and yes, red wine can work with chocolate, and does so rather nicely, if you pick the right one. So throw your preconceptions aside and try a few of these with your Easter chocolate fest...

    Dark Chocolate

    This has over 70% cocoa solids, with depth and intensity, it's sweet yet has a balancing bitter note - think oozingly rich chocolate fondant. Rich, spicy red wines can work well here, as the balance between the sweetness and the bitter edge in dark chocolate marries well with an intense, voluptuous drink. Chilean Carmenere can be great, Viña Falernia Carmenere Syrah, 2014 (£13.75) was spot on. In this wine, one third of the grapes are left to dry out to a raisin-like state, which means the wine is richer and takes on an 'amarone' type of intensity, with truffly, mocha notes, powerful enough to balance the brooding intensity of dark chocolate.

     

    Milk Chocolate

    The world's favourite style; here, the milk content adds to the sweetness and luxuriously creamy texture. Australian-style Muscats generally work well, but can overpower with their exuberant personalities, but my two favourites in this category are lesser well-known sweeties. First up, a glorious sweet red, somewhere between a dessert wine and port. Bertani Recioto 2012, 50cl (£23.00) from Italy is my go-to choice. Its mix of cinnamon, spice, and candied peel, is silky, sumptuous and utterly indulgent. My other top choice was PX Belle Luna (£8.95) - almost syrupy in texture, sensuous and swooningly enchanting, with its decadent raisin, dried fig and toffee character.

     

    White Chocolate

    People either love or hate white chocolate. Its a mix of mainly cocoa butter, milk and sugar, often flavoured with vanilla. This is where traditional dessert wines work well, with their gentle, honey and caramel edges. Patricius Late Harvest Tokaji 2015, 37.5cl (13.95) from the majestic Tokay region of Hungary is the style to fit the bill here, with its notes of acacia honey, honeysuckle and dried, candied oranges.

    To sum up, wine + chocolate = happiness!

     

     

    By Angela Mount - Bath Life Magazine

  • Introducing NOYA's Kitchen

    We love any excuse to taste delicious food, and even more so when we have the challenge of matching up wines to challenging dishes. We also love working with local people, because that's what we're all about. So we're thrilled to have teamed up with Bath's vietnamese cookery school guru, Noya Pawlyn, who runs one of the most successful weekly pop up supper clubs in the city.

    Every month, we'll be sharing one of Noya's mouthwatering, and easy-to-make recipes with you, to bring the unique flavours of Vietnam to your table!  And, with all good dishes, you need a good wine, so we've asked food and wine matching expert Angela Mount to pick the ideal wine to accompany each recipe.

    Enjoy…

    Ginger and Chilli Chicken with Green Peppercorn

    Ga Xao Gung | serves 4 people

    Chicken Marinade
    500g chicken thighs, cut into 1 inch pieces
    ½ tsp chilli flakes
    1 tbsp fish sauce
    1 tbsp brown sugar

    Ingredients
    50g ginger, cut into matchsticks
    2 tbsp fresh green pepper corns (substitute for 1/4 tsp coarse black pepper if none available)
    3 cloves of chopped garlic
    1 onion, finely sliced
    3 fresh whole chillies (use less if you like it less spicy)
    1 tsp sesame oil
    1 tsp toasted sesame

    Sauce
    2 tbsp brown sugar
    1 tbsp fish sauce
    1 tbsp oyster sauce
    1 tsp dark soya sauce (optional for darker colour)
    ½ tsp corn flour
    90ml of water or coconut water

    Marinate
    In a large bowl, combine the chicken and ingredients for the marinade and mix well. Cover for 30 minutes, or if you have time place in the fridge over night.

    Cooking
    1. In a hot wok, add the oil and stir fry the ginger until it's fragrant. Move the ginger to the side of the wok and add the sliced onion and whole chillies, frying until fragrant. Move all the ingredients to the side.
    2. Add the chicken to the wok, browning on both sides. Mix the ginger and onion together with the chicken. Then add the garlic, green pepper corn and mix well.
    3. Mix the sauce ingredients together and add to the wok, stirring for a few minutes. Cover with a lid and simmer for 15 mins on a low heat.
    4. Remove the lid and increase the heat to reduce the sauce for about 5-10 mins, or to the constancy you like. Stir in the sesame oil and transfer to a dish.
    5. Garnish with the sesame seeds, coriander and serve with Jasmine rice.

    Come along to Noya’s Kitchen's cooking classes to learn more about this wonderful aromatic cuisine.

    Click here to book your classes >

     

    Wine Match

    I love Noya’s clever sleight of hand with her dishes; from the most delicately flavoured of Summer rolls, to strong, punchy, assertive curries like this one, all of which are also stunningly presented. In the interest of research, I felt obliged to try making this one myself last week, and was delighted at how straightforward it was. I know I fell far short of Noya’s legendary presentation, but my guests certainly didn’t complain, and it was utterly delicious – perfect for this time of year, when we’re between seasons.

    So, what to serve? There’s a long-held myth that chunky red wines don’t go with spicy food, but the fact is that they do work, as long as you choose carefully.  It’s all about balance; whilst an aromatic Riesling would go well, sometimes with a rich, flavoursome, warming curry, a bold, velvety red is what’s needed...

    Vina Falernia Carmenere Reserva 2014 | £13.75 

    is my wine of choice for this dish – there’s a riot of different flavours in Noya’s curry – the heat of chillies and green peppercorns, the sweetness of soya, oyster sauce and brown sugar, and the sweet and sour pungency of ginger and fish sauce. All mingle seamlessly to create this sumptuous dish, but make wine matching a challenge. Chilean Carmenere is generally a good match with curry, with its bold, warm, cardamom and spicy character, and this one goes one step further. Produced at high altitude in the rocky hills of the Elqui valley, Vina Falernia are the most northern vineyards in Chile, perched on the edge of the desert. Why does this wine work, with this barrage of sweetness and heat?  Partly because the wine is made in an ‘Amarone’ style, where a proportion of the grapes are dried before they are fermented – this makes for a richer, more intense, more voluptuous red, which has the power and character to match the dish. With its welcoming scents of dark berries, bitter chocolate and warm spice, and its rich, brooding, yet incredibly soft flavours, this ticks all the boxes.

     

    By Angela Mount

  • Stylus Vinyl

    March: What's in the box...

    Our friends at Stylus Vinyl, who send out monthly subscription boxes of classic albums on vinyl paired with a great bottle of wine chosen by us, have nailed it once again.

    This month’s album is the sensational London Calling by The Clash. A classic in the true sense of the word, it is a commentary on some of the social issues of 70s Britain including racism and drug use. The Clash transcended the punk scene with this album and opened it to a far wider audience with their eclectic blend of punk, peppered with hints of jazz, rock, ska, reggae, pop and even folk.

    To go with the album we’ve gone with a real favourite. The Chateau du Vieux Parc Cuvée l’Heritage Corbieres is an enigmatic but forthright blend of classic southern French grapes – Syrah, Grenache and Carignan, and is an ideal match for this month’s album. Both album and wine have a untamed, wild edge, but with playful accessibility.  Both stay inherently true to their roots.

    Click here to find out more about Stylus Vinyl >

  • Our Fine Wine Manager Visits Rioja

    It is really very exciting to be invited to visit our two new producers in Rioja, and especially so, since I have never been to the region before.  Beautiful warm sunshine is forecast:  all the more reason to escape a dismal English February for a couple of days.

    Day 1

    The first view of Rioja is underwhelming.  I had been under the impression outside Britain, weather forecasting was always accurate.  I want to get out and snap away at the bee-youtiful mountains as soon as the fog clears, but ‘Dad’ won’t stop the car.  It’s the 1993 family holiday all over again.  Scuffles almost break out in the back seat.

     

     

    We are welcomed to Sierra Cantabria by the charming and articulate Eduardo Eguren: winemaker, fount of knowledge and fifth generation heir to the family business.  Eduardo explains that although the grape Tempranillo takes its name from ‘temprano’ (early), high up in Rioja Alavesa it ripens late.  Sierra Cantabria’s highest vineyards are at about 600m elevation, and in 2009 it started snowing before they finished picking the grapes!

     

    To the Egurens’ new underground cellars.  Mercedes with darkened windows escort our convoy fore and aft. Massive portal at end of canyon cut into hillside. “Mr King, I have been expecting you.”

    This place is jaw-dropping.  Two kilometres of cellars excavated under a hilltop just outside the village of San Vicente de la Sonsierra.  A new winery is being built out of stone excavated from the cellars.

     

    In the middle of San Vicente de la Sonsierra is the family’s oldest winery – Señorio de San Vicente – which dates back to the 1870s.  Since 1991, it has been dedicated exclusively to the production of just one wine, coming from one vineyard, ‘La Canoca’, in the foothills of the Sierra Cantabria.  The Egurens were keen to nurture the almost extinct Tempranillo Peludo (‘Hairy Tempranillo), which ripens exceptionally late, yields low and produces fabulously characterful and concentrated wine.

    I have never tasted San Vicente before, but I already kind-of know that I will love it.  And I am right.  And the same goes for all twelve wines we taste here – what a phenomenal range.  Wow!

    Just two hours after lunch (it finished at about 6pm), Kirsty and Ana of Ramón Bilbao treat us to the famous ‘tapas run’ in Logroño, where fifty tapas bars jostle in a single block less than 100 paces square.  To avoid competition, each bar specialises in just one or two dishes.  After such a late lunch, the question is:  Can we fit them?  Yes we can!

    I must look unmistakably English, because somebody cannons into me and mutters “perdón, perdón,” a couple of times.  Looking at me he then says “sorry, sorry, sorry!” And I haven’t even opened my mouth.  Has someone put a sign saying “Inglés” on my forehead?

     

    Day 2

    Ana takes us first to the dizzyingly high vineyard in La Rioja Alta (High Rioja) in which Tempranillo for the ‘Viñedos de Altura’ wine is grown.  Garnacha comes from a vineyard in Rioja Baja (Low Rioja), which is similarly high up.  Confused?  If Ana had hoped to induce vertigo in us, the fog paid to that – you can’t see a thing.

     

     

     

    Over the hill and along some very bumpy tracks is the ancient vineyard planted 100% with Tempranillo, whose fruit is made into the ‘Mirto’ wine.

     

    A couple of points of interest are a Roman wine press and a chozo – a shallot-shaped hut traditionally used for storing tools and shelter for vineyard workers from summer thunderstorms.

     

     

     

    At Ramón Bilbao’s winery in Haro, we are treated to a tasting of all of their wines, inside a glass cube suspended over a fermentation vat.  Not sure which Bond film took place here.  Yesterday’s tasting is a hard act to follow, but to our delight, this is another ‘wow’ experience.  The style is different here – more succulent and forward – but the wines are also delicious, and there’s some exciting innovation.  Even at today’s exchange rates, they are also very affordable.

     

     

    The team – Ed, Kirsty, Graeme, Kate, Matt, Dave (‘Dad’), Kathrine, Freddie and me.


  • In the vineyard with Rodolfo Bastida

    We sat down with Chief Winemaker at Ramón Bilbao, Rodolfo Bastida, to find out what makes him tick.  

    What was your path into winemaking?

    Wine is part of my family, it’s in my blood. My grandfather made wine in Rioja. He had a winery where he’d ferment his own grapes and then sell a quantity in bulk to other wineries. My father sells grapes to other producers in the area. I wanted to study wine because I’m passionate about the hills and the landscape itself, and talking about wine and vineyards is very useful at home. The tradition continues because my brother is a winemaker in the same region, and my wife too. So, naturally when we share a meal together there’s always plenty of wine, and a lot of competition over whose wine we’ll drink to finish the meal.

    So every moment we’re talking about wine. My son too is quite interested – he’s just 12 years old, but whenever we open a bottle of wine we always allow him to try it. But I want him to appreciate and understand the whole winemaking experience, before he thinks about the wine. He comes in the field to go grape picking with us, so he can see the effort that goes into it. I remember so well helping my grandfather press his grapes when I was just four years old. This is really part of our family culture: wine, winemaking, and the vineyards.

    What do you love about working for Ramón Bilbao?

    I love that when you’re making wines you never stop learning; you’re always developing new ideas. I’m very excited about what our research team has been doing, making very interesting things with natural yeast, and wines in concrete tanks. Now we’re testing how microcosms in the vineyard can help produce characteristics in the wines. There’s a very interesting study from University of California, Davis, that explores the relationship between the flavours and aromas you have in your wine, with the microcosms you have in your soil. For the future I think this is going to be very useful.

    I think in the future we’ll be doing similar things to now, but with more information. People often ask, do you think 10, 20 years ago people were making better wines than now? And I always say no, now we’re making better wines than ever before. My grandfather was making decisions only with the knowledge he had in his head, he wasn’t reading and researching, he didn’t know what they were doing in South Africa, or Australia. I think with more culture, and information you can produce better and better wines.

    I’m also very happy with the team we have for managing our different wineries in Spain. For us it’s more important to reflect the personalities in every wine we’re making, and this part comes from understanding every region and championing the terroir.

    What’s your winemaking philosophy?

    The most important thing for me is to put the fresh aspect of each region into our wines. There are plenty of parts of Spain that produce intense wines in terms of colours, and high alcohol. For me, Rioja is ready to make fine and elegant wines. I think things are changing, and there’s more interest in wines that spend long periods in barrels. Consumers are starting to look for these more delicate wines, more than the bombshell powerhouses of years gone by.

    Who are your greatest wine heroes?

    My hero is the grower working out in the vineyard. When you look at his hands, his face, you can see the harsh effect the elements have had on him. I always think of these people who spend their lives working in the fields. This is what inspires me to keep working hard. In Rioja there are lots of villages where they can grow only vineyards – but if one year there’s a frost problem, another year with mildew, they might lose their whole harvest so their family lives with not much. These are the real heroes.

    Why are you proud to call Rioja home?

    Close to the Basque country, Rioja is different to the rest of. The region is very small, but there are a lot of people who pass through the area so when you’re in the street you’ll notice that the people are very open and welcoming. People are always coming and going, so we’re a hospitable folk. We try to make others who are visiting our region comfortable – this is our way of life.

    If you had to pick just three wines to take with you to a desert island, what would they be?

    It depends on the situation. Some days I enjoy a bottle of Crianza because it is very fresh and easy to drink, and you don’t need food. But if you’re cooking a big piece of meat, a bottle of Mirto is fantastic. I also love wines from Ribera del Duero, and Sicilian Nero d’Avola. I love Bordeaux wines, especially from Saint-Émilion. I love the whole culture that you feel in every corner of the city when you’re in Bordeaux – from the chateaux to the whole French qualification system. You can sit down in a simple, inexpensive restaurant, and you’ll be offered a bottle of very prestigious wine, and there’s a whole fanfare around it. In Spain, wine is just part of everyday life, with less ceremony.

    What do you best like to eat with wine?

    I love the pairings we make at the winery; especially the Patatas Riojanas (potatoes with chorizo and red peppers). But I’m also very good at cooking rice, and think I make a nice seafood paella.

    Do you have a nickname when you’re at work?

    Not at the winery, but at home because my father and grandfather both share the same name as me, I am called Rodolfito. Little Rodolfo.

    If you weren’t working in wine, what would your ‘Plan B’ be?

    Nothing, I can’t imagine anything else. Wine is my whole life.

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