RAÜL BOBET. Castell d’Encús, Talarn, Lleida Spain. “Nessun dorma”.

We return to Spain. Lleida.

Castell d’Encus is an estate, a wooded mass, of about 95 hectares, located at the kilometre 5 of the road from Tremp to Santa Engràcia, that is in the part of Pallars which is called Jussà, existing another one which is Sobirà. The first is below, i.e., the furthest from the Pyrenees, the second is naturally above. I remember the Yuso and Suso that we have in La Rioja and which refer to the Monastery (below) and the Hermitage (above) of San Millán de la Cogolla.

It is a game among monks, and even more so when it comes to wine.

It is part of the D.O. Costers del Segre.

It offers us the panoramic view that opens up to infinity from the place:

“That over there is Aigüestortes, further away is the Besiberri, Ordesa is there, the Aneto…, this opposite is the village of Santa Engracia.”

It seems that Raül Bobet arrived at this enchanted and enchanting setting – after his experience in the Priorat and perhaps tired of it – by mistake or perdition (in the sense of “being lost”), perhaps as if by magic, or perhaps by chance, although it is well known that to encounter chance you have to look for it.

There he was spellbound. 23 hectares of vines of the most diverse varieties (cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc, merlot, pinot noir, syrah, petit verdot, sauvignon blanc, riesling semillon and albariño) were planted on calcareous loamy soils, with low organic matter content, subjected to a continental climate, with high thermal contrast between night and day, cultivated according to the rules of organic agriculture.

A winery of modern design was built, prepared to operate by gravity in all processes, and equipped with the most advanced technology, which includes the use of geothermal energy, reducing energy costs and environmental impact.

 

The same work of art still preserves a hermitage, watchtower and fermentation vats dug out of the rock, which may date back to the 12th century, the work of hospitaller monks of the Order of Malta, whose former use has been restored or given new ones (such as a music room or a meditation centre).

With such a background we are able to glimpse the magic of the place and appreciate the words of Raül Bobet:

“Making wine is not laissez faire. To succeed you have to use your intuition and know how to interpret nature. You are the one who leads the way. And that’s what you put your soul into. Grapes are not natural, as almost nothing else is. It is a human invention derived from mixing the pollen of the Vitis vitaceae. Wine is created, it is not natural, its ‘raison d’être’ is one hundred percent anthropological. All important things are”.

We will understand them better if we accompany them with some of his wines. Very diverse as proof of the “heterogeneity” that he preaches and practices: “in the vineyard…, in the way of making wine…”. The brands sound all like Sanskrit, which is the sacred language: “Ekam”, “Taleia”, “Thalarn”, “Acusp”, “Majjan”, Taïka”. But not all the words sound like that, for instance, “Quest”, which naturally “has to do with asking questions”, and, may I add, multiplying the answers.

I believe that wine has a magical quality: it is preserved. If you go to the countryside and pick a flower, which also has a magical halo, the flower withers. But if you start from a vine and work the vine in a natural way, it absorbs part of that landscape. And this is magical because you can also take it from one place to another and that essence remains”.

We vow once again to try to go where the essence is born. May the wine also be a memory afterwards.

MATÍAS MICHELINI. Zorzal, Passionate Wines, SuperUco. Mendoza. Mendoza. Argentina. “In praise of madness”.

We cross the Atlantic again, although now in the opposite sense and in the opposite direction. Southern Hemisphere. Argentina. Mendoza: “One hundred and ninety thousand hectares of hydroponic vineyards, irrigated by drip or flood, a great peculiarity of Mendoza’s culture unthinkable in Europe”.

Everything here must therefore be big, and not least the Michelini family, which is devoted to winemaking. The reason for the trip could be Matias, who has earned worldwide renown. Once there, we learn that his three brothers, a sister-in-law and even his son since he was five years old are also involved.

And of course, the number of wines he makes is also disproportionate (geometric progression, since he also makes them blended in different family proportions). Twenty-two different wines, he tells us in the book, but today we can be sure that there are many more. As well as other collaborations in other countries, such as the one he maintains here with Zorzal wineries in Navarra, due to the fortuitous coincidence of their names. He can also be found in El Bierzo.

This is how the book defines Matías Michelini:

“His mission is linked to the revolutionary path: to change Argentinian wine through a contemplative look at the living soil and a freedom that he tirelessly proclaims. He seeks energy, water, freshness and the salt of life. He is non-conformist and curious. Although he defines himself as the anti-hero, he is a born leader who stays away from fashions”.

And this is how he defines his wines:

 “They are free, expressive wines, mountain wines, wines that speak of the mountain range. They are wines of altitude, of soil. They are wild wines that speak of the place where we are, where we live; and that convey the passion and energy that we employ to make them”.

The mountain range is obviously the Andes; the altitude of the vineyards is between 600 and 1500 metres, and the place where they live is Tupungato on the slopes of the volcano of the same name, which reaches an altitude of 6750 metres. It is natural that the name was given by the Huarpe ethnic group that lived there in the 16th century, as well as the fact that it means “viewpoint of the stars”.

In such an immense horizontal and vertical space, passion and energy are a must.

Most of the visit is dedicated to the tasting of many of these wines.

Any temptation to make a synthesis or any attempt to classify is impossible. In the most diverse soils, where up to nine different grape varieties can be counted; where fermentation and ageing take place in the most varied of containers – ovens, tanks, barrels – in the most diverse of materials – plastic, steel, cement, wood, clay – and with the most diverse of methods – from carbonic maceration to multi-fermentation. This is produced by successively incorporating into the vat grapes from four different plots harvested separately and progressively (over a period of about forty days), so that the addition of fresh grapes paralyses the fermentation of the previously deposited grapes, until the bubbling starts again…

“Demented” wine, that is how he calls the result of this process, because to conceive it you have to be very insane as well as have a great mind. In other words, a very well thought-out insanity. Like his whole project.

 

We continue our journey on the trail of vineyards, “Tras las viñas”, the book by Josep Roca and Inma Puig. Two new chapters for three great oenologists and winegrowers -how scarce and imprecise the Spanish language is to define their work-. The former is very close to our hearts. As always, what we are able to describe here is a small and pale expression of what the book has to offer.

ÁLVARO PALACIOS & RICARDO PÉREZ PALACIOS Álvaro Palacios winery (Priorat), descendants of J. Palacios (Bierzo), Palacios Remondo winery (La Rioja). Spain. “The mystery of wine”.

 

This time there are two regions of Spain being visited: Priorat and Bierzo.

There is also mention of a winery in the land of Rioja, but there is no visit to the vineyards here, so the reference to this region will have to remain in these letters for later.

As for Priorat, I cannot help but start recalling my own memories. Way back in the early eighties of the last century, I must have travelled to Falset every week for a few months, for work reasons far removed from the world of wine (which must have had a reasonable impact on my eyes). I used to go through the interior from Tarragona via Reus.

It was a myriad of curves, of hills that followed one another as far as the eye could see, whose hidden beauty could be guessed, intuited, but I never had the time to linger on it. Many years later, but years before Laventura even existed as a possibility, I went to meet Bryan MacRobert there; it must have been in 2010 or 2011. And there I met him in a village winery in the village. It was “Terroir al limit”, a name that puzzled me at the time. The first time I saw him, he was pumping up the must in a tank, portable but large, low and wide, with his hands and arms reaching well above his elbows into the must, embracing it and stirring it at the same time.

They had prepared (he and my daughter, the cause of all the ensuing commotion) an outing, so off we went in an all-terrain vehicle, up and down hills, along paths on the verge of extinction, endless twists and turns, until we reached the top of a vineyard that gave me a complex feeling of compassion and admiration. It is called Les Tesses. There they had prepared a snack for us while we watched the sun go down. There I grasped all the beauty and mystery of the Priorat.

I was thinking about all this while reading the words of Álvaro Palacios, his search for a fragmented territory with a multitude of plots of old vines of monastic origin, the importance of geology and geo-climatic conditions, the “here ends the good and there begins the less good”, the names of the vineyards: Dofí, Les Terrasses, L’Ermita; the affinity of the plants with the environment, the magical mystery of this special wine…

And he tells us more things the story of which I try to apply to myself: the predilection for Garnacha, with a touch of Carignan, the goblet-trained vines that protect the clusters, the ecological care, the expensive wine, because without money there is no great wine, the paradoxical difficulties of the famous Rioja to sell expensive wine…

 

But it is not true that the best wine is made by nature. The best of all possible natures without the care of man does not produce even the worst of wines. Nature provides the sustenance, man provides the responsibility, the duty to perceive, respect and bring out all the greatness found in it.

Ricardo Palacios, Álvaro’s nephew, takes us on a visit to Bierzo. Here, we are told, buying a vineyard means buying both a mosaic of cultivated vegetation and a part of the forest; it means respecting an ancestral reality. The land and the cultivation are organised according to the characteristics of the soil, and governed by “permaculture”, which organises the vineyards according to the use of the crops and the proximity of the house. The vineyards are dry-farmed and not close to the house because it is not a garden product for daily consumption.

Varieties, mainly mencía, but also other minority varieties with some particularly suggestive names: alicante bouschet, panicarne, estaladiña, caiño, negreda, and even some old tempranillo among the reds; palomino, valenciana and godello among the whites.

Evidently, when it comes to the care of his vineyards: Las Lamas, Moncerbal, La Faraona… – the latter is named after the traditional Rioja name of the vat in the winery that contained the best wine – Ricardo honours his family lineage.

“The vineyard, the variety, the vintage and the hand of man”. That is the order of factors in the making of a good wine.

REINHARD LÖWENSTEIN Winery Heymann-Löwenstein, Winningen, Moselle. Germany. “The wines of heaven”.

Winningen is located in the area known as the Lower Moselle, in the last meanders of the river before it reaches Koblenz and therefore its final tributary destination which is to enlarge the Rhine.

It is an area of slate, scarce sunshine and humidity in which practically only white grapes thrive, particularly Riesling, which produces the most famous white wines in the world – one of my great weaknesses, less practised than it should be. On reading I find reasons to justify it; grapes and physical space transmit mineral and fruity aromas and flavours like no other, the former coming from the slate soil, the latter from the golden skin of the grapes, whose waxy prune is charged with richness by the double lateral sun from the west and the reflection in the river.

Reinhard Löwenstein considers himself a modest winegrower, but he has a mystical sense of his work. This mysticism goes back four hundred million years to the Devonian period, when the shales of his land were formed. And the sense of taste was also formed, which mankind, he tells us, inherited from the fish, since it was also in that period when the fish came out of the sea to settle on land as reptiles, guided precisely by the mouth to adapt to the new environment.

In a more recent chronology, some three hundred years ago, the mystical sense links with the ancestors. Twelve previous generations contemplate it, all of whom built the terraces and terraces inserted in the almost vertical wall that ascends from the river, some one hundred and fifty metres of unevenness, which obliges the use of ropes and rails to make cultivation possible, and to look for alternatives for tourists who do not dare to go down where they have dared to go up without looking back.

That is why wine is civilisation, to make wine is to be part of a cycle, of a chain that is longer than your own life. To drink wine is to feel our own being, because when we drink, what we drink is already part of our body. Do not look for perfection, which is always false because it is artificial, but for the harmony of humanity, which in itself is imperfect.

I promise myself that as soon as I can I must visit his cellar, where Neruda’s poem “Ode to Wine” is written on glass walls, a tribute to culture and wine as the taming of something wild. I had no intention of reading it – nor could I, since it is in German – but only of appreciating the spirit of the winemaker and the taste of the calligraphy. I wonder what it would sound like in Teutonic:

                        “… Wine

                        stirs the spring,

                        joy grows like a plant,

                        walls fall,

                        rocks fall,

                        chasms close,

                        singing is born…”

 

We continue reading Josep Roca and Inma Puig’s book, Tras las viñas. We return to the old continent. And to the regions where wine became mythical: Bordeaux and Burgundy (always in order of appearance). The names of the people interviewed may not ring a bell, but the wineries they represent will undoubtedly be familiar to us.

CHRISTIAN MOUEIX: Jean-Pierre Moueix Cellars, Pomerol, Bordeaux, France. “A walk in the clouds”.

The leap from California to Bordeaux is astronomical in terms of concept, but it is a go and return trip.

 

We are talking about none other than Pétrus, the quintessential Pomerol, on the “right bank” of Bordeaux. We are referring to the second generation of a family winery, to Christian Moueix, in charge of the cellars founded by his father, Jean-Pierre. (You know the cliché about family wineries, the second generation is the one of consolidation, the third the one of liquidation. Businesses cannot stand family joint ventures. The Napoleonic Code and its system of the legitimate, i.e., compulsory quotas in favour of certain heirs, has a lot to do with it).

 

In addition to Château Pétrus, the book also contains stories of the second brands: Château Lafleur Pétrus, Trotanoy and Château Hosanna; as well as the journey back to the Dominus Estate that Christian Moueix founded in 1982 precisely in Oakville and precisely also under the guidance of Robert Mondavi, but let us remain here with the old tradition.

Pomerol is essentially clay plus Merlot.

Let us pay attention to the words of “winemaking” – more a winegrower than an oenologist by vocation -, which tie in very well with the last words of our previous instalment:

“Wine is a message. That’s why I don’t look for perfection but for harmony. Perfection is something abstract, and harmony is something concrete”.

Most definitely, harmony:

“Harmony is the key to obtain quality, it is something very difficult to achieve in life. It requires a lot of wisdom to achieve it. It goes beyond the balance between the parts.

«Harmony implies elegance», that would be my definition”.

Ah, perfection! That aspiration that is so destructive of what is intrinsically human, however human its aspiration may be. A legitimate aspiration, perhaps even inevitable, but also inevitably disruptive of the harmony of the cosmos. Can human imperfection appreciate the perfection of wine?

Harmony puts man above technique, and attaches him to the ground:

“…it is a search for harmony between quantity and quality potential”, “proportion between the volume of the harvest and the heat of the summer.”

In this respect, there is a beautiful story of how in 1973 he began to cut grapes at an early stage of ripening, fearing that the amount of grapes he was harvesting would make it impossible for them to ripen properly. He earned widespread reproach, and in particular the angry and excommunicatory condemnation of the parish priest “for throwing God’s work to the ground”, although perhaps also the recognition of the future as “green pruning”.

 

Wine is the perfect marriage (here, indeed) between man and nature.

 “I attach much less importance to an oenologist than to a winegrower… The winegrower is the creator, and the oenologist is the midwife”.

“A cloud that passes at harvest time, a little rain at harvest time and the quality decreases”.

The technique must help, not interfere. Another famous anecdote is that to avoid this loss of quality, he would hover over the vines with his helicopter to dry them after the downpour, although he later resorted to air blowers, when he realised that the water that the helicopter propellers removed from the leaves with their vertical blow came to fall on the bunches of grapes.

And a lot more to enjoy reading: questions about biodynamics, about viruses, about value and price, about drainage wells to avoid waterlogging…

And we continue with the essence of Burgundy:

LALOU BIZE-LEROY Domaine Leroy. Domaine d’Auvenay. Vosne-Romanée, Burgundy. France “The happy vineyards”.

Burgundy is the sum of terroirs.

We go hand in hand with a woman who is already a myth. Madame Marcelle Bize-Leroy. In the last words of the interview, she authorised the authors to call her Lalou, thus here we take the same liberty (it is no longer a name, it is a category). She was a Burgundian wine blood of many generations, négociante and wine distributor, co-manager of the mythical Domaine de la Romanée-Conti which she officially left in 1991, to devote herself to her Domaine which she had acquired a few years before.

Three hundred and fifty hectares of land between the two “Domaine”, of which one hundred and eighty are cultivated and the rest woodland; and of those, one hundred and fifty hectares of vineyard, spread over 46 plots, with 26 appellation d’origine; moreover, in Auvenay, in only five hectares, 16 of the 26 aforementioned designations are produced.

The sublimation of Pinot noir.

“Biodynamic” estates. Although it is well specified:

“Biodynamics as a concept means nothing. Biodynamics implies respect for nature and living with the vine, knowing what it needs, trying to understand it and put yourself in its place”.

And give it what it needs, it can be infusions or decoctions, or even “essential oils” (“oregano, cinnamon…”), even “homeopathy”. But without falling into “mysticism”, without refusing to recognise that “medicine”, which in humans is also chemistry, is no less necessary in wines:

“I love wines too much to make them take any kind of risk. But it is true that with wines we can have the feeling that, if there is no sulphur in them, they are like an unvaccinated child”; he does not shy away from sulphur in wine: “a five percent solution in racking and two or three percent in bottling is not much, but it is something. It is necessary, it is as if a surgeon were to operate without washing his hands with alcohol”.

Love of nature and common sense.

Now it is the authors who do the talking:

“Their whites are opulent, good-natured, sumptuous, with precise acidity and energy, while the reds are wrapped in viscous density, grippy nerve and fruity exuberance like few others.”

Let us stick to these references -half a loaf is better than none-, as they are exclusive wines and, because of their price, often unaffordable.

 “The price is a way of showing respect for the wine. These wines deserve it. Each one has its own personality”.

Beata illa, who can put it into practice.

El libro que va a ocupar nuestras próximas entregas literarias es un libro no solo atractivo en cuanto al fondo, el texto digamos -lo cual, especialmente en cuanto a lo que significa la palabra “atraer” a su objetivo: siempre el vino, espero lo sean todos los comentados-, sino también de bella e imponente forma. Es de esos libros que da gusto mirar, tocar, oler…Contribuye a ello una edición muy cuidada con magnífico papel, bella litografía y letras clarísimas, en la que figuran intercaladas preciosas imágenes y retratos mediante fotografías en blanco y negro, que como todo mediano aficionado sabe suelen ser muchísimo más sugerentes que la vida en color.

No es que lo diga yo, sino que lo atestiguan los muchos galardones obtenidos.

Se trata de “Tras de las viñas” “Un viaje al alma de los vinos, escrito al alimón por Josep Roca, el hermano de los vinos de ese trío que ha levantado esa maravilla del arte gastronómico que es el Celler de Can Roca, y por Imma Puig, psicóloga y por tanto persona que sabe mirar hasta adentro. Las fotografías son en su mayor parte de Josep Oliva. Editado por Penguin en septiembre de 2016.

 

El libro recoge doce conversaciones con personas que de una u otra manera hacen vino, fundamentalmente mientras se pasea por sus viñas y ocasionalmente, también mediante visita a sus bodegas.

Lo primero es lo primero y lo segundo debe ser lo segundo. No hay ninguna explicación sobre la elección de los favorecidos, que naturalmente sería innecesaria por obvia, ni sobre los excluidos, lo que respecto de algunos sería más bien complicado, y requeriría seguramente muy laboriosas y dolorosas explicaciones. Qué duda cabe que es el libro soñado en el que a cualquiera que se dedica de una manera u otra a lo mismo le gustaría haber aparecido.

No cabe por tanto hacer ningún tipo de comparaciones con nuestro mínimo proyecto, ni las hacemos, tan solo pretendemos aprender de ellos. Leyendo también se aprende de vino.

Las personas seleccionadas -que son todas las que están, aunque naturalmente no están todas las que son por una simple razón de espacio, pues tan solo las doce escogidas ocupan 380 páginas-, son las siguientes por orden de aparición, pero sin ningún tipo de ordenación:

WILLIAM HARLAN. Harlan Estate. California EEUU. “El valle de Napa, la forja de los sueños.”

 

Nos ubicamos en el Estado de California, para practicar de entrada y sin sonrojo el chovinismo. Fue fray Junípero Serra quien introdujera allí los viñedos el mismo año en que los franceses montaban su conocida revolución (1789).

En Napa conviven dos realidades: por una parte, las tres grandes bodegas – Gallo, The Wine Group y Constellation Wines-, que copan los dos tercios del mercado vitivinícola; por otra, aquellas que aspiran a encontrar su espacio, bien sea por medio del ritual de la excelencia a precios (comparativamente) moderados, bien sea por medio de la autoafirmación de rústica autenticidad. Sobre unas y otras gravitan, por un lado, la Universidad de Davis -lo cual quiere decir que ciencia y técnica están al servicio de la elaboración del vino hasta extremos que asustan a veces a los mismos practicantes, como es el caso-; por otra los puntos de la Guía Parker, tan determinantes de la cifra de ventas y por consecuencia de la misma tipología del vino.

Entre esas “pequeñas” bodegas que han encontrado su hueco, y de qué manera, está Harlan Estate. Bodega familiar, joven pues aún se halla en la primera generación. Con ciertas dudas puede fijarse como fecha de nacimiento el año 1985. El viñedo ocupa unas diecisiete hectáreas (repartidas aproximadamente en: 70%  cabernet sauvignon, 20% merlot, 8% cabernet franc y 2% petit verdot), que se obtuvieron desmontando una finca de unas cien hectáreas, comprada el año precedente en el pequeño valle de Oakville, siguiendo pues los pasos del mítico Robert Mondavi. El proyecto se afianza en 1990 con la incorporación al equipo del no menos mítico Michel Rolland, se consagra con los 98 puntos que Parker concediera a la cosecha 1991, y traspasa fronteras gracias al reconocimiento de su cosecha  de 1994 por Vega Sicilia, en los fastos que se permitió celebrar al cumplir el 150º aniversario de fundación.

Las viñas…

Hay muchas razones para sentirse identificado con muchas de las palabras que en la entrevista expresa el fundador William Harlan, constructor metido a bodeguero (¿rara avis?) a quien solo cabe envidiar el buen gusto a la hora de invertir su dinero (tenerlo es solo un presupuesto):

“…en una copa de vino hay tanta historia, tantos valores…”,

“…el papel del vino es crear un momento, una atmósfera, no el de actor principal…”,

“hay quien elabora vino pensando en recuperar la inversión, nosotros sentimos que el vino nos da vida, nos devuelve vida, nos da más de lo que hemos invertido.”

Aunque sin duda no quiere participar por completo nuestro proyecto del tipo de vino que elabora, según la definición que de él nos da Josep Roca: “El Harlan era y es cuerpo, eclecticismo, tecnología, ciencia, innovación, perfección brillante, limpieza aromática, dulzura táctil, armonía, tecnoemoción y racionalidad.” Sobran por lo menos un par de “tecnos” y una pizca de perfeccionismo para alcanzar la armonía de la humana espiritualidad.

 

Roger Scruton  I Drink Therefore I am.

The randomness of the readings that underpin these letters leads us to deal now with another book written in English, and another posthumous tribute. It is “I Drink Therefore I am”, subtitled “A Philosopher’s Guide to Wine”, by the English philosopher Roger Scruton, first published in 2009. English is reiterated because the author boasted about it, although it has been said that his was nostalgia for an England that never existed, which is certainly possible in the light of what this book offers us. He died in the ill-fated year 2020. A controversial man and a friend of controversy, we are not going to deal with his public figure here; we are only interested in his peculiar opinions on wine -he was a journalist critic for a time-, in the book we are commenting on.

 

 

There is a Spanish translation by Elena Álvarez published in 2017 by RIALP, with the title “Bebo, luego existo”. It does not include the subtitle of the original. Perhaps it would have been appropriate to do so. Every Englishman and, in general, every Monty Python fan, knows -and the author himself tells us so-, that the title of the book copies a refrain from a song by this groundbreaking group called “Bruce’s Philosophers’ Song” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l9SqQNgDrgg), which reviews the drunkenness of the great philosophers, be they ethylic or mental, or even flatulent, as in the case of Descartes, the one of “‘I think, therefore I am’…”.

 

Indeed, in the core of the book (Chapter 5), the author analyses the second part of the syllogism: “Therefore I am”. In these three words, he tells us, are concentrated all the concepts that underlie all philosophical reflection: (i) “therefore” is “reason” (or “cause”), (ii) “I” is “consciousness” and (iii) “am” (first person singular of the simple present tense of the verb “to be”, one wonders why English speakers then complain about our irregular verbs) is “to be”. He reflects on these terms with such a profusion of arguments and so many quotations from the classics, with such precision in concepts and words, that it should in no way be taken as a joke that he concludes the following:

“For Schopenhauer, however, the ultimate reality is Will, not Self, (…) 1 have often wondered why he took this unsatisfactory path, and am inclined now to put it down to his fondness for beer. Schopenhauer was not in the habit of steadying before his face each evening the glass in which the 1 confronts its own reflection”.

The first part of the syllogism, i.e. the pure act of “Bebo” (“I Drink”), does not deserve in his view complex philosophical reflections. Drinking is as natural as thinking. He does observe, however, the possible existence of various forms of “drinking”. It seems that the way of drinking has no influence on the inexorable conclusion of “existing”. But perhaps it destroys the assimilation to thinking. There are ways of drinking in which rationality is absent. He literally tells us: “while we are familiar with the adverse effect of drink on an empty stomach, we are now witnessing the far worse effect of drink on an empty mind”.

The book has two clearly differentiated parts, although they are offered intermingled. On the one hand, the philosophical reflections, which are not easy to follow; on the other, the wine-making considerations, which are very stimulating to follow, and which are sprinkled with such culture, clarity of judgement and a sense of humour as serious as it is typically English, that they are pleasantly palatable.

 

 

It begins with the initiatory journey that leads the author to become, according to his trademark sense of humour, a “wino”. Next our wino takes us on a literal Tour de France and then gives us news from other parts of the globe. As is only natural, he dwells particularly on countries in the Commonwealth orbit. His news items do not seem to come from a direct knowledge of the terrain, except in the case of France, although this does not include Burgundy, which he admits he has never visited. They are therefore navel-gazing trips around a glass of wine, around his own ability to inhale vapours and exhale metaphors and finally around his enormous culture; he states unabashedly: “Travel narrows the mind, and the further you go the narrower it gets”. This lack of contact with the land does not prevent him from being a staunch defender of the “terroir”, in which he includes all the culture he holds dear. (The “soil” is not only the physical mixture of limestone, mulch and humus, but as Jean Giono, Giovanni Verga or D.H. Lawrence would describe it: “Nurse of passions, stage of dramas, and habitat of local gods”.

I cannot dwell on such comments; it is enough for us to deal with what he says next about Spain. He devotes about three pages to us, almost two of which are devoted to socio-political questions, on the basis of the reading of Invertebrate Spain, a book published by the Spanish philosopher José Ortega y Gasset in 1921. We will skip these questions and stick to the wine.

He graciously prides himself on knowing our country as intimately as Debussy – “who went to the Iberian Peninsula once for a weekend, saw his mistake, and fled back to Paris” – because he rode his rickety motorbike for a couple of days through the Pyrenees without finding anything worth mentioning.

So he also turns to his navel. In his imagination, Spain is still unspoilt, and to think of it – even more, to drink it – is a source of uncontaminated joy. “The villages and bodegas, that I visit in my glass are whitewashed, flagstoned, perched on steep inclines, with the parched, mean, gritty, clay-bound soil falling form their tight perimeters like terracotta skirts”.

Thus, the same romantic clichés of Merimée and company that the musician had. Debussy may, however, also have had undoubtedly authentic references to compose Prelude number 3 of Book 2 (between 1912/13) – entitled precisely, and precisely in Spanish, “La puerta del Vino” (The Wine Gate, an inner gate within the Alhambra) – since in it one can perceive something of Granados’s Danzas Españolas or Albéniz’s Iberia, both published a few years earlier, although frenchified with the natural impressionism and rhythm of Ravel’s left hand.

No doubt Scruton also had authentic references in the cups around which he travelled.

In our country, he is mainly concerned with Rioja, which he says is a French invention. It seems to be true that the development of wine in Rioja was linked to the time when the phylloxera epidemic had wiped out the vineyards of Bordeaux. However, he goes on to say: “The Spanish bodega represents a business rather than a place, and is less a vineyard than a factory, often buying in grapes from all over the region”. Here you have to go to the “business” rather than the “terroir”, so the wine will never take you to a small area of given soil as it does in France (although we know that this “given soil” can include Joan of Arc herself).

This being the case, it does not seem to detract from the fact that in the “Rioja winery” grapes from all the land of the designation are blended, as long as the properties of each varietal are not artificially altered. Rioja is also a “terroir” as a whole. We have already talked about this when referring to the biodiversity of the Rioja soil, and there will be an opportunity to expand on this.

The red Rioja, continues the author, is made from Tempranillo, blended with smaller amounts of Garnacha, Mazuelo and Graciano. It is aged in oak barrels, usually American, which explains its vanilla flavour and long finish. It is officially classified into four types according to its ageing in cask and bottle: plain Rioja, Crianza, Reserva and Gran Reserva. The latter can only be made in the best vintages, and to drink it at its best one must wait for ten years. He ends up with his customary imagery: A glass of old Gran Reserva is like a vision into a candlelit crypt where gaudy archbishops doze among vessels of gold.

The author concludes all his references to Spanish wines by noting that “the combination of oak and Tempranillo works in the uniquely favoured region of Rioja (favoured in particular by those winemakers from France); but it doesn’t work in the Valdepeñas, where ‘gran reserva’ may often connote an overdose of flakey make-up”. He adds that in other areas Tempranillo is blended with more northerly varieties, or excluded altogether. Among the latter, he highlights as most interesting the Bierzo variety with its ancient vineyards along the pilgrimage route to Santiago de Compostela, planted with the indigenous variety “mencía”, which “thanks to a poor, sunburnt soil is rich in minerals, with a dark blood colour and a melancholic taste, like a bittersweet love song by Lorca”. However, such vineyards grow on chalky foothills so steep that they must be worked by donkey, so that, in keeping with his poetic licence, he concludes that whenever he has offered “a share of this wine to Sam the Horse he has turned quickly away, as though hearing the last neighs of the many equines who have crashed to their death for the sake of this bloodstained remnant of their labour”.

 

The book then goes into abstract considerations again, such as the meaning of wine, or the meaning of the complaints or reproaches made against it, especially the one about abuse (alcohol, in short). The book is not exactly short, 198 pages in English, which become, as seems inevitable, 295 in its translation in only slightly larger print. It is therefore impossible to summarise it, but three important ideas are worth highlighting: (i) wine intoxication is a sensory rather than an aesthetic experience, (ii) it is easier and more tempting to prohibit than to educate; the tendencies to prohibit result from the puritanism that has been defined (H.L. Mencken) as “the obsessive fear that someone, somewhere, might be happy”, and (iii) wine consumption should be guided, like life, by the sayings written above the door of the temple of Apollo at Delphi:Know thyself” and “Nothing in excess”, both naturally related, because practising the latter is a prerequisite for attempting the former.

Finally, he gives us some ideas about food pairing (“maridaje”), a word which, in Spanish, as we know from the previous issue, is reviled by everyone, but for which there is no adequate substitute. What to drink with what? Now, the object of the pairing here is not the material food, but the spiritual food. That is, which wine goes well with which philosopher (or vice versa). Of course, the selection is subjective. A few brief examples: a good Bordeaux is perfect to accompany the reading of Plato’s Republic; no wine, but large quantities of water plus a Spartan austerity will be necessary to swallow Aristotle’s Metaphysics, the driest book ever written; a Burgundy of 1964 is very suitable for reading Sartre, since re-reading will then be as impossible as finding the wine again. He reserves for us the honour of assigning us Leibniz, with a Crianza or a Rioja Reserva, opened an hour or two in advance to allow the archbishop’s flavours to breathe.

I hope I have given you good reasons to read this book, which is as interesting, and even amusing, as it is demanding. I conclude by acknowledging that since I read it, I feel, every time I raise my glass and confront my “I”, more conscious of being, of pleasure and of the pleasure of sharing.

 The time comes to say the word

and you let it flow, help it

to slip between your lips,

already anchored in its time limits.

The word is founded by itself, it sounds

there in the heart of the speaker

and climbs little by little until it is born

and before it is nothing and only a truth

makes it a record of something unique.

“Memories of a short time” 1954

 

This issue of “Wine and Letters” is a tribute to the writer José Manuel Caballero Bonald who passed away on 9 May. He is fully recognised as a writer of poems, novels and memoirs. There is no prestigious literary prize in Spain that he has not won, culminating in his receiving the Cervantes Prize in 2012. In articles and obituaries circulating on the Internet you can read all about it.

We mention him especially here because he was also a wine lover. It is said that the gift he was most excited about when he won the Cervantes Prize was a key that gave him access to an important winery in Jerez, where he could go for a year, as much as he wanted and accompanied by anyone he liked. Lover and connoisseur. The news of his death has accelerated the already foreseen idea of dedicating an issue of these newsletters to him, as his BREVIARIO DEL VINO (Wine Breviary) published by the publisher José Esteban in Madrid in 1980, was on the shelf in the library waiting its turn, dedicated as follows: A mis compañeros de promoción literaria, que han bebido lo suyo. (To the literary companions of my generation who have drunk their share). This is the group of poets known as the generation of the 50s of the last century.

 

 

News published recently has led us to learn that this little book went through several subsequent editions until the last one, which was first published by Seix Barral in October 2006, notably improved in terms of aesthetics. In terms of content, it is basically limited to an update of the figures, and the addition of a nice chapter (III) on “Spanish wines according to European travellers”. The other chapters deal with: (I) “From mythology to history”, (II) “The biblical memory of wine”, (IV) “From the vineyard to the bottle”, (V) “Uses and consumption”, ending with a “Brief wine vocabulary”.

“Let us beginas Chapter I doesat the beginning, i.e., with the legend, which is not always a distorted version of history. Even supposing it is, it is particularly tempting to attribute the same antiquity to the biography of wine as to the biography of man”. And it is particularly stimulating to feel part of that history. That is what we are trying to make you aware of here.

The chapter then goes on to explain how this fusion of myth and reality develops in the various histories: of Sumerians and Aryans, of Chinese and Egyptians, of Semitic peoples, of Persians and their close relatives, of Greeks and Romans, Iberians, prequels and sequels, Arabs and Christians, and within the latter especially, of course, the monks….

Chapter II takes up the biblical memory of wine. From Genesis, which contemplates its birth (and effects) in the new world, freshly washed, thanks to Noah, the only righteous man of his generation who deserved to be saved from the universal flood, to its literal consecration at the last supper in the New Testament. And, besides, referring to its significance for a people whose greatest sorrow on their pilgrimage to the promised land was the lack of “fig trees” and “vines” (Numbers), and especially through the miracle of the wedding at Cana, the transformation of water into wine, which illustrates the importance of wine in the already established society.

(Forgive me for interrupting the reading to encourage you to look on Youtube for a video that delightfully explains such a miracle through the mouth of a little girl. The little girl says that this is the passage of the Bible that she likes the most, and the tele-preacher (because this is what it is all about), after making an astonished face and starting his fastidious pedagogy, presses the little girl by asking her what lesson she gets from such a story, and it is she who gives us the lesson: “That if you run out of wine, you had better start praying”).

 

 

Chapter III gives us an account of the opinion that European travellers have had of Spanish wines, starting with nothing less than Shakespeare’s complimentary praise of sherry in the mouth of Falstaff (in Henry IV, 2nd part, 1600), for which we can only feel a healthy envy here from the land of Rioja, which went virtually unnoticed by the foreign chroniclers who visited the peninsula, first called by the Empire, then by the desire for enlightenment, and later by the illumination of romanticism. Today “all these travelling experiences now have a decidedly prehistoric aftertaste”, but there is no doubt that the references and quotations encourage our wine tour and our desire to broaden its scope.

 

 

The wine itself begins its journey in chapter IV until it ends in due course in the bottle. The path takes us from “the soil and the vine” – with some of the “environment” provided by the “micro-organisms” and the “climate” – through “the harvest” – at the ideal moment of sugar and acidity -, through “obtaining the must” by pressing or crushing, through “vinification” – that is, the transformation of glucose into alcohol -, through “selection and correction of the musts” with tasks such as ‘punching down’, ‘pumping over’, ‘racking’, ‘sulphuration’, ‘aeration’ and ‘refrigeration’, until the wine is ‘devatted’ and transferred to ‘ageing’ barrels. It remains there for “ageing and conservation”, undergoing constant “analysis” and perhaps due “rectifications” – with special reference, of course, to the Jerez ageing system of “soleras” and “criaderas” – until it culminates in the “bottle”, but its life does not end in this way, as it continues to evolve within the bottle. As for this evolution, he concludes the debate on its duration, as well as the chapter, by observing that “given the uncertainty of the question, it is perhaps preferable to choose to drink a wine before it can cease to be wine. The patience of sight is one thing and the opportunity of taste is another. A carefully stocked private cellar is always a desirable treasure, though it should not be thought that it can be passed down from father to son”.

 

Therefore, let us get down to work, which is what Chapter V “Uses and consumption” helps us to do, in which it tells us when, where, how, in what way and with what to enjoy a drink that, before being “spirited, is a nutritious stimulant of human physiology”. 

There are two things that the reading of this breviary has conveyed to me as a brief conclusion. The pleasure of reading, blessed as the author is with the gift of words. The satisfaction of being part of the history of wine which, as it has been summarised, “practically coincides with the history of humanity over the last ten thousand years. The vine and civilisation have coexisted inseparably, constantly exchanging their respective virtues in a stimulating pact of mutual aid”.

 

Nowadays, sayings are in the doldrums, and no less so the so-called, in Spanish, “refraneros”, understood not in the academic sense of collection of sayings, but in the colloquial sense of people who are prone to foist them upon others without rhyme or reason, that is, a person who uses sayings all the time. The reasons are clear. A good part of the sayings contains stomach-turning moralising, if not outright vomiting, and this is often the purpose of those who preach them. Prosodically speaking, if I my say so, they are like pesky flies or ball-busters.

However, there are sayings that have a pure and suggestive descriptive value, and there are situations in which they fit like a glove. Even the traditional swearword, the old rude word, can have its appropriate and brilliant moment, even for the most squeamish.

A repertoire for such occasions – the wit to introduce them is not something that Salamanca teaches -, in relation to the subject that happily brings us together here, is the book “Refranes y dichos populares en torno a la cultura del vino” (Popular sayings and proverbs about wine culture) by Víctor Jorge Rodríguez, self-edited -which is perhaps a symptom, for the second time, or may be a consolation or perhaps a ‘proverbial’ stumbling over the same stone-, in May 2015.

 

refranes y dichos populares del vino

 

We have here a very extensive repertoire of sayings in successive chapters relating to the exaltation of wine and its health benefits, the way in which it should be drunk, both on its own and with other foods, its physical and mental consequences, both with regard to friendship and “love” (I leave it in inverted commas because most of the sayings here tend to be as sour as vinegar), or marriage. …, as well as other “old sayings”, related to the care of the vineyard and wine production, and to the different geographical areas of production. The fitting conclusion is: “Wine for everyone. Wine always”. It also has a previous introduction in which the nature of the sayings as an element of popular culture is highlighted, and it is recommended to ‘drink’ them in small sips, savouring them, and in good company.

So there, they remain at the disposal of your wit. (When these lines were well-advanced, I became aware of the self-editing. The book may not be easy to find, but there are plenty of collections of sayings *). I’m afraid I did not heed the advice, and its massive ingestion has generated a certain heaviness. For a moment I thought that, to add a touch of humour to the string of sententious phrases, I might try to offer their literal translation into Spanish. Also, the other way round. It is good fun. Besides, this could contribute to broadening Shakespeare’s language, since in England, logically, wine lacks a popular breeding ground, and the countryside is a field for the expansion of noble animals, the protagonists of many English sayings, particularly the horse, but also cats and dogs, which apparently fall from the sky in torrents[i]. A couple of trials made me give up the idea, there were no sparks.

In any case, and taken with a pinch of salt – I’m afraid I keep using idioms, surely it is like the biblical teaching of the beam and the mote – a good proverb can have its moments. Making categories about what is good is always subjective. I like the old and metaphorical ones: “subirse a la parra”[ii], “caerse de la parra”[iii] , “salir a por uvas”[iv], “nos dieron las uvas”[v], etc. Real and not metaphorical must have been the above-mentioned “te la han dado con queso”[vi]. (An infallible and universal trick because, as our book tells us, that “wine with cheese tastes like a kiss” is almost literal in at least seven languages; in any case, it is not advisable to abuse the cliché, the best way to destroy a magnificent wine is to drink it with a magnificent and inadequate cheese).

[i] The famous English saying: “It’s raining cats and dogs”.

[ii] It means “to get high and mighty”, but literally translated it means ‘to climb up the vine’.

[iii] It means to suddenly become aware of something, but literally translated it means ‘to fall off the vine’.

[iv] It means “to be with the head in the clouds”, distracted or absent-minded, but literally translated it means to go out to get some grapes’. Today it is widely used in football when the goalkeeper goes for the ball inappropriately leaving the goal unprotected.

[v] It means something like we’ll be here all day or “until the cows come home”, but literally translated it means ‘they gave us the grapes’.

[vi] It means to be fooled, “to be taken for a ride”, but literally translated it means ‘you have been given the wine] with cheese’. When the old winemakers wanted to sell a poor-quality wine, they offered it with a portion of strong cheese that limited the ability to taste other flavours.

 

 

I try to avoid the phrase “al pan, pan y al vino, vino” which, behind its innocence, often hides, or so I thought, a belligerent pretension. English speakers make it clear in their way of saying it: “to call a spade, a spade”. I stood by the belligerence, as I wrongly identified “spade” with the Spanish “espada”, that is, “sword”, falling into the trap of the false friend. You can check it at:

http://falsosamigos.com/2012/07/spade%E2%89%A0espada/

“Spade” therefore comes from the Germanic “spate”, which is a non-belligerent spade – it seems to have been particularly used by beer brewers, as the brand name of one of them attests – or also a fork. However, let it be said that in a Latin dictionary I found “spatha” referring precisely to the swords used by the barbarian peoples of the north, because the Roman sword was called “gladius”, hence gladiators. It should also be noted in my defence that the English call “spade” the suit of “espadas” (swords) in the Spanish deck of cards and its equivalent (?) “pique” in the French deck.

In short, writing is always making mistakes. If you are interested in further muddling up the issue, you can check Wikipedia, and even the following page which blames the muddle on none other than Erasmus of Rotterdam’s translation of Plutarch’s Apothegmae:

https://wordhistories.net/2018/07/21/call-spade-spade/

Since this is getting too long, as is my nature, it does not seem appropriate to make a further selection from among the hundreds of proverbs that exist. For that reason, I am only going to dwell on two (already mentioned) because of their relevance in the context of MacRobert & Canals: “El pan cambiado y el vino acostumbrado”[i] and “Donde buenamente quepa, viñador, planta una cepa”[ii].

The former is to say that when it comes to bread, we like to try new things, but when it comes to wine, once the taste is established, there is no one who wants to change it. This is, of course, what we young wineries complain about, the difficulty of changing the habits of wine consumers. As we know, “one man’s meat is another man’s poison”, so we have friends who own century-old wineries who complain that today their customers, like society itself, are only looking for the latest novelty. The big wineries do not complain about anything, but rather about the nuisance that the small ones are.

The latter saying, of course, dates from before the mechanisation of the countryside. Yields were those natural to the land, and not those forced by artificial means. Proof of the truth of the saying are the plantations in our vineyards of “El Barranco del San Ginés”, in Laguardia, and El paraje de la Virgen, in Lanciego, the former declared a singular vineyard, the latter in the process of being declared one.

It seems to be a scientifically proven fact that the size of the butts of draught and pack animals has been the most accurate yardstick for measuring widths throughout history. It determined in its time – the sum of two butts – the width of the carts and carriages pulled by them, from there it went on to railway wagons, and consequently to the width of roads and railways, then tunnels, and naturally to the objects transported, even war rockets themselves. We can only add the Italian saying: “sè non è vero, è ben trovato” (if it is not true, it is well found).

[i] Change the bread, but drink the customary wine.

[ii] Where it fits, vinedresser, plant a vine.

 

There is no doubt that this size determined the way the vines were planted when horses and mules were essential working tools; respecting the necessary distance and the distance derived from their inevitable contortions and turns, the vines were planted where they would fit. The square was used rather than the row, because the plough passes thus left less space to complete the work by hand with the hoe. Yields were obtained by the accumulation of vines – rainfall was the other variable to be taken into consideration – and there was no question of chemically forcing the production of individual vines. To a certain extent, the slopes were not bothersome, as there was no way of levelling them.  In El Barranco we have found that the width is 1.40 metres, while in Lanciego it is 1.60 metres, not all the butts are of the same size as we know, although on the other hand it could also happen that it was a lake or tank already built -the capacity of these was usually adapted to the land owned-, which determined the quantity of grapes that could be produced and therefore the number of vines that had to be planted.

* In fact, having finished these lines, rummaging through old books, I came across “Los refranes de Baco” (Bacchus’ Sayings), a splendid and well-ordered collection by Luis Hermógenes Álvarez del Castaño, published by Libros.com, in its second edition of March 2014.

 

The book we are dealing with in this issue of Wine and Letters is entitled: “FALSE MYTHS AND TRUE LEGENDS OF THE WORLD OF WINE”. Its author is Antonio Tomás Palacios García, Winemaker and Doctor in Biology, published by AMV Ediciones, in its second edition of 2018.

 

 

The book we are dealing with in this issue of Wine and Letters is entitled: “FALSE MYTHS AND TRUE LEGENDS OF THE WORLD OF WINE”. Its author is Antonio Tomás Palacios García, Winemaker and Doctor in Biology, published by AMV Ediciones, in its second edition of 2018.

The author is very well known in the wine world, not for nothing. Apart from the studies mentioned in the preceding paragraph, he is well versed in all areas, from winemaking by land and its air, by sea and its sea bed (sic, just as it sounds), through research, chemical and microbiological analysis, to teaching both as a university lecturer and as a trainer in private companies. And although it is not mentioned on the back cover of the book, he is very much at ease, perhaps I should say experienced, in the field of marketing.

The book is aimed, as the subtitle indicates, at “consumers and professionals”. And indeed, the former will find in it the ‘affective’ chemistry that will help them learn to enjoy themselves more, and the latter the scientific chemistry that will help them in their decision making.

It contains forty-one points, and a “bonus track”, which is a love story between the beautiful Berry, the grape, and the heroic Saccharo, the mushroom, of whose mutual fruition wine is the glorious son, a love and erotic relationship which, like all self-respecting mythical relationships, needs its Cupid, a god, in this case in the form of a human being, who brings these two protagonists into relationship, controls and enriches their productive relationship.

 

 

Obviously, we cannot pretend here to summarise the content of each of these forty-one points, however succinctly. The issues dealt with in them will be of interest to all wine lovers. Nature and man in winemaking, sediments and filtration, oxygenation, ageing, smell and tasting, definition and verbiage, ecology and fraud, enjoyment of wine and “superfluities” (as Manolito, Mafalda’s friend, would say), winemaking science and homeopathy, healthy and dreamed-of effects of wine, price and value, “terroir” and mineral perception, pairings, ageing…

 

 

The author delivers what he promises: he debunks myths and affirms truths with scientific belligerence and unbridled passion for his work and its results. Some of that passion rubs off on us – long live wine! Although he warns us against romanticism. The market is the market, and if it does not enter the market, the winery is not a winery, or will soon cease to be one.

The book’s teachings could be condensed into the following axiom: respect man as much as you respect nature. He finds profound incongruity in asserting that the more nature acts and the less man works the better the wine, whereas the natural destiny of grapes without human intervention is to die in the form of vinegar.

 

 

From the very first pages, it is argued that it is “human intervention” in the vineyard and later in the winemaking process (winery) that determines the quality, personality and differentiation of the final result. In this effort, it must meet the demands of consumers, and therefore the fashions dictated by prescribers, which only technology and scientific innovation are capable of following. We can perhaps here raise our eyebrows in a questioning gesture. Pages later, after addressing the issues of decanting, sediment and filtration, he concludes that the winery’s technical decisions to maintain the sensory integrity of the wine should not depend on fashions or trends, but on the chemical and microbiological knowledge of the product. Contradiction? I don’t think so, I would rather say balance, proportion, fair measure, respect… (One reads about practices such as this kind of molecular deconstruction/reconstruction of the must through a process of reverse osmosis, and one cannot help thinking once again that nothing good can come out of “perfectionism”, no matter how many points it gets).

 

 

This same scientific vocation is reaffirmed later on; a firm commitment to environmentalism should not exclude technological modernity, rejecting what he describes as ravings, such as homeopathy in winemaking, or the use of cosmic energy or esotericism; we will not enter into the debate here and now, we limit ourselves to sharing the assumption that the fact that a wine is defined as natural does not imply that it is good. It also combines “terroir” with winemaking technique, and tradition with technological innovation…

In short, three hundred and thirty-one pages of love for a job well done and well founded, which will contribute to increase your winemaking culture, therefore your resources to appreciate the “nature” of wines, and ultimately your desire to put that culture into practice, which is what really matters: to drink wine always in a balanced way and in the best of company (both personal and nutritional).

I.- Ferran Centelles, who worked at the legendary El Bulli restaurant between 1999 and 2011, won the 2006 Ruinart prize for the best sommelier in Spain and was awarded the National Gastronomy Prize in 2011, among other merits, has written a book for his fellow sommeliers.  Those of us who are certainly not experts on the subject should be pleased about it. We can hope that some of his teachings will be absorbed by the recipients, and therefore have a beneficial influence on us when we go to enjoy ourselves in their restaurants.

Because at the end of it all, after all the studies, tests, analyses, intuitions and conclusions about which wine, in perfect synergy with the food served, is the one that, theoretically and empirically speaking, will provide, objectively speaking, the greatest pleasure, the sommelier must go one step further. He must capture the exterior atmosphere and the inner messages of the customer, in order to obtain the same result, although now subjectively speaking, that is, he must be able to sense which of the possible wines that his knowledge dictates to him, will provide the greatest satisfaction to the consumer at that specific moment. Of course, if in order to do so it is necessary to know a lot about the psychology of customers, it is infinitely more necessary to know about wines.

The title of the book, already indicated, is “Which wine with this duck?” (¿Qué vino con este pato?), an approach to the essence of pairings. Here the duck lends itself to a play on Spanish words: obviously we are thinking of “dish” (plato). Perhaps the author is referring to different categories of ducks, for it is precisely one of them, the “Apicius duck”, which, when served with Banyuls wine, is the beginning of the modern theory of pairing, the pairing of contrasts. If the author had preferred a historical perspective, he would probably have resorted to the “eel” (anguila), for which he gives one of the earliest written references to pairing: the Romans were particularly fond of it with a good Phalernum from the region of Naples. But with eel it is more difficult to achieve synergy and perhaps even rhyme.

 

 

II.- Inevitably, at the beginning of the book, the author is busy trying to give a name to the object of the book. Pairing  (in Spanish: maridaje). It seems that nobody likes the word “maridaje”, but it also seems that everybody, including the author and the author of these lines, have resigned themselves to the fact that they cannot find a better word. Harmonisation, concord, association… sound good, but they do not fit the purpose at all. Spanish words ending in “aje” that are expressive of an action sound forced, and furthermore, in the case of “maridaje”, this seems to contain an annoying gender perspective [1] that could not be further from reality, since its essence is not the assimilation of the couple to one of the factors, but the sublimation of both. That the union of drink and food is better than the sum of both elements separately. I will stick with the second definition of pairing given by the DRAE (Royal Spanish Academy Dictionary): “Union, analogy or conformity with which some things are linked or correspond to each other; e.g., the union of the vine and the elm tree, the good correspondence of two or more colours, etc.”. Can there be any more seductive pairing than this symbiosis between the vine and the elm?

The aim of “pairing” is therefore to improve the result by the sum of factors. It follows, as the author will gradually discover, that the versatility of wine is its most precious virtue when it comes to pairing.

[1] Maridaje is derived from marido. In Spanish marido means husband.

 

 

III.- In a certain way, the book traces the history of the evolution of the technique of food and wine pairing from the moment when the inadequacy of the commonplaces about it inherited from the past was perceived.

However, it should not be said that these inherited basic criteria, handed down in the domestic sphere from father to son, have lost their meaning. At least they remain for us laymen as general guiding principles. It is not unreasonable to respect that whites go better with fish and reds with meat, or sweets with dessert – except for that cloying foie gras with Sauternes, nowadays in general decline -, or that the order should be from lesser to greater in terms of colour, temperature or alcoholic strength. Factors that facilitate the choice also remain valid. For example, the adaptation to regional wines, once almost inevitable, is now more voluntary. And above all, the subjectivity of taste; there are colours to suit every taste, and wines too; we can make little mistake by firmly following this principle.

 

Of course, such simple pairings cannot satisfy wine experts, and even less so if one considers the evolution that food, especially restaurant food, has undergone in the last few years.

IV.- Ferrán Centelles then reviews the people who have had or are having most relevance in the evolution of the theory and practice of food and wine pairing. Most of them have published some kind of work, which is included in the very interesting bibliography that the book contains.

Each milestone in that evolution is a story. A story of people, conversations and journeys, which make the book a pleasure to read, and to follow. I take the liberty of making an organic and light-hearted classification.

Thus, he deals in the first place with:

  • the “imagined” pairings with Rafa Peña and Mireia Navarro (Gresca restaurant),
  • Tim Hanni’s “food pairing for the ‘diner’ and not for the ‘dinner’“,
  • the “family pairing” with Evan and Joyce Goldstein;

Then with:

  • the “methodological pairing” based on the elements of “contraposition and conformity” of wine and food, by Gino Veronelli and Pietro Mercadini, culminating in “Il Vino”, Enrico Bernardo’s restaurant where, in his most audacious proposal, it is the wine, the only object of choice on the part of the diner, that decides his meal.
  • The “unfathomable pairing” of El Bully’s forty dishes, a challenge for which our author, who was largely responsible, managed to achieve oriental calmness through Jeannie Cho Lee, who provided the panacea of “versatility”, and to find inner peace through Jancis Robinson (“The obsession with achieving the perfect pairing sometimes creates too much pressure”) and her husband Nick Lander (“The fewer rules, the better, don’t be intimidated by the pairing”).

 

 

However, he continues his research with,

  • Robert J. Harrington’s “pyramid pairing”, who places the basic tastes – salty, sweet, sour, bitter, and “umami” (“savoury”, the basic taste in Japan, today, by extension of sushi and derivatives, of universal rank, the result of monosodium glutamate) – at the base of a pyramid for the coordination of the elements, “texture” – the fat structure – at the middle level, and “aromas” at the top.
  • Pierre Chartier’s “molecular pairing”, which could be described as an “inverted hierarchy” because at the base of his pyramid are the “aromas”, determined by the “dominant molecule”.
  • the “cross-cutting”, synthesis or “combined” pairing about which our master author does pronounce himself: “in the pyramid, all the elements are of equal importance”.

 

 

to finish with,

  • – the “integral pairing” or “relativity of pairing” of Josep Roca (El Celler de Can Roca restaurant), no pairing is suitable if it does not connect with the customer, so it is necessary to know all the rules and regulations on pairing in order to be able to break them with full knowledge of the facts for the greater satisfaction of the diner.

IV.- And what happens then, once all the possibilities have been analysed, with the artichokes that we all know are “inmaridables”, that is, impossible to pair? “The artichoke on the defendants’ bench” is the title of the chapter that deals with it. (Also sitting on the bench are vinegar, asparagus, eggs and chocolate – the latter to my surprise; we are back to tastes and colours: in my view, a very dark black chocolate with a powerful purplish red wine is to die for. However, a product that I learnt about thirty years ago in the kitchen of one of the most prestigious wineries in the land of the Rioja is not seated on that bench. The sign hung on the wall read: “Warning: Do not serve wine with leeks, especially if you are an expert”. I don’t know whether the sign or the kitchen, I mean, are still there, but the winery is still going strong; thus, the saying should be applied).

 

 

Allied with his friend, the aforementioned Rafael Peña, who prepared artichokes in seven different ways (raw, boiled, grilled, battered, fried, pickled, in broth), he paired them with nine Spanish wines of different profiles (cava, rosé cava, light and full-bodied whites, medium-bodied rosé, powerful red, oxidative, amontillado, txakoli). Sixty-three possible combinations to get rid of the undeserved bad reputation. Surely you will find at least one that fills you with good sensations. Preferably avoid red.

 

 

V.- By way of conclusions.

If it is a pairing in a restaurant, trust that the sommelier has read Ferran Centelles’ book to the best of his ability.

When it comes to home-cooked meals, follow his advice. And… rehearse, rehearse, rehearse… in other words, enjoy, enjoy, enjoy. And if it happens that a wine does not work with the food, you know that mistakes teach you more than successes and that nothing tragic is bound to happen, as Jancis Robinson herself says: “It’s amazing how something as absorbent and neutral as bread can act as a neutraliser”.

There is some unanimity on the Internet that Roald Dahl published Taste in The New Yorker magazine on 8 December, 1951. I have also found some pages that tell us that it had previously been published in the Ladies Home Journal in 1945. The year is always very important when talking about wines, so this first publication is suspicious since one of the wines mentioned (or tasted) in the book is precisely from the 1945 vintage; perhaps the author was updating the vintage according to the date of publication. The clarification remains for anyone who likes doing research.

 

Download the full text of the original story here: Taste by Roald Dahl.

If you are more of a listener, I recommend Aaron Lockman’s dramatization: Aaron Reads: Taste by Roald Dahl – YouTube

There is a Spanish translation: “La Cata”, by Iñigo Jáuregui, carefully edited by Nórdica Libros SL, with magnificent illustrations by Iban Barrenetxea in 2014, which is now in its tenth reprint.

You can also find on the web many other stories by the author, whose sense of humour is proverbial. Some of them are related to eating and drinking, which is what interests us most here; among the children’s stories, I can suggest the one about the Anteater, literally fed, this type of bear, by the peculiar English pronunciation, and among those for adults, Lamb to the Slaughter, which shows us the extra gastronomic usefulness of his leg.

Let me say no more about them, because I don’t want to spoil the stories for you. With this one –Taste– it is truly difficult to do so, because I am burning with the desire to tell you why I consider it a masterpiece. My intention is probably futile because as soon as you open any webpage about it, they will spoil it for you. I want to avoid that, and therefore I will limit myself strictly to the aspects that concern us here, which are those related to wine. I will divide them into four sections: (01) the wine taster and the wine supplier, (02) the act of tasting, (03) the language of tasting, and (04) the wines tasted

(01) THE CHARACTERS:

Here you have the members of the table, according to Iban Barrenetxea’s apt image. We will refer exclusively to the main characters that you can easily identify.

 

 

The proponent of the tasting, that is to say, the host, is

  • a stockbroker. To be precise, he was a jobber in the stock market, and like a number of his kind, he seemed to be somewhat embarrassed, almost ashamed to find that he had made so much money with so slight a talent. In his heart he knew that he was not really much more than a bookmaker – an unctuous, infinitely respectable, secretly unscrupulous bookmaker – and he knew that his friends knew it, too.

So, he was seeking now to become a man of culture,

  • to cultivate a literary and aesthetic taste, to collect paintings, music, books, and all the rest of it.

Knowing about wine was part of it, and he seemed willing to do anything to be recognised for his ability to choose good wines.

The taster is a famous gourmet; he is defined almost as a true professional,

  • He was president of a small society known as the Epicures, and each month he circulated privately to its members a pamphlet on food and wines. He organised dinners where sumptuous dishes and rare wines were served.

A geek, as we defined him in the first of these letters? Perhaps… Would we today consider a geek someone who describes the custom “to smoke at table” as “a disgusting habit”? Surely not; and who refuses to smoke “for fear of harming his palate”?

In any case, a true wine tasting professional. At that moment he becomes

  • Somehow, it was all mouth – mouth and lips – the full, wet lips of the professional gourmet, the lower lip hanging downward in the centre, a pendulous, permanently open taster’s lip, shaped open to receive the rim of a glass or a morsel of food. Like a keyhole, I thought, watching it, his mouth is like a large wet keyhole.

In short, two oenological archetypes: the connoisseur, who cannot bear to be told that he does not know everything, and the upstart, who cannot bear to be told that he knows nothing.

(02) THE TASTING:

The host first pours a thimbleful of wine into his glass, literally “tipped” it, as the wine rests in a wicker basket with the label facing downwards – the typical “ridiculous” basket – and then fills the glasses of the others. Filling here means “filling up”, i.e., what I understand to be up to the top, maybe not to the rim of the glass, but it looks like the typical filling up of a money-making restaurant that tries to make you drink wine (taking out even the second bottle, as soon as they see that the level of consumption has dropped). Such an overflowing glass, so pretentious and vain in its senseless measure, prevents the wine from tasting and smelling until it reaches its rational measure. Perhaps an insinuation in this case, like so many others scattered throughout the text, about the host’s lack of knowledge and surplus wealth.

In any case, the glass was not so full that it prevented the taster’s nose from entering, the act with which he begins his “impressive performance” – and it was indeed quite a “performance”!

 

  • The point of the nose entered the glass and moved over the surface of the wine, delicately sniffing. He swirled the wine gently around in the glass to receive the bouquet. His concentration was intense. He had closed his eyes, and now the whole top half of his body, the head and neck and chest, seemed to become a kind of huge sensitive smelling-machine, receiving, filtering, analysing the message from the sniffing nose.

For at least a minute, the smelling process continued, then, without opening his eyes or moving his head, Pratt lowered the glass to his mouth and tipped in almost half the contents.

He paused, his mouth full of wine, getting the first taste, then, he permitted some of it to trickle down his throat and I saw his Adam’s apple move as it passed by. But most of it he retained in his mouth. And now, without swallowing again, he drew in through his lips a thin breath of air which mingled with the fumes of the wine in the mouth and passed on down into his lungs. He held the breath, blew it out through his nose, and finally began to roll the wine around under the tongue, and chewed it, actually chewed it with his teeth as though it were bread.

After a little sip and a lot of talk, as we shall see below, he continued with his “performance”.

  • Again he paused, took up his glass, and held the rim against that sagging, pendulous lower lip of his. Then I saw the tongue shoot out, pink and narrow, the tip of it dipping into the wine, withdrawing swiftly again – a repulsive sight. When he lowered the glass, his eyes remained closed, the face concentrated, only the lips moving, sliding over each other like two pieces of wet, spongy rubber.

And the little sips continued until the end of his memorable performance.

 

(03) THE LANGUAGE OF WINE TASTING:

The descriptive language of wine would surely need many instalments of this series of wine and letters. Today it is a highly standardised language, at least very recognisable among experts or professionals in the sector. The eighties of the last century are often referred to as the time when this need to establish parameters of understanding was felt, even if these were abundant in metaphors and plastic images.

Roald Dahl, if we think about the date of publication of this short story, turns out to be a pioneer in the matter and points out the reasons for this need that was later felt to understand one another. Already at the beginning of the story, when describing the taster, he tells us that

  • he had a curious, rather droll habit of referring to it as though it were a living being.
  • ‘A prudent wine,’ he would say, ‘rather diffident and evasive, but quite prudent.’ Or, ‘A good-humoured wine, benevolent and cheerful – slightly obscene, perhaps, but none the less good-humoured.’

And at the start of the tasting itself:

. ‘Um – yes. A very interesting little wine – gentle and gracious, almost feminine in the after-taste.’

establishing a gender parameter that was then repeatedly used until, like everything else, it was revised. We will have to come back to this on another occasion.

 

(04) LOS VINOS:

Three wines were scheduled to be tasted, at least three wineglasses per person rested on the dinner table, ready for a feast. However, one, the last one, was not tasted. A sweet wine? A port with the dessert? A surprise with the cheese? We know that there was a lot of shiny silver, but not the nature and distribution of the cutlery, so there is no clue as to the destination of that third glass, of wine of course, as that is what it is called. A real shame, known as it is by its own admission the extent of Roald Dahl’s cellar. It would have been appropriate and interesting to know his taste for that final moment, for I am convinced that he was depicting his own tasting in the story. For particular reasons I exclude champagne altogether.

Of the two wines we have left, one is not really the subject of a tasting. It is drunk, even swallowed without compassion, but not tasted or analysed. And it was certainly not worthy of such mistreatment; it was a Mosel, a Geierslay Ohligsberg, 1945, the product of a purchase that the host had made the previous summer in the same small village of Geierslay, almost unknown outside Germany. He also explains that his choice was not only for that reason, but because it would have been barbaric to serve a Rhine wine before a “delicate claret”, which is what a lot of people “who don’t know any better” would have served:

  • A Rhine wine will kill a delicate claret, you know that?

So, a Riesling, almost certainly from that area of the river called Middle Moselle, a vineyard planted on the extreme slope down to the water itself, facing west to receive every last drop of an elusive sun, and with a dark, heat-absorbing slate soil, dry and immediate drainage. A personal weakness!

 

This brings us to the “claret”, which we are told from the outset is the wine to be tasted. The image that this word literally conveys is not very accurate. The “claret” is a typical expression to refer to a Bordeaux -although later by extension it was applied to wine from other areas, such as Burgundy, and even Rioja itself-. This is the wine produced in the Aquitaine region. Such a reference was coined centuries ago, perhaps from the same time that the duchess Eleanor gave it to her “English” husband Henry II, the first Plantagenet – in addition to giving him five children that she had denied to her first husband, King Louis VII of France, who had repudiated her for it. Indeed, even today the English still very much include Bordeaux wine as part of their empire, and of their eccentric idiosyncrasies.

From the beginning of the story, it is clear and obvious that the wine to be tasted could not be any other.

The host explains the purpose of the tasting beforehand; it is a matter of locating the hidden origin of the wine, its producer, the “terroir” in short. Insofar as it is not one of the famous great wines, such as Lafite or Latour, he understands that the expert could at best locate the district it comes from, i.e., whether it is St Emilion, Pomerol, Graves or Médoc, but each region has several communes, and these in turn have many, many small vineyards; it is impossible for a man to differentiate between them just by the taste and smell of the wine. And he does not mind adding that the wine comes from a small vineyard surrounded by other small vineyards.

With such a background, our taster prepares himself for the tasting, body and soul as we have seen.

He eliminates the regions of Saint Emilion or Graves, as the wine is “far too light in the body” to belong to one of them.

It is obviously a Médoc.

Once here, he excludes Margaux – it lacks the “violent bouquet” that Margaux has -, and he excludes Pauillac – because unlike the wines of Pauillac, “it is too tender, too gentle and wistful”. And here the personality of the wine taster speaks at length:  The wine of Pauillac has a character that is almost imperious in its taste, And also, to me, a Pauillac contains just a little pith, a curious dusty, pithy flavour that the grape acquires from the soil of the district. No, no. This – this is a very gentle wine, demure and bashful in the first taste, emerging shyly but quite graciously in the second. A little arch, perhaps, in the second taste, and a little naughty also, teasing the tongue with a trace, just a trace of tannin. Then, in the after-taste, delightful consoling and feminine, with a certain blithely generous quality that one associates only with the wines of the commune of St Julien.

This is a Saint Julien, so there is no room for error. Once here, it is necessary to fix, let’s say, the category. It is not a first growth, it is not a second growth, it is not one of ‘the greats’. It lacks the quality, the strength, the radiance. Maybe a third growth, but no, it is definitely a fourth, even if it is from a great year.

Within the “quatrième cru” of Saint Julien, the tannin in the middle taste, and the quick astringent squeeze upon the tongue, takes us to the small vineyards of the Beichevelle area. But not Beichevelle itself, somewhere nearby, perhaps Château Talbot? No; a Talbot comes forward to you a little quicker than this one, besides if it is the ’34 vintage, as he thinks, it could not be. A vineyard close to both, almost in the middle. And it can be none other than the small Château Branaire-Ducru, and the 1934 vintage. Charming little vineyard, lovely old château, so well-known that he cannot conceive why he did not recognise it at once.

 

Bordeaux Wine Regions

It is not appropriate to reveal whether the wine has been guessed correctly or not. Our intention, as we said, was limited to pointing out some characteristics of wines that I hope will be of interest to you and to invite you to participate in a story that, as the classic saying goes, both instructs and delights.

We come to an end, but not without completing the oenological references, as the Moselle is served with fried whitebait in butter – how can we not long for the similar ‘chanquetes’ from the Bay of Cadiz, but fried in olive oil and washed down with a manzanilla sherry from el Puerto? -, and the Bordeaux would naturally be served with a piece of roast beef and a vegetable garnish.