“I read, much of the night, and I go South in the winter”, wrote T.S. Eliot. This is exactly my mood as I approach the last month of the year. But before I disappear for a couple of weeks, some of you have asked me to pick a few wines to celebrate Christmas. I write at the pleasure of my readers, so here is my list, with my best wishes for the season:

I have recently discovered Xión Cuveé 2019, a Rias Baixas red with an amazing personality: very acid, but so well made that you mostly notice how fresh and light it is (12 degrees of alcohol). It combines Pedral, Souson and Espadeiro local grapes, a winning coupage, and I recommend it as the perfect tapas wine (14 euros).

I have also tried Merus 4, a very noteworty Rioja, at Centro Riojano de Madrid. This red is a creation of the Meruelo Family in Elvillar de Alava (36 euros). Even though it is marketed as a “signature wine”, its best features are its frankness and depth, like an anonymous Rioja winegrower.

In my weeks teaching in London this Fall, I was invited to a dinner by a dear friend and she welcomed us by serving Nora da Neve, the ultimate Albariño. This is a white from As Neves, in the very South of Galicia, a countryside shaped by the magical Miño river. Fermented in oak barrels, Nora speaks of ocean life, apples and peaches and wild jasmine. I had it with Moroccan food, and I can’t wait to tried again, this time with seafood.

Finally, I would like to share with you a great find, Inurrieta Cuatrocientos Crianza 2018, the house wine of the restaurant La Manduca de Azagra in Madrid. I have always felt that wines from Navarra were meant to make a come back, thanks to technology and the freedom to experiment. Inurrieta Cuatrocientos is the right coupage of cabernet, garnache, graciano, syrah and merlot (8 euros). This not-so-modest wine is the living proof that the long awaited miracle is happening, just like the return of Christmas every year.

This Fall has been a time of mourning -pack up the moon and dismantle the sun- but also of fond memories of her. After my father passed away, she asked me periodically to buy red wine for her house. She only drank a modest white, but wanted to be sure that her guests would be welcomed with a good Rioja or Ribera. I was purveyor to my mother, a title that I now cherish, while I miss her dearly.

In my latest explorations of the Peninsula, I have encountered several wines worthy of your attention. I spent a day in the blessed region of El Empordanet, invited to a wine tasting. Two of them really stood out, Verd Albera 2021 and Camins de l’Albera 2020.

The first one is a white from the from the Celler Martí Fabra vignerons that seduces you with a perfect ensemble of muscat, chardonnay and white garnache grapes. It reminds you of ripe fruit and lemons. This is a cosmopolitan white, uncomplicated and cheerful. It has an amazing price of 8 euros.

The second one, Massís de l’Albera Camins de l’Albera 2020, is a serious red made from grenache at Celler Massis De L’albera. It is dark and profound, with a very long finish (25 euros).

In a previous trip to Valencia with my son I discovered Bilogia, a local ecological red created by the 13th generation of vignerons at Casa Los Frailes. I confess I chose this wine because it comes from a village called Fontanars dels Alforins (my mother was known as Pili Fontanar all of her life). My sentimental inclination yielded very good results. This a perfect coupage of monastrell and shiraz grapes, very well made and with a great finish where all the wonderful memories of shiraz stay with you (9 euros).

Gerald Manley Hopkins wrote: “Nothing is so beautiful as Spring / when weeds, in wheels, shoot long and lovely and lush”… I have read this poem in my first day of holidays in La Coruña. Driving this morning from Madrid I floated in the green and yellow countryside, eager to arrive to Galicia, the Eden garden by the sea. But Hopkins verses can also connect us with more mundane and hedonistic matters: “What is all this juice and all this joy?” he wrote. Which takes me to my notes about two Spring wines -wines that I have tasted in the last weeks and are wondrous examples of weeds in wheels.

Cosme Palacio 1894 Tinto 2014 is the eldest son of a revered Rioja saga from Laguardia. I have seldom encountered a red so beautifully made: it is smooth, well-rounded and with a very long finish (54 euros). This is a stellar wine that wants to speak to the rest of the family about the future, instead of looking back to its glorious past.

My second Spring wine is Viñas del lago 2018, another great discovery (14,50 euros). It was conceived as a “village wine”, a homage to the Tubilla del Lago community by the Marta Maté winery. These young vignerons from the Burgos moorland have launched one of the most innovative projects in Ribera del Duero. Viñas is a not-so-simple wine, red but almost violet, ready to fill your senses with well chosen hints of spices and flowers.

Alvaro Cunqueiro, my favorite Galician author, wrote that Spring was an invention of troubadours, but he also was willing to give credit for coming up with the idea to a blackbird singing in a nearby grapevine. I wonder if he would consider adding a few wine blogers to his list.

I have been very fortunate to spend this week in Fontainebleau, teaching again my course on Power. It is wonderful to be back on the road, in spite of the uncertainties and obstacles of the pandemic. Some friends who indulge in eccentric tastes and follow this blog have insisted that before Christmas I should suggest some wines for the season. Today I was able to find a bit of time between classes and here is my list:

Valenciso blanco is the best white I have tasted in 2021. It is made with Viura grapes and a bit of white Garnache by two of my favorite vignerons, Luis Valentín and Carmen Enciso, from Bodegas Valenciso in Rioja Alta. Everything they do is outstanding, but this limited edition of a very different white has seduced me. It has a smooth, velvety taste and a long finish (18,50 euros).

Yotuel Selección 2016 is a recent discovery I made in Angelita, the Madrid restaurant where I always find wine treasures. This red from Ribera is incredibly well priced (17 euros). The name does not anticipate how much dignified grace and hidden beauty it has. It is a creature of Bienvenido Gallego Zapatero, from Anguix, Burgos, not far away from the Douro river.

I drank for the first time Alprendre 2020 in Alabaster, the restaurant in town with the most amazing selection of Galician wines. Alpendre means “country shack” and reflects well the spirit of the Ribera Sacra, unpretentious, hard-working and totally in love with their corner of paradise. This red is made by the Ronsel do Sil winery with merenzao grapes, somewhat similar to the trousseau variety in Borgogne. It reminds you of a very complex pinot noir and the price (28 euros) reflects its amazing quality. When I tried, I noticed a hint of gooseberries, but perhaps I did because I love the short-story with that title by Anton Chekhov, a favorite Aspen Institute reading.

Pegaso Arrebatacapas 2020 was introduced to me by Telmo Rodríguez himself at a friend’s dinner. Telmo is a hero for wine lovers and he never fails to surprise us. He and his teammates have created extraordinary wines all over Spain, reconnecting wine and roots, with an amazing capacity to innovate by reformulating the best traditions. The Pegaso project started when they decided to recuperate an old vineyard of Granacha grapes that had not been properly cared for in the stunning slate hills of the Gredos mountain range, near Cebreros. Since 2015 they have bottled Arrebatacapas, a red wine for a very special occasion like Christmas. It sells at 54 euros.

Last but not least, I would like to recommend Guímaro Camiño Real 2019 (16,90 euros). This is a red wine made with Mencia and other local grapes in the Ribera Sacra by the family winery of Pedro Rodriguez Pérez. When you taste it, so fruity and mineral, you can close your eyes and go back to sailing in the Sil River, protected by the mountains and the quasi-vertical vineyards. María my wife likes it and therefore I consider it a Stratocaster wine, a category I invented to describe her favorite wines (always related to music, but that is another story, https://iberians.blog/2010/09/24/stratocaster-wines)

The Tramuntana mountains is one of the best spots on earth to unwind and spend quiet days (or years). Robert Graves, who moved permanently to the nearby village of Deia, wrote in a letter to Virginia Woolf, “this is Paradise… if you can stand it”. I think he was just being funny. The combination of green, orange and yellow colours from the hills and blue and silver from the sea is breathtaking. I have been lucky to spend here part of the summer since I was born. This season I found a wondrous wine from Tramuntana while I visited dear friends at the other side of the island, in the Colonia de Sant Pere. The vignerons of Son Vich de Superna, from Puigpunyent, have created a white wine made with Viognier grapes, under the name “Viognier 2020” (16 euros), a match made in heaven. It has all the splendour of his elder cousins in the Rhône: dense, long and fruity, plus a Majorcan touch of salt. This is a grape that is very difficult to grow and figure out. Son Vich of Tramuntana has been able to do it.

F. D. Reeve wrote “the full moon this May, after our last terrible winter, washes the lost Earth”. We have been indeed in full moon mood lately, as we celebrate the arrival of a long-awaited summer and vaccinations to fend off the pandemic.

We found a wine to celebrate and symbolize our desire to fly again and explore the world. It was a gift from Gonzalo Entrecanales, who dreams big and understand wine as an inter-generational endeavor of endless innovation. He introduced us to one of the latest inventions of his company, “El Aeronauta 2018”, a lees-aged Godello that we have drank these weeks at home.

The name of this white wine comes from a veteran pilot who started the venture in the blessed region of Valdeorras. The project has evolved greatly thanks to Almudena Alberca, a passionate winemaker, who is fully in contact with Nature and is crazy about flowers and herbs. There is no other white like it in Spain: it has an expressive and intense gliceric flavour and a surprising long finish, like an undying sunset when you travel westward. At a price of 16 euros, you won’t find a better companion to fly to the moon this summer.

Things have not been easy in the past months, but the grim moments of the pandemic have led to other ocassions where we feel grateful for all the good things in life and make a mental note in capital letters of “no surrender”.

In the early days of January we spent a couple of days in Muxía, the new-new Parador in one of the most beautiful shores of Galicia. We drove to Finisterre cape and looked at the infinite sea blessed by the winter sun. Another happy encounter was with Lagar do Cigur (7,50 euros), a red wine from Adegas Melillas in Valdeorras that took us by suprise during an aperitif. Made with Mencia, Alicante and Merenzao, this unpretentious wine reminds you of a warm embrace that leads to hours of laughter and shared joy.

Back in Madrid, some dear friends suprised us with a secret dinner in a speakeasy bar. I declined the cocktails that were served with the different dishes, much to my advantage. The sommelier then introduced me to Panoramico 2016 (15,90 euros), a Rioja red wine that you will never forget. It comes from vineyards in two very different sides of the Iregua river. The combination of Mediterranean and Atlantic minerals and herbs is amazing. It is a tribute to fun mixes and good decisions to cross the line.

We lack not songs, wrote William Blake in his poem “To Summer”. Just like him, these last months I have been able to rediscover Nature, friendship and conversation, all of them much needed in covid-19 times. I have also encountered some new wines along the way that I would like to recommend.

In July I had dinner in Madrid at Berlanga, the best place in the city to enjoy rice. This great restaurant is a creation of José Luis Berlanga, an artist like his father, chef and movie director. We tried a very pale rosé called Clos de Lôm, from Valencia, a wine made with the Monastrell grape of great volume. It was an invitation to enjoy summer: red fruits, citric notes and a long finish (12 euros). Then José Luis opened for us a bottle of La Calva Malacabeza 2018, perhaps the best Ribera del Duero wine I have tasted this year, a wine of light red colour and very subtle combination of fruit and time.

A few weeks later in Majorca, we discovered a new red wine, OM, from Oliver Moragues wineries (15 euros), a coupage of two local grapes with Syrah and Cabernet sauvignon, perfect to enjoy in the garden with friends. In those magical days we also tried another island wine, this one from the Canaries, El Lance, Suertes del Marqués (14 euros) a red full of music and songs.

Let’s not describe these weeks with the harsh words of confinement or lock-down. We are chez nous, as the French would say, at home with much loved family members while keeping in touch with many friends. We are trying to help save lives and do our civic duty in the coronavirus crisis. In this journey, we have tried two new wines that deserve to make it into this blog as House favorites.

The first one is Viña Pomal Terruño Centenario Reserva 2014, a special selection of the classic Rioja, to celebrate the centennial of these vignerons (I will stop using French words tout suite).This wine transports you to the hills and valleys of Rioja, with beautiful flavors of violets and fruits, a quintaessential present for those of us who love to walk there in the spring (13 euros).

Beltza is an odd red, since typically Txakoli wines are white. This one is a more subtle and sophisticated member of the family, that can make conversation last longer than a pintxos appetizer. “Beltza” in Basque means black, a good way to highlight its elegance. It comes from the coastal village of Baquio, in Biscay, a well known surf destination surrounded by mountains and vineyards (12 euros). We look forward to a trip soon to this wonderful beach!

My father always enjoyed wine. I don’t remember him ever saying a negative thing about the glass he was drinking. Often, he praised it, with his fun-loving generosity. He made wine a fundamental part of the good things in life, together with family, friendship, hunting and good conversations. When I started appreciating reds and whites and ventured into writing this blog, at first he did not take me seriously. I was his strict son, the bookworm type, how could I now become the hedonist in the cellar? Only then I realized how much he really knew about wine, without ever showing off. For a long while, I could not find a red that he had not tried before. When Santiago my son was born, we went for lunch. I was eager to order Mauro and get his feedback, but of course he had already tried some years ago. Only recently, with the wine revolution at its peak in Spain, he accepted that they were some yet to be discovered.

This Christmas season I have missed him so much. I have gone back to some long-time friends to toast to him: Viña Ardanza Reserva 2010, Valenciso Reserva 2012, Pagos de Valdoneje Viñas Viejas 2015, Ramón Bilbao Edición Limitada 2016. We have also drank Terras Gauda, the Albariño served at my wedding. I remember well that he enjoyed it so much with octopus (oh, what a night!). These first days of January I have escaped with María to Porto. We had dinner overlooking the Douro in the Graham wineries and tried one of their reds, Quinta do Ataide 2016 (circa 14 euros), a wine full of dark berries and mistery. A wonderful ocassion to toast to my dad in the New Year.