Smartphones and tapas bars: an interesting combination

Going out for tapas and a few glasses of wine is always fun, but last week it was especially so because my wife and I decided to follow the Logroño city guide to tapas bars published by Bodegas Campo Viejo as part of a promotion of their wine Alcorta.

Throughout the fall and winter of 2010 and spring of 2011, Alcorta has organized gastronomic routes around the tapas bars in 11 Spanish cities and regions (Gijón, Oviedo, Santiago de Compostela, La Rioja, León, Zaragoza, Burgos, Salamanca, Madrid, Granada and Murcia).

From March 11 to 27 it was La Rioja’s turn.

Rioja wineries promote their wines all the time in the bars in the old part of town, but this promotion was different because of its use of internet and smartphones to win prizes.

The first step was to enter the Alcorta website to read how to participate.  Here we discovered that participating bars would give us a city guide and tell us which tapa they were featuring with a glass of Alcorta.

Our first stop was at El Soldado de Tudelilla where we ordered a capricho, a piece of sardine with a spicy green pepper and our guide was stamped with the name of the bar.

So much for traditional tapas.  We decided that we would concentrate on some of the bars that offered really innovative dishes.

 Our second stop was La Canilla. Here, the specialty was slices of steak with peppers from Gernika and shoestring potatoes.  The Gernika peppers from the coast in the Basque Country were similar to the peppers from Padrón in Galicia, about which the gallegos  say ‘ pimientos del Padrón, unos pican y otros non’ (Padrón peppers, some are hot and others aren’t.) You had better have a glass of wine handy because when you eat a hot one, it makes your tongue burn and your eyes water.  Sort of a gastronomic lottery.

Our third stop was Las Cubanas, which used to be one of Logroño’s most famous family restaurants but has found a new life under the current management as a tapas bar where we enjoyed a piece of crisp suckling pig.

For our fourth tapa and glass of Alcorta, we went to a bar that had just opened:  D.O. Rioja.  Their specialty is a layered liquid potato omelet served in a small bowl.  It was available with just egg and potato, with cheese added or ham.  We ordered a plain one and one with ham.

Since I had gone by myself to El Soldado de Tudelilla, my book had the required four stamps, but my wife needed one more so we went to calle San Juan to Tastavin.  The bar was out of their specialty (foie gras raspberry sauce with caramelized goat cheese) so we were offered a roast artichoke heart with caramelized onion on top. Delicious!

Although we were full and a little wobbly on our feet, there was more to do to to take full advantage of the promotion.

Inside the city guide there was a BIDI code (a square third generation bar code) and a code consisting of an eight-digit combination of numbers and letters.

Our city guide told us that if you took a picture of the BIDI code with your smartphone, the application would tell us instantly if we had won a prize, to be redeemed at the bar.  Sadly I was unable to get my smartphone to capture the code (and I did it when I was still sober!)

When we arrived home, we opened the Alcorta website and entered our codes.  The website told my wife that she had won a gift box with a bottle of Alcorta, a corkscrew, stopper and other accessories.

The last step in this process was to fill out the back of the page with the four stamps and place it in the box located in each participating bar.  After the promotion is over, a drawing will be held, with the winners receiving a personalized gift box of Alcorta.

In our opinion, this promotion had everything:  the consumer can enjoy Alcorta with some great tapas and win prizes.  It’s also attractive to young consumers, who can use their smartphones. For the winery, it means increased visibility, lots of names for its data base, a jump in sales and the opening of new accounts.

We had a lot of fun participating in this promotion, although we couldn’t figure out how to use the BIDI code app correctly.  It probably would have worked if we had been using an iPhone rather than a Nokia. In our case, the phone was apparently smarter than we were.

El Soldado de Tudelilla, San Agustín 3

La Canilla, San Agustín 7

Las Cubanas, San Agustín 17

D.O. Rioja, Laurel 4

Tastavin, San Juan 25

Florentino Martínez: ‘I’m a man of the soil’

Florentino Martínez

Florentino Martínez was the star of this month’s tasting organized by our local newspaper LA RIOJA. Martínez, like many other Rioja winery owners, got his start in the wine business as a grape farmer who gradually got into winemaking and ageing, although at heart he remains a cosechero, specializing in young wines made by carbonic maceration or whole berry fermentation.

The best way to describe Florentino is ‘campechano’, someone who is affable, easy-going and uncomplicated.  He’s never taken a public speaking course but his talk was brilliant, from the heart, laced with personal anecdotes and jokes about a project that is his passion.

Florentino has been a friend for a long time and I’ve always appreciated his honesty and generosity.  I remember last winter I was in calle Laurel with some friends when we ran into Florentino with some Brazilian customers outside a bar.  He asked the owner of the bar for a bottle of Luberri which he opened and gave to my group.  You don’t forget gestures like that. 

One of his stories is his description of the Christmas Day suppers that took place in his father’s winery (back then, surely an underground cellar) when the family would drink the young red from the latest vintage for the first time directly from the vat.

His company was founded in Elciego in Rioja Alavesa in1991 with his wife and two daughters, following several projects with others that didn’t work out as he had planned.  The company farms 35 hectares in an area between Elciego and Laguardia.

We tasted the five wines made by the winery.

Luberri red 2010: ‘Luberri’ is Basque – ‘lur (earth) + ‘berri’ (new). 95% tempranillo and 5% viura (a white varietal whose high acidity is traditionally blended in small amounts with red to give the wine more zing).

‘New earth’  is appropriate as a brand name and its spirit came through clearly throughout the tasting.

The whole berry fermentation process starts by emptying whole bunches of grapes into a vat.  This differs from the classic method of red winemaking where the stems are removed and the grapes lightly crushed before fermentation.

With carbonic maceration, the fermentation process starts inside the grapes and after 7 or 8 days, the skins burst, releasing the juice.  Wines made this way are intensely fruity but sometimes smell a little like hydrogen sulphide (rotten eggs) because the winemaker needs to protect the grapes with a dose of SO2. The high pH and low acidity don’t allow  these wines to age like a crianza or reserva but it doesn’t matter because the whole idea is to drink them while they’re young and fresh.

To me, one of Luberri’s achievements is producing a carbonic maceration red that has none of these unpleasant aromas that are a big stumbling block for most CM wines’ wider appeal.  It was clearly the best one I had ever tasted, with a bright cherry color, an elegant aroma that reminded me of strawberry bubble gum with some notes of mint, and  fresh and fruity on the palate.

Seis de Luberri 2008.  100% tempranillo.

 Seis (‘Six’) refers obliquely to the fact that the wine has been aged for six months in oak.

In Rioja, producers aren’t allowed to make any allusion to oak on the label unless the wine has been aged for at least 12 months.  This attitude is enforced in the Regulatory Council by the large wineries with many thousands of barrels who believe that the ‘crianza’ category has to be protected to the detriment of younger wines.  This often means that wineries put practically all their effort into their oak aged wines without paying much attention to younger wines.

Florentino made it a point to defend making good young Riojas, stating that they don’t necessarily come from the worst grapes – a powerful statement.

With today’s increased emphasis on fresh fruit, and with prices falling through the floor due to the effects of a very persistant economic crisis, wineries would be wise to release more unoaked or only slightly oaked reds. They would certainly hit sensitive price points that way.

Back to Seis: Light, brilliant cherry color, flowery with red fruit and oak – a little too much of the latter for my taste – with balance, elegance and freshness on the palate.

Biga de Luberri crianza 2008.  100% tempranillo.

Medium ruby color, a floral nose with just a hint of oak. (‘With Seis’ the oak seemed to come through more strongly.) Light and fresh on the palate.

Monje Amestoy de Luberri reserva 2006.  90% tempranillo, 10% ‘others’ (almost surely cabernet sauvignon but Florentino’s lips were sealed). Intense ruby, red fruit on the nose, reminding me of cranberries, and toast but not overpowering.  On the palate, like the other wines in the range, it had a light, crisp, balanced mouthfeel.

Cepas Viejas (Old Vines) 2006.  100% tempranillo. The grapes for Cepas Viejas come from vines over 75 years old that produce about 3.500 kilos per hectare, a little more than half the maximum yield authorized for red grapes in Rioja.

Intense ruby.  Dark fruit, with mineral notes on the nose.  On the palate, clean, with good acidity.  Once again, the balance between oak and fruit was perfect.

Cepas Viejas was my second favorite of the evening and showed me that Luberri’s preference for light, balanced, easy to drink reds went straight through the range.

 My thought on leaving the tasting was that more and more of the Riojas I had tasted recently were getting back to the elegant, light style of winemaking that was popular here before the 1990s when wineries began soaking their wines in new oak.

 As a marketing guy, I also liked the fact that the five wines were linked with ‘de Luberri’ (by Luberri) on the label.  This is a big help to consumers who would otherwise be confused by five different brand names.

To me, Luberri’s wines proved that complexity is not the enemy of elegance.  I hope this is the way of the future.

Familia Monje Amestoy, Camino Rehoyos, 01340 Elciego (Álava)

U.S. Importer:  De Maison Selections

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