The Wine Walk

Whenever I travel I try to tune in to the local wine scene.  After so many years in the business I can’t help it.  Last Saturday my sister and her girlfriends took me to a small beach town in northern Florida for the once-monthly wine walk.

New Smyrna Beach is a town straight out of the 1950s, and the residents like it that way.  No high rises, a pristine beach, sea grass everywhere, art galleries and friendly bars and restaurants.  The mayor, a young guy, is trying hard to attract quality tourism to the town and one of the efforts most widely supported by the locals is the wine walk that takes place on the fourth Saturday of each month.  You buy 20 tickets for 20 dollars, take a sheet where the route and available wines is mapped out, pick up your tasting glass and take off.

There are twelve stops on the route, at cafes, bars, gift shops and art galleries.  At each stop you have a choice of between three and twenty bottles where you can use from one to five tickets. You are also encouraged to shop and have a snack.

The selection of wines was a microcosm of the U.S. wine scene. California was the most widely represented, followed closely by Italy.  Surprisingly, Argentine malbec was on practically all the stops.  Not surprisingly, no Spanish wines were poured unless you consider sangría, which is apparently enjoying quite a comeback.  After years of trying to create a positive image for Spain, it was a shock to see everyone drinking sangria.

I tasted the following wines:

  • BV Coastal pinot grigio
  • Rosenblum zinfandel *
  • Ferrari-Carano fume blanc 2009 (Sonoma) **
  • Cupcake Vineyards Angel Food 2010
  • Manos Negras carmenere 2009 (Chile) **
  • Cain Concept 2007 (Napa) **
  • Folie à Deux zinfandel 2009**
  • Di Majo Norante sangiovese Osci 2010 *

As a rinse I also had a few glasses of Great White, a craft beer. Going to a beach bar was great fun.  Since it was Daytona 500 race weekend there were lots of bikers, tan, 50-something beach bunnies and middle-aged hippies along with loud rock music which sure brought back memories for me.

In spite of my immense disappointment about the total absence of Spain in the tasting it was great to taste lots of new wines and see everyone having so much fun swirling, sipping and talking about the wines they were tasting.

If you’re ever in northeast Florida the fourth Saturday of the month, head over to New Smyrna Beach.  You’ll have a blast!

Logroño-La Rioja – Spain’s gastronomic capital for 2012

When the media publishes statistics, La Rioja is usually at the bottom of the chart because we’re the third smallest province in Spain, just ahead of Spain’s two North African cities of Ceuta and Melilla.

We recently got a big boost to the top with the announcement of Logroño-La Rioja’s appointment as Spain’s gastronomic capital in 2012.

What usually happens in cases like this is for the local and regional government tourist bodies to organize a series of events.  The private sector here usually waits for the government to open its pocketbook rather than take the initiative.  This time, however, local business has taken the lead.

Somos Capital (an expression with the double meaning of ‘We’re the Capital’ or ‘We’re Important’), created by the restaurant Tondeluna, owned by the Paniego family in Ezcaray, one of La Rioja’s two 1-Michelin-starred restaurants and the Marqués de Vallejo hotel has organized a program of appearances by some of Spain’s best chefs and food writers to celebrate this honor throughout the year..

Among the chefs who have accepted an invitation so far are:

  • Juan Mari and Elena Arzak
  • Andoni Luis Adúriz
  • Quique Dacosta
  • Paco Morales
  • Lorenzo Cañas
  • Marisa Sánchez
  • Ignacio Echapresto
  • Juan Ángel Rodrigálvarez

The last four chefs are from La Rioja, adding to the excitement.

Francis Paniego of Tondeluna hopes that Ferrán Adriá will accept, too (“He hasn’t said ‘no’ yet”).

The timetable for each event is:

6:30 pm   a press conference with the week’s guest

7:30 pm   a short talk by the guest

9:00 pm   dinner and wine pairing featuring some of the best Rioja wines, with the guest chef-inspired menu prepared   by the staff of Tondeluna.

Five per cent of the total take for the evening will be donated to ARSIDO (the Down’s Syndrome Association of La Rioja).

Each dinner and tasting costs 50 euros per person and is open to 50 guests.

I was pleasantly surprised to read about this and hope I can attend at least one of the dinners.  It’s going to be tough, however. The price is right, the chefs are the best in Spain and it’s for a worthy cause. 

How can the local government top that?

Speed dating with wine and tapas at Bodegas Franco-Españolas

The other day an e-newsletter from a Rioja winery – Bodegas Franco-Españolas – landed in my inbox. I was surprised because given the popularity of Facebook and other social media, most winery news nowadays is transmitted to ‘friends’ or ‘likes’. That’s a shame because believe it or not, lots of people I know don’t want to have anything to do with social media because they’re afraid that their personal information will be shared beyond their circle of friends. In any case, this one-page newsletter had just the right amount of information: a brief report about the 2011 harvest in Rioja, an invitation to participate in a Valentine’s Day speed dating/wine and tapas tasting in the winery on February 11 and a description of three of the winery’s reserva wines: Rioja Bordón, Barón de Anglade and Bárbaro.

The speed dating event really caught my attention. The concept is great – no pressure like in a normal ‘date’ (as if I remember what THAT was like!) Each person talks for seven minutes with different members of the opposite sex and at the end of the event there’s a big mixer where you can spend more time with the people you got along with at the first meeting. Here, the meetings are punctuated with stops at stands for wine and tapas, so after a while the conversation really starts to flow.

I think this is a little like musical chairs, where someone inevitably ends up alone, but it’s designed for young adults, so who cares what an old fart like me thinks.

Next week I’ll write about the wines in the newsletter. It was a coincidence that we had both Rioja Bordón and Bárbaro with lunch last Sunday.