Tag Archives: rioja

Centum Vitis: the perfect Christmas present for the wine-lover who has everything (except taste)

The bottle Cono Sur use for their 20 Barrels pinot noir reminded me of one wine I tried while I was in Rioja. The world of wine is all about indulgence and frequently creeps over into excess, but here was the most indulgent, excessive thing I have ever encountered.

The wine is created by Bodegas Valdelana, using fruit from a pre-phylloxera vineyard. The vines are proper old, and produce so incredibly amazing they decided that the only way to treat them with due deference would be to vinify them and package them in the most incredibly amazing way they could think of. If they could only have aged it in barrels made from the tree of knowledge, bottled it in vessels hand-blown by genuine leprechauns and labelled it with signage individually crafted by angels, before finally distributing it to their grateful consumers on unicorn-drawn chariots, they surely would have done. Instead they bought the heaviest bottle known to man – 3kg when empty, our guide proudly told us – designed a metal label, packaged it with a pot of genuine gold leaf (you’re supposed to sprinkle it in your wine for extra health-giving anti-oxidants) and slapped on a $250-a-bottle price tag.

The resulting wine, apparently best drunk within two years, is sold in luxury establishments such as the Burj Al Arab hotel in Dubai, and in exclusive American retailers at $250 a pop. The wine is OK, and would represent decent value if sold gold-free at 10% of that price. As it stands, it’s the perfect gift for the man who has everything (except taste), or Olympic weightlifters in search of a fresh challenge.

Valdelana’s little old bodega is a funny old place to visit, by the way, complete as it is with lots of fake grass and a subterranean mirrored “vineyard”. The best thing about it is the view from the door down the road to Marqués de Riscal, the brilliant Frank Gehry-designed hotel-on-top-of-a-winery, about which more, another time.

Tapas Fantasticas!

(Actually the tapas were a bit ropey, but the wine was nice)

I recently received a press release advertising an event called Rioja Tapas Fantasticas, which is going to be held later this month, at a point when it will hopefully have stopped raining. At this event, punters will be able to sample wines from rioja and food that might suit them – at the same time! And not only that, there’ll be other stuff too. Would I mind terribly, the PR asked, if they sent me a couple of bottles?

Tapas fantasticas? I said, surely not the same Tapas Fantasticas that was named medium-sized event of the year at the UK Event Awards 2010? Well no, I wouldn’t mind.

And what’s more, rather than just drinking these wines, I decided I should at least go to the trouble of making some tapas-style edibles to go with them. They sent me a bottle of Marques de Caceres Antea 2009. I went back to the press release. “This rich and complex white balances intense fruit with vanilla oak,” it read. “Try it with monkfish and broad beans.”

So, as you can see above, I did. And the wine was lovely. The monkfish and broad beans, though, was rubbish. As if prepared by a total idiot. Of course I couldn’t be arsed popping every bean out of its milky skin – I mean, really? – but that wasn’t the problem. It was just terrible, a flavourless, artless mess. Mainly because the “sauce” was so disgusting it never even made it to the plate. This poor, beautiful fish died in vain. The poor bycatch of the beautiful fish, which had already died in vain, had actually died in double-vain. In an incredible amount of vanity. The wine, some of which I wasted on the “sauce”, improved it, but what this dish really needed by way of accompaniment was a bin.

White rioja is terribly trendy at the moment. It’s this year’s alternative to sauvignon blanc, the clean, characterful but not-yet-cliched white-of-choice for the summer months. This one is ordinarily £9.99 at Majestic, but currently down to £8.49 if you buy two (and available elsewhere for closer to the offer price).  I genuinely like it, packed as it is with grapefruit zest and citrus oil, with a dash of cream from the evident but not aggressive oak. Once I’d stopped eating I felt it perhaps lacks a little crispness and acidity to get the mouth tingling by itself, but it’s impressive value at its (discounted) price, and very good with food. Even bad food.

Tapas Fantasticas!
Dates: Saturday 25th June (12pm to 8pm) and Sunday 26th June (12pm to 6pm)
Location: Potters Fields Park, on the South bank of the Thames between Tower Bridge and City Hall (entry behind City Hall, accessed from the More London development)
Address: Potters Fields, Tooley Street /The Queenswalk, Southwark, London SE1 2AA
Nearest tube stations: London Bridge or Tower Hill
Interweb linkodrome: www.riojatapasfantasticas.co.uk