The finest Rioja in all of Spain

3 October 2020

9:00 AM

3 October 2020

9:00 AM

It had been a long and no doubt fractious sea voyage. The crew would have signed up for a variety of reasons: pay, adventure, escape from domestic ties — in some cases, no doubt, escape from the authorities. After ten weeks at sea, some of them would have doubted their judgment, if not indeed their very sanity. Then came the lookout’s cry: the Spanish for ‘Land ho’. Christopher Columbus had set forth to find a passage to China. Instead, he had discovered America, a new world, large parts of which would soon be known as New Spain. The 12th of October 1492, when that forgotten sailor announced that the world had moved on its axis, was one of the most important days in history.

It is still celebrated as Spain’s National Day, which is surprising, given the malevolence of the Spanish left towards everything that is finest in their country’s past. Just so, outside the office of the Organisation of American States in Washington, there are still statues to their Most Catholic Majesties, Columbus’s sponsors and patrons. I suppose that the sullen, civilisation-hating leftists have never heard of Ferdinand and Isabella, otherwise they would wish to tear them down.

It is interesting to speculate what would have happened if Spain had not gone into decline after the mid-17th century. Could old Spain have been any more successful in wooing new Spain than we were with the 13 colonies? Latin America and Spain would both have benefited from a harmonious partnership.

My friend Ranald MacDonald, often celebrated in this column, might take exception to all this Hispaniophilia. Centuries before Columbus, his Viking forebears had arrived in Greenland. But there is a difference. Not even with an EU subsidy would it be possible to grow tobacco in Greenland. The collection of cigars in Ranald’s Belgravia restaurant is only rivalled by his array of whiskies. In gratitude to Columbus, in love for Spain and in salutation to the cigar, one of the finest flowerings of Spanish colonialism, he has organised some celebrations in an approach march to Spanish National Day. The other evening, I attended one. It was special. As a culinary delight, jamon iberico is equal to grouse, woodcock, golden plover and foie gras: only surpassed by caviar. We had some, along with other tapas, and a paella. I thought that it was as good a paella as I had ever tasted. Another friend, Don Eduardo, also known to this column, concurred, but for a Lord Curzon–esque -demurral. Curzon declared that a gentleman does not eat soup at luncheon. -Eduardo claims that a gentleman only eats -paella at lunchtime.

That said, I maintained that a fine risotto outranks any paella. Boisdale has a nettle risotto with pickled walnuts: delicious. The 2 Veneti restaurant, thankfully reopened, has a risotto with pumpkin and luganega sausage. In comparison, paella takes minor honours.

But that was not true of the wines we tasted. The days of adequate Rioja, always with a hint of eggshell, are long gone. There is an increasing number of excellent producers. Before the reds, we had the best Albariño I have ever tasted, an Adega Pombal a Lanzada ’17 from Rias Baixas. Albariño is normally thought of as a workaday wine. These vignerons want to produce a long-lived version. They are on the way.

Miguel Merino, from Briones in Rioja Alta, is further along the way. There is no finer grower of Rioja. His La Loma ’17, which is only produced in tiny quantities, was superb, though not ready. The Vitola Riserva ’13 was at its peak, but will last for years. Francis Flavin of Davy’s is an excellent guide to the new Spanish vignerons. Like all the best people in the wine trade, he wants the bottles he sells to go to an appreciative palate. That night, he had no difficulty in finding some. It was a superb evening. We toasted Columbus, and the imminent National Day of a great nation. Viva España.

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