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Carnival in Europe – Five great Carnival Vacation ideas for wine lovers in 2014

Although most of us when mentioning the world carnival might instantly think of Sydney, Rio or New Orleans, Europe can still lay claim to the oldest and proudest Mardi Gras tradition. The historical importance of the religious celebrations preceding the start of Lent is marked by the diverse and colorful local festivals celebrated throughout European cities each year. From the famous masked balls in Venice, to the riotous and vibrant carnival in Tenerife, these occasions are a must see for wine lovers who enjoy glamor, excitement and the decadence of lavish celebrations.

veniceThe following five cities represent the best of Europe’s carnival tradition and welcome the spring season in impeccable style:

Venice Carnival 2014

Venice Carnival or Carnevale is the very epitome of extravagance, a masked ball that traditionally ended on Shrove Tuesday and began on December 26th, which is celebrated as St Stephen’s Day in Venice, as in Ireland. Today, however, the festivities continue into the middle of February, as visitors flock from far and wide to enjoy the most decadent fancy-dress party on earth. The carnival has a history that dates back many hundreds of years; Venetians have been celebrating Carnevale since the 15th century. The popularity of masked balls and carnivals rocketed during this period in Europe and became an integral part of any cultural event in Venice. The mask, as well as serving a decorative function could nicely conceal the identity of the wearer, which became highly popular in political circles, as well as for celebrations.

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Other European cities started to copy the Venice formula and order their own masks from the Venetian workshops. In Venice, private clubs would organize masked balls and street entertainment – the elite simply had to be seen at these events! Carnevale reached its heyday in the 18th century, as the Venetian Republic collapsed and social conventions and rules were relaxed. The event became increasingly hedonistic, with lavish displays of wealth, processions and festivals held in St Marks Square. Sadly, after Napoleon invaded in 1797 the carnival tradition fell into decline, the Italian ruler Mussolini subsequently banned the wearing of masks and so carnival was no more. That was until 1979, when the first event in several decades exploded into the Venetian scene and the city has not looked back since. Today, the undisputed highlight is the Gran Ballo delle Maschere or Doge’s Ball, which takes place in different locations across Venice, usually in a grand palace or residence.

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The costumes, masks and general extravagance on display is unrivaled. Prior the the Grand Masked Ball, the celebration begins with a masked procession through Piazza San Marco and around. The following weekend sees a multitude of wonderful musical and theatre performances in San Marco and other locations, with Sunday reserved for a stunning procession of gondolas carrying masked passengers down the Grand Canal. Of course, plenty of other events take place and are open to anyone who is prepared to pay. This year, visitors can enjoy the masked “Enchanted Palace” Ball, which takes place in an ancient palace on the Grand Canal. Expect cocktails, lavish costume, fine dining and partying aplenty. There is also the “Feast of the Gods Event”, which takes place in a sixteenth century palace under frescoes painted by Giovanni Bellini. Join in the celebrations as Bacchus, the god of wine and Mercury invite you to join their feasting, drinking and merry making. For more information on these and other events, go to www.venicecarnival-italy.com   Finally, don’t forget to secure your mask well in advance of the party! Book an appointment to have a mask made.

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Venice Wine Country- While in Venice, why not go exploring the Prosecco wine roads, the delicious sparkling wine made in the gentle hills around Conegliano Valdobbiadene. Great Prosecco houses include Bisol and Bortolomiol, two faves.

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Tenerife Carnaval 2014

Each year Tenerife holds one of Europe’s largest and most riotous carnivals, a three week extravaganza that attracts hundreds of thousand of visitors and culminates in a 24 hour party on Fat Tuesday or Mardi Gras. It has been celebrated on the island for centuries and visitors to Tenerife such as Lope Antonio de la Guerra Pena in the 18th century spoke of dancing and conga music in the capital Santa Cruz. However, when Franco came to power he banned the festivities, which got back into their full swing after his death in 1975 upon his death. The carnival was subsequently a vehicle with which to lambast the Catholic Church and its relationship with the Fascists – today people often dress up to lampoon religious figures, naughty nuns being a popular costume!

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Tenerife is now twinned with Rio de Janeiro, and shares some of the vigor and debauchery of that world famous carnival in Brazil. Next year it runs from 26th February to 9th March, carnival season is officially opened with a gala for the election of the Carnival Queen and ends with the ceremonial burning of the sardine festival, an event totally unique to the island of Tenerife.The ‘sardine’ is in fact a collection of rags and cloths, paraded around Santa Cruz de Tenerife followed by hysterical mourners! It is quite a sight to behold! But the main attraction is most definitely the gala parade, a spectacular affair with stunning examples of fancy dress on display, elaborate floats, fireworks and much drinking and parting centered around the beautiful Plaza de España in Santa Cruz.

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That said, the carnival involves far more than just one central parade and loads of stalls and events are set up in areas across the city. There are also competitions galore: murgas, rondallas, comparsas, all essentially dance competitions and a fancy dress competition for good measure. Make sure you don’t miss the grand gala for the election of 2014′s Carnival Queen, the day after there is a delightful musical concert in the Guimera theater. And don’t think that the fun ends on Ash Wednesday, as the weekend of La Piñata Chica follows shortly after with more partying in the Plaza de Principe. So head out on 9th of March for what will undoubtedly be the best street festival of your life. More info on Tenerife´s Carnival events this year.

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Tenerife for Wine Lovers- While on this beautiful island, don´t miss tasting spectacular local wines from the  Crater bodega. Enjoy stellar food and wine in one of the most beautiful settings on earth at Terrazas del Sauzal, and El Burgado is also unmissable.

Terrazas-del-Sauzal-Nice Carnival 2014

Capital of the Cote d’Azur, Nice holds a suitably glamorous and elaborate carnival celebration each year across its splendid squares, parks and the famous Promenade des Anglais. Its temperate winter climate and fantastic setting makes it the perfect location for a carnival to remember. The celebration starts on 14th February in 2014 and ends on 4th March, over two weeks of non-stop partying. Nice Carnival has had a long and distinguished reign: history records that the event was established in the 13th century, by Charles Anjou, the Count of Provence. In 1294, the Count made references to “the joyous days of carnival” suggesting that Nice Carnival is in fact the original and oldest carnival celebration in existence. Each year the carnival’s organizers choose a different theme for the celebrations, 2014 is the year of the “King of Gastronomy” so expect cuisine to dominate the parade and events that entertain revellers who flock to the Promenade de Anglais each year.

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However, Nice Carnival is most famous for the Bataille de Fleurs (Battle of Flowers) which takes place on various dates throughout the Carnival season (in 2014 the 15 19, 22, 26 February and 2 March) Members of the parade fiercely battle to outdo each other with spectacular floral displays on floats that line the Promende de Anglais. As the procession moves through Nice, flowers are thrown into the crowds, stalls selling delicious local delicacies fill the air with enticing smells and the city seems to literally buzz with excitement. The festivities officially start with the Carnival Procession, heralding the arrival of the Carnival King in the beautiful Place Massena. Local residents spend months designing over 20 elaborate floats, which will take the theme of the year.

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But perhaps the most eye-catching sight is the giant puppets marching through Nice, called Grosses Tetes, accompanied by hundreds of musicians, street artists and dancers that come from all over the world. The chosen King then takes the key to the city and declares a brief reign of excess! Highlights in 2014 include the unmissable Zuma party on February 16th and the awe-inspiring closing firework display over the Baie de Anges, officially ending the proceeding on 4 March. For more information on this unmissable carnival event, check out info on Nice Carnival here.

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Nice for wine lovers- Nice is the gateway to Provence. You are less than an hour away from dreamy hilltop villages where you can stay in gorgeous country properties tasting stellar rosé wines in situ. In Nice itself you have some fab little wine bars, we love La Part des Anges, La Cave de l’Origine and Cave de la Tour.

Cadiz Carnival 2014

Second only to Tenerife in the sheer scope and originality of its carnival tradition, Cadiz carnival is a riotous, ten day celebration that literally turn the city into one big party. It is the highlights of any self-respecting Gaditanos calender, indeed, preparations for the carnival begin almost as soon as one carnival finishes. Historically, Cadiz has laid on a boisterous carnival since the 16th century, when the city thrived as a major trading port for the Americas. Looking across to their Italian neighbors in Venice, the citizens of Cadiz decided to copy their tradition of marking the start of lent and started to organize what would become the liveliest and most elaborate carnival in mainland Spain. It was the one celebration that the Fascist dictator could not ban, due to the overwhelming protest and resistance for the local Gaditanos!

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Beginning on February 27 and ending on March 9 in 2014, Cadiz’s carnival is essentially one massive street party, with eleven days of elaborate costumes, theatre, processions, concerts and above all else, singing! The originality of Cadiz’s lent celebration is impressive, the driving force of the party is an emphasis on music and on the famously witty local inhabitants of Cadiz, whose love of comedy comes shining through in their imaginative displays of satire. These performers are known as Chirigotas: their music and satirical songs provide the central focus each year. In fact, the celebration really starts a month before the official opening day, as various musical groups compete in the “official contest” held at the beautiful Gran Teatro Falla. Over 200 groups will take part in this musical feast, with various categories of performers: Chirigotas, Choirs, Comparsas, Quarters and Romanceros. The Choirs will often also entertain people in the streets, as will the single act Romanceros. The Comparas tend to take the competition more seriously and sing classical songs with deep, romantic leanings. The competition is held 20 days before carnival and in four stages: preliminaries, quarter-finals, semi-finals, and the grand final. Listening to the various performers is a big highlight of the festival, the songs tend to be aimed at ‘debunking’ the cult of celebrity, politicians and the church are also fair game!

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The finale is another main attraction of the carnival, held on the first Friday of the celebrations. Performers roam the streets singing their compositions and on the following Monday perform on a central stage for all the city to enjoy. The other key attraction during carnival time is the procession and street parties, as thousands upon thousand of people in elaborate costume party the night away in Cadiz’s old town. In addition, there are gastronomic stalls, various musical concerts and plenty of things to keep the little ones happy; including puppet shows, and the incredible closing fireworks display. Key dates for your Carnival calendar in 2014 are Friday 27, which is the Grand Finale of the singing contest, the main procession on the following Sunday (29) and the awe-inspiring fireworks display in La Caleta. Truly, this is a carnival you won’t want to miss.

Cadiz for wine lovers- you are in the Sherry heartland here and this is a supremely interesting spot for wine aficionados. Don´t miss the terrific bodegas of Jerez de la Frontera like Lustau, Fernando de Castilla, González Byass and Domecq. And Angle Leon´s Michelin starred seafood eatery Aponiente is a glamorous place to taste terrific local Sherries paired with unusual and magical fish pairings.

SHERRY pxSitges Carnival 2014

Spain’s delightfully avant-garde, unconventional seaside resort is merely a half-hour away from Barcelona by train, so there’s no excuse for not visiting the next time you set foot in the Catalan capital. Sitges has been a fashionable place for jet-setters and night-owls since the 1960s, and puts on one of Spain’s most outrageous carnivals. It’s a week long riot of the extrovert, the colorful and the exhibitionist, capped by a gay parade along the sea-front promenade. Sitges has been holding carnival celebrations for over a century, although the installation of Franco as Spain’s Fascist dictator in 1939 put a temporary stop to the fun. Today, it is regarded as Spain’s wildest party event and over 200,000 visitors, both Spanish and international, turn out for the carnival. A normally quiet village (in winter at least!) explodes into life with parades, endless parties, local gastronomy, numerous folk dances and outrageous displays – a feast for all the senses.

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The party starts on 27 February in 2014 and ends March 5. The inaugural event is the opening Jueves Lardero (Fat Thursday) celebrations, with stalls offering a massive selection of local dishes; Sitges’ citizens seriously pig-out into the evening. It heralds the arrival of King Carnestoltes – the King of the Carnival – who arrives in a great flurry of color and activity. Let the mayhem begin! Sunday 2nd March sees the famous Rua de la Disbauxa, or the Debauchery Parade, an anything goes display of debauchery and outrageous costume, over forty floats usually participate in the fun, carrying up to 2,000 people at a time. However, even this spectacular event is outdone by the Rua de l’Extermini, or Extermination Parade, on the following Tuesday night. This parade marks the end of the festivities, although there is nothing mournful about the celebrations with more riotous displays of dress and kitsch.

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Carnival truly ends with the Burial of the Sardine on Ash Wednesday, the large effigy of a sardine buried in Sitges’s sandy beach. Around the same time as carnival, a more sedate but equally unmissable event is taking place – the Corpus Cristi celebrations. They are marked by the creation of floral ‘carpets’ in the streets of central Sites. These can be of incredible complexity and generally consist of geometric designs or religious depictions. They are simply stunningly beautiful so make sure to catch them before they are trampled over when the religious process passes through this delightful city.

Sitges for wine lovers- you are on the doorstep of the Mediterranean Penedes wine country. This is where Spain´s famed Cava, bubbly, is produced and great wines to seek out include Agusti Torello and Pares Balta. Don´t miss a meal at winemaker´s haunt Cal Xim where charming host Santi will take excellent care of you, and while in Sitges itself we love the easy going paella at beach front La Fragata.

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Bodegas Hermanos Peciña is one of our preferred wine estates in the gorgeous region of La Rioja, in Northern Spain.

We love this winery  for its stellar wines, the great hospitality and exuberance of the hosts. We had the chance to chat to winemaker  Pedro Peciña Gil, and thought you might enjoy reading the interview.

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Pedro Peciña Gil

Here goes>

CELLAR TOURS- When did you become passionate about wine?

PEDRO- I remember visiting the vineyards with my father when I was 5-6 years old right before  the harvest time. I was very young, but I felt something special at that moment, and from then I decided that in the future I would like to produce grapes myself.

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CELLAR TOURS-When did you join the family business and how long has your family been involved in wine?

PEDRO- Today I´m 35 years old, and in 1992,when I was 14, I started helping my father elaborating our first bottling. I remember it was difficult, because it was our first year to produce wine between my father and me… it was very funny!!!

CELLAR TOURS- Did you study winemaking in Rioja or elsewhere and have you worked in other regions/countries? If so, how did the experience shape you?

PEDRO-I studied  enology at the University of La Rioja in Logroño, but in my opinion  the best wine / enology university is the real practice in growing grapes and making wine with my father´s help since I was a child. I have experience in helping other wineries in Rioja too; also I did a harvest in Messina Hoff Winery, one of the most important wineries in Texas USA. It was a very funny experience, all was different, grapes, winery, work philosophy, the language, the people.. very interesting experience in which I learned a lot.

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CELLAR TOURS-How would you describe the winemaking philosophy at Bodegas Hermanos Peciña ? Are your wines traditional, modern, etc etc?

PEDRO-The first lesson that I learned from my father was ” to make a good wine you only need to follow 3 rules: TO BE CLEAN, TO BE CLEAN AND TO BE CLEAN”. Of course you also need  good grapes, choose the perfect moment of harvesting …Our wines are very classic, due to we follow making our wines as people did them 100 years ago, as very natural as possible, no using any artificial yeast, (only wild yeast from San Vicente de la Sonsierra) or any Enzymas, any tannins, any poliphenols.. we never add nothing, our wines are completely natural. 3

CELLAR TOURS-What distinguishes your estate to other wineries in the area?

PEDRO-The main difference is that our wines are like the wines of100 years ago, completely natural, and their unique flavour is wine… OUR WINES TASTE LIKE WINE!!! We never filter the wines, we never fine the wines, and we never do any cold stabilization of the wines; so, to get stabilized wines we keep them  a lot of time in barrel, and every 6 months we make rackings by means of the traditional technique from barrel to barrel by gravity, cleaning the wines in a natural way.

CELLAR TOURS- Have you seen many changes in winemaking and viticulture in La Rioja in recent years, in which way?

PEDRO-I think Rioja has changed a lot in the past 10 years, many wineries have lost the identity of Rioja, and they try to make wines with more color, more complex, more full-bodied… in a word,Parker style wines.. and this is not Rioja. They are using new barrels, French barrels, making very long macerations… all of that to get hard wines.

CELLAR TOURS-What are your most important established markets and which new markets are you trying to break into, China for example?

PEDRO-We are working very good in all North America ( Mexico, USA and Canada), because they like the authentic classic Rioja, and in Central Europe (Czech Republic, Poland…), countries that are discovering the traditional Rioja. We started selling in Chine a couple years ago, but only in high level markets, where high quality wines have recognition.

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CELLAR TOURS-Have you experienced any challenges with climate change and global warming?

PEDRO-Yes, in my experienced 20 years, I have noticed how the harvest start earlier; the maturation of the grapes is earlier than some years ago, ( although 2013 harvest has been a little bit later)… and it´s a fact that 30 years ago it snowed 4-5 times every winter, and that´s very unusual nowadays.

CELLAR TOURS-Are you experimenting with any new wines, and any exciting projects on the horizon?

PEDRO-We love the Tempranillo grape and for making white wines, we strongly believe in the potential of the Viura. I think it´s  not good for the Rioja the introduction of foreign white varieties.

CELLAR TOURS-Do you find the strict rules put in place by the Consejo Regulador to be helpful or a hindrance?

PEDRO-I think these rules even need to be more strict, because in Rioja you can find low quality wines that have the warranty of Rioja. And that´s not good for the image of the Rioja.

CELLAR TOURS- For guests coming to visit you in Rioja, do you have any favorite restaurants in the area, any secret gems?

PEDRO-My favourite luxury place is Restaurante Alameda in Fuenmayor, only using fresh products, with a magnificent grill.  Restaurante Jose Mari, in Rivas de Tereso and 4 km far from our bodega, is the perfect place to taste traditional dishes from Rioja: Patatas con Chorizo, chuletillas al sarmiento, bacalao a la riojana…, And with very reasonable prices!!!

CELLAR TOURS-Which wine should we lay down and save for a special occasion?

PEDRO-I think our most special wine is our Pciña Reserva Seleccion Harvest 2001: soft, harmonious, delicate wine…. You love it from the first moment, but it´s changing every minute at the glass, remembering nuances of chocolate, coffee…. wonderful!!!!!

Pedro Peciña Senior

Pedro Peciña Senior

For more information on this outstanding winery, contact Mikel Martínez at BODEGAS HERMANOS PECIÑA, Carretera Vitoria Km.47-26338 San Vicente de la Sonsierra (La Rioja)
Tel +34-941 334 366  -  Fax +34 941 334 180   [email protected]  https://es-es.facebook.com/BodegaPecina

Ten Best Spa Hotels in Spain

Posted by gen On January - 13 - 2014

Enjoy this selection of some of our favorite Spa Hotels in Spain, the perfect plan to beat the winter blues! Combine the spa trip with wine tasting and you have the perfect vacation!

Spain boasts a formidable selection of luxury spa hotels that can easily compete with Europe’s best. These hotels are an oasis of calm, relaxation not excitement is most definitely the number one aim for visitors. The top spa hotels in Spain now literally offer everything:  a dramatic setting, luxury accommodation, top notch facilities and gourmet cuisine on tap. In fact, discerning visitors are now spoiled for choice as Spain runs the whole spa gambit from historic buildings converted into salubrious hotels to modern beach front establishments where the emphasis is on chic!

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So whether you want an oasis of calm nestled in a vibrant urban environment or a dramatic cliff-top setting in the Mediterranean, the following luxury spa hotels will be perfect for you:

Hacienda Na Xamena, Urbanización Na Xamena, s/n, 07815 San Miguel, Ibiza

Set among some of Ibiza’s most spectacular scenery, the Hacienda Na Xamenda is situated high on a sea-facing cliff-top affording visitors the best views on the island. A luxury hotel in every sense of the word, rooms are lavishly decorated with Indian and Indonesian furniture throughout, a den of tranquility a mere 20 minutes away from Ibiza town. Both guests and visitors can enjoy the superb spa, an unmissable highlight is surely to have a relaxing message outdoors on the sea-facing Bamboo terrace. Several steams rooms and a sauna, infinity pools and jacuzzi all add to the enjoyment.

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Mandarin Oriental  Barcelona, Passeig de Gracia, 38-40 08007, Barcelona

Undoubtedly Barcelona’s finest hotel, the Mandarin Oriental Barcelona cocoons you in decadent luxury that seems a million miles away from the realities of the office desk. It is also perfectly situated for just about everything: the shopping of Passeig De Gracia is a few minutes’ walk away, as is the metro stations and place de Catalunya and beyond. And if that wasn’t enough, the hotel has a state of the art spa with all the expected bells and whistles: various steam and sauna rooms, a infinity pool and a seemingly endless selection of treatments – the perfect way to spend a Sunday in Barcelona.

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Hotel Palacio de Sober, Camino del Palacio S/N, 27460 Sober

A true retreat, this magical hotel occupies a very grand space in an historical palace, once belonging to the Counts of Lemos in Galicia. The Palacio de Sober is ideal if you’re looking for nothing but peace and tranquility and has the finest spa in northern Spain – Aqua Ardens. In the summer months guests can swim in an enormous pool and enjoy the views over the mountains of Leon, there are also indoor heated pools and thermal baths, with a number of specialist body and facial treatments. The restaurant is also one of the best in Spain, and serves haute Galician cuisine.

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Abama Golf and Spa Resort, Carretera General, TF-47, km 9, Guía de Isora, Tenerife

Spectacularly situated along Tenerife’s coastline with views over to the neighbouring island of La Gomera, the Abama hotel boasts one of Spain’s plushest and most modern spa facilities. Take your pick from seven outdoor pools or head indoors to the luxurious spa complex and choose from a range of treatments based on the hotel’s five principles of well being: rejuvenation, relaxation, revitalization, balance and beauty. There is also a wonderfully inviting heated hydrotherapy pool, a cool plunge pool, several sauna/steam rooms and a Turkish Bath to boot. You can also purchase many of the oils and other specialist products used in the treatments at a well-stocked Spa shop. And if you’re trip has a romantic leaning then couples can used the private treatment cabins for total seclusion and luxury relaxation – heaven!

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Marbella Club Thalasso Spa, Bulevar Principe Alfonso von Hohenlohe, 29600 Marbella

A sophisticated cut above most hotels in Andalucia, the boutique Marbella Club has an effortless chic about it. Everything is just right at this hotel, from the professional, slick service to the beautiful pool area and superb restaurants. Not to mention one of Spain’s finest spas, a stones throw away from Marbella’s best beach. The facilities are astounding: indoor sea-water pool, jacuzzi, saunas, Turkish baths, relaxations rooms and 12 treatment rooms. The hotel prides itself on the range and quality of treatments available and offers Anti-Stress, weight loss and rejuvenation programmes and specialises in Shi-tao messages, and mineral infused facial treatments. Bliss.

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Balneario de Panticosa, Crta Balneario, KM 10, 22650, Panticosa, Huesca

It was hotels like Balneario that redefined the meaning of a country spa hotel, establishing a new breed of modern, contemporary, sophisticated rural accommodation with all the spa facilities you could want. Located near the city of Huesca in the spectacular Aragonese Pyrenees, the hotel is perfect for hikers in the summer and skiing families in the winter. The spa attached is enormously peaceful, with hydro-therapy being the central emphasis of the resort. It boasts: a central indoor pool, an outdoor heated pool, Turkish bath, and solarium with mountain views to name but a few amenities.  The ideal place to unwind this winter.

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La Residencia, Finca Son Canals, 07179, Deia, Mallorca

Two magnificently restored, 16th century manors on the outskirts of the absolutely gorgeous hamlet of Deia have been made into a elegant, luxury hotel with no equal in Mallorca. It is unashamedly traditional and welcoming with four poster beds and traditional Spanish furniture. The views across from the pool terrace toward the mountains are worth the price of admission alone. The spa complex, however, is thoroughly modern and equipped with open-air terraces allowing guest so enjoy treatments with views of the Tramuntana mountains. All this is complimented by top-notch indoor and outdoor pools, steam rooms and all the facilities you’d expect at such a prestigious address. But we’d happily settle for the view alone!

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Hotel Marques de Riscal, Calle Torrea, 1, 01340, Elciego, Alava

Since the 1860s, Marques de Riscal has been one of Rioja’s leading wineries and now boasts a deluxe hotel and spa to compliment its range of superlative wines. In addition to luxury vineyard facing accommodation and a Michelin starred restaurant, the hotel offers guests the chance to unwind in the luxury spa. It has been showered with awards over the past seven years: Best Spa 2007 by Wallpaper magazine, and in 2009 Conde Nast Traveller voted it most popular overseas Spa. The treatments offered are totally unique to the winery, and make full use of the nearby vineyards. Enjoy a signature Cabernet scrub, before relaxing in the heated indoor pool, hydro-bath, steam room and fantastic jacuzzi.

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Villa de Laguardia, San Raimundo Hiribidea, 15, 01300 Laguardia, Álava

Another of the Rioja region’s top spa hotels, Villa de Laguardia is a fantastic choice for couples looking to relax in opulent style and escape the hustle and bustle of everyday life. Situated in the heart of the Rioja Alavesa region in the dreamy medieval hamlet of Laguardia, the hotel offers great views of the Riojan landscape and a state of the art wine oil Spa, for all your relaxation needs. In addition to the prerequisite pools, Turkish Baths, saunas and stream rooms, the hotel specialises in treatments using local wine and oil from Rioja Alavesa. 15 Cabins allow guests to choose from a multitude of wellness treatments, with a emphasis on using natural, locally found products. spa laguarspa lagua 2

Burgo de Osma Thermal Hotel, Calle Universidad 5, 42300 El Burgo de Osma, Soria.

Situated at the heart of the Castilla y Leon province, the Burgo de Osma hotel and spa is one of Spain’s newest and brightest stars, having opened its doors as recently as 2010. It is housed in an incredible building, the Renaissance University of Santa Catalina founded in the 16th century by Bishop Pedro Alvarez de Acosta. Here, history and modernity collide as the luxurious spa caters for every need with its pools, thermal circuit and treatment cabins. Split into two parts, the thermal cloister consists of a thermal swimming pool, mineral-water spa tubs with various beds, a Turkish bath and a relaxation room. Then, move onto the treatment area and enjoy a massage, or perhaps some geothermal therapy, reflexology, or facial treatments – a blissful heaven of relaxation!

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Ten Bubblies for New Year’s Eve

Posted by gen On December - 27 - 2013

Cellar Tours selections for Sparkling Wines on New Year’s Eve

New Year’s Eve is now so totally synonymous with great fizz that we all must wonder how people managed to celebrate New year, before the invention of sparkling wine? Most of us will no doubt be splashing out on some good bubbly for 31st December, an obligatory part of any New Year’s Eve toast.

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Indeed, good sparkling wine tastes unlike any other. It combines lightness with depth, creaminess with the gentle effervescence of a delicate mouse and complexity with precision. So many flavors can be found in a bottle, ranging from citrus and red fruit to coffee, caramel and honey. It is the perfect celebratory drink, and yet historically it was more likely to be drunk with food than purely for celebrations. Champagne for example was bigger and heavier than now, and was routinely enjoyed with dinner. In fact, the NV Champagne style didn’t appear until the 1920s, now it is the most important Champagne style by far and enjoyed by many millions of wine lovers across the world.

Today, quality sparkling wine is most definitely not limited to Champagne and almost every wine region in the world makes fizz. We consume over 1 billion bottles of the stuff each year, with Cava and Prosecco enjoying a healthy growth in consumption at the moment. But, Europe no longer holds the monopoly on great bubbly: South Africa, New Zealand, Australia and California also make classics. Just try the Cloudy Bay Pelorus at a blind tasting, and see how many non believers it fools into thinking that they are enjoying Champagne.

So, in the celebratory spirit, we have listed some of our favorite bottles of fizz to sip on New Year’s Eve 2013 and welcome the new year.

(note NV = Non Vintage)

Cheers!

Champagne

NV Jacques Selosse Initial Grand Cru Blanc de Blancs Brut

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This remarkable small producer crafts minute quantities of unique, impressive Champagne each year; barely 4,000 cases are released per annum. His approach in the vineyard is fiercely terroir driven, yields are restricted to provide the purest, greatest intensity of Chardonnay fruit possible. His entry level Initial Blanc de Blancs, like all his wines, is fermented in new and old oak resulting in a massive and powerful expression of the Blanc de Blancs (100% Chardonnay) style. A delicious start to your New Year’s Eve.

1999 Salon Blanc de Blancs, Brut

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Some would say that this is the ultimate expression of the Blanc de Blancs style – we would agree! Salon is made from fruit sourced entirely from one vineyard, the legendary Le Mesnil Sur Oger. Only bottled in the very best vintages (the current release is 1999) the wine is the fullest, most intense and vivid expression of Chardonnay based Champagne available today. The 1999 astonishes with its richness, openness and intensity, with a formidable structure ensuring that this Champagne would benefit from another 10 years cellaring. But then who could bare to wait?

Cava

2003 Recaredo Reserva Particular Brut

One of the finest producers in the region today, Recaredo are 100% biodynamic and family-owned. Owner and winemaker Ton Mata crafts some of the most authentic, age-worthy Cavas in the Penedes region and all his wines show incredible complexity, finesse and depth. The  Reserva Particular is a blend of the native Xarel-Lo and Macabeo, a sparkling wine of great depth and elegance.

2007 Agustí Torelló Mata Kripta

Kripta is the prestige wine from respected and historic Cava house, Agustí Torelló Mata. It is undoubtedly one of the region’s superstar Cavas: complex, very aromatic and totally distinctive. A blend of the three Cava varieties – Macabeo, Parellada and Xarel-Lo – it is bottled in a distinctive amphora style bottle, with no flat base. The result is a fantastic Cava full of complex, oxidative aromas and a very fine palate. A Cava to rival any top Champagne!

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Franciacorta

NV Il Mosnel Franciacorta Extra Brut EBB

A remarkable sparkling wine house, with a tradition dating back to 1836. Il Mosnel was run for many years by the formidable Emanuela Barboglio, now presided over by her children Guilio and Lucia. Their extra brut sparkling is one of the best examples found in Lombardy, with plenty of oak, richness, vinousity and power on the palate. Simply delicious and not expensive!

NV Ca’ Del Bosco Franciacorta Cuvee Prestige Rose

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A legend in the region for the quality of their Franciacorta wines, founded by visionary Maurizio Zanella in 1968. Stefano Capelli is in charge of the winemaking duties, and his rose is one of the finest made in Lombardy. Fragrant and stuffed full of red fruit, the bubbly is balanced out by yeasty complexity and great acidity. Ages beautifully too.

Prosecco

NV Bisol Crede Prosecco Valdobbiadene Brut

Bisol is one of Prosecco’s top producers, overseen by Gianluca Bisol, a man extremely passionate about his region and about promoting top quality Prosecco from the superior Valdobbiadende sub-zone of the Veneto region. Their Crede Prosecco is effortlessly drinkable, with its moderate alcohol, delicious aromas of pear and apple and creamy, rich palate. An unbeatable choice for your New Year’s Eve party.

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NV Nino Franco Prosecco Superiore Brut

Another great Prosecco producer, Nino Franco was founded in 1919 by Antonio Franco. Third generation Primo Franco is currently in charge and the vineyards are now managed on organic principals. In fact, the highest attention to every detail is paid through this fine operation and the quality speaks for itself. Their Brut Prosecco is simply gorgeous, offering ripe fruit aromas and great finesse.

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New World Sparkling Wine

2009 Domaine Carneros Brut, California

Taittinger established this Champagne offshoot in Carneros in 1989, since then they have hardly put a foot wrong! Their Californian fizz is one of the best around, rich, elegant and full of intense citrus fruit, vanilla, brioche and those classic toasty flavours we all love. The 2009 Brut is yet another example of the fact that Champagne does not hold the monopoly on high quality, traditional method sparkling wine.

NV Croser Brut, Australia

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Australian legend Brian Croser produces one of South Australia’s best bubblies, from superior fruit in Picadilly. His range displays a wonderful succulence and elegant fruitiness, underpinned by yeasty complexity and toasty notes with age. The NV is classic Croser Fizz, restrained and stylish offering tropical fruit and a wonderful creaminess.

Christmas Wish List for Food and Wine Lovers

Posted by gen On December - 14 - 2013

Our 2013 compilation of Christmas gift ideas for gourmets

By Simona Piccinelli, Italy Tour Specialist

It’s that time of the year again, we are a few weeks away from Christmas and still need to find the perfect present for our loved ones, family, neighbours and friends. Yes, for our New Year resolutions, among others, we promised  ourselves that we would have bought gifts throughout the year or handmade them well in advance, but we are all human and in February we usually forgot about  98% of the intentions we had, until Dec 31 comes once again.

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So here we are again … before starting to panic, have a look at our suggestions for useful, unconventional gifts for wine and food lovers. And if you are sick of getting the umpteenth pan or corkscrew, you could accidentally leave this page open on your laptop located where everybody in the family can see it, post it on your facebook page or forward the link to your best friend ;)

TABLET HOLDER FOR THE KITCHEN

Tablets and ebooks are replacing volumes, also in the kitchen, so here is a  tool a 2.0 chef, like you are, cannot miss!

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CULT PIZZA BOOK

For the neighbour who built a pizza oven in the backyard and is always looking for the latest pizza gear, this  book  written by pizza wizard Bonci is a must!
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 MINI SMOKEHOUSE

If your uncle loves to fish and your auntie doesn’t know where to store all  the salmon and trout, the perfect gift for them is a home smoker with a selection of different woods chips, creating a taste of an authentic Irish smokehouse….11RIEDEL GLASSES AND WINE ATLAS

After he tasted the Barolo Massolino  you served last year, your cousin felt in love with wine, subscribed to a wine club and organizes monthly wine tasting dinners at his place, so a set of Riedel glasses and a classic like Hugh Johnson’s  Atlas of Wine is a surefire hit.

 

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ARTISAN CHEESE KNIVES

For your sister in law who went to Ireland this summer to celebrate The Gathering and discovered a world of artisan cheeses , a design set of cheese knives, by Alessi. Each knife has the signature of the artisan who made it.

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TRUFFLE SLICER

For your brother who loves hiking in the woods with his dog on Sunday mornings, a professional truffle slicer, with the warmest wish to find some truffles soon (and share it with the family!). Add a  jar of natural black truffles and some truffle tips -why not print out our insider’s guide to truffles- to help him fetch some beauties. 8POSH ITALIAN COOKING APRON

For your fashionista sister,  a fabulous cooking apron made by one of the most famous fashion designers and artists would be a winner.

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RARE GREY GOOSE

For your brother in law, who looks only for exclusive and one of a kind items, one of the 3 rare examples of l’ Origine Grey Goose vodka magnum kept in an artistic sculpture.

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HISTORIC FRENCH FOOD DICTIONARY

For your niece, who recently fell in love with French literature and macarons, an amazing food dictionary by the one and only Alexandre Dumas

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For your nephew who finally turned 21, a bottle of 1992 vintage Bas Armagnac, so he  will learn  that drinking is something serious to be appreciated and savored slowly.

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STYLISH NEW ESPRESSO MAKER

For your partner, who is a zombie and grumbles until the second coffee of the morning, the latest  espresso maker on the market by Illy, produced in cooperation with a Swiss mechanical engineering company.
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FRENCH GOURMET COOKBOOK FOR BABIES

For your friend who used to dine out weekly at French restaurants before becoming a parent, and whose baby is close to the important weaning time, a precious recipe book by Alain Ducasse,  to blend the old passion with the new life.

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ITALIAN FOOD AND WINE HAMPER

For your parents who celebrate an important anniversary next year, a selection of  Italian wine and delicacies (we suggest Gobino gianduiotti chocolate, Spigaroli culatello ham, Parmigiano cheese, Panettone, Poggio Cappiano extra virigin olive oil, Bellavista Franciacorta, San Polino Brunello di Montalcino, Marisa Cuomo Gran Furor, Bukkuram Passito di Pantelleria or a gift pack from Roscioli   ) and a free subscription to the Cellar Tours newsletter to start dreaming and planning their celebration tour in Italy…

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Kilbeggan Distillery, located in central Ireland, makes some of the best premium whiskies in the world including Connemara Peated Single Malt, Tyrconnell Single Malt, Greenore Single Grain, and Kilbeggan Irish whiskey.

We had the chance to interview their distiller, Andrina Fitzgerald this month and are delighted to share it with our readers.

CELLAR TOURS-  How do you find it being one of the the only female distillers in Ireland?

I am no longer the only female distiller in Ireland. Jameson has recently hired an apprentice female distiller. It is great for the industry to see women getting involved in the production side of the whiskey industry. Primarily it was a male dominated world, and even to this day when visitors hear there is a distiller on site at Kilbeggan, they are a bit surprised to see a woman operating the stills. I’m proud to have the opportunity to learn the trade from the masters before me – I take pride in my work and appreciate the fact that I am very lucky to have the job I have. I love the science behind the craft but also knowing that I am creating something from scratch which others will enjoy in a few years’ time, fills me with pride.

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CELLAR TOURS- How did you first come to learn about, appreciate and enjoy whiskey?

Everything I have learned, I have learned here on site. Prior to starting the job, I had a very limited knowledge of whiskey, but I understood the science behind the process having studied chemistry and biology at university. With each day that passed, I gained more knowledge about whiskey, the different brands (both what we make and other brands), and what distinguishes one whiskey from another. Being immersed in the day to day running of the distillery ensured that I got a great understanding of whiskey. Knowing the time and effort that goes into creating a whiskey means that I will appreciate the next dram I have.

CELLAR TOURS- What is an average work day for a distiller like?

A typical day for a distiller is full of variety. The morning starts off with getting everything up and running for the day ahead. Once the stills are charged, heated up and running, the rest of the day is taken up with monitoring the stills for flow rate, alcohol strength and temperature, along with doing paperwork, checking in with mashing, fermentation and maturation. And of course meeting and greeting with visitors and telling them how we operate and make whiskey here at the home of Kilbeggan Irish Whiskey.

CELLAR TOURS- What is the main difference between Scotch whisky and Irish whiskey?

The difference primarily lies in location. Scotland is more Northerly than Ireland resulting in colder winters. Ireland has a very temperate climate; the summers are never too warm, the winters never too cold. This lack of extremes allows Irish whiskey to mature at a more mild and mellow pace resulting in a softer, smoother style of whiskey.

8/06/2013 Kilbeggan Distillery Photography. Picture Conor McCabe Photography.

CELLAR TOURS- What types of whiskey do you make at Kilbeggan and do you have a personal fave?

Here at Kilbeggan we are currently making single malt whiskey. We have in the past made some innovation whiskies which are currently maturing in the warehouses here in Kilbeggan. However for now, we are focusing on making single malt which will go into our Kilbeggan blend after maturation. Although I do love all of the brands that we produce, Kilbeggan would be my favourite. I particularly enjoy the caramel and vanilla expressions which are revealed on the palette before finishing quickly with the soft, light malt sugar note. I enjoy having my dram of Kilbeggan on the rocks or in an Irish Coffee.

CELLAR TOURS- Where do your barrels come from? I heard some barrels come from Jerez and Marsala?

Here at Kilbeggan we are using ex-bourbon barrels from America to mature our whiskey. Our barrels are coming from some of the Jim Beam distilleries in America. We use the ex-bourbon barrels for the development of our desired and signature flavours. Another reason for using ex-bourbon barrels is that they are plentiful. Ex-sherry, port or maderia barrels can also be used for maturation, but the supply of these is not as plentiful as the ex-bourbon barrels. Therefore, this makes these barrels more costly to source.

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 CELLAR TOURS-How is Kilbeggan different to the larger players in Ireland like Jameson?

Kilbeggan is a double distilled whiskey. This allows the whiskey to retain more flavor than a triple distilled spirit like Jameson. While as smooth and soft as a triple distilled whiskey, Kilbeggan has more flavor resulting in a more versatile and fuller flavoured whiskey.

CELLAR TOURS- Is it sacrilege to use whiskey in cocktails? If not, is there a certain whiskey cocktail you like?

Definitely not sacrilege! A good cocktail is all about balance and complementary flavours; just like a good whiskey. The beauty of whiskey is that it can be enjoyed in many ways; straight, with a little ice or water, in a long drink like Ginger ale or indeed in a good classic cocktail like an Old Fashioned, Whiskey Sour or Manhattan style drink.

8/06/2013 Kilbeggan Distillery Photography. Picture Conor McCabe Photography.

CELLAR TOURS-What can visitors to the distillery look forward to and is there a best time of year to visit?

Visitors to the Kilbeggan Distillery Experience start their tour in 1757 and discover how Irish whiskey was made in decades past. They will discover the families that owned the distillery in the past and the importance the local community had on what you see today. They’ll see the old mash tuns and fermenters, still in their original positions. Visitors can also get close to the iconic waterwheel which once powered the whole distillery and kept whiskey flowing through Kilbeggan.

A stroll across the courtyard takes you to the present day, where whiskey is being produced in the traditional way – ancient traditions have been passed on from generation to generation, and the team are happy to talk you through what they are doing. Visitors can see the traditional method of mashing in an oak mash tun, fermentation in Oregon pine vats and the new Kilbeggan malt spirit flowing the from ancient pot still –  which is over 186 years old! Of course no visit would be complete without a taste of Kilbeggan’s finest. A visit to Kilbeggan Distillery is a unique experience not to be missed! The Distillery is open 7 days a week, except for between Christmas and New Year periods.

8/06/2013 Kilbeggan Distillery Photography. Picture Conor McCabe Photography.

CELLAR TOURS-With the holidays around the corner, it´s the season for Irish coffee, do you have a Kilbeggan Irish coffee recipe you could share with our readers?

Classic is best. A good shot of Kilbeggan, topped up with freshly brewed coffee and lightly whipped chilled cream floated on the top.

Top Basque Gourmet Restaurants in Pais Vasco and Pays Basque

Cellar Tours recommend:

The Basque country – and in particular the glamorous resort of San-Sebastian – is now a must visit destination for lovers of fine gastronomy traveling in Spain. Its inhabitants, the fiercely proud Basque people, have always enjoyed spending money on food and drink, and lots of it! They are privileged to have access to an abundance of superb raw materials – fish, seafood, excellent game, vegetables, mushrooms, fine wines and other delicacies can all be sourced locally. Moreover, over the past thirty years Basque cuisine has been going through a phase of creative renewal, inspired by the French nouvelle cuisine cookery school. The result is that the region is now Spain’s uncontested gourmet stronghold and a paradise for visitors looking to immerse themselves in good food and wine.

pays basque in autumn

Unsurprisingly, there are more Michelin starred restaurants in the Basque country than any other part of Spain and with standards ever rising; the number is set to increase in the future. The city of San-Sebastian alone has 8 Michelin-starred restaurants, including the famous Arzak, one of the pioneers of the new Basque cuisine school of gastronomy. Of course, plenty of superb restaurants can be found across the region without a Michelin star and not having a star does not mean that the restaurant does not work to the highest gastronomic standards. As a guide for discerning visitors keen to sample one or two of the finer points of Basque cuisine, we have selected our top Basque country restaurants below:

1. Akelarre, Paseo Padre Orcolaga, 56, 20008, San-Sebastian- THREE MICHELIN STARS

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With over 38 years experience of wowing diners, head chef Pedro Subijana rarely hits a wrong note with his incredibly refined, exquisite take on traditional Basque dishes and cuisine. This 3 Michelin-starred restaurant in San-Sebastian simply has it all: spectacular views of rolling hills which plunge into the sea, sublime food, a lengthy wine list and professional, but not overly formal service. To savor Subijana’s star dishes, you must try the seven course menu de degustacion. Every dish is a gastronomic treat, but particular highlights include the Sauteed Fresh Foie Gras with Salt Flakes and Grain Pepper and the utterly irresistible Roasted Baby Pig with Tomato “Bolao” and Iberian Emulsion. One for that special occasion! And a personal fave were our clients get extra special service here.

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2. Arzak, 273 Avenida Alcade Elosegui, 20015, San-Sebastian- THREE MICHELIN STARS

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Considered to be one of the word’s best restaurants in any gourmet guide worth its salt, and, judging by the consistently excellent standards at this icon of modern Basque cooking, we’d have to agree. Founded in 1897 as a house by the current owner’s grandparents, Arzak’s fame can be attributed to one man with a great vision – Juan Mari Arzak. After returning home from the army, Arzak trained in his mother’s kitchen and founded what would become Spain’s first restaurant to be awarded three Michelin stars in 1989. Today, he works with his equally passionate daughter Elena to bring diners a taste of his incredible take on Basque dishes – Arzak literally is the godfather of new Basque cuisine. Signature dishes include his marvelous Rape Marea Baja, which is Monkfish with mussels and nori flavored shells and his sublime Pichon con Chia, a moreish concoction of roasted pigeon with a Mexican Chia seed cracker and chia spheres filled with broth. A venue everyone should visit at least once in their lifetime.

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3. Azurmendi, Corredor del Txorierri, Salids 25, Barrio Legina, Larrabetzu, 48195- THREE MICHELIN STARS

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If Azurmendi were up for sale then it would pull in a fortune for its location alone! A spectacular hilltop setting 10 minutes drive from Bilbao airport houses a modern glass and steel building that serves 3 Michelin-starred food of the highest quality. A relatively new kid on the block, Azurmendi was founded in 2005 by superstar chef Eneko Atxa who cut his teeth at such prestigious venues as Andra Mari and Mugaritz. Its fame quickly rose and in 2013, the venue was awarded a third Michelin star. The restaurant, in addition to being celebrated for its Nouvelle Basque cuisine, is noted for its exceptional and well stocked wine cellar, which is also excellent value. A bottle of the superb Alion from Vega Sicilia can be obtained for €60 for example, which is equivalent to the retail price. Atxa’s prize winning dishes include his roast lobster with a tapenade of lobster, mushrooms, black olives and spring onion emulsion and the already legendary Confit of pork on a breadcrumb base salted with pork bones and acorns, garnished with pork jus, herbs and pork crackling. Divine!

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4. Berasategui, Calle Loidi 4, Lasarte-Oria, 20160, San-Sebastian- THREE MICHELIN STARS

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A living legend in Basque gastronomy, Martin Berasategui currently holds more Michelin stars than any other Spanish chef. He opened one of the Basque country’s leading restaurants in 1993, in a charming converted farmhouse. He quickly earned a Michelin star and was awarded his third in 2001. This is a restaurant that strives for perfection and easily achieves it; the service is some of the best in Spain, each dish is meticulously crafted and most importantly, Berasategui will happily substitute any dish for something more to your liking. He will also design a menu to fit your budget, which is a rarity in Michelin-starred establishments. Add into the mix an extensive wine list and beautiful setting, and you have the recipe for gastronomic perfection. His signature dishes include a cold potato soup with smoked bacon and the award winning roasted Araiz pigeon, with fresh mushroom pasta, spring onions and light touches of truffle cream.

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5. Elkano, Herrerieta Kalea, 2, 20808, Getaria

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This restaurant is justly celebrated for being a seafood lover’s paradise. Located in the charming Basque village of Getaria, head chef Pedro Arregui, aided by grill master Luís Manterola are famous all over Spain, in fact Europe and beyond for their exquisite shellfish and grilled fish dishes, washed down with the local Basque wine, Txacoli. Their secret is simply only using the freshest, seasonal and locally caught produce which is clearly reflected in the menu. The undisputed highlight at Elkano is the turbot-rodaballo, whole turbot cooked on oak charcoal ashes very slowly, without touching the fire, the result being the finest turbot we have ever tasted. Visitors must also try the delightful kokotxas pil pil, which is grilled hake jowl served with a sauce prepared with its own gelatin, olive oil, parsley, and garlic. Finish with the delicious helado de queso de Idiazabal, ice cream made from a mascarpone-like local cheese served with fresh strawberry coulis.

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6. Etxebarri, Calle de San Juán, 1, 24549 Atxondo- ONE MICHELIN STAR

etxebarri 66Head chef and founder Victor Arguinzoniz is the master of Asador style cooking, which is a traditional Spanish method which cooks everything over a large charcoal grill, including dessert! Located in the beautiful Basque countryside, the restaurant offers new culinary creations based on classic techniques and Arguinzoniz is not afraid to grill baby eels, rice, clams, anchovies and black truffles in his quest for culinary perfection. At the heart of this gastronomic temple, however, is a love of freshness and flavor rather than aesthetics for aesthetics sake or overwrought creations.  The wine list is a similar delight, packed with diverse offerings from Spain’s finest regions. Start your feast with his signature grilled baby eels. Follow with baby sea-cucumbers and green beans and tartar of fresh lobster, then move onto the obligatory chuletón or gilled rib eye. This restaurant, although off the beaten track is an essential visit for lovers of great food and wine!

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7. La Villa Eugenie, Hotel du Palais, 1 Avenue de l’ Imperatrice, 64200, Biarritz- ONE MICHELIN STAR

One of France’s greatest restaurants, the Michelin-starred Villa Eugenie can be found in the stunningly beautiful Hotel du Palais in the glamours French resort of Biarritz. The hotel was founded in 1855 as a private villa (known as Villa Eugenie) for the Empress Eugenie. In 1880 the villa was sold and subsequently converted into a hotel casino and then the luxury hotel we see today. It is now a must visit destination of gourmets traveling in the Basque country and the favourite of many Parisians, who say it exceeds the finest restaurants in the French capital. Head Chef Jean-Marie Gautier is a culinary master, but unlike some of his contemporaries prefers to serve classical dishes and is not a slave to the inventiveness of the new Basque school of gastronomy. The ornate, opulent dining room is a sight to behold and one of the most romantic destinations in France. Diners come from far and wide to enjoy his wonderful creations, including the sangria poached duck foie gras and sautéed sucking lamb with artichoke. As expected, the wine list is extensive and a Bordeaux and Burgundy lovers delight.

La Villa Eugenie, Hotel du Palais

8. L´Atelier, 8, rue de la Bergerie – Quartier St Charles, 64200 Biarritz- ONE MICHELIN STAR

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Another fantastic example of fine gastronomy in the resort of Biarritz, L’Atelier is run by a husband and wife team who recently gained their first Michelin star. A deserving accolade for one of the region’s finest restaurants, presided over by head chef Alexandre Bousquet, while his wife runs the front of house. This small, intimate restaurant serves modern, refined cuisine which mixes the best elements of its French and Basque heritage. Some dishes that must be tried include the sea bream and mashed potato with a pistachio sauce, fried oysters with coconut foam and his divine veal sweetbreads. The wine list offers many gems from both France and Spain, including a great selection of vintage Champagnes. Magnifique!

9. Mugaritz, Otzazulueta Baserria, Aldura Aldea 20, Errenteria, 20100 San Sebastian- TWO MICHELIN STARS

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Andoni Luis Aduriz, who founded Mugaritz in 1998 has a pedigree like no other in Spain. This incredibly talented chef worked at the legendary El Bulli in the 1990s and also trained under Martin Berasategui in 1996, another of the Basque country’ leading chefs. He is widely acknowledged to be at the forefront of the new Basque haute cuisine of the region, following the template set out by chefs like Arzak, who wished to investigate the science behind food preparation in their pursuit of perfect molecular gastronomy. Dining at Mugartiz – a mere 20 minutes drive by car from San-Sebastian – therefore, is an experience rather than just an evening of great food. Expect such creative delicacies as noodles of milk skin wrapped in lard served with a tomatoes and pumpkin emulsion, hake with cauliflower and marscarpone cheese and lamb with brain ragout! Service as you’d expect is flawless and attentive throughout and the wine list is a monument to every major Spanish wine producing region.

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10. Zoko Moko, 6 Rue Mazarin, 64500, St Jean de Luz- ONE MICHELIN STAR

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This elegant and beautiful venue is now undoubtedly St Jean de Luz’s best restaurant. Presided over by head chef Remy Benedeyt since 2011, his cooking is a veritable showcase of sophisticated Basque cooking, and is well worth the visit to this delightful seaside resort on the French Basque coast. The emphasis is squarely on providing diners with a warm personal touch, service is friendly rather than overly formal and the restaurant is only too happy to accommodate your personal requests or preferences. Highlights include prawns on a bed of a julienne of avocado and courgette and the famous cannettes (female duck) which comprises of a pan fried breast and a confit leg. Desserts are also splendid, as is the carefully prepared wine list. Prices are reasonable considering the quality on offer and if this fantastic restaurant has a drawback, well then we can’t see it!

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11. Zortziko, Calle Alameda Mazarredo 17, El Ensanche, Bilbao, 48001- ONE MICHELIN STAR

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The legendary Zortziko remains today Bilbao’s finest Michelin-starred restaurant; founded by Daniel Garcia in 1989 it continues to wow visitors with Garcia’s superlative, contemporary haute cuisine. The destination is worth the price of admission alone, a gorgeous and elegant building which was actually declared a historic monument. Garcia keeps the menu seasonal, allowing diners to return and sample different innovative dishes, which are always sublime. Service is totally professional and the wine list impressive. Start your meal with the signature langostino con risotto de perretxikos (prawns with wild mushroom risotto), followed by the suprema de pintada asada a la salsa de trufas (guinea fowl in truffle sauce). Finish with strawberry soup and rhubarb ice cream for real gastronomic heaven.

Zortziko comedor

12. Zuberoa, Araneder Bidea, Barrio Iturriotz, 20180 Oiartzun- ONE MICHELIN STAR

Restaurante-Zuberoa

Another of Spain’s best restaurants, Zuberoa is set in an idyllic 600 year old farmhouse in the Basque countryside. Founded by the Arbelaitz brothers, the restaurant has maintained over the years a flawless consistency in its culinary artistry, head chef Hilario Arbelaitz is a devotee to the new Basque school of cookery, although he never forgets the traditional origins of Basque cooking which shines through in his creations. Service is perfect, complimenting his delicious, inventive cooking. Signature dishes include: foie gras with chickpea sauce, roasted Norway lobster, vichyssoise and vanilla ravioli, roast duck foie gras with a red fruit sauce and his legendary strawberry and tomato soaked gazpacho.

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Insiders Guide to Truffles in Italy

Posted by gen On November - 27 - 2013

Insiders Guide to Truffles in Italy- By Simona Piccinelli, Italy Specialist

Truffles are a gourmet delicacy, one of the most expensive and desired in the world. Foodies  swoon over them, international top chefs search them out and bid for them at auction, and truffles are without a doubt one of the priciest and most precious food stuffs on the planet.

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Although truffles are in such high demand and so appreciated, they are still shrouded in mystery for many and so we decided to chat with some of the professional truffle hunters and producers we work with in different regions of Italy, to ask them the numerous questions we get regularly asked by our tartufi loving guests. We spoke to Natale and Giorgio Romagnolo in Piedmont, Cristiano Savini in Tuscany and Saverio and Gabriella Bianconi in Umbria .

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Herewith, our FAQ and TRUFFLES 101>

CELLAR TOURS- What are truffles?

Truffles are an underground Ascomycete fungi. They grow symbiotically with specific tree roots, called in Italian  “simbionti” and require unique microclimatic conditions. They have an external part, called the “peridio”, which may have different textures and colors depending on the kind of truffle, and an inner, pulpy part, called the “gleba”.

 

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The word “truffle” has a Latin origin. It comes from the word “tuber” which means “lump”. Over the centuries, it evolved to became “tufer” and all the European terms derive from that: tartufi (Italy), trufa (Spain), truffe (France),  Trüffel (Germany), trufa (Portugal), trufel (Poland), tryffle (Sweden), only to name a few.

CELLAR TOURS- How are truffles created and how do they grow?

We need to dust off those biology books we studied at school! Like all fungi, truffles come from spores. In spring, the spores in the soil germinate and produce very thin filaments around the roots of specific trees. At the end of spring/summer, these filaments colonize the plant’s roots and grow special “organs”, called mycorrhiza, which provides the fungus with a relatively constant and direct access to carbohydrates, such as glucose and sucrose, from the plant. In return, the plant gains the benefits of higher absorptive capacity for water and mineral nutrients. In fall/winter, mycorrhizas push the vegetative part the fungus, called mycelium, to grow and this  will become the fruiting body of the fungus, namely the truffle.

As truffles are underground, they cannot spread spores in the air; that’s why they have a distinctive and strong scent. Some animals (pigs, dogs, squirrels, rats, foxes, moles, etc) are attracted by this aroma, they eat the truffle and spore dispersal is guaranteed.

Trees species that “produce” white truffles include poplar, oak, linden, sometimes also hazel. Truffles prefer argillaceous or calcareous soils which are well drained. They require a chilly, humid microclimate, with average temperatures of 6°C/42.8 F.

CELLAR TOURS- Where do you find truffles?

White truffle, the precious Tuber Magnatum Pico,  is not common nor easy to find; the only places in the world where you can find it are: Northern Italy (Piedmont),  Central Italy (Tuscany, Marche, Umbria) and in small areas of Istria and Slovenia. The best, most coveted white truffles are the ones from Alba, Acqualagna and San Miniato.

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You can find Black truffles in Europe (Italy,  Spain, France, Greece, Turkey), in Northern Africa, in New Zealand, in Asia and in America.

CELLAR TOURS- How many kinds of truffles are there? At what times during the year can you find truffles?

All over the world, you have several kind of truffles, 63 are the ones classified as Tuber. In Italy, you have about 25 different truffles, but only 9 of them are cataloged as  edible. Each kind of truffle has its own season.

The truffles you can usually find in the market are the following 6, for each one you can see its season (it can change depending on specific region):

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Tuber magnatum Pico – precious white truffle – from the middle of September to end of January

Tuber melanosporum Vitt. – precious  black truffle or Norcia black truffle – from the middle of November to the middle of March

Tuber aestivum Vitt.  – Summer black truffle – from the middle of June to the end of August; from beginning of October to the end of November

Tuber borchii Vitt. – “whitish” truffle – from the middle of January to the end of April

Tuber brumale Vitt. – winter black truffle – from middle of December to the end of March

Tuber macrosporum Vitt. – black truffle- from October to December

Usually, you are not allowed to hunt truffles from the end of August to the middle of September.

CELLAR TOURS- What are the differences between the black and white truffle?

The main difference you can see is, of course, how they look. White truffles have a smooth layer, from white to ochre color outside and white- hazelnut color inside. Black truffles have a rough , black or dark brown rind. Inside it is white – hazelnut if it is summer black truffle, black or dark grey if winter black truffle.

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But the most important difference is their aroma.  White truffles have a stronger aroma, a wider range of perfumes and a “symphony” of scents: garlic, honey, spices, hay, just to name a few. Black truffles have a less powerful smell and are less complex, more reminiscent of  mushroom, soil, underbrush.

Do not forget that white truffles are less common than black ones and can be found in a very limited area in the world, because they need an extremely specific microclimate and tree roots to grow. That’s why the price is also very different. White truffle can cost up to 7 or 10 times more than the black one.

CELLAR TOURS- Do you use pigs to truffle hunt?

In previous centuries, pigs were used to go truffle hunting, especially female swines, which are particularity attracted to the truffle´s heady scent. They were hard to control though, as being pigs, it was difficult to stop them from gobbling up the precious truffles.

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Truffle pigs have now generally been replaced by truffle dogs, as dogs are easier to manage and to train and much more disciplined.

CELLAR TOURS- Which dog breeds are the best ones for truffle hunting?

You don’t really have truffle hunting dog breeds as such, but some feature qualities particularly  suitable for this activity. Pointing breeds -  such as pointer, Italian bracco, Italian spinone, Setter, Cocker Spaniel -  are very good, even moreso if the dog comes from  a crossbreed. Recently, the Lagotto breed and the labrador breed have also proven very popular in Italy.

To be a good truffle hunter, a dog needs an excellent sense of smell, endurance, intelligence, learning ability and adaptability.

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CELLAR TOURS-  What do you need to know before buying truffles, especially precious white ones?

The best way to be sure to buy a good truffle is to know the truffle hunter or the truffle trader and to trust his honesty and accuracy, as we can do now, after many years of cooperation with our “truffle partners”! This, of course, is not always possible, so here some guidelines: first of all, try to buy fresh truffles at well known, certified markets, fair and auctions and check the average price on the market for that specific year and kind of truffle you want to buy; then check the truffle with your sight, touch and smell.

Visual examination:

Truffle has to be clean and intact. It is not whole, it could have hangers -on or be ruined by the dog during the hunt. If it has dark spots, it might be rotten. Be sure that holes are not filled with soil and that the color is not altered with corn flour or anything similar.

Physical examination:

If you gently press the truffle, it has to have a good level of consistency. If it is gummy or elastic, it is not fresh.

Nasal examination:

Precious white truffle has a pleasant, agreeable, well balanced aroma. If you smell ammonia, methane or fermented notes, this suggests it is not fresh.

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At a restaurant, always ask to see the truffles before they slice them on the food and check them as described above. If price is per gram, ask to check the weight. An average portion is usually 10 grams and costs about 40 euros.

CELLAR TOURS- How do you store truffles? How long can you keep them?

Fresh truffles have to be eaten as soon as possible, especially white ones. You can store them for a limited length of time, wrapping them individually in a humid cloth, putting in a glass jar with airtight closure, at 3-6°C (37.4/42.8 F), like the fridge. If you change the cloth every day you can keep white truffle for about a week and black ones for about 2 weeks.

Generally speaking, the white truffles found in November and December usually last longer than the ones of the beginning of the season (September and October).

Black truffles (usually not the precious Norcia black truffle, but the summer black ones) can be frozen, once sliced, but never  do this with white truffles!

You can also process truffles to preserve them.

You can grind black truffle or slice white truffle and mix it carefully with butter and a pinch of salt. You can use this butter to add a truffle flavor to all your recipes and food and it will last for about a month.

With black truffles (summer and winter ones), you can cut them and whirl them in a blender with extra virgin olive oil and a pinch of salt, to get a thick sauce, that you can put i glass jar. It lasts about 40 days or you can even freeze it.

You can do pretty much the same with the whitish truffle (Bianchetto, NOT with the Magnum Pico): you slice it, scald in extra virgin olive oil and then put in glass jar, to be sterilized in hot water for about 15 minutes.

The easiest alternative is to buying fresh truffle is to buying preserved truffle or truffled food, but only from professional and trustworthy merchants and transformers and always check the percentage of truffle in each product. Excellent producers are Savini, Bianconi, Boscovivo, Tartuflanghe, which proposes a couple of new and innovative ways to conserve truffles.

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CELLAR TOURS- What are the best ways to eat truffles?

The best way to eat the precious white truffle Magnum Pico (and also Bianchetto) is without any doubt to have it fresh – as fresh as possible – and sliced. You can use it on hot dishes, like risotto, hand made egg pasta, fried egg, fondue – or on cold dishes, like tartare or salad of raw Caesar’s mushrooms.

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Norcia black truffle can be used raw (but ground and not sliced) on food or cooked.

Other black truffles express their best if heated, so you should briefly cook them. A great match is with anchovies, in sauce.

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CELLAR TOURS- How much do truffles cost?

Truffles are seasonal products, so their availability, quality and therefore price can vary from year to year, depending on rainfall, temperature and climatic aspects. Also shape and size effect price.

The precious white truffle, the Tuber Pico Magnum, is the most expensive one; this 2013 season, you can find it from 1000 to 3000 euros per kilo (2.2 pounds), depending on the size and region of origin.

Here you can check the average price of the precious white truffle of Alba.

Is there anything else you want to know about truffles? Have we peaked your curiosity? Don´t hesitate to drop us a line!

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Photo credits: http://www.tuber.it – Tartufotto Milano -  http://www.tartufibianconi.it – http://www.savinitartufi.it/ – http://www.lacasadeltrifulau.it/ – http://www.tartuflanghe.it

Barcelona Restaurants Open on Sundays and Mondays

Posted by gen On November - 18 - 2013

Which restaurants open in Barcelona on Sundays and Mondays?

Sundays and Mondays are traditional closing days in Spain for restaurants and Barcelona is no exception. It is notoriously hard to find nice places to eat on these days and if you don´t plan it properly you can end up in terrifyingly bad tourist dives, very disappointed and in a city as famous for gastronomy as Barcelona, there is no excuse to eat badly!

As our clients are always asking us to recommend excellent restaurants on these days, we have put together a little list of places we enjoy and who are open on Sunday lunch, Sunday dinner, Monday lunch and/or Monday dinner, so you will never be without some foodie recs under your belt on your next trip to Barcelona! Always book in advance to avoid waiting in line or being turned away.

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Barcelona Restaurants Open for Sunday lunch

Arola at Hotel Arts- mythical Michelin starred chef Sergi Arola has this wonderful, breezy  eatery at the Hotel Arts and on a balmy, Mediterranean afternoon there are few nicer settings in Barcelona for lunch! Enjoy easy going delicious tapas like fried calamari; Arola´s signature Patatas Bravas; Iberian pork with Basque Idiazabal cheese, pistachios and chili; succulent Girona beef marinated in soy, wasabi and ginger; ravioli cooked in red wine, oxtail and mushrooms; crab salad and garlicky shrimp, to name  a few goodies.

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Sauc at Hotel Ohla – this Michelin starred eatery at the trendy 5* Ohla hotel is open 7 days a week for lunch and dinner, unprecedented in Barcelona for a fine dining restaurant. The cuisine is traditional Catalan cooking reinvented with a twist.  You will find adventurous dishes like smoked eel tartare with green apple and herring roe, and more comforting dishes like suckling pig with sauteed potatoes and shallots, and roast turbot withe potato and pancetta terrine in a red wine sauce. Desserts are very tempting, although we usually opt for the cheese plate and Sauc do a great artisan cheese platter.Good choice for a cheffy meal when many of the Michelins close.

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Taller de Tapas- you cannot go wrong with the super high quality tapas at the Taller de Tapas chain in Barcelona (our favorites are the ones on Calle Argentaria and Rambla de las Flores). Prices are superb for the quality of food and wine you have on offer here. We always order about 10 dishes and royally pig out, and no visit to Barcelona is complete for us without a lunch or dinner at Taller de Tapas. We especially love their Jabugo ham croquettes (homemade), Esqueixada de bacallà (delicious salt cod salad with black olives), Pulpo a feira (Galician style octopus), Cazuela de almejas gallegas al alvarinho (Clams cooked in white wine, soooo good), Cecina de Astorga (cured beef thinly sliced similar to Brsaola from Italy), Pimientos de Padron (tiny roast green peppers, one in 10 is super picante), sautéed artichokes with wild mushrooms and the stunning Girona beef with caramelized onions…I personally love cava with tapas and Barcelona is of course at the gateway to the Penedès wine country where cava comes from and on menus including here you´ll always find some nice offerings. At Taller de Tapas they carry Juve i Camps and Gramona, both faves. Also sparklers from Alella, just half an hour north of Barcelona, like Parxet.

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Jaume de Provença- top quality Catalan cuisine and an extensive wine list with over 300 offerings. Very old school and not interested in being trendy, off the radar mostly with international foodies. Dishes we love include their Spinach Catalan Lasagna, Galician pulpo (octopus), Catalan fish soup, and their mythical broad bean, shrimp and mint salad. They also have classics like steak tartare, baked hake with mussels, duck a l´orange, or if you want to try a local delicacy- pig´s trotters! Many Spanish celebrities, professional athletes and high society dine here so you might spot someone famous :)

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Petit Comité – This attractive and always happening eatery is Michelin starred Fermi Puig´s casual offering, with nostalgic traditional Catalan cuisine served in a hip (but still cozy) setting. They currently have a fabulous 40 euro tasting menu including wine pairings, crazy good value for Barcelona, that includes Croquettes, Grilled Asparagus with Romesco Sauce, Catalan saucisson and wild Garlic Omelette , Tuna with Samfaina and Crema Catalana (like Créme Brulée) with cava, an Emporda white and a Monsant red. Nice place to come with a group of friends.

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Paco Meralgo- this self described high end tavern serves brilliant tapas. We love the cuttlefish meatballs, grilled razor clams, periwinkles, roast artichokes, cod Buñuelos, croquettes, Andalusian eggplant… delish and so worth it, don´t miss the tapas here. They open 7 days a week (minus Christmas) for lunch and dinner and lunch is particularly lively.

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Chicoa- stellar traditional Catalan cuisine, in a handsome, cozy setting. Perfect if you are looking for home cooking and if you have been over indulging in haut cuisine and looking for something more quaint and rustic. The specialty here is Bacalao- cod- and some particularly special dishes include the Bacalao a la ampurdanesa (with plums, pine nuts and raisins), Bacalao gratinado al alioli con langostinos (au gratin with alioli sauce and langoustines) and Bacalao a la llauna (oven baked). There are also a ton of excellent local veg dishes like Spinach canelloni and artichoke fritters.

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Bravo 24 at the W- Carles Abellan (of Comerç 24) has this venture at the mega trendy beachfront W Hotel. Rice, seafood and excellent tapas feature heavily on the menu and this is a groovy place to have an upmarket yet casual lunch. Highlights include Zarzuela fish stew, razor clam salad, White asparagus from Gavà, and Wagyu beef. Chilled out and cool.

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L’Olivé- this elegant eatery is owned by the same group who run Paco Meralgo. Located on the shishi Calle  Balmes, the Olivé offers excellent Mediterranean cuisine in a cozy space, we quite like this one for lunch. Go with a group of friends so you can taste an array of dishes! Start with breaded Calçots (similar to leeks), marinated anchovies from Ondarroa, Fabulous Jamón de Bellota (hand cut when you order), and perhaps their beautiful Catalan spinach dish (with pine nuts, raisins and pancetta). The stuffed eggplant is also great as are the road red peppers stuffed with cod. For the main course you could taste their seafood paella or more traditional Fideos (noodles) with squid ink.

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Casa Delfin- Again, top notch tapas in a lovely location in the buzzy Born quarter, near the beautiful Santa Maria del Mar cathedral and a host of trendy shops and wine bars. We love sitting on the terrace at lunchtime and tearing into their mythical Catalan fish stew (Suquet) while guzzling Cava, this is one of life´s pleasures! They do very traditional offal and seafood fishes too and are one of the last breed of traditional, honest, high quality  (not designer and trendy) tapas eateries left in Barcelona, refreshing.

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Barcelona Restaurants Open for Sunday dinner

Sauc at Hotel Ohla (description above)

Arola at Hotel Arts (description above)

Bravo 24 at W Hotel (description above)

Petit Comitè (description above)

Paco Meralgo (description above)

Casa Delfin (description above)

Barcelona Restaurants Open for Monday lunch

Alkimia- super fabulous Michelin starred creative cuisine in a minimalist, chic setting in the Eixample quarter. One of the few high end fine dining options on Monday nights. Run by the very pleasant Jordi Vilà. The dining room is bright and airy and the dishes are a revelation!  Try beautifully presented dishes like Pickled oyster with glazed pork, Crystal bread with anchovies, Ñora pepper rice with saffron and bright red langoustine and then seasonal offerings (they have white truffle from Piedmont now for instance). Classics like Roast chicken cannelloni and baby lamb shoulder are given photogenic, cheffy presentations.For dessert try masterpieces like Spiced pineapple with lemon and ginger sorbet or simple but utterly intoxicating Figs with soft cheese and black olives

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Manairó- Barcelona´s newish “Snout to tail” specialists, but don´t let this put you off! Dishes include Wild sea-bream with stewed cuttlefish, mousse of grilled sardines, croquettes of roast chicken, scallops in rice,and so much more. While the presentation is creative the dishes are actually appetizing and with flavor combos that actually work (not pretentious flavor combinations showing off the chef´s cleverness, there is a little bit of an epidemic of chefs using ingredients for the sake of novelty rather than flavor).

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Hisop- contemporary and stylish very small dining room, this is one of Barcelona´s best value Michelin starred restaurants with  accomplished creative cuisine. Signature dishes includes their “After Eight Foie Gras” and grilled milk and hazelnuts. The current autumn menu looks very tempting with appetizers of pumpkin, scallops and Comté cheese & Squid with trumpets (wild mushrooms), sausage and fennel; and main dishes of Monkfish with green “Romesco” and grilled duck with figs and endive. And the pistachio with kaffir lime also sounds delish, we need to go back to Hisop to taste their current menu as have not been since last season, yumm!

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Enoteca at Hotel Arts- This is the fine dining option at Hotel Arts (which also houses excellent Arola) and they have a fabulous al fresco terrace with views of the Port Olympic. They have one of the best wine cellars in Barcelona with over 500 wines, hence the name. Two Michelin starred chef Paco Perez offers inspired creations like gnocchi, red fruit and squid; grouper fish al pil pil with fresh herbs and caviar; gambas with Boletus, super premium cured ham Gran Reserva Joselito; for daring types, try the Sea cucumber with duck egg, and Iberian pork or the seabass with seaweed and calamari broth (nicer than it sounds). Do try the chef´s tasting menu. This is fine dining with a view on a Monday in Barcelona, no easy feet!

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Tapas 24- Michelin starred chef Carles Abellan´s casual tapas joint. They don´t accept reservations  and open from 9am to midnight so you can come at nearly anytime of the day, very handy to have a quality place like this in your agenda to avoid the ubiquitous greasy, touristy tapas places smattered around town. The tapas are all super traditional, just served with ultra fresh ingredients. You´ll find classics like “La bomba”, the curious Russian salad, Pork croquettes, anchovy fritters,  the Bikini sandwich, rabo de toro, stewed lentils, and then a few cute creative tapas like the McFoie burger. They serve Vermut here, THE trendiest drink in Barcelona at the moment.

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Topik - excellent chef Adelf Morales makes Asian inspired creative Mediterranean cuisine. He has trained with the best at Berasetegui, Arzak and also in Japan and Italy and his Catalan cuisine is heavily Asian influenced. Stand out dishes include Baby lasagna with tuna and samfaina, spider crab rice, hake cheeks al pil pil, Sald cod with a miso dressing, steak tartare, free range chicken with a romesco sauce.

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Bravo 24 at Hotel W (description above)

L’Olivé (description above)

Sauc at Hotel Ohla (description above)

Casa Delfin (description above)

Barcelona Restaurants Open for Monday dinner

Gelonch- creative cuisine and pretty hot right now with globetrotting gourmets. Chef Robert Gelonch who worked at El Bulli and Gaig, is a young, innovative chef whose menu features a fusion of modern and classic dishes, ranging from uber traditional dishes like pigs trotters and suckling pig to gambas al Pisco with hibiscus and Chinese cabbage. The best way to enjoy the food roller coaster here is to dedicate 3 hours to his 10 course tasting menu, what a journey!

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Cal Pep- this wonderful fish restaurant is a veritable institution in Barcelona. Specialties at Cal Pep include Xipirons amb cigrons (Baby squid with garbanzos), hake wrapped in Swiss chard, artichokes stuffed with olives, tuna tartare, fried calamari, clams with cured Spanish ham and so many more tantalizing dishes. They always have fresh fish of the day specials and you cannot go wrong with their recommendations.

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Alkimia-(description above)

Sauc at Hotel Ohla (description above)

Paco Meralgo (description above)

Tapas 24- no reservations (open all day)

Bravo 24 at Hotel W (description above)

Hisop (description above)

Enoteca at Hotel Arts-(description above)

L’Olivé (description above)

Manairo (description above)

Casa Delfin (description above)

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Spanish Sidra/ Cider from Spain

Posted by gen On November - 14 - 2013

On the beautiful Atlantic coast in northern Spain, the production and consumption of cider has a history that stretches back to the first century B.C. Particularly in the region of Asturias (and to a lesser extent the Basque country) cider is considered far more than a simple drink.

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Cider is a central part of the local history and folklore – its enjoyment has been part of the Asturian culture for many centuries. In its most basic form, cider is simply fermented apple juice, however, many different forms of cider, known as “sidra”, are produced in northern Spain- from artisan, hand crafted still ciders to slightly sparkling generic varieties. Drunk on a warm evening, chilled with a selection of Basque tapas or pinxtos, it is one of Spain’s greatest gastronomic pleasures, just waiting to be enjoyed by discerning visitors.

The first mention of cider production comes from the Greek Geographer and visitor to Spain, Strabo, who noted during the 1st century B.C that “the Asturians have a drink they call Zythos, made from fermented apple juice.” Many centuries later, by the mid 1800s cider was an important part of the Asturian economy and there were over 250 apple presses across the region.  Today, Asturias produces more than 80% of the total production in Spain and consumption in the region runs at over 50 litres per person, each year.

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Traditionally, a distinction is made in Spain between sidra natural and sidra gasificada. Sidra natural is usually made in small-scale operations and is fermented without any additional additives. Only the finest, locally grown apples should be used as the Atlantic coast has over 30 different varieties of apples grown in market gardens. A skilled cider maker will blend the juice of different apples – sour crab apples and sweeter varieties for example – to attain the perfect balance of richness of fruit and acidity. A good Asturian cider should have a strong, sharp flavor and good acidity. It is best consumed young, the alcohol will usually range from  4–8% strength, making it the perfect drink to enjoy alone or with various tapas dishes. In addition, some producers are now making bottle fermented, Champagne style sparkling ciders, a wonderful alternative to cava.

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In contrast, Sidra gasificada is industrially manufactured cider, usually quite sweet as sugar is added during the production process. It is fermented in large scale stainless steel tanks and although pleasant as an aperitif, lacks the finesse and favour of a authentically made sidra natural. However, it is inexpensive and usually keep longer than its artisanal counterpart. Popular all over Spain, but less so in Asturias as locals tend to prefer the definite article!

The fermentation process for sidra natural is relatively straightforward. The ripe apples are washed and diced, softened in water and then pressed. This unfermented must is then typically fermented in chestnut barrels and not bottled before the spring of the following year, before which it must be filtered to remove any solid residue. It is sold across bars, restaurants and shops in the region, but its traditional home is the Sidreria or Chigres, bars specializing in cider and delicious tapas to wash down with a glass (or 6)

Now, you may think that the process of ordering a glass of delicious cider is easy, surely the bartender simply open a bottle and pours? I’m afraid not: the Asturians take their traditions quite seriously and there is an important ritual that must be observed when serving sidra. The bartender will raise the bottle above their head and the cider cascades from the bottle into the glass which he is holding below. Only one or two inches of cider are poured, which must be drunk immediately, before the glass can be refilled. This technique is known as escanciar un culin and it is said that it develops the flavor and aerates the drink, giving it a slight fizz and pleasant, effervescent texture. It can also be drunk straight from the barrel in some bars, served with such Asturian delicacies as bean stew, baked sardines or salt cod tortilla or omelette. Divine!

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In addition to its natural homeland in Asturias, sidra also has quite a popular following in the neighboring Basque country, particularly in the province of Gipuzkoa, around gorgeous San Sebastian! The Basques are very fond of drinking cider straight from chestnut barrels, which works fantastically well with their variety of pinxtos (basque tapas). Of course, many different brands compete for your attention so we have done the hard work and selected our top 5 cider drinks below.

Recommended Spanish Ciders:

Asturvisa – Ciders of Spain´s special inaugural release, Sidra Fanjul Sidra Natural Ribanora, Sidra Viuda – Sidra Brut Viuda de Angelón, Sidra Fanjul – Sidra Llagar Fozana, Guzman Riestra – Sidra Brut Nature, Sagardoa sidra natural

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Taste Cider in Northern Spain! Known as Green Spain the northern coast is absolutely gorgeous and you could enjoy a cider tasting tour starting near the French border in Getaria, heading west weaving your way through lovely Basque Country (San Sebastian is a must), Cantabria (elegant Santander, darling San Vicente de la Barquera) and Asturias (Villaviciosa is the epicenter of cider production and you can visit many sidrerias, also taste cider in the elegant town of Oviedo and lively Gijón, not to mention the adorable hamlets of Tazones and Lastres.

Here are some good resources for your cider tasting travels:

Excellent database of ciderhouses in Spain

Ciders of  Spain

Basque Cider Info Sagardoaren Lurraldea

The Cider Route in Asturias

Cantabria Tourism

Cider and the Sea in Euskadi (Basque Country)

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Tuscany in the Fall

Posted by gen On November - 8 - 2013

Tuscany in the Fall- By Simona Piccinelli, Italy Specialist

Tuscany is the ideal destination for a gourmet wine tasting getaway in the autumn! Imagine freshly pressed extra virgin olive oil on bruschetta; exquisite white truffles  shaved over handmade pasta; aromatic porcini mushrooms and roast chestnuts; pumpkin and sage stuffed pasta; ripe figs wrapped in prosciutto;  manicured olive groves and vineyards with flaming red and orange leaves; velvety red wines on a chilly, sunny afternoon, medieval castles and stone villas …. this is Tuscany in the Fall.

There are few places on earth so idyllic and beautiful which tantalize all the senses like La Toscana

Poderi di Luigi Einaudi

We were lucky to attend Buy Tuscany a few weeks ago and visit some of our favorite suppliers to touch base and check the state of the wear and tear. Things were looking great! We are happy to recommend the following hand selected hotels for your next vacation in Tuscany, ones that have worked very well this last season and where you are sure to have a fabulous time- buon viaggio!

Relais Borgo San Felice

Immersed in the sublime Chianti wine country, surrounded by vineyards and olive trees, this Relais & Chateaux is actually an entire small hamlet. It´s got movie set narrow streets, a Romanesque church and medieval buildings which house 46 elegant rooms and suites. Being a historic structure there is no elevator but there are 5 rooms on the ground floor for those who can´t do stairs. After a late breakfast, the perfect relaxed day can start with a visit to the winery onsite, followed by an excellent Tuscan lunch at Poggio Rosso, where 2 Michelin starred chef Francesco Bracali prepares dishes based on local culinary traditions with his hint of personal creativity. Next season they will be offering exciting new cooking classes.

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Castello di Casole

Recently opened after a long and careful restoration by Timbers Resorts, this wonderful huge estate welcomes you with a cypress-lined lane that leads to the elegant main courtyard of the castle that dates back to the year 998. In the main area and building the hotel offers 41 suites, mixing Tuscan and contemporary styles. There are also some villas and farmhouses scattered throughout the extensive estate (available also for sale).
Not far from the hotel, in cooperation with winemaker Paolo Caciorgna, Castello di Casole produces 2 wines: Dodici and ‘C’, both private-label signature wines, which are available only to owners and guests. Very exclusive.

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Castel Monastero

Located in one of the most beautiful areas of the Chianti Classico wine region, the hotel is a respectfully restored medieval village. The buildings, distributed in different areas of the estate, are divided into “contrade” and house 74 luxury rooms and suites. While the village is in classic Tuscan style, the rooms have a chic, modern design which retains a warm and intimate atmosphere.  The Gourmet Highlight is celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay´s restaurant, Contrada.

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Villa Armena

A stunning late Renaissance villa made with red brick, surrounded by gentle hills (this is quintessential Tuscan countryside), dotted with oak trees, wheat fields and cypresses: this is Villa Armena. Very intimate and cozy, it is owned and run by Edoardo and Elena (together with newborn Leo and bulldog Franco), a sweet and professional couple that really make you feel at home, as if you were old friends. After a day of  tasting Brunello di Montalcino or a visit to the white truffle fair in nearby San Giovanni d’Asso village, this is a great place to relax and enjoy the peace of Tuscan countryside. Dine in at restaurant Sorbo Allegro, where you will be be pampered by chef Carlo Valeri, who recently won the  prestigious Gualtiero Marchesi award. Recommended!!

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Borgo Scopeto

Feel like you are a galaxy away from the trials and tribulations of modern life, yet in reality you are onlya short distance from Siena-  Borgo Scopeto is a classic Tuscan “borgo”.  Once home to the famous Sozzini dynasty, it is now a beautifully restored and elegant hotel- a tasteful blend of traditional and contemporary styles. Borgo Scopeto is also an agricultural  estate, producing wine and extra virgin olive oil, that you can sample at their fancy La Tinaia restaurant or directly at the winery, not far from the relais. Dreamy!

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Il Borgo Castello Banfi

If you’ve always dreamed about being a prince or princess  then this is the right place for you! Owned by world famous Banfi winery, it is housed in a real castle in the ethereal Montalcino countryside and offers 14 fantastic rooms and suites furnished and decorated by Federico Forquet, with exclusive accessories. You can dine in the classic Tuscan restaurant in the medieval castle, sampling traditional dishes like pinci (which is called “pici” in the rest of the region of Siena). This is a thick, hand-rolled pasta, that you can learn to make during a fun and interesting cooking class on site.

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Il Falconiere

The ultimate Under the Tuscan Sun experience. Experience true Tuscan living at this welcoming resort, with  touch of bohemia. The warm, affectionate  Baracchi family are great characters. Silvia will spoil your palate at the restaurant and during her enlightening and amusing cooking classes (you can even learn how to make your own cheese!), Riccardo will charm you with tails about falconry and, together with his son Benedetto, will introduce you to his wines. Add a small but complete spa (with wine therapy and olive oil treatments), not to mention the opportunity to meet falcon Lilla … what else could you look for?

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Ten Icon wines from some of our favorite wineries in Chile:

Despite the fact that wine has been made in Chile since the 16th century when Spanish monks first planted vines there, it is really in the last 25 years that Chile has come onto the international wine scene as a first class player. And now, there are some truly extraordinary Chilean wines to enjoy! Wine lovers and collectors alike can find outstanding vinous gems in Chile, on a par with the great European wines showing depth, great length and voluptuousness.

Enjoy this list of some of our recommended Icon Wines of Chile. And as you can never fit in all the wines you love in a top ten list we also have a second list of honorable mentions :)

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1. Altaïr 2006, Viña Altaïr – 94 points Wine Enthusiast. This fine wine estate is located in the Alta Cachapoal valley in the foothills of the majestic Andes mountains.  Their vineyards are planted with the flagship Carménère grape as well as Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah plus less common (in Chile) Petit Verdot and Cabernet Franc. Unlike many vineyards in Chile, the grapes here are hand harvested. The wine´s life begins in the vines of course and this estate takes great care in dividing the vines into sub parcels. The grapes   then go through two selection points before they fall straight into the tanks for first fermentation. When the wine is vinified the malolactic fermentation then is in (expensive)  225 liter French oak barriques  where the wines will relax on its lees and mature for a year to year and a half.

 

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2. Cipreses Vineyard 2011, Casa Marín; won 2 gold medals in Five Nations Wine Challenge 2011. Casa Marin, in the San Antonio Valley (just south of the famous cool climate Casablanca valley, near the ocean in the coastal village of Lo Abarca), is a leading high quality producer in Chile. Relatively new to the scene (founded in 1999), they have made massive jumps and this Sauvignon Blanc is absolutely stellar. Produced from premium vines with calcerous and granite soils it is then fermented in stainless steel tanks for 3 weeks and there is no oak ageing. As the cooler climates here encourage a slower ripening, the result is a fresh, zippy Sauvignon more akin to a Pouilly Fuisse than a New Zealand Sauv Blanc.

 

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3. Clos Apalta 2009, Lapostolle – 96 points Wine Spectator, 98 point Wine Enthusiast. Lapostolle Winery is considered to be one of the elite properties in the country and is actually owned by a French family (the  Marnier Lapostolles who also incidentally own  Grand Marnier).  They came to Chile in the 1990´s, like so many other foreign investors who saw Chile´s wine country as a kind of vinous Eden, with the clear intention of making first class high end wine.  They make 3 beautiful lines of vino- Casa,  Cuvée Alexandre and at the top, this one, the Clos Apalta. What makes Clos Apalta so special is that it comes from a vineyard that has a unique, tempering semi-arid meso-climate (which differs from the rest of Colchagua Valley). The hills block the harsh influence of the Pacific and keep the days longer and drier enabling the grapes to ripen and tannins to develop. The grapes are harvested by hand at night time when temperatures are coolest and the grapes are exceptionally (very few wineries do this) destemmed by hand. All of these factors and slow maturing result in super high concentrated, velvety wines.

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4. Montes Folly 2007, Viña Montes – 93 points Wine Enthusiast (also Montes M 2009 Viña Montes). The founding business partners of Montes (in the 80´s) had one goal: to make luxury, first growth quality wines that could compete with the best wines in the world stage. They have succeeded in positioning themselves in the higher end and are considered to be one of Chile´s finest estates. The Folly is  the first ultra premium Syrah made in the country, an Icon Syrah.  The grapes used for this stunning wine come from the Apalta Valley, on the highest slopes of Finca de Apalta. Yields are low, resulting in richer, meatier  wines. This is a super blockbuster.

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5. Neyen Espíritu de Apalta 2008 (Cab Sauv/Carménère) – 91 points Wine Spectator. The newish Neyen estate was created  on the site of one of Apalta’s first wineries dating from 1890.  The new state of the art winery rests alongside the ancient cellar and centennial vines. This is the Rolls Royce of Chilean wineland, with a location that is tucked into the sun soaked mountains and protected by the harsher coastal elements.  Chile is famous for being the only phylloxera free wine producing country in the world and the Cabernet Sauvignon and Carménère vines here are actually from pre -phylloxera cuttings (imported from Bordeaux). The name Neyen means “Spirit” and was created to represent the unique terroir of the Apalta. The Quintessa (Napa) estate owners have partnered with this estate since last year and this high end wine is on many a collectors wish list.

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6. Antiyal 2010 (Cab Sauv, Carménère, Syrah) – 93 points Wine Enthusiast, 93 points Wine Advocate. This superb bio dynamic boutique  winery, created by Alvaro Espinoza, makes some of the best wines in South America and indeed in the world. Production is miniscule, compared to some of the huge Chilean estates, and this is a collector´s favorite both for its quality and scarcity.  The Carménère is the dominant grape in this beautiful blend with about half and half renaming Syrah and Cab Sauv. Differing from some of the other mega monster wines, this elegant wines is more medium bodied and like the best European wines, food friendly. Graceful and will keep improving for a few more years, but so ready to drink now!

 

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7. Matetic EQ Syrah 2008 – 91 points Wine Spectator. Another FABULOUS Syrah from a country with great Syrahs, this one from the San Antonio valley (Rosario sub division) at the groundbreaking Matetic estate who like many other leading stars in Chile are practicing biodynamic viticulture. Head winemaker Julio Bastias works with the famed Ken Bernards (of Ancien Wines) to produce these premium wines. The EQ in the name stands for equilibrium, and indeed it is a balanced and very polished wine reminiscent of a great Cote Rotie.

 

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8. Almaviva Ensamblaje 2009 and 2010- Wine Spectator 96 points – 2009, International Wine Cellar 93 points – 2009.    This expeptional winery is the fruit of a partnership createdin ’97 between Eduardo Guilisasti Tagle of Concha y Toro and the Baroness Philippine de Rothschild. Their aim was to create the best Franco-Chilean wine  ever and they called it Almaviva which is named after the Count of Almaviva (the hero in 17th century Beaumarchais´Marriage of Figaro, later adapted to an opera by Mozart). The wines are made in the Maipo Valley in an area known for super conditions for Cabernet Sauvignon cultivation and this Bordeaux blend is definitely left bank in style, dominated by Cab Sauv. The 2010 vintage has finesse and shines in your glass.

 

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9. Montelig Von Siebenthal 2006 (Cab Sauv, Carménère, Petit Verdot)- Bronze 20120 Decanter World Wine Awards. This Swiss owned winery in Panquehue (Valle de Aconcagua) is a jewel in the crown for the region and indeed in Chile.  The name Montelìg comes from the Spanish word for mountain (monte) and “lìg” which means light in native tongue (pre Inca!). Poetic name and poetic wine.

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10. VIK 2009 (Cab Sauv/Carménère). Famous for their “holistic” vineyard, created by a Norwegian businessman Alexander Vik at the turn of the 21st century, there is a distinctly Scandinavian ethos and vibe at this top estate.  Located in Millahue *the “Place of Gold”, this mouth watering wine is a delicious blend of (mainly) 63% Carménère, 25% Cabernet Sauvignon, 1.5% Cabernet franc, tiny percentages of Syrah and Merlot. So, so good.

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Other Top Icon Wines from Chile (Honorable Mention):

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Don Melchor 2008, Concha y Toro- 93 points Wine & Spirits, 94 points Wine Spectator

 

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Casa Real 2007, Santa Rita- 94 points Wine Enthusiast

 

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Seña Ensamblaje 2009

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Errázuriz Don Maximiano 2006- 91 points Wine & Spirits, Wine Enthusiast, Wine Spectator

 

Don Maximiano Founder’s Reserve 2007, Errázuriz- 90 points Wine Enthusiast, Wine Spectatar, Silver at Decanter World Wine Awards 2011, Silver International Wine Challenge 2011

 

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Chadwick Cabernet Sauvignon 2009- 89 points Wine Enthusiast

 

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Casa Marín Lo Abarca Hills Pinot Noir 2008

 

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More info on the Best Wines of Chile, Chile´s Wine Regions and the Grape Varietals of Chile.