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It´s official- Autumn/Fall is here (in the Northern hemisphere), and what a beautiful time of year it is indeed! And with the colder, shorter days we are craving rich food and wine!


For gourmets, some wonderful spots in November include Piedmont (it´s white truffle season, basically culinary Nirvana!), lovely Lyon (gastro paradise) and La Rioja (think lamb chops roast over grape vines and served with velverty Rioja reserva, yes please!)….



Autumn food, especially in cooler climates, has traditionally been calorific and intensely satisfying; rich in glorious meats and seasonal vegetables to help the body prepare for the cold of winter. It is undoubtedly one of the gastronomic highlights of any culinary calendar and something any self-respecting foodie looks forward to. Yet the change occurs almost without anyone noticing – restaurant menus suddenly start to emphasize heartier, richer dishes like venison, pheasant and guinea fowl, while our thoughts at home also turn to roasts, rich soups and pies -in other words, decadent comfort food.


Traditionally, some of the main highlights of autumn include game, particularly wild duck, pheasant and grouse, in addition to a great bounty of orchard fruits like plums, blackberries and damsons. Late harvest vegetables are also eagerly anticipated – such as celeriac, swede, cabbage and leeks – as are the great variety of the autumn squash like butternut squash and pumpkin – which makes a delicious soup. But in Italy, the main highlight of the season is mushrooms, glorious mushrooms. Many different varieties can be found all over Italy in autumn, when groups of people can be seen foraging for porcini (ceps), chanterelles, and other delicious species all morning. Porcini go extremely well with Risotto, another one of our favorite autumn dishes.


Of course, as our menus and eating habits change with the seasons, so too does our wine choices as summer ends and autumn begins. Chilled rosé suddenly seems quite incongruous on a cold autumn evening, whereas well-hung grouse and a glass of Chambertin fits the bill nicely.

So to celebrate the arrival of this glorious season, we have prepared some delicious autumn food & wine pairings for your enjoyment. Sante!!


muga and cabrales


Starters (Appetizers)/Vegetarian dishes

Risotto with Porcini Mushrooms

There are few gastronomes who wouldn’t salivate over the thought of risotto topped with exquisite porcini mushrooms, newly arrived from an exciting morning’s foraging trip. Ordinarily, risotto pairs well with low tannin, fresh and fruity wines such as Dolcetto or Barbera d’Alba. But the addition of porcini calls for a more refined approach, mushrooms work well with a variety of top-class reds, including Pomerol, Rioja, Ribera Del Duero and top Burgundy. Our first choice though would be Barolo, surely the prince of Italian reds.

Winter Squashes – Pumpkin, Butternut Squash, etc.

Winter squashes make ideal soups, or even better yet they are divine in fresh pasta such as Ravioli. Of course, that requires major patience on your part! On the wine front, they fit well with full-bodied, fruity off-dry whites, we’d stay clear away from reds in this instance. Some good bottles would be a new-world Viognier or Marsanne, South African Chenin also works a treat – try the De Morgenzon Reserve Chenin Blanc. Failing that, demi-sec Vouvray or Italy’s Gavi are two reliable alternatives.


C. The Culinary Institute of America

Great recipe here for Butternut squash and apple soup, yumm.


Meat dishes


The classic pairing for duck is Pinot Noir, whether it be a mature Burgundy or a fruit-driven, silky example from New Zealand. And yes, it does tend to work very well, albeit how the duck is prepared will strongly influence the ideal choice of wine on the table. Duck and goose, both delicious but quite fatty meats, deserve wines with plenty of acidity to cut through that fattiness and contrast with the rich flesh. Confit de Canard works best with a young, tannic red like Priorat or a young Medoc. Roast duck without a strong sauce needs a big-scale red, such as Rhone, a top Burgundy, Californian Cabernet or even Australian Shiraz works very well.

However, if there’s an orange sauce, white is more ideally suited – Grand Cru Alsace Riesling is a match made in heaven. And if you’re in the mood for some fizz, try mature vintage Champagne which works surprising well with duck and orange sauce.

The Italians in contrast, like to braise their duck and serve it with olives, in which case only a top Tuscan red will suffice. Try Antinori’s Tignanello.

Game Birds – Pheasant, Grouse, Guinea Fowl

The pinnacle of autumn food is game, and the good news for oenophiles is that roast game birds work with many different wine styles, allowing you great flexibility when deciding what to open. St-Emilion works tremendously well with roast game, as does red and white Burgundy – our top choices would be Chambertin or Corton Charlemagne. But if we’re talking about older game birds in casseroles, then you need something slightly more robust and less fine; Pommard, Ribera Del Duero, or Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon is perfect. And with well-hung game, you’ll need a very powerful, weighty red. Vega Sicilia is ideal, as is a great Rhone like Cote-Rotie.

Of course, when pairing wine with game the sauce is equally as important, but again the meat can be adapted with sauces to match almost any fine wine.


One of the supreme delights of the autumn season, venison lends itself to a variety of cooking methods, yet always retains its wonderfully rich, gamey flavor. Roasted, it deserves a big-scale red, and loves a good Rhone wine like Gigondas or Chateauneuf-du-Pape. Bordeaux is another surefire hit, particularly if there’s a sharp berry sauce – for a real treat try a good St-Julien like Chateau Talbot. Stewed Venison is another matter, the red should be more gutsy and robust – full of flavor but not necessarily very refined. A southern Italian red fits the bill nicely, try Venison stew with Puglia’s Primitivo grape. It’s ripe, plum, damson and black fruit flavors will cut across the stew’s gamey richness nicely.

Or, if you’re feeling slightly adventurous, white can work equally well with roast Venison. We love it paired with German Riesling, or even an Alsace Pinot Gris. Off-dry works best, the sweetness of the wine finding a natural home with the richness of the venison.

Wild boar

Another autumnal treat, wild boar’s wonderful rich texture and intense gamey flavor will obliterate lighter reds and whites – a ripe, structured red is called for. We love wild boar casserole with Priorat or a top Chianti.



Apple pie, Tarts or Strudel

Apples are ripe and plentiful at this time of year, and lend themselves to a variety of mouth-watering desserts, including the traditionalists delight, apple pie. They deserve an equally stunning dessert wine, an Austrian sweet Riesling would be ideal. Canadian Ice wine is another delicious pairing.



Blackberry based desserts

Our favorite autumn fruit, blackberry tarts and flans deserve a rich, sweet wine like Monbazillac, sweet Vouvray or German Trockenbeerenauslese. Port, believe it or not, is another superb match.


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Wine Recommendations for Spring Barbecues

Posted by gen On March - 6 - 2015

Spring is in the air! And what better way to celebrate it then with friends, family, food and wine outdoors?


Spring can be a wonderful season: cities hum with the sound of family and friends moving outside to drink and dine on pavements cafes, the weather can be gorgeous but not stifling and BBQ’s are dusted off and fired up. It’s time to start marinating, planning and smoking your favorite foods; alfresco dining is one of the real joys of the first warm spring weather, and something we should all do as much as possible, while that sun lasts!

Traditional wisdom dictates that beer is the safest bet for BBQ’s, as it won’t clash and can cope with the cornucopia of tastes often presented. But to negate wine is to miss out on some potentially spectacular and delicious combinations – a great wine pairing can transform a mundane BBQ into a memorable one. Wine can work extremely well with a variety of BBQ foods, you just need to remind yourself of a few facts and recommendations for a memorable pairing.

So above all, don’t waste your prized bottle of Vega Sicilia or St-Emilion on a BBQ. Smoked, grilled food needs robust, fruit driven and easy drinking wines, fine wines and certainly older wines will be smothered by the strong flavors and aromas. Equally, it’s important to remember that often you are pairing a wine with the sauce, not the meat or fish.  Strong, especially spicy sauces destroy many red wines, off-dry lighter whites are a safer bet. Which is why BBQ wine lists should always include plenty of options from hot climates as those riper, sweeter fruit flavors match the heat, smoke and spice of a BBQ perfectly. Just like Indian cuisine, sugar is your friend, not enemy and away remember that smoking and blackening transforms the food.

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Prosecco is the ideal way to start your BBQ feast. Who could resist the charms of a racy, pear drop flavored glass of fizz sat in the sun on a Saturday afternoon? With its light, not too acidic style it makes the perfect alfresco aperitif, try Bisol’s Crede Prosecco for a real treat.

But what to serve with your first course of juicy, BBQ king prawns or shellfish?  A chilled glass of Chablis, or even better rose is simply heaven, contrasting nicely with the warm, savory flavors of grilled shellfish. It’s a terrible cliché but also an undeniable fact: nothing matches the vast range of BBQ flavors like a chilled glass of rose. It works as a party aperitif, with salads/seafood and won’t clash with strong meat dishes. It’s the perfect all-rounder and cannot fail to please everybody – our favorite is  Chateau D’Esclans Whispering Angel Rosé, packed full of red fruits, almonds, vanilla, so heaven in a glass!

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If your BBQ includes some gorgeous, fresh sardines or other oily fish then only one wine will do: a chilled glass of Galician Albariño. This racy, citrus infused wine is a marvelous match for oily fish, as the usually refreshing acidity of an Albarino cuts the the fish’s oiliness and leaves the palate desperate for another glass. Seek out the wines of Bodegas Fillaboa for a reliable, fruit-driven Albariño wine, typically displaying plenty of moreish pineapple, apple and citrus notes on the palate.

Aromatic, un-oaked and clean-cut whites like Albariño also work fantastically well with tomato based salads, asparagus and other salad vegetables. Kiwi Sauvignon Blanc is the standout choice and works equally well as a thirst quencher.

BARB 4Wither Hills do a fresh, vibrant and great value example. In contrast, grilled vegetables like red peppers and courgettes need a completely different pairing, their smoky, sweet flavors require a full-bodied and ripe red. Modern, fruit-driven Rioja is ideal, as is new-world Tempranillo. The tannin and silkiness inherent to Tempranillo balance out the oil and sweetness nicely. Give the Valenciso Rioja Reserva a try, packed full of delicious red berry fruit, with just a hint of spice, it’s a princely wine for a memorable BBQ.

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Of course the mainstay – unless you’re a vegetarian – of any great BBQ is meat. This is where your options are considerable, as plenty of both European and new-world wines can handle the variety of flavors floating around, from chicken to rib-eye steaks. But remember that poultry always takes on a lot of flavor from the BBQ, so you need a suitably robust wine to match. South African Pinotage handles BBQ Chicken, even adorned with a smoky BBQ sauce, very well; try Ken Forrester’s Petit Pinotage. If, however, you’ve been sparing with the sauce then BBQ chicken deserves a rich, full bodied Californian Chardonnay, or perhaps Australian. Marimar Estate Don Miguel Vineyard Chardonnay from Russian River Valley would do nicely! Such a wine would also love grilled pork chops and chicken marinated in herbs. Indeed, it would go perfectly with this recipe for Mexican chicken.

What self-respecting BBQ is without succulent hamburgers and delicious steaks? Their rich, caramelized, smoky flavors are divine and cry out for similarly spicy, full-bodied new-world reds. Australian Shiraz from Barossa is a classic choice, that fruit-driven profile and acidity matching grilled foods perfectly. Another contender for a pairing made in gastronomic heaven is Malbec, Argentina’s greatest success story. Top examples are bursting with racy, plummy fruit and that touch of peppery spice ensures that Malbec takes kindly to steaks and burgers. Our top choice – Zuccardi Serie A Malbec.

rioja food and wine

Zinfandel also comes into its own at BBQs, especially if heavy sauces are present. Piquant sauces can overpower even ripe Shiraz and Malbec, but Zinfandel cuts through the richness and spice wonderfully. Ravenswood old vine Zinfandel is a very safe bet. However, if you lean toward Indian or Oriental sauces – Tandoori is currently a real favorite – then you’ll need something very specific. The flavors aren’t easy to match with wine, but Loire reds or again oaky new-world Chardonnay usually comes out on top.

Finally, Rioja Crianza in general, for instance Juan Alcorta (the number one selling Crianza in Northern Spain) is a great, good value bet, especially with grilled veggies and lamb chops.

Happy grilling and sipping this Spring!


Top Spanish Wine Cocktails

Posted by gen On January - 27 - 2015

Recommended Cocktail Recipes from Spain- Liven up your dinner parties!


Riotous, colorful celebrations are very much a part of Spanish life, and no Spanish party is complete without a great selection of beers, wines, and cocktails. Indeed, alcoholic (and non-alcoholic) drinks are an integral part of Spain’s gastronomic and cultural traditions; the country has been growing grapes for many centuries. Many drinks festivals run throughout the year, including the Vinoble Wine exhibition this May in Jerez and the Feria de la Manzanilla, a surefire way to get very well acquainted with gorgeous sweet sherry.

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But despite the historical origins of these festivals, a great revolution has taken place in the last decade, shaping the way Spaniards drink in the 21st century. Traditionally, friends would meet at cervecerias, bars and perhaps cider specialist’s siderias for a convivial drink, often male only affairs. Today, however, trendy cocktail bars dominate the scene in larger cities, often hosed in 5-star luxury hotels. The Spanish have developed a keen appreciation of great cocktails in recent years, which go far beyond the tourist staple of Sangria; ubiquitous across Spanish resorts! Wine naturally features heavily in most Spanish cocktails, red wine being the traditional cocktail base, adding color, boldness and significant flavoring. So whether you’re staying at Madrid’s latest boutique hotel or sipping cocktails on Barcelona’s famous Las Ramblas strip, the following selection of Spanish mixology at its best is bound to please everyone.




Served long, over ice, this is the ultimate thirst quencher and a native drink of Seville. During the Feria de Abril in Andalucia’s proud city, natives request Rebujito by the gallon – a wonderfully refreshing mix of sherry, sparkling water and mint.

You will need:

250ml Fino or Manzanilla sherry (can be substituted with white wine), 250ml sparkling water or soda, 4 tablespoons lemon juice, 4 tablespoons sugar, ice cubes, mint


Pour the sherry and water into a large glass jug. Add lemon juice, sugar and mix well to dissolve the sugar, then add ice. Serve in long glasses, with a few mint leaves in each glass.


Agua de Valencia

Valencia’s signature cocktail has stood the test of time. It was created by Constante Gil, an artist and bar owner who founded the drink in 1959, it has since caught on as the only cocktail of choice when visiting the city’s many lively bars.

You will need:

250ml chilled Cava, 125ml orange juice, sugar, ice cubes, 1 teaspoon Cointreau.


Mix the chilled Cava, Cointreau and orange juice in a large glass jug. Add some sugar, stir well to dissolve it, then add ice. Serve cold in wide, classic cocktails glasses.

Food pairing: fun ideas here.


Jerez Cocktail – Coctel de Jerez

The sherry region’s favorite cocktail, perfect for a refreshing rest-bite from pure sherry in the warmer months. It heralds from one of the historical noble houses in the zone, although which one has been forgotten in the annals of history!

You will need:

250 ml Fino Sherry, 100ml peach brandy, 1 teaspoon Cointreau.


Mix the ingredients in a mixing glass, add ice cubes and stir to chill. Serve on the rocks in a classic tumbler.

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The Barcelona

Inspired by Catalunya’s intensely proud capital, the Barcelona cocktail omits the local bubbly Cava for white wine – ideally produced from nearby Penedes, the region’s biggest wine region. It’s the perfect drink for Barcelona’s numerous roof-top terrace bars.

You will need:

300ml chilled white wine, 100ml Gin, 50ml Grand Marnier, 50ml Elderflower syrup, 1 teaspoon lemon juice, 1 teaspoon orange juice, sprite, fresh citrus fruit slices


Place fresh fruit at the base of a large mixing jug. Add lemon and orange juice, elderflower syrupy, white wine, and other ingredients Mix well. Add ice cubes and garnish with sliced strawberry and mint. Serve in tall glasses.

Speaking of Barcelona, check out the Best Wine Bars in Barcelona here

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No guide to Spanish cocktails would be complete without the mythical Sangria, staple of holiday hangovers since time memorial. However, there is a more sophisticated side to this much-maligned cocktail; the Basques for example infuse the mix with juniper berries and spice. Here is our favorite recipe below:

You will need:

400ml Spanish rose, 1 bottle Spanish red wine, 50ml Grand Marnier, 50ml Madeira, 2 tablespoons sugar, seasonal fruit, 2 cups club soda, ice cubes


Mix the wine, juice, Grand Marnier, Madeira and sugar together in a large pitcher. Cover, and leave overnight in the refrigerator. Before serving, add the club soda and ice. Serve chilled, with chopped fruit as the garnish.


Tinto de Verano

The simplest of Spanish cocktails, Tinto de Verano’s popularity remains unchallenged and is far easier and quicker to make then Sangria. The perfect summer party cocktail.

You will need:

1 bottle of red wine, 1 bottle of sprite, lemon slices


Add the pre-chilled red wine to the sprite in a large jug. Mix well. Serve with ice and lemon slices to garnish.



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.

venice carnival 2012

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.


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.


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.


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.


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!


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.


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.


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.


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.


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!


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.


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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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.

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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


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!


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

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


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!


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


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


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.


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.

Barcelona petit comite 1

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.

Barcelona paco

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.

Barcelona chicoa 2

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.


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).

barcelona manairo

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!

barcelona hiso

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!

barcelona enoteca

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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.

barcelona tapas 24

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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.

barcelona topik

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!

barcelona gelonch

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.

barcelona pep

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)

Barcelona Jaume de Provença 2

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.

sidra producto-llagar-fozana-g

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.

sidra poster

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.


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!

sidra info

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

sidra ristera


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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Top Ten Rioja Wines for Collectors

Posted by gen On October - 11 - 2013

Top La Rioja Wines for Collectors

Although the renowned Rioja region has increasingly had to fight off competition from the likes of Ribera Del Duero and Priorat, it is still justly considered Spain’s most important and finest producer of premium red wines. Over a decade of serious investment and a transformation of the established winemaking styles has left region with a bewildering array of options for the wine-lover – today, Rioja literally has it all! International fame, beautiful countryside full of hill topped medieval hamlets, rising prices and both traditional and new wave wine styles. Many winemakers have rejected the old mantra of long periods of ageing in American oak barrels and now use new French oak and concentrated, ripe fruit to great effect. Winemakers are also increasingly abandoning the classic Crianza, Reserva and Gran Reserva classification system and instead flout the appellation rules to make the wines they want to make!

rioja pan 1

In recent years, a combination of high scores from Robert Parker and the minute volumes produced by these new wave ‘cult’ Rioja wineries has ensured that prices remain buoyant. Top Riojas now present a very attractive investment for wine collectors, particularly the less conservative collectors who can see beyond the bright lights of Bordeaux and Burgundy. The best wines are made to last, for decades in fact and whether you buy for pleasure or to make a good return, premium Rioja is definitely a safe bet.

rioja pan 2

Here are our favorite top 10 Rioja wines to recommend for collectors:

Artadi: Viña el Pisón

The Cosecheros Alaveses winery, under the brand name Artadi is today producing outstanding, modern style Riojas: taut, powerful and built to last! Their top wine, the famous Viña el Pisón is made from just 2.4 hectares of unique vineyards cultivated bio-dynamically. It needs at least 10 years cellaring after release and owner Juan Carlos Lopez De Lacalle is confident that his top wines will last at least 30-40 years.  The winery was founded in 1985 as a cooperative, but de Lacalle turned it into a private business in 1992. After Robert Parker awarded the El Pisón 100 points in 2004, the wine’s asking price soared and is today highly sought after. Volumes are low so expect to pay, over $250 a bottle usually.

artadi vina pison


Contador is a new kid on the block, having being released as recently as 1996. Owner Benjamin Romeo produced the now legendary 96 in a centuries-old cave beneath the castle of San Vicente de la Sonierra. He has since turned his parent’s garage into a tiny winery and his 2004 and 2005 vintages were awarded 100 points by Parker, sending the wine’s reputation (and price) into the stratosphere. However, perfectionist Romeo refused to produce a vintage in 2006, sighting indifferent fruit as the reason which superseded any commercial concerns. Truly, this is a man who cares about quality, which clearly shows in his powerful, expressive and totally exquisite Rioja. Expect to pay around $320.

contador benjamin romeo

Contino: Vina del Olivo

Respected wine maker Jesus Madrazo continues to take Contino to new heights, his single vineyard star wine, the Vina del Olivo, has won awards far and wide for its velvety, supple texture and intense length and depth of flavor. This forward thinking property is part owned by the wine giant CVNE, although Jesus is left to his own devices when it comes to the wines! The bodega (winery) has 45 ha of vineyards planted around a 17th century manor. The wine is typically dominated by Tempranillo and the winemaking methods are modern rather than traditional, French oak taking precedence over American. The resulting wine is stunning, balanced and complex, typically retailing for about $100.

contino 0livo

Finca Allende: Aurus

One of the very best producers in Rioja, mainly sourcing fruit from their own vineyards in La Rioja Alta. Owner Miguel-Angel de Gregorio is a passionate advocate of using New French oak and modern winemaking methods, the resulting wines are rich, concentrated but also structured and will last for decades after release. His top wine Aurus is sumptuous, produced from 60-year old vines the wine is unfiltered and vinified with whole bunches to the highest standard, with a lengthy maceration adding weight, depth and a supple texture. A complex, impressive wine that retails for about $180.


La Rioja Alta: Gran Reserva 904

Bodegas La Rioja Alta are traditionalists in a sea of ever-increasing new wave wineries wishing to abandon Rioja’s historic wine style and winemaking methods. Their top Gran Reserva wine, the 904 is a monument to how sublime traditional Rioja can be: aged for six years in America oak and four in bottle, this fantastic wine is only produced in the best vintages. A blend of 85 percent Tempranillo, plus Mazuelo and Viura it has a complex, deep aroma and classically a bright, brick-red color. Although approachable on release, old vintages of this venerable wine are highly sought-after, making it a great value investment option for the savvy collector. As volumes are not low, a bottle can be obtained for as little as $54.


Marques de Murrieta: Castillo d’Ygay Gran Reserva Especial

One of Rioja’s oldest Bodegas, Marques de Murrieta was established in 1852 by the great pioneer Luciano de Murrieta who was the first person to export Spanish wine in barrels. They are still staunch traditionalists, ageing the wines for long periods and at one time, the wines were bottled immediately from the barrel before shipping. And despite their concession to modernity with the fruit-driven Dalmau, their star turn remains the incredible Castillo d’Ygay Gran Reserva Especial, only made in exceptional years. This expensive and sought after wine is made from 70% Tempranillo, 12 per cent Garnacha, 13 percent Mazuelo and 5 per cent Graciano. At its best, the wine is splendidly rich, complex and of a different order. A true Rioja icon, available for a mere $102.

murrieta ygay

Marques de Riscal: Baron de Chirel

Rioja’s oldest Bodega, Marques de Riscal was founded in 1860 by Don Camilo Hurtado de Amezaga and was the first to introduce the Bordeaux vinification system. But despite their long heritage of producing classical Riojan wines, Marques de Riscal were also one of the first wineries to plant Cabernet Sauvignon in Rioja and blend it into their superstar wine – Baron de Chirel. Made with 50 percent Tempranillo and Cabernet, it is still today one of the region’s finest and long-lived wines: rich but structured and firm in its youth. It demands at least 5 to7 years’ bottle release to be enjoyed at its best. Prices, however, have remained reasonable considering the quality on offer, a bottle can be obtained for $80.

riscal chirel

Muga: Aro

This long established, classical name in Haro continues to produce Rioja’s most aromatic and balanced reds. Muga was founded in 1932 and in 1972 moved to a new bodega near the railway station in Haro. It is a small family run winery making some excellent, traditional Riojas, however, their approach is wisely multifaceted; a fiercely traditional bodega has also embraced modernity with its thoroughly modern-style Aro Rioja, a wine of great depth, elegance and power. A blend 60 year old Tempranillo and Graciano, the wine is aged for 18 months in new French oak. The result is an extremely impressive new wave Rioja, loaded with vibrant blackberry fruit and velvety tannin. If you have the patience, give this beauty at least 5 years bottle age. Available from $180, this should be on any collectors shopping list!

muga ar

Roda: Cirsion

An impressive, modern bodega near the railway station quarter in Haro has been producing serious Reserva reds from low yielding Tempranillo for over a decade now. The property was established in 1986 but much of the vineyard is over 40 years old. This shows in the pedigree of the Roda I Reserva: powerful and concentrated but with the characteristic freshness and supple texture of Tempranillo. However, it is the super-cuvee Cirision that causes the most excitement amongst collectors and connoisseurs. It is undoubtedly one of the very best new style Riojas – rich, structured and cedary, a wine of real finesse and breeding. Unsurprisingly, prices are high so expect to pay around $230 for a bottle.

roda cirs

 Remirez de Ganuza: Trasnocho

Top-quality Rioja bodega which was established by Fernando Remirez de Ganuza as recently as 1989. Today, they work with over 80 hectares of vines in the Rioja Alavesa sub-zone, producing three excellent reds and one super-cuvee – Trasnocho – of real class and destination. It is the epitome of modern, supercharged Rioja: opulent, exotic, massively extracted but balanced too. Yours for the princely sum of $150 a bottle.

ganuza trasnocho

Best Wine Bars in Barcelona – Cellar Tours Shortlist

Posted by gen On September - 22 - 2013

Our selection of fave wine bars  in Barcelona….

Madrileños will strongly disagree, but there is no doubting that Barcelona‘s nightlife and bar scene is now one of the most vibrant in Europe. For while the citizens of Catalonia’s capital are all too happy to culturally distance themselves from their regional neighbors, they have in common with all Spaniards a love of social drinking that supports the highest number of bars per capita in the world. So banish those clichés of pitchers of Sangria on Las Ramblas and instead be prepared to party in a city that continues to sizzle with creativity: Barcelona’s wine bars and restaurants speak more of bold contemporary design than tradition!

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Today, Barcelona’s wine bars run the gamut from trendy, design led hotel bars to wood-paneled wine cellars and backstreet local haunts. An explosion of nightlife has occurred in recent years in the City’s waterfront area, which continues to attract large volumes of tourists in the summer. Cava and wine bars, some elegant and cool, some funky and style conscious are also reaching new heights of popularity, especially in the trendy Born district east of Barcelona’s gothic quarter. These bars vary enormously in clientele and vibe, but all are extraordinary atmospheric.

Just don’t expect things to get going before 10pm, especially at the weekend as people get into their night-time stride. Of course, not every venue in this captivating city is worth a visit, so we have done the hard work and listed Barcelona’s best wine bars below:


The Bankers Bar at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel – 38-40 Passeig de Gracia

Since opening in 2009, this world-class hotel has won pundits far and wide for its service and has emerged as one of Barcelona’s finest and most sought-after hotels. Housed in an old bank vault, the Mandarin’s classy and refined Banker’s Bar has become a popular choice for both locals and visitors wishing to sample a range of Spanish and international wines by the bottle or glass. There is a real sense of sophistication about the space – sleek, softly lift with a black bar counter and black leather chairs. The service is exemplary and a range of high-quality tapas compliments the extensive wine list.


Monvinic – 249 Carrer de la Diputacio

Could Monvinic be the best wine bar in the world? It certainly comes close, as Monvinic has an incredible selection of both Spanish and imported wines by the glass or bottle. The emphasis here is on merging the traditional and cutting edge – visitors are handed an iPad like device instead of a wine list, however, a very large wine library is free for anyone to peruse at their leisure. The space is relaxed, elegant and refined, with soft cream colors and chairs replaced by loungers. There are over 60 selections by the glass and unusually for a Spanish destination; there is no bias to local wines. The bite-size accompaniments are also some of the best to be found in the Catalan capital – try the langoustines!

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Hotel Omm’s Lounge and Terrace bar – 265 Carrer Rossello

Hotel Omm led the way in re-defining Barcelona’s hotel and bar scene with its extremely smart, sophisticated urban accommodation for discerning travelers. It’s informal but chic lounge bar has become a firm favorite with Barcelona’s night crowd at the weekends, in addition to the hotel’s guests. Relax in the ridiculously comfortable sofas and peruse their extensive wine menu, which includes some brilliant cava options by the glass. An ultra-trendy club occupies the basement, whilst in the summer months the action takes place on Omm’s fantastic terrace, with views straight over to Gaudi’s masterpiece La Pedrera next door.


La Vinya del Senyor – 5 Placa Santa Maria

Still in a class of its own, La Vinya del Senyor occupies a space on the delightful Plaça de Santa Maria del Mar right in front of the extraordinary Gothic cathedral, gorgeous spot. Hoards of both tourists and natives come here to taste a wide variety of red and white vintages, accompanied by great value tapas. A good and varied selection of around 300 Spanish and imported wines, including some great cava and sherry, is served at the counter; or in the summer months on the fantastic outdoor terrace. There is no finer spot for people watching in Barcelona. Don´t miss it!


La Vinoteca Torres – 78 Passeig de Gracia

Torres’ global wine empire now extends to serving excellent tapas and pretty much every Torres wine by the glass at this deservedly popular wine bar on the city’s famous Passeig de Gracia Boulevard. The place’s secret is its ability to be things to all men: purchase wine, stay for a glass, and sample a few tapas or a full-blown 5 course meal. The venue is sleek and stylish and the tapas are some of the finest and most inventive in the city –  Vinoteca offers a great opportunity to enjoy the top-end wines of Torres without having to commit to a bottle. Service is uniformly excellent too.

Cata 1.81 – 181 Carrer de Valencia

The clean, modern interior of this ‘blink and you’ll miss it’ underground venue in Barcelona’s Eixample district suggests that this is no ordinary tapas bar. It is in fact a haven for oenophiles and mini gastronomic surprises. Cata 1.81 serves more than 250 wines by the bottle, with a clear emphasis on wines from every major Spanish region, and a list of over 25 by the glass that changes every 15 days. The only drawback is that space at this wonderful wine bar is quite limited so get there early!

barcelona cata 181

El Xampanyet – 22 Carrer de Montcada

Barcelona’s best-known cava bar still packs them in with its inviting atmosphere and selection of tapas and cava by the glass. Discover the finer points of Spain’s bubbly by sampling the wares of different produces by the glass, accompanied by perhaps a selection of sardines or a Jamon platter. The colorful tiles, stacked casks hung with a variety of bottle-openers and well-worn interior bespeak the informal, fun atmosphere for which this family run operation is well-loved. There is nothing cutting-edge or trendy about the place, which only adds to its timeless appeal.


Top 5 Spanish Wines to say Adios to summer

Posted by gen On September - 4 - 2013

Great wines from Spain to bid farewell to the summer.

By Mary O’Connor, Planeta Vino

de Nit cava copa

The last days of summer are just behind us, and we need some nice wines to see us through the tricky transition into autumn.  It’s too early for big Spanish reds, but we are a little tired of drinking so many summery whites, so what Spanish wines will soothe us now?

Some of my favorite Spanish wines are great at this time of the year:  rosados and cavas.  These are very versatile wines; they go with lots of everyday food, and especially the lighter foods we still eat at this time of the year.  The beginning of fall is also a nice time for some lighter, mineral red varieties, maybe a nice Mencía?

So check out my five favorite Spanish wines to help you say adios to summer and ease your transition into fall.

5.  Let’s kick it off with a cava.  There should be a rule that we all have to drink sparkling wine at least once a week!  It just makes you happier!
Cava has developed an unfortunate reputation as a cheap and cheerful alternative to champagne.  It can be that, but it can also be so much more.  There are many beautiful wines that do the style proud.
Gramona is one of Cava’s top houses and makes cavas that can compete with top champagnes in blind tastings.  But it’s one of their entry-level cavas that I love to always have on hand for my bubbly fix.

Gramona Brut Imperial Gran Reserva Cava 2007:  This cava is elegant and very wine-like, with a creamy texture and great length.  It’s crisp acidity and fine, discrete bubbles balance all that richness out perfectly.
It’s great with fish dishes, many tapas and typical Spanish fried foods, and also a surprising number of cheeses.   It’s great value for a top-flight sparkling wine, at about 15 euros in Spain and 25 dollars in the US.

4.  Next up is a classic Navarra RosadoNavarra is most known for its rosé or rosado wines even though it also makes amazing whites and reds as well.  Also due to its relative obscurity in the shadow of superstar neighbor Rioja, you can find some amazing values.

Artazuri Preto

Atazuri Garnacha Rosado 2012:  Strawberry and red fruit aromas in the nose while the mouth feels fresh and crisp.  Good Spanish rosados are very fruity but dry, leaving a nice clean finish in your mouth.  They combine some of the best elements of a red wine and a white wine.  The Artazuri is a perfect, refreshing Navarra Rosado.
These wines are ideal with the grilled fish and seafood that are so much a part of summer life in Spain.  They are also the wines of choice to match with most paellas and rice dishes.  Amazing value at 5 euros in Spain and less than 10$ in the US.

3.  Now for our token red!  Mencía is a top-notch grape variety from northwestern Spain.  Styles can vary, but the grape variety can make some lighter, floral, mineral reds that are perfect for this time of year.   It also often has a smoky quality, which can make it a great wine for those last summer barbecues. I’ve chosen a simple, but stellar wine from superstar winemaker Alvaro Palacios, who makes some memorable Mencías in the Bierzo region.

Petalos del Bierzo 2010

Pétalos del Bierzo 2011:  This wine has been a consistent darling of the critics even though it is just the baby in an impressive portfolio of Mencía wines from Palacios.   It’s a very elegant wine and showcases the intense fruit and minerality of the Mencía grape.
This wine is super food-friendly and matches with every day food choices.  It goes well with egg dishes, roasted vegetables, and lighter meats and poultry.  It remains really good value at about 15 euros in Spain and between 15-20$ in the US.

2.  Another rosado, but this one is so dark, you could mistake it for a light red.  It is made by one of Spain’s most exciting winemakers, Gregory Perez, and is the most intriguing rosé wine I’ve had in a long time.  He makes many exciting wines so look for anything from him and if you live in the US, look for anything from his importer, José Pastor.
The wine is from the relatively obscure region of Tierras de León and it’s made from the Prieto Picudo grape variety.  This grape variety has lots of potential, but there are still many rustic wines out there.

Rosado Preto 2011:  This blew the competition away recently at a rosé tasting I attended.  So aromatic in the nose, with violets and black pepper notes, then so bold and fresh in the mouth.  Very complex for a wine in this category, and one of the few Spanish rosados that can age.   It has all the flavor intensity of a red wine with the crunchy acidity of a white wine…beautiful!
Super versatile food matcher…it can match with chicken and pork dishes, even grilled fish.  It has a smoky, savory element that will go well with most grilled foods.  About 10 euros in Spain and 15$ in the US. Love it!

1.  My top wine to stave off summer’s-end depression?  Both an attractive rosado and an elegant cava, this is a wine I could enjoy everyday!  It is happiness in a bottle…and at a great price!
Rosado cava is a trendy and fast improving category, but it’s still a bit of a minefield.  Raventós i Blanc is a top producer that recently decided to leave the cava appellation due to perceived quality and image issues.  You can always count on consistency from their bottles.

Raventós i Blanc de Nit Brut 2010 Cava:  I always look for excuses to break out a bottle of this wine.  It’s easy to polish off by itself, but it also matches with almost any meal!  It has all the elegance of a great white cava with some the added richness and complexity of red fruit aromas from its rosado side.
It goes with cheeses and lighter fare like any cava, but as a rosado cava it can also handle heartier fare such as rice dishes, grilled seafood, and salads.  Truly great value in sparkling wine at 13 euros in Spain and about 20$ in the US.  de Nit cava