Oct 2007
The Wine Merchant in the World Pigeon Centre
19 – 22 of October, I’m flying Barcelona – Brussels. Would I know thousands of pigeons raced the same trajectory before me! Belgian's winner of the last Barcelona International, the most important among pigeon races, in July 2007 was ‘Camille’. A pedigree pigeon released on the Montjuic to find instinctively the fastest way back home. Funnily enough I myself am flying to my home village in Belgium.
I discover a beautiful part of Limburg where I haven’t been before: Gors-Opleeuw ( ‘Leif’ pronounced in Limburg’s dialect) and Vliermaal (‘Vlermoël’ ), belonging to the Earldom of Loon. Little villages with churches and farms are spread over a bucolic landscape of green hills with tall trees, I even came across some grapevines of chardonnay. Limburg was in 1433 obtained by ‘Filips de Goede’ a Duke of Burgundy, who left South-Limburg a well-known reputation of enjoying food, wine and beer…
I’m presenting four Catalan wines at the annual presentation of ‘Wijnhuis Christiaens’ at no place else than the ‘World Pigeon Centre’ in Hoeselt. A hotel for race doves, with international guests from Japan to México, as well as a restaurant, brasserie and festive halls for all kind of occasions.
Primicia, a garnatxa – tempranillo blend of the Batea Cooperative of Terra Alta is a price-quality topper between the 45 wine producers and more than 300 wines present in the WPC.
The second Terra Alta, Fill del Temps 2004 from the
Covilalba Cooperative is showing a powerful, deep woody character with garnatxa - carinyena vines from over 40 years old.
Heretat Navas, D.O. Montsant, is attracting the wine lovers among the public for its wide palette of flavours and good structure. A wine instantly loved for its mystery and freshness in the mouth.
Lo Givot 2004 was the star of the event. The complexity of this wine goes beyond Parker, and he loves it ! As well women as men were attracted by the decanted wine at my table and were fascinated by the story of Priorat: steep hills with ancient terrace built vineyards on slate stone ground in a very dry climate. The carinyena in the blend of Lo Givot belongs to an 80-year-old plot near La Villela Baixa and gives the wine this extra deepness of spicy black fruits and minerals. Full bodied in a remarkable red dress, this wine is a Goddess!
I spent Saturday night in Hasselt with my dear friend Nico. We dine at the astonishing Spanish-Italian ristorante enoteca ‘La Vigna’ by Chico. The wonder boy chef is running the kitchen for 30 people on his own, hard enough for a menu with fresh seafood, paellas, zarzuela, pasta, veal and pata negra lomo. Believe it or not, the chef is 72 years old but cooking spicy italo-spanish food like he is Jamie Oliver's son.
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Over 2500 guests, wine lovers, restaurant holders and sommeliers visit this impressing organized fair during four days. I discover some very nice wines. The first, of course from my neighbour at the table Enrique Concejo from Bodega Pilcar: Viña Concejo, a 100% Tempranillo strong and straight terroir wine. Deep, well equilibrated, showing the full potential of the tempranillo variety, this is not a Rioja but D.O. Cigales.
Next to him I meet Aurélie Neveux, oenologist and public relations for
Devaux Champagne. The Cuvée D ultra is love at first sight. I thought Penedès was the master of dry bubbles, but this pinot noir (south of champagne region claims to be the best pinot noir area) gives roundness and fruitiness to a very dry finish.
Another interesting winery I came across was
Le Loup Blanc from Nícolas Gaignon. Visit his web and you will hear and see the story of the white wolf, drinking very inspired terroir wines.

23 October – Antwerp.
My favourite Flemish city, where the Witzli Poetzli is my ever lasting bar in Belgium. Always exciting jazz, quality beers and liquors and the best cava in town. Guido, owner since I first set foot and inspirer of this eclectic bar in the shadow of Antwerp’s cathedral, takes me to one of the most outstanding Mediterranean restaurants of Antwerp: ‘
A la Ville’. Definitely my new favourite! Steamed seashell and fresh anchovies on toast, followed by truffle filled pasta and rilettes de canard. Very nice rose and red house wine and outstanding white sweet wine: Pacherenc Rive Haute Reserve 2005.
25 October, arriving back to Barcelona. It takes me almost six hours to get back home. The very fast works for the very fast train Barcelona-Madrid cause numerous delays on train schedules and cuts the railroad Barcelona South. I fill my time reading an article on the more than 130 days of Belgium without a new government since elections. I wonder if a government is necessary at all ?
The Wine Merchant in London versus Manchester
9 October 2007, flying from Reus into Stansted Airport. I spare you cues and control but they don’t spare me before I set foot on British soil.
I meet my friend David Ballesteros, violinist with the London Symphony Orchestra, recording at the studios of Abbey Road. What a better way to start in London. David played on ‘Suite Piazzollana’ of master pianist Emilio Solla in the days I was running for them as a road manager. The ‘Suite’ is definitely Emilio’s most comprehensive work, a beautiful merge between tango and jazz, with virtuous play of all first class jazz musicians from New York and Barcelona.

I’m staying at David’s apartment at Finsbury Park. A luxury compared to the terrible offer on lodging. London Hotels are a disgrace to Londoners. In a world city like this there’s only a decent hotel offer if you dig at least 150 €/night out of your pocket. Under that I came across about anything: very, very small rooms, rooms without windows, curtains hung about 100 years ago, beds that fall apart, bathrooms too small to turn around, and cockroaches even in new furnished three star hotels. They also throw the stars at your head in England, without regulations or rules for the stardom in hotel world! Probably the members of the British tourist board never stay overnight in a room in London. I just read in a newspaper London was chosen the best tourist city of the world?!

10 October 2007, a Virgin train drops me at Piccadilly station of Manchester, or should I say Manchester United?
Just in front of the Cervantes Institute I present 12 Catalan wines at restaurant and Spanish wine importer
“Evuna” for their annual taste during the Manchester Wine & Food Festival. The selection surprised almost everybody. As well the typical Penedès Mas Comtal wines (the rosé Merlot is still a topper) as the more individual wines from Pardas (especially the white Xarello barril fermented and the Cabernet Franc). Heretat Navàs honoured again the reputation of Spain’s youngest wine region D.O. Montsant. Félix Sanz showed with the Viña Cimbrón Verdejo and Sauvignon Blanc the ‘flower power’ of fresh aromatic flavours from D.O. Rueda. Evuna’s event hosts about 100 wine lovers showing their interest in New Spanish Wines and eager to learn more about the different wine regions. At the end they all go crazy for Cava Can Festís brut nature bubbles to prepare for an entertaining night out in ‘The Living Room’, second home of Manchester United players.
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11 October 2007, back in London.
The tube seems to be designed for dwarfs or people with back problems, everybody is connected to their Ipod and studying meticulously the floor: don’t listen, don’t look and shut up. You find yourself breathing in someone’s neck, stepping on each other’s toes, and bumping buds without any form of communication. Women are still busy with their make up as if the tube is an extension of their bathroom.

When it comes to Spanish wines England’s taste is still very conservator. Rioja (“Is that not a bodega?”, somebody asked me once) has been the classical red from Spain for ages, Ribera del Duero is the new wine region and La Mancha for big quantities and very low prices.
Big importers are trying to put the market to their hand, not educating people but many times emptying their pockets with very cheap wines and very big margins of profit. Wine for the punters. Does the importer understand the taste of the people or do the people follow the taste of the importer? I suppose there is a big market for the occasional consumer who doesn’t know anything about wine but there are a lot and there’s the market for wine-lovers that are open for suggestion. Walking across an
Oddbins store I noticed the shelves for Spanish wine just were two (exactly 11 wines).
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12 October 2007, London Bridge.
It took me a few travels to London to discover a restaurant to satisfy my greed for fine food. Not to mention the mashed potatoes drown in sauce and a pork chop on top as the authentic British kitchen at the ‘King’s Head’ in Bayswater. In one of my last trips I discovered ‘Arbutus’ in a side street of Soho square. All the wines are available by a third of a bottle carafe to go along with a season menu. This should be a standard treat in many restaurants, everybody talks about the marriage between food and wine but nobody offers it. Arbutus does it with exciting wines and a modern fresh kitchen. I hope many are to follow.
If not, Japanese kitchen always is a delight. London hosts an impressive number of oriental restaurants. An ‘authentic’ Chinese as well as Japanese can make my day. My favourite Japanese ever is ‘Shunka’, next to the cathedral in Barcelona. They can serve a sushi of ‘sardine’ with an art only they understand, accompanied by a Gessamí wine from Gramona you truly believe to be in ‘The Forbidden Palace’.
In London I always end up at Taro, 61 Brewer Street, for a quick lunch. Sitting at the bar, practically in the kitchen creates an enormous appetite. I go for a sushi of toro and salmon, followed by a typical south Japanese noodle dish with ‘xipirones’ (I only know this word in Catalan) and a house wine Sauvignon Blanc from Australia.
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There’s no time left to buy the beautiful winter suit I saw at Muja on Oxford Street. Back in Reus by nightfall the moonlight guides me into the hills of Priorat.
The Wine Merchant in Basel
Listening to jazz and drinking wine has been common to me. I still remember the day I listened to ‘Something Else’ as much as the day I was overwhelmed by the wines at Mas Comtal. Both dragged me in to an endless world where the more experienced you get the more eager you are to learn more and more.
I arrive at Basel euroairport on the 14th of September at 14.10 h. Friday afternoon. The weather is surprisingly good or may be only because I expect there’s always snow in Switzerland. I am happy to find my travel bag with an entire Malondro white bottle, which was not the case with the wine that travelled with DHL a week ago. The Exit of the airport has three choices: Switzerland, France or Austria. I’d rather visit Austria but I take the exit Switzerland.
I bet people here think clean garden-houses and little villas are nice to live but they seem some kind of boring to me. It takes two buses to drop me at
Spalentor. After check in, e-mail check and paying cheque there is no time left to visit the beautiful, so they say, old town near the river.
I arrive at Musik & Wein where I meet Martin Sutter and Yves Willimann, wine importers that just moved to their new address in the Eulerstrasse 73. A beautiful show room smartly connected by an elevator to the stock room where a select range of wines from all over the world are waiting to go off to delicacy restaurants in Basel.
Martin proposes to take us for a barbecue at his place to enjoy this unexpected sunshiny day where we will taste a selection of eighteen Catalan wines I send him.
The first thing I notice in his house is an old high tech vinyl player with a thick glass base and different weights to adjust the pressure of the needle on the disk. I turn myself and there is another one, even more barok in design. The host invites me to his private cellar where he shows me dusty bottles like Bourgogne, Bordeaux, Sauternes Rothshild, Lafitte, a major collection of fine wines that almost are older than me. He asks me which is the oldest wine I ever drunk? The Merlot 1994 from
Jean Leon and that’s already a few years ago. Let’s say 12 years. He asks me which wine region in France I like most. Bourgogne, definitely. So he grabs a Bourgogne ‘Clos Vougeot’ 1990 , a ‘Cordier Chateau Gruaud Larose’ 1986 and a ‘Conte di Luna’ 1989.
For after the taste …, he says.
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We start off immediately with four different cavas. The Brut 1+1=3 and the Cava Can Festís Brut Nature are just the clean, pure quality of cava they are looking for, and they tasted a lot lately. Both bodega 1+1=3 and Jaume Giró I Giró are top quality bubble producers in the Penedès. Out of four whites the choice goes immediately to a macerated white wine (xarello – chardonnay) from Ramon Giró. This is a very good winemaker minds my host. From three quite exciting rosés none of them take interest. May be not the right day, or the lack of interest for rosé wines. Then seven reds. The Pardas cabernet franc 2005 from new wine maker Ramon Parera surprises for its design and elegant body. La Figuera 2004 from Costers del Segre shows nice potential. I recommend to send them a sample of the even better 2005 vintage as 2004 is sold out. The Malondro from D.O. Montsant and Maius from D.O.Q. Priorat are spotted instantly on their terroir and grenache and carignan varieties. Fruit driven wines that express their origin in style, with attractive labels and showing what Spain’s new wine making is all about.

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So far for the Spanish wines. Time for dinner and the oldest vintages of my life. Conte di Luna 1989, Cabernet Sauvignon – Merlot, from the Italian part of Switzerland. I can’t believe what I smell: balsamic massage oil, herbs, strawberry, cinnamon, caramel, tobacco and lots of violet flowers and I could go on and on. This wine is amazing; I’m surprised and enchanted by gentle and elegant flavours. Clos Vougeot 1990 from Borgogne: aristocratic strong and harmonic, it’s getting too much for me. Chateau Gruaud Larose 1986 from Sauternes: beautiful alive colour with a young fresh aroma after all these years. I suppose that’s why France has such a big reputation. But then again ‘chapeau’ for the Conte di Luna.
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A taxi takes me from France back to Switzerland and drops me at Spalentor for a three hour nap until five o’ clock am. I look with wide-open eyes still sleeping how sober people behave early in the morning, ugh. I arrive wrecked at Barcelona Airport and head back for the Priorat after a cava breakfast with my dear friend Bernard in Castelldefels. Saturday 15th of September.