The Wine Merchant
The Wine Merchant in Bordeaux 2009
The Wine Merchant in Bordeaux.
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Castillon, Bordeaux June 2009.

Wine fairs are definitely 'passé'. They turned in to a boring platform where producers rent a boring stand and feel bored all the time. We need this platform to be able to meet importers, show our wines and negotiate sales. But does it has to be boring?
No !
Everyday I went in at VinExpo to the ICEX reunion point where I had my scheduled meetings with clients from Belgium, Sweden, Finland, Holland, UK and Austria, and then out again, as quick as I could !
Together with Malena I worked on an off-programme and visited '1 ère rencontre "off" des vignerons Blogueurs' at the Château Luchely-Halde and 'Haut les Vins' at Château de Cujac. At the 'off bloggers' I came across some very interesting wines. Ivo Pagès showed some fine wines from the hills of Cadaquès: a young style, easy drinking grenache, caringan, monastrell, syrah and macabeo 'Pirata' and a beautiful equilibrated grenache, caringan, petit verdot and macabeo 'S'Alqueria'. In both red wines Ivo Pagès uses the white varietal macabeo, why not? The caringan is 80 years old, and I'm discovering the old caringan brings a lot of structure, glycerine and smoothness to the wine. The same I find in the Priorat 'Lo Givot'.
The big surprise though came with the acquaintance of two 'crazy' wine makers: Laureano Serres Montagut and Joan Ramon Escoda. Els Bassots 2007 from Conca de Barberà, Chenin blanc, a rather confusing nose, dazzling from green grass to wet earth with some 'after the rain' aroma that Malena loves (I found that out when we arrived in Barcelona on the wet streets just after the rain). The Mendall of caringan, cabaret and merlot from Terra Alta blasted me out. I'm still wondering what I exactly tasted, this wine produced me instant memory loss, I couldn't and still can't define this very concentrated wine. I have to visit him to find out more.

The first 'quality' Pinot Noir I came across in Spain comes from the hand of Joan Ramon: La Llopetera. I tasted 2006, 10 months barril, 14,50% alc. Only Mark Hoddy, who I showed the wine, was capable of recognizing blind the variety. I definitely will visit his bodega to check out Les Paradetes. These guys were so interesting and we talked away so I forgot to make my notes seriously.

In both occasions of the 'off-wine' happenings we drove the winding Bordeaux roads to arrive in plain nature at the very well kept Châteaux that give the right atmosphere for a wine tasting. Still the tables with names once inside seemed boring to me. Both in the Château Luchely-Halde and Cujac I came across the first cava I ever drunk labelled under the name 'Champagne': Tarlant. A Brut Nature in not confusing Penedès style. It seems the climate change provokes earlier harvests (october in stead of november) when the plant still keeps on growing and sucks energy, which provokes a later sprouting of the vines in spring. Well done ! And great news for the cava sector. Let's hope Champagne doesn't get to sell expensive Cava before we do. Come on cava producers, show the world our fine bubbles!

Jean-Paul Brun, who I met at the Boundary restaurant in london with our importer OW Loeb, was presenting beautiful velvety wines from Beaujolais: Domaine des Terres Dorées. Only fermenting with natural 'mother' yeast his wines are very inspiring and a 'must' for new, uncomplicated wine lovers.
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I was guest during my stay at the 'gite' where Mark Hoddy lives the story of his life: wine, wine and wine. The bucolic environment of Sainte Colombe, just at the border of the Saint-Émilion appellation, shows green extensions running over hills of vines and fresh cut grass. The vineyards look like garden architecture and make you feel rich only by looking at them, a joy for the eye. The French chanson sings through my head and makes the picture of the French romance complete, c'est une belle histoire indeed.
Mark showed me the winery 'La Clairiere Laithwaite', where he runs the wine making. Les Confreres De La Clairiere is a select club of members that guarantee their wooden case for every year they live, when one dies the first on the waiting list gets in. The cellar is built on a stone mine, where each and every stone you see in the aristocratic houses of the area was caved. A 'caracole' step brings you down to the mine where 25.000 liters are aged on Allier oak.
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Then we headed for 'Le Chai au Quai', where Mark elaborates about one (Sainte) million bottles a year. Lejeune tanks and oak barrels in the smart oxo system with wine from Maury and Bordeaux: grenache, syrah, caringan, cabernet franc, sauvignon, and who knows what more, in the enormous old cooperative of Castillon. The building is an impressive piece of architecture along the Dordogne river, a warehouse of about 300 m where barrels used to be rolled down a ramp to the key and shipped into the world. 'Le Chai au Quai' is today's testimony of those days, but this time run by the 'smart' Laithwaite family. I envy Mark, driving his British wrong side Peugeot every day through the back vineyards of Bordeaux, producing wines that are direct exported to the UK. Castillon is a dream, a life movie, from La Plage's entrecôte to Les Voyageurs's andouilette and some foie gras de la Dordogne on Mark's woodstock carbon grill, all sauced in exciting wines. This is the life the young Old Jersey boy shared with me for a few days.
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Mark, be aware, I will be back.
The Wine Merchant in Nürnberg (2)
Nürnberg – ‘Die Bratwurst-Metropole’.
‘Die Bewohner der alten Noris im Herzen Frankens sind seit eh und je dafür bekannt, einen guten Bratwurst abgeneigt zu sein.’

Nürnberg was almost completely destroyed at the end of the second World War. Today there is (almost) no building left in original construction. Which gives a strange feeling in old Europe. You could compare it with Rotterdam, which was raised again after the War.
“War. What is it good for? Absolutely nothing. Say it again: WAR!” (cfr Springsteen)
In the centre of the city, on the bank of the river Pegnitz, stands the Heilig-Geist-Spital (Hospital of the Holy Spirit). Founded in 1332, this is one of the largest hospitals of the Middle Ages. Lepers were kept here at some distance from the other patients.
It now houses a very typical Frankish restaurant. I love to discover local kitchen and wines when I travel and this definitely is a ‘must’ when you visit Nürnberg. You feel like hanging above the river when you look through the small yellow windows from a heavy wooden table. The food is traditional and authentic, I go for a pork shoulder which is prepared delicious, even the fat comes off crispy and savoury.
Almost all the wines are served by 50 cl carafe. In the menu there’s an extensive explanation of the typical varietals from this area: Silväner, Muller-Thurgau, Bacchus, Scheurebe, Kerner, Riesling and Portugieser. Varieties well known and varieties I never heard about. They also give information on the different soils: Buntsandstein, Musche Kalk and Keuper.
In my hotel I saw a documentary on CNN of wine making in Napa Valley where the philosophy seems to go against tradition. A successful young wine maker said that just because in Napa there are no restrictions whatsoever on winemaking they can go wild in designing new wines with any variety you want on any soil. He said that it’s better to take a new original road which is much more interesting in life than the traditional roads we know in Europe.
When I see than a wine region like ‘Weinland Franken’ where they have been perfecting winegrowing and style over the last hundred years I am very well impressed. This is a wine country!
I believe in Napa Valley they confuse wine making with something exciting to play with. They come up with the strangest wines that might have success if well promoted with new marketing techniques. But will they last? Do we need new, completely different wines, or do we need equilibrated wines made with many years of experience, wines that come to perfection according to their climate, soil and variety?

My wine mentor Joan Mila told me once:
“ In a ‘top’ wine you shouldn’t be able to distinguish the different varieties, if you do it is a defect of the wine.”
This is for me the ultimate concept of wine making. The perfect harmony of taste. Wine is to enjoy and it is the wine makers duty to combine all parameters of nature and merge them into one beautiful result that makes you feel like in heaven.
The Wine Merchant in Nürnberg (1)
Organic wines: Marketing or idealism ?

I’m at the Biofach World Organic Trade Fair (where organic people meet) presenting wines and cava from Eudald Massana Noya, Penedès.
Eudald is the 9th generation in his family that are true to organic agriculture. Eudald never learned anything else. He saw his father and grand father working without herbicides and learned about biodynamic when he was a child.
What is the main reason to produce organic wines ? To sell more ? To add an extra value to your wines ? Or is it a philosophy, a way of living. Being sensitive to nature and your health ?
Years ago organic agriculture was associated to hippies that grew their own vegetables and walked around in woollen self made socks. Today nobody knows anymore what kind of artificial additives (E-&hellipWinking are in food and beverage. And why it would be a problem for your health.

Here at the Biofach world’s most important organic fair you can see clearly that being sensitive to organic products is a way of living. People need to get back to basics. The luxury of finding at your corner a world food supermarket has been replacing the local farmer that provides you with food from your area. The popular 'slow food' movement is bringing people back to their earth, their surrounding nature and ‘terroir’ where they live on.

And what about biodynamic viticulture ? A knowledge as ancient as the human being. The influence of the moon, the sun, energy streams and magnetic fields.
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A while ago somebody asked Joan Mila what he thinks about biodynamic wine making. Here is his answer:
“I remember once I was in a Crypt in Toulouse about five years ago where I saw a bunch of biodynamic wine makers scratching their back against the central pillar that was bearing the construction. According to them this would bring positive energy to their wine fields.” No further comment.
The Wine Merchant in Shanghai (2)
The Code.
As a producer our wines reach the consumer through importers and distributors. If we can establish direct communication with the consumer and create demand, importers would be calling us to distribute our wines.
Nobody can explain the story behind a wine better then the bodega owner or wine maker himself, but of course how do we reach the consumer directly, and can we do it in his language, and can he reach us ?
YES ! The answer is the code.
Somosene, a design and communication studio in Barcelona I regularly collaborate with came up with one of the smartest ideas I’ve seen lately. For the bodega Cingles Blaus from Montsant they designed a new corporate image and incorporated the code in all labels. These codes, from Japanese origin was used in industry to track packages or add information for assembly, production, etc. and is read by a device or such a common thing as a mobile phone.
Cingles Blaus is a modern, upcoming Montsant bodega that produces high personality wines for curious and demanding wine consumers, often young people in search for something new and exciting. This young generation of wine drinkers are children of the new technology (internet, mobile phone) and spend money on quality wines they discover on their search to knowledge, experience and above all enjoying live. They spend an average of 15 € on a quality bottle of wine (proceeding from any wine region in the world) but before buying the wine they want the opportunity to taste it. So image you are in a restaurant and the sommelier recommends you an excited wine you fall in love with, the code makes it super-easy to store information where to find this wine. The consumer just makes a picture of the code and goes home with all the information he needs as well as being in direct contact with the producer.
At Shanghai wine fair I presented the code-label of Cingles Blaus to producers, DO’s, governmental entities and of course consumers and they are all quite exciting about it. It has endless possibilities and when you start to think about it ideas are infinite.
Cingles Blaus is the first bodega on Spanish territory that incorporates the code and shows the world what wine making is about: communication, like a painter through his paintings, like a musician through his music, like a wine maker through his wine.
The Wine Merchant in shanghai
Now that economic crisis is striking in all capitalist countries, Russia, China and Japan are the new markets to look for export.
I’m present with the DO Montsant for promotion at the 8
th Shanghai FHC Wine Fair.
上海食品、饮料、酒店设备展西班牙展区内的美食区将在三天的展会中举办一系列的活动。活动对所有的专业观众开放,其中有一些对大众开放,希望大家能够了解并体 验这些最著名的西班牙美食产品。

11:30 - 加泰罗尼亚葡萄酒研讨会 专家Stephan Lismond将带领大家品尝来自加泰
罗尼亚各地区的葡萄酒:卡瓦气泡酒、白葡萄酒和红葡萄酒。由西班牙加泰罗尼亚政府 贸易促进会(PRODECA)赞助。
To establish contacts with importers I need to understand Chinese culture. This is probably the most interesting part of my job, but also the most complicated. Culture is based on hundreds of years of history, trespassed through the genes of the people (cfr Darwin).
In China wine is new, so how do they understand what wine means to Spain. I told in my speech:
“In Spain farmers are used to make ‘wines to drink’, this may sound obvious as wine is of course to drink, but I wouldn’t be lying if I say in Spain people drink wine with breakfast, lunch and dinner. Wine is important in Spanish culture and people used to buy carafes of 5 litre for daily consume, straight from the barrel of the near by bodega.”
The interpreter said to the public something like:
“Wine for Spaniards is like rice for us, we can’t have a meal without it”

The presentation was a big success. Chinese like the Montsant wines, although they get easily drunk after a few sips. Wine drinking is definitely not in their genes ! But they are open, curious about wine. And what is better than passing our experience to other cultures, feel together and all human in this oversized world village we live in. A village is Shanghai definitely not. Shanghai was lifted from the ground in only hundred years. The new area ‘Pudong’ across the river with enormous skyscrapers and ‘the pearl of China’ is constructed in only 15 years, and still foundations of even bigger buildings are constructed as we speak. The strength of China is undoubtedly the force of the big number of civilians. Everywhere you see more personal you can imagine. From the hotel lobby, restaurant, bar, shops, constructions, taxis, etc., the big number of people is omni present. There are a lot of Chinese and they deserve more individualism, you get the feeling that one less is no big deal (they told me with a smile that during the building up of the last fair at the convention centre it had cost the lives of two people in an accident!).
In Shanghai live 20 million people, half the amount of entire Spain. This is a scale that we in Europe don’t understand. Catalan, Bask, Flemish are proud of their culture and fight to defend what is theirs. Here, everybody, unless you are extremely wealthy, … is nobody.
The Wine Merchant in the United States of America
The Wine Merchant in the United States of America. (1)

Tuesday 21
st of October.
The sunshine is reflecting on the 13.3 inches screen of my brand new MacBook. I am flying to New York, using Dublin as a hub. My goodness !, Aerlingus is still my favourite flight company and My Guinness !, will be waiting for me at the entrance hall.
Why Aerlingus ? Because they still have manners. The staff is friendly and responsible, traditional yes but at least they are not running a bus with wings on like Ryan Air. And the price is no difference anymore. Cheap as well as expensive ticket days are over.

I was in Zurich and Basel last week presenting some of my favourite Catalan brews. The Swiss are keen on high quality expensive wines, sometimes more because they are expensive but I suppose it makes them feel good (read rich).
Francisco Villanueva received me in Zurich with all the honours a Spanish can give you. Joy, laughter and good food. Except from his garage operation (Parker would say) of wine sales (he sure can turn nothing in to something) he is running with his brother the famous restaurant ‘Costa Brava’. Francisco is a big fan of deep Grenache wines and Algramar (Terra Alta), Malondro (Montsant) and Lo Givot (Priorat) is giving him right what he is looking for: terroir wines with authentic expression of the Grenache grape blended with Syrah, Cabernet and Carignan to meet the palate of demanding Suiz taste. He seduced me with quality solomillo and chuleta veal after a braised squid ‘a la plancha’. Spanish hospitality goes along with a culture of food and wine, and I’m loving it !
In Basel I promoted another five astonishing wines: La Figuera (Costers del Segre), Abellars (Priorat), Eternel (Cotes du Rousillon Villages) and a Brut cava from 1+1=3 (Penedès) at the annual fall presentation of Musik & Wein. La Figuera is an honest, straight forward Merlot (with a touch of Cabernet and Tempranillo) from the Merlot Wizard Joan Mila. I love this guy, he sure knew what he was doing when he started to plant Merlot for the first time in Spanish wine history. His family production wine Petrea is probably the best Merlot of Spain. He understands this grape and the single estate vineyards of La Figuera are their natural habitat. I love to speak about wines in other terms than the book says and somebody told me something beautiful: Abellars is a poem. Ramon Alzamora produces from young vines a Priorat that stands up against the oldest vines classics, but with elegance and (excuse me Malena) feminity. I answered that if Abellars is a poem Eternel is a novelle. This deep red complex Rousillon wine is giving France a complete new story.
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The Wine Merchant in the United States of America. (2)

I just arrived at Miami Beach. Tomorrow the Miami Beach Convention Centre hosts the Wine Fair where ‘Wines from Catalonia’ will be presenting exciting stuff.
I’ve just been 3 days in New York with my dearest Paz Sintes ‘bisuteria blanda’ and Emilio Solla ‘music inventor’. It was AMAZING. I love New York, the vibe is running down the stairs, the hype is flying over the cloud scrapers and it’s hot (not so hot of course as Miami tropical Beach). Emilio and Paz gave me what only they can give: their particular view of the big apple, like Brooklyn south views on Downtown Wall street, Smalls and el ‘gato gordo’ in Village, strolling impressive Brooklyn bridge on a blue sky gorgeous day, The Lincoln Jazz Centre (where Emilio Solla will set in the first minutes of new year ‘09), Central squirrel Park and last but not at all least the most magnificent building in entire Manhattan ‘The Flatiron Building’ (on command of the Princes). There’s a steady lack of bar numbers (finding a bar takes you at least some many streets), food is fast everywhere and the scale is bigger than mankind. But it makes you feel alive (and kicking if you want).
Wednesday 22 de novembre
The 9
th annual wine tasting of DSWE at the Four Season. The first wine I taste is the Dido from Sara and Rene. Priorat is on my tails and the wine of the most admiring people of the new generation wine makers in the Priorat is present to introduce in my ‘Conquista d’America’. Venus was as universal as she ever was. The aperitive on my first day in New York was giving immediately the right track: enjoy. After jamon ibérico, smoked salmon, parmiggiano and more New York was ready to seduce me.

Thursday 23 de novembre
Gerry Dawes invited me on the Spanish Academy Taste at the Warwick Hotel. I thought it was rather a boring taste, too classic, playing sure with riojas and riberas, albariño white and Gramona cava, with two exceptions: Clos Mogador and Palo Cortado, which obviously were the assistant’s favourites. The comparison with ‘bourgogne’ was made with all the wines that were presented as high end. I hope MW’s stop to compare everything with Borurgogne or Bordeaux, there’s no sense in comparing two so different terroirs and climates as Spain and France. You can talk about wine styles but except from the Loire region it’s not so defined what’s the style of each denomination, and what about the personal style of every wine maker and bodega ?
I had dinner at ‘the Boqueria’ with Gerry. Gerry has a pronounced opinion on Spanish wines and styles and is not too chicken to tell, whether you like it or not. He thinks Spanish wine makers are over doing it still too much on the wood. Oak has to be used in the right measurement; too much oak tannin can break down the length of your wine. Gerry is quite entertaining over some catalan tapas and a taste of the Cingles Blaus wines. According Gerry Cingles has an enormous potential, a work in progress for very unique and personal wines. Octubre may be cut on the palate by too much wood, Mas de les Moreres shows very nice fruit and structure and the Sele·lecció needs may be some more time in the bottle to see how tannins develop.

Saturday 25
th of October
Miami Wine Fair is a small fair with this year’s notorious presence of Spanish wineries thanks to Iberwine. Importers have scheduled agendas with the bodegas and there’s interest from all over the states, curious for new spanish wines. At ‘Wines from Catalonia’ we present 14 wines: Eudald Cava, Eudald Cepell blanc and negre, Gandesa blanc and negre, Varvall, Cesar Martinell, Algramar Jove and Criança, Cingles Blaus Octubre and Mas de les Moreres, Heretat Navàs, La Figuera and Indret.
‘Silicon Beach’ changes at night into the city that never sleeps. If you just spent a considerable amount of dollars on your girl friends boobs Miami is the place to show them to the world. Sometimes disgusting, sometimes sexy but all the time over present. Of course it’s very hot and you better wear the minimum if you want to swing the night away. But be aware: you can look but you better not touch. Quality is far to be found in Miami: wrong drinks, wrong food and wrong music.
Wednesday 29th of October.
I’m celebrating my friend Emilio’s birthday. And what a better royal meal than fresh Main lobster! After a ‘bisque d’homard’ paired with Cava Can Festís we have a Jaume Giro I Giro Selecte Reserva Brut Nature with the lobster, lemon butter, fennel and sweet potato with cottage cheese. Lobster is sexy and delicious.
The Wine Merchant at home
Falset, 24th of July 2008.

I’m behind with relating on a lot of trips, events and tastes (Düsseldorf, London, Dublin). Work is hanging like a too big shadow over me and as long as I don’t have a personal assistant I will move in the dark. Of course that personal assistant could be a lap top … but that’s not the same.

I had a visit from my dear friends
Mark Hoddy and Elsa Lejeune (Domaine Eternel) who gave me another opportunity to express my deepest love for the Priorat. It helps drinking Priorat wine but the scenery of the winding landscape in a pocket full of hills impresses me so much I feel in heaven. Probably you think I found the stairway in the Montsant. I might have, but I wouldn’t tell you where it is.
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In the morning we visited Mas Blanc, Pinord’s newest bodega that conquered the organic and biodynamic (Demeter) label for it’s wine making in no time. And very fine wine making it is indeed. It must be a dream to design your winery from scratch and build up an amfi theatre of different autochtone and foreign varietals, planted on level and angle to their needs. And then the bodega, half bedded in the mountain with a glass tasting room in the barrel ageing cellar. Their wines have personality and the wine maker Jaume put a life’s experience in it. I take Mark and Elsa up the hill with my worn out Patrol jeep (that pictures perfectly in the scenery) and my mini IPod playing, who else, Bob Dylan. If my shadow is work, Mark’s shadow is Bob. I must admit, Bob is (still) an eminence in contempary music. He’s as old as my father (which is still young, he probably reads this! I mean my father, Bob can take it) and lecturing the world what making music is really about. Nobody can get around his prominent quality (anymore).
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On the hill top of the beautiful trimmed vines the views take you from the Montsant as far as the Terra Alta massive. One gets quiet with such a view and may this now be the biggest quality of the Priorat: no man produced sound (read noise), only nature …
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After a quick cooking session at home that turned out in my grand mothers sunday dish (marinated beef, peas and beans and grâtin dauphinois) with a superb Costers del Segre (La Figuera 2004) we head of for a visit to Ferrer i Bobet.

Now be ready, if you’ve ever seen the light, this is a dream (or a nightmare). Generations of farmers that have been struggling and suffering on the Priorat hills are not pleased with new comers that walk in the big door and throw their money in this mystic mountains to build a high tech fully quality conditioned bodega. Something only few people can do, and
Ferrer i Bobet did it ! One feels drunk after the thousands of curves the road takes you, but arriving at Ferrer i Bobet sobers you up in no time. The work they did in a year to build this bodega and plant vines probably took the Roman slaves a life time. If you watch closely you still see a lot of ancient terrasses hidden under the overgrown pines all over the Priorat. Today, the Priorat is at 25% production compared to the vineyards they had many, many years ago.
Ferrer i Bobet recoverd many hectares ‘costers’ while they patiently wait (6 years before quality falls of new vines) and in the mean time rent surrounding producing vineyards from the farmers to make their wine that was launched in the fall of 2007. I’m impressed as if I see an "Esher" painting. I recognize all the details (top vinification installation, gravity to transport wine, high tech lab, varietal experiments, barril room, shoe wine boxes) but when I look at the entire picture I get lost.
The wine is way up standard and promeses for the big future wines that undoubtly will be produced in this technological high end bodega.
The tasting glass room, hanging out of the top of the mountain gives you a vertiguous feeling of beeing on top of the world. My mind is blank when we leave …
Mark and me in the UFO cockpit

I meet Stefaan Vinckevleugel (singer songwriter and my brother in law) for a gin and tonic in the local bar of Porrera, where we feel at the end of time. I hope he gets inspired for a new song.

By the way, the gin and tonics are very good this year!

The Wine Merchant at the Montpellier Fair ‘Vinisud’
Saint Marie de la Mer, 18th of February 2008.

Internet has not proven yet how misleading it can be, but is heading straight for the worst. I travel regularly and discovered no hotel’s web transmits what you feel when you walk in the ‘o so beautiful’ room you saw on the Internet. Also I realise there are a lot of hotels build before the Internet.
Art is the answer to transmit feelings, to communicate to your soul. A hotel, a shop, a wine, only art can make it work. So what’s wrong with this society? Is it all about ‘lost’ people trying to fit in what’s supposed to be in? Is it about ‘wise’ guys that know everything but enjoying life. Is it about politics that fades in it’s own shadow?

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Vincent Van Gogh, Boats at Sainte-Maries, 1888

I’m staying at a wellness (read tourist Benidorm bad taste) hotel near the coast of Saint Marie de la Mer, the only available, at 45 minutes driving from ‘Les Parcs des Exposition’ of Montpellier. Where the annual wine event ‘Vinisud’ is taking place.
The stand of ‘
Domaine Eternel’ is at the most exciting part of the Fair: the Rousillon area. Elsa Lejeune is making limited terroir wines Apellation Controles Côtes du Rousillon Villages. I have an appointment with Robert who I wrote before we sat up this meeting, the following: “From the hills of Corbières to the Pyrénées mountains, Rousillon is the sunniest region in France. The climate, the history and the traditions of Rousillon make it more similar to Priorat in Spain than to Languedoc. This is maybe the reason why Rousillon Villages wines are still a discovery to the world. Domaine Eternel produces limited 'terroir' wines with an explosive yet gentle taste of black summer fruits and vanilla oak flavours. Wines to be enjoyed, which last as well in the bottle as in the mouth.”
Robert answered me: “If you really can compare your wines with the Priorat it might be very interesting.”


What have Côtes du Rousillon Villages and Priorat in common ? Everything which makes them terroir wines. The geographical situation (close to the sea, mountain high), the micro climate (very dry, hot during the day, cold at night), the soil (slate and stones), the technique (limited, artesanal productions), agriculture (reduced yield) and the varietals (grenache noir and carignan).
Elsa is doing very fine wine making and Robert is as convinced as I was first time I tasted the Eternel, this wine is many rivers deep.

P.s.: Robert Benier became our exclusive importer in Holland (May 2008)
The Wine Merchant in the Wild West
20 November 2007
I’m taking the air bridge BCN-Murcia, where 218 horses are waiting to bring my visitors, the London Rangers and me to the wild west of Spain: Almería.
We visit the bodega Alto Almanzora that is producing a superb blend of table wine: Este. A table wine it’s only on the label, in the glass it’s a high quality terroir wine.
Este represents the new wine making in Spain. Well taken care and trimmed vineyards up to 1000 m above sea level, intelligent irrigation systems, ultimate technology and the Allier French oak. The best of all this meticulously put together makes the Este red, rosé and white.
For me this is the wine of the sun. Wine that shows why Spain doesn’t belong to the new World but combines traditional with contemporary wine making.
In a wine region nobody heard of, Este proudly represents how promising Spain is in today’s international wine scene.
Parker 89 points, forget Parker, for sale at 8 $ a bottle, forget money, the new wave of Spanish wines, forget new wave, this wine is the ultimate expression of what an excellent wine maker (Modesto Pou) can do with an extraordinary terroir in an ancient country where wine was made by the Phoenicians.
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.