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Special moments and special bottles: Trimbach Frederic Emile Riesling, VT, 2001

I grew up playing and watching sports, and although I stopped playing anything competitively a few years ago (rugby), I remain a fan and will tune in to watch my favourite athletes and teams compete whenever possible. When I was very young, the athletes I admired became sources of inspiration to me. I would wake up in the morning to work-out as a young rugby player and try to emulate Johnny Wilkinson’s determination and structured approach, as well as his commitment to laying his body on the line. Training to join the military when I was in my late teens, I would think about the athletes who never gave up despite the odds and always pushed through to the bitter end, often victorious by virtue of grinding their opponents down.

As a man in my late 20’s and having been through the stage of life where you realise that you’re now older than many of the sporting stars you admire, I draw inspiration in a slightly different way. My work-outs are now more aimed at staying fit and healthy than packing on muscle or stripping fat, I’m more interested in setting achievable targets, hitting them and moving on rather than trying to be the absolute strongest, fastest and fittest guy in the gym. The inspiration I draw now, is more about how athletes conduct themselves professionally in times of stress and defeat, and there is no-one I admire more in this regard than Roger Federer.

I first discovered tennis in 2003, watching Mark Philippoussis and his enormous serve throughout Wimbledon; the beauty of school holidays meant I could watch the entire tournament from my own living room. He made it all the way to the final where he was beaten, to my great disappointment, by a young Swiss guy by the name of Roger Federer. It wasn’t even that close, finishing in 3 sets with two tie-breaks and Roger played him off Centre Court that day, the court that has largely gone on to define his career. Over the next 14 years, Roger has had the most accomplished career of any male tennis player to date and is, to my mind, the single greatest tennis player the world has ever seen.

What’s understated, however, is the endless hours of training, practice and effort he puts in. Commentators make a big fuss about the work-rate of Murray, Nadal and Djokovic and yet Federer has a professional career spanning 19 years, winning tournaments both large and small, charity events and also suffering some crushing losses on the way. I’ve suffered through so many of his defeats, often on clay to Rafael Nadal, and yet he never gave up. He’s never once retired during a game in over 1000 matches, an outrageous statistic that speaks to the courage of the man. Even more than that, regardless of how tough his opponent was, how crushing the defeats and the niggling injuries along the way, he always composed himself with dignity and humility, winning the Stefan Edberg Sportsmanship Award 12 times.

Watching Federer come back from a serious injury and winning not only the Australian Open but then Wimbledon this year has been awe inspiring from a sports fans point of view, thrilling from the viewpoint of a Roger Federer fan and deeply satisfying for myself on a very personal level. Last Sunday I watched Federer dominate Centre Court once again for an unprecedented 8th Wimbledon title, cheered on by his wife and 4 children, 95% of the crowd and millions around the world. It feels like a full circle experience, casting me back the days of being a child in a mans body and wanting to push it to the limit, watching Federer win his first ever Major.

Even though I’m never going to be a professional athlete, or anywhere close to it, I will be a sports fan for my entire life. Whilst the motivation I used to draw from my heroes gave me the strength to get up at 5am and run like the wind, or commit myself to a painful tackle or lift more and more weight, I now hope it gives me the strength to tackle some of lifes more mundane challenges. How to achieve my personal ambitions whilst giving time back to my family, how to cope with the endless set backs and frustrations that come with modern life, how to see the world from my own point of view and how to accept it all with grace and a smile, especially in moments of defeat.

To pair with the momentous occasion of Federer’s 8th Wimbledon title, I watched the whole match with a stunning bottle of Trimbach Frederic Emile Riesling VT 2001.

This was a bottle I'd been holding onto for a while; Cuvee Frederic Emile Vendage Tardive 2001. Produced by Trimbach, one of the greatest Alsatian producers with a history going back to 1626, this is likely the best bottle of Riesling I've ever had. You can see the dramatic amber colour from the picture but the stunning aromas of orange marmalade, honeyed orchard fruits, cinnamon, marzipan and slate can only be imagined. Rich, not sweet, and unbelievably fresh! Drank over the two hours it took Roger Federer to win his 8th Wimbledon title; check out winecuentista.com for a full write-up! @trimbach #wine #france #riesling #alsace #lateharvest #instagood #instadaily #photo #wimbledon #federer #pairing #wineoclock #wineoftheday #delicious #dramatic #amber #2001 #best #history #travel

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Trimbach Frederic Emile Riesling VT 2001

Trimbach are one of the great producers in Alsace, France, with a wine-making history stretching back to 1626 when Jean Trimbach registered as a citizen of the region. Fast forward almost 400 years and the winery is a thriving, quality based operation producing somewhere in the region of 1.2 million bottles a year, the majority of which is affordable, good quality varietal wines, the sort of thing that is perfect for introducing students and wine lovers to the region.

Whilst Trimbach produce a broad range of different varietal wines, their speciality is without a doubt Riesling, typified by Clos St. Hune, their flagship wine produced from the Rosacker vineyard. At €150-300 a pop, vintage dependent, it’s not exactly the most accessible of their wines but fortunately, their other highly acclaimed Riesling is. I picked up two bottles of Trimbach Frederic Emile Riesling VT 2001 for a song at Monvinic Store in 2016, one which was opened as part of my new years resolution and the other to be opened on a special occasion; thanks for providing that, Roger! The Frederic Emile Cuvee is only made in certain years from the Osterberg and Geisberg vineyards, with vines averaging 45 years of age and to find bottles of Vendange Tardive (late harvest) Frederic Emile, from an outstanding harvest, well, some people get all the luck!

The wine had a gorgeous, dramatic amber colour flecked with gold and you could almost smell the aromas wafting out of the glass. Ripe citrus fruits, orange marmalade and a whole series of honeyed stone-fruits, cinnamon and even a touch of marzipan. Trimbach are famously classic in their approach to Riesling, opting for concentration and verve over power, shown beautifully in this wine. Despite being 12.5% alcohol and late-harvest, the residual sugar is more a suggestion of sweetness than anything else, balanced with a lovely, refreshing acidity that propels the rich flavours into a very, very long finish. The energy and drive from a 16 year old wine was phenomenal and if I had more bottles, I may have considered leaving them for another 10 years or so! Probably the single best bottle of Riesling I’ve so far had the pleasure of trying and a great way to round off a special day. Life has its moments!

Thoughts on: Carignan, Cariñena and Samsó

Carignan is an interesting grape variety and caused me a few conflicting moments in my very early days of learning about wine. In the late 20th century, Carignan was known as being a simple grape with limited potential that was massively over-yielded in the south of France, producing in excess of 200hl/ha in more than a few cases. This was how I first learnt about it and also how I encountered one of my first conflicts with the accepted facts. You see, Carignan is noted as a French grape but it’s entirely likely to be from DO Cariñena in Aragon, hence the Spanish name for the grape, although oddly it’s almost exclusively grown within Catalunya now with DO Cariñena focusing quite a bit more on Grenache. Way to miss an open goal, Spain. (There was a briefly interesting discussion about this on Twitter, unfortunately spoiled by one of the participants channeling his inner Donald Trump. Worth a read anyway!)

Anyway, the Carignan I’ve tried before starting my formal studies on wine was nothing like I subsequently read in textbooks. In DO Montsant and DOQ Priorat, some of my very favourite wines were either a Carignan heavy blend or, better yet, 100% of the grape itself. The dark, smoky and almost metallic flavours of the wine were intense, concentrated and utterly delicious. So why then am I reading this nonsense? Well, aside from the WSET Level 3 material being slightly outdated at the time (they’ve since revamped the entire course) it seems that consumers across the world are still a bit in the dark with regards to the potential quality of Carignan. Conversely, wine-makers seem to be latching onto it in some unlikely places. Quite familiar with varying levels of the grape produced locally, I hunted down a couple of bottles from Chile and Argentina to taste, more to see what was going on than anything else.

Villalobos Carignan Reserve 2013

When I first discovered that Chile had some of the oldest Carignan in the world, I was a little taken aback. I couldn’t say why, it just didn’t seem to add up; traditionally Carignan is a very warm climate grape and although on the other side of the Andes to Mendoza, one of the warmest climates in the wine-making world, Chile tends to be more gently Mediterranean. However, particularly in the Maule Valley, Chile is home to some outstandingly good Carignan. So much so in fact, that they have an organisation dedicated to the protection and support of producers who want to work with these vines, VIGNO. Having previously tried the excellent Lomajes de Vina Roja, I was excited to try some more examples and I was already a fan of Villalobos after trying their delicious Carmenere.

Villalobos are a small producer in Colchagua Valley who historically only made wine for their own consumption. That changed when the wine-maker, Martin Rosseau, died in an accident and the family decided to continue with the production and release it commercially in 2009. Since then, the wines have gone on to win great acclaim, very ‘new wave’ and minimal intervention in style with bright fruit, soft herbal notes and a lively, fun character. At only 12.5% alcohol, this is by far the lightest, freshest Carignan I’ve tried stylistically and what it lacks in complexity, it more than makes up for in charm and sheer fun. A bit steep at 30 a bottle in Spain, but well worth the experiment.

Famila Cecchin Carignan 2012

Over to the other side of the Andes now, to see how Argentina is getting along with the same grape variety. There are two main differences here compared to their neighbours and rivals. Firstly, the climate is considerably warmer and drier in Mendoza than in any part of Chile, with one of the most continental climates on earth. Secondly the vines tend to much younger. I haven’t yet been able to discover why Chile planted Carignan so much earlier than Argentina but the difference is telling, with Chile owning vines with well over 50 years of age in some cases.

Interestingly I’d actually visited this winery in 2016 but don’t recall having tried this particular wine. Cecchin are a quality produce of organic wines in Argentina, with only 11 hectares under vines and a small production as a result, focusing quite heavily on varieties from Spain and France. The wines, like Villalobos, are quite ‘new wave’ with low additions of sulphur, indigenous yeasts and generally a much lighter profile than other wineries within the area. This was quite a bit more like the Carignan I was used to, I suppose due to the similarity in climate and grape ripeness, with lots of ripe red and dark fruits, earthy aromas and the tell-tale, ferrous smell I associate with concentrated Carignan. Still, quite a refreshing wine despite the 14.3% alcohol, but lacking the intensity and depth I’ve come to expect from the grape. I suppose living in Catalunya has made me slightly spoilt!

Conclusions

Ultimately, it’s not possible to compare grape varieties based on such a small sample size but it does seem that there is one clear distinction between Carignan produced here and that in Catalunya; style. Where Catalunya revels in the depth and intensity of the flavours in their old-vine Samsó, the Catalan name for the grape, the New World seems to be more focused on producing lighter styles of wine from it. Oak is dialled back and the wines seem more appropriate for younger, easier drinking whereas the very best Samsó from Montsant and Priorat can age for well over a decade. Call me biased but I still can’t see past the top producers of Priorat where Carignan is concerned, although I look forward to trying more examples from around the world and seeing how they’re getting on with it. If anyone finds any examples from California or South Africa knocking around Spain, let me know!

Here are my favourite local producers of 100% or at least Carignan dominated wines. Prices range from moderately to outrageously expensive!

Producer – Wine – Region

Clos Mogador – Manyetes Vi di Vila – Priorat

Cal Battlet – 5 Partides – Priorat

Mas Doix – Doix 1902 – Priorat

Vall Llach – Mas de la Rosa – Priorat

Bodegas Mas Alta – La Basseta – Priorat

Ferrer Bobet – Seleccio Especial – Priorat

Alfredo Arribas – Trossos Vells – Montsant

Portal de Montsant – Hugo – Montsant

Celler Masroig – Masroig – Montsant

Edetaria – Finca la Pedrissa – Terra Alta

Wine and Health – Part I

Wine and health has been pretty well documented recently with the industry starting to realise the long term potential issues surrounding the lifestyle of a wine professional. As a relative newcomer and someone still in his late 20’s, I can’t speak for the long term effects of anything but I have noticed some short term effects over the last 6 months, notably weight gain. Now, this isn’t an inevitable part of working within the wine industry but the last 18 months of my life have been largely spent studying for various exams, working with few breaks and more recently becoming a father, most of which isn’t conducive to physical fitness. The birth of my son in particular seems to have tipped the balance somewhat, resulting in something like a 4-5kg gain over the past couple of months and sending out a signal that I should probably tackle the issue before it becomes a problem.

So, I will! I’ve got 6 months until the final exam of the WSET Diploma and that’s going to require a few things:

  1. A lot of studying. For me that means a lot of sitting down and poring over textbooks, maps and articles until my head hurts. I do supplement this with a daily walk of around an hour whilst listening to Levi Dalton’s podcasts, but the rest is hunch-back time and this can be up to 3 hours a day.

  2. A lot of tasting. I still try to get to Monvinic on a weekly or bi-monthly basis to do blind tasting, but there’s a lot of wines that I prefer to purchase a bottle of and get to know over a day or three. I would say my monthly consumption of wine is somewhere in the 10-15 bottles range, and this isn’t likely to go down anytime soon!

  3. A lot of energy. With the large commitments to studying and tasting on top of working and my new found friend, sleep deprivation, energy is vital. Being in good shape is a pretty solid approach to having more energy and it makes a big difference when the going gets tough.

Now I’ve always kept myself in some sort of reasonable shape by going on occasional jogs and supplementing that with press-ups, bodyweight squats and other various calisthenics. It’s been over 2 years since I’ve set foot in a gym but I need a bit of extra firepower for this, so I’ve signed up for a 2 month trial at Anytime Fitness, a franchise of which is conveniently around 100m away from where I live. The idea is to get into a rhythm of exercise that allows me to continue tasting and drinking as I learn my way around the wine world without compromising my health at the same time.

Ideally, I’d like this to become a sort of monthly update to show that it is possible to be heavily invested into the wine industry whilst still being physically fit and healthy. It’s about 3 and a half weeks until the beginning of August, when I tend to drink a little less anyway due to the heat and stifling humidity of Barcelona, so I’ll probably wait until the beginning of September to post the first update. That gives me 8 weeks to get the ball rolling and have some results to show for it. Off we go!

Maestrazgo Wine Club Newsletter – Edition 19 – July 2017

July: A baking hot month under the Spanish sun for both us and for the grapes; a couple of years ago, during July 2015, it even became so hot that the plants stopped photosynthesising for a few weeks! As flowering is concluded at this stage, the vines are suddenly the proud parents of small, tightly knit bunches of hard, green grapes. This is the first indication that the grower has of the size and quality of the crop for the year and some will even begin ‘green harvesting’ at this stage, which is the act of removing some bunches of grapes in order to help concentrate the remaining bunches. Depending on how warm it is, veraison can begin in late July or early August, that is to say, the changing of the colour of the grapes to white and red depending on their variety.

Hello Wine Lovers! Welcome to the 19th Edition of Maestrazgo Wine Clubs newsletter. I hope you’re all having a wonderful summer break and enjoying the whacky weather of Barcelona; one moment it’s unbearably hot, the next it’s a thunderstorm, the next it’s a breezy day, reminiscent of Spring. You’ll likely see me around town a great deal as I’m working a lot over the summer, including planning some new tastings for September onwards! There’ll be some slight structural changes to Maestrazgo Wine Club when we relaunch in September, but all will be revealed in next months newsletter. For now I can only wish you all the best and apologise if I wander past you in the streets of Barcelona; being a new father is one of the greatest experiences I’ve ever had but it does make for some very sleepy moments…

Barcelona Wine Tasting Events:

As there won’t be any Maestrazgo Wine Club tastings for a few months, here are a few other groups on Meet-up that are organising interesting wine tastings around the city:

BCN Tastings Wine Club: Ran by my friend, Alex Pastor, this is a new group focusing on high quality wines from both Spain and abroad. Expect upcoming tastings this month on the varying styles of Rioja as well as an international tasting of sparkling wines! https://www.meetup.com/BCN-Tastings-Wine-Club/

The Wednesday Wine Club: Ran by Alice and organised at Vivinos, The Wednesday Wine Club is a regular group with varying topics, mostly focused around the world of Spanish wine. They recently organised a successful trip to a recent wine festival in Priorat as well, so a very interesting group to be part of! https://www.meetup.com/Wine-Wednesday-Tasting-Networking/

BCN Gastronomic Society: A collection of different organisers from around the city, look out for events organised by Adria Montserrat as he tends to organise the wine events. https://www.meetup.com/BCN-Gastronomic-Society/

Articles: I probably spend too much of my time reading online articles about wine. However, as a result I can find and select a choice few to share – here are my three favourites from last month!

1. ‘Priorat’s new structure’ by Miquel Hudin. Priorat has long been a shining light in its approach to appellation and structure, championing not only village wines but individual vineyards as well. Miquel Hudin, wine-writer and local expert, looks into the future of the structure of the appellation and what it all means at present. The future looks increasingly bright for Priorat and if the rest of Spain can adopt a similar approach to understanding their soil, vines and ‘terroir’, then so much the better! https://www.meininger.de/en/wine-business-international/priorats-new-structure

2. ‘Fino’s context warning’ by Sarah Abbott MW. I still remember the first time I tried Fino Sherry; it was during my level 3 WSET course in London and I was very much put off. Salty, briney and what on earth is that smell? It’s now a personal favourite, which just goes to show you how much tastes can change, but I have a lot of sympathy for people who are first introduced to this very specific drink. Sarah Abbott MW puts this into perspective with some interesting asides about the production, cultural and historical aspects of the drink. http://www.timatkin.com/articles?1788

3. ‘Alta Alella – The search for terroir expression’ by Yolanda Ortiz de Arri. Alella is a tiny DO just north of Barcelona, with a grand total of 9 producers registered in the area. By far and away the shining light is Alta Alella, a modern winery perched on the top of the hill, overlooking the town and sloping down into the Mediterranean sea. Yolanda Ortiz digs into what makes the winery tick, their various projects and their philosophy heading into the future. Alella is all of a 20 minute bus ride from Barcelona for the grand cost of 3 euros each way, so consider a day out exploring the vineyards and wines of the area; it’s the perfect time of the year for it! http://www.spanishwinelover.com/learn-252-alta-alella-the-search-for-terroir-expression

Wine of the month: I’m constantly on the look-out for wines of real quality and value; most commonly you’ll find me drinking in the 6-25 euro range:

Domaine Andree Anjou Rouge 2012


There was a lot of competition this month, as I’ve been lucky to drink and try a lot of very good wine. However, Domaine Andree wins through with their delicious, refreshing and very reasonable priced wine from the Loire Valley in France. The grape in use is Grolleau Noir, a variety I only discovered around a year ago, and it turns out that it isn’t commonly used for quality wine production. However, with low yields and clever vinification, this humble grape turns into something really special. Aromatically gorgeous, with wonderful aromas of ripe cherries, strawberries and violets. There’s a touch of light oak usage to give it a touch of complexity and just a hint of something herbal. With 12% alcohol and lots of verve and life, at 16 euros a bottle this is the perfect summer wine. Currently imported and distributed by Vila Viniteca.

General Ramblings
A collection of wine facts, questions and drunken musings on the world of wine

Taking a break – I miss running the Maestrazgo Wine Club events, I really do. They’re my favourite part of the week and although it’s not a profitable exercise, I get a lot out of the process. However, taking this extended break has given me an awful lot of ideas on how to improve the tastings, how best to take them forward and has resulted in a restructuring of how they’re going to work. Fear not, this isn’t a large change and all will be revealed next month. All I will say is; if you’re a wine lover living in Barcelona, these tastings will be unmissable!

Barcelona Wine Selection – I’ve often been quite critical of the international selection of wine available in Barcelona, but recently it feels like I can find a reasonable choice from most countries in the world, albeit with a bit of extra leg-work. Keep an eye on my Barcelona by the Glass project as over the coming months I’ll be reviewing a lot more wine shops, bars and even a couple of restaurants with special wine choices within the city. Word to the wise; Vila Viniteca have just reorganised their shop on Carrer Agullers and a few interesting bottles have been uncovered from the dark corners; it’s not unheard of for the staff to lose track of what’s in there!

Social Media
These newsletters only come out once a month and there is a limit on space for content. If you use Social Media and want to keep up with regular wine updates and occasional rambles, feel free to connect with me on any of the following platforms.

Blog: winecuentista.com
Facebook: Wine Cuentista
Twitter: @Wine_Cuentista
Instagram: wine_cuentista

That’s it for this months newsletter. I hope you enjoyed it and please, if you have any suggestions or things you would like to see get in touch! Either respond to me here or email to fintankerr@winecuentista.com I can’t wait to see you all soon for more wine, food and good company. 🙂

Fintan Kerr

Barcelona by the Glass: Vila Viniteca

Established: 1932 (Shop opened in 1993)

Style of establishment: Wine Shop and Distributor

Price by the glass – NA

Price by the bottle – €5 to €15,000

Address – 7 Carrer Agullers, Barcelona, 08003

Phone number – 937 777 017

Opening Hours – Monday to Friday from 8:30am to 8:30pm
Saturday from 8:30am to 5pm
Closed on Sundays

Vila Viniteca is the largest distributor of wine in Barcelona and probably all of Spain, with a huge portfolio of wines and spirits available across the country. The business has actually been in operation since 1932 as a general store, but really became what we know it as today when their flagship store opened on Carrer Agullers in 1993. The catalyst for this move was a relationship formed between Joaquim Vila and Francisco Martí of the Ca N’Estruc winery in Esparreguera. The two met at a wine tasting, created the idea, opened the shop together and the rest, as they say, is history.

This is one of these improbable stories in the wine world, where something that shouldn’t really work in the time and place does, and not only that but becomes the most successful operation of its kind! It’s hard to say exactly what the magic combination was, but Vila Viniteca have always been aggressive in the marketplace, working hard to secure the business of bars, shops and restaurants around the major cities of Spain, have a strong presence at trade fairs and events whilst simultaneously having the largest and best stocked shop in Barcelona as well. Not a bad combination! In addition, Vila Viniteca have also become famous for their blind tasting competition, where pairs compete for a hefty cash prize of €30,000, most recently won by wine critic Luis Gutierrez. As their business is understandably quite diverse, including a gourmet food shop next to Vila Viniteca itself, for the purposes of Barcelona by the Glass we will only focus on their flagship store on Carrer Agullers.

The Selection

This is the reason you come to Vila Viniteca. The shop itself is a veritable Aladdin’s Cave of wine, with the best selection of Spanish and international wines in the city. As there’s so much to choose from, I’m going to list the major wine producing countries and styles of the world with a brief note about the strengths and weaknesses that Vila Viniteca have to offer. However, be aware that what you see in the store is only a fraction of what’s available; for a more detailed look, ask the store for their updated catalogue and as always, ask for assistance if you’re unsure about anything.

The Old World

Spain: I suppose it goes without saying that the selection here is fantastic. Nearly every famous name in Spanish wine is sold and distributed here, including a few exclusively sold by Vila Viniteca. The prices are also excellent, with many smaller stores around the city purchasing from Vila and adding their own mark-up on top. In particular their in-store selection of Cava is tremendous and it’s rare that I would come in looking for a bottle and not find it here. Recently I visited Priorat for the Fira del Vi festival and fell in love with a stunning new release of a white wine from Bodegas Mas Alta. Their only distributor? Vila Viniteca. They’re also quick to move with changing trends within the country and whilst Rioja, Ribera del Duero and Priorat are strongly represented, there is increasingly more shelf space given over to Galician wines and new-wave producers from classic regions.

France: This is a really mixed bag, as you might expect from a country as diverse and complicated as France. Bordeaux is the pride and joy of Vila Viniteca and the vast majority of the space directly next to the counter is dedicated to expensive Chateau. The problem is, like their Burgundy selection, the top wines are all simply far, far too expensive. If you’re serious about buying premium wine from either Bordeaux or Burgundy, it’s much cheaper to buy it in the UK or France and have it shipped to Spain. That being said, there are some minor Chateau at reasonable prices and their selection of Burgundy from areas such as the Macon and the less established villages is very good. Drouhin’s Santenay 2013 remains one of my favourite, affordable Burgundies in the city.

Where Vila Viniteca shines with regards to France is within the other regions of France, notably the Loire Valley, Alsace, southern France and even the Rhone to an extent. Crisp Gamay and Grolleau Noir from the Loire makes for affordable, delicious summer-time drinking, their range of Alsace goes from the generic bottlings of the major producers to rare, 20 year old sweet wines and everything inbetween. The Rhone is a little hit-or-miss but everytime I go in, there seems to be a better selection. The Louis J Chave Selection range is fantastic and whilst pricey, usually worth every penny. Take your time and peruse their catalogue with regards to French wine; there are definitely bargains to be had, particularly where you least expect them to be!

Germany: Very few of these wines are available in the store itself but the selection is really quite impressive and often reasonably priced. It still revolves primary around Riesling, which is presumably why Spaniards aren’t interesting in buying it, but Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris are starting to slowly creep in as well. Look out for older bottles from top producers such as Egon Müller , Fritz Haag and Dr. Bürklin-Wolf amongst others!

Italy: Ah, Italy. This is probably the most poorly represented major wine producing country within Vila Viniteca, for reasons that aren’t immediately obvious to me. There are a few odd-ball bottles, a little bit of Amarone but the small selection they have seems to be dedicated to enormously expensive trophy wines, mainly from Tuscany with a few Barolo and Barbaresco producers thrown in for good measure. Whilst I appreciate having the opportunity to blow my savings on a single bottle of Massetto, I’d prefer the chance to buy a good quality, reasonably priced Chianti Classico, given the choice!

The New World

New World wines aren’t popular in Spain. Trying to find a decent selection of wines from New Zealand, Australia, South Africa or anywhere for that matter is like finding a needle in a haystack, so thank God for Vila Viniteca in this regard. The prices are generally competitive with the rest of the European market, the selection is solid and better yet, due to the majority of Spaniards not buying them, I’ve been able to buy mature examples of some top wines over the years for the same prices as current releases. In order of their selection and price rating, their New World offering is roughly as follows:

1. New Zealand – Their selection here is pretty great. Good, often aged, examples from major regions on both islands. I was delighted to buy the last of their Kumeu River Hunting Hill 2011, a wine I regard as being one of the greatest New World Chardonnays available.

2. South Africa – Eben Sadies wines from the Swartland and Olifants river, Pinotage and Cabernet blends from Paarl and Stellenbosch and even a reasonable range of cooler climate Pinot Noir and Chardonnay from Walkers Bay; a surprisingly strong selection here!

3. USA – This is the big surprise; buying wine from the USA is typically nigh on impossible in Spain. However, due to the American business interests of producers such as Torres, Drouhin and Roederer, who they also distribute, their selection of American wine has gradually grown and grown. Drouhin’s Oregon wines aren’t cheap but are top quality examples from the region, the Torres family vineyards in the Russian River Valley are well established now and hey, if you’re purchasing wine for anonymous millionaires docked in their yachts, there’s plenty of Harlan Estate and Screaming Eagle as well!

4. Argentina/Chile/Australia – Coming in last are these three countries as whilst wine is available, it’s mainly represented by mostly generic brands and often a little overpriced. There are still some bargains to be had and a 2009 bottle of Catena Alta’s Historic Rows Malbec was a recent highlight. With Chile making inroads into the fine wine scene, let’s see how the selection changes accordingly over the coming years!

The Space

Walking into Vila Viniteca is a moment of cheek-clenching glee for the wine geek; rows upon rows of beautiful wines from across Spain and the rest of the world, all aching to be drank. I won’t bother trying to paint a picture of which wines are where, as with only a few exceptions the orientation of the store tends to be moved around every 6 months or so. Just be aware that:

1. What you see is not necessarily all there is. The selection of Vila Viniteca is absolutely enormous with something like 8,000 wines available, the majority of which are stored in a huge underground cellars around Barcelona and Esparreguera.

2. The catalogue is not always up to date so be sure to ask the members of staff to check the up-to-date stock on the computers if you’re looking for something specific.

3. Remember that the staff are there to help you. The selection may be overwhelming but just like a good sommelier in a restaurant, the staff are there to help you choose the right bottle at the right price; don’t be afraid to ask for it!

Conclusion

It’s hard to look past Vila Viniteca as Barcelona’s premium wine store. If you’re looking for something specific or just want to browse their enormous selection, I highly recommend you go in and look around. Whilst the customer service has improved over the last few years, being such a large company does mean that it’s inevitably lost a little personal charm, but my experiences over the last year have been excellent. Go and check it out and if you fancy something a little special to eat, don’t forget to check out their gourmet food shop next door.

Tips

Whilst I understand this isn’t possible for everyone, do try and visit Vila Viniteca either in the morning or the afternoon. As a great deal of customers come in the evening after work, it makes it difficult to find the space to browse and also to get the attention of the staff as the shop gets so busy!

Make sure you come at least once with an hour to spare. The joy of Vila Viniteca is being able to casually browse around the entire store and patience is often rewarded; some of the very best bargains I’ve found have come as a result of poking through dark corners of the store to uncover hidden gems!

Vila Viniteca are understandably incredibly well connected in the world of wine and host/attend a large number of wine fairs through the city. It makes sense to follow them on twitter, facebook and instagram to keep up to date with these announcements.

I know I’ve said it before but do make sure you ask for help! The entire point of hiring trained professionals in wine stores is that so they can streamline the world of wine for you and help you to make sensible, delicious choices. If you feel overwhelmed, grab someone to help you navigate the selection.

Within the store itself, there is a stock-room in the back that not everyone knows about. Here they store some incredibly interesting, rare and often very expensive wines, but also some really great bargains are to be found here as well. The room isn’t open for casual browsing but if you ask a member of staff to take you back, they’ll show you around.

As with any store, it pays to get to know people. If you find a member of staff who you get on with, seek them out! One of my good friends, Alex, is someone I met through shopping at Vila Viniteca and both Gonzalo and Cristina are people I make a point of chatting to whenever I go in. They’ve got their pulse on the heart of the shop and are likely to point out interesting and special bottles that otherwise may pass you by!

If you’re looking to purchase an expensive bottle of something that you’ve found in the store, make sure to ask that they sell you a bottle from their stock room or cellar, not the bottle that’s been stood up for weeks at room temperature in the shop itself.

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