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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.

Thoughts on: Defining Wine Expertise

Trying to learn the world of wine is a daunting task, as there’s not only thousands of years of history, production methods, tradition, legal and cultural factors to learn but like every modern industry it’s constantly changing and evolving. This has never been more true than today, when every year it appears that there are more regions being explored, more indigenous grapes being discovered and more different wine-making techniques being used. Like every industry in the world there is a whole network of unseen roles and responsibilities, often unglamorous and overlooked, that make it tick. Buying, selling, serving, educating, making, presenting, marketing and everything in between. When I wrote my 3,000 word essay on the bulk transportation of wine for my WSET Diploma, an entire sector of the wine industry became known to me that I had never considered before; the logistics of transporting and bottling wine without compromising quality. The scope is enormous and that leads me to my question; if it’s entirely obvious that the world of wine can’t be fully understood and mastered, what then is wine expertise all about?

The most popular expression of wine expertise in modern wine culture is, without a doubt, the sommelier; an old fashioned French word meaning “wine steward’. Thanks to the glorification of chefs and the restaurant industry, this previously uncelebrated role has now risen to fame and created a whole new culture of wine appreciation, mostly in major cities throughout the world. The key role of a sommelier is to understand, and potentially build, a wine list that offers good value, interesting wines that pair well with the cuisine of the restaurant and turns a decent profit for the owner. The practical job is then to take care of your customers, make sure they can choose a wine that suits the food they’ve ordered and is within budget, whilst adding to the overall dining experience. The word ‘sommelier’ has now become almost synonymous with most young wine professionals, much to the chagrin of experienced sommeliers working in restaurants, and has done much to create excitement around the industry as a whole. On the off-chance you haven’t seen the documentary SOMM, make sure you take an hour to watch it as it was a turning point for the profession and for wine education programs, particularly in North America.

Having said that, it seems that most sommeliers seem keen to improve their knowledge, education and skillset with the intention of moving away from working the floor, with the most desirable jobs including the purchase of wines for restaurants, hotels and retail stores. This seems counter-intuitive to me, especially as most train through the CMS program that is specifically designed to teach you how to be a good floor sommelier, but clearly shows that being a sommelier is considered a stepping stone to greater things. Wine buying is a position of great responsibility, as not only does it require an extensive wine knowledge but also a strong understanding of the realities of the trade. Wine buyers are treated like royalty for obvious reasons; they are the single most important link between wineries and their customers, especially in an increasingly consolidated market-place. Unfortunately, due to this smaller market there are understandably fewer wine buyers than ever before. The other reality of being a wine buyer is that wine is often diminished to a commodity; after all, the reality of your job is to turn a profit and sell what you think people will buy, not necessarily what you’d want them to.

Another highly visible position within the world of wine is working as a wine critic, either for an established magazine/institution or for yourself, if you manage to build a large enough following. This, however, is incredibly hard to define and ends up coming around seemingly by accident more than anything else. Think of the people who work as a wine critic and the same names tend to crop up; Jancis Robinson, Robert Parker, Oz Clarke… the list is relatively short. The problem is, with very few exceptions they tend to work in a variety of different fields. Jancis Robinson is better known for her wine-writing, particularly her work on the essential Oxford Companion to Wine and The World Atlas of Wine. Oz Clarke is as much a wine personality as a critic, appearing at various conferences and even television programs around the world, and Robert Parker is very much on his way out, having handed over the majority of his responsibilities to his underlings. Newer critics coming into the field tend to be wine-writers of some description, who happen to get the occasional gig on more established platforms. It’s commonly accepted that wine-writing is an over-saturated business and that most consumers are valuing applications such as Vivino and Cellartracker, where consumers leave their own scores and notes en masse, over the opinions of individual critics, no matter how respected.

Ultimately, I suppose how wine expertise is defined and pursued is down to the individual more than anything else. I’m still at a stage where there is so much of the world to learn, I can’t yet fathom the concept of mastering even a single part of it, let alone the whole thing. The further you research a topic, the more you realise how little you know, and it seemingly never ends. It’s a wonderful, maddening and absolutely delightful feeling all at the same time. So far I am mainly concentrating on perfecting the private tastings I organise, as well as honing my skills as a tour guide for Devour Barcelona and their excellent wine and tapas tour. However, I most certainly intend to start working in wine education as a WSET educator within a year, and I would definitely like to start judging wine competitions more regularly as well. I’ve been clear in my ambitions to become a Master of Wine but where the industry will take me commercially is still something of an unknown quantity to me. All I know is that I’m deeply enjoying all the different experiences I’ve been exposed to so far, and long may it continue!

So, my question to you is; how do you define wine expertise? What’s your ambition in learning the world of wine, the subtle nuances and great wonders of it all? You might find it as tricky to answer as I have, but it’s a question worth thinking about!

Thoughts On: The WSET Diploma Unit 3 exam

So, I have a single exam left ahead of me in order to successfully complete the WSET Diploma, and it’s the big one; Unit 3 – ‘Light Wines of the World’. As the WSET Diploma is broken down into 6 units, what ‘Light Wines of the World’ basically means is everything that wasn’t included in the previous 5. So no sparkling wines, no spirits and no fortified wines. The information learnt in both ‘The Global Business of Wine’ and ‘Production Methods’ will need to be called upon to answer questions in more depth, but essentially this is about white, red, rose and unfortified sweet wines from every major wine producing region in the world.

The major obstacle is the sheer size and scope of the exam. It’s split into two parts, one to be completed in the morning and one to be completed in the afternoon of the 7th January, a little over 6 months from now. This single exam is worth 50% of the marks for the entire of the WSET Diploma and the minimum recommended study time is 300 hours. My experience with the other, considerably smaller units was that the minimum time really was that; the bare minimum, so aiming to exceed that is strongly recommended. The exam itself is split thus:

Part I – A blind tasting of 12 wines to be completed in 2 hours, with full tasting notes as per the WSET lexicon and additional conclusions to be made depending on the flight. This is trickier than it looks but, famous last words, I’m not overly concerned about it. I practice blind tasting on a weekly basis and having written somewhere in the region of 1,500 WSET tasting notes, I’m pretty familiar with writing them in the time frame required. As a result I’ll continue to practice tasting in exam conditions, but the vast majority of my time will be spent on learning the theory part of the unit.

Part II – 5 essay and/or short answer questions to be completed in 3 hours, with one of the questions being mandatory and the other 4 chosen from a group of 5 (Only one can be avoided). This is where 95% of my time is going to be spent, as the amount of information required is enormous and having never done higher education, my essay and exam techniques leave an awful lot to be desired.

So, with the split clear and obvious, the only remaining task is to choose how to best spend 6 months of studying whilst balancing a small business, extra work on the side, a newly born child and hopefully some semblance of a social life. Whilst I will no doubt turn into over-drive come December and double the amount of time spent studying, the size of the task means that consistent studying has to be undertaken now to avoid failure. With that in mind, here is my plan:

June (Or what’s left of it)2 hours per day to be spent reading through the 170 page study guide and re-reading David Bird’s “Understanding Wine Technology”. According to the examiners report, a lot of students completely forget to revisit the basics of viticulture and vinification, and lose obvious marks when asked a question that requires an explanation of something integral to the region; ie. The impact of planting densities in Burgundy, trellising systems in New Zealand, reverse-osmosis in poor vintages in Bordeaux and so on. 10X2 = 20 hours

July and August – 2.5 hours a day. This is the time when I need to really gather information and resources together, slowly start reading through it and highlight key points. Every section of the study guide has the Oxford Companion to Wine references to study, and that either means lugging around the encylopedic tome with me everywhere, or using my membership to JancisRobinson.com to prepare a study guide and print it out. The latter it is. This is going to be a huge but essential task. 62X 2.5 = 155 hours This may seem like quite a lot during the summer, but July and August in Barcelona are so unbearably hot sitting inside studying with a huge fan blowing directly into my face is actually quite an attractive option!

September and October – 2 hours a day. Study time in it’s simplest form; read, re-read and read the material again. The plan here is also to start looking at some of the more recent trends and developments in the individual wine regions, as well as classifying key producers. 61 X 2 = 122 hours

November – 2.5 hours a day. Similar to the previous block, with the exception that now I also have to check statistics. For each country, it’s important to know the Sales in both volume and value, a basic over-view of trends and have an idea of their major export markets. The reason I’m leaving this until November is if I start with it, I’ll lose the will to live by the end of July. By November, that ship’s already sailed anyway. 30X 2.5 = 75 hours

December – 3 hours a day. 3 hours a day over Christmas sounds quite awful and this is why the pass rate for the January exams is so low. Revision, exam questions and more revision. 25X 3 = 75 hours (I know I’m clearly not going to be able to study every day here, so no point including them all)

January – Panic stricken revision – literally anything that can be done in the days before the exam.

So, that’s about the extent of it. 450 hours in total planned and if you reduce 10% of that as a sort of reality check, I’ll have to work hard to get to 400 hours done over the next 6 months. Now that I write it down, it looks quite depressing but also manageable. In the past, I’ve managed the workload by studying as much of it as possible first thing in the morning and that’s what I’ll do again. Needless to say, if you don’t see much of me over the coming months, you’ll know why!

Incidentally, I’m very much looking forward to an exam-free 2018 after January. I’m a big proponent of wine education and I owe a lot of my understanding of wine to the WSET courses I’ve taken. However, I think a full year of slowly absorbing information without any exam pressure will be lovely, useful and well deserved! It’ll also give me a lot more time to focus on other projects as well as more time with my new family. However, there’s a good 400 hours between now and then so let’s get started!

Barcelona by the Glass: Gran Bodega Maestrazgo

Established: 1952

Style of establishment: Wine Shop

Price by the glass – 3 euros to 5 euros

Price by the bottle – Shelf price + 5 euros corkage fee

Address – 90 Carrer San Pere mes Baix, 08003

Phone number933 10 26 73

Opening Hours – Monday to Saturday from 10am to 2:30pm and 2:30pm to 10pm

Closed on Sundays

Gran Bodega Maestrazgo is one of Barcelona’s oldest existing wine shops, having been founded by Agustin Moliner back in 1952. An olive farmer by trade, the two severe winters of 1951 and 1952 quite convinced Agustin that there had to be more to life than scraping a living in the countryside, and so he headed to Barcelona to set up a Bodega. Now, Bodega’s traditionally sold wine but also olive oil, vinegar and other related products so it wasn’t such a giant leap to move into the sales aspect of the business, rather than growing and producing it. The neighbourhood in question, was, and still is, a quiet residential close to the Santa Caterina market. Business flourished, to the extent that the Bodega is still thriving under the capable hands of Jose Moliner, the third generation owner of Bodega Maestrazgo.

As a disclaimer, it’s worth noting that this is a shop very close to my heart. I lived on the street for three years and it was largely down to visiting Bodega Maestrazgo on a nightly basis that I started to become fascinated by wine. Jose was the first person to explain wine to me on any level and he’s now a close personal friend of mine, also allowing us to organise our very special Maestrazgo Wine Club tastings in the private tasting room adjacent to the shop itself. I’m thrilled to be able to recommend Bodega Maestrazgo to anyone visiting or living in the city, as it’s truly one of the last historical wine shops still in business and thanks to Jose’s forward thinking nature, manages to stay up to date with many of the latest trends and wines, as well as catering to the old classics and even bulk wine for as little as 2 euros a litre!

The Selection

Bodega Maestrazgo is first and foremost a Spanish wine shop. To that end, it comes as no surprise that a good 95% of the products here are from across Spain, with a small selection of Champagne, German Riesling and the occasional splurge on something interesting (most recently a selection of wines from Penfolds, South Australia!). However, the wines on sale are a wonderfully eclectic mix of what Spain has to offer, with a big selection of the classics such as Rioja, Ribera del Duero and Priorat, but also a lot of the new-wave Spanish wines from Galicia, Andalucia and Madrid. The price points are all very reasonable and it’s rare to find wine on sale here for more than €50 a bottle; there simply isn’t the market for it within the area. If I had any criticism of the bottle selection, it’s that there could be more thought put into the white wines but frankly, that’s as much to do with consumer demand as it is with any purchasing decisions.

The other option you have of course, is to buy the bulk wine stored in barrels at the front of the shop. In terms of volume, these sales far outstrip bottle sales and with good reason; the prices are outrageously low. €2.30 a litre for a reasonable, if anonymous, of Spanish red grapes? €2.60 a litre for a young, supple Tempranillo blend from Ribera del Duero? Yes please! Do like the locals and bring your own plastic container, it only has to be an empty bottle of some sort, as that saves you the cost of purchasing a new one which costs almost as much as the wine itself. The ‘Vi Negre’, literally ‘Black wine’, also happens to make an excellent base for Spanish Sangria.

The real beauty of Bodega Maestrazgo, however, is their dispensation to serve alcohol by the glass until 9:30pm every evening, something that not every wine shop can boast of. There are typically 2-3 whites and 2-3 reds available by the glass, but if you’re with friends simply ask after the corkage fee to drink within the shop. €5 is the going amount and makes for a stupendously affordable alternative to ordering wine in restaurants and bars; take a €20 euro wine, drink at €25 due to corkage and compare that to the same wine selling for €40 in a restaurant. It’s a no-brainer. They also have a large selection of cold wines, Cavas and Champagnes in the fridge to the front of the shop so feel free to peruse there as well; nothing beats a cold bottle of Cava and a plate of Jamon Iberico on a warm summers evening!

The Space

When I bring people to the store, I refer to the area as being ‘Old-old town’ rather than the ‘New-old town’ of central Born. It’s not that one is older than the other, it’s simply that this part of Barcelona has seen very little in the way of investment and only recently has there been any changes in business ownership at all. As a result, the shop itself looks like it hasn’t changed much since 1952 and in reality, it hasn’t much!

As you enter you go through the doorway with the till on your left and the large selection of bulk wine in barrels to your right. All the bottles and the space to sit down and grab a drink are at the back, so this is where I strongly recommend you make yourselves comfortable for the evening. Grab a barrel or a small table, sit back and relax! If you find yourself falling in love with any particular wine and need to take it home via air-travel, make sure to ask Jose who can either ship it or wrap small quantities in bubble-wrap to be safely stowed in your hold luggage.

The Food

As there is no bar licence here, the food is a relatively simple but delicious affair; cheeses, cold meats, olives, anchovies, bread and some truly delicious olive oil. The Jamon Iberico they slice off the bone is as good as any I’ve had in the city and very competitively priced; it’s become my go-to plate for €15 whenever I eat there! There’s a selection of cheeses and I highly recommend the Idiazabal, a smoky sheeps cheese from the Basque Country in the north of Spain and whatever new delights they have in stock. The beauty of the food here is that it changes often, with Jose constantly experimenting with new cheeses, cured meats and even different breads from across the country. If the Galician sour-dough is available, order half a loaf, dribble liberally with olive oil and prepare yourself for one of the best rustic food experiences going.

Conclusion

As I said at the beginning, this is a shop close to my heart, so I admit it’s hard to be objective about it. However, I’ve not once taken a guest or family member there who hasn’t fallen in love with it and it’s not hard to see why. In a world where authenticity is at a premium, Bodega Maestrazgo manages it effortlessly and with no strings attached; what you see is what you get. There are fewer more genuine experiences of Barcelona’s wine scene to be found and every wine lover passing through should try their best to visit. As I still spend a lot of my time there, should you see me come and say hello and of course, make sure to meet Jose if he’s in the shop himself as his intense, warm and generous nature is as much a part of Bodega Maestrazgo as the bricks and mortar.

Tips

Bodega Maestrazgo is an enormously popular spot with the local community, so make sure to get there slightly ahead of the crowd as it can be hard to find a spot past 8pm, particularly on Friday and Saturday nights.

Whilst the wine-by-the-glass list is interesting and balanced, it really does pay to bring a friend or two and take advantage of the corkage directly from the shelf. There are some stunning wines to be had, constantly updated and very reasonably priced.

Only one or two members of staff speak English so be patient if you don’t speak any Spanish and you’ll figure it out!

Make sure to ask what cheeses and meats are currently available as they change often. Regardless, definitely order the Jamon Iberico de Bellota in the largest format possible!

Either go early during the evening or better still, during the middle of the day. Setting up shop at 12:30 and enjoying a bottle of excellent wine over the next 2 hours is one of my greatest pleasures in life. Bring a friend (or a book!) and expect to wander out with a big smile on your face.

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