Casa Marí y Rufo, Barcelona, Spain

Down a small side street along Mercado Santa Caterina in Upper Borne (yes, I made that up), I found this place only because I was taken there by locals who literally had to step into the street, wave and holler at me, to find it the first time. It doesn’t get any more local than this. Don Rufo stands behind the bar, cooking and pouring cañas with a healthy dose of old bartender spice. The first time I went we sat at a table next to the bar and carried on with him all night – our first query about the freshness of the langostinos resulted in Rufo waving at a bar patron and saying “hell, I don’t know, ask that lady – she just brought them in off the boat!” Seared whole on his flattop grill and dressed with salt, olive oil from the cooking, and lemon – limón y sal indeed – just fantastic. The grilled octopus here usually starts with a fight at the table, then ends with a second or third order. Closing out the tab is an iterative process with Rufo asking what we had – and estimating so low we had to adjust our tab up quite a bit. That first visit ended with dueling magic shows from, on one hand, a gentleman from LA who just happens to be the famed cinematographer of the upcoming Batman vs. Superman flic, and my friend Luis on the other. Luis won by all counts with his “Portuguese Magic” bit.

My second visit, though a little less eventful than the three-bottles-of-wine-and-magic-tricks dinner, was so excellent we forgot all about our budding hangovers. We covered much of the same ground – fresh shrimp and octopus two ways – as my earlier visit. It was all just as excellent at lunch, as dinner. The back room service from Rufo’s son was as hilarious as the front room, with plates and curses flying on occasion and food and drink coming fast and delicious. I can’t get enough of this place and hope Don Rufo stays in business for years to come, but never changes.

Address: Casa Marí y Rufo, Carrer de Freixures 11, 08003 Barcelona, Spain

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Bar del Pla, Barcelona, Spain

Be not afraid. Although in the ever-so-trendy neighborhood of El Borne, Bar del Pla will reward your efforts. This is probably the best tapes I’ve had in Barcelona. The chorizo y asado and squid ink croquettes were simply amazing. As in, crispy outside, smooth inside, flavor bombs. Their octopus bombas were great, though eclipsed by the grilled octopus. And of course they have the fantastically fresh l’Escala anchovies – is that even a question? You can get on tap local favorites like Estrella Damm, but they also carry one of Barcelona’s on-trend craft beers in rotation. Although I’m a craft beer fan for the most part, when in Spain I want the traditional offerings – some of the best clear beers on the planet. A real revelation here was the xampis wasabi: a salad of paper-thin mushrooms with strawberries and a well-balanced wasabi dressing. Sounds crazy, looks crazy, tastes awesome. This place is a must – it was hard to resist eating there every day. Most recent visit July 2015.

Address: Bar del Pla, Carrer Montcada 2, 08003 Barcelona, Spain

Pago El Espino 2010 – Ronda, Malaga Province, Spain

IMG_2850Aged in French Oak for 17 months, Petit Verdot, Merlot, and Tempranillo. I was intrigued by this one in the wine store and had to try it. Ronda, the alleged birthplace of bullfighting and final holdout for the Reconquista, is an oft-overlooked gem of a town not far from Malaga and the better-known towns that sit on the coast. It’s lovely and I’ve had fantastic meals there. It was a good choice. This is a nice, mid-concentrated red offering that I liked quite a bit. Nice garnet color with some juicy plum, vanilla, and cherry mixed with nice leathery spice notes. A light hit of tannin on the back end draws up the finish and keeps it structured and not a juice bomb. I picked this one up on a recommendation at Goñi Ardoteka in San Sebastian for around 18 Euros. Wine Searcher suggests it’s not even easy to find in Spain. So, yes, that’s not helpful, but it does put this one in the category of potential import.

  • Rating: Impressive
  • Name: Pago El Espino 2010
  • Winery: Cortijo Los Aguilares
  • Region: Ronda, Malaga Province
  • Country: Spain
  • Varietals: Petit Verdot, Merlot, and Tempranillo
  • Price: 18EUR
  • Where to Buy: Goñi Ardoteka in San Sebastian, Spain

Txomin Etxaniz White Wine – Getariako Txakolina, Spain

IMG_2670A delightful, light, acidic, and slightly fizzy bottle of white from the hills of the Basque lands. I was first introduced to this by a friend’s father at Taberna Alabardero, who related his childhood memories of visiting family in the area and having Txakolina with bonito (somewhat resembling tuna). As he explained, the light acidity is the perfect paring with firm tuna-like fish. I also found the exact same bottle in San Sebastian, as well as at Sherry’s in Woodley Park for about $18.

  • Rating: Everyday Whites
  • Name:  White Wine
  • Winery: Txomin Etxaniz
  • Region: D.O. Getariako Txakolina in Basque Country 
  • Country: Spain
  • Varietals: N/A
  • Price: $18
  • Where to Buy: Sherry’s Wine & Spirits, 2627 Connecticut Ave NW, Washington DC, 20009

Sinforiano Cigales 2007 – Cigales, Spain

IMG_2807Had this wine with chuleta (steak) at Bar Nestor in San Sebastian, Spain. The second time. This is the reason I now understand the difference in term usage between “powerful” or “strong” in English wine lingo, versus “fuerte” in Spanish wine terminology. I had heard fuerte used to describe several wines in the past and was never completely convinced that the person knew what they were talking about. This wine’s excessive tannin is what they were referring to. It had a nice cherry, dark fruit front end that had a silkiness that made it worth drinking, but it finished with so much tannin as to feel like you had a piece of tree bark in the mouth. Not what I was looking for and does not bode well for future tastings from the Cigales DO.

  • Rating: Meh
  • Name: Cigales 2007
  • Winery: Bodegas Sinforiano
  • Region: D.O. Cigales
  • Country: Spain
  • Varietals: N/A
  • Price: N/A
  • Where to Buy: N/A

Callejo 2011 – Ribera del Duero, Spain

IMG_2762Had this wine with my birthday chuleta (steak) at Bar Nestor in San Sebastian, Spain. It was an excellent choice. Balanced tannin, dark fruit, leather, and vanilla all-orchestrated to stand up to the excellent beef Nestor pumps out of his kitchen. The bartender explained that Callejo puts out three steps of their wines, this being the entry level. If the food and wine coma had not taken over so effectively – sending us stumbling through the cobbled streets of SS’s lovely old town – I would have sprung for the next level. I will be looking for these bottles in the states as, if the entry level bottle is any indication at EU18, they are likely splurge worthy.

  • Rating: Impressive
  • Name: Callejo 2011
  • Winery: Bodegas Felix Callejo
  • Region:Ribera del Duero
  • Country: Spain
  • Varietals: 100% Tempranillo
  • Price: 18EUR
  • Where to Buy: N/A

Nero D’Avola Black Label 2010 – Sicily, Italy

I’ve been drinking a lot of Nero from Sicily lately, trying to get a feel for it. Cherry, chocolate, coffee, vanilla, and lots of structure hit the nose. Plenty of tannin on the back end, almost too much. The high alcohol content hits the nose a bit hard at over 14% – that’s not always the case in some other boozy wines. It goes down with that nice mossy, rubbery feel of many of the Nero I’ve had. Picked this one up at Schneider’s on the Senate side. I would says it’s pretty good, but does not stand out from many of the other similar wines I’ve had and doesn’t really inspire me at the $20 price point.

  • Rating: Meh
  • Name: Nero D’Avola Black Label 2010
  • Winery: Tola
  • Region: Sicily
  • Country: Italy
  • Varietals: Nero D’Avola
  • Price: $20
  • Where to Buy: Schneider’s of Capital Hill, 300 Massachusetts Ave NE, Washington, DC, 20002

Redemption Zin 2012 – Sonoma County, California

My favorite of the Alexander Valley series that used to be sold in a three pack of Temptation, Sin, and Redemption. I’ve only found Redemption on a couple of occasions. Nice tannin structure, with a wild berry opening with green eucalyptus on the nose. A nice white peppery finish plays well against that tannin in the back of the mouth (pepper on the tongue and tannin on the roof). It’s a very solid Zinfandel, if you enjoy the aggressive spice, which I do. Price ranges $18-20 as found at the Whole Foods in Foggy Bottom and the Dean & Delucca in Georgetown. Definitely worth it.

  • Rating: Impressive
  • Name: Redemption Zin 2012
  • Winery: Alexander Valley Vineyards
  • Region: Dry Creek Valley Sonoma County, California 
  • Country: USA
  • Varietals: Zinfandel
  • Price: $18-$20
  • Where to Buy: Whole Foods in Foggy Bottom and Dean & Delucca in Georgetown, Washington DC