Altosiós 2011 – Costers del Segre, Spain

This one takes a while to open up – it needs to breath a bit.  But once it has, a complex bouquet of roses, cocoa, slate, and faint tobacco notes gets things started.  The opening attack has more acid than expected, with somewhat lemony notes and red fruit.  Not exactly what you would expect from the bouquet, or color of the juice.  The red fruit gives over to an echo of luscious pear and grass, before chewy tannins come in to help deliver raisiny cocoa and hot stone notes (yes, that’s a thing, thank you very much).  This wine was a blind faith purchase from Javi at Vinalium.  There will be more such purchases in the future.  It was gorgeous with fuet and piquillos, and opened up in exactly the way Javi described that it would.

  • Rating: Impressive
  • Name: Altosíos
  • Winery: Bodegas Costers del Sió
  • Region: Costers del Segre
  • Country: Spain
  • Varietals: Syrah, Tempranillo, Garnacha
  • Price: 17 Euros
  • Where to Buy: Vinalium, Barcelona
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Vinalium, Barcelona, Spain

Go here.  Wine shops are not all created equal, nor are they equally endowed with knowledgeable, enthusiastic, and patient owners that are happy to have an actual exchange about wine, rather than rush to sell you on whatever bottle they are getting margin on at the moment.  I knew I’d found a kindred spirit when we stumbled upon the subject of the prevailing wine rating system – Javi and I shared our mutual disdain for the commercial, silly 100-point system and how certain wine illuminati manage to warp the market with high-ranking reviews of often pedestrian offerings.

Yet I digress.  At Vinalium you will find a focused selection of wines from all regions of Spain, including some commercial favorites, all at friendly prices.  However, it’s in the sections devoted to regional offerings and smaller producers where you’ll find some exciting stuff.  From Cava to Penedés, Empordá to Montsant, Javi and Karen, his American partner and wife (whom I did not get to meet) have your number.  To top it off, they run a thriving online store that will deliver cheaply and quickly in Barcelona, as well as abroad.

So what are you waiting for – go!

Vinalium, Carrer de Casanova 33, 08011, Barcelona, Spain

Almodí – Terra Alta, Spain

The rich, tough bouquet of leather, dried cherries, and slate are just a hint of what is coming.  Soft acid, leather, almonds, dark fruits, and mineral form a solid, grounded opening.  Rich, soft tannins join the deep, swirling cocoa and cherry notes leading toward a long spicy finish.  I didn’t know what to expect here, but I’m very happy that I went for it.  This wine was a revelation with a plate of cured hams and sausages.  At 8 Euros, this wine is so cheap I’m almost embarrassed to call it impressive!

  • Rating: Impressive
  • Name: Almodí
  • Winery: Altavins
  • Region: Terra Alta
  • Country: Spain
  • Varietals: Garnatxa
  • Price: 8 Euros
  • Where to Buy: Zona d’Ombra, Barcelona

Cantaperdius – Tarragona, Spain

Ripe red fruits, strawberries, red plums, and, oddly, a hint of charcoal and leather on the nose.  Fascinating combination.  A fresh, acidic opening with more red fruit and grass.  This is a medium bodied beauty great for when you really want a red, but it’s hot and, therefore, everyone is trying to tell you to order white wine.  The finish is quick, spicy, and a bit leathery with a cherry aftertaste.  Light, fun, and summery, kinda like Tarragona itself.

  • Rating: Everyday Red
  • Name: Cantaperdius
  • Winery: Moises Virgili Rovira
  • Region: Tarragona
  • Country: Spain
  • Varietals: Sumoll, Ull de Llebre
  • Price: 8 Euros
  • Where to Buy: Zona d’Ombra, Barcelona

Arcano Restaurant, Barcelona, Spain

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Blink and you might miss the entrance to Arcano

The Argies are coming, the Argies are coming!!  And here you thought Messi was the only Argentinian of note in Barcelona.  Not so!  The Argentinian community in Barcelona should be proud to have Arcano as one of its standard bearers.

Sometimes you just need a steak.  I was feeling a bit run down from some intense workouts and non-stop travel, walking (and walking, and walking), and just feeling the general travel malaise that pops up after you’ve been mostly talking to yourself for days.  So I decided to go for the Palermo cure:  a perfectly cooked bife, served as only Argentinians can.

Now, I don’t normally recount my full experience in this space.  Rather, I prefer to just talk a bit about a place and tell you whether, and why, to go.  But Arcano is an exception.  Tucked away on one of El Born’s tiny, unassuming side streets, Arcano was a gorgeously appointed revelation, making grand use of its namesake Arches.  I walked in, solo, on a busy Friday night and without a reservation.  I’ve found that in Barcelona, not having a reservation is often an issue.  Not so at Arcano.  The staff asked my indulgence in taking one of their fantastic house beers at the bar for a few moments (a US-style summer ale, no less), while they prepared my table.  All the while, respectful, cordial, and expert in their attention to detail, as Argentinians often are.Arcos steak

As I said before, it was time to indulge.  So I went for the solomillo finished with a Pedro Ximenez reduction, topped with mushrooms and accompanied by a mushroom “cupcake.”  It was as extravagant as it was delicious.  It should be no surprise that the steak was a perfect medium rare, but the ballet of sweet, salty, and umami flavors created by the reduction and the mushrooms was just amazing.  A truly decadent experience worth every Euro I paid for it.  For the service, the gorgeous cave-like setting, and truly exceptional food, I highly recommend you pay Arcano a visit the next time you’re in El Born.

Arcano Restaurant, Mercaders 10, La Ribera-Born, Barcelona 

Bar Celta Pulperia, Barcelona, Spain

This is one bustling spot for lunch, and for good reason:  the service is excellent, the staff cordial and fast-moving, the pulpo (grilled octopus) and navajas (grilled razor clams) excellent, the beer cold, and the salads taste as if they were cut and prepped just before you ordered.

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Yes, octopus is in the name, but this is the real reason why I stopped:  navajas!

A great little stop off popular with the locals, it has an expansive, mostly, but not exclusively, seafood-based list of tapas to choose from.  If you are in the neighborhood of the Arc de Triomf or Parc Zoológic, it’s worth checking out.

Bar Celta Pulperia, Carrer de la Princesa 50 08003 Barcelona

Perelada Finca Espolla 2011 – Empordá, Spain

The moment you open this beauty, the heady balsamic notes come rolling off the glass, letting you know that you have indeed popped a bottle of Empordá wine.  Blackberries and balsamic do a dance with lower notes of vanilla and chocolate on the nose.  This one hits the front palate hard with black fruits, tarry leather, and floral-laced hit of acid.  Having first experience their wines at a wine festival on the Costa Brava (gracias, PGJ), I actually expected to be bowled over by the tannins.  Not so here.  As the dark fruits give way to cherries, vanilla, and cocoa flavors, balanced tannins come in to help the long, lightly peppery finish, hold its notes.  This one really surprised me in that I expected it to be good, but not a cherry-pepper vanilla cocoa bomb of Catalan love!  I had this with assorted fuet, aged roncal, piquillos, and cherries – and the peppery notes just kept giving.

  • Rating: Stunning
  • Name: Perelada, Finca Espolla 2011
  • Winery: Cavas de Castillo Perelada
  • Region: Empordá
  • Country: Spain
  • Varietals: Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, Garnatxa
  • Price: 15 Euros
  • Where to Buy: Barcelona wine shops

Pacheca Grande Reserva 2011 – Douro, Portugal

This powerhouse greets the nose with a blend of peppery spice, moss, black fruit, raisins, and cocoa.  The front palate gets a kick in the face from fresh strawberries and cocoa, and a hint of pepper.  Black rubber, old leather, cocoa, faint vanilla, and red fruits are pulled together by powerful (but no too) tannins and a peppery finish.  This is a true reserva, with all the aged wisdom that comes with that.  It was fantastic with roasted pork, and I imagine it paring well with any version of parillada.

  • Rating: Impressive
  • Name: Pacheca Grande Reserva 2011
  • Winery: Quinta da Pacheca
  • Region: Douro
  • Country: Portugal
  • Varietals: Touriga Nacional
  • Price: $?
  • Where to Buy: Lisbon

 

The Yard Milano, Milan, Italy

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Rm. 15 retains a few former guests

Family run boutique hotel the Yard is a nifty little treat right next to the happening Naviglio Canal area.  I’m a sucker for balanced design + function combos and the Yard gets it right.  The moment you enter the front door, which takes you through the immensely stylish lounge the Doping Club on your way to check-in, the amount of love spent on every detail is apparent.  We happened to have arrived the morning that the Olympic Commission barred the Russian athletes from the 2016 Olympics for, well, doping – the joke was not lost on us.

 

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No Russians in the Doping Club

Each room is uniquely decorated with a theme.  We stayed in the antique-themed suite (no. 15), which included a well-equipped private terrace overlooking the Doping Club.  The beds were comfortable, the bathroom (and hot water) well-equipped and in great working order (though I will admit here that I was disappointed to see toiletries from NYC’s C.O. Bigelow, only because I had hoped for some exotic Italian toiletries), and the décor entertaining, at the least.  Unfortunately, none of the fascist-era jack boots displayed as room decoration fit.  Yes, I tried.

The Doping Club is a plush lounge rivaling the nicest spots in Manhattan.  Although I never saw it very full (most likely due to only passing through during the post-dinner, pre-party shoulder period and after closing), I imagine it to be a popular venue with stylish locals.  The opulent throwback décor, cushy velvet couches, and fascinating artifacts throughout make for a great place to grab a cocktail, chat, and people watch.

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I don’t know what these bowling balls did wrong to land them in jail

As if the staff were not friendly enough, the breakfast included in the room rate is simply outstanding.  You’ll be greeted with a sunny “buongiorno” the moment you enter, along with a cheery tail wag from the resident principessa puppy.  The standard continental breakfast includes fresh juices, fruit, yogurt, granola, a selection of pastries and prosciutto croissant sandwiches, and cheeses.  Everything is supremely fresh and delicious, and you’ll be offered exquisitely prepared cappuccino, with or without chocolate (don’t be daft, get the chocolate) and as much additional fruit as you can handle.  Really, a fantastic way to start the day.

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Principessa! Possibly the best thing about the breakfast

For its ambience, charming décor, attention to detail, quality appointments, and cheery service, I can’t imagine doing better than the Yard Milano.  I will be back.

The Yard Milano, Piazza XXIV Maggio 8, 20123 Milan, Italy