Sometimes you just get lucky. I happened upon this place with only an hour or so to go in my visit to Malaga, having given up on having any singular food or drink experience to speak of. (Yes, I tried to go to El Pimpi, Oleo, and several other places that were either closed or just meh.) I noticed the promising signage and decided to take a swing.
The owner, Bernardo, is quick with conversation and background knowledge on his stock. As with Nuno and his crew at Castelo in Lisbon, Bernardo communicates a deep-seated passion for the wines he offers, making a point to note that he sells nothing that he doesn’t first enjoy personally. There’s no script here; Bernardo can riff on any of the wines, giving fascinating background on the vineyards, wine makers, and character of each bottle. Like most Argentinians I know, Bernardo and his spot have a certain style and aesthetic that I struggle to describe as sleek traditional: wood, leather, and metal come together in a no-nonsense design with clean lines and, like the menu, reminiscent of a time when simple was good.
If you want a good bottle, a copa of sweet respite from the Andalusian heat, or to fill up on down-home Argentinian bites (and bife!), this is the place to visit.
El Club del Vino, Calle Pedro de Toledo 2 Local B, Malaga, Spain
This wine was gifted to me and proves that sometimes you just get lucky. I will admit to being a fan of dry muscats, which, incidentally I have only ever found in the French Catalunya region. The golden, straw color of the pour barely hints at the bursting fresh melon, stone fruit pits, apricot, and passion fruit that explode on the nose and palate. An interesting heaviness to the mid-palate, with a tight vanilla-like finish. Luscious and delicious, I’d buy this one again . . . even if I didn’t buy it the first time.
Rating: Everyday White
Name: Le Canon de Maréchal 2014
Winery: Domaine Cazes
Region: Cotes Catalanes
Varietals: 40% Muscat d’Alexandre; 40% Muscat de Petit Grains; 20% Viognier
So Georges dos Santos explained to me that Cotes Blonde is an indication that the winery chose only the best of the best fruits to produce a selection. I have to take his word for that, and you should too. Red fruits and thyme (yes, thyme) on the nose. Light peppery notes, more red fruit, and a strong tannin finish. I could have let this one lay down for a while – wish I’d known (OK, 2013, I should have known, but was too excited and jet-lagged to think about it please stop picking on me, thanks). Spice, white pepper, and green herbs on the finish. A lovely full bodied wine that, yet again, belies France’s reputation for almost exclusively producing finesse wines.
Name: Gilles Barge Cote Blonde 2013
Winery: Gilles Barge
Varietals: Rhone blend, certainly including Syrah?
I admit to expecting something different when I popped this one open. Bright red fruit on the nose, gave way to elegant, silky vanilla flavors and bright sour cherries. This was definitely a lighter wine than I had expected, but the bright (notice the theme) and luscious notes on both the palate and the nose made for a lovely little wine. I picked this beauty up in San Sebastian or Barcelona some time in 2015, but it appears that T. Edward New York is bringing it in to the U.S.
Another Georges dos Santos selection. Complex, intense nose of roses, vanilla, old wood, and fig. An acidic kick to the front of the palate, with more wood, intense florals, with a hint of cocoa. I find myself reaching for the name of a flavor that just eludes me. Tannins come in with hints of slate and red fruits, in a deep, powerful attack. Just wow.
OK, I’ve kept this place semi-secret long enough. Put simply, this is my favorite wine bar on the planet at the moment. Why, you say? Though the location, ambience, and stock selection are definitely critical pieces of the puzzle, it is the style and quality of the service you will get here that truly sets this place on a pedestal.
Nuno Santos, the driving force behind it, takes enormous pride and care in ensuring that patrons have an unparalleled experience on their visit. Whether Nuno takes care of you personally or one of the several other highly trained and passionate servers here is your guide, you can expect to be led toward the perfect selection with passion, knowledge, and an attention to detail that’s rare these days. Unlike so many wine bars where you are greeted by a service professional who has memorized the most recent tasting notes from Robert Parker or James Molesworth, the staff’s love and intimate knowledge of the stock here is evident.
Reminiscent of how a guitar player feels about his different axes and each of their own quirks, imperfections, and sublime notes, no matter who takes care of you, you are going to get the straight dope on all of the wines you care to ask about. On at least one occasion, when asked about a bottle in his stock, Nuno didn’t hold back his true opinion, and in the process educated the hell out of us. The team is so dedicated to honesty in selection that, in fact, they steadfastly refuse what would be a very lucrative revenue stream in guiding winery tours. Why? It might create a conflict of interest; they don’t want to find themselves sending clients toward the highest bidder.
I could blather on here. But just do yourself a favor and go visit Nuno’s team. You will find yourself joining their legion of fans, and becoming so much smarter in the meantime.
Winebar do Castelo, No. 13 Rua Bartolomeu de Gusmão 11, 1100-000, Lisbon, Portugal
So here’s a wine I was not going to review. I picked this up on Georges’ recommendation, from Antic Wine. Georges is, in a word, the man. I talk about Georges more in the Antic Wine entry, but much of what you need to know about Georges you can pick up from the way he marked this bottle in the photo. When I first opened this wine, I shouldn’t have. But I came back the next day and found that she is a delicious beauty of blackberry pie, cherry tart, autumn leaves, moss, and dusty dried flowers, with a perfectly balanced tannic closing, to boot. Wow. I haven’t had a French wine do this for me in a while.