Last week we published a list of ten wine-related objects of desire beyond the usual decanters and glasses. Today it’s the turn of 10 hedonistic experiences that will make great gifts ideas for winelovers.
At first sight, having to study and passing an exam could be interpreted as a punishment rather than a present, but the WSET 1 course is totally accessible and very useful for wine lovers and first-time employees in the wine industry. Practical and enjoyable, it focuses on the main styles of wine on the market, basic wine tasting techniques and matching different wines with food.
During the two-day course, students have a chance to taste wines from areas such as Champagne, Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Chianti or Rioja and learn to describe their aromas and flavours. On the last day, candidates who pass the 30-question test will obtain the WSET Level 1 Award issued by the Wine & Spirits Education Trust, one of the world’s most prestigious bodies in terms of wine education. For wine geeks eager to learn more, there are three extra levels who get increasingly harder (and expensive) to pass.
Several schools in Spain -such as Outlook Wine in Barcelona, Fine Wine Works in Mallorca or Vintage Class Academy in Aranda de Duero (Burgos)- teach these courses, both in Spanish and in English. In Madrid, The Wine Studio offers Level 1 in Spanish on January 16 and 17. The cost is €225
If both you and your partner are one of those couples who only go on holidays to places where wine is made, Lagar de Isilla in La Vid (Burgos) could be the perfect base for a weekend break. Tinta del País, Elaboración y Crianza (vinification and aging) or Tempranillo are the names of three of their 15 bedrooms, all of them decorated with wine-inspired motifs. Barrel-shaped bed side tables, recycled bottles in the bathroom mirror, a bed inside a fermentation vat or stainless steel deposits on the wall by the TV are some of the features of this quaint little hotel in Ribera del Duero.
The restaurant and winery next door are also managed by the family who run the hotel, who offer winery tours, tastings and even wine courses. Double room rates per night range between €85 to €140 for a superior suite, but there are special deals including a winery tour and dinner at the restaurant.
If you’d like to test someone’s senses, Dans le Noir is a restaurant that offers blind dinners and tastings in Barcelona. It is a sensory experience that forces diners to awaken their senses in order to discover the flavors on their plate or the contents of their glass. Waiters acting as guides are blind so both guests and workers are on equal terms. After dinner, the dishes and wines that have been tested are disclosed and there are usually a few surprises -according the restaurant, most guests have trouble distinguishing red and white wines.
Dans le Noir offers a range of gift vouchers depending on the activity with prices ranging from €42.90 for a tapas and wine pairing to €64.90 for a tasting menu including a champagne aperitif and three wines paired with the meal. Similar experiences are also available in the group’s restaurants in Paris, London and St. Petersburg.
For curious types who enjoy tasting wine from different regions, varieties and styles, a membership to Wineissocial can be a great gift. Ferran Centelles (former sommelier at El Bulli), Raúl Igual (Spain’s Best Sommelier 2010) and Cristina Alcalá (writer and journalist) select the wines based on the tastes of each member. Two, three, six or 12 month-membership gifts can be purchased on their website and include a test to discover what wines are better suited to the member’s tastes; a monthly box with two different wines recommended by the sommelier based on the result of the test; tasting sheets and exclusive wine offers.
Membership prices ranges from €19.99 for a month's subscription to €215 for a whole year including shipping costs. Another veteran wine club specialized in Spanish wines is Vinoselección, which is present in Spain, Germany, the UK and the Netherlands. In addition to receiving a wine box each month, Vinoselección in Spain has tasting courses, wine tourism offers, dinners paired with wine, trips to wine regions and discounts on hotels in Spain and Portugal.
For any winelover being informed of the latest news, tastings and trends is indispensable. There are many interesting publications which are free and do not require registration, such as Spanish Wine Lover, but to know what the great wine gurus are saying beyond their Twitter accounts, readers must join (and pay for) their publications. Annual membership to Robert Parker’s website costs $99, although a monthly subscription ($12) is also available -it could be useful if you just want to read about a particular region.
One of the most comprehensive sources of global wine information is jancisrobinson.com, with thousands of tasting notes and articles, many of them about Spanish wine. The annual fee is 69 pounds, and allows access to the latest edition of The Oxford Companion to Wine, a must-have wine reference book.
Nostalgics for paper publications should check The World of Fine Wine - it is one of those magazines that are worth collecting. Published on quality paper, it boasts great photographs and illustrations, and features written by some of the world’s leading wine journalists. The cost of a quarterly subscription depends on the destination, but for Spain and other EU countries outside the UK (£89) it will set you back €139.
For Pinot Noir obsessives such as Sideways’s Miles, a subscription to Burghound will be the perfect gift. US writer Allen Meadows spends almost five months of the year in Burgundy visiting, researching, tasting, exploring and evaluating this French region, an iconic place for many wine aficionados. The annual cost for four quarterly online issues, which allows unlimited access to the database, is $145.
Fo those who do not get by in English, the Peñin Guide to the Wines of Spain 2015 is now available online and in print (€19.95) and includes hundreds of reviews and ratings of Spanish wines.
The Ochoa family has designed a tech-based project to turn their three Rioja wines -a white, a crianza red and a reserva red- into gift items. It's the old “say it with wine" but with new technology.
Using augmented reality and the Vinsual application, users can send messages and videos linked to the bottle. Imagine I send a bottle to my family because I won’t be able to spend Christmas with them. Once they download the application and scan the label on the bottle I sent them, they will be able to watch a video with my Christmas message. Obviously the possibilities go beyond personal messages, and this technology can be used for corporate gifts, wine clubs, etc.
These bottles with message can be purchased online from €13.95 for the white to €18.95 for the red reserva.
To end the year feeling well and relaxed, the Wine Oil Spa at Hotel Villa de Laguardia in Rioja Alavesa offers some wine and oil spa packages. You can choose between a traditional relaxation massage using macerated grape oil (€34,90) or even a two-day package to pamper and revitalize your aching body.
Couples can also indulge -glass of Cava in hand- in a 75-minute romantic treatment that includes a bath in a Cava-filled barrel, plus a black truffle body wrap and massage. The cost per person is €92.68.
In Catalonia, Hotel Perelada Wine Spa & Golf offers a winelovers package which includes one night accommodation plus breakfast, gastronomic menu paired with Perelada wines, vinotherapy treatment and entrance to the Perelada casino for €151.50 per person.
Wine connoisseurs who also enjoy the pleasures of eating gourmet food will find themselves in heaven at three-Michelin star restaurant El Celler de Can Roca in Girona, one hour’s drive north of Barcelona.
The three Roca brothers do away with the traditional list of dishes and instead offer two set menus -priced at €155 and €190. The wine list is not your average either. It is divided into three books -one for whites and sparkling wines, a second one for reds and a third one for spirits- featuring great selections from across the world, so it’s best to rely on Josep Roca’s impressive wine knowledge to suggests pairings (€90) for his brothers’ dishes. Securing a table is not easy and has to be booked months in advance, although they have a waiting list.
Most of us wine geeks have dreamed with a radical life change, leaving everything behind to make our own great wines in our own winery. If you have ever fancied yourself in such role, have bundles of energy and deep pockets -or you’ve won the Lottery- this option may be a complete turn in your life.
The website Aldeas Abandonadas (Abandoned hamlets) features a working winery for sale in A Peroxa (Ourense), a rural area in northwestern Spain, which includes a restored 17th century country house and 33,000 m2 of land planted with Albariño, Godello and Loureira vines. The asking price is €1.54 million. There are other opportunities across Spain to suit all tastes and budgets: In San Antonio de Requena, 70km inland from Valencia, this winery and house is for sale at €210,000.
If you fancy doing something different with your friends and your budget cannot be stretched to purchase a winery, you can always try your hand at running a winery for one day. At the Wine Academy in Bodega Emina, run by the Matarromera Group in Ribera del Duero, participants split in teams to create, develop, promote and sell their own wine.
Led by an oenologist, each group must choose the type of wine they want to have (appellation-controlled, vino de la tierra); make their own wine blending different varieties and finally designing the label. The winemaker later checks the commercial feasibility of each of the wines and the groups’ business strategies. The game finishes with a tasting of all the wines to choose the best and worst. The activity costs €200 plus €10 per adult and requires a minimum of 10 people.
The winery offers another group activity. At the Wine Casino, participants work their way through games and tastings to differentiate aromas, flavours, barrel styles and wines. It costs €200 plus €12 per adult and requires at least 20 players.