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  • Which Spanish wines are chefs into?
  • Which Spanish wines are chefs into?
  • Which Spanish wines are chefs into?
  • Which Spanish wines are chefs into?
  • Which Spanish wines are chefs into?
  • Which Spanish wines are chefs into?
From left to right: Iolanda Bustos (La Calèndula), Nieves Barragán (Sabor), Álvaro Garrido (Mina), Ángel León (A Poniente), Balazs Menyhard (55 Pasos) y Alex Raij (Quinto Pino, Txikito, La Vara). Photos sent by the chefs

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Which Spanish wines are chefs into?

Yolanda Ortiz de Arri | December 20th, 2019

Wine is a major ingredient in gastronomy, and this is obvious to wine enthusiasts and professionals alike. But it doesn't seem that obvious to many foodies and chefs in Spain, for whom wine often plays second fiddle or, in the worst case scenario, is a mere spectator at so many "gastronomic" conferences and award-winning restaurants.

Despite many chefs' apparent lack of interest in wine, we wanted to champion those who do show sensitivity to the liquid side and given them a say. Their cuisine is diverse and different from each other but they all find pleasure in wine, not only as an ingredient in their dishes but they enjoy drinking it. Six of them (several Spanish chefs have not answered our messages) have agreed to talk to us about some of their favorite wines this year.

We are very grateful to chefs Iolanda Bustos, Nieves Barragán, Álvaro Garrido, Ángel León, Balazs Menyhard and Alex Raij for sharing their recommendations with the readers of Spanish Wine Lover. We also thank our correspondents Bill Ward in the United States and Monica R. Goya in the United Kingdom, for collecting the opinions of the two chefs with restaurants in New York and London.

Iolanda Bustos

I greatly admire all the work in the vineyard and the respect of vignerons for the landscape and I have selected two wines that express this feeling. Earlier this year I created a wine tasting chart with the flavours of wild edible plants that grow spontaneously in the vineyards. Ultimately, these plants and flowers represent the soul of each wine.

Vinyes Velles de Samsó 2016, Celler Vinyes Domènech, DO Montsant
It is said that emotion is the only thing that remains in the human mind. It happened in early summer, one of those days after an exhausting shift. I walked out of my kitchen and our sommelier, Salvador Casaseca, offered me a wine to taste. It was like jumping into the void and flying away. I'll never forget that Cariñena, born from an extraordinary vineyard and made the Domènech family, a wonderful family who have poured all their energy into this Vinyes Velles de Samsó. I felt my heart beating in contact with that glass. I felt nature's alchemy, with its ability to send goose bumps to my skin, amidst the aromas of wild plants, ripe forest fruits, chestnuts and tender nuts... An oasis opened up in my mind, an autumnal landscape, transporting me to a wild place, where everything begins and everything ends, a horizon of infinite flavour.
At the moment it is in our tasting menu paired with a grilled duck magret with a crust of nuts, elderberry sauce and aromatic forest flowers.

Find this wine for €45.25 at Celler de Gelida and Wine Searcher

Turó d’en Mota 2006, Recaredo, Corpinnat
This biodynamic sparkling wine represents the elegance of simplicity: a single vineyard, a single variety, a single vintage and a very limited production. Made according to the biodynamic practices of all the people working in the vineyard and the winery, it is literally a piece of landscape that remains alive inside a bottle. The Recaredo family has managed to capture that essence in a very special grape variety, Xarel.lo. This wine has remained with its lees inside the bottle in an underground cellar where you can still appreciate the marks of the pickaxe and spade used by their great-grandfather to open up caves underground to keep these treasures of nature. In fact, each bubble radiates a yearning for life, enticing the palate and all the senses. 
Sparkling wines are the perfect match for the type of cuisine we practice at La Calèndula. They lift the aromatics of my dishes with herbs and flowers, supporting that range of flavours, where spicy, salty, sour, sweet and bitter notes play with the palate.
Turó d'en Mota 2006 can be enjoyed with all the dishes of our Wild tasting menu. Or with one of the house's classic dishes, cuttlefish carpaccio with sweet paprika, pickled broad beans, herbs and wild flowers and potato slivers with bay leaves.

Find this wine for €96 at Enterwine and Wine Searcher

Iolanda Bustos defines herself as a "biodynamic chef" and is specialised in edible flora. She is the owner and chef of La Calèndula, a restaurant located in Regencós, Girona, where she also operates a small hotel.

Nieves Barragán

Muga Selección Especial 2015, Bodegas Muga, DOCa Rioja
It's one of my favourite wines. We actually share a very similar philosophy in terms of what I look for on my day-to-day: to pay maximum attention to the smallest detail in order to try to get the best possible result.
This is what I feel when I drink Muga Selección Especial, a wine that is only produced when the vintage is very good. It is fermented in barrels made from carefully selected oak that are built in the winery (very few producers still employ a master cooper in Spain). Once the liquid rests in the barrels, it is cared for as if the wine were a gem.
I was very fortunate to visit the winery and appreciate all the work behind this wine. Furthermore the Muga brothers are exceptional people, so I must say that whenever I am lucky enough to have a drink I enjoy it immensely. This is a wine that, regardless of whether you are a great connoisseur or not, you will always appreciate.

Find this wine for €27.50 at Decántalo and Wine Searcher

Born in Bilbao, Nieves Barragán is chef a co-owner of (1 Michelin star), a restaurant in the centre of London that is specialised in Spanish food.

Álvaro Garrido

Frontonio Telescópico Garnacha 2015, Bodegas Frontonio, IGP Valdejalón
I have always been interested in wine; actually, next to my restaurant, Mina, I also have a natural wine bar called Tximpun, where we serve affordable and easy-to-drink wines, meant to be enjoyed. 
Of all the wine regions in Spain, Galicia is my favorite because of its diversity and cool climate. In fact, I like this area' s wines so much that they had taken over the wine list at Mina, so now we have reduced the Galician presence a bit to highlight local wines such as Txakoli, which has improved a great deal in recent years. We have some very good wines in Bizkaia because we are increasingly paying more attention to vineyard and the soils. I really like Urki Zahar (Getariako Txakolina), with its well-integrated acidity, and the wines of Oxer Bastegieta, although I also enjoy the saline nature of wines such as Fino La Barajuela from Bodegas Luis Pérez or Manzanilla Pastora by Barbadillo—I always have a bottle of this wine at home.
In spite of my preferences, the wine I am going to recommend does not come from Galicia or the Basque Country. It was our sommelier at Mina who suggested that I try Frontonio Telescópico Garnacha and I must say that it is one of the wines that has surprised me the most this year. I think it goes very well with hare or rabbit dishes, because it has good acidity and volume to withstand the power of game.
The wine is round and light, despite coming from Aragón, an area where you tend to expect sweeter, mature wines, but its alcohol (14%) is very well integrated and the wine does not feel heavy at all. 
I think that the hand of the winemaker is always noticeable, no matter if the wine is made in a garage or in a huge winery. Actually, making wine is not that different from cooking. You have several ingredients and with them you have to find the right balance.

Find this wine for €17.50 at Wine Is Social and Wine Searcher

Álvaro Garrido is the owner and chef of restaurant Mina (1 Michelin star) opened since 2006 on the banks of the river in Bilbao.

Ángel León

La Riva Macharnudo Blanco 2017, Bodegas De la Riva (Sin DO)
This white wine from Cádiz is the work of Willy Pérez and Ramiro Ibáñez, producers at Bodegas Luis Pérez and Cota 45, respectively and passionate about the history of the region's wines. Juan Ruiz Henestrosa, our sommelier at Aponiente, offered me a glass  when we were testing new dishes with plankton. He explained to me that these were the area’s traditional white wines and that what Willy and Ramiro wanted to champion names such as Balbaína or Macharnudo, legendary but undervalued vineyards which have traditionally been the source of many historical wines. I think it is an incredibly personal wine that manages to express our land in a formidable manner; rich, mineral and opulent, it will set a benchmark for other wines to come. At such sensible price for its limited production, the wine is a steal. It is super fresh, sapid, with astonishing concentration. It is the sort of wine we love to have in A Poniente and that we are hooked on.

Find this wine for €38.55 at Licores Corredera

Mahara Tinto 2016, Vinifícate (Sin DO) 
The second wine I’d like to recommend is also local but in this case, it is a red wine that has been in our wine list for quite some time. It is made by José y Miguel, two brothers who are winemakers and chemists, but above all they are wonderful people. They launched their winery in 2011 to make terroir wines with character and from local varieties.
Me gustan los vinos aromáticos y expresivos y este Mahara, que se hace con tintilla de Rota del pago Balbaína, me encanta. No me gustan los vinos potentes en boca pero sí que tengan cierta madurez, y por suerte en esta zona tenemos ese perfil de vinos, tanto tintos como blancos, y grandes jereces que acompañan muy bien al tipo de cocina que hacemos en Aponiente. Conozco este vino también por culpa de Juan, y me gusta cómo acompaña esos guisos que hacemos de piel de atún, los que recuerdan a platos de cuchareo tan nuestros como las papas con chocos.
Cuando estoy haciendo alguna prueba siempre le digo a Juan que me ponga algo de beber y como llevamos muchos años trabajando juntos, conoce bien mis gustos. Una vez se aventuró con un Mahara y como sabe que yo también estoy un poco majara, me encantó. Es un vino super sabroso y equilibrado.

Find this wine for €22.95 at Idea Vinos

Ángel León is chef and owner of restaurant Aponiente (3 Michelin stars) and La Taberna del Chef del Mar in El Puerto de Santa María, Cádiz.

Balazs Menyhard

I think wine is a major component in a restaurant. During my career, I have been lucky enough to work with wine-loving chefs, both in my native Hungary and in Hedone (London), where I became familiar with Burgundy, the Loire or the Rhone thanks to Swedish chef Mikael Jonsson and also when I worked with Rafa Peña, at Gresca in Barcelona, who was very keen on wine even before becoming a chef.
I think wine is a major component in a restaurant. During my career, I have been lucky enough to work with wine-loving chefs, both in my native Hungary and in Hedone (London), where I became familiar with Burgundy, the Loire or the Rhone thanks to Swedish chef Mikael Jonsson and also when I worked with Rafa Peña, at Gresca in Barcelona, who was very keen on wine even before becoming a chef.
The good thing about wine is that, like cooking, you never stop learning. In 55 Pasos we have about 150 wines, mainly from France and Galicia which go very well with our cuisine based on simple recipes but always made with fresh products we buy in the market.
I like Champagne, Jura, Loire and the white wines of the Rhone, although Coruña is a complicated place to sell these wines. We plan to buy Hungarian wines on our next visit to the country; there are some very good ones but they don't make it this far. From Galicia, I really like the wines from Nanclares y Prieto, especially Paraje Mina, which was the first Galician wine we listed on the menu when we opened the restaurant in April 2019. It's perhaps one of their least known wines but for me it's a special wine, both because of the winemakers, Alberto Nanclares and Silvia Prieto, and because of its balanced acidity that means you can drink it young without having to wait for years. It goes very well with cockles or clams or with seafood in general. 
Another producer who fascinates me is Verónica Ortega. I really like her Godello Cal 2017 but also her reds Kinki and Cobrana. 
Other favourites from Galicia are Pazo Señorans Selección de Añada 2008, which is great with scallops and Alicerce Senlleiro, a Branco Lexitimo from Conexión Mandeo, in Betanzos. In terms of reds, I like fresh wines made with varieties such as Bastardo or Mencía, but I also enjoy wines like Cható Paquita from Mallorca or some of the terroir wines produced in Tenerife.

Find Paraje Mina for €14.95 at Doowine, Cal for €19.70 at Gourmet Hunters, Pazo de Señorans Selección de Añada por €32.90 at Lavinia, the wines of Conexión Mandeo at El Sumiller and Cható Paquita for €18,40 a at Alforins.

Balazs Menyhard was born in Hungary He is chef and co-owner of 55 Pasos in A Coruña alongside his Galicia-born partner Nataly.

Alex Raij

My recommendations are three wines from three different Spanish regions.

Flor de Taverners, Marqués de Arviza (DO Valencia)
It is a casual but precise Valencian red made with Monastrell and Tempranillo that has dark fruit notes but it is so well-integrated and elegant that it avoids the one-note jammy character of lesser wines. I think it’s a cozy red to enjoy with roasted or grilled meats.
Find this wine for €10.95 at Navarro Bodeguero and Wine Searcher

L.D. Ancestral 2014, Finca Viladellops (DO Penedès) 
Finca Viladellops is doing a good job of helping to redefine Penedès as it brings quality and better practices to the sparkling traditions of the region. Made with the Xarel.lo Vermell variety, the Ancestral is new for me, and I am looking forward to ringing in the New Year with this wine with beautiful color and biscuity caramel notes that evoke Champagne. 

Find this wine for €17 at Vinissimus and Wine Searcher

Monje Tradicional, Bodegas Monje, DO Tacoronte-Acentejo 
I love the cedar-box notes of the Monje Tradicional and the minerality and unmistakable appeal of the volcanic soil in this blend of Listán Negro, Listán Blanco and Negramoll from the island of Tenerife. It’s light and goes great with a fish stew, or a bean or rice dish.

Find this wine for €10.40 at Vinófilos and Wine Searcher

Born in Chicago to Argentinian parents, Alex Raij is the owner and chef at El Quinto Pino, Txikito and La Vara restaurants in New York.

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