Passion for Spanish wine


It is hard to find bars and restaurants in Spain whose owners are really passionate about wine and appreciate quality as much as the profits obtained with each serving. Fortunately for enthusiasts, there are wine nerds who dare to set up businesses like Essencia, which houses a bar, a restaurant and a shop with over 700 Spanish and foreign wines under one roof, with particular emphasis on Sherry, Champagne and Burgundy.

The guilty individuals responsible for turning Essencia into a place of pilgrimage for wine fans are Iñaki Irizar and Dani Corman, who used to run a well-known shop on the same street called Essencia Ardodenda since 2008. When Dani saw the opportunity to move to the current location, he joined forces with Iñaki to launch this project, which opened its doors at the end of 2014 near San Sebastian’s Kursaal Auditorium.

Modern and cozy, Essencia features a bar with an enomatic machine where some of the 20-plus wines by the glass are served at prices ranging between €3.5 and €6. Their origin is diverse, with many Spanish wine regions on the list, which rotates frequently. So does the spectacular choice of sherries by the glass, with up to 10 different manzanillas to choose from, as well as quality finos, amontillados and olorosos.

The fashion for craft, local beers —both bottled and on tap— has also reached Essencia and to cheer up weekday afternoons they organize a “mysterious wine” tasting for their clients, many of whom are sommeliers working at the various Michelin-starred restaurants in town. Whoever guesses the wine takes home a bottle of the “mysterious” wine.

Essencia’s wine list does not include many names from nearby Rioja, txakoli or Verdejo (very popular around the area) and this can only mean that Iñaki and Dani are two very brave guys. Iñaki acknowledges that their selection is eclectic, but such was their intention.

“The producers we work with tend to be small and special; they are just a few but they have been lovingly chosen”, says Iñaki. Natural wines such as Barranco Oscuro from Granada, some biodynamic and organic selections from various Spanish regions as well as from the Loire and Jura and even a Château Mukhrani from Georgia sold at store prices plus a €3 corkage fee invite punters to be adventurous. “House wines” are sourced from Winelot Series, a project under which they select and bottle their own Rioja, Ribeira Sacra and Montsant brands, as well as a vermouth and a rancio style.

But there is more than wine at Essencia. From Monday to Friday, Iñaki and Dani serve a fixed €20 menu at lunchtime made with quality ingredients —Euskaltxerri (pork) ribs are exceptional— and aim to use mainly seasonal produce. At night and weekends there is a pretty good à la carte menu at very reasonable prices with delicious dishes such as grilled asparagus with pork jowl or Andalusian style squid. The aperitif consists of three different types of olive oil and bread that definitely develop one’s appetite.

In terms of drinks, the daily menu features unusual choices such as cider but those who are in for a treat are wine lovers, with the option to choose between a pitcher of red of white wine from DO Monsant or two glasses of wine from eight different options that include sherry, cava and various reds and whites —all served in good quality glassware.

The fun continues on the first floor, where Iñaki and Dani have a store with hundreds of bottles, reference books in several languages and a tasting room where producers are regularly invited to talk about their wines. Other times it is Dani —an expert in champagne— who leads the tastings. It is worth following their Facebook page to find out which vigneron is dropping by to share his/her wines at one of San Sebastian’s most wine-focused addresses. Y.O.A.


Wine tastings in June 2015
San Sebastian: top spots for wine and pintxos