Discovering a Wine for the First Time
Many of us have memories or experiences that when we think upon them they bring a smile to our face. One of these memories for me occurred in January 2012 on a wine buying trip to Spain. While most people think these wine trips are all fun -- eating and drinking the best wines -- there is still a lot of work, planning, meetings and education involved in these trips. Plus there is the travelling, hotel rooms, eating out every night as the guest of the winery where they bring out big meals to entertain you and show how much they appreciate your business.) Side note: most of these producers believe we must eat 7-course meals twice a day and no simple protein and salad “meal” will do in their eyes. Add to that tasting up to 200 wines a day, and you can see how this takes a tremendous toll both physically and mentally.
After 10 days in Spain with Jonas Gustafsson of Vin de Terra Imports, and they were grueling non-stop 18-hour days of travelling and meeting with wineries, we finally had an evening where dinner started at a much more civilized hour of 8 pm. We were enjoying a nice meal with the owners of the bed and breakfast we were staying, a couple of our friends who travelled with us to photograph our journey and finally Sylvia Puig, her husband and young daughter. It was at this dinner I had a moment of “Whatever wine I am drinking I need more of it and need to buy as much as possible. “
Let me set the scene: we are sitting in the dining area at a long table eating delicious Jamon, Manchego Cheese, fresh seafood and of course a big plate of paella, “solving world problems,” drinking beautiful wines from Priorat, Mallorca and other gems we had picked up along the way. Late in the evening glasses are being passed around the table to get refills or a new wine being poured, when suddenly Jonas passes me a glass of wine and tells me to try the wine and tell me what it is. Instantly I change from carefree and go into total focus. Upon smelling the wine I instantly know that whatever wine is in the glass, it is special. I taste the wine and immediately know this wine is different from everything else we had consumed that night. The minerality, the richness, the deep fruit notes, and acids were all in balance -- it was simply delicious. I asked: “What am I drinking?” but no one would tell me. All I heard was: “Tomorrow we will talk about it.”
The next morning during breakfast, I inquired about the wine, hoping to take advantage of some very weary minds, but to no avail. Off we go to the winery Sylvia and her father owned at the time -- Vinedos de Ithaca. Upon arrival a sense of place and calm come over me and I knew I had found a sanctuary half way around the world which put me in a zen-like place. We walk through the vineyards and took in the amazing terrior of steep rocky and slate hills; all painstaking planted by hand, Sylvia’s hand. We return to the winery and start the tedious process of tasting everything in tank, barrels and bottles. The whole time in my mind I am still thinking about the glass of wine I had the night before and trying to discern if any of the wines I have tasted are that mysterious glass. I ask again what was the wine last night was and they said, “After lunch we will talk about it.” Finally I getting something, albeit just a tease (if you haven’t guessed I do not like not knowing or surprises) so off to lunch we go and we have an amazing meal with Tony Bru of Celler l’Aspic in the town of Falset (if you ever find yourself in Priorat, this is a must stop place to eat) and drinking the amazing wines which Sylvia and her father created. I was almost content, save the fact I still wanted to know what that mysterious delicious wine was the night before.
Finally we head back to the winery and we head into the cellar and in the back corner there are two barrels of wine which we had not yet tasted. Finally Jonas and Sylvia tell me about this new project which Sylvia is starting – En Numeros Vermells… -- it was a small project of only one or two barrels of wines from each vintage. I had tasted the first vintage 2008 the night before and then tasted it again and it reaffirmed my belief this wine was something special. I said “I will buy everything available of the wine.” I never asked the price, it was not important, I just knew I wanted to get my hands on the wine. There were only 25 cases of the 2008 vintage produced and Sylvia allocated 18 cases to the United States, of which I took each and every one. All 216 bottles, packed in units of two. Then we tasted the two barrels of wine from the 2010 vintage. In 2010 she decided to create two wines, one a blend and one 100% Garnaxta Peluda, and amazingly enough these wines were even better than the 2008 vintage. So, I grabbed a piece of chalk and wrote OWS/VDT on each barrel to guarantee we would get what we wanted. Unfortunately, we did not get all 50 cases, but we did get 35. This was the highlight of my trip and what helped start a ground movement for ENV wines in the US.
I still smile every time I pick up a bottle of En Numeros Vermells… and that smile gets even bigger when I hear that distinctive sound of a cork popping out of a bottle and flowing into a glass. Damn… now I need to book another ticket to Priorat…. Maybe not yet as the new vintages arrive next week and more importantly Sylvia Puig arrives in the United States for the first time in 5 years. We will be celebrating all week long! Hopefully you are attending one of her two dinners at OWS&B, but if not don’t fret because we will pour her new wines on Saturday May 12th from noon to 4:00 pm….. Come thirsty. I know I will.