…ok, so the song was Spanish Eyes…sorry!
Tuesday we went back to St-Jean-de-Luz and had lunch at Brasserie Le Madison and at the next table was a Spanish woman who asked if she could help with our deciphering the menu board. We talked and when I told her I was working on a book on wine she told me that her family owned Cune, one of the top La Rioja producers in Haro (the Napa of La Rioja). She was fascinating and talked about during the war, Franco and the occupation of France. She is 81, eleven years older than TB. (Note, this is why we prefer to travel alone as we get to meet the locals and not get ‘wrapped up’ in ourselves. We enjoy travelling with others but our best experiences have occurred when we are alone.) Her name was Sophie Vallejo and when I told her a city in California had that name she told me she had gone there with Robert Mondavi! She was charming and wrote on my card a letter of introduction to her family’s winery, Cune, for a special tour. An interesting sidelight is that Cune is right next to Muga and years ago sold their grape juice to Muga. These are two of the most famous Rioja producers. She also recommended we visit Marquez de Riscal in Alava.
From there we went back to St-Jean-Pied-a-Port, to explore Basque wines. While not as polished as Riojas or Ribera del Dueros, they are interesting and the better ones (about 12-15€) are pretty good and very good value. The biggest is Irouleguy in St.Ettiene De Baḯgorry. The reds are made primarily from Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Tannat. The better ones have more of the Tannat grape making them suitable for aging up to seven years. They also make a Cava in the traditional French manner that is excellent value and very good. To be honest, TB had not been a fan of Cava but the more he learns, the more he sees how well it is made in the traditional manner. My favorites were a 2013 Kattalingorri, a wine made without herbicides (as the Lady Bug on the label indicates). And a 2014 Mignaberry Rose that is an aperitif. The tasting room was very nice and could stand up to ones in California – no appointment needed.
The Basque Country, both Spanish and French, is beautiful…and the people are so proud of their heritage – especially those on the Spanish side (don’t say that in front of them though). It took me back to Northern Ireland…protest signs on barns and rock walls for independence, and road signs in Spanish crossed out so only the Uresqea remains. Warm, friendly people who are hardworking and funloving.
Next stop: La Rioja
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