Literary Inspiration for A Traveller in Wines

"Here," cried Don Quixote, "here, brother Sancho Panza, we shall be able to dip our hands up to the elbows, in what is called adventure. . ." – Don Quixote, Miguel de Cervantes


"People talk of the glorious dreams of opium-smokers, the frenzied exhilaration that hashish can give, but I, who have studied both, assure you that neither can for a moment compare with the delirious joy of fifty or sixty Spaniards applauding a dancer in the upper room of a café in Seville!" – From Paris to Cádiz, Alexandre Dumas pere


"Of one thing the reader may be assured, – that dear will be to him, as is now to us, the remembrance of those wild and weary rides through tawny Spain. . ." – Gatherings From Spain, Richard Ford.


"The traveller in wines, finding these topics a little beyond his comprehension, remarked loudly that Sénécal was forgetting a lot of scandals." – Sentimental Education, Gustave Flaubert, whose work was greatly influenced by Cervantes's Don Quixote.





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Friday, March 31, 2017

A Homage to Patxaran (Pacharán): The Pretty Ruby-colored Macho Drink of Northern Spain


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Patxaran (from the Basque paitar and aran ("sloe"), called pacharán in Castilian Spanish, the red sloeberry anís made by macerating arándanos, or endrinas, (sloeberries) from the blackthorn shrub in fine anisette spirits for several months (one part fresh sloeberries to three parts anisette).   Patxaran Navarro is controlled by an official denominación de origen, or D. O., like wine, and must contain no artificial flavorings or additives.  Sometimes a few coffee beans or cinnamon sticks are added to the patxaran casero housemade styles.   The maceration period can run from one to eight months.  Some homemade patxaran leave the berries in the anís.


Patxaran would seem to be the last drink on which to base macho memories, but in northern Spain everyone from Basque woodchoppers and daredevil bullrunners at Pamplona to the star chefs of El País Vasco’s great Michelin-rated restaurants drink this stuff - - often over ice. I first tasted Patxaran in 1971, when my old friend José Ramón Jorajurría, the “printer’s devil,” as I called him (he worked in a print shop), decided to make me only the second American to be invited into the Peña Anaitasuna (the other was the famous bullrunner Matt Carney, who was featured in James A. Michener’s Iberia; Joe Distler, the great bullrunner and my dear friend was the third). 

Anaitasuna is one of Pamplona’s legendary social and drinking peñas,or clubs. During the Fiestas de San Fermín, the peñas carouse all over town behind their raucous, but accomplished, band of musicians, drinking, singing and dancing the infectious northern folk dance, the jota, and generally raising Hell for eight days. The peñas all sit in the same section in the sun at the bullfights and drink, eat, sing, dance, throw flour and food all over one another, generally raising some more Hell. On the 11th of July, they have DIMASU (Día del Marido Suelto), which means Husband’s Day Out, an excuse to stay out for 24 hours straight, do even more drinking, singing, dancing, and, you guessed it, Hell raising. 

But, at midday on DIMASU, they retire to their clubhouse, which is like an Elk’s Club, only much bigger and with a health club, an Olympic swimming pool, plenty of rooms and facilities for family activities. There the men of Anaitasuna have a gargantuan lunch followed by cigars and heroic amounts of Patxaran.   Among the few things I remember about that day, aside from feeling supremely honored at having been invited, was that I didn’t like Patxaran. That was then, this is now. Like Scotch, drinking Patxaran is an acquired taste. Over the years I have acquired it; I love Patxaran. It’s nutty, sweet red fruit and anisette flavors are a great counterpoint for a good cigar.

One year, while touring the Basque Country with Chef Mark Miller (who then had Coyote Cafes in Santa Fe, Austin, and Las Vegas and Red Sage and Raku in Washington), on a cool misty afternoon at Kaia, a fabulous seafood restaurant in the port of Getaria near San Sebastián, I ordered a Patxaran after a stunning meal that featuring fresh house-cured anchovies, grilled sardines, and a whole wood fire-grilled turbot. Our server poured, over ice into a large brandy snifter, a very generous portion of Baines ‘Etiqueta de Oro (gold label),’ the Aston Martin of Patxaranes. A fine Montecristo completed the picture and all was well with the world by the time we finished lunch - - at 6:00 p.m.! (Some other brands of Patxaran to look for are the easier-to-find regular bottling of Baines, Basarana, Etxeko, and the brands you are more likely to find in the United States, Atxa and Zoco).




 

Then there was the glorious afternoon of the 14th of July, 1998, I believe, when John Ewing and I brought two liters of patxaran that we had been given by the sisters at Restaurante Hartza.  I got the fine folks at Hotel Maissonnave in Pamplona to partially fill a garbage bag with ice, put the jug of patxaran in it and put that into a wine box.  Somewhere we procured a couple of dozen plastic copitas so we could share the patxaran with the whole tendido.  We took the box with us to our seats in Tendido 9 and after the merienda, we began distributing the iced-down, Hartza house-made patxaran to about 20 people around us.  We indeed, lit up the whole tendido.  After most of our tendido had cleared out Ewing and I lingered in our seats, telling stories and drinking more patxaran. 




    


Below us, Tom Gowen and "Australian George" Danick appeared in the bullring callejón in front of our tendido, so we gave them some, too.  One of them took the picture above--George, I believe.  It remains one of my favorite memories of San Fermín.






Remember the Sloe Gin Fizz? Patxaran, which once a homemade concoction, has become one of the most popular drinks in Spain, bit it has only a remote relationship with that American sloe gin sensation of decades past. Patxaran, a ruby-garnet colored, Navarrese-Basque destroyer of brave men and levitator of adventurous women, is made by macerating sloe berries (called endrinas, arandanos, or arañones in Spanish; patxarán in Basque) in a sweetened, anís-flavored aguardiente. Patxaran de Navarra (from Navarra) even has its own protected Denominación Específica (DE - - which refers to the method of production, whereas in wine, denominación de origen (DO) refers to the area). The endrina fruit grows wild throughout Europe, but 110 experimental hectares of sloe berries have been planted in Navarra to insure a continuous supply from within the denominación for some of the nearly eight million liters of Patxaran produced annually.
 



DE Patxaran de Navarra, which averages 25 to 30 percent alcohol by volume, is produced by infusing orujo (aguardiente or marc) or agricultural-based alcohols with the essence of anís oils, then macerating sloe berries in the anís-flavored alcohol for a minimum one month to a maximum of eight months for each liter of Patxaran produced. Old-timers back in the hills of Navarre say that eating the berries after they are macerated in the anís cause you to go loco or develop a permanent dislike of patxaran, the latter of which I personally do want to risk, so I don’t eat the sloe berries.

Only the commercial Patxaran brands Zoco (made by Larios), Atxa and a few others are presently available in the United States. The attractively packaged Etxeko and Las Endrinas brands, found in duty-free shops in Spain, are quite good. Top Spanish wine and licores shops, such as the Club de Gourmets shops in Spain’s El Corte Inglés department store chain, stock the superb Baines Patxaran de Arañon and the top-of-the-line Baines Etiqueta Oro (Gold Label) bottling.

Once looked down upon as a blue-collar regional drink from Navarra, patxaran is now popular with everyone from Pamplona bullrunners, Basque woodchoppers, and heirs apparent to Hemingway’s Lady Brett to discriminating Spanish winemakers. An incident at a private luncheon held in Madrid before a fútbol match a few years ago underscored the popularity of Patxaran. Mariano García, for 30 years the winemaker at Vega Sicilia and now a much sought-after enologist considered to be Spain’s top winemaker, invited me to lunch with a group of his friends at Mesón Txistu. They had come to the capital to root for the Valladolid soccer team, in what was thought to be a hopeless match with powerful Real Madrid (the game ended in a 2-2 tie, which under the influence of patxaran, I had correctly predicted).



After a long, laid-back luncheon that featured almost every wine García has a hand in (Mauro, Mauro Vendimia Seleccionada, Maurodos San Román, Leda, Luna Beberride), coffees were ordered and cigars were lit. The proprietor then suggested post prandials. I ordered Patxaran on the rocks in a brandy glass (as it is often served in Spanish restaurants after meals).  The owner was aghast. With a somewhat patronizing tone, suggesting that a foreigner should be properly instructed in what constitutes a proper drink to end a meal, he suggested that I couldn’t possibly want to drink Patxaran after having drunk Mariano Garcia’s superb wines, some of which are among the most expensive in Spain.

 


I held my ground, however, and asked him to pour my favorite, Baines Etiqueta Oro, if he had it. Garcia, who had been somewhat distracted in conversation during my exchange with the owner, chimed in, “Make that two.” Shaking his head, the poor man went off to get Patxaran for the foreigner and for Spain’s legendary winemaker.
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About Gerry Dawes  


Gerry Dawes was awarded Spain's prestigious Premio Nacional de Gastronomía (National Gastronomy Award) in 2003. He writes and speaks frequently on Spanish wine and gastronomy and leads gastronomy, wine and cultural tours to Spain. He was a finalist for the 2001 James Beard Foundation's Journalism Award for Best Magazine Writing on Wine, won The Cava Institute's First Prize for Journalism for his article on cava in 2004, was awarded the CineGourLand “Cinéfilos y Gourmets” (Cinephiles & Gourmets) prize in 2009 in Getxo (Vizcaya) and received the 2009 Association of Food Journalists Second Prize for Best Food Feature in a Magazine for his Food Arts article, a retrospective piece about Catalan star chef, Ferran Adrià. 


". . .That we were the first to introduce American readers to Ferran Adrià in 1997 and have ever since continued to bring you a blow-by-blow narrative of Spain's riveting ferment is chiefly due to our Spanish correspondent, Gerry "Mr. Spain" Dawes, the messianic wine and food journalist raised in Southern Illinois and possessor of a self-accumulated doctorate in the Spanish table. Gerry once again brings us up to the very minute. . ." - - Michael & Ariane Batterberry, Editor-in-Chief/Publisher and Founding Editor/Publisher, Food Arts, October 2009. 
 
Mr. Dawes is currently working on a reality television series 
on wine, gastronomy, culture and travel in Spain.



Thursday, March 30, 2017

Donn Pohren, The Great Flamencologist Who Also Wrote The Trailblazing Book For Discovering Artisan Wines in Spain



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Madrid, Spain - American writer and well-known Flamencologist Donn Pohren died in Las Rozas [a Madrid suburb] on November 5, 2007. His wife, Luisa Maravillas provided a brief statement: "I regret to inform you all that Donn passed away the 5th of November, during the night. Sometime in the near future I intend to organize a gathering of friends and aficionados in Las Rozas."  - - Contributed by: WMC_News_Dept.  11/07/2007 08:35AM

Donn Pohren was regarded as one of the leading experts in Flamenco in the English language and wrote several influential books about the subject. "Donn Pohren's book was the first thing I bought when arriving in Andalucía, before I even knew how much my life would be involved with and changed by flamenco. It helped me understand a lot that was to come," says British expatriate Kate Edbrooke, who runs a recording studio in Granada and has produced several Flamenco recordings by local artists.


The Significance of Flamencologist Donn Pohren
and His Impact on Spanish Wine & Food
Que descansa en una juerga de “pura ma're” with a copita in front of him
and Diego del Gastor playing alongside him.

Copyright by Gerry Dawes 2017. 

In 1972, Donn Pohren, a Minneapolis-born American who lived in Spain for decades and was the world's greatest foreign expert on flamenco, published his idiosyncratic underground classic, Adventures in Taste: The Wines and Folk Food of Spain. I was living in southern Spain when I first encountered Pohrens's book (privately printed in Spain) soon after it was published and it had a profound effect on me. In the early years, I never traveled without it. At first, I merely wanted to have some of the wine and food experiences that he had described. Soon, I was having new experiences of my own, experiences that would eventually lead to my becoming a widely published writer on Spanish wine and food and a recognized authority in the field.
  
Donn Pohren's Adventures in Taste: The Wines and Folk Food of Spain


Adventures in Taste, self-published by Pohren in 1972.


Pohren wandered around the Iberian Peninsula in the 1960s exploring the nooks and crannies of Spain's 4,000,000 acres of vineyard lands, the largest acreage of any country in the world. He would pop into a village bar, ask for a glass of the local vino, then casually ask who made the best wine in town. On many occasions, Pohren would soon find himself being offered several samples as one vintner after another vied to show this foreigner that his wine was the best in the village. In his book, Pohren described encounter after encounter with artisan winemakers who were making excellent wines, many of which were unknown to the outside world in those days.


Pohren's Map of the Wine Regions of North Central
 (He did not cover Galicia!)

However, many of the wines Pohren described were wines whose charm soon faded if anyone tried to transport them beyond the boundaries of their home region. The winemaking techniques were often primitive. In many places the grapes were still crushed by treading, then fermented in open stone or cement vats, and aged in less than meticulously cared for barrels. The result was a flawed wine, which often tasted good with the local food, but was simply not stable enough to "travel" and was not the stuff to thrill sophisticated wine connoisseurs. Still, Don Pohren swore by the inherent quality of many of these Spanish wines and he was right.

His experiences have always been in the back of my mind and have served me well on numerous occasions, such as an encounter on my first trip to then unknown Priorat in 1988. Firmly in Pohren's shoes, I entered an old-fashioned, untidy cellar, where I was given a flawed wine to taste, but the underlying base wine was clearly very good. I judged the prospects for this region to be so promising that I came back wrote the first major article about the potential of Priorat. Alvaro Palacios and crew arrived the next year and began to make history. Recently, in Ribeira Sacra, I have run into some flawed wines (less so every year), just as a did in Priorat nearly twenty years earlier. Tasting "underneath" the sometimes inexperienced wine making techniques, I found enormous potential. I know Donn would have as well.

What Pohren tasted in those wines while researching his book forty years ago was the materia prima (raw material; grapes, soil and climate), the exceptional juice from grapes which often came from old vines, whose average yield of wine per acre of vines was less than half that allowed by the best appellations of Burgundy and Bordeaux.  Even backward winemaking techniques couldn't keep the underlying quality from showing through; Pohren's Spanish wines were diamonds in the rough.

In the years since Donn Pohren wrote his book, exciting things have happened which promise an incredible future for both Spain's traditional wines and those of emerging wine regions. Spain's nearly four decades-old democracy has been the catalyst for a modern renaissance in fashion, art, literature, cinema, and gastronomy and it has ushered in a technological revolution in wine making as well. A key element in this was Spain's acceptance in 1992 as a member of the European Economic Community, the Common Market (now the European Union), which posed a special challenge to Spanish wine producers: compete on a quality level with the other wines of Europe or enter the over-saturated European wine "lake," and be lost in the crowd.

Fortunately, Spain opted for quality. Many forward looking people in the Spanish wine trade began to see Spain's entry into the European Union as both a new challenge and a new opportunity for their wines. These challenges and opportunities would require a reassessment of their positions in both the domestic and export markets, an upgrading of their winemaking technology, and consistent quality in their wines. Emile Peynaud, Alexis Lichine, and other consultants were brought in from France to advise winemakers in the Rioja, Ribera del Duero, and Rueda. The best enologists from Rioja, Penedes, and Navarra traveled to other regions share their expertise. Young Spanish winemakers trained in Bordeaux, Burgundy, and at the University of California - Davis. Miguel Torres Riera, the maestro of Catalan winemaking, and Jose Peñin, Spain's foremost wine authority, wrote important books about Spain's future in the wine world. New wine books, periodicals, and gourmet journals proliferated. Seminars, international wine symposiums, and wine competitions began to be conducted on a regular basis. And, importantly, wine clubs and societies were formed as an increasingly affluent and growing middle class in Spain began to appreciate the wines of its own country.

During the past three decades, investments in new wine making technology (especially in the area of fermentation control), better barrels (although accompanying by a lot of oak abuse!), experiments with new grape varietals, and the replanting of vineyards in some areas have begun to have a geometric effect on the overall quality level of Spanish wines. This progress in winemaking technique in Spain would not in itself account for such a dramatic effect–in fact, it is now often a detriment to authenticity--if it were not for the fact that Spain is a splendid natural vineyard endowed with many areas whose grape varietals have become perfectly acclimated over centuries to the micro-climate and soil in which they grow. 

All that was needed in many cases were winemakers dedicated to quality and the technology to achieve it. The grapes produced in the best wine areas of Spain–Rioja, Jerez, Cataluna, Ribera del Duero, Navarra, Rueda, and in many up and coming regions–have shown they are capable of producing wines which can stand alongside the best of France, Italy, and California. The Tempranillo of the Rioja and Ribera del Duero, for example, is coming to be recognized as a grape which can produce wines to rival those made from Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, or Pinot Noir.

The established, classic wine regions of Spain like Rioja and Jerez, while refining the techniques and polishing the skills which made them famous, also created exciting new areas of interest with small estates like Remelluri and Contino in Rioja and the emergence of such high-quality wines as the almacenista sherries of Emilio Lustau and the late harvest Navarra moscatels from Julián Chivite, Ochoa and Viña Aliaga. Other areas whose wines were once underground legends in Spain, like those described by Donn Pohren, but whose viticulture was based on tiny artisan producers and ill-equipped cooperatives, began to realize their potential for making great wines.

Ribera del Duero, home of Vega Sicilia, Pesquera, Mauro, and Viña Pedrosa; Navarra, the producer of perhaps the world's finest rosés; Priorato (Cataluna) and Toro (Castilla-Leon), whose rich, concentrated, blockbuster red wines have drawn international attention; Rueda, a surprising white wine region; and Rías Baixas, whose Albariños now count the U.S. as its most important export market, are just the most visible of the emerging wine regions capable of making first rate wine from native grapes. There are many more to come. 

Previously unknown regions–not many of which unknown to Donn Pohren–such as Bierzo, Ribeiro, Ribeira Sacra, Valdeorras and Monterrei, along with Jumilla and many others–have either jumped onto the world wine stage or are just in the wings awaiting their call to stardom. Producers like Miguel Torres in Penedes, Julián Chivite in Navarra, Carlos Falcó at Dominio de Valdepusa and Codorniu's Raimat estate, just to name a few examples, have achieved new heights with foreign varietals, though even the best examples often fall short of the intriguing, delicious, uniquely Spanish wines made from indigenous varieties–the kinds of wines that Donn Pohren loved.

Embedded in me like a memory chip is the spirit of Donn Pohren and his book. Following his example, I still ferret out little known producers and drive many kilometers out-of-the-way just to eat a dish in a little-known regional restaurant and, like Don, look beyond rusticity (or fancy trappings in some places) to find the core of something that is undeniably wonderful and unique to Spain. Only adventurers and indefatigable travelers can do what Donn Pohren did. I can attest to how indefatigable and adventurous he was from averaging six trips a year to Spain (eight per year in the past five years).

Without Don Pohren’s book (and to a great degree, James A. Michener’s Iberia) I may have never caught the spirit of the Spanish road that has sustained me now for more than 40 years. For that I owe Donn a now un-redeemable debt of gratitude and so do people such as Steve Metzler, who built a great and exemplary Spanish wine importing company, Classical Wines, based on his Pohren-inspired wine travels. Because of Donn, Metzler was inspired to find not only Pesquera and make Alejandro Fernandez's wine world famous, he even met his wife, Almudena. Neither of us saw Don Pohren as much as we would have liked to over the years, but fortunately several years ago in Madrid, I had an opportunity to let Donn know just how much his work meant to me and to the many who carry Spain in their hearts.


Pohren visited my late former wife Diana and I for lunch at our house in Mijas (Málaga) in 1974.  
Donn autographed Adventures in Taste to us.


I will miss the fact that Donn is no longer with us in body, but he will never die in the spirits and hearts of those who followed his incredible Quixotesque passion for Spain, flamenco, Spanish wine and traditional food and all things Spanish. (Quixote may have been a dreamer, but not a madman; those windmills he was tilting at were brought from the low countries and represented the domination of the foreign House of Austria, a powerful, inquisition wielding force that crushed those who dissented like Don Quixote after his encounter with the windmill sails.)

Donn Pohren was a dreamer and he may have seemed like a madman when he lived his life like a candle in the wind during his awesome flamenco juerga years, but to me Donn Pohren was a profound inspiration and he always will be. Vaya con Dios, Don Donn. I will raise a copita to you often in my journeys. I can see the angels lining up now for a juerga--a Spanish wine, food and flamenco party--the likes of which even heaven hasn’t seen.

The End

Gerry Dawes©2017
gerrydawes@gmail.com
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