Wine cathedrals and wondrous wheeled adventures

Up in the Terra Alta in Northern Spain, they have an almost religious reverence for white Grenache and a building to prove it. I cycle the Greenway to discover more

Sunset over the mountains

‘I’m not much of a cyclist,’ I tell the man fitting me out with my bike and helmet. To be honest, and I keep this to myself, the last time I rode a bike it had gears labelled Sturmey Archer and my short trousers had name labels.

‘That’s okay,’ he replies, ‘it’s all downhill from here.’ ‘Story of my life’, I think, as I try to get onto the saddle in a dignified manner. I fail and the bike shoots backwards and I make contact with the crossbar in a painful way.

The old railway station

We’re at the Horta de Sant Joan train station in the Terra Alta Tarragona province  in Catalonia, or Catalunya if you wish to be politically more (or less) correct.

It’s a small and very pretty town on a hill, inhabited for many, many centuries, and also a place where Picasso used to hang out.

There was once a single-track railway line that ran up to here created by republican prisoners of the war in 1942. Continue reading

Sun, sea and sustainability in Ibiza

Known for its club culture, there’s also a different beat in Ibiza, one that’s all about sustainability, Zero Kilometre sourcing and the rise of the female chef.

A wild and lonely place

‘Skreeeeek, skreeek, skreeek’, I’m watching a man laboriously pull in his fishing net by hand. His small ancient local boat, called a Llaut, is bobbing about on the water between Ibiza and its smaller neighbour, Formentera. The net, all 5km of it is being slowly retrieved using a large wheel as a capstan. It’s badly in need of some WD40, hence the ‘fingernails down blackboard’ noise it’s making.

Not a large catch

Every now and then the fisherman bends down to retrieve a fish from his net. If it’s too small, it goes back over the side otherwise it goes into the cold box. His nets are only left out for an hour each time to avoid any chance of the fish being crushed to death when the haul is good.

As a method of fishing it’s old and ineffective, but that’s the point. The fishermen of Ibiza have embraced the need for sustainability.

You can fish over there!

On our boat, Pere Valera who heads the Ibizan Fishermen Guild, pulls out a chart and shows me where in the local waters large scale trawl fishing can take place, where it has to be done only in this old style and where it is totally banned so that the fish can breed in peace. This last area is Es Freus Marine Reserve of Ibiza and Formentera, which was set up in 1999.

It takes in the far south of Ibiza, the north, the west coast of Formentera and the space that separates them with a total area of 13,617 marine hectares, making it the second largest protected marine area in the Spanish Mediterranean.

Back on shore, at the Guild headquarters where all fish are processed, he shows me some more of how the system works. The fisherman all signed up in 2008 to an initiative called Peix Nostrum – Our Fish.

Bagged and tagged

Under this ‘brand’ bright yellow tags are clipped to each fish and lobster and these must remain attached all the way to the market, and the fish must arrive within four hours of being caught.

The tag gives information on where the fish was caught, precisely when it was caught and by whom, as well as guaranteeing it has been processed correctly.

Bullet de Peix

This means that every restaurant on the island can be confident its fish has been supplied in a sustainable manner. And that matters, both to the chefs and to their customers. Everyone loves the local fish stew Bullit de Peix and they want to know it’s been made with care.

‘None of the fishermen in Peix Nostrum wants to empty the sea,’ Pere says, waving a fish about. ‘We want fishing to continue for our children and grandchildren, so we only catch reasonable amounts of fish and shellfish. And it works. We’re the only part of the Mediterranean where the lobster is not disappearing, for example.

Eco and very friendly

Back on dry land to the west of the town of Santa Eulalia Del Rio, is Can Musón. Founder and driving force María Marí Colomar was about to retire from her work as a fashion designer when she was horrified to find a local child, when asked to draw a chicken, drew a box instead.

So, she picked up a spade and not a pen and created a wonderful place to teach the upcoming generations the importance of sustainability of local produce and of rare breeds.

Mari

Here on her 65,000 sq. eco farm she grows organic fruit and vegetables in profusion, as well as many herbs too. She also raises rabbits, pigs and goats, most of them local breeds that need protecting from dying out.

The produce is all sold out the front from a large market stall, as well as served in the simple but delicious cafe. This area is discreetly wealthy with plenty of expat and second-home Brits around. They have a very Notting Hill vibe about them, with the women drifting about in floaty boho dresses and hats, all topped off with subtle designer sunglasses.

They help keep the farm paid for, its main purpose being to educate the children who come out on regular trips to the farm school – S’al lot Verd (it means ‘the green youngster’ in Catalan), to see where food comes from and to be schooled in the need for sustainability.

A digestif

Mari puts me to work making a bottle of Hierbas, the local post-meal stomach calmer. Into a bottle of spirit go 21 fresh herbs from the farm, these will then steep for as long as possible to bring all manner of complex flavours and remedial qualities to the drink.

I screw the top on tight and hope baggage handling doesn’t turn the Hierbas into a big mess in my suitcase. That would really give me an upset stomach.

Zero Km sourcing is big with Ibizan restaurants. The closer the produce is to the plate, the better. Not just for the taste of course, but also for the freshness and the fact that no transport but Shank’s Pony is needed, which cuts helps pollution on the White Island.

People who cook in glass houses

At Can Domo restaurant, a beautiful Agroturismo hotel and restaurant created from a 17th Century hilltop farm by a husband and wife team and located up an axle-breaking dirt road in the north of the island, 18 km from Ibiza town, they have over 600 olive trees surrounding them. Arbequina olive trees and Picual olive trees are all tended organically to produce the award-winning fruity, floral oils they use to cook with and also sell.

A chef and his produce

They also have a vegetable plot that produces almost all chef Pau Barba needs to create his stunning dishes for his farm-to-table restaurant located in a glass-walled room across from his semi open-air kitchen. He cooks and his wife takes care of the design and running of the hotel with its 8 rustic-chic individually decorated rooms in whitewashed stone outbuildings

The wine served is from Ibiza; ‘of course’ you might say, but in fact it’s something you’d not have said twenty or so years ago because Ibiza just didn’t make wine then. Today though the island has around seven wine producers and one of the most successful is Can Rich.

Earthy goodness

Since starting up in 1997, Can Rich now produce only organic wines, and were one of the first people to make wine in Ibiza since the Phoenicians left about 2000 years ago.

Can Rich, like all Ibizan wines, differs from other Spanish wines. The almost non-stop continual sunshine of Ibiza means the red Monastrell grapes can be harvested earlier and so escape the full blasting heat of summer, and there are minerals in the grapes unique to the island, all characteristics which come out on the nose and the palate.

Monastrell produces a very earthy, vegetal smelling wine. I thought my wine was corked when first served it, but soon grew to love it and drank little else after.

Chef Sílvia Anglada

The sun is beating down at Club Nautic Sant Antoni and Ibiza Sabor 2018 is under way and packed with chefs, trainee chefs, suppliers and press. I can see Pere who waves cheerfully as well various other chefs I’ve met over the past few days.

A beetroot donut

It’s very much focused on sustainability and has a focus too on female chefs. Sílvia Anglada of restaurant Es Tast de na Sílvia, in Ciutadella, Minorca runs her restaurant on strict eco lines and demonstrates one of her signature dishes, a kind of cheese doughnut with a beetroot jam

Coca bread topped with roasted tomatoes

She’s followed by Marga Coll from restaurant Miceli, in Majorca who tells us her restaurant never has a fixed menu and is driven entirely by what she finds in the morning market. As she talks she creates a dish of coca bread topped with roasted tomatoes, dried fish and cheese from Can Caus an artisan producer.

Not your average Mr Whippy

Alejandra Rivas runs Gelateria Rocambolesc, a project of the Roca brothers of El Celler de Can Roca fame, and she is married to Jordi Roca. Her demonstration of novel ways with ice-cream, both sweet and salty, was refreshing and it’s easy to see why she now has four gelaterias in Spain.

Paella all round

Lunch, of 12 courses, each prepared by one of the chefs, was a triumphant celebration of the Balearic produce, the passion for sustainability and the talent of the islands’ chefs. The giant paella finally served was the icing on the cake,

If you’ve been putting off going to Ibiza because you don’t dance that much anymore, think again. That side of the island is one very small part of what it does, so pack a knife and fork and leave the glowsticks at home.

Our thanks to my hosts Ibiza Travel and to all the marvellous chefs and producers of the White Island who work so hard every day.

Can Domo images sourced from their website

Breaking the mold in Bordeaux

Sweet Bordeaux is reaching out to a new, less formal, drinker and showing off its multiple expressions. Nick meets the winemakers that can pair the wine with more than just pudding.

‘It’s corked!’ says Monsieur Labergere, director of Château Rayne Vigneau pulling a sour face.

He flips out the contents of his glass and it falls like rain down through the leaves of the tree and onto the ground. ‘Pas de probleme,’ is Au Fil du Ciron climber Vincent Galle’s response as he swings off in search of a fresh bottle.

treebigThe recoil of his move makes the suspended platform we’re sitting around pirouette wildly and we hang on tight hoping our harness ropes hold. It’s about a hundred feet straight down and we don’t to end our wine tasting by getting out of our tree the wrong way.

It’s not normal of course to have a wine tasting at the top of an ancient pine, having first climbed hand over hand up a rope to get there, but for Château Rayne Vignaud a sweet wine maker here in south west France, doing things differently is the new sweet Bordeaux way. Continue reading

Go Dutch for great food at sea.

Today’s cruisers attach massive importance to the quality and variety of food on board. Nick Harman sees what Holland America’s newest ship has on the menu.

home-bgHolland America is one of the most venerable of cruise lines, but perhaps not the best known in the UK. Founded in 1873 for many years it ran regular passenger sailings from Holland to New York.

In fact when Rotterdam was the gateway to a new and better life for European emigrants in the early part of the last century, it was mostly on Holland America ships that they sailed.

I was invited to Rotterdam to sail and eat on the ms Koningsdam, the newest addition to the Holland America Pinnacle-class cruising fleet, and the largest as well. It was about to be dedicated by Queen Maxima of the Netherlands before we sailed to Amsterdam overnight.

All aboard for ‘free’ food Continue reading

The Passion of Plaimont. Wonderful wines in South West France

The bids are coming in thick and fast and the French auctioneer is sweeping his fringe out of his eyes with one hand and waving his gavel about with the other as he struggles to keep up. A thousand euros bid soon becomes two thousand and then ‘best of order’ has to be asked for as it hits €3000 and the crowd gasps Gallicly in astonishment.

At €3200 the hammer finally comes down and Didier Vinazza, a man who rather resembles Father Dougal in a Gascon beret is surrounded by congratulations. He’s just sold a quarter barrel of his best Pacherenc for the equivalent of over €50 a bottle. More in fact, when you consider the American buyer now has to pay the commission, the bottling, labelling and the shipping costs on top. An expensive sixty bottles of wine but definitely worth it for such nectar and the money that’s been raised will be going to good works around the area. ‘I took a risk harvesting in late November but I knew my pebbly clay terroir would be good for the Petit Manseng grapes and they were exceptional,’ he says above the din. Continue reading

The curious case of the Minervois

The region’s wines are well known, the region less so. Nick Harman attends the yearly festival of art, culture food and wine in Minervois, Languedoc-Roussillon.

Red suitcases stand silently on stone islands by the banks of the River Cesse, one of the two rivers whose deep gorges have defended the picture-perfect village of Minerve through the ages. It’s been captured only once, in 1210, when Simon De Montfort’s army smashed the drinking well with massive stone catapults, the largest wryly named ‘bad neighbour’. Forced to choose death by dehydration or to surrender, the inhabitants chose the latter and 140 Cathar refugees, ‘the Perfects’ who refused to give up their faith, were then put to death on the Pope’s orders.

The suitcases symbolise flight and extermination and are just some of the otherwise cheerful installations created by local sculptors for Les Grands Chemins en Minervois, an annual festival in the region. Each chemin, or ‘path’, takes art, food or wine as its theme and guides the visitor through the richness of the area and of its artists, whether they work with a corkscrew, a paintbrush or a frying pan. Continue reading