Paul Jackson’s take on the recent trip to Terras Gauda
Paul’s take on a trip to Terras Gauda
For about four years, I had sat in the office in Guildford, watching a steady procession of our sales team trooping off to the airport, a glint in their eyes and a spring in their steps, chattering excitedly about visiting Bodegas Terras Gauda, only to return a couple of days later looking slightly jaded yet fulfilled. All of them to a man saying how fantastic/beautiful/friendly the people, vineyards and wines are.
I was updating the list at one of our Michelin starred clients (The West House in Kent) back in May, when the owner, Graham Garrett, asked me when we were going to go on a trip to some vineyards. The seed was planted and I soon had two places booked for us on the next Les Caves trip to this wettest of regions in the north of Spain.
It all started with a leisurely afternoon meeting of a ten strong band of intrepid travellers, brave and true, at Gatwick Airport, followed by a plate of seafood and a glass or three of Sancerre at Caviar House. Suitably refreshed we strolled through customs, onto the plane and soon found ourselves in the quietist, large airport on the planet (Oporto) – I believe it was built to cope with a large but brief influx of international football fans a few years ago.
We were met at the airport by the lovely Raquel, who works in the export department of Terras Gauda. After a mini-coach ride to Vigo, we were given five minutes to drop off our bags before being whisked off to the port (one of the largest natural harbours in the world) where we were admiring the lovely yachts moored there.
Charlotte, my office colleague, was animatedly pointing at one of the yachts with little whimpers of ‘Can we go on that one?’ escaping her lips, when all of a sudden, there we were aboard said vessel, heading out across the steely grey waters, a glass of chilled Albarino in hand and rustic chunks of tuna empanada to gorge on.
We cruised the port for about two hours then pulled up (I think the technical term is ‘moored’) next to a restaurant which was very precariously balanced on the waters’ edge, stepped inside and proceeded to set about a multitude of glorious incarnations of local seafood washed down with copious amounts of obligatory Albarino.
We finished the meal with three different flavours of Orujo - otherwise known as Aguardente - this is the local equivalent of Grappa or Eaux-de-Vie, and believe me it really does work.
By this point it was getting quite late, so back to the hotel it was, with just a small diversion to the bar across the street until 4 a.m.
An early start awaited us the next morning and a long coach ride - we were headed inland, bound for Mencia country, following a road through valleys, gorges and sun scorched earth, passing through Ourense – the town of many bridges. Just over three hours driving brought us to Arganza, a small town with a longstanding heritage of wine making, situated on the Pilgrims Way.
We arrived at the winery and after a short break for the necessaries, we were off again with the legendary Alfredo for a tour of his vineyards. We tasted grapes from different plots to demonstrate how the grapes ripen at different times. Alfredo decides when to harvest merely by squeezing the grapes to look at the juice, he then tastes them and says very casually “Fifteen more days” (in Spanish of course).
Then followed a tour of the winery itself, all stainless steel vats and oak barrels, a temple of Mencia. Only two wines are produced here, the straight Bierzo tinto and their super cuvee entitled ‘Aurea’ the grapes from which are from a single one hectare plot located on an eastern facing slope with a very individual micro-climate that is extremely favourable for the growth of the Mencia grape variety.
Then in to the cellar where we tried a few cask samples to show how the wines develope over time in barrel. We even received an impromptu master class in blending wines from different barrels - good fun, informative and clothes staining all at the same time
Lunch beckoned at this point with a stern look which said ‘You’d better be ready to eat’ - I’m not sure about everyone else but I took this look seriously and decided to sit myself down in the converted cellar in preparation for the fare to come – I can report in full confidence that there was not one iota of disappointment with this finest of fine repasts.
Rustic chunks of air dried beef, followed by roasted milk-fed kid all washed down with plenty of Bierzo, this was food the way I like it, and I believe I am not alone in this penchant, we all left to head back to Vigo with distended bellies, warm glows and smiling faces. Three and a half hours of gentle snoozing later we arrived back at the hotel.
Ten minutes we were allowed (just enough time for a beer at the hotel bar) before heroically making for the next eating and drinking spot, a basement tapas bar in Vigo. Lucky for us they had Terras Gauda’s Albarino Abadia de San Campio on their list, and after a long day of red wine, it was good to refresh our tongues with some white.
We were sauntering back to the hotel to get some kip when the party animals decided it was a great idea to head out again – I had headed up the charge the night before so gracefully bowed out (to no mean amount of heckling I hasten to add) and went to bed. I saw the results in the morning and was glad of my decision, although I am still intrigued about ‘Pink Rings’ (ask Ivan)
The final day had dawned and after a toe-tapping wait and a few phone calls the worse-for-wear stragglers met us outside the hotel, sporting various degrees of hangover and the odd pair of sunglasses to hide behind (you know who you were!! Or maybe you can’t remember!)
It was time to visit the Church of Albarino – Terras Gauda have built themselves a super-modern state-of-the-art winery in the middle of their rolling Galician hilled vineyards and have set about building themselves a reputation of producing the finest wines in the area. After an hour of wandering the perfectly trimmed rows of vines and tasting the three grape varieties they grow here, Albarino, Loureira and Caino Blanco.
Back to the winery and into their tasting room, we had three wines to try, Abadia de San Campio, Terras Gauda O Rosal and Terras Gauda Black Label.
The Abadia is 100% Albarino and is a deliciously crisp and citrus number, with a lovely mineral touch, the O Rosal is mostly Albarino with a smattering of Caino and Loureira, this wine is richer in style but still gives the citrus notes and has a lingering finish that never fails to delight, whilst the Black Label is produced using the same blend as the O Rosal but is created in their micro winery and is then given the oak treatment by fermenting in new barrels. This sounds like an awful thing to do to such a brilliantly crisp, fruity wine but it works – very well ! Production of ths wine is necessarily extremely limted – in the 2007 vintage we tried, they only made about 7000 bottles – grab it while you can.
Another incredible meal followed, the grilled octopus was particularly good, and all seasoned liberally with, yes you guessed it, Albarino. (and paprika)
As we were reluctantly leaving, everyone on the trip was presented with a magnum of O Rosal with their name printed on the label - what an incredibly thoughtfull touch. I may be alone in this but I still have mine - although I think I may have to pull the cork at Christmas.
A huge thankyou to Iago and Raquel of Terras Gauda and Les Caves de Pyrene for such a wonderful experience, one that will stay with me for a while.