April 2012

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Yesterday Alicia, from Vinos de Madrid, and I drove out to Aranjuez, about 30 miles south of Madrid, to do a little wine tasting and to eat at the Michelin-starred restaurant Casa José. The plan was to stop in at Bodega del Real Cortijo and then have lunch at Casa José, but since we arrived in Aranjuez a little early, Alicia suggested we go somewhere for almuerzo. Almuerzo can be translated as “lunch,” but in Spain, particularly around Madrid, it’s that time of day, usually between ten and eleven, when everyone scuttles off to a little bar or café for a coffee or, more likely, a small glass of wine along with just a little something to eat—say a slice of tortilla de patata.

So we went to a little corner bar called Casa Delapio (House of Celery) and though it was just a little after ten, almost everyone had a little café glass of red wine in front of them and was sharing a plate of tapas called picoteo.

“You want coffee or wine?” Alicia asked me.

Well, when in Rome (or Aranjuez)…. I had a glass of wine.

If we were having lunch here, Alicia told me, we’d have to order the crab-stuffed artichokes. “They are a specialty of Aranjuez and of Casa Delapio in particular.” I told her I was very sorry I was going to miss out on the crab-stuffed artichokes. She described them to me and I have to say I was starting to think maybe we should just blow off the lunch at the Michelin-starred place and eat here. Instead, Alicia went and talked to the owner and a few minutes later, a waitress brought over a plate of the famed stuffed artichokes. Just for us.

They were every bit as good as Alicia said they would be. I didn’t get the specific recipe for them from Casa Delapio, but here’s something similar from The Food Channel if you want to give them a try. Which I highly recommend. Along with a nice glass of red. No matter what time of day.

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Sardinia: The murals of Orgosolo

Mural in Orgosolo, Sardinia. Photo by David Lansing.

If, fifty years ago, Orgosolo was best known for its bandits, today its claim to fame are its murals—hundreds of them, painted on the stone walls and around the doorways and windows of just about every little business in town. They say the first murals were painted by an anarchic group of students known as the Dioniso in the late 60s. Remember this was an incredibly poor region; the populace has always felt ignored by the national government and harassed by the carabinieri. So maybe when the first mural went up, probably overnight, expressing some pissed-off student’s outrage over the conditions of life on Sardinia, instead of painting it over, they left it. They probably thought, You know what, that guy is right. Besides, it’s not a bad painting.

And then maybe another mural went up outside a bar and a week later someone painted a scene on the ancient wall of an old house and before you knew it, there were 20 or 30 murals around the village and Sardinians who used to hurry through this slightly-dangerous little berg started stopping, taking photos, and maybe even buying a cold beer or a wedge of sheep cheese. Unwittingly, the anarchists had kick-started a little tourism, giving the community another way to make a few lira besides kidnapping strangers. Commerce was created.

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El Regajal

The artwork on a bottle of El Regajal reflects the fact that the winery sits amidst a butterfly preserve.

Juan Luis was at my hotel this morning promptly at ten to take me to Finca El Regajal, the small vineyard owned by Daniel García Pita, south of Madrid. It was obvious when we pulled off the highway that this wine country is nothing like Napa or Bordeaux or anyplace else for that matter. We slowly drove down a chalky, rocky road through a chaparral-like country that is, in fact, a butterfly reserve. Daniel would tell me later that there are over 100 species of butterflies here.

As we walked through his vineyard of Tempranillo grapes, he told me that he used to be in the advertising business until he burned out. “Now I do what makes me happy. No more lies!”

Later, we went inside his modest tasting room to sample his wines which are blends of Syrah, Tempranillo, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Merlot. His first vintage was 2004 and each year the blend is different depending on the weather and the condition of the grapes.

“One year there might be very little Cabernet in the blend because the weather is too hot and the next year there is very little Merlot. It just all depends.”

Most of his wine goes to restaurants in Madrid. “I’m in about 256 restaurants and they take about 70% of my wine,” he said. The rest goes elsewhere in Spain with a small percentage exported to the U.K. and the U.S. Typically, his wines cost 18 to 25 euros. “The price is the most important thing in this business,” he said. “I charge what I personally am willing to pay in a restaurant for a good wine with pleasure which is about 20 euros.”

He asked me how I’d heard about his winery and I told him about Mayte Santa Cecilia of Bodega Santa Cecilia.

He smiled. “A very nice woman,” he said. “They have been very, very good to me.”

And then an assistant brought out a plate of cheese, olives, and crackers, Daniel cracked open a bottle of wine and we enjoyed the rest of the afternoon sitting in the shade eating, drinking, and watching the butterflies flit about.

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Perico Chicote, owner of Museo Chicote, toasting Ernest Hemingway.

The first time I visited Madrid’s Museo Chicote, which isn’t a museum at all but a bar, Franco was still alive and the place was full of expensive tarts—the type that ask you to buy them a drink, not the dessert. Which was a shame considering that back in its heyday in the 40s, it was one of those places, like The Ritz, that everyone went to for a cocktail—Ava Gardner and Frank Sinatra, Ernest Hemingway and Grace Kelly, Liz Taylor and James Stewart. You name it.

Since Chicote was just down the street from my hotel, De las Letras, I decided to take a stroll down Gran Via Saturday night to see how the ol’ gal was doing. Guess what? She looked grand. Evidently she’d been purchased a few years back by a young group of investors whose goal was to bring her back to her former majesty. From my visit, I’d say they succeeded. Papa would have approved.

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Papa’s got a brand new bag: The estate and family of Ernest Hemingway just announced that they’ve entered into an agreement with Hemingway Hotels & Resorts “to develop luxury hotels and resorts based upon the life of Ernest Hemingway.”

Wow. Really? So what does that mean? The bars never close? Fistfights in the lobby? Rooms overrun with dogs and cats?

Okay, I’m making fun. Actually, they can put me on the list right now of people who want to be there on the first night they open. Which brings up one other tiny little detail: There aren’t any Hemingway Hotels & Resorts. At least not at the moment. They’re still looking for them. And what will make a Hemingway Hotel?

First of all, they have to be in places that have a connection to Papa. Paris comes to mind, as does Venice, Nairobi, Key West, Madrid, Pamplona, and, of course, Cuba (how cool would it be if, once Fidel smokes his last cigar, the first Hemingway Hotel & Resort opened in Habana Vieja, ideally within puking distance of La Bodeguita del Medio?).

Here’s what else the Hemingway Hotel people say: The bars will serve “Hemingway’s favorite libations.” Mojitos! Daiquiris! Presidente Brandy!

They will also have “a well-stocked, comfortably furnished library” where, we assume, you can pick up a copy of our greatest American novel, The Great Gatsby…er, uhm, I mean The Sun Also Rises.

And the restaurants at the hotels will serve “Hemingway’s favorite dishes from Paris, Spain, Italy, and elsewhere.”

I love it! Sign me up!

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