Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Day 6: Elciego

Day 6: Elciego
Madrid Bakery, supplier of today's pre-breakfast
POTD:  Good evening/night: Boa noite 

Weather: Foggy during our morning walk, clearing mid-morning, breezy and cool, growing chilly towards the end of the day

Department of Clarification: When we’re at the hotel, we are just over the border into Basque territory. During the day, as we crossed over the Ebro, we left Basque territory: in/out, in/out, in/out of Basque, and always in the Rioja wine region.

Pre-game of left over pastries and Keurig coffees (THB has moderate success with machine, DB does much better)
4 capsules to make 2+ coffees

We walk Elciego before breakfast: lots of pics, starting with the view of the hotel in the fog

Main square 

Many trees pruned to create interlocked trees overhead

Instacart in Elciego?

Back for breakfast at the hotel, THB goes for an All Bran – Special K mix, avoiding terrific looking pastries. What will power! What self-control! What deferred gratification! Sooooo admirable! {ed note: this “ability” lasts maybe an hour or two}
THB shows great restraint and skips the Cava with breakfast
Our guide Gabriela and driver Xoan (Joe-ahn? Johann?) arrive promptly at 10am, introductions are made and we’re off on a whirlwind tour of wineries, Spanish-heritage towns, lunch at a “shack,” bakeries, and finally arriving back at 6pm, all within what seemed like 10 kilometers from the hotel. That’s the short version, the longer version (as only THB can stretch out), takes a lot more words and many pics.

Our first stop is at Tritium where the winery is above and under a building in a town nearby. The owner, Javier, is there to spend time with us, as Gabriela our guide translates (born in US, schooled in NY, fluent in Spanish after relo’ing to San Sebastian many years ago).

It’s a double tour: wines by Tritium and the unique building where some of the wine is made and how wine was made here 100s of years ago. Most of the town was dedicated to making the wines underneath the buildings, with “rooms” and “caves” carved out, some for actually crushing the grapes and some for holding barrels as well as tunnels connecting and extending various rooms, extended over time.

Javier and Gabriela

The wines: there are seven official varieties of grapes, almost always made into blends. Specific varietal-designated wines are now becoming more popular. And, the entire process is controlled by the DO (sort of like a club which is allowed to make its own rules) with many rules over quality, planting, harvesting etc., with ability to fine and shut-down miscreants.

The tasting of the wines includes a garnacha straight from the barrel, still very young and many months away from bottling (which is done at Tritium’s other location) and a red and white, plus the snacks that seem to be ubiquitous in this area: chorizo, bread, cheese, olives (pretty much there’s always some combo of these). Basically, you’re getting a mini-meal: it’s not like you get a slice of chorizo per person…it’s a full on platter.
DA siphoning wine from the barrel 

After leaving Tritium, there are several more short stops, one to see taste Roda and Roda 1 wines and olive oil on toast with salt, another to see the tasting room at Heredia Vina Tondonia by Zaha Hadid (who recently passed away).
Zaha Hadid tasting room

Billboards no longer allowed, the bulls have been scrubbed of their sponsor's name

THB needs to keep moving! Next up is a tour given by Rafa at Contador, owned by (and obsessively managed by) Benjamin Romeo. Benjamin (not his real pronunciation, more like Benth-a-meen Row-may-oh), is a lifer of the town, goes to the forest to get the French oak for the barrels, oversees the de-barking done to get material for his corks, selects the art for the winery, and on and on. He’s at least 3rd generation wine-maker, and now his top wines sell for 150-200E and up!
View from Contador

Part of the art collection spread throughout the tour

The best wine being guarded?

Quite the tour, with Gabriela (Gah-bree-ella….wait, that’s how we would say it no matter where she is) doing admirable translation. THB can pick up a word in Spanish here and there, just enough to know that he couldn’t possibly it right with a ton of help, which is just what Gabriela is doing.

We've found The Donald's running mate: he's got government experience (Mayor), he's balancing the ticket (TV and Movie stars); he's got his sound bites ready to go (go ahead, punk: Make My DAY...or is it ARE YOU FEELING LUCKY, PUNK, ARE YOU?); he's well respected overseas (he's got a line of wine named after him); he's used to addressing power (even if the chair is empty)...He's your next Vice President:

After the tour (which is much more the standard behind-the-scenes tour we have had many a time in California), we head into the local town where the modern tasting room is located, featuring some of the Contador labels. Benjamin’s dad is in the building, chatting up a number of friends. Outside, we meet a guy wearing a Heavenly Lake Tahoe shirt who worked at Rombauer for a year. He knows Gabriela (who, as we come to understand, is not unusual as she knows EVERYONE!).

Much discussion of where to go for lunch (after all, it’s getting on past 2pm, which is the starting bell for this region to start eating, drinking and chatting away). We pick the “shack” rather than an upscale modern type establishment.

The shack has a huge outdoor facility that appears to be dedicated to even more drinking.

We bypass the early drinking and avoid ordering the set menu (24E) which appears to have 7 courses including wine by ordering a la carte: artichokes with fried prosciutto, a mixed salad, and grilled mini-lamb chops, plus a bottle of local white wine and a coke. We dodged that bullet! We’ve got a bistro-style meal planned back at the hotel at 8:30, we should be fine.
The "menu" we didn't order 

The wine is served and we start discussing our upcoming visit to Bilbao and San Sebastian, where Gabriela lives near and is much the local expert. Then the artichokes arrive and we start getting an inkling: maybe we’ve over-ordered. Then the salad arrives and now it’s more than inkling, it feels like a potential tragedy.
Our chops on the grill

Our chops on the table

The first two of many for THB

The second (and killer) bottle of wine (note, chops have become finger food)

To break up the meal, we’re invited back to the grill room where we can see our chops getting started. Back to the table in time to order a very nice Rioja red and greet a handsome stack of chops. Real work needs to be done and THB is doing more than his share. Much more discussion of the history of the area. Oh, and outside a party of three is sharing cigars (good think we didn’t dine al fresco) and gin and tonics. Whoa!!! When did a G&T become an after meal drink (still not sure about the mojitos, maybe a mojito is now the after drink of the after meal drink).
That's a post-meal cigar and G&T

Damn, we’re not done yet: Jose (owner and waiter) has brought a dessert of slow cooked and preserved figs from the trees just off the grill room. Very sweet, and lovely!

Now, we’re done (well, we’re over-stuffed, is that the same thing as done?). Nope, now we get an aperitif (or whatever you call a real after-dinner drink) that is the equivalent of coffee with thick cream ice cream slightly melted (i.e., it’s cold) mixed with invisible chili peppers of the habanero variety.

Now we’re done! Jose settles us up, 87E for 2.5 people (SA and DA split Gabriela’s portion with THB and DB).
Are we happy? We're very happy!

Now we’re done eating…the tour is still an on-going event (in a good way). We’re off to Laguardia (not the airport; THAT would be a tragedy). It’s a Bonito site (think World Heritage for Spain) and pretty it is, a walled city, like Carcassonne. THB finds out why Laguardia got its designation: smack in the middle are three bakeries in a row. Damn!
Calatrava designed winery

Xoan, Gabriela, DA, SA, DB, all very happy (and windy)

In the midst of strolling the town, there’s a well thought plan for two days from now in San Sebastian: Gabriela has agreed to be our guide: considering she has been thinking about what our day should be all during our lunch, and that’s she is gifted as both translator and imparter of local knowledge, this seems like a formal conclusion to an informal great idea.

Okay, now THB can wrap up the day: we’re dropped off at the hotel after 6pm, say goodbye to Gabriela and Xoan, and head to our rooms to rest up for dinner. Only, after a few minutes of decomposing, we come to agreement that we’re skipping dinner (or rather, realizing that “lunch” was lundinner).

New plan: skip dinner and meet tomorrow at 9 for the relatively short drive to Bilbao and the Guggenheim.


  1. Enjoying your journey!!
    Do you wish you spent more time in Madrid?? Wine country looks great!!

  2. Good question! I would say at most a day or two more in Madrid. The rain squelched the Sunday flea market which is supposed be pretty good, and cut down our interest in the Sofia Museo. On other hand, we didn't have much else on the list there...THB