This (unedited) entry in our seminal wine competition is from Fintan Kerr, familiar to some via our Members' forum. He describes himself thus: 'I'm British but have been living in Barcelona for over 7 years now with my fiance and my beautiful baby boy. I work as a wine educator, teaching classes, courses and leading wine tours as well as a little writing here and there. You'll find me at http://winecuentista.com/.'
A little over three years ago, I lived on the cusp of the Born district in Barcelona, in a cosy, interior flat with my fiance. It's a charming neighbourhood, the sort of place where you need never visit a supermarket, packed as it is with butchers, bakers, coffee shops and other local businesses. Walking down the street in the morning was one of my favourite activities, listening to the light-hearted insults dancing in the air as shop owners who'd seen one another every morning for 30 years opened up for the day. My favourite spot of all, however, was certainly Bodega Maestrazgo, a wine shop built in the 1950s and still ran by the Moliner family.
Visiting Bodega Maestrazgo became an almost nightly ritual for me. I'd drag myself home after working at my office job, nip into my flat to grab a book and then disappear down the street for a few glasses of wine, some excellent cheese and whatever stool I could lay claim to before everyone arrived and make no mistake, everyone always arrived. It was a noisy, warm space at night, filling up with the local neighbourhood as everyone finished for the day at around 8pm, the dim lights dancing off the bottles lined up along the long wall in no discernible order. The optician across the road would be drinking cheap red wine, with quantity as the very obvious goal, flitting around from group to group like a drunken moth. The chemist would be in the corner with the local handyman, drinking a very specific Cava (always Can Descregut Memoria Brut Nature; a nutty, weighty, slightly oxidised style of dry Cava), forever falling over one another to pay the bill at the end of the evening. Groups of friends would wander in, 8 persons magically finding space at a pair of barrels that should really only fit 4; the sort of natural, good-natured chaos that pervades Mediterranean life on a daily basis. I loved it.
I didn't know anything about wine though, although I was happy to listen to anything Jose Moliner, the owner of Bodega Maestrazgo, wanted to tell me, changing between heavily accent English and Spanish at an alarming speed. “This is 100% Pansa Blanca from DO Alella, where only the very oldest vines at the back of the vineyard are selected”, he would tell me. I nodded along, pretending I had even the faintest idea of what he was talking about. “It's fermented in steel and then aged in....” and so on. Complete ignorance didn't stop me from enjoying every conversation we had about wine. As it happens, I ended up working my first harvest at this same winery less than a year later, which is just another of lifes deliciously connected moments.
Life went on like this for a couple of months, with me spending my evenings in this forgotten corner of the city, enjoying wine and unknowingly absorbing information via vinous osmosis. I was about to turn 26 and decided to try and share my new-found love with some friends, so I asked Jose if he'd mind organising a small tasting for us. “Claro, no problem. I'll choose the wines for you”. Fine by me. I had no idea what to expect and the night itself got off to a rocky start when we were all caught in a sudden storm on the way to the bodega, arriving completely drenched and not in the best of moods. A glass or two of Cava later, and all was right in the world once again. Better yet, we had the shop almost entirely to ourselves.
I'd like to tell you I remember every sip of the evening but frankly, I'd be lying. Most of the evening slipped by in a warm, fuzzy blur of goodwill, laughter and delicious Spanish wine. I remember our final wine, Tomas Postigo Crianza 2010, because it was the first time that I could link what I was tasting to the process that Jose was describing to us. A bold, heavy and quite modern wine from Ribera del Duero, full of the ripe, plummy fruits, soft tannins and that luscious mid-palate that made the region such an international hit in the 1990s. For the first time I could smell and taste the ripeness of the fruit profile, I could feel the tannins caressing my palate and I could sense the weight of the alcohol and the warming sensation as I swallowed. It was a personal revelation to finally 'get' wine, to be able to understand it and better yet, to explain why I liked or disliked it. It's not the sort of wine I find myself drinking a lot of these days, but I'll never forget it and it was certainly the highlight of the evening.
I continued to visit Bodega Maestrazgo on a regular basis, but something had changed. I asked more questions and tried as many different wines as I could instead of my favourites. I showed up on Saturdays to clean glasses, to listen to Jose talk to his distributors and to help out when the shop became busy. I started to realise that working in wine was what I wanted to do and, finally, after a few months, I quit my job and flew to London to complete the WSET Level 3 course during an intensive week in Bermondsey. There's been no going back from there, and I've since start teaching wine courses and tastings in Barcelona, completing my WSET Diploma and I'm looking forward to embarking on the grueling Master of Wine course next year. I'm also very careful to set time aside for anyone who wants to talk about wine, as you never know the wonderful path you might unintentionally set them on. If you visit Barcelona, be sure to stop by Bodega Maestrazgo. You may well find me there, tasting, teaching or studying. I don't live in the Born anymore, but Bodega Maestrazgo always feels a lot like home.