Wednesday, January 20, 2010

The Basque Country of Northern Spain

Most culinary travelers when asked about favorite regions to explore seem to have Basque Spain at or near the top of their list. We arrive in Spain intent on finding what all the fuss is about.

Our guide is Sancho Rodriquez, editor of a Spanish surfing magazine and director of the "Surfilm Festibal". We met our friend Sancho through photographer and film maker Patrick Trefz who has documented Jim's artwork over the past several years. Sancho's father Jaime Rodriguez Salis and brother Telmo Rodriguez are renowned Spanish winemakers. With connections like this we are on our way.

Our base is the beautiful coastal town of San Sebastian

After all the constant travel Dave decided to take it easy and hang in San Sebastian as Jim and Katy made plans to meet up with Sancho and his girlfriend in La Rioja for an overnight visit to the Remelluri estate. Sancho's father Jaime Rodriguez Solis founded the winery in 1968 reviving a disused property that had seen wine production over several centuries. The site is located on the remains of a tenth century town and archeological digs have shown artifacts dating from Roman times through the Bronze age. We gathered that evening with several of Sancho's relatives and shared a home cooked meal prepared on the Remelluri hearth ,enjoying several outstanding family wines.

Sancho Rodriguez takes us on a tour of the family estate

Sancho as a boy, on a tractor during grape harvest

Stopping for a sip from the vineyard well

The Remelluri Estate Vineyard

Our next stop was a visit to Telmo Rodriguez winery located several miles down the road. Wine maker Telmo has been called the rockstar of Spanish wine. His unusual program includes a far flung 30 different wines made in 10 distinct regions of Spain. On a windy, chilly afternoon we pulled up for a tour of the winery. Telmo's winery, ultra modern but understated in design contrasted sharply with the history infused Remulluri estate. Sancho gave us a tour of the property greeting the busy staff with warm hellos.

Sancho explains wine production

inside the barrel room

On our way back to San Sebastian we stopped here for freshly baked bread

Returning to the coast it was time for some sightseeing before a night visiting several notable pintxos restaurants in San Sebastian.

Jim Denevan at the Eduardo Chillida sculpture garden

The next day we met Sancho and Luis Chillida for a private tour of the Chillida-Leku museum located just outside San Sebastian. The museum features the work of Luis' late father internationally renowned Basque sculptor Eduardo Chillida.

The farmhouse gallery

Ancient farmhouse beams

Luis Chillida and Jim Denevan

After touring the impressive monumental works and garden we said our goodbye's and headed off for a lunch visit to Asador Extabarri where chef Victor Arguinzoniz cooks almost everything over specially constructed charcoal grills. Located high in the mountains in the beautiful town of Axte (very difficult to find) Asador Extabarri recieves a steady flow of international culinary pilgrims. We ordered from the tasting menu experienced a meal that was among the best of our trip. After savoring the experience we visited the kitchen; chef Victor and his sous chef generously gave us a thorough tour of the kitchen.

Asador Extabarri

The next day Sancho took time for a detailed exploration, showing some of his favorite sites including several scenic Basque farms located around the town of Irun on the Spain France border, followed by lunch at a traditional Batzoki (political clubhouse).

Several locations were deemed good table sites and we took notes regarding our anticipated return in September.

On our last full day on our scouting trip was capped with a visit to Mugaritz Restaurant located a short distance outside San Sebastian. Mugaritz has a reputation as one of the best restaurants in the world and we concur with that assessment. Our meal began with a visit to the kitchen where we received a full description of sourcing, technique and goals of the restaurant. Chef owner Andoni Luis Aduriz had the night off because of the imminent arrival of a new child so his able chef de cuisine directed our experience. The warmth of staff and passion and attention to the art of cooking at Mugaritz are truly remarkable. It was pretty amazing to dine at the best of the best with our partner in culinary exploration Sancho, a good friend of the restaurant and also a friend it seemed with just about everyone we came upon. All of us left with a feeling of having experienced something profound and unforgettable. It was the perfect ending to a very successful Outstanding in the Field scouting tour.

1 comment:

m*buckley said...

wowwwww you guys got the Basque Country Tour De Lujo! thanks for was a pleasure.